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 »
Posted on May 22nd, 2013 1 comment
A compact SUV with sporty driving flair
By Bob Golfen
If your heart is set on a hot little sports sedan but you need more space to stow your gear, BMW’s new compact SUV could be just the ticket.
The X1 enjoyed a wildly successful run in Europe, where it’s been on sale since 2009, before coming to the U.S. as a 2013 model just after a mid-cycle update, and it carries over essentially unchanged for 2014. With X1, BMW builds on its reputation for creating SUVs that perform with a sporting edge similar to that of its coupes and sedans.
BMW doesn’t even call them SUVs for sports utility vehicles, but SAVs for sports activity vehicles.
X1 proved to be a hot little package of compact versatility and performance, especially enhanced with M Sport suspension, wheels and tires, as the test car was. The steering was crisp and precise, and the handling was more nimble than you’d expect considering its tall roofline.
There are three versions of X1 and two engine options: the rear-wheel-drive sDrive 28i, the all-wheel-drive xDrive 28i- each of them powered by a 2-liter twin-turbocharged four with 240 horsepower- and the all-wheel-drive xDrive 35i, with its power bumped up to 300 horsepower by its twin-turbo 3-liter inline-6. The six-cylinder option in the X1 is exclusive to the U.S.
Speaking of world affairs, X1 has proven so popular in China that BMW has begun building them in a new plant in Tiexi, Shenyang Province. All of the X1s coming to the U.S. are built at BMW’s Leipzig, Germany factory, instead of at the Spartanburg, S.C., facility where the X3 and X6 are created.
I drove the sDrive 28i and found its combination of 240 horsepower and eight-speed automatic to be plenty effective. This is the least-expensive version of X1, with a starting price of $31,550, including shipping, which seems like a fairly reasonable entry point for a premium BMW vehicle with all that ‘driving-machine’ goodness. Read the rest of this entry »
Posted on May 17th, 2013 No comments
Redesigned seven-passenger crossover
By Nina Russin
The all-new Outlander is the third version of a crossover that began in 2003 as a Japan market car restyled for North America. At the time, Mitsubishi was best known for its Eclipse two-plus-two and truck-based Montero, so the Outlander was quite a departure.
As things turned out, product planners were ahead of the curve and the Outlander was more successful than they anticipated. The second Outlander that rolled out in 2007 was an autonomous North American model. The newest car begins where the ’07 Outlander left off, with a new four-cylinder engine, two revised automatic transmissions, and much enhanced safety.
For 2014, buyers can opt for either a 3-liter V-6 engine with a six-speed automatic transmission or the new 2.4-liter block with a continuously variable automatic, with either front or all-wheel drive. Base price for the four-cylinder model is $22,995 excluding the $825 destination charge: something of a bargain for a seven-passenger crossover.
There are three trim levels: ES, SE and GT. The four-cylinder engine is standard on the ES and SE while the GT comes with the V-6. All models come with an eco button that modifies the throttle mapping and air conditioning operation to extend gas mileage.
There are two option packages: a premium group that adds leather seating, a Rockford Fosgate audio system and sunroof, and the touring group that includes navigation, forward collision mitigation, adaptive cruise control and lane departure warning. Cars with navigation also get real-time traffic and weather updates courtesy of HD radio with no subscription fee. Read the rest of this entry »
Posted on May 14th, 2013 No comments
Hybrid five-passenger sport sedan
By Nina Russin
The 2013 GS 450h is the second version of Lexus’ hybrid rear-wheel drive sport sedan: the first rolled out in 2007. While it utilizes similar technology to the Toyota Prius, the purpose of the electric motors in the GS is primarily to boost power rather than extend fuel economy.
Both Toyota and Lexus have used hybrid technology to create halo cars throughout their model lineups. It is a reflection of the automakers’ leadership in the field, as well as their commitment to a sustainable future.
The motors give the 3.5-liter V-6 engine in the GS the power of a V-8, combined with 31 mpg fuel economy according to the EPA. The synergy hybrid drive system is capable of operating in pure electric mode at low speeds. The driver can use a rotary dial on the center console to choose between eco mode, which favors fuel economy, or power for better performance.
Base price is $58,950 excluding the $875 destination charge. A luxury package on the test car adds 18-inch alloy wheels, heated rear seats, LED headlamps with adaptive front lighting, a bamboo and leather steering wheel, semi-aniline leather seating, three-zone climate control, 18-way power front seats and rear sunshades ($5645). Other options include blind spot monitoring ($500); a Mark Levinson premium sound system ($1380); navigation with Lexus Enform, real-time weather and traffic updates ($1735); intuitive park assist ($500); a trunk mat, cargo net and wheel locks ($242). Final MSRP is $68,952. Read the rest of this entry »
Posted on May 8th, 2013 1 comment
Five-passenger crossover tuned for performance
By Nina Russin
As a car enthusiast and athlete, I’m always on the lookout for vehicles that fill both squares. This year, Lexus adds an F-Sport variant to the best-selling RX 350 crossover, upping the car’s performance ante.
While the F-Sport model shares the same 3.5-liter V-6 engine as a base model, an eight-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters enables the driver to better optimize its power.
The F-Sport model also adds a sport-tuned suspension and 19-inch wheels to improve handling on challenging roads. A unique grille and badging differentiate the F-Sport from other RX 350 exteriors, while the interior gets black trimmed leather seats, aluminum pedals and a black headliner.
The test car is all-wheel drive for better traction on wet and snow-covered roads. Base price is $47,000. Options include blind spot monitoring, a premium 12-speaker sound system, navigation with Lexus Enform, intuitive park assist and a cargo net. An $895 delivery charge brings the final MSRP to $51,729. Read the rest of this entry »
Posted on May 2nd, 2013 No comments
Compact sport sedan for driving enthusiasts
By Nina Russin
This summer, Lexus rolls out the third all-new version of its IS sport sedans. The model that began with one variant in 2001 now includes the 250 and 350: both available in rear-wheel or front-wheel drive.
An optional F-Sport package adds a unique grille, bumper fascia, staggered wheels, LED headlamps, special seats and interior trim, adaptive variable suspension, sport plus mode, variable gear ratio steering and stickier brake pads.
Although the original IS appealed mainly to sport compact car enthusiasts, the new models cover a wider audience. Lexus positions the IS as one of three entry luxury models, the other two being the CT 200h hybrid hatchback and the ES 350 midsized sedan.
Pricing ranges from $35,950 for the rear-wheel drive IS 250 to $41,700 for the all-wheel drive IS 350. Read the rest of this entry »
Posted on April 29th, 2013 No comments
Five-passenger crossover with fuel-saving technology
By Nina Russin
The newest version of Mazda’s CX-5 compact crossover is the first to come with Skyactiv: the automaker’s proprietary fuel-saving technology. The theory behind Skyactiv is simple: build a better mousetrap. Internal combustion engines are inherently inefficient. About 40 percent of what goes into the gas tank goes to waste, due to incomplete combustion and internal pumping losses.
The execution is a lot more complicated, since the relatively simple measures to improve efficiency took place with the advent of on-board engine computers. So the Mazda engineers dug deeper, making changes to the engine compression ratio, increasing the amount of time the automatic transmission uses a friction rather than fluid coupling, shaving weight off the chassis, etc.
The result is impressive. The CX-5 Grand Touring model, that uses the larger of two available four-cylinder engines, averaged 29 miles-per-gallon on my 130-mile test drive.
Being Mazda, it’s implied that none of this detracts from the car’s performance. The CX-5 is a hoot to drive, with plenty of power off the line, responsive steering and a crisp transmission.
It’s also affordable. Base price for the test car is $27,620. A technology option package adds keyless entry and start, satellite radio, navigation, high-intensity discharge headlamps, smart city braking support and adaptive front lighting ($1625). The $795 delivery charge brings the final MSRP to $30,340. Read the rest of this entry »
Posted on April 24th, 2013 2 comments
Midsized sedan combines fun and practicality
By Nina Russin
The newest Volkswagen Passat proves that midsized sedans can function well as active lifestyle vehicles if they’re designed properly. To begin with, the trunk is cavernous: large enough to hold a bicycle with the rear seats folded flat. V-Tex leatherette seating looks like real leather but is easier to keep clean.
The sedan is also priced for buyers on a budget, with the base model starting at $20,845 for the base 2.5-liter engine and five-speed manual transmission. The upscale SE with the 3.6-liter, 280-horsepower V-6 and six-speed dual clutch automatic transmission costs $30,030 including the delivery charge.
Fuel economy is good across the model line-up, ranging from 43 miles-per-gallon highway for the turbo-diesel, to 28 for the V-6. Read the rest of this entry »
Posted on April 17th, 2013 No comments
Gasoline/electric hybrid five-passenger crossover
By Nina Russin
It would be easy to be perfect in a perfect world. In an imperfect world, it’s a lot harder.
Say, for example, a parent wants to leave the world a better place for his children. It would begin with minimizing his environmental footprint. But because he and his wife have children, the family needs a car with a lot of room. A crossover, with its tall vertical cargo bay, would be ideal.
Unfortunately, cars with a two-box architecture are like bricks in the wind. Fuel economy is not their forte. Is it possible to solve the family’s transportation needs without carving another hole in the ozone’
It is, thanks to hybrid technology. The Lexus RX 450h utilizes the same gasoline/electric hybrid system found in the Toyota Prius, to boost the car’s fuel economy. The hybrid RX all-wheel drive model averages 29 miles-per-gallon in combined city and highway driving according to the EPA, putting its fuel economy on par with the average compact sedan.
Base price for the RX 450h is $47,310, excluding the $895 destination charge. Options on the test car include rain sensing wipers with heated and ventilated seats ($825); a dual screen rear entertainment system with navigation, Lexus Enform, satellite radio and a rear backup camera ($4920); heads-up display ($1200); blind spot monitoring, semi aniline leather trim, power moonroof, power folding outside mirrors, heated steering wheel, 19-inch wheels and roof rails ($6135); Mark Levinson sound system ($995); intuitive park assist ($500); and pre-collision with adaptive radar cruise control ($1500). Final MSRP is $64,280. Read the rest of this entry »
Posted on April 11th, 2013 No comments
SUV gets updated powertrain and refreshed styling
By Nina Russin
This year, Jeep updates the Grand Cherokee introduced in 2010 with an eight-speed automatic transmission, enhanced off-road capability, a new Summit grade, diesel engine and refreshed styling. The eight-speed automatic that first rolled out on the Ram 1500 increases fuel economy to 25 mpg on the highway for the six-cylinder engine.
Four-wheel drive models have a new speed control system that gives drivers better directional control on steep grades, while the new EcoDiesel V-6 tows up to 7300 pounds.
Product planners also kept buyers’ budgets in mind, realizing that we are still living in shaky economic times. The base Laredo model tested starts at $28,795, excluding the $995 destination charge.
Despite being the entry grade, the Laredo is by no means a stripped down car. A five-inch Uconnect touchscreen gives drivers access to satellite radio and HVAC settings, while a new TFT gauge cluster can be configured to provide vehicle information such as fuel economy, driving range and trip meter readings.
Eighteen-inch aluminum painted wheels are standard equipment. Styling changes to the exterior include a redesigned grille and headlamps, larger LED tail lamps, redesigned tailgate and different rear fascias. Read the rest of this entry »