RSS icon Home icon
  • 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 »

  • 2018 Honda Clarity Plug-In Hybrid

    Fuel-thrifty sedan is an appealing package

    By Nina Russin

    2018 Honda Clarity Plug-In Hybrid

    2018 Honda Clarity Plug-In Hybrid

    The Clarity family began with the Honda’s fuel cell sedan two years ago. The name now refers to a group of electrified vehicles that continues to include the fuel cell model as well as a pure electric vehicle.

    As the first manufacturer to offer a gasoline/electric hybrid for sale in the US, Honda now has two decades of experience under its belt. Although Toyota’s Prius remains the best-selling hybrid, Honda knows what American drivers want in terms of fuel economy, but also understands their needs for passenger comfort, cargo space, safety and infotainment features.

    The Clarity is longer than Toyota’s Prius Prime or the Ford Fusion Plug-In hybrids. While the Clarity can’t match the Prius’ fuel economy, there’s a lot to be said for its roomier interior and additional cargo space.

    Fuel economy for the Clarity Plug-In hybrid is 42 miles-per-gallon from the 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine, on top of which owners enjoy up to 47 miles-per-gallon in pure electric mode. The battery pack recharges in 2-1/2 hours using a 220-volt plug-in.

    2018 Honda Clarity Plug-In Hybrid

    2018 Honda Clarity Plug-In Hybrid

    Engineers located the lithium-ion battery pack under the floor so as not to impinge on trunk space. Rear seats fold flat to extend the cargo floor. The Clarity’s cargo bay is too small to be bicycle friendly, but is easily capable of carrying golf bags, luggage, groceries and the like.

    Pricing for the upscale Touring model starts at $36,600. Honda loads the Clarity up with standard convenience features including leather seats and steering wheel, 8-speaker audio system, HD and satellite radio, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, Bluetooth and USB interface, push-button start, dual-zone climate control, 8-way power driver’s seat, heated front seats and more.

    Among the standard active safety features are adaptive cruise control, lane keeping assist and Honda LaneWatch: a technology unique to Honda that projects an image to the right of the car in the center screen when the driver signals. As a cyclist who shares the roads with drivers, I think it’s one of the most important active safety systems on the market. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2017 Acura MDX Sport Hybrid AWD Advance

    NSX technology gives three-row crossover a green footprint

    By Nina Russin

    2017 Acura MDX Sport Hybrid

    2017 Acura MDX Sport Hybrid

    If you’re looking for a seven-passenger crossover with supercar technology and better-than-average fuel economy, the Acura MDX Sport Hybrid should be on the short list. Utilizing the same three-motor super-handling all-wheel drive system introduced on the new NSX sports car and RLX performance sedan, the MDX hybrid mates Acura’s three-liter V-6 gasoline engine to three electric motors- one up front and two in the back- to provide power to all four-wheels. Net system horsepower is 321, with 289 pound-feet of peak torque. Since electric motors develop peak torque at extremely low speeds, the MDX Sport Hybrid launches off the line like a rocket ship.

    A dual-clutch seven-speed automatic transmission employs friction couplings for the feel of a manual transmission, minus the extra foot pedal. Drivers can operate the gearbox in automatic mode or manually select gears using Formula One-style shift paddles on the steering wheel. While there are quite a few cars on the market with this type of transmission, very few are hybrids. The transmission’s quick, sharp shifts are a welcome relief from continuously variable automatic transmissions that leave the driver feeling disconnected from the wheels.

    2017 Acura MDX Sport Hybrid

    2017 Acura MDX Sport Hybrid

    The test car is the upscale Advance grade, priced from $58,000. Acura loads the premium grade with active safety and convenience features, saving shoppers from wading through lists of option packages. Standard features include a surround-view camera system, keyless entry and start, second-row captain’s chairs, ventilated and heated front seats, satellite radio, ten-way power driver’s seat with memory, LED fog lamps, roof rails and AcuraWatch: an active safety system adding adaptive cruise control, collision mitigation braking, road departure mitigation, lane keeping assist and lane departure warning.

    Final MSRP including destination is $58,975 Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2018 Lexus LC 500h

    GT coupe with a conscience

    By Nina Russin

    Lexus LC 500h

    Lexus LC 500h

    The LC 500h and its sibling LC 500 are Lexus’ answer to European GT coupes such as the Mercedes-Benz SL 500 and Jaguar F-Type, but with a twist: only the Lexus comes with an available hybrid powertrain, giving the coupe 30 mile-per-gallon average fuel economy. As part of his promise to infuse passion into the brand, Toyota CEO Akio Toyoda (grandson of the company founder) charged Lexus with developing a new flagship that would not only deliver on his stated mission, but do so in a distinctly Lexus manner.

    Seeds for the LC date back to 2012, when Lexus introduced the LF-LC concept at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. After capturing the EyesOn Design Design Award for Concept Car, Lexus designers and engineers began work on a production model based on a new architecture called GA-L, Global Architecture-Luxury, that is also the basis for the all-new LS 500 luxury sedan and its hybrid counterpart.

    Lexus LC 500h

    Lexus LC 500h

    While the LC 500h’s gasoline-electric hybrid powertrain is based on Toyota’s hybrid synergy drive that powers all-of the automaker’s hybrid offerings, Lexus engineers made some significant changes to enhance the new coupe’s performance. As with other Toyota and Lexus hybrids, a gasoline engine is mated to two electric motor generators. However, the system in the LC adds a four-speed automatic transmission to the standard continuously variable automatic, to multiply power and create the effect of a traditional ten-speed step unit that the driver can control using shifter paddles on the steering wheel.

    The new hybrid system uses more electric motor assist at low speeds so the LC can operate in electric vehicle mode up to 87 miles-per-hour. It is also the first Lexus hybrid that can spin its rear wheels, eliminating understeer at high speeds.

    Base price for the LC 500h is $98,510 excluding the $995 destination charge. That’s a bundle, but at least buyers don’t have to shell out an additional thousand or so for gas guzzler tax. Options on the test car include blind spot monitoring, intuitive park assist, 21-inch wheels, heads-up display, limited slip differential, Mark Levinson premium audio system, Alcantara sport seats, floor and cargo mats, bringing the final MSRP to $108,805. Read the rest of this entry »

  • First Drive: 2018 Lexus LS 500 and LS 500h

    High luxury sedan becomes more personal

    By Nina Russin

    2018 Lexus LS 500

    2018 Lexus LS 500

    The original LS sedan launched the Lexus brand in the US in 1989: since then the flagship has set technological and aesthetic standards for the rest of the automaker’s line-up.

    But while other models such as the GS, IS and most recently the new LC became sportier, more emotive cars, the LS remained conservative, appealing to owners who purchased those vehicles as chauffer cars as well as those who drove them. The new LS 500 and LS 500h that roll out later this year are sportier, more personal sedans.

    Taking their cue from Akio Toyoda’s promise to reinstall passion in the brand, engineers focused on two new V-6 engines as part of a new global luxury platform. The twin-turbo V-6 that replaces the naturally-aspirated V-8 on the gasoline powered model develops 416 horsepower and 442 pound-feet of torque, while the hybrid shares the same new direct injection V-6 as the new LC 500h.

    2018 Lexus LS 500

    2018 Lexus LS 500

    Engineers moved the front wheels forward and engine back to create a front-mid-ship layout for better front-to-rear weight balance. An all-new ten-speed automatic transmission enhances fuel economy with large overdrive gears for steady-state cruising.

    The sedan body has a slightly longer wheelbase, adding rear hip and legroom, but also sits lower to the ground for better high-speed performance.

    The F-Sport model is available with a performance package that adds bigger brakes and enhanced steering dynamics.

    Although Lexus has yet to announce pricing, it expects the base model to start at about $75,000, with the average transaction price for the LS 500 averaging $80,000 or less. Read the rest of this entry »

  • First Drive: 2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV

    EV boasts extended range, versatility and connectivity features

    By Nina Russin

    2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV

    2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV

    Chevrolet has entered the EV world with both feet in, following up on the success of the second-generation Volt extended-range vehicle with the Bolt: a pure electric small crossover with 238-mile driving range according-to the manufacturer.

    The Bolt doesn’t have quite the interior space or driving range of the larger Volt since there is no gasoline engine in reserve, but its well-configured interior, enhanced connectivity and fun-to-drive character should hold lots of appeal for buyers who have been considering an electric car, but were deterred by pricier competitors, or vehicles with significantly less range.

    EVs by their nature are rocket ships off the line, since electric motors develop peak power at very low speeds. The Bolt has the distinction of offering the most powerful electric motor in the segment: 150kW, making the car capable of sub-seven second zero-to-sixty acceleration.

    Pricing for the base LT model starts at $37,495 before the federal rebate while the upscale Premier model starts at $41,780. The car becomes available in 48 states this August. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2017 Lexus RX 450h AWD F Sport

    Hybrid SUV gets enhanced active safety features

    By Nina Russin

    2017 Lexus 450h

    2017 Lexus 450h

    The 450h is the hybrid sibling to Lexus’ RX 350 midsize sport-utility vehicle. Although engineers employ electric motors to enhance fuel economy, they also boost power, giving the RX the performance of a V-8.

    A 3.5-liter V-6 engine works in concert with two electric motors- one on each axle- delivering exceptional acceleration off the line as well as 30 mile-per-gallon average fuel economy. The F-Sport edition tested adds a sport-tuned suspension, special exterior trim, 20-inch alloy wheels and unique interior.

    Base price for the RX 450h F Sport AWD is $56,495 excluding the $975 delivery charge. Options on the test car include a panoramic view monitor, touch-free rear door, triple-beam LED headlamps, Mark Levinson audio and navigation system, cargo net and carpeted cargo mat. Final MSRP is $61,804. 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 »