Toyota’s Camry has won three NASCAR championships and a fair number of “stock car” races to get there, but be honest, do you think of a Camry as racy?
Camry mostly conjures the image of a practical family sedan. But that could change, and all because of Toyota’s 2020 Camry TRD. For those not versed in car jargon, TRD stands for Toyota Racing Development. That’s the Toyota division that concentrates on making racing equipment for its vehicles, and race cars for various series.
Lexus may have invented the crossover craze with its original RX model that proved to be just what the doctor ordered for suburban America.
Well, that has not changed all these years later as the RX continues to impress and sell like cream puffs at the Wisconsin State Fair. For example, a few years ago Lexus introduced its awesome hybrid version that gets tremendous gas mileage. It sells well. Continue reading 2018 Lexus RX350L→
Stylish Nissan Maxima breaks cookie-cutter sedan mold
Back in the automotive heydays, car stylists were intent on giving their cars distinctive grilles, fins, headlights, taillights, profiles, you name it. Today we must satisfy ourselves with whatever styling cues designers can muster in a cookie-cutter marketplace.
Happily, Nissan designers have fashioned a swanky looking 2016 Maxima that’s svelte in profile and features sculpted taillights similar to those on its sexy sports car, the 370Z. This is as close to pizazz in a sedan as I’ve seen in a sedan of late.
Nissan also blends sports sedan with luxury sedan, a strong mix that comes in an attractive price range of $32,125 to $40,685. My test car was a dark metallic red Platinum version, the model atop that price list. It was a dandy.
At its base, the mid-size Maxima is a stylish sedan that will haul five adults in comfort and not blend in with the car-pool lane crowd. Even the base S model features Nissan’s 3.5-liter V6 that creates 300 horsepower and a torque rating of 261. Throughout the five trim levels that engine is well paired with Nissan’s Xtronic continuously variable transmission that shifts smoothly and yet gives the sedan well above average oomph. Nissan uses D-step shift logic to simulate gear changes and it feels convincingly like a standard automatic, but smoother. Nissan and Subaru seem to have best mastered CVTs to this point. Continue reading 2016 Nissan Maxima Platinum→
Minivans are wonderful for families, no other vehicle is more practical.
But in saying that, I know I’ve scared off at least a sizeable portion of my readers. Hear me out, Toyota’s Sienna is a fine people and cargo hauler and get this, it offers all-wheel-drive. It’s the only minivan that still does, so is perfect for wintery Wisconsin.
My test van was a handsome Sky Blue Pearl, a silvery blue, Sienna XLE Premium with AWD. It seats seven with captain’s chairs in the front and middle rows, and by that I mean the individual seats feature fold-down armrests. The split bench in back will seat three and folds neatly down into the van’s cavernous cargo area to create a flat floor.
Lower both seats, a manual operation here, and then fold the two center seats and you’ve got 150 cubic feet of cargo area, much larger than a pickup’s bed. Oh, and it’s enclosed so you can haul stuff even when it’s raining and snowing.
This model also features a power hatch, so with the push of a button on the key fob or dash, the hatch powers up, or down. Hatches, by the way, are great for protecting a person loading or unloading in bad weather.
Not sold yet?
OK, for young families there’s the benefit of power sliding side doors, on both sides. Got a load of stuff AND a couple of wee ones to strap into a car seat? Press the button as you approach and then let them crawl in by themselves. Now you can put down the diaper bag, groceries or other kid gear and step into the van to strap them in. Again, if it’s inclement you’re out of the muck. Also, it’s easier to latch a kid in a car seat when you’re not trying to reach over their squirming selves.
New Highlander may threaten Lexus it’s so luxurious
Toyota better be careful. It might be cutting into its Lexus sales with its latest Highlander.
Who needs a Lexus when Toyota’s Highlander is so darned luxurious?
First, the styling is sharp for a sport-ute. Everything from the hood creasing to the elongated swept-back lights to the profile make the Highlander look like it’s in motion, even as it sits, all 4,861 lbs. of it, in the driveway. Mine was a handsome silver model, the top-level Limited Platinum version with hybrid power system and all-wheel drive.
Price of admission? $51,761 as delivered, with a base price of $49,790 and an $860 delivery fee, plus a few options. A Lexus will cost you more.
Yet Highlander is pretty much state of the art luxury as it arrives in Limited Platinum trim.
Seats are leather and powered, with both front and second row seats heated. Front seats are cooled too, with three settings, and the thick leather steering wheel is heated to take winter’s chill away quickly. There’s a power rear hatch (more about that later), and a power panoramic sunroof and shade. Continue reading 2014 Toyota Highlander Ltd. Platinum hybrid→
Acura put its popular MDX sport-utility on a serious diet, tweaked its dimensions a bit and in the test version, attached every electronic gee-whiz feature its engineers could muster – hence the $57,400 price tag.
First, the sport-ute added considerably to its use of high-strength steel and a new rear suspension to trim 275 lbs. from the previous MDX. It also dropped the vehicle’s dual exhaust in favor of a single pipe, cutting weight and engine noise.
The former 3.7-liter V6 also was replaced by a 3.5-liter V6 that develops 290 horsepower. That’s down just slightly from the earlier model, but with the weight savings you’ll never notice. Power is good and the ute gets reasonable gas mileage too for something that will haul 8 people. It’s rated at 18 mpg city and 27 mpg highway. I got 21.7 mpg in about 60% highway driving. The engine’s variable valve timing helps it run more efficiently.
Acura mates the quiet V6 with a 6-speed automatic that shifts smoothly, but not as crisply as you might expect. It doesn’t seem to want to rev the engine up to provide tons of oomph. Still, you easily reach highway speeds.
Handling is good for a largish ute though, the SH-AWD, super-handling all-wheel-drive system, giving the MDX both good grip in sloppy weather and helping cut its turning radius. Steering feels much quicker than in most similar-sized utes. Continue reading 2014 Acura MDX SH-AWD→
You’d have to be crazy or lacking in the ability to physically feel anything to not enjoy riding in the new Lexus ES350.
This is a fine front-drive mid-size luxury sedan, with a restyled grille and lines that give it a somewhat more interesting look. At least you notice it now.
But then that may not be what an ES350 owner wants because the car’s interior is about blending in, as in sliding into a quiet comfortable living room of an interior that melts away your tensions and worries. Even though this is the Lexus entry-level luxury sedan, the silver test car’s gray perforated leather seats, glossy dark brown bird’s-eye maple trim (part of a $1,370 luxury package) and black leather look dash speak of elegance.
Setting off the wood trim is a satin pewter-look trim that puts the exclamation point on subtle style and the gloss black console trim reminds you that soon you’ll be home playing your baby grand. Continue reading 2013 Lexus ES350→
Small luxury utes are nearly as plentiful as entry-level small utes, and sometimes I wonder what you get for that extra $15 grand. But a week in the Mercedes-Benz GLK350 reminded me what it is, luxury looks, feel and ride.
A bunch of the little luxury utes handle pretty well and a few even look luxurious, but the GLK350 is a heck of a nice blend, and with a base price of $37,090 it’s one of the least expensive vehicles from the famous German automaker. This one added a variety of niceties, so it hit $46,930 before an $875 destination charge.
But the truth of the matter is that even at its base the Benz is luxury oriented and performance is the same, no matter how many extras you add.
Standard is a peppy 3.5-liter DI V6 that creates 302 horsepower so this ute will get up and go from a stop. But in a Mercedes you don’t want to be tossed into the back seat with muscle car power. So there’s a highly refined 7-speed automatic transmission that slips through the gears with velvety smoothness. You barely notice a gear shift. Continue reading 2013 Mercedes-Benz GLK350→