Auto Tech

Get an early look at VW's new Android Auto, Apple CarPlay-ready dashboard

Volkswagen's new MIB II infotainment system for its 2016 models rolls in a heap of new features, including compatibility with both Google and Apple's car systems.

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VW's new MIB II infotainment system will be available on most of its 2016 models. Antuan Goodwin/CNET

This week, Volkswagen brought me to its Electronics Research Lab in Silicon Valley for a peek at its next-generation (and tragically named) MIB II infotainment system for 2016 model year vehicles.

Nothing to do with the Will Smith sci-fi comedy sequel, MIB II is a German acronym that means "second-generation modular infotainment platform" in English. The system will be available in four different versions across the automaker's lineup. Composition Color is a 5.5-inch touchscreen setup and the most basic setup in the line featuring just USB, Bluetooth and SD card media.

With the 6.5-inch Composition Media things get interesting. At this level, the VW adds its App Connect system. This functionality is carried over to the 6.5-inch Discover Media navigation system with (in the US) SiriusXM Travel Link and the 8-inch Discover Pro -- a top-tier system that adds wireless connectivity and extended battery-electric features for the eGolf.

Car-Net App Connect

Android Auto, Apple CarPlay and MirrorLink join Volkswagen's list of available features. Antuan Goodwin/CNET

Perhaps the biggest news here is that Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and MirrorLink are all coming to the Volkswagen dashboards of 2016 model year vehicles. Android Auto and CarPlay operate largely as we've seen them in previous manufacturer and aftermarket implementations -- you plug in a supported phone and it takes over the dashboard display with the relevant user interface and apps. Drivers can toggle between the Volkswagen interface and the phone's on the App Connect screen.

The MirrorLink integration uses a combination of the Volkswagen App Connect interface to select from supported apps on the host handset and screen mirroring once the app has been selected. MirrorLink supports a couple dozen HTC, Samsung and Sony phones and about a dozen car-centric apps for navigation, parking and location services. To that list of apps, VW adds five apps of its own for media streaming, driving habit monitoring and more.

Car-Net media control

Available with new top-tier systems is a feature called VW Media Control. This feature is built around a VW Media Control app that is installed on any Android or iOS smartphone or tablet. Once activated, the app pairs with the vehicle via Wi-Fi and gives remote control of the navigation and infotainment systems from a remote device.

Car-Net services are now accessible on a variety of mobile and Web-connected devices, including the Apple Watch. Antuan Goodwin/CNET

The passengers can then search for destinations using the tablet and send locations to the turn-by-turn navigation system in the dashboard. Media Control users can also cue up and control media connected to the dashboard audio system or stream media that's stored on the tablet to the dashboard. Multiple devices can be connected to the host vehicle.

Meanwhile, the dashboard display remains unchanged and non-distracting for the driver. And those who don't want to relinquish navigational controls to a car full of tablet-wielding kids can also exercise control, with options to require driver confirmation for destinations sent to the dashboard or even totally blocking Media Control input from passengers.

And the rest

The next-generation infotainment sees a return of VW's core Car-Net subscription-based telematics service, which continues to evolve. The telematics services are accessible via the automaker's Web portal, Android and iOS smartphone apps, and soon on your Apple Watch. Volkswagen is "exploring" Android Wear down the line.

Volkswagen has a handful of MirrorLink-enabled apps that appear when connected to a compatible device. Antuan Goodwin/CNET

Car-Net services include simple remote locking and unlocking, opening and closing windows, and honking the horn to find the car in crowded parking lot. For battery electric cars like the eGolf, the 2016 infotainment system will also include monitoring battery state, charging behaviors and more.

There are also geofencing and speed alerts and the ability to search for destinations remotely to be beamed to the car for immediate or future navigation. Of course, a driver can also tap the buttons on the ceiling in the car to get SOS emergency assistance, roadside assistance (from VW partner Allstate in the US), or just get a person on the line to ask for directions.

Underpinning the interface are crisp and smooth Nvidia-powered graphics that are simple, but also very responsive. When tapping around the interface and quickly changing functions, there wasn't a stutter to be seen. The system also continues Volkswagen's use of proximity sensitive onscreen controls that hide when not in use and slide into view when the driver reaches for the screen.

Volkswagen's new modular infotainment system will be available on most, if not all, 2016 model year VW models including the new Golf, Golf Sportwagen, GTI, eGolf, Jetta, Beetle, CC, Tiguan and Touareg. Along with the new dashboard tech, these models will also be available with an expanded suite of driver aid functions including adaptive cruise control, semi-automatic park assist, lane departure prevention and emergency auto-braking.