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  • 2017 Mazda MX-5 RF

    Two-seat sports car gets dramatic new styling

    By Nina Russin

    2017 Mazda MX-5 RF

    2017 Mazda MX-5 RF

    No vehicle in Mazda’s line-up embodies the brand’s mission of affordable performance more than the MX-5 ‘Miata.’ Designed by car enthusiasts for their kindred spirits, the MX-5 delivers spirited performance both on and off the track at a price that won’t break the bank.

    This year Mazda ups the ante with the RF retractable hardtop, building on the MX-5’s current styling for more dramatic presence on the road, plus the convenience of a top that deploys in thirteen seconds.

    Pricing for the upscale Grand Touring grade starts at $32,620 excluding the $835 destination charge. Standard convenience features include 17-inch alloy wheels with R-rated performance tires, LED exterior lighting, remote keyless entry and start, heated side mirrors, Bluetooth interface, Bose audio system with HD and satellite radio, navigation, leather upholstery and heated front seats. The metal flake red exterior is an option. Final MSRP is $33,885. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2017 Chevrolet Trax Premier AWD

    Compact crossover gets exterior restyle

    By Nina Russin

    2017 Chevrolet Trax

    2017 Chevrolet Trax

    The compact Trax is the smaller sibling to the Chevrolet Equinox. Available with front or all-wheel drive, 2017 models get an exterior refresh with a new grille, headlamps and tail lamps for the upscale Premier model that replaces the LTZ. The Premier model also comes standard with 18-inch alloy wheels.

    Inside drivers will find a new gauge cluster and reconfigured cockpit. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are now standard- part of Chevrolet MyLink infotainment. All 2017 models get keyless entry and start.

    Power for the Trax comes from a 1.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine rated at 138-horsepower and six-speed automatic transmission. Zero-to-sixty for the all-wheel drive model tested is 10.08 seconds.

    Base price for the Premier AWD test car is $27,600 excluding the $895 delivery charge. Standard convenience features include a six-way power driver’s seat, storage area under the front passenger seat, air conditioning, heated seats, automatic headlamps, Bose audio system with XM radio, OnStar with automatic crash response, 4GLTE WiFi hotspot and Bluetooth interface. An active safety option package adds forward collision warning and lane departure alert. Final MSRP is $28,790. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2017 Lexus RX 450h AWD F Sport

    Hybrid SUV gets enhanced active safety features

    By Nina Russin

    2017 Lexus 450h

    2017 Lexus 450h

    The 450h is the hybrid sibling to Lexus’ RX 350 midsize sport-utility vehicle. Although engineers employ electric motors to enhance fuel economy, they also boost power, giving the RX the performance of a V-8.

    A 3.5-liter V-6 engine works in concert with two electric motors- one on each axle- delivering exceptional acceleration off the line as well as 30 mile-per-gallon average fuel economy. The F-Sport edition tested adds a sport-tuned suspension, special exterior trim, 20-inch alloy wheels and unique interior.

    Base price for the RX 450h F Sport AWD is $56,495 excluding the $975 delivery charge. Options on the test car include a panoramic view monitor, touch-free rear door, triple-beam LED headlamps, Mark Levinson audio and navigation system, cargo net and carpeted cargo mat. Final MSRP is $61,804. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2017 Ford Escape FWD

    Compact crossover features enhanced safety, better MPG

    By Nina Russin

    2017 Ford Escape

    2017 Ford Escape

    The Escape was one of the first compact crossovers when it hit the US market in 2001, and remains a staple of the segment. For 2017, Ford has refreshed the Escape with new active safety features and improved fuel economy with automatic shut-off at idle.

    Pricing for the front-wheel drive SE grade starts at $25,100 excluding the $895 destination charge. Options on the test car include a technology packages that includes the newest version of Sync, reverse sensing, roof rack side rails and Sync Connect; a two-liter EcoBoost engine; power liftgate; voice-activated touchscreen navigation system; 18-inch alloy rims, and a comfort package including heated front seats, leather-wrapped steering wheel and power side mirrors with blind spot monitoring. Final MSRP is $33,660. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2017 Genesis G90 3.3T Premium Sedan

    High-luxury affordably priced

    By Nina Russin

    Genesis G90

    Genesis G90

    These days, it’s hard to find a high-luxury sedan priced below six figures. The notable exception is the Genesis G90 priced from $68,100 for the rear-wheel drive version equipped with a 3.3-liter turbocharged engine. If sub-70K doesn’t sound like a bargain, consider the competition. The Audi A8 starts at $82,500, BMW 7-Series at $81,500 and Mercedes-Benz S550 at $96,600.

    The 3.3-liter V-6 engine is a fine piece of work, developing 365 peak horsepower and 376 pound-feet of peak torque as low as 1300 rpm. It’s a rocket off the line and easily wins the race to the front of the highway entrance ramp. An eight-speed automatic transmission with manual shift mode enables drivers to downshift hard for more aggressive performance.

    Buyers will appreciate a haggle-free dealership experience since the sedan comes fully loaded with safety and convenience features, including keyless entry and start, 19-inch alloy wheels, 22-way power driver’s seat, 16-way power front passenger seat, heated front and rear leather seats, navigation, wireless Qi charging, power sunroof, satellite radio, Bluetooth interface, power trunk, three-zone automatic climate control and more. The price out the door is base MSRP plus a $950 destination charge. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2017 Audi A4 Sedan 2.0T Quattro

    Redesigned small luxury sedan raises the bar

    By Nina Russin

    2017 Audi A4

    2017 Audi A4

    The Audi A4 is a bread-and-butter car that’s anything but bread and butter. Completely redesigned for the 2017 model year, the automaker has raised the bar in every respect, from exterior styling to power, torsional rigidity and steering response.

    Both front and all-wheel drive variants share a turbocharged two-liter direct injection engine rated at 252-horsepower, mated to a new seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission. The dual-clutch gearbox replaces a continuously variable automatic transmission on the outgoing model, giving the driver crisper, more linear shifting. The turbocharged block develops peak torque- 273 pound-feet- as low as 1600 rpm for robust acceleration off the line and in the 20-to-50 mile-per-hour range. Zero-to-sixty acceleration is about six seconds.

    The newest version of Audi’s Quattro all-wheel drive system features a self-locking center differential to keep the wheels tracking straight on wet roads as well as torque vectoring for more confident cornering. Engineers reduced unsprung weight in the four-wheel independent suspension with aluminum control arms. Since aluminum is rigid in addition to being light, the new suspension has also improved steering response.

    2017 Audi A4

    2017 Audi A4

    Revisions to the car’s exterior are subtle but effective: a new hood, more aggressive wheel arches and redesigned grille. The design is timeless and elegant, yet as contemporary as anything else on the market.

    Base price for the Quattro model tested is $39,400 excluding the $950 destination charge. Options include dark blue metallic exterior paint, a premium package adding 18-inch rims, aluminum exterior trim, Bang & Olufsen surround-sound audio system, heated eight-way power front seats, LED headlamps and interior lighting, navigation and Audi Connect, a safety package including adaptive cruise control, automatic high beams and traffic sign recognition and adaptive suspension. Final MSRP is $52,325. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2017 Volkswagen Passat 1.8 SEL Premium

    Midsize sedan adds active safety and infotainment

    By Nina Russin

    2017 Volkswagen Passat

    2017 Volkswagen Passat

    If you’re looking for a German sport sedan but don’t have a German sport sedan budget, consider the 2017 Volkswagen Passat, priced from $22,440: stylish and solidly built with a full roster of active safety features such as adaptive cruise control, lane departure assist, blind spot monitoring and park assist. Power comes from a 170-horsepower 1.8-liter turbocharged engine mated to a six-speed automatic transmission. Buyers wanted more power can opt for the 280-horsepower V-6.

    The Passat is front-wheel drive, but it’s extremely well balanced front-to-back. Drivers needn’t worry about a floating rear end.

    The test car is the 1.8T SEL model priced from $30,995. The upscale grade comes loaded with comfort and convenience features including 18-inch alloy wheels, LED automatic headlamps, power folding heated side mirrors, keyless entry and start, dual-zone automatic climate control, heated seats, leather upholstery, a 6.3-inch touchscreen with navigation, Bluetooth interface and satellite radio.

    VW Car-Net is standard on the SEL, adding smart phone apps, navigation and emergency roadside assistance. Final MSRP including the $820 destination charge is $31,815. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2017 Kia Niro Touring

    New hybrid crossover melds versatility and value

    By Nina Russin

    2017 Kia Niro

    2017 Kia Niro

    To compare the new Kia Niro gasoline/electric hybrid to the Toyota Prius is apples and oranges. In terms of fuel economy, the Prius beats the Niro hands down. But buyers wanting a more conventional crossover with the versatility for active lifestyles and excellent gas mileage will find a lot to love in the Niro.

    Kia continues to offer exceptional value throughout the product lineup, including convenience features such as Harman Kardon audio system, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, dual-zone climate control, Bluetooth interface, leather seating and keyless start in a vehicle priced below $30,000. Pricing for the base model starts at the $22,890 while the upscale Touring model tested starts at $29,650. Pricing excludes an $895 delivery charge.

    Available active safety features include autonomous braking, forward collision warning, adaptive cruise control lane departure warning. Final MSRP on the Touring model, including the aforementioned-safety features is $32,840. Read the rest of this entry »

  • First Drive: 2017 Nissan Rogue Sport

    Rogue’s new sibling is a city-friendly compact crossover

    By Nina Russin

    2017 Nissan Rogue Sport

    2017 Nissan Rogue Sport

    The all-new Nissan Rogue Sport is a smaller, lighter version of Nissan’s popular compact crossover, competing against the Honda HR-V, Mazda CX-3 and Toyota C-HR. Because the Sport is twelve inches shorter and has a lower roofline than its big brother, it loses some cargo space, rear leg and head room. Bottom line: growing families should think Rogue while singles or childless couples go with Rogue Sport.

    Since Nissan was one of the first players in the subcompact segment with the turbocharged Juke, some might wonder why the automaker is bringing out a second entry. According-to Nissan spokespersons, the Sport’s more conservative styling and lifestyle-friendly features such as the divide-n-hide rear cargo system should give the baby Rogue a bigger net to cast in the pond.

    Power for the Rogue Sport comes from a two-liter inline four-cylinder engine rated at 141-horsepower with 147 pound-feet of peak torque and continuously variable automatic transmission. Pricing for the base front-wheel drive model starts at $21, 420 excluding delivery while the upscale all-wheel drive SL starts at $27,420. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2017 Volkswagen CC Sport

    Entry luxury sport sedan

    By Nina Russin

    2017 Volkswagen CC

    2017 Volkswagen CC

    While most people don’t think of Volkswagen as a luxury brand, the automaker does produce some luxury vehicles: the sporty CC coupe-sedan among them. The CC is an older platform as Volkswagen vehicles go, but still worth a careful look for its timeless styling and appealing road manners.

    With its long nose and bullet-shaped passenger cabin, the CC is a sport sedan in the true European tradition, priced below products from many of its competitors. Pricing for the Sport model tested starts at $34,475 excluding the $865 destination charge.

    Power comes from a turbocharged two-liter engine rated at 200-horsepower and six-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission. All grades including the base Sport come loaded with comfort and convenience features including keyless entry and start, dual-zone automatic climate control, heated power front seats, leatherette seating, six-speaker audio system, satellite radio, navigation, Bluetooth interface and bi-xenon headlamps. Final MSRP is $35,340. Read the rest of this entry »