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  • 2014 Chevrolet Sonic

    Subcompact hatchback with big ideas

    By Nina Russin

    2014 Chevrolet Sonic

    2014 Chevrolet Sonic

    Small cars are the future of the automotive industry. There will always be a place on American highways for large trucks and sport-utility vehicles, but rising fuel costs and increasingly stringent C.A.F.E. standards dictate that small cars will dominate.

    This doesn’t necessarily resonate well with American drivers, who have traditionally seen small cars as a compromise in comfort and performance. The peppy turbocharged Chevrolet Sonic should convince these buyers otherwise. With the ability to carry four adult passengers and average 40 miles-per-gallon on the highway, the Sonic packs a powerful punch.

    This week, I had the opportunity to put the Sonic to the ultimate test, ferrying friends in town for the Rock ‘n ‘Roll marathon from the airport to their respective hotels and around Tempe, Arizona, where the influx of out-of-towners and road closures made traffic a nightmare. At the end of the experience, my respect for the Sonic had increased exponentially.

    The test car was the five-door LT, priced from $16,380 excluding delivery. Options on the car included sixteen-inch alloy wheels, the turbocharged 1.4-liter engine, an exterior appearance package, lane departure warning with forward collision alert, Chevrolet MyLink and a rear vision camera. Final MSRP was $20,405. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2014 Chevrolet Impala

    A greatly improved flagship sedan

    By Bob Golfen

    2014 Chevrolet Impala

    For people of a certain age, the name Impala resonates, recalling a time when Chevy ruled the roost among popular cars and Impala was its most-flamboyant version, named for a fleet-footed African antelope.

    But nowadays, Impala is more likely associated with sodden rental sedans. There was that brief flash of brilliance during the mid-90s when Impala SS was the performance version of the big rear-drive Caprice. But that’s largely forgotten.

    For 2014, Chevy designers and engineers have done their best to resurrect Impala, bringing us a flagship sedan that is much updated and improved, lifting Impala into a more premium plain with expressive styling, bigger interior, a ride that is quiet and refined, and loads of upscale features.

    A better car in nearly every way, Impala now offers the roomy comfort that large-sedan buyers crave while not growing too much on the outside. This was accomplished by pushing the dashboard forward and making the wheelbase longer to provide better legroom front and rear, and to create a slightly bigger trunk.

    The styling is aggressively chiseled with sparkling chrome accents, bulging hood and a low, couple-like silhouette. Quite nice. The interior also gets a bright new look, though still appealingly Chevrolet with a friendly and familiar feel.

    The base price is a reasonable $26,860, plus shipping. The test Impala 2LT had a starting price of about $30,000, and even loaded up with desirable options including premium audio and 19-inch alloy wheels, it came to $35,770, all in. That compares well with competing full-size sedans such as Ford Taurus, Nissan Maxima, Toyota Avalon and Hyundai Azera. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2013 Chervolet Suburban

    The family wagon evolved

    By Nina Russin

    2013 Chevrolet Suburban

    People seem to have a love/hate relationship with the Chevrolet Suburban, which doesn’t make a lot of sense. Because of its size and corresponding fuel economy, the Suburban is not a car for everyone, nor was it every meant to be. For the right buyer, however, it’s an excellent choice due to the spacious passenger cabin, towing capability and surprisingly good handling.

    Buyers can choose between two and four-wheel drive versions in three trim levels. For those needing more than the half-ton Suburban’s 8100-pound towing capacity, a three-quarter ton version tows up to 9600 pounds. The half-ton model comes with a 5.3-liter V-8 engine rated at 320 horsepower, and longitudinally mounted six-speed automatic transmission.

    New for 2013, powertrain grade braking functions when the transmission is in regular mode, as opposed to tow/haul mode only. The feature uses engine torque to slow the Suburban down on steep descents, saving the brakes.

    Three rows of seating are standard for all models. Buyers can choose between captain’s chairs or a bench seat in the second row. Depending on the configuration, the suburban seats 7-8 passengers. Rear seats fold down in a 50/50 pattern and are removable.

    The test car is the upscale half-ton LTZ priced from $56,190, excluding the $995 destination charge. Options include a rear seat DVD entertainment system, power sunroof, trailering package that adds engine oil and transmission coolers, special exterior paint and a trailer brake controller, bringing the final MSRP to $60,195. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2014 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 Z71

    Light-duty pickup with the heart of a sports car

    By Nina Russin

    2014 Chevrolet Silverado LT Z71

    This year, Chevrolet introduces the newest generation of its Silverado light-duty pickup trucks, with three available engines and some enticing new cargo features. The first model off the line is the 5.3-liter: the smaller of two V-8 blocks. There is also a 4.3-liter V-6, and a 6.2-liter V-8 that rolls out later in the model year. All are paired with a six-speed automatic transmission.

    Chevrolet has, for some time, shared Corvette engine technology with the Silverado. The 6.2-liter Gen 5 aluminum small block V-8 available on the 2014 Silverado continues that tradition. In this writer’s opinion, it’s a brilliant strategy.

    While a light-duty pickup truck’s power and performance needs might seem diametrically opposite to that of a sports car, both require a light yet rigid block with abundant low-end torque, plus lubrication and cooling systems that can function under extreme loads. By tuning the blocks differently, engineers can use one piece of machinery to meet the needs of both vehicles.

    GM has dubbed the new family of engines EcoTec3, reflecting three fuel-saving technologies: direct injection, cylinder deactivation and variable valve timing. My average fuel economy during my test drive was 23 miles-per-gallon, a four mile-per-gallon improvement over the 19-mpg EPA estimate. That’s a pretty impressive achievement for a 355-horsepower engine pushing 5000 pounds of sheet metal uphill.

    Base price for the rear-wheel drive crew cab with Z71 off-road suspension is $35,855, excluding the $995 destination charge. The 5.3-liter V-8 block is an $895 upgrade from the V-6. Other options include power adjustable pedals, power sliding rear window, rear park assist, 18-inch alloy wheels, power driver’s seat, dual-zone climate control, remote start, MyLink infotainment system, rearview camera, rear window defroster, 110-volt power outlet, chrome running boards, heated front seats, trailer brake controller, 3.42 rear axle LED lighting and cargo tie downs, bringing the final MSRP to $40,910. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2013 Chevrolet Spark 2LT

    Subcompact hatchback for active urbanites

    By Nina Russin

    2013 Chevrolet Spark

    I wish the Chevrolet Spark had been around when I lived in Chicago. Anyone who has resided in the Windy City knows about the winter parking wars. Once the snow falls, the availability of street parking drops to about half. Residents shovel a spot out and mark it with furniture. Moving anyone else’s furniture is akin to purchasing a contract on one’s own head.

    The fact that the Chevrolet Spark only occupies half a parking spot is a very big deal in densely populated areas: even more so in the snow belt. The compact hatchback’s 34 mile-per-gallon average fuel economy is equally significant.

    Standard convenience features appeal to tech-savvy buyers. The 2LT grade tested comes with remote keyless entry, air conditioning, XM radio, cruise control, hands-free smart phone integration, heated seats and a tilt steering column.

    The Spark feels more substantial than the Smart-for-two micro-car it competes against, and costs about the same. The five-speed manual transmission enables the driver to keep the 1.2-liter engine within its power band, which is especially important merging into high-speed traffic.

    Base price for the test car is $15,085 excluding the $810 destination charge. Final MSRP is $15,895 Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2013 Chevrolet Malibu 2LZ

    Midsized sedan targets a global market

    By Nina Russin

    2013 Chevrolet Malibu LTZ

    It’s hard for anybody from my generation to see a Chevrolet Malibu and not think about the car’s heritage. First introduced in 1964, the Malibu was one of the automotive icons of my childhood, sharing its midsized body with the storied Chevelle muscle cars.

    Although my parents weren’t the type to pop for the ever-so-cool 300 horsepower Malibu SS, its sedan cousins were familiar faces in our middle class neighborhood. To this day, there’s something about the sound of those V-8 engines, particularly their roar at wide-open-throttle, that brings back a flood of happy memories.

    While the Malibu remains Chevrolet’s midsized sedan, its current mission is far different than that of the classic models. While the early generations were built specifically for American highways, the new car is global, appealing as much to buyers in China as those here in the states.

    It is front as opposed to rear-wheel drive, and far more focused on fuel economy than quarter mile performance. What remains the same is the value-driven philosophy.

    The Malibu is not just practical; it is also stylish, offering keyless start, heated leather seats, a premium audio system with satellite radio, navigation and more. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2012 Los Angeles Auto Show

    OEMs predict a brighter 2013

    By Nina Russin

    The fourth-generation Range Rover made its North American debut in LA

    Los Angeles is the first of four major auto shows in the United States, and therefore sets the tenor for the remainder of the season. While sales statistics can be misleading, catering spreads which accompany the various press conferences are much more telling.

    Before the crash of 2008, the show floor was rife with the spoils of success. It was rare to find any press conference without an espresso machine and plates of scones. Full-fledged buffets with open bars were not unusual. I remember one automaker inviting journalists to take home folding chairs set out for the event. The chairs were nice enough to furnish a summer cabin.

    When things went black four years ago, it was hard to find a bottle of water on the show floor, much less a cappuccino. While I don’t condone swag wagons at editorial functions, the lack thereof was certainly telling.

    Gradually, the amenities came back, beginning with some ice buckets with refreshments and the occasional Danish pastry. But it was not until the 2012 show which opened to the media this week that “real food” made its reappearance on the show floor. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2013 Chevrolet Malibu Eco

    eAssist gives midsized sedan up to 37 mpg

    By Nina Russin

    2013 Chevrolet Malibu Eco

    The Malibu has been a staple of Chevrolet’s model line-up for almost 50 years, having first rolled out in 1964. Each of the sedan’s eight iterations has mirrored its generation’s passions and needs, from the early muscle cars to the 2013 Eco model, which combines exceptional gas mileage with a spacious five-passenger interior.

    Engineers used the same eAssist system available on the Buick Regal to stretch fuel economy from the 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine. A lithium-ion battery pack located between the second-row seats and trunk enables reduces the amount of time the gasoline engine has to run during low load conditions such as idling, steady-state cruising and deceleration.

    The battery pack recharges on the go using regenerative braking. The sedan’s only down side is its reduced cargo area. In addition to having a smaller trunk, the battery’s location prevented designers from extending the cargo floor with a pass-through.

    A shutter system in the front grille closes when the engine doesn’t need additional cooling to enhance aerodynamics under the car. Direct injection reduces parasitic fuel loss by delivering gasoline directly into the engine cylinders rather than through the valves. A power electric steering pump saves space and weight under the hood when compared with a traditional hydraulic system.

    Base price for the Malibu Eco is $26,845 excluding the $760 destination charge. Leather upholstery with a power front passenger seat and front seat heaters adds $1300. The test car has two other options, special exterior paint and interior trim, which add $325 and $150 respectively. The price as tested is $29,380. Read the rest of this entry »

  • Chevrolet Volt Roll-Out Expands to Arizona

    Extended range electric car now available in Phoenix dealerships

    2012 Chevrolet Volt

    Chevrolet is extending availability of the new Volt to include dealerships in Arizona, beginning with Phoenix. About 2500 of the brand’s 3000 US dealerships are signed up to participate in the Volt program. Cars are currently rolling into Phoenix stores. Tucson and other parts of the state will follow.

    The Volt combines an electric engine and gasoline motor, but in a different manner than hybrids currently on the market. The sedan will operate in pure electric mode at all speeds for up to 35 miles. When the charge from the lithium-ion battery pack gets low, the vehicle automatically switches over to gasoline power, extending the vehicle’s range by another 344 miles according to the manufacturer.

    Recharging time for the battery ranges from four hours utilizes 220-volt current to 10 hours if the vehicle is plugged into a 115 volt outlet. The cost of a recharge is about $1.50 regardless of the type of current used. The battery pack carries an eight-year/100,000 mile warranty.

    Chevrolet rates the car’s net horsepower at 149, with 273 foot-pounds of peak torque. Because electric motors develop peak torque at very low engine speeds, the sedan has excellent low-end acceleration: zero-to-sixty takes less than nine seconds.

    MSRP starts at $41,000. Buyers are eligible for a $7500 tax credit, and may be eligible for state tax incentives as well. Standard features include keyless ignition with push button start, a remote vehicle starter, Sirius XM radio, OnStar and eight airbags. Options include leather seating, a Bose audio upgrade, a rearview camera with park assist and two aluminum wheel options. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2012 Chevrolet Cruze Eco

    Chevrolet’s Cobalt replacement is big on fuel economy

    By Nina Russin

    2012 Chevrolet Cruze Eco

    It’s easy to attach an “eco” badge to a car’s rear fender. Backing the claim up is a whole different matter. Over the past week, I decided to see for myself whether Chevrolet’s new Cruze Eco compact sedan lives up to its moniker.

    I drove like a gorilla fleeing the zookeeper. Jackrabbit starts became my stock and trade. I barreled through rush hour traffic, and bolted up the Beeline Highway between Phoenix and Payson. I never put the car in sixth gear and never used the cruise control.

    At the end of a week and about 120 miles, I checked average fuel economy on a digital display in the Cruze’s gauge cluster. I had averaged 44.8 miles-per-gallon. While the cynic in me might doubt the display’s accuracy, I had to admit that there was still a lot of gas left in the tank.

    The Cruze had equaled, or outperformed several popular clean diesel and gasoline/electric hybrids with a simple internal combustion engine. How, readers might wonder, is that possible? Read the rest of this entry »