Toyota’s gas sippers: Camry, Hyrid, RAV, Yaris, and Sienna
By The Car Family

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Toyota continues to impress us with its ability to build vehicles that are highly serviceable, handy, and excel at extracting extra mileage from every liter of fuel. Since we have tested the Prius several times we can safely say it is the best vehicle of its kind to provide economic transport for a family, but this review isn’t about that hybrid leader. What we wanted to know is how well Toyota was doing with its more mainstream offerings. We tested the new RAV-4, the base Sienna van, the new Yaris three door, and both the hybrid Camry and base LE. And, in the end, we were absolutely shocked that our favorite was the RAV-4. But more about that later.

First, we need to explain what we tested. There was the Yaris, Toyota’s new price leader that is replacing the Echo. The problem is that in those areas where the Scion is available the Yaris offers little that is different in terms of economy and cargo. In addition, the small Yaris doesn’t even get better gas mileage than the soon to be replaced Corolla.

Secondly, we took the new Camry hybrid for a week of mixed driving and compared it to the four-cylinder LE Camry. The difference in price was significant, but the hybrid is the future even if The Car Family would pass on it for their personal use. We averaged 20 percent better fuel economy with the hybrid. You can figure it would take about five years to make up the difference between the hybrid and the LE, but high resale values for the hybrid could well reduce that estimate.

The Sienna van is excellent at being a transport vehicle that enjoys going a long way on a gallon of fuel. It was spacious, parked in tight spaces, and was well priced.

Finally, we got a fairly well loaded RAV-4 with all wheel drive. At first we felt it was noisy with seats that needed more padding, and it had that rear tire hanging off the tailgate that we dislike. However, we were surprised when the very powerful V6 engine gave us some of the best gas mileage figures we have ever recorded for any SUV, let alone an all wheel version.

Before we get into the personal choices one area where Toyota does not lead is in interior design and stereo quality. Each of the vehicles looked like they were done not to be offensive. Even Toyota’s show piece, the hybrid, was conservative in style with only a few small chrome emblems indicating its nature.

Mom’s view:
The Toyota Sienna was the most enjoyable to drive. It had a lot of wind noise, though, and the placement of the transmission shifter took a while to get used to as it resides at the bottom of the dash. The excellent blue lighting of the gauges made it the easiest to read of all the cars and it was just relaxing to drive with its amazingly maneuverability. The 21-gallon tank made for 400-500 mile journeys possible without filling up. A downside is that some Sienna vans had a problem with the struts holding up the back hatch. So we recommend the electric opening option, as the new struts are very difficult to pull down if you are less than 5’3”. The Yaris just didn’t have enough storage areas and the base model wasn’t any less expensive than well-loaded coupes and sedans from the competition. I like the Corolla much better. The RAV-4 was awesome. It did everything well, had a very low liftover height and a handy cargo net that was anchored above the cargo bay floor. Great fuel mileage, too, but it had the spare tire mounted on the rear making it difficult to open and close on hills and its exposed location could add additional expenses should the RAV get hit in back. The Camry was nice, is priced above the competition. The hybrid was very well loaded, but I liked the Prius so much better I would go that route and save at least a few thousand.

Dad’s view:
The Sienna is getting long in the tooth and the new Kia van is nearly as competent at less cost. The Camry was very good. We had the base model and it performed well with excellent fuel mileage and a fairly comfortable ride. The Yaris just didn’t have what I liked is a small car and that is great handling and exceptional fuel mileage. The hybrid was $30,000 (US) and some dealers were asking for more than the MSRP. After driving it we wonder why. Certainly, it is the best combination of in town and highway gas mileage and cargo space, but at its best it only gets about 20 percent better fuel mileage than the base Camry and costs thousands more. Unless you drive over 20,000 miles a year you may want to think about it some more. My favorite was the RAV-4 and I hate most SUVs. What won me over was its ease of operation, magnificent visibility, and great engine. The V6 had plenty of poke and only cost a few hundred extra a year over the base Camry. It handled fairly well, and outside of the Subaru Forester turbo it can pretty much dominate the stoplight scene for SUVs, especially considering that it costs under $30,000 (US).

Possibly employed young male’s view:
I loved the Camry hybrid. It was so fun watching the readouts of the fuel mileage and even being able to ease over 40 mile per gallon on the highway. In town my only concern was the high seat backs and trunk that hindered visibility, especially if you are short. I also wonder about the cost of a replacement battery pack when the eight years of expected life passes. Thus, I would lease this car if I could get a realistic payment. The base Camry was okay, but the Hyundai Sonata is just as good if not better in terms of handling. The RAV-4 would be my second choice because it did everything well, but don’t expect anyone to ride long in the alleged third row of seating. It is also fairly expensive considering the competition and the fact Honda CR-V is going to be all new next year. Parking was a breeze in the RAV and the higher seating gave me a clear view of the road. The Sienna, once my most admired van, has not done well with age. Although the rear storage compartments are useful, there really isn’t anything exceptional here and, when fully loaded, these vans can cost over $40,000 (US). The Yaris was my last selection and it could have moved higher if we had the sedan version. The two-door coupe was very plain and the handling not up to the Honda Fit.

Family conference: Putting into place cost, maintenance, insurance, resale, usable room, crash test results, and fuel mileage the leader is the Camry hybrid, but not by much. The RAV-4 and the LE Camry also did very well. If the Yaris offered more living room or better fuel mileage it would be a consideration. Finally, the Sienna van, one of our past favorites, didn’t do nearly as well this year as previously. In the end it appears that Toyota’s pricing is edging up making it a less attractive bargain than before and we know this well as our grandparents bought one of the first Toyota station wagons in the nation. However, Toyota’s quality reputation, good resale, and non-offensive styling keep sales above average as well as its gas sipping offerings. If you are interested in good gas mileage you might also consider the new Corolla due next year or a good deal on this year’s model. For a full list of vehicle websites go to http://www.reacheverychild.com and click business.

Yearly

Gas Mileage Fuel cost(US) max.range cargo room (cu.ft.)

Carmy hybrid average 37 $1200 600 10

Camry four-cylinder average 26 $1700 650 15.5

RAV-4 six cylinder 24 $1900 450 37

Sienna van average 21 $2200 450 43

Yaris automatic average 32 $1270 400 12

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