A Toyota trifecta: Some fun, some luxury and some awesome tech
An Avalon, Corolla and Scion all worth a look
I’m in a Toyota frame of mind, having driven several of the line’s vehicles this late winter and early spring, and I have decided to deal with these three together in one review basically because there is very little here that deserves its own review: I have dealt with the FR-S before in its Subaru BR-Z version, and the two Toyota sedans, while very nice drives, are pretty much what they have been for the last several years. Been there, done that.
Scion is the younger-focused line of cars launched by Toyota in 2003 that is going away after August of this year. A few of its models will continue on, and a good example is this FR-S, which will be renamed the Toyota 86 as of August. Toyota 86 has always been the name of this vehicle internally and in some overseas markets, and it is an odd one in the Toyota lineup because it was jointly developed by Toyota and Subaru, and marketed by Subaru as the BR-Z. FR-S stands for Front engine, Rear-wheel drive, Sport (and BR-Z has a similar origin), which is also odd because most Toyotas are front-wheel drive and all other Subarus are AWD.
When I drove the BR-Z version of this car last year, I disliked it, mostly because in the Subaru treatment the front end had a cowl underneath that made it nearly impossible not to scrape and damage the front end. This FR-S isn’t my favorite vehicle, but I liked it more than the Subaru version because with no low front-end cowl I didn’t have to baby the car during the driving.
This FR-S is a sporty ride – my wife called it “fun” – and I found it to be a nice handling vehicle that was very responsive in weaving in and out of traffic, and turning without lean. The 6-speed manual tranny is fun as well, easy to use with a very easy clutch (I taught my son to drive a clutch in the car, so this feature was handy). It looks something like a cross between a Porsche 911, an Audi TT and a 1965 MGB-GT, and I got quite a few looks tooling around. But the front-engine, boxer 2.0-liter 4 banger, featuring 200 hp (rated 22 mpg city/30 mpg highway), is no speed demon; the FR-S is zippy, but the performance doesn’t quite live up to the look of the car.
This is a fairly sparse car (back-up camera, but no navigation), and the climate controls (three dials), the sound system and the Bluetooth with voice commands are very easy and intuitive to use. I liked the large side mirrors, the heater was excellent, and the car was relatively quiet. On the down side, the cup holders are placed behind the gear shift and they are hard to use, and the back seat has absolutely no leg room.
Fun, good looking, easy to drive, zippy. The young people in my life thought it was “cool,” and I would think that’s the target. The base price is $25,305 and the only add-on was the delivery charge of $770, so at $26,075 this is a relatively affordable sporty car.
RATING: THREE WHEELS (OUT OF FOUR)
TOYOTA AVALON HYBRID
I’ve said this before about the Toyota Avalon: it should be badged as Toyota’s luxury division Lexus because in all respects it is the Lexus ES 350 (or in this case the 300h Hybrid) except for not having the Lexus badging. It has the same engine – a 2.5-liter 4 banger coupled with the electric hybrid motor, putting out some 200 hp combined (rated 40 mpg city/39 mpg highway) – it has the same wheelbase, 111”, it shares almost all of the luxuries, and it carries just about the same base price, $41,950.
We had the marvelous opportunity to take this Avalon on a road trip to see the sand hill cranes in the San Luis Valley near Monte Vista, and I can personally attest to what a great road trip car this is. Very roomy, very comfortable, very quiet, plenty of power, all the bells and whistles, all the modern technology – I wanted to just keep going and tour the whole country.
Toyota has it down with the technology: there’s a phone charging pad for wireless charging (handy), easy-as-pie Bluetooth, very intuitive sound system that easily connects to a smart phone for all the apps, and – for an option price of only $500 – the Toyota Safety Sense system featuring pre-collision system with pedestrian detection, lane departure alert with steering assist, auto high beams, and dynamic radar cruise control that slows and speeds on its own in traffic. I liked everything about the car – indeed, the only thing I didn’t like was that because of the hybrid batteries housed behind the rear seat, there is no trunk pass-through and the trunk is smaller than in the regular, gasoline version; gotta give up something to get this kind of mileage.
This Avalon is a superb, elegant larger sedan that is in all respects a Lexus, only with a Toyota badge. A great road car, wonderful and easy to use sound system, technology and climate control and – lest there are still people out there who think hybrids are performance-challenged – a vehicle with excellent acceleration and plenty of power. The base price – loaded, trust me – is $41,950, and here they added $500 Safety Sensor system I mentioned earlier, and $815 in handling fees, for a bottom line of $43,285. That is an excellent price for all that is here.
RATING: 4 WHEELS (OUT OF FOUR)
TOYOTA COROLLA SPECIAL EDITION
There are rare few vehicles on the road today as venerable as the Toyota Corolla. The small sedan in the Toyota line, the Corolla was launched way back in 1966 – 50 years ago – and became the best-selling car in the world in 1974 (coincidentally when the gas crisis hit the U.S.) and has remained a best seller ever since. Originally a sub-compact, it became a compact cat in the 1991 model year, and together, sub- and compact, the Corolla is no in its 11th generation (since 2012). I have often said that if General Motors or Ford or Chrysler would have built the Corolla in 1973, they would have never hit the economic skids and allowed the Japanese dominate the American auto market for 40 years. The Corolla just may be the most important car ever built.
And there’s good reason. There’s nothing spectacular here, but the Corolla is a handsome, a step-above-basic, well-made, honest, well-priced, and reliable sedan – and it has been such from the very beginning. I see old ones – really old ones – on the road in Denver all the time.
All available trims of the Corolla, which start at a base price of $17,300, are powered by a 1.8-liter four-banger with 132 hp (there is a LE Eco trim that boosts hp slightly to 140), and while this is a basic engine, the car has plenty of zip. It features a Continuously Variable Transmission that is quite seamless, and while I wasn’t exactly racing around, I found this engine/CVT combination powerful enough to hit the streets, the highway and up into the mountains with plenty of confidence.
The great thing about modern cars, and is here is spades, is that they come equipped with a ton of what used to be extras as standards: things like, hands-free voice command phone (easy to use), smart key entry and lock, power door locks and windows, a backup camera, and cruise control. I assuming the basic radio package is nice – the sticker lists an Entune system with a 6.1-inch touch screen with a multimedia bundle – but on my test-drive model they added, for $1,200, an Entune Premium Audio package that enhanced all of the technology, apps and hookups, and it was quite nice. They also added, for $850, a very nice power sunroof, or “moonroof” in modern parlance.
My test-drive model was a special edition that matched an Absolutely Red exterior paint job with leather/cloth seats with matching red stitching, and Special Edition floor mats, all of which was very good looking. The base price on this Special Edition is $20,835, and with the additions mentioned and the $835 handling charges, the bottom line is $23,520.
For a smallish car, this Corolla had an amazingly large trunk, a 60/40 split rear seat that was easy, a nice and comfortable rear seat, nice cup holders and great outside mirrors. The only flaw I could detect was that front-seat passengers reported that there was a glitch in the windshield glass on their side that gave them a headache; I didn’t notice anything in the driver’s seat.
This Corolla is easy and fun to drive and would be a great above-basic transportation, and most likely go for hundreds of thousands of miles.
RATING: 4 WHEELS (OUT OF FOUR)