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Entries in First Drive (2)

Wednesday
May152013

First Drive: 2014 Lexus IS

Over the last 18 months you can really see Akio Toyoda’s fingerprints on the Lexus brand.  For many years Lexus was considered a brand of fine cars with excellent build quality and a dealer network that set the standard for the industry. However, they were also thought of as bland and emotionless vehicles.  Cars and SUV’s for those that wanted something nice, but didn’t care about cars or want to think about cars.

Akio’s statement was that cars bearing his family’s name WOULD have emotion, would have a connection to the driver, they would NOT be thought of as just a commodity item.

The all new GS was the first real statement along those lines and now with the 2014 Lexus IS, the third generation of the car, Akio has focused Lexus’ efforts into not just drawing event with cars like the BMW 3 Series and the Audi A4, but setting the standard for the small luxury performance segment.

The new IS draws from it’s larger stablemate, the GS, in several areas.  The front end is a further, more aggressive evolution of the spindle grill, the interior continues the horizontal theme dash, and the rear suspension is derived from the GS as well.

The new IS gains 2.5 inches in wheelbase allowing for a further 1.6 inches of rear seat legroom.  The overall length has been extended 3.5 inches, the trunk now has an additional .5 cubic foot of space and the first time offering a 60/40 split folding rear seat for additional cargo capacity.

When the new IS is ordered with Satellite Navigation, it comes loaded with 3D mapping including Street View.  Traffic and weather information are now subscription free, weather is updated every 10 minutes and traffic every 2 minutes.  Traffic also has the addition feature of Predictive Traffic which can forecast ahead 15, 30 and 45 minutes so that you can see what your route may look like, and if you should choose a different way.  Also when you are running low on fuel gas stations will appear as Points Of Interest on the map.

The 2014 IS has all of the safety features you’ve come to expect on a car at this level, 10 air bags, Blind Spot Warning with Cross Traffic, lane departure alert, and Pre Collision Radar cruise control down to 25 miles an hour.

The F-Sport version of the new IS, available on both the IS 250 and the IS 350 is distinguished by a different nose and bumper, different seats, LED daytime running lights, variable adaptive suspension and additional drive modes of Sports S and S+.  Also in the F-Sport is a different gage cluster that draws it’s inspiration from the LFA Supercar.  The center dial slides from the center to the right and alters the information on the LCD gage cluster. 

Optional on all models is the 15 speaker, 835 watt Mark Levinson audio system.  The system features a full digital (Class-D) amplifier, 5.1 channel/7.1 channel surround system, a total of 15 GreenEdge™ ultra-high efficiency speakers and a Lexus-first Auto Volume System,which automatically adjusts volume when changing between sources or radio channels.

The IS 250 and 350 can be had either as Rear Drive or All Wheel Drive.  Power comes from either a 2.5 liter V6 in the IS 250 offering 204 horsepower and 184 lb/ft of torque, or the 3.5 liter V6 in the IS 350 which offers up 306 horsepower and 277 lb/ft of torque.  

Fuel economy is rated in the IS 250 at 21/30/24 (city/highway/combined) for the Rear Drive and 20/27/23 for the All Wheel Drive model.  The IS 350 rates as 19/28/22 for the Rear Drive and 19/26/21 for the All Wheel Drive.  

All IS 250’s, plus the IS 350 AWD will use a six speed automatic transmission, while the Rear Drive IS 350 will use the eight speed automatic from the outgoing IS-F.

On the road the new IS has a very comfortable and controlled ride quality, the cabin is very quiet, as you’d expect.  However, when you put your foot down, there is a very sporty sounding exhaust, and when tossed aggressively into corners, the body stays very flat, and the handling is very neutral, with just a hint of understeer to keep you safe.

Lexus believe you can have your cake and eat it too with the suspension in the new IS.  They have soften the springs at all four corners to make the ride more supple, yet larger anti roll bars allow the handling to be very sporty and controlled without being overly stiff.  When you want a more aggressive suspension you can dial it up with the drive mode selector.  In the standard IS you have a Sport mode, and in the F-Sport there are Sports S and S+ options.  The additional modes will not only change the suspension calibrations, but alter how aggressive the throttle is as well. 

For 30 years the BMW 3 Series has set the benchmark for the small sport luxury segment, and Audi in the last decade has been running neck and neck with BMW with their A4.  Lexus have now gone all in on this segment, and just like when Lexus entered the market with the original LS, the Germans will be may need to re-evaluate their current efforts.

Pricing for the IS 250 begins at $35,950 and $39,465 for the IS 350, All Wheel Drive adds $2,515 to the IS 250 and $2,235 to the IS 350, all models of the new IS will be available mid Summer.

Thursday
Nov292012

2013 Toyota Avalon First Look: Toyota Comes To America To Build A German Sedan

If you were to rank all of the cars the Toyota builds and list them in order of “drivers car” the Toyota Avalon may rank at or near the bottom of that list. To most people, the Toyota Avalon was always the Buick Roadmaster that you would no longer built, a car for your grandparents. 

With the 2013 model Avalon, Toyota's looking to change the demographic for the Avalon buyers, as of now the average age of a Toyota Avalon buyer is 64, Toyota is looking to drop that to the mid-50s. How they are going to do that is by completely changing the nature of the car. In fact, as the title of this article suggests, the Japanese have come to America to build a German sedan.

The 2013 Toyota Avalon is the first car that Akio Toyoda oversaw from start to finish. When you drive this car, you will field his fingerprints all over it, in that his emphasis was to make Toyota's cars that people would enjoy driving. The Avalon was designed in California, engineered in Michigan, and will be built in Kentucky, and when it goes on sale, it will have the highest US content of any vehicles sold in North America.

There will be two versions of the Toyota Avalon available, a V-6, and a hybrid version. There will be several modes in which you can drive in both cars. In the V-6 model you have ego, normal, and sports, while in the hybrid version you get those 3 plus an EV mode. 

The V-6 model will definitely slant much more towards the “drivers car” then the hybrid. The V-6 will have 268 hp and 248 foot-pounds of torque, and can do a 0 to 60 run in 6.7 seconds. In eco-and normal modes the car feels very composed, switched into sport mode the steering firms up very nicely, the ride is just a bit more firm, and if you didn't know, you'd think you were in a German performance sedan, and that's no joke.

The hybrid version of the Avalon is geared much more towards comfort. It still handles well, steers well, but in driving them back to back, the differences are noticeable. The hybrid Avalon, while maybe not having the driving dynamics of its V-6 version, is still very composed, and does not feel like some boulevard cruiser.

There are some very interesting design dynamics going on with the new Avalon. It seems to borrow from quite a number of cars. In the front it has a trapezoidal grille reminiscent of some current Ford products, taken from certain angles in the rear, or the side, you can see design elements from the Mercedes-Benz S class, the Jaguar XJ, and even the Audi A7. All that amalgamation comes out very well and while some people may not care for the nose of the car, there can be few complaints about the design of the rest of the car, save the need for a larger wheel and tire package.

The interior gets a massive upgrade on the new Avalon from the previous model. Again with the German sedan theme, if you were familiar with the interiors of current Audi products, there are many similarities with the new Avalon. The use of materials textures and colors really make the interior standout, and give it a very high-quality feel. The stitching on the leather of the–Israel hand stitching. There are a select number of people in the factory in Kentucky who hand stitch these together on machines, there is no automation, and the attention to detail is obvious. The use of contrasting and complementary colors and materials again gives the car a very upscale look, in addition to a center stack that draws inspiration from modern midcentury design.

Many modern cars that have a swoopy rear end styling to give the illusion of a coupe, sacrifice rear seat head and leg room in the name of style. This is not the case with the Avalon. Toyota have done a nice job of creating space for rear seat passengers so that even those well over 6 foot will have plenty of room. Toyota feel so strongly about this design, that they are pursuing the livery market with the Toyota Avalon.

 

The 2013 Toyota Avalon is a major change in direction from its past models. No longer a Boulevard cruiser for the retirement community, the Toyota Avalon is now an upscale luxury sedan ready to challenge the Germans, but with the quality, dependability, and reliability that you would expect from a Toyota.

Please have a look at the full gallery of pictures from the shoot.