First Drive: 2016 Lexus RX

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I was invited by Lexus to Charleston, South Carolina to test drive the redesigned RX crossover. The traditional and historic setting of Charleston offered an interesting contrast to the sleek and ultra-modern design of the new RX, and the vehicle offered a very comfortable and luxurious mode of transportation as we toured some of the historic sites around this iconic Southern city.

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First Drive: 2016 Mazda CX-3

Mazda has introduced the CX-3 as an all-new nameplate to take advantage of the growing subcompact crossover segment and I had the chance to drive it on some demanding roads through the canyons north of Los Angeles. With Mazda you know the company will try to make every vehicle in its lineup fun to drive, and with the routes selected I suspected they were particularly proud of how the CX-3 would perform. The vehicle exceeded even those lofty expectations.

Exterior

The CX-3 is shorter and lower than Mazda’s best-selling CX-5 with a long front hood and large wheels. It’s a beautiful vehicle as you can see from the photos and is the fifth vehicle in the U.S. with Mazda’s KODO—Soul of Motion design language. The designers tried to create the look of pent up energy so the vehicle always looks like it’s moving forward. I also love the front end as the Mazda grille continues to evolve and the headlights make the vehicle look alive. It’s a much more aggressive and interesting look than the smiley face impression of some Mazda models of the past. The CX-3 comes with 16-inch wheels and the option for 18-inch wheels that contribute to the distinctive look. Overall the design of this vehicle gives Mazda an obvious hit even before you sit inside and then start driving.

Interior

What I remember most about the CX-3 interior is that the seats were very comfortable and would hug your body, which was particularly helpful as I powered through the curves on our drive route and made up for the lack of power seats. The overall design of the interior is quite bold and should appeal to most consumers, with a prominent 7-inch touch screen and standard rear camera. The various color combinations in the interiors we also very impressive.

Standard features also include a push-button starter, Mazda Connect infotainment offering Bluetooth phone pairing, audio streaming, and USB ports for phone charging and entertainment connectivity. Optional features include blind spot monitoring with cross-traffic alert, which frankly would be hard to live without these days for this spoiled driver.

Performance

As expected, the CX-3 isn’t one to just rely on its good looks. The vehicle handled beautifully on the route through the winding curves as we enjoyed the canyons north of LA. The CX-3 showed nice responsiveness and acceleration, particularly in Sport mode, and it hugged every turn daring you to push it harder.

All trim levels (Sport, Touring and Grand Touring) come with a SKYACTIV-G 2.0-liter engine paired with a six-speed automatic transmission producing 146 horsepower and 146 lb-ft of torque. While CVTs are getting better I’ll take a six-speed transmission any day and you can feel it in the linear acceleration.

The CX-3 also incorporates Maxda’s SKYACTIV Technology, so while front-wheel drive comes standard, Mazda’s predictive i-ACTIV AWD system is also available on all trim levels. This system improves handling in bad weather by using sensors to route power to the most surefooted wheels as you’re driving.

Overview

The subcompact crossover segment is growing quickly, and Mazda characterizes the CX-3 as their attempt to “defy the category.” The Mazda team acknowledges there may be some overlap with the Mazda3 hatchback for consumers but that didn’t deter them. There are many impressive options in this category but frankly the new CX-3 is the must-drive vehicle in this class if you’re out test-driving options. It’s one of the best vehicles we’ve tested in 2015 and we’re confident you’ll be impressed.

  

Car Review: 2015 Honda CR-V Touring

2015 Honda CR-V.

The Honda CR-V is a compact crossover that has been a leader in its segment for years and is now in its fourth generation. It’s America’s best-selling SUV for the past decade and was substantially refreshed for the 2015 model year. AS a result, the 2015 CR-V was named Motor Trend’s 2015 Sport/Utility of the Year.

So we knew we had a well-received vehicle on our hands when we tested the new CR-V recently for a week. We also had the all-new Touring trim model loaded with extra features like the leather interior and moonroof, and after a week in the vehicle, we can safely say it lived up to its reputation.

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Car Review: 2015 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport

2015 Outlander Sport SE

For the 2015 model year Mitsubishi has updated its perennial best-seller with some aesthetic changes and engineering improvements to this sporty compact crossover. I tested the SE model with all-wheel drive for a week and came away impressed with what the vehicle offered for the price.

Exterior

The 2015 Outlander gets new, stylish-looking LED running lights in the SE model but otherwise the exterior design remains unchanged, which isn’t a bad thing as the Outlander’s exterior works for a sporty but practical crossover. I like the front end and the vehicle looks great from every angle. The Ruby Red version we tested looked particularly sharp, and I like it in the other offered colors including the blue model pictured here. It has the type of look that should be appealing across a wide variety of consumer groups as the designers haven’t tried to get too cute with any aspect of the design.

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Car Review: 2015 Toyota RAV4 XLE

2015 Toyota RAV4 red

The Toyota RAV4 was the first compact crossover SUV, debuting over 20 years ago. This popular vehicle is now on its fourth generation in a very crowded and growing segment. We tested the XLE model with the Dynamic Torque Control All-Wheel Drive system.

Over the years, the look of the RAV4 has evolved considerably, as it now sports more of a lower, car-like stance. This sleeker design is becoming more common in this category, and we suspect many buyers will use design as a differentiator in making their decision.

One of the reasons the compact crossover segment is growing has to do with the roominess you get for a smaller vehicle. Like others in this segment, the RAV4 comfortably seats five adults, and we filled up the vehicle several times during our test. It also has plenty of cargo capacity with 38.4 cubic feet behind the rear seats. With the 60/40 split rear seats folded, the space expands to 73.4 cubic feet. This practical feature plus the roominess for passengers in a smaller, affordable vehicle makes the RAV4 and other options in this segment irresistible to many buyers.

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