Sedans still have what it takes

October 1st, 2018

By Don Armstrong

Toyota Corolla
Perhaps not as popular as it once was, the Toyota Corolla still outsells most others in its segment. The 2019 however may be a little harder to move since the competition has elbowed its way into Corolla territory.

Toyota has decided that an oversized grille sets the Corolla apart from competitors, so that is the front-end treatment it receives. Other stylish but conservative sculpting falls by the wayside in comparison.

The interior is adequate for an entry-level sedan, but true satisfaction will be determined by the trim level you choose, and there are plenty of them. Even the base trim, L, comes with LED headlights, emergency braking and a touchscreen.

Power is derived from a 1.8-liter 4-cylinder engine that whirs out 132-horsepower through a CVT transmission. However, we’d recommend the higher output eco motor. Fuel mileage is 28 MPG-city and 36-highway.

Don’t expect the Corolla to perform like a sport car but If you are looking for something to get you from point A to point B in relative comfort and reliability, then you may have chosen the right sedan.

Pricing starts at $18,700.

Volkswagen GTI
If you are looking to bump up the fun factor, then the VW GTI may be your car.

This 4-door sedan, or hot hatch as some call it, is a low-to-the-ground road rocket that has room in the back seat for up to 3 passengers and a smallish cargo area behind it. Flop the rear seat-backs down and a significant cargo area awaits gobs of groceries or camping equipment for 2.

Dash layout smacks of German engineering at it’s best; not over-thought but controls placed at just the right spot with intuitive functionality.

Under the hood is a turbocharged, 2.0-liter, 4-cylinder engine that delivers 220-horsepower to the front wheels. We had the manual transmission that multiplied the fun by six! An automatic is available too. Fuel mileage is a respectable 25-city and 33-highway.

The GTI’s revised suspension – tuned for going around corners fast – will have everyone squealing with delight. Oh, the ride quality is a little stiffer, but not to so much as to kill the deal. Our bet is you will love this thing.

Pricing begins at $26,415.

Listen to Don Armstrong’s In Wheel Time radio show LIVE each Saturday 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. on the Sportsmap 94.1 FM mobile app.

Not Grampa’s Station Wagon

September 1st, 2018

By Don Armstrong

Toyota RAV4

The 2018 RAV4 has become America’s go-to SUV. Dependable, maneuverable and sized for a growing family, the RAV4 makes driving in rush hour traffic a little more bearable.

The RAV4’s 2.5-liter I-4 engine may lack the zippiness of some of its competitors but who’s complaining about fuel efficiency? Getting 34 MPG-city and 30-highway, the little engine that could, does. It’s matched to a 6-speed automatic transmission.

Front wheel drive is standard, all-wheel drive is optional.

The shape of the RAV4 is familiar to most and is not one that says, “Hey, look at me!” Conservative, sellable styling have contributed to making it a fast mover at Bay Area dealerships.

Like most models that have been around awhile, the interior looks a little dated, as is the technology. It has more of a utilitarian feel to it and that make work well for you, but if you are the “tech” type person, you may want to opt for the 2019 model. A completely redesigned RAV4 will be arriving in showrooms this winter. The 2018 will be priced to move and may be snapped up before you get a chance to get one of your own.

Current pricing starts at $24,660.

Lexus RX350
The 4th generation of the RX continues a tradition that started in 1999, a luxury SUV that strikes a chord with many fans of the Lexus brand.

Chances are that you or someone you know has owned an RX. This writer bought one of the first generation RXs and I still have fond memories of it. A small, luxurious runabout that fits our family of four perfectly.

Like most manufacturers, Lexus grew the RX in size to what you see today, a mid-size SUV, but owners still love it.

The polarizing spindle grille may be off-putting to some, but the overall design seems cutting edge. Coupled with the high-zoot lighting, this RX makes a statement.

A 3.5-liter V-6 delivers its 295-horsepower to the front wheels through an 8-speed automatic transmission. All-wheel drive is available.

The interior has plenty of luxury that you must check out, but a joy stick controller for the infotainment system may be a deal-breaker for you. Quality is a hallmark of the Lexus brand and if you a willing to pay a little more for your ride, chances are, you won’t regret it.

Starts at $43,470.

Summer Ready: Toyota Tacoma & GMC Canyon

April 1st, 2018

By Don Armstrong

Trucks are all the rage. They move the kid’s dorm furnishings, go camping and make hauling a load of mulch a breeze, all while whisking the kids to soccer, baseball or softball. In this months review we focus on a couple of hot mid-size offerings.

Toyota Tacoma
You see them everywhere, and for a reason. The Toyota Tacoma not only looks good but has built a reputation for dependability. And with no fewer than 30 variations, how could you not find one that checks off every box on your want list?

The latest edition of the Tacoma was completely redesigned 3-years ago. 2018 updates include a revised grille and a new enhancement called Toyota Safety Sense P. This feature packages a pre-collision system with lane departure alert and sway warning, among others, that place the Tacoma ahead of the pack in safety.

A 4-cylinder engine is available, but we recommend the 3.5-liter V-6 and 6-speed automatic transmission. This combo increases the towing capability, gives you more oomph wherever you need it and power for passing.

Whether you are an off-road enthusiast or not, you’ll love the TRD Pro edition. This bad boy includes bigger springs, a 1-inch taller stance, Fox shocks, hefty skid plate and fog lights, among others, to enhance the Tacoma’s capability.

Entry level Toyota Tacoma pricing starts at $25,130.

2018 GMC Canyon Denali​

GMC Canyon
The GMC Canyon and its Chevy twin, Colorado, are the latest entries in the mid-size truck segment. But parent company General Motors has taken a “less is more” approach with packages and options. We count two beds and two cab configurations along with six trim levels. Like the Toyota, GMC offers a 4-cylinder and V-6, but for those that want to maximize capability there is even a diesel option, a 2.4-liter I-4 that can tow up to 7,700-pounds and get up to 30 MPG-highway.

The Canyon is offered in an off-road-inspired All Terrain package that includes the Z71 suspension, automatic locking rear differential and standard transfer case skid plate but if you want to step up to the TRD Pro level, you’ll have to head to the aftermarket.
As you would expect, the Denali version gets premium appointments.

GMC has one of the better performing infotainment systems on the market so whatever trim-level you decide on, get the 8-inch screen with all the bells and whistles.

Pricing starts at $22,095.

Bargain Hatchback VS Hip Crossover

February 1st, 2018

By Don Armstrong

Whether you’re shopping for basic transportation with the latest safety features, necessities and functionality or you want to stand out from the crowd with something completely different, we have a couple ideas you’ll want to know about.

Kia Rio
Kia is quickly gaining a foothold among traditional Toyota buyers who are looking for reliable, affordable transportation in a conservative package with modern styling. Starting under $14,000, the Kia Rio delivers on the key elements that made the Corolla so successful.

The Rio is available in two forms, the sedan and hatchback and both are competitively attractive in their two segments. Each vehicle’s front fascia is identical, with Kia’s pinched-in-the-middle grille and large, open-mouth lower air intake. The hatch features a single rear door that, when open and the rear seats are folded down, will gobble up more cargo than you think.

An attractive, functional dash layout, center console and plenty of storage address the needs of the masses. An easy-to-use 5-inch infotainment touchscreen is standard. Seating is comfortable and coverings attractive but, as you would expect at this price point, there are a lot of hard plastic surfaces.

Power comes from a 1.6-liter 4-cylinder engine that delivers 130-horsepower through a 6-speed manual or automatic transmission delivering an average of 32-mpg.


Toyota C-HR
Toyota’s newest family member, C-HR, is an adopted sibling from the now defunct Scion brand.

We’d like to compare the C-HR to the funky Nissan Juke, without the freaky front-end and its bug-eyed lighting.

The C-HR designation is rumored to stand for compact high rider, which is a fitting description for this subcompact. Think of it as a hatchback with highly sculpted features – especially when viewed from the side – sporting a slightly taller stance in a mini-crossover package. An optional white roof gives the runabout a sporty, look-at-me swagger.

The interior isn’t quite as flamboyant as the exterior but still has plenty of thoughtful character. A swoopy, well designed dash, contrasting textures and quality materials will make your commute or road trip more enjoyable.
The ride is state of the art and worthy of a twisty jaunt through the hill country.

The C-HR’s motivation comes from a 144-horsepower, 4-cylinder engine that is married to a continuously variable transmission. For a few, this combination delivers a blah response, for others, it’s the perfect matchup.

MSRP starts at $22,500.