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  • First Drive: 2018 Volkswagen Tiguan SE

    New model gains power, performance and versatility

    By Nina Russin

    2018 Volkswagen Tiguan

    2018 Volkswagen Tiguan

    This year, Volkswagen introduces an all-new Tiguan compact SUV, building on the original model’s formula of European performance with some significant improvements. The 2018 model is built on the automaker’s modular MQB platform: the same front-wheel drive chassis used for the Golf and midsize Atlas crossover. While the Tiguan is considerably smaller than the Atlas, it’s larger than the car it replaces- about 11-inches longer- and available for the first time with third-row seating.

    Pricing for the front-wheel drive S-grade starts at $25,345 excluding destination; the 4-Motion all-wheel drive variant starts at $26,645. There are four grades, including the volume-leading SE, upscale SE and SEL Premium. The top-of-the-line Premium with all-wheel drive costs $38,450 including the $900 destination charge, and includes LED exterior lighting, roof rails, a panoramic sunroof, heated side mirrors, keyless entry and start, leather seating, dual-zone climate control, power liftgate, Fender premium audio system, VW Car-Net security and infotainment services and more.

    Sealing the deal is a new fully-transferrable factory warranty protecting buyers against repair costs for any manufacturing defects up to six-years or 72,000 miles. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2017 Mazda MX-5 RF

    Two-seat sports car gets dramatic new styling

    By Nina Russin

    2017 Mazda MX-5 RF

    2017 Mazda MX-5 RF

    No vehicle in Mazda’s line-up embodies the brand’s mission of affordable performance more than the MX-5 ‘Miata.’ Designed by car enthusiasts for their kindred spirits, the MX-5 delivers spirited performance both on and off the track at a price that won’t break the bank.

    This year Mazda ups the ante with the RF retractable hardtop, building on the MX-5’s current styling for more dramatic presence on the road, plus the convenience of a top that deploys in thirteen seconds.

    Pricing for the upscale Grand Touring grade starts at $32,620 excluding the $835 destination charge. Standard convenience features include 17-inch alloy wheels with R-rated performance tires, LED exterior lighting, remote keyless entry and start, heated side mirrors, Bluetooth interface, Bose audio system with HD and satellite radio, navigation, leather upholstery and heated front seats. The metal flake red exterior is an option. Final MSRP is $33,885. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2017 Chevrolet Trax Premier AWD

    Compact crossover gets exterior restyle

    By Nina Russin

    2017 Chevrolet Trax

    2017 Chevrolet Trax

    The compact Trax is the smaller sibling to the Chevrolet Equinox. Available with front or all-wheel drive, 2017 models get an exterior refresh with a new grille, headlamps and tail lamps for the upscale Premier model that replaces the LTZ. The Premier model also comes standard with 18-inch alloy wheels.

    Inside drivers will find a new gauge cluster and reconfigured cockpit. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are now standard- part of Chevrolet MyLink infotainment. All 2017 models get keyless entry and start.

    Power for the Trax comes from a 1.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine rated at 138-horsepower and six-speed automatic transmission. Zero-to-sixty for the all-wheel drive model tested is 10.08 seconds.

    Base price for the Premier AWD test car is $27,600 excluding the $895 delivery charge. Standard convenience features include a six-way power driver’s seat, storage area under the front passenger seat, air conditioning, heated seats, automatic headlamps, Bose audio system with XM radio, OnStar with automatic crash response, 4GLTE WiFi hotspot and Bluetooth interface. An active safety option package adds forward collision warning and lane departure alert. Final MSRP is $28,790. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 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 »