2017 Toyota Avalon Hybrid Limited Review

Tuesday March 28th, 2017 at 10:33 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2017 Toyota Avalon Hybrid Limited

By David Colman

Hypes: High on the Green Scale, Comfy
Gripes: Hybrid Takes Trunk Space, Modest Cornering Ability

When I recently rode in a first generation Toyota Avalon belonging to a friend, I was astounded by its small size and lack of amenities. That pioneer Avalon was really little more than a rebadged Camry with an elevated price tag prompted by pretensions of luxury. Today’s Avalon is a very different product from that modest initial offering. Although it has retained the same “big car” dimensions for the last decade (111 in. wheelbase, 72 in. width, 197 in. length), the packaging within has transformed the Avalon from a massaged Camry into a luxurious line-topping sedan with no need to apologize for anything.

2017 Toyota Avalon Hybrid Limited

In the case of our test vehicle, there’s no need to hedge about its green entitlement either, since this sizeable 3,590 lb. quintet mover registers a planet saving 40 MPG in overall driving thanks to inclusion of Toyota’s well integrated Hybrid Synergy Drive system. The Hybrid combines a permanent magnet synchronous electric motor good for 200lb.-ft. of torque with a sophisticated (DOHC/VVT-i/ 16 Valve) 4 cylinder 2.5 liter gas engine good for 200hp. This combined output reaches the rear wheels through a constant velocity transmission (CVT). According to the government, this drivetrain produces an average yearly fuel cost saving of $2,500 compared to the MPG rating of a comparable gas-only vehicle. The EPA also allows you to brag that your Hybrid Avalon posts a 9/10 on the “fuel economy and greenhouse gas rating scale,” and an 8/10 on the “smog rating” scale.

2017 Toyota Avalon Hybrid Limited

Of course, you will pay a premium for this car’s complicated Hybrid propulsion unit. The first up-charge comes at purchase time, because choosing a Synergy Drive Avalon propels the base price to $42,550. The gas powered Avalon range starts at just $34,000, so you’re definitely tipping the high end of this model’s pay scale. However, there is that $2,500 savings in fuel costs to consider, so you should come out better than even if you keep your Hybrid Avalon for at least 3 years while driving it roughly 12,000 miles per year. But what kind of a driving experience does the Hybrid provide, aside from its proclivity for efficiency? Simply put, this Avalon will not ignite the smoldering embers in an enthusiast’s breast. The problem derives from the Hybrid’s compromised power-to-weight (P/W) ratio. With just 200hp to propel 3,590 pounds of sedan, the Hybrid posts a P/W ratio of 17.95lbs./hp. Compare that to the gas powered, 268hp, V6 Avalon’s P/W ratio of just 13.39 and you’ll understand why the Hybrid takes its time reaching freeway speed from a stop.

2017 Toyota Avalon Hybrid Limited

The good news here is that this gives you even more time to enjoy the many amenities Toyota has baked into the latest Avalon interior. You will not be disappointed in the level of attention to detail here. Both front and rear seats are exceptionally comfortable. Since this sedan’s modestly proportioned tires (215/55R17 Michelin Primacy MXV4) and softly sprung suspension generate light side loads on curvy roads, the seats require no side bolster support. This allows very easy ingress/exit. The seat design emulates a Barca-Lounger style chair with relatively flat cushions that feel cushy and inviting. Both front seats are fitted with separate console mounted controls for heat and ventilation. For a dash design predicated on hard touch points rather than knobs or buttons, the Avalon’s layout is relatively successful. But hard touch adjustment surfaces have their drawbacks. For example, if you seek to adjust cabin temperature, you must first visually locate the HVAC slide scale for your side of the interior, then position your finger over the up (red) or down (blue) arrow, and then administer a jab. This push is acknowledged by a corresponding chirp. While this added design complexity might make cell phone addicts happy, it’s still not as rewarding to operate as a simple dial control.

2017 Toyota Avalon Hybrid Limited

The Avalon’s JBL Audio system deserves a special note of praise. The 7 inch touchscreen on the dash operates not only the 11 speaker JBL entertainment unit, but Toyota’s Entune App suite and standard Navigation System as well. The JBL’s bass output was truly remarkable, and once we dialed in our preferences to the SXM satellite radio (3 month free trial included), we enjoyed a solid week of our favorite tunes at a dauntingly booming volume level. But that kind of enjoyment is definitely the Hybrid Avalon’s strong suit. This is a large family car designed for covering long and boring stretches of interstate while keeping you entertained, comfortable, and virtually immune from the need to stop and refill the Avalon’s 17 gallon gas tank.

2017 Toyota Avalon Hybrid Limited

2017 Toyota Avalon Hybrid Limited

  • Engine: 2.5 liter inline 4, DOHC, VVT-i, 16 Valves + Electric Motor
  • Horsepower: 200hp
  • Torque: 199lb.-ft. electric motor
  • Fuel Consumption: 40MPG City/39 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $43,639
  • Star Rating: 8 out of 10 Stars

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2017 Toyota Prius Prime Advanced Review

Thursday February 9th, 2017 at 4:22 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

2017 Toyota Prius Price Advanced

By David Colman

Hypes: Spacey Design, Comfortable Cabin
Gripes: Poor Brake Feel

Toyota has been busy supplementing the Prius line with new versions dedicated to extra space (Prius V), affordability (Prius c), and now, a plug-in version first distributed in fall of 2016 as a 2017 model. This latest entry in the hybrid class, named Prius Prime, looks like a space ship compared to previous Prius designs. Climb into this capsule and you feel like you should be wearing a zero gravity outfit. The conventional dashboard in front of the driver is entirely absent. Instead, you stare at an upholstered ledge behind the steering wheel where the instruments normally reside. The monitor function has been moved to a horizontal panel located just beneath the center of the windshield. Here you will find a huge type-face digital speedometer readout, accompanied by a variety of mode operation displays which you can toggle through via a steering wheel mounted control.

2017 Toyota Prius Price Advanced

Below this information panel in the Advanced version of the Prius Prime lies a tall, centrally located vertical screen. This aluminum trimmed unit contains a very easy to read 11.6 inch HD Multimedia display panel that is particularly effective in Navigation mode. This screen also provides oversight of most HVAC settings, which are splayed across the lower segment of the panel. Climate control information can be difficult to locate while driving, because the panel contains so much other media and mapping information that the display looks like a TV tuned to CNN.

2017 Toyota Prius Price Advanced

We spent a mostly storm-fraught winter week driving the Prime in very adverse conditions. Since it was really too wet to utilize the plug-in feature safely, we expended the car’s 25 mile electric range in short order, then continued to drive it on gas power alone for the remainder of the week. Despite many trips around the Bay Area, we never managed to dislodge the fuel level needle below the 3/4 mark because even in “gasoline only” mode, the Prime racks up an incredible 54MPG. If you utilize the electric recharge feature and drive mostly in electric mode, the Prime will reward you with an astounding 133MPGe in combined electric/gas operation. Toyota estimates that a full recharge of the Prime’s battery at 240 volts will take just 2 hours of plug-in time, which makes it perfect for a fuel-free commute to work provided you can access a 240 volt plug at each end of the trip.

2017 Toyota Prius Price Advanced

While the overall interior design of the Prime will excite cell phone admirers everywhere, the same can’t be said for the driving experience of this newest Prius. That’s because the car’s handling is hobbled by the MPG-generated need to use ultra low rolling resistance tires. In this case, the Toyo Nano Energy rubber is hard to a fault. Their small size and tall sidewalls (195/65R15) exacerbate the problem. Size-wise, the Toyo fitment is more suited to a vehicle from 1970 than 2017. Our test Prius was fitted with extra cost ($899) alloy wheels which looked intriguing, with 20 spokes shining at each corner. But these optional wheels still measured a paltry 15 inches in diameter. The diminutive rollers also subvert braking performance. We experienced premature lock-up even when full pedal pressure was not applied. Since the Prime enjoys independent front suspension and sophisticated double wishbone rear suspension, all the basic ingredients are present for a fine handling package – if you decide to upgrade the wheel/tire package with aftermarket equipment.

2017 Toyota Prius Price Advanced

Toyota has lavished this top Prius with a bevy of special features that make it well worth its $33,100 base price. Standard heated seats and steering wheel do a lot to increase inclement weather comfort level. Rain-sensing wipers are a boon. Push-button start and remote entry ease your burden. Quad LED headlights and crescent shaped accent lights not only endow the nose with an unforgettable smile, but really blaze away the dark. The fluted “dual-wave” rear window, mounted in a lightweight, carbon reinforced polymer hatch, distinguishes the tail from anything else on the road. However, in heavy rain we discovered that the valley between the dual flutes accumulates water, and due to this design, a rear wiper is unavailable.

2017 Toyota Prius Price Advanced

Clearly, the Prius Prime prioritizes efficiency of operation over any other ownership consideration. It provides a comfortable, safe, extravagantly presented tableau for environmentalists who prize, above all else, this vehicle’s EPA rating of 10 on a 1-10 scale for “Fuel Economy and Greenhouse Gas Rating.”

2017 Toyota Prius Prime Advanced

  • Engine: 1.8 liter inline 4 cylinder + electric motor
  • Horsepower: 121hp
  • Torque: N/A
  • Fuel Consumption: 54MPG gasoline/133MPGe gasoline+ electric
  • Price as Tested: $36,305
  • Star Rating: 7.5 out of 10 Stars

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2017 Toyota Corolla 50th Anniversary Special Edition Review

Monday January 23rd, 2017 at 1:11 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

2017 Toyota Corolla 50th Anniversary Special Edition

By David Colman

Hypes: Tasty 50th Trim Level
Gripes: Desperately Needs Another 20hp

Lyndon Johnson was our President. Vietnam ground forever on. Bob Dylan had yet to revisit Highway 61. It was 50 years ago that Toyota imported the first Corolla sedan to the USA. From the beginning, this light weight sub compact four door was cheap to run, cheap to buy and fun to drive. It is still all of that and much more. In honor of five decades of continuous improvement of that winning original recipe, Toyota celebrates the Corolla’s unprecedented longevity with a tastefully appointed 50th Anniversary Special Edition. This package includes the following amenities: 17 inch machined alloy wheels with dark grey inserts, fitted with 215/45R17 Firestone FR740 radial tires; SofTex trimmed sports seats with black cherry premium fabric inserts and stitching; Leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio and hands-free controls and black cherry stitching; Black cherry stitching on dash and door accents; 50th Anniversary trunk badge and Special Edition floor mats.

2017 Toyota Corolla 50th Anniversary Special Edition

So the 50th anniversary Corolla is really quite the bowl of dark cherries. In fact, the red-accented interior treatment is exceptionally tasteful. The stitching, the fabric seat inserts, even the embroidered mats are so carefully coordinated that this special Corolla makes an unforgettably positive impression. Best of all are the front seats, which are perfectly contoured to retain you in place with surpassing comfort and support. The richness of the interior belies the special Corolla’s modest base price of $21,900. Our test vehicle enjoyed a smattering of extras (power tilt/slide moonroof $850; illuminated door sills $309;paint protection film $395) that brought the delivered price to $24,497. This much car for this little investment perpetuates the Corolla legend of bullet-proof affordability and value.

2017 Toyota Corolla 50th Anniversary Special Edition

Another hallmark of the brand is its fuel frugality. Rated at 31MPG in overall driving, the Corolla is good for 35MPG on the highway. That puts it in the 70th percentile of all vehicles tested by the EPA. The Corolla’s average fuel cost of $1,200 is $1,000 less than the average sedan tested. There is, however, a price to pay in performance for this exceptional economy. With an output of just 132hp and a curb weight of 2,900 pounds, the Corolla posts a power-to-weight ratio of 22 pounds for each horsepower. This ratio dictates that the Corolla will be one of the slowest new cars on the road, with a 0-60mph time of about 10 seconds. You can improve the overall response of this engine by coupling it to an available 6 speed manual gearbox. Our test sample utilized a droning CVT unit which is equipped with steering wheel paddles to help modulate engine rpm range. While the paddles do a fair imitation of mimicking a gear-based transmission, nothing beats the flexibility afforded by six real gears in a manual gearbox.

2017 Toyota Corolla 50th Anniversary Special Edition

Handling of the Corolla is crisp and pleasurable. The Firestones track well, the car exhibits little body roll, and the diminutive size of this package makes for responsive and satisfying canyon bashing. The 50th Anniversary model is equipped with disc brakes at all four corners, unlike the base Corolla which uses rear drum brakes. For 2017, Toyota has upgraded the Corolla’s specification sheet to include as standard the full suite of Toyota Safety Sense precautions: Pre-collision system with pedestrian recognition, dynamic radar cruise control, lane departure alert with steering assist, plus the usual traction and braking overrides. In other words, the Corolla is a vehicle you could bequeath to a teen or an elder with full confidence. Because of its underpowered dynamic, the Corolla is slow to get into trouble, and full of systems designed to give you fair warning once you do reach the danger zone.

2017 Toyota Corolla 50th Anniversary Special Edition

If you stop and think about all the Corolla’s competitors that have come and gone in the last 50 years, you’ll begin to understand this model’s amazing longevity. The 50th Anniversary edition is the best looking, most comfortable, most fully appointed Corolla to date. It’s good enough to redefine the concept of basic transportation.

Toyota Corolla 50th Anniversary Special Edition

  • Engine: 1.8 liter inline 4, DOHC, 16 Valves, Dual VVT-i
  • Horsepower: 132hp@6000rpm
  • Torque: 128lb.-ft.@2800rpm
  • Fuel Consumption: 28MPG City/35 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $24,497
  • Star Rating: 8.5 out of 10 Stars

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2016 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited Review

Friday October 21st, 2016 at 12:1010 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

2016 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited

By David Colman

Hypes: STakes Work to Drain the Tank
Gripes: Needs Pneumatic Hood Struts

Call this one the ‘Hybridlander.’ At $50,385, it’s right at the top of the model’s price range. Sure, you can buy a stripper ‘Lowlander’ with a 2.7 liter 4 cylinder 185hp engine for an entry level price of $29,665. But for sheer practicality, performance, comfort and travel range, you can’t beat the line-topping Hybrid. Almost unheard of in today’s option-sodden market, our test Toyota did not boast a single extra price package. Why? Because it comes delivered only one way: Fully Equipped.

2016 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited

The standard issue abundance starts under the hood, where you’ll discover Toyota’s time tested 3.5 liter V6, featuring double overhead cams and variable intake valve timing. This cornerstone gas engine is augmented by a pair of electric motors, one front, one rear, which supply instant torque when you stomp the accelerator. Combined, all this technology bumps total powertrain output to 280hp, 10 more hp than the V6 alone can generate. So good is the 248 lb.-ft. torque pull of this Hybrid that the CVT transmission never hunts aimlessly for optimal performance. The Hybrid Highlander is one of the few power trains that compliment the CVT’s seamless behavior rather than exposing its sometimes annoying inadequacies.

The only problem you’re likely to encounter in the engine department is gaining access to that department. Despite the fact that the hood is incredibly heavy and awkward to hoist, Toyota neglected to equip it with hydraulic lifts. You are thus forced to struggle with one hand to hold it high while you fiddle to insert the spindly prop rod in the correct receptacle. This charade is not at all befitting a vehicle in this price range.

2016 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited

It is, however, the only such oversight we noted in our week long test drive. The interior is fitted with seating for seven, with a third row bench seat fit for Munchkins, two captain’s chairs in the second row, and fairly palatial Lazy Boy buckets up front. All the seats look inviting thanks to the use of perforated leather. The third row bench folds flat in a 60/40 split, and the second row chairs do likewise. Although the Highlander back row seats lack the nifty electric flip feature available in comparable GM SUVs, there’s really little reason to carp here. Transformation from 7 passenger configuration to a flat floor 40.5 cubic foot cargo hold can be achieved in a matter of minutes, without the help of electric motors. The rear cargo hatch of the Highlander does enjoy such a powered lift, and you can set its altitude to any height you choose.

2016 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited

As you might expect, this pricey Toyota provides a raft of standard infotainment options, including just about any alphabet acronym you care to name. You’ll discover the following standard inclusions: AM/FM/CD/MP3/USB/AUX/HD and XMS. If all that doesn’t provide enough diversion for you and your family, may I suggest you suffer from entertainment impairment. And should you doubt the direction of your travel, standard navigation displays itself on a whopping 8 inch touchscreen. About the only complaint we could muster regarding the infotainment nexus is the small size and unsatisfying grip afforded by the radio tuning knobs. But at least Toyota has the foresight to continue supplying such archaic analog features, since most companies have discarded them in favor of digital slides that are impossible to control while driving.

2016 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited

Before you pop for a minivan, you’ll want to examine the benefits afforded by the crisply styled Highlander. It handles better than any minivan thanks to a firm suspension stance aided by Bridgestone Dueler H/L tires (245/55R19). It affords all the space you would normally covet in a van, yet does so without the visual stigma of a pack mule. True, you’ll wait in vain for Toyota to offer a built-in vacuum system in the Highlander, but really, wouldn’t a Dustbuster work just as well? And the deal sealer in this case should be the efficient Hybrid system which offers unexpected power, range and cost dividends thanks to an overall EPA rating of 28 MPG. Such parsimonious performance is most unexpected in an SUV weighing 4,490 pounds.

2016 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited

  • Engine: 3.5 liter DOHC V6 with VVT-i plus twin electric motors
  • Horsepower: 280hp
  • Torque: 248lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 27 MPG City/28 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $51,385
  • Star Rating: 8.5 out of 10 Stars

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2016 Toyota Corolla Special Edition Review

Wednesday October 12th, 2016 at 1:1010 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

2016 Toyota Corolla Special Edition

By David Colman

Hypes: Best Looking Corolla Yet, Well Equipped Technologically
Gripes: Underpowered, Cranky CVT

The Corolla doesn’t get a lot of love from car enthusiasts. Just recently, Toyota introduced a “Special Edition” of the model to commemorate the fact that 2016 marks the 50th year of production. The resultant product features 4 wheel disc brakes, shiny ebony alloy wheels, color-keyed, heated rearview mirrors, and red and aluminum trimmed interior bits that complement the car’s “Absolutely Red” exterior color. Even the black and silver seats receive special red seam welts and double rows of red stitching. But Automobile magazine was not impressed, observing, “The Special Edition model is meant to look more aggressive, which means it should be mildly more intimidating than a three-legged toothless dachshund.” Now there’s a conclusion that would make even Rodney Dangerfield cringe with anxiety.

2016 Toyota Corolla Special Edition

Honestly, the Special Edition Corolla we drove for a week hardly merits that kind of demerit. With a base price of $22,320 and an out-the door ticket of $23,520, the SE Corolla represents affordable housing for the road. Since Toyota has vowed to build just 8,000 SE models for 2016, there’s even a faint whiff of collectability to the package. Name me another limited edition econobox – for under 25 grand – offering a chance to retain significant value in the (very) long term. On top of those four wheel disc brakes, you even get paddle shifts next to the steering wheel, plus a “Sport Drive Mode” setting for “powerful acceleration and driving in mountainous regions” as the Owner’s Manual points out.

However, the Corolla’s 1.8 liter engine, bereft of turbo or supercharging, doles out a measly 140hp and 126lb.-ft. of torque. So you can play those paddles for all your worth, but they won’t provoke the Corolla into anything approximating the “powerful acceleration” promised by Sport Drive Mode. In fact we couldn’t detect any difference in performance with Sport Drive Mode engaged or disengaged. The issue here is not so much the output of the 2ZR-FAE engine, but the handicap imposed on its performance by the Continuously Variable Transmission. In addition to its propensity to drone loudly when called upon for acceleration, the CVT drive mechanism provides absolutely glacial pick-up from a dead stop.

2016 Toyota Corolla Special Edition

If you’re not frothing at the bit for a sports sedan, the Corolla SE does a respectable job of providing reliable transportation without drama. The interior is well thought out, especially if you add the $1,200 optional “EE” package. Music lovers will welcome this addition which provides an AM/FM CD player, 6 speakers, and a USB 2.0 port with iPod connectivity. Your investment also supplies a navigation system and Entune app suite, all of which will help to take your mind off the fact that a 35 year old VW Beetle just smoked you off the line at the last stop light. In a bright daytime cockpit, the instrument panel cover reflects the interior, making it impossible to read the instrument faces. Conversely, at night, the blue backlighting of the instrument dials is not only soothing but graphically clear.

2016 Toyota Corolla Special Edition

Handling of the SE Corolla is effective. Tenacious Firestone F740 all-season tires measuring 215/45R17 provide more cornering grip than you’re likely to need in daily driving. As Consumer Reports puts it, “handling is lackluster but very secure.” Translated into vehicle dynamics, security means the Corolla is designed to understeer when pushed through a turn. This front wheel drive sub-compact follows your steering wheel commands obediently until the front Firestones begin to lose grip. The rear end never threatens to slew sideways. This is the kind of predictable handling behavior Toyota counts on to save you from losing control in the middle of a turn.

2016 Toyota Corolla Special Edition

In 2013, the Corolla became the best-selling car of all time, and 2016 will see more than 43 million sold since inception in 1966. There’s no arguing with that kind of success. If you want a Special Edition Corolla to commemorate the model’s popularity, then order your 2016 SE in Black Cherry, an exterior color available only on the 2016 Corolla SE.

2016 Toyota Corolla Special Edition

  • Engine: 6.2 Liter V8 ECOTEC3
  • Horsepower: 140hp
  • Torque: 126lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 29 MPG City/37 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $23,520
  • Star Rating: 8 out of 10 Stars

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2016 Toyota Avalon Hybrid LTD Review

Wednesday August 24th, 2016 at 12:88 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

2016 Toyota Avalon Hybrid LTD

By David Colman

Hypes: Phenomenal Range, Cosseting Cockpit
Gripes: Insufficient Thrust

If you’re interested in saving 10 percent off the top, consider a Toyota Avalon instead of a Lexus ES300. Both four door luxury sedans derive from the same platform. Select the Hybrid model Avalon, and you’ll pay a base price of $41,950. The same Hybrid in the Lexus line will set you back an extra $4,000. Aside from name plate differentiation, the 2 sedans are virtually identical. Our test Avalon, with $500 extra for a “Safety Sense Package” (Pre-Collision Warning, Pedestrian Detection, Lane Departure Alert with Steering Assist, and Dynamic Radar Cruise Control) still posted a bottom line of just $43,285 (including $835 for Delivery). According to the EPA, the Hybrid Avalon will save you $3,500 in fuel costs over 5 years compared to the average new vehicle. This savings accrues from the Hybrid’s exceptional fuel consumption, which posts a combined driving mileage figure of 40 MPG. That is quite an accomplishment for a sedan weighing 3,555 pounds and capable of transporting four adults in well-furnished luxury.

2016 Toyota Avalon Hybrid LTD

However, if I were about to purchase an Avalon, I would not opt for the Hybrid, but rather select the available 3.5 liter V6, which makes 268hp compared to the Hybrid’s 200hp. Even though the electric motor of the Hybrid contributes a side order of torque, the 200hp inline four-cylinder gas engine feels anemic when you crush the throttle. Eventually, the electric boost kicks in, but even so the added thrust is late to the game and never all that strong. The Hybrid requires careful planning for passing maneuvers. To its credit, though, our test Avalon still showed a Range to Empty of 340 miles after a complete week of road testing. With a full 17-gallon fuel tank, you can expect a cruising range close to 680 miles if you run right into the reserve. When we first climbed aboard the Hybrid, the Range to Empty prediction showed 580 miles. Either way, this Avalon will cover a lot of road without much gas.

2016 Toyota Avalon Hybrid LTD

There’s little to carp about concerning the cockpit amenities of the Avalon. Both front and rear seats are fitted with perforated leather which breathes well and looks great. The front seats feature heat and ventilation devices, while the rears offer heat only. There’s a nice console for rear seat occupants that contains heating and AC controls, plus a utility socket for plugging in portable devices. There’s even a retractable rear window sun screen that confers instant dignitary status on rear seat occupants when erect.

2016 Toyota Avalon Hybrid LTD

Up front, vision is excellent in all directions thanks to tall side windows. A small sunroof is standard fitment, and thankfully, Toyota has provided large, easily grasped knobs for radio volume and station choice. The included 11 speaker JBL system provides Toyota’s “Entune” app suite as well as a navigation program. There are plenty of oddment storage compartments, which help keep the cockpit neat. At the front end of the center console lies a stealthy looking retractable door covering a “utility box” containing an SD card slot, another plug in receptacle, and a wireless charging pad for your phone. The pad is monitored by green and amber lights which keep you informed of usability status. The dash above this utility box contains a smallish 7-inch touch screen which proved difficult to read when flooded with daylight. The finger touch slide for the fan is easy to use, but like the digital right and left controls for temperature, each change of position generates an irritating beep of confirmation.

2016 Toyota Avalon Hybrid LTD

Over the years, Toyota has run the gamut on the suspension calibration of the Avalon. The original sedan handled like a tuna boat in heavy seas. When they reissued the model as a pukka sporting sedan last year, the general consensus was that the platform was too stiff and unyielding. The 2016 version covers all the handling and performance bases, with 3 settings available from buttons on the center console reading “EV Mode, Eco Mode and Sport.” According to the Owner’s Manual, the Sport setting “assists acceleration response” and is to be used “when precise handling is desirable.” We left the setting in Sport for our week with the Avalon, although we never felt particularly sporty driving this large sedan. That’s partially attributable to the meager grip afforded by the undersized (215/55R17) Michelin MXV4 Primacy tires. But if you’re in the market for a Hybrid Avalon, you’re probably not comparing it to a BMW. Rather you’re looking for an economic and comfortable family car. This one gives you the attributes of a Lexus at the price of a Toyota.

2016 Toyota Avalon Hybrid LTD

  • Engine: 2.5-liter inline 4 plus electric motor
  • Horsepower: 200hp
  • Torque: N/A
  • Fuel Consumption: 40 MPG CITY/39 MPG HIGHWAY
  • Price as Tested: $43,285
  • Star Rating: 8 out of 10 Stars

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2016 Toyota Tundra 4X4 Platinum Crewmax Review

Thursday July 21st, 2016 at 8:77 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2016 Toyota Tundra 4X4 Platinum Crewmax

By David Colman

Hypes: Ferocious Demeanor Belies Grocery Getter Usefulness
Gripes: The 38 gallon tank will cost at least $150 to fill

As luck would have it, a sizeable parking slot at Orchard Supply Hardware opened up right next to a new Toyota Tacoma Crew Cab. As I parked my Tundra, I was careful to line up its front bumper with that of the Tacoma. This is a more difficult task than you might suspect since frontal vision from the Tundra’s lofty cab makes it virtually impossible to see anything directly in front of you. Nonetheless, when I finished jockeying the big Toyota pickup into position next to its smaller brother, I hopped out to assess relative size of these Toyotas. The Tundra stretched nearly a full bed length beyond the comparatively diminutive Tacoma. For the record, the Tacoma measures 208 inches from stem to stern versus 229 inches for the Tundra. The Tundra also stands 6 inches higher and 5 inches wider. In the case of our test Tundra, its 76 inch height is further extended by installation of 20 inch alloy rims with monster truck sized 275/55R20 Bridgestone Dueler Alenza tires.

2016 Toyota Tundra 4X4 Platinum Crewmax

So grab yourself a handful of steering wheel and climb aboard this $50,275 big rig. On the passenger side, Toyota has provided a strategically placed grab handle for hoisting yourself aboard. Ensconced in the nicely furnished cab, your eyes immediately focus on the artful stitching of the diamond patterned dash and door inserts. This nifty needlework, part of the Platinum Package, looks like something you might find in a Bentley or Maserati rather than a Toyota work truck. The interior spread contains lots of such nifty touches. The driver’s seat is covered with perforated leather, and offers 12 way power adjustment. The front passenger seat offers 5 way adjustability, and both seats provide heating and cooling of cushions. A vast intra-seat storage bin allows you to bury just about any valuable object for safe travel.

2016 Toyota Tundra 4X4 Platinum Crewmax

The floor-mounted stalk controlling the 6-speed automatic transmission places a massive shift knob in your right palm. There’s never a doubt about which gear you’ve chosen with this mechanism. It’s one of the easiest vehicles to shift thanks to flawless operation of the gear selectors. Actuating the lever is a delightful operation, especially since it also allows you to perform sequential up and down shifts.

2016 Toyota Tundra 4X4 Platinum Crewmax

The hefty transmission comprises but one element in a very sophisticated driveline. 4 wheel drive is available either full or part time via a selector located on the dashboard. The Tundra boasts an electronically controlled transfer case and an automatic limited slip unit fitted with a 4.30:1 final drive ratio. That ultra-low ratio insures maximum traction for towing, a task this truck is ideally suited to perform. Toyota installs both an engine and a transmission oil cooler on the Platinum version, plus a factory receiver style tow hitch. You can engage either Tow or Haul mode from a switch on the dash. Electrics are looked after by a heavy duty battery and alternator, and Toyota pre wires trailer hookup with both 7 and 3 pin receptacles mounted on the rear valance above the bumper. But the heart of the whole trailer operation centers on the massively torquey 5.7 liter “I-FORCE” V8, which produces 381hp, and more importantly, 401lb.-ft. of torque, a rating which gives this rig a towing capacity of 9,700 pounds.

2016 Toyota Tundra 4X4 Platinum Crewmax

So, yes you can haul an Airstream, a ski boat or a race car with relative ease thanks to all the planning Toyota has done to optimize the Tundra for such a task. But during our week with this truck, we never towed a single thing. In fact, we never even loaded the 5’5″ double-walled bed (with rail caps) with so much as a bicycle. Yet the Tundra was still a delight to operate as a regular daily grocery getter. The spacious Crewmax cab makes you feel like a passenger in an airport limousine. Sightlines in traffic are commanding, and the lofty perch gives you a better sense of road position than any artificial feedback from the Blind Spot Monitors with which this Tundra is equipped. Tundra also offers Rear Cross Traffic Alert as a standard feature, and this information is essential since you can’t see what’s going on back there from your seat in the cab. The standard rear backup camera will prove very helpful in aligning a trailer hitch. Standard front and rear sonar parking sensors let you put this big bad boy to rest in any parking lot without nudging your neighbor.

2016 Toyota Tundra 4X4 Platinum Crewmax

2016 Toyota Tundra 4X4 Platinum Crewmax

  • Engine: 5.7 liter V8, DOHC 32 valve, with Dual Independent VVT-i
  • Horsepower: 381hp
  • Torque: 401lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 13 MPG City/17 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $50,275
  • Star Rating: 9 out of 10 Stars

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2016 Toyota Camry Hybrid XLE Sedan Review

Wednesday July 20th, 2016 at 11:77 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2016 Toyota Camry Hybrid XLE Sedan

By David Colman

Hypes: The Gas Gauge Never Moves Off Full
Gripes: Limp Tire Choice, Unpredictable Regenerative Brakes

As the first half of 2016 fast approaches, Toyota’s Camry remains the sales leader in the USA in the crowded mid-size sedan marketplace. What does it take for this unassuming four-door to beat such heavy hitters as Honda’s Accord, Nissan’s Altima, Hyundai’s Sonata, Ford’s Fusion and VW’s Passat? If our week in the Hybrid version of the Camry is any indication, it takes excellent fuel mileage combined with reputable dependability to persuade Americans to buy more Camrys than any other mid-size product.

2016 Toyota Camry Hybrid XLE Sedan

Of all the models in the Camry line, from the 173hp entry-level 2.5 liter LE to the 268hp 3.5 liter XLE, only one garners top honors in the fuel efficiency sweepstakes. That would be the Hybrid XLE we drove. In a solid week of testing, including numerous short hops and long distance cruises, the fuel level never once dipped below the 3/4 full mark because the Hybrid scores 38 MPG on the highway and an even better 40 MPG around town. This is truly amazing for a fully appointed four door that weighs more than a ton and a half. This Hybrid rates 9 out of 10 on the EPA’s “Fuel Economy and Greenhouse Gas Rating” and it does so without the inconvenience of a plug-in receptacle. You can hold your green head high with this vehicle and never once suffer the range inhibition so common to owners of fully electric vehicles.

The acceleration of the Hybrid is surprisingly strong with good torque immediately on tap as the CVT transmission shuffles belts to maximize output from a standstill. The Hybrid uses a 2.5 liter inline four cylinder petrol engine good for 178hp. This unit combines with an electric motor to boost total output to 200hp. The additive value of the electric motor thus adds 22hp to the 2.5 liter gas-only Camry. In practice, that 22 extra hp transforms the sedan’s performance from boring to rewarding. There was never an occasion when the Hybrid was wonting for pop.

2016 Toyota Camry Hybrid XLE Sedan

This year Toyota offers a sports handling package for the Camry called “XSE.” From all reports, it doesn’t do much for your driving enjoyment but actively diminishes ride comfort. Our Hybrid was equipped instead with the XLE trim level, which adds the following niceties: Entune infotainment with 7 inch touchscreen, navigation, auto on/off LED headlights, moonroof, dual-zone climate control, Qi wireless phone charging, heated front seats and leather upholstery. In addition, Toyota fitted our test sedan with a Homelink transceiver ($345), and a premium JBL audio system ($1,330). Also upping the price by $750 was an “Advanced Technology Package” which adds Dynamic Radar Cruise Control, Lane Departure Alert, and a Pre-Collision System that tightens the seat belts in advance of contact.

2016 Toyota Camry Hybrid XLE Sedan

The Camry will never qualify as a sports sedan, no matter how much Toyota stiffens the suspension with the XSE option. But you could definitely improve its handling by replacing its mediocre Bridgestone Turanza EL400 tires (215/55R17) with the 18 inch rims and higher performance rubber which Toyota makes available on the XSE model. Also available at your dealer are the splendid looking 10 spoke, 18 inch rims which Toyota bolted to the limited production (only 12,000 examples) 2016 Camry Special Edition (SE). In any event, the Camry is a workhorse, not a racehorse. But its styling update, administered in 2015, still looks fresh enough to entice more buyers into Toyota showrooms than any other manufacturer. One of the explanations for this continuing phenomenon is reliability. Consumer Reports slaps a “Recommended” check mark on the Camry model range in large measure because this sedan scores a “Much better than average” rating in the all important “New Car Prediction” category.

2016 Toyota Camry Hybrid XLE Sedan

If you’re on blood thinning medication, you’ll be relieved to know that the Camry Hybrid will never threaten to raise your blood pressure. While it won’t unduly excite you, it will also never unexpectedly disappoint you. The odds of getting stuck due to a mechanical malfunction are so remote that you can let your AAA membership lapse without so much as a pang of anxiety.

2016 Toyota Camry Hybrid XLE Sedan

  • Engine: 2.5 liter inline 4, DOHC, 16 Valves with VVT-i plus Electric Motor
  • Horsepower: 200hp
  • Torque: N/A
  • Fuel Consumption: 40 MPG City/38 MPG HIGHWAY
  • Price as Tested: $35,800
  • Star Rating: 8 out of 10 Stars

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2016 Toyota Tacoma Limited 4×4 Double Cab Review

Wednesday March 30th, 2016 at 12:33 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

2016 Toyota Tacoma Limited 4x4 Double Cab

By David Colman

Hypes: Ferocious New Look, Beefy V6 Power
Gripes: Hood Prop Hard To Operate, Unsupportive Seats

The Tacoma’s legion of young followers will love the changes Toyota has wrought with the latest version of this sturdy off-road capable sport truck. The Tacoma has come a very long way from its introductory appearance and size. Toyota debuted the Tacoma in February, 1995 as a compact pickup intended for personal rather than business use. Two four cylinder engines (142hp and 150hp) were available at the time, as well as one V6 (190hp). Muted styling and rounded edges keynoted the truck’s initial appearance.

2016 Toyota Tacoma Limited 4x4 Double Cab

Now shift to 2016. The Tacoma has grown so much in size that when we passed an original version on the highway, I could hardly believe that it too was a Tacoma. The new version absolutely towers over the original in every way. Look at the new sheetmetal for 2016, and you’ll see trace design elements from the latest Ram truck, as well as Chevy’s Colorado, and GMC’s Canyon. The Tacoma’s blunt snout looks like it could survive a Monster Truck bash without damage. Beneath the grill lies an ABS skid plate. Driving lights are embedded in protective alcoves, and headlamp jewels stand tall in the blocky fenders.

Side profile reveals that the bodywork of the truck is substantially elevated to allow generous vertical suspension travel at all four corners. This 70.6 inch height, in turn, means climbing into the cab poses something of a chore. But it’s a chore eased by a well-placed grab handle on the passenger’s side of the cab. Running boards would be useful, though detrimental to off-road clearance.

2016 Toyota Tacoma Limited 4x4 Double Cab

And make no mistake, the prime mission in life of the new Tacoma 4×4 is to promote off-road fun. To start with, Toyota has provided a windshield mount for a Hero G-Pro camera. They’ve fitted the polished alloy rims with Michelin’s best outback rubber, 265/60R18 LTX MS tires. On pavement, these tires provide a springy ride thanks to their tall 60 series sidewalls. But when you tackle unpaved surfaces, they come into their own. In fact, the entire suspension system of this Tacoma is calibrated for unimproved driving conditions. Four wheel drive is available on demand, and offers two different speed ranges. An electrically controlled transfer case and automatic limited slip differential insure that even the most daunting off-road travails will be dealt with successfully. Toyota fitted our test Tacoma with its most powerful available engine, a 3.5 liter V6 which makes 278hp and 265 lb.-ft. of torque. If you don’t require this much motor, you can order a 159hp 2.7 liter inline 4. But really, for a Double Cab model weighing in at 4,525 pounds, the V6 is the only way to go. It even posts a respectable EPA fuel economy rating of 20 MPG in overall driving.

2016 Toyota Tacoma Limited 4x4 Double Cab

Although the Tacoma’s jacked up Hitachi shocks will never let you down, the interior of this truck is a bit disappointing. The front seats, although heated, are flat and hard, fitted with manual adjustment paddles for both fore-aft travel and backrest inclination. The steering wheel lacks telescopic adjustment, and we found the air vents blowing cool air even when the fan was shut off. Our test vehicle included an optional $650 hard plastic folding tonneau cover for the truck bed. Years ago, this was an item I made for myself out of plywood to protect goods stored in the bed of a pickup going cross country. Now all you have to do is pay $650 and Toyota takes care of the rest. The Double Cab’s rear seats can be folded up for interior storage, and Toyota provides a couple of side lockers inside the pickup bed. The tailgate of the Tacoma is hydraulically actuated so once you unlatch it, the gate glides open without the usual clatter. However, we found it odd that when you lock the truck with the keyfob remote, the tailgate remains unlocked until you physically turn the key in the lock. Some thefts might occur before owners discover this idiosyncrasy.

2016 Toyota Tacoma Limited 4x4 Double Cab

The new Tacoma has strong competition in the marketplace from Chevy’s Colorado and GMC’s Canyon. Toyota’s answer to them is this attractive redo of the Tacoma for 2016. This truck is fast enough to cut a 15.4 second quarter mile at 91mph when equipped with the V6 engine. If you pay an extra $650, Toyota will add a Class IV towing hitch, an engine oil cooler, a power steering cooler, a 130 amp alternator, and 5 and 7 pin connectors for trailer lights and brakes. Even if you don’t tow so much as a dinghy, this package is worth its weight in gold. If you do plan to tow a trailer, your weight limit is a whopping 11,330 pounds.

2016 Toyota Tacoma Limited 4×4 Double Cab

  • Engine: 3.5 liter V6 with Dual VVT-i
  • Horsepower: 278@6000rpm
  • Torque: 265lb.-ft.@4600rpm
  • Fuel Consumption: 18 MPG City/23 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $40,020
  • Star Rating: 8.5 out of 10 Stars

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2016 Toyota Land Cruiser Review

Monday March 28th, 2016 at 12:33 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

2016 Toyota Land Cruiser

By David Colman

Hypes: Goes Where Others Fear To Tread
Gripes: Ugly Fuel Numbers

Understated elegance is the byword to describe Toyota’s most expensive product, the $84,820 Land Cruiser. Although a mild 2016 restyle of the Cruiser’s front end and double bubbled hood imbue it with a newfound chrome snarl, you won’t be buying this legendary SUV for its ingratiating appearance. Compare the Land Cruiser to such like-priced competitors as Porsche’s Cayenne, BMW’s X5, GMC’s Denali and Cadillac’s Escalade, and the sedate looks of the Cruiser lose traction to these much more stylish vehicles. Where the Toyota gains traction over all of them, however, is when the going gets rough in real world driving. In off-road circumstances, there isn’t another SUV capable of outrunning this Toyota. The list of its attributes for such usage is seemingly endless.

2016 Toyota Land Cruiser

Unlike so many cross country pretenders, the Land Cruiser has a Torsen locking center differential, an increasing rarity in this market segment today. That differential feeds power as needed to all four wheels at all times, and can be locked for maximum traction in adverse conditions. Fat control knobs on the center console permit easy selection of power application for all varieties of terrain. A “Crawl” choice is available for traversing rugged outback trails, and “Hill-Start Assist” insures momentum resumption over mountainous terrain. Sizeable (285/60R18) Dunlop Grandtrek AT 23 tires cope well with both pavement and dirt. Toyota’s “Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System” keeps the passenger platform stable while allowing the big Dunlops to surmount any obstacles. There’s even a new “Turn-Assist” feature to ease acute off-road directional changes.

2016 Toyota Land Cruiser

But all this sophisticated technology remains hidden to the casual observer. Inside the Cruiser’s elevated flying bridge of a cabin, you are treated to every luxury amenity imaginable. This year, Toyota has swathed the interior seating surfaces in an ultra-soft material called “Terra Semi-Aniline Perforated Leather.” This exquisite tanning imparts a handsome matte look to the leather, and a glove softness that will take the sting out of the Cruiser’s astronomical purchase price. The interior is configured to seat 8 adults in remarkable comfort. The third row of seats fold sideways against the rear fender wells when not in use, leaving a huge 43 cubic foot expanse of storage space for cargo as bulky as two bicycles. The second row seats offer heating, and full AC/Heat controls located in the back of the front row center console. New for 2016 is a pair of standard 11 inch viewing screens located behind the front seat headrests. After some experimentation, these proved a mixed blessing. There is no DVD slot in the rear console, so you must insert viewing matter up front in the dash slot. The remote control stashed in the back seat arm rest worked sporadically, and the sound level for the rear seat cordless headphones proved too low for me to hear.

2016 Toyota Land Cruiser

Sort these minor issues out, however, and you have a theater on wheels for a family of 8. The interior of the Cruiser is spacious, airy and even equipped with a sizeable sunroof to shed outdoor light on those sumptuous seating surfaces. New for 2016 are a bevy of safety assistances that have been offered for years on other Toyotas, but not the Land Cruiser. Standard issue now are Pre-Collision Braking with Pedestrian Detection, Lane Departure Alert, Automatic High Beam activation, Rear Cross Traffic Alert, and Dynamic Radar Cruise Control. Most of these systems work flawlessly to ease your job as driver of this large and rather unwieldy vehicle. Despite offering 381hp and 401lb.-ft. of torque, the Land Cruiser never lets you forget it weighs nearly three tons (curb weight: 5,800 pounds). But to its utility credit, it will tow a trailer weighing 8,500 pounds. A new 8 speed automatic transmission can be manually manipulated by slotting the console stick into the gate reserved for specific ratio selection. Unfortunately, Toyota does not provide shift paddles next to the steering wheel for this function.

2016 Toyota Land Cruiser

Only 2,700 of these luxurious and complex terrain dominators will make their way into new owners’ hands this year. So you won’t see many examples of this flagship of the Toyota fleet. Rest assured that the Land Cruiser offers enough technological wizardry, attention to luxury, and utter practicality to make it the SUV of choice for a very select few.

2016 Toyota Land Cruiser

2016 Toyota Land Cruiser

  • Engine: 5.7 liter V8, DOHC< 32 Valve, VVT-i
  • Horsepower: 381hp
  • Torque: 401lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 13 MPG City/18 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $84,820
  • Star Rating: 10 out of 10 Stars

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