2016 Infiniti QX60 AWD
Midsize crossover appeals to the driver in all of us
By Nina Russin
We all hate that point in life when we have to jump the shark, and be more pragmatic in our choice of vehicle.
The guys at Infiniti get this, and they’ve come up with a remarkably good solution: the midsize QX60 all-wheel drive crossover. For active families or couples who have a lot of gear to haul around, the QX fills all the squares. Seating for seven: check. Large configurable cargo area: check. All-wheel drive for off-road and four-season performance: check and check.
But here’s the best part: get behind the wheel and the QX60 is a hoot to drive, with a powerful 3.5-liter V-6 engine, a really good continuously variable automatic transmission (seriously, really good), and traction to all four wheels.
The QX60 isn’t cheap, with pricing for the all-wheel drive test car starting at $44,400. There are three option packages on the test car, a technology package including active safety features such as blind spot monitoring, lane departure warning, backup collision intervention and forward emergency braking; upgraded Bose audio system and a theater package that adds an around-view monitor, Bluetooth streaming audio, navigation, eight-inch touchscreen and automatic wipers.
Final MSRP is $58,845, putting the QX60 right in the middle of the luxury segment. In this writer’s opinion, it’s worth the money. Read the rest of this entry »
2016 Ford Explorer 4WD Platinum
Iconic SUV gains power and versatility
By Nina Russin
This year Ford’s full-size sport-utility vehicle turns 25 years old: a landmark the OEM has celebrated by introducing a brand new model.
While the newest Explorer maintains some of the original formula as a full-size sport-utility vehicle with true off-road capability, it has changed significantly since the vehicle debuted for the ’91 model year. A more car-like ride, new V-6 engine and advanced active safety features appeal to the core audience of active families.
The test car is the upscale Platinum model priced from $52,970 excluding destination. Power comes from an EcoBoost twin turbocharged V-6 engine producing 365 horsepower and 350 pound-feet of maximum torque, mated to a six-speed automatic transmission. While its 18 mile-per-gallon average fuel economy might not seem impressive by today’s standards, the fact that the engine produced three times the horsepower and a third more torque than the V-6 in the 1991 Explorer should raise some eyebrows.
The current vehicle is also significantly bigger, about 14 inches longer than the original model, adding important cargo and passenger space inside. With three rows of seating, the Explorer is an ideal choice for buyers who need room for the kid’s soccer and softball teams, or endurance athletes wanting a big enough vehicle to stash bicycles inside and take on weekend camping trips.
Options on the test car include special metal-coat exterior paint and second-row bucket seats, bringing the final MSRP to $55,355. Read the rest of this entry »
2016 Volkswagen Beetle Convertible R-Line SEL
Open-air fun for four
By Nina Russin
Volkswagen is known as the most affordable of German performance brands. The R-Line version of its Beetle convertible brings this driver-focused approach to one of America’s favorite drop-tops.
The third-generation Beetle maintains the classic lines of the original car but with a more aerodynamic focus. The convertible’s folding soft top is actually lower when in place than the roofline of the hardtop car. A single button near the rearview mirror retracts the top and rolls down the windows in less than ten seconds and can operate at up to 30 miles-per-hour.
The R-Line SEL model tested gets the larger of two available engines: a two-liter turbocharged four-cylinder block rated at 210 horsepower, mated to a six-speed direct shift automatic transmission.
Standard convenience features include keyless entry and start, Fender premium audio system, climate control, tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, leather seating, satellite radio and Bluetooth interface. Volkswagen has expanded its Car-Net infotainment system options, enabling owners to access Android Auto or Apple CarPlay as well as a variety of smartphone apps though the car’s head unit.
Base sticker for the upscale SEL is $36,050: final MSRP including destination is $36,870. Read the rest of this entry »
2016 Lexus CT 200h F Sport
Hybrid hatchback has power for the open road
By Nina Russin
Although Lexus offers six hybrid models, the CT 200h is the only one available solely with a gasoline/electric powertrain. With EPA average 42 mile-per-gallon fuel economy and its versatile hatchback body style, Lexus’ compact sport model gives buyers with active lifestyles a lot to love.
Driving enthusiasts will appreciate the addition of a F Sport package that adds 17-inch alloy rims, a unique version of the spindle grille, special badging, interior trim and sport-tuned suspension.
Power for all models comes from a 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine and electric motors, carrying a 134 net horsepower rating and continuously variable automatic transmission. Base price is $31,250 excluding destination.
For 2016 buyers can opt to add Lexus Enform Remote that enables users to control certain car functions via smart phone apps. A power moonroof is available on 2016 models.
The test car comes with Redline exterior self-healing paint, the F Sport package including LED headlamps, navigation with backup camera, Lexus Enform services, intuitive park assist and moonroof. Final MSRP is $41,860. Read the rest of this entry »
2016 Subaru Series HyperBlue
Sports car’s beauty is more than skin deep
By Nina Russin
The BRZ two-plus-two is a bit of an anomaly for Subaru: the only rear-wheel drive car in its line-up, and one of two models focused specifically on racing. Unlike its closest sibling, the WRX/WRX STi, the BRZ is a track car in the traditional sense of the word. With its perfectly balanced boxer engine, low center of gravity and close ratio six-speed manual gearbox, the Subaru BRZ begs to take corners at speed: the more the better.
Subaru developed the BRZ in conjunction with Scion, which calls its version the FR-S. While Toyota engineers took the reigns through much of the project, it’s important to point out that the engine, the heart of the car, is pure Subaru. Toyota wasn’t being charitable handing this very critical part of the chassis over to Subaru. The fact is, they couldn’t have done it better themselves. Subaru’s four-cylinder engine with identical bore and stroke dimensions is perfect as a high-revving block in a car designed to deliver short bursts of speed.
Direct injection and a high compression ratio give the engine exceptional throttle response. When mated to the six-speed manual gearbox, the BRZ goes off the line like a rabbit. The car’s lightweight chassis, low center of gravity and excellent front-to-rear weight balance give it the nimble performance driving enthusiasts crave.
For 2016, Subaru has produced a special edition called HyperBlue, with a unique exterior, leather and Alcantara seat surfaces, special wheels and badging. It’s a fearsome looking package inside and out. The fact that it goes as well as it shows and is affordable makes this BRZ the total package.
Base price is $27,690, including all the aforementioned features on the limited-edition car. Final MSRP with destination is $28,485. Read the rest of this entry »
2016 Nissan Altima SL
Refreshed midsize sedan gains in style, safety and fuel economy
By Nina Russin
Since first coming on the scene in the early 1990s, the Nissan Altima has been a sporty alternative to the ever popular Toyota Camry and Honda Accord. Although the midsize sedan has changed significantly over the past quarter century, it maintains the original strategy of affordability, style and appealing performance.
For 2016 Nissan significantly refreshed the current model with new exterior styling, a stand-alone sport grade and enhanced active safety features. Fuel economy has also improved to 39 miles-per-gallon on the 2.5-liter model tested.
With the average transaction price for automobiles reaching $32,000, it’s refreshing to see a fully-loaded premium sedan costing significantly less: $28,570 for the test car equipped with leather upholstery, keyless entry and start, heated zero gravity front seats, Bose premium audio system with satellite radio and Bluetooth streaming audio, heated mirrors and 17-inch alloy rims.
A technology package on the test car adds forward collision warning with emergency braking, blind spot monitoring, NissanConnect with navigation, stolen vehicle location and remote start via smartphone. Final MSRP including destination is $32,510. Read the rest of this entry »
2016 GMC Canyon 4WD SLT Crew Cab
Midsize pickup combines value and versatility
By Nina Russin
Buyers looking for versatility but not needing the towing capabilities of a full-size pickup truck should seriously consider the midsize GMC Canyon. The Canyon’s dimensions aren’t significantly different than that of the full-size Sierra. The Canyon’s wheelbase is about 13-inches shorter for the crew cab, and the truck is six-inches narrower.
But there’s a significant difference in cost and fuel economy. Pricing for the Canyon starts at $21,880 as compared to $27,815 for the Sierra. The available Duramax turbo-diesel engine on the Canyon test truck averages 29 miles-per-gallon on the highway: seven MPG higher than the EcoTec V-6 available on the Sierra.
The biggest reason for sizing up to the Sierra is its 12,000-pound towing capacity versus 7600 for the Canyon. Bottom line: if you’re planning to tow a travel trailer buy the Sierra, but if the most you’re planning to tow is a couple of jet skis, save some money and get the Canyon.
Base price for the four-wheel drive test truck is $37,450 excluding the $925 destination charge. Options include the diesel engine that comes with a tow/haul trailer brake controller package, Bose premium audio system, eight-inch color touchscreen with navigation and Intellilink infotainment, spray-on bed liner and an active safety package including forward collision and lane departure warning. Final MSRP is $44,365. Read the rest of this entry »
2016 Jeep Renegade Sport
Compact crossover with Italian roots
By Nina Russin
These days it’s not unusual for automakers to share platforms, for example, the Jeep Renegade and Fiat 500X. Economy of numbers means automakers can offer car buyers more value. In the case of Jeep and Fiat, the marriage also combines the Italian automaker’s talent for sporty performance with Jeep’s all-terrain capability.
Of two available powertrains, the 1.4-liter MultiAir turbocharged engine and six-speed manual gearbox is the one to buy. Unfortunately, it’s not available in the off-road specific Trailhawk model, but provides value-conscious buyers with a great option.
Base price is $19,995 excluding the $995 destination charge. Options on the test car include a Uconnect package with rear backup camera, power and air conditioning group, roof rails and removable My Sky roof panels. Final MSRP is $24,470. Read the rest of this entry »
2016 Honda Civic 1.5T 4D Touring Sedan
Compact sedan reinvented from the ground up
By Nina Russin
A lot has changed since the Honda Civics of the mid-1970s: the sedan is bigger and more luxurious that the small hatchback that rolled across America with its sturdy CVCC engine. Core values-reliability, comfort and safety- remain the same. At the same time, the Civic is very much a driver’s car, with precise handling reflective of Honda’s open-wheel racing experience.
In terms of size, the newest Civic is similar to former Accord models, with plenty of room for a small family. Engineers added 3.2-cubic feet of passenger space compared to the outgoing model, giving the sedan the biggest interior of anything in the compact class.
On the outside the sedan is almost three-inches longer, two-inches wider and an inch taller. Not only does the second-row offer more legroom, but better access and egress for parents buckling small kids into child seats and boosters.
Under the hood, Honda debuts its first-ever turbocharged engine for the Civic: a 1.5-liter block delivering 174-horsepower and 162 pound-feet of torque, available from 1700 rpm. A continuously variable automatic transmission is standard on all but the base model.
A new suspension design features a multi-link setup in back with large stabilizer bars on both axles.
Base price for the upscale Touring model tested is $26,500 excluding the $835 destination charge. The sedan comes fully-loaded with convenience features including keyless entry, push buttons start, HD and satellite radio, leather upholstery, SMS text messaging, dual-zone automatic climate controls, heated power front seats, Bluetooth interface, 10-speaker premium audio system and a seven-inch electronic touchscreen.
A standard active safety package adds adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning, lane keeping assist and forward collision warning.
Final MSRP is $27,335 Read the rest of this entry »
2016 GMC Sierra 1500 4WD Crew Cab
Full-size pickup raises the bar for engineering and performance
By Nina Russin
Let’s face it: any vehicle costing upwards of $50,000 needs to fill a lot of squares. For most truck owners, it means multi-tasking as a work and family vehicle, with the capability to tow and haul, accommodate at least four passengers and provide respectable fuel economy.
From and engineering stance, these are lofty goals, since high profile, two-box vehicles aren’t aerodynamic. Ever. Despite that, the performance gurus at GMC have created a full-size pickup with astonishingly good fuel economy and ride comfort rivaling passenger cars.
The 5.3-liter Ecotec engine and eight-speed automatic transmission beneath the Sierra’s chiseled hood give the 1500-series crew cab the heart of an athlete. The truck idles smoothly at 600 rpm and cruises at speeds up to 65 miles-per-hour below 2,000 rpm. In endurance athlete terms, it’s the equivalent of a marathoner with a resting heart rate in the high 30s.
Base price for the SLT test truck is $46,970 excluding the $1,195 destination charge. Options include twenty-inch rims, Z71 off-road suspension, spray-on bedliner, special seats and center console, front and rear park assist, LED headlamps, power sunroof, navigation, premium audio system and a trailer brake controller. Final MSRP is $53,845. Read the rest of this entry »