By Roger Boylan
The logic of people who are neither builders nor ranchers driving full-size pickup trucks in lieu of cars escapes many. I know it escaped me for a long time, even after I’d been living in Texas, world capital of pickupdom, for many years (after all, I’m an ex-New Yorker, and for a long time hardly even got the point of cars). But I finally get it: for a smallish family, a big, high-riding pickup can serve as a cut-rate SUV. Whereas a Toyota Sequoia, for instance, starts at $39K, a Double-Cab Tundra, the Sequoia’s truck cousin and platform mate, can be had for $26K. My test vehicle, which I have to thank for this revelation, was, in fact, one of these: a 2010 Tundra Double Cab SR5.
Its arrival was timely, obviating the need to subject our aging domestic fleet (Jag S-Type, Chrysler PT Cruiser) to the rigors of a road trip. Our daughter had recently started her college studies in Dallas, a drive of some 250+ miles from the Boylan demesne in south-central Texas. Over the Labor Day weekend, to help settle her in and provide her with a brief but intense dose of parental fussing for old times’ sake, my wife and I loaded up the Tundra and drove up to the big D.
By Roger Boylan
The hybrid Lexus GS450h is the answer to a question that was probably never asked, unless that question was “What would you get if you cross a muscle car with a Toyota Prius?” Answer: the Lexus GS450h, world’s quickest hybrid car (at least until the Porsche 918 Spyder hits dealers), and one of the most expensive (excluding Lexus’ own LS600h L and any hybrid sports cars from Stuttgart): $57K is the starting sticker, and the version I tested went out the door at an even $60K. Honestly, if I had that kind of dough, would I worry about saving a couple of bucks at the gas pump? Probably not. But that’s only part of the story, because after a week of driving this beauty I can confidently say that if I did have $60K to spend on a car, I might actually spend it on one of these for its all-round incomparable Lexusness.
Let me elaborate, starting with the muscle car angle. The first time I stepped on the accelerator, I expected a strong and steady forward surge, as with the GS’s bigger sibling the LS450, but what I got instead was a whiplash-inducing and almost totally silent rush of power. Before I knew it I was going 85, and the GS was just beginning to get up on its legs, eagerly looking forward to 90 and 100 and beyond. (We didn’t quite make it there, what with those black-and-white cars that lurk behind overpasses on Texas highways during the summer driving season.) For the record, the 0 to 60 trip took about 5 seconds, by my trusty old Swiss chronometer. Lexus claims 5.2. However you slice it, that’s quick. I disengaged the traction control for testing purposes, but it came on again above 30 mph, and didn’t seem to interfere at all with the rapid forward movement. The car stops fast, too, and its regenerative brake system (what will they think of next?) stokes up the battery every time you hit the pedal.
By Roger Boylan
When it came out in late 1999 as a 2000 model, the Chrysler PT Cruiser PT was, love it or hate it, sui generis. It kicked off the retro revolution. Two years after the furor of the New Beetle, American car design was back where it belonged, out in front of the pack, and Chrysler was once again taking chances…and dividing public opinion. I can remember no other vehicle—not the Mini, not the New Beetle, not the Chevy HHR–that aroused such passions, pro and con, at its inception. A few years later, of course, feelings had cooled, and after a couple of minimal cyclical touch-ups and a spate of spinoff submodels such as the Dream Cruiser, the GT Turbo, and the misbegotten convertible, Chrysler wound down its investment in the Cruiser.
By 2007, after a half-hearted attempt to refresh the aging design, the company, by then heading rapidly down the tubes itself, had essentially condemned the PT to death. It limped on for another three years. Then the former “it” car, the hottest of hot sellers, the paradigm of cutting-edge design, was no more. The last one rolled off the line on July 9. The plant that produced it in Toluca, Mexico, is being retooled for Fiat 500 production.
By Roger Boylan
The 2010 Toyota Venza is a sleek and stylish SUV crossover with a pseudo-Italian name (a marriage of “venture” + “Monza”), designed to compete head-to-head with a sleek and stylish SUV crossover bearing a genuine Italian name, the Nissan Murano, which has no apparent connection to the eponymous Venetian glassblowing district but which comes closest to wearing the same three-cornered hat of sportiness, utility, and style. The others in this segment, such as the Ford Edge, Chevrolet Equinox, Mazda CX-7, and the new Honda Accord Crosstour, are, if you ask me (and even if you don’t), a step or two behind on the fashion runway, although all are pretty solid contenders. But in the street or the piazza, the Venza’s design stands out, with its bright chrome grille, tapering headlamp clusters, and low front valence containing a wide air dam and embedded fog lamps.
From the side, the Venza’s low rocker panels and tight doorsills evoke a more than passing resemblance to the first-generation Matrix, but on a larger scale that manages to look up-to-date, sleek, and swift. The huge wheels (in the V6 version, 20-inchers shod with 245/50 tires) sit at the corners of the body, contributing to the overall muscular, yet graceful, stance. Swoosh-shaped tail lamps add a sporty touch. It’s an eye-catching design, and it comes courtesy of Toyota’s CALTY Design Research Center in Newport Beach, California. Its Asian DNA is evident, though, in the grinning–almost leering–grille, as if Kabuki demons had a part in its creation.
By Roger Boylan
When Lexus was born in 1989, having evolved from a top-secret Toyota flagship sedan project into a distinctive luxury marque, the jaded veterans of the luxury-car world scoffed. No upstart Japanese enterprise could ever equal the Benzes, Jags and BMWs of this world, sneered those arrogant dynasts. Look at Sterling, Honda’s ill-fated joint attempt to base an upscale brand on dowdy Rovers: quality was poor, sales tanked. Well, Lexus was different right from the start. As anyone at all familiar with automotive history knows, the scoffing soon stopped. By the mid-1990s, Lexus was picking up awards for quality and reliability that were increasingly being denied to Mercedes-Benz, Cadillac, Jaguar, et al. The new Japanese brand came to surpass other luxury brands in terms of quality, durability, and reliability, a remarkable accomplishment for such a new arrival. The concept of the Japanese luxury marque had arrived, big time, in triplicate, with Nissan’s Infiniti and Honda’s Acura. This effort owed much to the original LS, the LS400, a V8-powered luxury model, the first car to call itself a Lexus.