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Although Bluetooth connectivity has become pretty much ubiquitous in our lives, it still surprises me that cars are available without the option of wireless hands-free. Unsurprisingly, Renault hasn't made that mistake with the Laguna Coupe, and the test car came equipped with full Bluetooth connectivity and voice control.
It's testament to the car's logically laid out menus that I was able to pair my phone with the Laguna in a matter of minutes, without the need to refer to any documentation. Once paired, your phone will automatically connect whenever you start the car (assuming that you have it with you of course). Once connected, the Laguna's information screen will display how much battery your phone has, and the current signal strength. The latter is particularly useful, allowing you to ascertain whether you have a strong enough signal to make a call before attempting to do so.
As with all Bluetooth hands-free systems, call quality is as much to do with your phone as it is to do with the system. That said, the audio quality in the car was exceptionally good, while at the other end I was assured that my voice came through loud and clear. A nice touch is that when you answer a call while driving, the caller receives an automated message informing them that you're driving. You can choose to leave them holding until you pull over, or carry on driving while you chat.
The voice recognition is also phenomenally good. OK, so I still think that voice control of stereo functions is something of a gimmick, but for voice dialling, and even basic sat-nav commands, it can be a real benefit. You can copy your entire contact list from your phone across to the Laguna via Bluetooth. You can then scroll through the contacts list or, for ultimate convenience, assign voice tags to each entry. Once I'd recorded voice tags, the system recognised my requests perfectly without fail, whether driving or stationary.
Of course when you're dialling people in your contacts list, the system is comparing your voice command to the voice tag you recorded, it's still impressive that it always gets it right. More impressive is that the system managed to correctly recognise commands that weren't simple comparisons to my own inputs. If I chose to dial a phone number manually, the system managed to get it right every time. I wasn't saying each digit slowly and letting the Laguna recognise it before moving onto the next one either. I'm talking about blurting out an 11 digit number in one go and the system getting it spot on each and every time!
There's a voice command button nestled in the steering column audio controls, so it's very simple to initiate voice control. As soon as the button is pressed your music is muted and the system will instruct you to give a command after the beep. If you change your mind you can say "cancel" or simply press the voice command button again.
It's also worth noting that multiple phones can be paired with the car, which is useful for situations where multiple people drive a vehicle. In this instance the contacts list associated with each phone is only accessible when that specific handset is detected and connected, so no one will be able to rifle through your phone numbers when you're not in the car.
One last Bluetooth goody comes in the form of A2DP support. This means that if your phone or MP3 player is also A2DP compliant, you can stream your music wirelessly to the in-car stereo system. Of course you still won't be able to control the music using the car's controls, but it does mean that you can whack out your favourite playlist without needing to take your phone out of your pocket - well, except to press play, but that's it!
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