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2016 Volvo XC90 T6 AWD Inscription

Volvo XC90 not mainstream, not good with detailsvolvo3

Volvo has never been mainstream and it’s not about to start now.

Its new XC90 crossover that replaces a quite dated crossover of the same name is a high-end luxury vehicle that offers typical Volvo safety and substance, but drops the ball on a variety of details.

First, know that Volvos are still made in Sweden, but the company now is owned by Geely, a Chinese carmaker. That hasn’t seemed to hurt, or help, Volvo, which continues to do things its own unique way. For instance, the keyless start system is a switch you rotate on the console, sort of like you would turn a key. Most folks now offer a push button.

Different can be better, and the giant (12.3-inch) iPad-like navigation/radio/information screen mid-dash would be one of those ways. It’s large and you slide the screen to other settings with your finger. That’s where you can adjust many of the crossover’s individualized functions, plus the radio and navigation screen.

Good also is the high-powered Drive-E engine, which is the first engine I’ve ever encountered that is both supercharged AND turbocharged. The result is a hefty 316 horsepower and equally peppy torque rating.

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My other passion

Eaa, oshkosh, whitman field, airventure 15How can that be? You’re a car guy.

Well I’m also a huge airplane guy. I just spent five days in Oshkosh, WI at the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) as a volunteer helping kids discover radio control aviation. My daughter also volunteered with me this year. My passion for planes began when I was young. I wanted to be a pilot for Pan Am. Boy am I dating myself. But it wasn’t until I was in my 20’s that I did something, getting my private ticket. The Pan Am dream fell by the wayside, mostly because they went out of business, and two, I was happy flying Cessna 152’s and 172’s.

I love speed!

And if you think about it, cars are fast and airplanes are even faster. That means I like the jets but I also like the WWII era fighters and bombers. Many of them can move at a decent clip. In Oshkosh you see it all. AirVenture, which ended this past Sunday brings aviation enthusiasts from all over the world, more than 500,000. Of course there are cars there, Ford is a huge sponsor and had their new GT-40 on display. Outside there were some vintage Mustangs (the car), and right next to them are Roush Mustangs. Jack Roush is a pilot. Last year he crashed his corporate jet on final at EAA but everybody was OK. This year he created an Apollo themed Mustang for an auction to raise funds for EAA’s youth programs.

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2015 Audi S3 2.0T quattro S tronic

Audi’s S3 sportier than A3, but much costlier and turbo still lags audiS3a

I drove and enjoyed the Audi A3 with a turbo diesel a few weeks back and told myself I’d be ecstatic with the sportier looking and driving S3 this week. I wasn’t wrong, I still liked the S3, but I was less enthusiastic than I’d imagined. Here’s why.

First, the 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine has the same major turbo lag as the diesel. I thought it would be much smoother, but no, it still takes 2-3 seconds from pressing the accelerator hard until the turbo spools up enough to give the small Audi a kick in the tail end. When it does, the S3 is a little driver-guided missile. Torque is a massive 280 ft.-lbs., and horsepower is an equally impressive 292.

You’d think that would kick your fuel mileage in the gas, but I got a very reasonable 27.6 mpg in about 60% city driving and 40% highway. Sadly the S3 drinks premium fuel, but the car is rated 23 mpg city and 31 mpg highway.

audiS3 front Ride was on the stiff side in the A3, but this Premium Plus model with the Prestige package ($5,900) and 19-inch performance tire package ($1,500) was no better and weighed 275 lbs. more than the A3. Ride was sporty, but could be pretty abrupt over crumbling area cement street surfaces. It was calm and fine on the highways.

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2015 Dodge Charger R/T Scat Pack

2015 Dodge Charger R/T Scat Packcharger1

            There’s no reason to be coy when addressing the strength of Dodge’s new Charger R/T Scat Pack. That’s Pack with a P as in Power.

No this is NOT the Hellcat with its ridiculous 707 horsepower. This is the macho family sedan, the four-door with 485 throbbing HEMI V8 horses under its hood with a bulge big enough to let you know it has a pair, er, a 6.4-liter 392 cu.in. engine in its bay.

This is Dodge’s second most powerful V8, just behind the supercharged 6.2-liter V8 in the Hellcat. But heck, let’s not talk about Hellcat and its $64,990 price tag here. That’s for the rich folks.

The R/T with the Scat Pack package starts at a more family friendly $39,995. That’s right, Buster, this Charger is under $40gs and still will kick your neighbor’s BMW or Audi to the curb with a guttural V8 roar that will let everyone in the neighborhood know who the alpha male is.

I liked it.

Mine was a beautiful bright metallic blue that matches the old Charger blue from the early 1970s. I know because I pulled up next to one at a stoplight. We both did a double-take.

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lexus1

2015 Lexus NX 200t F Sport

lexus1First Lexus turbo turns up the juice in angular NX F Sport

If I were selecting a smallish sport-ute solely on looks Lexus’ NX would be my first choice.

I like its angular lines, its exciting sporty appearance, its 3D taillights and its front lights that appear to be large checkmarks laid sideways. I like the modern sporty look of its interior, again full of angles, and soft-touch materials used everywhere from dash to console.

The tested NX 200t F Sport was the same silver as an earlier pre-production hybrid NX I’d driven, but its interior was a sporty black and dark red leather with textured chrome dash and door inserts and satin finish chrome around the console and center stack. All the leather, seats, dash, steering wheel and door trim features red stitching. NX looks sharp, inside and out.

Honestly, I liked this one better than the hybrid because there was power when I pressed the accelerator. The 2.0-liter I4 is pumped up with a turbocharger, Lexus’ first, and includes dual variable valve timing to create a fairly efficient power source that delivers 235 horsepower and 258 ft.-lbs. of torque. If you need to scoot, the NX with turbo will scoot.

That puts something rare, sport, into a small sport-ute.

lexus3How small?

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Drivers who really anoy me…..

…and the cars they drive

I really a patient guy except when it comes to getting from point A to point B either in one of our cars, 2015 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited, our 2008 Chrysler Pacifica (we really love that car and wish it was still being made), or my Suzuki Hayabusa. I experience more bad drivers on my bike than in the car or the Jeep, mostly because drivers don’t respect motorcycles. I really think that over half of the drivers are bad with you of course being in the good group, I hope. See if you can relate to any of my experiences. I have even categorized them so here we go.

Cloggers

Vehicles driven: Buick, Cadillac, Prius, Leafs, dump trucks

Drivers who don't know the light it green, bad drivers, clueless driversroad cloggersThese are the people, who for some reason, don’t know what the speed limit is, that they can actually go that speed, and maybe even five mph over. Some just poke along in the left hand lane. I think there must be some sort of governor built-in their car. The Prius and Leaf drivers are notorious for this and maybe are trying to save the planet. But Cloggers are not limited to cars, Dump trucks are HUGE cloggers. They take off from a stop signal so slow and take for ever to get up to speed. I’m thinking of petitioning Wisconsin to limit their travel to times when I’m not on the road like 11 pm-7 am. Only kidding if you drive one of these beasts. Cloggers are also the people who sit at the light when it turns green. Hello! Green means go. Go now, go!

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2016 Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring AWD

CX5-3Sharp looking CX-5 also performs

            The 2016s are in!

Not all of them mind you, but Mazda has released its revamped CX-5 small sport-ute early and it remains a good-looking ute in a mostly ho-hum market segment.

That’s the first plus, because generally you aren’t hung up on looks if you’re shopping for a small ute. But the tested Grand Touring model with AWD was decked out in Soul Red Metallic paint, a sparkling red that added $300 to the sticker, but worthy of the charge. Mazda has refined the big front grille some and this model featured a smoke gray grille along with black lower fascia on the sides and over the wheels for a sportier look that also protects those areas.

Better yet for looks, the test ute came with silver and gray sport 19-inch wheels, up from the standard 17-inchers.

While a base Sport CX-5 will run you just $22,675 for a front-drive model, the tested version lists at $29,470, plus an $880 delivery fee. With options, this one hit $34,140. That’s above average for the segment, but then the Grand Touring more than performs to the price.CX5-4

First, it has AWD for winter traction, something we’re not so concerned about on these warm summer days, but come December, you’ll be happy to have it.

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2015 Toyota Camry Hybrid SE

Hybrid gives us another good reason to buy a Camrycamry1

            Toyota’s Camry was the best-selling car in the United States last year, topping the No. 2 Honda Accord by roughly 40,000 units.

In fact, Camry has been one of the top-selling cars for years, and for several, Toyota was happy to let it idle along. But a couple years ago Toyota decided that styling mattered and revamped Camry’s exterior helping it become one of the better styled family sedans.

Now along comes the hybrid version, which means it has a gas engine and hybrid electric system that work in conjunction to create excellent fuel economy. Add to that the Camry’s expected comfort, longevity and its newfound styling, which includes a large Audi-style grille, and, to be honest, there’s not much to fault.

The 2015 Camry remains a pleasant drive, and in my eye, much more stylish than an Accord. Toyota’s hybrid system is the best in the biz for functionality and consistently good gas mileage. I got 36.5 mpg in about a 50/50 split of city and highway. EPA rates this at 40 mpg city and 38 mpg highway. Regular unleaded is all the 2.5-liter I4 requires. There’s also an Eco mode controlled by a button on the console if you want to improve your mileage. But it does sap your power considerably.

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timbs2

Die-cast: Automodello’s 1948 Timbs Streamliner

Automodello’s Timbs Streamliner exemplified slick stylingTimbs1

Few cars are as radically styled as Norman E. Timbs’ Streamliner.

The Streamliner is a teardrop-shaped car that looks like an amoeba that should be wriggling on a slide under a microscope, except it’s a car. You’ve probably seen it and didn’t know what it was.

Now Automodello creates the swoopy 1948 Streamliner in 1:43 scale resin, and bathed in one of two colors. The original, in maroon metallic, has shown up at fancy car shows and in national car magazines. In fact, the original first appeared in the second issue of Motor Trend. How so?

Norman Timbs in the original Streamliner he built in 1948. It's powered by a Buick straight-8 engine.

Norman Timbs in the original Streamliner he built in 1948. It’s powered by a Buick Inline 8 engine.

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2015 Chrysler Town & Country S

Town & Country S(exy?) … no, but Special for a familyc van

Are minivans sexy? No, but they are family friendly and if you have a large family, well, sexy may be something you’re needing to put behind you.

Chrysler, via its Dodge and Plymouth brands at the time, started the minivan movement decades ago and still has the segment nailed.

My test van, a Chrysler Town & Country S, was as sexy as a van can be, which means it looked good in its monochromatic dark red paint scheme with black headlight bezels and grille, smoky black chrome wheels and chrome trim strip along each side.

At its core the T&C is strong with a powerful 283-horse 3.6-liter V6 that delivers 260 ft.-lbs. of torque. Even with kids and luggage aboard it’ll get to highway speeds with authority and provide reasonably smooth shifts via its 6-speed automatic.

Ride, due to its monster 121.2-inch wheelbase and compliant suspension is comfortable, even on rotting Midwestern roads.

But let’s be honest here, a minivan is all about what goes on inside, about comfort, safety (a 5-star rating here) and conveniences to keep junior and his or her siblings at peace while the parents shuttle them to and fro.

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Renault Dauphine

I have never been a fan of French engineering

From my collection

Ad from my collection

I have first-hand experience with my mother owning a Renault Alliance and then me owning an Encore. This was the big deal about the partnership with American Motors and Renault. The cars were a hit out of the gate with the Alliance named Motor Trend Car of the Year but it all went down after that. Mom had the 1.4L engine in her car and I thought it sounded like a sewing machine. I opted for the 1.7L in my Encore and the car could still only barley get out of its own way. I did like the manual shift. The cars had a bunch of issues but it basically came down to cheap materials and bad engineering. Did you know that the

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2015 Audi A3 TDI Premium Plus

Audi’s sporty A3 TDI gives gas pumps the finger!

Not much for looks, but fun to drive, excellent fuel economy!

Not much for looks, but the A3 is fun to drive and offers excellent fuel economy!

            Boxy, compact and easy on fuel … yawn, that sounds like your typical econobox, but for one key trait, the Audi A3 handles like a sports sedan.

That’s what it is, an entry-level sports sedan somewhat along the lines of a small BMW, just not a BMW. Handling is excellent and as good as, or better than, any other small sports sedan in the $32 grand neighborhood, except a BMW.

Yet that’s OK, because it costs less and the red test model also had another big plus that a BMW won’t, a mostly entertaining clean diesel engine.

Mine was the TDI, which translates to a 2.0-liter turbo diesel that starts at $32,600, and adds an $895 delivery charge. But equipped, as this one was, with the Premium Plus package, you tack on $2,550. With a $2,600 Audi MMi navigation package the test car settled at $38,645.

Still, that’s reasonable for a sporty car that gets 31 mpg city and 43 mpg highway, according to the EPA. As impressive as that sounds, I managed an amazing 46.3 mpg in a round-trip jaunt to Indianapolis. In one nearly straight (hey, it was Indiana) highway stint I got 50 mpg on the button. The one-way diesel bill was $16 and change. When full the car boasts a 600-mile range.

Forget any thoughts of the diesel stinking or smoking more than Don Draper. Those days are gone.

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Die-cast: Auto World 1967 Chevrolet Impala SS

Auto World delivers unique 1967 Chevy Impala SSAMM1027_67Impala_1stPrepro-1

You can’t get any rarer than a one and only model, a one and done.

In this case, Auto World has reproduced what experts say is the ONLY 1967 Chevrolet impala SS with a 427 cu.in. L-72 V8 under the hood as original equipment.

The rare, make that one-of-a-kind, Impala hardtop is owned by Bill Wickman and graced the September 2012 cover of Hemmings Muscle Machines magazine. Now it’s a 1:18 knockout from Auto World. Here’s the scoop!

The History

In 2011 the Muscle Car And Corvette Nationals scored this unusual Impala at 992 of a perfect 1,000 points, which led to the gorgeous emerald turquoise SS ending up on the Muscle Machines cover.

AMM1027_67Impala_1stPrepro-14Experts at the show say there’s no record of any 1967 SS models being equipped with the mighty 427 V8 that created a whopping 425 horsepower. The big block Chevy engine was introduced in 1966 and the L71 version used in Corvettes.

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2015 Nissan Rogue SV AWD

Rogue grows to happy medium in SUV/crossover marketrogue

Nissan restyled its entry-level crossover, the Rogue, last year to give it a less trucky appearance and smooth its ride along with its appearance.

It works and offers a little more interior room and overall length than most small SUVs, like Toyota’s RAV4 and Ford’s Escape. Rogue feels a little bigger, hitting a happy medium between small and compact crossovers.

The test unit was a metallic red SV, the mid-level Rogue, with AWD. Base price is a reasonable $25,840, so with an $860 delivery fee comes in at $26,700, well below the median price of a new vehicle, now $31 grand plus. The tester added a premium package for $1,590 and a few smaller options to set the bar at $28,660, a high value crossover to be sure.

Handling was good with a fairly substantial feel to the wheel, but quick steering for a crossover. And the Rogue stays well planted even in tight turns and on damp pavement thanks to its AWD system.

The Nissan’s ride is compliant too, not as truck-like or sharp on bumps as some smaller utes and crossovers. Potholes and railroad tracks are minor annoyances, not major events.

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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.

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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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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

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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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 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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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: 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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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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31
Jul

2016 Volvo XC90 T6 AWD Inscription

Volvo XC90 not mainstream, not good with detailsvolvo3

Volvo has never been mainstream and it’s not about to start now.

Its new XC90 crossover that replaces a quite dated crossover of the same name is a high-end luxury vehicle that offers typical Volvo safety and substance, but drops the ball on a variety of details.

First, know that Volvos are still made in Sweden, but the company now is owned by Geely, a Chinese carmaker. That hasn’t seemed to hurt, or help, Volvo, which continues to do things its own unique way. For instance, the keyless start system is a switch you rotate on the console, sort of like you would turn a key. Most folks now offer a push button.

Different can be better, and the giant (12.3-inch) iPad-like navigation/radio/information screen mid-dash would be one of those ways. It’s large and you slide the screen to other settings with your finger. That’s where you can adjust many of the crossover’s individualized functions, plus the radio and navigation screen.

Good also is the high-powered Drive-E engine, which is the first engine I’ve ever encountered that is both supercharged AND turbocharged. The result is a hefty 316 horsepower and equally peppy torque rating. Read more

28
Jul

My other passion

Eaa, oshkosh, whitman field, airventure 15How can that be? You’re a car guy.

Well I’m also a huge airplane guy. I just spent five days in Oshkosh, WI at the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) as a volunteer helping kids discover radio control aviation. My daughter also volunteered with me this year. My passion for planes began when I was young. I wanted to be a pilot for Pan Am. Boy am I dating myself. But it wasn’t until I was in my 20’s that I did something, getting my private ticket. The Pan Am dream fell by the wayside, mostly because they went out of business, and two, I was happy flying Cessna 152’s and 172’s.

I love speed!

And if you think about it, cars are fast and airplanes are even faster. That means I like the jets but I also like the WWII era fighters and bombers. Many of them can move at a decent clip. In Oshkosh you see it all. AirVenture, which ended this past Sunday brings aviation enthusiasts from all over the world, more than 500,000. Of course there are cars there, Ford is a huge sponsor and had their new GT-40 on display. Outside there were some vintage Mustangs (the car), and right next to them are Roush Mustangs. Jack Roush is a pilot. Last year he crashed his corporate jet on final at EAA but everybody was OK. This year he created an Apollo themed Mustang for an auction to raise funds for EAA’s youth programs. Read more

24
Jul

2015 Audi S3 2.0T quattro S tronic

Audi’s S3 sportier than A3, but much costlier and turbo still lags audiS3a

I drove and enjoyed the Audi A3 with a turbo diesel a few weeks back and told myself I’d be ecstatic with the sportier looking and driving S3 this week. I wasn’t wrong, I still liked the S3, but I was less enthusiastic than I’d imagined. Here’s why.

First, the 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine has the same major turbo lag as the diesel. I thought it would be much smoother, but no, it still takes 2-3 seconds from pressing the accelerator hard until the turbo spools up enough to give the small Audi a kick in the tail end. When it does, the S3 is a little driver-guided missile. Torque is a massive 280 ft.-lbs., and horsepower is an equally impressive 292.

You’d think that would kick your fuel mileage in the gas, but I got a very reasonable 27.6 mpg in about 60% city driving and 40% highway. Sadly the S3 drinks premium fuel, but the car is rated 23 mpg city and 31 mpg highway.

audiS3 front Ride was on the stiff side in the A3, but this Premium Plus model with the Prestige package ($5,900) and 19-inch performance tire package ($1,500) was no better and weighed 275 lbs. more than the A3. Ride was sporty, but could be pretty abrupt over crumbling area cement street surfaces. It was calm and fine on the highways. Read more

17
Jul

2015 Dodge Charger R/T Scat Pack

2015 Dodge Charger R/T Scat Packcharger1

            There’s no reason to be coy when addressing the strength of Dodge’s new Charger R/T Scat Pack. That’s Pack with a P as in Power.

No this is NOT the Hellcat with its ridiculous 707 horsepower. This is the macho family sedan, the four-door with 485 throbbing HEMI V8 horses under its hood with a bulge big enough to let you know it has a pair, er, a 6.4-liter 392 cu.in. engine in its bay.

This is Dodge’s second most powerful V8, just behind the supercharged 6.2-liter V8 in the Hellcat. But heck, let’s not talk about Hellcat and its $64,990 price tag here. That’s for the rich folks.

The R/T with the Scat Pack package starts at a more family friendly $39,995. That’s right, Buster, this Charger is under $40gs and still will kick your neighbor’s BMW or Audi to the curb with a guttural V8 roar that will let everyone in the neighborhood know who the alpha male is.

I liked it.

Mine was a beautiful bright metallic blue that matches the old Charger blue from the early 1970s. I know because I pulled up next to one at a stoplight. We both did a double-take. Read more

10
Jul
lexus1

2015 Lexus NX 200t F Sport

lexus1First Lexus turbo turns up the juice in angular NX F Sport

If I were selecting a smallish sport-ute solely on looks Lexus’ NX would be my first choice.

I like its angular lines, its exciting sporty appearance, its 3D taillights and its front lights that appear to be large checkmarks laid sideways. I like the modern sporty look of its interior, again full of angles, and soft-touch materials used everywhere from dash to console.

The tested NX 200t F Sport was the same silver as an earlier pre-production hybrid NX I’d driven, but its interior was a sporty black and dark red leather with textured chrome dash and door inserts and satin finish chrome around the console and center stack. All the leather, seats, dash, steering wheel and door trim features red stitching. NX looks sharp, inside and out.

Honestly, I liked this one better than the hybrid because there was power when I pressed the accelerator. The 2.0-liter I4 is pumped up with a turbocharger, Lexus’ first, and includes dual variable valve timing to create a fairly efficient power source that delivers 235 horsepower and 258 ft.-lbs. of torque. If you need to scoot, the NX with turbo will scoot.

That puts something rare, sport, into a small sport-ute.

lexus3How small? Read more

5
Jul

Drivers who really anoy me…..

…and the cars they drive

I really a patient guy except when it comes to getting from point A to point B either in one of our cars, 2015 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited, our 2008 Chrysler Pacifica (we really love that car and wish it was still being made), or my Suzuki Hayabusa. I experience more bad drivers on my bike than in the car or the Jeep, mostly because drivers don’t respect motorcycles. I really think that over half of the drivers are bad with you of course being in the good group, I hope. See if you can relate to any of my experiences. I have even categorized them so here we go.

Cloggers

Vehicles driven: Buick, Cadillac, Prius, Leafs, dump trucks

Drivers who don't know the light it green, bad drivers, clueless driversroad cloggersThese are the people, who for some reason, don’t know what the speed limit is, that they can actually go that speed, and maybe even five mph over. Some just poke along in the left hand lane. I think there must be some sort of governor built-in their car. The Prius and Leaf drivers are notorious for this and maybe are trying to save the planet. But Cloggers are not limited to cars, Dump trucks are HUGE cloggers. They take off from a stop signal so slow and take for ever to get up to speed. I’m thinking of petitioning Wisconsin to limit their travel to times when I’m not on the road like 11 pm-7 am. Only kidding if you drive one of these beasts. Cloggers are also the people who sit at the light when it turns green. Hello! Green means go. Go now, go! Read more

3
Jul

2016 Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring AWD

CX5-3Sharp looking CX-5 also performs

            The 2016s are in!

Not all of them mind you, but Mazda has released its revamped CX-5 small sport-ute early and it remains a good-looking ute in a mostly ho-hum market segment.

That’s the first plus, because generally you aren’t hung up on looks if you’re shopping for a small ute. But the tested Grand Touring model with AWD was decked out in Soul Red Metallic paint, a sparkling red that added $300 to the sticker, but worthy of the charge. Mazda has refined the big front grille some and this model featured a smoke gray grille along with black lower fascia on the sides and over the wheels for a sportier look that also protects those areas.

Better yet for looks, the test ute came with silver and gray sport 19-inch wheels, up from the standard 17-inchers.

While a base Sport CX-5 will run you just $22,675 for a front-drive model, the tested version lists at $29,470, plus an $880 delivery fee. With options, this one hit $34,140. That’s above average for the segment, but then the Grand Touring more than performs to the price.CX5-4

First, it has AWD for winter traction, something we’re not so concerned about on these warm summer days, but come December, you’ll be happy to have it. Read more

26
Jun

2015 Toyota Camry Hybrid SE

Hybrid gives us another good reason to buy a Camrycamry1

            Toyota’s Camry was the best-selling car in the United States last year, topping the No. 2 Honda Accord by roughly 40,000 units.

In fact, Camry has been one of the top-selling cars for years, and for several, Toyota was happy to let it idle along. But a couple years ago Toyota decided that styling mattered and revamped Camry’s exterior helping it become one of the better styled family sedans.

Now along comes the hybrid version, which means it has a gas engine and hybrid electric system that work in conjunction to create excellent fuel economy. Add to that the Camry’s expected comfort, longevity and its newfound styling, which includes a large Audi-style grille, and, to be honest, there’s not much to fault.

The 2015 Camry remains a pleasant drive, and in my eye, much more stylish than an Accord. Toyota’s hybrid system is the best in the biz for functionality and consistently good gas mileage. I got 36.5 mpg in about a 50/50 split of city and highway. EPA rates this at 40 mpg city and 38 mpg highway. Regular unleaded is all the 2.5-liter I4 requires. There’s also an Eco mode controlled by a button on the console if you want to improve your mileage. But it does sap your power considerably. Read more

23
Jun
timbs2

Die-cast: Automodello’s 1948 Timbs Streamliner

Automodello’s Timbs Streamliner exemplified slick stylingTimbs1

Few cars are as radically styled as Norman E. Timbs’ Streamliner.

The Streamliner is a teardrop-shaped car that looks like an amoeba that should be wriggling on a slide under a microscope, except it’s a car. You’ve probably seen it and didn’t know what it was.

Now Automodello creates the swoopy 1948 Streamliner in 1:43 scale resin, and bathed in one of two colors. The original, in maroon metallic, has shown up at fancy car shows and in national car magazines. In fact, the original first appeared in the second issue of Motor Trend. How so?

Norman Timbs in the original Streamliner he built in 1948. It's powered by a Buick straight-8 engine.

Norman Timbs in the original Streamliner he built in 1948. It’s powered by a Buick Inline 8 engine.

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19
Jun

2015 Chrysler Town & Country S

Town & Country S(exy?) … no, but Special for a familyc van

Are minivans sexy? No, but they are family friendly and if you have a large family, well, sexy may be something you’re needing to put behind you.

Chrysler, via its Dodge and Plymouth brands at the time, started the minivan movement decades ago and still has the segment nailed.

My test van, a Chrysler Town & Country S, was as sexy as a van can be, which means it looked good in its monochromatic dark red paint scheme with black headlight bezels and grille, smoky black chrome wheels and chrome trim strip along each side.

At its core the T&C is strong with a powerful 283-horse 3.6-liter V6 that delivers 260 ft.-lbs. of torque. Even with kids and luggage aboard it’ll get to highway speeds with authority and provide reasonably smooth shifts via its 6-speed automatic.

Ride, due to its monster 121.2-inch wheelbase and compliant suspension is comfortable, even on rotting Midwestern roads.

But let’s be honest here, a minivan is all about what goes on inside, about comfort, safety (a 5-star rating here) and conveniences to keep junior and his or her siblings at peace while the parents shuttle them to and fro. Read more

12
Jun

Renault Dauphine

I have never been a fan of French engineering

From my collection

Ad from my collection

I have first-hand experience with my mother owning a Renault Alliance and then me owning an Encore. This was the big deal about the partnership with American Motors and Renault. The cars were a hit out of the gate with the Alliance named Motor Trend Car of the Year but it all went down after that. Mom had the 1.4L engine in her car and I thought it sounded like a sewing machine. I opted for the 1.7L in my Encore and the car could still only barley get out of its own way. I did like the manual shift. The cars had a bunch of issues but it basically came down to cheap materials and bad engineering. Did you know that the Read more

6
Jun

2015 Audi A3 TDI Premium Plus

Audi’s sporty A3 TDI gives gas pumps the finger!

Not much for looks, but fun to drive, excellent fuel economy!

Not much for looks, but the A3 is fun to drive and offers excellent fuel economy!

            Boxy, compact and easy on fuel … yawn, that sounds like your typical econobox, but for one key trait, the Audi A3 handles like a sports sedan.

That’s what it is, an entry-level sports sedan somewhat along the lines of a small BMW, just not a BMW. Handling is excellent and as good as, or better than, any other small sports sedan in the $32 grand neighborhood, except a BMW.

Yet that’s OK, because it costs less and the red test model also had another big plus that a BMW won’t, a mostly entertaining clean diesel engine.

Mine was the TDI, which translates to a 2.0-liter turbo diesel that starts at $32,600, and adds an $895 delivery charge. But equipped, as this one was, with the Premium Plus package, you tack on $2,550. With a $2,600 Audi MMi navigation package the test car settled at $38,645.

Still, that’s reasonable for a sporty car that gets 31 mpg city and 43 mpg highway, according to the EPA. As impressive as that sounds, I managed an amazing 46.3 mpg in a round-trip jaunt to Indianapolis. In one nearly straight (hey, it was Indiana) highway stint I got 50 mpg on the button. The one-way diesel bill was $16 and change. When full the car boasts a 600-mile range.

Forget any thoughts of the diesel stinking or smoking more than Don Draper. Those days are gone. Read more

3
Jun

Die-cast: Auto World 1967 Chevrolet Impala SS

Auto World delivers unique 1967 Chevy Impala SSAMM1027_67Impala_1stPrepro-1

You can’t get any rarer than a one and only model, a one and done.

In this case, Auto World has reproduced what experts say is the ONLY 1967 Chevrolet impala SS with a 427 cu.in. L-72 V8 under the hood as original equipment.

The rare, make that one-of-a-kind, Impala hardtop is owned by Bill Wickman and graced the September 2012 cover of Hemmings Muscle Machines magazine. Now it’s a 1:18 knockout from Auto World. Here’s the scoop!

The History

In 2011 the Muscle Car And Corvette Nationals scored this unusual Impala at 992 of a perfect 1,000 points, which led to the gorgeous emerald turquoise SS ending up on the Muscle Machines cover.

AMM1027_67Impala_1stPrepro-14Experts at the show say there’s no record of any 1967 SS models being equipped with the mighty 427 V8 that created a whopping 425 horsepower. The big block Chevy engine was introduced in 1966 and the L71 version used in Corvettes. Read more

30
May

2015 Nissan Rogue SV AWD

Rogue grows to happy medium in SUV/crossover marketrogue

Nissan restyled its entry-level crossover, the Rogue, last year to give it a less trucky appearance and smooth its ride along with its appearance.

It works and offers a little more interior room and overall length than most small SUVs, like Toyota’s RAV4 and Ford’s Escape. Rogue feels a little bigger, hitting a happy medium between small and compact crossovers.

The test unit was a metallic red SV, the mid-level Rogue, with AWD. Base price is a reasonable $25,840, so with an $860 delivery fee comes in at $26,700, well below the median price of a new vehicle, now $31 grand plus. The tester added a premium package for $1,590 and a few smaller options to set the bar at $28,660, a high value crossover to be sure.

Handling was good with a fairly substantial feel to the wheel, but quick steering for a crossover. And the Rogue stays well planted even in tight turns and on damp pavement thanks to its AWD system.

The Nissan’s ride is compliant too, not as truck-like or sharp on bumps as some smaller utes and crossovers. Potholes and railroad tracks are minor annoyances, not major events. Read more

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

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