You hear it time and time again on the internet. “There are no bad cars today.” It’s proclaimed by those who lived through the Malaise Era and have personally experienced the build quality and reliability of an new Renault Le Car or Chevy Monza. And while things are most definitely better than they were, nothing’s perfect. Bring out your critical fingertips.
Used-up examples of the 1983-1987 Toyota Tercel wagon (known as the Sprinter Carib in its homeland) still show up in junkyards today, but nearly all of them are the four-wheel-drive versions; the humble front-wheel-drive ones weren’t as desirable (once they became beaters, hoopties, and/or buckets) and mostly got crushed a decade ago.
Here’s an ’86 in a Silicon Valley self-service wrecking yard.
Ten years ago, Toyota fielded a solid lineup of passenger vehicles that were about as exciting as lukewarm tap water. However, the company has since embarked on a quest to change its trajectory and spice things up. Phase one included revision to the firm’s design language. Phase two involved tapping into the brand’s performance heritage and utilizing Gazoo Racing to help develop performance variants of existing models in Japan.
With models like the Supra making a return and other re-imaginings of performance icons in the works, things are now clipping along at full steam over at Toyota. Unfortunately, not all of its upcoming offerings make sense. While the TRD versions of the Camry and Avalon do more to bolster dynamics than sport-inspired appearance packages offered by other manufacturers, next month’s debut of the TRD Prius is utterly bewildering. These aren’t the first models that come to mind when one imagines Toyota injecting more pep and attitude into the brand.
I’ve reached a point where Toyota’s non-stop procession of Supra teasers has made me dead to the world… or so I thought.
Since this summer, covering the Supra has become a chore, all thanks to Toyota’s absolute lack of restraint in preemptive marketing. I went from being enthralled — excitedly telling everyone that “the Supra is back, baby” after news broke of the automaker’s 2014 filing with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office — to experiencing a deep malaise anytime I read about the upcoming model. You know this because I’ve complained about it before.
There’s just been too much teasing. You can only show me your ankle for so long before I want to see the whole foot. Fortunately, Toyota threw me a bone this week and decided to post a video highlighting the Supra’s exhaust note in delicious stereo sound.
As America’s new vehicle market shifts to vehicles with four driven wheels, greater ride height, and dog-friendly tailgates, it seems more than sensible for the Toyota Prius to take part in some community outreach.
The Prius, America’s 10th-best-selling car just a decade ago, can keep doing the same thing over and over again while expecting different results. Or, the Prius can make a significant change – via available “independent electric, magnet-less rear motor” – to offer all-wheel drive, one of the feature sets that’s drawing car buyers away from cars.
And that’s exactly what Toyota has done for the otherwise refreshed 2019 Prius ( reviewed last week by our own Matt Posky). In a manner of speaking, Toyota expects big things from the Prius AWD-e: 25 percent of Prius customers, to be precise.
But one-fourth of all Prius volume is not what it used to be. In fact, it’s a far cry from what it used to be. A mere fraction of what it used to be. One-quarter of all Prius volume will make the Prius AWD-e barely more common than the Alfa Romeo Stelvio.
When Chrysler had such a smash hit with the K-derived minivans of the 1980s, Toyota USA needed some kind of family hauler bigger than the Cressida, Camry, and Tercel wagons. The solution, from the perspective of the suits in Aichi, was obvious: Americanize the TownAce mid-engined van and ship it west ASAP!
Here’s an ’84 Toyota Van I found in a Charlotte, North Carolina, wrecking yard last month.
While an inarguable success for Toyota, the Prius lost considerable clout through some odd styling decisions, a market trending toward crossovers, and smug owners who put a sour taste in everyone else’s mouth. I was never really a fan of the model, but I appreciated what it offered — outstanding economy, sufficient utility, and rather good comfort (especially in the current generation) for a reasonable price.
Hoping to reach new customers living in the snowbelt and restore some of its lost groove, Toyota has updated the Prius and will begin offering the model with all-wheel drive. Well, I say “all-wheel drive,” but things are a little more complicated than that.
The 2019 Prius AWD-e utilizes a small, magnetless motor to drive the rear wheels, while keeping the aft axle completely independent from the existing 1.8-liter hybrid system and its own pair of motor/generators. Fortunately, I had an opportunity to explore the new system in the wintry wilds of Wisconsin to see if it’s any good.
One year ago, the Nissan Altima, Jeep Grand Cherokee, Nissan Sentra, Toyota Highlander, and Ford Fusion were all significantly more popular than the Toyota Tacoma. The Altima, for example, sold 32-percent more often than the Tacoma, which was generating record volume in 2017.
Fast forward one year, however, and the Tacoma is operating at an entirely different level. It now outsells the Altima, Grand Cherokee, Sentra, Highlander, and Fusion, and by large margins in some cases. To say the Tacoma is America’s best-selling midsize pickup truck would be to wildly understate its success. To say the Tacoma is America’s fourth-best-selling pickup truck would be to minimize its playing field.
Through the end of November 2018, the Tacoma now ranks among America’s 15 best-selling vehicles outright. This is not a cult following. Calling it a Taco doesn’t reserve your place in an exclusive club. You now see enough of them in the run of a day to easily spot the differences between a TRD Sport, a TRD Off-Road, and a TRD Pro.
The Toyota Tacoma is now mainstream.
Jack Hollis, Toyota North America’s general manager, was quite forthcoming during a roundtable discussion at the L.A. Auto Show. After unveiling the brand’s upcoming all-wheel drive Toyota Prius and hybrid Corolla sedan, he speculated on what else might be coming down the product pipe.
We already know that Toyota wants to TRD-ify as many models as possible (the Camry and Avalon aren’t an end point, apparently), but AWD and hybrid power serve the purposes of practicality, not style. There’s more reason to desire a vehicle that sips gas or blasts through snowbanks with aplomb.
That’s why an AWD, hybrid Corolla isn’t off the table. Upon hearing this, this writer’s mind drifted to the new-for-2019 Corolla Hatch and a small crossover that, strangely, isn’t offered with AWD. What would a would-be C-HR buyer be giving up if Toyota went ahead and electrified the rear axle of the Corolla Hatch?
While Lexus has cranked out a few impressive sporting models over its lifetime, “performance” is not a term that’s synonymous with the brand. Instead, Lexus seems to evoke words like “reliability,” “luxury,” and “high resale values” from the collective consumer mindscape. However, the brand does do dynamics. You can log onto its website right now and discover that most of its fleet offers enough horsepower to make getting a ticket easy enough. It also has performance F variants of the GS, LC, and RC for customers of discerning tastes and the need for a 5.0-liter V8 powerplant.
Interested in going the extra mile to prove itself, Lexus plans to unveil a refreshed RC at the 2019 North American International Auto Show in Detroit, along with a special Track Edition of the already high-performance RC F.
For two decades, the name “Prius” was all a committed Toyota buyer needed to know when searching for a compact hybrid vehicle. Soon, there’ll be two options, not counting the plug-in Prius Prime.
The automaker’s decision to offer a hybrid version of the still strong-selling Corolla was not made to usher its famed hybrid model into the shadows; rather, there’s two key reasons for it. Sure, the Corolla nameplate carries an enviable reputation and boatloads of name recognition, but Toyota’s also willing to admit that the Prius’ attributes just weren’t resonating with a certain segment of the American public.
Despite long, grinding years of adulthood, the word “synergy” still reminds this author of the character on the excruciatingly 1980s cartoon Jem and the Holograms, which his older sister would commandeer the TV set for on various mornings. To Toyota, the word is the centerpiece of Hybrid Synergy Drive — the name applied to its hybrid drivetrains since the dawn of the gas-electric era.
Times change and, just as hoop earrings are no longer rad, the word “hybrid” has evolved to mean any one of a confusingly long list of gas-electric propulsion systems. Studies show that a great many consumers are still mystified about hybrids.
Hybrid Synergy Drive needs a makeover.
The Camry and Avalon TRD sedans that appeared this month won’t be the last new Toyota variants worked over by the automaker’s racing arm. Toyota has a product offensive on the way and, while the effort will mainly be to update existing models, many of those vehicles stand to gain new sporting iterations — and drive wheels.
Toyota would prefer to TRD and AWD all the things.