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2014 Ford Fusion Energi SE

Plug-in hybrid Fusion Energi touts impressive fuel economyIMG_0862

Ford’s midsize sedan, Fusion, has been well received both because of its high-end somewhat sporty looks and its driving characteristics. Fusion may prove to be Ford’s biggest hit since the Taurus was new.

Fusion melds, or should we say, fuses the looks of an Aston Martin or Jaguar’s upscale sporty nose with the tail and profile of a sleek Mazda6 to create a good-looking family sedan that can make any suburbanite proud of his or her nod to trendy car fashions. Gone is the look-alike (nose at least) mid-size sedan.

Add in that Ford has gone all in on hybrids, including this hot “sunset” (metallic deep orange) Fusion Energi SE, and you’ve got a trendy family hauler. It’s economical to drive, if not to buy. While a gasoline-only powered Fusion can be had in the mid-$20,000 price range, the Energi, a plug-in hybrid, starts at $35 grand and change. The tested SE lists at $38,700. Add in a $795 delivery charge and just two options and the test car hit $40,585.

I’ll make this point just once. You don’t buy a hybrid to save money, but to help the environment.

Sure, you’ll save each week on fillups. I got 45.2 mpg and shelled out just a bit more than $20 for 300+ miles of driving in a week. EPA estimates put the car at 43 mpg in all gasoline-powered mode and 88 when combining gas and electric, with a full plug-in charge at night. I didn’t plug in each night, but got about 20 miles of electrical charge for each plug in and registered 111 mpg in a day with the charge and driving about 10 miles beyond it. While the car is charged it shows you getting 999.9 mpg. Cool, while it lasts!

Like the Ford C-Max Energi I drove about a year ago, this one is easy to charge. Unload the special charging cable from the trunk, plug it into a regular 120-volt electrical outlet in a garage and then the cable’s pistol grip into the round outlet on the driver’s side front fender. A little cap rotates, after a tap, to reveal the outlet. About 7-8 hours later you have the 20-mile charge. Using a 220-volt outlet (like your dryer would use) will charge the vehicle in just a couple hours, Ford says.

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2014 MINI Cooper S Hardtop

New MINI Hardtop maximizes motoring fun

 MINI has a deceptively simple message for its potential buyers, Let’s Motor!IMG_0864

Yet it delivers exactly that, simple motoring fun.

A new, larger MINI was reintroduced in 2002 by BMW, the former Mini was a British make. Now, a dozen model years later, its third and again larger (about 5 inches nose to tail) iteration, continues to be a cute boxy hardtop that is a blast to drive. This is especially true of the tested Volcanic Orange S version with a new 2.0-liter twin-turbo 4-cylinder engine.

That smooth running BMW-designed powerplant belts out 189 horsepower and features a torque rating of 207. It kicks you in the seat of the pants, especially when the car is set to Sport mode. The S model offers three driving settings, Eco that reduces power and saves fuel (MINI-malizing they call it), Mid (perfectly fine for nearly all driving) and Sport (booster rocket power).

You simply turn a ring on the base of the shift lever housing and once it hits Sport you know it. Power is instantaneous. The MINI zips forward like a race horse set free from a starting gate. Sport also firms up the suspension, which might be needed on the race track, but only further intensifies the rump thumping you already get in the MINI on the street. Despite the 2014 model’s wheelbase growing 1.1 inches, the ride is no smoother and the shock damping feels almost non-existent in the Sport setting.

IMG_0866The Mid setting eases shock stiffness some, as it does the horsepower and torque. But MINI still hustles away from stoplights quickly and power is near instant with the twin-turbo booster set at the Mid, default, level. Go Eco and you’ll feel the car ease away from a stop, but power is substantially reduced. This may work well in jammed city driving where you just crawl from stoplight to stoplight.

Handling is go-kart like responsive all the time, but extraordinarily quick in Sport mode. That’s what makes MINI so much fun, especially around town. You can flick the car into a tight curve or corner and zip out the other side like you’re an F1 racer on a quick practice lap. Steering is immediate and easy.

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Die-cast: CMC 1938 Alfa 8C 2900B Speciale Touring Coupe

Art Deco Alfa Romeo 8C delivers museum-quality look, details 

Everything opens and everything is replicated in great detail on the CMC model.

Everything opens and everything is replicated in great detail on the CMC model.

The automotive Art Deco era, where sleek streamlined profiles and styling flare were at their peak left us an astounding number of quirky, yet beautiful cars.

European makers were at the forefront of such styling in the 1930s with the likes of Bugatti, Delahey and Alfa Romeo wowing the wealthy aristocracy of the day. One such beauty was the Alfa Romeo 8C, a sports coupe that seemed hell bent on performance.

Now CMC brings its prestigious moniker and die-cast model skills to the Alfa 8C 2900B Speciale Touring Coupe. It’s a recipe for a deliciously lavish 1:18 scale model.

History:

Vittorio Jano was famous for his engines at Alfa Romeo before Enzo Ferarri lured him away to help create powerplants for the red racers that made Ferraris into an icon. But in the 1920s Jano created his first straight-eight cylinder engine for Alfa Romeo and then the P3 single-seater that was a constant winner in Formula 1 during the 1930s.

alfa1Yet in the 1930s racing was only a part of the Alfa story. The Italian car maker was cranking out beautiful road cars too, their bodies being built by the finest coachbuilders of the day and featuring radical sweeping designs. The 2900B Special Touring Coupe is but one.

The 2900 was designed first and foremost to compete in the Mille Miglia, the most important road race in Italy, winning in 1936 and ’37. In all Alfa won four Mille Miglia. But by the end of the decade the 2900 was also a fine coupe and roadster with a sexy body created by couch builder Carrozzeria Touring.

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2014 Infiniti QX60 Hybrid AWD

Infiniti QX60 heavy on luxury, comfort, but will haul 7 passengersIMG_0912 - Copy - Copy

Like its sister crossover, the Nissan Pathfinder, the upscale Infiniti QX60 is a roomy family hauler that’s easy on the derriere, quiet and comfortable and can, if needed, haul seven passengers due to its third row seat.

A couple years ago the Pathfinder switched from being a rough and tumble sport-utility truck to a crossover based on the Nissan Altima sedan platform. It, like the Infiniti, still offers all-wheel drive, but the upshot is the ride is much improved and the likelihood of you ever taking it into the brush always has been pretty slim.

The tested diamond slate (metallic dark gray) QX60 was a hybrid too, and came with AWD, so at least we know it’ll handle Wisconsin’s snow and slush just fine. The hybrid part means it costs a bit more, but should save you a few MPG overall. More on that later.

The QX comes in four models, the base QX, the QX50, QX60 and QX70, all of which designates the luxury level and accessories that come standard. The test vehicle started at $46,500, but was immersed in options so climbed to a lofty $60,780, including $995 delivery. That total is roughly double last week’s Dodge Journey crossover, also with AWD.

IMG_0914 - Copy - CopyNo denying this is a more luxurious crossover in look and feel. It features chrome around the windows and a snazzy little S accent shape on the back side window to give the QX a styling flair in profile. The nose comes to a slight beak like point up front too. I like its look, at least as well as any large crossover.

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2014 Dodge Journey Crossroad AWD

New Journey Crossroad improves the breed

All credit goes to Chrysler and its Italian parent, Fiat, for constantly improving the handsome Journey mid-size crossover.dodge1

My first couple drives in the Journey left me wanting, the last one four years ago was a step up and now this latest tester, a bright pearl red Journey Crossroad with all-wheel-drive, was a leap forward.

Outwardly you’d think this is pretty much the same vehicle as a few years back with some exterior tweaks. But many of my previous complaints are gone. That’s not to say Journey is perfect, but heck, what $32 grand vehicle is?

Let’s start with the overall drive quality. That always has been pretty good, the big upside here being a comfortable ride, quiet interior and reasonable power along with light easy handling. This model also has all-wheel-drive, so should perform well in winter, a decided plus in Wisconsin.

Journey is easy to drive, its six-speed automatic shifting smoothly and its 3.6-liter V6 with variable valve timing providing ample power. The V6 is rated at 283 horses and if you tromp the gas pedal it’ll get up and go, but there is a noticeable lag in acceleration at the start. I noticed it most when cruising between Milwaukee and Indianapolis on a weekend jaunt. Press the gas pedal as you ease into the passing lane and then wait for the acceleration to pick up. Yes, you can pound the gas pedal, but that creates a less than appealing ride for passengers. So plan ahead, as you might with a vehicle packing a turbocharged engine.

dodge3Handling is light and Journey is easy to park in a tight spot. Braking is fine with four-wheel discs plus stability and traction control. Journey rides on 19-inch tires.

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2014 Range Rover Supercharged (LWB)

LR1Big Rover a tough powerful beast, and pricey too

Land Rover has pounded out rough-terrain handling trucks for years. Think of safaris and you think of Land Rovers, usually with a tire mounted on the hood and a rhino charging after it.

Today’s Land Rovers and Range Rovers are just as capable in the bush, but civilized enough to lug the queen around her estate, if need be. The tested Aintree (a town in England) Green Range Rover Supercharged LWB (long-wheelbase) is exceedingly long on the luxury, while still designed to dominate any terrain you throw at it, mud, slush, rocks and streams.

You might be surprised to find out that the tested Rover’s starting price is $105,300, plus an $895 delivery fee, which compared to the base price seems a bargain. Amazingly at six digits the Rover did not come with any running boards or power step-up and nary a third-row seat. Yet there were options that pushed this luxury land yacht to $122,900.

What’s an option once you hit $106 grand or so? Many apparently.

The lovely test ute added a vision assist pack that included a surround-view camera that allows you to view the truck’s perimeter. Cool! It also included automatic high-beam headlights and adaptive Xenon lights, plus a blind spot monitor with a closing vehicle sensing & reverse traffic detection system. That alerts you if you’re about to ram a stopped or suddenly slowed vehicle and also see out the back. Many luxury cars and trucks now have similar systems. The package also featured configurable mood lighting (Shagadelic baby!) and a leather steering wheel (again, something most $30 grand vehicles have, or offer). Price tag? A modest $1,760.

But there was so much more.

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Die-cast: TSM 1973 Tyrrell 006 (Jackie Stewart)

tyrrell1TSM’s Jackie Stewart-driven 1973 Tyrrell 006 a winner

Picture a blue open wheel racer with Elf sponsorship and you likely think of Jackie Stewart in a Tyrrell F1 car circa the early 1970s.

No wonder then that TSM Models created that car, the Tyrrell 006 in 1:18 scale to tempt Formula 1 and open wheel racing fans. This was the car that Stewart wheeled to his third and final F1 World Championship in 1973. Stewart won 6 F1 races in his final season and 27 overall, a record at the time he retired to become a TV commentator, author and business spokesperson.

Everyone knows Jackie Stewart and race fans of a certain age loved the look of the 1970s F1 racers, back when ground effects were new and took varying shapes. Here the front and rear wings are large, but look planned. In the late 1960s and early ‘70s the wings often looked odd or like they were thrown on just before the race to see IF they would help.

The giant air scoop right behind the driver’s head also gives the Tyrrell 006 a unique, futuristic look.

The Model:

TSM’s Tyrrell is the car Stewart drove to victory in the 1973 Belgian Grand Prix, the No. 5 with just the Elf, Ford, Motorcraft (a Ford auto parts brand) and Goodyear sponsorship decals, plus the Team Tyrrell logo. At that, the car is beautiful in its simplicity, even though its shape is interesting, to say the least.

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Die-cast: Automodello 1971 Lincoln Continental Mark III

linc2

What says Continental more than the fake tire sculpted into the trunk lid?

Resin Continental Mark III a rare offering

Rarity plays a big role in full-size vintage auto prices.

This is true too for diecast models, which is what makes Automodello’s new 1:24 Lincoln Continental Mark III a hit, even at its strong $299 asking price. This is a car for baby boomers who favor the classics over muscle cars. (I know that’s heresy.)

This is rare in that I’ve never seen a 1971 Lincoln Continental Mark III in cast resin and in 1:24 scale. On that front Automodello has created a stunningly accurate and beautiful body with crisp accent and trim lines that reflect the Continental’s long, lean elegance.

The History:

The Mark III was a Lee Iacocca idea that legend has it came from his desire to see a Thunderbird of the day equipped with a big Rolls Royce grille. That pretty well sums up the Mark III’s appearance.

linc

The giant grille is reminiscent of that used by Rolls Royce.

But it was 300 lbs. heavier than the T-bird, yet packed 365 horsepower coming from a new 460 cu.in. V8. That engine was created to help Lincoln challenge Cadillac’s Eldorado, along with the likes of Oldsmobile’s Toronado and Buick’s Riviera.

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2014 Mazda MX-5 Miata Club

Miata still sets a high bar for sports car marketmiata

When it ain’t broke, don’t fix it! Mazda’s designers and brain trust have shown great wisdom to follow that axiom with the Miata sports car.

For 25 years now the MX-5 Miata has made its mark by NOT changing much. There have been tiny body styling tweaks and interior tucks and thankfully the horsepower grew from 116 originally to 167 today. But Miata has remained true to its original design and purpose, being a lightweight, superb handling sports car with enough pep to put a perpetual smile on a driver’s face.

Soon Mazda will unveil a new Miata, and we’ll hope the designers still don’t break what isn’t broken. But for now we can relish in the fun and modest price tag the current model embodies.

Two years have passed since I last drove a Miata and reading back over that review I couldn’t find anything I’d disagree with from the most current drive. Here’s my latest synopsis.

miata1The “true red” test car was the mid-level Club model with a black power hardtop. That means it’s a convertible, but the hardtop keeps it quieter inside than the standard cloth top. Naturally you pay more, but Miata is still a value-minded roadster. The base Sport model with soft top lists at $24,515 with delivery and the tested Club with hardtop was $29,460, with delivery. Moving up to the Grand Touring hardtop pushes the sticker to $31,345.

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2014 Toyota Highlander Ltd. Platinum hybrid

New Highlander may threaten Lexus it’s so luxurioustoyo2

Toyota better be careful. It might be cutting into its Lexus sales with its latest Highlander.

Who needs a Lexus when Toyota’s Highlander is so darned luxurious?

First, the styling is sharp for a sport-ute. Everything from the hood creasing to the elongated swept-back lights to the profile make the Highlander look like it’s in motion, even as it sits, all 4,861 lbs. of it, in the driveway. Mine was a handsome silver model, the top-level Limited Platinum version with hybrid power system and all-wheel drive.

Price of admission? $51,761 as delivered, with a base price of $49,790 and an $860 delivery fee, plus a few options. A Lexus will cost you more.

Yet Highlander is pretty much state of the art luxury as it arrives in Limited Platinum trim.

Seats are leather and powered, with both front and second row seats heated. Front seats are cooled too, with three settings, and the thick leather steering wheel is heated to take winter’s chill away quickly. There’s a power rear hatch (more about that later), and a power panoramic sunroof and shade.

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Die-cast: Automodello Mustang I

Automodello cranks out a rare Mustang I in 1:24th

OK, I get it, not all you plastic modelers are diecast nuts like me. But how about a resin Mustang I Concept car, and in 1:24 scale no less.Mustang1

That’s what the folks over at Automodello have cranked out for you, and only a limited number will be made – 499 to be exact. There’s also a limited run 1:43 model too. But let’s get to the history and the model here.

The History:

Sports and sporty cars had been the rage throughout the 1950s among the racing set. Chevrolet had responded with its Corvette and Ford went a bit more luxury touring oriented with its Thunderbird.

Next up was Chevrolet’s lower cost sports coupe, the Corvair, with its rear-mounted engine. Ford needed an answer.

So in 1962 Ford tried something different, an open 2-seater that was quick and light and independently sprung at all four wheels. Ford’s new baby was the Mustang I, a concept that noted Formula 1 racer Dan Gurney showed off during an F1 race weekend at Watkins Glen (N.Y.) in October of 1962, setting times that were nearly competitive with the open-wheeled racers running in that weekend’s F1 race.

The white hand-hammered aluminum bodied concept car was petite, with a 90-inch wheelbase, an 89-horse V4 and tipping the scales at just 1,148 lbs. and with a top speed of 100 mph. Folks at the Watkins Glen race weekend were eager to get their hands on the car. But in its concept design, the Mustang was not to be. However, two years later the iconic Mustang sports coupe would debut, also in New York, this time at the World’s Fair.

The historic Mustang I Concept got the ball rolling and lent its name to what would become Ford’s iconic pony car. Now Automodello out of Buffalo Grove, Ill., releases a sharp 1:24 re-creation, along with a 1:43 scale model, both in finely detailed resin. The company says just 499 will be made in the larger scale, while 150 Tribute Editions are planned. Those will all be signed by Gurney, its first on-track driver, and cost $150 more. We reviewed the standard 1:24 version.

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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 (see my interview with the lead engineer done at the Chicago Auto Show) 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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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: 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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Recent Articles

13
Sep

2014 Ford Fusion Energi SE

Plug-in hybrid Fusion Energi touts impressive fuel economyIMG_0862

Ford’s midsize sedan, Fusion, has been well received both because of its high-end somewhat sporty looks and its driving characteristics. Fusion may prove to be Ford’s biggest hit since the Taurus was new.

Fusion melds, or should we say, fuses the looks of an Aston Martin or Jaguar’s upscale sporty nose with the tail and profile of a sleek Mazda6 to create a good-looking family sedan that can make any suburbanite proud of his or her nod to trendy car fashions. Gone is the look-alike (nose at least) mid-size sedan.

Add in that Ford has gone all in on hybrids, including this hot “sunset” (metallic deep orange) Fusion Energi SE, and you’ve got a trendy family hauler. It’s economical to drive, if not to buy. While a gasoline-only powered Fusion can be had in the mid-$20,000 price range, the Energi, a plug-in hybrid, starts at $35 grand and change. The tested SE lists at $38,700. Add in a $795 delivery charge and just two options and the test car hit $40,585.

I’ll make this point just once. You don’t buy a hybrid to save money, but to help the environment.

Sure, you’ll save each week on fillups. I got 45.2 mpg and shelled out just a bit more than $20 for 300+ miles of driving in a week. EPA estimates put the car at 43 mpg in all gasoline-powered mode and 88 when combining gas and electric, with a full plug-in charge at night. I didn’t plug in each night, but got about 20 miles of electrical charge for each plug in and registered 111 mpg in a day with the charge and driving about 10 miles beyond it. While the car is charged it shows you getting 999.9 mpg. Cool, while it lasts!

Like the Ford C-Max Energi I drove about a year ago, this one is easy to charge. Unload the special charging cable from the trunk, plug it into a regular 120-volt electrical outlet in a garage and then the cable’s pistol grip into the round outlet on the driver’s side front fender. A little cap rotates, after a tap, to reveal the outlet. About 7-8 hours later you have the 20-mile charge. Using a 220-volt outlet (like your dryer would use) will charge the vehicle in just a couple hours, Ford says. Read more

12
Sep

2014 MINI Cooper S Hardtop

New MINI Hardtop maximizes motoring fun

 MINI has a deceptively simple message for its potential buyers, Let’s Motor!IMG_0864

Yet it delivers exactly that, simple motoring fun.

A new, larger MINI was reintroduced in 2002 by BMW, the former Mini was a British make. Now, a dozen model years later, its third and again larger (about 5 inches nose to tail) iteration, continues to be a cute boxy hardtop that is a blast to drive. This is especially true of the tested Volcanic Orange S version with a new 2.0-liter twin-turbo 4-cylinder engine.

That smooth running BMW-designed powerplant belts out 189 horsepower and features a torque rating of 207. It kicks you in the seat of the pants, especially when the car is set to Sport mode. The S model offers three driving settings, Eco that reduces power and saves fuel (MINI-malizing they call it), Mid (perfectly fine for nearly all driving) and Sport (booster rocket power).

You simply turn a ring on the base of the shift lever housing and once it hits Sport you know it. Power is instantaneous. The MINI zips forward like a race horse set free from a starting gate. Sport also firms up the suspension, which might be needed on the race track, but only further intensifies the rump thumping you already get in the MINI on the street. Despite the 2014 model’s wheelbase growing 1.1 inches, the ride is no smoother and the shock damping feels almost non-existent in the Sport setting.

IMG_0866The Mid setting eases shock stiffness some, as it does the horsepower and torque. But MINI still hustles away from stoplights quickly and power is near instant with the twin-turbo booster set at the Mid, default, level. Go Eco and you’ll feel the car ease away from a stop, but power is substantially reduced. This may work well in jammed city driving where you just crawl from stoplight to stoplight.

Handling is go-kart like responsive all the time, but extraordinarily quick in Sport mode. That’s what makes MINI so much fun, especially around town. You can flick the car into a tight curve or corner and zip out the other side like you’re an F1 racer on a quick practice lap. Steering is immediate and easy. Read more

10
Sep

Die-cast: CMC 1938 Alfa 8C 2900B Speciale Touring Coupe

Art Deco Alfa Romeo 8C delivers museum-quality look, details 

Everything opens and everything is replicated in great detail on the CMC model.

Everything opens and everything is replicated in great detail on the CMC model.

The automotive Art Deco era, where sleek streamlined profiles and styling flare were at their peak left us an astounding number of quirky, yet beautiful cars.

European makers were at the forefront of such styling in the 1930s with the likes of Bugatti, Delahey and Alfa Romeo wowing the wealthy aristocracy of the day. One such beauty was the Alfa Romeo 8C, a sports coupe that seemed hell bent on performance.

Now CMC brings its prestigious moniker and die-cast model skills to the Alfa 8C 2900B Speciale Touring Coupe. It’s a recipe for a deliciously lavish 1:18 scale model.

History:

Vittorio Jano was famous for his engines at Alfa Romeo before Enzo Ferarri lured him away to help create powerplants for the red racers that made Ferraris into an icon. But in the 1920s Jano created his first straight-eight cylinder engine for Alfa Romeo and then the P3 single-seater that was a constant winner in Formula 1 during the 1930s.

alfa1Yet in the 1930s racing was only a part of the Alfa story. The Italian car maker was cranking out beautiful road cars too, their bodies being built by the finest coachbuilders of the day and featuring radical sweeping designs. The 2900B Special Touring Coupe is but one.

The 2900 was designed first and foremost to compete in the Mille Miglia, the most important road race in Italy, winning in 1936 and ’37. In all Alfa won four Mille Miglia. But by the end of the decade the 2900 was also a fine coupe and roadster with a sexy body created by couch builder Carrozzeria Touring. Read more

8
Sep

2014 Infiniti QX60 Hybrid AWD

Infiniti QX60 heavy on luxury, comfort, but will haul 7 passengersIMG_0912 - Copy - Copy

Like its sister crossover, the Nissan Pathfinder, the upscale Infiniti QX60 is a roomy family hauler that’s easy on the derriere, quiet and comfortable and can, if needed, haul seven passengers due to its third row seat.

A couple years ago the Pathfinder switched from being a rough and tumble sport-utility truck to a crossover based on the Nissan Altima sedan platform. It, like the Infiniti, still offers all-wheel drive, but the upshot is the ride is much improved and the likelihood of you ever taking it into the brush always has been pretty slim.

The tested diamond slate (metallic dark gray) QX60 was a hybrid too, and came with AWD, so at least we know it’ll handle Wisconsin’s snow and slush just fine. The hybrid part means it costs a bit more, but should save you a few MPG overall. More on that later.

The QX comes in four models, the base QX, the QX50, QX60 and QX70, all of which designates the luxury level and accessories that come standard. The test vehicle started at $46,500, but was immersed in options so climbed to a lofty $60,780, including $995 delivery. That total is roughly double last week’s Dodge Journey crossover, also with AWD.

IMG_0914 - Copy - CopyNo denying this is a more luxurious crossover in look and feel. It features chrome around the windows and a snazzy little S accent shape on the back side window to give the QX a styling flair in profile. The nose comes to a slight beak like point up front too. I like its look, at least as well as any large crossover. Read more

3
Sep

2014 Dodge Journey Crossroad AWD

New Journey Crossroad improves the breed

All credit goes to Chrysler and its Italian parent, Fiat, for constantly improving the handsome Journey mid-size crossover.dodge1

My first couple drives in the Journey left me wanting, the last one four years ago was a step up and now this latest tester, a bright pearl red Journey Crossroad with all-wheel-drive, was a leap forward.

Outwardly you’d think this is pretty much the same vehicle as a few years back with some exterior tweaks. But many of my previous complaints are gone. That’s not to say Journey is perfect, but heck, what $32 grand vehicle is?

Let’s start with the overall drive quality. That always has been pretty good, the big upside here being a comfortable ride, quiet interior and reasonable power along with light easy handling. This model also has all-wheel-drive, so should perform well in winter, a decided plus in Wisconsin.

Journey is easy to drive, its six-speed automatic shifting smoothly and its 3.6-liter V6 with variable valve timing providing ample power. The V6 is rated at 283 horses and if you tromp the gas pedal it’ll get up and go, but there is a noticeable lag in acceleration at the start. I noticed it most when cruising between Milwaukee and Indianapolis on a weekend jaunt. Press the gas pedal as you ease into the passing lane and then wait for the acceleration to pick up. Yes, you can pound the gas pedal, but that creates a less than appealing ride for passengers. So plan ahead, as you might with a vehicle packing a turbocharged engine.

dodge3Handling is light and Journey is easy to park in a tight spot. Braking is fine with four-wheel discs plus stability and traction control. Journey rides on 19-inch tires. Read more

29
Aug

2014 Range Rover Supercharged (LWB)

LR1Big Rover a tough powerful beast, and pricey too

Land Rover has pounded out rough-terrain handling trucks for years. Think of safaris and you think of Land Rovers, usually with a tire mounted on the hood and a rhino charging after it.

Today’s Land Rovers and Range Rovers are just as capable in the bush, but civilized enough to lug the queen around her estate, if need be. The tested Aintree (a town in England) Green Range Rover Supercharged LWB (long-wheelbase) is exceedingly long on the luxury, while still designed to dominate any terrain you throw at it, mud, slush, rocks and streams.

You might be surprised to find out that the tested Rover’s starting price is $105,300, plus an $895 delivery fee, which compared to the base price seems a bargain. Amazingly at six digits the Rover did not come with any running boards or power step-up and nary a third-row seat. Yet there were options that pushed this luxury land yacht to $122,900.

What’s an option once you hit $106 grand or so? Many apparently.

The lovely test ute added a vision assist pack that included a surround-view camera that allows you to view the truck’s perimeter. Cool! It also included automatic high-beam headlights and adaptive Xenon lights, plus a blind spot monitor with a closing vehicle sensing & reverse traffic detection system. That alerts you if you’re about to ram a stopped or suddenly slowed vehicle and also see out the back. Many luxury cars and trucks now have similar systems. The package also featured configurable mood lighting (Shagadelic baby!) and a leather steering wheel (again, something most $30 grand vehicles have, or offer). Price tag? A modest $1,760.

But there was so much more. Read more

26
Aug

Die-cast: TSM 1973 Tyrrell 006 (Jackie Stewart)

tyrrell1TSM’s Jackie Stewart-driven 1973 Tyrrell 006 a winner

Picture a blue open wheel racer with Elf sponsorship and you likely think of Jackie Stewart in a Tyrrell F1 car circa the early 1970s.

No wonder then that TSM Models created that car, the Tyrrell 006 in 1:18 scale to tempt Formula 1 and open wheel racing fans. This was the car that Stewart wheeled to his third and final F1 World Championship in 1973. Stewart won 6 F1 races in his final season and 27 overall, a record at the time he retired to become a TV commentator, author and business spokesperson.

Everyone knows Jackie Stewart and race fans of a certain age loved the look of the 1970s F1 racers, back when ground effects were new and took varying shapes. Here the front and rear wings are large, but look planned. In the late 1960s and early ‘70s the wings often looked odd or like they were thrown on just before the race to see IF they would help.

The giant air scoop right behind the driver’s head also gives the Tyrrell 006 a unique, futuristic look.

The Model:

TSM’s Tyrrell is the car Stewart drove to victory in the 1973 Belgian Grand Prix, the No. 5 with just the Elf, Ford, Motorcraft (a Ford auto parts brand) and Goodyear sponsorship decals, plus the Team Tyrrell logo. At that, the car is beautiful in its simplicity, even though its shape is interesting, to say the least. Read more

19
Aug

Braking News: A shocker at Pebble Beach

It’s  ranked as The pinnacle of classic car collecting, Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance

Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance, rare cars, 1954 ferrari, 1954 Ferrari 375 MM Scagliett

Yahoo Auto

This past weekend the winner, well, wasn’t exactly as most expected. Read on.

16
Aug

Die-cast: Automodello 1971 Lincoln Continental Mark III

linc2

What says Continental more than the fake tire sculpted into the trunk lid?

Resin Continental Mark III a rare offering

Rarity plays a big role in full-size vintage auto prices.

This is true too for diecast models, which is what makes Automodello’s new 1:24 Lincoln Continental Mark III a hit, even at its strong $299 asking price. This is a car for baby boomers who favor the classics over muscle cars. (I know that’s heresy.)

This is rare in that I’ve never seen a 1971 Lincoln Continental Mark III in cast resin and in 1:24 scale. On that front Automodello has created a stunningly accurate and beautiful body with crisp accent and trim lines that reflect the Continental’s long, lean elegance.

The History:

The Mark III was a Lee Iacocca idea that legend has it came from his desire to see a Thunderbird of the day equipped with a big Rolls Royce grille. That pretty well sums up the Mark III’s appearance.

linc

The giant grille is reminiscent of that used by Rolls Royce.

But it was 300 lbs. heavier than the T-bird, yet packed 365 horsepower coming from a new 460 cu.in. V8. That engine was created to help Lincoln challenge Cadillac’s Eldorado, along with the likes of Oldsmobile’s Toronado and Buick’s Riviera. Read more

16
Aug

2014 Cadillac CTS Vsport

 

CTS Vsport kicks butt on the sport luxury sedan frontcady1

Cadillac is beyond just being back, it’s now about kickin’ butt and takin’ numbers.

First, unlike most sporty luxury brands, Cadillacs now exude style. The new CTS is the beauty queen of luxury sport sedans leaving others only to compete for Miss Congeniality.

CTS’s well chiseled profile with long, wide hood and big mouthy grille give it some panache. But those vertical taillights that carry over from previous models, some dating back to the 1960s, plus the big headlights that extend back into the slender fenders give it an athletic presence – think pro athlete in a fitted Ralph Lauren suit.

Beyond the edgy styling that catches a potential buyer’s eye, Cadillac continues to deliver performance and luxury in equal doses.

cady2The tested CTS Vsport, the top-level model, now boasts a 420-horse twin-turbo V6. The 3.6-liter unit earns a torque rating of 430 that reportedly pushes the rear-drive sedan to 60 mph in 4.6 seconds. Power is readily available and smoothly delivered with Caddy’s first 8-speed automatic, which offers a manual mode and steering wheel mounted paddle shifters.

Ride is comfortable too with GM’s magnetic ride control and a performance suspension that provides a firm, well-controlled ride. Plus CTS offers four driving modes, selected via a switch on the console between the front seats. Touring is for everyday driving and smoothes the ride while offering responsive steering. This would do for most of us 90-95% of the time. Read more »

13
Aug

2014 Mazda MX-5 Miata Club

Miata still sets a high bar for sports car marketmiata

When it ain’t broke, don’t fix it! Mazda’s designers and brain trust have shown great wisdom to follow that axiom with the Miata sports car.

For 25 years now the MX-5 Miata has made its mark by NOT changing much. There have been tiny body styling tweaks and interior tucks and thankfully the horsepower grew from 116 originally to 167 today. But Miata has remained true to its original design and purpose, being a lightweight, superb handling sports car with enough pep to put a perpetual smile on a driver’s face.

Soon Mazda will unveil a new Miata, and we’ll hope the designers still don’t break what isn’t broken. But for now we can relish in the fun and modest price tag the current model embodies.

Two years have passed since I last drove a Miata and reading back over that review I couldn’t find anything I’d disagree with from the most current drive. Here’s my latest synopsis.

miata1The “true red” test car was the mid-level Club model with a black power hardtop. That means it’s a convertible, but the hardtop keeps it quieter inside than the standard cloth top. Naturally you pay more, but Miata is still a value-minded roadster. The base Sport model with soft top lists at $24,515 with delivery and the tested Club with hardtop was $29,460, with delivery. Moving up to the Grand Touring hardtop pushes the sticker to $31,345. Read more

11
Aug

2014 Toyota Highlander Ltd. Platinum hybrid

New Highlander may threaten Lexus it’s so luxurioustoyo2

Toyota better be careful. It might be cutting into its Lexus sales with its latest Highlander.

Who needs a Lexus when Toyota’s Highlander is so darned luxurious?

First, the styling is sharp for a sport-ute. Everything from the hood creasing to the elongated swept-back lights to the profile make the Highlander look like it’s in motion, even as it sits, all 4,861 lbs. of it, in the driveway. Mine was a handsome silver model, the top-level Limited Platinum version with hybrid power system and all-wheel drive.

Price of admission? $51,761 as delivered, with a base price of $49,790 and an $860 delivery fee, plus a few options. A Lexus will cost you more.

Yet Highlander is pretty much state of the art luxury as it arrives in Limited Platinum trim.

Seats are leather and powered, with both front and second row seats heated. Front seats are cooled too, with three settings, and the thick leather steering wheel is heated to take winter’s chill away quickly. There’s a power rear hatch (more about that later), and a power panoramic sunroof and shade. Read more

4
Aug

Die-cast: Autoart 1991 BMW M3 DTM

Autoart decks out racy BMW M3 in Tic Tac liverybmw3

BMWs are racers at heart and BMW’s M Series are the hopped up versions of already racy coupes and sedans that the Bavarian automaker squeezes out of its German factories.

Naturally, Germans love to put their BMWs, Audis, Mercedes and Volkswagens to the test on the racetrack. So in the 1980s they began testing their home-country metal on road courses as part of the Deutsche Touring Masters Championship, popularly known as DTM. Think of it as German NASCAR.

The History

Back in the late 1980s and early ‘90s BMW’s awesome M3 (first built in 1986) dominated the DTM series. The M3 was the souped up small coupe that sold well as the 3 Series in the U.S. market and was known as the E30 overseas. BMW sold hundreds of thousands of these, the original rear-drive 3 Series being made from 1982 to 1992.

That’s the timeframe Autoart focuses on with a variety of 1:18 diecast models, including the review car, a colorful green, white and gold Tic Tac-sponsored 1991 racer from Tauber Motorsports. That year the car was driven in many of the DTM’s 12-race season by Canadian Allen Berg, who had a varied racing career, including one year piloting a Formula 1 car.

bmw1Berg and the No. 43 Tic Tac M3 Sport Evolution machine did not have great success that season, the 9th for DTM, but the car looks like a winner and was popular because of its unusual sponsorship and paint scheme. An M3 won DTM championships in 1987 and ‘89 by beating the likes of worthy competitors like the Audi V8 Quattro, Ford Sierra and Mercedes 190E. Read more »

4
Aug

2014 Scion tC

Scion’s tC edges out some competitors with style, quickness … a fun drive

I know the street racers out there, and many of my media colleagues, will disagree, but I like the Scion tC sports coupe better than Scion’s base FR-S, for a couple reasons.scion

I think its styling is edgier and more fun, and despite it being a front-drive coupe compared with the rear-drive FR-S, it handles extremely well. Plus, with its easy shifting 6-speed manual and more than sufficient 2.5-liter VVT-I 4-cylinder engine, it’s quick and fun to drive.

Then there’s the base tC’s starting price of just $19,200, with a $795 delivery fee. That’s affordable, and my bright “absolutely red” test car managed 27 mpg in about 60% highway driving. Quite respectable! The EPA rates this t 23 mpg city and 31 mpg highway.

The tC is bare bones fun without a totally bare bones feel. It’s great for first-time buyers needing value and valuing style and fun behind the wheel. The coupe doesn’t feel cheap and looks spectacular. For 2014 the nose is restyled with a wide-mouth grille, more attractive lightning-bolt-shaped headlights with LED running lights and I like its flat roofline that gives it a distinctive profile compared with the plethora of round roof sports coupes.
You already know some of what I like, but the heart of my appreciation for the coupe starts with its performance.

Slip into the well-shaped sports seats and the car delivers a straightforward no nonsense dash, albeit a blah gray plastic trim that looks a little too value minded. But turn the key, yes it still has a key, and the test car fired up with a throaty roar that would make most drift car pilots envious. This is a big can that really stirs up the 4-cylinder’s exhaust tone. All that is due to a TRD (Toyota Racing Development) performance exhaust that costs $699 extra. You’ll love the sound, so if you can spare the cash, go for it. Read more »

1
Aug

Die-cast: Automodello Mustang I

Automodello cranks out a rare Mustang I in 1:24th

OK, I get it, not all you plastic modelers are diecast nuts like me. But how about a resin Mustang I Concept car, and in 1:24 scale no less.Mustang1

That’s what the folks over at Automodello have cranked out for you, and only a limited number will be made – 499 to be exact. There’s also a limited run 1:43 model too. But let’s get to the history and the model here.

The History:

Sports and sporty cars had been the rage throughout the 1950s among the racing set. Chevrolet had responded with its Corvette and Ford went a bit more luxury touring oriented with its Thunderbird.

Next up was Chevrolet’s lower cost sports coupe, the Corvair, with its rear-mounted engine. Ford needed an answer.

So in 1962 Ford tried something different, an open 2-seater that was quick and light and independently sprung at all four wheels. Ford’s new baby was the Mustang I, a concept that noted Formula 1 racer Dan Gurney showed off during an F1 race weekend at Watkins Glen (N.Y.) in October of 1962, setting times that were nearly competitive with the open-wheeled racers running in that weekend’s F1 race.

The white hand-hammered aluminum bodied concept car was petite, with a 90-inch wheelbase, an 89-horse V4 and tipping the scales at just 1,148 lbs. and with a top speed of 100 mph. Folks at the Watkins Glen race weekend were eager to get their hands on the car. But in its concept design, the Mustang was not to be. However, two years later the iconic Mustang sports coupe would debut, also in New York, this time at the World’s Fair.

The historic Mustang I Concept got the ball rolling and lent its name to what would become Ford’s iconic pony car. Now Automodello out of Buffalo Grove, Ill., releases a sharp 1:24 re-creation, along with a 1:43 scale model, both in finely detailed resin. The company says just 499 will be made in the larger scale, while 150 Tribute Editions are planned. Those will all be signed by Gurney, its first on-track driver, and cost $150 more. We reviewed the standard 1:24 version. Read more

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