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2018-lexus-lc500h-34-frontThe 2018 Lexus LC 500 and 500h grand touring coupes are striking and refined in ways that will make buyers in the prestige/luxury sector of $100,000+ cars take notice, though the LC 500h hybrid slides in just below that mark with a base price of $96,510. Just 400 of these new models are being produced each month, which means there’s also an element of exclusivity that prestige car buyers and early adopters seek.

In Toyota’s sights are competitive models like the Mercedes SL, Jaguar F-Type and BMW 650i, high-end cars that can serve as daily drivers while highly capable as international touring vehicles. The LC 500 coupes keep the romance of crossing Europe safely at high speed and comfort a practical reality. Note that the LC 500h is particularly fuel efficient for a high-performance car, given its EPA rating of 26 city and 35 highway mpg.

2018-lexus-lc500h-34-rearThese coupes have an entirely new platform designated as GA-L (Global Architecture - Luxury). Design goals achieved are a low center of gravity for improved handling and chassis stiffness that exceeds even the half-million dollar Lexus LFA supercar. These characteristics were well-proved during drives where roll and lean were never an issue in tight corners, even as the model delivered high marks for comfort and handling.

We had the opportunity to drive and compare both the 471 horsepower V-8 and the 345 horsepower Multi-Stage Hybrid V-6 with twin electric motors. Both versions have their own personality with only three-tenths of a second performance differential from 0-60 mph, in favor of the V-8. Our focus here is on the 500h and what makes it a distinctive and top contender for prestige clients.

2018-lexus-lc500h-engine-1Power in the LC 500h is derived from an Atkinson-cycle, 3.5-liter V-6 with direct fuel injection, variable value timing, and a redline at 6,600 rpm. This engine accounts for 295 horsepower and 256 lb-ft torque. The hybrid system allows the LC 500h to operate with the gas engine off at speeds up to 87 mph.

The hybrid system includes twin MG1 and MG2 permanent magnet motor-generators. MGI’s primary function is generator, engine starter, and control of engine speed. MG2 drives the rear wheels and handles regenerative braking. The car’s compact lithium-ion battery is comprised of 84 cells and is located between the rear seats and luggage compartment. Total system power is 354 horsepower, sufficient to deliver 0-60 mph acceleration in 4.7 seconds, outstanding for a car that weighs 4,435 pounds. Top speed in electronically limited to 155 mph. Rather than aiming at being a track star, this is a 2+2 designed for safe touring in comfort at speed.

2018-lexus-lc500h-emblemHybrid Synergy Drive has evolved in the LC 500h. The hybrid powertrain retains its planetary-type, continuously variable transmission and has added a unique four-speed transmission. Working in concert, the two gears alter output in four stages to utilize the V-6 engine across the entire speed range. In M mode, the two gear sets act together to provide the effect of 10 ratios, giving the LC 500h a highly engaging feel and allowing the driver to shift though the ratios with paddle shifters.

Sport, Performance, and Touring Packages further personalize the LC5 500h. As expected in this level of automobile, all the latest safety systems are standard and include pre-collision with pedestrian detection, all-speed radar cruise control, lane departure with steering assist, sway warning, and an intelligent high beam headlamp system.

2018-lexus-lc500h-front-action-1A signature Lexus spindle grill gives the LC 500h a distinctive and highly-recognizable look. In this application Lexus designed a unique mesh texture that changes visual tension as it spreads across the front of the car. Adding to the sleek look of the front end are ultra-compact triple LED headlamps with functional venting that adds aerodynamic stability and cooling.

Chrome plated moldings along the edge of the roof are meant to represent the lines of a traditional Japanese sword. Even the rear tail lights have a design element not previously seen, using mirrors to create a three-dimensional series of L-shaped graphics. The LC 500h rides on standard 20-inch cast aluminum wheels with run-flat 245/45RF20 tires up front and 275/40RF20 at the rear. Front brakes have 6 piston calipers with 4 piston calipers used at the rear.

2018-lexus-lc500h-cabinThe coupe’s monotone interior is exquisite with controls that are intuitive and require little movement to reach. An 8-inch LCD display with Eco driving indicator is set low in the cockpit. Door handles are sculpted in satin chrome. Alcantara-covered door panels feature a wave effect that complements the lines of the dash. All interior stitching is done by hand.

Happily, Lexus designers have retained an upright gearshift lever rather than resorting to a ‘pop-up’ dial shifter. Multimedia features combine a graphic user interface with upgradeable software, along with latest remote-touch interface touchpad. The instrument binnacle is unique in its singular look and design and is the lasted version of thin-film transistor display technology, first introduced in the LFA supercar. Traditional it is not, and it may be setting the new contemporary look for functionality. Our LC 500h test car came equipped with the optional Mark Levinson 835 watt, 7.1 channel, 13 speaker sound system tailored to the LC interior. This system includes Harmon Clari-Fi music tech that analyzes and improves the sound quality of compressed digitized music.

22018-lexus-lc500h-sideToyota’s new flagship coupe is important to the company, a point driven home by the automaker’s commitment of a billion dollars over a five-year development period to launch the LC 500 and 500h grand touring coupes. We’re confident these will be well-received by prestige car buyers looking for efficiency and performance in a no-holds-barred, utterly distinctive, and imminently pleasurable vehicle.

2017-prius-prime-front-1Toyota’s 2017 Prius Prime aims to fill the needs of drivers who love the efficiency of the ubiquitous Prius but want the added benefit of a plug. As is the case with most hybrids, all-electric drive in the conventional Prius hybrid is limited to very short stretches with light pressure on the accelerator, otherwise it’s running on gasoline-electric hybrid power. The Prius Prime changes this with truly usable battery electric range before resorting back to hybrid propulsion.

Prime is a significant advance for Toyota as the company seeks to establish the highest conceivable standard for a plug-in hybrid, all packaged in edgy sci-fi styling. Think Blade Runner and you’re not far off, but in a clean Zen environment. Three distinct models of the Prius Prime are offered to fit varying tastes, including the Prime Plus at $27,100, the Prime Premium at $28,800, and the Prime Advanced at $33,100.


All Prime models share their silhouette with the Prius Hatchback but with unique front and rear end treatments. Prime is also 6.5 inches longer and just a bit lower and wider than the standard Prius model. To achieve increased front and rear head room, engineers lowered placement of the gasoline engine, electric motor, and seats. An additional benefit Toyota designers targeted was slippery aerodynamics, which they achieved with a coefficient of drag of just 0.25 – lower than most sports cars. Less wind resistance is an important element in achieving Prime’s exceptional fuel efficiency of 54 combined mpg as a hybrid and 133 MPGe when running on battery power. With an estimated driving range of 640 miles, Prime will outrun most anything for distance. EPA estimates an all-electric range of up to 25 miles.

We spent time behind the wheel of a fully-equipped Prime Advanced model on twisty mountain roads and highways to get a feel for Toyota’s new plug-in hybrid. Our test drive included stretches of high speed curves with little traffic, where we found the Prime Advanced doing quite well with good mid-range power while passing on two-lane roads. We’ve driven a friend’s first-generation 2016 Prius Plug-in Hybrid regularly over the past year and found it very efficient, but mundane and cumbersome on our own mountain road. A few fast turns into our drive instilled much more confidence in Toyota’s latest plug-in hybrid as we continued increasing our speed in turns.

2017-prius-prime-tire-detail-1The Prime’s major improvement in handling stems from a much more grounded feeling in turns, a nod to the Prime’s use of independent McPherson strut front suspension and double-wishbone rear suspension, with stabilizer bars front and rear. This is what some of the better-handling sports car utilize for their superior driving characteristics. Another significant change to enhance handling was moving the car’s 287 pound lithium-ion battery to the rear, with the weight transfer making a big difference in balanced handling. The only thing that holds you back from driving faster is the squeal of tires that are primarily designed for fuel economy.

Prime uses all-season P195/65/R15 tires mounted on 6.5J X 15 inch 5-spoke aluminum wheels. There are no optional wheel or tire choices and no spare. For tire repairs there is a repair kit and three years of 24-hour roadside assistance at no charge. Prime’s basic warranty is 36 month/36,000 miles with an additional 60 months covering the powertrain, with no mileage limitations. Hybrid-related components including the HV battery and modules are covered for 8 years/100,000 miles.

2017-prius-prime-engine-1Toyota’s Hybrid Synergy Drive powers all Prius Prime models using a dual motor drive. This dual motor capability did not come with the addition of a second drive motor, but rather repurposing the drivetrain’s motor-generator (MG1) for additional use. In this configuration, a one-way clutch engages both MG1 and the car’s primary electric drive motor (MG2) for motive force, the first time MG1 has been used in this way. During deceleration, regenerative braking recaptures electrical energy through MG1 and stores this energy in the battery for later use. Energy is supplied to the motors via an 8.8 kWh lithium-ion battery pack. The gasoline engine used in this hybrid powertrain is a 1.8 liter, 95 horsepower Atkinson-cycle four- cylinder. Combined, the engine and motors deliver 121 net system horsepower.

For some, the best new feature will be changes in charging requirements. While the Prime’s 8.8kWh battery delivers over double the energy of the previous Prius Plug-In’s battery pack, no special wall charger is needed. Just plug it into a standard 120-volt household outlet and in less than 5 1/2 hours you’ll have a full charge. Toyota recommends a dedicated 15A GF1 outlet for this. Faster charging in under two hours is achieved using a public charger or a 240-volt home charger, if desired.  Prius Prime apps can manage charging, locate charge stations, set climate control, and handle numerous other functions that take advantage of the Prius Prime’s connected capabilities.

2017-prius-prime-plugged-in-1Different operating modes can be selected. EV Auto Mode will automatically rely on electric capability in urban driving and during short trips. Under certain driving conditions such as negotiating steep hills, Prime’s gas engine will kick in to provide additional power. Selecting Hybrid Mode uses the gas engine for primary drive force with supplemental power from the electric motor. Power is transmitted via a planetary-type continuously variable transmission.

The most distinctive styling elements of Prime are its quad LED headlights that give this car its futurist look. These automatically adjust brightness to its environment and oncoming cars. Without a doubt, a Prime will always be readily identifiable at night given its full-width LED rear light panel that follows the shape of the double-wave rear window and spoiler. In fact, the first time you see a Prime on the road at night an immediate impression might be that of a new Lamborghini…the taillights have that kind of styling impact.

2017-prius-prime-rear-detail-1Contributing to the Prius Prime’s overall light weight of 3,375 pounds is a rear hatch made from carbon fiber. This superior strength material is usually only found on exotic or race cars due to its expense. In this application it is used for lightweighting purposes and to make opening and closing the hatch effortless. Rear visibility is enhanced by a full-width glass panel and standard backup camera.

All Prime models feature a four-seat layout with a center console front and rear, with 60/40 folding rear seats. The front console has a handy wireless charging pad for Q-i compatible devices. Auxiliary 12-volt power outlets are provided up front and in the rear, with a USB 2.0 port for iPod connectivity and control standard. The shiny white plastic used for the console has a Star Wars trooper look to it and may be too bright for some tastes. A 4.2-inch gauge panel mounted above the dash is considerably easier to read in daylight than that of the previous model. A heads-up display is available.

2017-prius-prime-cabinThe most obvious interior feature is Prime’s optional 11.6-inch tablet-like HD multimedia screen that’s mounted vertically in Premium and Advanced models. A standard Entune multimedia system provides audio, navigation, and an App Suite. Suffice to say if it’s on the market, Prime has bundled it...unless you want to play CDs. Apparently there is no place for CDs in the future. Audiophiles will be particularly pleased with the Prime Advanced model since it includes JBL audio with 10 speakers and delivers an exceptional concert hall experience.

For those who find parking a challenge there’s the Advanced model’s included Intelligent Clearance Sonar (ICS) with Intelligent Parking Assist (IPA). Once selected, the system’s sonar sizes up an available parking space and reverses the car into the space. Perpendicular spaces are also negotiated, plus it will also steer you out of a parallel spot.

2017-prius-prime-display-1The Prime's Safety Sense P list of standard safety features is as impressive as it is extensive. Prime bundles a Pre-Collision System with Pedestrian Detection and Automatic Braking, Lane Departure Alert and Steering Assist, Full-Speed Dynamic Radar Cruise Control with full stop technology, and Auto High Beams. The Advanced model adds Blind Spot Monitor and Rear Cross Traffic Alert. Also, there are eight airbags for additional driver and passenger safety.

Toyota is out to raise the standard by which plug-in hybrids are measured. They have done so with the Prius Prime by adding leading edge technology systems coupled to a powertrain that is a marvel of efficiency. Factoring in a price reduction in the thousands from the earlier generation Prius plug-in and an expanded 25 mile battery-only driving range, this Toyota model certainly holds appeal for Toyota Prius fans and new converts to a plug-in hybrid society.


2016-rav4-hybrid-rear-viewThe Toyota RAV4 that emerged an all-new generation SUV in 2013 features a stylish refresh this year with a bolder front fascia, restyled bumpers, and sharper rocker panels. That’s not the big news for 2016, though, because the RAV4 now features an important new addition – the first-ever hybrid powertrain in the RAV4.

While an all-electric RAV4 variant developed with Tesla had previously been offered in limited numbers and markets beginning in 2012 and an earlier generation RAV4 EV was offered in small numbers in the late 1990s, this is a very different scenario. Toyota has priced the RAV4 Hybrid base price aggressively at $28,370 and expects it to represent about 10 to 15 percent of all 2016 RAV4 models sold.

2016-rav4-hybrid-energy-monitorToyota's two-motor Hybrid Synergy Drive system is used in the 2016 RAV4 Hybrid, the same as in the Lexus NX 300h hybrid crossover. In this application the RAV4 Hybrid comes with Electronic On-Demand AWD-I, making all-wheel-drive standard in the model. Fuel efficiency is rated at 34 mpg in the city and 31 mpg on the highway. Driving range is just over 480 miles.

The RAV4 Hybrid integrates a 2.5-liter Atkinson-cycle 4-cylinder gasoline engine and 141 horsepower electric motor to drive the front wheels. A 67 horsepower electric motor provides torque to the rear wheels when the vehicle’s control system senses power is needed. Electrical energy is provided by a nickel-metal-hydride battery pack. An electronically controlled continuously variable transmission is used. Several operating modes are provided. ECO mode favors fuel economy by optimizing throttle response and air conditioning output. EV mode allows the RAV4 Hybrid to run solely on battery power for about a half-mile while traveling below 25 mph.

2016-toyota-rav4-hybrid-limited-dashInside, more premium features are used this year including soft-touch materials on the dash and door panels and a leather steering wheel. A 4.2-inch TFT multi-information display is included in a revised gauge cluster. The five passenger crossover offers ample room for five adults plus 38.4 cubic feet of cargo capacity behind the rear seats, expanding to 73.4 cubic feet with the 60/40 split rear seats folded. Rear-passenger knee room is enhanced with front seats that feature a slim seat back. The rear seatbacks also recline several degrees for added passenger comfort.

The RAV4 Hybrid is one of the first U.S. models to offer Toyota Safety Sense (TSS), a new multi-feature safety system that includes forward collision warning and automatic pre-collision braking. There is also lane-departure alert, radar-based adaptive cruise control, pedestrian pre-collision warning, and automatic high beams. A new Bird's Eye View Monitor with Perimeter Scan provides a live rotating 360-degree view of the surroundings on a 7-inch touchscreen using four cameras mounted on the front, side mirrors, and rear of the car. Limited models include blind-spot monitors with cross-traffic alerts as well.


The challenge ahead was clear when Toyota set out to design the all-new 2013 Avalon: With the median Avalon buyer’s age about 64 and a goal of drawing a much younger crowd from the 35 to 50 age group, it needed to come up with an elegant, well-sculpted, and sportier model that would attract this younger crowd while retaining the model’s traditional buyers.

Toyota’s competitors have been making more vehicles with a quiet, comfortable, and yet somewhat sporty driving feel. The Volkswagen Passat and new Ford Fusion are good examples of this trend. That said, given its class, the Avalon’s primary competition is likely the Chrysler 300, Hyundai Azera, Buick LaCrosse, and Ford Taurus. The new Avalon stacks up well against these.

Designers have done a good job of making the new Avalon more attractive, more aggressive, and yet still elegant while also lending that feeling of being ‘cool.’ The c-pillar is pushed back toward the rear, the roofline is flattened, and the overall design looks leaner and more modern compared with the previous generation. It is part Lexus ES and part Camry, with its own flair. Aggressive lines like a larger front intake and body panels with sharp creases – one running from the front wheel arch and above the door handles to the tail lights – reinforce the Avalon’s new styling direction.

The 2013 Avalon boasts a lower 0.28 drag coefficient through the use of flat under-body panels, more aerodynamic wipers and side mirrors, and other measures. At 3,461 pounds, the new iteration is 120 pounds lighter than the version it replaces and about 500 pounds lighter than its Detroit rivals, making it the lightest weight vehicle in its segment. Even so, the lighter weight Avalon is even more Lexus-quiet on the road than its predecessor.

The new Avalon is available with the latest version of Toyota’s 200 horsepower Hybrid Synergy Drive powertrain and its quick 268 horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6. The hybrid drive is derived from the existing HSD powerplant found in the Camry and Lexus hybrid models, which uses a 2.5-liter Atkinson cycle, four-cylinder engine with an electronic constantly variable transmission (CVT). Power is supplied by a nickel-metal-hydride battery.

We found both the hybrid and V-6 Avalon variants to be responsive during drives on the back roads of Northern California, although the hybrid whined loudly in protest at times on uphill jaunts and during aggressive throttle inputs, with the usual rubber-band CVT effect exhibited during sporty driving. That said, given the Avalon’s size and weight the hybrid was enjoyable in almost all driving conditions, plus we managed a real-life 41.3 mpg on a 20 mile suburban driving route. Both variants do fine driving in Normal mode, but selecting Sport mode provides better throttle tip-in and lends a more buttoned-down feel overall.

From multi-position lumbar support to double sealed glass, capacitive touch buttons, aggressively modernized dash, comfortable rear seat, and roomy trunk, the new Avalon really has a ton going on in comfort, modern technology, and true ease-of-use. Seats are leather across the board, with nicer perforated leather coming with the Limited trim level. Lumbar adjustment really is notable and we were able to find a few good setting that would comfortably accommodate a 6 foot, five inch frame for long trips.

We found the Avalon’s uplevel JBL GreenEdge sound system to be excellent, with the model’s standard audio system also providing very satisfying sound quality. The instrument panel’s capacitive buttons have ‘hockey stick’ indentations so they’re easy to use at just a glance. We also found it straightforward to manipulate settings in the Entune menus, find and use music apps, and also use the navigation screen. There’s been a genuine effort made to make the system easy to learn and use for those unaccustomed to such nifty technology.

Did Toyota get it right with its all-new Avalon? We feel the answer is ‘yes,’ though the focus feels more skewed toward luxury than the sportiness Toyota talks about. Really, that’s what the Avalon should be about – luxury all the time with a sporty nature when you need it. The previous generation Avalon, while extremely comfortable, reliable, and smooth, really lacked in driving dynamics.

Frankly, the previous model was also a bit boring with the feel of a big soft couch. The new Avalon is more like a favored Scandinavian-designed, birch wood accented, orthopedically-correct recliner. In short, it’s a huge step toward bringing an exciting, elegant, and appealing luxury sedan to a younger crowd.

The Toyota Avalon has always been aimed squarely at those who enjoy a large and comfortable car. It is Lexus quiet, Toyota reliable, large enough for Americans, and reasonably priced. While a good car, though, the Avalon’s environmental credentials have never been strong. That’s about to change with the all-new 2013 Avalon Hybrid coming to Toyota showrooms later this year.

Toyota has clearly paid attention to the success of high efficiency mid-size vehicles. VW has its Passat TDI that offers 43 highway mpg, and Ford, with the new 2013 Ford Fusion Hybrid, is expected to hit EPA ratings of 47 city/44 highway mpg. Buyers of larger sedans are more environmentally conscious than ever and  Toyota needs those customers to come back, or stay with them. They are banking on the new 2013 Avalon, and the Avalon Hybrid, to help make up the fuel-efficient, midsize sedan ground they have lost.

The 2013 Avalon has been redesigned for today’s green, luxury, and value conscious buyers. It has also been designed to be more youthful, yet still appealing to the Avalon’s traditionally conservative buyers. The new Avalon Hybrid achieves 40 city/39 highway mpg and 40 mpg combined. That’s quite respectable given the size of this vehicle and the big improvement over the gasoline model’s best highway fuel economy rating of 31 mpg.

Power is supplied by a variant of the Toyota Synergy Drive hybrid system used in the Toyota Camry. It  features  a 2.5-liter, Atkinson-cycle four-cylinder engine with a 244.8-volt nickel-metal-hydride battery pack and two electric motor/generators, providing a total 200 system horsepower. A driver can select EV, ECO, and SPORT modes, with the EV mode allowing travel up to a mile on electric power alone at a maximum 25 mph.

Toyota’s all-new 2013 Avalon is significantly improved inside and out, appearing well-prepared to compete in the growing field of highly fuel efficient larger sedans. The North American-designed and engineered Avalon Hybrid will be built at Toyota’s Georgetown, Kentucky assembly plant. Its MSRP has yet to be announced.