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  • 2015 Subaru Crosstrek XV 2.0i Limited

    Posted on August 31st, 2015 ninarussin No comments

    All-wheel drive crossover fills all the squares

    By Nina Russin

    Subaru XV Crosstrek

    Subaru XV Crosstrek

    Subaru was born from the needs of buyers with active lifestyles. Standard all-wheel drive, high ground clearance, advanced active safety features, versatile cargo areas and engines that run well at altitude made Subaru the obvious choice for endurance athletes as early as the 1970s when the company also sponsored the US Ski team.

    Although the brand has always offered buyers a lot of value, some models lacked refinement in the areas of ride comfort and NVH as compared to the competition. Never being a company to rest on its laurels, Subaru is addressing the problem by improving existing models.

    Case in point: the 2015 XV Crosstrek, with insulating windshield glass on the Limited model that significantly improves interior quiet. Having driven earlier versions of the car, I was surprised by how quiet the 2015 test car is on the highway.

    While the Limited is the most upscale version of Subaru’s midsize all-wheel drive crossover,

    Subaru XV Crosstrek

    Subaru XV Crosstrek

    it’s still quite affordable. Base price on the test car is $24,795, with standard features including leather upholstery, satellite radio, a rearview camera, Bluetooth interface, HD radio, smartphone connectivity, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel and roof rails.

    An option package adds keyless start, power moonroof, real-time weather and traffic updates and the EyeSight driver assist system that automatically applies the brakes if the driver fails to recognized a stopped car or pedestrian in the car’s path.

    Power comes from a 148-horsepower Boxer engine and continuously variable automatic transmission. All-wheel drive is standard across the model lineup. The Crosstrek’s 8.7-inches of ground clearance makes driving in the snow or clearing obstacles on unimproved dirt roads a piece of cake. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2015 Toyota Yaris Five-Door

    Posted on August 26th, 2015 ninarussin No comments

    Subcompact hatchback is big on versatility

    By Nina Russin

    2015 Toyota Yaris

    2015 Toyota Yaris

    Let’s face it: Nobody really enjoys paying for gasoline. As a runner, I’m happy to spend whatever it takes for shoes and gear that give me the ergogenic edge, but I’ll shop around for the best deals on gas. Toyota’s newest subcompact Yaris, available as a three or five-door hatchback, minimizes pinch at the pump with 32 mile-per-gallon average fuel economy according to the EPA. Priced below $20,000, the versatile, peppy Yaris offers a lot to love for active urbanites for which long commutes and limited street parking are a way of life.

    For 2015, Toyota’s European design studio in the south of France did a major restyle, giving the pint-size Yaris a youthful face and refined interior. The car is slightly longer than the outgoing model. A retuned suspension and stiffer body structure contributes to a quieter, smoother ride.

    Power comes from a 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine and four-speed automatic transmission. Base price for the five-door test car is $17,820. A cargo mat option and the delivery charge bring the final MSRP to $18,825. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2015 Lexus RX 450h AWD

    Posted on August 19th, 2015 ninarussin No comments

    Midsize hybrid crossover gains refinement for 2015

    By Nina Russin

    Lexus RX 450h

    Lexus RX 450h

    Buyers who want the mileage benefits of a hybrid along with the cargo versatility of a gas-powered crossover need look no further than the Lexus RX 450h. The 450h is the gasoline/electric sibling to the RX 350: the automaker’s highest volume crossover that competes in the midsize segment.

    What makes the RX 450h so appealing is the invisibility of hybrid technology to the driver. Aside from some subtle badging and bamboo wood interior trim, it doesn’t look like a hybrid. Performance is equivalent to if not better than the RX 350.

    The passenger cabin and cargo bay are the same size as the gas-powered version, with second-row seats able to fold flat and extend the cargo floor. The nickel metal hydride battery pack is packaged under the floor for this reason.

    Engineers wisely incorporated an electronic air conditioning compressor that works as well with the ignition off as when the gasoline engine is running. In areas with extreme heat such as the desert southwest, the ability to maintain consistently cool interior temperatures is a very big deal.

    Power for the all-wheel drive model comes from a 3.5-liter Atkinson cycle gasoline engine and electric motors on both axles. The rear-axle motor gives the all-wheel drive model better zero-to-sixty acceleration than the front-wheel drive model: 7.4 seconds as opposed to 7.8.

    Pricing for the 2015 car starts at $48,845 excluding the $910 destination charge. Options on the car include ventilated front seats, rain sensing wipers, 19-inch alloy rims, Mark Levinson audio system, navigation, park assist, blind spot monitoring, leather upholstery, bamboo trim, power folding side mirrors and roof rails, bringing the final MSRP to $58,315. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2016 Toyota Tacoma

    Posted on August 17th, 2015 ninarussin No comments

    All-new midsize truck is the king of the rock pile

    By Nina Russin

    2016 Toyota Tacoma

    2016 Toyota Tacoma

    I’m sitting behind the wheel of the 2016 Toyota Tacoma TRD pickup truck and all I can see is sky. The forty-degree grade the truck is climbing has me pinned back against the headrest, with no view of the horizon.

    As the name of the park we suggests, this is the Black Diamond of off-road driving: requiring a vehicle with exceptional capability and a certain amount of driving skill. Trails of this type can intimidate experienced drivers because of the risk of rollover. The old adage: ‘Go as slowly as possible and as fast as necessary,’ applies, since cresting the hill requires gunning that throttle at just the right time and then backing off to remain directional control at the summit.

    A new feature called crawl control on the 2016 midsize pickup takes the guesswork out of the scenario by using anti-slip regulation, throttle and antilock braking to maintain a preset speed.

    Think of it as downhill descent control, only better, because in this case the vehicle controls uphill speed as well. After selecting one of five speeds using controls on the truck’s overhead console, the driver eases off the gas pedal and lets the truck take over.

    The sheer rock face is one of several off-road exercises Toyota’s product team has devised to show off the new Tacoma’s off-road capability at a former coal-mining site outside Seattle. Others include a steep downhill called Wicked Hill that is about the same grade as the sheer rock uphill, but comprised of loose dirt and rocks. In this case, a multi-terrain select system that adjusts throttle, braking and suspension for a variety of surfaces ranging from rock to mud and ruts works in tandem with the crawl control to get the truck down the hill safely.

    Finally, there is a rock pile known as the Bone Yard to demonstrate wheel articulation and traction over that type of unstable surface. In each case, the newest Tacoma proves that it is a force to be reckoned with: a proud descendent of a heritage dating back to the end of the Second World War. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2015 Jeep Patriot Latitude 4X4

    Posted on August 14th, 2015 ninarussin No comments

    Affordable off-road fun for growing families

    By Nina Russin

    2015 Jeep Patriot

    2015 Jeep Patriot

    The Jeep Patriot is for growing families what the Renegade is for urbanites: an affordable path to the road less traveled. Seating up to five passengers with a versatile cargo area that holds soup-to-nuts, the trail-rated Patriot Latitude 4X4 starts at $24,795 excluding the $995 destination charge.

    The Patriot is available with two four-wheel drive systems, of which one, the Freedom Drive II has a low gear range and carries the Jeep trail rating. New for 2015 is a High Altitude appearance package that adds leather seating, 17-inch alloy rims, power sunroof and manual lumbar adjustment.

    Other options on the test car include a digital information display in the gauge cluster, roof rail crossbars, tonneau cover, premium audio system with satellite radio, Uconnect infotainment center with voice command and Bluetooth interface and remote start. Final MSRP is $29,510. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2016 Kia Sorento SXL AWD

    Posted on August 13th, 2015 ninarussin No comments

    Redesigned crossover for active families

    By Nina Russin

    2016 Kia Sorento

    2016 Kia Sorento

    Despite the growing number of entries into the midsize crossover segment, the stylish Kia Sorento remains a leader of the pack. Simply put, it’s a great package, with a redesigned 2016 model that includes a new two-liter turbocharged engine, revised exterior and interior styling and some appealing new infotainment features. With available seating for up to seven passengers, the Sorento is a great option for families with active lifestyles who don’t need a full-size sport-utility vehicle.

    The sporty SX Limited test car comes with the two-liter engine, six-speed automatic transmission and full-time all-wheel drive with a lockable center differential for enhanced traction on wet, snowy or unimproved roads. Base price is $41,700 excluding an $895 destination charge. Standard comfort and convenience features include keyless entry and start, dual-zone climate control, satellite radio, Bluetooth interface, UVO infotainment with apps, rearview camera, Nappa leather seating, panoramic sunroof, power liftgate, roof rails and heated outside mirrors.

    A technology package adds xenon headlamps, lane departure warning, forward collision warning, surround view monitor, adaptive cruise control and an electronic parking brake. Final MSRP is $45,095. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2016 Fiat 500X Easy

    Posted on August 3rd, 2015 ninarussin No comments

    All-wheel drive crossover takes Fiat in a new direction

    By Nina Russin

    Fiat 500X

    Fiat 500X

    Can a fashionista find true happiness away from the big city? Perhaps if she was driving the new Fiat 500X she could. Although Fiat’s newest compact crossover shares powertrain components with the Jeep Renegade, it’s a distinctly different car.

    The Fiat 500X is the yin to the Jeep Renegade’s yang: the hipper, more style-conscious twin geared towards millennial urbanites.

    Buyers can choose between front and all-wheel drive models and two powertrains: a 1.4-liter turbocharged engine rated at 160 horsepower mated to a six-speed manual gearbox, and the 180-horsepower 2.4-liter Tigershark engine with the same nine-speed automatic transmission found in the Jeep Cherokee.

    As different as their personalities are, the Jeep and Fiat share a similar value-driven sales strategy. In the case of the Jeep, it’s an affordable off-road alternative to the Wrangler. For the Fiat, it’s affordable design: the Guggenheim for the price of a duplex in the suburbs.

    The test car is the front-wheel drive Fiat 500X Easy priced from $22,300. The Easy sits in the middle of five available trim levels, with standard features including daytime running lamps, a thin film transistor information display, remote keyless entry, satellite radio, fold flat front passenger seat, split folding second-row seats, and a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel.

    An option package on the test car adds dual-zone automatic temperature control, keyless start, an eight-way power driver’s seat, rearview camera, ambient lighting, heated front seats and steering wheel, bringing the final MSRP to $24,700. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2015 Volkswagen Jetta GLI 2.0T SE

    Posted on July 27th, 2015 ninarussin No comments

    Peppy compact sedan for driving enthusiasts

    By Nina Russin

    Volkswagen Jetta GLI

    Volkswagen Jetta GLI

    Compact sedans are go-to cars for first time buyers because of their affordability. A well-designed model can take its owner through college and starting a new family. While there are plenty of options on the market that are safe, fuel efficient and competitively priced, fewer that fill those squares are also fun to drive.

    Volkswagen’s talent is in offering European performance without the price tag of a German luxury brand. The compact Jetta, priced from $16,215 is a prime example. Nicely styled and well engineered, the Jetta is a package that will serve its owner well through whatever changes life might throw at him. Plus it’s a hoot to drive.

    The Jetta is the only compact sedan available with two green options: a gasoline-electric hybrid and turbo-diesel. Buyers can choose between three four-cylinder gasoline engines (one being the hybrid) as well as the TDI, mated to a six-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmission.

    The test car is the upscale GLI SE, priced from $28,020 excluding the $820 destination charge. Buyers who don’t like to haggle at the dealership with appreciate the monospec pricing strategy. The car comes fully loaded, including a power sliding sunroof, keyless entry and start, Fender audio system with satellite radio, rearview camera, heated front seats and split folding second-row seat, rain sensing wipers, daytime running lamps and LED tail lamps. Final MSRP is $28,840. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2015 Land Rover Discovery Sport

    Posted on July 17th, 2015 ninarussin No comments

    Family-friendly SUV with off-road capability

    By Nina Russin

    Land Rover Discovery Sport

    Land Rover Discovery Sport

    The Discovery Sport is Land Rover’s offering for active families who don’t want a full-sized sport-utility vehicle, but need the versatility traditionally only available in those types of cars. Although the newest Range Rover has a similar powertrain to the Evoque, the car’s character is completely different, catering more to buyers who want to spend time off the grid, and need a versatile cargo area to pack the toys.

    Power comes from a two-liter turbocharged engine rated at 240 horsepower and nine-speed automatic transmission: the same components found in the Evoque. All models come with full-time all-wheel drive and the ability to climb up a 45-degree incline.

    Land Rover was the first to market with a terrain response system that automatically adjusts braking, throttle, shift points etc. for a variety of off-road surfaces such as mud and ruts, rocks, sand and snow. The Discovery Sport comes with the newest version of that technology.

    With over eight inches of wheel travel, drivers don’t need to worry about bottoming out of rocks or roots on rugged trails. The cabin is also watertight in case the vehicle needs to cross a small stream. Wading depth is a tick under two feet.

    Land Rover Discovery Sport

    Land Rover Discovery Sport

    On the other hand, the Discovery is very much a road car, with a four-wheel independent suspension and available active safety features that include lane keeping assist, park assist and traffic sign recognition. Electric power steering saves space and weight under the hood, helping to extend fuel economy.

    An optional HSE package on the test car adds xenon headlamps, a panoramic sunroof, 10-way power leather front seats, power tailgate and front fog lamps. Other options on the test car include automatic climate control with heated front seats and steering wheel, 20′ alloy wheels with black exterior trim, an audio upgrade, app infotainment package and cargo area cover, bringing the final MSRP to $49,470. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2015 Chrysler 300 Limited

    Posted on July 9th, 2015 ninarussin No comments

    Flagship sedan is perfect for summer road trips

    By Nina Russin

    2015 Chrysler 300

    2015 Chrysler 300

    It’s the Fourth of July weekend and my husband and I are loading up a 2015 Chrysler 300 Limited sedan for the trip between Phoenix, Arizona and Durango, Colorado. Over the next four days we will log over 1,000 miles, taking in low and high desert, mountains, hundred-plus degree temperatures and monsoonal rain. Elevation gain between Phoenix at 1,200 feet and Hesperus, Colorado, the highest point of the drive, is about 7,000 feet.

    The 300 is Chrysler’s flagship: a full-size sedan that goes head-to-head with the Toyota Avalon and Ford Taurus. Available with rear or all-wheel drive, it shares chassis components with the four-door Dodge Charger, but the car’s styling and performance are geared towards an upscale market versus the Charger’s sportier focus.

    Power for the test car comes from the same Pentastar V-6 engine used in the Jeep Wrangler, Dodge Challenger and Charger. While the Jeep engine is tuned for low-end torque the 300 block gets an extra dose of horsepower. An eight-speed rotary shift automatic transmission utilizes large overdrive gears to extend fuel economy to 31 mpg on the highway.

    Base price for the Limited model is $31,570 excluding the $995 destination charge. Options on the test car include a convenience package that adds LED fog lights, rear backup camera, remote start and a universal garage door opener and a Uconnect option including navigation and HD radio, bringing the final MSRP to $35,255. Read the rest of this entry »