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  • 2014 Volkswagen Beetle TDI

    Posted on July 31st, 2014 ninarussin No comments

    Fun for the long run

    By Nina Russin

    Volkswagen Beetle TDI

    Volkswagen Beetle TDI

    As feel as if I have fallen down on the job. The purpose of doing an extended test drive is to put in some serious mileage: begin with a full tank of fuel and finish with the tank almost empty. However after a week and several hundred miles in the Volkswagen Beetle TDI, the fuel gauge shows the tank over half full.

    Anyone who has been in a car with me knows that I’m a right brain kind of driver. I have a bit of a lead foot. Emptying out a fuel tank is never a problem for me. So what happened’

    The culprit was the TDI’s 600-plus mile range, thanks its 41 mpg highway fuel economy. Add the engine’s 236 foot-pounds of torque available at 1750 rpm, and the Beetle becomes fun for the long run.

    Readers who want a greener alternative to traditional gasoline-powered cars and don’t want to pay the premium for hybrid technology should take a second look at diesel. The new generation of common rail diesel engines has reduced CO2 emissions as compared to gasoline, and average between 25 and 30 percent better fuel economy. That’s a statistic both sides of the brain can feel good about.

    Base price for the Beetle TDI test car is $27,495 excluding the $820 delivery charge. Volkswagen specs out its models to include popular convenience features- in this case a sunroof, Fender audio system and navigation- in the MSRP. It makes pricing easier for the consumer to understand and reduces haggling at the dealership.

    A carefree maintenance program adds two years of complimentary scheduled maintenance. Other standard convenience features include Bluetooth interface, air conditioning, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, split folding rear seat, keyless entry and start. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2014 Buick Verano FWD 1ST

    Posted on July 24th, 2014 ninarussin No comments

    Turbocharged premium compact sedan

    By Nina Russin

    2014 Buick Verano Turbo

    2014 Buick Verano Turbo

    A couple months back, Buick contacted me about participating in Runs Worth the Drive: a co-promotion the automaker was planning to host with MapMyFitness. The idea was to inspire buyers with active lifestyles to consider the Verano compact sedan by inviting members of the media to drive the car to a destination of choice and log some runs there. Since this sort of program has my name all over it, it didn’t take much arm-twisting to get me to agree.

    This week, husband and I spent four days in the Verano, driving it from Phoenix to Flagstaff, Arizona where we each ran segments of the Urban Trail: a network of dirt and paved byways for pedestrians and cyclists.

    We chose Flagstaff for two reasons. First, the drive involves an elevation gain of 5500 feet, which would be a good test for the Verano’s turbocharged two-liter engine. Equally important, Flagstaff is a hot spot for elite runners, who use the benefits of high altitude training to become more competitive at sea level.

    The front-wheel drive test car with six-speed automatic transmission is priced from $29,065 excluding the $925 destination charge. Standard safety and convenience features include a rearview camera with cross traffic alert, blind spot monitoring, keyless entry and start, heated leather front seats, dual-zone climate control, Bluetooth interface, satellite radio, seven-inch color touchscreen in the center stack, premium Bose audio system and redundant steering wheel controls.

    The white diamond coat exterior paint is a $995 option, as are navigation ($795) and 18-inch alloy rims ($600), bringing the final MSRP to $32,380. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2015 Dodge Challenger

    Posted on July 22nd, 2014 ninarussin No comments

    Millennial muscle car dusts the competition

    By Nina Russin

    2015 Dodge Challenger SRT

    2015 Dodge Challenger SRT

    If ever there were a car that breathed testosterone out of every pore, it would be the 2015 Dodge Challenger. Although it competes against the midsized Camaro and Mustang, the newest Challenger is really in a league of its own, with a larger chassis and available 707 horsepower hemi engine that not only dusts its direct competitors, but the Dodge Viper as well. Even Italian exotics will have a hard time keeping up.

    Dodge’s product strategy is to combine value with performance, offering the V-6, SXT model priced from $26,995. The top flight SRT Hellcat starts at $59,995.

    Buyers can also choose from the R/T with a 5.7-liter hemi engine and eight-speed automatic transmission, the 6.4-liter Hemi Challenger Scat Pack and the Challenger SRT 392, with 485 horsepower and 475 foot-pounds of torque. Two new Shaker models join the clan later on.

    Although its design isn’t a drastic departure from the 2009 car, the 2015 Challenger does have some distinct differences. Based on the classic 1971 model, the 2015 cars sport a new split grille, more pronounced hood bulge LED halo headlamps and LED tail lamps.

    The profile is essentially unchanged, maintaining its popular character line. Read the rest of this entry »

  • First Drive: 2015 Lexus NX

    Posted on July 14th, 2014 ninarussin No comments

    New compact crossover fuses luxury and performance

    By Nina Russin

    2015 Lexus NX 200t F Sport

    2015 Lexus NX 200t F Sport

    It was almost twenty years ago that Toyota introduced the compact RAV4 crossover: a car that helped create one of the fastest growing segments in the auto industry. This year, Lexus follows suit with the new NX: a vehicle based loosely on the RAV, but with some important new technology.

    Most notable is a two-liter turbocharged and intercooled four-cylinder engine, reflecting CEO Akio Toyoda’s commitment to bringing his personal passion for driving to the brand. Lexus developed the twin scroll turbocharging and air-to-liquid intercooling technology in-house.

    Toyota employed a similar strategy in developing its hybrid synergy drive system, now used extensively throughout the brand. This writer expects that the turbocharged platform will become a game changer for the automaker going forward.

    The NX, which might well be the new Lexus poster child, was not a quick-to-market endeavor. Designers and engineers sweated the details, progressing methodically through concept sketches, clays and the concept car introduced last year.

    There are two variants: the gasoline-powered turbocharged car called the 200t, also available as F Sport, and the 300h hybrid powered by a 1.5-liter Atkinson cycle four-cylinder engine. Gasoline models come equipped with a new six-speed automatic transmission while the hybrid gets a continuously variable automatic. Both variants are available with front or all-wheel drive. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2014 Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid

    Posted on July 7th, 2014 ninarussin No comments

    Compact sedan is fuel thrifty and fun to drive

    By Nina Russin

    2014 Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid

    2014 Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid

    While there are a lot of hybrid passenger cars on the market, few meet the needs of driving enthusiasts. Volkswagen, a brand known for its driving dynamics, engineered the Jetta Hybrid to fill this square and give eco-conscious fans of the brand an alternative to clean diesel.

    The difference between the Jetta Hybrid and competitors in the compact segment is components. The Jetta has a turbocharged engine while others do not, and a dual-clutch seven-speed automatic transmission in lieu of the more common continuously variable unit. The suspension is independent front and rear as opposed to competitors with torsion beam rear axles.

    With a starting price of $25,560 excluding the $820 destination charge, it’s a lot of car for the money. Volkswagen throws in two years of complimentary scheduled maintenance and three years of roadside assistance as part of the factory warranty to sweeten the deal.

    The Jetta’s other ace-in-the hole is interior versatility. While it can’t match models such as the Toyota Prius liftback for cargo space, a 60/40 split fold-down rear seat is rare in a hybrid sedan. There’s a bump between the trunk and rear seat where the battery pack is located, but the driver has considerably more room to work with than in most competitive products.

    Standard comfort and convenience features include Bluetooth interface, dual-zone climate control, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, a rear spoiler and remote keyless entry. Read the rest of this entry »

  • Ram Introduces 2015 ProMaster City

    Posted on July 1st, 2014 ninarussin No comments

    Class 1 cargo van combines fuel efficiency and versatility

    By Nina Russin

    2015 Ram ProMaster City

    2015 Ram ProMaster City

    Following on the success of its ProMaster cargo van launch this year, Ram introduces 2015 ProMaster City: a Class 1 cargo van designed to meet the needs of entrepreneurs in high-traffic urban areas. Available as either a windowless cargo van or five-passenger van, the ProMaster City arrives in dealerships at the end of 2014.

    Based on the Fiat Doblo architecture, the ProMaster City features a more compact footprint than the larger ProMaster, but offers the same ‘form follows function’ approach to design and engineering.

    Both cargo and passenger vans are available in Tradesman and SLT trim levels, all powered by a 178-horsepower 2.4-liter Tigershark engine and nine-speed automatic transmission. The front-wheel drive configuration minimizes curb weight and increases the cargo area by eliminating a floor tunnel and rear differential. Read the rest of this entry »

  • Dodge Brand Centennial

    Posted on June 30th, 2014 ninarussin No comments

    A hundred years of challenges and triumph

    By Nina Russin


    1916 Dodge Assembly Plant

    1916 Dodge Assembly Plant

    On a hazy late June morning, several dozen journalists gather at Meadowbrook just outside Auburn Hills, Michigan for a program celebrating the hundredth anniversary of the Dodge brand. In addition to being close to the company’s corporate headquarters, Meadowbrook is the property on which the Dodge brothers built their first automobile in 1915.

    Born in nearby Niles, Michigan, the brothers began their careers in the bicycle business before becoming suppliers of engines, transmissions and axles to the burgeoning auto industry. Dodge was the first brand to produce an all-steel car, but is better known to the current generation of automotive enthusiasts for its performance products, particularly the Hemi engines, Scat Packs and Shakers of the muscle car era.

    For the media event, the public relations department has assembled a collection of historic models from the museum at Meadowbrook and offered journalists the unusual opportunity to get behind the wheel. I jump into one of the pre-War cars: a 35-horsepower cabriolet built in 1927. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2014 Hyundai Elantra GT

    Posted on June 27th, 2014 ninarussin No comments

    Five-door hatchback for active urbanites

    By Nina Russin

    2014 Hyundai Elantra GT

    2014 Hyundai Elantra GT

    When Hyundai introduced the newest version of its compact Elantra for the 2013 model year, product planners discontinued the former Touring wagon and introduced a five-door hatchback called the GT. This year, the GT gains a more powerful two-liter engine in place of the former 1.8-liter block, giving it 25 more horsepower and 23 additional foot-pounds of torque.

    The result is a stylish, fun-to-drive car with a small footprint that is ideal for active urbanites. Since the car weighs less than 3,000 pounds, it has a positive power-to-weight ratio, resulting in 28 mile-per-gallon average fuel economy and surprisingly peppy performance.

    Hyundai has built its reputation by offering buyers exceptional value. Base price for the Elantra GT is $18,750 excluding the $810 destination charge. Standard convenience features include air conditioning, power heated outside mirrors, satellite radio with Bluetooth interface, iPod and MP3 compatibility, remote keyless entry, cruise control, heated front seats and 60/40 split-folding rear seats that extend the cargo floor.

    A convenience package on the test car adds 17-inch alloy wheels, leather upholstery, power driver’s seat, aluminum pedals, a sport-tuned suspension, LED headlamps, under-floor storage in the cargo area and Hyundai Blue Link telematics. A tech package adds navigation, automatic headlamps, dual-zone climate control and a panoramic sunroof, bringing the final MSRP to $25,485. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2014 Santa Fe Sport AWD 2.0T

    Posted on June 23rd, 2014 ninarussin No comments

    Five-passenger crossover gains new safety features

    By Nina Russin

    2014 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport

    2014 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport

    There’s a reason Hyundai’s midsized crossover has been a fixture on American highways since it first rolled out for the 2001 model year: it offers more value than most competitors and has the versatility to fill a lot of squares.

    The 2014 car is basically a continuation of the five-passenger crossover first introduced for the 2012 model year, but with some appealing new safety features. Blind spot detection is now available on all trim levels and technology packages come with rear park assist. The same option package now includes high intensity discharge headlamps, LED tail lamps, front seat memory and ventilated front seats. Eighteen-inch rims are now standard on turbocharged models.

    The Santa Fe lineup is divided into two models: the five-passenger Sport and seven-passenger Santa Fe. The Sport is powered by either a 2.4-liter naturally aspirated engine or two-liter turbo. Of the two, the turbocharged block is the one to buy, with 264 horsepower and 269 foot-pounds of torque. Because turbocharged engines develop maximum torque at much slower engine speeds than naturally aspirated blocks, drivers will notice a considerable difference off the line.

    All models come with a six-speed automatic transmission and a choice of front or all-wheel drive.

    The all-wheel drive test car is priced from $32,400. There are two options: navigation that also adds premium audio and 19-inch wheels. Final MSRP including the $875 destination charge is $35,135. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2015 Subaru Legacy 3.6R Limited

    Posted on June 18th, 2014 ninarussin No comments

    All-new midsize sedan reaches new heights

    By Nina Russin

    2015 Subaru Legacy

    2015 Subaru Legacy

    Quantum leaps in the automotive industry are as rare as hens’ teeth. While we have come to expect new models to deliver linear improvement over the cars they replace, they are rarely the whole new world so often advertised.

    Subaru, however, has delivered on its promise with the 2015 Legacy midsize sedan: a car so much better than the model it replaces it is almost unrecognizable.

    While the Legacy is one of the most enduring nameplates in the Subaru lineup, most Americans continue to associate the brand more with its crossovers and all-wheel drive wagons. While the outgoing sedan was a solid product with good fuel economy and standard all-wheel drive, it failed to achieve the popularity of well-known competitors such as the Toyota Camry, Honda Accord and Nissan Altima.

    The 2015 Legacy has the chops to lead the pack in what is arguably the most competitive segment in the industry. It is powerful, quiet, stylish and solidly built. The 3.6R model tested has the performance and amenities to appeal to buyers who want a premium product but not necessarily a luxury nameplate.

    Base price for the V-6 sedan is $29,596 excluding the $795 delivery charge. Options on the test car include a moonroof with keyless access, push-button start and navigation ($2195), bringing the final MSRP to $32,585. Read the rest of this entry »