Category Archives: Toyota

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.

1999 Toyota 4Runner SR5 4X4 (220)

Overview: 

This weeks Toyota 4Runner is not the truck it used to be, but few things are. I realize that every time I look in the mirror or step on the scale. In any case, I have had difficulty in the past seeing it as a true Sport Utility Vehicle, at least SUV’s designed in that new and growing class. The reason is that this 4Runner used to be, as you may recall, little more than a pick up truck with a camper shell. Since 1995 it has continued to mature into a full on sport utility like the one I had the pleasure of testing. It has lots more power than in the past and likewise sucks up a lot more gas to move the added mass of metal. I must admit I was skeptical and even avoided testing it because of the bias I suffered from. I’m glad I was compelled to try it out. Overall, I was impressed. Certainly as impressed as with any of the competition. But I must also state again that I really object to the gas guzzling nature of these utilities. Can’t they improve the mileage on these sleds?

On the scene, however, we are beginning to see a revival of the mini-van. I believe this re-immerging vehicle will cut into the SUV market in a big way. I think manufacturers are aware of the movement in that direction and that’s why we’re seeing some dramatic and nice changes in the mini-van design. They are sleek, futuristic and powerful. And even though men are inclined toward the “macho” SUV, mom is more likely to opt for the mini-van that is easier to get in and out of, more comfortable and generally more practical. The dual sliding doors are great for kids and shopping trips and she instinctively knows she’ll never want to go off-roading. Unless she’s one of those “babe-watch” lifeguards. More important to the manufacturer is the fact that mom’s have a great deal to do with the car their family “NEEDS”. Meanwhile, back at the ranch, we see dad lobbying for a “macho man” SUV with on-demand 4-wheel drive that will climb over boulders he will never, ever need to experience. In fact, it is estimated that only about 25% of SUV’s are ever used off road. I saw lots of them in the eastern part of the U.S. and they are also big in remote areas where higher road clearance is needed.

The 1999 Toyota 4Runner is available in six trims: 4Runner (base), SR5, and Limited each in 2WD or 4WD. The base comes with a 2.7-liter 150-horsepower 4-cylinder engine, while SR5 and Limited trims get a 3.4-liter 183-horsepower V6. The SR5 upgrades with an intermittent rear wiper, tilt steering wheel, cruise control, privacy glass, chrome bumpers and power mirrors and door locks. The Limited adds to this a leather interior, power windows, air conditioning, cruise control, an anti-theft device, a premium stereo system with CD player, and 16-inch alloy wheels.

Toyota says the majority will buy the V6 with 4-speed automatic transmission but the manual is offered for most 4Runner models.

I’ve tested all of the competition and have to admit this 4Runner has arrived and fits well into the crowded array of Sport Utilities so popular with car buyers in the 1990’s. It is obvious they will continue to occupy a large part of the car market even into the new millennium, if from nothing more than the momentum built up over the past couple of decades.

The competition:
Chevrolet Blazer $18,470 – $32,670, Dodge Durango $25,955 – $27,955, Ford Explorer $20,065 – $34,540, GMC Jimmy $18,534 – $30,970, Honda Passport $22,700 – $28,950, Isuzu Rodeo $17,995 – $27,910, Jeep Grand Cherokee $25,800 – $33,995, Land Rover Discovery $34,150, Mitsubishi Montero Sport $18,310 – $32,630, Oldsmobile Bravada $31,043.

Good News:
Toyota quality, comfortable ride, roomy.

Bad News:
Stepladder entry, poor fuel economy, off-road capability cost that seldom is used.

Standard Equipment:
3.4 liter V6 engine, 4-speed auto trans, 2-speed transfer case, coil spring dbl wishbone indep. front suspension, power rack & pinion steering, power front disc/rear drum antilock brakes, dual air bags, cloths bucket seats, split folding rear seat, stereo w/ cassette, power door locks & rear window, tilt wheel, cruise control, power mirrors.

Gas Stats:
17 City and 20 Highway MPG.

Pricing:
MSRP $27,368.

 Your comments are welcomed. E-mail joe@atthewheel.com View unedited reviews at www.las.net/atthewheel.

1998 Toyota Supra (178)

This week’s Toyota Supra was a quick trip back to the Mitsubishi 3000 GT we did a few weeks ago. These two cars are very similar, not only in looks, but in features and performance. Both are exciting cars to drive which reminds me that life is too short for boring. Cars like this will put starch in your shorts. Know what I mean. I do have one bitch even though I liked this Supra. First impressions are very important and I think Supra goofed by not improving the sound quality when you close the doors. A little thing like that can cause you to get turned off and fall out of love. Simply put, the doors sounded tinny and hollow, and that quality is probably the second thing you notice right after eye appeal. The designer’s must have been twins because both cars look great, like two blondes in the same jumpsuit from Frederick’s of Hollywood. You can picture “Slick Willie” in either. Wait, I didn’t mean it that way. On the other hand, if the shoe fits….!

Price wise the two cars are pretty close too. Base models are $31K for Supra and $28K for the GT. The turbo models are $40K and $46K respectively. You may recall the GT has a unique 4-wheel steering design for (some say) better handling. That could explain some of the cost difference.

Even though the Supra and Mitsubishi 3000GT are very close matches, three American cars need to be included in your comparison. The Chevrolet Camaro $16-27 K, Ford Mustang $15-28 K and Pontiac Firebird $18-29 K are very worthy competitors. For the price differences you have to admit these American challengers get real attractive. And don’t be mesmerized by the foreign car mystique. American cars are perhaps the best buys pound for pound and dollar for dollar, in today’s market. American car manufacturers were beat up pretty bad in the ‘60’s and ‘70’s, but the humbling experience made them better companies and thus they now put out better products.

Aunt Pate swore by the Supra she owned about 10 years ago but now she drives a Mercedes Benz. I think she’s long forgotten the days of her sports car Supra and also how often our men in blue stopped her. Do you think cops pick on racy looking cars or do drivers of racy looking cars draw more attention to themselves?

Anyway, once I got settled and forgot the tinny doors, I enjoyed Supra’s performance and probably drove faster than I should have. Just ask Ilona about my heavy foot. She keeps reminding me to slow down, and when I have a turbo model I really get carried away. I think I love the feeling of acceleration as much as sex. However this Supra is powered by a normally aspirated in-line 6-cylinder 225 horsepower engine, so acceleration was a little disappointing. I tested the turbo model on the racetrack and wet my pants. It puts out nearly 100 horsepower more, at 320 and although you can live without it, I recommend you consider the turbo strongly. I found the extra boost (arguably) a necessity for freeway driving and in passing situations.

On the 3000 GT review, I nit-picked the fact that the rear spoiler obstructed rear view visibility since it falls “smack dab” in the middle of the rear window. That is not the case with the Supra. The arch of the spoiler on the Supra outlines the contour of the rear window and thus it is barely noticeable. There is good news and bad news regarding seating, which is rated a 4-seater on both. The bad news is the rear seats are too small for adults. The good news is you don’t have to worry about back seat drivers. Oh no, I’ll probably hear about that comment from Ilona.

The cockpit is ‘driver friendly’ in that everything cants toward you. It seems to make a definite statement that the driver should be separated from the passenger. When you think about it, most cars today either have center consoles or split seats that separate folks in the front seat. Some cars have fold down armrests to do the same thing in the rear seat. Do you ever wonder why this separation has become so popular over the years? Remember when cars had bench seats and seat belts weren’t yet the law, and when you went around a corner the passenger would slide over right next to the driver. Pretty romantic, eh… in an automotive sort of way. If you’re not old enough, can you imagine life before seat belts on cars or helmets for motorcycles, bicycles and roller skates? I suspect it won’t be long before you won’t dare strap on your skis or snowboard without a helmet. Perhaps one day the law will require that you don’t leave the house without a full body suit of armor. That would cover it all. No more danger from drive-by shootings, slip and fall lawsuits, etc. ad nauseum.

Hell, I think I’ll buy a Ford Model T, another Harley and move to Colorado and go skiing through the trees. Oh for the simple life. I wish Jim Laris would do a Cigar Smoke column on protecting us from ourselves. He’s old enough to appreciate the good old days, if he can still remember them. Just kidding Jim.

Standard Equipment: 
3.0 liter in-line 6-cylinder engine, 5-speed manual trans, speed sensing power rack and pinion steering, 4-wheel anti-lock disc brakes, dual air bags, aluminum alloy wheels, fog lights, power mirrors, tinted glass, power windows and door locks, tilt wheel, cruise control, climate control, stereo with cassette player, theft deterrent system, leather wrapped steering wheel and carpeted floor mats.

Gas Stats:
18 City / 23 Highway MPG.

Pricing: 
Manufacturers Suggested Retail Price is $29,500.

For the dealer nearest you call 1 800 331 4331.