Lumbering at the Top

Cargazing
By Derek Price

As of 2022, the Toyota Land Cruiser is no longer available in North America. It’s departed for that great off-road park in the sky.
That means the mantle of the biggest, fanciest Toyota off-roader now falls to the vehicle I’m driving this week, the brawny but aging Sequoia.
In many ways, the Sequoia plays the role of a quintessential American SUV better than today’s Ford and General Motors products do. It eschews turbochargers and small-displacement engines in favor of a huge, thirsty V8, the most star-spangled powerplant of them all.
While the Sequoia can’t match the luxury and smoothness of the legendary Land Cruiser — not many vehicles on the planet can, for that matter — it does offer an impressively spacious, comfortable cabin. It’s also a much better value with a starting price of $50,500, about half the cost of a fully equipped Land Cruiser last year.
To me, the Sequoia is aimed squarely at buyers who need one thing: capability.
Its stout, body-on-frame design and ultra-reliable powertrain are built to take a beating both on the dirt and when towing up to 7,400 pounds.

Now that the Land Cruiser has been discontinued in North America, the Sequoia is Toyota’s range-topping SUV. It is designed for serious off-road driving and can tow up to 7,400 pounds.

That’s especially true in my tester, the TRD Pro, a species of Sequoia equipped for tackling rugged trails. It comes with Fox internal-bypass shocks that offer a cushy ride on pavement and extreme performance in the wild.
Aggressive off-road tires help generate traction in dirt and mud, and a front TRD Pro skid plate keeps the suspension and oil pan from getting banged up by rocks.
To my eyes, it’s also the best looking of the Sequoia trims. The huge “TOYOTA” grille up front, black accents and Rigid-brand LED fog lamps make it both functional and eye-catching.
Driving the Sequoia is exactly what you would expect from a heavy, off-road-focused truck, with one exception: its turning radius is remarkably small, making it easy to maneuver into tight parking spots.
I could feel every bit of the TRD Pro’s 5,985-pound curb weight through the steering wheel and suspension during my week-long test. It drives even more like a truck than Toyota’s recently redesigned full-size Tundra pickup, oddly enough.
With 381 horsepower, it has plenty of grunt, although — no surprise — you pay the price with a 13-mpg city rating for fuel economy.

The Sequoia has a spacious three-row cabin and long list of standard safety features, including blind spot sensors and radar cruise control.

The Fox shocks do a good job keeping it relatively level and stable feeling, even under heavy braking.
The Sequoia’s three-row cabin sets a high standard for both space and build quality, but it’s also dated. It doesn’t have the same polish and contemporary, tech-forward look you find inside the bulk of Toyota’s current lineup.
It does come with a long list of standard safety features, though. Every Sequoia, including the base model, is equipped with blind-spot sensors, radar cruise control, lane departure alert and sensors that can detect collisions and pedestrians in front of the vehicle.
Despite the contemporary tech, the Sequoia continues to feel like more of an outlier with each passing year. Now that even the Tundra has dumped V8 engines in favor of turbos and hybrid-electric motors, one has to wonder how much longer the ruggedly reliable Sequoia can continue in its current form.
For people who love the power, sound and smoothness of a V8, let’s hope it’s a very long time.

At A Glance

What was tested? 2022 Toyota Sequoia TRD Pro 4×4 ($64,625). Options: TRD performance exhaust ($1,050), door sill protector ($55), universal tablet holder ($99), glass breakage sensor ($299).  Price as tested (including $1,365 destination charge): $67,493
Wheelbase: 122 in.
Length: 205.1 in.
Width: 79.9 in.
Height: 77 in.
Engine: 5.7-liter V8 (381 hp, 401 lbs.-ft.)
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Fuel economy: 13 city, 17 highway

RATINGS
Style: 6
Performance: 8
Price: 6
Handling: 5
Ride: 8
Comfort: 8
Quality: 9
Overall: 7

Why buy it?
It’s the most spacious, capable Toyota you can buy in 2022. It has serious off-road credentials and the ability to tow 7,400 pounds, along with a great reputation for longevity.

Posted in Toyota

Subtle Tweaks Add Up

Cargazing
By Derek Price

Since it was introduced in 1989, Lexus’ flagship LS sedan has been described in a lot of ways. Silent, smooth, comfortable and solid are prominent on that list.
But deceptively fast? That’s a new descriptor.
Three years after its radical redesign, Lexus is gently massaging the LS to become a better driver’s car than it’s ever been before.
It’s not because of an increase in power. The twin-turbocharged, 3.5-liter V6 still makes 416 horsepower and 442 pound-feet of torque, even after some updates. Changes to the shape of the piston tops and wastegate control are aimed at cleaner emissions and quieter operation, not faster performance.
Updates to the suspension and transmission tuning, though, are much more noticeable.
While it’s still not a sports sedan, the tweaks move the LS closer to that side of the automotive spectrum. Different spring and damper rates, new anti-roll bars and bigger, liquid-filled bushings all combine to help it respond more athletically without sacrificing its signature marshmallow-like ride comfort.

A long list of subtle tweaks to the suspension and transmission make the 2021 Lexus LS a better driver’s car. It still doesn’t sacrifice its signature silent, silky highway ride.

The little changes add up to a big new impression for me: that the LS feels better as it goes faster. If you’re not careful, that makes it easy for this car to hit impressively quick speeds before you realize it — a recipe for speeding tickets.
Fortunately for me, my LS tester came with a new option: a 24-inch color heads-up display that projects your speed and other information onto the windshield in a giant, attention-getting format.
It’s the biggest such display in the luxury-car class, Lexus claims, but it also is one of the most useful. It projects moving arrows onto the windshield if it senses oncoming traffic from the sides, for example, perfect for situations where visibility is limited from the driver’s seat.
Technology is likewise brilliantly simple in its driver assistance features. If you’re driving along in lane-following mode, you can gently press the turn signal to make the LS change lanes on its own, operating the steering wheel, brakes and accelerator while monitoring other cars around you.
Inside, this remains one of the most beautifully penned cabins available in any mainstream luxury car today. The front door inserts look like sculpture with tufted leather, gorgeous wood and metal trim, and armrests that seem to float midair.

A new 12.3-inch touchscreen and more comfortable seat cushioning are among the changes inside the revised LS. An optional 24-inch heads-up display projects information onto the windshield.

A new 12.3-inch touchscreen is standard, letting you connect to Apple or Android devices with ease. It also offers Amazon Alexa compatibility, giving you the same information and capabilities you’d have on Amazon devices at home.
Outside, the 2021 LS gets minor changes to the grille and bumper. It’s the kind of change that only aficionados would be likely to notice, though. It looks very similar to the 2020 car to my eyes, and that’s a good thing. The overall look is classically understated, despite its obnoxiously large grille.
Pricing starts at $76,000, which makes it a relative bargain compared to its Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz competitors. It’s undercut by the G90 from Hyundai’s relatively new Genesis brand, though, priced around $73,000.
A long list of options on my tester drove the price well over $100,000. Most notable is the $17,630 executive package that creates a first-class rear cabin with heated, cooled, reclining and massaging seats that are controlled by a touchscreen.

At A Glance

What was tested? 2021 Lexus LS 500 ($76,000). Options: Lexus Safety System + ($3,000), air suspension ($1,400), cold weather package ($200), digital rearview mirror ($200), 20-inch wheels ($920), 24-inch heads-up display ($1,200), executive package ($17,630), Mark Levinson audio system ($1,940), premium paint ($425), panorama glass roof ($1,000), panoramic view monitor ($800), premium wood trim ($800), heated wood and leather steering wheel ($410), trunk mat ($230), illuminated door sills ($450), glass breakage sensors ($335).  Price as tested (including $1,025 destination charge): $107,965
Wheelbase: 123 in.
Length: 106.1 in.
Width: 74.8 in.
Height: 57.5 in.
Engine: 3.5-liter twin turbo V6 (416 hp, 442 lbs.-ft.)
Transmission: 10-speed automatic
Fuel economy: 18 city, 29 highway

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

Why buy it?
Long known for its quiet ride, supple cabin and reliable reputation, changes for 2021 make the LS a better driver’s car.

Posted in Lexus

A Logical Alternative

Cargazing
By Derek Price

The Honda Ridgeline has long been a truck that happily flies in the face of established convention.
It’s built on a minivan platform and has a fully independent suspension, making it the most nimble, responsive pickup for sale today. It also gets decent fuel economy thanks to its unusual construction.
While it can tow a respectable 5,000 pounds, that’s less than other midsize trucks and a whole lot less than a full-size, half-ton pickup. It’s more than enough capability for a lot of buyers, though, who don’t need the towing and hauling overkill that today’s giant trucks are built to offer.
It’s the practical, logical alternative.
Honda decided to make the Ridgeline look a lot more like a traditional truck this year, though, with updates to all the sheetmetal in front of the windshield.
It’s more squared-off and upright now, less like a minivan. It even gets what Honda somewhat hilariously calls a “power bulge” on the hood.

Distinctive bronze wheels, part of the new HPD package, help the Ridgeline stand out from the crowd. The Honda pickup gets new styling for the 2021 model year.

An optional package from Honda Performance Development (HPD) makes it look even tougher. Black fender flares, a black grille insert, flashy graphics on the bed and eye-catching bronze wheels make it sharp.
Unfortunately, the $2,800 HPD package is strictly about appearance. Thoughts of a Type-R Ridgeline will have to remain fantasies for now, along with hopes for one built for serious off-roading.
The Ridgeline’s infotainment system is updated for 2021 with a new icon-based home screen and a real, physical volume knob, something I’ve wanted on Honda products for years. It responds slowly to inputs, though, compared to similar systems in other trucks.
All-wheel drive is now standard across the lineup.
A 3.5-liter V6 makes 280 horsepower, enough to make it feel quick at stoplights and when passing on freeways. A nine-speed transmission delivers fast, effortless shifts.
Perhaps the Ridgeline’s best selling points, though, are in the cabin and bed. They’re noteworthy for their smart layout and sheer size.

The Ridgeline’s infotainment system was updated this year with a new icon-based home screen and a physical volume knob.

This truck feels bigger inside than its mid-size domestic and Japanese-brand competitors. It rides fairly low to the ground, but the Ridgeline is so long and wide that it feels more like a full-size truck from the front seat.
Honda says it’s the roomiest cabin and widest bed in its class, and I believe it.
The Ridgeline’s size and capability help it stand out from two new brand-new, unibody-truck competitors hitting the market this year: the Ford Maverick and Hyundai Santa Cruz.
A locking compartment called the In-Bed Trunk makes a great use of otherwise wasted space in the Ridgeline. The back seats are also easy to fold out of the way, which — when combined with a completely flat floor — allows for loading big pieces of furniture or cargo inside the cabin, protected from the elements.
Pricing starts at $36,490 for the Ridgeline Sport and ranges up to $43,920 for the Black Edition.

At A Glance

What was tested? 2021 Honda Ridgeline AWD Sport ($36,490). Options: Premium paint ($395), HPD package ($2,800).  Price as tested (including $1,175 destination charge): $40,860
Wheelbase: 125.2 in.
Length: 210.2 in.
Width: 78.6 in.
Height: 70.8 in.
Engine: 3.5-liter V6 (280 hp, 262 lbs.-ft.)
Transmission: Nine-speed automatic
Fuel economy: 18 city, 24 highway

RATINGS
Style: 6
Performance: 6
Price: 8
Handling: 9
Ride: 8
Comfort: 8
Quality: 10
Overall: 7

Why buy it?
It’s the Honda of pickups: logical and reliable. It’s a capable alternative to body-on-frame trucks.

Posted in Honda

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