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Test-drive stories by NITISH S. RELE –

2020 ASTON MARTIN DBS SUPERLEGGERA Who wouldn’t want to be James Bond for a week? OK, that’s next to impossible, but how about driving the supercar that stars in the 007 movies?

When the offer recently came from Aston Martin to test drive the 2020 DBS Superleggera Volante (“superlight” and “flying” in Italian), we jumped to share this iconic bond the British carmaker has had with the Secret Service agent. We’re very glad we did.

Under the clamshell carbon-fiber hood of the high-end rear-wheel-drive exotic car sits an astounding 5.2-liter twin-turbo V-12 engine that thumps out of a pulse-raising 715 horsepower @ 6500 rpm and 663 pounds-feet of torque @ 1800 rpm. The rear mid-mounted 8-speed auto transmission (GT, sport and sport plus) can be shifted via steering-mounted paddle shifters or pushing the drive control on the dashboard.

Push the starter button to summon the bi-turbocharger and the rev-happy Volante emits an exhaust roar to delight any grand tourer buff. Step on the gas and the DBS will catch you off guard, lunging forward with fervor you won’t find in most sport cars. It’s quick on its feet, reaching 0 to 62 mph in only 3.6 seconds with a top speed of 211 mph. The soft top opens in 14 seconds and closes in 16 by pressing a center-console switch.

This sophisticated beast rolls on 21-inch forged carbon-ceramic alloy wheels, which get their stopping power from 16.1-inch front discs, 14.2-inch rear discs, employing carbon-ceramic brake pads.

Fear not for security in this two-door, four-passenger rocket. Dual front and side airbags, side curtain airbags, dynamic stability and traction and torque control, four-wheel antilock brakes, adaptive suspension dampers, limited-slip differential, front/rear parking sensors, 360-degree camera, tire pressure monitor, and daytime running lights are watching out for you.

The wing-shape enamel badge up front proudly announces the marque. It’s atop the hexagonal grille flanked by LED headlights and integrated daytime running, side and corner lamps. A carbon-fiber trunk, splitter and diffuser along with quad exhaust tips make up the rear.

The cabin conveys the class, sophistication and splendid craftsmanship that are the British automaker’s tradition. Lending credence to the rich ambience is full leather upholstery on and around the dashboard and instrument panel, doors and center console. Other luxuries include 12-way heated seats, power-adjustable tilt/telescopic steering column, piano black trim inlay, dual-zone air conditioning, and an 8-inch navigation, phone and audio screen. One word of caution: the rear seat is tight even for the junior in the family.

Built in Aston Martin’s Gaydon, Warwickshire plant, this high-performance, two-door convertible drew oodles of onlookers, especially when we stopped for a photo shoot by the popular, vibrant city of Tampa mural on Florida Avenue. With a power-at-all-times engine and graceful styling inside and out, this high-end supercar speaks for itself.

All one needs now to fulfill that ultimate dream of driving James Bond’s ride is to arrange for a few thousand over $300k and some spare change. And plenty of it.



2020 TOYOTA SUPRA“To surpass” or “go beyond.” That’s the Latin prefix for the word and the car Supra, which has made a dramatic and much-awaited comeback to U.S. shores after nearly a 20-year hiatus. Resembling the 1967 Toyota 2000 GT (double-bubble roof, for one!) and the fourth-gen 1993-2002 model with its rounded look and high performance, the all-new Supra GR is a motoring enthusiast’s dream come true.

Under the long hood sits a 3.0-liter turbocharged inline-6 cylinder engine that packs a whopping 334 horsepower @ 6500 rpm and 365 pounds-feet of torque @ 4500 rpm. Translation? That’s taking off from 0 to 60 mph in a mere 4.1 seconds and top speed of up to 155 mph. Pretty remarkable for a 3,397-pound vehicle? You bet. How about a double-joint spring McPherson strut front and a multilink rear suspension that results in a smooth, comfortable and refined ride even on uneven road surfaces or in inclement weather? Add in adaptive variable suspension, which instantly adjusts damping force in response to driver input and road conditions, and you have a heck of a ride. And the 8-speed auto gearbox with paddle shifters in our all-wheel-drive vehicle is sprightly in any untoward situation.

The sport-calibrated electric power steering, which is direct, responsive and accurate, gives extra confidence to the driver. Bringing the two-seater, which rides on 19-inch alloy wheels, to a halt are 13.7-inch ventilated front and 13.6-inch rear disc brakes. Needless to say, there are the usual suspects – four-wheel antilock brakes, traction and stability control to avoid any mishaps. The Supra also is flush in safety: eight airbags, pre-collision system with pedestrian detection, and lane departure and forward-collision warning. The optional $1,195 driver assist package will fetch you dynamic radar cruise control (varying speed and maintaining a safe distance from vehicle in front), blind sport monitor, rear-cross traffic alert and parking sensors with emergency brakes.

Appearances matter too, of course. And the prominent central grille flanked by large air intakes and sweptback, six-lens LED headlamps with integrated daytime running lights and turns signals meeting up to a sleek roofline is a sight to behold! Think muscular! Same goes for the rear with the tall spoiler reminiscent of the wing on the fourth-gen Supra. The cabin is packed with all the luxury accoutrements expected in a Bimmer! No, that isn’t a typo! Apart from the borrowed engine and gear box in the Z4, this Toyota mirrors most of the interior of the BMW roadster such as an 8.8-inch infotainment touch screen, shifter knob and climate controls. Our Renaissance Red test drive came in 14-way power alcantara/leather seats, three-spoke steering column and center console, all in stunning black. Carbon fiber dash and door trim, as well as aluminum sport pedals and scuff plates, enhance the already sophisticated presence.

Push the starter button to summon the twin-scroll turbocharger and the rev-happy Supra emits an exhaust roar that will delight any sports coupe buff. Stout and gorgeous-looking from any angle, the iconic car has truly returned “to surpass” all expectations.

SUPRA (premium)


2020 HYUNDAI VENUEThe Hyundai lineup of SUVs (starting with Kona, Tucson, Santa Fe and Palisade) just got another addition and a welcome one at that. The all-new 2020 subcompact Venue may appear small but it’s a fun and sweet ride to take on the road.

It is equipped with a 1.6-liter inline-4 cylinder engine putting out 121 horsepower @ 6300 rpm and 113 pounds-feet of torque @ 4500 rpm. Mated to an intelligent variable transmission (manual is available), it comes in normal, sport and even snow modes. An independent MacPherson strut front and torsion beam rear suspension does a particularly good job of soaking bumps and potholes with skill and in the front-wheel-drive SUV. Also worth noting is the motor driven power rack-and-pinion steering, effortless at higher speeds or while pulling into a parking lot.

The sharp-looking Venue portrays a prominent hexagonal grille and sculptured hood, aggressively raked wheel arches, upright windshield, LED headlights and tail lamps and chrome dual tips. With total passenger volume of 110.6 cubic feet, the cabin is spacious for five to sit in comfort and style. Amenities include auto a/c, 3.5-inch multi-information display, tilt/telescopic steering column, 8-inch touchscreen display with rearview camera (premium package), 6-way height-adjustable driver’s seat, center console, 60/40 second-row seat, power door locks and windows, body-color exterior mirrors and door handles, and more.

Standard safety features include dual front and side airbags, side curtain airbag, four-wheel antilock brakes with electronic brake distribution and brake assist, front/rear crumple zones, electronic stability and traction control, hill-start and lane-keep assist, front seatbelt pretensioners, remote keyless entry and tire pressure monitoring system. Opt for the $1,150 convenience package and you will get blind-spot and rear cross-traffic collision warning, as well as power sun roof, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shifter, and sliding armrest bin.

Base-priced at $19,150, our Venue topped at just $23,280, which is a heck of a deal. The power train, though not impressive on paper, results in a responsive ride, sharp handling and decent overall cornering balance. And Hyundai’s impressive five-year, 60,000-mile basic, and 10-year, 100,000-mile power train warranties should convince you to sign on the dotted line.



2021 Chevy TRAILBLAZER AWD (RS)After over a decade, it is back and we are glad to see the arrival of the Chevrolet Trailblazer, slotted between the smaller Trax and larger Equinox siblings. A subcompact SUV it is, but an impressive one at that with passenger volume nearing 99 cubic feet. Best of all, we like the aggressive and sporty look of the 2021 five-passenger ride, making the vehicle a standout in the crowded segment.

Our all-wheel-drive test version is equipped with a 1.3-liter inline-4 turbo engine developing a healthy 155 horsepower @ 5600 rpm and 174 pounds-feet of torque @ 1600 rpm while coupled with a slick 9-speed auto gearbox. Suspension is handled by an independent MacPherson strut front and the rear gets a Watts link, which ensures that the vehicle is steady and agile around rough surfaces on the road. An electric power rack-and-pinion steering guides the Trailblazer to its destination.

A dual-port grille with a centered black bowtie Chevy emblem integrates with wraparound headlights and LED daytime running lights to boost the SUV’s bold appearance. It is a performance-oriented SUV as is evident from the red RS (rally sport) emblazoned in the front grille and rear bumper. The interior is practical with plentiful head and legroom for rear-seat passengers. The clear compass and driver information center, sandwiched between the analog speedometer and tachometer, is functional. Red stitch accents on the black interior give the Trailblazer a rich ambience. Other comforts include single auto a/c, 7-inch touchscreen for nav, phone and audio controls, 10-way power driver and four-way manual front-passenger simulated leather seats and a robust flat tilt/telescopic leather steering column.

Standard safety features include dual front and side airbags, side curtain airbag for both rows, four-wheel antilock brakes with brake assist, stability and traction control, remote keyless entry, antiskid system, rear camera, lane keep assist with departure warning, forward collision alert, three-point safety belts for front, tire pressure monitoring system and daytime running lights.

Base-priced at just $26,000, the Trailblazer is a welcome and much-needed addition to the Chevy SUV lineup. The turbo power train is quiet and responsive with quick acceleration, remarkable handling and steering experience. And thanks to all-wheel drive, the cargo- and people-hauler delivers a no-frills ride, even off the beaten path!



2020 FIAT 500XSince the then-Italian carmaker (now Fiat Chrysler Automobiles) began selling cars in the United States eight years ago, it’s been our fortune to drive most of them: base 500, Abarth, 124 Spider, 500L and recently the 500X. Gone is the previous 2.4-liter powertrain to be replaced by a powerful and fun turbocharger, which tackles sharp city corners or cruises down the highway with liveliness and confidence. You are assured of safe handling, balance and ride ease.

Available in several trims (ours was the Trekking Plus), the 500X is equipped with an all-new 1.3-liter turbocharged inline-4 cylinder engine developing 177 horsepower @ 5500 rpm and 210 pounds-feet of torque @ 2200 rpm. Best of all, this one’s mated to the seamless Chrysler 9-speed auto gear box for substantial fuel savings.

The all-wheel-drive (standard) subcompact SUV boasts signature whiskers and Fiat badge, flanked by bi-functional LED projector headlights and daytime running lights, rounded clamshell hood and a body-colored lift gate spoiler. Step inside and the rounded instrument cluster of the 160-mph speedometer, tachometer, engine temp and fuel gauge draw attention. It truly is a simple and easily laid out dash design. Other notable standard amenities include a dual-zone auto a/c, satin-silver door handles, leather shifter knob, UConnect 7-inch touch screen, eight-way power driver seat, manual tilt/telescopic steering column, eight speakers, heated front seats, 60/40-split rear bench and a fold-flat front-passenger seat.

Standard safety features include dual front and side airbags, side curtain airbag, front knee airbag, four-wheel antilock brakes with electronic brake distribution and brake assist, electronic stability and traction control, hill start assist, rearview camera, front active head restraints, tire pressure monitoring system and daytime running lights. Go for the optional $1,395 advanced driver assistance group so you also get adaptive cruise control, lane departure and forward collision warning plus, blind-spot and cross-path detection and auto high-beam headlights.

As fierce competition endures in the subcompact crossover SUV market, the FiatX is able to hold its own, thanks to a roomy cabin for people- and cargo-hauling capabilities, good value for the money and a distinct European flair. Unlike its predecessor, there is no denying that the ride is spirited, exciting and enjoyable and, as a result, manages more than just a passable performance.

500X (Trekking Plus)

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