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  • 2017 Ford Fusion Platinum AWD

    Midsize passenger sedan raises the bar

    By Nina Russin

    Ford Fusion

    Ford Fusion

    It’s almost impossible for a midsize sedan to stand apart from the crowd, simply because the segment includes so many outstanding vehicles. But the Ford Fusion does, outperforming Asian competitors that have long dominated the group.

    Priced from $38,620, the Platinum all-wheel drive grade should be considered an entry luxury car, and as such, comes equipped with premium amenities including leather upholstery, keyless entry and start, automatic dual-zone climate controls, Sony audio system with satellite radio, heated and cooled front seats and a heated steering wheel. Final MSRP on the test car, including metallic white exterior, 19-inch rims and inflatable rear seatbelts is $40,280. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2016 Infiniti QX60 AWD

    Midsize crossover appeals to the driver in all of us

    By Nina Russin

    2016 Infiniti QX60

    2016 Infiniti QX60

    We all hate that point in life when we have to jump the shark, and be more pragmatic in our choice of vehicle.

    The guys at Infiniti get this, and they’ve come up with a remarkably good solution: the midsize QX60 all-wheel drive crossover. For active families or couples who have a lot of gear to haul around, the QX fills all the squares. Seating for seven: check. Large configurable cargo area: check. All-wheel drive for off-road and four-season performance: check and check.

    But here’s the best part: get behind the wheel and the QX60 is a hoot to drive, with a powerful 3.5-liter V-6 engine, a really good continuously variable automatic transmission (seriously, really good), and traction to all four wheels.

    The QX60 isn’t cheap, with pricing for the all-wheel drive test car starting at $44,400. There are three option packages on the test car, a technology package including active safety features such as blind spot monitoring, lane departure warning, backup collision intervention and forward emergency braking; upgraded Bose audio system and a theater package that adds an around-view monitor, Bluetooth streaming audio, navigation, eight-inch touchscreen and automatic wipers.

    Final MSRP is $58,845, putting the QX60 right in the middle of the luxury segment. In this writer’s opinion, it’s worth the money. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2016 Mazda CX-9 AWD

    Three-row crossover for active families

    By Nina Russin

    2016 Mazda CX-9

    2016 Mazda CX-9

    The newest CX-9 is the second iteration of Mazda’s three-row crossover vehicle, available with either front or all-wheel drive: both powered by a turbocharged 2.5-liter engine. Mazda’s goal was to create an interior spacious enough for a growing family in a vehicle that’s also fun to drive.

    This presented quite a challenge, since driver-focused cars are typically small, light vehicles that focus more on front-to-rear weight balance and power-to-weight ratios than how many soccer team members can fit in back.

    Pricing for the all-wheel drive Signature grade tested begins at $44,015 excluding the $800 destination charge. Being the top of the line model, the Signature comes fully loaded with convenience features buyers in this segment demand including keyless entry and start, three-zone climate control, leather trim, power moonroof, rain-sensing wipers, satellite radio and more.

    It’s also heavy on active safety technology including blind spot monitoring, rearview camera with cross traffic alert, adaptive cruise control, lane keep assist and trailer stability assist. While Mazda, unlike its Japanese competitors, doesn’t have a luxury brand, the upscale CX-9 is for all intents and purposes a luxury car.

    Final MSRP for the test car is $45,215. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2017 Acura ILX Tech Plus

    Compact sport sedan for driving enthusiasts

    By Nina Russin

    2017 Acura ILX

    2017 Acura ILX

    The ILX is Acura’s entry level sport sedan, appealing to young driving buyers who want luxury accouterments in an affordable package. Base price is $27,900: something of a bargain at a time when average transaction prices for new cars are close to $30,000.

    The 2017 models are essentially carry-over from 2016 when the ILX received a major refresh that included new exterior styling and a more powerful engine, paired with an eight-speed dual clutch automatic transmission.

    The current powerplant delivers 201 horsepower and 180 pound-feet of torque, a fifty horsepower boost over the engine it replaces. The new transmission offers the precision of a manual gearbox thanks to friction couplings, plus excellent fuel economy: 29 miles-per-gallon according to the EPA.

    Buyers can choose between three trim levels: Standard, Premium and the Tech Plus tested. Acura wisely includes the convenience features buyers are looking for in each trim level rather than expensive option packages. Base price for the Tech Plus is $32,990 excluding the $940 destination charge. Standard convenience features include navigation with a multi-view rear camera, premium audio system, leather upholstery, satellite radio, keyless entry and start, alloy wheels, power moonroof, Bluetooth interface and an eight-way power driver’s seat. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2016 Ford Explorer 4WD Platinum

    Iconic SUV gains power and versatility

    By Nina Russin

    2016 Ford Explorer

    2016 Ford Explorer

    This year Ford’s full-size sport-utility vehicle turns 25 years old: a landmark the OEM has celebrated by introducing a brand new model.

    While the newest Explorer maintains some of the original formula as a full-size sport-utility vehicle with true off-road capability, it has changed significantly since the vehicle debuted for the ’91 model year. A more car-like ride, new V-6 engine and advanced active safety features appeal to the core audience of active families.

    The test car is the upscale Platinum model priced from $52,970 excluding destination. Power comes from an EcoBoost twin turbocharged V-6 engine producing 365 horsepower and 350 pound-feet of maximum torque, mated to a six-speed automatic transmission. While its 18 mile-per-gallon average fuel economy might not seem impressive by today’s standards, the fact that the engine produced three times the horsepower and a third more torque than the V-6 in the 1991 Explorer should raise some eyebrows.

    2016 Ford Explorer

    2016 Ford Explorer

    The current vehicle is also significantly bigger, about 14 inches longer than the original model, adding important cargo and passenger space inside. With three rows of seating, the Explorer is an ideal choice for buyers who need room for the kid’s soccer and softball teams, or endurance athletes wanting a big enough vehicle to stash bicycles inside and take on weekend camping trips.

    Options on the test car include special metal-coat exterior paint and second-row bucket seats, bringing the final MSRP to $55,355. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2016 Volkswagen Beetle Convertible R-Line SEL

    Open-air fun for four

    By Nina Russin

    Volkswagen Beetle R-Line Convertible

    Volkswagen Beetle R-Line Convertible

    Volkswagen is known as the most affordable of German performance brands. The R-Line version of its Beetle convertible brings this driver-focused approach to one of America’s favorite drop-tops.

    The third-generation Beetle maintains the classic lines of the original car but with a more aerodynamic focus. The convertible’s folding soft top is actually lower when in place than the roofline of the hardtop car. A single button near the rearview mirror retracts the top and rolls down the windows in less than ten seconds and can operate at up to 30 miles-per-hour.

    Volkswagen Beetle R-Line Convertible

    Volkswagen Beetle R-Line Convertible

    The R-Line SEL model tested gets the larger of two available engines: a two-liter turbocharged four-cylinder block rated at 210 horsepower, mated to a six-speed direct shift automatic transmission.

    Standard convenience features include keyless entry and start, Fender premium audio system, climate control, tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, leather seating, satellite radio and Bluetooth interface. Volkswagen has expanded its Car-Net infotainment system options, enabling owners to access Android Auto or Apple CarPlay as well as a variety of smartphone apps though the car’s head unit.

    Base sticker for the upscale SEL is $36,050: final MSRP including destination is $36,870. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2016 Lexus GS F

    Performance model raises the bar for mid-size sport sedan

    By Nina Russin

    2016 Lexus GS F Sport

    2016 Lexus GS F Sport

    Think of the new Lexus GS F as a double rainbow, combining sumptuous styling and potent engineering of the all-new 2016 model with F Sport specific chassis components. What makes the GS F so appealing, aside from the above-listed attributes is its versatility. Although clearly engineered for driving at speed, Lexus’ rear-wheel drive sport sedan is equally at home commuting to and from work or taking the family out for a night on the town.

    Standard equipment includes a 467-horsepower five-liter naturally-aspirated engine and eight speed direct shift transmission, 19-inch forged alloy wheels with staggered tires, Brembo brakes, double wishbone front and multi-link rear suspension and torque vectoring differential.

    Base MSRP is $84,440 excluding the $950 destination charge. Options on the test car include a Mark Levinson audio system and carpeted trunk mat, bringing the final MSRP to $86,875. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2016 Cadillac ATS Coupe

    Luxury coupe gets more powerful V-6 engine

    By Nina Russin

    Cadillac ATS Coupe

    Cadillac ATS Coupe

    Since its debut five years ago, the sporty Cadillac ATS has captured the hearts of buyers loving the performance of the larger CTS, but preferring a more compact package. Available as a sedan or coupe with rear or all-wheel drive, the ATS is a serious competitor against the BMW 3-Series, Audi A4 and Mercedes-Benz C-Class.

    For 2016 Cadillac raises the bar with a new V-6 engine that is both more powerful and fuel efficient, and an eight-speed automatic transmission. Cadillac was one of the pioneers of cylinder management systems in the 1980s. Although early versions weren’t known to be particularly reliable, the new ones are and operation is seamless to the driver.

    Cylinder deactivation on the newest ATS stretches highway fuel economy to 30 miles-per-gallon. Automatic stop/start at idle enhances gas mileage around town.

    The V-6 comes with an eight-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters, enabling drivers to make the most of the engine’s 333-horsepower.

    Base price for the rear-wheel drive premium grade tested is $50,835. Options on the test car include an active safety package that adds adaptive cruise control, automatic braking, an electric parking brake and automatic safety belt tightening, power sunroof and metallic red exterior paint, bringing the final MSRP to $56,415. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2016 Chrysler 300S

    Full-size sedan carries rich heritage into the future

    By Nina Russin

    2016 Chrysler 300S

    2016 Chrysler 300S

    Sixty years ago Chrysler took the wraps off the C-300: the first mass-produced car to pack 300 horsepower under the hood, outpacing the Chevrolet Corvette and Ford Thunderbird. Back then the 300 was a two-door car, but it seated more people than the two roadsters it competed against in the horsepower war. And it made the point that a family car could be a heck of a lot of fun.

    The newest 300-sedan is less muscle car and more family car, now that Dodge has become FCA’s dedicated performance brand. But the S model, equipped with an available 5.7-liter Hemi engine and eight-speed automatic transmission is no wallflower. A heritage egg crate grille and strong profile that harken back to the tailfin days.

    Twenty-inch wheels inside wide wheel arches and dramatic daytime running lamps give the car’s front end an animate quality. Dual exhausts sit under black LED tail lamps, punctuating the car’s back end.

    Base price for the test car is $35,470 excluding the $995 destination charge. Options include a panoramic sunroof, rear spoiler, GPS navigation, blind spot monitoring, Uconnect infotainment, performance-tuned suspension and tires, bringing the final MSRP to $42,855. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2016 Kia Optima SX Limited

    Redesigned midsize sedan builds on winning formula

    By Nina Russin

    2016 Kia Optima SX 2.0 turbo

    2016 Kia Optima SX 2.0 turbo

    The redesigned 2016 Kia Optima is less revolution than evolution: the logical strategy considering the outgoing model’s success. Peter Schreyer’s team refined the sedan’s aerodynamic exterior, adding new technology and luxury materials inside.

    The 2017 car is slightly larger with a redesigned grille based on the K900 sedan and new headlamps. Designers maintained the body’s sharply raked A and C pillars. Inside the sporty SXL grade features diamond stitched leather seating, a cleaner instrument panel with updated infotainment features and flat bottom steering wheel that’s a nod to the OEM’s racing program.

    2016 Kia Optima SX 2.0 turbo

    2016 Kia Optima SX 2.0 turbo

    The SXL comes with the larger of two available turbocharged engines and a six-speed automatic transmission. Base price is $35,790 excluding the $825 destination charge. Unlike some competitors in the midsize segment, the Optima is available with front-wheel drive only.

    The SX Limited is fully loaded with standard safety and convenience features, including keyless entry and start, Harman Kardon surround-sound audio system, satellite radio, Bluetooth interface, Nappa leather upholstery and a very large panoramic sunroof.

    Active safety technology includes adaptive front HID headlamps, rearview and surround view monitors, autonomous emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning, blind spot monitoring and rear cross traffic alert. While the Kia Optima is by no means an inexpensive car, the automaker packed a lot of content into a sub-$40,000 package. Read the rest of this entry »