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  • 2018 Lexus IS 300 AWD

    All-season sport sedan

    By Nina Russin

    2018 Lexus IS 300

    The IS sedan that started as Lexus’ answer to the tuner craze of the late 1990s has evolved into a more diverse, upscale vehicle, with two available powertrains and rear-wheel or all-wheel drive. The IS underwent a major redesign for the 2017 model year. For 2018, improvements include a five-horsepower bump, available adaptive front lighting, standard backup monitor and complimentary 10-year subscription to Lexus Enform Safety and Service Connect.

    Power for the IS 300 comes from a twin-scroll turbocharged inline four-cylinder engine that develops 260-horsepower for the all-wheel drive version. For better control on wet roads, drivers can engage a snow mode that starts from a stop in second gear. A six-speed automatic transmission includes paddle shifters for drivers who want additional control when driving for sport.

    Base price for the IS 300 AWD is $40,660 excluding the $995 destination charge. Options on the test car include 18-inch alloy wheels, navigation and Mark Levinson audio system, intuitive park assist, a comfort package adding driver’s seat memory, power tilt-and-telescoping steering column, blind spot monitoring and rain-sensing wipers, heated and ventilated front seats, cargo mats and wheel locks. Final MSRP is $47,289. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2018 Toyota Prius Touring

    Hybrid raises the eco-friendly bar

    By Nina Russin

    Toyota Prius Four Touring

    The Toyota Prius has always been a polarizing vehicle, and seems to become more-so with each new model. Aficionados love the Prius for its exceptional fuel economy, durability, versatility and eco-friendly focus. Nay-sayers seem to be just as passionate, because certain driving dynamics (e.g. horsepower) must by necessity take a backseat to gas mileage.

    The fact that the fourth-generation Prius averages 52 miles-per-gallon is astonishing, considering its ability to live in the real world of stop-and-go traffic, rain, snow, heat and cold. Even more amazing is its ability to last, quite a long time if one observes the number of Prius taxi cabs on the road.

    The current model is based on Toyota’s new Global Architecture, and hence is the first to feature an independent rear suspension. This is a big deal, because the torsion bar on former models had to support the weight of the battery pack above it, making for a rather clunky arrangement. Improved torsional stiffness in the new chassis translates to a noticeable bump in steering response.

    Base price for the upscale Touring grade is $30,565 excluding the $895 destination charge. Options include a premium package that upgrades the audio system, adds navigation and a higher level of Entune infotainment, Bluetooth streaming audio, Siri Eyes Free, real-time traffic and weather updates and more. Other options include an active safety package with park assist, special exterior color, rear bumper protector and carpeted floor and cargo mats. Final MSRP is $33,395. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2018 Lexus RC 350 F-Sport

    Personal Sport Coupe

    By Nina Russin

    2018 Lexus RC

    The Lexus RC 350 bridges the gap between sports cars that need to live at the track and sporty coupes that can also serve as daily drivers. With a 311-horsepower V-6 engine and eight-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission, the nimble RC sprints from zero-to-sixty in 5.8 seconds. Available all-wheel drive means the RC can live in four-seasons as well.

    Base price for the RC 350 RWD is $43,570, excluding the $995 delivery charge. Options on the test car include a F-Sport package adding special wheels, summer performance tires, blind spot monitoring, thin-film transistor instrument cluster, heated and ventilated front seats, driver’s seat memory, and adaptive variable suspension; fog lamps, triple-beams LED headlamps, Mark Levinson audio system, navigation, premium exterior finish, orange brake calipers, Torsen limited-slip differential, power moonroof, variable gear ratio steering and cargo net. Final MSRP is $57,988. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2018 Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV-AWC

    Gasoline-electric plug-in crossover with all-wheel drive

    By Nina Russin

    2018 Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV

    Although Mitsubishi is a relatively small player in the automotive market, its Montero produced during the 1980s and 90s, and more recent i-MiEV both had a significant impact globally: the Montero for racing, and the i-MiEV electric vehicle technology. For 2018, the company brings those specialties together in the Outlander PHEV: a gasoline-electric all-wheel drive version of its compact crossover.

    The new plug-in electric hybrid can operate in three modes: fully electric, series hybrid (utilizing an on-board gasoline-powered generator, and parallel hybrid combining power from two electric motors with a two-liter gasoline engine. The idea is to limit time in the gasoline-electric mode to longer trips out of range in pure-electric mode.

    Recharging time on 240-volt power is about 3-1/2 hours. Owners who have access to a commercial Fastcharge unit can reclaim about 80 percent of power in 25 minutes.

    A phone app enables owners to set their charging schedule to coincide with off-peak electricity usage hours and save a little money. The same app can remotely change climate control settings, check for open and closed doors, headlamps on or off and customize vehicle settings.

    The Outlander’s all-wheel control system has roots in the off-road Montero that won the grueling Paris-Dakar rally over a dozen times.

    Base price for the upscale GT version is $40,295 excluding the $940 destination charge. Standard convenience features include LED headlamps, daytime running lamps and tail lamps, folding side mirrors, 18-inch alloy wheels, keyless entry and start, dual-zone climate control, 710-watt Rockford Fosgate audio system, underfloor cargo storage area, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, Bluetooth, dual USB ports and more.

    Options on the test car include white diamond pearlescent exterior, a tonneau cover, body graphics and carpeted floormats. Final MSRP is $42,130. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2018 Lexus RX 450h

    Hybrid luxury for active lifestyles

    By Nina Russin

    2018 Lexus RX 450h

    The RX 450h is the gasoline/electric version of Lexus’ best-selling midsize crossover. Changes for the 2018 model year include a new premium option package adding power folding outside mirrors, premium leather upholstery and a rear armrest with storage box. Lexus Enform Safety Connect and Service Connect are now included for the first ten years of ownership.

    Power for the RX 450h comes from a 3.5-liter V-6 engine and two electric motors. On the all-wheel drive version, separate motor generators drive each axle. That, combined with the fact that electric motors develop peak torque at extremely low speeds, gives the hybrid exceptional zero-to-sixty acceleration: 8.1 seconds according-to the manufacturer.

    Base price is $45,695 excluding destination. Options on the test car include the new premium package, Mark Levinson audio system, heads-up display and blind spot monitoring with cross-traffic alert, bringing the final MSRP to $54,515. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2018 Acura MDX Sport Hybrid Advance

    All-wheel drive eco-transport for active lifestyles

    By Nina Russin

    Acura MDX Sport Hybrid

    For those who can afford it, the question isn’t why would you buy the Acura MDX, but rather, why wouldn’t you? With an all-new powertrain based on the same technology as Acura’s NSX supercar, the green version of Acura’s three-row midsize crossover is truly a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

    A three-liter V-6 gasoline engine and three electric motors develop 321 net horsepower. Since electric motors develop peak power at very low speeds, the MDX also has a monstrous amount of torque. All-wheel drive gives the crossover four-season versatility and the ability to traverse unimproved roads. All this in a package that’s equally adept at holding people and gear of all sizes.

    Average fuel economy is 27 miles-per-gallon according-to EPA estimates. While fuel economy on the highway is similar-to the gasoline model, around town the hybrid powertrain is about eight miles-per-gallon better.

    Base price is $58,150 for the upscale, fully-loaded Advance model. Standard features include perforated leather upholstery with power heated front seats, driver’s seat memory, second-row captain’s chairs, tri-zone climate control, keyless entry and start, satellite radio, Bluetooth interface, surround-view camera, power moonroof and tailgate, 20-inch alloy rims, ELS premium audio system with navigation and more. Final MSRP including the $995 destination charge is $59,145. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2018 Lexus LS 500h

    Flagship hybrid sedan reinvented

    By Nina Russin

    2018 Lexus LS 500h

    When the first Lexus LS debuted at the North American International Auto Show in 1989, the automaker’s flagship sedan was really-more of a car to be driven in than a driver’s car. The sedan’s capacious rear seating area with features such as massaging rear seats was clearly intended for owners being chauffeured.

    That formula worked better in Japan than it did in the US, where drivers were looking for full-size luxury but with performance that could compete against the likes of the Audi A8 and BMW 7-Series. The newest LS 500 series that debuts for the 2018 model year is exactly that, with a distinctive road presence evident in both its styling and performance.

    What began life as one of the brand’s most conservatively styled sedans has become one of its boldest, with a large spindle grille up front, coupe-like aerodynamic profile, large wheels and low-profile tires. Buyers can opt between gasoline or gasoline-electric hybrid models.

    2018 Lexus LS 500h

    Pricing for the gasoline-electric Lexus 500h starts at $82,730 excluding the $995 destination charge. Power comes from a 3.5-liter V-6 engine and two electric motor-generators, with zero-to-60 acceleration of 5.1 seconds. That’s slightly slower than the gas model with twin turbo V-6, but buyers benefit from a fuel economy advantage of about two miles-per-gallon.

    Options on the test car include an active safety system package adding pre-collision braking, active steering assist, front cross-traffic alert and road sign assist, adaptive air suspension, 20-inch alloy rims, LED adaptive front headlamps, Aniline leather upholstery, reclining rear seats, four-zone automatic climate control, Mark Levinson premium audio system, panoramic view monitor, premium wood interior trim and heated wood and leather steering wheel. Final MSRP is $107,720. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2018 Kia Stinger

    Sport sedan appeals to the car enthusiast in all of us

    By Nina Russin

    2018 Kia Stinger RWD

    Kia has a talent for making the unobtainable obtainable. That’s the idea behind the new Stinger sport sedan that competes against German marques such as the Audi A5 and BMW 5-Series. With pricing starting at $31,900 (excluding destination) for the rear-wheel drive four-cylinder model, it’s an appealing proposition.

    Power comes from a two-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine rated at 255-horsepower and eight-speed automatic transmission. Zero-to-sixty acceleration, according-to the manufacturer, is 5.9 seconds. Buyers wanting more horses under the hood can opt for a 365-horsepower 3.3-liter V-6.

    Average fuel economy, according-to EPA estimates is 25 miles-per-gallon. The manufacturer recommends but does not require premium unleaded gasoline.

    Kia’s design genius, Peter Schreyer, penned the exterior based on the Kia GT concept that drew crowds at the Frankfurt Auto Show in 2011. When journalists asked if Kia would actually-build something like that, the answer was: “Why not?”

    2018 Kia Stinger RWD

    In typical Kia fashion, the Stinger comes loaded with comfort and convenience features including leather upholstery, heated front seats, keyless entry and start, UVO infotainment, satellite radio, Bluetooth interface, Android Auto, Apple CarPlay, 18-inch rims, heated outside mirrors and LED tail lighting.

    An active safety option package on the test car adds forward collision warning with autonomous braking, lane keeping assist, blind spot monitoring, automatic high beams, drowsy driver warning and rear cross traffic alert. Final MSRP including the $900 destination charge is $34,800. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2018 Toyota Sienna SE 3.5L

    Versatile interior is ideal for outdoor enthusiasts

    By Nina Russin

    2018 Toyota Sienna

    The same thing that makes minivans great family cars- large configurable interiors- translates to athletes as well. Buyers who need to haul large gear as well as those who might want an interior large enough to sleep in the night before a stage race can’t do better than a minivan.

    The 2018 Toyota Sienna is basically a carryover from the refreshed 2017 car that featured a new, more powerful V-6 engine and eight-speed automatic transmission to boost fuel efficiency. The upscale SE priced from $38,990 (excluding destination) comes loaded with convenience features including leather seating, second row captain’s chairs, three-zone climate control, power liftgate, Entune infotainment with Scout GPS-link for navigation, satellite radio, Bluetooth and Easy Speak: a feature that broadcasts the driver’s voice through the rear speakers.

    Options on the test car include blind spot monitoring with cross traffic alert, push button start, moonroof, premium audio system, iPod compatibility, HD radio, satellite radio, Entune app suite and carpeted floor mats. Final MSRP is $41,150. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2018 Kia Sportage SX AWD

    Compact crossover delivers the goods

    By Nina Russin

    Kia Sportage

    Kia Sportage

    Although the Sportage is one of Kia’s oldest nameplates with heritage going back to the early 1990s, the current compact crossover represents a complete departure from the original SUV that completed the Paris-Dakar rally in 1993 and the Baja 1000 two years later. While the early Sportage was ideal for off-road competition, its performance on paved roads was less than perfect, hence the evolution towards the current unibody (passenger car) platform.

    What links the two models more than the name is their focus on value. While it would be difficult to determine whether-or-not the current Sportage is the best compact crossover in the ever-widening sea of options, it’s a solid performer that comes well equipped with convenience and active safety features.

    Pricing for the base front-wheel drive LX starts at $23,750: over $500 below the Toyota RAV4 and Honda CR-V it competes against. The upscale SX all-wheel drive model tested is priced from $34,400 excluding the $990 destination charge. Adding a few options- cargo mat, cross bars, carpeted floor mats, cargo net, cover and cargo tray- final MSRP is $36,125. Read the rest of this entry »