Soon We Will Be Ever So Safe

teslapostHear me out here – is this an actual problem? People leaving kids in their cars to the point where more children are being done-in this way than by sharks and marbles combined?

It all began innocently enough yesterday morning, when my broski Gary Grant posted on the Book of Faces™  a link to a story on some website, all about how Tesla has promised a forthcoming, all-new-strata of safety nanny systems.

(gonna make us all Safe again, at least according to a cryptic tweet from Elon himself cited in the story) – a super intelligent system that actually runs the A/C while the vehicle is turned off, if it thinks you may have left your kids in the car.

My response was:

“Or! Or!

Mofos could try not forgetting their children in the car.

Perhaps employing some sort of sophisticated ‘counting’ algorithm, or maybe an old fashioned roll call like:

“Hey, li’l Bobby (or whatever), are you ready for dinner, or are you slowly suffocating in the car?”

I mean seriously, mang, how in the shit does that even happen. How is this a thing that has grown so far out of control that it that requires the f**king carmakers to intervene?

Totally makes sense to me, right? And I obviously thought that was the end of that, my friends – but no!

A bunch of rational people joined in, and tried to make it *not* about going off on some internet rant; but I refuse to play dat.

You down with me on this one, fellow citizens? You feel?

Now, let’s take this to its logical extreme, so I can get on with my life:

teslapost2©Wade Ozeroff 2016

Toyota Yaris Hybrid

This is an old story by now (in fact, it is exactly a year old) but I am posting it because I love the Netherlands, and also the Yaris hybrid.

This one features a 2015 model that I was using in Eindhoven last fall, and I just happened to be in the great city of Eindhoven on September 18, the 75th anniversary of the city’s emancipation at the end of WWII.

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(Eindhoven, Netherlands) All right, here’s what I want you to do: go to Europe and drive a Toyota Yaris Hybrid. Not just anywhere in Europe, either, I want you to go specifically to Eindhoven, Holland.yarishyb-23

Go ahead and ignore me if you want, but Eindhoven is a delightful place; and you have go to Europe to get the Yaris hybrid anyway, as they aren’t sold here, so go to Eindhoven.

I used mine to bolt out of Frankfurt after the auto show, and took down the A3 highway to Holland. As you know, long stretches of the Autobahn have no speed limit, and while the compact hybrid can’t touch the Carreras and R8s racing down the road in the left lane, he specs on the Hybrd Yaris say that it tops out at 165 km/h.yarishyb-25

I got pretty close to that, too (the car, while not a prizewinner in acceleration, will handle sustained high speed pretty admirably) but I chickened out of pushing it to the limit as it rained hard on me for most of the trip.

Ever since I learned they exist, at Toyota’s Hybrid World Tour showcase a couple of years ago I wanted to try one; big fan of alt-fuel low-emitters that I am (I also learned that Toyota sells a ton of gas-electric powertrain vehicles that we don’t get here in North America, from minivan to Corolla – the closest equivalent you can find on our side of the Atlantic would be the even smaller Prius C or the Lexus equivalent CT200h).yarishyb-9

Compact though it may be, the Yaris was far from the smallest vehicle on the road in the Eurozone, where it dwarfed a lot of Clio and Peugeot cars but still fit right in. The hatchback bodystyle is the way to go in small cars, as far as I am concerned; with an easy access cargo area that holds enough stuff to make it a suitable do-all daily commuter.

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This is why you want a hybrid car in Europe

This one, also contained, thankfully, an excellent navigation module (with an English language option, thank golly) which is the only reason I am not still driving around south Holland, lost and starving; because hey: have you ever tried to find an address in The Netherlands?

The streets are, shall we say, non-intuitive – I drove past my hotel like three times when I got to the city of Eindhoven – and the nav is invaluable if you’re like me and don’t actually know where you’re going and just sort of make up destinations at the last minute, real haphazard-like.

I’ll tell ya where the real value of my Yaris Hybrid test car was, though; fuel economy! This is no small concern in Europe, either; gas was going for the equivalent of $2.31 a litre while I was over there, and here’s the really interesting part: I can’t believe the fuel efficiency I got with the car.

This may be the best I have ever seen, in any hybrid. I’m pretty sure I am doing the math correctly, here – I drove the little car a total of 703 km between fills, and it took 23 litres to top it up. That works out to 3.27L/100km, which is fantastic.yarishyb-24

I’m not sure what the takeaway is here, the moral of the story, as it were. Is it “let’s hope the Yaris Hybrid makes it to Canada one day soon?” Is it “gas-electric powertrains are the way to go in the future?”

No. The moral here is: let’s all go visit Eindhoven.

 

Fact file
2015 Toyota Yaris hybrid
Trim level: Comfort 5-door
Price as tested (before taxes): 18,790 Euros ($27,527 CDN)
Engine/transmission: 1.5L 4-cylinder with electric motor/ CVT automatic
Power/torque: 98 hp/ 820 lb.-ft.
Fuel (capacity): regular
Fuel economy ratings (L/100 km): 3.1 city, 3.3 hwy
Observed fuel economy (L/100 km): 3.3 over 703 km
Competitors: Ford C-Max, Honda Civic hybrid, other Toyota hybrids

Strengths: Super fuel economy, all-round usefulness, fierce styling

Weaknesses: a little on the ‘subcompact’ side for family use, not available in North America yet

 

 

 

2016 Mazda CX-9

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Sporting exterior design tweaks and a new-for-2016 engine, there is little to dislike in Mazda’s largest utility vehicle offering.

The CX-9 gets a new-look front end with the five-point grille that has become familiar across the rest of the lineup (which is a big improvement over the outgoing generation, if you ask me, I like the new grilles). If you’re shopping large utes with 3 rows of passenger space, and demand an interior that feels and looks high end, this is one to consider.2016cx-9-7

Outwardly, Mazda has gone in for the ‘angular’ look, with sheetmetal sporting more pronounced edges and corners – this school of thought can also be seen in offerings like Toyota’s latest-gen RAV4 (and pushed even further in Lexus’ RX350), and the new Murano from Nissan – with new head and tail lamps backing up the reworked face.

Its new engine is the standout change in the CX-9, though, with Mazda having dumped the previous generation’s larger (3.7 litre, and a pretty thirsty one, too, as I recall) six-cylinder powerplant in favor of a turbocharged four.

This is the first Mazda ute to get the latest SKYACTIV engine, a 2.5L direct-injection turbo, a responsive and quick little beast offering a potential 227 horses – a reduction from the outgoing V6, but it showed itself to be fast and smooth in my time with the car – and surprisingly, an increase in torque. Mazda states the engine is capable of a considerable 310 lb.-ft. of torque at very low (2000!) rpm.2016cx-9-12

The steering feel is a nicely weighted, controlled and engaged experience, which is pretty consistent with everything in the Mazda family; at least the ones I’ve spent time with.

I used a ‘Signature’ trim model, for purposes of this piece; the top of the line for the CX-9, so it comes as packed as is available. A power driver’s seat is standard across the lineup, but the brown-toned, Nappa-leather-upholstered perch in my test vehicle was mighty fine indeed. The instrumentation was augmented with a heads-up display (a feature I love – it is basically a little floating digital speedometer hovering just at the bottom of your field of view).2016cx-9-6

Mazda is justifiably proud of the improvement in fuel economy with the new engine, and better than I expected, frankly – I got 10.9L/100 km in my time in it, and a colleague reported 9.9 over a longer, highway drive.

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The CX-9 will continue to compete with rivals like Toyota’s Highlander, or the formidable Kia Sorento; but as it can qualify as an “all new” entry, it will be in the running at this year’s Canadian Car of the Year tests coming up in October.

There it will find itself comparing head to head with the reborn Chrysler Pacifica and GMC’s newest iteration of the Acadia in a variety of categories from roominess and ease of access to economy to acceleration. Should be an interesting result!

And finally, let’s get to the price. Always the money with me, you know?

As with virtually any of the competition I have mentioned, Mazda’s big crossover starts in the mid-30K range (but ha, ha citizen! for that you only get a front-wheel drive, base model). The Signature trim CX-9 however, will take that up to $52,130 before freight and taxes.

©Wade Ozeroff 2016

 

AJAC EcoRun 2016

Kingston

photo by Jeff Wilson/AJAC

(Ottawa, ON) Alright, I knew going in I wouldn’t win the contest, lead-footed feller that I am. I am not a hyper-miler, my gentle friends, but I gave the EcoRun Challenge a fair go this year.

(You’ve heard of hypermiling, right? The practice of squeezing every last kilometer out of every drop of fuel, mostly by driving incredibly slowly and getting rid of every bit of extra weight and aerodynamic drag on a vehicle to reap some pretty astounding economy).

I’m not quite willing to go to those kinds of extremes – I didn’t fold down the side mirrors or shave off all my body hair to save the extra weight and dump my pocket change and empty my head of heavy thoughts – just simply drove a variety of vehicles according the best practices of economical driving habits, as outlined by Natural resources Canada.EcoRun7

The basics of it are pretty straightforward – keep your speed down (although I never drove dramatically under the limit, ‘cuz that’s just ignorant), avoid sudden bursts of acceleration, and above all: keep it smooth.

I didn’t win the coveted Green Jersey, of course, but I’ll tell you that by sticking to the spirit of the event I got better fuel economy than usual. In fact, everybody did; from every vehicle that was entered in this year’s Challenge.

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The lineup was as diverse as it gets at the 2016 EcoRun, running the gamut from hybrids and pure electric vehicles to a high-falutin sports car and a diesel pickup. Photos by Jeff Wilson/AJAC

It was a diverse field of entries this year, too, featuring not only what you may expect in a fuel economy contest (hybrids, plug-ins and pure electric vehicles Like Nissan’s Leaf), but straight-up gasoline powered vehicles as well – including a pickup truck and a full-on sports car.

Heck, I averaged 7.0L/100km in the Chevy Colorado Diesel pickup on my run in it, which is way less than the projected number from NRCan (10.3L/100 km), and the 2017 911 Carrera entered in the contest by Porsche achieved an overall score of 7.8L/100km, which is incredible.

Fact is, every entry in this year’s EcoRun got better economy numbers than their various manufacturers state on their window stickers; which shows you what a change in driving habits can do.ColoradoDiesel

Check it out for yourself – here is a link to the overall scores of all the cars in the group, 27 of them in total.

This is the fifth year that the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada has put on the EcoRun, and the first time I have participated in it. The event moves around the country, but this year came home to Ontario where we ran a rout from Toronto to Ottawa, driving different cars on different legs of a journey that rolled through Belleville, Coburg, and Kingston.

We drove on highways and backroads, we drove in cities and towns. We drove through Ottawa’s downtown during rush hour, which is something I don’t recommend; but is a great chance to operate in EV mode if your vehicle is equipped for it.Ottawa

I didn’t drive everything that was entered, of course, two days is actually a pretty short time, but in everything from Fiat’s cutie-pie 1957 edition 500 to Toyota’s RAV4 (hybrid) I beat the projected FE, and so did everybody else.

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Allie Marsh, the Event Coordinator of AJAC’s fifth annual EcoRun, demonstrates the connection of Hyundai’s Sonata plug-in hybrid.

And again, I didn’t do anything particularly special or scientific on any of my drives. Kept it within five of the limit, no fast passing or erratic maneuvering and above all smoothness, whether accelerating, braking or changing lanes. I didn’t run the A/C for the most part, and kept the windows up most of the time to reduce drag, but really nothing anyone couldn’t do.

Indeed, my only regret is that there wasn’t enough time for me to drive Toyota’s Mirai vehicle, the only hydrogen-powered auto entered in the EcoRun, but Lesley Wimbush of Postmedia did. (Disclosure: I know Wimbush, and I am totally using the massive popularity of my site to plug the fine work of a broski. Or sisterski as is the case here).

As said, I didn’t win the contest (wild-eyed hypermiler Jim Kenzie did. I suspect he may have shaved off his body hair, as his coefficient of drag felt abnormally low when I shook his hand).

What I did, though, was got an up-close look at what a difference driving style makes in any car, for anyone.

AJAC’s EcoRun doesn’t declare a winner among the autos entered, as it would be somewhat contrary to the spirit and point of the event (and also difficult to categorized, as obviously pure electric cars would be the most efficient, not burning any gas and all, and how would you evaluate a fuel cell vehicle against a diesel pickup, for example), but among the gas-electric powertrains, as you no doubt expected, Toyota’s Prius, Hyundai’s Sonata plug-in and Ford’s C-Max Energi hybrid did the best.

The thing is: what the EcoRun proves is that with optimal driving habits, everyone’s a winner.

2016 Ford C-Max SE

2016CMax-11Still one of my favorite North American gas/electric autos – and the first from Ford to take to the roads when it was launched back in the early 2000s to challenge Toyota’s supremacy in the segment – the C-Max hasn’t changed much for the 2016 model year.

My test vehicle the past week has been an entry level C-Max Hybrid (not to be confused with the C-Max Energi, which is also a hybrid but is a ‘plug-in’, in that the battery pack can be recharged from an external source) and frankly I don’t know why I don’t see more of these on the streets; in proportion to the number of Prius variants.

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The C-Max meets, and in some parameters defeats, its Japanese rival when compared to the ‘regular’ Prius (notably front and rear headroom, horsepower and overall cargo volume) and provides a comfortable daily-drive car that suits a variety of purposes; and comes at a competitive price.

The SE trim is the entry model for the marque, and brings the trappings you’d expect of a ‘base’ trim: cloth seats, a lot of plastic and not a lot of high-tech creature-comfort toys and tech.

There is no blind-spot monitor on my SE, for example, or a backup camera, a couple of features that I like but I can’t get too worked up about it at this price; the way I would if, say, it were a Lexus IS that didn’t include them.

There’s no digital speedometer, either, but the C-Max cluster puts the analog display right in the center, where it is easy to acquire with a quick glance; and to either side are variable digital information displays; from compass and fuel economy graphics to odo/tripmeters, temperature gauge and Ford’s ‘leaf’ animation that rewards you for efficient driving practices.2016CMax-7

Visibility is good in all directions from within the cockpit, as is headroom, and the seats, though cloth-upholstered and extremely limited in adjustment, are comfortable enough for longer drives. You know what I find, also, is that the driver’s seat position actually feels a lot better than I find in Prius. The steering wheel doesn’t impede my entry/exit from the vehicle when I have it tilted to the point I like.

2016CMax-3The seats are heated, the C-max comes with cruise control and Ford’s hands-free rear hatch opening feature; and of course delivers sweet fuel economy and lower emissions that a conventional car. The company’s numbers state mileage of 5.6L/100 km in city driving, and I seem to be doing better than that thus far with 4.8

‘Hybrid’ powertrains are still my favorite way to travel, as far as environmentally friendlier, lower-emission cars go, rather than fully electric vehicles; simply because I like the security of having the gasoline engine available, should the battery run down.

C-Max boasts a potential output from the combination – a 2.0L gasoline engine and lithium-ion battery pack – of 188 horsepower and 129 lb.-ft (same as you’ll find in Ford’s larger Fusion Hybrid).2016CMax-15

All around, there isn’t much to dislike about the SE trim, or its price ($27,674 for this one, with $1600 worth of options), but I will point out that Consumer Reports hasn’t been fond of the car’s overall reliability, calling it “below average”.2016CMax-13

©2016 Wade Ozeroff

2016 Mercedes Metris

It isn’t the first cargo van from the luxury manufacturer – the Metris joins its larger brother the Sprinter in the Mercedes lineup this year.Metris4

Smaller and not as tall as the well-known Sprinter, Metris seeks to compete with similar working vehicles (Ford’s Transit 150 and the Nissan NV are the first ones that pop to mind) for the hearts and minds and fleets of people who need a versatile and customizable hauler for serious business. This is not your ‘family van’ right here.

I got the chance to tool around in a tester model last week – not quite the entry-level Metris, but pretty close to base; and it makes a case for itself as one to be considered for businesses and trades people, with solid underpinnings and voluminous cargo capacity inside a highly customizable space.

An interesting thing with the Metris is it is one of the few in its class to employ a small four-cylinder powerplant (and maybe the only one, the NV and Transit use V6 engines). Boasting a potential 208 horses, and 258 lb.-ft of torque that apparently comes on at a low 1300 rpm; the turbo two-litre lurks beneath the short hood of the Metris and dispenses its power with all the smoothness we expect from a Mercedes product.

The vehicle drives and handles well, of course, as it benefits from the same stability control systems that keep the much taller and top-heavy Sprinter stable and upright, and it corners superbly (for its size and shape) and holds up well on bumpy roads with a comfortable-yet-solid suspension.Metris12

The engine felt good and fully capable to me during my time in it, accelerating effortlessly and predictably; but I’ll be honest with you – I didn’t have a load in the vehicle, at least nothing that would put it to a torture test.

The company claims the Metris is capable of towing up to 2250 kilos, which may have led to different impressions; but I don’t have anything to tow, nor do I have 1135 kg of tools or toys to stress-test the stated cargo bed payload capacity.

No indeed, my test Metris was a stripped down two-seater with nothing in the back but a vast empty cube of 5270 cubic litres of highly configurable space.

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The front seats – the only seats – are comfortable (and heated) Benz-quality perches with drop-down armrests that face a dash that will be familiar to fans of the German manufacturer’s cars; ditto the steering wheel.

With my test model being near-entry level, there were lots of blanks where buttons would go (buttons that would operate things like a navigation module, for example), but there was a digital speed-display option among the choices on the information display.

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This is an interesting feature of the Metris – the filler door can’t be opened or closed without opening the driver’s side door.

Paddle shifts adorn the steering wheel, for use with the manual-shift mode the automatic transmission offers (there also comfort and eco modes), and while the steering column is tilt-able, it does not telescope.

Overall, there’s a lot of high points in the new-for2016 Metris, but let me offer a few of the more salient lows:

I know I keep saying my test-Metris was nearly a base model, unadorned as it was, but the thing is, it wasn’t completely the entry-level.

Building on the starting MSRP of $33,900, this one included nearly three grand worth of packages, and frankly still came up wanting in a couple of key areas.

Even with the Cold Weather package, Convenience package, Lighting package and Basic Window Package (and you really want this, trust me, without the side and rear windows, all-round visibility from the driver’s seat is not good, as you can imagine) and some stand-alone options; the van still lacked a couple of things I figure are must-haves in this modern age.

No backup camera, for example. No blind-spot monitors or parking sensors either. Seems like a stark omission to not include these extremely useful features at some level of the packaging that has already been added to the one pictured here; especially at a price of $40,485 (with freight and delivery charges).Metris3

©2016 Wade Ozeroff

 

2017 Hyundai Elantra Limited

2016Elantra-16 You know, before I found the digital speed display in my 2016 Elantra test vehicle, I was all set to say that only the lack of this (one of my favorite features in any car) kept it from being a serious challenger to Honda’s latest Civic.2016Elantra-4

But then I found that the car is, in fact, capable of showing a digital speed readout (in a big, easy-to-acquire location right between the dials, which means a driver need never take their eyes off a straight line).

You summon up the display by scrolling through the submenus with the wheel-mounted buttons until it appears on the information display between the gauges, dead center and easy and quick to read, just the way I likes it).

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Elantra side-by-side with Honda’s 2016 Civic sedan.

So anyway, the summary (if I may give away the ending prematurely) is that with that one final detail discovered, the 2017 Elantra is in fact a full on competitor to the current Car of the Year; at least when similarly equipped.

I recently had the chance to drive the two back-to-back, and after being wowed by the Honda (there’s good reason the latest generation Civic won the COTY title, in several different forums, from Motor Trend mag to our own Auto Journalists Association of Canada).

My test model was a not quite top of the line issue, a Limited trim. The only option above is the ‘Ultimate’ package, which is basically the Limited with some additional safety features (lane departure, HID headlamps, autonomous emergency braking among them).

The thing is, though, that 2017’s Elantra – which is at dealerships as we speak – shows off an ever-improved ride and better sound-insulated interior on a platform that has been gathering accolades for years now.

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With a refinement of its exterior that has benefitted the car with improved aerodynamics (also improved styling for the curb-appeal that it needs to keep up with the restyled Civic, which is a thing of beauty), and the leather-upholstered interior of my Limited trim test car; the Elantra not only stands head-to-head against all comers in the ‘entry level’ market but outdoes a few pricier and more status-festooned marques.

The Korean compact*, for example, boasts more passenger and cargo volume than Audi’s A4 or the Acura ILX, and I can tell you from experience that my Hyundai sports a better package of technology and convenience features that Lexus’ IS300 F-Sport.

It may not have the horsepower numbers of those more rarefied vehicles, but things like park assist, a rear backup camera, blind-spot monitor and my beloved digital speedo elevate the Elantra into their league.

This one is no slouch, either, by the way, and while it isn’t designed or marketed to blow a driver away with raw acceleration and big engine noise; the new 2.0 litre, Atkinson cycle engine of my test car pushed out a respectable and more-than-adequate 147 hp (and 132 lb.-ft. of torque), and send it to the drive wheels through a fluid 6-speed automatic. It drives well; it handles smoothly and demonstrates very good steering and braking.2016Elantra-2

I don’t have a lot of criticism for the new Elantra, frankly (I’m not super-disposed to the color of the leather upholstery of the one I drove for this story, but check the photos and see what you think).

The price may be a factor, though, as Hyundai has gone upscale with its MSRPs and is now competing closely with Honda across all trims.

My test car, and pricing of the Elantra Limited was announced recently at $26,249 before freight and taxes.

©Wade Ozeroff 2016

*I only said ‘compact’ for alliterative purposes. Apparently with its expanded interior volume, the Elantra qualifies as a midsize car).

2016 Toyota Tacoma TRD 4×4

Riding high in the redesigned Tacoma, the little truck makes a case for itself as a single-solution working pickup that brings an urban-friendly size and passenger environment to a compact pickup platform.2016Tacoma-26

(Not that I am doing any actual work in this one, mind you; my lily-white hands remain soft and unblemished – but I saw enough hard testing at the debut of the 2016 that I have confidence in the Tacoma’s ability)

‘Compact’ is a relative term, of course – what are considered small trucks today are roughly the same footprint as the full-size pickups of the past (if you find yourself test driving a Tacoma, pull up beside older model F-150s and Sierras and see what I mean).

My test vehicle is perhaps the best configuration of Toyota’s available powertrain and cab combinations; an access cab model with four wheel drive and the larger of two available engines (and a new engine at that, at least for Tacoma, with a 3.5L six-cylinder replacing the four-litre of the previous generation).

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The 2016 Tacoma beside one of its ancestors. Note that the hood scoop on Sport trim models is still available.

The Atkinson cycle 3.5L powerplant, which Toyota is a segment-first implementation, raises Tacoma’s horsepower to 278 (last year’s V6 was rated at 236 hp)

It’s a torque-y and willing engine – in fact maybe a little too torque-y and willing – one learns pretty quick to keep a hard step on the brake when shifting into reverse or else it will attempt to lurch into motion with its potential 268 lb-ft; but that may be largely because I am driving the truck with no load in it.

This is actually the third time I’ve driven the latest generation Tacoma, and have seen up close the proof of its ability as an off-roader (at the recent Canadian Car of the Year tests at Mosport I drove it back-to-back against GM’s Canyon Diesel pickup, and found I scored the Tacoma’s ride and handling better).

Crawl control is a great option that comes with my current test-truck’s TRD Offroad package (a $2,475 option), the system essentially automates the four-wheel drive for controlled descents on steep and treacherous terrain, and will also dig itself out of sand quite effectively using its computers to control the spin of each individual wheel.

The Offroad Package is the only option on my test vehicle, and is pretty much the only package you need for a fully complete truck. Along with its addition to the drivetrain, it brings upgraded interior upholstery, heated seats, upgraded Bilstein shocks, all-terrain tires and keyless, push-button start.2016Tacoma-23

Of course, it also adds the cool TRD decal to the rear panels, as it does with the Sport package option, but what’s interesting is that with the Sport you get the (purely decorative) hood scoop; whereas my test Tacoma has a proper smooth/uninterrupted hood that I actually like better.2016Tacoma-21

Frankly, the Tacoma is mostly highlights for me; I don’t have a lot of complaints. It brings all the things expected in a light-duty work truck and can also play hard. It rides well on pavement and feels good inside the redesigned cabin. Especially with the TRD package, you’re treated as well as in the passenger compartment of most sedans.

The crushing lows, though, would be pretty straightforward, and most are typical of any truck (mostly owing to issues of size, turning circle, fuel economy), but a particular Tacoma trait is that getting in and out of the vehicle is difficult.2016Tacoma-25

This isn’t limited to Tacoma trucks, mind you, this is a Toyota thing with a few of their vehicles (I have the same problem with the Prius family, for example), but the positioning of the steering column and comparative tight doorway forces me to bend into yoga-shapes to get into the driver’s seat. Now, yes, the steering column is tiltable (and telescoping), and I could just lock it up out of the way when I exited the truck; but nevertheless I don’t like it. You’ll hear me make a similar complaint about the Lexus IS pretty soon, too.

That is about the extent of the downside, though, unless you don’t like the little fold-down seats in the back row of the Access cab, or the price.

This one I’m using though, this magnificent Inferno Orange sculpture, with six-cylinder engine and automatic transmission, and defined on the spec sheet as a Tacoma 4×4 Access Cab V6 TRD comes with a sticker price of $39,761 (and ninety seven cents).

On the Road: 2016 Toyota Avalon

Newly facelifted for 2016, sporting the family grille that defines Toyota’s lineup, my Avalon test car this week remains the rock solid flagship of the company.2016Avalon-34

Beneath the cosmetic appearance, the basics stay the same beneath the skin – engine, transmission, etc. carry over into the new model year, as does the borderline-luxury car feel of the passenger compartment inside the most full-sized of Toyota’s sedans.

My test vehicle, a top-line Avalon in Limited trim lacks very little in the cabin to separate it from true Premium segment cars; displaying comfortable and leathery seating surfaces, electronic creature comforts (and a suite of safety features).

2016Avalon-1It does lack a couple of things I would like to see though (specifically, my test car does not have a heated steering wheel, which makes me sad because it is freezing outside and I hate grabbing a cold wheel), but this brings me to a point:

I have this one friend who always points out that, as a spoiled media weasel, I may have become unrealistic in my expectations – I learned this when whining one day about some car that didn’t have keyless start (apparently, LOTS of people don’t have keyless start), so I don’t dare mention the lack of heated steering to him, for I will get no empathy.

That aside, my Avalon Limited (with no additional option packages) contains almost everything else one might want. Blind spot monitoring is one of the best warning and prevention systems that has come along in the recent past; a navigation app that displays both on the center console info screen and also in between the gauges over the wheel; where an animated arrow helps with turn-by-turn instructions.2016Avalon-18 2016Avalon-15

As with anything Toyota makes, all the controls are easy to understand and presented in a straightforward layout, from stereo to climate controls (and, conveniently, the climate controls are grouped separately on the center stack, so that they can be operated without going into sub-menus on the touch-screen interface).

The only feature on the vehicle that required a look at the manual was the inclusion of a wireless charger plate on the door of a center-console compartment – a clever bit of technology that will charge various phones and devices just by placing them on it, if the devices are compatible. (Incidentally, turns out none of my devices were compatible with the charger, and this is just one more thing that I can’t expect any pity from my friend over).

The Avalon rides beautifully and quietly, obviously a good highway cruiser, but thoroughly enjoyable in urban settings, too; and maintains its upscale feel with an engine that effortlessly handles acceleration with a potential 268 horsepower (and 248 lb.-ft of torque) behind the new grille; a 3.5 litre six-cylinder.

A six-speed automatic transmission is the only choice for Avalons, and handles itself well in any of the selectable drive modes (Sport, Eco or normal, depending on your preference). The car isn’t sluggish in any mode, and Sport peps it up noticeably in terms of accelerator response. It handles well in general daily operation, and brakes very well; the only real detraction, for me, is the rather ‘light’ feel calibrated into the steering.

That’s just me though, the steering is tuned to be appealing and comfortable for the broadest range of drivers (and remember: spoiled media weasel. Why, if it was up to me, everything would be as tight and instantaneously unforgiving as a high-end German sports sedan, and would of course also be heated. Don’t tell my friend).

With a cabin rivaling big-car competitors like Taurus or Impala for spaciousness (and naturally, Avalon provides the best rear-seat environment of any of Toyota’s car lineup), it is a car to be considered if you have a need for something this size; and don’t blanch at the price.

While it doesn’t push its sticker price into the big-bucks territory of the ‘true’ premium sedans of similar size, the Avalon isn’t a bargain buy, either, especially in the Limited trim of my test car.

This one, without options and before taxes, comes to $43,770 but check out your choices at Toyota.ca

Fact file
Trim level: Limited
Price as tested (before taxes): $43,770
Options on test vehicle: none
Freight: $1,660
Configuration: front-engine, front-wheel drive
Engine/transmission: 3.5L 6-cylinder / 6-spd automatic
Power/torque: 268 hp/ 248 lb.-ft.
Fuel (capacity): regular (64L)
Fuel economy ratings (L/100 km): 11.4 city, 7.6 hwy
Observed fuel economy (L/100 km): 12.8 over 231 km
Warranties: 3 years/60,000 km (basic)
Competitors: Chevy Impala, Ford Taurus, Lexus ES350, Nissan Maxima

Strengths: styling, quiet interior, smooth ride

Weaknesses: expensive, needs a couple more features

Report Card (out of 10):
Fuel Economy: 5 – I was using it in some punishing temperatures, so this is not the best I could have wrung from the V6
Equipment level: 8 – all the desirable stuff, some of the more esoteric flourishes of Premium cars.
Price: 7 – pricey, especially the Limited
Styling: 8 – Great new face and pleasing lines
Comfort (front): 8 – Good seats and lateral room.
Comfort (rear): 8 – the most spacious of any Toyota sedan
Handling: 7 – light steering feel, secure braking
Performance: 7 – plenty of power from the V6
Storage: 7 – similar to most full-size sedans
Overall: 7 – A solid, big-car offering from the top of Toyota’s lineup.