Friday, January 28, 2011

Toyota Avalon Gets a Few Nice Tweaks

The 2011 Toyota Avalon has received a sharply redesigned front end and an upgraded interior and remains a great option for those in the market for a full-size sedan.

The biggest redesign element is the more substantial, wider grille that melds into the tapered new headlights.  There is also a bigger air barrier beneath the bumper.

And Toyota must have had a, well, lightbulb moment when designing the new Avalon, as its taillights now have LED light pipes and its side mirrors feature turn-signal indicators. 

 Toyota has trimmed the trim levels available for Avalon to base and Limited, compared with the previous XL, XLS and Limited models.

The Avalon's power plant is a 3.5-liter, 268-horsepower V-6, linked to a six-speed automatic transmission.  Toyota managed to raise fuel economy to 20 mpg in the city and 29 highway.  In a week of combined driving, we got around 24 mpg.

The interior of the Avalon is now quite striking. The dashboard and controls have been reconfigured and the tachometer is divided and more prominent. The navigation screen in the center console had been obscured by a cover, but that thankfully is gone now. 

 In fact the navigation system, the display and gauges have all been revised to give a sharper look. 

Despite there being only two trim levels, the base is not devoid of niceties. A USB/iPod compatibility, leather upholstery, reclining rear seats, 8-way power driver’s seat, dual-zone automatic climate control and a power tilt/slide moonroof are all featured on the base package.  The Limited gives plenty of upscaleness with a 12-speaker JBL stereo, XM Radio, heated/ventilated seats, power rear sunshade and push-button start.

Toyota says its Star Safety System includes vehicle stability control, traction control, antilock brakes with electronic brake-force distribution and brake assist.  For more safety, seven airbags are standard and include driver and front passenger airbags, driver and front passenger seat-mounted side airbags, front and rear side curtain airbags and driver’s knee airbag.   The optional backup camera is integrated into the voice-activated touch-screen DVD navigation system and also appears in the auto-dimming rearview mirror, Toyota says.

The design of the Avalon remains understated for the most part, but it's not unattractive. 

And its pricing is reasonable -- around $29,600 to just shy of $35,000.

For Toyota, the Avalon remains a comfortable and steady presence in the large sedan market.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Sales, Optimism Picking Up in U.S. Auto Industry

The U.S. auto industry, experiencing a sales increase of 11 percent nationally through November, is clearly in recovery.
Much of the gain is from "need;" buyers who are replacing aging high-mileage autos. But over the last quarter of 2010,  dealers say they also have seen "want" buyers return; consumers with late-model vehicles trading them on new cars and trucks because they are attracted to the styling or interiors or more powerful engines.
"There are a number of good factors boosting sales," said Rasheed Davis, a sales manager at Hennessy Mazda in Jonesboro. "But when impulse buyers are coming back in, we know that sales will really strengthen."
Despite an uncertain economy, persistently high jobless figures and rising fuel prices, the auto industry shows optimism when it comes to the economy in general and the business in particular.
"We like what we see when we look toward the near-term future," Davis said.
The return of impulse buyers is only one driver in the sales increases.
The average vehicle in the U.S. is now 9.4 years old, compared with seven years in 2001, according to auto industry statistics. 
That will send many people to dealerships.
They will find lots of shiny candidates in showrooms these days - maybe the best array of new products in industry history.
Vehicles such as the new Chevrolet Equinox, Buick Regal, Ford Fiesta, Dodge DurangoJeep Grand Cherokee , Subaru Outback and Hyundai Sonata are just a few of the strong draws.
Also, used-car prices have gotten so high that the price gap between late-model used vehicles and new ones is becoming negligible, especially with the lower interest rates available on new-car loans.
"We do see real evidence that the pace of new-car sales is picking up," said Paul Taylor, chief economist of the National Automobile Dealers Association, said in a news report.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Lexus GS 350 Offers Elegant Simplicity

There's nothing all that flashy about the 2011 Lexus GS 350 sedan. But if you want comfort, a smooth ride and good fuel economy in a luxury automobile, the GS produces it.

The GS comes with a 303-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6 engine that is linked to a six-speed automatic transmission with manual-shift capability.
Lexus also makes the GS 460 with a V-8 engine, should you desire more power, or a GS 450h hybrid model if you want better gas mileage. 
Lexus says the GS 350’s V-6 has direct injection and variable valve timing technologies that distribute power to the rear wheels or an all-wheel drive system, which is what the test model was.

 The GS's fuel economy ratings of 18 mpg city and 25 highway are good for a sedan of this size In a week of mostly highway driving, we got 24 mpg. 

It would be tough to describe the driving qualities of the GS as sporty, but rather more accurate to say solid.
Acceleration is easy; the V-6 provides plenty of power on demand.
Handling is decent, even if the GS doesn't exactly grab corners.
Braking is very sure, thanks to brake assist and electronic brake-force distribution systems that, along with antilock brakes, provide superb stopping power.
Lexus says the Vehicle Stability Control system gives traction and stability control to maintain a steady road presence and help avoid collisions.
The overall ride is smooth and quiet.
On the inside, you'll find all the luxury features you'd expect from a Lexus, such as the leather-trimmed power front seats with heat and optional ventilation functions, polished metal and handsome wood trim.
Other amenities include the smart access remote system, with push-button start and stop and the Lexus Premium Audio System with 10 speakers, six-CD changer and USB media device connectivity.
The test model included the Lexus Enform system with Safety Connect, which features stolen vehicle location and crash notification functions.
Other safety features include the adaptive cruise control, which detects potential collisions and notifies the driver. There's a brake override system that cuts engine power when the brake and accelerator pedals are pressed simultaneously, to avoid unintentional acceleration.

The GS has a neat, attractive design, both inside and out, that might not necessarily turn a lot of heads, but is worthy of admiration for its seamlessness.

The test model carried a sticker price of $51,754.
The elegant simplicity of the GS 350 makes it a worthy entrant in the luxury sedan market.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Chrysler Still at the Top of the Minivan Pack

It might have looked like they were dying two or three years ago, but minivans have made quite a nice comeback over the past year or so. Updated entries of the Toyota Sienna, Honda Odyssey and a reintroduced Nissan Quest are heading the charge.
But the leader in sales remains an old favorite in the family-hauler segment, the Chrysler Town & Country. 
Chrysler announced today that its venerable van posted more sales in the United States than any of its competitors in 2010, with 112,275 Town & Country minivans sold. That's a 33 percent increase from 2009. 
The Town & Country also led Chrysler brand sales for 2010, and was the second best-selling vehicle for the entire company.
That can be seen as good news or bad, depending on your point of view. 
Minivans, while experiencing a resurgence, are likely to remain somewhat of a niche vehicle, thanks to the many popular crossover SUVs on the market.
So if you're a carmaker whose leading seller is in a niche category, you probably have some catching up to do.
On the other hand, it's always nice to have a leader in a sales category, any category. And Chrysler has proven year after year that it knows how to do minivans right.
“We are very proud of the Chrysler Town & Country, and its industry leading customer loyalty,”  Olivier Francois, CEO–Chrysler Brand, Chrysler Group, said in a news release. “The original Chrysler Town & Country, the first luxury minivan, debuted in 1989. Seventy-five minivan-first innovations and more than 13 million minivan sales later, the company still leads the way with the best, most innovative vehicle to move people and things, without sacrificing style.” 

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

2011 Nissan Altima Remains a Sensible, Sporty Choice

The popular Nissan Altima adds some new color schemes for the 2011 model year, after last year's visual remodeling. 
What remains is a smart and sporty midsize car that offers good value.
The Altima comes in a coupe or sedan body style, with a choice of two engines. 

There is  a 175-horsepower, 2.5-liter four-cylinder with 180 pounds-feet of torque, and a larger 270-horsepower, 3.5-liter V6 with 258 pounds-feet of torque.  
You'll find the four-cylinder to be quite sufficient for usual driving applications, but if you want a bit more of a sporty experience, the V-6 surely delivers.
Those power plants are linked to either a six-speed manual or a continuously variable transmission, the latter of which Nissan says increases fuel efficiency.

As for fuel economy, the Altima posts 18-23 mpg ratings in the city and 27-32 mpg on the highway, depending on the engine/transmission combo. 

A few years ago Nissan also introduced the Altima Hybrid, for those who really want to go green and get good fuel economy.

The Altima's look is appropriately sporty without being over the top. For instance, the swollen hood with the Nissan badge on the grille is aggressive, but not obnoxious. 

Nissan says the coupe is shorter in both length and height than the sedan, and gets different styling on the grille and lights, but the sedan gets a dual exhaust system. 
Seating for up to five passengers is present in both, though, and they both have split-folding rear seats in case you need to carry longer cargo.

The Altima is full of niceties on the interior, such as push button start and keyless entry with trunk release, which are standard.  Optional inside are leather/heated front seats, a Bose audio system and Bluetooth connectivity.  Nissan says its hard-drive based navigation system is also optional, and features a 6.5-inch touch screen monitor that accepts voice commands and has features such as built-in Zagat Survey restaurant reviews.

The Altima has nice safety features, too, such as side-curtain and side-impact airbags, antilock brakes, and an electronic stability system, which are standard.  A backup camera can be added as an option.

The Altima ranges from around $20,000 to a little over $31,000. 

When it comes to sensible sportiness, it's hard to beat the Nissan Altima.