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  • 2015 Volkswagen Jetta GLI 2.0T SE

    Posted on July 27th, 2015 ninarussin No comments

    Peppy compact sedan for driving enthusiasts

    By Nina Russin

    Volkswagen Jetta GLI

    Volkswagen Jetta GLI

    Compact sedans are go-to cars for first time buyers because of their affordability. A well-designed model can take its owner through college and starting a new family. While there are plenty of options on the market that are safe, fuel efficient and competitively priced, fewer that fill those squares are also fun to drive.

    Volkswagen’s talent is in offering European performance without the price tag of a German luxury brand. The compact Jetta, priced from $16,215 is a prime example. Nicely styled and well engineered, the Jetta is a package that will serve its owner well through whatever changes life might throw at him. Plus it’s a hoot to drive.

    The Jetta is the only compact sedan available with two green options: a gasoline-electric hybrid and turbo-diesel. Buyers can choose between three four-cylinder gasoline engines (one being the hybrid) as well as the TDI, mated to a six-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmission.

    The test car is the upscale GLI SE, priced from $28,020 excluding the $820 destination charge. Buyers who don’t like to haggle at the dealership with appreciate the monospec pricing strategy. The car comes fully loaded, including a power sliding sunroof, keyless entry and start, Fender audio system with satellite radio, rearview camera, heated front seats and split folding second-row seat, rain sensing wipers, daytime running lamps and LED tail lamps. Final MSRP is $28,840. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2015 Land Rover Discovery Sport

    Posted on July 17th, 2015 ninarussin No comments

    Family-friendly SUV with off-road capability

    By Nina Russin

    Land Rover Discovery Sport

    Land Rover Discovery Sport

    The Discovery Sport is Land Rover’s offering for active families who don’t want a full-sized sport-utility vehicle, but need the versatility traditionally only available in those types of cars. Although the newest Range Rover has a similar powertrain to the Evoque, the car’s character is completely different, catering more to buyers who want to spend time off the grid, and need a versatile cargo area to pack the toys.

    Power comes from a two-liter turbocharged engine rated at 240 horsepower and nine-speed automatic transmission: the same components found in the Evoque. All models come with full-time all-wheel drive and the ability to climb up a 45-degree incline.

    Land Rover was the first to market with a terrain response system that automatically adjusts braking, throttle, shift points etc. for a variety of off-road surfaces such as mud and ruts, rocks, sand and snow. The Discovery Sport comes with the newest version of that technology.

    With over eight inches of wheel travel, drivers don’t need to worry about bottoming out of rocks or roots on rugged trails. The cabin is also watertight in case the vehicle needs to cross a small stream. Wading depth is a tick under two feet.

    Land Rover Discovery Sport

    Land Rover Discovery Sport

    On the other hand, the Discovery is very much a road car, with a four-wheel independent suspension and available active safety features that include lane keeping assist, park assist and traffic sign recognition. Electric power steering saves space and weight under the hood, helping to extend fuel economy.

    An optional HSE package on the test car adds xenon headlamps, a panoramic sunroof, 10-way power leather front seats, power tailgate and front fog lamps. Other options on the test car include automatic climate control with heated front seats and steering wheel, 20′ alloy wheels with black exterior trim, an audio upgrade, app infotainment package and cargo area cover, bringing the final MSRP to $49,470. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2015 Chrysler 300 Limited

    Posted on July 9th, 2015 ninarussin No comments

    Flagship sedan is perfect for summer road trips

    By Nina Russin

    2015 Chrysler 300

    2015 Chrysler 300

    It’s the Fourth of July weekend and my husband and I are loading up a 2015 Chrysler 300 Limited sedan for the trip between Phoenix, Arizona and Durango, Colorado. Over the next four days we will log over 1,000 miles, taking in low and high desert, mountains, hundred-plus degree temperatures and monsoonal rain. Elevation gain between Phoenix at 1,200 feet and Hesperus, Colorado, the highest point of the drive, is about 7,000 feet.

    The 300 is Chrysler’s flagship: a full-size sedan that goes head-to-head with the Toyota Avalon and Ford Taurus. Available with rear or all-wheel drive, it shares chassis components with the four-door Dodge Charger, but the car’s styling and performance are geared towards an upscale market versus the Charger’s sportier focus.

    Power for the test car comes from the same Pentastar V-6 engine used in the Jeep Wrangler, Dodge Challenger and Charger. While the Jeep engine is tuned for low-end torque the 300 block gets an extra dose of horsepower. An eight-speed rotary shift automatic transmission utilizes large overdrive gears to extend fuel economy to 31 mpg on the highway.

    Base price for the Limited model is $31,570 excluding the $995 destination charge. Options on the test car include a convenience package that adds LED fog lights, rear backup camera, remote start and a universal garage door opener and a Uconnect option including navigation and HD radio, bringing the final MSRP to $35,255. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2015 Honda Civic Si Sedan

    Posted on July 2nd, 2015 ninarussin No comments

    Affordable performance for driving enthusiasts

    By Nina Russin

    Honda Civic Si

    Honda Civic Si

    The Civic Si test car parked in my driveway reminds me of Christmas in July. The high-performance version of Honda’s best-selling compact sedan has long been a favorite among driving enthusiasts: an affordable well-balanced package that’s equally at home doing the daily commute or laps at the track.

    Power comes from a 205-horsepower four-cylinder engine and six-speed close ratio manual gearbox. Those who can’t drive a stick need not apply. Those of us who like to push a clutch pedal see that as a win for the Gipper.

    Pricing for the Si sedan with navigation begins at $24,490, a bargain considering its chassis components and convenience features including keyless entry, seven-inch touchscreen display with navigation, real-time weather and traffic, satellite radio, rearview camera, Honda LaneWatch, Bluetooth, power moonroof, 18-inch alloy wheels, a 60/40 split folding rear seat and USB interface. Final MSRP on the test car is $25,310. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2016 Acura ILX

    Posted on June 22nd, 2015 ninarussin No comments

    Entry luxury sedan becomes a better machine

    By Nina Russin

    2016 Acura ILX

    2016 Acura ILX

    The second-generation Acura ILX should quash rumblings by those who described the first-generation car as a dressed up Civic. Changes to the 2016 model include a more powerful engine and eight-speed dual clutch automatic transmission. Enhanced torsional rigidity and interior quiet make the new ILX a true Acura: a driving enthusiast’s car that can live in the real world.

    Pricing for the base model starts at $27,900 excluding the $920 destination charge. The test car includes a technology option group that adds navigation, AcuraLink with real-time traffic, ten-speaker premium audio system, hard drive and GPS. The AcuraWatch safety package included in the test car’s $32,900 base price adds adaptive cruise control, lane keep assist, and forward collision warning. Final MSRP is $33,820. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2016 Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring

    Posted on June 18th, 2015 ninarussin No comments

    Compact crossover for driving enthusiasts

    By Nina Russin

    2016 Mazda CX-5

    2016 Mazda CX-5

    The ambient temperature indicator on the Mazda CX-5 I’m driving says that it’s 104 degrees out. Unfortunately, this is not a mistake. Denizens of southern Arizona know that June is brutally hot.

    On this particular morning the mercury reached the century mark at about nine. An hour later, it’s climbed another four degrees.

    If there’s a good news side to the story, it’s that the heat has driven the few remaining snowbirds back north, reducing traffic.

    The CX-5 used to be the smaller of Mazda’s two crossovers. With the addition of the CX-3, it now occupies the middle ground between the new subcompact model and the mid-size CX-9.

    I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for the CX-5 because it can hold its own against German luxury brands at a much more affordable price. The base front-wheel drive model that starts at $21,795 is a bargain by anyone’s standards.

    The test car is the upscale Grand Touring model priced from $28,220 excluding the $820 destination charge. Standard convenience features include keyless entry and start, heated leather front seats, power driver’s seat, 19-inch alloy rims, heated power side mirrors, power moonroof, Bluetooth interface, halogen headlamps, dual-zone climate control, a seven-inch touchscreen display, 40/20/40 split folding rear seat and a rearview camera.

    Option packages add navigation, satellite radio, LED headlamps and daytime running lamps, adaptive headlamps, adaptive cruise control and metallic red exterior paint. Final MSRP is $32,890. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2016 Mazda6 Grand Touring

    Posted on June 10th, 2015 ninarussin No comments

    Flagship model raises the bar for midsize sedans

    By Nina Russin

    2016 Mazda6

    2016 Mazda6

    Mazda has a talent for making what others would deem impossible look easy. While competitive automakers shrink the greenhouses on their vehicles in the name of styling, Mazda creates award-winning designs with ample glass areas. Whereas some would argue that the only way to improve fuel economy is with alternative fuels, Mazda does it with a conventional gas-powered engine.

    The Mazda6 is the automaker’s flagship sedan and as such, is the embodiment of everything that makes Mazda wonderful. The sedan exterior with its wing-shaped grille, muscular wheel arches, and graceful beltline is both contemporary and timeless. LED headlamps replace bi-xenon lenses on the Grand Touring model. In addition to offering excellent nighttime visibility, the LED lenses have less of a drain on the car’s charging system.

    Inside, designers improved fit and finish while adding useful details such as an electric parking brake to save space in the center console, larger center console screen and premium upholstery materials.

    The Grand Touring model is the most upscale of three available grades, with pricing starting at $30,195 excluding the $820 destination charge. Power comes from a 184-horsepower automatic transmission and six-speed automatic transmission with manual gear selection.

    The sedan comes fully loaded with convenience features including keyless entry and start, 19-inch alloy wheels, leather trim, dual-zone climate control, Bluetooth interface, satellite and HD radio, Bose audio system, heads-up display, power driver and front passenger seats, rearview camera, power moonroof, blind spot monitoring, and a 60/40 split folding rear seat.

    A technology package adds adaptive cruise control, active grille shutters, regenerative braking and lane departure warning bringing the final MSRP to $33,395. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2016 Mitsubishi Outlander

    Posted on June 8th, 2015 ninarussin No comments

    Compact crossover is ready for adventure

    By Nina Russin

    2016 Mitsubishi Outlander

    2016 Mitsubishi Outlander

    Mitsubishi has never been a mass-market strategist, preferring to focus on vehicles such as the Montero and Lancer Evo that appealed to hardcore driving enthusiasts. In the post-2008 world, the OEM is moving closer to center with its Outlander compact crossover, but at the same time retaining its edge.

    The redesigned 2016 Outlander is one of the smallest cars on the market that comes with three rows of seating, and one of the few vehicles in the segment available with a V-6 engine. The new model features all-new sheetmetal from the windshield forward as part of a refreshed exterior. The interior has been upgraded as well with a redesigned steering wheel, gloss black accent panels, new leather upholstery material and more use of soft touch materials in key areas.

    There are two available engines and two transmissions: the carryover V-6 mated to a six-speed automatic transmission and a 2.4-liter four-cylinder block introduced last year that comes with a new continuously-variable automatic transmission.

    Base price for the front-wheel drive model starts at $22,995 excluding the $850 destination charge. All-wheel drive is available on all but the base model. Buyers who want the V-6 engine with 3500-pound towing capacity must opt for the upscale GT that starts at $30,995. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2015 Kia Forte5 SX

    Posted on June 1st, 2015 ninarussin No comments

    Sporty hatch targets active urbanites

    By Nina Russin

    2015 Kia Forte5

    2015 Kia Forte5

    Although Kia’s product line has moved up-water with products such as the K900 and Cadenza, value remains the brand’s core attribute. In no case is that more apparent than in the compact Forte, available as a coupe, sedan and five-door hatchback.

    Although it shares chassis components with the Hyundai Elantra GT, the Forte5 SX appeals to driving enthusiasts with a 201-horsepower turbocharged engine as compared to the naturally-aspirated two-liter block in the Elantra rated at 173-horsepower.

    A six-speed manual gearbox is standard in the Forte5 SX, but buyers can opt to add a six-speed automatic with Formula-style paddle shifters. Base price is $21,890 excluding the destination charge. Eighteen-inch alloy wheels and a sport-tuned suspension come standard on the upscale model.

    Options on the test car include a premium package that adds leather seating with heated front seats and a ventilated driver’s seat, power sunroof, power driver’s seat and a heated steering wheel. A technology package adds navigation, xenon headlamps, HD radio and dual-zone climate control. Final MSRP is $27,100. Read the rest of this entry »

  • Heels and Wheels 2015

    Posted on May 27th, 2015 ninarussin No comments

    Women’s automotive conference charts changes in the industry

    By Nina Russin

    Heels and Wheels 2015

    Heels and Wheels 2015

    It’s been a long time coming, but the automotive industry has finally realized that women think about cars differently. Since female buyers account for 50 percent of all new car purchases, understanding how their preferences impact purchase decisions significantly impacts automakers’ bottom lines.

    For the past five years, my colleague Christine Overstreet has assembled a group of female journalists, product specialists, market analysts and engineers for Heels and Wheels, a conference focused on the growing impact women have on car design, engineering, media coverage and automotive sales. This year’s conference that took place in Southern California included market analysts from Kelly Blue Book, engineers from General Motors and FCA, products specialists from GMC, Buick, Dodge, Jaguar, Land Rover, Lexus, Mitsubishi, Kia, Nissan, Infiniti, Mazda and Volkswagen.

    Two-dozen journalists covered the gamut from traditional outlets such as Cars.com and Autobytel to electronic media, travel writers and mommy bloggers. While earlier Heels and Wheels programs focused primarily on the dealership experience, the 2015 event had a broader base, looking at recent trends and giving journalists a chance to spend time with women who work for the automakers on product development teams. Read the rest of this entry »