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  • 2018 Subaru Crosstrek 2.0i Limited

    Second-generation Crossover gets fresh design and enhanced performance
    By Nina Russin

    2018 Subaru Crosstrek

    2018 Subaru Crosstrek

    The Subaru Crosstrek is one of those right-size vehicles for buyers with active lifestyles: big enough on the inside to carry bicycles, skis and snowboards, but with a small footprint for good maneuverability and easy parking. The second-generation model that debuts for the 2018 model year is built on a new global platform that’s stiffer than the outgoing model. In plain English, this means better steering response and an overall more solid feel. Buyers who formerly shied away from Subaru due to interior noise and rattles will find none of that in the newest Crosstrek.

    The two-liter boxer engine is now direct injection for better throttle response. It is also slightly more powerful, delivering 152-horsepower as compared to 148 on the 2017 car. Torque remains the same: 145 pound-feet. Subaru replaced the standard five-speed manual transmission on the outgoing model with a six-speed gearbox on the 2018 cars, adding a taller overdrive gear for better fuel economy on the highway. The Limited model tested comes standard with a continuously variable automatic transmission.

    2018 Subaru Crosstrek

    2018 Subaru Crosstrek

    Standard convenience features on the Limited include steering-responsive headlamps, the newest version of Subaru’s Starlink multimedia system with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, Aha, Pandora, iCloud apps, Bluetooth and satellite radio, keyless access with push-button start, leather upholstery, all-weather package, 18-inch alloy wheels and a six-way power driver’s seat.

    Base price is $26,295. Options on the test car include adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning and lane keeping assist, power moonroof, high beam assist, automatic reverse braking, navigation and a Harman Kardon premium audio system. Final MSRP including the $915 delivery charge is $30,655.

    Test drive in Southern Arizona

    2018 Subaru Crosstrek

    2018 Subaru Crosstrek

    Over the past week I put the newest Crosstrek through its paces in Phoenix, Arizona’s east valley as well as some rural areas south of town. Subaru’s standard all-wheel drive system is one reason the automaker has remained a top choice among outdoor enthusiasts. All-terrain capability adds the versatility these buyers are looking for, in Subaru’s case, at no additional cost. Subaru engineers have managed to minimize any negative effects on fuel economy, with the test car averaging 29 miles-per-gallon according-to the EPA.

    Unlike some competitive all-wheel drive systems, Subaru’s is almost as capable as some four-wheel drive competitors, even though it lacks a two-speed transfer case. Crawling over boulders, driving through loose dirt or deep snow are all in a day’s work. Engineers continue to pay attention to approach, break-over and departure angles, making the Crosstrek capable of climbing and descending steep grades. For 2018 models, Subaru made X-mode standard on the Crosstrek. When engaged the on-board computer controls and integrates engine, transmission, vehicle dynamics control and braking for better handling on challenging road surfaces. Hill descent control is also standard.

    2018 Subaru Crosstrek

    2018 Subaru Crosstrek

    During the work week, the Crosstrek is a willing partner on the 9-5 commute. While the two-liter engine’s acceleration off the line isn’t as robust as some turbocharged competitors, the Crosstrek has no problem merging onto the highway and cruising at the speed of traffic. There is plenty of power on the low end to accelerate off the line and on the high end to pass slower vehicles at speed.

    Given the option, this writer would opt for the six-speed manual transmission rather than the continuously variable automatic. The automatic transmission is not particularly sensitive to fluctuations in throttle position, making the driver feel somewhat disconnected from the wheels.

    An electric power steering system offers plenty of assist at slow speeds for maneuverability with a pleasantly heavy feel on the highway. On-center response is a bit soft, but drivers can easily manage emergency evasive maneuvers.

    Visibility around the car’s perimeter is good. Blind spot monitoring, standard on the test car, illuminates LED signals on the inside of the side mirrors when vehicles in adjacent lanes pass through the driver’s blind spots. The rearview camera projects a wide-angle view to the back of the car when the driver shifts into reverse: a handy feature when the Crosstrek is parked between two high profile vehicles.

    Its low roof height gives the Crosstrek several advantages over traditional SUVs: first, better aerodynamics and hence better fuel economy and second, easier access to a roof-mounted bike rack or cargo carrier.

    Engineers did an excellent job of minimizing noise intrusion to the interior: a quantum improvement over the 2017 model. Its roomy, quiet interior makes the newest Crosstrek a good choice for extended road trips, enabling both rows of occupants to converse or enjoy the audio system.

    Spacious interior

    Subaru Crosstrek Interior

    Subaru Crosstrek Interior

    The 2018 Subaru Crosstrek is slightly longer and wider than the 2017 model, giving second-row passengers more legroom and all occupants more-hip room. Access and egress to both rows is quite good.

    Keyless entry and start saves drivers from fumbling for the key fob after dark. I found the power driver’s seat easy to adjust for a clear forward view, with plenty of lower lumbar support.

    Infotainment controls are easy to reach from either front seating position and intuitive to operate. Subaru has significantly raised the bar on its gauge cluster displays: easier to read and thanks to a thin-film-transistor information display, more informative. The center stack screen is easy to read in bright sunlight and after dark.

    Second-row seats fold flat for loading in bicycles and other large cargo. Lift-over height is quite reasonable: an important consideration for smaller users.

    Standard safety

    The Subaru Crosstrek comes with all-wheel drive, six airbags, antilock brakes, vehicle dynamics control, hill start assist, hill descent control, rearview camera and tire pressure monitoring. The Limited model adds blind spot monitoring, lane keeping assist, rear cross traffic alert, fog lamps and tire pressure monitoring with individual wheel pressure display.

    The all-new Crosstrek is rolling into Subaru dealerships nationwide.

    Like: A versatile, stylish crossover with standard all-wheel drive, excellent fuel economy and a bicycle-friendly interior.

    Dislike: Soft on-center steering response.

    Quick facts:

    Make: Subaru
    Model: Crosstrek 2.0i Limited
    Year: 2018
    Base price: $26,295
    As tested: $30,655
    Horsepower: 152 HP @ 6000 rpm
    Torque: 145 lbs.-ft. @ 4000 rpm
    Zero-to-sixty: N/A
    Antilock brakes: Standard
    Side curtain airbags: Standard
    First aid kit: N/A
    Bicycle friendly: Yes
    Off-road: Yes
    Towing: No
    Fuel economy: 27/33 mpg city/highway

  • 2017 Hyundai Elantra

    Sixth-generation sedan offers more value

    By Nina Russin

    2017 Hyundai Elantra

    2017 Hyundai Elantra

    The Hyundai Elantra has evolved from humble beginnings competing against the Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla in the early 1990s to one of the most popular sedans in the US market.

    There is some debate as to the current model’s size classification. Its compact exterior puts the Elantra alongside the Chevrolet Cruze and Ford Focus, but its larger interior makes it a midsize passenger car according-to the EPA. Either way, the Elantra offers customers looking for a bargain exactly that, thanks to a 2017 Value Edition priced at $21,360 including destination.

    Power comes from a two-liter engine producing 147-horsepower and 132 pound-feet of torque, mated to a choice of six-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmissions. Standard convenience features include keyless entry and start, satellite radio, Android auto and Apple CarPlay, dual-zone temperature control, Bluetooth interface, heated front seats, automatic headlamps and a 3.5-inch thin film transistor information display in the gauge cluster. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2017 Nissan 370Z Coupe

    Iconic sports car for driving enthusiasts

    By Nina Russin

    2017 Nissan 370Z Coupe

    2017 Nissan 370Z Coupe

    With roots dating back to the 1970 240Z, Nissan’s Z series is one of the most enduring nameplates on the American highway. As with its predecessors, the current 370Z sport coupe is not a car for everyone, nor was it ever intended to be. The clutch is stiff, and because the driver sits deep inside the car’s frame, access and egress isn’t particularly easy. But for those whose love of driving eclipses such practical considerations, it is pure heaven.

    The 2017 model is essentially carry-over from prior years, powered by a 332-horsepower 3.7-liter V-6 engine and six-speed manual transmission. Base price is $29,990: a bargain for a car you can take names with at the track. The test car adds one option- carpeted floor mats. Final MSRP including the $835 destination charge is $30,955. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2017 Nissan Rogue Sport SV FWD

    Peppy compact crossover for active lifestyles

    By Nina Russin

    2017 Nissan Rogue Sport

    2017 Nissan Rogue Sport

    Although the Nissan Rogue Sport shares the same platform as the larger Rogue, it feels like a completely different car. Not only are the Sport’s overall dimensions smaller, the car is considerably lighter: close to 200 pounds for the Rogue Sport SV compared to the Rogue SV.

    The Rogue Sport’s two-liter engine lags-behind the Rogue’s 2.5-liter block by 29-horsepower and 28 pound-feet of torque, yet it still feels peppier and more agile than its big brother. Bottom line: it’s affordable, fun to drive and big enough to hold the gear we active types like to keep close at hand. As with the Rogue, the compact Rogue Sport is available with front or all-wheel drive.

    2017 Nissan Rogue Sport

    2017 Nissan Rogue Sport

    Base price for the front-wheel drive test car is $23,020 excluding the $960 destination charge. Standard convenience features include roof rails, LED daytime running lamps, keyless entry and start, automatic on/off headlamps, dual-zone climate control, power driver’s seat, 60/40 split folding rear seat with Nissan’s Divide-N-Hide cargo system, tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, USB port, Bluetooth interface, satellite radio with Siri Eyes-Free and a rearview camera.

    Options add heated front seats, steering wheel and outside mirrors, remote engine start, NissanConnect with navigation, apps and services, around-view monitor, seven-inch color touchscreen, navigation with traffic and travel alerts, blind spot monitoring and cross traffic alert. Final MSRP is $26,535. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2017 Honda Civic Si HPT

    Compact sport coupe raises the bar

    By Nina Russin

    2017 Honda Civic Si Coupe

    2017 Honda Civic Si Coupe

    Honda has a talent for creating cars that are as practical as they are fun to drive, while at the same time delivering exceptional value. The newest iteration of the automaker’s compact sport coupe and sedan- the Civic Si- is a case in point. With pricing starting well below $25,000 and 32 mile-per-gallon average fuel economy, the newest Si is a performance car for the real world, with a five-star federal crash test rating adding peace of mind.

    For the all-new 2017 model, engineers modified the 1.5-liter turbocharged engine used in the EX-T, EX-L and Touring Civics, adding 31-horsepower and 25 pound-feet of torque. Turbocharging gives drivers access to maximum torque between 2,100 and 5,000 rpm for exceptional acceleration off-the-line, merging into high-speed traffic and passing slower vehicles on the highway.

    2017 Honda Civic Si Coupe

    2017 Honda Civic Si Coupe

    All grades come with a six-speed manual gearbox with short-throw shift lever and reverse gear lockout.

    The test car is the mid-grade HPT coupe priced from $24,100 excluding the $875 destination charge. Standard convenience features include keyless entry and start, 10-speaker audio system with satellite radio, HD radio, USB port and Pandora interface, 18-inch alloy wheels with summer performance tires, power moonroof, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, dual-zone climate control, rearview camera, Honda LaneWatch, heated front seats and 60/40 split folding rear seats. Final MSRP is $24,975. Read the rest of this entry »

  • First Drive: 2018 Lexus LS 500 and LS 500h

    High luxury sedan becomes more personal

    By Nina Russin

    2018 Lexus LS 500

    2018 Lexus LS 500

    The original LS sedan launched the Lexus brand in the US in 1989: since then the flagship has set technological and aesthetic standards for the rest of the automaker’s line-up.

    But while other models such as the GS, IS and most recently the new LC became sportier, more emotive cars, the LS remained conservative, appealing to owners who purchased those vehicles as chauffer cars as well as those who drove them. The new LS 500 and LS 500h that roll out later this year are sportier, more personal sedans.

    Taking their cue from Akio Toyoda’s promise to reinstall passion in the brand, engineers focused on two new V-6 engines as part of a new global luxury platform. The twin-turbo V-6 that replaces the naturally-aspirated V-8 on the gasoline powered model develops 416 horsepower and 442 pound-feet of torque, while the hybrid shares the same new direct injection V-6 as the new LC 500h.

    2018 Lexus LS 500

    2018 Lexus LS 500

    Engineers moved the front wheels forward and engine back to create a front-mid-ship layout for better front-to-rear weight balance. An all-new ten-speed automatic transmission enhances fuel economy with large overdrive gears for steady-state cruising.

    The sedan body has a slightly longer wheelbase, adding rear hip and legroom, but also sits lower to the ground for better high-speed performance.

    The F-Sport model is available with a performance package that adds bigger brakes and enhanced steering dynamics.

    Although Lexus has yet to announce pricing, it expects the base model to start at about $75,000, with the average transaction price for the LS 500 averaging $80,000 or less. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2017 Lexus ES 300h

    Entry luxury sedan gets new standard safety technology

    By Nina Russin

    2017 Lexus ES 300h

    2017 Lexus ES 300h

    The ES 300 and ES 300h are the entry luxury members of the Lexus sedan family that also includes the sporty GS and high luxury LS series. Because the ES is approximately the same size as the Toyota Camry, some folks assume that the Lexus is a dressed-up version of Toyota’s best-selling passenger car.

    While both vehicles share the same 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine, continuously-variable automatic transmission and similar hybrid componentry, they have very distinct personalities. The Lexus has a two-inch longer wheelbase for more second-row passenger space. Suspension layouts and tire and wheel packages for the two cars are also different.

    For 2017, Lexus adds some important active safety technology as standard equipment to the ES 300h as part of Lexus Safety System +, that was an option for 2016. It includes pre-collision with pedestrian detection, dynamic radar cruise control, lane departure assist and intelligent high-beam headlamps.

    2017 Lexus ES 300h

    2017 Lexus ES 300h

    Base price for the ES 300h is $41,820 excluding the $975 destination charge. Options on the test car include blind spot monitoring with cross traffic alert, LED headlamps, Mark Levinson premium audio system with navigation and Lexus Enform, power trunk, interior trim package including wood accents, driver and passenger seat memory, heated and ventilated front seats, power rear sunshades, ambient lighting and power tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, and a heated steering wheel.

    Final MSRP is $49,775. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2017 Lexus GS 200t

    Midsize sport sedan gets a turbo boost

    By Nina Russin

    2017 Lexus GS 200t

    2017 Lexus GS 200t

    The midsize Lexus GS has long been a favorite among driving enthusiasts, due to its exceptional front-to-rear balance, abundant power and solid steering response. Following a major redesign for the 2016 model year, the 2017 models add standard Lexus Safety System Plus: a suite of active safety features including pre-collision, lane departure alert and assist and dynamic radar cruise control.

    Buyers can choose between the gasoline-electric GS 400h and two gasoline models: the GS 350 and turbocharged GS 200t. The V-6 model is available with all-wheel drive while the 200t is rear-wheel drive only.

    An eight-speed automatic transmission is standard for both rear-wheel drive models, providing several large overdrive gears for enhanced fuel economy during steady-state cruising.

    2017 Lexus GS 200t

    2017 Lexus GS 200t

    For those who can live without four-season capability, the turbocharged GS offers a couple of advantages: better fuel economy due to its lighter powertrain, and thanks to the smaller engine, even better front-to-rear weight balance.

    Base price for the GS 200t is $46,310 excluding the $975 destination charge. Options on the test car include 18-inch alloy rims, Mark Levinson premium audio system, navigation with a 12.3-inch touchscreen and Lexus Enform and intuitive park assist, bringing the final MSRP to $50,070. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2017 Toyota Avalon Touring

    Premium midsize sedan with enhanced active safety features

    By Nina Russin

    2017 Toyota Avalon

    2017 Toyota Avalon

    The Avalon is Toyota’s flagship sedan: slightly larger than the midsize Camry, and targeted at customers wanting a premium driving experience. The first Avalon introduced in 1995 as the replacement for the Cressida did in fact share chassis components with the Camry, but since then the two vehicles have taken different paths, the newest Camry being edgier while the Avalon maintains a more conservative approach.

    Buyers can choose between the gasoline model powered by a 268-horsepower V-6 engine and six-speed automatic transmission or a gasoline/electric hybrid model. Of the gas-powered versions, the upscale Touring model tested is the sportiest, with standard 20-inch alloy rims. Drivers can choose between Eco, Normal and Sport driving modes, adjusting the car’s throttle mapping to suit their particular-needs.

    This year, all Avalon models come standard with Toyota Safety Sense with pedestrian detection, adding pre-collision, autonomous braking with pedestrian detection, adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning and assist and automatic high beams to the sedan’s roster of standard safety features.

    2017 Toyota Avalon

    2017 Toyota Avalon

    Base price for the Touring grade is $37,650 excluding the $865 destination charge. Standard convenience features include keyless entry and start, dual-zone climate control, Entune premium audio with app suite, Bluetooth interface, satellite radio, leather upholstery, eight-way power driver’s seat with memory, four-way power front passenger seat and Qi compatible wireless smartphone charging.

    Options on the test car include special metallic pearl exterior coat and carpeted trunk mats, bringing the final MSRP to $39,134. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2018 Genesis G80 3.3T Sport

    Mid-size luxury sedan gets a power boost

    By Nina Russin

    Genesis G80 Sport

    Genesis G80 Sport

    The G80 is the smaller of two luxury sedans Genesis produces. Now in its second year, the automaker has sweetened the deal with a Sport version powered by a 3.3-liter twin-turbocharged engine: the same V-6 available in the larger G90. The G80 Sport comes with an eight-speed shift-by-wire transmission and continuously damping control suspension that makes real-time adjustments based on road surface and driving style.

    Priced at $56,225 including destination the model features unique exterior trim, 19-inch alloy rims and quad dark chrome exhaust tips.

    A spacious interior features leather upholstery, micro-suede headliner, aluminum and carbon-fiber trim, plus all the accouterments one might expect from a mid-luxury sedan: premium audio system, heated and ventilated power front seats, heads-up display, wireless charging port, color LCD information display, large center stack touchscreen, automatic climate control and more.

    The automaker’s 10 year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty is its ace-in-the-hole. Read the rest of this entry »