Yes, you can buy a donut and coffee with the Chevy Equinox

Chevy Equinox

Photo credit: Josiah Bondy

Some of the most surprising features are cars can leave you a little speechless. The Ford Focus can back into a parallel parking spot on its own. You can summon a Tesla Model S from your garage with a click of a button. And, in a recent test of a 2018 Chevy Equinox, you can even order an Applebee's burger and fries or a coffee from Dunkin’ Donuts.

In some ways, you might think – how did I miss this?

The new feature in the Equinox is part of the marketplace, which does sound a bit like an effort to partner with major brands and encourage you to buy stuff. (Because in the end that’s exactly what it’s all about, even if that’s not necessarily a bad thing.) 

Using the 7-inch touchscreen an on-board wireless service that runs over 4G LTE, you can sync your account to Applebee’s, Dunkin’ Donuts, and other brands.

Quicker ordering

Setting it up takes a few minutes. You have to first enter your account info in the car, then sync it to the Marketplace by sending an email to confirm your account. In a test buying a few donuts and coffee, the entire process took only a few minutes, although we weren't able to customize our order. For Applebee's, we could only select from popular curbside menu options. (Fortunately, one of them involved a burger and fries.) The ideas is to have someone else in the car place the order in a way that’s likely faster than logging in with your phone.

“If a driver wants to interact with a merchant in Marketplace, they are asked to link their merchant account to Marketplace,” explains Rick Ruskin, line of business lead, GM Marketplace, Global Connected Customer Experience. “We send them an email with an easy step by step process to link. The key to linking is that it happens outside of the car. Once linked, the user sees their account preferences, recent and favorite orders, payment methods, etc show up in Marketplace.”

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Photo credits: Josiah Bondy

In practice, ordering from a car isn't a major leap forward, because you can perform these tasks on an iPad or your phone. However, Ruskin said the goal is minimize phone use.

“Our goal is to get phones out of drivers’ hands,” he says. “There is no good time to use a phone for interactions of transactions while driving.  Yet, we know that drivers are looking to be more productive on their drives. Marketplace was designed from the start to be as simple as changing the station on your radio, or controlling the HVAC system.”

Truly smart

What interests me the most is the idea of the car being much more spatially and geographically aware as you drive around. When cars can alert you – in a way that is not intrusive – to a deal that is exactly what you need at the time, it will make more sense than your phone, since you’re not supposed to be looking at the gadget anyway.

Imagine entering as new area of town, and Marketplace alerting you to the place everyone is ordering from, and even suggesting the best meal. Or offering a coupon that is better than anything you’d normally see on your phone, perhaps as a perk of owning a brand new car. (The Equinox starts at $23,580 – about £18,000, AU$33,000 – but I highly recommend the 2.0-liter turbo model for $30,295 – about £23,000, AU$43,000.)

And, we haven’t even talked about AI. Maybe the car will know what we like before we even get to our destination, based on previous buying habits, and place the order (with our permission to do that). I like the idea of an actual 'smart car' that knows what we prefer and does the legwork for us, changing a dinner reservation for example when it knows we’re delayed.

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Photo credits: Josiah Bondy

All of these perks will be handy as a convenience but they’re also a safety advancement, because we can focu son driving and talking with friends. “John, I’ve rerouted you to a different restaurant that has a better deal on steaks, is that OK?” is a question that will be really helpful someday.

And, this is a differentiator for car brand compared to Google and Apple. The telematics – your speed, the navigation, how you drive, whether you are tired or not – can all feed into an AI on cars to assist with more than just food ordering or looking up hours of operation. 

That said, the donuts were fantastic.

On The Road is TechRadar's regular look at the futuristic tech in today's hottest cars. John Brandon, a journalist who's been writing about cars for 12 years, puts a new car and its cutting-edge tech through the paces every week. One goal: To find out which new technologies will lead us to fully driverless cars.