Top Apple CarPlay Head Units for Cars

/ / Car Accessories
Finger taps map icon on CarPlay dashboard

When smartphones and mobile technologies first hit the scene, they existed almost entirely as peripheral devices. Even a decade ago, we were all still feeding CDs or even cassettes into our car stereos (And some of us still are, as cassettes are making a comeback), connecting iPods with aux cables, and mounting external GPS units to our dashboards. Inter-seat space was tangled with cables just to add little modern convenience to our in-car entertainment systems.

These days, your smartphone performs all of those functions, housing your music library, podcast subscriptions, navigation services, and more. You can still mount it to your dashboard if you want, but modern automobiles come with updated touchscreen head units capable of pairing with your iPhone and taking advantage of Apple’s CarPlay functionality.

CarPlay provides a limited reflection of your iPhone, granting access to apps and services that are useful while driving, and restricting access to potential distractions. You can ask Siri to make a call, send a text, or give directions to your next destination. If you’ve got an electric vehicle, CarPlay can find you a charger, and you’ll have access to all of your music, podcasts, and other audio content. And you don’t even need to buy a brand new car to access these features — CarPlay is free, so you might just need some extra hardware. These are seven of the highest rated aftermarket head units for adding Apple CarPlay to your car’s entertainment system.

7. Pioneer WVH 1400NEX — $300

Pioneer WVH 1400NEX, face on

The Pioneer MVH 1400NEX features a 6.2-inch touchscreen with capacitive touch for just under $300, plus the cost of installation. Capacitive touch means it responds to touch similarly to an iPhone or iPad and doesn’t require any real pressure. By contrast, resistive touch units require you to press into the screen to recognize inputs. When looking at any head unit, that’s a feature you’ll want to keep in mind.

The unit has a built-in microphone which gives you access to Siri. While you can absolutely navigate through CarPlay manually, voice commands are the preferred way of controlling your head unit while driving. Connecting your phone to the head unit requires a wired connection, using a lightning to USB cable, which has the added benefit of charging your phone while connected.

It lacks a CD slot, so if your current stereo system has that, you’ll have to sacrifice it in favor of digital music streaming. It also lacks any tactile buttons or knobs, which means you’ll have to look at the screen to switch tracks or adjust the volume. It is capable, however, of connecting to steering wheel controls if your vehicle has them. The WVH 1400NEX has few bells and whistles and lacks a few features you might want, but it’s an affordable unit that does the job.

6. Sony XAV-AX7000 — $648

Sony XAV-AX7000 against white background

The XAV-AX7000 from Sony features a 7-inch touchscreen with capacitive touch. It also features a small array of tactile buttons along the bottom, allowing you to activate Siri, change tracks, adjust the volume, open an options menu, or exit to the home screen. The display is covered with an anti-glare coating to ensure you can see all of your controls even in direct sunlight.

Once installed, you’ll be able to listen to music without connecting any cables. This head unit is capable of Bluetooth audio but requires a wired connection for CarPlay functionality, if you want to use your phone for anything other than audio while driving. A built-in 10-band equalizer allows you to customize the sound experience based on the location and orientation of your car speakers to optimize playback. Even better, the unit has enough spare amplifier power to drive a subwoofer without adding an additional amplifier.

The XAV-AX7000 has a built-in microphone for Siri voice control, a port for connecting a backup camera, and two USB ports. The first port will be used for connecting your smartphone with a lightning to USB cable, but the second port can accept other USB devices, including flash drives filled with audio and video content.

5. Carpuride W901 Pro — $290

Carpuride W901 Pro, displaying backup camera

In contrast to most of the CarPlay capable units on the market, the Carpuride W901 Pro doesn’t need to be installed. It’s a dashboard or windshield mounted unit that’s essentially plug and play, just stick it in your desired location, plug it in, connect your phone, and you’re off to the races.

The unit comes packaged with mounts for sticking it to your dashboard or windshield, a charging cable, and an aux cable. It has a tactile power button on the top of the unit and features an aux port, microSD slot, DC power port, and USB ports. Its 9-inch display is larger than most installed head units and its portable design means you can pass it to the back seat to let passengers control the playlist or watch video.

A flash drive plugged into a USB port allows you to play audio and video files and you can broadcast content from your iPhone to the unit. A built-in light sensor detects ambient light levels and adjusts the brightness accordingly. It’s essentially a CarPlay capable tablet and, while it isn’t quite as sleek as an installed head unit, it offers more flexibility of use. As an added bonus, Carpuride will customize the logo displayed during boot-up for free. You can change it to your car’s logo so that it appears more seamless or make the logo something totally unique, like a family photo or your personal business.

4. Kenwood Excelon DMX907S — $579

Kenwood Excelon DMX907S against red and black background

The Excelon DMX907S offers a 6.95-inch capacitive touch display, a smooth interface leading into CarPlay, and good sound quality to your speakers. It also offers two ways to connect your iPhone, either wirelessly or with a lightning to USB cable. A wireless connection means you can get by without any cables at all, but it also means you sacrifice charging your phone while CarPlay is in use.

In addition to CarPlay functionality, you can mirror your iPhone’s display when connected with a cable. The unit has enough video camera ports to support four cameras and you can display them all at the same time. You could feasibly hook up a rearview camera, dashboard camera, blindspot camera, and whatever other cameras your vehicle has. It’s also capable of syncing up with iDatalink Maestro (a third-party device purchased separately) to provide information about your vehicle including tire pressure, fluid levels, and more.

The unit can connect to as many as five devices for Bluetooth audio and a built-in equalizer lets you customize the sound layout for your vehicle. There’s even an iPhone app that turns your phone into a remote, giving folks in the back seat control over the tunes without having to lean into the front seat.

3. JVC KW-M560BT — $250

illustration of JVC KW-M560BT in dashboard

The JVC KW-M560BT is a fairly standard touchscreen head unit with a couple of neat extra features. It has a 6.8-inch capacitive touch display and supports bluetooth audio and calls with wired CarPlay connectivity. A row of tactile buttons along the left side give you a few basic controls but the touch controls are where it really shines.

In addition to the standard tap and swipe actions, the KW-M560BT also recognizes some gesture controls. For instance, you can twirl your finger clockwise on the screen to turn the volume up or counter-clockwise to turn it down. The user interface features a built-in equalizer and a time alignment function. Normally, all of your car speakers play at the same time, but time alignment allows the unit to make tiny adjustments to the timing of each speaker based on its precise distance from the listener, to make sure audio from each speaker reaches you at exactly the same time.

The unit has one video camera input, compatible with a rearview camera, and it is capable of syncing with steering wheel controls using an adapter, though you’ll have to get that adapter separately. The unit also requires a connection to the parking brake, as some functions are restricted to when you are parked and the brake is set.

2. Car and Driver Intellidash Pro — $120

Car and Driver Intellidash Pro on dashboard

The Intellidash Pro from Car and Driver is an external aftermarket unit you can mount to your windshield or dashboard. It’s a functional and affordable solution for folks who want to add the capabilities of CarPlay without breaking into your car’s interior or breaking the bank. There are some obvious downsides, including the dashboard real estate it eats up and a permanent occupation of your auxiliary charging port (cigarette lighter, if your car is older). If those aren’t deal breakers, it’s a solid solution that’s basically plug and play.

The Intellidash Pro offers a 7-inch touchscreen with a small microphone tucked into the bottom left corner and a matte, anti-glare coating. In the box, you’ll find adhesive disks and a lever arm mount for seating the unit in your desired location. Once mounted, the lever arm allows you to change the position and orientation of the display.

On the left side of the unit you’ll find a number of ports including the DC power port, USB-C port, and USB-A port. The USB-A port is intended for flash drives and other USB devices containing audio or visual media. The USB-C port is intended for connecting your iPhone, though that’s not wholly necessary. A wired connection will trigger CarPlay and charge your phone, but the Intellidash Pro is also capable of a wireless CarPlay connection.

1. Alpine ILX-W650 — $280

Mockup of Alpine ILX-W650

This unit’s display consists of a 7-inch capacitive touchscreen with an anti-glare coating. The shallow housing makes it compatible with most dashboards and the included ports make it compatible with most common peripherals. In addition to using the touchscreen for CarPlay, the unit has two video camera ports for connecting a rearview camera and one additional camera. Once connected, the unit has built-in drive-line guidance when reversing.

A USB port also supports playback of audio, video, and photo viewing with a connected flash drive. Audio output takes advantage of a built-in amplifier, equalizer, and audio time correction from up to six speakers. You can connect your iPhone to the ILX-W650 via Bluetooth for making calls or playing audio, but you’ll need a wired connection for CarPlay.

Once you’re connected and CarPlay is booted up, this unit offers some uncommon touch gestures for easier control while you’re in the driver’s seat. Unlike many common CarPlay capable head units, the ILX-W650 can detect two-finger touch gestures, which Alpine calls “Simple Swipe.” It allows you to skip tracks, adjust the volume, and pause audio without taking your eyes off the road by swiping up, down, left, or right with two fingers.


CarPlay capable head unit installed in dashboard.

Once inside of the CarPlay interface, the user experience is more or less identical — that’s by design. Apple wants users to have a seamless and predictable experience from one instance to the next, no matter what car you’re driving or what unit you’re using. You may miss out on the built-in next-gen CarPlay UI of cars from Porsche or Aston Martin, but the features will be the same. With that in mind, our considerations focused on cost, installation (or lack of it), and the foundational user interface of the unit. We also considered additional features including camera feeds and unique UI elements like Alpine’s Simple Swipe and JVC’s finger-twirling volume controls.

When choosing the right CarPlay-capable head unit for your vehicle, you’ll want to consider the size of the unit and the available space in or on your dashboard. If your vehicle has steering wheel controls or a rearview camera, you’ll want to ensure the unit you choose can handle those connections, and you’ll want to account for the cost of installation when budgeting for the upgrade.

It’s also worth noting that, for the purposes of this article, we did not consider whether a unit was capable of connecting with Android phones via Android Auto. Many touchscreen head units are capable of using Apple Play or Android Auto, but some specialize in one or the other. If you live in a multi-device household or have friends who aren’t Apple users, that might be a consideration. Once you’ve made your choice, check out our guide of the best tips and tricks CarPlay has to offer.

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