Hyundai’s Santa Fe Sport still a leader …
Hyundai continues to pace the small to mid-size crossover segment with its Santa Fe and Santa Fe Sport.
A few years back Hyundai split its Santa Fe crossover lineup with the larger being the Santa Fe and the smaller, sportier model being the Santa Fe Sport. The test drive was a dark metallic blue version of the Sport with AWD and the Ultimate trim level. So this is the top-shelf model and therefore becomes a bit pricey. More on that later.
The Sport Ultimate looks and feels luxurious and features all the electronics you’d expect on a top-level vehicle. But unlike some utes and crossovers, the Sport handles well, rides well and has enough power to make it interesting.
This has the more powerful of Hyundai’s two engines, a 2.0-liter turbocharged I4, which generates 240 horsepower and a torque rating of 260. The base front-drive model features a 2.4-liter normally aspirated engine that creates 185 horses.
At that level the Sport lists at $26,245, but this top-line model starts at $38,250, plus an $895 delivery fee. Add in some options and the test crossover hit $41,355, a bit much in my book.
But there’s plenty of value, even at that.
Start with the power. The I4’s direct injection and turbocharger give you power when you need it, but allow the four-cylinder to work more efficiently when you’re just running errands. So you can get 240 horsepower tromping the gas getting on the highway, but power feels more modest around town.
Audi A5 Coupe a rare breed …
Coupes used to be a more plentiful subset of cars, but as cars become a smaller subset of vehicles the coupe appears closer and closer to extinction.
But Audi, for one, is committed to the segment and its A5 Coupe is a good example of how much pleasure can be derived from a coupe. It looks sharp, and melds sporty handling and power with a smooth-shifting 7-speed automatic transmission and 4-wheel drive, which Audi calls quattro.
The A5 does everything well, but is not a racer, nor a true family car, unless your little ones are in booster seats and can latch themselves in, or big enough to not need a booster, yet not too long-legged. Rear seat room is fairly cramped.
But a coupe is meant to transport two folks, mostly, and here they ride in comfort and style.
The silver test car ($575 extra for the paint job) came with Audi’s stout 2.0-liter turbo I4 that creates a spirited, if not rambunctious, 252 horsepower and 273 ft.-lbs. of torque. Turbo lag is non-existent, in fact, I looked under the hood to make sure there was a turbo. The power here comes on so smoothly and in such a linear manner that it’s not obvious that all this boost is from a turbo.
Looksmart delivers sharp Vettel Ferrari from 2016 Australian GP …
Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari joining forces seems a deal worked in heaven, or at least Maranello, which to the tifosi is one and the same.
Vettel is a four-time world F1 champ and Ferrari has the most wins of any F1 team ever, 227. So when Vettel came aboard three seasons ago the tifosi’s dreams of another F1 title grew quickly. By 2016 they were expecting wins, if not a title, and the new Ferrari SF16-H looked to be the car to do it.
Looksmart, a fairly new Italian die-cast maker, has just begun making gorgeous 1/18-scale resin models and this version of the SF16-H is as it appeared in its debut race, the 2016 Australian Grand Prix. The review car is a replica of Vettel’s ride that day. He finished third. Replicarz provided the review model.
Scuderia Ferrari, started by Enzo Ferrari in 1929 to be Alfa Romeo’s factory racing team, has been successful in Formula 1 racing since its inception. It’s the only F1 team to compete in each season since F1 was formed in 1950.
Ferrari has won 16 constructors’ championships and its drivers have won 15 driver championships, most recently Kimi Raikkonen in 2007.
The SF16-H (SF for Scuderia Ferrari, and H for hybrid) ran the entire 2016 season. Vettel had the best results for the team although the car never won a race. Vettel notched seven podiums including three second-place finishes, while Raikkonen had four podiums and two seconds. The team was third in the constructor’s contest.
However, this car led to the SF70-H which is proving much more successful. It already has won three F1 races as of this writing, putting Vettel atop the F1 driver’s championship.
Alfa Romeo’s Giulia makes us giggle it’s so much fun …
Rare is the sports sedan, or any car, that makes you giggle when you tromp on its gas pedal. Rare too is a car that makes your friends envious.
Corvettes have become too common, Jaguars too mainstream, BMWs too numerous. No, for something special you want an Italian sports car, preferably in red and preferably with a sexy sounding name. You want something not everyone of a certain economic standing has.
Today, that car is an Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio. That’s Giulia, as in the woman’s name, Julia. And the Quadrifoglio? Well, that means four-leaf clover, which is emblazoned on the car’s front quarter panels. More on that in a bit.
Alfa Romeo embodies Italian car history, especially its racing history. It’s who Enzo Ferrari worked for, or with, before Ferrari became Ferrari. Despite its long history the Italian make pulled out of the U.S. market in 1995 and only recently, along with its parent, Fiat, has come back.
Giulia is the car it needs to regain a foothold in the American market and from a performance standpoint it is an absolute home run. Or in the sporting vernacular of its homeland, GOOOOOOOAL!
With any sports car, or sports sedan, one must start with the power plant. Alfa snags a 2.9-liter bi-turbo V6 created by Ferrari and it is magnifico! It’s strong and sings like one of the Three Tenors, a thing of beauty.
Rocket Bunny Toyota 86 rocks …
You gotta admit, the name Rocket Bunny sticks in the ol’ memory banks.
So when I saw Autoart has a new 1:18-scale model of the Toyota 86 in Rocket Bunny trim, well, I requested one to see just what a Rocket Bunny Toyota looked like.
What is a Rocket Bunny? You may be asking. Well, if you’re not a tuner car guy or under age 40, this aftermarket aero kit maker may not be on your radar. It should be though because Rocket Bunny / Pandem Aero Kits is waking up the custom car look for Drift-style boy-toy street racers.
These are sold in the U.S. via GReddy Performance Products that makes everything from special high-perf exhaust systems to electronics, engine parts and brake and suspension pieces to tweak performance.
The cool panels added to the Toyota 86 give it a more muscular look with bigger wheel well flares and racy nose and tail treatments.
The Toyota 86, by the way, starts with ample power for a 2+2 sports fastback with a bit more than 200 horsepower from its Subaru-built and designed boxer engine. The car is lightweight with an aluminum hood and its engine mounted as low as possible in the chassis to provide better balance and a low center of gravity. This is a rear-drive model with a top speed of 145 mph and a 0-60 mph time of about 6 seconds out of the box.
From the 1,500 hp P-51 Mustang to 100 hp ultralights
That’s what you’ll see each year at the Experimental Aircraft Association’s (EAA) AirVenture held each year on the last week of July. This year’s event was the 23rd to the 30th and I sped by for me, well, like Boeing’s B-1B did while making high-speed passes. This year the crowd seemed to be up over last year’s 560,000 attendance. UPDATE: EAA announced this this afternoon that attendance hit 600,000, a new record. This was my ninth year as a volunteer giving future aviators hands-on experience with radio control airplanes. I met people from all over the U.S. plus Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, and Paraguay.
New Jeep Compass leapfrogs its predecessor …
Jeep has remade its Compass and moved it from near the bottom of the small crossover sport-utility list to much nearer the top.
The former Compass didn’t impress in any way, while the new Compass starts by looking like a miniature Jeep Grand Cherokee with a handsome 7-bar grille and well-proportioned profile. But it’s much more refined than its predecessor with a quiet and roomy interior and good behavior over the road, plus some ability to go off road, if needed.
Compass slots between the small, but cute, Renegade and the handsome more futuristic looking Cherokee. That means the interior is more people friendly too, and, somewhat ironically, the new Compass has more cargo room behind the rear seat than the Cherokee. It’s simply a pleasant vehicle to drive and ride in.
If shopping right now, be aware there may be some confusion if you go to a dealer asking simply for a 2017 model. Both the old, and new Compass models are being sold as 2017s. Make sure you try the newer version, although the former models should be on deep clearance.
Mine was the Latitude with 4-wheel drive. Here the power comes from a 2.4-liter, Multi-Air I4 that creates a healthy 180 horsepower. Not fast, but sufficient for all city and highway driving. A 6-speed manual transmission comes standard on Compass, a rarity in today’s market. But the bright red test vehicle added a 9-sped automatic for $1,500. Shifts were smooth, but acceleration is modest as the new tranny works to save fuel, and it does a great job of that. I got 27.4 miles per gallon in a week’s drive and spent about 60% of my time on the highway. The EPA rates the Compass at 22 mpg city and 30 mpg highway. Both numbers seem achievable. The Compass also features stop-start technology to save gas while the vehicle is at rest.
MINI’s Countryman is bigger, not necessarily better …
The new MINI Cooper Countryman goes too far, but maybe that’s what U.S. buyers want.
It’s the biggest MINI yet. I know that sounds contradictory for the small British-born make now made by BMW. But it’s true. This is MINI’s version of a crossover or small sport-ute with a longer and wider body, plus ALL4, its all-wheel-drive system is available.
It also appears to be less MINI in styling as it looks more bulky than cute. Think of that cute guy/girl in high school that packed on a few pounds by the 10-year reunion. In fact, the Countryman is just short of 500 lbs. heavier than the MINI Clubman that I enjoyed last year.
To put it nicely, the Countryman feels more substantial than earlier models and obviously is designed to accommodate larger U.S. passengers. The Countryman gains four inches of rear seat legroom compared to its predecessor and being a 4-door it’s easy to load five people aboard. I did it on a lunch run and one of the riders was a 6-footer.
So while the MINI-ness of the Countryman seems a bit of a stretch (pun intended), the usefulness of it should make it more attractive to folks who intend to actually haul a family in it on a trip. Another family plus? The rear seats fold down flat in a 40/20/40 split to expand the generous 17.6 cubic feet of cargo space, but allow rear seat riders. Likewise the seats will recline slightly and the entire rear seat will slide forward a couple inches if you’re simply carrying cargo, not rear seat passengers.
Replicarz goes bigger, produces winner with Joe Leonard’s championship car …
Joe Leonard was a heck of a racer, on two wheels and four.
He not only won three motorcycle championships, the hard-nosed driver also moved up to Indy cars and won the 1971 USAC championship running virtually the same car as his teammate, Al Unser, who won the Indianapolis 500 in a sister car that year.
Replicarz honors Leonard, who died earlier this year, with its release of a 1/18-scale PJ Colt, a replica of the car Leonard drove to the USAC title decked out in its yellow and blue Samsonite-sponsored livery. Replicarz had created a limited edition 1/43-scale model of the car previously, along with Unser’s 1970 and 1971 Indy winning Johnny Lightning racers.
Leonard won three A.M.A. Grand National Championships between 1954 and 1957 and set a record with 27 wins. By 1961 though, he turned his attention to auto racing and debuted in USAC, then the top-level open-wheel racing series. In 1964 he reached its top level, racing Champ cars, those that ran in the Indianapolis 500. He won his first race, the Milwaukee 150, in 1965 aboard a Gurney Eagle.
Leonard raced for several teams and had several good results at Indy, finishing third in 1967 and sixth in 1969 when he was wheeling Smokey Yunick’s doctored Gurney Eagle. In between he put Andy Granatelli’s famous wedge turbine on the pole at Indy and was leading with 9 laps to go when a part failed.
Fiat 500 Abarth pumps up the low-cost fun …
Few cars are pure joy to drive, yet cost less than $30,000. I’d put the Mazda Miata at the top of those, and a few models of the Mini Cooper would slot into this price range. But Fiat’s 500 Abarth is a relative newcomer and blows the others away on price.
The Abarth starts at about $21 grand, including delivery, and that’s down about $2,500 from a year ago. That doesn’t happen often!
There’s no getting around the fact that the Fiat 500 is a tiny car. It rides on just a 90.6-inch wheelbase, is a wee 144.4 inches long and weighs just more than 2,500 lbs.
But in its size, like the Miata, lies the Fiat’s fun, nimbleness and, well, joy.
You can toss this around, zip through corners, slip into seemingly impossible parking spots and flat out drive it like you stole it. It’s fun. This is a driver’s car. You smile a lot in a 500.
In its lower lines, the Pop and Lounge models, the 500 carries a mild 1.4-liter Multi-Air I4 that generates just 101 horsepower, leading to superb gas mileage. Well, the racier Abarth, which Fiat says is pronounced AH-bart, bumps that up substantially to 160 horses thanks to dual intercoolers, turbos.
Now you have some pop when you slip the 5-speed manual through the gears. Second and third punch up the torque (a 170 rating) and by fourth you feel like you’ve had a little mini vacation. Five speeds keeps it all simple, but adding a sixth would allow its small engine to bring the revs down and quiet the interior some.
Don’t get me wrong. I thoroughly enjoyed the grumbling burble of this little turbo as it was amplified via dual exhausts. But I kept wanting to shift to sixth on the freeway as its continued grumble made listening to the radio nigh to impossible.
Chevrolet’s first El Camino blends car, truck …
Today the blending of cars and trucks seems natural as SUVs and crossovers have become the preferred mode of personal transportation in the United States. But in the late 1950s and early 1960s such a thought was downright odd.
Ford stirred the beast first when it created the Ranchero and within two years Chevrolet answered with El Camino, basically wagons made into pickups with a big open bed behind the enclosed front seat compartment. Some considered El Camino a coupe utility pickup, a fairly apt description.
NEO has created a sharp 1/43 scale version of the 1959 El Camino in black with a red interior and plenty of chrome nose and tail.
The original El Camino was only around two years 1959–1960 and was made in GM’s Arlington, Texas plant. It rode on the 1959 Chevy Brookwood platform, a new two-door station wagon that was longer, lower and wider than existing full-size Chevys.
New VW Golf Alltrack brings fun to wagons …
Volkswagen brings a little fun to the small wagon market, which is a niche of a niche these days, but certainly compares well with small crossovers.
But instead of a tall boxy AWD vehicle, the Golf Alltrack is a decidedly leaner machine that looks downright sporty compared to a crossover. In fact, the Golf Alltrack is an offshoot of the Golf SportWagon, same basic vehicle, but raised a seemingly minor 0.6 inches for a 6.9-inch ground clearance and uses VW’s fine 4Motion system for grip.
The silver test wagon, which VW aims to compete with Subaru’s Outback and Crosstrek, was the mid-level SE model. The S with manual transmission starts at $26,670, while the test unit listed at $30,530 with no options and an $895 delivery charge.
What you get is a dandy handling, light and quick wagon that will haul quite a lot. Like most crossovers and such, it could go on minor-league muddy, rutty, non-paved surfaces, but really is aimed at on-road use. That’s thanks to the 4Motion system that runs the car at 90% front-wheel drive and 10% of the power in back most of the time. Once slippage is sensed, it splits the power 50/50.
Subaru’s WRX makes you faster, more interesting …
Mention the Subaru WRX in front of young adult males and you’re likely to become the most interesting man, or woman, in the world.
Subaru devotees are a, well, devoted lot and WRX fans are darn near rabid. Face it, some folks, especially young males, love speed and yet their wallets aren’t fat enough to go Corvette or BMW shopping and their egos or tastes may not desire a Mustang, Camaro or Challenger. So it comes down to two cars really, the race-ready Ford Focus RS I drove a month or so back, and Subie’s WRX.
Lucky for Subie followers, the WRX just happens to be revamped for 2018 already. But to my way of thinking it blends in too much, not a problem with the winged Focus. WRX needs a more muscular look than just its shallow lower body cladding, splitter on the lower nose and gaping air scoop on the hood. It really doesn’t look fast at all. And don’t get me started on the rear spoiler. It’s virtually non-existent on the tested Premium model.
Several co-workers asked if I had a new Corolla to test drive for the week – really!
Yet the tested bright blue WRX still has the guts that its young, mostly male, audience desires.
Subaru’s well-tested 2.0-liter, direct-injected, turbo, Boxer 4-cylinder pumps an awesome 268 horsepower and 258 ft.-lbs. of torque. It flat out flies after second gear. There’s some turbo lag to be sure, but even if you ease into the throttle from second to third gear it’ll slam you back in the seat and take off like an F-16.
Highlander Hybrid excels at moving people, things …
A road trip to Louisville with a couple buddies, and plenty of cargo, proved Toyota’s Highlander Hybrid to be a perfect transport choice.
Ours was a medium metallic brown, what Toyota calls Toasted Walnut Pearl. Probably should have been pecan since we were headed to the South. But, color aside, this fine family mover will carry eight folks and their stuff, or in our case, three and luggage, boxes, a monster camera bag, etc.
Highlander is quiet, comfortable, roomy, nice looking and, being the hybrid model, got darned fine gas mileage for its heft. Even without three dudes and their gear it weighs 4,965 lbs.
There was plenty to like and really nothing to irritate a crabby old guy and his friends.
Start with power. There’s a bunch. Toyota puts a new 3.5-liter V6 under the hood, mated with its reliable hybrid power system. Combined these get 306 horsepower and operation is silky smooth. Creeping through Chicago traffic on the return trip, at about 5-20 mph, the Highlander hummed along on electric power. Once I needed to accelerate somewhere near Gurnee, Ill., its electronically controlled CVT (continuously variable transmission) eased right into it and off we went at 70+ mph. In fact, cruising through Indiana the Highlander is so quiet and comfy that we had no difficulty commenting on how far we could see in any direction.
Ride is super. Highlander rides on a 109.8-inch wheelbase and the independent front McPherson struts and rear double wishbone suspension eat up highway imperfections. Few vehicles feel this smooth on rough Midwestern roads.
Volvo S60 OK, but doesn’t distinguish itself …
Volvo’s S60 is a fine, but underwhelming, compact, entry-level luxury car.
The S60 is nice looking and has all-wheel-drive, which will make it more useful to drivers in northern climes. It performs well, although its ride is rough, yet nothing really stands out.
Some will argue that its safety features stand out. That’s what Volvo, now owned by Geely, a Chinese firm, has hung its woolen winter cap on for years. Certainly the S60 T5 AWD Dynamic (quite a mouthful) that I tested had safety equipment, about what you’d expect on any car or crossover costing north of $40 grand.
For instance, there’s lane departure warning, adaptive cruise control, collision warning with automatic braking, pedestrian and cyclist detection also with auto braking, plus distance alert. All those are swell, but are not standard. They’re part of an optional $1,500 tech package. It also adds active high beams, rain-sensing wipers and the ability for the car to read road signs so you’ll always know what speed you should be going.
I’m not pooh-poohing these devices, but nearly all car makes have these now.
The test car also added an optional $1,950 vision package too that added a blind-spot information system (BLIS), plus rear park assist, cross-traffic alert, rearview camera, and a few other features. Again, others have these systems too, some come standard on other luxury, and non-luxury, lines.
Ford’s Focus RS is a scorching hot rod …
Simply put, Ford’s Focus RS is a street-legal race car.
Not many of those out there, and most that are require you to sell your house in order to make a down payment on said speedster.
So here, for “just” $36,995, Ford will put a scorching hot rod, drifter, rally car in your driveway, enticing neighbors, especially young males, to drool. It’ll also increase your heart rate, something on the order of being a real race driver.
The backstory on the German-made RS is that it, or similar Foci, have been sold in Europe for years and U.S. lead-footers have been itching for it, begging for it, praying for it to hit our shores. Now it has. I don’t know how many will be sold, but the Subaru Impreza WRX now has serious competition. In fact, folks considering a Chevy Camaro, Ford Mustang or Dodge Challenger may want to consider saving some dough and going this route for serious performance.
What does that performance consist of?
In a nutshell this fast Focus, complete with a big deal rear spoiler, pumps 350 horsepower out of its tiny 2.3-liter EcoBoost turbocharged engine along with a matching torque rating. It’s said to do 0-60 in 4.6 seconds. By comparison, a Mustang GT can do it in 4.4 seconds. That’s pretty close and this handles better!
Mr. Lincoln returns with statuesque Continental …
Lincoln’s new Continental, its first since 2002, has the type of curb appeal that will instantly allow it entry into the country club parking lot. It looks luxurious and that big chrome grille lets you know it’s a Continental.
For those interested in making a luxury statement, but really only hoping for that big mellow Continental ride, relax. The 2017 iteration delivers on the boulevard ride. Thankfully it’s simply pleasant, not floaty as in model years past.
Lincoln uses a long 117.9-inch wheelbase, multi-link suspension front and rear and continuously controlled damping to ensure a ride worthy of yourself and three or four of your country club friends. And yes, there’s plenty of room in the trunk for a couple golf bags.
So with distinguished looks and supple ride you may consider the Continental right on target for its audience. Except, like Cadillac, Lincoln is hoping to lure the 45-55-year old luxury sedan buyer, not senior citizens. For middle-aged luxury buyers power and handling also play a big role in brand selection.
Power is no problem here. The base Premium model features a 3.7-liter V6 making 305 horsepower, while the Select and Reserve models boast a twin-turbo 2.7-liter V6 that creates 365 horses and 380 lb.-ft. of torque. Turbos always deliver more oomph than naturally aspirated engines.
Ah, but the silver test car added (for $3,265) the upper crust 3.0-liter twin-turbo V6 that cranks an impressive 400 horsepower, with an equal torque rating. This turbo empowered beast is standard on the top level Black Label edition too.
Indy 500 Eagles continue to fly, multiply at Replicarz …
Dan Gurney remains one of the biggest names in open-wheel racing. His Eagle race cars dominated the Indianapolis 500 and Indycar circuit in the late 1960s through much of the 1970s, but really set the establishment on its ear starting in 1972.
That’s when Bobby Unser debuted the new Eagle with its giant rear spoiler and upped the speed ante to nearly 200 mph by putting his Olsonite Eagle on the pole at 195.8 mph, 3 mph faster than Peter Revson’s McLaren.
Replicarz, which previously released the 1973 STP Team’s Eagles of winner Gordon Johncock and teammate Swede Savage in 1/18 scale, now delivers three new Eagles in 1/43 scale. Back is the Johncock car, with just 200 being made, along with limited runs of 300 for both Unser’s white 1972 pole car and 1975 Indy winner, the blue Jorgensen Eagle..
Bobby Unser won Indy in 1968 in a Gurney Eagle, while Gurney himself was second. Gurney would place second and third the next two years, then retire. Yet his Eagles, made by All-American Racers in Santa Ana, Calif., soared. They won 51 Indycar races.
The Olsonite Eagle that Bobby Unser put on the pole in 1972 was the tipping point toward Eagles being the top Indycar of the time. That year it led the first 30 laps of the race before an ignition rotor failed sidelining Unser. He finished 30th. But by the next May, 21 of Indy’s 33 starters drove Eagles, including the winner, Johncock.
A McLaren, the other major player at the time, won the following year when 19 Eagles made the field, but Unser was back in the winner’s circle in 1975 with his blue No. 48. Eagles made up roughly half the Indy field.
Kia Soul! adds power to its hip, economical stat sheet …
In many regards Kia’s cute little Soul had everything going for it — first, its looks. The slope-roofed compact stands out in the dull boxy crossover market.
It’s also decidedly economical to buy and operate, with a low starting price and good mpg figures. The darned thing even handles well and has oodles of interior room so four hipsters can hop in, slap on their headphones and head for the beach, or, well, in Milwaukee, maybe a brew pub.
What it didn’t have was power. Now it does, thanks to Kia adding a turbocharger to its 1.6-liter I4. That boosts what had been a mild 130 horses up to 201. That may sound like it turns Soul into a rocket, but let’s just say it makes it quick, once you trounce the accelerator.
Still, this week’s metallic gray Soul! (Exclaim) with its snazzy neon red accent stripe below the lower door line, was peppy and still had all the other good stuff in its plus column.
This is the top-level Soul, but you’d be hard-pressed to prove it by the price tag. With delivery built in, the Soul! lists at $23,695 and this only added floor mats to end up at $23,815.
For that you get the zippy and efficient turbo engine that’s rated 26 mpg city and 31 mpg highway. I got 30.2 mpg in a mix of driving, and you know I was testing the turbo pretty aggressively at times. Nice!
Tough Toyota 4Runner is anything but a TRD …
Let’s face it, you’d better have a pretty strong, competent vehicle if you’re going to give one of its models the TRD moniker.
We all know what that sounds like, but in Toyota’s case it means Toyota tough, as in Toyota Racing Development. And that’s why the new 4Runner proudly touts TRD in its name and on its haunches.
The test truck was the mid-level TRD Off-Road Premium edition with four-wheel drive and a sparkling Barcelona Red Metallic paint job. It also features a tough-looking exterior with distinctive nose and a hood air scoop that not all models have, not to mention few of its competitors.
4Runner is a big ute, rolling on a 109.8-inch wheelbase it’s a sizeable 191.3 inches long and weighs a hefty 4,750 lbs. So move over mid-size crossovers and SUV pretenders, 4Runner is ready to go rock-climbing, and the TRD version thumbs its nose at rough terrain.
Kia’s new hybrid will knock your socks off …
Roughly once a year a test car knocks my socks off, trips my trigger, simply surprises the heck out of me and this week’s Kia Niro Touring has me amazed.
Looking at it you’ll say that’s no car, that’s a crossover vehicle. And that’s what Kia wants you to say. The styling is typical Kia wonderful with good looking nose, tail and beautifully proportioned profile. It has a taller stance like a crossover, but (and this is one of at least two surprises) it is front-wheel drive, and as of now AWD is not an option.
Second surprise, from a driving standpoint, this little beauty is a hybrid.
That’s right, it has an electric motor to go along with its 1.6-liter 4-cylinder gas-powered engine to create what sounds like a modest 139 horsepower. Don’t let that number fool you.
Sure, left in Normal drive mode the acceleration here is (yawn), shall we say, modest. But simply by sliding the 6-speed Sportronic gear lever to the left into Sport mode the Niro jumps to life. Acceleration is quick and quiet as the electric motor propels this honey to normal city cruising speed.
I found myself leaving the shifter in normal mode, which is the most economical way to go, and then slipping it into Sport at stoplights. Fun, and zippy!
Sidecar racer unique, weird, unsuccessful, but a cool die-cast model …
The mid-1960s were a wild and revolutionary time for race car design and technology at the Indianapolis 500, the predominant race in the world at the time.
The era saw roadsters with their engines in the front replaced by racers, such as Lotuses, with engines in the rear. There were a variety of engines from Offenhausers to Fords to Chevys, plus some jet turbines that darned near won, twice.
Then there was the sidecar roadster created by master mechanic and designer, Smokey Yunick, who had already taken on the stock car world at Daytona and entered several cars over the years at Indianapolis, including a 1962 roadster with a giant wing over the hood and driven by 1960 winner Jim Rathmann.
But by 1964, a pivotal and also disastrous year for Indy due to its worst and most terrifying crash that killed two drivers, Smokey had created what was commonly known as the sidecar racer, his Offset Roadster with sidecar. It carried his usual gold and black color scheme, and now Replicarz is creating it in 1/18 scale resin for us diecast collectors.
Rare 7-Liter Hardtop beautiful in 1/24 scale …
As a kid I saw a lot of Ford Galaxies around the neighborhood and some of my northern Indiana relatives who farmed had them and weren’t afraid to run them out in a cornfield if necessary.
But rarer was the Galaxie 500 7-Liter Hardtop, a luxury model that wasn’t afraid to lay a little rubber at a stoplight. That’s the cast resin model Automodello reproduces in popular 1/24 scale and paints up in a variety of historically accurate colors.
While the Galaxie 500 debuted in 1965 it was the 1966 model that boasted a new 7-liter V8. This was Ford’s already powerful 390 V8 but enlarged to 428 cu.in. to create a real torque monster. Unlike the earlier 390 model this one could accommodate all the luxury options Ford packed onto its Galaxie 500 models to push them from standard family cars to luxury models.
So in addition to performance type power, the 1966 models had power steering, power brakes, and air conditioning. The 7-liter also could be coupled with an automatic transmission, something the earlier Ford 427 V8 designed for NASCAR use, could not.
The new 7-liter model came only in hardtop and convertible models and sold well, about 11,000 units being made that year. By comparison, just 38 models were equipped with the horsier 427 V8 that year.
New VW Passat hits for the cycle …
It may be a bit early in the calendar year to talk about hitting for the cycle, but the 2017 Volkswagen Passat does just that.
Rare is the mid-size car that delivers healthy power, refined handling and ride along with a quiet interior. Often a sedan with respectable power is noisy inside, or rides like a buckboard.
But the Passat is a pleasant blend that retains its sporty characteristics while delivering the “dreaded” practicality of room for five adults and their luggage, while also being a delight to drive and competitively priced. Its one drawback through the years (the car was redesigned for the 2016), has been reliability. The old model had issues. Time will tell if that monkey is off VW’s back for Passat, which is made in Tennessee.
From a driving standpoint I haven’t driven a more pleasurable mid-size car in ages. First, this pretty “Fortana Red” test car was the SEL Premium model with VW’s romping V6, a 3.6-liter number that creates a kickin’ 280 horses and 258 lb.-ft. of torque. Coupled with a 6-speed automatic the power comes on in a hurry and gives the front-drive Passat major power.
Better yet, that power is smooth, not a burst as with the standard engine, a 1.8-liter turbocharged I4 that makes 170 horses. You’ll drink more gas with the V6, 20/28 mpg vs. 23/34 mpg for the I4. But I still got 23 mpg in a mix of driving that leaned more toward city speeds.
Mercedes’ sporty C300 coupe a smoothie …
Mercedes-Benz is on a roll. Not only has its Formula 1 racing team dominated for three straight years, now its street cars are back on top of their game.
A couple years ago I sort of fell for the C300 sedan and now, in the dead of winter I get to drive the C300 coupe with 4Matic, Mercedes’ all-wheel-drive system. Glad I had the extra grip as we had snow and slush and sloppy roads during the test.
This model features slimming sporty coupe lines that make it stand out among today’s usual humdrum car designs. And while it leans heavily toward sport, the luxury and pleasantness of the sedan are ever present.
The C coupe rides on the same smoothing 111.8-inch wheelbase and weighs a bit more than the sedan at 3,770 lbs. The car feels deliciously well balanced.
As in the sedan Mercedes delivers a scrumptious blend of sporty power, the eager 2.0-liter turbocharged I4 that kicks out 241 horses, and comfort. All that starts with a silky 7-speed automatic transmission that easily harnesses the turbo’s 273 ft-lbs. of torque, and cushions the ride with independent suspension at all four corners.
Ride is absolutely stellar, controlled and easy on the occupants, but still responsive enough to be sporty. Cornering is smooth and as precise as you want it to be courtesy of Mercedes’ Agility Select system that allows the driver to toggle through four settings, from Eco, to Comfort to Sport to Sport+.
Pilot wannabes will like button-happy Lexus LX 570 …
If you’ve always dreamed of being an airline pilot, but never got the training, you should try landing the new Lexus LX 570.
Lexus has created a cockpit fit for a pilot wanna-be with buttons galore. About the only thing missing is an altimeter.
Here’s a quick count of what you’ll get for nearly $100 grand. The center stack has 15 buttons plus four temperature control buttons, and two knobs for the radio. The console features 11 buttons, two toggles, and two knobs, plus a small park brake lever.
Need more? Oh there’s more. The power adjusted tilt/telescope steering wheel’s hub has 10 buttons, plus a 4-way directional pad and there’s a cruise control stalk behind the wheel. There are another 8 buttons on the dash’s face, plus the start button. Ironically the foot-wide screen atop the dash is not a touchscreen, but controlled by Lexus’s awkward and touchy mouse pad on the console.
If ever there were an argument for an autonomous car, this would be the starting point.
Once you’ve mastered the maze of buttons, toggles and screen controls you’ll find the LX570 is the luxury version of Toyota’s Land Cruiser, a big beast of an SUV with serious off-roading capability. It has a wheelbase of 112.2 inches and is a full 199.4 inches long. The Lexus weighs in at a stout 6,000 lbs., but will tow 7,000.
Replicarz goes big with its 1/18 scale PJ Colt …
One of my favorite race cars, and that of many other youngsters in the 1970s was the PJ Colt that Al Unser drove to back-to-back Indianapolis 500 wins in 1970 and ’71.
It was colorful and with its lightning bolts on the nose and tail the car looked fast and, well, cool!
Replicarz knows that and created beautiful versions of both the 1970 and ’71 cars in 1/43 scale a couple years back. Now it turns its considerable attention to the more detailed 1/18 scale model of the original 1970 racer. This takes the detailing on the Colt to a much finer level and creates a stunning desktop display car.
Al Unser teamed up with former racer Parnelli Jones’ race team for 1970, driving its Ford V8-powered PJ Colt chassis to win the national driving title and the Indy 500 that year. Sponsorship, and the beautiful car livery, came courtesy of sponsor Johnny Lightning, a toy die-cast car maker (Topper Toys) competing with the likes of Matchbox and Mattel’s Hot Wheels brands.
Unser won 10 races in 1970, none bigger than Indy. This was the first of Unser’s record four Indy 500 wins and put him on a path to racing fame, along with brother Bobby. Al was the fastest qualifier in 1970 and led 190 of the race’s 200 laps. You can’t get much more dominant than that.
New Honda Ridgeline redefines pickups
Honda has reinvented the pickup and it’s a darn sight nicer than whatever you’ve driven before.
To be honest, it’s a suburban cowboy’s pickup, but that’s what so many pickups are used as anyway – kid haulers and the occasional run to a home improvement store or big-box garden center. This one is just being honest about it and making your ride simply oh, so, comfy.
The Ridgeline is not about who has the bigger engine, toughest body, greatest towing capacity, it’s about refinement in a crew cab pickup body with a big open bed for hauling. It’s also quite a bit more.
My test truck was the Black Edition, which (not surprisingly) is black, with black wheels and a black grille to give it a decidedly elegant, yet macho look. Think I wanna be formal, but I’m here to party too! This is Honda’s top-of-the-line Ridgeline.
Like all Ridgelines it comes with a 3.5-liter i-VTEC V6 that creates 280 horsepower and 262 lb.-ft. of torque. That’s just fine. Acceleration is good and steady from a stop and ultimately Honda says it’ll carry a 1,584-lb. payload, best in class. It’ll even tow 5,000 lbs., which is well shy of competitors like the Chevrolet Colorado and Toyota Tacoma, but plenty for pulling a camper or boat or snowmobile trailer.
Ridgeline rides on Honda’s sturdy Global Light Truck platform with a 125.2-inch wheelbase that calms road imperfections. This feels smooth and controlled like Honda’s Pilot, a full-size SUV.