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Test-drive stories by NITISH S. RELE –

2018 LEXUS NX 300 Lexus continues to shine in the compact luxury crossover segment. The previous NX 200t, now renamed the NX 300, is a blast to drive, responding with quickness in any driving situation while loaded with luxury and tech goodies expected. Zero to 60 is an impressive seven seconds.

A 2.0-liter twin-scroll turbocharged inline-4 cylinder gas engine still cranks out 235 horsepower @ 5600 rpm and 258 pounds-feet of torque @ 4000 rpm. It is mated to a standard 6-speed auto gearbox. Showing off a brawny, hunkered-down posture, the NX 300 gets a revised spindle grille, new standard revised LED headlights, revamped tail lamps and chrome accents on lower rear bumper. As soon as we stepped into the airy and well-appointed cabin, the gated automatic shifter caught our attention. A 4.2-inch TFT LCD screen displays audio, fuel consumption, mileage, outside temperature, odometer and tire pressure readings. Some niceties include dual auto a/c, 8-way power driver and front-passenger seats, 60/40 rear seat, manual tilt/telescopic steering column, updated analog clock and dark umber trim. For 2018, Lexus has incorporated fresh metallic accents on window and cruise control switches. A cool but slightly larger mouse-like Remote Touch can be used to toggle navigation, climate, audio and phone controls for the now-standard 8-inch screen.

Dual front and side airbags, side curtain airbag, driver knee airbag, front-passenger cushion airbag are standard along with side-impact door beams, four-wheel antilock brakes, electronic brake distribution and brake assist, vehicle stability and traction control, rearview camera, push-button start, three-point seatbelts with pretensioners, and front and rear crumple zones. The features are complemented by a pre-collision system that detects pedestrians, lane departure assist and dynamic cruise control, all part of the 2018 no-cost Lexus Safety Sense.

The NX 300 touts a potent engine under the hood, admirable gas mileage and ample creature comforts. What more can anyone want in a compact luxury crossover?



2018 Toyota Camry HybridLike the regular 2018 Toyota Camry, which we reviewed last month, the hybrid version gets a similar re-do – 2-inch wheelbase increase and 1½ inch length but width and height decrease by an inch. And the midsize hybrid sedan may retain the 2.5-liter Atkinson-cycle four-cylinder and an electric motor but it puts out a total of 208 horsepower (up by 8 from predecessor). And fuel economy figures also step up. That makes your 500-mile trip before a refill stop a safe bet.

The 244.8-volt nickel-metal hydride battery is recharged by energy captured as the driver applies the brakes or coasts. Also, the electronically controlled Continuous Variable Transmission-equipped sedan boasts a regenerative braking system. When the car is coasting or the brakes are applied, the electric motor 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 for recharging the battery pack.

The Camry operates in four modes: normal; EV, which is electric at lower speeds of up to 25 mph; ECO, an efficient mode where the driver can control the throttle opening; and Sport for spirited driving.

Dual front and side airbags, side curtain airbag and front knee airbags are standard along with side-impact door beams, four-wheel antilock brakes, electronic brake distribution and brake assist, traction and stability control, rearview camera, blind spot monitor with rear cross traffic alert, and front and rear crumple zones. The standard Toyota Safety Sense translates into a pre-collision system that detects pedestrians, lane departure assist and dynamic cruise control.

A blue-tinted Toyota insignia is flanked by a two-piece bright metallic mesh grille enclosed by LED headlights with smoke tint and an aggressive bumper. Metallic wood and silver accents deck up the center stack, and a 7-inch TFT screen between the hybrid system power meter and the speedometer. Standard amenities include 8-way power driver and front-passenger seats, dual auto a/c, tilt/telescopic steering column, 10-inch head-up display, leather seats, push-button start and a 7-inch touchscreen for navigation, audio, phone controls.

The Toyota hybrid vehicle lineup keeps getting better. The hot-seller Prius began the game, sort of, but its larger, powerful and slightly-higher priced sibling is definitely worth a look. Besides, substantial passenger/cargo room should entice families with little ones to sign on the dotted line of this fuel-sipper.



2019 MAZDA CX-3Mazda has the SUV market covered quite well, from top to bottom. It starts with the mid-size CX-9, the compact CX-5 and trickling to the subcompact 2019 CX-3. Under its hood is a 2.0-liter inline-4 cylinder engine developing 146 horsepower (bump of 2 from previous) @ 6000 rpm and 146 pounds-feet of torque @ 2800 rpm while coupled to a 6-speed auto gearbox. Our front-wheel drive version (all wheel is available) was equipped with the direct-injection Skyactiv, which uses a torque boost via a high compression ratio to increase fuel economy.

For 2019, Mazda has incorporated some noticeable modifications to the CX-3 such as a new seven-fin wing grille design, chrome accents and LED tail lamps. The cabin gets a standard all-new electronic parking brake, rear center armrest with cup holders, suede-like inserts, red air vent surrounds and pleated piping on leather seats (in the Grand Touring trim). The center console and armrests undergo a makeover too. Other goodies include auto a/c, 60/40 fold rear seat, 7-inch instrument display with command control, trip computer and a tilt/telescopic steering column, 6-way manual driver seat, push-button start and power moon roof.

Dual front and side airbags, side curtain airbag, dynamic stability and traction controls, four-wheel antilock brakes, hill launch assist, side-impact door beams, rearview camera, three-point safety belts for all, blind spot/rear-cross traffic alert and tire pressure monitoring systems and daytime running lights come at no extra cost.

As the subcompact crossover SUV market grows with the Hyundai Kona, Kia Niro, Jeep Renegade and the all-new Nissan Kicks, the rivalry will become even intense. The Mazda CX-3 can definitely hold its own, thanks to a good-sized cabin for people- and cargo-hauling capabilities, and great value for the money.

CX-3 (GT, FWD)


2018 Kia Rio EXThis one grows on you. Agreed, it’s a subcompact with a somewhat crammed rear-seat space but otherwise packed with amenities you rarely come across in an $18,700 ride. And it’s a fun front-wheel-drive car to pitch around and through corners.

Redesigned inside out for 2018, the Kia Rio EX is equipped with the same 1.6-liter inline-4 cylinder engine delivering 130 horsepower (down 8 from predecessor) @ 6300 rpm and 119 pounds-feet of torque (decrease of 4) @ 4850 rpm. OK, it’s not a speed demon but just right for taking on peak-hour traffic or tackling sharp turns on narrow roads.

Our hatchback was mated to an effortless 6-speed auto gear box. A tweaked MacPherson-type front and torsion beam axle rear suspension works well to soak unpleasant obstacles with little sacrifice to the back side. Handling and steering feel, communicated via an electric rack-and-pinion system, is commendable.

The slightly longer, wider and lower Rio is bold in appearance with swept-back multi-reflector headlights surrounding a chrome-slathered, black-mesh ‘tiger-nose’ grille. Best of all are standard interior amenities such as a/c, 60/40 rear seat, leather steering wheel and shifter knob, tilt and telescopic steering column, 6-way driver’s adjustable seat, trip computer, metal-finish trim and pedals, and 7-inch infotainment display touchscreen. A bi-level tray in the center console for placing a cellphone or small personal items will come handy. Cargo space area is OK at 17.4 cubic feet.

That safety is vital for Kia is apparent from standard dual front and side airbags, side curtain airbag, electronic stability and traction control systems, antilock four-wheel brakes, hill assist control, forward-collision warning, tire pressure monitoring system, remote keyless entry, side impact door beams and front/rear crumple zones.

If you are looking for a fuel-sipper (we averaged 33.3 mpg in combined driving) but enjoyable ride with a lively attitude, the Rio delivers the goods. And at an incredibly economical price tag, we must point out.


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