GM's Ugly Yet Simple iPod Solution


While many car companies are quickly adopting USB inputs for iPods and other MP3 players, GM has resisted the change on most of its more affordable models. Yes, you could get a dealer-installed adapter cable, but nothing built-in. Recently, we had a bright yellow Chevy Cobalt XFE in our fleet, and I took it out to run an errand. When editor Joe Bruzek told me it had a USB interface and he liked it, I was skeptical. But I took my 120GB iPod Classic with me and couldn’t believe what I discovered.

The $100 option is ugly.


There is literally a jagged rectangle cut into the face of the stereo head unit with a USB plug sitting in it. The readout is in plain blue text, which looks pretty dated.

But sometimes simplicity works.

The second you plug in your MP3 player, the head unit recognizes it and you can sort through your catalog. I was surprised at how quickly this happened. After I got in and out of the car a few times, when I plugged the player back in it picked up where I had left off. It was also very easy to scroll through playlists.


By far the best aspect of GM’s system is that it has three lines of text, and it displays artist, song title and album all at once. Even lengthy titles fit without scrolling. This is terrific when you’re using “shuffle” on 120GBs of music.

The basic GM stereo head unit has been a favorite of mine for years because of how simple and easy to use it is. There’s a huge knob in the center for volume and power, which makes blind alterations easy. Also, the presets for radio stations can be mixed between AM, FM and satellite radio. That means if you like sports talk radio and rock ‘n’ roll, it takes just one button to switch between them, instead of two taps. Yes, that annoys me.

Back to the USB connector. When I finished my drive, I could only think of one thing: GM should make it standard and give everyone a $100 break, because I think it would impress more shoppers if it were in every car on the lot.

Note: The first photo is actually from a Cobalt SS we had in the fleet a few months back, and the other two I shot with a camera phone in the Cobalt XFE.



I recently rented a Chevrolet HHR, and the GM radio unit was pretty nice. One thing I liked was that it had an awful lot of presets, though I don't know the exact number. It also showed artist and song title information for some stations. And, as mentioned in the article, a large, easy-to-find volume knob. The display was very clear and easy to read, and the entire system was pretty intuitive; especially nice because rentals don't give you the manual!


at least put a cover on it like a lid when not in use...

There is a cover for it but it's a piece of black rubber. So not exactly good looking either.

Original sheth

Several vehicles with the standard head unit got this as a mid year change during 2009 model year. I dont believe its $100 on every car that has the port. GM isnt the only one "resisting" USB ports- there are many models that don't have one.


I have this same radio in my Saab and while the design is excellent the quality is poor. It's been changed out 4x because it either stopped working or the preset buttons would permenantly stick. The dealer service has been very good but it's a real hassle I never experienced before with my Acura TL. I don't mind the unattractiveness of the USB input as much as the low quality materials that make-up the radio. As I said at least the actual design is excellent, very user friendly.

I don't think GM has added this head unit w/USB as standard to any models. Please let us know if it has. In the cobalt it is clearly a $100 option.

Every automaker is adding USB these days. The only one I can recall that isn't is Toyota who is leapfrogging to the wireless bluetooth stuff we've documented before. Which we have issues for and against.

Original sheth

Toyota is not smart for skipping USB ports. I don't understand their logic. My point was that many cars today don't have USB ports yet and the majority of European cars that offer one make it part of an option package. On BMWs I believe iPod integration and a USB port costs about $400. Most cars that have this have gotten it within the last year or two so it's a pretty recent development.

I know the USB port is available on the Aura XR. You can see standard equip on 2009 models here:

I believe its the same deal on upper trims of the Malibu.


You may be the first to call this head unit cheap. The buttons have a nice feel and it's easy to use. I have one in my car.

Original sheth

On Malibu its standard on LTZ and optional with premium audio on LT2 trim. The G6 has it now as well.

Yeah, I was saying if GM wants to offer a little something on their LOW END cars to help sales this is a cheap way to do it. When you say "standard" it means on all trims. When you say "available" obviously that's different.

Kia, Scion, Hyundai all feature standard USB on their newer models. I'm sure others do too. But yes, Honda, BMW, Infiniti et al haven't started this either.

All I was trying to say is "Hey GM good job, why not exploit it a little"


original sheth, The radio materials are in fact cheap, and I totally agree w/ the writer, Dave Thomas, about the read-out looking dated. I've read some of your posts and it's clear you have zero credibility. Go back to drinking the GM kool-aid as clearly you are in the minority.


Take a look at the first picture and you can see how poorly seeded the female plug is. It's tilted down to the left with a gap on the right hand side. That's Chevy quality for you!

*Maybe* it's an optical illusion, but I swear in the first picture the USB thingy isn't even straight in the cut-out.

Original sheth


Since you are adept at reading you will also note the author said this is one of their favorite head units. Most in the automotive press like the head unit and it's quality is on par with any unit used in non luxury brands. In fact, Nissan's head unit appears to be inspired by this design. I try to deal with the facts and make sense, your views of my credibility are irrelevant. If you don't like the head unit that is your choice, I am just telling you many others disagree. As for the display of text- its similar to the dot matrix display in many other brands.

Just for reference: someone who is drinking "kool aid" is someone who makes unreasonable and unfounded claims about their preferred brand and proclaims that this brand (or other thing) is superior regardless of facts that clearly prove otherwise. Nothing I've said is unreasonable or unfounded. Sorry you don't like your Saab.


Nope, you're right. It is uneven. It was in my test vehicle too.

Original sheth


I didn't say the port was standard. I said several other cars that have the black tie radio got the USB port for MY2009. Aside from the Cobalt I'm not aware of any other models that have it as a stand alone option. Its standard equipment on top trims of Aura and Malibu and is available on LT2 Malibu w/premium audio. It would be nice if it was standard across the board but that is probably going to take a while. Its good that Hyundai has taken the step of making it standard. They are good at adding value, I wouldn't expect similar moves from Honda and Toyota anytime soon. Does Nissan offer a USB port in it's vehicles without the music HD?

No Nissan does not I believe. They also haven't had a new model lately. I have a report on their integration (along with the cost) next week.


Pioneer supplies this head unit if I'm not mistaken.

And Peter, can you tell us the difference between cheap radio materials and expensive radio materials?

Yeah I don't mind the materials at all. It's pretty standard if not above average for compact or midsize car. I just think the readout looks a little dated. Seriously, this is a great head unit overall.


I can tell you how you can see and feel the difference between cheap and expensive radio materials and I won't even charge you for the lesson. Sit in a Civic and then sit in a Cobalt.

Original sheth


One reason why this addition is impressive is that the vehicles are not new. Oftentimes you wont get any such additions until a mid cycle redesign. Nissan just launched the Maxima, Murano and Rogue in 2008. Those are pretty recent vehicles and should have a USB port if you ask me. I believe the 2009 Civic has one although I doubt it's standard. I will check.


And then? If the difference in plastics is so tangible then surely you can describe these differences in words.

Original sheth

"I can tell you how you can see and feel the difference between cheap and expensive radio materials and I won't even charge you for the lesson. Sit in a Civic and then sit in a Cobalt."

We are talking about head units. How is this one cheap? Just because its in a GM vehicle doesnt make it cheap. HAve you ever seen it in real life?


Sheesh, can't they put the USB connector in the center console or glovebox or somewhere less conspicuous?


I agree segfault nice to have the feature but I like the idea of putting it out of sight so you do not have to unplug everytime you leave the car.

We have the same head unit in our 2 year old HHR, no problems to report with reliability and we use it all the time. I agree with Dave one of the better factory head units I have seen in any car. The display it not one of the most advanced out there but it is very efficiently shows you all you need to know.

That is pretty poor they could not line up the USB port better. I picture some guy running around the lot punching holes in the dash and snapping this in when I see something aligned that well.


Am I the only one that could care less about the sliced open for the USB port in the front console unit?

Even if it's not pretty, it's still an iPod interface, which should definitely be more standard or at least an option, in this case, for vehicles. It's convenient and safer to use than a normal AUX port where you have to use the controls on the iPod player itself.


GM makes cheap cars so naturally the radio is going to be made of cheap parts. Just look at the USB cut-out. GM shold be commended for even knowing what a USB is.

David in Houston

I'm with segfault.

Inputs that are in the head unit lead to unsightly wires all over the place. I'm in favor of having a short, 18" wire that has a female port (stereo or USB or both) on the end. This wire would be inconspicuous and come out of the center console on the driver side.

I'm all about hidden wiring.


The blue display looks like my Honda. From the early 90's.

Original sheth


Have you seen the displays on current Hondas? Apparently you have not. Those in glass houses should not throw stones. The text displays in the Civic and Accord are definitely 80s inspired.

"Sheesh, can't they put the USB connector in the center console or glovebox or somewhere less conspicuous? "

First of all cars that have USB ports in the center storage bin must assume that you will not actually store anything in that bin. If the USB port is in the glovebox than its a hassle to reach for the driver. Most AUX jacks are in the head unit so this should be no different. It's very accessible and you only have to worry about ONE wire. I fail to see how having the jack on the other side of the car makes sense.


unplug and put it in your pocket or center console when you get out of the car.

-Man, that was hard. Sheesh.



little boy sheth,
when you get done buffing GM's balls go get an education. Then maybe some day you'll be able to afford a decent ride.

Big Steve

I find it amusing watching knuckleheads trying to defend General Motors. GM is THE worst car company in the WORLD. No one but the poor, the uneducated, and Avis buys their cars. Driving a GM car is beyond embarrassing, just look at what they did to the Saab brand. GM is for those who can't afford quality.

Original sheth


I have to say that your juvenile response does not make you seem the least bit educated. But you are right, I was in line when they were handing out Mech. engineering degrees and I grabbed one. I can only hope to be as classy and intellectually gifted as you claim to be. When you get done with 5th grade insults perhaps you can explain why I was wrong. How is having an aux jack in the gloveboox a smart move? You probably liked CD changers in the glovebox as well.

Well said big Steve. I am convinced now. I bet no one making in excess of $7/hr drives a GM vehicle, especially those cheap Cadillacs.


You have a degree in Mechanical Engineering and you drive a GM car!? That explains why so many companies prefer H1B Engineers.

Joe D.

The picture of the USB input says it all. Here it is 2009 and Chevrolet can't even build a clean quality looking USB input. That's probably a good example of why I haven't bought a GM car or truck in 14 years. Obviously I'm not alone.

Adam Colwyn

I think the fact that the USB port even works proves Chevy has improved their build quality. I've had several Chevy's over the years and they're either ok or real crap. I finally got tired of the problems, that's why I moved over to Toyota and have not looked back.


not sure how this digressed to a 'gm sucks' parade. guess it had something to do with the title of this post calling the port 'ugly' instead of focusing on the functionality and usefulness of the addition. not surprised though dave t.

the addition of the usb port is a great addition, especially given the fact that it allows control of the ipod using the head unit, not just audio input. putting it on the face of the head unit allows them to easily add it to every model that accepts the stereo.

to all those wondering about the 'fit and finish' of the usb port in the photo, check your laptop or pc. usb ports 'float' behind the cut out. who gets that freakin' close to their stereo anyway?? take ridiculously close pictures of a honda, toyota, kia, etc and see how great they look.

as for gm quality, seems to be doing pretty well. maybe you all should check some of the recent quality studies. the constant, unsupported claims of poor quality are really getting old.

Original sheth

"That's probably a good example of why I haven't bought a GM car or truck in 14 years. Obviously I'm not alone."

You are not. And yet GM still outsold Toyota in the US and had the most share. I always love it when Toyota fans who have sworn off domestic brands act like EVERYONE has done the same. As much as you hate GM they still manage to be #1 in the US market.

"not sure how this digressed to a 'gm sucks' parade. guess it had something to do with the title of this post calling the port 'ugly' instead of focusing on the functionality and usefulness of the addition."

What else would it be? You have to remember that Toyota/Honda drivers cannot just enjoy their vehicles. If you pay attention to the tone of the import lovers here you see that they are only happy if they put down domestic vehicles. Not only do they not want to drive domestic products, they feel its their duty to insult such products and the owners. How many comments have you seen regarding the intelligence and education levels of people that buy domestic brands? I've seen quite a few. These people have the same closed minded attitudes of racists and sexists. Meanwhile they cannot formulate a cogent argument against current domestic products and come off as small minded people who are stuck in 1985 and yet they have the nerve to consider themselves "educated" because they drive a Toyota. You don't prove you are intelligent by bragging about what car you drive, you prove it by actually making statements that are logical.

These people are criticizing GM's USB port even though most Toyotas and Hondas lack such a port. They are criticizing the head unit but cannot come up with an objective basis for the critique. They are criticizing the positioning of the port even though it's more logical than a glovebox installation. If you have nothing of substance to offer in terms of criticism you might as well not comment. The USB port and interface works well and its something that many other cars lack. Period.

What aren't you surprised at?
I don't understand how we're considered biased when we probably are the most even-handed blog out there. Well, we're definitely one of the few who doesn't make straight out jokes about the domestics.

No matter how much we like certain GM products, there is no better word to describe the USB cut-out here than "ugly."

I don't get how so much praise can be twisted around. Oh well.


dave t.

your posts on gm products seem to always have an underhanded spin to them. even when you write something nice, it's generally a compliment wrapped in an insult. don't act surprised.

sure, the face-one-inch-from-the-usb-port view may not be the most flattering of viewing angles, but what's it look like the way normal people look at it (from the driver or passenger seat). the other two images are dark, and one has the cable already plugged in. how about a photo with good lighting??? to much to ask?

i've got an aftermarket stereo in my old s10 blazer with a usb port and an audio input on the front and it's very convenient. i guess it all depends on having a good place to rest your ipod/mp3 player close to the stereo face.

Original sheth

Isnt there a rubber tab that covers the opening when not in use? Any female connector in a dash looks pretty silly when uncovered.

I challenge you to compare every post we've penned on GM products and then compare it with every one we've penned on Toyota and find any kind of unequal treatment. Go for it.


surprise surprise. didn't see that one coming dave...(sarcasm)

i wasn't talking about's staff, i was talking about you specifically. you know this isn't the first time i've pointed this out with your articles. however, i'm not going to go digging through the archives to prove it.

if you feel that i'm being untruthful or blowing it out of proportion then i beg to differ, but i humbly apologize.

What happens is usually in the comments when someone has to bring up some oddball comparison that often makes no sense compared to the story I wrote and then I have to come in and defend either myself or another product that was brought in out of left field.

Why commenters take such offense I have no idea. I have no idea why someone would compare an Impala SS to anything in the BMW lineup, even if the SS has a lot going for it. But that seems to be pretty commonplace.

I'm not sure what I can do about it but try to be as fair as possible.

You can go through every post I've written, the actual words in the post, and do the same comparison. You're not going to find a bias.

I think I've been one of the most vocal journalists when it comes to recent GM quality strides. I've been quoted on TV, in print etc about this.

However, there are faults with every carmaker and because the general quality of every car these days is quite good, we have to spend more time finding ways where one automaker comes up short, or why others are just a little bit better.

If you're spending even $15,000 on a new car don't you want the best $15,000 new car? Let alone $25,000 or $50,000? That's all we're trying to do.

I may come off as heavy handed in the comments because I'm trying to squelch really offbase and verbose commenters. It's hard to make an impact in a comment, so I usually try to be "direct." I understand it isn't the most gentle approach. But there's a lot of ground to cover and I have to make the most out of my time.

I really take a lot of effort to respond in the posts and I think that makes KickingTires a different type of blog.


I agree, Cody. Had this been anything imported, the title would have been "xxxx gets ipod integration" or something like that. Instead the title reads like a bait thread. I don't have a usb connector in my car and I am not sure what a "pretty" one looks like, but this one looks fine to me, lol.

Oh Dave, admitting you have a problem is the first step. lol


Most usb connectors ARE UGLY. They're also usually hidden at the bottom of the center stack (Ford's Sync) or in the center console or glove box. Not in the head unit.

Now, I understand why they did it, they're meeting a demand and this is the easiest way to do it and I commended them for how well it worked. But again, it's unattractive. The cover in my tester was lost. And the rubber that covers it we have images of and is just a piece of black rubber which doesn't look good on the silver versions.

Original sheth

As stated earlier, I don't think cost cutting is the only reason they put this in the head unit. In most cars with the jack in the center bin the jack isn't going to be accessible if you store CDs (or whatever) in that space. I know many will say no one uses CDs if they have an ipod but I disagree. My car has an AUX jack and yet I still have CDs.

Overall I have to say is much more objective than Edmunds. Maybe its because you are based in Chicago vs California. That said, I have consistently found that the US automotive media in general has difficulty pointing out flaws in import vehicles (esp. Hondas and Mazdas) no matter how glaring. Just as one example the CX-7 is highly rated by this site even though MUCH is made out of interior plastics in reviews here. Considering the CX-7 is awash in Cobalt level hard plastics I've not been able to figure out how it gets such high marks. And that's before we get into its poor efficiency (as is the case with most Mazdas) and limited utility. This isn't to say that deficiencies aren't mentioned, but it is to say that deficincies that are dealbreakers (supposedly) on domestic products never seem to be on imports. Car and Driver is notorious for this.

Not to argue but relocating any type of electrical outlet including usb is relatively expensive/hard to do for a car not getting a model year update. That's why all the luxury car makers had to scramble and put the iPod jacks in the glove compartments instead of center consoles. Now you see them migrating. But not at first. When new models come out it'll likely be more convenient. I believe Camaro and Equinox have it better situated.

Original sheth

Yeah all new 2010 GM models have a USB jack in a dedicated location and its bundled with the upgraded audio system. Since GM is abandoning the black tie radio the USB jack has to go elsewhere. Center storage bin is much better than glove box. There is no info on 2010 models with the black tie radio yet aside from Malibu/G6/Aura and Cobalt but I would presume the USB jack will spread to most models that continue to use this radio.


Aura? G6? Malibu? Cobalt? Right there are four reasons why GM needs welfare from the government to stay in business. You can put 10 USB's in every GM car and it's still a GM car. The "new" Malibu which can't even compete with the old platform Camry STILL lacks Bluetooth and Nav. Completely unacceptable unless you are GM - then it's business as usual. GM makes cars for Avis and everyone knows it.

Original sheth


Almost every GM vehicle has bluetooth. You are 100% wrong but the tone of your post makes that totally unsurprising. Your generalizations are pathetic and indicative of your lack of exposure to what GM products are like in 2009. Edmunds and C&D rated the Malibu over the Camry and C&D rated the Aura over Camry as did Autoweek. Sorry to ruin the party for you.

From Thom: "Aura? G6? Malibu? Cobalt? Right there are four reasons why GM needs welfare from the government to stay in business."

I do believe the Aura and Malibu won Car of the Year in back to back years. Yea, I guess these are horrible vehicles.

And has anyone failed to mention that the USB port option is $100 compared to the Ford Sync which is around $300. Although not as advanced as the Ford Sync, it does must of what you need to do, which is listen to your iPODs music.


Just bought a 2010 Camaro, Mini (1/8) Stereo Jack and USB jack have both moved to the interior of the center console.


The USB connector in my Malibu is far less bothersome than the throttle cable crap in my Wife's Toyota. My '98 S-10 still has it's steering gear held in place by a ver solid frame at a very trouble-free 310,000 miles. Unlike my poor (educated ?)neighbors's Toyota.


I was a lifetime Ford buyer until I had a HORRIBLE experience with Ford and their handling of an obivously defective product. I swore off, bought a Camry and put 140,000 relatively trouble free miles on it. Time came in O9 to replace it, and after driving the new Camry and the Malibu I bought the Malibu. It was cheaper, and the dealers didnt act like they wwere doing you a favor to allow you to buy their cars. This was pre-accelerator pedal problem days, and the Toyota dealers were a bit snooty and full of themselves. The Chevy dealers were truly happy to see a customer! 20K miles later, its been a fine, trouble free car - no issues at all, great gas mileage, and nice to drive. I think GM has indeed notched up its quality a lot, and when you consider bang for the buck, the Malibu is a good deal. Toyotas are fine too, so as Rodney King said, "cant we all just get along here!!"


Sorry to be back in this topic, but is there anyway we can add this USB port to our car now? I have a Cobalt 2007, so if any of you guys could help, it will be appreciated.
Thanks a lot!


some models pf chevrolet vehicles have same looking but not same functions. Is the unit on pic 2 the same for silverado's??

im from mexico and i'm looking for a unit with 3.5mm and usb inputs, OEM for key & lights reminder, cause with an aftermarket unit (i´d tried jvc 2din) i lose this useful alarm.



I have a 2011 Malibu, I was wondering how do you shot off the auto play when you connect the ipod. Is there a way?

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