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

An all-new model, the 2011 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport compact crossover SUV is more than a foot shorter than its larger sibling but shares nearly identical height and weight. The front-wheel-drive ride boasts strong acceleration, notable handling and steering feel.

A 2.0-liter DOHC inline-4 Cylinder engine develops 148 horsepower at 6000 rpm and 145 pounds-feet of torque at 4200 rpm. Getting power to the ground is a Continuous Variable Transmission. Suspension handled via a MacPherson strut front and a multilink rear works well to absorb unpleasant highway bumps. The Electric Power Steering returns a weighted, linear response to the driver’s input. Braking duties are up to capable 11.6-inch ventilated front and 11.9-inch rear solid discs.

On the exterior, jet-fighter-like air intakes stand out along with super-wide automatic xenon headlights, chrome surround grille, LED tail lamps, spoiler and an exhaust finisher. Though adorned with cloth, the front and rear 60/40 fold-down seats are comfortable and offer ample head and leg room. Enhancing the sportiness and agile character of the Outlander are magnesium-paddle shifters on the three-spoke tilt/telescopic steering column. An Eco indicator on the instrument panel can be a tremendous fuel saver.

Other standard amenities include automatic climate control, leather shifter knob, driver information center, Fuse hands-free system for cell phones, 140-watt audio system and a rear seat armrest with two hidden cup holders.

Dual front and side airbags, side curtain airbag, driver knee airbag, four-wheel antilock brakes with Electronic Brake Distribution and Brake Assist, Active Stability Control, Hill Start Assist, active front headrests, three-point seat belts for all five, remote keyless entry, side-impact door beams and tire pressure monitoring system are standard.

Kudos to Mitsubishi for producing a smaller Outlander, which delivers a civilized and composed ride to carry five in comfort and style.

Tires: P225/55R18
Wheelbase: 105.1 inches
Length: 169.1 inches
Weight: 3,032 pounds
Base price: $21,695
Fuel capacity: 16.6 gallons
City: 25 mpg
Highway: 31 mpg
Web site: www.mitsubishicars.com


Carrying over from last year with more width, length and a longer wheelbase than its predecessor, the fifth-generation Legacy displays incredible nimbleness and response. The credit, of course, goes to the standard symmetrical all-wheel-drive system that Subaru equips in all its vehicles.

A 2.5-liter horizontally opposed boxer-4 engine develops an adequate 170 horsepower at 5600 rpm and 170 pounds-feet of torque at 4000 rpm. The sedan is mated to a fuel-efficient Continuous Variable Transmission. Front suspension is handled competently by front MacPherson struts, lower L-arms, coil springs and a stabilizer bar. But the rear gets an all-new double wishbone suspension. The variable power assist rack-and-pinion steering conveys a direct and communicative feel.

Hawk-eye four-beam halogen headlights with the familiar centered Subaru insignia will stop you in your tracks. So will the premium and upscale cabin with wood decking up the front and rear doors, instrument panel and glove box. Drivers of different heights in the family will appreciate the three-spoke tilt and telescopic steering column. Also remarkable is a great-sounding 440-watt Harman/kardon six-speaker sound system. Other standard amenities include dual-zone automatic climate control, 10-way adjustable power driver and four-way passenger seats, and a 60/40 split rear seat.

Standard safety features include dual front and side airbags, side curtain airbag for both rows, four-wheel antilock brakes with Electronic Brake Distribution and Brake Assist, Vehicle Dynamic Control stability and traction system, three-point seatbelts for all passengers, electronic parking brake, anti-theft alarm, tire pressure monitoring system and daytime running lights.

A standard all-wheel drive to maintain stability in untoward road conditions, first-rate and spacious cabin and, best of all, laudable gas mileage makes the Legacy a great everyday ride.

Tires: 215/50R17
Wheelbase: 108.3 inches
Length: 186.4 inches
Weight: 3,270 pounds
Fuel capacity: 18.5 gallons
City: 23 mpg
Highway: 31 mpg
Base price: $25,595
Web site: www.subaru.com


Except for a few minor cabin tweaks, the 2011 Mazda6 maintains its status quo. We have driven numerous versions of the midsize sedan in the last few years and have always walked out happy with the results. The car boasts a lively, fun-to-drive attitude keeping in mind Mazda’s ‘Zoom-Zoom’ (emotion of motion) phrase.

A 2.5-liter DOHC inline-4 cylinder engine cranks out 170 horsepower at 6000 rpm and 167 pounds-feet of torque at 4000 rpm. Power reaches the front wheels via a crisp-shifting 5-speed automatic transmission. Suspension up front is handled by an independent high-mount double wishbone; the rear is taken up by an independent E-type multilink system. Steering response with the hydraulic power rack-and-pinion is sharp and precise.

Sitting on the monocoque unibody structure are revamped halogen headlights and fog lamps, silver-trimmed tail lamp bezels, body-colored front/rear bumpers, and dual chrome exhaust tips. The T-shaped instrument panel shows off blackout faces with bright metallic markings, needles and trim. Conveying a solid feel is a three-spoke tilt/telescopic steering column.

Also standard are an eight-way power driver’s seat, 60/40 fold-down rear seat, center console slide armrest with dual storage, AM/FM/CD sound system, driver information center and a sizable glove box.

Safety features include dual front and side airbags, side curtain airbag, four-wheel antilock brakes with Electronic Brake Distribution, Dynamic Stability Control and Traction Control, Blind Spot Monitoring System, five-passenger three-point safety belts, Triple H body construction, anti-theft engine immobilizer, remote keyless entry and tire pressure monitoring system.

There are several midsize sedans on the market but few as sporty and nimble as the peppy Mazda6. The family car touts pleasing styling inside and out, laudable fuel economy and exceptional braking. This is one enjoyable, energetic ride that will leave you asking for more!

Tires: P215/55R17
Wheelbase: 109.8 inches
Length: 193.7 inches
Weight: 3,329 pounds
Base price: $24,240
Fuel capacity: 18.5 gallons
City: 22 mpg
Highway: 31 mpg
Web site: www.mazdausa.com


Redesigned for the New Year, the 2011 Kia Optima is up 1.7 inches in length and 2.9 inches in wheelbase. That makes no difference to the steel unibody structure-based ride, which is compliant and calm, regardless of tricky road situations.

A 2.4-liter inline-4 cylinder gasoline-direct engine puts out 200 horsepower at 6300 rpm and 186 pounds-feet of torque at 4250 rpm. It is mated to a slick-shifting 6-speed automatic transmission. The independent MacPherson strut and a multilink rear suspension with coil springs and anti-roll bars had no problem absorbing the blows of potholes and broken pavement. The electric-motor rack-and-pinion steering is quick and accurate.

Kia’s signature bold tabbed grille is flanked by projector headlights and fog lamps. Also conveying a striking appearance are chrome and body-colored door handles, dual oval exhaust tips and 17-inch wheels. Slide behind the four-spoke manual tilt/telescopic steering wheel and you will be ensconced in eight-way power driver’s leather seat. The analog instrument panel of tachometer, speedometer, fuel and temperature readings have red needles on black background with white numerals.

Other standard amenities include dual-zone automatic climate control, push-button start, cooling glove box, 60/40-split rear seat and a front armrest with storage box. Go for the $2,250 Premium Package to get a panoramic sun roof, four-way front-passenger’s power seat, driver’s seat memory, heated and cooled front seats, wood trim door inserts and center console, among other goodies. The $2,000 Tech Package will fetch you a navigation system with backup camera and an Infinity premium audio system.

Standard safety features include dual front and side airbags, side curtain airbag, four-wheel antilock brakes, front seat active-head restraints, Electronic Stability Control and Traction Control, front/rear crumple zones, side-impact door beams, front seatbelt pretensioners, remote keyless entry and tire pressure monitoring system.

The revamped Optima is a smooth, quiet and easy-riding companion, which is ready to take up established competitors in the crowded sedan field. Kia’s basic 5-year/60,000-mile and 10-year/100,000-mile power train warranties serve to boost the car’s amazing value for the money.

Tires: P215/55R17
Wheelbase: 110 inches
Length: 190.7 inches
Weight: 3,223 pounds
Base price: $22,495
Fuel capacity: 18.5 gallons
City: 24 mpg
Highway: 34 mpg
Web site: www.kiausa.com

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