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Car Tech Spotlight: Fiat 500 Abarth's frustrating iPod interface

There is a way to access menu items such as albums, artists and playlists, but it’s not easy. Or apparent.

By Douglas Newcomb Dec 7, 2012 12:53PM

We’ve come a long way since the early days of iPod integration in cars, when clunky interfaces and proprietary-cable connections were common. Today, most cars display the main menu items of an attached media player, the interface is intuitive to operate and they have a USB input for plugging in almost any music device.


The Blue & Me system in the 2012 Fiat 500 Abarth I recently tested has two out of those three -- and one of the most frustrating interfaces I’ve encountered in a long time.


I usually start out testing the tech in a car without first reading the owner’s manual, with the idea that operation ideally should be intuitive. But after failing to do anything other than skip between songs alphabetically with my iPhone attached, I finally cracked the manual to investigate. But that didn’t do me any good.


The manual had minimal information and instructed me to refer to a DVD included with the car for more info. But that didn’t help either, since it also didn’t fully explain how to access menu items. Both the manual and DVD said that I could use the “radio buttons to Play, Browse and List the iPod or external devices [sic] content,” but no amount of button-pushing on the radio made this possible. The DVD also showed that I could access menu items by voice, but that didn’t work either.


It wasn’t until I did an Internet search that I found you can access the menu items, mainly by using the audio controls on the back side of the steering wheel that are common on most Chrysler vehicles. But I wouldn’t have known that based on the material Chrysler provided with the car. And I also didn’t know that the info from a connected music player is displayed in the instrument cluster -- not on the radio -- until I found the info online.


Even knowing how to access the contents on an iPod, I still found the whole process cumbersome compared with the interfaces in most other current-model cars. While I can’t classify the Fiat 500 Abarth as having the worst iPod integration ever -- and I’d have to go back several years to compare it with systems just as lame -- it is the most frustrating I’ve seen on any recent vehicle.

Thank goodness there’s an auxiliary-in jack next to the USB port in the glove box. And there’s always the aftermarket.
2Comments
Dec 16, 2012 5:04AM
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Ipod compatability is not a consideration when I'm purchasing a 20-40K vehicle....I haven't had an ipod in years.

Dec 10, 2012 11:42AM
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Apple still sells iPods? I am surprised. Ever since I switched to SDHC in my car (which you covered recently), I have never looked back. SDHC is simple and intuitive, and most importantly - frustration and stress free. You insert the card into the slot. It plays music. Simplicity bliss.
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