When we say someone's "in the driver's seat," we're talking about something more than clutching the steering wheel from here to the Piggly Wiggly. The man who's in the driver's seat has authori...power...control. He's a potent decision maker, setting the course not only for himself but for those around him. Should a man such as this settle for an ordinary AM/FM radio in his vehicle? We say, most emphatically, "No!" Hence our love affair with Pioneer's AVIC-Z1 system, combining a host of practical and entertaining features so broad, it almost makes getting stuck in traffic a pleasure.
Your AVIC-Z1 command and control center ($2,250) is a seven-inch touch-screen LCD display that's beautifully legible even in direct sunlight. The screen rises up with a satisfying motorized whir to reveal a slot for inserting CDs and DVDs for playback. And hidden within the mechanism is a 30-gigabyte hard drive, offering a laptop's worth of digital data in your dashboard.
What's the storage for? Most of it (20 gigabytes' worth) holds detailed maps of the United States and Canada, used by the built-in GPS navigation system (previous models required drivers to juggle map DVDs for each travel area). The system delivers all the features we want most in GPS navigation, including spoken street names (not "Turn left," but "Turn left on Alameda Street") and an easy-to-read display that toggles automatically between day and night modes. By adding an XM satellite radio subscription with a car navigation option, you can receive traffic reports that will help you reroute past upcoming difficulties.
The remaining 10 gigabytes of storage are devoted to music. You slip in a CD and the AVIC-Z1 looks up track information for each song (using a built-in database) and copies the album to the hard disk. If you are an iPod-toting music lover, an optional adapter lets you not only play your tunes through the car speakers, but also display and control the iPod's contents right on the car's LCD screen.
The last option we love is the Bluetooth phone kit, which lets you place or answer calls hands-free. And with the car's sophisticated voice control system, that's not all you can do without taking your hands off the wheel. Anything from changing radio channels to setting a new destination to dialing a phone number can be accomplished by simply speaking to your new digital companion.