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  • 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 »

  • First Drive: 2017 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid

    Plug-in hybrid technology gives minivan a green footprint

    By Nina Russin

    2017 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid

    2017 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid

    The all-new Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid is the first production minivan with a plug-in gasoline/electric powertrain: one of a bumper crop of family-oriented hybrids entering the market. While their first inroads were in the compact segment, hybrids make a lot of sense for busy, value-conscious families.

    The plug-in feature in the new Pacifica gives owners up to 30 miles per charge on electric power. That’s enough for the average commuter to get through a day, so owners rarely need to refill gasoline. Charging with the standard 115-volt plug takes about 14 hours, but those willing to invest in the optional 240-volt plug can fully recharge in two. A Uconnect phone app enables owners to schedule recharging during off-peak hours and remotely change charging times.

    2017 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid

    2017 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid

    While the powertrain is based on its gasoline-powered sibling, there are significant differences between the two cars. The 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6 engine was modified to Atkinson cycle with a higher compression ratio for greater efficiency.

    Despite its 11.3:1 compression, the engine runs on 87 octane gasoline. Chain drive eliminates expensive timing belt replacements after the warranty expires.

    The hybrid also has a new eFlite electronically variable transmission whose single clutch design enables both of the car’s electric motors to drive the wheels. The most noticeable difference to consumers is that unlike the nine-speed transmission in the gasoline car, the eFlite has no obvious shift points.

    Engineers located the 16 kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack under the second-row seats. While the battery doesn’t reduce interior space, it does occupy the bucket space for Chrysler’s Stow ‘n Go system, so the seats in the hybrid are removable but not stowable.

    Buyers can choose between two grades, the Premium priced from $41,995 and upscale Platinum priced from $44,995. Pricing does not include $1,095 destination. Both models quality for a federal $7500 tax credit.

    The test car is the upscale Platinum grade that comes with a 13-speaker Alpine premium sound system, navigation, hands-free sliding doors and 18-inch rims, as well as an active safety package including collision warning, adaptive cruise control, 360-degree around-view camera, lane departure warning, parallel and perpendicular park assist. The car has one option: a tri-pane panoramic sunroof. Final MSRP is $47,885. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2017 Chrysler Pacifica Touring

    Go-to family car reinvented

    By Nina Russin

    2017 Chrysler Pacifica Touring-L Plus

    2017 Chrysler Pacifica

    It’s no surprise the automaker that invented the minivan has introduced the most compelling new product in the segment. With the Dodge Grand Caravan discontinued, the all-new Pacifica becomes Chrysler’s only minivan offering. But it is more diverse, with a gasoline-powered version on sale now followed by a gasoline electric hybrid that rolls out later this summer.

    Exterior styling is more like a crossover, appealing to buyers turned off by the one-box minivan stigma. This idea isn’t unique to Chrysler: Kia took a similar approach with the current Sedona.

    2017 Chrysler Pacifica

    2017 Chrysler Pacifica

    Chrysler’s ace-in-the-hole is family-friendly features including chicklets on sliding side doors making them easier for kids to open, and built-in vacuum cleaner. Proprietary Stow ‘n Go seating folds second-row seats into the floor to create a capacious cargo area. Second-row seats can also tilt forward without removing child safety seats for better third-row access.

    The Touring grade tested appeals to value-focused buyers with a base price of $30,495 excluding the $995 destination charge. An optional power liftgate brings the final MSRP to $31,985. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2017 Chrysler Pacifica Touring

    New minivan appeals to active families

    By Nina Russin

    2017 Chrysler Pacifica While they are arguably the most practical vehicles on the road, minivans have long carried the stigma of being soccer mom cars. Chrysler’s solution with the all-new 2017 Pacifica is a crossover-like exterior and versatile interior that’s pure minivan.

    Available in five grades priced from $28,595, the 2017 Chrysler Pacifica is a sexy-looking car with available seating for up to eight passengers, an expanded roster of active safety features and the newest version of the automaker’s Uconnect infotainment technology. A new hybrid model that gets up to 80 miles-per-gallon with 30-mile pure electric range is a segment first.

    2017 Chrysler Pacifica Power comes from a 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6 engine and nine-speed automatic transmission, delivering 22 mile-per-gallon average fuel economy. Engineers eighty-sixed the live rear axle from the Town & Country, replacing it with an independent setup that significantly improves ride comfort. The new car is about 300 pounds lighter, so while engine power remains the same, performance during acceleration and passing is improved.

    An updated Stow ‘n Go system enables owners to fold second and third-row seats into the floor to create a large cargo bay that can haul camping equipment, bicycles, kayaks, skis and snowboards. Available tri-pane panoramic sunroof makes the interior a bright and light space that will appeal to outdoor enthusiasts.

    Base price for the Touring model tested is $30,495 excluding the $995 destination charge. Optional eight passenger seating and a power liftgate bring the final MSRP to $33,275. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2015 Kia Sedona

    Minivan breaks out of the box

    By Nina Russin

    2015 Kia Sedona

    2015 Kia Sedona

    Sometimes the best way to increase sales in a shrinking market segment is by redefining it. Kia’s strategy with its all-new Sedona minivan is just that: combining crossover-like styling with new connectivity features to give its family-friendly car twenty-first century appeal.

    Kia is one of a handful of players who continue to produce minivans, competing against Toyota, Honda and Chrysler. While its competitors continue to play it safe with tried-and-true features such as foldaway seating and giant center console bins, the Korean automaker is sacrificing a bit of practicality for some much needed sex appeal.

    Design guru Peter Schreyer penned the exterior, with a more pronounced front end and grille that bears striking resemblance to the mid-sized Sorento crossover. A taller beltline results in a narrower greenhouse, but gives the Sedona some shoulders and a more interesting profile. A roof-mounted spoiler and aggressive rear fascia frame the wrap-around tail lamps, preventing the slab sided appearance that plagues many members of the genre.

    Inside, the Sedona seats up to eight passengers. Optional lounge seats in the second row rival living room furniture for comfort, while an available dual-pane sunroof adds a welcome dose of ambient light. The newest version of Kia’s UVO infotainment system developed in conjunction with Microsoft adds new services such as geo-fencing and curfew alerts for younger drivers as well as a host of new apps under the Kia App Store umbrella. Read the rest of this entry »

  • First Drive: 2015 Toyota Camry, Yaris and Sienna

    Toyota pumps up the style with three mid-cycle refreshes

    By Nina Russin

    2015 Toyota Camry

    2015 Toyota Camry

    The 2015 Toyota Camry doesn’t look like a mid-cycle refresh. All new sheet metal with the exception of the roof panel gives the Camry a dramatically different exterior. A new model called the XSE appeals to younger buyers with a unique grille, larger wheels and a sport-tuned suspension. Pricing for the four-cylinder LE starts at $22,970.

    The subcompact Yaris changes significantly as well. Styled at Toyota’s European Design Studio and produced in France, it stands poised to capture millennial buyers purchasing their first car. While value remains one of the Yaris’ key attributes with a starting price of $14,845, the new three and five-door hatchbacks are more than pretty faces, with restyled interiors and new technology including Entune infotainment, HD radio and Bluetooth interface.

    Changes to the Sienna are less dramatic, focusing on interior refinement. Designers revised the instrument panel using softer, more appealing materials and added a thin-film-transistor information display in the gauge cluster. Upholstery offerings have also been updated, and customers can opt for lounge-style second-row seating on upscale models. Pricing for the front-wheel drive base car starts at $28,600.

    Engineers enhanced torsional rigidity on all three models by increasing the number of spot welds throughout the bodies. New acoustic materials reduce NVH for quieter, more comfortable interiors.

    Although the drivetrains are carryover, retuned electric power steering systems, new wheel and tire combinations and retuned suspensions give the 2015 models sharper steering response and a firmer ride. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2014 Nissan Quest 3.5 LE

    Seven-seat minivan hauls soup to nuts

    By Nina Russin

    2014 Nissan Quest

    2014 Nissan Quest

    It might not be as fast as the GT-R or as sexy as the 370Z, but at times, the Nissan Quest minivan can seem like a gift from God. Our annual Active Lifestyle Vehicle of the Year event in mid-October is one of those times, when I find myself doing multiple airport transfers, ferrying bagels and coffee for 130 of my closest friends, schlepping signage, chairs, display stands and PA systems from one spot to the next. Some people call me the program director but I prefer to think of myself as a well-trained Sherpa.

    And the Quest is, so to speak, a yak on steroids, with seating for up to seven passengers, a cavernous cargo bay, power liftgate, 260-horsepower V-6 engine, continuously variable automatic transmission and speed-sensitive power steering that makes the 16-1/2 foot-long vehicle capable of U-turns on two-lane roads.

    The test car is the upscale LE model priced from $42,870. Standard comfort and convenience features include leather upholstery, second-row captain’s chairs, tri-zone climate control, fold-flat second and third-row seats, DVD rear entertainment system, navigation, rearview monitor, around-view monitor, blind spot monitoring, Bluetooth interface, 13-speaker Bose audio system, conversation mirror and six-way power driver’s seat with memory. Adding the optional dual-pane sunroof and destination charges, final MSRP is $45,315. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2012 Nissan Quest 3.5 LE

    Room for seven passengers and 200 bagels

    By Nina Russin


    2012 Nissan Quest

    For 51 weeks out of the year, I’m not much of a minivan person. My husband and I don’t have children, and our cat fits into pretty much anything. But for one week, leading up to our Active Lifestyle Vehicle of the Year finals, I am more about minivans than the queen of soccer moms.

    During that week I haul people, signage, traffic barricades, trophies, fruit platters, coffee tureens, and enough bagels to feed a small army. There is no vehicle better fit for this sort of duty than a minivan.

    Minivans tend to have a bad rep, which is a shame. While they aren’t hot rods, minivans have more versatile interiors than most crossovers, and get pretty good gas mileage to boot.

    I like to think of them as pop-up tents on wheels. Who doesn’t love something that folds into a backpack and unfolds into a living room? Minivans can haul an entire household, and unlike pop-up tents, they come pre-wired.

    When I test drove the Nissan Quest this week, I equipped it as I might for a camping expedition, with flats of water bottles, cartons of energy bars, duct tape, tarps, tie downs and first aid supplies. Add a pair of Oakleys and some good reggae, and the Quest becomes a vehicle befitting its name. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2011 Toyota Sienna SE

    Eight passenger minivan for active families

    By Nina Russin

    2011 Toyota Sienna SE

    Minivans seem to be the Rodney Dangerfields of the car world, and I can’t quite understand why. While they might not have the acceleration of formula cars or the exhaust notes of a werewolf, minivans are a practical, fuel efficient option for active families.

    One-box architecture makes minivans more slippery in the airstream than two-box crossovers and sport-utility vehicles, for better fuel economy. Sliding side doors make it easier to load child seats in the car in tight parking spots. Toyota’s have bullet-proof pinch protectors so kids can’t get in accidents.

    When Toyota introduced the most recent iteration of its eight-passenger Sienna, engineers diversified the product offerings to include both luxury and sport models. The Sienna Swagger Wagon, a customized XLE featured at last year’s SEMA show, proved yet again that the terms “hot rod” and “minivan” are by no means mutually exclusive.

    The SE is part of a five grade strategy which ranges from the base model to the upscale Limited. Buyers can choose between front and all-wheel drive versions, both powered by a 3.5-liter V-6 engine. An Eco option optimizes the Sienna’s fuel economy when power demands are low, to further improve gas mileage.

    A six-speed automatic transmission provides large overdrive gears to extend fuel economy on the highway. The front-wheel drive Sienna averages 20 miles-per-gallon in combined city and highway driving according to the EPA: pretty good for a 4500 pound car. I averaged just over 20 miles-per-gallon on my 150-mile road trip to Tucson. Towing capacity is 3500 pounds, meeting our ALV minimum standard.

    Base price for the front-wheel drive SE is $30,550, not including an $800 delivery charge. Standard features include Toyota’s Star safety system, cruise control, first and second-row captain’s chairs, tri-zone air conditioning and a MP3 compatible audio system.

    A premium option package on the test car adds automatic climate control, rear window sunshades, an upgraded audio system, Bluetooth connectivity and steering wheel audio controls ($1545). Carpeted floor mats and a security system add $324 and $299 respectively, bringing the price as tested to $33,518. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2011 Dodge Caravan Mainstreet

    Minivan is a best value for active families

    By Nina Russin

    2011 Dodge Grand Caravan

    In this challenging economic environment, families trying to maximize their  budgets should re-familiarize themselves with minivans. Few other vehicles with a seven-passenger capacity can match their value-pricing or fuel economy. The Dodge Caravan Mainstreet which I drove this past week is a case in point.

    Base price for the Mainstreet with fold-in-floor seating is $25,995, not including the $835 destination charge. The Mainstreet is not a base-level vehicle: convenience features include tri-zone climate control, remote keyless entry, a six-speaker MP3 compatible audio system, 12-volt power points front and rear, and power windows, mirrors and door locks. Read the rest of this entry »