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

2014 Toyota 4RUNNER TRAIL PREMIUM 4X4 At the outset, let’s clear any misconceptions about the all-new 2015 BMW 428i Gran Coupe. With four doors, it is anything but a coupe. So why would the German carmaker give it the name? We have no idea.

However, we can attest to the fact that this is an outstanding performer with a 2.0-liter 4-cylinder twin-turbo engine blasting off 240 horsepower @ 6000 rpm and 255 pounds-feet of torque @ 4800 rpm. The car achieves 0 to 60 mph in a mere 5.7 seconds and can reach top speed of 130 mph.

Providing seamless shifts is an 8-speed auto transmission with manual mode. A standard rack and pinion steering system affords outstanding feedback. The powerful and fade-resistant 13-inch ventilated front and 11.8-inch rear discs operate inside 17-inch wheels shod with 225/50 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, thanks to the sleek and stretched roofline. Yes, the iconic kidney grille is a giveaway but one will appreciate the wide air intakes below the signature dual-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 on the 6.5-flat screen is simple to understand and use. The optional anthracite wood strips on dash, doors and front center console are classy. A thick-rimmed three-spoke power steering wheel conveys a solid touch to the driver, inspiring confidence in the sprightliness of the vehicle. With the 40/20/40 rear seat folded down, you get 45.9 cubic feet of space, enough to hold luggage for a weekend trip. Also standard are a two-way power moon roof, power tailgate, black high-gloss instrument panel and dual-zone auto climate control.

Dual front and side airbags, front knee airbags, side curtain airbag for both rows, four-wheel antilock brakes with dynamic and cornering brake controls, dynamic stability and traction controls, tire pressure monitoring system and daytime running lights are standard.

Why the 428i? Well, like the 3, this new offering is an awesome combination of style, performance and sophistication. But its cargo compartment could attract curious buyers looking for that distinctive appearance and stowage functionality.



2014 Toyota 4RUNNER TRAIL PREMIUM 4X4Introduced in 1999, the Cadillac Escalade has continued to make strides in the full-size luxury SUV market. An upscale version of the Chevrolet Tahoe and GMC Yukon, the indulging ride is steadily built to zip 0 to 60 in under 6 seconds with plentiful passing ability.

For 2015, the SUV is equipped with a new 6.2-liter V-8 engine pumping out a considerable 420 horsepower (up by 17) @ 5600 rpm and 460 pounds-feet of torque (up by 43) @ 4300 rpm. Mated to a slick-shifting 6-speed auto transmission, the body-on-frame Escalade is offered in rear-wheel or all-wheel-drive versions. GM’s Active Fuel Management system deactivates half of its cylinders to conserve gas while cruising or at slower speeds. The best you can get is a lowly 15 mpg city and 21 mpg highway as per EPA.

Our test-drive Escalade was equipped with the Magnetic Ride Control, which adjusts the four-wheel independent suspension as per road conditions while keeping body roll minimal. And if you need to haul a sailboat or another car, tow capacity is an astounding 8,300 pounds. Active noise cancellation guarantees silence and poise at highway speeds.

Safety features include dual front and side airbags, front center airbag, side curtain airbag, stability and traction control, front/rear park assist, lane departure warning, forward collision, side blind zone and rear cross traffic alerts, rearview camera, tire pressure monitoring system and daytime running lights.

Ensconced on the body of the fourth-generation Caddy is a brushed chrome grille surrounded by LED headlights and tall, thin, vertical tail lamps, front active aero shutters, and a standard rear spoiler. The revamped sumptuous, elegant and refined cabin is equipped with the hands-on CUE (Cadillac User Experience). An 8-inch touchscreen in the center stack includes capactive controls, haptic feedback, gestures and voice recognition. Throw the 12.3-inch reconfigurable instrument cluster into the mix and you have an infotainment system that should be the envy of the competition. Unlike in its predecessor, there is no need to remove the third-row seat. Instead, press a button in the cargo hold and watch the seat fold. With the second-row bucket seat down, you get 15.2 cubic feet of space. Other creature comforts are tri-zone auto climate control, flip-down DVD entertainment flat screen, 12-way power heated/cooled front seats, power lift gate and sunroof, Ingress and egress into the high-sitting vehicle is convenient, thanks to power retractable running steps.

None of this is cheap, of course. Starting at $72,970 for the base RWD, the Escalade can peak at $94,875 for the AWD Platinum model. Don’t be misled into believing that the nearly 5,600-pound vehicle lacks power. In fact, the gas pedal unleashes strong acceleration to make the SUV a graceful and easy-riding companion. Now, all that is needed is an inflated bank balance.



2014 Toyota 4RUNNER TRAIL PREMIUM 4X4Eke out 500 miles on a full tank in a midsize sedan? Sure, why not? That would be in the Nissan Altima, which was redesigned in and out in 2013. And it is not a hybrid, by the way.

The fifth-generation car is equipped with a 2.5-liter inline-4 cylinder engine (and a variable intake) developing 182 horsepower @ 6000 rpm while the 3.5-liter V-6 engine blasts out 270 hp @ 6000 rpm. About 90 percent of all Altima sales are of the 4-cylinder power train. The standard Continuously Variable Transmission has contributed to better fuel economy.

Sitting on the unibody-type Altima with base, S, SV and SL trims is a swept-back black grille flanked by projector-type halogen headlights, tapered roofline, bigger tail lamps, raised trunk and chrome door handles. Standard cabin 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.

Introduced in 1993, the Altima has proved to be a huge success story for Nissan. We bested EPA estimates of 27 city/38 highway/31 combined with figures of 31 in city and 32.2 mixed, making the sedan a fuel sipper. No wonder this remarkable ride with affordable price, bold styling, superb performance and genuine everyday practicality is inching closer to the top best-selling car position.



2014 Toyota 4RUNNER TRAIL PREMIUM 4X4Introduced in 2003, the Nissan Murano has been totally redesigned inside out for this year. Available once again in front-wheel or all-wheel drive, the slightly-bigger five-passenger midsize crossover sheds nearly 145 pounds with fuel economy up by 20 percent.

However, the third-gen unibody ride retains the 3.5-liter V-6 engine, which is mated to a Continuous Variable Transmission. It develops 260 horsepower at 6000 rpm and 240 pound-feet of torque @ 4400 rpm. Suspension continues to be handled competently by an independent strut with coil springs in front and a multilink rear. Leading the Murano safely to its destination is a razor-sharp power rack-and-pinion steering. The 12.6-inch front and 12.1-inch rear vented discs enable the SUV to remain stable under heavy brake tapping.

The even sleeker V-Motion front end shows off boomerang halogen headlights and LED daytime running lights with chrome-slathered grille, active grille shutter and body-colored bumper. The cabin is user-friendly and functional with plush zero-gravity seats and a 60/40-split rear bench seat that can be pulled down with the touch of a button. Head and leg room is ample for 6-foot passengers. Aluminum sprinkles on dashboard and center console convey exquisite taste. The instrument panel is typical Nissan with electroluminescent analog gauges for speedometer, tachometer, fuel and coolant temperature readings. Well-placed storage cabbies are ample with a standard twin-bin center console, huge glove box, pockets for coins, maps, cell phones and other personal items. As is cargo space at a whopping 147.7 cubic feet.

Dual front and side airbags, driver knee airbag, side curtain airbag for both rows, four-wheel antilock brakes with Electronic Brake Distribution and Brake Assist, Vehicle Dynamic Control, Electronic Stability Control, traction control, energy-absorbing steering column, front seat active-head restraints, front/rear crumple zones and tire pressure monitoring system are standard.

Available in S, SV, SL and Platinum trims, the Murano starts at $29,560 for the FWD and peaks at $40,600 for Platinum AWD. You can save on fuel in the 2015 edition as EPA estimates now are 21 city/28 highway beating the previous 18/23. With its commendable performance, plentiful cargo and passenger-hauling capabilities, the revamped but exceptionally useful Murano will be a tough competitor to beat (Ford Edge, Jeep Grand Cherokee, VW Touareg, take note).


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