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  • 2017 Kia Cadenza Limited

    Premium full-size sport sedan

    By Nina Russin

    2017 Kia Cadenza

    2017 Kia Cadenza

    The 2017 Kia Cadenza raised eyebrows when it beat out several luxury competitors to win this year’s Active Lifestyle Vehicle of the Year Luxury On-Road award. Although Kia continues its value-based marketing strategy, new models such as the Cadenza are giving competitors a run for the money, with award-winning styling and performance.

    The first-generation Cadenza looked and felt very much like a stretch version of the smaller Optima sedan. The newest model is very much its own animal, with unique styling and performance.

    Base price for the Limited is $44,390 excluding the $900 destination charge. Standard convenience features include keyless entry and start, Nappa leather interior with memory driver’s seat settings, dual-zone climate control, heated and ventilated front seats, UVO infotainment, satellite radio, navigation and a power tilt and telescoping steering wheel. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2017 Acura MDX Advance

    Refreshed crossover with seating for seven

    By Nina Russin

    2017 Acura MDX

    2017 Acura MDX

    The MDX is Acura’s answer to fans of the brand’s performance who need the interior capacity and versatility for growing families. For 2017, the current generation gets a major refresh, with new exterior styling and an expanded roster of standard active safety features including blind spot monitoring, lane keeping assist, collision mitigation, adaptive cruise control and road departure mitigation.

    Rather than asking buyers to wade through expensive option packages, Acura rolls oft-asked for convenience features into its model grades. The Advance grade tested adds heated and ventilated front sport seats, heated second-row captain’s chairs, roof rails, LED fog lamps, wood interior trim, parking sensors and a ten-way front passenger seat over the base model. Pricing starts at $56,400. Final MSRP including the $940 destination charge is $57,340. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2017 Toyota 86

    Sport coupe gets retuned for improved performance

    By Nina Russin

    2017 Toyota 86

    2017 Toyota 86

    The 86 is one of several former Scion models moving under the Toyota umbrella for 2017. This year the 86, formerly Scion FR-S, gets retuned for more aggressive performance, with more power and suspension upgrades to improve high-speed handling.

    Inspiration for the original FR-S came from Toyota CEO Akio Toyoda, grandson of the company founder and a life-long driving enthusiast. Toyoda, whose made it his personal mission to infuse the company with his passion for performance, wanted to create a vehicle celebrating the spirit of the Corolla Levin, also called AE86. The sporty two-seater was favored among early drift racing competitors including the legendary Keiichi Tsuchiya.

    While the 86 isn’t a car for everyone, it is, for the right buyer, one of the best values on the planet. Co-developed with Subaru (the Subaru version is the BRZ), the Toyota 86 is a beautifully balanced true sports car priced well below $30,000. Final MSRP for the test car with the six-speed manual transmission is $27,120. Read the rest of this entry »

  • First Drive: 2017 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid

    Plug-in hybrid technology gives minivan a green footprint

    By Nina Russin

    2017 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid

    2017 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid

    The all-new Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid is the first production minivan with a plug-in gasoline/electric powertrain: one of a bumper crop of family-oriented hybrids entering the market. While their first inroads were in the compact segment, hybrids make a lot of sense for busy, value-conscious families.

    The plug-in feature in the new Pacifica gives owners up to 30 miles per charge on electric power. That’s enough for the average commuter to get through a day, so owners rarely need to refill gasoline. Charging with the standard 115-volt plug takes about 14 hours, but those willing to invest in the optional 240-volt plug can fully recharge in two. A Uconnect phone app enables owners to schedule recharging during off-peak hours and remotely change charging times.

    2017 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid

    2017 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid

    While the powertrain is based on its gasoline-powered sibling, there are significant differences between the two cars. The 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6 engine was modified to Atkinson cycle with a higher compression ratio for greater efficiency.

    Despite its 11.3:1 compression, the engine runs on 87 octane gasoline. Chain drive eliminates expensive timing belt replacements after the warranty expires.

    The hybrid also has a new eFlite electronically variable transmission whose single clutch design enables both of the car’s electric motors to drive the wheels. The most noticeable difference to consumers is that unlike the nine-speed transmission in the gasoline car, the eFlite has no obvious shift points.

    Engineers located the 16 kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack under the second-row seats. While the battery doesn’t reduce interior space, it does occupy the bucket space for Chrysler’s Stow ‘n Go system, so the seats in the hybrid are removable but not stowable.

    Buyers can choose between two grades, the Premium priced from $41,995 and upscale Platinum priced from $44,995. Pricing does not include $1,095 destination. Both models quality for a federal $7500 tax credit.

    The test car is the upscale Platinum grade that comes with a 13-speaker Alpine premium sound system, navigation, hands-free sliding doors and 18-inch rims, as well as an active safety package including collision warning, adaptive cruise control, 360-degree around-view camera, lane departure warning, parallel and perpendicular park assist. The car has one option: a tri-pane panoramic sunroof. Final MSRP is $47,885. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2017 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid AWD

    Toyota’s Recreational Activity Vehicle gets a green footprint

    By Nina Russin

    2017 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid Limited

    2017 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid Limited

    Hybrid vehicles are a win/win for buyers wanting to go green without infrastructure challenges. Recently, Toyota introduced its hybrid synergy drive system that powers the Prius into the RAV4 compact crossover. Buyers can choose between three grades: the base XLE, sporty SE and upscale Limited: all standard with all-wheel drive.

    Power comes from a four-cylinder Atkinson cycle engine and three electric motor generators: two driving the front and rear axles respectively and the third controlling the engine starter and recharging the Nickel Metal-Hydride battery pack.

    2017 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid Limited

    2017 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid Limited

    Pricing for the Limited model tested starts at $34,030 excluding destination. Standard convenience features include keyless entry and start, dual-zone climate control, Entune premium audio system with app suites, backup camera, leather seating and steering wheel, heated front seats, reclining and folding second-row seats, 18-inch alloy rims, LED headlamps and tail lamps and a power moonroof.

    Options on the test car include a technology package that adds a bird’s eye view camera, JBL premium audio system, iPod compatibility, Siri eyes-free, HD and satellite radio. Final MSRP is $37,057. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2017 Kia Sorento SXL AWD

    Midsize crossover simplifies busy lifestyles

    By Nina Russin

    2017 Kia Sorento

    2017 Kia Sorento

    For eleven months out of the year my life is pretty simple: writing about cars, spending time with my husband, friends, family, a very spoiled cat named Goober and riding my bicycle.

    For the month of October leading up to the annual Active Lifestyle Vehicle of the Year program, simplicity goes out the window. As the event organizer, I become a professional schlepper, carting around everything from luggage to traffic barriers and extremely large tureens of coffee. It takes a special vehicle to carry this sort of stuff and offer the versatility to drive on paved and dirt roads, through a variety of weather conditions, night and day. That vehicle is the Kia Sorento.

    As any schlepper knows, bigger isn’t always better. It’s hard to park a Bluebird bus next to an airport terminal. As out-of-town journalists arrive having endured hours in too-small airplane seats, they expect a modicum of comfort. The Sorento delivers that, with eight-way adjustable front seats and plenty of hip and legroom in the second row.

    2017 Sorento

    2017 Sorento

    A premium Infinity sound system kicks out the tunes in a pleasantly quiet interior. Keyless entry and start and hands-free power liftgate make it easier to get people and their luggage in and out of the car when time is of the essence.

    The test car is the upscale SX Limited priced from $45,700. To simplify the buying process, Kia includes the convenience and safety features the car’s buying audience is looking for: from Nappa leather upholstery to dual-zone automatic climate control, heated front seats, satellite radio, Bluetooth interface, a panoramic sunroof, blind spot monitoring, around-view camera, navigation and autonomous emergency braking.

    Options on the test car include white pearl exterior paint and special interior trim. Final MSRP including the $895 destination charge is $48,990. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2017 Genesis G80 5.0

    New luxury brand launches with full-size sedan

    By Nina Russin

    2017 Genesis G80

    2017 Genesis G80

    Recently Hyundai launched a new luxury brand called Genesis. The automaker follows a tradition of upscale marques evolving from the mainstream that began three decades back with Acura, Lexus and Infiniti.

    The G80 is one of two new Genesis vehicles, this one aimed at the heart of the luxury market. Competing against the Lexus GS, Cadillac CTS, Mercedes-Benz E-Class and BMW 5-Series, the G80 offers buyers a powerful, more affordably priced alternative with high levels of standard safety and convenience features.

    Genesis sells the G80, priced from $54,550 (excluding destination) fully loaded, so customers don’t have to wade through a laundry list of expensive option packages. The only options on the test car include a first aid kit, cargo tray and wheel locks, all of which add less than $200 to the final $55,700 MSRP. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2017 Kia Forte EX

    Compact sedan with refreshed styling

    By Nina Russin

    2017 Kia Forte Sedan EX

    2017 Kia Forte Sedan EX

    The Kia Forte’s heritage dates back to 2010 when it replaced the Spectra: one of the most popular models produced by the South Korean automaker at that time. More affordable than its competitors from Honda and Toyota, the Spectra was a big hit among compact sports car enthusiasts, with some pretty cool customizing options.

    The Forte is more of a mainstream offering, taking many of its styling cues from the larger Optima sedan. The 2017 Forte features refreshed exterior styling and a new, more powerful base engine. Buyers can choose between three trim levels of which the EX model tested is the most upscale.

    2017 Kia Forte Sedan

    2017 Kia Forte Sedan

    Pricing for the EX starts at $21,200, excluding the $850 destination charge. Options on the test car include a Premium plus package that includes navigation, autonomous emergency braking, forward collision warning, blind spot monitoring, lane keeping assist, rearview camera, power driver’s seat, ventilated front seats, Xenon headlamps and a power sunroof ($4490), bringing the final MSRP to $26,540. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2017 Kia Sportage SX FWD

    Compact crossover for driving enthusiasts

    By Nina Russin

    2017 Kia Sportage SX Turbo

    2017 Kia Sportage SX Turbo

    The Sportage was one of the first vehicles Kia imported to the United States in the early 1990s: a small, simple but robust sport-utility vehicle. I still see first-generation Sportages tooling around Phoenix, all showing scars from years of off-road driving. It’s a badge of honor.

    When Kia introduced the third-generation Sportage six years ago, the car’s focus shifted from sport-utility to crossover, appealing to buyers who might want four-season capability, but also required better road handling for the daily commute. While the Sportage did all of that well, it seemed to lack the character of the first two generation vehicles.

    The most recent Sportage introduced late last year is a much more complete product, with more appealing styling and a confident drivetrain that includes a SX grade for driving enthusiasts. While the car maintains a front-wheel drive bias, owners in all-season climates can opt for an all-wheel drive system that transfers power to the rear wheels when traction demands it.

    Base price for the front-wheel drive car tested is $32,500 excluding an $895 destination charge. Final MSRP is $33,395. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2017 Subaru Outback 2.5 Limited

    Sport-utility wagon is the perfect training partner

    By Nina Russin

    2017 Subaru Outback

    2017 Subaru Outback

    Riding my bicycle through an unexpected monsoonal rainstorm this morning, I was thinking about the Subaru Outback test car parked in our driveway, specifically the relationship between the brand and endurance athletes going back over four decades. Long before other brands saw outdoor lifestyles as a marketing asset, Subaru embraced the idea, sponsoring the US Ski team.

    A unique carburetor design that compensated for oxygen loss at altitude made Subaru’s early four-cylinder engines the only small engines that ran well in mountainous areas. Along with that came standard all-wheel drive throughout the lineup. To this day, the only Subaru that comes without AWD is the track-oriented BRZ.

    But there’s a deeper reason why Subaru’s vehicles resonate with athletes. They are perfect training partners: up for any adventure and never complaining about the weather, always willing to pitch in when there’s work to be done and not afraid of getting dirty. They are durable, versatile workhorses that always come through in a pinch.

    Subaru isn’t afraid to call the Outback a wagon because that’s what it is: a very functional gear hauler with the ability to go through almost anything, including mud, deep snow, water, sleet and ice.

    The 2017 model adds some important upgrades: a new upscale Touring grade above the Limited, torque vectoring for better cornering, enhanced hill start-assist and hill descent control functions for better wet weather performance, a roomier cargo area, more active safety technology and infotainment features.

    Base price for the Limited model tested is $32,390 excluding the $875 destination charge. An optional convenience package adds navigation, Sirius XM travel and weather updates, steering responsive fog lamps, high intensity discharge headlamps, high beam assist and Subaru EyeSight: active safety technology including adaptive cruise control, lane keeping assist, pre-collision throttle control and pre-collision braking. Final MSRP is $35,260. Read the rest of this entry »