Car stereo robberies are on the decline. So are sales of aftermarket audio solutions. Why? Factory systems simply have become too good, essentially making both theft and the aftermarket unnecessary. Thanks to ever-increasing commute times, modern cars feature practically all the entertainment and amenities you'd expect from your living room—in fact, many offer audio quality that puts home theater systems to shame. So if you're a car-shopping audiophile, checking the stereo system that comes with the car is more important than ever. Here are our ten top picks, including obvious luxury players and some surprisingly affordable examples.
2011 Mazda Mazdaspeed3
We start off with a Bose car stereo system that actually doesn't disappoint: the 10-speaker system included in the Technology Package of the spunky Mazdaspeed3 sport compact wagon. While it's not ultrapowerful by today's "premium audio" standards, the 265-watt stereo still delivers crisp, balanced sound and a surprising thump from the subwoofer cleverly mounted inside the spare tire. It's a great, traditional audio setup in a lively car that's already famous for its bang-for-the-buck dominance.
2012 Infiniti M
Like the previous generation, the latest Infiniti M37 (and M56) luxury sport sedan offers a tremendous level of audio quality when equipped with its Bose Studio Surround system. We're not typically blown away by Bose offerings, but the 5.1-channel, 16-speaker setup available in the M37 is mighty impressive, especially when sampling high-fidelity DVD audio. For whatever reason, official wattage figures are nowhere to be found, but the system never felt short on power.
2012 Volkswagen Jetta GLI
Starting with the 2012 Jetta GLI, Volkswagen is rolling out its new, 400-watt premium audio system by Fender, the American brand more famous for its Stratocaster guitars than its stereo equipment. After three years of cooperative research with VW and Panasonic, Fender has delivered a nine-speaker setup that emphasizes clarity at every volume. Although the collaboration may sound like a marketing ploy, the sound doesn't lie. For us, it's the new standard for entry-level automotive audio, easily surpassing the Dynaudio premium systems VW traditionally offers.
2012 Chrysler 300 SRT8
Chrysler's newly redesigned 300 sedan brings a Harman Kardon premium sound system to the market, at least for the SRT models. This setup boasts a 12-channel amplifier, 900 watts of power and a total of 19 speakers—seven 3.5-inch midrange units, each with seven integrated tweeters, along with five "subwoofers" (although only the rear deck's 10-inch unit is a traditional round subwoofer design). Bottom line: The new SRT's stereo packs a wallop, much like the engine under its hood.