Category Archives: Toyota

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

2001 Toyota Highlander 4X4 SUV (362)

Overview:  

This week I had the chance to look at the 2001 Toyota Highlander SUV. It feels more like a mini van without the sliding doors, but Toyota says it’s “for buyers demanding the image and versatility of an SUV but who prioritize a sedan’s ride, handling and comfort.” In any case you don’t really know where to categorize this one. Is it an SUV or a Mini Van or a Sedan? A little bit of all I guess. At the end of the day I wasn’t terribly impressed with the combination in an attempt to give us consumers what we want. This mutant may well fill the need, but only time will tell if the market warms up to a car without a clear definition as to what it is. Will the consumer be confused and go out and buy a real Sedan, SUV or Mini Van with sliding doors?

It may be a futile attempt at being all things to all people. If, however, Toyota’s target is reached (Women drivers) it will have been a brilliant read of that market need.

Handling & Performance:

It rides like a passenger car or station wagon would be a better comparison. With the 4-wheel drive capability and the road clearance to qualify it to be called an SUV. It should indeed appeal more to women drivers particularly those with family needs who like the idea of SUV styling. They probably realize they will never get off-road anyway and some just can’t warm up to Mini Vans that are often viewed as nerdy.

Styling:

It’s a part of the growing trend for SUV’s to become more car like. Not such a new concept but Toyota takes this consumer demand further by blurring the distinction even more. I’ve heard it said Highlander’s styling is “non-descript” which is a pretty good criticism. It’s anything but risky styling. Ho-hum, perhaps.

Fit and Finish:

Toyota can always be counted on for producing a well put together car. They, like most Japanese auto products, simply are among the best.

Conveniences:

You get what you pay for and because of the Toyota nameplate you’ll get fewer features than may come standard on competitors base models.

Cost:

At first blush it looks reasonably priced, but there is no free lunch folks and if you want the goodies you’ll end up out the door with an invoice nearly $10,000 more than the MSRP noted below for the popular name plate of Toyota.

Recommendation:

If you don’t need an off-road vehicle the mini van is the better option. It will get much better gas mileage and for the family, it is easier to enter and exit for the little people. The styling of the Mini Vans has improved greatly over the years. In my view they are still the most practical family car on the market.

The competition (Order of Preference**): 

(1)Mazda Tribute $18-24,000, (2)Ford Escape $18-24,000, (3)Subaru Forester $20-24,000, (4)Pontiac Aztek $21-27,000, (5)Toyota Highlander $23-26,000.

Good News:

Roomy, strong V6, refined quality product.

Bad News:

Common styling, lazy with 4 cylinders, 6-cylinder is adequate but nothing to write home about and poor gas performance.

Standard Equipment:

3.0 liter V6 engine, 4-speed auto trans, full time 4-wheel drive, dual airbags, power windows and door locks, tilt steering wheel, stereo with cassette and CD player, power windows and door locks, antilock braking system, auto halogen headlights, rear intermittent wipers, multi adjust front Capitan’s chairs, 60/40 split folding rear seat with fold flat and recline feature, cruise control,

Gas Stats:

18 City and 22 Highway MPG.

Pricing:

MSRP $23-26,000.

 ** – Order of Preference is based on a formula of price relationship to dimensions and standard features and the best overall warranty.

Your comments are welcomed. My e-mail is movello@earthlink.net. 
Copyright © 2001 – An Automotive Love Affair

2001 Toyota Corolla LE (330)

Overview:

This week I drove the Toyota Corolla LE because we just sold a 1983 model with 120,000 miles plus, to a friend. And before it was sold, mom (82 years old) has been driving it for the past two years. How’s that for confidence in a car.

You can’t say more for any car that will endear it to buyers. I can’t say that for many cars and in fact, in the past weeks, when I tested the Kia Spectra it occurred to me that we have little history for any of the Korean products imported to this country. Don’t get me wrong, I liked the car, but naturally I wonder what the maintenance and operating cost will be over time? One thing you can say for Toyota products is that they have been with us for a long time now and have a history of quality. I’ve owned two Toyota Cressida’s and loved them both. Brother John and I owned a foreign car repair shop and we concluded that when I needed another car it should be a Toyota.

Handling & Performance:

Well, the Corolla is one of those fun to drive, zip around town little cars that’s not so small after all. And it has all the power you need in this price range car.

Styling:

I’ve been disappointed in today’s car styling because they are all so generic or cookie-cutter. Remember when you could look at a car and tell what year it was. Try that now. For the past few years Chrysler has been, perhaps, the best manufacturer when it comes to selling cars that are distinctive. You need only look to the extremely popular PT Cruiser and Plymouth Prowler as two examples and I for one hope there will be more to come. Ford is bringing back the original little Thunderbird and I’ll bet other manufacturers will follow suit.

Fit and Finish:

Typical Japanese quality. Good.

Conveniences:

Not a lot for the money. You have to boost the price by $4,000 to get all the things we’ve become accustomed to.

Cost:

A little pricey precisely because of the high demand for a quality car.

Recommendation:

I’ve driven all of the competition and I like them all. If price is a major component of your decision, you have a lot of good options to the more expensive Corolla.

The competition:

Chevrolet Prizm $13,995-16,060, Dodge Neon $12,715, Ford Focus $12,220-15,355, Honda Civic $12,760-16,910, Hyundai Elantra $12, 499, Kia Spectra $10,795-12,995, Nissan Sentra $11,649-14,899,  Saturn SL $10,570-12,895, Volkswagen Golf $14,900-17,900.

Good News:

Unquestionable quality, great fuel economy, comfortable, fun to drive.

Bad News:

Ho-hum styling.

Standard Equipment:

1.8 liter inline 4-cylinder engine, front wheel drive, 4-speed automatic trans, power steering, power front disc brakes, dual air bags, split fold down rear seat, tilt wheel, radio with cassette.

Gas Stats:

 30 City and 39 Highway MPG.

Pricing:

MSRP  $14,198 and if you add anti lock brakes, side airbags, cruise control, CD, moon roof, air conditioning, power windows and locks and dual power mirrors you’ll increase the price to $18,184.

Your comments are welcomed. My e-mail is movello@earthlink.net.

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Copyright © 2000 – Automotive Love Affair

2001 Toyota Prius Hybrid 4-door Sedan (321)

Overview:

This week we’re looking at the 2001 Toyota Prius Hybrid gas / electric car. You may remember the review in the past few weeks that I did on the Honda Insight version of these first of a kind hybrid cars that employ a combination gas and electric system. The obvious purpose of these cars is to affect better gas mileage and economy. Why, you ask, is it that these cars must come from Japan? I asked the same question and am appalled that U.S. carmakers haven’t taken the lead in this technology.

 What about the Saturn EV1, you say? What about it? That is a feeble attempt that is a sham, in my angry opinion. Ok, we should forgive the idiots responsible and I expect they will wake up to reality in the future. I wonder if there is just too much special interest money suppressing the development of gas efficient cars. But as I said before, when gas goes to $4.00 a gallon, people will once again embrace anyone’s competitive product that gives them more for their money.

 I won’t digress too far, but consider the fact that gas prices have been adjusted in this country in devious ways in the ‘70’s, ‘80’s and now in the year 2000. You can’t tell me the small amount of oil coming from the OPEC countries can be blamed for this artificial adjustment. And I don’t think it fools too many others “mad as hell and we don’t want to take it any more” folks paying BS prices at the pump. Fact – the U.S. has the largest developed oil reserves in the world. Fact – the latest Alaska finds, albeit dirtier crude and more expensive to refine, equals by some accounts 30 years of OPEC oil. Wow, who’s trying to fool whom?

Ok, I’ll get off my soap box and tell you why this is a great car, although I think you’ve already guessed. 


Handling & Performance:

No different from most gas cars you’ve driven, except you’ll notice no change in gears because of the continuously variable automatic transmission. I’ll bet, aside from the quite engine / battery combination, you won’t be able to tell the difference from driving gas only competition. The Prius starts out on battery and switchs to the gas engine at higher speeds and depending on the load. That explains why the EPA stats are better in town than on the highway. That’s opposite to all other cars, including the Honda Insight Hybrid that starts off on the gas engine and is assisted by the battery when the throttle demands more power.

Styling: 

Worse than cookie-cutter. The aerodynamics likely dictate the design for mileage reasons and I guess economy cars seldom have that Beverly Hills flair anyway. I think they could have done better and should have looked to Italy or the US for some ideas. However, from my experience in Japan the consumer is less interested in fashion and fads. They use cars for transportation and we use them to make a personal statement. We’ve been convinced that “You are what you drive”. On the other hand, that attitude difference may have more to do with the price of gas being so much higher in Japan, and I suspect when prices go higher here, we’ll lose the BMW and Mercedes Benz bent.

Fit and Finish: 

Good. Well, they come from Japan where the work force is still number 2, so they try harder. It’s either that or they care more. What do you think? Why do the Japanese consistently produce more reliable cars?

Conveniences: 

Better than the Honda Insight plus you get to carry three more passengers. You get a lot more for the money. 

Cost: 

The same as the Insight, but gas performance is not as good, so effective cost is more. However, if you need more than a two seater, this is the better option for cost to value benefit. Too much difference from gas only competitors like the Chevy Metro.

 Recommendation: 

Although the two gas / electric options for 2001 both tout high mileage, they must be driven carefully to get that kind of performance. But comparing EPA numbers of all cars puts all on the same playing field. The Chevy Metro boasts nearly the same mileage as this Prius and you can buy it for a lot less money. I consider this the main drawback to buying one of these early alternatives to all gas cars.

The competition:

Chevrolet Metro $9,235-10,600, Honda Insight Hybrid $18,880, Hyundai Accent $8,999-9,699, Suzuki Swift $9,099-10,099, Volkswagen Golf $14,900-17,900. 

Good News:

Great gas mileage, roomy, comfortable, quiet and smooth ride, well equipped, gas / electric operation is transparent to the driver and you don’t have to plug it in since the gas engine and brakes recharge the battery automatically.

Bad News:

Too new to know what mechanical problems loom out there in the future, even though it has been sold in Japan for a few years. In addition Toyota must be confident enough, or is trying to build consumer confidence by offering an 8-year / 100,000 mile warranty on the battery and hybrid power system, styling could be better, too much money for the economy difference over gas only cars.     

Standard Equipment: 

1.5 liter 4 cylinder 70 horsepower gas engine, hybrid system including transaxle, inverter and battery providing about 40 horsepower, two magnet motor generators, front wheel drive, continuously variable automatic transmission, power front disc brakes with regenerative anti-lock system, dual air bags, keyless entry with security, power mirrors, climate control, power windows and door locks, AM/FM with cassette and filtration system.   

Gas Stats:

52 City and 45 Highway MPG. 

Pricing:

MSRP  $19,995.

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

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Copyright © 2000 – Automotive Love Affair

Toyota MR2 Spyder (307)

Overview:

This Toyota MR2 Spyder is a 2-seater convertible with no storage space. None, zip, zero. But my bud Merkel corrected my thinking. What do you want from a sports car, says he. It isn’t made for the purpose of hauling a lot of gear around.  Ok Merkel, sorry, because you’re right. What could I have been thinking? I’m a hopeless romantic and I just thought it would be nice to take my honey on a picnic. You know, a picnic basket, bottle of Vino, some bread and cheese and a blanket – destination: the beach, mountains or a trip to the country. Ok, so I guess I could take the big car. Wait a minute; I don’t have a big car. Oh well, so much for the picnic dear. You didn’t want to go anyway. Right?

I used to have an MGB but that at least had a rack on the trunk to strap on, you guessed it, a picnic basket or even luggage for that matter. That would be nice if we wanted to stay somewhere for the night. A ride up highway one to San Francisco or down the coast to San Diego. From Los Angeles either place can be done in a weekend but you do need a change of more than underwear, know what I mean?

Well, on the positive side this is a fast, fun car to drive. And it’s kinda cool looking. One guy said it looked like a Porsche Boxster. Well, from the rear it has a slight resemblance, I guess and they are both mid engine sports cars. So from that point of view, it’s a poor man’s Boxster. Aside from looks and mid engine, however, they are light years apart in my opinion.

I’d say the MR2 is for the younger set and from a real quick poll of people driving them I’d guess 18-30 year old male drivers have already fallen in love with it. They probably don’t mind the bumpy ride and basic car manual controls for air, seats, and convertible top, etc. And they’ll love the fact that it’s a 130 mph kind of car with 5 speeds on the floor.

Handling & Performance:

Excellent from this mid engine design, rear wheel drive sports car. Plenty of power because the car is light and the 138 horses won’t even work up a sweat.

Styling: Porsche-like in some ways and priced more like the Mazda Miata.

Fit and Finish: Decent as you’d expect from Toyota.

Conveniences:  Everything is standard equipment and there is more than enough.

Cost: Because of all the standard features, this isn’t badly priced.

Recommendation:  Be sure to drive the competition before you plunk down the cash. And if you test drive the Honda S2000 let me know what you think. That’s the only one of the bunch I haven’t tested.

The competition:

Audi TT $31,200-38,900 BMW Z3 $31,300-36,900, Honda S2000 $32,000, Mazda MX-5 Miata $20,545-25,055, VW Cabrio $19,900-23,300.

Good News:

Fast, zippy performance, manual top easy to use and tucks away neatly, the two seats are roomy for driver and passenger.

Bad News:

Trunk is useless and stores only a spare tire, very limited use car, if you play golf or go to the market you can forget taking a passenger.

Standard Equipment:

1.8 liter 138 horsepower 4 cyl. engine, 5-speed manual trans, 4-wheel ABS disc brakes, dual air bags, engine immobilizer, alloy wheels, halogen headlights, dual o/s power mirrors, air conditioning, power steering, power windows and door locks, tilt leather wrapped steering wheel.

Gas Stats:

25 City and 30 Highway MPG.

Pricing:

MSRP  $23,098.

Your comments are welcomed. My e-mail is movello@earthlink.net .

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Copyright © 2000 – Automotive Love Affair

2000 Toyota Avalon XLS Sedan (304)

Overview:

This Toyota Avalon XLS, simply put, is a lovely luxury automobile. I consider it an upscale Camry. It is elegant and has the features you’d expect of a top of the line automobile. I love the new attractive dash styling and even though some say the outside is bland looking, I see it as having “Clean” lines. What’s more, even though the price is relatively competitive Toyota managed to maintain the quality level of this car. Sometimes it’s the little things you appreciate in thoughtfully designed cars like the seatbelt adjustments to ease the pressure on your shoulder. You don’t get that from lesser cars and so you live with the discomfort.

There is an abundance of room in this Avalon, especially in the back seat. This will seat four basketball players comfortably, 5 or 6 average sized people or 8 pigmies. I hope folks in Borneo don’t take offense. Does anyone know if they drive cars there?

Toyota is popular and although that isn’t always a sure sign you’ll agree, it does carry some weight with most of us. Have you watched the TV game show, “Who wants to be a Millionaire”? It seems to me that the best lifeline is to go with the audience because most of the time they’re right. Well, when a lot of folks lean in one direction it might just pay to see what all the interest is about. On the other hand, when was the last time you agreed with others who said a movie was great or lousy?

Toyota has enjoyed success over many years and generally I agree they build good cars, but I wasn’t thrilled with the last two Toyota’s I tested. Namely, the Echo design turned me off and the Celica quality was disappointing. Perhaps being successful can lead to over confidence and thus sloppiness.

Handling & Performance: 

Very good. You won’t win any road races, but this is a smooth and comfy ride. The engine is state of the art engineering and there’s a lot of talk about the intelligent Variable Valve Timing design.

Styling: 

I like it even though some would say it’s boring. I’ve also heard others say they didn’t like the dash design, but I really like it. Let me know what you think.

Fit and Finish: 

Typical Japanese care is given to the detail, even though it was assembled in Kentucky.

Conveniences:  

I can’t complain because the features are ample for the money.

Cost:

Not bad for a car of this quality. Perhaps building it here in Kentucky helped to keep the cost down. Ain’t it great, we’re taking cars to Mexico and electronics to Taiwan for assembly and Japan is bringing theirs here. What’s the world coming to?

Recommendation:

f you’re in the market for a Camry or a Lexus, you should also look at the Avalon. If price is a consideration you’ll find the competition pretty inviting. And by the way, the cars noted below are all good cars except for the Mercury which I haven’t driven, so I can’t comment.

The competition:

Buick LeSabre $23,400-27,885, Chevrolet Impala  $18,890-22,790, Chrysler Concorde  $22,245-26,485, Dodge Intrepid $20,645-24,435, Ford Crown Victoria $22,195-24,310, Mercury Grand Marquis $22,605-24,505, Pontiac Bonneville $23,755-32,180.

Good News:

Historically Toyota has been tops, well priced for what you get. Comfortable, quiet ride. Responsive engine.  Lots of passenger room and large trunk.

Bad News: 

The turn indicator is too quiet and easily forgotten, cookie cutter styling, more expensive than most of the competitors.

Standard Equipment: 

3.0 liter V6 VVT-I engine, 4-speed automatic trans, power 4-wheel anti-lock disc brakes, dual front and side air bags, power mirrors, daytime running lights, power fabric bench seats, cruise control, climate control, leather wrapped tilt wheel, power windows and locks, theft system, keyless entry, stereo with cassette and CD and auto halogen headlights.
Gas Stats:
21 City and 29 Highway MPG.

Pricing:

MSRP  $29,655.

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

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 Copyright ©1998 – Automotive Love Affair

2000 Toyota Celica (303)

Overview: 

This Toyota Celica 3-door liftback is styled at Toyota’s Calty Design Studio in Newport Beach, CA. From the visual point of view, you and I may or may not agree, but I rather like the styling. I did bump my head on the headliner when I first got in, but yes, the seat needed adjusting so I put it way down, but I’m only 5 foot 9. You can just imagine what my much taller friend Merkle said when he got in. I respect his opinion because he’s an engineer and teaches engineering and design stuff. I won’t repeat some of his comments but I submit the following for your consideration. Merkel says, “The design is from Mars and I expected more from the folks who put out great cars like Lexus and Camry; the interior quality is poor and the materials are cheap. The orange gauges and the gas gauge in particular were annoying.” You’ll know what he means when you take a look-see.

Ok, so this car is more a 2+2 hatchback where you don’t plan on passengers – “dogs and kids are ok” says Merkel. The engineer in him explains why he loves the engine and drive train. The VVTL-i (Variable Valve Timing Lift with intelligence) technology is way ahead of American carmakers and overall the “mechanical side of the car is genius” in his words.

Well, Merkel, I kind of agree with what you say but I wasn’t as bothered by this little lady either way. Celica is not a big car and wasn’t designed to be big. But on the other hand I need a lot more room for the money and the quality although I didn’t see it as bad as you said, it should be better. I suspect even good car companies can get sloppy. Some folks say it was introduced as a “Japanese Mustang.” That’s a real stretch.

Handling & Performance: 

Zipping around is fun in this sports car. But this engine redlines at almost 8,000 rpm. I don’t know about you, but I’m uncomfortable pushing an engine all the time. I’m not a race driver and driving on the streets at 5-6&7,000 rpm is tiresome, not to speak of the damage you’ll do to the engine if you drive it that way all the time.

Styling: 

You’ll have to be the judge at the end of the day, but I rather like looking at it. Not my cup of tea, but it’s distinctive.

Fit and Finish: 

Not bad, but the goal to produce a light car requires a lot of cheap lightweight components.

Conveniences:

The standard stuff noted below was adequate and enough for me, however, the model I drove also included anti-lock brakes, alloy wheels, power sunroof, side air bags, rear spoiler and leather seats.

Cost: 

The added conveniences noted above brought the retail price to $24,490. In my view, a little much for the car. So ‘wheel and deal’ and get the price down to where both you and the seller are happy – mostly you.

Recommendation:  

Drive the competition and you’ll know which one best suits your need. You’ll enjoy the ride more if you know you got the best your money could buy. Target market is the young buyer who is looking for unique styling and racy performance.

The competition:

Acura Integra $19,300-24,350, Chevrolet Camaro $17,040-28,715, Dodge Avenger $19,045-21,290, Ford Mustang $16,710-31,605, Honda Prelude $23,500-26,000, Mitsubishi Eclipse $17,697-20,287, Pontiac Firebird $18,690-31,050, Volkswagen GTI $17,675-22,620.

Good News:

Toyota historical quality, fun to drive, good gas mileage unless you wind the ‘P’ out of it all the time, decent trunk space and racy styling.

Bad News:

Not up to Toyota quality standards, small back seat, high rev engine is tiresome and car is a little pricey.

Standard Equipment: 

1.8 liter 4-cylinder VVTL-I engine, 6-speed manual trans, power 4-wheel disc brakes, dual air bags, power mirrors, daytime running lights, fog lamps, rear wiper, air conditioning, cloth seats, 6-way adjustable driver seat, console, power steering with tilt wheel, power windows and locks, cruise control, stereo with cassette and CD.

Gas Stats:

23 City and 32 Highway MPG.

Pricing:

MSRP  $21,165.

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

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Copyright ©1998 – Automotive Love Affair

2000 Toyota Echo (302)

Overview:

This weeks, new to the market, Toyota Echo is surely among the basic cars of the world. Many folks I chanced to talk with about the car felt it was ugly, “… too tall, too narrow and a bit awkward looking”. I would argue that our society is inclined to form over substance. How it looks is more important than how well it functions. One must remember these are people from Los Angeles home to Hollywood and Disneyland where everything is a set or prop. “Tinsel Town” where nothing is quite what it appears to be.

This Echo (EchoNomical to me) on the other hand, comes from the very practical people of Japan, where they live “It’s a small world, after all”. Yes, everything is small there. It’s an island, the streets are small, and the people are small so the cars are best built small. Some things are big, however, like prices for gas, food and housing which are all bigger than life. No wonder their leaders resist being westernized. They were likely educated in the US and must feel “Been there, done that”. I agree and I too love Japan.

In any case this Echo adds to a pretty good field of economical cars noted below, the most price competitive of which are all American. The Neon’s, Metro and Saturn are the best of the bunch, in my opinion. The Japanese flock is pricier and the “used to be economical car” the VW got to big for it’s britches and wants to be a BMW, now that it has grown up. This Echo is basic for sure but it is after all, from the family of Toyota. We’ve come to expect well-built economical cars from the Japanese.

Our Love Affair with the automobile is especially true in California where public transportation was discouraged by the auto, tire and oil companies in the 1940’s. Gas was almost given away in the early days but now that they have us hooked, gas prices are sure to continue to go up. Profits and greed and all that rot, you know. But the truth is gas prices don’t have to go up and the government owes the driving public a duty to provide low cost fuel. We have the largest oil reserves in the world even though some folks would like you to believe the Middle East is the cause of our rising gas prices. Consider the recent oil find in Alaska, which by some estimates is equal to 30 years of Middle East oil. So who’s kidding whom?

I spoke with the attorney next door and he asked if I felt safe in this Echo. Unequivocally the answer is, yes. He drives a Corvette and also owns a Jeep Grand Cherokee. I’d hire him but his rates have to be higher just to cover gas. I suggested that until the industries manipulation of the public is exposed fully, he should trade down and get up to 42 mpg. He wouldn’t look as cool but his stress level would also go down.

Handling & Performance: 

Pleasantly surprised. Not as good as the Corvette, but it actually is a pretty impressive car to drive for the dough. The engine is quite responsive for being so economical. I rather enjoyed driving it.

Styling: Yuk, relative to the others, with the exception of the Ford Focus.

Fit and Finish:

Among the best of Echo – Nomical cars.

Conveniences:  Not many, but if you pop for another three grand or so you can have air conditioning, antilock brakes, upgraded radio, power steering and power door locks. The only thing I’d want to add would be the air.

Cost:  Not bad, but more than the American competitors.

Recommendation: 

These cars are great for young families, older folks on fixed incomes and students with no visible means of support at all. I lean toward the American made cars that give the greatest bang for the buck. Chuck the yuppie car, look at this Echo and its competitors. You can fight rising gas prices and with all the money you’ll save you can send the kids to college, take that trip to wherever or pay for your own college education.  I wish my kids would take my advice.

The competition:

Chevrolet Metro $9,235-10,660, Dodge and Plymouth Neon’s $12,640, Ford Focus $12,055-15,475, Honda Civic $10,750-17,545, Nissan Sentra $11,649-14,899, Saturn SL $10,685-12,895.

Good News:

Economical because of great gas mileage and Toyota quality history means it should be inexpensive to maintain.

Bad News:

Not a lot of creature comforts, ugly by some critics.

Standard Equipment:

1.5-liter 4-cylinder engine, 4-speed auto trans, front disc, rear drum brakes, dual air bags, tilt wheel, AM/FM radio. In other word, very basic.

Gas Stats:

31 City and 38 Highway MPG.

Pricing:

MSRP  $11,095.

Your comments are welcomed. My e-mail is movello@earthlink.net.

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Copyright ©1998 – Automotive Love Affair

1999 Toyota Camry Solara SE V6 (224)

Overview: 

Toyota Camry, until now, did not offer a Coupe in the line. With the introduction of the Solara for 1999 they fill that void. I’m not sure it needed filling, but they probably know more about the demand for this class car. As a kid, just driving (way back when) the hot thing was two door cars for the youth of the day, but it had to be without the “post” between the windows. Some referred to it as a “hardtop convertible” as I recall. Perhaps someone will correct me on that. Well this Solara has the post and the rear windows don’t roll down. It is built on the same platform as other Camay’s, but its stiffer body structure, tighter steering and firmer suspension are designed for a sportier feel than the sedan. They have accomplished their goal and I loved driving this car for a few reasons. I love the way it handles. It is responsive (V6) and the solid ride gives the feeling of control of the road. Another reason I like it is the great styling. If you like the design as much as I do (a lot), you can thank the Calty Design Center in Newport Beach, CA. The Solara is truly a keeper.

The Solara will be assembled in Ontario, Canada and will only be sold in North America. It comes in two trims: SE and SLE. The SE comes standard with a 2.2-liter 135-horsepower engine, but the model I tested had the V6 option which is 3.0-liters and a more than adequate 200-horsepower. I was impressed. The V6 is standard on the SLE. Solara is classified as a compact, but it is a big compact.

On the other hand, this is a basic car with few frills. Most of the frills it does have are pretty basic, like the manual seat and manual air conditioning controls. If you’re looking for computer stuff and auto everything, this isn’t it. It is a lovely car and Camry has always been a top seller for Toyota so a lot of folks usually aren’t wrong.

Although it is basic, it has a classy feel about it and I’ve tested all the competition listed here and I have to tell you I warmed up to driving this Solara very quickly. All things considered, it is definitely a must drive car in this class and price range.

The competition:
Acura CL $23,100 – $26,150, BMW 3-Series $23,300 – $41,500, Buick Regal $21,695 – $24,395, Chevrolet Monte Carlo $18,510 – $20,535, Chrysler Sebring $17,225 – $26,285, Honda Accord $15,200 – $24,300, Pontiac Grand Prix $19,415 – $23,910.

Good News: 
Priced well, handles extremely well, powerful, roomy – both front and back seats and the trunk. Perhaps best of all – it’s a Toyota that has been known for being a quality product.

Bad News: 
Tough entry / exit for rear seat (but you should expect that of a 2-door coupe).

Standard Equipment: 
3.0 liter 200 horsepower V6 engine (standard for the SE is a 2.2 liter inline 4 – 135 hp engine) with front wheel drive, 4-speed auto trans, power rack & pinion steering, 4-wheel independent suspension, power anti-lock disc brakes, dual air bags, auto on/off lights, fog lights, power mirrors, power windows & door locks, air, cruise control, stereo with cassette.

Gas Stats:
20 City and 28 Highway MPG.

Pricing:
MSRP $21,988.

Your comments are welcomed. E-mail joe@atthewheel.com

1999 Toyota Sienna LE (221)

Overview: 
This class of van still has a lot to offer to the family. Toyota’s Sienna is really a very nice car. Daughter Jenny says this is her dream car. Getting her two kids in and out of a regular passenger car is exhausting at best. Pull the seat back forward, bend over to get the car seat locked into the rear safety belt, etc. Well, you get the picture. So why not simplify our lives if we can. In today’s world the $24K MSRP is pretty darn good. And here are just a few reasons why the Sienna makes a great family car. The wide sliding doors of the mini van and the low threshold is an easy step into configuration. Contrasted with the very popular SUV’s, this Sienna will make it easy for the little people get in and out. In addition to being great for little people, Sienna comfortably seats seven tall adults. It also has flexible, removable modular seating that provides for a variety of cargo needs. We’ve tended to overlook the van with all the interest in SUV’s. You really need to test one if you’re considering an SUV.

Sienna is based on the very popular Camry platform, and is in fact built on the very same assembly line in Georgetown, Kentucky. It also shares the Camry’s powerful V6 engine and front wheel drive. It comes with a generous list of features including three rows of seats and an optional sliding rear door on the driver’s side. It is roomy and for me is a reminder of the homey feeling of my RV. The Sienna is a replacement for Previa and comes in four trims: CE 3-Door; CE, LE and XLE 4-Door. With a base Retail Price Range of $21,428 – $26,494, Jenny, you might just be able to afford one. She’d also be interested to know Sienna also provides an optional integrated Child Restraint System (CRS) that is new this year.

Generally I feel the handling is good but I noticed more body sway in turns than I like. Another noticable glitch is that the brake pedal feels mushy, but it didn’t affect stopping distance and soon I got accoustomed to the feel and it ceased to bother me.

The competition:
Chevrolet Venture $20,745 – $23,045, Chrysler Town & Country $27,385 – $36,140, Dodge Caravan $18,005 – $31,510, Ford Windstar $18,375 – $30,415, Honda Odyssey $23,000 – $25,800, Nissan Quest $22,159 – $26,299, Oldsmobile Silhouette $24,410 – $31,000, Plymouth Voyager $18,005 – $22,875, Pontiac Montana $21,075 – $23,875, Volkswagen EuroVan $ Unknown.

Good News:
Easy to step in and out of, another solid Toyota, Roomy, carlike – easy to manuver.

Bad News: 
Ride could be a little stiffer.

Standard Equipment:
3.0 liter engine with 4-speed auto trans, rack & pinion steering, front disc and rear drum anti-lock brakes, dual air bags, cloth 7-passenger seating, power windows, mirrors, door locks, stereo with cassette, cruise control and tilt wheel.

Gas Stats:
18 City and 24 Highway MPG.

Pricing:
MSRP $24,358 and the LE I tested topped out at $27,489.

Your comments are welcomed. My e-mail is joe@atthewheel.com and you can see unedited versions of these reviews at www.atthewheel.com.