2012
09.17

Every day I get a little nerdier. Seriously, who gets excited learning about the latest in-vehicle connectivity in a new car, except for maybe a car buff or a nerd? I guess I am now falling into the latter category these days. I have to confess I was truly revved up to put the Spark, Chevrolet’s first U.S.-based mini car, and its technology to the test driving around Chi-town.

When I opened the driver door and saw a 7-in. color touchscreen that provides smartphone integration, I was instantly impressed. Candidly, I really didn’t expect to see a lot of in-car electronics, but I am intrigued with Chevy’s MyLink infotainment and connectivity system. Couple MyLink with GM’s OnStar for connected safety, security, and mobility solutions, and consumers have a pretty solid in-car electronics system at a pretty reasonable price.

Now, I have been writing about this tech stuff for awhile, but when I started to maneuver around the MyLink home screen featuring just five options, including audio, picture & movie, telephone, smartphone link, and settings, I just couldn’t help but think how simple all this was for the average car driver. As you scroll it’s almost just too “Stupid Easy.” It’s really that easy. Each option is typed out in an easy-to-read font and the system features small icons indicating functionality on the left side. For instance, the picture & movie tab has a movie reel and the telephone tab has a phone icon.

The in-vehicle system also lists status icons for OnStar, USB, Bluetooth, AUX, and smartphone connectivity. Drivers can use MyLink smartphone to play my music of choice or from SiriusXM, Pandora, and Stitcher. But it’s interesting to note that you won’t find a CD player in the Spark. Spark doesn’t offer it as standard equipment. That might be a first for me.

It appears GM market research discovered that its target buyers wanted navigation, but didn’t want to pay the extra $2,000 pricetag that goes along with it for typical installed equipment when bundled with other systems. Thus came the birth of the BringGo navigation app. This software application operates from a mobile phone that can be controlled from Spark’s touchscreen. The BringGo app will be available in Q4. I can’t help but think this is a great car for Millennials looking for in-car tech that is easy to use at a good price.

Despite all the excitement behind this new technology, I have to wonder if the government won’t rain on Chevy’s—or all the carmakers’, which have smartphone connections, for that matter—parade.

As we have reported so many times before, the question is whether legislators will call for a ban on hands-free devices. Washington has been very vocal in criticizing the use of cellphones and other devices in vehicles. And, in fact, Washington has called for a federal law prohibiting the use of these devices while driving. Currently, it is researching the effects that hands-free devices, and other new systems, have on distracting drivers.

With that said, these smartphone connections could be affected if The National Highway Traffic Safety Admin., has its way and the ban influences decisionmakers in Washington.

To that point, when your smartphone is connected to MyLink, drivers can answer calls by either pressing the Answer button on the Spark touchscreen or the steering wheel-mounted button. Ending a call is as easy as tapping the onscreen end button or pressing the steering wheel-mounted button.

The Spark system doesn’t have voice commands for activating a hands-free calling. Rather, it leverages the owner’s smartphone voice-recognition functions, but can rely on Spark’s touchscreen or physical controls to achieve hands-free calling. All-in-all, even though it lacks the pioneering voice-recognition that Ford’s SYNC and MyFord Touch are known for, it does appear on the surface to be pretty easy to use. The big question that lingers now is whether these smartphone connections will withstand the government hammer that is just dangling over everyone’s head at this point. I guess we will just have to wait until the end of the year to see what happens. Stay tuned.

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