Getting up to Speed With Aftermarket Infotainment Tech

Can Pioneer’s latest unit breathe new life into an old Honda?

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Each December, we’re met with a deluge of holiday ads on TV. Some show off a car’s driving dynamics. Others highlight a luxurious ride or a great value. Increasingly, the commercials tout fancy new technology. Whatever the hook, a car invariably ends up in the driveway with a bow on Christmas morning. Then, each January, millions of us return to work in the same old vehicle we’ve been driving for years.

The average car on the road today is more than 11 years old, and the average owner holds onto his or her car for more than six years. IHS Markit, a research firm that tracks these and other industry numbers, attributes this to the increase in vehicle build quality. No matter how sturdy your old car might be, though, it’s still an old car, devoid of many of the niceties that have since been introduced.

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If you’re one of the millions of people driving cars more than a few years old, you might have already resigned yourself to going years more without experiencing Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, or even rearview cameras, which beginning in May will be standard on all new cars. And because you purchased your car before some of these things even existed, you might not realize the aftermarket has already caught up. You might, like my fiancée and I, have just assumed you’d have to wait. As I discovered while searching for a Christmas gift, though, that is not the case.

She bought a 2008 Honda CR-V four years ago. The factory stereo—a basic AM/FM radio and CD player—required a code to unlock, and the dealer didn’t have it. So she drove for months with her phone perched in a cubby that sort of amplified the volume a little—good enough. We eventually found the code and were able to connect her phone via aux cable. That was fine until the buttons stopped working. At her last dealer visit, she was informed the motherboard was bad; the whole unit needed to be replaced. It’s been the phone in the cubby ever since. She, like many others, simply found a way to make do with a vehicle that was otherwise fine.

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I walked into a car audio shop a few weeks ago thinking I’d walk out with a basic radio. Maybe it would have Bluetooth. I would’ve settled for an aux cable again. Instead, I was drawn toward a display featuring a $500 Pioneer AVH-2300NEX unit. It featured Bluetooth, yes. But it also had a 7.0-inch resistive touchscreen, a backup camera input, and both CarPlay and Android Auto. This realization was embarrassingly mind-blowing for me—in hindsight it should have been obvious—and it sent me back home for further research. (Other aftermarket suppliers, including Alpine, Clarion, JVC, Kenwood, and Sony, also feature Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility.)

I ended up going with a Pioneer AVIC-8201NEX, the company’s flagship unit. (Pioneer, a Motor Trend advertising partner, supplied it.) The $1,100 system also has a 7.0-inch screen, but it’s capacitive, a more familiar tech to those glued to their phones. A rearview camera is included, as well. Ted Cardenas, Pioneer’s VP of marketing, says its embedded navigation system is also “equal to or better than” what most OEMs offer, which he attributes to components of a higher quality and the flexibility of customization.

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Motor Trend has no shortage of experience with those OEM systems, some of which we like more than others. In the coming month, we’ll review the installation process and compare Pioneer’s functionality with the systems found in new cars. We might also explore other aftermarket solutions for a more thorough evaluation of consumer options. Are the latest advances in aftermarket car stereos a worthy stopgap for the millions of Americans driving older cars? Or would my fiancée have been fine with the phone in the cubby for a little while longer? We’ll find out.

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