Category Archives: Toyota

2005 Toyota Tacoma 4WD Dbl Cab (534)

Overview:

This week I tested the 2005 Toyota Tacoma Double Cab 4X4. I got on a Truck kick to cover as many as possible and as close together to be able to recall and compare. It was a good opportunity to do this because of the drastic weather here in Southern California.

At my ranch in the high desert I experienced the full force of nature with a lot of rain concentrated in a short period of time. As I watched the evening news show surreal events of houses sliding down hillsides and hillsides sliding down onto houses below I could look out my window and watch the real thing happening in living color, helpless to alter the course of the flowing water and mud.

Although a tractor is the real hero in these situations it is the truck that provides the ability to carry the supplies from Home Depot to rebuild and then haul the trash away. So I scheduled a series of trucks to highlight their unique abilities and features. In the trenches of battle against the forces of nature all were capable as trucks go. A base truck is all you generally need in these cases and fancy does little to improve function. However the double cab or crew cab feature provides the best of both worlds. As to the fancy interior, it is a distraction to have to pull your muddy body into an interior more suited for a tuxedo-clad cowboy. Uh huh. I agree it is a contradiction in terms. Not to say the Marlboro man doesn’t clean up real well.

Aside from the fact that all the trucks I tested during this time were too pretty, there were several thoughtful features as well. Great tie down apparatus and even AC outlets in the back of the bed for using power tools out back. Bottom line: as always, the features you’ll need will be dictated by the purpose intended. Both of the above features would surely be important on the ranch in Southern California and even more important on the ranch in Southern Oregon that is far more remote. If you’re on the north forty fixing fence the AC outlet is better than a battery-operated skill saw, for example. And a heavy-duty trailer hitch and 4 wheel drive is a must for hauling a 6 horse trailer and dealing with those muddy roads ahead without paved detours.

Handling & Performance:

A 245 horsepower V6 powered this solid feeling, big, bulky and strongly substantial answer to the rough and tumble lineup of trucks and it competes effectively with those listed below.   

Styling: 

The appearance speaks more to the street scene with a huge air scoop on the hood that is all show and no go. It is window dressing only with no functionality. It just goes to show you we are more into “Form rather than Function”.  As I’ve said before trucks have never looked prettier than they do today.

Fit and Finish:

Consistent with the competition – all of which agree that the consumer demands car like refinement in how a truck is put together. On a working ranch however such attention to detail is wasted.

Cost:

The Tacoma is priced pretty well with lots of basic stuff like air and manual adjusting seats and the upper end of the pricing is for the four-door crew cab configuration well worth the money.

Options can be added for that Rhinestone Cowboy like upgraded audio, side curtain airbags and a TRD Sport package that will quickly bring the price to $31,000.

Conveniences:

The base appointed Tacoma is just fine as a work truck.

Consumer Recommendation:

Determine the application and equipment needs accordingly. You can cut the cost and still get the job done. For the Beverly Hills contractor, you’ll want to add all the fu fu stuff to look cool. Golfing buddy and contractor, Ken, opted for the GMC Canyon. He’s been happy with it but always looking at what he’ll try next. My favorite in this group to win the coin toss would be the Nissan Frontier, but I would be happy with any in this lineup. I own a Dodge Ram 3500 Dualee but I’ll tell you my intention is to replace it with a conventional 4-wheel drive in this price category, even though I like the Cummins Diesel with 250,000 miles. It’s just getting broke in.

The Competition:
Toyota Tacoma $13-25,000, GMC Canyon $15-28,000, Dodge Dakota $20-29,000, Ford Ranger $14-26,000, Chevrolet Colorado $15-29,000, Nissan Frontier $16-27,000.

Good News: 

Solid, nice styling, convenient 4-door, 4WD for the ranch, comfortable seats and Japanese quality.

Bad News:

Fuel economy could be better. 

Standard Equipment:

4.0 liter 245 hp V6 gas engine, 5-speed automatic trans, 4 wheel on demand system with 2-speed transfer case, coil over shock double A arm front suspension, multi leaf rear suspension with staggered outboard mounted shocks and front stabilizer bar, power assist rack and pinion steering, power assisted front disc and rear drum ABS brakes and brake force distribution, dual air bags, composite long bed liner with steel panel rail caps and removable tailgate deck rail system with adjustable tie down cleats, 60/40 rear bench seat, air conditioning, power windows and door locks and mirrors, AM/FM with CD player, tilt and telescoping steering wheel, engine immobilizer and aux power outlet.

Gas Stats:

17 City and 21 Highway MPG.

Pricing: 

MSRP $25,250.

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

2005 Toyota Highlander 4-door Limited AWD (523)

Overview:

This week I tested the 2005 Toyota Highlander SUV. “Oooooh, the weather outside is frightful but the fire is so delightful … when the temperature goes way down low, let it snow, let it snow, let it snooow…” Yes, my test took me on a thanksgiving trek to snow country, but this Highlander was right at home. Bun warmer seats and all wheel drive. What more could you ask for on perhaps the best if not the coldest holiday of the year.

Well, the drive to the Pacific Northwest can be rough, but I’ve gotta tell you, this Toyota turned out to be a pleasant surprise. It was up to the trek and really shined in spite of the elements. Rain, snow and sleet bar the way for a lot of vehicles but that explains the extreme popularity of SUV’s. The reasons are logical but the cost is not. The cost to run such gas-guzzlers goes beyond purchase price, all the way to operation and the cost to society and the world is inestimable.

So why does it appeal to you and me so much? I think it’s because we want the choice to live on the edge “in comfort”. And because of that, we’re beginning to see manufacturers respond to the demand and mitigate the fuel cost with Hybrid’s, DOD technology (displacement on demand), fuel cell designs and simply better running and performing traditional internal combustion engines.

Thus consumers have in a sense pushed carmakers to produce more fuel-efficient engines. Nice job guys, because you have helped, in a round about way, to encourage our fight to battle dependence on the Middle East for oil.

Toyota is doing as much as the rest of the automotive industry to create solutions and provide options for consumers to be able to drive more economically. The Prius for example, that I reviewed several weeks ago, can achieve up to 60 mpg of gasoline. This Highlander’s actual performance for me was 21 mpg on the highway. I know it says 24, but the way most of us drive 21 is about the best you’ll get on this one. The real average for the Prius is about 41 mpg, which is about the best of any car in the world.

Handling & Performance:

Outstanding. There is no way you can argue with near perfection. Toyota just continues to do it better. And although you’ll pay more for the experience, there is no denying the Japanese superiority in car making. They obviously try harder to make them better, and that costs a bit more. All wheel drive does wonders for hugging the road and the confidence in cold, rain and snow is worth the added cost.

Styling:   

Very nice. I really like this addition to their fleet.

Fit and Finish:   

Very good.

Cost:

Pricey if you must have the navigation system at about $2,000 and leather seating will set you back another $1,400, and if you crank up the volume by upgrading the stereo system and CD changer and opt for a moon roof you’ll pop for another $1,100. With a few other ups and extras you can quickly be at $38,000.

Conveniences:  

I guess the only one I missed being in the colder climate is the “Remote Start” feature. But it does apply only to the cold places in this great land, and since I don’t live at the North Pole or Detroit, I can do without it.

Customer Recommendation:

Surely you will not have a problem finding competition. There is plenty and they are all good. I suspect purchase price and fuel economy will be the determining factor, and many today are quality conscious. They want their cars to last a long time. That wasn’t always the case when only American cars were on the road. They truly dictated what people would drive. They were powerful when only the “Big 3” was in the drivers seat (so to speak). Today people have more to choose from and they choose well built over break-often American cars of the past. That is not as true today since Ford, Chrysler and GM have new kids on the block who want to punch their lights out.

The Competition:

Highlander $24-31,000, Chrysler Pacifica $29-32,000, Mitsubishi Endeavor $25-33,000, Hyundai Santa Fe $18-25,000, Suzuki Grand Vitara $18-23,000, Jeep Liberty $18-25,000, Kia Sorento $19-25,000, Infiniti FX $35-45,000, Nissan Murano $28-31,000, Ford Escape $19-27,000, Mazda Tribute $20-24,000, Subaru Outback $19-33,000, Saturn Vue $17-24,000, Honda Pilot $27-34,000.  

Good News:   

Toyota quality, nice design, wonderfully comfortable ride – a great highway vehicle. Roomy, responsive and confident.

Bad News:   

Pricey. Not great fuel efficiency.

Standard Equipment:   

3.3 liter V6 engine with VVT (variable valve timing), 5-speed auto trans with snow mode, full time 4-wheel drive and ABS power assist disc brakes with EBD (electronic Brake Distribution), front air bags, power mirrors, privacy glass, fog lights and roof rack, cloth interior with power front captains chairs, fold flat 60/40 split second and fold flat third row seat, JBL sound system with cassette and CD player with 8 speakers and steering wheel controls, leather trim tilt steering wheel and shift lever, climate control, power windows and locks, multi information display, cruise control, auto headlights, keyless entry, anti theft alarm and engine immobilizer and burled maple wood grain style trim.

Gas Stats:

18 City and 24 Highway MPG.

Pricing: 

MSRP $31,380.

Your comments are welcomed. My e-mail is joe@atthewheel.com
Copyright © 2004 – An Automotive Love Affair

2005 Toyota Prius Sedan (520)

Overview:

This week I reviewed the Prius that I first looked at in 2000. This 2005 version of the Toyota Prius Sedan hasn’t changed a lot but the look is, albeit subtle, nicer looking in my view. Although the 2001 model was at the beginning, this is now becoming serious and in contention because it is getting the eye from consumers in a more serious way. I encourage everyone to go out and test drive one. For starters it is a bargain for the dough. Why, because surely Toyota is NOT selling them for what it would take to make a profit. The R&D (Research and Development) costs must be huge and no sales would be made if the price reflected that cost. And over how many units would they need to amortize those costs to make a profit? I suspect they are subsidizing the real cost a selling price in the twenty grand range.

Well, you know what I mean. And so, it is for the consumer to embrace the concept of an alternative fuel vehicle. Hydrogen is way off and the infrastructure will take 20 years to get into place to service Fuel Cell vehicles anyway, at a minimum. The HiWire (Fuel Cell Technology) prototype from GM is the hot ticket conceptually, in my view. I love that oversized skateboard design. But that design has been in the works for over 50 years and was first seen at the LA Auto Show in the late 1940’s.

Handling & Performance:

As with prior year models the Prius presents a smooth ride and power is provided by a 76 hp gas engine and 67 hp from an electric motor. The smooth transfer of power is the responsibility of the ECVT for Electronic Controlled Variable Transmission. Ok, so you’re not going to experience head snapping acceleration and it will take over 10 seconds to go from 0-60 mph. From there to a seeming top speed of about 95 it is a slower rate yet. Nothing is perfect, however and the other strong points out weighs the relative slowness. I’ll bet, aside from the quite engine / battery combination, you won’t be able to tell the difference from driving most of the gas only options you have. The Prius starts out on battery and switches to the gas engine when you demand more horsepower.

EPA fuel economy is reverse from typical gas engines, and Prius is better in town than on the highway. The reason, of course, is it uses it’s impressive electric motor torque starting out and kicks in the gas engine, as more power is needed. Honda Insight Hybrid starts off on the gas engine and is assisted by the battery when the throttle demands more power.

This technology is so cool. I like the idea of recharging the batteries from the reverse energy of slowing and braking. You can see that on the Energy Monitor LCD screen.

My comment in 2000 was that “I suspect when gas prices go higher American consumers will lose the BMW and Mercedes Benz” and begin looking to realistic economy. Well, here we are 4 years later and gas has gone from under a buck to over two bucks a gallon. The writing is on the wall and even luxury cars like the Lexus RX 400 and the Ford Escape SUV have Hybrid versions.

Styling:   

Futuristic, and rather likeable.

Fit and Finish:  

Pretty basic but better than many in this price vehicle. The general interior finish is unique, because of the display of information and placement of the speedometer relative to more traditional vehicles.

Cost:  

The Prius and the Honda Civic Hybrid are sedans and thus worth the price of admission. But the Insight has always been overpriced, in my opinion, because it is only a two seater.

Conveniences:  

I like the information LCD screen that shows a graphic of how the power plants are functioning, temp, audio, etc. And an option package is available for $5,000 to include a voice activated NAV system, Smart Key system, side and curtain air bags, security alarm, cassette player and upgrade to 8 CD changer, vehicle stability control and fog lights. Standard however is having many of the controls on the steering wheel. Temperature controls, audio, phone and system information conveniently on the wheel is very convenient. All controls are also available “On Screen” with touch screen control. If you opt for the Nav system you’re gonna love the instant GPS address information with the touch of a button.

Consumer Recommendation:

Look at the competition and if you still don’t get all the education you want, go on line to Google, or Ask Jeeves etc. and look for “Hybrid Vehicles” for a host of information on the subject. Discuss the warranty before you buy and be sure it is the latest and greatest coverage. Batteries are expensive and the drive train is not time tested. The platform has only been on the market for 5 years. The first to hit the market was the Insight in 1999.

You will ultimately be the judge, but take my advice and test drive the Prius and Civic Hybrid’s before you can’t even find one for sale. I haven’t driven the Hybrid VW, and so as others also become available I will review them as quickly as possible. Presently, for me, it would be a toss up between the Civic and the Prius.

The Competition:

Toyota Prius $20,875, Honda Insight $19-21,000, Volkswagen Golf $16-19,000, Honda Civic $13-19,000.

Good News:   

It’s a Hybrid with great fuel economy, and the ride is quiet and comfortable with roomy interior and decent size trunk and fold down seats for even more cargo area.

Bad News:

It’s a Hybrid with allthe unknowns of a new product as to reliability and affordable maintenance; batteries can run $1-2,000, for example. Earlier on warranty offered was better than today’s.

Standard Equipment:   

1.5 liter 76 hp 4 cylinder engine, ECVT, power steering, front disc and rear drum ABS brakes with brake force distribution and assist, power heated mirrors, dual airbags, traction control, climate control, audio with CD player, remote keyless entry with engine immobilizer, cruise control, outside temp gauge and digital clock, LCD multi info display screen with energy monitor, fuel consumption, air, outside tem and audio status, tilt steering wheel with temp and audio controls, 60/40 rear split fold seat, front and rear intermittent wipers, power door locks and windows, cloth seats, center console, 2 auxiliary 12 v power outlets.

Gas Stats:

60 City and 51Highway MPG

Pricing:   

MSRP $20,875.

Your comments are welcomed. My e-mail is joe@atthewheel.com
Copyright © 2004 – An Automotive Love Affair

2003 Toyota Tacoma PreRunner 2-WD Double Cab (420)

Overview:

Ok folks grab your kidney belt and come along on this weeks testing of the 2003 Toyota Tacoma 2-WD pickup with crew cab – Toyota calls it a Double Cab. The kidney belt can best be used to keep your teeth from chattering. But at the end of the week, other than a bouncy ride (really from not carrying a load), it was a pretty nice little truck. The rough riders who will drive these trucks should, of course, have some purpose other than transportation.

Well, I gotta ask you, if they can put a man on the moon isn’t it fair to bitch about the fact that we can’t build highways and trucks that are compatible. Cars are more forgiving because they don’t need to carry a load and the suspension is softer. But trucks move the country and more importantly they get us back and forth from Home Depot.

On the whole, I liked the truck and give credit where credit is due. After owning pickups in past lives I definitely wouldn’t own one without at least an extended cab. This crew cab is the norm these days for most truck makers and a great improvement over trucks of yesteryear. I can’t imagine any application not better served by having rear seating of some kind.

Handling & Performance:

Just when I said the ride couldn’t be worse than a Peterbuilt dump truck I tested the GMC crew cab one-ton pickup truck and got my brains shaken up. In that light the Tacoma wasn’t so bad. Suffice it to say most heavy suspension vehicles don’t handle cement highways very well. Black top is best, but road engineers haven’t a clue how to lay down cement sections of highway. Car manufacturers have tested all makes and models and they all do the same thing. They simply can’t engineer for stupid road builders. Do you think we have lousy cement highways because some government official’s inept brother-in-law was awarded the contract or are they simply all inept? I’d be interested in your comments on this subject.

My three grandchildren 4-7 years liked the ride just find. Two adults, two 7 year olds and 4-year-old Cierra in her car seat made the trip to Disneyland in the relative comfort of this Tacoma. In fact the kids appreciated the bouncy ride and thought it was fun. On the ride home you could hear melodious and rhythmical “ah-ah-ah-ah…” as we bounced down the highway. They hummed themselves to sleep after the long busy day and damn near put me to sleep too.

Styling:

If a small truck is all you need, this is surely a nice looking ride. I had a 1955 Ford ½ ton pickup when I was 16 and still love that classic design. I delivered 420 LA Times papers to much of South Pasadena in that truck. I reminisce about those days, but mostly I remember the classic look of cars and trucks in the early days. Today, everything has a homogeneous look, especially the computer generated, wind tunnel perfect, .4 drag coefficient that means those distinctive days are gone forever.

Fit and Finish:

This truck is light years ahead of that old 1955 Ford or any car of those days in how well they are assembled. The Japanese, Toyota in particular, is especially good at attention to detail. Heck, they didn’t even sell cars or trucks in the US in the 1950’s.

Cost:

Here I go again, complaining about the high price of cars. They give us so much service, and we, as a society, can’t do without the automobile, so why complain, right? Well, look around. Everything that is technically designed and built keeps coming down in price. A personal computer purchased in 1980 for $3-6,000 is now ¼ the price for magnitudes better technology. Cars in 1980 that cost $5-10,000 have increased 4 times and haven’t changed all that much. In my view, a truck shouldn’t cost nearly $20-24,000, let alone $45,000 for that GMC I mentioned above with Quadra Steer.

Consumer Recommendation:

Trucks have come a long way and although I’m having a bad hair day and still shaking from the bouncy ride I have ranked it number two out of the competition noted here.

The Competition: * (in order of ranking)

(1) Nissan Frontier $13-27,000, (2) Toyota Tacoma $12-22,000, (3) Ford Ranger $13-25,000, (4) Dodge Dakota $16-25,000, (5) Chevrolet S-10 $14-24,000, (6) GMC Sonoma $14-24,000.

 * – Ranking is based on cost, cu ft, number of features, warranty and gas mileage.

Good News:

Well built, seats 5 people and it’s a Toyota.

Bad News:

Poor mileage, bouncy ride, pricey and the competition are just as bad. Perhaps HP or IBM should get into the car business!

Standard Equipment:

3.4 liter V6 engine, 4-speed auto trans, power steering, power front disc rear drum antilock brakes, dual air bags, child restraint anchors, double wall cargo bed with hooks, tow hook, remote mirrors, cloth seats, radio with cassette, tilt wheel, intermittent wipers, carpeting, auxiliary power outlets. Now if you stop here the cost is $19,170. But if you want the following options you’ll pay $24,163: cruise control, SR5 / Chrome package that also adds a CD player and two more speakers, off road package, power windows and locks with keyless entry, bed liner and bed extender.

Gas Stats:

17 City and 20 Highway MPG.

Pricing:

MSRP $19,170-24,163.
Your comments are welcomed. My e-mail is joe@atthewheel.com
Copyright © 2002 – An Automotive Love Affair

2003 Toyota RAV4 2-WD (419)

Overview:

This week I drove the 2003 Toyota RAV4 2-WD. Great little SUV with good gas performance if you don’t need off road capability. It seats 4 comfortably and leaves decent cargo space too. And with the rear seats folded down it provides about 68 cubic feet of cargo area.

Handling & Performance:

This is a fun to drive smaller SUV very similar to the Toyota Matrix and Pontiac Vibe. It handles well and gets very good gas mileage. The 4-WD option indicates only a couple of  miles better gas performance, but I find that is not usually true. I suspect it is more like 4-5 mpg worse.

Styling:

Naturally the world is expanding for auto makers and it appears there must be more market outside the US because they chose to have the rear cargo door open from left to right, or toward the curb if you drive on the right side of the road. US drivers won’t like that much. That observation noted, the rest of the design is sporty and generally attractive.

Fit and Finish:

Very good. 8 on a scale of 1-10.

Cost:

Not bad but not great either. You’ll definitely want to look closely at all the competition.

Consumer Recommendation:

If you don’t need 4-wheel drive, this front wheel drive is next best plus it will pay dividends in passing a lot more gas stations. Size and towing is very limited. But for all the other reasons you buy an SUV this will do a good job. Other competitors in my view include the Pontiac Vibe and the Toyota Matrix similarly priced.

Manufacturer recommendation:

A more powerful engine option should be available. Or better yet why don’t you go to high performance high efficiency diesel engines now available that get 90 mpg. Once consumers find you could do it and don’t they’re going to be really upset.

The Competition:

Toyota RAV4 $17-18,000,  Chevrolet Tracker $16-22,000, Honda CR-V $19-22,000,  Kia Sportage $17-18,000, Subaru Forester $21-24,000, Suzuki Grand Vitara $19-23,000.

Others to consider:

Pontiac Vibe $16-20,000, Chrysler PT Cruiser $16-23,000, Ford Focus Wagon $17-18,000, Mazda Protege5 $16,000, Subaru Impreza Wagon $17-23,000, Toyota Matrix $15-19,000.

Good News:

Sporty, roomy, economical and fun to drive with great turning radius.

Bad News:

 An SUV that is 2-wheel front drive so no off roading, rear door opens into the curb which is not so good for US consumers.

Standard Equipment:

 2.0 liter 4-cylinder engine, 4-speed auto trans, front wheel drive, power steering, front disc and rear drum brakes, dual front air bags, manual outside mirrors, tinted glass, AM/FM with CD player, intermittent wipers front and riear, tilt wheel.

Gas Stats:

24 City and 29 Highway MPG.

Pricing:

MSRP $17,575.
Your comments are welcomed. My e-mail is joe@atthewheel.com
Copyright © 2002 – An Automotive Love Affair

2002 Toyota Sequoia (418)

Overview:

This week I drove the 2002 Toyota Sequoia SUV, which is the first model year. 2003 wasn’t released when I tested it and I was told there wouldn’t be significant changes for the 03-year release. Another reason I wanted to test it was because a friend just bought an 02 and I rode in it and thought others would also be interested.

Luxury SUV’s like this Sequoia is a constant reminder of just how big this class of vehicle has become. Most consumers have their own reasons for buying a vehicle that is expensive to buy and operate. They probably don’t have a boat or other hole to dump their money or maybe they simply have money to burn. So much for a poor economy. When the Republicans are in office the Democrats talk about how bad the economy is and of course we believe them. But when I look around at today’s trains, planes and automobiles the USA looks pretty affluent. Am I missing something here? Of course it is said “It’s a recession when you’re out of work and a depression when I’m out of work”. All relative I guess.

I enjoyed driving this well endowed and abundantly appointed car/truck/small bus. What’s not to like. Other than the poor mileage from a 4.7-liter V8 at 14-17 mpg I couldn’t complain too much. It was comfortable, after all, and folks know instinctively this tank must cost about $50 grand so people will think the driver is pretty successful. We humans are shallow, don’t you think?

Handling & Performance:

”Big” speaks volumes. For starters it carries up to 8 good-sized people comfortably. It is still smaller than the Chevy Suburban or Ford Excursion and has 240 horses to power you from gas pump to gas pump.

Styling:

Nice, but I quickly tired of the long reach past the necessary running boards that got my pant legs dirty as I avoided their use. In the process I think I’d eventually tear my clothing on the plastic seat apparatus on exit. Friend Mark noticed the same problem in his new 2002.

Fit and Finish:

Toyota is “First Class” when it comes to assembly. They simply are as good as cars get. But then $42,000 should buy something more than a V8, 8 leather seats and nice carpet.

Cost:

Well I hate to complain but manufacturers could do a lot better. You’d think the heavy  competition would keep the price down. But they keep the huge profit margin the same and just reduce the size of the SUV. These guys are getting smarter.  Porsche even entered the market.
Consumer Recommendation:
If you have money to burn, care little for how fast we burn fossil fuels and need a 4-wheel drive, 9 out of 10 will never use, go for it. Otherwise look closely at the smaller versions of SUV’s that are now available for a fraction of the price with AWD capability and twice the gas mileage. Which ones would those be? Pontiac Vibe or Toyota Matrix, Nissan Xterra, Ford Escape, Saturn Vue and Toyota RAV4 to name but a few.

The Competition: * (in order of ranking)

(1t) Toyota Sequoia $31-43,000, (1t) Chevrolet Tahoe $34-36,000, (2) GMC Yukon $34-37,000, (3) Ford Expedition $31-41,000.

 * – Ranking is based on cost, cu ft, number of features, warranty and gas mileage.

Good News:

Luxurious comfort with all the conveniences the world has to offer for up to 8 people.

Bad News:

Burns gas like we didn’t need oil from Iraq and Sons, painful entry and exit in this, you got to love it, Behemoth.

Standard Equipment:

4.7 liter V8, four speed auto trans, 4-WD, 4-wheel vented ABS disc brakes, aluminum alloy wheels, power steering, dual air bags, power heated mirrors, fog lights, leather faced power front seats with heaters, 2nd and 3rd row leather faced seats, power windows and door licks, stereo with cassette, CD and 10 speakers, tilt steering wheel, cruise control, 10 cup holders, auto headlights, anti theft system and immobilizer, digital auto climate control and keyless entry.

Gas Stats:

14 City and 17 Highway MPG.

Pricing:

MSRP $42,725.
Your comments are welcomed. My e-mail is joe@atthewheel.com
Copyright © 2002 – An Automotive Love Affair

2003 Toyota Matrix 4WD (412)

Overview:

This week I drove the 2003 Toyota Matrix 4WD mid size “Crossover” vehicle. This is the natural evolution created by consumer demands in the cars they have been choosing for one hundred years. In other countries where gas is $4 a gallon small economical cars were an obvious necessity. Here in the US where gas has always been subsidized, we’ve been spoiled and large gas-guzzlers were relatively affordable, especially with our love affair for the motorcar.

Most recently, say in the past 20 years, consumers have been buying smaller, more economical cars, mini-vans and the love of SUV’s, in spite of their terrible gas numbers, have driven manufacturers to meld them all together. The result in the 21st Century is the joint venture between Japan and the U.S. to develop this Toyota Matrix (built in Canada) and its sister car the Pontiac Vibe (built in California).

Remember when the Pontiac Aztek came out? It was considered ugly, but no one could deny it was a very new and different design, and the first of the Crossover versatile vehicles to be built. In the past couple of years the Chevrolet Avalanche and the Cadillac Escalade have provided SUV/Pickup crossovers.

Some consider them ugly, but I chose to think of these new designs as being futuristic. The Cadillac CTS is a luxury passenger car example of new space age styling that I believe will become more popular as the next generation begin to buy cars.  All you need to do is look at the toys our children have been playing with and the television they’ve been watching.

 Cad CTS.

Handling & Performance:

This mid size economy car leaves a little to be desired in the performance area because it is a bit underpowered for my taste. But all things considered this is, after all, a combination SUV, Mini-Van, Wagon and passenger car. It does so much so well. It corners better than the typical SUV with a lower center of gravity and even though it is an all wheel drive car, it doesn’t burn near as much gas as the average SUV. On the whole it is a fun car to drive.

Styling:

Forward thinking design that is becoming more popular every day.

Fit and Finish:

Very good.

Cost:

Great value for this versatile vehicle.

Consumer Recommendation:

Can we talk? as Joan Rivers would say. This is a great young family car. It is economical, easier to get in and out of for little ones and old as well. It also has that sought after qualities of an SUV. You’ve simply got to drive one of these well priced nice looking family vehicles. While you’re test-driving the Matrix, go over to Pontiac to drive the Vibe. Slight styling difference but essentially the same car.

The Competition: * (in order of ranking)
(1) Mazda Protégé 5 $16,000, (2) Toyota Matrix $14,670, (3) Ford Focus $17,000, (4) Volkswagen Jetta Wagon $18-27,000, (5) Chrysler PT Cruiser $17-26,000, (6) Subaru Impreza Wagon $17-23,000.

* – Ranking is based on a formula using cost, cu ft, number of features, warranty and gas mileage.

Good News:

New, different, great utility and versatility while being economical.

Bad News:

Small but with space for 4 tall adults it is more thin skinned which gives rise to higher levels of road noise, marginally low power.

Standard Equipment:

1.8 liter 130 hp 4-cylinder engine, 4-speed auto transmission, full time 4-wheel drive, power steering, power front disc ABS brakes, dual airbags, child safety rear locks, halogen headlights, daytime running lights, rear intermittent wiper, air conditioning, outside temp gauge, tachometer, leather wrapped tilt steering wheel, power windows and door locks, flat folding front passenger and 60/40 split folding rear seat, AM/FM radio with CD player, 2-12 volt and 1- 115volt outlets.

Gas Stats:

26 City and 31 Highway MPG.

Pricing:

MSRP $18,445.
Your comments are welcomed. My e-mail is joe@atthewheel.com
Copyright © 2002 – An Automotive Love Affair

2003 Toyota Corolla LE (411)

Overview:

This week I drove the 2002 Toyota Corolla LE 4-door sedan right after the Camry LE and I’m more impressed with the Corolla for the dough. I noted that Camry is bigger than it needs to be and this enlarged Corolla is similar to the old model Camry’s. Corolla remains perhaps the best selling car of all time. That speaks volumes about how people think of this size car and the quality for the money.

I always liked the Camry better, perhaps because I saw little difference between that and the Lexus ES series in the early days. It provided mid-level luxury for a lot less money than similar cars like the ES.

Although this Corolla is a light weight for my tastes, it is a great transportation car and people have seen the value for years. Will it remain so? Only time will tell, but I think it will. And with the price of gas still high this 4-cylinder economy passenger sedan is bound to remain top dog for some time to come.

Handling & Performance:

Good handling and this little 4-banger puts out an adequate 130 horses but I miss the acceleration of a V6. On the other hand I like passing a few more gas stations.

Styling:

Plain Jane Cookie Cutter design.

Fit and Finish:

Typical Toyota, meaning – nice attention to detail.

Cost:

Up a bit from the prior year model, but check it out, the price is “Less” than the 1998 price for the same model which was $15,598 versus this 2003 model which is $14,680. Is that cool or what?

Consumer Recommendation:

This new Corolla reminds me of the older Camry’s so I like it even more. I’ve owned a few Toyota’s and have always liked them.

The Competition: * (in order of ranking)

(1t) Toyota Corolla LE $13-15,000, (1t) Hyundai Elantra $12-14,000, (2) Nissan Sentra $12-17,000, (3t) Mazda Protege $13-16,000, (3t) Saturn SL $11-14,000, (4) Volkswagen Golf $15-18,000,(5) Mitsubishi Lancer $14-16000, (6) Subaru Impreza $19-24,000, (7) Dodge Neon $13-17,000,  (8) Ford Focus $13-19,000, (9t) Chevrolet Cavalier $14-20,000, (9t) Honda Civic $13-21,000, (10) Pontiac Sunfire $15-17,000.

* – Ranking is based on a formula using cost, cu ft, number of features, warranty and gas mileage.

Good News:

It’s a Toyota and the price is competitive, excellent gas performance.

Bad News:

Plain Jane cookie cutter design.

Standard Equipment:

1.8 liter 130 hp 4-cylinder engine, 5-speed manual transmission, front wheel drive, power steering with tilt wheel, 4-wheel independent suspension, power front disc brakes, dual airbags, child safety rear locks, power mirrors, power windows and locks, remote keyless entry, air conditioning, variable intermittent wipers and split fold down rear seat.

Gas Stats:

32 City and 40 Highway MPG.

Pricing:

MSRP $14,680.

Your comments are welcomed. My e-mail is joe@atthewheel.com
Copyright © 2002 – An Automotive Love Affair

2002 Toyota Camry LE (410)

Overview:

This week I drove the 2002 Toyota Camry LE 4-door sedan and I sensed it was bigger than it needed to be unless they plan to dump the Avalon. This totally redesigned Camry is surely Toyota’s response to people wanting bigger cars again. I hope we don’t return to the days of huge lumbering cars that could second for a “Tank” if you just added a gun turret.

In reality, although it felt much bigger, it is only one inch longer with a two inch longer wheelbase. But it is taller and wider and that is what attacked my senses. I just thought it was a great size before and filled a need in that size car.

Sales figures from Toyota show that 75% of buyers opt for the fuel-efficient 4-cylinder engine. And they say that this new Camry change represents a move from Sensible to Sensual. Right. That’s exactly my point. Why would they want to change a winner? And is it really all that Sensual?

Handling & Performance:

Decent handling but nothing to write home about. I was a little miffed at a couple of things. My foot kept hitting the support under the dash while applying the brake, which was annoying. Braking was also noticeably spongy with a long travel.

Styling:

Unexciting is the best way to put it. It simply isn’t a memorable car, and that’s ok because that cuts both ways. Obviously people liked the look and functional attributes of the Camry up to this time. And only time will tell if they will embrace the changed version as much.

Fit and Finish:

Good.  But this is something you notice when it’s bad, and overlook when it’s good. Most Japanese made cars do a good job at making the joints fit closely, even and uniform. This Camry is no exception.

Cost:

Not bad, all things considered.

Consumer Recommendation:

This new Camry reminds me too much of the Chevrolet Malibu or a Buick in that bulky feeling that is not attractive to me. The Corolla is about the size of previous Camry’s and you’d save some money at the same time if it satisfies your requirements.

The Competition: * (in order of ranking)

(1) Saturn LS $16-20,000, (2) Honda Accord $16-25,000, (3) Ford Taurus $19-23,000,  (4) Chrysler Concorde $23-28,000, (5) Mitsubishi Galant $18-24,000, (6) Subaru Legacy $19-25,000, (7t) Pontiac Grand Prix $21-26,000, (7t) Toyota Camry LE $24,950, (8) Nissan Maxima $25-27,000, (9t) Buick LeSabre $25-30,000, (9t) Dodge Intrepid $21-27,000, (9t) Volkswagen Passat $22-38,000, (10) Volvo S60 $27-34,000, (11) Chevrolet Impala $20-24,000.

* – Ranking is based on a formula using cost, cu ft, number of features, warranty and gas mileage.

Good News:

One of the best selling cars in the US so it is highly regarded on a wide scale, and the good gas performance probably has a lot to do with its popularity.

Bad News:

Boring, untested new platform, jerky gas peddle, brake travel is long and spongy.

Standard Equipment:

2.4 liter4-cylinder engine, 4-speed auto transmission, front wheel drive, power steering, 4-wheel independent suspension, power front disc brakes, dual airbags, child safety rear locks, power mirrors, power windows and locks, climate control, cruise control, tilt steering wheel, variable intermittent wipers and split fold down rear seat.

Gas Stats:

23 City and 32 Highway MPG.

Pricing:

MSRP $19,800.
Your comments are welcomed. My e-mail is joe@atthewheel.com
Copyright © 2002 – An Automotive Love Affair

2002 Toyota Camry SE V6 (376)

Overview:

This week we’re looking at the 2002 Toyota Camry. Bore – ring! I’ve always felt their whole line of passenger cars has been unexciting. You know, like they are not controversial in styling where some people love them while others hate them. But, at the end of the day, they always get the job done without any fan-fare. They simply are great cars all around.

Camry was introduced in 1983 and began being built in the US in 1988. They took the title of “Best Selling Passenger Car in America” away from Honda Accord and Ford Taurus in 1997. Today they are available in six trims –  LE, SE, XLE, LE V6, SE V6 and XLE V6. They are powered by either a 2.4-liter 157-horsepower 4-cylinder engine, or a 3.0-liter 192-horsepower V6. There is no manual trans option with the V6.

Toyota has always had a good reputation for quality and that is reason enough to be crowned the top selling mid-sized sedan in America for the past five years. I have to admit, I liked this new 2002 a lot. I’ve owned a few Toyotas over the years and they have been consistently good cars. Brother-in-law Steve and wife Margaret have driven a Camry for a long time and I’ve never heard a bad word. You come to expect them to be good and they never disappoint me. That reputation precedes them these days and has given them momentum that is hard to overcome by the competition.

I have, however, tested all the competition noted below at one time or another, and the standout this year for me is the Mitsubishi Galant.

The 2002 Camry is newly revamped and sits on a Lexus platform. However, don’t get excited, you won’t confuse it for a Lexus, especially when you check out the $31,000 price tag for the ES 300.

Handling & Performance:

I thought it was very good for the most part. But even perfect things, like people, have chinks in their armor. It performed well enough, but there was an unsettling little stutter in the engine from time to time and I couldn’t put my finger on the problem. I felt that at any moment the missing could end in complete engine failure.

Styling: 

I don’t know about you, but I don’t see that it has changed in appearance all that much. But that’s a “good” thing. It didn’t become the best selling Sedan in America by needing a face-lift. I don’t think I’d fool around with the looks all that much either.

Fit and Finish:

I expect them to be good. The Japanese have set the standard in today’s world because Japanese workers have a work ethic second to none. They just seem to give more care to the process of putting all the parts of the puzzle together to produce a pretty picture, and a pretty darn good car too.

Conveniences: 

Fairly usual for the price and quality of this car.

Cost:

Not bad. But you could eliminate options packages in parenthesis in the equipment list below and save $4759.

Recommendation:

If you’re seriously in the market for a new car, and in this price range, begin test-driving in the numbered order noted below in parenthesis to save some time. Let me know where you stopped and what you thought. You can email your comments by going to www.atthewheel.com. Happy hunting.

The competition: 

(1)Mitsubishi Galant $18-24,000, (2)Toyota Camry $19-25,000, (3)Volkswagen Passat $22-29,000, (4)Oldsmobile Intrigue $23-28,000, (5)Honda Accord $16-25,000, (6)Buick Regal $23-27,000, (7)Ford Taurus $19-23,000, (8)Nissan Maxima $25-27,000, (9)Mazda 626 $19-23,000, (10)Chevrolet Impala $20-24,000,  (11)Chrysler Concorde $23-28,000, (12)Saturn LS $16-20,000, (13)Subaru Legacy $19-25,000, (14)Dodge Intrepid $21-27,000, (15)Pontiac Grand Prix $21-26,000.

Good News:

 It’s a Toyota with a great rep.

Bad News:

Changes usually cause bugs.

Standard Equipment:

3.0 liter 192 horsepower V6 engine, 4-speed auto trans, front wheel drive, power steering, power 4-wheel disc brakes, dual front air bags, child door locks, auto halogen headlights, alloy wheels, auto air conditioning, stereo with cassette, CD player with 6 speakers, power windows and door locks and mirrors, cruise control, leather tilt steering wheel and shift knob, (keyless entry, leather trim package, power driver seat, upgraded stereo with a six disc CD changer and two more speakers, power moon roof, heated front seats, vehicle skid control and side air bags).

Gas Stats:

20 City and 28 Highway MPG.

Pricing:

MSRP $28,914.

Your comments are welcomed. My e-mail is joe@atthewheel.com

Copyright © 2002 – An Automotive Love Affair