Posted on February 13th, 2016
Year of the truck
By Nina Russin
The Chicago Auto Show held each February at the McCormick Place convention center on the shores of Lake Michigan is epic in every way: it has the biggest show floor and the best consumer attendance of any such show in the US. There’s something for everyone at Chicago, but this year it was the trucks that stole the show. From the world premier of the 2017 Nissan Armada that kicked off the media preview to Ram’s newest Power Wagon, Kia’s new hybrid utility vehicle and Toyota’s TRD Pro Tacoma, automakers unveiled their newest designs for adventurous travel. Read the rest of this entry »
Posted on February 12th, 2016
Light-duty pickup truck ready for off-road adventure
By Nina Russin
If you need a pickup truck with towing, hauling and off-road capability capability but don’t want to be stuck with poor fuel economy, the Chevrolet Silverado with available Ecotec 5.3-liter engine should be on the short list. The 355-horsepower V-8 block delivers up to 383 pound-feet of peak torque: enough to tow up to 10,800 pounds when equipped with the optional trailering package.
Average fuel economy is 17 miles-per-gallon thanks to a cylinder cutoff feature when engine loads are low. An eight-speed automatic transmission provides large overdrive gears, extending gas mileage to 21 mpg on the highway.
Base price for the four-wheel drive test truck is $47,700, excluding the $1,195 destination charge. Options include 20-inch alloy rims, chrome running boards, leather upholstery, heated and ventilated front seats, a center console with wireless phone charging and USB ports, trailer brakes, all-terrain tires and a set of moveable upper tie-down cleats, bringing the final MSRP to $52,585. Read the rest of this entry »
Posted on February 8th, 2016
Fourth-generation sports car is an instant classic
By Nina Russin
There are a lot of reasons to buy a Mazda MX-5: style, performance and affordability among them. Fans of the two-seat roadster, now in its 26th year of production can now add ‘instant classic.’
Hagerty Insurance CEO, McKeel Hagerty, considers the MX-5 Miata to be one of the best investments in the classic car market. He bought one himself. With its timeless styling inspired by British roadsters of the 1960s, a powertrain that functions as well on city streets as it does on the track and modern amenities such as keyless start, Bluetooth interface and automatic climate control, the Miata might just be the sexiest, most practical new car enthusiasts can buy for less than $30,000.
Is the MX-5 a car for everyone? Probably not. It has close to zero cargo space and for larger individuals, access and egress can be a challenge. But it is easily one of the most perfect executions of a niche vehicle on the market.
The test car is the upscale Grand Touring model priced from $30,065. Standard convenience features include a Bose premium audio system, keyless start, LED daytime running lamps and tail lamps, automatic climate control, leather wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, power side mirrors, rain-sensing windshield wipers, navigation and heated front seats. Adding two options- a rear spoiler and keyless start plus the destination charge brings the final MSRP to $31,365. Read the rest of this entry »
Posted on February 4th, 2016
Three-row crossover focused on value and versatility
By Nina Russin
The 2016 Mitsubishi Outlander won the 2016 best value ALV of the Year award because its versatile interior and high level of standard convenience features including three rows of seating, rearview camera, leather upholstery, heated front seats and Bluetooth interface make it a lot of car for the money. The Outlander’s relatively small footprint gives it an edge over other seven-passenger cars among buyers who need the seating capacity but don’t want a full-size truck with poor gas mileage.
Base price for the front-wheel drive SEL with standard 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine and continuously variable automatic transmission is $24,995, excluding the $850 destination charge. A touring option package adds forward collision mitigation, adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning, automatic headlamps, rain sensing windshield wipers, power sunroof and mirrors, Rockford/Fosgate premium audio system and satellite radio to the test car, bringing the final MSRP to $31,095. Read the rest of this entry »
Posted on February 2nd, 2016
Strength and style join forces in the ultimate luxury ALV
By Nina Russin
Mercedes-Benz describes the new GLE as the successor to the M-Class, but it’s a very different animal than the former midsize crossover. Imagine a sport coupe with the versatility of a SUV: that’s the GLE. The 2016 AMG version easily won our ALV of the Year award in the luxury category because it combines the athletic performance buyers with active lifestyles crave but in a versatile package, with room for camping equipment, kayaks and bicycles.
Power comes from a three-liter biturbo engine rated at 362 horsepower with 385 pound-feet of torque, that propels the GLE from zero-to-sixty in just over five seconds. A nine-speed automatic transmission creates large overdrive gears to maximize fuel economy. All-wheel drive adds four season performance. The GLE has enough ground clearance to clear obstacles in unimproved roads and a fresh coating of snow, although I would recommend substituting smaller wheels and winter tires for the optional 22-inch rims on the test car.
The GLE’s exterior styling is polarizing. On crowded roads, the large grille and aggressive fascia with the Mercedes-Benz star front and center does a good job of conveying the message: “Don’t mess with me.”
Base price is $65,100 excluding the $925 destination charge. Options on the test car include special paint and Nappa leather upholstery, ambient lighting, active curve assist, parking assist and a driver assistance package that includes additional active safety features, bringing the final MSRP to $84,085. Read the rest of this entry »
Posted on January 18th, 2016
No range anxiety here
By Nina Russin
The Chevrolet Volt offers buyers who want an electric car but don’t want to be limited by driving range a more practical option. The second-generation car enables drivers to travel up to 54 miles between plug-ins: enough for the average commute. A complete recharge takes about 4-1/2 hours on 220 volt current: 13 hours using 120 volt.
If the owner fails to recharge or needs to take an extended road trip, a traditional gasoline engine that takes over when the battery runs low extends that range to about 420 miles.
Does the Volt have any advantages over gasoline-electric hybrids that today boast 50 mile-per-gallon fuel economy’ The answer is ‘Yes’ for the average driver who uses his or her car to drive to-and-from work during the week, with longer trips on the weekend.
While plug-in hybrids enable drivers to go limited distances without using the gasoline engines, the Volt goes further. For example, the Ford C-Max Energi’s pure electric range of 20 miles came close to the original Volt, but can’t compete with the second-generation car.
In addition to adding about thirty percent more range in pure electric mode over the original model, the 2016 Volt offers better acceleration off the line, improved interior quiet, a new braking system with more linear performance and a smaller, simpler charging port.
Pricing for the upscale Premier model tested begins at $37,520 excluding the $825 destination charge. Standard convenience features include keyless entry and start, automatic climate control, ambient interior lighting, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, heated front and rear seats, heated steering wheel, Bose premium audio system, satellite radio, OnStar with navigation and a 4G LTE hotspot.
Options on the test car include blind spot monitoring with lane departure alert, rear cross traffic alert, lane keep assist, intelligent high beams, forward collision warning with low-speed auto stop and Chevrolet MyLink radio with navigation. Final MSRP is $39,830. Read the rest of this entry »
Posted on January 13th, 2016
Not just another pretty face
By Nina Russin
In the ever-increasing swarm of luxury crossovers, the 2016 Lincoln MKX stands out as the perfect ten: with room for the family, advanced safety features and a new 2.7-liter EcoBoost V-6 engine that puts many eight cylinder blocks to shame. The new turbocharged EcoBoost develops 335 peak horsepower and 380 pound-feet of torque: 102 pound-feet more than the car’s standard naturally aspirated V-6.
With a base price of $47,650 for the all-wheel drive model the MKX isn’t an inexpensive car, but buyers get a lot for the money. Standard convenience features include heated and cooled front seats, hands-free liftgate, panoramic sunroof, capless fuel filler, LED tail lamps, dual-zone climate control, leather upholstery and voice-activated navigation.
The EcoBoost engine adds $2,000 and comes with a six-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters. Other options on the test car include special exterior paint, a cargo management system, heated seats and steering wheel, active park assist, lane keep assist, adaptive cruise control, inflatable second-row safety belts, 20-inch wheels, roof rails and a 22-way power driver’s seat. Final MSRP is $63,275. Read the rest of this entry »
Posted on December 29th, 2015
Subcompact sedan is big on value
By Nina Russin
Every time I get behind the wheel of the Scion iA I have to remind myself that I’m in a subcompact car. With its substantial road feel and spacious interior, the iA feels more like a C than a B-segment sedan. On the flip side, its small footprint eases parking woes at popular trailheads where space is at a premium.
The EPA’s estimated 35 mile-per-gallon average fuel economy is conservative. I averaged 36.5 on my test drive and I have a lead foot.
The iA competes against the Toyota Yaris in a segment that also includes the Ford Fiesta, Hyundai Accent, Chevrolet Spark and Smart car. In this writer’s opinion, it’s the best of the bunch.
Based on the same rolling chassis as the Mazda2, the iA features surprising array of standard convenience feature considering its $15,700 price tag: halogen headlamps, rearview camera, push-button start, Bluetooth and a seven-inch color touchscreen among them.
Scion’s monospec pricing takes the hassle out of car buying. The buyer simply chooses between a manual and automatic transmission. I’d recommend opting for the manual and saving $1100. In addition to offering better value, the manual transmission enables the driver to better optimize power from the sedan’s 1.5-liter engine. Adding the $795 destination, final MSRP on the test car is $16,495. Read the rest of this entry »
Posted on December 16th, 2015
New hatchback rounds out the Scion family
By Nina Russin
This year, Scion introduces two new models: the four-door iA and iM hatchback. Although the iM is new to the US, it’s been on the global market for some time, called either the Toyota Auris or Corolla hatchback.
This doesn’t make it any less valuable as an addition to the Scion lineup. The Corolla is a solid platform with a history of reliability, making it a good choice for first-time car buyers.
The iM is available in two styles: the manual transmission car priced from $18,460 and automatic from $19,200. My recommendation is to go with the manual. Yes, it takes a bit more effort to drive in traffic, but the manual gearbox makes much better use of the 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine’s available power.
The $740 difference in price is a pretty good down payment on that new road bike you’ve had your eyes on, and you can use the sixth gear to puddle around town and save some additional money on gasoline.
Scion utilizes monospec pricing to simplify the buying process. The idea is to pay the MSRP with no ups and no extras. In the case of the test car optional floor and cargo mats add $185 to the base price. Total MSRP including destination is $19,594. Read the rest of this entry »
Posted on December 4th, 2015
Right-size crossover perfect for active urbanites
By Nina Russin
Mazda doesn’t know how to make a mistake: every new model is walk-off home run. Such is the case for the newest family member: the compact CX-3 crossover with available all-wheel drive. Small on the outside but big on the inside, the CX-3 has enough ground clearance for covering unimproved roads, without impacting low lift-over height for easy access to the cargo area.
A two-liter Skyactiv engine averages 32 mpg on the highway but is by no means short on power. A six-speed automatic transmission likes to downshift and launch hard. Base MSRP is below $20,000.
The Grand Touring model that starts at $26,240 comes standard with a bunch of luxury car features including keyless entry and start, leather upholstery, heated front seats, navigation, power moonroof and satellite radio. Standard safety features include adaptive front headlamps with daytime running lamps, rearview camera, heads-up display and blind spot monitoring.
The test car comes with a safety option package that adds adaptive cruise control, rain sensing wipers, lane departure warning and automatic on/off headlamps with high beam control, bringing the final MSRP to $29,590 including destination. Read the rest of this entry »