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Test-drive stories by NITISH S. RELE,

4RUNNER TRAIL PREMIUM 4X4 This Acura flagship may not win accolades like its competitors but the ride truly is up to the job of perfectly blending performance and luxury. And with a hybrid power train added to the mix, the RLX becomes more appealing than ever before.

Our all-wheel-drive test car was equipped with a direct-injected 3.5-liter V-6 engine cranking out 377 total horsepower and 341 pounds-feet of torque while mated to a 7-speed auto gearbox. Basically, the RLX hybrid gets three electric motors: a 35-kilowatt (47 hp) up front and two 27-kilowatt (36 hp each) in rear, all of which are powered by a 1.3-kWh, 260-volt lithium-ion battery. 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.

The aluminum hood meets up with jewel-eye LED headlights, which are flanked by a dark chrome-plated grille and a lower revamped lower bumper fascia. Tech-laden, safety-related features include forward collision and lane departure warning and lane-keep assist (which maintains the car in its path), collision and road departure mitigating systems, blind-spot monitor, rear cross-traffic alert, adaptive cruise control and a 360-degree camera.

Standard amenities include 12-way power front seats (heated/cooled), electronic tilt/telescopic steering column, tri-zone auto climate control, HD radio, push-button ignition and shifter, wood/metal trim on doors and console, moon roof and a Krell 14-speaker 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 around 29 mpg in combined driving (EPA estimates are 30, with 28 city and 32 highway), all of which are creditable. But the sedan comes at a hefty price of $65,000, placing it in the league of top European performers such as Audi, BMW and Porsche.



Mazda has the SUV market covered quite well, from top to bottom. It starts with the full-size CX-9, then the midsize CX-7, down to the compact CX-5 and trickling to the all-new subcompact 2016 CX-3. Under its hood is a 2.0-liter inline-4 cylinder engine putting out 146 horsepower @ 6000 rpm and 146 pounds-feet of torque @ 2800 rpm while coupled to a 6-speed auto gearbox. Regardless of front-wheel or all-wheel drive, it is equipped with the direct-injection Skyactiv, which uses a torque boost via a high compression ratio to increase fuel economy.

A seven-fin wing grille is flanked by LED headlights, daytime running lights, up front while dual stainless steel exhaust and roof shark-fin antenna takes up the rear. Standard in the GT trim are leather steering wheel, shifter and brake handle, six-way manual driver seat, push-button start, front armrest, auto a/c, 60/40 fold rear seat, power moon roof, 7-inch instrument display with command control, trip computer and a tilt/telescopic steering column.

Dual front and side airbags, side curtain airbag, dynamic stability and traction controls, four-wheel antilock brakes, hill launch assist, side-impact door beams, rearview camera, three-point safety belts for all, blind spot and tire pressure monitoring systems and daytime running lights are standard.

As the subcompact crossover SUV market grows with the Honda HR-V, Jeep Renegade and revamped Nissan Juke, the rivalry will become even fiercer. This gas-sipping Mazda can definitely hold its own, thanks to a sizeable cabin for people- and cargo-hauling capabilities, and good value for the money.

CX-3 (GT, FWD)


After a major redesign last year, the Kia Soul continues mostly as is in 2015. Nowhere on the road would you miss the funky, tall and boxy look of this subcompact wagon, which has been one of the turnaround vehicles for the rapidly-growing Korean carmaker.

It’s not a power house but the 2.0-liter gasoline-direct injection inline-4 cylinder engine is sufficient to get the job done. Mated to a smooth 6-speed auto gear box, the Soul develops 164 horsepower @ 6200 rpm and 151 pounds-feet of torque @ 4000 rpm.

Clear-lens headlights flank the chrome grille up front as the high-mounted vertical tail lamps stand out in the rear. The 4.3-inch instrument cluster hosts deeply recessed gauges while an 8-inch touch screen displays navigation, radio and vehicle readings. Storage areas are abundant: there’s the two-tier glove box, center armrest bin and best of all a huge under-floor cargo organizer. Air-conditioning, 60/40 split fold rear seat, 10-way power driver’s seat, tilt/telescopic steering column, remote keyless entry, and power windows and door locks are standard.

Indeed, the affordable Soul is an attention-grabber that will stop anyone in their tracks. At the same time, the wagon delivers a decent amount of power to result in a comfortable and sophisticated ride quality. Plus, the Soul comes with noteworthy power train, basic and roadside assistance warranties. Now, that’s a tough act to beat.



Well, not a whole lot new going on with the 2016 MDX. That is because Acura revamped its luxury SUV just two years ago. The 3.5-liter V-6 continues to put out 290 horsepower @ 6200 rpm and 267 pounds-feet of torque @ 4500 rpm. But say goodbye to the 6-speed auto transmission, which has now been replaced by a nine-speed gearbox. Once again, the MDX is offered in front-wheel as well as all-wheel drive. Thanks to the Integrated Dynamics System (IDS), the driver can choose sport, normal and comfort settings.

Sporting a handsome look with its jewel-eye LED headlights, the cabin of the MDX is straightforward unlike Acuras of the past. The easy-to-use central control dial takes care of audio, navigation, phone systems. Like the RLX, this one also acquires the push-button gear selector. Storage space is abundant but our favorite is the supersized center console bin, which is 2 inches deeper and wider and 5 inches longer to accommodate even a laptop. The second-row seat can go fore and aft 6 inches so third-row passengers can slide in effortlessly. Other amenities are tri-zone auto climate control, power rear tailgate and moon roof, 10-way power front seats and wood trim.

Standard safety features include dual front and side airbags, side curtain airbag, driver knee airbag, four-wheel antilock brakes, front/rear crumple zones, side-impact door beams, vehicle stability assist with traction control, lane departure warning and lane-keep assist (which maintains the ride in its path), blind-spot monitor, collision mitigation system, multi-angle rearview camera, daytime running lights and tire pressure monitoring system.

Boasting quick acceleration, the versatile MDX provides well-balancing handling, decent fuel economy, plentiful cargo and passenger space, and a plethora of luxury accoutrements.



Thank Fiat International, one of the largest producers of commercial vehicles in the world, for the latest fine offering from Dodge. The 2015 compact Ram Promaster City wagon is a good alternative to the pickup or minivan.

The purposeful cargo/passenger van gets a sole 24-liter DOHC inline-4 cylinder engine offering 178 horsepower @ 6400 rpm and 174 pounds-feet of torque @ 3800 rpm. And forget the antique 6-speed auto transmission. Instead, you get a standard 9-speed gear box, which will save you loads at the gas station because of its fuel-efficient features. Boosting the solidness and instilling confidence in the driver is a front independent MacPherson strut and a bi-link rear suspension. Turning sharp corners on the back roads? The hydraulic power-assist rack-and-pinion steering in our front-wheel drive version was up to the job. The van can haul up to 1,900 pounds and touts a tow capacity of about 2,000 pounds.

Large side panels for advertising/business signage, swing-out rear doors, sliding passenger-side doors, four built-in cargo tie-down rings, and customizable shelves add to the functionality and versatility. Just to give you an idea, with the 60/40 second-row seat in place, you get 4 feet of cargo length; with seat folded, 6 feet of cargo length space. It is the perfect workshop vehicle to deliver packages, food from a caterer, tools for a professional trader or even gear for band members. Best of all, the vehicle fits in most garages or passes through most car washes and fast food/bank drive-thru lanes. Lest we forget, the Promaster comes with a/c, cloth bucket seats, tilt/telescopic steering wheel, power windows and door locks, 5-inch Uconnect touchscreen and other standard amenities.

Base priced at $24,130 for our five-passenger version, optional groups packages are available to fit any buyer’s needs. If you seek pickup-like comfort, interior comforts and drivability in a passenger/cargo van, the Ram Promaster City fits the bill. And handily so.


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