Infotainment technology seldom ages well on used cars. What once passed for the latest in car technology can feel like a relic today. And since the Millennial Used Car Project reflects the tastes of a generation that grew up with the Internet and is quick to adopt new technology, it was clear that the 2007 Dodge Charger SRT8's old tech simply wasn't going to cut it.
We decided to give the Charger a dose of updated technology in the form of a new head unit and back-up camera. These upgrades would allow us to use our smartphones to get current navigation data, serve as a better media player and make it safer for us to park the fairly large Charger sedan.
Deciding What To Buy
Since mid-2014, there have been a number of aftermarket head units that offer Android Auto and Apple CarPlay integration. At present, an aftermarket unit is the best and least expensive way to experience these technologies, since automakers have been slow to add the features to their new cars.
We wanted the latest in smartphone integration technology, but in keeping with the spirit of the Millennial Used Car Project, we also felt that it was important to keep the costs at a reasonable level. Our theoretical tech budget was about $1,000, all in. We say theoretical because Pioneer was gracious enough to provide us with the head unit for review purposes. Pioneer also covered the installation fees.
We chose the Pioneer AVH-4100NEX. It is a double-DIN unit with a 7-inch touchscreen that gets solid reviews on Amazon and Best Buy. It is the entry-level model of Pioneer's Networked Entertainment eXperience (NEX) line and sells for about $563 on Amazon.
We had to make a few trade-offs in the project. To keep the costs down, we passed on upgraded speakers. They would have taken us well over budget. To accommodate the new head unit, we had to sacrifice the satellite-based navigation system that came with the car. And by choosing the entry-level AVH-4100NEX, we also were giving up on built-in navigation. That only comes on the higher-priced aftermarket head units.
We were glad to be rid of the old factory navigation system, however. It was slow, had outdated maps and an unintuitive interface. Plus, the ability to use a smartphone's maps is the big selling point for Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and we were eager to test them via this upgrade. We also lost our satellite radio receiver in the transition from the factory head unit. The aftermarket unit we got is capable of playing satellite radio, but it needs an extra part to do so — more on that later.
So we lost a few features, but gained a cleaner interface, Bluetooth audio, Pandora streaming, iPod connectivity and the ability to better integrate our smartphones.
After the head unit installation, we had a few other items to take care of.
Rear Camera, Steering Wheel Adapter and XM Tuner
The Charger is a large sedan, and it can be tough to see out the back when parking. A rear camera would help with this and give us a chance to test out what an aftermarket camera is like. Pioneer sent us the Pioneer ND-BC8, which goes for about $95 on Amazon. This camera is on the pricier end, but since it's the same brand as the head unit, we would have perfect compatibility. If we were paying for this ourselves, we might consider the Esky EX180-19 camera, which costs about $55 less.
Pioneer also sent us an adapter that lets us retain the steering wheel controls for audio functions. The adapter allows us to change the volume, skip tracks and change radio stations, all while keeping our hands on the wheel. This part goes for about $48 on Amazon.
We did the last upgrade for our long-term test drivers. While some studies indicate that satellite radio usage is quite low among millennials, many Edmunds editors are avid listeners of Sirius/XM radio, so it was important to restore that functionality to the Charger. The Sirius/XM SXV300 is a tuner and antenna that work on any "Sirius/XM-ready" stereo. List price is about $70, but Amazon was selling it for about $40.
Labor and Final Costs
For installation, we took the car to PCH Custom Audio in Wilmington, California, roughly 30 miles from the Edmunds office. PCH Custom installed the head unit in about four hours. The rear camera and XM tuner arrived at our office after the head unit, which meant we had to make an additional trip to get those installed. These parts took another three hours to install.
The adapter to make the head unit fit in the center console came in black, which meant we lost the factory unit's silver trim. The silver did a nice job of breaking up the colors in the cabin, and now the center console looks like a mass of black plastic. One commenter on our long-term blog thought this was an improvement, since it made the head unit look more prominent.
Pioneer picked up the cost of installation. We estimated it at $280.
All in, the tech upgrade cost about $1,093. This total assumes that we purchased the parts from Amazon and adds about 9 percent for Los Angeles County sales tax. If you deduct about $94 for the Sirius/XM tuner and the associated install from the total, the final figure would be $999: a hair under budget. For anyone looking to more cheaply follow our steps, you could probably save another $50 if you went with a different rear camera.
Head Unit and Camera Impressions
The Pioneer unit, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are all separate experiences, and each merits its own discussion. Take a look at our long-term road test for more detailed thoughts on the audio and technology. For now, here are a few early impressions.
The Pioneer unit has a large resistive touchscreen that is fast and responsive. The text is easy to read and the menus are laid out well. The AVH-4100NEX has a small row of physical buttons under the screen. We found these to be too small and hard to find while driving. Luckily, the steering wheel controls manage most of the same functions and are less distracting to operate. The sound quality is about the same if not slightly better than the factory head unit. Upgrading the speakers would obviously improve that, but that wasn't really the goal of this project.
Apple CarPlay takes over the moment you plug the Lightning-to-USB cable into an iPhone. The screen will black out on the phone and apps like Music, Phone, Podcasts, Maps and Messages will be shown on the Pioneer screen. You're notified of incoming texts, but it won't show them to you. Instead, Siri will read the messages aloud. (Speaking of which, there is a dedicated home button that appears onscreen that allows you to make any Siri-related tasks and requests.) One drawback of Apple CarPlay is that it limits you to using Apple Maps. You can still use Google maps or Waze, but you'll only hear the audio prompts rather than see the map onscreen.
We've yet to test out the Android Auto functionality, as only a handful of people on the editorial staff have Android phones. We expect Android Auto to run similarly to the demonstration we had when we took a first look at it earlier this year.
The back-up camera is clear and seems to work well in low-light conditions. The Pioneer head unit has an option to turn on distance lines when the camera is on. The lines, however, appear to be upside down. We suspect the camera might need to be flipped over.
Overall, we stayed within the budget we set for ourselves and are happy with the head unit and back-up camera. Our Millennial Charger is almost as high-tech as a modern one and will give us plenty to talk about in the coming months.
Chapter 1: Busting Millennial Myths and Shopping for a Used Car
Chapter 2: Buying a Car Under Recall and What It Took To Fix It
Chapter 3: Chapter 3: Adding Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and a Back-up Camera
Chapter 4: Minor Maintenance and DIY Repairs
To find a dealership that knows how to treat shoppers right, please visit Edmunds.com's Dealer Ratings and Reviews.