Toyota bets buyers will like app, Virtual Assistants better than phone-based nav – Driving

The automaker is rolling out a new voice-activated infotainment system in 2022—but some features come tied to a subscription
“Hey, Toyota, can you show me how to use this system?” Expect to see more people talking to their cars, as Toyota and Lexus launch new ways of making their cars obey commands in 2022.
The anchor of the new Toyota Multimedia and Lexus Interface systems is the brand’s Virtual Assistant. It can follow a broad range of voice commands and understands natural language.
For example, by chirping out “Hey, Toyota” or “Hey, Lexus,” seats can be adjusted, the heads-up display disabled, or the wipers activated. Some of these basic and useful commands are built right into the system. However, above those sits a higher layer of help, the Intelligent Assistant, that lets you use voice commands to tweak deeper setting in the vehicle menus. The catch is it requires a phone connection and a paid subscription to Drive Connect, which costs $19.95 per month in Canada.
Toyota believes its new virtual assistant is revolutionary; in addition to better understanding common questions, its intuitive nature, the company says, is a safety bonus. Drivers will spend less time prowling and poking the display screen for menus, and more time with eyes on the road.
That display, by the way, is available in a whopping 14-inch screen that has already debuted on the 2022 Toyota Tundra and Lexus NX. Remapped and reorganized controls on the touchscreen are intuitive and easier to use, Toyota says, and full-screen gestures mimic the ones we use on smartphones. An eight-inch display is also available.
While many drivers prefer to use their phone-based navigation when driving, Toyota is betting big it’ll win over converts with its super-enhanced built-in navigation, available on all Toyota and Lexus vehicles. Cloud-based, with maps always up-to-date, and including Google Points of Interest, the system also includes last-mile walking directions. Park your car, pick up your phone, and walking directions to your destination show up in navigation — as long as you have the Toyota or Lexus app.
Keep in mind the depth of some of these features will fluctuate based on trim levels, and whether buyers subscribe to the myriad levels of connected services. Depending on the price level of the vehicle, some subscriptions are free for three- to five-year periods. In general, subscriptions such as Remote Connect run about $9.95 a month. Remote Connect includes features such as the ability to start the engine remotely. It’s a popular feature in many cars, but Toyota was asked at the press briefing if allowing an engine to idle for 10 minutes is an environmental concern.
In tune with social trends, Toyota is making it easy for people to travel together and let their phones dominate the atmosphere. Up to five devices can be connected to the vehicle, with the ability to connect two at the same time.
Customer feedback led Toyota to the realization people still value a Bluetooth connection, so the automaker’s made it possible for two Bluetooth devices to be connected at the same time. In this scenario, a back-seat passenger could hijack the music selection from another passenger who has poor taste.
Other goodies in the new Toyota Multimedia and Lexus Interface systems include the ability to build multiple user profiles, and digital key sharing.
Ultimately Toyota and Lexus are building a foundation for owners to migrate seamlessly from their phones to using the brand’s built-in technology. As Steve Andrew, manager of connected technologies, told press, the goal is to “elevate the owner experience inside and beyond.”
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