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Test-drive stories by NITISH S. RELE,

Guess who was the overall winner of the TDI (Turbocharged Direct Injection) Efficiency Rally (wave 1) organized for the media recently in Washington, D.C.? Yours truly, of course. 36.7 mpg at an average speed of 37.8 mph. The ever-obliging Audi of America marketing folks brought in the 2014 A6, A7 and Q5 – all TDI models – for us to test drive in the nation’s Capital and surroundings. In fact, I and my journalist-partner Alex Davies also topped in the A7 with 38.5 mpg at an average speed of 35.5 mph on mostly city driving (91.2 miles driven). EPA estimates are 24 city/38 highway/29 combined.

Since 2009, Audi has sold 26,000 TDI vehicles in the United States. With the Gen 2 power train in the A6, A7, Q5 (as well as the A8 and Q7), the German automaker believes it is on track to sell 150,000 TDIs. Considering benefits to the customer of better fuel economy and range, fewer trips to the gas station, higher residual value, performance par none and clean diesel, it should be an easy target to achieve. Besides, more than a half of the gas stations in the U.S. offer diesel. That domestic vehicles like the Ram 1500 and Cruze are sold with diesel engines helps too. Just two years ago, barely 400,000 diesel-equipped vehicles were sold. LMC Automotive predicts that diesel sales will touch at one million in 2016. And this despite the fact as Audi laments and rightly so, diesel vehicles unlike hybrid and electric cars, do not receive federal tax incentives.

For 2014, the TDI-equipped Gen 2 Audis are equipped with a 3.0-liter V-6 engine pumping out 240 horsepower (from 225 in Gen 1) and 428 pounds-feet of torque (from 406). Also, engine weight is down from 480 to 425 pounds. Other adjustments include a lighter crankcase, crankshaft, main bearing frame, upper oil pan, optimized turbocharger and cylinder head. And there are now two chain drives instead of four, saving 8.8 pounds of weight and causing a drop in friction.

As Audi tells us, its objectives with developing Gen 2 TDI are lower fuel consumption, start/stop system, acoustic refinement, high engine power output and torque, minimize weight but maximize driving dynamics, etc.

It’s time that consumers overcame any preconceived notions of diesel engines being dirty, loud or difficult to find a pump at a gas station. Those days of stigma are well over. Among alternative powertrains, diesel has the lowest price premiums. Besides, come to think of it. You can drive the 700-mile D.C.-Chicago distance on a tank of diesel in the luxurious A6 without having to fill’er up. Now, that handily beats the hybrids and electric vehicles on the road.


Remember the RL? No? Well, don’t blame yourself. That was an Acura best forgotten. In its place, we have an all-new improved flagship RLX for 2012. The midsize luxury sedan replaces the previous 3.7-liter V-6 with a 3.5-liter V-6 cranking out 310 horsepower (up by 10) @ 6500 rpm and 272 pounds-feet (increase of 1) of torque @4500 rpm. Available only in front-wheel drive for now, the car retains the previous 6-speed auto gear box, which we believe could have used an upgrade.

The car also is equipped with Acura Precision All-Wheel Steer (P-AWS) featuring independent and continuous control of the left and right rear-wheel steering (toe) angles. Translation? You can tackle sharp turns/corners with poise, change lanes quickly and have confidence-inspiring control and balance.

And who isn’t looking to save gas? The Variable Cylinder Management (VCM) system comes to the rescue by operating in three or four cylinder modes for substantial fuel savings.

The body of the RLX gets bigger from its predecessor with wheelbase up by 2 inches and width by 1.7 inches. The aluminum hood meets up with jewel-eye LED headlights to convey an aggressive stance. Step into the expansive cabin and you will be surrounded by tech-packed goodies that should give competitors a run for the money. Safety-related among them are the collision mitigating system, lane departure warning and lane-keep assist (which maintains the ride in its path), blind-spot monitor, rearview camera, adaptive cruise control and front/rear park sensors.

Standard cabin amenities include 12-way power front (heated/cooled) seats, power tilt/telescopic steering column and rear window sunshade, HD radio, push-button ignition, tri-zone auto climate control, perforated leather seats, manual back-row window sunshades, moon roof, and Krell 14-speaker audio system. Two large color screens atop each other, a 7-inch and 8-inch, are conveniently located to provide audio, nav, phone, information to the driver.

We averaged nearly 21.8 mpg in city, beating EPA estimates of 20 (highway EPA 31 mpg). All things considered, the RLX is a vast improvement over its predecessor. But the sedan comes at a hefty price of more than $60,000, putting it in the league of top European performers such as Audi, BMW and Porsche. Though not necessarily nimble, the RLX is a perfect mix of luxury and performance.



Since debuting in 2003, it has sold more than 3.5 million units all over the world. This ride quite handily is the best-seller for Mazda. So it didn’t surprise us when the carmaker totally overhauled the 2014 Mazda3. Based on the CX-5 SUV and the Mazda6 sedan, this compact car has been perked up by 2.4 inches in its wheelbase, lowered by 0.6 inches and wider by 1.6 inches.

Of course, the two power trains in the third-generation Mazda3 sedan are fitted with the direct-injection Skyactiv technology, which uses a torque boost via a high compression ratio for stretching fuel economy. You can opt for a 2.0-liter inline-4 cylinder engine that develops 155 horsepower @ 6000 rpm and 150 pounds-feet of torque @ 4000 rpm. Or go with the 2.5-liter inline-4 cylinder engine cranking out 184 hp @ 5700 rpm and 185 pounds-feet of torque @ 3250 rpm. The hot-selling car is available as a sedan or hatchback depending on the ‘i’ and ‘s’ versions you choose in the SV, Sport, Touring and Grand Touring trims.

The front matte-finish grille, flanked by clear-lens halogen or bi-xenon HID headlights, sports an aggressive look than ever before. But it’s when you step into the cabin that the Mazda3 proves it has undergone a major transformation. Just above the central analog tachometer gauge encircled by wing-shaped digital displays is an all-new heads-up display for a digital speedometer. Switch on the ignition and a panel pops up above the meter hood to display speed and navigation directions. The 7-inch touch screen, part of the new Mazda Connect navigation/infotainment system, is a breeze to use. Other standard amenities include push-button start, a/c, tilt/telescopic steering column, fold-down rear seat, power windows and door locks, and AM/FM. Other notable firsts are front/rear running LEDs. Also available are 18-inch wheels, rearview camera and steering wheel paddle shifters.

Dual front and side airbags, side curtain airbag, stability and traction control, hill launch assist, active front-head restraints, four-wheel antilock brakes with electronic brake distribution and brake assist, and tire pressure monitoring system are standard for all trims.

Mazda3 sedans start at a reasonable $16,945 and the airy hatchbacks at $18,945. You should be more than happy to have a fun and inexpensive car to drive with great fuel economy. It truly is an acceptable first vehicle.



The scenic, winding back roads of Kentucky proved to be the perfect setting for our test drives of the 2014 Buick Regal and Regal GS. Introduced in 2011, the Regal is joined in the Buick lineup by LaCrosse, Verano, Enclave and Encore.

The totally redesigned Regal gets a fresh waterfall grille, bi-functional halogen headlights, deck lid with integrated spoiler, rear fascia with LED wing-shaped tail lamps, and cross or chrome accents. All new in the non-GS and front-wheel-drive version is a 2.0-liter inline-4 cylinder turbo engine cranking out 259 horsepower @ 5300 rpm and 259 pounds-feet of torque @ 4000 pm. The retained 2.4-liter inline-4 cylinder engine with eAssist still develops 182 hp @ 6700 rpm and 172 pounds-feet of torque @ 4900 rpm. A 6-speed auto gear box is standard and the 6-speed manual is optional on the GS with FWD. Suspension is handled via a front MacPherson strut and four-link rear in the non-GS and FWD while the athletic GS AWD (all-new auto on-demand system with electronic limited-slip differential) gets a HiPer strut front and H-arm rear. On FWD, electric-power steering is standard but GS/AWD version gets a belt-driven power steering.

The base Regal’s cabin, luxurious and elegant expected of any Buick, comes with a new 4.2-inch color instrument panel, center stack with 8-inch touch screen, next-generation IntelliLink infotainment system and dual-zone capacitive touch climate controls.

The base FWD Regal starts at $30,615 and $32,790 for AWD. The GS is priced at $37,830 (FWD) and $40,195 (AWD). All 2014 Regals come standard with 2-year/24,000 regular maintenance and five years of OnStar RemoteLink mobile app.

If you want the slightly more energetic experience of driving a Buick, go for the GS with its lower ride height, new grille, front fascia, HID headlights with signature new LED wraparound tail lamps, and rear fascia with deck lid and spoiler. Standard are a black interior, leather seats, racing-inspired steering wheel, metal sport pedals, customizable driver information center and rearview camera.

The Regal’s overhaul boosts the Buick portfolio of impressive vehicles. The athletic European-inspired car affords swift acceleration, impressive body control and remarkable ride comfort for its passengers. And lest we forget, the long-awaited turbo version is a hoot to drive.


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