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  • 2015 Toyota 4Runner Trail Edition

    Posted on April 22nd, 2015 ninarussin No comments

    Fifth-generation SUV appeals to active families

    By Nina Russin

    2015 Toyota 4Runner

    2015 Toyota 4Runner

    In the close to thirty years I’ve been writing about cars, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about what differentiates a good vehicle from a bad one. These days, there are very few bad cars thanks to improvements in on-board computers and better construction materials such as high strength steel. So why do some vehicles stand out as truly great while others migrate to the middle of the pack’

    I think the answer has to do with a sense of purpose. Great cars have it; not-so-great ones don’t. The Toyota 4Runner remains true to its mission of off-road capability three decades and five generations after the original model debuted.

    The body-on-frame sport-utility vehicle isn’t for everyone, nor is it intended to be. While the truck-based 4Runner can’t compete against unibody crossovers for ride comfort, it is more durable off-road, and can tow up to 4500 pounds. A new crawl feature on the Trail edition gives drivers more control over extremely uneven trails, while an optional slide-out cargo floor on five-passenger models holds up to 400 pounds, making it much easier to load heavy items in back.

    An available third row of seating sets the 4Runner apart from products such as the Jeep Grand Cherokee that max out at five passengers. Active families will also like standard safety features such as roll-sensing side curtain airbags that protect all three rows of occupants.

    Power comes from a 270-horsepower V-6 engine and five-speed automatic transmission. Because the transmission lacks a second overdrive gear, fuel economy isn’t particularly great: 18 miles-per-gallon on average according to the EPA.

    Base price for the 4X4 Trail Premium model is $38,655 excluding the $885 destination charge. Options on the test car include the sliding cargo floor and the kinetic dynamic suspension system that disconnects the axles when the car is driven off-road to provide more suspension travel. Final MSRP is $40,890. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2015 Lexus RX 450h

    Posted on April 20th, 2015 ninarussin No comments

    Fuel-thrifty crossover is big on luxury

    By Nina Russin

    2015 Lexus RX 450h

    2015 Lexus RX 450h

    Bamboo wood steals the show. While it might seem trivial, the bamboo wood trim inside the Lexus 450h hybrid crossover says a lot about the car and its mission. Bamboo is technically a plant. It grows faster than trees: therefore the wood is sustainable. Toyota and Lexus use bamboo wood trim inside their hybrid vehicles to give their message of sustainability a face.

    Bamboo wood is also gorgeous and wonderful to touch. The bamboo wood steering wheel inside the Lexus RX 450h crossover feels like satin. The typical consumer probably won’t spend much time staring at the hybrid’s Atkinson cycle engine or electric motors, but he or she will see and touch the bamboo wood steering wheel every day.

    Although the 450h is the smallest member of Lexus’ crossover/SUV family, it’s a fairly large vehicle with seating for up to five passengers. Power comes from an V-6 engine and electric motors, giving the car equivalent performance to a V-8. Four hundred fifty cubic inches is the size of a gasoline engine that would offer similar horsepower and torque to the car’s hybrid powertrain.

    Pricing for the all-wheel drive test car starts at $48,845. Options include heated and ventilated front seats, rain sensing wipers, 19-inch alloy wheels, Mark Levinson premium audio system, leather trim, intuitive park assist, blind spot monitoring, a moonroof, driver’s seat memory settings and roof rails, bringing the final MSRP to $58,315. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2016 Fiat 500X First Drive

    Posted on April 17th, 2015 ninarussin No comments

    All-wheel drive makes the 500 outwardly mobile

    By Nina Russin

    2016 Fiat 500X

    2016 Fiat 500X

    If the 1957 Fiat Cinquecento was the mouse that roared, the 500X is the mouse that scales mountains. For 2016, Fiat enters the compact crossover segment with a new model that shares chassis components with the Jeep Renegade, but has a personality all its own.

    Since bringing an all-new 500 stateside for the 2012 model year, Fiat diversified its offerings with a family of cars that share the first model’s iconic styling but appeal to drivers wanting more room, more power, or a greener footprint.

    The 500L, introduced shortly after the 500, offered more interior space, but maintained a similar urban orientation to its smaller sibling. The 500X that debuts for 2016 is the first Fiat with available all-wheel drive for better four-season performance.

    The newest Fiat comes in five trim models, including Trekking and Trekking Plus versions that appeal to buyers with active lifestyles. Pricing for the base Pop front-wheel drive car is $20,000 excluding destination. The Pop is the only model to come with a 1.4-liter turbocharged MultiAir engine and six-speed manual transmission.

    All other grades- the Lounge, Easy, Trekking and Trekking Plus come with a naturally aspirated 2.4-liter Tigershark engine and nine-speed automatic transmission. The Trekking model starts at $23,100, while the upscale Trekking Plus is priced from $27,100.

    All-wheel drive adds an additional $1,900. A disconnecting rear axle makes the all-wheel drive car perform as a front-wheel drive when traction demands are low for better gas mileage.

    All versions come with the Uconnect infotainment system: a three-inch screen in the base model, five-inch screen in midgrades and 6.5-inch screen with navigation and Sirius traffic updates on upscale grades. Top-of-the-line models also get keyless entry and start, heated steering wheel and seats, Beats audio systems and Bluetooth streaming audio.

    Available active safety features include blind spot monitoring, lane-keep assist, forward collision mitigation and cross path detection. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2015 Hyundai Genesis RWD 3.8

    Posted on April 15th, 2015 ninarussin No comments

    Luxury sport sedan hits the sweet spot

    By Nina Russin

    2015 Hyundai Genesis sedan

    2015 Hyundai Genesis sedan

    My favorite episode of “The Simpsons” is the one in which Homer attempts to build the Homermobile. Creating a new car is not an easy task: just ask anyone who’s tried it.

    As a journalist who has witnessed Hyundai’s evolution during its twenty-years in the North America, I continue to be impressed by far the company has raised the bar and continues to do so. The second-generation Genesis sedan that debuts for the 2015 model year is a case in point.

    As nice as the original 2009 model was, the new sedan is doubly good, improving on every aspect of design, engineering and user interface. It’s a home run.

    Hyundai describes the Genesis as a premium sedan simply because Hyundai is not a luxury brand. But the new Genesis is as much a luxury car as the Lexus, Audi, Mercedes-Benz and BMW models it competes against.

    The sedan is available with two engine choices: a 3.8-liter V-6 or 5-liter V-8, with rear or all-wheel drive. The 3.8-liter rear-wheel drive test car starts at $38,000, excluding the $950 destination charge. Two convenience option packages and a technology group that includes adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning and parking assist bring the final MSRP to $49,950. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2015 Ram ProMaster City

    Posted on April 8th, 2015 ninarussin No comments

    Pint-sized cargo van for urbanites on the go

    By Nina Russin

    Ram ProMaster City

    Ram ProMaster City

    Today I’m a Sherpa. The test car this week is the Ram ProMaster City: the North American version of the popular Fiat Doblo cargo van. I intend to keep the ProMaster busy doing what it was designed for: hauling soup-to-nuts.

    The ProMaster City is a downsized version of the ProMaster , based on the Fiat Ducato and introduced to North America for the 2014 model year. The wheelbase is 14-inches shorter than the standard ProMaster light-duty truck and the roof and ride height lower.

    Power comes from a 2.4-liter Tigershark engine and nine-speed automatic transmission. A diesel version with a manual gearbox is available in Europe, but Ram has no plans at this point to bring it stateside.

    Base price for the two-seat window van is $23,130 excluding the destination charge. The test car comes with a rear backup camera, upgraded wheels, roof rack and Ram’s Uconnect infotainment system, bringing the final MSRP to $26,105. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2015 Audi Q3 2.0T quattro Tiptronic

    Posted on April 1st, 2015 ninarussin No comments

    Compact model joins the Q5 and Q7 crossover family

    By Nina Russin

    2015 Audi Q3

    2015 Audi Q3

    Who doesn’t love a fast car? As athletes, we obsess over ways to make our bodies stronger and more agile. Since a person’s car is, in a sense, his alter ego, shouldn’t it do the same?

    The Audi Q3 that debuts for the 2015 model year expands the brand’s crossover lineup to three offerings. The new compact crossover takes a similar approach to styling and performance as its larger siblings, the Q5 and Q7. Smaller dimensions and better fuel economy make it a more practical choice for urbanites that contend with limited parking and congested thoroughfares.

    Both front-wheel drive and quattro models are powered by a two-liter, turbocharged 200-horsepower engine and six-speed automatic transmission. The engine reaches peak torque, 207 foot-pounds, at the tip of a throttle for exceptional acceleration off the line. The manufacturer lists a zero-to-sixty time of 7.8 seconds for the front-wheel drive model: 8.2 for the quattro.

    Base price is $34,600 excluding the $925 destination charge. Standard convenience features include Bluetooth interface, satellite radio, rain-sensing windshield wipers, a panoramic sunroof, xenon headlamps, heated front seats and iPod interface. The test car comes with special exterior paint, navigation, 19-inch wheels and a power tailgate, bringing the final MSRP to $39,175. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2015 Lincoln Navigator

    Posted on March 26th, 2015 ninarussin No comments

    Lincoln’s full-size SUV is more than a pretty face

    By Nina Russin

    2015 Lincoln Navigator

    2015 Lincoln Navigator

    This year Lincoln introduces an all-new Navigator full-size sport-utility vehicle, building on the original formula with significant improvements to fuel economy, ride, handling and infotainment technology. First and foremost is a new twin-turbocharged 3.5-liter EcoBoost engine that delivers 380 horsepower and 460 foot-pounds of peak torque. By comparison, the considerably larger 5.4-liter V-8 in the original 1998 model delivered 230-horsepower and 325 foot-pounds of torque.

    In addition to producing thirty percent more power, the new EcoBoost block is significantly thriftier at the fuel pump, averaging 18 miles-per-gallon for the rear-wheel drive model and 17 for the four-by-four test car. By comparison, the ’98 model puttered along at 12 miles-per-gallon.

    Designers refreshed the exterior with a new hood and LED lighting. Standard daytime running lamps make the SUV easier to see on winding canyon roads while adaptive front headlamps light the corners of dark rural roads at night.

    Pricing for the four-wheel drive standard wheelbase car tested begins at $66,055 excluding the $995 destination charge. Options on the test car include a reserve option package that adds Lincoln drive control, 22-inch alloy rims and power running boards and special paint. Final MSRP is $73,395. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2015 Chevrolet Cruze Turbo Diesel

    Posted on March 18th, 2015 ninarussin No comments

    Compact sedan is big on fuel economy

    By Nina Russin

    2015 Chevrolet Cruze Turbo Diesel

    2015 Chevrolet Cruze Turbo Diesel

    Twenty years ago, if somebody told me I could average 40 miles-per-gallon in a passenger car I’d have thought I’d died and gone to heaven. Thanks to new clean diesel technology, engineers are able to imbue today’s cars and trucks with fuel economy unimaginable in decades past.

    The newest member of Chevrolet’s compact Cruze sedan family is a perfect example, averaging 46 miles-per-gallon on the highway according to the EPA. During my 140-mile test drive that included surface streets as well as highways, I averaged 41.

    The Cruze was Chevrolet’s replacement for the Cobalt when it debuted in 2010. This year the automaker does a styling refresh on all models except the base LS and adds 4G LTE. Twenty-fifteen models are also pre-wired for Siri.

    Base price for the turbo-diesel car is $25,660 excluding the $825 destination charge. Standard comfort and convenience features include remote vehicle start, leather seating, heated front seats, 60/40 split folding second-row seat, air conditioning, a driver information display in the gauge cluster, tilt-and-telescoping steering column, air conditioning, OnStar, satellite radio and Chevrolet MyLink.

    The test car is equipped with several option packages adding a power sunroof, premium audio system, blind spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, rearview camera and heated outside mirrors, bringing the final MSRP to $29,430. Read the rest of this entry »

  • Chrysler/Toyota Win Top Spots at TAWA Roundup

    Posted on March 17th, 2015 ninarussin No comments

    OEMs bring over 50 vehicle entries to March ride-and-drive event

    By Nina Russin

    Photo courtesy of Major League Photography

    Photo courtesy of Major League Photography

    Everything is bigger in Texas. From bighorn steers to ten-gallon hats, the Lone Star state is the land of supersizing.

    This includes the weather. Because north Texas lies in the path of the Jetstream, the area gets a lot of wintery weather other sections of the southwest miss. People who live in north Texas are used to this, so Plan A always includes a Plan B.

    When pouring rain, wind and forty-degree temperatures on the day of the Spring Roundup put the kibosh on hot laps at Texas Motor Speedway, members of the Texas Auto Writers Association donned their thinking caps and executed Plan B.

    And although journalists missed the opportunity to drive supercars such as the Dodge Viper, Nissan GT-R and Chevrolet Corvette on the track, neither the cars nor program attendees spent much time in the garages. Everyone had a good day of driving. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2015 Chevrolet Trax-LS FWD

    Posted on March 16th, 2015 ninarussin No comments

    Compact crossover with new connectivity features

    By Nina Russin

    2015 Chevrolet Trax

    2015 Chevrolet Trax

    Life is plan B. I thought about this sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic on the interstate outside Fort Worth, Texas, as I scanned the horizon for signs of clearing. It had been a plan B week and from what I could see, things were not getting better. Fortunately the car I was driving, the new Chevrolet Trax compact crossover is engineered to embrace the unexpected.

    The adventure began two days prior, descending into Dallas Love Field through a blanket of clouds. As is typical for business travel, I had come half prepared, armed with enough clothes and an itinerary including two events: the first, the Texas Auto Writers Spring Roundup, and the second, a Volkswagen ride-and-drive 200 miles to the southeast in Austin. Entering the Trax curbside, I realized I had no idea beyond the airport exit sign of how to get to my first destination.

    Nor did I have an abundance of time, having chosen the last direct flight out. If things went swimmingly, the window upon arriving at the hotel would be just enough to dump my suitcase in the room before dinner.

    I pressed the blue OnStar button below the rearview mirror and within a minute a cheerful voice came over the speakerphone. The OnStar rep downloaded directions into the car and I was on my way. Read the rest of this entry »