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  • Toyota 2017 Model Year Wrap-up

    New sports car, 50th anniversary Corolla, V-6 and hybrids enter showrooms

    By Nina Russin

    2017 Toyota 86

    2017 Toyota 86

    Toyota enters the 2017 model year with a significant birthday, expanded hybrid offerings for its Highlander crossover, refreshed Sienna minivan and a new sports car. With Scion closing its doors, Toyota is introducing a refreshed FR-S as the 2017 86, paying homage to the AE86, also known as the Corolla Levin.

    Core features remain the same: a two-liter boxer engine with available six-speed manual or automatic transmissions in a rear-wheel drive platform. The engine combines port and direct injection, the former for fuel efficiency when cruising around town and the latter for throttle response on the track.

    2017 Toyota 86

    2017 Toyota 86

    The retuned two-plus-two features new differential gearing for the manual transmission version for better launch characteristics. Redesigned intake and exhaust manifolds help the engine breathe better. Enhanced torsional rigidity from a stiffer transmission tunnel and thicker strut tower brace boosts steering response. Engineers also retuned the suspension.

    Styling is refreshed inside and out, with new 17-inch twisted spoke wheels and all-LED front and rear lighting. A smaller steering wheel with audio controls, Granlux shoulder pads on the seats and Granlux inserts in the doors reflect the interior’s driver focus. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2017 Volkswagen Golf Alltrack SEL with 4Motion

    Active lifestyle wagon with German performance

    By Nina Russin

    2017 Volkswagen Golf Alltrack

    2017 Volkswagen Golf Alltrack

    Volkswagen’s new Golf Alltrack sport wagon is the masculine yang to the Subaru Outback’s more feminine yin. Athletic performance comes from a turbocharged 1.8-liter engine and available six-speed manual gearbox on all grades. Like its Subaru competitor, the Alltrack boasts a versatile easy-to-clean interior with a spacious cargo bay for larger gear, and enough ground clearance to clear the tea kettles on unimproved roads.

    VW product planners hope the Alltrack’s available panoramic sunroof and slightly lower roof height than the Outback will lure existing Subaru owners into its showrooms. Roof rails are standard on every Alltrack grade to facilitate overhead cargo carriers and roof racks.

    2017 Volkswagen Golf Alltrack

    2017 Volkswagen Golf Alltrack

    The Alltrack is based on Volkswagen’s popular Golf Sportwagen. Although its sibling is available with Volkswagen’s 4Motion all-wheel drive system, the Alltrack’s higher ground clearance makes it more capable on uneven trails. A drive-select mode system automatically engages downhill descent control when the driver chooses the off-road setting.

    The standard 1.8-liter turbocharged engine develops 170-horsepower and 199 pound-feet of torque from engine speeds as low as 1600 rpm for excellent low-end acceleration. The DSG automatic model that launches in October starts at $26,950 excluding an $820 destination charge while the six-speed manual version available in January, 2017 is priced from $25,850. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2017 Ford Fusion Platinum AWD

    Midsize passenger sedan raises the bar

    By Nina Russin

    Ford Fusion

    Ford Fusion

    It’s almost impossible for a midsize sedan to stand apart from the crowd, simply because the segment includes so many outstanding vehicles. But the Ford Fusion does, outperforming Asian competitors that have long dominated the group.

    Priced from $38,620, the Platinum all-wheel drive grade should be considered an entry luxury car, and as such, comes equipped with premium amenities including leather upholstery, keyless entry and start, automatic dual-zone climate controls, Sony audio system with satellite radio, heated and cooled front seats and a heated steering wheel. Final MSRP on the test car, including metallic white exterior, 19-inch rims and inflatable rear seatbelts is $40,280. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2016 Mazda CX-9 AWD

    Three-row crossover for active families

    By Nina Russin

    2016 Mazda CX-9

    2016 Mazda CX-9

    The newest CX-9 is the second iteration of Mazda’s three-row crossover vehicle, available with either front or all-wheel drive: both powered by a turbocharged 2.5-liter engine. Mazda’s goal was to create an interior spacious enough for a growing family in a vehicle that’s also fun to drive.

    This presented quite a challenge, since driver-focused cars are typically small, light vehicles that focus more on front-to-rear weight balance and power-to-weight ratios than how many soccer team members can fit in back.

    Pricing for the all-wheel drive Signature grade tested begins at $44,015 excluding the $800 destination charge. Being the top of the line model, the Signature comes fully loaded with convenience features buyers in this segment demand including keyless entry and start, three-zone climate control, leather trim, power moonroof, rain-sensing wipers, satellite radio and more.

    It’s also heavy on active safety technology including blind spot monitoring, rearview camera with cross traffic alert, adaptive cruise control, lane keep assist and trailer stability assist. While Mazda, unlike its Japanese competitors, doesn’t have a luxury brand, the upscale CX-9 is for all intents and purposes a luxury car.

    Final MSRP for the test car is $45,215. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2017 Chevrolet Volt Premier Hatchback

    Second-generation model adds style and versatility

    By Nina Russin

    Chevrolet Volt

    Chevrolet Volt

    The Chevrolet Volt is an electric car that doesn’t suffer from range anxiety, thanks to a gasoline engine that kicks in when the charge runs out. The second-generation model that debuted last year has more driving range than the original: up to 53 miles according to the manufacturer. Combined with its thrifty gasoline engine, owners can travel up to 1,000 miles without stopping to refuel.

    Engineers shaved weight off both the electric motor and battery pack to make the car more efficient. New exterior styling gives the Volt more presence on the road, while a redesigned interior is more luxurious and offers seating for up to five passengers.

    Base price for the upscale Premier model tested is $37,570 excluding the $875 delivery charge. Options on the test car add blind spot monitoring, lane departure alert, rear cross traffic alert, lane keep assist with automatic braking, intelligent headlamps, Chevrolet’s MyLink infotainment system with navigation. Final MSRP is $39,950. Read the rest of this entry »

  • First Drive: 2017 Nissan Titan, Armada and Pathfinder

    New truck line-up appeals to buyers with active lifestyles

    By Nina Russin

    2017 Nissan Armada

    2017 Nissan Armada

    Nissan has redesigned its core truck models for 2017, including all new Titan and Armada plus a significant refresh for the Pathfinder. In each case the automaker responded to buyer demands for enhanced active safety technology and more capable off-road performance.

    The 2017 Titan Crew Cab follows on the heels of the diesel-powered XD introduced earlier in the year: a slightly smaller more affordable offering with plenty of towing and payload capacity. There are five trim levels, including the off-road oriented PRO-4X.

    2017 Nissan Armada

    2017 Nissan Armada

    The full-size Armada sport-utility vehicle remains the brand’s flagship, with seating for up to eight passengers. Active safety features include intelligent cruise control with forward emergency braking, lane departure warning, backup collision intervention and an around-view monitor. Pricing starts at $44,000 plus destination for the base SV 2X4 model. The new Armada rolls out this month.

    The Pathfinder, produced at Nissan’s Smyrna, Tennessee assembly plant, competes against the Ford Explorer and Honda Pilot. Changes to the 2017 model include a redesigned exterior, new powertrain featuring a 3.5-liter direct injection V-6 engine, enhanced towing capability and more responsive handling on paved roads. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2017 Fiat 124 Spider

    Iconic roadster returns for millennial driving enthusiasts

    By Nina Russin

    2017 Fiat 124 Spider and 1968 Fiat 124 Spider

    2017 Fiat 124 Spider and 1968 Fiat 124 Spider

    Is it possible for an Italian sports car to cost less than $25,000? Remarkably enough, it is. The new Fiat 124 Spider that rolls out as a 2017 model recalls the automaker’s best selling open-air car that debuted at the 1966 Turin Auto Show.

    As with the original, design inspiration came from Italy, but the underpinnings reflect a collaboration between Fiat and Mazda. Fiat incorporated chassis components from the current Mazda MX-5 Miata into its powertrain, but added its own 1.4-liter MultiAir turbocharged engine that delivers 164 horsepower. Buyers can choose between a six-speed manual gearbox or six-speed automatic transmission.

    Base price for the test car equipped with the six-speed manual is $24,995, sans the $995 destination charge. Options include an audio upgrade that adds Bluetooth streaming music, rearview camera and pearl white exterior, bringing the final MSRP to $27,880. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2017 Acura ILX Tech Plus

    Compact sport sedan for driving enthusiasts

    By Nina Russin

    2017 Acura ILX

    2017 Acura ILX

    The ILX is Acura’s entry level sport sedan, appealing to young driving buyers who want luxury accouterments in an affordable package. Base price is $27,900: something of a bargain at a time when average transaction prices for new cars are close to $30,000.

    The 2017 models are essentially carry-over from 2016 when the ILX received a major refresh that included new exterior styling and a more powerful engine, paired with an eight-speed dual clutch automatic transmission.

    The current powerplant delivers 201 horsepower and 180 pound-feet of torque, a fifty horsepower boost over the engine it replaces. The new transmission offers the precision of a manual gearbox thanks to friction couplings, plus excellent fuel economy: 29 miles-per-gallon according to the EPA.

    Buyers can choose between three trim levels: Standard, Premium and the Tech Plus tested. Acura wisely includes the convenience features buyers are looking for in each trim level rather than expensive option packages. Base price for the Tech Plus is $32,990 excluding the $940 destination charge. Standard convenience features include navigation with a multi-view rear camera, premium audio system, leather upholstery, satellite radio, keyless entry and start, alloy wheels, power moonroof, Bluetooth interface and an eight-way power driver’s seat. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2017 Chrysler Pacifica Touring

    Go-to family car reinvented

    By Nina Russin

    2017 Chrysler Pacifica Touring-L Plus

    2017 Chrysler Pacifica

    It’s no surprise the automaker that invented the minivan has introduced the most compelling new product in the segment. With the Dodge Grand Caravan discontinued, the all-new Pacifica becomes Chrysler’s only minivan offering. But it is more diverse, with a gasoline-powered version on sale now followed by a gasoline electric hybrid that rolls out later this summer.

    Exterior styling is more like a crossover, appealing to buyers turned off by the one-box minivan stigma. This idea isn’t unique to Chrysler: Kia took a similar approach with the current Sedona.

    2017 Chrysler Pacifica

    2017 Chrysler Pacifica

    Chrysler’s ace-in-the-hole is family-friendly features including chicklets on sliding side doors making them easier for kids to open, and built-in vacuum cleaner. Proprietary Stow ‘n Go seating folds second-row seats into the floor to create a capacious cargo area. Second-row seats can also tilt forward without removing child safety seats for better third-row access.

    The Touring grade tested appeals to value-focused buyers with a base price of $30,495 excluding the $995 destination charge. An optional power liftgate brings the final MSRP to $31,985. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2017 Fiat 124 Spider

    Classic drop-top reinvented for millennial buyers

    By Nina Russin

    2017 Fiat 124 Spider

    2017 Fiat 124 Spider

    Fiat has a talent for making what was once old new again, and just as important, relevant. Inspiration for the new 2017 Fiat Spider is the brand’s classic roadster that debuted at the 1966 Turin Auto show. Designed by Pininfarina and powered by a 1438 cc engine, the Spider was a more affordable alternative to the legendary Ferrari GTS. It became Fiat’s most successful effort in the United States, produced through the 1985 model year.

    The new 124 Spider shares chassis components with the current Mazda MX-5 Miata, but features a slightly larger body, different engine, styling and exhaust system than its Japanese counterpart.

    Power for all three grades comes from Fiat’s 160-horsepower 1.4-liter MultiAir intercooled and turbocharged engine. A quad exhaust on the upscale Abarth grade adds four horsepower. Buyers can choose between a six-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmission with manual gear selection.

    2017 Fiat 124 Spider

    2017 Fiat 124 Spider

    At the beginning of production Fiat is issuing a Prima Edizione version of the midgrade Lusso, limited to 124 vehicles.

    Pricing for the base Classica model with manual gearbox starts at $24,995 ($26,345 with the automatic), the Lusso at $27,495 and performance-oriented Abarth at $28,195. Pricing does not include a $995 destination charge. Standard convenience features on the Classica include 16-inch alloy wheels, cloth seats, halogen headlamps, a rollbar and dual exhaust.

    The Lusso adds 17-inch wheels and leather seating, while the Abarth comes with Bilstein shocks, Brembo brakes, front strut tower brace, 17-inch alloy wheels, limited slip differential and quad exhaust. Read the rest of this entry »