APRIL 2016
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Test-drive stories by NITISH S. RELE, motoringtampabay@gmail.com

4RUNNER TRAIL PREMIUM 4X4 Leave it to Lexus to shine in the compact luxury crossover segment. There’s already the NX 300h we test drove last year and recently sat behind the NX 200t. It was a blast to drive, responding with quickness in any driving situation while loaded with luxury and tech goodies expected from this upscale division of Toyota.

A 2.0-liter twin-scroll turbocharged inline-4 cylinder gas engine pumps out 235 horsepower @ 5600 rpm and 258 pounds-feet of torque @ 4000 rpm. It is mated to a standard 6-speed auto gearbox. Offered in front-wheel or all-wheel drive, the NX 200t sports a brawny, hunkered-down posture, especially when you glance at the raked lift gate and the roof-mounted rear spoiler. As soon as we stepped into the airy and well-appointed cabin, the gated automatic shifter caught our attention. A 4.2-inch TFT LCD screen displays audio, fuel consumption, mileage, outside temperature, odometer and tire pressure readings. Some niceties include dual-zone auto climate control, 10-way power driver and 8-way front-passenger seats, 60/40 rear seat, manual tilt/telescopic steering column, Lexus analog clock and dark umber trim. A cool mouse-like Remote Touch can be used to toggle navigation, climate, audio and phone controls.

Dual front and side airbags, side curtain airbag, driver knee airbag, front-passenger cushion airbag are standard along with side-impact door beams, four-wheel antilock brakes, Electronic Brake Distribution and Brake Assist, Vehicle Stability and Traction Control, rearview camera, push-button start, three-point seatbelts with pretensioners, and front and rear crumple zones.

If in the market for a compact luxury crossover with a forceful engine under the hood, decent gas mileage and plentiful creature comforts, the NX 200t fits the bill. Indeed, its addition along with the hybrid version to the Lexus lineup makes sense. And a lot of difference.



Though the powertrain stays as is, Nissan has revamped the exterior of its bestseller with a fresh hood, fenders, bumper and trunk, while lowering the front fascia with its distinct V-shaped, black-painted and chrome-surround grille. Step back and you will find a new fascia, bumper, chrome dual exhaust and door handles, and wider, four-piece tail lamps like a boomerang.

The fifth-generation car is equipped with a 2.5-liter inline-4 cylinder engine (and a variable intake) developing 182 horsepower @ 6000 rpm and 180 pounds-feet of torque @ 4000 rpm. If you want more power, go for the 3.5-liter V-6 with 270 hp. But about 90 percent of all Altima sales are of the 4-cylinder power train. The standard Continuously Variable Transmission contributes to better fuel economy. Tweaked is the independent strut front and multilink rear suspension for more fun handling and balance. Noticeably lowered are noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) levels.

Interior changes include a new center stack and console with the 5.0-touchscreen. Standard amenities on our SL model included dual-zone auto climate control, eight-way power driver seat, 60/40 split fold rear seat, 9-speaker Bose audio system, leather seats, rearview monitor, rear a/c vents and push-button start. The 4-inch Advanced Drive-Assist, located between tachometer and speedometer, displays text, navigation and audio information in the driver’s view.

Available in base, S, SR, SV and SL trims, the agile Altima touts a lively performance, laudable gas mileage (27 city, 39 highway) and a thought-out cabin. Indeed, this is a great everyday ride for the money.



RAV 4Since it debuted in the United States in 1996, the RAV4 has stood the test of time. This year, it faces a new test with a hybrid version under the hood, a first for the compact crossover.

The 2.5-liter DOHC inline-4 cylinder gas engine develops 150 horsepower @ 5700 rpm and 152 pounds-feet of torque @ 4400 rpm. But two electric motors boast hp up to 194. A 244.8-volt nickel-metal hydride battery is recharged by energy captured as the driver applies the brakes or coasts. Also, the electronically controlled Continuous Variable Transmission-equipped sedan boasts a regenerative braking system. When the car is coasting or the brakes are applied, the electric motor functions as a generator, capturing kinetic energy that would normally be lost as heat through the brakes. Instead, it converts the energy into useable electricity for recharging the battery pack. It operates in three modes: EV, which is electric at lower speeds of up to 25 mph; ECO, an efficient mode where the driver can control the throttle opening; and sport for some feisty driving. The rounded instrument display showing charge, power and eco readings will come in handy for drivers who like to eke out every gallon of gas.

Dual front and side airbags, side curtain airbag and front knee airbags are standard along with side-impact door beams, four-wheel antilock brakes, Electronic Brake Distribution and Brake Assist, Traction Control, Vehicle Stability Control, rearview camera and front and rear crumple zones.

Projector-beam halogen headlights flank a smoked chrome upper grille hosting a blue-tinted Toyota emblem. Metallic silver accents deck up the interior with its center stack, and 4.2-inch TFT screen between the hybrid system power meter and the speedometer. Standard goodies include six-way driver and four-way front-passenger seats, dual auto climate control, tilt/telescopic steering column, and a 6.1-inch touchscreen for navigation, audio, phone controls.

The Toyota hybrid vehicle lineup just keeps getting better. The addition of the spacious RAV4 SUV with its generous passenger/cargo room should entice families with little ones to sign on the dotted line. Besides, the fuel-sipper comes with the Japanese carmaker’s solid reputation for reliability and durability.



GMC CanyonLast year, we test drove the 3.5-liter V-6 gas Canyon, which was a comeback vehicle. For 2016, the folks at GMC dispatched over an all-new diesel for us to enjoy. And enjoy, we did. The midsize truck is equipped with the optional 2.8-liter inline-4 cylinder turbo diesel that packs 181 horsepower @ 3400 rpm and an impressive 369 pounds-feet of torque @ 2000 rpm. It stays coupled to a 6-speed auto transmission. Tow capacity for our SLT four-wheel-drive Crew Cab version is a significant 7,700 pounds.

Surrounding the chromed three-bar grille are projector-beam headlights and LED daytime running lights. Huge vertical tail lights with a chrome bumper greet the onlooker in the rear. Step inside the lap of luxury to be impressed by aluminum trim on the instrument panel of speedometer and tachometer along with tilt/telescopic steering column, 8-inch color touch screen for audio, navigation and Intellilink readings, auto a/c, overhead sunglass holder, four-way power front seats, rear sliding window, remote vehicle starter and a folding second-row bench. New for the Canyon is Apple CarPlay smartphone integration, which allows you to control apps via the touchscreen interface. Storage space is plentiful with bins and cubicles, plus four USB ports. The 6-foot-2-inch Long Box can haul 8-foot-length items.

Dual front and side airbags, side curtain airbag, four-wheel antilock brakes with Duralife longlife rotors, StabiliTrak with traction control, rearview camera, remote keyless entry, hill start assist and hill start control, locking rear differential, two-speed transfer case, driver selectable 2WD, Auto, 4WD Hi and 4WD Lo modes, daytime running lights and tire pressure monitoring system are standard safety features.

On a full 21-gallon tank, the Canyon can stretch all the way to about 550 miles. We averaged about 26 in mixed driving (EPA estimates are 20/29 and 23 combined). The exemplary diesel-sipping numbers along with imposing towing and cargo capabilities make this midsize truck a best buy. Lest we forget to mention that the Canyon packs quite a punch to tackle the rigors of daily driving or cruise the highway.


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