BMW X3 has the street cred, but what about style? …
This week’s drive begs the question of style and performance vs. reputation and performance. How so?
The tested BMW X3 compact SUV is a direct competitor of the Alfa Romeo Stelvio I tested a week prior. Darn near the same dimensions, the Alfa is just an inch longer. Similar power too, the BWM having 20 more ponies under its hood.
The difference is in looks, styling if you will, and reputation. While Alfa has a performance reputation, the long-term reliability of its vehicles has historically been a bit sketchy. BMW boasts of being the ultimate driving machine, and generally has a stronger long-term reliability rating.
Face value though, that impression that hits you when you first see a vehicle, is all in the Alfa’s favor. It looks lean and fast and, well, a bit sexy if you can see that in a car. Its nose is distinctive, like no other. It turns heads.
Beautiful Stelvio puts in the crossover fast lane …
Even if Italian beauty were only skin deep, maybe that would be enough when it comes to cars and crossovers.
The new Stelvio, Alfa Romeo’s first crossover or SUV, whichever you wish to label it, is a beauty. Its face is unique in today’s bland auto world with a rounded distinctive nose that immediately signals to car connoisseurs that this is an Alfa. And what the hay, a little Italian styling passion can be easy on the eyes.
Stelvio, named for a famed road in Italy’s Alps, also embodies the Alfa heritage for sporty performance. For years Alfas were major competitors and winners at European racetracks. Heck, Enzo Ferrari got his start managing Alfa’s race team pre-World War II.
Even in the tested base trim Stelvio performs more like the sport sedan it’s based on, the Giulia, than you’d expect in a modest-sized crossover. Like so many of today’s new vehicles, the Stelvio goes with a 2.0-liter turbocharged I4 under its lean and long hood. That might sound small for an SUV, but this unit cranks a spritely 280 horsepower with a 306 torque rating.
There’s not a lot of rumble since it’s a turbo, but the Stelvio gallops up to highway speeds like a race horse that has just been spurred in the rump. There’s a bit of engine yowl from under the hood, but only a twinge to let you know you’re not driving a domestic.
Not surprisingly the Alfa prefers premium fuel’s higher octane to light the fire in its belly. Power kicks in quickly with no noticeable turbo lag and the sporty 8-speed ZF transmission seems beautifully suited to the turbo, providing smooth, efficient shifts.
1960s Valiant Acapulco a simple car, no matter the year …
We all have our first car stories, but in 1963 my dad brought home our first new car, at least in my lifetime. It was a white 1963 Plymouth Valiant convertible with black soft top and red vinyl interior and a push-button automatic transmission.
It was nothing fancy, but to have a convertible was certainly exotic. Plus the car’s slant-6 engine was solid and the car ran like a top for 7 years.
So there’s a certain nostalgia I felt when WhiteBox’s red Chrysler Valiant Acapulco arrived for review. The 1/43 scale model is a nice reproduction of a mainline car that a lot of folks owned, and only a slight change from that ’63 model of which I was so fond. In fact, more than 225,000 Valiants were sold in 1963, its record year.
The Chrysler Valiant was a rebadged Plymouth Valiant sold in Mexico, hence the Acapulco model designation. Dodge also had a similar model, the Dart. There’s a bit of confusion with the labeling here in that the Acapulco was sold in Mexico starting in 1967 and the review car’s license is a 1967 Oklahoma plate. I confirmed with American-Excellence, who had sent the car, that it’s mislabeled as a 1965 model. It is in fact a 1967 Valiant.
Valiant was Plymouth’s compact car entry and was remodeled in 1963 to be less radical looking. It appeared slim and trim with a slightly longer hood than trunk. The fake spare tire on the trunk lid from earlier models was abandoned.
VW goes big into the SUV market with Atlas …
There are no awards for being late to the party, but VW is hoping sales are its consolation prize for finally creating a large SUV, the Atlas.
It won’t win any styling awards (can you say big and boxy?), but it’s certainly stout and a bargain!
While every major automaker, including the likes of Mercedes-Benz and Porsche, have created a large SUV, it took VW until late this summer to release its Atlas, a 2018 model that is very nearly the same dimensionally as the Dodge Durango I tested a couple weeks back. Both are a pleasure to drive.
What the Atlas has going for it is nimble handling, good acceleration and a ride to match, but it’s also modestly priced. How modest?
The base S model starts at $31,425 including delivery and touts a 2.0-liter turbocharged I4 that makes 235 horsepower. That’s with front-wheel drive, naturally, but even the tested SEL model with V6 and 4Motion (AWD) was just $42,690. No options were added either and with a $925 delivery fee the dark Platinum Gray Metallic test ute went for $43,615.
While that still won’t fit into everyone’s household budget, compare that with the tested Durango’s $49,360 price tag. In fact, most large utes roll out of the showroom at roughly $50 grand. Chief competitors are the Honda Pilot, Chevy Tahoe, Ford Explorer, Nissan Pathfinder and Toyota Highlander.
Automodello’s Gurney Eagles are beauties …
The 1981 Pepsi Challenge (No. 48) driven by Mike Mosley and the blue White Castle entry driven by Chip Mead at the Indy 500.
Dan Gurney stopped racing at the enf 1970, but his influence on open-wheel racing continued for decades afterward. Yet the 1970s and early 1980s were the zenith for his All-American Racers (AAR) Eagles.
Gurney’s Santa Ana, Calif.-based shop turned out highly competitive Eagle chassis for the Indy Car series. Eagles were consistent winners. Even the ultra-successful Team Penske used them for a while as they were outperforming Penske’s own chassis.
Yet in 1981 AAR went a whole new route with its design, making virtually everything behind the driver’s cockpit into a wing that created terrific downforce to increase cornering speeds.
Now, Automodello joins Replicarz in creating high-quality 1/43 scale resin historic Indy racers with its model of the AAR 1981 Eagle that sat on the front row for the Indy 500 and won a race in Milwaukee. It also makes a second Eagle that was entered in the 1981 race.
The radical Eagle design with its broad, flat rear side pods and extension behind the rear wheels, plus a small wing atop what was essentially a lower wing, caught everyone at the 500 by surprise. Mike Mosley, a speedy Indy veteran with tough luck, was the driver of Gurney’s famous No. 48.
In addition to its design, including two large air scoops hanging off the engine cover to feed air to its fragile Chevrolet V8, the Eagle was painted a bright yellow and white and labeled the Pepsi Challenger.
New Chevy Equinox shrinks, but that’s a good thing …
Chevrolet updated the Equinox for 2018 by doing something carmakers rarely do these days, shrinking it.
Equinox is nearly 5 inches shorter than its predecessor, but it feels lighter and livelier to drive, another rare accomplishment. Usually carmakers add inches and weight to increase their appeal to a wider expanse of the buying public.
So for compact sport-utility and crossover buyers looking for something less trucky and more nimble like a car, Equinox becomes a solid choice along with Mazda’s CX-5.
In its base trim, the L model, Equinox is both inexpensive and mildly powered. It starts in front-drive mode at $25,525 including delivery fee, and its I4 is a 1.5-liter turbo that creates 170 horsepower. In the Equinox L the tranny is a six-speed automatic and that combo leads to an EPA rating of 26 mpg city and 32 mpg highway. Laudable!
Ah, but the majority of buyers are likely to move up to the LT model, which is what I tested in its pumpkin spiced Orange Burst Metallic paint scheme. The OBM color gets your attention, and that of friends and co-workers, all for just $395 extra.
The LT is the first Equinox with Chevy’s new 2.0-liter I4 turbo that cranks 252 horsepower and is rated at 260 for torque. This creates a much speedier and more satisfying drive as the turbo spools up quickly to get the crossover up or down a highway entry ramp before a big 16-wheeler is breathing down your tailpipe.
The tested LT with just front-drive seemed light and lively on the weeklong drive. It cornered well and steering effort was light. Parking was simple.
Buick’s 1956 concept car really did have futuristic features …
GM’s concept cars of the 1950s were showcased in traveling shows called Motorama and actually looked futuristic and in some cases included features that would show up on future cars, sometimes way into the future.
One was the bright red over white Buick Centurion XP-301 that was displayed in 1956 Motorama shows. NEO now offers a stellar example of the show car in 1:43 scale, and the resin model may surprise you.
The Centurion, a name later used in the 1970s by Buick, was a Harley Earl design reflecting the aircraft and rocket styling touches that were so popular in the 1950s as the U.S. was rushing toward the space race.
Its pincher like nose design with headlights in rocketlike pods would grab everyone’s attention at the time, along with the tapered tail that looks like a jet engine with overhanging flat fins. Oh, and then there’s the bubble top, completely clear except for the metal support structure and window frames.
Outlier Durango delivers function and style …
Dodge’s Durango is an outlier of sorts. It features function and style while many of the better selling large SUVs maintain a staid look, favoring square exteriors and overly manly interiors with oversized gauges, knobs and air vents.
Durango though likes to spiff itself up, like it’s saying it wants to be formal, but likes to party too.
This week’s case in point, the large Durango GT Blacktop AWD. While not as racy, or gas thirsty as the R/T version I tested a couple years back, this one still has plenty of muscle, while maintaining a sporty look, at least as sporty as SUVs go.
Under the hood is a 3.6-liter V6 with variable valve timing and boasting 293 horsepower. Torque is rated at 260 lb.-ft. The engine is strong and the Durango, while not nimble, feels substantial and quick enough to outrun traffic as you pull onto the freeway. I had this on a roundtrip to Toledo and it cruised the toll roads with ease and was quick to pull out and pass slow semis and dawdlers.
Dodge uses an 8-speed automatic transmission with the V6 and the tranny shifts smoothly and efficiently. While not in the league with hybrids, the Durango managed 22.0 mpg on the trip, including some city driving along with long stretches of highway. The Dodge drinks regular and the EPA rates it at 18 mpg city and 25 highway. I had a fairly heavy load of luggage in the back and one passenger.
These Indy 500 winners are real Duesys …
Replicarz 1924 Duesenberg Indy 500 winner: L.L. Corum and Joe Boyer
Indianapolis-based Duesenberg Automobile and Motors Co. was a powerhouse at the Indianapolis 500 in the 1920s, winning three out of four years from 1924-27.
Duesenbergs were known for their strong engines, and the company made marine and aviation engines during World War I. But following the war its founding brothers, August and Frederick Duesenberg, moved the company to Indianapolis. They loved powerful engines and created some of the best of the era for their Indy racers. They also made competitive chassis for Indy racers.
Now Replicarz, which has made 1/43 scale 1920s Miller racers, turns its attention to 1/18 scale resin versions of the Indy-winning Duesenbergs. They’re sharp, as usual.
Duesenberg won its first Indy 500 in 1924, the first car with a supercharger to win Indy. Drivers L. L. Corum and Joe Boyer shared the driving duties and the following year the popular Peter DePaolo, won in a bright yellow Duesy. After Frank Lockhart won aboard a Miller in the rain-shortened 1926 race, Duesenberg was back in the winner’s circle in 1927 with George Souders at the wheel. It was Duesenberg’s final Indy win.
The outgoing DePaolo, who later authored the autobiography Wall Smacker, is noted for being the first driver, and car, to average more than 100 mph for the entire 500 miles at Indy. His record was 101.127 and lasted until 1932 when Fred Frame averaged more than 104 mph.
Honda’s Civic Si returns and it’s still an economical sportster! …
If you can get beyond the new Honda Civic Si’s odd Transformer-ish rear-end you’ll find one of the finest, and most economical, sporty coupes on the market.
There’s a lot to like here, even if eye candy is not one of them.
The souped-up Si model has been missing from the Civic lineup for a couple years, so its return is welcomed by entry-level sporty car buyers whose options have been limited since the Si’s demise.
The Si links performance and economy unlike most other cars. It starts at a highly affordable $24,100 while boasting a turbocharged 1.5-liter I4 engine that creates a peppy 205 horsepower.
For a coupe weighing less than 3,000 lbs., that turbo will jack it up to highway speeds quite smartly. Firing up, or down, freeway entry ramps is fun and quick. There’s not much turbo lag with the Civic and its smooth shifting 6-speed manual allows the driver to put as much muscle into acceleration as needed, or desired.
A Sport mode button may help that a little, although I didn’t feel it was needed or provided much extra boost. Mainly the Sport mode firms up the steering wheel, or more to the point, makes steering effort much heavier than when that mode isn’t engaged. I found the normal driving mode just fine and steering response fairly precise without the added steering weight of Sport mode.
Robby DeGraff photo
Mazda’s power hardtop adds romance to Miata …
Love may be what makes a Subaru a Subaru, but Mazda’s MX-3 Miata has been luring drivers into its open-air summer of romance for 28 years, yet seems never to age.
That was with its soft-top model, but now comes its RF (retractable fastback) with power folding hardtop, and suddenly love turns to lust. While there has been a power hardtop model before, this one improves the Miata’s looks. Cosmetically it adds a Targa-like bar behind the cockpit that remains there after the roof has neatly folded down behind the seats. Think Porsche Targa profile, but much cuter and less costly.
Hold up a toggle on the center stack and in slightly more than 10 seconds the folding hardtop has powered down to transform the sporty metallic red roadster into a convertible. Where the old soft top let in a lot of wind and road noise, the hardtop muffles nearly all of it. Ah, you can cruise in style and listen to your stereo without straining an eardrum.
So the RF creates a quiet interior, resolving one of my few complaints of past Miata drives, plus creates a snazzier profile that had people asking me “What?” I was driving.
Still Mazda continues its mission of creating a simple car, a convertible that’s affordable, fun and won’t embarrass you at the gas pump. Mazda calls it zoom-zoom.
A couple years back Mazda slightly downsized the MX-5, a rare act in the car world. The goal was keeping it light and lively, not letting it take on a middle-agers’ weight around the beltline.
Stylish Lexus IS350 remains true to its calling …
When we are lucky, good things don’t change, much!
This week’s luxurious example is the Lexus IS350 F Sport, a certified BWM 3 Series fighter, and a near identical luxury sport sedan to one I drove two years ago, right down to the Atomic silver color.
Not much has changed, which is mostly good. If you were to look back at my previous review you’d see the same pluses and minuses, so the only downside is that the negatives have not been addressed. Still, they aren’t deal breakers.
Essentially the IS350 and BWM 325i are dimensional clones, just one reflecting the more luxurious leanings of its Japanese maker, while the German make stresses performance. Lexus began challenging the iconic BMW in 2005 as it tried to lure more young executives away from the German make with its new IS sedan.
The current model though draws a distinct line in the styling sands by delivering an edgy style that BWM would, apparently, never attempt. The Lexus boasts a big in-your-face grille and crisply creased body. As I said before the IS looks quick even as it lazes at the end of the driveway.
Toyota’s Tacoma TRD a big mid-size pickup for off-roading …
There was a day, not all that long ago, when Toyota’s Tacoma, along with the likes of Ford’s Ranger and Chevy’s S-10, was a small, personal-sized pickup.
These were young guy “first cars” because they were inexpensive wheels, macho enough to get the young girls to pay some attention, plus useful enough to help other young friends move into their first apartments, houses, whatever.
Today the Tacoma, along with other compact pickups, have grown up into bigger mid-sized models that some could almost mistake for full-size trucks. Certainly when you add a double cab (a full back seat and second set of doors), and a long bed (6 feet in the Tacoma’s case), and 4-wheel-drive, you’ve got a vehicle that’s big, long and tall.
Then make it a TRD version, which stands for Toyota Racing Development, and you’ve pretty much “machoed” the thing out to the max.
This week’s test truck though went with what Toyota calls a Quicksand color, which is a tan that screams utility service truck. Not a great color for a personal truck. But then the test truck did feature the TRD 4×4 Off-Road decals on the bed’s rear side panels. Tough!
How big has the long-bed Tacoma double-cab become? Well, it rides on a 140.6-inch wheelbase and is 225.5 inches long. Weight is 4,425 lbs. Compare that with a comparable Nissan Frontier SL 4WD Crew Cab, which has a 139.9-inch wheelbase, is 219.4 inches long and weighs about 170 lbs. more.
Hyundai’s Ioniq takes hybrid competition up a notch …
Hybrids are beginning to come in all shapes and sizes. Toyota’s Prius remains the dominant player, but like a college football player moving up to the NFL, the Prius’ will be facing stiffer competition.
Now comes Hyundai to the hybrid big leagues with its Ioniq. It’s oddly named and spelled, but everything else about it is big league. Its styling is more sophisticated than the dowdy Prius, but not quite as sporty as its sporty cousin, the Kia Niro.
Ioniq is a small hatchback, but it’s loaded with all the goodies you’d ever want, plus gets dynamite fuel economy. In fact, it boasts the highest fuel economy rating of any hybrid at 57 mpg city and 59 mpg highway in its entry-level, eco-minded Blue model. The Limited, two models up, is rated 55 mpg city and 54 mpg highway. I managed 45.2 mpg, while the trip computer insisted it was 53.4. All models have aluminum hoods and hatches to keep weight down and improve gas mileage.
For the record, I had gotten a still good, but less impressive, 35.6 mpg in my Niro test drive. Niro, which looks more like a crossover also is about 150 lbs. heavier than the Ioniq. Meanwhile, when I tested the Prius Two Eco earlier this year I got a stellar 57.5 mpg. That’s hard to beat.
Ioniq though handles nicely with generally light steering effort and good cornering because it has a low center of gravity. In Sport mode the steering firms a bit too. Plus Hyundai tells us the Ioniq has the best drag coefficient of any car on the U.S. market. That means it cuts through the air more easily, which aids fuel efficiency. Mind you the differences in drag coefficients among most cars is small.
Genesis G80 Sport stirs comments, all good …
I’m used to getting questions about the test cars I drive, but few get as many comments as the Genesis G80 3.3T Sport I just drove.
Dressed in Caspian black, a deeply layered sparkling metallic black, the G80 oozes luxury and authority on the road. Old and young folks alike asked what it was, guessing everything from a new unmarked police car to a Bentley. What it is, is fantastic, and Bentley-like, but without the horrible price tag.
If you’re not a car geek you may be unfamiliar with Genesis, as were several of the questioners. It’s Hyundai’s new luxury brand. Think Toyota’s Lexus or Honda’s Acura.
Like those makes, it has invaded the luxury sedan market with a generously equipped model at a price that seriously undercuts the existing luxury brands. Its looks are a mix of BMW and Audi, and the badge on its nose and tail resembles the spread wings of a Bentley. Hyundai did its homework!
Hmmm, this sure looks like a Bentley logo to me!
I consider this the best looking luxury sedan today, with the exception of Audi’s sleek A7 fastback.
A little more history. For 2018 the G80 line adds a Sport model with a new engine, a twin-turbo 3.3-liter V6 that cranks an amazing 365 horsepower with a torque rating of 376 lb.-ft. Some offer more, some less, but even weighing in at a solid 4,519 lbs., this new G80 will move.
Riviera was one of the few sleek Buicks, ever …
I can still remember the first time I saw a Buick Riviera. As a kid, I was wowed. Its sleek lines, the headlights canted forward to make it look fast and sporty. There was just something about it that oozed elegance and class, and a bit of speed too!
Automodello brings us a bevy of new 1965 Riviera Gran Sport models to fulfill any collector’s fantasies about owning one. These are 1/24 scale resin models that continue Automodello’s tradition of creating beautifully finished models that fit well in any plastic car modeler’s collection.
Like variety? Automodello delivers the Riviera in seven colors and in various quantities, from the snazzy Astro Blue with 299 models made, to the Enthusiasts Editions in Arctic White, Flame Red with black top and interior, and Burgundy Mist with black interior. Just 19 will be made of each Enthusiasts Edition.
There also is an Homage Edition in Regal Black, with 24 models made, and two Tribute Editions in Verde Green and Sahara Mist, with just 50 of each made.
Alfa Romeo’s Giulia makes us giggle it’s so much fun …
Rare is the sports sedan, or any car, that makes you giggle when you tromp on its gas pedal. Rare too is a car that makes your friends envious.
Corvettes have become too common, Jaguars too mainstream, BMWs too numerous. No, for something special you want an Italian sports car, preferably in red and preferably with a sexy sounding name. You want something not everyone of a certain economic standing has.
Today, that car is an Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio. That’s Giulia, as in the woman’s name, Julia. And the Quadrifoglio? Well, that means four-leaf clover, which is emblazoned on the car’s front quarter panels. More on that in a bit.
Alfa Romeo embodies Italian car history, especially its racing history. It’s who Enzo Ferrari worked for, or with, before Ferrari became Ferrari. Despite its long history the Italian make pulled out of the U.S. market in 1995 and only recently, along with its parent, Fiat, has come back.
Giulia is the car it needs to regain a foothold in the American market and from a performance standpoint it is an absolute home run. Or in the sporting vernacular of its homeland, GOOOOOOOAL!
With any sports car, or sports sedan, one must start with the power plant. Alfa snags a 2.9-liter bi-turbo V6 created by Ferrari and it is magnifico! It’s strong and sings like one of the Three Tenors, a thing of beauty.
Rocket Bunny Toyota 86 rocks …
You gotta admit, the name Rocket Bunny sticks in the ol’ memory banks.
So when I saw Autoart has a new 1:18-scale model of the Toyota 86 in Rocket Bunny trim, well, I requested one to see just what a Rocket Bunny Toyota looked like.
What is a Rocket Bunny? You may be asking. Well, if you’re not a tuner car guy or under age 40, this aftermarket aero kit maker may not be on your radar. It should be though because Rocket Bunny / Pandem Aero Kits is waking up the custom car look for Drift-style boy-toy street racers.
These are sold in the U.S. via GReddy Performance Products that makes everything from special high-perf exhaust systems to electronics, engine parts and brake and suspension pieces to tweak performance.
The cool panels added to the Toyota 86 give it a more muscular look with bigger wheel well flares and racy nose and tail treatments.
The Toyota 86, by the way, starts with ample power for a 2+2 sports fastback with a bit more than 200 horsepower from its Subaru-built and designed boxer engine. The car is lightweight with an aluminum hood and its engine mounted as low as possible in the chassis to provide better balance and a low center of gravity. This is a rear-drive model with a top speed of 145 mph and a 0-60 mph time of about 6 seconds out of the box.
Replicarz goes bigger, produces winner with Joe Leonard’s championship car …
Joe Leonard was a heck of a racer, on two wheels and four.
He not only won three motorcycle championships, the hard-nosed driver also moved up to Indy cars and won the 1971 USAC championship running virtually the same car as his teammate, Al Unser, who won the Indianapolis 500 in a sister car that year.
Replicarz honors Leonard, who died earlier this year, with its release of a 1/18-scale PJ Colt, a replica of the car Leonard drove to the USAC title decked out in its yellow and blue Samsonite-sponsored livery. Replicarz had created a limited edition 1/43-scale model of the car previously, along with Unser’s 1970 and 1971 Indy winning Johnny Lightning racers.
Leonard won three A.M.A. Grand National Championships between 1954 and 1957 and set a record with 27 wins. By 1961 though, he turned his attention to auto racing and debuted in USAC, then the top-level open-wheel racing series. In 1964 he reached its top level, racing Champ cars, those that ran in the Indianapolis 500. He won his first race, the Milwaukee 150, in 1965 aboard a Gurney Eagle.
Leonard raced for several teams and had several good results at Indy, finishing third in 1967 and sixth in 1969 when he was wheeling Smokey Yunick’s doctored Gurney Eagle. In between he put Andy Granatelli’s famous wedge turbine on the pole at Indy and was leading with 9 laps to go when a part failed.
Subaru’s WRX makes you faster, more interesting …
Mention the Subaru WRX in front of young adult males and you’re likely to become the most interesting man, or woman, in the world.
Subaru devotees are a, well, devoted lot and WRX fans are darn near rabid. Face it, some folks, especially young males, love speed and yet their wallets aren’t fat enough to go Corvette or BMW shopping and their egos or tastes may not desire a Mustang, Camaro or Challenger. So it comes down to two cars really, the race-ready Ford Focus RS I drove a month or so back, and Subie’s WRX.
Lucky for Subie followers, the WRX just happens to be revamped for 2018 already. But to my way of thinking it blends in too much, not a problem with the winged Focus. WRX needs a more muscular look than just its shallow lower body cladding, splitter on the lower nose and gaping air scoop on the hood. It really doesn’t look fast at all. And don’t get me started on the rear spoiler. It’s virtually non-existent on the tested Premium model.
Several co-workers asked if I had a new Corolla to test drive for the week – really!
Yet the tested bright blue WRX still has the guts that its young, mostly male, audience desires.
Subaru’s well-tested 2.0-liter, direct-injected, turbo, Boxer 4-cylinder pumps an awesome 268 horsepower and 258 ft.-lbs. of torque. It flat out flies after second gear. There’s some turbo lag to be sure, but even if you ease into the throttle from second to third gear it’ll slam you back in the seat and take off like an F-16.
Highlander Hybrid excels at moving people, things …
A road trip to Louisville with a couple buddies, and plenty of cargo, proved Toyota’s Highlander Hybrid to be a perfect transport choice.
Ours was a medium metallic brown, what Toyota calls Toasted Walnut Pearl. Probably should have been pecan since we were headed to the South. But, color aside, this fine family mover will carry eight folks and their stuff, or in our case, three and luggage, boxes, a monster camera bag, etc.
Highlander is quiet, comfortable, roomy, nice looking and, being the hybrid model, got darned fine gas mileage for its heft. Even without three dudes and their gear it weighs 4,965 lbs.
There was plenty to like and really nothing to irritate a crabby old guy and his friends.
Start with power. There’s a bunch. Toyota puts a new 3.5-liter V6 under the hood, mated with its reliable hybrid power system. Combined these get 306 horsepower and operation is silky smooth. Creeping through Chicago traffic on the return trip, at about 5-20 mph, the Highlander hummed along on electric power. Once I needed to accelerate somewhere near Gurnee, Ill., its electronically controlled CVT (continuously variable transmission) eased right into it and off we went at 70+ mph. In fact, cruising through Indiana the Highlander is so quiet and comfy that we had no difficulty commenting on how far we could see in any direction.
Ride is super. Highlander rides on a 109.8-inch wheelbase and the independent front McPherson struts and rear double wishbone suspension eat up highway imperfections. Few vehicles feel this smooth on rough Midwestern roads.
Ford’s Focus RS is a scorching hot rod …
Simply put, Ford’s Focus RS is a street-legal race car.
Not many of those out there, and most that are require you to sell your house in order to make a down payment on said speedster.
So here, for “just” $36,995, Ford will put a scorching hot rod, drifter, rally car in your driveway, enticing neighbors, especially young males, to drool. It’ll also increase your heart rate, something on the order of being a real race driver.
The backstory on the German-made RS is that it, or similar Foci, have been sold in Europe for years and U.S. lead-footers have been itching for it, begging for it, praying for it to hit our shores. Now it has. I don’t know how many will be sold, but the Subaru Impreza WRX now has serious competition. In fact, folks considering a Chevy Camaro, Ford Mustang or Dodge Challenger may want to consider saving some dough and going this route for serious performance.
What does that performance consist of?
In a nutshell this fast Focus, complete with a big deal rear spoiler, pumps 350 horsepower out of its tiny 2.3-liter EcoBoost turbocharged engine along with a matching torque rating. It’s said to do 0-60 in 4.6 seconds. By comparison, a Mustang GT can do it in 4.4 seconds. That’s pretty close and this handles better!
Indy 500 Eagles continue to fly, multiply at Replicarz …
Dan Gurney remains one of the biggest names in open-wheel racing. His Eagle race cars dominated the Indianapolis 500 and Indycar circuit in the late 1960s through much of the 1970s, but really set the establishment on its ear starting in 1972.
That’s when Bobby Unser debuted the new Eagle with its giant rear spoiler and upped the speed ante to nearly 200 mph by putting his Olsonite Eagle on the pole at 195.8 mph, 3 mph faster than Peter Revson’s McLaren.
Replicarz, which previously released the 1973 STP Team’s Eagles of winner Gordon Johncock and teammate Swede Savage in 1/18 scale, now delivers three new Eagles in 1/43 scale. Back is the Johncock car, with just 200 being made, along with limited runs of 300 for both Unser’s white 1972 pole car and 1975 Indy winner, the blue Jorgensen Eagle..
Bobby Unser won Indy in 1968 in a Gurney Eagle, while Gurney himself was second. Gurney would place second and third the next two years, then retire. Yet his Eagles, made by All-American Racers in Santa Ana, Calif., soared. They won 51 Indycar races.
The Olsonite Eagle that Bobby Unser put on the pole in 1972 was the tipping point toward Eagles being the top Indycar of the time. That year it led the first 30 laps of the race before an ignition rotor failed sidelining Unser. He finished 30th. But by the next May, 21 of Indy’s 33 starters drove Eagles, including the winner, Johncock.
A McLaren, the other major player at the time, won the following year when 19 Eagles made the field, but Unser was back in the winner’s circle in 1975 with his blue No. 48. Eagles made up roughly half the Indy field.
Tough Toyota 4Runner is anything but a TRD …
Let’s face it, you’d better have a pretty strong, competent vehicle if you’re going to give one of its models the TRD moniker.
We all know what that sounds like, but in Toyota’s case it means Toyota tough, as in Toyota Racing Development. And that’s why the new 4Runner proudly touts TRD in its name and on its haunches.
The test truck was the mid-level TRD Off-Road Premium edition with four-wheel drive and a sparkling Barcelona Red Metallic paint job. It also features a tough-looking exterior with distinctive nose and a hood air scoop that not all models have, not to mention few of its competitors.
4Runner is a big ute, rolling on a 109.8-inch wheelbase it’s a sizeable 191.3 inches long and weighs a hefty 4,750 lbs. So move over mid-size crossovers and SUV pretenders, 4Runner is ready to go rock-climbing, and the TRD version thumbs its nose at rough terrain.
Kia’s new hybrid will knock your socks off …
Roughly once a year a test car knocks my socks off, trips my trigger, simply surprises the heck out of me and this week’s Kia Niro Touring has me amazed.
Looking at it you’ll say that’s no car, that’s a crossover vehicle. And that’s what Kia wants you to say. The styling is typical Kia wonderful with good looking nose, tail and beautifully proportioned profile. It has a taller stance like a crossover, but (and this is one of at least two surprises) it is front-wheel drive, and as of now AWD is not an option.
Second surprise, from a driving standpoint, this little beauty is a hybrid.
That’s right, it has an electric motor to go along with its 1.6-liter 4-cylinder gas-powered engine to create what sounds like a modest 139 horsepower. Don’t let that number fool you.
Sure, left in Normal drive mode the acceleration here is (yawn), shall we say, modest. But simply by sliding the 6-speed Sportronic gear lever to the left into Sport mode the Niro jumps to life. Acceleration is quick and quiet as the electric motor propels this honey to normal city cruising speed.
I found myself leaving the shifter in normal mode, which is the most economical way to go, and then slipping it into Sport at stoplights. Fun, and zippy!
Sidecar racer unique, weird, unsuccessful, but a cool die-cast model …
The mid-1960s were a wild and revolutionary time for race car design and technology at the Indianapolis 500, the predominant race in the world at the time.
The era saw roadsters with their engines in the front replaced by racers, such as Lotuses, with engines in the rear. There were a variety of engines from Offenhausers to Fords to Chevys, plus some jet turbines that darned near won, twice.
Then there was the sidecar roadster created by master mechanic and designer, Smokey Yunick, who had already taken on the stock car world at Daytona and entered several cars over the years at Indianapolis, including a 1962 roadster with a giant wing over the hood and driven by 1960 winner Jim Rathmann.
But by 1964, a pivotal and also disastrous year for Indy due to its worst and most terrifying crash that killed two drivers, Smokey had created what was commonly known as the sidecar racer, his Offset Roadster with sidecar. It carried his usual gold and black color scheme, and now Replicarz is creating it in 1/18 scale resin for us diecast collectors.
Rare 7-Liter Hardtop beautiful in 1/24 scale …
As a kid I saw a lot of Ford Galaxies around the neighborhood and some of my northern Indiana relatives who farmed had them and weren’t afraid to run them out in a cornfield if necessary.
But rarer was the Galaxie 500 7-Liter Hardtop, a luxury model that wasn’t afraid to lay a little rubber at a stoplight. That’s the cast resin model Automodello reproduces in popular 1/24 scale and paints up in a variety of historically accurate colors.
While the Galaxie 500 debuted in 1965 it was the 1966 model that boasted a new 7-liter V8. This was Ford’s already powerful 390 V8 but enlarged to 428 cu.in. to create a real torque monster. Unlike the earlier 390 model this one could accommodate all the luxury options Ford packed onto its Galaxie 500 models to push them from standard family cars to luxury models.
So in addition to performance type power, the 1966 models had power steering, power brakes, and air conditioning. The 7-liter also could be coupled with an automatic transmission, something the earlier Ford 427 V8 designed for NASCAR use, could not.
The new 7-liter model came only in hardtop and convertible models and sold well, about 11,000 units being made that year. By comparison, just 38 models were equipped with the horsier 427 V8 that year.
New VW Passat hits for the cycle …
It may be a bit early in the calendar year to talk about hitting for the cycle, but the 2017 Volkswagen Passat does just that.
Rare is the mid-size car that delivers healthy power, refined handling and ride along with a quiet interior. Often a sedan with respectable power is noisy inside, or rides like a buckboard.
But the Passat is a pleasant blend that retains its sporty characteristics while delivering the “dreaded” practicality of room for five adults and their luggage, while also being a delight to drive and competitively priced. Its one drawback through the years (the car was redesigned for the 2016), has been reliability. The old model had issues. Time will tell if that monkey is off VW’s back for Passat, which is made in Tennessee.
From a driving standpoint I haven’t driven a more pleasurable mid-size car in ages. First, this pretty “Fortana Red” test car was the SEL Premium model with VW’s romping V6, a 3.6-liter number that creates a kickin’ 280 horses and 258 lb.-ft. of torque. Coupled with a 6-speed automatic the power comes on in a hurry and gives the front-drive Passat major power.
Better yet, that power is smooth, not a burst as with the standard engine, a 1.8-liter turbocharged I4 that makes 170 horses. You’ll drink more gas with the V6, 20/28 mpg vs. 23/34 mpg for the I4. But I still got 23 mpg in a mix of driving that leaned more toward city speeds.
Mercedes’ sporty C300 coupe a smoothie …
Mercedes-Benz is on a roll. Not only has its Formula 1 racing team dominated for three straight years, now its street cars are back on top of their game.
A couple years ago I sort of fell for the C300 sedan and now, in the dead of winter I get to drive the C300 coupe with 4Matic, Mercedes’ all-wheel-drive system. Glad I had the extra grip as we had snow and slush and sloppy roads during the test.
This model features slimming sporty coupe lines that make it stand out among today’s usual humdrum car designs. And while it leans heavily toward sport, the luxury and pleasantness of the sedan are ever present.
The C coupe rides on the same smoothing 111.8-inch wheelbase and weighs a bit more than the sedan at 3,770 lbs. The car feels deliciously well balanced.
As in the sedan Mercedes delivers a scrumptious blend of sporty power, the eager 2.0-liter turbocharged I4 that kicks out 241 horses, and comfort. All that starts with a silky 7-speed automatic transmission that easily harnesses the turbo’s 273 ft-lbs. of torque, and cushions the ride with independent suspension at all four corners.
Ride is absolutely stellar, controlled and easy on the occupants, but still responsive enough to be sporty. Cornering is smooth and as precise as you want it to be courtesy of Mercedes’ Agility Select system that allows the driver to toggle through four settings, from Eco, to Comfort to Sport to Sport+.
Pilot wannabes will like button-happy Lexus LX 570 …
If you’ve always dreamed of being an airline pilot, but never got the training, you should try landing the new Lexus LX 570.
Lexus has created a cockpit fit for a pilot wanna-be with buttons galore. About the only thing missing is an altimeter.
Here’s a quick count of what you’ll get for nearly $100 grand. The center stack has 15 buttons plus four temperature control buttons, and two knobs for the radio. The console features 11 buttons, two toggles, and two knobs, plus a small park brake lever.
Need more? Oh there’s more. The power adjusted tilt/telescope steering wheel’s hub has 10 buttons, plus a 4-way directional pad and there’s a cruise control stalk behind the wheel. There are another 8 buttons on the dash’s face, plus the start button. Ironically the foot-wide screen atop the dash is not a touchscreen, but controlled by Lexus’s awkward and touchy mouse pad on the console.
If ever there were an argument for an autonomous car, this would be the starting point.
Once you’ve mastered the maze of buttons, toggles and screen controls you’ll find the LX570 is the luxury version of Toyota’s Land Cruiser, a big beast of an SUV with serious off-roading capability. It has a wheelbase of 112.2 inches and is a full 199.4 inches long. The Lexus weighs in at a stout 6,000 lbs., but will tow 7,000.