MAY 2021
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Test-drive stories by NITISH S. RELE –

2020 land rover DEFENDER X Land Rover has reached 23 years into its off-roading history to revive its models Ninety and One Ten, the ultimate off-roaders, for the U.S. market. Designating its respective 90 and 110-inch wheelbases, the iconic square-jawed and rugged off-roading giants have once again been deemed safe for American drivers. On- and off-road motorists can again buy a new version of the purpose-built vehicle that first rolled off assembly lines in 1948.

Under the clamshell hood sits an MHDV (mild hybrid with 48-volt lithium ion battery to store energy) 3.0-liter turbocharged inline-6 cylinder engine belting out 395 horsepower @ 5500 rpm and 406 pound-feet of torque @ 5000 rpm. The potent power train couples to a responsive 8-speed auto gearbox. Electric power steering provides superb driver feedback. It’s noteworthy that the nearly 5,035-pound vehicle can go 0 to 60 mph in just 5.8 seconds with a top speed of 129 mph.

A permanent all-wheel drive delivers necessary torque to the rear wheels. The updated Terrain Response 2 now automatically picks one of several gears for the driver depending on road/weather conditions: 

A new addition is Wade Sensing. Credit an independent short-long arm suspension with double wishbone front and integral rear suspension (raises the frame by 1.6 inches for easy ingress/egress) for a remarkably supple ride on the 20-inch-wheel SUV. Tow capacity is a remarkable 8,201 pounds. 

The Defender is designed for off-road conditions such as traction, ground clearance, maneuverability, articulation, and water fording (35.4-inch depth). Skid plates will protect the front, transfer case and fuel tank. Check out the degrees: approach angle of 38, break over of 28, and departure of 40, with ground clearance of 11.5 inches, more than enough to instill confidence in the driver on those off-the-beaten-path trips.

Ensconced on the aluminum monocoque structure with its short overhangs is an upright front grille, flanked by rounded LED headlights housed in horizontal encasing. Alpine light windows in the roof (with black rails) keep its heritage alive. As do the trademark side-hinged rear tail gate and externally amounted spare wheel. If you are looking for the hidden shifter dial that would magically pop out in recent Land Rovers, it’s gone. The Defender acquires a PIVI Pro infotainment with just a sole 10-inch touchscreen for audio, phone and nav controls. An exposed magnesium cross beam with incorporated hand pulls in the center boosts the standing of the quintessential SUV. Just above the lockable glove box is a storage shelf for personal belongings. Other comforts include dual-zone auto a/c, power tilt/telescopic steering column and panoramic roof, heated/cooled front seats, premium Windsor leather upholstery, and an astonishing 700-watt Meridian sound system. 

Dual front and side airbags, side curtain airbag, four-wheel antilock brakes with electronic brake distribution, blind spot monitor, hill descent control, stability and traction control, front/rear parking sensors, anti-rollover system, forward collision warning and lane keep system, two-speed electronic transfer case, rearview camera, daytime running lights, and tire pressure monitoring are standard. 

With its off-road prowess, bold looks and open-air capability, this utilitarian workhorse is a tremendous and much-needed addition to the already-impressive Land Rover lineup. Jeep and the new Ford Bronco have their work cut out for them with the commendable rebirth of the Defender. 



2021 CHARGER SRT HELLCATZero to 60 in the 3.6 seconds, ¼-mile in 10.6 seconds and top speed at 203 mph. Impressed? You ought to be. The 6.2-liter supercharged Hemi SRT engine in the Dodge Charger boasts robust acceleration, superb handling and steering feel. Our Hellcat Redeye Widebody test-drive version is all-new for 2021.

Step on the throttle and the V-8 engine blasts off 797 horsepower (yes, you read that right!) at 6300 rpm and 707 pounds-feet of torque at 4500 rpm. Mated to an 8-speed auto transmission, the Charger is equipped with a razor-sharp electric power assist, rack-and-pinion steering. Front suspension is handled competently by an independent SLA with high upper ‘A’ arm while the rear gets a five-link independent system. Both ends have coil springs to improve ride quality and comfort. Bringing the speed demon to a halt are Brembo high-performance 15.7-inch front six-piston caliper and 13.8-inch rear four-piston caliper discs, both vented and slotted. To vary the driving experience, this version of the Charger comes in street, sport and track modes.

Walk around the rear-wheel-drive vehicle and the first element that will grab your attention are center air intake and dual heat extractors atop the bulging aluminum hood. The air-intake hood joins a daunting mail-slot honeycomb grille and Redeye logo, surrounded by quad bi-functional HID projector headlights with LED accents. Fender flares integrated into the front/rear fascia boost the width by 3.5 inches. That this is a race-inspired cabin is evident from the rounded 220 mph speedometer (customer preferred package option) and 7000 tachometer gauges with fuel and temperature readings, and a driver information center. Lending further taste and elegance are aluminum lithographic splashes on the center stack, shifter, dash and door-switch bezels. The cabin is roomy and elegant with dual auto a/c, eight-way driver power and four-way front-passenger seats, power and flat-bottomed tilt/telescopic steering column, heated/cooled front seats with the SRT/Redeye logo, six Alpine speakers, 7.5-inch reconfigurable instrument cluster, 8.4-inch UConnect for audio, phone and navigation controls, spacious 16.5-cubic-foot trunk, distinctly designed T-handle shifter and a 60/40 rear seat.

Dual front and side airbags, side curtain airbag for both rows, electronic stability and traction control, four-wheel antilock brakes with brake assist, blind spot monitor and rear-cross path detection, active head restraints, rear backup camera, tire pressure monitoring system and daytime running lights are standard.

Muscle-car aficionados, crave for that throaty exhaust growl (it’s a Hemi!) as you turn on the ignition? Like to mash the pedals for a speed-demon-like takeoff? Then the Charger Hellcat Redeye will fit the bill. To a T.



2021 CADILLAC XT6 Just a few months after driving the Premium Luxury version of the XT6, Cadillac dispatched over the 2021 XT6 Sport AWD for us to test. This one is even more fun to drive, responding with quickness in any driving situation while loaded with luxury and tech goodies.

Like in the Premium Luxury model, the Sport also is equipped with a 3.6-liter V6 engine cranking out 310 horsepower @ 600 rpm and 271 pounds-feet of torque @ 5000 rpm. It is mated to a smooth 9-speed auto gearbox. A MacPherson strut front and a five-link independent rear sport suspension work well to absorb unpleasant road bumps or curves. Steering response with the electric power rack-and-pinion is instant and precise. Tow capacity is a reasonable 4,000 pounds. Drive modes include tour, sport and snow/ice.

A V-Series inspired mesh grille with heavily darker accents and details, flanked by LED headlights, boost the aggressive appearance of the XT6. Step into the cabin and

performance-inspired carbon fiber trim provide an upscale and well-appointed look. An 8-inch color touchscreen in the center stack includes capactive controls, haptic feedback, gestures and voice recognition (yes, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are available). To accommodate drivers of all heights, Cadillac has equipped the CT6 with a power tilt/telescopic three-spoke steering wheel. There is plenty of room – 78.7 cubic feet behind the first row; and total passenger volume is a laudable 149.9 cubic feet. Amenities are tri-zone auto a/c, eight-way power driver and front-passenger heated seats, remote start, sun roof, third-row power fold seat, hidden cargo hold bin, hands-free lift gate and hands-on CUE (Cadillac User Experience).

Dual front and side airbags, side curtain airbag, driver knee airbag, four-wheel antilock brakes, forward collision, rear cross traffic, lane change and side zone blind alerts, lane keep assist with lane departure warning, front/rear park assist, stability and traction control, rearview camera, tire pressure monitoring system and daytime running lights come at no extra cost.

If in the market for a midsize SUV with a forceful engine, decent gas mileage and bountiful creature comforts, the XT6 fits the bill. The Sport bundle adds even more spark and adventure to the ride!



2021 Lincoln CorsairThe Latin word for Corsair is “cursus,” which means journey. And the entry-level luxury SUV in the Lincoln roster offers just that and more – quick acceleration, exceptional handling and balance and remarkably good body control. Replacing the MKC last year, the compact Corsair is available as a front-wheel or all-wheel drive, which was our test for a week.

The five-passenger SUV comes in a 2.0-liter turbocharged and intercooled inline-4 cylinder engine that puts out 250 horsepower @ 5500 rpm and 280 pounds-feet of torque @ 3000 rpm. That is plenty for the 3,842-pound vehicle to scoot from any speed. The 8-speed auto gear box is effortless.

A split-winged grille with the centered Lincoln emblem plays host to floating chrome ovals in a black lattice background. The rear shows off full-width horizontal tail lamps joined by a LED tail lamp strip, roof spoiler and dual-exhaust tips, to convey a powerful stance. But it is in the lavish, modish and beautifully made cabin that the Corsair justly shines. As soon as you take a seat, the floating center stack with knobs for audio and temperature controls catches your attention. The push-button gear selector may take some getting used to but it saves space on the dash.

The user-friendly Sync3, an interface to control audio, phone and navigation systems via voice, touch or both, is easy to use. Passenger and cargo room is plenty with 27.6 cubic feet behind the second row and 57/6 cubic feet behind the first row. Dual-zone auto a/c, three-spoke power leather steering wheel, panoramic roof, Revel audio with 14 speakers, 10-way power front seats, 60/40 flat second-row bench, hands-free lift gate and the Lincoln welcome/farewell light elements when you enter or exit are standard.

Dual front and side airbags, front knee airbags, side curtain airbag, four-wheel antilock brakes with electronic stability and traction control, lane-keep and pre-collision assists, reverse park aid, rearview camera, blind-spot monitor with cross-traffic alert, front and rear three-point seatbelts, tire pressure monitor and daytime running lights.

Undoubtedly, the Corsair is a welcome replacement for the outgoing MKC. Indulge yourself and the passengers in this most affordable, remarkably smooth and exceptionally quiet Lincoln. Plus, it is attractive to the eye inside and out.



2021 Mercedes-Benz GLA35It’s 3 inches higher and 0.6 inches shorter than its predecessor. Best of all, the front seats get a boost of 3.8 inches so that there is a clear view of the road. Undoubtedly, the redesigned 2021 Mercedes-Benz GLA35 is a fine, snug and effective ride that can go 0 to 60 in just 5 seconds with top speed limited to 155 mph.

Under the hood sits a 2.0-liter inline-4 cylinder turbo engine putting out 302 horsepower @ 5800 rpm and 295 pounds-feet of torque @ 4000 rpm. The 4MATIC all-wheel-drive vehicle is mated to a standard 8-speed automatic, which can be driven in slippery, individual, comfort, sport and sport+ modes. The independent MacPherson strut front and trailing link rear suspension works splendidly to absorb unpleasant highway bumps and sudden sharp turns. Returning a weighted response to the driver’s input is a razor-sharp electromechanical power rack-and-pinion system.

Up front, the familiar three-pointed star on the power dome hood meets up with another Benz emblem centered in the radiator grille with several slats, which are surrounded by horizontal LED headlights. A lavish, elegant cabin is expected of any AMG-equipped Benz with dual auto a/c, power lift gate, 60/40 rear seat, steering wheel paddle shifters, Apple CarPlay and Android phone capabilities, wireless charge pad, illuminated door sills, panoramic sunroof, steering wheel-mounted shifters, and heated front seats. AMG enthusiasts will quickly notice the emblem imprinted on the seat backs. All materials and craftsmanship are top-notch. A touchpad controls audio, navigation and phone infotainment on the large 12.3-inch display dash screen. A similarly sized screen displays the digital instrument cluster.

Dual front and side airbags, side curtain airbag, four-wheel antilock brakes, electronic stability program, pre-safe (partial braking in an emergency), active brake and blind spot assists, forward collision warning, rearview camera, keyless go/start, daytime running lights and tire pressure monitoring system are standard.

There is no doubt that the overhauled entry-level GLA enhances the Benz lineup of SUVs. If in the market for a small SUV that drives like a car while boasting strong acceleration, admirable cargo- and passenger-hauling capabilities, take the GLA35 for a test-drive. It will be well worth your time and effort.



2021 BMW M550iMore lush and plush than sport. That’s been the recent discussion around the BMW 5 Series. But the 2021 M550i should put that notion to rest. First introduced in 1972, the midsize luxury sport sedan is an incredibly lively and thriller of a ride to take to the streets. Zero to 60 is an impressive 3.6 seconds in this extraordinary car with top speed at 155 mph.

Under the hood of the attractive sedan resides a 4.4-liter twin-power turbocharged V-8 cylinder gas engine cranking out 523 horsepower @ 6000 rpm and 553 pounds-feet of torque @ 4600 rpm. It is mated to a standard and flawless 8-speed auto gearbox, which is even more fun with moves via the steering paddle shifters. Suspension is handled competently via a double wishbone front and a 5-link rear system. However, the standard adaptive M suspension is specially tuned to enhance nimbleness and poise when pushing pedal to the metal. And the electric power rack-and-pinion steering has a solid and communicative feel, making the car easy to place at sharp curves.

For 2021, BMW designers have restyled the front end with a taller and wider kidney grille that shows off more pronounced vertical slats while adaptive LED headlights have been re-sculpted. M Sport brakes with blue calipers and the M logo are sure to grab any bystander’s attention. Walk to the rear and you will notice black edges around the fresh L-shaped tail lamps and trapezoidal tail pipe finishers assimilated into the lower bumper area. As soon as we stepped into the airy and well-appointed cabin, we observed that the digital instrument display and the infotainment touch screen are now a massive 12.3 inches each (up from previous 10.2 inches). The cognac Dakota leather seats are not only eye-catching but snug. Trunk volume (with a hidden bin) is a cool 14 cubic feet. Other niceties include auto a/c, power moon roof and tail gate, Anthracite headliner, 20-way power front seats, 40/20/40 fold rear seat, and more.

Dual front and side airbags and side curtain airbag are standard along with dynamic stability and traction control, four-wheel antilock brakes, electronic brake distribution and brake assist, rearview camera, front/rear park distance control, active braking assist (lane departure warning, blind spot monitor/detect, rear-cross traffic alert, city collision mitigation), daytime running lights and tire pressure monitoring are standard.

As we said at the outset, the M550i is not just about indulgences. The forceful engine with over 500 horses and the M label add more pizzazz and sport to the pricey ride that nears $100K price tag.

BMW M550i

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