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The 2023 Jeep Grand Cherokee uses the new Uconnect 5 operating system for its in-car display. Here’s how it works with wireless Apple CarPlay.
Uconnect 5 is an Android-based system found in various Jeep, Chrysler, Fiat, RAM, and Dodge vehicles, including the 2023 Grand Cherokee we tested. Besides being built in Android, which makes updates and iteration much quicker, it also supports wireless CarPlay and Android Auto.
Wireless CarPlay has been a unicorn up until the last year or so. Apple released the wireless version of CarPlay back with iOS 8 — as a reminder, we’re currently only iOS 16 — yet few vehicles ever had support.
FCA promised wireless CarPlay would be standard with the launch of Uconnect 5, and vehicles under its auspices have slowly begun adopting it in the last year or two.
A better CarPlay experience
We’ve used the wired version of CarPlay almost since it launched, which has been remarkably fine. CarPlay itself is great, but it’s a pain to plug in our phones each time we hop in, especially for short trips.
Wired CarPlay also means we can’t use MagSafe car chargers or see our battery percentage on the car’s infotainment screen. Wireless fixes all of this.
Our current preferred setup uses the first — and only — official MagSafe car charger from Belkin that can deliver up to 15W of wireless power. We jump in the Jeep and place our phone on the vent mount where it’s easily visible, out of the way, and perpetually charging.
Unlike wired CarPlay, a battery indicator is displayed on the top-left corner of the screen, so you know how much juice you have remaining. It also lets you know whether or not your phone is actively charging.
CarPlay boots instantly, jumping to the Apple operating system as soon as we start the car. So the phone can even stay in our pocket, and CarPlay works.
The system is very responsive, reacting as we touch the screen and open CarPlay apps. It has the same fluidity and functionality as its wired counterpart.
While playing music or audio, there is a slight delay. For example, it is noticeable when you tap play/pause from your iPhone and CarPlay takes a half second to react.
That lag isn’t on the wired version of CarPlay and must come from streaming the media over the Wi-Fi. Similar to an AirPlay speaker.
While navigating, the Jeep only partially takes advantage of what CarPlay is capable of. In iOS 10, Apple added the ability to display navigation within the instrument cluster.
Our Jeep Grand Cherokee with Uconnect 5 does show the next turn, but it doesn’t look like CarPlay graphics. Instead, they look like the Jeep’s graphics and are slightly disconnected from the CarPlay experience.
Apple looks to take this even further with the next version of CarPlay, arriving in iOS 17, but thus far, only a few car manufacturers have committed to supporting it.
Otherwise, the screen is crisp and bright, with great color saturation. Compared to prior generations of the Uconnect system, it is a much better-looking display.
Uconnect 5 functionality
The Uconnect 5 interface has much more going for it than just wireless CarPlay. It’s functionally miles ahead of the old Uconnect 4 system.
Anything under FCA has the potential to get Uconnect 5, and each vehicle may have slightly different options available, but here’s how it works for our Grand Cherokee.
Whether you use CarPlay or not, the screen has a customizable dashboard. By default, it has a split side-by-side arrangement with the native maps and the system-wide media player.
CarPlay audio controls will show on the media player side, but only the SUV’s TomTom navigation will show on the other side. You aren’t stuck with this interface, as Jeep allows you to customize it with additional pages and widgets.
When you add a second page, you can choose one of four layout options that best work for you. Views can display two, three, or four different widgets.
It walks you through adding your preferred widget to each available spot. You can choose between now playing, climate, navigation, phone favorites, recent calls, shortcuts, seats and wheel, and the pitch and roll controls.
Pages can be rearranged, deleted, et cetera. We never found ourselves using these pages all that much, but they can still be helpful to jump to quick car functions.
Besides CarPlay, media sources are USB, SiriusXM, radio, or Bluetooth. As an aside, this 2023 Grand Cherokee has a ton of USB-C ports, making using all your new cables easy as can be.
No matter where you are in the interface, you can always swipe down from the top to access shortcut buttons.
These include controls such as the Wi-Fi hotspot toggle, Alexa, driver profiles, temperatures, and surround camera. You can move any of them into the status bar or use them from this swipe-down menu.
Compared to those dongles…
Many vehicles can upgrade to wireless CarPlay with an aftermarket adapter. We tested quite a few, and they all work roughly the same.
Plug them into the USB port, and they will let you connect to CarPlay wirelessly. But they often have minor, nagging issues that get annoying.
For example, if you use a wireless CarPlay adapter and leave the vehicle running when you return, it doesn’t reconnect. You have to unplug it and plug it back in to get it working again or restart the car.
With a native interface, when we have the car running and get out, CarPlay will continue to work for a few moments if we are within range of the vehicle. If we go too far away, it cuts off and pauses the media. But when we return to the car, it will automatically reconnect and pick up where it left off.
Depending on the dongle and car you have, we’ve also seen our phone connect while the vehicle is off and we’re inside our house. Our car is close enough that when we play music or get on the phone, it connects to the CarPlay adapter instead.
There is also less lag with the native interface. That can be nice if you frequently skip songs or pause them and get annoyed with the slight delay.
Uconnect 5 is a big step forward
Now that FCA has rolled out Uconnect 5, we can’t regress to a wired CarPlay experience. It’s now far easier to use, faster, and more seamless than before.
Uconnect 5 – Pros
- Near-seamless user experience
- Much more reactive touchscreen
- Great colors, size, and resolution
- Battery status displayed on-screen
- Allows the use of MagSafe chargers
Uconnect 5 – Cons
- Slight lag when controlling media
- Barebones use of instrument cluster
- Next-generation CarPlay support uncertain
Where to find Uconnect 5
Uconnect 5 is available in several Jeep, Dodge, Chrysler, Fiat, and RAM vehicles, including the new 2023 Jeep Grand Cherokee we reviewed.