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  • Ford EcoBoost Challenge

    Posted on April 17th, 2014 ninarussin No comments

    Automaker invites consumers to sample fuel-efficient cars

    By Nina Russin

    Photo by Randall Bohl

    Photo by Randall Bohl

    Two years before gas prices spiked in the summer of 2008, Ford’s newly appointed CEO, Alan Mulally, announced plans to shift the company’s focus from big trucks to small cars. At the time, it was a bold move. Not only was Mulally ahead of the curve; he was battling a record-breaking drop in sales.

    Mulally has the type of vision few men do; it had made him a success at Boeing, and enabled him to bring Ford back to profitability within three years. Under his leadership, the former Michigan truck plant became an assembly facility for small cars. Ford led the way in eco-driving education programs throughout the United States, and developed a group of relevant technologies called EcoBoost, intended to enhance the fuel efficiency of traditional gasoline engines.

    EcoBoost isn’t a magic bullet. Rather, it’s a series of enhancements that together make what is an inherently inefficient machine run better. When I attended mechanic’s school in the mid-1980s, we were taught that the internal combustion engine was at best 40 percent efficient.

    Photo By Randall Bohl

    Photo By Randall Bohl

    Although on-board computer controls have raised that number, there’s still a lot of room for improvement. Turbocharging, variable valve timing, active grille shutters and work in the wind tunnel can stretch fuel economy on a traditional gasoline-powered car up to 40 miles-per-gallon on the highway. Back in the era of the mechanical carburetor, such a feat would have been impossible.

    In addition, Ford has developed a family of hybrid and plug-in hybrid vehicles including the Fusion midsized sedan, C-Max compact crossover and Escape compact sport-utility vehicle as well as an electric version of the Focus.

    In order to familiarize the public with its green car technology, Ford recently launched the EcoBoost challenge: a series of weekend ride-and-drive events throughout the US that give consumers the chance to drive both Fords and competitive products on closed courses.

    The program kicked off on April 12 in Phoenix, Arizona- location of Ford’s hot weather proving grounds. It travels to eleven more cities, including Charlotte, Miami, Orlando, Los Angeles, Dallas, Seattle, Houston, Columbus, Chicago, San Francisco and Indianapolis. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Touring

    Posted on April 16th, 2014 ninarussin No comments

    Gasoline/electric powertrain stretches driving range

    By Nina Russin

    2014 Honda Accord Hybrid

    2014 Honda Accord Hybrid

    Americans who consider the Toyota Prius to be the gold standard of gasoline electric hybrids should take a second look at Honda, whose history is actually longer and in some ways deeper. The original Honda Insight arrived stateside in 1999, a year ahead of the Prius. Since then Honda has continued to refine its technology with a new version of the Insight, as well as hybrid versions of the Civic and Accord.

    The 2014 Accord Hybrid sedan is remarkably fuel-efficient for a car of its size and mass. Its power, fuel efficiency and quiet, spacious interior make it well suited for American highways.

    An eco-assist system helps the driver achieve maximum fuel efficiency with instructive graphics inside the gauge cluster. There is also a real-time and average fuel economy graph available in the center stack screen. Average fuel economy according to the EPA is 47 mpg.

    Standard safety features include both rearview and LaneWatch side view cameras. The side view camera projects a wide-angle image to the right of sedan when the driver signals to turn in that direction. As a runner and cyclist sharing the roads with cars, I can’t say enough good things about this feature that protects pedestrians in bicycle lanes.

    The Touring model tested comes fully loaded with convenience features as well, including keyless entry and start, leather seating, navigation with real-time traffic updates, satellite radio, Bluetooth interface, dual-zone climate control, adaptive cruise control, a power moonroof, LED headlamps and tail lamps. Base price is $34,905. Adding in the $790 destination charge, final MSRP is $35,695. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2014 Audi A8 L 4.0T Quattro Tiptronic

    Posted on April 11th, 2014 ninarussin No comments

    Long-wheelbase flagship sedan

    By Nina Russin

    Audi A8 L

    Audi A8 L

    The long-wheelbase version of Audi’s high luxury sedan combines the performance of a jetfighter with infotainment and convenience features that define the segment. The four-liter engine in the test car is one of four available gasoline blocks, accelerating from zero-to-sixty in 4.8 seconds.

    Yet thanks to fuel economizing measures including cylinder deactivation, a shut-off feature at idle and an eight-speed automatic transmission, average fuel economy is 19 miles-per-gallon: not bad for a car weighing 4600 pounds. The engine requires premium fuel: something potential buyers should factor into cost of ownership.

    Base price for the test car is $87,600 excluding the $895 delivery charge. Options include an interior design package, Bang & Olufsen premium sound system, ventilated and massaging front and rear seats, blind spot monitoring, LED headlamps, air suspension, adaptive steering, a sports differential, adaptive cruise control, lane keep assist, a cold weather package and 20-inch high performance tires. Final MSRP is $120,845. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2014 Subaru XV Crosstrek Hybrid

    Posted on April 2nd, 2014 ninarussin No comments

    Hybrid crossover meets the needs of active lifestyles

    By Nina Russin

    2014 Subaru Crosstrek Hybrid

    2014 Subaru Crosstrek Hybrid

    This year Subaru introduces its first gasoline-electric hybrid built on the all-wheel drive Crosstrek platform. The idea is to offer the brand’s core audience of outdoor enthusiasts enhanced fuel economy without sacrificing any of the utility the brand is known for.

    Power comes from a two-liter boxer gasoline engine and electric motor, paired to a continuously variable automatic transmission. A nickel metal hydride battery powers the electric motor, and is recharged on the go thanks to regenerative braking. Engineers packaged the battery to be minimally intrusive on the cargo area, so the hybrid only loses about a cubic foot as compared to the gasoline model.

    The new hybrid maintains the same 8.5-inches of ground clearance as the gasoline-powered Crosstrek, and is all-wheel drive. The car comes with low rolling resistance tires to extend gas mileage, but buyers can swap those out for more aggressive treads if they need to.

    In addition to making the Crosstrek more fuel efficient, the electric motor adds power on the low end. Peak torque is 163 foot-pounds as opposed to 145 on the gasoline model, and comes on much earlier: 2000 rpm versus 4600.

    The gasoline engine for the hybrid has a slightly higher compression ratio but runs fine on regular unleaded fuel to contain cost of ownership. An automatic stop/start feature cuts the ignition when the car stops at a traffic light and restarts it when the driver releases the brake. An active grille shutter system makes the Crosstrek hybrid more slippery in the wind tunnel to improve fuel efficiency on the highway.

    The model comes fully loaded with comfort and convenience features including a rearview camera, Bluetooth interface, satellite radio, roof rails, fog lamps, a power moonroof, keyless start and heated front seats. Base price is $29,295 excluding the $825 delivery charge. Final MSRP is $30,120. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2014 Toyota Tundra Takes Arizona Veterans Home

    Posted on March 27th, 2014 ninarussin No comments

    100 Cars for Good helps philanthropic organizations deliver more

    By Nina Russin

    Toyota Tundra Takes Veterans to new Homes

    Toyota Tundra Takes Veterans to new Homes

    For the past three years, Toyota has donated 100 cars to philanthropic organizations ranging from educational outreach to soup kitchens to help them better fulfill their missions. Recipients of the vehicles are selected during an online contest each November, during which members of the general public are invited to vote for the organizations they believe are most worthy of Toyota’s support.

    This year, two Arizona organizations received Toyota vehicles as part of the program: U.S. Vets-Phoenix and Mt. Graham Safe House Crisis in Safford. U.S. Vets will be using its new Tundra to move returning veterans into new homes and distribute water to the homeless during the hot Phoenix, Arizona summer.

    John Scott, executive director of U.S. Vets, commented: “Since we received the truck, I have already received four calls from veterans that needed assistance moving their belongings.ˇThe Toyota Tundra will definitely continue to see a lot of use as we continue on with our mission of ending veteran homelessness.”

    Other winners of the 2014 100 Cars for Good program include One Simple Wish of Trenton, New Jersey, an organization that helps foster children avoid homelessness through adoption, an Alabama-based organization that teaches coaches disabled children in watersports and an animal rescue group in rural Wyoming. To see the full list of this year’s winners, visit the organization web site.
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  • 2014 Nissan 370Z Touring

    Posted on March 25th, 2014 ninarussin No comments

    Sports car stays true to its roots

    By Nina Russin

    Nissan 370Z Coupe

    Nissan 370Z Coupe

    When Nissan introduced the 240Z to the US market in 1969, the idea was to offer driving enthusiasts a serious yet affordable sports car. Although the 240Z’s 150-horsepower engine might not sound like much by today’s standards, it provided ample power for the lightweight chassis. Paired with a four-speed manual transmission, the original Z accelerated from zero-to-sixty in about eight seconds, and cost the buyer about $3,500.

    Over the past forty years, the Z has evolved into a much faster and frankly more expensive car. But compared to its German competitors, the $35,000 Z is still a bargain. And it’s also that serious, with a 332-horsepower V-6 engine and six-speed manual gearbox. A rev-blipping feature enhances the driving skills of whoever might be behind the wheel. Zero-to-sixty acceleration is in the five-second range.

    After a major refresh for the 2013 model year, the 2014 model remains basically unchanged with the exception of the NISMO. The coupe’s fastback profile harkens back to that of the iconic 240.

    Convenience features on the upscale Touring grade tested include keyless entry and start, xenon headlamps, satellite radio, automatic climate control, eight-way power driver’s seat, heated seats, aluminum pedals and heated exterior mirrors.

    A sport package on the test car adds nineteen-inch forged aluminum wheels and low profile tires, bigger brakes, sport shocks and a rear spoiler. The optional navigation package includes a seven-inch color monitor with rearview camera, USB port with iPod interface, Bluetooth streaming audio, real-time traffic and weather updates.

    Final MSRP including the $790 destination charge is $41,460. Read the rest of this entry »

  • First Drive: 2015 Chrysler 200C

    Posted on March 20th, 2014 ninarussin No comments

    Midsize sedan delivers style and substance

    By Nina Russin

    2015 Chrysler 200

    2015 Chrysler 200

    In the post-recession marketplace, value has become one of the biggest determinants in car buying decisions. Shoppers are focusing more on what they need as opposed to what they aspire to. And despite the rising cost of new vehicle transactions, new car owners are acutely aware of value.

    Nobody understands this better than Chrysler: committed to fulfilling this country’s need for great cars engineered and built on American soil. ‘Imported from Detroit’ is not just an ad campaign: it’s the new corporate mantra.

    Considering all of Chrysler’s new products, none is more significant than the midsize 200 sedan that arrives late this spring. The D segment is one of the biggest most competitive among passenger cars, with players including the Toyota Camry, Honda Accord, Nissan Altima and Ford Fusion. To conquest new customers, Chrysler must appeal to both the wallet and the heart, with a vehicle that is both stylish and substantive.

    This writer believes the company has done just that. From its eye-catching front end to the aero profile, the 2015 Chrysler 200 is the date everyone wants to take to the dance. And it’s priced to sell, with a MSRP of $21,700 for the base LX and $24,495 for the volume-leading Limited models. MSRP does not include the $995 destination charge. Read the rest of this entry »

  • First Drive: 2015 Audi A3 2.0 Quattro

    Posted on March 17th, 2014 ninarussin No comments

    Premium compact sedan features advanced connectivity

    By Nina Russin

    2015 Audi A3

    2015 Audi A3

    There’s a bit of a debate going on among automakers as to which is more important: technology under the hood or advanced connectivity inside the car. As the number of new driver’s license applications among teens continues to decrease, one might wonder if the days of the driving enthusiast are drawing to a close.

    Audi, an automaker that has always catered to car lovers, doesn’t believe this is the case. But the company also understands how much new connectivity features are driving the market. So in designing the new A3 compact sedan, the OEM made both priorities.

    The sedan, which starts at $29,900 for the turbocharged 1.8-liter model and $32,900 for the two-liter quattro, is available with 4G LTE, to optimize the owner’s experience with Audi Connect: the technology that enables occupants to access apps such as Facebook and Twitter, and transforms the vehicle into a mobile hotspot. There is a text-to-speech function for email and text messaging.

    Audi has had an ongoing relationship with Google for the past decade, and Google Earth maps remain an integral part of the available navigation system.

    Other technology partners include Qualcomm (modems), eSolutions (infotainment), MyScript (touchpad interface) and Bang & Olufsen (audio).

    Because the life cycle of this technology is shorter than the typical ownership period for a car, Audi has made it easy to update, with a removable board for replacing chipsets. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2014 Chevrolet Silverado High Country 4WD Crew Cab

    Posted on March 14th, 2014 ninarussin No comments

    Engineered to overachieve and styled to stand out

    By Nina Russin

    2014 Chevrolet Silverado High Country

    2014 Chevrolet Silverado High Country

    There’s a reason that the Silverado has been a consistent best seller for Chevrolet since the model launched fifteen years back. It’s a really good truck, with the ability to haul, tow and crawl through muck. The 2014 model also handles very much like a passenger car: a difficult challenge to fulfill with a single product.

    The High Country is a premium version of the base model, with unique exterior and interior trim. With a base MSRP of $47,380, the Silverado High Country targets the heart of the luxury market. Although its four-wheel drive system makes it capable of serious off-road terrain, I doubt many owners will want to tackle the Rubicon trail with twenty-inch chrome rims.

    Entrepreneurs needing a prestigious yet versatile vehicle for their businesses should find a lot to love in the new premium model. Payload capacity is 1957 pounds, and the Silverado can tow up to 9800 pounds. The optional 6.2-liter V-8 engine has 460 foot-pounds of peak torque: an important component for off-the-line performance. Basically, it’s a Corvette engine in a light-duty truck.

    To enhance fuel economy, engineers added a cylinder deactivation feature when engine loads are light. Direct injection delivers gasoline directly into the engine cylinders to improve throttle response and reduce parasitic fuel loss. Despite having a relatively high compression ratio (11:1), the engine does not require premium gasoline.

    Options on the test truck include the 6.2-liter engine, special exterior paint, a premium package that includes forward collision alert and lane departure warning, a heated steering wheel, power adjustable pedals, trailer brake controller, running boards and cargo box LED lighting. Final MSRP, including the $995 destination charge, is $53,075. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2014 Volkswagen Tiguan SE

    Posted on March 10th, 2014 ninarussin No comments

    Sporty five-passenger crossover

    By Nina Russin

    2014 Volkswagen Tiguan

    2014 Volkswagen Tiguan

    Of the two crossover vehicles in Volkswagen’s lineup, the midsized Tiguan is my favorite. Powered by the same turbocharged two-liter engine as the GTI, it’s a hoot to drive. Turbocharging minimizes parasitic power loss at altitude, making the Tiguan a good choice for mountain denizens.

    A six-speed automatic transmission with two overdrive gears extends fuel economy on the front-wheel drive version up to 26 mpg on the highway. Those who prefer a manual gearbox can find one on the base model.

    Base price for the upscale SE model tested is $29,620, excluding the $865 destination charge. Standard comfort and convenience features on the test car include 18-inch alloy wheels, touchscreen with rearview backup camera, Bluetooth interface, keyless access with push button start, leatherette seating, electronic parking brake, cruise control, air conditioning, fog lamps and roof rails.

    New for 2014 is a complimentary subscription to VW Car-Net: service includes crash notification, roadside assistance and stolen vehicle location. Final MSRP is $29,620. Read the rest of this entry »