As with the systems offered in German luxury cars, Remote Touch consists of a large LCD screen placed high on the dash and is operated via a controller near the centre arm rest. The Germans have universally opted for a scroll wheel that can be pushed and pressed; Lexus, however, has opted for a trackball-like device that controls an on-screen cursor. There are just five physical buttons in the Remote Touch system, two enter keys located on either side of the controller's wrist rest, and shortcuts to the main menu, sat nav map screen and display settings. Although the cursor doesn't snap to buttons, whenever you mouse over one the controller will generate a moment of resistance and a slight clicking sensation. Because of this the cursor is drawn towards buttons on highly populated screens, such as the sat nav's destination keyboard.
Remote Touch can control most of the car's features, including the sat nav, telephone, audio and entertainment, and climate control. The last two still retain physical buttons and, joy of joys, one no longer has to dive into the menu system to select where the air is coming from. Audio and telephone controls are also duplicated — triplicated, even — via buttons on the steering wheel spokes.
Except for the control method, the guts of the Remote Touch system are carried over from previous Toyota/Lexus touchscreen units. The menu structure has been reworked and is more sensible than before; however, moving more items, such as the telephone, to the main menu would be helpful. Some car settings, like the adaptive lighting and folding mirrors, reside in a separate system located in the instrument cluster and set via steering wheel controls. Oddly, Remote Touch prevents address entry whilst driving, but is perfectly fine with you tweaking the audio settings or finding the choice tune.
We were able to pair a variety of phones to the car's Bluetooth hands-free without any fuss and, thanks largely to a RX350's cone of silence, having long, tangential conversations proved to be no problem at all. Voice recognition is, however, almost a misnomer as it's still limited to calling people in your phone book and only works with pre-recorded five-second voice tags. At least now calls can be made from any screen.
In the RX350, there's nary a USB port or hard disk in sight, so music options are limited to AM/FM, an auxiliary jack and the six-CD/DVD stacker. The latter's capable of playing back MP3 discs, but struggled with about a third of our testing disc. For those who prefer their music uncompressed the Gracenote database is included, providing info for most CD audio discs. Surround sound processing, while not really our thing for music, works brilliantly with DVD video. Letter boxing and the screen's recessed position make it difficult for rear passengers to fully enjoy the experience, though.
The GPS sat nav system on the new RX is essentially the same system that graces many a Lexus and Toyota model and, in some ways, it's a step backwards as turn instructions no longer come through the driver's speakers only. Utilising Whereis maps stored on a DVD the predictive keyboard exhibits an irritating delay when you're trying to quickly enter an address or point of interest at the lights. 3D view and text-to-speech spoken street names are still notable for their omission.
As a control system, the Remote Touch controller with its haptic feedback makes cursor control a simple-to-use reality in automobiles. Unfortunately, despite a few tweaks, the interface doesn't have the most commonly used items at the fore and doesn't encompass all car functions. Also the supporting technology, such as the old school voice recognition system, geriatric DVD-based nav system and the lack of direct iPod control, let the team down.