The Uconnect infotainment system has evolved significantly since its introduction as an integral part of Fiat Chrysler vehicles sold in the United States, ranging from the Fiat 500 to the North American Truck of the Year for 2019, the RAM 1500.
When I tested the RAM 1500 Longhorn Crew Cab four-wheel drive pickup for my “Radio Road Test” program, I also took the latest version of that infotainment system, the Uconnect 4C, through its paces.
BIG TRUCK, BIG DASH, BIG DISPLAY
With a wheelbase of 140 and 1/2 inches and a curb weight approaching 5700 pounds, the RAM 1500 is a big truck. That called for the 12-inch Uconnect 4C upgrade (part of an option package), which added a foot-tall touchscreen display in the ample center stack of the RAM’s dashboard.
The Uconnect system controls all the radio flavors (AM/FM/HD and satellite) and streaming options (through an optional 19-speaker Harman Kardon sound system), navigation and the usual vehicle monitoring and supervision.
Unlike some of the infotainment systems that use a joystick and touch screen (BMW and Mazda for example) to make menu choices, the Uconnect 4C system uses a belt, belt and suspenders approach: For example, tuning the radio can be done through the touchscreen, by voice command (when the system isn’t streaming audio through Bluetooth) and for us oldsters, the tried-and-true volume and tuning knobs on the dashboard. When one is dealing with big horsepower and deteriorating road conditions, the familiar controls give users a sense of confidence, without giving up system capability.
The Uconnect 4C user experience was named by Wards Auto as one of the 10 Best for infotainment systems. Fiat Chrysler has three levels of Uconnect systems available: the Uconnect 3 (the basic model), Uconnect 4 and the Uconnect 4C, which comes in an 8.4-inch touchscreen version and the 12.2-inch version shown here.
This newest version has Android Auto and Apple CarPlay connectivity through the USB connections, which adds the Android and Apple music apps. This system marks the Fiat Chrysler debut of SiriusXM’s 360L, which offers on-demand audio content and a personalized listening experience. 4G LTE Internet access is available on a subscription basis after a three-month trial.
Given all of the streaming choices from a smartphone, Android Auto, Apple CarPlay and Sirius XM 360L available for users of the Uconnect 4C, a radio station has a major battle to look good in that big 12-inch display and sound good through those 19 speakers.
It’s becoming a familiar theme in our articles about how radio appears on modern car platforms; but to succeed in this effort, a station needs to formulate strategy, emphasize preparation and pay attention to detail. That means management, engineering and operations departments working together to ensure properly encoded metadata and RDS information for all program, promotional and sales elements. Engineering must ensure that the station’s RF and audio chains are up to specifications and optimized for performance. Station strategy involves producing content compelling enough so the listener will make the conscious choice to listen. And all key personnel should spend time in today’s new cars to understand how consumers are interacting with audio platforms, including yours.