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  • 2018 Lexus NX 300h

    Compact crossover is eco-friendly

    By Nina Russin

    Lexus NX

    Lexus’ compact hybrid crossover, the NX 300h, gives couples and small families who like to adventure off the grid an eco-friendly option. The hybrid now comes standard with all-wheel drive, adding four-season capability and better traction on unimproved roads. Gasoline-electric technology is similar-to that in the Toyota Prius, utilizing an Atkinson-cycle four-cylinder engine in tandem with two electric motors up front and one on the rear axle to add traction on demand.

    Base price is $38,335, excluding the $995 destination charge. The NX 300h comes standard with 17-inch alloy wheels, LED headlamps, tail lamps and daytime running lamps, Lexus Enform infotainment, an eight-speaker audio system, dual-zone automatic climate control, power front seats, a 60/40 split-folding rear seat, multi-information display and Lexus Safety System +: a suite of active safety features including autonomous braking with pedestrian detection, dynamic cruise control, lane departure alert with lane keeping assist and intelligent high-beam headlamps.

    Options on the test car add a panoramic view back-up monitor, triple-beam LED headlamps, premium 10-speaker audio system with navigation, 18-inch wheels, heated/ventilated front seats, power moonroof, blind spot monitoring with cross-traffic alert and power tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel. Final MSRP is $48,308. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2018 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid SE AWD

    Green machine for outdoor enthusiasts

    By Nina Russin

    Toyota RAV4

    If you’re an outdoor enthusiast, you are probably more aware than most of how air pollution can negatively impact a person’s life. And while that might make you consider purchasing Toyota Prius for that reason, other lifestyle needs make the liftback an imperfect choice: lack of ground clearance and limited traction being two big factors. The RAV4 crossover is a green alternative that uses the same gasoline/electric hybrid technology, in a package that’s adventure friendly.

    All-wheel drive gives the RAV4 better traction on wet or snow-covered roads, while the crossover’s additional ground clearance makes it more practical for traversing unimproved roads. With second-row seats folded flat, there’s plenty of room to stash camping equipment or bicycles in back, where both are protected from the elements.

    The 2018 RAV4 hybrid is essentially carryover from 2017, with big changes coming in 2019. Power comes from a 2.5-liter inline four-cylinder Atkinson cycle engine and three electric motors, dishing out 194 net horsepower. A continuously variable transmission delivers power to the wheels. Average fuel economy is 32 miles-per-gallon, according-to the EPA.

    Base price is $32,185 minus the $995 delivery charge. Options on the test car include an advanced technology package that includes a bird’s-eye view camera with perimeter scan, premium JBL audio system with navigation and Toyota Entune infotainment, hands-free phone capability, Siri Eyes Free, high-definition and satellite radio, real-time traffic and weather updates, Bluetooth interface and more ($2,785). A tonneau cover adds $90, bringing the final MSRP to $38,055. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2018 Toyota Prius Touring

    Hybrid raises the eco-friendly bar

    By Nina Russin

    Toyota Prius Four Touring

    The Toyota Prius has always been a polarizing vehicle, and seems to become more-so with each new model. Aficionados love the Prius for its exceptional fuel economy, durability, versatility and eco-friendly focus. Nay-sayers seem to be just as passionate, because certain driving dynamics (e.g. horsepower) must by necessity take a backseat to gas mileage.

    The fact that the fourth-generation Prius averages 52 miles-per-gallon is astonishing, considering its ability to live in the real world of stop-and-go traffic, rain, snow, heat and cold. Even more amazing is its ability to last, quite a long time if one observes the number of Prius taxi cabs on the road.

    The current model is based on Toyota’s new Global Architecture, and hence is the first to feature an independent rear suspension. This is a big deal, because the torsion bar on former models had to support the weight of the battery pack above it, making for a rather clunky arrangement. Improved torsional stiffness in the new chassis translates to a noticeable bump in steering response.

    Base price for the upscale Touring grade is $30,565 excluding the $895 destination charge. Options include a premium package that upgrades the audio system, adds navigation and a higher level of Entune infotainment, Bluetooth streaming audio, Siri Eyes Free, real-time traffic and weather updates and more. Other options include an active safety package with park assist, special exterior color, rear bumper protector and carpeted floor and cargo mats. Final MSRP is $33,395. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2018 Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV-AWC

    Gasoline-electric plug-in crossover with all-wheel drive

    By Nina Russin

    2018 Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV

    Although Mitsubishi is a relatively small player in the automotive market, its Montero produced during the 1980s and 90s, and more recent i-MiEV both had a significant impact globally: the Montero for racing, and the i-MiEV electric vehicle technology. For 2018, the company brings those specialties together in the Outlander PHEV: a gasoline-electric all-wheel drive version of its compact crossover.

    The new plug-in electric hybrid can operate in three modes: fully electric, series hybrid (utilizing an on-board gasoline-powered generator, and parallel hybrid combining power from two electric motors with a two-liter gasoline engine. The idea is to limit time in the gasoline-electric mode to longer trips out of range in pure-electric mode.

    Recharging time on 240-volt power is about 3-1/2 hours. Owners who have access to a commercial Fastcharge unit can reclaim about 80 percent of power in 25 minutes.

    A phone app enables owners to set their charging schedule to coincide with off-peak electricity usage hours and save a little money. The same app can remotely change climate control settings, check for open and closed doors, headlamps on or off and customize vehicle settings.

    The Outlander’s all-wheel control system has roots in the off-road Montero that won the grueling Paris-Dakar rally over a dozen times.

    Base price for the upscale GT version is $40,295 excluding the $940 destination charge. Standard convenience features include LED headlamps, daytime running lamps and tail lamps, folding side mirrors, 18-inch alloy wheels, keyless entry and start, dual-zone climate control, 710-watt Rockford Fosgate audio system, underfloor cargo storage area, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, Bluetooth, dual USB ports and more.

    Options on the test car include white diamond pearlescent exterior, a tonneau cover, body graphics and carpeted floormats. Final MSRP is $42,130. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2018 Lexus RX 450h

    Hybrid luxury for active lifestyles

    By Nina Russin

    2018 Lexus RX 450h

    The RX 450h is the gasoline/electric version of Lexus’ best-selling midsize crossover. Changes for the 2018 model year include a new premium option package adding power folding outside mirrors, premium leather upholstery and a rear armrest with storage box. Lexus Enform Safety Connect and Service Connect are now included for the first ten years of ownership.

    Power for the RX 450h comes from a 3.5-liter V-6 engine and two electric motors. On the all-wheel drive version, separate motor generators drive each axle. That, combined with the fact that electric motors develop peak torque at extremely low speeds, gives the hybrid exceptional zero-to-sixty acceleration: 8.1 seconds according-to the manufacturer.

    Base price is $45,695 excluding destination. Options on the test car include the new premium package, Mark Levinson audio system, heads-up display and blind spot monitoring with cross-traffic alert, bringing the final MSRP to $54,515. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2018 Acura MDX Sport Hybrid Advance

    All-wheel drive eco-transport for active lifestyles

    By Nina Russin

    Acura MDX Sport Hybrid

    For those who can afford it, the question isn’t why would you buy the Acura MDX, but rather, why wouldn’t you? With an all-new powertrain based on the same technology as Acura’s NSX supercar, the green version of Acura’s three-row midsize crossover is truly a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

    A three-liter V-6 gasoline engine and three electric motors develop 321 net horsepower. Since electric motors develop peak power at very low speeds, the MDX also has a monstrous amount of torque. All-wheel drive gives the crossover four-season versatility and the ability to traverse unimproved roads. All this in a package that’s equally adept at holding people and gear of all sizes.

    Average fuel economy is 27 miles-per-gallon according-to EPA estimates. While fuel economy on the highway is similar-to the gasoline model, around town the hybrid powertrain is about eight miles-per-gallon better.

    Base price is $58,150 for the upscale, fully-loaded Advance model. Standard features include perforated leather upholstery with power heated front seats, driver’s seat memory, second-row captain’s chairs, tri-zone climate control, keyless entry and start, satellite radio, Bluetooth interface, surround-view camera, power moonroof and tailgate, 20-inch alloy rims, ELS premium audio system with navigation and more. Final MSRP including the $995 destination charge is $59,145. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2018 Lexus LS 500h

    Flagship hybrid sedan reinvented

    By Nina Russin

    2018 Lexus LS 500h

    When the first Lexus LS debuted at the North American International Auto Show in 1989, the automaker’s flagship sedan was really-more of a car to be driven in than a driver’s car. The sedan’s capacious rear seating area with features such as massaging rear seats was clearly intended for owners being chauffeured.

    That formula worked better in Japan than it did in the US, where drivers were looking for full-size luxury but with performance that could compete against the likes of the Audi A8 and BMW 7-Series. The newest LS 500 series that debuts for the 2018 model year is exactly that, with a distinctive road presence evident in both its styling and performance.

    What began life as one of the brand’s most conservatively styled sedans has become one of its boldest, with a large spindle grille up front, coupe-like aerodynamic profile, large wheels and low-profile tires. Buyers can opt between gasoline or gasoline-electric hybrid models.

    2018 Lexus LS 500h

    Pricing for the gasoline-electric Lexus 500h starts at $82,730 excluding the $995 destination charge. Power comes from a 3.5-liter V-6 engine and two electric motor-generators, with zero-to-60 acceleration of 5.1 seconds. That’s slightly slower than the gas model with twin turbo V-6, but buyers benefit from a fuel economy advantage of about two miles-per-gallon.

    Options on the test car include an active safety system package adding pre-collision braking, active steering assist, front cross-traffic alert and road sign assist, adaptive air suspension, 20-inch alloy rims, LED adaptive front headlamps, Aniline leather upholstery, reclining rear seats, four-zone automatic climate control, Mark Levinson premium audio system, panoramic view monitor, premium wood interior trim and heated wood and leather steering wheel. Final MSRP is $107,720. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2019 Honda Insight Touring

    New hybrid sedan joins Honda’s green car lineup

    By Nina Russin

    2019 Honda Insight

    The first-generation Insight liftback was Honda’s first green car, coming to the states a year before the Toyota Prius it competes against. Over the years, the Insight maintained the five-door body style but grew-in-size and added more safety and convenience features.

    After twenty years on the market, the guys at Honda decided it was time for a change, introducing a sedan version for 2019. The newest Insight maintains the core values of its predecessors: affordable pricing and excellent fuel economy, but with styling that should appeal to a larger chunk of the American market.

    Pricing for the upscale Touring grade starts at $28,090. Honda loads the premium model with the convenience and safety features buyers want so they don’t have to add on expensive options. Keyless entry and start, leather upholstery, satellite radio, navigation, dual-zone automatic climate control, Bluetooth interface, 17-inch alloy rims and more all come standard. Final MSRP including destination is $28,985. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2018 Toyota Camry Hybrid XLE

    Next-generation sedan raises the bar for eco-transport

    By Nina Russin

    2018 Toyota Camry Hybrid

    2018 Toyota Camry Hybrid

    It was kismet that I received the keys to the new Camry Hybrid at the start of what turned out to be Phoenix, Arizona’s hottest spell this year. While most people associate the efficiencies in Toyota’s gasoline-electric powertrains with enhanced fuel economy, they provide additional advantages including better temperature control in the car’s interior.

    The same battery pack that extends fuel economy by powering two electric motors also provides power for the car’s air conditioning compressor, that operates whether-or-not the gasoline engine is running. In temperatures approaching 115-degrees Fahrenheit, the HVAC system cooled the interior down to a comfortable temperature in about five minutes. While the ignition auto-stop feature on many new cars turns the air conditioning compressor off at idle, the Camry system continues to work, keeping occupants comfortable in stop-and-go traffic.

    The newest Camry Hybrid utilizes an updated version of the automaker’s gasoline-electric technology, including a new power control unit that has reduced parasitic power loss by about 20 percent. Fuel economy isn’t quite as high as the more aerodynamic Prius, but its 46 MPG average is nothing to sneeze at.

    Engineers made some important changes to packaging: notably relocating the nickel-metal hydride battery pack beneath the second-row seats, so trunk space is the same as for the gasoline-powered sedan. This also lowered the sedan’s center of gravity for enhanced high-speed driving dynamics.

    Base price for the test car is $32,250 excluding the $895 destination charge. Options include a birds-eye view camera that enables the driver to see obstacles around the vehicle’s entire perimeter when moving at low speeds, adaptive headlamps, power moonroof and premium JBL audio system with the newest version of Toyota’s Entune infotainment system. Final MSRP is $37,255. Read the rest of this entry »

  • First Drive: 2019 Toyota Avalon

    Flagship sedan is new from the ground up

    By Nina Russin

    2019 Toyota Avalon

    2019 Toyota Avalon

    When Toyota introduced the first Avalon for the 1994 model year, it was generally regarded as a stretched-out version of the midsize Camry. Over the past 25 years, the Avalon has acquired its own personality as a premium sedan aimed at older buyers looking for more space, but also more amenities.

    The newest Avalon that debuts for the 2019 model year carries this concept to the next level. It is the first to feature the automaker’s aggressive new styling along with a completely new powertrain, enhanced active safety and infotainment. All models, both gasoline and hybrid, are front-wheel drive.

    As in past years, the Avalon is bigger than the Camry although it is still considered a midsize sedan. The new car has a longer wheelbase and wider track than the outgoing model with shorter overhangs. It is also lower, lowering the center of gravity for better high-speed performance. The profile is, similar-to its competitors, coupe-like.

    Toyota hopes that the fifth-generation Avalon will turn heads, especially those of younger buyers wanting a luxurious vehicle but not necessarily ready to make the jump to Lexus.

    2019 Toyota Avalon

    2019 Toyota Avalon

    Competing against the Nissan Maxima and Buick LaCrosse, the gasoline model comes with a standard 3.5-liter V-6 engine rated at 301-horsepower with 267 pound-feet of torque and eight-speed automatic transmission. An available adaptive variable suspension adjusts within 20 milliseconds to road conditions and the driver’s style, capable of varying between 650 settings.

    Buyers who opt for the gasoline/electric hybrid get a 2.5-liter engine that pairs with two electric motors to deliver 215 net horsepower, with city and highway fuel economy at 43 and 44 mpg respectively.

    There are four grades of gasoline sedans, three for the hybrid. Pricing for the gasoline-powered XLE starts at $35,500 excluding the $895 delivery charge; the hybrid version starts at $36,500. The upscale Touring grade available only as a gasoline powered car is priced from $42,200. Read the rest of this entry »