Everybody seems to be in
You have to have been hiding under a rock to know that the latest Star Wars movie, “The Force Awakens”, because the promotion is everywhere. Walmart is in big time as is Verizon and a bunch of others. I love both of the spots. I must have heard five while doing this blog entry. You know I’m a Star Wars fan from this previous post and of course I’m a car guy. So the other day, I’m looking at the design changes made to the uniforms especially the Stormtrooper helmet, which by the way, are now being sold all over the place. This one from anovos.com ($249.99). Tiny
New Kia Sedona improves on solid package
I had driven the new Kia Sedona early this year and frankly, it had a few issues.
I liked much the minivan had to offer then, and now. But I’m most impressed that all of my earlier concerns seem to have been tended to within the first year. The 2015 model I tested had vague steering, a sometimes choppy ride in back, a heavy feel and a psycho radio that jumped from FM to AM to satellite like a Kardashian trying to choose a new boyfriend.
The tested 2016 SXL, a dark blue metallic top-of-the-line model, had none of those issues.
Steering, and there are three choices at the push of a button, was much more responsive, no matter the mode. Normal delivers a firmer feel, but not as heavy as it seemed in my previous test. Eco mainly tweaks acceleration, or I should say, tames it to increase gas mileage. While the comfort setting delivers a lighter feeling wheel, but not as sloppy and vague as before.
Last time I drove the Sedona was in January, so I suspect its stiff rear suspension was a product of cold winter weather, not a standard feature. This model rode smooth and well controlled in all circumstances, including a drive on some of Bayview’s bumpiest streets.
The heavy feel of the earlier test drive was handled, I feel, by this van’s steering being more responsive. And the psycho radio? Well, there are so many electronic gadgets in today’s cars it’s a wonder more don’t go on the blink more often. I had no issues with this one. Dial in a station, touch the screen and it locks in the channel. I was relieved. Nothing makes for a longer week’s test drive than a non-functional radio.
Corvette Corvair Concept sharp car at low cost
Early Corvettes were stylish sports cars, not the big fire-breathing muscle rods they became by the 1970s and that they continue as today.
So a fastback model in 1954 would have been cooler than even Ford’s Thunderbird and shows General Motors had the right idea, if only in concept form. Funny too, they named it the Corvette Corvair, joining two names that Chevrolet would ultimately use.
Now BoS-Models has created a high-value 1:43 of this unusual concept as it first appeared in a bright Ruby Red paint scheme. And while I don’t usually dwell on price here, I’ve got to mention it’s just $38.95 and looks fabulous in its acrylic case.
First, an explanation of the concept car that made its debut at the 1954 GM Motorama, a show in New York City. Chevrolet used the front-end of its new Corvette, but made it into a fastback coupe by grafting a sloping roof onto the sporty Vette. The tail here reflects the popular aircraft styling of the mid- to late-1950s.
Volvo S60 Cross Country tall, awkward looking
I really liked the last Volvo S60 sedan I drove and was curious about this new Cross Country model that adds all-wheel drive, plus more pronounced fender flares to give it a somewhat different look.
AWD continues to gain popularity, especially in the northern climes such as ours. Subaru offers its Legacy sedan with it, but doesn’t make it look as tall and awkward as the Volvo. In fact, from a rear three-quarter view the new Volvo looks an awful lot like the ancient American Motors Eagle sedan, which was obviously way ahead of its time as an AWD sedan. I think it’s the Volvo’s ride height, which is 2.5 inches taller than the standard S60 sedan, plus the short rear-end that creates the AMC illusion.
If you can get beyond the awkward appearance, the S60 Cross Country T5 that I tested is a fun car in most respects. It’s quick and sporty in both acceleration and handling.
The car’s unique 5-cylinder 2.5-liter turbocharged engine with computer assisted variable valve timing creates 250 horsepower and a good kick-in-the-pants 266 torque rating. Power comes on in a flash and with the AWD the car rips up to highway speeds with solid footing.
This is the angle at which the S60 Cross Country looks most like an AMC Eagle.
I also like the S60’s handling, which is responsive and quick, albeit with a heavy steering feel. Still, this is fun on winding roads and in corners like a sport sedan.
The downside is a stiff ride that sometimes feels fine and at others a lack of damping on sharp bumps can wear a bit thin.
There is first-rate braking though, plus stability, traction and hill descent control. And mostly the 6-speed automatic Geartronic transmission shifts smoothly.
Dodge Dart SXT sharp looker, affordable
I’ve always liked the lightly regarded Dodge Dart because it’s a sporty looking entry-level car with a low price tag. It’s affordable and doesn’t look like a cheap econobox.
I gave it my Zoomie Car of the Year award in 2013.
So I was a bit surprised I wasn’t as impressed with the tested SXT Rallye as I’d anticipated. But the Dart is on it fourth model year and while still a high-value car and a sharp looker, much of the competition has caught up and I’m afraid that has raised my expectations.
I have to give the Fiat-Chrysler folks credit because the Dart still offers you more choices than most entry-level sedans. There are five trim levels and three engine choices. With engines it’s usually one and done at this price point.
But Dodge offers a 1.4-liter turbocharged I4 in the Aero high gas mileage model. That engine generates 160 horsepower and 184 ft.-lbs. of torque to make it fun and frugal, as it’s rated 28 mpg city and 41 mpg highway. The tested SXT model features the 2.4-liter MultiAir I4 that creates 184 horses and a 174 torque rating. The base SE model features a 2.0-liter I4 that still manages 160 horses, but just 148 ft.-lbs. of torque.
Buick Encore surprisingly nimble
The Buick Encore and Chevy Trax are kissin’ cousins riding on the same platform with the same engine and transmission, but aimed at different markets.
Not surprisingly the Chevy aims at value-minded and younger buyers, while the Buick aims more upscale, at empty-nesters who demand luxury and feel they’ve hit a stage of life where they’ve moved beyond the Chevy brand. I like both the Trax and Encore. They’re fun to drive with nimble handling and good ride for a small sport-ute. Both deliver excellent fuel economy.
There’s no denying the Buick feels more upscale. It has a leather interior and is quieter inside. As an aging Boomer I like the quiet. Additional sound deadening, which Buick calls QuietTuning, helps ensure the quiet, along with a Bose Active Noise Cancellation system.
That and the leather interior and more standard features helps explain the added cost compared with the Trax, which is a real bargain. The Trax LT AWD I tested previously started at $23,945 and with minor options was just $25,315. While the tested bright white Encore AWD Premium listed at $30,935 and after options and delivery charges hit $34,390. That’s pretty high considering how many fine mid-size utes and crossovers you can get for that, or less. Most offer AWD and are more spacious inside.
Naturally, if you want the Buick, but find yourself closer to a Chevy budget, a base Encore starts at $24,990, but that’s with two-wheel drive. I don’t want to dwell on price because the Encore is such fun to drive, and few utes or crossovers can say that.
NEO’s ‘Forward Look’ Dodge Lancer is Fin-tastic
I admit to having a soft spot in my car styling heart for the “Forward Look” Chrysler and Dodge models created by Virgil Exner in the late 1950s and early ‘60s.
These big-finned beauties featured dramatic taillights and oodles of chrome trim on their fronts, sides and backs. My Uncle Paul had a white 1959 Chrysler 300 that barely fit in his garage with fins taller than me.
So I’m a big fan of NEO’s 1:43 scale Dodge Custom Royal Lancer Convertible and its beautiful red and white paint scheme.
Dodge offered the Royal and Custom Royal from 1955-59 and the NEO model depicts the top-level Custom Royal in its heyday and final year, featuring dual jet exhaust taillights under each chrome-laden fin. The convertible featured a “Wedge” big-block V8 that used a wedge-shaped combustion chamber along with 383 cubic inches of displacement. The serious performance buyers snagged Dodge’s Super D-500 V8 overhead valve engine, a $415 option, with a massive 345 horsepower.
Royals and Custom Royals were available in hardtop, sedan, convertible and station wagon body styles and a base four-door listed at $2,934 in 1959. The premium Custom Royal convertible sold for $3,422 and 984 were sold that model year. Chrysler touted the use of front torsion bars and its mighty engines, plus push-button automatic transmissions. For 1959 there was an elliptical steering wheel and swivel front bucket seats too.
CMC’s Alfa Romeo 6C another beauty
Alfa Romeo only recently returned to the U.S. market, but it has been wowing Italians, and other European drivers with the lively nature of its sports cars for 105 years. Enzo Ferrari worked for Alfa and raced them. In fact, early Ferrari teams drove Alfas as part of Scuderia Ferrari.
In the 1930s its racing cars were among the best in the world known for their engine technology and handsome styling as evidenced by CMC’s beautiful 6C 1750 GS here in 1:18 scale.
Alfa’s naming convention was easy to understand, the 6C designation meaning the car had six cylinders, and Alfa’s was a straight 6, not a V. The first 6C was made in 1927. Vittorio Jano designed the new model to replace the older Alfa RL and RM models, basing the new 6C on Alfa’s P2 race car with a single overhead cam 1,487cc inline six creating 44 horsepower. In 1928 a double overhead cam version was launched and Alfa won the 1928 Mille Miglia, Italy’s legendary race over public roads.
The 1750 model that CMC produces followed in 1929 and was produced until 1933 and featured a top speed of 95 mph along with a flexing chassis. The GS, or Gran Sport, and Super Sport models used Alfa’s double overhead cam engines and continued the company’s racing success, some generating as much as 102 hp. In 1930 Alfa’s 6C won the Mille Miglia for the second time and then the Spa 24-Hour endurance race. Ultimately 2,635 of the 6C were made, but just 257 of the sportier GS models from 1930 to 1933.
Restyled Honda Pilot roomier, improved overall
The Honda Pilot has been a reliable big box of a sport-utility vehicle for years, nothing fancy, but usual Honda quality and solid build.
For 2016 the Pilot is restyled and rounded to give it a smoother more refined look, one that might be confused with Buick’s Enclave. In fact, several folks asked me during my drive if this was a new Buick. Honda’s sales results will tell them if such confusion helps or hurts, but overall the look is an improvement.
That’s what you see on the surface, what’s inside and what’s changed makes the new Pilot more attractive both visually and functionally for large families needing space for their brood.
Overall the Pilot is 3.5 inches longer and rides on a 111-inch wheelbase that’s nearly two inches longer than the previous model. Pilot also has dropped 300 lbs.
The result is a roomier interior with a third-row seat that isn’t as cramped, plus a vehicle with improved ride quality and handling ability. You wouldn’t call Pilot nimble, but the weight loss is noticeable and the steering has been tuned to feel more responsive giving the Pilot better road feel. Not much play in this wheel anymore.
Ride generally is fine, but still can be stiff over sharp road bumps of which we have plenty in southeast Wisconsin. I enjoyed my highway drives across town and the interior is extremely quiet.
Small roofless Aventador looks great
Proving that good things come in small packages I present the Lamborghini Aventador J in 1/43 scale by Autoart. This is one beautiful model, and comes at well less than you might expect to pay for a fine diecast car in this scale.
The edgy Aventador coupe was unveiled at the 2011 Geneva Motor Show and just a year later Lamborghini revealed the J, a roofless model with no windshield, just tiny windscreens as you’d expect on a racer.
Reportedly Lambo’s CEO Stephan Winkelmann asked his design crew to create “something special” for the Geneva show, but just 6 weeks before the prestigious car show. Talk about deadlines!
The racer wanna-be uses Aventador’s 6.5-liter V12 engine that creates 700 horsepower and links that to a 7-speed tranny. The car, which rides on a carbon fiber monocoque, shuns goodies like a radio and air conditioning to save weight and is said to tip the scales at just 3,472 lbs.
Its only carryovers from the Aventador are the hood, front and rear fenders and headlights. Reportedly this one-off concept car was sold for $2.8 million before it even hit the Geneva show floor. For reference, the standard (as if) goes for roughly $400 grand.
Sorry Chevy, lighter Ford F-150 still a strong hauler
The Ford F-150 has been the best-selling vehicle in the United States virtually forever and there’s a reason for that, it’s a darned nice truck.
Now that it has an aluminum body and notwithstanding the funny Chevy commercials poking fun at it, it’s even better. It’s lighter and more fuel efficient and at least from all outward appearances, just as strong and reliable as in the past.
Chevy can tweak Ford all it wants, but over the past several years Ford has come up with a series of new Ecoboost engines that are high horse, high torque and more fuel efficient. Now it lightens its pickups by roughly 700 lbs. by developing high-strength aluminum for the bodies. Hmm, sounds to me like a leader protecting its lead!
Let’s make no bones about it, the bright blue (blue flame metallic) test truck, a 4×4 SuperCrew was still plenty heavy, tipping the scales according to Ford and other automotive test sites, at nearly 4,700 lbs. But that’s about 900 lbs. lighter than a Toyota Tundra I tested earlier this year and a several hundred pounds lighter than a similar Chevy Silverado.
That does help fuel economy, which I realize is of minor importance to some folks now that gasoline has dropped back below $3 a gallon. But it’s a money saver over the life of the truck, and, one could argue, better for us all.
The test truck was rated 17 mpg city and 23 mpg highway, which may not sound great, but is an improvement over most trucks and better than the 14/18 mpg that the previous F-150 I’d driven was rated. This time I got 18.4 mpg in about 60% city driving and 40% highway.
Redesigned Mazda Miata still the perfect sport car
My generation may have been having fun, fun, fun till our daddy’s took our T-birds away, but since 1989 the fun, fun, fun has mostly been provided by Mazda’s Miata.
Lyrically it’s not the same at all, but the feeling continues to be the same and the nearly all new and slightly smaller 2016 MX-5 Miata continues the tune.
I’ve run out of superlatives for the car that was my first Zoomie Car of the Year Award winner back in 1990, just after the original hit the streets. Miata reinvented the fun, affordable two-seater. Back in the 1950s and ‘60s there were MGs, Sprites, Austin-Healeys and Triumphs. Today, as in 1989, there is only the Miata in the small roadster category, at least starting at less than $30 grand.
Mazda continues to keep the car simple and slips it back closer to its roots by downsizing it in every way, except driving excitement.
The Miata is a work of art, just like the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church in Wauwatosa.
The new car rides on 1-inch less wheelbase, is 6 inches shorter in length, loses 0.5 cubic feet of trunk space and drops about 250 lbs. Even the engine’s horsepower is down a smidge to 155 horses.
The result is a superbly balanced sports car that remains light, peppy and easy to throw around curving country roads, or winding city streets.
I felt no discernable reduction in power from the 2.0-liter I4 because the new 6-speed manual is so well suited to it. Shifts are short and direct and the clutch light. I took this on an afternoon spin around the Holy Hill area over winding side roads and with the top down. What a joy, smelling the apples, barley and livestock as the car flitted through the early autumn sun.
Bburago delivers high-value matte black LaFerrari
I can’t explain it, but the youngsters these days are going crazy over matte finishes on cars, motorcycles, snowmobiles and ATVs. It is different, but looks like primer paint to me.
Still, Bburago gives them what they want with its new matte, or flat, black LaFerrari in 1:18 scale. The model is tucked inside a Styrofoam shell inside a racy red box with foil-like silver lettering on it. This is part of Bburago’s move to more upscale models, somewhat beyond the toy market, but still high in value.
Speed and sexy looks sum up Ferrari’s essence. LaFerrari is the latest mid-engine package that plays off that iconic theme.
LaFerrari was launched at the 2013 Geneva Auto Show and is a hybrid super car with a 6.3-liter V12 and a 161-hp electric motor. This is the first production car with the hybrid HY-KERS, a system that stores and delivers electricity for added power. KERS was developed in F1 racing. Combined, the car has 949 horsepower and 663 ft.-lbs. of torque.
Up close and personal
My days as a TV sports reporter in Green Bay provided me with opportunities others dream about. Almost all of them came because I spent lots of time at my favorite place, Road America, located about an hour south of Green Bay. I loved when there was a race coming up because it meant I’d be down there a bunch of times that weekend. Nobody else in the Green Bay television market covered motorsports like I did. I loved it. I got to interview some cool car guys. While some people might be intimidated by their names, I’d just walked up to them, videographer in tow, and asked them if I could chat with them. Hey they put their pants on the same way I do, one leg at a time. The only one who turned me down was Bobby Rahal who was having a crappy practice day at Road America. So here are the ones that did talk to me and I still remember to this day.
Duesenberg J Murphy Torpedo was fast, beautiful
Growing up in Indiana I learned that Duesenbergs were fast and beautiful, and there wasn’t much more to learn.
That was, until I found out there were many varieties due to various coachbuilders creating the bodywork on the 1920s and 30s models. Now Automodello goes and creates one of the all-time most beautiful Duesys ever, the J with Murphy-bodied Torpedo styling. This one is in 1:43 scale, which makes it all that more remarkable for its exterior detail.
The first Model J was unveiled at the 1928 New York Auto Show, just a year before the Great Depression. That alone tells you what the likelihood of success was for the model. Duesenberg, run by two brothers in Indianapolis, had gained worldwide acclaim for mechanical excellence by winning the Indianapolis 500 several times and the 1921 French Grand Prix. Duesenberg was the first American car to win a GP, the second being Dan Gurney’s Eagle in 1967. They are still the only two.
Looks even better with the roof off!
But E.L. Cord bought Duesenberg in 1926 and demanded large luxury cars that he could sell to the nation’s elite, folks like Clark Gable, Greta Garbo and James Cagney. Fred Duesenberg responded with exquisite cars with ladder frames and six cross members to restrict vibration, plus an automatically lubricating chassis. Its heart was a 32-valve, double overhead cam, 6.9-liter straight-eight engine creating 265 horsepower and a world-beating 120 mph top speed.
Honda’s new HR-V just another solid little ute
Honda makes many fine cars that perform well, get good gas mileage and are reliable and its new small personal-sized crossover, the HR-V fits that mold.
But Honda, like Toyota before it, seems to have neglected styling in pursuit of its other laudable attributes. So the HR-V, like its name, seems uninspired. It’s another small ute/crossover box, not cute, not edgy, not imaginative and not even a name to remember.
While Toyota has come out of its styling doldrums one can hope Honda won’t be slumbering much longer. Because at its core, as with most Hondas, the HR-V is a solid little people mover. Its economical, gets good gas mileage, has a pleasant ride and comfortable seats.
If anything Honda has put more effort into the crossover’s interior space, than anything. The cargo room under its hatch is spacious and much deeper than in last week’s much more stylish Mazda CX-3. Both rear seats fold flat in one quick easy motion. Some little utes, and mid-size ones for that matter, require you to pull the bottom seat cushion forward first before lowering the seat back. Some require you to take out the headrests first. Humbug!
New CX-3 a spirited, fun, small crossover
Mazda isn’t the first car maker with a small personal-sized SUV, but it certainly has one of the most stylish and fun to drive with its new CX-3.
The CX-3 continues the tone set by Mazda’s slightly larger CX-5 that competes with the likes of Toyota’s RAV4, Subaru’s Forester and Ford’s Escape. But the CX-3, with its slight 101.2-inch wheelbase and 148-horse 2.0-liter I4 engine takes aim at the Chevy Trax and Honda’s new HR-V, among others. These are entry-level sport-utes with all-wheel-drive, minimal interior room and generally not loaded with the multitude of electronic whiz-bangs that push most vehicles to prices well beyond $30 grand.
CX-3 is targeted at entry-level buyers, the young couples or singles that want to sit a little higher like they’re in an SUV and also have the advantage of AWD, but don’t have big bank accounts. But Mazda’s little ute goes a step, or two, further. It offers style, such as a longer, more shapely nose, which gives this a more appealing look than the econobox on steroids that most such little utes offer. The interior also is stylish.
New Outlander good, but doesn’t raise SUV bar
Mitsubishi doesn’t sell many models in the United States, so when it re-launches one, as with the new 2016 Outlander, it had better be good.
The Outlander is good, but it sets no new bar for small sport-utilities, or crossovers. Yet it does raise the bar considerably for Mitsubishi products. Fit and finish are good and there are more bells and whistles on the Outlander than in previous versions.
Part of the reason for that is my test was of the 3.0 GT S-AWC model, the top-of-the-line. My ute was Labrador black pearl, a shiny black that looked handsome, especially with the bits of chrome trim it featured around the lower window edges and back of the rear window, plus some along the rocker panels and headlights and lower nose fascia.
Inside, Outlander is fairly quiet and is well finished and pleasantly styled.
Let’s start with performance.
Outlander’s 3.0-liter, MIVEC V6 provides good acceleration at 224 horsepower and 215 ft.lbs. of torque. Not overly powerful, but strong enough to get on the highway with authority and the 6-speed automatic transmission shifts well too. Outlander provides four drive modes and an Eco button to save fuel. The modes are Normal, Eco-AWC, Snow and Lock for full-time 4-wheeling. Normal was fine for city driving and I used it the most.
Stylish Hyundai Tucson looks great, drives great
I’ve found my new favorite small crossover vehicle, the Hyundai Tucson.
I’ll admit to being surprised, but I’m not sure why. Hyundai and sister company Kia have become the styling leaders among Asian car makes and their performance is on par, or better than most of their competitors too. Hyundai designers in particular seems to have mastered the simple, elegant interior with logical controls and a high-quality look and feel.
This new Tucson has that, plus a smooth pleasantly rounded exterior that is simply eye pleasing.
I drove a “winter white” top-of-the-line Limited AWD model, so granted, I had the best Tucson that Hyundai has to offer. Even at that the Tucson started at $31,300 and only added the bare minimum of options, a cargo cover and carpeted floor mats. Total, including delivery fee, was $32,510. That’s just below the average price of a new vehicle sale these days.
But the Tucson feels and looks much more upscale, starting with this one’s brown over tan leather interior with gloss black trim on the center stack’s face and pewter-look trim around the video screen and air vents. Doors featured flat black trim on the armrest surfaces that house power window and other buttons. It felt and looked ritzy, but not ostentatious.
Kia Sorento, a crossover that will haul seven people
Kia’s Sorento is a fine crossover that will haul up to seven folks and look good doing it.
The 2016 model is the continuation of a revamp from a couple years ago and the tested pearl “snow white” test vehicle was the top-level SX Limited with AWD, so stickered at $43,100, plus $895 destination and just a couple options. Grand total, $46,695.
That’s approaching the stratosphere, but if you want a larger crossover with AWD and much in the way of electronics, you’re already sticking your nose in rarified air north of $40 grand.
Sorento is pleasant looking, smooth, yet muscular. The $200 for the pearly white paint job is worth it to me as it enhances the luxury appearance. Naturally if you don’t want AWD and don’t need to be swaddled in leather or have a zillion buttons to control most everything, you can go more basic. The entry-level L with front-wheel-drive starts at $25,795. It is powered by a 185-horse 2.4-liter 4-cylinder that gets 21 mpg city and 29 mpg highway.
The tested top-liner packs a much more satisfying 3.3-liter V6 that creates 290 horses and 252 ft.-lbs. of torque. It’ll even tow up to 5,000 lbs., so power is good, even if this version does drink more gas. The EPA rates the AWD V6-powered version at 17 mpg city and 23 mpg highway. I got 19.6 mpg in a week’s drive that was about 50-50. With gas at about $3 a gallon again, falling below 20 mpg is a little tough on the wallet.
Bburago moves a bit more upscale with new Ferrari line
First the news – Bburago is moving more upscale with its Signature Series. Even bigger news, Bburago again has the license to create Ferrari models and has a full line for 2015 and beyond.
Bburago began as an Italian die-cast car maker 40 years ago when the Besano brothers created Martoys. Production took place in Burago di Molgora in Italy’s Monza province. In 1976 the company was renamed Bburago, combining the B from the brothers’ name with their plant’s hometown name. Now the May Cheong Group of China owns Bburago along with its other noteworthy die-cast brand, Maisto.
That’s the corporate history lesson, but the big deal is that Ferrari is back in the fold after 15 years and by way of celebration Bburago has created a 1:18 scale Ferrari California T in a striking dark metallic red with black roof. And it moves well beyond toy to collectible.
Yes, Ferris Bueller drove an old version of Ferrari’s California, but this model, the T first appeared in 2014. The T stands for turbo, as in turbocharger, something Ferrari had not used on any of its models since the stellar F40. That’s been a while!
Move over Camry, Accord, the new Mazda6 is a gem
After all these years reviewing cars (30+) I find it hard to understand why Mazda doesn’t sell a lot more cars.
Its midsize Mazda6 is another gem that is sporty looking, handles well, provides a comfortable ride with good power and delivers extremely good fuel economy. Sounds like a lot of checkmarks in the average buyer’s “want” boxes.
Yet Toyota’s Camry and Honda’s Accord, among others, outsell the Mazda6 regularly, and have for years. Could it just be buying habits that work against other sedans that easily challenge those top dogs? Could be. But if you’re looking for a midsize family car with more pizazz, then the Mazda6 should be dead center on your radar.
I drove a sharp looking Blue Reflex (light silvery blue) Grand Touring model. That’s top of the line, so it’s loaded with standard equipment, leather seats, etc., plus this one added the $2,180 GT technology package, a cargo mat and door sill trim plates to push a $30,195 base price up to $33,395, including an $820 delivery fee. That’s almost exactly the average selling price for a new vehicle these days.
Here’s what you get and how it drives.
Chrysler nails full-size luxury with 300S AWD
Remember full-size cars that were comfortable for five adults? Probably not, unless you’re of a certain age.
A few remain, the distinctive and elegant Chrysler 300 being one of the better efforts. First, it looks great with a big grille and chiseled lines that have only been somewhat softened around the nose for 2015 along with LED taillights added.
There are a variety of 300 models, but one feature, AWD, separates the big Chrysler from most other full-size cars. The bright metallic red test car was the sporty S version with AWD and a strong 3.6-liter V6 with variable valve timing. The V6 creates 300 horsepower and 264 ft.-lbs. of torque.
Acceleration is quick and responsive. Getting up to highway cruising speed is a breeze and the 8-speed automatic shifts easily and uses the engine’s power well. Sport Mode is standard on the S and it allows you to adjust the transmission, throttle and steering at the press of a button. Sport mode on means heavier steering feel, longer shift points and more responsive throttle. Those with a racier driving attitude will appreciate the change, others can pass on the S and go with a lesser 300 model.
Handling is decent, a little body lean in hard cornering and the rear-drive (normally) car pushes some in corners too, but then you probably won’t be driving it that hard most of the time.
New Mustang flat out gorgeous, ride improves
Fifty years in and Mustang is still behaving like a teenager with his first set of wheels and looking as sexy as ever.
The previous sizzling Mustang design was so reminiscent of the 1960s icon that some felt Ford had taken a step back, just to glom on to sales from us Baby Boomers. So what? But the 2015 model keeps Mustang’s styling heritage, a long hood, fastback styling a pony on the grille and tri-bar taillights. Wisely it also kept Mustang’s long-popular profile.
But indeed Mustang looks leaner and sleeker now from the front, a bit more youthful with its smoother sides. In back I like the way its tri-bar lights lean forward, but its rump has been broadened visually with accentuated wheel flares, shades of J Lo! The bet is the overall effect will still appeal to Boomers, but will increasingly lure younger buyers. Works with the Kardashians!
Looks may go a long way to broaden interest in the Mustang. The car is gorgeous, but its refinement also makes it less rough around the edges and that will help too. The big upgrade starts with a fully independent rear suspension, something racers and enthusiasts have been calling for to replace its older live rear axle. While Ford had gone a long way to perfect the live-axle’s ride, this is better.
Volvo XC90 not mainstream, not good with details
Volvo has never been mainstream and it’s not about to start now.
Its new XC90 crossover that replaces a quite dated crossover of the same name is a high-end luxury vehicle that offers typical Volvo safety and substance, but drops the ball on a variety of details.
First, know that Volvos are still made in Sweden, but the company now is owned by Geely, a Chinese carmaker. That hasn’t seemed to hurt, or help, Volvo, which continues to do things its own unique way. For instance, the keyless start system is a switch you rotate on the console, sort of like you would turn a key. Most folks now offer a push button.
Different can be better, and the giant (12.3-inch) iPad-like navigation/radio/information screen mid-dash would be one of those ways. It’s large and you slide the screen to other settings with your finger. That’s where you can adjust many of the crossover’s individualized functions, plus the radio and navigation screen.
Good also is the high-powered Drive-E engine, which is the first engine I’ve ever encountered that is both supercharged AND turbocharged. The result is a hefty 316 horsepower and equally peppy torque rating.
2015 Dodge Charger R/T Scat Pack
There’s no reason to be coy when addressing the strength of Dodge’s new Charger R/T Scat Pack. That’s Pack with a P as in Power.
No this is NOT the Hellcat with its ridiculous 707 horsepower. This is the macho family sedan, the four-door with 485 throbbing HEMI V8 horses under its hood with a bulge big enough to let you know it has a pair, er, a 6.4-liter 392 cu.in. engine in its bay.
This is Dodge’s second most powerful V8, just behind the supercharged 6.2-liter V8 in the Hellcat. But heck, let’s not talk about Hellcat and its $64,990 price tag here. That’s for the rich folks.
Related Video: Hop in with Mark as he drives a Hellcat at Road America.
The R/T with the Scat Pack package starts at a more family friendly $39,995. That’s right, Buster, this Charger is under $40gs and still will kick your neighbor’s BMW or Audi to the curb with a guttural V8 roar that will let everyone in the neighborhood know who the alpha male is.
I liked it.
Mine was a beautiful bright metallic blue that matches the old Charger blue from the early 1970s. I know because I pulled up next to one at a stoplight. We both did a double-take.
Sharp looking CX-5 also performs
The 2016s are in!
Not all of them mind you, but Mazda has released its revamped CX-5 small sport-ute early and it remains a good-looking ute in a mostly ho-hum market segment.
That’s the first plus, because generally you aren’t hung up on looks if you’re shopping for a small ute. But the tested Grand Touring model with AWD was decked out in Soul Red Metallic paint, a sparkling red that added $300 to the sticker, but worthy of the charge. Mazda has refined the big front grille some and this model featured a smoke gray grille along with black lower fascia on the sides and over the wheels for a sportier look that also protects those areas.
Better yet for looks, the test ute came with silver and gray sport 19-inch wheels, up from the standard 17-inchers.
Related Video: See Mark put the Mazda 3S to the test at Road America.
While a base Sport CX-5 will run you just $22,675 for a front-drive model, the tested version lists at $29,470, plus an $880 delivery fee. With options, this one hit $34,140. That’s above average for the segment, but then the Grand Touring more than performs to the price.
First, it has AWD for winter traction, something we’re not so concerned about on these warm summer days, but come December, you’ll be happy to have it.
Durango R/T is SUV that looks like a racy minivan
Dodge generally doesn’t try to blend in as a brand, favoring bolder styling than most competitors. That’s what some of us like about Dodge.
Dodge’s Durango though is a bit different in that it stands out from other large SUVs, especially with its wide full-body width taillights. Yet, in its own way, Durango blends in with Dodge’s own minivan styling. Several people asked me if this was a new Dodge minivan, when, to me at least, it seemed obvious the Durango is an SUV.
First, it looks bigger than a minivan, and to be honest, Dodge did its best to distinguish the bright red (Redline Pearl) SUV from anything on the road. The test ute was the R/T version, which means there’s a HEMI under the hood, and this also was the Blacktop edition. Who doesn’t like the sound of that?
Blacktop means the red ute has gloss black aluminum wheels, gloss black Durango badges and an equally gloss black grille and outside mirrors. All that glossy black costs just $295 extra and actually makes this big ol’ SUV look pretty darned sporty, like a ute with attitude!
Naturally putting Chrysler’s muscle-bound HEMI V8, all 5.7 liters worth, under the hood gives it some rumble power. The V8 cranks 360 horsepower and a monster 390 ft.-lbs. of torque. Tromp the gas pedal and Durango R/T gallops to life. That’s no small deal for a 5,531-lb. SUV with all-wheel-drive. But this one feels energetic right from the get-go.
Great-looking Lexus RC 350 packs performance
Lexus cars always look luxurious, rarely racy, until now. Lexus stylists have cranked up their angular mojo to create their first truly sporty looking sports coupe – the RC 350.
I’ve read or heard all sorts of jawing from other car writers that the RC isn’t racy enough, sits too high, has too big and bulgy of wheel wells, won’t break the sound barrier, etc. Let me tell you that’s hogwash – except the sound barrier thing.
First, the RC is exceptionally good looking with a rakish stance, sleek sloping windshield and roofline, extreme spindle grille that Lexus has made its trademark of late, and slim beautifully sculpted lights front and rear along with fins on the lower rear bodywork. Plus those twin exhausts sound pretty sweet. Yes, this baby would look fast in a car wash!
Speed, handling, ride and performance are all first rate.
One could argue that this isn’t as track worthy as an off-the-truck Porsche, but it’s a street racer of distinction. And by that I mean it’s plenty fast, sounds like it means business and handles like a high-end sports coupe. It’s not an $80 to $100 grand racer, it’s a $42,700 sports coupe and as tested with the F Sport package and other goodies, hits $54,815. That’s not cheap, but it’s not so pricy you’ve got to sell the house and kids.
Power is generous. A typically smooth Lexus 3.5-liter V6 with variable valve timing and direct and port injection gives the RC 350 its oomph. Officially it creates 306 horsepower and 277 ft.-lbs. of torque. Because the Lexus is refined, not a beast, its engineers provide it with Drive Mode Select, allowing the driver the option of Eco mode to save fuel (it drinks premium), Normal, or Sport. The later keeps rpm up as it holds lower gears longer to boost acceleration.
2015 Toyota Sienna XLE Premium AWD
Minivans are wonderful for families, no other vehicle is more practical.
But in saying that, I know I’ve scared off at least a sizeable portion of my readers. Hear me out, Toyota’s Sienna is a fine people and cargo hauler and get this, it offers all-wheel-drive. It’s the only minivan that still does, so is perfect for wintery Wisconsin.
My test van was a handsome Sky Blue Pearl, a silvery blue, Sienna XLE Premium with AWD. It seats seven with captain’s chairs in the front and middle rows, and by that I mean the individual seats feature fold-down armrests. The split bench in back will seat three and folds neatly down into the van’s cavernous cargo area to create a flat floor.
Lower both seats, a manual operation here, and then fold the two center seats and you’ve got 150 cubic feet of cargo area, much larger than a pickup’s bed. Oh, and it’s enclosed so you can haul stuff even when it’s raining and snowing.
How easy is this? A sliding side door allows you to easily buckle in small kids.
This model also features a power hatch, so with the push of a button on the key fob or dash, the hatch powers up, or down. Hatches, by the way, are great for protecting a person loading or unloading in bad weather.
Not sold yet?
OK, for young families there’s the benefit of power sliding side doors, on both sides. Got a load of stuff AND a couple of wee ones to strap into a car seat? Press the button as you approach and then let them crawl in by themselves. Now you can put down the diaper bag, groceries or other kid gear and step into the van to strap them in. Again, if it’s inclement you’re out of the muck. Also, it’s easier to latch a kid in a car seat when you’re not trying to reach over their squirming selves.
Need more to like?
Ford’s Expedition King Ranch a big, luxurious hauler
More than 10 years have passed since I last reviewed a Ford Expedition, which tells you something about how little Ford’s biggest sport-utility truck changes.
Like the Chevrolet Suburban and Tahoe and GMC Yukon it competes with, the Expedition is a steady Eddie. It’s truck-based and remains much the same from model year to model year. Expedition and Expedition XL (14 inches longer, like Suburban compared with Tahoe/Yukon, are body-on-frame like many past sport-utes. But years ago Ford moved its other utes to car platforms and dropped the monster Excursion.
That leaves Expedition to tow the boats and trailers that outdoorsy folks need to haul. And this new version, which looks pretty similar to previous boxy models, will pull up to 9.200 lbs. That’s a gob lot.
Yet the 2015 model does have a freshened nose and tail to smooth its boxy looks a bit, and more important, Ford drops its 3.5-liter Ecoboost V6 under the hood in place of the former 5.4-liter V8. The goal with the turbo-assisted V6 is to improve gas mileage, which the EPA rates at 15 mpg city and 20 highway. That’s still pretty low, as a Tahoe/Yukon is rated 16 mpg city and 22 mpg highway with its 355-horse V8. I managed just 14.9 mpg in my Expedition test drive, which was about 60% city driving. I had gotten 18.7 mpg in a GMC Yukon last fall.
Auto World flexes its muscle with drop-top Chevelle SS
Chevrolet was in the sales driver’s seat in the 1960s as it churned out hit after hit as we were all busy seeing the U.S.A. in our Chevrolet.
But even then its cars were growing in size and stature so quickly that by 1964 Chevy realized it needed a more moderate sized model to compete with Ford’s Fairlane. Chevelle was Chevy’s answer, and it too was a resounding success.
Not only was Chevelle more modest in dimensions, it handled better and when Chevy started souping it up, quickly became one of the earliest muscle cars.
The past few years Auto World has created a variety of Chevelles due to their popularity, but now goes back to the first generation, built for model years 1964-’68. Again, Auto World creates a well-detailed 1:18 scale model at an attractive price, making this offering especially appealing to a wide audience of muscle car fans.
The Model: Auto World’s review model is the Tuxedo Black convertible version of the 1967 Chevelle SS, honoring the 50th anniversary of the first 396 Chevy V8. Can it really be that long?
Ultimately, BMW’s M235i a great drive
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.
Subaru’s new Outback epitomizes luxury AWD wagon
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.
Tundra CrewMax looks, feels big … and luxurious
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.
Auto World creates flashy second-gen Camaro Z28
My Uncle Wink had one of the original Camaros and that’s the car I learned on to drive a stick shift. Talk about spinning your tires and kicking up gravel!
But in 1970 Chevrolet launched its second generation Camaro and its looks, with those single headlights that blended into the front fenders and the split front bumper, along with its fastback styling, wowed us teens. At the same time Chevy was introducing the Vega, Camaro’s little brother, reflecting similar sporty lines.
So I’m always happy to see the 1970 pony car, as Camaro was known then, in any model or format. Thanks to Auto World, the Z28 version in its Galaxy Gray (dark metallic silver) paint scheme with black racing stripes slashing across the hood and trunk is ready to kick your die-cast collection up a few notches. Best yet, Auto World’s 1:18 American Muscle series delivers at a reasonable price, just $84.99 in this case. Heck, a lot of 1:43 models cost that now.
Chevy’s new ‘mid-size’ Colorado only slightly smaller than Silverado
Chevrolet is patting itself on the back and most of the automotive media are ladling on the praise for Chevy’s new “mid-size” pickup, the Colorado.
The later probably has more to do with ad dollars being spent in the national publications, but there’s some justification. Yet let’s not go too full-bore crazy here, this is simply a slightly smaller pickup.
First, the idea of a mid-size truck has been out there a while, witness the Dodge Dakota. Years ago, Ford and Chevy both made compact pickups too, the S-10 in Chevy’s case. DO NOT confuse the Colorado with the S-10.
As trucks have gained popularity, they, like cars, have grown in size and stature. So this second generation Colorado is still big, just not as big as a full-size Silverado.
No denying the Colorado Crew Cab is a smart looking truck.
Let’s take some stock of the differences. But first note that the Colorado comes in two styles, Extended Cab and Crew Cab. Gone is a Standard cab without extra cargo room behind the front seat. Extended cabs now are the norm. The bright red test truck was the crew cab, which gives you full-size rear doors and a second row bench seat. This allows five people to ride in the Colorado comfortably, with rear seat room being particularly generous.
But here are the numbers you need to consider. The Colorado rides on a 140.5-inch wheelbase, just three inches shorter than a full-size Silverado. A Colorado is 224.9 inches long, just 5.1 inches shorter in length than a Silverado. The width is where you’ll notice the most difference when riding in a Colorado, as it is just 74.3 inches wide, about 5.7 inches narrower than Silverado. You’ll notice that in a lack of elbow room. More on that in a minute.
Replicarz delivers 3 vintage Indy 500 winners in 1:43 scale
Bill Holland’s 1949 Indy 500 winner, the same basic car as Rose drove the two previous years, but in a brighter blue.
Before there were A.J. Watson or Frank Kurtis roadsters to dominate the Indianapolis 500 there were Lou Moore’s Blue Crown Spark Plug Specials.
These were blue (naturally) cigar-shaped front-wheel-drive, front-engine racers that, like Team Penske or Team Ganassi’s sleek cars today, were perfectly prepared and driven by some of the best hot shoes of the day. The result: three straight Indy 500 wins from 1947-‘49.
The beneficiaries of these superb race cars were Mauri Rose and Bill Holland, top-flight drivers of the day.
Mauri Rose’s 1948 Indy 500-winning Blue Crown Spark Plug Special, No. 3.
Now we’re the beneficiaries of Replicarz’s efforts to bring accurate replicas of these historic racers to Indy fans in 1:43 scale, a bit more affordable and shelf-friendly than the 1:18 scale models that Replicarz has built its reputation on for detailed home-grown diecast and resin models. These new models list at $89.95 each.
After WWII there were a lot of old recycled race cars from pre-war that made the Indy 500 starting field for several years as racers retooled. It was only natural as the war had stopped racing in its tracks from 1942 until resuming in 1946.
Luxury laden Mercedes ML400 will spoil you
Most of us will never drive a Mercedes-Benz M Class, and that’s probably just as well because we’d all just be spoiled.
There’s not much to put a person off, unless it’s the price. But even there you have some choices to make that might allow a few more of us to afford one.
I drove a “steel gray” ML400 4Matic, the bi-turbo V6-powered unit that is one step away from the ultimate luxury mid-size sport-utility truck from Mercedes. It listed at $62,900, but ladled on 16 options that pushed it to $79,310.
Don’t let that price scare you off completely though. While this had all-wheel-drive and that powerful 329-horse V6, a lesser buyer could sneak into an ML350 with just rear-wheel drive and a 3.5-liter V6 that cranks 302 horsepower along with a torque rating of 273. The ML350 starts at $49,225, including delivery.
For those who prefer the slightly better mileage a diesel offers, Mercedes even has a BlueTEC model with 2.1-liter 4-cylinder diesel for $50,725. It delivers 200 horses, but a whopping 369 lb.-ft. of torque.
All this is to say that luxury has its price, but you do have copious options from power down to goodies to coddle you and your favorite passengers.
Chubby Challenger falls short in muscle car wars
Funny, muscle cars came and went in the 1960s and early 1970s as gas prices soared and insurance prices became an issue for many buyers. Yet muscle cars made a strong comeback in the last decade, despite high gas prices and a shift toward “green” eco-friendly vehicles.
So here we are with a refreshed Dodge Challenger for 2015. Its nose and tail have been tweaked and its interior remade to try and work some Mopar magic on this market segment. Hopes are that THIS Challenger will steal sales away from the ever-popular Ford Mustang, itself remade for 2015, and Chevrolet’s Camaro.