Car Spot: 1969 Firebird Convertible

A better buy than its Camaro cousin?

So which is better, the Camaro or the Firebird? You’d get great arguments for both of them. The owner of this 1969 Firebird convertible would certainly argue for his ride. This one is cherry and I’ve seen it here before at the golf course that I work at during the summer months.

The first generation Firebird had the same Coke bottle styling shared as, the Camaro but the Firebird’s bumpers were integrated into the design of the front end, a Pontiac trend. The Firebird’s rear slit taillights were inspired by the 1966–1967 Pontiac GTO.

This body style was not the Pontiac pep’s first choice. They had been working on a two-seat sports car based on the Banshee concept but you know GM. Don’t mess with the Corvette, it’s our king, so this was what they ended up with. Not too shabby though.

While this is clearly a V8, I’m not sure which. It could have been the 350 with either a two- or four-bbl carb, 265/325 hp, or the 400 four-bbl, 330 hp.

What’s it worth? If it has the 350 in it, according to Hagerty, $15,000 for one in Fair condition all the way up to $67,000 in Concours. If it has the larger 400, its value bumps up to $20,000 in Fair condition all the way up to $95,000 in Concours. But how can you put a price on having the top down on a warm Summer day, especially here in Wisconsin where the season is so short.

Be sure to check back next Friday for another car spot along with a little bit of history. Have a great weekend.

2022 Volvo XC40 Recharge Twin Ultimate

Nimble, powerful XC40 Recharge a bit shy on range …

Electric power is coming, and quickly, to some car makes, Volvo being a prime example.

Its compact SUV, the XC40, debuted just a couple years back, but now is available with full electric power from twin electric motors, one front, one rear. This version is known as the XC40 Recharge Twin Ultimate, one up from the base Plus model.

Price is appropriately luxury-based and today’s auto buyer must be prepared for some sticker shock for most electrics, but more on that in a few nanos.

From the performance standpoint, the nimble XC40 Recharge is packed with electrons and rated at 402 horsepower with a torque rating of 486. Like most electrics the acceleration is both smooth and instantaneous, easily capable of triple digit speeds within the confines of a highway entry ramp.

Also, like its gas-powered version, this XC40 handles well with a sporty flair. Steering is quick and precise, but with a heavier feel than the gas-only model. Ride, as in the earlier test drive is fairly well controlled, but still a bit chattery over crumbling Midwest roads. A longer wheelbase would help smooth that some as witnessed in some competing models.

Those are the basics, so let’s charge right into the electrics of this Volvo.

There are twin electric motors driving the front and rear wheels as the XC40 has full-time AWD. That’s great for Wisconsin and upper Midwest winters. But … the range is just 223 miles on a full charge. Laudably that’s up 15 miles from last year’s model, but still well short of some competitors. Think Tesla, VW’s ID.4, and Ford’s Mustang Mach-E, some of which even cost less.

The plug-in here is on the driver’s side rear quarter panel, much like a gas filler cap. Many electrics have the power in the nose or front driver’s side quarter panel. Wish the industry could agree where this should go. In my garage the front plug-ins are easier.

As with other electrics there’s a frunk, a small trunk up front that allows Volvo to put the charging cable up there. That’s fine, but with the outlet in the rear, storing it under the cargo floor might be preferable.

Watch Mark’s video: 22 Volvo Recharge Review – YouTube

Note too that charging is slow for most of us with 120-volt outlets. I got about 1% of charge per hour of charge, the equivalent of 2 miles of power. So, a 12-hour overnight charge netted about a 13 percentage point increase or 26 miles. I stopped at a ChargePoint (240-volt) charger (first ones I visited at the website’s suggestion were for a company’s employees, not the public), and it netted a 2% charge every 15 minutes, so 8% an hour, or 16 miles. Cost is roughly $1 an hour.

Still, unless you’re leaving the vehicle to charge overnight you’re not filling it up.

For the record, the EPA rates the Volvo at 92 mpge city and 79 highway as you use the charge faster at higher speeds and when the vehicle is under more stress, such as going up hills.

My experience is you’d be wise to top-off every night or two if commuting around town. I blew through about 25% of the charge running to the other side of town and to a friend’s house in a nearby suburb. Oh, and most electrics, including this Volvo, suggest only a 90% charge to preserve battery life, but cutting daily range.

Volvo’s shift-by-wire single-speed automatic tranny is fine and uses the power effectively. Plus there’s one-pedal driving as with other electrics, meaning you simply use the accelerator, rarely the brake.

Thor’s Hammer headlights are still a Volvo thing!

That’s because the electric motors brake the car quite quickly once you let off the go-pedal. In fact, it can feel rather sudden, so you quickly learn to feather off accelerator pressure to slowly coast to a stop. The upside is any coasting or braking helps recharge the batteries some, so in stop-and-go city driving you use less power as you’re constantly regenerating power, and there’s a gauge on the dash to show you that.

Beyond the power source, the XC40 is a fine luxury SUV with crisp good looks and an attractive interior.

This medium gray model, with a hint of sparkle, runs $695 extra. Gray is hot right now and most colors, even gray, cost extra on luxury makes.

Meanwhile, the interior is a soft gunmetal gray leather known as NuBuck. I thought it was fake leather originally, but a little research tells me it’s made from the top grain of the cowhide, said to be tougher so it’ll wear longer. Its surface is sanded to give it a consistent appearance that also feels a lot like suede.

That gave the XC40 interior a luxury feel and the leather seats and shifter both feature white stitching that add depth and definition. A silver and black patterned metal trim on the dash and doors adds a jeweled look, while the console top is mostly gloss piano black, which reflects some on sunny days. Then there’s an odd bit of gunmetal gray felt-like material that lines the console’s sides and inside door panels. It felt and looked more downscale than the rest of the interior.

Mid dash is a 9-inch touchscreen. This is the same as Volvo has been offering for several years that requires touching one of four menu choices to find the radio, navigation, etc. Then there are various screens beyond that, obtained by sliding the others. All that is too squirrely to deal with while driving once beyond the main screen.

There’s also a screen that tells you the current charge level and estimated miles of range you have. A button there will allow a driver to maximize the charge as it slightly decreases the SUV’s climate system (fan speed and temp). You’ll barely notice, but it did extend my range on one drive.

Volvo includes a fine Harmon Kardon stereo and a wireless phone charger in the console. Overhead is the requisite giant sunroof, but it can be a bit tricky to operate as you can tap or barely touch the overhead button or use a slide action that will either open, tilt or slide the sunshield back. Getting that right took several tries each time as it often wanted to open the entire roof when I just wanted the inner shield retracted.

Unsure of your range? Check the big info screen.

Seats are relatively comfy up front and roomy in back. The front seats are heated as was the steering wheel here, a $150 option that’s worth it for our clime. Oddly the seats weren’t cooled, something I’d expect at this price point. There also was no power tilt/telescope steering wheel.

The XC40 easily carries four adults and five can sneak in on a short ride. Plus there is generous cargo space under the power hatch. Volvo claims you could tow 2,000 pounds of trailer, but remember that will suck down your battery power more quickly and reduce range.

Pricing is at the upper end of this segment, especially considering range.

The base XC40 Recharge Plus starts at $56,495 with delivery while the tested Ultimate lists at $59,245. With just two options this one costs $60,090.

Competitors include the Mach-E, id.4, Tesla Y and the new Genesis GV60 that I hope to review this summer.

Here’s the frunk with the Volvo charging cord neatly wrapped inside.

If you prefer gas power, the XC40 touts a 2.0-liter I4 turbo with 248 horsepower that goes rocket fast in Dynamic mode and runs about $46,000 well equipped.

FAST STATS: 2022 Volvo XC40 Recharge Twin Ultimate

Hits: Good looks, excellent electric power, precise handling and full-time AWD. Big sunroof, heated wheel and front seats, big touchscreen, quality stereo, a stylish luxury interior, plus a full bevy of safety equipment.

Misses: Touchscreen (beyond main screen) is distracting to use while driving and no power tilt/telescope steering wheel or cooled seats in front. Chattery ride on rough roads and the electric charge range is limited to 223 miles.

A stylish tail on Volvos features vertical lights.

Made in: Ghent, Belgium

Engine: Twin electric motors w 78 kWh-lithium ion battery, 402 hp/486 torque

Transmission: Shift-by-wire single-speed automatic

Weight: 4,763 lbs.

Wheelbase: 106.4 in.

Length: 174.8 in.

Cargo: 57.5 cu.ft. (rear seats down)

Tow: 2,000 lbs.

MPGe: 92/79

Base Price: $59,245 (includes delivery)

Invoice: N.A.

Major Options:

Metallic gray paint, $695

Heated steering wheel, $150

Test vehicle: $60,090

Sources: Volvo, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

Car Spot: Back to the Future DeLorean

THE Iconic movie car

Show of hands. How many of you have never seen one of any of the Back to the Future movies? OK, go watch one of the movies and then come back and read this post because you will know exactly what this week’s car spot, a Back to the Future DeLorean I spotted at KidVenture during EAA’s AirVenture held each year in Oshkosh, WI. This year’s event started on Monday, July 25th, and runs through Sunday, July

Back to the Future at EAA’s KidVenture

The DMC-12 was never a big hit in sales but was in the three Back to the Future Movies that Doc Brown and Marty McFly traveled back in time. There were actually three used in the movie, all capable of doing 88 miles an hour and jump in time thanks to the flux capacitor.

“A” car was the star car. This did the bulk of the movie work and was the most detailed. A couple of years ago it sold at auction for just north of half a million bucks.

The “B” car was used mostly for exterior shots and was destroyed by a train at the end of the movie.

The “C” car wasn’t much of a car. Used mostly for interior shots. After the movies ended it sat left to rot on a back lot. A fan bought it and used parts from other DeLoreans to construct a complete car. Its last known location was in Japan in a company’s lobby.

I’ve seen this replica car at EAA AirVenture the last couple of years. It has a super-detailed cockpit with all the dials and instruments Doc Brown and Marty would have used. The heart of the car, the flux capacitor is well detailed too. While I’ve never been able to talk to the owner, I’ve seen it driven and it attracts quite a crowd.

What’s it worth? Anywhere from $40-60,000 depending on the details. That’s about 20 grand less than a car that hasn’t been converted but about 500 thousand less than the real deal.

Be sure to check back next Friday for another one of my car spots with a little bit of the history behind the car. Have a great weekend.

2022 Lexus LX 600 F Sport Handling

A Land Cruiser in fancier duds and an in-your-face grille …

Big comes in all sizes. That may sound counterintuitive, but consider the new Lexus LX 600, which replaces the LX 570 that had grown old in styling and tech.

Not to worry, the LX 600 looks massive with possibly the industry’s biggest, most intimidating grille while featuring a whole host of new tech slathered into its high-end luxury leather interior.

Sadly for the Lexus it followed Lincoln’s Navigator Black Label in my review vehicle rotation. They DO compete, but the biggest Lexus falls short of the Navigator in size and even some features. More on that in a sec.

It’s big, but the F Sport model’s grille isn’t quite as intimidating as other versions!

While no one would ever accuse the LX 600 of being petite at 200.5 inches long with a wheelbase of 112.2 inches and weighing in at 5,665 pounds, it’s smaller than several of its key competitors, including the Navigator and Cadillac Escalade.

For instance, the Lincoln rides on a 10-inch longer wheelbase (softer ride), and is 10 inches longer overall while weighing just 200 lbs. more. Escalade is nearly identical in dimensions.

The power edge goes to Lincoln too with its 3.5-liter twin-turbo V6 creating 440 horses and 510 pound-feet of torque. Lexus certainly is no slouch, packing 409 horses and a torque rating of 479. It climbed West Virginia’s mountains with ease, even with five folks and mucho luggage aboard.

It also won the gas mileage war, an important battlefront these days. In mostly highway driving I managed 19.9 mpg with the Lexus, a full 1 mpg more than the Lincoln.

But luggage space was a major concern. While the LX 600 offers seating for 7 with a wide bench seat in row 2 in the tested F Sport Handling edition, there is precious little cargo space behind row 3. With it in place there’s about 8 inches of storage behind the seat, so good for 3, maybe 4, grocery bags, sideways.

Watch Mark’s video: Mark Savage reviews the 2022 Lexus LX 600 – YouTube

I used the power buttons under the one-piece powered hatch (the LX 570’s split tailgate is gone) to lower both third row seats and then had enough cargo room for five suitcases and various boxes, duffels and snack sacks. Note too, the third row seats now fold completely flat.

Not much cargo space at all if the third-row seats are deployed.

Navigator had much more cargo room, 103.3 cubic feet compared with 64 here. Escalade has even more.

The Lincoln also smartly features a 2/3-1/3 split for its row 3 seating, which would benefit the LX 600 immensely given its miniscule storage behind row 3. Its 50/50 split gives a third-row passenger more elbow room, but leaves less cargo space.

That said, the four adults and one teen were comfy on our trip to Huntington, W.Va. for the burial of my wife’s mother. But the teen would have loved his own seat behind the adults. Note that Lexus offers an Ultra Luxury model with seating for just four, including massaging captain’s chairs for row 2 and a big console between the seats. Nice, if four seats will do ya.

How about the ride and drive?

Well, this is the platform that Toyota’s much vaunted Land Cruiser rolled on until being discontinued in the U.S. market for 2022. The LX 600 replaces that and is aimed at pulling Land Cruiser intenders to the Lexus brand for their off-roading fun.

LX 600 has that capability with full-time 4-wheel-drive and crawl control, plus 8 inches of ground clearance along with smallish running boards to avoid packing too much mud and muck on them if slopping about in your luxury truck. Hard to imagine that, but then Lincoln, Land Rover and Jeep Grand Wagoneer buyers may consider the same thing. These all cost north of $100 grand these days.

Power is quite good from the twin-turbo V6 with no turbo lag and smooth shifts provided by a 10-speed automatic tranny. Again, there was plenty of grunt to get up some steep rural mountain roads and Lexus says its SUV will pull 8,000 pounds, just 300 less than the Navigator for instance, or 200 less than the Cadillac.

Ride was mostly smooth, well-controlled and the interior quiet. But as with the Navigator and most trucky SUVs there is considerable bounce or rebound over uneven roads. Abrupt craters and cracks actually are smoothed out quite well, but it’s the rolling pavement that tends to give the Lexus and others the rock and roll that can become annoying when there’s a lot of it in a short span. The Lexus rides on big 22-inch Dunlap tires, same size as the Lincoln.

Handling is easy and well composed, not much body lean in turns, especially when loaded down for a trip. And various drive modes from Eco to Sport+ stiffen the steering feel and adjust shift points and suspension. Comfort mode is best most of the time, but Sport gives the SUV the extra boost it needs when jumping onto a crowded highway.

Know too that this F Sport has stiffer suspension settings to improve handling and provide more road feedback. In that way it’s much sportier feeling than the larger Navigator. But when buying, test an LX without F Sport tuning to see if your tushie prefers firmer or softer damping and if the sportier handling meets your demands.

A lot of leather here, and the red really makes this interior pop!

Inside there’s no denying the Lexus looks and feels high-end. The tested Onyx Black model featured Circuit Red leather seats and otherwise black trim from dash to headliner. Special Hadori-inspired aluminum trim added a lighter, elegant element to the look. It’s featured on the console and door panel inserts.

Hadori is a traditional Japanese polishing technique to create a wavy silver finish on swords.

That’s Hadori polished metal trim on the doors. Plenty of legroom here too.

Seats are well shaped and the leather soft enough to make it pleasant riding for several hours at a time. But the Navigator had more electronic controls to adjust side bolsters and various lumbar settings, plus a massaging feature for both front and rear seats. The LX had none of those in the F Sport trim, including no lower cushion extension that many taller drivers prefer.

I must say that despite more than 1,200 miles in the second row bench, the three passengers never complained of any discomfort or ride fatigue due to the seats, so a strong testament that row 2 was comfy. Front and second row seats also were automatically heated and cooled in response to interior temp conditions, oh, and the steering wheel was heated.

Lexus also upgrades the LX to a 12.3-inch infotainment touchscreen, a much needed improvement compared with the old console-mounted touchpad and knob. The screen worked fine and the test SUV included a snazzy Mark Levinson sound system, costing $2,660 extra. A smaller screen below the info touchscreen handles climate control functions.

Two screens, the big top one is infotainment, the lower one for climate controls.

More tech? There’s also a panoramic view monitor, a HomeLink system, headlamp washers, wireless phone charger, wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, a HUD, six USB ports and Bluetooth.

Overhead is a small sunroof and shade that only really covers the front seats. Most SUVs and crossovers now feature panoramic sunroofs. The Lexus also features manual side sunshades.

The SUV’s power hatch was rather sensitive too, often beeping while we were loading and unloading the vehicle. I suspect it was sensing our foot movements that normally would open or shut the hatch, and it did try to close once while someone was hauling luggage from the cargo area.

Safety tech equipment is substantial as you’d expect, including a blind-spot monitor, parking assist, auto braking, pre-collision systems, frontal collision warning, smart cruise control, lane departure alert, road-sign assist and smart high beams.

We hit the road in the big Lexus. That’s a bridge over the Ohio River from beautiful Huntington, W. Va., to Ohio.

The lane departure system was OK, but sort of moved the vehicle side to side a lot (as these often do), and required the driver keep hands on the wheel. The Navigator had a semiautonomous system, ActiveGlide, that worked well and allowed the driver to remove hands from the wheel for extended periods. Escalade has a similar system called Super Cruise.

On the upside, Lexus trimmed 441 pounds from the previous model by using aluminum for the doors, hood, fenders, and roof. When driving it’s easy to notice the constant flex in the lighter hood.

The twin-turbo V6 here is much more efficient too. The EPA rates it at 17 mpg city and 22 highway. My 19.9 indicates the estimates are reasonable and better than the old V8 that made roughly 380 hp. How much better? I got just 10 mpg with the Lexus LX 570 in my last test and 13.3 mpg with the Land Cruiser. Big improvement! One would suspect a hybrid system could be coming to help it further.

That’s a LOT of grille!

Then there’s the exterior styling. From the side or back the LX 600 looks much like other large luxury SUVs, but the nose is decidedly distinctive because of its massive trapezoidal grille. Most versions’ grilles feature imposing chrome horizontal bars, but the F Sport fills the grille with black mesh. Either way, it’s an eye catcher that one either finds impressive or oppressive.

Bottom line, this Lexus, like the Lincoln or Land Rovers or big Jeeps, is for high rollers, not average SUV buyers, or those with low six-figure incomes.

The base is $88,245, the Premium lists at $96,245 and the Luxury model is $104,345. This F Sport, which was a pre-production model has a list price of $103,790, including delivery, and its estimated cost was $106,450. The Lincoln was slightly more.

That LX 600 Ultra Luxury model with a reclining captain chair behind the passenger and seating just for four, moves up several more notches to $127,435. The seats also add massage functions.

Some competitors such as those listed earlier are in the same financial neighborhood, while others like the Escalade, GMC Yukon Denali, and Chevrolet Suburban live a few blocks over in the classy, but more cost-efficient hood.

FAST STATS: 2022 Lexus LS 600 F Sport Handling

Hits: Distinctive grille, strong more efficient power, true off-road ability, luxury interior, large touchscreen, automatic heated/cooled front and rear seats, heated wheel, power fold third row seats, multiple drive modes, comfy seats, wireless charger.

Misses: Massive grille, small sunroof, almost no storage if third row in use, bouncy ride, no massaging seats, third-row seats split in half not 2/3-1/3, no bottom seat cushion extender for driver.

Made in: Japan

Engine: 3.5-liter twin-turbo V6, 409 hp/479 torque

Transmission: 10-speed automatic

Weight: 5,665 lbs.

Wheelbase: 112.2 in.

Length: 200.5 in.

Cargo: 11, 44, 64 cu.ft.*

MPG: 17/22

MPG: 19.9 (tested, mostly highway)

Base Price: $103,790 (includes delivery)

Invoice: $94.226

Major Options:

Mark Levinson premium audio system, $2,660

Test vehicle: $106,450**

*US News & World Report figures

**estimated, pre-production vehicle

Sources: Lexus, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

Car Spot: Early 60’s VW Beetle

A car that generates instant smiles

When you think of all the cars ever made, there are just a handful that would be considered iconic. The Jeep CJ’s, Corvettes, and the VW Beetle. Introduced as “The People’s Car” in 1938, millions of Type 1 were produced all over the world. I’m not a Bug expert but this one looks like a 1960 or 61 and was in fantastic shape. The paint and chrome looked like it had just come out of the factory in Germany or one of the several other countries the car was built.

RELATED: Read about one of the biggest Bug fleets

There were minor changes as the Beetle evolved. 1960 models received a front anti-roll bar along with a hydraulic steering damper. In 1961 a new engine and transmission. Engine displacement stayed the same at 1,192 cc but the power was bumped up to 34 bhp at 3600 rpm. The single-barrel Solex carburetor got an electric automatic choke while the transmission was now fully synchronized. The traditional semaphore turn signals were replaced by conventional flashing directional indicators worldwide.

RELATED: Read about how I became the temporary caretaker of a Bug convertible

Values for this year have been trending up recently. A quick glance at this one I’d put in at least in Excellent Condition and according to Hagerty, it would be valued at $39,400 while one in Concours condition is selling for $65,000. A collector car lacking in horsepower but way over delivers in fun!

Check back next Friday for another one of my Car Spots along with a little bit of history. Have a great weekend.

2022 Lincoln Navigator Black Label

Navigator a big luxury liner with massaging seats, power & more ….

Lincoln’s long luxurious Navigator feels a lot like cruising a highway in your family room, if your family room is loaded with tech and massaging chairs.

If like mine, yours is not so equipped then for a wee bit more than I paid for my home 30 years ago, a Lincoln Navigator Black Label may be just what you need, especially if you regularly transport seven people.

Navigator is a high-end luxury land yacht along the lines of Jeep’s new Grand Wagoneer with a price to match and an equally quiet and plush interior. My, oh my, cattle must go into apoplexy when either passes their pasture.

The Lincoln touts a perforated Venetian leather interior, black here, with “Brandy” stitching on the seats, dash and steering wheel. I’d call the color brown and the piping around the seats’ edges matches. Navigator’s seats are wonderfully shaped, but if you need to adjust Any aspect, there’s a button for that. Plus both row one and two feature a massaging function that is quite nice.

First, a bevy of buttons on the door allow all seat features to be adjusted, including raising and lowering the headrest. There’s power lumbar, side bolsters, lower cushions and all just require a tap or two on the massive 12-inch info screen to adjust. Once that’s accomplished and saved for the driver and up to two others, you might as well click on the first of two long flat buttons on the door above those seat controls to set your masseuse in motion. Ahhh!)

There are five massaging patterns and four are equally impressive, including Circular, Relax, Recovery and Rolling. The Pulse function is just OK. All feature three strength levels so you can really ratchet them up to whatever level you need for comfort or to stay away on a long drive. I recommend Relax and Rolling as they work up and down your back and across your bottom in a pleasant motion.

Running boards are powered, so neatly fold up and down, allowing easy boarding.

Now if such luxury would happen to relax you too much, to the point of the driver dozing on a long highway jaunt, well ActiveGlide to the rescue. This is Lincoln’s new semi-autonomous driving mode that is activated like smart (or otherwise) cruise control. Once on, it will center the SUV in its highway lane and you can put your hands on your lap. Now most of these systems insist the driver keep a hand touching the wheel. Not this one, mostly.

I drove roughly 10 miles at times on a weekend outing to Green Bay without touching the wheel. ActiveGlide works on about 120,000 miles of well-marked highways, think mostly interstates. The catch is that occasionally, when highway side markings disappear or are obscured, the system clicks off and asks you to restore your hands to the wheel. You must stay alert.

The system also monitors your eyes as it drives via a camera behind the power tilt/telescope steering wheel. If you happen to enjoy talking to a front seat companion and turn your head for very long, or heaven forbid you do doze, the system will beep to alert you to again pay attention to the road.

Other than the occasional cutting out, the system worked well. Although it also beeped from time to time to tell me to put my hands on the wheel when they weren’t BOTH at the 10 and 2 positions.

Watch the video: Mark Savage reviews the behemoth class 2022 Lincoln Navigator – YouTube

There’s more tech to talk about, but let’s get to the ride and drive particulars.

Navigator is roughly the size of a Chevrolet Tahoe or GMC Yukon, and a bit shorter than the Jeep Wagoneer/Grand Wagoneer.

Ride is similar to those in that this being a body-on-frame truck the ride is trucky. Oh, it’s pretty smooth mostly, but over uneven roads there’s bounce that you wouldn’t get in a car or crossover. Occasionally our washboard roads created a little rock and roll motion, not disturbing, but riders noticed.

Power is good from the refined twin-turbo 3.5-liter V6 that makes an impressive 440 horsepower and delivers 510 pound-feet of torque. An Excite drive mode makes the truck jump away from a stop, but remember that’ll suck more precious gasoline. But enjoy a Bezos blastoff if you can afford it.

Other drive modes adjusted via the console knob include Normal, Normal 4×4, Slippery, Deep Conditions (snow and mud), and Conserve, the opposite of Excite.

The power is applied via a silky 10-speed automatic, and Navigator is happy to drink regular fuel. In fact, I was impressed to get 18.9 mpg in about 85% highway driving. It registered just 12 mpg or so in city trips. The EPA says to expect 16 mpg city and 22 highway.

Handling? Shoot, this is a big SUV, so steering is on the lazy side and there’s some body lean in turns. But the turn-in is decent for parking lot action, making Navigator easy to slip into a grocery lot parking stall.

Back to the quiet luxury interior, what really sets Navigator apart from much of the competition, save the new Grand Wagoneer.

Standard are three-level heated and cooled seats and real wood trim that is impressive looking and features a snazzy modern-looking pattern of squares that interconnect. The pattern is on both the dash and console top.

Again, that info screen is enormous and easy to use, being a touchscreen. No fumbling around here. Climate controls include temp toggles on the console and then there’s the push-button transmission buttons at the center stack’s lower edge. Easy to just punch these, so less confusing than the recently tested GMC Terrain where half the buttons were push and the others pull. I’d still prefer a shift knob or rotary dial, but at least this one makes sense and you’ll get used to it.

Overhead is a giant twin-pane sunroof and shade, plus rear seat passengers get buttons to open or shut the shade at their pleasure. Kids love this. Second row folks also get a giant console between the captain’s chairs for other controls, including the massage features. There are no side window sun shades though.

Climbing aboard is easy with automatic power deployed running boards and then big boarding handles at each entrance, naturally leather-wrapped and brandy stitched. The second row seats will fold flat and also have a power button on the door frame to release them and allow them to slide forward. The exiting passenger, or entering one can then push or pull the seats forward for easier access. However, these seats are heavy, so require some muscle to push back into place and latch.

Oodles of room when rows 2 and 3 are folded flat. Need to carry lumber?

Third row and second row seats can be powered down from inside the power hatch on the driver’s side, but only the third row can be powered back up. The third row seats also split 2/3 and 1/3, a benefit when traveling and carrying five people and luggage.

When both rows are folded down the Navigator offers a massive 103.3 cubic feet of cargo space. It also tows up to 8,300 pounds of trailer and boat, etc.

All the usual safety equipment is here and the Chrome Caviar (really?) Dark Gray Metallic test vehicle added two packages, one for $625 adds the massaging second row captain’s chairs and the other at $1,750 adds the metallic gray paint, suede-like headliner, the fancier Venetian leather seats and Active Glide.

Fancy wood trim and spiffy jewel like speaker covers here too!

There’s no getting around the price here, which starts at $104,775, including delivery, for this Black Label (Mabel, wasn’t that a beer?) edition. With options this hit $107,050. My house cost less and has three sinks and two toilets! Maybe in a future model!

Anyway, for the penny-pinching luxury large SUV buyers, a rear-drive Standard edition lists at $78,330, with AWD adding $3,000. A mid-level Reserve model is $94,155 for the AWD model.

What’s the monthly loan payment? If you have to ask, you can’t afford to navigate the deal. If you can, this is a top-shelf 3-row luxury liner any family could enjoy!

FAST STATS: 2022 Lincoln Navigator Black Label

Hits: Plush, huge 3-row SUV with good smooth power, mostly comfy ride and AWD. Plus, massaging seats rows 1 and 2, power retractable running boards, 12-inch info screen, giant sunroof, heat/cooled seats, power third row seats, power-down second row, wireless charger, power fold/slide second row, and quiet interior. Good safety gear.

Misses: Ride can be a bit bouncy, ActiveGlide semi-autonomous driving system cuts out occasionally and asks for hands on the wheel intermittently, second row seats quite heavy and difficult to push back into place after lowering.

Made in: Louisville, Ky.

Engine: 3.5-liter twin-turbo V6, 440 hp/510 torque

Transmission: 10-speed automatic

Weight: 5,884 lbs.

Wheelbase: 122.5 in.

Length: 210.0 in.

Cargo: 20.9-103.3 cu.ft.

Tow: 8,300 lbs.

MPG: 16/22

MPG: 18.9 (tested)

Base Price: $104,775 (includes delivery)

Invoice: $101,767

Major Options:

Equipment group 800A (black Venetian perforated leather seats w/Brandy stitching, suede-like headliner, carpet/suede floor mats, Co-Pilot 2.0, ActiveGlide, Chrome Caviar Gray paint), $1,750

Second row captain’s chairs w/massage, $625

Test vehicle: $107,050

Sources: Lincoln, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

Car Spot: Early 60’s Lincoln Continental

The golden era for American luxury sedans

One of the era’s most enduring icons is the 4th generation Lincoln Continental, a car that would be forever etched in the minds of a generation who saw a President assassinated in one on November 22, 1963.

Not sure what the fate of this one I found recently is, it’s going to need a lot of work if it’s a future restoration project. For those looking to relive to Haute couture’s past, 1961-69 Continentals are reasonably priced. Final year sedans, according to Hagerty, sell for as little as 30 grand in Concours condition while excellent drivers, about half that. Convertibles will set you back quite a bit more at around $104 thou.

Have a great weekend and check back next Friday when I’ll have another car spot along with a little bit of history on that car.

2022 GMC Terrain 4AT AWD

GMC’s restyled Terrain a worthy SUV to fit a family budget …

I’d be lying if I said my expectations were high when the bright Cayenne Red GMC Terrain AT4 was deposited in the family driveway.

This is a compact entry-level SUV from GM’s truck brand that starts just under $30 grand, a value leader, and the word among auto writers is that it’s down on power. Soooo …

Yet one person’s lack of power is another’s value statement. Nothing wrong with that.

I’m even a bit upset with myself because three years ago I’d tested Terrain’s kissin’ cousin, the Chevy Equinox, and liked it just fine, although the Chevy had a more powerful engine.

Consider this though.

Terrain comes in four trims, starting with the rear-drive SLE at that impressive $29,095 starting price (AWD adds $1,600), but the SLT is next up the line and probably the best value as it adds heated leather seats, a heated steering wheel and power rear hatch, all for $33,045.

The tested AT4 is new for 2022 and is intended for buyers interested in light off-roading capability and appearances. Dressed in the spiffy bright metallic red paint job ($695 extra) and with black accents, grille and lower-body cladding the Terrain looked like a serious off-roader. In fact, I got more comments and passersby looks in this than some luxury sport sedans I’ve driven. That may say more about the market for SUVs than just styling though.

The AT4 adds Goodyear Sport Terrain tires, traction selection with an off-road mode, hill-descent control, a steel skid plate under the nose and embroidered AT4 headrests. List price is just $35,145 and AWD is standard.

Luxury lovers can upgrade to the Denali trim, always the peak of GMC’s trims, and still pay just $37,700. But Denali adds a color HUD, premium suspension, luxury leather interior and trim, cooled front seats and heated back seats, plus wireless charging along with Pro Safety Plus, which adds more safety gear.

So, for families in search of an SUV that fits a normal budget, Terrain certainly should be on the shopping list.

Watch Mark’s video review: Mark Savage reviews the 2022 GMC Terrain AT4 – YouTube

Yet here’s what sold me right away, the ride.

GMC has figured out that American roads are abysmal and instead of stiffening the ride for performance, softened and tuned it for comfort. Bravo! So, bounding over crater-like pot holes, frost-heaved pavement, half-filled blacktop cracks and way too expansive expansion joints, Terrain remains calm and collected. Passengers barely notice the carnage beneath the Goodyear R17 tires. By the way, replacing these over time will be a lot cheaper than getting new 20-inchers, or larger.

That ride is worth the price of admission, but the steering is light too, as is the vehicle. It’s easy to park, and while steering feel is somewhat vague, Terrain is simple to keep in its lane. In tight turns there’s a little body roll, or lean, but hey, I’m not buying a Lamborghini for the family. I want them to be comfy.

Power is mild, but not horrible, because the 9-speed automatic works well with this small 1.5-liter turbo I4. Shifts are smooth and the 170 horsepower is used well, plus the torque at 203 pound-feet, helps Terrain pull away from stoplights reasonably well.

And … the AT4 comes with AWD, so in rain, snow or other slop you’ll have improved traction. Plus this trim offers three terrain settings with 2WD being the default that will save on fuel and is what you’ll need until that rain or snow hits. Then you press down and turn a knob on the console for AWD, and if you’ve ventured off road there’s a setting for that too. Simple and effective unless you plan to do serious rock crawling.

That front steel skid plate also will protect the undercarriage if there happen to be a few rocks and sticks on your path.

Outside, the body has been given more definition and its looks muscled up. The black trim helps set that off and the lights, front and rear, are sharply styled, reflecting a more upscale look.

Inside, Terrain is simple, yet attractive and roomy. Seats feature a perforated dark gray leather top with cloth sides. Contrasting stitching is a golden brown that also is featured on the dash and leather steering wheel.

There also are small bits of imitation carbon fiber for door trim and a teeny bit on the passenger’s side dash. The plastic console is a matte gray as is the steering wheel hub, both welcome because they do not reflect the sun, ever.

Seats though are the standout here, being well formed to give good hip and lower back support, yet just the right firmness so a long drive won’t burn up your bottom. Rear seats are roomy, as are the fronts, so four adults easily fit and five will too, if the person sandwiched in back isn’t an NFL tackle.

Rear seats split and fold flat and there’s some storage beneath the cargo floor for carrying stuff. Plus, as mentioned earlier, the hatch is powered.

Optional equipment here was mostly value priced and likely wanted and/or needed by most buyers.

For instance, the Pro Safety Plus package that is standard on Denali runs just $645 here and includes lane-change alert, side blind-zone alert, rear cross-traffic alert, smart cruise control and a safety alert seat. That’s pretty nice as it slightly vibrates the driver’s tooshie if there’s something in your blind spot or in your path as you back up.

The dual-pane sunroof and power shade are a bit much at $1,495, but certainly brightens the interior.

A $1,180 infotainment package adds a premium Bose stereo with seven speakers, navigation system with voice recognition, an 8-inch color info screen and Android Auto and Apple CarPlay hookups.

A tech package also adds HD surround vision, front and rear park assist and a HUD for $850.

The test Terrain was to have heated front seats, but that chip is in short supply, so it wasn’t included, but could be added by a dealer once the chip is available. For now, GMC gives a $50 credit, but the buttons are built in to the console already.

Sharp-looking headlights here!

All told, with options, this Terrain hit $39,960, well below the average new vehicle price.

There are a few things I’d change inside though, starting with widening the inner portion of the console by about a half inch so a cell phone could lay flat, plus add wireless charging. A bit wider would be even better as folks with taller cell phones could then lay theirs flat too.

Then there’s the biggest faux pas, the automatic shift buttons on the lower center stack. They are odd and confusing as they are laid out horizontally, AND are a mix of push and pull toggles. Weirdest design I’ve seen, but you must push Park and Neutral, while you must pull a toggle to engage Reverse and Drive. Not cool!

Gas consumption was cool though, or at least darn good for an AWD compact SUV. I got 26.4 mpg in about 60% city driving. The EPA rates the Terrain at 25 mpg city and 28 mpg highway on regular fuel. The RWD model gets up to 30 mpg.

Terrain should be on any value-oriented family’s shopping list, especially if you need or want an SUV that’s roomy and delivers a superior ride.

Others to consider include Mazda’s CX-5 and new CX-50, along with the VW Tiguan, Hyundai Tucson, Kia Sportage, Ford’s Escape, and Subaru’s Outback, to name a few.

Even the taillights are handsomely styled on GMC’s entry-level SUV.

FAST STATS: 2022 GMC Terrain AT4 AWD

Hits: Muscular looks, great ride, decent acceleration, AWD, and three terrain settings. Dual-pane sunroof, power hatch, Bose stereo, comfy seats, roomy interior, skid plate, and good standard safety features.

Misses: No wireless charger or heated front seats, console cubie too narrow for Android phone to lay flat, confusing horizontal push/pull shift toggles.

Made in: Mexico

Engine: 1.5-liter turbo I4, 170 hp/203 torque

Transmission: 9-speed automatic

Weight: 3,659 lbs.

Wheelbase: 107.3 in.

Length: 182.3 in.

Cargo: 63.3 cu.ft.

MPG: 25/28

MPG: 26.4 (tested)

Base Price: $35,145 (includes delivery)

Invoice: $33.631

Major Options:

Infotainment pkg. II (Bose premium audio w/7 speakers & amp, 8-inch HD color touchscreen w/Nav & voice recognition, Bluetooth, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto), $1,180

GMC Pro Safety Plus pkg. (lane change alert w/side blind zone alert, rear cross-traffic alert, safety alert seat, adaptive cruise control), $645

Skyscape sunroof w/power shade, $1,495

Tech pkg. (HD surround vision, front and rear park assist, HUD), $850

Cayenne Red paint, $645

Heated front seat credit, -$50

Test vehicle: $39, 960

Sources: GMC, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

Car Spot: Saturn Sky

This fun little two-seater never had a chance

If you’ve read any of my previous spots about General Motors cars, I’ve shared how the company had what seemed at the time a good idea but it ends up getting killed by a bloated corporate culture. This week’s spot, a Saturn Sky, is yet another example.

The Saturn Corporation was created by GM in 1985 and designed to compete against Japanese Imports. Everything was new, dealer network, pricing, workforce, and a brand new plant in Spring Hill, Tennessee. Marketed as a “different kind of car company”, its cars utilized GM’s advanced spaceframe construction with dent-resistant polymer exterior panels.

Saturn took a lot of resources and when the economy went south in 2008, GM cut Saturn’s development budget leaving them with rebadged cars from other divisions. So Saturn essentially lost its unique selling proposition and production ended in 2009. Its highest level of sales was 1994 with just under 300,000 vehicles marked. Penske Automotive saw an opportunity and tried to buy the brand but it never worked out and another brand faded into the sunset.

This Sky was a fun little car. Initially released in the first quarter of 2006 as a 2007. It was built at GM’s plant in Willmington, Delaware alongside the Pontiac Solstice. It featured 18-inch wheels and was powered by a 2.4 L I4 that produced 177 hp. There were two other options for more fun. A 2.0 L turbocharged direct-injected engine that bumped horsepower up to 260 and a dealer-installed turbo upgrade that ran the ponies up to 290. Wheeee. 0-60 times were around five seconds.

You can find these turbo Red Line editions for sale on the major car sites, anywhere from 12 grand to just under 20 on average. Prices have bumped up quite a bit in the last year or so. I even found one on Hemings for $31,500. These cars were not cheap, to begin with, and while they are holding their values, they really aren’t jumping in value so would not be a great investment but what a fun summer car:)

Have a great weekend and be sure to check back next Friday for another one of my car spots.

2022 BMW X3 xDrive 30 i

Putting a little Sport back in Sport-utility vehicle …

Remember what SUV stands for? Sport-utility vehicle.

Sport was originally part of the equation for these AWD, off-road intending vehicles that have taken over the auto world along with their cousins, crossovers. Funny, not many SUVs feel sporty, yet this week’s drive was the blissful anomaly.

BMW knows a little something about sporty handling and spunky performance and it shows in its X3 compact premium luxury SUV. This was the AWD model, the X3 xDrive 30i, which increased its grip and grins when our June monsoons unloaded.

X3 comes in three trims, the base rear-drive sDrive 30i and this mid-level xDrive, both with peppy 2.0-liter twin-turbo I4s. Then there’s the crazy fast M40i with a twin-turbo 3.0-liter I6. Horsepower is 248 in the two lower models and 382 in the M. All prefer premium gas, so to manage driving costs, this xDrive model may be the safer bet.

Power is smooth, but gives the small SUV plenty of oomph heading onto the highway, especially in Sport mode. There also is Comfort for daily driving and Eco Pro for gas saving. Power runs to all wheels via an 8-speed automatic here, or rear wheels for the sDrive model. Car and Driver magazine says the X3 will do 0 to 60 mph in 6.2 seconds while its top speed is said to be 130 mph.

Fancy wheels and 21-inch Pirelli performance tires.

Handling is quick and precise, something that may surprise you if you’ve driven many other SUVs. The X3 corners like a sports sedan, well balanced and light enough to remain frisky, not trucky. And it is moderately light, weighing in at just more than 4,000 pounds.

Aiding grip were the 21-inch Pirelli performance tires, a $1,550 option. And these are run-flats, so no need for pack a spare.

Watch Mark’s video: Mark Savage reviews the 2022 BMW X3 xDrive 30i – YouTube

Ride too is well-controlled, meaning there’s enough steering wheel and seat of the pants feedback to avoid the numb feel of many SUVs. Yet the ride is not so stiff as to necessitate a Preparation H application. The test for me is railroad tracks, which are a minor jiggle here and even those annoying highway expansion joints do no harm.

Ironically the X3’s fun driving character manages to meld well with its practical side. The interior feels roomy and the cargo space in back is stellar, with some storage under the floor and second row seats that easily fold completely flat. But even with them up there’s more than 28 cubic feet of cargo room, plenty for five or six full-size suitcases.

This Brooklyn Gray Metallic test vehicle was handsome too, its twin kidney-shaped grilles being more restrained than some new BMW noses, although I like both looks as they are distictive. However, this gray paint though looks more battleship gray than metallic, a styling trend right now. Plus it costs $550 extra, only black and white being standard colors. A cool metallic Tanzanite Blue is available, but that’s $1,500 extra. Ouch!

Inside, the X3 is well laid out and simple to navigate, yet also stylish.

Seats are a light tan leather with black dash and door tops. Leather is an option though, $1,450 worth to get this Vernasca covering, which includes dyes and protective finishes. This black dash is what BMW calls SensaTec, sort of a soft rubber texture that I think should be standard, but is part of the bulging M Sport package that adds $4,100 to the sticker.

What do you get for that?

It’s mostly visual, including an aerokit outside along with Shadowline (black) trim, fancy M Y-spoke bi-color wheels of gray alloy, black gloss roof rails. While inside the package includes the SensaTec dash, a thick leather M-Sport steering wheel, and something BMW calls Rhombicle smoke gray aluminum trim.

No denying that aluminum trim looks sharp on the dash and doors, but really, I could live with whatever is standard. Here the console still comes with a gloss black surface, which can be reflective on sunny days. How about a matte finish to avoid blinding the driver?

Those leathery seats not only look good, they are mighty comfy too, with good hip and lower back support, plus the power side bolsters adjust via buttons on the side of the driver’s seat. Got long legs? The lower cushion will extend manually to give more support.. One drawback though, IMHO, the self-tightening seatbelts for the front seats. These snug up on your chest after the SUV is placed into gear. It’s disturbing to most passengers, especially women.

Comfy and luxurious rear seat accommodations!

BMW heats the seats too, along with the steering wheel, yet the seats are not cooled. I found the wheel extremely thick, less easy for smaller hands to hold. I like the leather, but the wheel could be thinner and I’d prefer a flat-bottom race wheel. The heated wheel is not standard, it’s part of a $1,850 premium package that also includes a HUD and gesture control for radio and info screen adjustment. The latter is not needed.

BMW bumps up its info screen and the radio is easy to adjust. Plus, get this, there are 8 radio buttons below the screen that you can program with your favorite stations. Old tech, but perfect!

Overhead is a dual-pane sunroof to brighten the interior. However, there’s no wireless phone charger a major faux pas, although one is available for $500. Also, and this was odd, the roll-top cover over the cupholders and console storage tends to stick, making it quite hard to open. The solution? Almost close it all the way, just don’t latch it.

All the usual standard safety devices are here, blind spot, lane departure and smart cruise, for instance.

The test SUV also added a dynamic handling package for $1,400 that included variable sport steering and M Sport brakes with red calipers. Those (despite their color) help provide performance-level braking if you plan to push the X3 to its natural limits.

Another option, for $900, is the live cockpit pro system with navigation on the big screen, plus Android Auto and Apple CarPlay.

Gas mileage is fine, other than the ute’s desire to drink premium fuel. I got 25 mpg in about a 50-50 mix of city and highway while the EPA rates the X3 xDrive at 21 mpg city and 28 highway.

The good news, for luxury SUV buyers, the base rear-drive model starts at $44,695, very competitive with the likes of its competitors, the Lexus NX, Volvo XC60, Audi Q5 and primo new Genesis GV70. Adding AWD costs $2 grand more, so $46,695, including delivery, for this one.

That’s still less than a Porsche Macan or Mercedes-Benz GLC. However, with all the options on this one it hit $58,490 and that’s more than many mid-size SUVs these days, although they may not be as Sporty.

Snazzy taillights here!

Oh, and to get that high-horse 3.0-liter twin-turbo I6 model, the M40i? Well, it starts at $58,798 and, wait for it … there’s even a special X3M, the M signifying it’s a land-based rocket. M models always cost more for their performance perk. The X3M lists at about $71,000 with delivery, but there’s a 473-horse twin-turbo baby in that one. Oh my!

FAST STATS: 2022 BMW X3 xDrive 30i

Hits: Spunky yet practical. Good looks, power, handling, AWD, and cargo space. Controlled ride, comfy supportive seats, 8 radio buttons, dual sunroof, heated steering wheel and seats, big screen.

Misses: No wireless charger, roll-top cupholder cover sticks, auto-tightening seatbelts, thick steering wheel, cost of options, and premium fuel drinker.

Made in: Spartanburg, S.C.

Good storage room in the rear here.

Engine: 2.0-liter twin turbo I4, 248 hp/258 torque

Transmission: 8-speed automatic

Weight: 4,079 lbs.

Wheelbase: 112.8 in.

Length: 185.9 in.

Cargo: 28.7-62.7 cu.ft.

MPG: 21/28

MPG: 25.0 (tested)

Base Price: $46,695 (includes delivery)

Invoice: $43,995

Options:

Brooklyn Gray metallic paint, $550

Oyster Vernasca leather, $1,450

Dynamic handling pkg. (variable sport steering, M Sport brakes w/red calipers), $1,400

M Sport pkg. (aero kit, SensaTec dash, Shadowline exterior trim, gloss black roof rails, aluminum Rhumbicle smoke gray interior trim, M Sport steering wheel, M Y-spoke bi-color gray alloy wheels), $4,100

Premium pkg. (heated steering wheel, lumbar support, HUD, gesture control), $1,850

Tire upgrade (21-inch performance Pirelli P Zero run-flats), $1,550

Live cockpit pro w/navigation (XM radio 1-year, Android Auto, Apple CarPlay), $900

Credits from deletes, -$350

Test vehicle: $58,490

Sources: BMW, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

1935 Duesenberg SSJ Speedster

Auto World’s latest 1:18 pre-war model a striking beauty …

Car nuts know the Duesenberg name, but its cars were often rare, built in small quantities, while others were raced successfully, winning the Indianapolis 500 three times in the 1920s.

Duesenberg was launched in 1920 in Indy, but only lasted until 1937, a short run for such a famous name. Me being an Indianapolis native I’ve always been fond of Duesenbergs, both the racers and their high-end luxury cars known for their power.

But did you know that just two 1935 SSJ Speedsters were ever made? Yet the car is famous for its styling, speed and celebrity.

Now Auto World introduces the SSJ in a cream and tan color scheme that was the original choice of Duesenberg designers, yet none exist in this trim. The 1/18 model is another in Auto World’s vintage pre-WWII collection of die-cast metal models with opening hood, doors and steerable wheels.

The History

Here’s the skinny on the two SSJs, which were made for movie stars Gary Cooper and Clark Gable.

None of the cream and tan models remain because both celebrities had their roadsters repainted from the original Duesenberg color scheme. Cooper’s became a gray-on-gray beauty and Gable’s a red and metallic green Speedster.

What makes the SSJ so special, beyond its rarity, is that it was a shortened version of the popular and widely respected Model J, made from 1928 until Duesenberg closed. The Model J came in two lengths, the long 153.5-inch wheelbase model and a shorter 141.7 model. Yet the SSJ was shorter still, featuring a 125-inch wheelbase, making it lighter. Both were known for their power.

The SJ, a supercharged J, reportedly had a top speed of nearly 140 mph back when cars were considered exceptional if they crested 100 mph. Zero to 60 mph was said to be reached in 8 seconds, and this from a car with an unsynchronized transmission, which was the norm at the time. A special speed record version, known as the Mormon Meteor, used a 750-horsepower V12 Curtiss Conqueror aircraft engine and set various speed records approaching 160 mph.

That’s a big Straight 8 under the hood!

Well, the SSJ was quick too, reportedly doing 0-60 in less than 8 seconds as it was smaller and lighter than the J models. The Straight 8 Duesenberg motor cranked 400 horsepower and the car featured 4-wheel hydraulic brakes, a Duesenberg creation.

How special is the SSJ now? Well, some consider it the most important American car ever made and it’s certainly the most expensive as Cooper’s model sold for $22 million in 2018. Auto World’s is much more reasonable at $129.99 MSRP. Many 1:18 scale models now top $175 and are made of composites.

The Model

               There’s a lot to like here, besides the car’s heritage and importance as the fastest pre-war car made. Oh, and the styling. The SSJ is beautiful.

               Auto World doesn’t scrimp on details while maintaining an affordable price point.

Nice interior and easy-opening doors.

               The model’s door hinges are metal and well blended into the brown scallops on each side of the car, the hood likewise has a bright metal hinge that allows the hood to be raised on either side to see the sharply detailed Straight 8. Wiring and plumbing are present, but most notable are the four impressive chrome articulated exhausts coming out the passenger’s side of the hood and completely visible with the hood raised.

Sharp detail under the Duesy’s hood!

               There are the air cleaner, radiator and brake fluid containers here and then on the driver’s side the raised hood reveals the full length of that massive engine and the chromed exhaust ports leading to the four big pipes on the opposite side. Cool!

               Naturally, for the time period, there’s a massive chrome grille and lights along with two big horns under those lights. Atop the grille is the art deco style arrow-sharp Duesy hood ornament. Both front and rear bumpers also are chrome.

Great looking grille and an accurate Duesenberg hood ornament.

               Likewise the large step plates on the running boards, slim door handles and windshield frame are chrome, as is the wheel cover on the trunk-mounted spare. Hub caps on the cream-colored spoked wheels are chrome with red centers.

               That windshield in front of the two-person cockpit also includes dainty wing windows to deflect air from the passengers so as not to disturb their hair or chapeaus.

Good looking dash and gauges, plus small wing windows.

               The cream tonneau cover features painted silver snaps and the interior is matte brown, similar in shade to the side scallops.

               Duesenberg featured a chrome-faced dash with a bazillion gauges and dials, all nicely reproduced here by Auto World. There’s also a “holy Jesus” handle on the passenger’s side dash, just like in today’s Jeeps and other vehicles meant for off-roading. This one was to comfort a passenger at 100+ mph.

The Duesy’s steering wheel is black as is the floor-mounted gear shift lever while a rearview mirror rests atop the dash’s center.

               For folks with mirror-bottom display cases, Auto World continues to create realistic looking undercarriages that allow you to see the engine, suspension and exhaust system, here feeding into twin chrome-tipped pipes.

               The SSJ is another well-executed historic pre-war car model from Auto World at a price point that makes it a good fit in many collections. Snazzy!

Vital Stats: 1935 Duesenberg SSJ Speedster

Maker: Auto World
Scale: 1/18
Stock No.: AW305
MSRP: $129.99

Link: Autoworldstore.com

Mazda CX-9 Signature

Attractive styling, 3 rows make CX-9 a standout …

Family vehicles come in all shapes and sizes, but Mazda’s CX-9 mid-size SUV is among the more attractive 3-row options with its distinctive beak-like nose.

So many SUVs and crossovers are so darned boxy that it’s nice to see a distinguishing characteristic. Amazingly the CX-9’s design dates back to 2016, yet still looks fresh, although I suspect a freshening will be coming soon.

This one was a top-of-the-line Signature edition in a sedate dark Machine Gray Metallic ($595 extra). Black is the only color that doesn’t cost extra, but the smart money is on the Soul Red Metallic that is Mazda’s absolute best, and if you’re paying extra, well, it only makes sense. Plus the neighbors will suspect you’ve gotten a raise.

Still, several people complimented the Mazda’s look and this model is fine for transporting 6 people as there are captain’s chairs in the middle row. I drove it to Indianapolis for the Indy 500, and it comfortably carried three of us and our luggage, then six of us to the racetrack. Oh, the third row is stingy with foot and knee room, but is fine for hauling folks around town.

All CX-9 models also now come with all-wheel-drive, which is nice that a favored feature isn’t another add-on.

With just the color being an option here the Signature ended up at $49,030. A base Sport model that will seat seven due to its middle row bench seat, goes for $36,505, again with AWD. There are four other trims between the two extremes, the new Touring Plus trim that adds heated and cooled front seats, 20-inch alloy wheels, plus leather seats, is a prime choice at $41,660.

All will drive roughly the same as the engine, tranny and suspensions are identical.

Watch Mark’s video: Mark Savage reviews the 2022 Mazda CX 9 – YouTube

Mazda’s fine 2.5-liter SkyActiv-G turbo I4 delivers generous power, rated at 227 horsepower on regular gas and up to 250 hp if you sell a kidney and splurge on 93-octane premium fuel. Power is good and smoothly delivered via the SkyActiv-drive 6-speed automatic, which includes a console-mounted toggle to engage Sport mode. That firms the steering some and creates more low-end torque for faster getaways from stoplights. In either Normal or Sport the CX-9 hits highway speeds well before you run out of entry ramp.

Handling is typical Mazda responsive, making the CX-9 among the most fun SUVs to drive, especially below $50 grand. And the suspension is quite adept at soaking up bumps without the ride turning floaty.

A big grille, but not as overwhelming as many, plus it blends well with the hood.

Mazda also employs something it calls G-Vectoring Control Plus that adjusts the turbo engine and applies the four-wheel disc brakes based on steering effort. The upshot is that if a driver eases up on acceleration and begins a turn, the power from the AWD shifts toward the front wheels to provide increased traction. Not a big deal in dry summer weather, but it would be helpful in our sloppy winter and fall seasons.

Inside, the CX-9 interior tends toward luxury, yet the pricing is just below entry-level luxury models by other makes.

A luxurious looking interior with quilted leather seats gives the CX-9 a ritzy look.

The gray SUV went with a black over brown interior design, the seats being perforated brown Nappa leather with quilted leather outer edges and bolsters, plus white piping, all to insinuate luxury. Mazda uses real wood, Santos Rosewood, for trim on the dash and doors, but also adds a thin chrome ring atop the console, which is gloss black and therefore reflects on sunny days.

The steering wheel is leather-wrapped with the usual controls on its hub. Plus aluminum trim is used sparsely on the dash and doors, while big Bose stereo speakers fill the front lower door corners. All of this makes the CX-9 look and feel like a luxury vehicle.

This console and dash are easily seen and used while driving.

Seats are powered up front and include heating and cooling there, with just heated second row seats. Rear seat occupants also get their own climate controls and plug-ins for phones and other electronics in the big center console between the captain’s chairs. Third row folks have plug-ins too.

Everyone enjoyed the seat comfort, except the driver. While hip and back support is good, I found the butt pocket to be too hard and my tailbone was burning after about 100 miles. A lunch break was welcome, but the feeling returned further down the road.

Climate controls are easily adjusted via big buttons and knobs below the center dash air vents. However, Mazda’s radio is still clumsily adjusted via a console knob. There is no touchscreen. This remains a huge source of consternation and makes adjusting the radio and other on-screen activities difficult while driving. Good news? The screen is 10+ inches and mounted atop the dash.

The second row is roomy and includes a large console.

Mazda also includes wireless phone charging beneath the dash’s center stack and a navigation system is standard on Signature. However, the nav screen defaults to a fairly close-up view and reverts back to that even after using that center knob to adjust for a longer, say ¼- to ½- mile view to see what’s ahead. Ugh, if I adjust it, I want it to stay where I set it.

In back is the requisite power hatch and the third row seats easily fold forward to create a reasonable cargo area. There also is storage beneath the cargo floor and there are fairly large indentations to the sides behind the wheel wells, great for placing items you simply don’t want to trundle about.

A lot of room in back with row 3 folded down.

Mazda delivers a fine smart cruise control system and the safety equipment we’ve all come to love and demand, such as rear cross-traffic alert, blind-spot warning, 360-degree monitor, lane departure warning, lane keep assist, front and rear parking sensors, and an adaptive front light system.

Other goodies include manual second-row side window shades, 2 memory settings for the driver’s seat, visors with extenders, an inside release for the fuel door and one-step releases for the second row seats to allow for passengers to more easily slide into the third row.

There also is a sunroof, but it’s among the smallest I’ve seen the last couple years, just covering the front seats. Most SUVs and crossovers now offer dual-pane panoramic sunroofs, which I would expect the next generation CX-9 to include.

How’s this for handsome door panel styling and trim?

Also be aware that the center console is rather wide and leads to a bit smaller footwell space for the driver and front seat passenger.

Finally, on the practical fuel economy front, the EPA rates the Mazda at 20 mpg city and 26 mpg highway. I managed 25.9 mpg in mostly highway driving with three of us aboard and our luggage.

Hybrids will do better, but for its size (nearly 200 inches long) and weight (just over 4,400 pounds) the CX-9’s figures are more than competitive.

For families needing space, comfort and AWD, Mazda’s CX-9 is a solid, stylish, sensible choice.

FAST STATS: 2022 Mazda CX-9 AWD

Hits: Stylish looks, good power, sporty handling and smooth ride. Quiet interior, 3 rows of seats, power hatch, wireless charger, heated/cooled front seats, heated rear seats, smart cruise and solid safety devices, big climate buttons, large screen, sport driving mode, good mpg.

Misses: Console-controlled info screen is a clumsy pain, navigation defaults to close-up view even after adjustment, no touchscreen, small sunroof and firm butt pocket makes driver’s seat tiring on long drives.

Just can’t get enough of this nose and how it blends with the hood and lights. Bravo Mazda designers!

Made in: Hiroshima, Japan

Engine: 2.5-liter SkyActiv-G turbo I4, 227 hp/ 310 torque (250 hp, w/93 octane gas)

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

Weight: 4,409 lbs.

Wheelbase: 115.3 in.

Length: 199.4 in.

Cargo: 14/4-71.2 cu.ft.

MPG: 20/26

MPG: 25.9 (tested)

Base Price: $47,435 (includes delivery)

Invoice: $45,883

Options:

Machine gray metallic paint, $595

Test vehicle: $49,030

Sources: Mazda, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

Car Spot: Pontiac Fiero

A fun two-seater that died way before its time

The more of these car spots I do and looking at the history of each vehicle I’m finding a common theme with those built by General Motors, great idea and crappy execution. This 1988 Fiero GT I recently spotted is another example.

The Fiero was conceived as a small, two-seat sports car with an all-new suspension and a V6 engine. Keep in mind that at GM the Corvette was sacred and reluctant to invest into a second two-seater so the Fiero was pitched as a fuel-efficient four-cylinder commuter car that just happened to have two seats, rather than a muscle car. Think oil crisis. This car was fast-tracked by engineers and they brought back a running prototype in less than six months.

But that was the easy part. Think big, over-bloated, don’t pee in my sandbox corporate GM. It was given a 400 million budget, small by GM standards, but how that money got spent was where the roadblocks began. Engineers were split into two categories, the car guys who would create blueprints for the car, and manufacturing guys who would work out the fabrication and assembly issues. Blueprints traveled back and forth between the two engineering branches, resulting in a waste of time and money. The project manager had to literally sit the two teams of engineers down next to one another, allowing for no excuses as to why nothing was getting done. Here’s an idea. How about building a car like American Motors did creating a platform team where everybody is all on the same team. Chrysler started doing that when they bought AMC in 1987 and it works great.

Love the rear spoiler and Corvette tail lights.

As the car started coming together it was looking pretty cool, sort of like a Ferrari or Porsche. Nothing like a typical GM car. The plan was for a, high-performance, aluminum-block V6, but the cost of developing a new engine would be more than the production of the whole car itself. In typical GM style they were forced to settle for the already manufactured four-cylinder engine, the “Iron Duke,” nicknamed for its heavy iron block. It didn’t fit so they put a smaller oil pan making the engine run on less oil. This was just one of many issues. Another was weak connecting rods that would shatter, blowing pieces through the engine block and dumping oil on hot exhaust components. There were several Fieros that caught fire because of this. Like other GM cars, to save costs, it shared components. Here’s a great example. The front suspension was derived from the Chevette. The automotive media’s response was “meh” but the car sold well and initially GM couldn’t keep up with demand when it debuted in 1984

The word Fiero means “very proud”, “fierce”, “bold”, “haughty” “cruel”, “severe” in Italian, and “wild”, “fierce”, or “ferocious” in Spanish.

But it took four years for the car to look like its original design. Finally, in 1988, numerous changes were made to the Fiero to bring it in line with its original design. The suspension was completely redesigned suspension to finally click with the mid-engine layout and included new two-piece brake calipers and upgraded brake rotors, items cut originally by GM. While the engines saw improvements, the planned turbochargers never came, sales were declining, and the years of mismanagement led to the cancellation of the car after the 1988 model year.

The car is cheap fun. The later years with the V-6 cost the most but are still very affordable. According to Hagerty one in Fair condition is under two grand. The four cylinders should be avoided. One in Concours condition goes for under nine grand. They are not trending up much at all. Too bad. This is one of those GM stories that could have been.

Be sure to check back next Friday for another one of my car spots and have a great weekend.

2022 Toyota GR86 Premium

Sporty looks, handling and a price sure to entice …

Hyundai’s Veloster N last week tops the A-list for sporty, affordable wanna-be racers because it has oodles of muscle and attitude. This week’s Toyota GR86 Premium is a bit easier on the eyes, but easily wedges into this segment at an A-.

Here’s my reasoning.

If you want power, agility and looks, the Veloster is a kick-ass option and as tested only $35,005. In every way the GR86 (more on the name in a sec), is the Veloster’s equal, except on the power front. Veloster had 275 horses while the Toyota has a still generous 228 hp.

But before you think GR86 should maybe drop to B+ with such a big boost bulge, consider this, the Toyota rides better (still bumpy), offers more sensuous lines and costs less. You heard that right.

The difference is the GR86 is a sporty car, not a racer. Think upgraded Celica from years ago.

A little background. The GR86 is a close cousin to Subaru’s BRZ. Subaru and Toyota jointly engineered the BRZ and GR86, which is why it’s Subaru’s only non-AWD vehicle (keeps costs down) and why it packs the only 4-cylinder boxer engine in Toyota’s lineup. Boxers are a Subaru specialty (Porsche too) and provide smooth power that’s very linear.

Both cars have sporty, sophisticated looks that get noticed. I even had a guy with a thundering Tacoma buzz me on the highway in hopes I’d give chase. It helped that the test car was bathed in an orange-tinted bright red that Toyota dubs Track bRed (get it? Track bred), and for which it charges $425 extra.

The good news for GR86 buyers is that after skipping the 2021 model year, it’s back and that flat-4 cranks 228 horses, a 23 horse gain from its previous 2.0-liter boxer engine. Torque is up too, nearly 30 pound-feet to 184. That means more grunt off the line and, get this, it’s connected to a 6-speed manual transmission. Stick fans rejoice!

View Mark’s video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UkcBOVUcQa8

Shifting is smooth and easy and it’s easy to chirp the rear-drive tires, not to mention get a little tail waggle around sharp turns, especially if the pavement is a wee bit damp.

GR86 is simple driving fun with a light (weighs only 2,833 lbs.), but precise steering effort. A limited-slip differential also aids cornering and acceleration out of a turn. This is a car that makes you want to hit the twisties, just for the fun of dancing the Toyota around corners. How much fun is it? Well, Car and Driver named this and the Subaru (by default) to its Top 10 car list this year, and C&D writers are even more obsessed with handling and power than me!

I wish the shifter throws were short and sweet like those in Mazda’s MX-5 (think Miata), but they are longer and the ball-shifter is big for a small driver’s hand. Still, a stick is a hoot to drive. For the record, an automatic is available for $1,500, but really?

Ride is bumpy as this is a short-wheelbase car, just 101.4 inches, but amazingly it was not as abrupt as last week’s Veloster, which really IS aimed more at buyers intending to purchase some track time. I found the GR86 ride tolerable for most city drives.

Braking is impressive and aids the sporty image. Discs are vented and 11.6 inches up front and just a fraction smaller in back.

Now, that name, why GR? It stands for Gazoo Racing, which helped develop the car and is Toyota’s longtime motorsports team and a division of the Japanese automaker.

Outside you’ll see GR and Toyota designers gave the nose a smooth rounded schnoz, avoiding the angular looks of the Veloster and funky Honda Civic Si and the boxier styling of Volkswagen’s venerable Golf GTi. There’s a modest trunk lid spoiler to add some tail flare and the roofline has a decidedly Porsche sweep to it. The result is a pleasant, sporty blend.

Inside, the interior is simple and easy to navigate, with extremely supportive seats, a new bigger info screen, plus two-level heated seats.

Seats themselves are a black suede type material with faux leather trim and gray stitching. There’s also a gray partial racing stripe that projects partway up the bottom cushion then reappears partway up the back cushion. Looks sharp.

Dash and doors are black and feature that suede material atop the doors to add a softer feel than the hard plastic elsewhere. The console is a flat black/gray that avoids reflections often found on consoles using black gloss trim. Satin chrome trims the console’s edge.

Toyota boosts the infotainment screen up to 8 inches and it’s easy to set and find channels, plus there are tuner and volume knobs. However, that volume knob led to an odd discovery. It’s so close to the touchscreen’s edge that apparently my little finger frequently touched the screen as I adjusted the volume, changing the radio to FM. Took me a while to figure it out as I couldn’t immediately tell that my pinky was the culprit as the touch was so slight.

Below the screen are big, easy to use climate control dials and toggles, and there’s a Track button on the console that changes the driver’s instrument panel for a racier look. I could not feel a dramatic change in performance with Track engaged, maybe a touch quicker acceleration.

Complementing the sporty interior is metal-faced pedals, all three, but Toyota does not go with a flat-bottom steering wheel that would give the GR86 a racier look and open up knee space for entering and exiting.

Speaking of which, crawling out of the GR86 is not too difficult, despite being a low-riding vehicle. It was much easier to exit than the Veloster, while both had tall side bolsters on their seats that can restrict exiting. There IS a rear seat in the Toyota, but it’s mostly useless. I’m short, so keep the driver’s seat fairly far forward and my 13-year-old grandson could not squeeze behind my seat to sit upright. Instead he laid sideways while we remained parked in the driveway.

The best use for the rear seat is for cargo as the trunk is a petite 6.3 cubic feet, so maybe the back seat is a bit more useful than I give it credit for. Rear seats do fold down to extend cargo room.

The Premium model’s stereo comes with 8 speakers, but to hear it you must crank it as the road noise is considerable, especially on cement highway pavement. I’d prefer a bit more sound deadening.

Electronic safety devices are minimal here, but are exactly what most of us would demand, blind-spot warning and rear cross-traffic alert. No smart cruise or lane-keeping assist as the point of this car is to be driven, not computer-guided.

Gas mileage was just OK at 23.4 mpg in a week’s driving and about 70% on the highway. The EPA says to expect 20 mpg city and 27 highway. The biggest concern is the GR86’s preference for premium fuel. With performance there’s always a price. Ouch!

What’s a little premium fuel when your car looks this awesome?

The better news is pricing. Starting price for the Premium model is $31,325 and includes delivery, while a base model with 6-speed manual lists at $30,225. Remember an automatic adds $1,500.

With a few minor add-ons the test car settled at $32,975, so about $2 grand less than the Veloster.

The choice between the two could come down to price, styling and ride. Performance geeks will be happier with the Veloster. Folks who appreciate value, more sophisticated looks along with sporty performance should shop the GR86 or BRZ.

Fast Stats: 2022 Toyota GR86 Premium

Hits: Sporty looks, light responsive handling, 6-speed manual tranny and good power and braking. Bigger info screen, 2-level heated seats, big easy climate buttons and toggles, supportive seats, metal-faced pedals. Simple high-value fun.

Gorgeous, sporty, spunky and light on its wheels, that's the GR86. Congrats Toyota, it's also AFFORDABLE!
Even the taillights look great!

Misses: Road noise, bumpy ride, no flat-bottom wheel and prefers premium fuel. Useless rear seat and a touchscreen design that is too easy to bump the FM button when trying to adjust the radio volume knob.

Made in: Japan

Engine: 2.4-liter boxer 4, 228 hp/184 torque

Transmission: 6-speed manual

Weight: 2,833 lbs.

Wheelbase: 101.4 in.

Length: 167.9 in.

Cargo: 6.3 cu.ft.

MPG: 20/27

MPG: 23.4 (tested)

Base Price: $31,325 (includes delivery)

Invoice: $29,811

Major Options: Track bRed paint, $425

Carpeted floor/cargo mats, $249

GR shift knob, $149

GR air filter, $75

Preferred accessory pkg. #2 (all-weather floor liners, all-weather cargo tray, first aid kit, quick charge cable package, keyed glovebox), $364

Auto-dimming mirror w/Homelink, $230

Rear bumper applique, $69

Door edge guards, $89

Test vehicle: $32,975

Sources: Toyota, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

1957 Chevrolet 3100 Stepside

Auto World’s newest 1:18 pickup fuels truck nostalgia …

If you’ve ever doubted that trucks, pickups in particular, are the kings of today’s roads, consider this. The three top-selling vehicles in 2021 were the Ford F-150, RAM 1500 and Chevrolet Silverado, in that order

Each sold more than 500,000 units last year, the Ford a runaway leader at 726,000 trucks sold.

Well, this isn’t Auto World’s first rodeo, so unsurprisingly it is jumping into the truck parade. But as befits the brand, the Indiana-based die-cast firm is offering 1:18 scale vintage pickups.

Recently I reviewed AW’s sharp 1956 Ford F-100 Diecast: 1956 Ford F-100 pickup | Savage On Wheels . Now comes an equally impressive 1957 Chevrolet 3100 Stepside in a very 1950s Ocean Green.

The History

Part of the fun and uniqueness of Auto World die-cast metal models is that many are based on an actual vehicle that you may have seen at a car show or in a Hemmings Motor News magazine. This one is the later, appearing on the April 2016 Hemmings cover featuring Chevy trucks, and the cover is prominently featured on the model’s wonderfully illustrated box.

This gorgeous green model is based on the 1957 Chevy 3100 Stepside owned by Pennsylvania’s Doug Yoder who found it in Idaho via the internet. A total renovation followed, including a body sandblasting, dent repairs and finally coating it all in epoxy primer and four coats of urethane-based paint. That should keep this iconic pickup looking sharp for years.

Yoder also added a four-speed automatic tranny to replace the original three-speed, along with a new front suspension.

A little background on Stepsides, which were first offered in 1955. They were highly practical farm and work trucks as they were easy to load from the side due to their built-in step. Pretty sure some of my Hoosier relatives had these on their farms when I was a wee one as there was a then family-wide hate on for Fords.

Styling was new for 1955 with a wrap-around windshield standard and a wrap-around rear window optional for Deluxe models. Likewise power steering and brakes made their debut, the first time GM had offered them on trucks. There also was a flatter hood and the egg crate grille hung on until the 1957 model year, the one AW models.

That year the grille opened up more with a big oval in its midst. But for 1958 the grille would change again. There also was a Chevy emblem mounted within a chrome horizontal line on both front fenders.

In 1957 the average US household income was $4,450 and a Chevy 3100 ran between $1,430 and $2,435, depending on engine choices and trims. The base powerplant was an inline 6 with 140 horsepower while two V8s were offered, the most popular being the 265 cu.in. version making 155 horses.

The Model

               The color is Ocean Green, the interior featuring matching green seats and steering column, but Bombay Ivory trim on the doors and dash, plus an ivory-colored steering wheel.

Love the classic windshield visor!

               To me, the coolest features are the droppable tailgate and the cool windshield sunvisor that makes this Chevy look like it should be hauling feed out to a Midwestern stock pen, or hay to a stable.

               Naturally there’s chrome everywhere as all 1950s vehicles were loaded with it. Window trim, mirrors, gas cap, wiper stalks, door handles, headlight hood facings, grille, and front and rear bumpers are sparkling chrome. So is the hood’s lower nose that carries the gold, red and blue Chevy bowtie logo and trim.

The tailgate flips down and neatly latches in place so it can be posed either way.

               In addition to the textured opaque headlights the truck includes small clear blinkers below and tiny red taillights that are housed in chrome frames. There’s also a chrome and red styling streak on both front fenders, starting about mid-wheel well and extending nearly to the door.

               The truck’s bed is black but textured like wood and Chevrolet is spelled out in white across the tailgate, which folds straight down.

               This being the Stepside model there are indented steps just behind the cab and in front of the well-shaped rear fenders. Hub caps are chrome with a green ring matching the truck’s color and white-sidewall tires that are treaded, but carry no branding. Much of the undercarriage also is detailed, so you see the suspension, transmission and exhaust system.

               The opening doors not only include large mirrors, but feature chrome-outlined vent windows and chrome cranks inside on the door panels, plus ivory door trim. More ivory accents are trimmed by chrome on the cab’s B-pillar.

Dashes were as simple as could be in the 1950s.  This one has the big triangle chrome-trimmed instrument panel and speedometer and five other chrome knobs for heat and radio tuning. Two tubes under the dash could direct heat to the riders. There’s also a black center hub/horn button on the wheel with a bowtie logo at its center.

Under the hood is a big orange engine block, round black air filter atop it and a black hose leading to the radiator. The battery is mounted under the hood on the passenger’s side firewall. On that side too, you can see the matte silver exhaust pipe leading off the side of the engine.

Here’s the Chevy engine with air filter, plus the batter on the firewall.

I love cars, but AW’s latest truck is a dandy that brings back memories of childhood for us Boomer types. Can’t wait to see what’s next in this Hemmings-featured truck collection.

Vital Stats: 1957 Chevrolet 3100 Stepside

Maker: Auto World
Scale: 1/18
Stock No.: AW293
MSRP: $115.99

Link: Autoworldstore.com

Car Spot: VW Scirocco

One of VW’s wind cars

The Scirocco first landed in North America in 1974 and Volkswagon’s intent for the coupe, with its edgy design, was to replace its aging bubbly-looking Karmann Ghia. VW’s Golf couldn’t be that replacement because that was intended to succeed the Beetle platform. The Scirocco was meant to be a more sportier than the Golf with sharper body lines and more complex engineering designed to deliver a different driving experience.

VW gave the three-door, front-engine, front-wheel-drive, sport compact hatchback two shots here in the US. from 1974 to 1992 and then again from 2008 until 2017.

Despite having crappy power and a four-speed manual transmission the car actually sold well. When Volkswagen brought it back in the second-gen model, they put in more fun with a 16-valve, 1.8-liter four-cylinder from the GTI. In all, nearly 800,000 units were sold worldwide between the two generations. Despite that VW decided to pull the plug and discontinued it in favor of its successor, the Corrado.

This second-gen one I found on a recent trip to Appleton, WI was is in line for a restoration. I made a quick check to one of my favorite place to look at cars I will never own, BringATrailer, I found them quite reasonable. First-gens were the cheapest going for around $5,000-8,000 while the second-gens with the 16V and five-speed selling for as high as $32,000.

Be sure to check back next Friday for another car spot and a little bit of history. Have a great weekend.

2022 Hyundai Veloster N

N versions mean economical fast fun and high fashion too …  

Folks who bemoan the lack of low-cost cars, especially models that are fun to drive and exciting to look at need to be moaning less.

This week’s hot wheels came in the form a Hyundai Veloster N swathed in Performance Blue paint and featuring orange accents. Mature autophiles will immediately think Gulf Oil Le Mans racer paint scheme. Yes!

Veloster is a hot hatch and only comes in Hyundai’s performance-oriented N trim now as it focuses its marketing on younger drivers and those that particularly enjoy athletic driving. If this were a high-end car it would be considered a halo car for the brand. But Hyundai is clever, delivering the modestly priced Veloster N as a compact rocket sled of a car that delivers the racy feel that its looks promise.

First, the Veloster N comes standard with a 6-speed manual transmission so the boy racers and us older folks who enjoy a clutch will be doing the happy dance.

Second, the only engine is the former performance-package boosted 2.0-liter turbo I4 that pounds out an impressive 275 horsepower. That, as far as I can find, is the most power for this market, just beating out Subaru’s impressive WRX by 7 horses.

Third, there’s a limited-slip differential underneath that cuts wheel spin and torque-steer, a common malady of high-horse front-drive wanna-be racers.

Fourth, Hyundai’s Veloster is shod in Pirelli P Zero performance tires for massive grip, IF you’re pushing the N to its limits.

Fifth, for looks and potentially for performance (top speed is 155 mph), Hyundai equips the Veloster N with a 2-stage rear spoiler that looks serious, and is.

Veloster N sports a big black spoiler over the rear hatch! Snazzy lights too!

Sixth, the drive mode selectors (blue paddles on the steering wheel hub) allow five choices, Normal, Sport and Eco on the left, N and N Custom on the right. Those firm up the suspension and quicken throttle responses for more aggressive starts. Likely you’ll only need Sport, but if you are hitting the track, the N and N Custom may be more appropriate.

Seventh, and finally, the Veloster boasts big ol’ discs front and rear for strong on-track braking. The front discs are 13.6-inchers and the rears are 12.4-inch rotors. These discs deliver a firm brake pedal feel that helps buoy a driver’s confidence. And yes, the calipers are orange to match the car’s other trim too. Cool!

Watch Mark’s cool video: Mark Savage reviews the fun 2022 Hyundai Veloster N – YouTube

The upshot is a hatchback that runs up to 60 mph in 4.8 seconds, says Hyundai. And my highway entry-ramp test shows that’s possible, as are triple digits by the bottom of the ramp. Now the test car featured Hyundai’s fine 8-speed automatic, so I didn’t have to do the shifting, yet the push back into the seat was still quite effective when tromping the accelerator.

Twin pipes in back give the Veloster some impressive burble and bluster!

Better yet, from an aural standpoint, the tranny coordinates with the exhausts (two BIG pipes) to deliver a satisfying burble at every downshift as you lift slightly going into corners. Hey, your passenger doesn’t know you’re not doing this yourself, right?

Cornering itself is quick and tight but with only moderately firm steering effort, so the Veloster isn’t tiring at all and encourages a driver to clip off a corner’s apex while getting quick on the gas for maximum exit speed.

The price you pay, as in most sports-oriented cars, is a stiff ride that only gets stiffer in the performance driving modes. Even in Normal the ride is so firm you’ll want to dodge as many potholes as possible, although ironically, railroad tracks didn’t seem to upset the suspension much.

Veloster’s fun is in its quick throttle response and steering, sort of like a very refined go-kart.

Inside the Veloster N looks as special as its exterior with N logos on door sills, shifter and seat backs. Seats are black cloth and faux leather with a blue racing stripe up the middle of each front seat and chrome trim bejeweled with the N logo, just below the headrest. A textured dark gray trim keeps the doors and dash serious looking and prevents interior reflections.

Sharp, but manageable interior here, another well-planned Hyundai cockpit!

The manual front seats are extremely supportive, especially for the hips and lower back, and the driver gets a pump handle on the seat’s outward edge to raise and lower the seat, making an easy adjustment for tall or short drivers.

Hyundai continues with stylish and practical dash layout that is simple and driver friendly. The center info screen is a modest 8 inches, but wisely not a distraction and easy to tune. Buttons for it and climate controls are large and intuitive.

Racy big bolster seats with cutouts in the seat back’s top. Cool!

Veloster’s rear seat is primarily for storage and slipping small folks in for a quick drive to the grocery. Surprisingly there’s a third door here too. It’s on the passenger’s side with the release built into the rear side window trim, so relatively unnoticeable. That small rear door opens forward like a regular door too, helping rear seat riders gain easier access than flipping the passenger seat forward. It also is helpful for loading groceries into the rear seat.

Storage room under the hatch is reasonable and the rear seats split and fold down.

Love the blue seatbelts, and they are easy to reach.

Other pluses inside include an Infinity stereo with 8 speakers, although you’ll need to crank it a bit to hear as the interior is fairly noisy, not helped by the performance tires. There’s also Bluetooth connectivity, an overhead SOS system and satellite radio, although that’s a 90-day trial.

Missing is a wireless charger, although a 12-volt, USB plug and phone charger outlet are in the open bin just below the center stack.

I’d also like to see a D-shaped (flat-bottom) steering wheel to go along with the car’s racy looks, and although it would add cost, heated front seats and a heated steering wheel would be preferred for our climate. There’s also no sunroof here, but if you’re intending this for some track time, such a roof is probably not a priority.

Safety features that are useful, such as blind-spot warning, stability control, forward-collision avoidance assist, lane following assist and keeping are standard, and the lane keeping can be turned off. Bravo! No smart cruise here, but again, this is a driver’s car.

A rear door on the passenger’s side makes it easier to crawl in the back seat.
The door release is hidden in the window trim.

Gas mileage is decent for a performance-oriented car, rated 20 mpg city and 27 highway. I split the difference at 22.9 mpg in aggressive highway and normal city driving.

Now to the pricing, the most pleasant surprise for those bemoaners. The 6-speed manual-equipped Veloster N lists at $33,545, including delivery, while the tested automatic goes for $35,005 with delivery. There were no options.

That’s a modern marvel of economy as the average new vehicle cost exceeds $45,000. Note too that there are several other modest cost performance hatchbacks or sedans available for car lovers and those who enjoy driving.

Twin pipes and a diffuser below, big spoiler up top. Serious racer cred!

Honda’s Civic Si has considerably less power, the Volkswagen Golf GTI is closer and has a nice ride, considering, and the Subaru WRX is just a smidge under Veloster’s power, but starts several thousand dollars lower. Next week, I’ll be driving Toyota’s GR86 sports coupe. So we’ll see how it stacks up.

FAST STATS: 2022 Hyundai Veloster N 

Hits: Hot hatch with spoiler, racy steering feel, bodacious power, super grip, supportive seats, stylish dash with easy buttons and info screen, third door, pump handle to raise seat height, high-value pricing.

Misses: No wireless charger, heated seats or steering wheel, no sunroof, stiff ride, cramped rear seat. Needs a D-shaped steering wheel.

WOW!

Made in: Ulsan, South Korea

Engine: 2.0-liter turbo I4, 275 hp/260 torque

Transmission: 8-speed wet dual clutch automatic

Weight: 3,106 lbs.

Wheelbase: 104.3 in.

Length: 167.9 in.

Cargo: 19.9-44.5 cu.ft.

MPG: 20/ 27

MPG: 22.9 (tested)

Base Price: $35,005 (includes delivery)

Invoice: $33,784

Major Options: None

Test vehicle: $35,005

Sources: Hyundai, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

2021 Ford Escape Titanium PHEV FWD

Plug-in hybrid saves oodles of gas, I spent less than $5 in a week …

If Ford’s plug-in hybrid Escape was any more middle of the road it would have a white stripe painted down its centerline.

Escape is a fine family of four crossover with sufficient power, easy handling and good passenger and cargo room inside. It’s pleasant looking. In fact, its nose resembles a much pricier and sportier Porsche Macan, so maybe you can fool a few neighbors.

Considering the average price of a new vehicle now is pressing $46,000 it’s nice to know a family could still escape in this Ford for $26,800, including delivery, at its base front-drive level. That packs just a 1.5-liter turbocharged 3-cylinder engine that still makes a healthy 180 horsepower.

Naturally there are varying trims and options for that gas-only powered model, plus a standard hybrid where battery power is added via regenerative braking, but the tested plug-in hybrid model starts at a still family friendly $35,185 in SE trim, and $37,920 in the preferred SEL trim.

The test crossover was the top-level Titanium model starting at $40,130 but it crept up to $43,025 with its fancy Rapid Red Metallic paint ($395) and a Titanium preferred package, including a dual-pane sunroof, wireless charging and fancy floor mats, for $2,500.

Even at that, the test Escape is below the going rate for new wheels in our supply-chain challenged world.

Yet there’s one feature that sets this Escape apart in this middlers paradise, its plug-in charging system. While standard hybrid technology has been around for a couple decades now, the plug-in system is more a past 5-year phenomenon. With a plug-in, a cord with pistol grip plug connects to an outlet in the Escape’s front left fender (looks like a fuel door) and then connects to any outlet, 120- or 240-volt that is available, usually in your garage.

At 120 volts it takes roughly 8-10 hours for a full charge that nets the Escape about 35 miles of electric charge. If you have a partial charge already, it can take just 2 to 4 hours for a full charge. If you have a 240-volt charger (like you would for a dryer) a charge takes about half as long.

Watch Mark’s video: Mark Savage reviews the 2021 Ford Escape Titanium PHEV FWD – YouTube

This is perfect for folks commuting less than 30 miles daily roundtrip to work or running errands. In my week’s drive I never fully used the battery charge, so ended up needing only 0.8 gallons of gas, or just short of $4. Imagine that for a week’s driving of roughly 200 miles.

My calculations put my fuel economy at 208.1 mpge and 41.75 mpg for the gas only. The key here is running on the electric charge as much as possible. I have no cost figures for my evening charges for the crossover’s battery, but one suspects it would be several dollars as opposed to $20-30 for equivalent gas. Reducing emissions, naturally, is the big-picture advantage.

A side note here. The Escape offers four battery use driving methods via a button on the console. One is for electric driving only, another is Automatic so chooses gas or electric as the power system computer deems appropriate, another allows you to run on gas while you maintain whatever battery charge you have. This makes sense to save the battery power for city stop-and-go driving where the electric is most efficient. The final setting allows the engine and regenerative braking to help boost battery life, although I didn’t find it helped much more than the Automatic setting.

All this is a long way of saying the plug-in system works well and is easy, provided you have a garage or indoor place to plug in regularly. It makes daily driving much more economical, especially with today’s higher gas prices.

For the record, the hybrid system works in conjunction with a 2.5-liter I4 engine and makes up to 221 horsepower while the standard hybrid system packs 200 horsepower. The transmission is a CVT, so smooth, but not peppy.

Acceleration is pretty mild, but due to the electric power it comes instantly so pulling away from a stoplight feels quicker than one might expect in a compact crossover.

Handling is fairly light and easy, so parking and lane maintenance are a breeze and cornering is good, especially at city speeds. Ride is decent too, not smooth, but not too abrupt on sharp city ruts and expansion joints.

Note too that the gas-powered and standard hybrid Escapes are available with AWD, but the plug-in is only a front-drive model.

The bright metallic red test crossover was attractive and featured a two-tone black and tan leatherette interior, the seats being tan with black trim and the dash and doors black. Ford opts for an inexpensive looking fake light wood look metal trim on the dash and doors that does not seem appropriate for a top trim level.

Attractive two-tone interior gives the Escape a handsome look inside.

Ford’s instrument panel and infotainment screen are easy to see, read, and use, although the infotainment screen is smaller than most these days. Still, functionality is good and all dash and steering wheel hub controls are simple.

This one also includes heated front seats and a heated steering wheel, plus power seats. However, the seat cushions are all relatively flat so provide very little hip and back support. That’s fine in town, but on a long drive could become tiring.

Nothing special here, but the screen, buttons and knobs are easy to see and use.

The giant sunroof overhead is nice, as is the wireless charging, both part of the Titanium option package.

Front and rear seats are roomy for four adults and there is plenty of cargo room under the power rear hatch. However, below the floor here there was a big gaping hole that housed a battery and should have had a spare tire, but none was there and the finish of that cargo hold under the floor looked straight out of the 1960s with no padding. This could be a one-off test car situation, but give a look at any Escape you are intending to buy to make sure this is not an issue.

This was rather odd, no spare tire and not much finishing under the cargo floor.

Standard safety equipment is well represented here with Ford’s Co-Pilot 360 system standard, including pre-collision assist with pedestrian detection, blind-spot warning, cross-traffic alert, lane-keeping assist, forward collision warning and smart cruise control.

There’s also another safety device no doubt demanded by corporate lawyers, and this is becoming a major annoyance in more and more vehicles. It’s what I call the “Don’t Forget the Kid” warning for the rear seat. It beeps at you once the ignition is off and warns on the info screen, “Check Rear Seat for Occupant.”  You can press the OK button on the steering wheel hub to stop the beeping, but still, this is unnecessary for most drivers who have children.

Still, I suppose that’s family friendly, even if the beeping sends mom or dad into a frenzy as they try to get out of the car and into the mall, grocery store, or wherever, with a kid in tow.

Here’s a closer look at the main dash controls.

In general, fewer beeps and alarms in cars today would be a welcome change. Light up the warning on the screen if necessary to avoid lawsuits, but stop with the noise pollution.

Overall though the Escape is a middler’s dream, an inexpensive vehicle that can haul a family of four in relative comfort while also getting great fuel economy. Competitors include Toyota’s RAV4 Prime, the new Hyundai Tucson, and the Subaru Crosstrek. All come with AWD.

FAST STATS: 2021 Ford Escape Titanium PHEV FWD

Hits: Plug-in hybrid provides 35 miles of electric charge, comfy family crossover with easy handling, simple dash controls and fabulous mileage if fully charged. Heated seats and wheel, good safety equipment, 4 choices of battery power use, wireless charger, dual sunroofs, power hatch and fair ride.

Misses: Plug-in only available with front-wheel drive, annoying alarm every time you turn off ignition warning “Check Rear Seat for Occupant,” poor finish and no spare tire under cargo floor, seats are flat with little support.

Made in: Louisville, Ky.

Engine: 2.5-liter I4 hybrid, 221 hp

Transmission: CVT automatic

Weight: 3,870 lbs.

Wheelbase: 106.7 in.

Length: 180.5 in.

Cargo: 34-61 cu.ft.

Tow: 1,500 lbs.

MPG: 105 (gas-electric), 40 (gas)

MPGe: 208.1 (tested), 41.75 mpg (gas only)

Base Price: $40,130 (includes delivery)

Invoice: $38,863

Major Options:

Rapid Red Metallic paint, $395

Titanium premium pkg. (floor mats, panoramic sunroof, wireless charging), $2,500

Test vehicle: $43,025

Sources: Ford, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

2022 BMW M3 Competition xDrive

When BMW says Competition, it means it, and then some …

Where to begin?

Once, maybe twice a year, a car arrives for testing that properly belongs on a racetrack as normal city and highway driving will not suffice, like putting pro athletes in a Juniors tournament with one arm tied behind their backs.

That was this week’s BMW M3 Competition xDrive, which might be better suited to running on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s road course, or up at Road America. That Competition part of the name should serve as a major clue as to the sedan’s strengths.

Power is excessive, but I mean that in a good way. This AWD version’s twin-turbo I6 creates a massive 503 horsepower and 479 pound-feet of torque. Top speed is 180 mph and it’ll crush 0-60 mph in 3.4 seconds, BMW tells us. Car and Driver magazine reports 3.5 seconds to hit 60 mph. Whatever!

At the “base” level the M3 is no slouch either, its slightly detuned twin-turbo I6 makes 473 horsepower, but get this, it comes with a 6-speed manual. Not many sports sedans offer that in any form these days. BMW says it’ll do 0-60 mph in 4.1 seconds, if you can live with that.

Move up to the mid-grade Competition (no xDrive) and you’re back to 503 horses and a 0-60 time of 3.8 seconds. So there ARE choices.

Coupled with BMW’s superb 8-speed automatic tranny, complete with big paddle shifters jutting out like antlers behind the steering wheel for manual gear selection, the shifts are silky smooth in the Competition xDrive. So there’s a bit of a luxury feel along with the race car vibe.

Watch Mark’s video: Mark Savage reviews the super bright 2022 BMW xDrive Competitiion – YouTube

Adding to that image for the test car was its retina-melting Sao Paulo Yellow paint job, very similar to the BMW-built MINI Cooper convertible I tested last summer. Some called it lime green, as it certainly has a greenish hue. Still, this baby is easy to find in a parking lot, and surprisingly at no extra charge.

Is this paint job bright enough for ya? Makes the M3 easy to find in a parking lot!

Further spiff comes from BMW’s Yas Marina blue and black leather interior, with touches of that bright yellow for trim. It adds $2,550 to the price tag, but worth every buck.

I’m not sure an interior ever got this much attention from riders and passersby, nor made me want a car as much as this does. The color mix, which some said looked a patriotic nod toward Ukraine, is stunning. Matched with the wild exterior this was easily the most exciting looking car I’ve driven in years, maybe since an Audi R8 14 years ago.

When I began this gig 30+ years ago, I never dreamt I’d see a BMW interior this wild.

As touted earlier, the power drives home the excitement, but the grip the xDrive AWD system adds, along with sports sedan steering precision makes the M3 special. This is the first time xDrive is available on the M3 and adds $4,100 to the sticker. Naturally there are some stout tires here too, Michelin Pilot Sport performance models, ZR19s in front and ZR20s in back.

Other than when it was wet, these fat boys hunkered down to the pavement like gum stuck on a shoe. That means crazy good cornering. My video guy, Paul, giggled like a pre-teen hearing mom cuss for the first time as we put the car through its paces on winding rural roads.

Bright blue and yellow give the interior a spark worth the extra dough!

Let’s see, rocket ship power, super adhesion, light and nimble handling, racy exterior and interior. What’s not to like?

Not much, really, but the ride is race car stiff, so urban pot holes and pavement cracks do stir the interior. Occasionally it was jolting, but mostly well controlled. Railroad tracks were surprisingly easy on the tush.

A few other performance points need addressing here. First, there was an M driver’s package on the test car, which adds $2,500 and raises the electronically controlled speed limiter from 155 to 180 mph. That will only help on the track, which is fine, because the package also includes a voucher for driver training at one of BMW’s two performance centers in the U.S.

Speaking of track time, the M3’s adjustable drive modes include Normal, Sport and Track. That last one optimizes power, shifts, steering effort, and suspension settings for the weekends you take the BMW to the track for an extracurricular workout. I used it to blast down a highway entry ramp and hit a 3-digit number higher than any I’d hit previously. (Do not try this at home!)

There also are adaptive dampers on the M3, plus adjustable brake pedal feel, particularly helpful if on track. A diffuser in back helps stabilize the car at speed and the rear spoiler should help too. It’s carbon fiber, as are the exterior mirror caps. That costs $4,700 extra. A carbon fiber roof is standard.

No flat-bottom wheel, but $3,800 carbon fiber race seats!

Carbon fiber trim is inside too ($950 extra) on the dash and console, plus the steering wheel’s hub. Oddly that wheel isn’t a racy flat-bottom model, which I’d expect. First, it would look the part, but more importantly it would free up some knee space that’s much needed by short drivers trying to extricate themselves from the race seats.

That’s right, the test car added carbon fiber race seats for $3,800. They fit the driver and front passenger like they are track bound with power adjustable side bolsters. These things are extremely comfy, once you drop into them, and that’s how you enter. Then they are as snug as Aunt Agnus hugging you after Thanksgiving dinner.

There’s simply no graceful way to crawl out of the seats, as high as those lower side bolsters are. A driver must pull up on the steering wheel (flip the tilt wheel all the way up and latch it), lift their behind onto the side bolster, and then turn the legs to the door for a less than attractive exit.

A trim tail with subtle wing and less subtle diffuser!

Ironically for such a sporty sedan there’s decent room in the rear seat for a couple adults and a nice sized trunk, in case the M3 needs to haul several sets of golf clubs, or four suitcases for a weekend trip.

There are, of course, all the usual safety features and a wireless charger, power trunk lid, and, get this, 8 actual pre-set buttons for the radio below the 12-inch info screen. Bravo! BMW keeps the console-mounted rotary knob as a redundant way to adjust the info screen.

Seats are heated, not cooled, up front and the steering wheel also is heated, part of the $1,800 executive package. That also includes remote start, the power trunk, an HUD and something called Gesture Control. It doesn’t stop the gestures you may wish, and it can be confusing and annoying. I found it randomly turning on the radio as I was talking (with my hands naturally) to a passenger. And I never could get it to turn up the radio volume with the swirl of a hand, as the screen suggested.

Other add-ons here (not all needed) included a parking assistance package for $800 that adds parking assistant plus, and a drive recorder (think aircraft black box); and M Drive professional for $900 that includes a lap timer (finally!) and onboard drift analysis, again something you’ll only use at the track unless you have extremely tolerant neighbors.

Snazzy multi-beam lights with blue accents.

The cooling, high-performance tire package adds the adaptive suspension, racy Michelin tires and special alloy wheels for $2,400.

If fuel economy matters to you then looking elsewhere is advisable. I got 18.4 mpg in about 60% highway driving and using an admittedly heavy foot when blasting up to highway speed. The EPA rates this AWD model at 16 mpg city and 22 mpg highway. Sadly premium fuel is required.

Price?

Surely you jest, and don’t call me Shirley! Base for this model is $77,895, including delivery. This one hit $95,895 with options. If you simply must save some cash, opt for either the “base” M3 at $71,095, or Competition model at $74,790, and reject the notion of options.

This is a street-legal racer for less than $100 grand and looks spectacular. Surely (I warned you) that counts for something!

FAST STATS: 2022 BMW M3 Competition xDrive

Hits: Racy looks, color and interior. Monster power, excellent handling and grip, AWD. Heated seats and wheel, wireless charger, big easy-to-use screen, 3 drive modes including Track, 8 pre-set radio buttons, spectacular looking interior, extreme seat support w/power bolsters, good trunk space.

Misses: Firm ride, prefers premium fuel, no flat-bottom wheel contributes to tough exit, price, and the annoying unpredictable gesture control. 

Made in: Munich, Germany

Fancy wheels and low-pro Michelin performance tires here!

Engine: 3.0-liter twin turbo I6, 503 hp/479 torque

Transmission: 8-speed automatic

Weight: 3,890 lbs.

Wheelbase: 112.5 in.

Length: 189.1 in.

Cargo: 13.0 cu.ft.

MPG: 16/22

MPG: 18.4 (tested)

Base Price: $77,895 (includes delivery)

Invoice: $74,050

Options:

Yas Marina blue/black leather, $2,550

Parking assistance pkg. (parking assistant plus, drive recorder), $800

Executive pkg. (remote start, heated steering wheel, power tailgate, power trunk lid, Icon Adaptive LED w/Laserlight, wireless charging, gesture control, wifi hotspot), $1,800

M Drive professional (onboard drift analysis, lap timer), $00

Cooling, high-performance tire package (M tech pkg, adaptive M suspension & tire mobility kit, P245/40R19 Front & P255/40R19 rear high-perf tires, M double-spoke bi-color style 861M alloy wheels), $2,400

Carbon fiber trim, $950

M carbon fiber bucket seats, $3,800

M Driver pkg. (electronic speed limiter raised to 189 mph from 155, voucher for driver’s school at BMW Performance Center), $2,500

M Carbon exterior pkg. (carbon fiber spoiler, mirror hoods), $4,700

Test vehicle: $95,895

Sources: BMW, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

McLaren 600LT

Autoart creates a racy 1:18 scale Long Tail version …

McLaren knows a little something about supercars, and what it doesn’t know could be put inside an engineer’s pocket protector.

So when the British firm rejiggered its 570S supercar to create something a little less pricey and yet racetrack worthy it was no surprise the resulting 600LT (Long Tail) looked and drove like Spinal Tap turned up to 11. It’s wild!

Bathe that 600LT in a deep Volcano Red paint job and consider our jaws dropped!

That’s exactly what maestro 1:18 scale car maker Autoart did with the McLaren 600LT in one of its latest releases. Oh, and the trim is a beautiful imitation black carbon fiber. Blimey it’s beautiful!

The History

The track-bound Sports Series 600LT made its debut at England’s Goodwood Festival of Speed in 2018 and immediately snagged supercar intenders’ attention, both with its sleek lines and its impressive power-to-weight ratio.

While McLaren’s wild child Senna, based on the 720S, touts a 4.0-liter twin-turbo V8 making 789 horsepower, the 600LT is lighter so rattles off the same 0 to 60 mph run-up of 2.8 seconds. That’s with a smaller 3.8-liter turbo V8 coupled to a 7-speed automatic transmission. Horsepower is nearly 600 here (592 to be exact) and top speed is 204 mph. The 600LT does a quarter mile in just 10.4 seconds.

Heck, Bugattis with those credentials will run you $1 million plus, while the McLaren 600LT seems more entry-level at just $245,000.

In addition to that engine, the two-seater has cut 220 pounds from the girth of its kissin’ cousin, the 720S, while using its lightweight suspension and brake system. And the Long Tail? Well, it is 2 inches longer overall than a McLaren 570S.

The 600LT also features larger carbon fiber air intakes on the sides, a carbon fiber body and like all McLarens, a carbon fiber chassis. Inside is more carbon fiber, mainly the racing seats that customers first saw in the famous P1.

Disc brakes are carbon ceramic for racing and the tires are Pirelli P Zero Trofeo R models, with 19-inchers up front and 20-inchers in back.

Speaking of the rear, just a fixed spoiler here with diffuser below. No giant moveable rear wing that also serves as an air brake as in the Senna model.

In case you want the real deal, but plan to shop around. Consider a Ferrari 488 GTB or Lamborghini Huracan Performante.

The Model

               Us die-cast collectors are lucky to dodge the serious coin the motorized versions demand, yet Autoart’s model is as spectacular as any of the full-size supercars. And this one is as perfect in shape and paint job as any to date.

               This is no sealed body version either, the frunk and doors open and that black carbon fiber-look engine cover in back with its bulging exhaust ports comes off too. Beneath is a nicely detailed turbo V8 with hoses coming off the side and McLaren emblazoned on the engine’s cover, which also appears to be carbon fiber. You can see the chassis support system here too and the exhausts leading up to the top-side ports.

Oh, and the cover’s center portion appears to be a smoked or reinforced glass so you can see a bit of the engine through it, even when the cover is in place.

Like on the original car the carbon fiber rear wing is fixed and below that much of the tail is coated in that same black fiber all the way down to the diffuser and wrapping around the arrow-like rear lights.

Inside the frunk is a red fire extinguisher and the rest of it is lined with a felt-like material to match the original’s soft finish. The chin spoiler resembles carbon fiber, naturally and the front lights are full of what appear to be projector beams, at least five.

There’s a subtle McLaren logo on the frunk’s front edge and of course another chrome one embedded in the tail.

Black air intakes above each front wheel add more detail as do the black carbon fiber rocker panel ground effects skirts, which also tout 600LT labels.    

               Sexy black carbon fiber air vents and scoops run from the front wheel wells to just beyond the scissor doors and the roof also appears to be carbon fiber, and looks great.

               The broad windshield includes two big black wipers and there are giant black carbon fiber racing mirrors on either door’s front edge.

               Flip those scissor doors up and you get a good peak at the black racer’s interior, it’s high-backed, big-bolster racing seats, cloth shoulder belts with photo-etched clasps, a well-shaped dash with all the appropriate bulges and instrument cluster hood, and sharp dash and console instruments and displays. I like the silver-ringed air vents too. Those scissor doors have carbon fiber-look trim and mesh stereo speakers too.

               Down low the Pirelli P Zero tires are so labeled and wrap snuggly around black 10-spoke wheels with a McLaren swish at their center. Giant discs are visible behind the wheels as are red McLaren branded calipers.

Perhaps something here doesn’t meet your stylistic leanings or color palette?

Well, consider that Autoart also makes the 600LT available in Myan Orange, Fistral Blue, Sicilian Yellow, and Onyx Black all at the same $220.

Take your pick! 

Vital Stats: McLaren 600LT

Maker: Autoart
Scale: 1/18
Stock No.: 76035 (Volcano Red)
MSRP: $220

Link: Autoartmodels.com

Car Spot: Chevy SSR

A craft vehicle from Chevy that never took off

In the early 2000’s it seems that just about every manufacturer was into the retro movement. There was the Mini Cooper, new VW Bug, and PT Cruiser. One of Chevy’s entry was the SSR which stood for Super Sport Roadster.

Introduced in 2003 on New Year’s Eve, Chevy had big plans. It was built for speed and used GM’s 5.3 L 300 hp Vortec V8 making it go from 0-60 in 7.7 seconds with a 15.9 second quarter mile run at 86.4 mph. In 2005 the upped the hp to 390 by using the LS2 V8, the same engine found in the C6 Corvette. It was mated to a six-speed manual taking the 0-60 time down to 5.29 seconds. It also came with all the luxo items available at the time.

The manufacturing process was unusual to say the least. It rode on a GM368 platform specific to it, and featured a steel body retractable hardtop designed by Karmann and built by ASC. The front fenders, were made with deep draw stampings, a forming technique that had not been used in automotive stampings in decades. It sold for around 42 hundred bucks.

Despite heavy promotion, it was the 2003 Indy 500 Pace Car, it never sold well. On November 21, 2005, GM announced that it would close the Craft Center, where the vehicle was built, in mid-2006, and that was the end for the SSR. The final SSR, a unique black-on-silver model, was built on March 17, 2006. Total production was just 24,112.

Like the Cadillac Allante I shared a couple of weeks ago, the long term prospects for this GM oddball probably aren’t great. Giving it any juice right now is interest from retirement-age guys like me but the younger buyers, not so much. Even with a six-speed it’s not rare enough. So what are they going for now? According to the Hagerty Price Guide they are selling for slightly over their original sticker and the 2005 and 2006 LS2-powered SSR are the most desirable. It you’re looking for one of the 2,200 sold with a six-speed you’ll need to add, and in an extra 5 grand. I kind of like it because of its quirky design and how it stands out. I mean look, I saw this one in a grocery store parking lot next to the mundane SUVs and pick up trucks.

Thanks for stopping by and be sure to check back next Friday for another one of my car spots. Have a great weekend.

Koenigsegg Regera

Autoart creates a stellar 1:18 scale “practical” supercar …

Hard as it is to imagine, the 1500-horsepower Koenigsegg Regera is not meant for the racetrack.

No, Swedish supercar maker Koenigsegg (bless you!) intends the Regera as a grand touring luxury sports car. PR from Christian von Koenigsegg, the car maker’s founder, says Regera is a more practical luxury car than its predecessor the Agera, or the new Jesko.

Somehow its looks and $1.89 milllion price tag do not send a practical message.

Autoart, who created four stellar Agera models, now turns its attention to the Targa-topped Regera, which it offers in three colors, White, Candy Red and Horizon Blue. While not cheap, the $300 price tag seems paltry compared with the nearly $2 mil original.

The History

Regera was introduced in 2016 and is still in production, but only 80 will ever be made, and all were pre-sold, so the Autoart versions are the most easily acquired.

Its name means to reign or rule and surely if you had the real thing it would rule any road it deigned to grace, and not just because of the price of entry, although that is sheik-worthy.

Regera touts a unique direct drive system in place of a tranny and links that with a plug-in hybrid system that combines a twin-turbo 5.0-liter V8 with three electric motors. Total output is 1,500 horsepower and 1,475 pound-feet of torque. The electric motors alone create 697 hp. Koenigsegg claims to have the most power-dense battery pack on the planet with an 800-volt liquid-cooled unit.

Naturally the Regera doesn’t weigh a lot, tipping the scales at just 3,500 lbs. and using 3D printed parts, carbon fiber, and Kevlar to ensure a feathery, but strong structure. Other goodies include active engine mounts, active rear and front wings, running lights known as constellation lights that resemble the night sky, and Regera rides on sticky Michelin Pilot Sport tires, 19-inch up front and 20-inch in back.

How fast is this practical luxury sports car?

Regera is the fastest car in the world from 0 to 249 mph, clipping it off in 31.49 seconds, which takes 1.8 seconds off its sister car, the Agera’s, previous record. Top speed is said to be limited to 251 mph.  Right, any faster would be silly, right?

The Model

               There is nothing silly about Autoart’s model , a gem from stem to stern with opening doors, hood and rear hatch, plus steerable wheels and a rear spoiler that can be deployed.

               The white model features a black center stripe of imitation carbon fiber that is trimmed in red. Its nose features a carbon fiber-look chin spoiler and the targa top is easily removed to expose the cockpit. That top has a clear panel inset to the black carbon fiber area too.

               Regera’s doors are fascinating, sliding outward first, then flipping up like scissor doors. Very clever and bravo to Autoart for mastering the mechanics. Side windows are fixed in the doors.

               The Regera’s black interior features black bucket seats with cloth shoulder harnesses that stay behind the seats, but you can see a photo-etched clasp near the seat’s base. The center console is nicely detailed as is the center stack with buttons clearly visible and the silver oval air ducts atop the stack and off to the sides of the dash. All are hooded as is the main instrument panel in front of the driver’s racy flat-bottom steering wheel.

               A giant single-armed wiper extends to cover the widespread wraparound windshield.

               Under the rear hatch is that big twin-turbo V8 with carbon fiber cover and battery packs and motors at the tail. With the hatch up you see sharp detailing of the rear suspension system too, with spring-over coils with copper canisters.

               Impressive too is the subtle Koenigsegg nameplate on the hatch’s rear lip.

               The thick treaded tires include the proper Michelin branding and sizing info (matte black on black) and there are huge drilled disc brakes behind the sporty black wheels. Red Koenigsegg-branded calipers complete the racy look, or should I say Practical?

Nice wheel, tire, and brake detail.

               What is practical are the two big black mirrors that are packed separately for the buyer to slip into holes drilled atop the doors. That was easy, and you’re given two extra in case you break or lose one.

               One other note, in case you think that front trunk (frunk) is useless, well the targa top will slide in there upside down for later use. Clever, both in real life and in this hyper-realistic model.

               Practical or racy Regera is one gorgeous car and Autoart creates one gorgeous model.

Vital Stats: Koenigsegg Regera

Maker: Autoart
Scale: 1/18
Stock No.: 79027
MSRP: $300

Link: Autoartmodels.com

Car Spot: The much-maligned PT Cruiser

A car that could have been so much more …

Remember about 20 years ago when the car manufacturers were caught up in its nostalgia faze? That’s the period that gave us the new Mini Cooper, new VW Beetle, and Chrysler PT Cruiser. I know what you’re thinking. Either it was the coolest car or lamest car ever. That’s the way it rolled during its nine-year run from 2001-2010. But if you’re with the “lamest car ever” crowd I ask, how did it end up selling more than 1 million copies?

Clean PT Cruiser I spotted while on vacation in Fl

PT Cruiser was described as “segment busting” in the marketplace in its introduction where then Chrysler’s Dieter Zetsche (Remember: “Merger of Equals”) described it as a continuing example of the automaker’s innovation for new segments as well as “demonstrates that you can have head-turning style, practicality, and value all in one package.” The automotive press agreed. In 2001 Car and Driver named the PT Cruiser to its Ten Best list and the PT Cruiser also won the North American Car of the Year.

The interior packaging was noted for its high-roof, high h-point seating, and flexible cargo and passenger configurations—a multi-level cargo shelf as well as a fold, tumble, and removable rear seating. Chrysler designed the PT Cruiser to fit the NHTSA criteria for a light truck in order to bring the average fuel efficiency of the company’s truck fleet into compliance with CAFE standards. Engines included two four bangers, a six, turbo diesel, and turbo four. My mom had one of these and just loved it.

There were a bunch of updates and special editions available during the car’s, err truck’s, nine-year run. Among them, Classic edition, Limited edition, Touring edition, Couture edition, “Dream Cruiser”, “Street Cruiser”, “Pacific Coast Highway” edition”, and PT Cruiser GT. In fact, it was the ability to customize the PT Cruiser that made it so popular.

The non-GT Turbo (180 hp) edition models, introduced in 2004, were identified by a “2.4L Turbo” badge on the lower right-hand corner of the rear lift-gate like this one I found on a recent trip to Florida. The GT model, introduced in 2003, had a “2.4L Turbo High Output” badge on the right-hand corner of the lift-gate indicating the 215–230 hp engine version.

Car was originally going to be sold through Chrysler and Plymouth.

The car is a great example of a manufacturer simply forgetting about the car. Sales dropped off and the production run ended. But there is still a devout following for the car with owner groups all over the country. You can pick a GT up for under $3,000. Fun car for not a lot of money.

Be sure to check back next Friday for another one of my car spots and have a great weekend.

2022 BMW M440i xDrive Gran Coupe

Lively M440i noses ahead of luxury coupe competition …

Back in the day (old dudes expression) BMW’s 2002 coupe wasn’t so grand, it was just light and lively and sold like schnitzel in Munich.

Now the German brand’s M440i xDrive is a Gran Coupe that is less light, but awfully lively with 382 horsepower compared with 99 in that original 1960s model. It’s everything a sporting driver could want in a compact Gran Coupe, and I’m sorry, but I like the nose. Then again I liked the Edsel’s nose, back in the day.

Sadly almost every review of BMW’s 4 Series hot rod dwells on its two large kidney-shaped grilles that dominate its beak. Journalists who may have praised the Pontiac Aztek’s dramatic looks or Chrysler’s PT Cruiser for its daring retro design are whining that this nose is “too much.”

They forget that nearly all of today’s luxury makes, and a growing number of others, now tout massive grilles, usually featuring a logo the size of a human head at their middle. Some look better than others.

I also recall both BMW using similar designs in the past and those being considered Iconic. Even Pontiac (remember Ponty?) often used similar styling on its noses, considered sporty, back in the day.

So let’s move beyond the nose. Besides, all the young guys I asked Loved the nose and instantly knew this M440i was a Bimmer. I’m pretty sure BMW’s marketing folks would consider that a success.

This sharp-looking fastback IS fast, nimble and delivers a surprisingly comfortable ride, all at a decidedly luxury price tag.

Watch Mark’s video: Mark Savage reviews the 2022 BMW 440i which sort of looks like a Pontiac – YouTube

First, Gran Coupe’s silhouette oozes speed and sleekness as the rear window and roofline blends right into the short trunk lid. But it’s not just the trunk lid that opens. No, that entire structure, window and trunk open like a hatch. It’s massive, but works fine. Of course the rear seats split and fold in case long cargo needs transported.

Yet it’s unlikely that M440i buyers are primarily seeking cargo carriers.

No, the Gran Coupe is for ripping along highways and rural roads at speed, cornering like it’s a racer. That’s why there’s a twin-turbo 3.0-liter I6 beneath its long snout. As mentioned prior, the turbomeister cranks 382 horses and delivers 369 pound-feet of torque, yet does it so smoothly via the 8-speed automatic that you’ll barely notice when you hit 100+ on a freeway entry ramp. Don’t ask how I know.

Now if you’d care to save some coin and maybe get slightly better gas mileage, a 2.0-liter I4 that makes “just” 255 horses is available in the base BMW 430i, but it’s just rear-wheel-drive.

This M440i xDrive comes with all-wheel-drive, hence the xDrive moniker. That assures all the power is delivered to the appropriate wheels once roads becoming slippery. I’m looking at you Wisconsin.

It seems to me that through the years BMW has softened its ride and steering in most models, just enough to make them feel plush and luxurious on normal Midwest roads. However, the sporty nature is always there, as is the power. This M440i is all that.

Ride is comfortable in all modes (Comfort, Eco Pro, Adaptive), save for Sport. That firms the steering and ride. Steering tightening is welcome, but the firmer suspension setting makes the ride overly stiff. Stick with Comfort for normal driving, or Adaptive that supposedly chooses the appropriate gearing, steering input and ride quality that is called for at any instant.

In any case there is a sport suspension here with struts up front and a fine multi-link system in back – well-controlled, never punishing!

Inside the BMW remains sophisticated and well laid out. Seating is tan leather while the entire interior runs with a black over tan theme. So the dash and door tops are black, the tan trim below that, plus satin chrome trim on dash and doors with a bit of black wood on the passenger’s side dash. That wood is featured on the console’s top too, again with satin chrome trim.

Dash layout is simple and the infotainment screen is a 10.3-incher and easy to see and adjust. There are 8 radio preset buttons below the screen and a small volume control knob for the radio. There’s also a volume adjustment on the steering wheel hub.

Oddly the seats are manually adjusted with a couple handles on the seat’s side and a bar under the lower cushion. I’d expect power at this price. Seats are comfortable and supportive, as you’d expect in a performance-oriented coupe. They also are heated, but not cooled, again something I’d expect at this level.

BMW’s steering wheel is heated too, with a button nestled just below the center hub. However, this is a standard round wheel, where a sportier flat-bottomed wheel makes sense.

Good screen and climate controls make operation easy while driving.

There’s also a good-sized sunroof overhead and a wireless charger just below the center stack. An inside trunk release button is on the driver’s door.

Gas mileage was surprisingly good for a performance car. I got 25.5 mpg in about 60% highway driving, but with several heavy acceleration bursts (solely for test purposes). Sadly to get its full horsepower this twin-turbo prefers premium (93 octane). The EPA rates the car at 22 mpg city and 29 mpg highway, which beats all the SUVs and most of the non-hybrid crossovers.

Stylish wheels and red brake calipers add some flare.

So what are the damages here?

Not so rough at the entry 430i level with the lower horsepower engine and RWD. The base is $46,195, while the tested M440i xDrive jumps to $59,195, including delivery.

But this one was a snazzy dark metallicSan Remo Green that added $550, plus there were six other options that jumped the M440i to $67,520. Most surprising was a $350 add-on for a Sensa-Tec dash, which translates to soft vinyl. Again, I would expect that to be standard.

A nice addition for $875 is the fine Harman Kardon surround sound audio system, much less costly than the $3,200 Volvo wanted for its Bowers & Wilkins system upgrade in the XC60 a few weeks ago. Ouch!

Other add-ons include a $2,400 cooling and high-performance tire package with an upgraded M sport suspension and performance tires, plus fancy double-spoke, bi-color alloy wheels, along with a parking assistance package for $700 that adds a surround view camera and parking sensors.

How’s this for a handsome, stylish door panel?

A driving assistance professional package adds front cross-traffic alert, smart cruise control with Stop & Go, active driving assistant pro, an evasion aid, active lane keeping assist with side collision avoidance, traffic jam assistant and extended traffic jam assistant, for $1,700. I suspect the smart cruise control is optional as BMW designs its cars for enthusiastic drivers who may not want that feature standard.

Finally, for $1,750 the premium package adds a head-up display, the heated front seats and steering wheel, ambient lighting and gesture control technology, which may make you think it won’t allow you to give other drivers hand gestures. Would that it could stop that. But it really allows a driver to make a sweeping motion to turn the radio’s volume up or down, decline a phone call or change a rear camera angle.

Without all the doodads an M440i xDrive could be had in the low $60,000 range and while that’s a luxury price tag, it’s a bargain for this amount of performance.

FAST STATS: 2022 BMW M440i xDrive Gran Coupe

Hits: Sharp fastback styling, super acceleration, sporty handling and good ride. Heated wheel and seats, multiple drive modes, wireless charger, sophisticated interior with big screen, sunroof, and supportive seats.

Misses: Prefers premium unleaded, price. Plus needs flat-bottom wheel, cooled seats and powered seats.

Made in: Dingolfing, Germany

Engine: 3.0-liter twin turbo I6, 382 hp/369 torque

Transmission: 8-speed automatic

Weight: 4,169 lbs.

Wheelbase: 112.4 in.

Length: 188.5 in.

Cargo: 12.0 cu.ft.

MPG: 22/29

MPG: 25.5 (tested)

Base Price: $59,195 (includes delivery)

Invoice: $55,620

Options:

San Remo Green Metallic paint, $550

Cooling, high-performance tire package (M tech pkg, adaptive M suspension & tire mobility kit, P245/40R19 Front & P255/40R19 rear high-perf tires, M double-spoke bi-color style 861M alloy wheels), $2,400

Driving assistance professional package (front cross-traffic alert, smart cruise control w/Stop & Go, active driving  assistant pro, evasion aid, active lane keeping assist w/side collision avoidance, traffic jam assistant & extended traffic jam assistant), $1,700

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

Premium package (gesture control technology, HUD, ambient lighting, heated front seats & steering wheel), $1,750

SensaTec dashboard, $350

Harman Kardon surround sound, $875

Test vehicle: $67,520

Sources: BMW, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

Car Spot: Cadillac Allanté

A Caddy with an Italian accent

I was a huge fan of the Dallas tv series that ran for 14 seasons beginning in 1978. One of the reasons was to watch bad guy J. R. Ewing played by Larry Hagman, screw his arch neminsis Cliff Barnes, played by Ken Kercheval. I remember well the car J. R. drove through parts of the series, a Cadillac Allanté.

With Mercedes and Jaguar chipping into Caddy sales in the 80s they were looking for something that would combine European design with a well-known coachbuilder and the Allanté was going to be it. I’m going to throw in a little bit of Nash history here because the Allanté utilized a similar international production arrangment as Nash did with its Nash-Healey in the early 50s where the bodies were built in Italy and final assembly was in the US.

Allanté in for service I saw on a recent trip to Florida.

But here’s where things get goofy. After the Allanté body was produced by Pininfarina in Italy, were then loaded on a specially equipted Boeing 747, flown 4,600 miles, 56 bodies at a time, landed at Coleman Young International Airport in Detroit and then trucked the final three miles to Cadillac’s then new Hamtramck Assembly Plant. The marketing guys came up with a name for this crazyness, the “Allanté Air Bridge”.

The car went head to head with the Mercedes-Benz SL and Jaguar XJS, and initially featured a slightly modified variant of the 4.1 L V8 used across Cadillac’s model line and later upped to 4.5 L in 1989, and upgraded to the 4.6 L L37 Northstar in its final year, 1993. It rode on a shortened the front-drive Eldorado frame.

The car was loaded with tech, especially for the time period, such as a Delco-GM/Bose Symphony Sound System, the industry’s first power retractable AM/FM/Cellular Telephone antenna, and a complex lamp-out module that substituted an adjacent lamp for a burned-out bulb in the exterior lighting system until the dead one could be replaced were all standard. There was just one option, a cellular telephone, installed in a lockable center console. The base price was $54,700 twice that of a standard Eldorado.

The first modern-era two-passenger roadster to wear the Cadillac name since the Cadillac Series 355 roadster body style of the mid-1930s was really too expensive to produce and there weren’t just that many takers, 21,430. The last Allanté built was flown from Turin, Italy on July 2, 1993, and completed at Detroit-Hamtramck 14 days later. This, to me, is another example of a big fail by GM and its history is full of them.

With such low numbers, you’d think that the Allanté might be a good investment as a collector car but you’d be wrong. A check on Hemmings and I found examples for around 10 grand all the way up to 60 grand. Still like many other examples I’ve shared in my spots, this one has a very loyal following.

Be sure to check back next Friday for another one of my car spots and have a great weekend.

1959 Cadillac Rat Fink hearse

Auto World Eldorado goes wild with Kustom Kartoon Kreation …

OK, I get it, Rat Fink is a cultural icon.

For some reason folks were drawn to the grotesque caricature of a rat with bulging bloodshot eyes ogling a 1950s hot rod or fondling a gear shift knob as he drooled in the bucket seat of a custom car. I didn’t get it.

But the 1950s and 1960s were strange times with a lot of drugs. I was just a kid.

Yet the Kustom Kulture movement got started on the West Coast as men home from World War II and the Korean War started jazzing up and customizing old 1930s car bodies and making fancy street rods, which just carried on into the 1960s.

Ed “Big Daddy” Roth started creating T-shirts with his crazy looking Rat Fink and selling them through Car Craft magazine with 1959 credited for the Fink slithering into the spotlight. So it’s appropriate in a way that Auto World’s funky new Rat Fink Hearse is a 1959 Cadillac Eldorado. This 1:18 scale metal diecast model is an absolute eyeful that will immediately become the centerpiece of any large diecast car display.

The History

I’ve touched on the history a bit, but for the uninitiated let’s dig a little deeper. Sales of Roth’s “Weirdo shirts” blew up in late 1959 and others soon were hopping on the custom band wagon. His monsters in hot rod shirts not only took off, but Roth designed the Outlaw, a fiberglass custom rod and the Beatnik Bandit along with some dune buggies that made the movies and kept the momentum going as custom car magazines were happy to have a media star.

Rat Fink itself got so popular that Revell made a plastic kit of the creepy creature, along with some of the other Roth characters, such as Brother Rat Fink, Mr. Gasser and Drag Nut. The rest, as the trite saying goes, is history.

Roth for his part kept making funky cars and motorcycles, had a band, and participated in all sorts of custom car exhibits and shows for the rest of his life. He died in 2001.

The Model

               So what have we here? Well, Auto World has made a number of Cadillac and Chevy hearses and ambulances for collectors.  Those include 1:64 and 1:18 scale models of the 1959 and 1966 Cadillac, plus a 1957 Chevy ambulance and hearse in 1:64 scale.

               This ’59 Eldo is a dark metallic red (not your usual hearse color), with a blacked out windshield and printed dark green curtains lining the long vehicle’s side windows, looking to caricature drapes in old hearses and fitting neatly with the Rat Fink theme.

               Of course there are Rat Fink touches everywhere, but dominated by the monster Fink himself on the Caddy’s expansive roof. Here the Fink is a slimy green with a black R.F. shirt and top hat, appropriate for his undertaking duties here. Of course there are the hairy ears, bulging eyes and slim sharp pointy rat teeth too, and his warty feet and tail providing him support. A few flies circle his stinky head.

               The Rat Fink logo in black, looking like a devilish Mickey Mouse (that’s who Roth was supposedly pimping originally) graces the hood. Beneath the logo are the words “Rat Poison!” near the hood’s front edge. The Cadillac logo is silvered out so again cartoon-like.

               Right behind the headlights on the side panel are flying bloodshot eyeballs and the hearse’s sides feature red and silvery gray Rat Fink profile logos (again reflecting Mickey Mouse, but with teeth) in a pattern like wallpaper. Lime green accents scroll along the top of that side decoration and the green and gold (Green Bay Packer colors?) jagged letters along the side spell out Rat Fink. What else?

               The blacked out rear three-quarter windows and hearse hatch include a stylized white top hat in one, green and white Haulin’ Hearse in back and then white script of Ed “Big Daddy” Roth in the other rear window. The black tail features red and white words reading “Rat Fink Rod.”

               From the car standpoint the hood, doors and rear hearse door open and the wheels are steerable.

               As with any ’59 Caddy there is chrome everywhere from the huge front grille and bumpers to the rear with its jet-like lower taillight trim to the rocket like tail fins and light surrounds. Head and taillights look realistic and the hearse features chrome mirrors, strakes on the hood, wipers and trim just under that blacked-out windshield. Side windows are trimmed in silver paint.

               The black dash is nicely detailed and the bench seat in front is black and lime green to complement the car’s exterior markings and those green drapes. There’s a divider window behind the front seat and an empty body-color cargo area where presumably a hideous Kustom Kreature would be creeping out of a Kustom Kasket in “real” life.

               Tires are wide white sidewalls with no branding and the undercarriage is detailed with twin exhausts.

               This one is just for fun, and certainly recreates the caricature-rich look of Rat Fink on a custom hearse of all things. It’s irreverent, silly, creepy and wacky, just like the original demands and a fitting tribute to Roth’s imagination.             

Vital Stats: 1959 Cadillac Rat Fink Hearse

Maker: Auto World
Scale: 1/18
Stock No.: AW303
MSRP: $131.99

Link: Autoworldstore.com

Car Spot: Dodge Magnum

A superfast grocery getter …

Show of hands. How many reading this remember station wagons? Most likely it was your parents who purchased one to haul the family around on vacations. We had a 1967 AMC Rebel and went all over the country with it. I remember dad ordering it and opting for the 290 V8. This was the Gen-2 short-deck that produced a respectable 225 hp. That engine was the basis for AMC’s upcoming entry into Trans-Am and the muscle car era. But the words station wagon and muscle car were almost never mentioned in the same breath.

Magnum ad I found for sale on eBay

Fast forward to 2005 when the words came together in the form of the Dodge Magnum. Where, for under $38 grand you could get a people hauler that was capable of 0-60 in less than six seconds, when ordered as the RT version with its 345ci Hemi V8 producing 340 horsepower.

Dodge Magnum I spotted in for service at a shop in Florida when I was visiting

This was the handywork of soon to retire head of design Tom Gale and done before the “merger of equals” with Daimler in 1998. Don’t get me started on that because my dad was there during that fiasco.

Based on the Chrysler LX platform the Magnum RT used the Mercedes-Benz derived 5-speed automatic. It also had fog lights; a bright grille; leather seats, steering wheel, and shifter; and a six-speaker stereo along with four-wheel disc brakes and anti-locks were also part of the deal.

The car sold well and was well-received by the automotive press and in 2005 was one of Car and Driver’s Ten Best. There’s an AMC connection here because it was built in Brampton, Ontario, a plant that AMC had bought just before being purchased by Chrysler in 1987.

Like so many fun cars, this one has a sad ending.

On Nov. 1, 2007, Chrysler announced that, as part of its restructuring plans, the Dodge Magnum would be one of four models discontinued after the 2008 model year. In Chrysler’s words: “The Magnum, along with the PT Cruiser convertible, the Crossfire, and the Pacifica were not earning their keep”. Production ended on March 28, 2008.

I was at a media event just after this and was told by an insider that it was a retiring Chrysler executive who never liked the Magnum that convinced management to pull the plug. There were almost 170,000 of this iteration of the Magnum which is not a bad number when you consider vehicles that have sold less have stuck around a lot longer. Had this vehicle somehow found a fan in the company to save it for a bit longer, there’s almost no way it would still be alive in the current environment where SUVs have taken the place of the station wagon.

But the vehicle has created almost a cult following and you can pick up the RT’s more muscular brother, the SRT8, which had a bigger Hemi and could do 0-60 in just a touch over 5 seconds for under $25 grand.

Be sure to check back next Friday for another one of my car spots and have a great weekend.

1957 Chevrolet Bel Air Convertible

Auto World launches its first Barbie Bel Air in 1:18 scale …

Turquoise and pink certainly team up to shout 1950s car fashion, but in this case they also scream Barbie dream car.

I’m no Barbie expert (no sisters), but I do know that the bosomy blonde doll has been partial to brightly colored cars through the years, from Corvettes to Campers. And although the iconic toy doll debuted in 1959, it took until 1988 before maker Mattel slipped her behind the wheel of a 1950s American classic, a 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air Convertible.

This was the original plastic Mattel Barbie Bel Air.

 Well, that classic was plastic, and not very detailed. Now comes an eye-popping die-cast metal version from Auto World, which makes dozens of 1950s-1970s muscle cars and other vintage automotive icons. The same quality and attention to detail as in its other cars and trucks is present in this Barbie special, being marketed under its Silver Screen Machines category as the “Coolest car in town!”

Indeed, Barbie has driven a lot of cars from an Austin Healey early on to Ferraris and the ’57 Chevy. All have been various shades of pink, with other bright colors mixed in. But mostly Barbie is seems a girly girl, so pink drives her world.

Auto World knows that, so it will offer two 1:18 Bel Air convertibles, the first out being a turquoise and chrome stunner with a Pepto pink interior. Trust me, this one will stand out in any die-cast collection. Later (as if this isn’t eye-melting enough) Auto World plans to release a bright pink version. I’d stick with turquoise, which was a popular Chevy color back in the day.

Here’s what you get.

The Model

               Like all Auto World die-cast models there is plenty of functionality here, with opening doors, hood and steerable front wheels. The trunk here is sealed.

               In addition to the stunning paint scheme, there’s enough chrome to create a worldwide chrome shortage. That’s a good thing, right?

               The massive front and rear bumpers are chrome, as are the head and taillight surrounds, the rocker panel trim, the side accent line trim and fins, plus door handles, wiper arms and windshield frame. Plus the two hood sights and vent window frames are chrome too.

               Hub caps are chrome with chrome center wheel nuts with red centers and tiny Chevy bowtie logos. I might have gone with pink centers, to go full-on Barbie here.

               Those big protruding bumper guards on the front that look like, well, you know. Those are black-tipped, as they would have been on an original ’57 Chevy.

               On the lower fin trim in back is Bel Air in copper script while just in front of the doors are the patented crossed Chevy flag logos with Fuel Injection printed beneath.

               Under the hood is the Chevy red engine block with silver air filter and fuel injection system, a black battery and radiator with black horn on the front left. Big hood hinges allow the hood to be easily posed in the up position.

               The Barbie car’s interior is what you’ll likely notice first, and if you’re a Barbie fan and collector this is what will light your fuse. The seats are bright pink with white (or is that pale pink) inserts with Barbie in cursive on the driver’s seat back. The pink tonneau includes a white silhouette of a pony-tailed young woman at its center and tiny painted silver snap heads all about the tonneau’s edge, ostensibly to keep the tonneau in place.

               Door handles and window cranks are chrome or painted silver and there’s a pink dash with chrome trim on its face, plus three nicely detailed instrument panel dials. A radio face graces that chrome dash trim and Barbie is again in script on the passenger’s side dash top. Overhead? Pink sun visors, of course. Heck, even the steering wheels is pink, with a chromed horn ring.

               As with other Auto World cars there’s a detailed undercarriage with dual exhausts.

               Finally, under the trunk’s golden chevron and Chevy script is the 1957 California license plate you may already expect. It reads … Barbie.

Final Word  

Could there be more Barbie cars in the future? Well, a quick look around the internet found there are others to choose from to be sure, including racer Collete Davis’ version of a Nissan Z car. Hmmmm!

How about this hot rod (Collete’s Z car) in 1:18 scale?

Vital Stats: 1957 Chevy Bel Air Convertible

Maker: Auto World
Scale: 1/18
Stock No.: AWSS135
MSRP: $131.99

Link: Autoworldstore.com

2022 Lexus NX 350 F Sport

Restyled NX puts emphasis on tech and sassy performance …

            Small, sassy and techy, that’s Lexus restyled NX 350, a compact crossover aimed directly at the better-off retiree or suburban family with no more than two kids.

            I suppose I think of NX being aimed at newly retired Boomers because of its luxury price tag that can hit $60,000. Seems a family with two pre-teens might not be able to swing that kinda car loan.

            But in any case, Lexus has massaged the NX’s styling, quieted it’s interior further, added a more solid driving feel and now offers four powertrains to fit various wallets and energy-consciousness levels.

Oh, and let’s get this up front, that darned Lexus touchpad on the console to control the infotainment screen is GONE. Praise be!

First the basics starting with trims and powertrains. NX is available in 12, that’s right, a dozen trim levels. The base NX 250 with a 203-horse 2.5-liter I4 is the only one without AWD standard, but it’s an option.

Starting with the NX 350h and 350 (no h), AWD is standard. The 350h is a hybrid coupling two electric motors with the 2.5-liter I4 to create 239 horsepower, adding a bit more oomph while improving gas mileage. This is the same system found in sister brand Toyota’s RAV4, and which has drawn raves from me and other auto pilots.

The NX 350 (stay with me here) touts a 2.4-liter turbo I4 that jumps power up to 275 horses and a torque rating of 317 lb.-ft. Turbos always cram more torque into a powerplant so it’ll accelerate quicker and that’s what the tested NX 350 F Sport that I tested was packing. Power off the line is considerable and gives the NX a sportier feel than one might expect from a Lexus. And while the cabin is relatively quiet, there is some engine chatter when tromping the accelerator.

More on performance in a second, but lastly there’s a plug-in hybrid model too, the NX 450h that creates 302 horsepower and a 0-60 mph time of 6 seconds flat. That’s hustling for a crossover.

Its plug-in charge reportedly lasts about 36 miles and this upper-end model starts at $57,800 with delivery, and the F Sport model pushing that even higher. Note though that there’s a $7,500 tax credit on the plug-ins.

If you’ve stuck with me through all that, you deserve to hear more about the tested 350 F Sport.

Watch Mark’s video: Mark Savage reviews the 2022 Lexus NX350 F Sport – YouTube

It’s perky with quick giddyup due to that turbo, and the steering is fairly quick too, so an aggressive driver can push it into turns for a sport-oriented drive. The F Sport Handling feature on this model tunes the suspension for a sportier feel with front and rear shock performance dampers and adaptive variable suspension.

Tied to that are five drive modes from Eco to Sport+ which is the high-performance setting. That makes for a stiffer ride and handling, plus more aggressive acceleration via the 8-speed automatic.

Ride is well controlled in any case, but remains on the firmer side. Braking also is massive considering the vehicle’s size and weight. Lexus uses 12.9-inch vented discs up front and 12.5-inch vented rear discs. Stopping comes quickly.

A reminder that AWD is standard.

Outside, the NX 350 reminds me of the Mazda CX-5 and CX-30 crossovers with sizeable grilles and a beaklike nose where the hood extends out a tad over the grille. I like the look, although some folks consider the Lexus grille a bit much. I defend it as so many other makes have followed suit of late, imitation being the sincerest form of flattery. The crossover’s tail is distinctive too with a light bar across the hatch.

Inside, the Redline (bright red) test NX featured stunning red and black perforated leather seats along with red leather on the doors and console. The dash top is black and there’s gloss black trim by the giant 14-inch screen and edges of the console.

That monster screen is certainly easy to see and without that annoying touch pad that adorned past Lexus consoles it’s a vast improvement, because it’s a touchscreen, and also can be controlled via the Intelligent Assistant. No, that’s not a family member that rides along, but the AI voice recognition system that responds to “Hey Lexus.” A warning here, you WILL say Alexa to it at least a couple times.

The touchscreen is not hard to use, but I’d like to see some real knobs and buttons, especially dedicated Home, Radio and Map buttons to get you quickly where you want to go. I say this, knowing my voice can tell the computer, but old habits die hard. Still, kudos to Lexus for finally replacing the touch pad.

Rest of the dash is fine and easy to see, plus there are good sightlines to the side as the NX allows some space between the side mirrors and A-pillars to improve visibility.

Seating is sport-oriented too with fabulous lower back and kidney support as the seats wrap around and caress the back and sides. Power seats of course, along with heated front seats (cooled is optional). A Cold Package ($250) adds a heated steering wheel along with heated wipers and deicer system plus a PTC heater for quicker heating.

There’s also an F Sport Luxury package for $2,200 that upgrades to that 14-inch screen for one that’s just short of 10 inches. The package also delivers that Hey Lexus system, ambient lighting, the cooled front seats, a special nav system and park assist, along with a power hatch activated by swinging your foot beneath the rear bumper.

Lexus goes with a big touchscreen, eliminating its annoying console touchpad.

Sunroof fans will love the panoramic moonroof that covers front and back seats. It costs $1,600 extra. A fine Mark Levinson premium audio system with 17 speakers (8.5 for each ear) is $1,020 extra too.

Four more options on the test NX pushed it from a $47,725 starting price (with delivery) to $55,325, which seems high for this size vehicle. But be assured NX is a high-tech tour de force.

For safety there’s the usual systems like rear cross-traffic, a 360-camera, blind-spot warning and lane departure. Lexus also adds road sign assist, smart cruise, intelligent high-beams, and curve speed management.

Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard as is a safety connect system to call for help and Wi-Fi connect too.

The steering column is a power tilt/telescope model but it’s disappointing that Lexus still doesn’t add a flat-bottom steering wheel to its F Sport models. That makes no sense.

There is, however, a wireless charging system and push-button door releases. Those seem gimmicky, although they worked fine. For safety’s sake you also can pull them back like a normal lever to release the door. The push-button system seems like technology solving a non-existent problem.

Rear seats will fold flat manually to extend the cargo area, but that space is pretty generous as is, plus there’s hidden storage under the rear floor. Reportedly the hybrid versions have the same cargo space, meaning batteries don’t cut into the cargo area.

Gas mileage is OK. I got 22.2 mpg in about 70% highway driving and the EPA rates this at 22 mpg city and 28 highway. The real hurt is that premium fuel is recommended. Ouch!

But again, this is a small luxury crossover, so you’re expecting some premium costs. Note though that with some option restraint an NX 350 or 350h can be had for $41,700 to $45 grand or so. That’s the entry-level luxury range now.

FAST STATS: 2022 Lexus NX 350 F Sport

Hits: Distinctive styling, good power, nice handling, controlled ride and AWD. Stellar interior design, big touchscreen, massive sunroof, power tilt/telescope steering wheel, heated/cooled seats, super contoured seats, 5 drive modes, wireless charger, good sight lines.

Misses: Needs flat-bottom steering wheel, more knobs to simplify using touchscreen, and push-button door releases feel gimmicky. Also needs premium fuel, ouch! 

Made in: Miyawaka, Fukuoka, Japan

Engine: 2.4-liter turbo I4, 275 hp/317 torque

Transmission: 8-speed automatic, AWD

Weight: 4,035 lbs.

Wheelbase: 105.9 in.

Length: 183.5 in.

Cargo: 22.7 – 46.9 cu.ft.

MPG: 22/28

MPG: 22.2 (tested)

Base Price: $47,725 (includes delivery)

Invoice: $44,695

Major Options:

Cold package (heated steering wheel, heated wiper/window deicer, PTC heater), $250

Triple beam headlamps w/washers, cornering lamps, $850

F Sport Luxury (14-inch touchscreen, Drive Connect w/Cloud navigation, Intelligent Assistant (Hey, Lexus), destination assist, ambient lighting, power rear hatch w/kick sensor, cooled front seats, intelligent park assist), $2,200

Mark Levinson premium audio w/17 speakers, $1,020

Panoramic moonroof, $1,600

Panoramic view monitor, lane change assist, front cross-traffic alert, $1,070

Towing package, $160

Smart phone convenience package, $450

Test vehicle: $55,325

Sources: Lexus, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

2022 Hyundai Palisade Calligraphy AWD

8 people can ride in style in this upscale Calligraphy model …

Think stylish vehicles and you’d be wise these days to first turn your attention to Hyundai or Kia. The two South Korean carmakers have been breaking the staid auto world’s styling molds for several years now.

Case in point, the tested Hyundai Palisade Calligraphy, an 8-person SUV and family hauler that looks and feels way ritzier than it is. The grille, the lights, the interior, all are standout lookers and clothed in a Sierra Burgundy (think dark metallic red wine) the test SUV looked out of place in my 1950s subdivision. Even its color was trendsetting, or make that trend breaking.

In a world of gray, white and black vehicles (those are the three top-selling “colors” now) the dark red Palisade looked special. People pointed at it like I was hauling a Kardashian to the Oscars for crying out loud.

Really there’s not a lot new to talk about here. I praised the original 2020 Palisade after taking a trip to Louisville and back in it. Comfort, quiet, the snazzy interior and solid power from its 3.8-liter V6 all impressed. Now it gains a bevy of safety equipment as standard and this Calligraphy model is the top trim, so loaded with oodles of whiz-bangs that might be optional on other makes at this price.

So there are the looks, maybe too bold for some, but they can have their gray blend-in mobiles. I like the grille and snazzy lights front and rear. Happy with that V6 too as it delivers a strong 291 horses and smoothly via an 8-speed automatic with Shiftronic, which allows a driver to override the automatic with manual shifts, no clutch of course.

Handling is fairly quick too, making it extremely easy to control on the highway and ride is composed without being plush or floaty. A long wheelbase helps that.

AWD is $1,700 extra on all trim levels, but certainly makes sense in our sloppy Wisconsin climate.

Watch Mark’s video: Mark Savage reviews the 2022 Hyundai Palisade Calligraphy AWD – YouTube

Note too there are five drive modes, Comfort, Eco, Sport, Snow and Smart, which is said to learn your driving style and adjust the shifts to fit your needs and wants. Sport does enliven the acceleration a bit and firms steering too. Yet Comfort was fine 95% of the time; I mostly engaged Sport when zipping onto a freeway.

Did a lot of freeway driving in this too, probably 70% which made the trip computer predict I was getting 20.2 mpg, while in reality it was 19.5. That’s in the Palisade’s wheelhouse of 19 mpg city and 24 highway for the AWD version. The front-drive model earns 26 mpg on the highway. That could be important as gas prices head to the stratosphere.

But for family hauling Palisade is certainly competitive with other large SUVs and minivans on the gas mileage front.

It also has an advantage on many because it will haul eight passengers if you opt for the center row bench seat, no extra charge. Go with the more comfy captain’s chairs and it’ll haul seven adults. That’s right, there’s plenty of legroom in the third row and the one-touch second row seats slide forward easily to let a grownup crawl aboard with minimal grunting and groaning. Second row seats can be positioned to create reasonable foot and legroom for both second and third-row occupants. Bonus!

The third row of seats has adequate room and the second and third row fold flat too.

Granted storage behind that third row is not spacious, but will hold eight bags of groceries. Smartly Hyundai offers power third-row and second-row fold downs via buttons inside the rear hatch. So if you’re loading a lot of goods it’s simple to press a couple buttons and lower the seats for cargo hauling.

This interior is stellar in nearly all ways, and certainly from a quietness and styling standpoint. The tester was decked out in light gray (nearly white) Nappa leather with a bit of quilting pattern on the seatbacks and a sophisticated light tan to gray fake wood trim on the doors and dash. The wood is in strips with satin chrome trim between each layer. Classy!

Overhead is a soft gray simulated suede headliner that helps soak up any excess noise that somehow manages to creep into the cockpit. Trim on the console is a satin chrome herringbone pattern while the dash’s top is black and overhead is a power sunroof up front and power sun shade over a larger stationary roof for the rear two rows of seats.

Standard here is a heated steering wheel, heated and cooled front seats, heated rear seats and 360-degree backup camera along with wireless charger in the console and 10.25-inch infotainment screen that’s simple to use.

Fantastic dash design with large easy-to-use buttons and screen.

In fact, the Hyundai dash is so well designed it’s easy to figure out from the moment you sit in Palisade, no fumbling for knobs that aren’t there or hunting for vague icons that don’t let you know where to find the heat or radio. This is how interiors should function and Hyundai interior designers deserve a big pay increase.

Buttons are all large and logically laid out and the radio tuning is intuitive. No electrical engineering degree is required, a benefit for us less schooled, or old-school, drivers.

Need more? Well, the Calligraphy model comes with a snazzy Harmon Kardon stereo system including attractive satin chrome covered door speakers that look like a jeweler designed them. Sound is good and tuning is easy.

Beautiful design with wood grains atop the door and diamond-pattern leather too.

Flip a turn signal lever and cameras light up in round screens on the instrument panel, one for left turns, one for right, showing you the road and blind-spot behind you in that lane to avoid fender benders and curb scrapes.

Safety equipment is plentiful too, along with lane-keeping assist, forward collision avoidance, driver attention warning, smart cruise control and such, Hyundai adds blind-spot warning, rear cross-traffic alert, turn signals in the side mirrors and safe exit assist. This later item is becoming a norm now and alerts a person when a door is unlatched but oncoming traffic could be a danger. Still best to look over your shoulder, but this may help avoid losing a door when the driver or passenger is distracted. Cool too that the lane departure system can be turned off to avoid unwanted beeps as you dodge construction and pot holes.

Also standard on Calligraphy is a perforated leather wrap on the steering wheel, 20-inch wheels, puddle lamps and that fancy satin chrome trim. Standard on most models too is a power hatch, along with remote start and the excellent one-touch second row seats that quickly fold and slide forward for third-row entry.

For techies, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are here, along with USB ports for the first two rows of seats.

Seats are quite comfy in most regards in all rows. The third row has a bit of a raised floor so that puts your legs at a slightly elevated angle. My only complaint is the power driver’s seat, which has a long lower cushion, meaning it hits the back of short driver’s knees and could be tiring on a long drive. Before buying, check that out if you’re 5-6, or shorter.

Finally let’s revisit Palisade’s value Palisade. First, a well-equipped minivan will cost you $50,000 these days, give or take a grand. Some SUVs will start there and work their way up to $60 grand or more.

This top-level test vehicle started at $49,615, including delivery, and added just floor mats (which should be standard on all vehicles now) for $215 to end up at $49,830.

If you’re budget is more mainstream and your doodad desires are in check, consider the base SE model at $34,575 with delivery and front-wheel drive. But the engine and mechanicals are the same as Calligraphy. An SEL model at $36,925 adds the captain’s chairs instead of 8-person seating, heated seats, power driver’s seat, remote start and three zone climate controls, so may be the best value.

The $46,815 Limited moves upscale with twin sunroofs, Nappa leather, an HUD and 360-camera, power-down third row seats, wireless charger, heated second row seats and the bigger info screen. Remember, adding AWD is an option for all trims, but so far no hybrid model is available.

Snazzy taillights on the Palisade.

Remember too that Kia’s Telluride is a kissin’ cousin to the Palisade and offers stunning styling too. Other competitors include Ford’s Explorer, Toyota’s Highlander, Honda’s Pilot, VW’s Atlas, and the new Jeep Grand Cherokee L (that means Long).

Palisade will haul any family in style in that $35,000 to $40,000 range, and if you can manage the Limited or Calligraphy it’s a luxury ride to be sure.

FAST STATS: 2022 Hyundai Palisade Calligraphy AWD

Hits: Sharp looking SUV, good power, ride and handling, plus AWD and 5 drive modes. Loaded with Harmon Kardon stereo, super center stack/console design, big screen, heated steering wheel, heated/cooled front seats, heated second row seats, turn-signal cameras, power hatch, useful third row seat, wireless charger, lane departure can be turned off.

Great looking headlight design too!

Misses: Driver’s lower seat cushion is long, hits back of short driver’s knees. No hybrid model yet.

Made in: Ulsan, So. Korea

Engine: 3.8-liter V6, 291hp/262 torque

Transmission: 8-speed automatic w/Shiftronic

Weight: 4,127 lbs.

Wheelbase: 114.2 in.

Length: 196.1 in.

Cargo: 18-86.4 cu.ft.

Tow: 5,000 lbs.

MPG: 19/24

MPG: 19.5 (tested)

Base Price: $49,615 (includes delivery)

Invoice: $47,319

Major Options: Carpeted floor mats, $215

Test vehicle: $49,830

Sources: Hyundai, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

2022 Volkswagen Jetta GLI Autobahn

VW’s Jetta a value-oriented icon that exudes the joy of car driving …

I feel a little sorry for younger drivers who have grown up riding in, and then driving, mostly trucks and SUVs. They simply won’t know how much fun it is to drive a car.

Cars are lighter, more nimble, and generally handle much better than trucks and SUVs. Often they look better too, especially hatchbacks.

And get this, they almost always get better fuel economy and cost less than their porky truck-based counterparts. With gasoline prices going gaga on us now, is it possible cars may again gain more attention?

All this is to say Volkswagen’s new Jetta GLI Autobahn is a hoot that’ll scoot.

VW’s longtime compact sedan comes in five trims, this GLI Autobahn being the top-level but with a price that may surprise, $32,990 for the automatic version, including delivery. The first four trims are even more economical, starting at $21,390 for the 6-speed manual-equipped S, which features a new 1.5-liter turbo I4 that makes 158 horsepower and 184 lb.-ft. of torque.

The Sport, SE and SEL models all feature that same engine, but the GLI Autobahn gets jiggy with a 2.0-liter turbo I4 that pumps out 228 horses and is rated at 258 for torque. That’ll get your attention when he slap the accelerator. You might even chirp the front-drive wheels. And get this, a manual tranny is available in all trims, the automatic adding just $800 to the sticker.

The Pure Gray ($395 extra) test car was an automatic (7-speed dual-clutch), but with five drive modes (Eco, Comfort, Normal, Sport, and Custom) it was easy to transform it from a comfy city car to a rocket sled heading onto the freeway. Yes, Sport mode firms the steering and crams more power to the low-end so acceleration is, quite literally, a blast. Given the proper highway entry ramp and sparse traffic triple digits are easily reached. Don’t ask how I know!

Sport also turns that turbo into a growling beast with enough exhaust resonance to wake up even a sleeping pre-teen in the back seat. Yes, grandpa still knows how to have fun!

Watch Mark’s video: Mark Savage reviews the sporty 2022 Volkswagen Jetta GLI Autobahn – YouTube

But hey, some $50,000 to $80,000 pickups and SUVs have power to jet along the freeway or down an entry ramp. However, they won’t handle like a compact sports sedan and that’s what the Jetta is, reminding me of the former BMW 2002 models, light, nimble and fun.

Jetta is light on its 18-inch black alloy wheels (part of a $595 Black Package), weighing in at just shy of 3,300 pounds. Steering is quick and responsive. This sedan corners well and makes dodging pot holes even seem fun.

Ride is firm but well controlled, so not as abrupt as one might suspect at this price and in a car with Teutonic ancestry. Ride comfort was better than many compact crossovers.

Braking is fine too with discs front (11.3-inch) and rear (10.7-inch), plus VW even paints the Autobahn’s calipers red to sexy them up. Oh, and there’s a red trim line on the blacked-out grille, and plus red stitching on the leather seats. Sharp!

This interior is fairly quiet too for the price and performance, the only rumble coming in that Sport mode, but that’s when you want it, right?

Black leather seats with that red trim give the interior a handsome, yet sporty feel and VW smartly opts for a flat-bottom steering wheel for added flair. A flat wheel helps with knee room normally too, but the Jetta’s steering column is quite thick and short drivers will find themselves tapping their right knee on it when exiting. Not a problem for taller drivers with the seat further back and legs out straighter.

Otherwise the cockpit is primo with soft dash and door surfaces and a large digital instrument panel now standard along with an 8-inch infotainment screen that’s simple to use and read. The radio includes a volume knob and there’s a volume slide on the steering wheel too.

The drive modes are activated via a button on the console and that console-mounted shifter, which includes a clutchless manual feature, is trimmed in red. Ach du lieber!

There’s a sunroof and manual shade overhead and VW’s seats are well-contoured for lower back and hip support. The driver’s seat is powered, but the passenger’s is manual. However, both are heated and cooled. A wireless charger under the center stack also is standard on this trim.

Standard too is smart cruise control and most of the safety features one now expects, rearview camera, cross-traffic alert, blind-spot monitor, plus lane departure assist and warning.

Jetta Autobahn also touts remote start, illuminated door sills, a snazzy Beats 9-speaker audio system, automatic climate control, stainless steel pedals and three seat memory buttons for the driver.

Front and rear seat room is good for four adults, five folks will fit if one is smallish. And those rear seats split and fold, naturally. Yet the trunk is large at 14.1 cubic feet, so several good size suitcases will fit, no problem.

The manual version of the Jetta with the smaller engine nets 26 mpg city and 37 mpg highway says the EPA. Automatics these days are comparable. I got 26.6 mpg in a mix of city and highway driving during cold snowy weather, so I’d expect a bit better most times.

VW’s Autobahn trim comes so well equipped you may not need to add any options, but this one came in the special color (really, gray is special?) and the $595 Black Package added a black roof, tiny lip of a rear spoiler, black 18-inch alloy wheels and black mirror caps. It seems a reasonable price for a few exterior spiffs.

Total here was $33,980 and that screams bargain to me for the performance, features and comfort afforded here. Or you can buy a luxury sport sedan for $50 grand, or more.

FAST STATS: 2022 Volkswagen Jetta GLI Autobahn

Hits: Peppy sedan (manual available) with sporty handling, but fine family car with roomy interior, sunroof, heated/cooled front seats, smart cruise and substantial safety features. Good mpg, well-controlled ride, supportive seats, wireless charger, flat-bottom steering wheel, and big trunk.

Misses: Tight knee space to steering column for short drivers.

Made in: Puebla, Mexico

Engine: 2.0-liter turbo I4, 228 horsepower/258 torque

Transmission: 7-speed dual-clutch automatic

Weight: 3,272 lbs.

Length: 186.9 in.

Wheelbase: 105.6 in.

Cargo: 14.1 cu.ft.

MPG: 26/37 (manual)

MPG:  26.6 (tested)

Base Price: $32,990 (includes delivery)

Invoice: N.A.

Major Options:

Pure Gray paint, $395

Black package (black roof, spoiler, mirror caps, and 18-inch alloy wheels), $595

Test vehicle: $33,980

Sources: Volkswagen, kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

Diecast: Johnny Lightning 1:64 Muscle Cars & Showcase

Latest Lightning 6-packs loaded with color, detail …

The recent Muscle Cars release and a few older JLs in the new Auto World case.

I find it sort of amazing that muscle cars from the 1960s through the ‘80s remain so incredibly popular with collectors, both of 1:1 cars and those of us who love smaller diecast models, which are infinitely more affordable.

Johnny Lighting is well aware, which is why it has been cranking out 1:64 scale diecast cars and trucks for years, and its parent company Auto World the same, plus larger scale 1:18 muscle cars too.

The 2021 Muscle Cars release 3, version A.

One of Johnny Lightning’s mainstays has been its Muscle Cars and other themed 6-packs, made with A and B releases, each in authentic manufacturer colors. The current is Release 3 for 2021 (supply chain deliveries still catching up), featuring a 1968 Shelby GT-500 KR, 1965 Chevy Chevelle Wagon, 1986 Buick Grand National, 1977 Pontiac Firebird T/A, 1970 Dodge Dart Swinger 340, and 1970 Plymouth GTX.

The 2021 Muscle Cars release 3, version B.

All are sharply cast and feature the usual opening hoods with detailed engine bays, or at least as detailed as a 1:64 model likely needs to be. All the cars also feature rubber tires, some branded, a few simply blackwalls.

Let’s get right to the six models.

The Models

               This Shelby GT-500 is sweet, and in Calypso Coral (a bright orange) it’ll stand out in any collection. Johnny Lightning models the KR version of the 1968 Mustang/Shelby. That originally stood for King of the Road, which this certainly was with its Cobra Jet 428 V8, which was listed at 335 horses, but was said to be much closer to 400.

               At the time this was the most powerful Mustang and would do 0-60 mph in 6.5 seconds, impressive in the day.

JL tells us that the King of the Road phrase was being considered for trademarking by Chevrolet at the time, but clever Carroll Shelby quickly worked to secure the name and KR trademark before the slow-moving Chevy could get the job done. Shelby was always aggressive and knew how to get things done!

This model has a black engine bay with blue V8 block, a tan interior with good detailing molded into its face. Along the rocker panels is a white racing stripe with the GT-500 KR name included and Shelby is spelled out in silver on the nose and tail. Little details can add some spiff and here there are not only silver door handles, but two silver dots on the hood to represent hood pins, and Shelby’s coiled Cobra logo on the front quarter panels. The license proudly announces KR 428 to signify the GT’s engine and the tires are labeled Goodyear.

A fun addition to this set is the 1965 Chevelle Wagon, a rare beast in that it was only made for two years, 1964 and ’65. Making this one even more interesting is the Turtle Power logo on the doors, one that was used by Turtle Wax in the 1960s. Somehow it seems even more appropriate as the model comes in Turtle Wax Metallic Green.

Other highlights include the slight bulge in the wagon’s rear roof that somehow makes it look faster, silver Malibu script on the rear quarter panels, Chevy’s twin flag logos tucked between the front wheel wells and nose, a blue and red Chevy logo on the grille and Firestone-labeled tires. Wheels are chrome mags.

Under the hood the engine block is orange with a black air filter and the interior is black. Oh, and there’s a Turtle decal inside both rear side windows.

The Buick Grand National looks intimidating in a black paint job.

If black indicates Intimidator-style power on a 1980s muscle car, then the 1986 Buick Grand National may be your favorite among this six-pack. It’s boxy, big and black, with a gray and black interior featuring high-back seats.

In the day the 1986 model was the best-selling of the three-year run of Grand National’s, although a Regal had a Grand National package in 1982. More than 5,500 Grand Nationals were built in 1986, more than double the first two years of production, combined.

Improvements had been made for ’86 too, with its 3.8-liter V6 turbo gaining an intercooler and seeing its horsepower jump from 200 to 235, making it capable of doing 0-60 mph in 4.9 seconds and a quarter mile on the dragstrip in 13.9 seconds. That made it the fastest production car in the U.S., beating Corvette, Camaro and Firebird, its GM stable mates. Car and Driver magazine tested the Buick and found it faster too than a Lamborghini Countach. Amazing!

               This one features the bulge at the rear of the hood with 3.8L Turbo logo, the Grand National logo on the front quarter panel just in front of the doors, another on the trunk sill and a license plate with GM on it. I particularly like the blacked out grille (as most vehicles now offer) but with its fine silver outline and the twin rectangle headlights framing it. Sharp!

The Pontiac Firebird and Buick Grand National both look racy!

               Pontiac, now long-gone, was a major player in the muscle car wars, its Firebird always fast and its roll in the 1977 movie, Smokey and the Bandit, with Burt Reynolds, assured its fame. That Firebird with its Screaming Eagle on the hood was black, while this ‘77 Pontiac Firebird T/A is a handsome Brentwood Brown Poly. I think of it as metallic bronze.

               This one features the “Bandit” package that cost 1,141 with the Hurst Hatches (T-top), while a $556 version omitted the hatches, but put that eagle on the hood. This eagle is black and gold, the wings wrapping around the hood’s power bulge that protrudes through the hood. Under it was a 200-horse V8.

               Other feature here include a tan interior with black steering wheel, Trans Am label on the nose, tail, and front quarter panels, a 77 Bird license, and gold-spoked wheels tucked inside BF Goodrich-labeled tires.

               Muscle came in all shapes and sizes, proven by the 1970 Dodge Dart Swinger 340, a restyle that year to give it a split grille in front and taillights embedded in the rear bumper (not a great idea). But the Dart had been muscled up over the years and while other models in the Chrysler-Plymouth lineup would outshine the Dart, this one was quick.

The little Dart Swinger packed a major punch in a lightweight platform.

               First, it started with the 340-cu.-in. V8 (thus the Swinger 340) that created an impressive 275 horsepower in a 3,170-pound car. And all this for just $2,808. Heck, that’s a modest option package price on today’s cars.

               Both hood and trunk were long and the rear window sloped to give the squarish car a somewhat fastback look. The bumble bee rear wraparound stripe remained from earlier versions, and while it looked best as a black stripe on a yellow car, this white version with blue stripe is sharp. Up front were dual fake hood scoops and the model includes silver Swinger script behind the doors and under the C-pillar.

A lot of Mopar power represented here with the Dart and GTX.

               Tires are unbranded here and wheels white with a modes chrome cap at their center. Windows are trimmed in silver as are the door handles and gas cap.

               Plymouth was known for its muscle and funky colors in the late 1960s and early 1970s. So it’s no surprise that Johnny Lightning created a Moulin Rouge (dark pink) 1970 Plymouth GTX for this set. Known as the Gentleman’s Muscle Car, the GTX got a new grille and taillights for 1970 and of course the Power Bulge hood returned with a single Air Grabber scoop on top.

A muscular V8 was under that GTX hood.

               A 440 Super Commando V8 with four-barrel carburetor was standard, generating 375 horsepower, while a 426 HEMI V8 was optional. It made 425 horsepower, major muscle.

               This pink beauty features the GTX’s clean lines, that snazzy hood and black racing stripes on the sides along with GTX decals just behind the fake rear brake air scoops. GTX is emblazoned on the grille and Plymouth is spelled out on the tail. Window trim is silver, as are door handles, wipers and like the Shelby, two dots on the hood to represent hood pins. There are 440 decals next to the Air Grabber scoop too, and tires are labeled as Goodyears.