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  • 2017 Acura MDX Sport Hybrid AWD Advance

    NSX technology gives three-row crossover a green footprint

    By Nina Russin

    2017 Acura MDX Sport Hybrid

    2017 Acura MDX Sport Hybrid

    If you’re looking for a seven-passenger crossover with supercar technology and better-than-average fuel economy, the Acura MDX Sport Hybrid should be on the short list. Utilizing the same three-motor super-handling all-wheel drive system introduced on the new NSX sports car and RLX performance sedan, the MDX hybrid mates Acura’s three-liter V-6 gasoline engine to three electric motors- one up front and two in the back- to provide power to all four-wheels. Net system horsepower is 321, with 289 pound-feet of peak torque. Since electric motors develop peak torque at extremely low speeds, the MDX Sport Hybrid launches off the line like a rocket ship.

    A dual-clutch seven-speed automatic transmission employs friction couplings for the feel of a manual transmission, minus the extra foot pedal. Drivers can operate the gearbox in automatic mode or manually select gears using Formula One-style shift paddles on the steering wheel. While there are quite a few cars on the market with this type of transmission, very few are hybrids. The transmission’s quick, sharp shifts are a welcome relief from continuously variable automatic transmissions that leave the driver feeling disconnected from the wheels.

    2017 Acura MDX Sport Hybrid

    2017 Acura MDX Sport Hybrid

    The test car is the upscale Advance grade, priced from $58,000. Acura loads the premium grade with active safety and convenience features, saving shoppers from wading through lists of option packages. Standard features include a surround-view camera system, keyless entry and start, second-row captain’s chairs, ventilated and heated front seats, satellite radio, ten-way power driver’s seat with memory, LED fog lamps, roof rails and AcuraWatch: an active safety system adding adaptive cruise control, collision mitigation braking, road departure mitigation, lane keeping assist and lane departure warning.

    Final MSRP including destination is $58,975 Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2017 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid Platinum

    Minivan is the go-to car for active lifestyles

    By Nina Russin

    2017 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid

    2017 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid

    Minivans are ideal vehicles for outdoor enthusiasts for the same reasons they appeal to young families: large, configurable interiors hold everything from soup-to-nuts. Chrysler- the automaker that invented the minivan in the early 1980s- continues to lead the way in features that make these vehicles the perfect base camp.

    Chrysler’s newest minivan family- the Pacifica and Pacifica Hybrid- meld cargo versatility with sexy exterior design and, for the first time, a green option.

    Combining a 3.6-liter V-6 engine with an electric motor, the Pacifica Hybrid can travel up to 33 miles in pure electric mode. Total range is 556-miles, according-to the automaker. The idea is to give owners enough range to operate in pure-electric mode during the weekly 9-5, without the range limitations of electric vehicles.

    2017 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid

    2017 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid

    Engineers modified Chrysler’s Pentastar V-6 engine to Atkinson cycle, keeping the intake valves open longer during the engine’s four-stroke cycle for better fuel efficiency. The battery pack recharges on 120-volt household current in about 14 hours, or two hours using a 240-volt plug-in.

    The upscale Platinum grade priced from $44,995 comes loaded with family-friendly convenience features including keyless entry and start, hands-free sliding side doors, hands-free liftgate, tri-zone climate control, Uconnect infotainment system with navigation, satellite and HD radio, Bluetooth interface and sliding second-row seats that make access to the third row easier.

    Third-row seats fold into the floor to extend the cargo bay. Because of the battery pack’s location under the second row, those seats do not fold into the floor as with the gasoline-powered Pacifica. They are, however, removable.

    Two option packages on the test car add blind spot monitoring with cross traffic alert, front and rear park assist, a surround-view monitor, parallel and perpendicular park assist, lane departure warning, automatic high beam lighting control that dims the lights when cars approach from the opposite direction, rain sensitive wipers, premium audio system, seatback video screens, a Blu-ray DVD player, headphones, 115-volt power outlet and tri-pane panoramic sunroof.

    Final MSRP including the $1095 destination charge is $47,885. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2017 Hyundai Elantra

    Sixth-generation sedan offers more value

    By Nina Russin

    2017 Hyundai Elantra

    2017 Hyundai Elantra

    The Hyundai Elantra has evolved from humble beginnings competing against the Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla in the early 1990s to one of the most popular sedans in the US market.

    There is some debate as to the current model’s size classification. Its compact exterior puts the Elantra alongside the Chevrolet Cruze and Ford Focus, but its larger interior makes it a midsize passenger car according-to the EPA. Either way, the Elantra offers customers looking for a bargain exactly that, thanks to a 2017 Value Edition priced at $21,360 including destination.

    Power comes from a two-liter engine producing 147-horsepower and 132 pound-feet of torque, mated to a choice of six-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmissions. Standard convenience features include keyless entry and start, satellite radio, Android auto and Apple CarPlay, dual-zone temperature control, Bluetooth interface, heated front seats, automatic headlamps and a 3.5-inch thin film transistor information display in the gauge cluster. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2017 Nissan 370Z Coupe

    Iconic sports car for driving enthusiasts

    By Nina Russin

    2017 Nissan 370Z Coupe

    2017 Nissan 370Z Coupe

    With roots dating back to the 1970 240Z, Nissan’s Z series is one of the most enduring nameplates on the American highway. As with its predecessors, the current 370Z sport coupe is not a car for everyone, nor was it ever intended to be. The clutch is stiff, and because the driver sits deep inside the car’s frame, access and egress isn’t particularly easy. But for those whose love of driving eclipses such practical considerations, it is pure heaven.

    The 2017 model is essentially carry-over from prior years, powered by a 332-horsepower 3.7-liter V-6 engine and six-speed manual transmission. Base price is $29,990: a bargain for a car you can take names with at the track. The test car adds one option- carpeted floor mats. Final MSRP including the $835 destination charge is $30,955. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2017 Nissan Rogue Sport SV FWD

    Peppy compact crossover for active lifestyles

    By Nina Russin

    2017 Nissan Rogue Sport

    2017 Nissan Rogue Sport

    Although the Nissan Rogue Sport shares the same platform as the larger Rogue, it feels like a completely different car. Not only are the Sport’s overall dimensions smaller, the car is considerably lighter: close to 200 pounds for the Rogue Sport SV compared to the Rogue SV.

    The Rogue Sport’s two-liter engine lags-behind the Rogue’s 2.5-liter block by 29-horsepower and 28 pound-feet of torque, yet it still feels peppier and more agile than its big brother. Bottom line: it’s affordable, fun to drive and big enough to hold the gear we active types like to keep close at hand. As with the Rogue, the compact Rogue Sport is available with front or all-wheel drive.

    2017 Nissan Rogue Sport

    2017 Nissan Rogue Sport

    Base price for the front-wheel drive test car is $23,020 excluding the $960 destination charge. Standard convenience features include roof rails, LED daytime running lamps, keyless entry and start, automatic on/off headlamps, dual-zone climate control, power driver’s seat, 60/40 split folding rear seat with Nissan’s Divide-N-Hide cargo system, tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, USB port, Bluetooth interface, satellite radio with Siri Eyes-Free and a rearview camera.

    Options add heated front seats, steering wheel and outside mirrors, remote engine start, NissanConnect with navigation, apps and services, around-view monitor, seven-inch color touchscreen, navigation with traffic and travel alerts, blind spot monitoring and cross traffic alert. Final MSRP is $26,535. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2017 Honda Civic Si HPT

    Compact sport coupe raises the bar

    By Nina Russin

    2017 Honda Civic Si Coupe

    2017 Honda Civic Si Coupe

    Honda has a talent for creating cars that are as practical as they are fun to drive, while at the same time delivering exceptional value. The newest iteration of the automaker’s compact sport coupe and sedan- the Civic Si- is a case in point. With pricing starting well below $25,000 and 32 mile-per-gallon average fuel economy, the newest Si is a performance car for the real world, with a five-star federal crash test rating adding peace of mind.

    For the all-new 2017 model, engineers modified the 1.5-liter turbocharged engine used in the EX-T, EX-L and Touring Civics, adding 31-horsepower and 25 pound-feet of torque. Turbocharging gives drivers access to maximum torque between 2,100 and 5,000 rpm for exceptional acceleration off-the-line, merging into high-speed traffic and passing slower vehicles on the highway.

    2017 Honda Civic Si Coupe

    2017 Honda Civic Si Coupe

    All grades come with a six-speed manual gearbox with short-throw shift lever and reverse gear lockout.

    The test car is the mid-grade HPT coupe priced from $24,100 excluding the $875 destination charge. Standard convenience features include keyless entry and start, 10-speaker audio system with satellite radio, HD radio, USB port and Pandora interface, 18-inch alloy wheels with summer performance tires, power moonroof, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, dual-zone climate control, rearview camera, Honda LaneWatch, heated front seats and 60/40 split folding rear seats. Final MSRP is $24,975. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2017 Lexus ES 300h

    Entry luxury sedan gets new standard safety technology

    By Nina Russin

    2017 Lexus ES 300h

    2017 Lexus ES 300h

    The ES 300 and ES 300h are the entry luxury members of the Lexus sedan family that also includes the sporty GS and high luxury LS series. Because the ES is approximately the same size as the Toyota Camry, some folks assume that the Lexus is a dressed-up version of Toyota’s best-selling passenger car.

    While both vehicles share the same 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine, continuously-variable automatic transmission and similar hybrid componentry, they have very distinct personalities. The Lexus has a two-inch longer wheelbase for more second-row passenger space. Suspension layouts and tire and wheel packages for the two cars are also different.

    For 2017, Lexus adds some important active safety technology as standard equipment to the ES 300h as part of Lexus Safety System +, that was an option for 2016. It includes pre-collision with pedestrian detection, dynamic radar cruise control, lane departure assist and intelligent high-beam headlamps.

    2017 Lexus ES 300h

    2017 Lexus ES 300h

    Base price for the ES 300h is $41,820 excluding the $975 destination charge. Options on the test car include blind spot monitoring with cross traffic alert, LED headlamps, Mark Levinson premium audio system with navigation and Lexus Enform, power trunk, interior trim package including wood accents, driver and passenger seat memory, heated and ventilated front seats, power rear sunshades, ambient lighting and power tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, and a heated steering wheel.

    Final MSRP is $49,775. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2017 Lexus GS 200t

    Midsize sport sedan gets a turbo boost

    By Nina Russin

    2017 Lexus GS 200t

    2017 Lexus GS 200t

    The midsize Lexus GS has long been a favorite among driving enthusiasts, due to its exceptional front-to-rear balance, abundant power and solid steering response. Following a major redesign for the 2016 model year, the 2017 models add standard Lexus Safety System Plus: a suite of active safety features including pre-collision, lane departure alert and assist and dynamic radar cruise control.

    Buyers can choose between the gasoline-electric GS 400h and two gasoline models: the GS 350 and turbocharged GS 200t. The V-6 model is available with all-wheel drive while the 200t is rear-wheel drive only.

    An eight-speed automatic transmission is standard for both rear-wheel drive models, providing several large overdrive gears for enhanced fuel economy during steady-state cruising.

    2017 Lexus GS 200t

    2017 Lexus GS 200t

    For those who can live without four-season capability, the turbocharged GS offers a couple of advantages: better fuel economy due to its lighter powertrain, and thanks to the smaller engine, even better front-to-rear weight balance.

    Base price for the GS 200t is $46,310 excluding the $975 destination charge. Options on the test car include 18-inch alloy rims, Mark Levinson premium audio system, navigation with a 12.3-inch touchscreen and Lexus Enform and intuitive park assist, bringing the final MSRP to $50,070. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2017 Toyota Avalon Touring

    Premium midsize sedan with enhanced active safety features

    By Nina Russin

    2017 Toyota Avalon

    2017 Toyota Avalon

    The Avalon is Toyota’s flagship sedan: slightly larger than the midsize Camry, and targeted at customers wanting a premium driving experience. The first Avalon introduced in 1995 as the replacement for the Cressida did in fact share chassis components with the Camry, but since then the two vehicles have taken different paths, the newest Camry being edgier while the Avalon maintains a more conservative approach.

    Buyers can choose between the gasoline model powered by a 268-horsepower V-6 engine and six-speed automatic transmission or a gasoline/electric hybrid model. Of the gas-powered versions, the upscale Touring model tested is the sportiest, with standard 20-inch alloy rims. Drivers can choose between Eco, Normal and Sport driving modes, adjusting the car’s throttle mapping to suit their particular-needs.

    This year, all Avalon models come standard with Toyota Safety Sense with pedestrian detection, adding pre-collision, autonomous braking with pedestrian detection, adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning and assist and automatic high beams to the sedan’s roster of standard safety features.

    2017 Toyota Avalon

    2017 Toyota Avalon

    Base price for the Touring grade is $37,650 excluding the $865 destination charge. Standard convenience features include keyless entry and start, dual-zone climate control, Entune premium audio with app suite, Bluetooth interface, satellite radio, leather upholstery, eight-way power driver’s seat with memory, four-way power front passenger seat and Qi compatible wireless smartphone charging.

    Options on the test car include special metallic pearl exterior coat and carpeted trunk mats, bringing the final MSRP to $39,134. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2017 Toyota 4Runner TRD Off-Road Premium

    All-terrain SUV is perfect for buyers with active lifestyles

    By Nina Russin

    2017 Toyota 4Runner

    2017 Toyota 4Runner

    Within Toyota’s line-up, the four-wheel drive 4Runner is the best suited for buyers who like to spend time off the grid, thanks to its all-terrain capability, versatile interior and towing capability. Active families can opt for third-row seating giving the 4Runner seven-passenger capacity, while those more interested in adventures on the trails can chose one of several TRD off-road options including the 4X4 Premium model tested.

    Base price on the test car is $39,295 excluding the $960 destination fee. Standard features include four-wheel drive with a two-speed transfer case that enables drivers to use low gears for extreme terrain, crawl control that maintains a preset speed for better steering over steep hills, locking rear differential and a multi-terrain select feature that adjusts the suspension, braking and throttle to adapt to different road surfaces.

    On the inside, owners get air conditioning with rear vents to keep back-row passengers comfortable in temperature extremes, AM/FM/XM radio, Bluetooth interface, keyless entry and start, SofTech trim power heated front seats, 40/20/40 split folding second-row seats, tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, keyless entry, 12-volt and 120-volt cargo bay outlets.

    Options on the test car include a sliding rear cargo deck with under-floor storage compartment, power moonroof, first aid kit, hitch ball mount, emergency assistance kit, paint protection film, tablet holder, remote engine start and roof rack. Final MSRP is $42,202. Read the rest of this entry »