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  • 2017 Ford F-150 Raptor

    Off-road racer is top tier at any speed

    By Nina Russin

    2017 Ford Raptor

    2017 Ford Raptor

    This year, Ford introduces an all-new version of its off-road race-ready Raptor, based on the F-150 light-duty pickup truck. Powered by an EcoBoost V-6 engine that delivers a whopping 450 horsepower and 510 lbs.-ft. of peak torque, the Raptor is a formidable competitor on any terrain.

    To prove its mettle, Ford Performance entered a Raptor in the Baja 1000: the granddaddy of Mexican off-road SCORE races. It’s a grueling test for any vehicle, with roaming cows, seas of loose sand, boulders and rattlesnakes all in a day’s work. The Raptor placed third in its class, after which Greg Foutz and his team drove the car back to their shop in Phoenix, Arizona, almost 400 miles away.

    What makes the Raptor even more amazing, and what distinguishes the 2017 model from the first-generation car, is how well it functions as a daily driver. Small but significant design changes such as the dropped side windows that lower the driver’s sight-line to better spot low-profile cars, a more versatile, quieter interior make the Raptor a competent contender in the Monday-Friday 9-5.

    2017 Ford Raptor

    2017 Ford Raptor

    The twin turbocharged V-6 engine gains three miles-per-gallon over the 2014 model and accelerates faster. The ten-speed automatic transmission on the 2017 model that replaces a six-speed gearbox on the 2014 truck does a better job of matching power needs to output, making for a smoother and more fuel-efficient ride.

    Engineers utilized high-strength military grade aluminum alloy for the body to shave off 500 pounds compared to the outgoing model. In addition to improving gas mileage, the rigid body produces remarkably good steering feedback from the EPAS system, on par with vehicles having less suspension travel and lower centers of gravity. Drivers can select from three steering modes- normal, sport or comfort- depending on their needs.

    Base price for the Raptor is $48,325 excluding the $1,195 destination charge. Options on the test car include a power sliding rear window, 360-degree camera, automatic temperature control, LED cargo box lighting, trailer brake control, trailer backup assist, remote start, voice-activated navigation, tailgate step, 17-inch forged alloy wheels, and a technology package with adaptive cruise control. Final MSRP is $64,420. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2017 Ford Escape FWD

    Compact crossover features enhanced safety, better MPG

    By Nina Russin

    2017 Ford Escape

    2017 Ford Escape

    The Escape was one of the first compact crossovers when it hit the US market in 2001, and remains a staple of the segment. For 2017, Ford has refreshed the Escape with new active safety features and improved fuel economy with automatic shut-off at idle.

    Pricing for the front-wheel drive SE grade starts at $25,100 excluding the $895 destination charge. Options on the test car include a technology packages that includes the newest version of Sync, reverse sensing, roof rack side rails and Sync Connect; a two-liter EcoBoost engine; power liftgate; voice-activated touchscreen navigation system; 18-inch alloy rims, and a comfort package including heated front seats, leather-wrapped steering wheel and power side mirrors with blind spot monitoring. Final MSRP is $33,660. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2017 Ford Fusion Hybrid

    Eco-friendly sedan for the daily commute

    By Nina Russin

    2017 Ford Fusion Hybrid

    2017 Ford Fusion Hybrid

    Drivers who want a hybrid vehicle but don’t like the extreme aero styling of the Toyota Prius should take a careful look at the Ford Fusion. Based on the automaker’s popular midsize sedan, the Fusion adds an electric motor and lithium-ion battery pack to boost fuel-efficiency. For 2017 the Fusion gets a mild exterior redesign with new front and rear fascia, additional USB ports and some important active safety technology, including autonomous braking with pedestrian detection and active park assist that automatically performs parallel and perpendicular parking maneuvers.

    Base price for the SE grade test car is $26,480 excluding the $875 destination charge. Optional active safety features include active park assist ($995), adaptive cruise control ($1190), lane keeping assist and blind spot monitoring ($1,575). A hybrid luxury package adds heated front seats ($2995). Two option package discounts bring the final MSRP to $34,510. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 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 Ford Fusion Platinum AWD

    Midsize passenger sedan raises the bar

    By Nina Russin

    Ford Fusion

    Ford Fusion

    It’s almost impossible for a midsize sedan to stand apart from the crowd, simply because the segment includes so many outstanding vehicles. But the Ford Fusion does, outperforming Asian competitors that have long dominated the group.

    Priced from $38,620, the Platinum all-wheel drive grade should be considered an entry luxury car, and as such, comes equipped with premium amenities including leather upholstery, keyless entry and start, automatic dual-zone climate controls, Sony audio system with satellite radio, heated and cooled front seats and a heated steering wheel. Final MSRP on the test car, including metallic white exterior, 19-inch rims and inflatable rear seatbelts is $40,280. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2016 Ford Explorer 4WD Platinum

    Iconic SUV gains power and versatility

    By Nina Russin

    2016 Ford Explorer

    2016 Ford Explorer

    This year Ford’s full-size sport-utility vehicle turns 25 years old: a landmark the OEM has celebrated by introducing a brand new model.

    While the newest Explorer maintains some of the original formula as a full-size sport-utility vehicle with true off-road capability, it has changed significantly since the vehicle debuted for the ’91 model year. A more car-like ride, new V-6 engine and advanced active safety features appeal to the core audience of active families.

    The test car is the upscale Platinum model priced from $52,970 excluding destination. Power comes from an EcoBoost twin turbocharged V-6 engine producing 365 horsepower and 350 pound-feet of maximum torque, mated to a six-speed automatic transmission. While its 18 mile-per-gallon average fuel economy might not seem impressive by today’s standards, the fact that the engine produced three times the horsepower and a third more torque than the V-6 in the 1991 Explorer should raise some eyebrows.

    2016 Ford Explorer

    2016 Ford Explorer

    The current vehicle is also significantly bigger, about 14 inches longer than the original model, adding important cargo and passenger space inside. With three rows of seating, the Explorer is an ideal choice for buyers who need room for the kid’s soccer and softball teams, or endurance athletes wanting a big enough vehicle to stash bicycles inside and take on weekend camping trips.

    Options on the test car include special metal-coat exterior paint and second-row bucket seats, bringing the final MSRP to $55,355. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2016 Ford Mustang GT

    California Special package adds pizzazz to the pony

    By Nina Russin

    2016 Ford Mustang GT

    2016 Ford Mustang GT

    The allure of Ford’s iconic pony car extends beyond its heritage or high-speed performance. The 2016 Mustang GT is a true muscle car that can also live in the day-to-day world of congested roads, inclement weather and unpredictable schedules. In a world made up of round plugs and square holes, the Mustang seems to fit.

    As high-performance car prices go, it is also a bargain. Base price for the GT with a 435-horsepower five-liter engine and six-speed manual transmission is $36,395 excluding the $900 destination charge. An optional California package on the test car adds a rear deck spoiler, exterior accent stripes, black 19-inch rims and leather upholstery. An optional security package that includes wheel locks brings the final MSRP to $42,275. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2015 Ford Fiesta 5-Door Hatch SE

    EcoBoost engine takes it further

    By Nina Russin

    2015 Ford Fiesta

    2015 Ford Fiesta

    If somebody had told me twenty years ago that a one-liter engine could power a car, I would have laughed. Yet that’s exactly what Ford engineers have done with the newest subcompact Fiesta, featuring the automaker’s one-liter EcoBoost engine and five-speed automatic transmission.

    The 123-horsepower engine develops up to 148 foot-pounds of torque. Mated to a five-speed manual gearbox that enables drivers to keep the revs up, it’s a peppy, fun-to-drive package with 36 mile-per-gallon fuel economy.

    One of the reasons the engine works so well is curb weight, which for the manual transmission model is a bit over 2,500 pounds. That’s about the same as an averaged equipped Mazda Miata and less than a Scion FR-S.

    The hatchback adds versatility, with a taller, roomier cargo bay than sedans in the competitive segment. Base price for the test car is $16,085, excluding the $825 destination charge. Options including the EcoBoost engine and green metallic exterior finish bring the final MSRP to $18,300. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2015 Ford Expedition Platinum

    Full-sized utility vehicle gets a new game face

    By Nina Russin

    2015 Ford Expedition

    2015 Ford Expedition

    The term ‘expedition’ conjures up images of a base camp at some exotic locale in the Himalayas, replete with climbers, sherpas and yaks. The newest Ford Expedition full-sized utility vehicle can hold the entire climbing team, together with their camping equipment, c-rations and oxygen canisters.

    Available in regular and extended-length versions, the newest Ford Expedition might be the nicest base camp an endurance athlete could dream of, with plenty of space for the bicycles, wet suits, sleeping bags, and running gear for the eight passengers it holds.

    But cargo space alone isn’t what makes the Expedition special. Ford’s ace-in-the-hole is its twin turbocharged V-6 EcoBoost engine that delivers 365 horsepower and 420 foot-pounds of torque. Together with the standard six-speed automatic transmission, fuel economy averages 22 miles-per-gallon on the highway and 16 around town: an impressive number for a car weighing close to 6,000 pounds.

    Turbocharging prevents anemic performance at altitude. When equipped with a towing prep package the Expedition can haul up to 9,200 pounds: a good-sized trailer.

    Base price for the 2015 Platinum model tested is $57,950. Adding red metallic exterior paint, 20-inch alloy wheels and the $1,195 destination charge, final MSRP is $61,720. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2014 Ford Fusion

    Midsize sedan connects with the driver

    By Nina Russin

    2014 Ford Fusion

    2014 Ford Fusion

    Thank the most competitive segment in the passenger car market for ending the era of the rolling refrigerator. If car dealers want their midsized sedans to roll off the showroom floor, the cars need sizzle. I’m not just referring to appearance here. Being smart is just as important.

    Car owners want to feel connected to the vehicles they drive: simply put, they want to have fun. But in the post-2008 economic recovery, they must also be practical, thinking carefully about price and cost of ownership. The 2014 Ford Fusion delivers on both fronts. The addition of a 1.5-liter EcoBoost engine for the current model year nudges the model forward.

    Pricing for the test car starts at $23,935 excluding the $825 delivery charge. Standard convenience features include 17-inch alloy wheels, keyless entry, satellite radio, Ford Sync, a tilt steering wheel with redundant audio and cruise control buttons, MyKey and a ten-way power driver’s seat. There are a few options: start/stop, a reverse sensing system and rear inflatable seatbelts, bringing the final MSRP to $27,890. Read the rest of this entry »