Thursday, February 3, 2011

2011 Toyota Sienna Review

Saturday, November 15, 2008

2008 Lexus IS 250


Earlier this decade, Lexus introduced its first entry-level luxury sport sedan, the IS. It was a decent performer with sharp reflexes, but its cabin was cramped and had about as much sporty flavor as a Scion. A couple of years ago, Lexus upped its game, replacing the IS 300 with the IS 250 and IS 350.

The two cars are more buff, more luxurious and more sporting than their predecessor. As half of Lexus' tag-teaming sport sedan line, the 2008 IS 250 boasts a sophisticated suspension, powerful brakes and a sprightly V6 under its neatly tailored sheet metal. The cabin is a model of refinement and classy design, with most cutting-edge luxury features either standard or optional. The IS 250 isn't as powerful as the 350, but it is less expensive and the only one of the two to offer all-wheel drive.

Like its forbear, the 2008 Lexus IS 250 faces competition from BMW -- in this case, the 328i. In addition, there's also the Audi A4, Acura TL and Infiniti G35 to think about. And honestly, you can't lose with any of them. The Infiniti and Acura, in particular, boast considerably more power and roomier backseats. Meanwhile, the BMW still takes the trophy for ultimate driving enjoyment. But with its athletic moves, impressive overall quality, reputation for reliability and generous features list, the well-rounded IS 250 remains worthy of strong consideration.

Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options

The 2008 Lexus IS 250 is a compact luxury sport sedan that's offered in one trim level. Standard equipment is generous and includes 17-inch alloy wheels, a sunroof, leather seating, power front seats, automatic dual-zone climate control and a premium audio system with a six-disc CD changer and an auxiliary audio jack.

Optional features (mostly bundled into packages) include 18-inch alloy wheels, adaptive bi-xenon headlights, parking assist, adaptive cruise control, driver seat memory, rain-sensing wipers, a power rear sunshade, a navigation system, Bluetooth connectivity, satellite radio and a Mark Levinson surround-sound audio system. Heated front seats are standard on the all-wheel-drive model and optional on the rear-wheel-drive versions. Both IS 250s can also be had with ventilated front seats. A sport suspension package (not available on the AWD version) dubbed the "X" package is available and features firmer suspension calibrations, 18-inch wheels, larger tires and alloy foot pedals.

Powertrains and Performance

As one may infer from the model name, a 2.5-liter V6 powers the IS 250. It makes a respectable 204 horsepower and 185 pound-feet of torque. Buyers may choose either rear-wheel or all-wheel drive. One may have either a six-speed manual or six-speed automatic in the rear-drive IS 250, while the AWD version is automatic only. Our test of a manual-transmission IS 250 yielded a respectable 0-60 time of 7.5 seconds, but expect automatic-equipped models to be at least a half-second slower.

Revised fuel economy estimates stand at 21 city and 29 highway for the IS 250 automatic, which is excellent for this segment. The manual gearbox and the AWD versions produce average results, with 18/26 and 20/26 respectively.


Antilock disc brakes, traction control, stability control and a full complement of airbags (front-seat side and full-length side curtain) are all standard. Optional is a pre-collision system (PCS) that is packaged with Dynamic Radar Cruise Control. PCS uses a radar sensor to detect obstacles in front of the car. If the computer determines that a collision is unavoidable, it pre-emptively stiffens the suspension, retracts the front seatbelts and pre-initializes brake assist so increased braking is applied the instant the brake pedal is pressed.

In Insurance Institute for Highway Safety crash testing, the IS 250 earned a "Good" rating (the best possible) for its performance in both frontal-offset and side-impact tests.

Interior Design and Special Features

The 2008 Lexus IS 250 boasts impressive interior materials, a handsome design and plenty of luxury features. Impeccable fit and finish is evident everywhere, from the soft-touch dash and door panels to the supple leather on the seats. Lexus also offers one of the best electronics interfaces in the luxury game, with easy-to-use controls all around. The optional navigation system and accompanying touchscreen are particularly friendly.

Most compact sport sedans aren't generous with rear-seat legroom, but this is particularly true with the IS 250. Even with this year's marginal improvement in legroom (that comes via scooped-out front seatbacks), adults or even large children may not be happy in the rear seat on long road trips -- especially with a taller driver up front. Headroom is also in short supply in both front and rear. If you're at all above average in size, the IS may prove to be no more spacious than a luxury coupe.

Driving Impressions

The 2008 Lexus IS 250's manual transmission allows drivers to wring out the most performance from the car's small V6 engine, though most buyers will be suitably happy with the automatic that delivers better-than-average fuel economy. On a twisty road, the IS 250's precise steering and buttoned-down suspension inspire confidence. The ride is controlled yet comfortably supple, and the plush cabin, devoid of noise and vibration, is a fine example of tranquility.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Toyota Venza

Toyota launched an all-new utility vehicle for the 2009 model year called the Venza. The Japanese automaker refers to the car as a "crossover sedan," which seems to be a synonym for "station wagon." Toyota came up with the designation because the Venza combines "comfort and fun-to-drive performance elements of a five-passenger sedan" with the "utility of an SUV."

The crossover was designed specifically with the North American market in mind. Sold here exclusively, it was engineered at the Toyota Technical Center in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The exterior was penned at the Toyota's Calty design studios in Newport Beach.

Rather than styling the Venza to look like an SUV, the Venza was designed with a "sleek sedan concept" in mind, Toyota says. Nonetheless, it features a spacious interior providing room for five passengers and abundant cargo space behind the second row of seats.

Levers, one on each side of the rear cargo area, allow the 60/40 split rear seats to fold flat, providing additional storage space for extra long items. For added passenger comfort, the rear seats recline up to 14 degrees.

Power is generated by an available 3.5-liter V6 that produces 268 horsepower at 6,200 rpm and 246 pound-feet of torque at 4,700 rpm with a towing capability of 3,500 pounds. Standard power comes from an all-new 2.7-liter four-cylinder engine.

All Venza models are equipped with an array of standard features including auto dual zone air conditioning, AM/FM six-disc CD, tilt/telescopic steering wheel with audio controls, remote keyless entry, electrochromic rearview mirror with compass, a multi-information display, cruise control, optitron gauges, rear wiper, privacy glass, and much more. On V6 models Venza come standard with dual exhaust tips and is the first Toyota model to ride on standard 20-inch alloy wheels. Four-cylinder models come standard with 19-inch alloy wheels.

Venza also offer an Automatic High Beam headlight system. When high beam headlights are in use sensors in the Automatic High Beam system detects oncoming traffic and automatically switch the headlights to low-beam. When the Automatic High Beam sensors no longer detect oncoming traffic the system switches the headlights back to high-beam mode.

Additional optional equipment includes a navigation system equipped with a JBL audio system, integrated satellite radio capability and Bluetooth technology; a premium JBL audio system with AM/FM six-disc CD changer, satellite radio capability and Bluetooth, rear seat entertainment system, a Smart Key System, back-up camera and a power rear door.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Toyota Prius 2008 Review

The Toyota Prius is a hybrid electric middle size car. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, the 2008 Prius is the most fuel efficient car sold in the USA

The Prius ranks solidly in the middle of the pack when considered as a hybrid or as a midsize sedan. The Prius's ranking is based on its industry-leading fuel economy, combined with a spacious interior and a standard equipment package that make it competitive as a midsize car, not just a hybrid. In May 2008, worldwide cumulative sales of the Toyota Prius passed 1 million. The Prius is sold in more than 40 countries and regions, with its largest markets being those of Japan and the US.

The press sees the 2008 Toyota Prius as both a technological marvel that achieves better fuel efficiency than nearly any other vehicle every built, and as an average middle sized family car.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Toyota Avalon

Toyota Avalon
2008 Toyota Avalon Limited Sedan

Since its launch in the mid-1990s, the Toyota Avalon has been Toyota's only full-size sedan. It has always been a solid performer, with standard V6 power, lots of interior space and a reputation for reliability and durability. The first two Avalon models were often criticized for their humdrum style, however.

That changed a few years ago when Toyota gave the Avalon a complete overhaul for the third-generation model. Inside and out, the new design looks upscale and refined. Major mechanical developments -- including a powerful new V6 and a more capable suspension -- pushed the level of performance to a higher standard. Even the base versions of the Toyota Avalon are equipped with many standard features.

Current Toyota Avalon

Engineered and built in the United States, the third-generation Toyota Avalon debuted for the 2005 model year. Developed and built with American roads in mind, it's big, stable and powerful. A 3.5-liter V6 pumps out a robust 268 horsepower and 248 pound-feet of torque. A five-speed automatic transmission comes standard. The front-drive Avalon is based on a heavily modified version of the previous-generation Camry chassis.

Unlike previous Avalons, the current model cannot be had with a front bench seat. But there is ample room in the front and plenty of legroom to stretch out in back, where a nearly flat floor allows three adults to sit comfortably. The materials are all first-rate. Front seat-mounted side airbags and full-length side curtain airbags are standard. Traction control, stability control and antilock brakes with brake assist are also standard on all models.

There are four trim levels: XL, Touring, XLS and Limited. Even the base XL comes loaded with standard equipment. The Touring model is the sporty Avalon, with 17-inch wheels, a more firmly tuned suspension, an all-black interior and aluminum trim detail. The XLS is more upscale with premium features, including a moonroof and a six-CD changer. The leather-lined Limited serves as the model's top-of-the-line trim.

In road tests and reviews, we've found the Toyota Avalon to be an excellent large sedan. Highway driving is luxurious. The V6 engine pulls well, is smooth and posts impressive fuel economy numbers. Although the Touring trim handles adequately, the Avalon should not be mistaken for a sport sedan. It is a full-size car with qualities that lean toward comfort over athletics. Downsides to the Avalon are few. Main complaints concern the rear seat (it doesn't fold down to expand luggage capacity) and a slightly dull persona that some buyers might find off-putting.

Changes for the third-gen Avalon have been minimal. The 3.5-liter V6 was initially rated for 280 hp, but new SAE rating procedures dropped that to the current 268 hp starting with the 2006 model year. Actual performance was unaffected.

Past Toyota Avalon models

Early generations of the Toyota Avalon were solid entries in the full-size sedan market. They were built in the U.S. also but were sometimes criticized for being too close to the Camry in look and feel.

With the second-generation Avalon, sold from 2000-'04, Toyota made a number of improvements over the first version. Again available in XL and XLS trims, the second-gen Avalon was roomier and more technologically advanced. Optional stability control (Toyota's Vehicle Skid Control) and brake assist features were added to improve safety. The 3.0-liter V6 was equipped with variable valve timing, providing a modest power increase over the previous generation with a peak of 210 hp. In road tests, we commented that the second-gen Avalon wasn't a particularly interesting car to drive, but it countered with plenty of dependability, comfort and smoothness.

The original Toyota Avalon, sold from 1995-'99, came in two trims (XL and XLS) and had a 192-hp 3.0-liter V6 and a four-speed automatic transmission. Minor engine revisions for the 1997 model year saw the output of the V6 increase to 200 hp.

For both of these previous generations, Toyota did not make many significant changes. Therefore, used-Avalon shoppers should focus more on the condition and mileage of the vehicle rather than a specific year.

Toyota Avalon is undoubtedly the best American car ever built by a Japanese manufacturer. Granted, it is front-wheel drive, and its exterior dimensions seem smaller than its American counterparts, but the Avalon is full-sized inside and full-sized in its emphasis on quiet, ease, and convenience.

The Avalon is smooth and comfortable underway, quiet and serene. The suspension is tuned for ride comfort, and it largely excels in this area. The double-overhead-cam V6 engine is smooth, quiet and powerful, while the electronically controlled five-speed automatic transmission ensures smoothness and economy. And Avalon comes with the latest in safety features.

Inside is a comfortable cabin lavished with tasteful materials and ergonomically designed controls that make the Avalon easy to operate and pleasant to drive. The front seats are roomy and comfortable, and special attention was paid to back-seat comfort. This is a car that will never annoy you.

Avalon's styling is understated, presenting a quiet look of grace and agility. Four trim variations are available, each representing slightly different priorities to broaden Avalon's appeal. Avalon was completely redesigned late in 2005. For '07, a tire pressure monitor is now standard on all models, and the navigation system is now available in the Touring trim level.

Review Sections
• Introduction
• Lineup
• Walkaround
• Interior
• Driving Impressions
• Summary & Specs
Get Your Free Quote on a Toyota Avalon

Avalon benefits from Toyota's reputation for quality, durability and reliability. And, given that it was designed in Newport Beach, California; engineered by the Toyota Technical Center in Ann Arbor, Michigan; and is built in Georgetown, Kentucky; it could be argued that the Avalon is the best American car from an American manufacturer.

The 2007 Toyota Avalon is available in four trim levels: XL, Touring, XLS, and Limited. All are powered by a 3.5-liter V6, connected to a five-speed automatic transmission with a sequential-shift feature.

Avalon XL ($26,875) comes with cloth upholstery; eight-way adjustable power driver's seat; dual-zone climate control with air filtration; a premium-level AM/FM/CD/cassette stereo with nine speakers; remote keyless entry; power door locks with anti-lockout feature; power windows with driver and passenger auto up/down, pinch protection and retained power; Optitron instruments with chrome accents; maintenance indicator light; steering-wheel-mounted audio and climate controls; and a multi-function information display for audio, climate control, temperature and trip computer. The XL also has cruise control, an engine immobilizer and a tilt and telescoping steering column. Tires are 215/60R16 on aluminum wheels, and the spare tire is full-sized, with a matching aluminum rim. A tire-pressure monitor is now standard as well.

The Touring model ($29,125) features more aggressive suspension tuning and 17-inch alloy wheels with P215/55R17 Michelin MXV4 tires. Touring also upgrades to leather-trimmed seats with four-way power for the front passenger, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, and aluminum scuff plates. Also distinguishing the Touring are high-intensity-discharge (HID) head lamps, fog lamps, and a rear decklid spoiler.

The XLS ($31,325) reverts to standard headlights and suspension, keeps the fog lamps and 17-inch tire size, and adds a power moonroof, in-dash six-disc CD changer, dual heated outside mirrors (with electrochromic auto-dimming on the driver's side), an auto-dimming rearview mirror with compass and Homelink universal transceiver, and an anti-theft system.

The Limited ($34,065) adds a 360-watt JBL Synthesis audio system with six-disc CD changer and 12 speakers, a one-touch auto-reverse power rear sunshade, power driver's seat cushion length adjuster, the Smart Key system, unique 17-inch alloy wheels, HID headlamps, a wood-and-leather-trimmed shift knob and steering wheel, rain-sensing windshield wipers, and a driver and passenger seat heater and cooling fan.

Stand-alone options include the power moonroof ($910), in-dash six-CD changer ($200), and anti-theft system ($220). Touring and above offer heated seats packaged with VSC stability control ($1,090), the JBL Synthesis sound system ($840), navigation system ($1,900), and a JBL/navigation package ($4,005). Dynamic laser cruise control ($600) is optional on Limited only.

Safety features that come standard on all models include driver and front-passenger airbags, seat-mounted side-impact airbags for torso protection, side curtain airbags for head protection, and a driver's knee airbag. Active safety features include anti-lock brakes (ABS) with Electronic Brake-force Distribution (EBD). Optional on all Avalons is Vehicle Stability Control (VSC) with Traction Control and Brake Assist ($650).


At first glance, the '07 Toyota Avalon appears as an elegant, if unassuming, sedan. A second glance and it looks sleek, powerful, and advanced.

The Avalon line dates back to 1995, and was completely redesigned for 2000. This third-generation Avalon was launched as a 2005 model and carries into 2007 unchanged in appearance. It projects more character and looks more contemporary than either previous-generation Avalon, with a wider, longer stance.

This is especially apparent from the rear, where a tall deck, large tail lamps and dual exhaust outlets suggest an expensive touring sedan. The handsome rear deck line remains undisturbed by a wing, except in the Touring grade, which mounts a rear lip spoiler consistent with its sporty wheels and brighter accents.

The front of the Avalon is dominated by a horizontal grille with chrome-accented bars, and a wide lower intake valence calling attention to its width. The lines created by the valence are extended by use of fog lamps on the Touring, XLS and Limited models.

Climbing inside reveals an elegant cabin, remarkably clean and uncluttered, and very roomy. Choose the leather upholstery and it feels quite luxurious. The leather used for the seat and door trim is first class, with attractive stitching to tie it all together. Wood trim is tasteful and beautiful, and it warms up the cabin.

The front seats are firm but not hard and relatively flat. They're quite comfortable and feature power adjustments and optional memory functions. In addition to heated front seats, the Limited model features a fan in the seat cushion and seatback that blows cabin air through the perforated leather trim to improve comfort. Knobs for seat heating and cooling are conveniently located on the center console. The front of the driver's seat bottom is power adjustable, offering improved thigh support. And the steering column tilts and telescopes. In short, these seats will not permit any form of discomfort, no matter what the conditions. They provide an apt analogy for the entire car, a vehicle possessed of small comforts that add up to a satisfying environment to soothe the driver.

The Optitron instruments are elegant and technically appealing displays, round in shape but unmistakably advanced. Retracting lids hide controls for audio and navigation, reducing clutter. The action of the retracting covers is slow and measured, with the look and satisfying feel of high-end audio equipment. These covers and panels are silver-painted plastic, following a trend started by Lincoln, Nissan and others. We wonder how good they'll look in five years. And some other trim pieces, such as the housing for the steering column, show this isn't an expensive luxury car. In the Limited model, however, this is offset by a handsome steering wheel trimmed in wood and leather. Overall, Avalon's interior feels upmarket and high quality. Wood accents, particularly on the Limited, are attractive and judiciously placed. The chrome door scuff plates on the Touring grade, particularly, are notably attractive and distinctive.

The navigation system is excellent and we recommend it. The controls to operate it are behind a panel that folds out like an ashtray in front of the shifter. It's an unconventional design, but it works and the controls are fairly easy to reach. The buttons used to control navigation, climate and audio are superb, big, clearly marked, illuminated and easy to operate.

The roominess of the cabin extends to the back seats. Rear-seat legroom is particularly generous, with three-across seating facilitated by the totally flat floor. We rode in the rear seat, directly behind a six-foot driver, with legroom to spare. In fact, there's enough room that we could imagine the Avalon as a taxi. The rear seat is comfortable, and offers 10 degrees of adjustment to create five sitting positions. Reclining the backrest effectively increases headroom, so people of varying heights and sizes can find comfort.

The trunk is family sized, with a pass-through door to the rear seat for long gear such as skis.

The Limited model comes with a Smart Key that eliminates the need to pull it out of your pocket or purse. To use it, just walk up to the car. At a touch, all four doors unlock. Climb in. Foot on the brake, touch the Start button and the car hums to life. No fumbling with keys.

Driving Impressions
The '07 Toyota Avalon is perhaps best characterized by what's missing: noise, vibration and harshness. The Avalon will never annoy you. It offers a smooth, quiet ride. It always feels under-stressed and quietly relaxed. Driving it is never demanding.

Like the rest of the car, the suspension is set up primarily for comfort. The handling is extremely well balanced, and the rack-and-pinion steering offers a good balance between road feel and easy steering, avoiding the over-assisted vagaries common with large SUVs and American cars. Driving hard on tight roads will induce some body roll (lean), yet the Avalon Limited we drove held any reasonable line we cared to strike through a corner, protesting only at careless tossing, and absorbing pavement irregularities at the apex. The Avalon is front-wheel drive, with front struts located by L-shaped lower arms, and a multi-link/strut arrangement in the back. So it tends to squat slightly coming out of corners, and pull through them from the front.

The Touring model is set up for sharper handling performance than the others, with stiffer shock tuning, higher spring rates, and Michelin MXV4 tires on 17-inch wheels. The Touring has quicker reflexes, at the expense of some ride comfort and noise control, and delivers a secure, on-center feeling through the twisties. If you're not sure which suspension you want, then you probably don't want the Touring.

Avalon's engine and transmission deliver unobtrusive performance. Fifth gear is a relaxed overdrive, allowing the engine to loaf on the highway. Driving over steep mountain passes with some determination, we appreciated all 268 horsepower, backed by an automatic that knows when to shift. In tighter sections, where our speeds were in the 30 to 50 mph range, we decided to operate the transmission in manual mode, tap-shifting from second to third gear and revving up and down through the corners.

The V6 pulls strongly at higher rpm and right up to the 6200 rpm redline, but it remains remarkably quiet in the process. It's a double overhead-cam unit with four valves per cylinder and an aluminum block and heads. A short stroke dimension means that it likes to rev, abetted by very low reciprocating mass and a very-low-friction cam gear. These are the characteristics of a long-life, efficient everyday engine with exceptional passing power. Our forays into canyon carving were not perfectly consistent with this type of design, and yet they were not frustrating, either. The horsepower is there, and the transmission will allow you to access it. Add the tighter suspension of the Touring model and the Avalon is decidedly sporty. But that's not what the Avalon is about.

The Avalon is a car that makes everyday use a pleasant experience. It's a versatile cruiser and around-town chariot that shortens long trips, thoughtfully insulating occupants from the jagged loose ends of the real world. That's been Avalon's mission since its debut in '94, and with changes since then it has only gotten better.

The V6 is a smooth power plant, and its very low levels of vibration are no accident; an active control mount cancels low-rpm engine motions. Transmission upshifts are governed by third-generation electronic software with specific engine mount tuning to reduce shift shock. Part-throttle upshifts are barely noticeable.

All this, and EPA city/highway fuel efficiency ratings of 22/31 mpg.

Optional Vehicle Stability Control, Traction Control, and Brake Assist are dynamic systems that remain in the background until a problem is detected. VSC helps keep a skidding vehicle on the road by instantly braking one or more wheels, individually. We were able to activate the traction control by hammering the throttle from a standing start, with one front wheel on pavement and the other on a sandy shoulder. Sure enough, no wheelspin, just a smooth departure. We're told it works on wet surfaces and snow-covered roads, anyplace with mixed friction driving surfaces.

Brake Assist steps in when you stab the brakes, as if you were in a panic stop. Very hard, sharp application of the brake pedal automatically triggers full braking response from the anti-lock brakes (ABS). Brake Assist helps the driver stop the car as quickly as possible, even if the driver mistakenly relaxes pressure on the brake pedal.