Toyota Sequoia Platinum 4X4 Review

A Sequoia is one of the largest trees you'll ever see. A great name for a vehicle meant to do battle with the Chevy Tahoe...since Sequoias (the tree) tower over Tahoe (the lake).

You really can't knock the Sequoia on merit...it's a Toyota...solid, rugged, with a reputation that fairly screams reliability.

But what seemed like a great idea at the time ("Let's make the Tahoe look small!") seems like an iffy-ish proposition now.

There are people for whom this size SUV is not only a good match but nearly a necessity. Those folks just need to figure out whether the Sequoia Platinum 4X4 (it would take forever to list what is standard...just surf to the Toyota website for the list) is worth a base price outlay of $57,625 (more than $23,000 above a base Sequoia), not to mention an as-tested price that edges above $60,000 with the addition of a rear-seat entertainment system, cold kit, Dynamic Laser Cruise Control (really!), daytime running lights and a cargo mat.

The timing seems all wrong for that kind of excess...but Toyota's not alone. Chevy dropped off a Tahoe LTZ yesterday. It stickers at $57,335 as equipped. Which I always thought was Escalade money, just as the Sequoia Platinum 4X4 price seems more in line with Lexus SUVs.

Like I said, you can't knock either of these vehicles but is anybody really looking for a version of an SUV that's nearly $25,000 more than the base model? Use the comments feature to discuss.


Infiniti G37 Sedan AWD Review

It's been three years since my last seat time in an Infiniti G sedan. It was the G35 then, and it was my mode of transportation for an up-on-Monday, back-on-Wednesday run to Las Vegas (280 miles each way) for a broadcasting convention.

Powerful, great handling, luxurious without being soft. I loved it.

What's the difference between 2006 and 2009? In a word, more.

Certainly more power. 280 horses back then have been bumped to 328 now...nearly 50 more.

More gears. The G35 I drove had a six-speed manual. The G37 I handed back a couple of weeks ago had a seven-speed automatic...which bumps EPA estimated fuel economy up to 18 city/25 highway.

More features...including stuff Infiniti was probably just beginning to dream about in early '06...like the Infiniti Studio on Wheels premium audio system by Bose with 24-bit Burr Brown DAC and Driver's Audio Stage with 10 speakers.

That's how they list it on the window sticker. It's part of the Premium Package. All I know is it sounded fabulous. And it includes a 9.3 gigabyte Music Box hard drive so all your CDs can come with you and stay in your house at the same time.

Oh, yeah...and genuine African Rosewood trim. $550. An option.

Truth be told, the Infiniti stayed just this side of triggering my "too much tech" alarm...and I have a suspicion that I'd like the $35,750 base G37 AWD (or the $33,250 2-wheel drive) sedan just as much, if not more than I did the $43,015 fully loaded one. But this one is a solid contender in the sport sedan wars...and even if it never becomes the BMW 3-series killer some are hoping for, it will be fun and rewarding to drive it as it tries.

Toyota Tacoma Double Cab Review

"...maybe it's time we got back to the basics of trucks...."
---Waylon Jennings, "Luckenbach, Texas" (1976)

Okay, hold the e-mails. I know Waylon sang "love", not "trucks". Sure would make a great TV spot for the Toyota Tacoma, though. Especially one equipped like our tester.

If you're a TireKicker regular, you know I have a soft spot for the basic...and that all too many manufacturers send out press fleet vehicles loaded to the gills with every conceivable option.

Well, Toyota did the unusual: They built, and then sent to automotive journalists, a Toyota Tacoma (their midsize truck) Double Cab 4X4 with a manual transmission, cloth interior and useful options. And in the process, reminded yours truly what a revelation Toyota pickups were back in the day. Rugged, reliable and reasonable...the new 3 "R"s of autodom (circa 1976, which links us back to Waylon).

The Tacoma comes with a 236 horsepower 4-liter V6. Fuel economy's on the grim side, 14 city, 19 highway, but it's not out of line. It aces every one of the government crash tests (five stars for everyone, four out of four for rollover protection), and generally feels like it will last forever.

All at a base price of $25,695...and that's for the Double Cab four-by-four.

Options on the one I drove? An off-road extra value package (suspension upgrades, tougher tires, skid plates, and tow hooks combined with an upgraded audio system, Bluetooth, sport seats and more for $4,690), daytime running lights for $40, the towing package ($650), floor mats ($199) and a VIP security system ($479). With delivery charges, it came to $32,498, but there's a $950 discount for the extra value package, so the real bottom line was $31,548.

Dump the off-road package, the towing package, the daytime running lights and pick up some floormats from the aftermarket and this would come in just over $26,000...which is a terrific deal for a right-size truck that wins you over with its basic goodness, not a bunch of add-ons.

With $45,000 monster Tundras fuzzing up the image the past few years, the Tacoma is a great way to remind yourself just what a Toyota pickup is all about.


Acura TL SH-AWD (with Technology Package) Review

There must be a car in there somewhere. Darned if I can find it.

Acura has apparently shifted somewhere along the way from being the near-luxury division of Honda (maker of wonderful vehicles like the original Acura Legend) to being the technology division of Honda...a company that already has entirely too much of a fascination with tiny backlit buttons everywhere it can fit them.

On the Hondas, it's just this side of annoying...because, well...because there's a Honda in there...bringing with it value, reliability and generally attractive cars. And the Honda price point keeps the tech from getting out of control.

But the new Acura TL? First, the redesign has taken a lithe, sleek sedan and turned it into a blocky, angular mess. If they could argue that all those angles confound photo radar, that might be an excuse...but they're not.

Second, it performs well...but not memorably.

And third...the tech. Too much stuff. My first clue? The owner's manual is more than 600 pages long. And there's a separate nav system manual (I neglected to count those pages, but I see that you can get it online as a .pdf...in that form, it's 172 pages.

Oh, yeah...and it's $42,995.

I respect Honda and its products (as a Civic owner for 14 years). But Acura's taken a wrong turn...and I hope its corporate nav system can plot a new route.

Nissan Pathfinder LE 4X4 Review

As the carpocalypse continues, weeklong tests of vehicles take on a new feeling...each one making its case for why it should be around, still in the manufacturer's lineup when things finally get better.

The Nissan Pathfinder makes a strong case. Like the smaller XTerra and most of Nissan's truck products, it sends a message of rugged reliability. There's plenty of space, loads of utility and more than a little sport.

The LE comes with a 4-liter V6 making 266 horsepower, teamed with a 5-speed automatic transmission, 18 inch alloy wheels, leather-appointed first and second row seats, a serious Bose 10-speaker AM/FM/XM/mp3 6-disc changer with dual subwoofers, power everything, Bluetooth and more.

The shock comes when you look at the sticker. Base: $38,510. The nav package and floormats (along with destination charges) ran it up to $41,295. Now, admittedly, the Pathfinder is a bigger and better vehicle than it was just a few years ago...and this is the top of the line model.

But still: 41 and change for a Nissan SUV. 14 city/20 highway EPA estimated miles per gallon. Our advice: Embrace the new austerity...opt for the base S model. You'll keep the engine, but trade down to 16-inch wheels, cloth interior and lose the luxo stuff. You'll also carve $11,300 off the base price...enough to add some options back into the mix with an eyedropper and come up with a solid $30,000 Pathfinder.


Suzuki Equator Review

Gee, stranger...you look familiar.

Welcome to our brave new world...where badge engineering is no longer something that happens between divisions of the same automaker. Nope, now competing companies are swapping product and slapping nameplates on them.

Okay, it's not really new. Honda and Isuzu had the same kind of deal 15 years ago with the Rodeo and Passport SUVs and Oasis and Odyssey minivans.

In that particular deal, Honda provided the Odyssey for rebadging as the Oasis and Isuzu shipped some Rodeos over to Honda to be rechristened as Passports. Why buy one instead of the other? Well, Isuzu actually had the edge, even with the Honda-made product, by virtue of the stronger warranty.

That's essentially what's going on with the Suzuki Equator. What we have here is a Nissan Frontier pickup with an arguably more aggressive grille. That's it. Otherwise the same truck...right down to an identical EPA estimate of 15 city and 19 highway miles per gallon.

The Suzuki's base price is about $800 more than the comparably equipped Nissan...but wait. The Nissan limited warranty is 3 years or 36,000 miles with a powertrain warranty of 5 years or 50,000 miles. Suzuki jacks the ante way up with a 7 year/100,000 mile warranty. Which, if you're planning on keeping the truck more than 5 years, will more than cover the $800 price difference. Plus, dealers are hungry right now and Suzuki dealers are likely ravenous. I'd bet on your ability to make the $800 difference go away. You might even get a better deal on an Equator than you could a Frontier, depending on the dealers involved.

The Equator/Frontier's a nice truck (read my review of the Frontier here). Buying one from the Suzuki store could be a very smart move.

Nissan Murano Review

Murano. The name conjures up images of the sleek and stylish. And Nissan's mid-size crossover SUV has lived up to that name.

For 2009, Murano gets a makeover. That's tricky stuff. New is not always better. But Nissan did it right...keeping everything good about the first-generation Murano and making it better.

Fit and finish, materials and appointments and overall luxury are dialed up, noise, vibration and harshness (never a problem in the first place) are dialed even further down.

Styling changes are subtle enough that you really need to park an '09 next to an '08 to get the full effect...but once you do, there's no way you'd choose the older one.

And the good news (especially in this economy)is price: $27,930 base for the S model I drove (hey, good cloth seats beat mediocre leather ones every time), $29,225 as tested (Only option: The Convenience Package...privacy glass, roof rails, a retractable cargo cover and vehicle security system for $550) including destination charges.

And mileage isn't bad for this type of vehicle, either. The EPA says 18 city/23 highway.

A few years ago, something this nice would have been branded an Infiniti instead of a Nissan. The Murano shows just how far Nissan has come...freeing Infiniti to move even farther up the ladder.


Nissan 350Z Roadster GT Review

There's a lot to be said for buying the final year of any design. The main point is that the bugs have all been ironed out. So, as much as I'm waiting with great anticipation for the new Nissan 370Z, the final-year 350Z Roadster is looking mighty good.

I was among those disappointed with Nissan's execution of the new Z when it first landed. Way-too-cheap materials (especially in the interior) marred what could have been an incredible bargain. To Nissan's credit, they've worked on the Z continuously over the past five or so years, to the point where it's hard to find fault with the outgoing Z.

I recently spent a week in the Roadster GT, and thoroughly enjoyed it. The base price of $41.570 takes care of a 306 horsepower, 3.5 liter V6, a six-speed manual transmission, electric soft top, 18 inch wheels, 8-way power driver's seat (4-way for the passenger), keyless enry, power everything, a 7-speaker Bose audio system that can actually be impressive with the top down at speed (a neat trick) and a bunch more. The only options were floor mats for $95.00 and an $1800 nav system that I'd skip in a heartbeat.

Still, the fun-per-dollar factor, even with the nav driving the bottom line to $44,160, is awfully high...and with strong crash test ratings and an EPA estimated 17 city/24 highway miles per gallon, the Z Roadster GT is a fairly responsible choice (at least in the realm of two-seat sports roadsters).

A strong finish for what's become a very good car. May the next generation do so well.

Suzuki Grand Vitara Review

The past three years or so have seen Suzuki really blossom in terms of product, limited as it is. The SX4 is a quirky but fun machine and the Grand Vitara has gone from an overreaching spawn of the Samurai to a solid player in the small SUV field.

The high points are price ($18,499 for a no-frills base model, $25,299 for the nicely equipped XSport V6 four-wheel drive I drove) and solid gas mileage (EPA says 17 city/23 highway) for an engine making 230 horsepower, driving four wheels and carrying 5 people and their stuff.

Once a bargain-basement automaker, Suzuki has stepped up to the good stuff of late. The XSport level brings a sunroof, climate control, heated mirrors, an 8-speaker, 6CD audio system with subwoofer and a bunch more (the only options left were a cargo mat & net, floormats and premium metallic paint).

If you're thinking RAV4 or CR-V, cross-shop the Grand Vitara, too.


Mazda 6 Grand Touring Review

Automotive journalists, yours truly included, have shouted ourselves hoarse over the years about the merits of the Mazda 6...without much influence on the sales charts. It's not a stiff, but it's not any threat to Accords, Camrys or even Altimas when they total up units sold at the end of each month.

The new Mazda 6 is every bit as good as the last one...and manages to pull off that trick (difficult because so much of what we like in the 6 is its sporting character) while getting quite a bit larger (in an effort to attract Accord, Camry and Altima cross-shoppers).

$24,910 buys a 2.5 liter 16-valve four-cylinder with 170 horsepower. Doesn't sound like much, but it drives like a 250-horsepower six. There's a six-speed manual transmission...17-inch alloy wheels, rain-sensing wipers, leather-trimmed seats (the driver's is an 8-way power adjustable and both front seats are heated) and a bunch more. Standard. For $24,910. And that's the Grand Touring model. There are less expensive trim lines.

The tester I drove for a week added a nav system for $2,000 (I'd have skipped it...if you have to have one, you probably already do...in your cell phone. If not, TomToms and Garmins are a fraction of this price) and $1,760 for a Moonroof & Bose Package...with a moonroof (duh!) and a Bose audio system with 6-disc CD changer and Sirius Satellite Radio. I'm not big on moonroofs (less headroom, more distraction, violation of structural integrity), but my wife is, so I'd probably say yes. Especially since the audio system is a really good one.

Even swallowing the nav system, the bottom line is a reasonable $29,440. Drop the nav and it's $27,440, which is a strong value proposition for a car with great performance, five-star crash ratings in every category and an EPA estimated 20 city/29 highway miles per gallon.

I'm getting hoarse again. Please, just drive one.


Lexus ES350 Review

Okay, so the Lexus ES was the butt of the joke in Audi's Super Bowl commercial "Chase" this weekend.

But that was a 90s ES. A lot has changed.

No, this is still not the car you'd want to take up autocross with, but the ES has grown well beyond its gussied-up Toyota Camry roots.

Buying an ES 350 now gets you 272 horsepower from a 3.5 liter, four-cam, 24-valve V6, a six-speed automatic transmission, dual exhausts, a four-wheel independent suspension with gas pressurized shocks and front and rear stabilizer bars.

Drive an ES and a Camry back to back now and you'll be convinced you're driving two different vehicles...and really, you are.

Beyond performance, the Lexus luxury quotient is in full force, making the $34,320 base price seem like a real bargain. Even loaded with options as the tester I drove was (including a $4,250 Mark Levinson Premium Audio Package), $41,340 seems within walking distance of reasonable for this car.

And then there's economy...thanks to the six-cylinder and six-speed, the EPA says the ES 350 is good for 19 city/27 highway miles per gallon.

If you're looking for luxury that whispers rather than shouts and brings its own types of economy (price and fuel economy) to the party, this is a good place to start.

Infiniti QX56 Review

The folly of the "bigger is better" mantra as regards SUVs gets laid on Detroit's doorstep, but it's worth remembering that the Japanese drank that particular batch of Kool-Aid, too (save Honda).

The Infiniti QX56 is a whopper...built on the platform for the Nissan Titan pickup and Armada SUV. In fact, the QX56 is really just an upscale Armada.

So what is it besides huge? Well, fairly powerful (320 horsepower from a 5.6 liter
V8), well-equipped (20-inch wheels, power and heated everything, Bluetooth, a 12-speaker Bose audio system with hard drive and flash drive slot) and thirsty...at an EPA estimated 12 city/17 highway miles per gallon (see "fairly powerful" for the reason why.

As is, the QX56 starts at $58,150, but Nissan's test fleet folks ordered this one up with a Technology Package (Intelligent Cruise Control and Front Sonar) and the Infiniti Mobile Entertainment System (a DVD player for the folks in back). That, with delivery, brings the price up to $6,185.

I can't sit here and bag on any one part of the QX56. Infiniti succeeded in building the vehicle they wanted to build. But times have changed...and anything that feels bigger and more ostentatious than either an Escalade or Navigator is likely to be a tough sell for the forseeable future.