Posted on September 23rd, 2015 No comments
Compact crossover gains refinement and style
By Nina Russin
Toyota’s Recreational Active Vehicle has changed a lot since its introduction in 1995. What began as a personal car based on the Camry platform has evolved into a larger, more substantial vehicle that works well for small families. The car’s mission remains the same: combining car-like ride and handling with a more versatile interior and available all-wheel drive for buyers with active lifestyles.
The current model is essentially carry-over from 2013 when Toyota unveiled the fourth-generation car. Lava exterior paint on the test car is new for 2015.
Base price for the Limited is $29,850 excluding the $885 destination charge. The upscale grade comes nicely equipped with convenience features including dual-zone climate control, Entune infotainment with navigation, satellite radio, leather wrapped steering wheel, heated front seats with driver’s seat memory settings, keyless entry and start, reclining and fold flat second-row seats, 18-inch alloy wheels, power moonroof, heated outside mirrors and power on/off headlamps.
Options on the test car include a JBL premium audio system, blind spot monitoring with cross traffic alert, lane departure warning, automatic high beams, roof rack cross bars, remote start and carpeted floor mats. Final MSRP is $33,469. Read the rest of this entry »
Posted on September 17th, 2015 No comments
EcoBoost engine takes it further
By Nina Russin
If somebody had told me twenty years ago that a one-liter engine could power a car, I would have laughed. Yet that’s exactly what Ford engineers have done with the newest subcompact Fiesta, featuring the automaker’s one-liter EcoBoost engine and five-speed automatic transmission.
The 123-horsepower engine develops up to 148 foot-pounds of torque. Mated to a five-speed manual gearbox that enables drivers to keep the revs up, it’s a peppy, fun-to-drive package with 36 mile-per-gallon fuel economy.
One of the reasons the engine works so well is curb weight, which for the manual transmission model is a bit over 2,500 pounds. That’s about the same as an averaged equipped Mazda Miata and less than a Scion FR-S.
The hatchback adds versatility, with a taller, roomier cargo bay than sedans in the competitive segment. Base price for the test car is $16,085, excluding the $825 destination charge. Options including the EcoBoost engine and green metallic exterior finish bring the final MSRP to $18,300. Read the rest of this entry »
Posted on September 14th, 2015 No comments
Luxury crossover raises the bar for the midsize segment
By Nina Russin
Lexus has never been a company to take risks. When the automaker introduced the midsize RX in 1998, product planners knew their alternative to truck-based sport-utility vehicles would fill a big hole in the market.
The strategy was so successful, that the crossover maintained its leadership position in a segment quickly populated with competitors. Today RX sales exceed 100,000 units annually, making the crossover the brand’s best selling vehicle.
Never being a company to rest on its laurels, Lexus raises the bar again with the all-new 2016 RX that includes gasoline and gasoline/electric hybrid models, both available with front or all-wheel drive. For the first time, F Sport performance variants are available as hybrid all-wheel drive cars.
Lexus models tend to grow in dimension over time and the RX is no exception. The newest
car is 4.7-inches longer, translating to more space in the second row and cargo bay. Designers utilize vortices in key areas around the body to minimize coefficient of drag and boost fuel economy.
Styling is a radical departure from the outgoing model, with a more aggressive spindle grille, chiseled rear end and coupe-like profile infused with multiple character lines. Inside, designers utilized lush upholstery materials and wood trim. Interior quiet is segment leading in the Lexus tradition.
Power for gasoline cars comes from a new direct injection 3.5-liter V-6 engine and eight-speed automatic transmission. Hybrid cars get an Atkinson cycle V-6 with electric motors that yield 308 net horsepower.
Lexus has yet to announce pricing, but hinted that the base model will start below $45,000. Read the rest of this entry »
Posted on September 10th, 2015 No comments
Full-size premium sedan is a Lexus in disguise
By Nina Russin
Over the past twenty years, the Toyota Avalon has evolved from a stretched-out version of the Camry into a league of its own, offering buyers similar ride and handling to more expensive Lexus models. The availability of a gasoline/electric hybrid is rather unusual in this segment that also includes the Ford Taurus and Buick LaCrosse.
The 2015 model is basically carryover following a major redesign in 2013. Changes include an upgraded Entune multimedia system and paddle shifters on gasoline-powered cars.
Base price for the Avalon Hybrid Limited is $41,700: on the high side for the segment. However buyers get their money’s worth with standard features that include remote keyless entry and start, tri-zone climate control, leather upholstery and steering wheel, power heated and cooled front seats, heated rear seats, Bluetooth interface, a rearview camera with cross traffic alert, blind spot monitoring and satellite radio.
A technology package on the test car adds dynamic radar cruise control, automatic high beams, Qi wireless charging, and pre-collision system with pedestrian detection. Final MSRP is $44,475. Read the rest of this entry »
Posted on August 31st, 2015 No comments
All-wheel drive crossover fills all the squares
By Nina Russin
Subaru was born from the needs of buyers with active lifestyles. Standard all-wheel drive, high ground clearance, advanced active safety features, versatile cargo areas and engines that run well at altitude made Subaru the obvious choice for endurance athletes as early as the 1970s when the company also sponsored the US Ski team.
Although the brand has always offered buyers a lot of value, some models lacked refinement in the areas of ride comfort and NVH as compared to the competition. Never being a company to rest on its laurels, Subaru is addressing the problem by improving existing models.
Case in point: the 2015 XV Crosstrek, with insulating windshield glass on the Limited model that significantly improves interior quiet. Having driven earlier versions of the car, I was surprised by how quiet the 2015 test car is on the highway.
While the Limited is the most upscale version of Subaru’s midsize all-wheel drive crossover,
it’s still quite affordable. Base price on the test car is $24,795, with standard features including leather upholstery, satellite radio, a rearview camera, Bluetooth interface, HD radio, smartphone connectivity, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel and roof rails.
An option package adds keyless start, power moonroof, real-time weather and traffic updates and the EyeSight driver assist system that automatically applies the brakes if the driver fails to recognized a stopped car or pedestrian in the car’s path.
Power comes from a 148-horsepower Boxer engine and continuously variable automatic transmission. All-wheel drive is standard across the model lineup. The Crosstrek’s 8.7-inches of ground clearance makes driving in the snow or clearing obstacles on unimproved dirt roads a piece of cake. Read the rest of this entry »
Posted on August 26th, 2015 No comments
Subcompact hatchback is big on versatility
By Nina Russin
Let’s face it: Nobody really enjoys paying for gasoline. As a runner, I’m happy to spend whatever it takes for shoes and gear that give me the ergogenic edge, but I’ll shop around for the best deals on gas. Toyota’s newest subcompact Yaris, available as a three or five-door hatchback, minimizes pinch at the pump with 32 mile-per-gallon average fuel economy according to the EPA. Priced below $20,000, the versatile, peppy Yaris offers a lot to love for active urbanites for which long commutes and limited street parking are a way of life.
For 2015, Toyota’s European design studio in the south of France did a major restyle, giving the pint-size Yaris a youthful face and refined interior. The car is slightly longer than the outgoing model. A retuned suspension and stiffer body structure contributes to a quieter, smoother ride.
Power comes from a 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine and four-speed automatic transmission. Base price for the five-door test car is $17,820. A cargo mat option and the delivery charge bring the final MSRP to $18,825. Read the rest of this entry »
Posted on August 19th, 2015 No comments
Midsize hybrid crossover gains refinement for 2015
By Nina Russin
Buyers who want the mileage benefits of a hybrid along with the cargo versatility of a gas-powered crossover need look no further than the Lexus RX 450h. The 450h is the gasoline/electric sibling to the RX 350: the automaker’s highest volume crossover that competes in the midsize segment.
What makes the RX 450h so appealing is the invisibility of hybrid technology to the driver. Aside from some subtle badging and bamboo wood interior trim, it doesn’t look like a hybrid. Performance is equivalent to if not better than the RX 350.
The passenger cabin and cargo bay are the same size as the gas-powered version, with second-row seats able to fold flat and extend the cargo floor. The nickel metal hydride battery pack is packaged under the floor for this reason.
Engineers wisely incorporated an electronic air conditioning compressor that works as well with the ignition off as when the gasoline engine is running. In areas with extreme heat such as the desert southwest, the ability to maintain consistently cool interior temperatures is a very big deal.
Power for the all-wheel drive model comes from a 3.5-liter Atkinson cycle gasoline engine and electric motors on both axles. The rear-axle motor gives the all-wheel drive model better zero-to-sixty acceleration than the front-wheel drive model: 7.4 seconds as opposed to 7.8.
Pricing for the 2015 car starts at $48,845 excluding the $910 destination charge. Options on the car include ventilated front seats, rain sensing wipers, 19-inch alloy rims, Mark Levinson audio system, navigation, park assist, blind spot monitoring, leather upholstery, bamboo trim, power folding side mirrors and roof rails, bringing the final MSRP to $58,315. Read the rest of this entry »
Posted on August 17th, 2015 No comments
All-new midsize truck is the king of the rock pile
By Nina Russin
I’m sitting behind the wheel of the 2016 Toyota Tacoma TRD pickup truck and all I can see is sky. The forty-degree grade the truck is climbing has me pinned back against the headrest, with no view of the horizon.
As the name of the park we suggests, this is the Black Diamond of off-road driving: requiring a vehicle with exceptional capability and a certain amount of driving skill. Trails of this type can intimidate experienced drivers because of the risk of rollover. The old adage: ‘Go as slowly as possible and as fast as necessary,’ applies, since cresting the hill requires gunning that throttle at just the right time and then backing off to remain directional control at the summit.
A new feature called crawl control on the 2016 midsize pickup takes the guesswork out of the scenario by using anti-slip regulation, throttle and antilock braking to maintain a preset speed.
Think of it as downhill descent control, only better, because in this case the vehicle controls uphill speed as well. After selecting one of five speeds using controls on the truck’s overhead console, the driver eases off the gas pedal and lets the truck take over.
The sheer rock face is one of several off-road exercises Toyota’s product team has devised to show off the new Tacoma’s off-road capability at a former coal-mining site outside Seattle. Others include a steep downhill called Wicked Hill that is about the same grade as the sheer rock uphill, but comprised of loose dirt and rocks. In this case, a multi-terrain select system that adjusts throttle, braking and suspension for a variety of surfaces ranging from rock to mud and ruts works in tandem with the crawl control to get the truck down the hill safely.
Finally, there is a rock pile known as the Bone Yard to demonstrate wheel articulation and traction over that type of unstable surface. In each case, the newest Tacoma proves that it is a force to be reckoned with: a proud descendent of a heritage dating back to the end of the Second World War. Read the rest of this entry »
Posted on August 14th, 2015 No comments
Affordable off-road fun for growing families
By Nina Russin
The Jeep Patriot is for growing families what the Renegade is for urbanites: an affordable path to the road less traveled. Seating up to five passengers with a versatile cargo area that holds soup-to-nuts, the trail-rated Patriot Latitude 4X4 starts at $24,795 excluding the $995 destination charge.
The Patriot is available with two four-wheel drive systems, of which one, the Freedom Drive II has a low gear range and carries the Jeep trail rating. New for 2015 is a High Altitude appearance package that adds leather seating, 17-inch alloy rims, power sunroof and manual lumbar adjustment.
Other options on the test car include a digital information display in the gauge cluster, roof rail crossbars, tonneau cover, premium audio system with satellite radio, Uconnect infotainment center with voice command and Bluetooth interface and remote start. Final MSRP is $29,510. Read the rest of this entry »
Posted on August 13th, 2015 No comments
Redesigned crossover for active families
By Nina Russin
Despite the growing number of entries into the midsize crossover segment, the stylish Kia Sorento remains a leader of the pack. Simply put, it’s a great package, with a redesigned 2016 model that includes a new two-liter turbocharged engine, revised exterior and interior styling and some appealing new infotainment features. With available seating for up to seven passengers, the Sorento is a great option for families with active lifestyles who don’t need a full-size sport-utility vehicle.
The sporty SX Limited test car comes with the two-liter engine, six-speed automatic transmission and full-time all-wheel drive with a lockable center differential for enhanced traction on wet, snowy or unimproved roads. Base price is $41,700 excluding an $895 destination charge. Standard comfort and convenience features include keyless entry and start, dual-zone climate control, satellite radio, Bluetooth interface, UVO infotainment with apps, rearview camera, Nappa leather seating, panoramic sunroof, power liftgate, roof rails and heated outside mirrors.
A technology package adds xenon headlamps, lane departure warning, forward collision warning, surround view monitor, adaptive cruise control and an electronic parking brake. Final MSRP is $45,095. Read the rest of this entry »