Posted on May 19th, 2016
Full-size pickup raises the bar for engineering and performance
By Nina Russin
Let’s face it: any vehicle costing upwards of $50,000 needs to fill a lot of squares. For most truck owners, it means multi-tasking as a work and family vehicle, with the capability to tow and haul, accommodate at least four passengers and provide respectable fuel economy.
From and engineering stance, these are lofty goals, since high profile, two-box vehicles aren’t aerodynamic. Ever. Despite that, the performance gurus at GMC have created a full-size pickup with astonishingly good fuel economy and ride comfort rivaling passenger cars.
The 5.3-liter Ecotec engine and eight-speed automatic transmission beneath the Sierra’s chiseled hood give the 1500-series crew cab the heart of an athlete. The truck idles smoothly at 600 rpm and cruises at speeds up to 65 miles-per-hour below 2,000 rpm. In endurance athlete terms, it’s the equivalent of a marathoner with a resting heart rate in the high 30s.
Base price for the SLT test truck is $46,970 excluding the $1,195 destination charge. Options include twenty-inch rims, Z71 off-road suspension, spray-on bedliner, special seats and center console, front and rear park assist, LED headlamps, power sunroof, navigation, premium audio system and a trailer brake controller. Final MSRP is $53,845. Read the rest of this entry »
Posted on May 11th, 2016
Redesigned midsize design gains in style, comfort and safety
By Nina Russin
The automaker that built its reputation as a value leader has come of age, as evidenced in the all-new Hyundai Elantra midsize sedan. While the sedan offers buyers a lot of content for the money, the newest Elantra is equally competitive on other fronts: its distinctive exterior, extensive roster of available safety features and vastly improved fit and finish throughout the interior.
Competing in the largest passenger car segment, the Elantra covers a lot of ground with the base SE priced from $17,150 and upscale Limited priced from $22,350 that includes features such as leather upholstery, Bluetooth, satellite radio, keyless start, blind spot monitoring and a rearview camera as standard equipment.
Options on the test car include a tech package that adds navigation, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, premium audio system with digital file decompression and heated seats, as well as a premium package adding HID headlamps, pedestrian detection with automatic braking, adaptive cruise control, lane keeping assist and driver’s seat memory. Final MSRP including destination is $27,710. Read the rest of this entry »
Posted on April 28th, 2016
Compact crossover has a green footprint
By Nina Russin
This year Toyota adds a hybrid model to its RAV4 lineup, utilizing the same gasoline/electric technology found in the newest Prius liftback. The RAV4 Hybrid comes in XLE and Limited grades: both with standard all-wheel drive.
Base price for the XLE tested is $28,370 excluding the $900 destination charge. A convenience option package on the test car adds an Entune premium audio system with navigation, larger center stack screen, Bluetooth streaming audio, iPod compatibility, HD and satellite radio. Final MSRP is $29,795. Read the rest of this entry »
Posted on April 25th, 2016
Value-packed compact crossover
By Nina Russin
There are worse things in this world than being known for outstanding value. As Mitsubishi continues its aggressive campaign to regain market share, the automaker has wisely focused on a few core models, including the compact Outlander Sport Crossover. While its underpinnings are older than some of its competitors, Mitsubishi’s five-passenger car continues to deliver satisfying performance, with good acceleration from its 2.4-liter engine.
Add in an extensive roster of standard safety and convenience features together with a fully-transferable factory warranty and it’s hard not to give the Outlander Sport a second look.
Recently, Mitsubishi updated the crossover’s exterior in keeping with its three-row Outlander sibling and added higher quality materials throughout the interior, correcting fit and finish issues that had drawn criticism in the past.
Base price for the front-wheel drive model tested excluding the $895 destination charge is $25,995. Standard convenience features include keyless entry and start, panoramic sunroof, rearview camera, heated front seats, 60/40 fold flat second-row seats, Rockford Fosgate audio system, Bluetooth, USB ports, satellite radio and automatic climate control. Final MSRP is $26,890. Read the rest of this entry »
Posted on April 21st, 2016
Performance model raises the bar for mid-size sport sedan
By Nina Russin
Think of the new Lexus GS F as a double rainbow, combining sumptuous styling and potent engineering of the all-new 2016 model with F Sport specific chassis components. What makes the GS F so appealing, aside from the above-listed attributes is its versatility. Although clearly engineered for driving at speed, Lexus’ rear-wheel drive sport sedan is equally at home commuting to and from work or taking the family out for a night on the town.
Standard equipment includes a 467-horsepower five-liter naturally-aspirated engine and eight speed direct shift transmission, 19-inch forged alloy wheels with staggered tires, Brembo brakes, double wishbone front and multi-link rear suspension and torque vectoring differential.
Base MSRP is $84,440 excluding the $950 destination charge. Options on the test car include a Mark Levinson audio system and carpeted trunk mat, bringing the final MSRP to $86,875. Read the rest of this entry »
Posted on April 14th, 2016
Sporty two-plus-two is track-ready
By Nina Russin
Readers unfamiliar with Toyota’s history might find the Scion FR-S car a bit of an anomaly: vastly different than any of the automaker’s other cars. In fact, the FR-S that becomes the Toyota 86 in 2017, may be the purest expression of what it means to be a Toyota. Based on the 1983-87 Corolla Levin, also known as the AE86, the FR-S celebrates its creators’ under-appreciated talent for crafting affordable performance cars.
The 2016 model is basically carry-over, with the biggest changes inside the car: a new audio system, seven-inch touchscreen and rear backup camera. The camera is a big deal, making it much easier and safer for drivers to back out of parking spots when surrounded by larger, high-profile vehicles.
Base price for the test car with six-speed automatic transmission is $26,405 excluding the $770 destination charge. TRD performance accessories including rear sway bar set, air filter and exhaust system bring the final MSRP to $28,900. Read the rest of this entry »
Posted on April 13th, 2016
Compact crossover is the complete package
By Nina Russin
The citizens of Tucson, Arizona should be proud that Hyundai has named its compact crossover after their fine burg. The new Hyundai Tucson embodies the spirit of its namesake, with focus on performance and versatility for buyers with active lifestyles.
A new 1.6-liter engine available on Eco, Sport and Limited grades is an impressive piece of machinery. The turbocharger takes very little effort to start spinning, enabling the block to quickly build power. Peak torque, 195 pound-feet, is available from 1500 rpm: a tip of the throttle.
Whereas competitors have gone to continuously variable automatic transmissions to boost gas mileage, Hyundai developed a new seven-speed dual-clutch automatic. Performance is almost as crisp as a manual gearbox.
Average fuel economy for the all-wheel drive car is 26 miles-per-gallon: pretty impressive since all-wheel drive typically reduces gas mileage by at least a mile-per-gallon.
The Limited model tested comes fully loaded, with convenience features including 19-inch alloy wheels, dual chrome exhaust pipes, LED headlamps, tail lamps and daytime running lamps, power liftgate, leather upholstery with power front seats, dual-zone climate control, 60/40 split folding rear seats, satellite radio, Bluetooth interface, eight-inch touchscreen center stack display, satellite radio and panoramic moonroof.
Pricing for the Limited AWD starts at $31,300 excluding the $895 destination charge. Two stand-alone options- carpeted floor mats and a cargo area cover- bring the final MSRP to $32,510. Read the rest of this entry »
Posted on April 6th, 2016
Compact sedan celebrates 50 years
By Nina Russin
This year the Toyota Corolla, one of America’s best-loved compact sedans, turns fifty. Corolla’s widespread popularity wasn’t always a given. When early models landed stateside in the late 1960s Detroit iron ruled the road. It took the oil embargos of the 1970s to get Americans thinking differently about cars, specifically the idea of fuel efficiency.
Since then, the Corolla has gone through many iterations, ranging from small station wagons to sporty coupes, including the sporty AE86 that inspired the current Scion FR-S. Today the model focuses on a core audience of budget and safety-conscious buyers wanting a reliable, well-built sedan with a bit of style.
The most recent version introduced for the 2014 model year did away with the car’s conservative exterior in favor of a more youthful design. While I originally had mixed feelings about the aggressive grille, it’s grown on me over time, giving the sedan more road presence. The cloth upholstery is attractive and more practical than leather for denizens of warm weather climates such as the desert southwest.
The newest model also adds rear legroom, making it a true four-passenger car. A new Eco model averages 42 mpg on the highway according to the manufacturer.
The test car is the sporty S grade: in this writer’s opinion, the best of the bunch. What separates the Corolla S from the rest of the pack is components, specifically standard rear disc brakes versus drums on the other grades. Disc brakes are self-drying and easier to service. While the majority of braking on any front-wheel drive car takes place in front, disc brakes do have more linear performance than drums: something that could make a difference during a panic stop on wet roads.
Base price is $19,995 excluding the $835 destination charge. A convenience option package ($1,510) adds keyless entry and start, Entune audio with navigation, a larger touchscreen, USB port with iPod connectivity, voice recognition, Bluetooth interface, satellite and HD radio, Siri Eyes Free. A power moonroof costs $850, bringing the final MSRP to $23,190. Read the rest of this entry »
Posted on March 30th, 2016
Luxury coupe gets more powerful V-6 engine
By Nina Russin
Since its debut five years ago, the sporty Cadillac ATS has captured the hearts of buyers loving the performance of the larger CTS, but preferring a more compact package. Available as a sedan or coupe with rear or all-wheel drive, the ATS is a serious competitor against the BMW 3-Series, Audi A4 and Mercedes-Benz C-Class.
For 2016 Cadillac raises the bar with a new V-6 engine that is both more powerful and fuel efficient, and an eight-speed automatic transmission. Cadillac was one of the pioneers of cylinder management systems in the 1980s. Although early versions weren’t known to be particularly reliable, the new ones are and operation is seamless to the driver.
Cylinder deactivation on the newest ATS stretches highway fuel economy to 30 miles-per-gallon. Automatic stop/start at idle enhances gas mileage around town.
The V-6 comes with an eight-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters, enabling drivers to make the most of the engine’s 333-horsepower.
Base price for the rear-wheel drive premium grade tested is $50,835. Options on the test car include an active safety package that adds adaptive cruise control, automatic braking, an electric parking brake and automatic safety belt tightening, power sunroof and metallic red exterior paint, bringing the final MSRP to $56,415. Read the rest of this entry »
Posted on March 23rd, 2016
Sporty compact crossover
By Nina Russin
With new compact crossovers flooding the market, it’s easy for models to get lost in the crowd. A few, however, stand out: among them the Volkswagen Tiguan. Volkswagen’s talent for engineering fun-to-drive cars is the reason. With its peppy two-liter turbocharged engine, the Tiguan appeals to both the practical and emotional sides of vehicle ownership.
The test car is the front-wheel drive Tiguan S, priced from $24,890. Standard convenience features include 18-inch alloy rims, automatic headlamps with daytime running lamps, heated front seats, leatherette upholstery, tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, Bluetooth interface, folding and reclining rear seats, keyless entry with push-buttons start, rearview camera and eight-speaker audio system.
Final MSRP including the $855 destination charge is $25,755.
Test drive in Phoenix
Over the past week I drove the Tiguan throughout Phoenix, Arizona’s east valley as well as on a rural road through the foothills of the Superstition Mountains. I had the opportunity to test the Tiguan in rush-hour traffic, load up the cargo area and see how well the car handled moderate changes in altitude.
The Tiguan’s turbocharged engine is mated to a six-speed automatic transmission. It’s a nice pairing, with the transmission delivering seamless, linear shifts throughout the power band. The turbocharger gives the engine great power on the low end, with peak torque available from 1700 rpm. I heard what sounded like lifter tick which is odd since the engine has hydraulic lifters, but didn’t find the noise bothersome. Volkswagen recommends but does not require premium unleaded gasoline for optimum performance.
The electric power steering system is very well tuned, with on-center performance close to a hydraulic unit. There is none of the numb feeling competitive units seem to suffer from. A 39-foot turning circle makes it possible to perform U-turns on wider surface roads.
Construction on some stretches of rural road prevented me from pushing the Tiguan as hard as I would have liked. Having said that, I noticed no tendency for the front-wheel drive platform to push in the corners. Drivers living in four-season climates can opt for all-wheel drive to improve traction on wet roads.
A four-wheel independent suspension consists of struts and coils mounted to an aluminum subframe up front and a four-link system in the rear. The suspension does a good job of absorbing jousts from pitchy hills and off-camber turns without feeling overly harsh. Large vented disc brakes up front and solid rotors in back provide firm, linear stopping power.
The Tiguan’s versatile interior with fold-flat and reclining rear seats makes it a good choice for buyers with active lifestyles. Keyless entry and start is an unusual feature in vehicles in this price range. I found manual driver’s seat adjustments easy to use, with good lower lumbar support.
The center stack screen is on the small side but I was able to clearly see the rearview camera image. Infotainment controls are easy to reach from both front seating positions and intuitive to operate. It’s a bit of a disappointment that the Tiguan does not come with satellite radio even though owners can use their smart phones to extend listening options.
Leatherette upholstery is attractive, though I would prefer cloth living in an area where hot summers can make it uncomfortable. The heated front seats were another nice surprise for our cooler mornings at this time of year.
The Tiguan’s low lift-over height makes it easy for smaller drivers to load up the back with bicycles, camping equipment and other large cargo.
The Volkswagen Tiguan comes with six airbags, antilock brakes, stability control, tire pressure monitoring and daytime running lamps. Intelligent crash response automatically shuts off the fuel pump, unlocks the doors and turns on the hazard lamps after a serious collision.
Volkswagen builds the Tiguan at its Wolfsburg, Germany assembly plant.
Like: An affordable, fun-to-drive compact crossover with available all-wheel drive for good four season performance.
Dislike: Satellite radio is not standard equipment. Cloth upholstery is not available on the base model.
Model: Tiguan S
Base price: $24,890
As tested: $25,755
Horsepower: 200 Hp @ 5100 rpm
Torque: 207 lbs.-ft. @ 1700 rpm
Antilock brakes: Standard
Side curtain airbags: Standard
First aid kit: N/A
Bicycle friendly: Yes
Fuel economy: 21/26 mpg city/highway