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  • 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 »

  • 2018 Toyota Sienna SE 3.5L

    Versatile interior is ideal for outdoor enthusiasts

    By Nina Russin

    2018 Toyota Sienna

    The same thing that makes minivans great family cars- large configurable interiors- translates to athletes as well. Buyers who need to haul large gear as well as those who might want an interior large enough to sleep in the night before a stage race can’t do better than a minivan.

    The 2018 Toyota Sienna is basically a carryover from the refreshed 2017 car that featured a new, more powerful V-6 engine and eight-speed automatic transmission to boost fuel efficiency. The upscale SE priced from $38,990 (excluding destination) comes loaded with convenience features including leather seating, second row captain’s chairs, three-zone climate control, power liftgate, Entune infotainment with Scout GPS-link for navigation, satellite radio, Bluetooth and Easy Speak: a feature that broadcasts the driver’s voice through the rear speakers.

    Options on the test car include blind spot monitoring with cross traffic alert, push button start, moonroof, premium audio system, iPod compatibility, HD radio, satellite radio, Entune app suite and carpeted floor mats. Final MSRP is $41,150. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 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 »