JUNE 2019
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By NITISH S. RELE – motoringtampabay@gmail.com

Nearly a decade after its introduction, Volvo redesigned its hot-seller XC60 in and out last year. We recall then the carmaker had dispatched over the T6 trim for us to test, which was equipped with a 2.0-liter inline-4 turbocharged and supercharged engine. For 2019, we received a T8 plug-in hybrid version (E-AWD), which put out a massive 400 horsepower @ 6000 rpm and 472 pounds-feet of torque @ 5400 rpm. An electric motor and a 10.4 kWh lithium-ion battery can take the midsize luxury crossover SUV nearly 20 miles before the gasoline engine kicks in. The 8-speed auto gearbox in our all-wheel-drive SUV is sprightly in any untoward situation. And the start-stop feature (auto engine stop when the vehicle halts) ensures substantial savings in fuel and weight.

After gaining plenty of length, wheelbase and rear legroom in 2018, the XC60 continues as is with passenger volume topping around 100 cubic feet. The handsome crossover portrays a centered chrome grille with the familiar Volvo iron mark, flanked by LED headlights and Thor’s hammer-like daytime running lights. The generous cabin conveys an upscale aura with a 12.3-inch instrument panel decked in shimmer graphite aluminum inlays. There is ample space for leg and shoulder room for three adult passengers in the rear seat. Volvo Sensus infotainment, with a distinct vertical 9-inch display touch screen, is essentially made up of four tiles: navigation, media, phone and user-defined. Activate one and watch it expand while keeping the other tiles visible for future use. Standard goodies include two-zone auto a/c, 10-way power front seats, 60/40 rear seat, steering wheel paddle shifters, aluminum cargo scuff plate and a leather-wrapped dashboard.

The Chinese-owned but Swedish-made car company is renowned for safety. Continuing the tradition, the XC60 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) also gets steer assist, tire pressure monitoring system and daytime running lights.

Yes, it’s an SUV but don’t for a minute believe that your outing will be sluggish. Sitting on 19-inch wheels, the XC60 can take off 0 to 60 mph in a mere 5.3 seconds and reach top speed of 130 mph. Apart from incredible liveliness and sharp handling, the ride boasts a well-crafted and intelligently-designed cabin. Volvo’s long safety list makes it a no-brainer.



It’s an all-new Toyota Avalon. For 2019, the fifth-generation large sedan has been totally redesigned with wheelbase up by 2, length increase of .6 and width by .8 inches, while the height is down by 1 inch from its predecessor. The rear cabin appears even roomier, having gained 7 inches. The front-wheel-drive and bulky Toyota has always been one of our favorites, mainly its ability to dodge peak-hour traffic or cruise the highway.

Though the 3.5-liter V-6 engine has been retained, the Avalon now cranks out 301 horsepower (up 33) at 6600 rpm (up 40) and 267 pounds-feet (up 19) of torque at 4700 rpm. Say goodbye to the previously lackluster 6-speed auto gearbox as the impressive and competent 8-speed transmission takes over. A MacPherson strut front with the multilink rear suspension does a splendid job of absorbing bumps and potholes. Communicating what the Toyota is up to at all times is a precise electric power rack-and-pinion steering.

A piano-black mesh grille surrounds smoked-chrome LED headlights, daytime running light bezels and outer mirror housings, again in black, to boost the bold stance of the Avalon. Dual exhausts with quad chrome tips and a spoiler deck up the rear. Greeting the occupants is a superbly fitted and finished cabin made upscale with generously sprinkled aluminum trim throughout. Amid a black/gray background are located attractive white pointers on white illuminated instrument gauges. Trunk space is an incredibly enormous 16 cubic feet while passenger volume is also admirable at 102.9 cubic feet. Other standard amenities are power tilt/slide moon roof, dual-zone auto a/c, keyless entry/engine start, eight-way power and heated/cooled front seats, micro-suede seat inserts, rearview camera, paddle shifters, four USB ports, 9-inch touch screen for audio, phone and nav controls, power tilt/telescopic steering wheel and a 10-inch head-up display.

Toyota Safety Sense includes a pre-collision system that detects pedestrians, lane departure assist and dynamic cruise control. Other safety features are dual front and side airbags, side curtain airbag, front knee airbags, vehicle stability and traction control, four-wheel antilock brakes with Electronic Brake Distribution and Brake Assist, blind spot monitor and rear cross traffic alert, front and rear crumple zones, side impact door beams, three-point seatbelts for all, tire pressure monitor and daytime running lights.

This is one heck of a tempting buy, thanks to a substantial increase in horsepower, torque, all-new transmission and rear suspension. A top-notch spacious cabin and praiseworthy fuel mileage make the Toyota flagship a best buy among large sedans.



THE RIDE: Four-door, five-passenger 2019 Kia Forte EX sedan.

DOWN THE ROAD: Slotted between the Rio and Optima, the totally redesigned third-generation compact ride is longer (3.2 inches) and wider (0.8) than its predecessor. Plus, height is down by just 0.2 inches. Regardless, you have an enjoyable car to drive, displaying superb suppleness, grip and response.

TECH & PERFORMANCE: Under the hood of the front-wheel-drive vehicle sits the same 2.0-liter DOHC inline-4 cylinder engine developing a healthy 147 horsepower @ 6200 rpm and 132 pounds-feet of torque @ 4500 rpm. It is mated to a standard and quite impressive continuous variable transmission. A front MacPherson strut and a rear coupled torsion beam suspension soaks obstacles with dexterity, sure-footedness and poise. The electric power assist steering is responsive, quick and accurate.

LOOK & FEEL: With its long hood and short deck, the Forte shows off swept-back projector headlights that surround the familiar tiger-nose grille and a forceful lower black valance. The look is distinctly of the Stinger fastback in the Kia fold. The interior is generous for a compact car with Sofino leatherette seat trim though the shifter knob and steering wheel are decked in fine-looking leather. A trunk capacity of 15.3 cubic feet translates into abundant space for luggage. Also standard are dual auto a/c, remote keyless entry, tilt/telescopic steering column, heated/cooled front seats, 60/40 rear seat, 8-inch touch screen for audio, phone and nav controls, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay capabilities, and power-adjustable driver’s seat. Flex steering feature allows the driver to switch between normal, sport or comfort modes.

SAFETY FIRST: Dual front and side airbags, side curtain airbag for both rows, four-wheel antilock brakes with electronic brake distribution and brake assist, stability/traction control as well as vehicle stability management, hill-start assist, blind-spot monitor, forward collision warning and avoidance assist, lane departure warning and lane keep assist, rear-cross traffic collision warning, rearview camera, front seatbelt pretensioners, front and rear crumple zones and tire pressure monitoring system are standard.

OUT THE DOOR: $21,990, plus tax, tag, delivery and destination charges.

BY THE NUMBERS: Tires, P225/45R17; wheelbase, 106.3 inches; length, 182.7 inches; weight, 2,762 pounds; fuel capacity, 14 gallons; city, 30 mpg; highway, 40 mpg; Web site, www.kia.com

WHY DIG IT: Not only is this overhauled gas-sipper fun, sprightly and well-balanced but also economical, starting under $22,000. Kudos go to Kia for continuing to offer the notable 10-year/100,000-mile power train and 5-year/60,000-mile basic warranties.


It isn’t the fastest of the Toyotas on the road, taking 11.7 seconds to propel from 0 to 60 mph. But the peculiar-appearing Toyota C-HR (Coupe High-Rider) should attract a following of its own. After all, the ride is smooth and the solid handling/balance ensures self-assurance in the driver. Now in its second year, the 2019 cheeky-styled subcompact crossover teases you with its coupe-like roofline and raked windshield meeting up to slim projector-beam headlights, black grille, and color-keyed front/rear bumpers, door handles and exterior mirrors.

Under the hood of the smaller sibling to the RAV4 (nearly 10 inches shorter) sits a 2.0-liter 4-cylinder DOHC engine putting out 144 horsepower at 6100 rpm and 139 pounds-feet of torque at 3900 rpm. Power is put to the road through a tolerable continuous variable transmission.

Rounded analog gauges for speedometer and tachometer housing a driver info center greet the driver in the front-wheel-drive C-HR. The leather shifter with satin-plated knob lends a firm grip. Where are the rear-door handles? Hidden quite well, we must say, which could be a challenge for the little ones in the family. Other standard goodies include dual auto a/c, 4.2-inch multi-information display screen, eight-way adjustable driver and six-way front-passenger seats, 8-inch touch screen for audio, nav and phone controls, power-folding mirrors, sport/normal/eco drive modes, 60/40 rear seat and a leather tilt/telescopic steering column.

Dual front and side airbags, side curtain airbag, driver knee airbag, vehicle stability and traction control, four-wheel antilock brakes with Electronic Brake Distribution and Brake Assist, blind spot monitor and rear cross traffic alert, rear camera, front and rear crumple zones, side impact door beams, three-point seatbelts for all, tire pressure monitor and daytime running lights are standard. Also, the Toyota Safety Sense includes a pre-collision system that detects pedestrians, lane departure assist and dynamic cruise control.

Admitted, the C-HR has an unusual look but that may very well be an incentive for some folks to sign on the dotted line. Besides, the fuel-efficient crossover with impressive people- and cargo-hauling capabilities is priced just right.


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