We live in an age where connectivity is king, but until recently one of the places where the always-online generation has failed to connect is out on the open road.
But the world is rapidly changing, with several car manufacturers now integrating WiFi hotspots and new levels of connectivity within their latest models.
From concierge services to traffic reports, social media feeds to emergency services contact, the latest in-car internet services are among the most advanced technology the automotive industry has ever seen, not to mention the IT industry itself.
How does in-car WiFi work?
Pairing your smartphone with your car is nothing new, with most manufacturers now offering some form of in-car connectivity. Platforms such as Android Auto and Apple Car Play provide user interfaces that make using your data simple, intuitive and frequently touch-free.
But these systems rely on you bringing a data-enabled smartphone into the car, and then using your own data contract to access services.
In-car WiFi is different in that the car itself becomes the data hub. Using 3G or increasingly 4G cellular networks, the car has a built-in WiFi hotspot, to which you can connect not only your smartphone, but also your tablet, PC or even games console (don’t tell the kids!).
The car itself is the data provider, and most in-car WiFi systems operate via the user having a contract arrangement with the vehicle manufacturer itself to provide the necessary data.
WiFi enabled cars are also able to communicate with each other, which can bring huge benefits to drivers when sharing information around traffic conditions or weather warnings, as well as feeding back information about the car itself to dealers and manufacturers, helping you keep on top of service schedules and alerting you to mechanical problems before they arise. It’s pretty smart stuff.
The car as a WiFi hotspot, then, is becoming a big trend. Here are five of the cleverest cars to integrate their own WiFi hotspots.
Best cars with built in WiFi
Audi was the first manufacturer to experiment with in-car WiFi, with 3G-enabled services appearing in the USA in 2011. Since then, it has refined and developed its system, known as Audi Connect.
Connect now appears in all Audis from the A1 supermini to the R8 supercar, but the latest and greatest version of the system is about to debut in the all-new A8 saloon. Sharing its information with the driver via Audi’s ‘Virtual Cockpit’, which replaces a traditional dashboard, its powerful WiFi hotspot is permanently on, warning drivers of bad weather and traffic, sharing emails and messages and keeping them up to date on social media happenings without the need to take their eyes off the road.Save on a new Audi A8 today
Introduced two years ago, the latest generation Astra was one of the first cars to bring WiFi hotspot technology to the mainstream market via its OnStar application.
Among other things, OnStar is a WiFi hub to which passengers can connect up to four individual devices, subject to a subscription. It’s also a concierge service, while a live multilingual call centre can be accessed at the touch of a button to answer any queries you may have, such as local information, sat nav guidance and even audio controls. It’s a really clever system, but with GM selling Vauxhall to PSA, it might not be available forever.Save on a new Vauxhall Astra today
Mercedes Benz E-Class
The E-Class is already one of our favourite executive cars, but the availability of Mercedes-Benz’s InCarHotspot functionality makes it even more desirable.
Like the Vauxhall system, the Mercedes platform allows for up to four devices to be connected at once, while added functionality includes the ability to use the car’s integrated touchscreen as a browser, though this is disabled (sensibly) when the car is in motion.
Even while on the move, InCarHotspot allows connection speeds of up to 7.2MbPS, which is as fast as some home internet systems.Save on a new Mercedes Benz E Class today
The latest XC40 crossover is the first Volvo model to be fully equipped with On Call, an app-based service that allows you to control your car via your smartphone.
By that, we don’t mean driving it like a games console, but we do mean convenience features. You can lock and unlock it, for example – perfect if you can’t remember if you locked it when you parked, or if a family member needs something out of the car and you have the keys. You can also remotely check your fuel level, set the climate control and even select your music before your journey.
An On Call subscription is surprisingly affordable - £35 for one year, or £55 for two.Save on a new Volvo XC40 today
The ever-popular 3-Series is still one of the best choices out there for business users, but with BMW’s Car Hotspot LTE, it’s even more company car friendly. The system uses a SIM card reader in the car’s centre armrest, which allows users to connect to WiFi via the car’s built-in antenna, ensuring a strong signal in most areas.
The system is portable, too, which gives two additional advantages. First, you can take it with you and use the hotspot outside of the car – perfect if you stop for a coffee and need to catch up on your emails – and, being a dealer-fit accessory, it can also be installed in second-hand cars. This means that you don’t even have to buy the very latest car to take advantage of the latest technology.Save on a new BMW 1 Series today
Like these? Then Check out the 5 top infotainment systems of 2017, here.