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  • 2017 Chicago Auto Show

    Nation’s largest consumer show expands family-friendly activities

    By Nina Russin

    Nissan Midnight Edition

    Nissan Midnight Edition

    Those of us inside the car industry tend to forget the role consumers play in an auto show. In addition to new product introductions, these events are a rare opportunity for those outside the bubble to get up close and personal with cars they are thinking of buying. The driving public is the meat and potatoes of the Chicago Show, held each February at the McCormick Place convention center. In terms of attendance, it is the largest auto show in the United States.

    This year’s show features fun for all members of the family, including those too young to drive: a Lego Batmobile at the Chevrolet booth plus scale replicas of the Y-Wing Starfighter, X-Wing Starfighter, TIE Striker and AT-ACT, all displayed under the Death Star in Nissan’s special Rogue One Star Wars Limited Edition Display appeal to the kid in all of us.

    Nissan Rogue One Star Wars Display

    Nissan Rogue One Star Wars Display

    Those of driving age can get behind the wheel and have some fun at the show’s five indoor test tracks.

    Fiat-Chrysler Automobiles, Toyota and Mercedes-Benz include test tracks as part of their displays: an appeal to millennials who value experience over the written word. Mercedes-Benz’s Iron Schockl is a 45-degree grade, demonstrating the outstanding climbing ability of the G-Class, while Camp Jeep brings off-roading indoors with rock crawls, steep inclines and sandy surfaces. A Ram proving ground includes six stations that demonstrate the trucks’ work capabilities while Toyota enthusiasts can test drive the new RAV4 and Highlander midsize crossover. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2017 Dodge Durango R/T

    Seating for seven and a HEMI to go

    By Nina Russin

    Dodge Durango R/T Blacktop

    Dodge Durango R/T Blacktop

    Who says family cars are boring? The 2017 Dodge Durango seven-passenger SUV is anything but, especially when equipped with the optional 5.7-liter hemi engine. The engine comes standard on the sporty R/T, priced from $42,095 excluding destination. Other standard features include 20-inch rims, heavy-duty brakes, trailer sway dampening and a 3.09 rear axle.

    An eight-speed automatic transmission extends fuel economy with large overdrive gears for the highway. Average fuel economy according to the EPA is 17 miles-per-gallon. The rear-wheel drive truck tested tows up to 7400 pounds.

    On the inside, the Durango gets heated and ventilated front seats, an 8.4-inch touchscreen, Uconnect infotainment, power tilt and telescoping steering wheel, tri-zone climate control, satellite radio, remote start and real-time traffic updates.

    Options on the test car include a technology group that adds blind spot monitoring, lane departure warning, front collision warning and adaptive cruise control that works to a full stop. Other options include a rear DVD entertainment system, second-row fold-and-tumble captain’s chairs, a power sunroof and third-row mini floor console. Final MSRP is $49,670. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2017 Mazda3 Grand Touring

    Five-door hatchback is the perfect ten

    By Nina Russin

    2017 Mazda3

    2017 Mazda3

    I don’t know how Mazda manages to consistently get everything right, but they do, with a line of vehicles that resonate a distinct personality. Mazda’s compact five-door hatchback proves that in a time of escalating new car prices, it’s possible to get something quite attractive for less than $25,000.

    Not only is the Mazda3 stylish, it’s fuel efficient, offers excellent performance and a quiet, versatile cabin. All in all, the Mazda3 is the perfect ten.

    The test car is the upscale Grand Touring model priced from $24,945 excluding destination. Options include a pearlescent paint, cargo mat, rear bumper guard, a lighting package that includes adaptive LED headlamps, LED tail lamps and daytime running lamps, navigation, paddle shifters, heated steering wheel and active safety features including lane departure warning, lane keeping assist, radar cruise control, traffic sign recognition, high beam control and smart brake support. Final MSRP is $28,980. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2017 Kia Soul

    Tops the list for urban athletes

    By Nina Russin

    2017 Kia Soul Turbo

    2017 Kia Soul Turbo

    In 2016 the Kia Soul won ALV’s Urban category award for an unprecedented fourth year in a row: further proof that the compact crossover might be the perfect choice for city dwellers with active lifestyles. The Soul’s cool styling, compact dimensions and versatile interior resonate with athletes of all ages. The Soul is also affordable, with pricing for the base model starting at $15,990 excluding delivery.

    The test car is the upscale Soul! (exclaim), priced from $22,650. Among standard convenience features are automatic headlamps, power windows, door locks and side mirrors, keyless start, automatic climate control and Bluetooth interface.

    Options on the test car include a panoramic sunroof and a technology package that adds navigation, Harman Kardon premium audio system, LED exterior lighting, power folding outside mirrors, power driver’s and front passenger seats, heated front and rear outboard seats, blind spot monitoring and USB charging ports. Final MSRP is $27,620. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2017 Mitsubishi Outlander 2.4 SEL AWC

    Compact crossover maintains value focus

    By Nina Russin

    Mitsubishi Outlander

    Mitsubishi Outlander

    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.

    Mitsubishi Outlander

    Mitsubishi Outlander

    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

    2017 Honda Ridgeline

    2017 Honda Ridgeline

    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.

    2017 Honda Ridgeline

    2017 Honda Ridgeline

    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

    2017 Acura MDX

    2017 Acura MDX

    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

    2017 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid

    2017 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid

    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.

    2017 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid

    2017 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid

    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

    2017 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid Limited

    2017 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid Limited

    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.

    2017 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid Limited

    2017 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid Limited

    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

    ALV 2016

    ALV 2016

    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

    2017 Nissan Armada at ALV

    2017 Nissan Armada at ALV

    “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.”

    Media Day Presentation

    Media Day Presentation

    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.

    Volkswagen Golf Alltrack at ALV

    Volkswagen Golf Alltrack at ALV

    “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.