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  • First Drive: 2015 Toyota Camry, Yaris and Sienna

    Posted on November 18th, 2014 ninarussin

    Toyota pumps up the style with three mid-cycle refreshes

    By Nina Russin

    2015 Toyota Camry

    2015 Toyota Camry

    The 2015 Toyota Camry doesn’t look like a mid-cycle refresh. All new sheet metal with the exception of the roof panel gives the Camry a dramatically different exterior. A new model called the XSE appeals to younger buyers with a unique grille, larger wheels and a sport-tuned suspension. Pricing for the four-cylinder LE starts at $22,970.

    The subcompact Yaris changes significantly as well. Styled at Toyota’s European Design Studio and produced in France, it stands poised to capture millennial buyers purchasing their first car. While value remains one of the Yaris’ key attributes with a starting price of $14,845, the new three and five-door hatchbacks are more than pretty faces, with restyled interiors and new technology including Entune infotainment, HD radio and Bluetooth interface.

    Changes to the Sienna are less dramatic, focusing on interior refinement. Designers revised the instrument panel using softer, more appealing materials and added a thin-film-transistor information display in the gauge cluster. Upholstery offerings have also been updated, and customers can opt for lounge-style second-row seating on upscale models. Pricing for the front-wheel drive base car starts at $28,600.

    Engineers enhanced torsional rigidity on all three models by increasing the number of spot welds throughout the bodies. New acoustic materials reduce NVH for quieter, more comfortable interiors.

    Although the drivetrains are carryover, retuned electric power steering systems, new wheel and tire combinations and retuned suspensions give the 2015 models sharper steering response and a firmer ride.

    Test drive in Phoenix, Arizona

    2015 Toyota Camry

    2015 Toyota Camry

    Last week at a media event in Phoenix, Arizona I had the opportunity to get behind the wheel of Toyota’s new models for some brief drives on surface streets and area highways.

    I drove the Camry Hybrid SE: a new trim level for the hybrid that gives buyers a slightly sportier alternative to the two carry-over grades. All three cars utilize a 2.5-liter Atkinson cycle four-cylinder engine and electric motors, mated to a continuously variable automatic transmission. But the SE adds a stabilizer bar, different control arm bushings and more aggressive suspension tuning.

    Fuel economy remains the same as the outgoing model: 41 mpg in combined city and highway driving according to the EPA. But the newest Camry hybrid feels more luxurious and substantial, with nicer interior finishes and more satisfying performance. Response from the electric power steering system is improved, although Toyota still lags behind some of its competitors. On other fronts, including acceleration, suspension and braking response, the package is hard to beat.

    Since competitors such as Ford have focused more on powertrain improvements than styling on their mid-cycle sedan refreshes, it will be interesting to see what the public responds to. Do buyers prefer to invest in the new EcoBoost engine in the Ford Fusion, or the dramatic restyle of the Camry? Time will tell if Toyota can maintain its leadership position in what is arguably the most competitive segment in the passenger car market.

    Hot hatch

    2015 Toyota Yaris

    2015 Toyota Yaris

    The Yaris remains one of the few Toyota models available with a manual transmission. Although manual gearbox cars make up a small percentage of sales in the United States, it gives hot hatch enthusiasts a more appealing platform to tune.

    Cars with small engines need to rev high to perform well. The 106-horsepower four-cylinder block in the subcompact Yaris is no exception. Engineers tuned the four-speed automatic transmission for fuel economy as opposed to performance. While it can certainly get the job done, driving enthusiasts will want more sizzle. The five-speed manual gearbox can deliver that while still averaging 37 mpg on the highway according to the EPA.

    The investment in exterior styling was, in this writer’s opinion, a smart move. Cars tend to be outward expressions of their buyers’ personalities: nowhere is this truer than with young buyers. Interior styling and material improvements are significant as well. The Yaris might be a good value, but it doesn’t feel like a cheap car.

    More luxurious Sienna

    2015 Toyota Sienna

    2015 Toyota Sienna

    Minivans are purposefully designed to be living rooms on wheels. Exterior styling is much less important than what’s on the inside.

    The Sienna remains the only minivan with available all-wheel drive: an appealing feature for families living in climates with severe winters. While its fuel economy lags behind competitors such as the Honda Odyssey, the Sienna’s combination of safety and convenience features makes it a formidable competitor.

    Changes on the car’s exterior are subtle: LED headlamps on upscale grades and new narrower tail lamps that make the body more aerodynamic. A standard V-6 engine and six-speed automatic transmission remains the powertrain for all grades. The Sienna’s 3500-pound towing capacity meets our ALV standards.

    Engineers added LATCH positions in the third row to safely carry more kids in child seats and improved the minivan’s airbags by making the side curtains cover a larger area and adding a front passenger seat cushion airbag. A backup camera is now standard on all models.

    The new instrument panel and center stack is more stylish than the former composite material. The center stack screen is modeled after a computer tablet to reduce clutter in that area. The TFT display in the gauge cluster can transfer some information such as turn-by turn directions from the center stack display to an area where it is easier for the driver to see.

    Toyota’s driver easy speak feature that debuted in the Highlander is now available in the Sienna. The driver uses the microphone in the rearview mirror to talk with passengers in the third row.

    When not in use, third-row seats tumble into the floor to enlarge the cargo bay.

    The 2015 Toyota Camry, Yaris and Sienna are rolling into dealerships nationwide.



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