Into the Woods

By Derek Price

People who like outdoor adventures and the undeniable practicality of a minivan can find both in the Toyota Sienna Woodland Edition.

Designed with the outdoors in mind, this family-friendly vehicle makes it a little easier to get to campsites with extra ground clearance, all-wheel drive, a 1,500-watt power inverter, roof rails and a tow hitch capable of pulling 3,500 pounds.

It’s clearly not designed to replace a Jeep Wrangler — the ground clearance is 6.9 inches, just six tenths more than the standard Sienna — but it does provide peace of mind on dirt roads and a compelling reason to choose a minivan over an SUV or crossover without sacrificing practicality and fuel efficiency.

If the car-picking process were purely logical, every American family would be driving a van like this. It makes so much sense for so many purposes, from its power-sliding doors to its voluminous interior, video screens for kids, massive storage space in back and low ride height for loading people and cargo. It’s a very comfortable way to travel with lots of people and all their stuff.

Black badges and roughly half an inch of extra ground height make the Toyota Sienna Woodland Edition stylish and capable.

Best of all, you can do all that without sacrificing fuel economy.

Toyota made the bold decision to only offer the Sienna with a hybrid powertrain starting last year. That means even if you pick the all-wheel-drive version, you’ll be getting 35 mpg in city driving and 36 on the highway, according to the wonks in Washington.

That’s the kind of gas mileage tiny compact cars got a few years ago, and it astonishes me that a van this size can achieve that level of efficiency. Kudos to the engineers at Toyota for figuring it out.

My Woodland Edition tester felt soft and comfortable, exactly like a Sienna should. Over 25 years, Toyota has cemented this van’s role as comfy, squishy, quiet, reliable family hauler, and the 2023 version is no exception.

People who want a more engaging, connected driving feel would be happier with the Honda Odyssey. The current Chrysler Pacifica seems to split the difference between the two.

A large touchscreen dominates the center of the dash in the new generation Sienna, which debuted in 2021.

To me, the Sienna’s soft ride is one of its best selling points. This is exactly what many people desire for long road trips, a situation where minivans truly excel.

One downside is the inability to remove the Sienna’s second-row seats. That eliminates a key feature of vans — the completely flat loading floor when you need it for hauling big furniture or other items — and is the only noticeable blemish in its otherwise brilliantly designed cabin.

On the bright side, those second-row seats are easy to slide forward and back on tracks built into the floor. With one touch, you can slide them all the way to the front to make room for cargo or third-row passengers. You can also slide them extremely far back to leave Rolls-Royce-like legroom in the second row.

Pricing for the Sienna starts at $36,885. The Woodland Edition is priced at $47,695, while the Platinum, which tops the lineup, offers Lexus-like amenities for $52,345.

At A Glance

What was tested? 2023 Toyota Sienna XLE AWD Woodland Edition ($47,695). Options: Rear-seat entertainment system ($1,415), temporary spare tire ($75), mudguards ($149), illuminated door sills ($345). Price as tested (including $1,335 destination charge): $51,014
Wheelbase: 120.5 in.
Length: 203.7 in.
Width: 78.5 in.
Height: 69.7 in.
Power: 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine and 134-kW electric motor (245 combined system horsepower)
Transmission: Continuously variable
Fuel economy: 35 city, 36 highway


Style: 7
Performance: 6
Price: 8
Handling: 5
Ride: 9
Comfort: 9
Quality: 10
Overall: 8

Why buy it?
Only available as hybrid, the current generation Sienna is remarkably efficient for such a spacious, family-friendly vehicle. The Woodland Edition adds confidence and creature comforts useful when leaving the pavement.

Posted in Toyota

Type S, As In ’Spiritual’

By Derek Price

Driving home late at night, lightning starts to flash overhead, spreading out in three-dimensional plasma river deltas in the sky.

Rain begins falling in gentle drips, then a sudden flood, as the sound gets so loud I wonder whether I’m hearing giant drops of water or tiny pieces of hail.

Yet instead of being scary, like these Greek-god storms tend to be when you’re on the highway, the whole experience was invigorating because of the car I was driving: the 2024 Acura Integra Type S.

This exciting four-door car returns Acura to a spiritual place it hasn’t been in at least 15 years. While it’s not the first Type S to return to Acura’s stable — that honor belongs to the pricier TLX and family-friendly MDX — it is the first one that honestly deserves the badge.

From 2001 to 2008, the Type S designation was given to only the most hard-edged, souped-up cars designed for Acura and Honda enthusiasts who craved a bit of the wildness those brands offered in their home market of Japan. Extra power, track-tuned suspensions and manual transmissions were almost all part of the recipe.

To this day, one of the most visceral cars I’ve ever tested was the 2002 Acura RSX Type S. The noise from its VTEC engine was ear-splitting.

The 2024 Acura Integra Type S is one of very few new cars available with a manual transmission, a gift to enthusiasts.

Acura resurrected the Type S label in 2021 with the TLX, and as nice a car it is, it’s only available with a 10-speed automatic. Same thing with the MDX, also a very nice three-row SUV with massaging seats but somewhat blasphemous as a “Type S.”

This one, though — it’s legit.

The Integra Type S is the best Acura I’ve driven in at least 15 years, hands down, and my inspiring drive in the lightning storm made that clear.

With a six-speed manual transmission, it already creates a better driver-and-machine connection than the vast majority of four-door cars sold today. Short shifter travel and a light feeling clutch make it wonderfully communicative to drivers who care about that sort of thing.

Add all that together, and it’s the kind of car that makes a driver feel confident when sheets of water start to cover the roadway because you can tell precisely what is happening at every moment.

A 2.0-liter turbocharged engine makes 320 horsepower in the Type S, a massive numerical jump over the 200 horses the standard Integra wrings from its 1.5-liter engine. It sounds great, too, thanks to a straight-pipe design with active exhaust valves that deliver mechanical music when you want it and serene silence when you don’t.

The Integra Type S sends its overkill power to the front tires, and a flawlessly tuned suspension lets you feel exactly what those tires are doing. Tight, heavy steering helps, too.

The Integra offers a more luxurious cabin with more creature comforts than its closely related mechanical cousin, the Honda Civic Type R.

An adaptive front suspension system comes standard, letting you pick between Comfort, Sport and Sport+ modes. I found the comfort mode perfect even for spirited driving on winding roads, but I could see Sport+ being better on the track.

I also like its liftback design, a very unusual feature in this class of car. The whole back window raises up, almost like a crossover, to make it easy to load big, bulky cargo in the trunk area.

Insiders will know a fact about the Integra Type S that will make it a little harder to make a shopping decision: it’s very closely related to the Honda Civic Type R. In some ways, the Honda cousin is even more glorious to drive, especially if you like that raw, hard-edged, abrasive feeling.

I’ve put a lot of miles on both cars, and I’d pick the Civic Type R for country roads or track days, no question. But by a very narrow margin, I’d pick the Integra Type S for highway trips and daily driving. It has more creature comforts and takes just enough of the hard edge off to make it more livable for everyday use.

The Integra Type S is priced at $50,800, which is about $7,000 more than a Civic Type R and roughly $20,000 more than a base Integra. That comparison makes it look expensive, but from another angle — compared to the Mercedes AMG and BMW M products — it seems like a steal.

At A Glance

What was tested? 2024 Acura Integra Type S ($50,800). Options: Premium paint ($600), carbon fiber tailgate spoiler ($950), premium floor mats ($240), 19-inch copper allow wheels ($2,186). Price as tested (including $1,195 destination charge): $55,971
Wheelbase: 107.7 in.
Length: 186 in.
Width: 74.8 in.
Height: 55.4 in.
Power: 2.0-liter turbocharged four cylinder (combined 320 hp, 310 lbs. ft.)
Transmission: Six-speed manual
Fuel economy: 21 city, 28 highway

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

Why buy it?
It’s the most exciting Acura for enthusiasts in at least 15 years. It offers many of the same thrills as the Honda Civic Type R without some of its hard edges.

Posted in Acura

No More Tradeoffs

By Derek Price

Choosing a car always involves tradeoffs.

If you pick a powerful engine, you’ll get bad gas mileage. If you pick sleek, sexy styling, you’ll have to sacrifice practicality.

This week, I’m driving a car that almost completely eliminates those tradeoffs, assuming you can afford its lofty starting price of around $52,000.

It’s the Volvo S60 Recharge, and it seems custom engineered to make critics’ jobs difficult. It just doesn’t have any downsides.

It makes Herculean power — 455 horsepower and 523 pound-feet of torque — using a gasoline engine and electric motor. Coupled with a crisp, carefully tuned suspension and all-wheel drive, it’s the kind of car that’s worth enjoying on its muscular sports-sedan merits alone.

The usual tradeoffs for the S60’s level of over-the-top power are twofold: dirty emissions and gluttonous fuel economy. Fortunately, the people who engineered this car said “we won’t be participating in tradeoffs.”

The S60 Recharge is a plug-in hybrid that can operate as an electric vehicle for up to 41 miles when fully charged. That means if your daily commute is 20 miles or less, you can operate it without burning a drop of gasoline, making your miles per gallon infinite and irrelevant just like a pure electric car.

For 2023, Volvo’s S60 is exclusively available as a plug-in hybrid called the Recharge. It combines an electric motor and gasoline engine to deliver a muscular 455 horsepower without sacrificing fuel economy.

On the other extreme, if you never plug in the car to charge up its battery, the S60 Recharge is still rated for a thrifty 31 mpg in combined city and highway driving.

If you fully charge it, the fuel-economy wonks rate it at 74 mpg over 530 total miles of range.

That makes this Volvo the perfect EV for American lifestyles. It can drive on battery power for local trips, which is what most of us use our cars for most of the time. Yet it also can run on gasoline power for longer trips, which is by far the most convenient way to get around the vast expanses of America in 2023.

Again, there are no tradeoffs needed.

Same thing with the styling.

Today’s S60 has the classic proportions of a proper sports sedan with a long hood, sleek roofline and low-slung shape. It’s timelessly beautiful, and it looks even better in person than it does in pictures.

That doesn’t take away from the fact that, at its core, this car is still all about practicality. It has a big trunk, roomy seats and four wide-swinging doors that make it blissfully easy to load people and cargo.

My tester was the Black Edition which, as you can guess from the straightforward name, has lots of high-gloss black trim and badging. You can choose between black paint, which makes it look sinister and unassuming with badges the same color as the body, or white paint for the opposite effect. It’s a striking look.

The S60’s cabin creates a calming feeling through its Swedish visual simplicity. It’s also a solid, spacious, well-designed space that helps justify this car’s starting price of roughly $52,000.

Inside, the S60 is a great example of Volvo’s simple, sophisticated cabin design. It’s a calming place to spend hours on the road.

Every Volvo comes with a wheelbarrow full of safety features, and the S60 is no exception. Its driver-help suite called Pilot Assist is especially refined and easy to use, doing a good job keeping the car centered in the lane and smoothly adjusting to the speed of traffic.

I also liked its Google-designed tech features better than the last time I experienced them. They’re nicely integrated, including the ability to look up the nearest gas stations on Google Maps with just one click when the fuel light comes on. It’s smart and simple, a good fit for Volvo’s overall ethos.

As perfect as the S60 is, its one downside is the price. It’s not cheap, starting at $51,950 for the Core version and $55,995 for the Plus, which adds the Pilot Assist functions and a few other goodies.

The luxurious Ultimate trim tops the lineup at $58,495.

At A Glance

What was tested? 2023 Volvo S60 Recharge AWD Ultimate ($57,950). Options: Climate package ($750), metallic paint ($695), Bowers and Wilkins premium sound ($3,200). Price as tested (including $1,095 destination charge): $63,690
Wheelbase: 113.1 in.
Length: 188.1 in.
Width: 80.3 in.
Height: 56.3 in.
Power: 2.0-liter turbocharged four cylinder plus electric motor (combined 455 hp, 523 lbs. ft.)
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic
Fuel economy: 74 MPG equivalent


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

Why buy it?
It has one of the world’s best combinations of power and fuel efficiency wrapped in sleek Swedish design.

Posted in Volvo