Monday 16 December 2019

What car makers are doing to make it safe and legal to text

Increased demand for 'voice to text' and 'text reading' systems as new laws kick in

The Volkswagen interior
The Volkswagen interior

Olive Keogh, Eddie Cunningham

DEMAND for car systems that allow drivers to legally 'send' and 'receive' texts at the wheel is expected to increase here as tough new laws, banning texting while driving, kick in tomorrow.

An Independent Motors survey reveals how brands are adding sophisticated devices to more models.

The number of cars with such systems is growing.

The revolution has begun in earnest, with the central stack in cars – where radios normally reside – about to become extensions of our mobile devices.

Some manufacturers have already begun fitting Apple's CarPlay system; others plan to integrate Android-compatible systems.

'Voice-to-text' and 'text reading' technology is largely confined to all-new models – but expect rapid changes.

Here we report on what brands already have in place and what they plan for the near future.

Audi: New A3 supports 'voice-to-text' and 'text readout' through its Connect technology (optional, from around €700). It will shortly be in all models. Audi Connect can also read out emails, tweets and Facebook notifications while you're driving.

BMW: Currently testing a mobile office speech-to-text message dictation feature for this summer. Part of improved Bluetooth package on cars with Professional Media or next-generation Business Media packages (will cost around €600 as optional extra). Where a mobile phone is compatible, text messages/emails can be read to drivers. Enhanced Bluetooth can't be retrofitted. BMW say customers are already ordering it as a matter of course.

Citroen: No current models with hands-free outgoing/ incoming texting but the technology will be in future models through Apple's CarPlay system.

Peugeot: Currently the same for PSA stablemate Peugeot but this may change when MirrorLink (integration between infotainment system and smartphone) comes on board in new models.

Fiat: Models with Uconnect touch-screen infotainment system can read texts aloud and use a series of pre-determined text responses.

Dictation or composing texts while driving 'not supported'. Uconnect is standard on 500L, Trekking, MPW; 2014 Alfa Romeo MiTo and Giulietta; Chrysler 300; Jeep, Grand Cherokee.

Ford: Its SYNC system is standard on the Fiesta, Ecosport, B-MAX, C-MAX and Focus. SYNC permits a number of pre-defined texts to be sent by voice command; the system can read out incoming messages.

Regular Bluetooth voice control on all other models. Where optional, the system costs around €300.

Honda: No vehicles that support text-message display, dictation or voice command at present. Most have Bluetooth as standard.

Hyundai: Doesn't have in-car hands-free texting/ receiving but has voice command phone dialling in mid-to-high-level trims and in i40s and i10.

Jaguar/Land Rover: Doesn't have hands-free texting but is testing apps system called In Control. If Land Rover opts for it Jaguar will likely follow. Voice control standard on Range Rover Sport, Range Rover and Discovery HSE. Option on Evoque and Jaguars.

Kia: No models with voice activated/hands-free texting or read out. Bluetooth standard except on Picanto, Rio, entry-level Venga.

Mazda: All new '6', CX-5 and '3' can display/read out SMS, MMS and email on a touchscreen. Also have preset replies through multimedia commander or steering wheel controls. The '3' displays/reads out social media messages. This will be integrated into '6' and CX-5s.

MINI: has a text reading facility for incoming messages; text dictation being tested. Will only work with a compatible smartphone.

Mitsubishi: Models don't have hands-free texting but all (excluding Space Star 1.0L) have standard Bluetooth.

Opel: Offers hands-free texting through its IntelliLink (Navi 950) system.

On the new Meriva and on Mokka. Will be available from early next year on Insignia following a software update.

Renault: Has voice recognition for navigation but not for text messages. When the car is in motion emails are read out and a reply can be dictated.

However, this feature doesn't apply to SMS. All have Bluetooth as standard.

SEAT: Models do not support hands-free text reading/typing but Bluetooth standard on 91pc of range.

Skoda: Has Bluetooth at some levels of spec. Voice control available on Octavia for €20. Can display images of people instead of their names. Skoda say this is safer as it reduces time needed to identify those you wish to call.

Suburu: No models with voice activated/hands-free texting or read out. Bluetooth available on all except 1.6i XV/1.6i CVT XV and BRZ.

Suzuki: No models with voice activated/hands-free texting or read out.

Bluetooth standard on Suzuki S-Cross and Swifts; will be standard across the range.

SsangYong: Offers Bluetooth but no hands-free texting/read out options.

Volkswagen: All models from Golf upwards (Beetle excepted) can be ordered with text-to-speech ability.

The Premium Bluetooth option costs from €330 as an upgrade and from €650 on vehicles without Bluetooth. No speech-to-text capacity within the range; not possible to retrofit it.

Volvo: Sensus Connect system allows text messages to be read out. It's an option but available on all for around €750. Possible to retro-fit the system. Bluetooth standard across the range.

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