DETROIT -- Call GM's new Marketplace app a good start, then pull up a seat to see what comes next. The system has the potential to save time and make everything from the daily commute to family vacations easier -- but it still has plenty of growing to do.
Marketplace lets you order food, make restaurant and hotel reservations and find gas stations from behind the wheel. Two million drivers already have cars equipped with Marketplace. GM expects to that double this year.
I recently tested the feature in a 2018 Buick Regal TourX sport wagon. Among other things, Marketplace gave me a new appreciation for Dunkin' Donuts and convinced me the system could become one customers rely on as GM adds features.
"Marketplace is in its infancy," said Jake Fisher, director of automotive testing for Consumer Reports magazine.
Despite that, Marketplace was controversial the moment GM announced it in December. "There's nothing about this that's safe," National Safety Council president and driver-distraction watchdog Deborah Hersman told Bloomberg 24 hours after GM began downloading it free to customers' vehicles.
I found Marketplace simple and easy to use. Yes, it takes your eyes off the road briefly, but no more than adjusting the cabin temperature.
Its icons on the touch screen are big; easy to recognize and select while you drive. Like most touch screens, the one in my test car could have responded quicker, but it was no worse than any other vehicle I've tested, and better than many.
To reduce distraction, GM limits the number of options you can consider while driving. Tap the Dunkin' Donuts icon and you get three choices:
Pick "recent orders" and big squares with your three most recent orders pop up. My screen offered coffee and doughnuts on the drive to work. One more tap and the order was sent, including payment from a credit card. Pull up to the drive-through or walk inside to the pickup lane, say your name and voila!, doughnuts.
"GM is being very careful to manage this for safety," said IHS Markit senior analyst Stephanie Brinley. "This is a business that's going to grow and Marketplace has a lot of promise. GM is taking it very seriously."