2022 Volkswagen Taos SE

Taos another newcomer in expanding small crossover market …

Oh my, the burgeoning small crossover market just added another competitor, the Volkswagen Taos (rhymes with House), and if value is your main shopping criteria the Taos should be near the center of your bull’s-eye.

Just in the last year I’ve reviewed the following tiny crossover competitors, Mazda CX-30 (2 versions), Hyundai Venue, Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross, Kia Seltos, Chevy Trailblazer, Nissan Kicks and Subaru Crosstrek. There were others earlier as this segment has been swelling like an anaconda swallowing a warthog.

But back to Taos (not New Mexico), VW’s smallest crossover that rides on a 105.9-inch wheelbase with a potentially powerful 1.5-liter turbocharged I4 that makes 158 horsepower, 11 horses more than VW’s Jetta. That figure is near the top of this segment’s power rankings, except for the over-endowed Mazda CX-30 with its 2.5-liter turbo I4 that makes 227 to 250 hp, depending on gas selection. It’s a riot!

For VW this new engine is an efficient and torque-happy number with 184 pound-feet of oomph. Sadly, the test vehicle had the worst case of turbo-lag that I can recall in several years. It hesitated at every chance to accelerate. Pull from the drive, push the accelerator, and wait. Traffic light turns green, push the accelerator, and wait. Turn a corner or head onto a highway ramp, push the accelerator, and wait. Ugh!

If you want power quickly you must mash the accelerator and then there’s still a wait before that turbo launches the VW to excellent highway speeds. The waiting, followed by over-accelerating became tedious.

Too bad, because Taos seems solid and handles well. Steering is light and easy and the crossover corners with little hint of body roll. This could be sporty and fun. Plus Taos is light, just 3,175 pounds. My mid-level SE model was front-drive and I suspect the 4Motion (AWD) would give it even better traction and handling. AWD costs $1,500 extra on all three trim levels.

Ride? Well, this is a short wheelbase crossover with struts up front but just a torsion beam rear suspension, so ride is pretty firm. The potholes weren’t as disturbing as the raised pavement hoo-has. Taos seemed to jump a bit sideways at times on those sharp spots.

Note that the AWD models feature a multi-link rear suspension which may help ride quality some and is the system used by most vehicles these days.

An 8-speed automatic tranny handles the shifts and is aimed at fuel savings. Too bad there are no drive mode selections here to add power or maybe smooth out the performance a bit in a comfort mode. Eco seems to be where the Taos is aimed and it features strong EPA numbers. The estimates there are 28 mpg city and 36 highway. I got a fine 29.4 mpg in about 80% highway driving.

By comparison, the Trailblazer with AWD that I tested posted 32 mpg, the Mazda CX-30 with the turbo managed 26.6 and the Crosstrek posted 25.4 mpg.

Plenty of safety systems are in place, with VW’s Intelligent Crash Response System and automatic post-collision braking, forward collision warning and autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian monitoring, a blind-spot monitor, and rear traffic alert being standard.

The test crossover added the IQ Drive SE package with Travel Assist (VW’s semi-autonomous driving system), smart cruise control, the Stop & Go system, and lane assist, for $895. The Travel Assist worked fine, but seemed a bit over anxious, as some of these do, pushing the car back toward the center or side lines harder than need be. This becomes concerning in construction zones and I could find no way to turn the system off as I dodged Wisconsin’s many orange barrels and cones.

Inside the King’s Red Metallic ($395 extra, and worth it) test vehicle was a fine interior. The SE trim upgrades cloth seats to something called CloudTex synthetic seats. This is a combo of cloth feel and faux leather, which is tough and easy to clean.

The test Taos featured gray seats with white stitching and the doors were two-tone gray while the dash was mostly dark gray with a bluish trim on some plastic bits. The console was flat black, ending sunny day reflection worries.

The SE model upgrades from the standard 6.5-inch info screen to an 8-inch touchscreen that was fairly easy to adjust. Below that are three large climate control knobs, so easy to adjust.

A nice sized screen on the new Taos.

However, during my drive Wisconsin was sweating through a spate of muggy upper-80s days and I had to crank the climate system’s fan to its top-level to get enough cooling and leave it there for about 10 minutes. Then I slowly dialed the speed back. Air was plenty cold from the system, but it took a while to cool the interior and there is no automatic climate setting, again keeping costs down for Taos.

Seats were well-shaped giving good side and hip support and the driver’s seat was powered with a power lumbar support. The front passenger’s seat is manual. But legroom and headroom are good front and rear so it’s easy to load four to five adults in Taos, although five may prefer city jaunts to cross-country tours.

Seats are heated up front and the flat-bottomed steering wheel also is heated, a plus.

Another goodie was the huge panoramic sunroof, a $1,200 add-on. These are increasingly popular in crossovers, but this one was a monster with a gray screen over it to reduce summer sun. But it would be fun to open in spring and fall to be sure. Might not feel like a Jeep, but definitely brings the outside in!

Another plus, a wireless phone charger under the dash’s center stack and the fact that the driver can give the instrument panel multiple looks, adding or deleting various information on either side of the speedometer.

Good news too for those hauling a lot of gear, the VW offers a generous storage area behind the rear seats with 28.1 cubic feet of space. Fold the split rear seats down and that grows to a sizeable 66.3 cu.ft.

Now maybe the best news, pricing. VW starts with the S trim at $24,190 for front-drive and $1,500 more for AWD, known as 4Motion. The tested SE model lists at $28,440 and is FWD. A top-level SEL lists at $32,685 with AWD and a sunroof being the only options.

This Taos added 19-inch black alloy wheels with all-season tires for $395, giving the red crossover a snazzy look since it comes with black cladding over the wheel wells and front and rear fascias. Grand total here was $31,325.

That’s a bargain in today’s car world, although I’d think most Wisconsin drivers would want to add the AWD for traction and to possibly improve ride quality with the multi-link suspension.

Sharp taillights!

By comparison my vehicle of the year, the hot-looking CX-30 starts at $30,050 with delivery and AWD is standard. The tested Trailblazer that is awfully cute lists at $30,070 and includes AWD while the Crosstrek is a little more at $31,440 with AWD and heated and cooled seats, plus a fancy stereo.

As you can see, pricing in this segment is quite close, so test drive several small crossovers before you buy and compare them with like features. This is a well-stocked market with Taos being the new kid on the block!

FAST STATS: 2022 VW Taos SE

Hits: Light easy handling, huge panoramic sunroof, roomy interior, heated well-shaped seats, flat-bottom heated steering wheel, big storage area, wireless charger, multiple dash views, value pricing and good gas mileage.

Misses: Firm ride and concerning turbo lag on acceleration. Couldn’t turn off active lane control, no drive modes to boost acceleration, fan must be turned on top level for quite a while to cool crossover on hot day.

Fancy black wheels give Taos a sporty look.

Made in: Puebla, Mexico

Engine: 1.5-liter turbo I4, 158 hp

Transmission: 8-speed automatic

Weight: 3,175 lbs.

Wheelbase: 105.9 in.

Length: 175.8 in.

Cargo: 28.1/66.3 cu.ft.

MPG: 28/36

MPG: 29.4 (tested)

Base Price: $28,440

Invoice: $27,351

Major Options:

19-inch black alloy wheels w/all-season tires, $395

King’s Red metallic paint, $395

Power panoramic sunroof, $1,200

IQ Drive SE package (Travel Assist semi-autonomous drive assistance, adaptive cruise control, stop & go, lane assist, blind-spot monitor), $895

Test vehicle: $31,325

Sources: VW, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

Die-cast: GP Replicas Ferrari 312 B3

Lauda’s 1974 F1 car a spectacular 1:43 model …

Ferrari’s Formula 1 cars of the 1960s and 1970s were beautiful and less complex looking than today’s multi-winged wonders that seem to have stretched to limousine proportions.

Niki Lauda’s sassy Ferrari 312 B3 of 1974 is a standout example of this with a simple solid nose wing and another on the tail. The fact both were chromed to go with the blazing red bodywork made them all the more attractive and exciting.

I landed a GP Replicas 1:43 scale version and was pleasantly surprised at the detail for basically $70. Also, this was the best packed die-cast car I’ve ever received with a multi-layer box within a box. See the photos below!

The History

Lauda, the three-time World Champ from Austria, needs no introduction. He was an F1 master that took Ferrari to new heights in the 1970s, was almost killed in a 1976 crash, and continued on for years after his miraculous recovery. Winning an F1 title with Ferrari (his second) and later for McLaren.

Sharp case and label on the black base here.

But in 1974 he and Clay Regazzoni, a talented Swiss driver, scored three wins with the B3 version of the stout 312 racer, Lauda winning twice. In fact, the duo set fastest qualifying laps in 10 of the F1 races that season, outpacing their Lotus and McLaren counterparts. Ultimately Lauda finished fourth in the standings and Regazzoni second due to more consistent finishes and fewer DNFs.

Yet the B3-74 and its 490-horsepower flat 12-cylinder engine were not as dependable as Ferrari had hoped, allowing Ferrari to finish only second in the F1 constructors championship. So the B3 was reworked as Ferrari mastered the aerodynamics of the time and morphed into the stellar 312T that won the F1 title with Lauda at the wheel in 1975. The 312T debuted in the third race that season.

The Model

               I like everything about this model starting with that stout packaging to ensure it arrives in one piece, a real plus as sometimes wings, wheels or windscreens are knocked loose in transit.

               The B3’s body shape and Ferrari Red paint job are stellar. Its wings are well-shaped and the chrome finish is fine as are all the decals/logos, mainly Goodyear and Agip at the time as cars weren’t rolling billboards just yet.

Check out the yellow air ducts for the front brakes!

               Front and rear suspensions look realistic and there are yellow brake air ducts in front of the front axles, a particularly nice touch. Goodyear slicks are well labeled and the racing wheels are matte gold.

               Beyond the suspension detail is the snazzy looking engine bay with battery, low tailpipes and again brake air ducts in the exposed engine area beyond the car’s body. The Ferrari’s white wing strut looks substantial too and there’s a rear red light embedded in that, used during rainy races and on warmup laps to alert drivers of the car ahead. There’s even some wiring on the engine, pretty rare in this scale.

               Cool too are the silver screens over the rear radiator ducts, the tall air intake behind the cockpit and a delicate windscreen that blends smoothly into the cockpit’s sides. Niki Lauda’s name is in white script below the cockpit, which is black and includes a steering wheel and realistic looking blue shoulder and lap belts.

               For the record, the numbers are black on white rounded-corner squares and of course the No. 12 that Lauda carried.

               The car rests in a nice acrylic case that features a black base with a nameplate featuring the car’s make and Lauda’s name. This is a limited edition, just 500 being made.      

And this just in. I’ve heard from a large retailer that the Ferrari models from GP Replicas were not licensed properly with Ferrari for the U.S. market and that is costing some retailers money for having sold them. So, it appears these may appear mostly on the overseas digital market sites. Too bad, as this is one of the finest 1:43 scale F1 cars I’ve seen.

My advice, stick with Spark and Ixo brands for good quality 1:43 scale racing models. Or Replicarz is strong on vintage Indycars and Greenlight for current year Indycars.

Blue belts are the highlight of the cockpit.

Vital Stats: 1974 Ferrari 312 B3-74 (Niki Lauda)

Maker: GP Replicas
Scale: 1/43
Stock No.: GP-43-01A
MSRP: $70-110 (various websites)

Check out the boxes the car is packed in for protection. Pretty impressive!

2022 Genesis G70 3.3T Sport Advanced

Can a luxury sport sedan be a value leader? Yes, if it’s a Genesis G70 …

In the olden days, 1980s and 1990s, there were a few grunty sport sedans that wouldn’t send a buyer to Uncle Guido for a small loan.

That was then, this is now, and a loan is a near certainty. But, if a person wants to save some on his or her monthly payments Genesis has a sport sedan worth a looksee. It’s called the G70 and rides on a platform equivalent in size to a Toyota Camry.

So the G70 is a good sized car, but not a luxo limo with monster power and a price tag to match.

Nope, the G70 is extremely fast and handles like a similar sized BMW. It’s fun on the road and faster than nearly anything not costing way north of $50 grand. But the G70 isn’t cheap. It starts at a modest $38,550 for a base rear-drive 252-horsepower turbo I4 version and tops out at $51,445 for the Prestige model with its crazy fast 3.3-liter twin-turbo V6 cranking 365 horses.

The Himalayan Gray test car started at $45,245, that sparkly gray color adding $500, and features the twin-turbo V6. It’s what you’d want if you long for a performance car that looks sharp, but feels luxurious. This was the G70 AWD 3.3T Sport Advanced model, including a $4,300 Sport Advanced package. More on that in a bit.

I’d tested the more luxurious G80 sedan a couple months back and it’s the luxury liner limo with a performance edge, especially with its horsier V6. The G70 is a family sport sedan, a smaller firmer riding rocket ship.

Watch Mark’s video review: https://youtu.be/0xSgncjBmdc

Blasting off on a highway entry ramp it’s easy to eclipse triple digits and there’s more where that came from, which is why Car and Driver magazine puts its top speed at 167 mph. Yeow! That speed is achieved via AWD here. It favors the rear wheels unless the pavement is slick. Shifts via the 8-speed automatic are crisp and the G70’s 365 horsepower pushes you back into its leather seats, just like an old-time V8.

Of course there are drive modes (5 here) to accomplish that oomph. Both Sport and Sport+ will get your juices flowing while also firming the steering effort, but never to the point of being a burden to the driver. Steering is precise and makes the G70 an apex eater. Fun!

The down side is a stiff ride, yet not punishing. Still, that could be helped with softer seats, the G70s are a bit too hard in the butt pocket for a 60-something like me. I also noticed a bit more road/tire noise from the rear vs. the longer G80.

Braking is solid as you’d expect, but at slower speeds I found the brakes a bit grabby. Don’t forget this has AWD too, an aid to traction in winter slop. I’d want that even though it adds $2,000 to any G70.

Inside the test car looked great with gray perforated leather seats and lower door trim, a black dash and upper door trim giving this a modern two-tone appearance. Genesis uses patterned aluminum inserts in the doors and by the console-mounted shifter. Other trim is satin chrome for a classy look.

The white leather seats and trim ooze luxury and comfort.

Overhead is a panoramic sunroof and shade, while under the center stack is a wireless phone charger.

The Genesis info screen is 10.25 inches and easy to see and use. The digital instrument cluster also is attractive and I like the big climate control knobs on the center stack below the info screen. They can be synched or run separately to chill or warm your significant other.

Down below are metal-faced pedals and the power seats are simple to use, both front seats being 12-way adjustable. The leather seats feel fine to the touch, but I and my wife found the seat pockets too firm, which became tiring on a roundtrip to Chicago. However, the seats are heated and cooled, a nice thing during weather extremes. A heated steering wheel is standard while those cooled seats are part of the pricy Sport Advanced package.

Big screen, easy controls and metal-faced pedals create a stylish cockpit.

It also adds the sunroof and a cushion extender for long-legged drivers and tightening side bolsters, which are engaged in Sport and Sport+ modes. I liked that, just wish the bottom cushions were softer.

Other add-ons in that package include parking sensors, snazzy dark alloy wheels, that aluminum interior trim, a dark chrome diamond-patterned grille and a fine Lexicon 15-speaker premium sound system. A visceral aid is the variable exhaust valve system that makes that twin-turbo V6 sound special in Sport and Sport+ modes.

I dig this patterned aluminum trim on the doors and on the console.

And for the techy among us, a digital key system is part of the package. That allows you to use your cell phone as the car key. Great, unless you misplace your phone or leave it in someone else’s car.

Trunk space is less than many in this segment at just 11 cubic feet. A couple sets of golf clubs will likely fit though.

Safety equipment is as you’d expect with all but the parking sensor system standard.

Genesis packs in a lot, including its semi-autonomous driving system that keeps the car between a highway’s center and side lines. It works well and directs the car through high-speed turns too, although it sometimes warns you to put your hands on the wheel even though they already are. It wants you to keep them at the 10 and 2 positions. I also noticed on a long stretch of straight highway that the car sort of ping-ponged between the freeway lines, which felt a bit odd. I suggest holding the wheel as steady as you can to avoid that sensation.

On the plus side is the Genesis/Hyundai 10-year or 100,000-mile powertrain warranty, plus three years or 36,000-mile free maintenance, so oil changes and the like. There’s also a free towing service, connected Genesis devices services and map upgrades for that same period.

One minor annoyance, or oddity, is Genesis, Hyundai and Kia’s insistence on playing a little tune electronically each time the car is turned off and a door opened. I started laughing about it each time after a few days. Really reminds of a washer and/or dryer playing a tune when the load is finished.

Pricing and mpg? The test car with its turbo V6 is rated 17 mpg city and 25 mpg highway by the EPA. I got 20 mpg in a mix that was heavier on city driving and 25.4 in a mix heavy on highway driving. The trip computer was pretty close on its estimates and on one highway stint registered 31 mpg. Nice!

Pricing for this model is $45,245, with delivery and $50,045 with the big package and sparkly gray paint job. A Sport model with the horsey V6 lists at $42,100 with RWD and add $2 grand for AWD. All V6 models add larger brakes, a sport-tuned suspension, dual exhausts and variable ratio steering. Those prices are below the likes of Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz competitors.

Note too that visually the G70 upgraded a couple areas for 2022, with a diamond-patterned grille, refreshed look for the head and taillights, a trunk spoiler lip and a lowered rear license plate to clean up the tail. It creates a sharp package that looks ritzier than its price.

Final word: If looks, performance and practical pluses mean more to you than badge envy the Genesis G70 is a top compact sport luxury sedan choice.

FAST STATS: 2022 Genesis G70 3.3T Sport Advanced

Hits: Fast, sporty handling, classy inside and out, plus AWD. Sharp interior with sunroof, wireless charger, heated/cooled seats, heated wheel, solid safety equipment, great warranty, big climate knobs, metal-faced pedals, plus 5 drive modes.

There’s no denying the G70 delivers a sporty ambiance!

Misses: Firm ride and seats, rear seat is short of legroom, lane departure system sort of ping-pongs car between lines, touchy brakes and car plays funny tune once off and doors opened.

Made in: Ulsan, So. Korea

Engine: 3.3-liter twin-turbo V6, 365 hp

Transmission: 8-speed automatic

Weight: 3,887 lbs.

Wheelbase: 111.6 in.

Length: 184.4 in.

Cargo: 11.0 cu.ft.

MPG: 17/25

MPG: 20-25.4 (tested)

Base Price: $45,245 (includes delivery)

Invoice: $43,281

Major Options: Himalayan Graypaint, $500

Sport Advanced package (park distance warning, 19-inch sport alloy wheels, aluminum trim w/sport pattern, cooled front seats, sunroof, Lexicon 15-speaker premium audio, wireless charging, dark chrome grille, variable exhaust valve system, power driver seat bolster/extender, digital key), $4,300

Test vehicle: $50,045

Sources: Genesis, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

2021 Hyundai Sonata N Line

Sonata N Line perks up performance, but remains high value …

Performance comes at a price, always has, always will.

Sometimes the price is simply a higher cost, sometimes it’s a gas-hog engine, sometimes it’s a brutal ride.

Hyundai is known for value so when it introduced its performance N, or now N Line, models a couple years back it wasn’t going to go upscale with pricing. That’s the good news.

Equally happy news is that the South Korean automaker also has the good engineering sense to deliver decent gas mileage with its high-horse turbocharged engines, now offered in the tested Sonata N Line mid-size sedan, Elantra compact sedan, Tucson compact crossover and Kona small crossover. Its Veloster sports coupe even touts a 275-horse turbo in an N model.

But, or maybe that should be Butt, the Sonata N Line’s ride is tough on the tushie. Hyundai, in its effort to create a low-cost high-performance sports sedan firmed up the shock dampers, the engine mounts and added thicker anti-roll bars. Couple that with the tested N Line’s summer 19-inch Continental 245/40 R19 YXL tires ($200 extra) and my tailbone is aching like a guy’s bum that has ridden a horse too far for the first time.

Other than that I enjoyed the N Line playtime.

Hyundai’s Sonata should be familiar to readers as I’ve reviewed both the Limited and Hybrid models since the new model debuted for 2020. It’s a fine mid-size sedan, economical in price, striking in design, and strong on performance yet normally offers a comfy ride. The hybrid model even ups the ante with fantastic fuel economy and a solar roof panel that boosts its electrical charge for added mileage.

Watch Mark’s video: 2021 Hyundai Sonata N Line by Mark Savage

Well, the N Line still looks great, packs the value, but adds a kick in the butt (there I go again) with a 2.5-liter turbocharged I4 that spits out an amazing 290 horsepower. That’s 99 more than its standard Sonata. Torque is rated at a whopping 311 pound-feet and will blast the sedan to highway speeds and beyond nearly as quickly as some luxo-sport sedans that also sport much higher price tags.

Car and Driver magazine has tested an N Line Sonata that hit a top speed of 155 mph while doing 0 to 60 mph in a respectable 5.0 seconds. So this Sonata is capable to be sure.

Helping that is Hyundai’s four drive modes – Normal, Custom, Sport, and Sport+. You can guess which are the most fun.

Both Sport modes kick the fine 8-speed dual-clutch automatic into more aggressive shift patterns to use all that pony power. Sport also firms the wheel to a comfortable level, while Sport+ makes it so heavy that most folks will find it annoying. There’s a fake heaviness to it too, but in either mode the car handles like it’s meant for the track. Of course it’s not, but still powering through aggressive turns is fun and those summer tires grip like gum to the sole of a shoe.

Of course that firm suspension is both great for handling, yet depressing for the derriere. Rolling along a fairly smooth highway the car’s taut feeling can be appreciated, but navigate onto our crater-filled city streets with crumbling edges, massive expansion joints, and general winter-induced degradation and, well, you’ll wish you were aboard the Limited or Hybrid versions with their much smoother rides.

Now if you’re into appearances and sporty ones in particular, the N Line’s exterior and interior will satisfy.

Black grille and distinctive nose styling here!

Outside there’s a blackened grille, quad exhausts, specific racy ground-effects style fascia front and rear with a slight bit of black cladding below the rocker panels. The trunk lid flips up a bit like a spoiler too and the side mirrors are encased in gloss black trim.

Inside the Sonata N Line boasts sport seats with improved side bolster support, something I’d found lacking in earlier Sonatas. These are clad in Nappa dark gray leather and a simulated suede with red stitching, and also feature the N Line logo. Plus there’s a sport wheel, although I wish it were flat-bottomed to enhance the racy looks, which include metal-clad pedals.

Otherwise the dash continues to be well laid out and attractive. It’s black with red stitching like the seats and door panels while all trim is a smoked chrome. Sexy! The console is black gloss surrounding the push-button tranny and drive mode toggle while trim next to that is a sort of smoky metallic tweed pattern.

And with the change in drive modes the digital instrument panel changes its look, the red dials for Sport and Sport+ being pretty snazzy garnering a nod from my 12-year-old grandson.

Seats, in addition to being well shaped and supportive are heated. While overhead is a panoramic sunroof and shade, new in all models from the SEL Plus trim on up.

Dual climate controls are standard along with a wireless phone charger on N Line!

There’s also a dual climate control system, wireless phone charger and inside trunk release. For audiophiles, a Bose 12-speaker stereo system is standard, with 9-inch subwoofer.

All the electronic safety features you’d expect to find are standard too, including blind-spot collision avoidance, rear cross-traffic collision avoidance assist, lane follow and keeping (which can be turned off), safe exit warning, LED running lights, and forward collision avoidance assist with pedestrian recognition. Smart cruise control is standard too.

Add to that a 10-year, 100,000-mile powertrain warranty and good gas mileage. The EPA rates this Sonata at 23 mpg city and 33 mpg highway, this in a car with 290 turboed horses. I got 25.1 mpg in a mix of city and highway miles, sometime with a passenger or two. By comparison, I managed 32 mpg with the 1.6-liter turbo I4 in the Limited model and roughly 45 mpg in the impressive hybrid in earlier tests.

For the record, this 290-horse engine is the same as used in Hyundai’s upscale Genesis brand’s luxurious G80 sedan, but at a more affordable price.

How so? This N Line lists at $34,195 including delivery and with a couple options ended up at $34,564, well below an average new car price these days. That’s high-value high performance.

Finally two other points, one being that an annoyance found in other Sonata models has been eliminated. That was the dash chiming and saying “Check Rear Seat” every time the ignition was turned off. That’s fixed, so bravo.

Plus Sonata is not theft prone. You may have heard that older model Hyundai and Kia (they are related) models have had theft problems due to security system failures and a steering column that was easy to jimmy to start, even without a fob. Well, all Hyundai models with push-button start (like this one) do not have these problems and all Hyundais made after September 2021 will include engine immobilizers to prevent theft.

Phew!

FAST STATS: 2021 Hyundai Sonata N Line

Hits: Good looking sport sedan, oodles of power, sporty handling, sharp interior. Full range of safety features, big info screen, heated seats, 4 power modes, Bose stereo, panoramic sunroof, wireless phone charger, strong warranty.

Misses: Very firm ride, could use flat-bottom sport wheel, theft security remains questionable.

Made in: Montgomery, Ala.

Engine: 2.5-liter, turbo I4, 290 hp

Transmission: 8-speed dual clutch, automatic

Weight: 3,552 lbs.

Wheelbase: 111.8 in.

Length: 192.9 in.

Cargo: 16.0 cu.ft.

MPG: 23/33

MPG: 25.1 (tested)

Base Price: $34,195 (includes delivery)

Invoice: $32,797

Major Options:

R19 summer tire upgrade, $200

Carpeted floor mats, $169

Test vehicle: $34,564

Sources: Hyundai, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

DIe-Cast: 1987 Audi Sport quattro S1 Rally Racer

Autoart’s Pikes Peak racer a mountaintop experience …

Imagine, if you can, driving up a winding 12.42-mile long mountain road, mostly gravel and dirt with no guardrails and sheer drops sometimes thousands of feet straight down to certain death, should you slip over the edge.

Then imagine doing it for time and with a 600 horsepower rally car capable of more than 120 mph in a burst.

That’s what German rally ace Walter Röhrl faced in his one and only attempt at racing in the Pikes Peak Hill Climb in 1987 aboard an Audi Sport quattro S1. He won, and set a new record.

Now Autoart brings us a stunning 1:18 scale replica of that iconic Audi.

The History

Audi won the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb three straight years, 1985 to 1987, with three different drivers, Michele Mouton (first woman winner), Bobby Unser (all-time champ) and Walter Röhrl (2-time world rally champ). By 1986 Audi had won several world rally championships with its all-wheel-drive quattro (always lowercase) models so pulled out of the competition for Group B racers.

So the hill climb was Audi’s last hurrah with the Audi Sport Quattro S1 rocketing up Pikes Peak in Colorado, climbing 4,720 feet through those 156 corners with its 2.1-liter five-cylinder engine pounding out about 600 horses. Of course power drops at elevation, so the Audi “only” had 450 horses available as it neared the top on July 11, 1987. However, a special circulating air system helped boost the Audi’s air pressure for its giant turbocharger to improve its response in the thin mountain air.

Röhrl had been the world rally champ in 1980 and 1982 and he used all his skills to break Bobby Unser’s year-old record by 22 seconds, with a run of 10 minutes 47.85 seconds. The record now is 7:57 minutes, set in a VW ID R by Romain Dumas in 2018.

Röhrl’s comments well after the event? “All I can say is that it was great to take part. It was crazy, but often it is in fact the crazy things which are the best in life. It was the very pinnacle of what can be done with a rally car.”

The Model

This beautiful white wing-laden rally car model by Autoart is a near pinnacle exercise in fine detail, much as was the original. There’s a giant two-tier wing on the tail and another mounted on the massive chin spoiler at its nose.

Beyond the wings is the silky paint job with traditional Audi rust red, brown and black trim down the sides and up to the rear wing’s tip, plus same color racing stripes from hood to tail only broken by the insertion of a giant black No. 1.

There are eight fine white mesh screens in the hood, which features a brown and white Audi logo at its center and two molded-in hood pins at the front corners. The clear headlights feature Bosch logos spread across their faces and that chin spoiler has massive Michelin logos on either side of the racing stripes. The grille is flat black plastic with the four white Audi rings at its center.

Plenty of hood screens, side downforce tunnels and spoilers, plus the chin spoiler.

Under the hood is a well-detailed engine with a monster air intake tube leading to the turbo on the 5-cylinder power plant that lays sideways in the engine bay. There’s wiring and plumbing plus faux sheet metal plating to cover and protect the left side of the compartment. A thick white support bar extends from shock tower to shock tower. The hood is easy to raise and pose open as its white hinges are well-made to reflect the originals.

Sharp under hood detail here on the Audi turbo.

Down the car’s sides are flared fenders with aero tunnels atop the front wheel wells and skirting that includes air deflectors in front of those wheels. A flat rocker panel rests below both opening doors with “quattro” printed in black. The driver’s door includes a vented streamlined mirror and there’s a notch in each door that makes them easy to open for display.

The rear side window is trimmed in black and the flared fenders in back include black plastic screening that would allow air into the wheel wells for brake cooling as the Audi charged up Pikes Peak.

Big decals on each door include a red/white/blue and black Pikes Peak Auto Hill Climb logo, the No. 1, an Audi logo and Röhrl’s name, which also is painted in script above the door with a small German flag representing his homeland.

The roof is sculpted with a giant air tunnel leading to the rear hatch, which includes hinges on top attaching to the blackened rear window, just in front of that oversized two-tier spoiler.

Here’s the winged tail without the trunk cover. Twin fans and fuel filler are inside.

A rear-end cover is removable to show the gas filler and twin fans for additional cooling. Tiny rear lights have black mesh screens over them and the Audi includes white mesh screening under the trunk opening, and a white metal protective shield below that.

Here the trunk cover is in place under the twin wings.

One disappointment, albeit minor, is the treaded tires are not branded Michelin, as were on the original racer. These are generic with white racing wheels that look a bit too much like plastic, although they do include five silver wheel nuts at their core. Plus there are giant disc brakes behind all four wheels.

Inside the car is Spartan, but racy. There’s a black racing seat with Recaro proudly displayed in white on the headrest, and highly detailed red cloth seat harnesses. Of course the Audi is full of white cabin supports to protect the driver should this rally racer roll onto its roof.

Sharp Recaro seat and red cloth seatbelts inside.

A black bare-bones dash, basically a panel for readouts, backs up the four-spoke steering wheel and the panel extends down to the transmission hump in the center and includes a few buttons and switches. There’s a white fire extinguisher on the floor just to the right of a serious looking black-knobbed gear shift lever, plus a couple of silver pipes with periodic black wrapping extend from under the dash along the passenger’s side compartment out the back to the trunk area where those fans are located. Outside the passenger’s door and below the flat rocker panel are three exhaust openings too.

Overall another stellar effort from Autoart as it continues to crank out historically meaningful racers along with its long list of exotics of every ilk and color.  

Vital Stats: Audi Sport Quattro S1 (Pikes Peak, 1987)

Maker: Autoart
Scale: 1/18
Stock No.: 88700

MSRP: $265

Link: Autoartmodels.com

2021 Lexus LS 500 AWD

A high-lux sedan even a CEO could love, and afford …

Rarely do the options on a test car add up to even more than a modestly priced car or crossover itself, but that’s what happened with this week’s high-lux Lexus LS 500 AWD.

            The sumptuous near limo added roughly $30,000 in options (14 to be exact) to crest $110,000. Now don’t take that as a criticism because let’s face it neither you nor I can afford a luxury sedan dripping with such opulent style and oozing electronic gadgets and gizmos that one might imagine sending Jeff Bezos or Richard Branson into outer space.

            This is a CEO-mobile and competes with the likes of Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Audi’s long stretchy sedans that feature the same sort of goodies and enough interior leather to make a cattle farmer blush.

            Everyone can appreciate such plushness. My 12-year-old grandson quickly declared “this is the type of car I want.”

            Certainly there’s plenty to like, starting with the dynamic exterior styling that continues inside with cool dark wood trim with silver etched patterns that blend with the spiffy satin chrome streaks across the dash and air vents.

            Some declare the expansive Lexus spindle grille “too much,” but it has grown on me as all luxury makes have expanded their grilles and nose-mounted logos like a fairgoer’s waistline after wolfing down an entire box of cream puffs.

Is this grille too much? Or does it blend beautifully with the hood lines and lights?

            The way the hood and lights meld into the highly creased nose and grille is brilliant. Likewise the taillights are artistic expressions rarely found in today’s auto designs. And as I have mentioned, the interior is equally pizzazzy. This one featured bright white leather seats with stitching and quilting to set it way apart from the competition while overhead is a white ultra-suede headliner to brighten the interior that otherwise has a black dash and door tops.

            So, not surprisingly, the interior coddles while the undercarriage excites, starting with a twin-turbo 3.5-liter V6 hooked up to a silky 10-speed automatic. Smooth is exactly what you’d expect, but how about 416 horsepower along with a torque rating of 442 pound-feet?

            Watch Mark’s video: 2021 Lexus 500 AWD review by Mark Savage

            A romp down a highway entry ramp easily puts the Lexus at 100+ mph and there are six drive modes to help you get there. Eco won’t, but Normal, Comfort, Custom, Sport, and Sport+ can, especially the sportier settings that firm the steering and adjust shift points to emphasize power, something any CEO could appreciate.

            The older and wiser ones may also like the LS’s velvety ride and easy handling too. No racer on the handling front, the Lexus’s steering effort is mild and easy in all but the Sport settings, thus easy to park while still being super stable on a highway romp.

Inside, again, the LS is board room quiet (active noise control) and the leather seats so soft you’d swear that you were parking your keister atop baby butts, an odd picture, but you get it. These are super soft.

White leather all around could make even a cattle rancher blush!

Adaptive variable air suspension ($1,400 option) here soften things too along with adjusting car ride height. Lexus says this also allows the driver to raise or lower the car a bit for comfortable entry and exit.

            Beyond style the LS has loaded the interior with so much extra it’s hard to wrap up in a paragraph or two, but the $17,580 (that’s right) Executive Package adds that soft semi-aniline leather, and 28-way (crazy) front seats with a Shiatsu-inspired massaging feature. Five quick choices there and all can be tweaked for more specific functions and at various massage pressure levels.

            Oh, and the rear seat gets the same treatment with a 7-inch display screen that adjusts everything, plus allows the passenger-side rear seat to be reclined nearly fully while extending a footrest for a special rear seat passenger. Those seats in back are “only” 22-way adjustable, but front and rear both feature stylish butterfly headrests.

Rear seats recline and massage, need I say more?

            Naturally all seats are heated and cooled and the steering wheel is heated, although I could find no wireless charger here, an odd thing to be missing. There are plenty of plug-in ports though.

            That mega-package also adds the ultra-suede head liner, four-zone climate controls and spiffy power rear sunshades, two for each side window and one big one for the rear window. It retracts automatically if the car is put in reverse, allowing for better rear visibility.

            One could argue that’s plenty of luxury, but wait, there’s more!

            A 24-inch heads-up display adds $1,200, a panoramic glass sunroof another $1,000 (there’s a second stationary sunroof over the back seat with a power sun shade), and a panoramic view monitor for $800.

            The premium wood trim mentioned earlier (above) costs $800, the heated leather and wood-trimmed steering wheel is $410, and illuminated door sills run $450.

            Almost forgot, the test car also packed a Mark Levinson 23-speaker audio system that costs more than a monthly mortgage payment at $1,940. Wow!

            Good news too because Lexus has added a 12.3-inch touchscreen for the info screen and to control that radio. It works fine, negating the need, mostly, for the console’s awkward touchpad. Get this, a CD player is included too. Bravo, us oldsters thank you. Plus much of the fancy seat gyrations, heat and cool are adjusted via the screen. Screen visuals are fine too.

Large twin pipes aid the twin-turbo V6’s exhaust note.

Other pluses include a power tilt/telescope steering wheel, power trunk release and closure, and all the safety equipment you’d expect. Although oddly Lexus charges $3,000 extra for its Lexus Safety System+, which includes pre-collision warning with active braking, active steering assist, pedestrian alert, front cross-traffic alert and lane-change assist. I would expect all that on my luxury car starting at $80,275, including delivery.

The test car also included AWD, a major boon in these northern climes as the car is rear-drive otherwise. That is included in this model’s base price, or is $3,250 extra if you order it on the base $77,025 RWD LS 500. A hybrid model also is available, starting at $84,000.

The closer you look, the cooler these taillights are!

Not that fueling costs will likely worry potential LS owners, but the car uses premium fuel and is rated 17 mpg city and 27 mpg highway by the EPA. I got an even 20 mpg in about a 60/40 mix that was heavier on highway driving.

On the more practical side its 16.9 cubic foot trunk is generous and will easily hold a couple bags of golf clubs.

Bottom line? CEOs and others with $100 grand car budgets, or companies that will lease them such cars, can get everything they want in an LS 500, plus maybe a few things they didn’t even know they wanted, or needed. LS equals Luxury Sedan!

FAST STATS: 2021 Lexus LS 500 AWD

Hits: Beautiful styling inside and out, smooth power, velvety ride, easy handling, 6 drive modes and AWD. Hush quiet interior, big screen, wide HUD, massaging heated/cooled seats, heated wheel, power rear sunshades, two sunroofs, full safety lineup, 23-speaker stereo, plus CD player.

Misses: No wireless charger, touchpad still backup for touchscreen and some would say giant grille is a bit much.

Made in: Tahara, Aichi, Japan

Engine: 3.5-liter twin-turbo V6, 416 hp

Snazzy headlights perfectly blend with grille and hood!

Transmission: 10-speed automatic

Weight: 4,696 lbs.

Wheelbase: 123.0 in.

Length: 206.1 in.

Cargo: 16.9 cu.ft.

MPG: 17/27

MPG: 20.0 (tested)

Base Price: $80,275 (includes delivery)

Invoice: $73,936

Major Options:

Lexus Safety System+ (pre-collision w/active braking, active steering assist, pedestrian alert, front cross-traffic alert, lane change assist), $3,000

Adaptive variable air suspension w/rapid height adjustment, $1,400

Executive package (semi-aniline leather trim interior, 28-way power driver/passenger seats w/massage, ultra-suede headliner, power front seat buckles, butterfly headrests, 22-way power rear seats w/butterfly headrests & memory, message, heat, and 7-inch touchscreen controller, right-rear power recliner w/ottoman, 4-zone climate controls, power rear sunshades), $17,580

Digital rearview mirror, $200

20-inch split 10-spoke alloy wheels w/gloss black & machined finish, $920

24-inch heads-up display, $1,200

Mark Levinson 23-speaker audio system, $1,940

Panoramic glass roof, $1,000

Panoramic view monitor, $800

Premium wood trim, $800

Heated wood/leather trimmed steering wheel, $410

Illuminated door sills, $450

Rear bumper applique, $95

Door edge guards, $155

Test vehicle: $110,225

Sources: Lexus, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

2022 Kia Carnival SX Prestige

Kia’s renamed minivan a festival on wheels …

Minivans are about as popular these days as global warming.

They, like sedans, have fallen victim to the SUV-ing of America. Chrysler, which basically invented the market for primo family movers, has stuck with its Pacifica, while Toyota has the Sienna and Honda the Odyssey. They are the major players.

Kia joined the fray with its boxy Sedona back in 2002 and its vany appearance inspired few. But now Kia has brought out the noisemakers, party hats, and kazoos with a major redesign and a rename to the Carnival, a veritable festival on wheels. And get this, it has restyled Carnival to look much more SUV-like.

While it’s hard to disguise the long tubular design of a minivan, Kia mostly succeeds with a stylish new nose and some satin aluminum cladding on its C-pillar that got nearly as much attention as any high-end sports car I’ve driven. Flash and sparkle sells!

From nose to tail the Carnival looks high-class.

It helped that I was driving the SX Prestige model that tops the Carnival lineup with a starting price of $47,275, including delivery fees. Don’t swallow your tongue after seeing that price tag, any minivan well loaded will crest $45 grand these days.

This one remains front-drive and is not offered as AWD. Carnival also has no hybrid model, yet. Toyota and Chrysler offer that.

But from a hauling standpoint the Carnival is a class-leader in power and interior passenger space. While few of us consider sportiness when shopping minivans, it’s good to have a strong powertrain if you have seven or eight passengers aboard.

Carnival obliges with a 3.5-liter V6 that creates 290 horsepower, slightly more than Pacifica. The engine is smooth and quiet and well suited to its 8-speed automatic. The upside is a nice mix of power and efficiency. The Kia is rated 19 mpg city and 26 mpg highway, a tad more than the former Sedona. I managed 22.6 mpg in a mix of city and highway driving.

Watch Mark’s video review: 2022 Kia Carnival MPV Review by Mark Savage

Four drive modes allow the driver to go to Sport (on a minivan?), Comfort, Eco or Smart, which learns how you drive and adjusts shift points and such to fit your driving style.

Handling also is fairly light and easy feeling and while there’s a bit of body lean in turns, this Carnival is easy to keep under control. Kia built the van on its fine K5 sedan’s platform that features more ultra high-strength steel to help lesson body roll. The minivan feels stable on the highway and is easy to park too. Thank a 360-degree camera for helping the driver maneuver in tight parking quarters.

Ride is mostly fine. On the highway the Carnival felt well planted. It smoothed out most of our crumbling infrastructure’s roughness. But like trucks and other vans there are some thumps and bumps on sharp cracks and pot holes. Still, ride is much as in other minivans or MPVs.

Oh, Kia wants us to call the Carnival an MPV (an old Mazda minivan brand by the way). That stands for Multi-Purpose Vehicle, as if all minivans, crossovers and SUVs don’t fit that category.

While Carnival’s exterior is festive and its performance top-shelf, the MPV’s (OK, I said it) interior is a circus tent full of opulence and inspired features, at least at this SX Prestige level.

The test van, a delicious Astra Blue (metallic blue-green) that costs just $495 extra, featured a full caramel-colored leather interior with black dash and upper door panels. The seats were a perforated leather and are both heated and cooled in this trim. A heated steering wheel also is standard on the Prestige.

Gorgeous seats and interior in the top-level Carnival!

Trim is mostly satin chrome with a gloss black console top again trimmed in satiny chrome. The spiff comes in a dimpled satin chrome dash trim that matches that outside C-pillar trim. I’m sure others will copy this. They should because it looks great, giving the interior a Rolex watch kinda pizazz.

Let’s start with the dash. In addition to its good looks there’s a giant flat touchscreen that looks much like the Mercedes GLA’s I just tested. These are two 12.3-inch screens merged as one unit for a smooth look and interface. Adjustments are easy and buttons large enough for simple adjustment. No dial or touchpad here. Bravo!

The instrument panel gauges and infotainment screen are merged into one unit.

Below is a wireless phone charger and the transmission’s stick shift is easily found and used atop the console.

Front seats are mildly contoured with power adjustments and two memory settings for the driver on the door.

The second row seats slide inward and fully recline with foot rests. Big screens on the front seat backs also provide entertainment for row two occupants!

But the real fun begins in the back seat. Don’t take that the wrong way.

First there are separate overhead climate controls and vents, but many vans have that now. VIP Lounge Seats are the hot stuff here, that and oodles of USB ports, 9 to be exact.

Those VIP seats are powered captain’s chairs with arm rests, but pull a lever on the side and the seats will slide sideways, toward the cabin’s middle, providing more door-side elbow room. Then play with the buttons on the seat’s side and it will recline and put up a footrest. Depending on the front-seat occupants you’ll only be able to extend that so far.

Kia also puts two entertainment screens on the front seat backs. These look like iPads and no doubt will enthrall your young charges. The downside, in my dad’s mind is that these stick out considerably from the seat backs and I can imagine a youngster bumping these while climbing out the power sliding side doors. Avoiding head cracks and gouges will require some parental watching and nagging.

Third row seats fold flat into the cargo bay in back.

Likewise, the power buttons on the VIP seat sides are somewhat clunky. Two main ones require the buttons be held down until the seats are properly reclined or returned to their full upright positions. Additionally, these second row seats can’t be removed since they are powered. They do slide to and fro though.

Also, crawling into the rear seats, which are fairly roomy if the second row seats aren’t pushed all the way back, is a little tight too. But then it’s the wee ones who will likely be sitting back there. That third row easily folds down into the cargo hold inside the power rear hatch, much like other vans.

A classy dimpled aluminum trim panel (like on the dash) spiffs up Carnival’s exterior.

There are two sunroofs here too with the one over the second to third-row seats having both a shade and is able to be opened for fresh air, sometimes needed with little stinkers in back.

I should mention how quiet the interior is too. Very! Both the SX and SX Prestige trims feature acoustic glass windows to cut wind noise. Makes it easier to hear the kids bicker in the third row!

Plenty of safety equipment here too to protect the family.

Kia’s Drivewise systems include forward collision avoidance that watches out for bikers and pedestrians, blind-spot warning and avoidance, rear cross-traffic avoidance, lane keeping assist, smart cruise control, rear parking assist and safe exit assist. The later sounds an alarm if cars are whizzing past your open side doors to warn kids to stay inside until the cars have passed. No more playing in traffic!

All worked fine, but as with some other makes the lane keeping assist was a bit over aggressive in twitching the wheel and redirecting the van to the center of its lane. This mostly becomes a problem in construction zones. Just be aware so you can keep the van out of barricades and orange barrels.

There also was a warning I didn’t care for. Every time the ignition is turned off the van chimes and lights up a message on the instrument panel, saying “Check Rear Seat.” It didn’t matter that no one was in those seats and no door had been opened previously to put a package there. So the warning becomes annoying and no doubt will be ignored when there is something in back, hopefully it’s not Junior.

Carnival simply is so full of goodies and equipment you’ll need to check out all the trim levels to make sure to get what your family needs.

Sharp looking headlights for Carnival!

The base LX starts at $33,275 with delivery, while the LXS lists at $35,275 and the EX at $38,775. I think that may be the best dollar-for-dollar trim. There’s also an SX just below the tested Prestige model. SX lists at $42,275.

The test van was $47,770 with only the paint being an option. For that you get all of the above, plus snazzy black wheels to give the Prestige a sportier look. A few other goodies include LED head and taillights, a Bose premium audio system, the leather seats both heated and cooled for row one and two, plus live navigation system to provide traffic updates.

Remember too that Kia still delivers a 10-year, 100,000-mile powertrain warranty, a comfort for the family budget.

FAST STATS: 2022 Kia Carnival SX Prestige

Hits: Sharp looks, excellent power, good handling, loaded with safety equipment. Cool power reclining second row seats, third row stows in cargo floor, 2 sun roofs, heated/cooled seats, heated steering wheel, 4 drive modes, second row 2 screens, wireless phone charger, snazzy black wheels.

Even the taillights are handsome!

Misses: No hybrid or AWD offered, clunky power rear seat buttons, ride is good, but you still feel sharp bumps as in a truck, annoying chime and screen readout saying to “check the rear seats” every time the ignition is turned off.

Made in: Sohari, Korea

Engine: 3.5-liter V6, 290hp

Transmission: 8-speed automatic

Weight: 4,727lbs.

Wheelbase: 121.7 in.

Length: 203 in.

Cargo: 40.2-141.5 cu.ft.

Tow: 3,500 lbs.

MPG: 19/26

MPG: 22.6 (tested)

Base Price: $47,275 (includes delivery)

Invoice: $45,202

Major Option:

Astra Blue paint, $495

Test vehicle: $47,770

Sources: Kia, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

2021 Land Rover Defender 90 First Edition

2-door Rover a retro rock star in looks, off-roading …

OK, I say Land Rover and what do you picture?

Boxy, utilitarian off-roader running through tall elephant grass or African Savanna grass, a photographer’s head and camera poking from the open roof. Maybe an elephant, giraffe or even a lion wandering in the background?

That’s because in 1948 Land Rover started cranking out said utilitarian boxes after Jeeps had invaded the British landscape during World War II. The Brits were quick, relatively, to duplicate and improve upon the Jeep for its own market and, Boom! Rovers sold like elephant ears at the state fair. Those early models not only had high ground clearance, big rugged tires and four-wheel-drive, but fold down windshields and rear doors where we all fancy hatches these days.

Well, the good ol’ days are back, sort of, as Land Rover jumps back in to the more utilitarian end of the huge SUV market with its Defender series, which had disappeared in 1997 as Rover romped full force into the luxury SUV market where you bloody well know there are more profits!

Defender had been its entry-level more rugged Jeep-like models and now the new Defender 90 and 110 are that, with a healthy helping of luxury ladled on board. I tested the 110 back in January. It rides on a longer wheelbase and features four doors and a luxury price tag.

This time I romped the suburban tundra in a stylish (retro) Defender 90 First Edition two-door that again pressed right up against the luxury market like a lion in heat. This special trim was $65,450 and with just two options hit $66,475. Yet a base model with a less powerful 2.0-liter turbo I4 engine starts at down-market price of $47,125.

On looks alone the Defender 90, especially decked out in a light gray-green metallic Pangea Green paint scheme, is a rock star. Folks gawked, a few asked questions!

This rides on a compact 101.9-inch wheelbase, but still looks muscular and stout. It clears the ground by 8.9 inches, will wade in 35.4 inches of water, and in First Edition trim packs an energetic 395 horsepower 3.0-liter inline 6-cylinder with mild hybrid system to power its electronics. A fine 8-speed automatic transmission easily melds with the big power unit for a luxury feel.

Trust me, a Jeep-like vehicle with a short wheelbase is normally about as much fun to drive as a square-wheeled peddle car. Think Flintstones! But Defender feels refined and quite comfy on most city streets, and in limited off-road romping. There is some bump felt on severe or sharp road imperfections, but ride is generally pleasant indeed.

Power is luxury sedan smooth and instantaneous. Driving the Defender is fun as you can get on the gas and be quickly up to highway speeds. In fact, I found myself over accelerating initially in highway jaunts, needing to whoa this boxy beast down to avoid the constabulary.

Handling is precise and firm with moderate steering effort required and Defender corners well for a tall short-wheelbase vehicle. It never felt tippy, although from outward appearances you might assume it to be top-heavy. I did not get to use this in rugged terrain, but it’s capable and has numerous off-road settings, all controlled via a big touchscreen. I’d prefer a knob or button.

Off-road options include mud ruts, rock crawl, grass/gravel/sand, sand, and wading for those nearly three-foot deep streams that need forded, or should that be Rovered? Comfort and a customizable Configurable setting also are available. Comfort works on city streets and highways.

So nimble is the Defender that parking is a breeze! One assumes that would help in dodging trees and rocks once off into the bush country too.

Speaking of which, there are a bunch of “dear Jesus” handles for both driver and riders to hug when bounding around boulders. The dash also has a rail across the top and at both edges if you need to hang on for dear life.

Otherwise the interior looks utilitarian. Door panels show exposed metal as in a Jeep and overhead there’s a cool fold-back cloth panoramic sunroof, powered of course. Seats are a mix of cloth and perforated leather-like material that would be easy to clean. Some of that texture is carried over into the doors and dash. These were a dark gray to black in the test truck with light gray trim on the doors and dash, which also had a shelf along its top face for storing sunglasses, phones, and rhino tranquilizer darts.

Seats are fairly flat, but powered and heated up front (controlled through the touchscreen) and there’s a jump seat in the middle that can be folded up to allow more elbow room such as that needed when off-roading. Put it down and there are cup holders in its back for the front seat occupants. However, that seat is quite thick and feels pretty confining for the front seat folks and a bit high for a comfy armrest. Put it up though and it somewhat blocks rearward vision.

In fact, rear vision is tough much of the time with the rear seat headrests and spare tire on that back door blocking the view. Thank goodness for the backup camera, mounted overhead in the shark fin antenna housing on the roof.

Rear seat folks also get a little ambient light from side skylights built into the Rover’s white metal top. Opening that cloth sunroof helps too. The skylights are retro styling touches, as are the little round taillights and so much more here. All good, as the styling communicates modernified retro inside and out.

Here’s the info screen with map up and the small shifter on the lower dash.

Not much storage room behind the rear seats, similar to a Jeep Wrangler, but less. Enough space for maybe four or five upright grocery bags. Seats will fold down, of course, and there’s a power height button inside that rear-opening back hatch door. So if you’re loading up and need the vehicle higher or lower for loading comfort that’s a plus.

Not a lot of visibility out the back with the tire there.

Again, I’m no fan of a rear-opening door, especially with a big 20-inch tired mounted on it. The door is heavy and the tire partially blocks rear visibility. Does it look macho and rugged? You bet. But it’s style over function.

What surprised me most? The interior’s quietness. I expected a lot more nubby off-road tire noise (20-inchers here adding $350 to the price), or more wind noise, this being a box on wheels. Not so. Defender’s interior is quiet as a near luxury sedan, allowing you to hear the fancy Meridian sound system, with volume easily adjusted by a roller on the steering wheel.

Happy in an urban setting too, the Defender 90 is a sweet ride!

On the practical side the powerful Defender will tow 8,200 lbs., so is a fine trailer puller, and if the rear seats are down there’s decent cargo space in back. If you’re going to tow you’ll need the trailer hitch receiver, a $675 option.

Rovers are not known for stellar gas mileage, and the Defender 90 is not a true hybrid. It’s rated at 17 mpg city and 22 highway by the EPA, and I got just 17.1 mpg in a mix of city and highway drives.

Rovers, now owned by India-based Tata Motors, are, however, known for electronic gremlins. I found only one slight glitch this time. The rearview camera liked to stay on when the SUV was in Drive for several minutes, but did switch to a front view. Hmm, maybe for watching out for wildebeests, or boulders!

2021 Land Rover Defender 90 First Edition

Hits: Snazzy retro looks, awesome color, off-roading ability in spades, strong smooth power, good handling, nice ride for short wheelbase. Quiet interior, cloth folding panoramic sunroof, heated seats, radio volume roller on wheel, Meridian sound system, easy to park.

Misses: Poor rear visibility, rear hatch opens out like door, tire on door makes it heavy, fold-down optional middle front seat very thick making for uncomfy arm rest, rearview camera stays on when in Drive for several minutes.

Wonder what the fold-down center seat/armrest looks like?
It’s thick!

Made in: Nitra, Slovakia

Engine: 3.0-liter I6, 395 hp

Transmission: 8-speed automatic

Weight: 4,780 lbs.

Wheelbase: 101.9 in.

Length: 180.4 in.

Cargo: 58.3 cu.ft.

Tow: 8,200 lbs.

MPG: 17/22

MPG: 17.1 (tested)

Base Price: $65,450 (includes delivery)

Invoice: $61,604

Major Options:

Tow hitch receiver, $675

Off-road tires, $350

Test vehicle: $66,475

Sources: Land Rover, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

2022 Model Test Drive Previews

A little of this and that …

It’s good to be good, but sometimes better to be lucky.

How would you like to drive a $117,000 Maserati? I’m betting you’d like it!

As a member of the Midwest Automotive Media Association (MAMA) I’m lucky enough to get a few invitations each year to test cars before they hit dealerships, or just as they are about to go on sale.

Last week I joined about 30 of my MAMA colleagues in rural Chicago area to take short test drives in a variety of 2022 models. With luck, I’ll get most of these for a week’s test drive to give you a full evaluation, but for some that’s a month or more away.

So here’s a snapshot of what’s coming for 2022. These are my very short takes on my10-15 minute sessions inside some exciting new vehicles. There’s more coming, but this is what I got to drive.

High roller:

Gotta begin with the priciest, sportiest and most luxurious vehicle all rolled into one, the 2022 Maserati Ghibli Trofeo.

This is the Maserati Ghibli Trofeo. That’s NOT my house in the background!

I’d never driven a Maserati in my 30+ years of car testing and it was worth the wait. Trofeo was even better than I’d imagined and bathed in slinky Italian design and luxury materials. Starting at $110,000 this one cleared the high luxury bar at $117,000 with a black and red leather interior that smelled like it was fresh off the cow. I mean that in a good way.

Car was a medium metallic blue and buttery smooth in ride and handling but with a wildcat 580-horsepower twin-turbo 3.8-liter V8 under its long well sculpted hood. Think male Olympic gymnast muscle for proper bulges and ab toning.

That throbbing pulse under the hood is 580 horses from a silky V8.

That muscle is put to the pavement with rear-wheel drive and two performance drive modes, Sport and Corsa, or Track mode. Both created a sinewy yowl from the V8 and put instant power to the meaty rear tires.

For trim there’s real, yes real, carbon fiber for the nose’s splitter and rear defuser, plus cool Maserati Trident logos on the C-pillars, a fancy jewel-look analog clock on the dash and a subtle Italian flag color bar at the bottom of the B-pillar.

The PR folks called it a perfect dual blend of performance and luxury and who am I to disagree. As they said, GT (Gran Turismo) is in Maserati’s racy DNA and the Trofeo amply defines it.

More Duality:

While I’d take a Trofeo in a heartbeat, it’s well out of my price range. More in tune with that is the spectacular Hyundai Santa Cruz. It is NOT a pickup, no matter what you or I may think. The product planning experts from Hyundai were perfectly clear about THAT. “DO NOT call this a pickup,” they urged.

Hyundai’s new Santa Cruz shares its platform with the new Tucson.

OK, and I get their point. The Santa Cruz has been promised for a couple years, but Hyundai held off until they felt they had it nailed as the dual-purpose – Urban and Outdoorsy – vehicle they intended. Oh, you’ll think it’s a pickup when you see it, but it’s so much more than that, yet it does have a roughly 4-foot open bed in back.

Yet here’s the deal, the Santa Cruz looks like a super hip urbane pickup with swoopy modern lines, lights and grille, but it rides on the Tucson crossover platform and feels like a sporty crossover, yet still has that bed in back. This was designed in North America for this market and it’s comfy and composed, with a super quiet interior, yet offering oodles of power, quick handling (think Mazda CX-30) and a refined ride befitting an entry-level crossover.

Santa Cruz, NOT a pickup, but a crossover with a bed … ok?

Oh, and did I mention it’s cute as a button. Reminds me of Subaru’s former Brat, but much more refined.

Again, I drove it briefly but already I’m feeling as if I’ve driven my Vehicle of the Year. It’s that good. The basics is it rides on a 118.3-inch wheelbase, is 195.7 inches long and has a generous 101.8 cubic foot interior. Yes, four adults will fit.

Base engine is a 191-horse 2.5-liter I4 while a turbo version making 281 horses is the upgrade and what I drove. It moves. It also tows, up to 3,500 lbs. with the base engine or 5,000 for that turbo monster.

Viewed from the front or rear, the Santa Cruz looks youthful.

Pricing will be $23,990 up to $39,720 and the target is 35- to 45-year-old single men that are college grads with no kids and a love of outdoor activities. But trust me, any cool person who feels a need for that small bed will want one. This will be a big seller and soon will be copied by everyone else in the mid-size crossover and pickup (oops) market.

Three other things, and I know I’m going on and on about this. But that short bed will haul a 4×8 sheet of plywood because the wheel wells are flat on top and the tailgate will latch at a 45-degree angle so the plywood will lie flat. The bed also is a composite material so no bedliner is needed and it also won’t rust. … And, the Santa Cruz has the first permanent retractable tonneau cover over that bed and it’s strong enough to hold 220 lbs. of weight to boot. Bravo!

That tonneau cover over the bed is heavy-duty and retracts too. It’s standard!

More trucky:

If you MUST have a real pickup. Well, a real mid-size pickup is the new 2022 Nissan Frontier. It’s got a huge ride height, big tires and super heavy steering that makes it feel like a monster truck even though its dimensions remain more moderate.

The 2022 Nissan Frontier is a pickup’s pickup made for heavy use.

Nissan upgraded the 2021 model after 16 years of few changes to the Frontier, by dropping in a 310-horse 3.8-liter V6. This year Nissan adds a 9-speed automatic transmission to make better use of that power while saving a little fuel too.

The 4X4 Pro-4X version I tested starts at $37,240 and with three option packages hit $44,315, still a reasonable price for such power and off-road ability. Styling tweaks such as blistered fenders give the Frontier a more modern appearance if that’s what motivates a buy, plus the off-road suspension is a winner.

In short, plenty of power, but a heavy feel to the wheel!

Finding a new path:

Nissan’s Pathfinder is new for 2022 too. Say that twice! Pathfinder is one of the original SUVs, originally launched in 1985. But it keeps morphing to add luxury (isn’t everyone?) to its rugged, capable and flexible mantra. Oh, and now it’s longer and has a third-row seat. (This is a theme among mid-size to large SUVS).

Sophisticated looks and a roomy third row seat for the 2022 Nissan Pathfinder.

Nissan has loaded up the Pathfinder with standard safety gear including rear automatic braking now, something it alone offers. But instead of making it longer like most SUVs, Nissan shortened the Pathfinder a bit, while adding to width and height, again by small amounts.

The result is a boxy but sophisticated looking truck, still packing its 3.5-liter V6 that creates 284 horsepower and capable of towing 6,000 lbs. Like the Frontier it adds a new 9-speed automatic, better for towing. And Trailer Sway Control is now standard on Pathfinder. A direct coupling system in 4-wheel drive also smooths out engagement, eliminating a delay in the switch to 4WD.

More acoustic glass quiets the interior and that third row seat is comfy enough for adults that something longer than a drive to the next suburb will now be acceptable.

MINI me:

I’m a short guy, so MINI has always been a car I love, plus it has BMW-type performance, probably because BMW owns the former all-British car company.

Top down, a Zesty Yellow (lime green?) MINI Cooper S is a show horse of a roadster.

I tested the 2022 MINI S convertible with a black cloth top adorned with a black and dull black Union Jack. Snazzy and clever, especially because it powers back automatically and you can stop it part-way back so the front is like an opened sunroof. Way cool!

Top up shows off the matte black Union Jack soft-top.

This one also was a lime green (called Zesty Yellow), so easily visible in any parking lot and listed for $41,750.

The MINI still has a silky smooth six-speed manual and handling that puts most sport coupes to shame. Power remains generous (180 hp twin-turbo I4) in the S model and inside there’s still the big round screen mid-dash, toggles above and below and a digital oval instrument panel over the steering column.

Nothing you do with your clothes on is more fun than driving a convertible MINI!

At the other extreme:

Jeep isn’t known for its mini vehicles, in fact they just seem to keep getting larger, think Wrangler Unlimited and now the new Grand Cherokee L, with L meaning LONGER. Like GM’s Suburbans and Tahoes the Grand Cherokee now offers a stretched version of its boxy full-size SUV.

Big, boxy and long, the Grand Cherokee L adds 15 inches in length for a third row.

Not much to distinguish it in looks, beyond the usual Jeep nose, the rest could pass as a refrigerator on wheels. But it has a third-row seat and is 15 inches longer than what used to be a mid-size SUV, the Grand Cherokee. If you need the space and are a Jeepoholic then this one may be calling your name. Although remember the Grand Wagoneer is coming soon too.

Inside the dash is low and clean and offers a large info screen and easy-to-use info system. In back are push buttons to lower various seats for cargo hauling or to let the kids more easily de-board from that third row seat.

This silver tester was the Overland edition, so more attuned for trail-busting, while the Summit models are luxury (again) oriented and roughly sell in the $68,000 neighborhood.

Adding an electric boost:

Not a full-electric, but the new Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara 4XE enhances its 2.0-liter turbo I4 with plug-in electric hybrid power for use on or off-road. You’ll get 21 miles of electric charge that you can use for trips to the office (if you’re not working from home), or save for when you’re off-roading and want to cut your emissions when out in the woods.

Adding hybrid power doesn’t change a Wrangler’s looks, but helps MPG.

The red and black test vehicle had managed 34 mpg with a bunch of crazy car writers driving it for the day and still got battery power via regenerative braking so that juice helped get the heavy Jeep rolling from a stoplight and aided mpg.

I like the somewhat MINI-style levers, not exactly toggles, on the center stack to put the windows up and down. And remember you can take the tops off a Wrangler, and the doors if you’re really into outdoor driving. Sticker was $56,380 and included a $2,495 hardtop.

Going full-on electric:

This IS the future of cars and trucks, so get used to it. Now Volkswagen shows off its ID.4 compact crossover with a funky gear selector, but oodles of oomph. The tested Pro S model has about 260 miles of range while the standard has 250 miles of plug-in power.

Volkswagen’s electric crossover, the ID.4 is a speedster and quiet.

Oh, and the plug is not up front or on the nose here, it’s right where a gas filler normally shows up on the passenger’s side rear quarter panel.

I liked the ride, power and handling here, all smooth and kicky. But it’ll take any newcomer a while to figure out the buttons and shifter. That shifter is up by the instrument panel and requires the driver turn a knob to engage the gears, and turn it twice forward to go into Drive mode with Regenerative braking engaged. That allows the crossover to generate more power for the batteries when he or she lets off the accelerator and the electric motors slow down the ID.4 and the braking sends electrical charges to the battery packs.

Oh, and to engage Park, one must press the end of the gear selector knob, a bit clunky, but you’ll figure it out eventually.

Might be tough to tell here, but at right is a knob you turn to shift, see D/B for drive!

The good news is that there’s a wireless phone charger where that nasty old easy-to-use shift lever normally would be on the console.

Seems the German designers always have a new idea for some formerly simple function, and then VW puts an unusual name on the driving product, so Tiguan, Taos and now ID.4.

That’s it for now, but my 2022 vehicle reviews kick off with the new Kia Carnival minivan next week on the WUWM website, wuwm.com. Just search for Savage on Wheels! … and a few 2022s have snuck in already if you look carefully there, or on this site.

#mamasummerdrive

Die-cast: Autoart’s 2016-’17 Lamborghini CEntenario Roadster

Here’s how you can afford a $2 million Lambo Roadster …

Not a Lamborghini tractor!

Did you know Lamborghini makes tractors?

Maybe not, unless your gentleman farmer acreage is considerable and located in Europe. I’ll bet you’re more familiar with Lambo’s supercars, like the sumptuous Centenario Roadster, of which just 20 were made and nine sold to rich dudes in the U.S. That is, until Autoart started cranking out spectacular 1:18 scale versions.

I snagged a new metallic red version for review, thanks to Autoart, and like the rest of its Lamborghini lineup, the roadster is gorgeous. This roofless wonder looks faster than an Olympic swimmer or runner in a skin-tight suit. That’s because these composite body models from Autoart are made with the precision of a new laptop’s speediest chip.

First a little history.

Visually it doesn’t get any sleeker than the Lamborghini Centenario Roadster!

The History

Highly limited edition Centenario models were created to honor the 100th birthday of Ferruccio Lamborghini, the firm’s founder, in 2016. All 20 Centenario Roadsters feature a full carbon fiber monocoque chassis and a monster V12 engine. That 6.5-liter V12 pumps out an amazing 770 horses without the need of a turbo. Wow!

Lambo says that will bump the AWD supercar to 186 mph in roughly 23.5 seconds, or 0-62 mph in 2.9 seconds. Short version, it’s quick, like a lightning strike. Officially Lamborghini lists the Centenario’s top speed at 217 mph, if you totally wind out the engine, and we all know we’d try.

OK, this is only 1:18 scale, but it’s still a monster V12!

That’s fast enough, to be sure, plus there’s a rear-wheel steering system, the first in a Lambo, to help it handle any curves thrown its way when ripping along at 200+ mph. Yet the system also helps the car move more gracefully at slow speeds too.

Lambo assures us that all the interiors are individualized (and rightly so) at its factory in Sant’Agata, Bolognese, Italy. Inside there is a large infotainment screen as in all luxury makes these days, plus the seats are either leather (from virgin cows?) or Alcantara and real carbon fiber is used as trim. And not to put too fine a point on it, but if you want to drive one, the closest you’ll likely get is a session on the Forza video game.

A gorgeous face and spectacular interior make the Lambo a collector’s show piece!

For the record, the Centenario models are based on Lambo’s Aventador model and was made only during 2016 and 2017, so pre-pandemic. That short run and low production numbers add to its rarity, and naturally call for a price to match. A new one ran $1.9 million and now they are selling at auction in the $2 million to $2.5 million range.

Not a bad looker from the backside either.

That makes Autoart’s $240 seem so much easier on the Swiss bank account, or more likely the Visa bill or Paypal account.

The Model

Where to start?

The body is sublime and the color, officially Rosso Efesto, a deep metallic red, simply is a show stopper. The scissor doors are released by, get this, the actual door handles. Push and hold them in and the doors, with windows up, flip forward to further expose the racy red and white bucket race-inspired seats featuring Lambo logos on each headrest.

Scissor doors open via a push on the door handle, plus the hood opens too.

All window trim is black with carbon-fiber-look headrest hoop covers and what would be B-pillar supports if there were a roof. Side fascia, rear diffuser and the chin spoiler also are carbon fiber lookalikes.

While the needle-sharp nose is sexy with its thin L-shaped headlights and the Lambo logo, it’s the tail that draws me in. So much going on here.

A lot going on at the rear, from big light bars to snazzy diffuser and a trio of exhausts.

There are the clear-bar exposed taillights and then tiny red brake lights below, between the six red-edged diffuser fins that otherwise appear as carbon fiber. Behind those, tucked under the body’s tail with deployable rear wing are big silver radiators. Then down low between the two innermost diffuser fins are three silver exhaust outlets. And in case you’ve forgotten the car’s name, Centenario Roadster is spelled out between the Lamborghini-labeled flap that separates the light bars.

Now that you’re at the tail take a good look at that throbbing V12 once you lift the separate engine cover, which includes clear plastic panels trimmed in more carbon fiber.

The engine cover pops off easily to expose the naturally aspirated V12.

There’s a V12 Lambo logo atop the engine block and Lamborghini-labeled header covers, various liquid fill containers and silver and black caps, hoses, carbon fiber-look crisscross struts and giant horizontal shocks and springs.

Inside is a beautiful red interior with a white v-shaped pattern on the seats, a steerable flat-bottom steering wheel with red 12 o-clock stripe and Lambo logo on the hub. That big info screen looks shiny and realistic while the console it blends into features oodles of buttons. Autoart creates a sharp black instrument panel pod too and the door panels are exquisitely detailed, including a white loop on each door to help pull the doors down and latched. Inside tops of door panels also appear to be carbon fiber. Snazzy!

Cool interior? Yes it is. Check out the seats and those white loops to pull down the doors.
Here’s an even closer look at the dash and other interior features.

Tucked neatly behind the fancy 5-spoke silver and carbon-fiber wheels are monster drilled disc brakes with red Lamborghini calipers. Tires are treaded low-pro Pirelli P Zeros with red stripes to wrap up the car’s stylish looks.

Awesome silver and carbon fiber-look wheels, red-striped P Zero tires and red calipers!

We’d all like to drive one of these, even if owning one is out of the question. But now Autoart helps solve the second part of that equation. Plus it offers the Roadster in blue, silver, green and yellow, along with this stunning red.

Vital Stats: Lamborghini Centenario Roadster

The hood opens to expose nose detail too.

Maker: Autoart
Scale: 1/18
Stock No.: 79207 (Rosso Efesto/metallic red)
MSRP: $240

Recommended Sellers: Autoartmodels.comReplicarz.com

2021 BMW M440i Convertible

Gray Bimmer convertible easy on the eyes, not the wallet …

The M440i is sleek, sexy and fast, a primo luxury drop-top.

Not much is certain these days, but for cars it is certain that gray is as hot today as a Kardashian bootie video.

Dull gray leads the way, appearing on Toyota pickups and now Ford’s Mustang Mach 1 and Dodge’s Durango Hellcat with names like Jet Fighter Gray and Destroyer Gray. Now comes BMW’s sleek M440i Convertible in Dravit Gray Metallic. No one seems sure what the name means, although an internet search shows that dravit derives from Hindu meaning malted or soft.

In any case, BMW’s Dravit Gray is a dark metallic chameleon color with green and gold flakes generously mixed into its deep gray finish. So the car can look gray, green or a bit greenish gold like a brilliant autumn afternoon. I warmed to the color, which is a $1,950 spiff to the $64,995 4 Series convertible.

The taillights are subtly stylish, like the rest of the Bimmer!

The color is unique, as is the M440i. This four-seater is a driver’s car, a joy on the road, a hoot on the highway and as beautifully designed and assembled as a Rolex watch. Everything about the luxury sports convertible feels right and fits tight.

First, BMW moved away from its powered hard-top convertible to this even more attractive soft-top. Miraculously the canvass top folds and stows away in about 18 seconds and even retracts at speeds up to 31 mph. It works. This allows one to roll through the neighborhood and drop the top at a whim if you decide the summer’s heat and humidity aren’t going to ruin your ride.

The advantage to the softer top is that it weighs 40% less than a hardtop, and to be honest, it’s so well lined that noise levels in the cockpit are only mildly affected. Naturally with the top down it’s noisy as all get-out and drowns out the fine Harmon Kardon surround sound stereo, an $895 extra.

Even with the top up the M440i is handsome, plus this top has a silvery sheen.

Further distinguishing the test car was its Moonlight Black soft top instead of the full-on black roof that’s standard. This is just $150 extra and adds a bit of glitz as the top looks somewhat reflective with a silvery sheen. I liked it.

Watch Mark’s review: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5Rx0nLs7y3Q

Yet it’s the power, handling and ride that sells any BMW, that and its kidney-shaped grilles. This new 4 Series is getting bashed all over the internet for what some are calling its garish grille, the two protuberances seeming to be more in-your-face than past iterations. So what? It’s stylish, it’s fun and it certainly shouts BMW. Besides, if car watchers haven’t noticed, all the grilles are getting bigger, brasher and display giant brand logos. More disturbing here is how ugly the license plate looks covering the grilles.

Is this too much grille for ya? Many luxury makes are going bonkers on grille size now!

Power freaks will enjoy the M440i. Under that sculpted hood is a 3.0-liter twin-turbo I6 that pulsates with 382 horsepower and delivers 364 lb.-ft. of torque. Distinguishing itself from, say a Mustang Mach 1, this twin-turbo bounds to 100 mph with a sweetly tuned exhaust whine that assures speed, but doesn’t menace or trumpet its accomplishments. Speed comes smoothly with the precision of the proverbial Swiss watch via a well-mated 8-speed automatic.

Additionally BMW uses a 48-volt mild hybrid electric motor to direct some of the electrical current away from the powertrain while also delivering a silky stop/start function when the car is at rest. Some stop/start systems feel a bit clunky as they re-engage once the driver’s foot moves off the brake pedal at a stoplight. Not here. This one is so quiet and smooth you soon forget it’s working.

Ride and handling are aces. Some sporty coupes and convertibles ride like solid-axle wagons of old, creating a ride that seems torturous. But the M440i is well controlled enough that you feel totally in tune with the road without it bruising your bum.

Vroom with a view!

Handling is precise and somewhere between racer and sportster. Turn into a corner with confidence and a moderately heavy steering feel. No body lean, no chirping of tires even in high speed turns from the rear-drive BMW.

I was quickly spoiled too by the four-wheel disc brakes, ventilated of course, for better long-term performance under racy conditions. But my do these stop the 4 Series in a hurry and with great confidence. Front discs get 4-piston calipers too.

Adding to the fun are the multiple drive modes, easily accessed via buttons on the console. Sport tweaks the engine revs for more low-end power and firms the steering. Comfort is perfect for normal city driving and there are Eco and Adaptive modes too.

The test car added a $1,300 dynamic handling package with 19-inch sport wheels, which further aids grip and handling control.

No dull gray or black interior here. This one is Tacora Red leather.

Inside, the M440i goes all sexy with a Tacora Red Vernasca leather interior. Can you say Corinthian leather? Well this is a highly grained leather that doesn’t seem to heat up too much when exposed directly to sunlight. I left the top down during errands on some steamy sunny days and was pleasantly surprised not to roast my buns on return.

That red leather used on the seats also decorates the door panels, which feature black leather-feel tops. Likewise the dash is black. All trim is satin chrome from dash, to doors and door releases for a high-end look. An open-pore wood-like grain covers the console face. Ritzy!

BMW’s seats are well-shaped with pleasant hip and lower back support and are powered. Plus they will power forward with the flip of a handle on the seat backs for easier loading of passengers to the rear seat. Bottom seat cushions also can be extended for the comfort of long-legged drivers.

There are neck warmers in the seat head rests here, just $500 extra!

Front seats are heated, as is the steering wheel, the control button at the center of the steering wheel’s hub. I’d think cooled seats would be called for here too, a benefit in summer driving, plus I’d like to see a flat-bottom steering wheel to free up a little knee room and also reflect the convertible’s sporty nature.

Note, this test car DID have neck warmers in the seats to keep the chill from necks during top-down drives in spring and fall when temps could be chilly. Those cost $500 extra. So why not add cooled seats too?

Another add-on is a wireless phone charger for $500, which seems steep for something lesser priced cars are starting to include as standard or a slight option fee.

No bad angles on the BMW M440i, but luxury demands a full checkbook.

Dash layout is fine and works well for the driver, plus the test car had a head-up display. I found the 8 radio station pre-set buttons rather small, but at least they are available so you don’t have to play with the console knob to tune. In fact, a roller knob on the steering wheel allows the driver to scroll up and down the radio station list with ease.

Other add-ons included a $700 parking assistance package with active park distance control, a surround view camera with 3D view (amazing on a convertible), plus BMW’s park assistance plus system.

A $3,700 executive package added the heated seats and wheel, plus offered the head-up display, ambient lighting, adaptive LED headlights and Live Cockpit Plus with navigation system.

Gas mileage was good for a powerful convertible too. I got 26.2 mpg in about 70% highway driving. The EPA rates the car at 23 mpg city and 31 mpg highway. No crossover or SUV can approach that, nor the fun and precision of this drive.

On the down side, you get a small 9 cu.ft. trunk, up 1.2 cu.ft. from the previous power hardtop model. Plus this speedster prefers premium (93) octane fuel, now approaching $4 a gallon.

Pretty sure one could confuse this styling for a six-figure supercar’s nose!

Which leads us to price, another drawback but understandable for such a fine convertible. I mentioned its $60+ grand starting price above. Well, the test car settled at $74,670.

Considering this is based on the BMW’s small 3 Series that’s rich for my blood. Still, other options remain, including the BMW M430i coupe for $46,595 with its 255-horse I4 turbo. As with all the 4 Series models an all-wheel-drive system can be added for $2,000 and the 430 can be had as a convertible for an additional $7,500.

Folks needing more power can move up to the M4 Competition Coupe at $75,695 for starters, but it packs an amazing 503 horses and does 0-60 mph in 3.8 seconds. Wow. A 6-speed manual is available on the “base” M4 Coupe ($57,495) with just 473 horses, if you prefer shifting for yourself.

Blue calipers are a nice change, but red ones also are available.

Choices are vast with the 4 Series featuring everything from AWD coupes to convertibles ready for the track. The cost is high, but the performance is near priceless.

FAST STATS: 2021 BMW M440i Convertible

Hits: Sharp styling, super acceleration, excellent sporty handling and good ride. Easy lowering top, heated wheel and seats, multiple drive modes, wireless charger and neck warmers

Misses: Tiny trunk, prefers premium unleaded, price. Plus needs flat-bottom wheel and cooled seats.

Made in: Dingolfing, Germany

Engine: 3.0-liter twin turbo I6, 382 hp

Transmission: 8-speed automatic

Weight: 3,578 lbs.

Wheelbase: 112.2 in.

Length: 187.9 in.

Cargo: 9.0 cu.ft.

MPG: 23/31

MPG: 26.2 (tested)

Base Price: $64,995 (includes delivery)

Invoice: N.A.

Options:

Dravit Gray Metallic paint, $1,950

Dynamic handling package (19-inch 797M wheels), $1,300

Parking assistance package (parking assistance plus, active park distance control, rearview camera, surround view w/3D view), $700

Executive package (heated steering wheel, heated front seats, ambient lighting, Icon Adaptive LED w/Laserlight, head-up display, Live Cockpit Plus w/nav), $3,700

Moonlight black soft top, $150

Neck warmer, $500

Wireless charging, $500

Harman Kardon surround sound, $875

Test vehicle: $74,670

Sources: BMW, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

2021 Dodge Durango SRT Hellcat AWD

Crazy fast Hellcat SUV a demonic delight …

Some things simply make no sense, seem coo-coo crazy, yet are so much fun that a person ignores their lunacy.

For instance, Dodge’s Durango SRT Hellcat with its 710-horse supercharged 6.2-liter HEMI V8. Any engine oozing that many adjectives is sure to be a demon.

This wild child is a one-year wonder from Dodge. The Durango SRT Hellcat is a 2021 model only, so pony up your $90 grand right now as these will surely be collector items.

Wild? Yes, the Durango, normally a fine mid-size SUV, has a top speed of 180 mph, says Dodge. Its 0-60 mph time is 3.5 seconds. It’s even quicker than a much pricier Lamborghini Urus, a luxury/performance SUV.

Even the Hellcat logo looks tough!

We shouldn’t be surprised by any of this, even in a hybridizing world where electrics are playing a larger role each model year. Dodge has gone full-bore performance in the past decade. It slightly refreshes its aging car and now SUV lineup, but keeps upping the ante for horsepower, always under the SRT and/or Hellcat brand. There are both in the Challenger and Charger models already and they too are land-based rockets.

I guided this missile to central Indiana and back, leaving knee-high corn stalks quivering in my wake and farm animals nervously looking over their shoulders.

The Durango was a blast, as are all Hellcats. Power is simply unspeakable. SUVs weighing 5,710 pounds are not supposed to have this sort of grunt. But tromp the metal-clad pedals and this SUV lurches toward light speed as if it were a stock car running on nitrous.

Watch Mark’s video: Mark Savage reviews the 2021 Durango Hellcat – YouTube

Handling is suitably sporty with a moderately heavy feel and good cornering ability. No body lean here and the $595 extra Pirelli 3-season ZR20 performance tires give it race car grip. AWD doesn’t hurt either, but you’ll need all-season or winter tires to put the power to winter pavement.

Ride is typical large SUV bouncy with some side-to-side motion on uneven pavement. This is the same as the SRT Durango I tested about 18 months ago. Big bumps are well absorbed and no shockwaves are transmitted to the cockpit, but the bounce is noticeable.

Still, an SRT Hellcat buyer isn’t full-checkbook into this SUV for ride, but performance. So the SRT toggle at the center stack’s base will be his or her best friend. That toggle lights up the snazzy 10-inch info screen for selection of virtually any setting the driver requires. There are the pre-sets of Auto, Snow, and Tow, but more likely the Sport or Track settings will be desired. These firm up handling, ride and power to deliver race-worthy performance. A Custom setting allows everything from steering and ride to shock dampers to be adjusted.

There’s also a Launch button in case you’re headed to the drag strip to grind off excess rubber from those costly performance tires.

Braking is vital to a beast like this and the Dodge packs giant rotors front and rear and dolls up the SRT performance calipers with blue paint.

My test truck was Destroyer Gray, which looked an awful lot like the prior week’s test car, a Ford Mustang in Jet Fighter Gray. This added low-gloss black racing stripes, a $1,195 option, but what self-respecting buyer wouldn’t want these?

Those stripes and the muscular nose with flat-black air vents embedded in the bulging hood give this a bigtime tough-guy look. Visually Durango assures any onlookers that they’re in for a butt kickin!

The irony is that inside the Durango Hellcat is as comfy as your living room sofa, maybe more so. Oh, it looks racy with black leather and suede seats with an SRT Hellcat logo embroidered on the front of each seat backs. Instrument panel gauges are racy red and there are carbon fiber inserts (look a bit like snakeskin) on the doors and dash and alongside the console. All that and the suede headliner are part of a $2,495 premium interior package.

But the seats are so well shaped that they feel as if they are hugging you, plus the front seats are heated and cooled while the rear seats are heated. The steering wheel is heated too. The second row here includes comfy captain’s chairs and the third row seats are decent too, both for comfort and roominess. Several “older” friends offered high praise for the monster truck’s seat supportiveness.

The flat-bottom wheel adds a racy look along with the metal clad pedals on SRT Hellcat.

Then there are those metal clad pedals down below, a power tilt/telescope flat-bottom steering wheel and a fine 10.1-inch info screen. Dodge delivers an easy screen interaction, all simple to understand and use while driving. Its Uconnect 5 navigation system works fine and there are nine Alpine amplified speakers with a subwoofer stacked in to deliver awesome sound quality too.

That big screen is the main focus of all the performance enhancements and adjustability, of course. The SRT and traction control toggles are down low on the stack and there’s a wireless phone charger beneath. In back the hatch is powered.

A big easy-to-tune and use info screen system and large control buttons are a win!

Leaning heavily toward performance, the Hellcat did not include a sunroof, and while generally a fine interior there is tire noise and most of all a whiny supercharger hum that can become annoying at low speeds. Otherwise the exciting rumble and roar of the supercharged V8 is fun and even quiets considerably at highway speeds after Dodge’s 8-speed automatic shifts to a cruising gear.

Fuel-efficient though the Hellcat is not. In fact I’d swear a few Hoosier hogs saluted as we drove by. I got between 14.7 and 15.1 mpg in mostly highway driving, but a few longer jaunts in town that resulted in that lower figure. Heck, the EPA rates this at just 12 mpg city and 17 highway. Then again, if a buyer is drooling over using 710 horsepower it’s likely that gas savings are not on his or her radar.

Wonderfully supportive seats are standard and how about the cool SRT Hellcat logos?

On the practical side (seems odd here I know), the Durango will tow 8,700 pounds and if all its rear rows of seats are folded flat will haul 85.1 cu.ft. of cargo. That’s something an equally powerful supercar could not deliver.

Such an exotic car couldn’t come close to competing on price either, most such wildlings starting in six digits. SRT Hellcat lists at $82,490, including delivery. That’s a bargain for this much power, comfort and usability. The test SUV ended up at $89,665 with its tally of options.

In addition to those mentioned earlier the Durango added about $3,000 of safety equipment, which I’d expect to be standard on a premium vehicle such as any Hellcat. A $495 add-on included blind-spot and cross-path detection, which are pretty much standard equipment on nearly every vehicle sold today.

The bigger bite was a $2,395 technology group that included advanced brake assist, lane-departure warning plus, full-speed forward collision warning plus and adaptive cruise control, the latter of which might help a bit in moderating gas consumption on the freeway.

Still, if neck-straining power is your thing, yet room for six or seven passengers and major towing power also are your thing, Durango SRT Hellcat is your best choice for a supersonic beast of burden.

Plenty of room behind row 3 and with it folded there’s oodles of cargo capacity!

FAST STATS: 2021 Dodge Durango SRT Hellcat AWD

Hits: Crazy power, bigtime tough guy looks, sporty handling, extremely supportive seats, heated/cooled seats, heated rear seats, flat-bottom wheel, wireless phone charger, 10-inch info screen, useable third row seat, metal pedals, red gauge faces, exciting exhaust tone. SRT toggle allows track settings, power hatch and power tilt/telescope steering wheel.

Sharp-looking lights and grille, plus the Hellcat logo, again!

Misses: No sunroof, whiny supercharger, a gas hog.

Made in: Detroit, Mich.

Engine: 6.2-liter supercharged HEMI V8, 710 hp

Transmission: 8-speed automatic

Weight: 5,710 lbs.

Wheelbase: 119.8 in.

Who doesn’t appreciate red SRT brake calipers? No one!

Length: 200.8 in.

Cargo: 17.2/43.3/85.1 cu.ft.

Tow: 8,700 lbs.

MPG: 12/17

MPG: 14.7-15.1 (tested)

Base Price: $82,490 (includes delivery)

Invoice: $78,731

Major Options:

Technology group (advanced brake assist, lane-departure warning plus, full-speed forward collision warning plus, adaptive cruise control), $2,395

Premium interior group (suede headliner, premium instrument panel, forged carbon fiber accents), $2,495

Low-gloss gunmetal dual stripes, $1,195

Pirelli P Zero ZR20 3-season tires, $595

Blind-spot and cross-path detection, $495

Test vehicle: $89,665

Sources: Dodge, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

2021 Ford Mustang Mach 1 Premium

Jet Gray Mustang Mach 1 ready to break the sound, er, speed barrier …

Speed hooked many of us on cars, that raw power to go faster than our brains can barely imagine, or cope with. It’s the reason for racing and racy cars, for high-horse engines, and it’s why NASCAR’s Darrell Waltrip says things like “Boogity, Boogity, Boogity.”

Ford’s Mustang Mach 1 Premium oozes speed, power, grunt and boogity all in a hot fastback design wrapped in a Jet Gray paint scheme with non-glare black hood and side stripes trimmed gloriously in orange.

There’s no way you see this car and don’t immediately think of speed.

Of course that’s what Ford wants. It’s the reason Mustang is the only remaining car in its lineup. Speed sells, and even if we can’t hit its top speed of 168 mph on the highway, buyers want to know they could. Or they want you to know they might.

For my money the looks alone could persuade me to consider a Mustang, but shoehorn in a throbbing 5.0-liter V8 that sounds like it’s ready for Daytona and the Mach 1, which is available in limited quantities for 2021, is a no-brainer.

If you fancy yourself a star-spangled racer wannabe, one that wants to put American metal on the pole or put a whoopin on other makes, the Mach 1 is calling your name.

Watch Mark’s review: Mark Savage reviews 2021 Mustang Mach 1 – YouTube

That V8 pumps out an impressive 480 horses, 20 more than an already muscle-bound Mustang GT and packs parts engineered by Shelby American for its GT350 and GT500 models. This racier Mach 1, a throwback name, takes the place of previous Bullitt and GT350 Mustangs and the GT with Ford’s Performance Pack 2.

At $52,915 it’s a relative bargain for a track-ready racer, and a darn sight easier on the wallet than a full-on serious racer like the GT500 that lists at $71,495. Mach 1 is about $10 grand less than the new Chevy Corvette too.

What do you get for your hard-earned cash?

Mach 1 uses the race-engineered GT350’s subframe for its suspension hookup, retunes the power steering for more precision, uses 6-piston Brembo (orange to match the racing stripe trim) brakes on 15-inch front rotors and 13-inch rear rotors, and has a toggle at the center stack’s base to engage, or switch off, traction control.

There are several steering and drive mode toggles too, including Sport+ and Track, and even a Drag Strip setting if you plan to blast off at your local drag strip. You can engage Line Lock there to spin and warm the tires before a race launch too.

Ford’s MagneRide adaptive suspension helps set the car up for normal city driving, which you’ll likely do mostly, or firm things up for the track. In any case, the Mustang handles quickly and precisely and the 19-inch Michelin ZR Pilot Sport S tires give excellent grip in high-speed turns. It’s easy to set this before hitting an apex and then rocketing straight away with little or no tail wiggle in this rear-drive hot rod.

Amazing too, for a race-oriented model, the Mach 1 rides well on our crumbling southeastern Wisconsin roads. There’s some jiggle to be sure, but no rough or severe jolts. Not all racy coupes can make that claim, even some costing twice as much.

A six-speed TREMEC manual transmission is standard on Mach 1, which would make it more challenging to drive and add to the race car dynamics. But this one featured a slick-shifting 10-speed automatic ($1,595 extra) and the Shelby American folks assured us auto writers at a test session last year that today’s automatics are as quick, or quicker at shifting than anyone but a pro racer, and even better than some of those. With all the city driving most of us do, I’d opt for the automatic.

Orange Brembo calipers look sharp on this gray Tang.

Cool too that the automatic reads your RPM and such to know exactly when to blip the throttle and downshift. Don’t tell your friends it’s an automatic and impress them with your innate racing ability as you brake hard for a turn, downshift, and accelerate away!

Just because performance is king here safety is not ignored. Ford’s Co-Pilot360 safety system is standard including all the usual electronic safety devices we’ve grown to expect. It includes forward collision warning with pedestrian detection, automatic emergency braking, blind-spot warning, rear cross-traffic warning, lane-departure warning, lane-keeping assist, automatic high-beams, and a 360-degree camera. While there is cruise control, it is not adaptive, so a bit of a disappointment.

This Premium model also comes with Sync3, Ford’s fine infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and an 8-inch touchscreen. The system works fine, but this screen looks a tad small compared to other current touchscreens. Many models now offer 10 to 12 inch screens. Also part of the Premium package is FordPass, an app that allows you to start, lock and locate your car via a smart phone.

Mach 1’s cockpit is racy, but comfortable with supportive primo Recaro seats.

Inside the test Mustang was mostly black, the dash and seats being that, but with gray stitching and seat backs feature an orange Mach 1 logo. Cool! Trim is mostly satin chrome, as are buttons and knobs, plus there’s a brushed smoke black insert on the dash. The manual tilt/telescope steering wheel is leather-wrapped.

Seats are Recaro race-oriented numbers that are very comfy and supportive with power controls, mostly. The seat back has a manual handle to adjust angle. Front seats are heated and cooled, three settings each and there are three driver’s seat memory buttons are on the door, all part of an option package.

Sharp looking layout and easy function make up for Ford’s smallish info screen. I like the toggles at the center stack’s base too.

Mach 1 includes a back seat, although that’s deleted from the GT500 to save weight. It’s small and cramped, but could hold a couple foldable friends for short distances.

Mustang’s instrument panel is wide and easy to see, plus changes appearance depending on what drive mode is selected. For instance, the Track mode puts a tachometer bar across the top to show revs. I liked the layout and everything is easy to see and use. Plus the $1,295 Elite package adds a fancy Bang & Olufsen stereo and enhanced security system.

Sadly there’s only a plug-in phone charger outlet, no wireless charging.

Not much says Mustang like three-bar taillights!

The test car added several other packages, including a voice-activated nav system for $595, snazzy painted aluminum wheels for $395 and then the Mach 1 Appearance package that includes those orange brake calipers, orange seat trim, the racy striping and the Jet Fighter gray paint scheme, for $1,000.

A $1,595 Deluxe group adds the driver’s seat memory, aluminum-clad pedals, leather console and premium trim plus the heated and cooled front seats.

All told the Mustang Mach 1 totaled $59,390, but there’s not much more you could, or would, want to add. For serious racers a $3,500 Handling group could make sense. It includes a tire upgrade, front splitter, performance rear spoiler with Gurney flap, fancier wheels, revised chassis tuning and adjustable strut top mounts.

The styling is pure Mustang and even in a closeup the muscle cars looks ready to attack.

As is, the exhaust tone, looks and performance of Mach 1 are exceptional, and all in a car weighing less than 3,850 pounds. Spend more if you like, but Mustang’s Mach 1 has all the boogity most of us can handle!

FAST STATS: 2021 Ford Mustang Mach 1 Premium

Hits: Hot fastback looks, monster power, racy handling, decent ride, substantial safety equipment. Sport+ and Track modes, automatic downshifts, efficient 10-speed tranny, wonderful exhaust tone, comfy supportive sport Recaro seats, heated/cooled seats, easy toggles to adjust steering/drive modes and traction control. Wide instrument panel with various layouts and nice stereo.

The exhaust tone from the dual twin pipes is inspirational!

Misses: No wireless charger, smallish screen and no adaptable cruise control.

Made in: Flat Rock, Mich.

Engine: 5.0-liter V8, 480 hp

Transmission: 6-speed TREMEC manual

Weight: 3,844 lbs.

Wheelbase: 107.1 in.

Length: 188.5 in.

Cargo: 13.5 cu.ft.

MPG: 14/22

MPG: 17.7 (tested)

Base Price: $52,915 (includes delivery)

Invoice: $51,329

Major Options:

10-speed automatic transmission, $1,595

19-inch magnetic-painted aluminum wheels, $395

Voice-activated touchscreen nav system, $595

Mach 1 Elite package (Bang & Olufsen premium stereo, enhanced security system), $1,295

Mach 1 Appearance package (Fighter Jet gray w/matte black strips w/orange trim, orange Brembo brake calipers, seat and interior orange trim), $1,000

Deluxe equipment group (driver’s seat memory, aluminum clad pedals, premium trim and accent group, leather console, heated/cooled front seats), $1,595

Test vehicle: $59,390

Sources: Ford, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

2021 Hyundai Santa Fe Caligraphy

Fourth gen Santa Fe grows into a sharp looker …

Time flies. Hyundai’s Santa Fe SUV proves it.

Santa Fe debuted 20 years ago as the South Korean automaker’s mid-size SUV. It was nothing special, just economical and reliable. Hmmm, reminds me of how Toyota, Honda and Nissan started out in this country, except with small cars, not utes.

Now in its fourth generation the Santa Fe has grown some, matured if you will. The awkward looking SUV has turned into a handsome youngster with a more muscular profile, snazzy features, a fair amount of sex appeal starting with its T-shaped headlights, reminiscent of Volvo’s sporty “Thor’s Hammer” headlights.

But don’t think knockoff. Nope, Hyundai’s designers are always pushing the styling envelope and this latest tailoring job with its bolder nose, longer more defined hood, LED taillights and those LED T-lights is another excellent example. Visually Santa Fe looks new and leading edge.

Pricing remains impressive, all the way from a front-drive SE for $28,185 up to the tested blue blood Calligraphy model, its top-ender with a starting price of $43,275, and $43,730 as it sat glowing in my driveway swathed in sparkling Quartz White, just $300 extra. AWD is available on the seven trims and standard on some, such as the Blue Hybrid and the Calligraphy, naturally.

For 2021 Hyundai ditched its old engines and goes with two new ones, plus offers a hybrid and soon a plug-in hybrid. The base engine is a 191-horse 2.5-liter I4. That’s 6 more horses than the old one. While the upscale 2.5-liter I4 turbo found in Calligraphy belts out 277 horses and touts a 311 torque rating. Car and Driver magazine says the Santa Fe with this engine will do 0 to 60 mph in 6.0 seconds with a top speed of 130 mph, not bad for a large mid-size ute.

Watch Mark’s video review: 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe review by Mark Savage – YouTube

The power is strong, making highway merges simple. I tested this on a roundtrip to Indianapolis on Indy 500 weekend and felt the highway drive akin to qualifying for the race. Few of my highway counterparts were cruising at less than 80 mph. The Santa Fe was up to the challenge and remained surprisingly quiet inside.

You can thank Hyundai for using more acoustical glass to blunt exterior noise, better undercarriage coverings to cut wind noise and increase fuel efficiency, and more sound deadening materials in the firewall and floor. The result is luxury level quiet.

There’s a smoothness to the Santa Fe too that you might not have witnessed in the past, or expected in the present. A slick 8-speed automatic transmission helps deliver power in a silky fashion, although on startup there seems to be a little lag for the first half-mile or so.

Hyundai includes a big dial on its console that blends with a center stack to engage various drive modes. Comfort is best around town and Sport for the freeway, at least when merging onto it. Snow and Smart modes also are available.

That big black dial next to the push-button transmission will set the drive modes.

I was happy with the Comfort setting as the ride was smooth and comfy with moderate steering effort. Sport firmed things up a bit, but not drastically. Yet it made acceleration much kickier.

Braking is solid too with 13.6-inch vented discs up front and 12-inchers in the rear. Plus remember the Calligraphy comes with AWD, a boon in sloppy weather and in case you want to trundle off-road a bit or when towing a boat or small camper. Ground clearance is 8.2 inches.

Tires are 19-inch Continentals for now, but 20-inchers will be available on Santa Fes soon for those who subscribe to the bigger-is-better theory of traction.

Classy looking two-tone interior stands out in the Calligraphy model.

Inside? Well, on Calligraphy models you’ll be coddled a bit with quilted leather seats that are soft to the touch and look fantastic. The test model’s were a caramel brown with black trim and the dash black over brown, as are door panels. The leather adorned steering wheel is black and a mesh-like metal trims the dash while satin chrome trims air ducts, doors, door releases, and buttons. It’s a high-end look.

I love the button and toggle laden console/center stack design because it’s obvious where all the functions are located, no confusing screen with layers of functions buried inside. Temperature controls are toggles too, so are easy to tap up or down. The tranny is push-button too, and also on the console, but I’m not a big fan, especially with the Park button off to one side.

Info screen visibility is good. An 8-inch screen is standard, but the 10.3-inch model comes on Calligraphy and is optional for other trims. Functionality is simple.

All the buttons are easy to see and use on the console to center stack layout.

Cool too that the 12.3-inch instrument panel screen changes its appearance depending on the drive mode selected and features Hyundai’s helpful safety feature that I call turn-signal cameras. Flip the turn signal to go right and a round camera image of the right side from your car’s tail on back appears. Same with the left turn signal, the images appearing on the appropriate side of your instrument panel. Bravo!

I’m not sure how many of us need a head-up display, but this one is standard and is color, so puts the speed limit and your current speed in red and green.

Front seats are powered and include a button to extend the lower driver’s seat cushion, an aid for long-legged drivers. A power lumbar control is offered too. Around town I was perfectly comfy in these seats, but for a longer drive I feel the bottom cushions need more snug hip support. I found my tailbone burning after 100 miles. Jamming my wallet under my right hip helped some, but that seems like something a driver shouldn’t have to do to avoid leg and hip fatigue.

Others had no butt issues and riders found the rear seat roomy enough for three adults, plus the outer rear seats are heated. The front seats are both heated and cooled and Calligraphy adds a heated steering wheel.

Other features are plentiful. Inside is a snazzy Harman Kardon premium sound system, a panoramic sunroof, power hatch and wireless phone charger where you insert the phone vertically right by the cup holders. Nice fit, but I forgot my phone regularly. I prefer a tray where you can lay a phone and still see it.

There also are manual sun screens for the rear seat’s side windows and a huge storage area behind the second row seats, including large bins under the floor. Hyundai claims 36.4 cubic feet of space and that’s believable. Put the rear seats down and that expands to 72 cu.ft. That’s better than even some larger SUVs.

There’s a lot of cargo space behind the second row seats, even some under the floor.

Hyundai’s safety lineup is stout on the Calligraphy with semi-autonomous drive modes that keep the car in its lane, even on turns. This worked really well on the highway, but insisted the driver keep his or her hands at 10 and 2 or 9 and 3 on the wheel. I rested mine near the bottom of the wheel on a long straight stretch of Hoosier highway and the instrument panel got mad, saying I should hold the wheel. I was. Also it lit up once when I was holding the wheel with just one hand.

Better safe than sorry I suppose.

Blind-spot, forward-collision avoidance, high-beam assist, rear cross-traffic assist and braking, smart cruise control, and a 360-degree camera are standard.

One sort of safety system that wasn’t intuitive, at least to me, was the rear door safety locks for kids. I’m used to these being near the door latch mechanisms with a tab to flip up or down. Hyundai couples the door locks with the rear-seat child window locks. You engage that and the kid can’t put the window down, OR get out. Might be fine for wee ones, but my 12-year-old grandson got tired of being locked in, until grandpa figured out the buttons.

Santa Fe has a grabber nose with a stylish grille and T-shaped headlights.

On the plus side, Hyundai also offers standard wireless Apple Car Play and Android Auto on all Santa Fe models.

Likewise, fuel economy is up about 30% across the lineup. The test SUV was rated 21 mpg city and 28 mpg highway by the EPA. I got a fine 26.4 mpg in my highway drive that included some city driving at each end of the trip. We had three of us and luggage aboard.

For now there are the two gas engine choices and a hybrid with 226 horsepower from a 1.6-liter turbo and two electric motors, plus 6-speed automatic and AWD. A plug-in hybrid model is expected late in 2021.

Cool how the light bar runs across the width of the rear hatch and into the taillights!

If the Calligraphy sounds nice, but is a bit rich for your budget, consider the second level SEL model for $29,985. It adds heated seats and mirrors, a blind-spot warning system, satellite radio and keyless entry with push-button start. The Blue hybrid model starts at $34,835 and includes AWD.

Santa Fe moves Hyundai deeper into the SUV mainstream with leading-edge design and luxury features and finish in the Calligraphy trim. Test one to see how it fits your derriere!

FAST STATS: 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe Calligraphy

Hits: Sharp redesign, more powerful engine, good ride and handling, plus AWD. Cool T-shaped lights, Harman Kardon stereo, panoramic sunroof, power hatch, 10-inch screen, clear button arrangement on center stack, turn-signal activated side cameras, nice visuals on instrument cluster, heated/cooled front seats, heated wheel, heated rear seats, large cargo area w/underfloor storage, roomy interior, wireless charger, rear side window screens, and stout safety device lineup.

These T-shaped headlights are a standout styling feature.

Misses: Lower seat cushion is hard and not as supportive as many, leading to tailbone burn on drives over 100 miles, but lower cushion will extend for tall drivers. Rear door locks are activated by rear window child-proof locks and not intuitive.

Made in: Montgomery, Ala.

Engine: 2.5-liter turbo I4, 277 hp

Transmission: 8-speed automatic w/Shiftronic

Weight: 4,060 lbs.

Wheelbase: 108.9 in.

Length: 188.4 in.

Cargo: 36.4-72.1 cu.ft.

Tow: 3,500 lbs.

MPG: 21/28

MPG: 26.4 (tested)

Base Price: $43,275 (includes delivery)

Invoice: $41,480

Major Options: Quartz white paint, $300

Carpeted floor mats, $155

Test vehicle: $43,730

Sources: Hyundai, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

2021 Genesis G80 2.5T RWD

Entry-level luxury never looked this good ….

Genesis continues to impress, even if few car buyers yet know what it is.

Hyundai is still on an uphill climb. The South Korean automaker launched the Genesis luxury brand five years ago, much as Toyota launched Lexus, Honda launched Acura, and Nissan launched Infiniti, in the 1990s. These Japanese brands established a strong foothold in the U.S. market with their low-cost, high-reliability models, then moved upscale, where the profits are.

Hyundai is doing the same thing. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

In fact, the tested Uyuni White G80 that I just tested is already the second iteration of its mid-level full-size luxury sedan. That’s how much effort Genesis is putting into getting its own foothold.

This G80 is another winner, and more affordable than most entry-level luxury cars. My tester was the G80 2.5T RWD model, the base (if one can use that word) model with a starting price of $48,725, including delivery. The sparkling white paint job cost $400 extra so this G80 ended up at $49,125. That undercuts the German luxury market by quite a bit, and the Japanese market by a bit too.

In short the G80 is beautiful, whisper quiet inside, features good power, handles effortlessly and touts a luxury ride that in olden days we called a boulevard ride, but without the floating feel of yesteryear.

How so? G80 rides on a lengthy 118.8-inch wheelbase to spread the bumps and its multi-link front and rear suspensions, with a self-leveling feature in back, creates that luxury ride. I can’t recall a sedan I’ve driven in the past year or so that rides any better. Maybe the G90, but that was five years ago.

See Mark’s video review: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vpODcpkOz7c

Like most cars, and all luxury models, Genesis includes multiple drive modes engaged via a button on the console. So one can tool along in Eco to save fuel, Comfort for daily driving or Sport to up the kick you get when accelerating and to stiffen steering effort. Even then the steering wheel isn’t tiresomely heavy, but there’s certainly more low-end power.

That actually helps this 2.5T model because it has the entry-level 2.5-liter turbocharged I4 that makes 300 horsepower via 311 lb.-ft. of torque. That’s substantial, but not monster power. It’s quick and sounds horsey though. This G80 reportedly will do 0 to 60 mph in 5.7 seconds and darned near 100 on a highway entry ramp. Top speed is about 130 mph, if you need that for cruising your neighborhood.

Don’t worry though, there’s more power available in the 3.5T. That model packs a 3.5-liter twin-turbo V6 creating 375 horsepower and a torque rating of 391. Both models also are available with all-wheel-drive, which adds $3,150 to the price and may be a wise addition in Wisconsin. While on price, the base 3.5T starts at $60,145.

Handling is moderately light, easy and effortless, but the car corners well at speed. That Sport mode of course firms steering feel.

Braking is impressive too, with 13.6-inch vented front discs and 12.8-inch rear discs doing the job.

Shifts are handled via a mostly smooth 8-speed automatic that includes paddle shifters behind the wheel. Unless you’re a fanatic for such things you’ll likely never use those. I did notice there is some hesitation coming off a stop, but that’s less noticeable in Sport mode. Also, the Stop/Start feature aimed at saving gas is a little less refined here than in many luxury makes.

Outside, the G80 is gorgeous from its wide pentagonal grille to the dual thin-line headlights on either side. The layout seems to reflect the winged Genesis logo on the nose, which I’ll say, again, looks a lot like Bentley’s.

Those thin twin headlights are reflected in similar taillight styling giving the car incredible stylistic balance. That’s aided by silky smooth shoulder lines that blend well nose to tail and a somewhat fastback roofline. Think Audi A7. Finally G80 uses a couple strakes for styling behind the front wheel wells. Those strakes include lights in the lower portions of each to give the sedan a unique nighttime appearance.

A chrome rocker panel trim line gracefully sweeps up through the rear wheel well to the car’s rear, making the car look as if it’s in motion while standing still. On the practical side, the A pillars have been thinned too. All combined, that’s a perfect 10 on my styling scorecard!

Inside, you’ll immediately know you’re in an upscale make as the styling is simple and elegant. Seats are tan leather and the dash and doors feature brown leather tops and creamy tan leather lower panels. Likewise the wheel is dark leather with a tan hub with satin chrome controls.

I like the slim, streamlined dash layout too and the black gloss on the center stack and console with satin chrome controls looks classy. However, the sun reflects off the console frequently and I was surprised there was no wireless phone charger here. Likewise the rotary gear shift lever is not the most intuitive design, but seems to be the way carmakers are going.

The clean design means it’s easy to figure out the buttons and controls and the 12.3-inch infotainment screen is eye-friendly and simple to use. There is a ring on the console that controls many of the functions, but unlike many such units it’s intuitive. Turn the outer ring and it easily scrolls through your radio’s favorite channels. Move your finger on the center portion of the disc and it allows selection of various functions on screen.

Seats feature a relatively flat bottom cushion that made my tailbone ache a bit after about an hour’s drive. Seat backs are well formed and comfortable and the leather is sufficiently soft for the price. Rear seats are roomy with a large fold-down armrest and trunk space is reasonable too.

G80 includes a power lumbar support for the driver and two seat memory settings on the door. Front seats also are heated, but not those in back. Plus there are no cooled seats or heated wheel here either.

You’ll need to move up to the Advance model for cooled seats, a panoramic sunroof (none here), three-zone climate controls, a power trunk, 19-inch wheels and a 21-speaker (I only have 2 ears) Lexicon stereo. The 2.5T Advance model lists at $53,325 and an even more luxurious Prestige model at $57,625.

The base tested model does come already equipped with a power tilt/telescoping steering wheel, adjustable interior ambient lighting, puddle lights in the side mirrors that also power flat to the car when the ignition is off. Plus there are the usual safety electros, such as smart cruise, lane-departure and assist, blind-spot warning, and automatic braking. Nice too that the lane-departure warning system can be turned off with the push of a button to allow for easier city driving during construction season when a driver is often dodging cones and errant pavement lane markers.

Still not sure Genesis is luxurious enough for you, or has the cache of a European make. Well, on the practical side there’s an excellent warranty so your long-term investment may be much less too. First, there’s a limited 5-year, 60,000-mile warranty and 10-year, 100,000-mile powertrain warranty. Genesis also provides free 3-year or 36,000-mile maintenance, including oil changes.

Gas mileage is good on this 2.5T too. I got 24.9 mpg in a mix of city and highway and the EPA rates the G80 at 23 mpg city and 32 highway.

Any sedan that looks this gorgeous, yet is underpriced for its market, deserves a strong look and test drive if you’re a luxury car intender.

FAST STATS: 2021 Genesis G80 2.5T RWD

Hits: Beautiful exterior styling grille to tail, good power, effortless handling, luxury ride and AWD available. Clean stylish dash, 12.3-inch info screen, heated seats, multiple drive mode, solid safety systems, good stereo, ring on console selects radio stations, power tilt/telescope wheel. Impressive pricing.

Misses: No wireless charger, gloss and metal console trim too reflective, rotary shifter, no sunroof or cooled seats or heated steering wheel.

Made in: Ulsan, So. Korea

Engine: 2.5-liter turbo I4, 300 hp

Transmission: 8-speed automatic

Weight: 4,143 lbs.

Wheelbase: 118.5 in.

Length: 196.7 in.

Cargo: 13.1 cu.ft.

MPG: 23/32

MPG: 24.9 (tested)

Base Price: $48,725 (includes delivery)

Invoice: $45,674

Major Options: Uyuni White paint, $400

Test vehicle: $49,125

Sources: Genesis, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

2022 Acura MDX SH-AWD Advance

Acura doctors up its MDX , prescribing excellence …

 Rare that an automaker skips making one of its best-sellers for a year, but Acura did that – sort of – with its popular MDX luxury sport-ute to ensure its 2022 MDX was a winner. It is.

            To be accurate, Acura didn’t skip a whole year of selling, just brought out the 2022 early, in February. It’s a looker and a strong performer.

            What changed?

            The exterior was restyled, picking up what Acura calls its Diamond Pentagon grille from the RDX model. It appears to be exploding out of the Acura’s nose, giving it a distinct visual to be sure. The rest is nipped and tucked for a more modern look with squinty headlights and thin taillights that flow from the accent line along its shoulders. Then there’s chrome around the windows and a chrome accent stripe on each side and across the lower tail.

            But MDX (Doctor X?) also becomes longer, lower and wider with great visual proportions plus 2.4 inches of increased third-row seat legroom, making it almost useable by adults. The chassis has been stiffened, which helps with suspension tuning, and there’s a new double wishbone front suspension too that helps its ride and handling. A revised multi-link rear suspension also aids the total package.

            An aluminum hood and front fenders cut a little weight too and inside there’s both wireless Android Auto and Apple Car Play now, along with our good friend, Alexa, to answer all questions, as best she can. She couldn’t immediately identify the driver, but you can train the system to know your voice and therefore respond to you personally.

            Acura delivers a pleasant, luxury oriented SUV that also feels sportier than most big utes while packing plenty of power, although gas mileage is nothing special. All MDX models are gasoline-only for now. Previously a hybrid was offered, but none is currently.

            See Mark’s video review: https://youtu.be/6tY0vgIDUms

            All those underbody changes have helped give the tested MDX SH-AWD Advance model a well-controlled ride that is more pleasant than many light-duty truck-based SUVs. This handles big bumps and cracked streets well. Ride is fairly firm, but never harsh and the sound-deadening here helps occupants feel isolated from the roughest of roads.

            Then there’s the returning 3.5-liter 290-horsepower V6 that gives the MDX the grunt it needs for clamoring to highway speeds, or pull up to 5,000 lbs. A new 10-speed automatic (up from 9) shifts smoothly and seems well mated to the V6.

Four drive modes, Comfort, Normal, Sport and Snow are controlled via a Dynamic Mode knob on the center stack. Normal and Comfort are so similar you’ll like choose one and leave it alone. Supposedly Normal firms the steering effort some, and I suppose it does, but not enough to matter. Each mode also slightly changes the instrument panel gauges (red gauge rings for Sport) and alters the engine’s sound and the interior’s lighting. The V6 delivers a throaty growl when called on to rip up to highway speeds, otherwise it’s quiet and civil. Sport of course accentuates the growl and firms the steering and ride considerably. That will probably work best in southern climes or out West where roads are generally smooth blacktop.

            That SH-AWD moniker in the SUV’s title means it includes Acura’s Super Handling-All-Wheel Drive system that shifts power to the wheels with the most grip. That’s handy here in winter, but also the torque vectoring it allows to the wheels even in the dry means there’s less push in corners. That aids the MDX’s handling and gives it a sportier feel than one might expect in an SUV that’s nearly 200 inches long.

            Base and Tech models come as front-drive, but the AWD system is available for an extra $2,000. Which provides our segue to pricing.

            These MDX models are luxury vehicles to be sure, so not surprising that the base lists at $47,925 with front-drive while the Tech model starts at $52,625. The A-Spec lists at $58,125 and the tested Advance at $61,675, with delivery. Both upscale models come with AWD standard.

            A performance Type S model is due later this year and will pack a turbo V6 creating355 horsepower. It is projected to start about $65,000.

            While most luxury utes deliver strong performance what may set one apart from the other is interior design and feel. On most such points the Acura scores well.

            I’ve mentioned the quiet, and it’s amazing. But the soft leather seats and trim coddle occupants. The tested Phantom Violet Pearl (looks black except in bright sun, then the violet sparkles in the deep paint job), featured black leather seats with gray stitching and similar door trim. The dash is black leather with black stitching.

            Open pore wood trim gussies up the door panels, as does satin chrome trim, also found on the steering wheel hub and dash.

The interior looks fine, although very gray, yet all the controls are easy to use.

            Everything works well here and controls are easy to see and understand. There are toggles for the dual climate controls, simple buttons and roller wheels for adjustments on the power tilt/telescope steering wheel’s hub, and that big knob for drive mode tuning.

            But there’s a touch pad to adjust the 12.3-inch info screen. Size is good, but that pad is best used when the vehicle is not in motion, either parked, or at a stoplight. It’s not as jumpy as some pads I’ve tested, and the firmer you tap or slide your finger on the pad the better it responds. But still, a touchscreen would be preferable.

Logical layout and easy buttons make for a comfy dash and center stack design.

            Seating is comfortable with good head and legroom in the first two rows. Row three will hold a small adult, but they won’t want to go cross country back there. Row three is best for children who are just beyond car seat requirements. Access to the seat is simple.

            Front seats are well shaped for good support, plus both seats offer power controls to extend or contract the lower cushion, lumbar or side bolsters. Massaging seats will be offered later. Front seats are heated and cooled while second row seats are heated and a heated steering wheel is standard on the Advance model.

            There also are parking sensors, a head-up speedometer display that is simply adjusted to suit the driver’s needs, and overhead is a giant panoramic sunroof with power sun screen. Manual screens can be raised on the second row’s side windows.

Door panel controls also look sharp and function well.

            All the usual electronic safety devices are here too, from blind-spot warning to automatic braking, a 360-degree camera, and smart cruise and lane control.

            Row three seats are easily folded down to increase storage space, which could be needed on a trip as there’s just 16.3 cubic feet of cargo room behind the third row. Although there is a good bit of storage under the MDX’s cargo floor too. The power hatch can be activated via fob, an interior button or by waving a leg by the rear parking sensors.

            Negatives? Really much the same as most large luxury SUVs, big A-pillars that when coupled with large side mirrors can obscure the front to side sightlines. Also that third row remains cramped, just less so than before, and gas mileage numbers aren’t impressive.

            I got 21.6 mpg in about 70% highway driving while the EPA says to expect 19 mpg city and 25 mpg highway. Front-drive models get 1 mpg better.

            But there’s a lot to like here and many features, some of which are optional on a few of the competing models. So if you’re in the market for luxury and a large SUV be sure to price each with the exact features you require. While the Acura may start at a little higher price than some, it is competitively priced once standard features are considered.

FAST STATS: 2022 Acura MDX SH-AWD Advance

Hits: Sharp-looking 3-row SUV, good power, sporty handling, nice ride and AWD for grip. Quiet luxury interior, power seat support adjustment, 4 drive modes, big info screen, heated wheel, heated/cooled front seats, heated rear seats, panoramic sunroof, motion-activated hatch, power tilt/telescope steering wheel, Alexa standard too.

Snazzy taillights add a classy touch to the SUV’s tail too.

Misses: Big A-pillars, limited third row foot/knee room, no touchscreen, just touch pad on console for info screen adjustment. MPG not impressive.

Made in: East Liberty, Ohio

Pentagon-shaped grilles seem to all be the rage!

Engine: 3.5-liter V6, 290 hp

Transmission: 10-speed automatic

Weight: 4,565 lbs.

Wheelbase: 113.8 in.

Length: 198.4 in.

Cargo: 16.3/39.1/95.0 cu.ft.

Tow: 5,000 lbs.

MPG: 19/25

MPG: 21.6 (tested)

Base Price: $61,675 (includes delivery)

Invoice: N.A.

Major Options: None

Test vehicle: $61,675

Sources: Acura, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

2021 Mazda CX-30 2.5 Turbo, Premium Plus, AWD

Already a winner, new turbo elevates CX-30 to top tier …

Earlier this year I named Mazda’s slick new small crossover, the CX-30, as my Zoomie 2021 Car of the Year. Little did I know then that it was gonna get better.

The original was sporty looking, featured responsive handling, a quiet near luxury interior and had good power. Now the power is outstanding.

Mazda, as it did with its sporty Mazda3 recently, has added a kicky turbo to its already solid 2.5-liter SkyActiv-G 4-cylinder. The result is a hoot a power rating between 227 and 250 horsepower. That’s up from 168 horses in the original CX-30.

Why, you ask, is there such a range of horsepower for this spiffy turbo?

Because if you’re cheap like me you can fill up with 87-octane fuel and still feel pretty peppy with the turbo delivering 227 horses, or spend a little more for 91 octane (or higher) premium gas and the horsepower jumps to 250. All this in a 3,472-lb. crossover on a short 104.5-inch wheelbase.

Yowza!

Acceleration is crazy quick with the CX-30 easily pressing triple digits down a highway entry ramp. Car and Driver magazine says the petite crossover will snap off 0 to 60 mph in 5.8 seconds and top speed is said to be 128 mph. Coupled with the all-wheel-drive system that’s standard on all turbo-equipped CX-30s and you’ve got the grip to use that power to your advantage, even if the road is a tad wet.

See Mark’s video review: https://youtu.be/daMiHWGAp6w

Note too there’s a Sport drive mode toggle on the console that will give the CX-30 more oomph as needed. It was much appreciated as I zipped away from bulky traffic jams at stoplights. Click it and leap away from the heavy metal beasts with bigger engines, then click it off and cruise. Sport mode helps Mazda’s six-speed automatic that’s designed for fuel economy to put the emphasis on low-end power for as long as you need it.

Likewise the Mazda handles well, not exactly sports car nimble, but quite responsive and easy to zip through tight corners and whip into cramped parking spaces in the city. No body lean or sway even on super windy days, which were plentiful during this drive.

Ride is much more sophisticated in the CX-30 than other short-wheelbase crossovers. Firm? Yes, the ride is, but so well controlled that you’ll feel you’re in a longer-wheelbase crossover costing much more. Sound deadening is awesome too, a quiet interior here insinuates luxury not found in the price tag.

This interior also helps Mazda establish itself as the maker of finer, near luxury, machines, not just another mainstream car maker trying to only compete with the Toyotas,  Hondas, and Nissans of the world.

Like the previous CX-30 I’d tested, this one had a gorgeous leather interior, creamy white seats and brown over black dash with soft brown door armrests and insert trim. That brown on the dash wraps into the door trim creating an especially snazzy look. Trim on the dash and door handles is satin chrome and Mazda includes a leather wrapped gear shift knob and steering wheel. Just wish the wheel was a racier flat-bottomed number.

High-quality interior puts this Mazda well above its competitors.

Those seats are well shaped and the surface feels soft and smooth, again more of a luxury feel than you’ll find in most mid-range crossovers. For the record, the entry level has cloth seats, the next level up gets leatherette and the Premium and Premium plus real leather.

Front seats are powered and have two memory settings for the driver’s seat and a power lumbar too. Front seats also have three-level heat and the steering wheel is heated in the tested Premium Plus model.

Head and legroom are good up front and moderate in back. If a driver or front seat passenger is tall then the foot and legroom becomes tight in back. Cargo room is generous behind the split fold-down rear seats and the hatch is powered.

Dash layout is clean and attractive with an 8.8-inch infotainment screen that’s tucked into an indent atop the dash’s center. I like it being high, but some riders said they’d prefer a lower position. Personal choice I’m sure!

Standard are dual climate controls, a sunroof and a handy 360-degree backup camera.

Safety systems are all standard too, including front and rear parking sensors, rear cross-traffic alert and braking, blind-spot warning, lane departure and smart cruise control. The beeping from the blind-spot warning can be a bit startling the first couple times it goes off, but less so after you know what it’s warning you about.

Other goodies include a fine 12-speaker Bose stereo system, plus Android Auto and Apple Car Play. No wireless charger though. That’s still a $275 option. Outside mirrors also are heated, the wipers are rain-sensing, and front lights are adaptive.

I’d like to call this a perfect vehicle, but that’s not possible, ever. The automatic parking brake is irritating as it sets itself every time the ignition is turned off. No other tested vehicle does this. So each time you start to back up that brake engages to hold you back. You can either press the console’s button, or accelerate harder (not sure that’s wise) and it’ll overpower the brake and it will disengage.

Then there’s the central control knob on the console to adjust the info screen’s radio and navigation systems, etc. Once you play with it a while (several days) you’ll figure out how to get to the station list and change channels, but it’s not easy to do while driving. Saving favorites? The same. I beg Mazda to copy one of the easier systems found in most vehicles now.

But there’s so much else to love here. Sorry Subaru!

CX-30’s styling is leading edge, it’s noteworthy, it’s spectacular. The beak of the hood gives this crossover a nose to remember. Reminds me of the racy beak on 1960s and 1970s Eagle Indycar racers. The slits for headlights are equally appealing and the taillights also make a styling statement.

But all that aside, the Soul Red Metallic paint job is so stunning that it alone could sell someone on the CX-30. Soul Red is absolutely the best current paint color on any car on the market. Everyone commented on it. People asked about it at the gas station and in the driveway. It’ll cost you $595 extra, but is absolutely worth it.

Gas mileage dips a bit on the turbo, and I admit to abusing the Power mode button and having more fun than I likely am entitled. I still got 26.6 mpg as opposed to 31.7, which was amazing, on the original CX-30 with its more moderate power. The EPA estimates this model will get 22 mpg city and 30 mpg highway.

Best of all you won’t be paying a fortune for fun. The base turbo model starts at $30,050 and remember that includes AWD. A Premium model that would satisfy most of us goes for $32,450 and the tested Premium Plus lists at $35,000 including delivery. Non-turbo models with front-wheel-drive start at about $23,000, with AWD adding $1,400 to the price.

With its awesome red paint job and a few minor options the test crossover was $35,995, a bit less than the average price of a new car these days. Bravo!

CX-30 is a no-brainer if you’re in the small crossover market. It’s beautiful while also being a high-value hoot of a drive. Could it be the car of the year for two years in a row?

FAST STATS: 2021 Mazda CX-30 2.5 Turbo, Premium Plus, AWD

Hits: Excellent turbo power, responsive handling, plus AWD. Sporty looks, leatherette interior feels luxurious, big screen, sunroof, heated steering wheel and front seats, 360-camera, smart cruise and safety systems, Bose stereo, comfy supportive front seats, power hatch. High value, fun drive.

Sexy beak and eyes!

Misses: Not a fan of the console-controlled info screen, and ride is firm, but well-controlled. The park brake sets itself every time the ignition is turned off, so annoying to disengage each time you drive the car. Wireless charging (optional) and flat-bottom steering wheel would be nice.

Made in: Salamanca, Mexico

Engine: 2.5-liter SkyActiv-G I4, turbo, 227-250 hp

Transmission: SkyActiv-drive 6-speed, automatic w/Sport mode

Weight: 3,472 lbs.

Wheelbase: 104.5 in.

Length: 173 in.

Cargo: 20.2 cu.ft.

MPG: 22/30

MPG: 26.6 (tested)

Base Price: $35,000 (includes delivery)

Invoice: N.A.

Options:

Soul Red Crystal paint, $595

Cargo cover, $150

All-weather floor mats, $125

Rear bumper guards, stainless, $125

Test vehicle: $35,995

Sources: Mazda, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

Die-Cast: Autoart’s 2018 Dodge Challenger SRT HellCat widebody

In any scale a Hellcat Widebody bulges with muscles …

As retro racy as Dodge’s Challenger has been in its latest iteration, the Widebody version is the most muscular looking and the Hellcat flexes the greatest amount of muscle under the hood.

Sinamon Stick or Destroyer Gray? I gotta go with the brighter Hellcat!

Combine the two, as Autoart has on four new models, and the Challenger SRT Hellcat Widebody oozes with muscle car goodness that could easily be the star of any 1/18 scale collection, depending on color. I say that because three of these are bright and fun, the other a low-key Destroyer Gray.

I scored, receiving both the bad boy gray one, and the stunning Sinamon Stick, a metallic copper, for review. Both feature dual Gunmetal Gray center stripes and black chin and trunk spoilers. Awesome!

The History

I test drove a Hellcat at Wisconsin’s Road America a couple years ago, both in Challenger and Charger iterations and you can believe that their 717-horsepower 6.2-liter supercharged Hemi V8s can push these rear-drive muscle cars to 130 mph, and more, in short order, sounding great all the while.

A Hellcat Widebody makes another 10 horsepower as it adds an additional hood air intake and if you were to “need” more power, there’s an SRT Hellcat Redeye with a blood-vessel bursting 797 horses capable of hitting 203 mph with a 0-to-60 mph run in 3.4 seconds. Take that Ferrari!

See Mark’s review and video of the 1:1 Challenger Scat Pack Widebody: 2020 Dodge Challenger R/T Scat Pack Widebody | Savage On Wheels

Putting that power down requires massive 20-inch tires and, naturally, superior braking power via giant discs to whoa a Hellcat. All that is detailed here on the 1:18 scale model.

The gray Hellcat feature red Brembo calipers and check out that Hellcat logo on the fender too!

Price on the real deal is high, but not as high as the supercars, say Lamborghini, Bugatti and Ferrari. A Hellcat Widebody starts at $73,240 and the Redeye at $75,000, but then you’d be ready for competition while also being street legal. Oh, and now there’s an SRT Hellcat Redeye Widebody that trips the cash register at $80,765 and a Super Stock model at nearly $83 grand, uh, but it also makes 807 hp. Autoart’s versions are much more affordable at $230, and visually they’re nearly as thrilling.

The Model

               I’ll chat up the Sinamon Stick version as that’s my favorite visually and I could find only one eyeball-catching difference between it and its gray muscle beast buddy. The gray model features red Brembo brake calipers as opposed to black on the Sinamon version.

               First, nose to tail the lines are crisp and dead-on 1:18 replicas of the street machines. The hood is beautifully shaped with the center air scoop featuring black mesh grillwork and the hood’s two side air vents also feature black grilles. Mesh grillwork fills all the nose’s split grille openings too and the quad headlights are beautifully reproduced, including the inner running lights with their outer light ring.

               Widebody fender flares look spectacular and the front ones include slightly curved side marker lenses that fit neatly into those flares. Awesome etched metal Hellcat logos accent each front fender and there are SRT markings on the black gas cap and four black Devin’s Rim wheels that grace all Widebody models.

Everything opens on Autoart’s Challenger Hellcat.

               In back the wide flat slit taillights look realistic, the black surround setting off those lights and the black spoiler looks great too. The trunk will open via handsome struts and there’s black flocking finishing off the trunk’s interior. Dual chrome-tipped exhausts are flush with the black lower bumper and Dodge is spelled out with photo-etched letters on the black trunk face. A Dodge license also hangs on the back.

Here’s a close-up look at the under-hood detailing on the giant supercharged HEMI.

               Under the opening hood, which features both scissor hinges and struts to hold it in place, is that massive V8, and yes, it says HEMI on it. A bit of wiring and plumbing is visible, but the engine and supercharger and hoses, plus cooling and liquids containers make for a tight engine bay. Detailing is strong, and impressive if you like to pose your models with the hood up.

               All windows are trimmed in black and there are big black wipers for the windshield and a shark fin antenna atop the roof. Side mirrors included true mirrored surfaces and are body colored. The flush door handles look great too, but make opening the doors a bit of an effort.

Sharp detailing on the Hellcat interior here, particularly the stack and gauges.

               Seeing inside is worth the effort though. Seating is Gunmetal gray with well-shaped racy looking buckets up front and door panels are handsomely crafted, including power window buttons and such on the armrests.

               There’s a T-handled shifter on the wide silver-topped console with two cup holders and buttons at the console’s front edge. Dash screens and air vents are well shaped and look realistic with glossy gauge faces and the steering wheel is nicely detailed with silver lower spokes and flat-edged bottom.

               I know many of us don’t display such gorgeous models with doors open, but if you allow visitors to look inside your models they’ll be impressed with this one.

               Tires are thick beautifully treaded numbers with Pirelli PZero labeling in flat black so they don’t scream for attention. They wrap neatly around the gloss black Devil’s Rim wheels and the Brembo calipers are easily spied in front of the massive front and rear discs. Front wheels also are poseable.

               If neither of these colors would lay rubber in your driveway, the Widebody also is available in Yellow Jacket with a satin black hood or Octane Red (looks deep purple) with no stripes and selling for $20 less, so it’s the bargain buy of the foursome.

               I’m all in for Sinamon Stick!

Want more realism? You’ll need to buy a 1:1 Hellcat.

Vital Stats: Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat Widebody (2)

Maker: Autoart
Scale: 1/18
Stock No.: 71736 (Sinamon Stick) and 71738 (Destroyer Gray)
MSRP: $230 each

Link: Autoartmodels.com

See more detail photos below.

Sharp lights, black mesh grille and a fine SRT and Hellcat logo up front too.
Rear window defroster looks good as does that shark fin antenna atop the Challenger!
Fine-looking hood air scoops and vents with black mesh grillwork make for a great hood!

2021 Nissan Rogue Platinum

New Rogue evolves back to top of market …

For the past century plus 20 or so years the auto market has seen fits and starts of revolution, but a whole lot of evolution.

Electric cars seem revolutionary now, just as hybrids were 20+ years ago. But when a carmaker has a winner, it often turns first to evolution to keep it selling like Minecraft games among pre-teens.

So it is with Nissan’s best-seller, the Rogue, a compact SUV or crossover, depending on who’s doing the defining. Look around at the next stoplight, or as you drive through your neighborhood. You’ll see a lot of Rogues.

That’s because Rogue has been a steady Eddie, an SUV that most families could afford and that delivered comfort, convenience, and reliability. It still does.

But for 2021 it has been upgraded, offering 11 more horsepower, much more cargo space, a skosh more rear seat room, a stiffer chassis, new rear suspension, upgraded seats and dash and a sharply restyled exterior. When you’re already prom queen all you probably need is a new bouquet. Rogue bought the florist.

See Mark’s video review: 2021 Nissan Rogue review by Mark Savage – YouTube

Let’s start with the outer appearance because Rogue got a lot of compliments at the gas station and from friends and neighbors. The body was tweaked to be pleasantly boxy (muscular in today’s vernacular), but with a two-tone paint option (black roof) and a perfect amount of chrome accents this silvery gold (Champagne) test vehicle absolutely sparkled in the driveway.

Nissan has added chrome to the tallish V-Motion grille, some new HD headlights and turn signal lenses up front, along with black cladding over the wheels and down the sides’ rocker panels, again with chrome accents, and chrome side window trim. The look is much ritzier than the previous model!

Nissan goes with a bold chrome V-Motion grille.

Functionally Rogue now features a unibody chassis that is stiffer than before, making it easier to tune the suspension. Speaking of which, there’s now a multi-link rear unit that will help in any off-road excursions.

Aluminum doors and front fenders save some weight too and a revised automatic CVT helps improve fuel economy. The tested Premium AWD model (top of the line) is rated at 25 mpg city and 32 mpg highway. I got 29.4 mpg in about 60% highway driving. Excellent for a gas-powered SUV.

It’s especially impressive considering Nissan eeked out a 10% horsepower gain to 181 horses from its stout 2.5-liter I4.

Plus you can select from five drive modes for slippery or off-road trundling. Automatic is the main setting, but there’s Sport to boost acceleration and firm steering effort, Eco to do the opposite and save fuel, plus Off-Road and Snow, the latter being a Wisconsin favorite. This model came with AWD to help full-time in sloppy conditions. That adds $1,400 to any trim level.

Power was good too, making a scramble onto the freeway simple and confident. Likewise the Rogue handles well, the chassis stiffening no doubt a factor there, so not much body lean even in high-speed sharp turns. Ride was ok, nothing special and felt firmer to me than my past test drives. That may relax a bit with a full load of passengers. I never had more than two aboard.

Safety is well considered here too with standard blind-spot warning, rear cross-traffic alert, rear automatic braking, a 360-degree camera, intelligent forward collision warning, intelligent lane intervention and automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection.

The ProPilot semi-autonomous safety system has been upgraded too. That includes smart cruise control and steering assist to keep you in your lane. Plus now Nissan tells us, it’ll slow you by braking one inside wheel if you enter a turn too quickly and will automatically slow the Rogue on a highway off-ramp. Remember, GPS knows exactly where you are!

Inside, the Rogue is as handsome and comfortable as any compact SUV, the Premium model featuring thick leather seating, and dash and door trim. This one was black over a butterscotch brown with that orange-tinted brown for the quilted seats and tastefully trimmed in black. There’s a bit of fake wood facing on the passenger’s side dash, textured black trim on the console with brown sides and repeated on the door armrests. Satin chrome trims the dash and air vents and door release panels. This looks classy!

Talk about classy … check out this snazzy new interior look for the Rogue!

Rogue’s dash is pretty special too with a 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster in front of the driver that is adjustable to show items most important to you. The Premium also includes a head-up display and a 9-inch infotainment screen that was extremely easy to see and use, including large volume and tuning knobs.

Below that screen are easily understood climate controls and two large temperature knobs for the dual system. Here’s where you’ll find the heated seat and steering wheel buttons too.

Nissan continues to offer a flat-bottomed steering wheel in Rogue, which makes entering and exiting just a tad easier for knees. Oh, and the five shift modes are managed simply via a knob on the console.

Love the flat-bottomed steering wheel. More vehicles need this!

There’s also a couple plug-in outlets below the center stack, and a wireless phone charger. This one didn’t work, but I read that some early models did not get this feature as there was a shortage of some electronics due to Covid-related work slowdowns. Wireless charging will be on future Platinum models.

Seats are NASA-inspired Zero Gravity shaped, which means comfy with good hip and back support. Powered front seats include a driver’s adjustable lumbar support and two memory buttons on the door. Rear seats are more comfortable than most with oodles of head and legroom and the cushions are a soft comfortable leather that feels rather cushy. Ahhh!

Even the door panels look upscale.

In back the storage space has grown from 32 to 36.5 cu.ft., with the rear seats in place, and 74.1 cu.ft. with those split rear seats lowered. That’s up from 70, so a nice gain. Also, there is a split cargo floor with storage under the covers. The hatch is powered too and can be activated by waving your foot beneath the rear bumper, nice if your arms are loaded with groceries, boxes or kids.

Speaking of which, Nissan offers a small-child friendly feature that rocks, 90-degree opening rear doors. They open so wide a parent can easily strap a wee one in a child’s car seat. Plus, there are manual sun shade for the rear windows to keep bright light out of Baby’s eyes. Brilliant!

Pricing remains broad and value-oriented enough that families should be able to find a Rogue to meet their budget. A base front-drive S starts at $26,745, including delivery. The popular SV model goes for $28,435 and adds ProPilot Assist, 18-inch alloy wheels, an 8-way power driver’s seat and Nissan Connect.

Move up to the SL model and you get 19-inch wheels, a leather interior, panoramic sunroof, motion-activated hatch, tri-zone climate system, power passenger’s seat and memory function for the driver’s seat and steering wheel. List price is $33,095.

The tested Platinum model with virtually everything including AWD, lists at $37,925. This one added a two-tone paint job for $350, illuminated kick plates for $400, external ground lighting at $350, interior accent lighting for $350 and a frameless rearview mirror for $310. I could do without any of these add-ons, except maybe the paint scheme. Total was $39,685.

This is a crowded market with a lot of great choices from the Honda CR-V, Toyota Rav4, Subaru Forester, Ford Escape, Kia Sorento and Hyundai Santa Fe. But Rogue has put itself back near the top of the heap with its restyled, much-improved model.

FAST STATS: 2021 Nissan Rogue Platinum AWD

Hits: Sharply restyled, stylish interior, good power and handling, plus AWD. OK ride, roomy cargo area, easy to see 12-inch digital instrument cluster, 9-inch info screen, heated front and rear seats and steering wheel, 5 drive modes, flat-bottom steering wheel, solid standard safety equipment and ProPilot upgraded.

Snazzy new nose and headlight styling here.

Misses: Wireless phone charger didn’t work.

Made in: Smyrna, Tenn.

Engine: 2.5-liter I4, 181 hp / 181 torque

Transmission: XtronicCVT automatic

Weight: 3,371 lbs.

Wheelbase: 106.5 in.

Length: 183 in.

Cargo: 36.5-74.1 cu.ft.

Tow: 1,350 lbs.

MPG: 25/32

MPG: 29.4 (tested)

Base Price: $37,925 (includes delivery)

Invoice: N.A.

Major Options:

External ground lighting, $350

Two-tone paint, $350

Illuminated kick plates, $400

Interior accent lighting, $350

Frameless rearview mirror w/remote, $310

Test vehicle: $39,685

Sources: Nissan, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

2021 Ford Mustang Mach-E Premium AWD

Electric Mustang Mach-E a fine crossover, not a Mustang …

Marketing is an interesting and amusing craft and Ford’s marketers realize they really only have two ways to attract attention to their brand.

First is the F-150, the longtime best-selling vehicle in the U.S., and second is Mustang, its iconic muscle car that has been garnering admiration since 1965.

So, when Ford was about to launch its first full-electric crossover it needed a way to get reluctant potential buyers to at least consider the crossover. Calling it an Edge, Focus, or Probe, just wouldn’t give it the panache and garner the attention it deserved. Calling anything that’s not a pickup an F-150 could damage its top money maker.

So the Mustang Mach-E was born.

OK, the nose reflects Mustang’s look, but …

Essentially Mach-E is a fine mid-size crossover with a refined interior, massive 15.5-inch info screen replacing virtually all buttons and knobs, and enough seating and cargo room for a family of four, or five. If you’re in the market for a crossover, this deserves a look.

Ford designers worked hard to put a nose and tail on the Mach-E to give it a family resemblance to Mustang, think first cousin on you mom’s side, but with more girth. The three-bar taillights and the large Mustang pony logo on the nose and tail more than hint that this has Mustang DNA.

But the Mach-E is not a muscle car, but not due to a lack of power. No that feedbag is overflowing. The Mach-E is heavy and handles like a big SUV or crossover. There’s no throwing it into corners for precise apex clipping and hustling it out the other side like you’re Lewis Hamilton. Mach-E feels heavy and pushes into corners.

The tail has Mustang’s three-bar taillights.

Likewise ride feels more like that of a big SUV than a sporty, nimble pony car. The shocks seem to dampen the major jolts, but you feel the road more here than in most crossovers and cars of any sort. It’s a firm ride that the family may not appreciate in town. Highways, which tend to be smoother, are fine and expansion joints don’t upset the ride.

Yet two things DO stand out.

First, the Mach-E is distinctive in its styling so you know it’s not a jelly bean Tesla Y or more traditional looking Jaguar I-PACE. Second, and to the Mustang point, it’s a rocket sled on wheels.

See Mark’s video review: Mustang Mach E 1st Impressions by Mark Savage, SavageOnWheels.com – YouTube

The tested Rapid Red ($400 extra) model was the Mach-E Premium AWD with an 88 kWh extended range battery, a $5,000 add-on that many folks will want for its potential range. In rear-drive mode Ford rates its range at 300 miles, with AWD that falls to 270 miles. A full charge on the test model was right about 260 miles.

The electric motors in this Premium model create 346 horsepower and will boost this 4,394-lb. crossover to 60 mph in 4.8 seconds. Quick!

Torque is amazing and instant in Unbridled mode, what probably would be called Sport or Sport+ in a non-pony branded crossover. Mach-e has three modes accessed via the Mustang icon atop the giant info screen. Whisper is for normal driving, Engage is a happy medium between Whisper and Unbridled. Acceleration is quick in all, but definitely upgraded in Engage and crazy fast in Unbridled. My wife was wowed, and she rarely comments on my test vehicles.

Unbridled also firms the steering to add a more muscular feel, but like a Sport mode on a gas-powered car, you use more energy more quickly in Unbridled, so likely won’t want to just cruise the neighborhood in this performance mode.

Note too there’s a Propulsion Sound toggle on the screen that adds some fake engine noise to the acceleration, most noticeable in Unbridled so that you viscerally feel like there’s more power, at least in your ears. Another toggle lets you shift between one-pedal control, meaning the accelerator either allows the Mach-E to coast like a gas-powered car once you release it, or there’s the natural electric motor and regenerative braking pull that slows the vehicle more quickly. Think of a golf cart once you release the accelerator, or a slot car that slows nearly immediately after the juice is off.

I liked the feel and got used to it quickly, soon mastering the let-up as I approached a stop sign so the Mach-E would glide to a full stop just at the sign. This later setting allows the batteries under the rear seat and cargo area to recharge partially as the vehicle slows, thereby extending range.

The logo certainly says Mustang.

Driving became its own entertainment with the various modes, plus watching the small speedometer/range meter just above the steering column. Often the mileage range shrinks rather quickly compared with the percentage battery charge that remains.

Inside, the Mach-E goes all digital with that giant vertical screen that seems overwhelming at first, but you get used to it. Seeing a navigation map that large is particularly comforting, as is the 360-degree camera when you back up. Yes, there’s a beep as you back up to let folks know the quiet electric vehicle is coming.

Is that 15.5-inch screen big enough for ya?

Using the screen is pretty easy and finding radio stations, saving favorites, and turning up or down the climate control system where you slide a bar up or down with your finger. Likewise there’s heated seats and a heated wheel here. Everything, as mentioned before, is handled through the screen. Mine never jammed up, as some brands have in past vehicle tests.

The dash was a combo of black leather and tweed cloth, so very sophisticated looking while seats were black leather with gray stitching. A textured graphite gray insert spiffed up the dash face and a small amount of gloss black trimmed the console, which is mainly a dual-level storage tray and container. Gear shifts are handled via a round knob on the console and a wireless phone charger lies at the front of the cargo tray.

The dash is clean and attractive and delivers a high-tech sleekness.

Overhead is a solid panoramic sunroof that does not open, nor is there any sun shade. But it is seriously tinted to avoid overheating in the summer sun. While I appreciate the big sunroof I’d rather see a smaller one along with a solar panel up top, akin to the Hyundai Sonata roof that helps charge that hybrid’s batteries.

Seats are mildly contoured but comfy and easy to slide in and out of, with front seats powered and the driver getting a power lumbar support. Three memory setting buttons are on the door panel.

Mach-E’s rear seat is roomy enough for three, but particularly comfy for two adults. The power hatch in back reveals a large cargo area, although the cargo floor is higher than many due to the batteries beneath. There is, however, a storage bin there for the mobile charging system that you plug in to replenish the batteries. And there’s a frunk, a front trunk that holds another 4.7 cu.ft. of goodies.

Plenty of room under the power hatch for golf clubs and groceries.

No surprise among the safety features. They’re all here thanks to Ford’s Co-Pilot 360 system with blind-spot warning and cross-traffic alert, lane-keeping assist, adaptive cruise control, reverse brake assist, evasive steering, pre-collision assist with emergency braking and more. There’s also that 360-degree camera system which helps because visibility is a bit limited with big A-, B-, and C-pillars.

Know too that Ford offers several Mustang Mach-E models now with an even racier GT model coming soon. The base Select trim starts at $43,995, including delivery. It has a lower powered battery and creates 260 horsepower while being rear-wheel drive. Its range is 230 miles and the AWD version’s range is just 211 miles.

Don’t forget you get a frunk, a front trunk, that will hold a little cargo.

The tested Premium starts at $50,800 and as driven was $56,200 with the extended range battery being the big cost option. Range is rated 300 miles for RWD models and 270 for AWD. My experience was more along the 260-mile range with AWD. Ford says the test model beats Tesla’s Model Y in range. I’ve not tested a Tesla.

On the practical side, if you are purchasing any electric vehicle, you’ll want to install a 240-volt outlet in your garage for quicker charging. The normal 120-volt outlet seems to add about 3-4 miles of range per hour of charge, while the 240-volt outlet reportedly will add 20 to 30 miles per hour of charge.

With a 50% charge I left the Mach-E plugged into my 120-volt outlet for 24 to 26 hours and got it to 100%. Be aware that more and more car dealers, stores, hotels and such are installing fast chargers that you can tap into for a charge (electric and monetary). I’d recommend the PlugShare app for your phone to alert you to spots to recharge, if on a trip. There are other such apps too. Note that sometime the charging station listed is not available when you arrive, or is out of order, as was one at a chain gas station near my house.

Here’s the door release button and small handle for the front door.

The Mustang Mach-E is a speedy crossover with good range and a comfortable and functional interior. This represents what most electric vehicles will be like eventually from the surviving automakers. Marketers name dropping aside, at least this one has some style.

FAST STATS: 2021 Ford Mustang Mach-E Premium AWD

Hits: Distinct styling, monster power (3 modes), good handling, plenty of cargo space, roomy for 5 adults. Giant tinted sunroof, 15.5-inch vertical info screen, heated front seats and steering wheel, plus wireless charger and usual cadre of safety features.

Misses: No sun shade, stiff ride, big A- B- and C-pillars limit view, could use a solar roof panel to boost battery charge.

One more look at that giant infotainment screen.

Made in: Cuautitlan, Mexico

Engine: 88kWh electric battery/motors, 346 hp

Transmission: Single-speed automatic

Weight: 4,394 lbs.

Wheelbase: 117 in.

Length: 186 in.

Cargo: 59.7 cu.ft. + 4.7 cu.ft. (front)

Range: 270 mi.

Base Price: $50,800 (includes delivery)

Invoice: $48,100

Major Options:

Extended range battery, $5,000

Rapid red paint, $400

Test vehicle: $56,200

Sources: Ford, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

Die-cast: Auto World – 1967 Yenko Chevy Camaro SS 427

’67 Yenko Camaro a sexy addition to any 1:18 collection …

To me the first couple generations of Chevy’s Camaro were the most stylish. I know part of that is because I have great memories of both my Uncle Wink’s 1968 and an early ‘70s Camaro that I drove while dating in high school.

Yet it was that ’68 that Wink used to teach me the finer points of driving a manual tranny. His SS was yellow with a black nose stripe, and could definitely lay rubber with the best of them. But I can fall for any similar model and Auto World celebrates 30 years of its American Muscle lineup with a 1:18 scale Tuxedo Black 1967 SS as decked out by customizing experts at Yenko Chevrolet.  

This is another muscle car done well and oozing value for collectors of 1960s metal.

The History

Yenko was a Canonsburg, Pa., Chevy dealer that gained a reputation for creating the ultimate muscle cars in the 1960s, along with Nickey Chevy in the Chicago area. When Yenko souped up a Camaro, Corvair, Nova, Chevelle, or Vega it was gonna rock, whether just for the owner’s fun, or on drag strips across America.

The first-gen Camaro debuted in fall of 1966 as a 1967 model and was available as a coupe, like this one, or convertible. Marketing folks made sure there was a Camaro for nearly every type buyer, offering 9 engines, seemingly topping out with the SS version’s 6.5.-liter, 396 cu.in. big-block V8 that made 375 horsepower. This was the SS version to pace the 1967 Indianapolis 500, won by A.J. Foyt. More than 34,000 SS models were made.

But there was a more powerful option, the 427 cu.in. V8 that you ordered through a dealer like Yenko via GM’s COPO (Central Office Production Order). This ultimate V8 produced a massive 450 horsepower.

All SS models had non-functional air inlets on the hood, special nose striping, and SS badging on the grille, front fenders, gas cap, and horn button. All are on this model, but more on that in a bit.

If that SS model wasn’t quite cool enough looking for you, there was an RS upgrade that could be added to the SS, including hidden headlights similar to those seen on a Corvette.

How hot are SS models now? A recent internet search shows a similar Camaro to this model going for between $350,000 and $400,000. Not bad for a car that cost a bit more than $4,000 new in 1967.

The Model

               Camaros look fast in any paint scheme, but this glossy black with white nose stripe and thin twin accent stripe down the side looks especially racy, augmented by a red interior.

               Let’s start under the hood where the 427 V8 is well decked out with proper wiring and black hoses along with a couple extra struts between the nose and the tops of wheel wells for stability during heavy acceleration. Headers are chrome, the engine block orange, the air cleaner chrome with a 427 label atop the cleaner along with Chevy’s crossed flags logo.

               There’s steering fluid container and power steering unit in gold, a big ol’ generator, battery and a white fluids container. And as with other American Muscle line models, excellent scissor hinges hold up the hood so it’s easy to pose this in the raised position.

               The hood here features the Yenko hood scoop with a 427 decal on each side.

               As with other AW Camaros, the black mesh grille looks sharp and the headlights are silver with chrome rings, an SS 427 logo amid the grille and a chrome bumper below.  Setting this one off from standard Camaros is the Yenko shield logo with Camaro in white below that and 427 spread below Camaro on each front fender.

Sharp logos just behind the front wheels.

               There’s another Yenko logo on the rear panel below the trunk and a 427 logo on the rear face of the trunk’s spoiler. A silver script Chevrolet Camaro badge rests atop the trunk. Taillights are painted red and white with silver trim plus an SS logo on the center gas cap below the trunk lock.

               Inside the trunk AW places a spare tire with chrome wheel. That lays atop a black and white checked vinyl trunk pad, something most cars had at the time.

A full spare is in the trunk, along with a vinyl trunk pad.

               Front and rear windows are trimmed in chrome with side windows’ overhead trim painted silver, but with chrome-trimmed vent windows and top door trim. Those vent windows would disappear in the 1968 models. Meanwhile, the rocker panels include a chrome strip and painted silver outlines the wheel wells, connecting into that side chrome.

Tires are treaded whitewalls, but with no branding. Wheels are chrome with small blue Chevy logos on the center caps. There also are chrome door handles, wipers and a front fender-mounted antenna.

               Open either door, and you’ll find chrome kick plates with the Body by Fischer logo. There’s also a blue GM sticker inside each door. Inner door trim is red and silver with pleated door inserts and chrome window cranks. The red bucket front seats include red seatbelts featuring chrome buckles and attachments to secure them to the floor.

               Camaro’s dash is red and features two low-slung round main gauges for the driver and a wood-look 3-spoke wheel. The spokes are chrome. Tight squeeze though between the wheel and seat. A driver would need to slide this seat back to turn that wheel, oh, and it actually steers the front wheels.

There’s also a wide black center console with cue-ball shifter and fairly detailed center stack. Looks like the glove box door can be lowered slightly too, seatbacks fold slightly forward, and radio speakers are visible under the rear window.

               I like that AW always details its models’ undercarriage with full suspension system, differential, driveshaft, gas tank and twin exhausts. This adds realism where some pricier models go with a smooth undercarriage. Harrumph!

               Auto World continues to produce finely detailed models at a reasonable price for its American Muscle series. Just can’t get enough of these ‘60s era Camaros! 

Vital Stats: 1967 Yenko Chevy Camaro SS 427

Maker: Auto World
Scale: 1/18
Stock No.: AMM1247
MSRP: $99.99

Link: Autoworldstore.com

2021 Ford F-150 4×4 Supercrew Lariat (hybrid)

Hybrid F-150 generates apocalypse-conquering power …

After 43 years as the best-selling vehicle in the United States I suppose nothing should surprise me about the latest Ford F-150.

Ford hasn’t stayed atop this highly competitive money-making bonanza of a market for U.S. carmakers because it coasts. Nope, it keeps re-inventing the envelope.

For 2021 Ford adds a hybrid powerplant to the F-150 and, get this, a generator in the tail that you could use to power your house during one of our apocalyptic 100-year floods, tornadoes, rains, etc. This monster of a truck is exactly what you’d want during the apocalypse. It should star in a blockbuster movie as it squishes zombies and 4-wheels over a crumbling world’s infrastructure.

Let’s get right to it.

I drove a Rapid Red F-150 4×4 SuperCrew Lariat, a midlevel model that will seat five or six, depending on seat arrangements. Mine was a luxurious 5-seater with a giant console, but more on this interior in a bit.

Most important, this is the first hybrid pickup on the market and if Chevy and Ram are the least bit interested in gaining ground on Ford they’d better have one soon.

Standard in this model is the powerful twin-turbo 2.7-liter V6 gas engine that makes 325 horsepower, or you could get a 5.0-liter V8 with 400 horses if gas burning, or buying, simply doesn’t matter to you.

The hybrid system, added here for $3,300 extra, conjoins a twin-turbo 3.5-liter V6 with a 35kw electric motor with batteries under the rear seat. It makes a whopping 430 horsepower and pounds 570 lb.-ft. of torque all while delivering an EPA rated 24 miles per gallon, city or highway. Combined with a 30.6-gallon gas tank that creates a 700-mile driving range.

Past experience tells me that even with a cyclonic tailwind you’d be lucky to hit 20 mpg on the highway with any gas-only powered pickup. With this one I averaged 20.5 mpg in a week’s drive, with plenty of city and highway miles. The trip computer said I was managing 22 mpg. Either is a vast improvement on pickup gas mileage.

See my video review here: Ford F 150 Hybrid Review by Mark Savage – YouTube

A reminder here that Ford chopped hundreds of pounds from its last generation F-150 by using more aluminum in the body, so Ford has been working on making its full-size pickup more environmentally acceptable for some time.

From a driver’s standpoint the new F-150 is a rocket despite its hefty 5,517 lbs. Power comes on quickly and when you punch it the twin-turbo V6 delivers boatloads of power to get up to highway speeds or out-power most anyone at a stoplight. Handling is reasonable for a big pickup too, easy to keep in its lane and maneuver, except in a crowded parking lot. Then you’ll want to leave a little extra room, even though this one only had the smallest, 5.5-foot, bed. A 6.5- and 8-foot bed also are available.

Ride, well, it’s still a truck. Despite its independent double wishbone suspension up front with coil-over shocks and stamped lower control arm and rear leaf spring with solid axle it’s bouncy. Not harsh, but there’s rock and roll over severe streets and back roads. Although I must say the interior remains comfy and quiet, just some noticeable tire noise on certain pavements.

Ford now uses a fine 10-speed automatic transmission to give the truck a luxury feel while aiding its mileage. Mostly it’s wonderful, at least from third gear on up. Shifts from first to second and second to third can be a little abrupt at times, which you notice when cruising at low speeds on electric power around the neighborhood.

There’s much to praise for Ford’s luxury-level interior too, but first let’s look at its bed and that generator, which is tucked inside the driver’s side rear fender, with power access in the bed’s wall. Here you can plug into various outlets to access 7.2kw of power. This is just a $750 option for the Pro Power system, and would cost you more to get similar generation power from an independent unit. A smaller unit is standard.

The generator hookups in the truck bed is a boon for contractors.

Obviously this is a boon for contractors and construction folks needing quick access to electricity on a job site. Just leave the truck running (Stop & Go will turn off the gas engine shortly) and plug in. The batteries in the truck do the rest through the inverter and generator.

Just how much power is this? Well, I’m cheating a bit here, but found that Ezra Dyer of Car and Driver magazine tested the generator by running extension cords to his house and fired up virtually everything one would need to survive a big power outage. (Truck should sell well in Texas after this winter!) That means a couple fridges, TV, computer and plenty of lights. Ford assures us the power will last at least 72 hours. Wow, just wow!

See the Dyer story here: I Powered My House with the Ford F-150 Hybrid (caranddriver.com)

Talk about a perfect truck to tow a camper. Just plug in wherever you stop and you’ve got lights, heat, etc. to help you smooth out your “roughing it” outing. Speaking of trailering, this hybrid model will tow a magnificent 12,700 pounds, so it’s still a hauler.

Inside, well, nothing is rough in here.

The red truck features a handsome chocolate brown over black interior with doors and dash being two-tone and the seats a perforated black leather with chocolate brown piping while the giant storage box between the front seats is brown with black edging. That box is massive, and here there was a flip-up work surface, just $165 extra.

The F-150’s interior is attractive and luxurious, plus that shift lever can be powered down.

Now, one might wonder how that works since there’s a large shift lever at the front of the console that would prevent the flip-up surface from lying flat. Ford solves this with a button to retract the shift lever. Clever, but it sounds like a coffee grinder during retraction. Hope they work on that for the next go-round, or put the shifter on the column, or make it a retractable knob like some other brands do.

Seating is comfortable and roomy front and rear with fairly flat seat bottoms and more contoured backs. Everything is powered and there are three memory buttons for the driver’s seat. Front seats are heated and cooled and the steering wheel is heated here, as are the outer rear seats.

This dash is an eyeful, mostly in a good way. The instrument panel in front of the driver, plus the infotainment screen are both 12-inchers, so easy to see and read. In fact, the digital speedometer is so big it took me the full week to get used to it, but you SURE CAN see it. Mostly the info screen is easy to see and use too, but the split screen does take a little study, so do that first before you engage the throttle.

Here’s the shifter powering down. It folds flat.

One morning I had a little bugaboo when the screen froze trying to load the navigation system, saying it was in low-power mode. So I couldn’t use the screen until after I’d shut the truck off for several hours and it decided to return to full power mode. Hmmm!

Possible too that one could become overwhelmed by all the dash buttons. I counted 31, plus 1 toggle and 7 knobs. The buttons were a bit much, plus there are more to deal with on the info screen.

Overhead was a fine twin-panel sunroof that adds $1,495 to the sticker, one of 16 options here. I liked it though, and the standard Bang & Olufsen sound system was a winner too. 

Certainly Ford offers a full complement of safety devices from lane-keeping assist to park sensors, blind-spot warning and emergency collision braking, plus a smart cruise control system. I should point out for trailer haulers the cool Pro Trailer system that uses a knob on the dash to help a driver back up to, and attach, a trailer.

Other goodies included a power tailgate ($695) that both powers up and down, plus there’s a fold-out step and handle in the gate. A spray-in bed liner ($595) was added, and there was a yardstick and meter measuring template molded into the tailgate, another benefit for those using this big people hauler as a work truck.

Once the shifter is down the optional work surface can fold flat.

Luckily the F-150 added running boards for $225, otherwise those under 6-foot or so probably would need a stepladder to crawl aboard. Rubber floor mats added $200 and the 360-degree camera another $765. That’s needed for parking.

Other various packages including one for Co-Pilot 360 Active 2.0 and appearance packages added another roughly $10,000. Overall there were $20,000 in options on the Lariat, which starts at $52,675 including delivery. Total then was $70,960, a huge price that falls just short of what I paid for a house 25 years ago.

Don’t be scared off though, there are so many models and configurations that surely you can find an F-150 in your price range. The base regular-cab XL with 2-wheel-drive lists at about $29,000. While a Limited 4×4 hybrid model can nearly hit $80 grand.

Know that there are three cab style choices, three bed lengths, 6 powertrains (including hybrid and diesel), 6 trims and then the performance-oriented Raptor. But that’s for another review.

Ford remains the technology leader among pickups.

FAST STATS: 2021 Ford F-150 4×4 SuperCrew Lariat (hybrid)

Hits: Roomy work truck with luxury interior, hybrid power and improved mpg, plus a built-in generator in the bed. Huge info screen and instrument gauges, large sunroof, heated wheel and heat/cool seats, power tailgate w/step, 360-degree camera, fold-out work area, running boards. Excellent towing power and acceleration, decent handling and Pro Trailer system to help when attaching a trailer.

There’s even a fold-out step and that yellow circle is a pop-out handle to help a user easily climb into the truck’s bed.

Misses: Big truck bouncy ride, difficult parking in tight lots, odd fold-down gear shift lever sounds like coffee grinder, an overabundance of buttons and knobs on dash, info screen got stuck once and couldn’t be used.

Made in: Dearborn, Mich.

Engine: 2.7-liter twin-turbo V6, 325 hp

Transmission: 10-speed automatic

Weight: 5,517 lbs.

Wheelbase: 145.4 in.

A big double-pane sliding sunroof lets a lot of light into the interior here.

Length: 231.7 in.

Cargo bed: 52.8 cu.ft.

Tow: 12,700 lbs.

MPG: 24/24

MPG: 20.5 (tested)

Base Price: $52,675 (includes delivery)

Invoice: N.A.

Major Options: Rapid red paint, $395

3.5-liter V6 hybrid, $3,300

Equipment group 502A, $6,920

6-inch extended accent running boards, $225

Co-Pilot 360 Active 2.0 Prep Package, $995

Twin panel moonroof, $1,495

All-weather rubber/carpet floor mats, $200

Pro Power onboard 7.2kw generator, $750

Interior work surface, $165

Trailer tow package, $1.090

Partitioned lockable storage, $215

Power tailgate, $695

360-degree camera, $765

Lariat Sport appearance package, $300

Wheel well liner, $180

Bedliner, spray-in, $595

Test vehicle: $70,960

Sources: Ford, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

Die-Cast: Auto World’s 1971 Chevy Camaro RS/SS

1971 Camaro RS/SS full of sophisticated style, sharp detail …

Fond memories of an early car follow many of us who grew up in the 1960s and 1970s and the second generation Camaro fills this category for me, and likely many others.

I loved the original Camaro’s shape, but the second gen was a smooth and sexy new look in the muscle car wars. The pointy snout with the two big headlights, smooth uncomplicated body lines and handsome four round taillights was a winner, and then down the road they were used as the International Race of Champions race cars. Bingo, loved it!

All that was plenty, but my first serious girlfriend’s dad had one that he loaned us for a date night. The car was as red as her hair, and I dare say we looked a spectacular couple heading to the show. While I should remember more, I mainly recall being able to bury the accelerator and squeal the tires, once we were out of dad’s earshot, and I made sure to take the highway that night so I could push the speed envelope. Continue reading Die-Cast: Auto World’s 1971 Chevy Camaro RS/SS

Die-cast: Autoart’s 1938 Bugatti Type 57SC Atlantic

Gorgeous classic Bugatti  a tiny jewel in 1:43 scale …

Oh, be still my swoopy car design-loving heart. Autoart has created a 1:43 gem of a classic Bugatti that may be the most beautiful car ever.

That may sound overhyped, but it is not. The 1938 Bugatti 57SC Atlantic is drop-dead gorgeous now, just as it was in the midst of car designers’ art deco styling period. It’s rounded, slinky, sexy and as beautiful as any machine ever created by man, or woman!

You can call it teardrop shaped, ellipsoidal or just curvy as all get-out, but the key word is beautiful.

Now Autoart, which mostly makes fantastic 1:18 scale die-cast car models, downsizes in a most impressive way.

The model has opening doors, hood and trunk/tire cover.

But first, consider this gorgeous French blue-bathed car’s history. Continue reading Die-cast: Autoart’s 1938 Bugatti Type 57SC Atlantic

Die-Cast: DNA Collectible’s VW Golf GTI Clubsport S

Golf GTI Clubsport S a hot hatch even in 1:18 scale …

Never as a teen or 20-something driver did I think Volkswagen would create a performance-oriented hatchback.

The Beetle was about to go away, the Rabbit was new, and the Dasher was sort of sportier looking, but really, not so hot. Yet over the years VW’s Golf has evolved, and in GTI trim has become a darned racy hatchback with great handling and good power.

Well, in Europe VW has taken the Golf even further, and that’s what DNA Collectibles shows off with its new 1:18 scale Golf GTI Clubsport S, a sizzling hot hatch only available overseas, at least for now. This fits right in with DNA’s, well, DNA of producing rare and limited run models from makes such as VW, Audi, Volvo, Saab, and Subaru. The GTI is No. 37 among its releases during its first several years of creating fine resin die-cast vehicles. Continue reading Die-Cast: DNA Collectible’s VW Golf GTI Clubsport S

Die-cast: Auto World’s 1970 Plymouth Duster 340

V8 made Duster a compact hot rod, details make this a winner …

My first new car was a 1971 Plymouth Duster, the basic unit with its venerable Slant Six, but in a glorious Autumn Bronze and with fancy wheel covers that made the car look particularly racy. As a new teen driver, that racy look was a must, but my dad was happy that the car had only moderate power.

We had owned a 1963 Valiant convertible that my older brother assumed after college and dad was driving a muscular 1969 Oldsmobile Cutlass S. But I thought I was king of the car nuts in our family with my Duster. OK, one uncle had a ’67 Camaro, so he may have had the coolest car at the time, but I think the Valiant-based Duster with its swept fastback looks was a sexy beast.

Obviously Auto World agrees. Why else would it be adding a new 1970 Duster to its 1:18 scale Class of 1970 series lineup? And in High-Impact Vitamin C orange, it’s a good stand-in for my bronze beauty.

The History

Plymouth wisely chose to sexy up its staid Valiant compact for 1970 with the fastback-styled Duster, which came in various trims through 1976. Remember the Gold Duster, Feather Duster, Space Duster and Twister Duster?

But in addition to its solid 198ci Slant Six like I had in my Duster, Plymouth added kick to the lineup via a 340ci 5.6-liter V8 that made 275 horsepower. That gave Plymouth muscle across its lineup so it could tout those high-perf cars as its Rapid Transit System. Ah, marketing!

Saving some money on tooling Plymouth used its Valiant chassis and nose for Duster, but raked the windshield back more to meet its sleek roofline that flowed smoothly into a downward sloping trunk lid. To remind folks this was solid like previous Valiants (a good selling compact), there was a small Valiant logo just above the more youthful looking Duster 340 decal on the car’s front fender. That Valiant logo would disappear for 1971 as Duster had already become a hit and by ’71 Plymouth sold nearly 186,500 units that model year.

Remember, it was up against some less than stellar competition at the time, Ford’s decent Maverick and Chevy’s attractive, but mechanically questionable, Vega.

The Gold Duster was next to come out and vinyl roofs soon became a thing. So don’t be surprised to see some other editions of the Duster as future Auto World releases. Dusters still garner some interest in the 1:1 collector world. I saw a well-restored 1970 Duster being sold via Hemmings for $36,000 recently. Wow!

The Model

As you’d expect, the body shape and orange paint job are flawless on this new Auto World release and because these are still die-cast metal models, they feel as substantial as the real 1:1 cars did in the 1970s. Luckily you don’t have to worry about rust here though!

Nice detail under this hood, from a time when there was room to work on an engine in an engine bay.

Let’s start under the hood, which works on two large hinges that easily hold the hood up if you choose to pose the car for engine viewing.  The Plymouth’s engine block is red with a large round black and red air filter on top with “340” and “Four Barrel” imprinted on it. Hoses and spark plug wires are here too, along with a detailed radiator, battery, power steering unit, exhaust manifolds, horn, wiper motor, alternator, and white reservoir container. There’s also a blue VIN tag on the driver’s side inner fender.

This Duster’s grille is superbly cast and painted with fine silver grille work, amber running lights and clear headlight lenses with silver-cast headlights beneath. The four thin horizontal taillights also look sharp, one of this and 1971 models’ cool styling cues. Plus there are black accents across the tail between the lights along with the cartoonlike tornado logo with “Duster 340” lettering.

What could be cooler? A sticker on the chrome bumper declaring this part of Plymouth’s Rapid Transit System and dual chrome exhausts.

Love the Duster’s split taillights.

There’s more chrome on the door handles, wipers, mirror and front fender antenna. Chrome wheel rings also accent the racy matte silver wheels wrapped in Goodyear Polyglas F70-14 labeled treaded tires.

More exterior highlights include a “V Eight” decal on the front fenders just above the twin black racing stripes that taper from thick in back, to thin up front. There’s even the Chrysler Pentastar emblem on the passenger-side lower front fender. I remember waxing around that every time I spiffed up my car.

All the windows are trimmed in matte silver paint and there’s a well-cast gas cap on the driver’s side rear quarter panel. I added a chrome cap to spiff up my car, back in the day.

Inside this interior is much more luxurious than my vinyl bench seats. We always joked that a LOT of vinyl died to make my black interior, even the flooring was just gray vinyl.

This model features black simulated carpet on the floor and the white optional tall-back buckets up front. Seat detailing is crisp and the dash well-detailed. The steering wheel is a large black 3-spoke and this Duster features a tall chrome stick shift with wood-look tan ball atop it. Under the dash is the optional three-wide silver A/C vent unit. My uncle had a similar unit in a 1964 Plymouth and man was that air cold!

Door panels and detail are appropriate here too with Duster logos on each of the coupe’s doors, a chrome release handle and white-knobbed crank handles for raising the windows. Remember when cars didn’t have electric windows? And of course all this is easy to see because both doors open.

Sharp wheels and tires here too!

Like all Auto World 1:18 die-cast cars the underside also is well detailed and includes steerable front wheels so you can pose the car in various ways. Oh, and the trunk also opens here, and like my car, has what looks like a gray vinyl mat on its floor, but no spare tire.

For nostalgia not much can beat this Duster for me, and I suspect a few of you have some great memories of that simple, but sporty looking compact. I think mine cost $1,900, plus $84 for the fancy wheel covers. Can’t buy a rusted out used car for that these days.

Vital Stats: 1970 Plymouth Duster 340 2-door coupe

Auto World’s box is sharp enough to display the car as is!

Maker: Auto World
Scale: 1/18
Stock No.: AMM1239
MSRP: $109.99

Link: Autoworld.com

 

2021 Toyota Land Cruiser Heritage Edition

 

Old school Land Cruiser remains off-roading icon …

To some off-roaders Toyota’s Land Cruiser ranks right up there with Jeep’s Wrangler as an icon, the ultimate all-star of mucking around in mud and slop.

Certainly it will do all that with ease, yet like many Land Rovers before it, the Land Cruiser is an expensive luxury beast that only upscale off-roaders can approach. Case in point, the 2021 Land Cruiser Heritage Edition in Midnight Black. (Not sure it’s any darker than just black.)

This week’s test truck, and yes it’s body-on-frame, not unibody like a crossover or car, was pricey. Continue reading 2021 Toyota Land Cruiser Heritage Edition

2021 Zoomies: Vehicles of the Year Awards

Savage names his top car and truck picks for 2021 …

While 2021 seems relatively fresh, and few of us want to reflect on the stinker that was 2020, this is traditionally when I do just that. I consider the 50 or so vehicles I tested last year and decide which are worthy of Zoomie awards.

What’s a Zoomie?

It’s my annual choice of the top vehicle I’ve tested in the past year. But there’s more than one great vehicle every 12 months, so I also call out a variety of the hot rods, crossovers, trucks, etc., that I’ve found exceptional. Trust me, 2020 was a prime year for muscle, both in cars and trucks, so this year’s awards are horsepower heavy.

While I try to include everything from basic wheels to luxury liners, the purpose of Zoomie, since 1990, has been to select a vehicle for the masses, but one with styling flair, something that’s fun to drive, yet also delivers value, an everyman’s car of the year, but with some pizazz.

I love driving Jaguars, BMWs, and such, and you would too. But my Zoomies generally are not exotics, but something YOU or your family could afford, and see at the Milwaukee Auto Show about now. That show is delayed by the Covid pandemic, but is planned for May 5-9 at Wisconsin State Fair Park instead of the Wisconsin Center downtown.

Still, let’s get the arguments started for the 2021 Zoomies (and yes, I know there are a few costly models this year). But we’ll start low, and like an anaconda, work our way up.

Best entry-level crossover:

Hyundai’s new Venue is small, but doesn’t feel small. It’s inexpensive, but feels and looks mid-level. It’s economical, but not bargain basement. Venue is a stroke of entry-level genius, looking like a blend of early Subaru Forester and Jeep with its square body and prominent wheel flares clad in black plastic. Yet it oozes modern design with thin LED headlights and taillights, plus interior amenities such as heated seats. Venue is a subcompact crossover with precise handling, peppy low-end acceleration, yet inexpensive ($18,500 to $23 grand well-equipped). Oh, and the first 36 months, or 36,000 miles are maintenance free.

Best affordable pickup:

Nissan’s Frontier Pro-4X Crew Cab is simply a dandy compact pickup, really the size that pickups should be for city-bound drivers who imagine themselves farmers, or construction workers. At 205 inches long and riding a 125.9-inch wheelbase Frontier is the right size to be useful and comfortable for family transport. Yet it’s much more economical than a full-size urban assault vehicle costing north of $50 grand. Frontier boasts a new 3.7-liter V6 with 310 horsepower and a fuel-efficient 9-speed automatic. Well-equipped Frontier runs $38,500, well below the average truck price.

Best wagon wanting to be a crossover:

Subaru’s Outback Onyx Edition XT is long on value, plus features AWD, and good cargo/dog/people room. Now it touts a new 2.4-liter turbocharged Boxer 4-cylinder with 260 horses, exactly what it needed. Acceleration is improved, handling and ride are excellent and outward sightlines superb. Now it also added a huge infotainment screen, heated front/rear seats, a full set of safety equipment, wireless charger, and a new CVT that better handles the power to create smoother, quieter performance.

Sexiest wagon:

Oh yes, a long-roof can be sexy, which Volvo proves with its V60 T5 AWD Cross Country. It’s sexy yet debonair with swept-back looks that let you know you’re in for a special ride. V60 has sporty handling, good power and ride, plus AWD and a panoramic sunroof. It’s loaded with safety equipment, plus heated front and rear seats, heated wheel, an excellent stereo, a big screen, and elegant interior with highly adjustable seats. The 250-horse turbo 4 also has three power modes, plus there’s an off-road setting. Sexy will cost you though, between $46,000 and $56 grand.

Best affordable hybrid crossover:

Honda’s venerable CR-V offers hybrid power and even in top Touring trim is just $37,100. CR-V is a 3P winner. It’s all about price, performance and practicality while also being handsome. The interior is quiet and well laid out, plus the crossover offers nice handling and ride. The Honda Sensing safety system is standard too. Oh, and I got a tremendous 43.9 mpg. That my friends, plus cleaner air, is why you have a hybrid.

Best affordable hybrid sedan:

Prefer a car to a crossover, then Hyundai’s Sonata Limited Hybrid, should be atop your shopping list. It’s a beautiful sedan with a dynamic profile along with a grille, nose, and taillights that ooze personality. (Note: Sister company Kia just launched its K5 that pretty much matches Sonata.) And get this, it’s rated at 54 mpg and one of the three hybrid models includes two solar roof panels that can provide 1,236 extra miles of charge per year in sunny climates. Uh, that’s probably not Wisconsin. Sonata hybrids start about $36,000.

Best affordable family sedan with racy intentions:

Toyota’s Camry TRD is simply too good to not mention. At $33,000 the family sedan looks like a hot rod with a diffuser, special cladding, a black roof and spoiler, and a peppy 3.5-liter V6 that pumps 301 horsepower. Wow! I got more looks and “What is it?” questions about this than anything but the new Corvette (more on that in a second). Talk about, “Oh What a Feeling” … and it’s comfortable for the family, while holding all its baggage too.

OK, let’s move more upscale!

Best luxury sport sedan:

Genesis is still new to the luxury market, being Hyundai’s luxury brand, but its G70 AWD looks elegantly sporty and performs like it could have been designed in Germany. A 3.3-liter twin turbo V6 gives it 365 horsepower, yet the G70 also packs AWD to keep it on track in winter. It comes loaded with safety and luxury features, power trunk for one, and quilted leather seats. Ahhh! Genesis is for the sportster wanting performance and looks, but not the price of a luxury nameplate, so just $47,000 to $53 grand.

Best new sports car:

Finally, Toyota brings back its Supra, which means it brings back fun, nimbleness, and sensuous styling, the trifecta. Its bulges are in all the right places and its thrumming 3.0-liter twin turbo I6 cranks 335 horsepower, so it’s quick. Handling and braking are special too and the beautiful exhaust tone that crackles on downshifts must be experienced before you’re too old to hear, or appreciate it. Price range is $51,000 to $55 grand.

Truck lovers may feel they aren’t getting much love right about now. Well, here are a few big brawny beasts for you to sink your keisters, and big bucks, into.

Best big muscle trucks:

Dodge’s dynamic duo win big here. The Durango SRT the RAM TRX (think T-Rex) are absolute monster trucks in every sense. With both, the party starts under their massive scoop-bearing hoods. There’s a HEMI, yes, a HEMI, under each. Durango’s V8 creates a throbbing 475 horsepower and 470 lb.-ft. of torque to haul this 5,510-lb. truck from 0 to 60 mph in just 4.4 seconds. On the practical (I know) side it’s also a roomy 6-passenger SUV with sharp handling for a ute, a big screen, an excellent interior, and a full compliment of safety equipment – much needed!

Meanwhile, the Mad Max style RAM TRX Crew Cab packs a supercharged 6.2-liter HEMI V8, the same used in both the Dodge Charger and Challenger Hellcats, with … wait for it … 702 horses. It reportedly will do 0-60 mph in 4.5 seconds,