Ask the attendees of a Star Trek convention or the readers of Engadget.com what they think about today's in-car technology and most will say they whole-heartedly embrace it. We call these people "early adopters" because they usually seek out the newest and latest tech. But the average car buyer might not be so interested in latest gadgets, preferring instead to stick with the things that simply work.

"Too much technology is just distracting" says Carol Nomikos, a stay at home mother of two and the owner of a 1999 Toyota Camry. "Besides, I don't want to pay extra for features I'm never going to use." Certainly she's got a point since the highest-tech part of her 12 year old Camry XLE is probably the CD player and side airbags. But how would Carol respond if she had a chance to actually use some of Toyota's new high tech features in her everyday life? Well, we're going to find out.

We gave Carol a 2011 Toyota Highlander Hybrid to drive for several days just to see if a few key tech features might change her mind. We're betting certain features will make her busy life easier but she's not convinced – "My guess is most features will be too complex for me to figure out and I'll end up just not using them."

Push Button Start

A long journey begins with a single step and our stay at home mom instantly entered the technology super highway as soon as she turned the Highlander on. Thanks to the effortlessness of keyless entry and push button start, she's rethinking her low-tech mindset. "If I don't have to dig in my purse for a key every time I get in the car then that's going to save me a lot of time. As a busy mom I can honestly say the keyless entry feature will save me time and frustration in my everyday life."

Rear Parking Camera

Another feature Carol found to be a big help is the rear-view parking camera. Her tester was a Highlander Hybrid Limited and a rear view parking camera is included in the $43,000 price. But this feature isn't limited to expensive models only; the $32,000 Highlander SE includes the feature as well. Plus, Toyota doesn't require buyers to opt for the pricey navigation package just to get a safety feature like a rear parking camera. On both the Highlander Hybrid Limited and the Highlander SE the parking camera is included in the standard price of the vehicle. "The camera takes away the guess work when backing up," Carol said.

Hybrid Synergy Drive

Carol clearly isn't into gadgets and technology for fun, "I don't have time for that kind of stuff" she said. "For me, technology has to make my life easier or safer without asking a lot in return." In this way, Carol may not be a typical hybrid customer. Many hybrid buyers are willing to sacrifice some kind of convenience for the feeling of saving the planet or using less gas, but our mother of two has an entirely different take. "Using less gasoline is great and all, but I can't use a car that requires more of my time just to get that result. Thankfully, the Highlander Hybrid's 28 miles per gallon has a very practical side – I don't have to stop at the gas station as often. Frankly, until they start selling designer shoes and handbags at the gas station, I want to be there as little as possible."

Finally, Carol has high praise for the hybrid Highlander for another less philosophical, more practical reason. "I like how quiet the Highlander is. I guess it's running on electric motors part of the time – really, I don't care why, I just like the fact that once I drop the kids off at school I hear nothing but silence. That's probably the quietest 20 minutes I'm gonna get all day."

Carol's experience with the Highlander Hybrid points out an important lesson for Toyota and all automakers really – technology should be invisible. Most people don't want to spend extra time reading an instruction manual or even pairing a Smartphone just to use the latest technology. On the other hand, many average car buyers, like our stay at home mom, will gladly embrace and perhaps even pay extra for the type of technology Toyota has put into the Highlander Hybrid. So did the Highlander change Carol's mind about in-car tech features? When asked she responded, "Yes, in a way, because this Toyota uses technology that simply works without me having to work for it."



author photo

Brian Moody has been an automotive writer and presenter for more than 10 years. He has contributed to such media outlets as CNBC, Fox Business, the Today show, Speed TV, Edmunds.com and KTLA in Los Angeles. He currently covers the automotive industry and reviews new cars for the nationally syndicated Car Concerns radio show.

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