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  • 2015 Honda Civic Si Sedan

    Affordable performance for driving enthusiasts

    By Nina Russin

    Honda Civic Si

    Honda Civic Si

    The Civic Si test car parked in my driveway reminds me of Christmas in July. The high-performance version of Honda’s best-selling compact sedan has long been a favorite among driving enthusiasts: an affordable well-balanced package that’s equally at home doing the daily commute or laps at the track.

    Power comes from a 205-horsepower four-cylinder engine and six-speed close ratio manual gearbox. Those who can’t drive a stick need not apply. Those of us who like to push a clutch pedal see that as a win for the Gipper.

    Pricing for the Si sedan with navigation begins at $24,490, a bargain considering its chassis components and convenience features including keyless entry, seven-inch touchscreen display with navigation, real-time weather and traffic, satellite radio, rearview camera, Honda LaneWatch, Bluetooth, power moonroof, 18-inch alloy wheels, a 60/40 split folding rear seat and USB interface. Final MSRP on the test car is $25,310. Read the rest of this entry »

  • Pro Athlete Chamber of Commerce

    NFL vet John Bronson helps fellow athletes find paths to success

    By Nina Russin

    John Bronson

    John Bronson

    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 »

  • 2015 Chevrolet Trax

    Compact crossover combines value with versatility

    By Nina Russin

    2015 Chevrolet Trax

    2015 Chevrolet Trax

    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 »

  • 2014 Audi S4 Quattro Manual

    Compact sport sedan raises the bar

    By Nina Russin

    2014 Audi S4

    2014 Audi S4

    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 »

  • 2014 Los Angeles Auto Show

    Compact crossovers rule at the season’s first major show

    By Nina Russin

    Scion Press Conference

    Scion Press Conference

    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.

    Porsche Display

    Porsche Display

    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 »

  • 2014 Ford Fusion

    Midsize sedan connects with the driver

    By Nina Russin

    2014 Ford Fusion

    2014 Ford Fusion

    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 »

  • Change of Seasons

    Now is the time to winterize your car

    By Nina Russin

    Photo courtesy of Bridgestone Winter Driving School

    Photo courtesy of Bridgestone Winter Driving School

    Although autumn officially begins in late September, October is the time when most of us see the weather start to change dramatically. While we enjoy watching the leaves turn fiery red and gold, it’s also time to start thinking about how winter will affect our cars and our driving.

    In a series of #eBay buying guides, I’ve gathered some information about the best way to winterize a vehicle as well as tips for driving safely on ice and snow.

    “Five Ways To Winterize Your Car” focuses on mechanical issues that can lead to cold-weather breakdowns such as dead batteries, old coolant, bad belts and hoses. Read the rest of this entry »

  • Cars, Art and Architecture

    Why car design is part of a much bigger picture

    By Nina Russin

    XPEL Runner by Cosmin Mandita. Photo courtesy of Local Motors

    XPEL Runner by Cosmin Mandita. Photo courtesy of Local Motors

    Before I became an automotive journalist I went to art school and received a graduate degree in sculpture. Because of that I’ve always taken a keen interest in car design and the places where designers find inspiration.

    We live in a connected world. While the Internet facilitates such interaction, artists have looked outside the box for centuries. Car design has been influenced by painting, photography, sculpture, industrial design and architecture since the internal combustion engine was invented over 150 years ago.

    As part of our eleventh annual Active Lifestyle Vehicle of the Year program, our host and sponsor Local Motors hosted its second ALV design competition. Members of the Local Motors community were challenged to design active lifestyle vehicles incorporating athletic gear and the competition sponsor’s protective film. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2014 Nissan Quest 3.5 LE

    Seven-seat minivan hauls soup to nuts

    By Nina Russin

    2014 Nissan Quest

    2014 Nissan Quest

    It might not be as fast as the GT-R or as sexy as the 370Z, but at times, the Nissan Quest minivan can seem like a gift from God. Our annual Active Lifestyle Vehicle of the Year event in mid-October is one of those times, when I find myself doing multiple airport transfers, ferrying bagels and coffee for 130 of my closest friends, schlepping signage, chairs, display stands and PA systems from one spot to the next. Some people call me the program director but I prefer to think of myself as a well-trained Sherpa.

    And the Quest is, so to speak, a yak on steroids, with seating for up to seven passengers, a cavernous cargo bay, power liftgate, 260-horsepower V-6 engine, continuously variable automatic transmission and speed-sensitive power steering that makes the 16-1/2 foot-long vehicle capable of U-turns on two-lane roads.

    The test car is the upscale LE model priced from $42,870. Standard comfort and convenience features include leather upholstery, second-row captain’s chairs, tri-zone climate control, fold-flat second and third-row seats, DVD rear entertainment system, navigation, rearview monitor, around-view monitor, blind spot monitoring, Bluetooth interface, 13-speaker Bose audio system, conversation mirror and six-way power driver’s seat with memory. Adding the optional dual-pane sunroof and destination charges, final MSRP is $45,315. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2015 Active Lifestyle Vehicle Winners

    Athletes and journalists reveal top picks from thirty vehicle entries

    By Nina Russin

    Photo by Chris Dodson

    Photo by Chris Dodson

    The Carspondent.com 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 »