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Toyota

2021 Toyota Prius XLE AWD-e: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

With the 2021 XLE AWD-e and other hybrid models, the Toyota Prius is coming of the age of majority. It is in its 21st year and continues as the favorite among gasoline-electric vehicles in the United States, with a total of 2.4 million sold.

When Toyota decided in the late 1990s that Americans were ready for a hybrid, the company gave automotive journalists a taste of the future by lending them right-hand drive Priuses built in Japan, where motorists drive on the left — or correct, as the British like to say — side of the road.

The 2001 Prius came with a 75-horsepower four-cylinder gasoline engine working in concert with a 44-hp electric motor. Together they delivered an EPA fuel economy rating of 52 miles to the gallon in the city and 48 on the highway. City numbers were higher because urban driving made more use of the electric motor.

As this column reported then, customers lined up in droves, with some waiting six months for delivery. Buyers included celebrities, environmental activists, and citizens looking for old-time virtues of cleanliness and economy.

It carried a fairly stiff price for an economy car then of $20,855. Even at that, Toyota at first lost money on every sale. It was one of only two hybrid cars on the market. The other was the Honda Insight, a streamlined two-seater that used a different hybrid system.

Over the years, the Prius proved its mettle, toting up solid credentials for quality of construction, low maintenance, long battery life, and anvil-like reliability.

Now, for 2021, Toyota adds all-wheel drive. It’s called the Prius AWD-e Hybrid. Tested for this review was the SEL trim level, which carries a base price of $30,570, including the destination charge. With an advanced technology package that included a color head-up display, adaptive front lighting, and auto-leveling headlights, the bottom-line sticker came to $31,629.

Standard equipment includes modern safety equipment of automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, lane-keeping warning and assist, and adaptive cruise control.

The AWD-e still carries some of the funky styling and other touches that have always been a Prius characteristic. With its split rear window and additional busy styling, along with the rear headrests, the AWE-e has severely limited rear vision through the inside rear-view mirror. So it’s essential to adjust the outside mirrors correctly to eliminate the big blind spots.

Overall, however, the AWE-e now resembles a handsome fastback with a rear hatch that provides access to 25 cubic feet of cargo space. It also continues with the Prius signature instruments nestling in the top center of the dash, perhaps to make it easier to build this Prius with either left-hand or right-hand drive for different markets.

But most drivers would likely prefer not to have to look toward the middle of the dash while underway. On the tested SEL, the head-up display negated some of that with hybrid system information.

Despite the location, the instruments and the seven-inch center infotainment screen are easy to decipher. The tested SEL came with SXM satellite radio, Bluetooth capability, USB connectivity, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and Amazon Alexa compatibility.

There’s plenty of space for four passengers, though as usual, the center-rear unfortunate gets disrespected. But the AWD-e has decent ride quality, so complaints from the back seat should be pretty rare.

The power train is quintessentially Prius: a 1.8-liter gasoline engine mated to a 71-hp electric motor. Overall, the system delivers 121 hp and 120 lb-ft of torque. A separate small electric motor drives the AWE-e’s rear wheels. Toyota’s smooth continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT), which uses planetary gears instead of the more typical belts and pulleys, transmits the power.

On the highway, the tester cruised serenely, with little intrusion of mechanical, road, or wind noise. The exception was during hard acceleration, which elicited loud grating noises from the gasoline engine.

The AWD-e is no stoplight drag racer, taking nearly 10 seconds to reach 60 mph from rest. But it feels responsive in traffic and, likely because of the modest power common to most Priuses, encourages drivers to hammer their little hybrids to the limit. 

Every motorist has seen a Prius driver bolt from a stoplight, pedal to the metal, to stay ahead of traffic — and never mind the cost in fuel economy. That’s the way it goes.

Specifications

  • Model: 2021 Toyota Prius XLE AWD-e Hybrid four-door hatchback.
  • Engine/motor: 1.8-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine with 71 hp electric motor; total system 121 hp, 120 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Continuously variable automatic with all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 15 feet.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/cargo volume: 93/25 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,300 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 51/47/49 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $30,570.
  • Price as tested: $31,629.

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

Photos (c) Toyota

2021 Toyota Venza Limited Hybrid: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

When the Toyota Venza made its debut in 2009, it was something of a novelty. Billed as a crossover utility vehicle, or CUV, it looked and felt more like a traditional station wagon, albeit a bit taller than most.

Automotive News, the most prominent trade publication in the automotive industry, listed the Venza as a car in its U.S. sales statistics, not in the truck category along with sport utility vehicles and crossovers. 

Though the terms get mixed up and misused, a sport utility vehicle generally is a wagon-like vehicle with body on frame construction, like a truck. Crossovers are built like cars with unit-body construction. 

The Venza crossover lasted just seven years. Its best sales year was 2009, the year it was introduced, when 54,410 were sold in the United States. But sales dwindled and Toyota dropped it after the 2005 model year.

But now it’s back for 2021 as a fully realized crossover SUV, better than ever with economical gasoline-electric hybrid power, not unlike its garage-mate Toyota Prius. Both are hybrid-only, a system with which Toyota has vast experience. The Venza also comes with standard all-wheel drive.

On the tested Venza Limited as well as other trim levels, the hybrid combination delivers 219 horsepower from a 2.5-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine with 88 hp and three electric motors, one of which drives the rear wheels. The system earns an EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption rating of 40/37/39 mpg. 

Power gets to all four wheels via an electronic continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT). Standard CVTs use a system of belts and pulleys to multiply engine torque. Toyota’s ECVT, also used in the Prius, uses electric motor generators to control a planetary gear set, allowing the transmission to continuously change the gear ratio and keep the engine’s rpms at maximum efficiency.

The hybrid system incorporates four driver-selectable drive modes: EV for purely electric motoring, Eco for maximum fuel efficiency, Normal for everyday commuting, and Sport for horsing around (carefully, of course).

There are three Venza versions: Base SE, midlevel SEL and top-line Limited. The last, tested for this review, came with a base price of $40,975, including the destination charge. With options that included a $1,400 panoramic glass sunroof and a $725 technology package with a head-up display and rain-sensing windshield wipers, the bottom-line sticker came $43,525.

The panoramic sunroof is unusual. The glass changes from nearly opaque gray to a translucent white fog at the touch of an overhead switch. But it does not open to the sky for fresh air. There is an opaque power-operated sunroof shade. 

The Venza slots in Toyota’s crossover SUV lineup between the less-expensive RAV4 and the larger Highlander. Curiously, though it shares its basic platform with the RAV4, the Venza actually has less interior space. It has 95 cubic feet of room for passengers and a cargo area of 29 cubic feet. The RAV4 has 99 cubic feet for passengers and 38 cubic feet for cargo.

The Venza is 15 feet 7 inches long compared to the RAV4’s 15 feet 1 inch. But the RAV4, at 5 feet 7 inches, is an inch taller than the Venza’s height of 5 feet 6 inches.

Overall, the Venza presents itself as a stylish and comfortable conveyance, more luxury-oriented than the RAV4. Following a trend among luxury crossover SUVs, it has the roofline of a coupe, though taller, and an interior that has prompted some critics to opine that it looks more like a Lexus, Toyota’s luxury brand, than a Toyota.

Inside, the upholstery and many surfaces are covered in leather or leatherette. Front and outboard rear seats are roomy, supportive and comfortable. Even the center-rear seat is not horrible, thanks to a shallow floor hump and a decently soft cushion. Rear seatbacks fold flat to expand cargo space to 55 cubic feet.

On the road, the Venza feels strong under acceleration, though there’s some growling from the gasoline engine when you get your foot heavily into the throttle. Once settled on the highway, the ambiance mostly becomes quiet.

For a vehicle that leans toward luxury, the Venza has some sporting road manners. Select the Sport driving mode and it handles curving roads with aplomb as the ECVT transmission keeps the engine on the boil. Not bad for a machine that can deliver 40 mpg.

Specifications

  • Model: 2021 Toyota Venza Limited four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 2.5-liter four-cylinder gasoline, 176 hp; with three electric motors; 219 combined system hp.
  • Transmission: Electronic continuously variable automatic (ECVT) with manual-shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 7 inches.
  • Height: 5 feet 6 inches. 
  • EPA/SAE passenger/cargo volume: 95/29 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,880 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 40/37/39 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $40,975.
  • Price as tested: $43,525.

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

Photos (c) Toyota

2021 Toyota Sienna XSE: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Despite the ridicule it endures, the minivan still is the most practical personal passenger vehicle on the planet. Now, with the 2021 Toyota Sienna, there’s one less argument against it.

For the first time with any minivan, all Sienna models are hybrids. So with their other attributes, they deliver impressive fuel economy along with their ginormous 206 cubic feet of passenger and cargo space, about the same as in two Nissan Versa sedans together.

The EPA city/highway/combined numbers for the tested Sienna XSE with front-wheel drive are 36/36/36 mpg. It’s 1 mpg less combined with the available all-wheel drive.

The hybrid system mates a 2.5-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine with a 134-kW electric motor to deliver 245 net hp. They are linked to a capable continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) that features what Toyota calls a “sequential shift mode,” meaning that it can be manually shifted with the console-mounted shift lever. There are no steering-wheel paddles. It doesn’t change much so most people are unlikely to bother shifting for themselves.

There are five versions, starting with the $35,635 LE model, followed by the $40,925 XLE, the tested sporty XSE at $43,175, Limited $47,875, and the top-line Platinum, $51,075. The prices are for front-drivers. Add bargain priced all-wheel drive for $740.

Like other minivans, the Sienna is long at 16 feet 9 inches. But with all-new styling enhanced on the XSE model with 20-inch wheels, it’s also graceful looking and less ponderous in its handling than a full-sized sport utility vehicle like a Chevrolet Suburban, Ford Expedition or Toyota’s own Sequoia.

In fact, it feels like a much smaller vehicle on the road and can even be hustled through moderate curves without getting unsettled. There are various drive modes, including Eco, EV, Normal and Sport. But the differences are minor, though the Sport setting delivers a modest tightening of the steering and suspension system. It also seems to provide slightly more deceleration regenerative braking to help recharge the battery pack.

Overall, the tested Sienna XSE was a pleasant road-going companion, quiet in operation with enough power to handle any public highway situation and a bump-soaking ride no doubt enhanced by its length. Independent tests have clocked the 0-60 mph acceleration time in the seven-second range.

The XSE’s seven-passenger cabin was a welcoming space. It comes standard with second-row captain’s chairs,  providing between-seat access to the third row, where there’s plenty of head room and ample knee room as long as the second row seats are pushed forward — they have 25 inches of travel. But if you cram three passengers into the third row they’d better be children or very skinny adults.

Soft faux leather in black and embossed white covered the seats in the tested XSE, with well-bolstered sport seats up front. Second row seats cannot be stored but can be jackknifed with the pull of a lever to provide additional space for cargo. The third-row seats, divided two-thirds and one-third, can be folded almost flat with the pull of one lever and easily brought back up with the lever and a pull strap.  

Up front, the center console features built-in non-adjustable armrests at the same height as the armrests on the doors. There’s a deep bin and four cup holders, two large and two small, and a dozen other cup holders throughout the cabin. Seven USB ports are scattered around to serve passengers. Below the dash is a narrow side-to-side shelf with a wireless smart phone charging port.

The Sienna comes with Toyota’s extensive Safety Sense, including a pre-collision system with automatic emergency braking, low light pedestrian detection and daytime cyclist detection; lane-departure mitigation with lane-keeping assist, road edge detection and sway warning; blind spot monitoring, and dynamic radar cruise control.

Convenience items included advanced voice recognition, hands-free phone operation, WiFi, and an intuitive nine-inch center screen that controls a navigation system, premium audio, Bluetooth, Apple CarPlay, SXM satellite radio and HD radio. There’s also a 1500-watt electric inverter. 

Other XSE equipment: Power side doors and rear lift gate; four-zone automatic climate control; second row side window sunshades; black roof rails, auto-dimming inside rearview mirror with compass, and dual upper and lockable lower glove compartments.

To prevent Mom or Dad from getting laryngitis yelling at the kids, a Driver Easy Speak microphone amplifies the driver’s voice through the rear speakers.

Specifications

  • Model: 2021 Toyota Sienna XSE seven-passenger minivan.
  • Engine/motor hybrid system: 2.5-liter four-cylinder; 134 kW electric motor; combined system 245 hp.
  • Transmission: Electronically controlled continuously variable automatic with sequential shift control and front-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 16 feet 9 inches.
  • Height: 5 feet 9 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/cargo volume: 167/39 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 4,430 pounds.
  • Towing capability: 3,500 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 36/36/36 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $43,175.
  • Price as tested: $44,625.

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

Photos (c) Toyota, Jason Fogelson

2021 Toyota Supra: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Automobiles have personalities that they transfer to their owners/drivers. With the 2021 Toyota Supra, it is all about pure driving joy, and never mind the buckboard ride. 

With enthusiasts breathing heavily, the fifth generation Supra materialized in 2020 after an absence from the U.S. market of 22 years. You could argue that it was as anxiously awaited among its fans as the first-ever mid-engine C8 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray was to its disciples.

Unfortunately for Toyota, the two cars arrived for the same model year and the Corvette beat the Supra for the North American Car of the Year award, which is voted on by a jury of 50 automotive journalists from the United States and Canada.

Nevertheless, the Supra remains one of the best driver-oriented cars you can find anywhere at a decent, somewhat affordable price. Moreover, it only gets better for 2021, with a stiffer chassis, more power and the addition of a lower-priced model with a four-cylinder turbo engine.

The four-banger is the 255-hp GR Supra 2.0, which has a starting price of $43,985, including the destination charge. Toyota says it can nail a 0-60 acceleration time of 5.0 seconds — no slouch in anybody’s book.

Tested for this review was the 2021 GR Supra 3.0, which gets a bump of 47 horsepower over the 2020 model, along with refined chassis tuning. Aluminum struts connect the shock absorber towers to the radiator supports for increased lateral rigidity. The dampers also have been newly tuned.

A note about the GR designation for Supra models. It stands for Gazoo Racing, Toyota’s international motorsports program. The Supra was the first model developed by the Gazoo Racing team.

It is no secret, however, that the Supra 3.0 gets its power and some engineering expertise from Germany’s Bavarian Motor Works. Its  turbocharged in-line six-cylinder engine is the same motor that powers the BMW Z4 M40i. In the Supra’s installation, it makes 382 hp with 368 lb-ft of torque.

The grunt gets to the rear wheels via an eight-speed automatic transmission with a manual-shift mode — also from a German manufacturer, ZF Friedrichshafen. It is the only transmission available so far, though many enthusiasts would climb the ramparts for the rumored manual gearbox.

Toyota says the 2021 setup enables 3.9-second runs to 60 mph. However, Car and Driver Magazine claims its track testers made it in 3.7 seconds with the 2020 six-cylinder model, likely enabled by the standard computerized launch control.

There’s no question that the 2021 Supra is a head-turner — more likely a neck cracker. The tester was done up in bright red with black accents, some of them faux air inlets. The graceful 10-spoke wheels beautifully alternated black and chrome, and the sweeping body curves and lines invited gawking.

Inside, the leather seats (there are two) had substantial bolsters to cocoon the driver and passenger in place for whatever rapid moves they might undertake. The sensuous styling dictated a roof that droops down over the side windows, which means you have to duck way down to get in and out else you bang your noggin. But it has the advantage of functioning as a side sun blocker. In fact, the sun visor does not even swing sideways.

From behind the steering wheel, the driving and handling joy is palpable, despite the engine and road noise that can drown out the audio system and the harsh ride. Almost like riding a powerful motorcycle, there’s a feeling of total control and near invincibility. While only a fool would test its limits on the public roads, the temptation is there. 

The Supra is a hatchback, which actually enhances what would be meager trunk stash space. It’s 10 cubic feet, added to 51 cubic feet for the passengers. A removable cargo cover hides the contents. 

As befits a sport/grand touring car with a bottom-line sticker of $56,720, the tested Supra was well equipped with standard and optional safety, performance and luxury equipment. 

They included automatic pre-collision braking with pedestrian detection, lane departure warning with steering assist, color head-up display, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, adaptive cruise control, 8.8-inch touch screen, navigation, Apple CarPlay, Bluetooth connectivity, wireless smart phone charging and SXM satellite radio.

A frugal buyer could do without some of the optional equipment, and even forego the 3.0-six in favor of the lower-priced four-cylinder model. Either way, the Supra exudes excitement. If there’s any credence to it, maybe wait for the more entertaining stick shift.

Specifications

  • Model: 2021 Toyota GR Supra 3.0 Premium two-door hatchback coupe.
  • Engine: 3.0-liter six-cylinder, turbocharged; 382 hp, 368 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Eight-speed automatic with manual-shift mode and rear-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 14 feet 5 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/cargo volume: 51/10 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,390 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 24/31/26 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $55.485.
  • Price as tested: $56,720.

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

Photos (c) Toyota

Coupe Love Affair with the 2020 Lexus RC F

by Jason Fogelson

Looking back on my history of car ownership, I realize I have ping-ponged between trucks/SUVs and coupes. I’ve owned very few sedans, and I haven’t kept them for long. I’m definitely in touch with why I love trucks and SUVs – it’s the utility. It’s the belt and suspenders part of my personality, the part that wants to be ready for anything, anytime. My love of coupes, though, has demanded more introspection. 

Luckily, I got a chance to spend a week behind the wheel of a 2020 Lexus RC F 2-Door Coupe recently, and I think I figured it out.

Let’s jump right in. 

RC F has great lines, with a sporty, elegant profile and an assertive stance, and the car is poised like a sprinter in the starting blocks. The wheel arches are filled with staggered width 19-inch wheels. Up front, the big, open “spindle” grille serves as a gaping mouth, while the bi-LED headlamps underlined by LED DRL. The roofline is fast, with a quick finish to a short decklid, housing a speed-activated rear wing which (thankfully, for the shy driver) defaults to a flush docked position. Quad chrome tips poke out of the lower rear fascia, ready to burble exhaust notes. 

Much of the front fascia seems devoted to aerodynamics and managing air flow. There are no external bumpers, per se, though you can see the structure behind the grille. I’d be really careful parking the RC F – a low-speed collision with a pole or garage wall could result in a very costly repair. The rear fascia is a little less detailed, and appears a little less fragile.

Coupe critics complain about coupe doors, which are generally six or more inches longer than sedan doors on comparably sized vehicles. You need more space to open coupe doors fully. Coupe doors are bigger and heavier than sedan doors, which puts more stress on hinges. Despite their greater length, coupe doors still require second-row passengers to squeeze in past the door frame and front seat. 

While I confirm the coupe critics’ complaints, I counter with compliments. 

A bigger front door makes it easier for the driver and front-seat passenger to enter and exit the vehicle. The weight of RC F’s doors is manageable and well-balanced, and there’s no obvious strain on the hinges. Getting in and out of the second row is mildly inconvenient, but at six-feet two-inches tall with creaky joints and size 14 barges for feet, I had no problem getting in and out without an assist (or a crane). Headroom was fine, though I could have used more legroom for a long ride. I rarely carry second-row passengers – maybe two or three times a year, at most — so the tradeoffs would be worth it to me. Call me a selfish aesthete, but the ease of entry and exit along with a gorgeous, genuine coupe silhouette make the two-door my car of choice.

Inside, RC F also hits the mark. It has a crisply tailored cockpit, with a beautifully trimmed dashboard and center console. I particularly like the perfectly aligned HVAC vents, which combine looks, function and location to break up the visual field of the dashboard. My test RC F came with an expensive ($11,400) yet stunning Performance Package, which included a host of carbon fiber trim and aero pieces on the exterior and interior, and after some heavy math (seven years of ownership = 2,555 days x $4.46/day = $11,400 more or less = less than $5/day to have the cool carbon fiber = sold?), I think I’d order that feature. 

Another option that required no math for me was the $2,725 Navigation System with Mark Levinson Audio. The 17-speaker, 835-watt sound system is one of the best car audio systems I’ve ever heard. I’m not a fan of the remote touchpad in the center console, which I can only ever get good results from when the RC F is at a complete stop. I suspect that time and practice would improve my interactions, but a week wasn’t long enough to make me a competent operator.

The biggest joy of the RC F, though, is the driving experience. A 472-hp, 5.0-liter V8 gasoline engine lurks beneath the long hood, ready to pump 395 lb-ft of torque to the rear wheels through an eight-speed automatic transmission. The powertrain comes as a pleasant surprise in the tidy RC F, as it sounds and feels like it belongs in a muscle car, not a Japanese luxury coupe. Which is not to imply that it’s unruly or sloppy – I’d have to describe it as lusty. That’s a compliment.

Driving around in the RC F is a blast. It corners like a shark, accelerates like a charging bull, and romps like a stallion. I had to keep a close eye on the speedometer, because RC F can cruise smoothly at deceptive speeds. 

There are other performance luxury coupes on the market that match up well with the Lexus RC F. The Mercedes-AMG C 63 Coupe, BMW M4 Coupe, Infiniti Q60 Red Sport 400 and Audi RS 5 Coupe are good examples. I’d also include non-luxury Dodge Challenger and Ford Mustang, lusty V8 muscle cars, in my coupe comparison. 

The 2020 Lexus RC F starts at $64,900 ($89,654 as tested). 

Does my preference for a coupe make me a selfish person, since I’d rather have everyday comfort and convenience as a driver than occasional comfort and convenience for my passengers? Does it make me shallow, since I value appearance over practicality? I don’t know.  I appreciate the coupe for its honesty. It’s not pretending to be a car for all people, for all purposes. And that makes sense to me. So does the RC F.

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

Photos (c) Lexus

2020 Toyota 86 Hakone Edition: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

In American slang, “86” means to get rid of, cancel, eject or bury something. In the Japanese automobile industry, 86 is the name of a nimble Toyota sports car that is actually built by Subaru.

The joint venture dates back to 2012, when Toyota introduced the two-door coupe as the Scion FR-S (then Toyota’s youth-oriented brand, now 86ed). The FR-S name went away with Scion. The FR-S and successor 86 also was — and still is — sold by Subaru as the BRZ. The two vehicles gave each manufacturer something it did not have.

For Toyota, it was the 200-hp, 2.0-liter horizontally-opposed four cylinder engine, also called a flat or boxer engine. In a boxer, the cylinders lie flat, feet to feet, on both sides of the crankshaft, instead of standing straight or leaning sideways as in-line or V engines.

Subaru is the only manufacturer that uses boxer engines in all of its models. The configuration is the same as that used in millions of Volkswagen Beetles and microbuses from the 1930s until the 1970s. 

The other manufacturer currently using boxers is Germany’s Porsche, in its Boxster, Cayman and 911 models. In those cars the engine is mounted amidships, forward of the rear wheels, or behind them in a rear-engine design.

That leaves the Subaru BRZ and Toyota 86 with a unique layout in which the boxer engine nests up front and sends its power to the rear wheels via a driveshaft. Nobody else does a boxer front engine, rear drive layout. It also is the only two-wheel drive model in the Subaru lineup; the others come standard with all-wheel drive.

The 2020 86 gets its name from its production numbers — hachi-roku in Japanese. It still uses the boxer engine, now with 205 hp and 151 lb-ft of torque. Tested for this review was the special Hakone Edition with a six-speed manual gearbox (a six-speed automatic is available). Hakone is the name of a famed curvy turnpike near Tokyo. It also is the name of the Hakone Edition’s deep green paint, similar to British Racing Green.

The Hakone Edition package also includes bronzed alloy wheels and smart-looking front seats done up with black suede cloth seating areas trimmed with tan leather. But the fancy stuff ends there; the two vestigial back seats are monotone.

That’s likely because Toyota doesn’t expect them to get much use. The 86 is what used to be called a “two-plus-two,” meaning a coupe with tiny back seats and no knee or leg room. In an emergency, you could squeeze two small humans back there but only if the front seat occupants run their seats as far forward as possible, likely compressing the driver’s chest.

So think of the 86 as a two-seater, not unlike a Mazda MX-5 Miata with a hard top and a bit of extra space in back for melons or capuchin monkeys. At least the 86’s back seat augments the meager seven cubic feet of trunk space.

Another way to consider the 86 is as the smaller, less powerful sibling of the resurrected Toyota Supra two-seater, which comes with a 382-horsepower in-line six cylinder engine from BMW. At $56,720 as reviewed here, it costs twice as much as the $28,015 base 86.

The Hakone Edition comes nicely equipped for $30,825 with the manual gearbox. Prices include the destination charge. The test car had Bluetooth connectivity but no Apple Car Play or Android Auto, though it was compatible with those apps. There was an AM-FM radio but no SXM satellite radio.

However, the 86 is a pure sports car so the entertainment comes from the driving. Engine noise intrudes harshly into the cabin any time the tachometer needle passes 3,000 rpms. The zero to 60 acceleration time is less than seven seconds (compared to less than four seconds for the Supra).

For enthusiasts, the stick shift is preferable to the automatic. But the 86’s clutch action can be a bit touchy, and the shift linkage is taut and even a bit bumpy changing gears. 

Handling is the 86’s forte. It corners flat, and the somewhat stiff steering provides good feedback. The tradeoff is a harsh ride on rough roads. Combine the ride with the echoing engine racket in the cabin and a long trip on freeways could become taxing.

Complaints include a hard-to-read, tiny backup camera mounted in the inside rearview mirror, and sun visors that do not slide on their support rods to adequately block sun from the side.

Specifications

  • Model: 2020 Toyota 86 Hakone Edition two-door sports coupe.
  • Engine: 2.0-liter four-cylinder; 205 hp, 151 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Six-speed manual with rear-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 13 feet 11 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/trunk volume: 77/7 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 2,810 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 21/28/24 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $30,825.
  • Price as tested: $30,825.

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

Photos (c) Toyota

2020 Toyota Prius is the Proto-Hybrid

by Jason Fogelson

As the automotive industry does its best to catch up, the 2020 Toyota Prius posts incremental improvements and additions. Prius has been the poster child for hybrid cars for over 20 years now, a beacon that identifies its owners as green and woke (and maybe a little self-congratulatory). Say what you will about image and perception, it’s hard to criticize the roomy, efficient Prius when it comes with an EPA rating of 52 mpg city/48 mpg highway/50 mpg combined when equipped with newly available (as of 2019) all-wheel drive.

Front 3q Left Blue

For 2020, Toyota has added more standard features to Prius, sweetening the pot. On the audio front, Apple CarPlay and Amazon Alexa have been added to the system’s capability. This is particularly welcome for users who find the Scout GPS app that links with Toyota’s Entune system lacking (I do), because they can now connect an Apple iPhone via a USB cable and have the Apple Maps app operate through the Prius’ infotainment screen. This works way better than Scout, in my experience, and lets you get a quick link between other information in your smartphone and your mapping program. Amazon Alexa functionality is great, too, if you’re willing to take the time to set up Alexa skills in the Alexa app. If you have iOT devices at home – smart lightbulbs, a smart thermostat, etc. – this can be very convenient and fun. These are the kind of tech upgrades that Prius should get – the kind that help integrate the vehicle into owners’ (users’) lives beyond transportation.

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The other big area of upgrade to Prius for 2020 is in standard safety systems. Toyota Safety Connect is now standard (with a free three-year trial subscription) on all Prius grades, including Emergency Assistance, Stolen Vehicle Locator, Roadside Assistance and Automatic Collison Notification. Similar to the tech upgrades in the audio area, this connectivity is also a smart, appropriate addition for Prius and its connected owners.

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Beyond those upgrades, the 2020 Prius is pretty much a carryover model, very similar to the 2019 Toyota Prius XLE AWD-e model that I reviewed last year for Forbes. This year’s test car had an optional feature that I very much appreciated: the $800 Advanced Technology Package that included a Head-Up Display (HUD). This bright, color projection above the steering wheel solved the slight unease that I feel with the Prius’ center-mounted instrument panel. With the HUD, I was able to keep my head straight, my eyes on the road, and still have visual access to my car’s speed and the activity of the hybrid system. I’m a big fan of a well-executed HUD in the first place, and on Prius I would consider it an essential feature, not an extra.

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My test vehicle, a 2020 Toyota Prius XLE AWD-e, came with a base price of $29,250. With options, including the HUD, $259 Carpeted Floor Mats, $299 Illuminated Door Sills, $125 Door Edge Guards, $69 Rear Bumper Applique, and $955 Delivery Processing and Handling Fee, the as-tested price was $31,757. Bracketed in the Toyota lineup by the new 2020 Corolla Hybrid (starting at $23,100) and 2020 Camry Hybrid (starting at $28,430), it’s not the only smart choice in the Toyota lineup – just the most visible.

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

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Photos (c) Toyota

Avalon Hybrid Generates Grins

by Jason Fogelson

Through five generations of production since the 1995 model year, Avalon has been the flagship of the Toyota lineup in the United States. That doesn’t necessarily mean that it has been given a lot of respect or attention on the sales floor. Though it shares a platform, TNGA (Toyota New Global Architecture), with sibling Camry, Avalon sales in 2019 were one-tenth the number of Camry sales. Looking at Avalon Hybrid sales versus Camry Hybrid sales reveals a different balance. In 2019, Toyota sold 26,043 Camry Hybrid sedans, while selling 6,552 Avalon Hybrid sedans, about a 4:1 ratio – much closer than the overall numbers. What’s going on here?

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I decided to take the 2020 Toyota Avalon Hybrid for a week-long test drive to see if I could figure it out.

My test vehicle was a Limited trim level with a list price of $43,150. With options ($1,150 Advanced Safety Package; $259 Carpet Mat Package) and a $950 Delivery Processing and Handling Fee, my Parisian Night Pearl Avalon Hybrid carried an as-tested price of $45,489.

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Avalon spent its first four generations cloaked in blandness, but the new generation, which launched with the 2019 model year, is much more interesting and attractive. Sharper lines, a bolder snout, and, dare I say, sportiness to the exterior have livened up the big sedan. Still on the conservative end of the spectrum, but much better than before.

Inside, Avalon manages to achieve Lexus levels of luxury, but with a flair that matches Avalon’s newly spruced exterior design. I particularly like the way that the center stack is set off from the dashboard, putting the standard nine-inch touchscreen display at the top. My Limited model also included a 10-inch head-up display, which beamed information into my line of sight in the driver’s windshield – a very desirable safety feature, well-executed.

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Avalon is roomy and comfortable, notably so in the second row. The flexible TNGA platform has allowed engineers and designers to stretch the wheelbase by two inches over Camry, and to put that additional space to use in the second row of the Avalon, almost to executive sedan level.

Under the hood, Avalon Hybrid uses a 2.5-liter inline four-cylinder gasoline engine (176 hp/163 lb-ft of torque) and a pair of electric motors. One motor operates as a generator, engine starter and hybrid battery charger, while the other drives the front wheels and captures braking energy during regeneration. The drive motor has a maximum output of 118 hp. A continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) directs power to the front wheels, with a net system horsepower rating of 215. The hybrid battery pack is a sealed Nickel-Metal Hydride (Ni-MH) type with a nominal voltage of 244.8. Systems that are designed to deliver extensive EV-only range have mostly switched over to Lithium Ion battery packs, which are more energy-dense (and more expensive) than Ni-MH. Avalon Hybrid is engineered for overall fuel efficiency, not pure electric range or operation – Toyota doesn’t even provide information on EV range, though there is an EV button on the center console. In practice, I found that it was nearly impossible to keep the Avalon Hybrid in EV mode, as the faintest push on the accelerator pedal kicked the car back into hybrid operation. In any event, Avalon Hybrid Limited is rated to achieve 43 mpg city/43 mpg highway/43 mpg combined – very impressive for a roomy five-passenger sedan with a 16.09 cubic-foot trunk and a 3,715-lb curb weight.

Center StackThe TNGA platform reaps big benefits for Avalon Hybrid when it comes to handling. While Avalon Hybrid isn’t exactly sporty, it is a sharp-handling, connected car that responds precisely to inputs, turns in sharply, and delivers a comfortable, controlled ride. Past generations of Avalon have been correctly criticized for being a little too floaty and cushioned, but those are voices of the past. While enthusiastic drivers will wish for quicker acceleration (get the gas-only V6 for that), few will complain at Avalon’s overall competence and comfort.

The big reveal for the Avalon Hybrid, and maybe its secret weapon, is the fact that choosing the Hybrid over the gasoline-only Avalon only adds $1,000 to the suggested retail price.

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The competition for a vehicle this size with a hybrid gasoline-electric powertrain is thin in this price range, from $37,000 for Avalon Hybrid XLE to $39,500 for Avalon Hybrid XSE to $43,300 for the 2020 Toyota Avalon Hybrid Limited.

I’d be very comfortable recommending the Avalon Hybrid to anyone who is looking for an efficient, luxurious, pleasant to drive and relatively affordable five-passenger sedan.

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

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Photos (c) Toyota

Twelfth Time’s the Charm: Driving the 2020 Toyota Corolla

by Jason Fogelson

I’ve never owned a Toyota Corolla. I don’t know how I have avoided it, because I have owned at least five of the other top 10 best-selling vehicles of all time. Corolla has been manufactured over 12 generations since 1966, and has sold over 46 million examples worldwide to date, making it the number one best-seller in history. I made space for a 2020 Toyota Corolla XSE in my driveway for a week recently, and I was pleasantly surprised.

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The Corolla sedan is all-new for 2020, following closely on the heels of the revised Corolla Hatchback, which arrived last year. It rides on the TNGA (Toyota New Global Architecture) platform, which underlies the current Toyota Prius, C-HR and Camry, along with the Lexus IS and a few other vehicles in the Toyota/Lexus family. The platform has proven to be versatile and adaptable. It is stiff, and allows for a low center of gravity that enhances stability and handling.

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In the past, Corolla could be criticized for bland exterior design. In some generations, it looked like a generic car – or maybe it just felt that way, because there are so many of them on the road. The new Corolla is bolder, more futuristic, with a face that echoes the Camry’s. The XSE model even wears standard 18-inch wheels, the biggest ever for a Corolla. Like any bold design choice, this Corolla may be polarizing, but I like it.

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My test vehicle was a top-of-the-line XSE model with a base price of $25,450. The XSE trim level and SE models come with a new engine, a naturally aspirated (non-turbo) 2.0-liter four-cylinder that uses direct and port injection to produce 169 hp and 151 lb-ft of torque. Base models (L, LE and XLE) come with a 1.8-liter port-injection engine that puts out 139 hp and 126 lb-ft of torque. The 30-hp advantage for XSE is significant, delivering livelier, more engaging performance.

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XSE models also get a new transmission, a continuously variable automatic (CVT) with a physical first gear. The CVT, which Toyota calls “Dynamic Shift CVT,” uses its first gear to launch the Corolla, then shifts to the variable ratios once the car is underway. The effect mitigates one of the things that plagues CVT performance, yet still allows Corolla to achieve good fuel economy – 31 mpg city/38 mpg highway/34 mpg combined – better, actually, than the base L model’s 30/38/33-mpg rating with its smaller, less powerful engine.

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Inside the Corolla, things are extremely tidy and simple, with a minimum of buttons, knobs and clutter. An eight-inch touchscreen is prominent at the top-center of the dash, flanked by neat rectangular buttons and a rotary volume control and rotary tuner knob. Just below is a clean HVAC control setup. A seven-inch driver information display is housed in the instrument panel, nestled beside analog gauges. The steering wheel houses cruise control, volume, mode and driver info buttons. The dash is layered, crisp, and clean, and so is the rest of the cabin.

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My test XSE model came with a $1,715 package that included premium audio and navigation and infotainment. The JBL audio system included eight speakers and a subwoofer, along with wireless smartphone charging, Apple CarPlay, Bluetooth hands-free and audio streaming, Siri Eyes-Free, a six-month trial of Verizon Wi-Fi, a three-month trial of SiriusXM, six months of Destination Connect, three years of Toyota Safety Connect and Service Connect, and more – in other words, a ton of technology for a bargain price. My car also included optional Adaptive Front Lighting ($450), Carpeted Floor Mat Package ($249, not such a bargain), and a $930 Delivery Processing and Handling Fee, resulting in an as-tested price of $28,794.

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Safety is one area that has greatly improved over the life of Corolla. Not only does the new Corolla come with standard four-wheel disc brakes, every Corolla comes with Star Safety (Vehicle Dynamics Integrated Management, Vehicle Stability Control, Traction Control, ABS, Electronic Brake-Force Distribution, Brake Assist and Smart Stop Technology), they also get eight airbags, an electric parking brake, and Toyota Safety Sense 2.0 (Pre-Collision System with Pedestrian Detection, Lane Departure Alert with Steering Assist, Auto High Beams and Dynamic Radar Cruise Control). XSE models also include Full-Speed Range Dynamic Radar Cruise Control with Road Sign Assist and Lane Tracing Assist. This level of advanced driver assistance technology is quite remarkable in an economy car.

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I guess that Corolla has made grown up a bit since 1966, leaving the entry-level slot open for Yaris to handle on its own. The competition in this class is stiff, with the Honda Civic, Mazda3, Nissan Sentra, Hyundai Elantra and Kia Forte all representing good alternatives, with the Chevrolet Cruze and Ford Focus fading away.

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Not only is the 2020 Toyota Corolla all-new for the model year, it is the best version of Corolla that Toyota has produced to date. And that’s saying something, with 46 million Corolla vehicles in its wake.

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

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Photos (c) Toyota

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