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  • 2015 Infiniti QX80

    Flagship full-size sport-utility vehicle

    By Nina Russin

    2015 Infiniti QX80

    2015 Infiniti QX80

    The QX80 is Infiniti’s offering for large families who don’t want to sacrifice style for interior space. With seating for up to seven passengers and a powerful 5.6-liter aluminum direct injection V-8 engine, Infiniti’s full-size sport utility vehicle is essentially a Lear jet for the open road.

    The Limited grade raises the bar further with unique exterior colors accented by dark chrome trim and dark 22-inch wheels, semi-aniline leather interior, all-wheel drive with snow mode and tow mode, self-leveling suspension, electronically controlled two-speed transfer case and adaptive headlamps.

    Base price for the Limited is $88,850. Final MSRP including the $995 destination charge is $89,845. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2015 Toyota RAV4 Limited AWD

    Compact crossover gains refinement and style

    By Nina Russin

    2015 Toyota RAV4

    2015 Toyota RAV4

    Toyota’s Recreational Active Vehicle has changed a lot since its introduction in 1995. What began as a personal car based on the Camry platform has evolved into a larger, more substantial vehicle that works well for small families. The car’s mission remains the same: combining car-like ride and handling with a more versatile interior and available all-wheel drive for buyers with active lifestyles.

    The current model is essentially carry-over from 2013 when Toyota unveiled the fourth-generation car. Lava exterior paint on the test car is new for 2015.

    Base price for the Limited is $29,850 excluding the $885 destination charge. The upscale grade comes nicely equipped with convenience features including dual-zone climate control, Entune infotainment with navigation, satellite radio, leather wrapped steering wheel, heated front seats with driver’s seat memory settings, keyless entry and start, reclining and fold flat second-row seats, 18-inch alloy wheels, power moonroof, heated outside mirrors and power on/off headlamps.

    Options on the test car include a JBL premium audio system, blind spot monitoring with cross traffic alert, lane departure warning, automatic high beams, roof rack cross bars, remote start and carpeted floor mats. Final MSRP is $33,469. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2015 Ford Fiesta 5-Door Hatch SE

    EcoBoost engine takes it further

    By Nina Russin

    2015 Ford Fiesta

    2015 Ford Fiesta

    If somebody had told me twenty years ago that a one-liter engine could power a car, I would have laughed. Yet that’s exactly what Ford engineers have done with the newest subcompact Fiesta, featuring the automaker’s one-liter EcoBoost engine and five-speed automatic transmission.

    The 123-horsepower engine develops up to 148 foot-pounds of torque. Mated to a five-speed manual gearbox that enables drivers to keep the revs up, it’s a peppy, fun-to-drive package with 36 mile-per-gallon fuel economy.

    One of the reasons the engine works so well is curb weight, which for the manual transmission model is a bit over 2,500 pounds. That’s about the same as an averaged equipped Mazda Miata and less than a Scion FR-S.

    The hatchback adds versatility, with a taller, roomier cargo bay than sedans in the competitive segment. Base price for the test car is $16,085, excluding the $825 destination charge. Options including the EcoBoost engine and green metallic exterior finish bring the final MSRP to $18,300. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2015 Toyota Avalon Hybrid Limited

    Full-size premium sedan is a Lexus in disguise

    By Nina Russin

    Toyota Avalon Hybrid

    Toyota Avalon Hybrid

    Over the past twenty years, the Toyota Avalon has evolved from a stretched-out version of the Camry into a league of its own, offering buyers similar ride and handling to more expensive Lexus models. The availability of a gasoline/electric hybrid is rather unusual in this segment that also includes the Ford Taurus and Buick LaCrosse.

    The 2015 model is basically carryover following a major redesign in 2013. Changes include an upgraded Entune multimedia system and paddle shifters on gasoline-powered cars.

    Base price for the Avalon Hybrid Limited is $41,700: on the high side for the segment. However buyers get their money’s worth with standard features that include remote keyless entry and start, tri-zone climate control, leather upholstery and steering wheel, power heated and cooled front seats, heated rear seats, Bluetooth interface, a rearview camera with cross traffic alert, blind spot monitoring and satellite radio.

    A technology package on the test car adds dynamic radar cruise control, automatic high beams, Qi wireless charging, and pre-collision system with pedestrian detection. Final MSRP is $44,475. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2015 Subaru Crosstrek XV 2.0i Limited

    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

    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

    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 »

  • 2015 Jeep Patriot Latitude 4X4

    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 »

  • 2015 Volkswagen Jetta GLI 2.0T SE

    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

    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 »