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Dashboards Drain Data Plans

Senior consumer reporter and “Deal of Day” columnist Kelli B. Grant navigates the New York International Auto Show in search of the best, worst and coolest from automakers’ new lineups. Join her as she roams the exhibit floor before the show’s public opening on Friday, with dispatches here and on Twitter @kellibgrant

Drivers in the market for a new car may want to start factoring smartphone data into their “cost to own” calculations.

A number of manufacturers are offering new dashboard interfaces that sync with your smartphone for functions like making calls and streaming Internet.

Lexus has a different take. Its new Enform system, available in all it’s 2013 models, uses seven apps that live on your phone and sync with the dashboard display via Bluetooth.

(The older Enform let drivers download destinations and directions from their computer to the car, and is still a feature of the new system.)

The apps include Bing! Search, Pandora Radio, and Movietickets.com. There’s Facebook Places, too, but a spokesman says drivers are limited to “checking in” to share their location. And to limit driver distraction, the system locks you out of functions that require more than a touch or two, he says. Drivers can use voice commands, too. (There’s still debate over whether any automakers’ steps at limiting distraction actually help, says Jesse Toprak, vice president of market intelligence for Truecar.com. As more tech becomes available, he says, it’s up to the driver to exercise restraint and decide how he can safely engage while driving.)

Unlike other automakers’ smart dashboards, the phone-based apps are easily updated, says a spokesman. But that connectivity also means that drivers who forget to charge their phone, or just plain forget it, must forgo their Internet radio and web searches for the duration of that ride.

Drivers with an unlimited data plan have little to worry about, but those for whom every megabyte counts may want to sync with care. A Lexus spokesman says the apps aren’t data intensive, with the exception of Internet radio. “Listening for a while, you can go through a bit,” he says.


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