All posts by Mark Savage

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.

Die-cast: LeMans-winning Ford GT40s

Ixo’s Ford GT40 models offer good detail, value in 1:43 scale

Ford’s GT40 is the most beautiful enclosed race car ever made, and one of the most successful too. That’s my design bias, but the GT40’s success can’t be argued.

Ixo's version of the 1967, '68, and '69 LeMans-winning Ford GT40s.
Ixo’s version of the 1967, ’68, and ’69 LeMans-winning Ford GT40s.

Funny thing, it was created to settle a score at the highest levels of the automotive world. In the early 1960s Henry Ford II was rebuked in efforts to buy Ferrari and declared war on the Italian sports car maker and race team. The GT40, originally with a Lola chassis and various Ford V8 engines, was his weapon. By 1964 the first GT40 was raced at the Nurburgring 1000km endurance race and then the 24 Hours of LeMans, where three were entered and one led. All failed to finish. Yet ultimately the GT40 would win four straight LeMans 24-hour endurance races from 1966 through 1969, a remarkable run that ended Ferrari’s reign as the LeMans champ. Ferarri has not won LeMans since.With the annual endurance race being run in late June, this is a good time to look at what the diecast world offers regarding the only successful U.S. manufacturer’s race efforts. Continue reading Die-cast: LeMans-winning Ford GT40s

2013 Nissan Sentra SL

Sharp new Nissan Sentra has its mojo back

A few years back Nissan’s Sentra lost its way. For years it had been right up there with Toyota’s Corolla and Honda’s Civic as a premier entry level sedan, great for young families.

sentra1But then it started to look like a cheap little car, inside and out. Worse yet, it drove like one, maybe a step or two up from a Suzuki. Then Hyundai and Kia came into the market and leapfrogged right over Sentra with their entry-level cars.

Nissan’s restyled 2013 Sentra aims to put a stop to that, and it certainly should make a dent in the segment, likely gaining Nissan a chunk of market share. The reason is way more than skin deep, although the skin looks decidedly more attractive and upscale than its preceding models. There’s chrome around windows and along the sides and on the trunk. The taillights look sporty like other Nissan models.

No, with this one you won’t be singled out in your elementary school kid’s parking lot as the parent who couldn’t afford a nice car. This looks sharp, and its interior is equally impressive. Continue reading 2013 Nissan Sentra SL

2013 Ford C-Max Energi

Sayonara Prius, C-Max Energi more useful, drives better

Families looking for superior gas mileage, a small crossover/wagon with generous cargo room and a roomy back seat with massive headroom will feel comfortable in Ford’s new C-Max.

The C-Max comes in standard hybrid and plug-in, the Energi.
The C-Max comes in standard hybrid and plug-in, the Energi.

This is a tall wagon this is 100% hybrid, as in that’s all you can buy, although there are two choices.It’s a mini-minivan of sorts, that looks like a Mazda 5, which seats six. This will seat four easily and five in a pinch. The C-Max name certainly will inspire absolutely no one, but this is an extremely useful wagon that due to its hybrid-only power is a fine commuter too.There is a standard hybrid model that operates much like the successful Toyota Prius. But I had the Energi model, which is a plug-in hybrid, meaning you can plug it in to get a full charge in 2.5 to 7 hours. The lower number is for folks with 240-volt power outlets in their garage, the higher number for most of us with 120-volt service. A full charge gave my pleasant Ice Storm (blue-gray) test wagon 17 miles of  electric power, getting me to the office and part way home.

At that point the gas-powered 2.0-liter I4 kicks in and delivers decent power along with reasonable gas mileage. The C-Max Energi is rated 100 mpg when it runs on electric and gas, while the EPA rates it 43 mpg on strictly gasoline. All the auto forums are full of folks saying the car’s numbers are overrated. Ford says to expect 47 mpg city and highway. Other auto writers say that’s high too.

But I’ve got to say I managed 67.8. mpg in a week’s driving. Each night I charged the lithium ion batteries fully and then drove it to and from work, the store, etc., like any other test car. I was impressed with the performance, both mpg and over the road. Continue reading 2013 Ford C-Max Energi

2014 Subaru Forester 2.0XT Premium

Subaru adds some macho to its 2014 Forester 

Simply put, I have a new favorite small sport-utility vehicle, the 2014 Subaru Forester.

While the rest of the small ute world is going toward crossover status and swoopy designs, the Forester, one of the early crossover/utes with AWD, is going away from that. It’s going all macho angular and edgy.

A black pre-production Forester reflects its Darth Vader looks.
A black pre-production Forester, shown in this Motor Trend photo, reflects its Darth Vader looks.

I like it, particularly the sparkling black test ute’s Darth Vader look to its nose and accented with sexy black and chrome five-spoke wheels.But looks are only sheet metal deep and for love to blossom (and Subaru tells us their vehicles are all about love), there has to be a deeper connection. There was in the tested mid-level 2.0XT Premium model.

This isn’t your base Forester, the one with a mild 170-horse 2.5-liter Boxer 4-cylinder engine. Oh, that would be fine, but No, this XT baby comes with a 2.0-liter turbocharged, direct-injection Boxer 4-cylinder. And get this, it bangs out 250 horsepower, that’s 26 more horses than in the comparable turbo model previously.

The funny thing is you don’t notice that power right off. You can drive this around town like it’s a regular Forester, just cruising from stoplight to stoplight and getting decent gas mileage, considering its an all-wheel-drive ute. But Subaru has created an absolutely delicious CVT (continuously variable transmission). Continue reading 2014 Subaru Forester 2.0XT Premium

2013 Ford Fusion Hybrid SE

Hybrid is good on gas mileage and easy on the eyes

Ford’s new Fusion might do well to co-opt the old Miller Lite motto and tweak it a bit – Looks Great, Less Filling!2013 Ford Fusion Hybrid SE

That seems apt for Fusion’s hybrid model, which was my first full drive of the swoopy new Fusion with its fastback looks and Aston Martin-like grille. This is a looker to be sure. As one might expect with a hybrid gas/electric system under the hood, this runs quiet and delays your gas station visits a bit. Fusion’s new system combines a highly fuel efficient. Atkinson-cycle 2.0-liter I4 with lithium ion battery powered electric motor and earns an EPA rating of 47 mpg city and highway. It’s rare that city and highway numbers are equal in a hybrid.

Ford cuts the overall power from 191 horses in its former Fusion hybrid to 188 hp on this model, but also trims more than 100 lbs. from the car, 15 just from the gas motor. Yet while the car earns good EPA numbers, it has been criticized for not living up to those claims.

My mileage fell short, but at 36.7 mpg in a week’s drive, it was still head and shoulders above other family sedans I’ve driven. Compare that to 27.4 mpg I got in a recent Honda Accord test, and 28.7 mpg in my recent Mazda6 test drive. Continue reading 2013 Ford Fusion Hybrid SE

2013 Chevrolet Volt (plug-in electric)

Smooth, quiet, but Volt  packs power too

Chevrolet’s Volt is the leader of the hybrid pack when it comes to performance.1volt

It’s quick and handles almost like a sports sedan. I know what you’re thinking, “No Way it’s quick!” Ah, but you’d be wrong.

The difference between the plug-in electric hybrid Volt and a gas-powered sedan is that there’s no engine grumble to give you a sense of speed. With Volt, you simply press a button on the center stack and change from Normal to Sport mode.

Next time you press the accelerator (not a gas pedal, right?) this 3,781-lb. car rips away from a stoplight, quietly, but with smooth seamless acceleration. Most cars are still slipping from second to third gear as you streak away.

Handling is borderline sporty too. No, it’s not a BMW, but steering is pretty darned precise and quick, so you can zip around corners with authority. Plus, its low-slung battery packs keep the Volt well balanced, aiding its cornering.

Ride is on the sporty side too, but still is pleasant and well controlled, the Volt’s 105.7-inch wheelbase making this ride like a mid-size sport sedan. But, since it’s a hatch, it’s more useful for carrying things than a standard sedan.

Now let’s face it, if you’re a prospective Volt buyer, the last thing you probably were even thinking about was performance. But the cool thing here is that you get performance along with all those great hybrid characteristics you’re likely aiming for. Continue reading 2013 Chevrolet Volt (plug-in electric)

Die-cast: New Indy Eagles, ’84 March by Replicarz

Two Johncock racers, Swede Savage Eagle are latest releases

While some of us old-timers remember front-engine roadsters at Indy, many more of us remember the variety of 1960s, ’70s and ’80s rear-engine racers, the Eagle, March, Foyt and Lotus chassis that won the Indianapolis 500 from 1965 forward.

Swede Savage's No. 40 STP Eagle from 1973 is stunning.
Swede Savage’s No. 40 STP Eagle from 1973 is stunning.

Drivers like A.J. Foyt, Gordon Johncock, Mario Andretti and Rick Mears piloted these big-winged racers that took aerodynamics to a whole new level, and speeds along with them. Well, Replicarz now brings back some of these colorful Indy Cars, including two new versions that hadn’t been done previously. All are 1:18 scale and use molds that previously served to create the fine Carousel 1 models.Being released in May or early June are the STP team cars that Johncock and Swede Savage drove in the 1973 Indy 500 and the March that Johncock piloted in 1984.

I’ve got to admit that I’m a sucker for Indy cars, and already own a Carousel 1 version of Johncock’s 1973 Indy winner. But these raise the bar from those already well detailed models.

Here’s what I noticed different on the new Replicarz version of the ’73 Eagle. Continue reading Die-cast: New Indy Eagles, ’84 March by Replicarz