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Entries in Toyota (14)

Monday
Dec302013

Reviewed: 2013 Toyota RAV4 XLE

As we were trying to catch up on some of the reviews we've done this year, we came across this one from the summer that we missed.

Toyota's RAV4 is one of the more popular vehicles in this segment, and that was before the refresh, now almost 12 months ago.  This new version of the RAV4 is significantly better than the old model, that said, is it good enough to compete with two of the best in this segment, the Ford Escape/Kuga and the Hyundai Santa Fe Sport?  That is what we look into on this episode of Rumblestrip.NET and Ten Minute Test Drive.

Friday
Sep022011

First Drive: 2012 Toyota Camry

Over the last 18 months, Toyota has done everything they could to make everyone forget about the unintended acceleration headlines they had to deal with.  Just as that was disappearing, the disastrous earthquake and tsunami caused a disruption to the entire manufacturing base.  This event caused a shutdown of plants, a shortage of parts and a sharp drop in sales and profits.

Now that both of those issues have been put behind them, Toyota is looking to have a full court press in refreshing their lineup with the new Camry, the Prius V, Tacoma pickup and the Scion iQ to name a few that will be rolled out over the next several months.

The Camry, while not the most expensive Toyota by a long shot, is in many ways the flagship of the company, how goes sales of the Camry, so goes the fortunes of Toyota.  Since 1983 Toyota have sold 15 million Camry's worldwide, and 9.7 million of those sales were in North America.  The Camry has claimed the title of "Best selling car in America" 13 of the last 14 years. 

While not a completely new car, the 2012 Camry is a major mid cycle refresh for the car.  The chassis is the same, however, all the sheet metal is new, and only 10% of the parts are carry over.  The one thing that people will notice is how little the Camry has changed in appearance.  There is a new front and rear end look to the cars, but it is not dramatically different. 

When queried about the very conservative looks of the new Camry, officials at Toyota mentioned that styling was far down on the items Camry buyers found important.  Items such as quality, reliability, dependability and fuel economy ranked higher in importance than styling. 

However, the paradox is that Toyota would like to lower the average age of the Camry purchaser from 60 as it currently is, to something in the mid to late 40's, and to do that the Camry needs to stand out as something more than "blandtastic".  There are other sedans in the segment that are conservative in appearance, yet cut a much more striking appearance.  To best describe the looks of the Camry, is to say it looks like the suit you get from The Men's Warehouse in a 3 for 1 sale, and something like the Kia Optima looks like it's right off the Brooks Brothers rack.  Both are "conservative", however, one makes a much better first impression. 

The interior to the Camry is a nice update, though there is no new ground broken here.  Of note, while the pricing of the Camry is less than the outgoing model, the interior looks and feels as if is of a higher quality.   One very interesting part of the instrument cluster, however, is the fuel economy gage on the right side of the pod.  The average fuel economy is shown on a mechanical gage, much like the instant fuel economy gage of old BMW's and then the instant fuel economy is shown asa series of green lights along the outside of that gage.  It's a different take, and for the most part we like the execution.

One item that will be an option for the 2012 Camry is the Entune infotainment system.  The system works in combination with your iPhone or Android phone. You download the apps to your phone, then they work in conjunction with the Toyota system to provide access to Pandora, Open Table, navigation and more.  The Entune uses your phone for an internet connection, it does not have a 3G/4G system built in.  The Entune system also uses speech recognition software from Nuance and Voice Products to make for a better experience when you use voice commands to navigate the system.

One thing that Toyota was proud of was that they were able to bring the Camry to market with the same or higher levels of content, and do it at a lower price then the outgoing model.  Pricing for the Camry line looks like this:

Model Price +/-2010 Model

LE $22,500    -$200

SE $23,000 -$1,000

XLE $24,725 -$2,000

 

Hybrid

SE $25,900 -$1,150

XLE $27,400    -$800

 

*all pricing excludes $760 destination fees.

 

While not finalized the 2012 Camry is expected to carry a 5 Star safety rating from the IIHS, it will have 10 airbags, an optional blind spot warning system and back up camera.

Fuel economy for the Camry will be at or above the class leaders:

 

Engine City Highway Combined

I-4 25    35      28

V-6 21    30      25

Hybrid 43    39      41

 

The mix is expected to be 75% four cylinder, 14% V6 and 11% Hybrid for sales.

 

We had a chance to take a short drive in a Hybrid model of the Camry.  It was an SE model with cloth interior and standard radio.  When driven in "Eco Mode" it feels as if only 100 of the 200 horsepower available is there to be used.  Acceleration is anything but brisk and on ramps and passing opportunities need to be planned carefully.   

In standard mode, the car feels much more responsive.  We tried a little experiment to see just how the different modes responded to throttle position.  While holding a steady throttle, we exited out of "Eco Mode" into "Normal Mode" and immediately began a rapid acceleration.  This was confirmed by another journalist we were driving with trying the same thing, and having the same exact results.  This showed us that "Eco Mode" requires much larger throttle movements to achieve any forward movement.   

If we had to guess, a good driver using a light throttle would get better results then an average driver using "Eco Mode" in a standard manor. 

The handling of the Camry is not inspired, in fact taking a gentle on/off ramp at anything more than 35 miles an hour started the tires howling.  The ride is fine, not fantastic, the interior is fairly quiet, maybe a bit better than average. 

The regenerative brakes in the Camry feel as if they are a generation behind others.  Ford, GM and Honda all have a much more "natural" feel to their re-gen brakes in the latest models, in the Camry, there seemed to be no consistency in the peddle feel.  In hard stops this is even more exaggerated where there seems to be no action in the first bit of travel and then hard braking all of a sudden. 

It should be noted that we were driving a pre-production model of the 2012 Camry and there might be some final calibration that will be dialed in for the production cars. 

Fit and finish for the 2012 Camry are what you would expect from Toyota.  It is solidly built, the materials have a quality feel to them, door closing has a solid sound, we found nothing to complain about when it came to build quality. 

Overall, our take on the new Camry is that we are underwhelmed.  For us, Toyota played it WAY to conservative in this refresh.  This segment of the market has become ultra competitive, it's a close in knife fight between five or six manufactures, and it feels as if Toyota approached this as if it was still 2005 and they were unopposed in the market from anyone other than Honda. 

While there is nothing wrong with the Camry, there is nothing that stands out either.  Toyota may feel as if they didn't need to move the needle with this car since it still one of, if not the top selling passenger car in North America.  However, with the average age of a Camry buyer being 60, that demographic while having money to spend, isn't going to help you grow new sales, rather you may just be able to hold on for a short period of time before it begins to shrink. 

Hyundai's Sonata, Kia's Optima, Chevy's upcoming Malibu and an all new Ford Fusion on the way, are making statements, and appealing to younger buyers.  The strength of these players is bound to eat into Toyota's sales for the Camry, maybe not today or tomorrow, but certainly in the very near future. 

It's possible to be conservative with the design and execution of a car, and still make it feel special. To use an earlier example, buying a Camry is like buying a suit at The Men's Warehouse, it's save, it's not cheep, however, it's not special.

 

Thursday
Aug252011

Autoline After Hours Tonight With D. Mark Trostle, Head Designer, Roush

This week we're asking: why did Jack Roush hire a full-time designer? And, we think we've got the perfect man to answer that question: Roush's new head of design, D. Mark Trostle, a man with an impressive performance car pedigree. He's designed such cars as the Buick GNX and Chevy SSR as well as the renowned Speed33 Roadster -- so what's going down at Roush? In addition, we'll be discussing the news as usual. Is Toyota playing it too safe with the Camry's new styling? Is the Cadillac Ciel concept a hint at the brand's upcoming flagship sedan? Why are Ford and Toyota teaming up on hybrid development? To discuss all of this and more, John McElroy is joined in studio by the one and only AutoextremistPeter De Lorenzo.

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Wednesday
May182011

Reviewed: 2011 Toyota Prius - The Hyper-milers Bugati Veyron

The Toyota Prius is an interesting vehicle in that it draws very strong reactions. For certain group of enthusiasts the Prius is a coming sign of the apocalypse, for another group of enthusiasts, it is as if it came down from the hand of the Almighty himself. For yet another group of people, it is a tool for them to shout out loudly that they are morally superior to everyone else in the world, because they drive a hybrid.

 

Believe it, or not, the Toyota Prius is a hard-core enthusiast machine. It just doesn’t happen to be the hard-core enthusiast machine one would think of if you come from a traditional gearheads mindset. And yet, it is to the hyper milers what a Ferrari 458 or Bugatti Veyron would represent.  Go to a gathering of hyper-milers for any competition they put on, and you will find people who have tricked out Prius’  just like a hot roder might trick out a 5 liter Mustang. The funny thing is, the group of people who would trick out said Mustang to run 10 second-quarter miles on pump gas hold as much disdain for the Prius and its owners, as the Prius owners do for the Mustang crowd. And yet, their passion, their ingenuity, and their commitment to their cause is exactly the same, it’s just that they come from totally opposite ends of the spectrum.

 

The Toyota Prius has come a long way in the decade plus it is been on the market.  Even in the last couple years, before this current iteration, while one could marvel at the engineering of the car, it felt as much like an appliance, as it ever did in automobile. Because the focus was always on engineering and fuel mileage, everything else took a backseat. The exterior design was often best described as awkward, and the interiors used more plastic than the Fisher-Price aisle at Toys “R” Us. The latest generation of Prius’ has sought to fix some of these issues. The exterior design of the car has certainly been crafted in a wind tunnel with little regard for aesthetics. That said, the unique shape of the Prius makes it stand out, which from Toyota’s point of view, may have been the point from the start. When you see a Prius go down the road, you won’t mistake it for any other car. To the douche bag crowd it screams, “look at me look at me I’m driving a hybrid!” These are of course the same people who drive their Prius Hybrid in the HOV lane, by themselves, at 85 to 90 miles an hour, not exactly being kinder to the environment than the four people riding in an SUV.

 

Compared to previous generations the interior of the current Prius is light years ahead. While it still contains quite a bit of plastic it is of much higher quality and much more tastefully done. In fact,  the quality of materials inside the Prius are almost up to the level of what  one would expect in this price range. It’s still a bit stark, but it no longer feels like a low-grade appliance, it feels like an automobile interior. Some of the materials feel a bit thin the layout of the center console is still a bit odd the placement of the switches for the heated seats is a head scratcher, placed as they are in an open space underneath the console between the seats.

 

The dashboard arrangement itself is a bit odd, rather than instrumentation being in front of you, it’s off to the center, not exactly in the direct line of sight. If you are trying to keep an eye on the power meter to maximize your battery usage, or see how high you can keep your instant fuel economy, it’s difficult to both do that, and pay attention to what you’re driving down the road. If any vehicle called for a heads-up display the Prius certainly has to be at the top of the list. The quote enthusiast unquote who try to maximize mileage i.e. the hyper milers, pay attention to this power meter more than anything else in the car. This means, that they aren’t paying attention to what’s happening on the road in front of them. It becomes a bit of the video game, and that’s not exactly what you want going on as you’re driving on the road.

 

The whole purpose of owning a Prius, is very high fuel economy. In the time that we spent with the Prius, the mileage that we got, was ordinary at best. Ordinary, from what the EPA sticker says it should get, what the hyper miler enthusiasts get, and what a comparable modern clean diesel can get. We put over 700 miles on the Prius during our time with it, and what we saw on our highway runs was a high of 44 miles to the gallon. In the city where the Prius should get better mileage we saw about the same number. While 44 miles to the gallon is nothing to sneeze at, we can think of other cars that can get the same or better mileage, that we would prefer to drive. Our 44 mpg on the highway was with the cruise control set at 75 mph. Some will claim that if you wanted to maximize fuel mileage that speed is too high, and that you should not use the cruise control. Perhaps they have a point, but in us reviewing the Prius, our goal was not to drive it for maximum mileage, rather, it was to drive it like any other ordinary car, and see what the results were.

 

Because every effort was made to maximize mileage in this car, it’s not the most comfortable highway cruiser. The car is sprung rather stiffly, and the low rolling resistance tires mounted on the car don’t exactly provide a supple ride. In fact, you pretty much feel every expansion joint, pothole, and road imperfection, transferred right into the seat. Also, in an effort to save weight, there is not an abundance of sound deadener in the car.  While level of road noise transferred into the car is not objectionable, it was more noticeable than other cars in its peer group.

 

One very positive note we have for the Prius is that it can haul quite a bit of stuff. We had our Prius over the Christmas holidays, and it handled not only all of our luggage, but quite a few packages and other related things that we needed to take along with us. With the back seat folded down, which do fold flat, there is a very useful amount of cargo room in the Prius, even with the hatchback cutting into some of the room.

 

No one can deny that the Prius is a very successful car. In the US market, hybrids account for 2.5% of all vehicles sold. Of that 2.5%, the Toyota Prius accounts for 50% of those sales, 50 percent! In fact, the Toyota Prius sells about 125,000 units a year, that is nearly half of the total volume of sales for the Camry, which is the best-selling car in the United States. The Prius also has a very loyal ownership group. Most of the people who have owned Prius’ have bought or will by another one. So in this matter Toyota knows exactly what they’re doing and is executing well on it. The question then becomes, can they expand sales of the Prius and the Prius brand to more than this segment of the market?  Toyota is certainly going to try as the Prius V will be coming out in the summer and Toyota also looks to expand the Prius brand with other models in the very near future.

 

The Toyota Prius is certainly a remarkable feat of engineering and a brilliant bit of marketing.  As we have said earlier, to a certain group of its ownership it is the ultimate hard-core performance automobile, just not the hard-core performance automobile that would typically come to mind. The problem for us is that we are the traditional gearhead, so this car is a bit lost on us. While we certainly can acknowledge the feat of engineering, for us, and this is the most important point, we can find no passion in with this car. 

 

While it certainly has come many steps forward from literally being an automotive appliance, we just cannot find any enthusiasm for the car. That does not mean that the Toyota Prius is a bad car, because it’s not, it does exactly what it’s supposed to do, for the group that it’s intended to.  And, based on the passion and loyalty of its owners it’s right on target. For us, we are not in that target market and no matter how objective you try to be, you are who you are. For us we would bypass the Toyota Prius for several other options, but for the group of people, and they are a large group of people, who view automobiles as nothing more than a tool, the Toyota Prius is an excellent vehicle which has great versatility for hauling the family around, commuting to and from work, and being a fine all-around car, and it also get very good, though not spectacular fuel mileage.  You certainly could do much worse than the Toyota Prius.

If you would like to see the full gallery of pictues just click this link


Friday
Feb112011

Too Fast To Race: Group B Rally

As you know we are big fans of Group B Rally, it's what we grew up with.  In the mid 1980's when we were in high school, ESPN would show WRC and U.S. Rally Racing, as hard as that seems to believe in this day and age.

The Group B cars were turly monsters in their days, 5-800 horsepower was not unheard of, and much of the technology from the turbo Formula 1 cars made their way in to rally racing.  It came to an end at the end of the 80's though as the cars became to fast, there were a few to many fatalities of drivers and spectators, so this shining moment of racing came to an end.

We found this series on YouTube and thought we would share it with you, it's a documentry, broken up into seven sections to show you this history of this great series.