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2017 Toyota Update Report: 2017 Toyota 86, 2017 Toyota Corolla, 2017 Toyota Highlander, 2017 Toyota Sienna by Steve Purdy +VIDEO

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By Steve Purdy
The Auto Channel
Michigan Bureau

OJAI, CA - September 2016; The intense California sunshine enveloped this group of auto journalists here in Ojai with temperatures easily reaching 100 degrees. We came for the launch of the new Prius Prime plug-in hybrid but since they already had us assembled the good folks at Toyota thought they might as well show us what’s new with some of their other products updated for 2017 – Corolla small sedan, Toyota 86 sports car, Highlander three-row crossover and the popular Sienna minivan. Though we had only one day with these four we were able to drive them all around these dry hills.

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2017 Toyota 86 (Formerly Scion FR-S)

2017 TOYOTA 86 – This hot little number used to be called Scion FR-S until that brand went away recently. The FR-S was a small sports car co-designed, developed and manufactured with Subaru who also have a version of the car called BR-Z. They’ve essentially now folded the FR-S into the Toyota brand giving it a new name along with a few other Scion cars that continue to have a place in the market. We’re sure glad they saved this one. This rear-wheel drive, 2+2 sports coupe is beautifully balanced with plenty of power. And, it handles like a Miata.

We took the 86 out on a nice long drive into the surrounding mountains first thing in the morning with no other traffic, no law enforcement and plenty of enthusiasm. There is nothing quite like a good shot of adrenalin first thing in the morning and that’s what we got. It’s even better than strong coffee. My partner and I took turns at the wheel challenging the twisty two-lane with windows wide open so we could hear the sweet buzz of the optional high-flow exhaust. What a hoot!

For 2017 the 86 gets a few exterior and interior styling updates, a new name, a tiny bit more horsepower for the manual transmission version and revised suspension tuning. Unchanged is the simple, sporty personality of the car. With low center of gravity, high-revving boxer engine, power to the rear wheels, amazing agility and modest good looks, there is not much updating needed with this one.

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2017 Toyota Corolla

2017 TOYOTA COROLLA - One of the most popular cars of all time, selling 43 million over the past 50 years, gets a mild update with freshened styling inside and out plus a bit of extra content. A much bolder grille with new front fascia and LED lights add drama and a visual impression of greater width to the head-on view. Not much else has changed on the outside as it remains rather bland from side and rear views.

Inside, Corolla gets an updated dash with new 6.1- or 7-inch multifunction display along with better materials including trim and fabrics. Three different two-tone interiors are offered in cloth. Leather in the top-end cars remains the same.

They’ve made no changes in the long-serving powertrain as the 1.8-liter, normally aspirated 4-cylinder continues to make just 132horsepower and 128 pound-feet of torque mated to a CVT (continuously variable transmission). You can have a manual six-speed only in the low-end model whereas last year you could have the manual in the “S-Plus” sport model.

Spicing up the Corolla lineup for 2017 will be a 50th Anniversary Edition with special paint colors and premium content.

Big news is the provision of the Toyota Safety Sense-P on all Corolla models in addition to the already standard Star Safety System™, a bundle of features including Pre-Collision System with Pedestrian Detection; Lane Departure Alert with Steering Assist; Dynamic Radar Cruise Control and Automatic High Beam headlights. NHTSA with the support of IIHS plans to require these systems in all cars by 2022 so Toyota is trying to get ahead of the game.

We do not have pricing yet but expect it to be little changed from the current range of $17,300 for the low-end “L” model to $23,125 for the “S Premium.” Corolla comes in 10, count ‘em, 10 trim levels. Something for everyone? Well, not really.

We have nothing special to report about the driving dynamics of the Corolla. We spent our short time behind the wheel in the high-end model with paddle shifters that provided an unexpected treat. The compact Corolla is competent in every way but really stands out in none. Power is adequate, handling is good and ride is as good as any. Corolla’s real charm is in price and durability.

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2017 Toyota Highlander

2017 HIGHLANDER – Toyota’s Highlander three-row crossover competes with a mighty fine group of challengers – Pathfinder, CX9, Pilot, GM entries (Acadia, Encore and Traverse), Durango and even Kia and Hyundai entries. When the competition is this tough you have to keep up or loose ground quickly.

For 2017 Highlander gets a new 3.5-liter V6 with both direct and port fuel injection mated to a new, efficient 8-speed automatic transmission. Horsepower is up to 295 with 263 pound-feet of torque. The Hybrid Highlander (this is the only hybrid in the three-row crossover class) uses the same new V6 and its horsepower is up to 306 with the electric boost. EPA fuel mileage rating is 21 mpg in the city and 27 on the highway for the regular and 30 city and 29 highway for the Hybrid.

Highlander will also get the Toyota Safety Sense described above as standard on all models along with Automatic Emergency Braking. Optional on all but the lowest trim level will be a Stop/Start system and a second row bench seat option for those who want an 8-passenger configuration rather than the standard 7. Standard on all V6 Highlanders also will be a towing package allowing for 5,000 pounds of capacity.

Exterior styling gets some attention with, again, bolder, more expressive front fascia and grille with LED lighting and, again, less attention to side and rear views. Two new Hybrid trim levels are added.

We drove the Highlander after the Sienna so the comparison was rather stark. But, having recently reviewed most of the competitors listed above I have a pretty good sense of its level of competence on the road. That level we’ll characterize as very good. Handling is tight and reasonably poised for a vehicle its size and ride quality will satisfy just about anyone. The quiet cabin makes conversation, even on coarse road surfaces, easy. Power is good, though I’m guessing if we had it fully loaded, or towing 5,000 pounds as it is rated to do, we would wish for more.

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2017 Toyota Sienna

2017 TOYOTA SIENNA – Well, what can we say about Sienna. Just that it is good at being what it is intended to be – a big, handy, soccer-mom van. There seems to be a continuing market for the minivan in spite of many who see them as too . . . what . . . suburban? If you have a bunch of kids, or like to travel with others, or just like something versatile without regard to driving dynamics, you might be a minivan customer.

For 2017 Sienna gets the same new V6 and 8-speed automatic transmission as Highlander, described above, making for incrementally better fuel economy. With a coefficient of drag just a few clicks less than a brick that’s not a lot better mileage, but every little bit helps, they say.

Sienna gets no other significant updates for 2017 but it remains the only minivan with optional all-wheel drive, important for us northerners and for mountain folks.

We took a nice, genteel, leisurely, comfortable drive in the Sienna The drive was not dynamics in any sense. Steering is over assisted with little feedback. Suspension allows lots of wallowing, leaning and swaying. The new V6 gets it down the road adequately and the new transmission shifts as smoothly and effortlessly as anything in its class. And, that’s exactly what we expect in this kind of vehicle.

As we said at the beginning – it’s very good at being what it is intended to be.

©Steve Purdy, Shunpiker Productions, All Rights Reserved.

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