2021 Nissan Kicks SR

Cute new Nissan Kicks up a lot of value …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FAST STATS: 2021 Nissan Kicks SR

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

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

Made in: Mexico

Engine: 1.6-liter I4, 122 hp

Transmission: XtronicCVT automatic

Weight: 2,744 lbs.

Wheelbase: 103.1 in.

Length: 169.1 in.

Cargo: 25-53 cu.ft.

MPG: 31/36

MPG: 31.5 (tested)

Base Price: $23.090 (includes delivery)

Invoice: N.A.

Major Options:

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

Test vehicle: $24,290

Sources: Nissan, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

Die-Cast Autoart Pagani Huayra Roadster

Rockin’ Huayra Roadster is packed with detail …

Think of an Italian supercar and likely you’ll conjure up images of a Ferrari or Lamborghini in all its red or yellow sleekness that translates into sexy, exotic, and fast.

But now there’s Pagani, another Italian make out of Modena (Ferrari’s birthplace), and its sleek mistresses of speed, Zonda and Huayra. I don’t think of a Pagani dominated by one color either, so it’s fine that the Autoart 1:18 scale sample is in a blue tricolor carbon fiber finish. It’s an eyeball blistering look that will leap out amid any die-cast collection.

The History

First, you may want to know how to pronounce Huayra. Say waira!

The mid-engine supercar replaced the Zonda and packs a Mercedes-AMG 6.0-liter twin-turbo V12 to propel it from 0 to 60 mph in 2.8 seconds. Horsepower is 720 coupe, 754 roadster. Torque is 738 lb.-ft. Top speed is 238 mph. So, faster than snot!

The car, designed by Argentinian Horacio Pagani who founded his namesake in 1992, debuted in 2012; the roadster launching in 2017. Weight is at a premium, just 2,822 lbs. overall for the roadster, about 150 lbs. less than the coupe. The 22-lb. exhaust system alone is specially made of titanium to reduce weight.

Front nose flaps aid Huayra’s handling.

Cool features? Well there are four automatically operated flaps, two front and two rear to optimize aerodynamics, minimizing drag and maximizing downforce.

The front flaps also cut body roll in corners while the rear flaps also serve as air brakes. That becomes much more important at 200+ mph than on city streets or interstates.

The roadster features a removable roof panel, a redesigned engine cover, and most obvious, doors that open conventionally. The coupe features gull-wing doors. Also unique to the roadster is its carbon triax fiberglass body mixed with carbon fiber bands, again keeping the car as light as possible.

Here’s the Pagani with its black roof panel in place.

There’s a price to pay, if you are among the car’s 100 buyers, or can snag a used one. New, the Huayra went for about $1.1 million. That makes the $330 price for Autoart’s 1:18 model seems a super deal by comparison.

The Model

               Already a top-tier die-cast car maker, Autoart’s models just keep getting better and better. This Pagani is gorgeous and as detailed as some models costing $500, or more. Another plus, Autoart creates more modern machines than most other high-end model makers who tend toward the classics.

               This one is spectacular.

               The body’s finish is perfect with the textured blue carbon fiber look meticulously reproduced. You can feel the slightly ribbed texture with a finger, and a bonus, you won’t leave a fingerprint as you might on a glossy finish.

               The four nose and tail flaps, as mentioned above, can be posed up or down. There’s a Pagani medallion on the black hood insert just at the windshield’s base. One giant wiper appears to sweep the windshield.

Love the quad exhaust grouping on the tail!

Black carbon fiber-like trim wraps the windshield and bulkhead bulges behind the seats where the separate roof can lay on top. Similar black carbon fiber graces the chin spoiler, the aero skirt along the side that blends into the rocker panel before the rear tires and then much of the rear-end, including the huge diffuser.

That spreads out just below the four exhaust tips that exit together out the top tunnels that run from those headrest bulges back to the tail. Wow!

               Up front are eight individual light lenses, grouped in twos, and horizontal light bars on the nose, just above the chin spoiler. The fine black mesh metal grille work on the nose is dainty and precise.

               There are cooling vents on the front fenders over the wheel wells with distinctive chrome dividers and likewise Pagani-labeled chrome accents over the vents built into the doors, again just behind the front wheels.

               Chrome Huayra script logos grace the rear quarter panels before the rear wheels and another is on the lower right of that black carbon fiber rear panel above the diffuser. Again, more delicate black wire mesh is on either side of the quad exhausts and another Pagani logo just below that. Rear taillights, all six of them, look realistic with matte chrome surrounds.

               The entire rear deck features more curves than on stage at a beauty pageant with the tunnels leading to the exhaust displaying more mesh in the elongated oval vents. An arrow-tip clear plastic insert is just over that AMG V12 so you can see its black, silver and yellow goodness, even with the bonnet closed. Flip up the big rear deck and there’s a full suspension, springs, detailed engine, bracing, and such to entertain a viewer.

There’s a ton of detail under the rear bonnet.

               With that open a couple luggage compartments, one on each side, will open to reveal tan luggage pieces that match the car’s interior. Great detail and a bonus for folks who like to pose their models with all opening features fully revealed.

               Doors open, naturally and with the roof off the interior view is unimpeded. Detail here is tremendous too. The interior is two-tone tan and black with oodles of silver or chrome accents. The doors have giant round chrome and black speaker/door release features that are a bit over the top, but then at a million bucks, you expect some of that.

               Seats are racing types with major side bolsters, cloth shoulder belts and textured seat cushions.

The tan interior is chock full of gauges, air vents and detail.

               This dash and steering column-mounted instrument panel looks like something from a starship, or at least an aircraft. The wheel is a tan and black flat-bottom racing style while the gauges on the column are mostly chrome and black and readable. Four round air vents protrude prominently from the dash and the center stack is fully detailed with screen and buttons, plus a red-balled control near the top that I must admit I have no idea what its function is.

               A silver gear shift lever is between the front seats and you can see carbon fiber firewalls in the foot wells and under the dash, plus giant speakers with chrome surrounds. It’s all pretty spectacular and much more visually interesting if you leave off the roof that can be placed on top for a closed-top roadster.

Cool that you can pose the car with its matching luggage!

               If you’re into serious rubber, the Pirelli P Zero Corsa tires are so-labeled and as wide as a hot dog eating champs’ butt. Nice tread pattern too.

Front wheels are steerable, with the steering wheel connected, so not just poseable. Wheels themselves are multi-spoked star designs in matte silver and behind those are monster drilled disc brakes with blue Pagani-branded calipers, the rears being somewhat different from the front calipers.

Details, details, details. That’s what Autoart is into big time and this Pagani epitomizes that attention. This is one of the most beautiful and fully detailed models I’ve ever reviewed. Winner!

Vital Stats: Pagani Huayra Roadster

Maker: Autoart
Scale: 1/18
Stock No.: 78286
MSRP: $330

Link: Autoartmodels.com

2021 Ford F-150 4×4 Supercrew Lariat (hybrid)

Hybrid F-150 generates apocalypse-conquering power …

After 43 years as the best-selling vehicle in the United States I suppose nothing should surprise me about the latest Ford F-150.

Ford hasn’t stayed atop this highly competitive money-making bonanza of a market for U.S. carmakers because it coasts. Nope, it keeps re-inventing the envelope.

For 2021 Ford adds a hybrid powerplant to the F-150 and, get this, a generator in the tail that you could use to power your house during one of our apocalyptic 100-year floods, tornadoes, rains, etc. This monster of a truck is exactly what you’d want during the apocalypse. It should star in a blockbuster movie as it squishes zombies and 4-wheels over a crumbling world’s infrastructure.

Let’s get right to it.

I drove a Rapid Red F-150 4×4 SuperCrew Lariat, a midlevel model that will seat five or six, depending on seat arrangements. Mine was a luxurious 5-seater with a giant console, but more on this interior in a bit.

Most important, this is the first hybrid pickup on the market and if Chevy and Ram are the least bit interested in gaining ground on Ford they’d better have one soon.

Standard in this model is the powerful twin-turbo 2.7-liter V6 gas engine that makes 325 horsepower, or you could get a 5.0-liter V8 with 400 horses if gas burning, or buying, simply doesn’t matter to you.

The hybrid system, added here for $3,300 extra, conjoins a twin-turbo 3.5-liter V6 with a 35kw electric motor with batteries under the rear seat. It makes a whopping 430 horsepower and pounds 570 lb.-ft. of torque all while delivering an EPA rated 24 miles per gallon, city or highway. Combined with a 30.6-gallon gas tank that creates a 700-mile driving range.

Past experience tells me that even with a cyclonic tailwind you’d be lucky to hit 20 mpg on the highway with any gas-only powered pickup. With this one I averaged 20.5 mpg in a week’s drive, with plenty of city and highway miles. The trip computer said I was managing 22 mpg. Either is a vast improvement on pickup gas mileage.

See my video review here: Ford F 150 Hybrid Review by Mark Savage – YouTube

A reminder here that Ford chopped hundreds of pounds from its last generation F-150 by using more aluminum in the body, so Ford has been working on making its full-size pickup more environmentally acceptable for some time.

From a driver’s standpoint the new F-150 is a rocket despite its hefty 5,517 lbs. Power comes on quickly and when you punch it the twin-turbo V6 delivers boatloads of power to get up to highway speeds or out-power most anyone at a stoplight. Handling is reasonable for a big pickup too, easy to keep in its lane and maneuver, except in a crowded parking lot. Then you’ll want to leave a little extra room, even though this one only had the smallest, 5.5-foot, bed. A 6.5- and 8-foot bed also are available.

Ride, well, it’s still a truck. Despite its independent double wishbone suspension up front with coil-over shocks and stamped lower control arm and rear leaf spring with solid axle it’s bouncy. Not harsh, but there’s rock and roll over severe streets and back roads. Although I must say the interior remains comfy and quiet, just some noticeable tire noise on certain pavements.

Ford now uses a fine 10-speed automatic transmission to give the truck a luxury feel while aiding its mileage. Mostly it’s wonderful, at least from third gear on up. Shifts from first to second and second to third can be a little abrupt at times, which you notice when cruising at low speeds on electric power around the neighborhood.

There’s much to praise for Ford’s luxury-level interior too, but first let’s look at its bed and that generator, which is tucked inside the driver’s side rear fender, with power access in the bed’s wall. Here you can plug into various outlets to access 7.2kw of power. This is just a $750 option for the Pro Power system, and would cost you more to get similar generation power from an independent unit. A smaller unit is standard.

The generator hookups in the truck bed is a boon for contractors.

Obviously this is a boon for contractors and construction folks needing quick access to electricity on a job site. Just leave the truck running (Stop & Go will turn off the gas engine shortly) and plug in. The batteries in the truck do the rest through the inverter and generator.

Just how much power is this? Well, I’m cheating a bit here, but found that Ezra Dyer of Car and Driver magazine tested the generator by running extension cords to his house and fired up virtually everything one would need to survive a big power outage. (Truck should sell well in Texas after this winter!) That means a couple fridges, TV, computer and plenty of lights. Ford assures us the power will last at least 72 hours. Wow, just wow!

See the Dyer story here: I Powered My House with the Ford F-150 Hybrid (caranddriver.com)

Talk about a perfect truck to tow a camper. Just plug in wherever you stop and you’ve got lights, heat, etc. to help you smooth out your “roughing it” outing. Speaking of trailering, this hybrid model will tow a magnificent 12,700 pounds, so it’s still a hauler.

Inside, well, nothing is rough in here.

The red truck features a handsome chocolate brown over black interior with doors and dash being two-tone and the seats a perforated black leather with chocolate brown piping while the giant storage box between the front seats is brown with black edging. That box is massive, and here there was a flip-up work surface, just $165 extra.

The F-150’s interior is attractive and luxurious, plus that shift lever can be powered down.

Now, one might wonder how that works since there’s a large shift lever at the front of the console that would prevent the flip-up surface from lying flat. Ford solves this with a button to retract the shift lever. Clever, but it sounds like a coffee grinder during retraction. Hope they work on that for the next go-round, or put the shifter on the column, or make it a retractable knob like some other brands do.

Seating is comfortable and roomy front and rear with fairly flat seat bottoms and more contoured backs. Everything is powered and there are three memory buttons for the driver’s seat. Front seats are heated and cooled and the steering wheel is heated here, as are the outer rear seats.

This dash is an eyeful, mostly in a good way. The instrument panel in front of the driver, plus the infotainment screen are both 12-inchers, so easy to see and read. In fact, the digital speedometer is so big it took me the full week to get used to it, but you SURE CAN see it. Mostly the info screen is easy to see and use too, but the split screen does take a little study, so do that first before you engage the throttle.

Here’s the shifter powering down. It folds flat.

One morning I had a little bugaboo when the screen froze trying to load the navigation system, saying it was in low-power mode. So I couldn’t use the screen until after I’d shut the truck off for several hours and it decided to return to full power mode. Hmmm!

Possible too that one could become overwhelmed by all the dash buttons. I counted 31, plus 1 toggle and 7 knobs. The buttons were a bit much, plus there are more to deal with on the info screen.

Overhead was a fine twin-panel sunroof that adds $1,495 to the sticker, one of 16 options here. I liked it though, and the standard Bang & Olufsen sound system was a winner too. 

Certainly Ford offers a full complement of safety devices from lane-keeping assist to park sensors, blind-spot warning and emergency collision braking, plus a smart cruise control system. I should point out for trailer haulers the cool Pro Trailer system that uses a knob on the dash to help a driver back up to, and attach, a trailer.

Other goodies included a power tailgate ($695) that both powers up and down, plus there’s a fold-out step and handle in the gate. A spray-in bed liner ($595) was added, and there was a yardstick and meter measuring template molded into the tailgate, another benefit for those using this big people hauler as a work truck.

Once the shifter is down the optional work surface can fold flat.

Luckily the F-150 added running boards for $225, otherwise those under 6-foot or so probably would need a stepladder to crawl aboard. Rubber floor mats added $200 and the 360-degree camera another $765. That’s needed for parking.

Other various packages including one for Co-Pilot 360 Active 2.0 and appearance packages added another roughly $10,000. Overall there were $20,000 in options on the Lariat, which starts at $52,675 including delivery. Total then was $70,960, a huge price that falls just short of what I paid for a house 25 years ago.

Don’t be scared off though, there are so many models and configurations that surely you can find an F-150 in your price range. The base regular-cab XL with 2-wheel-drive lists at about $29,000. While a Limited 4×4 hybrid model can nearly hit $80 grand.

Know that there are three cab style choices, three bed lengths, 6 powertrains (including hybrid and diesel), 6 trims and then the performance-oriented Raptor. But that’s for another review.

Ford remains the technology leader among pickups.

FAST STATS: 2021 Ford F-150 4×4 SuperCrew Lariat (hybrid)

Hits: Roomy work truck with luxury interior, hybrid power and improved mpg, plus a built-in generator in the bed. Huge info screen and instrument gauges, large sunroof, heated wheel and heat/cool seats, power tailgate w/step, 360-degree camera, fold-out work area, running boards. Excellent towing power and acceleration, decent handling and Pro Trailer system to help when attaching a trailer.

There’s even a fold-out step and that yellow circle is a pop-out handle to help a user easily climb into the truck’s bed.

Misses: Big truck bouncy ride, difficult parking in tight lots, odd fold-down gear shift lever sounds like coffee grinder, an overabundance of buttons and knobs on dash, info screen got stuck once and couldn’t be used.

Made in: Dearborn, Mich.

Engine: 2.7-liter twin-turbo V6, 325 hp

Transmission: 10-speed automatic

Weight: 5,517 lbs.

Wheelbase: 145.4 in.

A big double-pane sliding sunroof lets a lot of light into the interior here.

Length: 231.7 in.

Cargo bed: 52.8 cu.ft.

Tow: 12,700 lbs.

MPG: 24/24

MPG: 20.5 (tested)

Base Price: $52,675 (includes delivery)

Invoice: N.A.

Major Options: Rapid red paint, $395

3.5-liter V6 hybrid, $3,300

Equipment group 502A, $6,920

6-inch extended accent running boards, $225

Co-Pilot 360 Active 2.0 Prep Package, $995

Twin panel moonroof, $1,495

All-weather rubber/carpet floor mats, $200

Pro Power onboard 7.2kw generator, $750

Interior work surface, $165

Trailer tow package, $1.090

Partitioned lockable storage, $215

Power tailgate, $695

360-degree camera, $765

Lariat Sport appearance package, $300

Wheel well liner, $180

Bedliner, spray-in, $595

Test vehicle: $70,960

Sources: Ford, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

2021 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid Limited

Pacifica minivan nears perfection with quiet plug-in hybrid …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Big panoramic sunroof really brightens up the interior.

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

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

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

FAST STATS: 2021 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid Limited

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

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

Made in: Windsor, Ont., Canada

Engine: 3.6 V6, hybrid, 260 hp

Transmission: CVT, automatic

Weight: 4,987 lbs.

Wheelbase: 121.6 in.

Length: 203.8 in.

Cargo: 140.5 cu.ft.

MPG: 82 gas/electric, 30 gas only

MPG: 24.0 (tested)

Base Price: $47,340 (includes delivery)

Invoice: $47,289

Major Options:

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

Test vehicle: $49,835

Sources: Chrysler, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

Auto World’s Johnny Lightning, themed 2-packs

Bright Yenko Chevy, Psychedelic Seventies cars double the fun …

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

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

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

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

The Nova is the star of this duo!

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

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

Both of these babies are bright stars!

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

The Models

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

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

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

Easy to see the engine on this one!

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

Sexy stripes on this Yenko Nova!

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

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

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

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

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

Wow, now this is a paint scheme to remember!

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

Love the SS hood and the color combo here too.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vital Stats: Johnny Lightning Themed 2-packs

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

Link: Autoworldstore.com

VW Atlas Cross Sport SEL R-Line Premium

Shorter Cross Sport aims at slightly different buyer …

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

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

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

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

Two car guys reunite after 36 years.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fast forward 36 years

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

Die-Cast: Auto World’s 1971 Chevy Camaro RS/SS

1971 Camaro RS/SS full of sophisticated style, sharp detail …

Fond memories of an early car follow many of us who grew up in the 1960s and 1970s and the second generation Camaro fills this category for me, and likely many others.

I loved the original Camaro’s shape, but the second gen was a smooth and sexy new look in the muscle car wars. The pointy snout with the two big headlights, smooth uncomplicated body lines and handsome four round taillights was a winner, and then down the road they were used as the International Race of Champions race cars. Bingo, loved it!

All that was plenty, but my first serious girlfriend’s dad had one that he loaned us for a date night. The car was as red as her hair, and I dare say we looked a spectacular couple heading to the show. While I should remember more, I mainly recall being able to bury the accelerator and squeal the tires, once we were out of dad’s earshot, and I made sure to take the highway that night so I could push the speed envelope. Continue reading Die-Cast: Auto World’s 1971 Chevy Camaro RS/SS

2021 Hyundai Elantra SEL

Elantra offers value with distinctive looks, spunky performance  …

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

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

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

Die-cast: Autoart’s 1938 Bugatti Type 57SC Atlantic

Gorgeous classic Bugatti  a tiny jewel in 1:43 scale …

Oh, be still my swoopy car design-loving heart. Autoart has created a 1:43 gem of a classic Bugatti that may be the most beautiful car ever.

That may sound overhyped, but it is not. The 1938 Bugatti 57SC Atlantic is drop-dead gorgeous now, just as it was in the midst of car designers’ art deco styling period. It’s rounded, slinky, sexy and as beautiful as any machine ever created by man, or woman!

You can call it teardrop shaped, ellipsoidal or just curvy as all get-out, but the key word is beautiful.

Now Autoart, which mostly makes fantastic 1:18 scale die-cast car models, downsizes in a most impressive way.

The model has opening doors, hood and trunk/tire cover.

But first, consider this gorgeous French blue-bathed car’s history. Continue reading Die-cast: Autoart’s 1938 Bugatti Type 57SC Atlantic

Die-Cast: DNA Collectible’s VW Golf GTI Clubsport S

Golf GTI Clubsport S a hot hatch even in 1:18 scale …

Never as a teen or 20-something driver did I think Volkswagen would create a performance-oriented hatchback.

The Beetle was about to go away, the Rabbit was new, and the Dasher was sort of sportier looking, but really, not so hot. Yet over the years VW’s Golf has evolved, and in GTI trim has become a darned racy hatchback with great handling and good power.

Well, in Europe VW has taken the Golf even further, and that’s what DNA Collectibles shows off with its new 1:18 scale Golf GTI Clubsport S, a sizzling hot hatch only available overseas, at least for now. This fits right in with DNA’s, well, DNA of producing rare and limited run models from makes such as VW, Audi, Volvo, Saab, and Subaru. The GTI is No. 37 among its releases during its first several years of creating fine resin die-cast vehicles. Continue reading Die-Cast: DNA Collectible’s VW Golf GTI Clubsport S

2021 Volvo XC60 Recharge T8 Inscription

Plug-in hybrid XC60 a looker and performer … 

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

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

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

Die-cast: Auto World’s 1970 Plymouth Duster 340

V8 made Duster a compact hot rod, details make this a winner …

My first new car was a 1971 Plymouth Duster, the basic unit with its venerable Slant Six, but in a glorious Autumn Bronze and with fancy wheel covers that made the car look particularly racy. As a new teen driver, that racy look was a must, but my dad was happy that the car had only moderate power.

We had owned a 1963 Valiant convertible that my older brother assumed after college and dad was driving a muscular 1969 Oldsmobile Cutlass S. But I thought I was king of the car nuts in our family with my Duster. OK, one uncle had a ’67 Camaro, so he may have had the coolest car at the time, but I think the Valiant-based Duster with its swept fastback looks was a sexy beast.

Obviously Auto World agrees. Why else would it be adding a new 1970 Duster to its 1:18 scale Class of 1970 series lineup? And in High-Impact Vitamin C orange, it’s a good stand-in for my bronze beauty.

The History

Plymouth wisely chose to sexy up its staid Valiant compact for 1970 with the fastback-styled Duster, which came in various trims through 1976. Remember the Gold Duster, Feather Duster, Space Duster and Twister Duster?

But in addition to its solid 198ci Slant Six like I had in my Duster, Plymouth added kick to the lineup via a 340ci 5.6-liter V8 that made 275 horsepower. That gave Plymouth muscle across its lineup so it could tout those high-perf cars as its Rapid Transit System. Ah, marketing!

Saving some money on tooling Plymouth used its Valiant chassis and nose for Duster, but raked the windshield back more to meet its sleek roofline that flowed smoothly into a downward sloping trunk lid. To remind folks this was solid like previous Valiants (a good selling compact), there was a small Valiant logo just above the more youthful looking Duster 340 decal on the car’s front fender. That Valiant logo would disappear for 1971 as Duster had already become a hit and by ’71 Plymouth sold nearly 186,500 units that model year.

Remember, it was up against some less than stellar competition at the time, Ford’s decent Maverick and Chevy’s attractive, but mechanically questionable, Vega.

The Gold Duster was next to come out and vinyl roofs soon became a thing. So don’t be surprised to see some other editions of the Duster as future Auto World releases. Dusters still garner some interest in the 1:1 collector world. I saw a well-restored 1970 Duster being sold via Hemmings for $36,000 recently. Wow!

The Model

As you’d expect, the body shape and orange paint job are flawless on this new Auto World release and because these are still die-cast metal models, they feel as substantial as the real 1:1 cars did in the 1970s. Luckily you don’t have to worry about rust here though!

Nice detail under this hood, from a time when there was room to work on an engine in an engine bay.

Let’s start under the hood, which works on two large hinges that easily hold the hood up if you choose to pose the car for engine viewing.  The Plymouth’s engine block is red with a large round black and red air filter on top with “340” and “Four Barrel” imprinted on it. Hoses and spark plug wires are here too, along with a detailed radiator, battery, power steering unit, exhaust manifolds, horn, wiper motor, alternator, and white reservoir container. There’s also a blue VIN tag on the driver’s side inner fender.

This Duster’s grille is superbly cast and painted with fine silver grille work, amber running lights and clear headlight lenses with silver-cast headlights beneath. The four thin horizontal taillights also look sharp, one of this and 1971 models’ cool styling cues. Plus there are black accents across the tail between the lights along with the cartoonlike tornado logo with “Duster 340” lettering.

What could be cooler? A sticker on the chrome bumper declaring this part of Plymouth’s Rapid Transit System and dual chrome exhausts.

Love the Duster’s split taillights.

There’s more chrome on the door handles, wipers, mirror and front fender antenna. Chrome wheel rings also accent the racy matte silver wheels wrapped in Goodyear Polyglas F70-14 labeled treaded tires.

More exterior highlights include a “V Eight” decal on the front fenders just above the twin black racing stripes that taper from thick in back, to thin up front. There’s even the Chrysler Pentastar emblem on the passenger-side lower front fender. I remember waxing around that every time I spiffed up my car.

All the windows are trimmed in matte silver paint and there’s a well-cast gas cap on the driver’s side rear quarter panel. I added a chrome cap to spiff up my car, back in the day.

Inside this interior is much more luxurious than my vinyl bench seats. We always joked that a LOT of vinyl died to make my black interior, even the flooring was just gray vinyl.

This model features black simulated carpet on the floor and the white optional tall-back buckets up front. Seat detailing is crisp and the dash well-detailed. The steering wheel is a large black 3-spoke and this Duster features a tall chrome stick shift with wood-look tan ball atop it. Under the dash is the optional three-wide silver A/C vent unit. My uncle had a similar unit in a 1964 Plymouth and man was that air cold!

Door panels and detail are appropriate here too with Duster logos on each of the coupe’s doors, a chrome release handle and white-knobbed crank handles for raising the windows. Remember when cars didn’t have electric windows? And of course all this is easy to see because both doors open.

Sharp wheels and tires here too!

Like all Auto World 1:18 die-cast cars the underside also is well detailed and includes steerable front wheels so you can pose the car in various ways. Oh, and the trunk also opens here, and like my car, has what looks like a gray vinyl mat on its floor, but no spare tire.

For nostalgia not much can beat this Duster for me, and I suspect a few of you have some great memories of that simple, but sporty looking compact. I think mine cost $1,900, plus $84 for the fancy wheel covers. Can’t buy a rusted out used car for that these days.

Vital Stats: 1970 Plymouth Duster 340 2-door coupe

Auto World’s box is sharp enough to display the car as is!

Maker: Auto World
Scale: 1/18
Stock No.: AMM1239
MSRP: $109.99

Link: Autoworld.com

 

2021 Toyota Land Cruiser Heritage Edition

 

Old school Land Cruiser remains off-roading icon …

To some off-roaders Toyota’s Land Cruiser ranks right up there with Jeep’s Wrangler as an icon, the ultimate all-star of mucking around in mud and slop.

Certainly it will do all that with ease, yet like many Land Rovers before it, the Land Cruiser is an expensive luxury beast that only upscale off-roaders can approach. Case in point, the 2021 Land Cruiser Heritage Edition in Midnight Black. (Not sure it’s any darker than just black.)

This week’s test truck, and yes it’s body-on-frame, not unibody like a crossover or car, was pricey. Continue reading 2021 Toyota Land Cruiser Heritage Edition

Die-cast: Autoart’s Lamborghini URUS

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

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

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

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

2021 Zoomies: Vehicles of the Year Awards

Savage names his top car and truck picks for 2021 …

While 2021 seems relatively fresh, and few of us want to reflect on the stinker that was 2020, this is traditionally when I do just that. I consider the 50 or so vehicles I tested last year and decide which are worthy of Zoomie awards.

What’s a Zoomie?

It’s my annual choice of the top vehicle I’ve tested in the past year. But there’s more than one great vehicle every 12 months, so I also call out a variety of the hot rods, crossovers, trucks, etc., that I’ve found exceptional. Trust me, 2020 was a prime year for muscle, both in cars and trucks, so this year’s awards are horsepower heavy.

While I try to include everything from basic wheels to luxury liners, the purpose of Zoomie, since 1990, has been to select a vehicle for the masses, but one with styling flair, something that’s fun to drive, yet also delivers value, an everyman’s car of the year, but with some pizazz.

I love driving Jaguars, BMWs, and such, and you would too. But my Zoomies generally are not exotics, but something YOU or your family could afford, and see at the Milwaukee Auto Show about now. That show is delayed by the Covid pandemic, but is planned for May 5-9 at Wisconsin State Fair Park instead of the Wisconsin Center downtown.

Still, let’s get the arguments started for the 2021 Zoomies (and yes, I know there are a few costly models this year). But we’ll start low, and like an anaconda, work our way up.

Best entry-level crossover:

Hyundai’s new Venue is small, but doesn’t feel small. It’s inexpensive, but feels and looks mid-level. It’s economical, but not bargain basement. Venue is a stroke of entry-level genius, looking like a blend of early Subaru Forester and Jeep with its square body and prominent wheel flares clad in black plastic. Yet it oozes modern design with thin LED headlights and taillights, plus interior amenities such as heated seats. Venue is a subcompact crossover with precise handling, peppy low-end acceleration, yet inexpensive ($18,500 to $23 grand well-equipped). Oh, and the first 36 months, or 36,000 miles are maintenance free.

Best affordable pickup:

Nissan’s Frontier Pro-4X Crew Cab is simply a dandy compact pickup, really the size that pickups should be for city-bound drivers who imagine themselves farmers, or construction workers. At 205 inches long and riding a 125.9-inch wheelbase Frontier is the right size to be useful and comfortable for family transport. Yet it’s much more economical than a full-size urban assault vehicle costing north of $50 grand. Frontier boasts a new 3.7-liter V6 with 310 horsepower and a fuel-efficient 9-speed automatic. Well-equipped Frontier runs $38,500, well below the average truck price.

Best wagon wanting to be a crossover:

Subaru’s Outback Onyx Edition XT is long on value, plus features AWD, and good cargo/dog/people room. Now it touts a new 2.4-liter turbocharged Boxer 4-cylinder with 260 horses, exactly what it needed. Acceleration is improved, handling and ride are excellent and outward sightlines superb. Now it also added a huge infotainment screen, heated front/rear seats, a full set of safety equipment, wireless charger, and a new CVT that better handles the power to create smoother, quieter performance.

Sexiest wagon:

Oh yes, a long-roof can be sexy, which Volvo proves with its V60 T5 AWD Cross Country. It’s sexy yet debonair with swept-back looks that let you know you’re in for a special ride. V60 has sporty handling, good power and ride, plus AWD and a panoramic sunroof. It’s loaded with safety equipment, plus heated front and rear seats, heated wheel, an excellent stereo, a big screen, and elegant interior with highly adjustable seats. The 250-horse turbo 4 also has three power modes, plus there’s an off-road setting. Sexy will cost you though, between $46,000 and $56 grand.

Best affordable hybrid crossover:

Honda’s venerable CR-V offers hybrid power and even in top Touring trim is just $37,100. CR-V is a 3P winner. It’s all about price, performance and practicality while also being handsome. The interior is quiet and well laid out, plus the crossover offers nice handling and ride. The Honda Sensing safety system is standard too. Oh, and I got a tremendous 43.9 mpg. That my friends, plus cleaner air, is why you have a hybrid.

Best affordable hybrid sedan:

Prefer a car to a crossover, then Hyundai’s Sonata Limited Hybrid, should be atop your shopping list. It’s a beautiful sedan with a dynamic profile along with a grille, nose, and taillights that ooze personality. (Note: Sister company Kia just launched its K5 that pretty much matches Sonata.) And get this, it’s rated at 54 mpg and one of the three hybrid models includes two solar roof panels that can provide 1,236 extra miles of charge per year in sunny climates. Uh, that’s probably not Wisconsin. Sonata hybrids start about $36,000.

Best affordable family sedan with racy intentions:

Toyota’s Camry TRD is simply too good to not mention. At $33,000 the family sedan looks like a hot rod with a diffuser, special cladding, a black roof and spoiler, and a peppy 3.5-liter V6 that pumps 301 horsepower. Wow! I got more looks and “What is it?” questions about this than anything but the new Corvette (more on that in a second). Talk about, “Oh What a Feeling” … and it’s comfortable for the family, while holding all its baggage too.

OK, let’s move more upscale!

Best luxury sport sedan:

Genesis is still new to the luxury market, being Hyundai’s luxury brand, but its G70 AWD looks elegantly sporty and performs like it could have been designed in Germany. A 3.3-liter twin turbo V6 gives it 365 horsepower, yet the G70 also packs AWD to keep it on track in winter. It comes loaded with safety and luxury features, power trunk for one, and quilted leather seats. Ahhh! Genesis is for the sportster wanting performance and looks, but not the price of a luxury nameplate, so just $47,000 to $53 grand.

Best new sports car:

Finally, Toyota brings back its Supra, which means it brings back fun, nimbleness, and sensuous styling, the trifecta. Its bulges are in all the right places and its thrumming 3.0-liter twin turbo I6 cranks 335 horsepower, so it’s quick. Handling and braking are special too and the beautiful exhaust tone that crackles on downshifts must be experienced before you’re too old to hear, or appreciate it. Price range is $51,000 to $55 grand.

Truck lovers may feel they aren’t getting much love right about now. Well, here are a few big brawny beasts for you to sink your keisters, and big bucks, into.

Best big muscle trucks:

Dodge’s dynamic duo win big here. The Durango SRT the RAM TRX (think T-Rex) are absolute monster trucks in every sense. With both, the party starts under their massive scoop-bearing hoods. There’s a HEMI, yes, a HEMI, under each. Durango’s V8 creates a throbbing 475 horsepower and 470 lb.-ft. of torque to haul this 5,510-lb. truck from 0 to 60 mph in just 4.4 seconds. On the practical (I know) side it’s also a roomy 6-passenger SUV with sharp handling for a ute, a big screen, an excellent interior, and a full compliment of safety equipment – much needed!

Meanwhile, the Mad Max style RAM TRX Crew Cab packs a supercharged 6.2-liter HEMI V8, the same used in both the Dodge Charger and Challenger Hellcats, with … wait for it … 702 horses. It reportedly will do 0-60 mph in 4.5 seconds, although I’m sure it can beat that. It’s a rocket with a top speed of 118 mph. Just look at it, it oozes he-man looks with performance aimed at off-road racing. Head of Baja? Yet the TRX interior is packed with luxury, like the Durango. This truck has everything, including a price tag between $70,000 and $90 grand.

Speaking of performance …

Best supercar wanna-be:

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

Most fun, money is no object:

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

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

Most fun, money IS an object:

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

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

Most beautiful car:

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

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

2021 Zoomie Vehicle of the Year:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photos: Mark Savage

Zoomie trophy art: Stuart Carlson

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

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

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

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

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

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

Die-cast: Auto World 1968 Nickey Chevy Chevelle

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

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

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

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

Die-cast: Auto World 1977 Dodge Warlock

Blingy Warlock pickup stirred our love of custom trucks …

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

Of course, it’s a truck.

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

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

2020 Subaru WRX STI

WRX STI is fast, furious and noisy as …

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

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

2020 Volkswagen Passat SEL

Crisply styled Passat a high-value sedan …

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

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

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

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

New Challenger Hellcat casting stars in latest AW releases …

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

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

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

Die-cast: DNA’s Subaru Baja

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

Leading sometimes is a lonely game. Just ask Subaru.

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

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

The History

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

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

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

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

The Model

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vital Stats: Subaru Baja

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

Link: DNAcollectibles.com

 

Die-cast: Autoart Honda Civic Type R

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

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

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

Times change.

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

2020 Subaru Outback Onyx Edition XT

Outback Onyx Edition just another winning Subie wagon …

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

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

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