How smart is your car? Lexus has an optional navigational system so intelligent, it can steer you clear of ferries and toll roads with a choice of three routes to your destination, display two maps simultaneously on its 7-inch screen, and give address points for almost 10 million locations-in French or English. The system, called Lexus Link, also has a dual-mode phone and a vocabulary of 300 voice commands for its call center. Just announce, "I'm hungry!" and get a list of nearby restaurants.
State-of-the-art wireless telematics combine computing and telephony to send and receive data for navigation systems, provide voice activation for cell phones and handle messaging. In addition, if a theft-deterrent system indicates the car is being stolen, telematics alerts the service center and tracks the vehicle's location.
Electronic messaging that scrolls across the dashboard screen can warn drivers of an icy bridge ahead, train crossings, high winds or falling rocks. In emergency situations, such as deployment of an air bag, it automatically sends for assistance.
The Lexus Link maps are contained on a single DVD rather than the typical series of CD-ROMS, which cuts the standard 11-second response down to five seconds. Additional functions vary by vehicle. The navigation systems in the Lexus ES 300, GS sedans and RX 300 models have touch-screen technology, and the LX 470's navigation system can show a DVD movie when the SUV is parked.
Ford's telematics system, called VCS, will be an option on its 2002 Lincoln Town Car, Continental and LS sedans, on sale late this summer. Ford also plans to offer voice-activated Internet, viewable on a large display screen in the dashboard.
Editor and consultant Jill Amadio has been reporting on the automotive industry for 24 years.