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  • 2015 Infiniti QX70 Sport

    Posted on November 25th, 2014 ninarussin No comments

    Sporty crossover built for the open road

    By Nina Russin

    2015 Infiniti QX70

    2015 Infiniti QX70

    The 350-mile drive between Phoenix and Los Angeles is best described as four hours of watching paint dry with rush hour at either end. It is as stressful as it is dull. Any car that can make the drive fun is a masterpiece. Enter the Infiniti QX70: a powerful, rear-wheel drive crossover that fits the bill perfectly.

    On the open road, it is an effortless car to drive, with active safety features such as lane departure warning, intelligent cruise control and adaptive front lighting. When opportunities permit, the QX70 offers the driving dynamics of a sport sedan, with a wide aggressive stance, precise steering feedback, dynamic suspension and firm, linear breaking. It really is the total package.

    The test car that I drove to Los Angeles for the annual auto show media preview starts at $45,850 excluding the $995 destination charge. The technology package that includes the above described safety features adds $2,950. A premium option adds navigation, eight-inch touchscreen display, around vision monitor, Bluetooth and roof rails. Finally, the sport package includes 21-inch wheels and low profile tires, a blacked out front grille, fog lamps, side air vents, special interior trim, driver and front passenger sport seats, formula-style paddle shifters and aluminum pedals. Final MSRP is $58,085. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2014 Los Angeles Auto Show

    Posted on November 21st, 2014 ninarussin No comments

    Compact crossovers rule at the season’s first major show

    By Nina Russin

    Scion Press Conference

    Scion Press Conference

    Pistons pump, wheels spin, exhaust pipes growl and the auto industry moves forward. From new propulsion systems to connectivity inside the car, technological advances occur at warp speed.

    But since the economic downtick of 2008, evolution in the car industry has changed. OEMs have become risk averse. Aha moments, when the blankets come off to reveal something startlingly different, are few and far between.

    As one of four major auto shows in the United States each year, Los Angeles sets the tone for the season. While LA is the last of the shows during the calendar year, Detroit being first, it is considered the first show of the auto show season coming closest to the traditional beginning of the industry’s new model year.

    Porsche Display

    Porsche Display

    The 2014 show was arguably the best attended by media in its history, with press conferences attracting standing room only crowds. New product ranged from the powerful Mercedes-Benz AMG GTS sports car, Porsche 911 Carrera GTS and Ford Shelby 350 GT Mustang to a gaggle of compact crossovers, including the Mazda CX-3, Honda HRV, Fiat 500X and Scion iM concept, the production version of which debuts in New York next spring.

    The show, filling both halls of LA’s expansive convention center, seems to have something for everyone, from the dyed-in-the-wool driving enthusiast to pragmatic first-time car buyers. But what it lacks, in this writer’s eyes, are any real surprises.

    While manufacturers flood the compact crossover and sedan segments, others, such as the compact pickup truck are largely ignored. Although each press conference in LA threatened to take us to the brink of the ship and jump into uncharted waters, those waters were, in most cases, rather shallow. Read the rest of this entry »

  • First Drive: 2015 Toyota Camry, Yaris and Sienna

    Posted on November 18th, 2014 ninarussin No comments

    Toyota pumps up the style with three mid-cycle refreshes

    By Nina Russin

    2015 Toyota Camry

    2015 Toyota Camry

    The 2015 Toyota Camry doesn’t look like a mid-cycle refresh. All new sheet metal with the exception of the roof panel gives the Camry a dramatically different exterior. A new model called the XSE appeals to younger buyers with a unique grille, larger wheels and a sport-tuned suspension. Pricing for the four-cylinder LE starts at $22,970.

    The subcompact Yaris changes significantly as well. Styled at Toyota’s European Design Studio and produced in France, it stands poised to capture millennial buyers purchasing their first car. While value remains one of the Yaris’ key attributes with a starting price of $14,845, the new three and five-door hatchbacks are more than pretty faces, with restyled interiors and new technology including Entune infotainment, HD radio and Bluetooth interface.

    Changes to the Sienna are less dramatic, focusing on interior refinement. Designers revised the instrument panel using softer, more appealing materials and added a thin-film-transistor information display in the gauge cluster. Upholstery offerings have also been updated, and customers can opt for lounge-style second-row seating on upscale models. Pricing for the front-wheel drive base car starts at $28,600.

    Engineers enhanced torsional rigidity on all three models by increasing the number of spot welds throughout the bodies. New acoustic materials reduce NVH for quieter, more comfortable interiors.

    Although the drivetrains are carryover, retuned electric power steering systems, new wheel and tire combinations and retuned suspensions give the 2015 models sharper steering response and a firmer ride. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2014 Ford Fusion

    Posted on November 17th, 2014 ninarussin No comments

    Midsize sedan connects with the driver

    By Nina Russin

    2014 Ford Fusion

    2014 Ford Fusion

    Thank the most competitive segment in the passenger car market for ending the era of the rolling refrigerator. If car dealers want their midsized sedans to roll off the showroom floor, the cars need sizzle. I’m not just referring to appearance here. Being smart is just as important.

    Car owners want to feel connected to the vehicles they drive: simply put, they want to have fun. But in the post-2008 economic recovery, they must also be practical, thinking carefully about price and cost of ownership. The 2014 Ford Fusion delivers on both fronts. The addition of a 1.5-liter EcoBoost engine for the current model year nudges the model forward.

    Pricing for the test car starts at $23,935 excluding the $825 delivery charge. Standard convenience features include 17-inch alloy wheels, keyless entry, satellite radio, Ford Sync, a tilt steering wheel with redundant audio and cruise control buttons, MyKey and a ten-way power driver’s seat. There are a few options: start/stop, a reverse sensing system and rear inflatable seatbelts, bringing the final MSRP to $27,890. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2015 Cadillac ATS Coupe 2.0T RWD Premium

    Posted on November 12th, 2014 ninarussin No comments

    Compact sport coupe styled to turn heads

    By Nina Russin

    2015 Cadillac ATS Coupe

    2015 Cadillac ATS Coupe

    It’s hard not to fall in love with the Cadillac ATS sports coupe. It’s long, sleek hood, bullet profile and masculine grille are purposefully sexy. While the Cadillac brand has always been synonymous with luxury, its context within that segment has covered both ends of the spectrum. The ATS coupe reaches a new performance apex, appealing to the current generation of driving enthusiasts.

    The V-16 Cadillacs of the pre-War era were engineering marvels, but they were also among the most elegant cars of their day. After the War, the brand’s styling became edgier, with some of the biggest fins to come out of the 1950s.

    Twenty years later Cadillac said goodbye to the full-sized Eldorado convertible, and with that entered into a new phase of more fuel-efficient but less dazzling cars.

    Beginning with the new millennium, the brand changed faces again, utilizing technologies such as direct injection and turbocharging to infuse its small engines with big engine power. Styling got a kick in the pants as well, veering away from the conservativism of former models. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2015 Buick Verano Turbo FWD Premium

    Posted on November 5th, 2014 ninarussin No comments

    Premium compact sedan combines substance and style

    By Nina Russin

    2015 Buick Verano

    2015 Buick Verano

    As a distance runner, I’m all about efficiency. Morning coffee chatter is as likely to be about the proper heart rate for building volume of oxygen uptake as Sunday’s football scores. This is the reason I like turbocharging: it makes the car run more efficiently.

    By increasing the amount of air passing through the engine with an exhaust-driven blower, a turbocharger makes the car capable of accelerating harder and performing better at altitude. It also enhances fuel economy.

    Turbocharging is the compact Buick Verano sedan’s ace-in-the-hole. While two liters of displacement might not seem like much, the addition of a turbocharger gives the Verano four-cylinder engine 250 horsepower and 260 foot-pounds of peak torque, available at 2000 rpm. Zero-to-sixty acceleration is 6.2 seconds.

    All models are available with a six-speed automatic transmission. A manual gear selection feature enables the driver to keep the revs up for more aggressive performance. The turbocharged model is also available with a six-speed manual gearbox.

    For 2015, standard OnStar adds 4G LTE, turning the sedan into a mobile hotspot.

    The premium model tested starts at $29,065 excluding the $925 destination charge. Standard safety features include blind spot monitoring, lane departure warning, forward collision alert, a rearview camera with cross traffic alert and automatic notification of police and emergency medical personnel in the event of a serious collision.

    The test car adds optional carbon black metallic paint, a power moonroof, premium audio system with navigation, splashguards, floor mats and wheel locks, bringing the final MSRP to $32,335. Read the rest of this entry »

  • Change of Seasons

    Posted on October 27th, 2014 ninarussin No comments

    Now is the time to winterize your car

    By Nina Russin

    Photo courtesy of Bridgestone Winter Driving School

    Photo courtesy of Bridgestone Winter Driving School

    Although autumn officially begins in late September, October is the time when most of us see the weather start to change dramatically. While we enjoy watching the leaves turn fiery red and gold, it’s also time to start thinking about how winter will affect our cars and our driving.

    In a series of #eBay buying guides, I’ve gathered some information about the best way to winterize a vehicle as well as tips for driving safely on ice and snow.

    “Five Ways To Winterize Your Car” focuses on mechanical issues that can lead to cold-weather breakdowns such as dead batteries, old coolant, bad belts and hoses. Read the rest of this entry »

  • Cars, Art and Architecture

    Posted on October 23rd, 2014 ninarussin No comments

    Why car design is part of a much bigger picture

    By Nina Russin

    XPEL Runner by Cosmin Mandita. Photo courtesy of Local Motors

    XPEL Runner by Cosmin Mandita. Photo courtesy of Local Motors

    Before I became an automotive journalist I went to art school and received a graduate degree in sculpture. Because of that I’ve always taken a keen interest in car design and the places where designers find inspiration.

    We live in a connected world. While the Internet facilitates such interaction, artists have looked outside the box for centuries. Car design has been influenced by painting, photography, sculpture, industrial design and architecture since the internal combustion engine was invented over 150 years ago.

    As part of our eleventh annual Active Lifestyle Vehicle of the Year program, our host and sponsor Local Motors hosted its second ALV design competition. Members of the Local Motors community were challenged to design active lifestyle vehicles incorporating athletic gear and the competition sponsor’s protective film. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2014 Nissan Quest 3.5 LE

    Posted on October 23rd, 2014 ninarussin No comments

    Seven-seat minivan hauls soup to nuts

    By Nina Russin

    2014 Nissan Quest

    2014 Nissan Quest

    It might not be as fast as the GT-R or as sexy as the 370Z, but at times, the Nissan Quest minivan can seem like a gift from God. Our annual Active Lifestyle Vehicle of the Year event in mid-October is one of those times, when I find myself doing multiple airport transfers, ferrying bagels and coffee for 130 of my closest friends, schlepping signage, chairs, display stands and PA systems from one spot to the next. Some people call me the program director but I prefer to think of myself as a well-trained Sherpa.

    And the Quest is, so to speak, a yak on steroids, with seating for up to seven passengers, a cavernous cargo bay, power liftgate, 260-horsepower V-6 engine, continuously variable automatic transmission and speed-sensitive power steering that makes the 16-1/2 foot-long vehicle capable of U-turns on two-lane roads.

    The test car is the upscale LE model priced from $42,870. Standard comfort and convenience features include leather upholstery, second-row captain’s chairs, tri-zone climate control, fold-flat second and third-row seats, DVD rear entertainment system, navigation, rearview monitor, around-view monitor, blind spot monitoring, Bluetooth interface, 13-speaker Bose audio system, conversation mirror and six-way power driver’s seat with memory. Adding the optional dual-pane sunroof and destination charges, final MSRP is $45,315. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2015 Active Lifestyle Vehicle Winners

    Posted on October 21st, 2014 ninarussin 2 comments

    Athletes and journalists reveal top picks from thirty vehicle entries

    By Nina Russin

    Photo by Chris Dodson

    Photo by Chris Dodson

    The Carspondent.com Active Lifestyle Vehicle of the Year’, the only car-of-the-year competition that combines the input of automotive journalists with elite and area athletes, announces winners for the 2015 model year competition.

    This year’s event that took place at the Local Motors’ micro-factory in Chandler, Arizona was the most competitive in program history, including thirty vehicles from over a dozen auto manufacturers, automotive journalists and close to 100 athletes. Winners were often decided by hundredths of a point.

    Athletes on hand for the October 18 finals included members of Arizona Legends, retired NFL players of Arizona, representatives from Sole Sports Running Zone, Fit Mom Diet and Fit Fathers, elite runners, triathletes, paddlers, cyclists, swimmers and more. Read the rest of this entry »