2022 TOYOTA COROLLA CROSS TEST DRIVE

If you like the value of the Corolla but favor an SUV body-style, the Corolla Cross is calling.  Already offered as a sedan, hatchback and hybrid model with a high-performance variant joining soon, a Corolla crossover SUV just seemed inevitable.  Priced from $23,410 including destination it’s a welcome alternative to the slightly more expensive CH-R which favors style over practicality and can’t be had with all-wheel drive.  Thought it’s not much to look at this well-appointed XLE grade packs a lot of usefulness and features into its elevated body which clears an impressive 8+”.  For those who are intimidated by the size and fuel economy of a traditional SUV but crave its commanding view and 5-door versatility, the Corolla Cross slots in nicely.  Rated at 30mpg with a nearly 400 mile driving range it’s a value proposition that asks few sacrifices of its owner.  With adequate sizing in the front, middle and rear, a roof rack and the ability to tow 1,500 pounds, the Corolla Cross presents as a do-it-all for the car shopper on a budget.  Its least desirable trait comes from the powertrain – a CVT mated to the modestly powered 2.0-liter engine with its 150 pound-feet of torque which can at times cast a pall on the driving experience but I’m guessing it would hardly bother the typical Corolla Cross owner. The Corolla Cross is more than just another utility vehicle – it’s one that strikes a compelling balance in every aspect of its offering.

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2022 TOYOTA TUNDRA TEST DRIVE

All of the full-size trucks on the market are pretty amazing…there isn’t a bad choice in the lot. But this Tundra Limited with the TRD Off-Road Package is a near-perfect blend of luxury sedan and weekend warrior hitting all the right notes in terms of comfort and capability. I love this truck for all that it is…but I just can’t believe Toyota didn’t give the 4-wheel drive system an auto setting…the other truck makers have learned that lesson but here you’re either in 2-wheel drive or 4-high with no variability for changing road conditions. Toyota wanted to make the Tundra the leader in driving comfort and this is a beautiful drive with car-like precision that’s been engineered into all of these new trucks. And with the off-road suspension you can tear down that trial while floating over the rough stuff. The new V6 grumbles like the V8, there’s plenty of power and the drive modes are intuitively integrated. Other than the lack of 4WD Auto this is a great setup for a truck that can do it all without going to extremes. I’ve really connected with this truck; it hits all of the right notes. Too bad it doesn’t fit in my garage.

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2022 TOYOTA HIGHLANDER HYBRID

The cabin is gorgeous. Absolutely top-notch for $53,000…very reminiscent of what you’d find in a Lexus SUV. And hey, Toyota listened…there’s now a height-adjustable passenger seat on XLE grades and above. And though there’s still no wireless CarPlay or Android Auto this JBL Audio System is astonishingly good. And the quietness of this cabin lets you take in every note. When I first tested this new Highlander a couple of years ago I discovered Lexus-level luxuriousness to this new Platinum trim. Toyota had taken their popular 3-row SUV and refined it to the point where it blurred company lines. Replacing the powerful and smooth V6 is Toyota’s latest gas-electric hybrid design starring a 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine and 2 electric motors producing 243 total horsepower…52 fewer than in the non-hybrid models. And with the all-wheel drive option there’s a 3rd electric motor back here powering the rear wheels, doing its own thing without the need for a mechanical connection to the transmission. Storing the energy for the motors are old school nickel-metal hydride rechargeable batteries situated under the rear seats. Al of this results in the heaviest, least powerful, lowest towing rated Highlander you can buy BUT – and this is of course the Hybrid’s trump card –mileage which is 52% higher than the gas-only model with the secondary benefit being extended driving range. This one will take you 600 miles on a single tank! And in times like these 35mpg city/ 34mpg highway sounds great for a midsize SUV – though I’ve averaged a tad less than 30mpg in the winter cold.

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2021 TOYOTA SIENNA LIMITED TEST DRIVE

If you’re shopping for a new minivan you’ve picked a good time. First of all, there are only 4 models from which to choose so that makes life simpler but more importantly they’ve all been recently refreshed or completely redesigned with the Honda Odyssey and Chrysler Pacifica midway through their product cycles and the Kia Carnival and Toyota Sienna the all-new vans on the block. So minus the Pacifica’s ace in the hole with its more creative seating configurations – the personal importance of which only you can decide — Can the Sienna bump itself to the top of the class? From its provocative new styling that now presents as even more premium and handsome than the Pacifica’s to its Lexus-infused aura I, and everyone I’ve been transporting this week have been raving about the Sienna’s sophistication and family-friendly personality. I won’t bury the lede. This Sienna is arguably the best minivan of all-time.

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2021 TOYOTA VENZA TEST DRIVE

This is the nicest, most modern new Toyota cabin in a long time, but is it just a fancier RAV4 Hybrid? Fact is they do share the new Toyota platform like several other of their sedans and crossovers. This new Venza feels like a completely different vehicle; much more luxurious and upscale. And I’m really digging this Limited grade. With a starting price of $33,645 including delivery, the Venza slots in between the RAV4 and the Highlander occupying the space of a quasi-midsize 5-seater but in reality its interior dimensions are more compact.  Going into my test week I can’t say I was really expecting too much – Toyota has been the target of my criticism of late – which is why I’m so surprised at how well they’ve executed the Venza’s return.  It’s as smartly crafted and perfectly positioned as any model in their vast lineup.   

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