JUNE 2018
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Test-drive stories by NITISH S. RELE –motoringtampabay@gmail.com

2018 Toyota CH-R A quick glance at the all-new Toyota CH-R (Coupe High-Rider) and the natural response would be, “Now, that’s unusual!” But that’s understandable. Indeed, the 2018 cheeky-styled subcompact crossover teases you with its coupe-like roofline and raked windshield meeting up to slim projector-beam headlights, black grille, and color-keyed front/rear bumpers, door handles and exterior mirrors.

Under the hood of the smaller sibling to the RAV4 (nearly 10 inches shorter) resides a 2.0-liter 4-cylinder DOHC engine developing 144 horsepower at 6100 rpm and 139 pounds-feet of torque at 3900 rpm. Power is put to the road through a continuous variable transmission, not one of our favorites.

Rounded analog gauges for speedometer and tachometer housing a driver info center greet the driver in the front-wheel-drive CH-R. The leather shifter with satin-plated knob lends a firm grip. Where are the rear-door handles? Hidden quite well, we must say, which could be a challenge for the little ones in the family. Other notable standard goodies include dual auto a/c, 4.2-inch multi-information display screen, eight-way adjustable driver and six-way front-passenger seats, 7-inch touch screen for audio, nav and phone controls, power-folding mirrors, sport/normal/eco drive modes, 60/40 rear seat and a leather tilt/telescopic steering column.

The now-standard Toyota Safety Sense includes a pre-collision system that detects pedestrians, lane departure assist and dynamic cruise control. Other features include dual front and side airbags, side curtain airbag, driver knee airbag, vehicle stability and traction control, four-wheel antilock brakes with Electronic Brake Distribution and Brake Assist, blind spot monitor and rear cross traffic alert, rear camera, front and rear crumple zones, side impact door beams, three-point seatbelts for all, tire pressure monitor and daytime running lights.

Sure, the CH-R is an odd looker but the gas-sipping and inexpensive ride displays decent handling and crisp steering while seating five in comfort. A word of caution. It is sluggish, taking its time to get up to speed, say like 11.7 seconds to go from 0 to 60 mph.



2018 Niro PHEVAfter last year’s Niro hybrid, Kia dispatched over the 2018 Niro PHEV (Plug-in hybrid electric vehicle) for us recently. The only difference is that PHEV adds an electric charge feature enabling the five-passenger compact crossover to go up to 26 miles without using gas. The charge port, located in the driver’s side front fender, uses a 240- volt system that can take 2½ hours or a 120 volt consuming about nine hours. You can essentially go 560 miles on a tank (11.4 gallons) with its gas, hybrid and plug-in electric features.

A 1.6-liter, 4-cylinder gasoline engine is mated to an electric motor (60 horsepower), which is powered by an 8.9 kWh lithium-ion polymer battery weighing 258 pounds. That is adequate enough to put out a total of 139 hp while paired to a laudable 6-speed dual clutch transmission. The crossover does offer a regenerative braking system for additional fuel savings. When the ride 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 for recharging the battery.

A centered gloss black “tiger nose” grille meets up with sweptback LED headlights to create a sleek and eye-catching appearance. Stepping into the cabin, our favorite is the attractively designed 4.2-inch instrument cluster of analog speedometer and the cool-appearing LCD hybrid gauge showing charge, eco and power readings, as well as EV mode. They are flanked by a clean digital driver information center. Standard amenities include 10-way power driver and six-way passenger seats, which are also heated and cooled, leather steering wheel and shifter, dual-zone a/c, 8-inch touch for navigation, radio and telephone controls, and push-button start. The 60/40 rear seat folds down to open up 54.5 cubic feet of space.

Kia should be commended for offering several standard safety features, which are optional in competitor vehicles. Some are dual front and side airbags, side curtain airbag for both rows, driver knee airbag, rear camera, rear-cross traffic alert, front/rear park and lane change assist, blind spot detection, four-wheel antilock brakes, rollover sensor, electronic stability and traction control, forward collision warning, smart cruise control, hill-start assist and a tire pressure monitoring system.

The Niro is an excellent gas/electric/plug-in hybrid effort from Kia. It is sharp-looking, sporty, practical and sips gas (we averaged 50 mpg in city/highway driving). That it comes with a 10-year or 100,000-mile power train and a five-year or 60,000-mile basic warranty is a plus. Lest we forget, the lithium-ion battery is also covered for 10-year/100,000 miles.



2018 Toyota Tundra 4X4 Limited CrewMaxTHE RIDE: Four-door, up to six-passenger 2018 Toyota Tundra 4X4 Limited CrewMax full-size pickup.

DOWN THE ROAD: The retained power train continues to offer a composed ride while absorbing the bumps of rough surfaces with skill and sure-footedness.

TECH & PERFORMANCE: A 5.7-liter DOHC V-8 engine, which is mated to a 6-speed automatic transmission, cranks out 381 horsepower at 5600 rpm and 401 pounds-feet of torque at 3600 rpm. Suspension is handled competently via an independent double wishbone front and a trapezoidal live axle rear. The hydraulic power rack-and-pinion steering has a solid and communicative feel, making the pickup easy to place at sharp curves. Tow capacity is an astonishing 9,800 pounds.

LOOK & FEEL: The slightly restyled Tundra portrays a more chiseled exterior appearance with a squared-off and chrome-surrounded silver billet grille and black lower end caps. Also up front are LED headlights with LED accents and a matte black lower front bumper. TUNDRA stamped in all caps in the rear is an instant giveaway that this is indeed Toyota’s large truck. Climb into the cabin and you won’t find a reason to complain about space, which is abundant starting with 10-way power driver and 4-way front-passenger seats. Traditional gauges for speedometer, tachometer, voltmeter, coolant temperature, fuel and engine oil pressure are easy to read. The center stack of audio and climate knobs is within the driver’s convenient reach. A dial on the dash offers the option of 2WD, 4X2Hi and 4X4Lo. There also is an adjustable tie-down cleat 5.5-foot-long bed that can haul 4-by-8 plywood sheets. Other customary amenities include dual auto a/c, four-spoke leather steering wheel and seats, 7-inch touchscreen for nav, phone and audio controls, 60/40 fold-up rear seat, power vertical rear window, new matte-finish wood trim, easy lower-and-lift tailgate and overhead console.

SAFETY FIRST: Dual front airbags, side curtain airbag, front knee airbags, four-wheel antilock brakes, stability, traction and trailer sway controls, rearview camera, smart-stop technology, daytime running lights and tire pressure monitoring system come at no cost. New for 2018 is the Toyota Safety Sense, which includes a pre-collision system that detects pedestrians, lane departure assist and dynamic cruise control.

OUT THE DOOR: $45,300, plus tax, tag, delivery and destination charges.

BY THE NUMBERS: Tires, P275/55R20; wheelbase, 145.7 inches; length, 228.9 inches; weight, 5,680 pounds; fuel capacity, 38 gallons; city, 13 mpg; highway, 17 mpg; Web site, www.toyota.com

WHY DIG IT: This no-frills ride offers a powerful performance, imposing tow and cargo capacity, and a cavernous cabin. But gas mileage, especially in city, is a huge letdown.


2019 Kia SorentoIt isn’t a major re-do but the 2019 Kia Sorento undergoes some noticeable outward changes. The 3.3-liter GDI power train continues to crank out 290 horsepower @ 6400 rpm and 252 pounds-feet of torque @ 5300 rpm. Seating up to seven, the midsize SXL SUV is now coupled with an 8-speed auto gearbox instead of the previous 6-speed. Tow capacity is still a cool 5,000 pounds.

The revised front now acquires a more detailed dark metallic radiator grille, new horizontal LED headlights, redesigned ice-cube-style LED fog lamps and a fresh bumper design. But it is the sumptuous interior in the steel unibody SUV, packed with abundant creature comforts, that wins hands down. The center gauge cluster sports a speedometer with a driver information center, flanked by analog tachometer, fuel and engine temp readings. Space is plenty with a recline-and-fold 40/20/40 second-row and a 50/50 third-row seat. All in all, you get 73 cubic feet of space with the seats down. Also offered are 14-way power heated/cooled driver and eight-way passenger seats, dual-zone auto a/c, push-button start, satin-chrome door handles, new and robust leather shifter, 8-inch touch screen, tilt/telescopic steering column, Infinity sound system, power lift gate and piano-black trim.

Dual front and side airbags, side curtain airbag for both rows, electronic stability and traction control, downhill brake and hill assist control, four-wheel antilock brakes with brake assist, front active headrests, side impact door beams, front/rear crumple zones, blind spot detection, rear cross traffic alert, lane departure warning, rearview camera and rear parking sensors, rollover sensor and tire pressure monitoring system are standard. New for 2019 are smart cruise control, forward collision avoidance and parking distance warning.

The Sorento is a pretty solid value with a satisfying mix of laudable fuel economy, and remarkable people- and cargo-hauling practicality. This eminently useful package is a smart choice for the prospective seven-passenger SUV buyer.


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