As home audio systems continue to improve, auto manufacturers are doing everything in their power to keep up. Read on for an in-depth look at the latest in car-audio tech, including a joint venture from VW and Fender, a wildly advanced Bose and Cadillac team-up, and Volvo's enormous new subwoofer system. Plus, read up on the latest in road-ready Wi-Fi.
For its new CT6 sedan, Cadillac asked Bose to build the best sound system it could, sparing no expense. Bose took nearly five years to design the Panaray (a $3,700 add-on), borrowing ideas from the sound systems the company builds for midsize music venues. The Panaray features a staggering 34 speakers, all but one of them smaller than four inches across. There's not a bad seat in the house: The speakers are mounted in unexpected places – like the headrests and front pillars – and direct sound all over the cabin, firing straight at the ears of all passengers. Meanwhile, three microphones pick up (and cancel out) reverb and engine drone. The result is a precise, enveloping soundstage that will lock you in at 80 miles per hour – or at zero, parked in the garage.
If you're after huge sound, step into Volvo's XC90, the Swedish brand's luxury seven-seat SUV. Volvo and Bowers & Wilkins engineers designed a 10-inch subwoofer into the actual subframe of the car for ultradeep low end. The 18 other speakers in the $2,650 system include aluminum tweeters and Kevlar midrange units; a 1,400-watt amplifier drives them all. You can also opt for the system in Volvo's S90 sedan and upcoming V90 wagon.
To liven up its best sound system, Volkswagen paired up with a guitar god, Fender. It might seem like a gimmick, until you hear one: The nine-speaker, 400-watt, 10-channel system just thumps, simply put, and sounds clear and precise at any volume. A subwoofer hidden in the spare-tire well deploys deep, undistorted bass. It's part of the $1,700 Technology Package on the Beetle Dune, shown here, and comes standard on most SEL trims of most VW models. An upcoming three-row SUV should have an even better Fender system.
There's a new frontier in car tech: built-in Wi-Fi. Audi (whose Connect screen is shown below) and GM are leading the charge by equipping most 2017 vehicles with the option of a 4G LTE connection, via AT&T's network. Both use the vehicle's antenna to turn your car into a mobile hot spot. Passengers can stream Netflix, Spotify and more through a connection that rivals most home Wi-Fi for speed and reliability. (Data charges apply.)
Drive an older car? You're still in luck: Gadgets like the Zubie + In-Car Wi-Fi ($100; zubie.com) and Samsung Connect Auto (above; it's out later this year; att.com) plug into a port underneath the steering wheel of nearly every car sold in the U.S. since 1996. Aside from creating a hot spot, they can track fuel usage and alert you to engine problems via a phone app.