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  • 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 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 »

  • 2015 Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro

    Posted on May 20th, 2015 ninarussin No comments

    Midsize truck is all business on-road and off

    By Nina Russin

    Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro

    Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro

    Toyota is the king of small trucks. While the Big Three automakers focused on full-size vehicles, Toyota built its reputation on small and midsize trucks, dating back to the first models following the Second World War.

    The Tacoma that debuted in 1995 grew out of the Hi-Lux: a vastly popular global platform that is still sold in other parts of the world. In the states it was simply called the compact Toyota pickup. The truck sold like hotcakes because it was cheap and unbelievably durable. We used to joke that the only way to stop the truck’s 22R engine was to take it out in the field and shoot it.

    The 2015 model year is the last for the current generation Tacoma: a new midsize model debuts next fall. Rather than treating the current model as a lame duck, product planners added a TRD Pro package that gives the truck the chops to blast across the Baja peninsula in style.

    Priced from $37,415 excluding destination, the Tacoma TRD Pro comes with 16-inch TRD wheels and off-road tires, Bilstein shocks with remote reservoirs to increase shock oil capacity, a modified suspension that adds 1.75 inches to the truck’s ride height and increases wheels travel and a cat-back exhaust. A unique blacked-out grille, inferno red exterior paint and special badging throughout give the Tacoma irresistible charisma for anyone with a love of off-road racing.

    The test car comes with a few additional options- a performance air filter, paint protection film, front skid plate, enhanced security system and bed mat, bringing the final MSRP to $39,579. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2015 Lexus NX 200t F Sport

    Posted on May 18th, 2015 ninarussin No comments

    Compact crossover with the heart of a sports car

    By Nina Russin

    2015 Lexus NX F Sport

    2015 Lexus NX F Sport

    The newest member of Lexus’ crossover family, the compact NX, is a radical departure from cars such as the RX that preceded it. From its aggressively styled front end to the new turbocharged two-liter block under the hood, the NX is a more youthful, sporty alternative to conservative models it shares its badge with.

    Lexus’ first turbocharged engine develops up to 258 foot-pounds of peak torque as low as 1650 rpm for powerful acceleration off the line. Turbocharging vastly reduces parasitic power loss at altitude, making the NX a good choice for buyers living in mountainous regions of the country. The engine comes mated to a new six-speed automatic transmission with large overdrive gears to stretch gas mileage on the highway.

    The F Sport package adds a sport-tuned independent suspension, unique interior trim, a unique steering wheel with Formula-style paddle shifters, 18-inch rims with all-season tires, LED daytime running lamps and fog lamps.

    Base price is $37,980. Options include Qi wireless charging, navigation, power moonroof, blind spot monitoring, part assist, heated front seats and steering wheel, ten-way power driver’s seat and a power tailgate. Final MSRP including the $925 destination charge is $45,313. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2015 MAMA Spring Rally

    Posted on May 15th, 2015 ninarussin No comments

    Two-day drive event attracts journalists from coast to coast

    By Nina Russin

    2016 Dodge Viper ACR

    2016 Dodge Viper ACR

    People from Wisconsin are fond of reminding out-of-towners that their weather can chance in the blink of an eye. In May, when MAMA hosts its annual Spring Rally at Road America in Elkhart Lake, the weather can vary between balmy sunshine and bitter cold depending on the day.

    This explains how I found myself standing in the middle of 25 mile-per-hour winds on a 45-degree day this past week, wondering which of the cars available for testing came with heated steering wheels.

    The Midwest Automotive Media Association has been coming to Wisconsin’s preeminent motorsports park for over a decade to hold the larger of its two annual driving events. The two-day program starts with a fish fry at the Lake Street Cafe, a local haunt popular among racing fans and concludes with a day of off-roading and autocross in the far reaches of Road America’s 640-acre facility.

    In between there is a day of hot laps on the track together with a city streets course during which the hundred journalists in attendance can literally drive their hearts out. Read the rest of this entry »

  • In Memoriam: Denise McCluggage

    Posted on May 7th, 2015 ninarussin No comments

    By Nina Russin

    Denise McCluggage

    Denise McCluggage

    Yesterday we learned that our dear friend and colleague, Denise McCluggage had passed away. She was 88 years young.

    I had the honor of knowing McCluggage as a friend and mentor. She was part of our Active Lifestyle Vehicle of the Year jury panel from the get go, resigning her position on a more prestigious jury in the process because that program had requested exclusivity.

    “Nina needs me more,” she told them. She was right. While her reputation as a world-renowned race car driver, elite athlete and award-winning journalist were all feathers in our cap, McCluggage’s biggest contribution was the infectious enthusiasm she instilled in all of us.

    Denise McCluggage drank at life in big gulps. As an automotive journalist, she busted the glass ceiling for women working in the field and never looked back. Fear was not part of her vocabulary. She didn’t have time for it.

    Everyone has his or her favorite McCluggage story. This is mine: Several years back Mercedes-Benz staged a fuel economy run as part of their media launch for the then brand new E-Class Diesel sedan.

    We knew prizes were involved so everyone drove the route as if they had eggshells under their feet, air conditioning off and tires overinflated. McCluggage was having none of it. Pedal to the metal, she sped through the course back to the staging area. For her efforts, she received the ‘Lead Foot’ award.

    Her response: “You can buy more fuel but you can’t buy more time”‘

    Bigger than life in life and forever in our hearts, Denise McCluggage you will be sorely missed.