2017 RAV4 AWD Platinum

RAV9While it hasn’t changed outwardly in any significant way for 2017, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing for Toyota’s RAV4; wrapped as it is in a sterling reputation for quality and reliability (as the RAV has been pretty much since its introduction).

The body retains the cues established after the last major facelift, and after the removal of the full-size spare tire mounted on the (formerly) side-hinged tailgate of the early models the RAV4 has forgone a lot of its distinctiveness.RAV1

But although it can now be easily mistaken for any number of compact utility vehicles, it does still sport a certain character and flourish, particularly when viewed from the front.

Indeed, check out this test model’s face – doesn’t this seem like it would have been a better tie-in for the Star Wars cross promotion Nissan did earlier this year? C’mon, the RAV just looks more like a stormtrooper helmet; even more so in the ‘Galactic Aqua Mica’ paintjob unique to this package.

This is what is new for 2017: the Platinum package option for the Limited trim.

Platinum adds $1,460 to the price of the RAV4 Limited (all-wheel drive) trim level, and builds on an already pretty good set of features. Power rear lift-gate, atmospheric lighting in the footwells, and the full-body colour treatment that makes my test vehicle look so sinister at the curbside.

And of course, you get interior trim and badging that announces the Platinum-ness of the whole thing. It’s not as ostentatious as, say, the extra labeling strewn around a Dodge PowerWagon, but you won’t forget what edition of RAV you’re driving.

The interior is specific to the Platinum package as well, a black-on-black upholstery and dash surface that looks well executed and feels good under the touch.2017RAV4a

Everything else is what you would get with a plain ol’ Limited model; and that isn’t too shabby.

RAV4 runs a 2.5 litre four-cylinder engine that offers a potential 176 horsepower, paired up with Toyota’s six-speed automatic tranny (there is no manual option in Canada).

Seating for five, and acceptable headroom in the rear (though legroom isn’t great, depending on the size of who you’re putting back there) along with decent cargo space are what made the RAV4 as popular as it is – it would be hard to go wrong with using this for a one-car suburban family.

Operating everything in the cabin is easy and intuitive which is a quality I find in most Toyota vehicles, there is no head-scratching looking for things or queuing up your station list on the stereo. I like the interface on the console better than the one found in the Highlander, frankly. Better, more tactile knobs and buttons.

2017RAV4d

This is cool and everything, but I would rather it showed me the vehicle speed.

The only thing I question in my RAV tester’s array of information options that can be called up between the main dials is the lack of a digital speedometer. While I can choose to look at a graphic display of the vehicle’s eco-performance or an oversimplified diagram of g-force and weight shift, why can’t I get a digital speedo?

Seriously, that is a function I find pretty handy in my city, where speed limits vary wildly (also, they keep changing them. Seemingly hourly). In fact, I’m not sure you can call yourself Platinum if you don’t have a digital speed display, but forcing them to brand it as the ‘Molybdenum Alloy” package would just confuse the public.2017RAV4c

Never mind me, though, if you’ve already made up mind for a RAV, it starts at an MSRP of about twenty-eight grand for a base model with front-wheel drive; but if you want to run out and buy a 2017 Limited AWD with Platinum package, it scampers up to $39,615 before freight and taxes and fees.

RAV2

WARRANTY: Basic-3 Years or 60,000km. Powertrain-5 Years or 100,000km. Corrosion Perforation-5 Years unlimited. Major Emissions- 8 Years or 130,000km.

2017 Toyota Highlander SE

The Highlander needs no introduction, Toyota’s popular crossover took over the roads and grabbed up market share beginning back in 2001, and has developed a reputation for quality and endurance that keeps customers coming back.2017Highlander-9

The shape is still familiar, although the front end has been tweaked for the new model year with the family grille; the wide-mouth trapezoid that is being bestowed on Toyota models of all sizes and types.

Still in its third generation, Highlander is much the same for 2017 as last year’s, but with a new package available – the SE option.2017Highlander-7

To be brief, the SE is a package available on the XLE (V6) trim, which gives the vehicle a sportier grille, second row reclining captain’s chairs (SE is a seven seater, Highlanders can also be bought with room for eight passengers), roof rails, ambient lighting, SE-specific paint options and 19” wheels.

The one you see here is a gasoline-powered (i.e., non hybrid) coaxing a potential 265 horsepower from its 3.5L six-cylinder engine, and sporting a new-for-2017 8-speed automatic transmission.2017Highlander-4

Blind-spot monitors and rear cross-traffic sensors are a useful part of the safety suite, as is intelligent cruise control, lane departure warning (and an active departure-assist system, which will attempt to pull the car back between the lines, presumably in case a driver isn’t paying attention).

It drove well, for a large-ish, though technically still a ‘mid-size’ crossover, with smooth steering and good stopping power from the brakes. The cabin is spacious and cargo-friendly when the third row of seats is folded down, and when the rearmost seats are righted, access to them is helped out by the sliding second row.

Comfortable enough for long drives, thanks to a driver’s seat that will accommodate a wide variety of body types, although I got a few complaints about the ride from second-row passengers.2017Highlander-2

Overall, it is easy to recommend Highlanders in any trim, just based on the vehicle’s rep and record. It is a constant favorite of Consumer Reports and other quality barometers, and yielded good fuel economy during my time in the SE – the ‘city’ portion of which was no doubt helped by the engine’s auto-stop function, which shuts it down when stopped at a light.

There are definitely a few things I would change about it, of course, should I ever become a Toyota engineer:

I don’t especially enjoy the user interface on the console, with flat buttons on either side of the information display that don’t offer a lot of ‘feedback’ when you are using them – sort of like elevator buttons, if you know what I mean. You have to look at them to see if they have responded to your touch.

The vehicle didn’t have a digital speedometer option among the choices of info to display between the dials, and the navigation app wasn’t especially space age, lacking the handy feature whereby speed limits are shown on the street map on the center display.

2017Highlander-6

You see what I mean about the cover, right? Here it is in its mounted position, where it blocks the 3rd row, and also inhibits folding the seats.

Finally, the rollup tonneau cover, which hides your goodies in the back from prying eyes isn’t easy to store when you remove it. Unlike, say, Subaru’s Forester, where a compartment has been built into the rear floor to snap the thing into to have somewhere to keep it when it’s not in use; the one in the Highlander has to sit loose on the floor. And it would have to be removed when using the third row seats, as it locks in place right in front of them.

And of course the price – Highlander comes at a premium it seems. My test model, with the $1,595 SE Package, bent the sticker all the way to $47,478 including taxes/destination charges.

 

 

 

2017 Tundra and Tacoma

A Tale of Two Toyota Trucks that Start With T

It is a misconception that the people of my bucolic Western province only drive pickup trucks, whether they be hard-workin’ roughnecks on their way to the oil patch or accountants clogging up the streets downtown as they search for a parking spot near the accounting office. A total falsie, I say, though a casual observer could be forgiven for thinking that (the truth, of course, is that many also drive three-row sport utility vehicles. So there).

Anyway, my snide commentary aside, there is of course a reason for this, and I had the chance recently to remind myself that the higher ground clearance and four-wheel drive systems of such vehicles is, on many days out here, a really desirable thing.17Tacoma02

2015 Tacoma TRD Pro

I drove Toyota’s pickup pair, the popular Tacoma midsize and its larger sibling, the Tundra, nearly back-to-back during a couple of weeks of weird weather. Freeze and thaw, accompanied by ridiculous amounts of snow that in turn froze-and-thawed until every day provided exciting new challenges and conditions on the road.

Neither vehicle is especially radically changed for the new model year, You’ve seen the Tundra before, and can find a longer piece here about the Tacoma’s changes back in 2016

The 2017 Tacoma I used distinguished itself with its TRD Pro package – a $12,850 option that adds a number of features to boost the overall robustness, in addition to the many TRD badges you find all over the vehicle, inside and out (and there are a lot of them, on skidplate, mats, doors, tailgate; you won’t forget what you driving).17Tacoma04

The TRD Pro also gets a non-functional hood scoop, from the Sport trim of the Tacoma lineup, Bilstein shocks and TRD tuned front and rear suspension.

Overall, it is a great truck, don’t get me wrong, certainly overkill for my purposes; and it shows off the highlights of the Tacoma platform, and brings the same detractions (my least favorite being the entry-and-exit through the front doors. It is just a weird combination of the door shape and the steering wheel position that makes it awkward to get in and out of, and not just for taller drivers).

Carrying a formidable reputation for reliability and resale value, and with full off-roading bona fides and equipment (I love the Crawl Control system Toyota has made available on the truck) the TRD is a great truck, on paper and on the road; its mostly a question of how much you want those TRD Pro badges, as it comes at a price. My test vehicle, which began life as a Tacoma 4×4 Doublecab (3.5 litre V6) at a starting point of $40,455 was pushed to a steep $55,183 with the TRD Pro package.17Tacoma05

I know if I were shopping for one, I’d consider that the truck already has everything I want (and the same engine and transmission, as well as the aforementioned crawl control and electronic and entertainment features) and opt to save myself the fifteen grand.

2017 Tundra 1794

My time in a Tundra is much the same story; that of a solid truck that has consistently demonstrated reliability and quality, bedecked with some special-label accoutrements that add to the bottom line.IMG_6634

This one was a 1794 edition – which in a nutshell is a Tundra 4×4 CrewMax-cab ‘Platinum’ trim (with 5.7 litre iForce V8 and a six-speed automatic) with a bunch of badges.

The 1794 option group gets you, basically, more wood-grain on the dash and leather on the wheel and seat inserts, a chromed bumper and grille, 1794 badges, and brand-emblazoned floor mats. That aside, what is underneath is basically the Crewmax Platinum.IMG_6635

You know what I found absent, though, is that for all that you still don’t get keyless start.

Now, you tell me if the price is acceptable, but the 1794 is still priced lower than a F150 King Ranch (but just between you and me, gentle reader, I like the interior of the King Ranch more) and the package doesn’t add greatly to the price.

The 1794 edition only ups the price of the regular ol’ Tundra Crewmax Platinum by a couple hundred bucks (unlike the TRD Pro package on the Tacoma). Before taxes and fees, a 2017 Tundra 1794 starts out at $58,790

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).

2016Tacoma-1

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).