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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Review: 2015 Toyota Tundra CrewMax 4×4

Wednesday November 25th, 2015 at 9:1111 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2015 Toyota Tundra CrewMax 4x4

By David Colman

Hypes: Well tailored oasis, impervious to traffic
Gripes: Hard to park, harsh ride

We spent a rewarding week touring Northern California in the $50,889 Toyota Tundra Platinum grade truck, the most expensive Tundra you can buy. Toyota offers no fewer than 41 different levels of Tundra, starting with the least expensive SR double cab ($28,410) and ending with the model we tested. Platinum grade brings you really attractive diagonally tufted leather trimmed upholstery on all seating surfaces, as well as tufted dashboard and door panels. These artfully stitched designs conferred a richness to the Tundra’s otherwise sober black interior. In addition to the needlework, this top level truck includes a Moonroof, integrated turn signal mirrors with power folding feature, power front seats with adjustable lumbar support, and memory positions for seat and mirror location. The CrewMax configuration, with its four full size doors, allows maximum use of the expansive cabin. Although we never had occasion to transport anything in this truck’s spacious 5.5 foot long bed (double walled with rail caps), We did manage to fill the huge rear seat with vacation gear for a 4 night adventure to Monterey and Laguna Seca Raceway.

2015 Toyota Tundra CrewMax 4x4

Parking at the track took place on rugged terrain, but the slippery hills never gave the 4×4 Tundra a moment’s pause. We positioned this truck effortlessly without even resorting to 4 wheel drive. Off-road traction is excellent thanks to Pirelli Scorpion tires (275/55R20) on Platinum grade alloy wheels that actually look undersized on this behemoth truck. Our test Toyota also carried $500 worth of “Blind Spot Monitor with Rear Cross Traffic Alert.” While this option is hardly worth buying on smaller vehicles, it’s almost a necessity with the Tundra, which stands so tall that your immediate sightlines to adjacent traffic need all the help they can get from this option.

2015 Toyota Tundra CrewMax 4x4

Toyota eliminated the V6 from the Tundra lineup this year. While lesser versions of the truck still use a 4.6 liter V8 making 310hp, that output is hardly adequate for this 5,740 pound pickup. But the 5.7 liter V8 standard on the Platinum rig makes 381hp and 401lb.-ft. of torque, which is more than enough power and twist to propel it at a comfortable freeway pace. We averaged 17mpg on our extended journey. Given the Tundra’s 34 gallon tank, good for 578 miles, we only had to refill once during our week of travel. At first, the optional $1,100 TRD dual exhaust system seemed to issue more noise than acceptable, with a throbbing drone that constantly changed tenor. But we quickly got used to the tailpipe music, and soon forgot about it all together. When you need to move fast, a firm prod of the accelerator brings out a hearty roar from the handsome stainless steel system, fitted with special TRD chrome finishers. This Tundra makes no bones about being a hot rod truck.

Luckily, the hotel where we stayed provided valet parking only, and this proved rather fortuitous since the CrewMax Tundra is not a rig you want to park in tight spaces, or park at all for that matter. The upside of its size is to provide lots of real estate on the open road, which is great. But when you are looking to dock it in town, the opportunities for doing so are limited. You park this big rig where you can, so plan on doing a fair amount of walking to your final destination. A Smart Car it is not.

2015 Toyota Tundra CrewMax 4x4

What it is, however, will make you feel invincible. At a commanding height of 76 inches, it stands Texas tall, appropriate to a truck built in that state. And at 80 inches in width, and 229 inches in length, you’ll want to watch those mirrors for lane placement on the freeway, because this Toyota takes careful minding. But the literal upside is that it’s physically superior to almost all traffic. And for that peace of mind, $$50,889 seems a relatively small price to pay.

2015 Toyota Tundra CrewMax 4x4

The Platinum Tundra proved to be the perfect get-away vehicle for a long weekend. If you use it to tow a boat, trailer, or play car, its 4.3 :1 rear end ratio will sweep your load away effortlessly, with a tow limit of 10,400 pounds. Our test model included everything you need for such a drayage chore: Tow/Haul transmission mode, heavy duty engine and transmission cooler, 4 and 7 pin connectors.

2015 Toyota Tundra CrewMax 4×4

  • Engine: 5.7 liter DOHC V8 with Dual Independent VVT-i
  • Horsepower: 381hp
  • Torque: 401lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 13MPG City/17 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $50,889
  • Star Rating: 9.5 out of 10 Stars

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Review: 2015 Toyota Highlander Limited FWD

Sunday October 4th, 2015 at 11:1010 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2015 Toyota Highlander Limited FWD

By David Colman

Hypes: Exceptional Utility, Effortless Long Distance Cruiser
Gripes: Dynamic Radar Cruise Control Sometimes Misreads Traffic

Nobody’s going to give any styling awards to Toyota for the Highlander. Its bullish snout and hyper thyroidal tail lights won’t win many automotive beauty pageants. What you will celebrate about this SUV is its luxurious functionality. This is without question one of the most useful driving tools you could own. We spent a busy week inside the spacious cabin of the 2 wheel drive V6 Limited version, logging round trips from the Bay Area to Monterey, as well as repeated outing to Sonoma Raceway for the IndyCar finale. In all that time behind the wheel, the Highlander repeatedly proved itself to be an ultra competent companion. Its 68 inch height allows you to survey traffic from a dominating vantage point. Optional $599 Running Boards help ease entry and egress, and look good to boot with rubber skid plates embedded in matte aluminum planks. Side windows are tall enough to admit dazzling amounts of light. Part of the Limited’s standard equipment “Platinum Package” includes a two pane Panoramic Moonroof which doubles the already generous amount of light and outward vision when slid open. Think Gray Line sightseer coach when you think of the Highlander Limited and you’ll have a good idea of just how expansive the view is from inside this Toyota.

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An important factor in its utility is the ease with which it can be converted from a 7 passenger bus with 3 rows of seats to private transport for 4 (all in plush Platinum Package standard captain’s chairs), or seating for 2, with van size flat storage space behind. In that latter configuration, I was able to carry a Mountain Bike with plenty of room to spare fore and aft. Thank the Highlander’s 191 inch length for accommodating bulky loads. All these shifts in function can be accomplished in seconds, without needing to refer to the Owner’s Manual for instructions. All seats are clearly marked with numbered notations accompanying pictographs designed to assist you in converting the Highlander from bus to van and back. The Highlander Limited features automatic tail gate actuation, accessed via a key fob remote sender, or a button on the dashboard. While this proved handy in the long run, we ran afoul of a problem not mentioned in the 15 (!) pages of the Owner’s Manual devoted to operation of what Toyota calls the “Back Door.” If you somehow manage to inadvertently open the window of the back door by pushing the external button on the tailgate, the automatic function of the door becomes disabled even though the glass window still looks to be closed. If you have to open or close the lift gate when the power function is thusly disabled, you’ll want to do a hundred bench presses before tackling the weighty and uncooperative unpowered gate.

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EPA mileage figures for the Highlander V6 indicate this 4,490 pound SUV is good for 25MPG on the highway, and we were able to duplicate that number on our freeway run to Monterey and back. Even around town driving saw 20MPG, slightly better than the EPA’s estimate of 19MPG. Though the V6 Highlander turns in respectable economy numbers given its substantial curb weight, this Toyota is anything but sluggish when prodded with the accelerator. In fact, the first time I floored the throttle, I was amazed at just how much weight transfer from front to rear occurred as the Highlander’s nose shot up and the rear suspension compressed. Its 3.5 liter V6 benefits immensely from variable valve timing to provide instant power when you snap open the throttle. Consequently, the Limited is rated at 5000 pounds for tow duty, and our test example was fitted with an optional Receiver Hitch and Wiring Harness for $599. The Limited also comes with 19 inch Chromtec alloy wheels fitted with beefy Bridgestone Dueler H/L tires (245/55R19). These off-road capable mud and snow tires proved their worth when we ran into some heavy mud while parking the Highlander in the Media Lot at Sonoma Raceway after a heavy morning rain.

Toyota should really call this Highlander the Unlimited because it offers such an extensive inventory of opportunities to recreate, transport and effortlessly gobble miles, all the while doing so at a remarkably fuel efficient pace.

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2015 Toyota Highlander Limited FWD

  • Engine: 3.5 Liter V6 DOHC with VVT-i
  • Horsepower: 270hp
  • Torque: 248lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 19MPG City/25 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $45,716
  • Star Rating: 9 out of 10 Stars

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Review: 2015 Toyota Corolla S

Monday August 3rd, 2015 at 11:88 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2015 Toyota Corolla S

By David Colman

Hypes: Gas Miser, Interior Belies Price
Gripes: Paltry Torque Rating

My local Toyota dealer is offering a 2015 Corolla S for just $158/month. That amounts to $5.26 per day. If you commute from Marin to San Francisco, the daily toll on the Golden Gate Bridge ($6) will cost more than your Corolla does. Of course, if you chose to pay cash rather than finance your purchase, the Corolla S retails for $22,905. Add $395 for paint protection film, $309 for illuminated door sill emblems, $225 for carpeted floor and trunk mats, and $825 for delivery, and the Toyota Corolla S can be yours for $24,659. Not only is this price affordable, but long range ownership promises to be impecunious as well. The EPA estimates annual fuel cost will be just $1,650, thanks to an overall fuel consumption figure of 32 MPG. On the “Fuel Economy and Greenhouse Gas Rating” scale, this model scores an 8 out of 10, and a 5 out of 10 on the “Smog Rating” scale. All in all, the Corolla is the very model of inconspicuous civility.

2015 Toyota Corolla S

But is it a blast to drive? Not exactly. Although the “S” designation makes a significant step up in performance from the base Corolla, you’ll never mistake it for a BMW, or a Mazda 3 for that matter. Two important items distinguish the S model from the base Corolla. The first is the substitution of rear disc brakes for the base model’s rear drum brakes. Disc brakes are superior in every way to drums, so your Corolla S will stop better in all weather conditions than the drum brake equipped base model. Secondly, the S features hugely improved front seats, with perfectly contoured lumbar support, plus retentive side bolstering. But these pluses can’t compensate for the Corolla’s lack of grunt. Its 1.8 liter engine makes just 140hp, and 126lb.-ft. of torque, no match for the car’s 2,900lb. curb weight. Do the math and you come up with a horsepower-to-weight ratio of 20.7lb./hp. That compares unfavorably to competitors like Honda’s Civic (19.7), Kia’s Forte (19.4), and Mazda’s 3 (18.5). It should come as no surprise, then, that the Toyota is the slowest of the bunch in quarter mile tests, with a time of 17.1 seconds at 82.7mph, and a 0-60mph time of 9.3 seconds.

2015 Toyota Corolla S

But the Corolla S handles well enough to redeem its horsepower shortfall. Toyota supplies the S with snazzy looking Op Art 17 inch alloy wheels that replace the base model’s 16 inch rims. Firestone FR 740 radials (215/45R17) get the job done at each contact patch, and the Corolla skittles through curves with precision and dispatch. The S’ lovely leather rimmed steering wheel aids in positioning the stable chassis with accuracy. The CVT transmission offers paddle shifting in the S, giving you another driving dynamic absent in the base Corolla. Inside the cabin, you would be hard pressed to conclude that this is an economy sedan. The furnishings merit high praise, from the fit and finish of the SofTex seats to the tailoring of the rugs and mats. Toyota has done a first class job of making the Corolla look more expensive than it is. Particularly impressive is the long list of standard features you’d normally expect to pay extra to acquire: automatic climate control, 8-way power adjustable driver’s seat, heated front seats, and a smart key system with push button start. That smart key is intelligent enough to unlock the car as you approach, eliminating the need to button hunt the key fob remote. Best feature of all for rear seat passengers is the abundance of leg room. The Corolla offers a class leading 41.4 inches of aft kick space. Along with its low beltline and tall side windows, the interior remains bathed in light. The standard power tilt/slide moon roof contributes yet another source of daytime interior illumination. The Corolla interior is remarkably habitable for 4 adults especially considering that this chassis makes do with just 106 inches of wheelbase. That’s 3 inches less than Toyota’s Camry offers.

2015 Toyota Corolla S

The Corolla S is unquestionably handsome this year, with a pugnacious front architecture that distinguishes it from lesser Corollas. Although its performance falls short of matching its impertinent look, the Corolla S’ many other virtues make up for that shortfall. This is a practical, safe and inexpensive way for a family to travel in style if not great swiftness.

2015 Toyota Corolla S

2015 Toyota Corolla S

  • Engine: 1.8 liter, 4 cylinder inline DOHC, 16 Valves with VVT-i
  • Horsepower: 140hp
  • Torque: 126lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 29MPG City/37MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $24,659
  • Star Rating: 8.5 out of 10 Stars

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Review: 2015 Toyota Camry Hybrid SE Sedan

Tuesday March 31st, 2015 at 11:33 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2015 Toyota Camry Hybrid SE Sedan

By David Colman

Hypes: Phenomenal range, Spiffy New Looks and Interior
Gripes: Unpredictable Brake Engagement Point

Toyota has reinvigorated its top selling product, the Camry, with new styling for the 2015 model year that verges on revolutionary for this once staid sedan. You will not confuse the bold look of the latest Camry with that of its timid predecessor. Every panel save the roof is changed for this mid-cycle makeover. Underneath the sleek new skin, however, mechanical components remain largely unchanged. At the front, a gaping black grill snorkels air into the engine room. The upper surface of the grill features a chrome strip that feeds into new projector beam headlamps with striking black sport trim bezels. On either side of the grill, indented crescent shaped amber running lights compliment the trapezoidal air opening. The Camry’s new face makes a far more successful impression than the overwrought frontal design big brother Lexus has adopted across its model line.

2015 Toyota Camry Hybrid SE Sedan

Inside, Toyota has really jazzed up the look of the cabin to match the athletic stance of the exterior. The dashboard and door panels are trimmed out with contrasting stitching that looks more expensive than the Camry’s modest $32,133 cost would seem to justify. Similarly breaking new ground is the choice of seat fabric, an unexpectedly flamboyant looking “Sport Fabric SofTex” which would look at home decorating a Zoot Suit. Imagine the interlocking, shimmering diamond pattern produced by a kaleidoscope and you have a clear picture of the material trimming the SE Camry’s seating surface. The seats offer good long distance comfort, and the driver’s position provides 8 way power adjustment.

2015 Toyota Camry Hybrid SE Sedan

Toyota has focused a great deal of corporate design energy on making the latest Camry gizmo friendly. For example, if you ante up $1,300 for the “EE” Navigation and App Suite Package,” the central dash stack includes a separate button labeled “APPS” for access to the extensive Entune App Suite while stationary. The navigation system plays through a 7 inch wide high resolution touch screen display that also doubles as a projector for the standard backup camera. You will never do without tunes in this EE Package Camry thanks to a 6 speaker AM/FM CD player capable of MP3/WMA playback. An auxiliary audio jack, and a USB 2.0 port with iPad connectivity augments your wide range of media selection. We settled on the included SiriusXM radio for entertainment, but found the tuning process rather convoluted.

Toyota expends a lot of energy on the Camry’s connectivity assets, but somewhat less time on the sedan’s mechanical underpinnings. The base motor for America’s best selling mid-size sedan remains the 2.5 liter inline four (173hp). A Hybrid Synergy Drive System propels the 200hp version we tested for this report. This model is remarkable for its tremendous range of over 500 miles per tank of fuel. A solid week of driving barely lowered the predicted range to 400 miles. The Hybrid makes good, useful power thanks to the added torque of its electric motor, but what you’ll love most about this combo is the EPA combined city/highway MPG rating of 40. One notch up from the Hybrid in cost and power output is the V6 Camry SE which makes a stout 268hp and 248lb.-ft. of torque. In addition to our week with the Hybrid, we had the opportunity to sample the V6 SE for an extended drive, and found it to be fast, secure and verging on sports sedan stardom. The Hybrid, on the other hand, is more softly sprung than the V6, and makes do with rather uninspiring, hard compound tires (215/55R17 Bridgestone Turanza EL400). But the biggest difference between the Hybrid and the V6 comes in the braking department. Good short stops are never a problem with the V6, but the Hybrid’s regenerative brakes, which feed heat energy back into the Hybrid system, are never predictable enough to inspire confidence. The engagement point on the pedal varies all over the map depending on speed, terrain and pressure applied.

2015 Toyota Camry Hybrid SE Sedan

After a couple of days with our handsome “Blue Crush Metallic” Toyota we had become rather accustomed to its revised new look. But a worker at the local Ace Hardware, who helped load some 8 foot neon tubes into the Camry’s trunk, was so taken with the interior and exterior improvements that it reopened our eyes to just how much better looking this car really is than its predecessor. Combine that upgrade with remarkable range and fuel economy, and the Hybrid SE stands taller than ever in the Mid-Size segment.

2015 Toyota Camry Hybrid SE Sedan

  • Engine: 2.5 liter inline 4 cylinder plus electric motor generator and self charging battery pack
  • Horsepower: 200hp
  • Fuel Consumption: 40MPG City/38 MPG HIGHWAY
  • Price as Tested: $32,133
  • Star Rating: 7.5 out of 10 Stars

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Review: 2014 Toyota RAV4 Limited AWD

Tuesday November 18th, 2014 at 4:1111 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

2014 Toyota RAV4 Limited AWD

By David Colman

Hypes: Spacious, Utilitarian, Affordable
Gripes: Down on Power, Cheap Interior Touches

This compact crossover has enough cargo capacity (37 cubic feet) to compete with mid-size crossovers. I was frankly surprised at the ease with which the RAV4 swallowed my mountain bike without requiring the usual twist and fold routine. In fact, the bike slid right into place without so much as a snag anywhere. The Limited version of this petite Toyota even includes electronic operation for the tailgate. Low loading height further insures easy stowage and retrieval. I have driven many compact and mid size SUVs that could not match the RAV4′s magnanimous cargo access.

The latest iteration of the RAV4 came to market in 2013 and remains largely unchanged this year. A large displacement (2.5 liter) in-line 4 cylinder engine makes 176hp and 172 lb.-ft. of torque. This fuel efficient motor posts a commendable EPA average of 25 MPG overall. But fuel savings come at the expense of straight line performance. Because this SUV weighs 3,535 pounds, each one of those 176 horses are tasked with moving 20 pounds. Consequently, the RAV4′s throttle pedal must be pushed hard to keep up with traffic flow. It takes nearly 17 seconds to run the quarter mile from a standing start. However, you can upgrade to a Tesla designed electric version of the RAV4. This EV’s rated at 154hp but delivers a whopping 273 lb.-ft. of torque. But hurry, because Toyota plans to phase out the RAV4 EV in the near future. If you like the compact dimensions of the RAV4, but seek more power, you may want to cross shop the 2015 Lexus NX, which shares its platform with the RAV4. The Lexus offers 235hp thanks to its turbocharged 2.0 liter four cylinder engine.

2014 Toyota RAV4 Limited AWD

Toyota includes a number of active safety measures in the DNA of the RAV4. This assortment of innovations, which Toyota calls its Star Safety System, contributes to your well being by providing stability control, traction control, anti-lock brakes, electronic brake force distribution, and brake assist. Although passive safety boasts 8 airbags, the RAV4 scores a “Poor” Rating on the Front Small Overlap test administered by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. This crash test, first administered in 2012, measures damage incurred when just 25 percent of a vehicle front hits a fixed object at 40mph. The RAV4′s poor result in this category has caused Consumer Reports to retract its “Recommended” endorsement.

The RAV4 is tow rated at 1,500 pounds. Although it will tow a modest trailer, the RAV4 itself is not meant to be towed behind a motor home, dinghy style. In its latest iteration, the RAV4 has matured into a utilitarian device that will fill the bill if you need a do-it-all urban companion. Responsive handling is augmented by 235/55R18 Bridgestone Dueler H/T tires at each corner. Ride quality is never harsh thanks to the Bridgestone’s tall sidewalls and the RAV4′s soft spring rates.

2014 Toyota RAV4 Limited AWD

From its introduction as a petite SUV offering limited space for passengers or storage, this compact cross over now provides seating for 5, easy access to the folding rear bench seat, lots of side window glass for great outward visibility, and enough orchestral choices to make even the shortest trip a music endowed vacation. The “EN” option package, which costs an extra $785, is well worth the cost if you value entertainment while driving. For this relatively modest outlay, Toyota will provide you with a laundry list of extras that start with a 6.1 inch touch screen on the dash. This interface controls a premium JBL AM/FM/CD player with 7 speakers and a subwoofer. You also gain access to HD radio, traffic reports and a suite of Toyota backed “Entune” applications to simplify your cruising life. The touch screen also provides navigational assistance and serves as a back-up camera projector when reverse gear is engaged. However, you would do well to avoid paying $725 extra for the “TP” Technology Package, which contributes lane departure warning advice, monitors blind spots, and regulates use of high beam headlights.

The Toyota RAV4 presents an inexpensive route to all-wheel-drive mini SUV ownership. While it may not be the fastest, or the best handling choice in the marketplace, it does administer a solid dose of Toyota virtue: RAV4 is inexpensive to own and operate, with good value retention over the life of the vehicle.

2014 Toyota RAV4 Limited AWD

2014 Toyota RAV4 Limited AWD

  • Engine: 2.5 liter DOHC, 16 Valve inline 4 with Dual VVT-i
  • Horsepower: 176 @ 6,000rpm
  • Torque: 172 lb.-ft. @ 4,100rpm
  • Fuel Consumption: 22 MPG CITY/29 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $32,315
  • Star Rating: 7 out of 10 Stars

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Review: 2014 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited AWD

Tuesday October 14th, 2014 at 8:1010 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2014 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited AWD

By David Colman

Hypes: Solid Power Team, Efficient Use of Space
Gripes: Vague Steering Feel, Ergonomic Cabin Issues

Get more, pay more. Toyota has dimensionally revised the 2014 version of its Highlander, widening it 4.5 inches, and adding 3 inches to its length. Although wheelbase remains as before, at 110 inches, interior space increases to the point that the third row bench seat will now accommodate three people rather than two. The foursome that occupy the first two rows of Captain’s Chairs enjoy indulgent splendor. Front row perforated leather seats are heated and ventilated, with the driver’s chair offering 8 way power adjustment, and the shotgun seat good for 4.

Both second and third row seats recline and fold for cargo use. Though the threesome hitching a ride in the back of this 4,852 pound bus will find their surroundings somewhat less palatial, the wide aisle between the second row Captain’s Chairs offers exceptionally easy access to those third row seats. If you choose the most expensive version of the Highlander – the all -wheel-drive Hybrid Limited that we tested – you will discover that its base price, like its size, has also swelled, from $46,370 in 2013 to $49,790 for the 2014 version.

2014 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited AWD

Of course, cherry picking the top model also yields dividends not found on lesser Highlanders. For example, Limited status provides a Platinum Package of goodies at no extra charge. This bevy of niceties adds heated, perforated leather second row Captain’s Chairs, plus technology upgrades like dynamic radar cruise control, automatic high beam headlights, and lane departure alert. But the most worthy addition of all is the cabin capping Panoramic Moon roof, with its power tilt and slide front section and fixed rear panel. This feature reinforces your sense of spatial freedom. All seating positions benefit from its extra light and expanded view.

2014 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited AWD

The Hybrid power train works in consort with a Constantly Variable Transmission to provide terrific thrust whenever you need it. The electric motor will power you through slow city driving, with the 3.5 liter V6 gas engine kicking in as needed. When you pin the accelerator to the floor, the two modes of propulsion combine for seamless acceleration. With 270hp and 280 lb.-ft. of torque, the Hybrid Highlander will crack the 7 second barrier in the 0-60mph run, and pull a trailer weighing 3,500 pounds. The cherry on top is the exceptional mileage this package records. By posting an overall consumption of 28 MPG, this Hybrid owns Consumer Report’s top SUV mileage figure.

2014 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited AWD

New for 2014 is a trapezoidal grill, re-contoured headlights, plus redesigned front and rear fascias. However, only Highlander devotees will recognize these mild alterations because this Toyota’s appearance is so understated and mainstream. If you seek a stylistic attention getter, than you’re looking at the wrong vehicle. Which is not to say that the Highlander is lacking in either grace or proportions. Its architecture is, in fact, classic Toyota: utilitarian, aerodynamically clean, and handsomely uncluttered. The Highlander’s elevated hind quarters impart a dynamic forward thrust to the overall rake of its dipping beltline. Massive five spoke “Chrometec” alloy wheels, shod with 245/55R19 Bridgestone Dueler HL tires, reinforce the Hybrid’s imperious Clydesdale stance.

Inside, you enjoy all the benefits of increased space. The wide dashboard contains an innovative parcel shelf that sensibly stores all those loose odds and ends that normally float around the cockpit. The door panel armrests utilize memory foam which is pleasingly compliant to the touch. A centrally located 8 inch color touch screen controls tuning functions for the standard JBL entertainment system. The screen, which also covers interior climate control duties, can be difficult to read in daylight driving. Although the center console features a handy roll top cover, its storage well is so deep that a built in source of illumination inside would be helpful. Also, the dual center mounted cup holders seem to be configured for Big Gulp containers at the expense of smaller cups which are free to slosh about disconcertingly. These minor transgressions are all the more surprising in view of the brilliant design of that center oddments shelf.

2014 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited AWD

If you are in the $50,000 SUV market, the newly upsized Hybrid Highlander should be on yours required reading list. It makes up for its lack of flash with a list of virtues long enough to outbid such competitors as the Honda Pilot, Hyundai Santa Fe and Nissan Pathfinder.

2014 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited AWD

  • Engine: 3.5 liter DOHC V6 with VVT-I, plus Electric Motor
  • Horsepower: 270hp
  • Torque: 280lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 27 MPG City/ 28 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $50,875
  • Star Rating: 8.5 out of 10 Stars

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