2017 Kia Soul
Tops the list for urban athletes
By Nina Russin
In 2016 the Kia Soul won ALV’s Urban category award for an unprecedented fourth year in a row: further proof that the compact crossover might be the perfect choice for city dwellers with active lifestyles. The Soul’s cool styling, compact dimensions and versatile interior resonate with athletes of all ages. The Soul is also affordable, with pricing for the base model starting at $15,990 excluding delivery.
The test car is the upscale Soul! (exclaim), priced from $22,650. Among standard convenience features are automatic headlamps, power windows, door locks and side mirrors, keyless start, automatic climate control and Bluetooth interface.
Options on the test car include a panoramic sunroof and a technology package that adds navigation, Harman Kardon premium audio system, LED exterior lighting, power folding outside mirrors, power driver’s and front passenger seats, heated front and rear outboard seats, blind spot monitoring and USB charging ports. Final MSRP is $27,620. Read the rest of this entry »
2017 Mitsubishi Outlander 2.4 SEL AWC
Compact crossover maintains value focus
By Nina Russin
With the average transaction price for new cars approaching $35,000, it’s easy to lose focus on value. But in a post-2008 economy, buyers are approaching big purchases, including automobiles, more conservatively.
Mitsubishi has made a value focus the lynchpin of its comeback strategy and it’s working. Athletes picked the restyled 2016 Mitsubishi Outlander to win the ALV of the Year award for Best Value, responding to its all-wheel drive capabilities, good fuel economy, five-star NHTSA crash test rating and extensive roster of convenience features.
The 2017 model is essentially carryover from last year. The Outlander is one of the few compact crossovers on the market to hold up to seven passengers. Third-row seats are rather small, but give growing families the ability to carry a couple of neighbor kids to weekly soccer practice. Fold the seats flat and a spacious cargo bay can carry a couple of road bikes, protecting them from inclement weather or theft.
The test car is the upscale SEL grade priced from $27,495 excluding the $895 destination charge. Power comes from a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine and continuously variable automatic transmission. All-wheel drive gives the Outlander four-season capability.
A touring option package adds a multi-view camera that displays both a rear and overhead view when the driver shifts into reverse, forward collision mitigation, blind spot monitoring, adaptive cruise control, automatic high beams and a Rockford Fosgate premium audio system. Final MSRP is $32,390. Read the rest of this entry »
2017 Honda Accord Hybrid Touring
Upgraded drivetrain boosts power and efficiency
By Nina Russin
Longevity has its benefits. Years before Hyundai, Kia, Ford, Chevrolet and Volkswagen entered the hybrid market, there was only one: the original Honda Insight. The Insight arrived in the US in 1999, a year ahead of the Toyota Prius. Since then Honda enhanced technology, in exclusive hybrid models such as the Insight as well as gasoline/electric versions of its popular sedans.
For Honda, hybrids aren’t a marketing gimmick or a way to comply with increasingly strict fuel economy standards. The company’s green focus is authentic, as evidenced by its leadership in the development of other alternative fuel technologies including fuel cells.
For 2017, Honda introduces a new hybrid version of the current Accord that is, in a sense, the automaker’s green car flagship. The powertrain couples a two-liter Atkinson cycle iVTEC engine with two electric motors and a lithium-ion battery pack. One electric motor drives the wheels while the second generator motor produces electricity. The system produces 212 net horsepower and 232 pound-feet of peak torque available at very low speeds.
Buyers can choose from three grades, of which the Touring model is the most upscale. Base price is $35,955 excluding the $835 destination charge. Rather than packaging options, Honda sells the Touring model fully loaded, with convenience features including keyless entry and start, power leather seats with seat heaters, a seven-inch touchscreen with multi-view rearview camera, Bluetooth, Pandora, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, SMS text messaging, USB interface, dual-zone automatic climate control, tilt-and-telescoping steering column, premium audio system and Honda Sensing active safety features. Final MSRP is $36,790. Read the rest of this entry »
2017 Toyota Corolla 50th Anniversary Edition
Best-selling compact sedan celebrates a milestone
By Nina Russin
For 2017, Toyota introduces a mid-cycle refresh on its Corolla compact sedan including new exterior styling, infotainment and active safety technology. The company also marks the car’s milestone anniversary with a special edition based on the volume-leading LE grade.
With its blacked out grille and custom dark red exterior, the 50th anniversary Corolla stands apart from the pack. The limited edition vehicle rides on 17-inch alloy rims. Special badging and interior trim complete the package.
Standard convenience features include keyless entry and start, LED headlamps, Entune audio with Siri Eyes Free and a rear backup camera. Base MSRP is $21,900.
Options on the test car add a tilt-and-slide moonroof, paint protection film, illuminated door sills and a tablet holder. Adding the $865 destination charge, final MSRP is $24,497. Read the rest of this entry »
2017 Honda Ridgeline AWD
A different kind of pickup for a different kind of truck owner
By Nina Russin
The second-generation Honda Ridgeline doesn’t look or handle like any other pickup truck on the market. It’s the only vehicle in its segment available with front-wheel drive and unlike most pickup trucks, utilizes unit-body as opposed to body on frame construction
An all-wheel drive version sends engine power to the rear wheels to maximize traction on dirt and in adverse weather. A variable torque management system can vary power between the rear wheels for better control on uneven trails.
The idea is to give buyers who like Honda’s passenger cars similar ride and handling a vehicle that can tow, haul, and get dirty. A spacious cabin has enough room for five passengers, with rear seats that flip up to create a large interior cargo space. The cargo bed is short, but can easily hold bicycles, kayaks and the like with the proper racks.
Power comes from a 3.5-liter iVTEC engine and six-speed automatic transmission that gives the all-wheel drive model 21 mile-per-gallon average fuel economy according to the EPA. Gas mileage during our 150-mile test drive was about two miles-per-gallon better.
The test car is fully loaded with convenience features, including keyless entry and start, power moonroof, LED headlamps, Honda’s in-bed trunk that provides secure storage outside the cabin, leather seating, tri-zone climate control, satellite radio and Bluetooth interface. Base price is $41,370. Adding in the $900 destination charge, final MSRP is $42,270. Read the rest of this entry »
2017 Kia Cadenza Limited
Premium full-size sport sedan
By Nina Russin
The 2017 Kia Cadenza raised eyebrows when it beat out several luxury competitors to win this year’s Active Lifestyle Vehicle of the Year Luxury On-Road award. Although Kia continues its value-based marketing strategy, new models such as the Cadenza are giving competitors a run for the money, with award-winning styling and performance.
The first-generation Cadenza looked and felt very much like a stretch version of the smaller Optima sedan. The newest model is very much its own animal, with unique styling and performance.
Base price for the Limited is $44,390 excluding the $900 destination charge. Standard convenience features include keyless entry and start, Nappa leather interior with memory driver’s seat settings, dual-zone climate control, heated and ventilated front seats, UVO infotainment, satellite radio, navigation and a power tilt and telescoping steering wheel. Read the rest of this entry »
2017 Acura MDX Advance
Refreshed crossover with seating for seven
By Nina Russin
The MDX is Acura’s answer to fans of the brand’s performance who need the interior capacity and versatility for growing families. For 2017, the current generation gets a major refresh, with new exterior styling and an expanded roster of standard active safety features including blind spot monitoring, lane keeping assist, collision mitigation, adaptive cruise control and road departure mitigation.
Rather than asking buyers to wade through expensive option packages, Acura rolls oft-asked for convenience features into its model grades. The Advance grade tested adds heated and ventilated front sport seats, heated second-row captain’s chairs, roof rails, LED fog lamps, wood interior trim, parking sensors and a ten-way front passenger seat over the base model. Pricing starts at $56,400. Final MSRP including the $940 destination charge is $57,340. Read the rest of this entry »
2017 Toyota 86
Sport coupe gets retuned for improved performance
By Nina Russin
The 86 is one of several former Scion models moving under the Toyota umbrella for 2017. This year the 86, formerly Scion FR-S, gets retuned for more aggressive performance, with more power and suspension upgrades to improve high-speed handling.
Inspiration for the original FR-S came from Toyota CEO Akio Toyoda, grandson of the company founder and a life-long driving enthusiast. Toyoda, whose made it his personal mission to infuse the company with his passion for performance, wanted to create a vehicle celebrating the spirit of the Corolla Levin, also called AE86. The sporty two-seater was favored among early drift racing competitors including the legendary Keiichi Tsuchiya.
While the 86 isn’t a car for everyone, it is, for the right buyer, one of the best values on the planet. Co-developed with Subaru (the Subaru version is the BRZ), the Toyota 86 is a beautifully balanced true sports car priced well below $30,000. Final MSRP for the test car with the six-speed manual transmission is $27,120. Read the rest of this entry »
First Drive: 2017 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid
Plug-in hybrid technology gives minivan a green footprint
By Nina Russin
The all-new Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid is the first production minivan with a plug-in gasoline/electric powertrain: one of a bumper crop of family-oriented hybrids entering the market. While their first inroads were in the compact segment, hybrids make a lot of sense for busy, value-conscious families.
The plug-in feature in the new Pacifica gives owners up to 30 miles per charge on electric power. That’s enough for the average commuter to get through a day, so owners rarely need to refill gasoline. Charging with the standard 115-volt plug takes about 14 hours, but those willing to invest in the optional 240-volt plug can fully recharge in two. A Uconnect phone app enables owners to schedule recharging during off-peak hours and remotely change charging times.
While the powertrain is based on its gasoline-powered sibling, there are significant differences between the two cars. The 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6 engine was modified to Atkinson cycle with a higher compression ratio for greater efficiency.
Despite its 11.3:1 compression, the engine runs on 87 octane gasoline. Chain drive eliminates expensive timing belt replacements after the warranty expires.
The hybrid also has a new eFlite electronically variable transmission whose single clutch design enables both of the car’s electric motors to drive the wheels. The most noticeable difference to consumers is that unlike the nine-speed transmission in the gasoline car, the eFlite has no obvious shift points.
Engineers located the 16 kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack under the second-row seats. While the battery doesn’t reduce interior space, it does occupy the bucket space for Chrysler’s Stow ‘n Go system, so the seats in the hybrid are removable but not stowable.
Buyers can choose between two grades, the Premium priced from $41,995 and upscale Platinum priced from $44,995. Pricing does not include $1,095 destination. Both models quality for a federal $7500 tax credit.
The test car is the upscale Platinum grade that comes with a 13-speaker Alpine premium sound system, navigation, hands-free sliding doors and 18-inch rims, as well as an active safety package including collision warning, adaptive cruise control, 360-degree around-view camera, lane departure warning, parallel and perpendicular park assist. The car has one option: a tri-pane panoramic sunroof. Final MSRP is $47,885. Read the rest of this entry »
2017 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid AWD
Toyota’s Recreational Activity Vehicle gets a green footprint
By Nina Russin
Hybrid vehicles are a win/win for buyers wanting to go green without infrastructure challenges. Recently, Toyota introduced its hybrid synergy drive system that powers the Prius into the RAV4 compact crossover. Buyers can choose between three grades: the base XLE, sporty SE and upscale Limited: all standard with all-wheel drive.
Power comes from a four-cylinder Atkinson cycle engine and three electric motor generators: two driving the front and rear axles respectively and the third controlling the engine starter and recharging the Nickel Metal-Hydride battery pack.
Pricing for the Limited model tested starts at $34,030 excluding destination. Standard convenience features include keyless entry and start, dual-zone climate control, Entune premium audio system with app suites, backup camera, leather seating and steering wheel, heated front seats, reclining and folding second-row seats, 18-inch alloy rims, LED headlamps and tail lamps and a power moonroof.
Options on the test car include a technology package that adds a bird’s eye view camera, JBL premium audio system, iPod compatibility, Siri eyes-free, HD and satellite radio. Final MSRP is $37,057. Read the rest of this entry »