This Weekend's The Toyota Drive Center at Bolingbrook Promenade

This Saturday I was able to experience The Toyota Drive Center at the Bolingbrook Promenade, this was a free open to the public "drive & ride" in which you can drive a new Toyota Tundra, Camry, 4Runner, Highlander or Tacoma. They were set up in the parking lot of Bass Pro Shops but unlike many "drive & rides" (which are just coned off parking lot routes), you could take the vehicle on a predestined street route like a regular dealership test drive. Now a Toyota representative rode "shotgun" with you and answered questions about the vehicle and gave highlights about the vehicle during the mile or so drive.

I assume this is much like the test drive set up that they have at the Chicago Auto Show (I've never had the time to participate in one of those during my auto show trips), but this allowed you to take the car in real world situations and see how the vehicle handles in normal suburban traffic. It was not the pressurized sales situation you often feel with a dealership test drive, this was truly a test drive to see how the vehicle feels and if you wish to find out more about this vehicle.

I got there shortly after they opened so I was able to drive two vehicles before it got crowded. I first took out a 2014 Toyota Tundra Platinum Crew Max full sized pick up truck. This was a completely loaded truck, leather, large interactive screen, four full doors and six and half foot bed. The only model higher is the western inspired "1794" edition. It has the largest cab you can get with four full size doors and there is a ton of room in there, its like the old Chevrolet Avalanche which is more SUV room-like in the cabin and still has a open bed in the back.

Now I'm real familiar with old school trucks, I grew up with the GM trucks when all they were was a single cab truck with a long bed (including my late father's 1993 GMC Sierra that my brother and I are working on), and this new Toyota Tundra is a nice as any luxury car, smooth isn't the word. It was every comfort feature you'd find on the flagship Toyota Avalon. As I navigated this full sized truck with the Toyota rep next to me and my wife in the back, the truck handled like a Cadillac, accelerated with no issues (powered by the 5.7 iForce V8 381 horsepower and 401 pounds feet of torque), and went down Janes Rooad like it was paved with hotel lobby carpeting. I even was able to take the round about with no effort in a nice tight turning radius and then go right into a straight line acceleration.

The Toyota rep mentioned that they have engineered this truck from the "inside out", and it well thought out for those of us that use a pick up truck for family duties and deal with stop and go traffic. I can't emphasis how turning this truck is "like butta" and you don't fight it or have to guess where the truck is going. Part of that goes to its partial "box on frame", the last part of the truck is not a closed frame to let it handle bumps and roads easier and the truck took the Bolingbrook roads with ease. This truck was also upgraded with the large towing mirrors that can be extended out to increase your rear view to watch your load, those mirrors are heated as well.

I finished my excellent Tundra test drive and was given the option of another test drive and I took out a 2014 Toyota Camry SE which is their loaded out yet sport sedan. Now my daily driver is a 2011 Chevrolet Mailbu LT1, so I'm used to a late model sedan and I anticipated the solid reputation of the Camry and I was honestly was disappointed. I used to have a 2007 Toyota Corolla S (that models loaded sport model), and I know Toyota aren't truly "sporty", Mazda owns the Japanese sport sedan market but Toyota's are known for being as solid as a car that comes from Asia. But this Camry left a lot to be desired, even with the upgraded 18 inch tires it rode hard (I know sport suspension), and despite a 3.5 V6 engine making 268 horse power it did not make power easily. Its a good looking car but my wife stated the back seat didn't have the room of my Malibu and this is a car that it would take some adjustment to get used to its ride. Its handling wasn't anything worth 'writing home about", I know in the past few years with recalls and issues the Camry's reputation has taken a hit but its been one of the top selling cars for over the past decade.

Just with this car I don't see it or feel it but that's what "drive and rides" like this are made for and there are similar events for Ford this weekend at Arlington Park Racecourse and for Dodge at Orland Square Mall in the south suburbs. With the downturn the auto industry took had since the great recession, its important to get cars in front of people and have non pressure situations to get customers familiar with their products and really be hands on and see what their options on.

Now General Motors, Nissan and other manufacturers need to get on board and use the summer to increase sales with "drive and rides" but not increase the pressure on customers, only get them opportunities with find a vehicle that fits their needs.

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    Charles W. Johnson

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