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  • 2015 Jeep Renegade Sport

    Posted on January 26th, 2015 ninarussin No comments

    Compact SUV goes off the grid

    By Nina Russin

    2015 Jeep Renegade

    2015 Jeep Renegade

    I’m sitting behind the wheel of the new Jeep Renegade Trailhawk on top of an impossibly steep hill at the off-road driving park in Hollister, California. Our Renegade is number three in the caravan of vehicles on the longer of two trails Jeep has mapped out to show us the car’s off-road capability.

    The driver in front of me is waffling, not sure if he should trust the car to get him down the hill. The grade is so steep that anyone trying to walk down would end up butt surfing.

    I can see his brake lights flicker on and off as he inches his way along. The spotter is losing patience, as am I. As a Jeep owner, I’m confident that the Renegade will do exactly what the engineers have promised, if this guy would simply lock the differential, engage the rock crawl mode and slip the car into first gear.

    2015 Jeep Renegade

    2015 Jeep Renegade

    After what seems like an eternity, it’s my turn. I engage the downhill descent control and steer into the trail. I can hear the antilock system chugging away beneath my feet, doing the work of a very skilled stunt driver. My job is easy. With my feet off the brakes, I enjoy the scenery on the way down.

    Its off-road prowess makes the newest Jeep seem like a baby Wrangler, but the small SUV is more than that. Engineers developed an all-new small wide 4×4 platform, incorporating two Fiat engines and two transmissions: a six-speed manual and nine-speed automatic.

    Unlike the Wrangler, the Renegade is unit body constructed and features a four-wheel independent suspension. Its smaller size and improved aerodynamic profile give the Renegade better fuel economy than its larger sibling: 31 miles-per-gallon on the highway. The independent suspension yields a smoother ride over uneven terrain such as the pothole-filled streets Midwestern drivers experience on a daily basis. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2015 Ford Expedition Platinum

    Posted on January 19th, 2015 ninarussin No comments

    Full-sized utility vehicle gets a new game face

    By Nina Russin

    2015 Ford Expedition

    2015 Ford Expedition

    The term ‘expedition’ conjures up images of a base camp at some exotic locale in the Himalayas, replete with climbers, sherpas and yaks. The newest Ford Expedition full-sized utility vehicle can hold the entire climbing team, together with their camping equipment, c-rations and oxygen canisters.

    Available in regular and extended-length versions, the newest Ford Expedition might be the nicest base camp an endurance athlete could dream of, with plenty of space for the bicycles, wet suits, sleeping bags, and running gear for the eight passengers it holds.

    But cargo space alone isn’t what makes the Expedition special. Ford’s ace-in-the-hole is its twin turbocharged V-6 EcoBoost engine that delivers 365 horsepower and 420 foot-pounds of torque. Together with the standard six-speed automatic transmission, fuel economy averages 22 miles-per-gallon on the highway and 16 around town: an impressive number for a car weighing close to 6,000 pounds.

    Turbocharging prevents anemic performance at altitude. When equipped with a towing prep package the Expedition can haul up to 9,200 pounds: a good-sized trailer.

    Base price for the 2015 Platinum model tested is $57,950. Adding red metallic exterior paint, 20-inch alloy wheels and the $1,195 destination charge, final MSRP is $61,720. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2015 Dodge Charger SXT

    Posted on January 16th, 2015 ninarussin No comments

    Not available in plain vanilla

    By Nina Russin

    2015 Dodge Charger

    2015 Dodge Charger

    The Dodge Charger might look like a midsized car but it’s really a two-plus-two, albeit a very big one. The newest Charger that rolls out for the 2015 model year builds on the heritage of the original 1966 model: a sporty coupe based on the four-door Coronet.

    Being bigger than the average two-plus-two has its advantages. In the 1960s the Charger’s large engine bay gave engineers room to stuff a Hemi engine the size of a grocery cart inside to earn some NASCAR bragging rights. The newest high-performance Charger called the Hellcat comes equipped with Dodge’s 6.2-liter 707-horsepower Hemi engine and has a top speed of 204 miles-per-hour.

    While its speed and performance rival some exotics, the Charger is also eminently affordable, with the base SXT model priced from $29,995 excluding the $995 destination charge.

    The SXT comes standard with Chrysler’s 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6 engine: the same block used in the Jeep Grand Cherokee, Dodge Challenger and Jeep Wrangler. Those readers who think the base Charger is a plain vanilla version of the pricier Hellcat should think again. The Dodge Charger is not available in plain vanilla. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2015 Chrysler 200S

    Posted on January 8th, 2015 ninarussin No comments

    Midsize sedan with a performance focus

    By Nina Russin

    2015 Chrysler 200

    2015 Chrysler 200

    Midsize sedans are the workhorses of the passenger car world, not only because they comprise the largest volume of sales: they also serve a wide variety of purposes, from family cars to mobile offices. For 2015, Chrysler introduces an all-new version of its entry: the 200. The newest 200 continues the direction of the model it replaces, moving the brand’s midsize entry upscale from the former Sebring.

    Based on the Alfa Romeo Guilietta chassis which it shares with the Dodge Dart compact sedan, the new 200 comes with a choice of two engines, front or all-wheel drive. The brand’s new nine-speed automatic transmission stretches fuel economy to 32 mpg on the highway for the V-6 model tested.

    Pricing for the base model starts at $21,700 excluding the $995 destination charge. The test car is the front-wheel drive S model priced from $24,725. Options include leather upholstery, heated and ventilated front seats, dual-zone automatic temperature control, remote start, a premium Harman audio system with navigation, Alpine speakers, high definition radio, Uconnect with 8.4-inch touch screen, high-intensity discharge headlamps with LED daytime running lamps and 19-inch hyper-black alloy wheels.

    The V-6 engine is an optional upgrade from the standard 184-horsepower inline four-cylinder block. The larger engine adds about $2000, bringing the final MSRP to $33,185. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2015 Honda Fit EX-L

    Posted on January 5th, 2015 ninarussin No comments

    Subcompact hatchback targets active urbanites

    By Nina Russin

    2015 Honda Fit

    2015 Honda Fit

    On paper the Honda Fit should be the perfect car for buyers with active lifestyles: small and fuel efficient, with a surprisingly spacious and versatile cargo area thanks to its folding magic seats and center-mounted fuel tank. The first-generation Fit seemed to hit the nail on the head, with its appealing aero exterior and peppy engine. This year, Honda introduces its successor, a slightly larger car that builds on the original formula with powertrain and connectivity enhancements.

    The test car is the upscale EX-L with navigation, priced from $20,800. Standard convenience features include leather heated front seats, leather steering wheel, HondaLink with smart phone applications, navigation, Bluetooth, satellite radio, SMS text messaging, Pandora radio, LaneWatch, air conditioning and a tilt and telescoping steering wheel. Final MSRP including the $790 destination charge is $21,590. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2015 Lexus RC 350 F Sport

    Posted on December 31st, 2014 ninarussin No comments

    Sweet and salty sport coupe is a driver’s delight

    By Nina Russin

    2015 Lexus RC 350 F Sport

    2015 Lexus RC 350 F Sport

    The new Lexus RC sport coupe is two cars in one: a stylish and very luxurious car for daily driving, and slightly naughty sport coupe for the track. Although the RC is a new model for Lexus, the coupe’s dual purpose and stylish exterior are reminiscent of the SC convertible hardtop discontinued after the 2010 model year.

    Structurally, the RC 350′s front end is based on the current GS, while the rear is based on the IS. Styling is reminiscent of the LFA supercar. The RC is available with either rear-wheel or all-wheel drive. The rear-wheel drive model tested comes with an eight-speed automatic transmission. The F Sport package adds adaptive variable suspension. Buyers can also opt for a dynamic handling package that adds torque vectoring.

    Base price for the test car is $42,790 excluding the $925 destination charge. Options include the F Sport package that adds special wheels and unique exterior trim, blind spot monitoring with cross traffic alert, unique instrumentation and interior trim, navigation with the Mark Levinson premium audio upgrade, intuitive park assist, dynamic radar cruise control, a moonroof and variable gear ratio steering, bringing the final MSRP to $54,720. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2015 Ram ProMaster City

    Posted on December 23rd, 2014 ninarussin No comments

    Urban-sized cargo van is the perfect ALV

    By Nina Russin

    Ram ProMaster City

    Ram ProMaster City

    The ProMaster City might just be the best active lifestyle vehicle Ram has ever produced. Based on the Fiat Doblo sold in Europe, the newest ProMaster is the smaller, urban sibling to the cargo van based on the Fiat Ducato that rolled out last fall.

    Power for the US version comes from a 2.4-liter Tigershark four-cylinder engine and the same nine-speed automatic transmission found in the Jeep Cherokee.

    Fiat also sells a diesel version with a manual transmission in Europe but has no plans at present to bring that model to the states. This writer hopes that they will reconsider, since that engine’s low-end torque would make it a better platform for driving at altitude.

    Buyers can choose between the two-seat van and five-seat passenger wagon. Seats on the wagon version fold and tumble forward when not in use, leaving a six-foot long cargo floor.

    Both sliding side and 60/40 split rear doors have large enough openings to accommodate regular-sized pallets. The van’s low lift-over height makes it easier to load large items in the cargo bay.

    The ProMaster City has enough room in back to hold multiple bicycles, kayaks, skis and snowboards. The cargo van includes six 100-pound load tie-down hooks in the floor; the wagon version has four. The cargo floor is big enough to spread out a couple of sleeping bags, so athletes can get to the trailhead early or bed down in between segments of a stage race. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2015 Chrysler 300

    Posted on December 22nd, 2014 ninarussin No comments

    Flagship sedan is the new face of Chrysler

    By Nina Russin

    2015 Chrysler 300C Platinum

    2015 Chrysler 300C Platinum

    What once was old is new again. For 2015, Chrysler pays homage to the sedan that helped to launch the muscle car era with an all-new model geared towards active millennial buyers.

    The 1955 Chrysler 300 hardtop was the sweetheart of the NASCAR circuit, thanks to its 331 cubic inch Hemi engine that developed 300 horsepower. The 363-horsepower Hemi engine available on the all-new 2015 300 sedan accelerates from zero-to-sixty in less than six seconds as compared to 16.9 seconds for the ’55 model. Thanks to an eight-speed TorqueFlite automatic transmission it gets much better gas mileage as well: 25 mpg on the highway according to the EPA.

    The 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6 engine on the base model is no wallflower either, developing 292 horsepower and 260 foot-pounds of peak torque. The Pentastar engine is the brand’s soup-to-nuts V-6, found in everything from the base Challenger to the Jeep Wrangler and Grand Cherokee. It’s a great block, balanced and durable, tuned in this case for the needs of the full-sized sedan.

    All-wheel drive is available as a $2500 option on all V-6 equipped models. Hemi V-8 cars are rear-wheel drive only. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2016 Kia Sorento

    Posted on December 15th, 2014 ninarussin No comments

    Kia debuts the newest version of its best-selling crossover

    By Nina Russin

    2016 Kia Sorento

    2016 Kia Sorento

    There are few places on the planet more beautiful than Lake Tahoe. The second deepest lake in the United States straddles the Nevada/California border, surrounded by the majestic Sierra Nevada Mountains. Kia chose Tahoe as the location for the 2016 Sorento media preview to send home the message that its popular midsized crossover is a car for all seasons and lifestyles.

    Available in five trim levels with front or all-wheel drive and a choice of three engines, the Sorento competes against a wide range of products, from the Toyota Highlander to the Jeep Grand Cherokee. Buyers can choose two or three-row versions seating five-to-seven passengers.

    Inspiration for the exterior redesign was the Kia Cross GT concept that debuted at the 2013 Chicago Auto Show. Inside, designers incorporated luxury finishes from Kia’s K900 full-sized sedan the newest version of UVO infotainment, available Nappa leather and dual-pane panoramic sunroof.

    A new two-liter turbo engine is the same block used in the Hyundai Santa Fe Sport and Kia Optima but tuned for this platform. To keep the weight down, product planners limited the turbo block to five-passenger cars.

    Base price for the new Sorento that rolls out in January is $24,900 for the front-wheel drive L grade. The upscale SX-L V-6 all-wheel drive starts at $41,300. All-wheel drive is an $1800 option. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2015 Mazda3 Grand Touring

    Posted on December 11th, 2014 ninarussin No comments

    Value without compromise

    By Nina Russin

    2015 Mazda3 Grand Touring

    2015 Mazda3 Grand Touring

    Great cars in this technologically advanced era aren’t especially hard to find, but great cars priced below $20,000 are. The Mazda3 compact sedan, priced from $16,945, is one of those rare uncompromised values. Mazda makes the process seem so easy that one has to wonder why competitors find the challenge insurmountable.

    The Mazda3 comes as either a sedan or five-door hatchback with a choice of two engines: the base two-liter block or the upscale 2.5-liter four cylinder rated at 184-horsepower. An automatic transmission is available but buyers who know how to drive a manual should opt for that gearbox: a delight to drive with its sporty short-throw shift lever.

    The 2015 car is basically carryover from the previous model year when the third-generation design debuted. Mazda’s Skyactiv is the OEM’s proprietary fuel-saving technology. The term is an umbrella for improvements throughout the car, including the engine, transmission and aerodynamics. Fuel economy for the base two-liter model is 41 miles-per-gallon highway, while the larger 2.5-liter engine averages 37 on the highway and 25 around town.

    The test car is the fully loaded Grand Touring model priced from $25,045 excluding the $785 delivery charge. Standard comfort and convenience features include leather upholstery, a six-way power driver’s seat, heated front seats, dual-zone climate control, keyless entry and start, satellite radio, navigation, heads-up display and a color center stack screen. There are two options on the test car: the metallic red exterior paint and a cargo mat, bringing the final MSRP to $26,335. Read the rest of this entry »