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  • Toyota 2017 Model Year Wrap-up

    Posted on September 26th, 2016 ninarussin

    New sports car, 50th anniversary Corolla, V-6 and hybrids enter showrooms

    By Nina Russin

    2017 Toyota 86

    2017 Toyota 86

    Toyota enters the 2017 model year with a significant birthday, expanded hybrid offerings for its Highlander crossover, refreshed Sienna minivan and a new sports car. With Scion closing its doors, Toyota is introducing a refreshed FR-S as the 2017 86, paying homage to the AE86, also known as the Corolla Levin.

    Core features remain the same: a two-liter boxer engine with available six-speed manual or automatic transmissions in a rear-wheel drive platform. The engine combines port and direct injection, the former for fuel efficiency when cruising around town and the latter for throttle response on the track.

    2017 Toyota 86

    2017 Toyota 86

    The retuned two-plus-two features new differential gearing for the manual transmission version for better launch characteristics. Redesigned intake and exhaust manifolds help the engine breathe better. Enhanced torsional rigidity from a stiffer transmission tunnel and thicker strut tower brace boosts steering response. Engineers also retuned the suspension.

    Styling is refreshed inside and out, with new 17-inch twisted spoke wheels and all-LED front and rear lighting. A smaller steering wheel with audio controls, Granlux shoulder pads on the seats and Granlux inserts in the doors reflect the interior’s driver focus. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2017 Volkswagen Golf Alltrack SEL with 4Motion

    Posted on September 15th, 2016 ninarussin

    Active lifestyle wagon with German performance

    By Nina Russin

    2017 Volkswagen Golf Alltrack

    2017 Volkswagen Golf Alltrack

    Volkswagen’s new Golf Alltrack sport wagon is the masculine yang to the Subaru Outback’s more feminine yin. Athletic performance comes from a turbocharged 1.8-liter engine and available six-speed manual gearbox on all grades. Like its Subaru competitor, the Alltrack boasts a versatile easy-to-clean interior with a spacious cargo bay for larger gear, and enough ground clearance to clear the tea kettles on unimproved roads.

    VW product planners hope the Alltrack’s available panoramic sunroof and slightly lower roof height than the Outback will lure existing Subaru owners into its showrooms. Roof rails are standard on every Alltrack grade to facilitate overhead cargo carriers and roof racks.

    2017 Volkswagen Golf Alltrack

    2017 Volkswagen Golf Alltrack

    The Alltrack is based on Volkswagen’s popular Golf Sportwagen. Although its sibling is available with Volkswagen’s 4Motion all-wheel drive system, the Alltrack’s higher ground clearance makes it more capable on uneven trails. A drive-select mode system automatically engages downhill descent control when the driver chooses the off-road setting.

    The standard 1.8-liter turbocharged engine develops 170-horsepower and 199 pound-feet of torque from engine speeds as low as 1600 rpm for excellent low-end acceleration. The DSG automatic model that launches in October starts at $26,950 excluding an $820 destination charge while the six-speed manual version available in January, 2017 is priced from $25,850. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2017 Ford Fusion Platinum AWD

    Posted on September 9th, 2016 ninarussin

    Midsize passenger sedan raises the bar

    By Nina Russin

    Ford Fusion

    Ford Fusion

    It’s almost impossible for a midsize sedan to stand apart from the crowd, simply because the segment includes so many outstanding vehicles. But the Ford Fusion does, outperforming Asian competitors that have long dominated the group.

    Priced from $38,620, the Platinum all-wheel drive grade should be considered an entry luxury car, and as such, comes equipped with premium amenities including leather upholstery, keyless entry and start, automatic dual-zone climate controls, Sony audio system with satellite radio, heated and cooled front seats and a heated steering wheel. Final MSRP on the test car, including metallic white exterior, 19-inch rims and inflatable rear seatbelts is $40,280. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2016 Infiniti QX60 AWD

    Posted on August 25th, 2016 ninarussin

    Midsize crossover appeals to the driver in all of us

    By Nina Russin

    2016 Infiniti QX60

    2016 Infiniti QX60

    We all hate that point in life when we have to jump the shark, and be more pragmatic in our choice of vehicle.

    The guys at Infiniti get this, and they’ve come up with a remarkably good solution: the midsize QX60 all-wheel drive crossover. For active families or couples who have a lot of gear to haul around, the QX fills all the squares. Seating for seven: check. Large configurable cargo area: check. All-wheel drive for off-road and four-season performance: check and check.

    But here’s the best part: get behind the wheel and the QX60 is a hoot to drive, with a powerful 3.5-liter V-6 engine, a really good continuously variable automatic transmission (seriously, really good), and traction to all four wheels.

    The QX60 isn’t cheap, with pricing for the all-wheel drive test car starting at $44,400. There are three option packages on the test car, a technology package including active safety features such as blind spot monitoring, lane departure warning, backup collision intervention and forward emergency braking; upgraded Bose audio system and a theater package that adds an around-view monitor, Bluetooth streaming audio, navigation, eight-inch touchscreen and automatic wipers.

    Final MSRP is $58,845, putting the QX60 right in the middle of the luxury segment. In this writer’s opinion, it’s worth the money. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2016 Mazda CX-9 AWD

    Posted on August 23rd, 2016 ninarussin

    Three-row crossover for active families

    By Nina Russin

    2016 Mazda CX-9

    2016 Mazda CX-9

    The newest CX-9 is the second iteration of Mazda’s three-row crossover vehicle, available with either front or all-wheel drive: both powered by a turbocharged 2.5-liter engine. Mazda’s goal was to create an interior spacious enough for a growing family in a vehicle that’s also fun to drive.

    This presented quite a challenge, since driver-focused cars are typically small, light vehicles that focus more on front-to-rear weight balance and power-to-weight ratios than how many soccer team members can fit in back.

    Pricing for the all-wheel drive Signature grade tested begins at $44,015 excluding the $800 destination charge. Being the top of the line model, the Signature comes fully loaded with convenience features buyers in this segment demand including keyless entry and start, three-zone climate control, leather trim, power moonroof, rain-sensing wipers, satellite radio and more.

    It’s also heavy on active safety technology including blind spot monitoring, rearview camera with cross traffic alert, adaptive cruise control, lane keep assist and trailer stability assist. While Mazda, unlike its Japanese competitors, doesn’t have a luxury brand, the upscale CX-9 is for all intents and purposes a luxury car.

    Final MSRP for the test car is $45,215. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2017 Chevrolet Volt Premier Hatchback

    Posted on August 19th, 2016 ninarussin

    Second-generation model adds style and versatility

    By Nina Russin

    Chevrolet Volt

    Chevrolet Volt

    The Chevrolet Volt is an electric car that doesn’t suffer from range anxiety, thanks to a gasoline engine that kicks in when the charge runs out. The second-generation model that debuted last year has more driving range than the original: up to 53 miles according to the manufacturer. Combined with its thrifty gasoline engine, owners can travel up to 1,000 miles without stopping to refuel.

    Engineers shaved weight off both the electric motor and battery pack to make the car more efficient. New exterior styling gives the Volt more presence on the road, while a redesigned interior is more luxurious and offers seating for up to five passengers.

    Base price for the upscale Premier model tested is $37,570 excluding the $875 delivery charge. Options on the test car add blind spot monitoring, lane departure alert, rear cross traffic alert, lane keep assist with automatic braking, intelligent headlamps, Chevrolet’s MyLink infotainment system with navigation. Final MSRP is $39,950. Read the rest of this entry »

  • First Drive: 2017 Nissan Titan, Armada and Pathfinder

    Posted on August 15th, 2016 ninarussin

    New truck line-up appeals to buyers with active lifestyles

    By Nina Russin

    2017 Nissan Armada

    2017 Nissan Armada

    Nissan has redesigned its core truck models for 2017, including all new Titan and Armada plus a significant refresh for the Pathfinder. In each case the automaker responded to buyer demands for enhanced active safety technology and more capable off-road performance.

    The 2017 Titan Crew Cab follows on the heels of the diesel-powered XD introduced earlier in the year: a slightly smaller more affordable offering with plenty of towing and payload capacity. There are five trim levels, including the off-road oriented PRO-4X.

    2017 Nissan Armada

    2017 Nissan Armada

    The full-size Armada sport-utility vehicle remains the brand’s flagship, with seating for up to eight passengers. Active safety features include intelligent cruise control with forward emergency braking, lane departure warning, backup collision intervention and an around-view monitor. Pricing starts at $44,000 plus destination for the base SV 2X4 model. The new Armada rolls out this month.

    The Pathfinder, produced at Nissan’s Smyrna, Tennessee assembly plant, competes against the Ford Explorer and Honda Pilot. Changes to the 2017 model include a redesigned exterior, new powertrain featuring a 3.5-liter direct injection V-6 engine, enhanced towing capability and more responsive handling on paved roads. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2017 Fiat 124 Spider

    Posted on August 12th, 2016 ninarussin

    Iconic roadster returns for millennial driving enthusiasts

    By Nina Russin

    2017 Fiat 124 Spider and 1968 Fiat 124 Spider

    2017 Fiat 124 Spider and 1968 Fiat 124 Spider

    Is it possible for an Italian sports car to cost less than $25,000? Remarkably enough, it is. The new Fiat 124 Spider that rolls out as a 2017 model recalls the automaker’s best selling open-air car that debuted at the 1966 Turin Auto Show.

    As with the original, design inspiration came from Italy, but the underpinnings reflect a collaboration between Fiat and Mazda. Fiat incorporated chassis components from the current Mazda MX-5 Miata into its powertrain, but added its own 1.4-liter MultiAir turbocharged engine that delivers 164 horsepower. Buyers can choose between a six-speed manual gearbox or six-speed automatic transmission.

    Base price for the test car equipped with the six-speed manual is $24,995, sans the $995 destination charge. Options include an audio upgrade that adds Bluetooth streaming music, rearview camera and pearl white exterior, bringing the final MSRP to $27,880. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2017 Acura ILX Tech Plus

    Posted on August 11th, 2016 ninarussin

    Compact sport sedan for driving enthusiasts

    By Nina Russin

    2017 Acura ILX

    2017 Acura ILX

    The ILX is Acura’s entry level sport sedan, appealing to young driving buyers who want luxury accouterments in an affordable package. Base price is $27,900: something of a bargain at a time when average transaction prices for new cars are close to $30,000.

    The 2017 models are essentially carry-over from 2016 when the ILX received a major refresh that included new exterior styling and a more powerful engine, paired with an eight-speed dual clutch automatic transmission.

    The current powerplant delivers 201 horsepower and 180 pound-feet of torque, a fifty horsepower boost over the engine it replaces. The new transmission offers the precision of a manual gearbox thanks to friction couplings, plus excellent fuel economy: 29 miles-per-gallon according to the EPA.

    Buyers can choose between three trim levels: Standard, Premium and the Tech Plus tested. Acura wisely includes the convenience features buyers are looking for in each trim level rather than expensive option packages. Base price for the Tech Plus is $32,990 excluding the $940 destination charge. Standard convenience features include navigation with a multi-view rear camera, premium audio system, leather upholstery, satellite radio, keyless entry and start, alloy wheels, power moonroof, Bluetooth interface and an eight-way power driver’s seat. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2016 Ford Explorer 4WD Platinum

    Posted on July 21st, 2016 ninarussin

    Iconic SUV gains power and versatility

    By Nina Russin

    2016 Ford Explorer

    2016 Ford Explorer

    This year Ford’s full-size sport-utility vehicle turns 25 years old: a landmark the OEM has celebrated by introducing a brand new model.

    While the newest Explorer maintains some of the original formula as a full-size sport-utility vehicle with true off-road capability, it has changed significantly since the vehicle debuted for the ’91 model year. A more car-like ride, new V-6 engine and advanced active safety features appeal to the core audience of active families.

    The test car is the upscale Platinum model priced from $52,970 excluding destination. Power comes from an EcoBoost twin turbocharged V-6 engine producing 365 horsepower and 350 pound-feet of maximum torque, mated to a six-speed automatic transmission. While its 18 mile-per-gallon average fuel economy might not seem impressive by today’s standards, the fact that the engine produced three times the horsepower and a third more torque than the V-6 in the 1991 Explorer should raise some eyebrows.

    2016 Ford Explorer

    2016 Ford Explorer

    The current vehicle is also significantly bigger, about 14 inches longer than the original model, adding important cargo and passenger space inside. With three rows of seating, the Explorer is an ideal choice for buyers who need room for the kid’s soccer and softball teams, or endurance athletes wanting a big enough vehicle to stash bicycles inside and take on weekend camping trips.

    Options on the test car include special metal-coat exterior paint and second-row bucket seats, bringing the final MSRP to $55,355. Read the rest of this entry »