Frank Washington

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2017 Kia Forte S

Kia continues to make incremental improvements to its entry level Forte For the 2017 model year, the Kia Forte S got a new front bumper and the “tiger nose” grille has been widened to connect with the newly redesigned headlights, which are available with Xenon HID lights. But our test car didn’t have them. Still, the car had a sophisticated look. It was wide, it had a forward racy stance; it looked quick and here’s what it didn’t look like: a small putt-putt sedan. The Forte S also got a new engine across the trim line. The 2.0-liter Atkinson four-cylinder made 147 horsepower and 132 pound-feet of torque. It was mated to a second generation six-speed automatic transmission that Kia said improved fuel economy and provided smoother shifting.

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2017 Kia Soul Turbo

The Kia Soul has survived in a niche where many have failed. It is a square box yet stylish, sassy and it had a little bit of sex appeal. What’s more, this year’s edition was beefed up with added power. For 2017, the Soul got a 1.6-liter turbocharged direct injection four cylinder engine. It made 201 horsepower, up by 40, and 195 pound-feet of torque, up by 45 and it was mated to a seven-speed dual clutch transmission. Power not only went up but so did gas mileage. It had an EPA rating of 26 mpg in the city, 31 mpg on the highway and 28 mpg combined. This engine gave the car some spunk and quickness. In sport mode, it was very quick, gear selection was faster and steering stiffened. The flat bottomed steering wheel made the car really easy to maneuver and it had a tight turning radius of 34.8 feet.

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2017 Lexus ES 300h

DETROIT – The saying that simplicity is a fine line between elegance and plainness came to as we test drove the 2017 Lexus ES 300h. It was simple, straightforward and pragmatic. Perhaps that’s why it is a bellwether of the Lexus lineup. Yes, the car does have the brand’s spindle grille but beyond that it is pragmatic and reliable and in this case it was a hybrid. For 2017, the ES 300h was endowed with the company’s suite of safety features.

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2017 Genesis G90

Consumers will decide whether Hyundai has bitten off more than it can chew. In the wake of its success in the market here, the Korean automaker decided to break off its top of the line Genesis model and move it further upscale creating a new luxury brand in the process. There are pitfalls galore in this decision. In effect, Hyundai has to generate name recognition for a new brand and two new nameplates in a market that is inundated with them: Genesis the brand and the G-series which now consist of the G80 and the G90. Getting name recognition in a cluttered market is a tall order. Success depends on spending enough money to reach the right customers. But the most important component is, if the plan is to be successful, the car. And an initial report is that it appears that Hyundai got that right.

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2017 Hyundai Elantra Limited

The first thing we noticed about the 2017 Hyundai Elantra Limited was the ride. It rolled down the streets smoothly and quietly, tamed the bumps and lumps in the road and it was easy to steer. The car had a MacPherson strut with coil springs, hydraulic twin-tube gas-filled shock absorbers and a 22 mm stabilizer bar suspension in the front. And a coupled torsion beam axle with gas-filled, hydraulic monotube shock absorbers and coil springs rear suspension. The 2017 version of the Hyundai Elantra was lighter than the outgoing model. More than half of the chassis was comprised of advanced high strength steel. Its use resulted in an increase of almost 30 percent stiffer torsional rigidity which improved the ride as well as the car’s handling. Hyundai really invested time and money in improving the quality of the 2017 Elantra. The company increased structural adhesive application 40 times more at higher stress points on the chassis and to reinforce welding areas.

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2016 Mazda CX-3

Mazda is retooling its entire line-up with its SKYACTIV-G technology that reduces weight and improves performance as well as fuel economy. The 2016 CX-3 is the fifth Mazda equipped with the technology. The small crossover was a five-door hatchback that seated five (read four) people that weighed less than 3,000 lbs. That is light in the automotive world. Powered by a 2.0-liter four cylinder engine that made 146 horsepower and a matching 146 pound-feet of torque, the CX-3 had a six speed automatic transmission. That was enough oomph to deal with normal driving conditions. Fuel economy was pretty good for a gasoline powered car. The 2016 CX-3 was rated at 27 mpg in the city, 32 mpg on the highway and 29 mpg combine.

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2016 Mazda CX-9

Mazda introduced its mid-size three row crossover vehicle, the CX-9, in 2006. The automaker redesigned it for the 2016 model year. And there was no need to completely redo it for this model year. Besides, it is an excellent vehicle. Mazda put the sixth generation of all of its vehicles through a rigorous weight loss program. Branded SKYACTIV, in addition to shedding weight the goal was to increase fuel efficiency and produce a more pleasurable driving experience. We had the CX-9 in Signature trim which is available in all-wheel-wheel drive only. It is the top of four trim levels. After going through SKYACTIV, it was 287 lbs. lighter than the model it replaced.

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2017 Chrysler Pacifica Plug-in Hybrid

Game changer is a term used to hype products or events. They used it here to describe the Chrysler Pacifica Plug-in Hybrid. But it’s not just talk. Chrysler is right; the automaker’s new minivan is a watershed for people haulers. By itself, the Pacifica is a move forward in the minivan realm. But to electrify it as Chrysler has done is a quantum leap. The 2017 Pacifica Plug-in Hybrid is the only Plug-in Hybrid minivan on the market. It is impressive. The base facts: the Pacifica Plug-in Hybrid can get 80 mpge on a tank of fuel and it has a range of 530 miles. It can go 30 miles in electric only mode and it has a top speed of 75 mph as an EV. More than one Chrysler engineer who had taken it home for tests said they had gone weeks without visiting a gas station. The retuned gasoline engine is paired with two electric motors powered by a 16-kWh lithium-ion battery pack. In the Pacifica both motors as well as the gasoline engine can put power to the wheels via an electric (continuously) variable transmission. The vehicle switched seamlessly between electric and gasoline modes or both depending on driving conditions.

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2017 Mitsubishi Lancer

When you think of Mitsubishi, it’s a question of is the glass half full or is it half empty. It just might be tilting toward the former now that Renault Nissan has purchased a controlling interest in the Japanese automaker. But until the combination is ready to execute the new business plan, Mitsubishi must solider on with its current products. And they’re not bad. We test drove the 2017Misubishi Lancer 2.4 SEL AWC and found it to be a nifty little sedan. It was powered by a 2.4-liter four cylinder engine that made 168 horsepower and 167 pound-feet of torque. A five-speed manual is available but we had the continuously variable transmission or CVT. This combination gave the car a fuel efficiency rating of 23 mpg in the city, 30 mpg on the highway and 26 mpg combined.

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2017 Toyota Sampling

OJAI, Calif., – W came here to test a bevy of 2017 Toyota products. We had the Prius Prime, the 86, the Corolla, the Highlander and the Sienna. We dealt with the Prius Prime in another column so that leaves the other four. First up was the 86. In case you hadn’t heard, Toyota has discontinued its Scion brand and is rebranding the products as Toyotas. The first car we got our hands on was the Scion FR-S but now it is the Toyota 86. This was way more than a name change. Yes, the 86 was still low, long and it had a wide stance, just like its predecessor. But the car had been greatly improved. It had standard LED front headlamps, daylight running lights, and a new fog lamp bezel and revised bumper. The rear sported LED tail lamps too and a more sculpted bumper design with integrated aerodynamic diffuser.

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