RSS icon Home icon
  • 2018 Kia Rio EX 5-Door

    Subcompact hatchback offers value and versatility for athletes

    By Nina Russin

    2018 Kia Rio

    2018 Kia Rio

    Oh, Kia Rio, how far you have come since we first met at a media introduction eighteen years ago. Back then you were a diminutive little sedan whose main selling point was price: about the same as a used car at that time.

    From those inauspicious beginnings, you have evolved into a real package, combining value with safety and content. While your engine isn’t much bigger than the 1.5-liter block in the 2001 model, you’ve added 36-horsepower and significantly more torque: no more struggling up mountain grades in northern Arizona.

    Average fuel economy has increased by close to ten miles-per-gallon, despite-the-fact that you are bigger, with a six-inch longer wheelbase, and you’ve gained a bit of weight.

    While your rear seats aren’t quite as spacious as the larger Forte, four adults can fit inside without feeling as if they were squeezed into a cracker box. And you are still a great value, costing less than $20,000 out the door. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2018 Toyota Camry Hybrid XLE

    Next-generation sedan raises the bar for eco-transport

    By Nina Russin

    2018 Toyota Camry Hybrid

    2018 Toyota Camry Hybrid

    It was kismet that I received the keys to the new Camry Hybrid at the start of what turned out to be Phoenix, Arizona’s hottest spell this year. While most people associate the efficiencies in Toyota’s gasoline-electric powertrains with enhanced fuel economy, they provide additional advantages including better temperature control in the car’s interior.

    The same battery pack that extends fuel economy by powering two electric motors also provides power for the car’s air conditioning compressor, that operates whether-or-not the gasoline engine is running. In temperatures approaching 115-degrees Fahrenheit, the HVAC system cooled the interior down to a comfortable temperature in about five minutes. While the ignition auto-stop feature on many new cars turns the air conditioning compressor off at idle, the Camry system continues to work, keeping occupants comfortable in stop-and-go traffic.

    The newest Camry Hybrid utilizes an updated version of the automaker’s gasoline-electric technology, including a new power control unit that has reduced parasitic power loss by about 20 percent. Fuel economy isn’t quite as high as the more aerodynamic Prius, but its 46 MPG average is nothing to sneeze at.

    Engineers made some important changes to packaging: notably relocating the nickel-metal hydride battery pack beneath the second-row seats, so trunk space is the same as for the gasoline-powered sedan. This also lowered the sedan’s center of gravity for enhanced high-speed driving dynamics.

    Base price for the test car is $32,250 excluding the $895 destination charge. Options include a birds-eye view camera that enables the driver to see obstacles around the vehicle’s entire perimeter when moving at low speeds, adaptive headlamps, power moonroof and premium JBL audio system with the newest version of Toyota’s Entune infotainment system. Final MSRP is $37,255. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2018 Mazda6 Signature

    Flagship sedan is redesigned from the inside out

    By Nina Russin

    2018 Mazda6

    2018 Mazda6

    Mazda’s signature is the sporty character the automaker infuses into all-of its products, from the two-seat MX-5 Miata to the family friendly CX-9 crossover and all-new Mazda6 flagship sedan. Although Mazda is the only major Japanese car company in the US market without a luxury brand, the Mazda6 stands out as a world-class sport sedan that holds its own against considerably more expensive products, in terms of both design and engineering.

    The new Signature trim level includes Sen wood trim, Nappa leather seats, redesigned seat structure that is firmer and more comfortable, automatic dual-zone climate control, a full color heads-up display, reconfigurable thin-film-transistor touchscreen display in the gauge cluster, and ventilated front seats.

    Outside, all 2018 models get a redesigned grille, available 19-inch wheels and available “Soul Red” crystal exterior paint finish. It’s a luscious package.

    Base price for the Signature is $34,750 excluding destination. The upscale trim model comes fully loaded with safety and convenience features, including premium Bose sound system, power driver’s and front passenger seats, LED headlamps, tail lamps and daytime running lamps, full-speed adaptive radar cruise control, rearview camera, lane keeping assist, blind spot monitoring, hill start assist, Bluetooth interface and more.

    Power comes from a new 2.5-liter turbo Skyactiv four-cylinder engine rated at 250-horsepower with 310 pound-feet of torque and six-speed automatic transmission. Final MSRP on the test car including the special exterior finish is $36,465. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2018 Lexus GS350 F Sport

    Mid-size sedan for driving enthusiasts

    By Nina Russin

    Lexus GS 350

    Lexus GS 350

    This year Lexus renamed its mid-size Lexus GS 200t sedan ‘300.’ The GS 300 is powered by the same two-liter turbocharged engine as before: the name change indicating its equivalent power to a three-liter naturally-aspirated engine.

    The more powerful version remains the GS 350, with its 311-horsepower 3.5-liter V-6. Although the 300 sports a smaller engine, the GS 350 is slightly lighter (about 75 pounds) and accelerates from zero-to-sixty faster: 5.7 seconds according-to the manufacturer.

    Pricing for the performance-oriented GS 350 F Sport starts at $52,060 excluding the $995 destination fee. The F Sport package adds upgraded 19-inch wheels with summer performance tires, sport-tuned variable adaptive suspension, variable gear-ratio steering, bigger brakes, a special driver’s seat, unique exterior and interior trim, a rear valence and rear lip spoiler.

    Other options on the test car include a heads-up display, limited slip differential, power trunk, four-wheel steering, heated steering wheel, illuminated door sills, wheel locks and a trunk mat, bringing the final MSRP to $57,460. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2018 Toyota RAV4 Adventure AWD

    The original compact crossover takes the road less traveled

    By Nina Russin

    2018 Toyota RAV4 Adventure

    2018 Toyota RAV4 Adventure

    While many automakers claim to have invented the compact crossover, credit should go to Toyota, which introduced the original Recreational Activity Vehicle in 1994. What distinguished the original RAV4 from other small SUVs at the time was its car-based architecture. Unibody construction gave the RAV4 the road manners of a passenger car while its two-box architecture added practicality for buyers who wanted a taller, more versatile cargo area.

    Over the past quarter century, the RAV4 has grown in proportions and developed a distinct personality. With the recent addition of the C-HR to Toyota’s crossover lineup, the RAV4 is no longer the smallest offering. Styling is more conservative, and the cargo bay in-particular-is considerably roomier.

    This year, Toyota adds the Adventure model, combining convenience features from the mid-grade XLE with the sporty SE’s styling, plus some unique content: more ground clearance, bigger fender flares and tires, and a standard tow prep package that enables the RAV4 Adventure to tow up to 3500 pounds, meeting our ALV minimum towing standards.

    Base price for the all-wheel drive version is $28,400, excluding destination. Options on the test car include a cold-weather package that adds a heated steering wheel and heated front seats, power driver’s seat and windshield wiper de-icer, mudguards, unique exterior paint and a tonneau cover for the cargo area, bringing the final MSRP to $30,880. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2018 Toyota C-HR XLE Premium

    Compact crossover is young at heart

    By Nina Russin

    2018 Toyota C-HR

    2018 Toyota C-HR

    The all-new Toyota C-HR is perhaps the most dramatic manifestation of the automaker’s new direction in styling and performance. Originally intended for the Scion brand when it debuted at the 2014 Paris Motor Show, the C-HR combines edgy, youthful styling with peppy performance at an affordable price. There are two available trim levels: XLE and XLE Premium. Pricing for the base XLE starts at $22,500. The XLE Premium model tested is priced from $24,350 excluding destination.

    Options on the test car are minimal and affordably priced, including carpeted floor mats and cargo mat, mudguards, first aid kit, TRD oil cap and rear bumper protector, bringing the final MSRP to $25,958.

    All models are front-wheel drive and come with a 144-horsepower two-liter engine and continuously variable automatic transmission. Sadly, there’s no manual transmission option. My guess is that chief engineer, Hiro Koba, would have opted to include the option had it been viable, since he is a racing enthusiast. Unfortunately, the uptake on manual gearboxes is so low these days that offering one this type of vehicle simply isn’t cost-effective.

    All models come well-equipped with standard safety and convenience features, including Toyota Safety Sense with Pedestrian Detection: a suite of technologies including pre-collision with auto-brake, dynamic radar cruise control, lane keeping assist and automatic high beams. The XLE Premium adds blind spot monitoring: something I found quite useful since the car’s thick D-pillars create large blind spots in the rear corners.

    Standard convenience features include keyless entry and start, dual-zone automatic climate control, leather-trimmed tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel and shift knob, fog lamps, brake hold, power side mirrors and a four-inch thin-film-transistor information display. All models run on 18-inch alloy wheels and come with LED daytime running lamps. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2018 Lexus NX 300

    Compact crossover is big on luxury

    By Nina Russin

    Lexus NX

    Lexus NX

    The smallest member of Lexus’ crossover family takes the magic that has made the midsize RX 350 a best-seller and condenses it into a more compact, but equally appealing package. The 2018 model is carry-over from 2017, with power coming from either a turbocharged two-liter four-cylinder engine or gasoline-electric hybrid. The two-liter engine in the test car, rated at 235-horsepower, accelerates from zero-to-sixty in 7.2-seconds for the front-wheel drive model; seven-seconds for the all-wheel drive car.

    A six-speed automatic transmission includes large overdrive gears to maximize fuel economy on the highway: averaging 28 miles-per-gallon according-to the EPA. My average fuel economy for the week-long test drive was 25.1 miles-per-gallon, over a mile-per-gallon higher than the EPA estimate of 24.

    Base price is $37,385 excluding the $995 destination charge. Options on the test car include a panoramic view backup camera, auto-dimming rearview mirror, power folding second-row seats, a luxury package that includes 18-inch wheels, heated steering wheel, heated and ventilated front seats, rain-sensing wipers, power liftgate, tilt-and-telescoping steering column, and blind spot monitoring, 10-speaker premium audio system, intuitive parking assist with auto brake, cargo mat, net and wheel locks. Final MSRP is $49,068. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2018 Toyota Corolla XSE

    Compact sedan combines value with style

    By Nina Russin

    2018 Toyota Corolla

    2018 Toyota Corolla

    The Corolla is Toyota’s most enduring nameplate, with over fifty years on American roads. While many things have changed over the past five decades, the compact sedan’s mission- combining style, value and reliability- remains the same. At a time when commodities trend towards overcomplicated and overpriced, it’s a refreshing formula.

    The 2018 model is essentially carryover from the previous year, with the addition of Toyota Safety Sense with pedestrian detection and a rearview camera as standard equipment on all models. Pricing for the upscale XSE starts at $22,730 excluding the $895 destination charge.

    Standard equipment includes LED headlamps, 17-inch alloy wheels, Bluetooth interface, keyless entry and start, USB and iPod connectivity, automatic climate control, six-way power driver’s seat, thin-film transistor information display, Entune audio with Scout GPS link, 60/40 split folding rear seats and heated front seats. A standard power moonroof brings more ambient light into the interior.

    Options on the test car add a TRD performance exhaust, air filter and rear sway bar, premium audio system with navigation, seven-inch touchscreen, satellite radio, Bluetooth streaming audio, a first aid kit, mudguards and tablet holder. Final MSRP is $25,881. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2018 Lexus GS F

    Midsize sport sedan gets safety enhancements for 2018

    By Nina Russin

    2018 Lexus GS F

    2018 Lexus GS F

    The midsize GS sedan is one of the best cars Lexus produces: the F Sport version takes that performance to the next level. Although the 2018 model is essentially carry-over from last year, Lexus has added two key active safety features. All-speed cruise control replaces adaptive cruise control, and lane keeping assist replaces lane departure alert. Other standard active safety features include pre-collision with pedestrian detection and autonomous braking and blind spot monitoring with cross-traffic alert.

    Power comes from a direct injection 467-horsepower V-8 engine and eight-speed automatic transmission. Standard torque vectoring gives drivers better control in the corners, while adaptive variable suspension makes real-time adjustments according-to the road surface and driver’s style.

    Base price is $84,350 excluding the $995 destination charge. Options on the test car include 19-inch alloy wheels, heads-up display, Mark Levinson audio system, special brake calipers and cargo mat and net, bringing the final MSRP to $88,855. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2018 GMC Terrain SLT

    Compact crossover has the versatility for active lifestyles

    By Nina Russin

    2018 GMC Terrain

    2018 GMC Terrain

    GMC is one of two automakers that focuses exclusively on building trucks and understanding what its buyers want in terms of functionality: hence the term, ‘professional grade.’

    In the ever-increasing pool of compact crossovers, the new second-generation Terrain stands out as a very good package at an affordable price. Features such as a fold-flat front passenger seat and available hands-free liftgate make it a lot easier to load large items such as bikes and kayaks inside.

    At the same time, GMC includes important active safety technology such as forward collision warning with autonomous braking, blind spot monitoring, lane keeping assist, intelligent headlamps and blind spot monitoring, as well as infotainment features such as a 4G LTE Wi Fi hotspot.

    Base price for the upscale SLT grade is $31,320 excluding the $995 destination charge. Options on the test car include panoramic sunroof, power hands-free liftgate, driver’s seat memory and power front passenger seat, an infotainment system including an 8-inch color touchscreen, OnStar and navigation, Bose audio system, red exterior paint and the active safety features listed above. Final MSRP is $38,070. Read the rest of this entry »