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  • 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

  • 2017 Nissan Rogue Sport SV FWD

    Peppy compact crossover for active lifestyles

    By Nina Russin

    2017 Nissan Rogue Sport

    2017 Nissan Rogue Sport

    Although the Nissan Rogue Sport shares the same platform as the larger Rogue, it feels like a completely different car. Not only are the Sport’s overall dimensions smaller, the car is considerably lighter: close to 200 pounds for the Rogue Sport SV compared to the Rogue SV.

    The Rogue Sport’s two-liter engine lags-behind the Rogue’s 2.5-liter block by 29-horsepower and 28 pound-feet of torque, yet it still feels peppier and more agile than its big brother. Bottom line: it’s affordable, fun to drive and big enough to hold the gear we active types like to keep close at hand. As with the Rogue, the compact Rogue Sport is available with front or all-wheel drive.

    2017 Nissan Rogue Sport

    2017 Nissan Rogue Sport

    Base price for the front-wheel drive test car is $23,020 excluding the $960 destination charge. Standard convenience features include roof rails, LED daytime running lamps, keyless entry and start, automatic on/off headlamps, dual-zone climate control, power driver’s seat, 60/40 split folding rear seat with Nissan’s Divide-N-Hide cargo system, tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, USB port, Bluetooth interface, satellite radio with Siri Eyes-Free and a rearview camera.

    Options add heated front seats, steering wheel and outside mirrors, remote engine start, NissanConnect with navigation, apps and services, around-view monitor, seven-inch color touchscreen, navigation with traffic and travel alerts, blind spot monitoring and cross traffic alert. Final MSRP is $26,535. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2017 Toyota 4Runner TRD Off-Road Premium

    All-terrain SUV is perfect for buyers with active lifestyles

    By Nina Russin

    2017 Toyota 4Runner

    2017 Toyota 4Runner

    Within Toyota’s line-up, the four-wheel drive 4Runner is the best suited for buyers who like to spend time off the grid, thanks to its all-terrain capability, versatile interior and towing capability. Active families can opt for third-row seating giving the 4Runner seven-passenger capacity, while those more interested in adventures on the trails can chose one of several TRD off-road options including the 4X4 Premium model tested.

    Base price on the test car is $39,295 excluding the $960 destination fee. Standard features include four-wheel drive with a two-speed transfer case that enables drivers to use low gears for extreme terrain, crawl control that maintains a preset speed for better steering over steep hills, locking rear differential and a multi-terrain select feature that adjusts the suspension, braking and throttle to adapt to different road surfaces.

    On the inside, owners get air conditioning with rear vents to keep back-row passengers comfortable in temperature extremes, AM/FM/XM radio, Bluetooth interface, keyless entry and start, SofTech trim power heated front seats, 40/20/40 split folding second-row seats, tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, keyless entry, 12-volt and 120-volt cargo bay outlets.

    Options on the test car include a sliding rear cargo deck with under-floor storage compartment, power moonroof, first aid kit, hitch ball mount, emergency assistance kit, paint protection film, tablet holder, remote engine start and roof rack. Final MSRP is $42,202. 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 »

  • 2017 Jeep Compass Limited 4X4

    Compact crossover with off-road capability

    By Nina Russin

    2017 Jeep Compass Limited

    2017 Jeep Compass Limited

    For 2017, Jeep replaces the now defunct Patriot with an all-new Compass: combining the former model’s off-road capability with a more car-like appearance, ride and handling. In terms of size, the Compass sits between the smaller Jeep Renegade and larger Cherokee. Whereas Renegade styling veers more toward the Wrangler, the Compass bears greater similarity to the Cherokee and Grand Cherokee, with more rounded lines on the outside and a plush interior.

    The North American version is available exclusively with Jeep’s 2.4-liter naturally aspirated four-cylinder engine (diesel is available in other global markets). Buyers who opt for the off-road capable 4X4 model can choose between a six-speed manual or nine-speed automatic transmission.

    The Limited is the most upscale trim level, appealing to buyers who want a premium feel and don’t need the expanded off-road capabilities of the Trailhawk version. Base MSRP is $28,995 excluding the $1095 destination charge.

    Options on the test car include two safety packages that add Xenon headlamps, lane departure warning, automatic high beams, brake assist, blind spot monitoring, rear part assist and rain sensitive wipers, navigation, Sirius XM Travel Link, a power liftgate, compact spare tire, nineteen-inch rims and all-season tires. Final MSRP is $34,260. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2017 Nissan Titan XD

    Bridges the gap between light and heavy-duty pickups

    By Nina Russin

    Nissan Titan XD Crew Cab

    Nissan Titan XD Crew Cab

    Nissan calls the XD a niche vehicle that created its own niche, by bridging the gap between light and heavy-duty pickup trucks. Drivers who need more payload and towing capacity than a light-duty truck provides, but don’t have the parking space or fuel budget for a heavy-duty truck can find a lot to love in the Titan XD.

    Buyers can choose between a gasoline or Cummins turbo-diesel engine. The diesel option develops up to 555 peak horsepower as engine speeds as low as 1600 rpm, making it ideal for towing and hauling. The rear-wheel drive model tows up to 12,640 pounds, while the four-wheel drive truck tested has a 12,360-pound rating. Either way, the XD tows about 3,000 pounds more than its light-duty sibling: something that could make a critical difference when hooking up a large boat or trailer.

    The Platinum Reserve model tested comes with a Class IV gooseneck hitch with integrated 4 pin/7 pin wiring harness-connector, trailer brake controller and trailer light check function, spray on bedliner, Utili-track tie down system, LED under-rail bed lighting, rearview and around-view monitors. Pricing starts at $61,960 excluding the $1195 destination charge. A bed utility package adds the Titan Box integrated storage system in the side walls of the cargo bed, an electronic tailgate lock and rear bed step, bringing the final MSRP to $63,905. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2017 Ford F-150 Raptor

    Off-road racer is top tier at any speed

    By Nina Russin

    2017 Ford Raptor

    2017 Ford Raptor

    This year, Ford introduces an all-new version of its off-road race-ready Raptor, based on the F-150 light-duty pickup truck. Powered by an EcoBoost V-6 engine that delivers a whopping 450 horsepower and 510 lbs.-ft. of peak torque, the Raptor is a formidable competitor on any terrain.

    To prove its mettle, Ford Performance entered a Raptor in the Baja 1000: the granddaddy of Mexican off-road SCORE races. It’s a grueling test for any vehicle, with roaming cows, seas of loose sand, boulders and rattlesnakes all in a day’s work. The Raptor placed third in its class, after which Greg Foutz and his team drove the car back to their shop in Phoenix, Arizona, almost 400 miles away.

    What makes the Raptor even more amazing, and what distinguishes the 2017 model from the first-generation car, is how well it functions as a daily driver. Small but significant design changes such as the dropped side windows that lower the driver’s sight-line to better spot low-profile cars, a more versatile, quieter interior make the Raptor a competent contender in the Monday-Friday 9-5.

    2017 Ford Raptor

    2017 Ford Raptor

    The twin turbocharged V-6 engine gains three miles-per-gallon over the 2014 model and accelerates faster. The ten-speed automatic transmission on the 2017 model that replaces a six-speed gearbox on the 2014 truck does a better job of matching power needs to output, making for a smoother and more fuel-efficient ride.

    Engineers utilized high-strength military grade aluminum alloy for the body to shave off 500 pounds compared to the outgoing model. In addition to improving gas mileage, the rigid body produces remarkably good steering feedback from the EPAS system, on par with vehicles having less suspension travel and lower centers of gravity. Drivers can select from three steering modes- normal, sport or comfort- depending on their needs.

    Base price for the Raptor is $48,325 excluding the $1,195 destination charge. Options on the test car include a power sliding rear window, 360-degree camera, automatic temperature control, LED cargo box lighting, trailer brake control, trailer backup assist, remote start, voice-activated navigation, tailgate step, 17-inch forged alloy wheels, and a technology package with adaptive cruise control. Final MSRP is $64,420. Read the rest of this entry »

  • First Drive: 2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV

    EV boasts extended range, versatility and connectivity features

    By Nina Russin

    2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV

    2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV

    Chevrolet has entered the EV world with both feet in, following up on the success of the second-generation Volt extended-range vehicle with the Bolt: a pure electric small crossover with 238-mile driving range according-to the manufacturer.

    The Bolt doesn’t have quite the interior space or driving range of the larger Volt since there is no gasoline engine in reserve, but its well-configured interior, enhanced connectivity and fun-to-drive character should hold lots of appeal for buyers who have been considering an electric car, but were deterred by pricier competitors, or vehicles with significantly less range.

    EVs by their nature are rocket ships off the line, since electric motors develop peak power at very low speeds. The Bolt has the distinction of offering the most powerful electric motor in the segment: 150kW, making the car capable of sub-seven second zero-to-sixty acceleration.

    Pricing for the base LT model starts at $37,495 before the federal rebate while the upscale Premier model starts at $41,780. The car becomes available in 48 states this August. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2017 Infiniti QX30 Sport

    Compact crossover is a wolf in sheep’s clothing

    By Nina Russin

    Infiniti QX30

    Infiniti QX30

    Infiniti is known for using racing technology in its passenger cars, giving those vehicles a level of performance that sets them apart from the pack. The QX30 compact crossover that competes against the Audi Q3 and Lexus NX is a case in point: a sports car in a five-door package.

    Available in front or all-wheel drive configurations, the “baby” QX is a surprisingly affordable luxury car, with the base model priced below $30,000. The front-wheel drive Sport variant tested starts at $38,500, powered by a 208-horsepower two-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine and seven-speed dual clutch automatic transmission.

    The Sport model rides on 19-inch alloy rims with summer run-flat performance tires. Cross-drilled front brake rotors enable the QX to stop as fast as it accelerates. Standard convenience features include leatherette upholstery, eight-way power driver’s seat with memory, a tilt-and-telescoping flat bottom steering wheel with Formula-style paddle shifters, aluminum pedals, sport suspension, 60/40, fold-flat rear seats, Bose audio system, Bluetooth phone and streaming audio, satellite radio, around-view monitor with moving object detection and intelligent park assist.

    Options on the test car include Nappa leather seating and heated seats, blind spot monitoring, lane departure warning, forward emergency braking, high beam assist, LED headlamps with active front lighting, navigation, panoramic moonroof and illuminated kick plates. Final MSRP is $43,735. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2017 Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring AWD

    Redesigned compact crossover with enhanced performance

    By Nina Russin

    2017 Mazda CX-5

    2017 Mazda CX-5

    Mazda’s redesigned compact crossover builds off the original formula as a practical, yet fun-to-drive vehicle with new performance, active safety and convenience features. The base front-wheel drive model starts at $24,045 excluding destination. Nothing in that price range can out-class it. The CX-5 is a fuel-efficient, peppy vehicle with exceptionally good ride and handling with an interior versatile enough to meet the needs of buyers with active lifestyles.

    The top-of-the-line Grand Touring all-wheel drive model starts at $30,695. Standard convenience features include keyless start, 19-inch alloy rims, heated side mirrors, LED headlamps, fog lamps and daytime running lamps, leather upholstery, tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel with audio controls, eight-way power driver’s seat, dual-zone automatic climate control, Bose audio system, Bluetooth interface, heated front seats, navigation and more.

    Options on the test car add a cargo mat, special exterior color, cargo area cover, driver’s seat memory, six-way power passenger seat, heated rear seats, heated steering wheel, heads-up display and windshield wiper deicers. Final MSRP is $34,085. Read the rest of this entry »