When we sampled the all-new 2014 Lexus IS sport sedan lineup recently, there was no escaping the Lexus Remote Touch Interface, as it's now standard on every IS model. Inspired by the functionality of a computer mouse, Remote Touch employs a mouse-like clickable joystick instead of the multifunction control knobs favored by German luxury brands. But is Remote Touch as cutting-edge as Lexus claims? How does it work when you're on the move and want to execute a joystick command? We spent some quality time with the new IS model's Remote Touch system to find out.
Although the 2014 IS is hardly the first Lexus vehicle to feature Remote Touch, it's the first to offer free real-time weather and traffic information via HD radio. In fact, Lexus claims this is an industry-first offering, as such information has been subscription-based previously. The optional Lexus Enform mobile-app suite augments the HD radio service with cellular updates when a radio signal is unavailable.
Another notable upgrade is found in the Remote Touch controller itself: Instead of having to press a separate Enter button next to the joystick, you can now simply push down on the controller -- just like you would with a computer mouse. With the first-generation Remote Touch Interface, which debuted on the 2010 Lexus RX crossover, you had to press that Enter button to get anything done.
Furthermore, the 2014 IS model's sharp 7-inch display screen features split-screen capability, so you can multitask without having to worry about switching back and forth. Although the pricier GS and LS sedans have considerably wider screens, we admire the crispness of the IS model's smaller display. We also noticed a number of neat little features that prove the engineers went the extra mile. For example, if the system recognizes the MP3 that's playing on your iPhone, it will include a photo of the artist on the screen. Hey, that's L.L. Cool J! How'd they do that!
Not that we'd really listen to "Hey Lover" on a press trip, but you get the idea.
Eyes on the Road
If the Remote Touch Interface has a weakness, it's the level of concentration that's required to operate the system at speed. Say you're doing 65 miles per hour on a congested freeway and you want to delve into the menu structure for some reason. Because the system is designed to emulate a computer-mouse interface, the pointer on the screen can go anywhere. You really have to focus on positioning it properly. To be fair, Remote Touch includes haptic feedback, which means that the controller vibrates helpfully when you're close to a target. Still, the German knob-based systems seem potentially less distracting, because they generally provide a few clearly defined, easily selectable options per screen.
But let's be honest: These infotainment systems are so complicated that none are perfectly safe to operate while you're driving. That's why we applaud Lexus for including advanced voice recognition, too. Voice commands are available for just about any function that you'd want to access from the road and, in our brief experience, they seem to work pretty well.
An Intriguing Alternative
We certainly understand why many luxury automakers have gone knob-crazy, but we have to give the engineers at Lexus props for doing their own thing and doing it well. So go ahead: Hop into a 2014 Lexus IS and see how Remote Touch works for you.