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Test-drive stories by NITISH S. RELE,

2016 LEXUS RX450h

Volkswagen’s best-selling model in the United States gets an all-new powertrain for 2017. The previous 2.0-liter 4-cylinder has been replaced by a superb and effortless 1.4-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder direct-injection engine. The front-wheel-drive Jetta belts out 150 horsepower at 5000 rpm and 184 pounds-feet of torque at 1400 rpm. It is mated to a 5-speed manual or the 6-speed auto. An independent strut-type front and a multilink rear suspension provide a delightfully lively outing while calmly absorbing bumps. The electro-mechanical speed-sensitive power steering is quick and communicative to result in a positive on-center response.

Ensconced on the unitary structure are three cross fins in the radiator grille that meet up with halogen headlights. The 6.3-inch touch interface for audio, nav, phone controls has been revamped for the better. The infotainment now integrates Apple CarPlay and Google Android Auto smartphone apps as well as VW Car-Net. As always, readings on the driver information center between the round speedometer and tachometer gauges are large, eligible and perfectly located. Have tall folks in the family? No reason to worry. The manual front seats are height adjustable. Go ahead and load up those suitcases and golf bags in the cavernous trunk, which flaunts 15.7 cubic feet of space. And passenger capacity opens up to a remarkable 94.1 cubic feet. Other standard amenities include manual a/c, 60/40 fold rear seat, cloth seats, tilt/telescopic flat-bottomed steering column, cruise control, push-button start and overhead sunglass holder.

With a fresh and more-than-welcome powertrain, the Jetta becomes an even more attractive proposition for small-car buyers. Indeed, this compact sedan is a splendid combination of thrift, practicality and fun to drive.



Meet the RC200t, an all-new member of the RC family, which already has the 300 and 350 in its arsenal. This fine luxury coupe shares its powertrain with the IS200: a 2.0-liter twin-turbo and intercooled inline-4 cylinder engine developing 241 horsepower @ 5800 rpm and 258 pounds-feet of torque @ 4400 rpm. It’s more than enough to take the rear-wheel-drive car from 0 to 60 in 7.3 seconds with top speed at 143 mph. The rear-wheel-drive ride is mated to an 8-speed auto gearbox with eco, normal, sport and snow modes.

The F Sport package ($4,105) fetches you a massive mesh spindle grille flanked by twin-projector LED headlights, 19-inch five-spoke wheels, cooled/heated front seats, perforated shifter and power steering column, aluminum sport pedals, blind spot monitor, among other luxuries. And, of course, a forceful F Sport-tuned suspension that provides for some energetic driving. LFA-inspired instrument panel hosts a moving center ring for a digital speedometer, tachometer and a driver information center. Other goodies include silver metallic trim, analog clock, 60/40 fold rear seat and dual-zone auto a/c control. 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.

Dual front and side airbags, side curtain airbag, front knee airbags, vehicle stability and traction controls, front/rear crumple zones and side-impact beams, four-wheel antilock brakes with electronic brake distribution and brake assist, daytime running lights and a tire pressure monitoring system are standard.

It comes down to choice. If you like a slightly more aggressive ride than the base RC200t has to offer, we recommend adding the F Sport option. It will deliver a punch or two as you ride in style and safety to your destination.



A few months ago, Volvo had dispatched over a 2016 XC90 R-Design for us to drive. And recently, we had the one-up 2017 Inscription model parked in our driveway for a test drive. Undoubtedly, both are incredible rides we recommend wholeheartedly to the potential seven-passenger luxury SUV buyer.

The XC90 maintains the status quo power train with a T6 2.0-liter inline-4 turbocharged and supercharged engine cranking 316 horsepower @ 5700 rpm and 295 pounds-feet of torque @ 4500 rpm. The 8-speed auto gearbox in the front-wheel or all-wheel-drive SUV is as seamless as can be possible. And the start-stop feature (automatic engine stop when the vehicle halts) ensures substantial savings in fuel and weight.

The optional $5,600 Inscription trim gets you full LED headlights and Thor’s hammer-like daytime running lights surrounding a silver-matte grille, 20-inch, 10-spoke alloy wheels, Inscription badge on the tailgate, Nappa leather seats, dashboard, upper door panels and key fob, walnut wood inlays, cooled front seats, among other cool goodies. 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 safety features include dual front and side airbags, driver knee airbag, side curtain airbag, four-wheel antilock brakes, anti-whiplash front seats, rear park assist and camera, 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.

Whether you are testing off-road prowess or on-road capability, the nearly 4,600-pound XC90 is astonishingly quick off the mark, sprightly in traffic and pleasing to drive. It’s a smart choice if the steep price tag is within your reach!

XC90 (AWD)


After a two-year hiatus, the Honda Ridgeline is back. And it’s a more powerful and bigger midsize pickup in all respects. Wheelbase has been boosted by 3.2 inches, bed length by 4, and width by 5.5. However, weight is down by 78 pounds, which is a plus.

The single crew cab pickup shares its powertrain with the Pilot SUV: 3.5-liter V-6 engine packs 280 horsepower (up by 30 from its predecessor) @ 6000 rpm and 262 pounds-feet (increase of 15) of torque @ 4700 rpm. A 6-speed auto transmission replaces the former 5 speed, and when combined with the Variable Cylinder Management, operates in three or four cylinder modes for substantial fuel savings. Drive modes on the all-wheel-drive version included normal, snow, mud and sand.

Our Black Edition was true to its name with a black chrome bar in the front grille surround and black skid garnish while flanked by LED headlights. The 8-inch Intelligent Multi-Information Display (i-MID) displays data for audio, navigation, Bluetooth, rearview camera, fuel economy, texting, compass, clock, etc. Storage space is abundant with bins and cubicles throughout the cabin. There also is a massive in-bed trunk, which touts a 5-foot-long bed that can haul 4-by-8 plywood sheets. The dual-action tailgate is easy to lower and raise. Lest we forget, the 60/40 rear seat folds so you can load up a flat-screen TV or luggage for a weeklong trip. Red perforated stitching on black leather seats conveys a stunning visual. Other niceties include tri-zone auto a/c, tilt/telescopic leather steering wheel, push-button start, power moon roof, and 10-way power driver and four-way front-passenger seats.

Dual front and side airbags, side curtain airbag, four-wheel antilock brakes with brake assist and electronic brake distribution, vehicle stability assist with traction control, active front-head restraints, side-impact door beams, rearview camera, tire pressure monitoring system and daytime running lights are standard.

So, why should you buy the Ridgeline? Well, it’s not a full-size pickup but serves the purpose of one with impressive cargo and towing capability, while delivering a civilized and decent ride.


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