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  • 2018 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport 2.4 SEL AWC

    Value-focused subcompact crossover

    By Nina Russin

    2018 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport

    2018 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport

    It’s no secret that Mitsubishi has struggled to maintain its foothold in recent years, and as-a-result has shifted its focus from high-performance vehicles such as the Evo to bread-and-butter models including the Outlander and Outlander Sport crossovers. In-an-effort to lure customers back into the fold, the automaker adopted a value strategy that goes beyond pricing to include one of the best warranties in the industry that, unlike many competitors, is fully transferable.

    Still potential customers want to know if the cars Mitsubishi is producing are worth the investment. While the Outlander Sport’s $20,000 starting price is a bargain by anyone’s standards, it’s still a big chunk of money in a post 2008 economy where customers are still spending carefully.

    Mitsubishi has always had a reputation for producing sturdy engines and cars that can go the distance. Decades back, the now-discontinued Montero was a popular choice among off-road racers, including the grueling Paris-Dakar rally. The automaker continues in that tradition today. The 2.4-liter engine and continuously-variable automatic transmission that power the five-passenger Outlander Sport are well-engineered and well matched for years of good service.

    2018 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport

    2018 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport

    The test car is the all-wheel drive SEL, priced from $25,895 excluding destination. Being the upscale grade, the SEL comes loaded with comfort and convenience features including keyless entry and start, high intensity discharge headlamps, LED daytime running lamps and tail lamps, roof rails, eight-way power driver’s seat, heated front seats, 60/40 split folding rear seat, satellite radio, Bluetooth interface, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, USB ports, leather-wrapped steering wheel, leather seating and automatic climate control.

    A touring package on the test car adds lane departure warning, forward collision mitigation, automatic headlamps, Rockford-Fosgate premium audio system and a panoramic sunroof. Final MSRP including destination is $29,110. Read the rest of this entry »

  • First Drive: 2018 Jeep Wrangler

    Jeep’s familiar face becomes a radically different animal

    By Nina Russin

    All-new 2018 JeepĀ® Wrangler Rubicon, 1944 Jeep Willys-Overland MB and all-new 2018 Jeep Wrangler Sahara

    All-new 2018 JeepĀ® Wrangler Rubicon, 1944 Jeep Willys-Overland MB and all-new 2018 Jeep Wrangler Sahara

    To call the Jeep Wrangler the most iconic American car currently in production is no exaggeration. With roots dating back to the 1941 Willys-Overland MA/MB, the Jeep, with its toothy grille and round headlamps, is the face that launched a thousand ships to points once unreachable on four wheels. Every off-road vehicle produced since, from the Toyota FJ to the Land Rover, has somehow been influenced by the Jeep.

    For 2018 Jeep introduces an all-new model. While it retains its familiar face, there are some dramatic changes under the new Wrangler’s skin, as to the skin itself. In place of steel body panels one now finds aluminum and composite, making the car lighter and more fuel efficient. Glass areas are larger, the windshield more raked, and the rear-mounted spare moved lower to improve visibility out the back.

    The new Wrangler that rolls out in January comes with the second-generation Pentastar V-6 engine, with a two-liter turbo option coming several months later. Look for a diesel option in 2019. Buyers can choose between an eight-speed automatic transmission or six-speed manual gearbox.

    There are three models- Sport, Sahara Unlimited and Rubicon- with pricing for the two-door V-6 Sport starting at $26,995 excluding the $1,195 destination charge. The four-door Sahara starts at $37,345, while the Rubicon that offers extended off-road capability is priced from $36,995. Top-of-the-line four-door Rubicon starts at $40,495. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2017 Acura MDX Sport Hybrid AWD Advance

    NSX technology gives three-row crossover a green footprint

    By Nina Russin

    2017 Acura MDX Sport Hybrid

    2017 Acura MDX Sport Hybrid

    If you’re looking for a seven-passenger crossover with supercar technology and better-than-average fuel economy, the Acura MDX Sport Hybrid should be on the short list. Utilizing the same three-motor super-handling all-wheel drive system introduced on the new NSX sports car and RLX performance sedan, the MDX hybrid mates Acura’s three-liter V-6 gasoline engine to three electric motors- one up front and two in the back- to provide power to all four-wheels. Net system horsepower is 321, with 289 pound-feet of peak torque. Since electric motors develop peak torque at extremely low speeds, the MDX Sport Hybrid launches off the line like a rocket ship.

    A dual-clutch seven-speed automatic transmission employs friction couplings for the feel of a manual transmission, minus the extra foot pedal. Drivers can operate the gearbox in automatic mode or manually select gears using Formula One-style shift paddles on the steering wheel. While there are quite a few cars on the market with this type of transmission, very few are hybrids. The transmission’s quick, sharp shifts are a welcome relief from continuously variable automatic transmissions that leave the driver feeling disconnected from the wheels.

    2017 Acura MDX Sport Hybrid

    2017 Acura MDX Sport Hybrid

    The test car is the upscale Advance grade, priced from $58,000. Acura loads the premium grade with active safety and convenience features, saving shoppers from wading through lists of option packages. Standard features include a surround-view camera system, keyless entry and start, second-row captain’s chairs, ventilated and heated front seats, satellite radio, ten-way power driver’s seat with memory, LED fog lamps, roof rails and AcuraWatch: an active safety system adding adaptive cruise control, collision mitigation braking, road departure mitigation, lane keeping assist and lane departure warning.

    Final MSRP including destination is $58,975 Read the rest of this entry »

  • 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 »

  • 2017 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid Platinum

    Minivan is the go-to car for active lifestyles

    By Nina Russin

    2017 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid

    2017 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid

    Minivans are ideal vehicles for outdoor enthusiasts for the same reasons they appeal to young families: large, configurable interiors hold everything from soup-to-nuts. Chrysler- the automaker that invented the minivan in the early 1980s- continues to lead the way in features that make these vehicles the perfect base camp.

    Chrysler’s newest minivan family- the Pacifica and Pacifica Hybrid- meld cargo versatility with sexy exterior design and, for the first time, a green option.

    Combining a 3.6-liter V-6 engine with an electric motor, the Pacifica Hybrid can travel up to 33 miles in pure electric mode. Total range is 556-miles, according-to the automaker. The idea is to give owners enough range to operate in pure-electric mode during the weekly 9-5, without the range limitations of electric vehicles.

    2017 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid

    2017 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid

    Engineers modified Chrysler’s Pentastar V-6 engine to Atkinson cycle, keeping the intake valves open longer during the engine’s four-stroke cycle for better fuel efficiency. The battery pack recharges on 120-volt household current in about 14 hours, or two hours using a 240-volt plug-in.

    The upscale Platinum grade priced from $44,995 comes loaded with family-friendly convenience features including keyless entry and start, hands-free sliding side doors, hands-free liftgate, tri-zone climate control, Uconnect infotainment system with navigation, satellite and HD radio, Bluetooth interface and sliding second-row seats that make access to the third row easier.

    Third-row seats fold into the floor to extend the cargo bay. Because of the battery pack’s location under the second row, those seats do not fold into the floor as with the gasoline-powered Pacifica. They are, however, removable.

    Two option packages on the test car add blind spot monitoring with cross traffic alert, front and rear park assist, a surround-view monitor, parallel and perpendicular park assist, lane departure warning, automatic high beam lighting control that dims the lights when cars approach from the opposite direction, rain sensitive wipers, premium audio system, seatback video screens, a Blu-ray DVD player, headphones, 115-volt power outlet and tri-pane panoramic sunroof.

    Final MSRP including the $1095 destination charge is $47,885. 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

  • 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 »