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Toyota Tundra: Work ready. Or not.

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Toyota’s redesigned 2014 Tundra pickup family adds a premium trim called the 1794 Edition.

It is, says Toyota, a “tribute to the ranch, founded in 1794, on which the Tundra plant is located in San Antonio.”

With its embossed “saddle-brown” leather upholstery, ultra-suede cabin trim and JBL audio system, the 1794 is a refuge of glitz in a world of straw bales and horse poo. It reminds us that not everyone thinks of “work” and “truck” in the same context.

Unless you consider towing a fifth-wheel or horse trailer work.

The 1794’s lesser siblings are better suited to the workaday world. Five trims include SR, SR5, Limited, Platinum and the 1794. Each gets its own interior design theme and all but the 1794 and Platinum are available in two-door regular cab, extended four-door double cab or four-door crew cab body styles. The 1794 and the similarly equipped Platinum are available only in the crew cab format.

The entire family is redesigned this year, with bolder styling and a more refined and user-friendly cabin.

Responding to complaints that the previous-generation Tundra looked like a “bubble truck,” Toyota squared off its rounded edges, elevated its hood line and fitted a larger, brighter grille. The tailgate is stamped with a big, bold “TUNDRA.”

Inside, a panel of easy-to-read gauges replaces last year's deep binnacles. The center stack moves 2.6 inches leftward, easing the reach required to access the HVAC controls. Knobs are large enough to be operated with gloved hands. Seats are redesigned for increased comfort. Interior materials have a higher-quality look and feel and Toyota has upgraded the quality of the leather used in upper trims.

A touchscreen display is now standard, and most Tundras can be had with the Entune suite of smartphone-based services, including the Bing search engine, Pandora streaming radio, real-time traffic and sports and stock information.

A rearview camera is now standard across the line, and blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert systems are newly available.

New noise-reduction measures reduce the amount of engine and transmission noise that reach the cabin.

But for a few suspension tweaks meant to improve ride quality over harsh road surfaces, mechanicals are essentially unchanged. The three engines — a 4.0-liter, 270-horsepower V-6; a 310-hp 4.6-liter V-8; and a 381-hp 5.7-liter V-8 — carry over. The six is mated with a five-speed automatic, the eights with a six-speed. Its engine choices are varied and, though none is especially fuel-efficient, all are strong enough to get the job done.

Toyota is the only manufacturer to employ the industry’s agreed-upon but seldom-used SAE J2807 tow-rating procedure. Ratings produced by J2807 appear lower than those resulting from other makers’ methods but are more realistic. Properly equipped, the Tundra can tow up to 10,400 pounds.

Tundra remains steadfastly a truck. Its ride is smooth and stable under normal conditions but grows bouncy and irregular when the road surface deteriorates. Its hydraulically assisted steering system is accurate during turn-in and in the corners but is not particularly responsive.

In all the ways that matter, the Tundra is all truck and ready for work. Or not. It’s your choice.

Don Adair is a Spokane-based freelance writer. Contact him at don@dadair.com.

2014 Toyota Tundra 1794 4x4
Vehicle base price: $26,200
Trim level base price: $47,320 \
Optional equipment included blind-spot monitor with rear cross-traffic alert; 20-inch chrome-clad wheels; running boards; bed liner.
EPA rating: 13 city/17 highway
Regular unleaded fuel specified

Hyundai Equus: Aiming for the top

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Quickly, now: Name the first five luxury sedans that spring to mind.

Done? Good. I’m guessing the Hyundai Equus was not among them. I’ll also guess that in five year’s time, it could well be.

The Equus is a $62,000, full-size, rear-drive sedan, with its sights set on the industry’s best. It won’t be easy, but Hyundai can never be counted out. 

Following a disastrous U.S. debut, in which it replaced Yugo as the punchline in a million lousy-car jokes, the Korean giant roared back to become one of three makes whose sales grew during the recession.

Hyundai introduced the Equus to U.S. buyers in 2011 and has given it a 2014 model-year refresh.

Exterior styling is updated front and rear and the instrument panel and controls are all-new. The suspension has been modified and blind-spot and rear cross-traffic alert systems join the standard-features list.

That list also includes such exotica as heated and ventilated front seats, heated power-reclining rear seats, with rear-seat climate controls, and a power rear sunshade.
A 17-speaker Lexicon audio system has discrete surround-sound capability and includes satellite radio, HD radio, a six-CD/DVD changer, an auxiliary audio jack and an iPod/USB audio interface.

The system is so good Hyundai doesn’t bother to offer an upgrade.

This is the Hyundai game plan, played out a higher level than usual. As large as its competitors — and stronger than most in their base forms — the Equus lays on the tech and goes heavy on standard features, while undercutting the competition by several thousands of dollars.

Hyundai pitches the Equus as a sport-luxury vehicle, with the clear focus on luxury. In many ways, the car reminiscent of the first Lexus LS — it’s quiet, comfortable and well behaved, but perhaps gentle to a fault. 

Its two-mode air suspension is updated this year to produce a firmer ride in the Sport setting and a softer one in Comfort. And while the Equus rides agreeably over the roughest of surfaces, it never holds out the promise of a little back-roads entertainment.

Similarly, while the seats are large and soft, they may prove to be too soft for comfortable long-distance driving.

Equus is available in two trims, Signature and Ultimate. Both employ a 9.2-inch navigation display and most functionality is controlled by way of a console-mounted rotary knob.

Traditionally the master of tech, Hyundai comes up short with this nav system. Though its rotary controller is preferable to a touchscreen, it has frustrating inconsistencies. Online, some owners say they prefer handheld GPS devices to the Equus’s system.  

While other makers have invested their big cars with turbocharged sixes, the Equus relies on good, old eight-cylinder power. Its 5.0-liter V-8 makes 429 horsepower and is mated to an eight-speed automatic. Zero-to-60 comes up in a mid-pack 5.7 seconds but efficiency suffers. The Equus is EPA-rated at 15 mpg city/23 mpg highway and 18 mpg combined.

Over time, Hyundai is certain to build on the Equus’s strengths and rectify its weaknesses. As it sits, Hyundai’s flagship will make value-oriented buyers a happy bunch indeed.

Don Adair is a Spokane-based freelance writer. Contact him at don@dadair.com.

2014 Hyundai Equus Signature
Vehicle base price: $61,000
Trim level base price: $61,000
As tested: $61,920
Optional equipment: Our Equus Signature tester included no options.
EPA ratings: 15 city/23 highway
Regular unleaded fuel specified 

2013 Toyota Avalon: Swinging for the fences

For 2013, Toyota set out not to merely update the full-size Avalon; instead, it gave its underachieving flagship a personality transplant.

For the first 12 years of its existence, the Avalon lacked focus and, consequently, a true identity. It was the Toyota of choice for owners seeking Toyota reliability and Lexus comforts but who, for whatever reason, preferred not to move up to Lexus.
 
The new Avalon erases that past. Shunning its Lexus-lite ID, it has become a car that’s meant to be driven and not merely piloted. 
 
Sharp reflexes replace previous vagaries. Handling is crisp, steering is quick and accurate. The ride is firm — while remaining supple and compliant — and unwanted body motions are eased into retirement. 
 
Speaking of which, Toyota aims the new Avalon at a younger set of buyers. Today’s average buyer is 65; Toyota is shooting for 55. 
 
To this purpose, designers re-skinned the Avalon. Exterior dimensions are tighter and styling is crisper and more dynamic. A strong, lifting shoulder line flows from the front fender to the short decklid, where it meets up with a tapering roofline.
 
Toyota is especially proud of the front fascia, where a whisper-thin grille floats above a protuberant and oversized lower air intake. The look may not be entirely cohesive but at least we can no longer accuse Toyota of not trying.
 
In the transition from boulevard cruiser to something more engaging, the Avalon has lost 160 pounds and gained stiffness; chassis rigidity is up 16 percent, reducing body flex and allowing suspension engineers to strike a balance between ride firmness and compliance.
 
Toyota has spared little expense to elevate the Avalon’s cabin to the highest standards of the near-luxury class — and, perhaps, beyond. Hand-stitched leather (available in two grades) covers the seats, while a soft-touch, hand-stitched material wraps the sculpted, bi-level dash. Smoked-chrome accents and glossy panel pieces add subtle flash. 
 
A variable-rate window motor powers the windows, slowing them near the top of their travel to reduce wind noise and, says Toyota, “add refinement.”
 
Despite its trimmer dimensions, Avalon’s interior and trunk have grown more spacious. There is, of course, almost no end to available cabin technology.
 
Two powertrains are available, a conventional V-6, and a hybrid.
 
A 268-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6, paired with a three-mode six-speed automatic, powers conventional models. Tuned for efficiency, the gearbox delivers smooth, no-rush shifts that always land the engine in the heart of its power band. In Sport mode, the gearbox matches engine revs on downshifts, an unexpected bit of sport geekery. Toyota claims sub-7-second Zero-to-60 times and a best-in-class efficiency ratings of 21 mpg city/31 mpg highway. 
 
Running the latest version of Toyota’s Hybrid Synergy Drive system, the Avalon Hybrid produces a seamless hybrid experience, while delivering 39 mpg city/40 mpg highway.
 
More good news: Avalon’s base price ($31,750, including destination) drops $1,445. Hybrids, which are available in premium trims only, start at $36,315.
 
Under new CEO Akido Toyoda, Toyota and Lexus are redefining themselves. “Toyota’s back and we’re going to be swinging for the fences again,” one exec said at the Avalon launch.
 
Welcome back.
 
2013 Toyota Avalon
Various conventional and hybrid models reviewed
Price range: $31,750-42,160
V-6 fuel efficiency: 21 city/31 highway
Hybrid fuel efficiency: 40 city/39 highway
Regular unleaded fuel specified

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