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 BMW M440i xDrive Gran Coupe

Lively M440i noses ahead of luxury coupe competition …

Back in the day (old dudes expression) BMW’s 2002 coupe wasn’t so grand, it was just light and lively and sold like schnitzel in Munich.

Now the German brand’s M440i xDrive is a Gran Coupe that is less light, but awfully lively with 382 horsepower compared with 99 in that original 1960s model. It’s everything a sporting driver could want in a compact Gran Coupe, and I’m sorry, but I like the nose. Then again I liked the Edsel’s nose, back in the day.

Sadly almost every review of BMW’s 4 Series hot rod dwells on its two large kidney-shaped grilles that dominate its beak. Journalists who may have praised the Pontiac Aztek’s dramatic looks or Chrysler’s PT Cruiser for its daring retro design are whining that this nose is “too much.”

They forget that nearly all of today’s luxury makes, and a growing number of others, now tout massive grilles, usually featuring a logo the size of a human head at their middle. Some look better than others.

I also recall both BMW using similar designs in the past and those being considered Iconic. Even Pontiac (remember Ponty?) often used similar styling on its noses, considered sporty, back in the day.

So let’s move beyond the nose. Besides, all the young guys I asked Loved the nose and instantly knew this M440i was a Bimmer. I’m pretty sure BMW’s marketing folks would consider that a success.

This sharp-looking fastback IS fast, nimble and delivers a surprisingly comfortable ride, all at a decidedly luxury price tag.

Watch Mark’s video: Mark Savage reviews the 2022 BMW 440i which sort of looks like a Pontiac – YouTube

First, Gran Coupe’s silhouette oozes speed and sleekness as the rear window and roofline blends right into the short trunk lid. But it’s not just the trunk lid that opens. No, that entire structure, window and trunk open like a hatch. It’s massive, but works fine. Of course the rear seats split and fold in case long cargo needs transported.

Yet it’s unlikely that M440i buyers are primarily seeking cargo carriers.

No, the Gran Coupe is for ripping along highways and rural roads at speed, cornering like it’s a racer. That’s why there’s a twin-turbo 3.0-liter I6 beneath its long snout. As mentioned prior, the turbomeister cranks 382 horses and delivers 369 pound-feet of torque, yet does it so smoothly via the 8-speed automatic that you’ll barely notice when you hit 100+ on a freeway entry ramp. Don’t ask how I know.

Now if you’d care to save some coin and maybe get slightly better gas mileage, a 2.0-liter I4 that makes “just” 255 horses is available in the base BMW 430i, but it’s just rear-wheel-drive.

This M440i xDrive comes with all-wheel-drive, hence the xDrive moniker. That assures all the power is delivered to the appropriate wheels once roads becoming slippery. I’m looking at you Wisconsin.

It seems to me that through the years BMW has softened its ride and steering in most models, just enough to make them feel plush and luxurious on normal Midwest roads. However, the sporty nature is always there, as is the power. This M440i is all that.

Ride is comfortable in all modes (Comfort, Eco Pro, Adaptive), save for Sport. That firms the steering and ride. Steering tightening is welcome, but the firmer suspension setting makes the ride overly stiff. Stick with Comfort for normal driving, or Adaptive that supposedly chooses the appropriate gearing, steering input and ride quality that is called for at any instant.

In any case there is a sport suspension here with struts up front and a fine multi-link system in back – well-controlled, never punishing!

Inside the BMW remains sophisticated and well laid out. Seating is tan leather while the entire interior runs with a black over tan theme. So the dash and door tops are black, the tan trim below that, plus satin chrome trim on dash and doors with a bit of black wood on the passenger’s side dash. That wood is featured on the console’s top too, again with satin chrome trim.

Dash layout is simple and the infotainment screen is a 10.3-incher and easy to see and adjust. There are 8 radio preset buttons below the screen and a small volume control knob for the radio. There’s also a volume adjustment on the steering wheel hub.

Oddly the seats are manually adjusted with a couple handles on the seat’s side and a bar under the lower cushion. I’d expect power at this price. Seats are comfortable and supportive, as you’d expect in a performance-oriented coupe. They also are heated, but not cooled, again something I’d expect at this level.

BMW’s steering wheel is heated too, with a button nestled just below the center hub. However, this is a standard round wheel, where a sportier flat-bottomed wheel makes sense.

Good screen and climate controls make operation easy while driving.

There’s also a good-sized sunroof overhead and a wireless charger just below the center stack. An inside trunk release button is on the driver’s door.

Gas mileage was surprisingly good for a performance car. I got 25.5 mpg in about 60% highway driving, but with several heavy acceleration bursts (solely for test purposes). Sadly to get its full horsepower this twin-turbo prefers premium (93 octane). The EPA rates the car at 22 mpg city and 29 mpg highway, which beats all the SUVs and most of the non-hybrid crossovers.

Stylish wheels and red brake calipers add some flare.

So what are the damages here?

Not so rough at the entry 430i level with the lower horsepower engine and RWD. The base is $46,195, while the tested M440i xDrive jumps to $59,195, including delivery.

But this one was a snazzy dark metallicSan Remo Green that added $550, plus there were six other options that jumped the M440i to $67,520. Most surprising was a $350 add-on for a Sensa-Tec dash, which translates to soft vinyl. Again, I would expect that to be standard.

A nice addition for $875 is the fine Harman Kardon surround sound audio system, much less costly than the $3,200 Volvo wanted for its Bowers & Wilkins system upgrade in the XC60 a few weeks ago. Ouch!

Other add-ons include a $2,400 cooling and high-performance tire package with an upgraded M sport suspension and performance tires, plus fancy double-spoke, bi-color alloy wheels, along with a parking assistance package for $700 that adds a surround view camera and parking sensors.

How’s this for a handsome, stylish door panel?

A driving assistance professional package adds front cross-traffic alert, smart cruise control with Stop & Go, active driving assistant pro, an evasion aid, active lane keeping assist with side collision avoidance, traffic jam assistant and extended traffic jam assistant, for $1,700. I suspect the smart cruise control is optional as BMW designs its cars for enthusiastic drivers who may not want that feature standard.

Finally, for $1,750 the premium package adds a head-up display, the heated front seats and steering wheel, ambient lighting and gesture control technology, which may make you think it won’t allow you to give other drivers hand gestures. Would that it could stop that. But it really allows a driver to make a sweeping motion to turn the radio’s volume up or down, decline a phone call or change a rear camera angle.

Without all the doodads an M440i xDrive could be had in the low $60,000 range and while that’s a luxury price tag, it’s a bargain for this amount of performance.

FAST STATS: 2022 BMW M440i xDrive Gran Coupe

Hits: Sharp fastback styling, super acceleration, sporty handling and good ride. Heated wheel and seats, multiple drive modes, wireless charger, sophisticated interior with big screen, sunroof, and supportive seats.

Misses: Prefers premium unleaded, price. Plus needs flat-bottom wheel, cooled seats and powered seats.

Made in: Dingolfing, Germany

Engine: 3.0-liter twin turbo I6, 382 hp/369 torque

Transmission: 8-speed automatic

Weight: 4,169 lbs.

Wheelbase: 112.4 in.

Length: 188.5 in.

Cargo: 12.0 cu.ft.

MPG: 22/29

MPG: 25.5 (tested)

Base Price: $59,195 (includes delivery)

Invoice: $55,620

Options:

San Remo Green Metallic paint, $550

Cooling, high-performance tire package (M tech pkg, adaptive M suspension & tire mobility kit, P245/40R19 Front & P255/40R19 rear high-perf tires, M double-spoke bi-color style 861M alloy wheels), $2,400

Driving assistance professional package (front cross-traffic alert, smart cruise control w/Stop & Go, active driving  assistant pro, evasion aid, active lane keeping assist w/side collision avoidance, traffic jam assistant & extended traffic jam assistant), $1,700

Parking assistance package (surround view camera w/3D view, active park distance control & parking assistant plus), $700

Premium package (gesture control technology, HUD, ambient lighting, heated front seats & steering wheel), $1,750

SensaTec dashboard, $350

Harman Kardon surround sound, $875

Test vehicle: $67,520

Sources: BMW, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee L Summit Reserve 4×4

Going bigger with three rows to carry more crew, plus cargo …

Jeep’s Grand Cherokee has been a stout and stylish off-road capable SUV with a strong niche in the marketplace, so it’s natural for Jeep to try and build on that with a longer version, the L.

Timing might not be in its favor with gas prices soaring at the moment, but a 3-row SUV that’s off-road capable, and loaded with luxury inside just might turn some heads away from the Chevy Tahoes, Ford Explorers, and Honda Pilots of the world. Time will tell.

But from a ride and comfort perspective the Grand Cherokee L, which debuted as a 2021 model, moves among the leaders in this SUV segment. Looks also set it apart, at least from a snout-view where there are the seven bars on the grille and a handsome nose that easily portrays a more sophisticated Jeep image.

Mine was a Silver Zynith ($395 extra) Summit Reserve 4×4 model with a black roof, the absolute top of the line. That means the price is waist-deep luxury level, but the interior certainly delivers on that with enough cowhide to worry any herd.

But let’s look at the dimensional and people-friendly basics.

First, the L is about a foot longer (11.4 inches) than the Grand Cherokee and provides much more cargo space under the hatch. Plus the third-row seat, while slightly elevated, delivers enough foot and legroom for an adult to ride in back. With its second row captain’s chairs though this version will only haul six.

Watch Mark’s video: Mark Savage reviews the 2022 Jeep Grand Cherokee L – YouTube

Getting to that rear row is easy enough too as the second row seats flip and slide forward, although unlatching them can be a little more difficult from the rear seat than when entering through the side door. Kids may want to exit between the captain’s chairs although there is a considerable second-row console there.

Easy access to the third-row seats, plus they power down from inside the hatch.

Also the third row can be powered down from inside the rear hatch and the second row seats also can be released from there for easy loading of long items. So functionally, this is a win for a family of six, or seven at lower levels where a second row bench is available.

Driving it?

Well, there are two engine choices, the tester coming with the more efficient 3.6-liter V6 that makes a strong 293 horsepower and creates 390 pound-feet of torque. A giant 5.7-liter HEMI V8 with 357 horses and a torque rating of 390 also is available

Couple this V6 with five drive modes, Rock, Sand/Mud, Snow, Auto, and Sport, and it’s possible to take the Grand Cherokee L off road into some serious muck and over rocks, small trees, etc. Jeep says this will ford 24 inches of water for cryin’ out loud. Plus the L will tow up to 6,200 pounds, so hook up the camper or pontoon boat and head to the state park.

Happily the extended Grand Cherokee also rides well on and off-road. There’s not much jostling to passengers, even on our crumbling Wisconsin roads, which if you think about it sort of reflect the rocky nature of some off-road trails. The Quadra-Lift air suspension does a superior job of smoothing the ride.

But the steering does not feel as heavy, nor as precise as one might imagine, more of a big luxury SUV feel, which (along with its price) makes me wonder if many L buyers will really take these off-road. Still, keeping it in its lane on the highway is no chore, but cornering at speed you’ll notice some body lean as you would with other large SUVs.

Inside, the Summit Reserve oozes luxury from the get-go.

Luxury is the key inside with quilted leather and real walnut trim on doors and dash.

First, it’s quiet. Second the seats and doors are bathed in an orangish tan Palermo leather that was a bit too orange for my liking, and the family frankly found it garish. It feels high-quality soft and there’s a diamond stitch pattern on the seat edges and doors that insinuates luxury. Dash and door tops are black and Jeep uses real open-pore walnut trim on the dash and doors. That’s impressive and one-ups most of the luxury and near-luxury makes.

Naturally those seats are heated and cooled up front and the rears are heated too. The $3,000 Summit Reserve option package adds cooling to the second row seats, while also tacking on active noise control, a 950-watt amp, deluxe suede-like headliner, and 21-inch tires and special wheels.

Jeep’s seats provide good support and there’s a power lower leg extension to aid long-legged drivers. Second row seats are equally comfy and the third row a little stiffer, but still not bad. Second row manual sun shades and a wireless charger are a $245 add-on, but seem like they should be standard on a luxury ute.

Yes, that’s real wood on the dash and doors. American walnut to be precise.

Yet Jeep also tacks on a $1,795 delivery fee to pad the price as delivery is only coming from Detroit, not off-shore.

Other goodies on the Summit Reserve include a heated steering wheel and giant two-pane sunroof, one of the biggest I’ve seen.

Jeep continues with its easy-to-use infotainment system and big info screen. This is simple to tune and see. The Summit Reserve adds a 19-speaker McIntosh stereo system that sounds great too, but in a premium model you’d expect premium sound.

The McIntosh audio sounds great but reflects at night.

One downside to the McIntosh system though, there are round-topped speakers tucked into the dash’s front corners. Their shape and reflective surface means that in night driving where there are streetlights over the highway a weird circular reflection or flash occurs in the corners of the windshield as you drive. It can be distracting.

Yet on the safety front the Jeep Grand Cherokee L packs everything you’d expect or want, from smart cruise control and lane departure assist to blind-spot warning and cross-path detection. Parking sensors watch all around, including sides (some extra beeps), there’s a 360-camera, pedestrian and cyclist emergency braking systems, and parallel and perpendicular park assist.

The test Jeep added an Advanced ProTech Group IV for another $1,995. It includes a head-up display, night vision w/pedestrian/animal detection, rear-view auto-dimming digital mirror, and interior rear-facing camera to help watch out for rear seat shenanigans.

OK, so the rear end isn’t so stylish, but it has a power hatch.

No running board was added though, so step-in height remains rather high as this has 8.5 inches of ground clearance. For the record, black steps cost $875, chrome steps $975.

All told the test vehicle went from a base price of $61,455, including delivery, to $67,090 after options, putting it solidly in the luxury segment.

I like the slim, elegant look of the Grand Cherokee L’s nose.

Of course, there’s a base model, the Laredo, which is rear-wheel-drive, but that just seems wrong for a Jeep. It starts at $40,685, but adding 4WD increases that to $42,685. The trim levels climb from there to Altitude, Limited, Overland, Summit and the tested Summit Reserve, all of which include 4WD. Fully equipped the Summit Reserve can eclipse $70 grand.

So far there is no hybrid L model, while several competitors do offer a hybrid. One might expect Jeep to add one soon.

Note too that the Wagoneer and Grand Wagoneer models are two more new 3-row SUVs available from Jeep. They are bigger yet, being 10 inches longer overall with a three-inch longer wheelbase and are capable of towing an additional 3,800 pounds.

I reviewed the Wagoneer earlier this year, and will test the Grand Wagoneer soon!

FAST STATS: 2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee L Summit Reserve 4×4

One more shot of the ritzy walnut trim.

Hits: Roomy 3-rows, quiet luxury interior, good power and ride, plus off-road capable. Heated/cooled leather seats, walnut dash/door trim, heated steering wheel and second row seats, giant sunroof, wireless charger, big easy-to-use info screen, five drive modes, power extendable lower seat cushion for driver.

Misses: Feels big and heavy, especially when cornering, big step-in height, so-so gas mileage and no hybrid available yet. High price and the fancy McIntosh stereo speakers in the dash reflect overhead street lights in windshield.

Made in: Detroit, Mich.

Engine: 3.6-liter V6, 293 hp/260 torque

Transmission: 8-speed automatic

Weight: 4,524 lbs.

Wheelbase: 121/7 in.

Length: 204.9 in.

Cargo: 17.2, 46.9, 84.6 cu.ft.

Tow: 6,200 lbs.

MPG: 18/25

MPG: 20.3 (tested)

Base Price: $61,455 (includes delivery and AWD)

Invoice: $63,884

Major Options:

Silver Zynith paint, $395

Summit Reserve Group (21-inch painted aluminum wheels, R21 all-season tires, Palermo leather seats, 19-speaker high performance audio, active noise control system, 950-watt amplifier, cooled rear seats, deluxe headliner, Palermo leather door trim), $3,000

Advanced ProTech Group IV (head-up display, night vision w/pedestrian/animal detection, rear-view auto-dimming digital mirror, interior rear-facing camera), $1,995

Luxury Tech Group V (wireless charging pad, manual second row window shades), $245

Test vehicle: $67,090

Sources: Jeep, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

1959 Cadillac Rat Fink hearse

Auto World Eldorado goes wild with Kustom Kartoon Kreation …

OK, I get it, Rat Fink is a cultural icon.

For some reason folks were drawn to the grotesque caricature of a rat with bulging bloodshot eyes ogling a 1950s hot rod or fondling a gear shift knob as he drooled in the bucket seat of a custom car. I didn’t get it.

But the 1950s and 1960s were strange times with a lot of drugs. I was just a kid.

Yet the Kustom Kulture movement got started on the West Coast as men home from World War II and the Korean War started jazzing up and customizing old 1930s car bodies and making fancy street rods, which just carried on into the 1960s.

Ed “Big Daddy” Roth started creating T-shirts with his crazy looking Rat Fink and selling them through Car Craft magazine with 1959 credited for the Fink slithering into the spotlight. So it’s appropriate in a way that Auto World’s funky new Rat Fink Hearse is a 1959 Cadillac Eldorado. This 1:18 scale metal diecast model is an absolute eyeful that will immediately become the centerpiece of any large diecast car display.

The History

I’ve touched on the history a bit, but for the uninitiated let’s dig a little deeper. Sales of Roth’s “Weirdo shirts” blew up in late 1959 and others soon were hopping on the custom band wagon. His monsters in hot rod shirts not only took off, but Roth designed the Outlaw, a fiberglass custom rod and the Beatnik Bandit along with some dune buggies that made the movies and kept the momentum going as custom car magazines were happy to have a media star.

Rat Fink itself got so popular that Revell made a plastic kit of the creepy creature, along with some of the other Roth characters, such as Brother Rat Fink, Mr. Gasser and Drag Nut. The rest, as the trite saying goes, is history.

Roth for his part kept making funky cars and motorcycles, had a band, and participated in all sorts of custom car exhibits and shows for the rest of his life. He died in 2001.

The Model

               So what have we here? Well, Auto World has made a number of Cadillac and Chevy hearses and ambulances for collectors.  Those include 1:64 and 1:18 scale models of the 1959 and 1966 Cadillac, plus a 1957 Chevy ambulance and hearse in 1:64 scale.

               This ’59 Eldo is a dark metallic red (not your usual hearse color), with a blacked out windshield and printed dark green curtains lining the long vehicle’s side windows, looking to caricature drapes in old hearses and fitting neatly with the Rat Fink theme.

               Of course there are Rat Fink touches everywhere, but dominated by the monster Fink himself on the Caddy’s expansive roof. Here the Fink is a slimy green with a black R.F. shirt and top hat, appropriate for his undertaking duties here. Of course there are the hairy ears, bulging eyes and slim sharp pointy rat teeth too, and his warty feet and tail providing him support. A few flies circle his stinky head.

               The Rat Fink logo in black, looking like a devilish Mickey Mouse (that’s who Roth was supposedly pimping originally) graces the hood. Beneath the logo are the words “Rat Poison!” near the hood’s front edge. The Cadillac logo is silvered out so again cartoon-like.

               Right behind the headlights on the side panel are flying bloodshot eyeballs and the hearse’s sides feature red and silvery gray Rat Fink profile logos (again reflecting Mickey Mouse, but with teeth) in a pattern like wallpaper. Lime green accents scroll along the top of that side decoration and the green and gold (Green Bay Packer colors?) jagged letters along the side spell out Rat Fink. What else?

               The blacked out rear three-quarter windows and hearse hatch include a stylized white top hat in one, green and white Haulin’ Hearse in back and then white script of Ed “Big Daddy” Roth in the other rear window. The black tail features red and white words reading “Rat Fink Rod.”

               From the car standpoint the hood, doors and rear hearse door open and the wheels are steerable.

               As with any ’59 Caddy there is chrome everywhere from the huge front grille and bumpers to the rear with its jet-like lower taillight trim to the rocket like tail fins and light surrounds. Head and taillights look realistic and the hearse features chrome mirrors, strakes on the hood, wipers and trim just under that blacked-out windshield. Side windows are trimmed in silver paint.

               The black dash is nicely detailed and the bench seat in front is black and lime green to complement the car’s exterior markings and those green drapes. There’s a divider window behind the front seat and an empty body-color cargo area where presumably a hideous Kustom Kreature would be creeping out of a Kustom Kasket in “real” life.

               Tires are wide white sidewalls with no branding and the undercarriage is detailed with twin exhausts.

               This one is just for fun, and certainly recreates the caricature-rich look of Rat Fink on a custom hearse of all things. It’s irreverent, silly, creepy and wacky, just like the original demands and a fitting tribute to Roth’s imagination.             

Vital Stats: 1959 Cadillac Rat Fink Hearse

Maker: Auto World
Scale: 1/18
Stock No.: AW303
MSRP: $131.99

Link: Autoworldstore.com

2022 Volvo XC60 B6 AWD R-Design

XC60 touts style inside and out, awesome ride …

Rare are the crossovers whose styling stands out enough to catch your eye on the highway or in daily stop-and-go traffic. Yet Volvo’s collection of XC models will do just that.

I’m no expert on style, but (with apologies to former Supreme Court justice Potter Stewart), I know it when I see it.

The tested XC60 B6 AWD R-Design, clad in Crystal White Metallic ($695 extra) seemed intent on raising property values in our neighborhood while resting in our driveway. This was not just another luxury crossover, all boxy and grinning an oversized goofy black-grilled smile.

No, the Swedish carmaker (now owned by China’s Geely Holding Group) still designs with a Scandinavian minimalism and sophistication that gives its vehicles a unique look, while continuing the auto world trend of placing a large logo on its vehicle’s nose. That’s OK, the headlights and grille look lean and taunt and the taillights’ sideways V-design immediately distinguishes the brand.

For the record, a couple years ago Volvo started calling its T-shaped headlight lenses Thor’s Hammer to create a skosh of marketing excitement. They do look sharp!

Watch Mark’s video: Mark Savage reviews the 2022 Volvo XC60 – YouTube

XC60 is sort of a large compact crossover, one level up from the small XC40 and well shy of the XC90 that borders between mid-size and large.

That means XC60 rides on a 112.8-inch wheelbase that gives it outstanding ride quality, more along the lines of a larger crossover, yet is a compact 184.6-inches long, so easy to park and maneuver. Handling borders on sporty as little steering input is needed to switch lanes or zip into a tight parking space.

Power is smooth as silk and plentiful in this R-Design model, a mid-level trim. Standard is a supercharged and turbocharged I4 2.0-liter engine, coupled with a mild 48-volt hybrid system to take some electrical pressure off the powertrain. That’s good for 295 horses and a 310 torque rating, while delivering 21 mpg city and 27 mpg highway, says the EPA. I got 21.0 mpg in about 60% highway driving.

Volvo offers several other power choices though, including a base level 2.0-liter I4 that makes 247 horses and a peppier plug-in hybrid model with 400 horses and that provides 35 miles of all-electric power. But the plug-in will put you mighty close to spending $70 grand.

This R-Design with the gas-only engine and mild hybrid starts at $56,195, with delivery, so certainly a luxury level vehicle. Sadly this one went overboard on options and hit $65,990, so deep into the luxury market.

Certainly the XC60 is easy on the eyes and easy to drive with its silky powertrain, including an 8-speed automatic transmission. Braking is solid too with big vented disc brakes. Towing is possible too as this model is rated to pull 3,500 pounds.

Inside the XC60 continues Volvo’s high standard of style and functionality, this one featuring a light gray leather interior with white piping on the seats and lighter gray to white inserts in the upper seatbacks. The dash includes metal meshwork and the Bowers & Wilkins speaker covers are jeweled-look mesh too.

Volvo’s seats are powered and multi-adjustable, the lower cushion able to be extended, a help for drivers with long legs. Seats also are heated and cooled while being incredibly supportive, especially the seat backs. These are borderline racing seats as they wrap around the front seat folks so well.

Rear seats are heated too, as is the steering wheel, part of a $750 option package that adds headlight washers.

Rear seat gets heat controls, nice info screen up front!

Also added was the Advanced package for $2,050. It includes a head-up display, smart cruise control with driver assistance, a 360-degree camera, advanced air cleaner and 12-volt outlet in the cargo area. The hatch also is powered, but that adds $200, which seems odd these days as power hatches are pretty much standard on trim levels above the base models.

Volvo uses a vertical 10-inch touchscreen to direct infotainment data, such as radio station selection. While it’s easy to see and tap, there also are other features to be accessed by sliding the screen. I find that awkward while driving.

Also, the heated steering wheel and seats are controlled via that screen, but activated by tiny icons that are not the easiest to see and get at, again while driving. But it all looks great!

Overhead is a monster dual-pane sunroof and the test vehicle added an awesome B&W premium audio system, but it carries a big price tag at $3,200. I’ve purchased cars for less.

Other options include a 4-corner air suspension system at $1,800, a feature that certainly adds to the enviable ride comfort here. For another grand the tester added 21-inch 5-double-spoke black diamond alloy wheels. If you’re already at $60,000 and change, why not?

Safety equipment is as you’d expect on a luxury model, or most models at this point, from lane departure assist and other semi-autonomous features, to automatic emergency braking, blind-spot warning, rear park assist, etc.

One other note on the driving front, naturally there is the Stop/Start feature that all modern vehicles now include, aimed at saving miniscule amounts of fuel. But the Volvo also, for safety reasons, will not creep forward once your foot is removed from the brake pedal. Nearly all other vehicles do, and we all use that creep as a stoplight turns green.

Well, here you’ll need to be prepared to touch the accelerator to get any creep as you begin moving away from a stoplight or stop sign. Much like Stop/Start, it takes some getting used to, especially when backing out of a driveway or parking space. The first few times it’s possible you’ll over accelerate. Be forewarned!

I’d also expect a power tilt/telescope steering wheel in a luxury level crossover, along with a power rear hatch. Maybe for 2023!

Yet for beauty and driving comfort coupled with interior style and suppleness, the XC60 is a solid alternative to the European and Asian luxury makes. Few will beat its ride!

FAST STATS: 2022 Volvo XC60 B6 AWD R-Design

Hits: Good looker, excellent power, ride and handling. Big sunroof, heated wheel, heated/cooled front seats, heated rear seats, comfy seats with adjustable side bolsters, big touchscreen, awesome stereo, a stylish luxury interior, plus a full bevy of safety equipment.

Thor’s hammer T-shaped headlights rock!

Misses: Touchscreen use (beyond main screen) is distracting to use while driving and no power tilt/telescope steering wheel here. Plus the power hatch costs extra and this drinks premium fuel.

Made in: Gothenburg, Sweden

Engine: 2.0-liter turbo, supercharged I4, 295 hp/310 torque

Transmission: 8-speed automatic

Weight: 4,378* lbs. (*Car and Driver)

Wheelbase: 112.8 in.

Length: 184.6 in.

Cargo: 22.4-63.6 cu.ft.

Tow: 3,500 lbs.

MPG: 21/27

MPG: 21.0 (tested)

Base Price: $56,195 (includes delivery)

Invoice: N.A.

Major Options: Climate package (headlamp washers, heated rear seats, heated steering wheel), $750

Advanced package (HUD, Pilot Assist including smart cruise control and driver assistance, 360-view camera, 12v outlet in cargo area, advanced air cleaner), $2.050

Crystal white metallic paint, $695

Power tailgate, $200

Bowers & Wilkins premium audio, $3,200

4-corner air suspension, $1,800

21-inch 5-double-spoke black diamond alloy wheels, $1,000

Test vehicle: $65,990

Sources: Volvo, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

1957 Chevrolet Bel Air Convertible

Auto World launches its first Barbie Bel Air in 1:18 scale …

Turquoise and pink certainly team up to shout 1950s car fashion, but in this case they also scream Barbie dream car.

I’m no Barbie expert (no sisters), but I do know that the bosomy blonde doll has been partial to brightly colored cars through the years, from Corvettes to Campers. And although the iconic toy doll debuted in 1959, it took until 1988 before maker Mattel slipped her behind the wheel of a 1950s American classic, a 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air Convertible.

This was the original plastic Mattel Barbie Bel Air.

 Well, that classic was plastic, and not very detailed. Now comes an eye-popping die-cast metal version from Auto World, which makes dozens of 1950s-1970s muscle cars and other vintage automotive icons. The same quality and attention to detail as in its other cars and trucks is present in this Barbie special, being marketed under its Silver Screen Machines category as the “Coolest car in town!”

Indeed, Barbie has driven a lot of cars from an Austin Healey early on to Ferraris and the ’57 Chevy. All have been various shades of pink, with other bright colors mixed in. But mostly Barbie is seems a girly girl, so pink drives her world.

Auto World knows that, so it will offer two 1:18 Bel Air convertibles, the first out being a turquoise and chrome stunner with a Pepto pink interior. Trust me, this one will stand out in any die-cast collection. Later (as if this isn’t eye-melting enough) Auto World plans to release a bright pink version. I’d stick with turquoise, which was a popular Chevy color back in the day.

Here’s what you get.

The Model

               Like all Auto World die-cast models there is plenty of functionality here, with opening doors, hood and steerable front wheels. The trunk here is sealed.

               In addition to the stunning paint scheme, there’s enough chrome to create a worldwide chrome shortage. That’s a good thing, right?

               The massive front and rear bumpers are chrome, as are the head and taillight surrounds, the rocker panel trim, the side accent line trim and fins, plus door handles, wiper arms and windshield frame. Plus the two hood sights and vent window frames are chrome too.

               Hub caps are chrome with chrome center wheel nuts with red centers and tiny Chevy bowtie logos. I might have gone with pink centers, to go full-on Barbie here.

               Those big protruding bumper guards on the front that look like, well, you know. Those are black-tipped, as they would have been on an original ’57 Chevy.

               On the lower fin trim in back is Bel Air in copper script while just in front of the doors are the patented crossed Chevy flag logos with Fuel Injection printed beneath.

               Under the hood is the Chevy red engine block with silver air filter and fuel injection system, a black battery and radiator with black horn on the front left. Big hood hinges allow the hood to be easily posed in the up position.

               The Barbie car’s interior is what you’ll likely notice first, and if you’re a Barbie fan and collector this is what will light your fuse. The seats are bright pink with white (or is that pale pink) inserts with Barbie in cursive on the driver’s seat back. The pink tonneau includes a white silhouette of a pony-tailed young woman at its center and tiny painted silver snap heads all about the tonneau’s edge, ostensibly to keep the tonneau in place.

               Door handles and window cranks are chrome or painted silver and there’s a pink dash with chrome trim on its face, plus three nicely detailed instrument panel dials. A radio face graces that chrome dash trim and Barbie is again in script on the passenger’s side dash top. Overhead? Pink sun visors, of course. Heck, even the steering wheels is pink, with a chromed horn ring.

               As with other Auto World cars there’s a detailed undercarriage with dual exhausts.

               Finally, under the trunk’s golden chevron and Chevy script is the 1957 California license plate you may already expect. It reads … Barbie.

Final Word  

Could there be more Barbie cars in the future? Well, a quick look around the internet found there are others to choose from to be sure, including racer Collete Davis’ version of a Nissan Z car. Hmmmm!

How about this hot rod (Collete’s Z car) in 1:18 scale?

Vital Stats: 1957 Chevy Bel Air Convertible

Maker: Auto World
Scale: 1/18
Stock No.: AWSS135
MSRP: $131.99

Link: Autoworldstore.com

2022 Lexus NX 350 F Sport

Restyled NX puts emphasis on tech and sassy performance …

            Small, sassy and techy, that’s Lexus restyled NX 350, a compact crossover aimed directly at the better-off retiree or suburban family with no more than two kids.

            I suppose I think of NX being aimed at newly retired Boomers because of its luxury price tag that can hit $60,000. Seems a family with two pre-teens might not be able to swing that kinda car loan.

            But in any case, Lexus has massaged the NX’s styling, quieted it’s interior further, added a more solid driving feel and now offers four powertrains to fit various wallets and energy-consciousness levels.

Oh, and let’s get this up front, that darned Lexus touchpad on the console to control the infotainment screen is GONE. Praise be!

First the basics starting with trims and powertrains. NX is available in 12, that’s right, a dozen trim levels. The base NX 250 with a 203-horse 2.5-liter I4 is the only one without AWD standard, but it’s an option.

Starting with the NX 350h and 350 (no h), AWD is standard. The 350h is a hybrid coupling two electric motors with the 2.5-liter I4 to create 239 horsepower, adding a bit more oomph while improving gas mileage. This is the same system found in sister brand Toyota’s RAV4, and which has drawn raves from me and other auto pilots.

The NX 350 (stay with me here) touts a 2.4-liter turbo I4 that jumps power up to 275 horses and a torque rating of 317 lb.-ft. Turbos always cram more torque into a powerplant so it’ll accelerate quicker and that’s what the tested NX 350 F Sport that I tested was packing. Power off the line is considerable and gives the NX a sportier feel than one might expect from a Lexus. And while the cabin is relatively quiet, there is some engine chatter when tromping the accelerator.

More on performance in a second, but lastly there’s a plug-in hybrid model too, the NX 450h that creates 302 horsepower and a 0-60 mph time of 6 seconds flat. That’s hustling for a crossover.

Its plug-in charge reportedly lasts about 36 miles and this upper-end model starts at $57,800 with delivery, and the F Sport model pushing that even higher. Note though that there’s a $7,500 tax credit on the plug-ins.

If you’ve stuck with me through all that, you deserve to hear more about the tested 350 F Sport.

Watch Mark’s video: Mark Savage reviews the 2022 Lexus NX350 F Sport – YouTube

It’s perky with quick giddyup due to that turbo, and the steering is fairly quick too, so an aggressive driver can push it into turns for a sport-oriented drive. The F Sport Handling feature on this model tunes the suspension for a sportier feel with front and rear shock performance dampers and adaptive variable suspension.

Tied to that are five drive modes from Eco to Sport+ which is the high-performance setting. That makes for a stiffer ride and handling, plus more aggressive acceleration via the 8-speed automatic.

Ride is well controlled in any case, but remains on the firmer side. Braking also is massive considering the vehicle’s size and weight. Lexus uses 12.9-inch vented discs up front and 12.5-inch vented rear discs. Stopping comes quickly.

A reminder that AWD is standard.

Outside, the NX 350 reminds me of the Mazda CX-5 and CX-30 crossovers with sizeable grilles and a beaklike nose where the hood extends out a tad over the grille. I like the look, although some folks consider the Lexus grille a bit much. I defend it as so many other makes have followed suit of late, imitation being the sincerest form of flattery. The crossover’s tail is distinctive too with a light bar across the hatch.

Inside, the Redline (bright red) test NX featured stunning red and black perforated leather seats along with red leather on the doors and console. The dash top is black and there’s gloss black trim by the giant 14-inch screen and edges of the console.

That monster screen is certainly easy to see and without that annoying touch pad that adorned past Lexus consoles it’s a vast improvement, because it’s a touchscreen, and also can be controlled via the Intelligent Assistant. No, that’s not a family member that rides along, but the AI voice recognition system that responds to “Hey Lexus.” A warning here, you WILL say Alexa to it at least a couple times.

The touchscreen is not hard to use, but I’d like to see some real knobs and buttons, especially dedicated Home, Radio and Map buttons to get you quickly where you want to go. I say this, knowing my voice can tell the computer, but old habits die hard. Still, kudos to Lexus for finally replacing the touch pad.

Rest of the dash is fine and easy to see, plus there are good sightlines to the side as the NX allows some space between the side mirrors and A-pillars to improve visibility.

Seating is sport-oriented too with fabulous lower back and kidney support as the seats wrap around and caress the back and sides. Power seats of course, along with heated front seats (cooled is optional). A Cold Package ($250) adds a heated steering wheel along with heated wipers and deicer system plus a PTC heater for quicker heating.

There’s also an F Sport Luxury package for $2,200 that upgrades to that 14-inch screen for one that’s just short of 10 inches. The package also delivers that Hey Lexus system, ambient lighting, the cooled front seats, a special nav system and park assist, along with a power hatch activated by swinging your foot beneath the rear bumper.

Lexus goes with a big touchscreen, eliminating its annoying console touchpad.

Sunroof fans will love the panoramic moonroof that covers front and back seats. It costs $1,600 extra. A fine Mark Levinson premium audio system with 17 speakers (8.5 for each ear) is $1,020 extra too.

Four more options on the test NX pushed it from a $47,725 starting price (with delivery) to $55,325, which seems high for this size vehicle. But be assured NX is a high-tech tour de force.

For safety there’s the usual systems like rear cross-traffic, a 360-camera, blind-spot warning and lane departure. Lexus also adds road sign assist, smart cruise, intelligent high-beams, and curve speed management.

Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard as is a safety connect system to call for help and Wi-Fi connect too.

The steering column is a power tilt/telescope model but it’s disappointing that Lexus still doesn’t add a flat-bottom steering wheel to its F Sport models. That makes no sense.

There is, however, a wireless charging system and push-button door releases. Those seem gimmicky, although they worked fine. For safety’s sake you also can pull them back like a normal lever to release the door. The push-button system seems like technology solving a non-existent problem.

Rear seats will fold flat manually to extend the cargo area, but that space is pretty generous as is, plus there’s hidden storage under the rear floor. Reportedly the hybrid versions have the same cargo space, meaning batteries don’t cut into the cargo area.

Gas mileage is OK. I got 22.2 mpg in about 70% highway driving and the EPA rates this at 22 mpg city and 28 highway. The real hurt is that premium fuel is recommended. Ouch!

But again, this is a small luxury crossover, so you’re expecting some premium costs. Note though that with some option restraint an NX 350 or 350h can be had for $41,700 to $45 grand or so. That’s the entry-level luxury range now.

FAST STATS: 2022 Lexus NX 350 F Sport

Hits: Distinctive styling, good power, nice handling, controlled ride and AWD. Stellar interior design, big touchscreen, massive sunroof, power tilt/telescope steering wheel, heated/cooled seats, super contoured seats, 5 drive modes, wireless charger, good sight lines.

Misses: Needs flat-bottom steering wheel, more knobs to simplify using touchscreen, and push-button door releases feel gimmicky. Also needs premium fuel, ouch! 

Made in: Miyawaka, Fukuoka, Japan

Engine: 2.4-liter turbo I4, 275 hp/317 torque

Transmission: 8-speed automatic, AWD

Weight: 4,035 lbs.

Wheelbase: 105.9 in.

Length: 183.5 in.

Cargo: 22.7 – 46.9 cu.ft.

MPG: 22/28

MPG: 22.2 (tested)

Base Price: $47,725 (includes delivery)

Invoice: $44,695

Major Options:

Cold package (heated steering wheel, heated wiper/window deicer, PTC heater), $250

Triple beam headlamps w/washers, cornering lamps, $850

F Sport Luxury (14-inch touchscreen, Drive Connect w/Cloud navigation, Intelligent Assistant (Hey, Lexus), destination assist, ambient lighting, power rear hatch w/kick sensor, cooled front seats, intelligent park assist), $2,200

Mark Levinson premium audio w/17 speakers, $1,020

Panoramic moonroof, $1,600

Panoramic view monitor, lane change assist, front cross-traffic alert, $1,070

Towing package, $160

Smart phone convenience package, $450

Test vehicle: $55,325

Sources: Lexus, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

1981 Mazda RX-7

Johnny Lightning creates a racy tribute with new Mazda RX-7 …

Mazda has been a favorite car maker of mine since I was fresh out of college and bought a GLC hatchback. Remember the Great Little Car?

Well, it wasn’t great, but it was good and low-priced, which fit a newly minted college graduate’s budget. Plus it was crazy reliable, with a manual choke, so it ALWAYS started.

Just as I was dipping my toes into the car market Mazda was expanding its lineup to include the racy Wankel rotary engine-powered RX-7. You might say it was Mazda’s prescription for speed, helping solidify its sporty image for years to come. Mazda even raced the RX-7, challenging Nissan’s 240Z.

This Johnny Lightning beauty at just 1:64 scale is a tribute to Mazda’s first racer, featuring its markings, but the body work of the 1981-‘85 RX-7s. It’s sharp and moves JL up another notch in fit and finish for the small die-cast market where it leads in realism, especially in the muscle car realm. This is muscle of a different sort though.

The History

Mazda introduced the RX-7 as a 1979 model, replacing the RX-3, which was decidedly less sporty looking. The Wankel rotary engine and the car’s low-slung long-hood design were the big news. The RX-7 was small and light enough to avoid some Japanese road taxes too, making it a popular model from an economic standpoint too. Plus the new engine packed more power.

Mazda, who had raced the RX-3, was quick to get the RX-7 into racing and in 1979 finished first and second in the GTU class at the Daytona 24 Hours, and were fifth and sixth overall, a pretty impressive start. Later in the year the Mazda also won the 24 Hours of Spa in Belgium, although those cars had been tweaked and tuned by the Tom Walkinshaw (TWR) racing team.

In fact, RX-7s won the GTU championship in IMSA eight straight years, from 1980 to 1987, often taking the top two or three spots. Ultimately it won more IMSA races than any other car.

Those racers also had rear a rear spoiler and wide over fenders along with a chin spoiler. The Johnny Lightning car is based on the FB version of the RX-7, which came a bit after the original. This is a street version, which means they have no spoilers, but the 1981 FB models now had integrated plastic-covered bumpers, wide black rubber body side moldings, and wraparound taillights. Engine controls also were upgraded. 

The Model

               This new casting, which retails for just $12.99, uses the two-tone green markings over a creamy white that the original RX-7 sported in the Daytona endurance race. There are big black No. 7s enclosed in black circles on the hood and doors, plus Mazda is printed big on the nose and in a blue bar across the top of the windshield.

               On the rear hatch’s lid is a “Powered by Rotary” decal and there are Union 76 and Bridgestone logos on the rear quarter panels. Another Mazda decal is on the fenders just before the doors, and a circular orange NGK spark plugs decal on each door.

               The FB’s large black side moldings are here, just above the two-tone green stripes along the car’s lower edges.

               Details that make the car look particularly realistic even in this small scale are black door handles, dual black side mirrors with silver faces and black hinges on the rear windscreen, plus a large black wiper at its lower edge. The rollaway headlights are shut to give the car a racier and smoother look, plus the hood opens forward, as on the original.

               Under the hood is a black engine block, but it is flat as was the rotary in the RX-7s, just a blue air filter on top for a little color. The rest of the cast-in details are white under the hood, which does take a bit of effort to pry open the first time. I scratched a tiny bit of paint off, but then this is a race car, so what’s a little race wear? The hood fits beautifully when closed.

               Of course the undercarriage is cast in great detail, as on all JL and Auto World models. Plus the black radiator air intake panel under the nose is nicely detailed.

               But the final bit of fun here are the wheels, which are four twin-spokes each with the spokes being a copper-gold, similar to some models sold in the U.S. that featured gold-anodized wheels. Plus the tires are rubber on JL cars. Bravo!

               A quick note here to call out our Auto World friend, Chad Reid, as the graphic artist on this model, along with a new red Motorcraft Ranger parts truck. The truck uses a Motorcraft logo on each door with a two white and one black stripe down each side as accents. It looks sharp and you can imagine one of these pulling into your repair shop’s parking lot, circa 1983.

 Reid says he chose Motorcraft red for the truck as it seemed perfect for a parts truck, and he also drew on a old Nylint Ford Ranger’s markings for inspiration. Both the Motorcraft Ranger (also $12.99) and RX-7 are limited editions, with just 2,496 being made of each.

The Ranger is a pre-order with shipments expected soon, but the RX-7 is in stock now.              

Vital Stats: 1981 Mazda RX-7 (racer tribute)

Maker: Johnny Lightning
Scale: 1/64
Stock No.: SCM099
MSRP: $12.99

Link: Autoworldstore.com

2022 Hyundai Palisade Calligraphy AWD

8 people can ride in style in this upscale Calligraphy model …

Think stylish vehicles and you’d be wise these days to first turn your attention to Hyundai or Kia. The two South Korean carmakers have been breaking the staid auto world’s styling molds for several years now.

Case in point, the tested Hyundai Palisade Calligraphy, an 8-person SUV and family hauler that looks and feels way ritzier than it is. The grille, the lights, the interior, all are standout lookers and clothed in a Sierra Burgundy (think dark metallic red wine) the test SUV looked out of place in my 1950s subdivision. Even its color was trendsetting, or make that trend breaking.

In a world of gray, white and black vehicles (those are the three top-selling “colors” now) the dark red Palisade looked special. People pointed at it like I was hauling a Kardashian to the Oscars for crying out loud.

Really there’s not a lot new to talk about here. I praised the original 2020 Palisade after taking a trip to Louisville and back in it. Comfort, quiet, the snazzy interior and solid power from its 3.8-liter V6 all impressed. Now it gains a bevy of safety equipment as standard and this Calligraphy model is the top trim, so loaded with oodles of whiz-bangs that might be optional on other makes at this price.

So there are the looks, maybe too bold for some, but they can have their gray blend-in mobiles. I like the grille and snazzy lights front and rear. Happy with that V6 too as it delivers a strong 291 horses and smoothly via an 8-speed automatic with Shiftronic, which allows a driver to override the automatic with manual shifts, no clutch of course.

Handling is fairly quick too, making it extremely easy to control on the highway and ride is composed without being plush or floaty. A long wheelbase helps that.

AWD is $1,700 extra on all trim levels, but certainly makes sense in our sloppy Wisconsin climate.

Watch Mark’s video: Mark Savage reviews the 2022 Hyundai Palisade Calligraphy AWD – YouTube

Note too there are five drive modes, Comfort, Eco, Sport, Snow and Smart, which is said to learn your driving style and adjust the shifts to fit your needs and wants. Sport does enliven the acceleration a bit and firms steering too. Yet Comfort was fine 95% of the time; I mostly engaged Sport when zipping onto a freeway.

Did a lot of freeway driving in this too, probably 70% which made the trip computer predict I was getting 20.2 mpg, while in reality it was 19.5. That’s in the Palisade’s wheelhouse of 19 mpg city and 24 highway for the AWD version. The front-drive model earns 26 mpg on the highway. That could be important as gas prices head to the stratosphere.

But for family hauling Palisade is certainly competitive with other large SUVs and minivans on the gas mileage front.

It also has an advantage on many because it will haul eight passengers if you opt for the center row bench seat, no extra charge. Go with the more comfy captain’s chairs and it’ll haul seven adults. That’s right, there’s plenty of legroom in the third row and the one-touch second row seats slide forward easily to let a grownup crawl aboard with minimal grunting and groaning. Second row seats can be positioned to create reasonable foot and legroom for both second and third-row occupants. Bonus!

The third row of seats has adequate room and the second and third row fold flat too.

Granted storage behind that third row is not spacious, but will hold eight bags of groceries. Smartly Hyundai offers power third-row and second-row fold downs via buttons inside the rear hatch. So if you’re loading a lot of goods it’s simple to press a couple buttons and lower the seats for cargo hauling.

This interior is stellar in nearly all ways, and certainly from a quietness and styling standpoint. The tester was decked out in light gray (nearly white) Nappa leather with a bit of quilting pattern on the seatbacks and a sophisticated light tan to gray fake wood trim on the doors and dash. The wood is in strips with satin chrome trim between each layer. Classy!

Overhead is a soft gray simulated suede headliner that helps soak up any excess noise that somehow manages to creep into the cockpit. Trim on the console is a satin chrome herringbone pattern while the dash’s top is black and overhead is a power sunroof up front and power sun shade over a larger stationary roof for the rear two rows of seats.

Standard here is a heated steering wheel, heated and cooled front seats, heated rear seats and 360-degree backup camera along with wireless charger in the console and 10.25-inch infotainment screen that’s simple to use.

Fantastic dash design with large easy-to-use buttons and screen.

In fact, the Hyundai dash is so well designed it’s easy to figure out from the moment you sit in Palisade, no fumbling for knobs that aren’t there or hunting for vague icons that don’t let you know where to find the heat or radio. This is how interiors should function and Hyundai interior designers deserve a big pay increase.

Buttons are all large and logically laid out and the radio tuning is intuitive. No electrical engineering degree is required, a benefit for us less schooled, or old-school, drivers.

Need more? Well, the Calligraphy model comes with a snazzy Harmon Kardon stereo system including attractive satin chrome covered door speakers that look like a jeweler designed them. Sound is good and tuning is easy.

Beautiful design with wood grains atop the door and diamond-pattern leather too.

Flip a turn signal lever and cameras light up in round screens on the instrument panel, one for left turns, one for right, showing you the road and blind-spot behind you in that lane to avoid fender benders and curb scrapes.

Safety equipment is plentiful too, along with lane-keeping assist, forward collision avoidance, driver attention warning, smart cruise control and such, Hyundai adds blind-spot warning, rear cross-traffic alert, turn signals in the side mirrors and safe exit assist. This later item is becoming a norm now and alerts a person when a door is unlatched but oncoming traffic could be a danger. Still best to look over your shoulder, but this may help avoid losing a door when the driver or passenger is distracted. Cool too that the lane departure system can be turned off to avoid unwanted beeps as you dodge construction and pot holes.

Also standard on Calligraphy is a perforated leather wrap on the steering wheel, 20-inch wheels, puddle lamps and that fancy satin chrome trim. Standard on most models too is a power hatch, along with remote start and the excellent one-touch second row seats that quickly fold and slide forward for third-row entry.

For techies, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are here, along with USB ports for the first two rows of seats.

Seats are quite comfy in most regards in all rows. The third row has a bit of a raised floor so that puts your legs at a slightly elevated angle. My only complaint is the power driver’s seat, which has a long lower cushion, meaning it hits the back of short driver’s knees and could be tiring on a long drive. Before buying, check that out if you’re 5-6, or shorter.

Finally let’s revisit Palisade’s value Palisade. First, a well-equipped minivan will cost you $50,000 these days, give or take a grand. Some SUVs will start there and work their way up to $60 grand or more.

This top-level test vehicle started at $49,615, including delivery, and added just floor mats (which should be standard on all vehicles now) for $215 to end up at $49,830.

If you’re budget is more mainstream and your doodad desires are in check, consider the base SE model at $34,575 with delivery and front-wheel drive. But the engine and mechanicals are the same as Calligraphy. An SEL model at $36,925 adds the captain’s chairs instead of 8-person seating, heated seats, power driver’s seat, remote start and three zone climate controls, so may be the best value.

The $46,815 Limited moves upscale with twin sunroofs, Nappa leather, an HUD and 360-camera, power-down third row seats, wireless charger, heated second row seats and the bigger info screen. Remember, adding AWD is an option for all trims, but so far no hybrid model is available.

Snazzy taillights on the Palisade.

Remember too that Kia’s Telluride is a kissin’ cousin to the Palisade and offers stunning styling too. Other competitors include Ford’s Explorer, Toyota’s Highlander, Honda’s Pilot, VW’s Atlas, and the new Jeep Grand Cherokee L (that means Long).

Palisade will haul any family in style in that $35,000 to $40,000 range, and if you can manage the Limited or Calligraphy it’s a luxury ride to be sure.

FAST STATS: 2022 Hyundai Palisade Calligraphy AWD

Hits: Sharp looking SUV, good power, ride and handling, plus AWD and 5 drive modes. Loaded with Harmon Kardon stereo, super center stack/console design, big screen, heated steering wheel, heated/cooled front seats, heated second row seats, turn-signal cameras, power hatch, useful third row seat, wireless charger, lane departure can be turned off.

Great looking headlight design too!

Misses: Driver’s lower seat cushion is long, hits back of short driver’s knees. No hybrid model yet.

Made in: Ulsan, So. Korea

Engine: 3.8-liter V6, 291hp/262 torque

Transmission: 8-speed automatic w/Shiftronic

Weight: 4,127 lbs.

Wheelbase: 114.2 in.

Length: 196.1 in.

Cargo: 18-86.4 cu.ft.

Tow: 5,000 lbs.

MPG: 19/24

MPG: 19.5 (tested)

Base Price: $49,615 (includes delivery)

Invoice: $47,319

Major Options: Carpeted floor mats, $215

Test vehicle: $49,830

Sources: Hyundai, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

2022 Volkswagen Jetta GLI Autobahn

VW’s Jetta a value-oriented icon that exudes the joy of car driving …

I feel a little sorry for younger drivers who have grown up riding in, and then driving, mostly trucks and SUVs. They simply won’t know how much fun it is to drive a car.

Cars are lighter, more nimble, and generally handle much better than trucks and SUVs. Often they look better too, especially hatchbacks.

And get this, they almost always get better fuel economy and cost less than their porky truck-based counterparts. With gasoline prices going gaga on us now, is it possible cars may again gain more attention?

All this is to say Volkswagen’s new Jetta GLI Autobahn is a hoot that’ll scoot.

VW’s longtime compact sedan comes in five trims, this GLI Autobahn being the top-level but with a price that may surprise, $32,990 for the automatic version, including delivery. The first four trims are even more economical, starting at $21,390 for the 6-speed manual-equipped S, which features a new 1.5-liter turbo I4 that makes 158 horsepower and 184 lb.-ft. of torque.

The Sport, SE and SEL models all feature that same engine, but the GLI Autobahn gets jiggy with a 2.0-liter turbo I4 that pumps out 228 horses and is rated at 258 for torque. That’ll get your attention when he slap the accelerator. You might even chirp the front-drive wheels. And get this, a manual tranny is available in all trims, the automatic adding just $800 to the sticker.

The Pure Gray ($395 extra) test car was an automatic (7-speed dual-clutch), but with five drive modes (Eco, Comfort, Normal, Sport, and Custom) it was easy to transform it from a comfy city car to a rocket sled heading onto the freeway. Yes, Sport mode firms the steering and crams more power to the low-end so acceleration is, quite literally, a blast. Given the proper highway entry ramp and sparse traffic triple digits are easily reached. Don’t ask how I know!

Sport also turns that turbo into a growling beast with enough exhaust resonance to wake up even a sleeping pre-teen in the back seat. Yes, grandpa still knows how to have fun!

Watch Mark’s video: Mark Savage reviews the sporty 2022 Volkswagen Jetta GLI Autobahn – YouTube

But hey, some $50,000 to $80,000 pickups and SUVs have power to jet along the freeway or down an entry ramp. However, they won’t handle like a compact sports sedan and that’s what the Jetta is, reminding me of the former BMW 2002 models, light, nimble and fun.

Jetta is light on its 18-inch black alloy wheels (part of a $595 Black Package), weighing in at just shy of 3,300 pounds. Steering is quick and responsive. This sedan corners well and makes dodging pot holes even seem fun.

Ride is firm but well controlled, so not as abrupt as one might suspect at this price and in a car with Teutonic ancestry. Ride comfort was better than many compact crossovers.

Braking is fine too with discs front (11.3-inch) and rear (10.7-inch), plus VW even paints the Autobahn’s calipers red to sexy them up. Oh, and there’s a red trim line on the blacked-out grille, and plus red stitching on the leather seats. Sharp!

This interior is fairly quiet too for the price and performance, the only rumble coming in that Sport mode, but that’s when you want it, right?

Black leather seats with that red trim give the interior a handsome, yet sporty feel and VW smartly opts for a flat-bottom steering wheel for added flair. A flat wheel helps with knee room normally too, but the Jetta’s steering column is quite thick and short drivers will find themselves tapping their right knee on it when exiting. Not a problem for taller drivers with the seat further back and legs out straighter.

Otherwise the cockpit is primo with soft dash and door surfaces and a large digital instrument panel now standard along with an 8-inch infotainment screen that’s simple to use and read. The radio includes a volume knob and there’s a volume slide on the steering wheel too.

The drive modes are activated via a button on the console and that console-mounted shifter, which includes a clutchless manual feature, is trimmed in red. Ach du lieber!

There’s a sunroof and manual shade overhead and VW’s seats are well-contoured for lower back and hip support. The driver’s seat is powered, but the passenger’s is manual. However, both are heated and cooled. A wireless charger under the center stack also is standard on this trim.

Standard too is smart cruise control and most of the safety features one now expects, rearview camera, cross-traffic alert, blind-spot monitor, plus lane departure assist and warning.

Jetta Autobahn also touts remote start, illuminated door sills, a snazzy Beats 9-speaker audio system, automatic climate control, stainless steel pedals and three seat memory buttons for the driver.

Front and rear seat room is good for four adults, five folks will fit if one is smallish. And those rear seats split and fold, naturally. Yet the trunk is large at 14.1 cubic feet, so several good size suitcases will fit, no problem.

The manual version of the Jetta with the smaller engine nets 26 mpg city and 37 mpg highway says the EPA. Automatics these days are comparable. I got 26.6 mpg in a mix of city and highway driving during cold snowy weather, so I’d expect a bit better most times.

VW’s Autobahn trim comes so well equipped you may not need to add any options, but this one came in the special color (really, gray is special?) and the $595 Black Package added a black roof, tiny lip of a rear spoiler, black 18-inch alloy wheels and black mirror caps. It seems a reasonable price for a few exterior spiffs.

Total here was $33,980 and that screams bargain to me for the performance, features and comfort afforded here. Or you can buy a luxury sport sedan for $50 grand, or more.

FAST STATS: 2022 Volkswagen Jetta GLI Autobahn

Hits: Peppy sedan (manual available) with sporty handling, but fine family car with roomy interior, sunroof, heated/cooled front seats, smart cruise and substantial safety features. Good mpg, well-controlled ride, supportive seats, wireless charger, flat-bottom steering wheel, and big trunk.

Misses: Tight knee space to steering column for short drivers.

Made in: Puebla, Mexico

Engine: 2.0-liter turbo I4, 228 horsepower/258 torque

Transmission: 7-speed dual-clutch automatic

Weight: 3,272 lbs.

Length: 186.9 in.

Wheelbase: 105.6 in.

Cargo: 14.1 cu.ft.

MPG: 26/37 (manual)

MPG:  26.6 (tested)

Base Price: $32,990 (includes delivery)

Invoice: N.A.

Major Options:

Pure Gray paint, $395

Black package (black roof, spoiler, mirror caps, and 18-inch alloy wheels), $595

Test vehicle: $33,980

Sources: Volkswagen, kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

2022 Mazda CX-5 2.5 Turbo AWD

Turbo CX-5 a sporty compact crossover with a Soul (red) …

Mazda has a winner with its CX-5 compact crossover so it’s no surprise it hasn’t changed drastically in the three years since I’d tested it.

Wisely Mazda added its turbocharged version of the already peppy 2.5-liter SkyActiv-G I4 engine along the way and now makes AWD standard on all CX-5 models. Plus it smoothed out the nose and tail a bit and retuned the suspension a tad while also adding more supportive seats. All good things, although I liked the more beak-like nose of the previous model just fine.

Still, the CX-5 stands out in a market of lookalikes, plus the test crossover came in Mazda’s stunning Soul Red Crystal Metallic. That’s a bright metallic red that virtually has no peer for a brilliant red, and is well worth the $595 up-charge.

All that is to say the CX-5 Turbo is an exceptional looking and driving vehicle for the price. It leans heavily toward luxury with a quiet and soft leathery interior, it packs loads of comfort and safety equipment and it drives like a sports sedan, nearly.

For me the looks are enough to make me want a CX-5, but for most folks it likely comes down to price, power and standard equipment. The Mazda wins there too.

A base model starts at $27,125 including delivery, and remember, that’s with AWD. So for the entry price you get the looks and AWD. Standard engine is the non-turbo 2.5-liter with 187 horsepower, and hooked up with a fine 6-speed automatic with a Sport mode. It’ll scoot, but the CX-5 Turbo will scamper.

The boosted engine creates 227 horses on regular fuel and if you can afford premium petrol, well, it’ll pound out 256 horses, up 6 ponies from the previous model. Torque rating is 310 lb.-ft. and there’s zero lag as it kicks in when you tromp the accelerator, entering a highway at 70+ mph. Yes, it’ll push you back in the seat. The wild ones at Car and Driver magazine say this will do 0-60 mph in 6.1 seconds and top out at 130 mph. That’s plenty quick!

See Mark’s video: Mark Savage reviews the 2022 Mazda CX 5 2 5 Turbo AWD – YouTube

But gas mileage remains reasonable with a 22 mpg city and 27 mpg highway rating from the EPA. I got 24.1 mpg in about 60% city driving and a more aggressive right foot than is probably necessary.

Handling is precise and sporty with this crossover is easy to push into tight turns and feel as stable as a lower center of gravity sedan. The AWD helps of course, but the balance in this Mazda is excellent.

Engineers worked to further smooth the ride, and it may be marginally better than previous models, but the sporty feel is still there, meaning it is firm. On the highway or reasonable road surfaces that’s great. On moon-crater Midwest streets there’s some bump and thump to passengers, yet always remaining well controlled, not abusive.

Braking is strong with vented front discs and solid rear discs. Plus Mazda’s MI-Drive allows the driver to toggle Normal, Sport, or Off-Road settings to increase low-end power and firm the steering in Sport. Off-Road helps distribute power to the most appropriate wheels, although I’d consider this a mild off-roader, such as gravel and dirt paths in a park.

Plenty of safety equipment standard here too, including smart cruise control, blind-spot monitor, lane keeping assist and warning, along with the 360-degree camera and cross-traffic alert. And a major plus, the lane departure can be turned off via a button on the lower left dash, meaning you don’t need to fight the system when in construction zones or dodging pot holes that require you to straddle a lane marker.

Besides the color the tester added only a navigation system for $450, including a color screen that is 10.3-inches wide, and standard on the CX-5. I like this info screen because it’s wide, but thin so it doesn’t stick up too far from the dash’s center and never seemed too reflective, a problem with some giant screens mounted on the center stack. I’m looking at you, Subaru.

Mazda continues to do a great job of making its interiors both quiet and luxurious feeling with a soft fabric on the dash and doors. No, it’s not leather, but feels high-end soft, which also must quiet the interior a bit. This one used black leather with red stitching on the seats to snazzy it up. There’s also chrome trim on the air vents and along the doors and dash beside fake carbon fiber trim. The console is trimmed in gloss black and the lower steering wheel hub is chrome.

The Turbo line also comes with a sunroof, heated steering wheel along with heated and cooled seats, plus dual climate controls, and a Bose stereo with 10 speakers. A wireless phone charger under the center stack is also standard.

Seats are improved too with increased lower back and hip support. Front seats are roomy, but the rear is cramped in the middle position so I’d call this a four-passenger crossover.

In back, the hatch is powered and there’s reasonable storage space, just not as much as some in this class. But those rear seats do fold down flat to create a larger carrying surface.

While I’m learning to use the Mazda radio and info screen system, which is controlled via a console control knob, I’m no fan. Give me a touchscreen or real radio knobs and buttons for easy use while driving. To fit the sporty nature of the CX-5 it needs a flat-bottom steering wheel too.

Pricing runs from that roughly $27 grand starting price up to $39,875 for the top-level Turbo Signature model, naturally featuring this turbo engine. There are six trims between the two, this Turbo model listing at $37,625, including delivery, and $38,670 as it was equipped. So it’s easy to choose a trim level with the power and features you’d want, and still sneak in below a $40,000 price tag, nearly the average cost of a new car/crossover these days.

This is a crowded vehicle segment with many strong competitors, but for looks and performance for the price the CX-5 leads the pack. Also start watching for the new CX-50, a similar model aimed more at the off-roading crowd.

FAST STATS: 2022 Mazda CX-5 2.5 Turbo, AWD

Hits: Stylish lines, excellent turbo power, responsive handling, plus AWD standard. Gorgeous color, interior feels luxurious, wide screen, sunroof, heated steering wheel, heated/cooled front seats, dual climate controls, 360-camera, smart cruise and safety systems, Bose stereo, comfy supportive seats, power hatch, and wireless charger. High-value, yet fun drive.

Misses: Still not a fan of the console-controlled info screen, and ride is firm, but well-controlled. Could use flat-bottom steering wheel.

Made in: Hiroshima, Japan

Engine: 2.5-liter SkyActiv-G I4, turbo, 227 hp (256 hp, w/premium gas/310 torque)

Transmission: SkyActiv-drive 6-speed, automatic w/Sport mode

Weight: 3,809 lbs.

Wheelbase: 106.2 in.

Length: 179.1 in.

Cargo: 31-59.3 cu.ft.

MPG: 22/27

MPG: 24.1 (tested)

Base Price: $37,625 (includes delivery)

Invoice: $36,207

Options:

Soul Red Crystal paint, $595

Navigation system, $450

Test vehicle: $38,670

Sources: Mazda, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage