Summertime Car Shopping in a Post-Pandemic Market

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By Randi PaytonDecisive Media Network

Four Toyota Model Reviews

Suppose you’re one of the post-pandemic car shoppers trying to decide on a new car, truck, or SUV. In that case, this mid-year series features some of the latest Toyota vehicles, including the 2021 Toyota Land Cruiser, 2021 RAV4 Hybrid, 2021 Toyota Tacoma, and the 2021/2022 Toyota Highlander Hybrid.

Summer months are usually an excellent time to get substantial dealer discounts on a new vehicle since car dealers need to make room for new models coming in the Fall. However, this summer, dealerships are low on inventory because consumers are purchasing new vehicles at a higher rate than usual due to pent-up demand from the COVID-19 Pandemic. Therefore, they are not as pressed to offer considerable discounts to clear their showrooms.

Most car manufacturers begin selling 2022 models in the Fall, so you can still find alternative deals on a Toyota, like lower interest rates, cash back, or lease options at https://www.toyota.com/deals-incentives/. You can also find discounted deals at car-buying services like Truecar, Carvana, United Buying Service, Costco Auto, and others, where dealers are obligated to meet their prices.

Whether you decide to buy the current year or wait for next year’s model depends on when the vehicle was last upgraded and any significant redesigns for the 2022 model.

I test drove several Toyota models for this review. They include newly upgraded Toyotas and future model plans.

2021 Toyota Land Cruiser

The full-size 2021 Land Cruiser will mark the end of its long run in the U.S. after this year. In 2022, a completely new Land Cruiser 300 launches in Japan and other markets. There’s no news yet for when it will come back to the U.S.

In 2021, Toyota added the Land Cruiser Heritage Edition to the model line-up. It includes a third-row seat. Other than that, there were no further changes to this year’s model. Hopefully, this hiatus will mark a reemerge of a more modern Land Cruiser.

Model and Pricing: The base model Land Cruiser starts at $87,030, and the Heritage Edition is around $89,240 MSRP.

Power: The Land Cruiser, powered by a 5.7-liter eight-cylinder engine, gets 381 horses and is mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission.

Fuel Economy: EPA estimates rates it at 13 city/17 highway.

2021 Toyota Tacoma       

I test drove the 2020 Toyota Tacoma, which ranks as the top-selling small pickup truck in its class.  The resale value is off the chain; it’s a good half-year deal, a great work truck, and performs well on- and -off-road.

Now in its third generation, the Tacoma, which came to the U.S. back in 1995, added a limited Trail edition this year. It is based on the SR5 crew cab and comes with all-terrain tires and wheels, a storage unit, and a 120-volt output in the cargo bed, among other features.

There are no other plans in the mix for 2022, so grab one now if you can find one.

Models and Pricing: Tacoma buyers have six different trims to choose from: The SR ($27,575), SR5 ($29,365), TRD Sport ($34,485), Trail Special Edition ($35,180), TRD Off-Road ($35,740), Limited ($40,330), Nightshade ($41,080), and TRD Pro ($45,500).

Power: The base engine is a 2.7-liter I-4 that produces 159 horsepower with 180 lb-ft of torque. It’s paired with a six-speed manual or automatic transmission. Rear-wheel-drive (RWD) is standard, and four-wheel-drive (4WD) is optional. Buyers can upgrade to a 3.5-liter six-cylinder that gets 278 horsepower.

Fuel Economy: EPA rates the Tacoma RWD at 20 city/23 highway and the 4WD model at 19 city/22 highway mpg.

2021 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid

The RAV4 continues its reign as the top-selling vehicle in the U.S., behind the Ford, Chrysler, and Chevy pickup trucks. Toyota’s 2021 RAV4 compact crossover SUV offers regular gas, Hybrid, plug-in Hybrid, and off-road variants.

The 2021 RAV4 is still a good buy this year since it’s not due for another significant upgrade until about 2023. The hybrid models take fuel economy to new heights. Based on the fifth-generation RAV4, which was rebuilt in 2019 and updated last year.

As the leader in hybrid technology, Toyota introduced the RAV4 Prime plug-in hybrid to the line-up as a 2021 model. As expected, demand is high, and production is limited. If you can find one, don’t expect many dealer discounts and be ready to pay a marked-up price for one.

Models and Pricing: The 2021 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid comes in six trims: LE, ($29,695), XLE $30,970), XLE Premium ($33,975), XSE ($35,925), Limited ($38,505), Prime SE ($39,425), and Prime XSE ($42,750).

Power: The RAV4 Hybrid, powered by a 2.5-liter I-4 and two electric motors, generates 219 horsepower. All-wheel-drive (AWD) is standard on all models. The Prime plug-in hybrid combines a four-cylinder engine with two electric motors that produce 302 horsepower.

Fuel Economy: EPA estimates 41 mpg city, 38 highway. The Prime gets a combined 94 MPGe, and an average electric range of 42 miles.

2021 Toyota Highlander Hybrid

Highlander

Toyota introduced the redesigned 2021 Toyota Highlander with a broader range of models, including a sporty XSE and a limited 2022 Highlander Hybrid Bronze Edition. The sizeable three-row Highlander comfortably seats up to eight passengers. You can fold the third-row seats into the floor for more trunk space.

Despite its size, the Highlander Hybrid performance is more refined and comfortable on city streets and highway driving. All models come equipped with automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitors, and active lane control. Some standard features can include an 8.0-inch touchscreen, 18-inch wheels, and cloth upholstery. Higher-priced models offer various options to choose from, including 20-inch wheels, premium leather upholstery, and a 12.3-inch touchscreen.

Models and Pricing:  Highlander models include: L ($36,260), LE $38,460), Hybrid ($39,910), XLE ($41,260), XSE ($42,855), Limited $45,215), and Platinum ($48,415). All-wheel drive adds $1600 to the bottom line and the Hybrid increases the price by $1400.

Power: The gasoline Highlander comes with a 3.5-liter six-cylinder engine that gets 295 horsepower, mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission with either front- or AWD.

The Hybrid models combine a 2.5-liter four-cylinder and an electric motor to generate 243 horsepower that gets an estimated 35 mpg. It includes a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) and a choice between front- and AWD. 

Fuel Economy: The Highlander AWD gets an EPA fuel rating of 20 city/27 mpg highway and 20/28/23 mpg from FWD. The Hybrid version averages 35 mpg 35 city/35 highway.

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Randi Payton, Decisive Media Network.