2017 Subaru Outback 2.5 Limited
Sport-utility wagon is the perfect training partner
By Nina Russin
Riding my bicycle through an unexpected monsoonal rainstorm this morning, I was thinking about the Subaru Outback test car parked in our driveway, specifically the relationship between the brand and endurance athletes going back over four decades. Long before other brands saw outdoor lifestyles as a marketing asset, Subaru embraced the idea, sponsoring the US Ski team.
A unique carburetor design that compensated for oxygen loss at altitude made Subaru’s early four-cylinder engines the only small engines that ran well in mountainous areas. Along with that came standard all-wheel drive throughout the lineup. To this day, the only Subaru that comes without AWD is the track-oriented BRZ.
But there’s a deeper reason why Subaru’s vehicles resonate with athletes. They are perfect training partners: up for any adventure and never complaining about the weather, always willing to pitch in when there’s work to be done and not afraid of getting dirty. They are durable, versatile workhorses that always come through in a pinch.
Subaru isn’t afraid to call the Outback a wagon because that’s what it is: a very functional gear hauler with the ability to go through almost anything, including mud, deep snow, water, sleet and ice.
The 2017 model adds some important upgrades: a new upscale Touring grade above the Limited, torque vectoring for better cornering, enhanced hill start-assist and hill descent control functions for better wet weather performance, a roomier cargo area, more active safety technology and infotainment features.
Base price for the Limited model tested is $32,390 excluding the $875 destination charge. An optional convenience package adds navigation, Sirius XM travel and weather updates, steering responsive fog lamps, high intensity discharge headlamps, high beam assist and Subaru EyeSight: active safety technology including adaptive cruise control, lane keeping assist, pre-collision throttle control and pre-collision braking. Final MSRP is $35,260. Read the rest of this entry »
2017 Volkswagen Golf Alltrack SEL with 4Motion
Active lifestyle wagon with German performance
By Nina Russin
Volkswagen’s new Golf Alltrack sport wagon is the masculine yang to the Subaru Outback’s more feminine yin. Athletic performance comes from a turbocharged 1.8-liter engine and available six-speed manual gearbox on all grades. Like its Subaru competitor, the Alltrack boasts a versatile easy-to-clean interior with a spacious cargo bay for larger gear, and enough ground clearance to clear the tea kettles on unimproved roads.
VW product planners hope the Alltrack’s available panoramic sunroof and slightly lower roof height than the Outback will lure existing Subaru owners into its showrooms. Roof rails are standard on every Alltrack grade to facilitate overhead cargo carriers and roof racks.
The Alltrack is based on Volkswagen’s popular Golf Sportwagen. Although its sibling is available with Volkswagen’s 4Motion all-wheel drive system, the Alltrack’s higher ground clearance makes it more capable on uneven trails. A drive-select mode system automatically engages downhill descent control when the driver chooses the off-road setting.
The standard 1.8-liter turbocharged engine develops 170-horsepower and 199 pound-feet of torque from engine speeds as low as 1600 rpm for excellent low-end acceleration. The DSG automatic model that launches in October starts at $26,950 excluding an $820 destination charge while the six-speed manual version available in January, 2017 is priced from $25,850. Read the rest of this entry »
2017 Fiat 124 Spider
Iconic roadster returns for millennial driving enthusiasts
By Nina Russin
Is it possible for an Italian sports car to cost less than $25,000? Remarkably enough, it is. The new Fiat 124 Spider that rolls out as a 2017 model recalls the automaker’s best selling open-air car that debuted at the 1966 Turin Auto Show.
As with the original, design inspiration came from Italy, but the underpinnings reflect a collaboration between Fiat and Mazda. Fiat incorporated chassis components from the current Mazda MX-5 Miata into its powertrain, but added its own 1.4-liter MultiAir turbocharged engine that delivers 164 horsepower. Buyers can choose between a six-speed manual gearbox or six-speed automatic transmission.
Base price for the test car equipped with the six-speed manual is $24,995, sans the $995 destination charge. Options include an audio upgrade that adds Bluetooth streaming music, rearview camera and pearl white exterior, bringing the final MSRP to $27,880. Read the rest of this entry »
2016 Subaru Series HyperBlue
Sports car’s beauty is more than skin deep
By Nina Russin
The BRZ two-plus-two is a bit of an anomaly for Subaru: the only rear-wheel drive car in its line-up, and one of two models focused specifically on racing. Unlike its closest sibling, the WRX/WRX STi, the BRZ is a track car in the traditional sense of the word. With its perfectly balanced boxer engine, low center of gravity and close ratio six-speed manual gearbox, the Subaru BRZ begs to take corners at speed: the more the better.
Subaru developed the BRZ in conjunction with Scion, which calls its version the FR-S. While Toyota engineers took the reigns through much of the project, it’s important to point out that the engine, the heart of the car, is pure Subaru. Toyota wasn’t being charitable handing this very critical part of the chassis over to Subaru. The fact is, they couldn’t have done it better themselves. Subaru’s four-cylinder engine with identical bore and stroke dimensions is perfect as a high-revving block in a car designed to deliver short bursts of speed.
Direct injection and a high compression ratio give the engine exceptional throttle response. When mated to the six-speed manual gearbox, the BRZ goes off the line like a rabbit. The car’s lightweight chassis, low center of gravity and excellent front-to-rear weight balance give it the nimble performance driving enthusiasts crave.
For 2016, Subaru has produced a special edition called HyperBlue, with a unique exterior, leather and Alcantara seat surfaces, special wheels and badging. It’s a fearsome looking package inside and out. The fact that it goes as well as it shows and is affordable makes this BRZ the total package.
Base price is $27,690, including all the aforementioned features on the limited-edition car. Final MSRP with destination is $28,485. Read the rest of this entry »
2017 Chrysler Pacifica Touring
Go-to family car reinvented
By Nina Russin
It’s no surprise the automaker that invented the minivan has introduced the most compelling new product in the segment. With the Dodge Grand Caravan discontinued, the all-new Pacifica becomes Chrysler’s only minivan offering. But it is more diverse, with a gasoline-powered version on sale now followed by a gasoline electric hybrid that rolls out later this summer.
Exterior styling is more like a crossover, appealing to buyers turned off by the one-box minivan stigma. This idea isn’t unique to Chrysler: Kia took a similar approach with the current Sedona.
Chrysler’s ace-in-the-hole is family-friendly features including chicklets on sliding side doors making them easier for kids to open, and built-in vacuum cleaner. Proprietary Stow ‘n Go seating folds second-row seats into the floor to create a capacious cargo area. Second-row seats can also tilt forward without removing child safety seats for better third-row access.
The Touring grade tested appeals to value-focused buyers with a base price of $30,495 excluding the $995 destination charge. An optional power liftgate brings the final MSRP to $31,985. Read the rest of this entry »
2016 Nissan Altima SL
Refreshed midsize sedan gains in style, safety and fuel economy
By Nina Russin
Since first coming on the scene in the early 1990s, the Nissan Altima has been a sporty alternative to the ever popular Toyota Camry and Honda Accord. Although the midsize sedan has changed significantly over the past quarter century, it maintains the original strategy of affordability, style and appealing performance.
For 2016 Nissan significantly refreshed the current model with new exterior styling, a stand-alone sport grade and enhanced active safety features. Fuel economy has also improved to 39 miles-per-gallon on the 2.5-liter model tested.
With the average transaction price for automobiles reaching $32,000, it’s refreshing to see a fully-loaded premium sedan costing significantly less: $28,570 for the test car equipped with leather upholstery, keyless entry and start, heated zero gravity front seats, Bose premium audio system with satellite radio and Bluetooth streaming audio, heated mirrors and 17-inch alloy rims.
A technology package on the test car adds forward collision warning with emergency braking, blind spot monitoring, NissanConnect with navigation, stolen vehicle location and remote start via smartphone. Final MSRP including destination is $32,510. Read the rest of this entry »
2017 Fiat 124 Spider
Classic drop-top reinvented for millennial buyers
By Nina Russin
Fiat has a talent for making what was once old new again, and just as important, relevant. Inspiration for the new 2017 Fiat Spider is the brand’s classic roadster that debuted at the 1966 Turin Auto show. Designed by Pininfarina and powered by a 1438 cc engine, the Spider was a more affordable alternative to the legendary Ferrari GTS. It became Fiat’s most successful effort in the United States, produced through the 1985 model year.
The new 124 Spider shares chassis components with the current Mazda MX-5 Miata, but features a slightly larger body, different engine, styling and exhaust system than its Japanese counterpart.
Power for all three grades comes from Fiat’s 160-horsepower 1.4-liter MultiAir intercooled and turbocharged engine. A quad exhaust on the upscale Abarth grade adds four horsepower. Buyers can choose between a six-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmission with manual gear selection.
At the beginning of production Fiat is issuing a Prima Edizione version of the midgrade Lusso, limited to 124 vehicles.
Pricing for the base Classica model with manual gearbox starts at $24,995 ($26,345 with the automatic), the Lusso at $27,495 and performance-oriented Abarth at $28,195. Pricing does not include a $995 destination charge. Standard convenience features on the Classica include 16-inch alloy wheels, cloth seats, halogen headlamps, a rollbar and dual exhaust.
The Lusso adds 17-inch wheels and leather seating, while the Abarth comes with Bilstein shocks, Brembo brakes, front strut tower brace, 17-inch alloy wheels, limited slip differential and quad exhaust. Read the rest of this entry »
2016 Jeep Renegade Sport
Compact crossover with Italian roots
By Nina Russin
These days it’s not unusual for automakers to share platforms, for example, the Jeep Renegade and Fiat 500X. Economy of numbers means automakers can offer car buyers more value. In the case of Jeep and Fiat, the marriage also combines the Italian automaker’s talent for sporty performance with Jeep’s all-terrain capability.
Of two available powertrains, the 1.4-liter MultiAir turbocharged engine and six-speed manual gearbox is the one to buy. Unfortunately, it’s not available in the off-road specific Trailhawk model, but provides value-conscious buyers with a great option.
Base price is $19,995 excluding the $995 destination charge. Options on the test car include a Uconnect package with rear backup camera, power and air conditioning group, roof rails and removable My Sky roof panels. Final MSRP is $24,470. Read the rest of this entry »
2016 Honda Civic 1.5T 4D Touring Sedan
Compact sedan reinvented from the ground up
By Nina Russin
A lot has changed since the Honda Civics of the mid-1970s: the sedan is bigger and more luxurious that the small hatchback that rolled across America with its sturdy CVCC engine. Core values-reliability, comfort and safety- remain the same. At the same time, the Civic is very much a driver’s car, with precise handling reflective of Honda’s open-wheel racing experience.
In terms of size, the newest Civic is similar to former Accord models, with plenty of room for a small family. Engineers added 3.2-cubic feet of passenger space compared to the outgoing model, giving the sedan the biggest interior of anything in the compact class.
On the outside the sedan is almost three-inches longer, two-inches wider and an inch taller. Not only does the second-row offer more legroom, but better access and egress for parents buckling small kids into child seats and boosters.
Under the hood, Honda debuts its first-ever turbocharged engine for the Civic: a 1.5-liter block delivering 174-horsepower and 162 pound-feet of torque, available from 1700 rpm. A continuously variable automatic transmission is standard on all but the base model.
A new suspension design features a multi-link setup in back with large stabilizer bars on both axles.
Base price for the upscale Touring model tested is $26,500 excluding the $835 destination charge. The sedan comes fully-loaded with convenience features including keyless entry, push buttons start, HD and satellite radio, leather upholstery, SMS text messaging, dual-zone automatic climate controls, heated power front seats, Bluetooth interface, 10-speaker premium audio system and a seven-inch electronic touchscreen.
A standard active safety package adds adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning, lane keeping assist and forward collision warning.
Final MSRP is $27,335 Read the rest of this entry »
2017 Hyundai Elantra
Redesigned midsize design gains in style, comfort and safety
By Nina Russin
The automaker that built its reputation as a value leader has come of age, as evidenced in the all-new Hyundai Elantra midsize sedan. While the sedan offers buyers a lot of content for the money, the newest Elantra is equally competitive on other fronts: its distinctive exterior, extensive roster of available safety features and vastly improved fit and finish throughout the interior.
Competing in the largest passenger car segment, the Elantra covers a lot of ground with the base SE priced from $17,150 and upscale Limited priced from $22,350 that includes features such as leather upholstery, Bluetooth, satellite radio, keyless start, blind spot monitoring and a rearview camera as standard equipment.
Options on the test car include a tech package that adds navigation, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, premium audio system with digital file decompression and heated seats, as well as a premium package adding HID headlamps, pedestrian detection with automatic braking, adaptive cruise control, lane keeping assist and driver’s seat memory. Final MSRP including destination is $27,710. Read the rest of this entry »