August, 2010

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2011 SIENNA HAULIN’ PEOPLE, HAULIN’ THINGS WITH EASE

Tuesday, August 17th, 2010
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It’s roomy, comfortable and quite responsive on the freeway. We’re talking about the 2011 Toyota Sienna Van and its ratings are fantastic.sienna

This loaded people-hauler has been very useful during a recent home swap and vacation trip.

In a recent home move, almost every stitch of clothing and ounce of food was loaded into the Sienna and hauled with no problem. In fact, while unloading, someone remarked on how big the Sienna is–and how much stuff was in there still to bring in.

On Trips Sienna handles well for a big vehicle. You don’t feel like you’re about to tip over, and it’s solid on the expressway. I didn’t really push it (who pushes minivans?) but never experienced much roll. The chassis is very cushy and wasn’t fazed when navigating broken roads.

The steering is nice, and the interior parts look clean. It seemed a bit hard to reach over and adjust the radio channel, but otherwise a great cabin. The overall exterior seems a bit barge-like–but most minivans do. I did really like the taillights, though.

Sienna accelerates with force on the expressway, and the van  is impressive as it builds speed and the revs increas. Gas mileage in the mid to upper twenties per gallon is achievable.

2011 Toyota Sienna XLE

Base Price: $35,315

As-Tested : $42,211

Drivetrain: 3.5-liter V6; six-speed automatic

Output: 265 hp @ 6,200 rpm, 245 lb-ft @ 4,700 rpm

Curb Weight: 4,735 lb

Fuel Economy: (EPA) 18 mpg

Options: XLE premium package including dual view entertainment center, two wireless headphones, voice-activated touch screen DVD, navigation system with panorama camera, backup camera, premium sound, XM Radio with NavTraffic, auxiliary audio jack, USB port with iPod capability, hands free phone capability, music streaming via Bluetooth wireless technology, smart key, push button start, remote illuminated entry, chrome accented door handles, rear parking sonar, safety connect ($6,225); carpet floor mats ($324); roof rack cross bar ($185); wireless headphones ($82); cargo net ($51); first aid kit ($29)

NHTSA SAYS THERE IS NO EVIDENCE OF TOYOTA ELECTRONICS PROBLEMS IN ACCELERATION CASES

Tuesday, August 10th, 2010
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**UPDATE**An initial review by federal investigators has turned up no evidence of electronic failures in Toyota Motor Corp. vehicles involved in suspected runaway acceleration cases.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration told members of Congress in a briefing today that human error was to blame in approximately 60% of the 58 cases it reviewed — since drivers failed to apply the brakes.

Trapped or sticky gas pedals were to blame in the remainder of accidents for which a cause was identified.

The Japanese automaker has repeatedly insisted that electronics aren’t to blame, and that mechanical problems or driver error are responsible for thousands of reports of unintended acceleration. The findings may bolster the company’s argument.

“Reviewing event data recorders is one small part of (NHTSA’s) effort to get to the bottom of unintended acceleration in Toyota vehicles,” Transportation spokeswoman Olivia Alair said. “At this early period in the investigation, engineers have not identified any new safety defects in Toyotas other than sticking gas pedals or pedal entrapment.”

NHTSA has reviewed data from 58 vehicle black boxes, known formally as event data recorders.

The research “so far has not led to the identification of safety defects other than sticking gas pedals or pedal entrapment,” according to NHTSA’s report to Congress, obtained by The Detroit News.

But NHTSA emphasized that the probe is ongoing — along with help from NASA — and investigators “are continuing to study whether there are potential electronic or software defects in these vehicles.”

Of the 58 cases studied, 35 event recorders, 60%,  showed no brake was applied — a sign the driver hit the wrong pedal…

Partial braking was noted in 14 cases: Brakes were applied late in the crash sequence in nine cases; early in three; and mid-crash in two.

Pedal entrapment was involved in one incident; and in one case, the brakes and gas pedal both were depressed.

Data was inconclusive in one case; there was no data in five; and data from a separate incident was presented in one case.

Toyota said in a statement that NHTSA’s results backed its findings.

Toyota’s “own vehicle evaluations have confirmed that the remedies it developed for sticking accelerator pedal and potential accelerator pedal entrapment by an unsecured or incompatible floor mat are effective,” the company said.

Toyota emphasized that after “more than 4,000 on-site vehicle inspections, in no case have we found electronic throttle controls to be a cause of unintended acceleration.”

2011 TOYOTA HIGHLANDER COMING SOON

Monday, August 9th, 2010
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2011 HIGHLANDER

Here’s a sneek view of the 2011 Highlander coming soon. The new model will come with a series of modifications including a re-designed front fascia, with new headlights, a newly styled front grille and a new front bumper. The fog lights also have a new look.

Toyota has not released the official specifications of the SUV, but sources claim that the vehicle will come with a 3.5 liter V6 engine delivering 273 hp. The unit will be mated to a five-speed automatic transmission.

2011 AVALON, EVERY OTHER CAR A DIMINISHING RETURN

Monday, August 9th, 2010
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2011 Toyota Avalon…It’s Roomy and Comfortable, Effortless to drive and Luxurious with a number of significant updates.Avalon-4-10

The Avalon succeeds at transporting people in complete comfort and surrounding them with a host of luxury trappings. In short, it’s the modern reincarnation of the classic American sedan.

The 2011 Avalon is offered in base and Limited trim levels. Here is a test on  a Limited model with an as-tested price of $37,884.

The Styling is long and low, and the Avalon stretches to 197.6 inches overall, making it about 8 inches longer than a Toyota Camry. For 2011, the Avalon receives some subtle styling changes to its front and rear. The headlights, grille and front bumper are new, but because the overall look closely resembles the prior version, the changes could easily go unnoticed. The same goes for the rear, which has new but familiar-looking LED taillights and a license plate holder that’s been moved from the bumper to the restyled trunklid. A significant Lexus-like side chrome detail along each side below the doors adds a needed touch of class.

Comfort reigns supreme in the Avalon, and this has some pretty positive aspects. On the plus side, the sedan’s soft suspension tuning provides excellent ride quality. The Avalon floats smoothly down the road, the cabin undisturbed by rougher stretches of pavement. It’s one of those things that give the Avalon a sense of luxury beyond its price. A quick dip in the road makes the nose bob up and down briefly, but the motion is quickly controlled. Larger bumps, however, depending on how they are hit, can be felt.

The steering is another area where the Avalon upholds its comfort mantra. The wheel turns easily with a light touch; it feels like it’s attached to a giant ball bearing that’s been lathered in WD-40. Despite the light effort at lower speeds, which makes maneuvering a parking garage a cinch, there isn’t any unwanted twitchiness on the highway, just confident and predictable transitions when changing lanes.

“Effortless” is the best word to describe the Avalon’s drivetrain. Like the 2010 model, the 2011 Avalon is powered by a 268 horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6 engine that drives the front wheels through a six-speed automatic transmission. The car pulls strongly away from stoplights, and the V-6 still has plenty of energy on the highway for a quick pass. Floor the gas pedal around 70 mph, and the transmission quickly kicks down, engine rpm jumps and the hood noticeably rises as the Avalon squats down and surges forward. This engine’s high-speed power is truly impressive, and not all that common among mainstream full-size sedans. All disc antilock brakes are standard on the Avalon.

You might think this kind of performance would make your local gas station owner rich, but the Avalon gets surprisingly good mileage for its size. Its EPA-estimated 20/29 mpg city/highway rating beats the most efficient versions of large front-wheel-drive sedans like the 2011 Ford Taurus (18/28 mpg), 2011 Hyundai Azera (20/28) and 2011 Chevrolet Impala (19/29). The Avalon’s V-6 takes regular gas. Higher gas mileage performance is achievable and many owners report highway mileage in the low 30’s per gallon and city performance in the mid 20’s..

The new Avalon’s cabin interior is a noteworthy aesthetic improvement over the prior model’s interior and gives the Avalon a luxury-car feel.

The 2011 Avalon’s dashboard, center control panel and center console are new, and unlike the prior model all the areas feature premium materials, with the dash and many of the door panels finished in a nicely grained, low-gloss surface that looks great. Gone is the blue-screened display that used to sit to the right of the instruments, as well as the many silver-colored doors covering things like the stereo and cupholders. Instead, the car’s console has covers finished in nicer-looking simulated wood and gray-silver trim.  The seating feels thicker than recent previous models. Overall, the interior is nice enough that no one would question it if there were a Lexus L badge on the steering wheel instead of the Toyota T — certainly in the Limited.

If you haven’t experienced the backseat of an Avalon, I guarantee you’ll be impressed by the amount of room the car offers. There’s an enormous amount of space for passengers to stretch out, including loads of legroom for taller folks. Even with the front seats in their rearmost position, there’s still decent legroom in back. To top it off, the Avalon has standard reclining rear backrests — an uncommon feature in a non-luxury sedan. Their overall comfort is enough to make you toss the keys to your spouse, slide into the backseat and say “Wake me when we’re there” — as long as you aren’t worried about the repercussions of such a move.

The Avalon’s trunk measures 14.4 cubic feet,  less than some of its main competitors offer but plenty ample. (The Impala’s trunk is 18.6 cubic feet, the Azera’s 16.6 and the Taurus’ a sizable 20.1.)

The cargo area is deep but not particularly tall, and there’s a full-size spare tire on an alloy wheel underneath the cargo floor.  A locking pass-through between the outboard rear seats is standard.

The 2011 Avalon received the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s Top Safety Pick designation, which is given to models that offer a stability system and achieve Good overall ratings in the agency’s frontal-offset and side-impact crash tests, its roof-strength test and its whiplash-injury test.

Standard safety features include a stability system, side-impact airbags for the front seats, side curtain airbags for both rows, active front head restaints and a knee airbag for the driver.

You can look at the Avalon in one of two ways: Either it’s a non-luxury car with a luxury-car price tag, or a luxury car without the luxury badge. Regardless of where you come down on that debate, one thing is clear: There are few cars in the Avalon’s price range that provide more passenger room and comfort.

If you do decide to hold the Avalon up against a similarly priced luxury car, like the Lexus ES 350, it fares pretty well. The Avalon gives you more room, better gas mileage and just as much luxury. We believe the Avalon is a luxury car for those who don’t care about luxury badges.

In short, You can spend $25,000 more on some cars and throw your money away. Anything in addition to the Avalon’s capabilities are diminishing returns…

SCION XD LOOKING FOR ACTION AND ATTENTION

Friday, August 6th, 2010
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The Scion xD is a quick, thrifty, nimble, small hatchback made by Toyota. It has more horsepower than its major competitors, and for 2010, it’s a Consumer Reports recommended car with a very strong reliability record.Scionxd

The five-door, five-passenger xD is ready and looking for some action… and its’ share of attention in the world of small hatchbacks. Sales are down 25.5 percent through the first seven months of 2010, and the xD is the slowest-selling of all non-luxury Toyota cars.

Part of the reason may be that with Scion, Toyota’s youth-oriented car brand, most of the attention goes to the boxy-styled Scion xB with all it’s aftermarket accessories and the sporty-looking Scion coupe, the tC. Another contributing factor could be that the Scion xD is built with the same high quality standards of luxury Toyota cars and therefore, is not the cheapest little guy on the block.

The front-wheel drive, 2010 xD has a starting manufacturer’s suggested retail price, including destination charge, of $15,620 with manual transmission and 128-horsepower, 1.8-liter four cylinder. With automatic transmission, the lowest-priced 2010 xD starts at $16,420, and a recent test model with stylish alloy wheels, rear spoiler, upgraded audio and other options topped out at nearly $20,000.

The 2010 Nissan Versa, another small, four-cylinder-powered hatchback, has a starting retail price of $14,140 with manual transmission and 122 horsepower. And the 2010 Toyota Yaris hatchback, whose platform is used under the xD, starts at $13,665. The Yaris, however, gets just 103 horses from its four-cylinder engine and is a bit smaller than the xD. Even the 117-horseower, 2010 Honda Fit, whose starting retail price of $15,650 is on par with the xD, is outselling the xD by 5-to-1 this calendar year.

It’s true the xD has the lowest starting retail price of all the Scions for 2010. But the difference between the base xD and the base MSRP, including destination charge, of the larger xB is less than $1,000.

Still, the xD is a capable little car with some nifty features. The back seat slides forward and aft to help accommodate the needs of passengers and cargo. This is something not always found in this segment. Rear seatbacks also recline, Quality. The xD’s seat fabric looks pricier than buyers might expect in the segment,,,Quality again. The split, folding rear seats go down for a flat cargo space that maximizes at a decent 35.7 cubic feet.

Fuel economy in the recent test base xD with manual transmission was noteworthy at a combined 30 miles per gallon in city and highway driving. The federal government rated the test car at 27 mpg in city driving and 33 mpg on the highway, so getting 300 miles on an 11.1-gallon thankful of regular gasoline is eminently doable.

At just over 2,600 pounds and shorter in overall length than the Versa hatchback and the Honda Fit, the xD feels spunky in city driving. The gearshifter is tight. Torque peaks at 125 foot-pounds at 4,400 rpm. This compares with 127 foot-pounds of torque at 4,800 rpm from the 2010 Nissan Versa’s 1.8-liter four cylinder.

The little xD gets around without a hiccup, and parking is a breeze in almost any parking spot. Yes, the xD can be an excellent, no-fuss urban car that Scion envisioned.

The upgraded Alpine stereo put out strong, clear tunes, even if the 4.3-inch color touch panel seemed small. The Alpine system includes HD Radio technology and Alpine’s MX technology that enhances the compressed audio sound of digital music.

This is the first year that electronic stability control is standard on the xD. Other standard safety items include curtain air bags, anti-whiplash front-seat head restraints and antilock brakes with Brake Assist.

The xD earned four out of five stars for driver and front-passenger protection in frontal crash testing by the federal government. Side crash test results were better _ five out of five stars for passenger protection.

Introduced in 2007 as the replacement for the often overlooked Scion xA, the xD is still searching for an identity. Perhaps a more agressive marketing campaign is called for to make buyers more aware of the outstanding little Toyota that could…

TOYOTA RAISING FORECASTS AS U.S. AUTO SALES RECOVER

Thursday, August 5th, 2010
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Toyota Motor Corp., the world’s largest carmaker, is raising its full-year profit forecast as sales in Asia are growing more than expected and demand in the U.S. recovers following the recall of more than 8 million vehicles.sales up

Toyota may post net income of  $3.98 billion in the year ending in March, compared with an earlier smaller estimate, it said in a statement today. For the fiscal first quarter, the company swung close to 2 billion profit from a year-earlier loss.

The automaker raised its sales outlook for all regions except Europe amid a rebound in demand that prompted rival Honda Motor Co. to also lift its earnings forecast last week.

“Toyota is now at a point where they feel comfortable giving good news,” said Yuuki Sakurai, chief executive officer of Fukoku Capital Management in Tokyo. “The recall issue has settled down in the U.S. and China.”

Toyota’s first-quarter sales gained 36 percent in North America, its biggest market. While deliveries fell 3.2 percent in July, the North American market may improve from the third quarter, Toyota’s Senior Managing Director Takahiko Ijichi said today.

Toyota raised its global vehicle sales forecast to 7.38 million units for the year ending in March 2011 from an earlier estimate of 7.29 million.

The company left its forecast for the yen against the dollar unchanged at 90 yen, 5 percent weaker than the rate of 85.52 as of 9:29 am in London. A stronger yen, which traded near an eight-month high against the U.S. dollar today, may erode profit gains by reducing the repatriated value of overseas sales.

Toyota is posting profit gains after the global recession hammered earnings a year earlier and after the recalls that began late last year.

The automaker, which said in July it added 1,000 engineers to an expanded quality assessment group, is extending vehicle development time by about four weeks on average and is opening new regional offices in the U.S. and Canada to more quickly investigate customer complaints.

While Toyota’s U.S. sales dropped in July, industrywide sales increased 5.2 percent. Hyundai, which introduced a revamped Sonata sedan in February, posted a 19 percent sales gain in the nation, and U.S.-based carmakers reported a combined sales increase of 5.5 percent for the month.

Toyota’s average incentives surged 44 percent to $2,235 per vehicle in the first quarter from a year earlier, the highest amount for the period since at least 2001, according to auto industry researcher Edmunds.com in Santa Monica, California.

“Recovery in North America is less than stellar,” said Naoki Fujiwara, a fund manager who helps oversee about $6 billion at Shinkin Asset Management Co. in Tokyo. “I’m worried that Toyota’s sales incentives in the U.S. are ballooning.”

The company has been cutting back on incentive spending in the U.S. since July and will continue to do so through the fiscal third quarter, Toyota’s Ijichi said today.