Posted on June 19th, 2013 No comments
Compact crossover gains around-view safety technology
By Nina Russin
The Rogue is Nissan’s compact crossover, competing against the Toyota RAV4, Honda CR-V, Ford Escape and Hyundai Tucson. This year, the Rogue gains the same around-view safety technology as the upscale Infiniti JX. The technology uses four side-angle cameras around the vehicle perimeter to provide a 360-degree view, making it much easier to squeeze into a tight parking spot.
Pricing starts at $20,310, excluding the $845 destination charge for the base front-wheel drive model. The all-wheel drive car starts at $21,610. All models come with a 170-horsepower 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine and continuously-variable automatic transmission.
There are three trim levels: S, SV and SV with the SL package. The test car is the all-wheel drive SV that starts at $26,050. The $3,900 SL package adds leather trim, heated front seats and outside mirrors, navigation, satellite radio with real-time weather and traffic updates, a Bose premium audio system, , power moonroof, , xenon headlamps, 18-inch alloy rims and automatic climate control. Final MSRP is $30,965. Read the rest of this entry »
Posted on June 17th, 2013 No comments
Fiat pumps up the volume with a roomier 500
By Nina Russin
The Fiat 500′s whisker grille and compact dimensions remind me of Topo Gigio: a puppet that made regular appearances on Ed Sullivan’s Sunday night variety show in the 1960s. Unlike many of Ed’s guests such as the Beetles, Rolling Stones and the Doors, Topo never wanted to be center stage. Despite that, his unabashed cuteness found its way into the hearts of millions of kids, including me. Perhaps it’s the association that makes the newest Cinquecento such a lovable design.
The car’s demure footprint has a downside, however, that being its lack of cargo space. This year, Fiat introduces the 500L: an all-new model that could be construed as Topo Gigio’s big brother. The new model is 47-inches longer than the current Fiat 500, and has as much interior space as the Chrysler 300 full-sized sedan.
Classified as a B segment car, the Fiat 500L is based on the automaker’s new small-wide architecture, the same platform that will house the new Jeep Cherokee that rolls out later this year. With fold-and-tumble second-row seats that give its interior enough room to stash a road bike, the 2014 500L might be the Fiat buyers with active lifestyles have been waiting for. Read the rest of this entry »
Posted on June 11th, 2013 No comments
Seven-passenger crossover gets mid-cycle refresh
By Nina Russin
The first Kia Sorento was a midsized four-wheel drive sport-utility vehicle that expanded on the capabilities of the compact Sportage. Kia had developed a reputation for off-road prowess early on when Darren Skilton drove the Sportage on the 10,000-mile Paris-Dakar rally and finished the race.
In 2011, Kia introduced a completely new Sorento, which would be the first car produced at its West Point, Georgia assembly plant. Unlike the original Sorento, the 2011 model was a unibody crossover, intended primarily for on-road use. While the market certainly seemed headed in this direction, making such a drastic change was a calculated risk.
It paid off. Within a year, the plant had moved from one to two shifts to keep up with demand for what had become Kia’s best-selling model. It would not be an exaggeration to say that the 2011 Sorento, and the 5000 new jobs it created, put West Point, Georgia, a town that seemed bound for oblivion, back on the map.
Product planners describe the 2014 Sorento as a new model, but it’s actually a major refresh of the 2011 car. Unlike Hyundai, that separates the five and seven passenger versions of its midsized crossover into the Santa Fe Sport and Santa Fe, Kia has kept both under the same umbrella.
The newest Sorento gains the 3.3-liter gasoline direct injection engine also available on the seven-passenger Hyundai Santa Fe. The 2.4-liter engine becomes the Sorento’s base block, with the two-liter version no longer available. Read the rest of this entry »
Posted on June 7th, 2013 No comments
Midsized crossover gets styling and power enhancements
By Nina Russin
The idea behind the original Honda Crosstour was to make the best-selling Accord it’s based upon a more versatile ride. The Crosstour’s hatchback design, additional length and height create a larger cargo space for buyers whose active lifestyles might require loading bicycles, skis or snowboards inside.
Lackluster response to the original model had Honda designers return to the drawing boards, restyling the car for 2013 and adding a more powerful V-6 engine. Honda also lowered the price of the base four-cylinder model by $525: MSRP starts at $27,230 excluding the delivery charge.
The upscale EX model tested starts at $37,090. It is all-wheel drive as opposed to front-wheel drive and is fully loaded with Honda’s newest safety technology, including the LaneWatch display that uses a camera in the passenger side mirror to record activity to the right of the car. As a runner and occasional cyclist, I think it’s one of the best technologies currently on the market.
Convenience features on the test car include push button start, satellite radio, Pandora radio, SMS text messaging, Bluetooth interface, navigation, dual-zone climate control, ten-way power driver’s seat, power moonroof, and a ten-way power driver’s seat with two-position memory. Final MSRP, including the $830 destination charge, is $37,920. Read the rest of this entry »
Posted on June 5th, 2013 No comments
Annual conference puts women in the driver’s seat
By Nina Russin
I feel like the Queen: not the one with the Queen wave and frumpy clothes, but rather a Pussy Galore queen with Sean Connery by my side, oozing sex appeal and confidence. I don’t typically have Pussy Galore hallucinations, but I don’t usually get behind the wheel of an Aston Martin DB9 either. The experience was the highlight of my trip to the third annual Heels and Wheels women’s automotive conference in Bend, Oregon
Of course, there was a more serious aspect to the event, its primary focus being the buying power of women, which currently accounts for at least 50 percent of all new car purchases and up to 80 percent of car buying decisions.
According to Kelley Blue Book research Toyota, Honda, Ford, Chevrolet, Nissan, Hyundai, Kia, Subaru, Mazda and Volkswagen are the most popular brands among female buyers. Women tend to favor crossover vehicles and SUVs over sports cars and pickup trucks, with models such as the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4 topping the popularity charts.
The internet has become the most popular source of information among women shopping for a new car, due partly to the unease with which many women approach dealerships. KBB visitors typically research a vehicle for two months, take about three more months for the purchasing process and keep their cars between 8 and 10 years.
Connectivity features are playing a larger role in purchase decisions, with Bluetooth and GPS both included among must-haves. Read the rest of this entry »
Posted on June 4th, 2013 No comments
Compact sedan for driving enthusiasts
By Nina Russin
I’ll admit that I have a soft spot in my heart for Buicks. I took my first cross-country trip in my father’s ’66 triple black LeSabre, and learned to drive on my mother’s ’69 Skylark. I drove the Skylark until the ball joints gave way some time in the mid-1980s. Even though the wheels were falling off the car I was still able to sell it to a friend. The engine was still good.
So I welcome Buick’s current renaissance with open arms, delighted to see its return to a rightful place among the world’s premium brands.
The new Verano compact sedan reminds me in many ways of the Skylark I grew up with. Granted it’s a much smaller car, and the chassis is front-wheel drive as opposed to rear-wheel drive for the Skylark. What the two cars share is a similar product strategy: offering discriminating buyers the performance and luxury they desire at a remarkably affordable price.
Pricing for the base model starts under $25,000. Base price on the test car is $29,105 excluding the $885 destination charge. The upscale grade comes loaded with convenience and safety features, including keyless entry and start, IntelliLink voice-activated infotainment system, satellite radio, leather seating, dual-zone automatic climate control, Bluetooth connectivity and streaming audio, a heated steering wheel with redundant controls and a premium audio system. Options including a power sunroof, navigation and special exterior paint bring the final MSRP to $32,180. Read the rest of this entry »
Posted on June 3rd, 2013 No comments
Refined pickup claims gas-mileage bragging rights
By Bob Golfen
Ram upped the ante this year in the full-size pickup-truck competition, adding best-in-class fuel economy to traditional worksite boasts about payload, towing capacity and durability.
For 2013, Ram 1500 was fitted with Chrysler’s new 3.6-liter Pentastar V6 engine that generates 305 horsepower, and which helps the two-wheel-drive versions of the half-ton pickup hit an EPA-estimated 17 city and 25 highway.
That’s quite a feat for a vehicle that weighs two-and-a-half tons and must punch a huge hole through the air at highway speeds. Towing capacity is also impressive at 6,500 pounds.
The V6 engine doesn’t accomplish the mileage numbers completely on its own. Ram’s fuel efficiency is also boosted by a sophisticated eight-speed transmission, sleeker aerodynamics and a reduction in weight. The V6 is more efficient with improved fuel injection and a stop/start system, which turns off the engine when the truck is standing still instead of wastefully idling.
Ram boasts that the new 3.6 liter has 42 percent more horsepower, 13 percent more torque and 20 percent better fuel economy than the old 3.7-liter V6 that it replaced.
Ram still offers the 5.7-liter Hemi V8 with its booming 395 horsepower and 407 foot-pounds, which the truck maker says offers top fuel economy for V8-powered pickups, though significantly lower than its own V6 models. Naturally, four-wheel-drive versions with either engine get slightly lower fuel mileage.
The base, regular-cab Ram 1500 starts off at $23,585, while the well-equipped SLT Crew Cab that I drove had a starting price of $33,820. With a premium interior, Uconnect audio/navigation/accessibility package and a few other safety and convenience options, the bottom line came out to $38,990. Read the rest of this entry »
Posted on June 2nd, 2013 No comments
Third-generation sport sedan gains Skyactiv technology
By Nina Russin
First the coffee group has to like the car. While most members are IT engineers, all but one are dedicated gearheads, owning an Audi TT RS, Mercedes-Benz CLS 500 and Porsche Cayenne between them. So when I see their collective noses smashed against the front window as I slip the Mazda6 into its parking spot, I take that as a positive sign.
Turning heads isn’t the only thing the newest version of Mazda’s midsized sedan does well. It is also fuel efficient, averaging 34 miles-per-gallon on my 200-mile test drive. The 2.5-liter direct injection engine is powerful off the line, and the six-speed automatic transmission crisp and responsive.
The sedan is also affordable, with a base sticker price of $20,880, excluding the $795 destination charge. The upscale Grand Touring model tested starts at $29,495. It comes loaded with comfort and safety features so there are very few options. Those on the test car include adaptive cruise control and smart city brake support, raising the final MSRP to $31,490. Read the rest of this entry »
Posted on May 27th, 2013 No comments
C-Max, Fusion and Focus lineups include hybrids/ pure electric powertrains
By Nina Russin
Ford’s green car offerings for the 2013 model year include hybrid and plug-in hybrid versions of the C-Max crossover, compact Focus and midsized Fusion sedans. At a recent event in Tempe, Arizona, I had the opportunity to jump behind the wheel of Ford’s newest green cars and learn a little more about the automaker’s hybrid and electric vehicle technology.
In order to contain manufacturing costs, Ford is utilizes flexible assembly lines at its Wayne, Michigan plant. The plant produces the C-Max and Focus gasoline, hybrid, plug-in hybrid and electric models. Since the cars share chassis components, it’s easier to modify production plans according to buyer demand.
Ford positions the C-Max between two members of the Toyota Prius family: the liftback and the larger Prius V. The C-Max hybrid utilizes a lithium-ion battery pack positioned between the second-row seats and cargo area together with a two-liter Atkinson cycle four-cylinder engine to average 47 miles-per-gallon according to the EPA. Read the rest of this entry »
Posted on May 23rd, 2013 No comments
Seven-passenger SUV enters its fourth generation
By Nina Russin
The 2013 Nissan Pathfinder is a solid, well-built seven-passenger SUV with good fuel economy, excellent towing capability and good road manners. It is not, however a pathfinder.
The original model was, as the name suggests, an off-the-grid vehicle: designed to scramble across rocks, plough through mud and snow and even ford the occasional small stream.
While the fourth-generation has an available all-wheel drive system, nobody would mistake it for an off-road vehicle. The wheelbase is 114 inches long and ground clearance is 6.5 inches. The all-wheel drive system has a locking differential, but no two-speed transfer case.
The standard powertrain consists of a 260-horsepower V-6 engine and continuously variable automatic transmission. The two-wheel drive version tested has a 5000-pound towing capacity: well in excess of our minimum ALV standard.
Base price is $34,470 excluding the $825 destination charge. Options on the test car include splash guards, roof rail cross bars, carpeted floor mats, illuminated kick plates and a premium package that adds a Bose 13-speaker sound system, 120-volt power outlet, dual panorama moonroof, tow hitch and trailer harness. Final MSRP is $38,870. Read the rest of this entry »