RAV4 Adds Hybrid


Cargazing
By Derek Price

The Toyota RAV4 was an early pioneer in crossover vehicles in the 1990s, helping spawn a segment that has exploded to become today’s most popular form of family-friendly transportation.
If the RAV4’s basic mission was to cross-breed the versatility of SUVs with the efficiency and polite driving manners of cars, this year it’s finally reaching its logical conclusion with the RAV4 Hybrid.
In fact, I’m surprised it’s taken Toyota this long to create a hybrid-powered version of the RAV4, given how perfectly a gas-electric powertrain dovetails with its purpose. From the very beginning, efficiency was its raison d’être.
In any case, the 2016 RAV4 Hybrid has arrived as Toyota’s eighth hybrid vehicle in the lineup for 2016, making it both the most powerful and the most miserly of RAV4 offerings.
With a starting price around $28,000, it costs roughly $4,000 more than the base RAV4 but also comes with more content to justify it. It sends power to all four wheels and is only available in the upscale XLE and Limited trim grades.

Toyota is rolling out a gas-electric hybrid version of its RAV4 for 2016. It offers a dramatic improvement in gas mileage for around-town driving.

Toyota is rolling out a gas-electric hybrid version of its RAV4 for 2016. It offers a dramatic improvement in gas mileage for around-town driving.

And that all-wheel-drive traction is important because it shows just how dramatically the hybrid system improves fuel economy in city driving. The RAV4 Hybrid is rated for 34 mpg in the city and 31 on the highway, compared to the less-than-impressive 22 city rating for the ordinary AWD RAV4.
If you can’t be bothered to do second-grade math, that’s a whopping 12 mpg difference, something that could make a noticeable impact to the pocketbook of a family that does a lot of around-town driving.
On the highway, where the electric motors don’t provide as much help, the improvement is just 2 mpg, according to FuelEconomy.gov.
In addition to the new hybrid drivetrain, it gets the same upgrades as other RAV4s for 2016, including new front-end styling that makes it look more like a truck and a rear end that looks more sophisticated.
Inside, there’s a new instrument cluster and more soft-touch materials on the doors and the dash. It’s a nice upgrade but still not the top fit and finish in its class, in my opinion, lacking the solidity and precision of Toyota’s best work.
Its polished hybrid drivetrain, though, whoops most of the competition.
For example, when you press the gas pedal, most hybrids start out under electric power before the gasoline engine starts up. In less refined hybrids, you can hear and feel the engine fire up after you’re rolling. It’s very obvious.Like many manufacturers, Toyota upgraded the RAV4’s cabin with more soft-touch materials this year to keep it competitive in the red-hot family crossover market.
In the RAV4 Hybrid, I could hardly tell when the gas engine kicked in. It was extremely subtle and almost imperceptible unless I stomped hard on the gas pedal.
Another example: Hybrid cars use what they call “regenerative braking” to charge the batteries every time you press the brakes. In the less refined hybrids, the brakes seem funky and jerky as you can feel them grabbing in an odd, uneven way. But in the RAV4 Hybrid, the braking was so nicely refined that it didn’t feel all that different from a normal car.
It’s still noticeable, just not as awkward as some of the other hybrids I’ve driven lately.
In typical Toyota fashion, the interior is very roomy and functional, chock full of perfectly positioned cup holders and storage bins for keeping things tidy. It’s a good space for Type-A personalities.

At a Glance

What was tested?
2016 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid XLE ($28,370). Options: Entune premium audio with navigation ($525). Price as tested (including $900 destination charge): $29,795
Wheelbase: 104.7 in.
Length: 181.1 in.
Width: 72.6 in.
Height: 65.9 in.
Powertrain: 2.5-liter gasoline engine with electric motor (194 total system horsepower)
Transmission: Electronic CVT
Fuel economy: 34 city, 31 highway

RATINGS

Style: 8
Performance: 6
Price: 7
Handling: 5
Ride: 7
Comfort: 8
Quality: 7
Overall: 8

Video Review:
2016 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid
bit.ly/16rav4

Why buy it?
A new hybrid drivetrain offers a major boost in city fuel economy. Its spacious, well-designed cabin and upgraded styling keep it competitive in this year’s hottest automotive segment.

Posted in Toyota

Titan raises warranty bar

Cargazing
By Derek Price

Nissan is trying to shake up the truck world with its newly redesigned Titan pickup line this year, and now it’s taking an even bolder step by making its warranty the longest in the industry.
The 2017 Titan and Titan XD are covered by what Nissan calls “America’s Best Truck Warranty,” a bumper-to-bumper policy for five years or 100,000 miles, whichever comes first. The company made the announcement on Aug. 15.
To be sure, this strategy — launching new products backed up by longer-than-typical warranty coverage — isn’t original. Korean brands Hyundai and Kia have used the same tactic to help them increase market share and set sales records in recent years, with their bragged-about warranties directly attacking the perception that Korean cars have lower quality than their competitors.
As a Japanese brand, Nissan hasn’t struggled with the same quality questions as Kia and Hyundai, but its truck sales numbers have nonetheless remained a tiny sliver of the Ford, General Motors and Ram pickups that dominate the American market.
Nissan hopes the onslaught of new and improved trucks — which are more capable and vastly more refined than their predecessors — coupled with the best-in-class warranties can change that.
After driving the new Titan and Titan XD, I don’t have any doubts about their quality or performance, including on the newly released 5.6-liter Endurance V8 gasoline engine.

The Nissan Titan and Titan XD are not only all-new products this year, but they’re also backed up by the longest warranty in the pickup market. Nissan just announced a five-year, 100,000-mile warranty for the trucks.

The Nissan Titan and Titan XD are not only all-new products this year, but they’re also backed up by the longest warranty in the pickup market. Nissan just announced a five-year, 100,000-mile warranty for the trucks.

While the Cummins diesel-powered truck makes gobs of low-end torque for towing, the gas V8 is no slouch, either. In fact, I thought it offered even more of an off-the-line kick than the diesel did, enough to make the huge Titan XD feel sprightly and the lighter Titan feel like a rocket.
Nissan elected to launch the not-quite-heavy-duty Titan XD first, in late 2015, and now the standard Titan is hitting the market to satisfy more meat-and-potatoes buyers.
I drove the V8-powered Titan XD at home in Texas and the new Titan at its press launch in California, and the differences between the two are striking.
The XD, with its larger frame and stiffer springs, drives more like the work truck that it is, compared with the half-ton Titan that feels downright cushy in comparison. Its soft ride and silent cabin — one of the quietest on the market — make it a joy to drive on the highway.

The cabin in the new Nissan trucks is surprisingly refined and quiet, including in the built-for-towing Titan XD, shown here.

The cabin in the new Nissan trucks is surprisingly refined and quiet, including in the built-for-towing Titan XD, shown here.

In both trucks, the Endurance V8 is a masterpiece, with 390 horsepower and 401 pound-feet of torque to make it powerful enough to do tough jobs but also responsive to throttle input. With direct fuel injection and variable valve timing, it checks all the right boxes to get decent fuel economy, at least by big, powerful pickup standards. Unfortunately, government mileage ratings haven’t been released yet for the Titan, so that’s purely a guess at this point.
Pricing starts at $34,780 for the Titan and $36,290 for the Titan XD when equipped with the 5.6-liter V8.

At a Glance

What was tested?
2016 Nissan Titan XD Endurance V8 Platinum Reserve ($55,520). Options: None. Price as tested (including $1,195 destination charge): $56,715
Wheelbase: 151.6 in.
Length: 242.7 in.
Width: 80.7 in.
Height: 78.8 in.
Engine: 5.6-liter Endurance V8 (390 hp, 401 ft. lbs.)
Transmission: Seven-speed automatic
Fuel economy: Not rated

RATINGS

Style: 8
Performance: 9
Price: 8
Handling: 6
Ride: 6
Comfort: 7
Quality: 7
Overall: 8

Video Review:
2016 Nissan Titan XD Endurance V8
bit.ly/16xdv8

Why buy it?
A powerful gasoline V8 engine makes Nissan’s newly designed Titan and Titan XD pickups even more appealing. It’s far more refined and capable than before, with the longest warranty period of any pickup brand.

Posted in Nissan

ES a rare breed


Cargazing
By Derek Price

In my week behind the wheel of the Lexus ES, there’s one question I kept asking myself.
Why don’t more luxury cars drive like this?
There was a time when the very definition of upscale vehicles involved a soft, smooth, quiet ride over the road, which is what the ES does masterfully.
Today, things have turned on their head.
Modern luxury brands are all too often trying to carbon-copy what BMW has produced for decades: firm-riding, sporty, powerful, pulse-raising sedans.
There’s a place for that, sure. But does the world really need an army of BMW clones filling our roads? I don’t think so. That’s dystopian.
The ES is designed first and foremost to lower your heart rate, something that flies in the face of today’s excitement-obsessed luxury market. It’s part of the nearly extinct breed of traditional luxury cars built for people who want that isolated, silent, floating sensation that leaves you feeling so pampered at the end of a long trip. It’s heavenly.
The version I drove was the hybrid, too, so it wasn’t a fast car but did get awesome gas mileage. The federal government rates it at 40 mpg in city driving and 39 on the highway, which is impressive for a roomy, quiet luxury car.

The ES may share its bold front-end styling with Lexus’ sportier cars, but don’t be fooled. It’s actually quite sedate to drive, as any good luxury car should be. It’s one of the quietest, smoothest riding cars you can buy today.

The ES may share its bold front-end styling with Lexus’ sportier cars, but don’t be fooled. It’s actually quite sedate to drive, as any good luxury car should be. It’s one of the quietest, smoothest riding cars you can buy today.

Interestingly, despite its perennial bestsellers being the softest-riding models like the ES, Lexus is moving much of its lineup toward that BMW-inspired bandwagon. That explains why the ES has a laughably huge grille up front, as if it’s hiding a snarling engine, when it’s actually just trying to fit in visually with the sportier, sexier IS sedans and RC coupes, which have vastly different roadgoing philosophies.
As a whole, the ES drives like Dr. Jekyll and looks like Mr. Hyde, an odd, almost comical pairing.
Still, you’ve got to give Lexus credit for creating cars that are actually worth ogling. For years, its top complaint from critics — myself included — was its bland, predictable, uninspired styling. Today, Lexus doesn’t make a single car that deserves that complaint and makes quite a few that look stunningly, creatively beautiful, with the two-door RC perched atop my mental list.
Of course, the Lexus brand is most noteworthy for its quality construction, and the ES doesn’t disappoint. Everything inside feels so tightly put together, so well assembled, that you get the feeling it will last for all eternity.

Inside, the ES shows almost unimaginable attention to detail. Beautiful materials, perfect stitching and tight construction tolerances make it feel a notch more solid and durable than its competitors.

Inside, the ES shows almost unimaginable attention to detail. Beautiful materials, perfect stitching and tight construction tolerances make it feel a notch more solid and durable than its competitors.

Granted, most other luxury brands have been catching up to Lexus’ standards lately. It’s not the far-and-away quality leader like it used to be, but when you run your hands along all the seams and feel how all the materials come together so precisely, it’s still a notch above most of its competitors.
Owner satisfaction bears that out, too. Lexus has spent five years in a row as the No. 1-ranked vehicle in the influential J.D. Power dependability study. That win streak is even more remarkable when you consider that as a luxury brand, its vehicles have more high-tech bells and whistles that could break. Surveys suggest they don’t.
Pricing starts around $38,000 for the ES and $41,000 for the hybrid version. My hybrid test car, with a long list of safety and luxury upgrades, rang up closer to $50,000.

At a Glance

What was tested?
2016 Lexus ES 300h Sedan ($40,920). Options: Blind spot monitor ($500), Lexus Safety System + ($1,015), power rear sunshade ($210), luxury package ($1,670), Mark Levinson premium audio with navigation ($2,650), one-touch power trunk ($400), intuitive parking assist ($500), rain-sensing wipers ($155), heated wood and leather steering wheel ($450). Price as tested (including $940 destination charge): $49,410
Wheelbase: 111 in.
Length: 192.7 in.
Width: 71.7 in.
Height: 57.1 in.
Powertrain: 2.5-liter gasoline engine with electric motor (200 total system horsepower)
Transmission: Electronic CVT
Fuel economy: 40 city, 39 highway

RATINGS

Style: 7
Performance: 4
Price: 8
Handling: 4
Ride: 10
Comfort: 10
Quality: 10
Overall: 9

Video Review:
2016 Lexus ES
bit.ly/16lexuses

Why buy it?
It’s built for people who want the soft, compliant feeling of a traditional luxury car, something that’s becoming harder to find with each passing year.

Posted in Lexus

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