2019 Toyota Tundra SR5

(or, if you enjoy longer, but more technically correct headlines: 2019 4×4 Toyota Tundra SR5 Crewmax 5.7L TRD Pro)

As with a number of Toyota’s vehicles (I’m thinking of the 4Runner), the company’s full-size pickup is nearing the end of its current-generation product life cycle. The 2019 Tundra is pretty close to the ones we’ve seen on the roads for the past few years give or take a few updates and cosmetic and option/packaging changes.

Our tested vehicle this time out is a 4×4 with Crewmax cab (like all pickups from virtually all the major players, there is a bewildering variety of configurations to choose from) and 5.7 litre V8 engine.

This big iForce powerplant brings a competitive 381 horsepower (and 401 lb.-ft. of torque) to the platform and promises a 1,700 lb payload in the bed and 10,000 lb towing capacity. I’ll just mention here that buyers can still select Tundra with a smaller 4.6 litre eight-banger as well, should you not require that kind of power.

Porting the power through a 6-speed automatic transmission and making it easy between four-wheel drive modes (and 4×2) with a simple knob on the dash, the Tundra is easy to get used to and doesn’t bring a big learning curve to jump in and start driving.

As it happened, our videographer, Elliott owns a 2013 Tundra (also with TRD Pro equipment) so here is a look at the two side-by-side:

For 2019, the TRD package brings extra toughness and off-road equipment – and a few new standard features (like the Rigid Industries fog lamps, and Fox shock absorbers) in addition to a lot of badges all over the vehicle, inside and out.

TRD Pro pumps up the cost of the Tundra by almost eighteen grand ($17,900 to be exact) but brings it to a level suitable as a proper truck for real world use.

The offroad capability is boosted with an underbody skid plate and fuel tank protector plates, all-terrain tires (mounted on TRD-specific 18” wheels and Remote Reservoir suspension kit.

The branding adds to the appearance inside and out, with TRD performance dual exhaust tips and black badging, and the name is now stamped into the bed side; and some pretty good looking stitching on the leather seats in the cabin.

Passenger space is generous throughout the Crewmax cab, as is storage area; but here’s an interesting thing Elliott pointed out when compared to his 2013 model: the rear seats have been changed to a flip-up style, which has eliminated a behind the seat hidden storage area.

Technology standouts in our test Tundra were clearance and backup sensors (and blind spot monitor), AVN navigation system and an auto-dimming rear view mirror with compass in it.

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I won’t pretend I did any serious rough-country driving during my time in the Tundra, but Toyota boasts of the vehicle’s ability on difficult terrain. I did manage to find some snowy trails and a lot of pothole-cratered roads to navigate though (because I live in Edmonton, you see, where our civic flag is just a picture of a pothole swallowing a car) and the truck dealt with urban hazards with ease and a consistently smooth ride.

Even the price isn’t all that off-putting, though frankly I think I may have become somewhat jaded to pickup prices. Sixty-five grand is sixty-five grand, after all, but you can certainly pay more than that for a number of trucks that double as working and family vehicles (like the Ram 1500 we looked at recently).

Detractions I would offer after my time in this one, in addition to the usual stuff that comes with the overall size (the turning circle, the difficulty in any sort of covered parkade due to the overall height) would be:

No smart key. I could open the doors by pushing a button on the fob, but starting the Tundra required the key to be inserted in the ignition. Seems kind of anachronistic in these modern times.

Climbing into the cab was made more difficult by the test truck having no step-in rail or running board.

And of course, fuel economy – the Tundra is rated at a combined mileage of 16.0L/100 km, and I came in closer to eighteen, though in it’s defense, all my driving was done during a week of pretty heavy snow and deep-freeze temps.

Ultimately, it is a decent truck backed by Toyota’s formidable reputation for build quality and long-term value, and despite the age of this current generation continues to offer the best competition to the traditional Big Three options.

2018 Prius Prime

My new favorite PHEV, right here:

We have a saying out here in Edmonton, a pithy witticism of homespun folksy wisdom “What the heck happened to our fall?” because although we do get a very nice autumn, the beauty only lasts a couple of days and then the wind kicks up and blows all the leaves off the trees and everything looks like a backdrop from a Tim Burton movie.

Thus it was, in the final days of October, that I was delighted to head for Ontario, where the trees are still adorned in colors; and also where the testing days for the Canadian Car of the Year are held.

Fully recharged in about 2 1/2 hours on a Level 2 charger. The Hilton in Ajax has a bank of chargers for both regular EVs and Tesla vehicles.

There were a lot of nice vehicles at the CCOTY event (held at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park, formerly called Mosport) but I tell ya, one of my favorites wasn’t an entry in the contest this year – it was this one right here: Toyota’s Prius plugin hybrid.

I had the chance to put some time in a Prime, getting from Pearson airport to the city of Ajax, where the voting journalists make their home for the four days of the event, and commuting to the CTMP site.

Overall, I put about 427 km on the Prius, driving to the site every day; mostly highway kilometers – and this is where a hybrid vehicle saves the day. The Prime will run purely as an electric vehicle for as long as it can (and the Prime has more battery capacity than the regular model Prius) and after it runs out of charge switches to operating as a regular hybrid car, with its gasoline engine in combination with the (dual) electric motors.

The basics are this: the Prime employs a 1.8L gasoline powerplant, which combined with the electric motors yields a net output of 121 horsepower. It’s a front-wheel drive four seater (2+2 configuration) with a CVT transmission, all rolled up in a compact, hatchback body that sports a little more style than the regular Prius.

While the horsepower numbers don’t sound impressive, I never found the car let me down. It handled merging and passing on the highways without causing me a lot of angst or apprehension, and at one point I managed to fit four full-sized adults into it without anyone feeling cramped.

The car is comfortable enough in the driver’s position, with ample overhead space – oh, and hey! – heated seats and a heated steering wheel make for a welcoming environment on cold mornings.

My test car, in a trim level they call Prime Upgrade with an additional Technology package option, gave it a full-featured suite of electronic conveniences with an upgraded audio system and a heads-up display that projected all the pertinent information.

Prime models also get a bigger information screen on the center stack, and satellite navigation system (which is a lifesaver for people like me, I don’t know the area around Toronto/Ajax well at all). Indeed, without the nav system I would probably still be driving up and down the 401).

As for the economy case, even though I was mostly operating in hybrid mode (the fully electric range got used up fairly quickly during highway driving, and the Prime will automatically switch to using the gas engine), I still ended with fuel consumption of only 3.9L/100 km, which actually beats the stated FE number from NRCanada.

When I was just running short distances around Ajax, my fuel consumption was zero, as long I kept it charged; and the hotel I was at (a Garden Inn) provided a bank of Level 2 chargers for guests; which would fully recharge the battery pack in about two-and-a-half hours.

Prime is the only member of the Prius family I hadn’t driven before (or it was, anyway, if you’re following the action from the LA auto, you’ve seen the company introduce and AWD version of the car) and has made itself my personal favorite.

The one seen here, with its Tech package option, came to $38,570

A Tale of Two Lexus IS’s

There’s no want for choice in Lexus’ sedan lineup, that’s for sure. From the diminutive hatchback CT200 to the less attainable LS and RC halo cars, Toyota’s luxury brand packs the field with variants even within the platforms.2017IS300-4

The IS group for example. A buyer is offered 3 trims (200t, 300 and 350) and from there the available optional packages and equipment make for some difficult decision-making.

Here’s a look at a couple of them: the same in many respects (and dimensions) but fairly different cars; each with their merits and detractions.

I had the chance to take a 200t and a 300AWD out for test drives back-to-back, and here’s a little summary:2017IS300-6

2017 IS 300 AWD

The more expensive of the two, although not by much – even with the all-wheel drive powertrain it came to about 4K more – the 300 brings superior horsepower with its 3.5 litre gasoline powerplant and bumps up its creature comfort with the addition of a Luxury package (which adds an additional $6,700 to the bottom line).2017IS300-1

A six-speed automatic transmission marshals the 255 (and potential 236 lb.-ft. of torque, which the spec sheet claims comes on at a low 2.000 rpm) horses under the hood, with wheel-mounted paddle shifters and multiple drive modes to make the most of the refined and quiet power of the vehicle.

The aforementioned Luxury package adds flourish to the interior’s dark and leather-clad, understated splendor with inclusions like a heated steering wheel (which is also power tilt-and-telescoping), a ten-inch info display atop the center stack, heated/ventilated seats, and in-dash DVD player and navigation system.2017IS300-3

The option also includes a couple of useful safety features: blind spot monitor and rear cross-traffic sensors. Frankly, I feel that these should be included as standard equipment on a car in this class (and at this price), because both are extremely useful. The system has proved its worth many times, to prevent a driver from backing out into moving traffic or pedestrians.

2017 IS 200t

The 200t was actually my favorite of the two IS models, despite being the more entry-level.2017IS200t-1

Rolling on a rear-wheel drive train, and with a smaller engine (which yielded better fuel economy than the V6 of the IS 300) it is an agile and fun car from a driver’s standpoint, and boasted a better information display and ease-of-use with its tech features.

The two litre turbo-four may have less on-paper horsepower (it is rated at 241 hp) than its platform sister, but torque is boosted to a superior 258 lb.-ft. My personal experience with it did not disappoint, the 200t had power to spare, and the handling was no doubt helped out by the fact that it is about 70 kg lighter than the 300 AWD.

I’ll tell you what I really like about the test car I used, though – the instrumentation.

Equipped with Lexus’ F Sport Series 1 option, this IS gained – along with F Sport badges sprinkled liberally throughout the interior – a digital speed display.2017IS200t-2

My IS 300 did not have this, only an analog dial display. I find it much easier to acquire, much quicker to determine your speed at a glance, with a big illuminated number put squarely in the center of the cluster.

Also, the F Sport display is fun to watch and dazzle your friends with, because when you put the car into sport-mode, the single gauge actually physically shifts over to the right to allow room for more graphical info to pop up and display beside it.2017IS200t-10

My 200t had no navigation system, which is again too bad at this price point (the car finished up at a little over 47K with freight and taxes) but also left out Lexus’ remote-touch user interface – a sort of combination of mouse and joystick on the console to select onboard functions that I find imprecise and tricky to use. The 200t embraced a simpler combination of selector knob and ‘home’ button.

Overall, either of the vehicles brought a proper, Lexus driving experience. Interior quiet, superior fit and finish throughout and an overall reputation for quality.

As both cars are dimensionally identical in length and width, detractions for them are basically the same. Rear seat legroom isn’t great, and the cars are built with a long overhang at both front and rear. There are a lot of cement curbs and parking ramps with steep angle-of-entry in my town, and a bumper that juts out a couple of feet in front of the wheels is just begging for scrapes.

Either way, though, the pair of IS’s offer a solid competitor against rivals from Germany at the entry end of the midsize premium sedan segment, and either are worth a test drive.

The IS 300 AWD with its Luxury pkg came with a final MSRP of $51,821 (all in), the 200t F Sport finished at $47,121