One in a series of articles intended to familiarize readers with the range of automotive infotainment platforms now on the market.
Connected cars and crossovers from Toyota and Lexus.
Credit: Photo by Paul Kaminski Toyota’s tag line is “Let’s Go Places.” Its Entune telematics system (“Enform” in Lexus models) helps owners stay informed and connected as they carry out that invitation.
I had a chance to listen to both systems in action when I tested Toyota’s perennial bestseller, the Camry in XSE trim level, and also the Lexus NX200t.
Entune first appeared on the 2012 Toyota Prius V. The system uses the data plan from a connected smartphone to power the apps in dash (Pandora, for example). At first there were teething pains, but as the system rolled out over the full line of Toyota’s cars, crossovers and trucks, early glitches were solved.
The Entune system occupies the complete audio display center stack in the dashboard, and it controls (depending on the trim level) AM/FM/CD, USB port, aux port, Bluetooth, voice recognition, satellite radio, HD Radio (on certain models), navigation (at extra cost), premium branded audio, applications and traffic and weather data services. Entune is accessed via steering wheel controls, physical buttons on the multimedia faceplate, touchscreen controls and voice recognition.
Information from the Entune System is also available on a smaller screen near the speedometer in vehicles like the Toyota Highlander.
Credit: Courtesy Toyota “With our Entune App Suite product, Bluetooth technology and the driver’s smartphone, the vehicle can be connected to the outside world in terms of popular mobile applications such as Pandora and Yelp,” said Anthony Novak, a product education specialist with Toyota.
“This allows the driver to use these applications via the vehicle’s voice recognition system, steering wheel controls, touchscreen display, and audio system and speakers. By offering this range of controls, the driver has a variety of ways to access content in the vehicle based on their preferences.”
The Entune and Enform systems have options for HD Radio reception.
“HD Radio is not standard equipment on Toyota but is offered on many of our Entune systems,” Novak said. “HD Radio with traffic and weather data services is available on all Toyota models equipped with Entune Audio Plus, Entune Premium Audio and Entune Premium JBL Audio. In addition, Yaris [Toyota’s subcompact] Entune Audio is equipped with audio-only HD Radio” (meaning traffic and weather data services are not included on Yaris Entune Audio).
Dial position still matters: With Toyota’s Entune system, users can tune to their favorite station by saying the dial position.
Credit: Courtesy ToyotaHere’s how a station broadcasting in HD Radio appears on the Toyota Entune FM radio screen.
Credit: Courtesy Toyota
The Lexus NX200t I tested was equipped with HD Radio capability. The Enform and Entune systems share a common platform, differentiated by color schemes. The Lexus Enform system will usually get new apps delivered first.
The accompanying screen shots of the Entune system feature a typical unit installed in a 2015 Toyota Highlander.
The audio and telematics system interface in modern vehicles will never be like the simple, pushbutton AM-FM radio that likely graced the dash of your first car. Your cell phone today is nothing like the first one you used, either.
The iHeart Radio app, as it appears on the Toyota Entune Connected Car system.
Credit: Courtesy ToyotaThe XM Satellite radio screen.
Credit: Courtesy Toyota
That said, Toyota’s Entune system, for me, is one of the easier systems to customize to my listening tastes. The combination of manual knob controls and touchscreen menus is intuitive enough that in most cases I can do what I want with the system (station presets, tone controls, enabling HD Radio reception, etc.) by making my way through the menus. Yes, that does take patience.
The Entune and Enform systems have a lot going on, and it does take quality time to learn the system intricacies and fine-tune it for driver convenience and safety. As of now, the systems aren’t set up to work with Android Auto or Apple Car Play, and the data connection is dependent on the data connection of a smartphone. There are plenty of YouTube videos about the system setup; but nothing beats sitting down with the owner’s manual and programming it step by step.
Which brings me to a suggestion.
The complexity of programming and fine-tuning connected car systems has caused some auto dealer groups to assign people on a full- or part-time basis to do nothing but program those systems for new owners.
So if your station broadcasts multiple HD Radio streams, your ongoing advertising client service for such an auto dealer might include identifying the person who does this and suggesting that they program one of your station’s HD channels in the demo cars and show how to get to the radio controls as part of their demo or delivery process.
Absent that, station managers should try to get to auto dealer association meetings to explain the case for HD Radio, explain its capabilities and limitations, and suggest why taking time to program the connected car systems is a win for the dealer and (a win) for the station. Even if you don’t air HD Radio, your station may benefit by reaching out to car dealers in this way.
I’ve seen multiple generations of telematics systems in the past few years in the test cars I drive every week. From that experience base, I can say Toyota’s Entune (and the Lexus Enform) are among the easiest to use. They have apps I can appreciate and the ability to control by voice, knobs and touchscreen.
Paul Kaminski is a long-time Radio World contributor and columnist and is the host of msrpk.com’s syndicated “Radio-Road-Test.” Tweet to him on Twitter (@msrpk_com); like Radio-Road-Test on Facebook (facebook.com/radioroadtest); and look for him on Periscope and SoundCloud (radioroadtest).