BMW made its mark in the U.S. market years ago with the likes of the BMW 2002, a compact sporty handling car that could run circles, or ovals, or whatever shape you wanted, around most other cars. It was quick and lithe and fun to drive.
But as all cars, BMWs included, have grown in dimensions, especially weight and length, many Bimmer fans have bemoaned the Bavarian firm’s stray from the small coupe market. Some of us also wish there were still an “Ultimate Driving Machine” that a few more of us could afford.
Well, BMW nails, or should we say re-nails, the lithe fun sports coupe with its 2 Series. A base 228i with 240-horsepower and a manual transmission now comes in at $33,050 including delivery, so in line with an average car’s cost. I’d love to drive one in that trim. Yet this week I was granted an audience with the M235i xDrive, which takes the 2 Series to its raciest extreme. The M with xDrive drops a 320-horse twin-turbo I6 into the smallest BMW coupe with terrific results.
That twin-turbo pumps out a delicious 330 ft.lbs. of torque and turns the 2 Series into a street legal racer. Slap down the throttle and the M235i pushes you back in the seat and you hold on to the thick leather-wrapped steering wheel praying there are lot of winding roads just over the horizon. The car’s steering is moderately heavy, but extremely precise, exactly what you’d expect from a BMW. Yet the coupe doesn’t feel heavy, tipping the scales at just 3,695 lbs.
Ride is good, not as comfortable as the marvelous 428i that I drove last year, but then it rides on a 110.6-inch wheelbase compared with 105.9 inches in the 2 Series. Five inches goes a long way to smoothing rough roads. Still, as in the 4 Series, the M235i mates the superbly designed suspension with BMW’s Driving Dynamics Control system that adjusts the chassis and modulates the engine’s power curve too. Read more
Replicarz adds stunning 1:43 Unser Indy 500 winning Colts
By 1971 Al Unser was no longer just Bobby Unser’s younger brother, he was a 2-time Indianapolis 500 winner, while Bobby had won just once.
The decidedly quieter, more humble Al had wisely hooked up with Parnelli Jones’ team and had the dominant PJ Colt chassis and a Ford V8 engine behind him. That helped Al lead 190 of the 200 laps after winning the pole position as fastest qualifier in 1970. He would not only win Indy that and the following year, but the Indy Car National Championship in 1970.
Unser and the team also were lucky to have the colorful sponsorship of Johnny Lightning, a then new die-cast toy car maker that was challenging the likes of Hot Wheels and Matchbox. The result was a colorful bright blue racer with yellow lightning bolts in 1970 and a darker blue version with those same electric bolts for 1971. Every kid in America knew this car and its color scheme.
Now Replicarz reprises the car brilliantly in 1:43 scale with excellent attention to detail. This is part of Replicarz new 1:43 scale Indy Car series that already includes the 1947-49 Indy-winning Blue Crown Spark Plug specials that won Indy three years straight. Read more
As Millennials and Gen-Xers battle for jobs and income in a challenging work environment it seems natural that small cars and small sport-utility vehicle sales would blossom.
Affordability and a high degree of usability would seem to be just what the new car/ute buyer would crave. So it’s no surprise that a host of small utes are being launched this year, with Chevrolet decidedly in the hunt.
Chevy already had the Aveo and Sonic small cars, but for 2015 launches the Chevy Trax a small ute riding on a 100.6-inch wheelbase and extending a modest 168.4 inches. That’s just about four inches longer than the recently tested Nissan Juke and Trax has a 1-inch advantage in wheelbase.
Yet unlike Juke, the Trax makes a compelling argument for small utes or crossovers. It’s fun to drive with nimble handling and a pleasant ride. While obviously trim, with a modest rear overhang, it’s reasonably attractive in a fit-in-with-the-neighbors sort of way. Folks won’t laugh at you.
Here’s why! Consider this the facts on Trax.
Trax, which is sold as the Holden Trax in Australia and built by General Motors in South Korea, is useful, equipped well at a low price, is available with all-wheel-drive and delivers excellent fuel economy. Read more
When Kia first hit our shores, it was just another Asian import, but now the products they offer are through the roof cool. I have to admit that I have not been a fan of the Soul but it has grown on me. To spread the word, they are partnering with the NBA (National Baskeball Association). Read on here.
Porsche, Audi and others blend performance sedan and sport-utility truck, but few deliver as stylish a blend as Infiniti with its QX70.
This isn’t exactly new. The sporty QX with its bulging fenders and long muscular sports car-style hood was formerly known as the FX37 and been around a few years. The former moniker was tied to this sport-oriented ute’s engine size, a 3.7-liter V6 that cranks a healthy 325 horses. But no matter its name, the QX70 is a beast.
But that can cut both ways. The V6 delivers strong power to all four wheels in the test model. Lower the hammer and you’ll growl up to highway speeds in short order. Yet there is a lot of growl that’s both real power and an engine trying to haul a massively heavy feeling ute up to 65 mph. The QX weighs in at 4,321 lbs., but feels much heavier.
It’s beastly too in its ride. The sport-tuned suspension delivers an incredibly stiff ride that borders on severe at times, especially surprising with the ute’s 113.6-inch wheelbase. The ride’s stiffness seems to contribute to the QX rocking side to side on our uneven roads and when pulling over parking lot entries. Several passengers were shocked at the ride. It’s not what the average luxury ute buyer who appreciates a soft, smooth, controlled ride would expect and frankly, at the test truck’s final price of $59,535 I was surprised there was no electronic way to soften the ride.
Yet the QX70s performance bent pays off in other ways. Handling along with crisp shifts from its 7-speed automatic are strong points. Read more
Bugatti’s existence is best characterized by a rollercoaster. Its ups have been spectacular, and its downs, well, also were outs.
But in September of 1991 its new owner introduced the new mid-engine EB110 GT, the 110 signifying the 110th anniversary of company founder Ettore Bugatti’s birth. The EB110 was a supercar ahead of its times in several ways. Sadly, sales results weren’t one of its successes.
Bugatti, an Italian who built his successful company in France, created beautiful high-performance cars for years, its heyday being the 1920 and 30s. But the company floundered after World War II and ceased production in 1963, only to be revived in 1986 by Romano Artiolli. When it appeared in 1991, the 110 GT was Bugatti’s first car in roughly 40 years and it was spectacular.
The supercar featured the low lean look that Ferrari and Lamborghini had been taking to the bank for years, but added scissor-style doors and a 3.6-liter quad-turbo V12 and all-wheel-drive to make it both racy looking and giving it top-shelf performance. Read more
Juke the latest oddball design from Nissan
Nissan’s Juke is unusual looking!
You’ll probably substitute your own word for “unusual”, but there will be no argument that it looks like no other car on the road, but then neither did the Nissan Cube, which has been discontinued, or the late Pontiac Aztek.
For lack of a better descriptor, I’d say the Juke has bug eyes, or possibly a frog-faced nose. Some call it youthful, some funky. But it’s no Kia Soul, which exudes cute and trendy.
Plus the unique Juke has been around now for several years, so it’s not a newcomer to the market. It does offer all-wheel-drive, which is a plus in its favor, plus decent gas mileage and in the tested SL AWD model, heated front seats. That was especially nice on several sub-zero days during my drive.
Its other major plus, other than being a hatchback, is its lithe nature and easy sporty handling. It’s fun to drive with mild steering effort and responsive handling with little lean in turns. In that way, it feels much like a Jeep.
Sadly it feels Jeep-like in ride, which is to say choppy over Wisconsin’s rough roads. The front MacPherson struts and rear multi-link suspension, both with stabilizer bars, shocks and springs, delivered a bumpier small sport-utility truck type ride than many folks may enjoy and I found myself trying to dodge any road imperfection to ease the jostle. Blame much of that on Juke’s short, 99.6-inch wheelbase. Read more
25 Years of Zoomies
Here are my Car of the Year Awards for the first 25 years of the Savage On Wheels column, as they appeared in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. This year the Zoomies will appear only on this website. Watch for their posting …. very soon!
Here are the past Zoomie winners:
2014: Mazda3 (light, swoopy hatchback with power, fun handling and fuel efficiency)
2013: Dodge Dart (sassy smart looking small car, full of youthful features, value)
2012: Chevrolet Volt (good looking, well built and cutting edge technology)
2011: Ford Mustang (in any trim a beautiful, fast, fun car with excellent ride and handling)
2010: Suzuki Kizashi SLS (modest price, good looks/handling, loaded with goodies)
2009: Volvo C30 (sassy, economical, fun with fresh styling)
2008: Nissan Altima Coupe (awesome looks, good value, fun drive with power)
2007: Mazda5 (stylish blend of sportwagon-van, low price, practical)
2006: Ford Fusion (good looks, good value, improved fit and finish) Read more
Zoomies: The Everyman’s Car of the Year, where style and value still matter
Zoomie got kicked to the curb this year, after 25 years of top car selections for the Milwaukee newspaper.
Hey, stuff happens!
So while you didn’t get to see my top car, hybrid, crossover, etc. selections in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel after 25 consecutive years, you can see them here. I hope you also hear, or heard, me chat them up on WUWM’s (89.7 FM) Lake Effect show on March 9.
My Zoomie Car of the Year was launched in 1990 as a response to what I thought a travesty. Noted car mag Motor Trend had just dubbed the bulbous whale-like Chevrolet Caprice, that of big city taxi fame, as its Car of the Year.
This was the year that Mazda had launched its soon to be iconic Miata roadster, the first, the best and the most affordable sports car ever. I had to right a wrong!
Thus, my first Zoomie (named after my brother Steve’s iguana) went to the Miata, instantly setting the automotive world right – even if said world was fully unaware.
NOW … 26 years later I’ve driven roughly 1,300 cars and trucks and use that as my basis for selections. Yet I only compare the vehicles I’ve driven in the past year, since the last Zoomie Awards, for Car of the Year, and other categories as befit the past year’s fleet.
My intent, as always, is to select a car for the masses, but one with styling flair, something that’s fun, yet also delivers value.
So you won’t see a Ferrari, Bugatti or Lamborghini here (uh, they’ve never even invited me to drive one), but the award also won’t go to a big ol’ truck either, as they simply aren’t fun or sporty, ever.
Now the envelopes please: Read more
Subaru could be credited for starting the crossover craze as an early adopter of AWD on all its vehicles, including its wagons. Jeep could argue, but Jeeps are unique unto themselves, at least in their original form.
The Legacy wagon comes to mind from the Subaru camp and that morphed into the Outback years ago. Basically it’s a tall wagon with AWD, good cargo room and an interior that easily seats five. Yet it wasn’t, and isn’t an SUV. Oh, it has 8.7 inches of ground clearance to help it straddle snow piles and the stray large rocks if it goes off-roading.
But this is a luxury wagon in the best sense of both words.
The new 2015 Outback is slightly longer and larger than its predecessor, with a bit more cargo room, better gas mileage and a quiet comfortable cabin that encourages conversation, not the thrum of road noise.
My dark blue Subaru test car was the Limited, with an impressive $2,990 option package that added virtually everything, except a heated steering wheel, that most folks might want. Its base price is $30,295 and with delivery fee, this one hit the turnstiles at $34,207. Cheap? No, but a high value crossover that nearly perfectly blends luxury sedan with crossover usefulness.
Here’s what I like. Read more
Beautiful Jaguar XJL delivers power, luxury + AWD
Sometimes in life we are lucky, and I was all of that as I slipped behind the wheel of Jaguar’s gleaming limo of a sedan, the XJL.
This is a beautiful car aimed at the beautiful people that have the money to spend on luxury and looks.
It’s a long car, hence the L in its name. Yet the XJL looks lean and muscular, like an Olympic sprinter ready to pounce on the competition at the start of a race. This is a spirited road car riding on a 124.3-inch wheelbase. Such length puts it in the league of full-sized SUVs, inside and out. UW’s starting five basketball players could ride comfortably in the XJL. And this was my second ride in such a luxury liner in the past year. Lucky me!
Overall the car is 206.8 inches long. By comparison, the sizeable Lexus LS460 AWD I drove just a few weeks back is 6.8 inches shorter in length, and it was plenty big.
Yet unlike the Lexus with its smooth gentle giant of a 5.0-liter V8, Jaguar tucks a 3.0-liter V6 under its long hood. Ah, but the secret is that Jaguar supercharges its V6 to create 340 horses, 20 shy of the Lexus. But here’s the deal. Jaguar always has an eye on performance and keeps the XJL trim at 4,153 lbs., or about 500 lbs. lighter than the Lexus. Read more
A supercar of the 70’s returns with a new look and more power in the 20’s
The Plymouth Superbird and Dodge Daytona where and are still head turners. Who could miss that huge spoiler on the back. NASCAR racing was huge and it was a big deal for a manufacture to have their car win. The Superbird, a modified Road Runner, was Plymouth’s follow-on design to the Charger Daytona fielded by Dodge in the previous season. Chrysler didn’t just slap on the aero stuff and get it out the door. It was the first American car to be designed aerodynamically using a wind tunnel and computer analysis. Only 1,935 Superbirds were built. Not only collectible now because of the look but also the ginormous amount of horse power packed under the hood make this highly collectible. A good example will go for well into six figures. See more history here.
Meet the new Superbird
This is over the top cool. Developed by Joel Highsmith who took a 2008 Dodge Challenger pounding in 1,000 hp in the engine bay it has a top speed of 194 mph. I am still drooling.
Need a big truck? Toyota has one, the Tundra CrewMax.
Need a luxury pickup? Consider the Tundra Platinum version. That’s what I drove this past week and luckily it was the 4-wheel-drive model as we still had a fair amount of snow to navigate on the side streets.
Toyota continues to apply pressure to the top-selling Big 3, Ford, Chevy and Ram (formerly Dodge). One model year back the Toyota designers beefed up the hood and grille on Tundra to prove it was manly enough to challenge the big boys. Production also moved to San Antonio, Texas, an aim to calm buyers’ fears that their truck was being made overseas. Point taken!
So at 5,675 lbs. and riding on a 145.7-inch wheelbase, the crew cab model is hefty and a hauler. It’ll pull 9,800 lbs. and packs a strong 5.7-liter I-Force Flex Fuel direct-injected V8 that creates 381 horsepower. That’s 26 more ponies than Chevy Silverado’s plenty strong 5.3-liter V8. Torque rating here is 401 and Tundra uses a 6-speed automatic to put that power in action. Yet, for the record, the Silverado will pull 11,400 lbs. with trailering options. Read more
New reveals, but kind of laid back
Laid back, that’s how Mark and I sum up this year’s Chicago Auto Show as far as the new models go. Of course nobody could top Subaru’s reveal of their new Legacy last year. No car was cooler than the new Ford GT, which you can see in the image here and in one of the videos below.
Lexus has created the sedan we’d all like at some point in our lives, the time of life I’ve always referred to as the Buick stage of life.
No offense to Buick, as it and Cadillac and many others have delightful sedans with comfortable rides and interiors. But alas, they are not a Lexus LS460. The LS has been the Lexus flagship of luxury and understated comfort for years and the latest iteration is as, well, cozy and sublime as any car you’ll drive.
Its dimensions and leather-laden interior are such that they coddle you, wrap you in a cocoon of comfort.
The basics here, and really there is nothing basic here, are this. The LS is long and solid, riding on a 116.9-inch wheelbase and the tested AWD model weighing 4,651 lbs. That along with major sound-deadening material under the dash, hood and doors ensures, along with a well-tuned suspension, that your ride is smooth and well insulated. Bumps? Forget about it!
Lexus uses its hush quiet 4.6-liter V8 with dual fuel injection, 32 valves and electronically controlled intake valve timing to propel this massive, yet comforting vehicle. Power is good, as you’d expect, with 360 horsepower that climbs to 385 in the rear-drive model. But this is not a super thruster that rockets you to 60 mph. It’s a strong unit that gently guides you to highway speeds via a silky 8-speed automatic.
Drive Select Mode is standard, as it should be at the $75,465 starting price for this AWD model. That allows you to dial back the car’s steering, suspension and engine performance to Eco mode if you’re on a relaxed trip where all that engine power isn’t required. Normal mode is perfectly fine for most occasions and a driver gets that by pressing the DSM knob down on the console. A Sport mode firms things just a tad and gives the car a bit more juice by holding the lower gears longer. I used it in town a few times when a quick lane change was in order. Even in Sport, the car doesn’t feel aggressive. Read more