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Test-drive stories by NITISH S. RELE, motoringtampabay@gmail.com

You can essentially go 650 miles on a full tank in the redesigned Toyota Avalon hybrid. That’s at about 39 mpg in city or highway driving. Not bad though the front-wheel-drive ride is priced at $41,400. But then this is luxury on wheels. For 2013, the sedan is wider, lower and shorter by 2 inches than its predecessor.

A 2.5-liter DOHC inline-4 cylinder gas engine develops just 156 horsepower @5700 rpm and 156 pounds-feet of torque @ 4500 rpm. It is coupled to an electric motor, which boasts hp up to 200. Zero to 60 mph is clocked at around 8 seconds. The sedan also is fitted with a 244.8-volt nickel-metal hydride battery, which is recharged by energy captured as the driver applies the brakes or coasts. Also, the Continuous Variable Transmission-equipped car gets a regenerative braking system. When the car is coasting or the brakes are applied, the electric power 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 batteries.

The Avalon operates in three modes: EV, which allows the car to travel for about a mile at 20 mph in perfect conditions; Eco, which is an efficient mode where the driver can control the throttle opening; sport, for the enthusiast behind the wheel. Just keep an eye on the needle-type Hybrid System Indicator and you will eke out substantial fuel savings.

That this is a hybrid version of the sedan is evident from the blue tint in the Toyota emblems as well as the badging on both front side doors. The revised and now sharp-appearing Avalon gets a longer flowing roof line, larger grille opening flanked by HID quad headlights, LED daytime running lights and wide-angled fog lamps. White-ice interior ambient lights enhance the cabin look and feel along with striking wood that dots the dashboard.

Other niceties include three-zone auto climate control, power rear sunshade and moon roof, 10-way power driver and 8-way front-passenger seats, heated and cooled front seats and perforated leather seats. Storage bins are abundant in the 102.3 cubic feet of passenger space though the trunk area is limited because of the battery.

Forget your grandfather’s bulky Avalon. The revamped hybrid version is attractive, practical and an excellent gas sipper (at a somewhat hefty price!) that will take you to Atlanta and beyond on a tank in comfort and style.


Tires: P215/55 R17

Wheelbase: 111 inches

Length: 195.2 inches

Suspension: independent MacPherson strut front; dual-link rear

Steering: electric power

Weight: 3,585 pounds

Fuel capacity: 17 gallons

Web site: www.toyota.com

Test drive the Avalon hybrid at Stadium Toyota, 5088 N. Dale Mabry Highway, Tampa; for information, call (813) 872-4881 or visit www.stadiumtoyota.com


Del Mar, Calif., may be an affluent but quaint seaside village famous for thoroughbred racing, pleasant year-round weather, marvelous beaches and saltwater lagoons. But it also proved to be the perfect starting point to experience a mix of urban, suburban, open highway and long, snaking curves as we rode in the all-new 2014 Cadenza. We took off into the rolling hills north of San Diego, deep into southern California wine region and finally to the iconic Pacific Coast Highway to check out the handling prowess of this most powerful and technologically advanced Kia. Back home, we test drove the flagship sedan on Tampa Bay’s streets and we were highly impressed with what is under the hood and, of course, the European-inspired design.

The front-wheel-drive Cadenza shares its platform with the Hyundai Azera. It offers a sole 3.3-liter V-6 GDI engine pumping out 293 horsepower @ 6400 rpm and 255 pounds-feet of torque @ 5200 rpm. Power reaches the front wheels through a crisp-shifting 6-speed auto transmission. An independent MacPherson strut front and multilink rear suspension handles the rough road surfaces with little sacrifice to one’s backside. And then there’s the Motor-Driven Power Steering to provide a quick and precise feedback to the driver.

Longer and wider than the Optima, with a wide stance and swept-back windshield, the large sedan shows off a familiar Kia grille surrounded by projector quad headlights with LED accents. Some creature comforts are dual-zone auto climate control, leather on the plush seats, shifter and steering wheel, 10-way power driver and 4-way front passenger seats, tilt/telescopic steering column, 8-inch navigation system, Infinity audio system, analog clock and UVO eServices.

Starting at $35,100, the Cadenza will be a tough competitor for proven premium sedans such as the Toyota Avalon and Chrysler 300. Despite the 3,668-pound weight, it is amazingly athletic, peppy, competent and eye-catching. If in the market for an entry-level luxury car, take this all-new Kia for a test drive. You will be glad you did.


Tires: 245/45R18

Wheelbase: 112 inches

Length: 195.5 inches

Fuel capacity: 18.5 gallons

City: 19 mpg

Highway: 28

Web site: www.kiausa.com


Just a year ago, we drove the base Fiat 500. That was a quickie. And recently, we drove an even quicker Fiat, the Abarth Cabrio.

Performance-oriented folks will dig the turbocharged and intercooled Abarth, which is equipped with a 1.4-liter inline-4 cylinder engine packing 160 hp @ 5500 rpm and 170 pounds-feet of torque @ 2500 rpm. Switch to sport mode and you will get a firm grip and handling, thanks to specially tuned shock absorbers and springs. Needless to say, the easy-to-engage 5-speed manual gear box makes the subcompact a blast to drive.

This track-ready front-wheel-drive car boasts whiskers and the Fiat badge, flanked by bi-halogen circular projector headlights and a honeycomb grille. Step inside and the rounded instrument cluster of the 160-mph speedometer, tachometer, engine temp and fuel gauge will draw your attention. Another neat feature is the circular turbo boost pressure gauge. Push a button and the power cloth top retracts up at speeds of up to 60 mph. Other notable amenities include a flat-bottomed tilt steering column, aluminum pedals, leather instrument panel cluster and shifter, and a 50/50 fold-down second-row seat.

Base-priced at $26,000, the Fiat Abarth is agile, fun, sporty and, of course, stylish on the cheeky side. But a word or two of caution. The rear seat is crammed for the tall folks. And our fuel economy didn’t come quite close to EPA estimates, which are 28 mpg city/34 highway and 31 combined. We averaged just 25 mpg in a week’s city/highway driving, a huge letdown.


Wheelbase: 90.6 inches

Length: 144.4 inches

Suspension: retuned MacPherson strut front; twist-beam axle rear

Steering: electric power

Brakes: 11.1-inch front vented; 9.4-inch solid rear

Weight: 2,545 pounds

Fuel capacity: 10.5 gallons

Web site: www.fiatusa.com


If you haven’t visited Charlottesville, Va., you should. It’s not only a gorgeous place but also a pleasure to drive on the evergreen city’s winding and hilly roads. Hyundai couldn’t have picked a perfect spot for its 2013 Sonata hybrid, which has undergone quite a few enhancements. The midsize gas/electric hybrid sedan is equipped with a 2.4-liter Atkinson-cycle, 4-cylinder engine developing 166 (down by 7) horsepower @ 6000 rpm and 154 pounds-feet of torque @4500 rpm. When paired with the upgraded 35-watt kW (up by 5) electric motor, the car boasts horsepower to 199 hp @ 5500 rpm. The more powerful 47 kW lithium-polymer battery pack (from previous 34 kW) is compact and lighter by 5 pounds.

The electric motor enables the Sonata to run solely on pure electric mode at speeds up to 75 mph. During regenerative braking, the battery is recharged by the captured energy as the driver brakes or slows down. At stops, the gasoline engine shuts down for fuel savings and zero emissions. For the driver’s convenience, a digital readout of the sedan’s hybrid performance is located fittingly between the analog instrument gauges. And trunk capacity has increased from 10.7 to 12.1 cubic feet of space.

Base-priced at $25,650 ($200 less than the 2012 model), the Sonata hybrid is even more attractive once you factor in EPA fuel estimates of 36 mpg city (up from 34) and 40 mpg highway (from 39). Compare those to the regular Sonata fetching 23/35 and you will be left impressed. In addition, Hyundai continues to offer lifetime battery warranty. And, of course, aggressive stance, a trait missing in hybrids on the road.


Tires: 205/65R16

Wheelbase: 110 inches

Length: 189.8 inches

Transmission: 6-speed auto

Suspension: MacPherson strut front; multilink rear

Steering: electric power steering

Fuel capacity: 17.2 gallons

Web site: www.hyundaiusa.com


Forget the Veracruz SUV if you still remember it. It has been replaced for all intents and purposes by the redesigned 2013 Santa Fe. Sharing its engine with the Azera sedan, the midsize three-row crossover comes with a 3.3-liter gasoline-direct injection V-6 engine cranking out 290 hp @ 6400 rpm and 252 pounds-feet of torque @ 5200 rpm. Tow capacity is 5,000 pounds for the six-seater Limited and seven-seater GLS trims. Best of all, it is 333 pounds lighter than the Veracruz.

The smaller and five-seater Santa Fe Sport is equipped with a 2.4-liter inline-4 cylinder engine putting out 190 horsepower @ 6300 rpm and 181 pounds-feet of torque @ 4250 rpm. The 2.0T variant gets a 2.0-liter inline-4 turbocharged power train developing 264 hp @ 6000 rpm and 269 pounds-feet of torque @ 1750 rpm. And you can get the base front-wheel or the optional all-wheel drive.

The three power trains are mated to a slick-shifting 6-speed auto transmission. Suspension is handled capably by a front MacPherson strut and a rear multilink system. The driver selectable steering mode allows the SUV to be driven in comfort, sport and natural modes via a switch on the steering wheel.

Here’s how the bigger Santa Fe is different from its sibling. It boasts 38.6 cubic feet of more passenger volume; 16.7 cubic feet of total interior volume; 8.5 inch length; and 3.9 inch wheelbase over the Sport.

Otherwise, the Santa Fe and Santa Fe Sport tout a welcoming cabin, varied power train choices and brisk acceleration. Practicality and fun take a front seat in this fine civilized ride. We only wish Hyundai had improved on the fuel economy, especially the 3.3 liter, which earns just 18 city and 24 highway.


Tires: P235/65 R17

Wheelbase: 106.3 inches

Length: 184.6 inches

Weight: 3,459 pounds

Tow capacity: 3,500 pounds

Fuel capacity: 17.4 gallons

City: 20 mpg

Highway: 26 mpg

Base price: $24,700

Web site: www.hyundaiusa.com

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