• NHTSA issues warning over defective airbags in 4.7M vehicles

    October 20, 2014
    The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has issued a consumer advisory related to the expansive airbag recall.

    The NHTSA urges owners of certain Toyota, Honda, Mazda, BMW, Nissan, and General Motors vehicles to act immediately on recall notices to replace defective Takata airbags,” the agency said in a statement.

    The warning did not state exactly why owners should quickly respond to recall notices, but several drivers and passengers have been killed or seriously injured due to airbag failure or shrapnel from exploding inflators. The problem has been blamed on the propellant chemicals, which are prone to explode with excessive force when exposed to humidity over time.

    “The message comes with urgency, especially for owners of vehicles affected by the regional recalls in the following areas: Florida, Puerto Rico, Guam, Saipan, American Samoa, Virgin Islands and Hawaii,” the NHTSA added.

    The recall has continued to expand over several months, currently listing more than 4.7 million vehicles from the six different automakers. Honda accounts for more than half of the total, using the defective components in eight models with 2001-2011 model years.

  • Honda bringing HR-V to LA show, promises US launch this winter

    October 20, 2014
    Honda is set to bring its HR-V to the Los Angeles Auto Show for a North American debut.

    Already available in Japan as the Vezel, the HR-V will finally provide Honda with an entry-level crossover — slotting below the CR-V — to help bolster sales in the US market.

    The model is based on the same platform that underpins the Fit, likely powered by a 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine. It is unclear if the US-bound model will be available with a six-speed manual, consistent with the European variant, or limited to the CVT automatic.

    Front- and all-wheel-drive configurations are expected to be available in the US. The company could also offer upgraded engines, such as the 1.8-liter mill found in the Civic or the 2.4-liter powerplant from the CR-V.

    Pricing remains unconfirmed, but the HR-V sticker is likely to be significantly under the CR-V’s $23,775 MSRP when the smaller model arrives this winter.

  • Porsche almost sold out of 918 Spyder

    October 20, 2014
    Supercar buyers interested in the Porsche 918 Spyder may have to act quickly, as the limited-edition model is nearly sold out.

    The high-performance hybrid began its production run last fall, with assembly continuing into July 2015. The company has already sold all vehicles that are scheduled to roll off the assembly line through late March or early April, however.

    “It’s probably in the last and the final straight,” Porsche Cars North America marketing exec Andre Oosthuizen told Automotive News.

    The halo supercar pairs a 4.6-liter V8 engine with an electric motor on both the front and rear axles, adding up to 887 horsepower and 590 lb-ft of torque. Drivers can expect to hit 62 mph from a standstill in just 2.8 seconds, with a top speed of over 211 mph.

    Keeping to the name scheme, the company only plans to build 918 examples of the $850,000 supercar. Less than 40 have reportedly been delivered so far, and at least one has already been destroyed by fire when the owner was attempting to refill the gas tank.

  • Toyota adds 247K vehicles to Takata airbag recall

    October 20, 2014
    Toyota has again expanded its defective-airbag recall, adding 247,000 additional vehicles.

    The latest campaign adds several models produced from 2001 through 2004, including the Lexus SC and the Toyota Corolla, Matrix, Sequoia and Tundra.

    Like earlier recall announcements, the expansion is being handled regionally for high-humidity areas such as Florida, Gulf Coast states, Hawaii, US Virgin Islands and several other territories.

    The cause of the potential for ruptured inflators and the influence of high absolute humidity are under investigation,” Toyota said in a statement.

    The company claims that it is has received no reports of injuries or fatalities related to the conditions. Defective inflators in other vehicles have ruptured upon deployment, causing the airbag to fail and injuring occupants due to flying shrapnel.

  • First drive: 2015 Toyota Sienna [Review]

    October 20, 2014
    Don’t make me stop this car.”

    From behind the wheel of the 2015 Toyota Sienna with its new Driver Easy Speak system, we uttered that famous phrase that has disrupted numerous car trips to and from school, family vacations and other excursions. Toyota thinks it has solved that interruption with their new invention. It’s just one of the new features found on the brand’s latest entry to the minivan wars.

    Before the firm developed Mommy’s little helper, it required a full stop to settle the matters at hand, or at least the matters in the third row. With the new “Voice of God” presence coming down from on high (from the Sienna’s audio speakers), and combined with its returning “conversation mirror,” roadside pullovers may become a thing of the past. But of course, depending on your parenting skills, your mileage may vary. We do wish, however, that the voice were processed with a bit of audio reverb for added effect.

    Return engagement

    Updated for 2015, this third-generation Toyota Sienna remains mostly as we remember, but with a few new tweaks. Available in five trim levels ranging from base L, LE, sporty SE, XLE and Limited versions, it is exclusively powered by the carryover 3.5-liter V6 engine that produces 266-horsepower and 245 lb-ft of torque, and mated to a six-speed automatic transmission. The Sienna also offers the segment’s only available all-wheel-drive models in the LE, XLE and Limited trims. It also comes standard with a Tow Prep package that is good for up to 3,500-pounds.

    The EPA says the Sienna is capable of 18 city/25 highway in standard form, while the AWD model achieves 16 city/23 highway. Acknowledging that one is not currently offered, Toyota officials say a Sienna Hybrid is “in our thoughts.”

    Adding to the existing colors, the Sienna will be offered in three additional shades and is enhanced by a new grille and new headlamps with LED daylight running lights on SE and Limited trim levels. LE, XLE and Limited versions get new grilles while all models, with the exception of the SE, will receive new taillights.

    It’s what’s inside that counts

    A revised dashboard brings controls closer to the driver and reorganizes the real estate on the center console. Base L and LE models include a new 3.5-inch LCD screen in the driver’s information pod, while all others get a 4.2-inch TFT screen. A 6.1-inch central display comes with the base L version while upmarket models get a 7.0-inch touchscreen that operates Toyota’s Entune multimedia system, which couples commercially available Apps with the audio system via the owner’s smartphone.

    Also on board is a triple zone climate control system to help keep the peace on an extended road trip. And in an effort to stem any disagreements as to viewing habits, Toyota has upgraded the Dual View entertainment center so that in addition to a single screen visible from the third row, it can now be split, converting the seamless 16.4-inch viewing screen into two individual displays for Blu-Ray, HDMI and SD card use. Critical parts of the package are two wireless headphones.

    Interiors run the gamut from the base level fabric seats to the Limited FWD’s ultra-cushy second row lounge seating with leg and foot support. Both seats are tracked for 23-inches of movement to accommodate the tallest passengers, and can be removed, and the rear seat stowed to provide room for a 4×8 foot piece of plywood. Toyota claims even with the third row seat in use, the Sienna can still haul five golf bags or four large suitcases.

    Our FWD Limited model featured a sliding center console that moves between front and second-row passengers. With all these other refinements, the Sienna has received 140 more spot welds for improved lateral rigidity and 20-percent more sound deadening insulation, which helps to enhance the overall effect of the Driver Easy Speak system.


    Cruising through the mountainous roads leading up to Kona on the Big Island of Hawaii, we found an eager, but somewhat pressed V6 that managed to do most of what was asked of it. As the 4,560-pounder smoothly shifted through the six speeds of the automatic transmission, we often wondered how much better it would be with an extra 40-ponies or so under the hood.

    A capable performer, it seemed the additional spot welds firmed up the ride on some of the roads, and the insulation all but silenced most outside auditory intrusions. Steering from the electric power assisted rack and pinion setup offered a little less feel than we like but firmed up nicely when turned past the ten and two o’clock positions on the clock.

    Our Limited tester featured MacPherson struts with stabilizer bars in front and a torsion bar rear axle. Retuned for 2015, it’s not exactly what whets our performance appetite, but the Sienna is still a competent family conveyance, nonetheless. It manages to put a little bit of swagger back into the minivan segment. Just a little bit.

    Leftlane’s Bottom Line

    Toyota itself has said the minivan segment is not where one would go in search of aspirational vehicles, but the segment is still full of very competent and functional players. With some well-placed tweaks, the California-designed and Indiana-built Sienna is further refined for the Toyota buying faithful.

    2015 Toyota Sienna L FWD $28,600

    2015 Toyota Sienna LE FWD $31,330

    2015 Toyota Sienna SE FWD $34,900

    2015 Toyota Sienna XLE FWD $35,100

    2015 Toyota Sienna XLE AWD $37,300

    2015 Toyota Sienna LTD FWD $41,650

    2015 Toyota Sienna LTD Premium AWD $46,150