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  • 2019 Honda Insight Touring

    Posted on August 17th, 2018 ninarussin

    New hybrid sedan joins Honda’s green car lineup

    By Nina Russin

    2019 Honda Insight

    The first-generation Insight liftback was Honda’s first green car, coming to the states a year before the Toyota Prius it competes against. Over the years, the Insight maintained the five-door body style but grew-in-size and added more safety and convenience features.

    After twenty years on the market, the guys at Honda decided it was time for a change, introducing a sedan version for 2019. The newest Insight maintains the core values of its predecessors: affordable pricing and excellent fuel economy, but with styling that should appeal to a larger chunk of the American market.

    Pricing for the upscale Touring grade starts at $28,090. Honda loads the premium model with the convenience and safety features buyers want so they don’t have to add on expensive options. Keyless entry and start, leather upholstery, satellite radio, navigation, dual-zone automatic climate control, Bluetooth interface, 17-inch alloy rims and more all come standard. Final MSRP including destination is $28,985. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2018 Kia Stinger

    Posted on August 10th, 2018 ninarussin

    Sport sedan appeals to the car enthusiast in all of us

    By Nina Russin

    2018 Kia Stinger RWD

    Kia has a talent for making the unobtainable obtainable. That’s the idea behind the new Stinger sport sedan that competes against German marques such as the Audi A5 and BMW 5-Series. With pricing starting at $31,900 (excluding destination) for the rear-wheel drive four-cylinder model, it’s an appealing proposition.

    Power comes from a two-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine rated at 255-horsepower and eight-speed automatic transmission. Zero-to-sixty acceleration, according-to the manufacturer, is 5.9 seconds. Buyers wanting more horses under the hood can opt for a 365-horsepower 3.3-liter V-6.

    Average fuel economy, according-to EPA estimates is 25 miles-per-gallon. The manufacturer recommends but does not require premium unleaded gasoline.

    Kia’s design genius, Peter Schreyer, penned the exterior based on the Kia GT concept that drew crowds at the Frankfurt Auto Show in 2011. When journalists asked if Kia would actually-build something like that, the answer was: “Why not?”

    2018 Kia Stinger RWD

    In typical Kia fashion, the Stinger comes loaded with comfort and convenience features including leather upholstery, heated front seats, keyless entry and start, UVO infotainment, satellite radio, Bluetooth interface, Android Auto, Apple CarPlay, 18-inch rims, heated outside mirrors and LED tail lighting.

    An active safety option package on the test car adds forward collision warning with autonomous braking, lane keeping assist, blind spot monitoring, automatic high beams, drowsy driver warning and rear cross traffic alert. Final MSRP including the $900 destination charge is $34,800. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2018 Toyota Sienna SE 3.5L

    Posted on August 3rd, 2018 ninarussin

    Versatile interior is ideal for outdoor enthusiasts

    By Nina Russin

    2018 Toyota Sienna

    The same thing that makes minivans great family cars- large configurable interiors- translates to athletes as well. Buyers who need to haul large gear as well as those who might want an interior large enough to sleep in the night before a stage race can’t do better than a minivan.

    The 2018 Toyota Sienna is basically a carryover from the refreshed 2017 car that featured a new, more powerful V-6 engine and eight-speed automatic transmission to boost fuel efficiency. The upscale SE priced from $38,990 (excluding destination) comes loaded with convenience features including leather seating, second row captain’s chairs, three-zone climate control, power liftgate, Entune infotainment with Scout GPS-link for navigation, satellite radio, Bluetooth and Easy Speak: a feature that broadcasts the driver’s voice through the rear speakers.

    Options on the test car include blind spot monitoring with cross traffic alert, push button start, moonroof, premium audio system, iPod compatibility, HD radio, satellite radio, Entune app suite and carpeted floor mats. Final MSRP is $41,150. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2018 Kia Sportage SX AWD

    Posted on July 27th, 2018 ninarussin

    Compact crossover delivers the goods

    By Nina Russin

    Kia Sportage

    Kia Sportage

    Although the Sportage is one of Kia’s oldest nameplates with heritage going back to the early 1990s, the current compact crossover represents a complete departure from the original SUV that completed the Paris-Dakar rally in 1993 and the Baja 1000 two years later. While the early Sportage was ideal for off-road competition, its performance on paved roads was less than perfect, hence the evolution towards the current unibody (passenger car) platform.

    What links the two models more than the name is their focus on value. While it would be difficult to determine whether-or-not the current Sportage is the best compact crossover in the ever-widening sea of options, it’s a solid performer that comes well equipped with convenience and active safety features.

    Pricing for the base front-wheel drive LX starts at $23,750: over $500 below the Toyota RAV4 and Honda CR-V it competes against. The upscale SX all-wheel drive model tested is priced from $34,400 excluding the $990 destination charge. Adding a few options- cargo mat, cross bars, carpeted floor mats, cargo net, cover and cargo tray- final MSRP is $36,125. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2018 Kia Rio EX 5-Door

    Posted on July 20th, 2018 ninarussin

    Subcompact hatchback offers value and versatility for athletes

    By Nina Russin

    2018 Kia Rio

    2018 Kia Rio

    Oh, Kia Rio, how far you have come since we first met at a media introduction eighteen years ago. Back then you were a diminutive little sedan whose main selling point was price: about the same as a used car at that time.

    From those inauspicious beginnings, you have evolved into a real package, combining value with safety and content. While your engine isn’t much bigger than the 1.5-liter block in the 2001 model, you’ve added 36-horsepower and significantly more torque: no more struggling up mountain grades in northern Arizona.

    Average fuel economy has increased by close to ten miles-per-gallon, despite-the-fact that you are bigger, with a six-inch longer wheelbase, and you’ve gained a bit of weight.

    While your rear seats aren’t quite as spacious as the larger Forte, four adults can fit inside without feeling as if they were squeezed into a cracker box. And you are still a great value, costing less than $20,000 out the door. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2018 Toyota Camry Hybrid XLE

    Posted on July 13th, 2018 ninarussin

    Next-generation sedan raises the bar for eco-transport

    By Nina Russin

    2018 Toyota Camry Hybrid

    2018 Toyota Camry Hybrid

    It was kismet that I received the keys to the new Camry Hybrid at the start of what turned out to be Phoenix, Arizona’s hottest spell this year. While most people associate the efficiencies in Toyota’s gasoline-electric powertrains with enhanced fuel economy, they provide additional advantages including better temperature control in the car’s interior.

    The same battery pack that extends fuel economy by powering two electric motors also provides power for the car’s air conditioning compressor, that operates whether-or-not the gasoline engine is running. In temperatures approaching 115-degrees Fahrenheit, the HVAC system cooled the interior down to a comfortable temperature in about five minutes. While the ignition auto-stop feature on many new cars turns the air conditioning compressor off at idle, the Camry system continues to work, keeping occupants comfortable in stop-and-go traffic.

    The newest Camry Hybrid utilizes an updated version of the automaker’s gasoline-electric technology, including a new power control unit that has reduced parasitic power loss by about 20 percent. Fuel economy isn’t quite as high as the more aerodynamic Prius, but its 46 MPG average is nothing to sneeze at.

    Engineers made some important changes to packaging: notably relocating the nickel-metal hydride battery pack beneath the second-row seats, so trunk space is the same as for the gasoline-powered sedan. This also lowered the sedan’s center of gravity for enhanced high-speed driving dynamics.

    Base price for the test car is $32,250 excluding the $895 destination charge. Options include a birds-eye view camera that enables the driver to see obstacles around the vehicle’s entire perimeter when moving at low speeds, adaptive headlamps, power moonroof and premium JBL audio system with the newest version of Toyota’s Entune infotainment system. Final MSRP is $37,255. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2018 Mazda6 Signature

    Posted on July 6th, 2018 ninarussin

    Flagship sedan is redesigned from the inside out

    By Nina Russin

    2018 Mazda6

    2018 Mazda6

    Mazda’s signature is the sporty character the automaker infuses into all-of its products, from the two-seat MX-5 Miata to the family friendly CX-9 crossover and all-new Mazda6 flagship sedan. Although Mazda is the only major Japanese car company in the US market without a luxury brand, the Mazda6 stands out as a world-class sport sedan that holds its own against considerably more expensive products, in terms of both design and engineering.

    The new Signature trim level includes Sen wood trim, Nappa leather seats, redesigned seat structure that is firmer and more comfortable, automatic dual-zone climate control, a full color heads-up display, reconfigurable thin-film-transistor touchscreen display in the gauge cluster, and ventilated front seats.

    Outside, all 2018 models get a redesigned grille, available 19-inch wheels and available “Soul Red” crystal exterior paint finish. It’s a luscious package.

    Base price for the Signature is $34,750 excluding destination. The upscale trim model comes fully loaded with safety and convenience features, including premium Bose sound system, power driver’s and front passenger seats, LED headlamps, tail lamps and daytime running lamps, full-speed adaptive radar cruise control, rearview camera, lane keeping assist, blind spot monitoring, hill start assist, Bluetooth interface and more.

    Power comes from a new 2.5-liter turbo Skyactiv four-cylinder engine rated at 250-horsepower with 310 pound-feet of torque and six-speed automatic transmission. Final MSRP on the test car including the special exterior finish is $36,465. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2018 Lexus GS350 F Sport

    Posted on June 29th, 2018 ninarussin

    Mid-size sedan for driving enthusiasts

    By Nina Russin

    Lexus GS 350

    Lexus GS 350

    This year Lexus renamed its mid-size Lexus GS 200t sedan ‘300.’ The GS 300 is powered by the same two-liter turbocharged engine as before: the name change indicating its equivalent power to a three-liter naturally-aspirated engine.

    The more powerful version remains the GS 350, with its 311-horsepower 3.5-liter V-6. Although the 300 sports a smaller engine, the GS 350 is slightly lighter (about 75 pounds) and accelerates from zero-to-sixty faster: 5.7 seconds according-to the manufacturer.

    Pricing for the performance-oriented GS 350 F Sport starts at $52,060 excluding the $995 destination fee. The F Sport package adds upgraded 19-inch wheels with summer performance tires, sport-tuned variable adaptive suspension, variable gear-ratio steering, bigger brakes, a special driver’s seat, unique exterior and interior trim, a rear valence and rear lip spoiler.

    Other options on the test car include a heads-up display, limited slip differential, power trunk, four-wheel steering, heated steering wheel, illuminated door sills, wheel locks and a trunk mat, bringing the final MSRP to $57,460. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2018 Toyota RAV4 Adventure AWD

    Posted on June 20th, 2018 ninarussin

    The original compact crossover takes the road less traveled

    By Nina Russin

    2018 Toyota RAV4 Adventure

    2018 Toyota RAV4 Adventure

    While many automakers claim to have invented the compact crossover, credit should go to Toyota, which introduced the original Recreational Activity Vehicle in 1994. What distinguished the original RAV4 from other small SUVs at the time was its car-based architecture. Unibody construction gave the RAV4 the road manners of a passenger car while its two-box architecture added practicality for buyers who wanted a taller, more versatile cargo area.

    Over the past quarter century, the RAV4 has grown in proportions and developed a distinct personality. With the recent addition of the C-HR to Toyota’s crossover lineup, the RAV4 is no longer the smallest offering. Styling is more conservative, and the cargo bay in-particular-is considerably roomier.

    This year, Toyota adds the Adventure model, combining convenience features from the mid-grade XLE with the sporty SE’s styling, plus some unique content: more ground clearance, bigger fender flares and tires, and a standard tow prep package that enables the RAV4 Adventure to tow up to 3500 pounds, meeting our ALV minimum towing standards.

    Base price for the all-wheel drive version is $28,400, excluding destination. Options on the test car include a cold-weather package that adds a heated steering wheel and heated front seats, power driver’s seat and windshield wiper de-icer, mudguards, unique exterior paint and a tonneau cover for the cargo area, bringing the final MSRP to $30,880. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2018 Toyota C-HR XLE Premium

    Posted on June 14th, 2018 ninarussin

    Compact crossover is young at heart

    By Nina Russin

    2018 Toyota C-HR

    2018 Toyota C-HR

    The all-new Toyota C-HR is perhaps the most dramatic manifestation of the automaker’s new direction in styling and performance. Originally intended for the Scion brand when it debuted at the 2014 Paris Motor Show, the C-HR combines edgy, youthful styling with peppy performance at an affordable price. There are two available trim levels: XLE and XLE Premium. Pricing for the base XLE starts at $22,500. The XLE Premium model tested is priced from $24,350 excluding destination.

    Options on the test car are minimal and affordably priced, including carpeted floor mats and cargo mat, mudguards, first aid kit, TRD oil cap and rear bumper protector, bringing the final MSRP to $25,958.

    All models are front-wheel drive and come with a 144-horsepower two-liter engine and continuously variable automatic transmission. Sadly, there’s no manual transmission option. My guess is that chief engineer, Hiro Koba, would have opted to include the option had it been viable, since he is a racing enthusiast. Unfortunately, the uptake on manual gearboxes is so low these days that offering one this type of vehicle simply isn’t cost-effective.

    All models come well-equipped with standard safety and convenience features, including Toyota Safety Sense with Pedestrian Detection: a suite of technologies including pre-collision with auto-brake, dynamic radar cruise control, lane keeping assist and automatic high beams. The XLE Premium adds blind spot monitoring: something I found quite useful since the car’s thick D-pillars create large blind spots in the rear corners.

    Standard convenience features include keyless entry and start, dual-zone automatic climate control, leather-trimmed tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel and shift knob, fog lamps, brake hold, power side mirrors and a four-inch thin-film-transistor information display. All models run on 18-inch alloy wheels and come with LED daytime running lamps. Read the rest of this entry »