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Test-drive stories by NITISH S. RELE,

NISSAN QUESTA carryover from 2011, the Nissan Quest carries on this year with four trims: S, SV, SL and LE. The unibody structure-based minivan gets a 3.5-liter V-6 engine cranking out 260 horsepower @ 5200 rpm and 240 pounds-feet of torque @ 4400 rpm. Mated to a smooth Continuously Variable Transmission, an independent strut front and multilink rear suspension smoothen rough bumps on the road with effectiveness. And an accurate and well-weighted power rack-and-pinion steering provides good feedback.

A large horizontal black grille with chrome accents, xenon headlights, boomerang tail lamps and a rear roof spoiler decks the exterior fascia of the front-wheel-drive minivan. Of course, it’s in the cabin that the Quest truly shines. Our LE model had it all you could ask for in a ride, including a plethora of safety features such as blind-spot alert, rearview camera, vehicle dynamic and traction control systems and tire pressure monitoring.

Power-sliding rear doors and a lift gate make hauling children and cargo effortless. A power button in the cargo hold closes and opens the third-row seat, which is easily accessible through the sliding fore and aft second-row seat. Manual sunshades for both rear-seat passengers will be used often during the hot Florida weather. Storage areas abound with a huge under-floor bin, removable second-row center console, and get this: 12 cup holders and four bottle holders. Other standard amenities in the top-level LE are tri-zone auto climate control, DVD player, 8-inch navigation system, conversation mirrors, eight-way power driver and four-way front-passenger seats, wood trim on doors and instrument panel, dual-glass moon roof and a tilt/telescopic steering column.

Amid the popular Toyota Sienna, Honda Odyssey and Dodge Caravan, the Nissan offering has held on its own remarkably well since 1993. The Quest offers sufficient power, respectable fuel economy and genuine everyday practicality. Our only gripe is this minivan feels quite bulkier to drive than the rest of the competition.

Wheelbase: 118.1 inches
Length: 200.8 inches
Tires: 235/55R18
Weight: 4,568 pounds
Fuel capacity: 20 gallons
City: 19 mpg
Highway: 24 mpg
Base price: $41,350
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Dodge JourneyProbably one of the most under-rated midsize SUVs on the market is the Dodge Journey, which is 7 inches shorter and 700 pounds lighter than the Durango. Seating up to seven passengers, it is available as a front-wheel or all-wheel drive and in two trims: 2.4-liter inline-4 cylinder engine (173 horsepower) or the 3.6-liter V-6 engine (283 hp @ 6350 rpm and 260 pounds-feet of torque $ 4400 rpm), which was our test drive (R/T trim).

A precise 6-speed auto transmission is standard on the steel unibody structure. Suspension is handled by an independent MacPherson strut and a multilink rear system, which isolates occupants from road noise and imperfections. The power rack-and-pinion steering is razor sharp, with a firm on-center feel.

Standard safety features include dual front and side airbags, side curtain airbag, driver knee airbag, electronic stability control, traction control, remote keyless entry, front active-head restraints, four-wheel antilock brakes, daytime running lights and tire pressure monitoring system.

The aggressively-styled Journey sports the traditional Dodge crosshair grille surrounded by horizontal halogen headlights. The interior is accommodating and attractive, especially black leather seats with red piping. Storage compartments are galore with a deep center console, huge under floor cargo bin, and front-passenger under-seat and second row in-floor bins. Other amenities are dual-zone auto climate control, tilt/telescopic steering column, 40/60 rear flat seat, six-way power driver seat, compass, driver information center and an 8.4-inch UConnect touchscreen for navigation, audio and phone controls.

With a well thought-out cabin, backed by a potent engine and affordable pricing, the Journey definitely deserves a serious look. In particular, families with children will not be disappointed.

Wheelbase: 113.8 inches
Length: 192.4 inches
Tires: P225/70R16 all season
Weight: 4,238 pounds
Fuel capacity: 21.1 gallons
City: 16 mpg
Highway: 24 mpg
Base price: $31,795
Web site:

2013 Malibu Eco hits crowded midsize sedan market

2013 Malibu EcoChevrolet’s first global midsize sedan has arrived. And in keeping with the ‘small is beautiful’ trend around the world, the 2013 Malibu wheelbase is shorter by 4.5 inches than its predecessor. However, the sedan is 2 inches wider though the length maintains status quo.

The Eco model, equipped with a 2.4-liter inline-4 cylinder gasoline engine, 115-volt lithium-ion battery and an electric motor generator, is the first Malibu to hit dealer showrooms. It puts out a decent 182 horsepower @ 6200 rpm and 172 pounds-feet of torque @ 4900 rpm. Termed eAssist technology, the mild hybrid power train shuts off the gasoline engine at a stop to ensure fuel savings. Also, the vehicle uses regenerative braking to apply much of the wasted energy toward recharging the battery. Unlike the Prius and other full hybrids, the car cannot run on battery alone.

The soon-to-arrive LS, LT and LTZ trims will feature a 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine with 197 hp @ 6300 rpm and 191 pounds-feet of torque @ 4400 rpm. They will be followed by an Ecotec 2.0-liter turbo engine blasting 259 hp. The carmaker has nixed the previous 6-cylinder model in favor of the smaller engines. All Malibus get a standard and flawless 6-speed auto transmission.

The sedan boasts a bold road presence, thanks to the large Chevy bow-tie emblem in the dual-port grille, which is flanked by projector-beam headlights. A sprinkling and mix of wood accents and ice-blue ambient lights in the cabin appear classy and attractive. But the tight rear-seat legroom and trunk area could put off some buyers.

Starting at $25,995, the Eco is estimated to earn 25 city/37 highway fuel figures. We averaged about 28 mpg in both, which is close to EPA numbers.

Competition in the midsize sedan segment is fierce. Add the redesigned Malibu, with its smooth and quiet ride, decent fuel economy and reasonable price, to the mix and the rivalry turns fiercer.

Tires: P225/55R17
Wheelbase: 107.8 inches
Length: 191.5 inches
Suspension: MacPherson strut front; 4-link rear
Steering: electric power
Weight: 3,620 pounds
Fuel capacity: 15.8 gallons
Web site:

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