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2016 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid first drive


Toyota clearly has more hybrid models than anyone else -- eight of them, in fact. It’s almost easier to mention which models in Toyota’s lineup aren’t available as hybrids. For the record, those would mostly include trucks. And up until now, the Toyota RAV4 compact crossover was one of them. No more.

Toyota plans to sell close to 300,000 RAV4s in 2016 and expects the RAV4 Hybrid to make up about 10-15 percent of them. The new RAV4 is the only compact crossover in this class available as a hybrid, so it’s fairly unique. The RAV4 was last made new back in 2013, and this hybrid model benefits from a midlife refresh of the trucklet.

2016 Toyota Prius first drive


The Toyota Prius is the granddaddy of all green machines. It’s been the hybrid gold standard for nearly 20 years. No other car is more closely tied to fuel-efficient technology than the Prius. Sorry, Elon Musk. The Prius blazed a path for every other clean car. So strong is the Prius brand that, in 2011, Toyota expanded the nameplate to include a plug-in model, a larger Prius V wagon and a smaller Prius C sub-compact -- a full family of Prii.

Gas prices have been in the basement recently, so as the current-generation Prius Liftback has been arcing toward retirement, sales have dipped. In 2014, Toyota moved around 123,000 of them, down from a little more than 145,000 the previous year. But fresh metal is here. This all-new, fourth-generation Prius hits Toyota showrooms in early 2016.

2015 Toyota Highlander Limited review

a strong seller that holds up to abuse


ASSOCIATE EDITOR GRAHAM KOZAK: After a weekend of doing responsible grown-up things in the Highlander (mostly picking up home-improvement supplies, as per usual), I noticed that there were 14,088 miles on the odometer. That’s not a lot in terms of the expected lifetime mileage for a three-row crossover. I’d venture a lot of owners can rack up that sort of mileage in just a few months of kid-toting and grocery getting. But it’s a lot for a fleet car. These things get thrashed, by uh, other drivers. I’m totally responsible.

Anyway, they’re not treated gently, is my point. But short of a mint Lifesaver I spotted in the crevice between the driver’s seat and the center console -- and you know that sucker is never coming out of there -- this thing was good as new. Not a shake or a rattle; not a stain on the carpets or seats; not a scratch in that weird hard plastic Toyota likes to use on every non-soft-touch surface.

Not a whole lot of excitement here, either, but that’s probably by design. Steering is light, with nonexistent feel, and the whole deal doesn’t come off as “planted” on the expressway either; frequent minor corrections are needed to keep it pointed straight. All in all, it feels more or less like a minivan with a higher seating position -- which, perhaps ironically, is the exact type of vehicle prospective three-row crossover buyers claim they wouldn’t be caught dead in.

2016 Toyota Tacoma first drive


Toyota owns the midsize truck segment. It’s not even close. Half of all small pickups have a Tacoma badge on the tailgate. In fact, even with General Motors’ recent onslaught, Tacoma sales are up 20 percent in the first seven months of ’15. Strong. And that’s the old model. So a new, fully modernized one should be an easy sell to this crowd.

“Our goal was to build a truck that is badass,” says Tacoma and Tundra chief engineer Mike Sweers. That’s because “badass” is exactly what Tacoma-driving dudes are after. Sweers says Toyota has the youngest buyers in the segment. They are also loyal to a fault and didn’t want the new truck to stray too far from the outgoing one.

The Tundra TRD Pro model is equipped with special off-road suspension and an available spray-in bed liner.

Baja bound

2015 Toyota Tundra TRD PRO review notes


EDITOR WES RAYNAL: Well, the price is a pleasant surprise. As big pickups go, $45K is a bargain. Another surprise: The ride. I walked out to the parking lot and took a look at this thing all high and mighty and thought "Dang, where’s a kidney belt when I need one?" (Actually, the front end is only lifted a couple inches, according to Toyota; I would have guessed more.) I was surprised, pleasantly, at how well it soaks up potholes and road imperfections and the like. It rides fine: no beating at all, no harsh impact. The flipside, of course, is that there is some body roll, but I’ll take it. It rides like you’re ready to head on down to Baja. The TRD package includes Bilstein shocks, a front skid plate, a TRD dual exhaust system…I’m thinking Baja would be just a blast.

The 2015 Toyota Prius c has a more aggressive, sportier look and upgraded interior features with available advanced technology features.

When good mileage is all you want

2015 Toyota Prius c Four review notes


ROAD TEST EDITOR JAKE LINGEMAN: As far as the Toyota Prius goes, the c is my favorite. I don’t love it. I don’t even really like it. But out of the wagon-shaped Toyota hybrids, it looks the best.

It’s one of the few cars still on the road that is annoyingly slow, to my foot at least. I had the energy gauge in “power” the whole time, using tons of energy, though apparently my braking skills are good. One admittedly cool thing is the power meter, which tells you how economically you’re driving. It also has different scores for braking, coasting and accelerating. You can try to beat your top score, or your lowest score, depending on your mood.

The brakes have that "regen feeling" to them, where you get a small bite for about 3 or 4 inches of travel, then they grab hard, swinging your head forward like a pendulum. Someday manufacturers will get that right, just not today.

In EV Drive mode, the Avalon Hybrid can drive solely on the electric motor for a short distance at speeds under about 20 mph.

2015 Toyota Avalon Hybrid review notes


DIGITAL EDITOR ANDREW STOY: The Avalon is part of a dying breed -- the full-size sedan; it's kind of a shame, because some of the best mass-market examples of this traditional body style are on sale today, including the Avalon XLE Hybrid.

Setting aside what already makes the Avalon one of my favorite full-sizers -- interior refinement, space and build quality -- this may also be the first hybrid I've driven that made me wonder why anyone would buy the straight gasoline version. This powertrain is absolutely seamless, uses barely any fuel and, when needed, can deliver gobs of electric torque for a push the V6 Avalon can only dream of. Yes, the regenerative brakes take a bit of mental recalibration, but once you've got a feel for them the car is remarkably satisfying to drive.

This generation of Avalon is blessed with one of Toyota's best interior designs ever -- it's big, bright and airy, and manages to feel as though it belongs in a more expensive car. The touch-sensitive switchgear lives on a corrugated panel that doesn't show fingerprints, and little cutouts demarcate "buttons" to help guide your finger. The effect manages to look just as elegant as Cadillac's CUE or the previous upper trim ranges of MyFord Touch, but it's more intuitive.

The Toyota vehicle produces 270 hp at 5,600 rpm and 278 lb-ft of torque at 4,400 rpm.

Where we’re going, we don’t need roads

2015 Toyota 4Runner 4x4 TRD PRO review notes


ROAD TEST EDITOR JAKE LINGEMAN: This black 4Runner TRD has to be the most gangster-looking SUV you can buy off a dealer lot. And I’m saying that in a good way. A black Mercedes G-class might work, of course the Escalade is a winner and I still posit that the Ford Flex is a sinister car, when done up black on black. But I don’t know if any of those are more intimidating than this TRD.

I love the hood scoop, big black off-road rims and tires. It just needs one of those hood snorkels to round out the package. There was a time, probably in the ’90s, when rappers talked about the 4Runner like it was an Escalade and I’m pretty sure it made it into either “Menace II Society” or “Boyz n the Hood,” or maybe “New Jersey Drive.” If I’m picturing correctly, it was a hunter green model with gold trim. So ’90s.

The system’s combined 134 net system horsepower feels even stronger to the driver due to the unique way the system combines the torque of the gasoline engine and electric motor.

Not that bad

2015 Toyota Prius Three review notes


ASSOCIATE EDITOR GRAHAM KOZAK: So, I’ll admit that I was probably a little bit hard on the last one of these to come through our test fleet -- a 2014 Toyota Prius Five. A lot of that had to do with the sticker: A whopping $37,267. That got you weird interior materials, aggravating higher-speed driving characteristics and an annoying beeper that activated every time you put the thing in reverse.

Well, this 2015 Toyota Prius Three isn’t any more fun to drive fast, nor did I expect it to be. The beeper’s still there, as are oddly grained hard plastics. But it makes a lot more sense to me at $28,315.

I still don’t entirely understand the function of the “EV mode” button but the “power” button really changes the whole Prius driving dynamic. Just kidding -- the thing is still slow, but its sluggishness is slightly less noticeable when you select power mode and put your foot to the floor. I’m sure it dings fuel economy, but when you absolutely need to smoke the Ford C-Max next to you at the stop light, you’ll be thankful it’s an option.

The 2015 model is easily the best-handling and most comfortable-riding Camry ever.

2015 Toyota Camry XSE review notes


ROAD TEST EDITOR JONATHAN WONG: The 2015 Toyota Camry represents quite a substantial midcycle update for the best-selling car in America. It’s not just new fascias and wheel designs, it’s also new sheetmetal all around. The only carryover part from the previous year is the roof.

Even more interesting, in my opinion, is that the body itself benefits from additional spot welds to up rigidity, and the suspensions for all models have been retuned. Also helping handling is revised tuning of the electric power steering system and brake system that now features a two-stage booster.

Our XSE tester is also a new trim level to the Camry lineup; it offers sportier styling and performance. A unique front fascia gets a piano-black mesh grille, LED headlights on the V6 model, 18-inch wheels, and a more performance-oriented suspension with its own shocks, firmer springs, bushings and steering tuning. Inside the cabin, there’s a leather-trimmed three-spoke steering wheel and sport seats with larger side bolsters.

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