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  • 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 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 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 »

  • 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 »

  • 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 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 »