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  • 2018 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid SE AWD

    Green machine for outdoor enthusiasts

    By Nina Russin

    Toyota RAV4

    If you’re an outdoor enthusiast, you are probably more aware than most of how air pollution can negatively impact a person’s life. And while that might make you consider purchasing Toyota Prius for that reason, other lifestyle needs make the liftback an imperfect choice: lack of ground clearance and limited traction being two big factors. The RAV4 crossover is a green alternative that uses the same gasoline/electric hybrid technology, in a package that’s adventure friendly.

    All-wheel drive gives the RAV4 better traction on wet or snow-covered roads, while the crossover’s additional ground clearance makes it more practical for traversing unimproved roads. With second-row seats folded flat, there’s plenty of room to stash camping equipment or bicycles in back, where both are protected from the elements.

    The 2018 RAV4 hybrid is essentially carryover from 2017, with big changes coming in 2019. Power comes from a 2.5-liter inline four-cylinder Atkinson cycle engine and three electric motors, dishing out 194 net horsepower. A continuously variable transmission delivers power to the wheels. Average fuel economy is 32 miles-per-gallon, according-to the EPA.

    Base price is $32,185 minus the $995 delivery charge. Options on the test car include an advanced technology package that includes a bird’s-eye view camera with perimeter scan, premium JBL audio system with navigation and Toyota Entune infotainment, hands-free phone capability, Siri Eyes Free, high-definition and satellite radio, real-time traffic and weather updates, Bluetooth interface and more ($2,785). A tonneau cover adds $90, bringing the final MSRP to $38,055. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2018 Toyota Highlander

    Family-friendly midsize crossover

    By Nina Russin

    2018 Toyota Highlander

    The midsize Highlander is an alternative for growing families who need minivan functionality but don’t like the one-box style. With three rows of seating, an Easy Speak feature that lets parents communicate with the third row via a microphone in the rearview mirror and the newest version of Toyota’s Safety Sense Plus, the Highlander is as comfortable taking the soccer team to Saturday practice as it is on summer road trips.

    Base price for the SE grade tested is $40,090 excluding the $995 destination charge. Standard convenience features include power heated front seats, power folding third-row seats, Toyota Entune infotainment system, second row captain’s chairs, Bluetooth and USB interface, keyless entry and start, power liftgate and power moonroof. A rear seat Blu-Ray entertainment system is available as an option. Other options on the test car include carpeted floor and cargo mats and rear bumper protection, bringing the final MSRP to $43,188. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2018 Lexus IS 300 AWD

    All-season sport sedan

    By Nina Russin

    2018 Lexus IS 300

    The IS sedan that started as Lexus’ answer to the tuner craze of the late 1990s has evolved into a more diverse, upscale vehicle, with two available powertrains and rear-wheel or all-wheel drive. The IS underwent a major redesign for the 2017 model year. For 2018, improvements include a five-horsepower bump, available adaptive front lighting, standard backup monitor and complimentary 10-year subscription to Lexus Enform Safety and Service Connect.

    Power for the IS 300 comes from a twin-scroll turbocharged inline four-cylinder engine that develops 260-horsepower for the all-wheel drive version. For better control on wet roads, drivers can engage a snow mode that starts from a stop in second gear. A six-speed automatic transmission includes paddle shifters for drivers who want additional control when driving for sport.

    Base price for the IS 300 AWD is $40,660 excluding the $995 destination charge. Options on the test car include 18-inch alloy wheels, navigation and Mark Levinson audio system, intuitive park assist, a comfort package adding driver’s seat memory, power tilt-and-telescoping steering column, blind spot monitoring and rain-sensing wipers, heated and ventilated front seats, cargo mats and wheel locks. Final MSRP is $47,289. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2018 Toyota Prius Touring

    Hybrid raises the eco-friendly bar

    By Nina Russin

    Toyota Prius Four Touring

    The Toyota Prius has always been a polarizing vehicle, and seems to become more-so with each new model. Aficionados love the Prius for its exceptional fuel economy, durability, versatility and eco-friendly focus. Nay-sayers seem to be just as passionate, because certain driving dynamics (e.g. horsepower) must by necessity take a backseat to gas mileage.

    The fact that the fourth-generation Prius averages 52 miles-per-gallon is astonishing, considering its ability to live in the real world of stop-and-go traffic, rain, snow, heat and cold. Even more amazing is its ability to last, quite a long time if one observes the number of Prius taxi cabs on the road.

    The current model is based on Toyota’s new Global Architecture, and hence is the first to feature an independent rear suspension. This is a big deal, because the torsion bar on former models had to support the weight of the battery pack above it, making for a rather clunky arrangement. Improved torsional stiffness in the new chassis translates to a noticeable bump in steering response.

    Base price for the upscale Touring grade is $30,565 excluding the $895 destination charge. Options include a premium package that upgrades the audio system, adds navigation and a higher level of Entune infotainment, Bluetooth streaming audio, Siri Eyes Free, real-time traffic and weather updates and more. Other options include an active safety package with park assist, special exterior color, rear bumper protector and carpeted floor and cargo mats. Final MSRP is $33,395. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2018 Toyota Sienna SE 3.5L

    Versatile interior is ideal for outdoor enthusiasts

    By Nina Russin

    2018 Toyota Sienna

    The same thing that makes minivans great family cars- large configurable interiors- translates to athletes as well. Buyers who need to haul large gear as well as those who might want an interior large enough to sleep in the night before a stage race can’t do better than a minivan.

    The 2018 Toyota Sienna is basically a carryover from the refreshed 2017 car that featured a new, more powerful V-6 engine and eight-speed automatic transmission to boost fuel efficiency. The upscale SE priced from $38,990 (excluding destination) comes loaded with convenience features including leather seating, second row captain’s chairs, three-zone climate control, power liftgate, Entune infotainment with Scout GPS-link for navigation, satellite radio, Bluetooth and Easy Speak: a feature that broadcasts the driver’s voice through the rear speakers.

    Options on the test car include blind spot monitoring with cross traffic alert, push button start, moonroof, premium audio system, iPod compatibility, HD radio, satellite radio, Entune app suite and carpeted floor mats. Final MSRP is $41,150. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2018 Toyota Camry Hybrid XLE

    Next-generation sedan raises the bar for eco-transport

    By Nina Russin

    2018 Toyota Camry Hybrid

    2018 Toyota Camry Hybrid

    It was kismet that I received the keys to the new Camry Hybrid at the start of what turned out to be Phoenix, Arizona’s hottest spell this year. While most people associate the efficiencies in Toyota’s gasoline-electric powertrains with enhanced fuel economy, they provide additional advantages including better temperature control in the car’s interior.

    The same battery pack that extends fuel economy by powering two electric motors also provides power for the car’s air conditioning compressor, that operates whether-or-not the gasoline engine is running. In temperatures approaching 115-degrees Fahrenheit, the HVAC system cooled the interior down to a comfortable temperature in about five minutes. While the ignition auto-stop feature on many new cars turns the air conditioning compressor off at idle, the Camry system continues to work, keeping occupants comfortable in stop-and-go traffic.

    The newest Camry Hybrid utilizes an updated version of the automaker’s gasoline-electric technology, including a new power control unit that has reduced parasitic power loss by about 20 percent. Fuel economy isn’t quite as high as the more aerodynamic Prius, but its 46 MPG average is nothing to sneeze at.

    Engineers made some important changes to packaging: notably relocating the nickel-metal hydride battery pack beneath the second-row seats, so trunk space is the same as for the gasoline-powered sedan. This also lowered the sedan’s center of gravity for enhanced high-speed driving dynamics.

    Base price for the test car is $32,250 excluding the $895 destination charge. Options include a birds-eye view camera that enables the driver to see obstacles around the vehicle’s entire perimeter when moving at low speeds, adaptive headlamps, power moonroof and premium JBL audio system with the newest version of Toyota’s Entune infotainment system. Final MSRP is $37,255. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2018 Toyota RAV4 Adventure AWD

    The original compact crossover takes the road less traveled

    By Nina Russin

    2018 Toyota RAV4 Adventure

    2018 Toyota RAV4 Adventure

    While many automakers claim to have invented the compact crossover, credit should go to Toyota, which introduced the original Recreational Activity Vehicle in 1994. What distinguished the original RAV4 from other small SUVs at the time was its car-based architecture. Unibody construction gave the RAV4 the road manners of a passenger car while its two-box architecture added practicality for buyers who wanted a taller, more versatile cargo area.

    Over the past quarter century, the RAV4 has grown in proportions and developed a distinct personality. With the recent addition of the C-HR to Toyota’s crossover lineup, the RAV4 is no longer the smallest offering. Styling is more conservative, and the cargo bay in-particular-is considerably roomier.

    This year, Toyota adds the Adventure model, combining convenience features from the mid-grade XLE with the sporty SE’s styling, plus some unique content: more ground clearance, bigger fender flares and tires, and a standard tow prep package that enables the RAV4 Adventure to tow up to 3500 pounds, meeting our ALV minimum towing standards.

    Base price for the all-wheel drive version is $28,400, excluding destination. Options on the test car include a cold-weather package that adds a heated steering wheel and heated front seats, power driver’s seat and windshield wiper de-icer, mudguards, unique exterior paint and a tonneau cover for the cargo area, bringing the final MSRP to $30,880. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2018 Toyota C-HR XLE Premium

    Compact crossover is young at heart

    By Nina Russin

    2018 Toyota C-HR

    2018 Toyota C-HR

    The all-new Toyota C-HR is perhaps the most dramatic manifestation of the automaker’s new direction in styling and performance. Originally intended for the Scion brand when it debuted at the 2014 Paris Motor Show, the C-HR combines edgy, youthful styling with peppy performance at an affordable price. There are two available trim levels: XLE and XLE Premium. Pricing for the base XLE starts at $22,500. The XLE Premium model tested is priced from $24,350 excluding destination.

    Options on the test car are minimal and affordably priced, including carpeted floor mats and cargo mat, mudguards, first aid kit, TRD oil cap and rear bumper protector, bringing the final MSRP to $25,958.

    All models are front-wheel drive and come with a 144-horsepower two-liter engine and continuously variable automatic transmission. Sadly, there’s no manual transmission option. My guess is that chief engineer, Hiro Koba, would have opted to include the option had it been viable, since he is a racing enthusiast. Unfortunately, the uptake on manual gearboxes is so low these days that offering one this type of vehicle simply isn’t cost-effective.

    All models come well-equipped with standard safety and convenience features, including Toyota Safety Sense with Pedestrian Detection: a suite of technologies including pre-collision with auto-brake, dynamic radar cruise control, lane keeping assist and automatic high beams. The XLE Premium adds blind spot monitoring: something I found quite useful since the car’s thick D-pillars create large blind spots in the rear corners.

    Standard convenience features include keyless entry and start, dual-zone automatic climate control, leather-trimmed tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel and shift knob, fog lamps, brake hold, power side mirrors and a four-inch thin-film-transistor information display. All models run on 18-inch alloy wheels and come with LED daytime running lamps. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2018 Toyota Corolla XSE

    Compact sedan combines value with style

    By Nina Russin

    2018 Toyota Corolla

    2018 Toyota Corolla

    The Corolla is Toyota’s most enduring nameplate, with over fifty years on American roads. While many things have changed over the past five decades, the compact sedan’s mission- combining style, value and reliability- remains the same. At a time when commodities trend towards overcomplicated and overpriced, it’s a refreshing formula.

    The 2018 model is essentially carryover from the previous year, with the addition of Toyota Safety Sense with pedestrian detection and a rearview camera as standard equipment on all models. Pricing for the upscale XSE starts at $22,730 excluding the $895 destination charge.

    Standard equipment includes LED headlamps, 17-inch alloy wheels, Bluetooth interface, keyless entry and start, USB and iPod connectivity, automatic climate control, six-way power driver’s seat, thin-film transistor information display, Entune audio with Scout GPS link, 60/40 split folding rear seats and heated front seats. A standard power moonroof brings more ambient light into the interior.

    Options on the test car add a TRD performance exhaust, air filter and rear sway bar, premium audio system with navigation, seven-inch touchscreen, satellite radio, Bluetooth streaming audio, a first aid kit, mudguards and tablet holder. Final MSRP is $25,881. Read the rest of this entry »

  • First Drive: 2019 Toyota Corolla Hatchback

    Subcompact aimed towards driving enthusiasts

    By Nina Russin

    2019 Toyota Corolla Hatchback

    2019 Toyota Corolla Hatchback

    This summer an all-new hatchback replaces the Corolla iM: a car developed for Europe and initially sold in the US under the Scion nameplate. The new hatchback reflects a serious commitment stateside to a segment currently dominated by Honda and Mazda, delivering a product that goes head-to-head against the Civic and Mazda3.

    “Our competition, especially the Civic, has a unique family story. We’re doing the same thing,” explained Jordan Pauly, vehicle marketing for Toyota.

    “In this diverse segment, we are looking at buyers aged 18-35, multicultural, half male and half female. Not one vehicle fits all. The group is interested in utility but does not want the size or higher price of a SUV,” he continued.

    Toyota hopes buyers will see the new hatch as an affordable, fun-to-drive alternative, and is developing aftermarket parts under the TRD brand to encourage customizing. The automaker is campaigning a Formula Drift car based on the production car built by Stephan Papadakis and driven by Fredric Aasbo, to whet the appetite of driving enthusiasts. Read the rest of this entry »