2018 Toyota Camry Hybrid SE Review

Friday January 5th, 2018 at 11:11 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2018 Toyota Camry Hybrid SE

Hypes: Improve Looks, Packaging, Performance
Gripes: Poor Regenerative Brake Pedal Feel

Toyota’s official designation for the color of this week’s 2018 Camry is “Ruby Flare Pearl.” It costs $395 extra and is worth every penny. But since when is Ruby Flare Pearl a name you’d associate with a Camry? Since now. Toyota has finally begun to veer off the straight and narrow path that defined the plain vanilla Camry franchise for so long. Our candy apple red Camry Hybrid colors an all new design for 2018, the first to use the TNGA platform that lowers roofline and driving position by a full inch. This architectural revision signifies a willingness to rethink, redirect and reinvigorate the staid Camry model line.

2018 Toyota Camry Hybrid SE

Camry’s reduced height is hardly the only noticeable change for 2018. Both the nose and tail have been radically re-proportioned, with newly incised slits and gills up front, and nips and tucks to the rear to eliminate the outgoing model’s hefty butt. The all new Camry is so much better looking than the model it replaces that you wouldn’t know it was even a distant cousin to Toyota’s long line of frumpy looking sedans . Setting off the scintillating new fender flares are a set of sharp aluminum wheels, 18 inches in diameter, finished in black but set off by the high gloss silver of machined facings. Hankook Kinergy GT tires (235/45R18) supply the show quality rims with excellent all weather grip. They promise long life too, with a tread wear (TW) rating of 580.

2018 Toyota Camry Hybrid SE

Inside the cabin, the changeover is even more apparent. The interior of our up-market SE level four-door sported a sweeping, lavishly appointed dashboard, set off by discreet hammered aluminum trim. The plush seats, upholstered in cream colored SofTex fabric, looked dramatic, with bold horizontal ribs defining the actual seating surfaces. Belying this car’s base MSRP of $29,500, the driver’s seat features standard 8 way power adjustments plus power lumbar, and 6 way manual adjustment for the passenger. In the center of the dash sits a 4.2 inch multi-informational display. This screen is well integrated to the confines of the available space, and avoids the drive-in movie screen effect so common to dashboards today. It’s easy to read in all lighting, and a snap to operate when setting or selecting favorites on SiriusXM radio. To Toyota’s everlasting credit, all HVAC controls are operable independently of the screen, with separate heat, blower and A/C buttons that leave your eyes focused on the road, not the dash.

2018 Toyota Camry Hybrid SE

The big news for Hybrid fans in 2018 is the complete revision of this system’s battery and packaging. An all new, smaller Lithium-Ion battery pack now sits beneath the back seat, allowing the sizeable 15 cubic foot Hybrid trunk to offer a flat floor for the first time. That’s a net gain of 2.0 cubic feet in storage space this year. Even better, the Hybrid offers a 60/40 split rear bench seat for the first time ever. But the most important aspect of the latest Hybrid is not its appearance, its wheels, its tires or its interior. Rather, this is the first Camry Hybrid I have driven that is fast enough to justify calling it a legitimate sports sedan. This SE is genuinely quick in a straight line. It will rocket from 40mph to 80mph on the freeway so fast you will disbelieve your speedometer. This year, Toyota has coupled a very sophisticated 2.5 liter, 4 cylinder, 176hp gasoline engine to the revised 118hp electric motor. When prodded in unison, this duo provides 208 combined horsepower, and more importantly, 302lb.-ft. of torque. That’s enough output to rocket this Camry from the slow lane to the fast lane in an eye blink. It’s also the first sedan I have driven that is perfectly suited to the rheostat like power management of a CVT transmission. Although Toyota provides floor mounted manual shifting through faux “gears” as well as steering wheel adjacent paddles, neither is necessary to harness the turbine-like performance of the new “Dynamic Force” engine. On all counts, then the 2018 Camry marks a huge improvement over the Hybrid it replaces. At $33,695 including optional moonroof ($900), uprated audio package ($1,080) and Blind Spot Monitor with Rear Cross Traffic Alert ($600), this drastically revised sedan makes a strong case for choosing it over any cumbersome SUV.

2018 Toyota Camry Hybrid SE

2018 Toyota Camry Hybrid SE

  • Engine: 2.5 liter inline 4, DOHC, 16 valve, dual injection and VVT-i; Electric Motor, permanent magnet, AC synchronous
  • Horsepower: Gas Engine – 176hp@5700rpm; Electric Motor – 118h
  • Torque: Gas Engine – 163lb.-ft.@5200rpm; Electric Motor – 149lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 1MPG City/53MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $33,695
  • Star Rating: 8.5 out of 10 Stars

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2018 Toyota C-HR XLE Review

Friday December 15th, 2017 at 1:1212 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

2018 Toyota C-HR XLE

Hypes: Cool Looks Inside and Out
Gripes: Needs a Turbo

While the Ringling Brothers circus may be dead, there is, as yet, no shortage of clown cars available to purchase. Nissan started the big top proceedings with the polarizing Juke, a car guaranteed to put a smile on your face if not greasepaint on your lips. BMW followed with their all electric I3, which resembles something you might find in the discount bin at Toys R Us. Now, along comes Toyota with their new-for-2018 C-HR, an idiosyncratic car that looks like the love child of a Juke and an I3. This uniquely outrageous looking vehicle, originally intended to be part of Toyota’s now defunct Scion product line, is named C-HR because it’s a Coupe-High Rider. Thanks to our test model’s “Iceberg/Radiant Green” exterior paint, abetted by a $500 optional “R-Code Color Keyed Body with White Roof,” this test C-HR pushed the boundaries of good taste to the absolute limit of propriety. In a boring automotive world populated by black, silver and white vehicles, you will never lose sight of this radioactive green C-HR in any parking lot. It put a smile on the face of everyone who saw it, me included, because it provides just the touch of humor you would expect from the best dressed clown at the circus.

2018 Toyota C-HR XLE

Out on the broken pavement of West Marin County’s grievously untended Coast Route 1, the diminutive C-HR tames every bronco bounce and knee jerk recoil with marvelous dexterity. Tall ride height is the order of the day if a vehicle is to pass muster out here, and the C-HR does tall particularly well, with its height of 62 inches. That’s 5 full inches taller than Toyota’s own Corolla. The C-HR is also short enough, at 171 inches, to maneuver through mogul fields with an adroitness that eludes the much longer, 183 inch Corolla. Contributing an added dash of adhesion are the C-HR’s premium grade Dunlop SP Sport 2000 tires (225/50R18), which adhere with resolute grip thanks to their soft Tread Wear rating of 340. This Toyota’s advanced fully independent suspension system (MacPherson Strut up front, Double Wishbone in the rear) sucks up bumps and imperfections like an Olympic champion blistering KT-22 at Squaw Valley. The C-HR’s relatively light weight (3,290lbs.) also contributes to its handling agility.

2018 Toyota C-HR XLE

Unfortunately, Toyota has burdened this otherwise lively product with an underproductive motor and drive train. Prop the hood up and you’ll discover a sideways mounted 2.0 liter inline 4 with double overhead cams, 16 valves and electronic fuel injection. With no boost from turbocharging, however, this unit produces just 144hp which it sends through only the front wheels via a CVT transmission. From zero to 2,000rpm, this unit is dead on its feet. You will quickly reconcile yourself to following even the slowest road blocking traffic without attempting to make a pass. So if speed is on your short list of attributes, look elsewhere for your kicks. On the other hand, if you’re looking for decent mileage (29 MPG Overall), and storage room that belies tidy dimensions, you might be willing to forego thrust for practicality. As if to underline the point, out C-HR even sported $299 optional removable cross bars to turn the standard XLE trim level roof rails into a proper rooftop storage platform.

2018 Toyota C-HR XLE

The interior treatment of this Toyota is sportive, comfortable and easy to live with. The supportive seats are upholstered in a durable fabric. The dash utilizes a combination of finishes dominated by piano black trim around the 7 inch touchscreen display. Toyota has provides separate button controls for temperature and fan speed, so you never have to go fishing through menu screens to control the car’s basic respiration functions. Back seat legroom is tight, so if you’re planning on traveling as a foursome, front seat occupants will need to cooperate in the endeavor by sliding their seats forward.

2018 Toyota C-HR XLE

Toyota stylists have tilled some new design soil with their roofliner in this vehicle. Above each front seat passenger, a pyramided tent-like structure gives the headliner a fresh new look. Diamond pleated door panels echo the tidy roof design. Even the instrument pointers for the speedometer and tachometer look distinguished, with delicate cream colored, bifurcated needles pointing the way. The inside of the C-HR is in every way just as inventive and attention getting as the exterior. It’s the perfect starter vehicle for the family with a proclivity for extroversion.

2018 Toyota C-HR XLE

2018 Toyota C-HR XLE

  • Engine: 2.0 liter inline 4 cylinder, fuel injected, DOHC, 16 valves
  • Horsepower: 144hp
  • Torque: 139lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 27MPG City/31MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $24,969
  • Star Rating: 8 out of 10 Stars

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2017 Toyota Highlander SE V6 AWD Review

Wednesday November 22nd, 2017 at 9:1111 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2017 Toyota Highlander SE V6 AWD

Hypes: A Great Pack Horse, Modestly Priced
Gripes: Cumbersome Handling

For 2017, Toyota undertook a major overhaul of the Highlander. The most visible change is to the front sheet metal. Toyota stylists replaced the previous version’s small one piece grill with a much larger triangular two-piece intake. The enlarged grill endows the Highlander with a more imposing face. Side slots housing fog lights are reoriented from horizontal to vertical, further emphasizing the height of the new grill. Behind the grill lies a newly revamped 3.5 liter V6 which boasts direct fuel injection rather than port injection. This engine produces 295hp and 263 lb.-ft. of torque. Also new for 2017 is an 8-speed automatic transmission (up from the previous model’s 6-speed). The two extra gear sets improve fuel economy by reducing engine rpm at highway cruising speed. Where the previous Highlander returned 18 MPG/24 MPG, the new V6/8-Speed combo yields 20 MPG in city driving, 26 MPG in highway mode and 22 MPG overall.

2017 Toyota Highlander SE V6 AWD

One reason for the Highlander’s continued popularity is its utilitarian configuration. This is a truly useful 3 row seating design. If you chose a second row bench, you can carry 7 people in the Highlander’s sizeable interior. Our test model , however, sported very comfortable second row Captain’s Chairs which reduced total seating to 6. These second row chairs slide fore and aft to permit easy access to the third row seats. Our test vehicle also included an $1,810 rear seat BlueRay DVD entertainment system. This unit provides headphones as well as a remote control box. Note that when the DVD player is swung down for use, its screen blocks rear view mirror vision for the driver.

2017 Toyota Highlander SE V6 AWD

If you flip and fold all seats down – a relatively painless procedure – you generate 40.5 cubic feet of interior storage space. In anticipation of a trip to Home Depot for some wood, I placed a tape measure inside the Highlander and discovered enough front-to-rear interior space to accommodate a 7′ long piece of timber. If you need to transport longer material, you can run with the tailgate down, or simply flip the rear tailgate window up while leaving the lower door upright. The Highlander is also tow rated at 5,000 pounds, so its utilitarian portfolio is quite complete.

2017 Toyota Highlander SE V6 AWD

About the only thing this Toyota fails to provide is fun behind the wheel. Although the Highlander’s window sticker claims that this crossover is fitted with a “Sport Tuned” suspension, the Highlander is just too heavy (4,570 lbs.) and too big (191 in. long) to generate anything resembling sporting performance. To its credit, Toyota provides rather hefty contact patches at the road, with 245/55R19 Bridgestone Dueler H/L tires at each corner. But the suspension is rather flaccid as it pitches from side to side through switchbacks. The 295hp engine, with its middling power to weight ratio of 15.5lb/hp, is hard pressed to provide significant acceleration, even when you hammer the throttle with that 8-speed transmission locked in second or third gear for maximum thrust.

2017 Toyota Highlander SE V6 AWD

Also new for 2017 is the inclusion of Toyota’s Safety Sense P suite of warning devices and collision avoidance mechanisms. Some of the highlights include pre-collision system with pedestrian detection, lane departure alert (LDA) with steering assist, dynamic cruise control and “automatic high beams.” I turned off the LDA, as I tend to pay close attention to adjacent traffic. The radar cruise control operated smoothly and unobtrusively, offering 3 different car length settings for following distance. Even the one-car-length setting, however, dropped the Highlander at least 3 car lengths behind the nearest car or truck, which provided other drivers the unwelcome opportunity to chop in front of the Highlander.

2017 Toyota Highlander SE V6 AWD

But the automatic high beams proved perplexing. On my first night drive in this Toyota, I found I could not activate the high beams when I needed them. I later discovered that a dash button had been depressed to activate the automatic high beam feature, which “uses a camera sensor behind the upper portion of the windshield to assess the brightness of the lights of vehicles ahead, streetlights, etc., and automatically turns the high beams on and off as necessary.” This so-called “Safety Sense” feature, which countermanded my own decision making process, should be permanently deleted. In the big picture of Highlander ownership, though, it’s a minor speed bump on a long fast stretch of highway.

2017 Toyota Highlander SE V6 AWD

  • Engine: 3.5 liter DOHC V6 D4S engine with Dual VVT-i
  • Horsepower: 290hp
  • Torque: 268lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 20 MPG City/26 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $43,900
  • Star Rating: 8.5 out of 10 Stars

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2017 Toyota Tacoma TRD PRO 4×4 DBL. Cab Review

Saturday October 21st, 2017 at 2:1010 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

2017 Toyota Tacoma TRD PRO 4x4 DBL. Cab

Hypes: Rugged Old School Pickup
Gripes: Needs Hydraulic Hood Prop

Opt for the TRD PRO version of the Tacoma compact pickup and you’ve got a military spec off-roader that will out-butch everything but a monster truck. Toyota Racing Development (TRD) is hardly a newcomer to assaults on Baja, or the urban jungle for that matter. TRD trucks have been running and winning the Baja 1000 for decades, and the breeding that goes into making the Tacoma competitive there shows everywhere you look here. First, there’s the truck’s sky high ride height which necessitates a healthy jump step to insert yourself in the cab. Next, there’s the no-nonsense look of this “Cement” colored brute. With its monochromatic grey paint highlighted only by “TRD PRO” informational placards on the flanks, this Tacoma stands ready to battle the toughest terrain you can throw at it.

2017 Toyota Tacoma TRD PRO 4x4 DBL. Cab

To that end, Toyota equips it with black alloy rims highlighted by red TRD center caps. On each rim you will find a 265/70R 16 Goodyear Wrangler off-road tire with more writing on its sidewall than a Dead Sea Scroll. The most pertinent notice concerns the wear rating (WR) of these Kevlar-reinforced Goodyears. With a WR of 640, you can bet these tires will take a real pounding while enjoying a long tenure on your Tacoma. You can also expect them to afford less than sticky traction on hard shell pavement, since their compound lies at the rock end of the tire wear spectrum. I found this out first hand when I pitched the TRD PRO into a tight turn. The front tires lost traction, and the truck washed out in understeer. Caution is essential when driving this Tacoma on pavement. In the dirt, however, no impediment is too great for this race bred package.

2017 Toyota Tacoma TRD PRO 4x4 DBL. Cab

Up front you’ll find a bullet proof TRD branded skid plate, which is easily seen because the TRD sits so high off the ground. Also a pair of sly looking Rigid Industries LED fog lamps. Do a walk around and you can peer into all four wheel wells and admire the structural soundness of the frame rails, the immense solidity of the TRD racing shock absorbers wrapped in coil springs, and the massive size of the front anti-sway bar and its drop links. Of course all this super size componentry affords the stiffest ride you can imagine. The TRD hops and bounces like a thoroughbred stallion kicking the stall at post time. Once you get acclimated to the handling idiosyncrasies of this Tacoma, it’s really a blast to drive. Its handling is so direct and elemental that nothing cushions or decompresses the joy of driving it. What you see is very much what you get. There are few vehicles left for sale as honest and straightforward as the TRD PRO, so enjoy this breath of fresh air.

2017 Toyota Tacoma TRD PRO 4x4 DBL. Cab

Like the ride, the interior too is uncomplicated, and as useful as a work boot from Acme. The dash is delightfully straightforward in an old fashioned way. There are big fat knobs for every vital HVAC function, and a useful 7 inch touchscreen for audio and navigation override. The seats slide and tilt with manual controls, but they are thoughtfully equipped (up front) with 3-stage heaters. There’s an electrically operated center rear window at the back of the cab, should you need to carry items longer than the 6 foot bed will accommodate. The back seats also flip and fold against the front seats, so you can easily convert unused cab space into additional storage room.

2017 Toyota Tacoma TRD PRO 4x4 DBL. Cab

The 3.5 liter V6 engine, which produces 278hp, sounds off through a TRD exhaust system that issues a guttural blat when you nail the throttle. The engine has enough torque (265lb.-ft.) to tow a trailer weighing 6,400 pounds, and the TRD comes equipped with a proper receiver hitch plus all the ancillaries needed to cool the driveline when towing: Automatic Transmission Fluid cooler, Power Steering cooler, Engine Oil cooler, plus a 130 Ampere Hour alternator. 4 Wheel Drive is available either full time or part time, and Toyota supplies the TRD PRO with an electronically controlled transfer case and a limited slip differential. It’s hard to imagine an on- or off-road situation that would stymie this truck.

2017 Toyota Tacoma TRD PRO 4x4 DBL. Cab

The TRD PRO version of the Tacoma pickup looks like a Baja winner. About the only phony note to its cowboy get-up is the hood scoop which doesn’t actually vent cold air into the engine room. That’s a mighty small complaint list for a very fetching truck.

2018 Volvo XC90 T6 AWD Inscription

  • Engine: 3.5 liter V6 with Dual VVT-i and TRD Exhaust
  • Horsepower: 278hp
  • Torque: 268lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 18MPG City/23 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $45,042
  • Star Rating: 10 out of 10 Stars

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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

Posted in Expert Reviews, Feature Articles, hybrid, Toyota |Tags:, , , || No Comments »


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