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Review: 2014 Toyota Tundra 4×2 LTD Crewmax 5.7 V8

Monday March 17th, 2014 at 4:33 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

By David Colman

Hypes: More Spacious Than a Texas Prairie
Gripes: Slab Seats, Uninspired Interior Trim

Do you want the good news or the bad news? Okay, let’s start with the news for the glass half full brigade. 2014 marks the debut of the all-new third generation Tundra, with redesigned fenders, grill, bed and interior. Thanks to an acre of dazzling frontal chrome, the revamped Tundra looks just as imposingly monstrous as the competition from Ford, Chevy, GMC and Ram. Since size matters most in the truck market, Tundra has more space than ever to offer potential customers. More grill, more bed, more interior, and unfortunately, more weight. This latest iteration weighs nearly 3 tons. 5.7 liters of 381hp V8 is thus heavily taxed when asked to haul 5,899 pounds of truck. Consequently, the bad news is 13 MPG in city driving and 18 MPG on the highway, for an EPA overall rating of 15 MPG.

But the poor mileage penalty is offset by this rig’s imposing straight line performance. The 5.7 liter Tundra posts a 0-60 MPH time of just 6.7 seconds, and runs the standing start quarter mile in 15.2 seconds at 91 MPH. Those times are nothing short of stunning for such a behemoth, making it the decathlete of the sport truck world. Embellishing the Olympic swiftness is a sensationally inexpensive handling package guaranteed to plant this high rider firmly on the pavement. For just an extra $135, the TRD Off-Road Package replaces standard 20 inch alloy rims with black-spoke TRD 18 inch alloys shod with Michelin LTX AT2 tires. These Michelins have a higher sidewall profile (275/65R18) than the 20 inch tires (275/55R20) normally delivered with a Tundra. That 10mm of added sidewall height sucks up chuckholes off road, as well as potholes on road. The package also includes bright blue Bilstein shock absorbers, skid plates under the engine and gas tank, and front tow hooks. If you added these accessories individually, you’d spend well over a thousand dollars.

This Tundra is designed from the ground up to tow enormous payloads. Toyota provides as standard equipment a receiver hitch, 4 and 7 pin electrical connectors, 4.3:1 rear axle ratio, transmission oil cooler, and heavy duty battery and alternator. You also enjoy a “Tow/Haul Mode” setting for the 6-speed automatic gearbox. So you can believe those ads showing the new Tundra towing the space shuttle Endeavor to its final resting place in L.A. The towing capacity of our test Tundra is 10,000 pounds. If you opt for 4WD, maximum tow rating decreases to 9,500 pounds.

The 3rd generation Tundra has also added a new model to the lineup called “1794″ in honor of the JLC cattle ranch where the Tundra is built in Texas. The 1794 artfully emulates the look of a wild west saloon, hence matching decked out competitors like the High Country Silverado offered by Chevrolet. But the interior of our LTD lacked the finery of the 1794. In fact, its gray plastic came off as a bit cheerless and drab. The front seats, while heated and leather trimmed, are flat and unsupportive. But everything about the cab is huge, with massive dash vents, stick shift, steering wheel, mirrors and step-in, seemingly designed around six and a half foot tall occupants. There’s enough rear seat legroom for three adults to stretch their legs. Compared to the 145.6 inch wheelbase of the standard cab Tundra, the extended Crewmax’ WB measures 164.5 inches. The back seat bunch is well catered to, with air vents and 120V, 12 amp AUX socket in the floor console, plus flop down center arm rest. The rear seats also fold vertically, flat against the cab back wall to create a storage unit half again as big as the 5’5″ double walled bed of the pickup.

If you can live with the Tundra’s mileage shortfall, you’ll find this 3rd generation version Toyota greatly improved. Standard features include a rear backup camera and trailer sway control. The rear bed is surrounded by plastic-capped bedrails, and includes a deck rail system with 4 adjustable tie-down clamps. A $365 bed liner is a bargain option. Since the Tundra stands 75.7 inches tall, climbing aboard would present a problem without the $595 optional running boards. Even with such a full bevy of extras, however, the bottom line is just $41,280. For that kind of money, you’ll be hard pressed to match the performance, tow capacity and acceleration combo of the Tundra with anything from Ford, Chevy, GMC or Ram.

2014 Toyota Tundra 4×2 LTD Crewmax 5.7 V8

  • Engine: 5.7 liter DOHC , 32 Valve V8 with Dual Independent VVT-i
  • Horsepower: 381hp
  • Torque: 401 lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 13 MPG City/18 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $41,280
  • Star Rating: 8.5 out of 10 Stars

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Review: 2014 Toyota Corolla LE Premium

Monday January 13th, 2014 at 11:11 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

By David Colman

Hypes: Refined Seating Area, Fresh Aero Face, Vast Rear Seat Legroom
Gripes: No Paddles on LE CVT

Corolla is Toyota’s Gold Glove Shortstop, in other words, their Franchise Player. With a completely redesigned entry for 2014, Toyota will almost certainly sell close to 300,000 Corollas in the coming year. Buyers will queue in droves for this most affordable and value rich Toyota of them all. Its base price, in mid-range LE form, is just $19,400.

Part of Corolla’s appeal lies in its seemingly endless choice of power train and trim combinations. There are 4 model lines (L,LE, LE Eco and S), subdivided into 11 drive and gearbox mutations. The LE range, subject of this test, is available in 3 flavors, CVT, CVT Plus and CVT Premium. The CVT designation refers to the transmission used across the LE range, a constantly variable transmission (hence “CVT”) coupled to a 1.8 liter inline 4 that is standard in all LE models. This double overhead cam engine, refined with variable valve timing, produces 132hp and 138lb.-ft. of torque. If you desire an up rated “Eco” motor, you can opt for the Eco or S model Corolla, and thereby gain 8 extra horses.

The 140hp S Plus is available with a 6 speed manual transmission, making it the only new Corolla with a gearbox containing real gears. If you enjoy the art of driving, the 6-speed S Plus will be your best option. The CVT in our test LE proved long on noise and short on performance. With only 3 range choices available (Drive, Sport and Braking), the base model CVT is constantly making decisions for you about engine speed that you would be better off making yourself. If you’re determined to go automatic, at least consider upgrading to the S model range, which includes paddle shifters and a “Sport” driving range to give you some manual control in optimizing engine performance.

Our LE Premium included the following improvements over the base model LE: 16 inch alloy wheels, integrated fog lights, SofTex trimmed, heated front seats, 8 way power adjustable driver’s seat, and 4 way adjustable front passenger’s seat with map pocket in the seat back. It’s curious that even in the Premium combo pack, Toyota didn’t see fit to include a map pocket in the driver’s seat back as well. The new for 2014, SofTex material, which Toyota touts as “elegant with the environment in mind,” is leather-like, but washable. It’s also very comfy. In fact, the redesigned interior is pleasingly benign and unobtrusive. A handsome beltline pinstripe of celestial blue garnishes the dash and door panels. Automatic Climate Control is standard on the LE Premium, operated with a simple, oversized single knob that’s a pleasure to use.

Parents buying children Corollas will love the fact that this entry level sedan contains 8 airbags to protect their progeny. On the other hand, the progeny will find that the strongest selling point of the new Corolla is Toyota’s suite of built-in Apps.

Of course, the connectivity costs extra, $1,510 for the “Driver Convenience Package” which brings you every conceivable manner of input: Entune Navigation and App Suite, AM/FM CD Player with MP3 and WMA Playback capability, USB 2.0 port with IPod connectivity, Hands Free Phone capability, Music Streaming via Bluetooth Wireless Technology, and 90 day free trial of XM Satellite Radio. This package includes so many distractive nuisances that it ought to be renamed the Driver Inconvenience Package. For staid old folks, the package also includes Smart Key Keyless Entry with push button remote for trunk unlatching.

Thus, the LE Premium, enhanced with the “Driver Convenience Package,” is going to be ground zero for buyers seeking an affordable living room on wheels. The fact that those 16 inch wheels are a little small for great handling, and shod with unimpressively diminutive all weather tires (Michelin Primacy MXV 205/55R16)) won’t matter a whit to symphonic sycophants more concerned with music playlists than apex angles.

2014 Toyota Corolla LE Premium

  • Engine: 1.8 liter DOHC inline 4 with VVT-i
  • Horsepower: 132hp
  • Torque: 128lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 29 MPG City/38 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $22,570
  • Star Rating: 7 out of 10 Stars

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Review: 2013 Toyota Venza LTD AWD

Monday October 14th, 2013 at 11:1010 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

By David Colman

Hypes: More Useful Than a Swiss Army Knife
Gripes: Would-be Wood, Infuriating Customization Menu

Contrary to popular belief, “Veni, Vidi, Venza” does not mean “I came, I saw, I conquered” but “you asked for it, you got it, Toyota.” The Venza is Toyota’s gift to the family, a composite sedan, station wagon, and minivan offering seating for 5, or up to 70 cubic feet of storage with the back seats folded flat. In top line LTD trim, it lavishes enough nice touches to be confused with a Lexus. But it does so at the un-Lexus like base price of $38,870. Although our test Venza’s bottom line was burdened by an unnecessary $1,819 “Rear Seat Entertainment” system, its all-in total of $42,288 still constitutes a bargain for such wraparound family utility.

Though you could bargain hunt an all-wheel-drive, 181hp, 4 cylinder Venza for just $29,150, the 268hp AWD V-6 is the only one you’ll want to drive. The 3.5 liter engine strikes a good compromise between power and efficiency, returning 25 MPG on highway jaunts, and 21 MPG overall. Option your Venza with the bargain priced $220 Tow Prep Package (available only on the V-6), and you’ll add an engine oil cooler, oversized radiator fan, and heavy duty alternator which yield a tow rating of 3,500 pounds. Because the 6-speed automatic transmission is electronically controlled, you can select a gear range and hold the engine in its powerband without upshifting. If you’ve ever towed a loaded trailer over the Sierras, you’ll know how nice that feature can be.

The 60/40 folding rear seats retract with just the pull of a chairside lever. Doing so opens up a wealth of interior storage room that makes toting unwieldy objects a snap. For example, the rear threshold’s low height facilitates loading and unloading take-alongs like a mountain bike. No need to remove a wheel from the bike, nor hoist and bind it to a cumbersome roof rack. Just compress the springs of the removable privacy screen, stow the tubular screen behind the front seats, and you’ve got unlimited access to the Venza’s copious interior storage locker. Dark tinted privacy glass keeps prying eyes off your cargo.

The LTD’s standard 20 inch alloy rims, fitted with 245/50R20 Michelin Latitude tires, endow this crossover with a decidedly truck-like stance and appearance. The upside of the generous rubber allotment is impressive handling stability generated by unusually large contact patches at all 4 corners. The downside of the Venza’s stance is that it’s almost impossible to see anything to the front, sides or rear when you’re parking. The standard Backup Camera, which displays its video on a 6.1 inch dash screen, helps locate potential casualties to the rear. But the side view mirrors convey so little information about obstacles next to, or in front of the Venza, that you’ll find yourself bouncing off curbs you never saw.

The Venza’s interior could stand some refinement. The multiple bins dotting the console between the front seats are duplicative and cheap looking. Despite investing 30 minutes into reading the owner’s manual, I could never figure out how to stop the driver’s seat from sliding backwards every time I turned the Venza off. There are 2 different sources of menu customization available through dash buttons, with no apparent logic determining which button controls which series of features. Despite all the possibilities I never found the key to deselecting the annoying seat slide. On any Lexus, this is a 5 second deselection process.

In sum, the Venza offers such an array of travel possibilities that it will ping your sweet spot over and over. It’s easy to live with this mega- hauler because it looks like a beefy sedan but behaves like a brutish truck. Charming but butch, the Venza makes a lot of sense.

Toyota Venza LTD AWD

  • Engine: 3.5 liter V-6, DOHC with DUAL VVT-I
  • Horsepower: 268 hp
  • Torque: 246 lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 18 MPG City/25 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $42,288
  • Star Rating: 7.5 out of 10 Stars

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2013 Toyota Avalon Limited Review

Monday December 31st, 2012 at 10:1212 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

By David Colman

Hypes: 0.28 CD and Short Overhangs Yield a Looker
Gripes: Why All the Interior Chrome Trim?

Did you ever notice how automotive reviewers feel compelled to trash a company’s previous offering – one they universally loved just a few years back – whenever they’re given a new version of the same model to drive? This frequently occurs because manufacturers themselves denigrate their prior offering in order to cast a fairer light on its replacement. In most new model debuts, the comparison is odious. But the completely redesigned and repurposed 2013 Toyota Avalon is one of those rare cases that validates the rejection/adulation syndrome.

Until now, the Avalon has registered little more than a cipher in Toyota’s otherwise hot selling product line. Derived from the forgettable Cressida back in 1995, the Avalon came across as a luxurious sedan designed to satisfy customers who thought they had pulled into a Buick dealership. Even though it underwent makeovers in 2000 and 2005, the Avalon remained a stodgy looking car for folks who didn’t relish taking much of a chance on their automotive purchase. To be sure, Avalon was quiet, refined, and well put together in the best Toyota tradition. But when it came to serving up sizzle, Avalon was more tepid than a wet briquette.

Avalon’s wandering in the wilderness is officially over. Toyota management snatched design of the 4th generation model away from the minions in Japan and turned the new car over to the American styling whizzes employed at the Toyota Technical Center in Woodridge, California known as CALTY. They have come up with a startlingly handsome sedan that bears no resemblance to its predecessors. Yes, it still has 4 doors, seating for 5, and a full 16 cubic foot trunk. But the sheet metal that now clothes the Avalon is devastatingly effective at communicating the total reboot of this model line. The motivating idea is to appeal to a younger buyer who will cross shop the Avalon against products from BMW, Audi and yes, even Buick.

Against them all, the Avalon fares well. Its frontal view connotes snarl. From the side, its ellipse is slick, with the cabin glass tumbling home in one unbroken line from roof to rocker panel. CALTY definitely outdid themselves with the shape of the new Avalon. Because the externals are so compelling, the interior is somewhat of a letdown, harkening back to the detail-oriented fussiness of previous versions. Instead of a sleek overall design along the lines of a BMW 3 or Audi A4, the Avalon cockpit presents a lumpy pastiche, with too much chrome outlining every pod edge, instrument binnacle and door rest. Although the chrome used is “smoked” to lessen brightness, matte aluminum would have improved the overall ambiance immensely. At one point, I was actually blinded by dazzling reflections off the bezel of the instrument cluster.

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2012 Toyota Tacoma Double Cab 4×4 Review

Monday October 8th, 2012 at 4:1010 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

By David Colman

Hypes: Prodigious Off-Roader, Stylish, Made in USA
Gripes: TRD Exhaust Noise, Annoying Cruise Control

Sometimes it takes an old school truck like this Tacoma to reaffirm that the simple virtues are best. Take the key to the Tacoma, for example. It’s small, light weight, and unpretentious looking. And you actually need to insert it into a slot on the steering column and twist it clockwise to start the Tacoma. After testing an endless stream of keyless entry vehicles with starter buttons instead of key receptacles, I found the Tacoma’s throwback system such a delight that it made me wonder why manufacturers ever gave up on it.

The rest of this Tacoma follows suit. It has a full-size spare, for example, mounted under the bed for easy access in case of emergency. Because its side windows lack the auto-up feature so common today, you can actually place that plane of glass exactly where you want it without fighting a computer system for control. It has no paddle shifts attached to the steering wheel, but the sturdy floor-console mounted shift lever features sharp detents for each gear. The front seats aren’t 14-way adjustable, but they’re still more comfortable than you would expect given their simple manual controls for backrest angle and fore/aft positioning.

This back-to-basics brand of practicality extends to the pickup bed, which features “heavy duty all weather flooring,” a $50 option. The interior sports $165 worth of “all weather mats and door sills” which look utilitarian enough to cope with the muddiest boots in sloppy weather. On the right rear wall of the truck bed is a 3-pronged 115 volt receptacle with spring actuated, self-closing cover. This nifty device allows you to plug in any electric device, affording 400 watts of output while the truck is idling, or 100 watts when underway.

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2012 Toyota Prius c Review

Tuesday March 20th, 2012 at 12:33 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

By David Colman

For: Ultra Efficient, Handsome, Comfy Front Seats
Against: Nervous Electric Steering, Tiny Base Model Tires

The Prius is the Japanese version of the Swiss Army Knife. You can buy a lot of different versions to fit your needs. There’s original Prius, which Toyota now terms the “liftback” model in order to distinguish it from the recently introduced “V” version, a stretched model with roomier interior. Now a third version is coming on line called “c” for city transport. The Prius c is a smaller and significantly lighter offspring of the world’s most successful hybrid vehicle. It weighs nearly 600 pounds less than any other Prius, and costs significantly less as well. The c model will be offered in 4 levels of trim, with the base model retailing for just $18,950. If you bump all the way up to level 4, you’ll still lay out only $23,230.

Of course, nothing comes free when you cut size and substance, and the Prius c is no exception. It is the only current Prius with drum rear brakes instead of discs at all 4 corners. The tires fitted to the level 1 Prius c are small enough to work on any number of motorcycles. These R400 Bridgestone Turanzas measure just 175/65R15, and do not offer much in the way of adhesion. But of course, such low rolling resistance tires are an integral part of the Prius mileage equation because their hard tread blocks reduce contact patch resistance and promote extraordinary mileage. The base Prius c fulfills those expectations by returning 53 MPG in city driving, 46 MPG in highway mode, and 50 MPG combined fuel economy. These are the highest figures yet recorded for a passenger car without plug-in capability. Many of you will stop reading right here and get yourself on the March, 2012 delivery list for the Prius c based on mileage figures alone.

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2012 Toyota Prius Plug-in First Impressions Review

Friday September 23rd, 2011 at 11:99 PM
Posted by: AKramer

2012 Prius Plug-In

By Alexander Kramer

Despite being mercilessly picked on by car enthusiasts and members of the automotive press, the Toyota Prius has been an unqualified success. The best-selling Prius has become synonymous with hybrid cars and perhaps even Toyota itself.

Having been on the market for over 10 years now, Toyota has decided to double-down on this success by introducing a new family of Prius based cars, including the larger Prius V, the smaller Prius C, and a Plug-in version of the existing 3rd generation Prius. We were recently invited to drive these new models (except for the Prius C, which is still in concept form) at a Media Preview for the GreenDriveExpo, held in Richmond, CA.

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Teen Drivers, Children and Seniors Benefit From Toyota Tests at Collaborative Safety Research Center

Wednesday September 21st, 2011 at 7:99 AM
Posted by: ponycargirl

Toyota Technical Center - CSRC; Crash Test
By Megan Green

As part of a new era of openness mandated from CEO Akio Toyoda , Toyota opened their doors to the media at their Collaborative Safety Research Center (CSRC) at the York Township, Michigan Toyota Technical Center (TTC) for the first time in company history. Collaborative research partners including representatives from MIT, the Transportation Active Safety Institute, Indiana University/Purdue University Indianapolis, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (VT), Wake Forest School of Medicine, Washtenaw Area Transportation Study, Wayne State University School of Medicine, and University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute were on hand for the announcement of ten new safety initiatives. Toyota’s goal is to share technology and research results from the various studies with the automotive industry and public. To further support this effort, they launched a new website www.toyota.com/csrc in January where this collaborative research on automotive safety is available online.

A significant portion of the research is concentrating on the most vulnerable populations, which, in their eyes, are young children, new teen drivers, seniors, and pedestrians.

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Redesigned 2012 Toyota Camry Launched Today – First driving impressions, more power and better fuel economy

Tuesday August 23rd, 2011 at 2:88 PM
Posted by: ponycargirl

2012 Toyota Camry SE

Toyota’s redesigned 2012 Camry mid-size sedan was launched today simultaneously in Los Angeles, Detroit, New York City and the Toyota- owned plant in Georgetown, Kentucky, where the Camry is being manufactured.

At first look, the exterior shape is fairly close to the 2011 Camry. The change is more in the details – the headlights reshaped to curve around the front horizontally, integrating with a more subtle and simplified honeycomb grille. The entire front end is beefier and is seated lower, the fog lights tied into the design with chrome detailing. The windows are a bit more squared at the A pillar and C pillar than the previous model, adding to the sharper, boxier appearance.

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2011 Toyota FJ Cruiser Review – Be all you can be, with the FJ Team Trails Special Edition

Monday August 15th, 2011 at 2:88 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

2011 Toyota FJ Cruiser Team Trails Edition
By David Colman

Likes:

  • Go anywhere rig
  • Startling appearance
  • Huge HVAC dash knobs

Dislikes:

  • Droning exhaust note
  • Cheesy emergency jack
  • Impeded rear vision

Ten-hut you army wannabes! Fall in you Hummer chums! Toyota has a new dog tag for camouflaged ammo fans.  It’s called the Trail Teams Special Edition Package (Upgrade Package 3 @ $3,650) on the $26,880 FJ Cruiser. Check the box for “Army Green Exterior Color” and Toyota will send you packing with an FJ that looks like a 5 gallon Jerry can.  Instead of the usual white roof, yours will be olive drab, just like the rest of the body, the interior door trim, the seat fabric inserts, and the face of the dashboard. Items that would normally be silver or chrome, like bumpers, exterior mirrors, grill, door handles and even the TRD 6-spoke Special Edition alloy wheels, are all matte black on this special FJ. Only the six lug nuts holding each steel wheel in place are chrome. The subdued colorless combo transforms the FJ from a pastel Lego brick into an MP bulldog.

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