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

2022 Nissan Pathfinder Platinum 4WD

Pathfinder adds third row seat, 20-inch tires, 2-tone paint …

Can mid-size SUVs get any bigger? Well, sure as buyers move away from minivans they find 5-passenger SUVs are too tiny for many of them. Marketing and design folks listen, so here’s another, the 2022 Nissan Pathfinder with a third row.

Pathfinder started out like Ford’s Explorer and Toyota’s 4Runner, to name a few mid-size utes that now, like full-size pickups, have grown large enough for a family of seven, or even eight, if several are wee ones to fill that third row.

Now Nissan would want me to tell you Pathfinder is actually a touch shorter than in 2020, the last previous model year, but it’s miniscule. They also would like me to tell you the third row has more legroom than many, and it does, but still, if second row folks are 6-foot or beyond the third row seats will be fairly snug.

That’s not a complaint, just a warning because I suspect many folks buy that third row as protection, an insurance policy if you will, for the rare occasion they need seating for more than four or five. Think transporting kids to a sports match or movie. Kids 12 and under will fit easily.

Like other SUVs that fancy themselves minivans the Pathfinder has beefed up its fender flares, flattened its hood, widened its stance and pumped it up with bigger tires (20-inchers on the tester). The effect, a muscular SUV look that fits the market and reflects Nissan’s truck, SUV and crossover styles.

But to give Pathfinder some distinction, Nissan now offers two-tone paint jobs, such as the tested top-level Platinum model with 4-wheel-drive. It was a brilliant Scarlet Ember (metallic red) with a Super Black Metallic roof. Sharp!

From a performance standpoint there’s a trusty 3.5-liter V6 under its flattened hood juicing it to the tune of 284 horsepower along with a torque rating of 259. That’s close to the top of the mid-size SUV heap, Kia’s newish Telluride packing 291 horses.

That’s pretty close and means the Pathfinder, with its easy-shifting 9-speed automatic, will do 0-60 mph in 6.7 seconds, darn fine for a ute weighing roughly 4,500 lbs. according to Car and Driver. Gas mileage with the new tranny is respectable too at 21 mpg city and 26 highway according to the EPA. I got 21.5 mpg in a mix.

The Nissan also will tow up to 6,000 pounds too and now includes Trailer Sway Control as standard, a big plus for haulers.

Sadly the pre-production model I tested felt sort of numb on the road as far as handling, but that’s not unusual for mid- and large-utes. There are seven traction modes dialed in atop the console. They range from snow to mud/rut for off-roaders. Sport firmed up the steering some, but didn’t really make it seem any faster off the line or create sporty handling.

Ride is big truck jiggly, especially on raised bumps. Dips were less of a problem, but the bumps and lumps seemed to jar the interior more than I’d expected in a truck with a 114.2-inch wheelbase. An air suspension or more damping for the rear shocks might help.

Two-tone gray leather interior looks sharp and feels high-end too.

The good news is that inside the two-tone gray leather interior looks and feels luxurious and the cabin is darned quiet thanks to thicker acoustic glass. There’s just a bit of tire noise on certain pavements.

I liked Pathfinder’s interior styling with the two-tone gray seats, dash, and doors. The dash’s center stack is surrounded by black gloss trim as is half the console, the rest a satin chrome to avoid reflection by the shifter. Dash side air vents features a brushed metal look as do the door release handles and lower door trim. Door armrests are gloss black on top.

Doors and seats look stylish with quilted semi-aniline leather (Platinum trim) to soften their feel, but I felt the butt pocket itself was still a bit firm. Possible that will be improved on production models.

There are all the usual safety bits as Nissan wisely makes Safety Shield 360 standard on all models. That includes lane departure warning (vibrates the steering wheel and buzzes a bit), blind-spot warning, rear cross-traffic alert and front and rear emergency braking plus high-beam headlight assist.

Moving up to the SV trim adds ProPilot the adaptive cruise control and semi-autonomous driving aids, and by the Platinum trim there’s a 10.8-inch head-up display that some feel aids driver safety. It all works and was easy to understand and use.

Standard too are a 9-inch infotainment screen (up from 8 in the two lower levels), a WiFi hotspot, 360-degree camera, a flat-bottom steering wheel, Nissan Connect Services via Sirius XM, wireless Apple Car Play, but not wireless Android Auto.

Goodies that are added in the Platinum model include heated and cooled front seats and steering wheel, plus heated rear seats, a big dual-pane sunroof and shade, 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster, wireless phone charger, driver seat memory, power tilt/telescope steering wheel and memory, that head-up display and a rockin’ Bose sound system.

As mentioned at the outset, the Pathfinder is roomy and now is available with second row captain’s chairs, which the tester had. That limits seating to seven, 2-2-3. But if you go with a bench second row you could squeeze eight folks in. It’s also worth a mention that the second row captain’s chairs slide and tilt at the touch of a side button, or one on the seat back for third row folks to use. Because they slide and tilt in one motion it’s easy to crawl in back using the second row seat to steady yourself climbing aboard.

With the third row in place there’s 16.6 cubic feet of cargo room. That sounds like a lot, but it’s mostly vertical. A cooler will fit as will several bags of groceries. Fold the row three seats down the cargo area is 79.8 cubic feet, on par with most mid-size SUVs. Nissan also provides reasonable under floor storage space to hide valuables.

Pricing runs from $33,410 for a base S model to $36,200 for the SV, and $39,590 for the SL, probably the best buy. Adding 4WD adds $1,900 to each model.

The tested Platinum started at $49,240, including delivery, and with just a couple minor options hit $50,290. That’s also in the ballpark for top-level mid-size SUVs. The good news is that this is so near luxury that most of us would consider it full-on luxury.

Aspiring to a “luxury” brand means adding another $10,000 to $20,000 to the price tag.

FAST STATS: 2022 Nissan Pathfinder Platinum 4WD

Hits: Muscular styling, good power, 4WD, and a third row seat. Roomy vehicle that will tow, luxury look interior, big dual sunroof, heated/cooled seats and heated wheel up front, heated second row seats, power tilt/telescope wheel, Bose stereo, flat-bottom wheel, smart cruise, full load of safety equipment and seven traction modes.

Misses: Jiggly truck ride, vague steering and fairly tight third row seat.

Made in: Smyrna, Tenn.

Engine: 3.5-liter V6, 284 hp / 259 torque

Transmission: 9-speed automatic

Weight: 4,481 lbs.

Wheelbase: 114.2 in.

Length: 197.7 in.

Cargo: 16.6-79.8 cu.ft.

Tow: 6,000 lbs.

MPG: 21/26

MPG: 21.5 (tested)

Base Price: $49,240 (includes delivery)

Invoice: $47,944*

Major Options:

Illuminated kick plates/welcome lighting, $750

Captain’s chair floor mats, $255

Test vehicle: $50,290

Sources: Nissan, www.kbb.com, Car and Driver

*= Kelley Blue Book Fair Market price

Photos: Mark Savage

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

Born into a car family

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

I all smiles after experiencing the Ram TRX

EV’s to me are a waste of time.

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

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

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

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

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

Tesla Model 3, Photo: Tesla

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

Remains of a Chevy Bolt. Photo: Electrek.com

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

EV plug at Kwik Trip in Wisconsin

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

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

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

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

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

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

Electric propulsion works well on a smaller scale

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

Several of my LiPo batteries

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

EDF from my A-10.

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

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

Avro Vulcan in flight

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

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

My RC Avro Vulcan is on display at EAA’s AirVenture

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

And finally my point

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

Briggs and Stratton Hybrid was designed and built-in Milwaukee. YouTube screengrab.

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

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

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

Photo: Porsche

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

Ok, I’m done now. Watch carefully how the EV game is played out in Europe. The UK has set 2040 as a date where they are going to ban the sale of ICE cars. Good luck with that. Please somebody make sanity take over. The market should be determined but consumers, not politicians. This is nuts!

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

 

2021 Toyota Land Cruiser Heritage Edition

 

Old school Land Cruiser remains off-roading icon …

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

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

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

2021 Zoomies: Vehicles of the Year Awards

Savage names his top car and truck picks for 2021 …

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

What’s a Zoomie?

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

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

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

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

Best entry-level crossover:

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

Best affordable pickup:

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

Best wagon wanting to be a crossover:

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

Sexiest wagon:

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

Best affordable hybrid crossover:

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

Best affordable hybrid sedan:

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

Best affordable family sedan with racy intentions:

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

OK, let’s move more upscale!

Best luxury sport sedan:

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

Best new sports car:

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

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

Best big muscle trucks:

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

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

Speaking of performance …

Best supercar wanna-be:

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

Most fun, money is no object:

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

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

Most fun, money IS an object:

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

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

Most beautiful car:

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

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

2021 Zoomie Vehicle of the Year:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photos: Mark Savage

Zoomie trophy art: Stuart Carlson

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

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

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

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

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

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

2020 Subaru WRX STI

WRX STI is fast, furious and noisy as …

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

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

2020 Volkswagen Passat SEL

Crisply styled Passat a high-value sedan …

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

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

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

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

New Challenger Hellcat casting stars in latest AW releases …

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

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

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

Die-cast: DNA’s Subaru Baja

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

Leading sometimes is a lonely game. Just ask Subaru.

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

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

The History

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

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

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

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

The Model

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vital Stats: Subaru Baja

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

Link: DNAcollectibles.com

 

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

The Edsel that Ford never built

Cars potting an unusual car

My neck is on a constant swivel when I’m out on the county roads here in Wisconsin. It drives my wife and daughter nuts because sometimes I ignore the road. We were up in Door County which is about two and a half hours north of Milwaukee. Since water surrounds it on three sides, it is a popular vacation spot and destination for visitors who have more a more than average amount of disposable income. Read extra cash to buy cars they really don’t need but look cool.

Photo: Mediabrew Communications

Related Video: The cars of Door County

Carspotting: A rare Edsel

Early Edsel magazine ad: The Henry Ford Museum

I remember as a kid my dad taking me down to see the Edsel even though I was probably only four or five years old at the time. I remember sitting on his lap and pushing every one of the buttons on the steering wheel that selected a different transmission. As a kid, I thought they were cool, but as we all know they were not. If you’re not familiar with this story, I’ll give you the short version. Launched by Ford in 1958 and lasted just two years before it was given a painless death. Ford spent gobs of money marketing a vehicle that consumers saw as ugly and not built well. To this day, however, I still think they look cool especially now when it is getting difficult to distinguish vehicles on the road.

A rare Edsel

That’s what first drew me to this car sitting at what looked like a small auto repair shop but then as I looked closer, I saw it was different. This was the pickup version. Now I know Edsel had a seven-model product line, including four sedans and three station wagons. The sign inside the car said that there were only 100 made. Well after further research, he might have been correct but Edsel never made them. So this is a mashup of a Ford Ranchero, which was produced, and an Edsel.

Push-button transmission selector on steering wheel

So this was created by some enthusiast in his garage by taking the front clip off the Edsel and mating it to a Ranchero. They have also been made using a Villager wagon. This one was in pretty good shape from what I could see but hadn’t been on the road in a while.

Chrome was good

How rare? A quick search found them, not many but some. What are they worth? Edsel introduced a seven-model product line, including four sedans and three station wagons. I did a quick spin on Hemmings and found ten of them up for sale ranging from $10,950 for 1959 Corsair up to $99,500 for a 1960 Ranger that was essentially a rebadged Ford. There were several in the mid-’20s. I found this Ranchero that had quite a bit of custom work done on it for $16,990. I guess like any other rare car, it’s how bad do you want it.

Photo: American Dream Cars

Die-cast: Auto World 1971 Ford Torino GT

1:18 scale Torino GT oozes 1970s muscle, fastback styling …

Clint Eastwood loves his Gran Torino, both the car and the movie he made that revolved around one. But Torinos were mainstream, a lot of folks owned them in the late 1960s through the mid-1970s.

That’s because they were the midsize or intermediate Fords, good for families and modestly priced. Plus starting in 1968 they were fairly stylish, going with a fastback look that contrasted with some boxier GM and Chrysler products.

Like most cars of the time though, muscle was added to put a halo on the makers’ family cars and those cars were incorporated into stock car racing. “Win on Sunday, sell on Monday.”

Auto World doubles up on its honors here with a Wimbleton White 1971 Ford Torino GT marking the 50th anniversary of the car and the 30th anniversary of AW’s American Muscle series. This year AW calls all its 1971 die-cast car releases its Class of 71, cool for those of us in high school at that time.

This one is a spiffy version with the hideaway headlight option and a white to blue laser stripe down its side.

The History

Torino replaced the Fairlane in 1968 (although the Fairlane name remained on the cars until 1971). Yet by 1971 all intermediate Fords were Torinos, named after the Italian city of the same name, which also has strong ties to various automakers. Plus, by 1971 enough of the snazzy hardtop coupe fastbacks had been decked out with high-performance engines and options, for Torino to be considered a muscle car.

In fact, Torinos were being raced successfully in NASCAR from 1968 through 1970, winning the 1968 and 1969 NASCAR championships with David Pearson. But after Chrysler’s Plymouth and Dodge brands came out with their Daytona versions and Superbirds in late 1969 Ford’s dominance quickly evaporated and Ford officially dropped stock car racing in 1971. However, some Torino and the aero version Talladega cars were still run privately.

For production GT models Ford used the 428 cu.in. and 429 cu.in., 7.0-liter V8s known as Cobra-Jet engines to power up the Torino. That 429 is the engine depicted here, and of course sports the Shaker hood which came with the Ram Air system to boost horsepower to 370.

For the record 14 Torino models were offered, including convertibles, wagons, 4-doors and the modeled coupe. The GT was available with the SportsRoof (modeled here) and as a convertible.

For 1971 Torino had a divided front grille while the GT model’s divider was smaller and included its nameplate. The hideaway headlight option was also available which meant a smaller grille divider too. The Torino name lasted until the 1976 model year when Ford moved on to the less interesting LTD. Torino’s sister car was the Mercury Montego.

The Model

In profile the Torino always looked fast with its fastback SportRoof and the GT’s black louvered rear window covering aimed at directing airflow quickly over the roof and trunk which featured a modestly flipped up rear lip.

The paint scheme here is simple yet deep and rich looking, plus that white to blue stripe that tapers to the rear gives this Torino a crisp, almost icy sharp appearance. Further spiffing its looks is the chrome grille that covers the lights and includes that insignia at its midpoint to divide it. On the long Shaker hood is a black scoop to force air into its Ram Air system and feed the big V8. Two hood pins mark the hood’s front edge.

Flip up the hood and it easily stays in place to reveal the blue V8 with matching round air filter case and black air scoop that extends through the hood. AW includes a nicely detailed radiator, hoses and wiring, plus an Autolite battery, master brake cylinder and upper suspension connections. This car displays well hood up, or down.

Likewise the trunk opens to reveal a full-size spare tire. Remember those?

Full-size spare and wheel in the trunk.

Tires are treaded Goodyears with chrome Magnum 500 wheels, including the spare. And remember the undercarriage with dual exhausts is well detailed here too, something many 1:18 scale models ignore. Oh, and the front wheels are steerable for more interesting display poses.

I also like the red taillight bar, the chrome door handles and body-colored mirrors. The white license plate is marked for New Jersey, the “Garden State.”

Inside, the black seats have black and white tweed inserts, there’s a T-handle shifter on the console and the steering wheel is a proper 3-spoke number with logo on the hub. The black dash is well detailed with glove box release button and full wide speedometer behind that steering wheel, plus a few round gauges and of course there are metal-trimmed pedals below. Black floor mats appear to be rubber.

Sharp looking interior and dash here. Like the patterned seats!

Everything looks as it should here, and like its real-world counterpart the seam lines on the doors are less than perfect. But that’s 1971 for ya!     

Nice undercarriage detailing at this high-value price.

Vital Stats: 1971 Ford Torino GT

Maker: Auto World
Scale: 1/18
Stock No.: AMM1256/06
MSRP: $116

Link: Autoworldstore.com

Die-Cast: Johnny Lightning 1:64 Classic Gold ’21 release 2

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

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

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

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

The Models

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

               Version A

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Link: Autoworldstore.com

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

New hybrid rated 42 MPG city, 37 MPG combined …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#mama21rally

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