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  • 2019 Honda Pilot Elite

    Go-to vehicle for active families

    By Nina Russin

    2019 Honda Pilot Elite

    This year Honda refreshes its Pilot three-row crossover with new front and rear-styling, upgraded infotainment and active safety features. With available all-wheel drive, the Pilot is a good candidate for families living in four-season climates as well as those who find themselves traveling along unimproved roads.

    With seating for up to eight passengers, the Pilot can transport the soccer team to practice on weekends, or with seats folded flat, have plenty of room inside for stashing bicycles, skis, snowboards and camping equipment. A hands-free power tailgate on the test car makes it easier to load up the larger items.

    Roof rails come standard on the Elite trim model tested for adding a rack or carrier up top. However, the car’s high profile makes it pretty-hard to mount a bicycle: most cyclists will prefer a hitch-mounted arrangement.

    2019 Honda Pilot

    Pricing for the base front-wheel drive Pilot starts at $31,450 excluding destination. The fully-loaded all-wheel drive Elite starts at $48,020.

    Convenience features include leather upholstery, premium audio system with Blu-Ray DVD, 4GLTE hotspot, CabinTalk- a feature that enables the driver to communicate with rear occupants via the car’s rear speakers, satellite and HD radio, tri-zone automatic climate control, heated and ventilated front seats, 20-inch alloy wheels, panoramic moonroof, LED exterior lighting and more. Final MSRP including the $995 destination charge is $49,015. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2019 Toyota 86 GT

    Two-plus-two for driving enthusiasts

    By Nina Russin

    2019 Toyota 86

    The Toyota 86 is the automaker’s small, sporty car co-developed with Subaru (BR-Z), and inspired by the Corolla Levin of the 1980s, also known as the “86.” Aside from the BR-Z, the Toyota 86 has no true direct competitors, although it is frequently compared with the Nissan Z-cars, Chevrolet Camaro and sometimes the Hyundai Veloster. In terms of performance, it seems closest to the two-seat Mazda Miata and Fiat 124 Spider.

    Twenty-nineteen is the third year for the 86 in the Toyota line-up: previously the car was part of the Scion brand. Toyota has added TRD version with Brembo brakes, Sachs dampers, special 18-inch rims and body kit. However, the powertrain remains basically unchanged, consisting of a two-liter 205-horsepower boxer engine (from Subaru) paired with the choice of six-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmission.

    Base price for the 86 with the automatic transmission is $27,174 minus the $920 destination charge. Final MSRP for the GT version tested is $30,225. As with other vehicles previously sold under the Scion nameplate, the 86 is essentially monospec with two options: all-season tires (not available on the TRD model) and a premium audio system with navigation. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2018 Lexus NX 300h

    Compact crossover is eco-friendly

    By Nina Russin

    Lexus NX

    Lexus’ compact hybrid crossover, the NX 300h, gives couples and small families who like to adventure off the grid an eco-friendly option. The hybrid now comes standard with all-wheel drive, adding four-season capability and better traction on unimproved roads. Gasoline-electric technology is similar-to that in the Toyota Prius, utilizing an Atkinson-cycle four-cylinder engine in tandem with two electric motors up front and one on the rear axle to add traction on demand.

    Base price is $38,335, excluding the $995 destination charge. The NX 300h comes standard with 17-inch alloy wheels, LED headlamps, tail lamps and daytime running lamps, Lexus Enform infotainment, an eight-speaker audio system, dual-zone automatic climate control, power front seats, a 60/40 split-folding rear seat, multi-information display and Lexus Safety System +: a suite of active safety features including autonomous braking with pedestrian detection, dynamic cruise control, lane departure alert with lane keeping assist and intelligent high-beam headlamps.

    Options on the test car add a panoramic view back-up monitor, triple-beam LED headlamps, premium 10-speaker audio system with navigation, 18-inch wheels, heated/ventilated front seats, power moonroof, blind spot monitoring with cross-traffic alert and power tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel. Final MSRP is $48,308. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2018 Hyundai Kona Ultimate AWD

    Small but mighty

    By Nina Russin

    Hyundai Kona

    I love it when a new car surprises me with useful features I don’t expect. The subcompact Hyundai Kona, baby brother to the larger Tucson crossover, is case in point. What looks like another in the growing sea of crossovers is much more, with a slew of available active safety features, versatile interior, infotainment and all-wheel drive.

    Kona is the home of the original Ironman competition, and continues to be the most desirable of the endurance triathlon series to compete in. It’s a tough course: hot, humid, sometimes windy and always unpredictable. An athlete who finishes Kona with his/her head up has accomplished what few individuals on the planet can.

    In similar fashion, the Hyundai Kona is small but mighty, with a peppy 1.6-liter turbocharged engine, which when combined with the seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission delivers 27 miles-per-gallon according-to the EPA. That figure might not seem exceptional, but remember this is all-wheel drive: better traction than two-wheel drive but typically a drain on fuel economy of at least 2-3 MPG.

    Base price for the upscale Kona Ultimate AWD is $28,700 excluding the $980 delivery charge. To keep things simple, Hyundai includes a complete roster of convenience and safety features: LED headlamps and tail lamps, rain sensing wipers, heated side mirrors, eight-way power driver’s seat, 60/40 split folding rear seat, leather upholstery, LCD information screen, navigation, satellite radio, Bluetooth interface, Infinity premium audio system, Blue Link connected services and more. Final MSRP is $29,805. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2018 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid SE AWD

    Green machine for outdoor enthusiasts

    By Nina Russin

    Toyota RAV4

    If you’re an outdoor enthusiast, you are probably more aware than most of how air pollution can negatively impact a person’s life. And while that might make you consider purchasing Toyota Prius for that reason, other lifestyle needs make the liftback an imperfect choice: lack of ground clearance and limited traction being two big factors. The RAV4 crossover is a green alternative that uses the same gasoline/electric hybrid technology, in a package that’s adventure friendly.

    All-wheel drive gives the RAV4 better traction on wet or snow-covered roads, while the crossover’s additional ground clearance makes it more practical for traversing unimproved roads. With second-row seats folded flat, there’s plenty of room to stash camping equipment or bicycles in back, where both are protected from the elements.

    The 2018 RAV4 hybrid is essentially carryover from 2017, with big changes coming in 2019. Power comes from a 2.5-liter inline four-cylinder Atkinson cycle engine and three electric motors, dishing out 194 net horsepower. A continuously variable transmission delivers power to the wheels. Average fuel economy is 32 miles-per-gallon, according-to the EPA.

    Base price is $32,185 minus the $995 delivery charge. Options on the test car include an advanced technology package that includes a bird’s-eye view camera with perimeter scan, premium JBL audio system with navigation and Toyota Entune infotainment, hands-free phone capability, Siri Eyes Free, high-definition and satellite radio, real-time traffic and weather updates, Bluetooth interface and more ($2,785). A tonneau cover adds $90, bringing the final MSRP to $38,055. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2018 Hyundai Sonata SEL

    Value never goes out of style

    By Nina Russin

    Hyundai Sonata

    This year Hyundai refreshed its midsize Sonata sedan with a new mesh grille and front fascia and some important infotainment enhancements including Qi wireless charging, dual-zone automatic climate control and a heated steering wheel. While the Sonata might not be the fastest vehicle in its competitive segment, one would be hard pressed to find a better value. The Sonata is a premium-feeling sedan without the premium price.

    Base for the SEL tested is $23,700 excluding the $885 destination charge. Power comes from a 2.4-liter direct injection engine and six-speed automatic transmission, yielding 28 mile-per-gallon average fuel economy according-to the EPA.

    Standard convenience features include keyless entry and start, 17-inch alloy wheels, heated side mirrors, satellite radio, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, Bluetooth interface, heated front seats, power driver’s seat with power lumbar, tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, dual-zone climate control and Blue Link connected services. A tech package costing $1000 adds autonomous emergency braking, lane keeping assist, electronic parking brake and adaptive cruise control. The test car also comes with carpeted floor mats, bringing the final MSRP to $25,710. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2018 Lexus RX 350 F Sport

    Performance inspired midsize crossover

    By Nina Russin

    2018 Lexus RX 350 F-Sport

    The midsize RX is Lexus’ most popular crossover, filling the squares for active families who crave luxury as much as versatility. The F-Sport package adds a performance dimension, with a Sport + mode for the adaptive suspension and sound-enhanced engine technology. The package also adds unique exterior trim, 20-inch alloy wheels, special upholstery and interior.

    Power comes from a 295-horsepower V-6 engine and eight-speed automatic transmission. Base price is $48,920 excluding the $995 delivery charge. Additional options on the test car include blind spot monitoring with intuitive park assist, panoramic moonroof, Mark Levinson premium audio system with navigation and roof rails. Final MSRP is $56,030. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2018 Lexus IS 300 AWD

    All-season sport sedan

    By Nina Russin

    2018 Lexus IS 300

    The IS sedan that started as Lexus’ answer to the tuner craze of the late 1990s has evolved into a more diverse, upscale vehicle, with two available powertrains and rear-wheel or all-wheel drive. The IS underwent a major redesign for the 2017 model year. For 2018, improvements include a five-horsepower bump, available adaptive front lighting, standard backup monitor and complimentary 10-year subscription to Lexus Enform Safety and Service Connect.

    Power for the IS 300 comes from a twin-scroll turbocharged inline four-cylinder engine that develops 260-horsepower for the all-wheel drive version. For better control on wet roads, drivers can engage a snow mode that starts from a stop in second gear. A six-speed automatic transmission includes paddle shifters for drivers who want additional control when driving for sport.

    Base price for the IS 300 AWD is $40,660 excluding the $995 destination charge. Options on the test car include 18-inch alloy wheels, navigation and Mark Levinson audio system, intuitive park assist, a comfort package adding driver’s seat memory, power tilt-and-telescoping steering column, blind spot monitoring and rain-sensing wipers, heated and ventilated front seats, cargo mats and wheel locks. Final MSRP is $47,289. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 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 »

  • 2018 Lexus RC 350 F-Sport

    Personal Sport Coupe

    By Nina Russin

    2018 Lexus RC

    The Lexus RC 350 bridges the gap between sports cars that need to live at the track and sporty coupes that can also serve as daily drivers. With a 311-horsepower V-6 engine and eight-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission, the nimble RC sprints from zero-to-sixty in 5.8 seconds. Available all-wheel drive means the RC can live in four-seasons as well.

    Base price for the RC 350 RWD is $43,570, excluding the $995 delivery charge. Options on the test car include a F-Sport package adding special wheels, summer performance tires, blind spot monitoring, thin-film transistor instrument cluster, heated and ventilated front seats, driver’s seat memory, and adaptive variable suspension; fog lamps, triple-beams LED headlamps, Mark Levinson audio system, navigation, premium exterior finish, orange brake calipers, Torsen limited-slip differential, power moonroof, variable gear ratio steering and cargo net. Final MSRP is $57,988. Read the rest of this entry »