Toyota unveiled the NS4 plug-in hybrid at the 2012 North American Auto Show. Toyota is using the NS4 to demonstrate future safety features, connectivity technology, efficient drivetrain, and design ideas. Many members of the crowd were expecting to see another variation on the Prius theme and were surprised to see one of Toyota’s most interesting designs.
Powered by the next-generation of Toyota’s Hybrid Synergy Drive, the NS4 is NOT envisioned as a halo vehicle at the top of the Prius sub-brand, but rather is meant to indicate that as public interest in alternative powertrain vehicles increases, HSD will be extended to more non-Prius vehicles. As for that “next generation” HSD, it features smaller and lighter components, improved overall fuel economy, better acceleration, longer all-electric range, and a short charge time, but does NOT adapt a Volt-style drive system that enables the internal combustion engine to turn the wheels directly for improved efficiency and permits full-range speed and acceleration in electric mode.
Connectivity is said to be elevated to a new level in the NS4 with a user-interface that includes a multi-touch screen that looks and feels like a smartphone. We’re assured that it will be simple and intuitive to operate, conveying information quickly without distraction while maximizing driver awareness (didn’t Ford say that about SYNC?). This system is supposedly capable of “learning” driver preferences and habits to anticipate driver responses in certain situations. Other interesting features of the liftback sedan include doors that swing up and out to clear high curbs (like an Aston Martin Rapide’s), and new hydrophobic glass (naturally sheds water and fog) that manages to reduce glare and ultraviolet light transmission without blocking radio waves (did you know that earlier anti-UV glass made some cars shield the signal from criminal-tracing ankle-bracelets?).
On the safety front, there’s a suite of collision-avoidance systems that use millimeter-wave radar and stereo-vision cameras to predict and avoid lane-departure, rear-end, and pedestrian collisions. The headlights are fully adaptive to provide high-beam illumination while preventing glare when other cars or pedestrians are present. For now, the NS4 is purely a concept car and we find all of the tech goodies reasonably interesting, but what we REALLY hope is that cars like the Camry get a bit of this styling love by 2015–or earlier.