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Die-cast: 1958 Ford Edsel Citation

 

Spark recreates iconic 1958 Edsel in 1:43 scale

Edsel got a bad rap as far as I’m concerned. Heck, I wish they still made them.edsel

As a kid I thought Edsels were cool. I loved the big horse collar grille, the pair of twin headlights and those slim cat-eye taillights. This was styling extreme to the max in an age of styling extreme. It was an age where giant tail fins and portholes in the sides of cars were welcome.
Who wouldn’t like this in your face design from Ford?

Well, apparently nearly everyone, as the Edsel lineup fell flat on its crankcase and was discontinued just a few years later. But styling fashionistas, those of us who appreciate styling daring do, can still get our fix via Spark’s new 1:43 scale Edsel Citation Hard Top Coupe.

Spark recreates the 1958 model in black with a white roof, and the two-tone paint job just makes this all the more attractive because it reflects the fun and style trends of 1950s autos.

The model:

Spark is no newcomer to 1:43 cars, it offers a variety from standard street cars to race cars of all ilk. Here’s what I like about this one.

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2015 Chrysler 200C AWD

Fiat gives Chrysler a fine mid-size car with new 200C

The 200C (left) and 200S feature sophisticated styling and one might argue, a bit of Italian flair.

The 200C (left) and 200S feature sophisticated styling and one might argue, a bit of Italian flair.

The former Chrysler 200 was so long in the tooth you may have wanted to nickname it Snagglepuss.

It was updated a couple years back by Fiat, after it snaggled Chrysler away from bankruptcy and the U.S. government. Mostly, that change in ownership has done nothing but help Chrysler’s various lineups, and the new Chrysler 200 again confirms that.

The midsize sedan, which rides on the Jeep Cherokee platform so is available with all-wheel-drive, carries the rounded styling first seen on the sporty Dodge Dart. This is a handsome sedan with swept back rear quarter to give it both a modern and sporty profile. The tested C model with AWD tops the 200 lineup and its $30,195 starting price reflects that. This isn’t your great aunt’s old Chrysler 200 winter beater car.

The 200 comes in basic LX trim with a list price of $22,695 and in that form is front-wheel drive with a competent 184-horse MultiAir 2.4-liter 4-cylinder engine. A mid-level S model is available in all- and front-drive as is this upscale C model.

This C stands out due to its more powerful 3.6-liter V6 that features variable valve timing and delivers 295 horses and a torque rating of 262. Tires also grow to 18 inches and the interior is decked out with leather trimmed heated seats and a load of bells and whistles. The vivid blue pearl (bright metallic blue) test car ladled on three option packages to doll itself up and hit a rather optimistic $34,675, including a $795 delivery charge.

The 200 looks attractive from the rear too.

The 200 looks attractive from the rear too.

The car itself feels more modern and refined that past 200 models. The engine is strong and will get to highway speeds easily, even with four people aboard. This is a fine highway cruiser for the family and the giant 16-cubic-foot trunk will accommodate a load of luggage.

While the car feels strong, it doesn’t really jump from a stop as you might expect. It feels heavy despite a moderate 3,473 lbs. Its 9-speed (that’s right!) automatic transmission is designed to save gas, but not to put the car on a speedy trajectory, especially in city driving. The car is rated 18 mpg city and 29 mpg highway. I averaged a fine 24.2 mpg in about 75% highway driving and with up to four aboard.

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2014 Dodge Dart GT

Sporty, high-value Dart GT has power, but ride is too sportydart

My previous test of the compact Dodge Dart was near perfect. That was the Limited model, this metallic red beauty was the sportier GT.

Blame it on age or our increasingly decrepit roads, but this one was harder on the derriere.

Oh, I still like the Dart and would recommend the Limited or any model without the sport suspension that the GT features. This one is just too stiff with the ride bordering on harsh. Racy R18-rated tires didn’t help either. The GT intends to be a boy-racer toy at a modest price and it comes close to that goal.

There’s strong power here with a 2.4-liter I4 Tigershark engine with MultiAir to increase fuel efficiency. It generates 184 horses and a torque rating of 171. So pound the gas pedal and the Dart GT responds.

In normal city driving there’s good power too, although some hesitation as you accelerate. Linked to a 6-speed manual, which is standard, you could likely have some fun with the GT. But the test car added an optional $1,250 6-speed Powertech automatic that tames the oomph factor, mostly. You’ll still hit highway speeds easily, but the car feels a bit heavy and the shifts are not as crisp or timely as they would be if the driver was handling those duties.

Cool rear taillight bar!

Cool rear LED taillight bar!

Still, the car looks sporty with trim lines and an attractive profile. I like the car’s nose and the full body-width LED taillight that reflects other Dodge model styling. Dart looks sharp.

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2014 Subaru BRZ Limited

Fun, Fun, Fun till daddy takes the BRZ away!BRZ 

Rarely have I driven a sports coupe that was more pure fun to drive and garnered more attention than the Subaru BRZ, and yet …

The BRZ, a kissin’ cousin to Scion’s F-RS, is far from perfect. But it’s so much fun you might overlook most of its shortcomings.

First, there are many bright spots. It’s an edgy looking sports car, one that gets thumbs up at stoplights from young men, young women and guys on motorcycles. It has a triangular center mounted brake light below bumper level in back and the tested Limited model touts a mean Star Wars look rear wing that even Darth Vader would give a thumbs up.

The test car was a dark metallic gray that complimented that edgy, somewhat menacing look, and being rear-wheel drive and packing a 200-horse Boxer 4-cylinder, the car has excellent balance and a peppy feel. BRZ accelerates quickly from a stop, but doesn’t have explosive power as it would if the car’s horizontally opposed Subaru-designed engine had a turbocharger. Could there be one in the future? One can hope.

BRZ1Subaru also gives the car an easy shifting 6-speed manual that slips through the gears smoothly and synchs well with the engine to give it that pep. The clutch works well too, so unlikely you’ll tire in thick traffic or kill the engine at a stoplight.

Handling is light and easy too with good steering feedback and the car feels well balanced so it zips through tight corners like the sports car that it is and with the car’s rear wheels feeling well planted. The low profile provided by the Boxer engine keeps the center of gravity low, which also helps handling. A Torsen limited-slip differential and stability control give BRZ sticky footing upon acceleration and in corners and much of the car’s light feel is attributable to its modest weight, just 2,776 lbs.

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2014 Infiniti Q50S 3.7 AWD

 

Infiniti’s unique styling gives new Q50 a muscular lookq1

Infiniti’s sedans continue to deliver unique styling that looks muscular and sporty, but with a style that sets them apart from other luxury sport sedans.

My test car, the Q50S 3.7 AWD was a great looking metallic brown, with a hint of copper in it, so the color also made this one pop compared with the various silver/gray or black sport sedans that flood the market. Like last week’s BMW 428i coupe, this sporty sedan featured all-wheel drive, making it a perfect fit for our climate and road conditions.

Like that BWM, the Q50 comes loaded with luxury and performance items while creating a strong argument for it being racetrack-worthy. On the performance spectrum the Q, which replaces Infiniti’s popular G Sedan, handles like a fine sports sedan. Steering is quick and responsive and in normal mode quite easy to handle.

There’s Drive Mode Select here. That allows the driver to pick Snow, Eco, Standard and Sport. Eco naturally cuts power and changes shift points, while Sport gives the car more oomph off the line while stiffening the steering effort substantially. I feel the Sport mode becomes way too heavy for most drivers to enjoy it, but best to test that yourself if you intend to move up to this level of sport sedan. Standard will be where most folks leave the setting.

q2Certainly the car corners well and the all-wheel-drive gives it sure footing on wet pavement.

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2014 BMW 428i xDrive

BMW’s new 428i coupe a really super car

How great is the new BMW 4 Series Coupe? My notes showed no, nadda, zero negatives.bmw

I list price by default, because at $50 grand, more than a few of us won’t be able to afford it, and that’s a shame. Because this may be the best all-round performing car I’ve ever driven, no matter the price. The 4 Series (formerly the 3 Series, but that’s now reserved only for sedans), is a perfect blend of power, handling, ride, comfort and looks.

Call it a home run, a royal flush, a perfect 10, or whatever you will.

What surprised me was the ride. I’ve often enjoyed driving BMWs, but rarely have I felt comfortable in them or enjoyed the ride. The 4 Series changes all that. Its well-controlled ride is a combination of a superbly designed suspension mated with BMW’s Driving Dynamics Control system that adjusts the chassis and modulates the engine’s power curve too.

So if you set the DDC on Eco, you get lowered power and a somewhat more pedestrian chassis feel. Move to Comfort and you’ve dialed in ride perfection for our pathetic highways and city streets. One road near my Northwest side church is full of potholes and pavement gaps, creases and crumbling pavement. It regularly puts my test cars’ suspensions to the ultimate test. I barely noticed the craters this week. I was amazed.

The DDC also has Sport and Sport + settings that noticeably bump the torque and firm the ride and steering feel. The Sport + setting is best used on a race course, but the Sport notch kicks the car’s performance up a few serious notches.

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Die-cast: Auto World 1971 Plymouth Road Runner

1971 Road Runner creates an eyeful of muscle carrr main

American Muscle came in various shapes and sizes in the late 1960s and early 1970s, before the first oil embargo put the nix on giant V-8s and the awesome grumble and power they delivered.

Now Auto World creates a beautiful 1971 Plymouth Road Runner in Petty Blue with white vinyl top (remember those?) in 1:18 scale. This is part of the aptly named American Muscle lineup that retails at roughly $80-85, a good price for this scale considering some 1:43 scale diecast and resin models are approaching that price range.

An advantage here too is that the doors, hood and trunk all open, so you can easily see the interior, a bright blue in the sample car, plus the well detailed V-8 under its long hood with black Air Grabber scoop.

Road Runners were fast, on- or off-track, and yes, Richard Petty, the King of NASCAR, successfully raced one in 1971. Auto World makes that one too.

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2015 Volvo V60 T5 Drive-E

Volvo nails the sports wagon with its new V60 Volvo2

First, there aren’t many true wagons anymore. Second, Volvo absolutely nails the V60, if you want your wagon to feel like a sports sedan.

I could have sworn I was in an Audi or Mercedes and barely noticed this was a wagon thanks to this Volvo’s generous power and nimble handling abilities. My gorgeous light “power” metallic blue V60 T5 Drive-E was a rocket, but one that would chop off corners and stick to the road like it was designed mostly for a spin around Road America.

The V60, which is an early release 2015 model, features a 2.0-liter direct injected turbocharged I4 engine that creates 240 horsepower and 258 foot-pounds of torque. You touch the gas pedal and it jumps to life, one of the livelier power plants I’ve driven lately.

The V60 is one sleek looking wagon!

The V60 is one sleek looking wagon!

The front-drive wagon has good grip too, thanks to 19-inch R-rated low-pro Pirelli tires. Pushing the car hard into high-speed corners it hunkers down and sticks like a racer. The down side is that the ride is overly firm, which could be a drawback to some families. However, 17-inch tires are standard and without the car’s Sport Package ($1,500) that includes fancy wheels, a sport-tuned chassis, plus paddle shifters on the steering wheel and overly tight sport seats, the ride might feel just fine.

Shifts from the 8-speed Geartronic automatic are fairly seamless and feature Start-Stop technology that shuts the car’s engine off at stoplights or any time it sits motionless for a second or so. You’ll notice it at first, but this Volvo system offers a less abrupt shutdown than the pricier Jaguar XJL I drove earlier this year. These type of systems are already being used on hybrid cars.

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2014 Fiat 500L Lounge

Fiat goes long with 500L (get it?) to connect with more buyers

The 500L fairly dwarfs Fiat's standard 500 model.

The 500L fairly dwarfs Fiat’s standard 500 model.

Credit Fiat for quickly deducing that its cute, but diminutive, 500 runabout simply won’t do for many U.S. families. The Italian automaker that owns Chrysler needed something that would cast a wider net when trying to land more customers on our shores.

Voila! The 500L!

This is a small crossover or wagon much along the lines of MINI’s Clubman. That’s to say it’s boxy and big enough to hold four adults and some groceries under the hatch. It remains cute, like the MINI is cute, but no one will mistake it for the much smaller Fiat 500 that its name implies it descends from.

But this is a different beast in that at 167.1 inches the 500L is nearly two feet longer, plus a little wider and taller, than the tiny 500. The 500L rides on a much larger 102.8-inch wheelbase, a little shorter than a Subaru Forester, for example, and nearly a foot longer than Fiat’s 500. The L is no featherweight either, at 3,203 lbs. it’s about 900 lbs. heavier than its smaller sibling.

I parked the 500L next to a standard MINI in a fast food parking lot and was amazed at how much larger the Fiat looked.

What all this size means is that the 500L rides well, but remains a good handler, like its smaller model, the 500. The suspension does a surprisingly good job of soaking up our roads’ numerous imperfections. Some larger crossovers and small utes don’t feel this well controlled. As with the 500 model, this one’s ride quality surprises.

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2014 Mitsubishi Mirage ES

Pokey Mitsubishi Mirage offers bare bones performance

Last year when I drove the 109-horsepower Nissan Versa Note I thought I’d driven the slowest accelerating car made in the past 10 years, but that was before I’d driven the new Mitsubishi Mirage. This makes the pokey Versa Note feel frisky.mitsu

Mirage is a pleasant looking little hatchback designed top to bottom for the entry-level buyer who needs new wheels, but can’t afford much. It’s a small market segment, but let’s face it, there is a need for inexpensive entry-level economy cars. We’re not all rich, or even middle class, these days.

I’m happy that such low cost economy models exist. But I really expect a new car to have enough power to get out of its own way, or at least that of the aging winter beater car that’s tailgating me.

For the record Mirage has a 1.2-liter 3-cylinder engine that creates … wait for it … 74 horsepower. In short it’s slow to pull away from stoplights and requires quite a long run down an entry ramp to make it up to highway speeds. Under heavy acceleration the drivetrain groans considerably. Mentally, I was groaning too.

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2014 Kia Soul+

kia1

Two black panels in the roof are twin sunroofs.

Cute, youthful Kia Soul impresses on all fronts

We all could use a little more Soul, and Kia is certainly doing all it can to encourage it.

Kia’s Soul is one of the cutest crossovers out there and among the most economical too, both on the pricing and fuel economy fronts. I never ceased to be impressed by this small hatch, tall wagon, or whatever you choose to call it.

First, its hip hamster commercials have helped draw attention to the slope-roofed compact, but its look also sets it apart from other boxy vehicles. Now Kia has slightly stretched its wheelbase and its power while keeping pricing modest so that the youth market the Soul targets has a fighting chance of being able to afford it, even if the minimum wage doesn’t increase.

Let’s start with the driving pluses.

By extending Soul’s wheelbase about an inch to 101.2 inches, the Kia, which already had a good ride, becomes even more manageable on today’s decrepit roadways. There is a still some jiggle on high, or deep road obstacles, but they are mostly well muted, so never a sharp jolt.

kiaHandling is fairly quick and much livelier feeling than in most small utes, crossovers and such. Plus the turning radius is a modest 34.8 feet, so putting this into a parking space or maneuvering crowded East Side streets is a breeze. And at 2,714 lbs., the Soul feels light and agile. The tested Soul+ model also comes with 17-inch tires, one inch larger than is standard on entry-level models.

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Die-cast: AutoArt Mustang GT show car

Small scale Mustang GT ponies up the value, detailMustang GT

Ford’s Mustang turns 50 this year and you’d likely have to be dead not to know that by now.

A new 2015 model is being previewed at all the major car shows now and the mainstream media has been agog over 50 years of Mustang since at least January.

But if not for the 2005 revision of the famous pony car, Mustang might not have been around for its 50th Anniversary. Back in 2004 a new Mustang GT show car toured the country’s auto shows to re-launch, in a way, the Mustang brand, whose sales had slipped. Just two years earlier Chevrolet had pulled the plug on its Camaro, long Mustang’s chief competitor. It returned to Chevy’s lineup in 2010, at least in part to the Mustang’s resurgence.

So when you look at the 2005 Mustang, you see the fastback styling of the iconic late 1960s models, the GT, Mach 1 and Boss. This was the re-design that re-established Mustang in the market and led to stellar models up through the present.

mustang GT1Autoart delivers this somewhat historic Mustang now in a high-value 1:43 scale version painted a “red fire,” sparkling metallic red, with black window trim. It’s modestly priced at just $35.90 MSRP. That’s a bargain in today’s diecast market.

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2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray Convertible

 

Muscular Stingray convertible opens up more ways to have funvette3

I had to laugh at the timing. After a beautiful spring week, a “velocity yellow” Corvette Stingray convertible showed up for a test drive as snow was flying and the temperature had dropped to the mid-30s, ah Spring in Wisconsin.

But by the weekend, the sun and 60+ degrees had returned, allowing me to drop the yellow screamer’s black cloth top, at least for a while. It only takes 20 seconds to power the top down, and you don’t even have to loosen any latches at the roofline.

auto reviews, 2014 chevy corvette convertible, Vette convertibleI’d driven the new seventh generation Corvette coupe last fall, but just briefly. This time I was allowed a week in the bullet-like street racer with its long pointed nose and menacing Star Wars looking tail with four tailpipes bunched together and burbling away happily. Folks always notice a Vette, and slathered in near neon yellow, this one screamed for attention. I was hoping our state troopers would prove color blind.

Funny thing, everyone wants a ride when you are testing a Vette. I had new friends at the office, gas station, custard stand, you name it. And why not?

The 2014 Vette is not only a looker, it’s a racer, a muscular heart-throb of a car with a massive 6.2-liter direct-injected V8 that features variable valve timing and boasts 29 mpg EPA rating on the highway. And this with 450 horses no less. I’m betting it would get darned close to that if a driver could resist tromping its gas pedal so hard. But avoiding that is like eating just one potato chip, a challenge.

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Die-cast: Spark 1:43 1966 Indy 500 Winner

Graham Hill’s Indy winning Lola a small gemindy

I was sitting in the packed main grandstand just shy of the pit exit for the flying start of the 1966 Indianapolis 500 when tires and suspension pieces and racer nosecones started exploding in the air. It was eerily similar to two years earlier, but without the fire and smoke, when I’d witnessed the most horrifying crash in Indy history. Thankfully, this time, no one was seriously injured.

But in the melee about a third of the starting field was eliminated, including favorites like A.J. Foyt, Dan Gurney and Don Branson. Yet a British rookie and Formula 1 champion, Graham Hill, picked his way through the carnage in his rear-engined Lola to run near the front all day. Favorite and 1965 Indy champ Jim Clark was setting a strong pace in his brilliant red STP Lotus, but he spun twice during the race, leading to folks saying that STP stands for Spinning Takes Practice. Hill snuck past Clark on one spin though, ultimately gaining the win after another F1 great, and Hill’s teammate, Jackie Stewart’s car failed with less than 10 laps remaining.

indy2Racers were simpler and more delicate looking, yet beautiful, in the 1960s. Now Spark Model delivers a stellar version of the red and white American Red Ball Special that Hill drove to the 1966 Indy win, in 1:43 scale.

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2014 Toyota Venza XLE V6 AWD

Venza XLE delivers power, good looks and AWD
Five years have passed since I last drove Toyota’s Venza, a crossover based on its popular Camry sedan.venza1

Not much has changed though, it’s still an attractive, competent crossover. In fact, Venza may be one of the best looking crossovers, simply because it blends the Camry’s sophisticated styling with a smooth execution of the rear hatch that looks more a modern wagon than square SUV. Some folks will take notice of this vehicle in your driveway. I certainly got more questions about its origins than I have for other crossovers.

It probably helped that my Venza was a bright metallic red and the XLE, or mid-level model with a gutsy 268-horse V6 and all-wheel-drive. Mine also was a bit pricey, starting at $35,080 and when you add an $860 delivery charge and $1,850 option package it hit $37,790. But don’t let that scare you off.

You can get into a Venza for $28,760. However, that’s the LE model with front-wheel drive and a more modest 181-horse, 2.7-liter 4-cylinder engine. If you require all the bells, whistles and techno goodies you’ll need to move up to the Limited AWD for $40,380. Like the XLE, it packs V6 power.venza-grapevine

While based on the Camry, having the same 109.3-inch wheelbase and 189-inch length, the Venza feels more substantial. It weighs in at just more than 4,000 lbs. and is taller than the Camry too. Plus it rides on 20-inch tires, so it has a more aggressive stance and the steering is moderately heavy compared to the lighter feeling Camry.

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Die-cast: CMC 1938 Bugatti 57SC Corsica

 

CMC’s Bugatti Corsica a work of artbug1

Bugatti has always been a brand for the upper echelon buyers, folks who want the best, the most beautiful and who value quality and uniqueness as much as performance.

No wonder that CMC has chosen a 1938 Bugatti as its latest 1:18-scale work of art.

In 1938 Bugatti created one of its most rare cars, the Bugatti 57 SC Corsica Roadster. The 57 SC chassis and engine was all Bugatti, but its flowing body was a combined effort designed by Jean Bugatti along with Eric Giles. Giles was designing the car for his brother, British Col. G.M. Giles, later chairman of the Bugatti Owners Club. This was back in the day when the wealthy could basically design their own coachwork to be installed exclusively on a manufacturer’s chassis.

cmc-ProduktfotoCoachbuilder Corsica, of North London, constructed the car’s sensuous body with its large sweeping pontoon fenders and long lean arrow-like hood. Alligator, then a popular luxury hide, was used for the interior.
Now owned by Californian John Mozart, the car won Best of Show at the 1998 Pebble Beach Concours. There’s no denying this is a beautiful car, well restored.

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2014 GMC Sierra 1500 AWD Crewcab SLT

Luxurious GMC Sierra the Cadillac of pickups
sierra1GMC is the Cadillac of pickups, juicing up the chrome levels on the exterior and adding a bit more finery to the interior, compared to its kissin’ cousin, the Chevrolet Silverado.

Make no mistake, both trucks can be equipped and decked out much like any fine luxury sedan, but GMC’s Sierra has always held sway with more glitz and glamour, such as it is on pickups. So the new 2014 pickup touts a mighty chrome grille that challenges the likes of the Ram pickup in size and look-at-me swagger.

Likewise the Sierra is quiet and comfy inside and the tested Crew Cab SLT, just one level down from the line-topping Denali, ladles on plenty of luxury touches, starting with a comfy leather interior and then adding perks like a heated steering wheel ($400) that comes packaged with a power sliding rear window that opens in back by the pickup’s bed.

This is the long-bed model with a 6 ½-foot bed as opposed to the shorter 5 ¾-foot bed. There are footholds in the rear bumper too so you can step up to load the bed, if you’re using the pickup like the truck it is. Since this is the 4-wheel-drive model, the difference is about $400, the tested dark metallic gray truck starting at $43,610. Luxury doesn’t come cheap.sierra2

In fact this one adds heated and cooled front seats for $650, the leather seats for $325 and three other packages with such items as front and rear park assist, a lane departure warning system, forward collision alert and vibrating safety alert seat, plus an 8-inch color touch screen with navigation system. In total the options here add up to $5,440, but a value discount cuts $1,000 off the price.

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2014 Jeep Cherokee Latitude 4×4

New Cherokee brings modern look, but same off-road capability

Some folks had their doubts about Chrysler and Jeep when Italian carmaker Fiat assumed control of them a few years back. Now Fiat owns them outright and the new product parade can’t have been more impressive.

jeep1Latest on the list is the new Jeep Cherokee. It’s an old name, but that’s all that’s old here. Thankfully the looks are all new with thin lights front and rear and a modern interpretation of Jeep’s 7 portal grille. Jeep loyalists that think all Jeeps should still look like World War II Willys will just have to get over it. Besides, the Jeep Luddites still have the Wrangler to take rock crushing.

Yet because most folks Don’t drive their SUVs over cliffs and through mud bogs, the new Cherokee is a welcome replacement for the top-heavy, gas-sucking Liberty. Cherokee is refined in looks and execution. It’s a fine on-road vehicle that oh, by the way, still could be taken off road and slopped around a bit.

First let’s look at the new mechanicals that help make this Jeep, which is based on the Dodge Dart platform, such a step up from Liberty.

Atop the efficiency list is the combination of its 2.4-liter MultiAir2 Tigershark I4 engine that creates 184 horsepower, and the segment’s first 9-speed automatic transmission. That’s right, 9 speeds. Most vehicles now use a 6-speed automatic, but Fiat puts a ZF-developed 9-speed into Cherokee. The upshot is not only decent power, but smooth fuel-efficient application of that to the road. The only hiccup I experienced was occasionally on a cold start when the car would hesitate in first and second gear and bog just a bit. All was fine once the SUV warmed.

How efficient is this combo?

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Die-cast: Autoart LeMans-winning D-Type Jaguar

Detailed D-Type Jaguar a replica of 1955 LeMans winner

Jaguar was a post-war powerhouse with its C-Type sports cars that won France’s famous 24 Hours of LeMans twice in a 3-year period.jag1

The C was a straightforward sports car with a long nose and a 3.4-liter straight-6 that made 220 horsepower.

But by 1954 the competition, mainly in the form of Mercedes-Benz and Ferrari, was stepping up and Jaguar needed a new design that was lighter and faster, so its D-Type was developed with a distinctive stabilizer fin and airplane technology that included a monocoque cockpit and an aluminum alloy to keep the car light.

Its shape was aerodynamic too, thanks to the design work of Malcolm Sayer, plus its frame was strong and rigid. Other developments included a dry sump lubrication system, canting the engine at 8.5 degrees and a deformable aviation style bag in place of a standard gas tank.jag7

Jaguar kept the underbody clean too in an effort to boost top speed on LeMans’s famously long Mulsanne Straight, where racers today can hit 250 mph. In 1955 the Jag was reaching 172 mpg vs. about 160 for other competitors. The C Type had been capable of about 120 mph.

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Jeep Wagoneer: The first SUV

SUV, Jeep, Jeep Grand Wagoneer, Jeep Wrangler, Jeep Cherokee, Jeep Liberty, AMC Jeep, Jeep CorporationI love Jeeps!!

There, now I feel better, it’s out there. I’ve gone road hunting in CJ’s that still hurt my back, but it was still fun! I have owned a 1986 four-door Wagoneer (XJ), then a 1996 Grand Cherokee (ZJ), a Liberty (KJ). Designed by DSUV, Jeep, Jeep Grand Wagoneer, Jeep Wrangler, Jeep Cherokee, Jeep Liberty, AMC Jeep, Jeep Corporationiamler at the time and not my favorite because it was way to top-heavy as you can see here after an Illinois driver on his cell phone clipped me. I walked away.

It’s the only vehicle I have exited through the sun roof. We currently area about to purchase our 2011 Wrangler Unlimited (JK) off our lease and I can’t wait to start making it more our Jeep. First thing I’m going to do is put a cold air intake to give it some zip. I have been to Camp Jeeps at both the Chicago and Milwaukee auto shows. Milwaukee was the better ride. Check out the videos from my rides. Yup, all in.

It was when American Motors, where my dad worked, bought Kaiser’s money-losing Jeep operations in 1970 that I started to dig into the history of the Jeep brand. AMC was hurting at the time and this was a big gamble for them but the Jeep utility vehicles complemented AMC’s passenger car business. Actually it saved the company. AMC was able to share components, achieving volume efficiencies, as well as capitalizing on Jeep’s international and government markets.

It created the Sport Utility market

SUV, Jeep, Jeep Grand Wagoneer, Jeep Wrangler, Jeep Cherokee, Jeep Liberty, AMC Jeep, Jeep Corporation

grandwagoneer.com

The four-door Jeep Wagoneer (SJ) set the pace as it was the first luxury 4×4 sold and produced from 1963 to 1991, nearly 30 years before the term SUV was in vogue. Compared to what GM, International Harvester, and Land Rover were offering at the time, it was the Wagoneer’s luxury that set the bar. Adding to success of the Wagoneer, and it’s two-door version Cherokee AMC introduced in 1973 was the Quadra-Trac full-time four-wheel-drive system which attracted even more people to Jeep products who wanted four-wheel-drive traction without the inconvenience of a manual-shift transfer case and manual locking hubs.

The Wagoneer Limited you see in these images which later morphed into the Grand Wagoneer, had the whole deal, deepSUV, Jeep, Jeep Grand Wagoneer, Jeep Wrangler, Jeep Cherokee, Jeep Liberty, AMC Jeep, Jeep CorporationSUV, Jeep, Jeep Grand Wagoneer, Jeep Wrangler, Jeep Cherokee, Jeep Liberty, AMC Jeep, Jeep CorporationSUV, Jeep, Jeep Grand Wagoneer, Jeep Wrangler, Jeep Cherokee, Jeep Liberty, AMC Jeep, Jeep CorporationSUV, Jeep, Jeep Grand Wagoneer, Jeep Wrangler, Jeep Cherokee, Jeep Liberty, AMC Jeep, Jeep Corporation pile carpeting, advanced overhead cam inline six and then later a monster AMC 401 V8 engine, auto transmission, power windows, a/c, power steering, power brakes, an independent front suspension and yes, real wood outlining the fake vinyl wood as you can see in this example which I think is a 1981. It’s a little on the rough side but there are lots of places that specialize in full restorations like GrandWagoneer.com. The vehicle still has a following even though the last Grand Wagoneer rolled off Chrysler’s Toledo assembly plant on June 21, 1991. Now that Fiat owns Jeep there were images floating around showing a modern version of the Grand Wagoneer which I have heard won’t come on the market for another couple of years.

SUV, Jeep, Jeep Grand Wagoneer, Jeep Wrangler, Jeep Cherokee, Jeep Liberty, AMC Jeep, Jeep Corporation

Hemmings

I would love to have a Grand Wagoneer to show off to the people I know who drive Cadillac Escalades or Range Rovers. Sure buddy, one on one! I made a trip to one of my favorite sites, Hemmings, and found Grand Wagoneers from the mid-20’s to all the way up to 50 grand like this one. Have you looked at the current prices of the Caddy or Rover?

So what if you don’t have the cash?

Surprisingly with such a long run, you’d thing there would have been a promo model made but it never happened, however this Grand Wagoneer produced by AutoArt is a great alternative. I picked up this 1/18th scale diecast about five years ago for around $100. Even though AutoArt has stopped producing them, they pop up on eBay except for the white one which is nearly impossible to find. Check out the details on this. All the doors open, along with the hood and rear lift gate. The interior has real carpeting and upholstery. Check out the engine bay. I love looking at this. I keep hoping that someday there will be a way to take it and scale it up into the real deal.

SUV, Jeep, Jeep Grand Wagoneer, Jeep Wrangler, Jeep Cherokee, Jeep Liberty, AMC Jeep, Jeep CorporationSUV, Jeep, Jeep Grand Wagoneer, Jeep Wrangler, Jeep Cherokee, Jeep Liberty, AMC Jeep, Jeep Corporation SUV, Jeep, Jeep Grand Wagoneer, Jeep Wrangler, Jeep Cherokee, Jeep Liberty, AMC Jeep, Jeep Corporationdiecast-tailgateSUV, Jeep, Jeep Grand Wagoneer, Jeep Wrangler, Jeep Cherokee, Jeep Liberty, AMC Jeep, Jeep Corporation

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

19
Jul

Die-cast: 1958 Ford Edsel Citation

 

Spark recreates iconic 1958 Edsel in 1:43 scale

Edsel got a bad rap as far as I’m concerned. Heck, I wish they still made them.edsel

As a kid I thought Edsels were cool. I loved the big horse collar grille, the pair of twin headlights and those slim cat-eye taillights. This was styling extreme to the max in an age of styling extreme. It was an age where giant tail fins and portholes in the sides of cars were welcome.
Who wouldn’t like this in your face design from Ford?

Well, apparently nearly everyone, as the Edsel lineup fell flat on its crankcase and was discontinued just a few years later. But styling fashionistas, those of us who appreciate styling daring do, can still get our fix via Spark’s new 1:43 scale Edsel Citation Hard Top Coupe.

Spark recreates the 1958 model in black with a white roof, and the two-tone paint job just makes this all the more attractive because it reflects the fun and style trends of 1950s autos.

The model:

Spark is no newcomer to 1:43 cars, it offers a variety from standard street cars to race cars of all ilk. Here’s what I like about this one. Read more

16
Jul

2015 Chrysler 200C AWD

Fiat gives Chrysler a fine mid-size car with new 200C

The 200C (left) and 200S feature sophisticated styling and one might argue, a bit of Italian flair.

The 200C (left) and 200S feature sophisticated styling and one might argue, a bit of Italian flair.

The former Chrysler 200 was so long in the tooth you may have wanted to nickname it Snagglepuss.

It was updated a couple years back by Fiat, after it snaggled Chrysler away from bankruptcy and the U.S. government. Mostly, that change in ownership has done nothing but help Chrysler’s various lineups, and the new Chrysler 200 again confirms that.

The midsize sedan, which rides on the Jeep Cherokee platform so is available with all-wheel-drive, carries the rounded styling first seen on the sporty Dodge Dart. This is a handsome sedan with swept back rear quarter to give it both a modern and sporty profile. The tested C model with AWD tops the 200 lineup and its $30,195 starting price reflects that. This isn’t your great aunt’s old Chrysler 200 winter beater car.

The 200 comes in basic LX trim with a list price of $22,695 and in that form is front-wheel drive with a competent 184-horse MultiAir 2.4-liter 4-cylinder engine. A mid-level S model is available in all- and front-drive as is this upscale C model.

This C stands out due to its more powerful 3.6-liter V6 that features variable valve timing and delivers 295 horses and a torque rating of 262. Tires also grow to 18 inches and the interior is decked out with leather trimmed heated seats and a load of bells and whistles. The vivid blue pearl (bright metallic blue) test car ladled on three option packages to doll itself up and hit a rather optimistic $34,675, including a $795 delivery charge.

The 200 looks attractive from the rear too.

The 200 looks attractive from the rear too.

The car itself feels more modern and refined that past 200 models. The engine is strong and will get to highway speeds easily, even with four people aboard. This is a fine highway cruiser for the family and the giant 16-cubic-foot trunk will accommodate a load of luggage.

While the car feels strong, it doesn’t really jump from a stop as you might expect. It feels heavy despite a moderate 3,473 lbs. Its 9-speed (that’s right!) automatic transmission is designed to save gas, but not to put the car on a speedy trajectory, especially in city driving. The car is rated 18 mpg city and 29 mpg highway. I averaged a fine 24.2 mpg in about 75% highway driving and with up to four aboard. Read more

12
Jul

2014 Dodge Dart GT

Sporty, high-value Dart GT has power, but ride is too sportydart

My previous test of the compact Dodge Dart was near perfect. That was the Limited model, this metallic red beauty was the sportier GT.

Blame it on age or our increasingly decrepit roads, but this one was harder on the derriere.

Oh, I still like the Dart and would recommend the Limited or any model without the sport suspension that the GT features. This one is just too stiff with the ride bordering on harsh. Racy R18-rated tires didn’t help either. The GT intends to be a boy-racer toy at a modest price and it comes close to that goal.

There’s strong power here with a 2.4-liter I4 Tigershark engine with MultiAir to increase fuel efficiency. It generates 184 horses and a torque rating of 171. So pound the gas pedal and the Dart GT responds.

In normal city driving there’s good power too, although some hesitation as you accelerate. Linked to a 6-speed manual, which is standard, you could likely have some fun with the GT. But the test car added an optional $1,250 6-speed Powertech automatic that tames the oomph factor, mostly. You’ll still hit highway speeds easily, but the car feels a bit heavy and the shifts are not as crisp or timely as they would be if the driver was handling those duties.

Cool rear taillight bar!

Cool rear LED taillight bar!

Still, the car looks sporty with trim lines and an attractive profile. I like the car’s nose and the full body-width LED taillight that reflects other Dodge model styling. Dart looks sharp. Read more

12
Jul

2014 Subaru BRZ Limited

Fun, Fun, Fun till daddy takes the BRZ away!BRZ 

Rarely have I driven a sports coupe that was more pure fun to drive and garnered more attention than the Subaru BRZ, and yet …

The BRZ, a kissin’ cousin to Scion’s F-RS, is far from perfect. But it’s so much fun you might overlook most of its shortcomings.

First, there are many bright spots. It’s an edgy looking sports car, one that gets thumbs up at stoplights from young men, young women and guys on motorcycles. It has a triangular center mounted brake light below bumper level in back and the tested Limited model touts a mean Star Wars look rear wing that even Darth Vader would give a thumbs up.

The test car was a dark metallic gray that complimented that edgy, somewhat menacing look, and being rear-wheel drive and packing a 200-horse Boxer 4-cylinder, the car has excellent balance and a peppy feel. BRZ accelerates quickly from a stop, but doesn’t have explosive power as it would if the car’s horizontally opposed Subaru-designed engine had a turbocharger. Could there be one in the future? One can hope.

BRZ1Subaru also gives the car an easy shifting 6-speed manual that slips through the gears smoothly and synchs well with the engine to give it that pep. The clutch works well too, so unlikely you’ll tire in thick traffic or kill the engine at a stoplight.

Handling is light and easy too with good steering feedback and the car feels well balanced so it zips through tight corners like the sports car that it is and with the car’s rear wheels feeling well planted. The low profile provided by the Boxer engine keeps the center of gravity low, which also helps handling. A Torsen limited-slip differential and stability control give BRZ sticky footing upon acceleration and in corners and much of the car’s light feel is attributable to its modest weight, just 2,776 lbs. Read more

6
Jul

2014 Infiniti Q50S 3.7 AWD

 

Infiniti’s unique styling gives new Q50 a muscular lookq1

Infiniti’s sedans continue to deliver unique styling that looks muscular and sporty, but with a style that sets them apart from other luxury sport sedans.

My test car, the Q50S 3.7 AWD was a great looking metallic brown, with a hint of copper in it, so the color also made this one pop compared with the various silver/gray or black sport sedans that flood the market. Like last week’s BMW 428i coupe, this sporty sedan featured all-wheel drive, making it a perfect fit for our climate and road conditions.

Like that BWM, the Q50 comes loaded with luxury and performance items while creating a strong argument for it being racetrack-worthy. On the performance spectrum the Q, which replaces Infiniti’s popular G Sedan, handles like a fine sports sedan. Steering is quick and responsive and in normal mode quite easy to handle.

There’s Drive Mode Select here. That allows the driver to pick Snow, Eco, Standard and Sport. Eco naturally cuts power and changes shift points, while Sport gives the car more oomph off the line while stiffening the steering effort substantially. I feel the Sport mode becomes way too heavy for most drivers to enjoy it, but best to test that yourself if you intend to move up to this level of sport sedan. Standard will be where most folks leave the setting.

q2Certainly the car corners well and the all-wheel-drive gives it sure footing on wet pavement. Read more

4
Jul

2014 BMW 428i xDrive

BMW’s new 428i coupe a really super car

How great is the new BMW 4 Series Coupe? My notes showed no, nadda, zero negatives.bmw

I list price by default, because at $50 grand, more than a few of us won’t be able to afford it, and that’s a shame. Because this may be the best all-round performing car I’ve ever driven, no matter the price. The 4 Series (formerly the 3 Series, but that’s now reserved only for sedans), is a perfect blend of power, handling, ride, comfort and looks.

Call it a home run, a royal flush, a perfect 10, or whatever you will.

What surprised me was the ride. I’ve often enjoyed driving BMWs, but rarely have I felt comfortable in them or enjoyed the ride. The 4 Series changes all that. Its well-controlled ride is a combination of a superbly designed suspension mated with BMW’s Driving Dynamics Control system that adjusts the chassis and modulates the engine’s power curve too.

So if you set the DDC on Eco, you get lowered power and a somewhat more pedestrian chassis feel. Move to Comfort and you’ve dialed in ride perfection for our pathetic highways and city streets. One road near my Northwest side church is full of potholes and pavement gaps, creases and crumbling pavement. It regularly puts my test cars’ suspensions to the ultimate test. I barely noticed the craters this week. I was amazed.

The DDC also has Sport and Sport + settings that noticeably bump the torque and firm the ride and steering feel. The Sport + setting is best used on a race course, but the Sport notch kicks the car’s performance up a few serious notches. Read more

3
Jul

Die-cast: Auto World 1971 Plymouth Road Runner

1971 Road Runner creates an eyeful of muscle carrr main

American Muscle came in various shapes and sizes in the late 1960s and early 1970s, before the first oil embargo put the nix on giant V-8s and the awesome grumble and power they delivered.

Now Auto World creates a beautiful 1971 Plymouth Road Runner in Petty Blue with white vinyl top (remember those?) in 1:18 scale. This is part of the aptly named American Muscle lineup that retails at roughly $80-85, a good price for this scale considering some 1:43 scale diecast and resin models are approaching that price range.

An advantage here too is that the doors, hood and trunk all open, so you can easily see the interior, a bright blue in the sample car, plus the well detailed V-8 under its long hood with black Air Grabber scoop.

Road Runners were fast, on- or off-track, and yes, Richard Petty, the King of NASCAR, successfully raced one in 1971. Auto World makes that one too. Read more

29
Jun

2015 Volvo V60 T5 Drive-E

Volvo nails the sports wagon with its new V60 Volvo2

First, there aren’t many true wagons anymore. Second, Volvo absolutely nails the V60, if you want your wagon to feel like a sports sedan.

I could have sworn I was in an Audi or Mercedes and barely noticed this was a wagon thanks to this Volvo’s generous power and nimble handling abilities. My gorgeous light “power” metallic blue V60 T5 Drive-E was a rocket, but one that would chop off corners and stick to the road like it was designed mostly for a spin around Road America.

The V60, which is an early release 2015 model, features a 2.0-liter direct injected turbocharged I4 engine that creates 240 horsepower and 258 foot-pounds of torque. You touch the gas pedal and it jumps to life, one of the livelier power plants I’ve driven lately.

The V60 is one sleek looking wagon!

The V60 is one sleek looking wagon!

The front-drive wagon has good grip too, thanks to 19-inch R-rated low-pro Pirelli tires. Pushing the car hard into high-speed corners it hunkers down and sticks like a racer. The down side is that the ride is overly firm, which could be a drawback to some families. However, 17-inch tires are standard and without the car’s Sport Package ($1,500) that includes fancy wheels, a sport-tuned chassis, plus paddle shifters on the steering wheel and overly tight sport seats, the ride might feel just fine.

Shifts from the 8-speed Geartronic automatic are fairly seamless and feature Start-Stop technology that shuts the car’s engine off at stoplights or any time it sits motionless for a second or so. You’ll notice it at first, but this Volvo system offers a less abrupt shutdown than the pricier Jaguar XJL I drove earlier this year. These type of systems are already being used on hybrid cars. Read more

29
Jun

Die-cast: Phoenix Mint 1937 Studebaker Army Ambulance

 

Phoenix Mint delivers high value 1937 Studebaker ambulance

Not every new diecast vehicle is a muscle car or modern model. The Phoenix Mint reaches back to World War II for its vintage 1937 Studebaker Army Ambulance in 1:43 scale.

In this scale and at this price, this 1937 Studebaker ambulance is a deal.

In this scale and at this price, this 1937 Studebaker ambulance is a deal.

Studebaker, an Indiana-based automaker that got its start by making wagons for farmers in the 1850s, was still a thriving company during the war. It had supplied wagons and vehicles to the military for years and its truck lineup was extremely popular in the day. So converting a Coupe Express, that was similar to today’s pickups, or just buying and converting a chassis, engine and cab into useful Army vehicles was easy. Studebaker also made many heavier duty trucks for the military over the years.

For the record, Studebaker merged with Packard in the mid-1950s and made its final car in 1966, at its Canadian plant.

The model:

Phoenix Mint’s version is a no-brainer buy if you love Studebakers or enjoy collecting military vehicles in all their iterations. This is a high value model. Here’s why. Read more »

24
Jun

Chasing Classic Cars: Fast cars!

The need for speed

SaleenS7Who doesn’t like to jam the throttle and get pinned to the back of your seat in a fast car? I’m in! I had two chances recently at Road America to drive the new Corvette and Dodge Challenger Shaker. What a hoot, and then some. It used to be the Italians and Germans who were the kings of fast cars but not anymore. There are some super fast cars built right here in America. Buckle your seat belts and come along for the ride.

20
Jun

2014 Fiat 500L Lounge

Fiat goes long with 500L (get it?) to connect with more buyers

The 500L fairly dwarfs Fiat's standard 500 model.

The 500L fairly dwarfs Fiat’s standard 500 model.

Credit Fiat for quickly deducing that its cute, but diminutive, 500 runabout simply won’t do for many U.S. families. The Italian automaker that owns Chrysler needed something that would cast a wider net when trying to land more customers on our shores.

Voila! The 500L!

This is a small crossover or wagon much along the lines of MINI’s Clubman. That’s to say it’s boxy and big enough to hold four adults and some groceries under the hatch. It remains cute, like the MINI is cute, but no one will mistake it for the much smaller Fiat 500 that its name implies it descends from.

But this is a different beast in that at 167.1 inches the 500L is nearly two feet longer, plus a little wider and taller, than the tiny 500. The 500L rides on a much larger 102.8-inch wheelbase, a little shorter than a Subaru Forester, for example, and nearly a foot longer than Fiat’s 500. The L is no featherweight either, at 3,203 lbs. it’s about 900 lbs. heavier than its smaller sibling.

I parked the 500L next to a standard MINI in a fast food parking lot and was amazed at how much larger the Fiat looked.

What all this size means is that the 500L rides well, but remains a good handler, like its smaller model, the 500. The suspension does a surprisingly good job of soaking up our roads’ numerous imperfections. Some larger crossovers and small utes don’t feel this well controlled. As with the 500 model, this one’s ride quality surprises. Read more

17
Jun

Soon to be Classic Cars: Rare Shelbys

A garage sale like no other

Shelby cars, shelby prototypes, shelby mustangs

Shelby America

It seems things got a little tight at Shelby America so they decided to do a bit of house cleaning. Not your regular office stuff, these are rare prototypes. 11 Shelby concept cars and prototypes are up for grabs. Shelby says it would rather see them in the hands of enthusiasts than sitting in storage. I’m down with that. Several of the cars are of course Mustangs, including the 2011 Super Snake with a 5.4-liter supercharged V-8 that chucks out 750 hp! You’ll need to have deep pockets to score one of these with most going in six figures. Start drooling.

6
Jun

2014 Mitsubishi Mirage ES

Pokey Mitsubishi Mirage offers bare bones performance

Last year when I drove the 109-horsepower Nissan Versa Note I thought I’d driven the slowest accelerating car made in the past 10 years, but that was before I’d driven the new Mitsubishi Mirage. This makes the pokey Versa Note feel frisky.mitsu

Mirage is a pleasant looking little hatchback designed top to bottom for the entry-level buyer who needs new wheels, but can’t afford much. It’s a small market segment, but let’s face it, there is a need for inexpensive entry-level economy cars. We’re not all rich, or even middle class, these days.

I’m happy that such low cost economy models exist. But I really expect a new car to have enough power to get out of its own way, or at least that of the aging winter beater car that’s tailgating me.

For the record Mirage has a 1.2-liter 3-cylinder engine that creates … wait for it … 74 horsepower. In short it’s slow to pull away from stoplights and requires quite a long run down an entry ramp to make it up to highway speeds. Under heavy acceleration the drivetrain groans considerably. Mentally, I was groaning too. Read more

4
Jun

2014 Chrysler Town & Country Limited

Town & Country minivan carries family, friends and stuff easily and efficiently

Minivans are much maligned by the image conscious, or should we say, self-conscious car buyers. These folks let image stand in their way of buying the most family friendly vehicles on the market.chry1

This week’s Chrysler Town & Country Limited is at the top of the minivan food chain, meaning it’s loaded with extras and luxury items that most families would be proud to wallow in, if they weren’t in a minivan. But heck, a minivan is easy to climb aboard, and this one has a luxurious ride along with good power and tons of storage room. Ah yes, and it will carry a family of seven. Not much else can boast that, and be this comfortable.

First, consider that the tested cashmere (metallic tan) test van had power sliding side doors. This makes it incredibly easy to load up the family for all those kid events, and if you have young children, it’s equally easy to strap them into their child seats. In a sport-utility vehicle, for instance, you have the doors in your way along with a bigger step up, making it tougher for the kid to crawl aboard, and a bigger lift for the parent loading one aboard.

The Town & Country, or T&C, also boasts a power hatch to make loading groceries, luggage or athletic equipment easier too. This one goes a step further with power third-row seats that you control just inside the hatch, part of a $1,995 luxury package. Within seconds you can lower the third row for a hefty hauling area. Cargo space starts at 33.0 cubic feet behind that third seat (about double that of even the largest luxury sedans) and expands to 83.3 cubic feet with the third row down. Read more »

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