In-car connectivity comes in a variety of forms, from simple entertainment systems that use your smartphone for connectivity to full-fledged connected platforms that work independently. While the former is usually an easier and cheaper option, the latter opens up a lot of possibilities for things you can do with your car, whether you are in it or not. Modern technology can turn your car into a completely independent computer on wheels.
Today, many new cars in India come with these connected systems. Kia recently launched the Sonet with its connected car UVO system, bringing the right connected car technology into accessible price segments. So what exactly can a connected car do, and is it really worth the steep price hike to add this technology to your car? I’m exploring the possibilities of connected cars using the Kia Sonet and UVO connected car system to find out.
What is a connected car?
Before we go any further, let’s first talk about what a connected car is. There are several ways to define this, depending on how the car connects to internet-based services. Basically, a good infotainment system in the car can do this either via a connectivity app that is connected to your smartphone, or via common protocols such as Android Auto or Apple CarPlay, which use the smartphone’s user interface and most of its functions on the smartphone reflect the vehicle’s infotainment system.
If you are on a budget, or if the car you like doesn’t have an option for a full connected solution, this is the best way to get your vehicle online. This allows you to view maps of traffic data, check your notifications, take calls through your car’s audio system, and even give voice commands through Google Assistant or Siri.
On the other hand, a full-fledged connected system can do a lot more and you don’t even have to connect your smartphone. Instead, it will have its own SIM card and data connection for all of its functions. This allows you to communicate with the car even when you are not in the car and allows you to control hardwired functions through the system. You can use mapping with dynamic data, in-car access to concierge and towing services, remote controls for vehicle functions, and much more.
Kia UVO: the basics
UVO is a software suite for connected cars that is integrated with the infotainment system in the car and is optionally available for all Kia models currently available in India, including the newly launched Sonet. You need to register and link your vehicle to the app, but Kia offers free UVO services for three years when you buy vehicles that are equipped with the hardware. There’s no word on how much it will cost after the free period of use, but the price for the service is US $ 99 (about 7,300 rupees) per year in the US.
The infotainment system in the car has its own 4G data connection that is embedded directly into the system and for which the user does not need to insert a SIM card or create a data plan. This is completely transparent to the user, and the cost of data usage is covered by your subscription fee during the subscription period. In this way, a connection to the Internet can be established and the UVO concierge, the roadside service or the emergency service can be called. In addition to its native functionality, it is also compatible with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, so you can switch to these protocols if necessary.
Thanks to the independent connection of the vehicle, you can use the UVO smartphone app and the accompanying Kia smartwatch app to communicate with the car even when it is parked and you are not nearby. On the Kia Sonet I had for this test (the GTX Plus 1.0L iMT variant), all of this was connected to a Bose audio system with seven speakers and a 10.25-inch touchscreen with HD resolution.
Kia UVO: In the car
Just like your smartphone or tablet can constantly download and display new information via an internet connection, Kia’s UVO system can support a number of key functions while you are in the car. The most important of these is the navigation, whereby the map system in the car shows traffic data in real time and offers the possibility to search through a regularly updated list of points of interest.
Although I found the maps and traffic data to be a little less accurate than Google Maps, it was certainly usable, especially with the added convenience of being easily and safely visible on the car console. Another useful feature of this car is a built-in air purifier, and the status of the air quality in the car can be viewed on the screen.
Kia’s UVO system also has some useful safety and communication features that can be used while driving. On the rearview mirror there are quick access buttons for emergency services, breakdown assistance and the UVO concierge service for navigation assistance. The concierge service connected me to a real person within seconds of the button being pressed, and I was able to quickly send navigational directions to my vehicle for a specific location. Fortunately, I didn’t have to use the breakdown assistance or the emergency buttons.
Just like intelligent loudspeakers, the UVO system supports voice commands, with “Hello Kia” being used as a trigger word when sitting in the car. The vehicle’s voice assistant is powered by SoundHound’s Houndify technology, which isn’t as powerful as Google Assistant, Alexa, or Siri, but has some useful tweaks.
These include the ability to set the vehicle’s temperature and blower direction, control music and calls through a paired device, lower or raise the driver’s window, update weather information, and much more. The speech recognition only worked properly when the windows were open while driving and was only really accurate even when the command was given from the driver’s seat. I also found the responses to be a little slow, so didn’t find myself doing it too often.
Kia UVO: Outside the car
The truly remarkable capabilities of UVO come into play when you are not in the car, and this is where the connected car concept really makes a difference. Once you’ve set up and connected to the app on your smartphone or smartwatch, you can control or monitor some aspects of the car from anywhere, as long as you have internet access and your car can connect to its data network. In Mumbai, I was able to connect to the Kia Sonet almost everywhere, except in a covered underground parking lot, where even my smartphone usually loses connection.
In outdoor parking spaces, I could turn on the car at any time, control the temperature of the air conditioning, monitor the air quality in the cabin, lock and unlock the doors and precisely locate the car at any time. You can even track the vehicle in almost real time while it is being driven. It only takes a few seconds to update the car’s location so it was often a bit ahead of where I thought it was. A useful function was to search for a POI on my smartphone and then send navigation instructions to the car. This was much easier than entering locations using the car’s display and keypad.
Other security features include valet parking alerts, geofence alerts, speed monitoring, theft alerts and notifications for basic things like not locking the door when the vehicle is turned off. Travel records are also kept and you can use the app to monitor things like fuel levels, tire pressures and general vehicle diagnostics. All of these come in handy when you need to monitor how members of your family drive the car.
These connectivity functions also usefully allow complete remote control of some functions of the vehicle. This includes the ability to remotely immobilize your vehicle in the event of theft, although this cannot be done by you directly. Instead, you’d have to contact Kia to get this done and take some legal action before executing, but it’s connectivity that makes that safety feature possible.
Some of these functions can also be controlled from a smartwatch if you have the app installed. I’ve tried the diagnostics and remote control with a Samsung Galaxy Watch Active, but it is also listed as compatible with Apple and Wear OS smartwatches. With Wear OS and Tizen, you also get special watch faces that allow you to quickly launch the UVO app from the home screen.
Is a connected car worth all the fuss?
According to research by the analysis company CounterpointThree quarters of all new cars will be connected in the next five years. As IoT-enabled home appliances are rapidly gaining momentum, it is evident that cars are the next big step in connectivity. Connected cars are a crucial step towards the future of driving and mobility, although they currently come at a high price.