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Test-drive stories by NITISH S. RELE,

The nearly 100-year-old Ponte Vedra Inn & Club is steeped in tradition. And so is Toyota. So it made perfect sense for the carmaker to hold its family reunion of the totally redesigned 2015 Camry, and refreshed Sienna and Yaris, in this historic inn near Jacksonville. Here’s a preview of the major changes. We will review each vehicle in detail in future.

2015 CamryCAMRY

The best-selling car in the United States retains the 2.5-liter inline-4 (178 horsepower and 170 pounds-feet of torque) and 3.5-liter V-6 (268 horsepower and 248 pounds-feet of torque) engines as well as the 6-speed auto transmission. But Toyota has reinforced the body by widening the track (0.4 inches) and length by 1.8 inches. The front end of the midsize family sedan now screams attitude with sleek, tapered headlights, a more prominent grille, and a new bumper and hood. Also visible are muscular fender flares, tail lamps and redesigned wheels. Satin-chrome accents deck up the interior with its reworked center stack, custom-tuned JBL audio system, fresh 4.2-inch TFT screen between the three-dimensional gauges and wireless charging system for select cellphones. An XSE model – termed the sportiest – has been added to the previous 4-cylinder LE (starts at $22,970), SE ($23,840) and XLE ($26,150) trims. The XLE/XSE V-6 trims begin at $31,370.


The minivan acquires a revised headlight, tail lamp and LED daytime running light design, and a fresh front grille. Step into the cabin and notice the new instrument panel, center console, dash and three-spoke steering wheel. The soft upper door trim is classy as are metallic accents on the a/c vents. The multi-information display of 3.5 inches and 4.2 inches is welcome too. Toyota has also introduced more interior colors in the seven- or eight-passenger ride. However, the 3.5-liter V-6 engine stills cranks out 266 hp @ 6200 rpm and 245 pounds-feet of torque @ 4700 rpm while mated to a 6-speed auto gearbox. The only minivan available in front-wheel or all-wheel drive, the Sienna comes in L, LE, SE, XLE and Limited trims, which are base-priced at $28,600 and peak at $41,650.


No doubt the sporty hatchback is an excellent value, stylish, cool, safe and fun to drive. For 2015, its European product planners have raised the ante with a sharper appearance as the horizontal chrome grille meets up with headlights, widening the wheels and boosting the rigidity of its body structure. Also, the suspension has been modified with a rear torsion beam. The interior gets a new dashboard and softer materials, premium accents around the shifter, and more padding to reduce noise. The powertrain has been retained: 1.5-liter inline-4 cylinder engine with 106 hp @ 6000 rpm and 103 pounds-feet of torque @ 4200 rpm while coupled with a standard 5-speed manual or the optional 4-speed auto transmission. The three- and four-door Yaris is available in L ($14,845), LE ($16,505) and SE ($16,820), perfect for the novice driver.

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2015 BMW X4Here’s the truth. We would take the all-new BMX X4 any day over its larger high-performance sibling X6, which we test drove some years back. Though both are sporty activity coupes, the 2015 X4 is equipped with a 3.0-liter inline-6 twin-turbo engine cranking out 300 horsepower @ 6000 rpm and 300 pounds-feet of torque @ 5000 rpm. Translation: 0 to 60 mph in 5.2 seconds for a vehicle weighing 4,260 pounds!

The X4 is equipped with Performance Control, which works in tandem with the xDrive all-wheel-drive system to distribute torque between the left and right rear wheels. Providing seamless shifts is an 8-speed auto transmission with manual mode. A standard variable rack and pinion steering system affords outstanding feedback. The powerful and fade-resistant 12.9-inch ventilated front and 13-inch rear discs operate inside 20-inch M wheels shod with 245/40 front and 275/35 rear run-flat tires. Fear not about low gas mileage since a stop-start function allows the car to save fuel by shutting off the engine. Turn the knob in the center console for your driving choice of eco pro, comfort, sport and sport+ modes.

It’s an attention-grabber for sure. Yes, the familiar kidney grille is a giveaway but one will appreciate the larger air intakes below the signature twin-round xenon adaptive headlights with LED corona rings. Step inside and you will find yourself ensconced in confidence-inspiring eight-way power front seats. The previously complex iDrive console knob to control navigation, entertainment, communication and climate systems is simple to understand and use. Burl walnut wood strips on dash, doors and front center console is stylish. An M-inspired thick-rimmed three-spoke power steering wheel conveys a solid touch to the driver, inspiring confidence in the sprightliness of the vehicle. Also standard are a two-way power moon roof, power tailgate, black high-gloss instrument panel, ambient lights and dual-zone auto climate control.

Opt for the M Sport Package ($1,900) if you want dynamic damper control, 20-inch M wheels, sports seats, M steering wheel, Alcantara headliner, brushed aluminum trim, aerodynamic kit and shadow line exterior trim.

Dual front and side airbags, side curtain airbag for both rows, four-wheel antilock brakes, stability and traction control, Hill Descent Control, rollover sensor, park distance control, tire pressure monitoring system and daytime running lights are standard.

Looking to switch lanes on a busy highway? You may encounter some visibility issues. And the 40/20/40 split-fold rear seat could have opened up some more for space. Otherwise, the X4 is a fine blend of power and sophistication. As they proudly claim, German engineering at its finest.

X4 (xDrive35i)


2015 LexusRX350Barring few changes that won’t make a difference in your daily driving, the 2014 Lexus RX350 continues as is. The ride is smooth and comfy with impressive grip and agility in this four-door, five-passenger luxury SUV.

Under the hood sits the familiar 3.5-liter V-6 engine cranking out 270 horsepower @ 6200 rpm and 248 pounds-feet of torque at 4700 rpm. It is equipped with a 6-speed multi-mode automatic transmission, which enables the driver to manually shift gears.

The front MacPherson strut with coil springs and the rear double wishbone with coil springs suspension enables the nearly 4,400-pound vehicle to maintain equilibrium at sharp turns. A standard and effortless electric power steering nixes the need for hoses that go with a hydraulic pump system. Brakes are a robust 12.9-inch ventilated in the front and 12.2-inch rear disc brakes. Towing capacity is a reasonable 3,500 pounds. We averaged about 18 mpg in city and 23 mpg on the highway.

Ten airbags, Vehicle Stability Control with Traction Control, four-wheel antilock brakes with brake assist, active head rests for front seats, free-limiting seatbelt pretensioners for front seats and three-point seatbelts with pretensioners for rear seats, tire pressure monitoring system and daytime running lights are standard.

The 10-way power front seats, three-spoke power tilt/telescopic leather steering wheel, push-button start, automatic dual-zone climate control, walnut wood trim on doors and around shifter knob, center and console plates, chrome door handles, metallic accents around the center of instrument panel, 40/20/40-split recline/slide fold rear seat and Lexus Premium audio come at no cost. A cool mouse-like Remote Touch can be used to toggle navigation, climate, audio and phone controls.

If you are looking for earth-shattering vitality in a ride, the RX350 will fall slightly short of expectations. But if you seek a silent, amiable and easy-riding companion, this Lexus is the clever choice.

RX350 (FWD)


2015 CHRYSLER 200CAnyone remember the Sebring? Guess not. Credit goes to Chrysler for replacing that midsize car with the fine and competent 200 a few years ago. The 2015 version should pretty much erase any memories of the yesteryear car. On that note, the 200 convertible has been dropped.

The redesigned in and out 200C is equipped with a 2.4-liter inline-4 cylinder engine developing 184 horsepower @ 6250 rpm and 173 pounds-feet of torque @ 4600 rpm. For the heavy-foot drivers, a 3.6-liter V-6 (295 hp) is available, which also comes in all-wheel drive. Forget the antique 6-speed auto transmission. In its place, you get a standard 9-speed gear box, which will save you loads at the gas station because of its fuel-efficient features.

Ensconced on the steel uni-frame of the LX, Limited, S and C trim 200 is the familiar Chrysler grille and winged badge surrounded by bi-function halogen headlights, both integrated for the first time, active grille shutters and LED tail lamps. Step inside the lavish cabin and the fit, finish gloss levels and materials will remind you of a luxury European sedan. The driver information center between the 140-mph speedometer and 7000-RPM tachometer looks classy. Adding more elegance are the LED ambient lights. Other amenities include dual auto a/c, eight-way driver and six-way front-passenger seats, Chrysler analog clock manual tilt/telescopic column, leather seats, 60/40 rear seat, and wood sprinkled on dash, front doors and center console. The massive 16-cubic-foot trunk beats several competitors in its class.

Dual front and side airbags, side curtain airbag, front knee airbags, electronic stability and traction control, four-wheel antilock brakes, rearview camera, tire pressure monitoring system and daytime running lights are standard.

Except for a cramped rear seat, the composed, good-looking, fuel efficient and athletic 200 displays a fun-to-drive attitude and spirited character that were found wanting in its predecessor. And at a reasonable price to boot.

200C (2.4 LITER)


2015 Chevrolet Corvette StingrayAfter a major redesign last year with more horsepower and torque, the 2015 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray gets a new, optional 8-speed automatic gearbox to replace the former 6 speed. Also, the ride becomes a mobile hub thanks to its OnStar with 4G LTE and built-in Wi-Fi hotspot. Apart from new design packages, the available Performance Data Recorder with in-car video allows you to record video of the driving experience, on or off track.

Under the hood of the rear-wheel-drive hatchback coupe with a removable roof panel sits a 6.2-liter V-8 engine belting out an incredible 455 horsepower @ 6000 rpm and 460 pounds-feet of torque @ 4600 rpm. The sports car takes off from 0 to 60 mph in under 4 seconds. A Drive Mode selector, which can be operated via a rotary knob near the shifter, offers tour, weather, eco, track and sports options.

Saving dollars at the pump is GM’s Active Fuel Management system, which deactivates four of the eight cylinders. So, it’s not only the most powerful standard Corvette ever but also fuel efficient when you consider the massive 6.2 under the hood (we beat the 16 mpg EPA city estimate by eking out 18; highway EPA is 28).

Kudos goes to GM for the gorgeous appearance of the Corvette with the carbon-fiber hood, front LEDs set in black-chrome lamp housings, and dual-element tail lamps. Yes, this is a speed demon but let’s not forget that the cabin styling and filament are top-notch. Relax in the first-rate, rich-looking eight-way power heated bucket leather seats and you will be gazing at two 8-inch driver/infotainment touch screens. To ensure clever use of space in the two-seater, there is a hidden bin behind the center touchscreen. Trunk space is an ample 15 cubic feet of space.

Some of the standard safety features are dual front and side airbags, four-wheel antilock brakes, Active Handling with electronic stability control, safety belt pretensioners, rearview camera, tire pressure monitoring system and daytime running lights.

Displaying abundant power, speed and response, the gorgeous Corvette Stingray will stop onlookers in their track. With a muscular-styled appearance, which now matches the breathtaking cabin, this icon should be a big hit with its admirers and gain new well-wishers too.


Test-drive the Wrangler as well as any Jeep, Chrysler and Dodge vehicles at Jerry Ulm Dodge/Chrysler/Jeep, 2966 N. Dale Mabry Highway in Tampa. For more information, call the dealership at (813) 872-6645 or visit

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