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Test-drive stories by NITISH S. RELE –motoringtampabay.com

Debuting in 2001, the Highlander has been revamped this year. Essentially, it means a longer vehicle (increase of 2.4 inches) and more cargo space (from 13.8 to 16 cubic feet) than its predecessor. And finally Apple CarPlay and Android Auto have been integrated into this Toyota too.

Otherwise, the all-wheel-drive test drive has retained its power train: a 3.5-liter DOHC V-6 engine cranking 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 SUV is mated to an easy-to-engage 8-speed auto transmission. 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 to boost confidence of the driver in an untoward situation. Brake feel also is admirable for the hefty SUV. If venturing off-road, the multi-terrain select control enables you to pick mud/sand or rock/dirt modes.

Up front, the black grille and chrome surround with a lower bumper in silver finish is bordered by 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 two 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 and perforated leather seats are plush and comfy. There also is a huge under-floor bin in the cargo hold. Overhead sunglass holder and conversation mirror add to the list. And we counted 8 cup holders and four bottle holders! A massive 12.3-inch touchscreen for nav, phone and audio controls is a breeze to use. Other amenities include a tri-zone auto a/c, 10-way driver and four-way power heated/cooled front-passenger seats, heated second-row seats, faux-wood trim and silver-painted satin and chrome accents, and power lift gate and moon roof.

Dual front airbags, side curtain airbag, front knee airbags, four-wheel antilock brakes, stability, traction controls, 360-degree camera view around vehicle, blind spot, rear-cross traffic and lane-departure alert systems, smart-stop technology, front/rear parking assist, daytime running lights and tire pressure monitoring system come at no cost. The standard Toyota Safety Sense 2.0 includes a pre-collision system that detects pedestrians, lane departure assist and dynamic cruise control.

Boasting a good balance of comfort and performance, the redesigned Highlander is eminently useful, spacious and a pleasure to drive. If in the market for a midsize SUV that can seat up to eight, we highly recommend taking this Toyota for a test. Or you can opt for the hybrid version. Either way, we promise you won’t be disappointed with the choice.



It’s an all-new vehicle and, coming from Mazda, it is more than welcome. After all, who doesn’t want to enjoy a fun-to-drive and energetic ride keeping in mind the ‘Zoom-Zoom’ (emotion of motion phrase) made so popular by the Japanese carmaker? Best of all, the CX-30 isn’t replacing any vehicle in the lineup. Instead, the fresh SUV fills a slot between the subcompact CX-3 and the bigger CX-5.

Seating five in comfort and style, this sporty ride is equipped with a 2.5-liter inline-4 cylinder engine developing 186 horsepower @ 6000 rpm and 186 pounds-feet of torque @ 4000 rpm while coupled to a 6-speed auto gearbox. Whether you choose front-wheel or all-wheel drive, the compact crossover is equipped with the direct-injection Skyactiv, which uses a torque boost via a high compression ratio to increase fuel economy. Want to have some excitement on the road? Just turn on the sport mode and step on the pedal.

Up front, a matte-finish grille with the Mazda emblem is flanked by horizontal, trapezoidal eagle-eyed LED headlights and daytime running lights. The well-crafted, intelligently-designed and simple cabin conveys a classy and tailored look. Pleasing to the eye is a 7-inch TFT instrument cluster of analog speedometer, tachometer, fuel/temp and driver information center. The 8.8-inch screen for navigation, phone and audio is easy to use via a commander control knob on the center console. Our top-level Premium arrived with standard dual auto a/c, leather seats, shifter and steering column, power moon roof and lift gate, push-button start, heated front seats, paddle shifters, metallic-finish trim, power driver’s seat, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto capabilities and a 12-speaker Bose sound system. Head and legroom is adequate for adults and, best of all, is the 60/40 split rear seat, which folds flat via a lever release in the trunk.

Included in the CX-30 are dual front and side airbags, side curtain airbag, dynamic stability and traction controls, four-wheel antilock brakes, hill launch assist, blind spot monitor, lane-keep assist and departure warning, rear-cross traffic alert, front/rear crumple zones and stabilizer bars, rearview camera, three-point safety belts for all, tire pressure monitoring system and daytime running lights. 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.

Like its siblings in the CX fold, we are sure that the CX-30 also will carve a niche in the competitive compact crossover segment. It delivers a powerful performance, ample cargo/passenger room, sportiness and commendable fuel mileage.



Introduced just two years ago, the Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross is a surprisingly enjoyable ride. For a fresh vehicle that weighs over 3,500 pounds, it is quick off the mark, responding with agility in any situation. Our test drive SEL trim of the compact SUV is equipped with a 1.5-liter inline-4 cylinder power train that puts out 152 horsepower @ 5500 rpm and 184 pounds-feet of torque @ 6000 rpm. The slightly noisy continuous variable transmission continues as is. A MacPherson strut front and a multilink rear suspension works well to absorb unpleasant highway bumps. The electric power steering returns a weighted, linear response to the driver’s input. The S-AWC (Super All-Wheel Control) system sends power not only to the front or rear wheels but also to the left or right wheels for maximum traction. Also, the idle-neutral logic technology translates into fuel savings at a stop as does the eco mode once turned on.

No doubt, the Eclipse Cross sports an aggressive look with horizontal LEDs headlights and fog lamps flanking the chromed grille with a centered Mitsubishi emblem. The cabin is roomy with plentiful head and leg room for rear passengers in the 60/40 fold seat. The 7-inch touch navigation and display audio interface is easy to operate. Several comforts are offered such as dual auto a/c, cruise control, power windows/door locks, leather tilt/telescopic leather steering column and shifter, eight-way power driver and four-way manual front-passenger heated seats, black headliner, driver information center, audio system with six speakers, under floor cargo hold, head-up display and a rear seat armrest with two cup holders.

Safety features at no extra cost include dual front and side airbags, side curtain airbag, driver knee airbag, rearview camera, active stability and traction control, blind spot monitor with lane change assist and rear-cross traffic alert, forward collision and lane departure warnings, hill start assist, four-wheel antilock brakes, anti-theft alarm, front-pedestrian impact crumple zones, daytime running lights and tire pressure monitoring system.

It may look deficient in horsepower on paper but the four-cylinder and useful Eclipse Cross is an alluring proposition. The all-inclusive ride boasts considerable cargo and passenger space, and decent fuel mileage (our highway average was around 29) at an economical price. That it comes with a 10-year or 100,000-mile power train and a five-year or 60,000-mile new vehicle limited warranty is a plus.


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