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Toyota

2019 Toyota Tacoma TRD 4X4 Off Road: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Toyota has not been able to scale the wall of buyer loyalty to full-size U.S. pickup trucks. But it perches at the pinnacle of the midsize class, of which its 2019 Tacoma is the latest example.

Among the big guys, the Toyota Tundra is an also-ran in sales behind the Ford F-Series, Chevrolet Silverado, Ram and GMC Sierra, besting only the last-place Nissan Titan.

2019_toyota_tacoma_off_road_001_46e6b73e2c3bfc00e65384bbb61115fcebe259ffBut against the slowly-increasing midsize nameplates, it is the unchallenged champion. In 2018, it was expected to sell more Tacoma pickups than nearly all of its competitors combined, including the Chevrolet Colorado, Nissan Frontier, GMC Canyon and Honda Ridgeline, although the Ridgeline is in a class by itself as a more car-like amalgam.

The curious trend in all of this is that the new crop of midsize pickups are nearly as big — or even bigger — than some earlier full-size pickups.

Bumper to bumper, the Tacoma 4X4 Double Cab Long Bed is nearly 19 feet long and it is six feet tall with a 6 feet 2 inch cargo bed. It weighs 4,840 lbs, can tow a trailer weighing up to 6,400 lbs and carry a payload of 1,120 lbs. A decade ago, the full-size 2008 Ford F-150 was 18 feet 1 inch long, 6 feet 4 inches tall, weighed 5,360 lbs, with a payload of 1,480 lbs and a towing capability of 6,200 lbs.

2019_toyota_tacoma_off_road_003_ef9b7576d7ba7efd9f2e7049634af8ee0bb87a2fMost big trucks back then got their grunt from large and thirsty V8 engines. Engineering advances over the years have squeezed ever more horsepower and torque from smaller-displacement power plants. The tested Tacoma gets its power from a 278-hp, 3.5-liter V6 engine with 265 lb-ft of torque. On the TRD Off Road 4X4, the power routes to all four wheels via a six-speed automatic transmission.

The tested Tacoma, with a base price of $38,120, came equipped for pasture and logging-road duty. It had a part-time four-wheel drive system with a two-speed electronically-controlled transfer case and an off-road tuned suspension system with special shock absorbers, a locking rear differential, hill-start assist and multi-terrain crawl control.

But because of its length and wheelbase — the distance between the front and rear axles — of 11 feet 5 inches, the Tacoma Off Road could not be expected to handle seriously pockmarked terrain as well as a smaller machine. However, the all-new 2020 Jeep Gladiator midsize pickup truck will have nearly the same shortcoming with a wheelbase of 10 feet 7 inches and an overall length of 18 feet 2 inches.

2019_toyota_tacoma_off_road_004_3a8248857bb7d0324f488932f4ab596d5d58f2afFull safety equipment, including pre-collision braking with pedestrian detection, adaptive cruise control and lane-departure warning are part of the standard equipment. The tested TRD Off Road also had options that included blind-spot warning, rear cross-traffic alert, sonar rear parking assist, leather-trimmed upholstery with heated front seats, dual-zone automatic climate control, motorized glass sunroof, JBL premium audio system with integrated navigation, and a cover for the cargo bed.

All of that brought the bottom-line price to $42,430, which is not inexpensive but looks reasonable compared to the $60,000 and up sticker prices on many full-size pickups. Price is one reason manufacturers are closely monitoring the midsize pickup market. Ford recently reintroduced its midsize Ranger pickup.

2019_toyota_tacoma_off_road_007_331b22b457d747c6db5b552ac7cca61ecb8d9327On paved roads, the tested Tacoma mainly displayed its off-road characteristics. The ride was bouncy and stiff with seemingly direct connections between road irregularities and the driver’s lower back and bottom. It tracked decently in a straight line, but the beefy suspension system makes for problematical comfort on a long trip.

Mitigating that somewhat are front seats that are supportive and middling comfortable. Though they have only manual adjustments, there are enough to accommodate most body sizes. There’s space in back for three, though seating is upright and knee room is tight. The center-rear position is compromised by a floor hump, hard cushion and intrusion of the center console. Rear vision is limited by back seat headrests so it’s important to get those big outside mirrors properly adjusted.

2019_toyota_tacoma_off_road_006_ed9ebf5e42a922ed31dba8561df5a18e2f1414efThe V6 engine makes plenty of power but you have to slam the pedal to engage it. In ordinary driving, the throttle is stiff, making the engine/transmission combination feel sluggish. Engine drone is loud under hard acceleration.

Overall, don’t expect the Tacoma — especially in the tested trim — to be anything other than what it is: a rugged, solid truck with an enviable reputation for durability and reliability.

2016_toyota_tacoma_trdor_28_170ad64be7d4e750a886f7dc942f15fd173fb26bSpecifications

  • Model: 2019 Toyota Tacoma TRD Off Road 4X4 Double Cab Long Bed midsize pickup truck.
  • Engine: 3.5-liter V6; 278 hp, 265 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Six-speed automatic with part-time four-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 18 feet 10 inches.
  • Height: 6 feet.
  • EPA passenger volume: 100 cubic feet.
  • Cargo bed length: 6 feet 2 inches.
  • Weight: 4,840 pounds.
  • Payload: 1,120 pounds.
  • Towing capability: 6,400 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 18/22/20 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $38,120.
  • Price as tested: $42,430.

Disclaimer: The manufacturer provided the vehicle used to conduct this test drive and review.

2016_toyota_tacoma_trdor_31_07d7a0e69594c5d39805f91df23a6d5373bf81dePhotos (c) Toyota

Musings on the Detroit Auto Show

by Jason Fogelson

The 2019 North American International Auto Show press days are in the books. Some of my colleagues are calling it “The Last Detroit Auto Show,” because in 2020, NAIAS will move to June, avoiding the Michigan winter. The move promises to open up all kinds of new possibilities for ancillary events, like rides-and-drives, demos and other outdoor activities that are just not possible in January. Organizers claim Detroit’s downtown renaissance will support the timing, and it will be a big party. Or will it?

Rescheduling to June takes NAIAS out of the traditional auto show calendar, and indeed, out of the model year cadence. Will manufacturers see the show as a venue for early introductions of next year’s models? Or will they see the move as a return to the show’s roots as a regional event for the Detroit Auto Dealers Association to market cars to local consumers?

Looking at this year’s show, it was apparent that something had to be done. All of the European luxury brands, including Porsche, Mercedes-Benz, Audi, BMW, Land Rover, Jaguar, Aston Martin, Bentley, Rolls-Royce and others, were conspicuous in their absence. Only about a dozen new cars and concepts made their debuts at the show. As a journalist covering new cars, I only had to spend one day at NAIAS this year in order to catch all of the relevant press conferences and to see all of the unveilings. It wasn’t a dirge like 2009, but it was a definite down year.

Peering through the end-of-an-era cloud hanging over the Cobo Center, I saw signs of the future in the mist.

Yu-Jun-speech

The final vehicle reveal press conference of the first media day was held by GAC Motor (Guangzhou Automobile Group Motor Co., LTD), a Chinese company that is a subsidiary of GAC Group. GAC debuted its Entranze EV concept vehicle. The concept was the first public display of a product designed in GAC’s California-based design studio, which was established in 2018. The concept itself is fine, a futuristic minivan with sliding glass doors and 3+2+2 seating. It’s the kind of thing that will never get built, but may serve as a design inspiration.

img_1833The memorable aspect of the GAC presentation was not the concept or the products on display; it was the culturally tone-deaf presentation by GAC. Once the assembled press — about 200 – 300 participants, I’d estimate – settled in, a GAC spokesperson introduced a lineup of company executives and VIP guests, one by one. Each person stood and acknowledged the crowd’s polite applause. Then, the spokesperson introduced an officer of the Detroit Auto Dealers Association (DADA), who read a brief message from a script with the enthusiasm of a war hostage. The spokesperson then introduced Mr. Yu Jun, President of GAC Motor, who gave a transliterated speech in English that was as stilted as it was incomprehensible and self-congratulatory. Time to unveil the concept car – cue the modern dancers! A troupe of eight (four men, four women) dressed in chiffon and spandex, performed a two-minute dance to modern classical music, then whisked the silk off of the concept car to muted applause. Another executive from GAC stumbled through a speech with the details, and the press conference was mercifully concluded.

img_1846Audience members walked away with a gift bag containing a scale model of the company’s flagship SUV, the GS8, a fancy USB drive loaded with vehicle information, photos and GAC info, and two glossy brochures: one with vehicle photos, descriptions and features; and one entitled “The Road to Greatness: GAC Motor,” which is a 32-page photo essay/manifesto/propaganda piece extolling the virtues of the company. It opens with this poem:

The Road to Greatness

This is GAC Motor.

I say no to mediocracy,

and stay committed to my own path.

I never compromise of give in.

With fearless resolution,

I endeavor to make breakthroughs and strive forward,

To develop a brand that I take pride in.

GAC Motor believes greatness does not belong to the few.

Everyone has the potential to be great.

As long as you dare to dream, have courage and keep striving,

You are already on the path of greatness.

The Road to Greatness, GAC Motor.

Wow.

Now, this might have been a state-of-the-art presentation at the Shanghai Motor Show, but in Detroit in 2019, it was out of touch and a little sad. I have little doubt that Chinese vehicles will soon be sold in the United States under their own brand names, and the quality of the vehicles will rapidly improve to meet the marketplace standard. Look at how rapidly Hyundai and Kia vehicles have developed in the past decade as a model for assimilation.

img_1830Even better, look at Toyota Motor Company’s press conference this year as they revealed the 2020 Supra. No less an eminence than Akio Toyoda, TMC’s President, handled the presentation himself. In stark contrast to the GAC presentation, Toyoda was relaxed, joyous, poised and funny. His command of the English language isn’t a whole lot better than the Chinese executives, but it didn’t stand in the way of his passion and charm. Toyoda won the crowd over with his buoyant nature. It was a very American presentation, but still entirely appropriate to a Japanese product and executive.

GAC Motor can learn a lot from Toyota, Hyundai and other companies who have found the keys to conquering the United States. You don’t have to make the US bend to your will – you only have to slide into the openings that are always available, and make the most of the opportunities you find there.

Photos (c) Jason Fogelson, NAIAS, GAC Motor

2019 Toyota RAV4 XLE: A DriveWays Review…

byFrank A. Aukofer

There’s no better indication of the relentless onslaught by crossover utility vehicles than the 2019 Toyota RAV4, which arrives with a medley of 13 stylish versions, including gasoline and hybrid powertrains with all-wheel or front-wheel drive.

As it teases the public with the all-new 2020 Toyota Corolla sedan — the company’s all-time best-seller with 45 million copies sold since its introduction in 1966 — the RAV4 has muscled its way to the top of the compact crossover category.

2019_Toyota_RAV4_Limited_FWD_MagneticGrayMetallic_02Last year it outsold the Corolla and the company’s onetime best-seller, the midsize Camry sedan. In 2018, the RAV4 is selling at an annual rate of about 424,000, outpacing the Camry’s 348,000 and the Corolla’s 309,000. The latter includes the new 2019 Corolla Hatchback.

With the buying public’s appetite for crossovers, that should continue for the foreseeable future. The RAV4’s major competitors — the Honda CR-V, Nissan Rogue and Ford Escape — will be in the chase, though the Rogue is an anomaly because Nissan lumps two different vehicles — the Rogue and Rogue Sport — into a single sales statistic.

Other competitors, including the Subaru Forester, Mazda CX-5, Chevrolet Equinox, Jeep Compass, Dodge Journey, Hyundai Tucson and Kia Sportage, should continue strong but with lower numbers.

2019_Toyota_RAV4_Group_04The array of new RAV4 models starts with the front-wheel drive LE trim level at $26,545 and ranges up to the all-wheel drive Hybrid Limited with a base price of $36,745. However, options increase the prices on all versions, up to $40,375 for the top-line Hybrid Limited. Prices include a $1,045 destination charge.

All RAV4 trim levels come with Toyota’s second-generation Safety Sense suite of active safety capabilities and technologies, including pre-collision braking with pedestrian detection, adaptive radar cruise control, automatic headlight high beams, lane-departure warning and mitigation, and lane tracing and road sign assists.

Also standard on all RAV4s is Toyota’s Entune 3.0 multimedia system, which includes Wi-Fi with capabilities for Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant, as well as Apple Car Play compatibility. The system uses a seven-inch touch screen.

2019_Toyota_RAV4_Limited_FWD_MagneticGrayMetallic_45Of the 13 RAV4 versions, four are hybrids: LE, XLE, sporty XSE and Limited. There also are four gasoline-engine models with front-wheel drive: LE, XLE, XLE Premium and Limited. The remaining nine versions, including all of the hybrids, come with all-wheel drive. That includes a separate, gasoline-only Adventure with a price tag of $33,945 that can tow up to 3,500 pounds.

Gasoline models are powered by a new 203-hp, 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine that makes 184 lb-ft of torque. They come with an eight-speed automatic transmission.

Hybrids use a different tune of the 2.5-liter engine with 176 hp and 163 lb-ft of torque working with an electric motor. Combined, the system delivers 219 horsepower. The transmission is a continuously-variable automatic. City/highway/combined fuel consumption is rated at 41/37/39 mpg.

2019_Toyota_RAV4_Limited_FWD_MagneticGrayMetallic_59Though other models were driven, the focus of this review is on the more economically-priced but well equipped XLE model with front-wheel drive. It has an EPA fuel economy rating of 27/34/29 mpg. The starting price is $28,345 and options boost the sticker to $31,545.

Standard equipment included a motorized sunroof, power rear lift gate, folding outside power mirrors with blind spot warning, Bluetooth connectivity, LED outside lights, dual-zone automatic climate control, pushbutton starting and 17-inch alloy wheels.

Option packages provided an upgraded Entune system with SXM satellite radio, eight-inch touch screen, eight-way power driver’s seat, rain-sensing windshield wipers, heated steering wheel and front seats, and five USB ports.

2019_Toyota_RAV4_Limited_FWD_MagneticGrayMetallic_47The RAV4 has passenger space that rivals that of a midsize sedan along with 38 cubic feet for cargo. The back seats are split 60-40 and recline as well as fold for additional cargo.

Inside, the tester delivered long-distance comfort and space for four passengers. The fifth person in the center-rear has a less comfortable seat but OK head and knee room. Seats all-around were upholstered in sturdy cloth with contrasting stitching. Armrests and trim were of soft-touch material.

On the road, the tested RAV4 exhibited more than adequate acceleration in passing, abetting an unscientific estimate of a zero to 60 mph acceleration time in the neighborhood of eight seconds. The more powerful hybrid was a bit quicker.

The cabin was quiet with little intrusion of mechanical or road noise on smooth roads, though rough pavement sounds reverberated inside. Handling was secure around curves with steady tracking in straight-line driving. The brake pedal felt a bit soft, especially on hybrid models, but stopping was not affected.

2019_Toyota_RAV4_Limited_FWD_MagneticGrayMetallic_08Specifications

  • Model: 2019 Toyota RAV4 XLE four-door crossover utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 2.5-liter four-cylinder; 203 hp, 184 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Eight-speed automatic with front-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 1 inch.
  • Height: 5 feet 7 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 99/38 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,380 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 27/34/29 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $28,345.
  • Price as tested: $31,545.

Disclaimer: This test drive was conducted at a manufacturer-sponsored press event. The manufacturer provided travel, accommodations, vehicles, meals and fuel.

2019_Toyota_RAV4_Limited_FWD_MagneticGrayMetallic_06Photos (c) Toyota

2019 Toyota Corolla XSE Hatchback: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

At least Toyota is not fudging anything with its first 2019 Corolla, coming right out and naming it the all-new Hatchback.

Time was, that could be the kiss of death — or languishing on the sales charts — because American buyers overwhelmingly rejected hatchbacks, preferring traditional sedans.

2019_Toyota_Corolla_Hatchback_003_2AA6E4B3409FB3B9FE48B09E67DA23689FACBF39_lowNow, in the wake of a tsunami of crossover sport utility vehicles, many little more than tall hatchbacks with optional all-wheel drive, the hatches appear to be making a comeback. At least that’s what the automakers’ prognosticators seem to think.

In the luxury realm, there are hatchbacks that don’t look like traditional hatchbacks — beautiful, streamlined fastbacks like the Audi A5 and A7, the all-new Kia Stinger, BMW 640i Gran Turismo and the Buick Regal Sportback.

Closer to the new Corolla Hatchback — that’s its official name — are a bunch of nifty and sporting hatches, some even deserving of the unofficial appellation of “hot hatch,” signifying high performance.

2019_Toyota_Corolla_Hatchback_017_2F320AA9564C0509E7208838EF0575E939D41FC0_lowThe template for much of this is the Volkswagen Golf, which has  economy models but also is available as the perennially popular, high-performance GTI, as well as the Golf R. Another in that category is the Honda Civic, which is available as a Sport hatchback and the highest-performance Type R.

But there are plenty of other competitors for the new Corolla Hatchback, earlier versions of which have been sold for years in other countries but not seen in the U.S. There’s the Hyundai Elantra GT, the all-wheel-drive Subaru Impreza, Chevrolet Cruze, Mazda 3, Kia Forte 5, Ford Focus and Nissan Versa Note.

The new Corolla Hatchback inherited its role because of a death in the family. Toyota decided to mercifully terminate its youth-oriented Scion brand, which had among its offerings a good hatchback, the iM. After Scion went away, the iM became a Toyota, now replaced by the new Hatchback.

2019_Toyota_Corolla_Hatchback_006_89FA51D77FDEF706918C528A4F285C9958ECC92B_lowThe biggest things the Hatchback has going for it are its neat styling, especially viewed from the rear, front-seat comfort, supple ride, and the fact that it is a Corolla, one of the most reliable vehicles on the planet and the biggest-selling nameplate in automotive history.

Though Toyota would like you to think of the Hatchback as having a “super hot hatch persona,” as one official described it, it is actually a modest performer. The hot stuff could come later, as it did with the Hyundai Elantra GT Sport and Honda Civic Type R.

It is an entertaining around-town runabout, with dimensions that enable its driver to shoot holes in traffic and park almost anywhere, but which has athletic moves at higher freeway speeds and around mountain curves. It could be anybody’s only car.

2019_Toyota_Corolla_Hatchback_026_3CE68E43AD4F76D5D4CD0C1A3FD05245E1E9CEA0_lowIf you are the sort who does mostly highway travel, pay a bit extra for the XSE model, which incorporates more sound-deadening insulation than the base SE, which tends to get noisy. You’ll feel more relaxed after an all-day drive.

The Hatchback is entertaining with either the six-speed manual gearbox or the continuously-variable automatic transmission (CVT). Some belt-driven CVTs, which do not have shift points, impart a sensation that the transmission is slipping, which is a turn-off for many critics.

The Corolla’s does not suffer from that malady because Toyota has incorporated a sort of locked and loaded first gear to get the Hatchback launched. It gets a good jump off the line and then the CVT takes over.

2019_Toyota_Corolla_Hatchback_032_27827E716510A450E55588DE3C6F4AEDBF6AE1FD_lowBut for enthusiasts, even inexperienced drivers, the stick shift should be the choice because it incorporates rev-matching — a relatively new technology that heretofore came on more expensive cars. When you downshift, the system revs the engine to match the lower gear to the speed of the car for a smooth transition.

From a size and power standpoint, the Hatchback slots neatly among its competitors. Where it falls a bit short is in interior space, especially for cargo. It has a total of 103 interior cubic feet, 18 of them behind the rear seat.

2019_Toyota_Corolla_Hatchback_036_516ED2D1AA5161E9F01C01B17C551C7E41D70DA9_lowThe Hyundai Elantra GT has 122 cubic feet including 25 for cargo, and the Honda Civic hatchback has 120 cubic feet with 23 for cargo. However, the fastback Subaru Impreza has 112 cubic feet with just 12 for cargo, though that likely is related to its fastback, all-wheel drive design.

For now, the Hatchback is the only Corolla newbie. Anall-new sedan is on the way but Toyota isn’t saying when. However, the existing sedan is a fine piece of work itself, offering a full suite of safety equipment on all trim levels.

2019_Toyota_Corolla_Hatchback_004_A30701A5B8031D23399774CC615604ECA1955101_lowSpecifications

  • Model: 2019 Toyota Corolla XSE Hatchback five-door.
  • Engine: 2.0-liter four-cylinder, 168 hp, 151 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Continuously variable automatic with front-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 14 feet 2 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 85/18 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,060 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 30/38/33 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $25,010.
  • Price as tested: $26,610.

Disclaimer: This test drive was conducted at a manufacturer-sponsored press event. The manufacturer provided travel, accommodations, vehicles, meals and fuel.

2019_Toyota_Corolla_Hatchback_013_68CC86E5DFFA511E0325B0AEEB02FFB9D8B004C5_lowPhotos (c) Toyota

2019 Toyota Avalon XLE: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer 

2019_Toyota_Avalon_Touring_01_5CF27B2780DED002CBCEA6227F0A922FBEB5CE66Where once it was Toyota’s flagship cruiser, the 2019 Avalon presents itself as more of a sleek and agile littoral combat ship. 

A flagship, of course, need not be a leviathan. It is wherever the admiral chooses to hang his gold-braided cap — just as Air Force One is whatever aircraft the president happens to be traveling in.

The Avalon, introduced in 1994, for many years was a large car, sometimes described as Toyota’s Buick. It had the distinction of being the only modern sedan that could seat three passengers comfortably in the back seat, with a flat floor and proper cushions. 

In 2013, it was downsized to its current state as a midsize car. It continues in that configuration for 2019, now barely larger than its popular — and lower-priced — sibling, the Toyota Camry.

2019_Toyota_Avalon_Touring_04_273E4BB13CD0F09E282FFAADB0DA5E06642C627AA perennial best-seller, the Camry nests neatly in the midsize class with 114 cubic feet of interior volume, divided 99 for passengers and 15 in the trunk. The 2019 Avalon has but five cubic feet more: 103 for passengers and 16 in the trunk. It also is four inches longer than the Camry.

Distinctions come in appointments and equipment. The Camry can be outfitted like a near-luxury premium sedan, while the Avalon has higher, Lexus-like aspirations, though it has joined the crowd with a center-rear seat that is little more than an uncomfortable perch. Outboard back seats, however, offer plenty of head and knee room.

2019_Toyota_Avalon_Touring_05_6BA11AEFE2642816FE3E96BB928D5E51B3596371For 2019, its fifth-generation iteration, the Avalon, in the words of group vice-president Ed Laukes, “was re-created from the ground up.” It is longer, lower and wider than its predecessor and sports new exterior and interior styling. There’s LED lighting all around, an adaptive suspension system, distinctively different grilles for sport and luxury-oriented models, and seven trim levels.

They are the XLE, the focus here, and the Limited, whose grilles are filled with horizontal bars; the sport-oriented XSE and Touring, with gleaming, piano-black mesh grilles, and three Hybrid models in XLE, XSE and Limited Trim. Prices, exclusive of options, range from $36,395 to $43,395, including destination charges.

2019_Toyota_Avalon_Touring_19_51745B7A0870921B0D7C6E518F76F20092194C49In a move that should win more economy-oriented customers, Hybrid models cost just $1,000 more than their gasoline counterparts in all trim levels. EPA city/highway/combined XLE Hybrid fuel economy is rated at 43/44/44 mpg. XSE and Limited get 43/43/43. Moreover, the Hybrid now has the same trunk size as the non-hybrids.

Though all versions were available, the lowest-price XLE gasoline model was chosen for this review because comes with all basic Avalon goodness. The test car did not arrive with a navigation system, so you must use your smart phone’s. But there are USB power ports for everybody to constantly navigate if they wish.

The XLE also lacks frosting that comes on other trim levels. Among the missing: Leather upholstery, genuine wood interior trim, paddle shifters, acoustic windshield and side glass up front, head-up display, rear cross-traffic braking and a birds-eye view rear camera.

2019_Toyota_Avalon_Touring_15_89A8C9A4A12D0FFB4CC16984BC3740355DF2C43ABut the XLE does have Toyota’s manufactured Softex upholstery; Entune infotainment system with Apple Car Play, Bluetooth and SXM satellite radio; three-mode drive system (Eco, Normal, Sport) and Toyota’s Safety Sense system, which includes pre-collision braking with pedestrian detection, adaptable radar cruise control, lane departure mitigation and blind-spot detection.

All non-hybrid versions share a new 301-hp 3.5-liter V6 engine that delivers 267 lb-ft of torque. It is connected to the front wheels through an eight-speed automatic transmission. The combination provides a smooth, quiet surge of power that never feels out of breath.

2019_Toyota_Avalon_Touring_20_66CD41A099F8726F2D9F9D4A7BC0F8EE224DAFCCOn the road, the XLE test car cruised serenely with no intrusion of mechanical or wind noise, and only minimal sounds from the tires on rough pavement. The front seats were comfortable on the artificial Softex surface, with good seatback bolstering for cornering. 

A touch of a button selects Eco, Normal and Sport settings, which adjust shift points, ride comfort, steering and suspension settings. 

2019_Toyota_Avalon_Touring_22_DFC1F2E8E1D17C5746E64E55E9847033D876711FThe tested XLE came with a suggested delivered price of $36,395. It had two options: a $1,000 motorized sunroof and a $680 upgraded JBL audio system for a total sticker price of $38,075, which is only about $3,500 more than the average transaction price of a new car in this era.

For that, you can buy premium surroundings, modern styling, strong performance and comfort in a flagship car that competes handily against the likes of the Buick La Crosse and Nissan Maxima — and, if you’re on a tight budget, maybe even a Lexus ES.  

2019_Toyota_Avalon_Touring_03_540C6FDEA0A1B56E3465637BD7C81DC1CF458198Specifications

    • Model: 2019 Toyota Avalon XLE four-door sedan.
    • Engine: 3.5-liter V6; 301 hp, 267 lb-ft torque.
    • Transmission: Eight-speed automatic with front-wheel drive.
    • Overall length: 16 feet 4 inches.
    • EPA passenger/trunk volume: 103/16 cubic feet.
    • Weight: 3,560 pounds.
    • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 22/32/26 mpg.
    • Base price, including destination charge: $36,395.
    • Price as tested: $38,075.

Disclaimer: The manufacturer provided the vehicle used to conduct this test drive and review.

2019_Toyota_Avalon_Touring_09_97C18ACC5684FA36FFE6C5D558CC0C5D83D1AD79Photos (c) Toyota.

2018 Toyota Camry: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Though it’s nothing like the little Dutch boy with his finger in the dike, the 2018 Toyota Camry could perform a similar function.

It is an all-new four-door sedan that is intended to slow the tsunami of crossover sport utility vehicles that threaten to inundate the marketplace.

Sure, Toyota has plenty of its own SUVs and crossovers, including the truck-based Sequoia, Land Cruiser and 4Runner, and the crossover Highlander, RAV4 and C-HR to tantalize buyers. But it also has demonstrated strength with the Camry, the best-selling midsize sedan for 15 straight years.

2018_Toyota_Camry_LE_02_B20AA139B42DE10B882933077ECC41B939043174_lowThough it has declined recently as customers flock to crossovers and SUVs, it still is a giant in the marketplace. In 2015, Camry sales totaled 429,355. That dropped to 388,618 in 2016 and, in 2017, sales have been running at an annual rate of about 355,000.

So, there’s no hint that Toyota plans to ease off on its development of standard sedans, which once were the gold standard in the U.S.

In the mid-1980s, Ford’s Taurus owned the midsize sedan segment. But it eased off development of the brand to focus on its more profitable F-Series pickup trucks, which  became the all-time best seller. Meanwhile, the Taurus withered and died, though the name later was resurrected on other cars.

2018_Toyota_Camry_LE_01_D12DD6C73DE47B4C2ED8846274C98762B7FEFAE0_lowThere’s no way Toyota will let that happen to the Camry, even though the leadership there recognizes that it may not return to its past sales glory. Plus there’s the possibility that the crossover fad may fade.

Enter the 2018 Camry, which the company says is the best it has produced in the marque’s 33 year history. It is chockablock full of new styling, safety, entertainment and other innovations to tantalize buyers, many of whom are attracted to the name because of its enviable reputation for long-term durability and reliability.

2018_Toyota_Camry_XSE_09_AE8B0ED5B895414D0555DD4A239A2999ADC67F74_lowBut this Camry also has the looks, value and feel to appeal to a broad swath of the motoring public. There are 10 versions with three different power trains, two transmissions and starting prices that range from the base L at $24,380 to $35,835 for the XSE V6. There are three hybrid trim levels: HV LE at $28,685, HV SE at $30,385 and HV XLE at $33,235.

Four of the 10 were driven for this review: HV LE hybrid; SE four-cylinder; XSE V6; and LE four-cylinder. The last is likely to be the best seller. Like the other four-cylinder models, its 2.5-liter engine makes 203 hp and 184 lb-ft of torque, which is more than adequate for any driving situation on public roads. Its city/highway/combined fuel consumption is EPA rated at 28/39/32 mpg.

2018_Toyota_Camry_XSE_21_17AE8D8EFBA9C2A3F36077CBDE608FAADE3F17DE_lowFor customers who seek more sporting sensations, Toyota offers the Camry S versions, which offer tighter steering, a slightly stiffer suspension system and more aggressive transmission shifting. There are four trim levels with hybrid, four-cylinder and V6 power trains.

Gasoline-engine models all get the power to the front wheels through an 8-speed automatic transmission which can be manually shifted with steering wheel paddles on S models. Hybrids use a smooth gear-driven continuously variable automatic transmission.

2018_Toyota_Camry_XSE_28_D229B971678531D0B838E34892EBD78A38583C8E_lowIn the Camry tradition, all of the 2018 models display stylish interiors with quality trim and workmanship. The LE’s seats, covered in soft but durable cloth, are supportive and comfortable for long-distance cruising. The outboard back seats have abundant head and knee room, and the center-rear position, despite a hard cushion and floor hump, can accommodate an adult.

The steering is precise, with a good on-center feel. Along with the Camry’s new double-wishbone independent rear suspension system, it contributes to capable handling on twisting roads.

2018_Toyota_Camry_XSE_29_C882F1ECBF650B53C14056C4946BDD4CD3966813_lowThe ride is cushy without being mushy and the only noticeable intrusion is some engine noise under hard acceleration. If you’d like something quieter, you can order the gasoline-electric hybrid, which has a fuel economy rating of 51/53/52 mpg. But in LE trim, it costs $3,800 more.

Toyota’s Safety Sense is standard and includes a pre-collision system with pedestrian detection, lane-departure mitigation, adaptive cruise control, brake hold, hill-start assist and automatic headlight high beams. Other safety equipment, such as blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert with automatic braking, is standard on more expensive trim levels.

Two gripes: When the transmission is inadvertently left in “drive” and the engine is turned off, the Camry does not automatically shift into “park.” It rolls. And big C-hinges in the trunk are unprotected and could squish luggage.

Overall, however, this new Camry has the stuff to resist the crossover deluge.

2018_Toyota_Camry_XLE_07_3691F27FD618DAA4DAFBDC4B43CD3E0FBADC0D2B_lowSpecifications

  • Model: 2018 Toyota Camry LE four-door sedan.
  • Engine:5-liter four-cylinder, 203 hp, 184 lb-ft of torque.
  • Transmission: Eight-speed automatic.
  • Overall length: 16 feet.
  • EPA passenger/trunk volume: 99/15 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,296 lbs.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 28/39/32 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $24,885.
  • Price as tested: $28,275.

Disclaimer: This test drive was conducted at a manufacturer-sponsored press event. The manufacturer provided travel, accommodations, vehicles, meals and fuel.

2018_Toyota_Camry_SE_09_BCA4F22E6A0E552FA10C39DCBD381DA118C35E3D_lowPhotos (c) Toyota.

2017 Toyota Prius Three: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Although it continues to be a pokey performer against most other passenger cars, the 2017 Toyota Prius hybrid sparkles on ride and handling, safety, comfort and—most important to its buyers—fuel economy.

It is the most successful hybrid in history with more than 1.7 million sold in the United States since 1999. In 2016, sales totaled 136,632, down from 184,794 in 2015 as low gasoline prices prompted buyers to gravitate toward pickup trucks and more fuel-hungry automobiles.

2016_Toyota_Prius_Four_Touring_02_54CECFE89DE5799B719C2EAF21ECC6C6629C98A8Manufacturers, however, know that the price pendulum is likely to swing back, so they continue to develop more fuel efficient vehicles—from installing small displacement gasoline engines with improved power to developing more hybrids, plug-in hybrids, electric and even hydrogen-fueled cars.

Though it had a major overhaul a year ago, the 2017 model adds notable improvements that make it the best Prius ever. For one thing, it has a new independent rear suspension system that noticeably delivers a better ride and handling.

It also comes standard with Toyota’s Safety Sense package that includes forward collision warning with emergency braking and pedestrian detection, lane departure mitigation, adaptive radar cruise control and automatic headlight high beams.

2016_Toyota_Prius_Four_Touring_01_AAF3DB5F2B355991BFED40260A08D0B3A9EFBED5Perhaps as important for anyone who has driven an earlier Prius with leisurely—some would say sluggish—acceleration, the tested 2017 Prius Three model comes with driver selectable motoring modes: Eco, Normal and Power.

Though the zero to 60 miles an hour acceleration time hovers around the 10-second mark — nothing to brag about — punching the Power button changes the Prius’s personality. When you press the accelerator pedal, it focuses all the power from the 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine and two electric motor-generators on getting a quick leap off the line.

The gear-driven continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) feels more connected as it sends the combined gasoline-electric 121 hp to the front wheels. Though you likely could get the same acceleration in the Eco or Normal modes if you floored the gas pedal, the Power mode feels faster without that effort.

2016_Toyota_Prius_Four_Touring_20_FEE01BFAD36558F540C52B796CBE1BF649CEFD85There are six trim levels: Prius Two; Two Eco; Three; Three Touring; and Four Touring. All arrive with the Toyota Safety Sense system as well as a rear-view camera, automatic climate control, keyless entry and starting, Bluetooth connectivity, voice recognition with Siri hands-free and a six-speaker audio system with a CD player.

The tested Three, with a base price of $27,600, also came with a wireless phone-charging pad, Toyota’s Entune infotainment system with a seven-inch touch screen, satellite and HD radio, and access to apps like Pandora and iHeart radio when paired with a smart phone.

2016_Toyota_Prius_Four_Touring_23_BE7056CC857683DB0C36C4741BE0034035103CEFWith options that included a motorized glass sunroof, color head-up display, navigation system and a cargo net, the tester had a sticker price of $30,186.

In a clever bit of engineering and styling, the Three combined alloy wheels with plastic wheel covers that looked as if they were part of the wheel itself.

Inside, the tested Prius featured white accents and an attractive as well as comfortable textured cloth upholstery. Cloth seating surfaces are always the choice here because they offer cool seating in the summer and warmth in the winter, obviating the need for such expensive add-ons as the heated and cooled seats needed for perforated leather upholstery.

2016_Toyota_Prius_Four_Touring_03_C1B3C5A53F5DE658B1632893021A0DC3BF624913With passenger space of 92 cubic feet and 25 cubic feet for cargo under the rear hatch — expandable to 66 cubic feet if the rear seatbacks are folded — the Prius Three is classified by the government as a midsize car. Up front, the seats are comfortable and supportive with enough manual adjustments, along with a tilt and telescoping steering wheel, to accommodate almost any driver. There’s also ample space and comfort in the outboard back seats. The center-rear position is hampered by a small floor hump and a high, hard cushion — though it is usable for short trips.

Though the Prius is unlikely to be bested in popularity any time soon because of its enviable record of durability and reliability, other automakers have mounted serious challenges. One of the more formidable is the all-new Hyundai Ioniq. It is shorter by three inches than the Prius but boasts slightly more interior room — a large-car total of 123 cubic feet versus the Prius’s 117 cubic feet — the Ioniq delivers 139 combined horsepower and slightly better city/highway/combined fuel economy: 55/54/55 compared to the tested Prius’s 54/50/52. However, the Prius Eco model is rated at 58/53/56.

Specifications

  • Model: 2017 Toyota Prius Three hybrid four-door hatchback sedan.
  • Engine/Motors:8-liter four-cylinder gasoline, 95 hp, 105 lb-ft torque; two electric motor/generators; 121 hp combined. 0.7 kWh lithium-ion battery pack.
  • Transmission: Continuously variable automatic with front-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 14 feet 11 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 92/25 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,120 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 54/50/52 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $27,600.
  • Price as tested: $30,186.

Disclaimer: The manufacturer provided the vehicle used to conduct this test drive and review.

2016_Toyota_Prius_Four_Touring_10_AAE9E5026F0118D0FD09E2B9C088B827F27B8471Photos (c) Toyota.

2017 North American International Auto Show: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Detroit, Mich.—Bucking the tide of compact crossover sport utility vehicles, three new sedans from Japan’s Toyota and South Korea’s Kia captured onlookers’ attention here at the 2017 North American International Auto Show, which runs through Jan. 22.

A few manufacturers introduced new compact crossovers, which have taken over as the hottest category in U.S. sales—mainly at the expense of midsize and compact sedans. But they were few and overshadowed by three four-doors.

They are the all-new 2018 Toyota Camry, the 2018 Lexus LS500 from Toyota’s luxury division and the 2018 Kia Stinger, a new midsize sports sedan that looks as if it could threaten some of Europe’s best.

On the small crossover front, Nissan unveiled the new Rogue Sport, a smaller version of its compact SUV. It is based on the Nissan Qashqui, which is sold in other world markets. Mercedes-Benz introduced an all-new GLA and Chevrolet presented its redesigned Equinox, a compact crossover that tilts toward midsize.

But that was about it unless you count the new Chevrolet Traverse, a full-size, three-row crossover, the stretched Volkswagen Tiguan—also with three rows—and the smaller performance-oriented Audi SQ5.

toyotacamryDespite the booming popularity of compact crossovers, manufacturers still obviously believe in midsize sedans. The Camry, despite losing 40,737 customers between 2015 and 2016, still topped the midsize field with 388,618 sold in 2016.

The 2018 model, seeking to mitigate the Camry’s reputation as durable but bland, boasts styling changes and improvements across the board. It is longer, lower and wider, with a lower center of gravity for better handling.

As before, there are four versions: LE, XLE, SE, and XSE. The LE and XLE models have a different grille from the S and XSE versions and are oriented toward comfort. The S and XSE models have a more sporting personality. Power choices are a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine, a 3.5-liter V6 and a hybrid.

For 2018, all Toyota Camry models get the company’s Entune 3.0 connectivity system, which includes navigation and a host of other state-of-the art features.

lexusls5502Over at the Lexus display, the attention grabber was the all-new LS500, which at 17 feet 2 inches long is bigger and classier than ever, rivaling the Audi A8, BMW 7 Series, Jaguar XJ and Mercedes-Benz S-Class. The LS500 is powered by a 415-horsepower 3.5-liter V6 engine with twin turbochargers, a 10-speed automatic transmission and a predicted zero-to-60 mph acceleration time of 5.1 seconds.

Among other things, its standard and optional features include a 12.3-inch center screen with navigation and handwriting recognition, air suspension system, heated, cooled and massaging front and rear seats, and a detection system that can trigger braking or steering around a pedestrian.

kiastinger2Most of the excitement among enthusiasts, however, focused on the Kia Stinger, an all-new car with a new name. It marks a milestone at the South Korean manufacturer, which delivers high quality cars, crossovers and even a minivan.

The midsize Stinger is a performance-oriented Gran Turismo four-door with a fastback design and a rear hatch, not unlike the larger Audi A7, which competes among cars that can cost up to $80,000.

Few Stinger details were available at the introduction, including the price, but it likely will be way less than the A7’s—more competitive with the likes of the BMW 3-Series, Audi A4, Jaguar XE, Lexus IS and Mercedes-Benz C-Class cars.

With rear-wheel drive or optional all-wheel drive with torque vectoring for improved handling, the Stinger will offer two power plants: 225-horsepower turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine or a 365-horsepower twin-turbocharged V6 engine. The transmission is an eight-speed automatic with paddle shifters for a manual shifting mode. No manual gearbox was considered.Vice President Joe Biden Visits 2017 NAIAS

Photos and Logo (c) NAIAS.

2016 Toyota Avalon Limited Hybrid: A DriveWays Review

by Frank A. Aukofer

If you’re a fan of a big sedan for its room and comfortable ride, you likely have resigned yourself to owning, if not a gas guzzler, at least something that takes away mileage bragging rights. But there’s an answer: the 2016 Toyota Avalon Hybrid.

On a trip in Wisconsin with two persons and their luggage, mostly on freeways at speeds moderately over the limit, with some city driving, the first stop for gasoline came at the 500-mile mark. The tested Avalon Limited Hybrid delivered 36.5 mpg.

That’s shy of the government’s rating for the hybrid version of Toyota’s flagship car, which comes with a city/highway/combined rating of 40/39/40 mpg. But those numbers come from instrumented tests in ideal conditions, not real world driving. So that 36.5 mpg is more than respectable.

2016_Toyota_Avalon_Hybrid01_50621A303F07E0EC5E9000DAB7B17E541C461C50The Avalon is the Japanese company’s luxury sedan, more akin to Lexus than its Toyota siblings. Though classified as a midsize because its interior is a few cubic feet shy of the government’s definition of a large sedan, it is marketed as a full-size car against such competitors as the Ford Taurus, Chevrolet Impala, Dodge Charger and Kia Cadenza.

Toyota has been expanding its world leading hybrid technology throughout its lineup, including its Lexus luxury vehicles. Among popular priced full-size cars, the Avalon is the only hybrid.

2016_Toyota_Avalon_Hybrid25_D222CB5981E6D9A4F5F5F204336B9F9300025916But you barely sense it. The system, which combines a 2.5-liter 4-cylinder gasoline engine with an electric motor and a nickel metal-hydride battery pack, delivers an unobtrusive 200 hp to the front wheels through a gear driven continuously variable automatic transmission.

When you sit behind the wheel and press the pushbutton starter, the only indication of anything happening is a green light that announces, “ready.” Step lightly on the accelerator pedal and you can drive a few miles on purely electric power. But that’s not what it’s all about.

Very soon, the gasoline engine fires up. But the transition is so seamless that you barely feel it. The only sensation is that of the additional power available. Basically, you drive the Avalon Hybrid as if it were a conventional gasoline engine car.

2016_Toyota_Avalon_Hybrid05_1323C346DD6BB1DBBEF926BE6C36143573408BA4Though it’s a capable around-town transporter, the Hybrid’s forte is quiet and relaxed highway cruising. It tracks steadily in a straight line, takes curves with aplomb (as long as you don’t push it too hard), and it has a suspension system that is biased toward a comfortable ride.

That became starkly apparent on a washboard stretch of Interstate Highway 43 north of Port Washington, Wisconsin. For many miles, harsh bumps in the concrete pavement hammer the tires, springs and shock absorbers so hard you conclude that something would break loose and fall off almost any car or truck.

That’s not the case with the suspension system on the Avalon Hybrid, which absorbs almost all of the nasty vibrations before they reach the driver and passengers.

On smoother surfaces, the Avalon Hybrid is a dream rider, quiet with little intrusion of road, wind or mechanical sounds. The comfort is augmented by big, supportive, heated and cooled front seats with lumbar adjustments.

In back, the heated outboard seats are nearly as comfortable. Even the center-rear seat, despite a hard cushion, has enough headroom for an average-sized adult. Unlike earlier Avalons, which had a flat floor, the 2016 model has a modest floor hump that somewhat compromises legroom. One glaring drawback: the back seats have no cup holders.

2016_Toyota_Avalon_Hybrid23_secondrowDespite its great attributes, the Avalon Hybrid also has a few other negatives. The battery pack is stashed beneath the trunk floor, robbing the trunk of two cubic feet of space. The Hybrid has a trunk of 14 cubic feet versus 16 cubic feet in non-hybrid Avalons.

The Hybrid Limited test car carries a $1,500 price premium over the non-hybrid Limited. But its $42,785 price tag covers every available feature, including a full suite of safety equipment, as well as a long list of luxury features, including Toyota’s Entune integrated audio, apps and navigation; Bluetooth connectivity and satellite radio; leather upholstery, motorized sunroof, power rear sunshade and tri-zone automatic climate control.

Overall, the Toyota Avalon Hybrid not only rivals its luxury Lexus cousins, it outshines some other luxury cars that sell for thousands of dollars more. Though big sedans once ruled the highways but have been falling out of favor, this combination of luxury, performance and economy can hold its own anywhere.

2016_Toyota_Avalon_Hybrid03_BFB303DC316A1463224745A9D05F749E02BDB017Specifications

  • Model: 2016 Toyota Avalon Limited Hybrid four door sedan.
  • Engine: Gasoline 2.5-liter four cylinder, 156 hp, 156 lb-ft torque; electric permanent magnet synchronous motor, 141 hp, 199 lb-ft torque; combined 200 hp; 1.6 kWh nickel metal-hydride battery pack.
  • Transmission: Continuously variable.
  • Overall length: 16 feet 3 inches.
  • EPA passenger/trunk volume: 102/14 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,635 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 40/39/40 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $42,785.
  • Price as tested: $42,785.

Disclaimer: The manufacturer provided the vehicle used to conduct this test drive and review.

Photos (c) Toyota

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