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

2018 Toyota Camry XSE We have waited and waited for years and finally Toyota has delivered. A brand new Camry unlike any other in the past, the 2018 sedan will take your breath away. It is a total overhaul from any of its predecessors, grille to bumper.

Let’s begin with the 3.5-liter V-6 cylinder engine, which now delivers 301 horsepower (increase of 33 hp) @ 6600 rpm and 267 pounds-feet (up 19) @ 4700 rpm. Gone is the previous 6-speed auto gearbox in the best-selling car in the United States for 15 years. It has been replaced with the much-awaited 8-speed to result in gas savings. Though the front independent MacPherson strut has been retained, the rear suspension is made up of the more expensive but worthy double-wishbone style multilink. Noticeably lowered are noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) levels.

The 2018 Camry sees a boost in wheelbase by 2 inches and length by 1½ inch. But width and height are down by an inch. That translates into a sleeker sedan portraying a two-piece black mesh grille surrounded by LED headlights with smoke tint, aggressive bumper with lower diffuser, and a slim upper intake around the Toyota emblem. CAMRY letters on the rear badge draw attention along with LED tail lamps, also with a smoke tinge, subtle lip spoiler and, of course, dual quad chrome exhaust tips. The interior is simple and straightforward but elegant as you would expect of any Toyota. Our high-end XSE model came with a splendid 10-inch head-up display, dual auto a/c, 8-inch nav, audio and phone touch screen, eight-way power driver and front-passenger heated seats, 7-inch TFT multi-information display, 60/40 rear seat, three USB ports, panoramic moon roof, three-spoke tilt/telescopic steering column and a wireless phone charger.

Dual front and side airbags, side curtain airbag and front knee airbags are fitted at no extra cost along with side-impact door beams, four-wheel antilock brakes, Electronic Brake Distribution with brake assist, vehicle stability and traction controls, blind spot monitor with rea-cross traffic alert, smart stop technology, rearview camera, front/rear crumple zones and tire pressure monitoring system. The standard Toyota Safety Sense translates into a pre-collision system that detects pedestrians, lane departure assist and dynamic cruise control.

This bread-and-butter vehicle for and from Toyota is a nimble, athletic and tidy ride that seats five in comfort. The total revamp inside and out for the eighth-generation 2018 model, a pleasant surprise indeed, can only help to keep the midsize sedan at the top for several years to come.



2018 Mazda6We have driven a variety of power trains in the Mazda6 in the last decade or so but the all-new version in the 2018 sedan is among the finest. Our Signature trim was equipped with a 2.5-liter, inline-4 engine but this one was turbocharged. The midsize sedan cranks out 227 horsepower @ 5000 rpm and 310 pounds-feet of torque @ 2000 rpm. Transmission choices are a 6-speed auto or 6-speed manual. 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 new fully loaded Signature, boasts 23 city/31 highway (auto) on a 16.4-gallon tank.

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. And so do such features such as 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, hill launch assist, three-point safety belts, rearview camera, tire pressure monitoring system and daytime running lights.

Ensconced on the monocoque body is a revised gunmetal grille design with the familiar Mazda badge housed in black horizontal lines and piano black-topline trim. It is flanked by eagle-eye shaped LED headlights and fog lamps. Mazda has revamped the interior with a new dashboard design and 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 solid. Other standard amenities include dual auto a/c, power moon roof, eight-way power driver and six-way front passenger heated/cooled seats, 60/40 rear seat, 11-speaker Bose system, overhead console, push-button start and paddle shifters.

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



2018 Lexus IS 3500 to 60 is achieved in only 5.6 seconds, ¼-mile in 13.8 seconds and top speed can reach 142 mph. Not bad, we thought, as we took the third-generation Lexus IS 350 for a test drive. As expected, the compact sport sedan is quick off the mark, supple in traffic and fun to drive. Under the unitized steel body resides a 3.5-liter V-6 engine developing 311 horsepower (up by 5) @ 6400 rpm and 277 pounds-feet of torque @ 4800 rpm. It is equipped with the IS F high-performance model’s eight-speed auto gearbox and can be driven in eco, normal or sport modes. Though our car was a rear-wheel drive, you can opt for an electronically controlled all-weather drive for firmer grip and traction.

Surrounding the massive spindle grille are LED headlights and daytime running lights, a color- coordinated front air dam and dual chrome tips in the rear. Niceties include dual auto a/c, 60/40 rear seat, 10-way power and eight-way front-passenger heated/cooled seats, moon roof, electroluminescent Optitron gauges for the 160-mph speedometer, 7,000-rpm tachometer, fuel and coolant temperature readings, silver-metallic analog clock, and a power tilt/telescopic steering column. Trunk capacity is adequate at 13.8 cubic feet. A mouse-like, easy-to-use Remote Touch enables the driver to toggle navigation, climate, audio and phone controls, which are displayed on a 7-inch screen.

Standard safety features include dual front and side airbags, side curtain airbag, front knee airbags, vehicle stability and traction controls, front/rear crumple zones, four-wheel antilock brakes with electronic brake distribution and brake assist, daytime running lights and a tire pressure monitoring system. Add in a pre-collision system that detects pedestrians, lane departure assist and dynamic cruise control, all part of the no-cost Lexus Safety Sense.

The energetic IS350 delivers not just a punch or two but also a spacious cabin, and respectable fuel economy to give competitors a run for the money.

IS350 (RWD)


Two years ago, Toyota introduced the hybrid version of its popular RAV4. The 2018 model of the compact crossover continues as is without major changes. Why tinker with success?

The 2.5-liter DOHC inline-4 cylinder gas engine puts out 150 horsepower @ 5700 rpm and 152 pounds-feet of torque @ 4400 rpm. Two electric motors boast hp up to 194. A 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.

The RAV4 operates in three modes: 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 some feisty driving. The rounded instrument display showing charge, power and eco readings will come in handy for drivers who like to eke out every gallon of gas.

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, vehicle traction and stability controls, blind spot monitor, rear-cross traffic alert, rearview camera and front and rear crumple zones.

Projector-beam LED headlights flank a smoked chrome upper honeycomb grille hosting a blue-tinted Toyota emblem. Metallic silver accents deck the interior with its center stack, and 4.2-inch TFT screen between the hybrid system power meter and the speedometer. Standard goodies include eight-way power driver and four-way front-passenger seats, dual auto a/c, leather tilt/telescopic steering column and shifter, recline/fold second-row seat and a 7-inch touchscreen for navigation, audio, phone controls.

Generous passenger/cargo room should entice young families to sign on the dotted line for the RAV4 hybrid. Besides, the fuel-sipper (we earned 33.8 mpg combined) comes with the Toyota’s solid reputation for reliability and durability.



2019 Hyundai VelosterAustin, Texas served as the setting for our test drives of the front-wheel-drive 2019 Hyundai Veloster. Agreed, Texas is considered mostly a flat land but not this state Capitol and surrounding landscape, which is known as “The Hill Country.” It was the perfect place for evaluating the two competent models with the 2.0- and 1.6-liter engines.

Once again, the three-door, four-passenger sport hatchback is offered in base and Turbo trims. But gone is the 1.6-liter power train in the base, now replaced with a 2.0 inline-4 cylinder engine that develops 147 horsepower (increase of 15) @ 6200 rpm and 132 pounds-feet of torque (up by 12) @ 4050 rpm. The Turbo retains a 1.6-liter inline-4 cylinder engine packing 201 hp @ 6000 rpm and 195 pounds-feet of torque at 4500 rpm. Transmission choices include 6-speed manual, 6-speed auto or the 7-speed dual-clutch gearbox. Suspension is still handled via an independent MacPherson strut front but the rear torsion beam has given away to a fine multilink system. The motor driven power steering is quick and precise. Though the wheelbase is unchanged, length gets a boost of 0.8 and width of 0.4 inches.

The bold-appearing vehicle sports an extra-wide cascading hexagonal grille, surrounded by wraparound LED-accented headlights and daytime running lights, practical air curtains, faster roofline and dual center exhaust tips. Standard amenities on the base 2.0 are a 7-inch display screen, 60/40 flat rear seat, rearview camera, cruise control, Bluetooth, auto headlights, and all-new for 2019, a forward-collision avoidance system. Available features include leather seats, auto a/c, black two-tone roof, push-button start, 8-inch head-up display, Infinity premium audio, wireless phone charger, etc. Lest we forget, the passenger-side, forward-hinged rear door provides effortless ingress and egress.

Base-priced at just $18,500 and peaking at $28,150, the quick Veloster is not only inexpensive but also offers ample performance (turbo version), decent fuel economy, substantial space, with an added benefit – off-beat sporty design. After all, who doesn’t want to be different?


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