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Test-drive stories by NITISH S. RELE –

2019 Alfa Romeo Stelvio SUVLast year, we test drove the 2.0-liter inline-4 turbocharged Alfa Romeo Stelvio SUV with 280 horsepower, plentiful to cruise the highway or merge into peak-hour traffic. But this year, the automaker had an even bigger surprise for us when it dispatched over the Quadrifoglio trim of the midsize luxury ride. And this version was equipped with a 2.9-liter twin-turbo V-6 engine that packed 505 hp @ 6500 rpm and 443 pounds-feet of torque @ 5500 rpm. The all-wheel-drive Stelvio can take off from 0 to 60 mph in just around 3.3 seconds with top speed of 175 mph.

Mated to an 8-speed auto gearbox, the Quadrifoglio-tuned double-wishbone front and an Alfa-link design rear suspension effectively eliminate sharp bumps on the road and reduce body roll. Providing a positive on-center response is the variable electric assist steering. Braking is handled skillfully by massive and powerful 14.2-inch front and 13.8-inch rear Brembo vented rotors. The 20-inch bright alloy wheels come shod with 255/45 up front and 235/40 at the rear. The “dna” modes available stand for dynamic, natural, advanced efficiency and race.

Kudos go to the exterior styling, which keeps up with the Alfa Romeo tradition of a triangular grille with functional air intakes hosting the Italian automaker’s emblem while flanked by horizontal bi-xenon projector headlights. The handy interior is done nicely with a robust manual tilt/telescopic steering column for a rock-solid grasp. Also worth a mention is the 7.7-inch instrument cluster of the 200 mph analog speedometer and tachometer gauges and digital driver information center. Leather and carbon fiber trim is sprinkled throughout to lend classiness. The 14-way power front leather seats are not just plush but also comfy. Other particulars include dual auto a/c, steering wheel aluminum paddle shifters, power lift gate, Harmon Kardon audio with 14-speaker, 900-watt sound system, aluminum sport pedals/footrest, and the 8.8-inch nav/audio/phone display as well as a dual-pane sunroof.

Standard safety features include dual front and side airbags, front knee airbags, four-wheel antilock brakes with stability/traction control, blind spot and cross-path detection, forward-collision warning, rearview camera and front/rear park and hill start assist, torque vector differential, tire pressure monitor and daytime running lights.

The Stelvio Quadrifoglio boasts off- and on-road capabilities in a nimble, luxury-packed ride, ensuring safety for occupants under inclement weather and road conditions. Plus, the practical, muscular and purposeful SUV adds some vim and vigor found lacking among contenders.



2019 Nissan AltimaLet’s get the “firsts” out first! The 2019 Nissan Altima acquires all-wheel-drive capability as well as the company’s variable compression turbo engine producing a V-6 engine performance (translation: the 6 is history!) Those are just two highlights of a major revamp of the midsize sedan, which has sold more than 5.6 million units in its 25-year history.

Under the hood of the sixth-generation car sits a 2.5-liter inline-4 cylinder engine (and a variable intake) that makes 188 horsepower @ 6000 rpm and 180 pounds-feet of torque @ 3600 rpm. The standard Continuously Variable Transmission contributes to better fuel economy. Tweaked is the independent strut front and multilink rear suspension for more fun handling and balance. An electric power rack-and-pinion steering conveys a solid on-center feel, willing to change directions when hustled along on the road. Noticeably lowered are noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) levels.

Sitting on the unibody-type Altima is a swept-back V-motion chrome-surround grille flanked by boomerang-like LED headlights and daytime running lights, tapered roofline, raised trunk and chrome door handles. Lower, wider and longer than its predecessor, the cabin leaves a lasting impression as soon as you take a seat. Offered at no extra cost in the SV trim are dual auto a/c, 8-inch touchscreen, eight-way power driver seat, leather seats and shifter, power moon roof, push-button start and a 6-speaker Bose audio system. The 7-inch Advanced Drive-Assist, located between tachometer and speedometer, displays text, navigation and audio information in the driver’s view. Boosting the confidence of the driver is a robust D-shaped heated, leather steering wheel. Ingress and egress is effortless with the 60/40-split rear seat. Trunk space is laudable at 15.4 cubic feet (in comparison, rival Camry has 15.1 cu. Ft).

Dual front, side and knee airbags, side curtain airbag for both rows, four-wheel antilock brakes with electronic brake distribution and brake assist, vehicle dynamic and traction controls, antiskid system, front/rear crumple zones, front seat active-head restraints, blind spot and lane departure warning, and tire pressure monitoring system are standard. Looking into the future of autonomous transport, the ProPilot Assist helps drivers to maintain their lane, and set vehicle speed and distance to a car ahead.

Undoubtedly, the agile and lively Altima has proved to be a huge success story for the Japanese carmaker, which refuses to sit on its laurels. Hence, the overhaul this year. An affordable price, bold styling and superb performance make this sedan a great everyday ride.



2020 SANTA FE LIMITEDLast year, Hyundai totally overhauled the Santa Fe, impressing everyone with its bold styling and inviting cabin. So we aren’t the least surprised that the Korean automaker has left the two-row, five-passenger midsize SUV as is for 2020. After all, why tinker with a popular ride?

Offered in both front-wheel and all-wheel drive, our test drive of this popular and much-touted midsize crossover came with a 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder (found only in Limited and Ultimate trims) cranking out 235 horsepower @ 6000 rpm and 260 pounds-feet of torque @ 3500 rpm. That is plenty of power for passing or merging into peak office-hour traffic. The fresh 8-speed auto gearbox is competent and, of course, fuel efficient. Suspension, though retaining the front MacPherson strut and rear multilink system, works well to absorb any hard highway bumps with little sacrifice to your back side.

Longer, wider and higher than 3 inches than its predecessor, the Santa Fe gets 67 percent advanced high-strength steel and 45 percent more structural adhesive. Sound-absorbing materials were boosted last year for a quieter ride. Up front is the signature cascading Hyundai grille with chrome elements. Stacked headlights, functional air curtain, bulged fender flares and a rugged lower fascia were other apparent changes during its redesign.

The Santa Fe comes standard with Hyundai SmartSense, which includes blind-spot, forward-collision avoidance, safe exit and lane keep assists; smart cruise control; and of course 10 air bags. Also offered are comfort, smart (gas sipper!) and sport drive modes. Our Limited edition was packed with such fine goodies as 8-way power heated/cooled front leather seats, 8-inch LCD touch screen for nav, phone and audio, Bluetooth phone capabilities, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, heads-up display, 60/40 rear seat, panoramic sun roof, 6-speaker sound system, surround-view monitor, tilt/telescopic steering column and dual auto a/c. Well-placed storage bins/cubbies abound throughout the cabin, which flaunts 146.6 cubic feet of space.

Base-priced at $39,200, the revamped Santa Fe is a splendid combination of performance, practicality and fun. Who can argue that the power train with its turbo effect results in a responsive, enjoyable and energetic SUV? And Hyundai’s five-year, 60,000-mile basic, and 10-year, 100,000-mile power train warranties should convince you to sign on the dotted line.


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