Category Archives: Toyota

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

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