Posted on November 24th, 2015
All-new sport sedan adds spice to the daily commute
By Nina Russin
Performance has always been Nissan’s forte. That continues to be the case for the newest Maxima: a sport sedan capable of giving the best Europe has to offer real competition at a more affordable price.
Unlike many cars in the segment, the Maxima chassis is front-wheel drive with a continuously variable automatic transmission, both if which might make driving purists wrinkle their noses.
But it’s hard to argue with its 300 horsepower engine, excellent throttle response, and near perfect front-to-rear weight balance. In other words, don’t judge a book by its cover. Technology changes, often for the better.
Base price for the redesigned 2016 model starts at $32,410. Final MSRP on the well-loaded SL test car with leather upholstery, a panoramic moonroof, power heated front seats and Bose premium sound system is $37,935 including delivery. Read the rest of this entry »
Posted on November 13th, 2015
Best-selling midsize sedan undergoes a significant refresh
By Nina Russin
Midsize sedans are the meat and potatoes of the car world, comprising the highest volume of sales among passenger cars and second highest of all types of vehicles. It is no small feat that Nissan has been able to hold the number three position behind Japan’s ‘Big Two’ automakers: Toyota and Honda.
The Altima continues to be Nissan’s best selling model among both passenger cars and trucks. For 2016, the automaker has upped the ante with a significant refresh to the sedan that includes a revised exterior, new center stack, more fuel-efficient powertrain, and a new sport model called the SR.
Priced from $24,470, the SR costs about $2000 more than the base S model, adding 18-inch wheels with low profile tires, sport-tuned suspension, unique headlamps, a rear spoiler, paddle shifters, fog lamps and a ten-way power driver’s seat. Positioned to compete against the Toyota Camry SE and Honda Accord Sport, Nissan product planners expect the new trim package will conquest young buyers with a combination of styling and value. Read the rest of this entry »
Posted on November 2nd, 2015
Best-selling midsize pickup truck improves power and performance
By Nina Russin
There’s a reason the Toyota Tacoma pickup tops sales in the United States in the midsize segment: it’s a great truck. And it just got better with an all-new 2016 model that incorporates more fuel-efficient powertrains, a roomier interior and some pretty amazing off-road driving technology.
Buyers can choose between an inline four-cylinder and new Atkinson cycle V-6 engine. All models are available with a six-speed automatic transmission. A manual gearbox is still available for the off-road specific trucks.
There are five trim levels that range from the work-focused SR to upscale Limited. Toyota eliminated two-seat models for this generation, offering a choice between access and double cabs.
The TRD Off-Road grade features a terrain selection feature on automatic transmission trucks that adjust wheel spin and brake pressure according to the types of surfaces the truck is covering: in other words, no more spinning out in deep sand.
Even more exciting is new crawl control technology that maintains a preset speed when the driver is ascending and descending steep grades. At a media event this summer outside Seattle, this writer used the crawl control to climb a 40-degree sheer rock face and descend an equally steep grade. With the truck controlling the throttle and braking, the only thing the driver needs to worry about is steering.
The test truck is the upscale Limited grade priced from $37,820, excluding the $900 destination charge. Standard equipment on the double cab model includes the 278-horsepower V-6 engine, six-speed automatic transmission and four-wheel drive with a two-speed transfer case for driving over uneven trails.
A standard rear backup camera and blind spot monitoring make it easier to back out of parking slots in crowded lots and weave through dense rush-hour traffic. Standard convenience features include keyless entry and push-button start, Entune with app suites and navigation, leather upholstery, power moonroof, satellite radio, Qi wireless charging, a tie-down deck rail system and dual-zone climate control.
There are two options: a towing prep package and cargo box tonneau cover, bringing the final MSRP to $40,020. Read the rest of this entry »
Posted on October 22nd, 2015
Flagship full-size sport-utility vehicle
By Nina Russin
The QX80 is Infiniti’s offering for large families who don’t want to sacrifice style for interior space. With seating for up to seven passengers and a powerful 5.6-liter aluminum direct injection V-8 engine, Infiniti’s full-size sport utility vehicle is essentially a Lear jet for the open road.
The Limited grade raises the bar further with unique exterior colors accented by dark chrome trim and dark 22-inch wheels, semi-aniline leather interior, all-wheel drive with snow mode and tow mode, self-leveling suspension, electronically controlled two-speed transfer case and adaptive headlamps.
Base price for the Limited is $88,850. Final MSRP including the $995 destination charge is $89,845. Read the rest of this entry »
Posted on October 12th, 2015
Green car meets sport sedan
By Nina Russin
It’s rare for environmentalists and car enthusiasts to see eye-to-eye on anything. But both with find a lot to love in Hyundai’s newest Sonata Hybrid sedan: a stylish package that delivers on all fronts without compromise.
While hybrid sedans are nothing new, the Sonata is in a league of its own. Power comes from a fuel-efficient two-liter gasoline engine and electric motor with 195 combined horsepower. The sedan can run at speeds up to 75 miles-per-hour on pure electric power. Average fuel economy for our test drive was 42 miles-per-gallon: slightly higher than the EPA 41 mpg estimate.
A compact lithium polymer battery is positioned under the trunk, so unlike most hybrid sedans, cargo space is the same as for gasoline-powered models. Buyers can also opt for 60/40 split folding rear seats to extend the cargo floor for larger items.
Base price for the upscale Limited model is $30,100, excluding the $825 destination charge. Options on the test car include a panoramic sunroof, lane departure warning, forward collision warning, automatic high beam assist, , adaptive cruise control, navigation, satellite radio, high-definition radio, LED interior lamps and floor mats, bringing the final MSRP to $35,765. Read the rest of this entry »
Posted on September 23rd, 2015
Compact crossover gains refinement and style
By Nina Russin
Toyota’s Recreational Active Vehicle has changed a lot since its introduction in 1995. What began as a personal car based on the Camry platform has evolved into a larger, more substantial vehicle that works well for small families. The car’s mission remains the same: combining car-like ride and handling with a more versatile interior and available all-wheel drive for buyers with active lifestyles.
The current model is essentially carry-over from 2013 when Toyota unveiled the fourth-generation car. Lava exterior paint on the test car is new for 2015.
Base price for the Limited is $29,850 excluding the $885 destination charge. The upscale grade comes nicely equipped with convenience features including dual-zone climate control, Entune infotainment with navigation, satellite radio, leather wrapped steering wheel, heated front seats with driver’s seat memory settings, keyless entry and start, reclining and fold flat second-row seats, 18-inch alloy wheels, power moonroof, heated outside mirrors and power on/off headlamps.
Options on the test car include a JBL premium audio system, blind spot monitoring with cross traffic alert, lane departure warning, automatic high beams, roof rack cross bars, remote start and carpeted floor mats. Final MSRP is $33,469. Read the rest of this entry »
Posted on September 17th, 2015
EcoBoost engine takes it further
By Nina Russin
If somebody had told me twenty years ago that a one-liter engine could power a car, I would have laughed. Yet that’s exactly what Ford engineers have done with the newest subcompact Fiesta, featuring the automaker’s one-liter EcoBoost engine and five-speed automatic transmission.
The 123-horsepower engine develops up to 148 foot-pounds of torque. Mated to a five-speed manual gearbox that enables drivers to keep the revs up, it’s a peppy, fun-to-drive package with 36 mile-per-gallon fuel economy.
One of the reasons the engine works so well is curb weight, which for the manual transmission model is a bit over 2,500 pounds. That’s about the same as an averaged equipped Mazda Miata and less than a Scion FR-S.
The hatchback adds versatility, with a taller, roomier cargo bay than sedans in the competitive segment. Base price for the test car is $16,085, excluding the $825 destination charge. Options including the EcoBoost engine and green metallic exterior finish bring the final MSRP to $18,300. Read the rest of this entry »
Posted on September 14th, 2015
Luxury crossover raises the bar for the midsize segment
By Nina Russin
Lexus has never been a company to take risks. When the automaker introduced the midsize RX in 1998, product planners knew their alternative to truck-based sport-utility vehicles would fill a big hole in the market.
The strategy was so successful, that the crossover maintained its leadership position in a segment quickly populated with competitors. Today RX sales exceed 100,000 units annually, making the crossover the brand’s best selling vehicle.
Never being a company to rest on its laurels, Lexus raises the bar again with the all-new 2016 RX that includes gasoline and gasoline/electric hybrid models, both available with front or all-wheel drive. For the first time, F Sport performance variants are available as hybrid all-wheel drive cars.
Lexus models tend to grow in dimension over time and the RX is no exception. The newest
car is 4.7-inches longer, translating to more space in the second row and cargo bay. Designers utilize vortices in key areas around the body to minimize coefficient of drag and boost fuel economy.
Styling is a radical departure from the outgoing model, with a more aggressive spindle grille, chiseled rear end and coupe-like profile infused with multiple character lines. Inside, designers utilized lush upholstery materials and wood trim. Interior quiet is segment leading in the Lexus tradition.
Power for gasoline cars comes from a new direct injection 3.5-liter V-6 engine and eight-speed automatic transmission. Hybrid cars get an Atkinson cycle V-6 with electric motors that yield 308 net horsepower.
Lexus has yet to announce pricing, but hinted that the base model will start below $45,000. Read the rest of this entry »
Posted on September 10th, 2015
Full-size premium sedan is a Lexus in disguise
By Nina Russin
Over the past twenty years, the Toyota Avalon has evolved from a stretched-out version of the Camry into a league of its own, offering buyers similar ride and handling to more expensive Lexus models. The availability of a gasoline/electric hybrid is rather unusual in this segment that also includes the Ford Taurus and Buick LaCrosse.
The 2015 model is basically carryover following a major redesign in 2013. Changes include an upgraded Entune multimedia system and paddle shifters on gasoline-powered cars.
Base price for the Avalon Hybrid Limited is $41,700: on the high side for the segment. However buyers get their money’s worth with standard features that include remote keyless entry and start, tri-zone climate control, leather upholstery and steering wheel, power heated and cooled front seats, heated rear seats, Bluetooth interface, a rearview camera with cross traffic alert, blind spot monitoring and satellite radio.
A technology package on the test car adds dynamic radar cruise control, automatic high beams, Qi wireless charging, and pre-collision system with pedestrian detection. Final MSRP is $44,475. Read the rest of this entry »
Posted on August 31st, 2015
All-wheel drive crossover fills all the squares
By Nina Russin
Subaru was born from the needs of buyers with active lifestyles. Standard all-wheel drive, high ground clearance, advanced active safety features, versatile cargo areas and engines that run well at altitude made Subaru the obvious choice for endurance athletes as early as the 1970s when the company also sponsored the US Ski team.
Although the brand has always offered buyers a lot of value, some models lacked refinement in the areas of ride comfort and NVH as compared to the competition. Never being a company to rest on its laurels, Subaru is addressing the problem by improving existing models.
Case in point: the 2015 XV Crosstrek, with insulating windshield glass on the Limited model that significantly improves interior quiet. Having driven earlier versions of the car, I was surprised by how quiet the 2015 test car is on the highway.
While the Limited is the most upscale version of Subaru’s midsize all-wheel drive crossover,
it’s still quite affordable. Base price on the test car is $24,795, with standard features including leather upholstery, satellite radio, a rearview camera, Bluetooth interface, HD radio, smartphone connectivity, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel and roof rails.
An option package adds keyless start, power moonroof, real-time weather and traffic updates and the EyeSight driver assist system that automatically applies the brakes if the driver fails to recognized a stopped car or pedestrian in the car’s path.
Power comes from a 148-horsepower Boxer engine and continuously variable automatic transmission. All-wheel drive is standard across the model lineup. The Crosstrek’s 8.7-inches of ground clearance makes driving in the snow or clearing obstacles on unimproved dirt roads a piece of cake. Read the rest of this entry »