Category Archives: Car Reviews

2022 Volkswagen Taos SE

Taos another newcomer in expanding small crossover market …

Oh my, the burgeoning small crossover market just added another competitor, the Volkswagen Taos (rhymes with House), and if value is your main shopping criteria the Taos should be near the center of your bull’s-eye.

Just in the last year I’ve reviewed the following tiny crossover competitors, Mazda CX-30 (2 versions), Hyundai Venue, Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross, Kia Seltos, Chevy Trailblazer, Nissan Kicks and Subaru Crosstrek. There were others earlier as this segment has been swelling like an anaconda swallowing a warthog.

But back to Taos (not New Mexico), VW’s smallest crossover that rides on a 105.9-inch wheelbase with a potentially powerful 1.5-liter turbocharged I4 that makes 158 horsepower, 11 horses more than VW’s Jetta. That figure is near the top of this segment’s power rankings, except for the over-endowed Mazda CX-30 with its 2.5-liter turbo I4 that makes 227 to 250 hp, depending on gas selection. It’s a riot!

For VW this new engine is an efficient and torque-happy number with 184 pound-feet of oomph. Sadly, the test vehicle had the worst case of turbo-lag that I can recall in several years. It hesitated at every chance to accelerate. Pull from the drive, push the accelerator, and wait. Traffic light turns green, push the accelerator, and wait. Turn a corner or head onto a highway ramp, push the accelerator, and wait. Ugh!

If you want power quickly you must mash the accelerator and then there’s still a wait before that turbo launches the VW to excellent highway speeds. The waiting, followed by over-accelerating became tedious.

Too bad, because Taos seems solid and handles well. Steering is light and easy and the crossover corners with little hint of body roll. This could be sporty and fun. Plus Taos is light, just 3,175 pounds. My mid-level SE model was front-drive and I suspect the 4Motion (AWD) would give it even better traction and handling. AWD costs $1,500 extra on all three trim levels.

Ride? Well, this is a short wheelbase crossover with struts up front but just a torsion beam rear suspension, so ride is pretty firm. The potholes weren’t as disturbing as the raised pavement hoo-has. Taos seemed to jump a bit sideways at times on those sharp spots.

Note that the AWD models feature a multi-link rear suspension which may help ride quality some and is the system used by most vehicles these days.

An 8-speed automatic tranny handles the shifts and is aimed at fuel savings. Too bad there are no drive mode selections here to add power or maybe smooth out the performance a bit in a comfort mode. Eco seems to be where the Taos is aimed and it features strong EPA numbers. The estimates there are 28 mpg city and 36 highway. I got a fine 29.4 mpg in about 80% highway driving.

By comparison, the Trailblazer with AWD that I tested posted 32 mpg, the Mazda CX-30 with the turbo managed 26.6 and the Crosstrek posted 25.4 mpg.

Plenty of safety systems are in place, with VW’s Intelligent Crash Response System and automatic post-collision braking, forward collision warning and autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian monitoring, a blind-spot monitor, and rear traffic alert being standard.

The test crossover added the IQ Drive SE package with Travel Assist (VW’s semi-autonomous driving system), smart cruise control, the Stop & Go system, and lane assist, for $895. The Travel Assist worked fine, but seemed a bit over anxious, as some of these do, pushing the car back toward the center or side lines harder than need be. This becomes concerning in construction zones and I could find no way to turn the system off as I dodged Wisconsin’s many orange barrels and cones.

Inside the King’s Red Metallic ($395 extra, and worth it) test vehicle was a fine interior. The SE trim upgrades cloth seats to something called CloudTex synthetic seats. This is a combo of cloth feel and faux leather, which is tough and easy to clean.

The test Taos featured gray seats with white stitching and the doors were two-tone gray while the dash was mostly dark gray with a bluish trim on some plastic bits. The console was flat black, ending sunny day reflection worries.

The SE model upgrades from the standard 6.5-inch info screen to an 8-inch touchscreen that was fairly easy to adjust. Below that are three large climate control knobs, so easy to adjust.

A nice sized screen on the new Taos.

However, during my drive Wisconsin was sweating through a spate of muggy upper-80s days and I had to crank the climate system’s fan to its top-level to get enough cooling and leave it there for about 10 minutes. Then I slowly dialed the speed back. Air was plenty cold from the system, but it took a while to cool the interior and there is no automatic climate setting, again keeping costs down for Taos.

Seats were well-shaped giving good side and hip support and the driver’s seat was powered with a power lumbar support. The front passenger’s seat is manual. But legroom and headroom are good front and rear so it’s easy to load four to five adults in Taos, although five may prefer city jaunts to cross-country tours.

Seats are heated up front and the flat-bottomed steering wheel also is heated, a plus.

Another goodie was the huge panoramic sunroof, a $1,200 add-on. These are increasingly popular in crossovers, but this one was a monster with a gray screen over it to reduce summer sun. But it would be fun to open in spring and fall to be sure. Might not feel like a Jeep, but definitely brings the outside in!

Another plus, a wireless phone charger under the dash’s center stack and the fact that the driver can give the instrument panel multiple looks, adding or deleting various information on either side of the speedometer.

Good news too for those hauling a lot of gear, the VW offers a generous storage area behind the rear seats with 28.1 cubic feet of space. Fold the split rear seats down and that grows to a sizeable 66.3 cu.ft.

Now maybe the best news, pricing. VW starts with the S trim at $24,190 for front-drive and $1,500 more for AWD, known as 4Motion. The tested SE model lists at $28,440 and is FWD. A top-level SEL lists at $32,685 with AWD and a sunroof being the only options.

This Taos added 19-inch black alloy wheels with all-season tires for $395, giving the red crossover a snazzy look since it comes with black cladding over the wheel wells and front and rear fascias. Grand total here was $31,325.

That’s a bargain in today’s car world, although I’d think most Wisconsin drivers would want to add the AWD for traction and to possibly improve ride quality with the multi-link suspension.

Sharp taillights!

By comparison my vehicle of the year, the hot-looking CX-30 starts at $30,050 with delivery and AWD is standard. The tested Trailblazer that is awfully cute lists at $30,070 and includes AWD while the Crosstrek is a little more at $31,440 with AWD and heated and cooled seats, plus a fancy stereo.

As you can see, pricing in this segment is quite close, so test drive several small crossovers before you buy and compare them with like features. This is a well-stocked market with Taos being the new kid on the block!

FAST STATS: 2022 VW Taos SE

Hits: Light easy handling, huge panoramic sunroof, roomy interior, heated well-shaped seats, flat-bottom heated steering wheel, big storage area, wireless charger, multiple dash views, value pricing and good gas mileage.

Misses: Firm ride and concerning turbo lag on acceleration. Couldn’t turn off active lane control, no drive modes to boost acceleration, fan must be turned on top level for quite a while to cool crossover on hot day.

Fancy black wheels give Taos a sporty look.

Made in: Puebla, Mexico

Engine: 1.5-liter turbo I4, 158 hp

Transmission: 8-speed automatic

Weight: 3,175 lbs.

Wheelbase: 105.9 in.

Length: 175.8 in.

Cargo: 28.1/66.3 cu.ft.

MPG: 28/36

MPG: 29.4 (tested)

Base Price: $28,440

Invoice: $27,351

Major Options:

19-inch black alloy wheels w/all-season tires, $395

King’s Red metallic paint, $395

Power panoramic sunroof, $1,200

IQ Drive SE package (Travel Assist semi-autonomous drive assistance, adaptive cruise control, stop & go, lane assist, blind-spot monitor), $895

Test vehicle: $31,325

Sources: VW, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

2022 Genesis G70 3.3T Sport Advanced

Can a luxury sport sedan be a value leader? Yes, if it’s a Genesis G70 …

In the olden days, 1980s and 1990s, there were a few grunty sport sedans that wouldn’t send a buyer to Uncle Guido for a small loan.

That was then, this is now, and a loan is a near certainty. But, if a person wants to save some on his or her monthly payments Genesis has a sport sedan worth a looksee. It’s called the G70 and rides on a platform equivalent in size to a Toyota Camry.

So the G70 is a good sized car, but not a luxo limo with monster power and a price tag to match.

Nope, the G70 is extremely fast and handles like a similar sized BMW. It’s fun on the road and faster than nearly anything not costing way north of $50 grand. But the G70 isn’t cheap. It starts at a modest $38,550 for a base rear-drive 252-horsepower turbo I4 version and tops out at $51,445 for the Prestige model with its crazy fast 3.3-liter twin-turbo V6 cranking 365 horses.

The Himalayan Gray test car started at $45,245, that sparkly gray color adding $500, and features the twin-turbo V6. It’s what you’d want if you long for a performance car that looks sharp, but feels luxurious. This was the G70 AWD 3.3T Sport Advanced model, including a $4,300 Sport Advanced package. More on that in a bit.

I’d tested the more luxurious G80 sedan a couple months back and it’s the luxury liner limo with a performance edge, especially with its horsier V6. The G70 is a family sport sedan, a smaller firmer riding rocket ship.

Watch Mark’s video review: https://youtu.be/0xSgncjBmdc

Blasting off on a highway entry ramp it’s easy to eclipse triple digits and there’s more where that came from, which is why Car and Driver magazine puts its top speed at 167 mph. Yeow! That speed is achieved via AWD here. It favors the rear wheels unless the pavement is slick. Shifts via the 8-speed automatic are crisp and the G70’s 365 horsepower pushes you back into its leather seats, just like an old-time V8.

Of course there are drive modes (5 here) to accomplish that oomph. Both Sport and Sport+ will get your juices flowing while also firming the steering effort, but never to the point of being a burden to the driver. Steering is precise and makes the G70 an apex eater. Fun!

The down side is a stiff ride, yet not punishing. Still, that could be helped with softer seats, the G70s are a bit too hard in the butt pocket for a 60-something like me. I also noticed a bit more road/tire noise from the rear vs. the longer G80.

Braking is solid as you’d expect, but at slower speeds I found the brakes a bit grabby. Don’t forget this has AWD too, an aid to traction in winter slop. I’d want that even though it adds $2,000 to any G70.

Inside the test car looked great with gray perforated leather seats and lower door trim, a black dash and upper door trim giving this a modern two-tone appearance. Genesis uses patterned aluminum inserts in the doors and by the console-mounted shifter. Other trim is satin chrome for a classy look.

The white leather seats and trim ooze luxury and comfort.

Overhead is a panoramic sunroof and shade, while under the center stack is a wireless phone charger.

The Genesis info screen is 10.25 inches and easy to see and use. The digital instrument cluster also is attractive and I like the big climate control knobs on the center stack below the info screen. They can be synched or run separately to chill or warm your significant other.

Down below are metal-faced pedals and the power seats are simple to use, both front seats being 12-way adjustable. The leather seats feel fine to the touch, but I and my wife found the seat pockets too firm, which became tiring on a roundtrip to Chicago. However, the seats are heated and cooled, a nice thing during weather extremes. A heated steering wheel is standard while those cooled seats are part of the pricy Sport Advanced package.

Big screen, easy controls and metal-faced pedals create a stylish cockpit.

It also adds the sunroof and a cushion extender for long-legged drivers and tightening side bolsters, which are engaged in Sport and Sport+ modes. I liked that, just wish the bottom cushions were softer.

Other add-ons in that package include parking sensors, snazzy dark alloy wheels, that aluminum interior trim, a dark chrome diamond-patterned grille and a fine Lexicon 15-speaker premium sound system. A visceral aid is the variable exhaust valve system that makes that twin-turbo V6 sound special in Sport and Sport+ modes.

I dig this patterned aluminum trim on the doors and on the console.

And for the techy among us, a digital key system is part of the package. That allows you to use your cell phone as the car key. Great, unless you misplace your phone or leave it in someone else’s car.

Trunk space is less than many in this segment at just 11 cubic feet. A couple sets of golf clubs will likely fit though.

Safety equipment is as you’d expect with all but the parking sensor system standard.

Genesis packs in a lot, including its semi-autonomous driving system that keeps the car between a highway’s center and side lines. It works well and directs the car through high-speed turns too, although it sometimes warns you to put your hands on the wheel even though they already are. It wants you to keep them at the 10 and 2 positions. I also noticed on a long stretch of straight highway that the car sort of ping-ponged between the freeway lines, which felt a bit odd. I suggest holding the wheel as steady as you can to avoid that sensation.

On the plus side is the Genesis/Hyundai 10-year or 100,000-mile powertrain warranty, plus three years or 36,000-mile free maintenance, so oil changes and the like. There’s also a free towing service, connected Genesis devices services and map upgrades for that same period.

One minor annoyance, or oddity, is Genesis, Hyundai and Kia’s insistence on playing a little tune electronically each time the car is turned off and a door opened. I started laughing about it each time after a few days. Really reminds of a washer and/or dryer playing a tune when the load is finished.

Pricing and mpg? The test car with its turbo V6 is rated 17 mpg city and 25 mpg highway by the EPA. I got 20 mpg in a mix that was heavier on city driving and 25.4 in a mix heavy on highway driving. The trip computer was pretty close on its estimates and on one highway stint registered 31 mpg. Nice!

Pricing for this model is $45,245, with delivery and $50,045 with the big package and sparkly gray paint job. A Sport model with the horsey V6 lists at $42,100 with RWD and add $2 grand for AWD. All V6 models add larger brakes, a sport-tuned suspension, dual exhausts and variable ratio steering. Those prices are below the likes of Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz competitors.

Note too that visually the G70 upgraded a couple areas for 2022, with a diamond-patterned grille, refreshed look for the head and taillights, a trunk spoiler lip and a lowered rear license plate to clean up the tail. It creates a sharp package that looks ritzier than its price.

Final word: If looks, performance and practical pluses mean more to you than badge envy the Genesis G70 is a top compact sport luxury sedan choice.

FAST STATS: 2022 Genesis G70 3.3T Sport Advanced

Hits: Fast, sporty handling, classy inside and out, plus AWD. Sharp interior with sunroof, wireless charger, heated/cooled seats, heated wheel, solid safety equipment, great warranty, big climate knobs, metal-faced pedals, plus 5 drive modes.

There’s no denying the G70 delivers a sporty ambiance!

Misses: Firm ride and seats, rear seat is short of legroom, lane departure system sort of ping-pongs car between lines, touchy brakes and car plays funny tune once off and doors opened.

Made in: Ulsan, So. Korea

Engine: 3.3-liter twin-turbo V6, 365 hp

Transmission: 8-speed automatic

Weight: 3,887 lbs.

Wheelbase: 111.6 in.

Length: 184.4 in.

Cargo: 11.0 cu.ft.

MPG: 17/25

MPG: 20-25.4 (tested)

Base Price: $45,245 (includes delivery)

Invoice: $43,281

Major Options: Himalayan Graypaint, $500

Sport Advanced package (park distance warning, 19-inch sport alloy wheels, aluminum trim w/sport pattern, cooled front seats, sunroof, Lexicon 15-speaker premium audio, wireless charging, dark chrome grille, variable exhaust valve system, power driver seat bolster/extender, digital key), $4,300

Test vehicle: $50,045

Sources: Genesis, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

2021 Hyundai Sonata N Line

Sonata N Line perks up performance, but remains high value …

Performance comes at a price, always has, always will.

Sometimes the price is simply a higher cost, sometimes it’s a gas-hog engine, sometimes it’s a brutal ride.

Hyundai is known for value so when it introduced its performance N, or now N Line, models a couple years back it wasn’t going to go upscale with pricing. That’s the good news.

Equally happy news is that the South Korean automaker also has the good engineering sense to deliver decent gas mileage with its high-horse turbocharged engines, now offered in the tested Sonata N Line mid-size sedan, Elantra compact sedan, Tucson compact crossover and Kona small crossover. Its Veloster sports coupe even touts a 275-horse turbo in an N model.

But, or maybe that should be Butt, the Sonata N Line’s ride is tough on the tushie. Hyundai, in its effort to create a low-cost high-performance sports sedan firmed up the shock dampers, the engine mounts and added thicker anti-roll bars. Couple that with the tested N Line’s summer 19-inch Continental 245/40 R19 YXL tires ($200 extra) and my tailbone is aching like a guy’s bum that has ridden a horse too far for the first time.

Other than that I enjoyed the N Line playtime.

Hyundai’s Sonata should be familiar to readers as I’ve reviewed both the Limited and Hybrid models since the new model debuted for 2020. It’s a fine mid-size sedan, economical in price, striking in design, and strong on performance yet normally offers a comfy ride. The hybrid model even ups the ante with fantastic fuel economy and a solar roof panel that boosts its electrical charge for added mileage.

Watch Mark’s video: 2021 Hyundai Sonata N Line by Mark Savage

Well, the N Line still looks great, packs the value, but adds a kick in the butt (there I go again) with a 2.5-liter turbocharged I4 that spits out an amazing 290 horsepower. That’s 99 more than its standard Sonata. Torque is rated at a whopping 311 pound-feet and will blast the sedan to highway speeds and beyond nearly as quickly as some luxo-sport sedans that also sport much higher price tags.

Car and Driver magazine has tested an N Line Sonata that hit a top speed of 155 mph while doing 0 to 60 mph in a respectable 5.0 seconds. So this Sonata is capable to be sure.

Helping that is Hyundai’s four drive modes – Normal, Custom, Sport, and Sport+. You can guess which are the most fun.

Both Sport modes kick the fine 8-speed dual-clutch automatic into more aggressive shift patterns to use all that pony power. Sport also firms the wheel to a comfortable level, while Sport+ makes it so heavy that most folks will find it annoying. There’s a fake heaviness to it too, but in either mode the car handles like it’s meant for the track. Of course it’s not, but still powering through aggressive turns is fun and those summer tires grip like gum to the sole of a shoe.

Of course that firm suspension is both great for handling, yet depressing for the derriere. Rolling along a fairly smooth highway the car’s taut feeling can be appreciated, but navigate onto our crater-filled city streets with crumbling edges, massive expansion joints, and general winter-induced degradation and, well, you’ll wish you were aboard the Limited or Hybrid versions with their much smoother rides.

Now if you’re into appearances and sporty ones in particular, the N Line’s exterior and interior will satisfy.

Black grille and distinctive nose styling here!

Outside there’s a blackened grille, quad exhausts, specific racy ground-effects style fascia front and rear with a slight bit of black cladding below the rocker panels. The trunk lid flips up a bit like a spoiler too and the side mirrors are encased in gloss black trim.

Inside the Sonata N Line boasts sport seats with improved side bolster support, something I’d found lacking in earlier Sonatas. These are clad in Nappa dark gray leather and a simulated suede with red stitching, and also feature the N Line logo. Plus there’s a sport wheel, although I wish it were flat-bottomed to enhance the racy looks, which include metal-clad pedals.

Otherwise the dash continues to be well laid out and attractive. It’s black with red stitching like the seats and door panels while all trim is a smoked chrome. Sexy! The console is black gloss surrounding the push-button tranny and drive mode toggle while trim next to that is a sort of smoky metallic tweed pattern.

And with the change in drive modes the digital instrument panel changes its look, the red dials for Sport and Sport+ being pretty snazzy garnering a nod from my 12-year-old grandson.

Seats, in addition to being well shaped and supportive are heated. While overhead is a panoramic sunroof and shade, new in all models from the SEL Plus trim on up.

Dual climate controls are standard along with a wireless phone charger on N Line!

There’s also a dual climate control system, wireless phone charger and inside trunk release. For audiophiles, a Bose 12-speaker stereo system is standard, with 9-inch subwoofer.

All the electronic safety features you’d expect to find are standard too, including blind-spot collision avoidance, rear cross-traffic collision avoidance assist, lane follow and keeping (which can be turned off), safe exit warning, LED running lights, and forward collision avoidance assist with pedestrian recognition. Smart cruise control is standard too.

Add to that a 10-year, 100,000-mile powertrain warranty and good gas mileage. The EPA rates this Sonata at 23 mpg city and 33 mpg highway, this in a car with 290 turboed horses. I got 25.1 mpg in a mix of city and highway miles, sometime with a passenger or two. By comparison, I managed 32 mpg with the 1.6-liter turbo I4 in the Limited model and roughly 45 mpg in the impressive hybrid in earlier tests.

For the record, this 290-horse engine is the same as used in Hyundai’s upscale Genesis brand’s luxurious G80 sedan, but at a more affordable price.

How so? This N Line lists at $34,195 including delivery and with a couple options ended up at $34,564, well below an average new car price these days. That’s high-value high performance.

Finally two other points, one being that an annoyance found in other Sonata models has been eliminated. That was the dash chiming and saying “Check Rear Seat” every time the ignition was turned off. That’s fixed, so bravo.

Plus Sonata is not theft prone. You may have heard that older model Hyundai and Kia (they are related) models have had theft problems due to security system failures and a steering column that was easy to jimmy to start, even without a fob. Well, all Hyundai models with push-button start (like this one) do not have these problems and all Hyundais made after September 2021 will include engine immobilizers to prevent theft.

Phew!

FAST STATS: 2021 Hyundai Sonata N Line

Hits: Good looking sport sedan, oodles of power, sporty handling, sharp interior. Full range of safety features, big info screen, heated seats, 4 power modes, Bose stereo, panoramic sunroof, wireless phone charger, strong warranty.

Misses: Very firm ride, could use flat-bottom sport wheel, theft security remains questionable.

Made in: Montgomery, Ala.

Engine: 2.5-liter, turbo I4, 290 hp

Transmission: 8-speed dual clutch, automatic

Weight: 3,552 lbs.

Wheelbase: 111.8 in.

Length: 192.9 in.

Cargo: 16.0 cu.ft.

MPG: 23/33

MPG: 25.1 (tested)

Base Price: $34,195 (includes delivery)

Invoice: $32,797

Major Options:

R19 summer tire upgrade, $200

Carpeted floor mats, $169

Test vehicle: $34,564

Sources: Hyundai, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

2021 Lexus LS 500 AWD

A high-lux sedan even a CEO could love, and afford …

Rarely do the options on a test car add up to even more than a modestly priced car or crossover itself, but that’s what happened with this week’s high-lux Lexus LS 500 AWD.

            The sumptuous near limo added roughly $30,000 in options (14 to be exact) to crest $110,000. Now don’t take that as a criticism because let’s face it neither you nor I can afford a luxury sedan dripping with such opulent style and oozing electronic gadgets and gizmos that one might imagine sending Jeff Bezos or Richard Branson into outer space.

            This is a CEO-mobile and competes with the likes of Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Audi’s long stretchy sedans that feature the same sort of goodies and enough interior leather to make a cattle farmer blush.

            Everyone can appreciate such plushness. My 12-year-old grandson quickly declared “this is the type of car I want.”

            Certainly there’s plenty to like, starting with the dynamic exterior styling that continues inside with cool dark wood trim with silver etched patterns that blend with the spiffy satin chrome streaks across the dash and air vents.

            Some declare the expansive Lexus spindle grille “too much,” but it has grown on me as all luxury makes have expanded their grilles and nose-mounted logos like a fairgoer’s waistline after wolfing down an entire box of cream puffs.

Is this grille too much? Or does it blend beautifully with the hood lines and lights?

            The way the hood and lights meld into the highly creased nose and grille is brilliant. Likewise the taillights are artistic expressions rarely found in today’s auto designs. And as I have mentioned, the interior is equally pizzazzy. This one featured bright white leather seats with stitching and quilting to set it way apart from the competition while overhead is a white ultra-suede headliner to brighten the interior that otherwise has a black dash and door tops.

            So, not surprisingly, the interior coddles while the undercarriage excites, starting with a twin-turbo 3.5-liter V6 hooked up to a silky 10-speed automatic. Smooth is exactly what you’d expect, but how about 416 horsepower along with a torque rating of 442 pound-feet?

            Watch Mark’s video: 2021 Lexus 500 AWD review by Mark Savage

            A romp down a highway entry ramp easily puts the Lexus at 100+ mph and there are six drive modes to help you get there. Eco won’t, but Normal, Comfort, Custom, Sport, and Sport+ can, especially the sportier settings that firm the steering and adjust shift points to emphasize power, something any CEO could appreciate.

            The older and wiser ones may also like the LS’s velvety ride and easy handling too. No racer on the handling front, the Lexus’s steering effort is mild and easy in all but the Sport settings, thus easy to park while still being super stable on a highway romp.

Inside, again, the LS is board room quiet (active noise control) and the leather seats so soft you’d swear that you were parking your keister atop baby butts, an odd picture, but you get it. These are super soft.

White leather all around could make even a cattle rancher blush!

Adaptive variable air suspension ($1,400 option) here soften things too along with adjusting car ride height. Lexus says this also allows the driver to raise or lower the car a bit for comfortable entry and exit.

            Beyond style the LS has loaded the interior with so much extra it’s hard to wrap up in a paragraph or two, but the $17,580 (that’s right) Executive Package adds that soft semi-aniline leather, and 28-way (crazy) front seats with a Shiatsu-inspired massaging feature. Five quick choices there and all can be tweaked for more specific functions and at various massage pressure levels.

            Oh, and the rear seat gets the same treatment with a 7-inch display screen that adjusts everything, plus allows the passenger-side rear seat to be reclined nearly fully while extending a footrest for a special rear seat passenger. Those seats in back are “only” 22-way adjustable, but front and rear both feature stylish butterfly headrests.

Rear seats recline and massage, need I say more?

            Naturally all seats are heated and cooled and the steering wheel is heated, although I could find no wireless charger here, an odd thing to be missing. There are plenty of plug-in ports though.

            That mega-package also adds the ultra-suede head liner, four-zone climate controls and spiffy power rear sunshades, two for each side window and one big one for the rear window. It retracts automatically if the car is put in reverse, allowing for better rear visibility.

            One could argue that’s plenty of luxury, but wait, there’s more!

            A 24-inch heads-up display adds $1,200, a panoramic glass sunroof another $1,000 (there’s a second stationary sunroof over the back seat with a power sun shade), and a panoramic view monitor for $800.

            The premium wood trim mentioned earlier (above) costs $800, the heated leather and wood-trimmed steering wheel is $410, and illuminated door sills run $450.

            Almost forgot, the test car also packed a Mark Levinson 23-speaker audio system that costs more than a monthly mortgage payment at $1,940. Wow!

            Good news too because Lexus has added a 12.3-inch touchscreen for the info screen and to control that radio. It works fine, negating the need, mostly, for the console’s awkward touchpad. Get this, a CD player is included too. Bravo, us oldsters thank you. Plus much of the fancy seat gyrations, heat and cool are adjusted via the screen. Screen visuals are fine too.

Large twin pipes aid the twin-turbo V6’s exhaust note.

Other pluses include a power tilt/telescope steering wheel, power trunk release and closure, and all the safety equipment you’d expect. Although oddly Lexus charges $3,000 extra for its Lexus Safety System+, which includes pre-collision warning with active braking, active steering assist, pedestrian alert, front cross-traffic alert and lane-change assist. I would expect all that on my luxury car starting at $80,275, including delivery.

The test car also included AWD, a major boon in these northern climes as the car is rear-drive otherwise. That is included in this model’s base price, or is $3,250 extra if you order it on the base $77,025 RWD LS 500. A hybrid model also is available, starting at $84,000.

The closer you look, the cooler these taillights are!

Not that fueling costs will likely worry potential LS owners, but the car uses premium fuel and is rated 17 mpg city and 27 mpg highway by the EPA. I got an even 20 mpg in about a 60/40 mix that was heavier on highway driving.

On the more practical side its 16.9 cubic foot trunk is generous and will easily hold a couple bags of golf clubs.

Bottom line? CEOs and others with $100 grand car budgets, or companies that will lease them such cars, can get everything they want in an LS 500, plus maybe a few things they didn’t even know they wanted, or needed. LS equals Luxury Sedan!

FAST STATS: 2021 Lexus LS 500 AWD

Hits: Beautiful styling inside and out, smooth power, velvety ride, easy handling, 6 drive modes and AWD. Hush quiet interior, big screen, wide HUD, massaging heated/cooled seats, heated wheel, power rear sunshades, two sunroofs, full safety lineup, 23-speaker stereo, plus CD player.

Misses: No wireless charger, touchpad still backup for touchscreen and some would say giant grille is a bit much.

Made in: Tahara, Aichi, Japan

Engine: 3.5-liter twin-turbo V6, 416 hp

Snazzy headlights perfectly blend with grille and hood!

Transmission: 10-speed automatic

Weight: 4,696 lbs.

Wheelbase: 123.0 in.

Length: 206.1 in.

Cargo: 16.9 cu.ft.

MPG: 17/27

MPG: 20.0 (tested)

Base Price: $80,275 (includes delivery)

Invoice: $73,936

Major Options:

Lexus Safety System+ (pre-collision w/active braking, active steering assist, pedestrian alert, front cross-traffic alert, lane change assist), $3,000

Adaptive variable air suspension w/rapid height adjustment, $1,400

Executive package (semi-aniline leather trim interior, 28-way power driver/passenger seats w/massage, ultra-suede headliner, power front seat buckles, butterfly headrests, 22-way power rear seats w/butterfly headrests & memory, message, heat, and 7-inch touchscreen controller, right-rear power recliner w/ottoman, 4-zone climate controls, power rear sunshades), $17,580

Digital rearview mirror, $200

20-inch split 10-spoke alloy wheels w/gloss black & machined finish, $920

24-inch heads-up display, $1,200

Mark Levinson 23-speaker audio system, $1,940

Panoramic glass roof, $1,000

Panoramic view monitor, $800

Premium wood trim, $800

Heated wood/leather trimmed steering wheel, $410

Illuminated door sills, $450

Rear bumper applique, $95

Door edge guards, $155

Test vehicle: $110,225

Sources: Lexus, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

2022 Kia Carnival SX Prestige

Kia’s renamed minivan a festival on wheels …

Minivans are about as popular these days as global warming.

They, like sedans, have fallen victim to the SUV-ing of America. Chrysler, which basically invented the market for primo family movers, has stuck with its Pacifica, while Toyota has the Sienna and Honda the Odyssey. They are the major players.

Kia joined the fray with its boxy Sedona back in 2002 and its vany appearance inspired few. But now Kia has brought out the noisemakers, party hats, and kazoos with a major redesign and a rename to the Carnival, a veritable festival on wheels. And get this, it has restyled Carnival to look much more SUV-like.

While it’s hard to disguise the long tubular design of a minivan, Kia mostly succeeds with a stylish new nose and some satin aluminum cladding on its C-pillar that got nearly as much attention as any high-end sports car I’ve driven. Flash and sparkle sells!

From nose to tail the Carnival looks high-class.

It helped that I was driving the SX Prestige model that tops the Carnival lineup with a starting price of $47,275, including delivery fees. Don’t swallow your tongue after seeing that price tag, any minivan well loaded will crest $45 grand these days.

This one remains front-drive and is not offered as AWD. Carnival also has no hybrid model, yet. Toyota and Chrysler offer that.

But from a hauling standpoint the Carnival is a class-leader in power and interior passenger space. While few of us consider sportiness when shopping minivans, it’s good to have a strong powertrain if you have seven or eight passengers aboard.

Carnival obliges with a 3.5-liter V6 that creates 290 horsepower, slightly more than Pacifica. The engine is smooth and quiet and well suited to its 8-speed automatic. The upside is a nice mix of power and efficiency. The Kia is rated 19 mpg city and 26 mpg highway, a tad more than the former Sedona. I managed 22.6 mpg in a mix of city and highway driving.

Watch Mark’s video review: 2022 Kia Carnival MPV Review by Mark Savage

Four drive modes allow the driver to go to Sport (on a minivan?), Comfort, Eco or Smart, which learns how you drive and adjusts shift points and such to fit your driving style.

Handling also is fairly light and easy feeling and while there’s a bit of body lean in turns, this Carnival is easy to keep under control. Kia built the van on its fine K5 sedan’s platform that features more ultra high-strength steel to help lesson body roll. The minivan feels stable on the highway and is easy to park too. Thank a 360-degree camera for helping the driver maneuver in tight parking quarters.

Ride is mostly fine. On the highway the Carnival felt well planted. It smoothed out most of our crumbling infrastructure’s roughness. But like trucks and other vans there are some thumps and bumps on sharp cracks and pot holes. Still, ride is much as in other minivans or MPVs.

Oh, Kia wants us to call the Carnival an MPV (an old Mazda minivan brand by the way). That stands for Multi-Purpose Vehicle, as if all minivans, crossovers and SUVs don’t fit that category.

While Carnival’s exterior is festive and its performance top-shelf, the MPV’s (OK, I said it) interior is a circus tent full of opulence and inspired features, at least at this SX Prestige level.

The test van, a delicious Astra Blue (metallic blue-green) that costs just $495 extra, featured a full caramel-colored leather interior with black dash and upper door panels. The seats were a perforated leather and are both heated and cooled in this trim. A heated steering wheel also is standard on the Prestige.

Gorgeous seats and interior in the top-level Carnival!

Trim is mostly satin chrome with a gloss black console top again trimmed in satiny chrome. The spiff comes in a dimpled satin chrome dash trim that matches that outside C-pillar trim. I’m sure others will copy this. They should because it looks great, giving the interior a Rolex watch kinda pizazz.

Let’s start with the dash. In addition to its good looks there’s a giant flat touchscreen that looks much like the Mercedes GLA’s I just tested. These are two 12.3-inch screens merged as one unit for a smooth look and interface. Adjustments are easy and buttons large enough for simple adjustment. No dial or touchpad here. Bravo!

The instrument panel gauges and infotainment screen are merged into one unit.

Below is a wireless phone charger and the transmission’s stick shift is easily found and used atop the console.

Front seats are mildly contoured with power adjustments and two memory settings for the driver on the door.

The second row seats slide inward and fully recline with foot rests. Big screens on the front seat backs also provide entertainment for row two occupants!

But the real fun begins in the back seat. Don’t take that the wrong way.

First there are separate overhead climate controls and vents, but many vans have that now. VIP Lounge Seats are the hot stuff here, that and oodles of USB ports, 9 to be exact.

Those VIP seats are powered captain’s chairs with arm rests, but pull a lever on the side and the seats will slide sideways, toward the cabin’s middle, providing more door-side elbow room. Then play with the buttons on the seat’s side and it will recline and put up a footrest. Depending on the front-seat occupants you’ll only be able to extend that so far.

Kia also puts two entertainment screens on the front seat backs. These look like iPads and no doubt will enthrall your young charges. The downside, in my dad’s mind is that these stick out considerably from the seat backs and I can imagine a youngster bumping these while climbing out the power sliding side doors. Avoiding head cracks and gouges will require some parental watching and nagging.

Third row seats fold flat into the cargo bay in back.

Likewise, the power buttons on the VIP seat sides are somewhat clunky. Two main ones require the buttons be held down until the seats are properly reclined or returned to their full upright positions. Additionally, these second row seats can’t be removed since they are powered. They do slide to and fro though.

Also, crawling into the rear seats, which are fairly roomy if the second row seats aren’t pushed all the way back, is a little tight too. But then it’s the wee ones who will likely be sitting back there. That third row easily folds down into the cargo hold inside the power rear hatch, much like other vans.

A classy dimpled aluminum trim panel (like on the dash) spiffs up Carnival’s exterior.

There are two sunroofs here too with the one over the second to third-row seats having both a shade and is able to be opened for fresh air, sometimes needed with little stinkers in back.

I should mention how quiet the interior is too. Very! Both the SX and SX Prestige trims feature acoustic glass windows to cut wind noise. Makes it easier to hear the kids bicker in the third row!

Plenty of safety equipment here too to protect the family.

Kia’s Drivewise systems include forward collision avoidance that watches out for bikers and pedestrians, blind-spot warning and avoidance, rear cross-traffic avoidance, lane keeping assist, smart cruise control, rear parking assist and safe exit assist. The later sounds an alarm if cars are whizzing past your open side doors to warn kids to stay inside until the cars have passed. No more playing in traffic!

All worked fine, but as with some other makes the lane keeping assist was a bit over aggressive in twitching the wheel and redirecting the van to the center of its lane. This mostly becomes a problem in construction zones. Just be aware so you can keep the van out of barricades and orange barrels.

There also was a warning I didn’t care for. Every time the ignition is turned off the van chimes and lights up a message on the instrument panel, saying “Check Rear Seat.” It didn’t matter that no one was in those seats and no door had been opened previously to put a package there. So the warning becomes annoying and no doubt will be ignored when there is something in back, hopefully it’s not Junior.

Carnival simply is so full of goodies and equipment you’ll need to check out all the trim levels to make sure to get what your family needs.

Sharp looking headlights for Carnival!

The base LX starts at $33,275 with delivery, while the LXS lists at $35,275 and the EX at $38,775. I think that may be the best dollar-for-dollar trim. There’s also an SX just below the tested Prestige model. SX lists at $42,275.

The test van was $47,770 with only the paint being an option. For that you get all of the above, plus snazzy black wheels to give the Prestige a sportier look. A few other goodies include LED head and taillights, a Bose premium audio system, the leather seats both heated and cooled for row one and two, plus live navigation system to provide traffic updates.

Remember too that Kia still delivers a 10-year, 100,000-mile powertrain warranty, a comfort for the family budget.

FAST STATS: 2022 Kia Carnival SX Prestige

Hits: Sharp looks, excellent power, good handling, loaded with safety equipment. Cool power reclining second row seats, third row stows in cargo floor, 2 sun roofs, heated/cooled seats, heated steering wheel, 4 drive modes, second row 2 screens, wireless phone charger, snazzy black wheels.

Even the taillights are handsome!

Misses: No hybrid or AWD offered, clunky power rear seat buttons, ride is good, but you still feel sharp bumps as in a truck, annoying chime and screen readout saying to “check the rear seats” every time the ignition is turned off.

Made in: Sohari, Korea

Engine: 3.5-liter V6, 290hp

Transmission: 8-speed automatic

Weight: 4,727lbs.

Wheelbase: 121.7 in.

Length: 203 in.

Cargo: 40.2-141.5 cu.ft.

Tow: 3,500 lbs.

MPG: 19/26

MPG: 22.6 (tested)

Base Price: $47,275 (includes delivery)

Invoice: $45,202

Major Option:

Astra Blue paint, $495

Test vehicle: $47,770

Sources: Kia, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

2021 Mercedes-Benz GLA250 4Matic (AWD)

Mercedes delivers a sporty small crossover with its GLA250 …

Life is getting harder for premium brands.

For instance the small crossover market is flooded with snazzy options, the Lexus UX, Volvo XC40 being two I’ve tested, while the pressure is coming from the likes of Mazda’s near perfect CX-30 along with Subaru’s Forester.

Into this market plops this week’s tester, the Mercedes-Benz GLA250 4Matic. It’s similar in size and performance to those mentioned above, also packing all-wheel drive. Oh it’s sporty looking and performs well, but is on the higher end of starting prices compared with the others and sadly the test crossover was saddled with 18 options. That’s right, 18!

Those took what started as a moderate entry-level crossover of $39,280 up to a premium mid-size crossover or SUV price of $55,585.

But let’s move behind price as you could scrimp by adding just a couple options, maybe.

Power is good and handling is light and sporty. The GLA is Mercedes’ smallest crossover but handles like one of its higher-end cousins. Toss it into tight winding turns out near Holy Hill locally and it behaves like a small sport sedan.

Power comes from a turbocharged 2.0-liter I4 (very common now) that pumps out 221 horses and is rated 258 for torque. Quite respectable! A driver can add some oomph by adjusting to the Sport drive mode from Comfort. Power increases and steering effort firms. Ride is already pretty firm and with a short wheelbase can become a bit jiggly at times.

Watch Mark’s review: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jMWkEhVjU-M

By comparison, the luxurious Volvo XC40 has 248 horsepower and the modest cost Mazda CX-30 2.5 Turbo Premium Plus tested earlier this year knocks out 227-250 horses depending on what octane fuel you use. Both handle well, like the Mercedes.

GLA uses a fine 8-speed automatic to engage that engine and the 4Matic AWD system provides good traction putting 80% of the power to the front wheels in Comfort and Eco drive modes. Sport shifts 30% of the power to the rear.

At just 3,494 lbs. the Mercedes feels light and nimble.

Braking is excellent with big drilled rotors up front, a part of the AMG line package that adds $2,240 to the price tag. If you are into performance this may be worth it. It also adds an AMG diamond block grille and some AMG styling touches to the body for spiffiness purposes.

From a looks standpoint the AMG black multi-spoke 20-inch wheels certainly looked great too on the white tester. Note only black and white paint are standard, all other shades add $720. The fancy wheels are $1,050, but again, if style matters as much as performance, a reasonable add-on.

The tested GLA250 also added a Night package to make the grille trim a high-gloss black, and likewise the outside mirror covers and window trim. Cost is $400.

Inside the small Mercedes was sharply styled with five round satin chrome air vents spread across the lean dash. Seating was a titanium gray leather with similar black to gray dash and door trim. Natural grain black linden wood trim spiffed the dash and doors too, a $325 addition. Trim is mostly satin chrome and gloss black around the 20-inch wide instrument panel and info screen, looking much like a giant cell phone. I like the look, but that leather is a $1,450 option.

Those bigger screens cost extra too. A 7-incher is standard for the touchscreen, but the Premium package boosts that to 10.25-inch info and instrument cluster screens, merged as one unit. The $1,750 package also includes a Keyless-Go package, auto-dimming rearview and driver-side mirrors that will fold flat against the doors.

Dash buttons and the screens are simple enough to use as there generally are two or three ways to engage the radio, navigation system, etc. A touchpad on the console replaces the former clumsy knob there. The pad is slightly easier to use, but not while driving. Many buttons are on the steering wheel hub to access these functions too, but that and its leather covering cost $360 extra.

There’s a big 10.5-inch screen above those three air vents and climate toggles.

An Alexa-like system that the driver must address as Hey Mercedes, will answer your time and temperature questions, among others, just like Alexa. I stumped her as often as not, or had to rephrase my questions. Still, it can be fun to play with this on a long drive. On the electronics front, an SOS emergency system is mounted overhead.

Seating is firm (one friend called it hard), but well-shaped for hip and lower back support, and I like that Mercedes puts the seat adjustments on the door. Very easy to reach! The power lumbar button is still on the driver’s seat side, and the seats feature a lower-cushion extension for long-legged driver. That extension’s control knob beneath the cushion sticks out a bit far though. Seats here were heated too, a $500 option. As our climate warms it would make sense to have cooled seats, especially with leather surfaces.

The GLA250 has a sharp-looking cockpit with a flat-bottom wheel.

Other goodies on the tested GLA250 included a panoramic sunroof ($1,500), Sirius XM radio ($460), a laudable Burmester surround sound system ($850), wireless phone charging ($200) and a cool 64-color interior ambient lighting system ($310) that is adjusted through the info screen. I liked the indigo lighting for the dash trim and air vents, very relaxing and classy!

The new GLA’s interior is roomy too, easily carrying four adults. The redesign for 2021 lengthened the wheelbase by an inch, boosted rear seat legroom by 4.5 inches and raised the roofline by 3.5 inches to maximize front seat headroom. Tall drivers fit well.

Likewise there’s more cargo room under the power hatch. With seats in place it’s 15.4 cubic feet and with the rear seats folded flat it grows to 50.5 cubic feet. The seats also include a fold-down pass-through for folks carrying skis or other long thin items.

Here’s as good a spot as any to mention that the power hatch did not always latch properly. It seemed to, but once the vehicle was started a tiny red light flashes for the hatch area and the rear-view camera will not engage. So, climb out and manually re-latch the hatch. Might be a problem only on the tester, but still.

A few other glitches or things I question, include an odd feature where a front-view camera engages at intersections. It only seemed to turn on if there were other cars coming at you from the opposite direction. Since a driver can clearly see out the front window I’m not sure of its purpose as the screen is obviously smaller than the real view out the windshield. The screen  also makes the vehicles coming at you appear much further away.

I also found the lane departure assist system quite abrupt. If I let the GLA fade to the center or road’s shoulder lines the crossover would brake and groan much harder than any other vehicle I’ve tested. Most tug at the wheel to re-center the vehicle in its lane and do not brake or groan.

Snazzy looking taillights here!

And this is just a heads up, but the slim transmission shift lever extends from the right of the steering column. That’s an unusual location as of the past 25 years or so. This is where one usually finds the wiper lever. So if you purchase, just be aware you’ll need to retrain yourself as to the shifter’s location.

Speaking of safety, the majority of safety features here were included in option packages. I won’t repeat them all as they are in the stat box below, but everything from blind-spot assist to adaptive high-beams and the navigation system are in packages totaling $3,895.

Which brings us to gas mileage, something of concern as $3 a gallon gas is pretty much the norm now. I managed an excellent 28.2 mpg in about a 50-50 mix of city and highway driving with up to four aboard, and I didn’t go easy on the throttle a lot either. High octane fuel is preferred and the EPA rates the GLA250 at 24 mpg city and 33 highway.

Spiffy black wheels with Mercedes logos!

If 221 horses aren’t enough there are two other GLA models with more oomph. The GLA350 touts a horsier turbo 2.0 I4 at 302 horses from an AMG-tuned motor and the GLA450 delivers 382 horses. This engine is hand-built by Mercedes AMG performance factory.

Those models start at $47,550 and $54,500, respectively, and reflect mid-level luxury prices. Ironically the tester actually cost more than those horsier trims, once all its options were ladled on to this wundercar!

FAST STATS: 2021 Mercedes-Benz GLA250 4Matic

Hits: Good power and sporty looks and handling, plus AWD. Mercedes version of Alexa, panoramic sunroof, heated seats, 5 round dash air vents, wireless charger, stereo upgrade, power hatch, 4 drive modes, 10.25-inch screen, SOS overhead, lower seat extensions and excellent braking.

Is it just me or does this remind you of a Star Wars stormtrooper?

Misses: Firm ride, power hatch doesn’t always latch properly, knob to release lower seat extension sticks out too far, odd front-view camera engages at intersections, console touchpad for screen adjustment, abrupt lane departure correction with braking, shift lever on right of steering column an unusual location.

Made in: Rastatt, Germany

Engine: 2.0-liter turbo I4, 221 hp

Transmission: 8-speed automatic

Weight: 3,494 lbs.

Wheelbase: 107.4 in.

Length: 173.6 in.

Cargo: 15.2-50.5 cu.ft.

MPG: 24/33

MPG: 28.2 (tested)

Base Price: $39,280 (includes delivery)

Invoice: N.A.

Major Options:

Titanium gray/black leather interior, $1,450

Natural grain black linden wood trim, $325

Multi-function leather steering wheel, $360

20-inch black AMG multi-spoke wheels, $1,050

Panoramic sunroof, $1,500

Suspension w/adaptable damping, $990

Sirius XM radio, $460

Burmester surround sound system, $850

Heated front seats, $500

64-color interior ambient lighting, $310

Wireless charging, $200

USB-C adapter cable, $25

Driver assistance package (active brake assist w/cross-traffic function, distance assist, steering assist, blind-spot assist, lane-keeping assist, lane assist, speed limit assist, emergency stop assist, evasive steering assist, Pre-Safe Plus, route-based speed adaptation, extended restart in Stop-Go traffic), $1,700

Exterior lighting package (active LED headlights, adaptive high-beam assist), $900

Multi-media package (navigation and nav services, MBUX augmented reality nav, speed limit assist), $1,295

Night package (high-gloss black grille trim, exterior mirror covers, window trim), $400

AMG line (AMG body styling, perforated front discs, MB lettering, AMG diamond block grille), $2,240

Premium package (10.25-inch info screen, 10.25-digital instrument cluster, Keyless-Go package, auto-dimming rearview and driver-side mirrors, power fold mirrors), $1,750

Test vehicle: $55,585

Sources: Mercedes-Benz, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

2021 BMW M440i Convertible

Gray Bimmer convertible easy on the eyes, not the wallet …

The M440i is sleek, sexy and fast, a primo luxury drop-top.

Not much is certain these days, but for cars it is certain that gray is as hot today as a Kardashian bootie video.

Dull gray leads the way, appearing on Toyota pickups and now Ford’s Mustang Mach 1 and Dodge’s Durango Hellcat with names like Jet Fighter Gray and Destroyer Gray. Now comes BMW’s sleek M440i Convertible in Dravit Gray Metallic. No one seems sure what the name means, although an internet search shows that dravit derives from Hindu meaning malted or soft.

In any case, BMW’s Dravit Gray is a dark metallic chameleon color with green and gold flakes generously mixed into its deep gray finish. So the car can look gray, green or a bit greenish gold like a brilliant autumn afternoon. I warmed to the color, which is a $1,950 spiff to the $64,995 4 Series convertible.

The taillights are subtly stylish, like the rest of the Bimmer!

The color is unique, as is the M440i. This four-seater is a driver’s car, a joy on the road, a hoot on the highway and as beautifully designed and assembled as a Rolex watch. Everything about the luxury sports convertible feels right and fits tight.

First, BMW moved away from its powered hard-top convertible to this even more attractive soft-top. Miraculously the canvass top folds and stows away in about 18 seconds and even retracts at speeds up to 31 mph. It works. This allows one to roll through the neighborhood and drop the top at a whim if you decide the summer’s heat and humidity aren’t going to ruin your ride.

The advantage to the softer top is that it weighs 40% less than a hardtop, and to be honest, it’s so well lined that noise levels in the cockpit are only mildly affected. Naturally with the top down it’s noisy as all get-out and drowns out the fine Harmon Kardon surround sound stereo, an $895 extra.

Even with the top up the M440i is handsome, plus this top has a silvery sheen.

Further distinguishing the test car was its Moonlight Black soft top instead of the full-on black roof that’s standard. This is just $150 extra and adds a bit of glitz as the top looks somewhat reflective with a silvery sheen. I liked it.

Watch Mark’s review: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5Rx0nLs7y3Q

Yet it’s the power, handling and ride that sells any BMW, that and its kidney-shaped grilles. This new 4 Series is getting bashed all over the internet for what some are calling its garish grille, the two protuberances seeming to be more in-your-face than past iterations. So what? It’s stylish, it’s fun and it certainly shouts BMW. Besides, if car watchers haven’t noticed, all the grilles are getting bigger, brasher and display giant brand logos. More disturbing here is how ugly the license plate looks covering the grilles.

Is this too much grille for ya? Many luxury makes are going bonkers on grille size now!

Power freaks will enjoy the M440i. Under that sculpted hood is a 3.0-liter twin-turbo I6 that pulsates with 382 horsepower and delivers 364 lb.-ft. of torque. Distinguishing itself from, say a Mustang Mach 1, this twin-turbo bounds to 100 mph with a sweetly tuned exhaust whine that assures speed, but doesn’t menace or trumpet its accomplishments. Speed comes smoothly with the precision of the proverbial Swiss watch via a well-mated 8-speed automatic.

Additionally BMW uses a 48-volt mild hybrid electric motor to direct some of the electrical current away from the powertrain while also delivering a silky stop/start function when the car is at rest. Some stop/start systems feel a bit clunky as they re-engage once the driver’s foot moves off the brake pedal at a stoplight. Not here. This one is so quiet and smooth you soon forget it’s working.

Ride and handling are aces. Some sporty coupes and convertibles ride like solid-axle wagons of old, creating a ride that seems torturous. But the M440i is well controlled enough that you feel totally in tune with the road without it bruising your bum.

Vroom with a view!

Handling is precise and somewhere between racer and sportster. Turn into a corner with confidence and a moderately heavy steering feel. No body lean, no chirping of tires even in high speed turns from the rear-drive BMW.

I was quickly spoiled too by the four-wheel disc brakes, ventilated of course, for better long-term performance under racy conditions. But my do these stop the 4 Series in a hurry and with great confidence. Front discs get 4-piston calipers too.

Adding to the fun are the multiple drive modes, easily accessed via buttons on the console. Sport tweaks the engine revs for more low-end power and firms the steering. Comfort is perfect for normal city driving and there are Eco and Adaptive modes too.

The test car added a $1,300 dynamic handling package with 19-inch sport wheels, which further aids grip and handling control.

No dull gray or black interior here. This one is Tacora Red leather.

Inside, the M440i goes all sexy with a Tacora Red Vernasca leather interior. Can you say Corinthian leather? Well this is a highly grained leather that doesn’t seem to heat up too much when exposed directly to sunlight. I left the top down during errands on some steamy sunny days and was pleasantly surprised not to roast my buns on return.

That red leather used on the seats also decorates the door panels, which feature black leather-feel tops. Likewise the dash is black. All trim is satin chrome from dash, to doors and door releases for a high-end look. An open-pore wood-like grain covers the console face. Ritzy!

BMW’s seats are well-shaped with pleasant hip and lower back support and are powered. Plus they will power forward with the flip of a handle on the seat backs for easier loading of passengers to the rear seat. Bottom seat cushions also can be extended for the comfort of long-legged drivers.

There are neck warmers in the seat head rests here, just $500 extra!

Front seats are heated, as is the steering wheel, the control button at the center of the steering wheel’s hub. I’d think cooled seats would be called for here too, a benefit in summer driving, plus I’d like to see a flat-bottom steering wheel to free up a little knee room and also reflect the convertible’s sporty nature.

Note, this test car DID have neck warmers in the seats to keep the chill from necks during top-down drives in spring and fall when temps could be chilly. Those cost $500 extra. So why not add cooled seats too?

Another add-on is a wireless phone charger for $500, which seems steep for something lesser priced cars are starting to include as standard or a slight option fee.

No bad angles on the BMW M440i, but luxury demands a full checkbook.

Dash layout is fine and works well for the driver, plus the test car had a head-up display. I found the 8 radio station pre-set buttons rather small, but at least they are available so you don’t have to play with the console knob to tune. In fact, a roller knob on the steering wheel allows the driver to scroll up and down the radio station list with ease.

Other add-ons included a $700 parking assistance package with active park distance control, a surround view camera with 3D view (amazing on a convertible), plus BMW’s park assistance plus system.

A $3,700 executive package added the heated seats and wheel, plus offered the head-up display, ambient lighting, adaptive LED headlights and Live Cockpit Plus with navigation system.

Gas mileage was good for a powerful convertible too. I got 26.2 mpg in about 70% highway driving. The EPA rates the car at 23 mpg city and 31 mpg highway. No crossover or SUV can approach that, nor the fun and precision of this drive.

On the down side, you get a small 9 cu.ft. trunk, up 1.2 cu.ft. from the previous power hardtop model. Plus this speedster prefers premium (93) octane fuel, now approaching $4 a gallon.

Pretty sure one could confuse this styling for a six-figure supercar’s nose!

Which leads us to price, another drawback but understandable for such a fine convertible. I mentioned its $60+ grand starting price above. Well, the test car settled at $74,670.

Considering this is based on the BMW’s small 3 Series that’s rich for my blood. Still, other options remain, including the BMW M430i coupe for $46,595 with its 255-horse I4 turbo. As with all the 4 Series models an all-wheel-drive system can be added for $2,000 and the 430 can be had as a convertible for an additional $7,500.

Folks needing more power can move up to the M4 Competition Coupe at $75,695 for starters, but it packs an amazing 503 horses and does 0-60 mph in 3.8 seconds. Wow. A 6-speed manual is available on the “base” M4 Coupe ($57,495) with just 473 horses, if you prefer shifting for yourself.

Blue calipers are a nice change, but red ones also are available.

Choices are vast with the 4 Series featuring everything from AWD coupes to convertibles ready for the track. The cost is high, but the performance is near priceless.

FAST STATS: 2021 BMW M440i Convertible

Hits: Sharp styling, super acceleration, excellent sporty handling and good ride. Easy lowering top, heated wheel and seats, multiple drive modes, wireless charger and neck warmers

Misses: Tiny trunk, prefers premium unleaded, price. Plus needs flat-bottom wheel and cooled seats.

Made in: Dingolfing, Germany

Engine: 3.0-liter twin turbo I6, 382 hp

Transmission: 8-speed automatic

Weight: 3,578 lbs.

Wheelbase: 112.2 in.

Length: 187.9 in.

Cargo: 9.0 cu.ft.

MPG: 23/31

MPG: 26.2 (tested)

Base Price: $64,995 (includes delivery)

Invoice: N.A.

Options:

Dravit Gray Metallic paint, $1,950

Dynamic handling package (19-inch 797M wheels), $1,300

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

Executive package (heated steering wheel, heated front seats, ambient lighting, Icon Adaptive LED w/Laserlight, head-up display, Live Cockpit Plus w/nav), $3,700

Moonlight black soft top, $150

Neck warmer, $500

Wireless charging, $500

Harman Kardon surround sound, $875

Test vehicle: $74,670

Sources: BMW, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

2021 Ford Mustang Mach 1 Premium

Jet Gray Mustang Mach 1 ready to break the sound, er, speed barrier …

Speed hooked many of us on cars, that raw power to go faster than our brains can barely imagine, or cope with. It’s the reason for racing and racy cars, for high-horse engines, and it’s why NASCAR’s Darrell Waltrip says things like “Boogity, Boogity, Boogity.”

Ford’s Mustang Mach 1 Premium oozes speed, power, grunt and boogity all in a hot fastback design wrapped in a Jet Gray paint scheme with non-glare black hood and side stripes trimmed gloriously in orange.

There’s no way you see this car and don’t immediately think of speed.

Of course that’s what Ford wants. It’s the reason Mustang is the only remaining car in its lineup. Speed sells, and even if we can’t hit its top speed of 168 mph on the highway, buyers want to know they could. Or they want you to know they might.

For my money the looks alone could persuade me to consider a Mustang, but shoehorn in a throbbing 5.0-liter V8 that sounds like it’s ready for Daytona and the Mach 1, which is available in limited quantities for 2021, is a no-brainer.

If you fancy yourself a star-spangled racer wannabe, one that wants to put American metal on the pole or put a whoopin on other makes, the Mach 1 is calling your name.

Watch Mark’s review: Mark Savage reviews 2021 Mustang Mach 1 – YouTube

That V8 pumps out an impressive 480 horses, 20 more than an already muscle-bound Mustang GT and packs parts engineered by Shelby American for its GT350 and GT500 models. This racier Mach 1, a throwback name, takes the place of previous Bullitt and GT350 Mustangs and the GT with Ford’s Performance Pack 2.

At $52,915 it’s a relative bargain for a track-ready racer, and a darn sight easier on the wallet than a full-on serious racer like the GT500 that lists at $71,495. Mach 1 is about $10 grand less than the new Chevy Corvette too.

What do you get for your hard-earned cash?

Mach 1 uses the race-engineered GT350’s subframe for its suspension hookup, retunes the power steering for more precision, uses 6-piston Brembo (orange to match the racing stripe trim) brakes on 15-inch front rotors and 13-inch rear rotors, and has a toggle at the center stack’s base to engage, or switch off, traction control.

There are several steering and drive mode toggles too, including Sport+ and Track, and even a Drag Strip setting if you plan to blast off at your local drag strip. You can engage Line Lock there to spin and warm the tires before a race launch too.

Ford’s MagneRide adaptive suspension helps set the car up for normal city driving, which you’ll likely do mostly, or firm things up for the track. In any case, the Mustang handles quickly and precisely and the 19-inch Michelin ZR Pilot Sport S tires give excellent grip in high-speed turns. It’s easy to set this before hitting an apex and then rocketing straight away with little or no tail wiggle in this rear-drive hot rod.

Amazing too, for a race-oriented model, the Mach 1 rides well on our crumbling southeastern Wisconsin roads. There’s some jiggle to be sure, but no rough or severe jolts. Not all racy coupes can make that claim, even some costing twice as much.

A six-speed TREMEC manual transmission is standard on Mach 1, which would make it more challenging to drive and add to the race car dynamics. But this one featured a slick-shifting 10-speed automatic ($1,595 extra) and the Shelby American folks assured us auto writers at a test session last year that today’s automatics are as quick, or quicker at shifting than anyone but a pro racer, and even better than some of those. With all the city driving most of us do, I’d opt for the automatic.

Orange Brembo calipers look sharp on this gray Tang.

Cool too that the automatic reads your RPM and such to know exactly when to blip the throttle and downshift. Don’t tell your friends it’s an automatic and impress them with your innate racing ability as you brake hard for a turn, downshift, and accelerate away!

Just because performance is king here safety is not ignored. Ford’s Co-Pilot360 safety system is standard including all the usual electronic safety devices we’ve grown to expect. It includes forward collision warning with pedestrian detection, automatic emergency braking, blind-spot warning, rear cross-traffic warning, lane-departure warning, lane-keeping assist, automatic high-beams, and a 360-degree camera. While there is cruise control, it is not adaptive, so a bit of a disappointment.

This Premium model also comes with Sync3, Ford’s fine infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and an 8-inch touchscreen. The system works fine, but this screen looks a tad small compared to other current touchscreens. Many models now offer 10 to 12 inch screens. Also part of the Premium package is FordPass, an app that allows you to start, lock and locate your car via a smart phone.

Mach 1’s cockpit is racy, but comfortable with supportive primo Recaro seats.

Inside the test Mustang was mostly black, the dash and seats being that, but with gray stitching and seat backs feature an orange Mach 1 logo. Cool! Trim is mostly satin chrome, as are buttons and knobs, plus there’s a brushed smoke black insert on the dash. The manual tilt/telescope steering wheel is leather-wrapped.

Seats are Recaro race-oriented numbers that are very comfy and supportive with power controls, mostly. The seat back has a manual handle to adjust angle. Front seats are heated and cooled, three settings each and there are three driver’s seat memory buttons are on the door, all part of an option package.

Sharp looking layout and easy function make up for Ford’s smallish info screen. I like the toggles at the center stack’s base too.

Mach 1 includes a back seat, although that’s deleted from the GT500 to save weight. It’s small and cramped, but could hold a couple foldable friends for short distances.

Mustang’s instrument panel is wide and easy to see, plus changes appearance depending on what drive mode is selected. For instance, the Track mode puts a tachometer bar across the top to show revs. I liked the layout and everything is easy to see and use. Plus the $1,295 Elite package adds a fancy Bang & Olufsen stereo and enhanced security system.

Sadly there’s only a plug-in phone charger outlet, no wireless charging.

Not much says Mustang like three-bar taillights!

The test car added several other packages, including a voice-activated nav system for $595, snazzy painted aluminum wheels for $395 and then the Mach 1 Appearance package that includes those orange brake calipers, orange seat trim, the racy striping and the Jet Fighter gray paint scheme, for $1,000.

A $1,595 Deluxe group adds the driver’s seat memory, aluminum-clad pedals, leather console and premium trim plus the heated and cooled front seats.

All told the Mustang Mach 1 totaled $59,390, but there’s not much more you could, or would, want to add. For serious racers a $3,500 Handling group could make sense. It includes a tire upgrade, front splitter, performance rear spoiler with Gurney flap, fancier wheels, revised chassis tuning and adjustable strut top mounts.

The styling is pure Mustang and even in a closeup the muscle cars looks ready to attack.

As is, the exhaust tone, looks and performance of Mach 1 are exceptional, and all in a car weighing less than 3,850 pounds. Spend more if you like, but Mustang’s Mach 1 has all the boogity most of us can handle!

FAST STATS: 2021 Ford Mustang Mach 1 Premium

Hits: Hot fastback looks, monster power, racy handling, decent ride, substantial safety equipment. Sport+ and Track modes, automatic downshifts, efficient 10-speed tranny, wonderful exhaust tone, comfy supportive sport Recaro seats, heated/cooled seats, easy toggles to adjust steering/drive modes and traction control. Wide instrument panel with various layouts and nice stereo.

The exhaust tone from the dual twin pipes is inspirational!

Misses: No wireless charger, smallish screen and no adaptable cruise control.

Made in: Flat Rock, Mich.

Engine: 5.0-liter V8, 480 hp

Transmission: 6-speed TREMEC manual

Weight: 3,844 lbs.

Wheelbase: 107.1 in.

Length: 188.5 in.

Cargo: 13.5 cu.ft.

MPG: 14/22

MPG: 17.7 (tested)

Base Price: $52,915 (includes delivery)

Invoice: $51,329

Major Options:

10-speed automatic transmission, $1,595

19-inch magnetic-painted aluminum wheels, $395

Voice-activated touchscreen nav system, $595

Mach 1 Elite package (Bang & Olufsen premium stereo, enhanced security system), $1,295

Mach 1 Appearance package (Fighter Jet gray w/matte black strips w/orange trim, orange Brembo brake calipers, seat and interior orange trim), $1,000

Deluxe equipment group (driver’s seat memory, aluminum clad pedals, premium trim and accent group, leather console, heated/cooled front seats), $1,595

Test vehicle: $59,390

Sources: Ford, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

2021 CHevrolet Trailblazer AWD Activ

Trailblazer downsizes to cute, small crossover …

If you’re imagining a mid-sized SUV when you hear the term Chevy Trailblazer, stop right there.

The new Trailblazer is not that at all.

A new Trailblazer rests outside Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church in Wauwatosa.

This is a cute two-tone mini crossover that proves two things – Chevy designers can compete with good styling, and Chevy still knows how to make a low-cost vehicle. Gone are entry-level sedans and coupes, but crossovers, well, that’s where the market has moved.

But Trailblazer is tiny and not meant for off-roading at all. Think Kia Soul, Hyundai Venue, Nissan Kicks, but with AWD available. Or think Toyota C-HR, Kia Seltos, or Honda HR-V, which all also offer AWD.

Trailblazer is built in South Korea, like several of those competitors, and can compete, or beat some on price. A base front-drive Trailblazer L starts at $20,195, including delivery fees. Cool for entry-level buyers without much in the way of savings. It’s primed for recent high school, trade school, or college grads.

The Trailblazer was designed by Chevy engineers, the church by Frank Lloyd Wright!

However, it’s also bare bones for performance and features.

A buyer will need to work up to the fourth trim level, the tested Activ (no e, really!) model to get many of the features most vehicles now offer as standard. And even on this snazzy Dark Copper Metallic AWD Activ model with a white roof, there are options totaling $2,735 to get it closer to what many buyers expect. Final total here is $30,730, without a nav system. None is available.

Still that’s a bargain in today’s crossover crazy world, but many of those mentioned competitors are squarely in that market too.

Chevy’s advantage could be its styling. Some say the Trailblazer looks a bit like its big brother, the Blazer, which may be a first-time crossover buyer’s aspirational vehicle. It’s also a plus that the tested Activ model includes AWD, a feature not all competitors even offer.

But power is mild and ride is as rough and jarring as any vehicle I’ve driven in the past five years. That needs to be refined to give it a better shot at snagging market share from the competition, especially since Trailblazer is late to the marketplace. Nearly all the models listed above were refreshed or new to the market in the past two years.

Let’s start with power, the heart of any vehicle.

Standard in Trailblazer is a 1.2-liter turbocharged 3-cylinder engine that makes 137 horsepower. That’s actually more than a few competitors and its power is channeled through a CVT automatic. The Activ model features the more powerful 155-horse 1.3-liter turbo 3-cylinder engine with a 9-speed automatic. It’s fine for city driving but struggles and moans if you tromp the gas pedal for a quick highway entry. There is a sport mode, signified by a button wearing a checkered flag. That’s a bit optimistic, but it does increase low-end power and firms the steering effort.

Car and Driver magazine reports the 1.3-powered Trailblazer will do 0 to 60 mph in 9. 4 seconds. That’s, uh, not fast.

Of course the benefit is better fuel economy vs. horsier engines, although none of the competitors offer much in that regard either. I got 32.1 mpg in a mix of city and highway driving and the EPA ratings are 26 mpg city and 30 mpg highway. By comparison, the Nissan Kicks (nearly identical in size) is rated 5 mpg better. It also weighs about 600 lbs. less.

For the record the smaller Chevy engine, which only is used on front-drive models, is rated 28 mpg city and 31 mpg highway.

Up front Trailblazer uses struts, but has a torsion beam for the rear suspension. That’s old tech, but keeps the price down. Ride suffers though. You feel any road imperfection and a pot hole can jar the crossover considerably.

Handling is small car light and fairly lively, so that adds a bit of fun. It also helps when maneuvering around cracks and potholes in the streets. To the Trailblazer’s credit, it does come with disc brakes standard front and rear.

Note that the entry-level L model also only comes in white, has hubcaps not wheel covers, and includes only a 4-speaker stereo. More on stereos in a bit.

So most folks will likely step up at least to the LS at $22,795 or the LT at $24,895. With the LT a buyer can add AWD and the horsier engine for $2,000 and still be under $27,000.

The two-tone tester was decidedly cute, getting positive comments from family and friends, until they rode in it. All noted the tinny sound when closing doors or trunk. Plus sound deadening is lacking in Trailblazer. A lot of road and engine noise gets thrummed into the interior, and to be honest I’m not sure I’d pay any extra for a stereo upgrade as you won’t hear it without cranking the volume way up.

The Activ added a Technology package that included a premium Bose system with seven speakers and it was hard to hear well even with windows up and A/C on. Oh, and A/C is not standard, but part of a $620 Convenience package.

What is standard? Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are. While on the safety front automatic emergency braking with pedestrian recognition is standard, as is lane-keeping assist and departure warning. There’s also front collision alert and automatic high beams.

Smart cruise control, an upgrade to an 8-inch touchscreen, a wireless phone charger, LED headlights, HD radio, HD rearview camera and color driver info gauges are part of that Tech package that costs $1,620. The Convenience package includes an auto-dimming rearview mirror, a 120-volt power outlet, satellite radio and sliding visors with lighted mirrors.

Another $345 Driver Confidence package includes rear cross-traffic alert, rear park assist and lane-change alert with blind-spot warning. This package is a must.

All that said, the interior is comfortable and will fit four adults and there’s reasonable storage space behind the split fold-flat rear seats. The driver’s seat is a 10-way power model while the front passenger’s seat is manual. Both seat bottoms are on the narrow side. Seats are black leatherette with some black fabric trim and the steering wheel is leather-wrapped. The dash and door panels are hard black plastic.

The Activ model adds gloss black wheels, LED taillights, and  roof rack side rails, and a skid plate for protecting the bottom if you do wander off road. Its 8-inch touchscreen is easy to use too and there are SOS and OnStar systems overhead. Plus the accessories will keep running until a door is opened, so you can sit in the driveway and listen to tunes, or that last inning of the Brewer game.

One other benefit, the crossover’s first routine maintenance visit is free. And then one final concern. The thick A- and C-pillars create blind spots, a good reason to add that Driver Confidence package.

Small doesn’t have to be dorky or boring. Trailblazer proves that.

The Chevy also proves that economical low-cost vehicles still exist for first-time buyers. But for slightly improved comfort and features a buyer may want, or expect, there’s a need to move up to a mid-level Trailblazer at least. Also be sure to test the competition, as some feature better ride comfort.

FAST STATS: 2021 Chevrolet Trailblazer AWD Activ

Hits: Cute two-tone mini crossover with AWD available and attractively priced for the entry-level market. Top-end Activ model delivers reasonable safety and comfort content (wireless charging, wireless Apple CarPlay/Android Auto). Good mpg, light and lively handling, and roomy enough for four adults.

Cool wheels!

Misses: Rough ride, mild power, tinny sound to doors and hatch when latching, noisy interior, thick A and C pillars, narrow bottom seat cushions, no nav system available.

Made in: South Korea

Engine: 1.3-liter turbo 3-cylinder, 155 hp

Transmission: 9-speed automatic

Weight: 3,323 lbs.

Wheelbase: 103.9 in.

Length: 173.7 in.

Cargo: 25.3 – 54.4 cu.ft.

MPG: 26/30

MPG: 32.1 (tested)

Base Price: $27,995 (includes delivery)

Invoice: N.A.

Major Options:

Technology package (Infotainment 3 Plus, 8-inch touchscreen, Bluetooth, wireless charging, smart cruise control, memory card receptacle, LED headlights, HD radio, driver info center w/4.2-inch multi-color display, Bose premium audio w/7 speakers, HD rear-vision camera), $1,620

Convenience package (A/C, auto-dimming rear-view mirror, sliding visors w/mirrors, 120-volt outlet, SiriusXM radio, rear A&C USB charge only ports), $620

Driver confidence package (rear park assist, rear cross-traffic alert, lane change alert w/blind spot alert), $345

All-weather floor mats, $150

Test vehicle: $30,730

Sources: Chevrolet, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

2021 Volkswagon Arteon 2.0T SEL R-Line

Arteon sedan delivers looks, refinement, value …

Only two years have passed since Volkswagen renamed and restyled its CC sedan as the Arteon, still a name that doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue.

But VW assures us the term is Latin for Art, emphasizing how important design is for the model. Whatever it’s called, this large fastback-styled sedan proves VW is dedicated to handsome cars as well as crossovers and SUVs. Prosit!

As I intoned in my earlier review of Arteon, it’s a sedan that has virtually everything a crossover intender could want, with the exception of a tall ride and boxy shape. This is one of the finest looking family sedan on the road. Edgy, but with fastback styling.

But if you’re after AWD, mucho room for the family and cargo capacity to match, the Arteon checks all those boxes.

The VW rides on a 111.9-inch wheelbase so has oodles of leg and headroom for five adults and the trunk delivers a massive 27.2 cubic feet of cargo room, or up to 55 cubic feet with the split rear seats lowered. Heck, some small crossovers would struggle to offer that much. And instead of a pure trunk, the fastback opens as a hatch so loading and unloading is a cinch.

Yet you’re likely thinking the VW only stuffs a four-cylinder engine under the hood, so it’s likely weak on power. Wrong!

This 2.0-liter is strong, delivering 268 horses and 258 lb.-ft. of torque from the silky smooth turbocharged four-cylinder engine. The result is not only quick acceleration, but luxury car smoothness as it’s coupled with an efficient 8-speed automatic with Tiptronic to allow driver shifts, if desired.

Watch Mark’s video review: https://youtu.be/lsC8_z7ROUQ

There are five drive modes too, accessed easily via a button on the console. Sport mode firms the suspension, alters the gearing for better acceleration and stiffens the steering effort. That’s great on the highway, but in town or at sub-40 mph the Normal or Comfort modes seem best, easing steering and ride comfort. Midwest roads are crumbling!

Yet at all levels Arteon turns into corners with precision like a luxury sport sedan. Won’t find many crossovers doing that without some push or lean in corners. Plus being a sedan the ride is dramatically better than any truck-based vehicle. It’s well controlled, yet sporty. No serious bumps or thumps and railroad tracks and pot holes are barely a blip on your derriere’s radar.

My tested SEL R-Line model with 4Motion, that’s VW’s AWD system, was bathed in a beautiful King’s Red Metallic paint that got raves from onlookers, including my spouse who rarely comments on my test vehicles. That color costs $395 extra but is a stellar choice especially considering most cars are gray or white these days. This stands out!

Inside the styling is simple and elegant with a wide dash that features lean and expansive air vents, making cabin comfort a breeze, literally.

Clean and attractive dash with fine Nappa leather seats create a stylish interior.

The test car featured light gray Nappa leather seats with dark gray trim and a dark gray dash and door uppers with light gray inserts. The dash also had a textured metal trim strip that extended into the doors along with satin silver trim below that. Gloss black trim graces the stack and console surrounding the shift lever.

Controls are easy to see and use and the driver gets a 12.3-inch digital instrument panel that can be adjusted to meet a driver’s particular needs. Best for us seniors, the 8-inch infotainment screen mid-dash is simple to adjust, not always the case in today’s tech-laden touch-and-slide screened vehicles.

The power seats not only look sharp but are firm and well-shaped for long or short hauls, plus the driver gets three-memory settings Seats up front are heated, with three temperature settings. And get this, if you go full-on luxury with the top-tier SEL Premium model you get a massaging driver’s seat is too. Amazing in this price range.

Overhead is a large, but not panoramic sunroof, however the cover is a screen, not a shade so a little light, and warmth seeps through the roof in hot weather.

This SEL R-Line model that features a bit racier look and feel also adds a flat-bottomed steering wheel, naturally loaded with plenty of controls on it hub.

Arteon also comes with dual climate controls, but VW has gone to touch-controlled slides that are a bit too touchy at times, likewise there’s a radio volume slide on the steering wheel’s hub. Not sure why knobs needed to be replaced, but as with all touch-centric controls these are not easy to use when the car is in motion as their adjustment is imprecise.

VW loads up Arteon with electronic safety devices, including parking sensors, automatic high-beam headlights, and an integrated crash response system to alert authorities if you crash. There’s also the standard blind-spot warning, smart cruise control, rearview camera, lane-keeping assist, and emergency braking with pedestrian recognition.

Stop & Go is standard too, an effort to save gas at stoplights, but the annoyance factor of the car shutting down seems hardly worth the minor gain it provides. That’s not a VW thing, it’s across the automotive market.

An economic downside is that Arteon prefers premium gasoline, the higher octane providing part of the VW’s prodigious horsepower. The VW will run on regular gas, but loses some oomph. Still, even powered up the car is rated at 20 mpg city and 31 mpg highway by the EPA. That highway figure is up 4 mpg from the 2019 model I’d driven, a big gain in efficiency. I managed 27.5 mpg, quite good for a large family sedan.

Good news on the pricing front too as a base Arteon SE starts at $38,190. It’s front-wheel drive. An SEL R-Line lists at $42,790 and one with AWD like the test car begins at $44,590. This one just added the sharp red paint job to end up at $44,985. Standard on the R-Line are 19-inch tires, the Nappa leather seats, sunroof, smart cruise control and adaptive LED headlights.

Going top-level Premium R-Line with 4Motion pushes the price to $48,190, but you do get the massaging driver’s seat, heated steering wheel and cooled seats, plus a 12-speaker Harmon Kardon stereo, 3D backup camera and power hatch.

This competes well with the likes of Toyota’s Camry and Honda’s Accord, plus Nissan’s Maxima, Acura’s TLX and Kia’s Stinger, although it’s much racier in performance. I think it even approaches the gorgeous Genesis G80 2.5T tested a week ago, but just not as quiet inside or as luxurious feeling.

FAST STATS: 2021 VW Arteon 2.0T SEL R-Line

Hits: Slick looking fastback sedan with good power, sporty handling, but fine family sedan ride. Smooth and comfy, with a sporty edge, adjustable drive modes, and solid safety features. Roomy interior and trunk under a hatch. Heated seats, large sunroof, flat-bottom wheel, comfortable seats, good sized info screen and easy controls. Plus AWD.

Misses: Prefers premium fuel. Sunroof has screen, not shade. Touch and slide controls hard to precisely use. Awkwardly tight spot for phone under center stack.

Snazzy wheels make Arteon look fast, even while parked.

Made in: Emden, Germany

Engine: 2.0-liter turbo I4, 268 horsepower

Transmission: 8-speed automatic w/Tiptronic

Weight: 3,686 lbs.

Length: 191.6 in.

Wheelbase: 111.9 in.

Cargo: 27.2-55 cu.ft.

MPG: 20/31

MPG:  27.5 (tested)

Base Price: $44,590 (includes delivery)

Invoice: $42,811

Major Options:

King’s Red metallic paint, $395

Test vehicle: $44,985

Sources: Volkswagen, kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage