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Test-drive stories by NITISH S. RELE –

2020 CORVETTE COUPE Zora Arkus-Duntov may not be a household name but his vision has come true after over 60 years. The late ‘father of Corvette’ imagined a mid-engine for the iconic car but bumps along the way kept it just a pipe dream. Until now. The 2020 Corvette Stingray has finally made the leap to a mid-engine configuration that gives the ride outstanding weight distribution, handling and forward visibility.

The Stingray is powered by a 6.2-liter naturally-aspirated V-8 engine that thumps out a pulse-raising 495 horsepower @ 6450 and 470 pounds-feet of torque @ 5150 rpm. It is mated to Chevy’s first 8-speed dual-clutch gear box, which should provide quick shifts and first-rate power transfer. And of course the driver can use the paddle shifters for a more lively, in-control experience. Zero to 60 in the muscle car is possible in less than 3 seconds with top speed of 184 mph. The adrenalin rush that kicks in as the engine roars to life in this high-performance sports car is something not to be missed. A drive mode selector, which can be operated via a rotary knob, offers tour, weather, MyMode, track and sport options. A silver “Z” button on the squared-off steering wheel (reminiscent of Z06, ZR1 performance packages) allows the driver to fine-tune engine, transmission and steering settings.

It is no secret that the front fascia of the Corvette was inspired by F-19 fighter jets and Formula One racing (Ferrari, hint, hint!). Out goes the stretched hood as the rear deck gets longer with a cabin that moves forward by 16.5 inches. Wide front air dams, carbon-flash accents, low-set LED headlights and door handles hidden under side air intakes accent the robust look. Admitted, there aren’t any scissor-type gullwing doors but the wing mirrors scream supercar, as in McLaren! Our coupe came with a removable roof panel that can be stored in the rear stowage area. There also is a frunk as in front compartment hold. The finest view of the speedster is the rear hatch window showcasing the intricate and minute details that went into the stunningly built engine.

Yes, this is a speed demon but let’s not forget that the cabin is as enjoyable and gorgeous as the exterior. Relax in the first-rate, rich-looking eight-way power bucket leather seats as you play with the 8-inch driver/infotainment touch screen. But wait a minute, what’s this vertical streak on the dashboard, you ask. Those, my friends, are the climate control and vent buttons, which may take some getting used to. Also, the ride becomes a mobile hub thanks to OnStar with 4G LTE and built-in Wi-Fi hotspot. Apart from several other packages, the available Performance Data Recorder with in-car video lets you record video of the driving experience, on or off track. Other welcome indulgences are dual auto a/c, power tilt/telescopic steering column, 12-inch instrument panel, Bose stainless-steel 10-speaker grilles, and keyless open/start.

Safety features include dual front and side airbags, side curtain airbag, four-wheel antilock brakes, active handling with electronic stability control, safety belt pretensioners, limited slip differential, rearview camera, rear park assist, tire pressure monitoring system and daytime running lights.Displaying astounding agility, power and response, the attractive and athletic Stingray will stop onlookers in their track. With a muscular-styled appearance, which matches the breathtaking cabin, this mid-engine speed monster should continue to be a huge draw with Corvette buffs admirers while gaining new well-wishers. And somewhere up there, Zora Arkus-Duntov is smiling!



2020 CADILLAC XT6Another three-row luxury crossover from Cadillac? Like the Escalade, you wonder. Not at all. Unlike the truck-based Escalade, the XT6 debuting this year sits on a car-like framework but offers all the bells and whistles of its larger and renowned sibling.

This all-new vehicle is packed with ample power, oodles of it, and luxury that only a Cadillac can offer. Under the hood sits a 3.6-liter V6 engine pumping out 310 horsepower @ 600 rpm and 271 pounds-feet of torque @ 5000 rpm. The front-wheel-drive SUV, which goes from 0 to 60 mph in 6.9 seconds, is coupled to a seamless 9-speed auto gearbox. A MacPherson strut front and a five-link independent rear work well to absorb unpleasant road bumps or curves. Steering response with the electric power rack-and-pinion is swift and accurate. Tow capacity is a satisfactory 4,000 pounds. And you can select tour, sport and snow/ice drive modes.

Bright Galvano accents on the front grille, roof rails, side window surround and door handles lend the XT6 a sophisticated and bold look. The crossover boasts an upscale and luxurious interior with exceptional fit and finish, gloss levels and materials. 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). Replacing the redundant knobs is a rotary dial controller with a new jog function. 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. Standard goodies are tri-zone auto a/c, wood accents, eight-way power driver and front-passenger heated seats, remote start, sun roof, third-row power fold seat, hands-free lift gate and hands-on CUE (Cadillac User Experience).

Standard safety features include 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.

Of course, the coddling comes at a price. Our test drive was based at $52,695 and peaked at $70,000 after options. But don’t be deluded into believing that the nearly 4,500-pound vehicle lacks power. In fact, the gas pedal unleashes strong acceleration to make this a nimble, smooth and easy-riding companion. Now, all you need is an inflated bank balance to indulge yourself and the family.



2020 SONATA HYBRID (LIMITED) Heading over to Atlanta for vacation? Or to West Palm Beach and back? Then we suggest checking out the redesigned 2020 Hyundai Sonata hybrid. The sedan can go more than 550 miles on a tank (13.2 gallons), thanks to its gas/hybrid technology.

A 2.0-liter GDI 4-cylinder engine develops 150 horsepower @ 6000 rpm and 139 pounds-feet of torque @ 5000 rpm. When paired with the 39-watt kW electric motor, the car boasts 192 hp. A powerful 56 kW lithium-ion polymer battery pack contributes to improved gas mileage. Another gas saver is an all-new solar roof, which recharges the battery when the car has been turned off, thereby boosting driving range. And as always, during regenerative braking, the battery is recharged by the captured energy as the driver brakes or slows down. At stops, the gas engine shuts down for fuel savings and zero emissions. Eco, smart, sport and custom drive modes are offered.

Totally redesigned for 2020, the seventh-generation Sonata hybrid conveys a four-door coupe appearance. LED headlamps and daytime running lights surround the cascading cross-hole grille adorned in a mix of liquid chrome and dark metal with active air flaps. Step into the roomy cabin and for the driver’s convenience, an analog instrument gauge solely devoted to the hybrid display, portrays charge, eco and battery readings. With 104.4 cubic feet of passenger volume, the cabin is comparable to other passenger sedans. And trunk capacity is up by 2.5 cubic feet to 16, beating Toyota Camry volume. Standard amenities include dual a/c, eight-way power driver and four-way front-passenger heated and cooled seats, 60/40 rear seat, leather tilt/telescopic steering wheel with paddle shifters, and a 10.25-inch touch screen for phone and audio capabilities.

Safety is paramount for Hyundai as is evident from standard dual front and side airbags, side curtain airbag, driver knee airbag, four-wheel antilock brakes with electronic brake distribution and brake assist, front/rear parking sensors and crumple zones, electronic stability and traction control, blind-spot, forward and rear cross-traffic collision assists, highway driving and lane-keep assists, front seatbelt pretensioners, remote keyless entry and tire pressure monitoring system.

Base-priced at $35,300 (our Limited edition totaled $36,430), the Sonata hybrid is even more appealing once you factor in EPA fuel estimates of 45 mpg city, 51 highway and 47 combined. The sedan responds with nimbleness irrespective of road/weather conditions ensuring a pleasant and comfortable ride. And, of course, bold styling, a trait missing in hybrids.



2020 Ford RangerThe Ranger is back in town! After an eight-year hiatus, the fourth-gen Ford Ranger returned last year and, we must say, it has been quite a feat. The rear-wheel-drive (4X2) version of the midsize pickup was equipped with a 2.3-liter EcoBoost inline-4 cylinder putting out 270 horsepower @ 5500 rpm and 310 pounds-feet of torque @ 3000 rpm. EcoBoost is essentially twin turbochargers and a smaller-displacement engine working in tandem with gasoline direct injection to produce a dominant but fuel-efficient engine.

Mated to the power train, providing seamless shifts, is a 10-speed automatic gear box. Guiding the truck is an electric power-assist steering while suspension is handled up front by a short-long-arm independent and a Hotchkiss-type non-independent live rear. The result is a remarkably supple ride that soaks obstacles with dexterity, sure-footedness and poise.

Conveying a bold and brawny appearance, and understandably so, is a black wide-mesh raked grille with LED headlights and fog lamps, body-color door handles and wheel lip moldings. Take a seat behind the robust leather-wrapped steering column and you find yourself staring at a speedometer flanked by two 2.3-inch LCD screens. Sync3, which accesses audio, telephone, navigation controls via a voice command, 8-inch touchscreen tap or button click, is simple to use. Other amenities at no cost are dual auto a/c, eight-way power and heated front seats, 60/40 easy-fold rear bench, overhead sun glass holder, push-button start, and a 10-speaker Bang & Olufsen sound system. Our 5-foot-bed Super crew cab came with the optional FX2 package ($595), which fetched us an electronic locking rear differential, front underbody guard; and off-road tires, tuned suspension and cluster screen.

Standard safety features are dual front and side airbags, side curtain airbag, four-wheel antilock brakes with electronic stability and traction control, blind spot monitor, cross-traffic alert, pre-collision and lane-keep aid with auto emergency brake, rearview camera, front and rear three-point seatbelts, tire pressure monitor and daytime running lights.

It’s a warm homecoming for the Ranger in a crowded and highly competitive midsize pickup market. Though by no means a full-size truck, this Ford serves the purpose of one with commanding cargo and towing capability, and adequate fuel efficiency while delivering a utilitarian ride. Welcome back, Ranger!


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