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  • 2018 Toyota C-HR

    Crossover combines versatility and affordability for young buyers

    By Nina Russin

    2018 Toyota C-HR

    2018 Toyota C-HR

    The all-new C-HR that debuts for the 2018 model year targets millennials with a combination of stylish exterior, versatile interior and affordable pricing. In a sense, the C-HR is to the current generation of young buyers what the Matrix was for their parents: a car that can take them through those quantum changes of life that happen right after college: new job, new home and perhaps a new family.

    The term, C-HR stands for ‘Coupe-High Rider’. The subcompact concept for the production vehicle originally debuted at the 2015 Frankfurt Auto Show as Scion’s competitor to the Nissan Juke. Post-Scion, the production model carries the Toyota nameplate, but its edgy styling with an elongated front end, huge wheels and sharply angled roof reflects Scion’s youthful spirit.

    A contrasting white roof adds pizzazz to the test car’s aqua-colored exterior. Base price is $22,500 excluding the $960 destination charge. Options on the test car include the white roof, removable crossbars, tablet holder, carpeted floor mats and cargo mat, mudguards, emergency assistance kit, rear bumper protector and wheel locks. Final MSRP is $24,969. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2018 Lexus LC 500h

    GT coupe with a conscience

    By Nina Russin

    Lexus LC 500h

    Lexus LC 500h

    The LC 500h and its sibling LC 500 are Lexus’ answer to European GT coupes such as the Mercedes-Benz SL 500 and Jaguar F-Type, but with a twist: only the Lexus comes with an available hybrid powertrain, giving the coupe 30 mile-per-gallon average fuel economy. As part of his promise to infuse passion into the brand, Toyota CEO Akio Toyoda (grandson of the company founder) charged Lexus with developing a new flagship that would not only deliver on his stated mission, but do so in a distinctly Lexus manner.

    Seeds for the LC date back to 2012, when Lexus introduced the LF-LC concept at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. After capturing the EyesOn Design Design Award for Concept Car, Lexus designers and engineers began work on a production model based on a new architecture called GA-L, Global Architecture-Luxury, that is also the basis for the all-new LS 500 luxury sedan and its hybrid counterpart.

    Lexus LC 500h

    Lexus LC 500h

    While the LC 500h’s gasoline-electric hybrid powertrain is based on Toyota’s hybrid synergy drive that powers all-of the automaker’s hybrid offerings, Lexus engineers made some significant changes to enhance the new coupe’s performance. As with other Toyota and Lexus hybrids, a gasoline engine is mated to two electric motor generators. However, the system in the LC adds a four-speed automatic transmission to the standard continuously variable automatic, to multiply power and create the effect of a traditional ten-speed step unit that the driver can control using shifter paddles on the steering wheel.

    The new hybrid system uses more electric motor assist at low speeds so the LC can operate in electric vehicle mode up to 87 miles-per-hour. It is also the first Lexus hybrid that can spin its rear wheels, eliminating understeer at high speeds.

    Base price for the LC 500h is $98,510 excluding the $995 destination charge. That’s a bundle, but at least buyers don’t have to shell out an additional thousand or so for gas guzzler tax. Options on the test car include blind spot monitoring, intuitive park assist, 21-inch wheels, heads-up display, limited slip differential, Mark Levinson premium audio system, Alcantara sport seats, floor and cargo mats, bringing the final MSRP to $108,805. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2018 Subaru Crosstrek 2.0i Limited

    Second-generation Crossover gets fresh design and enhanced performance
    By Nina Russin

    2018 Subaru Crosstrek

    2018 Subaru Crosstrek

    The Subaru Crosstrek is one of those right-size vehicles for buyers with active lifestyles: big enough on the inside to carry bicycles, skis and snowboards, but with a small footprint for good maneuverability and easy parking. The second-generation model that debuts for the 2018 model year is built on a new global platform that’s stiffer than the outgoing model. In plain English, this means better steering response and an overall more solid feel. Buyers who formerly shied away from Subaru due to interior noise and rattles will find none of that in the newest Crosstrek.

    The two-liter boxer engine is now direct injection for better throttle response. It is also slightly more powerful, delivering 152-horsepower as compared to 148 on the 2017 car. Torque remains the same: 145 pound-feet. Subaru replaced the standard five-speed manual transmission on the outgoing model with a six-speed gearbox on the 2018 cars, adding a taller overdrive gear for better fuel economy on the highway. The Limited model tested comes standard with a continuously variable automatic transmission.

    2018 Subaru Crosstrek

    2018 Subaru Crosstrek

    Standard convenience features on the Limited include steering-responsive headlamps, the newest version of Subaru’s Starlink multimedia system with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, Aha, Pandora, iCloud apps, Bluetooth and satellite radio, keyless access with push-button start, leather upholstery, all-weather package, 18-inch alloy wheels and a six-way power driver’s seat.

    Base price is $26,295. Options on the test car include adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning and lane keeping assist, power moonroof, high beam assist, automatic reverse braking, navigation and a Harman Kardon premium audio system. Final MSRP including the $915 delivery charge is $30,655.

    Test drive in Southern Arizona

    2018 Subaru Crosstrek

    2018 Subaru Crosstrek

    Over the past week I put the newest Crosstrek through its paces in Phoenix, Arizona’s east valley as well as some rural areas south of town. Subaru’s standard all-wheel drive system is one reason the automaker has remained a top choice among outdoor enthusiasts. All-terrain capability adds the versatility these buyers are looking for, in Subaru’s case, at no additional cost. Subaru engineers have managed to minimize any negative effects on fuel economy, with the test car averaging 29 miles-per-gallon according-to the EPA.

    Unlike some competitive all-wheel drive systems, Subaru’s is almost as capable as some four-wheel drive competitors, even though it lacks a two-speed transfer case. Crawling over boulders, driving through loose dirt or deep snow are all in a day’s work. Engineers continue to pay attention to approach, break-over and departure angles, making the Crosstrek capable of climbing and descending steep grades. For 2018 models, Subaru made X-mode standard on the Crosstrek. When engaged the on-board computer controls and integrates engine, transmission, vehicle dynamics control and braking for better handling on challenging road surfaces. Hill descent control is also standard.

    2018 Subaru Crosstrek

    2018 Subaru Crosstrek

    During the work week, the Crosstrek is a willing partner on the 9-5 commute. While the two-liter engine’s acceleration off the line isn’t as robust as some turbocharged competitors, the Crosstrek has no problem merging onto the highway and cruising at the speed of traffic. There is plenty of power on the low end to accelerate off the line and on the high end to pass slower vehicles at speed.

    Given the option, this writer would opt for the six-speed manual transmission rather than the continuously variable automatic. The automatic transmission is not particularly sensitive to fluctuations in throttle position, making the driver feel somewhat disconnected from the wheels.

    An electric power steering system offers plenty of assist at slow speeds for maneuverability with a pleasantly heavy feel on the highway. On-center response is a bit soft, but drivers can easily manage emergency evasive maneuvers.

    Visibility around the car’s perimeter is good. Blind spot monitoring, standard on the test car, illuminates LED signals on the inside of the side mirrors when vehicles in adjacent lanes pass through the driver’s blind spots. The rearview camera projects a wide-angle view to the back of the car when the driver shifts into reverse: a handy feature when the Crosstrek is parked between two high profile vehicles.

    Its low roof height gives the Crosstrek several advantages over traditional SUVs: first, better aerodynamics and hence better fuel economy and second, easier access to a roof-mounted bike rack or cargo carrier.

    Engineers did an excellent job of minimizing noise intrusion to the interior: a quantum improvement over the 2017 model. Its roomy, quiet interior makes the newest Crosstrek a good choice for extended road trips, enabling both rows of occupants to converse or enjoy the audio system.

    Spacious interior

    Subaru Crosstrek Interior

    Subaru Crosstrek Interior

    The 2018 Subaru Crosstrek is slightly longer and wider than the 2017 model, giving second-row passengers more legroom and all occupants more-hip room. Access and egress to both rows is quite good.

    Keyless entry and start saves drivers from fumbling for the key fob after dark. I found the power driver’s seat easy to adjust for a clear forward view, with plenty of lower lumbar support.

    Infotainment controls are easy to reach from either front seating position and intuitive to operate. Subaru has significantly raised the bar on its gauge cluster displays: easier to read and thanks to a thin-film-transistor information display, more informative. The center stack screen is easy to read in bright sunlight and after dark.

    Second-row seats fold flat for loading in bicycles and other large cargo. Lift-over height is quite reasonable: an important consideration for smaller users.

    Standard safety

    The Subaru Crosstrek comes with all-wheel drive, six airbags, antilock brakes, vehicle dynamics control, hill start assist, hill descent control, rearview camera and tire pressure monitoring. The Limited model adds blind spot monitoring, lane keeping assist, rear cross traffic alert, fog lamps and tire pressure monitoring with individual wheel pressure display.

    The all-new Crosstrek is rolling into Subaru dealerships nationwide.

    Like: A versatile, stylish crossover with standard all-wheel drive, excellent fuel economy and a bicycle-friendly interior.

    Dislike: Soft on-center steering response.

    Quick facts:

    Make: Subaru
    Model: Crosstrek 2.0i Limited
    Year: 2018
    Base price: $26,295
    As tested: $30,655
    Horsepower: 152 HP @ 6000 rpm
    Torque: 145 lbs.-ft. @ 4000 rpm
    Zero-to-sixty: N/A
    Antilock brakes: Standard
    Side curtain airbags: Standard
    First aid kit: N/A
    Bicycle friendly: Yes
    Off-road: Yes
    Towing: No
    Fuel economy: 27/33 mpg city/highway

  • First Drive: 2018 Lexus LS 500 and LS 500h

    High luxury sedan becomes more personal

    By Nina Russin

    2018 Lexus LS 500

    2018 Lexus LS 500

    The original LS sedan launched the Lexus brand in the US in 1989: since then the flagship has set technological and aesthetic standards for the rest of the automaker’s line-up.

    But while other models such as the GS, IS and most recently the new LC became sportier, more emotive cars, the LS remained conservative, appealing to owners who purchased those vehicles as chauffer cars as well as those who drove them. The new LS 500 and LS 500h that roll out later this year are sportier, more personal sedans.

    Taking their cue from Akio Toyoda’s promise to reinstall passion in the brand, engineers focused on two new V-6 engines as part of a new global luxury platform. The twin-turbo V-6 that replaces the naturally-aspirated V-8 on the gasoline powered model develops 416 horsepower and 442 pound-feet of torque, while the hybrid shares the same new direct injection V-6 as the new LC 500h.

    2018 Lexus LS 500

    2018 Lexus LS 500

    Engineers moved the front wheels forward and engine back to create a front-mid-ship layout for better front-to-rear weight balance. An all-new ten-speed automatic transmission enhances fuel economy with large overdrive gears for steady-state cruising.

    The sedan body has a slightly longer wheelbase, adding rear hip and legroom, but also sits lower to the ground for better high-speed performance.

    The F-Sport model is available with a performance package that adds bigger brakes and enhanced steering dynamics.

    Although Lexus has yet to announce pricing, it expects the base model to start at about $75,000, with the average transaction price for the LS 500 averaging $80,000 or less. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2018 Genesis G80 3.3T Sport

    Mid-size luxury sedan gets a power boost

    By Nina Russin

    Genesis G80 Sport

    Genesis G80 Sport

    The G80 is the smaller of two luxury sedans Genesis produces. Now in its second year, the automaker has sweetened the deal with a Sport version powered by a 3.3-liter twin-turbocharged engine: the same V-6 available in the larger G90. The G80 Sport comes with an eight-speed shift-by-wire transmission and continuously damping control suspension that makes real-time adjustments based on road surface and driving style.

    Priced at $56,225 including destination the model features unique exterior trim, 19-inch alloy rims and quad dark chrome exhaust tips.

    A spacious interior features leather upholstery, micro-suede headliner, aluminum and carbon-fiber trim, plus all the accouterments one might expect from a mid-luxury sedan: premium audio system, heated and ventilated power front seats, heads-up display, wireless charging port, color LCD information display, large center stack touchscreen, automatic climate control and more.

    The automaker’s 10 year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty is its ace-in-the-hole. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2018 Honda Odyssey Elite

    Best-selling minivan appeals to growing families

    By Nina Russin

    2018 Honda Odyssey

    2018 Honda Odyssey

    For years, the Honda Odyssey has been a dependable choice for growing families. Although the segment has decreased in size, minivans remain still an important player in the automotive universe due to their unique capabilities for this group of buyers. Honda’s newest Odyssey should continue the model’s leadership role, thanks to a more powerful engine, ten-speed automatic transmission boosting fuel economy and advanced active safety technology.

    The Odyssey has grown significantly in size over the years: once built on the Accord platform and now sharing underpinnings with the Pilot crossover. But the newest model is as easy-to-drive, maneuver, load and unload as its predecessors. Twenty-two mile-per-gallon fuel economy helps parents stay within their budget, so the summer road trip remains part of the mix.

    2018 Honda Odyssey

    2018 Honda Odyssey

    Power for the newest model comes from a 3.5-liter VTEC V-6 engine and ten-speed automatic transmission for the premium front-wheel drive grades. Variable cylinder management automatically shuts off fuel to half the engine cylinders when power demands are low to extend the car’s range.

    Base price for the Elite model tested is $46,670, excluding the $940 delivery charge. Honda loads the car up with all the safety, comfort and convenience features buyers are looking for so they don’t have to wade through a laundry list of option packages. Final MSRP is $47,610. Read the rest of this entry »

  • First Drive: 2018 Volkswagen Tiguan SE

    New model gains power, performance and versatility

    By Nina Russin

    2018 Volkswagen Tiguan

    2018 Volkswagen Tiguan

    This year, Volkswagen introduces an all-new Tiguan compact SUV, building on the original model’s formula of European performance with some significant improvements. The 2018 model is built on the automaker’s modular MQB platform: the same front-wheel drive chassis used for the Golf and midsize Atlas crossover. While the Tiguan is considerably smaller than the Atlas, it’s larger than the car it replaces- about 11-inches longer- and available for the first time with third-row seating.

    Pricing for the front-wheel drive S-grade starts at $25,345 excluding destination; the 4-Motion all-wheel drive variant starts at $26,645. There are four grades, including the volume-leading SE, upscale SE and SEL Premium. The top-of-the-line Premium with all-wheel drive costs $38,450 including the $900 destination charge, and includes LED exterior lighting, roof rails, a panoramic sunroof, heated side mirrors, keyless entry and start, leather seating, dual-zone climate control, power liftgate, Fender premium audio system, VW Car-Net security and infotainment services and more.

    Sealing the deal is a new fully-transferrable factory warranty protecting buyers against repair costs for any manufacturing defects up to six-years or 72,000 miles. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2018 Volkswagen Atlas

    Midsize sport-utility vehicle with room for seven

    By Nina Russin

    2018 Volkswagen Atlas

    2018 Volkswagen Atlas

    Volkswagen’s newest family member, the Atlas, is a midsize SUV based on the automaker’s MQB platform first introduced in the current-generation Golf. Volkswagen is building the Atlas along with the Passat at its newly expanded Chattanooga, Tennessee assembly plant.

    Like the Golf and Passat, the Atlas is a front-wheel drive vehicle, and as with the new Golf Alltrack wagon, is available with all-wheel drive. Although the Atlas competes in the same segment as the Volkswagen Touareg, the vehicles are quite different.

    The premium Touareg is available only as an all-wheel drive vehicle, and with two rows of seating as opposed to three for the new Atlas. While the Touareg can tow more- up to 7,716 pounds as opposed to 5,000 for the Atlas equipped with the V-6 engine, the Atlas holds more on the inside: something that should appeal to growing families with active lifestyles.

    It’s also more affordable. The front-wheel drive four-cylinder model that arrives in dealerships later this year starts at $30,500, while the V-6 front-wheel drive base model starts at $31,900. Buyers can add all-wheel drive for $33,700 excluding destination and handling. Read the rest of this entry »

  • First Drive: 2018 Toyota C-HR

    Stylish crossover for active urbanites

    By Nina Russin

    2018 Toyota C-HR

    2018 Toyota C-HR

    Toyota’s newest compact crossover called the C-HR (Coupe-High Rider) reflects CEO, Akio Toyoda’s focus on re-infusing the brand with passionate styling and performance. Closely resembling the Scion concept that debuted at the LA Auto Show, the C-HR focuses on young drivers buying their first new car, with a combination of aggressive styling, sporty performance and value pricing.

    There are two models, the XLE and XLE Premium priced from $22,500 and $24,350 respectively. Although the C-HR is a Toyota model, pricing strategy is monospec in the Scion tradition. Prices do not include a $960 destination charge.

    The car’s profile loosely resembles a diamond formed by the roofline and beltline. Standard 18-inch wheels contribute to the C-HR’s sporty appearance. A R-Code version features a white roof with four available exterior colors.

    2018 Toyota C-HR

    2018 Toyota C-HR

    Built on Toyota’s new global TNGA C platform, the C-HR comes with one powertrain: a two-liter dual overhead cam engine rated at 144-horsepower and continuously variable automatic transmission. An available manual gear select mode enables the driver to engage seven shift points.

    To satisfy the needs of tech-savvy millennials, product planners equipped the C-HR with streaming Bluetooth audio, Aha, HD radio USB 2.0 port, iPod connectivity, phone book access and hands-free phone capability. A seven-inch touch-screen display and thin-film transistor information display in the gauge cluster are on par with significantly more expensive competitors. Read the rest of this entry »