Does it work? Volkswagen Car-Net App Connect tested

Published: 22 August 2016

► We test VW's bespoke in-car apps
► Include 'Call & Remind' to 'Cam Connect'
► Some good ideas but poor execution 

Manufacturers are increasingly desperate to integrate the car into our digital lives. Volkswagen’s latest in-car entertainment systems connect to – and operate your mobile via – MirrorLink, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, allowing you to make hands-free calls, dictate texts and play music.

So far, so familiar. But VW offers an additional layer of functionality through its special app downloads, offering eight capabilities from driver training to monitoring backseat occupants. 

You need three things: ‘Car-Net App Connect’ (£100 when ordered from the factory, £215 for a dealer upgrade, standard on the Pro system); any of VW’s Composite Media, Discovery Navigation or Discovery Navigation Pro infotainment systems; and a compatible mobile device with the apps downloaded. We tested six of them, with mixed results.

Call & Remind is a simple interactive checklist, into which you can import a list of calls to make: useful for sales reps perhaps. Cam Connect allows you to view the output from a GoPro on the car’s central screen, so you can see what the kids are doing in the back without turning round. 

Sadly, the Trainer app, which analyses your driving style to offer eco tips couldn’t decipher what kind of VW it was talking to (a Sharan, as it happens), and didn’t work at all. The Drive & Track app, a data logger that should allow you to compare journey stats, thought we were accelerating when we were standing still and then stopped working three minutes after we set off. Useless.

Ditto the My Rules app, which supposedly allows you to select vehicle criteria, and then assign a function. The obvious combo is a rule that says ‘If the car is low on fuel then navigate to a petrol station’ – but options include automatically sending a text when you arrive at a destination, or playing a specific song when travelling at a certain speed. It might qualify as a gimmick if it worked. 

My Guide, however, did work, generating points of interest based on location, time and weather data. Better yet it’s really easy to share the results, so if middle-class Volks decide to detour to the local farm shop, you can quickly send this to phone contacts, including a map link and estimated timings. Handy for last-minute changes of plans and impromptu meet-ups.

Tried and tested

1) Thumbs up – Cam Connect: Requires a WiFi-enabled GoPro (from £150) but gives a different kind of big brother perspective on the argument in the back seat.

2) Thumbs down – My Rules: Much as we liked the wacky idea of the car phoning home whenever we exceed 88mph we couldn’t get it to work.

3) Thumbs up – My Guide: Uses location, weather and time data to intelligently suggest points of interest.

Verdict

Did they work? Barely. We were impressed with Cam Connect (which seems to have a better interface than GoPro itself) and found the slick My Guide easy to use. But the lack of polish elsewhere, including German-language icons and general reliability issues, shows that Volkswagen must execute these apps flawlessly, or simply not bother. More development required.

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By CJ Hubbard

Former CAR magazine associate editor, road tester, organiser, extremely variable average wheel count

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