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2015 Dodge Durango R/T Blacktop AWD

Durango R/T is SUV that looks like a racy minivandurango profile

            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?durango front

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.

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2015 Toyota Avalon Hybrid

Avalon Hybrid excels at comfort, quiet, fuel efficiencyavalon front

A couple years ago Toyota wised up and restyled its full-size Avalon sedan to avoid it turning into the Grand Marquis of Japanese makes.

The more stylish lines, thinned taillights and overall slimed down look moved it from senior-citizen-mobile to family friendly sedan. Now comes the hybrid version that not only provides the same ride and comfort, but boosts gas mileage with its efficient hybrid system backing up a 2.5-liter I4 with variable valve timing.

The result is a smooth running family sedan that at one point during my weeklong drive said it was getting 42 mpg. Try to find that in an SUV that seats five comfortably, or a sedan driven solely by a gasoline-powered engine.

For the week I clocked 36.8 mpg in about a 50/50 mix of city and highway driving. The EPA rates the Avalon at 40 mpg city and 39 mpg highway. That’s excellent! Only the Kia Optima hybrid I drove last summer topped that with 39.5 mpg in mostly highway driving. For the record, I managed 24.2 mpg in the gas-powered Avalon I reviewed in 2013.

My metallic silver test car was the XLE Premium model, one up from the base model, but also with the hybrid system that stores energy in batteries and uses regenerative braking to repower those batteries. The hybrid system also powers an electric motor at low speeds when gas engines are at their least efficient.

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2015 Lexus RC 350 F Sport

Great-looking Lexus RC 350 packs performanceLexus profile1

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.

lexus tailOne 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.

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Caddy Hot Tub

caddilac, vintage caddilac, caddy, hot tub caddy, savageonwheelsA Caddy with an option you would never find

I love Caddy’s and who doesn’t? They were famous for lots of chrome and the fins. The new ones are even cooler with all the performance built-in. I also love hot tubs. Wait, where is he going on this you’re thinking. Check out the video where two of my faves are combined. What fun!

 

 

 

2015 Toyota Sienna XLE Premium AWD

2015 Toyota Sienna XLE Premium AWDSienna

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.

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?

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The Marcos nose looks a lot like the Jaguar E-Type.

Die-cast: Automodello 1964 Marcos 1800

Automodello’s 1964 Marcos 1800

The Marcos nose looks a lot like the Jaguar E-Type.

The Marcos nose looks a lot like the Jaguar E-Type.

Unless you’re of the age where the name Marcos reminds you of a former Philippine strong man/president, you may be a bit puzzled by the Marcos automobile name.

But in the 1960s Marcos was a racer, one that looked somewhat Italian, but with a long nose more shaped like that of the famous Jaguar E-Type.

Certainly Automodello knows Marcos, and loves its cars’ looks. So the Illinois-based model maker has added a 1:43 lineup of 1964 Marcos sports coupes to its offerings of some of the most unusual classic cars available to us collectors. Like its other cars, these are cast in resin with photo-etched bright work.

Just out are red and royal blue models of the 1964 Marcos 1800 two-seater, both in limited quantities. In fact, Automodello is making only 499 of the red Marcos and just 64 of the Tribute Edition royal blue model. Its Tribute Editions are always exceedingly rare in quantity and these are hand-signed by Jem Marsh, who recently died.

The History:

Jem Marsh and Frank Costin (MarCos, get it?) teamed up in 1959 to build lightweight sports cars with wooden monocoque frames. Cost was low and performance high as they dropped Volvo P1800 4-cylinder engines into their 1964 Marcos 1800 that featured a fiberglass-reinforced plastic body.marcos red1

Early models weren’t as sleek and exciting looking as the 1800, but by 1964 the duo had ironed out the bugs, including styling that made the 1800 stand out among sports coupes of the era. These had 4-speed gearboxes with MGB-sourced overdrive units and Triumph-sourced hood latches to allow the car’s front section to flip forward providing access to the engine compartment.

With 114 horsepower, an aerodynamic body and overall light weight, the Marcos would do 0-60 mph in about 9 seconds with a top speed of 115 mph. The cars also handled extremely well with tightly sprung suspensions, making it a favorite among racers, especially in England where they were built. The car company was successful through the early 1970s but after building a modern factory hit on a tough times, went out of business and then reformed. Ultimately Marcos ceased car production in 2007.

The Model:

Automodello’s review models were both crisply executed with glossy paint jobs and fine detail that make these stand out from many 1:43 brands. For instance, the red model is left-hand drive with the photo-etched chrome windshield wipers posed to sweep right to left. The blue Tribute model is right-hand drive with the wipers posed the opposite way.

The rarer Tribute Edition is a gorgeous royal blue.

The rarer Tribute Edition is a gorgeous royal blue.

In addition the Tribute model features classy wire-spoke wheels as opposed to solid wheels on the red model.

In any case, detailing is strong with photo-etch chrome trim around all windows, the big lens-covered dual headlights, front and rear bumpers, a gas cap atop the trunk and latch below the Marcos nameplate on the trunk’s rear lip. Door handles are scoops in the doors’ edges and there’s a highlighted key hole on each door and Marcos logo on the hood.

The small running lights below the split front bumper (again, very much like the Jag E-Type) almost look to glow and the trio of taillights are well executed too.

Interiors are tan in the red model and black in the blue car, with the tan being more interesting because you can see more detail on the lighter color. The review model has a black 3-spoke wheel, shifter and dash face and you can see the instrumentation on that model. You also can see the silver door releases and assist handles in both models’ interiors.

You’ll notice there are no mirrors on either model. That’s not a mistake, it’s because mirrors were optional on the original cars.

Tires are treaded, but with no branding, and the single exhausts are black and well detailed. Both cars are mounted on black bases with the car’s name printed mid-base and the acrylic tops fit snugly and are cleanly molded. The red model reflects the car displayed in the 1964 Racing Car Show display and the blue model represents a model shown in 1964 sales brochures.

A black model with tan interior is planned too as an Homage Edition, with only 24 to be made. Talk about rare!

FAST Stats: 1964 Marcos 1800 red/royal blue

Maker: Automodello

Scale: 1/43

Stock No.: AM43-MAR-180-LS (red), AM43-MAR-180-TE (blue)

MSRP: $119.95/$149.95

2015 Lincoln Navigator 4×4

Lincoln Navigator a restyled Expedition for a lot morenav profile

Back-to-back test drives of Ford’s Expedition and Lincoln’s Navigator proved both are extremely comfortable, luxurious large sport-utility trucks, but also highlighted the folly of marketing.

These were close to identical trucks, both loaded with technology and luxury touches, the Ford being the near top-end King Ranch edition. Only an Expedition Platinum exceeds it in price and goodies.

The Lincoln comes in but one trim, but starts about where the King Ranch edition stops for price. The prior week’s Expedition was $64 grand, and the Lincoln started at $65,055 with a $995 delivery fee, about $200 more than the Ford’s delivery fee. Both are made in the same Louisville, Ky., factory.

nav back1Here’s the folly, to me, of two brands offering the same vehicle under different name plates. Since the King Ranch and Platinum models cost as much as the entry-priced Lincoln there’s too much overlap, not enough differentiation. Once the Lincoln added a few options, such as a $995 sunroof, and $6,550 package that included larger tires and wheels (which the King Ranch had) and the fancy Lincoln Drive Control, it hit $73,895.

To me that’s almost $10 grand more, for the same truck, except the sunroof and Lincoln Drive Control. That feature uses sensors to allow the suspension, electric power steering and other vehicle dynamics to interact and create a comfortable ride. It also includes noise dampening, which helped keep the cabin quiet. But then the Expedition was no slouch in those areas either.

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2015 Ford Expedition King Ranch 4X4

Ford’s Expedition King Ranch a big, luxurious haulerexped3

            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.

exped1Yet 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.

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Die-cast: Auto World 1967 Chevelle SS Convertible

Auto World flexes its muscle with drop-top Chevelle SS AMM1048_67Chevelle_1stPrepro-9

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.

AMM1048_67Chevelle_1stPrepro-12The 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?

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2015 BMW M235i xDrive

BMW1Ultimately, 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.

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Die-cast: Replicarz 1970 and ’71 Indy 500 winners

1970 Indy winner

1970 Indy winning PJ Colt in Johnny Lightning trim.

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.

unser1970bUnser 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.

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2015 Chevrolet Trax LT AWD

Trax AWD offers high value for young SUV buyerstrax

            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.

trax1And if they ride with you and know what you paid for a Trax, they may even envy 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.

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infin nose

2015 Infiniti QX70 3.7 AWD

QX70 a stylish performance ute with a stiff rideinfin nose

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.

My drive was the pearl white version.

My drive was the pearl white version.

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.

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2015 ZOOMIE Car of the Year Awards

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.

mark savage, savageonwheels.com, honest car reviews, zoomie award

Art: Stuart Carlson

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.

Zoomie backstory

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.

OMG!

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:

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2015 Subaru Outback 2.5i Limited

Subaru’s new Outback epitomizes luxury AWD wagonoutback1

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.

outback2Here’s what I like.

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2015 Toyota Tundra CrewMax Platinum 4X4

Tundra CrewMax looks, feels big … and luxurioustundra

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.

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Die-cast: Autoart 1:18 Aston Martin One-77

Autoart nails sexy Aston Martin One-77aston1

Fortunately not many cars cost nearly $2 million, but then the rarity of such cars makes them all the more curious and collectable.

That’s especially true with smooth, slinky, sexy hot rods like Aston Martin’s limited production One-77. Only 77 were made from 2011 through 2012. Now Autoart unveils its version in 1:18 scale as part of its Signature Series, and what a beauty it is.

The History

Talk about a “halo” car, the One-77 is an extremely limited production super car of sorts created by England’s Aston Martin. It was an exercise in art and automotive technology first teased at the Paris Auto Show of 2008 and fully revealed at the Geneva show the next year.

aston2Its highlights include a carbon fiber monocoque chassis with hand-made aluminum body to help it click the scales at just 3,594 lbs. That’s unusual, but Aston Martin, which won the 24 Hours of LeMans back in 1959 with Carroll Shelby and Roy Salvadori at the wheel, has always been a purveyor of power. So the One-77 drops a gutsy 7.3-liter, 750-horse naturally aspirated V12 under its long clean swept-back hood.

That’s one of the most powerful naturally aspirated engines ever and reportedly will push the One-77 to 220 mph and 0-60 mph in about 3.5 seconds. Quick indeed, but some super cars have bettered that mark already.

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2015 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport AWD 2.0T

Santa Fe Sport blends car, sport-ute nearly flawlesslysanta-fe-sport-01

There are few crossovers that come close to being the perfect blend of car and sport-utility, yet are comfortable and affordable too – but Hyundai’s Santa Fe Sport is pretty darned close.

Hyundai remodeled its popular Santa Fe crossover lineup a couple years back and essentially split it into two models, the larger and heavier Santa Fe and the Santa Fe Sport, which is smaller and sportier. The latter, my friends, is the way to go.

My frost pearl white Sport looks and feels luxurious and is loaded with a ton of goodies, thanks to the Ultimate Package. But at its core it’s a high performing mid-size crossover for the family of four, or five. It handles well, rides well and has enough power to make it borderline fun.

The test unit was the Sport AWD 2.0T, the upper end Santa Fe Sport with a turbocharged 2.0-liter I4 and all-wheel-drive. It lists at $33,000, plus an $875 delivery fee. This one added the appropriately named Ultimate Package for $4,350, pushing it to $38,350. That’s getting up there, but as you might suspect, there is a base model starting at $25,845 including delivery. It touts a 190-horse 2.4-liter I4 and comes with front-wheel drive.

You can move up to an AWD model for $27,575, or get a front-drive version with the turbo for $31,250. Plenty of choices.

Value is high in the test unit. Here’s what you get.

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Die-cast: Auto World 1970 Chevy Camaro Z28

Auto World creates flashy second-gen Camaro Z28AMM1044_1970Camaro_1stPrepro-1

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.

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2015 Chevrolet Colorado 4WD Z71 Crew Long Box

Chevy’s new ‘mid-size’ Colorado only slightly smaller than Silveradocolo1

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.

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.

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Die-cast: CMC Aston Martin DB4

CMC creates rare, beautiful Aston Martin DB4aston2

Rare counts for a lot in the real, that is 1:1, vintage car world, and it’s making its mark in the diecast car market too.

CMC, the premier high-end diecast car model maker has made a habit of creating beautiful 1:18 models of rare race cars and elegant 1930s automotive style icons. The cost is up there, but so is the detail. You almost expect these models to start and drive off your desk or display shelf.

So it’s not surprising that CMC has chosen the rare 1961 Aston Martin DB4 GT Zagato as its latest artistic endeavor, and in sumptuous Aston Martin racing green. For the record, the rare Zagato, which is the lightened version meant for racing, consists of 1,825 parts of which 1,394 are metal.

The Historyaston

Only 19 Aston Zagato models were made over a 2 ½-year period from late 1960 into 1963. All were custom-made and designed by Gianni Zagato and featuring soft curves, which became popular in the 1960s on high-end cars like Astons, Jaguars and Ferraris.

At the time, Aston was trying to beat Ferrari’s 250 GT in sports car and endurance racing, so it made sense to go with a lightweight body made of thin aluminum plates and featuring minimal amenities in an effort to cut weight and increase performance. Riding on a short, 93-inch, wheelbase and weighing just 2,701 lbs., the DB4 was just 168 inches long. That’s about the same length as today’s Nissan Z350, but the Nissan is roughly 400 lbs. heavier.

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Die-cast: Replicarz Blue Crown Special Indy 500 winners

Replicarz delivers 3 vintage Indy 500 winners in 1:43 scale

Bill Holland's 1949 Indy 500 winner, the same basic car, but in a brighter blue.

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.

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.

The History

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.

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2015 Mercedes-Benz ML400 4Matic

Luxury laden Mercedes ML400 will spoil youIMG_0006

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.

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Die-cast: Automodello 1965 Sunbeam Tiger Mark I

tiger

Get Smart, you’ll like this Sunbeam Tiger in any color

Baby Boomers who still can’t get the “Get Smart” theme song out of their heads will recall Maxwell Smart racing to a stop in a red Sunbeam Tiger at the start of every show. The song ran on while Max walked down stairs and a long hall of opening and closing sliding doors.

That TV gig was the Tiger’s celebrity hook in 1965, but at its heart, what made this remake of Sunbeam’s Alpine roadster special, was a Ford V8 under its hood. But Tiger’s celebrity, its life, was short. The powerful sports car was made from 1964 to mid-1967 in West Bromwich, England.

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2015 Cadillac ATS Coupe RWD Premium

Sporty, stylish ATS Coupe takes aim at younger monied buyersats1

Cadillac has a hit on its hands with the compact luxury ATS sedan, and now there’s a sporty coupe for you to tuck in your garage next to the 4-door.

That’s certainly Cadillac’s hope. Its marketers are looking for a lot of well-off younger buyers opting for one of each, as both are fun and modestly priced in the entry-level compact luxury sport market. My previous ATS sedan test was mostly favorable, so I wasn’t surprised at how much I enjoyed the “majestic plum metallic” (metallic grayish purple) test coupe. This was the 2.0T RWD Premium model, so closer to top-end than bottom.

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2015 Dodge Challenger SXT

Chubby Challenger falls short in muscle car warschal1

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.

Fat chance!

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2015 Subaru Legacy 3.6R Limited

Subaru upgrades Legacy to take on Camry, Accord, Fusion legacy

Subaru strengthens its position in the mid-size market with an even more appealing Legacy sedan, but it retains a major advantage, all-wheel drive.

While past Legacy models (see the reveal at the Chicago Auto Show) may have felt a little bargain basement in their interiors, the new Legacy eradicates any hint of that and takes full dead-on aim at the segment leaders, Toyota’s Camry, Honda’s Accord and Ford’s Fusion.

What Legacy lacks in styling it makes up in quality feel, good interior design and performance. My Venetian Red Pearl (metallic red) test car was the top-end 3.6R Limited. Outside of an option or two, Legacy doesn’t get any better than this.

First, that number means it comes with Subaru’s strong 3.6-liter boxer 6-cylinder engine that generates 256 horsepower and 247 lb.-ft. of torque. The boxer, which is a flat engine that can be placed lower in the chassis for better balance, delivers heady power for getting on the freeway. Not sure about a boxer? Well, Porsche engines are of similar design!

Now linked with Subaru’s excellent Lineartronic (Subaru’s name) CVT (Continuously Variable Transmission), the power is delivered smoothly, but with good low-end torque to get this luxurious sedan moving from a standing stop. Many CVTs lack low-end oomph, but that’s not a problem with Subaru’s LCVT.

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2015 Volkswagen Golf TSI S 4-Door

New VW Golf looks old, feels newgolf2

There’s a saying about everything old being new again, and the reworked 2015 Volkswagen Golf is a sterling example.

The Golf and Rabbit hatchbacks have been sold by VW since 1974, this latest iteration being the seventh generation. Toyota’s Corolla is one of the few competitors to be around longer, it launching in 1966.

Still, the essence, the useful four-door hatchback that’s fun to drive remains the same for Golf. And while its lines have been tweaked a bit and the car stretched by 2.1 inches, you’ll have no trouble picking out of a crowd. Golf looks like a Golf, for better or worse.

That’s a matter of taste, but from a performance standpoint, the Golf is easily one of the more fun compacts on the road. Handling and ride are as good as, or better, than most of its competitors, and it has a lot of worthy competitors, such as the Mazda3, which also is a delight.

Golf is just flat out fun to drive. Its steering is light and easy, helped by the car’s modest 2,963 lbs., about 79 lbs. lighter than the previous Golf. The car also is responsive so you can toss this hatch into a corner at speed and feel good about it.

There is precious little body roll and Golf’s front-drive layout helps it track well through a corner, while the electrically assisted steering is speed variable, so firms as you hit the highway. Naturally we’re not racing these, but you feel sporty in the Golf and more importantly on Wisconsin’s deteriorating roads, the car handles and rides well over bumps. This is what surprised me most.

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2015 Mercedes-Benz C300 4Matic

C300 helps Mercedes moves back toward top

            Mercedes-Benz has rejoined the top-tier of luxury automakers after a decade, or more, of struggling with design and execution while other luxo-makes were raising the bar.MB2

Nearly two years ago I praised the GLK350, a small luxury ute that hit on all cylinders for luxury, equipment and performance. Now Mercedes goes deep again with its C300 sedan, one of its bread and butter offerings, a compact to mid-size sedan along the dimensions of a Lexus IS or, for us less monied folks, a Mazda6.

The C Class rides on a smoothing 111.8-inch wheelbase and weighs a middling 3,583 lbs. The car feels delicious.

How so? It’s a scrumptious blend of sporty power, an eager 2.0-liter turbocharged I4 with 241 horses, and comfort. All that starts with a silky 7-speed automatic transmission that easily harnesses the turbo’s 273 ft-lbs. of torque, and cushions the ride with independent suspension at all four corners.

Ride is absolutely stellar, controlled and easy on the occupants, but still responsive enough to lend the car a sporty edge. Cornering is smooth with minimal body lean and as precise as you want it to be.

MB5That’s courtesy of the test car’s Agility Select system that allows the driver to toggle through four settings, from Eco, to Comfort to Sport to Sport+. Moving up from Eco, each setting adds a few hundred engine revs and slightly firms the steering and ride. Eco naturally provides lackadaisical acceleration and a soft steering effort, but Comfort is close to right on for city driving. The C300 still has good power and handling is forgiving.

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22
May

2016 Acura ILX WatchPlus

Acura ILXILX refreshed, steering and chassis upgraded

Acura rolls out its 2016 ILX a bit early to update its look and shore up its underpinnings a mite too.

The entry-level Acura that runs on a Civic platform was nice before its remake, but a bit sloppy in turns. Still, for the price, it was a fine step up toward luxury compared with other compact sedans. Think Chevy Cruze for a size comparison.

The 2016 features a restyled grille and LED rear lights, but you’ll mainly notice its fancier headlights, what Acura calls Jewel Eye LED lights. These group five square LEDs that look a bit like my mom’s old engagement ring into each lens. That spiffs up the nose so you can tell the new model from its predecessors.

But more important in the long run is a stiffened chassis, better shocks and springs, thicker anti-roll bar in back and firmer suspension bushings all aimed at firming the car’s feel and ride. Mission accomplished. Read more »

16
May

2015 Dodge Durango R/T Blacktop AWD

Durango R/T is SUV that looks like a racy minivandurango profile

            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?durango front

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. Read more

9
May

2015 Toyota Avalon Hybrid

Avalon Hybrid excels at comfort, quiet, fuel efficiencyavalon front

A couple years ago Toyota wised up and restyled its full-size Avalon sedan to avoid it turning into the Grand Marquis of Japanese makes.

The more stylish lines, thinned taillights and overall slimed down look moved it from senior-citizen-mobile to family friendly sedan. Now comes the hybrid version that not only provides the same ride and comfort, but boosts gas mileage with its efficient hybrid system backing up a 2.5-liter I4 with variable valve timing.

The result is a smooth running family sedan that at one point during my weeklong drive said it was getting 42 mpg. Try to find that in an SUV that seats five comfortably, or a sedan driven solely by a gasoline-powered engine.

For the week I clocked 36.8 mpg in about a 50/50 mix of city and highway driving. The EPA rates the Avalon at 40 mpg city and 39 mpg highway. That’s excellent! Only the Kia Optima hybrid I drove last summer topped that with 39.5 mpg in mostly highway driving. For the record, I managed 24.2 mpg in the gas-powered Avalon I reviewed in 2013.

My metallic silver test car was the XLE Premium model, one up from the base model, but also with the hybrid system that stores energy in batteries and uses regenerative braking to repower those batteries. The hybrid system also powers an electric motor at low speeds when gas engines are at their least efficient. Read more

2
May

2015 Lexus RC 350 F Sport

Great-looking Lexus RC 350 packs performanceLexus profile1

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.

lexus tailOne 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. Read more

1
May

Caddy Hot Tub

caddilac, vintage caddilac, caddy, hot tub caddy, savageonwheelsA Caddy with an option you would never find

I love Caddy’s and who doesn’t? They were famous for lots of chrome and the fins. The new ones are even cooler with all the performance built-in. I also love hot tubs. Wait, where is he going on this you’re thinking. Check out the video where two of my faves are combined. What fun!

 

 

 

1
May

Die-cast: Autoart Gumpert Apollo

Gumpert Apollo: Only the name is funny for this super cargumpert

Let’s face it, with a name like Gumpert it’s hard to take a car too seriously. You sort of suspect it will come with a box of chocolates.

But the Gumpert Apollo S deserves respect, it’s a rocket of a supercar and developed by the likes of an ex-Audi engineer who knows a thing or three about high-speed, low-drag sports cars.

Autoart deserves some credit too for creating a 1:18 version of a car with about as much name recognition as you or I would have if running for political office. Credit them too for painting the review car a brilliant metallic orange that will add a bit of fireworks to any collection. This Gumpert Apollo is a supersonic pumpkin on wheels.gumpert5

The History

Roland Gumpert had worked for Audi-VW before he and Roland Mayer started Gumpert Sportwagenmanufaktur in Altenburg, Germany. Along with Marco Vanetta they designed two scissor-doored prototypes that were introduced in 2005.

That same year the Apollo hit the racing circuits in Europe and scored a third at Hockenheim and by 2008 a hybrid version was racing at the 24 Hours of Nurburgring in Germany.

The Apollo, the makers say, is a street-legal mid-engined race car, a two-seater that tips the scales at just 2,400 lbs. It boasts three engine choices, all based off an Audi V8. These are bi-turbos that crank between 650 and 790 horsepower and deliver a top speed of nearly 225 mph. Those turbos give it great torque and acceleration times, doing 0-100 km/h (62 mph) in 3.1 seconds.

gumpert1That’s quick! In fact, the BBC’s popular Top Gear TV show set their own track record with a Gumpert Apollo, beating the likes of Bugatti’s Veyron and Pagani’s Zonda.

The rear-drive supercar rides on a tubular chromoly frame with fiberglass or carbon fiber body, depending on what’s ordered. Naturally these are all hand built. The Apollo rides on a 110-inch wheelbase and is just 43.9 inches tall.

The Model:

Yes, the Autoart model is beautiful because of its paint job alone, but there is considerable detail too.

Start with the parts count; that always gives you some indication of the quality. This one has 479 parts of which 211 are metal and 38 are photo-etched. Each model gets 131 free-hand sprays to give it a thick glossy coat too. This is well beyond toy quality finishes.gumpert4

Autoart is generous with its black mesh grillwork and carbon fiber-look underpinnings below the easily removed nose section. Taking that portion off allows the collector to see three jewel-like headlights and orange hoses that collect air for the massive disc brakes, which are easily visible behind the racy black-spoked wheels with anodized blue center mounting nuts.

Raising the rear bonnet to see the engine requires loosening a couple screws and then propping up the body work with a special strut. Makes for a dramatic pose, plus you can see the plumbing and wiring. I like the carbon fiber look giant rear wing here too and the diffuser on the car’s rear lower lip.

gumpert2There’s more of the black carbon fiber on the giant air scoop mounted on the roof and more black mesh grille work around the quad exhaust pipes and in air vents fore and aft of the scalloped area that cuts into the Apollo’s sides.

The Gumpert’s interior looks fine with the gullwing doors open, but close inspection shows a gray hard plastic dash and seats that look very much like plastic due to their smooth texture. But there’s a shifter and black racing seatbelts to give it a more finished appearance.

Hard not to like a beautiful low-slung supercar in metallic orange and with all the detailing this Gumpert Apollo offers. If you’re a supercar collector, this is an unusual model of a rare racer.     gumpert3

FAST Stats: Gumpert Apollo S (orange)

Maker: Autoart

Scale: 1/18

Stock No.: 71302

MSRP: $232.90gumpert6

25
Apr

2015 Toyota Sienna XLE Premium AWD

2015 Toyota Sienna XLE Premium AWDSienna

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.

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? Read more

21
Apr
The Marcos nose looks a lot like the Jaguar E-Type.

Die-cast: Automodello 1964 Marcos 1800

Automodello’s 1964 Marcos 1800

The Marcos nose looks a lot like the Jaguar E-Type.

The Marcos nose looks a lot like the Jaguar E-Type.

Unless you’re of the age where the name Marcos reminds you of a former Philippine strong man/president, you may be a bit puzzled by the Marcos automobile name.

But in the 1960s Marcos was a racer, one that looked somewhat Italian, but with a long nose more shaped like that of the famous Jaguar E-Type.

Certainly Automodello knows Marcos, and loves its cars’ looks. So the Illinois-based model maker has added a 1:43 lineup of 1964 Marcos sports coupes to its offerings of some of the most unusual classic cars available to us collectors. Like its other cars, these are cast in resin with photo-etched bright work.

Just out are red and royal blue models of the 1964 Marcos 1800 two-seater, both in limited quantities. In fact, Automodello is making only 499 of the red Marcos and just 64 of the Tribute Edition royal blue model. Its Tribute Editions are always exceedingly rare in quantity and these are hand-signed by Jem Marsh, who recently died.

The History:

Jem Marsh and Frank Costin (MarCos, get it?) teamed up in 1959 to build lightweight sports cars with wooden monocoque frames. Cost was low and performance high as they dropped Volvo P1800 4-cylinder engines into their 1964 Marcos 1800 that featured a fiberglass-reinforced plastic body.marcos red1

Early models weren’t as sleek and exciting looking as the 1800, but by 1964 the duo had ironed out the bugs, including styling that made the 1800 stand out among sports coupes of the era. These had 4-speed gearboxes with MGB-sourced overdrive units and Triumph-sourced hood latches to allow the car’s front section to flip forward providing access to the engine compartment.

With 114 horsepower, an aerodynamic body and overall light weight, the Marcos would do 0-60 mph in about 9 seconds with a top speed of 115 mph. The cars also handled extremely well with tightly sprung suspensions, making it a favorite among racers, especially in England where they were built. The car company was successful through the early 1970s but after building a modern factory hit on a tough times, went out of business and then reformed. Ultimately Marcos ceased car production in 2007.

The Model:

Automodello’s review models were both crisply executed with glossy paint jobs and fine detail that make these stand out from many 1:43 brands. For instance, the red model is left-hand drive with the photo-etched chrome windshield wipers posed to sweep right to left. The blue Tribute model is right-hand drive with the wipers posed the opposite way.

The rarer Tribute Edition is a gorgeous royal blue.

The rarer Tribute Edition is a gorgeous royal blue.

In addition the Tribute model features classy wire-spoke wheels as opposed to solid wheels on the red model.

In any case, detailing is strong with photo-etch chrome trim around all windows, the big lens-covered dual headlights, front and rear bumpers, a gas cap atop the trunk and latch below the Marcos nameplate on the trunk’s rear lip. Door handles are scoops in the doors’ edges and there’s a highlighted key hole on each door and Marcos logo on the hood.

The small running lights below the split front bumper (again, very much like the Jag E-Type) almost look to glow and the trio of taillights are well executed too.

Interiors are tan in the red model and black in the blue car, with the tan being more interesting because you can see more detail on the lighter color. The review model has a black 3-spoke wheel, shifter and dash face and you can see the instrumentation on that model. You also can see the silver door releases and assist handles in both models’ interiors.

You’ll notice there are no mirrors on either model. That’s not a mistake, it’s because mirrors were optional on the original cars.

Tires are treaded, but with no branding, and the single exhausts are black and well detailed. Both cars are mounted on black bases with the car’s name printed mid-base and the acrylic tops fit snugly and are cleanly molded. The red model reflects the car displayed in the 1964 Racing Car Show display and the blue model represents a model shown in 1964 sales brochures.

A black model with tan interior is planned too as an Homage Edition, with only 24 to be made. Talk about rare!

FAST Stats: 1964 Marcos 1800 red/royal blue

Maker: Automodello

Scale: 1/43

Stock No.: AM43-MAR-180-LS (red), AM43-MAR-180-TE (blue)

MSRP: $119.95/$149.95

18
Apr

2015 Lincoln Navigator 4×4

Lincoln Navigator a restyled Expedition for a lot morenav profile

Back-to-back test drives of Ford’s Expedition and Lincoln’s Navigator proved both are extremely comfortable, luxurious large sport-utility trucks, but also highlighted the folly of marketing.

These were close to identical trucks, both loaded with technology and luxury touches, the Ford being the near top-end King Ranch edition. Only an Expedition Platinum exceeds it in price and goodies.

The Lincoln comes in but one trim, but starts about where the King Ranch edition stops for price. The prior week’s Expedition was $64 grand, and the Lincoln started at $65,055 with a $995 delivery fee, about $200 more than the Ford’s delivery fee. Both are made in the same Louisville, Ky., factory.

nav back1Here’s the folly, to me, of two brands offering the same vehicle under different name plates. Since the King Ranch and Platinum models cost as much as the entry-priced Lincoln there’s too much overlap, not enough differentiation. Once the Lincoln added a few options, such as a $995 sunroof, and $6,550 package that included larger tires and wheels (which the King Ranch had) and the fancy Lincoln Drive Control, it hit $73,895.

To me that’s almost $10 grand more, for the same truck, except the sunroof and Lincoln Drive Control. That feature uses sensors to allow the suspension, electric power steering and other vehicle dynamics to interact and create a comfortable ride. It also includes noise dampening, which helped keep the cabin quiet. But then the Expedition was no slouch in those areas either. Read more

11
Apr

2015 Ford Expedition King Ranch 4X4

Ford’s Expedition King Ranch a big, luxurious haulerexped3

            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.

exped1Yet 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. Read more

6
Apr

Die-cast: Auto World 1967 Chevelle SS Convertible

Auto World flexes its muscle with drop-top Chevelle SS AMM1048_67Chevelle_1stPrepro-9

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.

AMM1048_67Chevelle_1stPrepro-12The 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? Read more

28
Mar

2015 BMW M235i xDrive

BMW1Ultimately, 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. Read more

28
Mar

Die-cast: Replicarz 1970 and ’71 Indy 500 winners

1970 Indy winner

1970 Indy winning PJ Colt in Johnny Lightning trim.

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.

unser1970bUnser 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

28
Mar

2015 Chevrolet Trax LT AWD

Trax AWD offers high value for young SUV buyerstrax

            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.

trax1And if they ride with you and know what you paid for a Trax, they may even envy 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

26
Mar

Braking News: Kia partners with the NBA

Kia soul, kia, kia autos, nba, national basketball associationKia has come a long way

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.

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