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  • 2018 Mazda6 Signature

    Flagship sedan is redesigned from the inside out

    By Nina Russin

    2018 Mazda6

    2018 Mazda6

    Mazda’s signature is the sporty character the automaker infuses into all-of its products, from the two-seat MX-5 Miata to the family friendly CX-9 crossover and all-new Mazda6 flagship sedan. Although Mazda is the only major Japanese car company in the US market without a luxury brand, the Mazda6 stands out as a world-class sport sedan that holds its own against considerably more expensive products, in terms of both design and engineering.

    The new Signature trim level includes Sen wood trim, Nappa leather seats, redesigned seat structure that is firmer and more comfortable, automatic dual-zone climate control, a full color heads-up display, reconfigurable thin-film-transistor touchscreen display in the gauge cluster, and ventilated front seats.

    Outside, all 2018 models get a redesigned grille, available 19-inch wheels and available “Soul Red” crystal exterior paint finish. It’s a luscious package.

    Base price for the Signature is $34,750 excluding destination. The upscale trim model comes fully loaded with safety and convenience features, including premium Bose sound system, power driver’s and front passenger seats, LED headlamps, tail lamps and daytime running lamps, full-speed adaptive radar cruise control, rearview camera, lane keeping assist, blind spot monitoring, hill start assist, Bluetooth interface and more.

    Power comes from a new 2.5-liter turbo Skyactiv four-cylinder engine rated at 250-horsepower with 310 pound-feet of torque and six-speed automatic transmission. Final MSRP on the test car including the special exterior finish is $36,465. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2018 Lexus NX 300

    Compact crossover is big on luxury

    By Nina Russin

    Lexus NX

    Lexus NX

    The smallest member of Lexus’ crossover family takes the magic that has made the midsize RX 350 a best-seller and condenses it into a more compact, but equally appealing package. The 2018 model is carry-over from 2017, with power coming from either a turbocharged two-liter four-cylinder engine or gasoline-electric hybrid. The two-liter engine in the test car, rated at 235-horsepower, accelerates from zero-to-sixty in 7.2-seconds for the front-wheel drive model; seven-seconds for the all-wheel drive car.

    A six-speed automatic transmission includes large overdrive gears to maximize fuel economy on the highway: averaging 28 miles-per-gallon according-to the EPA. My average fuel economy for the week-long test drive was 25.1 miles-per-gallon, over a mile-per-gallon higher than the EPA estimate of 24.

    Base price is $37,385 excluding the $995 destination charge. Options on the test car include a panoramic view backup camera, auto-dimming rearview mirror, power folding second-row seats, a luxury package that includes 18-inch wheels, heated steering wheel, heated and ventilated front seats, rain-sensing wipers, power liftgate, tilt-and-telescoping steering column, and blind spot monitoring, 10-speaker premium audio system, intuitive parking assist with auto brake, cargo mat, net and wheel locks. Final MSRP is $49,068. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2018 Lexus GS F

    Midsize sport sedan gets safety enhancements for 2018

    By Nina Russin

    2018 Lexus GS F

    2018 Lexus GS F

    The midsize GS sedan is one of the best cars Lexus produces: the F Sport version takes that performance to the next level. Although the 2018 model is essentially carry-over from last year, Lexus has added two key active safety features. All-speed cruise control replaces adaptive cruise control, and lane keeping assist replaces lane departure alert. Other standard active safety features include pre-collision with pedestrian detection and autonomous braking and blind spot monitoring with cross-traffic alert.

    Power comes from a direct injection 467-horsepower V-8 engine and eight-speed automatic transmission. Standard torque vectoring gives drivers better control in the corners, while adaptive variable suspension makes real-time adjustments according-to the road surface and driver’s style.

    Base price is $84,350 excluding the $995 destination charge. Options on the test car include 19-inch alloy wheels, heads-up display, Mark Levinson audio system, special brake calipers and cargo mat and net, bringing the final MSRP to $88,855. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2018 Ford Mustang GT Premium

    Ford ups the ante on its legendary pony car

    By Nina Russin

    2018 Ford Mustang GT

    2018 Ford Mustang GT

    One of the reasons Ford has consistently enjoyed success with the Mustang is that the automaker has never rested on its laurels. There were plenty of opportunities when it could have in the car’s 54-year history: the original fastback, the Boss, Shelby GT, the ’68 GT and the first generation of five-liter cars. Through all of that, Ford moved forward, combining heritage with new technology to create new pony cars every bit as exciting as their predecessors.

    The 2018 Ford Mustang GT coupe follows in that tradition, with a potent five-liter engine, meticulously engineered 10-speed automatic transmission or six-speed manual gearbox that sets this car ahead of the 2016 model in some very important ways.

    The new engine revs higher than the 350, has higher compression, more horsepower and more torque. When equipped with the ten-speed automatic transmission and optional performance package, zero-to-sixty acceleration is under four seconds.

    2018 Ford Mustang GT

    2018 Ford Mustang GT

    Pricing begins at $35,095, $39,095 for the Premium model tested. Standard convenience features include LED headlamps and fog lamps, keyless entry and start, quad tip dual exhaust, leather upholstery, dual-zone automatic climate control, smart charging USB ports, split folding rear seats, rearview camera with rear sensing, MyKey, track apps and tilt-and telescoping steering wheel.

    Options on the test car include the automatic transmission, adaptive cruise control, blind spot monitoring with cross traffic alert, GT performance package, 19-inch rims with performance summer tires, Shaker audio system, active valve performance exhaust and the Magne-Ride damping system that makes real-time suspension adjustments according-to the road surface and driving style. Final MSRP including the $900 destination charge is $53,160. 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 Nissan Rogue SL AWD

    Best-selling crossover gets new active safety features

    By Nina Russin

    2018 Nissan Rogue

    2018 Nissan Rogue

    The Rogue is currently Nissan’s best-selling vehicle, outpacing the Altima that held that position for years. For 2018, the upscale SL is available with a new technology called ProPilot Assist, that takes adaptive cruise control a step further by using lane lines to guide the car through curves in the road as well as maintaining a preset following distance behind the vehicle in front.

    Pricing for the all-wheel drive SL starts at $32,410, excluding the $975 destination charge. Power comes from a 170-horsepower 2.5-liter inline four-cylinder engine and continuously variable automatic transmission.

    Standard convenience features include eight-way power driver’s seat with memory, split folding second-row seat, intelligent cruise control, navigation, Bluetooth interface, Bose audio system, Divide-N-Hide cargo organizer, dual-zone climate control, remote engine start, heated steering wheel, leather upholstery and motion-activated liftgate.

    Options include a panoramic moonroof, LED headlamps, 19-inch wheels, electronic parking brake, ProPilot Assist, quilted leather seats, floor mats and a first aid kit. Final MSRP is $36,520. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2018 Honda Accord 2.0T Touring

    Flagship sedan reimagined

    By Nina Russin

    2018 Honda Accord Sport 2.0T

    2018 Honda Accord Sport 2.0T

    As one of the oldest nameplates in Honda’s lineup, the Accord is, along with the smaller Civic, largely responsible for the automaker’s success in the US. When Honda launched the original hatchback for the 1976 model year, Americans discovered a friendly, affordably priced vehicle with the mechanical integrity to go the distance.

    Although it originally competed against the Toyota Camry, the Honda Accord has evolved into a premium vehicle with a larger interior, similar-to the Toyota Avalon, while the Camry has maintained a slightly smaller stature and in recent times has become sportier and more youthful.

    The all-new tenth-generation Accord debuts this year, with revised styling, an available two-liter turbocharged engine, active damping, standard Honda Sensing active safety technology and available 4G LTE Wi Fi.

    Base price for the upscale Touring model with the two-liter engine is $35,800. The fact that Honda has managed to pack so much content into a vehicle while maintaining a price that is right at the average transaction for new cars is impressive. Final MSRP including delivery is $36,690. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2018 Chevrolet Traverse AWD High Country

    Eight-passenger crossover with new infotainment technology

    By Nina Russin

    2018 Chevrolet Traverse

    2018 Chevrolet Traverse

    The Chevrolet Traverse is an appealing alternative to minivans for families needing eight-passenger seating and a versatile interior. For 2018, buyers can choose between front and all-wheel drive models that add more tractive capability. A new High Country edition gives the Traverse luxury accouterments including heated and ventilated seats, a Bose 10-speaker premium audio system, LED lighting, 20-inch alloy rims, tri-zone climate control and the latest version of Chevrolet MyLink infotainment including a Wi Fi hotspot.

    Base price for the all-wheel drive High Country model is $52,050 excluding the $925 destination charge. Special red exterior paint on the test car adds $395, bringing the final MSRP to $53,390. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2018 Mercedes-Benz E400 4Matic Cabriolet

    Four-season drop top

    By Nina Russin

    2018 Mercedes-Benz E400 Cabriolet

    2018 Mercedes-Benz E400 Cabriolet

    It wasn’t that long ago that convertibles were considered summer cars because cloth tops weren’t well enough insulated to keep the interiors warm in cold weather. The new Mercedes-Benz E400 changes that with an acoustic top that is not only weather-resistant but renders the interior as quiet as a sedan. When the top is deployed, an electronic windscreen manages airflow through the cabin for a more pleasant open-air experience.

    Available 4Matic all-wheel drive gives the E400 Cabriolet sure-footed performance in rain, ice and snow.

    Power comes from a three-liter V-6 bi-turbo engine and nine-speed automatic transmission, delivering 329-horsepower and 350 pound-feet of torque. The newest E-Class cabriolet is longer, wider and has a longer wheelbase than the outgoing model, increasing passenger space, especially in the back seats. Second-row seats also fold flat for some additional cargo space.

    2018 Mercedes-Benz E400 Cabriolet

    2018 Mercedes-Benz E400 Cabriolet

    Base price is $68,800 excluding the $995 destination charge. Options on the test car include AMG alloy rims with high-performance tires, multi-contoured heated and ventilated front seats, air suspension and a premium package including park assist, wireless charging, satellite radio, premium surround-sound audio, intelligent lighting, adaptive high beams, steering assist, autonomous braking, blind spot monitoring and a heads-up display. Final MSRP is $89,735. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2018 Audi A5 Cabriolet 2.0T Quattro

    Two-plus-two built for fun in the sun

    By Nina Russin

    Audi A5 Cabriolet

    Audi A5 Cabriolet

    Recently Audi introduced a cabriolet variant as the final member of the current-generation A5 family. As with its siblings, the A5 Coupe and Sportback, the cabriolet comes with standard quattro all-wheel drive, making it a great choice for buyers in four-season climates who need to navigate winter snowstorms but want a drop-top for the summer.

    Power comes from a two-liter, 273-horsepower engine and seven-speed dual clutch automatic transmission. A single button deploys the soft top and works at speeds up to about 30 miles-per-hour.

    The new model is slightly longer and wider than the car it replaces, but also lighter thanks to more use of lightweight body construction materials. Base price is $49,600 excluding the $975 destination charge.

    Options on the test car include a prestige package adding heated folding outside mirrors, satellite radio, heated power front seats with driver’s seat memory, LED headlamps, Bang & Olufsen audio system, top-view camera, LED interior lighting and navigation; ventilated front seats, heated steering wheel, adaptive cruise control, high-beam assist with traffic sign recognition, 19-inch alloy rims, adaptive suspension, walnut interior trim and a front air filter panel. Final MSRP is $65,050. Read the rest of this entry »