Every Lexus I’ve tested has featured to this point had Lexus Remote Touch, a mouse-like control surface used to navigate the infotainment screen. While I liked it, many did not. Those who did not should be happy to hear about the simpler control surface in our test IS350 AWD.
Lexus Remote Touch had gee-whiz haptic feedback, and I liked it for that. Where some complained it was too distracting trying to get around the Lexus Enform infotainment and telematics screens using the “mouse,” as I came to call it, I got used to it quickly and could navigate around quite a bit with little more than a glance at the screen. I was able to memorize the “bump pattern” of the haptic feedback on frequently-used screens such as the audio screen. Once I glanced at the screen and saw where my cursor was, I could put my eyes back on the road and “feel” my way to the desired selection point before “clicking” the Remote Touch controller.
The IS350 AWD we tested lacked the familiar Remote Touch controller, instead having a simpler dial-shaped controller in the center console. While the aesthetic design was simpler, the motion was still as complex as the Remote Touch mouse — only it lacked the haptic feedback. Thankfully, the menu structure and navigation of the various information displays was simplified so it wasn’t necessary. Most navigation of options was in intuitive list format, with a simple twist of the dial required to move from one option to the next. Selecting a given option required a “click” of the dial like a large mouse button. There were auxiliary menus — usually reserved for “settings” or similar — on some information displays that required the dial to be nudged left or right or up or down to access them.
The biggest improvement this somewhat simplified system makes over the previous Remote Touch-equipped iterations of Lexus Enform is the simplicity of the root menu. Options are arranged in a carousel, with logical twisting of the dial required to bring the option you want to summon to the front of the screen. When your desired option is front-and-center, you click the dial like you would a computer mouse. It also had fewer icons from which to select, which in concert with the simplified layout and control structure made it easier to quickly summon the screen I wanted.
Atop the dial are three buttons: One takes you to the audio screen, one takes you to the root menu, and the last one is a “back” button much like you’ll find on a smartphone. Other Lexus cars with Remote Touch typically feature a button that will take you back to the root menu, then an up/down rocker switch for faster scrolling of menus (since Remote Touch doesn’t allow you to twiddle the control knob like, well, a knob), then a button that takes you directly to the navigation screen.
I found the button that took me straight to the audio screen more useful than the one that took me straight to the map. That’s partially because in daily driving I’m less likely to use navigation and therefore less likely to want to see the nav map. It’s also partially because of the one Lexus Enform feature that annoys me a bit: Its tendency to default back to the nav map once it’s selected. After checking out the map, if I went back to the audio display and didn’t change anything after a few minutes, it would switch back to the map. There may be a way to defeat this behavior, but I haven’t bothered to read the phonebook-sized owner’s manual that comes with every Lexus to learn it yet. Someday.
An important note: Some IS models apparently do come with Remote Touch-style infotainment controllers, judging from photos of the car’s interior on Lexus’ website.
Disclosure: Lexus provided the vehicle, insurance, and a tank of gas.