The RAV4 EV is no Tesla in Toyota clothing

Just about every automaker has an electric vehicle in its lineup now, from the Nissan Leaf to the soon-to-be-released BMW i3, but among this crop of quiet cars there is only one electric SUV. The Toyota RAV4 EV came about as tribute from Tesla Motors, in recompense for Toyota ceding its Fremont, Calif., manufacturing digs. I think Tesla got the best end of that deal.

However, the RAV4 EV, powered by a Tesla Motors driveline, steals a march on Tesla's own upcoming Model X electric SUV. With the Tesla-derived 41.5-kilowatt-hour lithium ion battery pack, the RAV4 EV boasts … Read more

Automakers embrace online music apps

Just about every new car comes with a USB port and Bluetooth streaming, letting you bring in digital-audio devices and play music through the car's stereo. But many people have already moved from stored media to online music services.

Automakers are just beginning to keep up, integrating existing online music services with new models.

Click through for the full photo gallery and more details.

Not only can a built-in interface for an online music service make a car more attractive to a devotee of that service, but it also provides a safer interface. Where a Pandora fan might hook … Read more

2014 Toyota Highlander gets a much-needed update in NYC

NEW YORK--Toyota's soccer-mom-mobile gets an infusion of cabin tech, modernized safety features, and an updated sense of style with the debut of the 2014 Toyota Highlander midsize SUV at the New York International Auto Show.

With the previous generation pushing seven years old, the Highlander was very much in need of an update. Also, the SUV still seats up to eight passengers across its three rows or seven passengers when equipped with the optional second-row captain's chairs. Both configurations benefit from increased interior volume for passengers and cargo thanks to a new, double-wishbone rear suspension that removes the … Read more

I want my Google search, on the road

Traffic data, fuel prices, weather, and even streaming music make for great connected car features, but Internet-based local search has gotten surprisingly short shrift from automakers.

In my opinion, local search is the killer feature you probably don't have.

Whether from Google, Bing, or another search engine, Internet-based local search integrated with a car's navigation system can help you find everything from hamburgers to hair salons.

Only a few automakers offer local search. When I recently reviewed a BMW 750Li, I found Google search among its BMW Online services. Audi also offers Google integrated with the navigation system … Read more

Convertible Toyobaru concept to debut in Geneva

It looks like Toyota's looking to rebuild buzz for one of the hottest cars launched in 2012 by dropping the top on a convertible concept variant of the GT86 coupe at the 2013 International Motor Show in Geneva.

The FT-86 Open revives the "FT" concept designation and hints at a possible, future open-air version of the GT86 coupe. The 2.0-liter, RWD coupe (which is sold in the U.S. as the Scion FR-S and has been nicknamed the "Toyobaru" thanks to its co-development with Subaru) has been compared on many … Read more

Ford, Mercedes-Benz, and Nissan target 2017 for fuel cell vehicles

It must be a new season of sharing as major automakers sign agreements to co-develop fuel cell technology. Last week Toyota and BMW said they would work together on a fuel cell system, while today Ford, Daimler, and Renault-Nissan announced they would pool research into fuel cell technology. In their joint press release, Ford, Daimler, and Renault-Nissan said they would produce fuel cell vehicles in 2017.

All of these companies have been working on the technology, and some have demonstrated prototype vehicles. Mercedes-Benz, part of Daimler, has been testing multiple generations of its F-Cell fuel cell vehicle, and currently runs … Read more

Lexus shows off road-aware safety research prototype

LAS VEGAS--Lexus showed off a prototype version of its safety-focused research vehicle today at CES, and it's designed to be more aware of what's going on around on the road.

That translates to a car that's been equipped with a bevy of sensors and other technological goodies, including a roof-mounted Light Detection and Ranging (LIDAR) laser that can detect objects from 70 feet away.

Other additions include a trio of hi-def cameras that look out for nearby vehicles; a sensor that detects the car's speed and angle; and a GPS antenna that Lexus says can figure out which way your car is pointed even when the car isn't moving. … Read more

Toyota, Audi to show off self-driving cars at CES

Get ready to see more cars on the road without a driver behind the wheel.

Toyota and Audi will demonstrate autonomous-driving features next week at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, according to The Wall Street Journal. The Japanese automaker posted a five-second preview video that shows one of its luxury brand Lexus vehicles loaded with various sensors and carrying the caption, "Lexus advanced active safety research vehicle is leading the industry into a new automated era."

An Audi representative also told the Journal that it would be demonstrating similar capabilities at CES 2013, including the ability … Read more

2012 Car Tech Awards: And the winner is...

CNET Tech Car of the Year for 2012

2012 Tesla Model S Our choice for CNET Tech Car of the Year goes to the 2012 Tesla Model S, a car that shows superb technology throughout while also challenging our conceptions of how a car should work. Most people know the Model S for its electric drivetrain, which not only gives it tremendous acceleration, but also the best range among current production electric cars. Compared with an internal combustion engine, the Tesla's electric motor delivers magnitudes of better energy efficiency. The EPA estimates the cost of electricity for a year of driving at $700, about 25 percent of the cost for gasoline in an equivalent luxury sedan.

Beyond its efficiency, the Model S modernizes the whole idea of a car's cabin. Tesla streamlined the entire process of getting into the car and setting off, taking out steps that have become anachronistic. A big touch screen handles all in-cabin functions, eliminating the need for an array of buttons across the dashboard. A 3G data connection feeds the infotainment functions, providing maps, destination search, and music, similar to what we have become used to with our personal electronics.

The Model S went up against the Audi S5, BMW 640i Gran Coupe, Ford Focus Electric, and Toyota Prius C, a formidable field nominated for technical excellence in drivetrain and cabin. The BMW proved popular with our jury, and we liked how the Focus Electric drove, but the Model S trumped the others with its innovative approach and capabilities.

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2013 Toyota Avalon charges Qi-enabled phones without wires

People have been modding wireless inductive phone chargers into their cars since the Palm Pre and its magnetic Touchstone, but Toyota claims today to be the first automaker to offer the tech with its announcement that the 2013 Toyota Avalon will be available with Qi wireless charging.

Specifically, the Qi wireless charging will be available as part of the 2013 Avalon Limited's and Hybrid Limited's $1,750 Technology package, so you'll also want to make sure that you're interested in the radar cruise control, precollision system, and automatic high beams that also come as part of … Read more