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  • 2018 Honda Clarity Plug-In Hybrid

    Fuel-thrifty sedan is an appealing package

    By Nina Russin

    2018 Honda Clarity Plug-In Hybrid

    2018 Honda Clarity Plug-In Hybrid

    The Clarity family began with the Honda’s fuel cell sedan two years ago. The name now refers to a group of electrified vehicles that continues to include the fuel cell model as well as a pure electric vehicle.

    As the first manufacturer to offer a gasoline/electric hybrid for sale in the US, Honda now has two decades of experience under its belt. Although Toyota’s Prius remains the best-selling hybrid, Honda knows what American drivers want in terms of fuel economy, but also understands their needs for passenger comfort, cargo space, safety and infotainment features.

    The Clarity is longer than Toyota’s Prius Prime or the Ford Fusion Plug-In hybrids. While the Clarity can’t match the Prius’ fuel economy, there’s a lot to be said for its roomier interior and additional cargo space.

    Fuel economy for the Clarity Plug-In hybrid is 42 miles-per-gallon from the 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine, on top of which owners enjoy up to 47 miles-per-gallon in pure electric mode. The battery pack recharges in 2-1/2 hours using a 220-volt plug-in.

    2018 Honda Clarity Plug-In Hybrid

    2018 Honda Clarity Plug-In Hybrid

    Engineers located the lithium-ion battery pack under the floor so as not to impinge on trunk space. Rear seats fold flat to extend the cargo floor. The Clarity’s cargo bay is too small to be bicycle friendly, but is easily capable of carrying golf bags, luggage, groceries and the like.

    Pricing for the upscale Touring model starts at $36,600. Honda loads the Clarity up with standard convenience features including leather seats and steering wheel, 8-speaker audio system, HD and satellite radio, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, Bluetooth and USB interface, push-button start, dual-zone climate control, 8-way power driver’s seat, heated front seats and more.

    Among the standard active safety features are adaptive cruise control, lane keeping assist and Honda LaneWatch: a technology unique to Honda that projects an image to the right of the car in the center screen when the driver signals. As a cyclist who shares the roads with drivers, I think it’s one of the most important active safety systems on the market. Read the rest of this entry »

  • Lexus RX 350L is on a Mission to do Good

    Automaker supports Benevilla’s outreach to Surprise, Arizona residents

    By Nina Russin

    Members of the media help Lexus provide toys and baby supplies to Benevilla

    Members of the media help Lexus provide toys and baby supplies to Benevilla

    At a recent media event in Scottsdale, Arizona, Lexus invited journalists to join in its philanthropic efforts by stuffing the new long-wheelbase RX 350L and RX 450hL sport-utility vehicles full of toys. The toys and baby supplies go to Benevilla: a not-for-profit organization in Surprise, Arizona with free home services, meals on wheels, a family resource center, and life enrichment programs for elderly citizens with dementia. Read the rest of this entry »

  • First Drive: 2019 Ram 1500

    Light-duty pickups focus on style and functionality

    By Nina Russin

    2019 Ram 1500 Rebel

    2019 Ram 1500 Rebel

    Since Ram split off from Dodge in 2009, the brand has experienced a major growth spurt, with annual sales jumping from 260,000 to 700,000 units last year. Product planners hope that the newest generation of light-duty pickups tagged for the 2019 model year will maintain the momentum, with increased towing and hauling capacity, new styling and upgraded interiors.

    Pricing for the base Tradesman work model starts at $31,695 excluding delivery, while the upscale Limited grade is priced from $53,890. Base MSRP for the off-road oriented Rebel is $43,995.

    Buyers can choose between the newest-generation Pentastar V-6 and Hemi V-8 engines. Mild hybrid technology improves fuel economy as well as the performance of the auto-stop feature. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2018 Infiniti QX80 4WD

    Luxury SUV for growing families

    By Nina Russin

    2018 Infiniti QX80

    2018 Infiniti QX80

    The full-size QX80 has been redesigned and re-engineered for 2018, with new infotainment, active and passive safety features. As the brand’s sport-utility flagship, the three-row QX80 leads the way with features such as hydraulic body motion control for flatter cornering, programmable four-wheel drive, and rear auto-leveling suspension. Towing capacity is 8500 pounds.

    In automatic mode, the four-wheel drive system remains in rear-wheel drive on dry roads, switching to four-wheel drive high mode to deliver traction to all four wheels in rain, ice or snow. The two-speed transfer case includes a low range for off-road trails.

    Base price is $67,850 excluding the $995 destination charge. Options on the test car include a technology package upgrading the standard audio system to Bose surround-sound and adding ventilated front seats, semi-aniline leather upholstery and adaptive front lighting; theater package including eight-inch seatback monitors, wireless headsets, heated and tip-up second-row seats, 22-inch tires and wheels; driver assistance package including a backup collision intervention, blind spot monitoring, lane departure assist, intelligent cruise control and forward emergency braking, carpeted cargo mats, first aid kit, roof rails with cross bars, Wi Fi, illuminated kick plates and welcome lighting. Final MSRP is $84,660. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2018 Volkswagen Atlas SE with Technology

    Three-row crossover geared towards active families

    By Nina Russin

    2018 Volkswagen Atlas

    2018 Volkswagen Atlas

    The midsize Atlas three-row crossover that debuted last year shares the same basic underpinnings as the Golf hatchback. Both are built on the automaker’s MQB modular platform, enabling engineers to share technology such as laser clamp welding that contributes to a more rigid body structure between various models.

    Buyers can choose between a turbocharged four-cylinder block or V-6 engine and front or all-wheel drive. The test car is the front-wheel drive V-6 SE with Technology starting from $35,940 excluding the $925 destination charge.

    Standard comfort and convenience features include keyless entry and start, leatherette seating, three-zone climate controls, heated side mirrors, roof rails, rain sensing wipers, automatic headlamps, power driver’s seat, heated front seats, power liftgate, an eight-speaker sound system with high definition and Sirius XM radio and eight-inch touchscreen display. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2018 Chevrolet Traverse AWD High Country

    Eight-passenger crossover with new infotainment technology

    By Nina Russin

    2018 Chevrolet Traverse

    2018 Chevrolet Traverse

    The Chevrolet Traverse is an appealing alternative to minivans for families needing eight-passenger seating and a versatile interior. For 2018, buyers can choose between front and all-wheel drive models that add more tractive capability. A new High Country edition gives the Traverse luxury accouterments including heated and ventilated seats, a Bose 10-speaker premium audio system, LED lighting, 20-inch alloy rims, tri-zone climate control and the latest version of Chevrolet MyLink infotainment including a Wi Fi hotspot.

    Base price for the all-wheel drive High Country model is $52,050 excluding the $925 destination charge. Special red exterior paint on the test car adds $395, bringing the final MSRP to $53,390. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2018 Volkswagen Golf TSI

    Compact hatchback is big from the inside out

    By Nina Russin

    2018 Volkswagen Golf

    2018 Volkswagen Golf

    The Volkswagen Golf isn’t a very big car, with a wheelbase measuring 104-inches: about 8-1/2 feet. Don’t let its compact dimensions fool you; the front-wheel drive Golf has an amazing amount of space inside.

    Fold the second-row seats flat and it can hold skis, snowboards, and camping gear. With pricing for the base S automatic model starting at $22,010 sans destination, it might leave something in the bank for that new eTAP bicycle you’ve been thinking about, or at least some component upgrades.

    Mechanically 2018 models are carryover, but with a refreshed exterior that includes LED daytime running lamps, LED tail lamps and some chrome accents. Standard convenience features on the base S tested include alloy wheels, keyless entry, eight-speaker sound system, rearview camera, cruise control, automatic windshield wipers and Bluetooth interface. The S grade comes with cloth upholstery and manual seat adjustments that include lumbar support. Destination is $850. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2018 Volkswagen Tiguan 2.0T S

    Compact crossover with three rows of seating

    By Nina Russin

    2018 Volkswagen Tiguan

    2018 Volkswagen Tiguan

    The Tiguan is the smallest member of Volkswagen’s crossover family, and one of the few crossovers in the compact segment to offer both three rows of seating and all-wheel drive. Like the larger Atlas, the Tiguan is built on the automaker’s new global modular transverse architecture. The second-generation Tiguan is ten inches longer than the original model creating room for the optional third row of seating with a small cargo area in back. Both second and third rows fold flat to extend the cargo floor. Buyers in four-season climates can also opt to add all-wheel drive for better traction on wet roads.

    The test car is the base S front-wheel drive model with the optional third row of seating, priced from $25,195 excluding destination. Power comes from a two-liter turbocharged direct injection gasoline engine rated at 184-horsepower and an eight-speed automatic transmission.

    Standard convenience features include 17-inch alloy rims, halogen headlamps with daytime running lamps, roof rails, tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, manual climate control, rearview camera, Bluetooth interface, six-speaker audio system, cruise control and electronic parking brake. Final MSRP is $26,095. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 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 »