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  • 2018 Toyota Prius Touring

    Hybrid raises the eco-friendly bar

    By Nina Russin

    Toyota Prius Four Touring

    The Toyota Prius has always been a polarizing vehicle, and seems to become more-so with each new model. Aficionados love the Prius for its exceptional fuel economy, durability, versatility and eco-friendly focus. Nay-sayers seem to be just as passionate, because certain driving dynamics (e.g. horsepower) must by necessity take a backseat to gas mileage.

    The fact that the fourth-generation Prius averages 52 miles-per-gallon is astonishing, considering its ability to live in the real world of stop-and-go traffic, rain, snow, heat and cold. Even more amazing is its ability to last, quite a long time if one observes the number of Prius taxi cabs on the road.

    The current model is based on Toyota’s new Global Architecture, and hence is the first to feature an independent rear suspension. This is a big deal, because the torsion bar on former models had to support the weight of the battery pack above it, making for a rather clunky arrangement. Improved torsional stiffness in the new chassis translates to a noticeable bump in steering response.

    Base price for the upscale Touring grade is $30,565 excluding the $895 destination charge. Options include a premium package that upgrades the audio system, adds navigation and a higher level of Entune infotainment, Bluetooth streaming audio, Siri Eyes Free, real-time traffic and weather updates and more. Other options include an active safety package with park assist, special exterior color, rear bumper protector and carpeted floor and cargo mats. Final MSRP is $33,395. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2019 Acura RDX SH-AWD A-Spec

    Driver-focused compact crossover

    By Nina Russin

    2019 Acura RDX A-Spec

    For 2019, Acura introduces an all-new version of its compact crossover, the RDX. As the larger MDX has become more family-focused. The RDX, now in its third iteration, has evolved into a more personal car. The newest model is the first to be designed in North America at the automaker’s Los Angeles design studio, and is built at its East Liberty, Ohio assembly plant.

    The basis for the new design is the 2016 Acura Precision concept: a futuristic-looking sedan that debuted at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. While styling for the new RDX is less severe, one can clearly see the Precision’s influence: aero profile, sharp edges and large wheels.

    As part of the new car’s design focus, Acura has included an A-Spec model among its offerings. The appearance package includes 20-inch alloy wheels, unique fascia, grille, exhaust tips and special badging on the outside, and a custom interior with special seating, black headliner and an ELS premium 3-D audio system.

    2019 Acura RDX A-Spec

    Base price is $45,500 excluding the $995 destination charge. The RDX A-Spec comes fully loaded with convenience features including keyless entry and start, 12-way power driver’s and front passenger seats with driver’s seat memory, touchpad center stack display, dual-zone automatic climate control with rear-seat ventilation, AcuraLink communication, panoramic moonroof, power tailgate, LED headlamps and tail lamps, Bluetooth interface, satellite radio, HD radio, USB interface and Apple CarPlay. Final MSRP is $46,495. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2018 Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV-AWC

    Gasoline-electric plug-in crossover with all-wheel drive

    By Nina Russin

    2018 Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV

    Although Mitsubishi is a relatively small player in the automotive market, its Montero produced during the 1980s and 90s, and more recent i-MiEV both had a significant impact globally: the Montero for racing, and the i-MiEV electric vehicle technology. For 2018, the company brings those specialties together in the Outlander PHEV: a gasoline-electric all-wheel drive version of its compact crossover.

    The new plug-in electric hybrid can operate in three modes: fully electric, series hybrid (utilizing an on-board gasoline-powered generator, and parallel hybrid combining power from two electric motors with a two-liter gasoline engine. The idea is to limit time in the gasoline-electric mode to longer trips out of range in pure-electric mode.

    Recharging time on 240-volt power is about 3-1/2 hours. Owners who have access to a commercial Fastcharge unit can reclaim about 80 percent of power in 25 minutes.

    A phone app enables owners to set their charging schedule to coincide with off-peak electricity usage hours and save a little money. The same app can remotely change climate control settings, check for open and closed doors, headlamps on or off and customize vehicle settings.

    The Outlander’s all-wheel control system has roots in the off-road Montero that won the grueling Paris-Dakar rally over a dozen times.

    Base price for the upscale GT version is $40,295 excluding the $940 destination charge. Standard convenience features include LED headlamps, daytime running lamps and tail lamps, folding side mirrors, 18-inch alloy wheels, keyless entry and start, dual-zone climate control, 710-watt Rockford Fosgate audio system, underfloor cargo storage area, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, Bluetooth, dual USB ports and more.

    Options on the test car include white diamond pearlescent exterior, a tonneau cover, body graphics and carpeted floormats. Final MSRP is $42,130. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2018 Lexus RX 450h

    Hybrid luxury for active lifestyles

    By Nina Russin

    2018 Lexus RX 450h

    The RX 450h is the gasoline/electric version of Lexus’ best-selling midsize crossover. Changes for the 2018 model year include a new premium option package adding power folding outside mirrors, premium leather upholstery and a rear armrest with storage box. Lexus Enform Safety Connect and Service Connect are now included for the first ten years of ownership.

    Power for the RX 450h comes from a 3.5-liter V-6 engine and two electric motors. On the all-wheel drive version, separate motor generators drive each axle. That, combined with the fact that electric motors develop peak torque at extremely low speeds, gives the hybrid exceptional zero-to-sixty acceleration: 8.1 seconds according-to the manufacturer.

    Base price is $45,695 excluding destination. Options on the test car include the new premium package, Mark Levinson audio system, heads-up display and blind spot monitoring with cross-traffic alert, bringing the final MSRP to $54,515. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2018 Acura MDX Sport Hybrid Advance

    All-wheel drive eco-transport for active lifestyles

    By Nina Russin

    Acura MDX Sport Hybrid

    For those who can afford it, the question isn’t why would you buy the Acura MDX, but rather, why wouldn’t you? With an all-new powertrain based on the same technology as Acura’s NSX supercar, the green version of Acura’s three-row midsize crossover is truly a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

    A three-liter V-6 gasoline engine and three electric motors develop 321 net horsepower. Since electric motors develop peak power at very low speeds, the MDX also has a monstrous amount of torque. All-wheel drive gives the crossover four-season versatility and the ability to traverse unimproved roads. All this in a package that’s equally adept at holding people and gear of all sizes.

    Average fuel economy is 27 miles-per-gallon according-to EPA estimates. While fuel economy on the highway is similar-to the gasoline model, around town the hybrid powertrain is about eight miles-per-gallon better.

    Base price is $58,150 for the upscale, fully-loaded Advance model. Standard features include perforated leather upholstery with power heated front seats, driver’s seat memory, second-row captain’s chairs, tri-zone climate control, keyless entry and start, satellite radio, Bluetooth interface, surround-view camera, power moonroof and tailgate, 20-inch alloy rims, ELS premium audio system with navigation and more. Final MSRP including the $995 destination charge is $59,145. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2018 Toyota Sienna SE 3.5L

    Versatile interior is ideal for outdoor enthusiasts

    By Nina Russin

    2018 Toyota Sienna

    The same thing that makes minivans great family cars- large configurable interiors- translates to athletes as well. Buyers who need to haul large gear as well as those who might want an interior large enough to sleep in the night before a stage race can’t do better than a minivan.

    The 2018 Toyota Sienna is basically a carryover from the refreshed 2017 car that featured a new, more powerful V-6 engine and eight-speed automatic transmission to boost fuel efficiency. The upscale SE priced from $38,990 (excluding destination) comes loaded with convenience features including leather seating, second row captain’s chairs, three-zone climate control, power liftgate, Entune infotainment with Scout GPS-link for navigation, satellite radio, Bluetooth and Easy Speak: a feature that broadcasts the driver’s voice through the rear speakers.

    Options on the test car include blind spot monitoring with cross traffic alert, push button start, moonroof, premium audio system, iPod compatibility, HD radio, satellite radio, Entune app suite and carpeted floor mats. Final MSRP is $41,150. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2018 Kia Sportage SX AWD

    Compact crossover delivers the goods

    By Nina Russin

    Kia Sportage

    Kia Sportage

    Although the Sportage is one of Kia’s oldest nameplates with heritage going back to the early 1990s, the current compact crossover represents a complete departure from the original SUV that completed the Paris-Dakar rally in 1993 and the Baja 1000 two years later. While the early Sportage was ideal for off-road competition, its performance on paved roads was less than perfect, hence the evolution towards the current unibody (passenger car) platform.

    What links the two models more than the name is their focus on value. While it would be difficult to determine whether-or-not the current Sportage is the best compact crossover in the ever-widening sea of options, it’s a solid performer that comes well equipped with convenience and active safety features.

    Pricing for the base front-wheel drive LX starts at $23,750: over $500 below the Toyota RAV4 and Honda CR-V it competes against. The upscale SX all-wheel drive model tested is priced from $34,400 excluding the $990 destination charge. Adding a few options- cargo mat, cross bars, carpeted floor mats, cargo net, cover and cargo tray- final MSRP is $36,125. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 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 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 »