Toyota’s new Grand Highlander, kids can race the littlest Ferrari, aging woes for EV charge network


Toyota premieres the 2024 Grand Highlander

Intake: Advertising an “adult-sized third row,” Toyota showed off the new Grand Highlander just prior to its formal introduction at the Chicago Auto Show. “There is definitely a need in the market for a midsize SUV that prioritizes interior comfort in all three rows and Grand Highlander is the ultimate option,” said Lisa Materazzo, group vice president of Toyota Marketing. “This 3-row model takes the Highlander legacy to an entirely new space while also keeping on our promise to deliver on electrification.” Three powertrains are offered: A 2.4-liter turbo gas engine, a 2.5-liter hybrid with a manufacturer-estimated 34 combined MPG, and the top-of-the-line, 362-horsepower Hybrid Max. The Max has standard AWD; it’s optional on the other two models.

Exhaust: The Grand Highlander was designed in the U.S., and will be built in Indiana. No pricing information was offered. The current Highlander starts at just over $35,000, so we’d expect this much larger, better-appointed model to clock in at about $47,000 with some basic options. — Steven Cole Smith

The littlest Ferrari is now ready to race

Intake: The cutest car to wear a Prancing Horse badge is now available with an extra gallop. The Little Car Company has just launched a special edition Pacco Gara edition of its 3/4 scale Ferrari Testa Rossa J which has been designed to take to the track. A software upgrade boosts power from its electric motor to almost 22 horsepower, the steering rack has a quicker ratio for tipping into turns, the disc brakes are drilled, plus there’s a bolt-on roll bar and Sabelt harness to hold driver and passenger in place. The dampers and brake bias are also adjustable so junior racers can fine-tune their setup for each circuit. “Every element of the Pacco Gara has been developed with, and signed off by, the team at Maranello and is focused on paying homage to one of history’s great racers, while also offering drivers a substantial, tangible taste of what it feels like to be behind its wheel,” says CEO Ben Hedley.

Exhaust: When we drove the Testa Rossa J our first thought was that it would make a great Little Racing Car, but whether anyone spending north of $130,000 on one of these for their boy or girl racer would risk it all on track is another matter. — Nik Berg

J.D. Power: Charging network has problems

Electric Vehicle Charging Station Space
Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Intake: At least 1-in-5 charging attempts by drivers failed last year, according to a J.D. Power study released on Wednesday, says Automotive News, and EV sales are doubling the installation rate of new public charging stations. The number of failed charging attempts went from 15 percent in the first quarter of 2021 to 20 percent in the first quarter of 2022 and rose to more than 21 percent by the third quarter, according to J.D. Power’s Electric Vehicle Experience Public Charging Study. “We can’t add new chargers and let all those old ones fall into a state of disrepair,” said Brent Gruber, executive director of global automotive at J.D. Power. “We have to manage the maintenance of those as well because that’s the only way we’re going to meet the consumer demand.”

Exhaust:  We personally have had this problem repeatedly, and have found the most reliable chargers in our area to be, of all places, at Walmart. Charger installation, and the maintenance of existing chargers, has to meet the coming demand as we electrify. — SCS

Tesla top seller in California in 2022

Tesla model 3 front three-quarter

Intake: Tesla’s Model Y and Model 3 electric vehicles were the top-sellers in California last year, outselling Toyota’s RAV4 and Camry models, according to a California New Car Dealers Association report quoted by Reuters. It is the first time a Tesla model topped the annual sales list in California, a major vehicle market where one in five cars is electric. Tesla sold 87,257 Model Y electric SUVs and 78,934 Model 3 electric sedans last year, while Toyota sold 59,794 units of its Rav4 SUV and 55,967 of its Camry sedans. The Camry was the top seller in 2021.

Exhaust: While other charging networks are facing aging problems, Tesla’s Charging network is widely regarded as the best in the business currently. No doubt that adds to the appeal of getting into a Model 3 or a Model Y. — SCS

Ford has no interest in IMSA GTP Prototype racing

Ford racing

Intake: With its new commitment to Formula 1 in partnership with Red Bull, Ford will not be joining Cadillac, BMW, Acura, Porsche, and Lamborghini in sports car racing’s top class, reports Motor Trend. Instead, it will focus its competition efforts on various Mustang programs and F1, plus the World Rally Championship. That’s according to Ford CEO Jim Farley and Ford Performance Motorsports global director Mark Rushbrook. “No, I don’t think we’re much into [racing] Prototypes at Ford,” Farley said.

Exhaust: This has to be disappointing news for IMSA and its fans, who had been anticipating another Ford/GM battle at the top of the sports car racing food chain. Ford will participate in IMSA GT3, though, with its new Mustang. which debuts on track at the 2024 Rolex 24 at Daytona. There, it will be fighting it out with the new Corvette GT3 car. — SCS

New tech, styling lead updates for 2024 Chevy Trailblazer

Intake: Chevrolet has announced a raft of updates for the 2024 Trailblazer, its compact SUV focused geared towards active buyers. There’s a new front fascia and lighting, plus a different grille design depending on the trim you pick (LS, LT, Activ, and RS). The range-topping RS trim will get new 19-inch wheels, and two new colors—Copper Harbor Metallic and Cacti Green—join the existing paint colors. Inside, a new 11-inch central infotainment screen is now standard, and the instrument cluster now uses an 8-inch screen instead of analog gauges. Powertrains are unchanged; lower-trim cars will get a 1.2-liter turbocharged inline-three good for 137 hp, while upper trims get a 1.3-liter turbocharged inline-three good for 155 hp. All 1.2-liter-equipped cars will get a CVT transmission, as will FWD versions of upper-trim cars with the 1.3-liter engine. If you opt for an upper-trim car with the 1.3-liter engine and AWD, you’ll get a nine-speed automatic. Base price jumps by $1000, up to $24,395, and the top trim Activ and RS models will start at $28,395.

Exhaust: Trailblazer sales were down more than 30 percent year-over-year when you compare 2021 to 2022, so it was about time for a refresh. More screens seem to be what the young buyers who might opt for a vehicle like this want, so the interior updates make sense. Will the price hike push off buyers? Time will tell. — Nathan Petroelje

Mini wants to save the stick

Mini Manual Shifter closeup

Intake: Manual transmissions have all but disappeared, but a study by Mini USA suggests there’s still some interest in shifting for yourself. Some 63 percent of respondents agree that learning how to drive a manual transmission “is a rite of passage and an important life skill.” Additionally, “fun to drive” was the top characteristic that respondents most associated with a manual transmission vehicle. However, despite this, less than a quarter (24 percent) of all respondents indicated they own a manual-equipped car. Not knowing how to drive a manual was one deterrent, and 53 percent of those who did not know how to drive a manual were interested in learning. It just so happens Mini offers a manual driving school in Thermal, California for $499.

Exhaust: As of November 2022 production, Mini announced the return of manuals in its Cooper, Cooper S and John Cooper Works 2-door hardtops, so they are doing there part to save the manuals. If you’d like to learn how to drive a stick but don’t want to hike out to California, Hagerty also offers a program that will teach you how to drive a manual. — SCS

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    The key word from all owners of manuals is “FUN”. Sure there are times when bumper to bumper traffic is a downer but, most of the time rowing puts drivers in touch with their cars. Looking forward to when my grandson gets his license and pulls up to school driving my sports car. Coolest guy in town!

    Toyota will do well with the Grand Highlander. It’s a boring vehicle for me but I don”t need or want something that big.

    I thought Toyota had more sense than to hop on the M”U”V (Monster “Utility” Vehicle) bandwagon. Another Roadhog to clog the Whole Foods parking lots.

    1.2 and 1.3 liter 3-cylinders? 137 and 155 hp. I’ll pass. Nearly 40 years ago my folks picked up a Caprice with a 140 hp V8. It was no rocket, but with a proper tune it would knock down mileage in the low 20s and, the best part, had 296,000 miles when sold to a young couple.
    I’m not seeing 300k reliability from a tiny 3-cylinder or a CVT. Maybe I’m wrong, but I’ll concede if it’s a gutless 3-cylinder in a heavy CUV, just give me the electric. We go through little Ford EcoBoost like they are tires in the fleet. 75% of the fleet cars/CUVs get a new engine before the 90k turn in.

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