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  • 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 »

  • 2017 Subaru Impreza 2.0i Premium

    Four-door wagon raises the bar for active lifestyles

    By Nina Russin

    2017 Subaru Wagon

    2017 Subaru Wagon

    If you’re an endurance athlete looking for an affordable vehicle with good fuel economy that can haul your gear, clear snow and travel the trails, you owe it to yourself to consider Subaru’s newest Impreza four-door wagon. Priced from $18,395, the all-wheel drive Impreza builds on the outgoing model’s off-road capabilities, adding a more powerful engine, more spacious and quiet interior.

    Our test car is the mid-grade Premium equipped with a naturally-aspirated two-liter engine and continuously variable automatic transmission. Standard features include heated front seats, exterior mirrors and windshield wiper de-icer, 16-inch alloy wheels, roof rails, Bluetooth interface, Android Auto, Apple CarPlay, Aha, Pandora, Starlink connected services and roof rails.

    An EyeSight active safety package adds adaptive cruise control, autonomous pre-collision braking, lane departure alert, blind spot detection and cross traffic alert. Other options include a power moonroof and steering responsive fog lamps that swivel in the direction of steering input. Final MSRP is $24,910. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2017 Mitsubishi Outlander 2.4 SEL AWC

    Compact crossover maintains value focus

    By Nina Russin

    Mitsubishi Outlander

    Mitsubishi Outlander

    With the average transaction price for new cars approaching $35,000, it’s easy to lose focus on value. But in a post-2008 economy, buyers are approaching big purchases, including automobiles, more conservatively.

    Mitsubishi has made a value focus the lynchpin of its comeback strategy and it’s working. Athletes picked the restyled 2016 Mitsubishi Outlander to win the ALV of the Year award for Best Value, responding to its all-wheel drive capabilities, good fuel economy, five-star NHTSA crash test rating and extensive roster of convenience features.

    The 2017 model is essentially carryover from last year. The Outlander is one of the few compact crossovers on the market to hold up to seven passengers. Third-row seats are rather small, but give growing families the ability to carry a couple of neighbor kids to weekly soccer practice. Fold the seats flat and a spacious cargo bay can carry a couple of road bikes, protecting them from inclement weather or theft.

    Mitsubishi Outlander

    Mitsubishi Outlander

    The test car is the upscale SEL grade priced from $27,495 excluding the $895 destination charge. Power comes from a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine and continuously variable automatic transmission. All-wheel drive gives the Outlander four-season capability.

    A touring option package adds a multi-view camera that displays both a rear and overhead view when the driver shifts into reverse, forward collision mitigation, blind spot monitoring, adaptive cruise control, automatic high beams and a Rockford Fosgate premium audio system. Final MSRP is $32,390. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2017 Toyota Corolla 50th Anniversary Edition

    Best-selling compact sedan celebrates a milestone

    By Nina Russin

    2017 Toyota Corolla 50th Anniversary Edition

    2017 Toyota Corolla 50th Anniversary Edition

    For 2017, Toyota introduces a mid-cycle refresh on its Corolla compact sedan including new exterior styling, infotainment and active safety technology. The company also marks the car’s milestone anniversary with a special edition based on the volume-leading LE grade.

    With its blacked out grille and custom dark red exterior, the 50th anniversary Corolla stands apart from the pack. The limited edition vehicle rides on 17-inch alloy rims. Special badging and interior trim complete the package.

    Standard convenience features include keyless entry and start, LED headlamps, Entune audio with Siri Eyes Free and a rear backup camera. Base MSRP is $21,900.

    Options on the test car add a tilt-and-slide moonroof, paint protection film, illuminated door sills and a tablet holder. Adding the $865 destination charge, final MSRP is $24,497. 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 »

  • 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 »