Toyota Camry:

Expressive 2016 Lexus RX350 on the Way

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Lexus RX350 SnoutsLexus Spindle Grille Gets Even Bigger  You might have noticed that Lexus products are getting a bit more expressive as the brand tries to broaden its customer base.  A bit more expressive may be an understatement for the new RX350.  The now-trademark Lexus spindle grille goes to new lengths in the 2016 Lexus RX350.  The gaping snout is so large that it impinges on the approach angle of the crossover SUV.  It is gigantic!  This is the fourth generation RX350.  If you can remember back to 1998, the RX350 was the first premium brand crossover SUV.  It started a trend that almost every premium brand has since copied – car-based, unit body, good ride, maneuverable, fuel efficient, quiet, good performance.

The predecessor to the 2016 Lexus RX350 was clearly a derivative of the Toyota Camry/Lexus ES350.  In fact the instrument panel was so plain it looked like it was right out of a Camry.  The styling was essentially characterless, but it remained the top selling Lexus.Bouncy Castle Pentagon Princess buy

2016_Lexus_RX_350_SVNew RX350 Designed to Broaden Appeal  Lexus’ top engineer described the new RX as being derived from the Toyota Highlander, but contends it is dramatically different.  Compared with its predecessor, the new Lexus is about 5-inches longer with a 2-inch longer wheelbase.  The character of the vehicle has been moved up a notch and the 2016 Lexus RX350 looks like it will easily remain the top selling Lexus nameplate.  In addition to the grille, the exterior styling approaches “wild”.  It has a “floating roof” where a black glass panel crosses the D-Pillar to give the impression that the roof hovers above the rear quarters.  There are character lines swooping from the front fenders, the rear quarters, the rocker panels.  Busy, busy, busy.

All of this new “interest” is designed to broaden the appeal of the RX.  Previously, the RX was primarily a woman’s car.  It was a car that took kids to school and to soccer practice and was seen parked in front of the beauty salon.  But the new RX is designed to also appeal to younger males while not turning off the traditional RX buyer.  Brian Bolain, the Lexus Corporate Manager of Marketing, says that research conducted by Toyota Motor Sales confirms that they have met the objectives: 1) keep traditional buyers, 2) attract more males, 3) attract younger buyers, 4) and with the F-Sport attract buyers wanting a more sporty look that is different from the base vehicle.

2016 Lexus RX350 IPIts instrument panel looks like it is out of a Lexus GS350 rather than a Camry.  The ingress/egress is easy.  Visibility is pretty good.  The seats are comfortable.  The interior trim is upgraded compared with its predecessor.  All in all, the 2016 Lexus RX350 comes across as completely new crossover SUV with more distinction inside and out that should appeal to a wider range of buyers.

Power Upgraded  The base vehicle is powered by a 295-horsepower 3.5L V6 engine that operates on either Otto cycle or Atkinson cycle depending on engine loads.  The V6 is mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission.  The hybrid RX450h has 259-horsepower V6 that when combined with the hybrid motors yields a total 308-horsepower.  The sporty F-Sport package is available on both the RX350 and RX450h. The F-Sport has upgraded interior trip, sports seats, unique grille and exterior ornamentation.  The F-Sport chassis is upgraded and an optional adjustable suspension is available.

Mark Levinson Clari-Fi Premium Audio  As usual, Lexus has teamed with Harman Automotive’s Mark Levinson sound system team for a very high quality premium audio system.  Using Mark Levinson’s Clari-Fi technology, the system analyzes and improves the audio quality of all types of compressed, digital sources like SiriusXM radio or MP3 tracks.  The idea is to fill in the up-to-90% of the original audio content lost through compression.  The system works very well delivering clear, full music, but what would you expect from an 835 watt, 15 speaker/12 location, 10-channel system.

Dynamics – Seamless  Driving the 2016 Lexus RX350 is seamless.  The ride is smooth, handling flat.  Performance is adequate.  It is very quiet in the cabin except when some road surfaces excite the Michelin Ever Grip Technology tires.  Ergonomics are good.  Circling back around to performance.  The F-Sport package is a trim and chassis option only.  There is no performance upgrade with F-Sport.  To really appeal to the younger, more enthusiastic male buyer it would be appropriate for the F-Sport to have power output above the 308-horsepower hybrid.  A 10% power bump from 295 to 325-horsepower would be nice.

The one bitch several members of the media voiced was that a navigation system should be standard on any vehicle base priced over $30,000.  Optional on the 2016 Lexus RX350.

Base price for the 2016 Lexus RX350 will be below $45,000.  The vehicle is still assembled in Cambridge, Ontario.  It will be in dealerships beginning in November 2015.


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2013 Nissan Altima Mid-Size Game Changer

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Going on sale in July 2012,  the new Nissan Altima joins the most competitive car class in the market.  Representing the second largest car segment (after small cars), the mid-size car class is critically important to each manufacturer in the class; volume, profits and image are on the line.

It is hard to believe that the AutoPacific 2010 President’s Award Winner, the 2011 Hyundai Sonata, is about to be the oldest major competitor in the class.  The 2013 Nissan Altima joins the new Toyota Camry (new for the 2012MY) and Chevrolet Malibu (2013 Eco model is on the market now) and awaits the launches of the upcoming 2013 heavyweights – Honda Accord and Ford Fusion in Fall 2012.

First seen at the 2012 New York International Auto Show in April, the Altima drew “WOWs” from the media at its unveiling.  The management of some competitors gulped and looked a bit nervous.  Most were very complimentary; the new Altima has gone upscale in a big way without adding much to its price tag.

Traditionally, the mid-size car class has been noted for its relatively bland styling.  That changed with the launch of the 2011 Sonata in early 2010 where over half of the buyers indicated that exterior styling was extremely important in their selection of the car.  Sonata’s swoopy styling broke the mid-size car mold.  The 2011 Kia Optima that followed the Sonata is strikingly handsome in its own Euro-Korean way.  Toyota stayed very conservative with its new 2012 entry and Honda is rumored to have continued its very conservative streak with the next generation Accord coming this fall.  The 2013 Ford Fusion is another game changer in the mold of Sonata and Optima, but even with Fusion’s advanced styling, Altima may have pushed the envelope the farthest.  Nissan calls it “Altimaness”. 


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2009 Toyota Camry: Motorist Choice Award Winner

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2008_09_09_Camry_SE_16.jpg“On the heels of an AutoPacific Owner Recommendation Award, the Toyota Camry wins a Motorist Choice Award in the Premium Mid-Size Car segment. The mid-size car by which others are measured, Camry exudes a comforting sense of predictability. Owners gave it top marks for reputation, dependability and safety.” – AutoPacific
“The Camry has best-in-segment ownership costs with the best retained value in the segment and lowest insurance costs.” – IntelliChoice
Owner Satisfaction Highlights
• Vehicle and Brand Reputation
• Feeling Safe While Driving
• Overall Quality
• Durable / Long Lasting
• Interior and Exterior Styling
Cost-of-Ownership Strengths
• Best-in-Segment Ownership Costs
• Best Retained Value
• Lowest Insurance Costs


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2008 Honda Accord: Can it Be Smart and Savvy Again?

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In September 2007, the eighth-generation 2008 Honda Accord sedan and coupe go on sale, bearing a look previewed by the 2007 Detroit show’s Accord Coupe Concept. The standard for premium mid-size sedans has rested with the Accord and Toyota’s Camry for many years, as clearly as the BMW 3-Series is the luxury sport sedan to beat. Last year, the Accord accounted for 354,500 of the 1.3 million cars and trucks Honda sold in the United States. Beyond the volume it brings, Honda’s Accord carries much company history. The Accord was the first car Honda built in the States, starting twenty-five years ago, and the first Japanese product to be built in the USA.

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The third-generation, launched for 1986, showed us we could have a smart and savvy midsize sedan instead of a simply boring one. The third-generation Accord had a very low cowl and pop-up headlamps – very sporty for a Mid-Size Car of its day. The following fourth-generation car took Accord in a more elegant, upscale direction. Then, Accord began to struggle a bit.
Along the way, Accord never lost its rational element, but stylish, fun-to-drive elements were watered down. For 2008, Honda looks to revive that image with the eighth-generation Accord and raise the bar against the sporty and stylish Nissan Altima and the finally expressive segment icon Camry.
Honda targets Altima and Camry directly, but competition also includes Saturn Aura, Ford Fusion, Hyundai Sonata, and even Chrysler’s Sebring and Dodge Avenger. Chevrolet’s latest Malibu goes on sale later this year with a stronger, more modern exterior and a much-improved interior. In a hotly contested market, Honda is looking to again provide buyers the smart, stylish, fun-to-drive option. Honda also is looking for sales above the 400,000-unit mark, something Accord hasn’t seen since 2001.
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We had the chance for a short drive following a presentation of the new bread-and-butter car. Honda has brought another terrific mid-size sedan, but we’re not convinced the bar is raised significantly. We didn’t have a chance to drive the coupe, but the two-door brings style to Accord’s coupe line that hasn’t been seen before. The Accord coupe should hold its own from an image standpoint against coupes in the Nissan Altima and Pontiac G6 ranges.
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Most competing brands offer a mid-size and a larger sedan (Avalon, Maxima, Azera, and Taurus), but Honda’s top model is the Accord. The new Accord is bigger, nearly as long as the Maxima overall and with wheelbase and width nearly the size of the Avalon. The new Accord is about five inches longer than Camry and Altima (only an inch between the axles). The larger exterior allowed for interior space large enough for Accord to be classified as a Large Car in EPA ratings, and Accord now may be better able to straddle the line between mid-size and large.


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2007 Mitsubishi Galant RalliArt

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The current generation (PS41) Mitsubishi Galant has been on the market in the USA since Fall 2003. Designed to be fully competitive with the big dogs in its class – Toyota Camry, Honda Accord and Nissan Altima – Galant is about the size of the Accord, bigger than Camry and Altima (and the Hyundai Sonata). The car feels big for a Mid-Size Car, but size alone does not make for a competitive Mid-Size entry.

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Our impression of the Galant is that it is a good basic car beset by too many cost-reductions that could be obvious to the buyer. Where most product planners would lament that they were $50-$100 short of a great car, the Galant planners were probably lamenting of a $500 shortfall. Somehow, the financial community won the product content battle and it’s tough to sell an obviously cost reduced car agaist the likes of Camry and Accord. The last generation Nissan Altima learned that lesson.
Premium Mid-Size Cars – Most Competitive Car Segment
In this most competitive of car segments, a car has to be superb to achieve class-leading status and Galant falls a bit short but it does deserve a look. It is now the oldest of the major competitors in the class. OK, all its major competitors are on a five-year product cycle. Camry was all new for 2007 as was the Altima. The Honda Accord received a major rear end freshening for the 2006 model year. Sonata was all new for 2006. With a normal cycle life, the Galant would be due for a major change in late 2008 as a 2009 model. So a major change for the Galant is not late – yet. Most Asian brands have a moderate mid-cycle freshening to keep interest up, but Galant got a very minor change for the 2007 model year and added the range topping RalliArt version.
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We had not driven a Galant at VehicleVoice and AutoPacific since its launch and the intro of the new RalliArt edition gave us the perfect opportunity to see how the Galant has evolved.


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2007 Detroit Auto Show – 2008 Honda Accord Coupe – Accord to Pass Camry?

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There are two Mid-Size Cars that every buyer of a Mid-Size Car has to consider before selecting one of them, or moving on to another – the Honda Accord and the Toyota Camry. These cars are in the consideration set of almost all Mid-Size Car buyers. On a rigid 5-year schedule, Honda is to introduce its all new 2008 Accord in Fall 2007. Honda used the 2007 North American International Auto Show to tip its hand about styling cues for the next generation Accord. it used the Accord Coupe Concept to do this.

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Unveiling the Honda Accord Coupe concept did more than ‘wow’ those in attendance at the Detroit Show, it put Toyota on notice. The Accord Coupe Concept telegraphs cues that will be found on the upcoming Honda Accord Sedan.
Accord Has Been Top Selling Car As Recently As 2001, But Not In the Cards Now
The current Toyota Camry, which has been the top-selling passenger car in the USA for several years now and in its latest iteration is Motor Trend’s Car of the Year, will again have a worthy competitor offering consumers a distinctive alternative. In the last 25 years the Accord has sat atop Car and Driver’s 10 Best list all but 4 times. Accord was the top selling car in the USA from 1989 through 1991 and in 2001. The Camry has been the top-seller since it wrested the title away from the 1992 through 1996 king – the Ford Taurus for every year except 2001. Will the 2008 Accord again set the sales benchmark in its segment?
The answer to that question is NO. Accord will not become the sales leader until there is more production capacity added for Accord. At the present time, Toyota can out-produce Accord with its Camry and this is especially true since it began assembling Camrys at Subaru Indiana Automotive.
But back to the Accord Coupe Concept…
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Motor Trend Selects 2007 Toyota Camry as Car of the Year

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Toyota Wins with “America’s Mainstream Car”

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Motor Trend part of PRIMEDIA’s (NYSE: PRM) Consumer Automotive Group, announced today that the redesigned Toyota Camry, the sixth edition of America’s best-selling car, is Motor Trend’s 2007 Car of the Year. The award goes to the entire Camry range, including the Camry Hybrid. The complete report on Motor Trend’s 2007 Car of the Year will be published in the January issue, available on newsstands December 5, 2006.
“Creating an innovative, engaging automobile with broad mainstream appeal is one of the toughest tasks facing any automaker,” said Angus MacKenzie, editor in chief of Motor Trend. “The Camry is the one car rival automakers all wish they could build. It offers something for nearly everyone–performance, efficiency, and roominess–at a price point most Americans can afford.”
MacKenzie added, “Toyota offers the Camry with a regular four cylinder engine, or a sporty V-6 that enables it to hit 60mph in just six seconds – that’s about as fast as a V-8 musclecar from the 60s and 70s. Buyers looking for ultimate fuel economy can choose the Camry Hybrid, which uses the same innovative hybrid powertrain technology as Toyota’s Prius to save gas.”


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Nissan Altima All New for 2007

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Nissan Mid-Size Sedan All New for 2007
Whenever a high volume mid-size sedan is introduced it is, by definition, big news. These high volume sedans are the mainstream movers of the auto market. The king of the hill is the Toyota Camry, new for the 2007 model year and on the market in Spring 2006. Camry is the top selling “automobile” on the market. The Honda Accord is the second of the top tier Japanese heavyweights. The Nissan Altima is the third of these top tier Japanese competitors. Just about every buyer of a mid-size car looks at one of these three entries before buying. Of course, we can’t forget the likes of the Ford Fusion, Chevrolet Malibu and Impala, Mazda6 or Mitsubishi Galant, but the top three from Toyota, Honda and Nissan command the most attention.

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Altima Evolves in Style Even With All New Platform
Nissan showed its new-for-2007 Altima at the New York Auto Show in April and slipped in a few surprises. Counter to most recent design moves, the new Altima’s D-Platform body rides on a 1-inch SHORTER wheelbase. This is a bit surprising when most new cars get longer wheelbases as they evolve these days. Overall length remains the same.
CVT Standard with V6 – Brave Move Reminiscent of Murano
Additionally, Altima’s automatic transmission is now a CVT with the V6 rather than a geared automatic. A 6-speed manual is available for those who like to row between gears. This CVT news is major. Probably means a substantial cost reduction. The Nissan Murano crossover SUV has had a CVT since day one and has done pretty well. Whether a CVT in a major application like Altima is accepted time will tell. Brave move.
Styling Evolutionary – Interior Execution Critical to Success
The new Altima has evolutionary styling. You can probably say that it is not as distinctive and sophisticated as the previous generation Altima, but it is more distinctive than Accord or Camry.
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A major bugaboo for the last Altima was its cut rate interior for the first three years on the market. Until a major interior upgrade for the 2005 model year, Altima interiors were downscale. Clearly met cost targets but not touch targets. After adding hundreds of dollars in interior upgrades for 2005, Nissan suppliers were given very aggressive cost reduction targets for the 2007 model. Hopefully, they have found the cost offsets in places where consumers can’t see or feel them.
Nissan’s abbreviated press kit states, “Enhanced interior feel with refined workmanship, expanded use of soft materials (such as padded armrests) and chrome accents.” Can’t wait!
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Altima Still Nicely Powered
Power for the Altima comes from a 3.5L DOHC 24-valve V6 with 265-plus horsepower. Its 2.5L DOHC 16-valve 4-cylinder has 165-plus horsepower.
Well, jury is out on the new generation Altima. We’ll have to wait until we drive one and experience the interior over several miles before reaching a verdict.


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Toyota Juggernaut – Flurry of Intros in ’06

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We have all been following the press accounts of Toyota becoming the top producing vehicle manufacturer in the world in 2006 and we have heard statements by Toyota management that Toyota is going to become more aggressive in the future. Historically, Toyota has taken a relatively humble and mild stance to its growing presence worldwide and in the USA particularly, but in 2003 the gloves came off with Toyota Motor Sales USA taking a higher profile. Their pace of advance will quicken substantially in 2006.
VehicleVoice contributor and AutoPacific‘s President George Peterson takes a quick look at Toyota’s 2006 plans.
Toyota Has Guns Blazing in 2006
It looks like the 2007 model year is going to be the year when Toyota really comes in with all guns blazing. I guess that we can’t include the all new RAV4, now moving upmarket and sporting a 3.5L V6 engine as part of the onslaught. It was launched in late 2005 as a 2006 model. The new RAV4 is outstanding and is reported to be the fastest vehicle carrying a Toyota badge today.
During 2006, the 2007 models will be introduced starting with the all new Yaris, major change for the Camry, launch of an all new hybrid Toyota Camry, launch of the all new FJ Cruiser, launch of a truly competitive full size pickup, launch of a new Lexus ES330 and new Lexus LS460.
AutoExtremist Peter DeLorenzo sums it up well in his observations of Toyota, “We’re not only going to tell you what play we’re going to run, we’re going to ram the ball down your throats knowing that there’s not a damn thing you can do to stop us. What can you say about Toyota other than that they continue in their relentless pursuit of world domination, and there appears to be no one capable of standing in their way?”
Lets touch on each of these in order of launch…


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