In terms of global automobile production, Toyota is the largest manufacturer in the world, challenged only by Volkswagen and GM.
This volume comprises cars at all price points – from Scion to Lexus. Within these products, Toyota produces a wide range of fuel-efficient, gasoline-powered engines, including the first mass-marketed gas-electric hybrid, the Prius.
Late in the summer we drove three Toyota products – the Camry, the RAV4 and the Scion tC – which collectively explain the company’s position in the marketplace. None of them is rated as the top model in its category, but each is an excellent value at its price point.
This is the most basic car in the Toyota lineup – the medium-priced, four-door family sedan.
No one would ever call the Toyota Camry an “aspirational” automobile. Does a junior-higher put posters of a Camry on his bedroom wall or doodle pictures of it in the back of a school notebook? Of course not, but nevertheless, this model has been America’s best-selling automobile 13 times since 1989.
How? Simple. The Camry does exactly what its customers expect it to do: get them to and from work, shopping and recreational destinations reliably and at a reasonable cost in terms of purchase price and operating expenses. For most automobile purchasers, that’s all they expect and all they need from a vehicle.
It had been a while since we last drove a Camry, but it reminded us what automotive transportation is all about for many buyers in the marketplace. There’s nothing much to catch the eye on the outside of this automobile, but it screams functional. The trunk opening is large relative to the trunk space, allowing sizable items to be stowed quickly and without a struggle. Similarly, the front and rear doors and the roofline don’t sacrifice anything to design – the doors allow easy entry and exit, and rear seating is not at all claustrophobic.
Similarly, it’s clear that the designers and engineers were more concerned with ergonomics than style when they designed the controls. There aren’t any fancy touch screens or multifunction knobs to control the audio system or the heating and ventilation – just switches and rotating knobs allowing a driver to use them while keeping eyes on the road.
Underway, the Camry is smooth and quiet, an equal to automobiles of higher prices. We drove the more powerful V6, with 268 horsepower and 248 pound-feet of torque. That’s enough to get the car up to highway speeds easily and maneuver through traffic confidently, though no one will cast a Camry in the next “Fast and Furious” film.
The only fault we would lay at Toyota’s feet with this car is that the combined fuel efficiency of 25 mpg might not keep buyers trading their old Camry for a new one.
Bottom line: The Camry is a solid, reliable car for the family more interested in comfort, convenience and reliability than style and excitement. It’s a reasonably priced vehicle that they can drive and depend on for many years to come.
The four-door sedan, for all of its high-volume market popularity, may not be the vehicle that some parents want to drive.
Perhaps dad wants a car for weekend family camping adventures or mom wants a car that gives her a commanding position in traffic or in the school pickup line.
As with the Camry, families choosing the RAV4 are perfectly happy to trade a little trendiness for reliability and a reasonable price.
Completely redesigned for 2013 (the model year we drove), the RAV4 has never deviated from the concepts that inspired its original design as one of the first compact SUVs. These vehicles are now termed “crossovers” because they represent a crossover between the comfortable ride and handling of standard automobiles and the height, clearance and access offered by sport-utility vehicles.
Like the Camry, the RAV4 isn’t trying to be anything it’s not – nor is it building in and pricing for equipment and trim that the sensible family doesn’t really need or want. The RAV4’s styling is a bit edgier than in previous years, though not enough to be controversial, and interior equipment is more functional than fashionable.
The RAV4 has good handling for a crossover with average speed and acceleration, and is competent to handle snow and mud conditions and moderately challenging off-road conditions.
Like the Camry, its fuel efficiency is in the middle of the pack. Similarly, the interior is easy to access through the doors and hatchback, and it boasts excellent capacity for its size.
Perhaps most important to the potential customer for this car, the top-of-the-line XLE model we drove is affordable, with full equipment including a nice audio system, navigation and a backup camera, but still selling for well under $30,000.
Bottom line: Toyota is delivering everything the buyer really needs in a multifunction vehicle, and charging no more than the buyer should have to pay.
A car company doesn’t reach the sales volume of Toyota by marketing only to customers who value function over fun.
For that younger driver who doesn’t yet have the responsibilities that come with a family, there is the Scion brand, and for sportiness, there is the Scion tC – a two-door coupe with a hatchback for weekend practicality. It’s the all-purpose vehicle for the person who has the budget and space for just one car.
At just under $21,000, the tC is within the reach of many first-car buyers who want the confidence and reliability of a new car backed by a Toyota warranty, with the excellent dealer service for which the brand is known.
But just like the other two Toyotas in this batch, the company isn’t building in, or pricing for, anything the buyer doesn’t really need.
While speed and acceleration are fine for city traffic and occasional highway trips, this isn’t a car that is going to tempt the driver to jackrabbit away from stoplights or pretend to be a race-car driver in city traffic.
With the recent redesign, the car does have a more aggressive front-end styling, and there are some nice sporting touches on the interior – such as a steering wheel that is flat on the bottom like racing steering wheels.
Fuel efficiency is probably the only drawback – a little below average for this market segment at 26 mpg combined. But that isn’t so low, given the stylish functionality of the car, to be a deal-breaker for the younger, sportier buyer.
Bottom line: The Scion tC offers trendy sportiness and reasonable performance at a reasonable price point.