Category Archives: Toyota

2009 Toyota Matrix AWD small wagon. (763)

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Overview:

This week we’re looking at the 2009 Toyota Matrix 4-door small wagon. I’m a fan of Toyota but some of the product is not to my taste. This is one of those very capable cars that I just can’t warm up to or that I would run right out and buy one.

Provincial might explain my indifference to the car. I always got excited getting behind the wheel of brother John’s Ferrari’s or our ’55 Porsche Speedster or Lamborghini. But when we get into a utility commuter or truck it is because we have work to do. Exotic’s are for the fun of it. We shouldn’t really expect to be wowed by our daily drivers. Last week on the other hand I was very impressed with the VW Jetta small sportwagon and really feel I could own that car and enjoyed driving it every day. But if it weren’t in my budget at 25% more money than this Toyota Matrix I would change my tune a bit since you can’t fairly compare the two. I guess I would opt to budget more rather than settle.

The real test of what you buy however is that the Need must fall within your Budget.

Handling & Performance:

Excellent on the Crest Test but I got the distinct impression other drivers had a need to pass me. I could only conclude they thought this was a wimpy car unable to keep up. It was an odd feeling because I was keeping up with traffic. Size does make a difference I’ve been told and we all know that applies to cars as well. I guess what I mean is that if I were in a Corvette they would back off knowing the Vette could chew them up and spit them out. Remember Rodney Dangerfield who’d constantly remind us he got no respect.

At the end of the day the overall road-ability of this AWD little car is exceptional and it handled the mountain curves with relative ease. If I were interested in this size car I would look at the Yaris.

Styling:

Not my thing but it isn’t ugly either.

Fit and Finish:
Good.

Cost:

Competitive in the field below.

Consumer Recommendation:

This is a good field of challengers albeit a large one and difficult to go through. I’ve tested them all and I break them down into Classic (HHR and PT Cruiser), Off road (Jeep) and Unusual (Sion and MINI). Everything else are Commuters.

Recognized Competition:

Toyota Matrix $16-22,000, Pontiax Vibe $16-21,000, Chevrolet HHR $19-25,000, VW Jetta SportWagen $19-26,000, VW Rabbit $16-19,000, Nissan Versa $10-16,000, Mazda5 $18-23,000, Mazda3 $15-22,000, Jeep Patriot $18-24,000, Jeep Compass $18-25,000, Dodge Caliber $16-25,000, Chrysler PT Cruiser $18-25,000, Honda Fit $15-19,000, MINI Clubman $20-31,000, Subaru Impreza $17-35,000, Suzuki SX4 Crossover $16-19,000, Kia Rio 5 $13-14,000, Kia Rondo $17-22,000, Kia Soul $13-17,000, Hyundai Elantra Touring $18-19,000, Sion xB $16-17,000.

Good News:

Decent fuel economy, good commuter, handles well.

Bad News:
Provincial styling.

Standard Equipment:

2.4 liter 4 cylinder 158 hp engine, 4-speed auto transmission, all wheel drive, torque control electric power steering, 4-wheel ABS power disc brakes with brake force distribution and brake assist, front and side air bags and front and rear side curtain airbags, child rear door locks with anchor system, engine immobilizer, tire pressure monitoring, halogen lights, power mirrors, intermittent front and rear wipers, roof rack, air conditioner, audio with CD, WMA/MP3 player, tilt and telescopic steering wheel, front passenger fold flat and rear 60/40 split rear seat, 115 volt AC outlet, power windows and locks and keyless entry.

Gas Stats:

$2.95/ Gal avg. June 14, ‘09
www.fueleconomy.gov
for more information.

20 City and 26 Highway MPG

Pricing:

MSRP $20,400.

Your comments are welcomed. My e-mail is joe@atthewheel.com
Copyright © 2009 – An Automotive Love Affair

 

2009 Scion xB 5-door (759)

Overview:

This week we’re looking at the 2009 Scion xB 5-door small wagon. Like me lots of people I talked with about the Scion felt the early versions were really ugly. The sharp boxy edges just didn’t do it for most folks. Today’s more rounded edges soften the look and less like a gang bangers car. The gay community adopted the Saab for unknown reasons and it is interesting how cars have become an integral part of our lives and how they often define us.

The Scion has blended into the competition a little more with the 2009 and in fact it is much like its cousin the Honda Element. It sits even lower than the Element and in part the low to the ground design of both is what puts them in the Wagon category rather than an SUV class.

What surprised me from the outset with the two vehicles is the broad acceptance of the design. Young and old alike have embraced the look. I believe for different reasons however. Young people like to be different – period! Older folks like the practicality of the design. When the Element came on the scene Honda felt it would appeal to the older buyer since it was easy to get in and out of. It was simple and could even be hosed out for easy cleaning. Just open the doors on both sides and the ‘suicide door’ configuration make it look like you could drive a truck thru it.

I guess the generations are not as far apart as you might think.

Opinion:

As car companies come and go cars have always been repaired and maintained. The history of the automobile should help us to get a grip on the fact that losing dealerships may in fact be a Good Thing. Have you ever experienced the cost to do anything at a dealership? Not a pretty picture at the check out counter. Bring more than one credit card because you shouldn’t carry that much cash around on your person.

As some of you know I experienced first hand the difference between the dealer and the independent repair facility. Why – because I was an owner of an independent mostly foreign and some domestic repair shop. We also had a body shop and I learned how BMW, Jag and Mercedes Benz owners would drop in as if we were an Oasis in the desert.

The point is simply this. If you have any trepidation about buying any car because they may not be around next year forget the worry – buy the car you want or need and know with confidence independents have been fixing cars abandoned by their parents for a hundred years now.

Handling & Performance:

The Scion is comfortable and has good stability in part because of the lower center of gravity. It is fast and because of its smooth ride you tend to drive faster than you should. That fact is sufficient reason why you always include ‘cruise control’ when you buy a car. Simply set the speed and forget it and you’ll avoid your, not so friendly, highway tax collectors.

Styling:

Another comparison where the Honda Element is more thoughtfully crafted than many similar vehicles is the rear ‘theater seating’. Scion doesn’t incorporate that design feature, and although it may seem like a small thing, when you try it you will love it. Correction – your passengers will love it.

Some Curb Weight comparisons: Scion 3026 lbs; Element 3352 lbs; PT Cruiser 3070; Kia Rio 2568 lbs; Chevrolet HHR 3155; Dodge Caliber 3052;

Small and large SUV examples: Ford Escape 3229 lbs; Cadillac Escalade 5511 lbs.

In the style department however the winner has to be the PT Cruiser from Chrysler. It simply stands out in the crowd and if you ask ‘mirror mirror on the wall…’ it is the prettiest one of all.

Fit and Finish:

Not bad and for this price point car it is quite good. You expect exceptional assembly from Japanese car makers and because they have set the bar so high the competition has met the challenge and none are really poorly assembled. To get to the really ‘exceptional’ level you must triple the price point, so I can’t get too excited about looser tolerances for the purchase price in this class.

Cost:

Very good car for the money.

Conveniences and comfort:

Very good.

Consumer Recommendation:

Nice selection to choose from in this economy class of small wagons. I’ve tested most but have not been in the Ford Transit Connect or the Nissan Cube. Good stuff.

Recognized Competition:

Scion xB $16-17,000, Pontiac Vibe $16-21,000, Mazda 5 $18-23,000, Chrysler PT Cruiser $18-25,000, Honda Fit $15-19,000, Suzuki SX4 Crossover $16-19,000, Kia Rio5 $13-14,000, Kia Rondo $17-22,000, Nissan Versa $10-16,000, Kia Soul $13-17,000, Dodge Caliber $16-25,000, Ford Transit Connect $21-22,000, Nissan Cube $14-19,000, Chevrolet HHR  $19-25,000, Toyota Matrix $17-22,000.

Good News:

Good fuel economy, nice ride and well priced.

Bad News:

Light weight class that concern many.

Standard Equipment:

2.4 liter 158 hp 4 cylinder engine, 4-speed auto trans, electronic power steering, 4-wheel power ABS disc brakes with brake force distribution, sport tuned independent MacPherson front strut and rear torsion beam suspension, stability control with traction control, front – side and side curtain airbags, tire pressure monitoring, power mirrors, front and rear washer wipers, front bucket and rear split fold flat seats, cruise control, air conditioning, audio with CD, 6 speakers, iPod connector, power windows and locks, remote keyless entry, privacy glass and tilt steering wheel with audio controls.

Gas Stats:

$2.43/ Gal avg. May 14, ‘09
www.fueleconomy.gov

2009 Toyota Yaris S 5-door Liftback (753)

Overview:

This week we’re looking at the 2009 Toyota Yaris S 5-door Liftback. It’s even more important a vehicle for the times than it was when I last reviewed it two years back, and although I’m less impressed this time around it has a lot of great points that will be obvious on your first test drive. My colleague Merkel owns a 2007 and he and his wife are thrilled with their decision to buy it. They routinely get 39 mpg and if that isn’t enough it is also a pleasure to drive. It is a real car even though some will argue it is too light and too small. “What if you tangle up with a big SUV they say?” Well I have some advice for them… drive defensively and remember those dinosaurs are being replaced by smaller ones. Anyway, what about “Big Rigs” they are a lot more intimidating than a Suburban!

Opinion:

I’ve spoken with Cal Trans and the CHP and reported on their answers to my questions about our roads and my being curious why diamond lanes aren’t used during off peak hours. Traveling on the 134 East from Glendale to Pasadena the other day I was reminded that I can’t understand why the lane is not marked for use as a HOV lane only during rush hour.

You could have fired off a canon up the diamond lane and not hit a soul. The lane was totally empty while the other lanes were struggling to avoid each other. Are Cal Trans / our legislator’s brain dead? Is it not, at best, shameful they ignore the obvious and at worse criminal that they don’t allow use of that lane by all traffic during off peak hour travel? Hello – the lights are on but it would appear no one is home!

Handling & Performance:

Well, I find the best way to get the handling characteristics of a car is to take it over a mountain range and for us in Southern California the best course is over the San Gabriel Mountains between the city and the desert. It is NOT however a road for the faint hearted, especially during commuter hours in the morning or afternoon. But if you love the hair raising rides at 6-Flags Magic Mountain type theme parks you’re ok for the “Crest” and I have to tell you the Yaris is up to the challenge.

Styling:

Well design is very subjective and some would say it’s cute and others say it is ugly.
The rear seat is roomy and will accommodate 3 passengers. They also did a nice job to allow the seat to adjust forward and backward just like the front seats. They also fold flat easily.

Fit and Finish:
Good.

Cost:

More than it needs to be because of the Toyota badge. But a good value none-the-less.

Conveniences and comfort:

I would NEVER own a car without Cruise Control and this week my conviction was renewed since this model came without cruise. The first car I experienced cruise control came out on the Cadillac in the mid 1970s. I knew then this would eventually have to be standard equipment on ALL cars. Well, it is still not standard equipment but optional and highly recommended.

Consumer Recommendation:

Look at the rise in fuel costs creeping up steadily now and consider a fuel efficient commuter like the list below. Yaris is among the best and is a 5 seater versus the Smart for example and gets nearly the same fuel economy for the same money.

Recognized Competition:

Toyota Yaris $12-16,000, Suzuki Reno $14,000, Hyundai Accent $11-15,000, Scion xD $15,000, VW Rabbit $16-19,000, Suzuki SX4 Crossover $16-19,000, Kia Rio $11-14,000, Nissan Versa $10-16,000, Honda Fit $15-19,000, Smart fortwo $12-17,000, Chevrolet Aveo5 $12-15,000.

Good News:

This is a grouping of economical cars and gives a good variety of great commuters. Yaris is among the best in fuel economy.

Bad News:

Light weight that can be intimidating to many drivers.

Standard Equipment:

1.5 liter 4-cylinder 106 horsepower engine, 4-speed automatic transmission, front wheel drive, electric power steering, electronic throttle control, front disc rear drum ABS brakes with brake force distribution, child LATCH and Tether anchors and rear safety door locks, tire pressure monitoring system, halogen headlights, intermittent front wiper and rear wiper, front and rear spoilers, fog lights, air conditioning, AM/FM/CD WMA/MP3 player, CD text display and iPod interface, leather wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, 4–way adjustable front sport seats, 12 volt outlet, folding rear bench seat, remote fuel filler door and hood release.

Gas Stats:

$2.29/ Gal avg. April 13, ‘09
www.fueleconomy.gov
for more information.

29 City and 35 Highway MPG

Pricing:

MSRP $15,125.

Your comments are welcomed. My e-mail is joe@atthewheel.com
Copyright © 2009 – An Automotive Love Affair

 

 

 

2009 Toyota Highlander 4-door 4X2 SUV (749)

Overview:

This week we’re looking at the 2009 Toyota Highlander 4-door 4X2 SUV. When I picked it up on my return from an assignment in Sacramento, my associate got in and said, “what a coincidence – I had already decided I was going to buy a Highlander to replace my current car – a Toyota Sequoia and the only difference is that I want the Hybrid”.

My response was that this 4-cylinder may be a better buy in the long run, because I’m still concerned about the potential for high maintenance costs down the road. The non-conventional components and technology are untested long enough to ease my mind.

As to my friend buying this Highlander I will bet he’ll buy the V6 because it is more powerful at 270 horsepower. It will be a business vehicle and even though he’ll get less fuel economy he knows his tax rate is 43% Federal and State. Obama and the Demo congress are sure to try to make it even higher to pay for the “Change” promised. So, at the end of the day his waste will be paid in equal parts by his adopted Uncle when he deducts the increased fuel costs. What do you think – tax increases to 50% – 60%. Hell, just lay off one more employee and don’t worry about the extra gas.

Observation:

You know what – I get tired on our crowded highways when an unfortunate accident happens. But I have to tell you that the cost to society in additional burning of fuel, lost time at work and general frustration and stress cause much more damage to us all than the benefit of detailed scrutiny on what caused the accident, who was at fault etc. No-fault insurance should eliminate the need to look so closely. They can work out the details later. In the meantime, we need to get that traffic log jam cleared faster.

I get mad as hell watching the Highway Patrol gloat over the jam as they snub their noses at thousands of people slowed to a stop, while they do their jobs. I have news for them – they are more the problem than the solution. And we’re not impressed by their Gestapo posture.

Put larger bumpers on the front of those squad cars we drivers / commuters pay for and push the damn car off to the side and allow the rest of us to get to OUR jobs because we’re not there to watch you do yours.

When you consider lost time of say a half hour for each accident the cost is nearly unfathomable to the hundreds of thousands of commuters involved. For you math wizards out there, call me when you calculate the millions of dollars in extra fuel, and lost productivity. Hint: deduct the huge percentage of government employees who do not actually produce any goods and services in this economy.

Handling & Performance:

Responsive beyond what you’d expect for a 4-cylinder 187 hp engine. Trust me – test this engine configuration and I think you’ll agree you don’t need the V6 with 80 hp more and you won’t use so much gas.

Styling:

Highlander is nice looking with very clean lines, but the design more importantly provides a quiet ride. After coming out of a recent test of the Subaru Forester SUV I noticed how much more noise you get from the road and other moving parts in that Forester. I had to slam the Subaru for the high noise level because insulation is perhaps the least expensive thing to include in the design. Shame on them and kudos to Toyota for the better design.

Fit and Finish:

Always a pleasure to be reminded how well Toyota does on assembly.

Cost:

OK, so there’s a cost to all that good workmanship noted above, but you won’t see it reflected in the prices of this class SUV as much as you’d expect.

Conveniences and comfort:

Very good but, of course, you’ll pay more for the goodies.

Consumer Recommendation:

Price demands you include Highlander in your search. Me – I’d pony up a few extra Jewish shekels for the quality workmanship. But the Dodge Journey is a pretty compelling competitor for a lot less money so don’t leave that one out. I’ve tested them all and if money is not an issue I’d also look closely at the Cad SRX (elegant and one of my favorites).

Recognized Competition:

Toyota Highlander $26-35,000, Dodge Journey $21-29,000, Buick Enclave $35-39,000, GMC Acadia $32-40,000, Cadillac SRX $40-47,000, Subaru Tribeca $30-34,000, Kia Borrego $26-40,000, Mitsubishi Outlander $20-26,000, Chevrolet Traverse $29-41,000, Lincoln MKX $38-40,000, Lexus RX 350 $37-38,000, Nissan Murano $28-37,000, Honda Pilot $28-40,000, Ford Edge $27-37,000, Suzuki XL-7 $26-30,000, Saturn Outlook $31-36,000, Mazda CX-9 $30-35,000, Volvo XC60 $ n/a, Hyundai Veracruz $ n/a.

Good News:

Good pricing, good quality, decent fuel economy in the 4-cylinder version with good performance.

Bad News:

The Economy.

Standard Equipment:

2.7 liter 187 hp inline 4-cylinder engine, front wheel drive, 6-speed automatic trans, power steering, 4-wheel power anti-lock disc brakes with EDB (brake force distribution), 17” alloy wheels, stability control, front side and roll sensing curtain airbags, 2nd row child restraints and tether anchors, power mirrors, front variable and rear intermittent wipers, privacy glass, auto headlights, air conditioning, audio with CD player and auxiliary jack, power windows & locks, cruise control, remote keyless entry, tilt & telescopic wheel, cloth interior, driver 8-way and passenger 4-way seats and 40/20/40 split 2nd row seat.

Gas Stats:

$2.11/ Gal avg. Feb 28, ‘09
www.fueleconomy.gov
for more information.

20 City and 27 Highway MPG

Pricing:

MSRP $25,705.

Your comments are welcomed. My e-mail is joe@atthewheel.com
Copyright © 2009 – An Automotive Love Affair

2007 Yaris S 4-door Sedan (663)

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Overview:

This week let’s look at the 2007 Yaris S 4-door Sedan that speaks to us about the hypocrisy of our ‘classes’. Most ‘do gooders’ will tell you to “do as I say, not as I do”. Can you think of someone who wastes and then tells others to tighten their belts, be “green”, cut fewer trees and save the spotted owl and prevent global warming?

Well you don’t have to listen to him but simply buy a fuel efficient car to beat the high price of gas with cars like this Yaris at nearly 40 mpg. In fact friend Merkel tells me he gets more than 40 mpg in his new Yaris with a manual transmission and hasn’t dipped below 36. This test vehicle has a 4-speed automatic trans which I would opt for as shifting is great some of the time but it gets old fast.

This car is a serious option for those cost conscious buyers who want great fuel economy but don’t want to take a chance on the Hybrids that could end up costing a lot in repair bills down the road. The jury is still out on that but consider you can get nearly the same economy from a conventionally powered Yaris. Next time I will give some information on the Actual Cost of vehicles.

Handling & Performance:

The 1.5 liter 4-cylinder 106 horsepower engine is not a lot but it’s amazing how little you need even in today’s world of highway driving. Consider the 505 hp Corvette with 16 mpg fuel stats compared to this 40 mpg car that seats 4 and (looks aside) will out perform the Vette under most usual traffic conditions where horsepower means absolutely nothing.

Amazingly however the Vette actually develops more horsepower per liter than the Yaris. Historically the smaller engines (especially those from European car makers) have delivered close to 100 hp per liter.

I felt very comfortable driving at highway speeds. I can’t say that of all small cars so the Yaris road ability is good.

Styling:

Yaris is available as a two door hatchback or this 4-door sedan. I found the center mounted gauges to be odd and unclear why they did that. It was explained to me that is most likely for the world market generally so the car can be configured right or left hand drive and not change in the instruments.

I kept looking first at where you expect the gauges to be and staring at a blank piece of plastic. Speaking of plastic, the cupholders hidden in the dash are smart on each side of the front seat for driver and passenger.

Fit and Finish:

Typical of this price class. It is not, however, noticeably cheap. Components are solid and no indication things will start falling off any time soon. That too is not true of all cars I critique. Literally some are so cheaply put together components do indeed fall off, bend, and otherwise are not suited for the purpose intended. This Yaris is engineered well and you won’t get that cheap feeling when you drive this car.

Cost:

Excellent especially when put up against most of the competition noted here.

Conveniences and comfort:

Skinny. Pretty basic. I found the seats to be rather uncomfortable which is not so uncommon in this price range car. I expected better.

Consumer Recommendation:

For the money this Yaris will be hard to beat and you have to give Toyota credit for making fuel stingy cars available at the height of fuel price levels. Smart and I believe this is as good a reason to support economical models. This is a great example of responsible vehicles and I predict they will explode now and in the future which will push the price up for new and used alike. You can’t lose on resale. This is a good choice and a good buying decision.

Recognized Competition:

Toyota Yaris $11-14,000, Honda Fit $14-16,000, Ford Focus $14-17,000, Saturn Ion $12-20,000, Chevrolet Aveo $12-14,000, Chevrolet Aveo5 $10-12,000, Honda Fit $14-16,000, Hyundai Accent $10-14,000, Nissan Versa $13-15,000, Suzuki Reno $14-16,000, VW Rabbit $15-17,000, Kia Rio $11-13,000 and Kia Rio5 $13,750.

Good News:

Outstanding fuel economy without concern for potential Hybrid repair nightmares down the road and interior space is roomy feeling.

Bad News:

Sparse on the features which are very basic unless you spend another $2,075 for the options, uncomfortable seats and I don’t like the center mounted gauges.

Standard Equipment:

1.5 liter 4-cylinder 106 horsepower engine, 4-speed automatic trans with overdrive, air conditioning, power steering, electronic throttle control, front ventilated disc and rear drum brakes, front airbags, halogen headlights, cloth bucket seats, 60/40 split fold down rear seat, tilt steering wheel, intermittent wiper, audio system with CD and rear defroster.
Options: Power package with 15” allow wheels, seat mounted front side airbags and front and rear side Curtain airbags, remote keyless entry, fog lights: add $2,075.

Gas Stats:

$3.00/ Gal avg. August 10, ‘07
www.fueleconomy.gov
for more information.

34 City and 39 Highway MPG

Pricing:

MSRP $14,050.

Your comments are welcomed. My e-mail is joe@atthewheel.com
Copyright © 2007 – An Automotive Love Affair

2007 Toyota Land Cruiser Wagon (610)

Overview:

This week we’re looking at the 2006 Toyota Land Cruiser Wagon. Bravo Toyota for last weeks FJ experience but this week is Ho-hum week. After the exciting experience of a well priced fun and exciting sporty SUV this luxury SUV is sure to put me to sleep. The difference between the two parallels the difference between a guy who climbs to the top of the mountain and meets a guy at the top who was dropped off from his helicopter. Depending on your view point you may consider the first guy is ‘alive and exciting’ and the other is ‘married to Anna Nicole Smith’.   

For every ass there is a seat, it is said, and this Land Cruiser is obviously made for those who live in the lap of luxury and want all the comforts of home in the car their chauffeur drives. Leather seats, dash board and steering wheel are all nice and go well with the plush carpet. The desire for luxury is the other side of reality, necessity and need. This Land Cruiser is yet another ‘want’ some feel must be satisfied. But the prices in this category of SUV are obscene. Ok so I’m being a little critically sarcastic but it’s fun poking fun at the rich and famous. In any case I’m not the first and won’t be the last. Shopping places like “The Price of His Toys” or statements like “what do you buy for a person who has everything?” pokes a little fun at those who are pampered and out of touch with most of us who do in fact live in the real world.

Handling & Performance:

A big V8 captures 275 horses to do the pulling and pushing for maximum response as you press the gas pedal. Speed isn’t the intended purpose of this Toyota but it is fast, and of course very comfortable to drive as you’d expect of a well behaved well bred vehicle.

It has a height control for Hi N(ormal) and Lo settings for cruising to off roading. But no matter what goodies and gadgets they put on this truck the fuel consumption is piss poor. It is nothing short of appalling in these times. And it isn’t just the price of gas but when you can literally watch the needle move as you drive it is maddening.

Styling:

Rather plain and uninteresting and some might even say boring.

Fit and Finish:

Quite! I think these Japanese chaps attended Oxford .  

Cost:

Wow. Is this really necessary? Do we live in la-la land or what. I have driven about every car ever made after 1925, and I’m more convinced than ever that we spend way too much time, effort and energy worshiping the automobile. We attribute too much value to this form of transportation because we are mesmerized by the whole marketing con game. I suggest we all get a grip and determine what it is that we really NEED and become less moved by what advertisers tell us we should want. We really need to fall in love for our own reasons – not theirs.

Conveniences:

Embarrassing don’t you think? But I guess we all enjoy climate control for automatic comfort, leather everywhere, tape deck and a multi-disc CD player in the console and plush carpet like home. And of course what would home be like without an entertainment system to shut the kids up on those long trips.  

Consumer Recommendation:

Don’t grow so old so quickly. Look closely at the Toyota FJ, buy it and go hang gliding to celebrate your Independence Day decision.  

Recognized Competition:

Toyota Land Cruiser $56,215, Hummer H1 Alpha $128-140,000, Mercedes Benz M-Class $40-49,000, Land Rover Range Rover $74-89,000, Land Rover Range Rover Sport $56-69,000, Lincoln Navigator $49-55,000, Hummer H2 $53,000, Lexus LX 470 $67,395, BMW X5 $43-71,000, 2007 Cadillac Escalade $54-59,000, 2007 GMC Yukon Denali $47-50,000, 2007 Chevrolet Suburban $36-48,000 and 2007 Ford Expedition $ – unavailable.  

Good News:

Verrrry comfortable, lots of gadgets including an entertainment system for the children in the rear with silver spoons in their mouths.

Bad News:

Terrible fuel consumption – no economy in this thirsty beast, very pricey beyond value.

Standard Equipment:

4.7 liter 275 hp V8 engine, 5-speed auto trans, full time four wheel drive, locking differential, double wishbone independent front suspension with 4-Link coil spring rear suspension, 4-wheel ventilated ABS power assist disc brake system, transmission oil cooler, 18 inch allow wheels, vehicle skid control, dual air bags, side impact door beans, daytime running lights, moon roof / fog lights, 8 passenger leather seating, leather wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, front and rear climate control, JBL 3-in-1 AM/FM with Cassette, 6 disc CD with 7 speakers, rear seat audio.

Gas Stats:

13 City and 17 Highway MPG
(I had difficulty getting 14 mpg on the road)

Pricing:

MSRP $55,815.

Your comments are welcomed. My e-mail is joe@atthewheel.com
Copyright © 2006 – An Automotive Love Affair

2007 Toyota FJ Cruiser Wagon (609)

Overview:

This week we’re looking at the 2007 Toyota FJ Cruiser Wagon that is a box office hit. The first thing I noticed was the solid feel and ride. I thought I would love to take this on my upcoming trip to the Sierras because that’s what this bad boy was designed for. Sam, at Toyota , says exactly that, and it has been compared with several off road SUVs and comes up on top. Toyota ’s target market is younger drivers who love the out doors and take off-roading seriously. They even tricked out the sound system to include a rear speaker assembly for enhancing the tunes that are so important to the new generation.  

In the early going this FJ has captured the hearts and minds of many. When you get in and drive for the first time you are instantly impressed and if that isn’t love at first sight I’m your uncle Harry.

The second thing you’ll notice is that the price is much lower than you’d imagine. Those two things alone will make this an instant hit and a big seller. The press is clamoring for a look see and test drive. I’m just happy I got it early even if I can’t give it the off road test.

I feel sorry for all those who just bought a Nissan Xterra or Hummer H3 before this hot new Toyota hit the scene. It is apparent the Hummer H3 is the real inspiration for this FJ. Toyota wouldn’t agree but when you sit in it that’s the first image that comes to mind. To Hummer ad people I would say they can no longer advertise “nothing else like it on the planet”.

Handling & Performance:

Many say it rivals much more expensive off road options. Sam (at Toyota) reminds us that no more than 10% of 4X4’s sold will ever get off road and the marketing for this FJ predicts a much higher off road figure for their target market. Its powerful V6 will do a ¼ mile in just 7.7 seconds, which is not shabby for an SUV.

Styling:

An obvious winner. It’s hot because it looks really capable and sporty. It fits the young man or woman. I told my friend Mar-gee she didn’t belong in the Lexus SUV she bought, but rather in this FJ. She’s young and cute as a bug’s ear and she’d win the wet T-shirt contest she blushes at the thought.

Fit and Finish:

Rugged large components that fit together well in spite of the need not to.  

Cost:

Outstanding. The price blows most interested people way away. If you want more luxury you’d be looking at the Land Cruiser at twice the money. In fact the Land Cruiser is $55-65,000. With all the ups and extra options the price of the FJ will not exceed $30,000.

Conveniences:

Just right for the vehicles use. It even has a 110 AC outlet in the rear with a 400 watt inverter in the upgrade options package. The seats fold down to make for a truck-like box. With the seats up the cargo area is quite small and the side doors (half size) house the seat belts that are a nuisance. Although the base price is reasonable I would surely upgrade to the convenience package for $1,840 that includes some essentials like remote keyless entry, cruise control, power mirrors, rear wiper and a few less essentials like privacy glass, daytime running lights and rear parking sonar (that I really like).  

Consumer Recommendation:

This SUV is perfect for the young at heart and not just the young. You’ll see these off road at venues like water rafting, fishing, hiking, camping and hunting. The decision you have to make, if in the market for a unique sporty SUV, is whether to wait for the 2007 Xterra or Hummer H3 to arrive before making a buying decision. Or do you buy now while they are still plentiful.  

Recognized Competition:

Toyota FJ Cruiser $22-23,000, Hummer H3 $28,935, Nissan Xterra $20-28,000.  

Good News:

Hot new styling for the young at heart, powerful V6, great feeling ride and priced to compete.

Bad News:

Gas guzzler, rear seat a little small with doors that are awkward with troublesome seatbelts and you must rely on mirrors because of the poor side visibility.

Standard Equipment:

4.0 liter 239 horsepower V6 engine mated to a 5-speed auto trans with part time 4X4 system, variable gear power steering, 17” black steel wheels, full size rear mounted spare tire, skid plates on engine, transfer case and fuel tank, tow hooks front and rear, mudguards, 8-way adjustable driver seat, water repellent seats, rubber-like cabin and cargo area flooring, 60/40 split rear seats with removable bottom cushions, audio system with CD w/ 6 speakers, power windows and locks, tilt steering wheel, 4 cup holders and two bottle holders, rear defogger, rear cargo tie down hooks, dual air bags, stability control, traction control, electronic brake force distribution.

Great options packages for things like dash mounted temp, compass and incline monitor gauge. You can upgrade the wheels and add differential lock, in-dash 6-disc CD changer, 400 W inverter for 110 outlet and lots more that can up the price to about $30,000.

Gas Stats:

17 City and 21 Highway MPG

Pricing:

MSRP $23,300.

Your comments are welcomed. My e-mail is joe@atthewheel.com
Copyright © 2006 – An Automotive Love Affair

2007 Toyota Yaris 3-Door Liftback (607)

Overview:

This week we’re looking at the 2007 Toyota Yaris 3-Door Liftback. And you have got to appreciate this car in today’s world of over $4.00 per gallon of gas in the US . In Europe it is pushing eight bucks a gallon. In Amsterdam it’s over $7 a gallon.  

Automotive engineer friend Merkel and I agree this is the most important car of the past decade. Merkel and I do not agree when he says American carmakers don’t know how to build small cars. I think it is more a matter of they “don’t want to” build small cars. In either case, shame on them.

Handling & Performance:

This is one amazing car. It is so comfortable handling and the seats are special and the car simply doesn’t seem like a small car.

Styling:

The ‘other’ love of my life, Ilona says she thinks it is a cute car but I’m not as attracted to it even if I do like driving the car. Since it sets higher than the Corolla she drives, for example, you feel like the Yaris is larger than it is. It has abundant headroom.

Fit and Finish:

Very good.    

Cost:

Outstanding for a conventional (non-hybrid) drive system car that has such great fuel economy.  

Conveniences:

Everything falls perfectly to fingers in this Yaris, although you’d expect that of a small car. That is not always true however as I found when I tested the MINI from BMW. It is tiny but I found the features controls to be hard to find and in the wrong places. I found the placement of things like the cup holders perfectly placed in this Yaris. I like carrying small bottles of water in the car and the cup holders are smartly placed right in front of the air conditioning vents so I can keep cold drinks cold. Very cool. Ok, so if you have hot drinks you will need to turn the vent off.  

Consumer Recommendation:

My predictions have finally been realized with the rapidly escalating price of gas worldwide. So to find a non-hybrid with essentially the same fuel economy without the complicated drive system of the hybrid is a real nice option. This Yaris, of course, has a conventional drive system.  

Recognized Competition:

Toyota Yaris $11-13,000, Chevrolet Aveo $9-13,000, Ford Focus $13-17,000, Saturn Ion $12-19,000, Scion xA $12,780, Kia Rio $11-13,000, Suzuki Reno $13-15,000, Hyundai Accent $12,455.  


Good News:

Priced very well, cute car, great design, big feel, lots of headroom, fantastic fuel economy and it’s a 5 seater.    

Bad News:

Poor placement of instrument cluster in center of dash, lightweight issues.    

Standard Equipment:

1.5 liter 106 horsepower 4-cylinder engine, 4-speed auto trans, air conditioning, electronic power steering, front ventilated disc brakes and rear drum brakes, temporary spare tire, dual airbags, center high mount stoplight, cloth front bucket and rear seats, tilt steering wheel, intermittent wipers, folding rear seat, liftback luggage cover. Options:

power windows, locks, mirrors, split folding rear seat, AM/FM with CD player and MP3/WMA Playback capability with auxiliary audio jack, rear wiper and defrost and Alloy wheels, anti lock brakes, side and rear side curtain airbags and remote keyless entry will increase the cost by nearly $4,000.

Gas Stats:

34 City and 39 Highway MPG

Pricing:

MSRP $11,850.

Your comments are welcomed. My e-mail is joe@atthewheel.com
Copyright © 2006 – An Automotive Love Affair

2006 Toyota Camry Hybrid 4-door Sedan (606)

Overview:

This week we’re looking at the 2006 Toyota Camry Hybrid 4-door sedan. What a delightfully different driving experience. The first thing you notice is the ultra quiet flight. But more than that, this is a beautifully crafted car irrespective of price. I’m guessing it is Toyota ’s response to Prius critics that it is ugly. But because it is a Hybrid people have discounted the lack of styling. Put another way it is the antithesis of beautifully sculpted cars like Ferrari, Corvette, Nissan 350Z etc. Prius has company in the ugly department like the Scion and the Element fighting for the Ugly award.

Ugly or not friend Merkel reminds me of how Japanese car makers are kicking our American butts. Others go further and tell you they are doing the same in electronics and a host of other industries. December 7th it was Pearl Harbor and just 15 years after WWII was over, Japan bypassed the islands and launched an economic attack on the mainland. What’s amazing is how the consumer has continued to embrace all Japanese car makers non-stop for over 40 years. In the first half of 2006 Japanese auto manufacturers were the only ones to make money. The big three – GM, Ford and Chrysler lost money.

The Hybrid effort of Toyota and Honda are to be applauded because with any new technology there is always some degree of risk. Rumors are the Prius drive system is costly to maintain – but it is still too early for reliable feedback. In the meantime there are options for higher fuel economy vehicles. Toyota produces a smaller newly launched Yaris (5-passenger) with conventional gas engine that get about the same fuel economy as this Hybrid. More on this next week with the Yaris review.

I tend to lean to fuel cell powered vehicles for the future. Hydrogen is promising and that is attested to in the fact that GM is putting most of their eggs in that basket. Honda is also heavy into this 21st century technology. Others are either very secretive or simply leaving development to the few presently developing this new propulsion system.

Public Service:

Well we all know there is a broad range of drivers out there on our crowded highways. Some approach being ‘stupid’. And because of the seriousness of the driving experience we all have a duty to be aware of what’s going on around us. Some haven’t a clue and that is very dangerous.

Perhaps the most important thing to remember to avoid reactive driving (dangerous) – is that if you are not passing traffic on your right, that’s the lane where you belong. It’s ok for others to be going faster than you even if you are traveling at 65 mph. Consider: the driver who is traveling faster may be having a baby or other urgent reason for traveling faster than you.

Handling & Performance:

Smooth and comfortable ride. For the most part it is a normal Camry but the quiet acceleration tells you something is very different. Like the Prius you get a display on the Nav screen to show where the power is coming from – battery or engine. But make no mistake, you must have the engine because it can only be driven a very, very short distance on battery alone based on charge status and road conditions for only a mile to a mile and a half.

Toyota says you should never let the vehicle run out of gas because it isn’t good for the fuel injection system.

Styling:

Toyota ’s best selling Camry continues to be eye pleasing. It rivals more expensive cars like Lexus, BMW and Mercedes. Nice presentation.

Fit and Finish:

Typical Japanese carmakers high degree of attention to detail in piecing the car together.  

Cost:

Competitive, but real cost to operate over time is yet unknown since it is too soon to put dollars to maintenance concerns. I would recommend manufacturers include extended warranty of the drive system to further encourage broad consumer interest. I believe sales volume is hampered by uncertainty.  

Conveniences:

This is, of course, a combination electric drive and gas powered internal combustion engine. It is started without the need for a conventional ignition key. However it is not a convenience since you need the key fob anyway to open the doors and activate the ignition button. I found it to be touchy and confused and that was often troublesome in starting the drive system.   

Consumer Recommendation:

Honda and Toyota are the two major players in the Hybrid market, so you don’t have many to test drive. Both are close in overall impressions for styling and performance.  

Recognized Competition:

Toyota Camry Hybrid $25,900, Honda Civic Hybrid $22-24,000, Honda Accord Hybrid $31-33,000 … other recognized competitors : Chevrolet Impala $20-26,000, Ford Fusion $17-22,000, Pontiac G6 $16-29,000, Nissan Altima $18-30,000, Volvo S40 $24-29,000, Volkswagen Jetta $18-24,000, Subaru Legacy $22-34,000, Kia Optima $16-20,000 and Hyundai Sonata $18-23,000, Mazda6 Sports wagon $24-28,000, Toyota Camry $18-28,000.

Good News:

Nice styling, well priced, Fuel efficient, quite and comfortable.

Bad News:

Fairly new technology with unknown maintenance issues down the road.

Standard Equipment:

2.4 liter 187 hp 4-cylinder engine with Hybrid Synergy Drive electric motor, electronic Continuous Variable Transmission (ECVT), electronic power assist rack and pinion steering, 4-wheel ABS disc brakes (with regenerative system to recharge the batteries), front, side and side airbags with driver knee airbag, child restraint system, tire pressure monitor system, engine immobilizer (theft deterrent), halogen auto headlights, daytime running lights, power mirrors, sound dampening windshield (which accounts for the quiet interior ride), keyless start button, climate control, JBL digital audio with MP3 and 6-disc in dash CD changer with Bluetooth and 8 speaker 440 watts, auxiliary audio jack, homelink universal transceiver (for garage door opener), power windows and locks, power drivers seat with lumbar support, tilt and telescopic steering wheel with controls, cruise control, 60/40 split fold down rear seat. Options for voice activated Navigation system will add $1,200 to MSRP

Gas Stats:

40 City and 38 Highway MPG

Pricing:

MSRP $25,900.

Your comments are welcomed. My e-mail is joe@atthewheel.com
Copyright © 2006 – An Automotive Love Affair

2005 Toyota Tundra Double Cab LTD 4X4 V8. (535)

OK, on to the next in a series on pickup trucks. The 2005 Toyota Tundra Double Cab LTD 4X4 V8 is Japan’s way of going Off Broadway to say “I can do anything you can do, better, I can do anything better than you. Yes I can, yes I can…” Remember the lyrics to Annie Get your Gun?

Well, can they? Chrysler, GM and Ford would take issue with that and America still has the corner on the truck market. Why, because they are better, older or more experienced? Probably a little of each. But Toyota for one Japanese company is putting the pressure on with the likes of Tundra and Tacoma (publication March 12) while Nissan hits hard with the Frontier and Titan.

To see the seriousness of competition in the truck market one only need look at the heavy advertising push of the Japanese to look as tough as the image portrayed by Dodge Ram “Grab life by the horns”, Ford Tough and “Built Like a Rock” Chevy.

Handling & Performance:

This is serious stuff. Trucks are the business end of transportation and we all expect they are the closest thing to indestructible go anywhere vehicles. They must pull a house, carry a ton of rock and sand or lighten the job of hauling a load of bricks. And all the time it has to do zero to 60 in under 7 seconds. We don’t ask much, huh? Well this Tundra helped me do all those things and you gotta believe the Big 3 are on notice that Japan is here to stay in the truck market.  

Styling: 

A truck’s a truck’s a truck… well perhaps unless you forget about the marvelous Retro Chevy SSR we talked about recently, a truck is rather boring and more utilitarian by nature. And in the end all the hoopla about design means little when considering how well do they do all the stuff a truck needs to do for you.

Fit and Finish:

Great. And that’s ok, but not all that necessary. I’d rather have a 110 outlet in the back of the cargo area and tie downs. Hey this is business, and even if you don’t haul a ton of hay home to the range you need practical goodies to entice me to choose between the competition. Are you listening Truck makers?

Cost:

All trucks are over priced.

Conveniences:

I would prefer, as noted above, more truck adornments than all the luxury items that should be optional. A truck should have neat utility ideas put into action. That’s what real men want in their helpmate.

Standard equipment should include a Skill and Chain Saw, Rotating Hammer Drill, hay loader, and power outlets and cargo lights. I’ll bet if manufacturers asked designing engineers to give a little thought to what “Tool Time” things guys like, they would draw a lot of interest to their products by adding such things.

Come-on guys think!

Consumer Recommendation:

As always, review the application you primarily intend for a trucks use in your life and then find the one that fits best. Ok, so I have a keen sense of the obvious, but often we get distracted by how cool they look and then spend years regretting the choice. Kinda like looking for a wife, eh.

The Competition:

Toyota Tundra $16-33,000, Ford F-150 $20-36,000, GMC Sierra 1500 $18-42,000, Chevrolet Silverdo 1500 $18-39,000, Nissan Titan $23-35,000, Dodge Ram 1500 $21,355.

Good News:

Perceived Toyota quality, V-8 power, roomy and comfortable ride.

Bad News:
Poor fuel economy which you’d expect as the flip-side of having V8 power. 

Standard Equipment:

  4.7 liter 282 hp V8 engine, 5-speed automatic trans, touch select 4 WD system, power steering and power vented ABS front disc and rear drum brakes, tire pressure monitor, fog lamps, dbl wall cargo bed with tie down hooks, rail caps and locking tailgate, mudguards, captains chairs center console, 60/40 split rear seat, AC, AM/FM with cassette and CD players and steering wheel controls, power windows, locks and mirrors, anti theft with remote entry, cruise control and tilt steering wheel.

Gas Stats:

15 City and 18 Highway MPG.

Pricing:

MSRP $33,075.

Your comments are welcomed. My e-mail is joe@atthewheel.com
Copyright © 2005 – An Automotive Love Affair