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  • 2023 Toyota Venza Nightshade review: A great everyday package

    Sharp looks, excellent MPG, and a nice interior make for Toyota's best everyday offering 2023 Toyota Venza Nightshade review with The Road Beat Words and pictures by Mitchell Weitzman What is it? Toyota's Venza crossover, a hybrid-only vehicle based on the RAV4, but with its own unique (and improved) design language and an upscale interior. Interior dimensions might be down compared to its RAV4 sibling, but it's still plenty for the everyday person and family. Selecting the Nightshade brings some cool finishing touches to the exterior, easily identifiable by gloss black trim pieces scattered about. While it's not sold in the same numbers as the RAV4, I find the Venza to not only be the more desirable option, but maybe the best volume vehicle that Toyota currently makes (Considering Toyota does not manufacturer the Supra, that would be BMW). Buy it for... The exceptional mileage the Venza achieves. During a week of mixed and tame driving, I averaged a stellar 34 MPG overall, a number consistent with past Venzas tested. You might be thinking that the advertised economy on a Venza is nearly 40, and you'd be right, but in the real world, a still-stellar 34 is a realistic expectation. For the record, the last RAV4 Hybrid I tested also recorded 34 MPG. Either way, you cannot go wrong with choosing a Venza and keeping efficiency in mind; It's simply one of the most efficient crossovers ever made. While not keen on performance, the hybrid powertrain is superbly integrated and makes for smooth transitions between temporary electric and then normal hybrid/combustion modes. Other systems in rival hybrids (even Toyota's new Tundra hybrid) can have hiccups or shudders as the ICE fires up each time, but not the Venza. Toyota has been making hybrids for over 20 years, and their expertise here shows in making a seamless and transparent powertrain. Style is another strong suit shared by the Venza, with a rounded, proportional shape augmented by sharp creases front and rear, appearing more elegant than the boxy RAV4. The exterior shape is highly reminiscent of a Lexus in terms of styling cues, just minus the gaping spindly grille, which is a compliment considering a Lexus is a luxury product. The fashion continues on the inside with an interior built to an appreciable degree of finesse and quality compared to what you'd get in a RAV4. Mazda continues to reign supreme here, with the cabins in their CX-5 and CX-50 Signature trims approaching that of actual luxury German offerings, but the Venza is a nice step on from a RAV4 and with a personality all its own. It's smaller on the inside than its corporate sibling, but this is a car that is large enough for almost all tasks and everyday needs. If a fully-grown yellow lab can fit in here with total comfort, then it's big enough. Venza also packs all the safety and technology amenities you could ask for in 2023, including blind spot and collision monitoring and wireless Apple CarPlay. More on this later, but on the spec sheet, there's a lot going for it. Mainstream Toyotas are usually boring to drive, and the Venza is no different, but that's what most motorists are looking for in a car like this. The steering is accurate and easy to place on the road, even if there's no feel, and the handling has enough going for it to keep you on the road even in relatively brisk cornering with little fuss. Ride quality also impresses and makes for a comfortable and quiet cruiser on the highway for long hauls. Adding a panoramic sunroof adds to the appeal to increase the perceived space inside. Skip because... You want something actually exciting. Apart from an attractive shape, there's little to excite the consumer here, being a dull driving experience. If you're looking for a vehicle that gives you a fizz you're craving, nobody does fizz at this price point better than Mazda. Acceleration is also weak, with 0-60 MPH requiring 8 seconds. This rarely hinders day-to-day usability, but if you mash your foot down to pass someone, you will be disappointed at the lack of oomph available. Despite all the technology onboard, I found the collision warning too aggressive, with myself incurring the wrath of temporary limp mode, triggered from following a car in front too close (I really wasn't that close) when pulling away from a red light. It's quite annoying and forces you to have delayed responses to not have the car shut down on you. It also prohibits your movement longer than necessary as cars behind me honked once, even with my foot flat to the floor trying to go, held back by collision avoidance keeping me in limbo. I don't know what to tell you, when a light turns green, I release the brake to go. Just if the car in front hasn't released the brake yet or is slow to respond, be warned you could trigger the collision system. I do the find the updated infotainment mostly easy to use, but some of the graphics, as written before about Toyotas, are too stark and I even once got the unfortunate pleasure of having the bright white daylight mode flash and blind me upon startup in the evening, before reverting correctly to the easy-on-the-eyes night mode. Also, the bezels around the display are quite thick. On a hot 100-degree day, there were four of us in the car for about an hour while driving to Lodi, CA, and we all thought the air conditioning was rather weak. I understand it was really hot, but this is a brand new car, and even on full blast, we never felt actually cool even after a full hour in the car. Further, the air coming out of the vents never felt that cold. You end up hearing the fans churning and turning, but it never felt comparatively effective. I also just drove a new Toyota Tundra hybrid that exhibited the same behavior. Space should be adequate for most anyone, but if you are wanting to maximize interior volume, a RAV4 or even Highlander could be the better decision. From that tapered and sloping roofline, yes, you do have to make some concessions on overall space, but it's perfectly suited for most people. A Hybrid for everyone Venza continues to be a solid choice for anyone considering a crossover and compact utility vehicle. The fact it's a hybrid sweetens the deal in the age of rising gasoline prices, also making for a great first hybrid for those that have not experienced one before. Cons and problems aside, this is easily one of, if not the best volume models Toyota currently produces. Due to its lower popularity than the RAV4, it's nearly a Toyota that can allow one to stand out. A shame that the slower sales of the Venza are leading to its discontinuation at the end of the 2024 model year. I personally prefer Mazda's CX-50, but that doesn't get close to the 34 MPG Venza can master, even healthily beating out the 29 MPG the latest Honda CR-V Hybrid achieved. A somewhat boring car, this, but a very accomplished one and with some added Nightshade-pizzazz. 2023 Toyota Venza XLE Nightshade Price as-tested: $41,665 Pros: Excellent economy; Interior more refined than a RAV4 Cons: Being discontinued; Overtly aggressive collision warnings

  • 2024 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid Woodland Edition review: Basic spice

    Throwing some eye candy at a basic RAV4 could be a recipe for success 2024 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid Woodland Edition review with The Road Beat Words and pictures by Mitchell Weitzman What does Woodland mean to you? For me, it's the 60,000 person town northwest of Sacramento that is ironically absent of trees and anything resembling a 'woodland.' Most will imagine a thickened green forest, so it's appropriate that this new RAV4 Hybrid Woodland Edition was equipped with a rather fitting coat of Army Green paint to blend in. I recently tested a Sienna 'Woodland' that came in Cement, the exact antithesis to a woodland. Perhaps that one was more akin to the eponymous Northern California town, but at least this one actually evokes imagery of an actual woodland. For Toyota, the Woodland Edition is a bit of a value-added package designed to make the lower-tier models more appealing and desirable. With a suggested retail price of $36,545, this green aspiration sits right in the middle of the two extremes when it comes to RAV4 pricing. Normally you'd have to size up to an SE or XSE at least to gain some visual stimulation for this popular crossover, but the Woodland Edition does convincingly spice things up with its green paint option and glowing bronze wheels wrapped in capable tread-laden tires. Other desirable features include LED headlights, all-wheel drive, all-weather floor mats for those woodland-themed adventures, Toyota's smart key proximity-sensing keyless entry, and what Toyota calls TRD-tuned suspension. All the normal Toyota safety items are included as on all models as is convenient wireless Apple CarPlay. However, one huge omission is a leather-wrapped steering wheel. Instead, we're treated to Toyota's poverty-class wheel which is among the nastiest in any new car today. It honestly feels like it's made of rough cardboard, and with a large visible seem where the plastic is fused together around the outer rim. An awful steering wheel that's highly unpleasant, and unfortunately it's the one item you literally can't avoid touching when driving this RAV4. I actually forgot how bad the basic Toyota steering wheels were and I regret I had to be reminded. Previously tested RAV4s all were well-optioned models that included leather steering wheels. The rest of the Woodland Edition is pretty consistent with the rest of the RAV4 Hybrid range. Gas mileage is excellent as expected, sipping fuel to the tune of 34 MPG. Despite fabric seats, it's a comfortable car for long periods of time and has generous space in all seats and an impressive cargo volume. It's even reasonably quiet inside at speed. This is far from a luxurious interior, and nor would I expect it to be for the price, but it's quite utilitarian and robust without any rattles even on rough roads. In other words, it's a solid build, if a bit uninspired and dated. On the road, the RAV4 Hybrid Woodland Edition drives just fine with smooth everyday operation. Steering might be numb (and that ghastly wheel), but it's at least accurate, responding surprisingly well to inputs and can easily be hustled down country roads at an alarming pace which most all new cars are capable of. Grip is okay, and understeer will prevail and upset the electronic driver aids, but for the casual driver, this is a fairly competent crossover. Not quite approaching the dynamics of Mazda or Honda, but it's easily good enough for the larger audience of consumers who will find it an upgrade over past Toyotas. With some aggressive-looking tires and all-wheel drive, you can have increased confidence through mud and snow, but don't go expecting this to replace Jeep Wranglers or even a 4Runner any time soon. Also of note is its 8.1" of ground clearance, which is disappointingly the same as other RAV4 Hybrids and a half-inch less than the RAV4 TRD Off-Road. What becomes the biggest single appeal of the RAV4 Woodland Edition is the appearance, especially configured in this choice of this military-inspired paint and catchy bronze wheels. Some will hate the bronze wheels and call them trendy, but others might enjoy the different look they bring. After that, there's not much else going for the Woodland Edition given its cheaper interior furnishings and terrible steering wheel. The steering wheel alone would be all the reason to want a different model if I'm being completely candid. Seriously, if the wheel was better this would be a decent value-added package, but it's that bad to use; I'm tempted to lather it in coconut oil because of how dehydrated the surface feels. It's nice Toyota is trying different things and spicing up some more entry-level trims, but it's not enough to substitute for either another brand or simply a nicer RAV4 Hybrid. Price as-tested: $36,545 Pros: Eye-catching paint and wheels, MPG Cons: Terrible steering wheel, Not really an off-roader

  • 2023 Toyota Tundra Capstone review: overpriced and thirsty

    One of the thirstiest hybrid vehicles ever, where is the the point in this overpriced Toyota pickup Toyota Tundra Capstone review with The Road Beat Words and pictures by Mitchell Weitzman Toyota's all-new Tundra has already been out for nearly two years, marking a huge direction change for the Japanese brand's made-in-Texas pickup truck. This Capstone is the peak of the current range, coming in at an eye-watering $78,460, and after two weeks with one (and over a year after my initial acquaintance), this Tundra is already out of date and behind the competition when it comes to its role as a luxury pickup. And my gosh is this hybrid V6 twin-turbo inefficient in daily use. Starting with the major talking point that rests under the hood, the yes-they-actually-named-it-that i-Force MAX powertrain, a V6 engine bolstered by two turbochargers and a hybrid system. Total outputs are an encouraging 437 horsepower and 583 lbs-ft, numbers that do convince thanks to its meaty midrange punch. When you do get the blood boiling, this is one seriously quick full-size pickup truck. Only trouble is the power delivery is so flat that there is no increase in acceleration as the revs climb, therefor it feels fast at first, but then you soon realize it doesn't pick up anymore after that big initial wallop. It is effective, just not exciting in the same way a 6.2L V8 revs up and goes in the GMC Sierra or Chevy Silverado. Despite the presence of a hybrid system, it's so weak that the Tundra can hardly ever shut off its gasoline engine during daily driving. Whereas a Toyota RAV4 Hybrid or Camry Hybrid can accelerate leisurely up to 20 MPH or so solely under electric power, the Tundra's combustion engine ignites almost immediately as your foot breathes on the gas pedal. As a result of needing to rely so heavily on the gas engine and forced induction at all times in order to motivate its 3 tons of mass, gas mileage is a dismal 16 MPG overall, or, not any better than V8-powered trucks I've also driven. It's even more strange considering that the last non-hybrid Tundra I drove actually averaged better economy. If you're wanting the hybrid Tundra for saving gas, you have been warned: you will not be saving on gas. At least if you stick specifically to flat highway driving, only then will the hybrid return anything decent to the tune of just over 20 MPG on steady, level freeway. There's also the fact that slow speeds are often met with clunks and shudders from the powertrain as the gas engine goes in and out. An example is when slowing for a red light, where the truck coasts and brakes in electric mode. However, upon slowing to a walking pace, the light then turns green, and as I gently ease onto the gas pedal, the gas engine fires back up and causes a shudder and clunk throughout the truck. Other Toyota hybrids do not display this trait in the same scenario, only this hybrid V6 found in both the Tundra and Sequoia SUV. It could and should be smoother and more pleasant, especially from the company famous for pioneering mainstream hybrids. I also cannot forget or forgive the fact that is Toyota is so aware that truck people want V8 engines that they shamefully pump fake V8 noises into the cabin under acceleration. If you mistake the sound for a V8, then Toyota's sound police have done their job correctly. Just know that the sound is fake. I doubt the real-world towing ability of this powerplant, too. As I noticed on every possible freeway hill, in order to maintain 70 MPH, the Tundra's turbo's lay down a constant 10 PSI of boost. Factor in six or seven thousand pounds worth of trailer weight, and this little V6 is going to be working hard even on level ground, and will drink gasoline by the tankful rather quickly. The hybrid powertrain won't be able to help here as the tiny little amount of onboard battery capacity it can hold will be depleted quite quickly. This is an interesting idea for a truck powertrain, but one that just can't and won't translate to everyday usability like a big-capacity V8 can, and the naturally-aspirated V8 will likely use less fuel doing so, too, when under load. If you have towing experience in your i-Force MAX Tundra or Sequoia, please let me know about your experience, but from the couple I've talked to, they were not enthused about the performance when laden-up. A positive note is a chassis that steers and handles quite well. The steering is direct, accurate, and very easy to place on the road. On a cloverleaf freeway onramp, I was able to confidently toss the Tundra in towards an apex and, despite the tire squeal, the Tundra held its line and behaved prodigiously for a large pickup truck. However, handling chops aside, the tradeoff is a stiff and jiggly ride at all speeds. Even at slow residential speeds, the Tundra translates every nook and cranny right into your backside and it bounces around. In comparison, I took a ride in a friend's new GMC Sierra 1500 Denali during the same week of testing the Tundra, and I was astounded how smooth it all worked, gliding over speed bumps, easy on/off throttle transitions from its V8 and own 10-speed transmission, and I noticed just how comfortable the entire package was. The Tundra felt like a bucking bronco in contrast, and I can't believe this is supposed to the fancy and comfy luxury option. Speaking of luxury, does it deliver there at least? No. Yes, the seats are covered in soft and lush two-tone leather, and there's a big Tundra-sized center display screen, power running boards, and a gigantic panoramic sunroof, but that's it. Once you get over that honeymoon, there are so many cheap plastic pieces and buttons all about that would be out of place even in a Corolla. The push buttons to open the center console? Horrible. There's also a rattly tray that slides in and out of the center console. The glovebox sags a full centimeter, something I've seen on other Tundras and Sequoias, there's even frayed and loose stitching at the 9 o'clock position on the steering wheel, the wood looks cheap like it's from a bargain Amazon furniture piece, and the rotating headlight switch on the turn signal stalk isn't close to flush with the rest of the arm. This would be nice for a $65,000 truck, maybe even close to $70,000, but damn near $80,000? You've got to be joking. GMC recently just overhauled their interiors and, for the same exact money as a Sierra 1500 Denali, the Tundra loses badly. The thought process must've been similar to, "Let's take a nasty cheap interior and throw a big screen and leather on. That should do it, right?" I'm sorry, but for this price, you'd be mad to think this is acceptable. I also thought the air conditioning was poor, even after running for an hour on literally full blast on an average Northern Californian summer's day. This is a nicer truck than the Tundra it replaces, but what is a huge mark forward for Toyota means they're still and already behind its rivals by some margin. Even the current Ram 1500, which has been out now for over five years, continues to impress in Laramie and Limited trims, having a higher degree of luxury and initial quality when it comes to their cabins. They also drive very well, being smoother everyday operators than the Tundra. Nearly forgot, but the rear doors also have no proximity sensors for unlocking, which can be extremely annoying once you realize a $40,000 RAV4 has this feature on all four doors, but not a twice-as-expensive Tundra. Who is this truck for? Maybe only the Toyota-faithful, but even they might be hesitant to give up their V8-powered older models that are known to last for hundreds of thousands of miles. Also, remember that the most expensive version of the new Tundra is over $20,000 more than the most high-end V8 Tundra ever was. I doubt owners of Fords, Chevy, GMC, and Ram trucks will want to cross over to a Tundra, and anyone looking to jump ship might as well go all the way into the Rivian EV ecosystem anyways. This is not a bad truck, but rather a sorely overpriced one that does very little in the way of earning a recommendation. Perhaps a $15,000-cheaper Limited model with the base engine earns merits where its value is far more competitive, but the Capstone is anything but a new high for Toyota other than its ridiculous, unjustified price tag. While it's nice for a Toyota pickup, it fails to match the luxury and refinement of rivals. 2023 Toyota Tundra Capstone Price as-tested: $78,460 Pros: Powerful; Modern dynamics Cons: Overpriced; Dynamically lags behind competitors

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