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 Ford Maverick pickup preview with photos

New compact hybrid truck starts at $19,999, on sale this fall …

Ford recently announced a new compact pickup, surprising the market by not calling it Ranger, as its compact had been known for years. Today it shows off the new Maverick pickup.

Boomers will remember the Maverick name from a compact car Ford sold in the 1970s, but for today’s intended buyer Maverick may seem appropriate for a pickup that isn’t the norm, mainly huge. Nope, this one is full-efficient, full of current (hybrid) technology and more.

But it also will be affordable for Gen X, Y and Z buyers, starting at just $19,999. That’s the market the old Ranger inhabited until it disappeared in 2011.

Maverick doesn’t go on sale until fall, but Savageonwheels.com hopes to test drive one ASAP when these get out into the Midwest journalist fleet.

Here’s what Ford tells us the new Maverick has going for it.

  • Fuel-efficient: Maverick is the first standard full-hybrid pickup in America and promises to be the most fuel-efficient truck with a targeted EPA rating of 40 mpg in the city.
  • Compact yet roomy: Its compact size will make it easy to maneuver and park, but Ford says there’s room for five adults and plenty of storage space (see the accompanying photo). The interior is stylish and spacious, with thoughtful features and the versatility for city and rural lifestyles.
  • Smart technology: Includes a standard 8-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, standard FordPass Connect with embedded modem and Ford Co-Pilot360 technologies like automatic emergency braking and automatic high beams.
  • Functional: Maverick offers a unique FLEXBED, which is packed with standard features and opportunities to transform the cargo box into a complete makerspace to fit owners’ lifestyles. The flexible bed offers a multi-position tailgate, slots for lumber to be inserted to subdivide the bed, 12 anchor points, two 12-volt 20-amp pre-wired sources plus two 110-volt outlets are available.
  • Ford Tough durability and capability: 1,500 lbs. of payload capacity–equal to 37 bags of 40-pound mulch. The standard hybrid provides 2,000 lbs. of towing to haul personal watercraft to the lake, while the optional 2.0-liter EcoBoost gas engine can tow up to 4,000 lbs., enough to bring a typical 23-foot camper on a weekend getaway.

For those looking for high-powered intro excitement Ford says actress Gabrielle Union (She’s All That and 10 Things I Hate About You), will show off the Maverick on her Instagram and TikTok channels, and on Ford’s social media channels. Maverick will be Ford’s first vehicle to debut on its new US TikTok channel.

Savage Racing

Running the Milwaukee Mile with the Rusty Wallace Racing Experience

The guttural roar of a stock car engine and the resulting vibration transmitted through the seat of my racing jumpsuit as I approach Turn 1 at the Milwaukee Mile nearly makes me feel as if I’ll pass out.

I feel woozy in a way I’m unfamiliar with. It’s not fear, it’s not noxious fumes. I don’t feel sick, it’s just the rumble that shakes my innards and maybe my brain stem a little that gets my attention. A person needs to pay attention. Some don’t and they tag the wall. One did at my stock car class mid-May.

This is the Rusty Wallace (yes, that Rusty Wallace) Racing Experience (RWRE). It’s a traveling circus of stock and exotic car classes and experiences for would-be racers, but mostly it’s for those of us who have missed our calling, those who WISH we’d have tried our hand at racing super-modifieds, stock cars or even Indy Cars.

The RWRE travels to 80 race tracks across the U.S. and Canada each year, visiting Milwaukee’s famous one-mile oval at State Fair Park twice a year, in May and September. It’s here just one day each time. Pray for no rain.

I drove 12 laps (well 15 really, but more on that later) after my dear family decided it was time for the old guy to bury the pedal on a race track, not the highway, and in a real stock car, not the family Subaru. It was sort of a belated 65th birthday gift after that marker was Covidified a year ago April.

The day was a blast, but not without its challenges.

Pensive racer Savage before slipping behind the wheel.

I was in the 10 a.m. grouping, which meant a 9:30 arrival to sign away my life and those of my loved ones who came to watch. My 12-year-old grandson was hoping I’d crash because that would be “cool.” It wouldn’t!

Participants who arrive a few minutes early get to watch as pro drivers take paying customers on ride-alongs. That allows you to get used to the bark of the two No. 18 M&M paint scheme stockers blasting around the Mile in the good hands of experienced racers. They look, and sound, fast.

Then it’s into the media center for about 45 minutes of class time explaining the intricacies of driving a 1-mile flat oval. It’s trickier than, say, Daytona where the huge banking in the turns makes driving those turns easier in some ways, but not all.

The key here is timing.

Turns at the 118-year-old Milwaukee Mile are flat and treacherous. Keep the inside wheels on the darker pavement!

Accelerate hard down the straights, then let off the throttle just before the sharp barely-banked turns. (The Mile started as a dirt track, being paved in 1954.) The RWRE folks painted big orange rectangles on the track to let drivers know the optimum spot to get off the gas. Thanks!

Then brake hard when entering the turn, slowly letting off the pressure. That sets the car, moving the weight to the front tires so it steers easily through the turn. A bigger (greater inflation) right rear tire also assures the stock car always wants to turn left, even on the straightaways. Let off the brake when nearing the turn’s apex, then get back, gingerly and smoothly, on the throttle. The car will naturally push up toward the outer wall when exiting the turns. Orange and green stripes have been painted at intervals in the turns and on the straights to give you a precise idea of where you should be.

See Mark’s in-car video: Mark drives a stock car at the Milwaukee Mile

At the Milwaukee Mile, the nation’s oldest continuously operating race track (sorry Indy!), right side tires should be on the lighter, older asphalt track in the turns, and the left side tires on the darker apron down low.

Our instructor made sure we knew that, and that when the spotter on the 1-way radio said Lift and Left, we stayed to the left as let off the throttle, another racer was about to pass. Safety first! Don’t worry, the other drivers were gonna get those same instructions once I caught up to them. I got to pass four cars (never more than 6 on the track at once), two in turns. That’s pressure!

Much of the class involved going over the safety issues, such as how to quickly unhook the HANS device that keeps your head and neck safe (pull two release cords attached to the helmet’s sides), how to flip the latch on your tight five-point safety harness, and how to unhook the window’s safety net. Those are the three essential steps to a safe car exit, should, uh, a problem arise.

Oh, and the instructor passed around a steering wheel so we could get the feel of pulling on the center ring at its base to slide it on and off the steering column. You can’t get in or out of the car with the steering wheel attached. It’s that tight of a squeeze!

A few more tips and questions from the 20 or so other would-be drivers and it’s time to suit up. I chose a black jumpsuit, one because it came in short so I’d fit and didn’t have to wad up the legs, and two, the black is much sexier than the red suits. Those look like you’re on the safety crew … not that there’s anything wrong with that!

Next I grab a sanitized helmet (they ran large), and a balaclava to keep my hair out of my face (not really necessary). Then it’s out to the track to stand in line. This is a good time for pictures with the family as they stand with you in the pits (behind a short wall) until it’s your turn to drive.

“Trophy wife” hugs this racer before he risks his life. Yes, the insurance is paid up! Meanwhile the pit crew stands at the ready, anticipating track action.

Then you wait. The Rusty Wallace school here had five or six Nationwide and Cup series cars for drivers, plus the two for its pros to provide high-speed rides. All was well and but my mind starting playing the game of figuring out which car I’d get. I was hoping for the yellow and black Matt Kenseth style No. 17 DeWalt car, he being our home state hero.

It takes at least 10 (often more) minutes to load a driver aboard a racecar, take pictures, strap in, put on the helmet and ear pieces that let a spotter up in the scoring tower talk to you, and then get the HANS device hooked up properly. It takes a little less time when getting out, depending on how big a rush the conditions dictate.

So you wait and watch as this is repeated and you inch ever closer to the front of the line. Some folks trundle by at what appears to be city street speeds. Others hustle up to racier speeds quickly. You can tell visually, but also much by the sound of the racers as they rocket toward Turn 1. Some backfire at lower speeds.

There was one Oops moment this day, but fortunately it wasn’t My moment.

On my Saturday, the day turned from gorgeous warm spring morning to ugly black skies with a strong wind and sliding temperatures. When I was sixth in line to go racing, it started to sprinkle. Figures!

For safety, the racing was yellow flagged, then stopped.

We waited, tried to stay warm and watched the skies that alternated between sunny and demonic black. The track was directly on the edge of a line of storms moving through. Our phones predicted 100% chance of rain, but we caught a break and after 45 minutes were back to the track. But skies were still threatening.

The group ahead of me started slipping into their cars. Second driver out and the yellow light blinks on. The walkie-talkies crackled with the news. He’d hit the wall exiting Turn 2 on his first lap. Wow!

A closer look at the Oops moment experienced by one racer. Advice? Buy the crash insurance!

We waited some more. The skies darkened further.

A tow truck brought his car back. Ouch! Then an emergency vehicle returned the driver to the pits, none the worse for wear physically. Mentally, well? Crashing is the ultimate embarrassment. Folks applauded lightly as he got out and walked through the crowd. I’m not sure if it was because he could walk, or they were just being kind.

Finally, it was nearly my turn. An older gentleman got to go before me because he was tall and fit the next available car. Who knew there were tall and short cars?

Ready to climb aboard, and doesn’t it look like I belong here?

Then the Blue 2, as the pit boss called it, pulled in. This thundering blue and black Dodge Charger in Rusty Wallace livery, complete with his No. 2 all over it, was to be my beast.

Feet first into the window and onto the seat. Sit on the door frame for a couple pictures. This feels natural, like I should have been doing it for years. Slither inside the 500-horsepower racer and strap into my helmet, loosely. The steering wheel is still on the roof as a RWRE worker cinches up my belts and makes sure the HANS is attached. Then he hands me the wheel and I slip it in place. Turn it a couple times to make sure it’s latched. I needn’t have worried, the spotter will ask me to do that again just before heading on to the track.

Fasten that helmet and get the ear phones in there so I can hear the spotter.

Next my crew member hooks up the window net as I fiddle to slide the ear pieces under my helmet so I can hear the spotter. Now I tighten the helmet and flip the Ignition and Start buttons up, giving it a little gas. The Charger’s engine fires. It’s go time.

Well, almost!

Waiting, and waiting, in the pits. Ready to roll!

Now the pit boss, a Hoosier like me, runs through some final instructions to make sure my radio works, the wheel is attached and I understand Lift and Left. A lot of thumbs up here. OK, I pull up behind the car in line before me as it sits in pit lane. Let the clutch out, but keep those revs up. I don’t want to be the driver that kills his engine in the pits.

I sit anxiously behind the earlier driver for a minute or more. He finally pulls into the merge lane that brings a racer out of the pits onto the back straightaway. Then I wait in radio silence. Where’s the spotter? When do I go? Is my radio working? That huge black cloud is moving over Turn 1 now. Is it gonna rain again? Not now, please!

The cockpit is pretty sparse. HANS device laying on the dash now, but will go behind the head and neck soon. Minimal gauges and a bare steering column awaits a wheel.

After a two-minute wait I hear, “You’re good to go.” Finally!

Slip the stocker into first, then quickly to second to get it rolling and assure I won’t stall in front of the crowd, well, mainly the family. It’s easy into third gear and finally fourth as I pull into the racing line on the back straight. I’m done shifting for now, and there are only four gears anyway.

Take it easy the first lap. Feel the car. It’s heavy. Tap the accelerator on the straight, never a turn. Someone had already learned that lesson today. There’s plenty of giddyup. Then let off into the turn and feel the brakes. They are pretty grabby and squeal at low speeds. I’m probably going 40 mph, a low speed.

Out on the front straight for the first time and I can see the grandstands, the pits, the people in the pits. This is the last time I’ll pay any attention to all that until I pull into the pit lane.

I look like I’m nailing the throttle on this lap!

Lap 2 I accelerate a little harder out of the second turn and then hear Lift and Left. The pro driver rockets by on the outside. Next lap I pick up the pace a little more. Maybe I’m going 60 now. There’s no speedometer in the car, just a tachometer and I’m not really watching it. I’m keeping my eyes on the track. The instructor told us to look where we want to go, never at the wall or you’ll hit it. She told us of a shy driver doing about 30 mph that tapped the wall after being told the session was over because he looked at the wall. Really?

Several laps in now and starting to get the feel, but a yellow light. Shoot, is it raining on the track? I have no moisture on my windshield. Hmm, no rain, no cars stalled. Three laps later it’s green and I’m back in the groove. I pass a car in Turn 3 with the spotter assuring me, “You’re much faster, just go around.” Of course the outside lane in a turn is much closer to the cement wall. I know what it can do to a car. I’ve seen that already today and even though I took out the crash insurance ($75), I don’t want to shell out the $1,000 deductible.

Pass complete, I race down the front straight. A few laps later I catch another car going into Turn 1. Again the spotter advises the high line. I get by as I exit onto the back straight. Still feeling a little iffy in that high groove, but now I’m a racer, I’m passing folks, possibly the older gentleman (he was 80), but still!

Eventually it’s time to pit and let someone else fulfill a dream!

A few more laps and I’m holding the throttle down all the way to the cutoff point, doing heavier braking and feeling that my timing is at least acceptable now. I pass another car as I come out of Turn 4 on the main straight. Did “everybody” see that? What a move!

Just a couple more laps and I was feeling like the revs, the sounds, the roar and the shudder of the steel on jig-built chassis stock car was about to make me pass out. Darn it, this was my chance to shine, but the final lap I took it a little easier, just one last full throttle shot down the back straight before entering the pits.

Easy, really, except that while I was hitting maybe 100 on the straights and averaging about 70 mph on the track, the pros do it much quicker. RWRE doesn’t provide times, but my pit crew said I got better as I went and did 52 second laps, about 70 mph. The lap record is 185 mph or 20 seconds, but that was in an open-wheel Indycar back in 1998. I don’t see how.

Not a bad run for a semi-old-timer with a heavy right foot.

As I climbed from the car, first the window net down, then the wheel off, then release the HANS device, then the belts, then take that now hot helmet off my head. Pull my feet up into the seat and push myself out the window. Ah, fresh air, and a wave to my “fans” before reuniting with the family and taking my place on the victory podium. No autographs please!

That yellow? My brother-in-law and favorite pro photographer had snuck down to the first turn to get some photos of me lapping at speed. The RWRE folks didn’t care for that, so asked him to move and threw the yellow until he was back in the pits.

Everyone’s a winner at the Rusty Wallace Racing Experience!

Hey, but that got me a few extra laps on a track that I’ve known about since I was a kid, worshiping the likes of Tony Bettenhausen, A.J. Foyt, Roger Ward, Jim Clark, Bobby Unser, and my hero Jim Hurtubise. Herk was seriously burned here in a 1964 Turn 4 accident, but came back to race for years after that. That’s what heroes do.

Dreams do come true and Rusty Wallace, the 1989 NASCAR Champion, knows how to make that happen. It’s an experience I’ll cherish until I can’t crawl into or out of a race car anymore. But I’ve seen that it can still be done, even when that racer is 80!

Photos: Patrick McSweeney

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!

Why most Motorcyclists are better drivers

Well most of them

It’s coming up on a year when I had my motorcycle accident where a moron in a car pulled out in front of me earning me a trip to the ER and my bike to the salvage yard. And yet, I’m still here to tell about it.

My dream bike

My 07 Hayabusa was starting to cost me money and I was looking for it’s replacement. Not wanting to buy one from the local Suzuki dealer who’s service reputation had gotten sketchy, I looked at other brand, one I had lusted after for a very long time, Ducati. What I purchased was the first bike I saw when I entered the dealership, this 2019 959 Panigali. I think it was the color that caught my eye. Totally different than the Busa but even more fun.

It was love at first sight, my first new bike in about 30 years.

Let me hop back to the title of this blog entry for a second before I get into the details of the accident. I have been riding since I was maybe 20 and have taken multiple bike safety classes, even a racing class at Road America.

Related Video: See me at the California Superbike School

A good instructor will pound into your brain from the beginning that you don’t have all the metal around you like in a car so an accident will most likely leave a mark. You spidey senses have to be on high alert looking way ahead of traffic so you can anticipate a move by a car before it happens. When driving with my wife, she is constantly amazed on my eyes ahead. The other thing taught at the high performance classes is how to fall off the bike when you’ve been hit. Long story short, never put your hands out ahead of you to break the fall and try to relax. Well that last part is kind of hard.

Note I said in the headline that “most” motorcyclelists are better drivers. I know you’ve probably seen the kids on crotch rockets roar past you at high speed, some doing wheelies at 90 mph. Those we call squids because that’s pretty much what they look like after loosing control. If you haven’t seen this, just do a search for videos on YouTube.

That fatefull day

I needed a part for my lawn tractor so decided to take the bike for a spin. I was going on a road that I have traveled tons of times. I was coming up on a 4-way intersection where traffic going in my direction could turn left. If there are drivers stopped waiting for their opportunity to turn, there is a passing lane on the right. So with traffic stopped I proceeded to pass in the right hand lane. Well that’s when the bonehead who was stopped second in line to turn decided to turn right in front of me. Holly shit, this is going to leave a mark I though traveling at 40 mph.

Found this picture of one in a junkyard in Colorado. A good place for it. Wiki photo

The piece of shit that pulled out in front of me was a Toyota Tercel 4-wd sr5 wagon turd brown like this one. The Toyota logo got real big in my visor just before impact. I remember the horizon rotating three times before I came to rest on the pavement. The driver of the Turdcell had pulled way over to the right after impact. I remember laying on my back, mostly there, when the passenger got out and asked why I ran into them. Adrenaline was really pumping and I lifted my head up to respond, what the f…. are you talking about, you turned into me. I was hot. Apparently not getting my message, she asked me again and I responded the same. Then I decided to just lay down and let the paramedics and police take care of things. Witnesses confirmed that the car had indeed pulled in front of me and I flew over the car three times.

Diagram from accident report

Before getting loaded onto the ambulance, I heard the driver tell somebody that he had hurt his hand and was looking for a hospital. Still juiced up on adrenelin, my parting shot was to tell him just to follow the ambulance he put me in. It turns out, the he had a suspended liscense and no insurance. Have a nice day.

My brand new Ducati down. I loved that color

I was fortunate

I always wear a helmet. I can’t believe that there are people out there that don’t. I most likely would not have been writing this blog entry without wearing one.

This helmet saved my life. Note the scratches on the top and back. That could have really left a mark.

I got off easy with some road rash on my hand and a sore back that required therapy. I know, I should have had a broken arm or something. God was watching me that day. I guess it wasn’t my time and I keep asking myself, why am I still here? Well maybe to write this blog entry in the hope that motorists will be more aware of motorcycles, riders take a class, and please wear a helmet. And yup, I got back in the saddle buying a 2020 Panigalli V2 and love it.

My new ride with all kinds of electronic rider aids

2021 Toyota GR Supra 2.0

Sporty Supra 2.0 a fun, less costly sports car …  

Back in the day, and it wasn’t all that long ago, Toyota marketed its sporty Celica and MR2 models as affordable sporty cars with the emphasis on affordable and sporty.

Moderate cost, moderately sporty performance and more than moderately sexy styling made these fun second cars for the family. Mom or dad could zip back and forth to work in a roadster or fastback that got good mileage, had some pep and still keep socking away retirement money or college tuition funds for the kids.

Those days have passed.

Last year after an 18 year absence Toyota brought back the Supra, the upscale Celica descendent, but for monied buyers. Supra 3.0 starts about $51,000 and can run up to nearly $60 grand. A bit rich for folks looking for fun wheels, but not a second mortgage. It must be said though, that performance was top-shelf.

Now comes the Supra 2.0 for 2021 and instead of a 335-horse turbo I6, it carries a somewhat milder twin-scroll turbo 2.0-liter I4 that makes a respectable 255 horsepower, but still a prodigious amount of torque. That’s rated at 295 lb.-ft. and it comes on quickly when you tromp the accelerator. Both engines are built in conjunction with BMW.

Top speed, says Car and Driver magazine, is 155 mph, and 0 to 60 mph flits by in 4.7 seconds. A Sport mode button helps the less powerful Supra reach such numbers and the fact that this model is about 200 lbs. lighter than its upscale cousin is another plus.

In addition to excellent highway ramp speed and getaway power, the tightly wound I4 delivers a fine exhaust tone. It doesn’t have the playful crackle of the 3.0-version, but it makes a driver feel he or she has plenty of gusto pushing the rear-drive speedster down the highway or away from a stoplight.

See Mark’s video review: https://youtu.be/OtZj7mDOWS0

Ah, but it also gets good fuel economy and the 2.0 debuts at about a $7,000 discount, and both it and the 3.0 are less costly than their BMW counterparts.

That’s not to say that $43,985 is cheap, but the difference helps whittle down a monthly car payment.

Cool too that the Supra 2.0 looks just the same as the 3.0, which is spectacular, exhibiting more curves than a Kardashian, and touting a better reputation. Just like the Supra 3.0, this more real-worldly powered unit handles like a racer on its 18-inch ZR-rated Michelin Pilot Super Sport tires. Grip is exceptional and tossing the car into tight corners and clipping off apexes along twisting roads is a pleasure. As my kids used to say, Cool Beans!

What isn’t a pleasure, as in the higher-horse model is the ride. Those performance tires coupled with Supra’s tiny 97.2-inch wheelbase delivers a ride that is jiggly at best and sometimes downright rough. City streets with all their potholes and burgeoning expansion joint cracks can turn the cockpit into the automotive version of bull riding. Ugh! Even Mazda’s small MX-5 Miata has a more comfortable ride.

But if looks and performance are enough, then the Supra 2.0 is a bargain.

My shocking Nitro Yellow test car started at $43,985, including delivery, and just added that eye-melting color for $425 and a safety and tech package for $3,485 to push it to $47,895. That’s still a stretch as opposed to the Miata, but the Supra packs more punch, just not a removable roof panel.

So what do you lose with the 2.0 vs. the pricier 3.0 model?

Not much that matters if you’re not taking your Supra on a racetrack. Tires are 18-inchers vs. 19 on the top-end model. Front brake rotors are smaller and there are just single piston calipers up front vs. multi-piston calipers on the Supra 3.0. Again, that’s fine around town and in normal braking, whereas the fancier brakes will last longer and remain more consistent on the race track.

Seats are manual in the tested Supra 2.0, but powered in the horsier version. The 3.0 also features adaptive suspension dampers and an electronically controlled limited slip differential. Those are absent here.

Both include the same smooth-shifting 8-speed automatic transmission that couples well to either power plant. No manual tranny is available here. Rats!

Inside, the yellow test car featured handsome black Alcantara leather and suede seating surfaces, the cushions including red and gray stitching to enliven their look a bit. There’s a carbon fiber console and gloss black trim on the doors’ armrests and the center stack wrapping down around the console. Satin silver trims the dash and air vents. Door release handles are satiny too.

The steering wheel is a manual tilt/telescope model, but I wish this wheel was flat-bottomed to create more knee room when entering and exiting. Such wheels also look racier. Plus a heated steering wheel would make the Supra more comfy in winter.

The dash layout is fine and the 12-speaker, 500-watt JBL sound system comes as part of that one big option package. It sounds great at stoplights, but after that it’s hard to hear as there’s a lot of road and tire noise in the Supra. That includes the rustle and clatter of sand, rocks and road gunk that chatters under the vehicle, especially noticeable at slower side-street speeds.

There was also no wireless phone charger here, while the pricier 3.0 version includes one.

Seats are wonderfully shaped, as race seats should be, with tremendous side support for the back and hips. Neither seat is powered, nor do they include heating, while both are on the 3.0 Premium model.

I found the cockpit comfortable and roomy enough while still feeling compact and sporty. One downside to the car’s slinky looks though is large A-pillars that somewhat obstruct side frontal views.

But otherwise safety is well represented due to the option package mentioned earlier. It includes dynamic radar cruise control, a blind spot monitor, rear cross-traffic alert, and parking sensors with emergency braking.

The package also includes an 8.8-inch touchscreen with navigation. The screen is really thin though and I found it hard to use while driving and sometimes hard to see in bright sun. There’s a redundant rotary touchpad control to adjust the screen, but those are always difficult to manage unless the car is stationary.

How’s cargo space under the big rear hatch? Not great, but you wouldn’t expect to carry much more than a couple overnight bags or groceries there, right? The Supra has 10.2 cu.ft, of cargo capacity.

Gas mileage was surprising considering how hard I ran this on the highway and up and down entry ramps. I managed a stellar 32 mpg whereas I’d averaged just 23.4 mpg in the Supra 3.0 a year ago. The EPA rates Supra 2.0 at 25 mpg city and 32 mpg highway. About 60% of my drives were on the highway. Sadly the small turbo I4 requests 91 octane fuel.

For my money, which it would be, I’d go for this light and lively Supra over the powerful 3.0. It’s still a load of fun and the look is just as sexy too.

FAST STATS: 2021 Toyota GR Supra 2.0

Hits: Stellar looks, strong acceleration, sporty handling, good traction, supportive seats, lower cost than Supra 3.0.

Misses: Rough small car ride, noisy interior (tire and road grit), small radio screen, hard to hear radio over road noise, no wireless charger, no flat-bottom or heated wheel, no heated seats, and no manual transmission available.

Made in: Graz, Austria

Engine: 2.0-liter I4, turbo, 255 hp

Transmission: 8-speed, automatic

Weight: 3,181 lbs.

Wheelbase: 97.2 in.

Length: 172.5 in.

Cargo: 10.2 cu.ft.

MPG: 25/32

MPG: 32.0 (tested)

Base Price: $43,395 (includes delivery)

Invoice: $30,985

Options:

Nitro yellow paint, $495

Safety & Tech package (dynamic cruise control, blind spot monitor, rear cross traffic alert, parking sensors w/emergency braking, 8.8-inch touchscreen w/nav, 12-speaker 500-watt JBL audio system w/amp, touchpad rotary control, wireless Apple Car Play, speed limit info, Supra connected services), $3,485

Test vehicle: $47,895

Sources: Toyota, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

2021 Mercedes-Benz AMG GLE 63 S Coupe

Mercedes’ racy GLE Coupe is really an SUV …

This new Mercedes-Benz GLE Coupe is a whale of a vehicle and I mean that in mostly the nicest way, beyond its obvious looks.

The GLE Coupe is essentially a large SUV with a whale-like rounded rear end. If you don’t care for the look, Mercedes also offers the GLE as a square-backed SUV.

For styling the M-B designers essentially copied their slightly smaller GLC sport-ute’s rounded coupe profile. Seems Mercedes’ marketers decided that a rounded rear roofline enabled them to label the five-seat ute a coupe. I don’t buy it. Time will tell if luxury ute intenders will.

Labels aside, if you can think of this as a fastback SUV soaked in luxury and performance you’ll be thrilled, even if your name is Jonah. I tested the top-end AMG GLE 63 S Coupe in Selenite Gray. As Mercedes aficionados are well aware, tack the AMG initials onto anything and it’s gonna rock, big time.

AMG is Mercedes performance arm and hand builds its engines, and its assemblers sign each engine, assuring buyers these are unique powerplants, and likely race track worthy. This one seemed so.

The GLE’s heart is a bi-turbo 4.0-liter V8 that pounds out 603 horsepower and a massive 627 lb.-ft. of torque. Its roar could make an F1 racer jealous. The guttural growl of the bi-turbo is beautiful, something you feel deep in your bones.

It’s a rocket too, easily hitting triple digits on a freeway entry ramp. Mercedes claims a top speed of 174 mph. That’s special! Although you’ll never need it, or use all of that. Car and Driver magazine tested the square SUV version and managed 0 to 60 mph in just 3.4 seconds. Can you say supercar, er, truck?

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

However, there are a bevy of fast cars and trucks these days, each seeming to be celebrating the waning days of internal combustion engines (ICE).

Yes, it’s a fastback, but is it really? The Benz Looks like and drives like a big SUV, although way faster and sportier than most!

But AMG takes its job seriously and does a particularly fabulous job tuning the handling and suspension here to give the GLE coupe a racer-like feel, even in Comfort drive mode. There are plenty of drive modes too, from Race (yes) to Slippery, which helps the standard AWD system handle snow and slop.

With great power comes great responsibility though. Hence the need for superior brakes. GLE nails it with monster 16.5-inch drilled front disc brakes featuring red 6-piston AMG calipers. Braking is impressive.

Steering effort is on the heavy side, but engages well with the road and gives the GLE a dialed in feel. In Race mode I zipped through multiple S-curves and winding roadways like a slot car shoed in silicone tires. I was stuck, often doubling or tripling the suggested turn speeds.

Is the Mercedes logo on the grille big enough for ya?

While heavy (5,390 lbs.), the GLE never feels loose or tippy, a major accomplishment with a vehicle that’s 70.2 inches tall and stands with 7.5 inches of ground clearance. Oh, and you can raise and lower the vehicle’s drive height via a console toggle.

Ride is firm, but well controlled as the SUV rides on giant 21-inch tires. Some might like the Comfort setting to tell the shocks to further dampen the ride, especially on choppy city streets. Yet after a week I was toughened up enough to handle the firm feel and with such a whisper-quiet interior (a $1,100 option increases insulation and window acoustics) you are well insulated from road imperfections.

The interior coddles you too. This one featured upgraded (just $250) quilted black leather and suede seats that are heated, cooled and controlled via easy-to-reach controls on the door panel. The dash, doors and flat-bottom steering wheel include carbon fiber trim. The spiffy wheel costs $400 extra though.

The Benz’s dash is well laid out with two 12.3-inch digital high-def screens that meld together so they appear as one two-foot-wide control panel. The center infotainment portion being a touchscreen with multiple functions, and there’s a redundant touchpad on the console for the unthinkable reason you may find it more convenient. You won’t.

Mercedes builds in a LOT of redundancy into controls though. For instance its drive modes and suspension adjustments have at least three different toggles and such to get at them. Easiest is the round knob below the steering wheel’s hub.

Buttons, toggles and door stereo speaker coves are satin metal here while the dash, doors, and part of the steering wheel are carbon fiber. A black gloss roll-back cover at the front of the console opens to reveal a wireless charging station.

Seats are fabulously supportive and you can even extend the front seats’ bottom cushion to give extra support to long-legged drivers. Headrests re powered too and the steering wheel is a power tilt/telescope unit.

Here’s a closeup look at the center stack buttons, screen, and console’s buttons and toggles.

These well-formed seats are heated and cooled, naturally, but the steering wheel is not heated, although the wheel’s partial suede coating helps reduce the need. Ironically Mercedes heats the door armrests though, thanks to a $1,050 option package. First time I’ve seen that.

And get this, these super comfy seats also offer eight massage settings, all controlled via the big infotainment screen. This is a $1,650 “energizing” package that I’ve got to say is like having Magic Fingers to ease the stress of a long drive. These would be golden on a trip, especially the setting that allows the cushions to massage your derriere.

One warning though, it’s best to have your front seat passenger adjust these settings, or to set them before you begin driving as tapping the screen can distracting and sometimes difficult on a bumpy road.

Other interior goodies include a giant panoramic sunroof, and a killer Burmester surround-sound stereo that might be able to deafen your neighbors if you crank it all the way up. Definitely party time, but at a $4,550 price tag it won’t be at my party.

Safety systems are rife here, as you’d expect, but M-B insists you pay $1,950 extra for a lot of them. That includes active levels of lane change assist, steering assist, brake assist and a variety of semi-autonomous features. This is a pricey vehicle. I’d expect all safety features to be standard.

With all this SUV’s power, much safety comes from the great AMG discs and red calipers with multiple piston braking.

Rear seats are a little hard here, but are roomy and there’s reasonable cargo space behind the seats, plus a smidge of hidden storage beneath the floor. Obviously with the slanted rear roofline you lose some vertical storage space. But if you buy something large, you’ll likely pay for delivery anyway.

While a delight in most ways there are a few concerns, beyond those already mentioned. One, the roofline is so low that even at 5-foot-5 I had to duck my head considerably to enter the vehicle. Taller drivers may find mounting the GLE hazardous to their heads.

Also, the massive roof pillars all the way from A to C coupled with the small rear window limit outward visibility. All the safety warning systems and cameras help, but good visibility is the easiest way to make a vehicle safer.

Then there is the column mounted shifter. While that was a common spot for shifters years ago, it isn’t now. Many car makers put the windshield wiper stalk on the right column now, so I found myself shifting into neutral on the freeway a couple times when I meant to engage the wipers. Not great.

Mercedes also is very concerned you’ll leave your key fob in the GLE. Every time you enter and every time you exit a message lights up and dings to remind you, “Don’t forget your key.” Unnecessary!

This is a big, heavy performance ute, so gas mileage is another concern. First, the GLE prefers high-octane gasoline to run at maximum power, but I got just 16 mpg in a week’s driving with more than half on the highway. The EPA rates the GLE at 15 mpg city and 19 highway. This seems a good candidate for hybrid power, and soon.

Even the door panels look special, including power seat controls, oh, and these seats also massage!

Pricing might be a wee high for most folks too. The test GLE starting at $117,050, including delivery. Add in the aforementioned options plus a few more, including fancy wheels and a $1,500 carbon fiber engine cover (oh my!) and the test ute hit $134,000.

That’s way into the luxury market and while the performance and luxury interior may justify the price, I’d want a better looking overall package.

FAST STATS: 2021 Mercedes Benz AMG GLE 63 S Coupe

Hits: Super performance for tall SUV, great power, excellent handling, multiple drive modes, AWD, and quiet interior. Luxury leather interior with heated seats, armrests, killer stereo, mega-sunroof, wireless charger, comfy well-formed seats with massage feature, 24-inch dual display screens. Fantastic brakes, safety systems, and packs every feature but a heated steering wheel.

Snazzy lights and grille give this a Mercedes face!

Misses: Firm ride, low entry-exit headroom at door frame, no heated wheel, drinks high-octane gas and plenty of it. Column shifter odd placement, massive roof pillars, and price may be a wee bit high!

Made in: Vance, Ala.

Engine: 4.0-liter Bi-turbo V8, 603 hp

Transmission: 9-speed automatic

Weight: 5,390 lbs.

Wheelbase: 117.9 in.

Length: 195.3 in.

Cargo: 27.5-63.2 cu.ft.

MPG: 15/19

MPG: 16.0 (tested)

Base Price: $117,050 (includes delivery)

Invoice: N.A.

Major Options:

AMG carbon fiber trim, $1,750

AMG black Nappa leather w/diamond stitching, $250

AMG carbon fiber engine cover, $1,500

AMG performance steering wheel w/carbon fiber trim, $400

AMG cross-spoke forged wheels, matte black, $2,000

Driver assistance package (active distance assist Distronic, active steering assist, active lane change assist, active emergency stop, active speed limit assist, active brake assist w/cross-traffic function, evasive steering assist, active lane-keeping assist, active blind-spot assist, Pre-Safe Plus rear collision protection, impulse side, route-based speed adaptation, active stop-and-go assist, traffic sign assist), $1,950

Warmth and comfort package (rapid heating front seats, heated front armrests and door panels), $1,050

Energizing comfort package plus (air balance package, active multi-contour front seats w/massage), $1,650

AMG night package (front splitter, front and rear apron trim strips, window trim, exterior mirror housing in gloss black), $750

Acoustic comfort package (increased cabin insulation, windshield w/infrared reflecting film, side windows w/acoustic and infrared absorbing film), $1,100

Burmester high-end 3D surround sound system, $4,550

Test vehicle: $134,000

Sources: Mercedes-Benz, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

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 Bronco Sport Badlands 4×4

New Bronco Sport a just-right size, mild-cost off-roader …

Ford’s new Bronco Sport is going to be a winner for the blue oval folks, but it has a major challenge ahead of it: how to avoid grow too big or too luxurious.

In theory that’s what the new bigger Bronco will bring, whenever it finally is launched. But for now, the smaller Bronco Sport is a spunky hunk of off-roading fun with all the utilitarian touches it needs, plus enough modern safety equipment and comfort to make it a superb match for economy minded off-roaders.

There’s really nothing else like it, plus it carries the rugged off-roading looks reminiscent of a Land Rover. Think of it as a Brover!

I was fully prepared to think of this as just another small to mid-size crossover/SUV. I was wrong. It’s an eye-opener.

The Bronco Sport, a new vehicle and new name for 2021, that rides on the familiar Ford Escape platform. Ford could have so easily just made a restyled Escape. Bronco Sport is much more and is aimed at the Wrangler crowd, not the Jeep Compass that so many say it’s targeted for. Nope, Compass is more of a tall wagon/crossover with plenty of luxury, depending on the trim. Bronco Sport zeros in on weekend off-roaders, campers and bikers, who desire stylish weekday drives to work.

It’s priced mid-market so one can justify taking it into the muck and maybe scratching a fender, not like a Land Rover Defender that it mimics in styling. Nope, this one runs roughly $28,000 to $38,000, not Rover’s $70,000 and more.

I tested a Carbonized Gray Bronco Sport Badlands 4×4 edition that lists at $34,155 with delivery and including a couple options hit just $35,745, almost exactly the median price for a new sedan, but well under a middling SUV or crossover.

Watch Mark’s video review: https://youtu.be/5Fi7Y9nsoi0

Styling is boxy with white Bronco and Bronco Sport badging front and rear. There’s a rear hatch with a window that will pop open for easy loading if you needn’t flip up the whole hatch. There’s rubberized flooring so that it’s easy to wash up the mud and slop of an off-road adventure. The cargo area in back is sturdy with a nubby rubber flooring and the rear seat backs that split and fold flat feature the same, so throw all the camping gear and trail bikes you want in there, or maybe a couple pups.

Bronco looks blocky like a Rover, and features a notched roof.

Oh, and the roof is notched like the former Nissan Xterra So you can actually stand up two mountain bikes in the cargo bay. That my friends is off-road, camping, hiking and biking friendly. Not many other vehicles offer this sort of outdoorsy friendliness and space, certainly not a Wrangler unless you move up to the Unlimited, which sort of requires similar unlimited funding.

Then there’s also under-seat storage in row two on the passenger’s side, along with zippered pouches on the front seat seatbacks for protecting your iPads, etc. In back there’s a cargo area light with switch, and oodles of hooks to hang your carabiners off of, or secure backpacks. Plenty of outlets and USB hookups here too, but sadly no wireless phone charger.

That’s just the accouterments for outdoorsy use.

Consider performance, which starts in the Badlands edition with a 2.0-liter EcoBoost I4 that pumps 250 horsepower from its turbocharged unit. Torque is a strong 277 lb.-ft. So scrambling up to highway speeds is a cinch and there’s plenty of grunt for rock crawling and mud-slinging.

In fact, this Badlands edition raises it suspension a full inch from the 7.8-inch standard ground clearance and adds better shock dampers to cushion any off-road excursion. On the highway of course it’s fine with just a bit more tire noise from the 17-inch off-road tires. Special body-colored wheels added $795 to compliment the monochromatic look of the test truck.

Setting the Bronco Sport up for various off-road or slippery road excursions is easy too, with the GOAT dial on the console. GOAT? Goes Over Any Terrain!

Wing the dial clockwise and you go from Normal to Eco to Sport to Slippery. Naturally Eco lowers the power to save fuel while Sport tweaks the 8-speed automatic to hold lower gears longer for more off-the-line power. Slippery helps engage the 4-wheel-drive system for wet or icy roads. Another button allows you to lock the rear differential or another to simply engage 4WD.

But that’s not all, wing that GOAT dial counterclockwise and you can choose from Mud/Ruts, Sand, or Rock Crawl. I admit there were no big rocky areas for me to try the latter, but in a sloppy field the Mud/Ruts setting helped me power through swamp grass, tall cat tails and some soppy mud-clogged ruts and divots. It was a blast and never a thought of getting stuck!

There’s also Trail Control, basically a low-speed off-road cruise control you can set if doing prolonged off-roading. This allows you to cruise at low speeds and just steer!

Ride off-road is well-controlled, just like on-road and certainly more pleasant than many smaller utes and crossovers. Plus the Bronco Sport feels well planted, so on windy days it feels more stable in a crosswind. There’s some body lean in turns, but this Bronco doesn’t feel as tippy as some crossovers or taller SUVs.

Handling also is nimble and more responsive than a truck or SUV. I think it out Jeeps the Jeep Compass to be sure. This feels like an off-roader where you are in command.

Nice clean dash with good digital instrument panel and good-sized info screen.

Inside, well beyond all that rubber mentioned earlier, the dash and doors are gray with blue-gray accents in the seat backs and tiny blue specks in the cloth side bolsters to perk them up a touch. The dash is a soft textured material to soften the interior’s feel and give it a fresh look. Console and steering wheel hub have matte black trim and there’s a Bronco logo on that hub too, and also on the info screen at startup. Some black gloss trims the round shift knob on the console.

There’s a simple 8-inch info screen here, with some buttons beneath, and nicely sized climate control buttons and dials. Only one drawback inside, for me, and that’s the rear-seat alarm. The what? Some lawyers apparently thought folks so stupid as to not remember they have a kid in that rear car seat, so an alarm chimes each time the ignition is turned off, the info screen insisting, “Check Rear Seats for Occupant.” Oh my!

Otherwise, the sturdy cloth seats are moderately contoured on the bottom and more snug for the back cushion, plus the driver’s seat is powered, including a power lumbar. Front seats are heated too. Rear seats have decent leg and knee room and excellent headroom.

The rear window flips up separate from the hatch for easy grocery loading!

Cargo room is spacious at 32.5 cubic feet, growing to more than 65 cubic feet if you lower the rear seats for your bikes, etc. And, if need be, you can tow 2,000 lbs.

Safety gear? The Ford Co-Pilot 360 system is standard with blind-spot warning, rear cross-traffic alert, emergency braking and such. The test unit added Co-Pilot 360 Assist for $795. It includes smart cruise control, a lane-centering aid, traffic sign recognition, voice-activated navigation, a touchscreen with pinch to zoom, evasive steering assist and SiriusXM traffic and travel links.

This Badlands model is the first in the lineup with the horsier, yet efficient 2.0-liter turbo. A base model starting at $28,155, along with the Big Bend ($29,815) and Outer Banks ($33,815) models, feature just a 3-cylinder 1.3-liter turbo that makes 181 horses. That’s not bad, but I’d move up to the Badlands for smooth power and more off-road muscle.

Which leaves us at gas mileage, often a bugaboo of mine for crossovers and SUVs. But considering the Bronco Sport’s off-roading ability and rugged appearance, it still weighs in at just beyond 3,700 lbs. and the EPA rates it at 25 mpg city and 28 mpg highway. I managed 24.2 mpg including some off-road time.

Now, Ford must resist the urge to slather the Bronco Sport in leather, put fake wood trim inside with a crystal gear shift knob and then stretch it by 8-10 inches while adding hundreds of pounds of weight. Oh, and then put a bigger, less efficient engine in it, slapping a GT label on it and boosting the price.

Bronco Sport is a winner as is!

FAST STATS: 2021 Ford Bronco Sport Badlands 4×4

Hits: Off-road ability matches rugged looks, good power, ride, and nimble handling, plus notched roof allows for two mountain bikes. Heated seats, rubberized cargo area and rear seat backs, zippered back seat storage pockets and under-seat storage, many cargo hooks, rubber floor, and decent MPG.

Misses: No wireless phone charger, annoying alarm every time you turn off ignition warning “Check Rear Seat for Occupant.” Lawyer silliness!

Made in: Hermosillo, Mexico

Engine: 2.0-liter EcoBoost turbo I4, 250 hp

Transmission: 8-speed automatic

Weight: 3,733 lbs.

Wheelbase: 105.1 in.

Length: 172.7 in.

Cargo: 32.5-65.2 cu.ft.

Tow: 2,000 lbs.

MPG: 25/28

MPG: 24.2 (tested)

Base Price: $34,155 (includes delivery)

Invoice: $33,012

Major Options:

Co-pilot 360 Assist (smart cruise, Stop & Go, lane centering, traffic sign recognition, voice-activated navigation, touchscreen w/pinch to zoom, SiriusXM traffic/travel link, evasive steering assist), $795

17-in. carbonized gray low-gloss aluminum wheels, $795

Test vehicle: $35,745

Sources: Ford, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

2021 Nissan Kicks SR

Cute new Nissan Kicks up a lot of value …

Car makers competing in the entry-level market, meaning less than $25,000, are working harder and harder to get some notice as value doesn’t sell as well as BIG anything does.

We’re a nation that appreciates big, fast, and strong more than petite, nimble, and adequate, but inexpensive. So what’s an automaker to do? Well, start with a name folks might just remember, like Kicks.

That’s Nissan’s ploy to get you to look when its mini-crossover catches your eye, and it will. While Nissan’s former Juke model caught your eye because it was peculiar looking, the Kicks is downright cute. My tester was a pearly white with gloss black roof, and the two-tone treatment delivers the absolutely right visual appeal.

 Kicks looks cute, fun and crossovery, so at least should be able to register a blip or two on value-oriented shoppers’ radar.

Good for Kicks because it’s a fine entry-level vehicle starting at $20,650 for the S model, including delivery. That’s a bargain, but the bargain pricing continues up to the SV ($22,450) and tested SR ($23,090) models too, so whichever you choose for your first car, or to get that teen to high school or college, is a winner.

All are similar, just the equipment level grows from S to SV to SR, and us oldsters who are spoiled by our current cars would want the SR for a few comfort features, but from a performance standpoint, any of the three trims will suit.

Watch Mark’s video review: SavageOnWheels Nissan Kicks Review – YouTube

That’s because they all feature the same 1.6-liter I4 that creates 122 horsepower coupled with an Xtronic CVT automatic. Power is adequate and shifts are smooth. There’s a teensy-weensy button on the console-mounted shift handle to engage a Sport mode, but it’s a bit awkward to get at, especially if it were winter and you were wearing gloves. Many other makes put such a button on the console so it’s easier to see and tap.

If you have need for speed early on you’d want to engage this at a stoplight or just before merging onto the freeway. It boosts power by changing shift points electronically to increase low-end torque. It’s noticeable, but not a major boost.

The fun factor here, beyond the looks, is handling, which is quick and makes this a breeze to toss into tight turns or maneuver in a parking lot. The handling also makes it simple to dodge giant potholes and rough pavement patches.

That’s a benefit because like all small cars and crossover (usually wheelbases less than 105 inches) ride can be a bit jiggly. It’s never severe here and actually seems pretty good on railroad tracks and bigger bumps. On choppy roads though is where you’ll feel the road a bit more than you may wish. Buyers with younger backs may not notice so much as a 60-something.

Likely most folks also will notice a little more road noise here than in a higher priced vehicle, or even value-oriented sedans. The Hyundai Elantra I drove a few weeks back was quieter.

If you’re hoping to add all-wheel-drive to your Kicks, well, sorry. AWD is not an option on this crossover, but also isn’t on all mini-crossovers like the similar sized and powered Hyundai Venue. But Venue’s sister, the Kona crossover offers AWD and rides on a longer wheelbase (102.4 in.) than Venue (99.2 in.). So like Kicks, the Kona delivers a bit better ride.

Of course what all of these offer is efficient performance at a modest cash outlay.

I got 31.5 mpg with this Kicks in a mix of city and highway driving. The EPA rates it at 31 mpg city and 36 mpg highway. I got 29 mpg in the Venue, which is rated 30 mpg city and 34 highway. Kona, by comparison, is rated 27 city and 33 highway, and I managed 33.1 mpg in a front-drive model.

Inside, the Kicks is roomy for four with oodles of headroom and still plenty of space behind the split rear seat for cargo, or even more if you fold the rear seats down.

The SV and SR upgrade to an 8-inch infotainment screen, which is simple to see and use, and this SR added an optional Premium package for $1,200 that included Prima-Tex seats that are a leatherette type surface. This package also includes two-level heated front seats, a heated steering wheel, a security system, plus cargo cover. It’s well worth the price.

I liked Kicks interior which was black over gray with orange stitching in the seats and door panels that add a little kick (sorry) of color. Dash and door tops are hard black textured plastic as you’d expect, but the gray inserts in the doors are soft and leatherette covered. Trim is matte chrome on the doors, steering wheel and shifter. Door releases are chrome.

Black gloss trims the info screen and the console top also features the same gloss treatment. I liked the cup holders here too, which is odd to comment on I know. But they allow you to flip the holder so it will hold a deep or shallow cup. Clever.

Buttons and dials are easy to use for the single climate control system, plus there’s an electric park brake and below the dash is an inside fuel filler release. Push-button start is standard too as is a D-shaped steering wheel, creating additional knee room and giving the car a bit of flair.

Seats are well-shaped, but hard front and rear. That was fine while on short drives, but likely could be tiring on long trips. Good news for the driver, that seat has a pump handle on the side to raise and lower it, a boon to both tall and short drivers.

Other pluses include a good Bose sound system here, part of that premium package, plus sun visors with extenders. Many pricier cars don’t include those anymore. No idea why.

Standard too is Nissan’s Safety Shield 360 that includes automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, rear automatic braking, a blind-spot monitor, automatic high beams, and rear cross-traffic alert.

The SR also comes with a 360-degree camera, LED head and taillights, leather-wrapped wheel, painted roof rails, dark chrome accents, a small spoiler and smart cruise control that also vibrates the wheel is you wander near the center line.

In short, Kicks ranges from basically $20,000 to $23,000, depending on trim, plus options. The $1,200 premium package on this one left the SR at $24,290. Wow!

For comparisons consider the Venue or Kona mentioned earlier, or Kia’s cousins to those, the Soul and Seltos. One of my favorites, in fact my 2020 Zoomie Car of the Year, is Mazda’s more luxurious feeling and sporty CX-30, and then there’s Toyota’s fine C-HR, also available in a two-tone paint scheme.

Best news of all, there are so many $20,000-$25,000 crossover types available, plus a host of small high-value sedans that get equally good, if not better, gas mileage.

FAST STATS: 2021 Nissan Kicks SR

Hits: Cute two-tone mini crossover, quick handling, adequate acceleration and good gas mileage. Roomy interior for four, plus good cargo room, heated seats, heated D-shaped wheel, push-button start, visors have extenders, good info screen and Bose sound system. Sound safety items like blind-spot warning, emergency braking and 360-degree camera plus cross-traffic alert.

Misses: No AWD available, ride is a bit jiggly, but not severe, and there’s a fair amount of road noise at highway speeds. Also seats are hard, but well-shaped.

Made in: Mexico

Engine: 1.6-liter I4, 122 hp

Transmission: XtronicCVT automatic

Weight: 2,744 lbs.

Wheelbase: 103.1 in.

Length: 169.1 in.

Cargo: 25-53 cu.ft.

MPG: 31/36

MPG: 31.5 (tested)

Base Price: $23.090 (includes delivery)

Invoice: N.A.

Major Options:

Premium package (Bose audio w/8 speakers & amp, Prima-Tex seats, heated front seats, heated steering wheel, security system, cargo cover), $1,200

Test vehicle: $24,290

Sources: Nissan, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

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

2021 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid Limited

Pacifica minivan nears perfection with quiet plug-in hybrid …

Chrysler has been in the minivan business longer than anyone else and it stands to reason that after 35+ years they’re nearing perfection.

It helps that Chrysler never stopped innovating and it still leads the way as the 2021 Pacifica is the only plug-in hybrid minivan on the market. And it makes a good impression, both for its sleek, refined looks and its quiet operation.

“I love how quiet your minivan is. It surprised me,” claimed the attendant at a Culver’s drive-up outdoor order stand. It didn’t earn me any extra cheese curds though.

Oh, the Pacifica is quiet for sure operating at low speeds on electricity generated by regenerative braking, plus it also will run for 30+ miles solely on electric if you charge it fully. That takes about 14 hours on a home’s 120-volt line, but I got a 70% charge in about 6 hours once. If you have a 240-volt line a full charge takes just two hours. Bingo!

            On a full charge the Pacifica has roughly a 500-mile range combining electric charge and gas. The EPA says to expect 82 mpe with electric power mixed with gas and 30 mpg solely with gas. I think that may be a bit generous. I got 24 mpg with a mix of city and highway driving and one full charge, not bad for a nearly 5,000-lb. van.

            Still, extending the driving range for a family hauler like this, cutting down the number of fill-up and potty breaks, has got to help extend a family’s vacation range. Plus when on electric power the van hums along like a silent missile, and even as it switches to the 3.6-liter V6 gas engine you’ll likely not notice. Transition is seamless. 

Power overall is 260 horsepower with the hybrid system and it’s linked to a CVT automatic that works well to meld power flow.

            In reality, the van is a super easy and smooth drive all around. There’s plenty of power for acceleration as electric power is instantaneous and steering is fairly light and breezy too. There’s a bit of play in the wheel, but no family is expecting sports sedan handling in their minivan. Nope, but Pacifica is easy to turn into a parking spot, or back out. Of course there’s a 3D rearview camera and parking sensors too.

            Ride remains vanlike, not punishing, but bouncier than a car or crossover. You notice it most on uneven surfaces where the minivan can feel a bit roly-poly. But on the highway it’s a gem, a cruising mecca, a family room on wheels.

            That was helped in this Hybrid Limited model because it’s loaded with goodies and this one even added a $2,495 option package with twin seatback video screens that plays Blu-Ray DVDs or pop up with a variety of video games. The 12-year-old grandson approved! What kid wouldn’t?

            Mom and dad will love it too because there are wireless headphones to keep the parents from blowing their gourds the 10th time a wee one has watched a SpongeBob episode or a Disney film with a song that will NOT leave your head. I’m looking at you Little Mermaid!

Front seat headrests included video screens behind them to amuse second seat occupants!

            This beautiful Maximum Steel Metallic (sparkly bluish pewter) delivered a luxury look and feel interior that might surprise a first-time minivan buyer. Seats were a saddle brown with mocha brown piping and the dash and doors were brown and black, a spiffy look. Trim is all satin chrome behind gauges along with air vents and door release handles. The console and surround of the big 8.4-inch touchscreen are trimmed in gloss black. Chrysler nails the look!

            And if you need storage up front there’s a monster cubby between the seats with a black textured roll-top for easy access. Much nicer than a lid that must awkwardly be flipped up.

            Seats are only modestly contoured, the backs being decent, but the bottom cushions are fairly flat. That can be good for long drives and certainly makes ingress and egress easy. Of course those power sliding rear doors help small folks load and unload quickly too, and yes, the hatch is powered.

            This unit had captain’s chairs for the middle row, so would carry just seven, but a bench in the middle row would allow you to haul eight. The first two rows of seats also had folding armrests, although I feel it’s a bit intrusive on the driver’s seat during city driving, yet it’s OK as you cruise the highway.

            Front seats are powered and also heated and cooled, while the steering wheel is heated. You access all that through the big touchscreen, not my favorite way to get at such often used buttons, but the touchpoints are large, as are all dash buttons and controls.

The screen is big, includes a 360-degree camera and dash buttons are large and simple to use too. Bravo!

            The radio system is simple to figure out and use while driving too, yet there are several levels of info you can find there. Best to do all that data mining while sitting at a stop light or in a parking spot.

            Naturally there are plenty of safety devices, including blind-spot warning, lane departure, adaptive cruise control with Stop & Go system, collision warning and emergency braking along with parking sensors.

            As for interior amenities, well, there are side window sun shades for the second and third rows, a dual-pane panoramic sunroof with power sun shade, and a wireless phone charger in the front of the console, making it easy to access.

            Behind the third row seat is a deep well for storage, or if you don’t need to use the split third row seats you can fold them down into that cargo floor to create a large flat storage space. The second row seats are Chrysler’s patented Stow ‘n Go design that fold down into the floor. Most vans still require you to remove the middle row manually if you need to use that space for cargo.

            One interior bugaboo I hope Chrysler fixes soon, the fancy two-tone leather steering wheel with its satin chrome trim ring. It’s a pain in that it’s hot when the sun hits that metal, and it’s cold in winter, even when the heated steering wheel is engaged. Just lose the ring and all is well!

            Like many vehicles now, there are so many trims in the Pacifica line that pricing should not put you off. Although the test van was near the top of the hybrid range, starting at $47,340, including delivery. Add the rear-seat entertainment package and this one hit $49,835. Obviously not affordable for every family.

            But the hybrids range from the Touring at $41,490 up to the Red S model at $50,635, the latter featuring a bright red leather interior. Most folks going the hybrid route will likely want to step up to the Touring L model at $43,790 as it adds heated leather seats, a roof rack and third-row seat sun shades.

Big panoramic sunroof really brightens up the interior.

            If hybrid models are outside your price range, consider the gas-only powered Pacifica, whose 3.6-liter V6 makes 287 horsepower. The Touring model there starts at $33,495, but again, moving up to the Touring L might be preferred for the added features. Also, note that Chrysler offers an AWD system now, so that’s enticing to those of us in frozen tundra territory. That van rides an inch higher than other Pacifica models.

            Not wanting to insult anyone’s income level, but if even that entry-mark Pacifica still seems a bit beyond your means, know that Chrysler continues to offers a Voyager model with a lot less features, but a more approachable starting price of about $27,000.

            While tall SUVs and crossovers continue to dominate the market it’s nice to know that families can still get the most practical and comfy of vehicles, a minivan, at everything from a budget-oriented model to ultimate luxury. And now a plug-in hybrid adds to its economy. Oh, and there’s still a federal tax rebate of $7,500 on the hybrid model. …. Drop the mic!

FAST STATS: 2021 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid Limited

Hits: Handsome, roomy for 7, good smooth power, improved mpg. Quick acceleration, big easy touchscreen and dash buttons, and a full bevy of safety equipment. Luxury feel interior with heated/cooled seats, heated wheel, panoramic sunroof, wireless phone charger, power side doors and hatch and second/third row sun shades. Plus this had rear-seat video screens.

Misses: Bouncy van ride, a bit of wheel play, and steering wheel is hot and cold because of metal beauty trim strip that heats in sun, but is cold on icy mornings.

Made in: Windsor, Ont., Canada

Engine: 3.6 V6, hybrid, 260 hp

Transmission: CVT, automatic

Weight: 4,987 lbs.

Wheelbase: 121.6 in.

Length: 203.8 in.

Cargo: 140.5 cu.ft.

MPG: 82 gas/electric, 30 gas only

MPG: 24.0 (tested)

Base Price: $47,340 (includes delivery)

Invoice: $47,289

Major Options:

Preferred package 2EP (Uconnect theater group, FamCam interior camera, Blue-Ray DVD player, seatback video screens, headphone ports, USB video port, 115-volt power outlet, video remotes, wireless headphones, Keysense), $2,495

Test vehicle: $49,835

Sources: Chrysler, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

Auto World’s Johnny Lightning, themed 2-packs

Bright Yenko Chevy, Psychedelic Seventies cars double the fun …

What’s more fun than one special limited edition Johnny Lightning 1:64 die-cast car? Two of course.

Two of Auto World’s latest JL 2-pack releases.

Auto World is now packaging two limited edition cars into Themed 2 Packs for its finely detailed Johnny Lightning brand. The latest offerings include Yenko Chevys and a colorful Psychedelic Seventies pack with a Dodge and Chevy decked out in patterns to remind us of the “Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In” era of flower power and wild color patterns you might see when dropping a little, uh, well, I’m not sure what. But these are colorful to be sure.

Both 2-packs go for $15.99 each, still a bargain price for such nicely detailed 1:64 cars. Plus they are not being pumped out by the millions like some mass market brands. These 2-packs are limited to 2,004 each.

The Nova is the star of this duo!

Let’s start with the sharp, but more normal Yenko Chevy 2-pack. It includes a bright yellow 1970 Chevy Nova Yenko Deuce with black side stripes that wrap over the trunk lid and tout Yenko Duece on the rear quarter panels. The other car is a black over silvery blue 1967 Chevy Camaro Yenko with a black nose stripe.

The Psychedelic Seventies pack includes a 1969 Chevy Camaro SS in a wild Sunflower Yellow, orange and black pattern that sort of resembles a sunrise on the hood and a tattoo artist’s geometric stenciling on the trunk and sides. The roof is flat black. The other car is a 1969 Dodge Charger Daytona mostly in dark metallic red, but with white hood inset trim and side striping, plus big white rear wing. From the doors back is a white-bordered insert that blends from the body color red to brown to yellow to bright yellow.

Both of these babies are bright stars!

For the record all the JLs have opening hoods, detailed undercarriages, and treaded rubber tires to look more realistic than most brands, which feature hard-plastic tires. These are mostly for collectors, not kids with plastic race tracks!

The Models

               I’m always happiest with the less customized paint schemes, so my favorite here is the yellow Yenko Nova and silver-blue Camaro Yenko.

What a sharp profile, and Super Bee colors no less!

               What makes these fun, and realistic? The Nova is modeled after one of 10 Duece’s made in this color and is owned by Jamie Jarvis. Many JL models are reproductions of actual cars that have shown up on the various car show circuits over the last couple years. It has the easiest opening hood of any of these four models, so it can be raised fully to display the red engine block, silver air filter and black coolant hoses.

Easy to see the engine on this one!

               The Nova’s hood has two black stripes near the hood’s edges, with “LT/1” part of the stripes. “Deuce” is spelled out on the hood’s nose and the Nova name and the car’s reflective side markers spruce up the sides along with the obvious racing stripe mentioned earlier. Bumpers and grille are nicely detailed as are the lights and taillights. The interior is black, but not much to see inside, it being so dark.

Sexy stripes on this Yenko Nova!

               What really grabbed me on this one was the finely detailed 5-spoke matte gray racing wheels wrapped in Firestone Wide Oval-labeled tires. Sharp!

               The black over silvery blue ’67 Camaro’s hood is easily popped up, but doesn’t open far, so engine viewing is marginal. There’s a more noticeable gap at the rear of the hood too, which likely accounts for the small hood movement.

Still, its nose stripe is sharp and in profile this is one sexy beast with elegant thin pinstripes near the top of the car’s fender line, nose to tail. The hood is a Yenko specialty based on the SS design with raised bars to resemble headers and four black dots atop each of them.

               There’s a spoiler on the tail an SS logo on the grille and a “427” sticker on the tail. Hub caps are chrome with five rounded rectangular holes and unbranded thin white sidewall tires. The interior is dark red and the door features a framed vent window.

               If you’re a big Goldie Hawn or Jo Anne Worley fan you might imagine the Psychedelic Seventies 2-pack’s Camaro paint scheme painted on their legs or bellies as they dance during “Laugh-In”.

Wow, now this is a paint scheme to remember!

               This is an eye-opener and beautifully executed, and modeled after the original that was owned by Mike Hulick who had the silver car repainted in this wild scheme. The Camaro, now owned by Jay Sliwa, is an SS, thus the two bar hood similar to the ’67 model in the Yenko pack. The hood opens a little higher on this one to reveal a silver engine block and black air filter.

Love the SS hood and the color combo here too.

               Headlights are whited out here, with an SS logo on the black grille and mid-tail between the triple taillights. Wheels are chrome five-spokes with Firestone Polyglas GT-labeled tires. The interior is black and the rear window features three decals/stickers, two with peace signs over an American flag pattern backdrop.

               Almost as striking is the Dodge Daytona, one of only 503 made and now known as the Disco Daytona. Remember disco, and Disco Duck?

               This Daytona has a one-off paint scheme that the owner had applied due to a warranty program offered to make up for the car’s poor original paint job, orange in this case. Disco Daytona features the disco ombre paint scheme and you won’t find another one like it. The car is owned by Jeff and Brent Kultgen now and is easy to pick out in a crowd.

               The car is logo-less, except for “Charger” printed on the rear roof pillars and a black license plate declaring “Charger.” There also are twin tailpipes exiting under its high-winged tail.

That orange engine block and air filter encourage a hood-up pose here!

The gas cap on the driver’s side rear quarter panel and reversed air scoops over the front wheels add detail and there’s a bright orange engine and air filter under the car’s massive hood. Windows are trimmed in silver and there are proper vents here too. Wheels are chromed 6-spokes with redline tires, but no branding.

Larger scale models may add more engine and interior detail, but these 1:64s are gorgeous and high-value. Plus if you can display them on their hang cards they stay dust-free and look spectacular. This my friends is easy DC car collecting at its finest, and at a price any collector can afford.

Vital Stats: Johnny Lightning Themed 2-packs

Maker: Auto World
Scale: 1/64
Stock No.: JLPK012
MSRP: $15.99 per 2-pack

Link: Autoworldstore.com

VW Atlas Cross Sport SEL R-Line Premium

Shorter Cross Sport aims at slightly different buyer …

VW’s Atlas Cross Sport is shorter than the Atlas with a more sloped rear roofline.

Rarely are two vehicles as similar as the Volkswagen Atlas and Atlas Cross Sport. Rarer yet is my getting to test such a duo within weeks of each other.

This is the VW Atlas, which is longer, with a third-row seat and squarer rear styling.

A little more than a month ago I enjoyed the Atlas, which is about 5 inches longer than the self-proclaimed “sportier” Cross Sport. This was a handsome Tourmaline Blue Metallic (dark metallic blue) Atlas Cross Sport SEL R-Line Premium. That’s a monster name for a sport-ute that intends to lure buyers with its slightly more sloped roofline, shorter length and oodles of interior room, especially for cargo. Continue reading VW Atlas Cross Sport SEL R-Line Premium

Two car guys reunite after 36 years.

And we didn’t even know each other were car guys then

Author (left), Darrel (right) on set doing a special on the Milwaukee Brewers just before the ’82 World Series where they lost to the St. Louis Cardinals. It was a fun season!

It’s funny how life sometimes comes full circle and you are reunited with a coworker after a very long time and you find out something you didn’t know about him when you both worked together. That happened to me recently when I was reunited with Darrel Burnett. He was the Sports

Me and Darrel now. Slightly less hair and a few more pounds:)

Director at WLUK-TV in Green Bay, WI and I was his backup doing weekend sports and reporting during the week. From about 1981 to 1985, we rocked the Green Bay market until new owners came in and both of us ended up leaving.

RELATED: Hear the story about Bart Starr’s MVP Corvette.

Darrel drove this yellow 1978 Porsche 924 while I arrived in a 1979 AMC Spirit and later upgraded to this Spirit AMX with a 304 V8.

Fast forward 36 years

I retired a couple of years ago and started this car blog with buddy Mark Savage. Darrel found me on Facebook and I discover he is running The Automobile Gallery in Green Bay. So of course I had to go up there and catch up with Darrel along with checking out a place I call car heaven. As it turns out we are both huge petrol heads and The Automobile Gallery has some pretty cool cars as Darrel told me during this interview.

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

2021 Hyundai Elantra SEL

Elantra offers value with distinctive looks, spunky performance  …

Surprises tend to hang out at the low end of the automotive market, where expectations may be lower because, well, prices are lower.

That continues to be the case with Hyundai’s popular Elantra compact sedan, refined and upgraded for 2021. I had the SEL model, just one up from the base and a sweet spot for Elantra to be sure.

In brief, here’s what it has going for it, price, reliability, performance, looks, and solid safety and comfort features. Oh, and did I say price? Yes, yes and yes! Continue reading 2021 Hyundai Elantra SEL

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

2021 Volvo XC60 Recharge T8 Inscription

Plug-in hybrid XC60 a looker and performer … 

A few years back I tested Volvo’s smallish mid-size crossover, the XC60, and was swept clean out of my cross-trainers.

At the time, most crossovers were blah lookers and ho-hum performers, but today’s market is moving, as they always seem to, toward performance, and yet smaller carbon footprints. Well, the 2021 XC60 Recharge T8 Inscription (a crossover so nice they named it twice, or thrice) is all over that trend, and actually was among the leaders.

That’s because this crossover is both a looker and performer, while also being luxurious. Now, the Recharge model adds a plug-in hybrid system to reduce its emission transmission. Continue reading 2021 Volvo XC60 Recharge T8 Inscription

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

Die-cast: Autoart’s Lamborghini URUS

Lamborghini’s super SUV is an eyeful, even in 1:18 scale …

Naturally few of us will ever be able to afford a Lamborghini, but I know where you can get one for less than $300 … from Autoart and it’s in 1:18 scale.

Like the rest of the automotive market, the raging bull of Italian auto design and supercar power has adapted to the market. It now makes an SUV, the Urus.

Sounds like a planet to me, but a little research tells me it’s a big ol’ long-horned European wild ox that recently became extinct. Scientists say it was an ancestor of domestic cattle, so plays into the wild bull imagery of Lamborghini. Continue reading Die-cast: Autoart’s Lamborghini URUS

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, although I’m sure it can beat that. It’s a rocket with a top speed of 118 mph. Just look at it, it oozes he-man looks with performance aimed at off-road racing. Head of Baja? Yet the TRX interior is packed with luxury, like the Durango. This truck has everything, including a price tag between $70,000 and $90 grand.

Speaking of performance …

Best supercar wanna-be:

Chevy’s Corvette Stingray Coupe is kryptonite to the ever-growing cadre of supercars as it now packs a musclebound 6.2-liter V8 making 495 horses amid ship, just behind the driver. This is a modestly rich “poor man’s” supercar in looks and performance with handling much improved from its front-engine predecessor. Yet the interior is as comfy as Bruce Wayne’s study with an excellent info screen and easy controls for the driver. Bonus, you can pop off the roof panel and store it behind the engine to create an open-air experience. Price? A bargain compared to any supercar at $60,000. But it’ll hit $80 grand if fully equipped, which you’ll want. Oh, and go with the Sebring orange!

Most fun, money is no object:

If you want to spend more than on a Vette, consider a Mercedes-Benz AMG GT C Roadster. Mercedes loaned me its spectacular matte metallic blue GT C roadster that crushes it with over-the-top looks and performance. Just add a number to the doors and hood as it has OMG type power from a 4.0-liter bi-turbo AMG V8 that generates 550 horsepower. That translates to a 0-60 mph burst in just 3 seconds, or supercar fast. Yet it manages only a NEAR supercar price of $179,795, or roughly $100,000 more than the Corvette. All I can say, is WOW!

But, if the Benz and the Vette are just a little outside your price range, take heart.

Most fun, money IS an object:

Dodge dishes near perfect motorized violence via its Challenger R/T Scat Pack Widebody beginning at $46,500. This is essentially a heat-seeking missile on wheels. Actually, it packs its own heat with another muscular Mopar HEMI V8 pumping 485 horses to the rear wheels covered in thick performance rubber. No way that you can’t have fun with this beast and you gotta love the retro looks and Widebody’s flared wheel wells. In case you worry about comfort while at the drag strip, Dodge’s interior is snug but comfy and there’s a sternum stirring stereo too. This is one civilized hot rod, and mine was dressed in Hellraisin dark metallic purple. Yum!

OK, enough muscle, sort of. I told you 2020 was heavy on horsepower. Now from beast to beauty.

Most beautiful car:

Beauty, thy name is Lexus LC 500. An early test of the new 2021 LC 500 convertible confirmed what I already suspected, this is simply the most beautiful car made today. The lines are sleek, its corseted grille flows perfectly into the rest of the body and its sexy rear end would make Beyonce blush. Plus there’s bodacious, but smooth, power (471 horses from a V8), and a folding power top that blends ballet and gymnastics. This is a bona fide luxury sport touring car, starting at $102,000. Take that Jaguar and Aston Martin!

You may feel it’s hard to top the Lexus, or any of those muscle cars or trucks, but for my money (which it would be) I want a sharp-looking vehicle that I can afford and that’s fun to drive. None was any better this year than:

2021 Zoomie Vehicle of the Year:

Mazda’s new CX-30 Premium, a large subcompact (I know that sounds contradictory) crossover that is both a looker AND a performer.

Mazda is a bit like Milwaukee’s Northwestern Mutual, a quiet company. It just keeps pumping out fun-to-drive and stylish vehicles, but with little fanfare. Its Mazda6 is a gorgeous sedan, and the iconic MX-5 (the Miata) is a pure sports car that remains fresh after 30 years of minor restylings. Mazda’s CX-9 and CX-5 are leaders in their respective large and mid-size crossover markets, at least in style and driving fun.

Now comes the CX-30 that looks like Mazda perfectly restyled its Mazda3 compact hatchback into a crossover that rides a little higher, but handles like a sports car. For $23,000 (cheap!) you can snag a front-drive model or go all-in on a Premium AWD model like I drove and you’ll still only part with $30,700 or so. For that you get oodles of torque in Sport mode from the 2.5-liter 168-horse I4. Plus the ride is as refined as some luxury sedans. Overall the feel is nimble and quick.

The interior is whisper quiet and feels luxurious with soft leather trim and seats and all the safety equipment you’d expect, plus a sunroof, power hatch and heated seats. Again, look at that price tag and tell me this isn’t a bargain.

Not persuaded? I got 31.7 mpg in my test drive. That’s as good as some hybrids I’ve driven, and they cost more, sometimes a LOT more.

No, this my friends is value coupled with good looks and premium performance. Go with Soul Red and you’ll be the envy of your neighborhood, and me!

Photos: Mark Savage

Zoomie trophy art: Stuart Carlson

Die-cast: Auto World True 1:64 Premium 2021 releases

AW’s twin 6-pack releases offer 5 new castings …

I love detail in my die-cast, so have tended toward the larger scales as an adult collector, but man, Auto World is starting to tug me big time back toward the 1:64 scale I loved as a kid.

Auto World’s True 1:64 releases are premium quality die-casts that are so well detailed that you can save a lot of cash and display space by going with these instead of larger models. The True 1:64 are budget friendly, yet so much fun to look at, hold, and display. Plus Auto World is rolling out a lot of new tooling for 2021.

For instance, the latest releases focus on Muscle, much like Auto World’s 1:18 scale American Muscle, but includes five new toolings.

Here’s the deal. Continue reading Die-cast: Auto World True 1:64 Premium 2021 releases

Die-cast: Auto World 1968 Nickey Chevy Chevelle

A Nickey-pimped Chevelle was, and is, a thing of beauty … 

Many 1960s car lovers believe the second generation Chevelle and its related GM cousins were the epitome of automotive styling and beauty. It’s hard to argue the point, at least that the Chevelle displayed beautiful lines and proportions, in addition to being highly affordable.

Chevelles often rumbled with the power of large V8s that made them true muscle cars, and a few were tweaked even further by the likes of hi-perf shops like Nickey Performance for racing, drag or otherwise.

That’s what Round2, via its Auto World American Muscle brand, delivers in its new 1:18 scale  1968 Nickey Chevelle. It’s decked out in Ermine White with a flat black (vinyl) roof and sharp gloss black Stinger hood scoop. And like most American Muscle die-cast metal models, this one retails for $99.99. That’s high value for a model with detailed engine, interior and undercarriage. Continue reading Die-cast: Auto World 1968 Nickey Chevy Chevelle

Die-cast: Auto World 1977 Dodge Warlock

Blingy Warlock pickup stirred our love of custom trucks …

I have to admit that when I heard Auto World was releasing the 1977 Dodge Warlock I was confused. I’d never heard of it, and I pride myself in being a pretty heady car guy.

Of course, it’s a truck.

Still, in 1977 I was just out of school, just married and my vehicle tastes were fuel-efficient small cars that didn’t cost much, think Mazda GLC, Datsun B210, Honda Civic, and Plymouth Horizon. OK, I was smart enough to avoid the later.

So I did a little digging on the Warlock, a name that no doubt would be nixed by any marketing person today. Seems Dodge was ahead of the curve with factory-produced custom pickups. Now any pickup, custom or not, is hotter than a Kardashian’s bikini photo. Continue reading Die-cast: Auto World 1977 Dodge Warlock

2020 Subaru WRX STI

WRX STI is fast, furious and noisy as …

You know that sound of running a vacuum and it sucking up a load of dirt, gravel and maybe some road salt in winter. Now imagine that sound rattling around in each wheel well of your car.

That’s the first impression of Subaru’s new WRX STI, the raciest of Subies. The lasting impression is of its racer like speed and handling. Continue reading 2020 Subaru WRX STI

2020 Volkswagen Passat SEL

Crisply styled Passat a high-value sedan …

When was the last time you heard of a car costing less than it did three years ago?

I’m betting never, unless it was a 3-year-old used car.

Well, Volkswagen is making a big push again in the U.S. You’ve likely seen its ads for the new Atlas Cross Sport crossover. Yet VW hasn’t abandoned sedans like most U.S. car makers. And its restyled 2020 Passat is not only a crisply styled sedan, it’s less expensive than when I drove a comparable SEL three years ago. Continue reading 2020 Volkswagen Passat SEL

Die-cast: Auto World’s True 1:64 Hemmings 6-packs

New Challenger Hellcat casting stars in latest AW releases …

Like many car guys and gals I’ve been reading Hemmings automotive mags for years and love many of the covers!

So Auto World’s latest True 1:64 releases is a dead-on bull’s-eye for collectors as AW reproduces some of the cool cover cars from Hemmings’ Classic Car, Muscle Machines and Motor News. One of my favorites was the September 2019 Muscle Machines featuring a purple 2019 Dodge Challenger Hellcat Redeye and a vintage 1970 Challenger R/T.

Bingo, both cars are a part of the Release 4 A Series. Cool too because the 797-horsepower 2019 Challenger is a new casting while the 1970 features a new hood casting. More on those in a second. Continue reading Die-cast: Auto World’s True 1:64 Hemmings 6-packs

Die-cast: DNA’s Subaru Baja

Subie’s small Baja pickup looks great in 1/18 scale …

Leading sometimes is a lonely game. Just ask Subaru.

Its Baja, a 4-door compact pickup based on a car platform was one of the first of its kind and can easily be seen in today’s multitude of such pickups. But it was not a sales success, selling just 30,000 units in three years.

But Baja was a leader, make no mistake about that, and DNA Collectibles loves oddball and original designs so has created a sharp 1/18 scale resin die-cast Baja that certainly is a looker.

The History

Baja sprung from the ST-X concept vehicle with its more radical off-roading look, as if it were to run in the Baja 1000 cross-country race. Tamed down, but still sporty looking, Subaru made the Baja from 2002 to 2006 in its Lafayette, Ind., plant. Bajas were based on the popular Legacy/Outback platform and marketed as 2003 through 2006 models.

Baja followed the 2-door Brat that Subaru sold successfully from 1978 to 1994. Brat too was a compact pickup with some styling flair. But as we all know, Americans prefer more room for all their stuff. So Baja with its four doors, second row seat and handsomely lined pickup bed and functional roof rack seemed to fit that bill.

It featured Subaru’s trusted 2.5-liter Boxer 4-cylinder engine with a turbo version coming in year two. Plus Baja was made more useful for hauling with its Switchback system where the second row seat folded down and a panel behind it opened to the bed, allowing for longer items to be carried. To add more strength to the bed there also were two chrome handles or supports that extended from the roof to the bed’s sides. Knowing we love all things sporty, Subaru marketed those handles as “Sports Bars,” which now has a totally separate meaning.

The pickup also had four tie-downs, two bed lights, roof rails and crossbars, and a snazzy system that allowed the license plate holder to fold perpendicular to the tailgate so it could be seen if the truck was driving with the tailgate lowered. Clever!

The Model

DNA’s model replicates the original bicolor launch version which was bright yellow with silver stone metallic lower body cladding, all beautifully painted.

Other standout features include the black roof rails and small sunroof just in front of the rack’s forward bar. A tiny black antenna sits next to the rails and is in a retracted position. All windows appear slightly tinted and edged in black.

In front is a chrome-trimmed grille opening with photo-etched metal and black backing and the Subaru logo at the grille’s center. Headlights are wonderfully rendered showing four different lenses and lights while below the bumper are two giant running lights with slight grille work covering the lenses for protection.

Baja’s tail features a well detailed flat black lined cargo bed, the two chrome Sport Bars and dual overhead cargo lamp. Taillights are sharply detailed too and the license area is nicely shaped indicating it indeed could have been repositioned when the tailgate was down. Would be cool if the model allowed that tailgate to drop, or the doors to open.

Subaru, Baja and AWD labels are here in photo-etched form too.

Underneath you see the Baja labeled rear wheel mud flaps and a chrome muffler and tailpipe that look a little too shiny for my taste. I think a matte silver finish would have looked more realistic.

Tires are black sidewall and treaded, but with no branding and the wheels are matte gray five-spokers with large plain discs behind them with calipers.

Inside, well, that’s not extremely easy to see because all the windows are posed in the up position. Seats and dash are bicolor gray and black, which looks sporty and is best viewed through the windshield and from overhead. There you’ll see the gated shifter on the console, the gray and black steering wheel and gauge faces on the instrument cluster and the dash’s stack.

Hard to see much else, but DNA says there are seat belts and radio buttons there too. I wish the side windows at least could have been clear or the driver’s window removed so the interior could be viewed more easily.

As is though the Baja looks great and would stand out in any model display. And it now comes in a fully windowed box that would make it easy to display as purchased.

DNA puts the Baja in a great windowed box, so you could easily display it just as it comes!

Coming up, DNA has just added the Volvo P1800 in red and a Saab 9-4x. It’s just starting to take pre-orders for its Saab 9-5 NG Aero.

Vital Stats: Subaru Baja

Maker: DNA Collectibles
Scale: 1/18
Stock No.: DNA000050
MSRP: $139.99

Link: DNAcollectibles.com

 

Die-cast: Autoart Honda Civic Type R

Autoart’s Civic Type R looks ready to rip in 1/18 scale … 

All this bad boy needs is a number and a sponsor and the Civic R looks ready to race!

When I was a youngster and Honda Civics were new to the U.S. market, they were cute, nimble econoboxes that got great gas mileage and weren’t very expensive.

Times change.

Now Civic has grown to be as large as an Accord used to be, but remain Honda’s main entry in the compact car market. Plus, now there’s a Type R in the U.S., as of 2017, that takes the sporty Civic to its logical, or maybe illogical performance extreme. The 2020 Honda Civic Type R is one hot hatchback, and Autoart does a fine job of bringing it to the 1/18 scale die-cast market. Continue reading Die-cast: Autoart Honda Civic Type R

2020 Subaru Outback Onyx Edition XT

Outback Onyx Edition just another winning Subie wagon …

Subaru’s Outback is as close to a cult car for seniors as is it for middle-agers with a couple of teens still living at home. Its sales just continue to grow, resulting in one parked in nearly every other suburban driveway.

Spoiler alert, there’s a 2017 version in my driveway. Continue reading 2020 Subaru Outback Onyx Edition XT

All-Electric Ford F-150 Lightning announced

Ford to reveal F-150 Lightning May 19 with livestreamed event …

DEARBORN, Mich. – Ford announced today it was launching an all-electric pickup, the F-150 Lightning. The new F-150 Lightning will be revealed May 19 at Ford World Headquarters in Dearborn and livestreamed for millions to watch. 

This is Ford’s hybrid F-150, which is already available. The electric come out next year.

In a press release Ford said the F-150 Lightning “brings innovation, technologies and capabilities to the F-Series, America’s best-selling vehicle, combined with the power, payload and towing capability.”.

The reveal takes place at 9:30 p.m. EDT, May 19, from Ford World Headquarters and will be broadcast live with 30+ ways to watch across physical and digital destinations, including the Ford Facebook and YouTube channels, Twitter, key national publications as well as 18 locations such as Times Square in New York City and the Las Vegas Boulevard.

“Every so often, a new vehicle comes along that disrupts the status quo and changes the game … Model T, Mustang, Prius, Model 3. Now comes the F-150 Lightning,” Jim Farley, Ford President and CEO, said in a release. “America’s favorite vehicle for nearly half a century is going digital and fully electric. F-150 Lightning can power your home during an outage; it’s even quicker than the original F-150 Lightning performance truck; and it will constantly improve through over-the-air updates.”

Added Farley: “The truck of the future will be built with quality and a commitment to sustainability by Ford-UAW workers at the Ford Rouge Complex — the cathedral of American manufacturing and our most advanced plant.”     

Production of the F-150 Lightning begins next spring at the all-new Ford Rouge Electric Vehicle Center.

Ford already markets a hybrid F-150 that Savageonwheels.com reviewed earlier this year. It’s pictured here too.

See Mark’s review: https://savageonwheels.com/2021/04/07/2021-ford-f-150-4×4-supercrew-lariat-hybrid/

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