JULY 2014
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Test-drive stories by NITISH S. RELE, motoringtampabay@gmail.com

QX60 Remember the XJ Supersport? Well, it’s history and has been replaced by the XJR, a supercharged growler that can zip off from 0 to 60 mph in 4.7 seconds with a top speed of 174 mph. And you can bet the XJR has no difficulty braking just as swiftly and with poise, thanks to 14-inch brake rotors.

Under the hood of this speedy cat resides a 5.0-liter V-8 engine blasting off 550 horsepower @ 6500 rpm and 502 pounds-feet of torque @ 5500 rpm. It is mated to a flawless 8-speed automatic transmission, which also can be shifted via steering wheel-mounted paddles. A four-wheel independent suspension with Adaptive Dynamics active damping improves balance, handling and grip by automatically adjusting firmness. Apart from normal drive, you can pick dynamic (for a sporty feel) and winter (for dealing with slippery conditions) modes.

Ensconced on the unitized body structure of the new performance flagship is a bold mesh grille with a centered Jaguar insignia, surrounded by striking horizontal bi-xenon headlights, front air splitter and hood vents. The R badge on the rear trunk lid is a giveaway that this is no ordinary Jag. Press the start button/stop button and enjoy the sound as the engine purrs to life. Lending credence to the grandiose cabin is a hidden shifter dial that majestically pops out from a center console nook into the palm of your hand. Rich oak wood on the door panels, shifter and dashboard shows exquisite taste. Other standard amenities are 18-way power front heated/cooled seats, rear heated/cooled seats, power tilt-and-telescopic steering column, rear sunshade and trunk dual-zone automatic climate control, 8-inch touch-screen and an astonishing 825-watt Meridian sound system.

Standard safety features include dual front and side airbags, side curtain airbag, four-wheel antilock brakes with Electronic Brake Distribution, Dynamic Stability Control and Electronic Traction Control, Cornering Brake and Understeer Control, active front-head restraints, active differential control, front/rear parking sensors, rearview camera, tire pressure monitoring system and daytime running lights.

The thriller-of-a-ride displays remarkable agility, briskness and response rarely found in large luxury sedans. Throw in a cabin packed with tech-laden goodies and you have a perfectly-rounded car. At a base price of $116,000 and plenty of change.



QX60We will admit that of the Prius models we have driven in the last several years, we didn’t earn 50 mpg on any of them. Till the 2014 Prius Three trim, which we recently test drove, and hit that mark effortlessly. We are impressed and hope you will be too. After all, everyone feels the pinch in the wallet as gas prices inch up toward the $4 gallon mark.

There is barely any change in this year’s model, which continues with the reliable 1.8-liter Atkinson-cycle four-cylinder engine and an electric motor, putting out a total of 134 horsepower. Though not a powerhouse, the car can go from 0 to 60 mph in just 9.8 seconds.

A 201-volt nickel-metal hydride battery is recharged by energy captured as the driver applies the brakes or coasts. Also, the electronically controlled Continuous Variable Transmission-equipped sedan gets a regenerative braking system. 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 Prius operates in four modes: normal; EV, which is electric at lower speeds of up to 25 mph; ECO, an efficient mode where the driver can control the throttle opening; and Power, for sportiness.

Dual front and side airbags, side curtain airbag and the additional driver’s knee airbag are standard along with front-seat active headrests, four-wheel antilock brakes with Electronic Brake Distribution and Brake Assist, Traction Control, Vehicle Stability Control, and front and rear crumple zones.

A Multi-information Display with energy monitor, fuel consumption history, hybrid system indicator and odometer with twin trip meters will come in handy for drivers who like to eke out every gallon of gas. Also useful is the central instrument display with digital speedometer, instant fuel consumption, fuel gauge and shift-lever indicator. Other standard goodies include a tilt/telescopic steering wheel, push-button start, 60/40-split rear seat and power door locks.

Numerous Prius trim levels, including a plug-in, are available. So, take your pick. Though noisy on the road, this is one hybrid you seriously want to consider for remarkable fuel economy, adequate passenger/cargo room and reasonable price. No wonder, it has been the Top Pick Green Car annually for Consumer Reports for the last decade.



QX60It is only with brutes such as the Dodge Viper GTS (or the Charger SRT though to a much lesser extent) that we like to rattle off data: top speed is 206 mph; 0 to 60 mph in lower 3 seconds and ¼-mile in mid-11 sec; 0 to 100 to 0 in less than 12 sec; and brake distance from 60 to 0 in just 106 feet. To put it bluntly, the two-door, two-passenger coupe from the Street and Racing Technology (SRT) division of Chrysler is not everyones ride for the taking.

Nothing should surprise you once we reveal the displacement on the rear-wheel drive: 8.4-liter V-10 blasting off 640 hp @ 6200 rpm and 600 pounds-feet of torque @ 5000 rpm. Of course, the only gear box is the stiff 6-speed manual, which with the heavy clutch takes effort. At hand are a two-mode suspension system or street/track use,14-inch front and rear vented discs and power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering. Performance enthusiasts who crave a little action will glow about the loud throaty growl from the 10-cylinder engine. But do watch out for the steaming hot exhaust tips behind the door sill for possible leg burns.

The long carbon-fiber and forward-hinged hood and fender “gills” (heat extractors) meet up with HID headlights, white LED daytime running lights and turn signals to portray a menacing snake-eye appearance. And why should it not? This is not a cozy ride though we must admit that the cabin, unlike its predecessor, is comfortable, lavish and elegant. Fine leather covers the instrument panel, floor console, doors and, of course, six-way power seats. The race-inspired, center-mounted tachometer, 220 mph speedometer, fuel, oil, volt and coolant gauges, with a flat-bottomed three-spoke, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shifter, convey class. The 8.4-inch UConnect touchscreen offers effortless navigation, audio and phone controls.

Dual-front airbags, knee bolsters, electronic stability and traction controls, four-wheel antilock brakes, limited-slip differential, energy-absorbing steering column, three-point seatbelts with pretensioners, rearview camera and a tire pressure monitoring system round out the safety features.

Based at a steep $122,385, this speed monster truly is for hardcore race buffs. As you can see, it is not just the price that is beyond most drivers on the road. It is also the gas mileage, which is a pathetic 12 mpg in city (what we earned) and 19 on highway. Equally pitiable is the all-round visibility, especially when backing out. But if you do buy the Viper, we suggest taming the brute on the track more often than on the street.


QX60Who wants to tinker with near-perfection? Launched 25 years ago, the Lexus ES350 has been the standard bearer for midsize luxury sedans. Delivering an entertaining and energetic ride since its launch, Lexus has left the front-wheel-drive car alone for 2014 but with minor changes: standard HID headlights and LED fog lamps, available bamboo wood trim, heated/cooled seats with NuLuxe leatherette and compatible Siri Eyes Free with newer iPhones.

Otherwise, the power train has been retained: 3.5-liter V-6 engine developing 268 horsepower @ 6200 rpm and 248 pounds-feet of torque @ 4700 rpm. It is coupled with a smooth 6-speed auto transmission. Suspension handled via independent front and rear MacPherson struts does a worthy job of soaking up potholes and other road bumps. Returning a weighted response to the driver’s input is a power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering. And 0 to 60 mph is achieved in 7.1 seconds, which is fittingly quick for a 3,549-pound vehicle.

Sitting on a unitized steel body is the signature spindle grille with a centered Lexus insignia flanked by arrowhead-shaped headlights, integrated fog lamps, and wraparound tail lamps and dual exhaust tips. The cabin is typical Lexus with welcoming wood and piano black trim and leather as occupants are pampered in spacious seats. Other standard amenities include dual auto climate control, power moon roof and tilt/telescopic steering column, keyless entry/engine start, 10-way power front seats, Lexus premium audio system and rain-sensing wipers.

Standard safety features include dual front and side airbags, side curtain airbag, front knee airbags, four-wheel antilock brakes with Electronic Brake Distribution and Brake Assist, vehicle stability assist with traction control system, front/rear crumple zones, smart stop technology, three-point safety belts for all, daytime running lights and tire pressure monitoring system.

Placed between the entry-level IS and the larger GS, the ES350 is the near-perfect ride. Some may complain about the mouse-like Remote Touch to toggle navigation, climate, audio and phone controls. But we were happy with the electronic interface’s ease of use. This delightful Lexus is a well-balanced blend of luxury and performance.



QX60Meet the 40-year-old (for U.S. market) but all-new iconic Golf. The seventh-generation, 2015 hatchback is longer (2.1 inches), wider (.5 inch) and more spacious than its predecessor. Based on the MQB platform from Volkswagen, the front wheels have been moved forward by 1.7 inches, allowing more flexibility. It is also lighter by up to 79 pounds, depending on the model, with height down by 1.1 inches.

Under the hood of the sprightly and stylish ride, which gets up to speed with urgency and slows down quickly, are few options. Starting at $17,995, the Golf Launch and base TSI (gas) model (other trims are S, SE and SEL) is equipped with a 1.8-liter turbocharged inline-4 cylinder engine (replacing previous 2.5) generating 170 horsepower @ 4500 rpm and 200 pounds-feet of torque @ 1600 rpm. Then there is the TDI (diesel, 31/42 mileage) with a 2.0-liter turbo inline-4 engine developing 150 hp (up 10) @ 3500 rpm and 236 pounds-feet of torque @ 150 rpm. Base price is down by $3,000 to $21,995.

The performance enthusiasts among you will want the GTI (24/34 city/highway) with its 2.0-liter turbo inline-4 cylinder engine blasting 210 hp (10 boost) @ 4500 rpm and 258 pounds-feet of torque @ 1500 rpm (up 51). At $24,395, suspension has been lowered by 6 inches compared to other Golfs and gets the Driving Mode Selection feature so driver can pick individual, sport and comfort settings. Tuner folks can go for the GTI Sport model ($26,930) of which only 650 will be built. Except for the Sport trim, all Golfs will be offered in 5-speed manual or 6-speed auto.

Exterior changes include a steely sloped and longer hood, shorter front overhang, narrower grille and headlights to result in a lower but more dynamic stance. Cabin passenger volume is now 93.5 cubic feet of space, up by .8. Shoulder room increases by 1.2 inches in front and 1.1 inches in rear. Trunk space is now 22.8 cubic feet and if you fold down the rear seat, you get 52.7 cubic feet. Occupants will find the new 5.8-inch touchscreen infotainment system user friendly.

And Volkswagen is not quite done with the Golf. Coming down the road is the eGolf, which has a 70-90-mile solely-electric range developing 115 horsepower while equipped with a 24.2 kWh lithium battery. Early next year, the Golf R and Golf Sportwagen models will be introduced.

No doubt, the 2015 Golf delivers a peppy and supple ride with a range of trims from which to choose. Irrespective of the package, the potential buyer is promised sufficient power, worthy fuel economy, space aplenty and a reasonable value. What more can you ask for in a compact car?


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Read the Editor's Blog. By Nitish Rele Classifieds Getaway Motoring Cuisine Astrology Home Improvement Books Yoga Music and Dance Fashion Movies Techno Corner Finance Immigration Health Editorial News Classes/Places of Worship Content Find us on Facebook!