The $3,700 Bang & Olufsen system packs 16 speakers in a BMW 640i, it was the best-sounding car system I heard at the show. The tonal balance was good, and the stereo imaging was closer to a home system, thanks to the clever center channel speaker that pokes out of the dashboard.
I couldn't find much about what's included in the Scion iQ's Pioneer audio system, but it sounded very average, and looked outrageously awful. It didn't aesthetically integrate with anything else in the car's interior.
The main reason car audio sound is so bad is that car interiors are too small, so it takes something a bit larger, like a mammoth Mercedes Sprinter Jet Van, outfitted with a Becker Auto Design system to deliver audiophile-quality sound. The van at the show had McIntosh Labs amplifiers, Dynaudio speakers, and a JL Audio subwoofer system.
So if the confined space of a closed car cramps your audio a bit too much, maybe the Bose Open Air Sound System in a swoopy Infiniti G37 convertible will be a better solution. It features speakers embedded in the car's seats and headrests, with proprietary technologies that adapt to the acoustic demands of the convertible's open cabin.
When you're sitting in a Bentley Mulsanne, it's impossible not to be wowed by the ultraplush surroundings, but the 1,100-watt Naim Audio system is nothing special. I toggled through a range of mode settings, but the sound never matched the rest of the car's opulence.