Lexus Goes All-Touch for New Infotainment System

The luxury brand scraps its troubled Remote Touch system, adds cloud connectivity.

The new Lexus Interface infotainment system is completely controlled by touch, except for a volume knob. (Lexus)

When Lexus unveiled its Remote Touch infotainment interface at the 2008 Los Angeles Auto Show, the original iPhone had been out a little over a year, and Apple’s second-generation iPhone 3G was less than six months old. Touchscreens had not yet taken over in the tech world, much less in automobiles. At the time, the standard among luxury automakers was a center-console controller that worked with a non-touch dashboard display.

The Lexus Interface connects to a driver’s streaming music accounts via onboard Wi-Fi connectivity. (Doug Newcomb)

BMW kicked off this trend with iDrive and its German rivals Mercedes-Benz and Audi jumped on the bandwagon with COMAND and Multi Media Interface (MMI), respectively. The original Remote Touch that debuted on the 2010 Lexus RX was an extension of this center-console-controller concept, but with a twist. Or perhaps a lack of a twist since, unlike its German rivals, Remote Touch used a computer-mouse-like controller instead of a rotary knob.

As with a computer mouse, the Remote Touch interface employed a cursor that mimicked the inputs to the center-console controller. Drivers had to look closely at the screen and cursor movements and clicks had to be precise. Even with haptic feedback to help a driver locate and lock onto a feature by feel, Remote Touch was criticized in car reviews as difficult to use and dinged in J.D. Power Initial Quality Surveys.

A 2016 model-year mid-cycle update made available a larger 12.3-in. display and a touch pad replaced the original controller to improve the system. Lexus then offered a touchscreen starting with the 2020 RX to help alleviate the hassle of using only the center-console touch pad.

Brought-in or beamed-in

Lexus again chose the 2021 L.A. show to debut its next-generation infotainment interface, amid a luxury-vehicle field that’s completely turned to touchscreens. Gone entirely is a center-console controller, replaced by the new Lexus Interface, available now in the 2022 NX and coming to other models soon. It is completely touchscreen-based; the only physical control is a volume knob.

Available with either an optional 14-inch or standard 9.8-inch high-definition touchscreen, Lexus Interface has a minimalist look and feel – and what the luxury brand hopes will be a more intuitive operation for owners. “After hearing feedback from customers and focus groups, we wanted to keep the design simple,” said Brian Inouye, general manager and chief engineer, Toyota Motor North America.

The only controls are arrayed vertically along the left side of the screen to bring up the basic functions. From top to bottom these controls access: Apple CarPlay or Android Auto when a device is connected; navigation; audio; phone; vehicle settings and system settings. While rather small, minimizing these controls allows the function or feature being used by the driver to be displayed without clutter on the touchscreen. “This lets the screen show exactly what the driver needs,” Inouye said.

Like many modern infotainment systems, save for an AM/FM tuner, Lexus Interface leverages connectivity and content brought in via a driver’s portable device or beamed-in through the vehicle’s onboard cellular modem. For brought-in content, Lexus Interface comes standard with both wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto that connect to the system via Bluetooth, and two devices can be paired at once.

For beamed-in content, in-car wireless connectivity provided by AT&T allows drivers to sync streaming services such as Spotify and Apple Music with the system using onboard Wi-Fi. “Trends come and go in consumer electronics,” Inouye said. “In the past, infotainment systems had separate apps for, say, Pandora or Spotify, and these had to work seamlessly with different systems, versions of the app and portable devices,” he added. “Now people want a simple, straightforward solution, such as just syncing their streaming account to the car.”

Of course, with so many music options, it can be difficult to keep tabs of where to find that perfect driving soundtrack. A Lexus Interface favorites feature lets drivers bookmark preferred songs or content so that they’re easier to find. The system even shows radio and streaming stations that play a driver’s favorite genres to ease content access.

Toyota voice assistant experience

Instead of searching for music manually, drivers can also call up a song, artist, album or genre using the cloud-based Voice Assistant designed in-house by Toyota Connected. “We’ve worked with Alexa in the past,” Inouye said. “But we wanted the customer to have a Toyota experience rather than, say, an Alexa, Apple or Google experience,” he added.

Lexus Voice Assistant responds to natural language commands for everything from selecting music to setting the climate controls. When sampled during a demo at the L.A. show it worked well. The Voice Assistant is part of the subscription-based Lexus Connected Services, which is free for three years with the 14-inch screen and requires a monthly subscription with the smaller screen. Connected Services also delivers freshly updated directions and map data from the cloud and Google Point-Of-Interest search capability.

These updates are delivered to the system over the air (OTA), whether through the vehicle’s built-in Wi-Fi hotspot or a remote hotspot while parked. OTA updates are used not only to refresh navigation mapping, but to keep the system current, Inouye said. “For example, if a new version of Apple CarPlay comes out,” he noted, “we can update the system so it has that.”

The 2022 Lexus NX (450h+ plug-in hybrid version shown) is the first vehicle application for the new Interface system. (Lexus)

As with a smartphone or laptop, owners will be alerted when a software update is available and can choose when and if they want to update the Lexus Interface. “We’ll notify them, and they can choose to update the system if they want, or have it done by a dealer,” Inouye said.

You can’t go home

One thing Lexus Interface doesn’t have is a home screen. “There’s no home screen since you really don’t need one,” Inouye said. “If you want to call someone, you can just use the Voice Assistance to say, ‘Call so-and-so’ instead of having to access a phone screen. Same with a navigation destination. We wanted to make it as easy and non-distracting as possible for the driver.”

In the same way that Lexus Remote Touch was updated over the years, Inouye said Lexus Interface can also be refreshed based on customer feedback. But this time with software instead of physical controls. “Going forward, we can add not only new features,” Inouye said, “but also on-screen controls that customers want in subsequent generations of Lexus Interface.”