All posts by Mark Savage

Mark Savage is a writer and editor. He wrote a car review column, Savage on Wheels, for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel from 1989 through 2019 and was a business news reporter there for 16 years. He now writes car reviews for WUWM (NPR-Milwaukee) and for his own site. He also has served as editor and publisher of several hobby magazines and a snowmobile title, all the while writing about diecast cars and for various hobby magazines. He is an avid Indy 500 fan, attending races since 1962, and an IndyCar enthusiast, and Formula Ford race school graduate.

2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz Limited AWD

Well-timed compact pickup reflects crossover roots …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Need more?

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

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

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

Snazzy taillights in back too!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thin lights reflect a crossover look.

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

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

FAST STATS: 2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz Limited AWD

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

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

Misses: Zilch

Made in: Montgomery, Ala.

Engine: 2.5-liter turbo I4, 281 hp

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

Weight: 4,164 lbs.

Wheelbase: 118.3 in.

Length: 195.7 in.

Payload: 1,568 lbs.

Tow: 5,000 lbs.

MPG: 19/27

MPG: 24.8 (tested)

Base Price: $40,905 (includes delivery)

Invoice: $39,329

Major Options: Sage gray paint, $400

Carpeted floor mats, $195

Test vehicle: $41,500

Sources: Hyundai, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

Die-cast: Autoart’s McLaren Senna

Beautiful Senna model designed for speed, car lust …

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

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

The History

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Model

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vital Stats: McLaren Senna (Trophy Mira/Orange)

The wing flattened out.

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

The wing slightly angled.

Link: Autoartmodels.com

2022 Subaru Ascent Onyx edition

Biggest Subaru offers three rows, more comfort …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lecture complete!

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

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

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

FAST STATS: 2022 Subaru Ascent Onyx

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

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

Made in: Lafayette, Ind.

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

Transmission: Lineartronic CVT automatic

Weight: 4,542 lbs.

Wheelbase: 113.8 in.

Fancy black wheels are part of the Onyx edition.

Length: 196.8 in.

Cargo: 17.6-86.0 cu.ft.

Tow: 5,000 lbs.

MPG: 20/26

MPG: 21.7 (tested)

Base Price: $39,120 (includes delivery)

Invoice: $36,648

Major Options:

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

Test vehicle: $41,320

Sources: Subaru, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

2021 Kia Sorento Hybrid EX

Hybrid Sorento a family hauler with a smaller carbon footprint …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Handsome door styling and snazzy quilted metal trim.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The taillights remind me of those on Mustangs, you?

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

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

FAST STATS: 2021 Kia Sorento Hybrid EX

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

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

Made in: Hwasung, So. Korea

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

Transmission: 6-speed automatic

Weight: 3,979 lbs.

Wheelbase: 110.6 in.

Length: 189.4 in.

Cargo: 12.6, 38.5, 75.5 cu.ft.

Tow: 2,000 lbs.

MPG: 39/35

MPG: 37.6 (tested)

Base Price: $37,760 (includes delivery)

Invoice: $38,545

Major Option: Runway red paint, $445

Test vehicle: $38,205

Sources: Kia, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

2022 Infiniti QX55 Sensory AWD

New QX55 a fun mix of fashion and luxury …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related Video: Ride along with Mark

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

This efficient VC-Turbo engine is special.

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

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

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

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

Infiniti gives the QX55 a sharp and stylish interior.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Style is uppermost in the Infiniti designers’ minds.

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

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

FAST STATS: 2022 Infiniti QX55 Sensory AWD

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

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

Made in: Mexico

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

Transmission: CVT automatic

Weight: 4,065 lbs.

Wheelbase: 110.2 in.

Length: 186.3 in.

Cargo: 26.9-54.1 cu.ft.

MPG: 22/28

MPG: 24.1 (tested)

Base Price: $58,075 (includes delivery)

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

Major Options:

Exclusive paint, $900

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

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

Test vehicle: $60,250

Sources: Infiniti, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

FALL RALLY DRIVES & Videos


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s a quick look at some of our drives

Karma GS-6

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jeep Wrangler Unlimited 392

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

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

Jeep’s First Hybrid, the Wrangler 4xe

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

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

hybrid jeep, wrangler 4xe
New Jeep Wrangler 4xe

Hyundai Santa Cruz

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

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

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

Subaru BRZ

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

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

Alfa Romeo Giulia QV

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

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

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

Volkswagen ID.4

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

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

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

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

Lexus NX

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

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

Ford Maverick FX4

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

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

BMW M440i xDrive Gran Coupe

BMW uses a carbon fiber seat in the M440i.

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

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

Ford Bronco Wildtrak 4-door

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

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

Mazda MX-30

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

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

Hyundai Tucson

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

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

Ford Mustang Mach 1

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

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

Mazda3 Turbo

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

2022 MINI Cooper S Convertible

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FAST STATS: 2022 MINI Cooper S Convertible

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

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

Made in: Born, Netherlands

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

Transmission: 6-speed manual

Weight: 3,018 lbs.

Wheelbase: 98.2 in.

Length: 151.9 in.

Cargo: 6.0-8.0 cu.ft.

MPG: 23/33

MPG: 28.7 (tested)

Base Price: $32,750 (includes delivery)

Invoice: N.A.

Options:

MINI Yours Leather Lounge, black, $500

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

Dynamic damper control, $500

MINI Yours soft top, $500

Test vehicle: $41,750

Sources: BMW/MINI, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

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

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

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