Category Archives: Braking News

2022 Model Test Drive Previews

A little of this and that …

It’s good to be good, but sometimes better to be lucky.

How would you like to drive a $117,000 Maserati? I’m betting you’d like it!

As a member of the Midwest Automotive Media Association (MAMA) I’m lucky enough to get a few invitations each year to test cars before they hit dealerships, or just as they are about to go on sale.

Last week I joined about 30 of my MAMA colleagues in rural Chicago area to take short test drives in a variety of 2022 models. With luck, I’ll get most of these for a week’s test drive to give you a full evaluation, but for some that’s a month or more away.

So here’s a snapshot of what’s coming for 2022. These are my very short takes on my10-15 minute sessions inside some exciting new vehicles. There’s more coming, but this is what I got to drive.

High roller:

Gotta begin with the priciest, sportiest and most luxurious vehicle all rolled into one, the 2022 Maserati Ghibli Trofeo.

This is the Maserati Ghibli Trofeo. That’s NOT my house in the background!

I’d never driven a Maserati in my 30+ years of car testing and it was worth the wait. Trofeo was even better than I’d imagined and bathed in slinky Italian design and luxury materials. Starting at $110,000 this one cleared the high luxury bar at $117,000 with a black and red leather interior that smelled like it was fresh off the cow. I mean that in a good way.

Car was a medium metallic blue and buttery smooth in ride and handling but with a wildcat 580-horsepower twin-turbo 3.8-liter V8 under its long well sculpted hood. Think male Olympic gymnast muscle for proper bulges and ab toning.

That throbbing pulse under the hood is 580 horses from a silky V8.

That muscle is put to the pavement with rear-wheel drive and two performance drive modes, Sport and Corsa, or Track mode. Both created a sinewy yowl from the V8 and put instant power to the meaty rear tires.

For trim there’s real, yes real, carbon fiber for the nose’s splitter and rear defuser, plus cool Maserati Trident logos on the C-pillars, a fancy jewel-look analog clock on the dash and a subtle Italian flag color bar at the bottom of the B-pillar.

The PR folks called it a perfect dual blend of performance and luxury and who am I to disagree. As they said, GT (Gran Turismo) is in Maserati’s racy DNA and the Trofeo amply defines it.

More Duality:

While I’d take a Trofeo in a heartbeat, it’s well out of my price range. More in tune with that is the spectacular Hyundai Santa Cruz. It is NOT a pickup, no matter what you or I may think. The product planning experts from Hyundai were perfectly clear about THAT. “DO NOT call this a pickup,” they urged.

Hyundai’s new Santa Cruz shares its platform with the new Tucson.

OK, and I get their point. The Santa Cruz has been promised for a couple years, but Hyundai held off until they felt they had it nailed as the dual-purpose – Urban and Outdoorsy – vehicle they intended. Oh, you’ll think it’s a pickup when you see it, but it’s so much more than that, yet it does have a roughly 4-foot open bed in back.

Yet here’s the deal, the Santa Cruz looks like a super hip urbane pickup with swoopy modern lines, lights and grille, but it rides on the Tucson crossover platform and feels like a sporty crossover, yet still has that bed in back. This was designed in North America for this market and it’s comfy and composed, with a super quiet interior, yet offering oodles of power, quick handling (think Mazda CX-30) and a refined ride befitting an entry-level crossover.

Santa Cruz, NOT a pickup, but a crossover with a bed … ok?

Oh, and did I mention it’s cute as a button. Reminds me of Subaru’s former Brat, but much more refined.

Again, I drove it briefly but already I’m feeling as if I’ve driven my Vehicle of the Year. It’s that good. The basics is it rides on a 118.3-inch wheelbase, is 195.7 inches long and has a generous 101.8 cubic foot interior. Yes, four adults will fit.

Base engine is a 191-horse 2.5-liter I4 while a turbo version making 281 horses is the upgrade and what I drove. It moves. It also tows, up to 3,500 lbs. with the base engine or 5,000 for that turbo monster.

Viewed from the front or rear, the Santa Cruz looks youthful.

Pricing will be $23,990 up to $39,720 and the target is 35- to 45-year-old single men that are college grads with no kids and a love of outdoor activities. But trust me, any cool person who feels a need for that small bed will want one. This will be a big seller and soon will be copied by everyone else in the mid-size crossover and pickup (oops) market.

Three other things, and I know I’m going on and on about this. But that short bed will haul a 4×8 sheet of plywood because the wheel wells are flat on top and the tailgate will latch at a 45-degree angle so the plywood will lie flat. The bed also is a composite material so no bedliner is needed and it also won’t rust. … And, the Santa Cruz has the first permanent retractable tonneau cover over that bed and it’s strong enough to hold 220 lbs. of weight to boot. Bravo!

That tonneau cover over the bed is heavy-duty and retracts too. It’s standard!

More trucky:

If you MUST have a real pickup. Well, a real mid-size pickup is the new 2022 Nissan Frontier. It’s got a huge ride height, big tires and super heavy steering that makes it feel like a monster truck even though its dimensions remain more moderate.

The 2022 Nissan Frontier is a pickup’s pickup made for heavy use.

Nissan upgraded the 2021 model after 16 years of few changes to the Frontier, by dropping in a 310-horse 3.8-liter V6. This year Nissan adds a 9-speed automatic transmission to make better use of that power while saving a little fuel too.

The 4X4 Pro-4X version I tested starts at $37,240 and with three option packages hit $44,315, still a reasonable price for such power and off-road ability. Styling tweaks such as blistered fenders give the Frontier a more modern appearance if that’s what motivates a buy, plus the off-road suspension is a winner.

In short, plenty of power, but a heavy feel to the wheel!

Finding a new path:

Nissan’s Pathfinder is new for 2022 too. Say that twice! Pathfinder is one of the original SUVs, originally launched in 1985. But it keeps morphing to add luxury (isn’t everyone?) to its rugged, capable and flexible mantra. Oh, and now it’s longer and has a third-row seat. (This is a theme among mid-size to large SUVS).

Sophisticated looks and a roomy third row seat for the 2022 Nissan Pathfinder.

Nissan has loaded up the Pathfinder with standard safety gear including rear automatic braking now, something it alone offers. But instead of making it longer like most SUVs, Nissan shortened the Pathfinder a bit, while adding to width and height, again by small amounts.

The result is a boxy but sophisticated looking truck, still packing its 3.5-liter V6 that creates 284 horsepower and capable of towing 6,000 lbs. Like the Frontier it adds a new 9-speed automatic, better for towing. And Trailer Sway Control is now standard on Pathfinder. A direct coupling system in 4-wheel drive also smooths out engagement, eliminating a delay in the switch to 4WD.

More acoustic glass quiets the interior and that third row seat is comfy enough for adults that something longer than a drive to the next suburb will now be acceptable.

MINI me:

I’m a short guy, so MINI has always been a car I love, plus it has BMW-type performance, probably because BMW owns the former all-British car company.

Top down, a Zesty Yellow (lime green?) MINI Cooper S is a show horse of a roadster.

I tested the 2022 MINI S convertible with a black cloth top adorned with a black and dull black Union Jack. Snazzy and clever, especially because it powers back automatically and you can stop it part-way back so the front is like an opened sunroof. Way cool!

Top up shows off the matte black Union Jack soft-top.

This one also was a lime green (called Zesty Yellow), so easily visible in any parking lot and listed for $41,750.

The MINI still has a silky smooth six-speed manual and handling that puts most sport coupes to shame. Power remains generous (180 hp twin-turbo I4) in the S model and inside there’s still the big round screen mid-dash, toggles above and below and a digital oval instrument panel over the steering column.

Nothing you do with your clothes on is more fun than driving a convertible MINI!

At the other extreme:

Jeep isn’t known for its mini vehicles, in fact they just seem to keep getting larger, think Wrangler Unlimited and now the new Grand Cherokee L, with L meaning LONGER. Like GM’s Suburbans and Tahoes the Grand Cherokee now offers a stretched version of its boxy full-size SUV.

Big, boxy and long, the Grand Cherokee L adds 15 inches in length for a third row.

Not much to distinguish it in looks, beyond the usual Jeep nose, the rest could pass as a refrigerator on wheels. But it has a third-row seat and is 15 inches longer than what used to be a mid-size SUV, the Grand Cherokee. If you need the space and are a Jeepoholic then this one may be calling your name. Although remember the Grand Wagoneer is coming soon too.

Inside the dash is low and clean and offers a large info screen and easy-to-use info system. In back are push buttons to lower various seats for cargo hauling or to let the kids more easily de-board from that third row seat.

This silver tester was the Overland edition, so more attuned for trail-busting, while the Summit models are luxury (again) oriented and roughly sell in the $68,000 neighborhood.

Adding an electric boost:

Not a full-electric, but the new Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara 4XE enhances its 2.0-liter turbo I4 with plug-in electric hybrid power for use on or off-road. You’ll get 21 miles of electric charge that you can use for trips to the office (if you’re not working from home), or save for when you’re off-roading and want to cut your emissions when out in the woods.

Adding hybrid power doesn’t change a Wrangler’s looks, but helps MPG.

The red and black test vehicle had managed 34 mpg with a bunch of crazy car writers driving it for the day and still got battery power via regenerative braking so that juice helped get the heavy Jeep rolling from a stoplight and aided mpg.

I like the somewhat MINI-style levers, not exactly toggles, on the center stack to put the windows up and down. And remember you can take the tops off a Wrangler, and the doors if you’re really into outdoor driving. Sticker was $56,380 and included a $2,495 hardtop.

Going full-on electric:

This IS the future of cars and trucks, so get used to it. Now Volkswagen shows off its ID.4 compact crossover with a funky gear selector, but oodles of oomph. The tested Pro S model has about 260 miles of range while the standard has 250 miles of plug-in power.

Volkswagen’s electric crossover, the ID.4 is a speedster and quiet.

Oh, and the plug is not up front or on the nose here, it’s right where a gas filler normally shows up on the passenger’s side rear quarter panel.

I liked the ride, power and handling here, all smooth and kicky. But it’ll take any newcomer a while to figure out the buttons and shifter. That shifter is up by the instrument panel and requires the driver turn a knob to engage the gears, and turn it twice forward to go into Drive mode with Regenerative braking engaged. That allows the crossover to generate more power for the batteries when he or she lets off the accelerator and the electric motors slow down the ID.4 and the braking sends electrical charges to the battery packs.

Oh, and to engage Park, one must press the end of the gear selector knob, a bit clunky, but you’ll figure it out eventually.

Might be tough to tell here, but at right is a knob you turn to shift, see D/B for drive!

The good news is that there’s a wireless phone charger where that nasty old easy-to-use shift lever normally would be on the console.

Seems the German designers always have a new idea for some formerly simple function, and then VW puts an unusual name on the driving product, so Tiguan, Taos and now ID.4.

That’s it for now, but my 2022 vehicle reviews kick off with the new Kia Carnival minivan next week on the WUWM website, wuwm.com. Just search for Savage on Wheels! … and a few 2022s have snuck in already if you look carefully there, or on this site.

#mamasummerdrive

2022 Ford Maverick pickup preview with photos

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.

All-Electric Ford F-150 Lightning announced

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. 

This is Ford’s hybrid F-150, which is already available. The electric come out next year.

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.”     

Production of the F-150 Lightning begins next spring at the all-new Ford Rouge Electric Vehicle Center.

Ford already markets a hybrid F-150 that Savageonwheels.com reviewed earlier this year. It’s pictured here too.

See Mark’s review: https://savageonwheels.com/2021/04/07/2021-ford-f-150-4×4-supercrew-lariat-hybrid/

2021 Zoomies: Vehicles of the Year Awards

Savage names his top car and truck picks for 2021 …

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

What’s a Zoomie?

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

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

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

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

Best entry-level crossover:

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

Best affordable pickup:

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

Best wagon wanting to be a crossover:

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

Sexiest wagon:

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

Best affordable hybrid crossover:

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

Best affordable hybrid sedan:

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

Best affordable family sedan with racy intentions:

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

OK, let’s move more upscale!

Best luxury sport sedan:

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

Best new sports car:

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

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

Best big muscle trucks:

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

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

Speaking of performance …

Best supercar wanna-be:

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

Most fun, money is no object:

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

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

Most fun, money IS an object:

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

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

Most beautiful car:

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

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

2021 Zoomie Vehicle of the Year:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photos: Mark Savage

Zoomie trophy art: Stuart Carlson

MAMA 2019 Spring Rally: Car heaven for auto journalist

So many cars to choose from

Mark and I love this event. We get to hang out at our favorite race track, Road America, that’s practically in our backyards. For two days, May 22-23, we attended The Midwest Automotive Media Association (MAMA) annual Spring Rally.

We joined about 100 other automotive journalists from all over the country driving the latests from the automotive manufacturers on the track, on the streets of Elkhart Lake, off-road and even some autocross. The manufacturers tell us they love this event because of the quality time they get to spend with all of us and receive lots of feedback on their vehicles. So, what to hop in first? Hop in and go for a ride.

There were some other fun cars that we took for a spin that we did not capture on tape like the Ford Mustang GT 350 that had the best growl of any of the cars. The color kind of reminds me of the Mustang that Parnelli Jones drove in the Trans-Am series during the late 60’s.

Dodge had two of their Challengers, the Redeye and this Hellcat Scat Pack. The Redeye was pulled from the track because of the slick conditions that morning so we hopped in the Scat Pack. I’ve driven one before but not at Road America. The 485 hp Hemi did not disappoint and even though they did their best to keep our speeds down at Kettle Bottoms I was able to get the Challenger up to 127 mph.

We closed out the afternoon both with an opportunity to drive this brand new Acura NSX. If the other cars we drove were cuts of meat, this was the prime rib. So smooth to drive. We both decided to start saving up to buy one but at $199,000, it’s going to be a while.

By far the best paint job of any vehicle at Road America. It takes the factory 5 days to paint this Acura TLX PMC edition. It was almost like you could put your hand in, it was so deep.

Time to do some off-roading

Mark and I split up in Thursday morning with him going to do so auto cross on Road America’s go kart track while I headed for some good muddy fun at the off road course. There, I got my second chance to drive the new Jeep Gladiator.

Related: Read about my first drive of the Gladiator.

This Rubicon edition was the most capable of the test vehicles in its class, which included the Chevy Bison and Ford Ranger. While the course wasn’t as large as the one I drove on in California, it had a good mix of mud ruts and hills. It’s not just me that has this love fest going on with the Gladiator, my fellow automotive journalists liked it as well as it was one of three nominated for MAMA’s Family Vehicle of the Year. There was also a Gladiator Overland Edition (MSRP* Starting at $40,395) went for a spin in enjoying the twisty roads around Elkhart Lake along with the sunny day topless. Good windy fun especially remembering how Wednesday morning was so damp and cold.

Next I grabbed the Gladiator’s little brother, the Renegade, to get dirty. I have been really sceptical of this Jeep since it’s based on the Fiat 500 L which has a choppy ride and interior that looks like it assembled with a bunch of cheap plastics found in a dumpster. Not so with the Renegade. This Trailhawk edition came with the 177 hp, 1.3L turbo mated to a nine-speed automatic. Other features included, all-speed traction control, electronic stability control, Select-Terrain System with rock mode, and 17 inch wheels among other goodies. With the Trailhawk package, a running ground clearance of 8.7 inches, approach angle of 30.5 degrees, break over angle of 25.7 degrees, and departure angle of 34.3 degrees, it’s clearly the most off-road capable against its competitive set which includes the Mazda CX3, Chevy Tracy, its cousin the 500L, Honda HRV, and Kia Soul. It’s optional My Sky Power Retractable/Removable Panels added $1,595 to the $27,290 base.

The beast of the group, and by far muddiest, at the event was the Ram Power Wagon. There was no mud hole or hill that challenged this bad boy. I even had a couple off opportunities to goose it and heard its 6.4L, 410 hp Hemi growl.

While the Ford Raptor is built for speed, the Power Wagon is built for rock crawling. Its approach, departure, and breakover angles are big, 33.6, 26.2, and 23.5 degrees. It has 14.3 inches of ground clearance and can ford up to 30 inches of water. Oh, in case you were to get stuck, it comes with a Warn winch that can pull 12,000 lbs, almost a third more than the truck weighs. If you’re into rock crawling, at $53,015, it’s a good deal.

Mark and I both had a chance to take the Kia Telluride out for a spin. I was impressed with Kia’s biggest SUV yet. It reminded me of my 2017 Dodge Durango but I think the interior in the Telluride is nicer. Its 291 hp V6 was very responsive, it had a really quiet ride, and the latest tech. Pricing ranges from $31,690 all the way up to $43,490. If you’re in the market for an SUV, the Telluride is for sure a consideration.

It’s hard to say goodby

So Mark and I were done for the day but took one last look at some of the cars that were in the paddock area taking a break from the racing event going on Thursday. We saw this Corvette that looked as if someone had lobbed paintballs at it. I kind of liked it. Then there was this cherry Mustang, and finally the official car of Road America, the Corvette in Elkhart Lake blue.

So long newspaper life, but wait, there’s more!

A few of my earliest Milwaukee Sentinel columns. Ignore that sketch of the young punk reviewer!

The times, and location of car columns, is a changin’ ….

There comes a time to say goodbye to parts of our lives.

Since 1984 my byline has appeared in the Milwaukee Sentinel, and later the Journal Sentinel, first on feature stories, then business stories and since at least 1989 on a car review column, Savage on wheels. On Jan. 21 my last column appeared in the Sunday Cars section.

We had a lot of fun in those early Sentinel years. Just for grins I tested a military version of the Hummer during the Gulf War, drove the Oscar Meyer Weinermobile, tested a watercraft on Lac La Belle, a Duck at the Wisconsin Dells, and drove a one-horse open sleigh at Old World Wisconsin. I even got to fulfill a childhood dream by taking a 3-day Skip Barber racing class at Road America, and while the Andretti clan didn’t have anything to worry about, I had a blast, and got faster each day.

By my estimate I’ve driven more than 1,500 cars and trucks for my reviews, although never a Ferrari or Lamborghini. Yet I did get to drive a Rolls Royce, Aston Martin, Lotus, along with numerous Jaguars, Audis, Mercedes, Lexus, and Jeeps, even off road. Heck, some brands I tested in that stretch are long gone — Plymouth, Pontiac, Oldsmobile, Saturn, Scion, Suzuki. Looks like brands starting with P and S are doomed!

Don’t ask which car was my favorite, I can’t pick just one.

I left the paper 18+ years ago for a magazine career at Kalmbach Media and there was no reason the Journal Sentinel had to let me keep writing the column. But the editors did, and I’m eternally grateful.

So this is just an online thank you note to everyone who has supported me at the newspaper, and all my faithful readers for 30+ years who have been critiquing (mentally and via email) my reviews, my annual Zoomie awards, and stories from the Detroit, Chicago and Milwaukee auto shows. It was a great ride. Thanks so much.

But wait, there’s more … While bidding goodbye to my newspaper home of 35 years, this is not goodbye for Savage on wheels. There’s still my website, AND, some good news will be coming shortly from another trusted Milwaukee media outlet that plans to carry my weekly car and truck reviews. So stay tuned!

 

2018 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Muddy Fun

Muddy fun for a Jeep geek

2018 jeep wrangler unlimited, jeep, wrangler, wrangler unlimitedFull disclosure: I’ve been a Jeep guy for a very long time having first driven the SJ Cherokee back in the late 70’s.

I was forwarded on and email from my blogging partner, Mark Savage, who received an invitation from the Jeep people but couldn’t make it to an event. I was all over it and jumped at the chance, along with other media folks, to discover the off roading capabilities on the new JL Wrangler at Cliff’s Insane Terrain Off Road Park in Marseilles, IL.

This latest rendition created a lot of buzz prior to its release earlier this year, maybe even more than the last redesign in 2006.  All kinds of speculation about what the JL would have and maybe not have. No worries off roaders, the Jeep guys were all over this from the start.  Continue reading 2018 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Muddy Fun

2018 Chicago Auto Show: New vehicles big and small

It’s the largest show in North America

Mark and I love this show and have been making the trip down south from Milwaukee for a long time. Besides seeing the latest from the auto manufacturers, we spend time catching up with our fellow reporters. And we got some exercise walking two miles in the one million square foot exhibit area at McCormick Place. Continue reading 2018 Chicago Auto Show: New vehicles big and small

Goodyear’s sphere of influence

Tires might be more than just round with a hole in it

Photo: Goodyear

Goodyear has unveiled a new concept: spherical rubber tires that can move in any direction. OK, that’s cool, by why you ask. These new kicks are made for the self-driving cars of the future, ones that won’t have steering wheels. Sounds like a Disney ride. The Goodyear Eagle-360 tires would allow those self-driving cars to tuck into tight spaces like parking spots. Continue reading Goodyear’s sphere of influence

Do red lights at intersections mean anything?

From what I’ve seen recently shows drivers care less

I’ve been thinking about doing this blog entry for a while and this morning an experience drove me to the keyboard. I’m stopped at a busy intersection on my way to work. I had just missed the left turn green arrow so I was waiting for traffic to clear and make my turn when this guy behind me honks his horn for me to go. Go, where, there’s lots of traffic here dude and I’m on a motorcycle. The light turns yellow and I wait. Recently I’ve seen too many drivers here in Wisconsin run the red light and I don’t want to get wacked. The guy gets out of his truck and gives me a lecture on how I didn’t have to wait for the green arrow and could have turned on the orange. Not this rider. He also said that I was holding a whole line of vehicles behind him and I should show some courtesy. OK, whatever. When I turned on the next green arrow, guess how many vehicles I was holding up. Yup, just him. Continue reading Do red lights at intersections mean anything?