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2017 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Ltd. Platinum

Highlander Hybrid excels at moving people, things …2017 Toyota Highlander Hybrid

A road trip to Louisville with a couple buddies, and plenty of cargo, proved Toyota’s Highlander Hybrid to be a perfect transport choice.

Ours was a medium metallic brown, what Toyota calls Toasted Walnut Pearl. Probably should have been pecan since we were headed to the South. But, color aside, this fine family mover will carry eight folks and their stuff, or in our case, three and luggage, boxes, a monster camera bag, etc.

Highlander is quiet, comfortable, roomy, nice looking and, being the hybrid model, got darned fine gas mileage for its heft. Even without three dudes and their gear it weighs 4,965 lbs.2017 Toyota Highlander Hybrid

There was plenty to like and really nothing to irritate a crabby old guy and his friends.

Start with power. There’s a bunch. Toyota puts a new 3.5-liter V6 under the hood, mated with its reliable hybrid power system. Combined these get 306 horsepower and operation is silky smooth. Creeping through Chicago traffic on the return trip, at about 5-20 mph, the Highlander hummed along on electric power. Once I needed to accelerate somewhere near Gurnee, Ill., its electronically controlled CVT (continuously variable transmission) eased right into it and off we went at 70+ mph. In fact, cruising through Indiana the Highlander is so quiet and comfy that we had no difficulty commenting on how far we could see in any direction.2017 Toyota Highlander Hybrid

Ride is super. Highlander rides on a 109.8-inch wheelbase and the independent front McPherson struts and rear double wishbone suspension eat up highway imperfections. Few vehicles feel this smooth on rough Midwestern roads.

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2017 Hyundai Elantra Limited

Hyundai Elantra, perceptions change a bit …2017 Hyundai Elantra

Perceptions can shift and auto writers often perceive differences in similar models they drive. This happened on a couple fronts with my latest drive of Hyundai’s attractive Elantra Limited, its near top-level compact.

I still like the car, its looks, its features, its gas mileage, its value. But compared with a 2016 drive of a quite similar model, well, I noticed differences.

First, the acceleration from Elantra’s somewhat new 2.0-liter I4 seems milder than in the previous test car although it’s the same engine. In the earlier car I pressed the Drive Mode button on the console and when Sport mode kicked in I felt decidedly different acceleration, more aggressive. This time there was a difference, but whether the algorithms were changed or what, acceleration was not as aggressive.

There’s an Eco mode too, but that’s unneeded as the car gets excellent gas mileage in Normal mode.2017 Hyundai Elantra

Second, there’s still modest road noise, although that seemed somewhat better on the tested bright Electric Blue Metallic test car this time. Funny, this time I test drove between Milwaukee and Indianapolis, so mostly highway driving where you’d think road noise would be more noticed.

Third, I’d found the earlier model’s seats supportive enough, but this time (possibly because I spent longer periods sitting) the black leather seats seemed harder and featured only modest hip support.

All that said, the Elantra remains an exceptional value. Consider this, the base SE model starts at $18,000, while the Sport model with more horsepower goes for $22,485 and the tested Limited lists at $22,350. All have an $835 delivery fee.

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2017 Volvo S60 T5 AWD Dynamic

Volvo S60 OK, but doesn’t distinguish itself …2017 Volvo S60

Volvo’s S60 is a fine, but underwhelming, compact, entry-level luxury car.

The S60 is nice looking and has all-wheel-drive, which will make it more useful to drivers in northern climes. It performs well, although its ride is rough, yet nothing really stands out.

Some will argue that its safety features stand out. That’s what Volvo, now owned by Geely, a Chinese firm, has hung its woolen winter cap on for years. Certainly the S60 T5 AWD Dynamic (quite a mouthful) that I tested had safety equipment, about what you’d expect on any car or crossover costing north of $40 grand.

For instance, there’s lane departure warning, adaptive cruise control, collision warning with automatic braking, pedestrian and cyclist detection also with auto braking, plus distance alert. All those are swell, but are not standard. They’re part of an optional $1,500 tech package. It also adds active high beams, rain-sensing wipers and the ability for the car to read road signs so you’ll always know what speed you should be going.

I’m not pooh-poohing these devices, but nearly all car makes have these now.2017 Volvo S60

The test car also added an optional $1,950 vision package too that added a blind-spot information system (BLIS), plus rear park assist, cross-traffic alert, rearview camera, and a few other features. Again, others have these systems too, some come standard on other luxury, and non-luxury, lines.

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Diecast: Automodello’s 1974 Bricklin SV1 Scottsdale Police

Automodello retools its Bricklin SV1, adds cop car markings …Automodello 1974 Bricklin SV1

Bricklins were unique in their day, the mid-1970s, but even more unusual were three white over blue Bricklins with sirens, a bubble gum strobe and other police gear. They were part of the Scottsdale, Ariz., police.

Malcolm Bricklin basically gave the Scottsdale police the three cars in a publicity move. His corporate offices were in Scottsdale so he leased the SPD the cars for $1 each. The move created cars that were unusual enough for Automodello to rework its fine Bricklin mold from a few years back to create the car in 1/43 scale, and with its gullwing doors closed this time.

The History

The SV1 was a sports car, think along the lines of a Toyota Supra or Nissan Z-car, but more than just a sexy body with good power. Bricklin designed the car with a frontal energy-absorbing crash zone and integrated roll cage. Reportedly the SV in its name stood for Safety Vehicle.Automodello 1974 Bricklin SV1

But Bricklin wanted his car to be both fast and safe, so he dropped in a 360-cubic-inch AMC V8 (one could argue that choice) that got 220 horsepower, a substantial amount for a two-seat sports car. While fast, the SPD rarely used them in pursuits, instead the cars ended up mainly as public-relations vehicles and cruisers. Those gullwing doors were hard for cops to get out of fast, so the police weren’t too thrilled to be using them for chasing speeders or other bad boys.

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2017 Ford Focus RS

Ford’s Focus RS is a scorching hot rod …2017 Ford Focus RS

Simply put, Ford’s Focus RS is a street-legal race car.

Not many of those out there, and most that are require you to sell your house in order to make a down payment on said speedster.

So here, for “just” $36,995, Ford will put a scorching hot rod, drifter, rally car in your driveway, enticing neighbors, especially young males, to drool. It’ll also increase your heart rate, something on the order of being a real race driver.

The backstory on the German-made RS is that it, or similar Foci, have been sold in Europe for years and U.S. lead-footers have been itching for it, begging for it, praying for it to hit our shores. Now it has. I don’t know how many will be sold, but the Subaru Impreza WRX now has serious competition. In fact, folks considering a Chevy Camaro, Ford Mustang or Dodge Challenger may want to consider saving some dough and going this route for serious performance.

What does that performance consist of?2017 Ford Focus RS

In a nutshell this fast Focus, complete with a big deal rear spoiler, pumps 350 horsepower out of its tiny 2.3-liter EcoBoost turbocharged engine along with a matching torque rating. It’s said to do 0-60 in 4.6 seconds. By comparison, a Mustang GT can do it in 4.4 seconds. That’s pretty close and this handles better!

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Plug and Play Motorcycles

Electric fun on two wheels

Photo: Alta

It’s not just the auto industry that has made major breakthroughs in electric power, so as the motorcycle industry. In less than a decade electric motorcycles have gone from garage-built prototypes ones that rival gas-powered superbikes (bike with 1,000 CC and above engines). While power isn’t a problem, they suffer the same shortcomings as their four-wheel cousins, lack of range. Now in 0-60 times, it’s a whole different story.

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Die-cast: NEO’s 1932 Packard 902 Standard Eight Coupe

1932 Packard’s beauty shines through in resin model … 1932 Packard

You know you’re mature when you remember seeing Packards for sale at the corner used car lots and driving around the neighborhood, and mine was not a ritzy area.

But for those of us who grew up in the late 1950s and early 1960s, Packard was still a car make we recognized. Certainly Packard’s reputation had been stellar for years, before it slowly and sadly faded away after being purchased by Studebaker. The last Packards were 1958 models.

Yet in its early years and through the 1930s, Packards were considered more than premium motorcars, they were right up there at the pinnacle. One of its classy coupes was the 1932 902 Standard Eight, a two-seater with rumble seat out back. NEO creates a 1/43 scale resin beauty now in dark red with black roof and fenders. The review model comes from American-Excellence.

The History

For 1932, despite the ongoing Depression, Packard rolled out its Ninth Series of cars, all longer, lower and faster than previous models. The Series 902 Coupe was a sweet one with an improved version of Packard’s Standard Eight engine, a 302 cu.in. L-head straight eight creating 110 horsepower.1932 Packard

A new feature that sounds more like it should be on today’s cars was Ride Control adjustable shocks. The system allowed the car’s hydraulic shocks to be adjusted from inside the car. The cars ran smoother and quieter too as rubber engine mounts were employed along with the driveshaft being rubber mounted and jointed. The car also had a self-lubricating chassis.

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2017 Lincoln Continental AWD Reserve

Mr. Lincoln returns with statuesque Continental …2017 Lincoln Continental

            Lincoln’s new Continental, its first since 2002, has the type of curb appeal that will instantly allow it entry into the country club parking lot. It looks luxurious and that big chrome grille lets you know it’s a Continental.

For those interested in making a luxury statement, but really only hoping for that big mellow Continental ride, relax. The 2017 iteration delivers on the boulevard ride. Thankfully it’s simply pleasant, not floaty as in model years past.

Lincoln uses a long 117.9-inch wheelbase, multi-link suspension front and rear and continuously controlled damping to ensure a ride worthy of yourself and three or four of your country club friends. And yes, there’s plenty of room in the trunk for a couple golf bags.2017 Lincoln Continental

So with distinguished looks and supple ride you may consider the Continental right on target for its audience. Except, like Cadillac, Lincoln is hoping to lure the 45-55-year old luxury sedan buyer, not senior citizens. For middle-aged luxury buyers power and handling also play a big role in brand selection.

Power is no problem here. The base Premium model features a 3.7-liter V6 making 305 horsepower, while the Select and Reserve models boast a twin-turbo 2.7-liter V6 that creates 365 horses and 380 lb.-ft. of torque. Turbos always deliver more oomph than naturally aspirated engines.2017 Lincoln Continental

Ah, but the silver test car added (for $3,265) the upper crust 3.0-liter twin-turbo V6 that cranks an impressive 400 horsepower, with an equal torque rating. This turbo empowered beast is standard on the top level Black Label edition too.

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Die-cast: Autoart’s 2014 LeMans, Toyota TS040 Hybrid

Toyota’s LeMans hybrid racer looks good in 1/18 scale …Autoart Toyota TS040 Hybrid

LeMans prototype racers press the envelope of styling and power to compete at the highest levels of the World Endurance Championship that includes the famous 24 Hours of LeMans in France.

Audi has dominated that race for the past decade and Porsche has had its run too. But a few years back Toyota decided to enter the fray and take on the big boys with its TS030. But it took two years to work out the bugs and the hybrid model TS040 won the WEC manufacturer’s championship in 2014.

Autoart has created another masterful reproduction in 1/18 scale, here with the No. 7 Toyota racer that was driven in 2014 by noted endurance drivers, Alexander Wurz, Kazuki Nakajima,  and Stéphane Sarrazin.

The History

Toyota’s foray into prototype racing for the endurance title started in 2012 with the TS030 hybrid. But it was the TS040 that finally moved the Japanese car maker to the top of the LMP1 podium. Autoart Toyota TS040 HybridThe TS040 used a naturally-aspirated V8 that featured a supercapacitor system, or energy-retrieval system, on the rear and front axle to give it 58% more power than its predecessor. This also gave the racer 4-wheel-drive, a major benefit in an endurance car that often has to race in lousy weather.

The car features a carbon fiber and aluminum honeycomb chassis and its 3.7-liter 90-degree V8 along with the energy-retrieval system generates nearly 1000 horsepower – 986 hp to be exact.

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2017 Volvo XC90 T6 AWD Inscription

New Volvo XC90 packs in a lot … 2017 Volvo XC90 T6

Honestly, the new Volvo XC90 is a bit overwhelming.

It’s a big luxury crossover or ute, whichever you prefer. It looks buttoned-down collar sharp and has nearly every conceivable electronic doodad, safety device and feature one could expect. But there’s just so much here to enjoy and learn it’s a bit like going to flight school straight from junior high shop.

There’s no denying Volvo has been a fuddy-duddy brand for years, the square car in the round hole that is the wagon and now crossover marketplace. Safety was its gig, which is laudable, but styling and luxury were, let’s say, well down Volvo’s best practices list.

The luxury bit has been addressed in the past several years, but the XC90 brings Volvo up to and beyond some peers in the luxury market and now its sophisticated styling is a big help.2017 Volvo XC90 T6

First, the XC90 ranges from moderate luxury to full-on eye-popping price tag luxury. The base T5 Momentum starts at $46,745 in front-drive mode and still features the potent 2.0-liter, supercharged and turbocharged I4 that runs throughout the lineup. It creates 250 horsepower in the base model and 316 horsepower in the tested T6 model with all-wheel drive. Both feature a smooth shifting 8-speed Geartronic automatic transmission.

The tested T6 AWD Inscription lists at $51,600, plus $995 delivery, but the Inscription package adds another $5,600. The metallic black test ute ended up at $72,805 after adding nine more options and packages.

Now hold on for the upper end. Volvo’s plug-in hybrid, the T8 Excellence lists at $105,989 with delivery. You read that right, but it adds an 80-horse electric motor to the equation to boost gas mileage to a still mild 25 mpg, but can run 25 miles on an electric charge. It also includes heated and massaging rear seats, a built-in fridge and a 20-speaker Bowers & Wilkins stereo.

OK, back to reality, sort of!

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From the captain’s chair to the cockpit

Warp factor 9, engage

By Paul Daniel

Video screen grab from Redshirts Always Die

From the Captain’s chair to driver’s seat. I love this because I’m a huge Trek and racing fan. Hollywood star Sir Patrick Stewart, Excellent Order of the British Empire (OBE), will contest the celebrity race at the Silverstone Classic in July in an Austin A35. The Star Trek actor competed in the event when it was run using Morgans in 2012, finishing ninth in a race won by Emmerdale actor and later British Touring Car Championship racer Kelvin Fletcher.

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Die-cast: Replicarz’s 1970s Indy Eagles

Indy 500 Eagles continue to fly, multiply at Replicarz  …Replicarz 1975 Indy 500 Eagle

Dan Gurney remains one of the biggest names in open-wheel racing. His Eagle race cars dominated the Indianapolis 500 and Indycar circuit in the late 1960s through much of the 1970s, but really set the establishment on its ear starting in 1972.

That’s when Bobby Unser debuted the new Eagle with its giant rear spoiler and upped the speed ante to nearly 200 mph by putting his Olsonite Eagle on the pole at 195.8 mph, 3 mph faster than Peter Revson’s McLaren.

Replicarz, which previously released the 1973 STP Team’s Eagles of winner Gordon Johncock and teammate Swede Savage in 1/18 scale, now delivers three new Eagles in 1/43 scale. Back is the Johncock car, with just 200 being made, along with limited runs of 300 for both Unser’s white 1972 pole car and  1975 Indy winner, the blue Jorgensen Eagle..

The History

Bobby Unser won Indy in 1968 in a Gurney Eagle, while Gurney himself was second. Gurney would place second and third the next two years, then retire. Yet his Eagles, made by All-American Racers in Santa Ana, Calif., soared. They won 51 Indycar races.Replicarz 1972 Indy 500 Eagle

The Olsonite Eagle that Bobby Unser put on the pole in 1972 was the tipping point toward Eagles being the top Indycar of the time. That year it led the first 30 laps of the race before an ignition rotor failed sidelining Unser. He finished 30th. But by the next May, 21 of Indy’s 33 starters drove Eagles, including the winner, Johncock.

A McLaren, the other major player at the time, won the following year when 19 Eagles made the field, but Unser was back in the winner’s circle in 1975 with his blue No. 48. Eagles made up roughly half the Indy field.

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2017 Kia Soul! (Exclaim)

Kia Soul! adds power to its hip, economical stat sheet …2017 Kia Soul!

            In many regards Kia’s cute little Soul had everything going for it — first, its looks. The slope-roofed compact stands out in the dull boxy crossover market.

It’s also decidedly economical to buy and operate, with a low starting price and good mpg figures. The darned thing even handles well and has oodles of interior room so four hipsters can hop in, slap on their headphones and head for the beach, or, well, in Milwaukee, maybe a brew pub.

What it didn’t have was power. Now it does, thanks to Kia adding a turbocharger to its 1.6-liter I4. That boosts what had been a mild 130 horses up to 201. That may sound like it turns Soul into a rocket, but let’s just say it makes it quick, once you trounce the accelerator.2017 Kia Soul!

Still, this week’s metallic gray Soul! (Exclaim) with its snazzy neon red accent stripe below the lower door line, was peppy and still had all the other good stuff in its plus column.

This is the top-level Soul, but you’d be hard-pressed to prove it by the price tag. With delivery built in, the Soul! lists at $23,695 and this only added floor mats to end up at $23,815.

For that you get the zippy and efficient turbo engine that’s rated 26 mpg city and 31 mpg highway. I got 30.2 mpg in a mix of driving, and you know I was testing the turbo pretty aggressively at times. Nice!

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Die-cast: NEO’s Willys Jeep Station Wagon

Willys Jeep Wagon looks sharp in Michigan State Police  trim … NEO's Willys Jeep Station Wagon

Everyone likes the old Jeeps, the original Willys models that looked like World War II era army Jeeps, all boxy and plain and ready to take on any rugged terrain that muddied their way.

Now NEO delivers a handsome 1/43 scale navy blue Michigan State Police version of the Willys Jeep Station Wagon. It’s fun and just peculiar enough to be a real conversation starter on any model shelf.

The History

After World War II the Jeep moniker landed with Willys-Overland in Toledo, Ohio. It enlisted Milwaukee industrial designer Brooks Stevens to design a Jeep Station Wagon. This was the first all-steel station wagon made for the mass market and it was a hit, with more than 300,000 being made from 1946 through 1965. When the wagon went into production many other automakers’ station wagon bodies were still made of wood.

Since Willys didn’t have the means to make its own bodies, the Jeep wagon’s bodies were created by steel fabricating companies and attached to the chassis. Many of these same companies were making large metal household appliances when not stamping out Jeep bodies.

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2017 Toyota Prius Two Eco

Toyota’s new Prius still dowdy looking, but a stellar hybrid … 2017 Toyota Prius

I laid a lot of praise on Kia’s new Niro hybrid recently, all deserved, but I was basing my hybrid comparison to the previous Toyota Prius. Now I’ve driven the 2017 Prius Two Eco and wow, this is a stellar hybrid.

Get this, I got 57.5 miles per gallon in a week’s drive. That includes plenty of city and two longish highway jaunts. But that’s just a number, and as the EPA says, your mileage may vary, although it rates this Eco version at 58 mpg city and 53 highway. Believe it!

Yet, if this were a tinny econobox that rode like a soapbox derby racer, well, most of us wouldn’t care so much about the mileage. We still need function and comfort, and Prius delivers.

First, note that there are nearly as many Prius models as there are pickup versions from most automakers. The Two Eco is the cost leader at $24,540, with a $865 delivery fee to end up at $25,405. There are five other trims of the four-door hatch model that, while slightly more streamlined than its earlier version, still remains dowdy looking. The exception are its stylish taillights.

2017 Toyota Prius

At least the taillights are stylish.

Looks aside (and that’s where the Niro wins hands down), the new Prius is light and agile and so tightly built it feels as snug as a three-piece suit. There are no squeaks or jiggles. It’s as quiet inside as most entry-level luxury cars. The doors close with such a resounding thud as to need a little extra elbow grease to latch the doors, the seal is that tight.

Road and tire noise is nearly non-existent.

And at just more than 3,000 lbs., the Prius Two is light, leading to nimble handling, good cornering and creating a relatively fun driving experience.

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2017 Toyota 4Runner 4×4 TRD Off-Road Premium

Tough Toyota 4Runner is anything but a TRD  …2017 Toyota 4Runner TRD

Let’s face it, you’d better have a pretty strong, competent vehicle if you’re going to give one of its models the TRD moniker.

We all know what that sounds like, but in Toyota’s case it means Toyota tough, as in Toyota Racing Development. And that’s why the new 4Runner proudly touts TRD in its name and on its haunches.

The test truck was the mid-level TRD Off-Road Premium edition with four-wheel drive and a sparkling Barcelona Red Metallic paint job. It also features a tough-looking exterior with distinctive nose and a hood air scoop that not all models have, not to mention few of its competitors.2017 Toyota 4Runner TRD

4Runner is a big ute, rolling on a 109.8-inch wheelbase it’s a sizeable 191.3 inches long and weighs a hefty 4,750 lbs. So move over mid-size crossovers and SUV pretenders, 4Runner is ready to go rock-climbing, and the TRD version thumbs its nose at rough terrain.

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2017 Kia Niro Touring

Kia’s new hybrid will knock your socks off …2017 Kia Niro

            Roughly once a year a test car knocks my socks off, trips my trigger, simply surprises the heck out of me and this week’s Kia Niro Touring has me amazed.

Looking at it you’ll say that’s no car, that’s a crossover vehicle. And that’s what Kia wants you to say. The styling is typical Kia wonderful with good looking nose, tail and beautifully proportioned profile. It has a taller stance like a crossover, but (and this is one of at least two surprises) it is front-wheel drive, and as of now AWD is not an option.

Second surprise, from a driving standpoint, this little beauty is a hybrid.

That’s right, it has an electric motor to go along with its 1.6-liter 4-cylinder gas-powered engine to create what sounds like a modest 139 horsepower. Don’t let that number fool you.2017 Kia Niro

Sure, left in Normal drive mode the acceleration here is (yawn), shall we say, modest. But simply by sliding the 6-speed Sportronic gear lever to the left into Sport mode the Niro jumps to life. Acceleration is quick and quiet as the electric motor propels this honey to normal city cruising speed.

I found myself leaving the shifter in normal mode, which is the most economical way to go, and then slipping it into Sport at stoplights. Fun, and zippy!

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Mario Andretti: One of the nicest guys I ever met

I was a regular at Road America

Lola race cars, savageonwheels.comWhile doing sports on Green Bay TV during the 80’s and 90’s I had some fantastic opportunities to meet really interesting people. Sure, all the Green Bay Packer players of that era, but my main passion was auto racing. Anytime there was anything going on at Road America, I was down there. I loved being there and still do.

On the list of nice guys were Roger Penske, Walter Payton, and Tom Cruise. He’s a short guy. The nicest on that list, and also short, was Mario Andretti. I interviewed him a bunch of times and it was like we had known each other for ever. Check out this story on Mario done a week ago today on CBS Sunday Morning. Enjoy.

Die-cast: Replicarz’s 1964 Indy Smokey Yunick sidecar racer

PRE-RELEASE REVIEW:

Sidecar racer unique, weird, unsuccessful, but a cool die-cast model …Replicarz 1964 Smokey Yunick sidecar racer

The mid-1960s were a wild and revolutionary time for race car design and technology at the Indianapolis 500, the predominant race in the world at the time.

The era saw roadsters with their engines in the front replaced by racers, such as Lotuses, with engines in the rear. There were a variety of engines from Offenhausers to Fords to Chevys, plus some jet turbines that darned near won, twice.

Then there was the sidecar roadster created by master mechanic and designer, Smokey Yunick, who had already taken on the stock car world at Daytona and entered several cars over the years at Indianapolis, including a 1962 roadster with a giant wing over the hood and driven by 1960 winner Jim Rathmann.Replicarz 1964 Smokey Yunick sidecar racer

But by 1964, a pivotal and also disastrous year for Indy due to its worst and most terrifying crash that killed two drivers, Smokey had created what was commonly known as the sidecar racer, his Offset Roadster with sidecar. It carried his usual gold and black color scheme, and now Replicarz is creating it in 1/18 scale resin for us diecast collectors.

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Die-cast: Automodello’s 1966 Ford Galaxie 500

Rare 7-Liter Hardtop beautiful in 1/24 scale …Automodello 1966 Galaxie 500 Hardtop

As a kid I saw a lot of Ford Galaxies around the neighborhood and some of my northern Indiana relatives who farmed had them and weren’t afraid to run them out in a cornfield if necessary.

But rarer was the Galaxie 500 7-Liter Hardtop, a luxury model that wasn’t afraid to lay a little rubber at a stoplight. That’s the cast resin model Automodello reproduces in popular 1/24 scale and paints up in a variety of historically accurate colors.

The History

While the Galaxie 500 debuted in 1965 it was the 1966 model that boasted a new 7-liter V8. This was Ford’s already powerful 390 V8 but enlarged to 428 cu.in. to create a real torque monster. Unlike the earlier 390 model this one could accommodate all the luxury options Ford packed onto its Galaxie 500 models to push them from standard family cars to luxury models.

So in addition to performance type power, the 1966 models had power steering, power brakes, and air conditioning. The 7-liter also could be coupled with an automatic transmission, something the earlier Ford 427 V8 designed for NASCAR use, could not.Automodello 1966 Galaxie 500 Hardtop

The new 7-liter model came only in hardtop and convertible models and sold well, about 11,000 units being made that year. By comparison, just 38 models were equipped with the horsier 427 V8 that year.

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2017 Volkswagen Passat V6 SEL Premium

New VW Passat hits for the cycle … 2017 Volkswagen Passat

            It may be a bit early in the calendar year to talk about hitting for the cycle, but the 2017 Volkswagen Passat does just that.

Rare is the mid-size car that delivers healthy power, refined handling and ride along with a quiet interior. Often a sedan with respectable power is noisy inside, or rides like a buckboard.

But the Passat is a pleasant blend that retains its sporty characteristics while delivering the “dreaded” practicality of room for five adults and their luggage, while also being a delight to drive and competitively priced. Its one drawback through the years (the car was redesigned for the 2016), has been reliability. The old model had issues. Time will tell if that monkey is off VW’s back for Passat, which is made in Tennessee.

From a driving standpoint I haven’t driven a more pleasurable mid-size car in ages. First, this pretty “Fortana Red” test car was the SEL Premium model with VW’s romping V6, a 3.6-liter number that creates a kickin’ 280 horses and 258 lb.-ft. of torque. Coupled with a 6-speed automatic the power comes on in a hurry and gives the front-drive Passat major power.2017 Volkswagen Passat

Better yet, that power is smooth, not a burst as with the standard engine, a 1.8-liter turbocharged I4 that makes 170 horses. You’ll drink more gas with the V6, 20/28 mpg vs. 23/34 mpg for the I4. But I still got 23 mpg in a mix of driving that leaned more toward city speeds.

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2017 Mercedes-Benz C300 Coupe 4Matic

Mercedes’ sporty C300 coupe a smoothie …2017 Mercedes-Benz C300 coupe

            Mercedes-Benz is on a roll. Not only has its Formula 1 racing team dominated for three straight years, now its street cars are back on top of their game.

A couple years ago I sort of fell for the C300 sedan and now, in the dead of winter I get to drive the C300 coupe with 4Matic, Mercedes’ all-wheel-drive system. Glad I had the extra grip as we had snow and slush and sloppy roads during the test.

This model features slimming sporty coupe lines that make it stand out among today’s usual humdrum car designs. And while it leans heavily toward sport, the luxury and pleasantness of the sedan are ever present.

The C coupe rides on the same smoothing 111.8-inch wheelbase and weighs a bit more than the sedan at 3,770 lbs. The car feels deliciously well balanced.2017 Mercedes-Benz C300 coupe

As in the sedan Mercedes delivers a scrumptious blend of sporty power, the eager 2.0-liter turbocharged I4 that kicks out 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 be sporty. Cornering is smooth and as precise as you want it to be courtesy of Mercedes’ Agility Select system that allows the driver to toggle through four settings, from Eco, to Comfort to Sport to Sport+.

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2017 Lexus LX 570

Pilot wannabes will like button-happy Lexus LX 570 …2017 Lexus LX 570

If you’ve always dreamed of being an airline pilot, but never got the training, you should try landing the new Lexus LX 570.

Lexus has created a cockpit fit for a pilot wanna-be with buttons galore. About the only thing missing is an altimeter.

Here’s a quick count of what you’ll get for nearly $100 grand. The center stack has 15 buttons plus four temperature control buttons, and two knobs for the radio. The console features 11 buttons, two toggles, and two knobs, plus a small park brake lever.

Need more? Oh there’s more. The power adjusted tilt/telescope steering wheel’s hub has 10 buttons, plus a 4-way directional pad and there’s a cruise control stalk behind the wheel. There are another 8 buttons on the dash’s face, plus the start button. Ironically the foot-wide screen atop the dash is not a touchscreen, but controlled by Lexus’s awkward and touchy mouse pad on the console.

If ever there were an argument for an autonomous car, this would be the starting point.2017 Lexus LX 570

Once you’ve mastered the maze of buttons, toggles and screen controls you’ll find the LX570 is the luxury version of Toyota’s Land Cruiser, a big beast of an SUV with serious off-roading capability. It has a wheelbase of 112.2 inches and is a full 199.4 inches long. The Lexus weighs in at a stout 6,000 lbs., but will tow 7,000.

Read more

Die-cast: Replicarz’s 1970 Indy winner, Al Unser driver

Replicarz goes big with its 1/18 scale PJ Colt … 1970 Indy 500 winner

One of my favorite race cars, and that of many other youngsters in the 1970s was the PJ Colt that Al Unser drove to back-to-back Indianapolis 500 wins in 1970 and ’71.

It was colorful and with its lightning bolts on the nose and tail the car looked fast and, well, cool!

Replicarz knows that and created beautiful versions of both the 1970 and ’71 cars in 1/43 scale a couple years back. Now it turns its considerable attention to the more detailed 1/18 scale model of the original 1970 racer. This takes the detailing on the Colt to a much finer level and creates a stunning desktop display car.

The History

Al Unser teamed up with former racer Parnelli Jones’ race team for 1970, driving its Ford V8-powered PJ Colt chassis to win the national driving title and the Indy 500 that year. Sponsorship, and the beautiful car livery, came courtesy of sponsor Johnny Lightning, a toy die-cast car maker (Topper Toys) competing with the likes of Matchbox and Mattel’s Hot Wheels brands.1970 Indy 500 winner

Unser won 10 races in 1970, none bigger than Indy. This was the first of Unser’s record four Indy 500 wins and put him on a path to racing fame, along with brother Bobby. Al was the fastest qualifier in 1970 and led 190 of the race’s 200 laps. You can’t get much more dominant than that.

Read more

Die-cast: TSM’s 1971 BRE Datsun 510

A special BRE Datsun driven by John Morton . . .1971 BRE Datsun 510

In the early 1970s Trans-Am racing was a big deal, even among the small sedan makers, like Datsun, which is what Nissan was known as in the U.S. at that time.

A lot of folks will think of the pony or muscle car racers, the Mustangs, Camaros and Cudas, but Alfa Romeo was big in the under 2.0-liter (U-2) class and Datsun dominated the class in 1971 and ’72 when it had become the Trans-Am 2.5 Challenge.

Cars were simply modified street cars, but Datsun put a lot of cash into the class sponsoring Brock Racing Enterprises (BRE) headed by Pete Brock, a noted sports car designer. The red, white and blue BRE Datsun 510’s soon became synonymous with success. Now TSM Models comes out with a high-value 1/18 scale version, available through Replicarz.1971 BRE Datsun 510

The History

Brock’s small team of racers and mechanics won six of the 10 races in 1971 and driver John Morton was the Trans-Am 2.5 champion, although in somewhat odd fashion, not that Morton and the Datsun weren’t dominant in most races. He set many fast laps and was often on the pole.

Read more

2017 Honda Ridgeline Black Edition

New Honda Ridgeline redefines pickups2017 Honda Ridgeline Black Edition

Honda has reinvented the pickup and it’s a darn sight nicer than whatever you’ve driven before.

To be honest, it’s a suburban cowboy’s pickup, but that’s what so many pickups are used as anyway – kid haulers and the occasional run to a home improvement store or big-box garden center. This one is just being honest about it and making your ride simply oh, so, comfy.

The Ridgeline is not about who has the bigger engine, toughest body, greatest towing capacity, it’s about refinement in a crew cab pickup body with a big open bed for hauling. It’s also quite a bit more.

2017 Honda Ridgeline Black EditionMy test truck was the Black Edition, which (not surprisingly) is black, with black wheels and a black grille to give it a decidedly elegant, yet macho look. Think I wanna be formal, but I’m here to party too! This is Honda’s top-of-the-line Ridgeline.

Like all Ridgelines it comes with a 3.5-liter i-VTEC V6 that creates 280 horsepower and 262 lb.-ft. of torque. That’s just fine. Acceleration is good and steady from a stop and ultimately Honda says it’ll carry a 1,584-lb. payload, best in class. It’ll even tow 5,000 lbs., which is well shy of competitors like the Chevrolet Colorado and Toyota Tacoma, but plenty for pulling a camper or boat or snowmobile trailer.

Ridgeline rides on Honda’s sturdy Global Light Truck platform with a 125.2-inch wheelbase that calms road imperfections. This feels smooth and controlled like Honda’s Pilot, a full-size SUV.

Read more

2017 Mazda CX-3 Grand Touring AWD

Mazda CX-3 Grand Touring AWDMazda CX-3 flickable fun, but practical too

Small hatchbacks have always been fun to drive and practical too. So why shouldn’t a small crossover with a hatch be much the same?

Well, more and more tiny crossovers are being made and mostly they are pretty entertaining to drive. This week’s bright metallic blue (dynamic blue mica) Mazda CX-3 Grand Touring AWD fits that bill.

Steering is light and lively with quick handling and downright perky acceleration when you toggle the Sport mode on the console. That pumps up the revs so the 146-horse 2.0-liter I4 has maximum torque, which also is 146. The Mazda zips away from stoplights with relative enthusiasm, but you’ll need to toggle back to the normal setting or it holds the engine’s revs way too long and eventually will suck down gas mileage.Mazda CX-3 Grand Touring AWD

But hey, toggling the Sport mode is almost as much fun as shifting a manual transmission – almost.

Add to that the practicality of all-wheel-drive to help steady the little crossover in winter slop, plus excellent fuel economy and you’ve got an attractive and cute ute, er crossover to take the place of any small sedan or hatchback.

The CX-3 is Mazda’s smallest crossover, just down a notch in size and wheelbase, from the CX-5. Both handle well.

Read more

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25
Jun

2017 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Ltd. Platinum

Highlander Hybrid excels at moving people, things …2017 Toyota Highlander Hybrid

A road trip to Louisville with a couple buddies, and plenty of cargo, proved Toyota’s Highlander Hybrid to be a perfect transport choice.

Ours was a medium metallic brown, what Toyota calls Toasted Walnut Pearl. Probably should have been pecan since we were headed to the South. But, color aside, this fine family mover will carry eight folks and their stuff, or in our case, three and luggage, boxes, a monster camera bag, etc.

Highlander is quiet, comfortable, roomy, nice looking and, being the hybrid model, got darned fine gas mileage for its heft. Even without three dudes and their gear it weighs 4,965 lbs.2017 Toyota Highlander Hybrid

There was plenty to like and really nothing to irritate a crabby old guy and his friends.

Start with power. There’s a bunch. Toyota puts a new 3.5-liter V6 under the hood, mated with its reliable hybrid power system. Combined these get 306 horsepower and operation is silky smooth. Creeping through Chicago traffic on the return trip, at about 5-20 mph, the Highlander hummed along on electric power. Once I needed to accelerate somewhere near Gurnee, Ill., its electronically controlled CVT (continuously variable transmission) eased right into it and off we went at 70+ mph. In fact, cruising through Indiana the Highlander is so quiet and comfy that we had no difficulty commenting on how far we could see in any direction.2017 Toyota Highlander Hybrid

Ride is super. Highlander rides on a 109.8-inch wheelbase and the independent front McPherson struts and rear double wishbone suspension eat up highway imperfections. Few vehicles feel this smooth on rough Midwestern roads. Read more

18
Jun

2017 Hyundai Elantra Limited

Hyundai Elantra, perceptions change a bit …2017 Hyundai Elantra

Perceptions can shift and auto writers often perceive differences in similar models they drive. This happened on a couple fronts with my latest drive of Hyundai’s attractive Elantra Limited, its near top-level compact.

I still like the car, its looks, its features, its gas mileage, its value. But compared with a 2016 drive of a quite similar model, well, I noticed differences.

First, the acceleration from Elantra’s somewhat new 2.0-liter I4 seems milder than in the previous test car although it’s the same engine. In the earlier car I pressed the Drive Mode button on the console and when Sport mode kicked in I felt decidedly different acceleration, more aggressive. This time there was a difference, but whether the algorithms were changed or what, acceleration was not as aggressive.

There’s an Eco mode too, but that’s unneeded as the car gets excellent gas mileage in Normal mode.2017 Hyundai Elantra

Second, there’s still modest road noise, although that seemed somewhat better on the tested bright Electric Blue Metallic test car this time. Funny, this time I test drove between Milwaukee and Indianapolis, so mostly highway driving where you’d think road noise would be more noticed.

Third, I’d found the earlier model’s seats supportive enough, but this time (possibly because I spent longer periods sitting) the black leather seats seemed harder and featured only modest hip support.

All that said, the Elantra remains an exceptional value. Consider this, the base SE model starts at $18,000, while the Sport model with more horsepower goes for $22,485 and the tested Limited lists at $22,350. All have an $835 delivery fee. Read more

11
Jun

2017 Volvo S60 T5 AWD Dynamic

Volvo S60 OK, but doesn’t distinguish itself …2017 Volvo S60

Volvo’s S60 is a fine, but underwhelming, compact, entry-level luxury car.

The S60 is nice looking and has all-wheel-drive, which will make it more useful to drivers in northern climes. It performs well, although its ride is rough, yet nothing really stands out.

Some will argue that its safety features stand out. That’s what Volvo, now owned by Geely, a Chinese firm, has hung its woolen winter cap on for years. Certainly the S60 T5 AWD Dynamic (quite a mouthful) that I tested had safety equipment, about what you’d expect on any car or crossover costing north of $40 grand.

For instance, there’s lane departure warning, adaptive cruise control, collision warning with automatic braking, pedestrian and cyclist detection also with auto braking, plus distance alert. All those are swell, but are not standard. They’re part of an optional $1,500 tech package. It also adds active high beams, rain-sensing wipers and the ability for the car to read road signs so you’ll always know what speed you should be going.

I’m not pooh-poohing these devices, but nearly all car makes have these now.2017 Volvo S60

The test car also added an optional $1,950 vision package too that added a blind-spot information system (BLIS), plus rear park assist, cross-traffic alert, rearview camera, and a few other features. Again, others have these systems too, some come standard on other luxury, and non-luxury, lines. Read more

5
Jun

Diecast: Automodello’s 1974 Bricklin SV1 Scottsdale Police

Automodello retools its Bricklin SV1, adds cop car markings …Automodello 1974 Bricklin SV1

Bricklins were unique in their day, the mid-1970s, but even more unusual were three white over blue Bricklins with sirens, a bubble gum strobe and other police gear. They were part of the Scottsdale, Ariz., police.

Malcolm Bricklin basically gave the Scottsdale police the three cars in a publicity move. His corporate offices were in Scottsdale so he leased the SPD the cars for $1 each. The move created cars that were unusual enough for Automodello to rework its fine Bricklin mold from a few years back to create the car in 1/43 scale, and with its gullwing doors closed this time.

The History

The SV1 was a sports car, think along the lines of a Toyota Supra or Nissan Z-car, but more than just a sexy body with good power. Bricklin designed the car with a frontal energy-absorbing crash zone and integrated roll cage. Reportedly the SV in its name stood for Safety Vehicle.Automodello 1974 Bricklin SV1

But Bricklin wanted his car to be both fast and safe, so he dropped in a 360-cubic-inch AMC V8 (one could argue that choice) that got 220 horsepower, a substantial amount for a two-seat sports car. While fast, the SPD rarely used them in pursuits, instead the cars ended up mainly as public-relations vehicles and cruisers. Those gullwing doors were hard for cops to get out of fast, so the police weren’t too thrilled to be using them for chasing speeders or other bad boys. Read more

2
Jun

2017 Ford Focus RS

Ford’s Focus RS is a scorching hot rod …2017 Ford Focus RS

Simply put, Ford’s Focus RS is a street-legal race car.

Not many of those out there, and most that are require you to sell your house in order to make a down payment on said speedster.

So here, for “just” $36,995, Ford will put a scorching hot rod, drifter, rally car in your driveway, enticing neighbors, especially young males, to drool. It’ll also increase your heart rate, something on the order of being a real race driver.

The backstory on the German-made RS is that it, or similar Foci, have been sold in Europe for years and U.S. lead-footers have been itching for it, begging for it, praying for it to hit our shores. Now it has. I don’t know how many will be sold, but the Subaru Impreza WRX now has serious competition. In fact, folks considering a Chevy Camaro, Ford Mustang or Dodge Challenger may want to consider saving some dough and going this route for serious performance.

What does that performance consist of?2017 Ford Focus RS

In a nutshell this fast Focus, complete with a big deal rear spoiler, pumps 350 horsepower out of its tiny 2.3-liter EcoBoost turbocharged engine along with a matching torque rating. It’s said to do 0-60 in 4.6 seconds. By comparison, a Mustang GT can do it in 4.4 seconds. That’s pretty close and this handles better! Read more

31
May

Plug and Play Motorcycles

Electric fun on two wheels

Photo: Alta

It’s not just the auto industry that has made major breakthroughs in electric power, so as the motorcycle industry. In less than a decade electric motorcycles have gone from garage-built prototypes ones that rival gas-powered superbikes (bike with 1,000 CC and above engines). While power isn’t a problem, they suffer the same shortcomings as their four-wheel cousins, lack of range. Now in 0-60 times, it’s a whole different story. Read more

29
May

Die-cast: NEO’s 1932 Packard 902 Standard Eight Coupe

1932 Packard’s beauty shines through in resin model … 1932 Packard

You know you’re mature when you remember seeing Packards for sale at the corner used car lots and driving around the neighborhood, and mine was not a ritzy area.

But for those of us who grew up in the late 1950s and early 1960s, Packard was still a car make we recognized. Certainly Packard’s reputation had been stellar for years, before it slowly and sadly faded away after being purchased by Studebaker. The last Packards were 1958 models.

Yet in its early years and through the 1930s, Packards were considered more than premium motorcars, they were right up there at the pinnacle. One of its classy coupes was the 1932 902 Standard Eight, a two-seater with rumble seat out back. NEO creates a 1/43 scale resin beauty now in dark red with black roof and fenders. The review model comes from American-Excellence.

The History

For 1932, despite the ongoing Depression, Packard rolled out its Ninth Series of cars, all longer, lower and faster than previous models. The Series 902 Coupe was a sweet one with an improved version of Packard’s Standard Eight engine, a 302 cu.in. L-head straight eight creating 110 horsepower.1932 Packard

A new feature that sounds more like it should be on today’s cars was Ride Control adjustable shocks. The system allowed the car’s hydraulic shocks to be adjusted from inside the car. The cars ran smoother and quieter too as rubber engine mounts were employed along with the driveshaft being rubber mounted and jointed. The car also had a self-lubricating chassis. Read more

26
May

2017 Lincoln Continental AWD Reserve

Mr. Lincoln returns with statuesque Continental …2017 Lincoln Continental

            Lincoln’s new Continental, its first since 2002, has the type of curb appeal that will instantly allow it entry into the country club parking lot. It looks luxurious and that big chrome grille lets you know it’s a Continental.

For those interested in making a luxury statement, but really only hoping for that big mellow Continental ride, relax. The 2017 iteration delivers on the boulevard ride. Thankfully it’s simply pleasant, not floaty as in model years past.

Lincoln uses a long 117.9-inch wheelbase, multi-link suspension front and rear and continuously controlled damping to ensure a ride worthy of yourself and three or four of your country club friends. And yes, there’s plenty of room in the trunk for a couple golf bags.2017 Lincoln Continental

So with distinguished looks and supple ride you may consider the Continental right on target for its audience. Except, like Cadillac, Lincoln is hoping to lure the 45-55-year old luxury sedan buyer, not senior citizens. For middle-aged luxury buyers power and handling also play a big role in brand selection.

Power is no problem here. The base Premium model features a 3.7-liter V6 making 305 horsepower, while the Select and Reserve models boast a twin-turbo 2.7-liter V6 that creates 365 horses and 380 lb.-ft. of torque. Turbos always deliver more oomph than naturally aspirated engines.2017 Lincoln Continental

Ah, but the silver test car added (for $3,265) the upper crust 3.0-liter twin-turbo V6 that cranks an impressive 400 horsepower, with an equal torque rating. This turbo empowered beast is standard on the top level Black Label edition too. Read more

22
May

Die-cast: Autoart’s 2014 LeMans, Toyota TS040 Hybrid

Toyota’s LeMans hybrid racer looks good in 1/18 scale …Autoart Toyota TS040 Hybrid

LeMans prototype racers press the envelope of styling and power to compete at the highest levels of the World Endurance Championship that includes the famous 24 Hours of LeMans in France.

Audi has dominated that race for the past decade and Porsche has had its run too. But a few years back Toyota decided to enter the fray and take on the big boys with its TS030. But it took two years to work out the bugs and the hybrid model TS040 won the WEC manufacturer’s championship in 2014.

Autoart has created another masterful reproduction in 1/18 scale, here with the No. 7 Toyota racer that was driven in 2014 by noted endurance drivers, Alexander Wurz, Kazuki Nakajima,  and Stéphane Sarrazin.

The History

Toyota’s foray into prototype racing for the endurance title started in 2012 with the TS030 hybrid. But it was the TS040 that finally moved the Japanese car maker to the top of the LMP1 podium. Autoart Toyota TS040 HybridThe TS040 used a naturally-aspirated V8 that featured a supercapacitor system, or energy-retrieval system, on the rear and front axle to give it 58% more power than its predecessor. This also gave the racer 4-wheel-drive, a major benefit in an endurance car that often has to race in lousy weather.

The car features a carbon fiber and aluminum honeycomb chassis and its 3.7-liter 90-degree V8 along with the energy-retrieval system generates nearly 1000 horsepower – 986 hp to be exact. Read more

19
May

2017 Volvo XC90 T6 AWD Inscription

New Volvo XC90 packs in a lot … 2017 Volvo XC90 T6

Honestly, the new Volvo XC90 is a bit overwhelming.

It’s a big luxury crossover or ute, whichever you prefer. It looks buttoned-down collar sharp and has nearly every conceivable electronic doodad, safety device and feature one could expect. But there’s just so much here to enjoy and learn it’s a bit like going to flight school straight from junior high shop.

There’s no denying Volvo has been a fuddy-duddy brand for years, the square car in the round hole that is the wagon and now crossover marketplace. Safety was its gig, which is laudable, but styling and luxury were, let’s say, well down Volvo’s best practices list.

The luxury bit has been addressed in the past several years, but the XC90 brings Volvo up to and beyond some peers in the luxury market and now its sophisticated styling is a big help.2017 Volvo XC90 T6

First, the XC90 ranges from moderate luxury to full-on eye-popping price tag luxury. The base T5 Momentum starts at $46,745 in front-drive mode and still features the potent 2.0-liter, supercharged and turbocharged I4 that runs throughout the lineup. It creates 250 horsepower in the base model and 316 horsepower in the tested T6 model with all-wheel drive. Both feature a smooth shifting 8-speed Geartronic automatic transmission.

The tested T6 AWD Inscription lists at $51,600, plus $995 delivery, but the Inscription package adds another $5,600. The metallic black test ute ended up at $72,805 after adding nine more options and packages.

Now hold on for the upper end. Volvo’s plug-in hybrid, the T8 Excellence lists at $105,989 with delivery. You read that right, but it adds an 80-horse electric motor to the equation to boost gas mileage to a still mild 25 mpg, but can run 25 miles on an electric charge. It also includes heated and massaging rear seats, a built-in fridge and a 20-speaker Bowers & Wilkins stereo.

OK, back to reality, sort of! Read more

19
May

From the captain’s chair to the cockpit

Warp factor 9, engage

By Paul Daniel

Video screen grab from Redshirts Always Die

From the Captain’s chair to driver’s seat. I love this because I’m a huge Trek and racing fan. Hollywood star Sir Patrick Stewart, Excellent Order of the British Empire (OBE), will contest the celebrity race at the Silverstone Classic in July in an Austin A35. The Star Trek actor competed in the event when it was run using Morgans in 2012, finishing ninth in a race won by Emmerdale actor and later British Touring Car Championship racer Kelvin Fletcher. Read more

17
May

Goodyear’s sphere of influence

Tires might be more than just round with a hole in it

Photo: Goodyear

Goodyear has unveiled a new concept: spherical rubber tires that can move in any direction. OK, that’s cool, by why you ask. These new kicks are made for the self-driving cars of the future, ones that won’t have steering wheels. Sounds like a Disney ride. The Goodyear Eagle-360 tires would allow those self-driving cars to tuck into tight spaces like parking spots. Read more »

15
May

Die-cast: Replicarz’s 1970s Indy Eagles

Indy 500 Eagles continue to fly, multiply at Replicarz  …Replicarz 1975 Indy 500 Eagle

Dan Gurney remains one of the biggest names in open-wheel racing. His Eagle race cars dominated the Indianapolis 500 and Indycar circuit in the late 1960s through much of the 1970s, but really set the establishment on its ear starting in 1972.

That’s when Bobby Unser debuted the new Eagle with its giant rear spoiler and upped the speed ante to nearly 200 mph by putting his Olsonite Eagle on the pole at 195.8 mph, 3 mph faster than Peter Revson’s McLaren.

Replicarz, which previously released the 1973 STP Team’s Eagles of winner Gordon Johncock and teammate Swede Savage in 1/18 scale, now delivers three new Eagles in 1/43 scale. Back is the Johncock car, with just 200 being made, along with limited runs of 300 for both Unser’s white 1972 pole car and  1975 Indy winner, the blue Jorgensen Eagle..

The History

Bobby Unser won Indy in 1968 in a Gurney Eagle, while Gurney himself was second. Gurney would place second and third the next two years, then retire. Yet his Eagles, made by All-American Racers in Santa Ana, Calif., soared. They won 51 Indycar races.Replicarz 1972 Indy 500 Eagle

The Olsonite Eagle that Bobby Unser put on the pole in 1972 was the tipping point toward Eagles being the top Indycar of the time. That year it led the first 30 laps of the race before an ignition rotor failed sidelining Unser. He finished 30th. But by the next May, 21 of Indy’s 33 starters drove Eagles, including the winner, Johncock.

A McLaren, the other major player at the time, won the following year when 19 Eagles made the field, but Unser was back in the winner’s circle in 1975 with his blue No. 48. Eagles made up roughly half the Indy field. Read more

12
May

2017 Kia Soul! (Exclaim)

Kia Soul! adds power to its hip, economical stat sheet …2017 Kia Soul!

            In many regards Kia’s cute little Soul had everything going for it — first, its looks. The slope-roofed compact stands out in the dull boxy crossover market.

It’s also decidedly economical to buy and operate, with a low starting price and good mpg figures. The darned thing even handles well and has oodles of interior room so four hipsters can hop in, slap on their headphones and head for the beach, or, well, in Milwaukee, maybe a brew pub.

What it didn’t have was power. Now it does, thanks to Kia adding a turbocharger to its 1.6-liter I4. That boosts what had been a mild 130 horses up to 201. That may sound like it turns Soul into a rocket, but let’s just say it makes it quick, once you trounce the accelerator.2017 Kia Soul!

Still, this week’s metallic gray Soul! (Exclaim) with its snazzy neon red accent stripe below the lower door line, was peppy and still had all the other good stuff in its plus column.

This is the top-level Soul, but you’d be hard-pressed to prove it by the price tag. With delivery built in, the Soul! lists at $23,695 and this only added floor mats to end up at $23,815.

For that you get the zippy and efficient turbo engine that’s rated 26 mpg city and 31 mpg highway. I got 30.2 mpg in a mix of driving, and you know I was testing the turbo pretty aggressively at times. Nice! Read more

8
May

Die-cast: NEO’s Willys Jeep Station Wagon

Willys Jeep Wagon looks sharp in Michigan State Police  trim … NEO's Willys Jeep Station Wagon

Everyone likes the old Jeeps, the original Willys models that looked like World War II era army Jeeps, all boxy and plain and ready to take on any rugged terrain that muddied their way.

Now NEO delivers a handsome 1/43 scale navy blue Michigan State Police version of the Willys Jeep Station Wagon. It’s fun and just peculiar enough to be a real conversation starter on any model shelf.

The History

After World War II the Jeep moniker landed with Willys-Overland in Toledo, Ohio. It enlisted Milwaukee industrial designer Brooks Stevens to design a Jeep Station Wagon. This was the first all-steel station wagon made for the mass market and it was a hit, with more than 300,000 being made from 1946 through 1965. When the wagon went into production many other automakers’ station wagon bodies were still made of wood.

Since Willys didn’t have the means to make its own bodies, the Jeep wagon’s bodies were created by steel fabricating companies and attached to the chassis. Many of these same companies were making large metal household appliances when not stamping out Jeep bodies. Read more

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