Whether these applications are comfort based, such as Toyota's Plasmacluster air-cleaning ionizer; performance oriented, such as BMW's magic M button, which conjures up an extra 100 horsepower; safety conscious, such as Infiniti's Lane Departure warning and Audi's Blind Spot Detection system; or just for visual effect, such as integration of Macromedia Flash in Jaguar's navigation system, these systems are evidence that manufacturers are still pushing the boundaries of in-car gadgetry.
1. 2007 Toyota Camry Hybrid
Editors' rating: 9.0
The good: The 2007 Toyota Camry Hybrid is a comfortable, well-appointed sedan, equipped with a bevy of technology, from the economical hybrid propulsion system to a raft of standard in-car devices, including a Bluetooth interface and a premium audio system.
The bad: The Camry's optional GPS navigation unit struggles with voice commands and can lose its bearings when out of town. Alternating between power sources can lead to a jerky ride.
The bottom line: Easy on the eyes and the pocketbook, user- as well as ecofriendly, the Toyota Camry Hybrid is a fitting front-runner in the new generation of hybrid sedans.
Editors' rating: 8.7
The good: The 2006 BMW M5 packs a 500-horsepower wallop from its state-of-the-art V10 engine, with extensive electronic transmission and chassis controls complementing the power well. Interior appointments befit the upscale price tag and tech-oriented mission.
The bad: The sequential manual gearbox (SMG) is best suited for the track but is the only choice available, thereby joining iDrive on the list of BMW "improvements" that can't be avoided.
The bottom line: The 2006 BMW M5 will appeal to cutting-edge speed demons who are willing and able to master new technologies. Once the transmission has been mastered, performance is stunning, with plenty of comfort features to boot.
Editors' rating: 8.6
The good: The 2007 Jaguar XK Coupe combines flowing, elegant design with robust performance and an impressive list of standard cabin tech, including Bluetooth hands-free, adaptive cruise control, and a revamped nav system.
The bad:The Bluetooth in our test car didn't work, and the XK's standard sound system is disappointing for an $80K+ car.
The bottom line: Great to drive and gorgeous to behold, the 2007 XK is also Jaguar's most technically advanced model ever. Bluetooth is nice, but it would be nicer if it worked, and the XK's stereo is far from being the cat's meow.
Editors' rating: 8.3
The good: Excellent LCD and Birdsview navigation; solid Bluetooth hands-free system; dedicated rear-seat entertainment system; clever backup camera.
The bad: Rear-seat DVD monitor clobbers driver's rear view; no live traffic data in navigation system; proprietary knob and screen interface takes time to master.
The bottom line: The Infiniti M45 takes off with sporty performance but finishes a close second to the Acura RL in cutting-edge tech.
Users' rating: 7.2
The good: The Q7's interior ambience and vehicle dynamics are pure Audi; you won't find a truck anywhere in its genealogy. All examples at the press launch were equipped with air suspension, the panorama sunroof, Side Assist, and the rearview system.
Its interior design is based on the Audi A6's, with first-rate seat comfort for the front two rows and more space than expected for the third. Access is relatively painless. The panorama roof is positioned to give all occupants--even those in front--a great view of the sky.
As in other Audis, the MMI control system is the interface to nearly every vehicle function. Its LCD screen serves multiple needs for both the navigation system and the backup system. It is bright and well protected from glare, and the directional overlay lines for the rearview are a major help when backing into tight spaces.
The bad: A heavy vehicle plus a V-8 engine does not bode well for fuel economy, which is typical for a large SUV with EPA ratings of 14mpg (city) and 19mpg (highway). We saw 14mpg in a mixture of highway, secondary road, and dirt road driving.
The bottom line: There are two markets for the 2007 Audi Q7. One is existing Audi owners who want an SUV. They'll be an easy sell, as the Q7 is undoubtedly exactly what's first on their wish list. The other--and potentially larger--market is conquest sales: people who want to upgrade from a Ford Explorer or a Chevy Tahoe and who may be considering many other vehicles. There are enough strong points to the Audi Q7 for it to be attractive to enough of those people for success, but industry trends and high fuel prices could pose problems for Audi.