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  • 2012 Mitsubishi i MiEV SE

    Four-passenger, five-door pure electric car

    By Nina Russin

    2012 Mitsubishi i MiEV

    The Mitsubishi MiEV, which shares the same platform as the subcompact i, is one of a handful of pure electric cars available in the United States. Power comes from a 66-horsepower synchronous motor and a single, fixed gear transmission. The motor and lithium-ion battery pack are packaged in a watertight, stainless steel safety cell under the floor of the passenger compartment, where there is minimal intrusion to both car occupants and the rear cargo area.

    After testing the car in fleets, Mitsubishi began rolling out the MiEV last year at dealerships in California, Oregon, Washington and Hawaii. This year, the i MiEV is available in all fifty states.

    There are two grades: the base model which starts at $29,125, and the upscale SE, priced from $31,125. Buyers qualify for a federal tax credit of up to $7500.

    The test car comes with a premium package that adds navigation, steering wheel mounted audio controls, rearview camera, a battery warning system and quick charge port. Adding in the $850 delivery charge, final MSRP for the test car is $34,765. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2012 Los Angeles Auto Show

    OEMs predict a brighter 2013

    By Nina Russin

    The fourth-generation Range Rover made its North American debut in LA

    Los Angeles is the first of four major auto shows in the United States, and therefore sets the tenor for the remainder of the season. While sales statistics can be misleading, catering spreads which accompany the various press conferences are much more telling.

    Before the crash of 2008, the show floor was rife with the spoils of success. It was rare to find any press conference without an espresso machine and plates of scones. Full-fledged buffets with open bars were not unusual. I remember one automaker inviting journalists to take home folding chairs set out for the event. The chairs were nice enough to furnish a summer cabin.

    When things went black four years ago, it was hard to find a bottle of water on the show floor, much less a cappuccino. While I don’t condone swag wagons at editorial functions, the lack thereof was certainly telling.

    Gradually, the amenities came back, beginning with some ice buckets with refreshments and the occasional Danish pastry. But it was not until the 2012 show which opened to the media this week that “real food” made its reappearance on the show floor. 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 »

  • 2012 Lexus CT 200h Premium

    Five-door compact hybrid combines style and practicality

    By Nina Russin

    Lexus CT 200h

    The CT 200h is the second pure hybrid model in the Lexus lineup, following the now-discontinued HS sedan. The five-door CT seems to have found a sweet spot in the market, combining excellent fuel economy with a versatile interior in an appealingly stylish package.

    The grey pearl metallic exterior on the test car is a new finish for 2012. By pricing the CT from $31,750 (excluding the $875 delivery charge), Lexus has positioned the hatchback well within entry luxury territory. The edgy, box-like exterior should appeal to young buyers moving up from both Toyota and Scion. I averaged 45 miles-per-gallon on my 150-mile test drive: three miles-per-gallon more than the EPA average.

    Options on the test car include an F Sport package with alloy rims, a rear spoiler, mesh grille, black leather upholstery and headliner, badging, unique instrument panel and special door plates ($2530). LED headlamps with headlamp washers and auto-leveling feature add $1215, while a premium 10-speaker sound system costs $1100. Hard drive navigation with Lexus Enform ($2445) and a cargo mat with cargo net ($263) bring the price as tested to $39,878. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2012 Scion iQ

    Three-door micro-car is a big idea

    By Nina Russin

    2012 Scion iQ

    I like small cars, partly because I’m a small person, but also because I like the idea of getting around the planet without destroying it. So I support the new generation of micro-cars making inroads to the North American market, as a solution to overcrowding in urban areas and the rising price of gasoline.

    Unfortunately, cars which work perfectly well on small, low-speed streets don’t necessarily pass muster on the highway. It’s not just a matter of power; some A-segment cars simply lose stability traveling at high speeds. In this country, a car which won’t perform well on the highway isn’t viable.

    What makes the Scion iQ unique is its good high-speed performance, despite the small footprint. The iQ’s 1.3-liter four-cylinder engine and continuously-variable automatic transmission have enough power to stay with the pack when accelerating on freeway ramps, while standard 16-inch wheels provide decent traction. Its wide stance and MacPherson strut front suspension keep the IQ flat in the corners.

    The iQ can seat up to four passengers, although those in the back need to be children or small adults. There is virtually no cargo space inside the car with the rear seats in place, but they do fold flat to create a large enough bay for some luggage or groceries. Engineers located a flat gas tank underneath the passenger floor in order to keep the wheelbase short.

    Base price is $15,265 excluding the $730 destination charge. Options on the test car include carpeted front and rear floor mats, custom shift knob, rear sway bar, fog lamps, HD radio and iPod compatible CD deck, satellite radio, a rear spoiler and TRD performance springs, which bring the final MSRP to $19,135. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2012 Mitsubishi Outlander GT AWD

    V-6 engine boosts crossover’s performance

    By Nina Russin

    2012 Mitsubishi Outlander GT

    The Mitsubishi Outlander began life as a bridge vehicle between the body-on-frame Montero and unibody passenger sedans. Its purpose was to combine some of the Montero’s off-road capability with more appealing ride and handling. The first Outlander was a Japan market car with a revised front end for the North American market. Later Mitsubishi revised the rest of the chassis, adding power for better high-speed performance.

    The current model comes with a choice of two engines: a 168-horsepower four-cylinder block and 230-horsepower V-6. Both naturally-aspirated engines feature Mitsubishi’s variable valve control technology, called MIVEC. A continuously-variable automatic transmission with manual gear selection is standard on the upscale SE and performance-oriented GT models.

    All-wheel drive automatically transfers engine power to the wheels with the best traction. A rotary dial on the center console adjusts the system according to road conditions: dry pavement, snow and a locking mode for dirt roads.

    Base price for the GT grade tested is $27,895. Options include a premium package which adds leather trim, a Rockford-Fosgate audio system, satellite radio, heated front seats, power sunroof ($2900); navigation with rearview camera ($2000); and rear seat DVD entertainment system ($1695). Total MSRP is $35,300. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2012 Jaguar XJL Supercharged

    Long-wheelbase luxury sedan is king of the highway

    By Nina Russin

    Jaguar XJL Sedan

    I’m going to go out on a limb, and say that any person who doesn’t have a visceral reaction to the Jaguar XJL sedan probably doesn’t have a pulse. Even individuals who aren’t car enthusiasts can’t help but be transfixed by the XJL exterior which is, in a word, breathtaking. It’s everything the fiercest cat in the jungle should be: long, lean and muscular. With its extreme aero profile, the XJL appears to be traveling at 100 miles-per-hour, whether or not it’s moving at all.

    The XJL is the long-wheelbase version of Jaguar’s flagship high-luxury sedan. By adding five inches to the wheelbase as compared to the base model, engineers gave second-row passengers significantly more legroom. The XJL comes in three grades: the naturally-aspirated base, Supercharged and Supersport models. The engine-driven blower makes a huge difference in performance for the long-wheelbase sedan. Forty-three hundred pounds is a lot of mass to move off the line.

    The supercharger enables the XJL’s direct injection V8 engine to achieve peak torque, 424 foot-pounds, at 2500 rpm. The manufacturer estimates zero-to-sixty acceleration at 4.9 seconds: a full half second faster than the naturally-aspirated car. Peak horsepower is 470: 85 more than the base XJ. Top speed is electronically limited to 155 miles-per-hour, which is a good thing, since it’s frightfully easy to reach in a hurry.

    Base price for the XJL Supercharged is $91,600, excluding the $875 delivery charge. The test car comes equipped with one option: a $1700 illumination package which adds lighted door and trunks sills and illuminated air vents ($1700). MSRP is $94,175. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2012 Volkswagen Beetle Turbo Launch Edition

    Newest model amps up style and performance

    By Nina Russin

    2012 VW Beetle Turbo

    When Ferdinand Porsche penned the original Volkswagen Beetle concept in 1934, his intent was to produce a “people’s car” for German citizens. Interestingly enough, the car’s success was largely determined by the car’s popularity in other countries, including the United States.

    The Beetle emerged as an icon for the sixties counterculture in America, similar to British invasion bands. Just as four musicians from Liverpool changed the tide for American rock music, the Beetle struck a chord among college kids turned off by American industry.

    The compact Beetle, with its six-volt electrical system and air-cooled four-cylinder engine was the antithesis of American muscle cars. One could argue that it was the first “green” car, for the original generation of environmentally-conscious Americans. The Beetle undoubtedly paved the way for the Rabbit and Scirocco, produced in response to the fuel crises of the 1970s.

    The New Beetle unveiled in 1998 played off the rounded design of the original model, but with even more emphasis on the car’s circular fender flares and hemispherical roof. In this writer’s opinion, the New Beetle was too much design study and not enough substance. The bloom on the rose faded relatively quickly, leaving product planners wondering what the next step should be.

    They decided to go back to the Beetle’s roots, with a new body style which was more muscular and powertrain options that could draw driving enthusiasts who had been turned off by the New Beetle back into the dealership. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2012 Range Rover Evoque Coupe

    Off-road brand steers towards city center

    By Nina Russin

    Range Rover Evoque Coupe

    In today’s market, niche automakers are finding it necessary to break new ground. By filling all of the customer’s needs within the dealership, the manufacturer builds volume and makes it more difficult for competitors to conquest existing owners.

    Range Rover, best known for its high-luxury off-road vehicles has targeted the luxury crossover segment with the Evoque, aimed at style-conscious urbanites. While Range Rover has long enjoyed popularity within the Hollywood set, the Evoque adds edgier styling, and a powertrain intended primarily for paved roads.

    The new crossover comes as both a coupe and five-door, with three grades: Pure, Prestige and Dynamic. The premium option package builds on the base vehicle with 19-inch chrome wheels, a blacked-out grille, surround camera system, blind spot monitoring and adaptive xenon headlamps. Inside the model gains a 17-speaker surround sound audio system, leather steering wheel, unique upholstery and door panels and hard drive navigation with voice command.

    Base price is $44,145 excluding the $850 destination charge. The premium option package adds $7900, while an adaptive suspension costs $1250. Other options include a black roof ($650); heated front seats, steering wheel, windshield and washer jets ($1000); unique headliner ($750); satellite and high-definition radio ($950); special exterior paint ($2500) and 20-inch chrome alloy wheels ($850). MSRP is $60,095. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2012 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon

    Ultimate off-roading machine gains power and capability

    By Nina Russin

    2012 Jeep Wrangler

    The Rubicon is the most off-road capable of any Wrangler model. With heavy duty front and rear axles, locking front and rear differentials and extensive skid plate protection, the Rubicon can traverse terrain that pedestrians would find difficult. I can vouch for this, having slid butt-first down scree on the trail the model is named for, while trying to photograph a group of Jeeps.

    This year, Jeep engineers took the Wrangler Rubicon to the next level with a new more powerful and fuel efficient engine, available five-speed automatic transmission, more aggressive rear axle ratios and a disconnecting front sway bar. The Wrangler tows up to 3500 pounds, meeting our ALV criteria.

    Engineering updates are the second phase of a Wrangler remake which began with an all-new interior last year. The current interior has softer touch-points, improved fit and finish, and some infotainment updates, including Uconnect voice-activated media center with Bluetooth interface.

    Base price for the Wrangler Rubicon is $29,995 excluding the $800 delivery charge. Options on the test car include the connectivity package described above ($385), heated leather front bucket seats ($900), a convenience group which includes power windows, remote keyless entry, power heated mirrors and power door locks ($685), five-speed automatic transmission with hill descent control ($1,125), body-color hard top, tinted windows and rear wiper ($1715), satellite radio, touchscreen display and 40 gigabyte downloadable hard drive ($1,035). MSRP is $36,640. Read the rest of this entry »