Sep 282017

In the words of The Big Bang Theory’s Amy Farrah Fowler, “I’m a girl.” I’ve also been writing about cars for the last eighteen years and as such, I’ve tested several. This year I’ve decided to write my first Top Picks story for Latino Traffic Report on vehicles for Latinas, based on cars I’ve driven and tested. They will appeal to women at different stages of life, with different needs, priorities, goals, and income. Some, however, are just damn cute!

Cars for Girls

Younger women may have greater financial constraints when car shopping, but that doesn’t mean the choices need be lackluster. These shoppers can sacrifice utility for fun, if need be, which brings me to my first selection.

Fiat 500c Lounge Cabriolet

For 2017, all Fiat 500 models can be ordered as a cabrio for an extra $1,495, and what could be more fun than a convertible? The folding roof opens with the push of a button as much or as little as you like although less than fully opened will produce tons of wind noise.

The diminutive little convertible also offers respectable fuel economy, with an EPA estimated 27 miles per gallon (mpg) in the city and 33 mpg on the highway. I averaged 24.9 mpg on the test drive. Don’t expect a lot of oomph, however, from the 500c’s 1.4-liter inline four-cylinder engine with 101 horses, even when you select the Sport mode

The test model came in Celeste Blu on the outside, one of fifteen special shades, with similar toned accents on the inside, and for $250 more, Ivory leather-trimmed bucket seats. The combination gave it an upscale feel.

It’s two-tone interior also included some fancy features like a 5.0-inch Uconnect touchscreen, a seven-inch thin-film transistor cluster display, a USB port in the glove box, and a leather-wrapped steering wheel. It included a parking assist system but no back-up camera, nor is one available, or push button start.

Optional equipment added as part of the Customer Preferred Package, included GPS Navigation ($495). One option on the test model that I wouldn’t go for was the six-speed automatic transmission ($695). The five-speed manual would have certainly ramped-up this car’s performance and fun factor.

Granted, its cuteness may be its best selling point but it made me smile each time I saw it and for a prospective owner, that effect can be priceless.

Hecho en Toluca, México, pricing for the 2017 500c starts at $14,995. The as-tested price came to $23,420.

Kia Soul! Turbo

While the cuteness factor still applies to the Kia Soul, it gets more oomph for 2017 from an all-new 1.6-liter turbo engine with 201 horsepower. The test model, the Soul Exclaim (!), arrived in a Wild Orange shade that blended well in the Burnt Orange home of the Texas Longhorns.

Matched to a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission (an exclusive feature on the Exclaim trim), the Turbo did exhibit extra pep, but not without a little turbo lag. It has a combined EPA estimated fuel economy of 28 mpg. I averaged 33.3 mpg during the weeklong test drive. There is a six-speed manual version but only on the base model.

Well suited for city driving, the Soul offers extra versatility with its folding seats that produce 61.3 cu. ft. of cargo space with the rear seat folded, as well as an expansive glove box. To enhance the driving experience, it comes with a choice of two driving modes, Normal, and Sport.

The navigation system was relegated to Apple Car Play, which worked well but does eat up data. Creature comforts included AM/FM/MP3 with a seven-inch touchscreen, push button start, Bluetooth wireless technology, leather seats with cloth inserts, a leather wrapped steering wheel, and the UVO infotainment system.

While a blind spot monitor and rear cross traffic alert systems were not included on the test model, they are available on the Exclaim and Plus trim levels. Standard safety features on all models include electronic stability control and Hill Start Assist.

Pricing for the 2017 Soul starts at $16,995. The as-tested pricing came to $23,620.


VW Golf SportWagen TSI S

I love a manual transmission, which is why I had to include this model, but it had me stymied over listing it under Cars for Girls or Cars for Moms on the Go but since most moms have their hands full, I decided that the enterprising millennial interested in learning a new skill might find this wagon appealing.

I tested the 2017 VW Golf SportWagen TSI S with a five-speed manual transmission matched to a peppy 1.8-liter four-cylinder turbocharged engine with 170 horsepower and 199 lb.–ft. of torque. The manual transmission added tons of fun plus it helped with fuel efficiency. The EPA estimated city/highway fuel economy is 25/35 mpg, the best of all three trim levels. I achieved an average of 32.8 mpg at the end of a week.

The SportWagen combines fun and utility with the extra cargo-carrying ability of a wagon. The rear seats fold flat easily to offer 66.5 cu. ft. of volume.

As expected with the base model, the interior was a little plain, but it did include a few conveniences like cruse control, App Connect for smartphone integration (which I used for navigation), a leather-trimmed steering wheel, brake lever, and shift knob, an AM/FM/HD/CD stereo with a 6.5-inch touchscreen, a CD player, and illuminated vanity mirrors.

It also came with a few safety features like a rearview camera, Automatic Post-Collision Braking and Intelligent Crash Response systems.

Not offered on base model, forward collision warning,  a blind spot monitor with rear traffic alert, and adaptive cruise control, are available on the SE trim and standard on the top-of-the-line SEL trim level.

Pricing for the 2017 Golf SportWagen starts at $22,400, which was also the as-tested pricing. A six-speed automatic transmission is available for an additional $1,100.


Cars (and a Pickup) for Moms on the Go

Honda Ridgeline AWD RTL-E

Named the 2017 North American Truck of the Year by a jury of automotive journalists, the 2017 Honda Ridgeline, with its 64-inch bed, maximum payload of 1,584 lbs. and available in-bed trunk that can double as an 82 qt. cooler, offers Latinas a vehicle with greater capability than a sedan or wagon.

Redesigned for 2017, Honda gave the Ridgeline a truck profile, replacing the previous side panel with one that has an integrated truss, while retaining its unibody construction and smooth ride. Additionally, every Ridgeline has four doors and seating for five.

Powered by a more powerful and efficient direct-injected 3.5-liter V6 engine matched to a six-speed automatic transmission, the Ridgeline two-wheel drive (2WD) has an EPA estimated fuel economy of 19 mpg in the city and 26 mpg on the highway. The all-wheel-drive (AWD) model, like the one I drove, loses one city/highway mpg. I averaged 23.9 mpg after a week.

The test model included Ridgeline’s Intelligent Traction Management System that enhances off-road capability with drive modes for different conditions—Normal, Snow, Mud and Sand on the AWD. The 2WD includes Normal and Snow. Towing on the AWD maxes out at 5,000 lbs.

While the multi-angle rearview camera and push button start are standard on all models, a blind spot monitor and rear cross traffic alert only come with the top trim levels.

The test model also included available technology like an eight-inch Display Audio touchscreen with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay compatibility, a new generation of the Honda Satellite-Linked Navigation System, Smart Entry, a power sliding rear window, and Remote Engine Start. Creature comforts included heated seats, adaptive cruise control, and a moonroof.

All these fun features, however, ain’t cheap. Starting price on the 2017 Ridgeline is $30,415. The as-tested pricing came to $42,270.


Toyota Highlander SE

Crossover utility vehicles have become the new family car and one of the leaders in the segment is the Toyota Highlander. It doesn’t pretend to have an SUV’s off-road bravado but it does offer families the versatility and convenience they’re after.

Powered by a 3.5-liter V6 engine matched to an eight-speed automatic transmission, the Highlander has a city/highway EPA estimated fuel economy of 21/27 mpg. I averaged 20.4 mpg on the test drive. A 2.7-liter four-cylinder is the base engine.

Offered in five trim levels, the SE FWD I drove is the second from the top-of-the-line model. Standard features included leather seating and heated front seats, a backup camera with an eight-inch display, five USB ports, integrated side window shades, Toyota Safety Sense with a pre-collision system with pedestrian detection and Dynamic Radar Cruise Control, and Entune infotainment. The intuitive system also made it easy for me to expand preset channels for a total of 36.

Safety features carry particular clout on a family vehicle. The Highlander includes its signature Star Safety System with traction control and anti-lock braking, plus a backup camera and Hill Start Assist Control. The test model also included a blind spot monitor with Rear Cross-Traffic Alert and rear parking sonar that are not offered on lower level trims.

The versatile SUV can seat up to eight or seven and the rear seats are split to fold flat for an expanded cargo carrying space of 83.7 cu. ft.

Optional equipment included a rear seat Blue Ray DVD entertainment system with a nine-inch display ($1,810).

Pricing for the 2017 Highlander starts at $31,390. The as-tested pricing came to $42,440.

Cars for Posh Latinas

BMW i3

Brand conscious Latinas will gravitate to BMW, it’s just a natural instinct, but for those who would also like to save the planet, the i3 serves a dual purpose.

Powered by a synchronous electric motor with 170 horsepower and 184 lbs.–ft. of torque, available as soon as the electric motor begins to turn, and a lithium high-voltage battery, it produces an electric range of approximately 114 miles when fully charged. The test model also included the Range Extender, a two-cylinder gasoline engine that helps alleviate range anxiety. It switches on once the battery is depleted to 6.5 percent state of charge and provides an additional range thanks to a larger fuel tank (2.4 gallons).

While it arrived with a full gas tank, the i3 test model had no charge. It does have quick charge capability but it took three days to charge fully in my garage using the standard occasional use cable for connecting to a domestic power socket. According the i3’s onboard system, I had an estimated electric range of 130 miles, but that number dropped sharply within minutes of getting on the road. Still, I managed to power the car exclusively on electricity for the remaining four days of the test drive and avoiding gasoline was a welcome experience.

The inside of the i3 also deserves a mention. It reminded me of a first class club at the airport, very airy, clean and green with the available unbleached light eucalyptus wood trim. Other creature comforts included automatic climate control, and Dynamic Cruise Control. The i3 did lack a blind spot monitor but it did have a rear parking camera and sensors.

Pricing for the 2017 BMW i3 starts at $45,445, excluding tax credits. The as-tested price came to $54,295.


Infiniti Q70

Infiniti’s striking curviness sets its lineup apart in the luxury performance segment. The 2017 Q70, its flagship sedan, embodies the brand’s sensuality.

Available in a long-wheelbase version, for Latinas who really need legroom, as well as AWD, the test model I drove was the rear-wheel drive Q70 5.6 with the standard wheelbase and the Sport Package.

Powered by two available engines, the test model came fully loaded with 420 horsepower and 417 lbs.–ft. of torque via its 5.6-liter V8 engine. Adding even more sportiness was the seven-speed transmission with a manual shift mode and Infiniti Drive Mode Selector that added four more modes—Standard, Sport, Eco, and Snow. With this much power, fuel economy was the trade off but I managed an average of 19 mpg.

Inside, I found more sexy features, starting with the curves on the binnacle brow (that overhang that shades the instrument cluster from the sun’s glare), or in this case, binnacle bra. Expected creature comforts at this price point, like leather seating throughout and heated and cooled seats in the front, dual-zone climate control, a heated, power tilt and telescopic steering wheel, navigation with traffic and weather information, an eight-inch infotainment screen, an around-view camera, and a Bose stereo, were included.

While the test model came equipped with the Premium Package, it did add two more, rather pricey packages, to bring features like a blind spot monitor, intelligent cruise control, forward emergency braking to avoid a collision per the Technology Package, ($3,300). The Sport Package ($4,900) added sport suspension, magnesium paddle shifters, Bose Studio Surround 16-speaker premium audio system, among other features.

Despite the need for additional pricey packages, the Q70 is still a beautiful sedan for the posh Latina who can afford it.

Pricing for the 2017 Q70 starts at $51,295. The as-tested pricing came to $72,720.

It’s been well documented that women make 85 percent of household buying decisions. Of all the cars to choose from, this list is but a sampling for Latinas to consider and savor.

Mar 142017

Chevy Cruze

Available at all ends of the price spectrum, the ubiquitous sedan comes in an assortment of incarnations, from a comfortable, affordable commuter to a sumptuous performance machine. Here’s an overview of the sedans tested by Latino Traffic Report (LTR) and what makes them stand out in a crowded field.

Chevy Cruze

Redesigned in 2016, the Chevy Cruze compact sedan continues to compete in one of the toughest automotive segments by ramping up both its style and amenities.

For starters, the new version is larger and lighter, increasing its EPA estimated fuel economy to 30 miles per gallon (mpg) in the city and 40 mpg on the highway.

The new 1.4-liter inline four-cylinder turbo engine with 153 horses is matched to a six-speed manual or available six-speed automatic transmission (North America). I drove the automatic and earned an average 35 mpg. A diesel engine becomes available in the spring of 2017.

As mentioned, it comes with a healthy list of standard features including keyless entry, XM Satellite radio (three months), OnStar (six months), OnStar Basic Plan (five years), and a rearview camera. New available features include wireless phone charging, heated rear seats and heated, leather-wrapped steering wheel.

Happily, I drove the Premier or top-of-the-line model that included the available OnStar 4G LTE with Wi-Fi hotspot and keyless start plus all the above via the Enhanced Convenience Package ($865), as well as the Driver Convenience Package ($790) that added essentials like rear park assist, forward collision, rear cross traffic, and lane change alert with a blind zone warning. Oddly, neither a sunroof nor leather seats are available.

Still, the fit and finish inside this model was quite impressive, definitely a step up from the outgoing model.

The as-tested pricing for the Cruze Premier came to $26,045.


Toyota Camry

The Camry is a top seller among Latinos as well as the nation. It’s been a leader in the midsize segment for the last 14 years. So if it ain’t broke, perhaps the task for Toyota is just to make more versions? The LTR test drive featured the Camry SE Special Edition. While many manufacturers have joined the darkened trend for special editions, Toyota chose to go blue.

Powered by a 2.5-liter four-cylinder matched to six-speed automatic transmission, it should achieve an impressive EPA estimated city/highway fuel economy of 25/35 mpg. I averaged 26.3 mpg. A 3.5-liter V6 is available on other Camrys.

Toyota applied the Special Edition to the SE trim as it’s already distinguished by a sporty design, from the grille to the suspension. On the inside, the sport fabric Softex seats featured blue accent stitching and blue seat inserts. Blue accents were also included in the gauge cluster, as well as a power moonroof.

Specific technology on this trim included a Smart Key System and Qi wireless charging for compatible smart phones, enabling navigation from a smart phone.

Exclusive design features include a smoked treatment on the taillights and 18-inch alloy wheels in a machined finish and gloss black-painted accents. For a mere $525, the Camry also included a ramped up Entune premium audio with navigation, a seven-inch high-resolution touch screen with split-screen display, and a CD player.

While a redesigned 2018 version of the Camry is currently touring auto shows, there’s still time to grab the current generation.

The as-tested Camry Special Edition pricing came to $27,075.



Kia Optima

Kia ramped up the 2016 version of the Optima with a redesign, giving its top-selling nameplate a more refined exterior look, new technology, and creature comforts offered at the same starting price as the outgoing model. The 2017 model receives a few tweaks and upgraded trims.

Optima rear view camera with multiple angles.

There are three available four-cylinder engines to power the Optima, distributed among five trim levels. The test model, Optima SX Turbo, came equipped with 2.0-liter turbo-powered four-cylinder engine matched to a six-speed automatic transmission. A seven-speed dual clutch transmission is also available.

All three engines include the Active Eco System and Driver Mode Select with an Eco option to conserve gas. The EPA estimated fuel economy for the test model is 22 mpg in the city and 32 mpg on the highway. I averaged 31 mpg.

As a midsize sedan, Kia competes in a tough segment. It has an edge, however, with an exceptional bumper-to-bumper warranty (five years or 60,000 miles) and with a healthy list of standard features. Situated near the top of the line, second to the Optima SXL, the test model included extra technology and creature comforts. Standard features on the test model included dual-zone air conditioning, cruise control, AM/FM/MP3 audio unit with satellite radio, an eight-inch LCD rear-camera display, and Bluetooth.

Additionally, the test model added the SXT Premium Technology Package ($4,800) brought a slew of features like a panoramic sunroof, Harman Kardon Surround Sound system, heated and cooled front seats, Blind spot Detection and Rear Cross Traffic Alert.

The as-tested price for the Optima, built in West Point, GA, was $35,315.

Acura ILX

Considered a gateway to the Acura brand, the ILX is the most affordable Acura model available. The test model, ILX Tech Plus A-SPEC, however, included multiple packages that ramped up its appeal and price.

The sporty ILX gets its oomph from a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine with 201 horsepower and 180 lb.–ft. of torque. Matched to an eight-speed dual-clutch transmission, the powertrain should achieve an EPA city/highway estimated fuel economy of 25/36 mpg. I averaged 29.9 mpg.

Expect to feel the road with the ILX which lacks adjustable drive mode select technology to adjust ride and handling.

With refreshed looks on the outside for 2016, including restyled front and rear fasciae, front grille, and rear LED combination lights, the A-SPEC package also added sporty side sill garnishes, a trunk spoiler, front fog lights, new 18-inch, ten-spoke machined alloy wheels, sport pedals, and sport seats with suede inserts.

As the name implied, the ILX Tech Plus A-SPEC was packed with packages that brought a long list of features starting with the Premium Package that included XM Satellite radio, a blind spot monitor and rear cross traffic monitor among other features. The Tech Package added navigation, multi-view rear camera, and the Acura ELS AM/FM/CD sound system. Finally, the Acura Watch Plus Package completed the picture with adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning, and braking among other features.

As tested pricing for the top-of-the-line ILX Tech Plus A-SPEC came to $35,810.


Volkswagen Passat

Passat 1.8T SE

With a base price of $23,260, the Passat is more affordable than expected for a European mid-size sedan, one that happens to be built at VW’s Chattanooga, TN plant. LTR tested two Passat trim levels, the sporty 1.8T SE with Technology and the SEL Premium.

Updated inside and out for 2016, the Passat remains understated but sophisticated in appearance.

Powered by the four-cylinder 1.8-liter turbocharged engine matched to a six-speed automatic transmission should help the Passat SE achieve an impressive EPA city/highway estimated fuel economy of 25/38 mpg. I averaged 27.4 mpg.

Passat SEL Premium

The more affordable trim level of the two I drove included important technology like the intelligent crash response system, but also comfort features like heated front seats and MIB II, the new generation of Volkswagen’s infotainment system, adaptive cruise control and a rearview camera for added convenience.

As the name implies the SEL Premium is the higher-end version of the Passat and replete with more bells and whistles that do come at a high price, nearly $10,000 more.

Powered by a 3.6-liter V6 and a six-speed transmission, it has an EPA city/highway estimated fuel economy of 20/28 mpg. I averaged 24.3 mpg.

It had heated front and rear leather seats, a Fender premium audio system, a power sunroof, parking sensor, and a blind spot monitor.

Both models had a massive truck with 15.9 cubic feet of storage and 60/40-split rear seat that easily deploys to expand cargo room inside.

As-tested pricing for the SE and SEL came to $28,195 and $37,655 respectively.


Audi A3

Audi A3 Sedan

Believe it or not, there’s actually an entry-level Audi and it’s called the A3. On this test for LTR, there were two models for review, the Sedan and the Cabriolet (convertible).

The Sedan offers three engine options and the Cabriolet two. Both test models shared the same one, a 2.0-liter inline four-cylinder engine that produced 220 horsepower and 258 lb.–ft. of torque matched to a six-speed S tronic transmission. Both also came with quattro all-wheel drive, but the sedan should manage to achieve one more mile per gallon in the city and highway, with an EPA estimated fuel economy of 24/33 mpg. I averaged 23.7 mpg with the Sedan and 21.4 mpg with the Cabriolet.

What the Cabriolet did excel at was fun, starting with the canvas top that deployed with the push of a button at speeds of up to 31 mph and, ideally, in 18 seconds—it took 24 seconds when I tried.

Audi A3 Cabriolet

Standard safety technology on all A3s includes, a rear view camera, and parking system. To get advanced systems like Audi Side Assist (blind spot warning) requires purchasing the Technology Package ($2,700), which also adds a CD/DVD player, Audi MMI touch, and navigation, among other features.

The A3 may be considered “entry level” but it’s still an Audi, and as such, standard creature comforts include dual-zone climate control, leather seating, and SiriusXM Satellite radio. The sedan also came with a panoramic sunroof.

Both added extra packages to get features like heated front seats, Audi advanced Key, and Audi music interface with iPod cable.

As tested pricing for the Sedan came to $41,325 and $46,500 for the Cabriolet.


Lexus GS F

Lexus’s new design DNA, including the signature spindle grille, signaled a new focus on sportiness. The manufacturer even created a special performance lineup under the F brand. New for 2016, the GS F performance sedan leaves little doubt that it’s a Lexus, particularly with its premium appointments on the inside, but its sportiness is certainly sets it apart.

Exterior design features get bolder on F models, including the fascia with race-inspired functional air inlets, triple-beam headlamps, low-slung wide stance, large brake calipers, carbon-fiber rear spoiler, and quad exhaust rear diffuser.

To show it means business, Lexus powers the GS F with a 5.0-liter V8 with 467 horses and 389 lb.–ft. of torque. It’s matched to an eight-speed Sport Direct Shift Automatic Transmission with steering wheel mounted paddle shifters.

Fuel economy will not be its strongest feature but it is respectable. The EPA estimated city/highway fuel economy is 16/24 mpg. I averaged 17.7 mpg.

For better performance and handling, the GS F sits on a double-wishbone in the front and rear multi-link suspension. Lexus adds Brembo disc brakes and Active Sound Control, to increase throatiness and rumble to the engine and exhaust notes. Drive Mode Select control further enhances performance by giving the driver the following options—NORMAL, ECO, SPORT S, SPORT S+—while Torque Vectoring Differential helps the GS F hug the road.

All new for 2016, improvements in 2017, like a new Linear Adaptive Variable Suspension, accentuate the positive, with more power and better responsiveness.

All this performance and power doesn’t come cheap. The as-tested pricing for the GS F was $87,175.


Oct 242016
2016 Lexus RX 350 F Sport

2016 Lexus RX 350 F Sport

Sport and Crossover Utility Vehicles (SUVs and CUVs) claimed family vehicle status long ago, and sales reflect that. According to statistics published by The Wall Street Journal, while car sales dropped significantly in September, year-to-date (YTD), sales of CUVs and SUVs rose more than seven percent totaling nearly five million units. Compact or full size, these vehicles help families transport themselves and their cargo with varying ease. I test-drove several models for Latino Traffic Report this year. Here are snapshot reviews of seven of them.


Audi Q3 2.0T quattro Tiptronic

2015-10-20-audiq3Compact CUVs comprise one of the fastest growing segments. The smaller size may mean a sacrifice in cargo and people carrying but it’s replaced with better fuel economy and maneuverability in an urban landscape. Audi’s entry in this segment adds premium appeal, from seating to technology.

The 2.0-liter turbocharged inline four-cylinder engine and six-speed Tiptronic transmission should achieve 2015-10-20-audi-q3-dashan EPA estimated fuel economy of 20 miles per gallon (mpg) in the city and 28 mpg on the highway. I averaged 21.1 mpg.

The Audi Quattro signature all-wheel-drive (AWD) system was included on the test model, providing better grip on the road and improved handling.

All Q3s include standard heated leather front seating—on the test model, it was a delicious Chestnut Brown shade—a panoramic sunroof, dual-zone climate control, parking sensors, and a rearview camera. The test model added the Prestige package ($4,900) with navigation, Audi connect in-vehicle Wi-Fi, a power tailgate, and ventilated front seats.

2015-10-20-audi-q3The five-seater comes with a 60/40-split second row that folds flat automatically with the push of a button, no need to negotiate clunky levers. With the seats folded, cargo volume reaches 48.2 cubic feet (cu.ft.). Another striking touch was the interior lighting strips that changed color, from red to white to blue.

The digital instrument cluster can be configured to display different information and a seven-inch touch screen pops up from the center of the dashboard to reveal several functions, from audio to navigation. Audi’s combination of a dial and push buttons on the center stack for programming entertainment functions is a little labor intensive.

Pricing for the 2016 Q3 starts at $32,750. The as-tested pricing came to $41,975.

Hyundai Santa Fe Limited AWD

2016-03-29-santafefrontCrossovers are by far the most popular segment, selling more than three million YTD. Like Baby Bear’s porridge, the segment is just right for families.

The Hyundai Santa Fe offers various configurations so that it can meet its owner’s particular needs. It can be configured to seat five, seven, or six passengers like the test model that had the captains chairs rather than a second row bench. It also included Hyundai’s active on-demand AWD system.

Powered by a 3.3-liter V6 engine and a six-speed automatic Shiftronic transmission, it had an EPA city/highway estimated fuel economy of 17/22 mpg. It also had an Eco button to enhance fuel economy further. I took full advantage of it and averaged 19.2 mpg during the week-long test drive.

2016-03-29-santafe-rearAdvanced safety features, like a blind spot monitor, tend to be included in a package or more expensive trims and the Santa Fe is no exception. It was standard on the up-level Limited that I drove. All Santa Fes include remote keyless entry, a rearview camera, a roof rack with side rails, the Driver Selectable Steering Mode, and SiriusXM activation with a three-month trial subscription.

The test model added the Ultimate Package ($4,650) with a panoramic sunroof, ventilated/cooled front seats and heated rear seats, a rear parking sensor, and a heated steering wheel.

Pricing for the 2016 Santa Fe starts at $31,295. The as-tested pricing came to $42,385.


Highlander Limited Platinum AWD

2016-03-14-h-lander-fr-licIf the Highlander had sliding doors, it could be a minivan. But it’s not. It’s a crossover SUV and that only increases its appeal. Regarding capability, it doesn’t pretend to have an SUV’s off-road bravado but it does offer families the versatility and convenience they’re after.

Powered by a 3.5-liter V6 engine matched to a six-speed automatic transmission, the Highlander has a city/highway EPA estimated fuel economy of 18/24 mpg. I averaged 19 mpg on the test drive. A 2.7-liter four-cylinder is the base engine.2016-03-10-highl-camera

Offered in five trim levels, the Limited Platinum is the top-of-the-line model and as such, it includes a few striking features, like a panoramic sunroof with a power sunshade, heated and cooled leather front seats, heated second-row seats, the Driver Technology Package that includes a pre-collision system with Dynamic Radar Cruise Control, and Entune cover art displays on the eight-inch entertainment touchscreen.2016-03-14-high-rear

Safety features carry particular clout on a family vehicle. The Highlander includes its signature Star Safety System with traction control, anti-lock braking, etc, plus a backup camera and Hill-start Assist Control. The Platinum test model also included a blind spot monitor with Rear Cross-Traffic Alert and rear parking sonar. It’s unfortunate that these features remain so exclusive.

The versatile SUV can seat up to eight or seven like the test vehicle, and the rear seats are split to fold flat for expanded cargo carrying space of 83.7 cu.ft.

Pricing for the 2016 Highlander starts at $31,390. The as-tested pricing came to $45,390.

Lexus RX 350 F Sport

2016-03-08-lex-rxsideWhen Lexus first introduced its RX premium CUV, some say the luxury CUV segment was born. Four generations later, Lexus redesigned the RX, now the RX 350, for 2016, in a big way. The new exterior adds style to what had been a fairly vanilla design.

Like its siblings, it bears the spindle grille, but the floating roof design is unique. On the inside, the attention to detail, enhanced further with the F Sport exclusive Rioja Red leather seats on the test model, an available 12.3”-display screen, a mouse control for selecting onboard functions like audio, navigation and others, set it apart.2016-03-08-lexusrxfrseats

It’s a five-seater but the seats are split 40/20/40 to fold flat for extra cargo room of 56.3 cu.ft.

Powered by a 3.5-liter V6 matched to an eight-speed automatic transmission, the test model had an EPA estimated city/highway fuel economy of 19/26 mpg. I averaged 21.8 mpg on the test drive. Drive select modes also improve performance, allowing drivers to select among Sport, Eco, and Normal settings. The F Sport added the Sport+ mode and Adaptive Variable Suspension for better handling.

2016-03-08-lex-rxrear-licStandard safety features include a Smart Access Remote key, and Lexus Enform Safety Connect, the onboard emergency alert system. As we’ve seen, more advanced safety features tend to be grouped as a package but for a mere $500 extra, a blind spot monitor was included on the test model as a stand-alone option. Nice but at this price point, it should be standard.

Pricing for the 2016 RX 350 starts at $43,995. Equipped with AWD, the as-tested pricing came to $56,775.



Toyota 4Runner TRD Pro

2016-04-05-4runner-licMidsize SUVs are far and away the most popular SUV segment, more than 700,000 had sold in September YTD according to The Wall Street Journal. The 4Runner emphasizes the sporting side of an SUV and the TRD Pro is the sportiest model of all. It easily takes to off-road challenges as well as cruising on city streets.

The test model came in a unique TRD shade for 2016, Quicksand, that many seemed to find attractive, based on the comments I received.

2016-04-05-4-runner-dash3Powered by a 4.0-liter V6 matched to a five-speed automatic transmission, the TRD has a maximum tow rating of 5,000 pounds. Happily, a tow hitch is included as a standard feature. Don’t expect fuel efficiency, however. I earned 17 mpg on the test drive.

Built for off-roading, the TRD offers plenty of ground clearance, assisted by its 17-inch wheels—it did make climbing in and out of it a bid challenging for the short statured like me. Off-roading equipment on the TRD included a part-time four-wheel–drive (4WD) system with Active Trac, a locking rear differential, Multi-Terrain Select, Crawl Control, and Hill-Start Assist. Besides the TRD badging,, the package included special shocks and stamped aluminum front skid plates.2016-04-05-4-runnerrear-lic

The 4Runner offers seating for five or seven and split second and third-row seats that fold flat for a maximum cargo capacity of 89.7 cubic feet.

Pricing for the 4Runner starts at $34,750. The as-tested price came to $42,800.


Dodge Durango R/T

2016-09-20-durango-fr2The Dodge Durango brings a sporty option to the large SUV segment and the R/T trim level takes that sportiness to the next level. Add to that its rear-wheel-drive configuration and the Radar Red Nappa leather seating on the test model that I drove, and the Durango R/T carries unique appeal.

Improved for 2016, the Durango achieves better fuel economy with engine stop-start technology on models with a 3.6-liter V6. Powered by the available 5.7-liter HEMI V8 that delivers 360 horsepower and 390 lb.-ft. of torque, the R/T zoomed through traffic and on the highway. 2016-09-20-duranago-seatsMated to an eight-speed automatic transmission it had a maximum towing capacity of 7,400 lbs. With an EPA city/highway estimated economy of 14/22 mpg for the R/T, fuel economy does suffer a bit. I averaged better than expected, however, earning 20 mpg in the city and 24.9 on the highway.

The R/T does come with a parking sensor and backup camera but more advanced safety features like a blind spot monitor and Cross Path Detection are grouped in the Customer Preferred Package ($1,995).

2016-09-20-durangorear-lic Standard creature comforts on the top-of-the-line R/T included heated and ventilated front seats, a heated steering wheel, tri-zone air conditioning, and the Beats premium audio system. Additional options on the test model included a rear DVD entertainment system ($1995), second-row captains chairs and a third row of seating ($995), and a power sunroof ($1,195).

Pricing for the Durango starts at $31,490. The as-tested pricing was $49,170.


GMC Yukon Denali XL

2016-07-19-yukonThe Denali name stands for luxury throughout the GMC lineup. The brand’s largest offering, the Yukon XL, also stands at the top of the lineup when it comes to capability, including seating, cargo room, and maximum towing.

The trade-off will be fuel economy. Powered by a choice of two V8 engines, I drove the 6.2-liter version with 420 hp and 460 lb.–ft. of torque and matched to an eight-speed transmission. Available with 4WD and two-wheel-drive configurations, I drove the former with a maximum towing capability of 8,100 pounds when properly equipped. It has an EPA estimated city/highway fuel economy of 14/20 mpg. I averaged 19.2 mpg.

2016-07-19-yukon-seats2As the top-of-the-line model, the Denali includes a healthy list of standard features, including advanced safety technology like a blind-spot monitor, rear cross traffic alert, and my favorite GM innovation, the safety alert seat. It buzzes on the right or left of the seat to warn of potential danger, from lane drifting to a potential collision. The test model added more than $9,000 in additional packages and options, including GM’s signature Head-Up display ($425).

2016-07-19-yukon-rear2-licOne of the roomiest SUVs on the market, the XL stretches the wheelbase even further. It has seating for nine and both the second and third row fold flat to create 121.1 cubic inches of cargo room.

Pricing for the Yukon starts at $49,510. The as-tested pricing came to $81,045.

Family vehicles need to be tough and versatile to make the grade. This list meets that criteria, and in some cases, surpasses them.

Mar 242016

Toyota Tundra TRD Pro

Thanks to lower gas prices, the light duty truck market has rebounded—the latest figures in the Wall Street Journal show a year-to-date increase of 9.8 percent, 4.4 percent for pickups. Last year saw many new innovations, including an all-new 5.0-liter Cummins diesel that allows the 2016 Nissan Titan XD to straddle the half-ton and heavy-duty segments in capability. Auto writers were so impressed with it that they named it the Truck of Texas for 2015.

The midsize segment also gained attention with the entry of two new models from GM and a redesigned segment leader from Toyota.

Here’s an overview of the trucks that received test drives in 2015 at Latino Traffic Report.


Toyota Tacoma TRD Offroad

2015-11-03 tacoma5Redesigned for 2016, the Tacoma holds the top-selling position in the midsize truck segment. The new version should help keep it there.

Available with two engines, a 2.7-liter four cylinder or a 3.5-liter V6, I drove the latter during the weeklong test drive. Producing 278 horsepower and 265 lbs.–ft. of torque, the V6 also uses Variable Valve Timing with Intelligent Wider Intake for better performance. It was matched to a six-speed automatic but both engines can be matched to manual transmissions.

2015-11-03 Tacoma.storageThe TRD is an off-road model but the Tacoma redesign as a whole emphasizes its improved capability. Maximum towing has increased to 6,800 lbs.

All Tacoma 4×4 models are equipped with 4WDemand part-time four-wheel drive (4WD) with an electronically controlled transfer case and Automatic Limited Slip Differential. The TRD Pro I tested included an off-road tuned suspension equipped with Bilstein shocks. For 2017, Toyota will build a TRD Pro version of the Tacoma.

On the inside, the sport grey heated cloth seats with orange accents also offered additional storage under the back bench that lifts up. The test model arrived in the exclusive Inferno exterior color.

2015-10-31 Tacoma.DashEquipped with the Premium and Technology Package ($2,330), the test model added creature comforts like dual-zone climate control, and safety features like a blind spot monitor.

The Tacoma is built at the Toyota Motor Manufacturing in San Antonio.

Pricing for the 2016 Tacoma starts at $24,200. The as-tested pricing came to $37,610.

GMC Canyon 4WD SLE Long Box

2014-11-19 CanyonWith three new entries, 2015 could be called the year of the midsize truck. The 2015 GMC Canyon is the higher end or premium version to its sibling, the Chevy Colorado.

The two available engines, a 2.5-liter inline four-cylinder and a 3.6-liter V6, also offer the segment’s best highway fuel economy of 27 miles per gallon (mpg) for the 2.5-liter two-wheel drive (2WD) and 26 mpg for 3.6-liter 2WD, when properly equipped. I averaged 20.3 mpg with the 3.6-liter 4WD.

2014-11-19 08.49.06On the inside, the Canyon has a more refined interior, distinguished by premium materials and convenience features like air conditioning, power windows and a rearview camera.

What really makes the Canyon standout, however, is OnStar with 4G LTE and the built-in Wi-Fi hotspot mobile hub, available on all but the base model.

2014-11-19 08.53.03 The beauty of pickups is their configurability and the Canyon’s no exception with three body styles—an extended cab model with a six-foot two-inch bed, a crew cab with a five-foot two-inch bed, and a crew cab with a six-foot two-inch bed. Borrowing from the Sierra, its larger sibling, the Canyon includes the segment-first CornerStep rear bumper design, plus a dampened liftgate.

It adds versatility with thirteen configurable and four stationary tie-down locations throughout the bed for use with available, removable cargo tie-down rings

2014-11-19 08.46.00The maximum payload can reach 1,620 pounds plus it has the segment’s best trailering rating of 7,000 pounds when properly equipped. For 2016, the Canyon offers a segment first 2.8-liter Duramax turbo diesel for added capability—maximum towing climbs to 7,700 lbs. properly equipped.

Pricing for the 2016 Canyon starts at $21,880. The as-tested price that included the All-Terrain Package came to $38,915.


Toyota Tundra TRD Pro

2015-08-16 TundraTRDRedesigned in 2014, the Tundra lineup added an off-road model for 2015, the TRD Pro.

The package includes a suspension upgrade that raises the front of the vehicle two inches for a level ride height. While that may help on an off-road course, it makes climbing into the truck tough, especially for the vertically challenged. A grab handle on the driver’s side would help.

2015-08-16 TundraTRD.sideLarger diameter TRD-tuned Bilstein High-Performance shocks further amplify the ride and handling.

Available in three colors, the test model also arrived in the TRD-Pro exclusive shade of Inferno (like the Tacoma TRD Offroad) that begged for a photo against the backdrop of The University of Texas at Austin. It’s brighter than burnt orange but it’ll do.

Sitting on 18-inch TRD black alloy wheels, the TRD’s other unique exterior features include a blacked out grille, bed panel stamping, matte satin black badges, and black headlight bezels.2015-08-19 tundra-dash

The TRD Pro makes its presence known with a loud 5.7-liter V8 accentuated by a dual exhaust system and a maximum towing capacity of 10,000 pounds when properly equipped. The other available V8 on the Tundra is the 4.6-liter i-Force.

The TRD-Pro includes the on-demand, electronically controlled four-wheel drive system to provide 4×2, 4×4 Hi and 4×4 Lo ranges.

2015-08-16 TundraTrDdecalDesigned in Michigan and California, the Tundra’s also built in the USA at Toyota Motor Manufacturing in San Antonio.

Pricing for the 2016 Tundra starts at $31,145. As-tested pricing for the 2015 Tundra TRD Pro, with a couple extra features like a bed mat and center console storage tray, came to $43,159.


Sierra Denali 1500 4WD

2015-04-28 gmc.sierra2For GMC, Denali stands for luxury and the Sierra Denali 1500 has the stuff and price tag to prove it.

Technology like front and rear park assist, OnStar, and 4G LTE with a built-in Wi-Fi hotspot are standard on the Sierra Denali.

2015-04-29 gmcsierradashAnother impressive standard technology, magnetic ride control, enhances ride and handling every millisecond, triggering damping changes via electronically controlled shock absorbers.

Convenience features like heated and cooled leather front seats, a heated steering wheel, Bose stereo, an eight-inch-diagonal Customizable Driver Display, and a factory-installed spray-on bed liner add to its premium status.

2015-04-28 17.59.21Design cues on the outside also distinguish the Denali. A unique chrome grille, 20-inch wheels, a polished stainless steel exhaust outlet, projector-style headlamps with LED signature daytime running lights, and body-color front and rear bumpers accentuate the exterior.

With two available V8 engines, a 5.3- and a 6.2-liter, the test model included the latter matched to the eight-speed automatic transmission, new for 2015.

2015-04-28 gmcsierrabedIt should achieve an EPA estimated combined fuel economy of 17 mpg. I managed to get 18.5 mpg. The base model Sierra comes equipped with a 4.3-liter V6 matched to a six-speed transmission.

The Denali may be luxurious but it maintains its capability with a 12,000 maximum tow rating.

Pricing for the 2016 Sierra Denali starts at $52,285. The as-tested price came to $57,820.


Chevrolet Silverado High Country 4WD

2015-03-11 chevy.hc.frontIn 2014, Chevrolet introduced a new luxury model to the Silverado lineup, the High Country.

2015-03-11 chevyhcseats1Standard features on Chevrolet’s first premium truck include halogen projector headlamps, along with chrome body side moldings, door handles and mirrors, a chrome grille and 20-inch chrome wheels.

For premium trucks, however, the inside is where you really feel it. The High County includes plush saddle brown leather seats with beige piping and heated and cooled perforated premium leather front bucket seats with High Country logos on the headrests.

Standard technology completes the effect with Chevrolet MyLink connectivity on an eight-inch touch screen, Bose premium audio, and front and rear park assist, an essential feature on a truck.

2015-03-11 09.Chevy.h.count.All High Countries come in a four-door or Crew Cab configuration and 4WD or 2WD, and there is a choice between two bed sizes, five feet eight inches or six feet six inches.

Powered by a choice of two V8s, a 5.3- and 6.2-liter, its capability includes a maximum payload of 2,060 pounds and a 12,000-lb. trailering capacity. I drove the powerful 6.2-liter V8 matched to an eight-speed transmission and averaged 17.5 mpg.

Pricing for the 2016 Silverado High Country starts at $50,935. The as-tested price that included options like a rear-seat entertainment system, sunroof, and Premium package with the Safety Alert Seat came to $59.035.


Sep 132015

2015-05-19 MB.E-400topPowerful, nimble, and fast, sports cars embody the meaning of “fun to drive.” Not limited to a certain segment, however, these models can be found throughout any lineup, making them available in a wide price range. Here’s an overview of vehicles driven by Latino Traffic Report that meet as well as defy expectations of what a sports car should or can be.


2015-05-19 MB-E400.licMercedes Benz E400 Cabriolet

A Mercedes-Benz can’t help but “look” sporty. Happily, the E400 Cabriolet brings power under its sheet metal, namely a 3.0-liter biturbo V6 matched to a seven-speed automatic transmission, to support that impression.

Oh yeah, it accelerates from zero–60 miles per hour (mph) in 6.3 seconds.

The two-door cabriolet (convertible) version of the E400 (it’s also available in a hardtop) can accommodate four, technically, with seating made of topstitched leather fitted by hand in any of 16 leathers and a choice of eight colors, like the optional Red and Black Nappa leather on the test model. The triple-layer fabric top reclined with the push of a button in about 28 seconds on the test drive.2015-05-19 MB-E400.seats

Sustainably forested, hand‑finished wood trim accents the dash, doors and console. The E400 also came with dual-zone climate control and heated front seats, among other features.

While nice to look at, sit in, and drive, the E400 places a premium on technology.

Equipment usually included at this price point, like a blind spot monitor or rearview camera, were optional. In fact, there were five option packages on this model that added $10,510 to the base price of $62,275.

The as-tested price for the 2015 E400 Cabriolet came to $76,225.

2015-03-25 lr-rangerover

Range Rover Sport HSE

Land Rover first introduced this trim level in 2005 as a sporty alternative to its iconic Range Rover. Why would someone want a sporty SUV, one might ask? The simple answer is, why not?

Redesigned in 2014, the new Sport model reflects an 800-pound-cutting process to lighten the new model for better on-road agility, performance and fuel economy, from the new suspension to the aluminum unibody architecture.

Equipped with the second generation Terrain Response System that allows the driver to choose among five settings depending on road conditions, full-time four-wheel drive, and enhanced electronic air suspension, the Range Rover Sport also retains its off-road capability.

The supercharged 3.0-liter V6 engine with 340 horsepower and 332 lb-ft of torque gives it more oomph, with a zero-to-60 mph acceleration of 6.9 seconds. A supercharged V8 is also available.2015-03-25 lr.license

The EPA estimated city/highway fuel economy is 17/22 mpg. I averaged 20.8 mpg.

This trim level adds $5,145 to the price tag as well as additional luxury features like Oxford perforated leather with heated and ventilated fronts seats, a sliding panoramic sunroof, 20-inch split spoke alloy wheels, Shadow Zebrano wood trim, and branded aluminum tread plates.

As tested pricing on the 2015 Range Rover Sport HSE came to $82,027.

2015-07-07 lex.rc350 front

Lexus RC 350 F Sport

Diving deeper into the sport sedan market, Lexus introduced the RC 350 for 2015.

The rear-wheel drive (RWD) two-door coupe bears a resemblance to the latest design DNA from Lexus, including the spindle grille, but with a more aggressive, lower stance as if ready to pounce.

As an F Sport trim level, the test-vehicle took the sporty experience even further.

Engineered as a stand-alone model, rather than as a two-door derivative of a sedan, it’s powered by a standard 306 horsepower 3.5-liter V6 paired with an eight-speed automatic with steering wheel shift paddles. It has an EPA estimated fuel economy of 19 mpg in the city and 28 mpg on the highway. I averaged 23.8 mpg.

2015-07-07 lex.rc350dashThe transmission also includes Sport, Normal, and Manual modes to improve performance, plus a Drive Mode Select dial for setting the suspension, steering wheel, powertrain, and air conditioning response to better suit a driver’s preference, including Normal, Eco, Sport S and Sport S+ on the F Sport for maximum handling performance.

Aside from performance technology, the F Sport package ($3,985) also adds a blind spot monitor, rear cross traffic alert, and ventilated front leather seats. On the test model they were a beautiful shade of burgundy.

Pricing for the 2015 RC 350 starts at $43,715. The as-tested price came to $54,220.

2014-12-31 Genesis3

Hyundai Genesis 5.0

Winning the North American Car of the Year accolade when it was introduced in 2009, the Hyundai Genesis gets redesigned for 2015 and the second generation is just as bold as the first.

With a refined version of Hyundai’s fluidic sculpture design DNA on the outside, the Genesis reaffirms its sporty intentions with a RWD configuration. For the first time, however, an all-wheel-drive version is also available.

The spacious interior affords the Genesis best-in-class front headroom and rear shoulder room.

2014-12-31 genesisdashWhat’s more impressive, however, is the suite of features included on the Genesis 5.0, from the panoramic sunroof to the smart cruise control with stop and start capability. I especially appreciated the haptic warning in the steering wheel as part of the blind spot and lane departure warning systems.

Powered by a 5.0-liter V8 with 420 horses and 383 lb–ft of torque mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission with Shiftronic simulated manual shifting and steering wheel paddle shifters, the Genesis performed like a champ. A 3.8-liter V6 is also available.

Continuous Damping Control suspension, included on the test model, allows drivers to choose between Sport and Normal modes to increase control of body motions and body roll, allowing sportier road holding.

Pricing for the 2015 Genesis starts at $38,950. The as-tested price came to $55,700.

2014-12-16 tlx2

Acura TLX 2.4L Tech

All new for 2015, the Acura TLX replaces the TL. Part of Acura’s re-envisioned performance-luxury sedan lineup, the TLX fulfills its objective via two available engines, two new transmissions, and new technology to improve ride and handling.

The test model came equipped with the 2.4-liter four-cylinder matched to an eight-speed dual clutch transmission. A 3.5-liter V6 matched to a nine-speed transmission is also available. It was also upgraded with the Technology Package that included navigation, the Acura-link Communication System, premium audio with haptic touch, perforated leather seats, a rear cross traffic monitor, forward collision warning, and a blind spot monitor among other features. Oddly, there was no parking sensor.

Precision All-Wheel Steer improved handling while the Integrated Dynamics System and paddle shifters improved performance.2014-12-16 tlx.lic

As an added bonus, the four-cylinder improves fuel economy with an EPA estimated city/highway mpg of 24/35. I averaged 26.5 mpg.

Standard features include a moonroof, dual-zone climate control, keyless access with smart entry, heated front seats, a multiview rear camera, and push button start.

Offering one of the best bangs for the buck in its segment, pricing for the 2015 Acura TLX starts at $32,340. The as-tested pricing for the Acura TLX 2.4L Tech came to $35,920.

2015-05-03 mini3

MINI Cooper S Hardtop 4 Door

The MINI Cooper has been bringing smiles to anyone who drives it since it first crossed the pond in 2002, I mean, just look a that front fascia, it’s a cutie patootie! Many models have tried to emulate it ever since.

The Cooper S adds another dimension to this diminutive hatchback, sportiness, while the all-new 4 Door adds roominess and versatility.

The specially tuned suspension and engine give the Cooper S improved performance and acceleration.

The 2.0-liter twin turbo four-cylinder that powers the Cooper S produces 189 horses and 207 lb–ft of torque. This engine plus a six-speed manual transmission made the Cooper S exceptionally fun to drive. A six-speed automatic is available.2015-05-06 minidash

The added power, however, doesn’t come at the cost of fuel economy. The EPA estimated city/highway fuel economy is 24/34 mpg. I averaged 32 mpg. You can also choose among Mid, Green, or Sport mode for a more customized performance.

All new for 2015, the 4 Door’s oversized circular center display is now devoted to the infotainment system rather than the speedometer on previous MINIs, which just makes more sense.

Equipped with multiple packages added sport striping across the top of the car, 17-inch alloy wheels, a rearview camera, and a panoramic sunroof.

Pricing for the 2015 MINI Cooper starts at $21,550. The as-tested pricing came to $34,350.


2015-05-13 08.challenger

Dodge Challenger SXT

Muscle car enthusiasts heralded the return of the Dodge Challenger in 2008. The retro styling only added to the excitement.

Redesigned for 2015, Dodge decided not to mess with a good thing, opting to simply tweak the look by splitting the tail lamps and front grille.

The Challenger derives its power from a roaring 24-valve 3.6-liter V6 engine that generates 305 horses and 268 lb–ft of torque. Matched to an eight-speed automatic transmission helps push city/highway fuel economy to an estimated 19/30 mpg. I averaged 22.1 mpg.

This muscle car also offers a choice of two HEMI V8 engines, a 5.7-liter and 6.4-liter.

2015-05-13 chall.licSelecting the Sport mode can further enhance the sport suspension and ride.

With eight available trim levels, there are sportier Challenger models available, e.g. R/T, R/T Scat Pack, but even the base model that I drove reflected its performance DNA. I would pass, however, on the dull as dishwater Granite Crystal Metallic exterior paint.

Added equipment from the Sound Group ($495) and the Super Sport Group ($1,400) included 20-inch Satin Carbon Aluminum Wheels, steering wheel paddle shifters, a body color rear spoiler, and performance brakes.

Pricing for the 2015 Challenger starts at $27,990. The as-tested price came to $29,885.





May 172015

2014-10-29 0silverado

Car tests may be grueling, but they don’t always reflect what the average driver experiences on a day-to-day basis. At Latino Traffic Report, my mission is to test cars in real world conditions.

That said, I recently stepped up to run for Austin City Council. Dashing from candidate forum to candidate forum, as well as touring my 45-square-mile district not only exposed me to parts of town I hadn’t explored, it ramped up the normal test-drive.

The 2014 campaign cycle included the very first single-member-district election in Austin. When I realized that Latinos made up the largest portion of the residents in my district (43 percent), I felt Latino voters also needed a choice on the ballot. After polling friends to find a candidate, the consensus was that I should run, so I did.

In the true spirit of single-member-districts—to cast a wider net to attract candidates because of the more affordable nature of running in a district rather than citywide—I embarked on a “do it yourself” campaign. While I didn’t win, I came in third out of nine candidates and on a budget of nearly $4,000. Not bad, right?

On the campaign trail, I relied on each test vehicle to get me around town. From navigation systems to cargo capacity, here’s how the following vehicles met the challenge.

The Dodge Dart at Walter E. Long Lake, District 1, Austin, TX.

The Dodge Dart at Walter E. Long Lake, District 1, Austin, TX.

Dodge Dart

I registered a campaign treasurer in July in the middle of a long-term loan with the 2015 Dodge Dart Limited. I would get to know this vehicle the best, spending three months with it rather than just the normal week. I thoroughly enjoyed this underrated sedan from Dodge.

I averaged a city/highway fuel economy of 26/33 miles per gallon (mpg) from the 2.4-liter four-cylinder matched to a six-speed transmission. But what really made this car special was the inclusion of fancy features not normally associated with this segment, e.g. an optional seven-inch Thin Film Transistor (TFT) customizable gauge cluster, white (not grey) and black leather seats, a heated steering wheel, the ParkView rear backup camera and ParkSense rear park assist, and blind spot warning.

It even had a CD player, which is hard to find on new FCA (Chrysler) products.

A navigation system on the campaign trail is essential. The Dart’s was easy to program, especially with the big 8.4-inch touch screen. The UConnect infotainment system was also intuitive.

Finally, the price was right. The as-tested MSRP for the 2014 Dodge Dart came to $24,985.

2014-10-01 09.34.59

Infiniti QX70

The Infiniti QX70 stands out in a crowded segment as a performance luxury crossover utility vehicle (CUV). While its looks support that description, especially the rims, I found the 2015 QX70 to be quite handy as well, especially for loading and unloading campaign signs.

In a do-it-yourself campaign you rely on the kindness of friends and family. One in particular, Connie McCracken, lent her design skills to create my logo for the campaign signs. The day I collected my first set of signs and loaded them into the QX70 was the day the campaign officially took off.

The 60/40 split folding and reclining rear seats deployed easily, expanding cargo capacity to 62 cubic feet. Running around town (and in and out of parking lots) to meet with Connie brought the Infiniti’s innovative Around View Camera into use.2014-09-30 21.55.25

Powered by a 3.7-liter V6 matched to a seven speed automatic transmission with Adaptive Shift Control, the QX70 achieved an average fuel economy of 19.2 mpg. I did take the QX70 on a road trip to Dallas and the 23.8-gallon gas tank made it there and back (400 miles) without refueling.

In the middle of the Texas heat, the QX70 also offered relief with cooled as well as heated leather seats, specifically, the optional quilted seats with purple accent stitching.

The as-tested price for the 2015 Infiniti QX70, with the Technology ($2,950), Premium ($4,300), and Sport ($3,500) packages came to $58,085.

2014-10-15 08.53.46

Chrysler 200

Sharing the same platform as the Dodge Dart, the Chrysler 200 offers a lot of the same attributes, but with a bit more panache and a few exclusives.

For starters, a 3.6-liter V6 matched to a nine-speed automatic transmission powered the 200S that I drove, improving the EPA estimated fuel economy to 18 mpg in the city and 29 mpg on the highway. I averaged 24.7 mpg. The base engine is the 2.4-liter inline four-cylinder.

This test model also included all-wheel drive (AWD), a nice option in this segment, adding road confidence.

The S model comes with unique exterior features like gloss black trim and accent pieces, gloss black surrounding the side windows, and integrated dual exhausts.

2014-10-15 08.51.58While the gauge cluster wasn’t as configurable as the Dart’s, the blue back lit speedometer and tachometer added elegance.

Like the Dart, the 8.4-inch UConnect display and navigation system came in very handy. I also received a lot of compliments on the campaign trail from folks who appreciated the 200’s all-new exterior design and blue paint.

The MSRP for the 2015 Chrysler 200S came to $32,775 and included the Navigation package ($1495), the Comfort ($795), and the Premium Lighting ($795) groups.

GMC Terrain Denali on Sixth Street, Austin, TX.


GMC Terrain Denali

The GMC Terrain Denali AWD arrived on the Wednesday before my neighborhood association’s candidate forum. This was the culmination of two months of forums so I felt pretty prepared plus it was nice to arrive (and hopefully make a good impression) in such an elegant SUV.

I also took to the streets block walking around this time, one of the best parts of the campaign. The Terrain made carting yard signs, in case one of my neighbors opted to display their support, particularly handy. Its 60/40 split and sliding rear seats deployed easily as did the power liftgate. 2014-10-20 08.52.46

The Terrain set itself apart from its onset, with a standard rear backup camera—you don’t have to opt in for the Denali to get it.

Driving door-to-door put the standard blind spot monitor and rear cross traffic alert systems to good use.

As a Denali, it had fancy options like red accent stitching and the Denali brand on the leather seats, enhanced ride and handling, and TV screens in the headrests, but oddly, didn’t have push button start.

Pricing for this top-of-the-line version of the 2015 GMC Terrain came to $42,430.

 2014-10-29 09.07.22

Chevy Silverado

By the time the Chevy Silverado 1500 Z71 4WD LT Crew arrived, it was time to vote.

Early voting began October 20 and for candidates, that meant putting up signs at a handful of precincts. What better vehicle to receive that week than the Chevy Silverado? It carried a lot of signs in its five-foot eight-inch bed plus the EZ Lift and Lower (dampened) tailgate—added with the 2014 Silverado redesign—was put to good use.

A 4.3-liter V6 engine matched to a six-speed transmission powered the test model but the Silverado also offers a choice of two V8 engines (a 5.3-liter and 6.2-liter). The V6 had an EPA estimated city/highway fuel rating of 17/22 mpg. Running around from precinct to precinct, I averaged 17.3 mpg.

The MyLink infotainment system with an eight-inch touch screen works like a tablet, but since I don’t own one it took a little practice to get used to the right sweeping motion required to program radio station presets. I also could have used a backup camera.

Still, the Silverado will hold a special significance for me since it’s the truck that took me to the polls to cast my vote.

The 2015 Chevy Silverado Z71’s as-tested MSRP came to $47,060.

2014-11-05 08.subaru.legacy

Subaru Legacy

While the Silverado took me to the polls during early voting, the all-new 2015 Subaru Legacy 2.5i rolled up six days before voting day, November 4. While I had posted a few signs at precincts for early voting, the Legacy and its trunk (15 cu. ft.) expanded even further with the seats folded flat to fit the more than 100 campaign signs I distributed with my boyfriend, Mike Flores, to more than 30 precincts election eve.

In addition to its cargo capacity, the Legacy’s navigation system needed to find some of the outlying precincts with addresses I didn’t recognize, even after having lived in Austin for more than 32 years.

2014-11-03 19.Subaru.signsIt did an amazing job.

The EPA estimated fuel economy rating for the 2.5i is 26 mpg in the city and 36 mpg on the highway. During my one-week loan, I achieved an average mpg of 29.6

My favorite optional feature was the Subaru Rear Vehicle Detection System that added Blindspot Detection, Rear Cross Traffic Alert, and Lane Change Assist.

The Legacy also carried me to my campaign watch party to watch the results.

The as-tested price for the 2015 Subaru Legacy Premium 2.5i came to $27,480.

2014-11-09 16.23.45

Nissan Frontier

While I gave it a good fight, a do-it-yourself campaign can only do so much. As mentioned earlier, I came in third out of nine, but considering the obstacles my campaign faced, I was pleased. I hope others will be inspired to run in 2016 and keep the spirit of single-member districts alive—money should not prohibit anyone who feels the call to public service.

My focus after the election, however, was collecting my precious signs and depositing them at the City of Austin’s recycling center. What better vehicle to get for the test drive than the Nissan Frontier Pro-4X with a 59.5-inch-long bed with 27.1 cubic feet of cargo room?

2014-11-09 15.39.26It also included the Utili-track channel system with four adjustable tie-down cleats and spray-on bed liner.

Powered by a 4.0-liter V6 engine matched to a five-speed automatic transmission, the Frontier has an EPA estimated city/highway fuel economy of 15/21 mpg. I averaged 16.4 mpg.

While I didn’t take the Frontier off-road, I did engage the shift-on-the-fly knob for 4Hi during a downpour for a little added road hugging.

This model also included a NissanConnect navigation system that still came in handy, and the Luxury Package ($2,100) with heated front seats, a roof rack, and a sunroof.

The as-tested price for the 2015 Nissan Frontier Pro-4X came to $35,655.

2014-11-12 10.29.27

Hyundai Sonata

Sometimes I get two cars in one week to review, so while I traveled around collecting campaign signs in the Nissan Frontier, I was also able to switch gears and enjoy the comfort and elegance of the 2015 Hyundai Sonata Limited.

In its seventh generation, the 2015 Sonata continues to build on the last redesign that was so successful—it was a finalist for the North American Car of the Year honors in 2011.

As a Limited model, the Sonata I drove included extras, like brown leather seating, proximity key entry that unlocks the doors as you approach, blind spot detection, and a rearview camera. Interesting innovations included the hands free smart trunk opener that opens automatically after three seconds if the driver has the keys in a pocket or purse, but hands full.2014-11-12 10.28.16

While it competes in the midsize segment, its enhanced interior volume of 122.4 cubit feet earned it an EPA classification as a “large” sedan.

Powered by a 2.4-liter gasoline-direct injection four-cylinder engine and matched to a six-speed automatic with Shiftronic simulated manual shifting, the Sonata averaged 27.5 mpg on the test drive.

Additional packages on the Sonata added a heated steering wheel, panoramic sunroof, cooled front seats, and forward collision warning.

As tested, the 2015 Hyundai Sonata MSRP came to $32,510.


Election results on election night.

Election results come in on election night.

I ran for office because I believed in the equitable representation that single-member districts promised. I didn’t have much money for this campaign, but I did have many assets, including family, friends, and this excellent fleet of vehicles.


Feb 112015


At the forefront of the digital revolution, Millennials are proving to be a game changing generation. While they appreciate ancient history, e.g. the 1960s and 70s, this generation will also strike the nail in the coffin, not just to technology favored by the Baby Boomers who grew up in those decades (hasta la vista CD players), but to the social conventions of the day, e.g. marriage first, babies later.

What really distinguishes this generation is its open-mindedness and willingness to pursue the unconventional. It’s in this spirit that we compiled our Millennials Car Guide. Choosing among vehicles actually tested for at least a week by Decisive Latino, we selected nameplates that combine fun, affordability, fuel economy, and innovation. Tweet us @decisivelatino if you agree, or not.


Bang for the Buck

2013-01-23 sonicsquirrel2

Chevy Sonic

Hoping to captivate this market, Chevy studied Millennials intensely before introducing the 2012 Sonic in 2011.

Fuel efficient by virtue of its size, the subcompact, comes with a five-speed manual transmission matched to a 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine. It should achieve an EPA estimated fuel economy of 26 miles per gallon (mpg) in the city and 35 mpg on the highway. The available 1.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder, however, will achieve an estimated 40 mpg on the highway, with a six-speed manual. I averaged 34.4 mpg on the test drive. A six-speed automatic is also available.

Offered in two body styles—a four-door sedan and a five-door hatchback—the Sonic provides hill-hold technology on all models that will help novices master the manual transmission and keep all models from rolling back on an incline.

StabiliTrak, electronic brake assist, anti-lock brakes, and OnStar are also standard. A free subscription to Onstar for six months is one thing but Chevy adds the MyChevrolet mobile app that gives owners, i.e. parents, remote access to the vehicle.

The entertainment system reflects the millennial affinity for new technology—a CD player is standard on the LT trim only.

Pricing for the 2014 Sonic starts at $14,995.


2015 Soul

2015 Soul

Kia Soul

The 2015 Kia Soul compact five-door hatchback has captured its segment with the right combination of utility and fun. Redesigned for 2014, Kia designers opted to keep the same bug-like front fascia as well as the silhouette.

More substantive changes include a stiffer chassis that is longer and wider, adding interior room, and an improved ride vis-à-vis heavily revised front and rear suspension systems.

Also adding to the Soul’s upgrades is the standard Flex Steer system that allows the driver to select from three distinct steering settings, Comfort, Normal and Sport, for added oomph in certain situations, e.g. entering a freeway.

The base model receives the 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine with gasoline direct injection (GDI), 130-horsepower and 118 lbs.–ft. of torque. A new, more powerful 2.0-liter four-cylinder is available as is a six-speed automatic with idle, stop, and go, and this combination also delivers the best EPA city/highway estimated fuel economy, 24/31 mpg. A six-speed manual is only available on the base model.

Techies will appreciate the optional UVO infotainment system with Pandora preloaded into the headunit and accessible through the touch screen and Voice Command.

Pricing for the 2015 Soul starts at $15,900.

Sporty Fun

2014 Fiat 500 Abarth

Fiat Abarth

Named for the famous racer and car builder Karl Abarth, the Fiat 500 Abarth emerged in 2012. This sporty version of the 500 retains its cute appeal but revs ups its performance so that the driving experience sets it far apart from its siblings.

It gets power from the 1.4-liter MultiAir turbo engine with 160 horses, matched to a five-speed manual transmission. While the 2015 model year will add an optional six-speed automatic transmission, Millennials may want to embrace the simpler manual technology, it’s worth it.

The 500c cabrio or open-top version was added last year.

Parents will appreciate the 35 active safety features including side curtain and knee airbags, and electronic stability control, while Millennials will like its fuel economy, an EPA estimated city/highway of 24/38 mpg, and wonderful engine rumble.

It also comes with an AM/FM stereo with CD player and auxiliary input jacks, air conditioning, a leather wrapped cluster brow with accent stitching, and the Blue & Me hands-free communication system. The Beats by Dr. Dre audio system is optional. The test model included fabulous red leather seats.

Pricing for the 2015 Fiat 500 Abarth starts at $23,045.

2014 Honda Accord EX-L V-6 Coupe

2014 Honda Accord EX-L V-6 Coupe

Honda Accord Coupe

Redesigned for 2013, the Accord and its two-door sibling, the Coupe, brought Honda back to the plus side when it came to design and technology.  For Millennials, the Coupe offers a more age appropriate version of a car that continues to win accolades for reliability and value.

Powered by either the standard four-cylinder or optional V6, the Accord Coupe offers a choice between a six-speed manual or automatic transmission and the continuously variable transmission (CVT).

The CVT earns the best fuel economy, a city/highway EPA estimated 26/29 mpg.  The test model came with the optional automatic and averaged 23.8 mpg.

Standard features on the new Accord include Bluetooth HandsFreeLink with audio streaming, USB/iPod integration, a rearview camera, an audio/information screen, and an Eco Assist driving system. The instrument cluster is backlit and fades from white to green to indicate fuel-efficient driving. It’s a nice touch.

New technology also includes the available lane change warning system that engages a camera view in the center console display screen when switching lanes on the right. The tip of the driver’s side mirror provides a better view into the left lane.

Pricing for the 2014 Honda Accord Coupe starts at $24,415.


Scion tC

Scion may be the one brand that set its sights on the younger generation from the get-go, although at the time is was Generation X.  Its no haggle pricing and opportunities to customize the interior, from lighting choices to sound systems, has brought a younger buyer to its parent company, Toyota. Affordable yet distinctive, Scions should appeal to Millennials, particularly, the tC.

Redesigned for 2014, the super sporty coupe includes a 2.5-liter, four-cylinder engine with 179 horsepower and can be matched to either a six-speed manual transmission or an updated six-speed automatic with Dynamic Rev Management technology, adopted from the FR-S. On the test drive, the manual scooted through traffic and enhanced the four-cylinder’s acceleration nicely.

Inspiring more aggressive driving, the tC still managed an above average fuel economy of 27.3 mpg.

It’s a fun car and the new exterior adds to its appeal. The long list of standard features includes a panoramic sunroof, a 6.1-inch LCD touchscreen, Bluetooth and HD radio, a leather trimmed steering wheel, and cruise control.

The three-door liftgate configuration adds versatility.

Pricing for the 2015 tC starts at $19,965.

Green and Groovy

2015 Sonata Hybrid

2015 Sonata Hybrid


Hyundai Sonata Hybrid

No list of vehicles for Millennials could exclude hybrids, but in this case, we searched outside the box among the vehicles actually tested and we chose the Sonata Hybrid.

Lightweight and thermally stable, its lithium-polymer battery pack is expected to last through the normal lifespan of the car. Combined with an electric motor, hybrid starter generator, 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine, and a six-speed automatic transmission, the hybrid is expected to achieve 36 mpg in the city and 40 on the highway. The test model, or Limited, averaged 39.5 mpg and at the end of a week loan, and 457.3 miles traveled, it still had more than one-quarter of a tank left.

It also includes colorful displays on a 4.2-inch TFT display that lets the driver scroll through a variety of screens, from seeing the hybrids inner workings, to watching your Eco score grow.

By nature, hybrids tend to live at the higher end of trim levels, and with that, offer more standard features.

Fancy ones like a rearview camera, chrome exterior door handles, dual-zone air conditioning, touchscreen color audio, HD radio, integrated Bluetooth, and the Hyundai Blue Link Telematics system are standard.

Pricing for the 2014 Sonata Hybrid starts at $26,810.

MY2014 Mazda 3

MY2014 Mazda 3


Mazda adopted its own fuel-efficient technology, SKYACTIVE, to lower its carbon footprint and compete with hybrids. The latest version of the Mazda3, sedan or compact five-door hatchback, adds impressive styling, or Kodo “soul of motion” to its advantage.

The first Mazda model to include SKYACTIVE technology, the Mazda3 begins its the third-generation, lighter and lower than its predecessor.

Powered by two engine choices—a SKYACTIV-G 2.0-liter and a larger SKYACTIV-G 2.5-liter—it also comes with a choice of two transmissions—a six-speed manual or a six-speed automatic.

Optimum fuel efficiency comes from the automatic on the sedan with an EPA city/highway estimate of 30/41 mpg. The test model, Mazda3 Grand Touring hatchback, achieved an average mpg of 28.3.

It also had a beautifully appointed interior with two-toned leather seats and red accent stitching.

Mazda was the first to offer a blind spot monitor on a compact and it’s still available on the 3 with the GT Technology package that also includes regenerative braking and active grille shutters for better fuel efficiency.

Available in a sedan or the five-door, we recommend the later for its added versatility.

Pricing for the 2014 Mazda3 five-door starts at $19,740.

Parental Preference


Subaru Legacy

Subaru will redesign the Legacy for 2015. Whether you prefer the look of the 2014 or the new model, what’s underneath makes the Subaru a good choice for Millennials and one that parents will approve.

All Subarus come with Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive (AWD), and while it may hinder fuel economy slightly, what it adds in safety and on-road confidence give it an advantage over its competitors.

Powered by the standard 2.5-liter four-cylinder BOXER engine, the 2015 Subaru Legacy should achieve an EPA city/highway fuel economy rating of 26/36 mpg. The optional 3.6-liter six-cylinder should achieve 20 mpg in the city and 29 mpg on the highway. The test model, Legacy 2.5i Sport averaged 26.1 mpg.

Both are matched with the Lineartronic CVT (continuously variable transmission). The six-speed manual, unfortunately, is no longer available.

While Subaru seemed to lag behind in technology, it’s caught up with the Legacy offering the highly rated EyeSight driver-assist front crash prevention system. Other optional technology includes the Rear Vehicle Detection System featuring Blind Spot Detection, Lane Change Assist, and Rear Cross Traffic Alert.

Unique creature comforts include heated cloth seats.

Pricing for the 2014 Subaru Legacy starts at $21,090. The 2015 pricing starts at $22,490.

Nissan X-Trail 2015.

Nissan X-Trail 2015.

Nissan Rogue

While some Millennials can afford to buy their own car, most will need help from Mom and Dad. Affordability and quality will always be considered but parents may also want to minimize temptation. The Nissan Rogue fits the bill plus it’ll come in handy when relocating during the college years.

First introduced for the 2008 model year, the all-new 2014 Nissan Rogue offers optional third-row seating, expanding its passenger volume to seven. Every seat except the driver’s folds down and the class-exclusive Divide-N-Hide Cargo System enhances its versatility with 18 adjustable variations (two-row models) between the cargo and occupant areas.

Parents will also appreciate available safety features like the blind spot and lane departure warning systems, and forward collision warning.  The rearview camera is standard, but Nissan’s 360-view camera, or Around View monitor, is also available.

Configured in AWD or front-wheel drive, the latter should achieve the best city/highway fuel economy from the 2.5-liter four-cylinder and CVT of 26/33 mpg. The test model averaged 27 mpg.

Standard features include air conditioning, AM/FM stereo, steering wheel controls, remote keyless entry, and a drive computer.

Pricing for the 2014 Rogue starts at $23,650.