Review: The RAV4 Limited on a Sunday Afternoon

Prior to my test drive of the 2016 RAV4 AWD Limited I committed to some heavy lifting, helping a friend move boxes under a short timeframe. As a result my upper body was sore and I was wound pretty tight. A Sunday afternoon road trip into the Colorado foothills ended up being just the right prescription: a smooth and relaxing experience in a sophisticated SUV with a sporty attitude.
The Black Currant Metallic-colored ride features a 2.5 liter, four-cylinder engine and 176 horsepower as well as a strategic touch of exterior style changes compared to the 2015 model. The bolder stance is now accented with an LED combo of headlights, daytime running lights and Hi-Lo headlights as well as restyled front and rear bumpers. Add to that the finishing touch of shark fin antenna and the 18-inch alloy wheels with P235/55R18 all-season tires, and this RAV4 will make you look twice. 
My favorite interior changes included the LED illumination on the lower center console with the revised cup holder design to hold the tall mugs with handles. If you know me and cup holders, you'll understand. And for those who need to be connected all the time, there is an additional USB in the front and a 12V power outlet has been added to the rear area. 
Once my passengers and I decided to turn down the music that we were blasting in celebration of a last-minute road trip, we opted for some quiet time. The cabin area didn't disappoint. We each just did our own thing. My front-seat passenger occasionally commented on the striking mountain views. My back-seat passenger took out a book (not a phone) and started to read. 
The longer I drove this RAV4 on beautiful stretches of curvy, winding highways, the more I appreciated it being among the first U.S. models to offer Toyota Safety Sense (TSS), a new multi-feature advanced safety package anchored by automated pre-collision braking. Coming standard on the Limited, the TSS feature bundles cutting edge safety technologies, including pre-collision system, automatic high beams, pedestrian pre-collision system, dynamic radar cruise control, and lane departure alert. 
The drive was almost too relaxing (even driving through cozy neighborhoods nestled in the foothills) so  I appreciated the audible beeps that kept me in line as I returned to the city on Sunday night.  
The 2016 RAV4 Limited AWD MSRP: $32,910; Combined city/highway MPG: 25. Learn more at Toyota. 



Review: The All-New 2016 Lexus RX 350

I was driving the 2016 Lexus RX 350 down a neighborhood street when a friend flagged me down and said, "I see you're driving Darth." Not quite understanding, I said, "What? No, this is a Lexus RX 350." He responded, "I know, but it reminds me of Darth Vader's helmet from Star Wars. That's sharp."

This visual set the tone for my test drive of the Caviar-colored luxury utility vehicle, featuring a 295 horsepower, 3.5-liter V6 engine and new eight-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters. Completely redesigned inside and out to meet the needs of loyal Lexus owners, this front wheel drive on available 20-inch F Sport aluminum alloy wheels definitely makes an iconic statement, and then backs it up with numerous enhancements.

No matter where you look, a change has been made. The body design breaks out of any creative shell that may have held it back in previous models. Chiseled creases, curves, corners and lines project a sense of dynamic motion even when the car is parked. The well-organized center console, features an easy to use mouse to navigate through the 12.3-inch wide-screen multimedia display. The lengthened wheel base increases the rear-seat leg room and cargo space, enhancing the flexibility of the 40/20/40 split rear seat. The level of the power tilt and telescopic steering column has been adjusted for more of a sporty feel. Even the instrument clusters are redesigned. 
The five-passenger force of determined designers and engineers is steeped in race-inspired F-Sport features from the tuned suspension with front and rear performance dampers to the exclusive leather interior trim, aluminum pedals and shift knob. The front view of the new RX  boasts an emboldened version of the Lexus brand’s signature spindle grille featuring a chrome-plated border and triple L-shape-LED headlamps. Combine this with the new front fog light and available LED cornering light clusters, and the entire face of the RX 350  practically invites you to stare just a little longer. It's almost hypnotizing. 
How does it drive? I drove this force in and around the city and also into the mountains. The drive was so comfortable that I was startled when the rain sensing wipers went into action in response to a few sprinkles. Real-world testing. They work!  
Lexus reports that this fourth generation RX has the  most comprehensive safety system ever offered for the RX. The 10 airbags are great. But, I was impressed by the other listed safety features, namely the vehicle theft-deterrent system with engine immobilizer. This is an excellent feature to thwart stalkers looking for an oversized Darth helmet, AKA Caviar. 
A little bit of icon. A little bit of delicacy.
2016 Lexus RX350 MSRP: $49,125; Combined City/Highway MPG: 23. 

Review: Feeling Good in the Special Edition Camry

What does driving the 2016 Toyota Camry Special Edition have in common with building a new house? When you're having  a new house built, one of the more interesting and expensive decisions you need to make surrounds the quality of padding under your carpet. You learn that the thickness and density adds to longevity of the carpet, among other benefits. 
Once I stepped onto the carpet getting into the driver's seat of this blue streak metallic-colored mid-size sedan with dark blue interior trim, I knew the designers and engineers chose high quality flooring.  
This Special Edition has benefited from Toyota's decision to include special carpeting materials in the Camry as part of its efforts to reduce floor-panel vibration and noise penetration through the floor, facilitating a quieter and smoother ride. The extra cushion under my feet felt unusual, but comfortable. Really comfortable. I had a good time tapping my feet even when no music was playing. It was a good feeling. 

We can tell immediately when we walk into someone's home if they have chosen to invest in quality flooring. What we don't know is if this level of investment extends throughout the home. We wonder if the owner is cutting corners somewhere else? Yes, nosy, nosy. I wondered the same in my test drive of this 178-horse powered 2.5-liter, four-cylinder engine with six-speed automatic transmission.

More of a sporty ride than recent years, this five-seater, features  Special Edition sport fabric SoftTex, 18-inch Special Edition machined-finish alloy wheels with gloss-black painted accents, power/tilt moonroof, sport-tuned suspension, color-keyed rear spoiler, and a chrome-tipped exhaust and smoke tail light. The interior offers a push button start, leather-trimmed steering wheel with audio.

Safety features included 10 airbags and whiplash-injury-lessening front seats. This Special Edition features 8-way power driver seat with lumbar support and 60-40 split folding seats with cargo access. The view from the back-up camera came through just fine on the seven-inch touch screen display. After quick review of quality features, the Special Edition has satisfied my "nosy" curiosity. 

For those purchasing one of the 12,000 units of this Special Edition, passers by will be able to identify you through the exterior Special Edition badge. Passengers, if they aren't already in concert with you, will ask you why you're tapping your feet when the music is not playing. 
2016 Toyota Special Edition Camry: MSRP: $25,715; Combined City/Highway MPG: 28. 

Review: The Winning Tacoma TRD Sport 4x4 Double Cab

In Colorado, snow storms create situations where you are sure to bond with neighbors and strangers alike while determining how best to shovel your way out of knee-deep snow. The 2016 Toyota Tacoma TRD Sport 4x4 Double Cab just happened to be my test truck during one of these storms.
When it was time to dig the truck out, I bundled up and headed out with my shovel. I saw a mound of snow glimmering in the sunlight, with only slivers of the Barcelona red metallic body shining through. Everybody else was digging out their respective vehicles, so I started digging too. In the background I heard wheels spinning from every direction. Eventually, neighbors started moving from vehicle to vehicle offering assistance and giving people tips on how to do it faster. Good samaritans were out in force. But somehow in my mind it became a competition on who could dig their vehicle out the fastest. 
So I chatted a little bit, but made sure not to leave my duties for too long. I took advantage of the fast defrost system while I continued to clear the area around the 17-inch machined alloy wheels with P265/65R17 tires -- all four of them. Slowly but surely, the full Tacoma started to reappear before me. The truck, featuring a 3.5 liter V6 engine, six-speed automatic transmission, is capable of towing 3,500-6,400 pounds, but it was doing all the work it needed to do that day by serving as a heater, melting the snow off the hood and the gray grille with smoked finish and chrome surround.
I could see the windshield and I could see under the truck. The short bed was full of snow, but I wasn't worried about that. Once I cleared enough space to even notice the 9.4 inch ground clearance, I decided it was time to exit the parking space. So I climbed into the cabin, buckled in and took hold of the comfortable shift and put it in gear. I was eager to plow through the neighborhood and test the Star Safety System's vehicle stability control, traction control and anti-lock brake system and airbag protection, to name a few.  
 I  put the truck in reverse and hit the gas. I heard the spinning, but this time it was me. 

And so they came. The neighbors and strangers started directing me to turn the wheel this way and that way. After about five minutes of turning the steering wheel to and fro, and going no where, I remembered the four-wheel drive option. I turned it on.

I backed out with no problem. They were happy to help. Then, I told them what I had just remembered. They stared. I smiled. I won. 

2016 Toyota Tacoma TRD Sport 4x4 Double Cab MSRP: $33,730; Combined City/Highway 20.



Review: The Special Edition Corolla And All That Jazz

The dependability factor goes a long way in the success of most anything, but it doesn't hurt to jazz things up here and there with a few surprises. And that's what the designers did with the 2016 Toyota Corolla Special Edition.

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