Alternatives to Recalled Toyotas
Here are top alternatives to Toyota and Lexus cars, SUVs, and pickups embroiled in the unintended-acceleration recalls.
Toyota and Lexus models are often sales and design leaders in their categories. But each faces tough competition from alternatives that offer great value and performance. Our top alternatives include models from Acura, BMW, Buick, Chevrolet, Dodge, Ford, Honda, Mercury, Nissan, Subaru, and Suzuki.
Toyota responded to federal safety investigations with recalls to fix a sticking gas pedal and replace the driver-side floormat. The company also issued recalls to install an electronic override that gives brake pedal application precedence over the accelerator.
In alphabetical order, here are the Toyota and Lexus models being recalled, and our top alternative picks for each:
Toyota Avalon - Top Alternative Pick: Buick Lacrosse
Avalon is essentially a gussied up and enlarged six-cylinder Camry sedan. The 2011 Avalon went on sale in February with slightly different styling and more features. It’s the first Toyota to incorporate the brake-override system. Model-year 2005-2010 Avalons are recalled for sticking gas pedals, floormat replacement, and to retrofit the brake-override.
The Buick LaCrosse was redesigned for model-year 2010 as a younger-at-heart interpretation of the classic Buick sedan. The stylish LaCrosse matches up with the Avalon for roomy comfort and quite refinement. Buick does offer it with a four-cylinder engine, but a LaCrosse with either available V-6 – choices are 255 and 280 horsepower – makes the best Avalon alternative. And while Avalon is strictly front-wheel drive, LaCrosse is available with front- or all-wheel drive. The Buick’s cabin materials don’t quite match the quality feel of those in the Toyota-brand’s flagship sedan, but features and amenities are on par. Base price range for V-6 versions of the 2010 LaCrosse is roughly $27,900-$33,800.
Toyota Camry - Top Alternative Pick: Honda Accord
Camry was America’s top-selling car for 2009. This midsize sedan is offered with conventional four- and six-cylinder engines and as a gas--electric hybrid. The 2011 Camry went on sale in February as a carryover version of the 2010 model and will receive the brake-override system. Model-year 2005-2010 Camrys are recalled for sticking gas pedals and floormat replacement and 2007-2010 Camrys are recalled to retrofit the brake-override. Some 2010 Camrys are also being recalled for brake-fluid leaks. Camry Hybrids are not subject to recalls and are already equipped with a brake-override.
The Honda Accord is Camry’s archrival for midsize-car popularity -- and until the recalls shook Toyota – for resale value and reputation for reliability. Accord’s road manners are athletic where Camry’s are indolent, though Carmys have a softer, quieter ride. Accord comes as a sleek coupe, but the most appropriate Camry alternative is the four-door sedan version, which is slightly roomier than the Toyota. Accord offers lively four- and six-cylinder engines but isn’t available with hybrid power. Base price range for 2010 Accord sedans is about $21,800-29,900.Accord is due a mid-cycle freshening for model-year 2011, with the next all-new version expected in model-year 2013.
Toyota Corolla - Top Alternative Pick: Honda Civic
Corolla was redesigned for model-year 2009 and ranked as the top-selling compact car in the U.S. during 2009. Model year 2009-2010 Corollas are recalled for sticking gas pedals.
The Honda Civic plays the well-toned alternative to the softer-natured Corolla in a compact-class version of the Accord/Camry relationship. Civic offers a coupe body style, but its sedan is Corolla’s closest option. Like Corolla, the Civic sedan comes only with four-cylinder engines and they’re a good match, at around 140 horsepower fuel economy ratings that top out at 25/36 mpg (city/highway). But Civic also offers a gas-electric hybrid model rated at 40/45 mpg, as well as the genuinely sporty Si version with 197 horsepower. Reliability ratings and resale value are very strong, and styling is downright futuristic compared with the dowdy Corolla, though not everyone will like Civic’s avant-garde dashboard design. Base price range for the 2010 Honda Civic sedan is roughly $16,400-$26,000, with the Civic Hybrid starting around $24,500. The 2006-2010 Civic generation is due to be replaced for model-year 2011 by an all-new Civic.
Toyota Highlander - Top Alternative Pick: Chevrolet Traverse
Highlander, a crossover SUV with three rows of seats, comes in gas-engine and gas-electric hybrid form. Model-year 2010 Highlanders are recalled for sticking gas pedals, and 2008-2010 Highlanders are recalled for floormat replacement. Highlander Hybrids are not subject to recalls and already are equipped with a brake-override.
The Chevrolet Traverse is almost a foot-and-a-half longer overall than the Highlander, but price, power, and driving feel are similar. And the cleanly styled Chevy has zoomed past Highlander on the crossover-SUV sales charts. Traverse’s extra length translates into lots more cargo room than in the Highlander. The Chevy’s third-row seat is relatively spacious by comparison, as well, and Traverse holds up to eight passengers versus Highlander’s seven. The sole only engine is a capable 281-horsepower V-6 rated 17/24 mpg with front-drive, 16/23 with AWD. Base price range for the 2010 Traverse is roughly $30,000-$41,000. Traverse was introduced for model-year 2009 and won’t see major changes for several years.
Toyota Matrix - Top Alternative Pick: Suzuki SX4 Sportback and Crossover
Matrix is essentially a four-door wagon wagon version of the Corolla sedan but with different styling, more cargo room, and available all-wheel drive in addition to front-wheel drive. The model year 2009-2010 Matrix is recalled for sticking gas pedals and floormat replacement.
The hatchback version of the Suzuki SX4 flies a little below the radar, but it’s no secret to fans of hip, small wagons. This four-door five seater isn’t quite as spacious as the Matrix. But the SX4 SportBack and Crossover have genuine Italian styling, solid build quality, and impressively efficient packaging. The front-wheel-drive SX4 is labeled the SportBack and is marketed as a “hot hatch.” The SX4 Crossover is the lowest-priced all-wheel drive vehicle sold in the U.S. Both have a 150-horsepower four-cylinder engine and offer manual transmission or a continuously variable automatic with steering-wheel paddles. These are the only compact cars to come standard with a navigation system. Fuel economy compares to well with the Matrix, topping out at 23/30 mpg with front-wheel drive and at 22/30 with all-wheel drive. The SX4 Crossover starts around $16,500, the SportBack around $16,700.
Toyota Prius - Top Alternative Pick: Ford Fusion Hybrid
Prius was redesigned for 2010 and is the world’s best selling hybrid. This five-passenger four-door hatchback is also the most fuel-efficient car sold in the U.S., with ratings of 51/48 mpg (city/highway). The model-year 2010 Prius is recalled to address complaints of momentary loss of braking power and the 2004-2009 Prius is recalled for floormat replacement. Prius is already equipped with a brake-override.
When the Honda Insight bowed for 2010 it seemed a strong Prius challenger as a dedicated hybrid design with aggressive pricing. But Toyota responded by pricing the larger, more powerful, and more fuel efficient 2010 Prius within spitting distance of the Insight. And as Insight’s tight cabin and mediocre performance became apparent, Honda found it had a rare dud on its hands. Ford meanwhile caught green-car fans a little off guard with the Hybrid version of the significantly updated 2010 Fusion. The gas-electric version of this midsize sedan looks pretty much like any other Fusion, but meets Prius head on for interior space, beats it for ride, handling, and performance, and delivers a very credible 41/36 mpg. The four-cylinder gas engine/electric-motor hybrid system is state of the art, generating 191 horsepower, 57 more than the Prius. Prices start around $28,500 and you can get the same car with slightly different styling as the Mercury Milan Hybrid.
Toyota RAV4 - Top Alternative Pick: Subaru Forester
This compact crossover SUV is available with a nominal third-row seat to create seven-passenger capacity. It offers four- and six-cylinder engines and received a minor stying refresh for model-year 2010. Model-year 2009-2010 RAV4s are recalled for sticking gas pedals.
You’re first thought for a RAV4 alternative is apt to be the popular Honda CR-V, but we’ll instead advise you shop the Subaru Forester. Redesigned for 2009, this favorite of the REI crowd finally gained enough size to graduate from compact-car cozy to compact-crossover roomy. In fact, terrific road manners and a rock-solid bearing make this five-seat compact SUV a strong contender for best-in-class. Forester beats the CR-V for passenger and cargo volume and comes surprisingly close to matching the RAV4, which is longer and taller. None of these crossovers is a true off-roader, but Forester comes standard with very capable AWD technology and has more ground clearance than either the CR-V or RAV4. Base engine is a lively enough 170-horsepower four-cylinder and while Forester can’t answer the 269-horsepower V-6 offered in the RAV4, the lighter Subaru scoots quite well when ordered with the available 224-horsepower turbocharged four-cylinder. Fuel economy is 20/26 mpg on the base model, which starts around $21,000, and 19/24 for the 2.5 XT turbo model, which begins around $27,000.
Toyota Sequoia - Top Alternative Pick: Nissan Armada
Sequoia, an eight-passenger full-size SUV, is Toyota’s largest sport-utility and is based on the Tundra pickup truck. A major update for model-year 2010 included a new 4.6-liter V-8 engine. Model-year 2008-2010 Sequoias are recalled for sticking gas pedals and to retrofit the brake-override.
The Chevrolet Suburban’s going to get some votes, but Sequoia buyers are likely to be import-brand intenders, and so we’ll steer them to the big Nissan Armada. It follows the full-size, body-on-frame SUV formula with a stout frame borrowed from Nissan’s Titan pickup truck. Armada matches Sequoia for three-row-seating roominess – and both beat Suburban in that regard. The Nissan isn’t quite as mechanically refined as the Sequoia, but steering and handling are arguably is best in class, though that mostly means it’s the least ponderous-feeling full-size SUV. A strong V-8 is standard and can pull a big a trailer as any civilian is likely to tow. Two-wheel-drive versions are priced from around $38,000, four-wheel-drive models from around $44,000. Like any of its ilk, fuel-economy is in don’t-ask-don’t-tell territory, at 12/18 mpg.
Toyota Tacoma - Top Alternative Pick: Nissan Frontier
Tacoma was the best-selling compact pickup truck in the U.S. for 2009 and offers four- and six-cylinder engines. The 2005-2010 Tacoma is recalled to retrofit the brake-override and for floormat replacement.
The Nissan Frontier plays fewer cards than the Tacoma but plays them well. Tacoma mixes and matches three cab styles, two cargo-bed lengths, and three wheelbases. Frontier has just one wheelbase, two cab styles -- extended King Cab and four-door Crew Cab – and two cargo beds, one of which is the shortest in the class, at just 59.5 inches. But that’s just enough variety to compliment a rigid chassis, a strong V-6 engine, and a confident on-road manner. Off-road, Tacoma may hold an edge, but Frontier’s available Pro-4X model, stiff suspension, and locking rear differential give it plenty of go-anywhere credibility. The four-cylinder engine is adequate, but delivers a reasonable 19/23 mpg. To get four-wheel-drive you need the V-6, which has more horsepower and torque than the one in the Toyota, but is slightly thirstier, at 14/19 mpg versus Tacoma’s16/20. Tow rating is equal to best in class, at 6,500 pounds. Four-cylinder models start around $17,600, V-6s versions range from around $22,300-$29,300.
Toyota Tundra - Top Alternative Pick: Dodge Ram 1500
Tundra is Toyota’s biggest pickup. This full-size truck was refreshed for model-year 2010 with a new 4.6-liter V-8 engine. Model-year 2007-2008 Tundras are recalled for sticking gas pedals and 2007-2010 Tundras for floormat replacement.
When the Ram 1500 was redesigned for model-year 2009, Dodge risked alienating serious truckers by shelving the leaf-spring rear suspension that has underpinned big pickups since Moses drove one. In its place went a coil-spring setup -- and the gamble paid off in class-leading ride and handling. For 2010, Dodge even elevated towing capacity from a subpar 8,950 pounds to a perfectly competitive 10,450. The near-400-horsepower Hemi V-8 and the 310 horsepower of a slightly smaller V-8 are the engines of choice, though you might want to wait for model-year 2011 to see whether upgraded V-6 and even gas-electric hybrid drivetrains meet your needs. Meanwhile, Ram offers generously proportioned regular-, extended-, and crew-cab bodies, three bed lengths, multiple trim levels, and a long list of useful features, from the RamBox bed storage system to rear DVD entertainment. And it matches the Chevrolet Silverado/GMC Sierra as the only big pickup available with full-time four-wheel drive. Base price range is roughly $22,000-$44,000, with Crew Cabs starting around $30,000.
Toyota Venza - Top Alternative Pick: Honda Accord Crosstour
The Venza was introduced for 2009 as essentially a five-seat-wagon version of the Camry but with different styling and available all-wheel drive in addition to front-wheel drive. Venza offers four- and six-cylinder engines, though no hybrid. Model-year 2009-2010 Venzas are recalled to retrofit the brake-override and for floormat replacement.
Just as the Honda Accord sedan is the Toyota Camry’s natural adversary, so the new-for-2010 Accord Crosstour squares off against the Venza. It’s the same formula of a five-seat wagon transformed into a high-roof hatchback available with front- or all-wheel drive. On paper, Crosstour’s cabin is less spacious than Venza’s, but usable volume is a draw and both are notably roomy for passengers front and rear. Crosstour’s sloping rear roofline gives it more style but less cargo capacity than Venza, however. And for 2010, Crosstour comes with just one engine, though it’s Honda’s very good 271-horsepower V-6. Fuel economy is comparable, at 18/27 mpg with front-wheel drive, 17/25 with AWD. Pricing’s a bit of a mismatch, because only the top-of-the-line Accord Crosstour is available with AWD and it starts around $34,400; the least-expensive AWD Venza has a lively enough four-cylinder and begins around $28,500. Overall, Crosstour’s base price range is a bit upstream of Venza’s, at roughly $30,400-$37,000, though Toyota charges extra for some features Honda includes, so prices are comparable when similarly equipped.
Lexus ES 350 - Top Alternative Pick: Acura TL
The Lexus ES 350 is a couture version of the V-6 Camry and has found great success as an entry-luxury sedan. Model year 2007-2010 ES 350s are recalled to retrofit the brake-override and for floormat replacement.
While the ES emphasizes elegance and isolation, the Acura TL is all about putting you in touch with the road. That doesn’t mean it’s any less refined than the Lexus, just more involving, with a tauter suspension that accepts a bit more road noise, sharper steering, and a sportier exhaust note. Acura does a fine job disguising the Accord DNA at the center the TL, especially when it fields the top-of-the-line 305-horsepower all-wheel-drive TL SH-AWD performance model. Go with that $40,000 tiger if you’re feeling your oats, but the more logical ES alternative is the base TL 3.5, which matches the Lexus nearly point-for-point with a 280-horsepower V-6, front-wheel drive, and a starting price around $36,000. The TL is just as nicely built as the ES, with exemplary cabin materials and a long list of standard amenities, including leather upholstery, heated front seats, and a power moonroof. But while an ES driver may come to enjoy the tighter driving personality of the TL, recalibrating one’s aesthetic standards to accept the Acura’s odd metallic buck-tooth grille could be the real hurdle.
Lexus IS 250 and IS 350 - Top Alternative Pick: BMW 3-series
The IS 250 has a 2.5-liter V-6, the IS 350 a 3.5-liter V-6, and both are sporty compact sedans with rear-wheel drive, or in the case of the IS 250, optional all-wheel drive. The model-year 2006-2010 IS 250 and IS 350 are recalled to retrofit the brake-override and for floormat replacement.
Why not just go with the genuine article? Lexus tries mightily, but seems to leave something out of the recipe that makes the 3-Series the definitive sport sedan. The BMW’s steering is more natural feeling than the IS’s, its suspension better able to balance control and compliance, its powertrains less prosaic and more aggressive. Both headline with super-performance models that exceed 400 horsepower and top $56,000 – and the BMW M3 bests the IS F in this realm, too. The more approachable alternatives are the 230-horsepower BMW 328i at around $33,700 with rear-wheel drive, $35,700 with AWD; it’s our choice over the 204-horsepower IS 250 at around $32,800 with rear-drive, $36,400 with AWD. And the 300-horsepower BMW 335i at around $41,200 with rear-drive, $43,200 with AWD gets our enthusiastic nod over the 306-horsepower IS 350, which starts around $38,200 and comes only with rear-drive. Oh, and the BMW
Lexus HS 250h hybrid - Top Alternative Pick: Mercury Milan Hybrid
The Lexus HS 250h is the first luxury car to come only as a hybrid. This sedan was introduced as a 2010 model with a version of the Prius hybrid powertrain and a starting price over $35,000. The 2010 Lexus HS 250h is recalled to address complaints of momentary loss of braking power. The HS 250h is already equipped with a brake-override system.
Constituting a class of one, the HS 250h presented the most difficult challenge in terms of an alternative pick. But we don’t think you’ll mind banking a few bucks while getting more power, better performance, a roomier cabin, and even better fuel economy by choosing the Milan Hybrid. This is a virtual duplicate of the Ford Fusion Hybrid, with the same gas four-cylinder engine and electric motor that team for 191 horsepower and a 41/36-mpg rating. The gas four/electric motor in the HS 250h combines for 187 horsepower and 35/34 mpg. Compared to its Ford cousin, the Milan Hybrid has a marginally more upscale image and slightly more expensive-looking styling. Any Lexus beats a Mercury for image and for red-carpet dealer service. But in this case, the HS 250h has trouble hiding its roots as a middle-market Japanese Toyota converted to a hybrid Lexus. It’s smaller inside than the Milan and actually trails for powertrain response and refinement. To match the standard equipment included in the $35,000 base price of the HS 250h, you’ll need to option the Milan Hybrid with leather upholstery, heated power front seats, moonroof, and reverse sensors, upping its $31,300 base price to just over $35,000. But going green in comfort is never going to be cheap.