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  • 2017 Ford Escape FWD

    Compact crossover features enhanced safety, better MPG

    By Nina Russin

    2017 Ford Escape

    2017 Ford Escape

    The Escape was one of the first compact crossovers when it hit the US market in 2001, and remains a staple of the segment. For 2017, Ford has refreshed the Escape with new active safety features and improved fuel economy with automatic shut-off at idle.

    Pricing for the front-wheel drive SE grade starts at $25,100 excluding the $895 destination charge. Options on the test car include a technology packages that includes the newest version of Sync, reverse sensing, roof rack side rails and Sync Connect; a two-liter EcoBoost engine; power liftgate; voice-activated touchscreen navigation system; 18-inch alloy rims, and a comfort package including heated front seats, leather-wrapped steering wheel and power side mirrors with blind spot monitoring. Final MSRP is $33,660. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2017 Volkswagen Passat 1.8 SEL Premium

    Midsize sedan adds active safety and infotainment

    By Nina Russin

    2017 Volkswagen Passat

    2017 Volkswagen Passat

    If you’re looking for a German sport sedan but don’t have a German sport sedan budget, consider the 2017 Volkswagen Passat, priced from $22,440: stylish and solidly built with a full roster of active safety features such as adaptive cruise control, lane departure assist, blind spot monitoring and park assist. Power comes from a 170-horsepower 1.8-liter turbocharged engine mated to a six-speed automatic transmission. Buyers wanted more power can opt for the 280-horsepower V-6.

    The Passat is front-wheel drive, but it’s extremely well balanced front-to-back. Drivers needn’t worry about a floating rear end.

    The test car is the 1.8T SEL model priced from $30,995. The upscale grade comes loaded with comfort and convenience features including 18-inch alloy wheels, LED automatic headlamps, power folding heated side mirrors, keyless entry and start, dual-zone automatic climate control, heated seats, leather upholstery, a 6.3-inch touchscreen with navigation, Bluetooth interface and satellite radio.

    VW Car-Net is standard on the SEL, adding smart phone apps, navigation and emergency roadside assistance. Final MSRP including the $820 destination charge is $31,815. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2017 Kia Niro Touring

    New hybrid crossover melds versatility and value

    By Nina Russin

    2017 Kia Niro

    2017 Kia Niro

    To compare the new Kia Niro gasoline/electric hybrid to the Toyota Prius is apples and oranges. In terms of fuel economy, the Prius beats the Niro hands down. But buyers wanting a more conventional crossover with the versatility for active lifestyles and excellent gas mileage will find a lot to love in the Niro.

    Kia continues to offer exceptional value throughout the product lineup, including convenience features such as Harman Kardon audio system, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, dual-zone climate control, Bluetooth interface, leather seating and keyless start in a vehicle priced below $30,000. Pricing for the base model starts at the $22,890 while the upscale Touring model tested starts at $29,650. Pricing excludes an $895 delivery charge.

    Available active safety features include autonomous braking, forward collision warning, adaptive cruise control lane departure warning. Final MSRP on the Touring model, including the aforementioned-safety features is $32,840. Read the rest of this entry »

  • First Drive: 2017 Nissan Rogue Sport

    Rogue’s new sibling is a city-friendly compact crossover

    By Nina Russin

    2017 Nissan Rogue Sport

    2017 Nissan Rogue Sport

    The all-new Nissan Rogue Sport is a smaller, lighter version of Nissan’s popular compact crossover, competing against the Honda HR-V, Mazda CX-3 and Toyota C-HR. Because the Sport is twelve inches shorter and has a lower roofline than its big brother, it loses some cargo space, rear leg and head room. Bottom line: growing families should think Rogue while singles or childless couples go with Rogue Sport.

    Since Nissan was one of the first players in the subcompact segment with the turbocharged Juke, some might wonder why the automaker is bringing out a second entry. According-to Nissan spokespersons, the Sport’s more conservative styling and lifestyle-friendly features such as the divide-n-hide rear cargo system should give the baby Rogue a bigger net to cast in the pond.

    Power for the Rogue Sport comes from a two-liter inline four-cylinder engine rated at 141-horsepower with 147 pound-feet of peak torque and continuously variable automatic transmission. Pricing for the base front-wheel drive model starts at $21, 420 excluding delivery while the upscale all-wheel drive SL starts at $27,420. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2017 Volkswagen Jetta 2.0T GLI

    Sporty compact sedan adds spice to the daily commute

    By Nina Russin

    Volkswagen Jetta GLI

    Volkswagen Jetta GLI

    The GLI is the premium sport grade for Volkswagen’s Jetta compact sedan. Priced from $27,895, it comes loaded with safety and convenience features including a rearview camera with park distance control, blind spot monitoring, keyless start, Bluetooth interface, Fender premium audio system, satellite radio and cruise control.

    Eighteen-inch alloy rims are an upgrade from 16-inch wheels on the base model. Automatic headlamps, LED daytime running lamps, rain-sensing wipers and a power tilt-and-slide sunroof make the GLI an appealing yet affordable package. Final MSRP is $28,715. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2018 Volkswagen Atlas

    Midsize sport-utility vehicle with room for seven

    By Nina Russin

    2018 Volkswagen Atlas

    2018 Volkswagen Atlas

    Volkswagen’s newest family member, the Atlas, is a midsize SUV based on the automaker’s MQB platform first introduced in the current-generation Golf. Volkswagen is building the Atlas along with the Passat at its newly expanded Chattanooga, Tennessee assembly plant.

    Like the Golf and Passat, the Atlas is a front-wheel drive vehicle, and as with the new Golf Alltrack wagon, is available with all-wheel drive. Although the Atlas competes in the same segment as the Volkswagen Touareg, the vehicles are quite different.

    The premium Touareg is available only as an all-wheel drive vehicle, and with two rows of seating as opposed to three for the new Atlas. While the Touareg can tow more- up to 7,716 pounds as opposed to 5,000 for the Atlas equipped with the V-6 engine, the Atlas holds more on the inside: something that should appeal to growing families with active lifestyles.

    It’s also more affordable. The front-wheel drive four-cylinder model that arrives in dealerships later this year starts at $30,500, while the V-6 front-wheel drive base model starts at $31,900. Buyers can add all-wheel drive for $33,700 excluding destination and handling. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2017 Subaru BRZ Limited

    Sports car gains in power and performance

    By Nina Russin

    2017 Subaru BRZ

    2017 Subaru BRZ

    In many ways, the two-seat BRZ is very much a Subaru; in others, a bit different. The platform, developed jointly with Toyota (the Toyota version is the 86), is the only rear-wheel drive car in Subaru’s model line-up. That said, Subaru’s inherently-balanced boxer four-cylinder engine, updated for more horsepower and torque in 2017, is the car’s heart and soul. When equipped with the six-speed manual transmission, the engine develops 205-horsepower and 156 pound-feet of peak torque, for better low-end acceleration.

    The BRZ is very much a Subaru with its focus on safety and versatility. It is comfortable enough for the daily commute, with important safety features such as LED headlamps and a rearview camera. Standard satellite radio and Bluetooth interface make the minutes sitting in rush-hour traffic go by faster. Fuel economy is also quite good. Although the EPA estimates average gas mileage at 24, we got over 28 on our test drive of about 150 miles. That included time in rush-hours at the height of Phoenix, Arizona’s Spring Training baseball season.

    Best of all, the BRZ is affordable, with pricing for the base Premium model starting at $25,495. The upscale Limited tested starts at $27,645. Standard convenience features include keyless entry and start, Subaru Smartlink that adds smartphone integration with Pandora, Aha, Stitcher and iHeart Radio and Bluetooth streaming audio. A LCD information screen next to the tachometer enables the driver to access performance information including lateral Gs, accelerator pedal position, steering angle, oil and water temperature and battery voltage. Final MSRP is $28,465. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2017 Nissan Rogue AWD

    Crossover gets new styling and active safety enhancements

    By Nina Russin

    2017 Nissan Rogue

    2017 Nissan Rogue

    With so many new models entering the compact crossover segment, it can be difficult for shoppers to separate wheat from chaff. What options fill all the squares- styling, versatility, safety and performance- while offering the best value?

    For buyers with active lifestyles, the 2017 Nissan Rogue should make the short list. The automaker revised both styling and performance for the 2017 model year, with a refreshed exterior, available all-wheel drive and important active safety features including autonomous braking with pedestrian detection and adaptive cruise control.

    2017 Nissan Rogue

    2017 Nissan Rogue

    Power comes from a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine rated at 170-horsepower with 175 pound-feet of peak torque and continuously variable transmission. Standard convenience features on the upscale SL model tested include a six-way power driver’s seat, 40/20/40 split folding second-row seat, around-view monitor with moving object detection, heated front seats, NissanConnect with navigation and mobile apps, seven-inch touchscreen monitor, satellite radio with real-time traffic updates, USB port, Bose premium audio system, Bluetooth interface, Siri Eyes Free, dual-zone automatic climate control, Divide-N-Hide cargo management system, keyless start and high beam assist.

    Base MSRP excluding the $900 destination charge is $31,310. Options on the test car include a panoramic moonroof, LED headlamps, 19-inch rims, adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning and assist, autonomous braking, leather seating and cargo area protector. Final MSRP is $35,475. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2017 Honda CR-V AWD Touring

    New turbocharged engine raises the bar among compact crossovers

    By Nina Russin

    2017 Honda CR-V

    2017 Honda CR-V

    Honda was one of the first automakers to enter the compact crossover segment with the CR-V: a car that continues to be one of the most popular choices thanks to the automaker’s reputation for reliability, safety and solid performance. For 2017, Honda has raised the bar with an all-new model including available 1.5-liter turbocharged engine, re-engineered all-wheel drive system, new exterior styling and a roomier interior. As with previous iterations, the new CR-V is a winner- hands down- combining excellent ride and handling, good engine power and excellent fuel economy.

    The test car is the upscale Touring model with all-wheel drive and the new turbocharged engine, priced from $33,695 excluding the $900 destination charge. Honda simplifies the buying process by including safety, comfort and convenience features as standard equipment.

    The Touring grade features keyless entry and start, leather seating, premium audio system with satellite radio and Bluetooth interface, seven-inch color touchscreen display, rearview camera with cross traffic alert, Pandora radio, USB port, dual-zone automatic climate control, 12-way power driver’s seat, heated front seats, 60/40 split folding rear seats, power moon-roof, 18-inch alloy wheels, LED lighting, rain sensing wipers, blind spot monitoring, hands-free power tailgate, capless fuel filler and roof rails. Final MSRP is $34,595 Read the rest of this entry »

  • First Drive: 2018 Toyota C-HR

    Stylish crossover for active urbanites

    By Nina Russin

    2018 Toyota C-HR

    2018 Toyota C-HR

    Toyota’s newest compact crossover called the C-HR (Coupe-High Rider) reflects CEO, Akio Toyoda’s focus on re-infusing the brand with passionate styling and performance. Closely resembling the Scion concept that debuted at the LA Auto Show, the C-HR focuses on young drivers buying their first new car, with a combination of aggressive styling, sporty performance and value pricing.

    There are two models, the XLE and XLE Premium priced from $22,500 and $24,350 respectively. Although the C-HR is a Toyota model, pricing strategy is monospec in the Scion tradition. Prices do not include a $960 destination charge.

    The car’s profile loosely resembles a diamond formed by the roofline and beltline. Standard 18-inch wheels contribute to the C-HR’s sporty appearance. A R-Code version features a white roof with four available exterior colors.

    2018 Toyota C-HR

    2018 Toyota C-HR

    Built on Toyota’s new global TNGA C platform, the C-HR comes with one powertrain: a two-liter dual overhead cam engine rated at 144-horsepower and continuously variable automatic transmission. An available manual gear select mode enables the driver to engage seven shift points.

    To satisfy the needs of tech-savvy millennials, product planners equipped the C-HR with streaming Bluetooth audio, Aha, HD radio USB 2.0 port, iPod connectivity, phone book access and hands-free phone capability. A seven-inch touch-screen display and thin-film transistor information display in the gauge cluster are on par with significantly more expensive competitors. Read the rest of this entry »