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  • First Drive: 2018 Toyota C-HR

    Stylish crossover for active urbanites

    By Nina Russin

    2018 Toyota C-HR

    2018 Toyota C-HR

    Toyota’s newest compact crossover called the C-HR (Coupe-High Rider) reflects CEO, Akio Toyoda’s focus on re-infusing the brand with passionate styling and performance. Closely resembling the Scion concept that debuted at the LA Auto Show, the C-HR focuses on young drivers buying their first new car, with a combination of aggressive styling, sporty performance and value pricing.

    There are two models, the XLE and XLE Premium priced from $22,500 and $24,350 respectively. Although the C-HR is a Toyota model, pricing strategy is monospec in the Scion tradition. Prices do not include a $960 destination charge.

    The car’s profile loosely resembles a diamond formed by the roofline and beltline. Standard 18-inch wheels contribute to the C-HR’s sporty appearance. A R-Code version features a white roof with four available exterior colors.

    2018 Toyota C-HR

    2018 Toyota C-HR

    Built on Toyota’s new global TNGA C platform, the C-HR comes with one powertrain: a two-liter dual overhead cam engine rated at 144-horsepower and continuously variable automatic transmission. An available manual gear select mode enables the driver to engage seven shift points.

    To satisfy the needs of tech-savvy millennials, product planners equipped the C-HR with streaming Bluetooth audio, Aha, HD radio USB 2.0 port, iPod connectivity, phone book access and hands-free phone capability. A seven-inch touch-screen display and thin-film transistor information display in the gauge cluster are on par with significantly more expensive competitors. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2017 Chicago Auto Show

    Nation’s largest consumer show expands family-friendly activities

    By Nina Russin

    Nissan Midnight Edition

    Nissan Midnight Edition

    Those of us inside the car industry tend to forget the role consumers play in an auto show. In addition to new product introductions, these events are a rare opportunity for those outside the bubble to get up close and personal with cars they are thinking of buying. The driving public is the meat and potatoes of the Chicago Show, held each February at the McCormick Place convention center. In terms of attendance, it is the largest auto show in the United States.

    This year’s show features fun for all members of the family, including those too young to drive: a Lego Batmobile at the Chevrolet booth plus scale replicas of the Y-Wing Starfighter, X-Wing Starfighter, TIE Striker and AT-ACT, all displayed under the Death Star in Nissan’s special Rogue One Star Wars Limited Edition Display appeal to the kid in all of us.

    Nissan Rogue One Star Wars Display

    Nissan Rogue One Star Wars Display

    Those of driving age can get behind the wheel and have some fun at the show’s five indoor test tracks.

    Fiat-Chrysler Automobiles, Toyota and Mercedes-Benz include test tracks as part of their displays: an appeal to millennials who value experience over the written word. Mercedes-Benz’s Iron Schockl is a 45-degree grade, demonstrating the outstanding climbing ability of the G-Class, while Camp Jeep brings off-roading indoors with rock crawls, steep inclines and sandy surfaces. A Ram proving ground includes six stations that demonstrate the trucks’ work capabilities while Toyota enthusiasts can test drive the new RAV4 and Highlander midsize crossover. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2017 Toyota Corolla 50th Anniversary Edition

    Best-selling compact sedan celebrates a milestone

    By Nina Russin

    2017 Toyota Corolla 50th Anniversary Edition

    2017 Toyota Corolla 50th Anniversary Edition

    For 2017, Toyota introduces a mid-cycle refresh on its Corolla compact sedan including new exterior styling, infotainment and active safety technology. The company also marks the car’s milestone anniversary with a special edition based on the volume-leading LE grade.

    With its blacked out grille and custom dark red exterior, the 50th anniversary Corolla stands apart from the pack. The limited edition vehicle rides on 17-inch alloy rims. Special badging and interior trim complete the package.

    Standard convenience features include keyless entry and start, LED headlamps, Entune audio with Siri Eyes Free and a rear backup camera. Base MSRP is $21,900.

    Options on the test car add a tilt-and-slide moonroof, paint protection film, illuminated door sills and a tablet holder. Adding the $865 destination charge, final MSRP is $24,497. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2017 Toyota 86

    Sport coupe gets retuned for improved performance

    By Nina Russin

    2017 Toyota 86

    2017 Toyota 86

    The 86 is one of several former Scion models moving under the Toyota umbrella for 2017. This year the 86, formerly Scion FR-S, gets retuned for more aggressive performance, with more power and suspension upgrades to improve high-speed handling.

    Inspiration for the original FR-S came from Toyota CEO Akio Toyoda, grandson of the company founder and a life-long driving enthusiast. Toyoda, whose made it his personal mission to infuse the company with his passion for performance, wanted to create a vehicle celebrating the spirit of the Corolla Levin, also called AE86. The sporty two-seater was favored among early drift racing competitors including the legendary Keiichi Tsuchiya.

    While the 86 isn’t a car for everyone, it is, for the right buyer, one of the best values on the planet. Co-developed with Subaru (the Subaru version is the BRZ), the Toyota 86 is a beautifully balanced true sports car priced well below $30,000. Final MSRP for the test car with the six-speed manual transmission is $27,120. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2017 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid AWD

    Toyota’s Recreational Activity Vehicle gets a green footprint

    By Nina Russin

    2017 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid Limited

    2017 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid Limited

    Hybrid vehicles are a win/win for buyers wanting to go green without infrastructure challenges. Recently, Toyota introduced its hybrid synergy drive system that powers the Prius into the RAV4 compact crossover. Buyers can choose between three grades: the base XLE, sporty SE and upscale Limited: all standard with all-wheel drive.

    Power comes from a four-cylinder Atkinson cycle engine and three electric motor generators: two driving the front and rear axles respectively and the third controlling the engine starter and recharging the Nickel Metal-Hydride battery pack.

    2017 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid Limited

    2017 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid Limited

    Pricing for the Limited model tested starts at $34,030 excluding destination. Standard convenience features include keyless entry and start, dual-zone climate control, Entune premium audio system with app suites, backup camera, leather seating and steering wheel, heated front seats, reclining and folding second-row seats, 18-inch alloy rims, LED headlamps and tail lamps and a power moonroof.

    Options on the test car include a technology package that adds a bird’s eye view camera, JBL premium audio system, iPod compatibility, Siri eyes-free, HD and satellite radio. Final MSRP is $37,057. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2017 Toyota Prius Prime

    Plug-in hybrid builds on new Prius technology

    By Nina Russin

    2017 Toyota Prius Prime

    2017 Toyota Prius Prime

    When Toyota introduced the first Prius over 15 years ago, the world fell in love with a car that combined energy efficiency with practicality. The plug-in model that arrived twelve years later never enjoyed the unprecedented success of the original liftback, with buyers expressing concerns about the car’s maximum speed in EV mode as well as its EV range. So Toyota engineers went back to the drawing boards, reinventing the model as the new Prius Prime, building on technology introduced last year with the four-generation Prius liftback. Read the rest of this entry »

  • Toyota 2017 Model Year Wrap-up

    New sports car, 50th anniversary Corolla, V-6 and hybrids enter showrooms

    By Nina Russin

    2017 Toyota 86

    2017 Toyota 86

    Toyota enters the 2017 model year with a significant birthday, expanded hybrid offerings for its Highlander crossover, refreshed Sienna minivan and a new sports car. With Scion closing its doors, Toyota is introducing a refreshed FR-S as the 2017 86, paying homage to the AE86, also known as the Corolla Levin.

    Core features remain the same: a two-liter boxer engine with available six-speed manual or automatic transmissions in a rear-wheel drive platform. The engine combines port and direct injection, the former for fuel efficiency when cruising around town and the latter for throttle response on the track.

    2017 Toyota 86

    2017 Toyota 86

    The retuned two-plus-two features new differential gearing for the manual transmission version for better launch characteristics. Redesigned intake and exhaust manifolds help the engine breathe better. Enhanced torsional rigidity from a stiffer transmission tunnel and thicker strut tower brace boosts steering response. Engineers also retuned the suspension.

    Styling is refreshed inside and out, with new 17-inch twisted spoke wheels and all-LED front and rear lighting. A smaller steering wheel with audio controls, Granlux shoulder pads on the seats and Granlux inserts in the doors reflect the interior’s driver focus. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2016 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid XLE

    Compact crossover has a green footprint

    By Nina Russin

    2016 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid

    2016 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid

    This year Toyota adds a hybrid model to its RAV4 lineup, utilizing the same gasoline/electric technology found in the newest Prius liftback. The RAV4 Hybrid comes in XLE and Limited grades: both with standard all-wheel drive.

    Base price for the XLE tested is $28,370 excluding the $900 destination charge. A convenience option package on the test car adds an Entune premium audio system with navigation, larger center stack screen, Bluetooth streaming audio, iPod compatibility, HD and satellite radio. Final MSRP is $29,795. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2016 Toyota Corolla S Plus

    Compact sedan celebrates 50 years

    By Nina Russin

    Toyota Corolla S

    Toyota Corolla S

    This year the Toyota Corolla, one of America’s best-loved compact sedans, turns fifty. Corolla’s widespread popularity wasn’t always a given. When early models landed stateside in the late 1960s Detroit iron ruled the road. It took the oil embargos of the 1970s to get Americans thinking differently about cars, specifically the idea of fuel efficiency.

    Since then, the Corolla has gone through many iterations, ranging from small station wagons to sporty coupes, including the sporty AE86 that inspired the current Scion FR-S. Today the model focuses on a core audience of budget and safety-conscious buyers wanting a reliable, well-built sedan with a bit of style.

    The most recent version introduced for the 2014 model year did away with the car’s conservative exterior in favor of a more youthful design. While I originally had mixed feelings about the aggressive grille, it’s grown on me over time, giving the sedan more road presence. The cloth upholstery is attractive and more practical than leather for denizens of warm weather climates such as the desert southwest.

    The newest model also adds rear legroom, making it a true four-passenger car. A new Eco model averages 42 mpg on the highway according to the manufacturer.

    Toyota Corolla S

    Toyota Corolla S

    The test car is the sporty S grade: in this writer’s opinion, the best of the bunch. What separates the Corolla S from the rest of the pack is components, specifically standard rear disc brakes versus drums on the other grades. Disc brakes are self-drying and easier to service. While the majority of braking on any front-wheel drive car takes place in front, disc brakes do have more linear performance than drums: something that could make a difference during a panic stop on wet roads.

    Base price is $19,995 excluding the $835 destination charge. A convenience option package ($1,510) adds keyless entry and start, Entune audio with navigation, a larger touchscreen, USB port with iPod connectivity, voice recognition, Bluetooth interface, satellite and HD radio, Siri Eyes Free. A power moonroof costs $850, bringing the final MSRP to $23,190. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2016 Toyota 4Runner 4X4

    Off-road SUV is the ultimate active lifestyle vehicle

    By Nina Russin

    2016 Toyota 4Runner

    2016 Toyota 4Runner

    Although Toyota continues to use the Land Cruiser nameplate on its most upscale SUV, the feisty 4Runner with available seating for seven comes closer in spirit to the FJ40s of the 1960s and 70s. Launched in 1984 as the smaller, more affordable sibling to the Land Cruiser, the 4Runner has grown over the years in size and capability. These days, it’s marketed as the off-road Yin to the seven-passenger Highlander’s Yang, the Highlander offering a more car-like ride and limited primarily to use on-road.

    Because the 4Runner is a purpose-built truck, engineers have the ability to incorporate the OEM’s most advanced off-road technology, one example of which is crawl control. Integrating the functions of hill start assist, antilock braking and hill descent control into a single function, crawl control allows the driver to select a speed with which to cover extreme grades and the truck does the rest.

    2016 Toyota 4Runner

    2016 Toyota 4Runner

    The system is proprietary to Toyota and unlike competitive products, utilizes a hydraulic system from the throttle to the wheels without a traditional vacuum-operated brake booster to interrupt the power flow.

    To be honest, this feature alone makes the 4Runner Trail Premium’s rather high base price of $39,095 worth every penny. Other off-road specific features on the test car include skid plates, two-speed transfer case with shift on the fly, locking differential, multi-terrain select system, off-road wheels and tires.

    An optional kinetic dynamic suspension system disconnects sway bars when the vehicle is off-road to increase wheel travel. The sway bars remain in place on paved roads to keep the chassis flat while cornering.

    Other options on the test truck include a sliding rear cargo deck and under-floor storage area. With the $900 destination charge, final MSRP is $41,345. Read the rest of this entry »