Invasion of the connected cars: Buick leads 30-plus GM cars into the 4G LTE future

They're coming: 30-plus GM cars with 4G LTE connectivity, debuting with the 2015 model year. They will join the 2015 Audi A3 in the pioneer generation of truly connected cars.

Oh sure, some luxury cars have 3G already. But 4G gives cars the bandwidth to do much more. Most notably, the car becomes a Wi-Fi hotspot, and that's what I experienced when I took a brief road trip last week in the 2015 Buick LaCrosse. All but one of Buick's cars will have 4G LTE. (The Enclave will follow suit in the 2016 model year.)

I love to drive, but not this time. I sat in back with seven mobile devices—the maximum the LaCrosse’s Wi-Fi network can accommodate. I queued up movies, music, and YouTube videos. I fired up my company's instant-messaging service and taunted my deskbound colleagues back at the office. I got slightly queasy as I tried to juggle all the devices while the car traveled local highways. 

The point was, I could do it. I was online. In the car. Very cool.

With all the devices running, there were some buffering issues. And as with any smartphone, we ran into a couple of dead spots in the network (AT&T is the carrier for GM's 4G LTE service). For the most part, however, everything ran smoothly. 

2015 buick lacrosse touchscreen Image: General Motors

4G LTE means you can get more and richer data to enhance your drive, whether it's navigation, restaurant picks, or even conceirge service from GM's OnStar.

For enthusiasts who care about the driving, I have this to say: Add connectivity at 4G LTE speeds, and suddenly your drive is enhanced with better data. For instance, the Audi A3's Multi Media Interactive system (MMI) offers a stunning array of navigational and travel aids, from Google Earth maps to local gas, parking, and even airport information. GM also promises much richer data and interaction from its OnStar service, which has operated, up to now, on a laughably archaic 2G network.

Here's the reality check, and I'm not just talking about the additional cost of buying a data plan for your car, or larger concerns about security or even hacking. Those issues are big and far from resolved.

With 4G LTE, the Internet's distractions follow us on our road trip. Tucked into the backseat of the LaCrosse, I was so busy streaming, I didn't look out the window. I didn't even talk to the nice person who was driving me.

With everyone staring at their devices—and with the driver staring at the road—there will be no license-plate games. There will be no 99 bottles of beer on the wall. There will be no "are we there yet?!" Maybe a relief, and maybe something of a loss.

Just as smartphones have gone far beyond making phone calls, connected cars will go far beyond getting us from Point A to Point B. And that’s going to change everything for people who buy cars like the Buick LaCrosse. It won’t matter that it’s a Buick. It’ll matter that this car has 4G LTE. Welcome to the future of connected cars.

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