MARCH 2014
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Test-drive stories by NITISH S. RELE,

With each new-generation model, the iconic Porsche 911 keeps on getting better and more appealing. Same applies to this year’s Carrera 4S Cabriolet, which continues with a rear-mounted, water-cooled and horizontally-opposed 3.8-liter boxer-6 engine. Step on the gas and you will experience the rush of 400 horsepower @ 7400 rpm and 325 pounds-feet of torque @ 5600 rpm. The all-wheel-drive sports car boasts 0 to 60 mph in just 4.3 seconds with top speed capped at 188 mph. Our optional PDK Porsche double-clutch 7-speed transmission is basically two clutches without a clutch pedal but can work either automatically, via steering-wheel mounted paddles or a center-mounted lever. The result is an impeccable gear box with instantaneous up and down shifts.

Porsche Active Suspension Management adjusts the suspension system so a fine balance of ride and handling can be maintained, regardless of driving styles. And then there is the Porsche Stability Management, which works in tandem with antilock brakes, to maintain stability and traction in shifty road or weather conditions.

Also, keeping the driver and passenger out of harm’s way are standard dual front, side and knee airbags, four-wheel antilock brakes, anti-roll bars, front-belt pretensioners, tire pressure monitoring system and daytime running lights. Braking is handled skillfully by 13.4-inch front and 12.9-inch rear vented rotors. The 20-inch forged alloy wheels come shod with 245/35 ZR up front and 305/30 ZR at the rear. The soft top opens or closes by pressing a center-console button in a mere 13 seconds and at up to 31 mph.

The gorgeous convertible sports the traditional Porsche emblem on the hood, round bi-xenon headlights, much-needed and distinct front air inlets, and a thin panel at the rear that joins together left and right tail lamps to draw the eye of onlookers. Don’t let the five-pod instrument panel overawe you while taking place behind the three-spoke steering wheel. To the right of the central tachometer is the 4.8-inch Porsche Communication Management system’s touch-screen showing readings for audio, navigation, telephone and the driver information center.

Base-priced at $117,530 (with options, our test was $150,750), the iconic 911 Carrera will draw in not just the sun but also tons of attention. And what top-down motoring buff won’t cherish the sweet-sounding but deep exhaust rumble?



Watch out, Acura MDX, BMW X5 and Infiniti QX70! Here comes a performance-oriented midsize luxury SUV from Volkswagen to take you head-on! And that too an all-wheel drive. The Touareg with its R-Line edition has debuted with a 3.6-liter V-6 engine pumping out 280 horsepower @ 6200 rpm and 266 pounds-feet of torque @ 2500 rpm. The upper and lower control arms in front and a multilink rear suspension has been sport-tuned to pump up the fun factor. Shifting via the easy-to-engage 8-speed auto gear box is markedly quick, quiet and smooth.

Ensconced on a unitary structure, the handsome SUV displays a VW grille that links twin chrome-faced strips to trapezoidal bi-xenon HID headlight housings. L-design tail lamps, blacked-out lower rear spoiler and oval-shaped exhaust tips enhance its overall aggressive look. R-Line trim translates into fine-looking high-gloss black and brushed aluminum trim on dashboard, center console and door, R-Line scuff plates, aluminum sport pedals and R-Line steering column. A longer wheelbase translates into 2.7-inch longer knee room. The 40/20/40 rear-seat, which can slide fore/aft by 6.3 inches, is a huge benefit for passengers. Well-placed storage bins and cubbies dot the striking cabin. A knob behind the leather shifter enables the driver to switch between on or off road. Standard goodies include a panoramic glass sun roof, power lift gate, dual-zone auto climate control, 12-way power front eats, and a colossal 64-cubic-foot cargo hold.

Safety features include dual front and side airbags, side curtain airbag, four-wheel antilock brakes, three-point safety belt for all, anti-theft alarm and a rollover sensor system.

Whether you are testing off-road prowess or on-road capability, the stylish Touareg is astonishingly nippy off the mark, sprightly in traffic and enjoyable to drive. However, its steep $54,115 price tag may put off potential buyers who would rather spend the extra dough on a high-end motif such as Porsche or Audi.



One factor the 2014 Fusion Energi has going for it is that the field of hybrid plug-ins is wide open. Except for the Prius Plug-in, Chevrolet Volt and the Honda Accord Plug-in hybrid. Right off the bat, the midsize sedan from Ford starts with a few negatives: miniscule trunk (8.2 cubic feet because of battery) and a tag that would cause jitters in a potential buyer.

A 2.0-liter Atkinson cycle, inline-4 cylinder engine is mated to an electric motor, which is powered by a 7.6 kWh lithium-ion battery. So, don’t expect 0 to 60 in 4 or 5 seconds. But the engine is acceptable enough to put out a total of 195 horsepower and 129 pounds-feet of torque while paired to a Continuous Variable Transmission. Basically, the Fusion Energi can run on hybrid/gas, electric or a blend of both. The car can travel up to 85 mph in electric only and in pure EV mode (when battery is fully charged) up to 20 mpg. However, we earned barely 15 mpg even with a light lead foot.

The hybrid plug-in offers a regenerative braking system for additional fuel savings. 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 as heat through the brakes. Instead, it converts the energy into useable electricity to recharge the battery.

Certainly, the coolest cabin trait is the reconfigurable SmartGauge cluster with EcoGuide. It’s in essence twin LCD screens on each side of the center-mounted speedometer. You can keep an eye on fuel/hybrid and battery charge levels, instantaneous MPG, EV mode and a consumption gauge. The extremely frugal among you will love EcoGuide, a virtual plant that sprouts leaves. The more heavily you step on the gas pedal, the fewer leaves will develop, making you see anything but green! Also notable is the charge port featuring a light ring that illuminates to indicate battery status.

MyFord Touch (we call it Mighty Touchy) accesses audio, telephone, navigation controls via a voice command, touch screen tap or button click while Ford’s Sync integrates Bluetooth-enabled cell phones and iPods through voice recognition. Other standard amenities include 10-way driver and 4-way front-passenger power seats, four-spoke tilt/telescopic steering column, leather shifter and a dual-zone automatic climate control.

Safety should not be an issue with such standard features as dual front, side and knee airbags, side curtain airbag, four-wheel antilock brakes, Electronic Stability Control, traction control, rear camera and parking sensors, remote start, hill start assist, tire pressure monitoring system and daytime running lights.

Though touted as an energy saver, we eked out 37.8 mpg in mostly hybrid city driving (EPA estimates are 43 mpg in mixed gas-only driving). By no means a bargain at an exorbitant $40,500, the Fusion Energi is a roomy, stylish and entertaining midsize sedan.



For nearly 10 years, the Chevy Impala has been America’s best-selling full-size sedan. But something didn’t seem quite right with this flagship sedan. Till now. After years, the car has been totally redesigned with a visibly bigger exterior, roomier interior and a power train that packs a solid punch.

Welcome to the reincarnated Impala, which is equipped with a 3.6-liter V-6 engine cranking out 305 horsepower @ 6800 rpm and 264 pounds-feet of torque @ 5300 rpm. It is mated to a lively 6-speed auto transmission. Making a huge difference is the revamped suspension of MacPherson strut front and 4-link rear. The new Electric Power Steering, which nixes use of hoses and pumps, translates into much-needed fuel savings for the 3,800-pound vehicle.

The dual-cockpit cabin now offers MyLink with an 8-inch color touch screen for hands-free navigation, phone and audio controls. Hidden behind the infotainment system is a cleverly concealed bin. Sandwiched between the speedometer and tachometer in the 4.2-inch reconfigurable color display on the instrument panel is a driver information center that can be controlled via steering wheel buttons. Other standard creature comforts include dual auto climate control, power sun roof, 60/40 split fold rear seat, tilt/telescopic steering column, and a cavernous 18.8 cubic feet of trunk space.

Available in numerous models with a starting price as low as $27,535, the Impala tackles sharp city corners or cruises down the highway with liveliness and confidence. You are assured of excellent handling, balance and ride ease. Kudos to the GM engineers for a tremendous job in reviving this car of yesteryears.



THE RIDE: Four-door, five-passenger 2014 Jeep Cherokee Limited compact SUV.

DOWN THE ROAD: Though our test-drive version was equipped with a front-wheel drive, we enjoyed a smooth, safe and adequate ride with capable handling and a good overall balance.

TECH & PERFORMANCE: Power is routed via a 2.4-liter inline-4 cylinder engine, which puts out 184 hp @ 6400 rpm and 171 pounds-feet of torque @ 4600 rpm. Forget the previous 6-speed auto gear box. It has been replaced by an astounding 9-speed auto, a first for the segment. Keeping the Jeep stable enough to soak bumps is an independent suspension of front MacPherson strut and a multilink rear system. The electric power rack-and-pinion steering is quick, precise and direct.

LOOK & FEEL: Up front is a waterfall hood with the peaked and traditional seven-slotted grille flanked by LED headlights. Displaying exquisite taste and tailoring, the revamped cabin features a 7-inch programmable multi-view gauge cluster. Also new for the Cherokee is Chrysler’s 8.4-inch UConnect touchscreen offering effortless navigation, audio and phone controls. Standard amenities include dual-zone auto climate control, eight-way power driver seat, 60/40 split second-row seat, tilt and telescopic steering column, leather seats, heated front seats and ambient lights.

SAFETY FIRST: Dual front, side and knee airbags, side curtain airbag, four-wheel antilock brakes with brake assist, electronic stability and traction control, electronic roll mitigation and hill start assist, rearview camera, remote start and tire pressure monitoring system are standard.

OUT THE DOOR: $27,995, plus tax, tag, delivery and destination charges.

BY THE NUMBERS: Tires, P225/55R18 all season; wheelbase, 106.2 inches; length, 182 inches; weight, 3,734 pounds; city, 22 mpg; highway, 31 mpg; fuel capacity, 15.9 gallons; Web site,

WHY DIG IT: Poor fuel mileage and Jeep have been synonymous in the past. But not any more. We beat EPA estimates by eking out 23.8 mpg in city and 32 mpg on highway. Partial credit goes to the fuel-saver all-new 9-speed gear box. Besides, the SUV is comfortably priced, versatile and spacious. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that for the daily grind, the Cherokee is as appealing as any other small SUV on the road.

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