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

2015 HONDA CR-V The compact luxury crossover segment just got “richer,” sort of, with the entry of the 2015 Lexus NX 300h. The all-new model is a pleasure to drive, responding with agility in any driving situation while packed with luxury and tech goodies expected from this upscale division of Toyota.

A 2.5-liter DOHC inline-4 cylinder gas engine with Atkinson cycle develops 154 horsepower @5700 rpm and 152 pounds-feet of torque @ 4400 rpm. It is coupled to electric motor/generators, which boast hp up to 194. Zero to 60 mph is clocked at around 9.1 seconds with top speed limited at 112 mph. The crossover also is fitted with a 244.8-volt nickel-metal hydride battery, which is recharged by energy captured as the driver applies the brakes or coasts. Also, the Continuous Variable Transmission-equipped car gets a regenerative braking system. When the car is coasting or the brakes are applied, the electric power functions as a generator, capturing kinetic energy that would normally be lost. Instead, it converts the energy into useable electricity for recharging the batteries.

The NX 300h operates in three modes: EV, which allows the car to travel for about a mile at 20 mph in perfect conditions; eco, which enables the driver to control throttle opening; sport, for the enthusiast behind the wheel. Just keep an eye on the hybrid-system indicator in the instrument panel and you will eke out substantial fuel savings.

Dual front and side airbags, side curtain airbag, driver knee airbag are standard along with side-impact door beams, four-wheel antilock brakes, Electronic Brake Distribution and Brake Assist, Vehicle Stability and Traction Control, rearview camera, push-button start, three-point seatbelts with pretensioners, and front and rear crumple zones.

That this is a hybrid is evident from the blue tint in the Lexus emblem on the traditional spindle grille, flanked by L-shaped LEX headlights. Available in front-wheel or all-wheel drive, the NX 300h also sports a brawny, hunkered-down posture, especially when you glance at the raked lift gate and the roof-mounted rear spoiler. As soon as we stepped into the airy and well-appointed cabin, the gated automatic shifter caught our attention. A 4.5-inch TFT LCD screen displays audio, fuel consumption, mileage, outside temperature, odometer and tire pressure readings. Some niceties include dual-zone auto climate control, 10-way power driver and 8-way front-passenger seats, 60/40 rear seat, power tilt/telescopic steering column, Lexus analog clock and dark umber trim. A cool mouse-like Remote Touch can be used to toggle navigation, climate, audio and phone controls.

If in the market for a compact luxury crossover with potent engine under the hood, decent gas mileage and numerous creature comforts, the NX 300h fits the bill. Indeed, its addition to the Lexus lineup makes sense. And a lot of difference.




So far, Nissan has sold 2.9 million Maximas in the United States. With a total redesign for 2016, we expect a spike in sales of the Smyrna, Tenn.-assembled eighth-generation full-size car.

The front-wheel-drive “four-door sports sedan” as Nissan likes to call it, acquires a new 3.5-liter V-6 engine, which pumps out 300 horsepower (up by 10) @ 6400 rpm and 261 pounds-feet of torque @ 4400 rpm. It weighs 82 pounds less than its predecessor though still mated to the continuous variable transmission. However, fuel economy figures are up by 14 percent and platform rigidity by 25 percent. A new suspension of ZF Sachs monotube dampers means better response and high-temperature fade resistance.

A jet-fighter style theme, inspired by the Blue Angels at Naval Station in Pensacola, resonates with the V-motion grille, flanked by boomerang headlights, wraparound windshield, diamond-finish 19-inch wheels and floating roof. The theme continues in the roomy cabin with a wraparound console of 7-inch meter and 8-inch navigation screens, flat-bottomed steering wheel and start button. Contrast stitching on the instrument panel, doors and console, diamond-quilted inserts in Alcantara, and liquid-chrome faceted finishers enhance the appeal. The rotary knob for the fresh display commander knob controls the audio, navigation and phone systems. Apart from the standard safety features is a driver attention alert to monitor steering input, tremendously helpful during those long, drowsy hours on the highway.

The Maxima is offered in five grades starting at $32,410 for the base S trim and peaking at $39,860 for top-level Platinum with navigation and remote start standard on all.

Advice to the competitors: Toyota Avalon, Acura TLX, Chrysler 300, Dodge Charger and Chevy Impala. Watch out for the newly redesigned sedan, which claims spellbinding design, tremendous performance, splendid craftsmanship and cutting-edge technology. And rightly so.


Ford PUTS ITS ‘FOCUS’ into the spotlight


It’s got the looks for sure. The restyled bulging hood, mesh grille, trunk lid, available signature lights and rear lamp clusters for 2015 further enhance the bold styling of the Ford Focus. Also introduced into the sedan/hatchback lineup is a 1.0-liter turbo EcoBoost engine. However, we were quite content with the 2.0-liter gasoline-direct injection inline-4 cylinder engine under the hood, which develops 160 horsepower @ 6500 rpm and 146 pounds-feet of torque @ 4450 rpm. The tweaked independent MacPherson strut front and multilink rear suspension suppresses road and wind noise to result in a pleasingly supple ride. And the Electric Power Steering is accurate, communicative and fast, while the 6-speed auto gearbox provides smooth upshifts and swift downshifts.

Take the driver’s seat inside the unitized steel body of the front-wheel-drive hatchback and you will find instrument gauges with aqua-blue needles atop white numerals amid black background. Satin-chrome details on the new switches give the cabin a fresh feel and appearance. Ford has revamped the center console incorporating adjustable cup holders and providing easier access to the glove box. Air-conditioning, tilt/telescopic steering column, driver information center, 60/40 rear seat and remote keyless entry are standard. MyFord Touch accesses audio, telephone, navigation controls via a voice command, touch screen tap or button click.

Safety features include dual front and side airbags, side curtain airbag, four-wheel antilock brakes, AdvanceTrac with electronic stability control, antiskid system and tire pressure monitoring system. Standard for 2015 is a rearview camera, a feature more compact cars should be offering at no cost.

The Focus delivers fun-to-drive handling, worthy steering and body control, and laudable fuel economy in a stylish package.


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