There’s a new Lexus NX around the corner that’s sporting a mild redesign, but the big news revolves around the all-new infotainment system inside. This new system is called Lexus Interface, for better or worse, and it’s a shot across the bow in the battle for your in-car infotainment needs.
Lexus’ parent company, Toyota Motor Corporation, tasked Toyota Motor North America and the smaller, in-house software experts at TMNA’s Connected Technologies with the creation and development of this new interface.
That means the interface was produced in North America, which Toyota says is the first time this has happened. But it makes sense, given that this interface is going up against the tech giants from Silicon Valley, namely Apple and Google.
The Japanese carmaker doesn’t want to mirror your smartphone; it plans to replace it. Well, replace it while you’re in your car, anyway. The new interface is a kitchen sink system, as in, it’s got all of the things and the kitchen sink.
That rich interface and slick user experience will be delivered through the impressive center console, anchored by a massive screen that has been angled to the driver, because Toyota knows that’s who it’s all about:
The new system features multiple touchscreen options from 8- inches up-to 14-inches, which all feature the same newly enhanced design cues and functionality, while retaining a volume knob. The system also offers five-times the processing power of the previous generation system, an incredible leap in processing capability that provides faster and more responsive touch functionality. All screens feature modern designs with optically bonded, glare reducing technology allowing a customer experience that mirrors smartphone-like capability.
In case the driver-centric angle bothers you, Toyota reminds you that the system has been optimized for use with a built-in voice assistant, as it details:
Structured with a customer first approach, the newly developed Virtual Assistant (VA) is intended to be the primary way occupants interact with the new multimedia system and is designed to enable a voice first application. Combining a hybrid developed structure of in-house Toyota Connected engineered machine learning with a cloud-based platform featuring up to date content, VA aims to provide a natural and easy to use interaction for vehicle occupants. Designed with dual-microphones, enhanced noise-cancellation, speaker location and seat detection capabilities, the approach allows front seat occupants an expanded and interactive functionality to access navigation, media, phone and select vehicle settings.
I’m unsure about the voice assistant, though. Even Apple hasn’t quite figured it out yet, so I don’t expect Toyota’s AI to be up to the task of controlling anything without frustrating its users or drivers yet.
But the other parts of the interface do seem promising. The native navigation system siphons data from Google, per Toyota:
The updated navigation system brings a beautiful design, trusted sources and the Virtual Assistant together to create a customer-first solution. It allows drivers and passengers to use the voice-activated commands or touchscreen to search for directions, find points of interest or explore local businesses – Google points of interest (POI) data is integrated to ensure up-to-date search capability. Navigation is also available to passengers with or without network connection, with offline mode designed to detect when the vehicle is near or entering an area with low connectivity and download applicable maps and services in advance.
The maps look great on that massive screen:
Besides AM, FM and satellite radio, music streaming comes from two services, Apple Music and Amazon Music. The developers said that they are not ruling out other providers such as Spotify for integration at a later date, but Apple and Amazon are the two streaming options for now, as Toyota details:
Whether selecting from AM or FM, standard SiriusXM® stations or connected streaming music sources, such as Apple Music® or Amazon Music®, the audio HMI is also significantly improved. Occupants can now select from available music sources based on music genre or frequent preference. AM and FM station dial numbers are displayed along with logos when available. Sourcing information from the cloud, the native music system is always up to date and features enhanced programming details.
Oh, and I really hope that this interface will support lossless streaming, but I’m not holding my breath:
The car company can’t just expect to show up and assert dashboard dominance over Apple and Google. It is very much making a concession to this by folding Apple CarPlay and Android Auto into the Lexus interface — wirelessly, no less!
Still, Toyota is betting that drivers will prefer its new interface to those others, and based on what I’ve seen, they could be right. The interface is modern and well-designed. It reads clearly and has covered most of its bases. After all, what does a car’s dashboard’s mainly control? Music and HVAC, duh! Navigation also, though to a lesser degree.
To that end, the Lexus Interface has basic climate controls and music volume covered, courtesy of the tried and true rotary controller, otherwise known as a knob! Funny how all the artificial intelligence and all the good software in the world can’t compete with a simple physical control.
The new Lexus Interface will debut in the new Lexus NX at the end of this year, and will roll out to subsequent Lexus models afterwards. A new user interface will also come to Toyota’s models, but there’s not much information on how that system will differ from the Lexus Interface.
It will obviously have to referred to by another name, but I hope Toyota can transfer most of what is seen here to its non-luxury, downmarket models, too.