Auto tech on the brink

Published on the 12/08/2015 | Written by Hayden McCall


Lexus

A week with the latest in Japanese automotive wizardry leaves me thinking the industry needs to move on, says Hayden McCall…

Don’t get me wrong, the Lexus RC350 is a beautiful piece of design and engineering. As a package it makes you feel like going a little silly from the moment you slide into the leather cockpit. And the technology delivers everything you expect in a way that you want – accessible, intuitive and configurable. The problem is that most of the time I found the default configuration option I sought was ‘how do I turn that bloody thing off’. Barring the sports + mode that is. A couple of flicks on the dial and what is already a sporty luxury coupe transformed it into a bad arse horndog that needed a good thrashing. But more on that later.

Turning things off started with the stupid vibra-response on the touch pad – bad idea. Next was the blind spot monitor which, funnily enough, constantly flashes in your side mirror in any traffic. And then the lane departure alert – whatever.

But the useful tech left me feeling that automobile manufacturers need to start pushing boundaries and give drivers what they really want. This isn’t about the Lexus, it is about the industry (and the lawmakers) understanding the personalised computing power we each have in our hands, and working in synch with it. Sure, the Bluetooth phone synch seamlessly pulled in all my contacts and music connectivity. But the stupidity starts when turning a dial to select each letter to search for an artist or contact. It’s dumb, slow and fiddly.

The contact’s address I need is on my phone – all I need to do is touch it and I’m navigating there. So that’s what we all end up doing – using the power of our phones instead of a compromised in-vehicle system. The manufacturer’s carefully built non-intrusive safety features in reality just made the exercise less safe because they just can’t compete with a touchscreen, integrated app and a proper keyboard.

So, time to stop fighting a losing battle guys. Today I announce my entirely fictitious ‘Momo-Play system’ – imagine your smartphone touchscreen and keyboard projected into your vehicle’s on-board computer, with an integrated touchscreen/keyboard in the steering wheel. Stopped at the lights, you have your phone’s full functionality at your fingertips, with the simplicity and familiarity you’re used to.

Address the safety concerns (I can hear the tut tut) by disabling the keyboard when the proximity alert tells you that the light has gone from red to green and/or the vehicle ahead is moving (yes, those features too please). But you have the navigation set up and right in front of you. You also have the playlist you want queued, and you’ve clicked-to-call the restaurant you’re supposed to have booked for tonight’s dinner. Sorted.

Car manufacturers and policymakers alike, please get with the times and make our vehicle technology ubiquitous, intuitive and accessible as our smartphones. Ditch the proprietary half-arsed supposedly-safe-but-actually-unsafe attempts. And while you are at it, how about deliver an app that allows me to set up navigation and music from the safety of my desk. One I can also use to locate my car, check every trip I’ve made, fuel consumed, and if the parking meter is expired (or, better, top it up). Oh yeah, and also add in some tech that will prevent me from reversing into the neighbour’s letter box.

OK, of course, I hear you say ‘the driverless car is here’, and yes it is, or nearly is, but I was driving the Lexus RC350, not the latest Volvo XC90 (next time perhaps Volvo NZ?). Even in the Lexus, it felt very within reach to let the car take over. Out on the motorway, the dynamic radar cruise control system that adjusts your speed to that of the vehicle ahead (I want one), the lane assist and other built-in proximity features all felt like the car could very easily be driving if it wanted to be. But even driverless cars need to be told where to go and what music you want getting there.

Back to the driving, the Lexus was nothing short of sublime. It’s been too long since I have driven a vehicle that behaved like the 350, so maybe I was a sitting duck, but I’ll confess it won me over very quickly. In Sports+ mode (was there another?) the car growls with hunger and keeps on wanting more when you feed it. I found myself driving around with a sly grin feeling all powerful, willing something worthy to step up to the plate at the next lights.

On the motorway, the proximity systems found their place and made the horrendous stop start of Auckland’s NW Motorway a breeze. And the moment we cleared out of the clutter for the fresh air and open road to Muriwai, the Lexus found its true purpose in life – giving its driver an absolute blast of a time. Through tight and twisty or long and sweeping it willed for more.

All I can say is, ‘thanks Lexus Auckland’…and please, please let’s not forget – in the soon-to-be-driverless future – the simple pleasures that a beautifully crafted machine can impart on us humans.

For auto tech nerds, interested in learning more about the auxiliary sensors and alert systems these cars are running, the dark corners of the Lexus on-board computer revealed a URL for components manufacturer Denso, which made for interesting reading.

 

Hayden McCallABOUT HAYDEN McCALL//

Hayden McCall is the General Manager at iStart. Despite his natural charm he is a poor wit and lacks the requisite skills to contribute much in column inches. The occasional attempt at anything with journalistic merit is typically lambasted by the editorial team and seldom makes the cut.

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