The pace of technical development in the automotive industry has reached a giddying pace; demanding customers and legislators are insisting on big advances in safety, reliability, performance and emissions, and the manufacturers have generally risen to the challenge. There is one area, however, in which the car-makers have been reluctant innovators; the incorporation of information and communications technology into their products.
Almost every kitchen in the country has a DAB radio, and you can buy one in a supermarket for twenty or thirty pounds, but this technology is still a rarity in cars – a particularly perverse state of affairs given that one of the most useful DAB-only stations is the Highways Agency's traffic information service. Most of us have relied heavily on the Internet and our mobile phones to run our lives for the last ten or fifteen years but the car-makers have been slow to give us a properly plumbed-in version of these technologies in even their most expensive models. Why doesn't every car have a built-in computer for passengers to use on the move, or for the driver to consult when stationary if a cheap laptop can be sold for less than £200?
While we're waiting for the manufacturers to come up with something really fancy, Citroen has started offering a simple and worthwhile option for computing on the move in the form of its wifi onboard option. This turns your car into a wifi hotspot that uses a 3G mobile broadband connection for Internet access. SIM cards from any mobile network can be used in the wifi onboard device which is so well hidden that I couldn't locate it in the car to which it was fitted – a Citroen C6 - for my test; Citroen later told me that it is fitted to the underside of the lid of the storage box in the centre console. Apparently, the precise location varies between models.
There isn't really much to say about the wifi onboard set-up, except that it works pretty much exactly as it should; the performance of the 3G mobile broadband connection obviously depends on the relevant mobile network rather than Citroen, but it worked well for most of my test, which was carried out in Gloucestershire, including some fairly hilly parts of the Cotswolds. The system doesn't use an external antenna but this didn't appear to harm reception compared with mobile phones and 3G dongles used in the same area. The hotspot is works on an “always on” basis, and once you have logged on manually for the first time using the required password, subsequent connections are automatic. I recruited my brother to help me with my testing and he found it easy to surf the web without too much interruption on his laptop using the system on the move. We also established that the 3G mobile broadband connection could be shared without problems by two laptops while stationary.
The mobile phone network 3 offers a wifi router (“MiFi”) that can be used in the same way as wifi onboard to share a 3G network connection. For most patterns of use, that would probably work out cheaper than using Citroen's set-up with a SIM-only contract from one of the main mobile operators, but the Citroen system has the advantage of being a neat, hassle-free, wires-free installation and compared with the big premium manufacturers charge for, say, built-in sat-nav, the price doesn't look too bad.
Tryng wifi onboard also provided a welcome opportunity to catch up with the main big change that has been made to the Citroen C6 since it was introduced – the adoption last year of a larger 3.0 litre diesel engine which incorporates a number of upgrades as well as an increase in capacity from the original 2.7 litres. This engine, which has already impressed in several Jaguar and Land Rover models, sets very high standards of performance and refinement; in combination with Citroen's sophisticated oleopneumatic suspension it turns the C6 into one of the most effortless and least fatiguing cars on the market in which to undertake a long journey.
Watch Citroen's video: www.citroen.co.uk
Price: £37,895 and £503.99 plus fitting for wifi on board
Engine: 3.0-litre V6 diesel, 240 horsepower
Top speed: 149 mph
0-62mph: 8.9 seconds
Consumption: 38.7 mpg (combined cycle)
CO2 emissions: 190g/km