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  • 2015 Active Lifestyle Vehicle Winners

    Posted on October 21st, 2014 ninarussin No comments

    Athletes and journalists reveal top picks from thirty vehicle entries

    By Nina Russin

    Photo by Chris Dodson

    Photo by Chris Dodson

    The 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 »

  • Buying and Selling

    Posted on October 20th, 2014 ninarussin No comments

    Smoothing the transition into new wheels

    By Nina Russin

    Photo courtesy of Tempe Dodge

    Photo courtesy of Tempe Dodge

    Back in the day September was the official start of the new car model year and with it, the beginning of car-buying season. Late in the summer the automakers would host full model previews that every journalist with a press card in his or her fedora attended. Dealerships covered their windows with paper to block the public’s view until voila! The new models debuted.

    Today the automakers introduce new car models year-round, and a shopper is as likely to sign on the dotted line in June as in January. The beginning of auto show season at the end of September is the last remnant of the good old days described above.

    What has not changed is the anxiety many car shoppers experience as they begin the journey into a new set of wheels. This doesn’t necessarily start at the dealership. Car owners are as nervous about selling their existing car as they are about shopping for a new one. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2015 Acura MDX SH-AWD

    Posted on October 16th, 2014 ninarussin No comments

    Seven-passenger crossover makes a sport of driving

    By Nina Russin

    2015 Acura MDX

    2015 Acura MDX

    Growing families who need the versatility of a seven-passenger vehicle don’t have to settle for plain vanilla options. Acura’s MDX with super-handling all-wheel drive offers an appealing alternative, combining the sporty performance of sedans such as the TL, TSX and TLX with a larger, more versatile interior. The 2015 model is basically a carryover of the 2014 car that athletes voted as ALV of the Year in the family luxury category.

    Base price for the all-wheel drive model is $44,565. The test car adds technology, advance and entertainment option packages. An $895 handling charge brings the final MSRP to $57,675.

    Power comes from a 3.5-liter V-6 engine rated at 290 horsepower with 267 foot-pounds of torque. Acura’s variable cylinder management system automatically cuts power to half the cylinders when power demands are low to extend gas mileage. EPA fuel economy estimates for the all-wheel drive MDX are 18/27 mpg city/highway.

    A six-speed automatic transmission includes a sport setting for more aggressive performance. The driver can manually select gears utilizing formula-style paddles on the steering wheel. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2015 Mercedes-Benz C400W4 Sedan

    Posted on October 14th, 2014 ninarussin No comments

    Sport sedan rises to the next level

    By Nina Russin

    2015 Mercedes-Benz C-Class

    2015 Mercedes-Benz C-Class

    Although the C-Class sedan has always been a bread-and-butter model for Mercedes-Benz, there is nothing bread-and-butter about the new C-Class. Competing against the BMW 3 Series, Cadillac ATS and Lexus IS, the smaller sibling to the Mercedes-Benz S-Class has brought its A-game with a lighter more rigid body, two powerful engine choices, all-new suspension and eye-catching aerodynamic body.

    With the new CLA filling the brand’s entry luxury slot, the C-Class moves upscale. The C400 tested comes with the larger of the two engines: a bi-turbo 3-liter, 329-horsepower V-6. It’s not the horsepower but the torque that tells the real story: 354 foot-pounds available at engine speeds as low as 1600 rpm. Direct injection makes the engine more efficient and enhances throttle response, while the seven-speed automatic transmission stretches fuel economy on the highway to 29 miles-per-gallon.

    Unlike its predecessor, almost half the body parts on the 2015 model are aluminum, shaving close to 200 pounds off the car. That, combined with aerodynamic improvements has made the C-Class slipperier in the wind tunnel and quieter on the open road.

    An all-new four-wheel independent suspension incorporates a four-link configuration up front and five link design in back. Buyers can upgrade to the optional air suspension.

    Base price on the test car is $48,590, putting the new C-Class at the heart of the luxury market. Options include active park assist, a panoramic sunroof, heads-up display, 18-inch alloy AMG wheels, air suspension, an infotainment upgrade, hands-free trunk access and a safety package that includes steering assist, blind spot monitoring, lane keep assist, pedestrian detection with auto-brake and rear collision protection. Adding the $925 destination charge, final MSRP is $62,905. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2015 Kia K900

    Posted on October 13th, 2014 ninarussin No comments

    High-luxury sedan focuses on value

    By Nina Russin

    2015 Kia K900

    2015 Kia K900

    I have driven the K900, Kia’s first vehicle entry into the high-luxury segment, to the coffee shop where I meet friends for breakfast. As I usher the sedan into its parking spot, I can see their noses pasted up against the front window of the restaurant.

    “What’s that”? is the first question I hear as I walk through the door.

    “The Kia K900,? I reply. “It’s Kia’s answer to the S-Class.”

    “That’s a Kia?” my buddy Jeff remarks. “That’s a sharp looking car.”

    “It’s huge,” adds Big Ed, who likes everything in his life to be, well, big. “That thing’s bigger than my Mercedes.” And with that they’re out the door.

    “Check this out,” chimes Jeff as he opens the back door and slides into the back seat. “Man, there’s tons of room back here.”

    “Enough for you and your bicycle,” I reply.

    Ed is still comparing the K900 to his Mercedes-Benz CLS.

    “A Kia,” he says. “Huh.”

    The jury’s still out as to whether Kia will be able to lure current German luxury car owners away from their current vehicles. But there is no doubt that Kia’s full-sized luxury sedan can compete on every level: style, comfort and most important, performance.

    Despite being a luxury car, the K900 still speaks to the brand’s core philosophy of great value. Although its $59,500 base price is by no means inexpensive, it is significantly lower than the Mercedes S-Class, Audi A8 and BMW 7 Series the K900 competes against.

    A VIP option package on the test car adds adaptive cruise control, thin-film-transistor instrument cluster, heads-up display, surround-view monitor, power headrests, power reclining rear seats, ventilated rear seats and rear seat lumbar support. Final MSRP, including the $900 delivery charge is $66,400. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2015 Ford Mustang GT Coupe

    Posted on October 6th, 2014 ninarussin No comments

    Iconic pony car maintains its youthful stride

    By Nina Russin

    2015 Ford Mustang GT

    2015 Ford Mustang GT

    Fifty years ago a man named Robert McNamara came up with idea of a new performance car based on the compact Ford Falcon. It took some time to twist Henry Ford II’s arm, but eventually that car, equipped with a 289-cube V-8 engine emerged as the Mustang.

    Both the car and its creator became legendary: the Mustang as the original pony car, and McNamara as President John F. Kennedy’s secretary of defense. And both had checkered careers. During his tenure with Kennedy, McNamara became known as the man who escaladed the US presence in Vietnam. He spent the rest of his life coming to terms with the moral consequences. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2014 Ford C-Max Hybrid SE

    Posted on October 3rd, 2014 ninarussin No comments

    Five-passenger hybrid focuses on versatility and value

    By Nina Russin

    Ford C-Max

    Ford C-Max

    There was a time when the premium cost of hybrid cars outweighed any cost benefits owners might get at the fuel pump. Then Ford introduced the C-Max and everything changed. Priced from $24,170, the C-Max offers buyers more space than the competing Prius liftback, with some compelling features for buyers with active lifestyles.

    Because the lithium-ion battery is packaged under the floor, second-row seats fold flat to extend the cargo floor. A hands-free liftgate makes it much easier to load up large cargo such as bicycles and kayaks. The door opens when the driver makes a gentle kicking motion under the back bumper with the key fob in his pocket.

    A 110-volt outlet comes in handy for weekends off the grid, to plug in a computer or exterior lighting. Ground clearance is about 5-1/2 inches: not enough for serious off-road trails but adequate for the occasional graded dirt road.

    Fuel economy lags behind the smaller Prius at 43 mpg, but it’s still a very good number: enough to produce a 550-mile driving range between fill-ups.

    But the best reason to take a look at the C-Max is its performance. On that one, Ford hit the ball out of the park. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2015 Kia Soul EV

    Posted on October 2nd, 2014 ninarussin No comments

    Versatile crossover gets a new green variant

    By Nina Russin

    2015 Soul EV

    2015 Soul EV

    Although the Soul was launched in 2009 as a competitor to the Scion xB and Nissan Cube, Kia’s compact crossover has taken on a life of its own, eclipsing its direct competitors. While the Nissan and Scion were both adaptations of Japan market cars, the Soul was designed in Kia’s Orange County, California studio for American drivers. Its youthful styling and peppy performance have built a loyal following for the Soul, now in its second generation.

    Following on the launch of an all-new model last year, Kia is rolling out the Soul EV. Power comes from a 109 horsepower electric motor with a rechargeable 360-volt lithium-ion battery pack packaged under the floor. Pricing for the base model begins at $33,700, while the Soul EV Plus starts at $35,700. The rollout for both grades begins in Southern California with a 36-month lease plan.

    Kia expects the Soul to be cross-shopped against the Nissan Leaf, Ford Focus Electric, Volkswagen eGolf and Fiat 500e. With its unique styling, surprisingly spacious cargo bay and 93-mile driving range, the newest Soul should give those cars a run for the money. Read the rest of this entry »

  • First Drive: 2015 Kia Sedona SXL

    Posted on September 29th, 2014 ninarussin No comments

    Style makes it different

    By Nina Russin

    2015 Sedona SX Limited

    2015 Sedona SX Limited

    There’s no doubt that minivans are one of the most practical car choices for growing families. The reason car companies don’t sell more of them is the stigma attached, primarily because of styling. Kia is addressing this issue in its third-generation Sedona with a sexy exterior penned by the very talented Peter Schreyer that should make car shoppers take a second look.

    Schreyer adapted the wide, sweeping shoulders and aggressive grille of a crossover, making the Sedona look sportier and more purposeful. Inside, a driver-centric interior features a center console-mounted gearshift lever and high tech instrument panel that includes the most recent iteration of Kia’s UVO infotainment system, co-developed with Microsoft.

    On the flip side, product planners remembered to focus on versatility, with new seating configurations that include a Slide-N-Stow function for second-row seating and third-row seats that fold into the floor. Buyers of the upscale SXL grade can opt for first class lounge seating: think Barcaloungers in the second row, only much more stylish. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2015 Cadillac Escalade 4WD

    Posted on September 11th, 2014 ninarussin No comments

    Full-sized SUV combines beauty and brawn

    By Nina Russin

    2015 Cadillac Escalade

    2015 Cadillac Escalade

    It would not have been my choice to drive an eighty thousand dollar Cadillac Escalade on the day that Phoenix, Arizona was hit with a hundred-year record rainfall. After four-and-a-half inches of rain, the flooding made national news.

    But the Escalade was what I had and that is what I drove. In retrospect, it was kismet, since I learned that the Escalade is a much more serious performer than I imagined it could be.

    Perhaps it was the car’s large chrome grille and 22-inch wheels that made me write the Escalade off as another pretty face, or the fact that it’s old school luxury. While other automakers are phasing out large engines in favor of small, more fuel efficient ones, the Escalade continues to sport a 6.2-liter V-8 with a rip roaring 460 foot-pounds of torque. Zero-to-sixty acceleration is less than six seconds. Although fuel economy isn’t great, the rear-wheel drive version can tow an 8,500-pound trailer.

    Imagine combining the power of a Corvette with the utility of a light duty truck and luxury interior. On dry smooth roads, the Escalade floats along like the QE2 on placid water. But when the going gets tough, the Escalade transforms itself into the kind of warrior Beowulf would have been proud of.

    The 2015 model I tested is the fourth generation of the vehicle first launched in 1999. Its three rows of seating can hold up to seven passengers. The V-8 engine is mated to a six-speed automatic transmission, with an all-wheel drive system that automatically transfers engine power to the wheels with the best traction.

    Magnetic ride control, a technology first introduced on the 2002 Cadillac Seville and on subsequent generations of Corvettes, uses a rheological fluid to automatically adjust suspension settings according to driving conditions. A locking rear differential works with the all-wheel drive system to maintain traction.

    The Luxury edition comes fully-loaded with convenience features including a Bose sound system, Cadillac’s Cue infotainment system, Bluetooth, heated and cooled seats, keyless entry and start, tri-zone automatic climate control and more. Final MSRP, including the $995 destination charge is $79,290. Read the rest of this entry »