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

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

Here we go again. Last year, it was the performance-machine Audi S8 that blew us off our feet. In 2014, the German carmaker has matched or should we say edged out the S8 with an even more powerful and all-new high-revving RS7.

The staggering stats: 4.0-liter TFSI (turbo fuel stratified injection) twin-turbocharged and front-mounted V-8 engine; 560 horsepower @ 6600 rpm and 516 pounds-feet of torque @ 5500 rpm; 8-speed Tiptronic transmission with manual/sport shifts; quattro all-wheel drive; 20-inch wheels; 0 to 60 in 3.7 seconds; 174 top speed; base price: $104,900; with options, $122,545, plus tax, tag, delivery and destination, of course. You get the picture. It’s obvious that the five-door RS7 coupe is an exceptional car for a special kind of people – those who can afford to buy a ride that costs as much or more than a house.

The aluminum-alloy structure-based RS7 shows off a single-frame honeycomb grille in aluminum-matte optic, LED headlights with RS7-specific front bumper, oval exhaust tips and brakes, and an adaptive rear spoiler. The extravagant cabin is crammed with all the accoutrements expected in a ride of this worth. That this is a RS is once again apparent when you peek at its insignia on the front seatbacks, carbon-fiber inlays, rounded shifter knob, sport seats with honeycomb quilting, and the three-spoke perforated steering column with contrast stitching, interior door handles and black instrument cluster with white scales and red needles. Modern high-tech treats include Alcantara headliner, 12-way power front seats, aluminum pedals and foot rest, paddle shifters in alu-optic finish, power lift gate and four-zone auto climate control.

Safety features include dual front and side airbags, side curtain airbag, Electronic Stabilization Program, front/rear crumple zones, three-point safety belts with pretensioners, four-wheel antilock brakes, tire pressure monitoring system and daytime running lights.

Undoubtedly, the RS7 is a supercar. With its power-at-all-times engine and gorgeous styling inside and out, this high-end sports car pretty much speaks for itself. All one needs now to fulfill that lifelong dream is a 100G and lots of change!



Two years ago, Chrysler revamped its Town & Country model trim line for simplicity purposes. And that has worked. The 2014 minivan is equipped with a sole 3.6-liter V-6 engine, which makes 283 horsepower at 6400 rpm and 260 pounds-feet of torque at 4800 rpm. Power routed through the 6-speed auto gearbox gives a satisfactory performance.

Sandwiched between the Chrysler winged badge hosted in the black chrome grille are black halogen headlamp bezels. In the rear, a TOWN & COUNTRY chrome light bar meets up with vertical tail lamps. Naturally, folks buy a minivan for its passenger- and cargo-hauling practicality and in this respect, the Town & Country shines. The renowned Stow ’n Go enable the second- and third-row seats to fold into the floor. Total cargo area is a mammoth 143.8 cubic feet of space. Other amenities included are tri-zone automatic climate control, power lift gate, dual glove box, driver and passenger side power-sliding doors, eight-way power driver seat, manual tilt/telescopic steering column and, of course, the moniker Chrysler analog clock.

Amid newer competitors such as Toyota Sienna and Honda Odyssey, the 30-year-old Town & Country has held its mark. Numerous standard features, reputable gas mileage (we beat both EPA city/highway estimates), cavernous cabin and a decent performance can only ensure its durability for many more decades to come.



In the market for a midsize sedan? Well, you have some super choices such as the Toyota Camry, Honda Accord, Nissan Altima and Mazda6. But wait, there’s yet another car that should be on your list of test drives. We must say the competent but redesigned Chevrolet Malibu has been treated somewhat like a stepchild of sedans for far too long.

Our ride was equipped with an Ecotec 2.0-liter turbocharged inline-4 cylinder engine putting out 259 horsepower @ 5300 rpm and 295 pounds-feet of torque @ 4000 rpm. It is mated to a standard and flawless 6-speed auto gear box. The retuned chassis, brake system and independent MacPherson strut-type front and four-link rear suspension result in a rock-solid ride. Quick steering feedback is provided by the rack-and-pinion electric power system.

Unlike some bland sedans on the road, the Malibu boasts an almost intimidating presence with projector-beam headlights flanking wider opening and more chrome-accented, black-texture dual-port grilles. Amidst it all, you cannot miss the prominent Chevy bow-tie crest. Indeed, the combination of wood accents and ice-blue ambient lights on dashboard gives the cabin a cool, modern feel. The redesigned center console now offers two phone slots and accessible cup holders. Kudos go to Chevy for increasing the once-tight rear knee room by 1.25 inches. Behind the useful 7-inch MyLink touch screen is a concealed storage bin. Underneath the infotainment system are large illuminated climate control knobs. Other standard goodies include dual-zone auto climate control, eight-way driver and four-way front-passenger power leather seats, tilt/telescopic steering column and shifter, and a driver information center.

Dual front and side curtains, front knee airbags (that’s a rarity even in luxury sedans), side curtain for second row, stability and traction controls, four-wheel antilock brakes, three-point safety belts plus front safety-belt pretensioners, remote start, tire pressure monitoring system and daytime running lights are standard.

No doubt, the midsize sedan segment is packed with highly competent entrants. But it’s about time potential buyers took another look at the overhauled Malibu with its supple ride quality, practical interior and decent fuel economy. All at an affordable price.



Quirky, lanky, boxy. Call it what you may but the Kia Soul has gained a following that appears to want more and more from the Korean carmaker. For 2014, the company has obliged its ardent fans with a total redesign, which boosts the wheelbase by 0.8 inches, width by 0.6 inches and the height tanks slightly by 0.4 inches. Of course, this also translates into a roomier cabin.

It’s not a speed demon but the 2.0-liter gasoline-direct injection inline-4 cylinder engine is sufficient to get the job done. The subcompact puts out 164 horsepower @ 6200 rpm and 151 pounds-feet of torque @ 4000 rpm. The 6-speed automatic transmission with eco is accurate, offering slick shifts. The retuned Electric Power Steering is quick, precise and perfectly weighted.

Grabbing attention is the traditional but revamped chrome grille surrounded by clear-lens headlights body side moldings and high-mounted tail lamps. Step inside and the Soul shines equally with its 4.3-inch instrument cluster hosting deeply recessed gauges. An 8-inch touch screen displays navigation, radio, vehicle readings. Storage areas are plentiful such as the two-tier glove box, center armrest bin and best of all a huge under-floor cargo organizer. Cargo capacity is up, now at 61 cubic feet of space. Other standard amenities include air-conditioning, 60/40 split fold rear seat, 10-way power driver’s seat, tilt/telescopic steering column, cooled glove box, and power windows and door locks.

Dual front and side airbags, side curtain airbag for both rows, four-wheel antilock brakes, stability and traction controls, hill assist, front active headrests, front and rear crumple zones, rearview camera, front seatbelt pretensioners and tire pressure monitoring system are standard.

At $20,300 for our test Exclaim trim, the price is just right for the Soul. The front-wheel-drive wagon is smooth, quiet and an easy-riding companion that delivers a pleasant, spirited ride. And the off-beat look is an added attraction, we think.



THE RIDE: Four-door, up to six-passenger 2014 GMC Sierra 1500 4WD Crew Cab SLT full-size pickup.

DOWN THE ROAD: Hardcore pickup owners, your poised ride is here. This solidly built pickup ensures reasonably quick acceleration from any speed, ample passing ability and accurate handling/balance.

TECH & PERFORMANCE: A 5.3-liter V-8 engine, mated to a 6-speed auto transmission, generates 355 horsepower @ 5600 rpm and 383 pounds-feet of torque @ 4100 rpm. Handling the suspension is an independent coil-over shock front and a solid axle rear. The power rack-and-pinion electric power steering has an unswerving and communicative feel, making the truck easy to place at sharp curves. GM’s Active Fuel Management system deactivates four of the eight cylinders for fuel savings. Tow capacity is an amazing 11,100 pounds.

LOOK & FEEL: Redesigned for 2014, the stout Sierra gets a mammoth chrome-slathered grille surrounded by projector headlights with LED, revised chrome front/bumpers, polished stainless-steel exhaust tips and wheel-arch moldings. Climb into the cabin and you won’t find a reason to complain about space, which is plentiful starting with the 40/20/40 front and the foldable 60/40 rear seats. The six-gauge analog instrument cluster is well-lit and crystal clear. The huge center console can swallow a laptop. Other notable features include dual-zone auto climate control, tilt/telescopic steering column, dual glove box, 8-inch color screen for audio, navigation and Intellilink readings.

SAFETY FIRST: Standard are dual front and side airbags, side curtain airbag for second row, stability control with hill start assist and traction control, four-wheel antilock brakes, rearview camera, tire pressure monitoring system and daytime running lights.

OUT THE DOOR: $43,125, plus tax, tag, delivery and destination charges.

BY THE NUMBERS: Tires, P265/65R18; wheelbase, 153 inches; length, 239 inches; weight, 5,424 pounds; fuel capacity, 26 gallons; city, 16 mpg; highway, 22 mpg; Web site, www.gmc.com

WHY DIG IT: It’s a utilitarian workhorse! The Sierra boasts not just generous cargo and tow capacity but also outstanding performance, marvelous ride and an upscale, gargantuan interior.

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