Super Bowl LIV

Toyota brings aliens, outlaws to its Super Bowl commercial starring Cobie Smulders

Actress Cobie Smulders starts in the new Toyota commercial.

Photo courtesy of Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A., Inc.

As Agent Maria Hill in the Marvel Comic Universe, across Cobie Smulders is familiar with strategizing against all kinds of foes. This year's Super Bowl advertisement pairs her up with the redesigned 2020 Toyota Highlander as she rescues a cast of characters from some of cinema's favorite films.

"This commercial truly highlights the all-new Highlander's incredible array of features, even greater capabilities and spacious interior," said Ed Laukes, group vice president, Toyota Marketing, Toyota Motor North America. "The spot's message of 'go wherever they need you' speaks to the adventurous spirit of Highlander and its ability to help drivers tap into their inner hero."

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The spot features movie trailer-like intense music that was composed for the commercial and proves most memorable for the line, "That's not its mouth."

The spot, called "Heroes", which will appear in the first ad break of the fourth quarter, features the Highlander Platinum grade. It serves as the launching point of Toyota's new Highlander campaign.

"When Toyota approached me, I felt very flattered getting to play the hero in my first-ever Big Game commercial," said actress Cobie Smulders. "I'm a mom, and I love that I'm playing a mom in this ad. When I think of heroes, I think of women and moms – the toughest people out there – and to be able to represent that is a wonderful thing."

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John Mayer has been a Land Rover Defender enthusiast for more than a decade.

Photo by Eric Ryan Anderson, courtesy of Land Rover

Instagram users are familiar with seeing musician John Mayer inside his home, broadcasting on Live in his "Current Mood" series. Now, they can head to his IGTV channel to see "John Mayer Goes Outside", a new advertising campaign from Atlantic Re:think and Land Rover.

The video features Mayer journeying into the forests of Northern California including Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park while behind the wheel of the 2020 Land Rover Defender. The film was show over three days in March, just before the COVID-19 pandemic took hold of the conversation. The collaboration includes behind-the-scenes images and videos from the shoot.

John Mayer, Land Rover Defender  Goes Outside Mayer journey's to one of America's most beloved state parks.Photo by Eric Ryan Anderson, courtesy of Land Rover

Speaking of his time adventuring in the woods, Mayer said, "I don't think you can come out here and get any other message from yourself other than, 'You're alright. You're okay.'"

The shoot marked Mayer's first time in Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park and first time driving the new Land Rover Defender, a vehicle Mayer has history with as he has been a Defender enthusiast and vintage model owner for more than a decade.

"We wanted to capture the experience of being outdoors, in a way that didn't feel forced or scripted. In other words, get John Mayer in his favorite car and show him a good time in the wilderness," says Jeremy Elias, executive creative director of Atlantic Re:think. "The trip has taken on new meaning in the months since we filmed, and so has the brand's message of embracing the power and beauty of the great outdoors."

John Mayer, Land Rover Defender  Goes Outside The film includes plenty of Redwood trees.Photo by Eric Ryan Anderson, courtesy of Land Rover

"John Mayer, in addition to being an incredibly accomplished musician, is a gear aficionado with a passion for all things mechanical," said Stuart Schorr, Vice President of Communications, Jaguar Land Rover North America. "He has been watching the development of the new Defender, and we have been keenly aware of his Defender collection as well as frankly being fans of his music. We are so proud he's one of the first people in the United States to get in a Defender, and that he was able to share his poetic take on exploring America's national parks."

Click here to visit John Mayer's Instagram feed and view the film.

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The 2020 Toyota Yaris punches above its weight.

Photo courtesy of Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc.

Folks are always fascinated about what I do for a living. "Oh, you drive a different car every week? That's so exciting!"

What follows is a fairly predictable set of questions. "What's your favorite car?" (Rolls-Royce Wraith). "Have you ever driven on a race track?" (Numerous times.) "What's the fastest you've driven?" (180 MPH in a Porsche Panamera on the Autobahn in Germany.)

But then I'll start asking them questions, trying to learn about what they drive and why. What car do you have and why did you buy it? What other cars did you consider? What do you look for in an automobile?

2020 Toyota Yaris The Yaris has Toyota looks up front.Photo courtesy of Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc.

It's my own form of market research. I can't review a car if I don't understand who my reader is and how to best guide them. It's part of why I don't dive too deep into horsepower and performance figures — I've found that, performance cars excepted, most vehicles perform adequately for the everyday tasks that people buy them for.

That brings us to this week's car, which is perhaps one of the least-interesting cars I've tested — but in a very good way. The sub-$20,000 2020 Toyota Yaris Hatchback is aimed solidly at folks who want an affordable, entry-level vehicle that's safe, practical, and with just a touch of luxury-ishness.

My tester was the (slightly) fancier XLE trim, pricing out at $19,680. It's equipped with an adequate if unexciting 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine churning out a whopping 106-horsepower. The engine might be tiny, but it comes with the added bonus of 32/40/35 mpg (city/highway/combined) fuel economy. It's paired to a six-speed automatic transmission (and a real transmission too, not a continuously variable unit that some folks love to hate).

2020 Toyota Yaris The hatchback is convenient but the car also comes in a sedan variant.Photo courtesy of Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc.

It has 16-inch wheels, a bunch of airbags, LED headlights, rain-sensing windshield wipers, and a seven-inch color touch screen complete with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. It has push-button start, keyless entry, and power windows, locks and mirrors. Oh, and there's automatic climate control too, which I've seen missing on cars that cost way more than this.

Here's where things get a bit confusing. Toyota sells the Yaris in other markets around the world, and it's their own in-house vehicle. But the Yaris sold in America is a rebadged Mazda2 that's assembled at Mazda's facility in Salamanca, Mexico. It's related to the Toyota Yaris sedan which used to be called the Scion iA, which is also built by Mazda, but also has the Toyota brand on it.

Whatever.

2020 Toyota Yaris The Yaris rides okay, about what you’d expect for a sub-$20,000 vehicle.Photo courtesy of Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc.

I've driven a lot of Mazdas and a lot of Toyotas, and it's obvious to me that this is a Mazda. That's not a bad thing. Mazdas vehicles have punched above their weight for a long time (I had a 2011 Mazda3 for years, and I've praised them frequently in these pages), bringing both upscale materials and design to lower-priced segments. That's true here too. The Mazda2 — I mean, Toyota Yaris Hatchback — doesn't feel like a stripped down econobox. It's small and maneuverable and the engine, though a little noisy, gets you through traffic nicely.

It's a great new car for a teenager or for someone looking to spend as little money on a new car as possible. New cars, after all, come with new car warranties and can appeal to folks who don't want to imagine what came before when buying something used.

The Yaris competes with the Honda Fit, which is a perennial favorite in this class, and it seems a little nicer and a little more polished, though with less rear-seat legroom if you anticipate carrying adults back there.

2020 Toyota Yaris Even low-cost models have an infotainment screen these days.Photo courtesy of Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc.

The front is comfortable and attractive enough, with solid buttons and knobs and dials that are all pleasing to touch and fiddle with (which isn't as common as you'd think). It seems to be a better car than it's bargain-basement price would indicate, with a solid ride, comfortable seats and two reliable names behind it.

I took it to Costco (as I have with all my COVID-era test drives) and, with the 60/40 seats folded down, was able to fill it with ease. It swallowed up toilet paper and paper towels and a case of Diet Dr. Pepper and all manner of other things. It's no Rolls-Royce Wraith, but I'd be happy to recommend the little Yaris to someone looking for a new car that won't break the bank.

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