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2019 Toyota Tundra TRD Pro Crewmax -A Solid Truck Showing Its Age

2019 Toyota Tundra TRD Pro Crewmax -A Solid Truck Showing Its Age

Introduced in 1999, the Toyota Tundra has become a staple among truck drivers.  A  roomy and capable pickup coupled with Toyota’s reputation for reliability and excellent resale value makes Tundras a good investment. Since their inception, they’ve been made in the ‘States. Today they’re assembled in San Antonio, Tx, making Tundras the only full-size truck to be built in the lone star state. So, after two decades with only one major update, how does the newest Tundra stack up?

EXTERIOR

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From the outside looking in, this truck looks enormous and absurdly blue. Toyota calls this color VooDoo blue. Whatever the name, the expansive sheet metal ensures there’s a whole lot of it. It has non-functional hood scoops and bulky, hard-edged styling. The bumpers are sculpted into the bed sides which is a nice touch. As is the “TRD Pro” stamped into the truck’s flanks.

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This pickup wants you to know that it’s ready for whatever you can throw at it. The design language oozes off-road. The black badges contrast nicely with the bright blue paint and complement the black wheels and exhaust tips. This Tundra was optioned up with a spray-in bed liner and a tri-fold tonneau cover. The locking tonneau cover is especially convenient when carrying valuables that won’t fit in the cab.

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INTERIOR

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Interior space is ample. The black leather seats afford passengers the room to sprawl out on long hauls. Between the front seats, there’s a cavernous console with loads of room for your laptop, pistol collection, toddler, etc. The sunroof is a nice option as is the rear window that goes up and down with the push of a button. Second-row passengers have acres of legroom, plenty of room for six-footers to sit comfortably in the back.

THE DRIVE

The ride height is so high it distorts your perception of speed. Until you get used to it, 60 mph feels like you’re creeping. Tundra’s don’t feel cutting edge. Because the last major refresh was over a decade ago, Tundras drive a little rough and don’t feel that precise. That’s not a knock against them, it just shows how Toyota’s priorities are aligned. It feels trucky. But with other brands are making efforts to redefine how trucks feel, Toyota must be feeling the pressure to refine their ride.

They must be doing something right though, the Tundra is the best-selling full-size import truck in North America; selling more than twice as many as next the runner up Nissan Titan. Granted, those two are practically the only legitimate full-size import options. With a redesign slated for 2021, it will be interesting to see if Toyota can close in on the domestic marques.

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Twist the key and the 5.7 liter dual overhead cam V8 rumbles to life, clearing its throat through the TRD dual exhaust. It’s a mellow growl that sounds good around town and while accelerating, but it might get on a very long road trip. Behind the V8 is an eight-speed automatic.

Toyota designed these trucks to look burly from the outside, but they also equipped it with some pull-hard goodies to ensure it can back up those looks. The tow package on this truck includes a heavy-duty battery, rear axle and alternator. It has beefed up engine and transmission cooling too. They even integrated a trailer brake controller, 4/7 pin connector, and a tow/haul mode for the transmission.

The hood is expansive and seeing over the far corner is a challenge. This makes tight work in a parking lot a little tough. This truck would benefit from a forward facing parking camera. During the week long test, the truck averaged 13.5 mpg. That’s not great even for a big ol’ truck

THE DIRT 

If I absolutely needed to buy a truck today, I might look elsewhere. The Tundra feels kind of dated. It’s a little noisy and rough around the edges. Tick all the boxes it takes to option a Tundra like this one and you’ll be in it for $56,106. Why do that when the next generation Tundra is set to come out for 2021. Instead, I might look at a smooth-riding domestic truck. I’d drive it a couple years then maybe trade it off when we see what Toyota has in store for us with the new Tundra.

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2019 Toyota Avalon Hybrid – A Silky Smooth Fuel Sipper

2019 Toyota Avalon Hybrid – A Silky Smooth Fuel Sipper

For 2019, Toyota unveiled the latest generation of their largest sedan. This fifth generation Avalon has grown both in proportion and refinement. This is the second ’19 Avalon I’ve had the pleasure of reviewing. I was smitten with previous car’s excellent 301 horsepower V6. Read that review here. But how does the hybrid version measure up?

INTERIOR

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Inside, the 14-speaker JBL stereo, infotainment and navigation are all controlled with the nine inch touch screen set in a waterfall console that cascades from the dash down to fill the space between the seats. Apple Carplay makes connecting your phone seamless.  In a hidden cubby forward of the gear shift is a Qi wireless charging pad. There are up-market touches in the door panels, seats and console.

I’m a sucker for a peanut butter colored interior. So, of course, I felt immediately attracted to the color of this car’s upholstery. Upon looking closer, it’s evident that Toyota is taking their fit and finish seriously. There are exactly zero squeaks or rattles. Gaps are consistent and the materials used have a quality feel. The beautiful arced pleats in the door panels are sewn with two different colors threads. This means someone made a decision to deliberately complicate the manufacturing process. Why? ‘Cause it looks cool.

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The front ventilated and heated seats offer eight-way power adjustment and customizable lumbar support for both driver and passenger. There’s plenty of room for heads and legs up front. The seat inserts are perforated in a dashing starfield pattern.

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The rear seats have ample leg and headroom. There’s even plenty of room to forget your camera bag in the passenger footwell as you photograph the car for your website, you know, like a professional.

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EXTERIOR

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The new Avalon grew in nearly every direction. It’s longer, wider and heavier. It’s also slightly more aerodynamic than the last generation. The low hood and high trunk give a slightly sporty look to the car’s profile. Spindly A and C pillars give the roofline a delicate appearance and make for good driver visibility. The grille design and the chiseled body lines on the car’s flanks are in step with current automotive design trends. Time will tell if they hold up or date the car. This car is fitted with 18-inch alloy wheels which look pretty sharp.

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The hybrid’s single exhaust outlet is tucked up out of sight behind the rear bumper cover.

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DRIVE

Rather than 301 hp V6, this hybrid version has 2.5 liter gas-burner that works with an electric motor. The power makes its way to the wheels through an electronic continuously variable transmission. The steering feel is light. Click it into sport mode and the car tightens up. Throw it into a curve with gusto and the tires may protest but the car holds a line with no drama.

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Off-the-line acceleration is adequate, hauling the car from 0 to 60 in 7.8. seconds. Where this car shines though is the pull from 60 mph. Put the pedal down and you’ve got passing power on tap. This car came outfitted with the optional$1,150 advanced safety package that includes features like bird’s eye view and cross traffic alert. The hybrid system lets this big sedan get 43 mpg around town and on the highway.

THE DIRT

There are those who would argue new cars suffer from a lack of character. “It’s just an appliance,” they say. Well, I drive both sides of that coin. My ’49 Ford is silly with character. Because of this wealth of character, I don’t drive it too far outside the radius of free towing that my insurance company offers. And it’s in its character to occasionally respond to the application of pressure to the brake pedal with indifference. It has no air conditioning, no airbags, and seatbelts that I had to bolt in myself. There’s a cute nickname for the non-collapsible steering column like the one in my Ford. They’re referred to as a spear of death.  The transmission is only three forward speeds and I dare not push the ancient flathead V8 above about 60 mph because I know deep down that the bottom end is just waiting for an excuse to grenade, and blast FOMOCO labeled shrapnel through the oil pan.

On the other end of the bell curve is the Avalon. It’s slick to operate, gets 400 miles to a tank, and the fit and finish on the inside make you wonder why anyone would spend more for the Lexus equivalent. Jump in, push the button and the car wakes up ready to go. On the road, it treats occupants to an almost absurdly quiet ride. There’s so much to like about the interior, it makes your commute a pleasure rather than something to be endured. As tested this Avalon will set you back $44,870.  I tend to think everything is too expensive no matter the price, but after spending the week in this ride, I think it’s worth the money.

If it really is just conveyance appliance, then it’s a damn nice one. And if I had to pick just one car. I’d take the comfort, convenience and reliablity of this appliance over my character car without hesitation. Thankfully I don’t have to choose.

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2019 Toyota 86 GT – A Bite-Sized Bruiser That’s Rough Around The Edges

2019 Toyota 86 GT – A Bite-Sized Bruiser That’s Rough Around The Edges

In 2017, after the demise of Scion, Toyota began marketing the FR-S under the 86 moniker in America. Toyota initially sweetened Scion’s recipe a bit. The Dirt on Cars reviewed that early effort but very little has changed since then. So how does the Toyota 86 feel today?

Just about the same. The Same engine, the same power and the same looks. But that’s not all bad. The biggest improvements are in creature comforts. From the outside, the car still looks great. This press car was painted in Toyota’s Ablaze red, and a red sports car is one of life’s simple joys.

EXTERIOR

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The 86 is a stylish coupe with pleasant proportions. Aggressive headlights give an impression that this car means business. A long hood lets folks know is a clue to the rear wheel drive nature of this little beast. From the base of the windshield the roofline arcs up and back, sweeping down onto the trunk. A rear wing with color-keyed end plates adorns said trunk, and below that are a pair of handsome exhaust tips. The wheel wells are filled out by 17 inch wheels wrapped in Michelin rubber.

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INTERIOR

Inside, the heated front seats are firm and have high bolsters. The red stitching and red accents bring hints of the exterior color into the cabin. The 86 has rear seats, but just barely. The car is marketed as a 2+2. Which is fine, as long as the +2 is not a pair of humans. The rear seats could easily fit two bananas. Or two Shih Tzus, if they didn’t mind sharing personal space.

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It feels a bit spartan inside, but there are amenities such as power windows, power mirrors and a seven-inch touch screen stereo with Bluetooth connectivity. It also has dual-zone climate control and a backup camera that displays in the rearview mirror. The addition of a proximity key is an improvement over the 2017 model. It allows drivers to jump in and hit the starter button. Gone are the days of attempting to dig the keys out of a jeans pocket after shoehorning yourself into the driver’s seat.

Nobody will brag on how quiet it is in their Toyota 86. In fact, they’ll be turning up the stereo at speeds over 50 mph. At 75 mph the collective noise from the tires, the gearbox and the exhaust become a bit much.

DRIVE

Under the hood, a Subaru designed, horizontally opposed four cylinder cranks out 205 horsepower. It’s hooked up to a six-speed manual transmission that sends power from the engine up front to a differential out back as God intended. Amen. Owners can elect to go with a six-speed automatic, but they’ll get five fewer horsepower, pay about $1000 more and they won’t get the pleasure of stirring the gears. The manual version gets nearly 30 miles per gallon.

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The electrically assisted power steering feels incredibly direct. The car changes direction without hesitation without being twitchy. It has three settings for traction and vehicle stability control. Everything can be turned off by pushing and holding the track button. Even with everything off, the 86 is still manageable. A limited-slip differential ensures that the tail end will step out on cue. The suspension on this car is pretty firm, which makes rough roads a little tedious.

THE DIRT

For a third car, it’d be fine. It’s pretty good on gas and as long as the morning commute doesn’t involve dropping off more than one kiddo, this is not a bad option as a daily. Having some sound deadening installed would make highway driving a little more comfortable.

As tested, this car costs $29,500, making it an expensive toy, but relative to other sports cars it’s reasonably priced. While the 86 is still fun to drive, it’s probably time for a re-imagining. The power is adequate but could benefit from more low down torque. American drivers who are used to the immediate torque of a V8 may be less comfortable really wringing the power out of this flat four which doesn’t get really interesting until nearly 5,000 RMP. Toyota might move a few more of these if there was an available turbo option.

2019 Toyota Avalon Touring – A Comfortable, Capable Cruiser

2019 Toyota Avalon Touring – A Comfortable, Capable Cruiser

For 2019, Toyota unveiled the latest generation of their largest sedan. Now in its fifth iteration, the Avalon has grown both in proportion and in refinement.  When I saw a touring badge on the trunk, I knew the only way to review the car properly was to tour it. The decision was made, we would cruise it to the coast.

Incidentally, this would be our first road trip since our son was born a year ago. I used to believe girls packed a lot of stuff to travel. That was before I loaded three bags, a highchair, a pack ‘n play, loads of food and a laundry basket of toys into the trunk. All for a person who only weighs 20 pounds (yes, we forgot the stroller). I know now that 1-year-olds carry the most luggage. So, with our Avalon laiden with more stuff than we’d possibly need, we sallied forth on an Arthurian quest for some saltwater, sand and sunshine.

INTERIOR

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photo cred: toyota.com

The front vented and heated seats were comfortable enough for sustained highway driving. Eight-way power adjustment and customizable lumbar support let us dial them in for support where we needed it. There’s plenty of room for heads and legs up front and the armrests are positioned perfectly to receive elbows.

The back seat has room enough for post-beach diaper changes and baby seat anchors come in handy for transporting little ones. Ample rear-seat legroom made it easy to stash our cooler in the footwell. The trunk is roomy too. With some finagling, it swallowed the aforementioned luggage without issue.

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photo cred: toyota.com

The 14 speaker stereo, infotainment and navigation are all controlled via a nine inch touch screen built onto the dash rather than into it. This cascades elegantly down into the console. In front of the gear selector a Qi wireless charging pad is stashed in hidden cubby. Almost all the upholstered components are joined with french seams that lend an upmarket feel to the interior. Overall, the cabin space is handsome and functional.

EXTERIOR

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The Avalon’s aesthetic can be described in two words, wide and low. It grew in nearly every direction. It’s longer, wider and even a couple hundred pounds heavier. By the looks though, you’d never know it gained weight. It’s a little slipperier too. The redesigned body is slightly more aerodynamic than the last generation.

There are little touches that make it feel special. The the turn indicators have a sci-fi feel that’s sure to make the folks stopped behind you at a redlight salivate with envy. I like the brawny hood and high trunk. Slender A and C pillars frame the elegant arc of the roofline.

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There are gills on either side of the grille that probably don’t do anything, but I don’t care because they look nice. The grille design and the chiseled body lines on the car’s flanks are likely to be divisive . The wheel wells are filled by black 19 inch alloy wheels wrapped in low profile rubber. Pearlescent white paint combined with the blacked out grille, side mirrors and B pillars gave our test car an appealing black-on-white storm trooper look.

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DRIVE

Under the hood is a 3.5 liter V6 that’s good for 301 horsepower. It transmits power to the front wheels through a snappy eight speed automatic. When prodded, the V6 offers nice pull and a surprisingly good sound. The steering is light, and for a big car it changes direction easily. The ride is typically smooth and quiet but feels a little harsh on rougher roads. This is probably a due to the “sport-tuned” suspension.

Our press car came with the optional advanced safety package that includes helpful stuff like bird’s eye view and cross traffic alert. However, the intelligent clearance sonar sets off chimes and bells as the car approaches anything. It’s a little overwhelming during moments that require a driver’s undivided attention. Parallel parking is a cacophony of dings and pings which intensify the closer the car gets to other cars, building tension like a horror movie. All of this can be momentarily silenced by the touch of a button on the wheel, and I bet you could turn it off for good, or at least turn down the sensitivity in the vehicle settings.

Radar cruise control comes in handy on the interstate but even at the closest setting there’s just enough space to invite people merging left from the slow lane to hop in front of you. But weigh that against not having adaptive cruise and it’s a small inconvenience.

THE DIRT

Driving home was as comfortable and uneventful as the drive down. While vacuuming the beach sand and stale Cheerios from the carpet, I had time to reflect on our journey and the Avalon. My offspring was fearless, he attacked the sand and the warm gulf without apprehension. Maybe he’ll grow up to be courageous, and hopefully he’ll learn not to eat the sand.

And as I was sucking up a crumpled parking receipt, I ruminated on how we might be living in a golden age of full-sized family rides. The ’70s saw smog regulations deplete the gains that muscle cars made in the ’60s. In the ’80s, it looked like automotive designers thought the epitome of cool was a slab sided box, bonus points if it was brown. The ’90s saw a warmed over box with the corners rounded off. There’s a reason they’re referred to as malaise cars.

Fast forward 20 years and you can buy a sleek machine stuffed with more technology than you can shake an iPhone at. It has a 300 horsepower engine and manages 30 miles per gallon. It’s got four swinging doors and seats five people. It looks great and it handles too. A base model will set buyers back $33,500. This test car costs $45,292. Not exactly cheap. But when you account for inflation, that’s only five grand more than a new Chrysler Voyager in 1988. I’d pay a few grand more not to drive a beige box.

The Avalon carried me and my little family across the nation’s largest contiguous state, mostly at 80 miles per hour, with poise and efficiency. Thus proving that this Avalon’s badging isn’t just marketing and that maybe, with a sedan this good, you don’t need an SUV to travel.

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