2017 Toyota Sienna Limited AWD

2017 Toyota Sienna Limited Premier AWD (Staff Photo)

2017 Toyota Sienna Limited Premier AWD (Staff Photo)

Writer : Bill Boekholder - Photos : Toyota USA

I recently had the pleasure of reviewing the new 2017 Toyota Sienna minivan for a working trip up north to Battle Creek Michigan. This being a 4.5 hour trip, one way, I knew I would be able to use most, if not all the bells and whistles this minivan provided, and I was correct for the most part, but yet, it was a minivan

Photos provided by Toyota USA

Photos provided by Toyota USA

First impressions where, it’s a minivan, another young couple (with kids) or older persons (with grandkids) mode of transportation. To say the least, I wasn’t happy because I was expecting a vehicle with a little more pop and pizazz, some flash, some cool rims and a kicking stereo, not a minivan. It didn’t take long for me realize how nice a vehicle it was to drive and relax in.

Let’s talk a little about the nuts and bolts of this minivan. The 296 horsepower, 3.5 litre V6, AWD, makes it more than a minivan. This vehicle has a lot of get up and go, something I was seriously surprised by. For just putting around the town it does seem a little lacking in power, as it should, you’re just going to get groceries or pick up the kids from soccer. Once you get it out on the highway, the surprise comes the first time you go to pass a vehicle and you smash the gas pedal down. It might not be necks snapping speed, but it did get my attention and put me back in my seat a bit. Combined with the AWD, this so called minivan, handled like a sports car on rails. Power was there, steering was tight and neutral. It got around cars and trucks with no problems at all running at the speed limits provided and all with the giddy up and go of a smaller car or a luxury sedan.

Photo provided by Toyota USA

Photo provided by Toyota USA

The exterior was typical minivanish, solid color paint job; maybe a two tone paint or body strip would break it up a little, boring rims are just that, boring. What I liked was coming up on the van at night and pressing unlock on the key fob. The exterior lighting for the driver and passenger side lite up the side door areas real well. The passenger back doors take a little getting used to; I’m not used to using door handles with a delay in the door actually opening. The same can be said of the rear hatch style door. It would be nice if it was motorized like the side doors are when you manually opened it. It’s not a heavy door and is motorized, but if you don’t use the key fob to open it, it can be a little awkward. The roof rack really needs to have some cross bars to help with the various attachments you might need to haul a kayak or maybe some bikes. The two sun roofs are both adequate in size and are a nice feature for the passengers in the back to have their own.

The interior is spacious and accommodating. The third row of stow and go seats are easy to store and just as easy to put back up. The second row of seats move all the way up for easy entry and egress from the third row. With the second row seats all the way up, you have massive amounts of room to put stuff in the back. Since the seats move independently of each other, you can still haul one person and have plenty of room to haul stuff. The front seats are comfortable with plenty of electric adjustments to fit virtually anyone. The nice feature of two preset positions for the driver seat will definably come in handy if you are 6’ 2” and your wifey is 5’4”.

Photo by Toyota USA

Photo by Toyota USA

Sitting in the driver’s seat is like sitting in your own little world of funness. The gauges and controls are strikingly easy to read and operate. Nothing seems out of reach of any driver of any size. Knobs, buttons and the touch screen are well marked and easy to operate. I had to reset the clock because of the time zone changes; it was an absolute snap to do, just like the rest of the controls. The rear doors and rear hatch buttons are in their own little overhead console, combined with the sun roof controls, make this a nice feature. The steering wheel controls are also easy to use, but I wish they would put the cruise control on the steering wheel as well. My only complaint about anything is the location of the cruise control stalk, it’s awkward to use and when you’re on the highway and have to constantly use it, it becomes a bit annoying. The driver’s cockpit is generously equipped with the usual collision avoidance switches that are easy to turn off and on if they become a bother. The headlights are bright, maybe too bright as I was flashed at a couple of times while the lights where on low beam, but they did what they were supposed to do and that is to light up the road.

My only complaints were the cruise control, which I feel Toyota could and should do better. The other would be the outlets for plugging in 12 volt chargers and such. The middle passenger had none in the back of the center counsel or on the sides. There are plenty up front and in the rear of the vehicle. The 110/120 volt plug in the back area would be much more useful if it was a three prong grounded outlet. The USB ports are easily accessible and there are enough to go around, except for the middle seated passengers.

Overall I thought this was a well-equipped and well laid out vehicle that would suit any number of people. If I were to scale it, I would give it a solid nine out of ten. It was pleasant vehicle to drive and it didn’t disappoint me, my passengers or my equipment.

Like to thank Toyota USA for the opportunity to review this vehicle.  Any questions please contact your nearest dealership. 


2015 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited

Since the birth of our second son, my wife and I have considered purchasing an SUV to accommodate an extra person and all of the additional stuff we haul around with us.  It’s been a struggle for us as there are so many great SUV’s currently on the market.  The new 2015 Toyota Highlander Hybrid has made the struggle even harder, as we found this to be an excellent vehicle to throw into the running.  Most of you know by now that we live in Chicago, where side roads are small and parking is pretty much a nightmare.  We are fortunate to have a garage, but we always need to consider the size of the vehicle as the bigger it is, the harder it is to find parking and maneuver around narrow streets. 

We had the opportunity to spend some time with the Highlander, which opened our eyes to a model that we had only briefly considered before.  This vehicle impressed us on all levels, especially with the miles per gallon.  I had a hard time believing that a hybrid would work the way I expect on a vehicle of the Highlander’s size.  We currently own a hybrid sedan and we love it, so it was exciting to be able to test out how a hybrid SUV would actually perform.  Would we get the gas mileage we hope for and still have the capacity to tow jet skis or a small boat?  Would we still have all of the room we desire without feeling like we’ve given up power?   After spending a week with the vehicle, I have no doubt that the answer to both of these questions is a resounding yes. 

The Highlander hybrid, which was first available in 2010 and received a facelift in 2013, has been increasing in popularity every year.  It is considered a mid-size SUV, but it’s a bit on the larger side, which I noticed and personally enjoyed.  As the exterior goes, I’ve always found Toyota to be great in offering a very attractive SUV.  The Highlander has a very clean and conservative appearance.  The wrap around HID projector headlights give it a clean look and complement the good sized front grill.  The fog lights are low and towards the end of the bumper.  The body looks to have good clearance and will tackle the harsh Chicago winters with beefy tires on 19” rims. 

The interior appears similar to the rest of the Toyota line-up.  Nothing too elaborate but very attractive.  It’s a really clean and subtle look with lots of room to store items.  The dash is very open and all of the controls are easy to navigate.  The large touch screen monitor at times felt too sensitive, but I think it’s just a learning curve to overcome.  I really liked the small 3 inch gap below the dual climate controls where you can store cell phones, sunglasses, pens and pretty much anything small that you need within reach.  The center console is wide with plenty of room in the storage compartment to fit a small laptop.  Toyota really took care in making sure there was sufficient room and storage since many people would likely use this as a family vehicle.  Visibility is good sitting in the driver’s seat, but I could see the big hood becoming a sight problem for shorter drivers.  One surprise feature that I enjoyed was the flip down curved mirror, which let me keep an eye on the two kids in the back. 

The back seating area is pretty big.  I am able to fit back there comfortably without the front passengers having to sacrifice leg room.  The big test was installing our massive baby seats and it was a breeze.  There was still plenty of room with them in, and honestly room to spare.  This vehicle is also equipped with 3rd row seating.  I usually find it difficult trying to get to the 3rd row, but not in this case.  The back seat are captain’s chairs with open space between them, making it convenient to get back there.  You also have separate climate controls for the rear, which are easy to access right behind the center console.  

I’ve always thought of a SUV as a vehicle with a tough engine to provide enough power to hold its own.  I never thought a hybrid motor would work, but the Highlander proved me wrong.  As technology has gotten better, so has efficiency.  Yes, this is a hybrid, but also has a 3.5-liter V6 and an electric motor to produce 280hp along with a 3,500lb towing capacity.  So this answers my question as to having enough power to tow.  The more I drove the Highlander, the more I liked it.  Driving in downtown Chicago, I was averaging 24mpg.  This is a little below the advertised 27mpg, but I was also driving in a congested area with constant stop and go traffic.  It was really smooth but I did find an obvious transition going from electric to motor.  Those not used to a hybrid would notice it more but I expected it and didn’t think of it as a big deal.  This was an AWD model, and the instant torque from being a hybrid really added to the performance.  I drove it on the highway as well, and enjoyed a smooth ride averaging the suggested 28mpg.

Overall I really enjoyed the vehicle.  At first I didn’t know if I would like it, but both my wife and I ended the test period really considering purchasing this model.  It has everything we need to accommodate our growing family, not to mention it drove very nice and comfortable.  Yes, it’s slightly on the bigger side but it’s not bad at all.  I didn’t have any problems maneuvering around town.  My 4 year old loved the panoramic roof and rear captain’s chairs, and the three zone automatic climate control really made it convenient for everyone to stay comfortable throughout the entire cabin.

The Highlander starts out at $29,990 and the Hybrid at $47,870.  The increase in price for the hybrid model does pay off in the long run with the good gas mileage.  Other models I have tested in its class averaged about 6-8 mpg less.  The fully loaded model we tested retails at $52,042.  I’d like to thank Toyota for the opportunity to spend some time with this model and make our decision when it comes to purchasing an SUV that much harder.  Please visit your local Toyota Dealership for more information. 

2015 Toyota Yaris

If I could sum up the 2015 Toyota Yaris in three words, I would say it is fun, compact, and economical.  A totally redesigned car that turns heads and starts at $14,845 deserves a closer look.

For 2015, Toyota gave the Yaris more distinctive front and rear styling, which I found to be much more aggressive looking than in prior years. The interior has also been spiffed up with upgraded materials, including seats that are very comfortable on long road trips.  In addition, every trim level gets a touchscreen infotainment interface and the option of a navigation system, which is almost unheard of for the price. Top all of that off with 30 mpg city/36 mpg highway, and you have excellent value that also keeps you from visiting the gas station on a daily basis.

The 1.5 liter engine with 106hp gives enough power to cruise the streets with ease.  I found the passing power to come on late, but it gets you there. The rear seats fold down to give a surprising amount of space for groceries or other things you are hauling around, which I really enjoyed.  It will seat four intimately, yet it is still comfortable. 

In conclusion, I find the 2015 Yaris to be a great value, excellent car to park in those crowded city streets, and a great gas saver. The stiffer frame and aggressive styling are the icing on the top and just make this a great car to own.  Go to your nearest Toyota dealer and check one out today!

Click on image to visit Official Website. 

Click on image to visit Official Website. 

Reviewed & Written by Fred Torres.  

2015 Toyota Corolla S Plus

The 2015 Toyota Corolla is a car that checks off several of the sensible and practical qualities you want in a vehicle. It’s reliable. It’s fuel efficient. It offers some of the modern features you seek. It's even surprisingly roomy and comfortable inside; I could fit 4 comfortably. As an everyday vehicle it has a lot to offer, and its modern styling is more aggressive. I found fellow friends saying "That’s a Corolla?! WOW!" The overall ride comfort was pleasant, but I did find the driver’s area not as immersive. The interior was comfortable and well designed. Plus, the ability to switch from Eco mode to sport mode on the go was a convenient and fun option.


With the newly designed exterior, it certainly turned heads.  It did help that this model was painted in the Barcelona Red Metallic, which really stood out.  The bigger grill with black accents really gave a cool looking appearance.  It grew on me more every day I looked at it.  With its projector headlights and fog lights, I don’t think you’ll have any issues traveling at night.  Toyota really stepped up their game in making a sporty looking compact car, complete with black alloy wheels and a small lip spoiler.  On top of all of that, it still holds a high safety rating as well.  


Traveling through the city was a breeze.  I can certainly see why the Corolla is one of the top selling vehicles in the U.S.  With its roomy interior I was very comfortable.  This model is equipped with a 6.1 touch screen monitor that made it easy to control and customize the settings to my needs.  Most cities now require all drivers to have a Bluetooth and/or handless device while driving.  This is pretty standard on all models and was easy to connect.  One thing that really stood out to me was the finishing touches.  The dash had a glossy black trim around the dash and center console.  This gave it a little more of a luxurious look and it blended very well.  The double stitching on the seats was an added touch that carried on to the door panels.  


I did manage to take a short trip and spend some quality time on Illinois’ finest roads.  The vehicle drove great on the highway with its 1.8L DOHC and 132hp to get moving.  There was a little road and engine noise, but wasn’t the end of the world.  The tight suspension really didn’t bother me much, and I definitely enjoyed getting 37mpg on the highway.  The trunk had plenty of room and even more when the rear seats were folded down. 

Overall I really liked the vehicle and it’s a great buy if you’re looking for a compact car.  The price starts out at $16k for the base model.  We tested the S Plus model which included 17’ alloy wheels, rear disc brakes, integrated fog lights and pedal shifting, and it lists for $21k.  I found this vehicle to be a great value. In conclusion, the 2015 Corolla is a fun car for enthusiasts, a great gas saver on those long trips, and a top performer in its class. 

Click on Image to be re-directed to photo album 

Click on Image to be re-directed to photo album 

2015 Toyota Rav4

Here’s a mind boggling stat for you: Toyota has been building the Rav4 for 20 years.  This vehicle opened a new market in the SUV crossover world with its 1995 debut. A vehicle that would provide the consumer a dream combination of increased cargo room with fuel economy close to that of a compact car.  Curiosity got the best of me, and I did some digging to see what Rav4 actually stands for.  Well, it’s straightforward and makes a lot of sense: Recreational Active Vehicle with 4 wheel drive. 

The introduction of the Rav4 inspired competitors to create their own similar vehicles.  Other popular models that come to mind are the Ford Escape and the Subaru Forester.  A vehicle of this size is really ideal for city life, to have just a bit more room without driving a huge vehicle and spending a fortune.  This class of vehicle is one that is right up my alley since I have a full house with a wife and two little boys.  Having the opportunity to review the Rav4 was perfect for us.

 I received a bright Barcelona Red Metallic Rav4, and it was certainly not what I expected.  As I was doing a walk around, I noticed how much Toyota had upped their game.  In the past, I always thought of the Rav4 as a basic 4 door small SUV, but no more.  The 2013 redesign really took it to the next level, and each year it gets more attractive than the last.  It looks like a much more expensive car to me, with a sleek front end, integrated turn signals on the side mirrors, projector headlights, fog lights, and bigger wheels; it really was the total package.  I hadn’t thought about the price of one of these in a while, and guessed it would be in the mid to high $30k’s.  As you will later see, I was definitely wrong about that.  One of the most convenient things that I noticed about the exterior was that the tail lights stuck out about 4 inches from the body of the car…they made a great cup holder for me while I was loading and unloading the back.  Thank you Toyota!

As I got into the Rav4, I was expecting the same as I had seen in previous models – basic interior with cheaper feeling plastic dash, door panels, etc.  I was wrong again.  The dash was well designed with double stitched leather in the middle.

The 6.1 LCD screen on the middle of dash was easy to operate, and the dual climate controls were right underneath of it.  The dash had a bit of padding to it, and Toyota added some carbon fiber accents to the center console and door panels.  There was also a big convenient pocket in front of the passenger, which was perfect to store phones, snacks, wallets, etc. Overall it was really well laid out and attractive. 

The back seat had good amount of room.  It’s not a large SUV, so I wasn’t expecting a huge seating area, but I was impressed that it was big enough to fit my son’s massive Britax car seat without sacrificing a ton of leg room for the front driver/passenger.  The back seat reclined and folded down in a 60/40 split.  Trunk area was also large and had a convenient privacy cover.  Though the tailgate wasn’t motorized on the model we reviewed, the Limited edition does offer that feature.  

Driving the vehicle in the city was exactly how I imagined it would be in a cross over vehicle.  I felt like I was driving a compact car but sitting higher.  I did notice that the engine was a little loud.  Toyota only offers one engine size across all Rav4 models, but they do offer a choice of drive train, either a front wheel drive or an all-wheel drive for an added $1,400.  A 2.5L 176hp engine is what powered the Rav4, which was perfect to give me the get up and go I needed, especially since I had the AWD model.  I personally think it’s well worth the all-wheel drive, especially if you live in a winter weather prone environment like Chicago.  It didn’t do badly on fuel either; I averaged about 23mpg in the city and 28mpg on the highway, which was not far off from the advertised amounts.  The navigation was really easy to operate, and I am happy to say that the Entune audio and back up camera come standard.  

I really enjoyed driving the car.  It wasn’t jaw dropping comfort, but for the price it is right where it needs to be.  It really fulfills the needs of the driver looking for a smaller car with more room, and really exemplifies what a crossover was designed to be.  If you want more power or more space, jump up to the 4-Runner or Highlander.  I am sure either of those two models would certainly meet your needs. 

Overall I would recommend this vehicle to anyone looking to purchase something slightly bigger than a compact car.  The model I tested was the XLE awd, which falls in the middle of the line.  The base model LE starts at $24k, XLE $27k and the limited at $30k.  Depending on what your needs are, the XLE gives you everything you could want.  Earlier I mentioned that I though it be around mid $30k’s, well as you can see, I was definitely wrong.  This is a great vehicle that won’t break the budget, and you get lot of bang for your buck.  Style, reliability, comfort, space and handling.  I had plenty of room traveling with my family, and if my cat liked to take a drive, I would have room for her too.  If you are in market to purchase a crossover, make sure to head over to your nearest Toyota dealership and test drive one today.

Click on image to be re-directed to Toyota official website.  

Click on image to be re-directed to Toyota official website.  

I would like to thank Toyota USA and Drive Sti for opportunity to review this vehicle

Click on image to photo album.  

Click on image to photo album.