Sunday, June 7, 2015

Has Toyota given up on small cars?

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 Over the years, the humbly priced subcompact car has evolved in the best ways possible, and today's models deliver more than just basic transportation. Quite a few choices in this class of car now offer options that were only available on more expensive luxury cars. In many ways, the 2015 Toyota Yaris hatchback holds its own with the current roster of overachieving subcompacts, but it also trails them in several key areas.

     The Yaris boasts many appealing attributes. It's a nimble and handy companion around town, and its competent suspension helps the car cruise around the turns with good stability. Overall, this is a pleasant and rather easy car to drive. The interior is spacious, with rear seats that are comfortable for most adults. It also boasts solid design and materials quality. Feature content is equally generous, with things like a touchscreen interface, Bluetooth, are standard on all models along with a/c, power locks and mirrors, and a height adjustable driver seat.

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     In other ways though, the Yaris gets left in the dust. the outdated 4-speed automatic transmission is a step down from the 6-speed, or CVT transmissions available, and leaves the Yaris feeling slow during passing. Also, other models boast a better ride, more comfortable seats, sharper handling or more cargo space.

     The 2015 Toyota Yaris is a subcompact economy car available as either a 2-door or 4-door hatchback. The L and LE trims are available in either configuration, while the SE trim is only on the 4 door.

     Standard features on the L include 15-inch alloy wheels, power door locks and windows, a/c, height adjustable driver seat, a tilt only steering wheel, trip computer,a 60/40 split folding rear seat, Bluetooth, and a 6-speaker sound system with a 6.1 inch touchscreen interface.

     The LE adds 15-inch alloy wheels, power side mirrors, keyless entry, cruise control, metallic interior accents, chrome interior door handles, and steering wheel audio controls.

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 Those of you who opt for the SE get 16-inch alloy wheels, projector beam headlamps, LED running lamps, fog lights, special exterior styling bits, a rear spoiler, a sport tuned suspension, sportier tires, 4 wheel disc brakes, a leather wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, and upgraded cloth seating surfaces. A navigation system is available on all Yaris models as an option from the dealer.

     The front wheel drive 2015 Toyota Yaris is powered by a 1.5 liter 4 cylinder engine that produces 106 horsepower and 103 lb.-ft of torque. Two transmissions are available, a 5-speed manual, or a 4-speed automatic. The manual is standard on the 2-door L and 4-door SE, while the 4-speed is optional on these. In testing, a 4-door Yaris equipped with the 5-speed manual went 0-60 mph in 9.5 seconds, while the automatic equipped Yaris took 10.7 seconds. Both times are decent for the class, but other cheaper competitors are faster.

     EPA estimates for the manual equipped Yaris are 33 mpg combined, while the automatic comes in at 32 mpg combined.

     Standard safety features include antilock brakes, traction and stability control, active front head restraints, front seat side airbags, front and rear side curtain airbags, front seat cushion airbags and a driver knee airbag.

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     In brake testing, a Yaris equipped with 4 wheel disc brakes came to a stop from 60 mph in 125 feet, which is solidly average. In crash testing, the Yaris 4-door hatchback earned 4 out of 5 stars for overall crash protection.

     The interior of the 2015 Toyota Yaris couldn't be easier to use. There are just a couple of gauges to read, and the large speedometer is placed directly in front of the driver. Those who worry about a subcompact giving you a low view of the road will find that the high mounted seats of the Yaris give you a pretty solid view of the road. However, the lack of a telescoping steering wheel and firmly padded seats can make longer journeys uncomfortable for some people. In the back, there is quite a good amount of leg room, but the sloping roof line cuts down on headroom. Two averaged sized adults can fit in the back just perfectly.

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 Materials within the 2015 Toyota Yaris are a step up from the previous generation of car, but there is still a lot of hard plastic, and top rivals like the Honda Fit feel more refined. The car comes standard with all of the basic features you are likely to want, including a user-friendly touchscreen interface, and Bluetooth. Some of those features you would have to pay extra to get.

     The 4-door Yaris has 15.6 cubic feet of cargo space behind the rear seats. You can find more room in the Chevy Sonic, and the Hyundai Accent. The split folding rear seat does help with practicality, but it still trails the benchmark in that area, the Honda Fit.

     Given the expectations you might have of this car, the 2015 Toyota Yaris that makes 106 horsepower will be just fine. There is enough gumption to deal with most suburban traffic flow, and the Yaris has no problem holding most common highway speeds. However, be prepared to move over to the right and put on your hazard lights if you go up mountains.

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     Not helping in this area is the 4-speed automatic transmission , which is an antique, given that most competitors are now using either 6-speed autos, or CVT's. If you don't mind shifting your own gears, the 5-speed manual is the better transmission choice for this car.

     The Yaris is steady and returns a pretty smooth ride. The SE models quicker steering and upgraded brakes as well as suspension add a sportier side to the 2015 Toyota Yaris' mission, but I wouldn't go quite so far as to call it sporty.

Driving a dying breed

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   While Lexus sells many of its RX and  NX crossover SUV's, it still keeps a couple of traditional SUV's available as well. The 2015 Lexus GX 460 is one of them, and it carries the old-school SUV torch with sturdy body-on-frame construction, full time 4-wheel drive, and a big, beefy V8 engine under the hood. Whether the GX is right for you or not will depend on your priorities.

     Interestingly, this Lexus is still rather well mannered in the city. The suspension is apt at soaking up bumps and broken pavement to give you a comfortable ride. That 301 horsepower V8 is muscular enough to get you in and out of traffic with even coming close to breaking a sweat. The GX 460 even offers an adaptive air suspension, plus a solid offering of luxury features.

     The 2015 Lexus GX 460 is a 7 passenger SUV that comes in Base and Luxury trims.

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     Standard features on the base model include 18-inch alloy wheels, automatic LED low-beam headlamps, illuminated running boards, sunroof, roof rack side rails, rear privacy glass and a rear spoiler. Inside you will find dual zone auto a/c, leatherette premium vinyl upholstery, 8-way power front seats, driver memory settings, cruise control, sliding and reclining split 40/20/40 second row seats, a 50/50 split third row seating, a power tilt and telescoping steering wheel, an auto dimming rear-view mirror, a rear-view camera, Bluetooth, and an 8-inch touchscreen electronics interface.

     There are many optional features on the 2015 Lexus GX 460, but keep in mind that they are packaged together differently depending on the region you live in. Case in point, a vehicle you order in Cleveland could be different than one you can order in L.A.

     The Premium package includes different 18-inch alloy wheels, LED fog lights, a windshield de-icer, front and rear parking sensors, perforated leather seating, heated and ventilated front seats, heated second row seats, tri zone auto a/c, and a navigation system. Some of those items, like the navigation, are available as separate options.

     Stepping up to the Luxury model gets you the above equipment plus a special liquid graphite finish to those 18-inch alloy wheels, an adaptive suspension, rear auto-leveling, headlamp washers, illuminated front scuff plates, auto dimming side mirrors, blind spot monitoring with rear cross traffic alert, a heated steering wheel, mahogany wood trim on the steering wheel and shift knob, upgraded leather upholstery, a cargo cover, and power folding 3rd row seats.

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 Options on the Luxury model include a 17-speaker sound system, a rear seat video entertainment system, and the Driver Support Package, which includes Crawl Control, automatic high beam headlamp control, adaptive cruise control, a lane departure warning system, additional front and rear parking sensors, and the Mark Levinson sound system

     The 2015 Lexus GX 460 has a 4.6 liter V8 engine that puts out 301 horsepower and 329 lb.-ft of torque. A 6-speed automatic transmission is standard, as is a full time 4-wheel drive system with a dual-range transfer case. When properly equipped, the GX 460 can haul 6.500 pounds.

     In testing, the GX 460 accelerated to 60 mph from 0 in 7.2 seconds, an average time for a large luxury SUV, and got an EPA estimated 17 mpg combined.

     The 2015 Lexus GX 460 comes standard with antilock brakes, traction and stability control, a rear-view camera, front and rear seat side airbags, driver and front passenger knee airbags, and side curtain airbags that cover all 3 rows of seating. Also standard is Lexus Safety Connect.

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     There are also a number of optional safety features including blind spot monitoring and rear cross traffic alerts, a lane departure warning system, and a frontal collision warning system. In brake testing, the GX 460 came to a stop from 60 mph in 130 feet, which is a little longer than average for this class.

     The 2015 Lexus GX 460 maintains a decidedly traditional look on the interior, and forgoes the newer more modern wide screen monitor, and Remote Touch that is present in other, newer Lexus models. Still, the GX's cabin is attractive and very well put together. It is hard to find fault with the quality of the soft leather and genuine wood trim that are standard on the top of the line Luxury trim, but the switch from leather to leatherette in the base model could be seen by some as being rather low-rent. Front seats are still plenty comfortable, but the hard and flat second row bench is less-so. The third row seats are suitable for children, or small adults only.

     Folding the second and third row seats down gives you a cargo hold with 64.7 cubic feet of space, which is a little underwhelming, given the sheer size of the GX. Accessing that space can be made complicated in some curbside situations as the rear cargo door opens to the side. It does however offer the option of opening the glass portion, which helps when you want to carry longer items.

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   GX 460 delivers a ride quality that is a fair bit smoother than you might expect. Handling around turns is secure, and the available adaptive suspension helps in this area. With that said, you will likely find that many luxury crossovers will feel more confident and a good deal sportier in turns. In the city, the GX 460 also feels a little more truck like than some of its competitors, as steering and brake inputs feel a bit slow.
 For an SUV built on traditional body-on-frame underpinnings, the 2015 Lexus

     Leave the pavement behind however, and the Lexus GX 460's full time 4 wheel drive and available Crawl Control might make you feel invincible. Select one of the Crawl Control's 3 preset speeds, and the computer takes over both the gas and the brake pedal, leaving you to concentrate on just steering.

     The GX 460's V8 produces enough power for everyday driving, but can feel a little strained in some highway passing moves. The transmission can be smooth, but unsure of itself when downshifting at times.


The new standard for midsize sedans

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The generational lifecycle for Toyota cars and trucks are usually pretty consistent. Every 5 or 6 years, the company typically debuts a new generation of a given car and apart from some mild updates like a strip of chrome here and there, usually leaves them alone until the next generation. The 2015 Toyota Camry however represents a huge departure from that norm, as it just went through an overhaul 3 years ago. Whatever the reasons are for the change, the end result is certainly great news if you are shopping for a midsize sedan.

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     The Camry's changes on the outside are rather obvious, where all but the roof has been restyled. The grille is bigger, more prominent and indicative of the pricier Toyota Avalon, and its Lexus cousins. In profile, the 2015 Camry is more sculpted, and less melted slab of butter,  and the rear styling has been smoothed over as well. Overall, you could say that the Camry looks more grown up. Inside, the 2015 Toyota Camry's design and generous passenger space remain unchanged, but Toyota has made great changes to the quality of the plastics. The buttons and the knobs for the climate controls are bigger and less toy-like, and as a result, are not only easier to use, but give off a higher-end look and feel. Plus, every Camry now gets classier gauges and a user friendly Entune touchscreen interface.

     The 4-cylinder and V6 engines remain unchanged, but Toyota did make rather significant changes to the Camry's body structure and suspension tuning. The result is a more buttoned down confident driving experience that Toyota says their customers have been requesting. This latest Camry still isn't what I would call sporty, like a Mazda 6 or Ford Fusion, but it is more responsive and generally easier to drive.

     The 2015 Toyota Camry is a 5 passenger midsize sedan that comes in LE, SE, XSE, and XLE trims. Still available is the Toyota Camry Hybrid.

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Standard equipment on the base LE includes 16-inch steel wheels, automatic headlamps, heated mirrors, air conditioning, keyless entry, a rearview camera, cruise control, 8-way power driver seat, a 60/40 split folding rear seat, cloth seating surfaces, Bluetooth, a 6.1 inch touchscreen interface for Entune, a 6-speaker sound system with CD player, an auxiliary audio jack and a USB/iPod interface.

     The SE builds upon that with 17-inch alloy wheels, a sport-tuned suspension, unique exterior styling and interior trim elements, sport fabric and simulated leather upholstery, a leather trimmed steering wheel and upgraded gauges.

     The XSE builds upon the SE's equipment with 18-inch alloy wheels, LED running lamps, leather and simulated suede upholstery, heated front seats with more aggressive bolstering, a 4-way power passenger seat, dual zone auto a/c, satellite radio and HD radio.

     The Convenience Package on the SE and XSE 4-cylinder models include keyless entry and ignition, and an auto-dimming rearview mirror.
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     The XLE is equipped similarly to the XSE, however it has the LE's more comfort tuned suspension, and lacks the SE/XSE's sporty styling elements. It has 17-inch alloy wheels, and full leather upholstery.

     The following items are optional on the 4-cylinder engine XSE and XLE and standard on their V6 versions: LED headlamps, a noise-reducing windshield, sunroof, the Convenience Package items, a 7-inch upgraded Entune touchscreen interface, a navigation system, Qi wireless smartphone charging and a suite of smartphone integration apps.

     Optional on the XSE and XLE are a blind spot monitoring system and rear cross traffic alert system, the Advanced Technology package which includes lane departure warning, adaptive cruise control, a pre-collision warning and braking system, and automatic high-beam headlamp control, and a 10-speaker JBL sound system.

     Every 2015 Toyota Camry trim comes standard with a 2.5 liter 4 cylinder engine that produces 178 horsepower and 170 lb.-ft of torque. Front-wheel drive and a 6-speed automatic transmission come standard.

     In testing, a Camry LE with that powertrain did 0-60 mph runs in about 8.4 seconds. EPA estimated fuel economy is 28 mpg combined which is at least 2 mpg behind some of its competition.

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 The Camry XSE and XLE can be equipped with a 3.5 liter V6 that produces 268 horsepower, and 248 lb.-ft of torque. It too has front-wheel drive and a 6-speed automatic transmission. A Camry XLE V6 sprinted to 60 mph in 6.2 seconds, making it one of the fastest cars in its class. EPA estimated fuel economy of 25 mpg puts it on par with the competition that still offers a V6.

     Every 2015 Toyota Camry comes standard with antilock disc brakes, stability and traction control, front and rear side airbags, front knee airbags and a rearview camera.

     Options on the XSE and XLE include a blind spot warning system paired with a cross traffic alert system. The Advanced Technology package adds a lane-departure warning system and a pre-collision system. Optional only on the XLE is Safety Connect, which is just like OnStar.

     In government crash testing, the Camry earned 5 out of 5 stars for overall crash protection.

     The 2015 Toyota Camry is blessed with one of the most comfortable and spacious cabins in the midsize family sedan segment. Even tall adults will find plenty of space above their heads and in front of their knees, while a rear facing child seat will fit in the back with ease. The fixed rear-seat headrests make it difficult to properly secure a front-facing child seat, however. Space in the trunk, rated at 15.4 cubic feet, is average for this class of car.

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 In terms of controls, the center stack's buttons are big, easy to read at a glance, and glove friendly without being laughably large or ugly. This is especially true for the sensibly designed climate controls.

     With improvements to its body structure, suspension and steering, every 2015 Toyota Camry is more responsive than the previous versions to driver inputs and more controlled when going around turns. This is certainly true of the SE and XSE models, which turn the driver engagement notch up a bit. True, they don't reach the same level of sharpness offered by some of its competitors, but they make it feel ok for some reason.

     Both the base 2.5 liter 4 cylinder and the optional 3.5 liter V6 engines deliver satisfying acceleration in a pretty smooth fashion. Transmission downshifts are commendably responsive, which is noteworthy given that some competitors transmissions are on the slow side in the name of better fuel economy.

Looking for a small coupe? Take a look at this!

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 With quite a host of small cars to choose from, Scion has made its mark by providing reasonably priced cars that offer lots of options to personalize and modify. In the center of that lineup is the 2015 Scion tC, a 2-door 4-seat coupe. While this car doesn't take home the medal for being the most fun to drive, the tC still has quite a bit of appeal.

     One of the most notable things about the 2015 Scion tC is what it offers in terms of value. Standard features include Bluetooth, a touchscreen display, and a panoramic sunroof. While the tC doesn't get the best fuel economy numbers from the EPA, in real world testing those numbers were pretty easy to beat. Furthering the case for the tC, you have a decent sized backseat, and the large hatch opening in the rear.

     The 2015 Scion tC is a 2-door, 4-passenger coupe and it comes in one base level.

     Standard features include 18-inch alloy wheels, air conditioning, cruise control, full power accessories, a panoramic sunroof, a height adjustable drives seat, a leather trimmed tilt and telescoping steering wheel, reclining and folding rear seats, Bluetooth, and an 8-speaker Pioneer audio system with 6.1 inch touchscreen.
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     As with other Scions, a wide selection of dealer-sourced accessories are available, including 19-inch alloy wheels, fog lights, TRD performance parts for the suspension and drivetrain, and an upgraded audio system.

     The front-wheel drive Scion tC is powered by a 2.5 liter 4 cylinder engine that produces 179 horsepower, and 172 lb.-ft of torque. A 6-speed manual transmission is standard, while a 6-speed automatic with a rev-matched downshift feature is optional.

     During performance testing, the tC with the manual transmission went from 0-60 mph in 7.4 seconds. An automatic equipped vehicle did the same sprint in 7.9 seconds. Both are rather respectable times for this class.

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 Whether it is equipped with the auto or the manual transmission, the tC returns an EPA estimated 26 mpg combined. In testing, I found that it was easy to beat those numbers, and if you have a light foot, you are sure to do even better.

     Standard safety features on the 2015 Scion tC include stability and traction control, antilock brakes, front knee airbags, front side airbags, side curtain airbags and active front headrests. In brake testing, the tC came to a stop from 60 mph in 123 feet. That is an average distance for this type of vehicle.

     In government crash testing, the tC earned 5 out of 5 stars for overall crash protection.

     Much like its exterior, the 2015 Scion tC's cabin certainly has a sporty feel. With its thick, flat-bottomed steering wheel, cradling seat bolsters and controls canted towards the driver, the tC strives for a high-performance sports car aesthetic. Unfortunately, the ambiance is mucked up a bit by the large amount of hard plastics and thinly padded arm rests.

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     From the standpoint of practicality, the tC is one of your better choices. The rear seats have above average leg room, and getting in and out are pretty easy, at least by coupe standards. Behind the rear seats you can store 14.7 cubic feet of your stuff, while if you fold the rear 60/40 split seats, you can hold even more. The hatchback body style also means its easier to load bulkier items than other coupes like the Honda Civic, or Hyundai Elantra.

     While earlier Scion's have received high praise for stereo quality, most of the competition has caught up. However, the Scion standard knobs and dials are still pretty easy to use. That said, the BeSpoke audio system is worth the money, considering it comes with navigation.

     Though the 179 horsepower 4-cylinder engine in the 2015 Scion tC isn't the most thrilling, it certainly feels powerful, especially when you are lower in the revs. If you are up for shifting your own gears, the 6-speed manual is a good choice as it is easy to operate. But the more popular automatic is just fine, and you won't suffer a hit in fuel economy either.
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     Around city streets, the tC is rather entertaining to drive. It may not be overly exciting compared to the rear-wheel drive FR-S, but well-weighted, precise steering and the cars' light-on-its-tires feel make for some respectable fun. The ride quality however, is on the mediocre side, as many bumps and potholes some to produce a jiggle or vibration. Excessive road noise, and a loud exhaust might also get on your nerves after awhile.