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Test-drive stories by NITISH S. RELE –

2021 Toyota Highlander XSE Twenty years and it just keeps on going. Despite a total revamp of the Highlander just last year, Toyota isn’t resting on its laurels. For 2021, the carmaker has released an all-new sporty XSE model of its popular midsize SUV.

Our all-wheel-drive test drive was equipped with a 3.5-liter DOHC V-6 engine putting out 295 horsepower @ 6600 rpm and 263 pounds-feet of torque @ 4700 rpm. A VVT-i and variable intake manifold assist in fuel saving. The Highlander is mated to an easy-to-engage 8-speed auto transmission. A sport-tuned suspension handled via an independent MacPherson strut front and multilink rear does a super job of soaking up road bumps. The electric power steering is razor sharp with a firm on-center feel. If venturing off-road, the multi-terrain select control permits you to pick mud/sand or rock/dirt modes.

The sport mesh front grille joining a large lower air intake integrated into the bumper is bordered by black-accented LED headlights and fog lamps. The Highlander offers cavernous cargo and passenger capacity, allowing for 13.6 cubic feet of space behind the 60/40 third row, 48.3 cubic feet behind the second-row captain’s chairs (which go aft and forth by 3 inches for easy access to third row) and 84.3 cubes with both seats folded. The embossed leather seats, especially the alluring two-tone red and black, are plush. There also is a huge under-floor bin in the cargo hold. Overhead sunglass holder and conversation mirror add to the list. An 8-inch touchscreen for nav, phone and audio controls is simple to operate. Other niceties include a tri-zone auto a/c, 10-way driver and four-way power heated/cooled front-passenger seats, heated second-row seats with window shades, faux-wood trim and silver-painted satin and chrome accents, fold-flat third-row seat, and power lift gate and moon roof.

Dual front airbags, side curtain airbag, front knee airbags, four-wheel antilock brakes, stability and traction controls, 360-degree camera view, blind spot and rear-cross traffic alerts, smart-stop technology, front/rear parking assists, daytime running lights and tire pressure monitoring system come at no cost. The standard Toyota Safety Sense 2.5 includes a pre-collision system that detects pedestrians, lane departure alert with steer assist and dynamic cruise control.

With a good balance of comfort and performance, the Highlander is eminently practical, spacious and a pleasure to drive. If in the market for a family-hauler that can seat up to eight, we highly endorse this Toyota for a test drive. Or opt for the hybrid version. Either way, you won’t be disappointed.



2021 Infiniti QX50After a major overhaul just two years ago, the Infiniti QX50 stays mostly as is for 2021. Under the hood of the midsize luxury SUV resides a 4-cylinder power train that cranks out 268 horsepower at 5600 rpm and 280 pounds-feet of torque at 4800 rpm. The potent 2.0-liter variable-compression turbo engine enables the agile crossover to quickly take to the road, boasting a first-rate ride and laudable handling.

We liked the slick and seamless continuous variable transmission, which also can be shifted manually. A MacPherson strut front and a rear multilink suspension ensures stability at sharp turns, corner and bumps on the road. The variable-assist, direct adaptive steering conveys an unswerving feel. Braking duties are handled exceptionally well by 13-inch vented front and 12.1-inch rear discs. Four drive modes are offered: standard, eco, sport and personal.

Based on a steel unibody structure, QX50 is a sharp-looking vehicle. It all starts at the long clamshell hood that meets up with a double-arch black-metallic grille, surrounded by horizontal LED headlights and fog lamps. The aluminum roof rails are standard as are the chrome dual exhaust tips and rear tail lamps that connect to the chrome strip. The cabin is awash with luxury and comfort features such as aluminum accents on the center console, dashboard, doors, push-button ignition, 60/40-split rear seat, eight-way power front seats, dual auto a/c, 8-inch upper touch screen for navigation and a 7-inch lower screen for climate, audio and phone controls. InTouch, a rotary knob in the center console, controls the dual screens. The familiar Infiniti double-wave instrument panel lights up with electroluminescent gauges. A mix of leather and aluminum on the short but easy-to-grip shifter knob gives a classy touch. As for roominess, there is plenty with a total interior volume of 135.8 cubic feet, and 64.4 cubic feet with the rear seat down. There also is a large hidden under-floor bin.

Standard safety features include 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 warnings, rear-cross traffic alert and tire pressure monitoring system are standard. Looking into the future of autonomous transport, ProPilot Assist helps drivers to maintain their lane, and set vehicle speed and distance to a car ahead.

If you are looking for a carlike ride that offers luxury, convenience and useful features, then the QX50 should fit the bill. Kudos goes to Infiniti for this fine alluring crossover.



2021 Mazda6Except for a few tweaks, the 2021 Mazda6 maintains its status quo. We have driven numerous versions of the midsize sedan in the last few years and have always walked away happy with the results. The car boasts a lively, fun-to-drive attitude still keeping in mind Mazda’s former ‘Zoom-Zoom’ (emotion of motion) phrase.

Our Signature trim was equipped with a 2.5-liter turbocharged, inline-4 engine putting out 227 horsepower @ 5000 rpm and 310 pounds-feet of torque @ 2000 rpm. Transmission choices are a 6-speed auto or 6-speed manual. An independent MacPherson strut front and a multilink rear suspension, along with an electric power rack-and-pinion steering, ensure safety for occupants in adverse road/weather conditions. In keeping with Mazda’s technology-driven products, the direct-injection Skyactiv uses a torque boost with a high compression ratio to result in impressive fuel savings. No wonder the Mazda6, available in the fully loaded Signature, boasts 23 city/31 highway (auto) on a 16.4-gallon tank.

Ensconced on the monocoque body is a gunmetal grille with the familiar Mazda badge housed in black horizontal lines and piano black-topline trim. It is surrounded by eagle-eye shaped LED headlights and fog lamps. The Signature model comes standard with Nappa leather seats, ultra-suede trim inserts and black headliner. The 8-inch touch screen, part of the Mazda Connect navigation/infotainment system, is easy to operate via a command control button. The grip on the race-inspired tilt/telescopic, three-spoke steering column is firm. Other niceties include dual auto a/c, power moon roof, 8-way power driver and 6-way front passenger heated/cooled seats, 60/40 rear seat, rear-seat armrest with cup holders, 11-speaker Bose system, overhead console, push-button start and paddle shifters.

Dual front and side airbags, side curtain airbag, dynamic stability and traction controls, four-wheel antilock brakes, lane keep assist/departure warning, smart city brake support with collision warning, blind spot monitor, rear-cross traffic alert, radar cruise control, 360-degree view monitor, hill launch assist, three-point safety belts, rearview camera, tire pressure monitoring system and daytime running lights are standard.

This catchy, peppy and sporty sedan makes for a fun and exciting trip to the neighborhood store. Its bold appearance and rewarding roadworthiness transform the Mazda6 into a must buy!



2021 VW TiguanAfter a massive overhaul just three years ago (revamped power train, more cabin space and a standard third-row seat), the VW Tiguan remains largely as is for 2021. Under the hood sits a turbo, intercooled and direct-injected 2.0-liter inline-4 cylinder engine putting out 184 horsepower @ 4360 rpm and 221 pounds-feet of torque @ 1600 rpm. Quick off the mark, responding with agility in any situation, this second-generation SUV is equipped with a flawless 8-speed auto gearbox. Ensconced on the unitary body, available as a front-wheel or all-wheel-drive version, is a robust and reliable strut-type front and a multilink rear suspension. The electro-mechanical speed-sensitive power steering is quick and communicative to result in a positive on-center response.

Horizontal halogen headlights and LED daytime running lights surround the centered VW crest on the grille. The SE R-Line Black version, our test drive for the week, fetches you roof rails, bumpers and headliners (all in black, of course!) as well as exclusive R-Line badging inside and out. The gorgeous cabin exemplifies European styling and flair with a simple but elegant instrument panel of large analog speedometer and tachometer gauges and a centered driver information center. Fold flat the 40/20/40 rear seat, which slides forward 7 inches, and the trunk area becomes generous. Offered standard in FWD models only, the two-passenger 50/50 third-row folds down. Passenger volume is praiseworthy at 123.9 cubic feet. Niceties include an 8-inch touch screen for audio, nav and phone controls, panoramic sun roof, dual auto a/c with second-row air vents, three-spoke leather tilt/telescopic steering column, 10-way power driver and six-way front-passenger manual seats, and a power lift gate.

Dual front and side airbags, side curtain airbag for both rows, four-wheel antilock brakes with brake assist, electronic stability with anti-slip regulation and engine brake assist, traction control, lane departure and forward collision warning, blind spot monitor, rear traffic alert, park distance control, three-point seatbelts for all positions, adaptive cruise control, rearview camera, tire pressure monitoring system and daytime running lights are standard.

The Tiguan sticks out in the swarming compact SUV field, thanks to a sprightly engine, exceptional handling and balance, everyday practicality and decent fuel economy. As for its odd-sounding name, look at it as a boon for once. It’s German for ‘tiger’ and ‘iguana.’


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