Car Spotting: Giving this one the boot

Meet the Bootmobile

No, I do not mean the Batmobile. Outdoor retailer L.L. Bean decided that it needed something to celebrate its 100th anniversary by creating this memorable vehicle. I was stopped at a major intersection not far from my home when I spotted it across from me in the oncoming lane. I could not get my phone up fast enough to grab this picture and I’m sure that’s the thought behind it.

Imagine the looks this gets in traffic.

The Bootmobile is 20.5 feet long, 7.5 feet wide, 13 feet tall, and of course, street legal. The base vehicle is a Ford F-250a Super Duty Power Stroke with a fiberglass body. What size would this be in real life? Picture a man that’s 143 feet tall.

2022 Hyundai Santa Fe XRT AWD

Mid-level XRT a stylish and primo family mover …

Reviewing the top-tier models, the crème de la crème that each manufacturer rolls into their press fleets is the norm for automotive reviewers. There’s no sympathy for this I know, but somebody must suffer to inform the masses.

That’s why this week’s mid-level Hyundai Santa Fe XRT AWD was as odd as a 60-degree day in December. Yet it was refreshing and something I would encourage.

The Santa Fe XRT is what “average” families drive, or possibly afford.

Today’s new cars now average nearly $40,000 and trucks and larger SUVs are into the $50,000+ range. And that was before pandemic-induced shortages pushed some vehicle prices even higher.

The XRT, aimed at younger and off-road imagining buyers, starts at $35,185 and the tester was just $35,380, adding only floor mats. Bingo!

At that this Santa Fe includes all-wheel-drive, an 8-inch touchscreen, adaptive cruise control, all the mainline safety features, and an impressive warranty. It’s also roomy enough for four to five adults and has so much cargo room it’s almost unfathomable that a buyer would ever need to use the roof rails up top.

It excels at value.

That starts with a sharp exterior with T-shaped lights up front and a light bar across the tail. Plus the XRT goes blacked-out sporty (sexy?) for trim. The tester was Portofino Gray, so nearly black, while the big grille is blacked out, the roof rails and side moldings the same and each side gets abbreviated running boards that are the perfect height for adults or kids to climb aboard, but not awkwardly large.

Guess what? The special XRT wheels also are black. The look is distinctive.

Watch Mark’s video review: https://youtu.be/gd4EFOe5eyo

XRT is all about appearances though, there’s no increase in power from Santa Fe’s base 2.5-liter I4. It delivers just 191 horsepower with a torque rating of 181. That’s sufficient for family travel, but will not stir your inner rally driver.

Acceleration is mild unless you turn the Drive Mode selector knob on the console to Sport. That both increases low-end power by adjusting shift points in the 8-speed automatic while also firming the steering. In Sport the engine growls more under heavy acceleration, which some may like, but it intrudes on the otherwise quiet interior.

Handling is good in all modes, but again, sportier in Sport. The Hyundai corners well and feels on the edge of sporty for handling among mid-size crossover/SUVs. Other drive modes are Comfort, Snow and Smart. I used Smart mostly because it adjusts to the driver’s inputs, helping acceleration a bit if you get on the gas harder for instance.

Ride is quite nice, well controlled even on our pock-marked Wisconsin roads and scaling uneven railroad tracks like some larger SUVs. Again, this model also tacked on AWD, normally a must in northern states like Wisconsin.

Santa Fe’s interior is stylish and among the best laid out among vehicles, no matter their price point.

XRT features a black cloth interior with super supportive seats that were much more comfortable than those in earlier versions of the Santa Fe. The material is soft and pleasant with a somewhat nubby pattern and the driver’s seat is powered with power lumbar adjustment. Front seats also offer three levels of heat, but even the low setting is pretty toasty.

An 8-inch touchscreen is easy to use and the climate controls arranged below are simple to read and use. A 10-inch screen is available in higher-end trims. Santa Fe also features a push-button transmission on the console. That takes some getting used to and I’d prefer a shift lever or knob that one can easily grab without looking at it, something buttons require.

The instrument cluster is clear and easy to comprehend while driving. It also changes its gauge faces to red if the Santa Fe is slipped into Sport mode.

One odd placement is the vertical phone charger. It’s easy to slide a phone into the console slot right next to the driver, but flat console chargers seem easier and are simpler to retrieve a ringing phone while driving.

The instrument panel does warn you if you are leaving the phone in the car once the ignition is off though. A gauge on the panel also tells the driver when the car in front is pulling away from a stoplight, in case your attention is diverted and you remain stationary.

Note too that because this is a mid-level trim there is no sunroof or heated steering wheel, something a Wisconsin driver might prefer.

Interior space is roomy as previously mentioned and there are two under-floor storage areas in the cargo compartment. Hyundai provides a power hatch too and power rear seat back releases inside the cargo area. Another plus, the manual side window sun screens for row two passengers.

Hyundai doesn’t scrimp on safety devices, even at this mid-level trim. In addition to adaptive cruise control there’s blind-spot warning, automatic emergency braking, lane keep assist and driver attention alert that knows if you’re nodding off or not looking forward regularly. Everything worked fine, but the lane departure chime is annoying. Preferable is the system simply nudging the vehicle back to the lane’s center, which it also does. No chime is needed, unless it satisfies a corporate lawyer or two.

Hyundai’s cool T-shaped headlights give the nose a unique look.

Another practical concern is gas mileage. The EPA rates this at 22 mpg city and 25 mpg highway. That’s about average for non-hybrid models, and Hyundai now offers a hybrid Santa Fe. I got roughly the middle of that rating at 22.6 mpg in about 60% highway driving with two folks usually aboard. The hybrid models are rated at 36 mpg city and 31 highway.

If even the XRT’s $35 grand pricing is too rich for your bank account, consider either of the two lower trim lines. The base SE with front-wheel drive lists at $28,395, and again, adding AWD is $1,700 extra for all but the top Calligraphy trim.

The SEL model that is better equipped than SE goes for $30,225, while power seekers will want the Limited or Calligraphy models, both with the turbocharged I4 that makes 277 horses. They also get better highway gas mileage at 28 mpg, but just 21 mpg city.

A FWD Limited lists at $40,185 and the Calligraphy at $43,885 and comes with AWD standard.

Icing on the cake? Standard is Hyundai’s 10-year, 100,000-mile powertrain warranty, plus it now includes free maintenance for 3 years and 30,000-miles, along with 5-year, 50,000-mile roadside assistance.

If a smaller crossover is what you prefer, Hyundai offers the fine newly restyled Tucson, while folks with larger families may find the Palisade SUV more to their liking.

FAST STATS: 2022 Hyundai Santa Fe XRT AWD

Hits: Sharp redesign, good ride and handling, plus AWD. XRT offers more aggressive look, plus cool T-shaped lights, a power hatch, clear button arrangement on center stack, nice visuals on instrument cluster, heated front seats, large cargo area w/underfloor storage, roomy interior, wireless charger, rear side window screens, power lower rear seats, and solid safety devices. Low running boards make for easy access.

Misses: Engine has mild power, growly under heavy acceleration. No sunroof or heated steering wheel, push button transmission takes some getting used to, lane departure chime is annoying.

Made in: Montgomery, Ala.

Engine: 2.5-liter I4, 191 hp/181 torque

Transmission: 8-speed automatic w/Shiftronic

Weight: 3,810 lbs.

Wheelbase: 108.9 in.

Length: 188.4 in.

Cargo: 36.4-72.1 cu.ft.

Tow: 2,000 lbs.

MPG: 22/25

MPG: 22.6 (tested)

Base Price: $35,185 (includes delivery)

Invoice: $33,624

Major Option: Carpeted floor mats, $195

Test vehicle: $35,380

Sources: Hyundai, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

Car Spotting: A rare Ferrari

California Dreaming in Wisconsin …

What normal car person doesn’t turn their head when they see a Ferrari? I had one drive right up to me this past summer while working at Ironwood Golf Course in Wisconsin. My duties at bag drop for a charity golf outing were put on hold as I grabbed my phone to take these pictures. All my co-workers know what a car geek I am and laughed as I started drooling. I mean first, it was a Ferrari and second, a California.

Introduced in 2008, it’s powered by a front-mid-mounted 4.3-liter V8. Later models were powered by a twin-turbo 3.9-liter V8. I have to be honest with you, I’m not sure what year this was. Forgot to ask. This car incorporates a bunch of Ferrari firsts:

  • First front-engined Ferrari with a V8
  • First to feature a 7-speed dual-clutch transmission
  • First hardtop convertible with a folding metal roof
  • First with a multi-link rear suspension
  • First with direct fuel injection

As far as I could find there were not a lot of these built each year, less than 1,500, which makes them rare, even rarer for one to have made its way to Wisconsin.

Have a great weekend and come back next Friday for another Wisconsin car spot.

Die-cast: Autoart’s Bugatti Chiron Sport

A 1:18 hypercar that looks crazy fast even at rest …

What happens in the auto world when the term “supercar” isn’t descriptive enough? Naturally we seek a new term, and for now that has become hypercar. But is that enough to describe a car with 1,479 horsepower and a 0 to 60 mph time of 2.4 seconds?

The thesaurus says appropriate synonyms for hyper include aggressive, intense, bold, dynamic, spritely, and frisky. Super synonyms aren’t much better – terrific, great, marvelous, outstanding, topnotch, sensational. All seem too tame to describe Bugatti’s Chiron Sport.

Most adjectives also fall flat in describing Autoart’s latest 1:18 version of the Chiron, a beautiful Bugatti blue with black carbon fiber-look hind end. Incroyable!

The History

Many are aware that Bugatti, now owned by Volkswagen, has a blended European background. Started by Ettore Bugatti, an Italian-born French designer in 1909, the firm was based in what was then Germany, but is now Alsace, France.

The Bugatti brand was extremely successful racing in the early years, winning the 24 Hours of Le Mans and many other high-profile contests. One of its most successful and famous drivers was Louis Chiron, who raced from 1926 all the way to 1958. Bugatti honored him by naming this model after him when it was introduced in 2016.

The Sport is a lightened, faster version of the original Chiron, which followed the Veyron supercar and was first shown at the Geneva International Motor Show in 2018. The Sport is about 35 pounds lighter than that first Chiron, featuring a firmer chassis and suspension. Its wheels are even lighter and the interior packages Alcantara, leather, and carbon fiber for seats and trim, emphasizing luxury along with vein-popping acceleration.

Power? The 8.0-liter V16 quad-turbo engine has a governed (really?) top speed of 261 mph. Car and Driver magazine says the Chiron Sport will race from 0 to 100 mph in 4.4 seconds and to 200 in just 15.7 seconds. Keep both hands on the wheel!

Doors open and the carbon-fiber-look engine cover is easily removed.

The tranny is a 7-speed double-clutch Ricardo model and the carbon fiber body is impregnated with color so as to avoid an entirely black model. Just 250 Chirons had been made as of 2020, but at a cost of $3.3 million each one supposes Bugatti doesn’t need to crank out too many more to assure a profit.

The only question that remains, it seems, is what those 250+ people do for a living! We know they have fun driving their exotic cars.

The Model

               Oh my, this Chiron model is fabulous, starting with the carbon fiber look of all black portions of the body, including mirrors, engine cover, rear wing and front/rear/side ground effects all the way to the trim around the windshield well.

These tiny velises, with Chiron logos, easily fit in the frunk.

               The car’s eggshell-thin hood opens to reveal a couple black valises featuring realistic handles and blue Chiron logos. One imagines crisp monogramed shirts and private label Italian ties gently strapped inside.

               Move to the rear and the black carbon-fiber-look engine cover easily pops off to expose the body-colored blue headers atop the V16 quad-turbo engine. Bugatti blue logos enhance the black engine block’s top while major turbo pipes wrap around the engine. A white liquids container sits above a silver heat shield at the far end of the enclosure.

               Cool though that you can still see the blue headers once the engine cover is in pace, as this is how most of us will pose the Bugatti in its display case.

               A button under the car’s tail easily releases the big carbon fiber rear wing, which can be angled slightly with the light touch of a finger.

The wing can be deployed and check out the quad exhausts and cool lights too!

               I love the front view that shows off the black wire mesh of the Bugatti horseshoe grille with its red, silver and white Bugatti badge and a blue No. 16 imprinted on the grille. That touts the 16-cylinder engine powering all Chirons. There’s black mesh in the air duct slits in the sleek nose too, plus beautifully executed four-element projector beam lights.

               In back is more silvery black mesh below the light bar that extends the car’s width. There’s also a Chiron Sport logo, the EB Bugatti emblem and down low a unique four-pipe exhaust system with deflector. Naturally a multi-element diffuser rides below the tail.

               Behind the special lightweight black wheels are humungous drilled discs and blue Bugatti-labeled calipers. Tires are the low-profile Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2s that are standard on the Sport. Labeling here is matte black on the sidewalls, but just showing the Michelin logo. Tires feature an aggressive tread pattern.

               Inside is another fine Autoart interior, all black except the blue accent line down the dash’s center spine and extending the console’s length, plus blue seat belt latch receptacles and belts.

               There are racing style bucket seats, a flat-bottomed race wheel, and a sharply detailed driver’s gauge pod. The Bugatti console includes four protruding buttons and a small gear shift knob while the three foot pedals below are silver-faced to represent a metal finish. Door trim is accurate and finely detailed with carbon-fiber-look door panels.

Love that you can see the blue header covers even with the engine cover in place.

               The sum is visually fantastic, almost as fantastical as the 1:1 car’s performance! The Chiron Sport isn’t a muscle car, it’s a missile.

Vital Stats: Bugatti Chiron Sport

Maker: Autoart
Scale: 1/18
Stock No.: 70997
MSRP: $260

Link: Autoartmodels.com

Car Spotting: A rare Porsche

And one found its way to Wisconsin

It was an off-road capable off-road capable supercar. The 959 was produced from 1986 to 1993 and only 345 were built. The Porsche 959 was the most technologically advanced car in the 1980s and it took years for other cars to share similar technologies. Just like the fabled 911, the 959 has a flat-6 behind the rear axle. The engine can produce 444 horsepower which is the same as a brand new 911 Carrera, proving how advanced in performance the 80s 959 was. Mated to the flat-6 is a 6-speed manual transmission and could do 0-60 mph in just 3.6 seconds, could reach 197 mph.

959 convertible I spotted at a golf course this summer.

Its all-wheel-drive system included adjustable hydraulic suspension that could perform perfectly on the road or off-road. Yup, you could take your $300,000 Porsche off-road. Especially since it was equipped with two adjustable differentials and weighed around 3,100 lbs. thanks to its kevlar body panels and hollow-spoke magnesium wheels, the flooring is made of Nomex. A flame-resistant and light material.

I would have loved to go for a ride!

This one I spotted most likely never saw any off-roading and it’s even rarer because it made it here to Wisconsin thanks in part to Bill Gates. Yup, the Microsoft guy. He imported it under the Show and Display Rule which allowed non-approved cars to be imported into the US under tight and strict conditions. The cars could only be driven so much and you had to prove the car’s significance historically. The cars also have to pass emissions and the 959 was never produced with a catalytic converter. Porsche eventually provided a catalytic converter system for US owners if you sent that car back to Germany for installation. Not a cheap deal but neither is the car. If you could get the owner to part with it, you would have to write a check for just under 1 million bucks.

My ar spots are published on SavageOnWheels.com every Friday. Have a great weekend and Happy New Year.

2022 Toyota Sienna XSE AWD

Sienna still a fine people mover, now a hybrid with AWD …

Minivans come and minivans go, but do you feel you could love one? I think you could.

Toyota has been making its Sienna minivan for nearly 25 years and let’s be honest, it still looks like a minivan. That’s the rub for all minivans, they are utilitarian family movers, excelling at the job. Those two sliding side doors make it super easy to load kids into car seats. The third row allows a family to carry up to eight passengers. That huge cargo bay in back will lug a ton of boxes, suitcases, soccer equipment or Pack n Plays.

So why doesn’t everyone with a family of five or more own one?

Image!

Kia’s new Carnival (reviewed in August) tries to spiff that image up. But face it, short of adding wings and fireworks (not a great idea for a vehicle) a minivan is still a minivan. Toyota knows it is utility that sells its product, but image does play a role. No, Toyota isn’t adding wings to the 2022 Sienna, it’s going all-in on hybrid power and all-wheel-drive safety. Few minivans offer both, but some (Carnival) offer neither.

Toyota is banking on families wanting to help the environment, of being more socially conscious than, say, pickup buyers. So instead of offering a gas-only version and a hybrid, the Japanese firm, which builds its minivans in Indiana, only offers a 2.5-liter I4 hybrid power system with continuously variable transmission.

The result is an EPA gas mileage rating of 35 mpg city and 36 highway. I got 33.0 mpg in a fairly even mix. That’s impressive. I got just 22.6 mpg in the gas-only Carnival tested earlier.

So Sienna is roomy, has a dependable repair record and good resale value, plus the hybrid system provides smooth operation. The CVT’s shifts are fairly seamless and the interior is nearly as quiet as that of a luxury vehicle.

The downside to the 245-horsepower hybrid system is that there’s just 176 lb.-ft. of torque so acceleration is moderate. To gain more oomph you may crunch the accelerator like a Packers lineman stepping on a defender’s toes, but the moan and groan during heavy acceleration is annoying and really the power modest.

No, this is a cruiser with moderately vague steering but decent ride, although the tested XSE AWD model is supposedly sportier than other versions of the van. C’mon!

Toyota claims the suspension has been firmed a bit, but certainly not so much as to disturb the ride, and toggling to the Sport drive mode is senseless. Like the suspension, that mode firms the steering just a smidge, while acceleration seems mostly unaffected. Oh, and the XSE also adds 20-inch alloy wheels if that twerks your chain.

Certainly it’s good news to have AWD for coping with Wisconsin’s slippery environment. That’s a major plus helping the Sienna stand out, along with the hybrid system.

But honestly the interior and safety features are what may sell a minivan as much as its drivability. Here’s what this Ruby Flare Pearl red ($425 extra) Sienna has to offer.

Safety is a strong point with standard features including adaptive cruise control, blind-spot warning, rear cross-traffic alert, active lane-keeping assist, automatic emergency braking and forward collision warning, plus automatic high beam headlights.

The tested XSE featured a dark and light gray interior, the seats being a mid-level gray leather-like Softex fabric with a rusty orange stitching to perk its look. That was on the seats and dash while there’s a gray ribbed top to the console, or flight deck. This thing is massive and wide open beneath, meaning a couple beach or diaper bags and/or beach balls could be stored there. Talk about family friendly.

Need a lot of coffee with all those kiddos climbing around and chattering in back? Well, that flight deck also includes four cup holders for the front seat game wardens. For the juice box crowd in rows two and three Toyota includes 14 more cup holders.

Check out the big flightdeck style console and padded armrests by the storage box.

That big console also is trimmed in leather arm rests on either side to aid adult comfort on long trips, while the tested van included a $1,415 HD entertainment center with 11.6-inch screen for the rear seats. It comes with two wireless headsets. You may need more.

Here’s another view of the elevated console with mega storage beneath.

Standard too are manual second row window sun screens, a benefit when coaxing a wee one to nap while heading to grandma’s house.

Overhead is a small sunroof, which is fine if you’re not trying to let a lot of daylight in. With that screen mounted in the roof a bigger sunroof isn’t even possible.

Toyota’s dash is well arranged and includes a 9-inch info screen that’s simple to see and use. Seats are powered up front and heated, but not cooled. I also found the butt pocket on the driver’s seat a bit snug, and NO, I have not been gaining weight during the pandemic.

Oodles of room in the second row when the seats are all the way back. You’ll want them forward if someone is riding in the third row though.

Second row captain’s chairs will slide an incredible 25 inches for or aft to accommodate tall or short passengers, or large cargo. The second row will slide all the way back to the third row if no one is seated there. Naturally the third row is split and will fold down into the cargo hold in the rear floor, and the rear hatch is powered.

There are a few missing items though. Toyota doesn’t include a heated steering wheel or a 360-degree camera, which seems odd. And while the driver’s voice is picked up on a microphone and projected to the rear so kids know when parental units have had enough, the convex mirror used to spy on the kids is string-bikini thin, making it tough to see in back.

A closeup look at the touchscreen, its controls and the climate controls.

Things added, for a cost, include a 1500W inverter with two 120-volt outlets for $300, and the XSE package runs a grand. It includes a wireless phone charger conveniently on a shelf mid-dash, a premium audio system, the 9-inch info screen with navigation, 12 JBL speakers with subwoofer and amplifier, and black roof rails.

A few other minor options like a cargo net for $49 and mudguards for $149 push the base price of $44,075 (with delivery) to $47,942. For the record, that’s in the ballpark for a loaded minivan, no matter the manufacturer.

Pricing ranges from $35,775 for a base front-drive LE that seats eight all the way up to $51,935 for the Platinum version with AWD. That places the XSE midrange, as is the XLE Woodland Edition at $45,350. It rides ½-inch higher and includes AWD too.

If power ranks higher on your “must” list than hybrid efficiency consider Kia’s Carnival with 290 horsepower from its V6, or the Honda Odyssey with a 280-horse V6.

Chrysler’s Pacifica isn’t far behind, offering a plug-in hybrid V6 with 260 horses. Pacifica also is available with AWD, so can be equipped similarly to the Sienna. However Sienna wins on daily mpg efficiency and the fact its hybrid system does not require a plug-in charge. Regenerative braking keeps its electric batteries powered.

FAST STATS: 2022 Toyota Sienna XSE AWD

Hits: Roomy, dependable, comfortable ride, smooth operation, quiet interior, great hybrid gas mileage and AWD. Loaded with safety equipment, sunroof, heated seats, sliding side doors, huge storage under tall console, third row folds into floor, video screen for rear seats, rear window sunshades.

Misses: Moderate power, engine groan under heavy acceleration, no heated steering wheel, sunroof is tiny, no 360-degree camera, tiny rearview mirror to see kids, unnecessary Sport mode, front seats have tight butt pocket.

Made in: Princeton, Ind.

Engine: 2.5-liter I4, hybrid, 245hp

Transmission: CVT

Weight: 4,610 lbs.

Wheelbase: 120.5 in.

Length: 203.7 in.

Cargo: 33.5-101 cu.ft.

Tow: 3,500 lbs.

MPG: 35/36

MPG: 33.0 (tested)

Base Price: $44,075 (includes delivery)

Invoice: $40,821

Major Options:

Rear seat entertainment system (HD entertainment center w/11.6-inch screen, remote, two headphones), $1,415

1500W inverter w/two 120V outlets, $300

XSE package (wireless charger, black roof rails, premium audio, 9-in. touchscreen w/nav, 12 JBL speakers w/subwoofer, amplifier), $1,000

Ruby Flare Pearl paint, $425

All-weather floor liners, $220

Door sill protectors, $40

Rear bumper applique, $69

Cargo net, $49

Mudguards, $149

Crossbars, $200

Test vehicle: $47,942

Sources: Toyota, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

Car Spotting: An under appreciated Mustang

A Mustang fully loaded

Most of us think of the performance-based Mustangs targeted towards the youth market yet there was one that took a different direction, the upscale Grande. Produced from 1969 to 1973 it was only available as a hardtop. It had tons of options, 45 to be exact, which was a lot at the time and included “Comfortweave” hopsack upholstery, extra-thick carpet on the floorboards, two-tone narrow stripes, faux woodgrain dashboard, padded interior side panels, racing-style mirrors, chrome rocker panel moldings, and wire-style wheel covers.

Mustang Grande I spotted this summer while working at Ironwood Golf Course

Ford also gave drivers the option to order any Mustang engine for the Grande, even including the 428 Cobra Jet V8. This option drove up the price significantly, especially combined with the more elegant Grande package. That said, any surviving Grandes with miscellaneous engines have become very collectible, and only 62 Grandes were built with a 428 Cobra Jet in 1969. Hagery lists an average price for all four years of production at around $12,000 with almost $30,000 for a Concours level example making it a very affordable collectible like this one.

An excellent example. Bodywork looked great

My car spots appear every Friday here on SavageOnWheels.com. Be sure to check back and keep your phone out and ready to snap that next great spot. Have a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

2021 VW ID.4 AWD Pro S

Electric VW well thought out, well-executed crossover …

Electric car haters might as well tune out right now as this review of Volkswagen’s new ID.4 all-electric crossover/SUV might melt your battery pack and explode your motherboard.

That’s because the ID.4 is an extremely well-thought-out and executed EV that most families would enjoy. Like other crossovers and SUVs, it is roomy inside, offers a comfortable ride, a quiet (electrics are quiet by nature) interior, and for us Wisconsinites, there’s AWD.

RELATED: Paul Daniel navigates the electric car madness.

This was the top-level ID.4 AWD Pro S model in Dusk Blue, a mid- to deep metallic blue conjoined with silver roof pillars and a black roof thanks to the $1,500 Gradient package.

ID.4 comes as either a rear-drive Pro or AWD Pro S model. The difference, other than AWD, is that there’s an electric motor front and rear for the Pro S and that gives the ID.4 295 horsepower and 339 lb.-ft. of torque. The rear-drive model has just 201 horsepower and milder torque.

Another difference, the RWD model has a 260-mile range while the AWD’s range is rated 250 miles, although in our 20- to 40-degree weather the most I got on a full charge was 235 miles.

Under hood is still crowded, but with an electric motor and supporting wares.

For the technically inclined this new VW, which is just slightly smaller than VW’s gas-powered Tiguan, uses two 82 kW lithium ion battery packs with 288 pouch style cells that ride in an extruded aluminum case in the floor for power. One electric motor powers the front wheels, another the rear. The batteries are charged via a plug-in charger that neatly stores under the cargo bay’s floor. A standard 120-volt outlet as in my garage slowly adds about 1 to 1.5 miles per hour of charge. A 240-volt charger reportedly more than doubles that.

Naturally there’s range anxiety if one were planning an inter-state trip in the ID.4, but VW has an answer for that, free charging at Electrify America charging stations of which there are about 2,550 nationwide with nearly 5,500 charging stalls. Many are located in Walmart lots and an app will help you find them. A fast charge from 5% up to 80% takes about 40 minutes, just long enough to sample a Slurpy with a side of Slim Jims.

Related video: Shhhhh! Mark Savage reviews the 2021 VW ID 4 AWD Pro S – YouTube

VW says ID will be its sub-brand for electric vehicles and the German carmaker is pushing to have half its sales be all-electric by 2030 with close to 100% by 2040. Much of that is pushed by stricter emission rules in Europe than in the U.S.

ID.4 competes with the likes of Ford’s new Mustang Mach-E, although the VW is more family friendly whereas the Mustang is more performance oriented, not surprising considering its name.

The VW features better ride than Mach-E despite a considerably shorter 108.9-inch wheelbase. Handling is good, but only sporty in the Sport drive mode, one of five. Acceleration is smooth and quiet (some electric whine, naturally), but not rocket ship fast, just quick.

VW claims a 0-60 mph start of 5.4 seconds with the AWD and 7.6 seconds with the rear-drive model. Then again, this is a family crossover/SUV, so you’re likely not planning any dragstrip action. Let’s be honest, most Mach-E drivers aren’t either.

Check out the electronic fuel filler, just where a gas tank door might be located.

For the record the EPA rates the VW at 98 MPGe city, 88 highway. The big info screen readout told me I was getting about 2.5 miles per kWh. So 10 hours of charging should net me about 25 miles of charge. Cruising on the highway I saw the figure hit 2.7 kWh.

A closeup of the electric outlet’s plug.

The key for moms and dads is that the ID.4 is a useful crossover that easily caries four or five adults while offering oodles of storage room behind the second row seats. There’s a power hatch and under-floor storage there too.

VW’s interior is comfy and looks more Star Wars than Saved by the Bell, meaning digital to the max. With a few exceptions it’s quite functional.

First, there’s a small driver’s instrument pod with speedometer and battery mileage readout attached to the manual tilt/telescope steering wheel column. So adjusting the wheel never blocks a driver’s vision of the pod. Bravo!

VW’s instrument pod is delightfully simple.

The other centrally mounted info screen controls virtually everything else and is a bit more than 12 inches. A 10-incher comes on the RWD model. Once you play with it a bit you’ll understand its levels, but there are a few fixes needed. First, there’s no dedicated radio button so you must access it by punching a square button on the left that apparently is Home. Beyond climate controls a radio is the second most used item, so requires a dedicated icon below the screen.

That’s where the climate controls are accessed, but sadly that includes the heated seats and steering wheel. Those should be on the console or steering wheel for easier access. That’s especially important because only the driver’s heated seat setting is remembered once the vehicle’s ignition is switched off. The heated wheel should be recalled too. A friend who adores VW agreed and also noted that the touchscreen was somewhat slow to respond to input too, resulting in double-punching some screen icons.

This odd little knob turns to engage the gears!

Another item that takes some getting used to, but becomes normal within a week’s drive, is the gear-shift selector, a knob attached to the right side of the instrument pod binnacle or hood. Rotate it forward for Drive and back for Reverse. Park requires pushing the end of the knob. Note too that rotating the knob forward twice shifts drive mode into one that allows more aggressive regenerative braking when the vehicle is coasting. Normally the ID.4 coasts like a standard car, but in this B mode the electric motor braking engages more aggressively to boost battery charge and you’ll find yourself using less brake pedal.

The upside of the shifter locations is that this allows for a wide-open console with oodles of storage space and a roll-top storage bin that includes the wireless phone charger. It’s easy to get at and to see, if you leave the bin opened.

The interior is two-toned and extremely elegant.

My test vehicle featured a brown leather dash top and door trim along with perforated black leatherette seats and satin chrome dash trim and door releases and side air vents. Trim on the screens, arm rests and console were piano gloss black. Front seats also come with captain’s chairs armrests that fold back.

Overhead is an absolutely massive panoramic sunroof and shade. The roof is fixed, so does not retract.

Here’s a good view of the simple, stylish dash and instrument pod.

Seating is well shaped and comfy with powered front seats, plus VW wisely goes with a flat-bottom steering wheel to create more knee room when entering and exiting the crossover. I should note that the ID.4 climate system heats extremely quickly too, a big plus in winter and ironic considering the bad ol’ days of the original Beetle’s horrible heater.

On a practical note, the plug-in port for the charger is located on the rear passenger’s side, much as you’d find with a standard fuel-filler door. That will work for some folks, but if your garage’s electrical sockets are on a driver’s side wall or front of the garage, as are mine, this requires you to back the ID.4 in for a charge. Not optimal, and all other EVs I’ve driven had their port in the nose or just in front of the driver’s door, both seem better locations.

That power rear hatch opens wide for cargo.

Pricing? First, remember there’s a $7,500 government tax incentive on most electric vehicles. Those will disappear as each manufacturer’s sales move behind the government-set maximums.

But the current base Pro model lists at $41,190 with delivery and the tested Pro S at $49,370 with delivery. With its Gradient package this hit $50,870.

Additionally the tester was built in Mosel, Germany, because it’s an early model. But future ID.4s are to be built at VW’s Chattanooga, Tenn., plant. VW reports it will make a lower-cost entry-level ID.4 there, with a starting price expected in the $35,000 range.

ID.4 proves that automakers are closing in on affordable electrics that meet family needs and offer reasonable range. This is just the start, more range and more models will be coming along in the next few years. Watch this space!

FAST STATS: 2021 VW ID.4 AWD Pro S

Hits: Smooth, quiet,comfy, plus AWD. Roomy crossover with good handling, ride and power, and 230-mile range in cold weather. Usual standard electronic safety features. Five drive modes, massive panoramic sunroof, heated seats and wheel, fast interior heating, power hatch, comfy seats, flat-bottom wheel, wireless phone charger.

Too much is accessed only through the info screen.

Misses: Climate controls accessed only through touchscreen, no dedicated radio entry to touchscreen, touchscreen somewhat slow to respond, heated wheel not included in climate memory when restarting crossover, odd shift knob by instrument pod, plug in on rear passenger’s side, not convenient for garage plugs.

Made in: Mosel, Germany

Engine: 2 electric motors, 82kWh lithium battery pack, 295 horsepower/339 torque

Transmission: 1-speed automatic

That’s its name, ID.4!

Weight: 4,559 lbs. (RWD), 4,884 lbs. (C&D*)

Length: 180.5 in.

Wheelbase: 108.9 in.

Cargo: 37.5-73.5 cu.ft.

MPGe: 98/88

Base Price: $49,370 (includes delivery)

Invoice: $47,443

Major Options:

Gradient package (20-inch alloy wheels, black roof, silver accents & roof rails & roof accents), $1,500

Test vehicle: $50,870

Sources: Volkswagen, kbb.com

*Car and Driver figs.

Photos: Mark Savage

Die-cast: Autoart 1973 Nissan Skyline GT-R

Skyline 2000 GT-R (KPGC110) a rare, racy hatchback …

Just as the oil crisis was putting the kibosh on performance cars in the U.S. in 1973 it also was squishing a newly revised Nissan offering in Japan.

The cool Nissan Skyline 2000 GT-R, the second generation GT-R, was a performance oriented fastback that for all its styling looked like a surefire winner in both Japan and the U.S. market where it was likely headed. Think sportier Datsun B210 if you must, but it also looked like a kissin’ cousin to the sporty Toyota Celica fastbacks of the time.

The GT-R was code named KPGC110 and just 197 were made as the oil and emission restrictions of the time put a quick end to its production. That makes this GT-R among the rarest Nissans.

Leave it to Autoart to create a stellar 1:18 scale reproduction of the Skyline so you can round out your 1970s performance car collection, or Datsun/Nissan cache. My sample was the snazzy silver version, going for $230, but chock full of amazing details.

The History

Skyline models were originally made by Prince Motor Co. The Japanese firm had made aircraft during World War II but transitioned to cars afterward, even making an electric car originally. Yet its Skyline model, launched in 1957 was a success and by the 1960s was being raced. Nissan bought up Prince in 1966 and the boxy Skyline GT-R model of the day, coded KPGC10 ended up winning 52 races in three years into the early 1970s.

The second generation Skyline 2000 GT-R kept the same engine, but became the first Japanese car with four-wheel disc brakes, aimed at improving its racing ability. The rear-drive car used the S20 engine a 2.0-liter inline 6-cylinder that made about 158 horsepower. A five-speed manual was standard.

GT-R also carried a rear spoiler, black fender cladding, a mesh grille and independent suspension all around. Styling included quad taillights, which remain a GT-R feature still. Ultimately production of the car lasted just four months.

The trunk opens to reveal a full-size spare sunken into the floor.

On the folklore side of things, the short-run Skyline was nicknamed the Kenmeri Skyline, the name taken from a popular TV commercial for it at the time which featured Ken and Mary, an American-looking couple.

One more thing. At auction last year a 1973 Skyline went for $455,000. Impressive!

The Model

               I like the bare bones look of performance in this rich silver fastback from the bolted-on style black fender flare cladding to the black open-face steel wheels with four bolts showing and blackwall tires. No fancy chrome hub caps or rally wheels here!

               Atop the front fenders and lining up with the front edge of the wheel wells are large twin black mirrors to help assure a driver gets a wide view of what’s on either side. This has the feel of an early rally car, but with all the features required for street driving.

               Open the large hood and that inline 6-cylinder with Nissan and 2000 atop its block looks massive for such a compact car. All the wiring and plumbing are here along with a master cylinder for those disc brakes, and massive red air cleaner along with battery, hood dampers atop the suspension towers and of course a fan and radiator with cap.

               A fine black mesh acts as the grille with quad headlights framing it and a black Skyline 2000 GT-R license plate below. Front wheels are steerable and the trunk also opens to reveal a full-size spare (remember those?) neatly sunken into the floor and a jack molded alongside.

               Taillights are an authentic clear red with chrome trim on the outer and inner rings, and the Skyline features a GT-R logo on the blacked out tail along with the keyhole and a Skyline logo too. The rear bumper, like the front, is chrome with imbedded turn signal lamps and two thin exhaust tips jut out below the bumper. On the trunk’s lip is a body-colored spoiler.

               Tires are labeled as Bridgestone Radials with sizing number, all in a flat black on the tires, so you’ll need a lighted magnifying glass to properly read those, if you care to.

               Chrome trims all the windows and door releases, which are flat on the doors, and the door trim along the rocker panels also feature a chrome strip.

Inside is a black interior with deeply ribbed bucket seats up front and a bench in back while the dash is silver-faced with accurately detailed gauges. The steering wheel is a black three-spoke sport model with silver spokes. A park brake handle is found on the console just behind the tall shift lever with what looks like a wooden ball shift knob.

The door panels are somewhat shiny black with a textured panel midlevel, plus a chrome trim strip, door release and window crank.

Again, a sumptuously detailed, and rare, model from Autoart.

Vital Stats: Nissan Skyline 2000 GT-R

Bare bones black steel wheels with four lug nuts say this Skyline is serious about racing.

Maker: Autoart
Scale: 1/18
Stock No.: 77471
MSRP: $230

Link: Autoartmodels.com

Car spotting: America’s other two-seat sports car

This one I know well

The AMX was produced by American Motors from 1968 to 1970 as a two-seat sports car. Its short wheelbase, one inch shorter than the Corvette, and big engines, 290 to 390, V8’s made it a hit for AMC who was a late arrival at the muscle car party. To show it had the chops, Craig Breedlove and his wife set all kinds of land speed records when it was introduced.

Red 1968 AMX I spotted while on my way to Mark’s house.

The American Society of Automotive Engineers named the AMX as the “best-engineered car of the year” in 1969 and 1970. In its three-year run, it sold a total of just under 20,000. It was discontinued by AMC because of tougher crash standards and they didn’t have the money. The AMX rode on as a performance package on various other AMC cars concluding with the Spirit in 1980. I was fortunate to own two AMX’s, a ’70 and ’79 Spirit AMX. The value of the two-seaters continues to rise on the collector market with excellent examples going for around $60,000.

I spotted this clean 1970 while out for a ride. Owner did a great job on the restoration. It had a 390 and 4 speed.
amc, amx
My two AMX’s. 1970 had a 390 V8 while the 1979 a 304.

It ripped up rally racing

It’s light weight and gobs of torque made it an ideal car for rally racing and still is to this day. This AMX was spotted by fellow AMC geek Joe Schliz at the Lake Superior Performance Rally held this past fall near Marquette, MI. This car still has it finishing eigth driven by Tim O’Neil and Constatine Mantopoulos and against competators like Ken Block who came in first. It was sponsored by Team O’Neil Rally School in NH.

My car spots appear on SavageOnWheels.com every Friday. Have a great weekend and keep that phone ready.

2022 Lexus ES250 AWD F Sport

Lexus ES250 a rare luxury sedan with AWD …

Sedans are nearly as rare today as a functioning VHS tape player, even in the luxury market. Rarer still are sedans with all-wheel-drive and a starting price well below $50,000.

I never thought I’d say this, but Lexus offers a cost leader, a high-value premium mid-size luxury sedan with its stylish ES250 AWD F Sport. That was my tester for the week, the top-level ES in Iridium, a bright metallic silver that costs $500 extra.

Some folks bemoan the massive maw that is the Lexus grille, but I think its design blends so well with the hood and jagged Z-shaped headlights that it creates a unique and exciting look, especially compared with some staid European brands. In profile the ES is svelte. Consumers must agree as Lexus continues to be among the top three luxury brands in U.S. sales and the ES a steady seller.

Beyond slinky looks the ES has a lot going for it, first is that AWD system that is standard on the entry-level ES250 that starts at $41,875, including delivery.

Ride is pleasant too and the power is delivered in the typical smooth Lexus manor via an 8-speed automatic transmission. There are ample safety features, a comfy leather interior, big trunk, a new larger touchscreen that has moved closer to the driver for easier access and if you prefer a hybrid powertrain, that’s available too, for just $1,100 extra.

Standard power is the solid Lexus 2.5-liter I4 that generates 203 horsepower and 184 lb.-ft. of torque. That’s on the low side for a luxury sedan and even with three drive modes, Sport, Normal, Eco, there’s not much oomph here. I occasionally turned the rotary knob atop the instrument panel hood for Sport mode. But I decided Normal wasn’t much different.

Sport holds the lower gears a tad longer and adds a smidge more acceleration, but mainly it just firms the steering feel. That’s fine, but the car feels more luxurious in Normal mode when the engine isn’t cranking so hard.

The F Sport trim, one would think, might help that, but no, it has the same engine as the base model. What F Sport does is firm the suspension and wraps you in wonderfully supportive race-style seats. I could do with less ride firmness, but loved the seats.

Watch Mark’s video: https://youtu.be/naqXdExzaAA

F Sport also puts a spoiler on the trunk, adds rain-sensing wipers, fancier 19-inch black alloy wheels, a moveable main instrument cluster and those bolstered seats that also are heated and cooled.

If one wants more power though Lexus offers the ES350 with a much gutsier 3.5-liter V6 that makes 302 horsepower. Car and Driver magazine says the V6-powered ES does 0 to 60 mph in 6.1 seconds, a full two seconds quicker than the ES250. And irony of ironies the ES350 starts at the same price as the ES250. BUT, and it’s a big one, the 350 does not come with AWD, nor is it available as an option. That seems odd. Surely a luxury car buyer wouldn’t mind paying another grand or so for AWD, at least if they live in the upper Midwest.

While on the power point, Lexus also offers the ES300h, a hybrid with 215 horsepower. It delivers an impressive 44 mpg average. That’s about double what I got in a week’s drive in the F Sport, a mediocre 22.5 mpg and easily half at 50 mph or more. The EPA estimates this model at 25 mpg city and 34 highway. I was nowhere near that.

Inside the ES F Sport is stylish with an aluminum trim ring that runs from the doors across the dash. That trim is part of the F Sport upgrade. Otherwise the interior is black perforated leather seats, soft door and center console armrests and satin chrome door releases, dash buttons and a bit of trim.

Everything is neat and tidy too with a big 12.3-inch touchscreen (8 inches in the base model) with an analog clock in its driver’s side edge for easy time keeping. And thank goodness for the touchscreen, plus a dual-function interlocking knob for radio tuning and volume.

In the past there was only the awkward remote touchpad on the console for adjusting the info and radio screen. It’s still there if you’re addicted to it and love it like your first born. But the touchscreen is much easier. Plus Lexus moved the screen about four inches closer to the driver for easier use. Bingo!

An easy-to-use large touchscreen is a major interior upgrade!

Seats as mentioned earlier are snug and powered, providing maximum lower back and hips support. Several riders commented on their comfort, something Lexus has delivered consistently.

The interior is roomy enough for four average size adults too, plus there’s a big trunk in back, here including a power trunk lid. I think that unnecessary on a sedan, but for $550 it’s yours. Oddly those rear seats don’t split and fold down though, so you won’t be carrying any oversized cargo.

Overhead is a sunroof and shade, but the roof is small especially if you’re used to driving a crossover or SUV which now go panoramic for nearly all their sunroofs. A wireless charger is located in the console storage box/armrest. I’m not a fan of hiding these as it’s so easy to forget your phone when exiting the car, but this one also occasionally failed to charge. There’s a light there to indicate a charge, but who watches that while driving, especially if it’s inside a box.

A $2,900 navigation and stereo upgrade added a snazzy 17-speaker, 1,800-watt Mark Levinson surround sound system, the big info screen and voice recognition system. The stereo sounded great and satellite radio brought me everything from Willie Nelson to Lynyrd Skynyrd along with Larry the Cable Guy and Jim Gaffigan. How did we ever exist with satellite radio?

Standard safety features include a pre-collision system with pedestrian recognition, smart cruise control, lane keeping assist and departure alert with steering assist, smart high-beam headlights, road sign assist, blind spot monitor with rear cross-traffic alert, and smart stop technology.

A $565 package that normally adds some of that to lower trims also includes park assist and automatic braking. The parking sensors were quite loud and touchy which becomes annoying in grocery store lots where it warns you there are cars on either side and, oh, that big cement light post in front that you may not see.

I love this headlight design and how it works with the grille’s lines.

The sedan’s big A-pillars could make it hard to see some side cross-traffic too, but that’s where all those safety sensors should help.

While the F Sport starts at a relatively modest luxury sedan level of $46,525, including delivery, this one added 12 options, a few that were frivolous though. I’ve mentioned a couple, but there also was a $500 head-up display, $210 for a power rear window sunshade, and $180 for the F Sport style heated leather steering wheel with wiper deicer and fast response interior heater. Hmm, shouldn’t an F Sport wheel come standard on the F Sport model?

Speaking of which there were a few minor options that seem like they too should be standard on a luxury car, such as carpeted trunk mat ($120), cargo net ($75), door edge guards ($145) and a rear bumper applique ($80).

Impressive looks that stand out from all the SUVs and crossovers on the road!

Total damages for the tester were $53,565, which sounds like a lot of money, and is. But really that’s quite economical in the premium midsize sedan market. Consider a BMW 5 Series, Audi A6 or Mercedes-Benz E Class all start about $54,000 to $55,000, and THEN add options.

That’s probably why Kelly Blue Book has rated the ES250 its best midsize luxury sedan value for three straight years. That and the fact the Lexus has a superior resale value.

I’d prefer the ES250 with a turbo to boost its power, or just go with the hybrid, which seems just as quick if not quicker and will save you money at every fill-up.

FAST STATS: 2022 Lexus ES250 AWD F Sport

Hits: Sporty styling inside and out, smooth power and shifts, AWD, and pleasant ride. New large touchscreen, big trunk, comfy interior, super supportive seats, heated/cooled seats, heated wheel, sunroof, wireless charger, fancy stereo, good safety features.

Black wheels come on the F Sport.

Misses: Modest power, Sport mode doesn’t help acceleration much, small sunroof, big A-pillars, wireless charger hidden in console storage box and didn’t always charge.

Made in: Georgetown, Ky.

Engine: 2.5-liter I4, 203 hp/184 torque

Transmission: 8-speed automatic

Weight: 3,780 lbs.

Wheelbase: 113.0 in.

Length: 195.9 in.

Cargo: 16.7 cu.ft.

MPG: 25/34

MPG: 22.5 (tested)

Base Price: $46,525 (includes delivery)

Invoice: $43,648

Major Options:

Blind spot monitor, rear cross-traffic alert, intuitive parking assist w/auto braking, $565

10.2-inch head-up display, $500

Triple beam LED headlights, $1,215

Power rear sunshade, $210

Nav/Mark Levinson audio package (nav system w/12.3-in. touchscreen, Enform Dynamic nav system, voice command, destination assist, Mark Levinson 17-speaker and 1,800 watt premium surround sound system), $2,900

Hands-free power trunk, $550

Premium paint, $500

F Sport heated leather steering wheel w/windshield wiper deicer and fast response interior heater, $180

Carpeted trunk mat, $120

Cargo net, $75

Rear bumper applique, $80

Door edge guards, $145

Test vehicle: $53,565

Sources: Lexus, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

2022 Nissan Frontier Pro-4X Crew Cab 4X4

Horsey Frontier both civilized and off-road ready …

Pickups are becoming so civilized it’s possible that urban cowboys won’t want to sidle up to them pretty soon.

All pickups used to be boxes on big knobby tires with a big ol’ floor-mounted stick shift, a metal bed and rusty (after a couple years) tailgate that flopped down like an exasperated teenager into the family couch. Pickups were strong and he-manly and cheaper than the sports cars that also identified their owners as high-T.

Sorry pardner, but much of that is long gone as crew cabs and modern technology have conspired to soften pickups and make them the family station wagons of today.

Nissan knows that, of course, but isn’t about to let its Frontier slide into sissydom. Last year it poured a new 310-horsepower 3.8-liter V6 with 9-speed automatic into the mid-size Frontier (a near clone to Ford’s Ranger in size and function). That gave Frontier the horsiest engine in class, plus a smooth-shifting tranny to boot, so a saddlebag full of power, but with refinement.

For 2022 the entire Frontier, outside of that engine and tranny, have been restyled and rethought to take on this growing market of mid-size pickups ruled by Toyota’s Tacoma.

Unlike last week’s smaller, stylish and refined Hyundai Santa Cruz, a compact crossover/pickup, Nissan went for the muscular manly styling that has dominated the market since the 1960s. It works, but isn’t so tall as to make a feller jump up into its cab like mounting a horse in one leap. Oh, this one added the fine off-road style step rails ($750), but they were hardly needed. No, the tested Frontier Pro-4X Crew Cab, designed for off-road loving pickup owners, sits low enough to make daily access easy.

Related video: Mark Savage reviews 2022 Nissan Frontier Pro 4x truck – YouTube

Where the hooves should be Frontier offers nubby R17 All-Terrain tires on painted alloy wheels, yet coupled with Bilstein off-road shocks the on-road ride is surprisingly supple and easy on the gluts. A rear suspension stabilizer no doubt helps too. The fam won’t mind riding in Frontier because of usual pickup ride quality (bouncy), and the driver will appreciate the giddyup provided by that V6 while so many other mid-sizers go with turbo 4-cylinders. Nissan Only offers the V6.

Handling is surprisingly quick and responsive as Nissan engineers revised the steering ratio for more precise handling, an aid especially in avoiding highway lane fade. Not a lot of play in this wheel. Downside is the steering is quite heavy in Frontier, very trucky, not crossover-like at all. Gym rats may like this while the rest of us could use a little lighter feel.

Useful, sure! Frontier has a 5-foot bed including spray-in liner, part of the $1,990 Pro Convenience Package. That package also adds Nissan’s snazzy Utili-track system with four adjustable tie-down cleats. That tailgate also is dampened so it doesn’t flop down too quickly, plus the tailgate locks, but no tonneau cover like the Santa Cruz has.

This one did add a grizzly bear-strong Sport Bar ($1,095) just behind the cab. It adds off-roading panache, but also includes a light on top to make bed loading easier at night. Nissan also includes side bed lights here. And while I loved Hyundai’s bumper infused steps this has a fold-down step on the driver’s side tail below the bumper. It’s easy to fold down and flip back up.

Frontier’s interior looks trucky, meaning muscular, black and off-road useful. There’s a knob on the dash to engage the 4-wheel-drive system, a big 9-inch touchscreen, large radio and climate control knobs and the usual steering-wheel hub with cruise and info screen controls.

I liked the functionality of it all and the black (really more of a charcoal gray) leather seats were soft and fairly comfy for city driving. Hip support was good, but the seats could use more lower-back support and the rear seats, while roomy enough for a couple adults could use some seat-back adjustments. The backs are nearly straight up and down and could be tiring after a short ride. The previous week’s Santa Cruz had a much more passenger friendly rear seat despite being smaller.

On the plus side though are heated front seats and heated steering wheel, plus the driver’s seat is fully powered while the passenger’s seat is manual. The back seats also fold and there’s storage beneath the seats.

I liked the open wireless phone charger on the console’s tail by the driver’s seat and center storage box. That’s easy to reach and easy to see if the phone is charging. The charger and heated seats are part of that Pro Convenience package that also includes a 120-volt power outlet in the bed.

Oddly the space between seats and door panels is incredibly tight. I couldn’t easily get my hand between the two to retrieve an item in the door pocket. Not real user friendly!

On the safety front there’s automatic forward collision warning, but to get more safety gar you need the Technology Package for $990. It includes lane departure warning, blind-spot warning, rear cross-traffic alert, a rear sonar system, rear automatic braking, high beam assist, smart cruise and traffic sign recognition. I feel blind-spot and rear cross-traffic alert really should be standard on all vehicles today.

Some useful electronics are standard though, including Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, Bluetooth, satellite radio, navigation, NissanConnect, Wi-Fi hotspot and voice recognition for audio features. There’s a rear-view camera of course, hill start and descent assist and a trailer sway control system, all pluses when towing or off-roading.

Speaking of which, the Frontier will pull 6,720 pounds, not quite the 7,500 that Ranger pulls, but sufficient for most average trailers and gear.

Making the Tactical Green ($395 extra) test truck a little nicer was the Pro Premium Package that adds a Fender premium audio system with 10 speakers, the leather seats, auto-dimming mirror with Homelink, sunroof and beadlock alloy wheels. Cost is $2,790.

I wasn’t a fan of the Army-style green, but the militarization of pickups seems a natural step at this point. Gun racks are still extra though.

Sadly gas mileage is pickup poor at 17 mpg city and 22 highway. I got 18 mpg in about 60% highway driving.

Pricing is higher than Ranger, mostly. A base 2WD Frontier S starts at $29,340. That’s for the crew cab with full-size rear doors, and let’s be honest, that’s what most folks want, and need. An SV crew cab goes for $32,140. Both also have a $1,175 destination charge.

There’s a Pro-X model that is 2WD only, but looks tougher like the tested Pro-4X, so blacked out grille with orange Nissan logo, and another on the steering wheel.

The 4WD Pro-4X lists at $38,415 including delivery and the tested truck hit $46,965 with all its options. That’s pretty steep for a mid-size pickup. But again, that’s where the market is headed for mid-sizers. Note too that mid-size pickups are as large as full-size pickups were 15-20 years ago.

I like the open running boards, made for off-roading, but easy to climb on.

A King Cab with small rear doors that open backward is also available and will save buyers a few bucks, but is far less useful for family hauling. And even most urban cowboys have a couple little outlaws to corral for soccer practice.

FAST STATS: 2022 Nissan Frontier Pro-4X Crew Cab 4×4

Hits: Useful family pickup, right size, good power, shifts, ride and handling. Lined bed, easy-lower tailgate, deployable step, strong tie-downs. Trucky interior but big screen, heated seats and wheel, big radio and climate knobs, smart cruise and safety suite, wireless phone charger.

There is an easy-fold step in back.

Misses: Heavy steering feel, seat backs need more side support, back seat backs too straight for long rides, low mpg, a bit pricey.

Made in: Canton, Miss.

Engine: 3.8-liter V6, 310 hp/281 torque

Transmission: 9-speed automatic

Weight: 4,709 lbs.

Wheelbase: 126.0 in.

Length: 210.2 in.

Cargo bed: 5-foot

Tow: 6,720 lbs.

Payload: 1,460 lbs.

MPG: 17/22

MPG: 18.0 (tested)

Base Price: $38,415 (includes delivery)

Invoice: $37,788*

Major Options:

Premium paint, $395

Off-road style step rails, $750

Bed access package, $540

Pro Convenience package (spray-in bedliner, Utili-track system, 120-volt power outlet in bed/rear console, heated outside mirrors, heated seats, heated steering wheel, LED under rail lighting, remote start, trailer hitch w/wiring, intelligent around-view monitor w/moving object detection and off-road mode, wireless charging), $1,990

Pro Premium package (Fender premium audio w/10 speakers, leather-appointed front/rear seats, auto-dimming mirror w/Homelink, tilt/slide sunroof w/manual shade, 17-inch beadlock alloy wheels), $2,790

Sport bar, $1,095

Technology package (lane departure warning, blind-spot warning, rear cross-traffic alert, rear sonar system, rear automatic braking, high beam assist, smart cruise, traffic sign recognition), $990

Test vehicle: $46,965

Sources: Nissan, www.kbb.com, *KBB Fair Market

Photos: Mark Savage

2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz Limited AWD

Well-timed compact pickup reflects crossover roots …

Few ideas are totally new in the auto world, but often they feel new, or simply put, the time is right.

Take Hyundai’s brilliant new Santa Cruz, a crossover’s crossover, a mix of crossover comfort and convenience and a pickup’s utility. Meshing the two most popular forms of transport today seems as smart at Reese’s mixing chocolate and peanut butter.

At media events Hyundai has gone out of its way to insist the Santa Cruz is not a pickup, but a Sport Adventure Vehicle, a SAV not an SUV. Yet you can be sure that what most folks will see here is a stylish compact pickup.

Yet this isn’t the first time this combo has been tried, nor a funny naming scheme cropped up. Remember Subaru’s BRAT? Probably not. It was a cute pickup that Subaru called a Bi-drive Recreational All-Terrain Transporter. Sounds like something an astronaut might trundle around the moon. That lasted from 1978 through 1994 and then returned, sort of, from 2003-2006 as the Baja, a crossover SUV and pickup with a decidedly stylish exterior. About the same time Ford peddled the Explorer Sport Trac. All featured AWD.

All this is a long way of saying Hyundai’s Santa Cruz is going to be an absolute monster hit. It’s the right blend at the right time. Starbucks would be pumpkin spice proud.

Hyundai based the Santa Cruz on its fine Tucson crossover, a biggish compact with unit-body construction so it behaves like a car, not a truck. Designers worked hard to keep the interior roomy like a Tucson and then turned the rear from an enclosed hatch to a marvelous multi-function compact pickup bed. Santa Cruz is a delight to drive, to ride in and to look at.

The lines seem modern and decidedly un-He-Man obsessed like all those truckier pickups. This is a family hauler first, a macho dirt and shrub hauler second, and with virtually no thumb on the macho scale. Santa Cruz looks youthful, fun, and manageable.

Yet Santa Cruz scores aces on power, ride, and handling with AWD also available if you plan to tow your boat or camper off the beaten path. Hyundai designers seem to have thought of everything.

Watch Mark’s video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bMxZrb3_8Ew

Consider that Santa Cruz offers two engine choices, a decent 190-horse 2.5-liter I4 at a great front-drive entry-level price of $23,990. Meanwhile the tested upper end Limited AWD model adds a turbo to that engine to crank an impressive 281 horses with a torque rating of 311. That’s available in the SEL Premium and Limited, both with standard AWD and listing in the near $40,000 range.

My Limited was a subtle Sage Green (grayish green that costs $400 extra) that was quick to highway speeds and its 8-speed duel-clutch automatic transmission shifted seamlessly. The AWD gave it good traction in the wet, tested well on roads coated with damp leaves in late fall. Engine noise was minimal and the SAV (OK, I said it) felt stout on the highway with little wind disturbance or noise.

But it’s the ride and handling that easily communicates Santa Cruz is NOT a pickup. This one shouts crossover, not truck. The Hyundai has a moderately long wheelbase at 118.3 inches and a smooth ride to confirm it. Bumps and rough pavement are minor occurrences, not tailbone stingers or cranium rattlers. If you love rock ‘n’ roll, buy a truck.

Handling is light and easy. Turn in to a tight curve and there’s just a touch of body lean, but no tail wagging as most trucks are wont to exhibit at higher speeds. AWD calms it and weight seems well distributed here, no nose heaviness. A similarly sized Nissan Frontier driven the following week, for instance, felt much more trucklike with heavy steering feedback and effort. I should have to work that hard?

And get this, I didn’t even need a running board to climb into Santa Cruz.

In fact, comfort is as important as utility here, reflected in interior styling that is space-age sleek, but useful, not gimmicky.

Seats are perforated black leather, the dash black with a gloss black trim line wrapping from the doors across the dash and framed with satin chrome trim. More satin trim on the wheel’s hub and seat backs below the headrests, and additional gloss black trim atop the door armrests and overhead around the sunroof and light controls. Spiffy!

Hyundai’s touchscreen is 10.25 inches wide and simple to use. There also are big simple climate controls, plus a Diffuse button to spread the warm air all around.

 The driver gets a power seat while the passenger’s seat is manually adjusted. Both are well shaped for comfy hip and lower back support. Rear seat folks have good head and legroom too, plus the seatbacks are carved out to provide more knee room in row two. There’s storage space under the rear seats too.

Front seats are heated and cooled in the Limited, which also touts a heated steering wheel. All those controls are on the front of the center armrest/storage box, so easy to locate and use. Perfect!

Below the center stack is a wireless phone charger, USB and 12-volt outlet. Other buttons on the console are for hill descent to control speed when off road, a 4WD lock button, and camera button to allow a full 360-view at any moment.

There’s also a Bose premium sound system and navigation in the Limited, and a sunroof overhead.

All that is unexpectedly refined and family friendly, but what sells me on Santa Cruz, for the utilitarian family side of my pea brain, is the creativity and usefulness of the pickup bed.

There’s a step in the bumper and the tonneau cover easily retracts while there’s a cooler under the bed.

First, I’m short and Hyundai has smartly designed steps into the corners of the rear bumpers and mid-bed below the tailgate, making for easy bed access.

Second, the lockable tailgate is an easy-lower model that doesn’t slam down on your leg if you unlatch it while standing just behind the truck. Ford’s new Maverick compact pickup still has the old flop-down tailgate.

Third, there’s a sturdy retractable tonneau cover with a strap attached underneath so you can release it and toss cargo in the back, then pull the strap to close it. Hyundai says that tonneau will support a lot of weight too, insinuating that even I could stand on it without causing damage.

Need more?

Fourth, there’s hidden storage beneath the composite truck bed. Unlatch that and hide valuables, or fill it with ice and you’ve got a cooler for Packer or Brewer tailgating. Yes there’s a plug there to release the water.

Fifth, inside a small removable side panel is a 115-volt power inverter so you could plug in a TV, or power equipment if needed.

One more thing, Hyundai has designed the truck bed wheel well covers to support plywood, so you can create shelving in the back of the bed to carry additional items, or, well, plywood. Clever!

Snazzy taillights in back too!

All told Santa Cruz will carry 1,568 pounds of stuff in the bed, and it will tow up to 5,000 pounds of trailer, watercraft of snowmobiles. Just like a truck!

Then there’s the usual safety equipment including driver attention and forward collision warning, lane-keep assist, and automatic emergency braking. To get blind-spot warning, rear cross-traffic warning and assist, plus safe-exit warning you need to move up to the upper trim levels. Limited includes it all.  

Gas mileage is OK, certainly better than most pickups. I got 24.8 mpg in about 60% highway driving with up to four folks comfortably aboard. The EPA rates Santa Cruz at 19 mpg city and 27 mpg highway for the AWD model. In fairness, the new Maverick has better ratings and a hybrid system that can get 42 mpg. One suspects a hybrid Santa Cruz will be coming soon.

Credit Hyundai for continuing its stellar 10-year or 100,000-mile powertrain warranty and now adding a 3-year, 36-month free maintenance plan that will include all your tire rotations, oil changes and fluid topoffs. Again, more value for the family.

Pricing is attractive throughout the range too, starting at $25,175, with delivery, for the SE front-drive model with its non-turbo engine. There’s also an SEL Activity FWD model at $31,645 that includes more equipment. Adding AWD to either costs $1,500.

The SEL Premium model is the first with the turbo engine and AWD standard and lists for $36,865 including delivery. The tested Santa Cruz Limited starts at $40,905 with delivery, and with its special color and carpeted floor mats ended at $41,500.

If you think that’s a lot you haven’t priced a pickup or loaded crossover lately.

Thin lights reflect a crossover look.

Some would say Santa Cruz is a market leader, but it’s a market of one, maybe two right now. Honda’s Ridgeline, another civilized pickup, is larger, and Ford’s Maverick (just now debuting) is aimed squarely at pickup buyers with a more macho look, but competitive price.

Santa Cruz is for families with outdoorsy leanings and urban cowboys who don’t own a cowboy hat.

FAST STATS: 2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz Limited AWD

Hits: Stylish crossover/pickup inside and out, good power, excellent ride and handling, plus AWD. Full safety system, big touchscreen, heated/cooled seats, heated steering wheel, wireless charger, sunroof. Useful bed with 2-tier storage, hidden compartment/cooler, electrical outlet, composite bed, easy-retract tonneau cover. Solid build and warranty/maintenance plan.

Sharp looking wheels add even more style to the Santa Cruz.

Misses: Zilch

Made in: Montgomery, Ala.

Engine: 2.5-liter turbo I4, 281 hp

Transmission: 8-speed dual-clutch automatic w/Shiftronic

Weight: 4,164 lbs.

Wheelbase: 118.3 in.

Length: 195.7 in.

Payload: 1,568 lbs.

Tow: 5,000 lbs.

MPG: 19/27

MPG: 24.8 (tested)

Base Price: $40,905 (includes delivery)

Invoice: $39,329

Major Options: Sage gray paint, $400

Carpeted floor mats, $195

Test vehicle: $41,500

Sources: Hyundai, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

Die-cast: Autoart’s McLaren Senna

Beautiful Senna model designed for speed, car lust …

If beauty be only skin deep, so be it, especially if that object of visual lust is a mid-engine McLaren Senna, be it a throbbing full-size version or a silent 1:18 scale model snug in a showcase.

Autoart has an encyclopedic knowledge of beauty and sensuous supercar lines and it’s not afraid to use it to create products of automotive amore. Its current 11 on a scale of 10 is the Trophy Mira (orange for us neophytes) McLaren Senna, which is based on the studly McLaren 720S, not a bad place to start.

The History

Formula 1 fanatics are fully aware of both McLaren and Senna, as in Ayrton Senna, the three-time F1 World Driving Champion, who as luck would have it, won all his titles driving for the McLaren F1 team. The Brazilian was often touted as the best F1 driver ever, but certainly of the late 1980s to 1994 when he was killed in the San Marino Grand Prix, driving not a McLaren, but a Williams F1 car.

McLaren holds exclusive rights to the Senna name for automobiles and that moniker is money in the bank for prestige, even 25+ years after Senna’s death.

Of course any McLaren supercar would live up to the Senna reputation for speed, but this model was designed to be extremely light to set faster times than previous models, so racy on its face. It touts a 4.0-liter twin-turbo V8 that makes 789 horsepower while using a 7-speed dual-clutch transmission. Weight is a miniscule 3,029 pounds. Thrust? McLaren claims 0-60 mph in 2.8 seconds, a 9.9 second quarter mile. You get the picture.

To keep it light there’s a carbon fiber monocoque chassis and to insure it’s stuck to the ground at 211 mph, its top speed, McLaren melds a double-element rear wing to its tail. In addition to downforce it also acts as an air brake (remember that on the 1967 Indy STP Turbine?) The wing is slightly adjustable even on Autoart’s model.

Up on the roof is a prominent air scoop, plus giant side air intakes to keep the engine and brakes cool at race speeds. Then there are the dihedral doors that fold up to allow the driver and a daring passenger to slip inside, and then windows set within the side windows, again for aero purposes. Folks of a certain age will remember similar windows on the racy 1990s Subaru SVX.

And if you have to ask, yes there are Brembo carbon ceramic brakes, and all for just a smidge over $1 million, asking price. Just 500 Sennas were to be made, the first delivered in 2018 and they don’t make them quickly at McLaren’s plant in Woking, Surrey, England.

The Model

               Autoart on the other hand has created five color variations of the Senna — blue, gray, black, white, and this glorious nearly glow-in-the-dark metallic orange. Seeing as how McLaren’s early racers were all a bright papaya orange, this seems the most appropriate color and with its black cockpit area, rear wing, chin spoiler, ground effects trim and rear diffuser, plus gloss black wheels the overall visual can leave one gobsmacked.

               All that black trim, nose to tail, around the inset thin lights, the nose before the cockpit and panels beneath the wing’s struts are mock carbon fiber patterned to resemble the real deal. A small rectangular McLaren nameplate graces the sleek nose and even the side mirror housings resemble carbon fiber.

               Roof and window trim are all gloss piano black with all the proper seams and outlines of the door hinges, those inserted side windows within windows, and the clear panels above each seat. There also are clear inserts in the doors, again trimmed in black gloss. In theory, one could see the driver and passenger’s legs through those panels.

               Inside the massive side air scoops are black mesh screens and then tiny carbon fiber aero devices like Gurney flaps on the inner edges of the rear fenders to direct air up to that monster two-tier rear wing.

               Through the octagonal rear hatch window one can see the top of the twin-turbo V8, just enough to not feel cheated that the rear bonnet doesn’t open. Go all the way to the tail and there’s a six-sided black opening under the wing with what would be a trio of black titanium exhaust pipes. Imagine their rich exhaust tone on that million dollar baby.

               Below that is more black mesh grillework on the tail, a McLaren nameplate and the black multi-finned diffuser. A joint McLaren/Senna plate also labels the rear, where a license might go if you were using your Senna on the street, not just the track.

               Wheels are gloss black with a McLaren swish logo on the hub and enormous drilled disc brakes behind with blue calipers. Tires are thick treaded rubber properly labeled Pirelli P-Zeros, so you know they were designed for maximum adhesion.

               Senna’s interior is easy to view and easy on the eyes as you flip up the dihedral doors. The door frame reinforces the fact the McLaren has a carbon fiber cockpit with another McLaren nameplate and logo on the bottom of the frame. Seats are a soft black plastic to somewhat mimic the Alcantara leather seats of the street machine.

               Autoart nails the dash detail too with carbon fiber touches, chrome air vents, a flat-bottom three-spoke race steering wheel and a big vertical screen aimed at the driver for ease of use. The model features black cloth seatbelts with metal clasps to further aid realism and yes, there’s a Senna logo on the passenger-side dash.

               Short of working lights and engine this is as close to a perfect recreation of one of the most beautiful cars in the world. Yet even at $260 it’s much more affordable for your collection than plunking down for a 1:1 scale, even if it were slightly used and needed new tires. You know it would.  

Vital Stats: McLaren Senna (Trophy Mira/Orange)

The wing flattened out.

Maker: Autoart
Scale: 1/18
Stock No.: 76078
MSRP: $260

The wing slightly angled.

Link: Autoartmodels.com

2022 Subaru Ascent Onyx edition

Biggest Subaru offers three rows, more comfort …

Subaru has this love-all thing going with the environment, and who can blame it. National Parks and dogs are universally loved and tying your sales to either seems a no-brainer. I mean baseball and apple pie had already been tried.

Subie’s latest love is the Ascent, its large SUV, although it’s only moderately large, keeping in mind that its customers likely won’t want to pull a Queen Mary-size trailer to the campgrounds. It’s unique too in that while being only modestly big it can seat up to eight people, the third row being best for short hauls and assuming a second-row bench seat. The tester had second-row captain’s chairs, so could carry seven.

To sexy up its models Subaru has added Onyx editions, which means trim is blacked out, such as the grille, roof rails, wheel well cladding, mirrors, a rear spoiler, and exterior badging. Even the Onyx’s special 20-inch aluminum alloy wheels are black. The effect is somewhat slimming and stealthy. Plus this one was Autumn Green Metallic, which means a somewhat gray green with some sparkle, but a shade that mostly serves as forest camouflage.

Ascent is easily the most comfortable Subaru. I own an Outback and the ride in the longer wheelbase Ascent is light years smoother, not that the Outback is harsh. Handling too is nimble considering this is a 196.8-inch long vehicle. Most large utes feel big and somewhat cumbersome, not the Ascent. A trip out Holy Hill way proved its grip and stability in sweeping turns littered with falling leaves, and its comfort on some questionable rural roads.

Power is another water bottle in Ascent’s backpack. Subie is known for its boxer engines, also known as horizontally-opposed as the pistons move back and forth nearly horizontally like a boxer’s arms. This is the newer 2.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder that pounds out 260 horsepower, enough to gallop up to highway speeds with ease while dispensing only moderate engine drone, something my Outback has aplenty.

Power is linked to the AWD system via a Lineartronic CVT or continuously variable transmission. Subaru and Nissan seem to have figured these out best among the automakers, their purpose being smooth and efficient power that saves fuel. I’ll drone on about that in a bit.

But shifts seem properly stepped and smooth, which creates further comfort for the fam.

Watch Mark’s video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_zV11YraQPI

Inside, the Onyx edition gets all jiggy with fake carbon fiber trim on the dash and doors and figuring you’ll likely be hiking and biking the seats are made of a soft StarTex water-repellant material. It looks a bit like leather but is actually more cushioned and feels softer to the touch, but remains easy to clean.

Seats here are gray with charcoal-colored trim and gray stitching. Dash and doors are black except for the fake carbon fiber trim while door releases are chrome and there’s satin chrome finish by the console shifter. Gloss black trims the center stack and 8-inch touchscreen. A smaller 6.5-inch screen comes in base models.

I like how the touchscreen works, and that there are knobs for volume and tuning. There’s also tri-zone climate controls standard, meaning separate front seat controls, plus a system for the second row occupants.

A $2,200 option package upgrades to that 8-inch screen, which I like better than the massive reflective screen now in Outbacks. Other goodies in the package include a cargo cover, which can be stored under the cargo floor, a voice-activated Tom-Tom navigation system, smartphone integration, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto along with a spectacular panoramic sunroof. I only wish wireless phone charging were part of this gig.

This is the right size of screen, not too big, or too small!

But standard here are heated seats and the heated steering wheel for the Onyx, plus there’s a power hatch and all the safety equipment that Subaru has to offer via its EyeSight system.

That encompasses a lot and it functions efficiently. There’s blind-spot warning, adaptive cruise control, lane keeping and centering, emergency braking, automatic high beams, and steering responsive LED headlights.

I also like the X-mode button on the console that is meant for off-roading. It is basically a hill-descent system to keep the vehicle, which has 8.7 inches of ground clearance, from over accelerating down a steep incline or loose soft or rocky surface. That allows the driver to better maintain control when off road.

Second row seats fold and slide forward for third row access.

I’d be remiss to not mention the excellent head and legroom in front and row two. Row three is tighter on leg and knee room. Occupants will want to talk nice to row two folks so they will slide their seats forward a bit.

Also a plus for all Subarus is the A-pillar and mirror placement on the doors. There’s a sealed vent window between the two that give better side sightlines than in most SUVs and crossovers, notorious for their monster A-pillar/mirror combos that obstruct side views.

Note too that cargo space is modest behind that third row seat, but wonderful once it is down. So if you need a third row on occasions, but not always, Ascent is a healthy hauler of both people and gear. It also will pull 5,000 pounds, so campers and two-up trailers are no problem.

Two things that could be improved though are interior noise levels and gas mileage. I noticed more road and wind noise in Ascent than in some competing SUVs and crossovers. It wasn’t a racket, just more noticeable than in a few others.

MPG is my bigger concern. I love the outdoors and clean air and national parks and all that as much as the next person. But I managed just 21.7 mpg in a fairly even highway to city mix. EPA says 20 mpg city and 26 highway for Ascent. After driving the marginally smaller Kia Sorento hybrid a week earlier and netting 37.6 mpg I was shocked by the low average here. Subaru needs a hybrid system, and now, for its entire lineup. Hybrids are a stepping stone to cleaner air and better climate, so you’d think would be a major part of Subie’s technology platform. Other brands already are there.

Lecture complete!

Finally there’s price, and here the Ascent continues to impress, as did all its driving characteristics. The Onyx starts at $39,120, including delivery. With its option package it hit $41,320, just a smidge above the average new car price.

Lesser models are more affordable of course. The base, which seats eight, lists at $32,295 while the top-level Touring starts at $45,445.

Ascent is atop Subaru’s lineup in performance, comfort and family utility. Its MPG needs work.

FAST STATS: 2022 Subaru Ascent Onyx

Hits: Roomy, high-value AWD SUV with good power, nimble handling, comfy ride. Big sunroof, heated seats and steering wheel, will seat up to eight. X-mode good for off-roading, soft easy-clean well-formed seats, power hatch, good sightlines and broad range of safety equipment.

Misses: No wireless charging, interior could be quieter. MPG not impressive, could use hybrid system.

Made in: Lafayette, Ind.

Engine: 2.4-liter turbo boxer 4, 260 hp /277 torque

Transmission: Lineartronic CVT automatic

Weight: 4,542 lbs.

Wheelbase: 113.8 in.

Fancy black wheels are part of the Onyx edition.

Length: 196.8 in.

Cargo: 17.6-86.0 cu.ft.

Tow: 5,000 lbs.

MPG: 20/26

MPG: 21.7 (tested)

Base Price: $39,120 (includes delivery)

Invoice: $36,648

Major Options:

Package (cargo cover, panoramic moonroof, STARLINK 8.0 nav, 8-in. high-res touchscreen, smartphone integration, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, Bluetooth, voice-activated nav by TomTom), $2,200

Test vehicle: $41,320

Sources: Subaru, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

2021 Kia Sorento Hybrid EX

Hybrid Sorento a family hauler with a smaller carbon footprint …

Families looking for economy, but needing people-hauling ability, and whose social consciousness nags them about cutting their carbon footprint, should be dancing a conga line toward Kia dealers for a Sorento Hybrid.

This family hauler was redesigned for 2021, along with its cousin, Hyundai’s Santa Fe, both reviewed earlier. Now comes the Sorento hybrid that gets roughly 10 mpg better than the internal combustion engine (ICE) model, yet isn’t a budget buster.

A base ICE-powered model lists about $31,000 while a hybrid starts about $34,000.

Performance? Not much difference between the two in everyday driving.

Acceleration is good, maybe a bit more accelerator effort in the hybrid, but even with a 6-speed automatic in place of the 8-speed dual-clutch with the ICE version, shifts are smooth. Plus the electric often powers Sorento up to 20+ mph so it’s quiet. (There’s a mild beep outside to warn pedestrians when you back up.) The ICE and electric power switchovers are seamless.

Handling is solid too, as in the ICE model with reasonable corner turn-in and not much body lean, if any. I mean the batteries seem to give this a lower center of gravity to feel even more solid on the highway than the previous versions, not that that was needed. Plus the weight seems to quiet the ride on city streets so they are only a bit jiggly. Highways feel like you’re riding on satin.

Kia’s hybrid system mates electric battery-powered motors with a small 1.6-liter turbocharged I4. Combined the systems deliver 227 horsepower compared with 281 horses from the 2.5-liter turbo I4 in the upscale gas version, or 191 horses in a base ICE model. Yet it is torque that pushes or pulls a vehicle up to speed. Torque here is rated a more than respectable 258 lbs.-ft. vs. 311 with the more powerful gas engine.

Any of these will get Sorento up to highway speeds with ease, just the hybrid or larger ICE will do it with more authority. Note there are just three drive modes with the hybrid as opposed to five in ICE models. This one has Eco (the default), Sport, and Smart, which purportedly learns your preferred driving style and mimics it.

Eco was fine in town. I switched to Sport only when on the freeway as it delivers more acceleration and firms the steering for less highway lane fade.

A big plus, in addition to lower emissions, all that Eco driving saves fuel. The hybrid’s electric power comes from capturing power during deceleration and via regenerative braking. I got 37.6 mpg while the trip computer was an enthusiastic 41.6. Still, that compared with 25.7 mpg in the ICE model tested in summer. EPA estimates are 39 mpg city and 35 highway.

Quick calculations show an average driver at that rate would save $444 a year on fuel. There’s no electric cost as this isn’t a plug-in hybrid. That’s coming shortly though. Note that if you drive more than the average 12,000 miles a year you’ll save even more.

All that is so practical, and Sorento is all of that.

Yet as I’ve said before this Kia is handsome with a good-looking nose featuring a hexagonal grille pattern while the tail features snazzy two-bar vertical LED taillights, one shy of looking an awful lot like Mustang’s taillights. Similar to the fancy upscale X-Line Sorento driven earlier, this EX trim model includes a satin chrome accent on the C-pillar, plus the same around windows and a decorative chrome doodad overlapping the front fender and doors. Snazzy!

All Sorentos are nearly identical in size too and come standard with three rows of seats, plus offer optional captain’s chairs in the second row, a segment exclusive. Santa Fe models don’t offer the third row.

So Sorento seats six or seven. The tester opted for the captain’s seats in row two, so would seat six. I like that this opens up some foot room for third row occupants and gives them another path out of the SUV/crossover.

Also Kia has designed a push button atop the second row seats, next to the headrests, and another at the seat’s base. Press these and the row two seats fold and slide forward, making for easy exits from row three. A little friendly persuasion of row two occupants to slide their seats forward a bit also aids leg and foot room in back. Still row three is best for pre-teens as the third row seats are low-riders (close to the floor) so a person’s knees ride up near the chest.

Being a family hauler dictates that safety is of utmost importance. No worries here.

Sorento packs plenty of safety systems. Standard are adaptive cruise control, blind-spot warning, forward collision avoidance and assist with cycle recognition, rear cross-traffic avoidance, lane-keeping, safe-exit assist, and parking sensors. Better yet, the lane-keeping can be turned off to avoid odd steering patterns in town when there’s construction and debris to dodge.

Inside the test vehicle is attractive and well arranged. First, the dash and doors include a sort of quilted metal look to give the EX a bit of a jeweled appearance. Other trim on air ducts and the instrument pod and door releases is satin chrome while around the screen and by the gauges is a gloss black trim with matte black and silver on the console to avoid reflections.

Handsome door styling and snazzy quilted metal trim.

Seats are a light gray perforated leather-like material, plus are heated. The driver’s seat is powered, but the passenger’s seat is manual and both are mildly contoured. I find the bottom cushion a bit hard, but comfy enough for city driving. The dash is black as are the tops of doors and trim. 

Mid-dash is a 10-inch screen that’s easy to see and simple to use. Buttons and knobs are well arranged and labeled. I also like the dual level air vents that adjust to aim air where you need it. Visuals are nice too.

Overhead is a panoramic sunroof with power shade, an SOS system and a power hatch in back. Below the center stack is a wireless phone charger that’s easy to use, better than the Santa Fe’s arrangement. Just remember your phone when you get out of the vehicle. I forgot mine several times. Some vehicles warn you if a phone is in the charger. Not here.

The EX trim is not the top of the line, so it is missing a few things that come on fully loaded vehicles, such as a navigation system and AWD. In Wisconsin the later is most important. It runs $1,800 to $2,300 extra, depending on the Sorento’s trim level. That’s a bit unusual. AWD often is a standard option price, about $2,000.

Note that the hybrid model only is recommended for towing 2,000 lbs., the same as the lower horse ICE model. And unlike the ICE models that are made in Georgia, the hybrids are assembled in South Korea.

Pricing, which was touched on earlier, is attractive for such a well-equipped and designed SUV/crossover. Base price for the tested EX model is $37,760, including delivery. With just the snazzy bright metallic red paint as a $445 option, this one settled at $38,205. Add AWD and you’re at about $40,000.

A base hybrid starts about $34,000 and a plug-in hybrid Sorento will list about $41,000. Like most plug-ins, it’s expected to have about a 32-mile fully charged electric range.

The taillights remind me of those on Mustangs, you?

Gas-powered (ICE) models run from $30,500 up to $44,000 if well equipped.

Choices abound with Sorento, from trim levels to power plants. If cutting pollution is high on your list along with family safety and comfort this hybrid is a desirable choice.

FAST STATS: 2021 Kia Sorento Hybrid EX

Hits: Handsome redesign, good handling, ride, fine power, but exceptional MPG. Panoramic sunroof, third row seats, power hatch, 10-inch screen, clear button arrangement, nice visuals on instrument cluster, heated front seats, large cargo area if rear seat down, roomy interior, wireless charger, and stout safety device lineup.

Misses: No navigation system at this trim level and AWD is optional.

Made in: Hwasung, So. Korea

Engine: 1.6-liter turbo I4 GDI hybrid, 227 hp/258 torque

Transmission: 6-speed automatic

Weight: 3,979 lbs.

Wheelbase: 110.6 in.

Length: 189.4 in.

Cargo: 12.6, 38.5, 75.5 cu.ft.

Tow: 2,000 lbs.

MPG: 39/35

MPG: 37.6 (tested)

Base Price: $37,760 (includes delivery)

Invoice: $38,545

Major Option: Runway red paint, $445

Test vehicle: $38,205

Sources: Kia, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

2022 Infiniti QX55 Sensory AWD

New QX55 a fun mix of fashion and luxury …

Mixing fashion and fun in a luxury SUV/crossover is about as commonplace as legislators agreeing on something.

Yet Infiniti has done it with its new QX55 for 2022, and this comes after its launch of the near perfect QX50 for 2021. That SUV/crossover also slots in to the compact to mid-size range, sort of a tweener, not that there’s anything wrong with that.

The QX55 rides on the same platform and has an identical wheelbase, but is about 1.5 inches longer than the QX50 with a much more stylish rear end and profile that insinuate fastback and sporty as opposed to square back and utilitarian. Coming or going the QX55 looks as sporty and spiffy as a guy in a black crewneck sweater while donning a tweed blazer with leather elbow patches.

Some vehicles simply look snazzy. This one does. Doesn’t hurt that it was bathed in a brilliant metallic red called Dynamic Sunston, a $900 option. (Wouldn’t it be fun to dream up these color names?) Nor did it hurt that its interior was a creamy soft light gray leather trimmed in charcoal-colored soft finishes for dash and doors.

Styling aside for a moment, the QX55 mostly excels for its nimble and energetic driving coupled with a supple yet responsive ride. These are tough mixes to get just right, but Infiniti manages it.

There’s an alacrity to the handling that makes this Infiniti seem more sport than utility. The turning radius is modest so the SUV/crossover feels more crossover than truck, almost sport sedan. Point the toothy nose toward a turn’s apex and the turn-in is swift and the grip from 20-inch tires and a standard AWD system is dead on.

Power is identical to the QX50 with a high-tech 2.0-liter variable compression turbo I4 (VC-Turbo) kicking out 268 horses and 280 pound-feet of torque. The power is smooth and well managed by the slick shifting CVT. Not all CVTs are this good, but Nissan/Infiniti have pretty well mastered these and they also mildly help gas mileage.

Related Video: Ride along with Mark

But it’s the VC-Turbo that still merits a special mention. Nissan worked on this system for 20 years before perfecting it. No one else has. Variable compression means it can automatically vary the piston’s stroke and thereby change compression as the driver demands more or less power. That makes a more efficient engine, and one may surmise could extend the life of ICE (Internal Combustion Engines).

This efficient VC-Turbo engine is special.

I got 24.1 mpg in a mix heavier on freeway driving and the EPA rates this at 22 mpg city and 28 mpg highway.

Any way you look at this power plant though, it provides oodles of oomph to aid the QX55’s agility and fun-worthiness. One drawback, the engine sounds like it’s working pretty hard under full acceleration, so can thrum more than one might expect in a luxury vehicle. All this is more pronounced in Sport mode than in any of the other three drive modes, engaged via a console toggle. Smartly the QX55’s power chant calms quickly and it cruises in relative silence on the freeway.

Ride also is pleasant, something that often can’t be said for SUVs and larger crossovers. The suspension here takes the edge off crude city bumps and pavement crumbles and in fact there’s a bit of sporty firmness to help the Infiniti feel in tune with the road.

Move inside and the cockpit is impressively quiet with acoustic glass to silence wind and road noise along with enough sound deadening to immediately impress that this is a luxury vehicle. That leather interior makes a good impression too as does the stylish design and trim that confirm the QX’s upscale leanings.

Infiniti gives the QX55 a sharp and stylish interior.

Light gray semi-aniline leather seats are soft and moderately supportive, yet comfy. There’s light gray stitching in the dash and doors plus black open-pore maple trim on both dash and doors with a satin chrome trim encompassing the wood. Gloss black trim surrounds the upper info screen and a flat black finish keeps the console from reflecting sunlight. Gray leather also trims part of the console and center armrest.

Seats are heated and cooled and the info screen simple to use, plus this bad boy offers up a Bose Performance Series stereo with 16 speakers that stimulates the ears. There’s also wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Navigation and traffic update info is included while the radio functions are adjusted on a second lower screen with climate and seat buttons all around it for easy access and functionality.

Adding to the luxury feel is a power tilt/telescope steering wheel, power hatch and sunroof. That hatch is motion-activated so can be opened with the wave of a foot below the bumper.

Plenty of head and legroom here for front and rear seat occupants too. No third-row seat as this isn’t a land yacht, but good storage behind the rear seat at 26.9 cubic feet and more than 54 cubic feet if you fold down the rear seats. Its sister, the QX50 has more cargo room, as it’s boxier, so if you haul a lot the 50 might be your better bet.

Those slanting C-pillars are stylish, but big, so limit rear visibility.

Must mention too that the A-pillars and C-pillars are thick, so can limit outward visibility. Of course there’s a 360-degree camera to help in parking lots, a plus. The top-trim Sensory model that I had also includes smart cruise control and ProPilot Assist, Infiniti’s semi-autonomous driving system. It engages with cruise control only, so doesn’t impede lane construction dodging in town. Smart!

On the freeway this allows you to punch in a speed and let the crossover do most of the lane watching and slow-traffic avoidance. You MUST keep hands on the wheel though or it’ll let you know you’ve been negligent. I really like this system compared to most.

Is that logo on the monster grille big enough for ya?

All the other usual safety systems are here too and all trims come with blind-spot warning and forward emergency braking.

Three trims are offered, all with AWD. The Luxe starts at $47,525, while the mid-level Essential is $52,625 and adds leather seats and the spectacular Bose 16-speaker system. This top Sensory model loads on all the goodies and that smart cruise and ProPilot system at $58,075, including delivery.

Style is uppermost in the Infiniti designers’ minds.

With only a couple minor options the tested QX55 settled at $60,250. That’s competitive with the likes of BMW’s X4, the Mercedes-Benz GLC, Land Rover Evoque and equally sporty and fun Alfa Romeo Stelvio.

I fawned over the QX50, but this QX55 is way sportier looking and driving. Can I have one of each?

FAST STATS: 2022 Infiniti QX55 Sensory AWD

Hits: Sporty styling and handling, good power, nice ride plus AWD. Luxurious, quiet interior, comfy heated/cooled seats, Bose premium stereo, 4 drive modes, easy climate buttons, power hatch, power tilt/telescope steering wheel, sunroof and lane departure only engages with smart cruise control

Misses: Big A- and C-pillars limit visibility and Sport makes engine noisier than expected in luxury crossover.

Made in: Mexico

Engine: 2.0-liter VC turbo I4, 265 hp /280 torque

Transmission: CVT automatic

Weight: 4,065 lbs.

Wheelbase: 110.2 in.

Length: 186.3 in.

Cargo: 26.9-54.1 cu.ft.

MPG: 22/28

MPG: 24.1 (tested)

Base Price: $58,075 (includes delivery)

Invoice: $55,374 (KBB Fair Purchase Price)

Major Options:

Exclusive paint, $900

Lighting package (welcome lighting, illuminated kick plate), $925

Cargo package (reversible cargo mat, cargo blocks, console net, cargo net, rear bumper protection film), $350

Test vehicle: $60,250

Sources: Infiniti, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

FALL RALLY DRIVES & Videos


MAMA Fall Rally: So many vehicles, so little time …

Once or twice a year, lately depending on the Covid threat, Midwest auto writers gather their helmets and egos before snagging seat time in the latest new machines from the top automakers.

I use that term loosely because, to be honest, most of the vehicles that they make, and we drive, are trucks, SUVs, and crossovers. So be it.

This October we spent nearly two days at Road America, the National Park of Speed, near beautiful Elkhart Lake, Wis., at what’s called the MAMA Fall Rally, MAMA standing for Midwest Automotive Media Association. That’s us Midwest journalists who cover the auto industry year-round.

The Toyota Supra makes for sharp eye candy, while the new electric Mazda MX-30 rests in back.

The gig is we can take a few choice vehicles, usually the fast and furious type stuff, onto the Road America racecourse. Awesome! Second, we can take most of the vehicles around the access roads at the race track, or out on the surrounding highways and byways, always being mindful of the local constabulary.

So this year my videographer and co-driver Paul Daniel and I jumped in a bunch of these newbies to snag videos for you, driving impressions for me to use in reviews, and photos to share now and later of the new sheet metal, and plastic.

Here’s a quick look at some of our drives

Karma GS-6

This is a series electric like the former Chevy Volt (too bad it got axed) where there’s a gas engine, but it’s used to charge the batteries so the Karma is powered by electric motors only. But the gas gives it a sizeable range, more than 300 miles. This is a full-on luxury, think Gran Turismo like a Maserati Trofeo Ghibli, or such. Cost is $100 grand and change, nearly $110,000 here. For more, watch this video.

Here’s the new Jeep Compass, sharp, but it’s the interior that will impress.

New Jeeps:  Jeep Grand Cherokee L, Grand Wagoneer, Compass

Paul here, our resident Jeep guy. Jeep has been busy this year launching or will be launching a bunch of new vehicles this year. They enter the three-row SUV category with the Grand Cherokee L. That’s right three rows of seats and seats that can actually seat somebody older than your fourth grader. They are also in the process of updating the Compass which competes in the compact SUV category. I was impressed with the pre-production model I drove and it should help improve its ratings. See the video.

New Grand Cherokee L. L stands for lots of room.

Grand Wagoneer though was Jeep’s biggest launch, literally with a wheelbase of 123 inches. It’s also the highest priced Jeep in the lineup with the top model going for almost $105,000. You’ll note the Jeep name isn’t on the vehicle anywhere though, just Grand Wagoneer.

The interior is nothing short of spectacularly packed with leather and wood (real wood) and all the tech you could possibly imagine. Digital displays line the dashboard. The one in front of the passenger will, say you’re looking for a place to eat, search places nearby, get directions, and then swipe it over to the driver’s side. This stuff is straight out of the movie Ironman. The only thing missing is the woodgrain exterior paneling from the original. Somebody will do that. Check out our video here. 

Jeep grand wagoneer
The only thing missing is the woodgrain paneling on the new Grand Wagoneer.

Jeep Wrangler Unlimited 392

I’m excited that Ford brought back the Bronco. Competition improves the breed and even though I’m a Jeep guy, somebody nipping at their heels will make them bring new options to the market. Case in point, the big V8 that Jeep pounded into the Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon. I got a chance to take it off-road. The rumble alone gives this a huge cool factor, something Bronco doesn’t have, yet. Ride along with me here. Notice the big grin on my face.

Jeep wrangler 392
Paul after his muddy ride in the 392 beast.

Jeep’s First Hybrid, the Wrangler 4xe

Who would have ever imagined a hybrid Jeep much less a Wrangler? It’s here and the number one selling hybrid to boot. I drove this after getting out of the 392 and the first thing I noticed was the sound or lack of it. It was super quiet, but handled the muck, mud, and rocks just as well as the 392. Jeep’s new plug-in-hybrid Wrangler promises 375 horsepower and 49 MPGe. It will get to 60 in just under seven seconds, not too shabby.

The 4xe is the second-most powerful Wrangler behind the 392 V8 model, and the most fuel-efficient if you pay attention. The hybrid powertrain and battery add significant weight, offsetting the Wrangler 4xe’s performance potential and gas-only fuel economy. Fail to plug in the Jeep Wrangler 4xe regularly, and you not only give up all of its advantages, but without the battery charged, it returns poorer fuel economy than a regular four-cylinder Wrangler. However, keep the battery charged with a 220v outlet and you’ll be in for a treat. The other treat is the $7,500 tax credit you get for going green in this Jeep. Thanks Uncle Sam!

hybrid jeep, wrangler 4xe
New Jeep Wrangler 4xe

Hyundai Santa Cruz

New Santa Cruz. Lots of fun in a small package, plus a pickup bed.

I should have one of these non-pickup pickups shortly for a full drive. This cutie is based on Hyundai’s fine Tucson crossover, but with a pickup bed in the back. Yet it’s stylish and will hold four adults easily with good rear-seat room. It also drives and rides like a crossover, which is its base. Look for this and the new Ford Maverick compact pickup to duke it out for sales. Check out our quick walk-around video.

Subaru’s restyled BRZ sports car has the power and the handling!

Subaru BRZ

This is a cousin to Toyota’s 86. Both are 2+2 sports cars for the economy-minded, but who want generous power and sports car handling. Rare I know. But the BRZ was a hoot on the track, handling great, easy to point into corners, decent brakes, and plenty of grunt from its new naturally aspirated 2.4-liter boxer engine, thanks to Subaru. That belts out 228 horsepower and sounds much racier than you might imagine. Can’t wait for a week’s drive in this baby!

Alfa’s Giulia is one fine driving sports sedan, and its nose looks racy too!

Alfa Romeo Giulia QV

Not many Fiats or Alfas even offered by Stellantis in this country. Who’s Stellantis? That’s the conglomerate that owns Dodge, Jeep, Ram, and Chrysler.

Anyway, the Giulia is a delight to drive, with very quick handling, and excellent sports sedan ride. It feels tight and well-made, despite what you might have heard. Power is kick-ass quick and with a rip-roaring tone too, and there’s an 8-speed automatic to put the power down efficiently too. Manuals are fun, but today’s automatics shift quicker than mere mortals. Alfa says 0-60 mph flies by in 3.8 seconds. I can’t argue with that.

VW’s new ID.4 is pure electric and delivers 260 miles of range on a charge.

Volkswagen ID.4

VW is all-in on electric vehicles, both in Europe and here in the States and its ID.4 is its first foray into full electric. It’s a compact crossover with 260 miles of range and VW will pay for your first three years of fast charges wherever you need them. Nice! From a looks standpoint, ID.4 is a middler, with no real standout looks. But then it also doesn’t look like a Prius or Insight to scream that it’s eco-friendly. By the numbers, it’s got good power at 295 horses and 339 lb.-ft. of torque, which VW says does 0-60 in 5.4 seconds. Respectable!

Related Story: Is the world ready for EV’s?

Driving it was fun, although the funky gear selector on the side of the instrument pod takes a lot of getting used to. Power is good, handling fine and ride seems OK, although a longer drive is upcoming so I’ll know more then. AWD also is available and at $43,675 VW is happy to point out this is the least expensive AWD EV. Possible the ID.4 will get VW back in the game in the US.

The NX has new styling and is loaded with sensors and gizmos that make it special.

Lexus NX

While the former NX was a nice small crossover it didn’t strike me as anything special, considering it’s a Lexus. I considered it a fancy Rav4. But it has been reworked and electrically gizmotized to a major degree. It’ll let you know, for instance, if a bicyclist is riding by so you won’t open a door in front of the cyclist. So more beeps and whistles that some will love. I can do without that, but the ride is sublime, handling quick and responsive and the interior concert hall quiet. Now it IS special.

Compact pickups are a coming thing and Ford’s Maverick is cutting edge!

Ford Maverick FX4

I remember when Mavericks were cheap Ford cars, now it’s a compact pickup like Ford Rangers used to be before they grew up to be as big as an old F-150. But the Maverick will sell like weed at a rock concert because it truly is a useful small pickup and starts about $20 grand. Bingo, this is exactly what folks have been asking for for years. Very capable, easy handling, good ride and if you go hybrid (brilliant idea!) it’s rated now at 42 mpg by the EPA. This is gonna be a monster hit!

Doesn’t get much cooler than this rocket-like BMW.

BMW M440i xDrive Gran Coupe

BMW uses a carbon fiber seat in the M440i.

Trust me, everyone at the rally wanted to get a little seat time in this beast. The color alone assured you were taking a trip down the Hot Wheels track at about a 75-degree angle. Power? Oh yeah! How’s 503 horsepower grab you and delivered to all four wheels. Twin-turbo power is said to do 0-60 mph in 3.4 seconds and I believe it. This is a rocket, but with giant discs to slow it just as quickly. Handling? It’s a BMW. Nuff said. And I LOVED the racy carbon fiber seats that were as comfy as a luxury sedan, but waaaay more supportive. Hope I get to test this one for a week sometime!

Bronco is finally here and the Wildtrak is made for off-roading.

Ford Bronco Wildtrak 4-door

Yes, that spelling is right as car makers love funky spellings of common words. A lot of folks have been waiting for Bronco and it’s slowly making its way into the market. The 4-door version looks all the world to me like a Land Rover and Ford assures us it’ll go off-roading like a champ. It offers a roof that folds back like a Jeep too, and despite looking like a monster truck, it’s easy to handle and drives smaller than it is. Bravo. Power is from a 2.7-liter EcoBoost engine that makes 310 horsepower with the turbo kicking out 400 lb.-ft. of torque. Love this new SUV! Here’s a quick walk-around video.

Mazda’s first EV, the MX-30, features clamshell doors for easy rear-seat access.

Mazda MX-30

First, Mazda took its stellar CX-30 compact crossover and then dropped in an electric power system to make its first EV. Like the CX-30 (my car of the year for 2021) it handles great and rides well. But the electric power makes it super quiet and peppy off the line, well, much like the CX-30, but with electrons running things instead of gas. Basically, it’s quick, handles, and rides well. Need more? Its other different feature is clamshell rear doors which create a nice large opening for folks to climb in the rear seats. Range is 130 miles, so better than some EVs, but not up to Tesla or Mustang Mach E standards. The good news, a hybrid model is said to be coming soon.

Sharp styling and a broad price range means there’s a Tucson to fit most budgets.

Hyundai Tucson

First, the Tucson has been restyled and looks as sharp as the rest of the Hyundai lineup. Plus running from $25,000 to $35,000 for starting prices and including a sporty N Line model, it is family-friendly. I like its ride and handling in particular as some compact crossovers can be a little severe in ride quality sometimes. Power is decent too with a 2.5-liter I4 delivering 187 horses, plus this cockpit is sharp looking too.

Love traditional V8 power? A Mustang Mach 1 is a track-seeking missile.

Ford Mustang Mach 1

OMG, this is muscle car madness at its finest if you still love the roar of a gasoline-powered V8, and really, who doesn’t? I won’t go into all the details here. I’ll just say this, 480 horsepower at less than $55,000. Top speed 168 mph and on the track it’s more fun than a human should be allowed to experience, well, almost. For a full review: 2021 Ford Mustang Mach 1 Premium | Savage On Wheels

Plenty of spunk and sporty handling in the Mazda3 hatchback. Zoom, zoom!

Mazda3 Turbo

Nothing new and exciting here, but the Mazda3 hatch was already exciting and still is one of the coolest sports hatches in the world. Had this one on the track and did 110 mph easily on a long straightaway and man this baby handles too. Needs performance tires naturally, but the 2.5-liter turbo I4 cranks 250 horses and sounds like it means business at high revs. AWD gives it super traction too!

2022 MINI Cooper S Convertible

Wild paint, cool ragtop make MINI S an extrovert’s dream …

Extroverts love MINI Coopers and they should, people chat you up when you’re driving a Zesty Yellow (looks like neon green) MINI Cooper S Convertible.

Tony was one. He stepped right up in the Woodman’s parking lot to declare the near glowing MINI a sharp looker, and that was before I showed him the amazing power ragtop all decked out to resemble a blacked out Union Jack ($500 extra). Subtle!

It’s that roof that makes this MINI maximum fun, first because it powers down with the flip of one toggle by the windshield’s top. Only takes about 18 seconds for it to fold back into what would be a trunk. More on that trunk in a bit. But MINI (a BMW sub-brand) has finessed the top to retract partially first, creating, for all practical purposes, an open sunroof. Then if you’re wanting total exposure, hold the toggle and the roof reclines completely. Cool! Tony, a Ford F-150 driver, laughed and declared it a winner. It is!

I’ve said before that driving a MINI is more fun than anything else you can do with your clothes on, and it still is. This 2022 S version is frisky and the test car’s blacked-out theme ups the cute factor to about an 11.

In addition to that snazzy darkened British flag motif on the roof the MINI logo on the nose and tail are blacked out, meaning flat black on gloss black. Then there’s gloss black trim on the grille and trim rings on the head and taillights too, plus on a rear trim panel. My buddy Paul suggested all the headlights lacked were fake eyelashes to go completely campy.

Well, that may be a bit much, but onlookers mostly gave the updated MINI an enthusiastic thumbs up. But THEY didn’t get to drive it, and that, mates, is where the fun’s rubber (summer tires here) meets the road.

See Mark’s video: Mark Savage reviews the 2021 Mini Cooper S – YouTube

MINI weighs just a smidge over 3,000 pounds so the S version’s twin-turbo 2.0-liter I4 gives it plenty of oomph with 189 horsepower and a torque rating of 207. Car and Driver reports a 6.2-second run-up from zero to 60 mph. That’s achieved by using a toggle low on the center stack to choose Sport over the Mid or Green power levels. Sport is the fun one and gives the MINI an instant burst of power once you tromp the pedal. Mid is fine for city driving and Green is primarily for show, but aims at gas sipping.

That’s not a big need here as even driving mostly in Sport I managed 28.7 mpg in a mix of city and highway driving. The EPA rates this at 23 mpg city and 33 highway and this MINI prefers higher octane gas for maximum thrust, much as many of us do.

The expressive nose includes black rings on the headlights and a blacked out grille and logo.

Something younger folks may want to consider is something us oldsters mastered long ago, a 6-speed manual transmission. Not many sports cars, or many cars for that matter, offer a manual tranny anymore, but it makes putting that perky power down to the front-drive wheels a hoot as you work your way from first to sixth gear. I even spun the tires a bit, somewhat aided by damp fall streets.

An automatic is available, but for optimal fun, stick with the stick.

Handling is pure BMW, meaning road feel and feedback is primo and steering response quick. You pay for that a tad in somewhat heavier steering feel, but tossing this through corners on winding country lanes is so much fun you’ll barely notice. My only concern is the thick leather steering wheel, which might be a bit too thick for folks with small hands.

My other performance concern is ride. MINI rides on just a 98.2-inch wheelbase and with sport-oriented suspension the ride is rough, actually jarring at times. Comfort on Midwest roads is not its forte, although find a smooth blacktop highway and/or move to the South or West and pavement punishment will be less problematic.

Beyond the tooshie vibration, MINI’s Vibrasage ride is obvious because the passenger’s seat rattles quite a bit over bumps when no one is seated in it. I tried moving the seat to various notches, but to no avail. The rattle remained.

Otherwise the black leather seats here ($500 extra) are well formed so give good back and hip support. These are manual to save weight, but also provide a bottom cushion extension to help make taller occupants more comfortable, and the front seats are heated. That is part of a massive Iconic Trim package adding $7,500 to the price tag. Note that folks much taller than 6-foot-2 will find headroom more of an issue.

Back seat? Yes there is, but no one with legs will be admitted. This is primarily storage room or could hold a suitcase or two on a trip. The trunk won’t be much help as it is rated 6 cubic feet in the convertible, and that’s being generous. An overnight case or three bags of groceries will fit.

Loading isn’t tough, the rear panel below the black soft top folds down like a tailgate. Inside are two levers that can be released to allow the roof’s lower rear edge to be raised to facilitate easier loading of that MINIscule trunk.

Otherwise the black interior remains its quirky self. Those who have seen prior MINIs will feel at home. A larger 8.8-inch round info screen is now standard, although some space is wasted at the top due to its rectangular info screen being housed in the big round gauge opening.

Love this blacked out Union Jack roof. Subtle yet cool!

All that is easy enough to see and use, plus there’s still the knob on the console to quickly scroll through the radio stations. That’s much easier than trying to slide the touchscreen up or down as you drive as it’s a bit touchy.

As for other buttons and controls, they remain much the same as past models with toggles at the bottom of the center stack and some overhead. The steering wheel is somewhat revised with buttons on the hub, but with a tight cockpit this could really use a flat-bottom steering wheel. Also there’s a fold-down armrest between the front seats, but it is best left folded back out of the way, otherwise the driver’s right elbow tends to hit it during shifts.

Safety isn’t neglected, naturally. Driving aids include an active driving assistant system with forward collision, pedestrian and lane departure warning, plus high-beam assist. Rain-sensing wipers are standard and there’s an emergency call system if the car is in an accident. Outside mirrors are heated too.

Also outside you may notice the 2022 MINI has a revised grille and front and rear bumpers, plus sharp new wheels. Combine those spiffy wheels with its bright paint scheme and more than one observer claimed this MINI looked like a Hot Wheels car. That’s all good.

What’s not is the wind and road noise cockpit occupants will hear. Honestly it always sounded like there was an air leak around the tail of the car’s roof, even at moderate speeds. On the highway the truck noise and whoosh of passing cars also were distracting. On a country road, just a bit of tire noise, or if the top was down, well, naturally more wind noise.

Still, if you want a convertible you expect that, although a Mazda MX-5 Miata with hardtop convertible is quieter. Just sayin’!

A cool feature is how the convertible top retracts like a sunroof.

Note too, the test car’s $7,500 trim package really drove the price up, but it includes a bunch of goodies you may want, from the fancy Harmon/Kardon premium sound system (hard to hear with roof down don’t cha know), summer tires, the manual tranny, a navigation system, heated seats, and body-color mirrors, among others.

So the MINI Cooper S Convertible that started at a modest $32,750, with delivery, ended up at nearly $42 grand. If you can live with fewer options there’s plenty of wiggle room between the two extremes.

These snazzy new wheels make the MINI look like a Hot Wheels!

Don’t forget that for the value conscious there’s a base MINI Cooper Hardtop Oxford Edition at $20,600. The non-S MINIs come with a 3-cylinder, 1.5-liter engine that makes only 134 horsepower. An S Hardtop starts at $27,750 while the base convertible lists at $28,750.

So there are ways to snag a sassy-looking MINI that various budgets could afford.

FAST STATS: 2022 MINI Cooper S Convertible

Hits: Fun looks, good power, great handling, power convertible top with sunroof feature, 6-speed manual, plus sharp wheels. Supportive seats with bottom cushion extender, heated seats, big info screen, cool blacked out Union Jack roof.

Misses: Miniscule trunk, rough ride, passenger’s seat vibrates on bumps when not occupied, wind noise and road noise, plus needs flat-bottomed steering wheel.

Made in: Born, Netherlands

Engine: 2.0-liter twin turbo I4, 189 hp/207 torque

Transmission: 6-speed manual

Weight: 3,018 lbs.

Wheelbase: 98.2 in.

Length: 151.9 in.

Cargo: 6.0-8.0 cu.ft.

MPG: 23/33

MPG: 28.7 (tested)

Base Price: $32,750 (includes delivery)

Invoice: N.A.

Options:

MINI Yours Leather Lounge, black, $500

Iconic trim (heated Nappa leather steering wheel, power folding mirrors, keyless entry, wind deflector, body-color mirrors, piano black exterior trim, auto-dimming rearview mirror, storage package, heated front seats, dual-zone climate controls, Harman/Kardon premium audio system, manual transmission, performance summer tires, touchscreen navigation plus with Apple CarPlay, and wireless charger), $7,500

Dynamic damper control, $500

MINI Yours soft top, $500

Test vehicle: $41,750

Sources: BMW/MINI, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

2021 Nissan Rogue Platinum

New Rogue evolves back to top of market …

For the past century plus 20 or so years the auto market has seen fits and starts of revolution, but a whole lot of evolution.

Electric cars seem revolutionary now, just as hybrids were 20+ years ago. But when a carmaker has a winner, it often turns first to evolution to keep it selling like Minecraft games among pre-teens.

So it is with Nissan’s best-seller, the Rogue, a compact SUV or crossover, depending on who’s doing the defining. Look around at the next stoplight, or as you drive through your neighborhood. You’ll see a lot of Rogues.

That’s because Rogue has been a steady Eddie, an SUV that most families could afford and that delivered comfort, convenience, and reliability. It still does.

But for 2021 it has been upgraded, offering 11 more horsepower, much more cargo space, a skosh more rear seat room, a stiffer chassis, new rear suspension, upgraded seats and dash and a sharply restyled exterior. When you’re already prom queen all you probably need is a new bouquet. Rogue bought the florist.

See Mark’s video review: 2021 Nissan Rogue review by Mark Savage – YouTube

Let’s start with the outer appearance because Rogue got a lot of compliments at the gas station and from friends and neighbors. The body was tweaked to be pleasantly boxy (muscular in today’s vernacular), but with a two-tone paint option (black roof) and a perfect amount of chrome accents this silvery gold (Champagne) test vehicle absolutely sparkled in the driveway.

Nissan has added chrome to the tallish V-Motion grille, some new HD headlights and turn signal lenses up front, along with black cladding over the wheels and down the sides’ rocker panels, again with chrome accents, and chrome side window trim. The look is much ritzier than the previous model!

Nissan goes with a bold chrome V-Motion grille.

Functionally Rogue now features a unibody chassis that is stiffer than before, making it easier to tune the suspension. Speaking of which, there’s now a multi-link rear unit that will help in any off-road excursions.

Aluminum doors and front fenders save some weight too and a revised automatic CVT helps improve fuel economy. The tested Premium AWD model (top of the line) is rated at 25 mpg city and 32 mpg highway. I got 29.4 mpg in about 60% highway driving. Excellent for a gas-powered SUV.

It’s especially impressive considering Nissan eeked out a 10% horsepower gain to 181 horses from its stout 2.5-liter I4.

Plus you can select from five drive modes for slippery or off-road trundling. Automatic is the main setting, but there’s Sport to boost acceleration and firm steering effort, Eco to do the opposite and save fuel, plus Off-Road and Snow, the latter being a Wisconsin favorite. This model came with AWD to help full-time in sloppy conditions. That adds $1,400 to any trim level.

Power was good too, making a scramble onto the freeway simple and confident. Likewise the Rogue handles well, the chassis stiffening no doubt a factor there, so not much body lean even in high-speed sharp turns. Ride was ok, nothing special and felt firmer to me than my past test drives. That may relax a bit with a full load of passengers. I never had more than two aboard.

Safety is well considered here too with standard blind-spot warning, rear cross-traffic alert, rear automatic braking, a 360-degree camera, intelligent forward collision warning, intelligent lane intervention and automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection.

The ProPilot semi-autonomous safety system has been upgraded too. That includes smart cruise control and steering assist to keep you in your lane. Plus now Nissan tells us, it’ll slow you by braking one inside wheel if you enter a turn too quickly and will automatically slow the Rogue on a highway off-ramp. Remember, GPS knows exactly where you are!

Inside, the Rogue is as handsome and comfortable as any compact SUV, the Premium model featuring thick leather seating, and dash and door trim. This one was black over a butterscotch brown with that orange-tinted brown for the quilted seats and tastefully trimmed in black. There’s a bit of fake wood facing on the passenger’s side dash, textured black trim on the console with brown sides and repeated on the door armrests. Satin chrome trims the dash and air vents and door release panels. This looks classy!

Talk about classy … check out this snazzy new interior look for the Rogue!

Rogue’s dash is pretty special too with a 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster in front of the driver that is adjustable to show items most important to you. The Premium also includes a head-up display and a 9-inch infotainment screen that was extremely easy to see and use, including large volume and tuning knobs.

Below that screen are easily understood climate controls and two large temperature knobs for the dual system. Here’s where you’ll find the heated seat and steering wheel buttons too.

Nissan continues to offer a flat-bottomed steering wheel in Rogue, which makes entering and exiting just a tad easier for knees. Oh, and the five shift modes are managed simply via a knob on the console.

Love the flat-bottomed steering wheel. More vehicles need this!

There’s also a couple plug-in outlets below the center stack, and a wireless phone charger. This one didn’t work, but I read that some early models did not get this feature as there was a shortage of some electronics due to Covid-related work slowdowns. Wireless charging will be on future Platinum models.

Seats are NASA-inspired Zero Gravity shaped, which means comfy with good hip and back support. Powered front seats include a driver’s adjustable lumbar support and two memory buttons on the door. Rear seats are more comfortable than most with oodles of head and legroom and the cushions are a soft comfortable leather that feels rather cushy. Ahhh!

Even the door panels look upscale.

In back the storage space has grown from 32 to 36.5 cu.ft., with the rear seats in place, and 74.1 cu.ft. with those split rear seats lowered. That’s up from 70, so a nice gain. Also, there is a split cargo floor with storage under the covers. The hatch is powered too and can be activated by waving your foot beneath the rear bumper, nice if your arms are loaded with groceries, boxes or kids.

Speaking of which, Nissan offers a small-child friendly feature that rocks, 90-degree opening rear doors. They open so wide a parent can easily strap a wee one in a child’s car seat. Plus, there are manual sun shade for the rear windows to keep bright light out of Baby’s eyes. Brilliant!

Pricing remains broad and value-oriented enough that families should be able to find a Rogue to meet their budget. A base front-drive S starts at $26,745, including delivery. The popular SV model goes for $28,435 and adds ProPilot Assist, 18-inch alloy wheels, an 8-way power driver’s seat and Nissan Connect.

Move up to the SL model and you get 19-inch wheels, a leather interior, panoramic sunroof, motion-activated hatch, tri-zone climate system, power passenger’s seat and memory function for the driver’s seat and steering wheel. List price is $33,095.

The tested Platinum model with virtually everything including AWD, lists at $37,925. This one added a two-tone paint job for $350, illuminated kick plates for $400, external ground lighting at $350, interior accent lighting for $350 and a frameless rearview mirror for $310. I could do without any of these add-ons, except maybe the paint scheme. Total was $39,685.

This is a crowded market with a lot of great choices from the Honda CR-V, Toyota Rav4, Subaru Forester, Ford Escape, Kia Sorento and Hyundai Santa Fe. But Rogue has put itself back near the top of the heap with its restyled, much-improved model.

FAST STATS: 2021 Nissan Rogue Platinum AWD

Hits: Sharply restyled, stylish interior, good power and handling, plus AWD. OK ride, roomy cargo area, easy to see 12-inch digital instrument cluster, 9-inch info screen, heated front and rear seats and steering wheel, 5 drive modes, flat-bottom steering wheel, solid standard safety equipment and ProPilot upgraded.

Snazzy new nose and headlight styling here.

Misses: Wireless phone charger didn’t work.

Made in: Smyrna, Tenn.

Engine: 2.5-liter I4, 181 hp / 181 torque

Transmission: XtronicCVT automatic

Weight: 3,371 lbs.

Wheelbase: 106.5 in.

Length: 183 in.

Cargo: 36.5-74.1 cu.ft.

Tow: 1,350 lbs.

MPG: 25/32

MPG: 29.4 (tested)

Base Price: $37,925 (includes delivery)

Invoice: N.A.

Major Options:

External ground lighting, $350

Two-tone paint, $350

Illuminated kick plates, $400

Interior accent lighting, $350

Frameless rearview mirror w/remote, $310

Test vehicle: $39,685

Sources: Nissan, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

Die-cast: Auto World – 1967 Yenko Chevy Camaro SS 427

’67 Yenko Camaro a sexy addition to any 1:18 collection …

To me the first couple generations of Chevy’s Camaro were the most stylish. I know part of that is because I have great memories of both my Uncle Wink’s 1968 and an early ‘70s Camaro that I drove while dating in high school.

Yet it was that ’68 that Wink used to teach me the finer points of driving a manual tranny. His SS was yellow with a black nose stripe, and could definitely lay rubber with the best of them. But I can fall for any similar model and Auto World celebrates 30 years of its American Muscle lineup with a 1:18 scale Tuxedo Black 1967 SS as decked out by customizing experts at Yenko Chevrolet.  

This is another muscle car done well and oozing value for collectors of 1960s metal.

The History

Yenko was a Canonsburg, Pa., Chevy dealer that gained a reputation for creating the ultimate muscle cars in the 1960s, along with Nickey Chevy in the Chicago area. When Yenko souped up a Camaro, Corvair, Nova, Chevelle, or Vega it was gonna rock, whether just for the owner’s fun, or on drag strips across America.

The first-gen Camaro debuted in fall of 1966 as a 1967 model and was available as a coupe, like this one, or convertible. Marketing folks made sure there was a Camaro for nearly every type buyer, offering 9 engines, seemingly topping out with the SS version’s 6.5.-liter, 396 cu.in. big-block V8 that made 375 horsepower. This was the SS version to pace the 1967 Indianapolis 500, won by A.J. Foyt. More than 34,000 SS models were made.

But there was a more powerful option, the 427 cu.in. V8 that you ordered through a dealer like Yenko via GM’s COPO (Central Office Production Order). This ultimate V8 produced a massive 450 horsepower.

All SS models had non-functional air inlets on the hood, special nose striping, and SS badging on the grille, front fenders, gas cap, and horn button. All are on this model, but more on that in a bit.

If that SS model wasn’t quite cool enough looking for you, there was an RS upgrade that could be added to the SS, including hidden headlights similar to those seen on a Corvette.

How hot are SS models now? A recent internet search shows a similar Camaro to this model going for between $350,000 and $400,000. Not bad for a car that cost a bit more than $4,000 new in 1967.

The Model

               Camaros look fast in any paint scheme, but this glossy black with white nose stripe and thin twin accent stripe down the side looks especially racy, augmented by a red interior.

               Let’s start under the hood where the 427 V8 is well decked out with proper wiring and black hoses along with a couple extra struts between the nose and the tops of wheel wells for stability during heavy acceleration. Headers are chrome, the engine block orange, the air cleaner chrome with a 427 label atop the cleaner along with Chevy’s crossed flags logo.

               There’s steering fluid container and power steering unit in gold, a big ol’ generator, battery and a white fluids container. And as with other American Muscle line models, excellent scissor hinges hold up the hood so it’s easy to pose this in the raised position.

               The hood here features the Yenko hood scoop with a 427 decal on each side.

               As with other AW Camaros, the black mesh grille looks sharp and the headlights are silver with chrome rings, an SS 427 logo amid the grille and a chrome bumper below.  Setting this one off from standard Camaros is the Yenko shield logo with Camaro in white below that and 427 spread below Camaro on each front fender.

Sharp logos just behind the front wheels.

               There’s another Yenko logo on the rear panel below the trunk and a 427 logo on the rear face of the trunk’s spoiler. A silver script Chevrolet Camaro badge rests atop the trunk. Taillights are painted red and white with silver trim plus an SS logo on the center gas cap below the trunk lock.

               Inside the trunk AW places a spare tire with chrome wheel. That lays atop a black and white checked vinyl trunk pad, something most cars had at the time.

A full spare is in the trunk, along with a vinyl trunk pad.

               Front and rear windows are trimmed in chrome with side windows’ overhead trim painted silver, but with chrome-trimmed vent windows and top door trim. Those vent windows would disappear in the 1968 models. Meanwhile, the rocker panels include a chrome strip and painted silver outlines the wheel wells, connecting into that side chrome.

Tires are treaded whitewalls, but with no branding. Wheels are chrome with small blue Chevy logos on the center caps. There also are chrome door handles, wipers and a front fender-mounted antenna.

               Open either door, and you’ll find chrome kick plates with the Body by Fischer logo. There’s also a blue GM sticker inside each door. Inner door trim is red and silver with pleated door inserts and chrome window cranks. The red bucket front seats include red seatbelts featuring chrome buckles and attachments to secure them to the floor.

               Camaro’s dash is red and features two low-slung round main gauges for the driver and a wood-look 3-spoke wheel. The spokes are chrome. Tight squeeze though between the wheel and seat. A driver would need to slide this seat back to turn that wheel, oh, and it actually steers the front wheels.

There’s also a wide black center console with cue-ball shifter and fairly detailed center stack. Looks like the glove box door can be lowered slightly too, seatbacks fold slightly forward, and radio speakers are visible under the rear window.

               I like that AW always details its models’ undercarriage with full suspension system, differential, driveshaft, gas tank and twin exhausts. This adds realism where some pricier models go with a smooth undercarriage. Harrumph!

               Auto World continues to produce finely detailed models at a reasonable price for its American Muscle series. Just can’t get enough of these ‘60s era Camaros! 

Vital Stats: 1967 Yenko Chevy Camaro SS 427

Maker: Auto World
Scale: 1/18
Stock No.: AMM1247
MSRP: $99.99

Link: Autoworldstore.com

2021 Ford 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

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

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

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

 

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’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

 

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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