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  • 2019 Toyota 86 GT

    Two-plus-two for driving enthusiasts

    By Nina Russin

    2019 Toyota 86

    The Toyota 86 is the automaker’s small, sporty car co-developed with Subaru (BR-Z), and inspired by the Corolla Levin of the 1980s, also known as the “86.” Aside from the BR-Z, the Toyota 86 has no true direct competitors, although it is frequently compared with the Nissan Z-cars, Chevrolet Camaro and sometimes the Hyundai Veloster. In terms of performance, it seems closest to the two-seat Mazda Miata and Fiat 124 Spider.

    Twenty-nineteen is the third year for the 86 in the Toyota line-up: previously the car was part of the Scion brand. Toyota has added TRD version with Brembo brakes, Sachs dampers, special 18-inch rims and body kit. However, the powertrain remains basically unchanged, consisting of a two-liter 205-horsepower boxer engine (from Subaru) paired with the choice of six-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmission.

    Base price for the 86 with the automatic transmission is $27,174 minus the $920 destination charge. Final MSRP for the GT version tested is $30,225. As with other vehicles previously sold under the Scion nameplate, the 86 is essentially monospec with two options: all-season tires (not available on the TRD model) and a premium audio system with navigation. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2018 Hyundai Kona Ultimate AWD

    Small but mighty

    By Nina Russin

    Hyundai Kona

    I love it when a new car surprises me with useful features I don’t expect. The subcompact Hyundai Kona, baby brother to the larger Tucson crossover, is case in point. What looks like another in the growing sea of crossovers is much more, with a slew of available active safety features, versatile interior, infotainment and all-wheel drive.

    Kona is the home of the original Ironman competition, and continues to be the most desirable of the endurance triathlon series to compete in. It’s a tough course: hot, humid, sometimes windy and always unpredictable. An athlete who finishes Kona with his/her head up has accomplished what few individuals on the planet can.

    In similar fashion, the Hyundai Kona is small but mighty, with a peppy 1.6-liter turbocharged engine, which when combined with the seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission delivers 27 miles-per-gallon according-to the EPA. That figure might not seem exceptional, but remember this is all-wheel drive: better traction than two-wheel drive but typically a drain on fuel economy of at least 2-3 MPG.

    Base price for the upscale Kona Ultimate AWD is $28,700 excluding the $980 delivery charge. To keep things simple, Hyundai includes a complete roster of convenience and safety features: LED headlamps and tail lamps, rain sensing wipers, heated side mirrors, eight-way power driver’s seat, 60/40 split folding rear seat, leather upholstery, LCD information screen, navigation, satellite radio, Bluetooth interface, Infinity premium audio system, Blue Link connected services and more. Final MSRP is $29,805. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2018 Hyundai Sonata SEL

    Value never goes out of style

    By Nina Russin

    Hyundai Sonata

    This year Hyundai refreshed its midsize Sonata sedan with a new mesh grille and front fascia and some important infotainment enhancements including Qi wireless charging, dual-zone automatic climate control and a heated steering wheel. While the Sonata might not be the fastest vehicle in its competitive segment, one would be hard pressed to find a better value. The Sonata is a premium-feeling sedan without the premium price.

    Base for the SEL tested is $23,700 excluding the $885 destination charge. Power comes from a 2.4-liter direct injection engine and six-speed automatic transmission, yielding 28 mile-per-gallon average fuel economy according-to the EPA.

    Standard convenience features include keyless entry and start, 17-inch alloy wheels, heated side mirrors, satellite radio, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, Bluetooth interface, heated front seats, power driver’s seat with power lumbar, tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, dual-zone climate control and Blue Link connected services. A tech package costing $1000 adds autonomous emergency braking, lane keeping assist, electronic parking brake and adaptive cruise control. The test car also comes with carpeted floor mats, bringing the final MSRP to $25,710. 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 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 »

  • 2018 Toyota RAV4 Adventure AWD

    The original compact crossover takes the road less traveled

    By Nina Russin

    2018 Toyota RAV4 Adventure

    2018 Toyota RAV4 Adventure

    While many automakers claim to have invented the compact crossover, credit should go to Toyota, which introduced the original Recreational Activity Vehicle in 1994. What distinguished the original RAV4 from other small SUVs at the time was its car-based architecture. Unibody construction gave the RAV4 the road manners of a passenger car while its two-box architecture added practicality for buyers who wanted a taller, more versatile cargo area.

    Over the past quarter century, the RAV4 has grown in proportions and developed a distinct personality. With the recent addition of the C-HR to Toyota’s crossover lineup, the RAV4 is no longer the smallest offering. Styling is more conservative, and the cargo bay in-particular-is considerably roomier.

    This year, Toyota adds the Adventure model, combining convenience features from the mid-grade XLE with the sporty SE’s styling, plus some unique content: more ground clearance, bigger fender flares and tires, and a standard tow prep package that enables the RAV4 Adventure to tow up to 3500 pounds, meeting our ALV minimum towing standards.

    Base price for the all-wheel drive version is $28,400, excluding destination. Options on the test car include a cold-weather package that adds a heated steering wheel and heated front seats, power driver’s seat and windshield wiper de-icer, mudguards, unique exterior paint and a tonneau cover for the cargo area, bringing the final MSRP to $30,880. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2018 Toyota C-HR XLE Premium

    Compact crossover is young at heart

    By Nina Russin

    2018 Toyota C-HR

    2018 Toyota C-HR

    The all-new Toyota C-HR is perhaps the most dramatic manifestation of the automaker’s new direction in styling and performance. Originally intended for the Scion brand when it debuted at the 2014 Paris Motor Show, the C-HR combines edgy, youthful styling with peppy performance at an affordable price. There are two available trim levels: XLE and XLE Premium. Pricing for the base XLE starts at $22,500. The XLE Premium model tested is priced from $24,350 excluding destination.

    Options on the test car are minimal and affordably priced, including carpeted floor mats and cargo mat, mudguards, first aid kit, TRD oil cap and rear bumper protector, bringing the final MSRP to $25,958.

    All models are front-wheel drive and come with a 144-horsepower two-liter engine and continuously variable automatic transmission. Sadly, there’s no manual transmission option. My guess is that chief engineer, Hiro Koba, would have opted to include the option had it been viable, since he is a racing enthusiast. Unfortunately, the uptake on manual gearboxes is so low these days that offering one this type of vehicle simply isn’t cost-effective.

    All models come well-equipped with standard safety and convenience features, including Toyota Safety Sense with Pedestrian Detection: a suite of technologies including pre-collision with auto-brake, dynamic radar cruise control, lane keeping assist and automatic high beams. The XLE Premium adds blind spot monitoring: something I found quite useful since the car’s thick D-pillars create large blind spots in the rear corners.

    Standard convenience features include keyless entry and start, dual-zone automatic climate control, leather-trimmed tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel and shift knob, fog lamps, brake hold, power side mirrors and a four-inch thin-film-transistor information display. All models run on 18-inch alloy wheels and come with LED daytime running lamps. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2018 Toyota Corolla XSE

    Compact sedan combines value with style

    By Nina Russin

    2018 Toyota Corolla

    2018 Toyota Corolla

    The Corolla is Toyota’s most enduring nameplate, with over fifty years on American roads. While many things have changed over the past five decades, the compact sedan’s mission- combining style, value and reliability- remains the same. At a time when commodities trend towards overcomplicated and overpriced, it’s a refreshing formula.

    The 2018 model is essentially carryover from the previous year, with the addition of Toyota Safety Sense with pedestrian detection and a rearview camera as standard equipment on all models. Pricing for the upscale XSE starts at $22,730 excluding the $895 destination charge.

    Standard equipment includes LED headlamps, 17-inch alloy wheels, Bluetooth interface, keyless entry and start, USB and iPod connectivity, automatic climate control, six-way power driver’s seat, thin-film transistor information display, Entune audio with Scout GPS link, 60/40 split folding rear seats and heated front seats. A standard power moonroof brings more ambient light into the interior.

    Options on the test car add a TRD performance exhaust, air filter and rear sway bar, premium audio system with navigation, seven-inch touchscreen, satellite radio, Bluetooth streaming audio, a first aid kit, mudguards and tablet holder. Final MSRP is $25,881. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2018 Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross SE S-AWC

    New compact crossover focused on value

    By Nina Russin

    2018 Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross

    2018 Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross

    Mitsubishi is leveraging the name of one of its most popular passenger cars to create a buzz about its newest compact crossover, the Eclipse Cross. As the pool of CUVs widens, competition among well-known players including Honda and Toyota makes gaining market share more challenging.

    Mitsubishi has struggled as of late to regain consumer confidence. Disregarding the issue of resale value, the automaker is offering buyers some very solid vehicles with improved fit and finish. While the Eclipse Cross isn’t a perfect car, it’s hard to find anything offering as much standard content with a starting price of $23,295.

    The all-wheel drive model tested starts at $26,395 excluding the $995 destination charge. Options include special white pearl exterior paint, carpeted floor mats, and tonneau cover. Final MSRP is $27,915. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2018 GMC Terrain SLT

    Compact crossover has the versatility for active lifestyles

    By Nina Russin

    2018 GMC Terrain

    2018 GMC Terrain

    GMC is one of two automakers that focuses exclusively on building trucks and understanding what its buyers want in terms of functionality: hence the term, ‘professional grade.’

    In the ever-increasing pool of compact crossovers, the new second-generation Terrain stands out as a very good package at an affordable price. Features such as a fold-flat front passenger seat and available hands-free liftgate make it a lot easier to load large items such as bikes and kayaks inside.

    At the same time, GMC includes important active safety technology such as forward collision warning with autonomous braking, blind spot monitoring, lane keeping assist, intelligent headlamps and blind spot monitoring, as well as infotainment features such as a 4G LTE Wi Fi hotspot.

    Base price for the upscale SLT grade is $31,320 excluding the $995 destination charge. Options on the test car include panoramic sunroof, power hands-free liftgate, driver’s seat memory and power front passenger seat, an infotainment system including an 8-inch color touchscreen, OnStar and navigation, Bose audio system, red exterior paint and the active safety features listed above. Final MSRP is $38,070. Read the rest of this entry »