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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 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 »

  • 2015 Ford Mustang GT Coupe

    Iconic pony car maintains its youthful stride

    By Nina Russin

    2015 Ford Mustang GT

    2015 Ford Mustang GT

    Fifty years ago a man named Robert McNamara came up with idea of a new performance car based on the compact Ford Falcon. It took some time to twist Henry Ford II’s arm, but eventually that car, equipped with a 289-cube V-8 engine emerged as the Mustang.

    Both the car and its creator became legendary: the Mustang as the original pony car, and McNamara as President John F. Kennedy’s secretary of defense. And both had checkered careers. During his tenure with Kennedy, McNamara became known as the man who escaladed the US presence in Vietnam. He spent the rest of his life coming to terms with the moral consequences. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2014 Ford C-Max Hybrid SE

    Five-passenger hybrid focuses on versatility and value

    By Nina Russin

    Ford C-Max

    Ford C-Max

    There was a time when the premium cost of hybrid cars outweighed any cost benefits owners might get at the fuel pump. Then Ford introduced the C-Max and everything changed. Priced from $24,170, the C-Max offers buyers more space than the competing Prius liftback, with some compelling features for buyers with active lifestyles.

    Because the lithium-ion battery is packaged under the floor, second-row seats fold flat to extend the cargo floor. A hands-free liftgate makes it much easier to load up large cargo such as bicycles and kayaks. The door opens when the driver makes a gentle kicking motion under the back bumper with the key fob in his pocket.

    A 110-volt outlet comes in handy for weekends off the grid, to plug in a computer or exterior lighting. Ground clearance is about 5-1/2 inches: not enough for serious off-road trails but adequate for the occasional graded dirt road.

    Fuel economy lags behind the smaller Prius at 43 mpg, but it’s still a very good number: enough to produce a 550-mile driving range between fill-ups.

    But the best reason to take a look at the C-Max is its performance. On that one, Ford hit the ball out of the park. Read the rest of this entry »

  • Ford EcoBoost Challenge

    Automaker invites consumers to sample fuel-efficient cars

    By Nina Russin

    Photo by Randall Bohl

    Photo by Randall Bohl

    Two years before gas prices spiked in the summer of 2008, Ford’s newly appointed CEO, Alan Mulally, announced plans to shift the company’s focus from big trucks to small cars. At the time, it was a bold move. Not only was Mulally ahead of the curve; he was battling a record-breaking drop in sales.

    Mulally has the type of vision few men do; it had made him a success at Boeing, and enabled him to bring Ford back to profitability within three years. Under his leadership, the former Michigan truck plant became an assembly facility for small cars. Ford led the way in eco-driving education programs throughout the United States, and developed a group of relevant technologies called EcoBoost, intended to enhance the fuel efficiency of traditional gasoline engines.

    EcoBoost isn’t a magic bullet. Rather, it’s a series of enhancements that together make what is an inherently inefficient machine run better. When I attended mechanic’s school in the mid-1980s, we were taught that the internal combustion engine was at best 40 percent efficient.

    Photo By Randall Bohl

    Photo By Randall Bohl

    Although on-board computer controls have raised that number, there’s still a lot of room for improvement. Turbocharging, variable valve timing, active grille shutters and work in the wind tunnel can stretch fuel economy on a traditional gasoline-powered car up to 40 miles-per-gallon on the highway. Back in the era of the mechanical carburetor, such a feat would have been impossible.

    In addition, Ford has developed a family of hybrid and plug-in hybrid vehicles including the Fusion midsized sedan, C-Max compact crossover and Escape compact sport-utility vehicle as well as an electric version of the Focus.

    In order to familiarize the public with its green car technology, Ford recently launched the EcoBoost challenge: a series of weekend ride-and-drive events throughout the US that give consumers the chance to drive both Fords and competitive products on closed courses.

    The program kicked off on April 12 in Phoenix, Arizona- location of Ford’s hot weather proving grounds. It travels to eleven more cities, including Charlotte, Miami, Orlando, Los Angeles, Dallas, Seattle, Houston, Columbus, Chicago, San Francisco and Indianapolis. Read the rest of this entry »