2017 Mitsubishi Outlander 2.4 SEL AWC
Compact crossover maintains value focus
By Nina Russin
With the average transaction price for new cars approaching $35,000, it’s easy to lose focus on value. But in a post-2008 economy, buyers are approaching big purchases, including automobiles, more conservatively.
Mitsubishi has made a value focus the lynchpin of its comeback strategy and it’s working. Athletes picked the restyled 2016 Mitsubishi Outlander to win the ALV of the Year award for Best Value, responding to its all-wheel drive capabilities, good fuel economy, five-star NHTSA crash test rating and extensive roster of convenience features.
The 2017 model is essentially carryover from last year. The Outlander is one of the few compact crossovers on the market to hold up to seven passengers. Third-row seats are rather small, but give growing families the ability to carry a couple of neighbor kids to weekly soccer practice. Fold the seats flat and a spacious cargo bay can carry a couple of road bikes, protecting them from inclement weather or theft.
The test car is the upscale SEL grade priced from $27,495 excluding the $895 destination charge. Power comes from a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine and continuously variable automatic transmission. All-wheel drive gives the Outlander four-season capability.
A touring option package adds a multi-view camera that displays both a rear and overhead view when the driver shifts into reverse, forward collision mitigation, blind spot monitoring, adaptive cruise control, automatic high beams and a Rockford Fosgate premium audio system. Final MSRP is $32,390. Read the rest of this entry »
2017 Honda Ridgeline AWD
A different kind of pickup for a different kind of truck owner
By Nina Russin
The second-generation Honda Ridgeline doesn’t look or handle like any other pickup truck on the market. It’s the only vehicle in its segment available with front-wheel drive and unlike most pickup trucks, utilizes unit-body as opposed to body on frame construction
An all-wheel drive version sends engine power to the rear wheels to maximize traction on dirt and in adverse weather. A variable torque management system can vary power between the rear wheels for better control on uneven trails.
The idea is to give buyers who like Honda’s passenger cars similar ride and handling a vehicle that can tow, haul, and get dirty. A spacious cabin has enough room for five passengers, with rear seats that flip up to create a large interior cargo space. The cargo bed is short, but can easily hold bicycles, kayaks and the like with the proper racks.
Power comes from a 3.5-liter iVTEC engine and six-speed automatic transmission that gives the all-wheel drive model 21 mile-per-gallon average fuel economy according to the EPA. Gas mileage during our 150-mile test drive was about two miles-per-gallon better.
The test car is fully loaded with convenience features, including keyless entry and start, power moonroof, LED headlamps, Honda’s in-bed trunk that provides secure storage outside the cabin, leather seating, tri-zone climate control, satellite radio and Bluetooth interface. Base price is $41,370. Adding in the $900 destination charge, final MSRP is $42,270. Read the rest of this entry »
2017 Acura MDX Advance
Refreshed crossover with seating for seven
By Nina Russin
The MDX is Acura’s answer to fans of the brand’s performance who need the interior capacity and versatility for growing families. For 2017, the current generation gets a major refresh, with new exterior styling and an expanded roster of standard active safety features including blind spot monitoring, lane keeping assist, collision mitigation, adaptive cruise control and road departure mitigation.
Rather than asking buyers to wade through expensive option packages, Acura rolls oft-asked for convenience features into its model grades. The Advance grade tested adds heated and ventilated front sport seats, heated second-row captain’s chairs, roof rails, LED fog lamps, wood interior trim, parking sensors and a ten-way front passenger seat over the base model. Pricing starts at $56,400. Final MSRP including the $940 destination charge is $57,340. Read the rest of this entry »
First Drive: 2017 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid
Plug-in hybrid technology gives minivan a green footprint
By Nina Russin
The all-new Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid is the first production minivan with a plug-in gasoline/electric powertrain: one of a bumper crop of family-oriented hybrids entering the market. While their first inroads were in the compact segment, hybrids make a lot of sense for busy, value-conscious families.
The plug-in feature in the new Pacifica gives owners up to 30 miles per charge on electric power. That’s enough for the average commuter to get through a day, so owners rarely need to refill gasoline. Charging with the standard 115-volt plug takes about 14 hours, but those willing to invest in the optional 240-volt plug can fully recharge in two. A Uconnect phone app enables owners to schedule recharging during off-peak hours and remotely change charging times.
While the powertrain is based on its gasoline-powered sibling, there are significant differences between the two cars. The 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6 engine was modified to Atkinson cycle with a higher compression ratio for greater efficiency.
Despite its 11.3:1 compression, the engine runs on 87 octane gasoline. Chain drive eliminates expensive timing belt replacements after the warranty expires.
The hybrid also has a new eFlite electronically variable transmission whose single clutch design enables both of the car’s electric motors to drive the wheels. The most noticeable difference to consumers is that unlike the nine-speed transmission in the gasoline car, the eFlite has no obvious shift points.
Engineers located the 16 kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack under the second-row seats. While the battery doesn’t reduce interior space, it does occupy the bucket space for Chrysler’s Stow ‘n Go system, so the seats in the hybrid are removable but not stowable.
Buyers can choose between two grades, the Premium priced from $41,995 and upscale Platinum priced from $44,995. Pricing does not include $1,095 destination. Both models quality for a federal $7500 tax credit.
The test car is the upscale Platinum grade that comes with a 13-speaker Alpine premium sound system, navigation, hands-free sliding doors and 18-inch rims, as well as an active safety package including collision warning, adaptive cruise control, 360-degree around-view camera, lane departure warning, parallel and perpendicular park assist. The car has one option: a tri-pane panoramic sunroof. Final MSRP is $47,885. Read the rest of this entry »
2017 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid AWD
Toyota’s Recreational Activity Vehicle gets a green footprint
By Nina Russin
Hybrid vehicles are a win/win for buyers wanting to go green without infrastructure challenges. Recently, Toyota introduced its hybrid synergy drive system that powers the Prius into the RAV4 compact crossover. Buyers can choose between three grades: the base XLE, sporty SE and upscale Limited: all standard with all-wheel drive.
Power comes from a four-cylinder Atkinson cycle engine and three electric motor generators: two driving the front and rear axles respectively and the third controlling the engine starter and recharging the Nickel Metal-Hydride battery pack.
Pricing for the Limited model tested starts at $34,030 excluding destination. Standard convenience features include keyless entry and start, dual-zone climate control, Entune premium audio system with app suites, backup camera, leather seating and steering wheel, heated front seats, reclining and folding second-row seats, 18-inch alloy rims, LED headlamps and tail lamps and a power moonroof.
Options on the test car include a technology package that adds a bird’s eye view camera, JBL premium audio system, iPod compatibility, Siri eyes-free, HD and satellite radio. Final MSRP is $37,057. Read the rest of this entry »
ALV of the Year Announces 2016 Winners
Thirteenth annual competition sees record attendance
By Nina Russin
The 2016 edition of the Active Lifestyle Vehicle of the Year competition that took place October 21-22 in Chandler AZ saw record attendance, with an expanded full-day media drive and half-day ride-and-drive during which over four dozen athletes drove and voted on vehicles.
ALV is the only car-of-the-year program in the United States to combine the input of nationally recognized automotive journalists with elite and area athletes to determine which vehicles currently in production best meet the needs of buyers with active lifestyles.
ALV of the Year is pleased to announce the following winning vehicles in eight categories:
Best Value On-Road: 2016 Volkswagen Golf TSI
Best Value Off-Road: 2016 Ram Rebel
Extreme Off-Road: 2017 Nissan Titan PRO 4X
Luxury On-Road: 2017 Kia Cadenza
Best Value Family: 2016 Ford Explorer
Luxury Family: 2017 Nissan Armada
Green ALV: 2016 Jeep Grand Cherokee EcoDiesel
Urban: 2017 Kia Soul
“With twenty-six of today’s leading active lifestyle vehicles entered in the competition, the 2016 program was the most competitive to date,’ said ALV of the Year co-founder, Nina Russin. ‘It was also one of the most exciting, thanks to our expanded media day that included off-road driving in the Butcher Jones recreation area and the Phoenix area debut of the 2017 Acura NSX super car as a special feature.”
Among the athletes were representatives from Arizona Legends, retired NFL players of Arizona including former Arizona Cardinals, Jay Taylor, Rodney Thomas and Mark Walczak as well as Marshane Graves, formerly with the Indianapolis Colts and Denver Broncos. Elite runners, cyclists, triathletes, paddlers and kayakers rounded out the teams of athletes.
“The quality of the competition depends not only on its participants but the resources for evaluating the vehicles,” Russin continued.
“Eric Noble and his team at The Carlab, Orange County-based engineering consultants, raised the bar by overseeing the off-road driving area. With routes designed for both all-wheel drive and four-wheel drive vehicles, the automakers had the opportunity to demonstrate their most recent technology for vehicle handling and active safety.”
ALV would like to thank its 2016 sponsors, Toyota, FCA, Mitsubishi, Kia Motors America, Nissan, Mindfold Inc. and The Carlab.
2017 Kia Sorento SXL AWD
Midsize crossover simplifies busy lifestyles
By Nina Russin
For eleven months out of the year my life is pretty simple: writing about cars, spending time with my husband, friends, family, a very spoiled cat named Goober and riding my bicycle.
For the month of October leading up to the annual Active Lifestyle Vehicle of the Year program, simplicity goes out the window. As the event organizer, I become a professional schlepper, carting around everything from luggage to traffic barriers and extremely large tureens of coffee. It takes a special vehicle to carry this sort of stuff and offer the versatility to drive on paved and dirt roads, through a variety of weather conditions, night and day. That vehicle is the Kia Sorento.
As any schlepper knows, bigger isn’t always better. It’s hard to park a Bluebird bus next to an airport terminal. As out-of-town journalists arrive having endured hours in too-small airplane seats, they expect a modicum of comfort. The Sorento delivers that, with eight-way adjustable front seats and plenty of hip and legroom in the second row.
A premium Infinity sound system kicks out the tunes in a pleasantly quiet interior. Keyless entry and start and hands-free power liftgate make it easier to get people and their luggage in and out of the car when time is of the essence.
The test car is the upscale SX Limited priced from $45,700. To simplify the buying process, Kia includes the convenience and safety features the car’s buying audience is looking for: from Nappa leather upholstery to dual-zone automatic climate control, heated front seats, satellite radio, Bluetooth interface, a panoramic sunroof, blind spot monitoring, around-view camera, navigation and autonomous emergency braking.
Options on the test car include white pearl exterior paint and special interior trim. Final MSRP including the $895 destination charge is $48,990. Read the rest of this entry »
2017 Kia Sportage SX FWD
Compact crossover for driving enthusiasts
By Nina Russin
The Sportage was one of the first vehicles Kia imported to the United States in the early 1990s: a small, simple but robust sport-utility vehicle. I still see first-generation Sportages tooling around Phoenix, all showing scars from years of off-road driving. It’s a badge of honor.
When Kia introduced the third-generation Sportage six years ago, the car’s focus shifted from sport-utility to crossover, appealing to buyers who might want four-season capability, but also required better road handling for the daily commute. While the Sportage did all of that well, it seemed to lack the character of the first two generation vehicles.
The most recent Sportage introduced late last year is a much more complete product, with more appealing styling and a confident drivetrain that includes a SX grade for driving enthusiasts. While the car maintains a front-wheel drive bias, owners in all-season climates can opt for an all-wheel drive system that transfers power to the rear wheels when traction demands it.
Base price for the front-wheel drive car tested is $32,500 excluding an $895 destination charge. Final MSRP is $33,395. Read the rest of this entry »
2017 Subaru Outback 2.5 Limited
Sport-utility wagon is the perfect training partner
By Nina Russin
Riding my bicycle through an unexpected monsoonal rainstorm this morning, I was thinking about the Subaru Outback test car parked in our driveway, specifically the relationship between the brand and endurance athletes going back over four decades. Long before other brands saw outdoor lifestyles as a marketing asset, Subaru embraced the idea, sponsoring the US Ski team.
A unique carburetor design that compensated for oxygen loss at altitude made Subaru’s early four-cylinder engines the only small engines that ran well in mountainous areas. Along with that came standard all-wheel drive throughout the lineup. To this day, the only Subaru that comes without AWD is the track-oriented BRZ.
But there’s a deeper reason why Subaru’s vehicles resonate with athletes. They are perfect training partners: up for any adventure and never complaining about the weather, always willing to pitch in when there’s work to be done and not afraid of getting dirty. They are durable, versatile workhorses that always come through in a pinch.
Subaru isn’t afraid to call the Outback a wagon because that’s what it is: a very functional gear hauler with the ability to go through almost anything, including mud, deep snow, water, sleet and ice.
The 2017 model adds some important upgrades: a new upscale Touring grade above the Limited, torque vectoring for better cornering, enhanced hill start-assist and hill descent control functions for better wet weather performance, a roomier cargo area, more active safety technology and infotainment features.
Base price for the Limited model tested is $32,390 excluding the $875 destination charge. An optional convenience package adds navigation, Sirius XM travel and weather updates, steering responsive fog lamps, high intensity discharge headlamps, high beam assist and Subaru EyeSight: active safety technology including adaptive cruise control, lane keeping assist, pre-collision throttle control and pre-collision braking. Final MSRP is $35,260. Read the rest of this entry »
2017 Toyota Prius Prime
Plug-in hybrid builds on new Prius technology
By Nina Russin
When Toyota introduced the first Prius over 15 years ago, the world fell in love with a car that combined energy efficiency with practicality. The plug-in model that arrived twelve years later never enjoyed the unprecedented success of the original liftback, with buyers expressing concerns about the car’s maximum speed in EV mode as well as its EV range. So Toyota engineers went back to the drawing boards, reinventing the model as the new Prius Prime, building on technology introduced last year with the four-generation Prius liftback. Read the rest of this entry »