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

QX60 That JX35 we test drove last year, we are told, is history. Sort of. The seven-passenger crossover from Nissan’s luxury division is now the all-new QX60. Apparently, to keep things simple (though we must admit it can be confusing), Infiniti has a fresh vehicle alpha-numeric nomenclature designating all crossovers and SUV as “QX” and sedans, coupes and convertible as “Q.”

Available in front-wheel or rear-wheel drive like the previous JX, the lone power train is a 3.5-liter V-6 engine cranking out an acceptable 265 horsepower @ 6400 rpm and 248 pounds-feet of torque @ 4400 rpm. The result is smooth, compliant and linear acceleration.

Also retained is the seamless Continuous Variable Transmission, which can be shifted manually while drive modes range from standard to sport, and eco to snow. An independent strut front and a multilink rear suspension work well to eagerly tackle quick turns and sharp corners on the road. Providing further peace of mind on our test vehicle is an all-wheel-drive system. Lest we forget, the hydraulic electric rack steering is quick and communicative.

Like all Infinitis, the QX60 shows off an aggressive stance starting with the double-wave hood, which meets up with the enormous double-arch grille housing the familiar emblem, while surrounded by xenon headlights and fog lamps. Of course, the remarkable ride gets an upscale, spacious interior. Standard amenities include a tri-zone auto climate control, rearview camera, tilt/telescopic power steering column, wood trim, and eight-way power drive and six-way front-passenger seats. For convenience, the second-row seat slides fore/aft by 5½ inches for easier ingress/egress to the third-row seat. And with both rear seats folded, you gain a commendable 76.5 cubic feet of space, as well as an underfloor storage area in cargo hold.

All this is available at $42,100 for the FWD and $43,500 for the AWD versions. The options total up to $57,240. We averaged 19.5 mpg in our week’s city/highway driving in the AWD test drive, which EPA estimates at 19/25 and 20/26 for the FWD.

No doubt, the QX60 is a colossal vehicle that comes with a steep price tag. But potential buyers could be swayed by its endless safety features such as blind spot warning/intervention, lane departure, forward and backup collision warnings, and intelligent brake and distance control assists. And nobody will argue that like its predecessor, the QX60 is a fine mix of performance and luxury.

QX60 (AWD)

restyled LEXUS IS 350 WILL BE A TOUGH contender

LEXUS IS 350 Competing with the Germans is no cakewalk but you got to give credit to Lexus for taking a shot or two. As it has with the third-generation redesigned 2014 Lexus IS 350. The compact sport sedan is nippy off the mark, sprightly in traffic and a blast to drive. Under the unitized steel body resides a 3.5-liter V-6 engine developing 306 horsepower @ 6400 rpm and 277 pounds-feet of torque @ 4800 rpm. It is equipped with the IS F high-performance model’s eight-speed auto gearbox with paddle shifters and can take off in eco, normal, sport or snow modes.

Though our test car was a rear-wheel drive, you can opt for an electronically controlled all-weather drive for better grip and traction in any untoward situation. Taking a cue from yet another Lexus, the GS sedan, the IS now comes with a revised double wishbone front and an all-new multilink rear suspension and an electric power rack-and-pinion steering. These ensure stability on the toughest road surfaces.

Up in wheelbase by 3 inches and width by nearly ½ inch, the revamped 350 exhibits HID headlights and separated LED daytime running lights flanking the new signature spindle grille, a color coordinated front air dam and dual chrome exhaust tips. The cabin is roomer than in the past with rear-seat legroom up by 1.6 inches. Trunk capacity is adequate at 13.8 cubic feet. Niceties include dual-zone auto climate control, 60/40 split rear seat, 10-way power and eight-way front-passenger seats, moon roof, electroluminescent Optitron gauges for the 160-mph speedometer, 8,000-rpm tachometer, fuel and coolant temperature readings, silver-metallic trimmed analog clock, and a power tilt/telescopic steering column. A mouse-like, easy-to-use Remote Touch enables the driver to toggle navigation, climate, audio and phone controls, which are displayed on a 7-inch screen.

Standard safety features include dual front and side airbags, side curtain airbag, front knee airbags, vehicle stability and traction controls, front/rear crumple zones, four-wheel antilock brakes with electronic brake distribution and brake assist, and a tire pressure monitoring system.

Despite the 3,593-pound weight, 0 to 60 is possible in just 5.6 seconds. No doubt, the revamped sporty IS 350 delivers quite a punch, a roomy interior, and respectable fuel economy (we eked out 22.2 mpg city and 30 highway) to give its competitors from across the ocean a run for their money.

IS 350 (RWD)


VOLVO V60 Who says wagons belong to the past? Yes, Volvo did pull out the V50 and V70 wagons from the U.S. market sometime back but it still sells the XC70 here and now will bring the European-sold V60 here as a 2015 model. Based on the popular S60 sedan, this luxury sport wagon will be equipped with the T5 Drive-E 2.0-liter inline-4 turbocharged and direct-injection engine producing 240 horsepower @ 5600 rpm and 258 pounds-feet of torque @ 4800 rpm. Add an 8-speed auto gearbox and the start-stop feature (automatic engine stop when the vehicle halts) to the mix and you have substantial savings in fuel as well as weight to produce an exceptional ride.

A front MacPherson strut and a multilink rear suspension handles the bumps of road surfaces with little sacrifice to your back side. Conveying a direct and communicative feel is the electric power assist rack-and-pinion steering.

The good-looking wagon displays a sculpted hood with short overhangs that lead up to a grille hosting the familiar Volvo emblem and surrounded by horizontal HID headlights. Vertical tail lamps are distinct along with a centered brake light in the rear. With materials of high quality and superb fit and finish, the roomy cabin sports a digital instrument panel display while decked in shimmer graphite aluminum inlays. The cargo hold can hold an impressive 43.1 cubic feet of space. Other standard amenities include eight-way power driver and front-passenger seats, 40/20/40 rear seat, paddle shifters, power moon roof, dual-zone auto climate control, leather shifter knob and a three-spoke steering tilt/telescopic column.

As is well known, the automaker is renowned for its safety features. Continuing the tradition, the V60 gets dual front and side airbags, side curtain airbag, four-wheel antilock brakes, three-point seatbelts for all, side impact protection system, dynamic stability and traction control, City Safety (brakes automatically to help prevent a rear-end collision), tire pressure monitoring system and daytime running lights.

Yes, it’s a wagon but don’t for a minute believe that your ride will be slow. The front-wheel-drive vehicle can take off 0 to 60 mph in a mere 6.1 seconds and reach top speed of 130 mph. Apart from incredible agility, the ride boasts an obliging cabin and no-frills capabilities. Volvo’s long safety list makes it a no-brainer.




Here are some stats to flabbergast you: 0 to 60 in high 4 seconds; ¼ mile in high 12 secs; 0-100-0 in fewer than 6 secs; stopping power 60-0 in 120 feet; and top speed of 175 mph. That’s the 2014 Dodge Charger SRT8 Super Bee for you. With no changes for 2014, the large sedan retains a 6.4-liter Hemi V-8 engine, which generates 470 horsepower @ 6000 rpm and 470 pounds-feet of torque @ 4300 rpm. Unfortunately, the insufficient 5-speed auto transmission contributes to poor gas mileage. The car takes the edge of sharp bumps and breaks with composure because of the assuring independent front short-long arm with high upper ‘A’ arm and 5-link rear suspension. Keeping torque steer to the minimum is the SRT-tuned rack and pinion hydraulic power-assist steering system.

Ensconced on a unitized steel body, the front fenders of our Charger sported a “392 Hemi” badge while the rear was etched with “Powered by SRT,” as well as LED tail lamps, matte black spoiler and dual chrome tips. The aluminum hood met up with an intimidating black matte honeycomb grille and Super Bee badge, which is surrounded by quad halogen reflector headlights. That this is a race-inspired cabin is evident from the rounded 180 mph speedometer and 7000 tachometer gauges with fuel and temperature readings, and a driver information center. And seriously, who needs leather when the two-stripe cloth seats with silver striping are embossed with Super Bee logos on front seat headrests? Lending taste and elegance to the cabin are aluminum lithographic splashes on the center stack, shifter, dash and door-switch bezels. The standard 4.3-inch UConnect touchscreen offers effortless navigation, audio and phone controls though we would opt for the larger 8.4-inch size. Other standard goodies are a six-way power driver seat, 60/40 rear seat, manual but flat-bottomed tilt/telescopic steering column, and a SRT leather-wrapped shifter.

Safety is vital for Dodge with dual front and side airbags, side curtain airbag for both rows, driver knee airbag, reactive head restraints, Electronic Stability Program, traction control, hill-start assist, front/rear crumple zones, daytime running lights and tire pressure monitoring system. Providing positive brake feel are 14.2-inch vented front and 13.8-inch rear discs equipped with four-piston Brembo calipers.

Muscle-car fans, crave for that throaty exhaust growl (it’s a Hemi!) as you turn on the ignition? Like to mash the pedals for a speed-demon-like takeoff? Then the Charger will fit the bill. Just ignore the pitiful 14/23 mileage figures. Or the slightly cramped rear seat for tall passengers.



Chevy Sonic

Two years ago, when Chevy introduced the Sonic to replace the Aveo, we tested the 1.8-liter engine (138 horsepower @ 6300 rpm). We found the powertrain to be just adequate for the subcompact. But recently, we tried out the speedier 1.4-liter turbocharged inline-4 cylinder (138 hp @ 4900 rpm) RS and were quite impressed with the result: a sprightly, pleasant and rewarding sedan that left us asking for more. The responsive close-ratio RS-specific 6-speed manual gearbox will engage the performance enthusiasts.

Available as a sedan or hatchback with powertrains borrowed from the compact Cruze, the inside-out motorcycle-inspired Sonic is equipped with a sport-tuned suspension made up of MacPherson strut front and torsion beam rear to provide a wonderfully supple ride. The quick and communicative electric power steering ensures positive on-center response.

Kudos to Chevy for the fresh and clean body of the Sonic highlighted mainly by the dual-port mesh grille opening with a centered bowtie emblem, flanked by round headlights and tail lamps. RS badging on the rear also continues as you step into the roomy cabin with the trim letters etched on front headrests and instrument cluster, flat-bottomed three-spoke leather-wrapped steering wheel and aluminum sport pedals. The leather-wrapped shifter knob with red stitches looks classy. A large round analog tachometer and digital speed display is further evidence of the motorcycle-inspired theme. Boasting a laudable trunk size of 14.9 cubic feet, the small car uses space cleverly with pockets for storage in the center stack as well as under the dashboard.

Hats off to Chevy for packing the car with such standard safety features as 10 airbags, stability and traction controls, four-wheel antilock brakes with electronic brake distribution and brake assist, rearview camera, remote keyless entry and tire pressure monitoring system. Best is the hill start assist, which holds the car stationary for two seconds on a slope after the brakes have been released.

Priced reasonably, the sporty Sonic offers plenty of pep thanks to the turbocharger, noteworthy fuel economy (we earned 28 mpg in city) and sufficient passenger/cargo room. Performance buffs cannot afford to pass on the RS trim without going for a test drive at your local dealership.


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