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Test-drive stories by NITISH S. RELE –

Who says wagons belong to the past? Yes, Volvo did withdraw the V50 and V70 wagons from the U.S. market sometime back but it still sells the V90 here and, of course, the V60. Based on the popular S60 sedan, this luxury sport wagon is equipped with the T5 2.0-liter inline-4 turbocharged and supercharged engine producing 250 horsepower @ 5500 rpm and 258 pounds-feet of torque @ 4800 rpm. Add an 8-speed auto gearbox and the start-stop feature (automatic engine stop when the vehicle halts) to the mix and you have substantial savings in fuel as well as weight to produce an exceptionally quick ride.

A front double wishbone and coil springs and an integral axle rear suspension tackles the bumps of road surfaces with little sacrifice to your back side. The electric power steering is precise and well weighted. Eco, comfort, individual and dynamic mode choices are at the tip of your fingers.

The gorgeous front-wheel-drive wagon displays a sculpted hood with short overhangs that lead up to a grille hosting the familiar iron mark and flanked by the iconic T-shaped Thor’s hammer LED headlights. Vertical tail lamps convey a distinct Volvo appearance. The easy-to-use Sensus infotainment, with a 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. The 12.3-inch digital driver display hosts analog speedometer and tachometer gauges along with fuel and temp readings. Splashes of attractive iron-ore aluminum decoy inlays deck up the classy cabin. Other standard goodies include 10-way power front seats, 40/20/40 rear seat, roof rails, panoramic moon roof, dual auto a/c, leather shifter knob and a three-spoke steering tilt/telescopic column.

The Chinese-owned but Swedish-made car company is renowned for safety. Continuing the tradition, the V60 gets dual front and side airbags, side curtain airbag, driver knee airbag, lane keep aid, rear park assist and sensors, adaptive cruise control, four-wheel antilock brakes, three-point seatbelts for all, side impact protection, land departure and forward-collision warning, dynamic stability and traction control, City Safety (brakes automatically to help prevent a rear-end collision) also gets steer assist, tire pressure monitoring system and daytime running lights.

Yes, it’s a wagon but don’t for a minute believe that your ride will be slow. The front-wheel-drive vehicle can take off 0 to 60 mph in just 6.4 seconds and reach top speed of 130 mph. Apart from incredible nimbleness, the V60 boasts a cool, contemporary cabin and no-frills capabilities. Volvo’s long safety list makes it a no-brainer.



It was long overdue but the 2020 VW Passat has been overhauled though not to a fuller extent as one would expect. The exterior and the interior have been tweaked and though the power train has been retained, the torque gets a boost of 22 over its predecessor.

Our test drive was equipped with a 2.0-liter inline-4 cylinder engine that develops 174 horsepower @ 5200 rpm and 206 pounds-feet of torque @ 1700 rpm while mated to a standard but responsive 6-speed auto gearbox. Suspension is handled competently via a strut-type with lower control arms front and multilink rear with coil springs. The rack-and-pinion electric power assist offers a direct and communicative feel.

Up front, a muscular domed hood meets up with a full chromed triple-bar grille that is flanked by slim LED headlights. Another evident feature is the Passat badging across the deck lid surrounded by LED tail lamps. Two large speedometer and tachometer gauges in the refreshed instrument cluster are crystal clear to read. The center stack shows off a 6.3-inch touch screen for the infotainment system. The two-tone décor panels and chrome trim on a/c vent bezels, upper door, cup holders and shift lever add European flair to the Passat. Rear-seat passengers get 39.1 inches of legroom, more than plenty to stretch on those long summer trips. Other amenities include dual auto a/c, 60/40 rear seat, eight-way power front seats, heated front and rear seats, power tilt/slide sun roof, stainless-steel pedals, flat-bottomed three-spoke steering column, Fender audio system and a 15.9 cubic feet trunk that beats the Camry capacity.

Dual front and side airbags, side curtain airbag for both rows, four-wheel antilock brakes with brake assist, electronic stability and traction control, three-point seatbelts for all positions, adaptive cruise control, rearview camera, blind spot monitor, front collision and land keep, post-collision and auto emergency braking, tire pressure monitoring system and daytime running lights are standard.

Base-priced at $31,095, the Passat’s peppy turbo engine will give other midsize sedan stalwarts such as the Toyota Camry or the Honda Accord a run for their money. This great everyday car boasts strong acceleration, remarkable handling and steering feel. And with outstanding fuel economy figures (we drove almost 500 miles on a full tank), it’s a home run for VW.



Just a few months ago, we test drove the 2020 Mazda3 sedan, which underwent a major overhaul last year. Recently, we had the opportunity to try out its hatchback cousin. Except for length, weight and slight mileage difference, the two share the direct-injection Skyactiv technology, which uses a torque boost via a high compression ratio for stretching fuel economy. A 2.5-liter inline-4 cylinder engine puts out 186 horsepower @ 6000 rpm and 186 pounds-feet of torque @ 4000 rpm. Power reaches the front wheels through a 6-speed manual or an automatic gearbox. A MacPherson strut front and a torsion beam axle rear works well to absorb unpleasant road bumps or curves. Steering response with the electric power rack-and-pinion is swift and accurate.

A black metallic-finish grille with the Mazda insignia is bordered by horizontal LED adaptive headlights and daytime running lights. Other carmakers could benefit from borrowing the simple command control center to operate the 8.8-inch navigation/infotainment screen. Rich-looking leather upholstery on the seats, steering wheel and shifter knob gives the cabin a rich ambiance. Other nice conveniences include six-way power driver seat, heated front seats, push-button start, dual auto a/c, 60/40 fold-down rear seat with hidden armrest and cup holders, overhead sunglass holder, head-up display, power windows and door locks, paddle shifters, moon roof, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, Bose 12-speaker audio and AM/FM.

Standard safety features include dual front and side airbags, side curtain airbag, front knee airbags, stability and traction control, hill launch assist, active front-head restraints, four-wheel antilock brakes with electronic brake distribution and brake assist, rearview camera, radar cruise control, lane keep assist and departure warning, blind spot monitor, rear cross traffic alert and tire pressure monitoring system. The G-Vectoring Control Plus (enables driver to handle emergency situations or untoward road conditions with more accurate steering inputs) comes at no extra cost. And the i-ACTIV AWD works along with G-Vectoring to control torque distribution between front/rear wheels.

This hatch (or sedan) has always been an exciting and well-composed ride for us. In fact, all Mazdas are. What makes the Mazda3 special is its remarkable agility, response and hold. Indeed, the exciting fuel-sipper is well-balanced, trendy and fun to take out for a trip or as a daily ride.


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