Avalon Gets TRD Treatment

Cargazing
By Derek Price

When I first saw the car Toyota planned to send me to test drive, I had to double check my calendar.
Was it April 1? Was this a prank?
Turns out it was not April Fools Day, and the car that showed up in my driveway — the Avalon TRD — was definitely no joke.
Unbeknownst to me, Toyota had decided to sic its racing division on the most comfy sedan in its lineup, the silky, squishy, delightfully silent-riding Avalon. This is the car I typically recommend to people who love their giant Buick or Oldsmobile highway yacht but struggle to find anything comparable on the new-car market.
To me, an Avalon TRD is like trying to build a fuel-efficient monster truck or a race car that hauls plywood. What’s the point?
In reality — and fortunately, if you enjoy the Avalon’s sumptuous driving feel on the highway — its TRD treatment isn’t as raw and hardcore as other vehicles in the Toyota lineup. It firms up the driving feel noticeably, but not enough to wreck the things that make an Avalon unique.

The Toyota Racing Development team targeted a new car for their performance magic in 2020: the spacious Avalon.

The biggest change is in the suspension, where roll stiffness is increased 44 percent in front and 67 percent in back. It feels dramatically more agile in turns, with steering that feels better connected to the road surface after being tuned on tracks in Arizona, Japan and Texas.
Also easily noticeable is the exhaust note. It sounds louder and more aggressive than many serious sports sedans. The front brakes, which are almost an inch bigger than the Avalon XSE, add to the sinister and capable feeling from the driver’s seat.
Perhaps just as important is how the Avalon TRD looks, something I was pleasantly surprised by. The new-generation Avalon has a bold, visually loud design not just by traditionally-conservative Toyota’s standards, but for any sedan for sale today, too. Its gaping grille seems to run the full width of the car, with angular scoops and extroverted creases.
The TRD version starts with this daring look, then pushes it further. It has a wild body kit that wouldn’t look out of place on the showroom floor at SEMA, the annual custom-car Mecca, including a low front splitter, rear diffuser and side skirts to route the flow of air. A spoiler on the trunk lid completes the flamboyantly athletic look.

The Avalon TRD has special badging inside and out, including eye-catching red accents in the cabin.

From a logical standpoint, the Avalon checks off all the right boxes for a full-size car. It’s spacious, comfortable and packed with enough tech and luxury features to make it ideal for road trips. Even the fuel economy, rated at 31 mpg on the highway, isn’t bad at all.
It’s encouraging that Toyota did something so adventurous with the Avalon, a decision company leaders wouldn’t have made a decade before.
While I still struggle to imagine who the ideal Avalon TRD buyer is, this car is definitely doing its mission: changing perceptions about what its flagship sedan can be, proving the Avalon can do more than comfort. It can be cool, too.
Pricing starts at $35,875 for the base Avalon XLE, or $37,000 for the hybrid version. The TRD is priced from $42,375, roughly in line with the more luxury-oriented Touring and Limited trims. The Hybrid Limited tops the lineup $43,300.

At A Glance

What was tested? 2020 Toyota Avalon TRD ($42,300). Options: JBL premium audio ($1,760), illuminated door sills ($379). Price as tested (including $955 destination charge): $45,394
Wheelbase: 113 in.
Length: 195.9 in.
Width: 72.8 in.
Height: 56.5 in.
Engine: 3.5-liter V6 (301 hp, 267 lbs.-ft.)
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic
Fuel economy: 22 city, 31 highway

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

Why buy it?
It gives the roomy, comfortable Avalon a firmer ride and more responsive feel for driving enthusiasts.

Posted in Toyota

Civic Type R is Extraordinary

Cargazing
By Derek Price

I believe in buying cars that do one thing exceptionally well.
That’s why I’d rather have a Jeep Wrangler for off-roading, a Mazda Miata for fun on the weekends and a big, comfy crossover for boring family trips. They all have their place, and trying to mix those disparate jobs into one fun, capable, practical vehicle requires compromises I’d prefer not to make.
If I had to drive just one car for the rest of my life, though, this is the one I’d pick.
It’s the Honda Civic Type R, and it’s so good at so many different things that I’m convinced every driveway in America ought to have one.
Why? Let’s start with the boring stuff.
It’s a Civic, one of the most reliable nameplates ever built. While the Type R is quite different from the commuter-car Civic, it shares the same ultra-reliable bones and engineering prowess that results in a reputation for bulletproof drivetrains.
It’s also easy to buy.
There’s only one trim level available, the well-equipped Touring that includes all the driving assistance features and tech you could ask for in a 2020 car, priced around $37,000. That’s a lot for a Civic, sure, but it’s also a screaming bargain for the performance you get.

The Honda Civic Type R is equipped with a 306-horsepower engine, but the power is only part of its appeal. Its brakes, transmission and suspension work in concert for supercar-like instant response to the driver’s wishes.

You can add carbon fiber trim for around $3,500 and red interior lights for an extra grand if you enjoy burning money, but the base Type R is all you need to get the thrills.
And oh, what thrills this car delivers.
This is, hands down, the most exciting car I’ve ever driven in this under-$40,000 price class. There are faster and more exhilarating cars out there, but most of them cost over $100,000. That’s how much the Type R stands out.
Everything about it seems designed to make the hair on your skin stand on end. The whine of its turbocharger sounds otherworldly as it winds up to 6,500 RPM, the point at which it generates an explosive 306 horsepower.
It’s not just about raw power, either, although 306 horses in a lightweight car like the Civic borders on insanity.
Instead, driving the Type R is all about instant control. There doesn’t seem to be a single nanosecond of lag between the time you give it input — from the throttle, steering or brakes — and when the car responds as you intended.
It’s always eager, always communicating by tickling your ears and fingertips with real-time feedback.
It’s only available with a six-speed manual transmission, just as God intended in cars like this. It’s a good thing, too, because the clutch and shift action in this car are spot-on perfect.
In corners, the Type R generates such enormous grip from its sticky summer tires that it feels as if it has all-wheel drive. It doesn’t. I had to look it up on Honda’s website to be certain.

The Type R’s seats provide ample side support, important in a car that can generate ample lateral grip.

Although it only sends power to the front tires, the cornering is so predictable and awe-inspiring that its sideways grip feels endless. You can’t begin to push the limits of its performance on public streets, at least not legally or safely.
All that adds up to make me lust after this car, yet it still has one more ace up its sleeve: a back seat. With four doors and a practical cabin, even my “boring dad” side gets exactly what it wants in this souped-up Civic.
It has several noteworthy changes for this year, including standard Honda Sensing safety equipment and a built-in app for logging performance data, perfect for the many Type R owners who spend time on the track.
Performance upgrades for 2020 include two-piece brake rotors that are more resistant to fading when pushed hard, a faster response time from its adaptive suspension dampers and improved airflow to cool the engine.
In many ways, the Civic Type R makes no logical sense. It’s an overpowered commuter car with superhuman reflexes and bizarre styling.
At its core, though, it’s still a Honda Civic, which makes it the most exciting car I’ve ever driven that still has some semblance of rationality.

At A Glance

What was tested? 2020 Honda Civic Type R Touring ($36,995). Options: None. Price as tested (including $955 destination charge): $37,950
Wheelbase: 106.3 in.
Length: 174.9 in.
Width: 73.9 in.
Height: 56.5 in.
Engine: 2.0-liter turbocharged four cylinder (306 hp, 295 lbs.-ft.)
Transmission: Six-speed manual
Fuel economy: 22 city, 28 highway

RATINGS
Style: 7
Performance: 10
Price: 10
Handling: 10
Ride: 6
Comfort: 4
Quality: 9
Overall: 10

Why buy it?
It’s one of the most remarkable road machines for sale today. It’s thrilling to drive, with awe-inspiring speed and an instantaneous response to driving inputs.

Posted in Honda

Big Genesis Aims for the Best

Cargazing
By Derek Price

If you think the roads are awash in too many copies of the Mercedes-Benz S-Class, BMW 7 Series and Audi A8, here’s an interesting alternative: the Genesis G90.
The biggest, most feature-packed car from Hyundai’s upstart luxury brand aims straight for the heart of German luxury sedans at a price that’s hard to ignore — at least, if you’re in the market for this caliber of vehicle.
Priced from $72,950, the G90 starts a whopping $24,000 less than the venerable S-Class. The price difference alone is enough to buy a brand-new Toyota Camry, but does the Mercedes offer a Camry’s worth of advantages? That’s the question Genesis hopes its G90 shoppers are asking.
To be sure, the big Genesis doesn’t soak up bumps and noise quite as well as the magic-carpet Mercedes. But it’s close. And its cabin and feature set match up nicely with all the best German luxury cars.
It even beats them in some ways, including the passenger-side back seat that reclines into a first-class lounge at the touch of a button. Perfect for being chauffeured, or more realistically letting your spouse do the driving, the back seat of a G90 is an ideal place to lean back and take a nap. It even has controls and big digital screens to keep the back-seat passengers comfortable and connected.

 

A massive, diamond-shaped grille is an easily noticeable update to the Genesis G90 for 2020. Except for the roof and doors, every body panel was changed this year.

 

Updates this year were heavily focused on the G90’s styling, which is arguably its weakest point. From the start, it was designed to blend in more than stand out, but new lines on the 2020 version flip that formula.
At the forefront is a new grille design that’s so huge you can’t miss it. I thought the diamond-shaped grille looked garish and awkward in photos, but I was pleasantly surprised at how much I liked it in real life. It’s a design you have to see in person to appreciate.
My tester also came with a new 19-inch wheel design that’s as eye-catching as it is controversial. It looks like shiny spokes around a solid disk, a retro shape that reminds me of 1990s Buicks. It’s the most daring and inventive wheel choice I’ve seen on a premium car in years, designed to both reduce road noise and provide a big visual impact without resorting to the ridiculous 20- or 21-inch wheels I despise in cars like this. Personally, I think it’s brilliant and beautiful, but it’s also sure to generate debate.
The body changes are substantial. In addition to the flashy wheels and totally redrawn grille, every single body panel on the G90 was changed for 2020, with the exception of the doors and roof. Genesis is aiming for a look of “Athletic Elegance,” and I think it works — perhaps emphasizing the elegance side more than the athletic.

 

The G90’s cabin is spacious and nearly silent at highway speeds. It’s built to compete with expensive German luxury sedans in features, performance and comfort.

While it’s not changed much, the G90’s driving feel matches its elegant exterior. The 420-horsepower V8 engine in my tester seems like the perfect fit for it smoothness and silence, something increasingly hard to find even in expensive luxury cars. A buttery eight-speed automatic transmission sends all that power to the rear wheels or, optionally, all four on the AWD version.
One of its strongest selling points isn’t even on the vehicle. It’s the service and support behind it, something for which Genesis has been racking up awards recently. It comes with three years or 36,000 miles of complimentary scheduled maintenance with a Service Valet.
That means you can schedule your service appointment online or through an app, and a valet will pick up your car, take it in for service, and leave you a loaner to drive while the work is done. For busy people, that’s as important as the car itself.
Pricing for the G90 tops out around $80,000 with all-wheel drive and the fancy Ultimate package.

At A Glance

What was tested? 2020 Genesis G90 RWD 5.0 Ultimate ($75,700). Options: None. Price as tested (including $995 destination charge): $76,695
Wheelbase: 124.4 in.
Length: 204.9 in.
Width: 75.4 in.
Height: 58.9 in.
Engine: 5.0-liter V8 (420 hp, 383 lbs.-ft.)
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic
Fuel economy: 16 city, 24 highway

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

Why buy it?
It’s a money-saving alternative to high-end German luxury cars. The back seat can recline like a first-class airline chair, and the driving feel is a mix of muscular and supple.

Posted in Hyundai

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