Mark Savage is a writer and editor. He has written a car review column, Savage on Wheels, for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel since 1989 and was a business news reporter there for 16 years. He also is the editor of American Snowmobiler magazine and has written about diecast cars and slot cars for various hobby magazines. He also is an avid Indy 500 fan, attending races since 1962.
Only two years have passed since Volkswagen renamed and restyled its CC sedan as the Arteon, still a name that doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue.
But VW assures us the term is Latin for Art, emphasizing how important design is for the model. Whatever it’s called, this large fastback-styled sedan proves VW is dedicated to handsome cars as well as crossovers and SUVs. Prosit!
As I intoned in my earlier review of Arteon, it’s a sedan that has virtually everything a crossover intender could want, with the exception of a tall ride and boxy shape. This is one of the finest looking family sedan on the road. Edgy, but with fastback styling.
But if you’re after AWD, mucho room for the family and cargo capacity to match, the Arteon checks all those boxes.
The VW rides on a 111.9-inch wheelbase so has oodles of leg and headroom for five adults and the trunk delivers a massive 27.2 cubic feet of cargo room, or up to 55 cubic feet with the split rear seats lowered. Heck, some small crossovers would struggle to offer that much. And instead of a pure trunk, the fastback opens as a hatch so loading and unloading is a cinch.
Yet you’re likely thinking the VW only stuffs a four-cylinder engine under the hood, so it’s likely weak on power. Wrong!
This 2.0-liter is strong, delivering 268 horses and 258 lb.-ft. of torque from the silky smooth turbocharged four-cylinder engine. The result is not only quick acceleration, but luxury car smoothness as it’s coupled with an efficient 8-speed automatic with Tiptronic to allow driver shifts, if desired.
There are five drive modes too, accessed easily via a button on the console. Sport mode firms the suspension, alters the gearing for better acceleration and stiffens the steering effort. That’s great on the highway, but in town or at sub-40 mph the Normal or Comfort modes seem best, easing steering and ride comfort. Midwest roads are crumbling!
Yet at all levels Arteon turns into corners with precision like a luxury sport sedan. Won’t find many crossovers doing that without some push or lean in corners. Plus being a sedan the ride is dramatically better than any truck-based vehicle. It’s well controlled, yet sporty. No serious bumps or thumps and railroad tracks and pot holes are barely a blip on your derriere’s radar.
My tested SEL R-Line model with 4Motion, that’s VW’s AWD system, was bathed in a beautiful King’s Red Metallic paint that got raves from onlookers, including my spouse who rarely comments on my test vehicles. That color costs $395 extra but is a stellar choice especially considering most cars are gray or white these days. This stands out!
Inside the styling is simple and elegant with a wide dash that features lean and expansive air vents, making cabin comfort a breeze, literally.
The test car featured light gray Nappa leather seats with dark gray trim and a dark gray dash and door uppers with light gray inserts. The dash also had a textured metal trim strip that extended into the doors along with satin silver trim below that. Gloss black trim graces the stack and console surrounding the shift lever.
Controls are easy to see and use and the driver gets a 12.3-inch digital instrument panel that can be adjusted to meet a driver’s particular needs. Best for us seniors, the 8-inch infotainment screen mid-dash is simple to adjust, not always the case in today’s tech-laden touch-and-slide screened vehicles.
The power seats not only look sharp but are firm and well-shaped for long or short hauls, plus the driver gets three-memory settings Seats up front are heated, with three temperature settings. And get this, if you go full-on luxury with the top-tier SEL Premium model you get a massaging driver’s seat is too. Amazing in this price range.
Overhead is a large, but not panoramic sunroof, however the cover is a screen, not a shade so a little light, and warmth seeps through the roof in hot weather.
This SEL R-Line model that features a bit racier look and feel also adds a flat-bottomed steering wheel, naturally loaded with plenty of controls on it hub.
Arteon also comes with dual climate controls, but VW has gone to touch-controlled slides that are a bit too touchy at times, likewise there’s a radio volume slide on the steering wheel’s hub. Not sure why knobs needed to be replaced, but as with all touch-centric controls these are not easy to use when the car is in motion as their adjustment is imprecise.
VW loads up Arteon with electronic safety devices, including parking sensors, automatic high-beam headlights, and an integrated crash response system to alert authorities if you crash. There’s also the standard blind-spot warning, smart cruise control, rearview camera, lane-keeping assist, and emergency braking with pedestrian recognition.
Stop & Go is standard too, an effort to save gas at stoplights, but the annoyance factor of the car shutting down seems hardly worth the minor gain it provides. That’s not a VW thing, it’s across the automotive market.
An economic downside is that Arteon prefers premium gasoline, the higher octane providing part of the VW’s prodigious horsepower. The VW will run on regular gas, but loses some oomph. Still, even powered up the car is rated at 20 mpg city and 31 mpg highway by the EPA. That highway figure is up 4 mpg from the 2019 model I’d driven, a big gain in efficiency. I managed 27.5 mpg, quite good for a large family sedan.
Good news on the pricing front too as a base Arteon SE starts at $38,190. It’s front-wheel drive. An SEL R-Line lists at $42,790 and one with AWD like the test car begins at $44,590. This one just added the sharp red paint job to end up at $44,985. Standard on the R-Line are 19-inch tires, the Nappa leather seats, sunroof, smart cruise control and adaptive LED headlights.
Going top-level Premium R-Line with 4Motion pushes the price to $48,190, but you do get the massaging driver’s seat, heated steering wheel and cooled seats, plus a 12-speaker Harmon Kardon stereo, 3D backup camera and power hatch.
This competes well with the likes of Toyota’s Camry and Honda’s Accord, plus Nissan’s Maxima, Acura’s TLX and Kia’s Stinger, although it’s much racier in performance. I think it even approaches the gorgeous Genesis G80 2.5T tested a week ago, but just not as quiet inside or as luxurious feeling.
FAST STATS: 2021 VW Arteon 2.0T SEL R-Line
Hits: Slick looking fastback sedan with good power, sporty handling, but fine family sedan ride. Smooth and comfy, with a sporty edge, adjustable drive modes, and solid safety features. Roomy interior and trunk under a hatch. Heated seats, large sunroof, flat-bottom wheel, comfortable seats, good sized info screen and easy controls. Plus AWD.
Misses: Prefers premium fuel. Sunroof has screen, not shade. Touch and slide controls hard to precisely use. Awkwardly tight spot for phone under center stack.
Genesis continues to impress, even if few car buyers yet know what it is.
Hyundai is still on an uphill climb. The South Korean automaker launched the Genesis luxury brand five years ago, much as Toyota launched Lexus, Honda launched Acura, and Nissan launched Infiniti, in the 1990s. These Japanese brands established a strong foothold in the U.S. market with their low-cost, high-reliability models, then moved upscale, where the profits are.
Hyundai is doing the same thing. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.
In fact, the tested Uyuni White G80 that I just tested is already the second iteration of its mid-level full-size luxury sedan. That’s how much effort Genesis is putting into getting its own foothold.
This G80 is another winner, and more affordable than most entry-level luxury cars. My tester was the G80 2.5T RWD model, the base (if one can use that word) model with a starting price of $48,725, including delivery. The sparkling white paint job cost $400 extra so this G80 ended up at $49,125. That undercuts the German luxury market by quite a bit, and the Japanese market by a bit too.
In short the G80 is beautiful, whisper quiet inside, features good power, handles effortlessly and touts a luxury ride that in olden days we called a boulevard ride, but without the floating feel of yesteryear.
How so? G80 rides on a lengthy 118.8-inch wheelbase to spread the bumps and its multi-link front and rear suspensions, with a self-leveling feature in back, creates that luxury ride. I can’t recall a sedan I’ve driven in the past year or so that rides any better. Maybe the G90, but that was five years ago.
Like most cars, and all luxury models, Genesis includes multiple drive modes engaged via a button on the console. So one can tool along in Eco to save fuel, Comfort for daily driving or Sport to up the kick you get when accelerating and to stiffen steering effort. Even then the steering wheel isn’t tiresomely heavy, but there’s certainly more low-end power.
That actually helps this 2.5T model because it has the entry-level 2.5-liter turbocharged I4 that makes 300 horsepower via 311 lb.-ft. of torque. That’s substantial, but not monster power. It’s quick and sounds horsey though. This G80 reportedly will do 0 to 60 mph in 5.7 seconds and darned near 100 on a highway entry ramp. Top speed is about 130 mph, if you need that for cruising your neighborhood.
Don’t worry though, there’s more power available in the 3.5T. That model packs a 3.5-liter twin-turbo V6 creating 375 horsepower and a torque rating of 391. Both models also are available with all-wheel-drive, which adds $3,150 to the price and may be a wise addition in Wisconsin. While on price, the base 3.5T starts at $60,145.
Handling is moderately light, easy and effortless, but the car corners well at speed. That Sport mode of course firms steering feel.
Braking is impressive too, with 13.6-inch vented front discs and 12.8-inch rear discs doing the job.
Shifts are handled via a mostly smooth 8-speed automatic that includes paddle shifters behind the wheel. Unless you’re a fanatic for such things you’ll likely never use those. I did notice there is some hesitation coming off a stop, but that’s less noticeable in Sport mode. Also, the Stop/Start feature aimed at saving gas is a little less refined here than in many luxury makes.
Outside, the G80 is gorgeous from its wide pentagonal grille to the dual thin-line headlights on either side. The layout seems to reflect the winged Genesis logo on the nose, which I’ll say, again, looks a lot like Bentley’s.
Those thin twin headlights are reflected in similar taillight styling giving the car incredible stylistic balance. That’s aided by silky smooth shoulder lines that blend well nose to tail and a somewhat fastback roofline. Think Audi A7. Finally G80 uses a couple strakes for styling behind the front wheel wells. Those strakes include lights in the lower portions of each to give the sedan a unique nighttime appearance.
A chrome rocker panel trim line gracefully sweeps up through the rear wheel well to the car’s rear, making the car look as if it’s in motion while standing still. On the practical side, the A pillars have been thinned too. All combined, that’s a perfect 10 on my styling scorecard!
Inside, you’ll immediately know you’re in an upscale make as the styling is simple and elegant. Seats are tan leather and the dash and doors feature brown leather tops and creamy tan leather lower panels. Likewise the wheel is dark leather with a tan hub with satin chrome controls.
I like the slim, streamlined dash layout too and the black gloss on the center stack and console with satin chrome controls looks classy. However, the sun reflects off the console frequently and I was surprised there was no wireless phone charger here. Likewise the rotary gear shift lever is not the most intuitive design, but seems to be the way carmakers are going.
The clean design means it’s easy to figure out the buttons and controls and the 12.3-inch infotainment screen is eye-friendly and simple to use. There is a ring on the console that controls many of the functions, but unlike many such units it’s intuitive. Turn the outer ring and it easily scrolls through your radio’s favorite channels. Move your finger on the center portion of the disc and it allows selection of various functions on screen.
Seats feature a relatively flat bottom cushion that made my tailbone ache a bit after about an hour’s drive. Seat backs are well formed and comfortable and the leather is sufficiently soft for the price. Rear seats are roomy with a large fold-down armrest and trunk space is reasonable too.
G80 includes a power lumbar support for the driver and two seat memory settings on the door. Front seats also are heated, but not those in back. Plus there are no cooled seats or heated wheel here either.
You’ll need to move up to the Advance model for cooled seats, a panoramic sunroof (none here), three-zone climate controls, a power trunk, 19-inch wheels and a 21-speaker (I only have 2 ears) Lexicon stereo. The 2.5T Advance model lists at $53,325 and an even more luxurious Prestige model at $57,625.
The base tested model does come already equipped with a power tilt/telescoping steering wheel, adjustable interior ambient lighting, puddle lights in the side mirrors that also power flat to the car when the ignition is off. Plus there are the usual safety electros, such as smart cruise, lane-departure and assist, blind-spot warning, and automatic braking. Nice too that the lane-departure warning system can be turned off with the push of a button to allow for easier city driving during construction season when a driver is often dodging cones and errant pavement lane markers.
Still not sure Genesis is luxurious enough for you, or has the cache of a European make. Well, on the practical side there’s an excellent warranty so your long-term investment may be much less too. First, there’s a limited 5-year, 60,000-mile warranty and 10-year, 100,000-mile powertrain warranty. Genesis also provides free 3-year or 36,000-mile maintenance, including oil changes.
Gas mileage is good on this 2.5T too. I got 24.9 mpg in a mix of city and highway and the EPA rates the G80 at 23 mpg city and 32 highway.
Any sedan that looks this gorgeous, yet is underpriced for its market, deserves a strong look and test drive if you’re a luxury car intender.
FAST STATS: 2021 Genesis G80 2.5T RWD
Hits: Beautiful exterior styling grille to tail, good power, effortless handling, luxury ride and AWD available. Clean stylish dash, 12.3-inch info screen, heated seats, multiple drive mode, solid safety systems, good stereo, ring on console selects radio stations, power tilt/telescope wheel. Impressive pricing.
Misses: No wireless charger, gloss and metal console trim too reflective, rotary shifter, no sunroof or cooled seats or heated steering wheel.
New compact hybrid truck starts at $19,999, on sale this fall …
Ford recently announced a new compact pickup, surprising the market by not calling it Ranger, as its compact had been known for years. Today it shows off the new Maverick pickup.
Boomers will remember the Maverick name from a compact car Ford sold in the 1970s, but for today’s intended buyer Maverick may seem appropriate for a pickup that isn’t the norm, mainly huge. Nope, this one is full-efficient, full of current (hybrid) technology and more.
But it also will be affordable for Gen X, Y and Z buyers, starting at just $19,999. That’s the market the old Ranger inhabited until it disappeared in 2011.
Maverick doesn’t go on sale until fall, but Savageonwheels.com hopes to test drive one ASAP when these get out into the Midwest journalist fleet.
Here’s what Ford tells us the new Maverick has going for it.
Fuel-efficient: Maverick is the first standard full-hybrid pickup in America and promises to be the most fuel-efficient truck with a targeted EPA rating of 40 mpg in the city.
Compact yet roomy: Its compact size will make it easy to maneuver and park, but Ford says there’s room for five adults and plenty of storage space (see the accompanying photo). The interior is stylish and spacious, with thoughtful features and the versatility for city and rural lifestyles.
Smart technology: Includes a standard 8-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, standard FordPass Connect with embedded modem and Ford Co-Pilot360 technologies like automatic emergency braking and automatic high beams.
Functional: Maverick offers a unique FLEXBED, which is packed with standard features and opportunities to transform the cargo box into a complete makerspace to fit owners’ lifestyles. The flexible bed offers a multi-position tailgate, slots for lumber to be inserted to subdivide the bed, 12 anchor points, two 12-volt 20-amp pre-wired sources plus two 110-volt outlets are available.
Ford Tough durability and capability: 1,500 lbs. of payload capacity–equal to 37 bags of 40-pound mulch. The standard hybrid provides 2,000 lbs. of towing to haul personal watercraft to the lake, while the optional 2.0-liter EcoBoost gas engine can tow up to 4,000 lbs., enough to bring a typical 23-foot camper on a weekend getaway.
For those looking for high-powered intro excitement Ford says actress Gabrielle Union (She’s All That and 10 Things I Hate About You), will show off the Maverick on her Instagram and TikTok channels, and on Ford’s social media channels. Maverick will be Ford’s first vehicle to debut on its new US TikTok channel.
Running the Milwaukee Mile with the Rusty Wallace Racing Experience …
The guttural roar of a stock car engine and the resulting vibration transmitted through the seat of my racing jumpsuit as I approach Turn 1 at the Milwaukee Mile nearly makes me feel as if I’ll pass out.
I feel woozy in a way I’m unfamiliar with. It’s not fear, it’s not noxious fumes. I don’t feel sick, it’s just the rumble that shakes my innards and maybe my brain stem a little that gets my attention. A person needs to pay attention. Some don’t and they tag the wall. One did at my stock car class mid-May.
This is the Rusty Wallace (yes, that Rusty Wallace) Racing Experience (RWRE). It’s a traveling circus of stock and exotic car classes and experiences for would-be racers, but mostly it’s for those of us who have missed our calling, those who WISH we’d have tried our hand at racing super-modifieds, stock cars or even Indy Cars.
The RWRE travels to 80 race tracks across the U.S. and Canada each year, visiting Milwaukee’s famous one-mile oval at State Fair Park twice a year, in May and September. It’s here just one day each time. Pray for no rain.
I drove 12 laps (well 15 really, but more on that later) after my dear family decided it was time for the old guy to bury the pedal on a race track, not the highway, and in a real stock car, not the family Subaru. It was sort of a belated 65th birthday gift after that marker was Covidified a year ago April.
The day was a blast, but not without its challenges.
I was in the 10 a.m. grouping, which meant a 9:30 arrival to sign away my life and those of my loved ones who came to watch. My 12-year-old grandson was hoping I’d crash because that would be “cool.” It wouldn’t!
Participants who arrive a few minutes early get to watch as pro drivers take paying customers on ride-alongs. That allows you to get used to the bark of the two No. 18 M&M paint scheme stockers blasting around the Mile in the good hands of experienced racers. They look, and sound, fast.
Then it’s into the media center for about 45 minutes of class time explaining the intricacies of driving a 1-mile flat oval. It’s trickier than, say, Daytona where the huge banking in the turns makes driving those turns easier in some ways, but not all.
The key here is timing.
Accelerate hard down the straights, then let off the throttle just before the sharp barely-banked turns. (The Mile started as a dirt track, being paved in 1954.) The RWRE folks painted big orange rectangles on the track to let drivers know the optimum spot to get off the gas. Thanks!
Then brake hard when entering the turn, slowly letting off the pressure. That sets the car, moving the weight to the front tires so it steers easily through the turn. A bigger (greater inflation) right rear tire also assures the stock car always wants to turn left, even on the straightaways. Let off the brake when nearing the turn’s apex, then get back, gingerly and smoothly, on the throttle. The car will naturally push up toward the outer wall when exiting the turns. Orange and green stripes have been painted at intervals in the turns and on the straights to give you a precise idea of where you should be.
At the Milwaukee Mile, the nation’s oldest continuously operating race track (sorry Indy!), right side tires should be on the lighter, older asphalt track in the turns, and the left side tires on the darker apron down low.
Our instructor made sure we knew that, and that when the spotter on the 1-way radio said Lift and Left, we stayed to the left as let off the throttle, another racer was about to pass. Safety first! Don’t worry, the other drivers were gonna get those same instructions once I caught up to them. I got to pass four cars (never more than 6 on the track at once), two in turns. That’s pressure!
Much of the class involved going over the safety issues, such as how to quickly unhook the HANS device that keeps your head and neck safe (pull two release cords attached to the helmet’s sides), how to flip the latch on your tight five-point safety harness, and how to unhook the window’s safety net. Those are the three essential steps to a safe car exit, should, uh, a problem arise.
Oh, and the instructor passed around a steering wheel so we could get the feel of pulling on the center ring at its base to slide it on and off the steering column. You can’t get in or out of the car with the steering wheel attached. It’s that tight of a squeeze!
A few more tips and questions from the 20 or so other would-be drivers and it’s time to suit up. I chose a black jumpsuit, one because it came in short so I’d fit and didn’t have to wad up the legs, and two, the black is much sexier than the red suits. Those look like you’re on the safety crew … not that there’s anything wrong with that!
Next I grab a sanitized helmet (they ran large), and a balaclava to keep my hair out of my face (not really necessary). Then it’s out to the track to stand in line. This is a good time for pictures with the family as they stand with you in the pits (behind a short wall) until it’s your turn to drive.
Then you wait. The Rusty Wallace school here had five or six Nationwide and Cup series cars for drivers, plus the two for its pros to provide high-speed rides. All was well and but my mind starting playing the game of figuring out which car I’d get. I was hoping for the yellow and black Matt Kenseth style No. 17 DeWalt car, he being our home state hero.
It takes at least 10 (often more) minutes to load a driver aboard a racecar, take pictures, strap in, put on the helmet and ear pieces that let a spotter up in the scoring tower talk to you, and then get the HANS device hooked up properly. It takes a little less time when getting out, depending on how big a rush the conditions dictate.
So you wait and watch as this is repeated and you inch ever closer to the front of the line. Some folks trundle by at what appears to be city street speeds. Others hustle up to racier speeds quickly. You can tell visually, but also much by the sound of the racers as they rocket toward Turn 1. Some backfire at lower speeds.
On my Saturday, the day turned from gorgeous warm spring morning to ugly black skies with a strong wind and sliding temperatures. When I was sixth in line to go racing, it started to sprinkle. Figures!
For safety, the racing was yellow flagged, then stopped.
We waited, tried to stay warm and watched the skies that alternated between sunny and demonic black. The track was directly on the edge of a line of storms moving through. Our phones predicted 100% chance of rain, but we caught a break and after 45 minutes were back to the track. But skies were still threatening.
The group ahead of me started slipping into their cars. Second driver out and the yellow light blinks on. The walkie-talkies crackled with the news. He’d hit the wall exiting Turn 2 on his first lap. Wow!
We waited some more. The skies darkened further.
A tow truck brought his car back. Ouch! Then an emergency vehicle returned the driver to the pits, none the worse for wear physically. Mentally, well? Crashing is the ultimate embarrassment. Folks applauded lightly as he got out and walked through the crowd. I’m not sure if it was because he could walk, or they were just being kind.
Finally, it was nearly my turn. An older gentleman got to go before me because he was tall and fit the next available car. Who knew there were tall and short cars?
Then the Blue 2, as the pit boss called it, pulled in. This thundering blue and black Dodge Charger in Rusty Wallace livery, complete with his No. 2 all over it, was to be my beast.
Feet first into the window and onto the seat. Sit on the door frame for a couple pictures. This feels natural, like I should have been doing it for years. Slither inside the 500-horsepower racer and strap into my helmet, loosely. The steering wheel is still on the roof as a RWRE worker cinches up my belts and makes sure the HANS is attached. Then he hands me the wheel and I slip it in place. Turn it a couple times to make sure it’s latched. I needn’t have worried, the spotter will ask me to do that again just before heading on to the track.
Next my crew member hooks up the window net as I fiddle to slide the ear pieces under my helmet so I can hear the spotter. Now I tighten the helmet and flip the Ignition and Start buttons up, giving it a little gas. The Charger’s engine fires. It’s go time.
Now the pit boss, a Hoosier like me, runs through some final instructions to make sure my radio works, the wheel is attached and I understand Lift and Left. A lot of thumbs up here. OK, I pull up behind the car in line before me as it sits in pit lane. Let the clutch out, but keep those revs up. I don’t want to be the driver that kills his engine in the pits.
I sit anxiously behind the earlier driver for a minute or more. He finally pulls into the merge lane that brings a racer out of the pits onto the back straightaway. Then I wait in radio silence. Where’s the spotter? When do I go? Is my radio working? That huge black cloud is moving over Turn 1 now. Is it gonna rain again? Not now, please!
After a two-minute wait I hear, “You’re good to go.” Finally!
Slip the stocker into first, then quickly to second to get it rolling and assure I won’t stall in front of the crowd, well, mainly the family. It’s easy into third gear and finally fourth as I pull into the racing line on the back straight. I’m done shifting for now, and there are only four gears anyway.
Take it easy the first lap. Feel the car. It’s heavy. Tap the accelerator on the straight, never a turn. Someone had already learned that lesson today. There’s plenty of giddyup. Then let off into the turn and feel the brakes. They are pretty grabby and squeal at low speeds. I’m probably going 40 mph, a low speed.
Out on the front straight for the first time and I can see the grandstands, the pits, the people in the pits. This is the last time I’ll pay any attention to all that until I pull into the pit lane.
Lap 2 I accelerate a little harder out of the second turn and then hear Lift and Left. The pro driver rockets by on the outside. Next lap I pick up the pace a little more. Maybe I’m going 60 now. There’s no speedometer in the car, just a tachometer and I’m not really watching it. I’m keeping my eyes on the track. The instructor told us to look where we want to go, never at the wall or you’ll hit it. She told us of a shy driver doing about 30 mph that tapped the wall after being told the session was over because he looked at the wall. Really?
Several laps in now and starting to get the feel, but a yellow light. Shoot, is it raining on the track? I have no moisture on my windshield. Hmm, no rain, no cars stalled. Three laps later it’s green and I’m back in the groove. I pass a car in Turn 3 with the spotter assuring me, “You’re much faster, just go around.” Of course the outside lane in a turn is much closer to the cement wall. I know what it can do to a car. I’ve seen that already today and even though I took out the crash insurance ($75), I don’t want to shell out the $1,000 deductible.
Pass complete, I race down the front straight. A few laps later I catch another car going into Turn 1. Again the spotter advises the high line. I get by as I exit onto the back straight. Still feeling a little iffy in that high groove, but now I’m a racer, I’m passing folks, possibly the older gentleman (he was 80), but still!
A few more laps and I’m holding the throttle down all the way to the cutoff point, doing heavier braking and feeling that my timing is at least acceptable now. I pass another car as I come out of Turn 4 on the main straight. Did “everybody” see that? What a move!
Just a couple more laps and I was feeling like the revs, the sounds, the roar and the shudder of the steel on jig-built chassis stock car was about to make me pass out. Darn it, this was my chance to shine, but the final lap I took it a little easier, just one last full throttle shot down the back straight before entering the pits.
Easy, really, except that while I was hitting maybe 100 on the straights and averaging about 70 mph on the track, the pros do it much quicker. RWRE doesn’t provide times, but my pit crew said I got better as I went and did 52 second laps, about 70 mph. The lap record is 185 mph or 20 seconds, but that was in an open-wheel Indycar back in 1998. I don’t see how.
As I climbed from the car, first the window net down, then the wheel off, then release the HANS device, then the belts, then take that now hot helmet off my head. Pull my feet up into the seat and push myself out the window. Ah, fresh air, and a wave to my “fans” before reuniting with the family and taking my place on the victory podium. No autographs please!
That yellow? My brother-in-law and favorite pro photographer had snuck down to the first turn to get some photos of me lapping at speed. The RWRE folks didn’t care for that, so asked him to move and threw the yellow until he was back in the pits.
Hey, but that got me a few extra laps on a track that I’ve known about since I was a kid, worshiping the likes of Tony Bettenhausen, A.J. Foyt, Roger Ward, Jim Clark, Bobby Unser, and my hero Jim Hurtubise. Herk was seriously burned here in a 1964 Turn 4 accident, but came back to race for years after that. That’s what heroes do.
Dreams do come true and Rusty Wallace, the 1989 NASCAR Champion, knows how to make that happen. It’s an experience I’ll cherish until I can’t crawl into or out of a race car anymore. But I’ve seen that it can still be done, even when that racer is 80!
Acura doctors up its MDX , prescribing excellence …
Rare that an automaker skips making one of its best-sellers for a year, but Acura did that – sort of – with its popular MDX luxury sport-ute to ensure its 2022 MDX was a winner. It is.
To be accurate, Acura didn’t skip a whole year of selling, just brought out the 2022 early, in February. It’s a looker and a strong performer.
The exterior was restyled, picking up what Acura calls its Diamond Pentagon grille from the RDX model. It appears to be exploding out of the Acura’s nose, giving it a distinct visual to be sure. The rest is nipped and tucked for a more modern look with squinty headlights and thin taillights that flow from the accent line along its shoulders. Then there’s chrome around the windows and a chrome accent stripe on each side and across the lower tail.
But MDX (Doctor X?) also becomes longer, lower and wider with great visual proportions plus 2.4 inches of increased third-row seat legroom, making it almost useable by adults. The chassis has been stiffened, which helps with suspension tuning, and there’s a new double wishbone front suspension too that helps its ride and handling. A revised multi-link rear suspension also aids the total package.
An aluminum hood and front fenders cut a little weight too and inside there’s both wireless Android Auto and Apple Car Play now, along with our good friend, Alexa, to answer all questions, as best she can. She couldn’t immediately identify the driver, but you can train the system to know your voice and therefore respond to you personally.
Acura delivers a pleasant, luxury oriented SUV that also feels sportier than most big utes while packing plenty of power, although gas mileage is nothing special. All MDX models are gasoline-only for now. Previously a hybrid was offered, but none is currently.
All those underbody changes have helped give the tested MDX SH-AWD Advance model a well-controlled ride that is more pleasant than many light-duty truck-based SUVs. This handles big bumps and cracked streets well. Ride is fairly firm, but never harsh and the sound-deadening here helps occupants feel isolated from the roughest of roads.
Then there’s the returning 3.5-liter 290-horsepower V6 that gives the MDX the grunt it needs for clamoring to highway speeds, or pull up to 5,000 lbs. A new 10-speed automatic (up from 9) shifts smoothly and seems well mated to the V6.
Four drive modes, Comfort, Normal, Sport and Snow are controlled via a Dynamic Mode knob on the center stack. Normal and Comfort are so similar you’ll like choose one and leave it alone. Supposedly Normal firms the steering effort some, and I suppose it does, but not enough to matter. Each mode also slightly changes the instrument panel gauges (red gauge rings for Sport) and alters the engine’s sound and the interior’s lighting. The V6 delivers a throaty growl when called on to rip up to highway speeds, otherwise it’s quiet and civil. Sport of course accentuates the growl and firms the steering and ride considerably. That will probably work best in southern climes or out West where roads are generally smooth blacktop.
That SH-AWD moniker in the SUV’s title means it includes Acura’s Super Handling-All-Wheel Drive system that shifts power to the wheels with the most grip. That’s handy here in winter, but also the torque vectoring it allows to the wheels even in the dry means there’s less push in corners. That aids the MDX’s handling and gives it a sportier feel than one might expect in an SUV that’s nearly 200 inches long.
Base and Tech models come as front-drive, but the AWD system is available for an extra $2,000. Which provides our segue to pricing.
These MDX models are luxury vehicles to be sure, so not surprising that the base lists at $47,925 with front-drive while the Tech model starts at $52,625. The A-Spec lists at $58,125 and the tested Advance at $61,675, with delivery. Both upscale models come with AWD standard.
A performance Type S model is due later this year and will pack a turbo V6 creating355 horsepower. It is projected to start about $65,000.
While most luxury utes deliver strong performance what may set one apart from the other is interior design and feel. On most such points the Acura scores well.
I’ve mentioned the quiet, and it’s amazing. But the soft leather seats and trim coddle occupants. The tested Phantom Violet Pearl (looks black except in bright sun, then the violet sparkles in the deep paint job), featured black leather seats with gray stitching and similar door trim. The dash is black leather with black stitching.
Open pore wood trim gussies up the door panels, as does satin chrome trim, also found on the steering wheel hub and dash.
Everything works well here and controls are easy to see and understand. There are toggles for the dual climate controls, simple buttons and roller wheels for adjustments on the power tilt/telescope steering wheel’s hub, and that big knob for drive mode tuning.
But there’s a touch pad to adjust the 12.3-inch info screen. Size is good, but that pad is best used when the vehicle is not in motion, either parked, or at a stoplight. It’s not as jumpy as some pads I’ve tested, and the firmer you tap or slide your finger on the pad the better it responds. But still, a touchscreen would be preferable.
Seating is comfortable with good head and legroom in the first two rows. Row three will hold a small adult, but they won’t want to go cross country back there. Row three is best for children who are just beyond car seat requirements. Access to the seat is simple.
Front seats are well shaped for good support, plus both seats offer power controls to extend or contract the lower cushion, lumbar or side bolsters. Massaging seats will be offered later. Front seats are heated and cooled while second row seats are heated and a heated steering wheel is standard on the Advance model.
There also are parking sensors, a head-up speedometer display that is simply adjusted to suit the driver’s needs, and overhead is a giant panoramic sunroof with power sun screen. Manual screens can be raised on the second row’s side windows.
All the usual electronic safety devices are here too, from blind-spot warning to automatic braking, a 360-degree camera, and smart cruise and lane control.
Row three seats are easily folded down to increase storage space, which could be needed on a trip as there’s just 16.3 cubic feet of cargo room behind the third row. Although there is a good bit of storage under the MDX’s cargo floor too. The power hatch can be activated via fob, an interior button or by waving a leg by the rear parking sensors.
Negatives? Really much the same as most large luxury SUVs, big A-pillars that when coupled with large side mirrors can obscure the front to side sightlines. Also that third row remains cramped, just less so than before, and gas mileage numbers aren’t impressive.
I got 21.6 mpg in about 70% highway driving while the EPA says to expect 19 mpg city and 25 mpg highway. Front-drive models get 1 mpg better.
But there’s a lot to like here and many features, some of which are optional on a few of the competing models. So if you’re in the market for luxury and a large SUV be sure to price each with the exact features you require. While the Acura may start at a little higher price than some, it is competitively priced once standard features are considered.
FAST STATS: 2022 Acura MDX SH-AWD Advance
Hits: Sharp-looking 3-row SUV, good power, sporty handling, nice ride and AWD for grip. Quiet luxury interior, power seat support adjustment, 4 drive modes, big info screen, heated wheel, heated/cooled front seats, heated rear seats, panoramic sunroof, motion-activated hatch, power tilt/telescope steering wheel, Alexa standard too.
Misses: Big A-pillars, limited third row foot/knee room, no touchscreen, just touch pad on console for info screen adjustment. MPG not impressive.
Already a winner, new turbo elevates CX-30 to top tier …
Earlier this year I named Mazda’s slick new small crossover, the CX-30, as my Zoomie 2021 Car of the Year. Little did I know then that it was gonna get better.
The original was sporty looking, featured responsive handling, a quiet near luxury interior and had good power. Now the power is outstanding.
Mazda, as it did with its sporty Mazda3 recently, has added a kicky turbo to its already solid 2.5-liter SkyActiv-G 4-cylinder. The result is a hoot a power rating between 227 and 250 horsepower. That’s up from 168 horses in the original CX-30.
Why, you ask, is there such a range of horsepower for this spiffy turbo?
Because if you’re cheap like me you can fill up with 87-octane fuel and still feel pretty peppy with the turbo delivering 227 horses, or spend a little more for 91 octane (or higher) premium gas and the horsepower jumps to 250. All this in a 3,472-lb. crossover on a short 104.5-inch wheelbase.
Acceleration is crazy quick with the CX-30 easily pressing triple digits down a highway entry ramp. Car and Driver magazine says the petite crossover will snap off 0 to 60 mph in 5.8 seconds and top speed is said to be 128 mph. Coupled with the all-wheel-drive system that’s standard on all turbo-equipped CX-30s and you’ve got the grip to use that power to your advantage, even if the road is a tad wet.
Note too there’s a Sport drive mode toggle on the console that will give the CX-30 more oomph as needed. It was much appreciated as I zipped away from bulky traffic jams at stoplights. Click it and leap away from the heavy metal beasts with bigger engines, then click it off and cruise. Sport mode helps Mazda’s six-speed automatic that’s designed for fuel economy to put the emphasis on low-end power for as long as you need it.
Likewise the Mazda handles well, not exactly sports car nimble, but quite responsive and easy to zip through tight corners and whip into cramped parking spaces in the city. No body lean or sway even on super windy days, which were plentiful during this drive.
Ride is much more sophisticated in the CX-30 than other short-wheelbase crossovers. Firm? Yes, the ride is, but so well controlled that you’ll feel you’re in a longer-wheelbase crossover costing much more. Sound deadening is awesome too, a quiet interior here insinuates luxury not found in the price tag.
This interior also helps Mazda establish itself as the maker of finer, near luxury, machines, not just another mainstream car maker trying to only compete with the Toyotas, Hondas, and Nissans of the world.
Like the previous CX-30 I’d tested, this one had a gorgeous leather interior, creamy white seats and brown over black dash with soft brown door armrests and insert trim. That brown on the dash wraps into the door trim creating an especially snazzy look. Trim on the dash and door handles is satin chrome and Mazda includes a leather wrapped gear shift knob and steering wheel. Just wish the wheel was a racier flat-bottomed number.
Those seats are well shaped and the surface feels soft and smooth, again more of a luxury feel than you’ll find in most mid-range crossovers. For the record, the entry level has cloth seats, the next level up gets leatherette and the Premium and Premium plus real leather.
Front seats are powered and have two memory settings for the driver’s seat and a power lumbar too. Front seats also have three-level heat and the steering wheel is heated in the tested Premium Plus model.
Head and legroom are good up front and moderate in back. If a driver or front seat passenger is tall then the foot and legroom becomes tight in back. Cargo room is generous behind the split fold-down rear seats and the hatch is powered.
Dash layout is clean and attractive with an 8.8-inch infotainment screen that’s tucked into an indent atop the dash’s center. I like it being high, but some riders said they’d prefer a lower position. Personal choice I’m sure!
Standard are dual climate controls, a sunroof and a handy 360-degree backup camera.
Safety systems are all standard too, including front and rear parking sensors, rear cross-traffic alert and braking, blind-spot warning, lane departure and smart cruise control. The beeping from the blind-spot warning can be a bit startling the first couple times it goes off, but less so after you know what it’s warning you about.
Other goodies include a fine 12-speaker Bose stereo system, plus Android Auto and Apple Car Play. No wireless charger though. That’s still a $275 option. Outside mirrors also are heated, the wipers are rain-sensing, and front lights are adaptive.
I’d like to call this a perfect vehicle, but that’s not possible, ever. The automatic parking brake is irritating as it sets itself every time the ignition is turned off. No other tested vehicle does this. So each time you start to back up that brake engages to hold you back. You can either press the console’s button, or accelerate harder (not sure that’s wise) and it’ll overpower the brake and it will disengage.
Then there’s the central control knob on the console to adjust the info screen’s radio and navigation systems, etc. Once you play with it a while (several days) you’ll figure out how to get to the station list and change channels, but it’s not easy to do while driving. Saving favorites? The same. I beg Mazda to copy one of the easier systems found in most vehicles now.
But there’s so much else to love here. Sorry Subaru!
CX-30’s styling is leading edge, it’s noteworthy, it’s spectacular. The beak of the hood gives this crossover a nose to remember. Reminds me of the racy beak on 1960s and 1970s Eagle Indycar racers. The slits for headlights are equally appealing and the taillights also make a styling statement.
But all that aside, the Soul Red Metallic paint job is so stunning that it alone could sell someone on the CX-30. Soul Red is absolutely the best current paint color on any car on the market. Everyone commented on it. People asked about it at the gas station and in the driveway. It’ll cost you $595 extra, but is absolutely worth it.
Gas mileage dips a bit on the turbo, and I admit to abusing the Power mode button and having more fun than I likely am entitled. I still got 26.6 mpg as opposed to 31.7, which was amazing, on the original CX-30 with its more moderate power. The EPA estimates this model will get 22 mpg city and 30 mpg highway.
Best of all you won’t be paying a fortune for fun. The base turbo model starts at $30,050 and remember that includes AWD. A Premium model that would satisfy most of us goes for $32,450 and the tested Premium Plus lists at $35,000 including delivery. Non-turbo models with front-wheel-drive start at about $23,000, with AWD adding $1,400 to the price.
With its awesome red paint job and a few minor options the test crossover was $35,995, a bit less than the average price of a new car these days. Bravo!
CX-30 is a no-brainer if you’re in the small crossover market. It’s beautiful while also being a high-value hoot of a drive. Could it be the car of the year for two years in a row?
FAST STATS: 2021 Mazda CX-30 2.5 Turbo, Premium Plus, AWD
Hits: Excellent turbo power, responsive handling, plus AWD. Sporty looks, leatherette interior feels luxurious, big screen, sunroof, heated steering wheel and front seats, 360-camera, smart cruise and safety systems, Bose stereo, comfy supportive front seats, power hatch. High value, fun drive.
Misses: Not a fan of the console-controlled info screen, and ride is firm, but well-controlled. The park brake sets itself every time the ignition is turned off, so annoying to disengage each time you drive the car. Wireless charging (optional) and flat-bottom steering wheel would be nice.
Made in: Salamanca, Mexico
Engine: 2.5-liter SkyActiv-G I4, turbo, 227-250 hp
In any scale a Hellcat Widebody bulges with muscles …
As retro racy as Dodge’s Challenger has been in its latest iteration, the Widebody version is the most muscular looking and the Hellcat flexes the greatest amount of muscle under the hood.
Combine the two, as Autoart has on four new models, and the Challenger SRT Hellcat Widebody oozes with muscle car goodness that could easily be the star of any 1/18 scale collection, depending on color. I say that because three of these are bright and fun, the other a low-key Destroyer Gray.
I scored, receiving both the bad boy gray one, and the stunning Sinamon Stick, a metallic copper, for review. Both feature dual Gunmetal Gray center stripes and black chin and trunk spoilers. Awesome!
I test drove a Hellcat at Wisconsin’s Road America a couple years ago, both in Challenger and Charger iterations and you can believe that their 717-horsepower 6.2-liter supercharged Hemi V8s can push these rear-drive muscle cars to 130 mph, and more, in short order, sounding great all the while.
A Hellcat Widebody makes another 10 horsepower as it adds an additional hood air intake and if you were to “need” more power, there’s an SRT Hellcat Redeye with a blood-vessel bursting 797 horses capable of hitting 203 mph with a 0-to-60 mph run in 3.4 seconds. Take that Ferrari!
Putting that power down requires massive 20-inch tires and, naturally, superior braking power via giant discs to whoa a Hellcat. All that is detailed here on the 1:18 scale model.
Price on the real deal is high, but not as high as the supercars, say Lamborghini, Bugatti and Ferrari. A Hellcat Widebody starts at $73,240 and the Redeye at $75,000, but then you’d be ready for competition while also being street legal. Oh, and now there’s an SRT Hellcat Redeye Widebody that trips the cash register at $80,765 and a Super Stock model at nearly $83 grand, uh, but it also makes 807 hp. Autoart’s versions are much more affordable at $230, and visually they’re nearly as thrilling.
I’ll chat up the Sinamon Stick version as that’s my favorite visually and I could find only one eyeball-catching difference between it and its gray muscle beast buddy. The gray model features red Brembo brake calipers as opposed to black on the Sinamon version.
First, nose to tail the lines are crisp and dead-on 1:18 replicas of the street machines. The hood is beautifully shaped with the center air scoop featuring black mesh grillwork and the hood’s two side air vents also feature black grilles. Mesh grillwork fills all the nose’s split grille openings too and the quad headlights are beautifully reproduced, including the inner running lights with their outer light ring.
Widebody fender flares look spectacular and the front ones include slightly curved side marker lenses that fit neatly into those flares. Awesome etched metal Hellcat logos accent each front fender and there are SRT markings on the black gas cap and four black Devin’s Rim wheels that grace all Widebody models.
In back the wide flat slit taillights look realistic, the black surround setting off those lights and the black spoiler looks great too. The trunk will open via handsome struts and there’s black flocking finishing off the trunk’s interior. Dual chrome-tipped exhausts are flush with the black lower bumper and Dodge is spelled out with photo-etched letters on the black trunk face. A Dodge license also hangs on the back.
Under the opening hood, which features both scissor hinges and struts to hold it in place, is that massive V8, and yes, it says HEMI on it. A bit of wiring and plumbing is visible, but the engine and supercharger and hoses, plus cooling and liquids containers make for a tight engine bay. Detailing is strong, and impressive if you like to pose your models with the hood up.
All windows are trimmed in black and there are big black wipers for the windshield and a shark fin antenna atop the roof. Side mirrors included true mirrored surfaces and are body colored. The flush door handles look great too, but make opening the doors a bit of an effort.
Seeing inside is worth the effort though. Seating is Gunmetal gray with well-shaped racy looking buckets up front and door panels are handsomely crafted, including power window buttons and such on the armrests.
There’s a T-handled shifter on the wide silver-topped console with two cup holders and buttons at the console’s front edge. Dash screens and air vents are well shaped and look realistic with glossy gauge faces and the steering wheel is nicely detailed with silver lower spokes and flat-edged bottom.
I know many of us don’t display such gorgeous models with doors open, but if you allow visitors to look inside your models they’ll be impressed with this one.
Tires are thick beautifully treaded numbers with Pirelli PZero labeling in flat black so they don’t scream for attention. They wrap neatly around the gloss black Devil’s Rim wheels and the Brembo calipers are easily spied in front of the massive front and rear discs. Front wheels also are poseable.
If neither of these colors would lay rubber in your driveway, the Widebody also is available in Yellow Jacket with a satin black hood or Octane Red (looks deep purple) with no stripes and selling for $20 less, so it’s the bargain buy of the foursome.
I’m all in for Sinamon Stick!
Want more realism? You’ll need to buy a 1:1 Hellcat.
Back in the day, and it wasn’t all that long ago, Toyota marketed its sporty Celica and MR2 models as affordable sporty cars with the emphasis on affordable and sporty.
Moderate cost, moderately sporty performance and more than moderately sexy styling made these fun second cars for the family. Mom or dad could zip back and forth to work in a roadster or fastback that got good mileage, had some pep and still keep socking away retirement money or college tuition funds for the kids.
Those days have passed.
Last year after an 18 year absence Toyota brought back the Supra, the upscale Celica descendent, but for monied buyers. Supra 3.0 starts about $51,000 and can run up to nearly $60 grand. A bit rich for folks looking for fun wheels, but not a second mortgage. It must be said though, that performance was top-shelf.
Now comes the Supra 2.0 for 2021 and instead of a 335-horse turbo I6, it carries a somewhat milder twin-scroll turbo 2.0-liter I4 that makes a respectable 255 horsepower, but still a prodigious amount of torque. That’s rated at 295 lb.-ft. and it comes on quickly when you tromp the accelerator. Both engines are built in conjunction with BMW.
Top speed, says Car and Driver magazine, is 155 mph, and 0 to 60 mph flits by in 4.7 seconds. A Sport mode button helps the less powerful Supra reach such numbers and the fact that this model is about 200 lbs. lighter than its upscale cousin is another plus.
In addition to excellent highway ramp speed and getaway power, the tightly wound I4 delivers a fine exhaust tone. It doesn’t have the playful crackle of the 3.0-version, but it makes a driver feel he or she has plenty of gusto pushing the rear-drive speedster down the highway or away from a stoplight.
Ah, but it also gets good fuel economy and the 2.0 debuts at about a $7,000 discount, and both it and the 3.0 are less costly than their BMW counterparts.
That’s not to say that $43,985 is cheap, but the difference helps whittle down a monthly car payment.
Cool too that the Supra 2.0 looks just the same as the 3.0, which is spectacular, exhibiting more curves than a Kardashian, and touting a better reputation. Just like the Supra 3.0, this more real-worldly powered unit handles like a racer on its 18-inch ZR-rated Michelin Pilot Super Sport tires. Grip is exceptional and tossing the car into tight corners and clipping off apexes along twisting roads is a pleasure. As my kids used to say, Cool Beans!
What isn’t a pleasure, as in the higher-horse model is the ride. Those performance tires coupled with Supra’s tiny 97.2-inch wheelbase delivers a ride that is jiggly at best and sometimes downright rough. City streets with all their potholes and burgeoning expansion joint cracks can turn the cockpit into the automotive version of bull riding. Ugh! Even Mazda’s small MX-5 Miata has a more comfortable ride.
But if looks and performance are enough, then the Supra 2.0 is a bargain.
My shocking Nitro Yellow test car started at $43,985, including delivery, and just added that eye-melting color for $425 and a safety and tech package for $3,485 to push it to $47,895. That’s still a stretch as opposed to the Miata, but the Supra packs more punch, just not a removable roof panel.
So what do you lose with the 2.0 vs. the pricier 3.0 model?
Not much that matters if you’re not taking your Supra on a racetrack. Tires are 18-inchers vs. 19 on the top-end model. Front brake rotors are smaller and there are just single piston calipers up front vs. multi-piston calipers on the Supra 3.0. Again, that’s fine around town and in normal braking, whereas the fancier brakes will last longer and remain more consistent on the race track.
Seats are manual in the tested Supra 2.0, but powered in the horsier version. The 3.0 also features adaptive suspension dampers and an electronically controlled limited slip differential. Those are absent here.
Both include the same smooth-shifting 8-speed automatic transmission that couples well to either power plant. No manual tranny is available here. Rats!
Inside, the yellow test car featured handsome black Alcantara leather and suede seating surfaces, the cushions including red and gray stitching to enliven their look a bit. There’s a carbon fiber console and gloss black trim on the doors’ armrests and the center stack wrapping down around the console. Satin silver trims the dash and air vents. Door release handles are satiny too.
The steering wheel is a manual tilt/telescope model, but I wish this wheel was flat-bottomed to create more knee room when entering and exiting. Such wheels also look racier. Plus a heated steering wheel would make the Supra more comfy in winter.
The dash layout is fine and the 12-speaker, 500-watt JBL sound system comes as part of that one big option package. It sounds great at stoplights, but after that it’s hard to hear as there’s a lot of road and tire noise in the Supra. That includes the rustle and clatter of sand, rocks and road gunk that chatters under the vehicle, especially noticeable at slower side-street speeds.
There was also no wireless phone charger here, while the pricier 3.0 version includes one.
Seats are wonderfully shaped, as race seats should be, with tremendous side support for the back and hips. Neither seat is powered, nor do they include heating, while both are on the 3.0 Premium model.
I found the cockpit comfortable and roomy enough while still feeling compact and sporty. One downside to the car’s slinky looks though is large A-pillars that somewhat obstruct side frontal views.
But otherwise safety is well represented due to the option package mentioned earlier. It includes dynamic radar cruise control, a blind spot monitor, rear cross-traffic alert, and parking sensors with emergency braking.
The package also includes an 8.8-inch touchscreen with navigation. The screen is really thin though and I found it hard to use while driving and sometimes hard to see in bright sun. There’s a redundant rotary touchpad control to adjust the screen, but those are always difficult to manage unless the car is stationary.
How’s cargo space under the big rear hatch? Not great, but you wouldn’t expect to carry much more than a couple overnight bags or groceries there, right? The Supra has 10.2 cu.ft, of cargo capacity.
Gas mileage was surprising considering how hard I ran this on the highway and up and down entry ramps. I managed a stellar 32 mpg whereas I’d averaged just 23.4 mpg in the Supra 3.0 a year ago. The EPA rates Supra 2.0 at 25 mpg city and 32 mpg highway. About 60% of my drives were on the highway. Sadly the small turbo I4 requests 91 octane fuel.
For my money, which it would be, I’d go for this light and lively Supra over the powerful 3.0. It’s still a load of fun and the look is just as sexy too.
FAST STATS: 2021 Toyota GR Supra 2.0
Hits: Stellar looks, strong acceleration, sporty handling, good traction, supportive seats, lower cost than Supra 3.0.
Misses: Rough small car ride, noisy interior (tire and road grit), small radio screen, hard to hear radio over road noise, no wireless charger, no flat-bottom or heated wheel, no heated seats, and no manual transmission available.
This new Mercedes-Benz GLE Coupe is a whale of a vehicle and I mean that in mostly the nicest way, beyond its obvious looks.
The GLE Coupe is essentially a large SUV with a whale-like rounded rear end. If you don’t care for the look, Mercedes also offers the GLE as a square-backed SUV.
For styling the M-B designers essentially copied their slightly smaller GLC sport-ute’s rounded coupe profile. Seems Mercedes’ marketers decided that a rounded rear roofline enabled them to label the five-seat ute a coupe. I don’t buy it. Time will tell if luxury ute intenders will.
Labels aside, if you can think of this as a fastback SUV soaked in luxury and performance you’ll be thrilled, even if your name is Jonah. I tested the top-end AMG GLE 63 S Coupe in Selenite Gray. As Mercedes aficionados are well aware, tack the AMG initials onto anything and it’s gonna rock, big time.
AMG is Mercedes performance arm and hand builds its engines, and its assemblers sign each engine, assuring buyers these are unique powerplants, and likely race track worthy. This one seemed so.
The GLE’s heart is a bi-turbo 4.0-liter V8 that pounds out 603 horsepower and a massive 627 lb.-ft. of torque. Its roar could make an F1 racer jealous. The guttural growl of the bi-turbo is beautiful, something you feel deep in your bones.
It’s a rocket too, easily hitting triple digits on a freeway entry ramp. Mercedes claims a top speed of 174 mph. That’s special! Although you’ll never need it, or use all of that. Car and Driver magazine tested the square SUV version and managed 0 to 60 mph in just 3.4 seconds. Can you say supercar, er, truck?
However, there are a bevy of fast cars and trucks these days, each seeming to be celebrating the waning days of internal combustion engines (ICE).
But AMG takes its job seriously and does a particularly fabulous job tuning the handling and suspension here to give the GLE coupe a racer-like feel, even in Comfort drive mode. There are plenty of drive modes too, from Race (yes) to Slippery, which helps the standard AWD system handle snow and slop.
With great power comes great responsibility though. Hence the need for superior brakes. GLE nails it with monster 16.5-inch drilled front disc brakes featuring red 6-piston AMG calipers. Braking is impressive.
Steering effort is on the heavy side, but engages well with the road and gives the GLE a dialed in feel. In Race mode I zipped through multiple S-curves and winding roadways like a slot car shoed in silicone tires. I was stuck, often doubling or tripling the suggested turn speeds.
While heavy (5,390 lbs.), the GLE never feels loose or tippy, a major accomplishment with a vehicle that’s 70.2 inches tall and stands with 7.5 inches of ground clearance. Oh, and you can raise and lower the vehicle’s drive height via a console toggle.
Ride is firm, but well controlled as the SUV rides on giant 21-inch tires. Some might like the Comfort setting to tell the shocks to further dampen the ride, especially on choppy city streets. Yet after a week I was toughened up enough to handle the firm feel and with such a whisper-quiet interior (a $1,100 option increases insulation and window acoustics) you are well insulated from road imperfections.
The interior coddles you too. This one featured upgraded (just $250) quilted black leather and suede seats that are heated, cooled and controlled via easy-to-reach controls on the door panel. The dash, doors and flat-bottom steering wheel include carbon fiber trim. The spiffy wheel costs $400 extra though.
The Benz’s dash is well laid out with two 12.3-inch digital high-def screens that meld together so they appear as one two-foot-wide control panel. The center infotainment portion being a touchscreen with multiple functions, and there’s a redundant touchpad on the console for the unthinkable reason you may find it more convenient. You won’t.
Mercedes builds in a LOT of redundancy into controls though. For instance its drive modes and suspension adjustments have at least three different toggles and such to get at them. Easiest is the round knob below the steering wheel’s hub.
Buttons, toggles and door stereo speaker coves are satin metal here while the dash, doors, and part of the steering wheel are carbon fiber. A black gloss roll-back cover at the front of the console opens to reveal a wireless charging station.
Seats are fabulously supportive and you can even extend the front seats’ bottom cushion to give extra support to long-legged drivers. Headrests re powered too and the steering wheel is a power tilt/telescope unit.
These well-formed seats are heated and cooled, naturally, but the steering wheel is not heated, although the wheel’s partial suede coating helps reduce the need. Ironically Mercedes heats the door armrests though, thanks to a $1,050 option package. First time I’ve seen that.
And get this, these super comfy seats also offer eight massage settings, all controlled via the big infotainment screen. This is a $1,650 “energizing” package that I’ve got to say is like having Magic Fingers to ease the stress of a long drive. These would be golden on a trip, especially the setting that allows the cushions to massage your derriere.
One warning though, it’s best to have your front seat passenger adjust these settings, or to set them before you begin driving as tapping the screen can distracting and sometimes difficult on a bumpy road.
Other interior goodies include a giant panoramic sunroof, and a killer Burmester surround-sound stereo that might be able to deafen your neighbors if you crank it all the way up. Definitely party time, but at a $4,550 price tag it won’t be at my party.
Safety systems are rife here, as you’d expect, but M-B insists you pay $1,950 extra for a lot of them. That includes active levels of lane change assist, steering assist, brake assist and a variety of semi-autonomous features. This is a pricey vehicle. I’d expect all safety features to be standard.
Rear seats are a little hard here, but are roomy and there’s reasonable cargo space behind the seats, plus a smidge of hidden storage beneath the floor. Obviously with the slanted rear roofline you lose some vertical storage space. But if you buy something large, you’ll likely pay for delivery anyway.
While a delight in most ways there are a few concerns, beyond those already mentioned. One, the roofline is so low that even at 5-foot-5 I had to duck my head considerably to enter the vehicle. Taller drivers may find mounting the GLE hazardous to their heads.
Also, the massive roof pillars all the way from A to C coupled with the small rear window limit outward visibility. All the safety warning systems and cameras help, but good visibility is the easiest way to make a vehicle safer.
Then there is the column mounted shifter. While that was a common spot for shifters years ago, it isn’t now. Many car makers put the windshield wiper stalk on the right column now, so I found myself shifting into neutral on the freeway a couple times when I meant to engage the wipers. Not great.
Mercedes also is very concerned you’ll leave your key fob in the GLE. Every time you enter and every time you exit a message lights up and dings to remind you, “Don’t forget your key.” Unnecessary!
This is a big, heavy performance ute, so gas mileage is another concern. First, the GLE prefers high-octane gasoline to run at maximum power, but I got just 16 mpg in a week’s driving with more than half on the highway. The EPA rates the GLE at 15 mpg city and 19 highway. This seems a good candidate for hybrid power, and soon.
Pricing might be a wee high for most folks too. The test GLE starting at $117,050, including delivery. Add in the aforementioned options plus a few more, including fancy wheels and a $1,500 carbon fiber engine cover (oh my!) and the test ute hit $134,000.
That’s way into the luxury market and while the performance and luxury interior may justify the price, I’d want a better looking overall package.
FAST STATS: 2021 Mercedes Benz AMG GLE 63 S Coupe
Hits: Super performance for tall SUV, great power, excellent handling, multiple drive modes, AWD, and quiet interior. Luxury leather interior with heated seats, armrests, killer stereo, mega-sunroof, wireless charger, comfy well-formed seats with massage feature, 24-inch dual display screens. Fantastic brakes, safety systems, and packs every feature but a heated steering wheel.
Misses: Firm ride, low entry-exit headroom at door frame, no heated wheel, drinks high-octane gas and plenty of it. Column shifter odd placement, massive roof pillars, and price may be a wee bit high!
Ford to reveal F-150 Lightning May 19 with livestreamed event …
DEARBORN, Mich. – Ford announced today it was launching an all-electric pickup, the F-150 Lightning. The new F-150 Lightning will be revealed May 19 at Ford World Headquarters in Dearborn and livestreamed for millions to watch.
In a press release Ford said the F-150 Lightning “brings innovation, technologies and capabilities to the F-Series, America’s best-selling vehicle, combined with the power, payload and towing capability.”.
The reveal takes place at 9:30 p.m. EDT, May 19, from Ford World Headquarters and will be broadcast live with 30+ ways to watch across physical and digital destinations, including the Ford Facebook and YouTube channels, Twitter, key national publications as well as 18 locations such as Times Square in New York City and the Las Vegas Boulevard.
“Every so often, a new vehicle comes along that disrupts the status quo and changes the game … Model T, Mustang, Prius, Model 3. Now comes the F-150 Lightning,” Jim Farley, Ford President and CEO, said in a release. “America’s favorite vehicle for nearly half a century is going digital and fully electric. F-150 Lightning can power your home during an outage; it’s even quicker than the original F-150 Lightning performance truck; and it will constantly improve through over-the-air updates.”
Added Farley: “The truck of the future will be built with quality and a commitment to sustainability by Ford-UAW workers at the Ford Rouge Complex — the cathedral of American manufacturing and our most advanced plant.”