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Consumer Reports auto experts report from the 2012 North American International Auto Show in Detroit.
Toyota NS4

What is it? The NS4 is a plug-in hybrid concept that presages a future Toyota sedan, more the size of the Camry than the Prius, circa 2015. Toyota says it uses next-generation versions of its Hybrid Synergy Drive components that are smaller, cheaper and lighter weight. In addition, it uses a next generation telematics system from Toyota, with a single large touchscreen interface built around the look and feel of a smartphone to control everything from smartphone connectivity to traffic and web browsing to basic vehicle functions such as the climate control. Toyota says it can “learn driver preferences” and “anticipate driver responses.” 

The car is rife with new coating technologies that reduce fogging on the windows, make water bead to aid visibility in rain, and reducing ultraviolet glare to cool the interior while still allowing radio waves through.

Toyota’s pre-collision safety system will also be standard.

What is new or notable? Perhaps the coolest new technology on the NS4 is called the Adaptive Driving Beam, which uses a camera mounted on the grille to monitors oncoming and even pedestrian traffic and progressively dim the headlights to reduce glare. Toyota says it will allow the headlights to maintain close to high-beam brightness more of the time.

CR’s take: Our experience with touch-screen interfaces that mimic smartphones is that they are way too complex for use by a driver. Drivers don’t want to have to navigate through menus to change basic vehicle settings such as fan speed, airflow direction, and AC use. Toyota says its new system in the NS4 “mimimizes driver distraction while maximizing driver awareness.” Perhaps that means encouraging the driver to play with the smartphone controls while taking over some of the basic driving duties, such as watching for obstacles ahead. We’re not sure whether this represents progress.

Consumer Reports New cars: A to Z

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