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  • 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 »

  • 2017 Toyota 4Runner TRD Off-Road Premium

    All-terrain SUV is perfect for buyers with active lifestyles

    By Nina Russin

    2017 Toyota 4Runner

    2017 Toyota 4Runner

    Within Toyota’s line-up, the four-wheel drive 4Runner is the best suited for buyers who like to spend time off the grid, thanks to its all-terrain capability, versatile interior and towing capability. Active families can opt for third-row seating giving the 4Runner seven-passenger capacity, while those more interested in adventures on the trails can chose one of several TRD off-road options including the 4X4 Premium model tested.

    Base price on the test car is $39,295 excluding the $960 destination fee. Standard features include four-wheel drive with a two-speed transfer case that enables drivers to use low gears for extreme terrain, crawl control that maintains a preset speed for better steering over steep hills, locking rear differential and a multi-terrain select feature that adjusts the suspension, braking and throttle to adapt to different road surfaces.

    On the inside, owners get air conditioning with rear vents to keep back-row passengers comfortable in temperature extremes, AM/FM/XM radio, Bluetooth interface, keyless entry and start, SofTech trim power heated front seats, 40/20/40 split folding second-row seats, tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, keyless entry, 12-volt and 120-volt cargo bay outlets.

    Options on the test car include a sliding rear cargo deck with under-floor storage compartment, power moonroof, first aid kit, hitch ball mount, emergency assistance kit, paint protection film, tablet holder, remote engine start and roof rack. Final MSRP is $42,202. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2017 Jeep Compass Limited 4X4

    Compact crossover with off-road capability

    By Nina Russin

    2017 Jeep Compass Limited

    2017 Jeep Compass Limited

    For 2017, Jeep replaces the now defunct Patriot with an all-new Compass: combining the former model’s off-road capability with a more car-like appearance, ride and handling. In terms of size, the Compass sits between the smaller Jeep Renegade and larger Cherokee. Whereas Renegade styling veers more toward the Wrangler, the Compass bears greater similarity to the Cherokee and Grand Cherokee, with more rounded lines on the outside and a plush interior.

    The North American version is available exclusively with Jeep’s 2.4-liter naturally aspirated four-cylinder engine (diesel is available in other global markets). Buyers who opt for the off-road capable 4X4 model can choose between a six-speed manual or nine-speed automatic transmission.

    The Limited is the most upscale trim level, appealing to buyers who want a premium feel and don’t need the expanded off-road capabilities of the Trailhawk version. Base MSRP is $28,995 excluding the $1095 destination charge.

    Options on the test car include two safety packages that add Xenon headlamps, lane departure warning, automatic high beams, brake assist, blind spot monitoring, rear part assist and rain sensitive wipers, navigation, Sirius XM Travel Link, a power liftgate, compact spare tire, nineteen-inch rims and all-season tires. Final MSRP is $34,260. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2017 Nissan Titan XD

    Bridges the gap between light and heavy-duty pickups

    By Nina Russin

    Nissan Titan XD Crew Cab

    Nissan Titan XD Crew Cab

    Nissan calls the XD a niche vehicle that created its own niche, by bridging the gap between light and heavy-duty pickup trucks. Drivers who need more payload and towing capacity than a light-duty truck provides, but don’t have the parking space or fuel budget for a heavy-duty truck can find a lot to love in the Titan XD.

    Buyers can choose between a gasoline or Cummins turbo-diesel engine. The diesel option develops up to 555 peak horsepower as engine speeds as low as 1600 rpm, making it ideal for towing and hauling. The rear-wheel drive model tows up to 12,640 pounds, while the four-wheel drive truck tested has a 12,360-pound rating. Either way, the XD tows about 3,000 pounds more than its light-duty sibling: something that could make a critical difference when hooking up a large boat or trailer.

    The Platinum Reserve model tested comes with a Class IV gooseneck hitch with integrated 4 pin/7 pin wiring harness-connector, trailer brake controller and trailer light check function, spray on bedliner, Utili-track tie down system, LED under-rail bed lighting, rearview and around-view monitors. Pricing starts at $61,960 excluding the $1195 destination charge. A bed utility package adds the Titan Box integrated storage system in the side walls of the cargo bed, an electronic tailgate lock and rear bed step, bringing the final MSRP to $63,905. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2017 Ford F-150 Raptor

    Off-road racer is top tier at any speed

    By Nina Russin

    2017 Ford Raptor

    2017 Ford Raptor

    This year, Ford introduces an all-new version of its off-road race-ready Raptor, based on the F-150 light-duty pickup truck. Powered by an EcoBoost V-6 engine that delivers a whopping 450 horsepower and 510 lbs.-ft. of peak torque, the Raptor is a formidable competitor on any terrain.

    To prove its mettle, Ford Performance entered a Raptor in the Baja 1000: the granddaddy of Mexican off-road SCORE races. It’s a grueling test for any vehicle, with roaming cows, seas of loose sand, boulders and rattlesnakes all in a day’s work. The Raptor placed third in its class, after which Greg Foutz and his team drove the car back to their shop in Phoenix, Arizona, almost 400 miles away.

    What makes the Raptor even more amazing, and what distinguishes the 2017 model from the first-generation car, is how well it functions as a daily driver. Small but significant design changes such as the dropped side windows that lower the driver’s sight-line to better spot low-profile cars, a more versatile, quieter interior make the Raptor a competent contender in the Monday-Friday 9-5.

    2017 Ford Raptor

    2017 Ford Raptor

    The twin turbocharged V-6 engine gains three miles-per-gallon over the 2014 model and accelerates faster. The ten-speed automatic transmission on the 2017 model that replaces a six-speed gearbox on the 2014 truck does a better job of matching power needs to output, making for a smoother and more fuel-efficient ride.

    Engineers utilized high-strength military grade aluminum alloy for the body to shave off 500 pounds compared to the outgoing model. In addition to improving gas mileage, the rigid body produces remarkably good steering feedback from the EPAS system, on par with vehicles having less suspension travel and lower centers of gravity. Drivers can select from three steering modes- normal, sport or comfort- depending on their needs.

    Base price for the Raptor is $48,325 excluding the $1,195 destination charge. Options on the test car include a power sliding rear window, 360-degree camera, automatic temperature control, LED cargo box lighting, trailer brake control, trailer backup assist, remote start, voice-activated navigation, tailgate step, 17-inch forged alloy wheels, and a technology package with adaptive cruise control. Final MSRP is $64,420. Read the rest of this entry »

  • First Drive: 2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV

    EV boasts extended range, versatility and connectivity features

    By Nina Russin

    2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV

    2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV

    Chevrolet has entered the EV world with both feet in, following up on the success of the second-generation Volt extended-range vehicle with the Bolt: a pure electric small crossover with 238-mile driving range according-to the manufacturer.

    The Bolt doesn’t have quite the interior space or driving range of the larger Volt since there is no gasoline engine in reserve, but its well-configured interior, enhanced connectivity and fun-to-drive character should hold lots of appeal for buyers who have been considering an electric car, but were deterred by pricier competitors, or vehicles with significantly less range.

    EVs by their nature are rocket ships off the line, since electric motors develop peak power at very low speeds. The Bolt has the distinction of offering the most powerful electric motor in the segment: 150kW, making the car capable of sub-seven second zero-to-sixty acceleration.

    Pricing for the base LT model starts at $37,495 before the federal rebate while the upscale Premier model starts at $41,780. The car becomes available in 48 states this August. 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 »

  • 2017 Fiat 124 Spider

    Millennial tribute to a classic roadster

    By Nina Russin

    2017 Fiat 124 Spider

    2017 Fiat 124 Spider

    Fiat’s new two-seat convertible is a tribute to its most enduring model: the 124 Spider that debuted at the 1966 Turin auto show, produced through the mid-1980s. While the newest Spider takes styling cues such as its long sculpted hood, hexagonal grille and horizontal tail lamps from the original, there are some important differences.

    The 2017 model is a global car: a joint effort between Fiat and Mazda, based on the MX-5 Miata platform. The Spider is slightly larger than the MX-5 and has a bit more room inside. It also has a different engine: Fiat’s 164-horsepower turbocharged four-cylinder block. The MX-5 comes with a two-liter naturally aspirated engine rated at 155-horsepower. Despite being smaller, the Fiat engine also develops more torque: 184 pound-feet as opposed to the Miata engine’s 148.

    2017 Fiat 124 Spider

    2017 Fiat 124 Spider

    A high-performance Abarth edition adds four more horsepower to the Fiat engine.

    Base price for the Classica model is $24,995 excluding the $995 destination charge. Standard comfort and convenience features include keyless start, Bluetooth-compatible radio, tilt steering wheel, 16-inch alloy wheels, daytime running lamps, power side mirrors and dual exhaust. Final MSRP is $25,990. Read the rest of this entry »