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Best Apple CarPlay head unit car stereos for 2020

There are a variety of reasons to upgrade your vehicle’s stereo head unit, but the most appealing one today is to add smartphone integration. Anyone with an Apple iPhone can utilize Apple CarPlay for navigation, taking calls, sending texts and more with a simple voice command. You don’t need a brand-new ride to experience any of this functionality in a safe, distraction-free way, either. Since Apple CarPlay’s debut in 2014, aftermarket stereo manufacturers have been designing head units with Apple’s automotive OS to fit a variety of later model vehicles.

In addition to Apple CarPlay, many head units from the likes of Sony, JVC, Kenwood, Pioneer and others include HD Radio, CD/DVD players, satellite radio, USB port inputs, preamps, built-in GPS navigation, Bluetooth connectivity and wireless Apple CarPlay connectivity. Upgrading to a new Apple CarPlay head unit also opens the potential for a bigger display screen than what you may already have in your vehicle. Some new stereo system units may even add features your factory stereo didn’t have before, like gauges for engine performance or ability to add a backup camera. 

With so many options, trying to figure out what the best Apple head unit is for your vehicle can be tough. That’s why we spoke with the folks at Crutchfield to help us pick the best Apple CarPlay car stereo head units. Crutchfield has helped over six million customers upgrade their car audio experience since 1974.

There are no shortage of options if you want to add Apple CarPlay head unit to older model cars.


Kenwood

Criteria for choosing the best Apple CarPlay head unit

We’ve assembled our list of the best Apple CarPlay car stereo head units from models that fit the most common radio sizes: single DIN car stereo and double DIN head unit car stereo slots. These car stereo system picks are based on Crutchfield’s expert recommendations, user reviews and ratings at popular shopping sites. 

Before you dig in, find out exactly which Apple CarPlay car stereo will fit in your vehicle by using Crutchfield’s Find What Fits tool. Enter your vehicle make, model and year, and you’ll be greeted with speakers, Apple CarPlay head units and more that will fit your ride. 

Three things to look for in a new Apple CarPlay head unit

  • Double DIN or single DIN: The two most common head sizes are double DIN unit and single DIN unit. Single DIN stereo openings measure 2 inches by 8 inches, while double DIN openings measure 4 inches by 8 inches. If you’re replacing a double DIN unit, there are more options for adding smarts to your stereo. A single DIN doesn’t automatically mean you’re out of the running for pairing your Apple iPhone to your car for Apple CarPlay, but you will have fewer choices.
  • Types of receivers: There are a few different head unit categories, each offering a slightly different feature set depending on your needs. Can’t let go of discs? You’re in luck, as you can have physical and digital in one auto head unit package with a DVD receiver. Digital multimedia receivers don’t have an optical drive, but they can play back audio and video and many have touchscreens.
  • Features: When you’re looking for an Apple car stereo head unit, Apple iPhone integration isn’t all you’ll get for your dollar. If you want something closer to your smartphone look for a capacitive touchscreen rather than a resistive one. Many models also include pre-outs for adding external amps and subwoofers, in addition to HD and satellite radio tuners. For the ultimate convenience, look for a unit with Bluetooth and wireless Apple CarPlay app connectivity.

Pioneer

Using Apple’s Siri in a car is great; plugging and unplugging your phone when you’re running errands isn’t. We like the Pioneer AVH-W4500NEX as our best overall Apple CarPlay car stereo head unit because the double DIN head unit has the option for a wired or wireless Apple CarPlay connection, HDMI input and Bluetooth phone and audio streaming. For music lovers, its CD/DVD drive, HD Radio, FLAC support and satellite radio have you covered regardless of digital format. Coolest of all? With an accessory (sold separately), you can view engine performance info on the 6.9-inch touchscreen.

Best overall Apple CarPlay head unit details

Make Pioneer
Model AVH-W4500NEX
Head unit size Double DIN auto head unit
Screen size 6.9 inches
Screen resolution 2,520×480
Screen type Resistive touchscreen
Smartphone integration Wired and wireless Android Auto and Apple CarPlay
Inputs HDMI, 2 USB, 2 RCA, 2 camera, Bluetooth
HD radio Yes
Satellite radio Yes with tuner
Optical drive CD and DVD
Price $695

Pioneer

You don’t need to spend a fortune to get Apple CarPlay into your vehicle. If money is tight, look no further than the DMH-1500NEX car stereo head unit from Pioneer. Control your Apple iPhone’s music library from the 7-inch touchscreen, and use Siri to answer questions like “Has anyone ever found a marmoset in Topeka?” before you cross into the city limits. This Alpine stereo receiver isn’t lacking for expandability either, featuring six-channel preamp outputs, compatibility with most digital audio formats and dual camera inputs.

Best cheap Apple CarPlay head unit details

Make Pioneer
Model DMH-1500NEX
Head unit size Double DIN auto head unit
Screen size 7 inches
Screen resolution 2,520×480
Screen type Resistive touchscreen
Smartphone integration Wired Android Auto and Apple CarPlay
Inputs USB, mini aux, mini A/V, RCA, 2 camera, Bluetooth
HD radio No
Satellite radio Yes with tuner
Optical drive None
Price $300

Kenwood

What does a $1,300 Apple CarPlay-capable car stereo head unit look like? The Kenwood Excelon DNX997XR. All those ducats get you a raft of features, the headliner being a built-in Garmin GPS navigation system with three years of free updates included. In addition to wireless Apple CarPlay, wired and wireless screen mirroring, passengers can wirelessly control Pandora from an Apple device. This double DIN model also has a motorized 720p 6.75-inch capacitive touchscreen display, Bluetooth and a built-in HD Radio tuner.

Best wireless Apple CarPlay head unit if money is no object details

Make Kenwood
Model Excelon DNX997XR
Head unit size Double DIN auto head unit
Screen size 6.7 inches
Screen resolution 1,280×720
Screen type Capacitive touchscreen
Smartphone integration Wired and wireless Android Auto and Apple CarPlay
Inputs 2 USB, mini aux, RCA, 2 camera, memory card slot, Bluetooth
HD radio Yes
Satellite radio Yes with tuner
Optical drive CD and DVD
Price $1,300

Alpine

A single DIN car stereo opening in your vehicle doesn’t mean you can’t have a huge touchscreen anymore. With the Alpine Halo9 iLX-F309 car head unit, a 9-inch floating display attaches to a 2-inch head unit. There’s plenty of height and angle adjustment, too, in addition to a rear USB input, aux input, HDMI input and Bluetooth. Built-in Apple CarPlay means Apple Maps, text messages, phone calls and weather are only a voice command away.

Best single DIN Apple CarPlay head unit details

Make Alpine
Model Halo9 iLX-F309
Head unit size Single DIN auto head unit
Screen size 9 inches
Screen resolution 800×480
Screen type Capacitive touchscreen
Smartphone integration Wired Android Auto and Apple CarPlay
Inputs HDMI, USB, mini aux, mini A/V, 2 camera, Bluetooth
HD radio Yes
Satellite radio Yes with tuner
Optical drive None
Price $1,000

Pioneer

On the aftermarket, Apple CarPlay head unit stereos don’t get much bigger than the Pioneer DMH-WT8600NEX. This digital multimedia player ditches optical discs in favor of a 10.1-inch 720p capacitive touchscreen that floats over a single DIN dash unit. For $1,199 you also get wireless Apple CarPlay connectivity, HD Radio, Bluetooth and compatibility with a variety of digital music formats including AAC, FLAC, MP3 and WMA.

Best big-screen Apple CarPlay head unit details

Make Pioneer
Model DMH-WT8600NEX
Head unit size Single DIN auto head unit
Screen size 10.1 inches
Screen resolution 1,280×720
Screen type Capacitive touchscreen
Smartphone integration Wired and wireless Android Auto and Apple CarPlay
Inputs Micro HDMI, USB, aux, 2 camera, Bluetooth
HD radio Yes
Satellite radio Yes with tuner
Optical drive None
Price $1,199

Alpine

Who needs discs and a CD player? Not the Alpine iLX-W650 Apple head unit. Forgoing an optical drive frees up space and makes this unit an easy choice if space inside your dashboard is at a premium. In addition to the usual Apple CarPlay car stereo head unit integration, the iLX-W650 boasts front and rear camera inputs and six-channel preamp outputs. Speaking of expandability, you can easily add Alpine’s power-pack amplifier for an additional 50 watts RMS by four channels for even more sound.

Best Apple CarPlay digital multimedia head unit details

Make Alpine
Model iLX-W650
Head unit size Double DIN auto head unit
Screen size 7 inches
Screen resolution 800×480
Screen type Capacitive touchscreen
Smartphone integration Wired Android Auto and Apple CarPlay
Inputs USB, 2 camera, Bluetooth
HD radio No
Satellite radio Yes with tuner
Optical drive None
Price $300

Pioneer

The Pioneer AVH-W4500NEX is our pick for best overall Apple car stereo above, but it’s also our pick for the best wireless Apple CarPlay DVD head unit because it brings the right combination of expected features to the mix along with surprises like the aforementioned ability to display engine performance read-outs. And while there are cheaper options, if you’re a die-hard CD enthusiast, this is the best way to play them for most people with the CD/DVD drive and still have all the features of Apple CarPlay from your Apple iPhone at the same time.

Best wireless Apple CarPlay DVD head unit details

Make Pioneer
Model AVH-W4500NEX
Head unit size Double DIN auto head unit
Screen size 6.9 inches
Screen resolution 2,520×480
Screen type Resistive touchscreen
Smartphone integration Wired and wireless Android Auto and Apple CarPlay
Inputs HDMI, 2 USB, 2 RCA, 2 camera, Bluetooth
HD radio Yes
Satellite radio Yes with tuner
Optical drive CD and DVD
Price $695

Before you buy

Depending on where you buy your Apple car stereo, it may come with free installation. Failing that, Best Buy charges $100 for installation and promises a factory-installed look without a loss of factory functionality. You’ll have to pay for any additional parts beyond the flat labor fee.

When it comes to self-installation of a head unit, you have a few options, but both involve premade wiring harness adapters. Scosche and Amazon sell a variety of connectors that eliminate the need for cutting and soldering into the factory wiring harness. You can also pick up adapters so you don’t lose features like OnStar, steering wheel controls or door chimes. These range in price from a few dollars to more than a few hundred bucks, depending on the complexity. You can buy trim pieces and mounting kits as well, and chances are finding a YouTube how-to video for your stereo model and vehicle won’t be too difficult.

Installing an Apple CarPlay head unit yourself can be made easier with available mounting kits.


Alpine

If you don’t have the time or energy to track everything down yourself, consider buying your Apple CarPlay stereo head unit from Crutchfield. Crutchfield’s trademark is making installation dead simple for do-it-yourselfers. By including premade wiring harnesses, connectors, trim pieces and vehicle-specific installation instructions with every head unit and speaker, Crutchfield takes the intimidation out of upgrading your stereo yourself.

Best of all, DIYing doesn’t mean you lose steering wheel audio controls, backup cameras or other factory creature comforts, either. That comes at a price, though. When you’re drafting your upgrade budget, expect to set aside between $300 to $500 in addition to the cost of your head unit for the necessary harnesses and data controllers. Older vehicles make for cheaper installs, however. The Pioneer AVH-W4500NEX’s install kit for a 2008 Ford Ranger lists for $56, for example, but it’s currently discounted by $50. 

“You can 100 percent get a very modern [smartphone-connected] radio experience in your car,” even if it’s over a decade old said Adam “J.R.” Stoffel, a training manager who’s been with Crutchfield since 1996.

Read more: Best 4th of July new car, truck and SUV deals for 2020

Written for Roadshow by Timothy Seppala.

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