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  • 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 »

  • 2017 Prius Prime Advanced

    Plug-in hybrid gets more range and better handling

    By Nina Russin

    2017 Toyota Prius Prime

    2017 Toyota Prius Prime

    The Prime is the plug-in version of Toyota’s popular gasoline-electric hybrid lift-back. Unlike the first Prius plug-in, the second-generation car gets its own name and some unique styling, most noticeably the same dual wave window as Toyota’s Mirai fuel cell car.

    The Prime boasts some engineering advances over the model it replaces: better EV range at higher speeds, more active safety features, enhanced infotainment and better ride and handling. The newest Prius platform features a double wishbone rear suspension replacing the torsion beam on earlier models. Since the suspension supports the battery pack, the new arrangement eliminates the clunking sound that occurred when the prior model rode over bumps.

    There is also a night-and-day difference in on-center steering response, something the engineers are justifiably proud of. Drivers can make quick lane changes and emergency evasive maneuvers with much more confidence.

    2017 Toyota Prius Prime

    2017 Toyota Prius Prime

    Pricing for the upscale Advanced model starts at $33,100 excluding the $865 destination charge. Among the comfort and convenience features are an 11.6-inch high-definition center stack screen, rain-sensing wipers, LED headlamps, heated power outside mirrors, JBL premium audio system with navigation and Toyota Entune, heads-up display, SofTex heated front seats, split-folding rear seat, push-button start, Qi wireless charging, and a Smart-Flow climate control system with electronic air conditioning compressor. The electronic compressor is important, because it continues to run when the gasoline engine turns off at idle.

    Options on the test car include illuminated door sills, a tabled holder, 15-inch alloy wheels and wheel locks, paint protection film and a glass breakage sensor, bringing the final MSRP to $36,081. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2017 Lexus NX 200t F-Sport

    Right-size crossover for active urbanites

    By Nina Russin

    2017 Lexus NX

    2017 Lexus NX

    The compact NX is the smallest of Lexus’ crossover vehicles, positioned below the midsize RX. Buyers can choose between the 200t, powered by a two-liter turbocharged engine or 300h gasoline/electric hybrid. A F-Sport package available on the 200t adds a unique grille and exterior badging, 18-inch wheels and unique interior trim. Base price is $37,185.

    Options on the test car include the F-Sport package, heated front seats, LED headlamps, navigation, 10-speaker premium sound system, power liftgate, power sunroof, mudguards and cargo mat, bringing the final MSRP to $45,718. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2017 Volkswagen Jetta 2.0T GLI

    Sporty compact sedan adds spice to the daily commute

    By Nina Russin

    Volkswagen Jetta GLI

    Volkswagen Jetta GLI

    The GLI is the premium sport grade for Volkswagen’s Jetta compact sedan. Priced from $27,895, it comes loaded with safety and convenience features including a rearview camera with park distance control, blind spot monitoring, keyless start, Bluetooth interface, Fender premium audio system, satellite radio and cruise control.

    Eighteen-inch alloy rims are an upgrade from 16-inch wheels on the base model. Automatic headlamps, LED daytime running lamps, rain-sensing wipers and a power tilt-and-slide sunroof make the GLI an appealing yet affordable package. Final MSRP is $28,715. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2017 Audi S3 Sedan

    Compact sport sedan with four-season capability

    By Nina Russin

    Audi S3 Sedan

    Audi S3 Sedan

    The S3 is the performance variant of Audi’s compact sedan family that also includes the A3 and A3 cabriolet. While A3 and S3 share the same basic platform, the S gets a more powerful two-liter engine along with available magnetic sport suspension that instantaneously adjusts to driver inputs and road surface; bigger wheels with summer performance tires and different exterior styling.

    Base price for the all-wheel drive sedan is $42,900 excluding the $950 destination charge. Options on the test car include metallic white exterior ($575); 19-inch five-spoke wheels with summer tires and magnetic sport suspension ($1500); navigation with Audi connect infotainment, blind spot monitoring and Audi virtual cockpit ($3000); Nappa leather seating with manual front sport seats ($1450), Bang & Olafsen premium sound system ($950) and sport red brake calipers ($400). Final MSRP is $51,725. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2017 Ford Fusion Hybrid

    Eco-friendly sedan for the daily commute

    By Nina Russin

    2017 Ford Fusion Hybrid

    2017 Ford Fusion Hybrid

    Drivers who want a hybrid vehicle but don’t like the extreme aero styling of the Toyota Prius should take a careful look at the Ford Fusion. Based on the automaker’s popular midsize sedan, the Fusion adds an electric motor and lithium-ion battery pack to boost fuel-efficiency. For 2017 the Fusion gets a mild exterior redesign with new front and rear fascia, additional USB ports and some important active safety technology, including autonomous braking with pedestrian detection and active park assist that automatically performs parallel and perpendicular parking maneuvers.

    Base price for the SE grade test car is $26,480 excluding the $875 destination charge. Optional active safety features include active park assist ($995), adaptive cruise control ($1190), lane keeping assist and blind spot monitoring ($1,575). A hybrid luxury package adds heated front seats ($2995). Two option package discounts bring the final MSRP to $34,510. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2017 Subaru BRZ Limited

    Sports car gains in power and performance

    By Nina Russin

    2017 Subaru BRZ

    2017 Subaru BRZ

    In many ways, the two-seat BRZ is very much a Subaru; in others, a bit different. The platform, developed jointly with Toyota (the Toyota version is the 86), is the only rear-wheel drive car in Subaru’s model line-up. That said, Subaru’s inherently-balanced boxer four-cylinder engine, updated for more horsepower and torque in 2017, is the car’s heart and soul. When equipped with the six-speed manual transmission, the engine develops 205-horsepower and 156 pound-feet of peak torque, for better low-end acceleration.

    The BRZ is very much a Subaru with its focus on safety and versatility. It is comfortable enough for the daily commute, with important safety features such as LED headlamps and a rearview camera. Standard satellite radio and Bluetooth interface make the minutes sitting in rush-hour traffic go by faster. Fuel economy is also quite good. Although the EPA estimates average gas mileage at 24, we got over 28 on our test drive of about 150 miles. That included time in rush-hours at the height of Phoenix, Arizona’s Spring Training baseball season.

    Best of all, the BRZ is affordable, with pricing for the base Premium model starting at $25,495. The upscale Limited tested starts at $27,645. Standard convenience features include keyless entry and start, Subaru Smartlink that adds smartphone integration with Pandora, Aha, Stitcher and iHeart Radio and Bluetooth streaming audio. A LCD information screen next to the tachometer enables the driver to access performance information including lateral Gs, accelerator pedal position, steering angle, oil and water temperature and battery voltage. Final MSRP is $28,465. Read the rest of this entry »