Posted on December 15th, 2014 No comments
Kia debuts the newest version of its best-selling crossover
By Nina Russin
There are few places on the planet more beautiful than Lake Tahoe. The second deepest lake in the United States straddles the Nevada/California border, surrounded by the majestic Sierra Nevada Mountains. Kia chose Tahoe as the location for the 2016 Sorento media preview to send home the message that its popular midsized crossover is a car for all seasons and lifestyles.
Available in five trim levels with front or all-wheel drive and a choice of three engines, the Sorento competes against a wide range of products, from the Toyota Highlander to the Jeep Grand Cherokee. Buyers can choose two or three-row versions seating five-to-seven passengers.
Inspiration for the exterior redesign was the Kia Cross GT concept that debuted at the 2013 Chicago Auto Show. Inside, designers incorporated luxury finishes from Kia’s K900 full-sized sedan the newest version of UVO infotainment, available Nappa leather and dual-pane panoramic sunroof.
A new two-liter turbo engine is the same block used in the Hyundai Santa Fe Sport and Kia Optima but tuned for this platform. To keep the weight down, product planners limited the turbo block to five-passenger cars.
Base price for the new Sorento that rolls out in January is $24,900 for the front-wheel drive L grade. The upscale SX-L V-6 all-wheel drive starts at $41,300. All-wheel drive is an $1800 option. Read the rest of this entry »
Posted on December 11th, 2014 No comments
Value without compromise
By Nina Russin
Great cars in this technologically advanced era aren’t especially hard to find, but great cars priced below $20,000 are. The Mazda3 compact sedan, priced from $16,945, is one of those rare uncompromised values. Mazda makes the process seem so easy that one has to wonder why competitors find the challenge insurmountable.
The Mazda3 comes as either a sedan or five-door hatchback with a choice of two engines: the base two-liter block or the upscale 2.5-liter four cylinder rated at 184-horsepower. An automatic transmission is available but buyers who know how to drive a manual should opt for that gearbox: a delight to drive with its sporty short-throw shift lever.
The 2015 car is basically carryover from the previous model year when the third-generation design debuted. Mazda’s Skyactiv is the OEM’s proprietary fuel-saving technology. The term is an umbrella for improvements throughout the car, including the engine, transmission and aerodynamics. Fuel economy for the base two-liter model is 41 miles-per-gallon highway, while the larger 2.5-liter engine averages 37 on the highway and 25 around town.
The test car is the fully loaded Grand Touring model priced from $25,045 excluding the $785 delivery charge. Standard comfort and convenience features include leather upholstery, a six-way power driver’s seat, heated front seats, dual-zone climate control, keyless entry and start, satellite radio, navigation, heads-up display and a color center stack screen. There are two options on the test car: the metallic red exterior paint and a cargo mat, bringing the final MSRP to $26,335. Read the rest of this entry »
Posted on December 9th, 2014 No comments
NFL vet John Bronson helps fellow athletes find paths to success
By Nina Russin
Former Arizona Cardinal, John Bronson knows from personal experience how hard it can be to transition to civilian life after retiring from the NFL. The former pro football player and Penn State University graduate is helping fellow current and retired pro athletes with a new chamber of commerce designed to help them network with vetted members of the business community and not-for-profit organizations.
The Pro Athlete Chamber of Commerce currently has one chapter in Phoenix, Arizona, and soon will have two additional in Seattle, Washington and Cleveland Ohio. Bronson, who is based in Phoenix, has recruited a team of marketing and business specialists to help him build his new network. After only seven months, the Chamber has 330 members. Bronson expects the number to increase to 500 by the end of this calendar year and have a spike of activity during the 2015 Super Bowl in Glendale, Arizona.
One of the keys to Bronson’s success is that he’s not trying to reinvent the wheel. By partnering with existing programs such as the Pro Athlete Franchise Initiative and the Sports Financial Advisors Association, his organization can focus specifically on networking, rather than replicating the legal and consulting services other groups already have in place. Read the rest of this entry »
Posted on December 8th, 2014 No comments
Compact crossover combines value with versatility
By Nina Russin
Twenty-fifteen may be remembered as the year of the compact crossover. Just as buyers downsized from large sport-utility vehicles to midsized crossovers a decade back, the market continues to trend smaller, with buyers wanting better gas mileage, but not wanting to sacrifice cargo space.
So many new compact crossovers are entering the market this year that the choices seem overwhelming. Nissan, Scion, Fiat, Mazda, Porsche, Jeep and now Chevrolet are all throwing their hats into the pond.
Chevrolet’s entry called the Trax is based loosely on the Buick Encore and also shares chassis parts with the Chevrolet Sonic. The Trax debuted in China last April, and Mexico and Canada in 2012. The United States is the 67th market for the vehicle. Read the rest of this entry »
Posted on December 3rd, 2014 No comments
Compact sport sedan raises the bar
By Nina Russin
Of all the car manufacturers in the current market, I would argue that Audi offers the most compelling integration of engineering and design. Perhaps it’s the dual influence of Porsche’s idealism and Volkswagen’s pragmatism that has enabled Audi to develop such a unique lexicon.
The automaker was one of the first to offer a proprietary all-wheel drive system while modeling suspension and engine technology after racecars. Audi’s distinctive grille has been emulated by direct competitors as has its daytime running lamps, converting a drab safety feature into dramatic design.
As a result, Audi’s product planning team can transform something as simple as a compact sedan into pure magic. The S4 sedan is just that: a practical car that is both elegant and powerful. It is a package that refuses to compromise.
Power comes from a 333-horsepower supercharged V-6 engine and six-speed manual gearbox. Quattro all-wheel drive gives the S4 four-season capability by transferring engine power to the wheels with the best traction. Eighteen-inch rims with summer performance tires give the S4 a big footprint for better stability at speed, while the Quattro system maintains a rear wheel bias for better steering response. An available sport differential with torque vectoring improves handling in the corners.
Base price is $48,100 excluding the $895 destination charge. The test car comes with an optional red pearl exterior, navigation and Audi connect, a trim package that adds 19-inch rims and glossy black exterior accents plus Quattro all-wheel drive. Final MSRP is $54,945. Read the rest of this entry »
Posted on November 25th, 2014 No comments
Sporty crossover built for the open road
By Nina Russin
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 »
Posted on November 21st, 2014 No comments
Compact crossovers rule at the season’s first major show
By Nina Russin
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.
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 »
Posted on November 18th, 2014 No comments
Toyota pumps up the style with three mid-cycle refreshes
By Nina Russin
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 »
Posted on November 17th, 2014 No comments
Midsize sedan connects with the driver
By Nina Russin
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 »
Posted on November 12th, 2014 No comments
Compact sport coupe styled to turn heads
By Nina Russin
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 »