JUNE 2015
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Test-drive stories by NITISH S. RELE, motoringtampabay@gmail.com

2015 HONDA CR-V Ready for the 600-mile summer trip up north on a 17-mile tank before a refill stop? Then take your seat in the revamped 2015 Toyota Camry hybrid, which can eke nearly 40 mpg in combined driving. The midsize sedan retains the 2.5-liter Atkinson-cycle four-cylinder and an electric motor, putting out a total of 200 horsepower. Though not a powerhouse, the car can sprint from 0 to 60 mph in just 7.6 seconds.

A 244.8-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 boasts 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 two modes: normal; EV, which is electric at lower speeds of up to 25 mph; and ECO, an efficient mode where the driver can control the throttle opening.

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

Projector-beam halogen headlights with black trim bezels flank a smoked chrome upper grille hosting a blue-tinted Toyota emblem. Metallic wood and silver accents deck up the interior with its revised center stack, and fresh 4.2-inch TFT screen between the hybrid system power meter and the speedometer. Standard goodies include eight-way power driver and four-way front-passenger seat, dual auto climate control, tilt/telescopic steering column, and a 6.1-inch touchscreen for navigation, audio, phone controls.

The Toyota hybrid vehicle lineup just keeps getting better. The hot-seller Prius began the game, sort of, but its larger, more powerful and slightly-higher priced sibling is definitely worth a look. Besides, generous passenger/cargo room should entice families with little ones to sign on the dotted line of this fuel-sipper.



2015 HONDA CR-VAt the risk of offending other carmakers, we believe, “There is nothing like a Mercedes.” Apparently, the folks over at Benz must have sensed our thoughts and decided to dispatch over the 2015 E250 BlueTEC. A wonderful, pleasant drive it was that stretched to about 575 miles before the gas light came on.

Unchanged for this year, the midsize luxury sedan is equipped with a 2.1-liter twin-turbo diesel 4-cylinder engine putting out 195 horsepower @ 3800 rpm and 369 pounds-feet of torque @ 1800 rpm. The rear-wheel-drive car is mated to a standard 7-speed automatic, which can be driven in eco or sport modes. The 3-link independent strut-type front and 5-link rear suspension works splendidly to absorb unpleasant highway bumps and sudden sharp turns. Returning a weighted response to the driver’s input is a razor-sharp electromechanical power rack-and-pinion system. Zero to 60 is possible in 7.9 seconds with top speed limited to 130 mph.

The traditional three-pointed star on the two-bar grille is enclosed by horizontal LED headlights. At the rear, the E250 sports a thick and easily noticeable chrome bar on the trunk. The cabin is lavish and elegant as is expected of any Benz with dual-zone auto climate control, power tilt/sliding sun roof, ambient lights, light wood veneer on doors and dashboard, and leather on seats, steering wheel and door trim. The Merc-trademarked COMAND system for navigation, audio, phone is operated via a rotary dial in center console. The trunk opens up to a capacious 15.9 cubic feet of space, enough to hold luggage for a long vacation. And who can miss the graceful Mercedes analog clock centered on the dash?

Standard safety features include dual front and side airbags, driver knee airbag, side curtain airbag, four-wheel antilock brakes, Electronic Stability Program, Pre-Safe (partial braking in an emergency), Adaptive Brake technology for a quicker stop, daytime running lights and tire pressure monitoring system.

During our test-drive week, we earned almost 34.5 mpg to beat EPA city estimates of 28 of combined 33 mpg in this $51,800-base-priced ride. Not cheap by any means. But the sprightly car offers strong acceleration, incredible handling and steering feel. With almost record-shattering fuel (diesel) economy figures, it’s a win-win for the German carmaker. After all, “There is nothing like a Mercedes.”



2015 HONDA CR-VTotally redesigned in 2011, this year’s Chrysler 300 continues to be available in a base 3.6-liter V-6 engine developing 292 and 300 horsepower. However, under the hood of our rear-wheel-drive (all-wheel drive is also available) test car sat the legendary 5.7-liter Hemi V-8 engine belting out 363 horsepower at 5200 rpm and 394 pounds-feet of torque at 4200 rpm. Probably the biggest change for 2015 is that the antique 6-speed auto in all models has been replaced by the 8-speed gear box. Also ensuring further fuel savings is the Multi-Displacement system that shuts off half of the eight cylinders. And no more SRT8s or 5.7-liter V8 Hemis with all-wheel drive. We could live with that since the present 5.7-liter is a forceful and striking powertrain.

Suspension is handled efficiently by an independent front short- and long-arm and the rear with a multilink system. The new all-electric power steering is quick and accurate. Dual front and side airbags, side curtain airbag, driver knee airbag, four-wheel antilock brakes, front-seat active head restraints, stability and traction control, daytime running lights and a tire pressure monitoring system are standard.

For 2015, Chrysler has ramped up the size of the already-massive grille, sans seven slats, with blacked-out trim by at least 33 percent. The rear fascia gets new LE tail lamps, exhaust tips and wheels. The redesigned instrument panel of 160-mph speedometer and 7000-RPM tachometer holds a driver information center. Adding more class are LED ambient lights. Where’s the shifter knob? Look for a rotary dial on the center console. Other amenities include dual auto a/c, eight-way power front seats, familiar Chrysler analog clock, manual tilt/telescopic column, leather seats, Beats audio system with 552-watt amplifier and 60/40 rear seat.

Weighing well over 4,300 pounds, you would expect the bulky sedan to lack vim and vigor. But you will be surprised at its pace and agility, thanks to the effective Hemi. Of course, the revised cabin makes the 300 a strong contender in the full-size luxury car segment.


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