The day the infotainment died

I wanted to review the 2017 Infiniti Q60 Red sports coupe, in particular its technology, because Infiniti is usually ahead of the curve when it comes to tech. This was my second test of the Q60; I’d had it in November 2016 for a few days but felt I hadn’t had the chance to explore all of its connected services. So I got another full week with it in February 2017.

The Q60 drove great. It handled brilliantly, its seats were supportive, and yes, the tech was top-notch. I had to search for the Bluetooth connection for my phone, but once I found it, setup was easy. There were two screens in the center console: one devoted to navigation and one for everything else, from radio to climate control to apps.

There were only a few ADAS features, like blind spot monitoring and a rearview camera. But I didn’t expect it to be packed with semi-autonomous features, as the Q60 is a sport coupe. It’s built for people who like driving and have the open roads to do it.

Then one day, I hopped in the Q60 to drive to a meeting. As I backed out of the driveway, the screens in the center console flashed. The top one went dark. Even though I was in reverse, the view from the camera was not showing. The parking sensors were still functioning and pinged when they sensed I was near a rosemary bush at the edge of my driveway. The second screen froze on the home screen.

There were buttons on the steering wheel and next to the screens for controlling most functions, including climate and radio. But they’re limited. The speedometer, gas gauge, and tachometer were analog and unaffected. The clock in the instrument cluster was stuck, though. I thought I was going to arrive at my meeting early until I realized the clock was just frozen.

All of this was irritating but not dangerous. I took note of what worked (scrolling through info screens in the instrument cluster) and what didn’t (heated steering wheel; the button is on an infotainment screen). I told friends and colleagues about it and found that Infiniti is not alone in this. In early 2017, a Jeep owner I know had his UConnect system flicker on and off every three minutes or so. A Ford owner told me his SYNC system recently updated while he was driving and using the nav system in an unfamiliar area. A quick internet search turns up forums for any number of manufacturers with drivers seeing the same problem, from Land Rover Range Rovers to the Chevy Spark EV.

These issues are still inconvenient but not mission critical — yet. The clock function in the Infiniti could be important when communicating with other vehicles in a V2V world. The Ford’s navigation system could be part of autonomous driving in the next few years. Could a blue screen of death result in actual death?

There’s still time to develop redundancies that keep mission critical information and communications running even during an ill-timed update. But this is the kind of SNAFU that even at this early stage can erode consumer trust in the autonomous vehicles of the future. It’s frustrating when your phone updates out of the blue or freezes; it’s far more concerning when your car does it.

For what it’s worth, the Infiniti Q60 system worked fine the next time I started the car and every time after that. And when I drove the Q60 months before, I experienced no problems at all.