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  • 2017 Lexus GS 350 F Sport

    Midsize sport sedan

    By Nina Russin

    2017 Lexus GS 350

    2017 Lexus GS 350

    It’s rare to find a car in the fifth year of its lifecycle that doesn’t feel dated. The Lexus GS is one of those rarities. When the fourth-generation car debuted for the 2012 model year, those of us familiar with the outgoing model were stunned by its performance, not because the outgoing version of the car was bad, but because the newest GS elevated Lexus to a new level. This as a car that could compete on a global stage with the best of what Germany had to offer.

    What makes the GS special is not just its power: that part is relatively easy. In the case of the 350, a 3.5-liter V-6 engine delivering 310 horsepower and 280 pound-feet of torque is mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission with manual shift option. Zero-to-sixty acceleration is 5.7-seconds according-to the manufacturer.

    The magic behind the GS is its balance. Whether the buyer opts for the rear-wheel drive model tested or the all-wheel drive version offering enhanced traction on wet roads, the sedan’s front-to-rear weight balance is close to perfect.

    2017 Lexus GS 350

    2017 Lexus GS 350

    Power into a decreasing radius turn at speed and its balance makes the Lexus GS ride on rails. The sedan becomes an extension of the driver: all he has-to do is point the car where he wants it to go.

    That kind of precision handling doesn’t come along every day; it’s what gives the GS sedan its staying power.

    The F Sport package adds special wheels, adaptive suspension, variable gear ratio steering with a sport plus mode, bigger brakes, special badging and interior trim. Base price is $54,810. Other options on the test car include a limited slip differential, Mark Levinson audio system, intuitive park assist, black brake calipers, four-wheel steering, leather steering wheel, floor and cargo mats. Final MSRP including the $975 destination charge is $60,305. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2017 Acura MDX Sport Hybrid AWD Advance

    NSX technology gives three-row crossover a green footprint

    By Nina Russin

    2017 Acura MDX Sport Hybrid

    2017 Acura MDX Sport Hybrid

    If you’re looking for a seven-passenger crossover with supercar technology and better-than-average fuel economy, the Acura MDX Sport Hybrid should be on the short list. Utilizing the same three-motor super-handling all-wheel drive system introduced on the new NSX sports car and RLX performance sedan, the MDX hybrid mates Acura’s three-liter V-6 gasoline engine to three electric motors- one up front and two in the back- to provide power to all four-wheels. Net system horsepower is 321, with 289 pound-feet of peak torque. Since electric motors develop peak torque at extremely low speeds, the MDX Sport Hybrid launches off the line like a rocket ship.

    A dual-clutch seven-speed automatic transmission employs friction couplings for the feel of a manual transmission, minus the extra foot pedal. Drivers can operate the gearbox in automatic mode or manually select gears using Formula One-style shift paddles on the steering wheel. While there are quite a few cars on the market with this type of transmission, very few are hybrids. The transmission’s quick, sharp shifts are a welcome relief from continuously variable automatic transmissions that leave the driver feeling disconnected from the wheels.

    2017 Acura MDX Sport Hybrid

    2017 Acura MDX Sport Hybrid

    The test car is the upscale Advance grade, priced from $58,000. Acura loads the premium grade with active safety and convenience features, saving shoppers from wading through lists of option packages. Standard features include a surround-view camera system, keyless entry and start, second-row captain’s chairs, ventilated and heated front seats, satellite radio, ten-way power driver’s seat with memory, LED fog lamps, roof rails and AcuraWatch: an active safety system adding adaptive cruise control, collision mitigation braking, road departure mitigation, lane keeping assist and lane departure warning.

    Final MSRP including destination is $58,975 Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2018 Toyota C-HR

    Crossover combines versatility and affordability for young buyers

    By Nina Russin

    2018 Toyota C-HR

    2018 Toyota C-HR

    The all-new C-HR that debuts for the 2018 model year targets millennials with a combination of stylish exterior, versatile interior and affordable pricing. In a sense, the C-HR is to the current generation of young buyers what the Matrix was for their parents: a car that can take them through those quantum changes of life that happen right after college: new job, new home and perhaps a new family.

    The term, C-HR stands for ‘Coupe-High Rider’. The subcompact concept for the production vehicle originally debuted at the 2015 Frankfurt Auto Show as Scion’s competitor to the Nissan Juke. Post-Scion, the production model carries the Toyota nameplate, but its edgy styling with an elongated front end, huge wheels and sharply angled roof reflects Scion’s youthful spirit.

    A contrasting white roof adds pizzazz to the test car’s aqua-colored exterior. Base price is $22,500 excluding the $960 destination charge. Options on the test car include the white roof, removable crossbars, tablet holder, carpeted floor mats and cargo mat, mudguards, emergency assistance kit, rear bumper protector and wheel locks. Final MSRP is $24,969. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2017 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid Platinum

    Minivan is the go-to car for active lifestyles

    By Nina Russin

    2017 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid

    2017 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid

    Minivans are ideal vehicles for outdoor enthusiasts for the same reasons they appeal to young families: large, configurable interiors hold everything from soup-to-nuts. Chrysler- the automaker that invented the minivan in the early 1980s- continues to lead the way in features that make these vehicles the perfect base camp.

    Chrysler’s newest minivan family- the Pacifica and Pacifica Hybrid- meld cargo versatility with sexy exterior design and, for the first time, a green option.

    Combining a 3.6-liter V-6 engine with an electric motor, the Pacifica Hybrid can travel up to 33 miles in pure electric mode. Total range is 556-miles, according-to the automaker. The idea is to give owners enough range to operate in pure-electric mode during the weekly 9-5, without the range limitations of electric vehicles.

    2017 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid

    2017 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid

    Engineers modified Chrysler’s Pentastar V-6 engine to Atkinson cycle, keeping the intake valves open longer during the engine’s four-stroke cycle for better fuel efficiency. The battery pack recharges on 120-volt household current in about 14 hours, or two hours using a 240-volt plug-in.

    The upscale Platinum grade priced from $44,995 comes loaded with family-friendly convenience features including keyless entry and start, hands-free sliding side doors, hands-free liftgate, tri-zone climate control, Uconnect infotainment system with navigation, satellite and HD radio, Bluetooth interface and sliding second-row seats that make access to the third row easier.

    Third-row seats fold into the floor to extend the cargo bay. Because of the battery pack’s location under the second row, those seats do not fold into the floor as with the gasoline-powered Pacifica. They are, however, removable.

    Two option packages on the test car add blind spot monitoring with cross traffic alert, front and rear park assist, a surround-view monitor, parallel and perpendicular park assist, lane departure warning, automatic high beam lighting control that dims the lights when cars approach from the opposite direction, rain sensitive wipers, premium audio system, seatback video screens, a Blu-ray DVD player, headphones, 115-volt power outlet and tri-pane panoramic sunroof.

    Final MSRP including the $1095 destination charge is $47,885. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2018 Lexus LC 500h

    GT coupe with a conscience

    By Nina Russin

    Lexus LC 500h

    Lexus LC 500h

    The LC 500h and its sibling LC 500 are Lexus’ answer to European GT coupes such as the Mercedes-Benz SL 500 and Jaguar F-Type, but with a twist: only the Lexus comes with an available hybrid powertrain, giving the coupe 30 mile-per-gallon average fuel economy. As part of his promise to infuse passion into the brand, Toyota CEO Akio Toyoda (grandson of the company founder) charged Lexus with developing a new flagship that would not only deliver on his stated mission, but do so in a distinctly Lexus manner.

    Seeds for the LC date back to 2012, when Lexus introduced the LF-LC concept at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. After capturing the EyesOn Design Design Award for Concept Car, Lexus designers and engineers began work on a production model based on a new architecture called GA-L, Global Architecture-Luxury, that is also the basis for the all-new LS 500 luxury sedan and its hybrid counterpart.

    Lexus LC 500h

    Lexus LC 500h

    While the LC 500h’s gasoline-electric hybrid powertrain is based on Toyota’s hybrid synergy drive that powers all-of the automaker’s hybrid offerings, Lexus engineers made some significant changes to enhance the new coupe’s performance. As with other Toyota and Lexus hybrids, a gasoline engine is mated to two electric motor generators. However, the system in the LC adds a four-speed automatic transmission to the standard continuously variable automatic, to multiply power and create the effect of a traditional ten-speed step unit that the driver can control using shifter paddles on the steering wheel.

    The new hybrid system uses more electric motor assist at low speeds so the LC can operate in electric vehicle mode up to 87 miles-per-hour. It is also the first Lexus hybrid that can spin its rear wheels, eliminating understeer at high speeds.

    Base price for the LC 500h is $98,510 excluding the $995 destination charge. That’s a bundle, but at least buyers don’t have to shell out an additional thousand or so for gas guzzler tax. Options on the test car include blind spot monitoring, intuitive park assist, 21-inch wheels, heads-up display, limited slip differential, Mark Levinson premium audio system, Alcantara sport seats, floor and cargo mats, bringing the final MSRP to $108,805. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 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 »