Thursday, September 5, 2013

2014 Toyota Tundra
2014 Toyota Tundra Preview
Like a Kid in a Candy Store

    Bear with me, here. Do you remember when Charlie Bucket went on the tour of Willy Wonka’s amazing chocolate factory? Remember all the choices and options there were? Lickable, flavored wall paper. Everlasting Gobstoppers. Chewing gum that packed a 3-course meal into one delicious treat. Then, at the end, there was the great glass elevator with hundreds of buttons that took you not just up and down, but sideways, and frontways, and diagonal, too. 
    I think Tundra’s designers took a cue from Mr. Wonka himself. Tundra is now offered in five trim levels, with a slew of options available within each grade. Flavored wallpaper (darn it) is not one of them. What is offered, however, is the opportunity for every Tundra consumer to get exactly the pick-up truck they need. With three engine choices, various cab configurations, and a host of bells and whistles, the American-built 2014 Tundra should give Ford, Chevy, and Ram a run for their money.
    I had a chance to take the 2014 Tundra for spin through Grand Teton National Park in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. I spent time behind the wheel of an SR5, a Limited, and a 1794 Edition Tundra.
    Toyota engineers listened to their customers when it came to designing this latest iteration of the 1/2-ton pick-up. Owners wanted a less bubble-like look and designers answered with stronger horizontal lines, a more chiseled body, and a front fascia that looks like it means business. The hitch connector was moved next to the license plate light, where it is both easier to see and access. The front bumper is now a 3-piece modular outfit, which should help out the guys who are always pulling something out of both the proverbial and literal ditch.
    Inside, soft-touch materials give the SR and SR5 versions a more refined feel. Leather options deck out the interiors of the Limited, Platinum, and 1794 Edition. All trucks I tested were double cabs, which offered spaciousness and comfort; as well as plenty of room to stretch out in back. One innovative feature is the “tip-up” back seat, which sounds exactly like it is. When you need to secure something within the interior of the truck, the back seats tip up and out of the way, meaning lower load height and increased cargo capacity.
    The Tundra handled beautifully on hills, highways, and off road. The cabin remained quiet. It accelerated with little effort. Depending on which model you choose, the Tundra is capable of towing up to 10,500 pounds. I towed a 5000-pound trailer, and while it was a little slow to reach cruising speed, it did so easily and smoothly. It was absolutely no effort to steer, maneuver, or turn -- even on unpaved surfaces.
    The 1794 Edition is definitely the star of the line-up, though not any more or less capable than any of the other trim levels. Its name pays homage to the founding year of the ranch that the San Antonio Toyota Plant now calls home. With special badging, 20-inch wheels, and Lexus-quality leather, the 1794 Edition is a workhorse in show horse clothing. Toyota designers wanted the 1794 to reflect the truly American truck it is. The Tundra is designed, engineered, and built entirely in the U.S. and is mostly made from American-made components.
    With so many choices, features, and options, when it comes to the Tundra, you might just find yourself feeling like a kid in a candy store. Pricing ranges from $25,920 for SR to $47,320 for Platinum and 1794 Editions. 

Monday, September 2, 2013

2014 Toyota 4Runner

Another fun perk of being an automotive writer is getting invited to fun locales to drive new cars. About a week and and half ago, I found myself in Jackson Hole, Wyoming to drive the 2014 Toyota Tundra and 4Runner.  First up, my review of the 4Runner:
2014 Toyota 4Runner Preview
The Can-Do SUV

    I can’t believe I’m typing this, but the mid-size SUV segment is shrinking. I’m talking about the solid, hard-core, high-riding, go-anywhere SUV. I mean, what happened? Wasn’t the mid-size SUV the bread and butter of the SUV world? Sure, they’re still out there, but in name only. Most of them have been transformed into unitized crossovers, great for getting to soccer practice, found in suburbanite garages all across America. But what about the rock climbers? The mud boggers? The mountain men (and women)? In other words, what’s left for the real adventurers?
    Though the segment may be shrinking, the new Toyota 4Runner is here to answer the call. I got a little taste test recently, during a whirl wind trip to Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Set against the backdrop of the Grand Tetons, I was given a small peek at the can-do 2014 Runner.
    But first, a little history: the 4Runner first rolled off the assembly line in 1984. Since then, nearly two million units of this iconic SUV have been sold. Even more astounding, of those nearly two million, a whopping 75% of them are still on the road today. To say the 4Runner is the can-do SUV is just the tip of iceberg.
    I started out with an on-road test, driving a 4Runner Limited 4X2 in and around Grand Teton National Park. The first thing you notice when sitting behind the wheel is visibility. With a nearly vertical windshield and generously proportioned windows all around, the 4Runner offers that rare combination of ride height and nearly unobstructed views all around. The ride is solid and the cabin is quiet, with just the right amount of road feedback coming back at you through the easy-to-hold steering wheel. Handling feels good, though on gravel roads, the steering seems to loosen up somewhat. The 4.0-liter engine remains unchanged and offers plenty of get-up-go when you need/want it. The 4Runner does come equipped with a new trailer sway control, which used various sensors to detect and therefore suppress trailer sway -- which is a definite plus when towing high-profile trailers in windy conditions.
    Later, I was taken for a ride in a Trail edition 4X4 at the famous Diamond Cross Ranch. If the 4Runner is the can-do SUV, the Trail is the can-do SUV that takes names. We came in at angles steep enough to make your mother swoon -- especially with 2-3 wheels in the air. We pulled up muddy climbs. We rocked our way down jagged crags. Multi Terrain Select, a control knob located over the rearview mirror, allows the driver to input the type of terrain you are approaching. From slippery, muddy surfaces to rocks, dial the knob to select, and the 4Runner does the rest. There are also selectors for crawl control, vehicle skid control, and traction control. And should you decide you need to lock your rear differential, there’s a button for that, too. Needless to say, it would be mighty difficult to get this car stuck.
    4Runner’s new look is much more rugged, much more chiseled, with stronger, better defined lines. The 4Runner is offered in three design grades: SR5, Trail, and Limited. Within each grade is offered an array of options for both inside and out. Of note, my Limited 4X2 came equipped with automatic running boards, a feature to which I have always been partial.
    Inside, soft-touch materials abound, giving it a rugged, yet refined feel. Also new this year is the Entune entertainment system, featuring all the connectivity you could imagine, with apps like iHeartRadio and Pandora. However, I think the 4Runner itself provides plenty of entertainment without the electronic pomp.
    So yes, my first impression of the 2014 Toyota 4Runner is a good one. It’s the last body-on-frame design left in the segment. It looks tough, it’s strong, and it will go anywhere. It’s the can-do SUV.

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