Review: Mazda's CarPlay Support a Welcome Addition for iPhone Users

Discussion in 'iOS Blog Discussion' started by MacRumors, Sep 18, 2018.

  1. MacRumors macrumors bot


    Apr 12, 2001

    Back in March, Mazda became one of the last major car manufacturers to announce launch plans for CarPlay support. Mazda's first announced vehicle with CarPlay is the 2018 Mazda6, with owners of Touring trim and above able to bring their vehicles to a Mazda dealer for a free upgrade starting this month. CarPlay will be available pre-installed in Mazda6 vehicles with Touring trim and above as of November, while Mazda's 2019 CX-9 is also just starting to roll out with CarPlay available pre-installed.

    2018 Mazda6 Signature in Soul Red Crystal

    While the general CarPlay experience is consistent across car brands, as it's driven by your connected iPhone, there are some differences in how CarPlay interfaces with manufacturers' various infotainment systems and hardware, so it's worth taking a look at the CarPlay experience in a Mazda. I've had a chance to spend some time with a CarPlay-equipped 2018 Mazda6 Signature, and CarPlay is a welcome alternative to the built-in Mazda Connect infotainment system that has garnered mixed reviews over the years.

    Mazda Connect

    Before we touch on CarPlay, it pays to take a look at Mazda Connect, as that's the software and hardware CarPlay sits on top of. Mazda has opted for multiple control options in its vehicles, with both an 8-inch touchscreen on the dashboard and a commander knob with associated buttons on the center console. A smaller dial next to the commander knob lets you adjust volume without reaching up to the dashboard, or you can adjust the volume from the steering wheel. Voice control through a button on the steering wheel is also available.

    Controller knob and other controls on center console

    Touchscreen operation is unsurprisingly straightforward, while the commander knob offers a flexible array of input methods including twisting, rocking, and pressing the knob to navigate around. The cluster of buttons around the knob lets you jump quickly to navigation, music, favorites, the Mazda Connect home screen (or CarPlay home screen if active), or back to the previous screen. Navigating the interface with the commander knob can be a bit clunky at times, particularly if you have to navigate through several menu levels, but overall it's a satisfactory experience similar to that offered by a number of other manufacturers.

    Mazda Connect home screen

    One important thing to note is that while the Mazda Connect system includes a touchscreen, it's locked out while driving in order to reduce distractions, requiring you to use the commander knob or voice to control the system. (The lockout is only while the car is in motion, so the touchscreen does work while stopped at a stoplight, for example.) Mazda is one of the most conservative carmakers in this regard, but forcing users to the commander knob can actually be a detriment in some cases where reaching over to the display for a quick tap would likely be less distracting than using the knob to scroll over to the desired option.

    Navigation search menu

    A significant part of what makes CarPlay such a welcome addition is that Mazda Connect has a few shortcomings. I found overall navigation of the interface passable but a bit clunky with the commander knob. The user interface layout is decent enough for touchscreen control, but when you're forced to use the commander knob it can be something of a chore to navigate through the options.

    The overall look of Mazda Connect isn't bad by car infotainment standards, although it could certainly stand to see some modernization, and there are some curious design decisions such as not allowing enough characters to display song titles completely. With a nice, big 8-inch screen, it shouldn't be the case that song titles are routinely cut off.

    SiriusXM Radio interface

    Built-in navigation through Mazda Connect also leaves a bit to be desired, as I found the system unable to parse some of the destinations I tried to input by voice and the POI database seemed rather weak, making it difficult to find some destinations.

    Navigation search results

    In one test trip, the onboard GPS tracking seemed to be improperly calibrated, and navigation was useless as the map continually showed me driving off into the woods. On all other trips, however, the GPS location and directions were accurate, so the problem I experienced may have just been a one-off bug. It's also an issue I've occasionally seen with my iPhone, so maybe there isn't really that much difference in performance here.

    Turn-by-turn directions with simulated road signs for easy recognition

    Otherwise, the navigation system performed well with helpful turn-by-turn directions and depictions of road signs at major junctions. A handy optional feature also displays cross streets as you approach you them, even if you don't have a navigation route running. Another helpful view displays along the right side of the screen which amenities like gas, food, and auto repair are available at upcoming exits.

    General map view

    Mazda Connect also isn't known for being speedy, with the most significant chokepoint being at initial boot. Upon starting the car, it took 15 to as much as 40 seconds for Mazda Connect to boot up, display a warning to keep your eyes on the road, and become available to use. Loading directly into navigation can take a few seconds longer. It doesn't necessarily sound like a huge amount of time, but when you just want to hop in your car and go it can feel like an eternity. Unfortunately, CarPlay doesn't help with this, as Mazda Connect has to fully boot up before CarPlay can be recognized as available, so you still have to wait.


    Once you're into CarPlay, things work mostly as expected. All of the familiar CarPlay apps are there, and you can navigate through them by touch (with one big caveat discussed below), the commander knob/buttons, or voice.

    CarPlay home screen

    One important difference for Mazda is that the touchscreen lockout while driving also extends to CarPlay, which means you'll need to use the commander knob to scroll through highlighted user interface elements. It's an officially supported input method for CarPlay, but ultimately it's less convenient for an operating system that's designed to be manipulated by touch with minimal distraction.

    Touchscreen input works fine with CarPlay when the car isn't in motion, so it's simplest to get as much set up for your drive as you can before you set out and make adjustments at stoplights. Commander knob ease of use will obviously improve as you spend time using it and muscle memory takes over for some tasks, but it's rarely going to be as convenient as a direct touch interface.

    While the commander knob can be a little inconvenient for navigating the user interface, some frequently used functions like play/pause (press the knob) and back/forward (rock the knob) are simple and intuitive. It's the more complicated operations that involve scrolling through various UI elements to make a selection that are more cumbersome to accomplish with the knob than a touchscreen tap.

    As with the touchscreen lockout for Mazda Connect, Mazda tells me the extension to CarPlay is a "conscious choice" based on its feeling that the knob is less distractive than using a touchscreen while the car is motion. I'm not sure I necessarily agree when it comes to CarPlay, as Apple has put considerable thought into keeping the interface simple enough that you can grab relevant information at a glance and quickly tap what you need.


    Apple Maps in CarPlay

    Beyond the knob itself, the associated hardware buttons surrounding it do come in handy for CarPlay. The navigation and music buttons make it easy to jump back and forth between frequently used screens, and it hops in and out of CarPlay as needed - such as when you have Apple Maps active while listening to XM radio and the buttons correctly take you to the proper music and maps apps. The system also remembers if CarPlay is active when you turn off the car, and takes you back to it when you start up again.

    Apple Maps in CarPlay

    One other thing to note is that if your phone is plugged into the car, pressing the talk button on the steering wheel appears to only activate Siri. I was unable to find a way to activate the Mazda Connect voice system while the phone was plugged in, even if CarPlay wasn't necessarily active.

    Some systems like BMW's offer dual access via the talk button, bringing up Siri with a short press or the onboard system with a long press. Mazda tells me it decided not to offer dual access because its research concluded that customers found it confusing. Changing terrestrial/satellite radio stations is the only thing Mazda Connect's voice system can do that Siri can not, and that task can also be accomplished in some regard by using buttons on the steering wheel.

    Ports and Connectivity

    Mazda has been thoughtful with the placement of various ports, helping to keep cords and devices tucked away. Two USB ports (one designated for connecting a phone to Mazda Connect), an Aux port, an SD card slot used for loading maps into the onboard navigation system, and a 12V power port are all hidden away in the center console compartment.

    Ports inside center console compartment

    The compartment isn't particularly roomy, as the gearshift, commander knob, and cupholders take up much of the console space, but it lets you keep your phone out of sight. If you prefer to have your phone in a cupholder or the storage tray at the front of the console, there's a sufficient gap on either side of the console compartment lid to easily run the cable out without pinching it.

    Rear armrest with USB ports​

    In the rear, the middle seatback folds down to offer a pair of cupholders, controls for heated seats (if equipped), and a shallow storage compartment housing a pair of 2.1A USB ports, which is great for keeping the kids' iPads charged up. Mazda does not, however, offer a Wi-Fi hotspot option to keep those devices connected to the internet.


    With CarPlay adoption growing rapidly over the past several years, it's become more of a must-have feature for car buyers, so it's great to see Mazda finally get on board with the technology. I know several Mazda owners who have been waiting patiently for CarPlay support, and while it's unfortunate there are no signs yet of retrofit availability beyond the current Mazda6, at least those loyal Mazda owners can look forward to it in their next car.

    Infotainment systems from car manufacturers across the board are notorious for design and performance that don't reach the level of polish we've come to expect from our smartphones, and Mazda Connect is no different here. The whole Mazda Connect system could use a refresh to modernize the look and improve performance, but once you get familiar with the operation it's a decent system beyond the issues I had with navigation.

    Of course, any shortcomings in onboard systems like Mazda Connect serve to increase the value of CarPlay support, which lets you use the apps you're already familiar with right on the dashboard and have all of your contacts, music playlists, maps history, and more at your fingertips without needing to rely on incomplete and sometimes cumbersome syncing of data to built-in car systems or audio-only connections over Bluetooth or Aux. And with CarPlay expanding to support third-party maps apps like Google Maps and Waze, even more iPhone owners may be willing to become regular CarPlay users.

    The 2018 Mazda6 and the new 2019 CX-9 will be the first Mazdas to get CarPlay support, but it's reasonable to expect that the rest of the lineup should get it as the new model years are introduced. Unlike some other manufacturers, Mazda isn't charging extra for CarPlay, so far simply bundling it into all tiers above the entry-level Sport trim. The company has not, however, announced any plans to offer retrofit CarPlay support on any models other than the 2018 Mazda6 that's currently in the middle of its production year.

    The 2018 Mazda6 starts at an MSRP of $21,950, although the minimum Touring trim required for CarPlay begins at $25,700. The new 2019 CX-9 starts at $32,280, with the Touring trim beginning at $35,330 needed for CarPlay.

    Article Link: Review: Mazda's CarPlay Support a Welcome Addition for iPhone Users
  2. coolsean20 macrumors regular


    Apr 23, 2014
    Do you think this means it won’t be coming to the 2018 CX-5 I just purchased? :(
  3. WildCowboy Administrator/Editor


    Staff Member

    Jan 20, 2005
    I've asked Mazda several times, and all they'll tell me is "nothing to announce at the moment" regarding possibility of retrofits for other models. So I wouldn't rule it out down the road, but they're being very cagey for now.
  4. Easy-E macrumors newbie

    Jun 22, 2009
    Any word on 2015 Mazda6 support? My grand touring does not have Mazda Connect heads up display...
  5. tbayrgs macrumors 603


    Jul 5, 2009
    Too little too late for me. After successive Mazda CX-9s and years of promises that CarPlay was coming, I switched to another car maker in May when there was still no support from Mazda. Shame because I really enjoy how they drive.
  6. ArtOfWarfare macrumors G3


    Nov 26, 2007
    I have now used CarPlay in a rental car for a few weeks, and I was shocked at how bad the UI is.

    You can see it in the image in the article showing Apple Maps on CarPlay in action - approximately 2/3 of the screen is covered in stuff that isn't the map.

    You've got a lot of space taken up by other app icons, a home button, various status icons and a clock. Those app icons definitely aren't necessary - the home button is sufficient for getting to other apps. Which - why is that button there at all? Your phone already has a physical home button that does the same thing. And your car probably has a dedicated button that does it, too. Clock is good. The status icons are redundant - why do you need to know both your cellular signal and your wifi signal at the same time?

    Then there's a very large box showing you what's up next, but despite how large the box is, the text in the box is too large for it and it's forced to wrap awkwardly. End result is that about half of the large black box is simply empty space that covers up your maps.

    Then there's another box with a few more stats. This is fine and useful information, but it's presented in a weird spot that could otherwise have map in it. I'd recommend moving them to where all the app icons are.

    Same deal with the compass - fine and useful info, but awkwardly taking a chunk out of map space. It should be in the top left, where the map icon in the image is (which, I didn't realize this before - why the heck is there a button for switching to the map app when you're already in the map app? That's the ultimate in totally wasted space.)

    That's the extent of what is visible in this screenshot, but the UI is actually worse (if you can believe it.) When you get a text message, what happens? An enormous black box covers the top half of the screen for the next several seconds, blocking out the lane guidance and next steps, plus the map showing you what those next steps are. That box doesn't contain your message in it - it just tells you who sent it and nothing else.

    Oh, you have a passenger in the car who wants to use your phone - perhaps to change which song is playing or to respond to a text message for you? Your maps go away when they do that.

    There's some other negatives I could bring up about it. The only pro I can think of is it's nice that you can type in stuff on your phone instead of on a crummy car touch screen, but really, you have the same thing going for you if you just mount your phone in front of that touch screen.

    Is this an improvement over other built-in systems? Maybe in theory? In practice? CarPlay is a total dumpster fire. I think it's a real testament to how incredibly bad the built-in systems are that people want CarPlay instead of it.
  7. ghostface147 macrumors 68020


    May 28, 2008
    I had a 2016 Mazda6 and their infotainment system is slooooooow. I always updated to the latest firmware on my own until they started locking out USB access. However once I had the muscle memory, using it was easy. Two turns to the right here, two left here, one here, push here. It just became second nature. But moving to a 2018 Accord with CarPlay (which I don't really use), it's amazing how much faster the Honda is at everything. Bluetooth connectivity is markedly faster than the Mazda.

    Would I go back to a Mazda? Idk. They have a turbo now, but it's still a little slow on the low end and their infotainment is too slow and outdated. Resolution is terrible. The car handles very well though.
  8. GrumpyMom macrumors 604


    Sep 11, 2014
    Yeah I gave up on connecting my phones to the car. I stick my phone in the cup holder and turn the volume way up when I want to hear the directions. That’s about it. Of course I drive a 26 year old car whose only automated part is me. And one hand me down used truck. I don’t get to choose vehicles based on whether or not they play nice with my phones. It sounds like there’s not much point to doing that just yet anyway. These systems aren’t all quite there yet. I know my husband cusses a blue streak at his systems and he picked those.

    Oh and I’m just here to admire that red color.
  9. SBlue1 macrumors 65816


    Oct 17, 2008
    Compared to the general map view when using the manufacturers navigation is that it is almost full screen map. But the thing is that its landscape! I don't need to see what is way left and way right out of my way so the Apple map was totally sufficient to me. What I used my phone for navigation before CarPlay I had it always in portrait orientation so I could see as much as possible of the way ahead of me.
  10. Baff macrumors newbie

    Jan 3, 2008
    It is already available in most other countries as a retrofit for any car with Mazda Connect. I expect it will be offered in the US some time in the next couple months.

    It is already an option in the US for those who want to do the install themselves and aren't bothered by tearing their dashboard apart and voiding their warranty.

    Prices vary from country to country. The parts alone cost roughly $150-200. Installation (with parts) costs $250-$500.
  11. liquidh2o macrumors 6502

    Feb 4, 2004
    Just to add, the parts are available in the U.S., but Mazda owners are reporting it is hit or miss on whether the dealerships will allow them to purchase.

    My understanding is the parts are in short supply and Mazda6 owners are being given first opportunity to purchase. Mazda has only officially announced the retrofit for this particular model.
  12. nwcs macrumors 68000


    Sep 21, 2009
    It’s widely reported that if you can obtain the parts you can get the upgrade working on the compatible vehicles. It’s just a matter of time before it becomes a thing they officially support.
  13. nutmac macrumors 68040

    Mar 30, 2004
    Any CarPlay reviews should clearly indicate whether or not it supports wireless CarPlay, along with whether or not the car has built-in Qi wireless charging.
  14. subjonas macrumors 65816

    Feb 10, 2014
    I think all I want is to play all the audio from my iphone to my car speakers wirelessly and losslessly. Pretty much like airplay, but I want it to connect automatically. Does wireless CarPlay do that—connect automatically and play all audio from my iphone? I have my phone on a mount and I don’t need to interact with it very often so I’m not really interested in the CarPlay UI.
  15. Baff macrumors newbie

    Jan 3, 2008
    Carplay is not wireless on Mazda.
  16. coolsean20 macrumors regular


    Apr 23, 2014
    What is a retrofit exactly? I’m not really familiar with it.
  17. kjvmartin macrumors regular

    Oct 11, 2016
    Terrible that it's only on the touring model. Kind of pricy. Other companies this comes standard on entry/near entry level models. My Equinox was very cheap and it has a beautiful big screen to display CarPlay.
  18. Ray Brady macrumors 6502

    Dec 21, 2011
    My primary complaint with Mazda Connect is that it simply refuses to play media from any iOS device. I mostly listen to podcasts when I drive, but the only way I can do that in my CX-5 is through the AUX cable. If I try to plug an iPhone or iPod into the USB port, it tells me no media is detected. If I try it through Bluetooth, it will list the media, but won't play it. I would welcome CarPlay to replace the entertainment system, but I do like the navigation system.
  19. dewski macrumors 6502

    Aug 20, 2011
    I did the retrofit to my 2014 Mazda 3 last weekend. Basically its just two new wires you have to run from your usb hub to the back of the stereo unit connected to the screen and a software upgrade done by usb. The usb hub is replaced during the process as well. It took me about an hour after researching the procedure. $170 in parts from Mazda. Works great!
    --- Post Merged, Sep 18, 2018 ---
    Yeah they cancelled my order the first time around. The second time I grabbed a mazda 6 vin from a dealership website and included it in my order and it went through. Installed last weekend and it works great.
    --- Post Merged, Sep 18, 2018 ---
    I se
    I see your points but I think you are exaggerating slightly. For one, you can tap that navigation info box and it collapses to 1/3 of the size.

    Less than half of the map is covered up. I agree that the map is covered a little, though. However, in real world use, everything you need to see is available. Its not covering up your path.

    Most of the stuff you are talking about taking up space is in one side bar.

    When you get a text, it covers up about 1/6th of the screen for 5 seconds. Yeah it could be a smaller notification, but its not that big a deal.

    The changing of apps problem is legit. If I pick up my phone and change the song, it shouldn't back out of the maps on the head unit. This is just sloppy design and was probably the easiest thing for them to do, having the screen mirror your iphone screen.

    The pros to me are being able to use a real mapping application, and smooth text response. The real game changer will be when waze and google maps are updated to work with carplay. I have had many cars with built in nav and all of them where terrrrrrible.

    So I wouldn't call it a dumpster fire. It was a solution to a problem that didn't really exist. There just isn't too much that it does yet.
  20. Mark Booth, Sep 18, 2018
    Last edited: Sep 18, 2018

    Mark Booth macrumors 68000

    Mark Booth

    Jan 16, 2008
    Each Mazda region (Country) is handling the CarPlay/Android Auto update a little differently. In the U.S., Mazda supplied all of its dealers with the number of CarPlay/AA retrofit kits as that dealer ordered 2018 Mazda6 models that have Mazda Connect infotainment systems. The dealers were instructed to reserve ALL of those CarPlay/AA retrofit kits for the 2018 Mazda6 and only the 2018 Mazda6.

    But that hasn't prevented some dealers from selling the retrofit kits over the counter to owners of other Mazda models. I know, because I bought two of the kits.

    Both my 2017 Mazda CX-5 and 2016 Mazda Miata now have CarPlay/AA installed. I did the installation myself, including the necessary firmware update to Mazda's latest infotainment software version.

    I paid $183 each for the kits, delivered to my home. It took me 2.5 hours to do the entire update (start to finish) on my CX-5 and took only 1.5 hours to do the update to my Miata.

    CarPlay works beautifully (I don't have an Android phone so I didn't test that). It's notably faster than Mazda's user interface and having SIRI available at the touch of a steering wheel button is a treat. SIRI is WAY faster under CarPlay compared to using SIRI (pressing button on phone) through Mazda's UI.

    Going forward, CarPlay will be mandatory in all of my new cars. There's no going back.

    The Mazda CarPlay/AA retrofit kit will fit and work in any current Mazda that already has the Mazda Connect infotainment system. I believe that's as far back as 2012 or 2013 for some of the Mazda models (but not necessarily all of them).

    BTW, CarPlay/AA doesn't entirely replace Mazda's UI. Meaning, you can still use Mazda Connect if you want. You can easily toggle between the two different UIs. You can still use Mazda's Navigation for directions while you are using CarPlay for music or podcasts. And, with iOS 12 and Goggle's latest version of Google Maps, you can navigate with Google Maps instead of Apple Maps. A new version of Waze that is compatible with CarPlay is coming in October.

  21. Cankoda macrumors regular


    Feb 21, 2011
    If it has Mazda connect it will be supported!
    --- Post Merged, Sep 18, 2018 ---
    From the Mazda Canada website, looks like all vehicles even as old as 2014 will be getting support!

    Attached Files:

  22. richardtekel macrumors newbie


    Sep 25, 2016
    I just finished a succesful install in my Mazda 3 via authorized car service. It’s very pleasing that the system Apple CarPlay can be added to a four year old car.
  23. makingdots macrumors 6502

    Aug 14, 2008
    If Apple CarPlay can't please you. Just move along.
  24. teqnik macrumors newbie


    Jun 28, 2013
    Unfortunately you are driving a Chevy...
  25. the1payday macrumors 6502


    Jun 19, 2007
    Amarillo, TX
    I did it myself about a week ago on my 2014 Mazda 3. The install is a little difficult, but nothing too tough. Also, no aspect of it voids the warranty...
    --- Post Merged, Sep 19, 2018 ---
    Yes it will. The parts and firmware are both universal. I did the install in my 2014 Mazda 3 about a week ago. Currently, Mazda USA is only upgrading the 2018 Mazda 6, due to parts demand, but it will eventually come to you’re model as well. If you can get your hands on the parts, you can do the install yourself, much sooner than Mazda’s “official” time table.

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