Monthly Archives: April 2017

2017 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited-Platinum AWD

Susan Frissell

Yet another category in which consumers find themselves making big decisions. The SUV midsize field is growing and getting better all the time, including such notables as Ford Edge, Buick Enclave, Hyundai Santa Fe, Nissan Pathfinder, Honda Pilot, Dodge Durango and Ford Flex. Even Toyota’s own 4Runner could be a contender in this category of about 19 competitors.

Not unlike other automobile categories, the midsize SUV is big and demands that consumers do their homework before stepping into the showroom. Better prices than featured on the window stickers can be had, it just takes some time and patience. Toyota’s vehicles remain at the top of the heap and in demand, but the good news is there is competition.

For 2017, the Toyota Highlander becomes a more versatile entry. Two new trims have been added, and an eighth seat! The features added are impressive and will likely appeal to all, as well as a more spacious cabin. Looking at the car from the outside, it’s clear the Highlander has taken a different path. Much more handsome and a little bit more square, it’s a beautiful, comfortable road cruiser.

Our test Highlander was the Hybrid version so we can only attest to its prowess, comfortability and fuel economy. We think most will be impressed, though, with safety features, reliability and
Passenger-friendly features for all. However, expect to pay for these stand-outs, as the Highlander is up there for ‘most expensive than most’ midsize sport-utes.

Toyota has added two new trim levels for 2017: LE and XLE. And as mentioned before, now the seat count is up to eight. More versatile and affordable for 2017, the newly redesigned Highlander offers two additional new trims, as well.

Arguably, one of the finest SUV’s out there, the Toyota Highlander Hybrid ranks high among auto buffs and consumers, alike. A great SUV-Hybrid for families, the Highlander is a great road vehicle, with all the comforts. Performing well in crash tests, offering all safety features as standard equipment, and such goodies as adaptive cruise control, pedestrian and vehicle detection and pre-collision system, you can’t beat it.

Our test Highlander Hybrid came in a beautiful Toasted Walnut Pearl, drew ‘ooos’ and ‘ahhhs’ from friends and family alike. I only wish I could have taken a road trip in it. The new standard eight-seat configuration is different and handy, and fuel economy is very competitive.

Expect excellent acceleration and top notch navigation of highway ramps, as well as no trouble keeping up with traffic. For a large SUV, it drives effortlessly. If you choose the Hybrid version, expect great fuel economy-without any drop in power-and better horsepower than its gasoline cousin.

As with all Toyota products, dependability and reliability are not a worry. The 2017 model has been updated even more so, yet, still recognizable as the popular Highlander Our Liimited Platinum version had all the bells and whistles.With AWD, and of course, Hybrid, minor changes are noticeable. The 2017 Highlander sports a little more squared off front end, but we think. more handsome look.

Our test version, the Hybrid Limited-Platinum AWD (top of the line) hovered just over $49,000, so not a cheap venture. However, we can imagine owning this vehicle for years to come, without much need to trade up.

The average SUV in this category runs around $30,000; however, the Highlander is one of the most expensive, starting at $36,270; only the Buick Enclave comes in higher. However, one can’t dismiss the Hybrid powertrain (added cost), and the fact that it is a Toyota product, the Highlander is first-rate, and hard to beat, we might add.

If we had to look at any ‘cons’ of the Highlander, they might include lack of any gasoline savings. However, we maintain, if you’re driving a sport ute vehicle, are you thinking that much about fuel economy?

Secondly, the Highlander’s third-row seat isn’t as roomy as some of its competitors. Again, we maintain, how often is that third-row seat occupied? And, for our nit-pics, we point out the distance between the touchscreen and controls: A long reach, and not easy to do while operating the vehicle.

For every con, though, there are always pros, and the Highlander clocks in with many, including a size that is just about right for most families. The high-tech features, such as accident-avoidance appeal to many. And, with all Toyota products, you have a quiet, easy-to-maneuver vehicle.

The Smoked Chrome auto on/off headlights and foglights are impressive. LED DRL’s are a longtime safety feature, and the chrometic roof rails match the wheels. We appreciate the folding heated power side mirrors-with puddle lamps, no less-when parking in over-crowded spaces. We shopped while in the Highlander so appreciated the easily-operated liftgate for groceries.

The Entune system, with a powerful, great-sounding JBL speakers is a feature one didn’t expect in an SUV vehicle in years past. The sound was very good, and at times, this writer couldn’t differentiate between sound from the Highlander’s system and one outside the vehicle. Touchscreen Nav, AM/FM/CD/MO3/USB/AUX and HD, SXM are all standard. Bluetooth phone, Music/App Suite and five USB ports will please those who are high-tech. The Birdseye view camera has a split screen so that drivers can keep an eye on what’s behind and on the side of the car. A perimeter scan helps tremendously when maneuvering in tight areas.

Our test Highlander came with two options: Body Side Molding ($209), and carpet floor mats, cargo mat ($225). The Platinum Package was included and offers: Panoramic Moon Roof, heated steering wheel, perforated leather heated second row outboard seats, rain sensing windshield wipers, Birds-eye view monitor, Drak Chrometic 19inch wheels.


MSRP: $47,880; total vehicle price $49,254
Engine: Hybrid system, hp: 306, torque: 215 lb.-ft., V6
Transmission: Electronically Controlled Continuously Variable, electronic on-demand AWD
Wheelbase: 109.8 in.
Length: 192.5 in.
Width: 75.8 in.
Height: 68.1 in.
Wheels: 19-inch chrometec
Tires: P245/55R19
Hybrid Versions:
LE: $36,370
XLE: $41,330
Limited: $44,760
Limited Platinum: $47,880
Towing Capacity: 3,500 lbs.
Warranty: 3 yrs/36 months basic,

2017 Kia Forte S: Kiss a Kia

Susan Frissell

It’s hard to be first in this category, what with year-after-year winners such as Toyota Corolla. But Kia has a strong contender in the 2017 redesigned Forte 4-door sedan.
We had the pleasure of spending the week in the 2017 Kia Forte S, with its updated, sharp detailing and dramatic roofline. Although it may not necessarily stand out among the Corollas, Ford Focus, Subaru Impreza, Mazda3, or very distinctive Honda Civic, the Forte is a great little commuter.

Handsomer and with more detail, the 2017 Kia Forte is a well-equipped compact sedan. Complete with different body styles, Forte has revised its powertrains, driving personality and value features. More extroverted, this nimble runner is available in the entry-level LX, intermediate S model and top-of-the-line EX trim.

The Kia Forte is available in several versions, including the sedan, Forte Koup-or two-door coupe, and Forte5, a five-door hatchback. We love that the hatchback and ‘wagon’ versions from different manufacturers are making a comeback. Practical and comfortable, these versions are needed.

The Forte sedan may have the best design of all the choices. When last redesigned, the Forte gained some more width and length, but not height. However, this gives the sedan an elongated roofline and better looks in the sedan department. For 2017, the Forte gets a new front bumper, a “tiger nose” grille, that closely resembles the Optima sedan frontend, sitting somewhat lower and blending into the headlamps. The taillights have also been redesigned, with optional LED lights.

Really, all compact sedans today look very similar, Virtually every small sedan has adopted the same shape to reduce aerodynamic drag, and increase fuel-economy. God Bless any compact car going up against the likes of Honda, Toyota, and forever brands like Ford. It would be hard to overtake these year-after-year winners, but for a little less cash, consumers can opt for the Forte, and expect satisfaction in fuel economy, a pleasant driving experience and ease of operation. Dependability can also be added to the list.

The interior of the 2017 Forte is simple, with easy to understand and operate controls. It is sporty, clean and comfortable. One can expect all the infotainment goodies of today’s vehicles, gauges and a full set of features for the money. The base Forte LX includes keyless entry, air conditioning, power windows/locks, rearview camera, steering-wheel audio controls and Bluetooth.
In addition, new heated-leather-front seats are standard in the 2017 Forte EX, as well as dual-zone climate control, rear vents, and push-button start. The Forte’s interior is ‘simple,’ by comparison, and easy to manage. We just found this little compact to be effortless to drive, park and navigate. Even hitting speeds of 80 mph on the expressway felt breezy.

Which brings us to the Kia Forte’s powertrain, a choice of the 2.0-liter inline-4 and 2.0-liter iron-block, 4-cylinder (LX and S); the EX models come with a 2.0-liter 4, aluminum block and direct injection. Paired with each engine is Kia’s 6-speed automatic transmission, with available 6-speed manual transmission as standard on the base LX. Fuel economy has improved for 2017 (25/34), but not outstanding.

The 2.0-liter engine is smooth, even and responsive, and the Forte suspension easily manages most road surfaces. The sedan handles well, but don’t expect refinement. Remember, this is a compact car, not a large family sedan. For tall drivers, the Forte may feel a tad cramped. Seats are comfortable, but not necessarily form-fitting, and bolstering is inadequate.

To Kia’s credit, though, the Forte has come a long way. Materials, trim and details have improved significantly, making it competitive. Plastics are of a little higher grade, there is a handle center console and upholstery and trim have been upgraded. Stitching in the Forte S lends a sporty look.

New-active safety features have been added to the 2017 Kia Forte, and include autonomous emergency braking, rear cross traffic alert, front collision warning, lane change assist, and dynamic bending lights. Part of option packages on the EX, and possibly the S model is expected.

Our test Forte S model did not come with any pricing so pricing listed here is approximate: LX, $18,495, S, $20,195, EX, $22,195. Additionally installed equipment on our test car included the S Technology package: Supervision Meter Cluster 4.2-in. Color LCD, Push-button start with smart key, auto-up/down front windows, autonomous emergency braking, forward collision warning system, blind spot detection, lane departure warning system, lane keep assist system, rear cross traffic/alert, outside mirrors with LED turn signals (and auto folding upon locking car), front door handle pocket lights, fog lights, LED tall lights and smart trunk.


MSRP: $20,195
Engine: 2.0-liter Multi-Point Injection, 4-cylinder engine, 164 hp., 151 lb.ft. torque
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Wheelbase: 106.3 in.
Height: 56.3 in.
Length: 179.5 in.
Width: 61.5 in.
Fuel Tank Capacity: 13.2 gal.
Fuel economy: 25/34 mpg.
Tires: P195/65HR15
Wheels: 15×6
Warranty: 10 yr./100-,000-mile limited powertrain; 5 yr./80,000-mile limited basic; 6 yr./80,000-mile roadside assistance.

Kia Forte S interior

2018 Chevrolet Equinox SUV: Finding New Roads

Susan Frissell

Greenville, N.C.-Ashville, S.C., March 23, 2017

Chevrolet seems to be leading the way with its variant lineup, say automotive and consumer media groups. The most awarded car company three years in a row, Chevrolet’s Bolt EV won Motor Trend Magazine’s 2017 Car of the Year.

With new offerings in all categories, new design, safety, performance and fuel efficiency updates, Chevrolet would appear to be offering all things to all people. Regardless of what vehicle you might be interested in, you’ll find it in Chevy’s current lineup.

2018 Chevrolet Equinox
Orange Burst Metallic

And so, it is with the next-generation Chevy Equinox compact SUV. The media were on hand in the beautiful hills of North, and South Carolina in March to test-drive the 2018 Equinox. Completely redesigned, the new sculpted exterior and luxurious interior make the Equinox more than competitive in this very busy category.

Since bringing the Equinox to market, Chevrolet has sold two million units at over 3,000 dealerships. As the 2018 Equinox moves into 2017, there will be two additional engines added to the lineup, a Midnight Edition-available now, and a Redline Edition (coming later in the year).

Such advance features include available Low Speed Forward Automatic Braking, Surround Vision-using cameras on all sides to provide a 360-degree birds-eye view, and hands-free liftgate, to name a few. Would-be SUV owners will want for little or nothing when taking on the 2018 Equinox. Every angle is covered, including the availability of three turbo engine selections (1.6-liter turbo-diesel, due Summer 2017, 1.5-liter standard turbo, and 2.0-liter-available Summer 2017).

Paired with GM’s 9-speed automatic transmission, efficiency is the name of the game, at an expected 26/32 mpg. with FWD and 24/30 mpg. with AWD. While the Equinox performed just about flawlessly, don’t expect to feel a surge of power off the start line. But no matter. Rather, the increase is gradual and satisfying, performing quietly and smoothly. Highway driving in the new 2018 Equinox is calm and pleasing.

The 2018 compact Chevrolet Equinox has trimmed down, by 400 pounds; as we learned from Chevrolet engineers, was no small feat. A 10-percent weight reduction, while making for more acceptable fuel economy, in no way makes for a “light-weight” vehicle. Instead, the newly redesigned Equinox, feels sturdy and substantial. Chevy utilized lightweight and durable high-strength steel combined with an optimized form.

The new styling is expressive and tweaked with ‘styling echoes,’ similar to its family members the Volt, Cruze and Malibu. It’s clear they are all related, with a curvy body and tapered front end. This is one attractive SUV.

At first look, from the rear, one might think RAV4, but then, don’t most compact SUV’s today resemble one another. Perhaps it is a compliment. The 2018 Equinox has great lines, sultry and sexy, with just the right curves. The Chevrolet Equinox will surprise though, and in fact, took second place (out of seven models), in 2015’s $28,000 Compact SUV Challenge; and even with its previous model design.

While the 2018 version is shorter (by four inches), it has larger interior space. And other improvements include the new touch-screen that tilts upward and is larger. Is it classier? Well, maybe. But for the most part, Chevy seems to want to reuse the same type of button. If you look hard enough, you’ll find areas where money has been saved. But most of the interior is a vast improvement over the previous models.

For instance, the ‘hard’ plastic is history. The dash and doors seem much improved and upgraded.
The loaded Premier trim level includes all the bells and whistles of modern technology, for those who must have it, and include wireless smartphone charging pad, two USB ports in the dashboard, and two under the center armrest, with an additional two, for charging only, in the backseat. There is also a 12-volt and 120-volt household outlets.

The vehicles we drove for the 2-day introduction were all the Premier 1.5T edition, both front-wheel-drive and all-wheel-drive. Due to severe, unexpected weather before we arrived in Greenville, SC, half the fleet was ruined by hail storms. We gathered in Greenville, S.C. and headed over the Blue Ridge Parkway and through local towns toward Asheville, N.C. Our weather was a breezy 60-degrees, partly sunny and spring-like.

Chevrolet arranged with to offer four different routes, all with beautiful views and lots to see, culturally, historically and geographically. Various road surfaces were available to drive and picturesque scenery was all around. It’s hard to take a bad picture in the Carolinas and we obliged with great backdrops for the new Equinox.

Most impressive are the interior upgrades in the 2018 Equinox, including some handsome color combos for the seats and dash, fold-flat loading rear seats that tilt forward when seatbacks are lowered, an optional alert seat and rear seat reminder, in addition to heated and available ventilated front and rear seating. The seats were comfortable and fit all sizes, making this a comfortable road vehicle. We especially liked the rear vents that are tied to the climate control system, with driver open and shut capability.

The first time we felt that vibration in the driver’s seat, it jarred us, but it does get one’s attention when crossing over into another lane. When there are other sounds in the cabin-radio, children-one feels the alert and doesn’t miss the sound.

Our test vehicles, in the Premier trim level were well-equipped; the all-wheel-drive models topped out at $39,045 and the front-wheel-drive at $34,940. Similarly well-equipped, the option costs were high: $3,715 on the all-wheel-drive Premier version and $5,255 on the front-wheel-drive Premier 1.5-liter.

The Premier 1.5-l AWD model’s options included the Chevrolet MyLink Nav system, Bose Premium 7-speaker system, HD radio, power sunroof, and 19-inch wheels ($3,320), and a special Cajun Red Tintcoat color ($395). The 1.5-l FWD Premier version came equipped with the Sun, Sound, Navigation Package (as above, $3,320), a Confidence and Convenience II Package with adjustable passenger front seat, and 8-way power w/2 way power lumbar, ventilated driver seat, ventilated passenger seat, heated rear outboard positions, seat, heated steering wheel, low speed forward auto braking, forward collision alert, lane keep assist with lane departure warning, following distance indicator, haptic seat, surround vision, and headlamps, intellibeam auto high beam control, $1,895, and front license plate bracket, $40.

Standard equipment on the Premier trim level included ABS, Stabilitrak-stability control system with traction control, tire pressure monitor, dual-stage frontal, driver and right front passenger with passenger sensing system, thorax side-impact seat mounted, driver and right front passenger, head curtain and side front and rear outboard airbags, keyless start/open, teen driver, rear park assist, rear cross traffic alert and side blind zone alert.

Also standard are lane keep assist with lane departure warning, low speed forward auto braking, surround vision and forward collision alert. A lot of new technology and safety features not offered as standard equipment in years past.

Additional highlights in the all-newly redesigned 2018 Chevrolet Equinox include such things as standard projector-beam headlamps and LED daytime running lamps, and LED taillamps on higher level models; new available durable denim-style seat fabric, Surround Vision, switchable all-wheel-drive system that disconnects from rear axle when needed, first all-turbocharged multi-engine propulsion system lineup, segment exclusive turbo-diesel, new nine-speed automatic transmission, and new ‘kneeling’ rear seat features that tilt the bottom cushions to enable a flat load floor.

Connectivity technologies are also an upgrade and include a 7-and 8-inch diagonal MyLink infotainment system that support Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, as well as OnStar 4G LTE Wi-Fi. In an attempt to use our OnStar device, we weren’t always successful in engaging it. This has been a problem in the past for this writer. Though it may seem obsolete due to phones, OnStar can still provide services not available through other devices, such as collision alert.

The all-new 2018 Chevrolet Equinox should do well, even with all its competition.


Engine: 1.5-liter Turbocharged i-4 DOHC VVT Direct Injection, 170 hp., 203 lb.-ft. torque
Transmission: Hydra-Matic 6T40 six-speed automatic
Wheelbase: 107.3 in.
Width: 72.6 in.
Length: 183.1 in.
Height: 65.4 in.
Curb weight: 3,375 lbs., 1.5-liter FWD; 3,540 lbs., 1.5-liter AWD
Fuel Tank Capacity: 14.9 gal., (FWD); 15.6 gal. (AWD)
EPA Fuel economy: 26/32 mpg., FWD; 24/30 mpg., AWD
Wheels: 17, 18 and 19-inch aluminum
Warranty: 3 yrs/36,000-miles bumper-to-bumper; 5 yrs/60,000-miles powertrain limited; roadside assistance, courtesy transportation. Chevrolet Complete Care: two maintenance visits, oil, filter change, 4-wheel rotation, 27-point inspection.
Built: Ingersoll, Ontario and other North American facilities
EPA Vehicle Class: Small SUV

The Equinox interior with optional Panoramic roof

Best of 2017 Chicago Auto Show Results-Consumer Picks

CHICAGO- For the twelfth consecutive year at Chicago’s Auto Show, consumers voted for their favorite vehicles in five categories in Show’s “Best of Show” balloting. Chicago’s show is the only major auto show that polls attendees favorite vehicles and exhibits.

Winners in five categories of the voting over the 10-day public run of the Chicago Auto Show include the following:

• Best All-New Production Vehicle: 2018 Ford Mustang
• Best Concept Vehicle: LEGO Batmobile from Chevrolet
• Best Green Vehicle: 2018 BMW 530e
• Best Exhibit: Chevrolet
• Vehicle I’d most like to have in my driveway: 2018 Chevrolet Corvette

Consumers are “are one enormous focus group that we can leverage to analyze data and assess trends,” said Chicago Auto Show General Manager Dave Sloan. “Best of Show voting has become a benchmark measure of what the public deems the most exciting, impressive and innovative on the show floor.”

Each of the first four winners beat out seven other vehicles, and the final eight were selected by a jury of automotive experts. In the fifth category, “Vehicle I’d most like to have in my driveway.”
Entries included any of the hundreds of vehicles on the show floor.

2017 Ford GT

According to the results, voters considered the 2018 Ford Mustang the “Best All-New Production Vehicle.” Coming in a close second to the Mustang was the Porsche Panamera. Also taking away a considerable amount of votes, coming in third place, was the Chicago Auto Show world introduction Ford Expedition.

Another favorite of voters included the LEGO Batmobile from Chevrolet as Best Concept. Concept cars were scarce at this year’s show, but many found the 350,000 brick Batmobile fun. Second choice in Best Concept voting was the Mazda MX-5 Speedster.

Best Green Vehicle went to the all-new 2018 BMW 530e, a unique hybrid-electric sedan with a battery range of roughly 20 miles and more than 250 horsepower. Runner-up went to the Cadillac CT6 Plug-In Hybrid, close behind.

Chevrolet took top honors as Best Exhibit, for the second time in a row. Their display consisted of four 20 feet high, transparent screens, LED lighting and music surrounding a 73 foot long centerpiece screen. Four turntables around the exhibit highlighted Chicago world introduction Redline vehicles.

The second most popular exhibit was the Jeep display, and third, Ford.

The tightest rate, though, is always which vehicle gets chosen as the “Vehicle I’d most like to have in my driveway.” As always, Chevrolet Corvette and Ford GT remained tied, up to the last day. On the final day, the Corvette won!!!! Fans were ecstatic!

Our local media group, the Midwest Automotive Media Association also votes for their favorites, and Best of Show. The winner will be presented at this year’s Spring rally at Road America in Elkhart Lake, WI.