In LX, Less is More

By Derek Price
For an over-the-top vehicle whose sole purpose seems to be offering “more,” the most noteworthy recent change for the Lexus LX is intriguing.
It’s offering less, specifically in the number of seats inside.
Lexus is now selling its gigantic, thirsty and pricey LX 570 SUV with only two rows of seating. Buyers can delete the third row if they want extra space for cargo instead of extra passengers.
The change makes sense for people who use their LX as a land yacht for long road trips, a task for which it’s perfectly suited despite its guise as an off-road machine.
Yes, it has crawl control, low-range gearing, customizable traction settings for different terrain, a stratospheric ride height and stout, truck-like frame, but I still can’t imagine too many people spending close to $90,000 for an SUV they plan to beat up on remote trails.
The appeal of Lexus’ biggest SUV — and close cousin to the legendary Toyota Land Cruiser — isn’t that you will climb the Rocky Mountains in it. It’s that you could if you wanted.
I spent a week driving the two-row LX, and the missing third-row seat had an odd way of making it feel more luxurious. Without the back seat hogging space, the rear cargo area feels big enough to park my Miata inside.
With all the seats in position, the two-row LX offers more than triple the cargo volume of the three-row version: 53.7 cubic feet compared to 16.3. It’s enough to hold massive amounts of luggage for lengthy road trips or, if you believe its off-road aspirations, several weeks worth of provisions in the wilderness.

The Lexus LX combines incredible off-road capability with a comfortable, silent, amenity-filled cabin. Its ability to tackle brutal trails in supreme comfort is rare.

While the LX is clearly aging — its naturally aspirated V8 engine stands out as a relic in a world of turbochargers, and its cabin lacks the pizazz of overwhelming digital screens and museum-quality trim in the brand’s newest cars — it retains a sense of rugged beauty that seems fitting for Lexus’ flagship SUV.
It’s also fitted with enough leather, wood and creature comforts to justify its steep price. An optional cool box in the center console keeps beverages chilled, while ambient lighting, including an “LX” logo projected onto the ground, makes it feel cool and sophisticated at night.
Its 5.7-liter, 383-horsepower V8 engine is paired with an eight-speed automatic transmission to deliver effortless speed in the huge, heavy vehicle. It’s also rated to tow up to 7,000 pounds.
The drivetrain is a perfect fit for the LX. It has a smooth, buttery feel and never seems strained, even under heavy uphill acceleration. It’s proof of the old saying about big engines: there is no replacement for displacement.

The LX’s sheer size makes it feel opulent inside. Soft leather and warm, unusually detailed wood trim choices add to the luxurious atmosphere.

Buyers who don’t flinch at its $85,830 base price should be fine with its 13-mpg rating for city fuel economy. I find it hard to wrap my head around both those numbers, but I’m also clearly not in the demographic shopping for one, either.
Other competitors in this rarified segment include the Mercedes-Benz GLS ($75,200), Lincoln Navigator ($75,825), Cadillac Escalade ($75,195), Infiniti QX80 ($65,500) and — perhaps its most direct challenger — the Range Rover ($90,900).
The Lexus product stands out not just for its off-road capability, which is real and formidable, but also its reputation for reliability.
For people who want the three-row LX with seating for eight, pricing starts at $91,230.

At A Glance
What was tested? 2019 Lexus LX 570 ($85,830). Options: 21-inch wheels ($745), luxury package ($1,190), hated walnut steering wheel ($150). Price as tested (including $1,025 destination charge): $88,940
Wheelbase: 112.2 in.
Length: 200 in.
Width: 78 in.
Height: 75.2 in.
Engine: 5.7-liter V8 (383 hp, 403 lbs. ft.)
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic
Fuel economy: 13 city, 18 highway

Style: 8
Performance: 9
Price: 4
Handling: 5
Ride: 6
Comfort: 9
Quality: 9
Overall: 8

Why buy it? 
It’s an iron fist in a velvet glove, offering serious off-road capability under a veneer of creature comforts and luxurious materials. With the third-row seat deleted, the cargo space is downright cavernous.


Posted in Lexus

Such Sweet Sorrow

By Derek Price

Although I was born in 1980, a full 42 years after the first Volkswagen rolled off the assembly line in Nazi Germany, I can’t help but feel a twinge of nostalgia as I write this.
It’s the end of the line for the Volkswagen Beetle.
After more than 80 years of production, one of the world’s most distinctive and memorable cars is about to disappear.
Like many contemporary small cars, the compact, two-door Beetle is falling victim to changing times. Spacious, family-friendly SUVs and crossovers are in style, and fun-to-drive compact cars are out, including adorably quirky ones like this.
The fact that the Beetle lasted this long is remarkable. The original Type 1 Beetle — the one kids call a “slug bug” when it drives by with its buzzy, air-cooled engine perched over the rear axle — resulted in 21 million sales before it finally ceased production in 2003.
The replacement New Beetle, with its more conventional water-cooled, front-engine layout and familiar bubble shape, had a remarkably good two-decade run of its own starting in 1999.

The Volkswagen Beetle is saying goodbye with a Final Edition for 2019. Despite its long history of fun, eyebrow-raising special editions, this one is remarkably understated.

All good things must end, though, which is how I find myself behind the wheel of a Beetle called the Final Edition.
For a car with a long history of fun and goofy special editions, from the striped GSR to the more recent version with pink paint and a hashtag for its name — #pinkbeetle — Volkswagen easily could have done something outlandish for this car’s last hurrah.
Instead, the changes are minimal and tasteful.
There’s a script “Beetle” badge where the “Turbo” normally goes on the go-fast models, plus 18-inch wheels and a nice level of standard equipment, including a punchy Fender-branded sound system.
The real selling point, though, is something a badge can’t convey: a sense of nostalgia for millions of people who have memories of VW bugs.
I loaded a hippie-tinged playlist while putting the top down on my convertible tester, remembering all the times a Beetle has played a role in my life.
I remembered driving several New Beetle testers through the years, each one putting a smile on my face as those same ‘60s tunes blared on the sound system.
I remembered teaching my teenage girl to drive a manual transmission in a Beetle.
I remembered the time my friend David was driving in front of me in his old, beloved, rust-red Beetle and swerved to miss a dog in the road, then rolled the car into a ditch right in front of me in the late 1990s. He climbed out of the wreckage and yelled, “My MiniDisc player didn’t skip!”

The Beetle Convertible looks almost as distinctive inside as it does outside, with colorful dash panels and a top that can lower at the touch of a button.

While my entire life represents just a sliver of this car’s long history, I still have enough emotional baggage around it to feel slightly teary-eyed while driving the Final Edition.
Yes, the reasons its sales have tapered off are all obvious. The cabin feels a bit cheap and dated. The back seat can seem small and annoying to access. Its powertrain isn’t as miserly as hybrids or forward-looking as electric cars.
The Beetle has always had its flaws, ever since Ferdinand Porsche first drew its curvaceous lines during World War II. Despite its flaws, though, it’s a car that always seemed to persist and even thrive, just like the best people I know.
And just like when good people leave us, the lingering memories that sting also have the power to soothe.

At A Glance

What was tested? 2019 Volkswagen Beetle Final Edition SE ($27,295). Options: Premium package ($2,500). Price as tested (including $895 destination charge): $30,690
Wheelbase: 100.1 in.
Length: 168.8 in.
Width: 71.9 in.
Height: 58 in.
Engine: 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder (174 hp, 184 lbs. ft.)
Transmission: Six-speed manual
Fuel economy: 26 city, 33 highway

Style: 9
Performance: 6
Price: 7
Handling: 7
Ride: 6
Comfort: 6
Quality: 5
Overall: 6

Why buy it?
It’s your last chance to buy a brand-new Beetle at a Volkswagen dealer. This classic VW still turns heads and inspires smiles with its fun, quirky, distinctive design.

Posted in Volkswagen

Toyota Launches Corolla Hybrid

By Derek Price

Let’s start with the obvious question: why does this car exist?
Considering how Toyota already makes the Prius — arguably the best and unquestionably the most popular hybrid car on the planet — it’s tough to make the case that the new-for-2020 Corolla Hybrid is necessary.
They’re both priced about the same, starting at $23,100 for the first-ever hybrid version of the Corolla and $24,200 for the more well-known Prius.
They’re both rated within spitting distance of identical fuel economy, too, with the Prius getting a slightly better rating in the city and the Corolla winning on the highway. The Corolla Hybrid is rated for 53 mpg in town and 52 on the highway, compared to 54 and 50 for the Prius.
They’re even similar in functionality and driving feel, with a practical four-door layout, reasonably roomy back seat and acceleration clearly designed more for sipping gas than for winning stoplight races.
On paper, they’re practically the same car.

Toyota is introducing a hybrid version of the Corolla for the first time ever as a 2020 model. It drives similar to the gas-electric Prius but looks more like a traditional sedan.

I think the gas-electric Corolla exists for one reason, though: some buyers are turned off by the Prius’ weirdness.
The Corolla Hybrid can offer the same benefits while looking and feeling much more “normal” for people who don’t want to deal with the Earth-saving, vegan, hippie, Prius-driving stereotypes.
It also benefits from the same advantages the all-new-for-2020 regular Corolla brings to the table.
While it’s still far from a sports sedan, the new Corolla gets a complete makeover that helps it feel more solid and engaging from the driver’s seat. This new generation feels connected to the road in a way that the last generation never did, mainly thanks to better suspension tuning and improved steering.
It also comes with a surprising level of standard equipment for the price, including a package of active safety and convenience features called Toyota Safety Sense 2.0.
That means every Corolla — even the base gasoline-only version priced at $19,600 — comes with radar cruise control, lane departure alert with steering assist, automatic high beams, road sign assist and even lane tracing assist, which essentially steers the car for you to keep it centered in the lane of a well-marked highway or street.
That’s unusual because most of its competitors limit those features to their luxury trim levels or offer them as upgrades for an extra charge.

People who remember compact Corolla models of the past will be pleasantly surprised at just how spacious the popular car’s new-for-2020 version has become. It gets a completely fresh design this year.

It also comes standard with a highly capable infotainment system with an 8-inch touchscreen, Apple CarPlay and a built-in Amazon Alexa assistant.
Driving the Corolla Hybrid is unremarkable, which I think is the whole point. Its cabin feels comfortable and familiar, and neither its body nor its powertrain yell for attention about its remarkably advanced contents under the skin, including a powerful but small battery that is packaged under the back seat and two electric motors that improve the fuel efficiency of its 1.8-liter gasoline engine.
Interestingly, the Corolla Hybrid is only available in a single trim level, the LE, with cloth seats and a very well-equipped cabin. You just choose your color and pick from a short list of accessories such as a cargo net in the trunk, door sill protectors or carpeted floor mats.
It’s an exercise in simplicity for both design and the sales process. In an overcomplicated world, Toyota’s approach is refreshing.

At A Glance

What was tested? 2020 Toyota Corolla LE Hybrid ($22,950). Options: Emergency assistance kit ($59), carpet mat package ($249). Price as tested (including $930 destination charge): $24,188
Wheelbase: 106.3 in.
Length: 182.3 in.
Width: 70.1 in.
Height: 56.5 in.
Engine: 1.8-liter four-cylinder with 53-kW electric motor (121 total system hp)
Transmission: Continuously variable
Fuel economy: 53 city, 52 highway

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

Why buy it? 
The new-generation Corolla has a more engaged, solid driving feel and excellent level of equipment on the base model. The hybrid version gets Prius-like gas mileage without the oddball styling.

Posted in Toyota