Auto News & Reviews

  • 25 Aug 2019 11:06 PM | Anonymous

    Have you ever wondered, “What’s the point of tiny ‘boy-racer’ sports cars?” How much fun can a four-banger possibly be, right?

    I thought all of that until I spent a few days in the 2019 Toyota 86 GT, and now I get it. Not that I would get one myself, but now I get what the fuss is about.

    Toyota said they were going to pick up my loaner RAV4 and drop off an 86 GT for a week, and I thought, “Hey, that will be a fun car to drive.” But to be honest, I didn’t really know the 86 GT. So, then I looked it up and saw it only had four cylinders. Probably not so fast, I thought. Then I saw it was a two-door, rear-wheel-drive fastback that produced 205 horsepower. Alrighty, then. I was intrigued. More than 200 horses from a four-cylinder, naturally aspirated engine? Bring it on.

    They brought it on, and my first impression was that it is probably one of the best-looking cars on the road, and I don’t normally think this of smaller cars. Because it sits so low, it’s nice that they carried the aggressive styling from the menacing nose all the way across the top of the vehicle to the track-ready tail. When you walk up to this car, you can’t help but wonder if it can deliver on the visual hype, but trust me, this is more than just a pretty boy-racer.

    I love the color of the copy they brought, too. It’s called “asphalt”, and I appreciate the honest labeling. It really does look like a fresh coat of asphalt, and the name of this hue is especially fitting, because this car and asphalt are meant to happen.

    My second impression was that it would be painful to get in and out of this car on any long-term basis. If you are under six feet tall, and if you wear size 40s or smaller (I don’t know women’s sizes), you’ll probably think this car has perfect roof height and racing seat width. For the rest of us, it takes about two minutes to get used to the squeeze, and that’s after planning carefully how to contort in order to drop into the seat. But let me assure you, it is worth the trouble.

    Once behind the wheel, this 86 GT was a combination of best-go-kart-ever and best-video-arcade-game-ever. The gauges are refreshingly simple. You’re practically sitting on the floor. When you put it in gear (we tested the six-speed manual), it responds immediately. When you enter a turn, you don’t have to slow down at all, because the tires and suspension are ready for it. In short, it is the coolest, must fun little car I’ve ever driven.

    I get why people want these, and I get why men like me in our mid-40s all-of-a-sudden want to go on a diet. Ladies, we’re not necessarily trying to impress you. We’re trying to fit more comfortably into these racing seats.

    Shifting gears on the 86 GT is dreamy unless you’re trying to drive really slow through a parking lot. This is not a cruiser, not a grocery-getter, not a Home Depot helper. It’s not a cross-country star, either, but I’ll get to that in a minute. What’s fun is to push this car near redline before shifting, and then do it again until you’re up to speed. At that point, you just kick it straight over to fifth or sixth gear. You may think it normal to keep it in third for 35 or fourth for 45, but you’d be wrong. This little animal whines and vibrates like it has been leashed and doesn’t like it.

    During my week with the 86, I never put it on a real track, but I did put it in track mode, and I did push it hard around corners. Seriously, there are several tight roadway turns in my town, and I took them quite often at full speeds, avoiding the brakes, while the car never barked tires, and it responded like it was no big deal. The racing seats become a comfort at that point, because you stay steady in place.

    This is a fun car to drive. Most of the time.

    This is not a fun car to drive on a two-hour business trip, at least not the manual version. I had to travel to Athens, Georgia for meetings, and on the way up I made the mistake of connecting to Hwy. 78 from Interstate 85. That route was excruciating, because I was stuck at one speed driving straight for such long periods of time. That racing seat I had become used to hugging me now felt annoying. It was also annoying to have so many people pull up and offer to race me. That doesn’t happen so often when I’m driving my Town & County or Suburban. Probably kids en route to the UGA campus, I guessed.

    I find it funny that some reviewers ding the 86 for not having enough technology on board. That’s not why you’re buying an 86. I love that the clock is an old-school digital readout in the dash. I love that the climate controls are chunky dials. I even love that there is no standard satellite radio in these cars, because you just don’t need it these days. I love that they didn’t just migrate the Corolla technology package into the 86. No, it seems to me that the 86 keeps the spirit of its Scion FR-S predecessor and brings a little more of that indy cool factor to the Toyota lineup.

    You do still get the touchscreen interface offering satellite navigation, Bluetooth phone connectivity and the rest, though I will say the Pioneer system we tested was way too slow in switching between these functions. I hope it was just our unit and not the norm, but from what I’ve read elsewhere, it may be the norm for the 2019 models. (Fix it, Toyota.)

    There is a lower trim than the GT, simply called the 86, and then there’s the 86 TRD (Toyota Racing Development) on the top side. The TRD version is roughly the same as the GT, but it comes with the higher performing Brembo brakes, Sachs shocks and Michelin Pilot Sport 4s. The TRDs only come in black with a special edition red-orange-yellow stripe, and the company says they’re only making 1,418 of them. A basic 86 starts around $27K, the GT around $29K and the TRD just north of $32K.

    If you’re not planning to put this car on a closed-course track, don’t bother buying it unless you set aside a budget for speeding tickets and taxi fares once your license is suspended. You’re much better off in something like the new Corolla Hatchback, which is almost as much fun on country roads, much more comfortable on highways and city streets, and much easier on the budget (starts around $20K).

    I agree with the cast of the old British “Top Gear” television series, who insist cars are either meant for the road or for the track but not both. The 86 is built for the latter.

  • 24 Aug 2019 11:27 PM | Anonymous

    I don’t always agree with Consumer Reports, but they were right to give their top minivan score to the 2019 Toyota Sienna, and after they test the 2020 model, which we have recently done, I’m guessing it will come out on top, too.

    Earlier this year, we reviewed the 2019 Sienna, and we loved its relatively plush third row, its quieter-than-normal cabin, a ton of standard safety features, the precise Dynamic Radar Cruise Control, and a powerful almost-300 horsepower engine. The 2020 still has all of that.

    The 2020 copy we reviewed was the new Nightshade Edition. So imagine (or look at the pictures) a “Super White” Sienna trimmed with a black mesh sport grille, black door handles, black outside mirror caps, black wheels and a black spoiler. Add a black Toyota emblem and badging, and you’ve got a cool-looking ride. You can also get the Nightshade Edition on Celestial Silver Metallic, Midnight Black Metallic and Salsa Red Pearl Siennas.

    While we’re talking about variants, we drove the SE, which normally comes as a front-wheel drive, but our was the smooth-riding all-wheel drive. You’ll pay about $1,500 more for that upgrade. A basic SE starts around $37,500. The Sienna also comes in the $34,000 LE and the $37,500 XLE trim levels. As equipped, our copy was stickered at just a tick over $45,000.

    Our family of seven took the Sienna to John Tanner Park about an hour west of Atlanta, which was a 90-minute trip for us, and we experienced first-hand a benefit of having mid-row windows that lower. One of our children gets motion sickness, and sometimes a dose of fresh air cures it. Having four windows that lower, which is not normal for even most late-model minivans, is super handy.

    On that trip, we also enjoyed how spacious the Sienna is. We had coolers and picnic supplies and changes of clothes and so much more, and the generous 39 cubic feet of aft cargo space (behind the third row) was plenty.

    We regretted that we couldn’t take this all-wheel drive onto the sand or snow to try it out those capabilities, but its nice to know that the AWD system is working for you all of the time, even on regular roads under normal driving conditions. Unless I am mistaken, the Sienna is the only minivan offering AWD.

    This new Sienna seemed quieter than normal, and after a little research we learned it has a new acoustic windshield that contributes to that result.

    One last observation is that they smoothed out the hood even more with the 2020, which is a good move. If you read our reviews of the previous Siennas, you’ll know we didn’t like the ridges over the front wheel wells, which make these minivans look from the front like angry lizards. All is forgiven now.

  • 03 Aug 2019 11:54 PM | Anonymous

    The Toyota RAV4 will always have a special place in my heart, because it was my first-ever official review vehicle. Back then, in 2015, we were a family of five with a bun in the oven, so we could all just about squeeze into that vehicle for a trip to our OB/GYN in Downtown Atlanta.

    Four years later, our family has grown by two, and the RAV4 has grown a bit as well, at least under the hood. The 2019 model still has the 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine, but now it delivers 203 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque versus the 2015 model’s 176 horses and 172 pound-feet.

    You see a difference on the outside, too. The new RAV4 is an inch longer and an inch wider, and it sits almost two inches higher than previous RAV4s, but the clearance is also higher, so they haven’t expanded the cabin; they’ve just shifted it upward a tad.

    The RAV4 cabin interior is roughly the same size as before, but they took an inch or so from the front head and leg room and shifted it to the back seat, which was a good move in my opinion. You’ve got plenty all around for four adults. There are three safety belts in the back for when you’re hauling kids.

    You have larger wheel options with the 2019 RAV4, and those look good. The Limited AWD version we drove had 19-inch alloys, which look nice with the higher-riding SUV.

    One criticism that fits nicely right here is that this new RAV4 has a tub-style floor, which means the driver is dropping their left foot really low to the ground while having to lift their right foot higher than normal to exit the vehicle. I’m not an engineer, but I think that was an unnecessary development. This week, I’m driving the 2020 Sienna minivan, which sits about as high, but it has the relatively low doorway clearance and makes for easier entering and exiting.

    Performance-wise, this new RAV4 is a champ. Having just recently stepped out of the smaller C-HR, which felt slow, the RAV4 feels much quicker while just as nimble. We took it for a couple of laps around what we call our local race track, where we can push hard into corners and over hills while maintaining the speed limit, and we were impressed with this SUV. It handled better in sport mode than most sedans would do. All the while, you’re getting between 25 and 33 miles per gallon, which is decent.

    The copy we reviewed was in the Limited trim level, plus it was packed with loads of optional technology, and I think this blurs the luxury line. I really don’t see how this vehicle is still a Toyota and not a Lexus.

    One of my favorite bits of technology is the Bird’s Eye View Camera. When reversing, one half of the eight-inch display shows an animated top-down view of the RAV4, and cameras mounted around the vehicle work together to simulate, as the name suggests, a bird’s-eye view as if there’s one camera mounted on a 20-foot pole above you. It’s pretty incredible. On the other half of the display, you still get the now-standard back-up camera as well, so between the two views you’re getting a lot of good safety information.

    Another great piece of technology on the RAV4 we reviewed, and one I’d like to see on more vehicles, is the forward camera view that activates when you’re parking and nosing up to a wall or other barrier object.

    A kid-favorite feature is the optional glass roof. The screen pulls all the way back, and the front half pops up and slides back. If they were old enough to ride up front, they might also enjoy the vented seats. I did.

    A basic new RAV4 will cost you about $25K. The one we tested was closer to $40K. If you’re brave enough to buy used, you can get a loaded 2015 model in most markets for well under $20K. Four-year-old RAV4s are just getting started, and if you buy them from a Toyota dealership, you’re likely getting it as a Toyota Certified Used Vehicle (TCUV). That means you’re covered head to toe for 12 months or 12,000 miles (whichever comes first), you get a free year of roadside assistance, and your powertrain is covered for the next seven years or until the odometer reaches 100,000 miles. Incidentally, Toyota offers this TCUV program on their vehicles up to six years old.

    [Danny Harrison is a veteran journalist who cut his teeth in the newspaper industry in 1995. He is the public relations specialist for a bustling municipality just south of Atlanta, but he still enjoys writing news features and reviews in his personal time. He is an active member of the Greater Atlanta Automotive Media Association. He and his wife have five children, all of whom fancy themselves to be automobile critics.]

  • 02 Aug 2019 8:18 PM | Anonymous

    A childhood dream came true recently when a few of us automotive journalists were invited to join loads of law enforcement officers in test driving Ford’s all-new Police Interceptor utility vehicles, including the first-ever pursuit-rated hybrid model. This spectacle took place in a parking lot at Atlanta Motor Speedway, which constantly amazes me with how many different kinds of non-NASCAR events it hosts throughout the calendar year.

    Going back to 1996, I have spent countless hours riding along as a journalist with police officers and sheriff’s deputies, but only now, 23 years later, have I taken the wheel of a police vehicle. And with all due respect to those Crown Vics of yesteryear, they would be left standing at the starting line by these new Police Interceptor utility vehicles.

    The 2020 lineup, all three based on the body-on-frame Ford Explorer, consists of the 3.3-liter, the 3.3-liter hybrid and the 3-liter EcoBoost. They’re all V-6 engines, and they’re each more powerful than the old Crown Vics, which sported 4.6-liter V-8s back in the day. But you may be surprised to learn that the 3.0 was significantly faster and more powerful than the rest of the lot. Intrigued? Read on.

    Police departments not wanting to try anything too out of the ordinary may opt for the 3.3-liter gas engine, which produces a generous 285 horsepower and a whopping 260 pound-feet of torque. When I drove this model around the twisty-turny closed course, I was impressed with its ability to handle my erratic driving and my tendency to push too hard into the corners. The driving instructor a couple of times had to remind me to brake a bit earlier, but this Interceptor was quite forgiving.

    Next up was the 3.3-liter hybrid model, and it, too, handled well and offered the same level of performance. Actually, this hybrid is said to deliver a combined 318 horsepower when utilizing gas and electric for short bursts. I tried to notice the difference, but it was relatively the same vehicle. Now go back and read that again: A hybrid SUV is performing at the same level or maybe better than an all-gas SUV, and both of these far outperform typical SUVs. Both outperform the iconic Crown Vic Interceptors of the past as well. That’s amazing to me, especially when you consider the benefits of a hybrid, which can idle in all-electric mode, saving lots of fuel over the course of a year.

    Finally, they put me in the 3-liter, which threw me off completely. I wrongly assumed that this smaller engine would deliver smaller results. I was unprepared for how quick this monster is.

    I wish I could have driven it for a second lap. On my first and only, I had the seat pushed back just a bit too far, and when I floored it off the line, it pushed me into the seat, and my hands loosened grip of the steering wheel. Naturally, I applied the brakes, and then I stopped to adjust the seat and steering wheel. I stomped the gas again, but I had already burned up half of that first straightaway, so I was weak going into Turn One. Never mind, the rest of the course was a thrill ride. This 3-liter engine squashed the competition with its 400 horses and ridiculous 415 pound-feet of torque.

    Full disclosure: I’d have known this third Interceptor was the beefiest if I hadn’t jumped the line for the introductory talk and headed straight for the drivers’ queue. Sorry, but I was on a long lunch break, and I still needed to squeeze in a bite to eat on the way back to the office.

    Turns out, the 3-liter Interceptor achieves its greatness with an EcoBoost turbocharger akin to the ones they put in Lincoln Aviators and the 2020 Ford Explorers, and just a step or two down from the popular 2017 Ford GT. It’s crazy-fast for an SUV. It was honestly more than I could handle in that one lap. I needed to get used to its power, and I’d love to have a second go at it one day.

    While the track session was super cool, I also enjoyed learning from the Ford reps about the genius that goes into providing the Interceptor utility vehicles to the police. For starters, nobody idles like the police do. No disrespect here. A police officer’s vehicle is their office most of the time, so they often have to pull over somewhere, access their phones and laptops, and get their paperwork done while sitting on ready to respond to emergencies. High performance engines notoriously burn too much fuel, and if you’re just sitting there, wouldn’t it be nice to switch the engine off? You couldn’t do that in the Georgia summertime without a strong battery-run climate control system, and that’s what you get with the Interceptor hybrid. They say it can add up to thousands of dollars in fuel savings each year, and I can’t help but think it becomes a friendlier option for police who must idle in parking areas and near crowds and pedestrians.

    The real kicker is that the Interceptor hybrid still gives you strong performance when you do get that call and have to stop idling and be somewhere quickly or catch up to a pursued vehicle.

    Not long after Ford stopped making the Crown Victoria Interceptor, we saw Dodge pick up the slack in the police sedan market with their modified Charger. In more recent years, we’ve seen more police go to SUVs, and especially Fords and Chevys, so I’m guessing we’re going to see more and more departments opting for the Police Interceptor utility line in the years to come.

    If you’re a police officer, you may want to check out the next Interceptor utility drive event if it rolls back through town. I’ll have my driving gloves on ready for Round Two.

    [Danny Harrison is a veteran journalist who cut his teeth in the newspaper industry in 1995. He is the public relations specialist for a bustling municipality just south of Atlanta, but he still enjoys writing news features and reviews in his personal time. He is an active member of the Greater Atlanta Automotive Media Association. He and his wife have five children, all of whom fancy themselves to be automobile critics.]

  • 21 Jul 2019 4:20 PM | Anonymous

    It’s always a pleasure to do a weeklong review of a Lexus vehicle, and the ES 350 is probably my favorite of the fleet, so I was looking forward to that late-June delivery. I was intrigued all the more to learn it would be the “Ultra Luxury” edition.

    The cynical side of my brain wondered if it would live up to the billing, especially as the ES is considered to be an entry-level luxury sedan. I, of course, shared this cynicism with a couple of friends, but when later they asked if it really was ultra-lux, I had to consistently answer, “I can’t think of anything it lacks.”

    From the outset I will say there is one tweak I would make if I were Mr. Lexus and could order such things. I really don’t like the ES’s user infotainment interface. It’s a touchpad on the center console, and it is not easy to use. Maybe it would feel more natural if I was in the vehicle for longer than a week, but even by Day 7 it was not coming to me.

    I do like the way they make the hand rest comfortable and convenient for using the touchpad, but I don’t like the way the touchpad itself works. It is ultra-difficult to get the cursor to go where you want it to go. That’s a pretty big problem, especially when you find it in a $43K vehicle (our copy was actually stickered at $53K). The short-story solution: Replace the touchpad with a touch screen like you find in the ultra-impressive Camry.

    Despite the interface shortcomings, this ES 350 is still an amazing vehicle. Let’s start with the performance. The 3.5-liter V-6 delivers 302 horsepower and 267 pound-feet of torque, and that’s a lot, and it means you’re in complete control of this vehicle in traffic. You want to be in front of that car in that other lane? Snap, and you’re there. Front and rear performance dampers ensure that you maintain more road grip and less bounce when you’re maneuvering on challenging surfaces. This vehicle is an entry-level luxury car, but it’s an entry-level sports car as well. You’re not going to do much more with a V-6 than Lexus does with their ES 350 powerhouse.

    The natural downside to performance is fuel economy, but the beauty of this engine is that you’re still getting an average 26 miles per gallon and up to 33 on the highway. That’s not bad considering the power you’re getting. Mind you, if you push it hard all the time, your mileage won’t be this generous.

    Toyotas and Lexuses are both rolling off the line these days with a bevy of standard, high-tech safety features, including the impressive pedestrian detection system. Cross traffic notification systems have impressed me for years, and they’re handy when backing out parking lot spaces. The ability to detect pedestrians is even more important. It works when you’re driving forward, too, of course, so it helps you “see” people walking dangerously close to traffic.

    By the way, you don’t find pedestrian detection in the 2019 GX 460, which surprised me, and I mentioned it in that review a few weeks ago. The much-less-expensive Corolla comes standard with it, so I was surprised that the GX did not. As I noted in that review, I’m guessing Lexus is just rolling out the same GX until it’s time for a redesign, which I am hoping comes in 2020.

    The ES 350 further earns its Ultra Luxury badge by offering 14-way driver and 10-way passenger seats that are both heated and ventilated. This latter feature is one of my favorites, especially down here in the Georgia summertime. You’re getting a wood and leather steering wheel as well, which is beautiful and well set in this overall gorgeous interior.

    Our copy had a few extra options I enjoyed quite a lot. The panorama glass roof is fantastic, even though I’m not much for sunroofs. In this case, you’re enjoying the city lights at night, and this will be great for showing friends around Downtown Atlanta and Buckhead with all of their skyscrapers. Illuminated door sills and other ambient lighting is a nice touch, again, really coming in handy at night.

    The copy we tested had the optional Mark Levinson sound system, which is anchored by a 12.3-inch display, 17 speakers and 1,800 watts. I’d like to hear the standard, 10-speaker system, because you’re paying an extra $3K for the Mark Levinson package. I think most new cars are rolling off the line with better standard sound these days than just a few years ago.

    Another surprise this time around was how much I enjoyed the tucked-away wireless phone charging pad. Once you’re in this ES 350, you don’t need your phone to hand anymore, because it syncs perfectly with the car via Bluetooth. Now you can put it completely out of sight while charging it wirelessly.

    Whenever I drive the ES 350, going back several years now, I wonder why they still call it an entry-level luxury car. I get that the price point is lower than you could pay, but some people don’t want the larger car with the larger engine at any price, and you’re not really going to get much more in the way of luxury appointments in the cabin even if you go up the chain. I’d rather just call this a luxury car and be done with it. If you’re driving the ES 350, you haven’t just entered. You’ve arrived.

    [Danny Harrison is a veteran journalist who cut his teeth in the newspaper industry in 1995. He is the public relations specialist for a bustling municipality just south of Atlanta, but he still enjoys writing news features and reviews in his personal time. He is an active member of the Greater Atlanta Automotive Media Association. He and his wife have five children, all of whom fancy themselves to be automobile critics.]

  • 20 Jul 2019 11:10 PM | Anonymous

    If you buy the 2019 Toyota C-HR, I’m guessing it will be because it is such a good-looking vehicle, kind of like an awesome Hot Wheels car, and not because it gave you chills to drive it. And I’m good with that. It really is a hot-looking car.

    Let’s go ahead and list what’s not hot about the C-HR, and then we’ll get to what still makes this a pretty cool ride.

    It’s not fast. Consumer Reports says they clocked it at 11 seconds to reach 60 mph. It’s got go-fast styling, but it has stay-in-your-lane performance. The powerplant is 2-liter, four-cylinder engine delivering 144 horsepower. The 2019 Corolla hatchback we reviewed earlier this year was also a 2-liter, but it offered 168 horses.

    It’s not roomy. The letters C-HR stand for “compact high ride”, so they don’t promise roominess. Unfortunately, it fails my sit-behind-yourself test, so I wouldn’t recommend it for six-foot drivers with six-foot passengers. There’s plenty of headroom, surprisingly, but even little kids who ride with their legs sticking straight out will find the back seats uncomfortable if the front occupants push their seats back at all.

    It’s not cheap. The C-HR Limited we reviewed started at $26K, but a list of extras brought our copy up to $29K. You can get a stripped-down, basic version for just north of $22K, but you can also choose from several less-expensive, roomier, quicker vehicles on the new car market. To be fair, though, the C-HR is right in there with the Honda HR-V on price and performance, and unsurprisingly this Toyota is much prettier. If you’re determined to get a sub-compact SUV/crossover kind of vehicle, you may as well grab yourself a C-HR.

    Incidentally, you don’t get good visibility from the driver’s seat of the C-HR, either. The rear windows are victims of the super-awesome styling, and you will have large blind spots. This seems counter-intuitive for something posing as a sort of SUV.

    So why do I still love this car?

    It’s fun to drive. No, you’re not going to beat anyone off the line, but it does handle well, and strangely it is even fun to drive through a parking lot. And that means it’s a good cruising car. (Do kids still “go cruising”?) Other than needing a sunroof, this is the car you want to take cruising on summer vacation to the beach. Just make sure you pack light (remember you have limited storage) and don’t accidentally drive it on the beach. You’ll be calling a tow truck, because the C-HR doesn’t have an all-wheel-drive option.

    It sounds great. Some vehicles because of the way they are designed physically limit the performance of their sound systems, even if they’re blessed with the factory’s top-of-the-line option. The C-HR we reviewed sounded amazing, which surprised me. It only has a six-speaker system, but it really kicked, and it projected a good, strong range of sound.

    It looks amazing. I know I already mentioned this, but you really have to see the C-HR in person to appreciate how sharp it looks. The low-profile tires on 18-inch wheels adds to the big toy persona.

    The C-HR was originally designed to join the cool-kid Scion lineup, but when parent company Toyota shut down Scion, the C-HR in development became a Toyota product. It has been on the market for around two years now.

    [Danny Harrison is a veteran journalist who cut his teeth in the newspaper industry in 1995. He is the public relations specialist for a bustling municipality just south of Atlanta, but he still enjoys writing news features and reviews in his personal time. He is an active member of the Greater Atlanta Automotive Media Association. He and his wife have five children, all of whom fancy themselves to be automobile critics.]

  • 19 Jul 2019 12:18 AM | Anonymous

    I love it when Toyota sends me a lower-trim version of one of their vehicles. Luxury is nice from a selfish perspective, and Toyota/Lexus in my opinion is nailing the luxury segment, but most of us out here with our heads on straight are going to have to at least consider the less expensive options when buying a new car, because those nonessential options (an oxymoron?) can lift the price considerably into the thousands of extra dollars and even an extra hundred a month or so on the payment side.

    When I was e-mailed the Monroney ahead of the delivery of the 2019 Camry, I was please to see it was a four-cylinder SE coming my way. That’s the seventh down the line of 10 trim levels, with the XSE V-6 topping the list, and the L 4-cylinder hanging out on the bottom rung. (Yes, that was an “L” and not “LE”, which is the second rung.) Last year, we spent a week in the top-trim Camry, which rivals its own cousin the Lexus ES 350 with its 300-plus horsepower V-6. This year, just a few weeks ago, we spent a week in a mid-trim copy that still managed to deliver more than 200 horses, which is impressive for a four-banger.

    I think back to my 1998 Grand Prix days, and I remember that 3.8-liter V-6 only churning out 195 horsepower, and I thought that thing was lightning-fast. What they’re doing these days with dual injection and variable valve timing is amazing.

    What’s really impressive as well on the performance side of the SE is the fact that this four-cylinder Camry is giving you plenty of pep while treating you to significant savings at the fuel pump. The copy we tested boasted 28 mpg/city and 39 mpg/highway, the latter being twice the mileage per gallon I’m getting presently with my 2007 minivan.

    So that’s the kind of thing that gets me thinking it may be time to consider a newer vehicle (still not a brand-new one, mind you). That for me would probably be a $50-60 savings monthly in fuel costs, not to mention the repair costs I’m incurring over the last couple of years. The numbers aren’t lining up yet, but they might in the next year or two.

    Back to this Camry, when you see the styling, you may be disappointed that it only provides 200+ horses, because it looks much sleeker and faster than that, which was not the way with Camrys only a few years ago. On the other hand, you may be exceptionally pleased that you’re getting pretty much the same sporty look in the $25K model as you’d have gotten in the one that costs $10K more. Toyota in recent years has really taken the prize, in my opinion, when it comes to styling. Where I think Toyota/Lexus tried to copy Mercedes-Benz years ago, it seems that the other car makers are now trying to copy Toyota/Lexus.

    Let’s keep talking about the styling for a minute. Seeing the Camry finally get the sporty good looks that it deserves is kind of like seeing that otherwise cool classmate back in high school finally get that much-needed new hairstyle that gives them a sense of distinction. And in the Camry’s case, it’s not overbaked like so many car makers have done with their dullards over the years, the Pontiac Grand Am being one of the worst offenders. The Camry performs like a good-looking, fun car, so it’s nice that the designers spruced up the exterior aesthetics a bit more to suit it.

    Now, let’s think like old men for a minute. The Camry is still super-duper practical. It has your good gas mileage options, it is comfortable and spacious, and as the best-selling car in the United States for most of the last two decades, it historically has a good resale value. This is the car you keep and then hand down to your children or grandchildren when they start driving.

    As much as I enjoyed the 2019 Camry, I’d much sooner put my money toward a 2017 model right now, because you can find loads (in the Atlanta area, at least) for around $15K with 25K or fewer miles. They do tend to be four-cylinder models, but you’re getting a great price for a car still under a year’s worth of bumper-to-bumper warranty and three years’ worth of drivetrain coverage.

    The Camry SE we tested had a $25K base price but was kitted out to sell for around $30K. I’ll look forward to seeing it on the used lot at the dealership in few years.

    [Danny Harrison is a veteran journalist who cut his teeth in the newspaper industry in 1995. He is the public relations specialist for a bustling municipality just south of Atlanta, but he still enjoys writing news features and reviews in his personal time. He is an active member of the Greater Atlanta Automotive Media Association. He and his wife have five children, all of whom fancy themselves to be automobile critics.]

  • 27 Jun 2019 12:23 AM | Anonymous

    The 2019 Lexus GX 460 was one of the more challenging vehicles for me to review over these last several years, not because I didn’t understand its features, but because I don’t entirely understand why it still looks and performs almost exactly like the last GX 460 they sent me about four years ago.

    Don’t assume you know where I’m going with this review, though. You may be surprised.

    When my family tested the 2015 model, we took it full-bore down to Amelia Island, Florida and drove it on the beach. It exceeded our expectations by offering a relatively quiet, comfortable ride down the Interstate, despite being built on what is essentially a truck chassis. Luxury touches like vented seats and quick-acting, zoned climate control made getting in and out of the car on hot days much more tolerable. In short, we fell in love with the vehicle.

    One of the great charms of the GX is that it is true luxury vehicle with full off-roading capabilities. It’s 4.6-liter V-8 engine delivers better than 300 horsepower and around 330 lb-ft of torque. That loose, golden sand was no problem for this beautiful beast.

    This 2019 copy is no less amazing than the 2015, but that’s primarily because it’s pretty much the same vehicle. It still has the 4.6-liter V-8 that still delivers 301 horses, and it still looks the same on the interior and the exterior.

    The price range is the same. The one we drove four years ago stickered at $63K, and this comparable one rolled off at just north of $70K.

    Frankly, this new GX 460 lacks technological features that are now standard on the Toyota Corolla (Lexus, for any who may not already know, is Toyota’s luxury line), and that really was shocking considering the price gap.

    Initially, I was surprised by this lack of progress, and then I looked up the sales figures. Turns out, Lexus sold more than 27,000 GX 460s in the United States in 2017, and just a few thousand shy of that figure in 2018. Could it be that Lexus knows its market better than car reviewers do? Could it be that there is still a strong segment of the population who wants a luxury SUV that looks and drives exactly as the GX 460 does now and has done for the last several years?

    A few years ago, I marveled that the owner of the newspaper where I worked (and dozens more) showed up for tri-annual visits to our facility in an older model Jaguar. It is the same vehicle he had been driving for many years.

    He is wealthy, we thought. He could drive anything he wants, we said. So then why would he drive an older-model Jaguar?

    And we missed the point. Of course he could drive whatever he wanted, and he wanted to drive that car. We don’t need to understand why.

    So that’s my take on the new GX 460. It’s still the same amazing, stately, powerful, comfortable, beautiful SUV that is has been for half a decade, and if you want a brand-new copy of it, they’re still up for grabs at the Lexus dealership.

    I’m not finished wondering, though.

    I hear rumors that, despite the still-strong sales figures, Lexus is redesigning the GX 460 for 2020. Will it be quicker, stronger, sleeker, bolder, more youthful? Will it have cutting-edge technology that blows us away?

    Conversely, would Lexus be so bold as to just change the 19 to a 20 and roll this same vehicle back out again?

    Whatever the case, I’m counting on a return of the GX to the 2020 Lexus lineup, and whatever it turns out to be, someone, and probably a lot of someones, will buy it.

    [Danny Harrison is a veteran journalist who cut his teeth in the newspaper industry in 1995. He is the public relations specialist for a bustling municipality just south of Atlanta, but he still enjoys writing news features and reviews in his personal time. He is an active member of the Greater Atlanta Automotive Media Association. He and his wife have five children, all of whom fancy themselves to be automobile critics.]

  • 06 Apr 2019 9:12 AM | Anonymous

    When I wrote last year about the 2018 Toyota Sienna minivan, I said something about how the front looked like a lizard, because the hood rose to sharp brows over the headlights. I like lizards, and I like minivans, but…

    I was pleasantly surprised this mid-March when the 2019 model was delivered for my week-long review and those eyebrows were lowered a bit. Or at least they seem to be. I didn’t measure them, though now with neither Sienna in my driveway, I wish I had. It’s a detail you won’t find in any product brochure.

    Thanks, Toyota, for listening to that suggestion. Now go back and notice the part of that review that suggested you offer a V-8 option. Your 4.6L V-8 truck engine would do nicely.

    So, did we like the 2019 Sienna? Of course we did. It still has the 3.5L V-6 delivering 296 hp, the optional entertainment packages (dual-view DVD screen for the kids, phenomenal sound for all), the generous storage spaces, and the cup and bottle holders all over the place. Crazy as it sounds, when you’re a dad who actually loves having the whole family of seven under one headliner, you dig the bottle holders. Slide past Aldi for a case of water and a bag of baby carrots, and you’re set.

    We did something like that on the Saturday of our seven-day Sienna experience. All aboard, we took I-75 up to what is now Georgia State Stadium in Downtown Atlanta, and then we cruised surface streets up to the Buckhead Barnes & Noble and back. Especially along the motorway, we were all about the DVD screen for the kids and the we-time happening on Row One. With their third-zone climate control and clear view of the flip-down screen from all five seats, we heard nary a peep out of them.

    That third row, by the way, is more comfortable seating than you’re going to find in some competitors’ middle. That’s super handy for us, because our three older children ride aft, while our toddlers take Row Two. It’s nice to think long trips will be more comfortable for them, too, even if they don’t offer to help with the monthly payments.

    I noticed on the Monroney* sticker that the 2019 Sienna earned an NHTSA** five-star safety rating, which in all considers frontal crash, side crash and rollover test results. That kind of peace of mind is a luxury feature in itself.

    Here’s another bit of safety info. During that afternoon road trip, I accidentally activated one of the side doors, which closed on a daughter, but after nothing more than a gentle bump it retreated. We shared a laugh, I apologized, and we moved on. Things like that make you appreciate a vehicle. My Chrysler’s automatic side doors are not so sensitive.

    Not surprisingly, the 2019 Sienna takes top honors from Consumer Reports, which stamps the XLE trim level with a 78. (The Kia Sedona EX was second with a 74.) Of particular note for the Sienna XLE was the bevy of standard safety features, which include Forward Collision Warning, Automatic Emergency Braking and Pedestrian Detection, all of which are also standard down at the less-expensive LE and SE trim levels. More peace of mind. CR also gave Sienna high reliability marks.

    And that brings me to a fave feature. In five years of writing vehicle reviews, I think Toyota excels them all when it comes to cruise control, and in particular I love the always-improving Dynamic Radar Cruise Control. This allows you set a max speed while also setting a variable car-length distance from the vehicle you are following in the lane. There may be a few times in curvy, multi-lane traffic where it gets confused with irrelevant vehicles ahead of you in other lanes, but let’s be honest here: cruise control isn’t really meant for the Downtown Atlanta Connector.

    Another fave of the Sienna copy we reviewed is the body color, though I’m not fond of the name of that color. I’d call it an almost-Army green, but some bi-lingual high-earner somewhere decided it should be called Alumina Jade Metallic. Sounds like an anime character. Probably, that’s the point. It’s a stunner, though, especially given that Toyota/Lexus in well into this present era of sculpting front-ends to look like Battlestar Galactica robots. It looks battle-ready, especially when accented by the mid and rear tinted windows.

    This is the third Sienna we’ve reviewed in five years, and I look forward to the next. As I’m more of a late-model, used car buyer, I have paid closer-than-normal attention to the 2018 and 2019 models, because we’ll be in the market again within a year or two. This 2019 model starts around $30K ($45K as tested), but you can find the 2016 under $20K.

    *Monroney stickers are named for 1950s-era U.S. Senator Mike Monroney, who was from Oklahoma and had his own lizard-looking eyebrows.

    **NHTSA is the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

  • 06 Apr 2019 9:09 AM | Anonymous

    You don’t need me to tell you that any Toyota Corolla is a good vehicle to consider if you’re in the market for a compact car, especially if you’re shopping the used lots. Up to now, the Corollas have been practical, reliable and predictable. And then came the 2019 Hatchback, and there went predictability.

    It took me a few days to get used to driving the all-new 2019 Corolla Hatchback, partly because the copy Toyota delivered was a manual six-speed, and partly because it rode so low to the ground. Even more, it was difficult to get used to the new stylings Toyota baked up for this new model, but well done, I say. Well done.

    I specifically asked Toyota to send me a compact, because I wanted to test my theory that they tend to pack most of their best features across the brand unlike some makes that strip their low end and try to pack too much into their top models and trims. I was right, which I’ll prove in a minute, but I was completely surprised that I would enjoy so much the process of proving my point.

    Since the fall of 2010, I had only for one day driven one vehicle with manual transmission (a 2016 Mustang GT 350-R, if you must know), so getting the feel for this Corolla took a couple of days. In the meantime, I checked out all the standard features, which still amaze me that they were included in this SE copy that stickered just below $21K. It had the entire Toyota Safety Sense 2.0 package, which features pre-collision detection, dynamic radar cruise, lane departure alert with steering assist, automatic high beams and road sign assist. In fact, this completely stock Corolla even had the new pedestrian detection technology that I later learned isn’t even available on the 2019 Lexus GX 460. (What’s up with that, by the way, Lexus?)

    The first real open-road experience with this Corolla came on a short trip for coffee and a browse to the nearest Barnes & Noble. There’s one short way and several fun ways to get there, and windows-down, we enjoyed every minute of a fun way. Pushing through turns, testing get-to-the-limit times, and flexing this car’s audio muscle was over-the-top fun, and it took me completely by surprise. Up to that Saturday, I had just driven it in traffic to work and back.

    Coming out of one of those turns, during which we stayed in second gear, I’m sure the engine made the same growl a linebacker makes when he has just made a big tackle and is gloating just a little. For such a small car (2.0L, 4cyl, 168hp), it projects confidence in its acceleration, its handling and even in its engine note.

    I have always appreciated the Corolla sedans, but after this six-speed hatchback experience, I’m not sure I could handle stepping back.

    The great thing about a car like this is that it’s fun to drive aggressively or conservatively. It’s a near-perfect car for parking in small spaces and mastering the grocery lots. But it also puts you in front of the traffic if that’s where you want to be. Because you’re hugging the ground, topping hills is a thrill as well.

    Something I found particularly endearing is how this Corolla Hatchback is just as aerodynamically crafted aft as it is forward. If you look at it from the five or seven o’clock positions, it looks a lot like the front of a European passenger train. You really can’t stop looking at this car from any angle, it strikes such an interesting figure.

    Forgive me for gushing, but this may be the surprise review vehicle to beat them all over the last five years.

    Consumer Reports ranked the 2019 Corolla Hatchback SE sixth out of 17 compact cars, trailing the number-one Subaru Impreza Premium by four points (76-72). In their scoring, they predict this vehicle will be more reliable than average for its class, but they also only forecast average owner satisfaction, to which my only comment is that Consumer Reports isn’t always right.

    I believe you will have a difficult time finding these on the used car market in the year to come. They’ll get there, because ultimately some people will just grow weary of driving a manual transmission, but they won’t stay on the used lot long. It’s just too fun to drive.

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