MARCH 2017
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Test-drive stories by NITISH S. RELE –

Goodbye S80 and hello to a more powerful and capable S90, which scoots 0 to 60 in just 6.5 seconds with a top speed of 130 mph. This all-new midsize luxury sedan from Volvo is a fun ride to pitch through corners on even the most challenging roads. Reassuring brakes, solid steering feel and inspired handling ensure your safety in this all-wheel-drive ride.

Sharing its powertrain with its sibling SUV XC90, this Volvo flagship is equipped with a T6 2.0-liter inline-4 turbocharged and supercharged engine cranking 316 horsepower @ 5700 rpm and 295 pounds-feet of torque @ 4500 rpm. The 8-speed auto gearbox in the front-wheel or all-wheel-drive SUV is as seamless as can be possible. And the start-stop feature (auto engine stop when the vehicle halts) ensures substantial savings in fuel and weight.

Up front, LED headlights and Thor’s hammer-like daytime running lights surround a silver-matte waterfall grille with chrome frame. The centered and familiar Volvo iron mark portrays a confident and athletic stance. The interior radiates both elegance and simplicity, mainly the 12.3-inch instrument digital display of the rounded speedometer and tachometer, and fuel, temp and driver information center readings. Volvo Sensus infotainment, with a distinct 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. Walnut wood inlays on dashboard, center console and doors give the S90 a rich feel. Other standard amenities include power moon roof, tilt/telescopic steering column, four-zone auto a/c, 10-way power front seats, and a mammoth 17.7 cubic feet of trunk space.

Dual front and side airbags, side curtain airbag, four-wheel antilock brakes, anti-whiplash front seats, pedestrian/cyclist/large animal detection, semi-autonomous driving called Pilot Assist, rear park assist and camera, side impact protection, dynamic stability and traction control, three-point safety belts with pretensioners for all, lane departure warning and driver alert control, City Safety (brakes automatically to help prevent a rear-end collision), tire pressure monitoring system and daytime running lights are standard.

Displaying remarkable agility, the S90 sedan is a welcome addition to the Volvo family. Lest we forget, the Swedish carmaker’s much-touted and renowned safety features make this exhilarating ride a no-brainer.

S90 (AWD)


2017 Honda CivicYou already have the sedan and the coupe. Now add the impressively designed hatchback to the 2017 Honda Civic lineup. Obviously, it shares the powertrain with the other brethren: a 1.5-liter DOHC direct-injected and turbocharged inline 4-cylinder engine putting out 180 horsepower @ 6000 rpm and 162 pounds-feet of torque @ 5500 rpm. The five-door ride is coupled to a continuous variable transmission or the 6-speed manual. A fully independent suspension is handled via a MacPherson strut but the rear gets an all-new multi-link independent system. And leading the car to its destination is the electric power steering with variable ratio.

Slim projector-beam halogen headlights border the centered Honda insignia in the grille while the rear shows off LED fog and brake lights and spoiler. Space abounds in the Civic with 15.1 cubic feet of trunk area and a mammoth center console to hide precious belongings. Other standard goodies in our Sport Touring trim included eight-way power driver and four-way passenger leather seats and tilt/telescopic steering column, 7-inch audio touch display, aluminum pedals, dual auto a/c, remote engine start, electronic parking brake, dual auto a/c, heated front and rear seats and door pocket bins.

EPA mileage estimates are impressive at 30 mpg city, 36 highway and combined 32. We averaged about 35 in city/highway driving. The ECON button serves its purpose for sure.

Standard safety features include dual front and side airbags, side curtain airbag with rollover sensor, stability assist and traction control, four-wheel antilock brakes, rearview camera, forward collision and lane departure warnings, lake keeping assist, adaptive cruise control, collision mitigation braking, tire pressure monitoring system and daytime running lights.

With trendy styling, commendable performance and fuel-sipping capabilities, the useful Civic hatchback makes for a remarkable package. Honda’s reputation for durability and dependability should help seal the deal for the indecisive ones.



2017 Toyota Prius FourLast year, Toyota revamped the hot-selling Prius. For the better, of course. The hybrid car is now slightly bigger than its predecessor and maintains the powertrain too but with slight tweaks that beat its previous fuel economy figures.

The retuned 1.8-liter Atkinson-cycle four-cylinder engine and an electric motor develop a total of 121 horsepower and 105 pounds-feet of torque @ 3600 rpm. The independent MacPherson strut front suspension retains its status quo but the rear torsion beam has been replaced with a double wishbone system.

Out goes the nickel-metal hydride battery to be traded with a lighter and fuel-saving 201-volt lithium-ion battery. Also, the electronically controlled Continuous Variable Transmission-equipped sedan continues with the regenerative braking system. When the car is coasting or the brakes are applied, the electric motor functions as a generator, capturing kinetic energy that would normally be lost as heat through the brakes. Instead, it converts the energy into useable electricity for recharging the battery pack.

The Prius operates in four modes: normal; 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 Power, for sportiness.

Dual front and side airbags, side curtain airbag and driver’s knee airbag are standard along with front-seat active headrests, four-wheel antilock brakes with Electronic Brake Distribution and Brake Assist, Traction Control, Vehicle Stability Control, rearview camera, blind spot monitor, rear-cross traffic alert, forward collision and lane departure warning, and front and rear crumple zones are standard. So is the Safety Sense, which consists of useful cutting-edge driver aid features.

A Multi-information Display with energy monitor, fuel consumption history, hybrid system indicator and odometer with twin trip meters will come in handy for penny-pinching drivers. Also beneficial is the instrument display of digital speedometer, instant fuel consumption, fuel gauge and shift-lever indicator. Other standard goodies include a 7-inch touchscreen display, auto a/c, tilt/telescopic steering wheel, push-button start, eight-way power driver and four-way front-passenger seats, 60/40-split rear seat and power door locks.

Numerous Prius trim levels, including a plug-in, are available. So, take your pick. This is one reasonably priced hybrid you seriously want to consider for outstanding fuel economy (we earned over 55 mpg combined) and ample passenger/cargo (27.3 cubic feet) room.



2017 Fiat SpiderTHE RIDE: Two-door, two-passenger 2017 Fiat Spider 124 roadster.

DOWN THE ROAD: Based on the popular Mazda Miata, this all-new vehicle is probably the finest Fiat we have driven. Punch it lightly and the car takes off smooth and easy assuming occupants of a safe drive down the road. And opening/closing the manual top is a breeze.

TECH & PERFORMANCE: Power is routed via a 1.4-liter inline-4 turbocharged engine, which cranks out 160 hp @ 5500 rpm and 184 pounds-feet of torque @ 3200 rpm. The optional but seamless 6-speed auto gearbox is up to the job. Keeping the Fiat stable enough to soak bumps is an independent suspension of front double wishbone and a multilink rear. The electric power rack-and-pinion steering is swift, accurate and direct.

LOOK & FEEL: Sitting on the monocoque unibody of the rear-wheel drive car are auto bi-functional projector headlights flanking a mesh grille with the familiar Fiat insignia. The instrument panel of the centered and round tachometer, speedometer and fuel/water temp gauges is similar to the one in the Miata. Piano black accents boost the tastefully decorated cabin. Other comforts include leather upholstery, auto a/c, six-way manual driver and four-way passenger heated seats and tilt steering column. The only handicap is the miniscule trunk area of just 4.9 cubic feet.

SAFETY FIRST: Dual front and side airbags, side curtain airbag, active head restraints, four-wheel antilock brakes with brake assist, electronic stability and traction control, rearview camera, blind spot monitor, rear-park assist, daytime running lights and tire pressure monitoring system are standard.

OUT THE DOOR: $27,495, plus tax, tag, delivery and destination charges.

WHY DIG IT: The lively Spider 124 is an enjoyable, sporty roadster to drive. Top-down motoring enthusiasts will be in awe of its snappy acceleration, notable handling and admirable fuel economy.


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