Die-Cast: Johnny Lightning 1:64 Classic Gold 2021 release 2 A & B

Johnny Lightning 6-packs feature new ’96 Camaro casting …

Round2’s Johnny Lightning brand continues to impress with new castings and of course new color combos that make their JL Classic Gold series a winner among 1:64 die-cast collectors.

Its latest 2021 Release 2, as usual with A and B series 6-packs, is another collection of small gems for DC car collectors.  Each casting oozes realism, considering their size.

These 6-packs include the same six vehicles, but decked out in different color schemes. This batch features a 1957 Studebaker Golden Hawk, a 1984 Pontiac Firebird T/A, a new casting of the 1996 Firebird T/A WS6, a Jeep CJ-5, a 1999 Mazda MX-5 Miata and a1976 Dodge Aspen R/T. Of the two releases I prefer the B version’s color schemes, not that the others are bad, so I’ll focus on those. But there are pictures of all versions here.

The Models

               Let’s start with the new casting, the ’96 Firebird in Bright White with a black top and dark red or cranberry interior. The original packed a Ram Air boosted 5.7-liter LT1 V8 that increased horsepower from 285 to 305. The WS6 also had not been offered since it was discontinued in 1991, so was a surprise re-launch for 1996 four years into the fourth generation Firebird’s run.

               For the record the WS6 was a performance package that made it a racy Bird, coming with a 6-speed manual tranny and delivering a 0-60 mph time of 5.8 seconds and top speed of about 160 mph, not bad for 1996. Front and rear brakes were vented discs to slow this beast down.

               Of the 31,000 Firebirds sold in 1996 about 2,500 were WS6 models as the muscle car’s big numbers faded before Firebird was axed after 2002.

               Visually the Ram Air hood with pronounced nose hood scoops, rollaway headlights, big trunk-top encompassing spoiler and white five-spoke wheels shout that this Firebird is a hot rod, namely a WS6. The Michigan plate on the back says “Strike,” and the two round running lights on the nose add to its menacing look.

               If you’re a Firebird fan this 6-pack doubles your pleasure with a 1984 Firebird T/A. Yes, we all knew that was for Trans-Am, but T&A meant something else to us in 1984. This one is Autumn Maple Firemist, a dark metallic goldish red that looks great with the black roof and interior. There’s black lower body trim and black wheels to spiff it up too, plus the hood opens to reveal the all black engine compartment with air cleaner and radiator. The package notes that this Firebird was GM’s most aerodynamic car ever made, at the time.

               I’ve become more and more of a Jeep fan through the years and JL’s  Jeep CJ-5 version is spectacular, again, for the scale. First, it’s decked out in Sunshine Yellow and is the Golden Eagle version with a giant eagle on the hood and the name Golden Eagle on the sides of the hood. Pry up the hood and there’s a blue 304ci V8 with black air filter under the hood. Plus the windshield folds up and down and contains an acrylic windscreen, plus wipers cast into the window frame.

               The Jeep’s knobby tires are labeled BF Goodrich All-Terrains and a spare rides on a peg at the rear. Pop it on and off as you like. Sharp cast dash detailing, two shift levers for gears and off-roading and a big yellow roll bar with supports. Oh, and black plastic side steps here too. I’ve seen less detail on a 1:24 model!

               One of my favorites from JL is the 1957 Studebaker Golden Hawk (ha, Golden Eagle Jeep, now a Hawk from Studebaker). First, this Raymond Loewy design displays nearly perfect dimensions with a long hood with raised center bulge and a slightly shorter trunk to give it excellent proportions. And the tiny rear fins are reminiscent of so many 1950s

               The color is light Wedgewood Blue with a creamy white roof and white interior complete with a sharply cast rear window shelf and speaker. Window trim is silver as are the bumpers and grille, naturally. Tires are white sidewall and treaded with bright chrome wheels. The color here screams 1950s to me.

               JL keeps tweaking its fine 1999 Mazda MX-5 Miata, now just known as the MX-5, but commonly STILL referred to as Miata. The MX stood for Mazda Experimental and the sports car has been a hot seller and halo car for the brand for 25+ years now.

               This one is a bright cheery Custom Amber Metallic with twin white racing stripes and black windshield and vent window trim. This is as crisp a casting as JL has made with fine seam work for hood trunk and doors, big side mirrors, a silver gas cap atop the driver’s side rear fender, well detailed head and taillights and black grille. There’s even a tiny single exhaust pipe. Even the butterscotch plastic interior is impressive with well-formed dual cowl dash, center stack, shifter and bucket seats.

               Wow, 1:64 castings don’t get any finer than this Miata.

               Lastly there’s the 1976 Dodge Aspen R/T, a steady seller for Chrysler over the years, first as Duster and Dart, then Volare and Aspen.

The Deep Sherwood Sunfire (dark metallic green) Aspen is nicely detailed with an opening hood and bright blue engine and black detailing under that hood. Windows are finely outlined in silver paint with wipers molded into the windshield’s base. There are the correct air vents at the hood’s rear and good looking nose and taillight detail, plus the stylish center trunk crease. A side stripe is light green.

               The gas cap is cast into the driver’s side rear quarter panel and there’s an R/T logo just before the rear wheel. Side markers are found on this and newer model cars too, plus an undercarriage featuring side pipes. Aspen’s interior is black and the tires labeled BF Goodrich Radial T/A, and treaded. Plus, there’s a trunk lid spoiler.

               A quick factoid from the hang card, which feature old ad and promo shots for all the various vehicles. Did you know that Volare and Aspen sold nearly a half-million units between them in 1976? Me either!

               Version A

               The Version A vehicles, as mentioned above, are the same castings, but in different color schemes.

               The Studebaker Golden Hawk is elegantly painted Woodsmoke Gray Poly with cream roof and fin trim giving it a more luxurious look than the blue model. Just 4,356 Golden Hawks were made in 1957 and for 1958 Packard had its own version of the Hawk as it was part of Studebaker at the time. That didn’t last long.

               The Firebirds in Version A are Silver Sand Gray for the ’84 model and Medium Cloisonne Poly (medium metallic blue) for the all-new 1996 casting. JL notes the new Firebird casting is exactly 1:64 scale, so could fit into its Auto World True 1:64 series too I suppose.

               Jeep’s CJ5 here is Mocha Brown Poly, a metallic golden brown with wheels to match and a tan interior that looks sharp. The Golden Eagle on the hood even looks a little less in your face than on the yellow Jeep.

               A Black Onyx Mazda Miata looks sporty too but the brownish tan interior seems a bit jarring visually to me. Still, it reflects what a lot of Miatas looked like over the years when more than 531,000 have been sold to make it the all-time best-selling sports car.

               Finally there’s the Aspen, here in Cinnamon Poly a reddish brown with orange and red racing stripe along the fenders and doors. The spoiler on the trunk lid looks sharp here too.

               Again, all fun, all sharply cast and well decorated, this is another fine 1:64 lineup from JL.

               Note too, if you missed it, there was a Classic Gold Release 1 earlier in 2021 feature a 1983 Lagonda, 2006 Hummer H1 Alpha, 1972 Ford Mustang Convertible, 1997 Dodge Viper GTS, 1980 Chevy Monza Spyder, and 1979 Chevy Malibu. Two versions of that release also are available, at least in some hobby stores and online sites.

Vital Stats: JL Classic Gold Release 2 A&B, 6-packs

Brand: Johnny Lightning
Scale: 1/64
Stock No.: JLCG025/06 A & B
MSRP: $51.99 per 6-pack

Link: Autoworldstore.com

Ford’s Maverick hybrid pickup earns top EPA city MPG rating

New hybrid rated 42 MPG city, 37 MPG combined …

A 2022 Ford Maverick at Road America, with Indy Lights racer on track.

Last week a bunch of us Midwest auto writers got to give the new 2022 Ford Maverick Hybrid pickup a spin up at Road America, and trust me Ford is gonna sell a LOT of Mavericks, both ICE and hybrid powered.

Now the EPA has today rated the hybrid at 42 mpg in city driving, making the Maverick the most fuel-efficient hybrid pickup in the States. That’s huge for Ford and for cleaner air. Maverick is first of all a compact pickup, think of it along the lines of the old Ranger pickup, but with better drive, ride and now fuel technology.

I was impressed by how well the Maverick handled and weathered bumpy pavement, a given here in the Midwest. This feels more refined and yet is modestly priced so families can afford one. Base price is around $21,000, with delivery fees, for the 2.0-liter ICE (Internal Combustion Engine) EcoBoost model that went on sale in September. That engine has 250 horsepower and will tow 2,000 to 4,000 pounds.

The base model features a 2.0-liter EcoBoost turbo 4, the hybrid has a 2.5-liter I4 and hybrid system to boost gas mileage.

Maverick Hybrid pickups are to start hitting dealerships in December so will likely be getting to customers by January. The truck is rated 37 mpg in combined city and highway driving. Note that hybrids usually deliver better fuel economy in city driving when their electric motors do more of the work. Ford says EPA estimated driving range is 500 miles for the hybrid too.

The hybrid model packs 191 horsepower and will tow up to 2,000 pounds. It is powered by a 2.5-liter I4 and hybrid electric motors.

Both models are known as SuperCrews with full-size rear doors and seating for four or five.

#mama21rally

2021 BMW X5 xDrive45e

Smooth plug-in hybrid adds power, better fuel economy to SUV

Luxury and power are as ubiquitous as peanut butter and chocolate. BMW knows that and blends the two with just a smidge of social consciousness in its latest X5 mid-size SUV/crossover.

Its full name is X5 xDrive45e.

What that means is that the power now comes from a plug-in hybrid system that combines a mild 48-volt hybrid’s electric power with a silky 3.0-liter inline-6 with twin turbos. Power is 389 horsepower and it’s as smooth and seamless as any engine or hybrid system on the market.

Jamming the accelerator still delivers a velvety romp up to triple digit speeds, but now with the hybrid’s electric power you can toddle around town for 30 miles using only the electric power. Or you can toggle between Sport, Hybrid, Electric or Adaptive on the console and use or conserve your electric charge.

I switched to Sport as I was heading onto the freeway knowing I’d need that electric power when I got downtown, and let’s face it, if you’re going to be cutting your car’s emissions doing so in a more congested urban area makes the most sense.

The plug-in works like all others I’ve driven. Pull the plug and charger from the compartment under the hatch’s floor and plug into a standard 120-volt outlet in the garage. You get about one mile of charge per hour of plug-in time. So, overnight I ended up with 15 more miles. That means I can use no gas running to the grocery, Target or wherever in the neighborhood. Plug in again and the next day I’m likely at a full charge for a longer drive.

Combined with the gas power I got 28.3 mpg and this is rated from 20 mpg gas-only, up to 50 mpge on electric.

Typical plug-in hybrid outlet on the driver’s side.

Forget about the hybrid system, which is easy to do while driving, and the X5 remains one of the top mid-size luxury SUVs. It’s big and feels it at 5,646 pounds. But this is a BMW, so it handles well, turns into corners with a fair amount of precision and is easy to keep in its lane on the freeway.

Most surprising was the excellent ride, but then it does feature an air suspension system that once you’ve ridden on it you’ll wish it were on every SUV in the market. Trust me, I’ve had nice SUVs in the past, but few coddle like this one.

Watch Mark’s video review: X5 xDrive45e review by Mark Savage – YouTube

Of course that xDrive moniker means the BMW has AWD so is great in sleet, slush and snow. And the $650 M Sport brake package gives it excellent stopping power plus the calipers are a snazzy blue, which was a nice accent to the Arctic Gray Metallic ($550 extra) paint scheme. That’s dark gray with a hint of blue sparkle in it.

Boosting the X5’s looks is the M Sport package itself that adds $5,500 to the sticker, an already stout $66,395. For that you get all sorts of trim and appearance upgrades including Shadowline exterior trim, aluminum tetragon interior trim, high-gloss Shadowline roof rails, Vernasca leather seat trim, an M steering wheel and M Star-spoke bi-color wheels and an aero kit to smooth out airflow over the boxy body.

The other major add-on is the Executive Package, which from its name lets you know who may not be able to afford this. At $4,050 it adds a huge panoramic Sky Lounge sunroof and shade, rear manual side sunshades, 4-zone climate control, a head-up display, wireless phone charger, Harmon Kardon surround sound system with gesture control (not what you think!) a WiFi hotspot, Bluetooth and Icon adaptive LED headlights with Laserlight. Those are fancy headlights, but sadly do not shoot out real (Austin Powers style) l-a-s-e-r-s.

By the way, gesture control means a driver can rotate a finger (not just that one) clockwise in front of the infotainment screen and it will turn up radio volume, or the other way to crank down the sound. While on the stereo, the big 12.3-inch touchscreen also includes eight radio memory buttons under the screen, getting back to old-school channel selection. Bingo!

Two-tone black and white leather looks sharp here.

The X5’s interior is, as you’d expect, a snazzy leather stronghold with white leather seats in the test vehicle, plus white lower trim on the doors and dash, the tops of which are black. That Vernasca leather is real leather but with a stamped artificial grain and artificial coatings that makes for easy cleaning.

There’s also a spectacular jewel-like metal trim (tetragon shaped and part of the M Sport package) that graces the dash and console, with a metal clad cubby door able to retract over much of the console to reveal the wireless charger and cup holders. Satin chrome trim also accents the leather-clad steering wheel and the door releases.

Love the jewel look of the satin chrome trim on the dash and center stack.

Seats are comfy, as they should be. But BMW enhances its power controls here with $750 multi-contour seats, meaning they have multiple lumbar and side bolster adjustments. Plus the lower seat cushion can be extended to aid long-legged drivers. Seat memory buttons are included too.

But here’s the thing. To add heated front and rear seats costs $350 extra and $250 more for the steering wheel and armrests to be heated. I’d expect heated seats and wheel to be standard at this high-end luxury pricing, and the armrests, well, whatever. You should probably be driving, not resting arms. Just sayin’! Oh, and no cooled seats here. Funny, most $50 grand vehicles offer those as standard now.

Another view of the snazzy stack. A lot of buttons here too!

As for safety equipment, the X5 includes what you’d expect, plus adds a Drivers Assist Pro package with extended traffic jam assistant and active driving assistant, semi-autonomous aids. I find these often are too intrusive and push the vehicle hard toward the lane’s center often when not wanted, as in a work zone with lanes that shift and also when other cars sag into your lane and you try to dodge them this pushes you back toward the other car. Couldn’t turn this one off altogether either.

Add to that a cruise control system that was much more complicated than others I’ve tested. Yikes, push a button and set a speed. That should do it, even on these smart cruise systems.

A few other points to ponder.

First, the X5 is not just beauty it’s also beast enough to tow 7,200 pounds, so trailering is very possible. Note you’ll pay $550 extra for the trailer hitch.

And cargo space is fine at 33.9 cubic feet behind the second row seat, or 71.2 cubic feet if that seat is folded flat. A release under the power hatch allows quick rear seat folding too. A third row seat is available on some X5 trim levels, but it appears that only offers room for small kids in row three. As is, this one will haul five adults comfortably.

Underneath the test ute added 21-inch M wheels with performance tires for $950. Certainly the tires aided grip, but to me these looked a bit outsized for the X5. That’s a personal taste thing as the 19-inchers that are standard would do just fine.

Finally, the test vehicle hit a Rockefeller-like $81,695 after adding 10 options. A base (if you can call it that) xDrive40i starts at about $60 grand and includes AWD and a fine 335-horse 3.0-liter I6 twin turbo.

Move up to the M50i version and the price jumps to $83,795, but you get a monster V8 pumping 523 horsepower and you can thumb your nose at the environment, and nearly everyone else as you rocket away from a stoplight.

FAST STATS: 2021 BMW X5 xDrive45e

Hits: Excellent power, ride, handling plus AWD and plug-in electric to aid emissions and mpg. Four drive choices, panoramic sunroof, heated wheel/armrest and front/rear seats, wide touchscreen, multiple seat adjustments, 8 stereo memory buttons.

Cool wheels and blue calipers!

Misses: Heated seats and wheel cost extra, no cooled seats, complicated cruise control ties into semi-autonomous driving system.

Made in: Spartanburg, S.C.

Engine: 3.0-liter twin turbo I6, 389 hp

Transmission: 8-speed automatic

Weight: 5,646 lbs.

Wheelbase: 117.1 in.

Length: 194.3 in.

Cargo: 33.9-71.2 cu.ft.

Tow: 7,200 lbs.

MPG: 20/50 (w/electric)

MPG: 28.3 (tested)

Base Price: $66,395 (includes delivery)

Invoice: $62,315

Options:

Arctic Gray Metallic paint, $550

Drivers Assist Pro pkg. (extended traffic jam assistant, active driving assistant pro), $1,700

M Sport pkg. (See story), $5,500

Executive package (panoramic Sky Lounge LED roof, rear manual side sunshades, glass controls, 4-zone climate control, Icon adaptive LED w/Laserlight, head-up display, Harmon Kardon surround sound system, wireless charging, gesture control, WiFi hotspot, enhanced USB & Bluetooth), $4,050

21-inch M wheel with performance, $950

M Sport brakes w/blue calipers, $650

Trailer hitch, $550

Front/rear heated seats, $350

Heated front armrests/steering wheel, $250

Multi-contour seats, $750

Test vehicle: $81,695

Sources: BMW, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

2021 Ford Ranger XLT SuperCrew 4×4

Mid-size pickups are now bigger than full-size used to be ….

When is big only mid-size? Well, today, when in the truck world mid-size means big, just not huge, like a “full-size” pickup.

Case in point the mid-size Ford Ranger, which is actually two-plus inches longer and has a wheelbase 7 inches longer than a full-size F-150 pickup had 20 years ago. That’s how much trucks have grown.

Friends and neighbors laughed when I told them the Ranger was Ford’s mid-size, noting it LOOKS like a full-size pickup, or at least how it used to look. They were right.

It also didn’t help that this SuperCrew in mid-level XLT trim also piled on the Tremor package for $4,290. It’s an off-roading package for folks who put their $40+ grand romper through the mud bogs of the world. It also pushes a moderately priced pickup to (in this case) $44,430. That’s way more than my first house cost.

Now I don’t mean to pick on the Tremor, or the Ranger, as Ford is about to launch its new Maverick compact pickup to take the place of what used to be its compact Ranger (got that?) a few years back. Maverick will likely fit more budgets and at least look like a smaller pickup. Great!

But this one is tall and long at 210.8 inches compared with a 2001 F150 at 208 inches long. Ground clearance is 8.9 inches with this 4WD version and we might as well get the Tremor package listing out of the way as it loads up the truck for serious off-roading.

Tremor includes (and I’ll skip a few minor trim and floor liner upgrades) an off-road suspension with Fox (high-end) shocks, Continental General Grabber R-17 off-road tires (noisy on the highway), snazzy step-like running boards, electric locking differential, front differential, fuel tank and transfer case skid plates to avoid damage off road, a terrain management system, upfitter (Ford’s word) switches, and rear tow hook.

I took the truck to a mild off-roading area and it took the big dips and humps with ease and it’s easy to turn the dial on the console for four-wheeling. That little excursion also tweaked something in the cab’s rear, so a rattle ensued thereafter even on smooth pavement.

And while the off-roading suspension is tuned well for ditch banging, it’s mighty bouncy on city streets with railroad track crossings and dips or expansion joint spaces seeming to be the biggest bounce producers. Not real comfy for town driving, but stellar on smooth highways.

Watch Mark’s Ranger video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kaBBdbsBHs4

Aiding that is its quick steering, for a large, er mid-size, pickup. The steering weight is dead-on and easy to handle while parking is simple because the truck turns into tight spaces so well. Ranger is an easy driver, just a rough rider.

Power?

There’s only one choice, but it’s solid. The 2.3-liter Ecoboost turbo I4 delivers an impressive 270 horsepower with a 310 torque rating. That makes Ranger quicker off the line than you might anticipate with a bigger truck. Gas mileage is only rated at 19 mpg city and highway with the Tremor edition, but I managed 20.8 and was a bit heavier on city driving. The computer insisted I was getting 23 mpg.

Power comes quickly and easily without too much engine noise, which seems improved since my last Ranger eval a few years ago. Its 10-speed automatic tranny is a smooth operator too.

Folks wanting this off-roader to also be a towing machine will be pleased that it can pull 7,500 pounds and has a payload of 1,860 pounds. That’s segment-leading and currently only Nissan’s Frontier offers more horsepower at 310.

I should remind you that this was the SuperCrew version, which means it has four full-size doors and a roomy rear seat that will easily hold two or three adults. With two they can use the fold-down armrest/cupholders.

The SuperCab is basically the old extended cab with little rear half doors that fold backward and small rear seats that are cramped for anything other than a short haul or miniature people. The benefit of the SuperCab is that it has a full 6-foot bed while the SuperCrew’s bed is just 5-feet. SO if you need to haul stuff it’s SuperCab. If you need to haul family then SuperCrew.

On the pricing front the SuperCrew costs about $2,000 more and 4WD adds roughly $4,000 to any configuration.

On to the interior.

First, Tremor adds spiffy step-like running boards that provide easy step-ups for front or rear passengers, but these are better than the old solid bars. They are wider and easier to step on, even when wet, plus open to let water and muck slide through. A smart and useful design.

The snazzy Velocity Blue (bright metallic blue) Ranger doesn’t go wild with interior design, pretty straightforward and usable. Oh, there are red and gray Tremor logos on the seat backs, but the rest is black leather with gray stitching on the seats and black cloth inserts in the doors.

Door release and air vents are a smoked chrome while the console is flat black as is the dash and door trim.

Info screen is large enough and simple to use.

The info screen is moderately sized but an easy touchscreen to use while the main instrument panel gauges were analog with turquoise needles that were incredibly easy to see. Radio volume and tune knobs are large and the climate controls simple to figure out. Everything was easy to use while driving, not distracting like digital touchpads, etc.

Atop the dash are six auxiliary switches that can be programmed to use with accessories such as big over-cab lights, a wench, etc. That’s part of the Tremor package.

Safety equipment is sound as the XLT trim adds Co-Pilot 360, Ford’s safety system with blind-spot warning, a trailer tow monitor, park sensors, the 8-inch screen and both WiFi hot spots and Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. Supposedly it adds lane-keep assist, but I didn’t see that on the tester and frankly was happy to not have it. It’s mostly an annoyance around town and obviously would need to be switched off when off-roading, like the parking sensors. I forgot to switch those off initially and crazy-making beeping ensued as I drove through tall grass.

A technology package for $995 added smart cruise control, a navigation system and forward sensing. Yes!

Seating is another Ranger strong point as these seats provide excellent lower back, kidney and hip support. Some sedans could use these seats. However, they were manual and the driver’s seat included a handle on the side to raise and lower it. The seats also are not heated.

This mid-level Ranger also fell short on a few other items I would expect at $40 grand plus, such as push-button start. Not here, Ranger uses the old switchblade-like key. Unfortunately the tester’s key blade stuck in the fob and had to be pried out each time it was used.

There also was no wireless phone charger, just plug-ins, and the tailgate flops down like a soccer player looking for a penalty. Most tailgates now have an easy-lower mechanism that slowly deploys so as not to smack you as they fold down. Smartly there was a spray-in bedliner for $495.

Spray-in bedliner protects the truck’s bed.

Pricing is all over the place for Ranger, starting at a low-ball $26,000 for the base XL SuperCab with RWD. This XLT with the SuperCrew and 4WD listed at $35,940, including delivery. After all the options, including $750 for Tremor graphics (pricey stickers) and a few other goodies, hit $44,430.

I know that seems high for a “mid-size” pickup if you haven’t shopped for one of late, but the full-size ones easily go for $50,000 to $70,000 today.

As it is, the Ranger is a good competitor for the top-selling Toyota Tacoma, Chevy Colorado and its cousin the GMC Canyon, plus the new Frontier and Honda Ridgeline.

Some would argue it also competes with Jeep’s Gladiator pickup, but I think that’s a whole different market, simply because it’s a Jeep!

FAST STATS: 2021 Ford Ranger XLT SuperCrew 4×4

Hits: Good towing power, quick acceleration, easy handling, dial-in 4WD, and roomy enough for 4/5 people. Co-Pilot safety system, handy side steps, bedliner, 6 auxiliary dash switches, comfy supportive seats. Solid off-road ability.

Misses: Extremely bouncy ride, no heated seats, no push-button start, no easy-lower tailgate, no wireless charger. Only a 5-foot bed, tire noise on highway, tester had rattle in rear of cab, and switchblade key hard to open.

Made in: Wayne, Mich.

Engine: 2.3-liter turbo Ecoboost I4, 270 hp

Transmission: 10-speed automatic

Weight: 4.650 lbs.*

Wheelbase: 126.8 in.

Length: 210.8 in.

Cargo bed: 5-foot

Tow: 7,500 lbs.

Payload: 1,860 lbs.

MPG: 19/19

MPG: 20.8 (tested)

Base Price: $35,940 (includes delivery)

Invoice: $34,550

Major Options:

Equipment group 301A (auto. day/night mirror, 110-volt power outlet, reverse sensing, leather shifter and steering wheel covers, sport appearance package), $1,670

Tremor off-road package (see story), $4,290

Technology package (adaptive cruise control, navigation, forward sensing), $995

Spray-in bedliner, $495

Tremor graphics, $750

Remote start, $195

SecuriCode keypad, $95

Test vehicle: $44,430

Sources: Ford, www.kbb.com, *Car and Driver

Photos: Mark Savage

Die-cast: Auto World’s 1947 Cadillac Series 62 Convertible

A stylish 1:18 scale Series 62 with opening hood, trunk, doors …

Cadillac was near the top of the U.S. automotive world as far as a reputation for luxury coupled with performance prior to World War II.  Oh sure, there was Packard too, but the Series 62 Caddy was king of the heap.

And of course that meant a lead sled as these were all steel and assorted metal compounds at the time, with engine blocks that were so heavy they could have been battleship anchors.

But still there was style, and chrome was a big part of that. Auto World is practiced at the art of creating 1950s to 1970s muscle cars with all their chrome grilles and bumpers, but it had to turn it up a notch for this new 1947 Cadillac Series 62 Convertible. To use phrasing of the time you bought one to grandstand that you’ve got a lot of lettuce!

The History

Cadillac launched the Series 62 in 1940 as an entry-level Caddy, but production ended in 1942 as auto factories turned their efforts to war machines. In fact, by 1947, just after the war as Cadillac was converting back to car production, the automaker was only making 12 models in four different Series, roughly a quarter of the models it had made pre-war.

It shouldn’t be a surprise that the Series 62 was most popular as it had been fairly new when the war began and was entry-level for Caddy. The Series 62 reportedly made up 84% of Caddy’s sales in 1947 and Cadillac reported it had a 100,000 backlog of orders.

Series 62 models included a hardtop, convertible and 4-door sedan. More than 55,600 were sold, a record at the time. In 1947 a Series 62 4-door sedan went for $2,553, up from $2,359 in 1946. With strong demand came higher prices. Likewise today a ’47 convertible is coveted among collectors and can go for north of $100,000 depending on its restoration level.

AW models the 1947 Caddy with its Monobloc flathead 5.7-liter V8, which made 150 horsepower. The chrome fender guards and 5-bar grille were new styling cues for 1947 as GM tried to freshen its lineup that essentially reflected 1942 styling. Oh, and the hub caps were known as Sombrero wheel covers. Ah, marketing!

For the record, the third generation Series 62, like the second-gen model, was designed by GM’s now famous Harley Earl. It went into production as a 1949 model and featured GM’s new overhead-valve V8. The engine was a big deal at the time as it replaced the lower powered, heavier model. The new 5.4-liter V8 delivered 10 more horses at 160, yet weighed 200 lbs. less than the 1948 model. The 1949 model was Motor Trend’s first Car of the Year.

The Model

               Convertible die-cast cars are fun because they let you see the car’s full interior, plus they just look a little sleeker.

               AW delivers this one in Madeira Maroon, a dark maroon with creamy white convertible tonneau cover and interior door panels. While the Caddy looks like a beast with its egg-crate grille and chrome bullet-shaped bumper guards front and rear, the color makes it seem as elegant as it was at the time. Note though that the paint job easily shows fingerprints, so if you’re handling it gloves are a wise idea.

Enough chrome here for ya? Plus a big V8 under the massive hood.

               Chrome here, as it was in 1947, is nearly overpowering, but certainly adds a high bling level to the Series 62. The nose and tail are dripping with it via those bumpers, the grille, Caddy insignias and hood ornament. Plus this model includes a bold chrome trim line from the front wheel to mid-door at the end of the bulging fenders that wrap into the doors. Likewise there are chrome stone guards and trim on the rear fenders from in front of the rear wheel to just behind it.

               Clear textured headlights feature chrome bezels and the rear lights are a threesome on a vertical chrome bar. Wipers, windshield and door trim, a big extended side mirror and stubby antenna on the driver’s side fender also are chrome, as are the door handles and trunk release.

               For realism note that the hood, trunk and doors all open and the front wheels are poseable.

               Under that massive hood is the aqua block of GM’s 5.7-liter V8 at the time, plus wiring and other detailing, although to be honest the car looks more interesting with the hood lowered, likewise the trunk.

               Inside the seats are a matte red and include built-in armrests in back and chrome window cranks and door release levers up front on the doors. The dash is a busy place with massive grille work at its center, a row of buttons along the top, plus a speedometer and analog clock (no digital in 1947!). A few other gauges are easily seen along with controls under the passenger-side dash.

Details galore in the interior, from the window cranks to the gauges.

               The Series 62’s steering wheel matches that creamy interior trim, but with a three-spoke chrome hub and horn ring. Over the windshield is a built-in roof support and the chrome rearview mirror.

               Know too there is a detailed undercarriage with single exhaust system and solid axle rear suspension. If you pose this on a base with mirrored bottom a viewer can see some of that. Wheels also highlight those big Sombrero wheel covers and wide white-sidewall tires.

               I prefer 1950s through 1970s cars myself, but this is an elegant look back at post-war heavy metal and will accurately reflect those times in your collection, plus highlight the big jump forward in styling that the 1950s cars represent.  

Vital Stats: 1947 Cadillac Series 62 Convertible

Another look under the hood.

Maker: Auto World
Scale: 1/18
Stock No.: AW273
MSRP: $123.99

Link: Autoworldstore.com

Die-cast: Auto World 1961 Pontiac Catalina Hardtop

1:18 scale Catalina a long, lean hot rod …

Ah, the Catalina. The name alone seemed exotic and somehow a bit sexy in the 1960s. But that was during a time when cars had names that stirred imaginations and were not just known by a collection of numbers or letters.

Pontiac was rife with great names during its long run, Bonneville, Firebird, Chieftain, Parisienne, Ventura, Silver Streak, Tempest, Star Chief, and Le Mans, to name a few.

Catalina was a big player and the name hung around for years. Now Auto World creates a 1961 version of the hardtop model and it’s up to AW’s usual fine standards.

The History

It wasn’t until 1959 that the Catalina was offered as its own standalone model, basically a low-cost starter Pontiac if you will. But it was restyled for 1961 and placed on an all-new frame known as the Torque Box. Sounds like it should be fast, right? That replaced the old X frame and one could argue this is when Pontiacs starting becoming lower, longer and wider. Remember the old advertising line, “wide-track Pontiacs?”

For 1961 Pontiac went with the lean long look that it stuck with for years, think Bonneville and Parisienne! The roofs also were squared off and the split grille returned and remained a styling cue for years. That included a somewhat pointed nose and hood. I always thought the split grille as cool as a BMW nose. But then I liked Edsels too.

Naturally speed was vital to car sales in the 1960s and Pontiac and Oldsmobile also were well regarded for their race results in the new burgeoning NASCAR series.

Catalina featured a number of V8 power plants, all based off its 389 cu.in. engine (modeled here) and linked to various transmissions, including manual ones with floor-mounted shifters. There was a four-barrel carb model creating 333 horsepower, plus a Tri-Power option with higher compression to make 348 horses, and another for drag racers with 363 horses. Near the end of 1961 a dealer-installed 421 cu.in. Super Duty V8 became available too.

               For the record these big boys rode on a 119-inch wheelbase and were 210 inches long. Think current SUVs. Six styles were offered, including a convertible and station wagon. AW models the 2-door hardtop, which looks a little sportier with no B-pillar.

               At auction today the average sale price of a ’61 Catalina is a little more than $39,000, but a perfect one, the auction sites say, could go for $99 grand.

The Model

               As with other AW 1:18 die-cast models the doors, hood and trunk open and the somewhat sparkly Richmond Gray is perfectly applied.

               One of the features that shines on all these 1950s and 1960s models is the chrome as the bumpers, window trim, wiper arms, radio antenna, door handles and the styling accent strip on the car are chrome. The nose and tail Pontiac emblems are well executed and Oldsmobile is spelled out on the rear panel below the 3-body trunk and between the snazzy red oval taillights with silver trim.

               Headlights are clear, but textured and the grille silver with black between the strakes for definition. Oh, and there are those little chrome winglets that extend vertically from the front fenders. Fun!

               Under that massive hood is a turquoise to baby blue V8 engine block and headers, three chrome carbs and plenty of black wiring and plumbing. The radiator cap and battery terminals are painted silver and there’s a caution label on the protrusion over the fan.

Good looking engine and under-hood detail here.

               Tires are treaded white sidewalls with no branding and at least one of the tires whitewalls was misprinted slightly. Matte chrome hubcaps feature a flat center cap with Pontiac Motor Division printed on it.

               Inside the interior here is a somewhat sparkling rusty red with white door trim panels and stripes across the seat backs, adding flamboyance to the big two-door’s interior. There’s also a cue-ball shifter on the center console, a chrome and red two-stalk steering wheel with chrome horn ring and three black pedals (including a clutch) on the floor. AW finished off the floor with a medium brown flocking to look like carpet and a rust-colored floor mat for the driver.

Giant cue ball shifter lets you know this Catalina is ready to rock!

               The dash is Grand Canyon wide and features a silver center portion with wide black and white speedometer, a radio and Catalina printed on the passenger-side dash. Buttons are silver and the door release levers and window knobs are chrome, plus the rear seat armrests include silver ashtrays.

That’s one wide dash with a lot of chrome!

               Catalina’s undercarriage is completely detailed too with fine drivetrain and suspension detailing including shocks. Plus there’s a matte silver twin exhaust system and mufflers along with steerable front wheels. Nice detail that even pricier composite models often skip entirely.

               All this and pricing still in the $115 range while the composites have grown to upwards of $200, or more if there’s a detailed engine. AW’s die-cast remains high value at an affordable price.

Like that Poncho license plate and the Pontiac name spread out on the tail.

               Just a final note that AW made a 1962 Catalina previously and it’s still available through the AW online store, autoworldstore.com.            

Vital Stats: 1961 Pontiac Catalina

Maker: Auto World
Scale: 1/18
Stock No.: AM1254/06
MSRP: $115.99

Link: Autoworldstore.com

2022 Hyundai Kona Ltd. AWD

New Kona ups the power, yet remains cute high-value crossover …

Roughly three years had passed since I last tested Hyundai’s small crossover, the Kona. I’d almost forgotten just how much fun it is.

That can’t be said for all the little crossovers, plus Kona offers AWD and remains friendly to your bank account.

For 2022 Kona’s chassis and rear suspension are strengthened, which helps ride, and the crossover grows by 1.6 inches while its exterior styling is freshened a bit. That’s sort of like giving the cutest kid in your class a new doo or cooler glasses. Kona was already a cute ute, offering a two-tone paint scheme like Mini. It comes in some fun colors too. My tester was a bright Teal Isle blue reminiscent of a toddler’s plastic wading pool.

This time I drove the top-level Limited with AWD, which ensured the Kona packed more power, not that its base 147-horse 2.0-liter I4 is a sissy. It’ll move in Sport mode.

SWEEEET! That’s what Kona is. It’s like eating dessert before dinner!

But this top-end model packs a 1.6-liter turbocharged I4 that delivers 195 horses with an identical torque rating. That’s 20 more horses than the 2021 model. The upshot? Kona sprints away from stoplights well in Normal drive mode (one of three), but turns into a party cart in Sport mode when the shift patterns emphasize low-end power.

Yet the engine, even with an AWD system to support, gets respectable gas mileage. The EPA rates this turbo at 27 mpg city and 32 mpg highway. I got 27 mpg in about 80% city driving.

Aiding Kona’s pep is its 7-speed Ecoshift dual clutch transmission, which makes good use of the power, giving the Hyundai smooth yet zippy acceleration and a quality feel. Lower trim levels now use a CVT with the 2.0-liter engine.

Beyond the welcomed power boost, everything Kona had going for it three years ago remains.

Handling is quick and easy with little lean in turns. Parking is a breeze and slipping in and out of tight highway traffic feels like blasting around a slot car track. Traction is stout with the AWD and Goodyear R19 rubber underneath. Smaller tires are standard on lower trims. Note too that AWD is $1,500 extra on the SEL and higher trim levels.

With Kona you feel you control the car, not the other way round. It helps that its lane departure system can be disengaged with the press of a button too to stop an irritating chime. Yet the crossover still pushes some back toward the lane’s center due to that system. I’d prefer the driver be given full control via that on-off button.

Ride is decent for a short-wheelbase crossover, with that strengthened rear multi-link suspension doing a solid job of handling southeast Wisconsin’s crumbling roads and jarring expansion joints. In town and on railroad tracks you’ll feel those bumps, but they don’t pound the interior occupants as in some small vehicles.

Also, unlike some small crossovers, Kona manages to be high-value, but never feels cheap.

A simple elegance creates a highly functional and attractive interior.

The interior is fairly quiet for its size and price, so you can hear the fancy Harmon Kardon stereo that’s standard in this Limited model. There’s some wind noise, but road noise is well dampened.

Kona’s cockpit also is simply elegant while being highly functional.

The Limited comes with twin 10.25-inch screens, one a digital number for the instrument panel and the other rising out of the dash’s center for infotainment purposes. It’s a touchscreen and simple enough to use, plus features navigation so you don’t have to futz with hooking up your cell’s GPS.

There’s a wireless phone charger too in a cubby at the base of the center stack. It’s a bit touchy, so be sure the light there comes on to signal you’re actually charging the phone.

Kona’s dash matches the dark gray perforated leather seats and most trim is a flat or non-glare gray. That’s great on the console as it removes the threat of sun reflecting off a chrome surface. The trim extends to the door panels while a gloss black trim surrounds the info screen and the air vents at each end of the dash feature satin chrome, same as the door releases.

Apple Car Play and Android Auto also are standard.

Despite being an entry-level vehicle Hyundai doesn’t chintz on safety equipment. The SEL, Limited and N Line models come with a full safety suite. That includes front collision avoidance assist, lane keeping with lane follow, blind-spot collision avoidance assist, safe exit warning, downhill brake control, hill start assist, tire pressure monitor and driver attention warning. Similar features still cost extra in some vehicles, including a few luxury models. Sight lines also are good here with a very airy feeling cockpit.

Smart cruise control is standard on the Limited, as are heated front seats. Speaking of which, these seats are shaped to give reasonable side and hip support, but do feel a tad hard, so might be a little tough on a long trip, depending on your tooshie’s cushioning.

Rear seat headroom is fine and legroom not bad for average size adults. Taller folks may find legroom a bit tight, but Hyundai did manage to find an additional half-inch of rear legroom for 2022 models.

I make no secret of my love for hatchbacks and, well, crossovers are basically taller hatchbacks. This hatch is manual, to keep costs down, and includes a rear window wiper, a must for Wisconsin winters.

Hatchbacks rock, like rock candy!

Cargo space behind the split, fold-down rear seats is reasonable at 19.2 cubic feet. Remember that many mid-size and smaller sedans often only offer 14-16 cubic feet of trunk room. Fold the rear seats down and there’s 45.8 cubic feet of space, about enough to hold a college dorm room worth of stuff.

Pricing is impressive still for Kona. A base SE model starting at $22,175, including delivery. Again, that gets you the less powerful engine, but it can still be fun in Sport mode.

Move up to the SEL model, an attractively equipped mid-level offering and the price is $23,975. Remember you can add AWD for $1,500. The SEL improves tire size from 16 to 17 inches, adds heated outside mirrors, rear privacy glass, satellite radio, and the safety suite.

Those are the trio of headlights below the thin running light up top!

The tested Limited AWD with its leather seats and fully loaded equipment level starts at $31,175 with delivery. This only added $155 worth of carpeted floor mats to register a $31,330 final sticker.

Folks aiming for a sportier model now can choose an N Line, starting at $28,085. It includes the same turbo I4 as in the Limited, 18-inch wheels, an 8-way power driver’s seat, wireless phone charger, the bigger screen, automatic climate controls and heated sport seats.

But don’t confuse it with the Kona N, which debuts this fall and packs a crazy 276-horsepower engine, an 8-speed automatic, Pirelli 19-inch performance tires, a special corner carving differential, active sport exhaust and electronically controlled suspension. Pricing is yet to be announced.

What we do know is it’ll be a rocket and we also know all Hyundai models include a 10-year, 100,000-mile powertrain warranty.

Even the taillights are specially styled here.

And if that’s not enough to consider, consider this. There’s a Kona Electric starting at $34,000, a price cut from last year. It has a range of 258 miles and the equivalent of 201 horsepower from its electric motor. It has been Kelly Blue Book’s EV of the Year since 2018 when it was launched. That’s a strong recommendation.

OK, that’s the skinny on the new Kona. The original was fun and this one’s funner, uh, more fun!

FAST STATS: 2022 Hyundai Kona Limited AWD

Hits: Sharp looks, peppy engine, good handling, AWD, 3 drive modes, and quiet interior. Fine digital instrument panel, big info screen, smart cruise control, sunroof, wireless phone charger, hatch with wiper, heated seats, fancy stereo, good sight lines and you can turn off lane departure assist.

Misses: Seats are a tad hard and tall folks may wish for more rear legroom, although it has improved slightly.

Made in: Ulsan, South Korea

Engine: 1.6-liter turbo I4, 195 hp

Transmission: 7-speed dual-clutch automatic

Weight: 3,106 lbs.

Wheelbase: 102.4 in.

Length: 165.6 in.

Cargo: 19.2-45.8 cu.ft.

MPG: 27/32

MPG: 27.0 (tested)

Base Price: $31,175 (includes delivery)

Invoice: $29,544

Major Options: Carpeted floor mats, $155

Test vehicle: $31,330

Sources: Hyundai, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

Die-cast: Auto World’s True 1:64 2020 Chevy Corvette and 1963 Chevy II Wagon

Mid-engine Vette and boxy 1963 Chevy II wagon are high-value DC

Two Chevys couldn’t be much more different than the mid-engine 2020 Corvette and the 1963 Chevy II Nova Wagon, but I love them both.

Different reasons of course, but here’s their appeal.

First, the new Corvette will be an icon for years, just like the original Vettes. Why? Because it shifts the engine to behind the driver and its looks are Ferrariesque, or maybe more McLarenesque. It’s swoopy but still with that pointed Corvette nose.

The Nova wagon? Well, as a kid my Uncle Mac and Aunt Vi each had a white Chevy II, before they became Novas. One was a sedan, one a convertible. I found them simple and useful, but somehow just a bit cute. They were the right size, back when compacts were compacts. So I’ve had an affinity for Chevy II models since about 1962.

For collectors, the good news is that Auto World allows us to enjoy both these models for next to nothing, just $7.99 a pop with its True 1:64 Sports Cars and Muscle Wagons series. Here’s my take, and these are both new castings from AW.

The Models

               This new C8 Corvette looks particularly sharp in white as the color accents its chiseled good looks from that piercing nose to its muscular flanks, plus a slightly flared rear spoiler. As with its front-engine 1:64 models, the mid-engine Vette’s rear deck easily pops open to reveal its V8. The nice part is that with a big rear window you can see the orange engine block whether the deck is raised or closed.

               Detail is what you’d expect at 1:64 scale, but the side trim under the deck is realistic in shape and includes the small trunk area just as in the real deal.

               I like that there are tiny molded-in mirrors at the A-pillars, the sculpted air vent openings behind the doors, accented with black paint, rear diffuser and chin spoiler, also both painted black, which sets them off on the white model. Head and taillights are painted, but properly shaped and there are two sets of dual exhausts protruding from the diffuser. The rear license is a Florida plate with C8 emblazoned on it, but you may need a magnifying glass to read it.

               Inside are red high-backed bucket racing seats and a black dash and steering wheel with enough definition on the dash top to look more realistic than you might expect at this scale. It’s not just a flat piece of plastic cut to fit.

               Wheels are a racy star five-spoke pattern in matte silver with rotors blended into the back of the wheels. Tires are treaded rubber. My only complaint is that one front wheel is misshapen so the sample doesn’t roll easily. That’s a problem if a kid is to play with it, but not for a collector putting it on display.

               The sample Azure Aqua Poly Chevy II Nova 400 Wagon has no wheel issues and rolls easily, plus it looks terrific in all its boxiness. Tires are rubber treaded whitewalls and the hub caps chrome for a little flash.

               Bumpers are a matte silver paint scheme and the same trims all the windows, the hood streak and of course the grille and wagon’s tailgate. The grille’s background also is painted black so the silver really pops. Headlights are painted white and the tiny stacked taillights are red over white.

               Side trim stripes are black and silver to just in line with the vent windows and then are silver all the way to the tail. There’s also a molded-in matte silver rocker panel. Door handles and the gas cap are accented in silver and there’s a Nova decal on the rear quarter panels and Chevrolet label on the tailgate.

               Under the hood, which easily poses in the open position, is an orange Chevy engine block with black round air filter. The rest of the underhood area is flat black plastic, including the radiator.

               Inside are blue-green seats to nearly match the body color, plus a dash with air duct work and a steering wheel.

               Both cars have undercarriage detailing too, although it’s more pronounced on the Nova wagon with its big driveshaft and suspension components, especially in back.

               Finally, there are blue and white license plates front and rear that read Nova 400 and may be Ohio plates, but even magnified that’s a tough read.

               Note too that the Vette also is available in black, although I think the white is better for distinguishing the body lines. While the Nova wagon also comes in Saddle Tan with an Ermine White roof.

               The History

In case you just woke up from a Van Winkle-type sleep you should be aware that Corvette no longer is a front-engine sports car.  The C8 moves the engine behind the driver and does away with the manual transmission, just offering an 8-speed dual-clutch automatic.

Watch Mark’s review and video of the 1:1 Vette: 2020 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray Coupe | Savage On Wheels.

The 6.2-liter V8 cranks 495 horsepower and will do 0 to 60 mph in 3.0 seconds or less, say the car magazines. And all this for just $60 grand, as opposed to most supercars running in the $150,000-$300,000 range, or more. Corvette remains a hot rod that at least some of us might afford, if not loaded with options.

The Nova wagon on the other hand did not offer a V8 in the 1963 models, but did have a fine 3.8-liter 230 cu.in. inline 6 cylinder. A V8 was optional in 1964. Nova was the top of the Chevy II lineup that also included a convertible and hardtop along with the sedan and wagon. Nova replaced the Chevy II name in 1968.

Both are fine 1:64 die-cast cars on gorgeous and informative hang cards. AW just keeps making fun and unusual models in this small scale to keep augmenting car lovers’ die-cast collections.

New to Auto World are 1:64 scale decals much as you’d find in a plastic model kit.

Note: AW also has introduced decals for you to use to soup up and customize your favorite muscle cars, etc. The sheet has a little of everything from Johnny Lightning and Mobil decals to numbers and decals that say Rat Fink, Rad Rod, etc. Yes, Mooneyes, STP and Chevy are also here among many others. Just $9.99 and you could do up a bunch of your 1:64 collection.

Vital Stats: 2020 Corvette/1963 Chevy II Nova wagon

Maker: Auto World
Scale: 1/64
Stock No.: AW64312
MSRP: $7.99 each

Link: Autoworldstore.com

2021 Lexus IS 350 F Sport AWD

Sport luxury sedan goodness; if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it …

Sorry if this sounds like a broken record (remember those?), but Lexus refuses to mess with success when it comes to its IS 350 sports sedan.

For instance, Lexus sticks with its trusted 3.5-liter V6, keeps the IS 350’s overall dimensions within an inch of its predecessor and delivers the same smooth luxury feel to go along with ample performance to still claim it as one of the best sports sedans for less than $60,000.

OK, so what DID change?

The tested Iridium Silver ($425 extra) test car, an AWD model, looks sleeker than its earlier models because Lexus has gone with its newer thin swept taillights and full-width light bar in back and thinner headlights that meld perfectly into the stylish creases of the hood and front fenders.

The look is stunning, although some may still argue that the large angular spindle grille here is garish. Well, pish posh because all luxury makes are going shamelessly crazy with large, visually striking grilles bedecked with monster logos on their noses. It’s ironic because all the grilles are uniquely shaped to identify the brand, so logos are mostly unnecessary accouterments.

Beyond styling, Lexus has strengthened its chassis, which makes for easier ride and handling tuning, while also cutting weight a bit with aluminum vs. steel control arms and lighter springs and anti-roll bars.

The standard touchscreen has been upgraded to a 10.3-incher, perfect for this size car, and the seats are covered in NuLux, a faux leather. You’ll likely not be able to tell it from the real deal as the surface is soft as a baby’s bottom.

For the tested F Sport the suspension and brakes are upgraded. There’s a double wishbone front suspension with gas shocks and a stabilizer bar and a multi-link rear suspension. Brakes feature 4-piston calipers with 13.1-inch discs in front and 11.7-inchers in back. Stopping power is excellent.

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

Likewise the rest of the IS’s performance is what you’d expect. The 311-horse V6 is strong and will quickly propel the AWD sedan to highway speeds, although adding a turbo would surely make acceleration more exciting. That AWD system favors the rear wheels unless there’s a slippery surface, so the speed nearly always comes from those back wheels, 19-inchers, but more on that in a minute.

The V6 in the AWD models is linked with a Lexus 6-speed automatic, which some might think outdated as 8- to 10-speed trannies are grace many a luxu model as they mildly help boost gas mileage. But this one is perfectly suited here and delivers buttery smooth shifts. If you go with the rear-drive model an 8-speed automatic comes standard.

Handling and ride are pure sports sedan. You can toss the IS into corners with confidence as the steering is quick and the grip as sticky as a toddler’s fingers. No body lean either, and all that improves in Sport and Sport+ drive modes that are part of the F Sport package. The car also offers Eco, Normal and Custom modes.

Ride is firm but so well controlled by all those lighter and new suspension pieces that you feel a jiggle on railroad tracks or pot holes, but never a sharp rap to the tailbone. Ride is as confident and plush as the steering is taunt.

Inside the biggest upgrade, in my little mind, is the fine 10.3-inch touchscreen that also includes a radio tuning knob below it. No longer must you rely on the awkward haptic touchpad for tuning as you drive. The pad is still there to help access other screen functions, but is rarely needed. Finally!

Red enough for ya? Seats are comfy and look sharp too!

Lexus stylists are not shy, as the grille would indicate, so they deliver a black over red interior with matte medium red NuLuxe seats. The soft fake leather looks great too. Plus Lexus continues with some of the best seats in the biz with awesome hip and kidney support, a real pleasure to ride in these power seats. Plus the fronts are heated and cooled. Bravo!

Head and legroom are good up front and moderate in back, but if no one is super tall in the family everyone will fit comfortably. If you need more legroom, consider the Lexus ES.

Complementing the red seats is black dash and door trim at the tops along with red door trim with faux leather inserts below that. The lower dash is red plastic too and this is where I had a quibble. I expected a better finish. The lower door and dash plastic looked a bit too shiny and, well, like plastic. A matte finish would squelch some of that luster to better match the seats and upper dash.

Ironically, the rear seat door trim seemed much more muted and acceptable. Maybe the front trim was a one-off test car finish issue.

That black dash features red stitching as does the leather steering wheel, which really should be a flat-bottom number for a sport sedan. That would create easier entry and exit for driver knees. Good news though, the steering wheel is heated, much needed in northern climes.

Sharp rear lights with a full tail light bar!

The rest of the IS dash layout is fine, the touchscreen a winner, and the controls all easy to use and figure out. Oh, and Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are now standard.

The test car added mucho options, as seems the practice on Lexus models of late. A power sunroof, not panoramic but fine, adds $1,100. The other major interior add-on was a souped up Mark Levinson audio and navigation system with voice recognition. For $2,740 you get the touchscreen and nav, but the audio is crazy powerful with 1,800 watts (about 1,000 extra over the norm) and 17 speakers. Old folks with hearing difficulties will have no trouble grooving to Motown tunes now. And get this, there’s a CD player. Yes! Again, catering to the older demographic that may be intending to buy a luxo sport sedan.

What the IS doesn’t have is a wireless phone charger, a big oversight. Sure, you can plug a phone into outlets inside the console’s big well-padded armrest/storage box, but if you’re like me, it’s a lot easier to forget a charging phone that’s out of sight.

Other options include a park assist program with panoramic view mirror that runs $1,400 and the F Sport Dynamic Handling Package costing $3,800. It includes flat black BBS wheels that give the IS a high-perf look. And as mentioned above the sporty drive modes and an adaptive suspension system are part of the deal. Ash trim adds to the interior’s glitz and a small carbon fiber trunk lid spoiler are included in the package, along with a Smart access card key.

A triple beam LED headlight package for $1,250 is the last major spiff, but a few others provide thick plastic floor mats and illuminated door sills, etc.

Standard are all the electronic safety features you’d assume on a luxury sedan, and good news, the lane departure system can be turned off for easier city and construction zone driving.

The test car started at $45,925, with delivery, and all those options pushed it to $58,040. That’s well into the luxury range, but not unusual among competitors, such as the BMW 3 Series, Audi A4, Acura TLC, Mercedes C Class and Volvo S60.

It’s also not unusual for a high-performance car to need premium fuel. That’s suggested for this V6, although it will run fine on lower octane, just not as peppy. Gas mileage is just OK tough. I got 21.5 mpg in a mix of city and highway while the EPA rates this at 19 mpg city and 26 mpg highway.

Fancy BBS black wheels and giant rotors set off the wheels.

If less power is OK by you, then save some cash with an IS 300 that features a turbocharged I4 that creates 241 horsepower. It lists at $39,000 and also comes with a smaller 8-inch touchscreen. Adding AWD costs $2,000 but also upgrades to a V6 packing 260 horses.

For luxury sport sedans the IS continues to be a solid and comfortable choice, plus it includes a 6-year, 70,000-mile powertrain warranty. Its reliability and strong resale value don’t hurt either!

FAST STATS: 2021 Lexus IS 350 AWD

Hits: Sporty styling inside and out, smooth power and shifts, quick handling, AWD and big-time brakes. Large touchscreen, heated wheel and heated/cooled seats, sunroof, fancy audio system plus CD player, and lane departure control can be shut off.

Misses: No wireless charger, touchpad still a backup for touchscreen, no turbo to boost V6 power, front door panels/lower dash too plastic looking, and some would say grille is garish.

Made in: Tahara, Aichi, Japan

Engine: 3.5-liter V6, 311 hp

Transmission: 6-speed automatic

Weight: 3,800+ lbs.

Wheelbase: 110.2 in.

Length: 185.4 in.

Cargo: 10.8 cu.ft.

MPG: 19/26

MPG: 21.5 (tested)

Base Price: $45,925 (includes delivery)

Invoice: $42,782

Major Options:

Intuitive Parking Assist w/auto braking, rear pedestrian detection, and panoramic view mirror, $1,400

F Sport Dynamic Handling package (19-inch flat black BBS wheels, drive mode select w/Sport/Sport+/Custom modes, adaptive variable suspension, Ash heated/wood-trimmed steering wheel and interior trim, carbon fiber rear spoiler, Smart access card key), $3,800

Triple beam LED headlights, $1,250

Nav/Mark Levinson audio package (nav system w/10.3-in. touchscreen, Enform Dynamic nav system, voice command, destination assist, Mark Levinson 17-speaker and 1,800 watt premium surround sound system), $2,750

Premium paint, $425

Power moonroof, $1,100

Illuminated trunk sill, $450

Rear bumper applique, $85

Illuminated door sills, $425

All-weather floor mats, trunk tray, $290

Door edge guards, $140

Test vehicle: $58,040

Sources: Lexus, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

Why I despise EV’s but am big on electric propulsion

Born into a car family

I don’t have blood, pretty sure I have motor oil in my veins. It started before I was even born. My mom’s dad sold Pontiacs and Hudsons while my other grandpa was a Chevy guy. My dad worked for AMC/Chrysler for 27 years and I’ve been told that I was conceived in the back of a Nash. I love everything about cars, from how they are designed, manufactured, marketed and tested. I especially love high performance cars and have driven, the new Corvette, Dodge Challenger Hellcat, Ram TRX, along with several Jaguars. It’s the sound, I love the sound, and the power when I step on the gas. I love the way they handle and have driven several of them at Road America.

Me all smiles after experiencing the Ram TRX

EV’s to me are a waste of time.

I will admit that most of them can out accelerate even the biggest and baddest V8 but outside of that see no upside. Ok tree huggers, jump in telling me how they save the planet with their zero o2 tailpipe emissions but you are forgetting one huge item, actually several. First, all the current EV’s are manufactured the same way ICE (internal combustion engine) vehicles are. In a factory that uses tons of electricity to make the steel and or aluminum uses in the body, frame, and other areas, the plastic found in the interior, and carpeting. How about that glass. Forged in the same factory that supplies manufacturers of ICE vehicles. And let’s not forget about the batteries. Their carbon footprint for manufacturing is even larger and where do they go when they wear out?

Mustang Mach-E we reviewed earlier this year. Nice car but not a Mustang

Related Video: Come along with Mark as he reviews the Mustang Mach-E

So much for the manufacturing. Now let’s talk about tax revenue. With the exception of Teslas, owners receive a tax credit. Less revenue to run this country which almost always seems to be running out of money. Now since EV’s don’t fill up with gas, there’s lost tax revenue there that goes to many things like road construction and repairs. Boom, gone!

Now let’s talk about charging. It’s gotten a lot better. The longest range EV according to the EPA is the Tesla Model 3 Standard Range Plus that will got you 263 miles before needing a charge. But here comes the downside and deal breaker for me. It requires 8.5 hours to get a full charge and that’s assuming you can plug into 220V. Sure, the standard argument is that you can do that overnight but what if you need to travel a longer distance? I hate waiting.

Tesla Model 3, Photo: Tesla

Let’s talk about them spontaneously bursting into flames. Have you read about the Chevy Bolt? Here’s a new term for you, thermal runaway. This happens when the battery overheats, over-pressurizes and boom! (I’ll talk about my experiences in a bit).This happened so much that GM was forced to recall all of them. Do EV’s catch fire more than ICE cars? There is no reliable data. What is a fact though is that because of all that energy in the battery they generate more heat and take longer to put out.

Remains of a Chevy Bolt. Photo: Electrek.com

My blogging partner, Mark, reminds me that EV’s are coming. More like the flavor of the month. With virtually no infrastructure for charging, they are decades from any mainstream acceptance. Here’s an example. Kwik Trip is a large midwestern gas station/convenience store operator and I go there a lot.

EV plug at Kwik Trip in Wisconsin

I found this example recently. Their charging station with the same 120 v plug you’d find in and outside plug at your home. Think of the charge time on that bad boy. Even with tax credits according to Pew Research about 231,000 all-electric vehicles were sold in 2020, down 3.2% from 2018. In each of the past three years, EV’s accounted for about 2% of the U.S. new-car market which is tiny. It would most likely be even smaller if it were not for government tax credits as incentives, some as high as $7,500.

I’m fine with hybrids and had a chance to drive two very different ones recently at the Midwest Automotive Media Association (MAMA) event at Road America.

First, there was the Jeep Wrangler Unlimited 4xe which I had a chance to take off road. The first thing I noticed, especially after just driving the Wrangler 392 with its rumble, was how quite it was. And it was never lacking for power when I needed it to climb a hill or get through some mud. FYI, it is the number one selling hybrid. What does that say for saving the planet and having a whole lot of fun doing it?

Jeep Wrangler Unlimited 4xe doing what it does best, get dirty.

The other vehicle was the Karma GS-6, a masterpiece of design. This car oozes cool both inside and out. The interior looks like it was designed for the 25th century. So futuristic looking but with a price tag of just over 100 grand, not for everybody.

Karma GS-6 looking like it would do well on the four-mile track.

Electric propulsion works well on a smaller scale

Here’s where I’m big on battery powered propulsion. One of my time, and money sucking hobbies, is radio controlled airplanes. This is the segment that has experienced a huge jump in technology the last couple of years. My first electric plane I was small Piper Cub, or something that resembled one, with a two-foot wingspan. It carried 6 nickel cadmium batteries slightly smaller than AAA’s. The battery took about an hour to charge and the plane flew for maybe five minutes. Charging the battery was sketchy at best. If you looked at them the wrong way, they would burn up. Sound familiar? The plane barely had enough power to get out of its own way.

Several of my LiPo batteries

Flash forward to today. Now we fly with Liquid Polimer batteries (LiPo’s) which hold tons more energy. I just sold my last gas-powered airplane and with the exception of my turbine jet am now an all-electric fleet. This wasn’t something that I had decided to do on a whim. It took a while so that I could have several planes utilizing similar batteries based on their size. While there are still electric planes that will have very short flight times, mine can fly on an average of five to eight minutes. That might sound like a short time but it’s maybe slightly shorter than gas powered planes. Care must be taken with the batteries just like the ones that go in the car because they can catch fire and have been known to burn up a car or entire garage.

EDF from my A-10.

Some of my planes are actually jets with electric ducted fans powering them. Sort of like a little turbine except with an electric motor. It takes 30 minutes to an hour to charge the batteries on one of the several chargers I have. All of the flying fields have power for me to charge the batteries. One even uses solar cells that charge storage batteries. Unlike the EV auto industry there are no tax breaks for guys like us for doing this. It is driven by demand only and doing really well. Each time I show up at the field I see new electric planes.

While converting planes from fuel to electric is popular I want to share an example of one of my planes that I built designed specifically for electric power. The Avro Vulcan was a cold-war era four-engine jet bomber the English flew. It was designed to defend England from a Russian nuclear attack. Go check out this video and turn up the volume to hear what’s called the Vulcan Howl. The Jet was so far ahead of its time.

Avro Vulcan in flight

My radio control model is a large one, 80 inch wingspan, the fuselage is 74 inches long and it weighs just 14 pounds. It’s powered by four electric ducted fans and requires four Li-Po batteries. Efficiency in the build was critical here and with a combination of balsa, ply, carbon fiber and foam it has a 14-1 thrust ratio.

A friend of mine an I both built Vulcan’s a few years ago and they are a blast to fly. We have had both of them up at the same time as you can see in this video.

My RC Avro Vulcan on display at EAA’s AirVenture

Will commercial aviation go all-electric? Not in mine or your lifetime. Right now they are just getting into that but on a very small scale. Commuter aircraft are a possiblity but that represents about 2% of all commercial flights.

And finally my point

A good friend of mine, Mike Dorna, who works at Briggs & Stratton here in Milwaukee forwarded and great article on this hole electric bruh ha ha. Mike’s dad was one of the engineers who developed an EV hybrid for the company while they were still just dreams. Jay Leno did a segment on it.

Briggs and Stratton Hybrid designed and built in Milwaukee. YouTube screen grab.

In the article by Tony Adams, who launched Engine + Powertrain Technology International brings up valid points that are often ignored by the media. He points out that gigafactories are being built but the eco-ramification of building them is being ignored. The exhaustion of cobalt and other rare earth materials with questionable supply chains are being overlooked. Then there’s the eco credentials of the batteries themselves is being disregarded and so are the weight and generally negative dynamic effects of heavily over-burdened cars.

Rather than trying to create a totally new system that will expend gobs of energy, how about alternative fuels like maybe hydrogen? It’s free and the most abundant chemical in the universe and we don’t even have to drill for it! Talk about zero emmissions, this is it and cars can be developed to run on it. Gas stations can dispense it just like they do gasoline now and it’s a much better alternative than electric.

They simply take energy and turn it into rotational movement – the difference is that in a normal electric car, this energy only comes from an on-board battery that needs to be charged up, while in a hydrogen car it comes from an on-board generator that uses hydrogen. A hydrogen car can be taken from empty to full in a few minutes at a fuel pump, like a petrol or diesel car – so in this way they’re better than electric cars, and it’s convenient.

Photo: Porsche

Porsche is testing a synthetic eFuel made out of CO2 and hydrogen and are produced using renewable energy. This creates a liquid that an engine will burn the same as if it was gasoline made from crude oil, but in theory, an eFuel can be produced in a climate-neutral manner. They expect to have its first small test batch, 34,340 gallons ready by 2022.

Ok, I’m done now. Watch carefully how the EV game is played out in Europe. The UK has set 2040 for a date where they are going to ban the sale of ICE cars. Good luck with that. Please somebody make sanity take over. This is nuts!

2022 Volkswagen Taos SE

Taos another newcomer in expanding small crossover market …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A nice sized screen on the new Taos.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sharp taillights!

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

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

FAST STATS: 2022 VW Taos SE

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

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

Fancy black wheels give Taos a sporty look.

Made in: Puebla, Mexico

Engine: 1.5-liter turbo I4, 158 hp

Transmission: 8-speed automatic

Weight: 3,175 lbs.

Wheelbase: 105.9 in.

Length: 175.8 in.

Cargo: 28.1/66.3 cu.ft.

MPG: 28/36

MPG: 29.4 (tested)

Base Price: $28,440

Invoice: $27,351

Major Options:

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

King’s Red metallic paint, $395

Power panoramic sunroof, $1,200

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

Test vehicle: $31,325

Sources: VW, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

2022 Genesis G70 3.3T Sport Advanced

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The white leather seats and trim ooze luxury and comfort.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FAST STATS: 2022 Genesis G70 3.3T Sport Advanced

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

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

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

Made in: Ulsan, So. Korea

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

Transmission: 8-speed automatic

Weight: 3,887 lbs.

Wheelbase: 111.6 in.

Length: 184.4 in.

Cargo: 11.0 cu.ft.

MPG: 17/25

MPG: 20-25.4 (tested)

Base Price: $45,245 (includes delivery)

Invoice: $43,281

Major Options: Himalayan Graypaint, $500

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

Test vehicle: $50,045

Sources: Genesis, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

2021 Hyundai Sonata N Line

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other than that I enjoyed the N Line playtime.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Black grille and distinctive nose styling here!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Phew!

FAST STATS: 2021 Hyundai Sonata N Line

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

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

Made in: Montgomery, Ala.

Engine: 2.5-liter, turbo I4, 290 hp

Transmission: 8-speed dual clutch, automatic

Weight: 3,552 lbs.

Wheelbase: 111.8 in.

Length: 192.9 in.

Cargo: 16.0 cu.ft.

MPG: 23/33

MPG: 25.1 (tested)

Base Price: $34,195 (includes delivery)

Invoice: $32,797

Major Options:

R19 summer tire upgrade, $200

Carpeted floor mats, $169

Test vehicle: $34,564

Sources: Hyundai, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

DIe-Cast: 1987 Audi Sport quattro S1 Rally Racer

Autoart’s Pikes Peak racer a mountaintop experience …

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

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

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

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

The History

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

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

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

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

The Model

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

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

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

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

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

Sharp under hood detail here on the Audi turbo.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sharp Recaro seat and red cloth seatbelts inside.

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

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

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

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

MSRP: $265

Link: Autoartmodels.com

2021 Lexus LS 500 AWD

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rear seats recline and massage, need I say more?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The closer you look, the cooler these taillights are!

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

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

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

FAST STATS: 2021 Lexus LS 500 AWD

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

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

Made in: Tahara, Aichi, Japan

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

Snazzy headlights perfectly blend with grille and hood!

Transmission: 10-speed automatic

Weight: 4,696 lbs.

Wheelbase: 123.0 in.

Length: 206.1 in.

Cargo: 16.9 cu.ft.

MPG: 17/27

MPG: 20.0 (tested)

Base Price: $80,275 (includes delivery)

Invoice: $73,936

Major Options:

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

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

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

Digital rearview mirror, $200

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

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

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

Panoramic glass roof, $1,000

Panoramic view monitor, $800

Premium wood trim, $800

Heated wood/leather trimmed steering wheel, $410

Illuminated door sills, $450

Rear bumper applique, $95

Door edge guards, $155

Test vehicle: $110,225

Sources: Lexus, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

2022 Kia Carnival SX Prestige

Kia’s renamed minivan a festival on wheels …

Minivans are about as popular these days as global warming.

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

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

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

From nose to tail the Carnival looks high-class.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gorgeous seats and interior in the top-level Carnival!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Plenty of safety equipment here too to protect the family.

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

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

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

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

Sharp looking headlights for Carnival!

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

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

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

FAST STATS: 2022 Kia Carnival SX Prestige

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

Even the taillights are handsome!

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

Made in: Sohari, Korea

Engine: 3.5-liter V6, 290hp

Transmission: 8-speed automatic

Weight: 4,727lbs.

Wheelbase: 121.7 in.

Length: 203 in.

Cargo: 40.2-141.5 cu.ft.

Tow: 3,500 lbs.

MPG: 19/26

MPG: 22.6 (tested)

Base Price: $47,275 (includes delivery)

Invoice: $45,202

Major Option:

Astra Blue paint, $495

Test vehicle: $47,770

Sources: Kia, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

2021 Land Rover Defender 90 First Edition

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2021 Land Rover Defender 90 First Edition

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

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

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

Made in: Nitra, Slovakia

Engine: 3.0-liter I6, 395 hp

Transmission: 8-speed automatic

Weight: 4,780 lbs.

Wheelbase: 101.9 in.

Length: 180.4 in.

Cargo: 58.3 cu.ft.

Tow: 8,200 lbs.

MPG: 17/22

MPG: 17.1 (tested)

Base Price: $65,450 (includes delivery)

Invoice: $61,604

Major Options:

Tow hitch receiver, $675

Off-road tires, $350

Test vehicle: $66,475

Sources: Land Rover, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

2022 Model Test Drive Previews

A little of this and that …

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

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

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

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

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

High roller:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More Duality:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More trucky:

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

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

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

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

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

Finding a new path:

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

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

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

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

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

MINI me:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

At the other extreme:

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

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

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

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

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

Adding an electric boost:

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

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

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

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

Going full-on electric:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#mamasummerdrive

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

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

Not a Lamborghini tractor!

Did you know Lamborghini makes tractors?

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

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

First a little history.

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

The History

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not a bad looker from the backside either.

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

The Model

Where to start?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vital Stats: Lamborghini Centenario Roadster

The hood opens to expose nose detail too.

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

Recommended Sellers: Autoartmodels.comReplicarz.com

2021 BMW M440i Convertible

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vroom with a view!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FAST STATS: 2021 BMW M440i Convertible

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

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

Made in: Dingolfing, Germany

Engine: 3.0-liter twin turbo I6, 382 hp

Transmission: 8-speed automatic

Weight: 3,578 lbs.

Wheelbase: 112.2 in.

Length: 187.9 in.

Cargo: 9.0 cu.ft.

MPG: 23/31

MPG: 26.2 (tested)

Base Price: $64,995 (includes delivery)

Invoice: N.A.

Options:

Dravit Gray Metallic paint, $1,950

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

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

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

Moonlight black soft top, $150

Neck warmer, $500

Wireless charging, $500

Harman Kardon surround sound, $875

Test vehicle: $74,670

Sources: BMW, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

2021 Dodge Durango SRT Hellcat AWD

Crazy fast Hellcat SUV a demonic delight …

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

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

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

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

Even the Hellcat logo looks tough!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FAST STATS: 2021 Dodge Durango SRT Hellcat AWD

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

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

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

Made in: Detroit, Mich.

Engine: 6.2-liter supercharged HEMI V8, 710 hp

Transmission: 8-speed automatic

Weight: 5,710 lbs.

Wheelbase: 119.8 in.

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

Length: 200.8 in.

Cargo: 17.2/43.3/85.1 cu.ft.

Tow: 8,700 lbs.

MPG: 12/17

MPG: 14.7-15.1 (tested)

Base Price: $82,490 (includes delivery)

Invoice: $78,731

Major Options:

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

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

Low-gloss gunmetal dual stripes, $1,195

Pirelli P Zero ZR20 3-season tires, $595

Blind-spot and cross-path detection, $495

Test vehicle: $89,665

Sources: Dodge, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

2021 Ford Mustang Mach 1 Premium

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What do you get for your hard-earned cash?

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

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

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

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

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

Orange Brembo calipers look sharp on this gray Tang.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not much says Mustang like three-bar taillights!

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

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

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

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

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

FAST STATS: 2021 Ford Mustang Mach 1 Premium

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

The exhaust tone from the dual twin pipes is inspirational!

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

Made in: Flat Rock, Mich.

Engine: 5.0-liter V8, 480 hp

Transmission: 6-speed TREMEC manual

Weight: 3,844 lbs.

Wheelbase: 107.1 in.

Length: 188.5 in.

Cargo: 13.5 cu.ft.

MPG: 14/22

MPG: 17.7 (tested)

Base Price: $52,915 (includes delivery)

Invoice: $51,329

Major Options:

10-speed automatic transmission, $1,595

19-inch magnetic-painted aluminum wheels, $395

Voice-activated touchscreen nav system, $595

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

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

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

Test vehicle: $59,390

Sources: Ford, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

2021 Hyundai Santa Fe Caligraphy

Fourth gen Santa Fe grows into a sharp looker …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Better safe than sorry I suppose.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FAST STATS: 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe Calligraphy

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

These T-shaped headlights are a standout styling feature.

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

Made in: Montgomery, Ala.

Engine: 2.5-liter turbo I4, 277 hp

Transmission: 8-speed automatic w/Shiftronic

Weight: 4,060 lbs.

Wheelbase: 108.9 in.

Length: 188.4 in.

Cargo: 36.4-72.1 cu.ft.

Tow: 3,500 lbs.

MPG: 21/28

MPG: 26.4 (tested)

Base Price: $43,275 (includes delivery)

Invoice: $41,480

Major Options: Quartz white paint, $300

Carpeted floor mats, $155

Test vehicle: $43,730

Sources: Hyundai, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

2021 Genesis G80 2.5T RWD

Entry-level luxury never looked this good ….

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FAST STATS: 2021 Genesis G80 2.5T RWD

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

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

Made in: Ulsan, So. Korea

Engine: 2.5-liter turbo I4, 300 hp

Transmission: 8-speed automatic

Weight: 4,143 lbs.

Wheelbase: 118.5 in.

Length: 196.7 in.

Cargo: 13.1 cu.ft.

MPG: 23/32

MPG: 24.9 (tested)

Base Price: $48,725 (includes delivery)

Invoice: $45,674

Major Options: Uyuni White paint, $400

Test vehicle: $49,125

Sources: Genesis, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

2022 Acura MDX SH-AWD Advance

Acura doctors up its MDX , prescribing excellence …

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

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

            What changed?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Door panel controls also look sharp and function well.

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

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

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

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

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

FAST STATS: 2022 Acura MDX SH-AWD Advance

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

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

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

Made in: East Liberty, Ohio

Pentagon-shaped grilles seem to all be the rage!

Engine: 3.5-liter V6, 290 hp

Transmission: 10-speed automatic

Weight: 4,565 lbs.

Wheelbase: 113.8 in.

Length: 198.4 in.

Cargo: 16.3/39.1/95.0 cu.ft.

Tow: 5,000 lbs.

MPG: 19/25

MPG: 21.6 (tested)

Base Price: $61,675 (includes delivery)

Invoice: N.A.

Major Options: None

Test vehicle: $61,675

Sources: Acura, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yowza!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sexy beak and eyes!

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

Made in: Salamanca, Mexico

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

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

Weight: 3,472 lbs.

Wheelbase: 104.5 in.

Length: 173 in.

Cargo: 20.2 cu.ft.

MPG: 22/30

MPG: 26.6 (tested)

Base Price: $35,000 (includes delivery)

Invoice: N.A.

Options:

Soul Red Crystal paint, $595

Cargo cover, $150

All-weather floor mats, $125

Rear bumper guards, stainless, $125

Test vehicle: $35,995

Sources: Mazda, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage