In today’s modern electronic age, Wi-Fi has become a mandatory requirement in everything from the average supercharged Jaguar SUV, to public parks and coffee shops. Whether it be based on customer requests or just forward thinking, there is no denying the fact that a car with built-in Wi-Fi is a very cool idea, and automakers are scurrying to keep up the times. But be forewarned, there’s usually some fine print associated with a Wi-Fi-equipped car, and it’s important to go over all of these details with a fine tooth comb prior to purchasing.
While a great idea in theory, critics have found that sometimes a car’s on-board Wi-Fi doesn’t always work as well as a signal found back at home due to obstacles like tunnels and skyscrapers. Since most people pay a pretty penny for Wi-Fi back at the house, it’s important to know that car Wi-Fi is bound to have a costly monthly subscription as well. There also is the issue of want versus need. Sure, having a car that comes with its own Wi-Fi signal is awesome, but any smart phone can become a hotspot quite easily, thus negating the need for a Wi-Fi equipped vehicle. So where did this all begin, and why the high demand if Wi-Fi is something most of us carry around with us in our pockets every day?
Apparently the whole Wi-Fi-ready car craze began back in 2008, when PC Mag reported that Chrysler was planning on offering cars with a 3G-powered Uconnect Wi-Fi signal. While this option may not have been an immediate hit for FCA, its popularity has certainly caught on with other models in the Jeep, Dodge, and Fiat lines. On the other hand, Edmunds says that Audi had better success with Wi-Fi when it started offering it back in 2011, with the German-based company now utilizing AT&T’s 4G LTE data plan as its preferred service provider.
So what about the other end of the price tier? Designers have realized that not everyone can afford a new Audi A7, so a few auto manufacturers have jumped on the Wi-Fi bandwagon since it began gathering steam a few years back, and the way things are shaping up, it doesn’t seem like this add-on’s popularity is going away anytime soon. Here are five cleverly crafted cars designed for the common commuter that come ready to roll with significant signal strength and a price-point under $31,000.
1. Chevrolet Cruze
While most of Chevrolet’s fleet now features 4G LTE Wi-Fi connectivity (which is more than any other manufacturer), Corvette Stingrays and fully equipped Tahoes are just a hair out of our price bracket for this feature. So enter the compact Cruze with its surprisingly sharp interior styling, available turbo power, a $16,620 starting price (that sadly no longer includes the diesel), and technological refinements that include factory installed Wi-Fi free of charge.
While it is obviously a bit more of a refined offering than its playful younger siblings (the Sonic and Spark), the Cruze is a nice entry-level option for anyone who works from their car a lot and requires more than just shoddy cell phone reception. Chevrolet offers the Cruze with AT&T-backed Wi-Fi packages that run anywhere from $10 a month for 1GB to a $40 monthly package that provides 10GB. The car also features the ability to connect up to seven devices at once to the Internet.
2. Chrysler 200
The brand that quietly started the Wi-Fi car sensation back in 2008, continues to stick with Uconnect as its preferred tech system for the entire Chrysler fleet. The 200 series may be going away, but it’s still a solid bet for anyone wanting Bluetooth Streaming Audio, Uconnect Voice Command, full-color 3D graphics, and HD Radio. Chrysler’s clever “Uconnect Access+” also features voice texting, downloadable apps, mobile access, and voice recognition, all while remaining surprisingly user friendly. One interesting detail we discovered was that in order to get Wi-Fi, one must upgrade to the larger 8.4-inch screen, which then gets you 6-12 months of complimentary access.
After this time is up, Chrysler’s Wi-Fi becomes a pay-as-you-go service, and can cost anywhere from $9.99 a day to $49.99 a month. While the 8.4-inch screen upgrade is mandatory if you want Wi-Fi, the 200 starts at a moderate $21,995, and we like the fact that internet usage payments can be easily conducted via the UConnect touchscreen, thus eliminating the need to go to Chrysler’s website.
3. Chevrolet Spark
Our third consideration comes rolling across the line at a very reasonable $13,000 starting price point, comes with Wi-Fi availability at no additional cost, and looks way better than before with its fresh facelift. While the car’s exterior and interior styling is brazenly targeted at Generation Z buyers, there is no denying the fact that the Spark is very much a car designed to emphasize the “fun” in the word functionality.
The Spark has been assigned the exact same Wi-Fi services offered in the Cruze, and as soon as the key is turned to the ACC position or the engine is cranked, Wi-Fi immediately begins streaming to any device that has been previously linked to the vehicle. Service interruptions look quite sparse as well, and according to OnStar’s Wi-Fi availability map, the only areas with widespread connectivity issues are primarily out west in parts of New Mexico, Arizona, and Nevada.
4. Buick Verano
Buick is banking on the fact that if the Verano’s reasonable starting price of $21,065 and turbo-powered engine upgrades in higher trim lines aren’t enough to attract potential buyers, maybe a healthy slathering of Wi-Fi will. The same system that provides the Cruze and Spark with Wi-Fi for up to seven devices now comes standard on most models at no additional cost, and Buick claims that its 4G LTE “automatically upgrades your entire [technology] system,” and that “OnStar’s more powerful, roof-mounted antenna delivers a stronger signal and a more reliable connection than ever.”
While GM’s unassuming luxury brand has struggled in the past with appealing to younger generations of buyers, its newest lineup of vehicles are clearly designed to squash these outdated notions. With a Wi-Fi-connected cabin and an available six-speed manual gearbox paired with the aforementioned turbocharger adding additional ponies, this new face of Buick might be just what millennials want as their salaries increase and tastes begin to change.
5. Audi A3
At the very top of our price cap sits the Audi A3, which starts at $30,900, and features a turbocharged engine, distinct European lines, and luxurious leather interior. As previously mentioned, Audi has been offering Wi-Fi in their cars since 2011, and have recently upgraded to AT&T’s 4G LTE service, which is available streaming through their MMI infotainment system.
What really sets the A3 apart from the pack to us is its ability to link a staggering eight devices to the car’s rolling Wi-Fi and its clever use of 3D Google Earth imagery that tether into the same Wi-Fi package. While the first six months of Wi-Fi are always free after purchasing a new Audi, data plans quickly jump to $199 for six months of data, and buyers can also opt for 1GB, 3GB, and 5GB monthly increments.