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Test-drive stories by NITISH S. RELE, motoringtampabay@gmail.com

Forget the previous GLS, SE and Limited Santa Fe trims. For 2013, Hyundai has simplified its much-touted midsize crossover offering with a Sport base and 2.0T that seats five. And also bid goodbye to the poor-selling Veracruz SUV, which has been replaced by the non-sport/regular model to seat seven. The overhauled ride retains its wheelbase though overall length, width, height and weight (-266 pounds) take a slight dip.

Presented in both base front-wheel and optional all-wheel drive, the third-generation Sport base is equipped with a 2.4-liter inline-4 cylinder engine putting out 190 horsepower @ 6300 rpm and 181 pounds-feet of torque @ 4250 rpm. The 2.0T variant gets a 2.0-liter inline-4 turbocharged power train developing 264 hp @ 6000 rpm and 269 pounds-feet of torque @ 1750 rpm. Sharing its engine with the Azera sedan, the non-sport/regular CUV comes with a 3.3-liter gasoline-direct injection V-6 engine cranking out 290 hp @ 6400 rpm and 252 pounds-feet of torque @ 5200 rpm. All three are mated to a slick-shifting 6-speed auto transmission. Suspension is handled capably by a front MacPherson strut and a rear multilink system. The driver selectable steering mode allows the SUV to be driven in comfort, sport and natural modes via a switch on the steering wheel.

The aggressive front shows off a dominant hexagonal two-tone chrome grille flanked by LED headlights while the rear gets a spoiler with LED stoplights and a twin-tip chrome exhaust. Standard cabin amenities include a tilt/telescopic steering column, driver information center, power locks/windows/mirrors, remote keyless entry, 40/20/40 second-row seat, metallic accents and Bluetooth phone capabilities.

Dual front and side airbags, side curtain airbag driver knee airbag, four-wheel antilock brakes with brake assist, hill accent/descent control, stability and traction control, front/rear crumple zones and tire pressure monitoring system are standard.

All three power trains are responsive offering remarkably smooth and decent acceleration, well-weighted steering, bold styling and an inviting cabin. Practicality and fun take a front seat in this splendidly redone ride. Kudos on a job well done, Hyundai!

Tires: P235/65 R17
Wheelbase: 106.3 inches
Length: 184.6 inches
Weight: 3,459 pounds
Tow capacity: 3,500 pounds
Fuel capacity: 17.4 gallons
City: 22 mpg
Highway: 33 mpg
Base price: $24,450
Web site: www.hyundai.com

Potent Lincoln MKX touts sumptuous, elegant cabin

If riding in extravagance is your style and you can afford it, you should test drive the 2013 Lincoln MKX. The five-passenger SUV even comes in front-wheel or all-wheel drive. You’re your pick. Under the hood resides a 3.7-liter V-6 engine belting out 305 horsepower @ 6500 rpm and 280 pounds-feet of torque @ 4000 rpm. That is plenty of vim and vigor for the 4,236-pound vehicle to scoot from any speed.

A 6-speed auto gear box, which can be toggled manually or via paddles on the robust steering wheel, is standard. The MacPherson strut front and independent rear suspension holds the unibody structure together to ensure a supple ride on rough road surfaces. Credit goes to its hydraulic power steering for effectively handling sharp turns and curves. Tow capacity is an acceptable 3,500 pounds.

But it is in the lavish, stylish and beautifully made cabin that the MKX justly shines. MyLincoln Touch, an interface to control audio, phone and navigation systems via voice, touch or both, is more user-friendly than previous versions. Six-footers in the rear seat have generous room to stretch legs and relax during long drives. Standard amenities include heated/cooled power front seats, dual-zone auto climate control, power lift gate and a tilt/telescopic steering column to accommodate drivers of any size.

Beware, this is no gas sipper. Though EPA estimates are 19 city/22 highway and 22 combined, we averaged only 19 in most of our week’s driving.

Priced at $39,545, the MKX can peak at $41,395. But a fully loaded one will cost you close to $50,000. The Lincoln boasts quick acceleration, exceptional handling and balance and remarkably good body control. Plus, it’s attractive to the eye inside and out. These should help justify the high-ticket item.

Tires: P245/60R18
Wheelbase: 111.2 inches
Length: 186.7 inches
Weight: 4,236 pounds
Web site: www.lincoln.com

High-tech Infiniti M is a performance machine

Infiniti MZero to 60 in a little over 5 seconds. And in a ride weighing more than 4,000 pounds? That’s the 2013 Inifiniti M for you – hefty but a suitably quick, performance-oriented midsize sedan.

The M comes in two power trains: M37 with the 3.7-liter V-6 engine makes 330 horsepower @ 7000 rpm and 270 pounds-feet of torque @ 5200 rpm; heavy footers will promptly take to the M56 with the 5.6-liter V-8 engine belting out 420 hp at 6000 rpm and 417 pounds-feet of torque at 4400 rpm. Adding to the thrill is the slick 7-speed auto gearbox, which can be shifted via magnesium paddle shifters on the robust steering wheel. The rear-wheel or all-wheel-drive car also can be driven in normal, sports, eco and snow; so pick the mode depending on driving conditions or your whims.

Come across a sharp turn on a twisty back road? No worries. The independent front double wishbone and a rear multilink suspension are up to the job. So is the accurate and linear variable-assist power rack-and-pinion steering. Braking duties fall on the fade-resistant 12.6-inch front and 12.1-inch rear vented discs.

Offered in five trims, including a hybrid, the M starts at $48,600 and goes up to $63,600. Of course, like all Infinitis, the options quickly lift the bottom line. But innovative safety features such the lane departure warning and prevention, blind spot intervention, intelligent brake assist with forward collision control, and distance control assist bring reassurance to occupants.

Astonishingly nimble, packed with tech-laden goodies, and attractive styling in and out, the Infiniti luxury flagship gives the competition, especially European makes, a run for the money. As it deservedly should.

M37 (RWD)
Tires: P245/50R18
Wheelbase: 114.2 inches
Length: 194.7 inches
Weight: 4,028 pounds
Fuel capacity: 20 gallons
City: 18 mpg
Highway: 26 mpg
Web site: www.infinitiusa.com


CHRYSLER 200The Chrysler Sebring is history. And we can only say good riddance. The midsize car been replaced by a competent and impressive 200, which is available as a sedan or a convertible and in two power train choices. A 2.4-liter inline-4 cylinder engine develops an adequate 173 horsepower @ 6000 rpm and 166 pounds-feet of torque @ 4400 rpm. Our test-drive convertible was equipped with the more potent 3.6-liter V-6 flex-fuel engine, which doles out 283 hp @ 6400 rpm and 260 pounds-feet of torque @ 4400 rpm. Power reaches the front wheels via a smooth and accurate standard 6-speed auto gearbox.

Ensconced on the steel unibody structure is the familiar Chrysler grille and winged badge surrounded by attention-grabbing LED light pipe accents in projector headlights. The cabin fit and finish, gloss levels and materials are worthy for this price class. Amenities include suede inserts on supple leather seats, auto climate control, 6-way power front seats, Boston Acoustics sound system, Chrysler analog clock and a user-friendly 6.5-inch touchscreen.

The convertible is offered as a soft top or a power-retractable hard top, which raises or lowers in fewer than 30 seconds. The base Touring starts at a competitive $26,955, the mid-level Limited at $31,950 and the S trim peaks at $32,450. We averaged on the dot at around 19 mpg in city and 27 mpg highway (EPA estimates are 19/29).

Except for a cramped rear seat, the stylish, roomy and sporty 200 displays a spirited character found wanting in its predecessor. Indeed, the ride is top-down cruising at its finest. And at a reasonable price to boot.

200 S
Tires: P225/50R18
Wheelbase: 108.9 inches
Length: 194.8 inches
Suspension: independent MacPherson strut front; multilink rear
Steering: power rack and pinion
Weight: 4,000 pounds
Fuel capacity: 16.9 gallons
Web site: www.chrysler.com

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