First Drive: 2015 Toyota Camry, Yaris & Sienna

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Testing new vehicles is always an adventure, but the opportunity to test new vehicles in Hawaii is just a whole different experience. Auto journalists love cars, but we also love to drive cars in adventurous destinations featuring incredible roads with twists and turns in places so grand that you realize how spectacular other places on earth can be. The sunny Kona District stretches for about 60 miles from Kona International Airport to beyond Kealakekua Bay on Hawaii’s lava-lined western coast. Along this expansive area, we found everything from coffee farms to historic Hawaiian landmarks. Our homebase was the Fairmont Orchid, which is a luxurious Hawaiian resort on the Kohala Coast inspired by culture, well-being and genuine Aloha. To take in all of the Big Island while driving a stable of new offerings from Toyota can make for eye-opening visuals in the 2015 Camry, Yaris and Sienna. These new Toyotas are so different and compete in three distinctive segments, but all shared the same careful design and manufacturing expertise that is synonymous with a Toyota.

There is no car more important to Toyota than the Camry, and for 2015, the folks at Toyota continued their quest to be king of the midsize car market with a new 2015 Camry that ups the stakes. Yes, the best-selling car in America for the last 12 years just got better! When redesigning the Camry for 2015, Toyota went bumper to bumper and floor to roof, changing or re-engineering nearly 2,000 parts. Only the roof remains unchanged, and it caps off the boldest Camry body ever. That provides an idea of the scope of the transformation that also endows the new Camry with a stiffer body structure, enhanced aerodynamics and its quietest ride ever. The redesigned, upscale interior and advanced instrumentation with intuitive controls help keep the driver safely focused on the road. The redesigned interior also looks and feels much more upscale, featuring premium, soft-touch materials throughout. The 2015 model is easily the best-handling and most comfortable-riding Camry ever. Beneath the bolder body lines, the Camry’s body structure has been bolstered with additional spot welds to enhance rigidity. Retuned suspension systems in all models put an edge on handling agility while taking the edge off bumps.

The exterior of the Camry just keeps getting sexier and the 2015 model is like no Camry we’ve ever seen before. An aggressive looking front bumper and grille, pronounced side character lines and low-profile LED headlamps give the new Camry a far more expressive style. It’s a sleeker look that’s also slightly longer (1.8 inches / 45 mm) and features a widened track (0.4 inches / 10 mm) that communicates a dynamic stance and presence. In profile, a pronounced body line starts from the Camry’s muscular front fender and spans across the doors and rear quarter panel, conveying a sense of motion. The fun doesn’t stop there, as the new cabin takes this segment upscale and will surely have some rivals looking for the medicine cabinet! Everywhere you look and touch, the Camry presents premium materials, an overall roomier feel and enhanced amenities.

Varying by model, seat cover textures range from premium fabric up to genuine leather trim and Ultrasuede with durable, high contrast French-stitching. Detailed stitching and satin chrome trim give the new Camry cabin a sophisticated appearance and luxurious feel. The new center stack shows off a high-tech, upscale look that more smoothly integrates with the console. The center console plays a larger role than ever in modern cars, accommodating all manner of personal items as well as presenting multi-media functions. The Camry’s console tray offers more storage and a convenient power source in the storage box. The new enclosed bin in front of the shifter offers a 12V power port, USB port and a segment-first, available wireless charging system for select smartphones. We could go on forever on how convenient the new charging system is, but when you use it for yourself, you’ll know how this can make our lives so much easier and take out one step in our everyday lives.

Toyota chose to stick with a V6, and that drew some questions from the audience at our pre-Camry drive, but after driving the 2015 Camry with a V6, you can see why the bigs made that call. The standard 2.5-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine produces 178 horsepower and 170 lb.-ft. of peak torque. It’s teamed with a standard six-speed automatic transmission, and the combination offers EPA-estimated 25 MPG city / 35 MPG highway fuel economy. The DOHC 3.5-liter V6, one of the few sixes available in the midsize segment, is available in the XLE and XSE grades and delivers 268 horsepower at 6,200 rpm and 248 lb.-ft. of peak torque at 4,700 rpm. It, too, is teamed to the six-speed automatic. Impressive EPA MPG estimates of 21 city / 31 highway are among the best for a V6. Both Camry gasoline engines employ Dual Variable Valve Timing with intelligence (Dual VVT-i), which controls valve timing on both the intake and exhaust camshafts for optimal performance and efficiency at all engine speeds. I’m pretty certain we’ll see a turbo 4-cycliner in the future for the Camry, but there is no doubt the pure power and performance of the DOHC 3.5-liter V6 will still be a top choice of many Camry buyers! The Camry Hybrid was also on hand with its Hybrid Synergy Drive powertrain, offering an EPA estimated 43 mpg city/39 mpg highway/41 mpg combined fuel economy.

The redesigned 2015 Toyota Yaris also made a debut with media on the Big Island last week, and there is no doubt the Yaris was a big hit! A bold new look with a distinct European flavor; a new, quieter interior crafted from improved materials; and a whole new attitude. The redesigned 2015 Toyota Yaris checks all of the boxes for small-car shoppers, and then it adds and checks two more boxes for fun and value. In 3-door or 5-door liftback models, the 2015 Yaris changes the landscape in this segment. The winding roads of Kona were so much fun behind the wheel of the 2015 Yaris, and with extra wide and comfortable seats, you could enjoy the scenery in comfort that normally comes with much larger cars.

The 2015 Yaris, like the previous-generations, comes in 3-door and 5-door liftback configurations, but the style is all-new. The Yaris combines an energetic shape with a more comfortable cabin, receiving an aggressive new look with a horizontal chrome grill treatment that appears to continue right in to the headlamp. A larger, bolder grille opening gives this fun-to-drive car just the right touch of “attitude” in its look. Newness permeates the Yaris cabin. Sitting in the premium seats, the Yaris driver faces a sporty new dashboard design and touches new, softer materials throughout. Retuned suspension, a more rigid body structure, additional sound insulation and attention to aerodynamic details all help to give the 2015 Yaris a smooth, dynamic and quieter ride.

With safety always at the forefront, the Yaris continues to come equipped with nine standard SRS airbags, including curtain shield airbags and front seat cushion airbags. Fun, functionality and value come together in the 2015 Yaris. The smooth-revving 1.5-liter, 16-valve, four-cylinder DOHC engine equipped with variable valve timing with intelligence (VVT-i) produces 106 hp at 6,000 rpm and 103 lb.-ft. of torque at 4,200 rpm. The broad torque curve makes those numbers seem even bigger when you’re driving the Yaris, which offers snappy response with either transmission. A smooth-shifting, five-speed manual transmission, made smoother by an improved hydraulic clutch, is standard. An available four-speed electronically controlled automatic transmission features a compact, lightweight design and low friction for high fuel efficiency. The Yaris LE adds the convenience of cruise control, power mirrors, steering wheel audio controls silver/metallic interior accents and remote keyless entry with an engine immobilizer. The LE rides in style on 15-inch alloy wheels.

The SE package turns the Yaris into an urban-cool sporty ride, with projector headlamps and LED daytime running lights, integrated fog lamps, rear spoiler and special gloss black with machine-surfaced 16-inch alloy wheels. The SE adds a sport-tuned suspension, now with a solid stabilizer bar, and four-wheel disc brakes that are one-inch larger in the front. Inside, the SE is equipped with a leather-trimmed tilt three-spoke steering wheel and shift knob, sport meter and tachometer. The SE has its own unique sport fabric and includes gloss black accents throughout.

All models get Yaris Entune Audio with a 6.1-inch touch screen, an AM/FM CD player with MP3/WMA playback capability, six speakers, HD Radio with iTunes Tagging, auxiliary audio jack, USB port with iPod connectivity and control, hands-free phone capability, voice recognition and music streaming via Bluetooth wireless technology. For the first time in a Yaris, a navigation system is available as a dealer-installed option. The redesigned mono-spec Yaris adds up to an excellent value. The manufacturer’s suggested retail price (MSRP) for the 2015 Yaris will range from $14,845 for the three-door L with a manual transmission, to $17,620 for the five-door SE with a four-speed automatic. The 2015 Yaris was so much fun to drive and wrapped in a surprisingly good-looking package that we think sales figures might even surpass Toyota’s projections!

As auto sales continue to pick up momentum in North America, the minivan segment is also seeing a resurgence in sales, so the timing could be sweet for Toyota to launch the new 2015 Sienna. We were one of the first to drive this sleek people mover around the Big Island to take in all the wonders of nature and what was inside the new Sienna. Debuting a refreshed exterior packed with added safety, convenience and multimedia features, the 2015 Sienna, the only family van to offer an all-wheel drive option, is the ideal choice for hauling a large family or loading up all your stuff for a weekend getaway. Inside, the Sienna really shines with an array of upgraded interior appointments and new convenience features allow the family hauler to remain kid-friendly, but in a parents rule environment.

After the new and enhanced safety features, the one new Sienna feature for 2015 that will have parents talking is the new Driver Easy Speak option. If you’ve ever had the urge to use a bullhorn to carry your voice to back seat passengers, Driver Easy Speak is your dream come true. Using the microphone from the Sienna’s voice-command multimedia system, Driver Easy Speak conveys your voice through the audio system’s rear speakers. Combined with a standard conversation mirror integrated into the overhead console, Driver Easy Speak is the next best thing to having a hallway monitor in the van. Subtle exterior styling refinements give the Sienna a more upscale look, with a revised front grille and new slimmer headlight units with an advanced design for the SE and Limited grades. New LED daytime running lamps (DRLs), standard for the SE and Limited, give the Sienna a more aggressive appearance. All grades except the SE get redesigned taillight clusters too, but it’s not all about appearance. A stiffer platform, with 142 additional spot welds, translates to a driving experience unexpected from a minivan.

The Sienna is powered exclusively by a silky-smooth 266-horsepower, 3.5-liter V6 teamed with a six-speed automatic transmission. This combination gives the Sienna confident power for urban trekking or highway merging while using fuel efficiently. Combined with the standard Tow Prep Package, the V6 gives the Sienna a 3,500-pound towing capacity. Electronic Power Steering (EPS) and a wide stance help deliver a solid, direct on-road feel. Aerodynamic under-body elements also contribute to Sienna’s dynamic performance. The hills and mountains in Kona can be steep and challenging, and the 2015 Toyota Sienna not only had sufficient power for these conditions, but the maneuvering and handling of the Sienna is what impressed us the most. There are times when you really feel like you are driving is a sedan, as the performance is that good.

Not all arms are created equal, which is why the new available push-button driver’s seat center armrest in the 2015 Sienna can be adjusted to many positions. It even remembers the last position after the armrest has been stowed. Getting vehicle information at a glance just got easier in the 2015 Sienna. All models come with a new multi-information display in the instrument panel, directly ahead of the driver. There’s a base 3.5-inch dot-matrix LCD version or a 4.2-inch color TFT (thin film transistor) display on up-level models. With either, you can toggle to audio controls using the four-way switch on the steering wheel. The TFT version is linked to the multimedia system and can also display navigation information.

This version can even show all-wheel drive operation on AWD models. The 2015 Sienna brings the sound of music more conveniently through the newly upgraded Display Audio Entune multimedia system with subscription-free App Suite on most grades. Just pair a compatible smartphone to access popular mobile applications and data services. You can do so using Bluetooth wireless or a USB cable. Then, use the Sienna’s controls to operate the apps. For some services, you can use the voice recognition. The Entune App Suite includes mobile apps for Bing, iHeartRadio,, OpenTable and Pandora. Entune data services include a fuel price guide, sports scores, stocks, traffic and weather. You can launch Entune apps by pressing a switch on the steering wheel and speaking the name of the app, then using voice commands to operate it. The audio unit can download new Entune apps as they’re developed, including the necessary voice recognition components.

The 2015 Sienna is available in five grades: L, LE, SE, XLE and Limited. All-wheel-drive is available on LE, XLE and Limited models. The L grade includes a long list of value features families have come to expect. With all its additional content, the Sienna LE could be mistaken for a top-of-the-line model, but there are still three more grades above it. The XLE adds even more standard features, while the ultimate family van, the Sienna Limited, is packed from sliding door to sliding door with luxury.

Driving in Kona, Hawaii alone is amazing in itself, but getting the opportunity to travel the Big Island in fresh vehicles like the 2015 Toyota Camry, Yaris and Sienna was truly a special experience. We also spent time and spoke with the Toyota engineers who knows these vehicles from top to bottom, and their passion and knowledge for what they do is inspiring.