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  • 2017 Lexus GS 350 F Sport

    Midsize sport sedan

    By Nina Russin

    2017 Lexus GS 350

    2017 Lexus GS 350

    It’s rare to find a car in the fifth year of its lifecycle that doesn’t feel dated. The Lexus GS is one of those rarities. When the fourth-generation car debuted for the 2012 model year, those of us familiar with the outgoing model were stunned by its performance, not because the outgoing version of the car was bad, but because the newest GS elevated Lexus to a new level. This as a car that could compete on a global stage with the best of what Germany had to offer.

    What makes the GS special is not just its power: that part is relatively easy. In the case of the 350, a 3.5-liter V-6 engine delivering 310 horsepower and 280 pound-feet of torque is mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission with manual shift option. Zero-to-sixty acceleration is 5.7-seconds according-to the manufacturer.

    The magic behind the GS is its balance. Whether the buyer opts for the rear-wheel drive model tested or the all-wheel drive version offering enhanced traction on wet roads, the sedan’s front-to-rear weight balance is close to perfect.

    2017 Lexus GS 350

    2017 Lexus GS 350

    Power into a decreasing radius turn at speed and its balance makes the Lexus GS ride on rails. The sedan becomes an extension of the driver: all he has-to do is point the car where he wants it to go.

    That kind of precision handling doesn’t come along every day; it’s what gives the GS sedan its staying power.

    The F Sport package adds special wheels, adaptive suspension, variable gear ratio steering with a sport plus mode, bigger brakes, special badging and interior trim. Base price is $54,810. Other options on the test car include a limited slip differential, Mark Levinson audio system, intuitive park assist, black brake calipers, four-wheel steering, leather steering wheel, floor and cargo mats. Final MSRP including the $975 destination charge is $60,305. 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 »

  • 2017 Lexus ES 300h

    Entry luxury sedan gets new standard safety technology

    By Nina Russin

    2017 Lexus ES 300h

    2017 Lexus ES 300h

    The ES 300 and ES 300h are the entry luxury members of the Lexus sedan family that also includes the sporty GS and high luxury LS series. Because the ES is approximately the same size as the Toyota Camry, some folks assume that the Lexus is a dressed-up version of Toyota’s best-selling passenger car.

    While both vehicles share the same 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine, continuously-variable automatic transmission and similar hybrid componentry, they have very distinct personalities. The Lexus has a two-inch longer wheelbase for more second-row passenger space. Suspension layouts and tire and wheel packages for the two cars are also different.

    For 2017, Lexus adds some important active safety technology as standard equipment to the ES 300h as part of Lexus Safety System +, that was an option for 2016. It includes pre-collision with pedestrian detection, dynamic radar cruise control, lane departure assist and intelligent high-beam headlamps.

    2017 Lexus ES 300h

    2017 Lexus ES 300h

    Base price for the ES 300h is $41,820 excluding the $975 destination charge. Options on the test car include blind spot monitoring with cross traffic alert, LED headlamps, Mark Levinson premium audio system with navigation and Lexus Enform, power trunk, interior trim package including wood accents, driver and passenger seat memory, heated and ventilated front seats, power rear sunshades, ambient lighting and power tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, and a heated steering wheel.

    Final MSRP is $49,775. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2017 Lexus GS 200t

    Midsize sport sedan gets a turbo boost

    By Nina Russin

    2017 Lexus GS 200t

    2017 Lexus GS 200t

    The midsize Lexus GS has long been a favorite among driving enthusiasts, due to its exceptional front-to-rear balance, abundant power and solid steering response. Following a major redesign for the 2016 model year, the 2017 models add standard Lexus Safety System Plus: a suite of active safety features including pre-collision, lane departure alert and assist and dynamic radar cruise control.

    Buyers can choose between the gasoline-electric GS 400h and two gasoline models: the GS 350 and turbocharged GS 200t. The V-6 model is available with all-wheel drive while the 200t is rear-wheel drive only.

    An eight-speed automatic transmission is standard for both rear-wheel drive models, providing several large overdrive gears for enhanced fuel economy during steady-state cruising.

    2017 Lexus GS 200t

    2017 Lexus GS 200t

    For those who can live without four-season capability, the turbocharged GS offers a couple of advantages: better fuel economy due to its lighter powertrain, and thanks to the smaller engine, even better front-to-rear weight balance.

    Base price for the GS 200t is $46,310 excluding the $975 destination charge. Options on the test car include 18-inch alloy rims, Mark Levinson premium audio system, navigation with a 12.3-inch touchscreen and Lexus Enform and intuitive park assist, bringing the final MSRP to $50,070. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2017 Toyota Avalon Touring

    Premium midsize sedan with enhanced active safety features

    By Nina Russin

    2017 Toyota Avalon

    2017 Toyota Avalon

    The Avalon is Toyota’s flagship sedan: slightly larger than the midsize Camry, and targeted at customers wanting a premium driving experience. The first Avalon introduced in 1995 as the replacement for the Cressida did in fact share chassis components with the Camry, but since then the two vehicles have taken different paths, the newest Camry being edgier while the Avalon maintains a more conservative approach.

    Buyers can choose between the gasoline model powered by a 268-horsepower V-6 engine and six-speed automatic transmission or a gasoline/electric hybrid model. Of the gas-powered versions, the upscale Touring model tested is the sportiest, with standard 20-inch alloy rims. Drivers can choose between Eco, Normal and Sport driving modes, adjusting the car’s throttle mapping to suit their particular-needs.

    This year, all Avalon models come standard with Toyota Safety Sense with pedestrian detection, adding pre-collision, autonomous braking with pedestrian detection, adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning and assist and automatic high beams to the sedan’s roster of standard safety features.

    2017 Toyota Avalon

    2017 Toyota Avalon

    Base price for the Touring grade is $37,650 excluding the $865 destination charge. Standard convenience features include keyless entry and start, dual-zone climate control, Entune premium audio with app suite, Bluetooth interface, satellite radio, leather upholstery, eight-way power driver’s seat with memory, four-way power front passenger seat and Qi compatible wireless smartphone charging.

    Options on the test car include special metallic pearl exterior coat and carpeted trunk mats, bringing the final MSRP to $39,134. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2018 Genesis G80 3.3T Sport

    Mid-size luxury sedan gets a power boost

    By Nina Russin

    Genesis G80 Sport

    Genesis G80 Sport

    The G80 is the smaller of two luxury sedans Genesis produces. Now in its second year, the automaker has sweetened the deal with a Sport version powered by a 3.3-liter twin-turbocharged engine: the same V-6 available in the larger G90. The G80 Sport comes with an eight-speed shift-by-wire transmission and continuously damping control suspension that makes real-time adjustments based on road surface and driving style.

    Priced at $56,225 including destination the model features unique exterior trim, 19-inch alloy rims and quad dark chrome exhaust tips.

    A spacious interior features leather upholstery, micro-suede headliner, aluminum and carbon-fiber trim, plus all the accouterments one might expect from a mid-luxury sedan: premium audio system, heated and ventilated power front seats, heads-up display, wireless charging port, color LCD information display, large center stack touchscreen, automatic climate control and more.

    The automaker’s 10 year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty is its ace-in-the-hole. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2018 Honda Odyssey Elite

    Best-selling minivan appeals to growing families

    By Nina Russin

    2018 Honda Odyssey

    2018 Honda Odyssey

    For years, the Honda Odyssey has been a dependable choice for growing families. Although the segment has decreased in size, minivans remain still an important player in the automotive universe due to their unique capabilities for this group of buyers. Honda’s newest Odyssey should continue the model’s leadership role, thanks to a more powerful engine, ten-speed automatic transmission boosting fuel economy and advanced active safety technology.

    The Odyssey has grown significantly in size over the years: once built on the Accord platform and now sharing underpinnings with the Pilot crossover. But the newest model is as easy-to-drive, maneuver, load and unload as its predecessors. Twenty-two mile-per-gallon fuel economy helps parents stay within their budget, so the summer road trip remains part of the mix.

    2018 Honda Odyssey

    2018 Honda Odyssey

    Power for the newest model comes from a 3.5-liter VTEC V-6 engine and ten-speed automatic transmission for the premium front-wheel drive grades. Variable cylinder management automatically shuts off fuel to half the engine cylinders when power demands are low to extend the car’s range.

    Base price for the Elite model tested is $46,670, excluding the $940 delivery charge. Honda loads the car up with all the safety, comfort and convenience features buyers are looking for so they don’t have to wade through a laundry list of option packages. Final MSRP is $47,610. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2017 Infiniti QX30 Sport

    Compact crossover is a wolf in sheep’s clothing

    By Nina Russin

    Infiniti QX30

    Infiniti QX30

    Infiniti is known for using racing technology in its passenger cars, giving those vehicles a level of performance that sets them apart from the pack. The QX30 compact crossover that competes against the Audi Q3 and Lexus NX is a case in point: a sports car in a five-door package.

    Available in front or all-wheel drive configurations, the “baby” QX is a surprisingly affordable luxury car, with the base model priced below $30,000. The front-wheel drive Sport variant tested starts at $38,500, powered by a 208-horsepower two-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine and seven-speed dual clutch automatic transmission.

    The Sport model rides on 19-inch alloy rims with summer run-flat performance tires. Cross-drilled front brake rotors enable the QX to stop as fast as it accelerates. Standard convenience features include leatherette upholstery, eight-way power driver’s seat with memory, a tilt-and-telescoping flat bottom steering wheel with Formula-style paddle shifters, aluminum pedals, sport suspension, 60/40, fold-flat rear seats, Bose audio system, Bluetooth phone and streaming audio, satellite radio, around-view monitor with moving object detection and intelligent park assist.

    Options on the test car include Nappa leather seating and heated seats, blind spot monitoring, lane departure warning, forward emergency braking, high beam assist, LED headlamps with active front lighting, navigation, panoramic moonroof and illuminated kick plates. Final MSRP is $43,735. Read the rest of this entry »