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  • 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 »

  • 2018 Honda Odyssey Elite

    Best-selling minivan appeals to growing families

    By Nina Russin

    2018 Honda Odyssey

    2018 Honda Odyssey

    For years, the Honda Odyssey has been a dependable choice for growing families. Although the segment has decreased in size, minivans remain still an important player in the automotive universe due to their unique capabilities for this group of buyers. Honda’s newest Odyssey should continue the model’s leadership role, thanks to a more powerful engine, ten-speed automatic transmission boosting fuel economy and advanced active safety technology.

    The Odyssey has grown significantly in size over the years: once built on the Accord platform and now sharing underpinnings with the Pilot crossover. But the newest model is as easy-to-drive, maneuver, load and unload as its predecessors. Twenty-two mile-per-gallon fuel economy helps parents stay within their budget, so the summer road trip remains part of the mix.

    2018 Honda Odyssey

    2018 Honda Odyssey

    Power for the newest model comes from a 3.5-liter VTEC V-6 engine and ten-speed automatic transmission for the premium front-wheel drive grades. Variable cylinder management automatically shuts off fuel to half the engine cylinders when power demands are low to extend the car’s range.

    Base price for the Elite model tested is $46,670, excluding the $940 delivery charge. Honda loads the car up with all the safety, comfort and convenience features buyers are looking for so they don’t have to wade through a laundry list of option packages. Final MSRP is $47,610. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2017 Jeep Compass Limited 4X4

    Compact crossover with off-road capability

    By Nina Russin

    2017 Jeep Compass Limited

    2017 Jeep Compass Limited

    For 2017, Jeep replaces the now defunct Patriot with an all-new Compass: combining the former model’s off-road capability with a more car-like appearance, ride and handling. In terms of size, the Compass sits between the smaller Jeep Renegade and larger Cherokee. Whereas Renegade styling veers more toward the Wrangler, the Compass bears greater similarity to the Cherokee and Grand Cherokee, with more rounded lines on the outside and a plush interior.

    The North American version is available exclusively with Jeep’s 2.4-liter naturally aspirated four-cylinder engine (diesel is available in other global markets). Buyers who opt for the off-road capable 4X4 model can choose between a six-speed manual or nine-speed automatic transmission.

    The Limited is the most upscale trim level, appealing to buyers who want a premium feel and don’t need the expanded off-road capabilities of the Trailhawk version. Base MSRP is $28,995 excluding the $1095 destination charge.

    Options on the test car include two safety packages that add Xenon headlamps, lane departure warning, automatic high beams, brake assist, blind spot monitoring, rear part assist and rain sensitive wipers, navigation, Sirius XM Travel Link, a power liftgate, compact spare tire, nineteen-inch rims and all-season tires. Final MSRP is $34,260. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2017 Nissan Titan XD

    Bridges the gap between light and heavy-duty pickups

    By Nina Russin

    Nissan Titan XD Crew Cab

    Nissan Titan XD Crew Cab

    Nissan calls the XD a niche vehicle that created its own niche, by bridging the gap between light and heavy-duty pickup trucks. Drivers who need more payload and towing capacity than a light-duty truck provides, but don’t have the parking space or fuel budget for a heavy-duty truck can find a lot to love in the Titan XD.

    Buyers can choose between a gasoline or Cummins turbo-diesel engine. The diesel option develops up to 555 peak horsepower as engine speeds as low as 1600 rpm, making it ideal for towing and hauling. The rear-wheel drive model tows up to 12,640 pounds, while the four-wheel drive truck tested has a 12,360-pound rating. Either way, the XD tows about 3,000 pounds more than its light-duty sibling: something that could make a critical difference when hooking up a large boat or trailer.

    The Platinum Reserve model tested comes with a Class IV gooseneck hitch with integrated 4 pin/7 pin wiring harness-connector, trailer brake controller and trailer light check function, spray on bedliner, Utili-track tie down system, LED under-rail bed lighting, rearview and around-view monitors. Pricing starts at $61,960 excluding the $1195 destination charge. A bed utility package adds the Titan Box integrated storage system in the side walls of the cargo bed, an electronic tailgate lock and rear bed step, bringing the final MSRP to $63,905. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 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 »

  • First Drive: 2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV

    EV boasts extended range, versatility and connectivity features

    By Nina Russin

    2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV

    2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV

    Chevrolet has entered the EV world with both feet in, following up on the success of the second-generation Volt extended-range vehicle with the Bolt: a pure electric small crossover with 238-mile driving range according-to the manufacturer.

    The Bolt doesn’t have quite the interior space or driving range of the larger Volt since there is no gasoline engine in reserve, but its well-configured interior, enhanced connectivity and fun-to-drive character should hold lots of appeal for buyers who have been considering an electric car, but were deterred by pricier competitors, or vehicles with significantly less range.

    EVs by their nature are rocket ships off the line, since electric motors develop peak power at very low speeds. The Bolt has the distinction of offering the most powerful electric motor in the segment: 150kW, making the car capable of sub-seven second zero-to-sixty acceleration.

    Pricing for the base LT model starts at $37,495 before the federal rebate while the upscale Premier model starts at $41,780. The car becomes available in 48 states this August. Read the rest of this entry »