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.

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On an Island with a Monster Truck

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After a great vacation to Hawaii five years ago, my wife and I decided to move to the pacific island. We decided there is no better place to be – we loved the warm weather and great views.

After moving to the island we found that there were several things that were different about living in Hawaii than on the mainland. Such differences include choices in clothing, language and family rites of passage. However, my favorite difference; almost everyone in Hawaii owns a truck.

We’re not talking small trucks either. I’m talking huge four-wheel drive monster. Four-wheel drive monsters that can take on anything from pavement to jungle or even climbing the side of a mountain. Consequently, I was so happy to trade in our compact car for a monster four-wheel drive truck that that alone could have sold me on living in Hawaii.

It was one of the best purchases we made living on the island. It enabled us to experience the greatest parts of the island – and these parts are most certainly not accessible by car. The following are just a few reasons why (whether you’re visiting or living in Hawaii) you need a truck.

Rain, rain – go away!

Living on the island was amazing but there was one thing that was very difficult to get used to; the rain! Some of our funniest truck-inspired memories were caused by rain, or more specifically, trying to navigate flooded or muddy roads in the new truck. Hilo, in particular, is the rainiest city in the nation and gets over 120 inches of rain every year.

That presents a problem at times if the only vehicle you have isn’t a truck. There were several times we were in town and had groceries; a birthday present, or even bags in the back of our truck and it started raining. We found out over time the greatest solution to our problems was to get one of those truck bed covers. These covers can be left snapped on or rolled back to leave the truck bed open.

Get to all the great beaches

Some of the greatest beaches on the island are not accessible without a truck. The trails out to the beach would entail a long walk or a four-wheel drive truck to get you to the sandy coast. Having a truck also enables you to drive your cooler and other beach props right to the place you want to set up your site without the arduous task of carrying them down seemingly un-ending jungle paths.

Waipio Valley

This breathtaking valley has one that most only see on postcards or travel shows. The road driving down into the valley however, is impossible to reach unless you have a truck with four-wheel drive. After we made the steep and windy drive down to the valley, it was well worth the trouble. At Waipio valley we were able to set up camp and stay for two nights right there on the beach. There were great adventures to be had once we got down there. Bike trails, hiking, horseback riding, snorkeling or stand up paddle surfing were just a few options we had to choose from.

Mauna Loa

Mauna Loa is one of five volcanoes on the island, and this one also happens to be the largest volcano on the planet. At the top of this amazing volcano is an observatory for stargazing at night, or just getting a “feel” for the volcano up close, during the day. Unfortunately, because it is also the tallest volcano, it almost always has snow on the ground. Having a truck to climb the snowy terrain is absolutely necessary to get where you’re going.

As I said before, a four-wheel drive truck isn’t a luxury in Hawaii. If you ever want to be able to take in even a small percentage of what this beautiful land has to offer, you’re going to need a way to get there. Besides, I can’t think of a better way to spend the day than cruising the island with the windows down, and my beautiful wife by my side.

  

A new surfing record

This video is amazing. 44-year old Hawaii surfer Garrett McNamara broke the world record for the largest wave ever surfed. The Guinness Book of World Records has confirmed the record saying it was officially 78 feet, beating the old record by about 1 foot. Spicoli would be proud . . .

  

Cigar Review: Omar Ortez Belicoso

The weekend is almost here, and the first Happy Hour post this week will cover an inexpensive cigar you can light up to kick off the weekend.

Of course, you’ll have to find a place to smoke it, and enjoying a good cigar is getting tougher these days, as Bob Hritsko learned when he traveled to Hawaii.

A couple of informational items regarding the allowance of cigar smoking recently came to my attention and again, I cannot help but point out the irony and just how topsy-turvy this world can sometimes be. The first, a reader responding in a recent issue of “Cigar Aficionado” commented on the fact that he could not help but notice the freedom that smokers had in a certain country that has little freedom, both personally and politically. The reader, in his commentary, could not help but wonder at the irony that the United States of America, the self-proclaimed land of the free and certainly one of the most personal and politically free countries in the world, does not grant a man more freedom when it comes time to light up his favorite cigar!

I recently suffered this same irony when I traveled to Hawaii for the first time. Knowing that I would be in an ideal climate and frame of mind for some good cigar smoking, I thought that I would do some research in advance to ensure that my cigar smoking would be in compliance with Hawaiian laws. To my surprise, the laid back, “hang loose” Hawaiian culture is pretty uptight when it comes to cigar smoking. In sum, there is virtually nowhere indoors to smoke. You are limited to designated outdoor smoking areas, often in far off corners in the many open-air venues in Hawaii. I now know how lepers must have felt a century ago. However, my research led me to marvel at one exception in particular where it was okay to smoke indoors in the state of Hawaii — you are allowed to light up in jails and penitentiaries! Yes, you are reading this correctly! Here in America we have at least one state that grants more smoking freedoms to an incarcerated criminal than the law-abiding good citizen, who is on vacation, spending his money and keeping the economy going. Go figure!

So, if you want to enjoy a good cigar when kicking off your weekend festivities, make sure you check around and find a spot that let’s you enjoy it.

As for the cigar, Bob reviews the Omar Ortez Belicoso:

RATING: 8.7 (on a scale of 1 to 10) – I like this cigar and it is a very good value. If you like Rocky Patel’s Edge, I would suspect that you will enjoy the Omar Ortez cigar, and you ought to give it a try. My only complaint, and it is the primary reason I cannot rate this cigar higher, is the burn on the first two cigars I smoked was inadequate. The cigar would often need to be relit, because it went out quite quickly, numerous times. I rested the last of the three sticks I bought for three months in my humidor, thinking that the cigars might have been brought to market a little too early. The last of my Omar Ortez cigars was smoked recently and it burned perfectly! I don’t recall ever having to do this with an Edge. Given the similar taste profiles and similar price point, I still prefer the Edge. Like the Edge, it is an excellent smoke to pair with smoky bourbon or an earthy scotch.

  

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