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  • 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 »

  • 2017 Honda CR-V AWD Touring

    New turbocharged engine raises the bar among compact crossovers

    By Nina Russin

    2017 Honda CR-V

    2017 Honda CR-V

    Honda was one of the first automakers to enter the compact crossover segment with the CR-V: a car that continues to be one of the most popular choices thanks to the automaker’s reputation for reliability, safety and solid performance. For 2017, Honda has raised the bar with an all-new model including available 1.5-liter turbocharged engine, re-engineered all-wheel drive system, new exterior styling and a roomier interior. As with previous iterations, the new CR-V is a winner- hands down- combining excellent ride and handling, good engine power and excellent fuel economy.

    The test car is the upscale Touring model with all-wheel drive and the new turbocharged engine, priced from $33,695 excluding the $900 destination charge. Honda simplifies the buying process by including safety, comfort and convenience features as standard equipment.

    The Touring grade features keyless entry and start, leather seating, premium audio system with satellite radio and Bluetooth interface, seven-inch color touchscreen display, rearview camera with cross traffic alert, Pandora radio, USB port, dual-zone automatic climate control, 12-way power driver’s seat, heated front seats, 60/40 split folding rear seats, power moon-roof, 18-inch alloy wheels, LED lighting, rain sensing wipers, blind spot monitoring, hands-free power tailgate, capless fuel filler and roof rails. Final MSRP is $34,595 Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2017 Volkswagen Golf GTI Sport

    Four-door hatchback delivers the goods

    By Nina Russin

    2017 Volkswagen Golf GTI

    If you’re looking for a car that’s cool, yet affordable, with peppy performance plus good fuel economy, take-a-look at the newest Volkswagen Golf. The current version that debuted for 2015 is the first constructed on the automaker’s new modular global architecture, giving the chassis more torsional rigidity for better steering feedback.

    The sporty GTI comes with a two-liter turbocharged block that delivers 210-horsepower while averaging 32 miles-per-gallon on the highway. The Sport grade comes standard with a performance package including brakes from the Golf R, a limited-slip differential, 10-horsepower boost (when using 91-octane fuel) and 18-inch wheels. Base price is $26,695 excluding the $820 delivery charge.

    Options on the test car add red exterior paint, plaid cloth interior, six-speed dual clutch automatic transmission and summer performance tires, all at no cost. Final MSRP is $27,515. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2017 Volvo S90

    Luxury sedan is the future of automotive performance

    By Nina Russin

    2017 Volvo S90

    2017 Volvo S90

    Although the Volvo S90 luxury sedan is not an inexpensive car, its performance and leading-edge safety technology make it a tremendous value. Imagine an all-wheel drive sedan that averages 31 miles-per-gallon on the highway, thanks to its supercharged and turbocharged two-liter direct injection engine: a block that also puts out 316-horsepower and 295 pound-feet of peak torque. Zero-to-sixty acceleration is under six seconds: a lot of wow for an engine block the size of two milk jugs.

    An eight-speed automatic transmission provides large overdrive gears to extend fuel economy on the highway, with low gears tuned for optimum power off the line.

    The sedan comes standard with City Safety, the original autonomous braking technology since copied by many competitors. Unlike those competitors, the Volvo system recognizes cyclists and small animals in addition to other vehicles and pedestrians. That’s important, since each requires separate software.

    Base MSRP is $52,950 excluding delivery. Options include a vision package adding a 360-degree view camera and blind spot monitoring, climate package including heated washer nozzles, heads-up display, heated rear seats and heated steering wheel, and a convenience package with power trunk lid, front park assist and pilot park assist. Final MSRP is $66,105. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2017 Jeep Compass

    New compact crossover is a serious off-road machine

    By Nina Russin

    2017 JeepĀ® Compass Limited

    2017 JeepĀ® Compass Limited

    The 2017 Jeep Compass replaces the former Compass and Jeep Patriot no longer in production: positioned between the smaller Jeep Renegade and larger Cherokee.

    The newest member of the Jeep family is built on the automaker’s small wide 4X4 architecture, providing the unibody vehicle with a rigid platform for good steering response on-road and a minimal flex for off-road trails.

    There are four grades- Sport, Latitude, Trailhawk and Limited, with pricing starting at $20,995 for the two-wheel drive Sport. The off-road capable Trailhawk starts at $28,595, just below the upscale Limited priced from $28,995.

    The Compass shares a 2.4-liter Tigershark engine with the Jeep Renegade, and comes with three available transmissions: six-speed manual, six-speed automatic and nine-speed automatic. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2017 Subaru Impreza 2.0i Premium

    Four-door wagon raises the bar for active lifestyles

    By Nina Russin

    2017 Subaru Wagon

    2017 Subaru Wagon

    If you’re an endurance athlete looking for an affordable vehicle with good fuel economy that can haul your gear, clear snow and travel the trails, you owe it to yourself to consider Subaru’s newest Impreza four-door wagon. Priced from $18,395, the all-wheel drive Impreza builds on the outgoing model’s off-road capabilities, adding a more powerful engine, more spacious and quiet interior.

    Our test car is the mid-grade Premium equipped with a naturally-aspirated two-liter engine and continuously variable automatic transmission. Standard features include heated front seats, exterior mirrors and windshield wiper de-icer, 16-inch alloy wheels, roof rails, Bluetooth interface, Android Auto, Apple CarPlay, Aha, Pandora, Starlink connected services and roof rails.

    An EyeSight active safety package adds adaptive cruise control, autonomous pre-collision braking, lane departure alert, blind spot detection and cross traffic alert. Other options include a power moonroof and steering responsive fog lamps that swivel in the direction of steering input. Final MSRP is $24,910. Read the rest of this entry »

  • ALV of the Year Announces 2017 Program Details

    One-day event to include on and off-road driving

    By Nina Russin

    ALV 2016 winner Nissan Titan tackles the off-road route

    ALV 2016 winner Nissan Titan tackles the off-road route

    ALV of the Year announces plans for its 2017 program, taking place on Friday October 20. This year, the active lifestyle vehicle program combines media and athlete ride-and-drive events into a single day, with guests arriving on Thursday October 19 and departing the morning of Saturday the 21st. The host hotel is the Phoenix/Chandler Hilton, located off the Chandler exit of the 101 Freeway.

    The ride-and-drive program is open to credentialed media, ALV jury panel members and twenty elite athletes including representatives from Arizona Legends, retired NFL players living in the Phoenix area. The day-long event features on-road routes as well as an expanded off-road driving program in the Tonto National Forest east of Phoenix. The awards ceremony will take place during dinner at the Hilton on Friday evening.

    The Butcher Jones recreation area in the Tonto National Forest combines spectacular scenery with challenging trails for off-roading.

    The Butcher Jones recreation area in the Tonto National Forest combines spectacular scenery with challenging trails for off-roading.

    “By compressing the program and focusing on elite versus regional athletes, we believe ALV is both raising the bar and giving all participants who vote on vehicle entries equal access to driving opportunities,” said ALV of the Year LLC president, Nina Russin. “Our goal continues to be evaluating these vehicles with metrics important to buyers with active lifestyles, including performance on and off-road, safety, ergonomics and cargo capability.”

    ALV is expanding its administrative team to better address the needs of OEM participants and create a larger media footprint through traditional channels and social media.

    The 2017 ALV team includes:
    Tyson Hugie: OEM liaison and marketing
    Sam Haymart: Public relations, drive route coordinator
    Eric Noble and the Carlab: off-road course, ballots
    Becky Antioco: Event management, participant registration.
    Nicole James: Social media
    Jim Woodman: Elite athlete coordinator
    Cathy Droz: NFL liaison
    Robert Russin, CPA: Finance
    Charlotte Stacy: Accounting
    Carrie Owens, Jeff Jordan, Page One Automotive: vehicle preparation
    Raul Vargas, Eric Goetz, DriveShop: vehicle preparation:
    Nina Russin: Event oversight

    Upcoming press releases include the 2017 jury panel, call for entries, hotel information and an expanded schedule.

    For program updates, visit the ALV website.

  • 2017 Chicago Auto Show

    Nation’s largest consumer show expands family-friendly activities

    By Nina Russin

    Nissan Midnight Edition

    Nissan Midnight Edition

    Those of us inside the car industry tend to forget the role consumers play in an auto show. In addition to new product introductions, these events are a rare opportunity for those outside the bubble to get up close and personal with cars they are thinking of buying. The driving public is the meat and potatoes of the Chicago Show, held each February at the McCormick Place convention center. In terms of attendance, it is the largest auto show in the United States.

    This year’s show features fun for all members of the family, including those too young to drive: a Lego Batmobile at the Chevrolet booth plus scale replicas of the Y-Wing Starfighter, X-Wing Starfighter, TIE Striker and AT-ACT, all displayed under the Death Star in Nissan’s special Rogue One Star Wars Limited Edition Display appeal to the kid in all of us.

    Nissan Rogue One Star Wars Display

    Nissan Rogue One Star Wars Display

    Those of driving age can get behind the wheel and have some fun at the show’s five indoor test tracks.

    Fiat-Chrysler Automobiles, Toyota and Mercedes-Benz include test tracks as part of their displays: an appeal to millennials who value experience over the written word. Mercedes-Benz’s Iron Schockl is a 45-degree grade, demonstrating the outstanding climbing ability of the G-Class, while Camp Jeep brings off-roading indoors with rock crawls, steep inclines and sandy surfaces. A Ram proving ground includes six stations that demonstrate the trucks’ work capabilities while Toyota enthusiasts can test drive the new RAV4 and Highlander midsize crossover. Read the rest of this entry »