Category Archives: Car Reviews

2023 Volkswagen Golf GTI S

VW’s GTI packs plenty of performance, even with an automatic …

Volkswagen fans know all about the Golf GTI, the sporty hatchback has been a mainstay performance friendly version of its compact runabout for 40 years.

Golfs (and Rabbits) have been VW’s go-to entry-level car basically since the original Beetle was discontinued in the US in 1979. While this current version looks crisply styled, to be honest, Golf styling has remained somewhat like that of the Porsche 911, consistent through the decades.

What changes, naturally, is all the interior features, the safety gear, along with the engine and tranny.

This GTI S has more power, a more modern dash and interior, plus a 7-speed automatic transmission with a Tiptronic (manual-shift) feature. One can argue all of that is both good and, well …

Let’s start with the big positive, the 2.0-liter turbocharged I4, same as in the Jetta sedan Autobahn model I tested last year. It cranks a generous 241 horsepower with 273 pound-feet of torque. That’s sufficient to jazz this hatch to 100 on a highway entry ramp, but be sure to select the Sport drive mode. It changes shift points for faster acceleration.

The Comfort setting is fine most of the time and Eco is good when trying to stretch mileage. Note too that there’s considerable turbo lag upon acceleration in these two modes.

If power to the pavement is your goal then you’ll certainly want to use the paddle shifters behind the steering wheel. With those you can manually control shift points and really rev this sweet-sounding engine to the max for quicker picker upper power. In Sport mode the exhaust tone also sounds throaty, a win for those who enjoy hearing their car engine flex its muscles.

An even better solution, for the power hungry, is a 6-speed manual transmission, which is standard and saves a buyer $800 over the automatic. Ironically the automatic (thanks to computerization) is more efficient than the manual, so is rated at 24 mpg city and 34 mpg highway by the EPA. I managed 29.6 mpg and the turbo drinks regular unleaded.

Folks with a little more cash and a craving for more oomph can move up to the Golf R with AWD, an adaptive suspension, and an amazing 315 horsepower from its turbo I4. Entry price is $44,390. The R comes only in red or gray.

Watch our video:

The tested S model, the entry-level GTI, was Reflex Silver Metallic, a bright silver. Naturally there’s GTI badging and the seats also carry the GTI moniker, as does the flat-bottom steering wheel.

While power is impressive, it’s the handling that likely will sell sporty hatch aficionados on GTI. Steering is light and responsive and allows a driver to aim and shoot for any corner’s apex. The chassis here is well tuned for fluid handling and stability in corners.

Then there’s the ride. As with many VW’s and German makes, the sporty nature of the car leads to a firm (some might call it stiff) ride. That isn’t an issue on most highways, but around town it can be a bit wearing. Note too, if you like most of this package, but prefer a somewhat better ride, the VW Jetta sedan’s wheelbase is a couple inches longer.

Inside? Well, I remember wearing plaid pants in the 1970s and when the Golf GTI first came out it followed the fashion trend with cloth plaid seats to distinguish it from other models, not to mention it displayed how hip and trendy the GTI was. Well, VW continues the tradition, for better or worse. The gray and red plaid on the black cloth seats looks nice now, but I’d question how long before an owner might tire of the swingin’ ’70s look. I’m sure Austin Powers would approve.

Whatever you think of its look, the seats are extremely supportive and comfortable with major side bolsters on both cushions. Seats are manual to save weight and include a pump handle to raise or lower the seats. Ironically though, the seat backs are powered. Front seats also are heated.

Remember plaid? VW brings it back in the GTI.

The black interior does feature some red stitching on the steering wheel and a few accents to those plaid seats. Dash and door trim is a flat black mesh pattern and the console and shifter are surrounded by shiny gloss black trim, a reflection catcher on sunny days.

The dash is all digital now although the infotainment screen remains on the small side, not to mention (but I will) that it is overly complex to say the least. It took me half a day to get the radio to offer me channels to select from, and then the Favorites feature did not work like any I’ve experienced before, necessitating manually adjusting to the station if I’d moved on to another. First world problem? Yes, but not user friendly and not something you want to fiddle with while driving.

Also, the radio tuning and volume knobs are tiny.

Speaking of which, the transmission shift lever on the console is also wee, requiring just a finger tap or flick to change gears. I’d prefer something more substantial.

This info screen is a terror to tune or adjust.

I love the VW flat-bottom steering wheel as it looks sporty, like the car, and also provides a bit more legroom, a help to taller drivers. But us short folks will prefer to flip up the manual tilt/telescope steering wheel to get in and out of the car as the steering column is quite deep so can be quite the right knee thumper when entering or exiting.

Note too that VW now puts all the light functions on a touchpad on the dash to the left of the steering wheel, which was fine because it’s rarely used if set to automatic. However, the climate controls and drive modes are on another touchpad below the info screen. That occasionally adjusted itself without me touching it, so not sure if it was motion sensitive or just a road vibration set it off. But a couple times the climate control fan jumped to high speed.

On the brighter side, VW includes a wireless charger under the center stack, plus a couple plug-ins.

Rear seat room is moderate, yet enough that four adults can zip about, but comfort dictates this is primarily a two-person vehicle. The rear seats split and fold flat, but there’s a goodly amount of cargo space under the hatch before folding the seats. I like hatches too because most, like the Golf, have a rear window wiper, a benefit in Wisconsin’s climate.

The GTI S is the base model here, starting at $31,625 with a 6-speed manual. This was the automatic version and listed at $32,425, including delivery. There were no options added.

One might consider moving up to the SE trim at $36,425. For the extra cash it adds a sunroof, fancy 480-watt Harman Kardon stereo, and an illuminated grille for some spiff.

A special 40th Anniversary trim sneaks in between these models at $34,150 and offers some additional graphics.

Move all the way up to the Autobahn trim and get 19-inch wheels vs. 18-inchers on S and SE, plus the SE added features. Price grows to $40,165. To compare with similar models look at the Mazda 3, Honda Civic Si and Hyundai Elantra N.

VW pricing is smartly value-oriented for a sporty entry-level hatch, until you get to the higher trim levels or go crazy and bump up to the high-horse R models. Your call, but for fun’s sake, do get a manual tranny!

FAST STATS: 2023 VW Golf GTI 2.0T S

Hits: Sporty handling, good power when using paddle shifters, nice engine tone, heated well-shaped seats, flat-bottom steering wheel, wireless charger, big cargo area, rear wiper, value pricing and decent gas mileage.

Misses: Firm ride, turbo lag on acceleration, overly complex radio tuning and info screen, plaid seats, tiny finger shift lever, climate controls sometimes activate themselves, steering column so deep knees hit it when exiting the car.

No denying these are spiffy VW wheels!

Made in: Wolfsburg, Germany

Engine: 2.0-liter turbo I4, 241 hp/273 torque

Transmission: 7-speed automatic w/Tiptronic

Weight: 3,206 lbs.

Wheelbase: 103.6 in.

Length: 168.8 in.

Cargo: 19.9/34.5 cu.ft.

MPG: 24/34

MPG: 29.6 (tested)

Base Price: $32,425

Invoice: $31,172

Major Options: None

Test vehicle: $32,425

Sources: VW,

Photos: Mark Savage


Car Spot: 2023 Dodge Challenger Black Ghost

A fitting end for the Hemi and I get to drive it!

Mark and I have gotten several great opportunities to drive really fun cars but one of two came recently at a media event at Road America. We go to this annual event, the Midwest Automotive Media Association (MAMA) Spring Rally. There the manufacturers have cars we can drive, some on Road America’s fantastic four miles. We both love this track.

2024 Dodge Challenger Black Ghost with me grinning.
Me in front of the Black Ghost. Number 7 of 300 made. Can you tell I was happy?

So we get the list of cars and on the list is the Black Ghost. Dodge has always had a knack for pounding big V8s into its cars and this one is a true classic. Besides the handling upgrades, they shoehorned an 800 hp Hemi into it. What makes this special edition so special is that it’s the final call for the Challenger and they only made 300 of them. This was number 7! I’ve never driven a car this rare and might not ever again.

2024 Dodge Challenger Black Ghost air intake
The Black Ghost has the same air intake as the Redeye.

For you Mopar fans this is a throwback to Challengers of the 70s when they offered special editions like this that rocked street racing. The 23 edition is based on the widebody SRT Hellcat Redeye model, but it boosts the supercharged 6.2-liter V-8’s output by 10 ponies to a total of 807 horsepower.

The Black Ghost appropriately comes in Pitch Black with a black faux-gator-skin roof vinyl that mimics the look of the original. It also features a chrome “Dodge” front badge, a white stripe on the rear fender, and chrome script “Challenger” badges on the grille, front fender, and rear spoiler. It rides on 20-inch Satin Carbon wheels, and stopping power comes via black six-piston Brembo brakes.

2024 Dodge Challenger Black Ghost
Big wide stripe on the rear deck similar to the original.

I know what you’re thinking, enuf yacking, what about the drive? I’m getting to it. For cars like this, we get a professional driver that rides along with us. This is fantastic because they know the track way better than we do and can give us the entry, exit, and apexes. They also know how the car brakes and where we should pour on the beans to get the best experience driving a fantastic car.

2024 Dodge Challenger Black Ghost interior
The office on my four-mile jaunt.

Ok so here’s how it works. We line up at the end of the pit road and are let go at intervals so that we don’t overtake the car ahead of us. There’s no passing on the track. We are reminded several times before we go out and reminded that this is not a race. We also want to give the car back to its manufacturer at the end of the day in one piece.

2024 Dodge Challenger Black Ghost hood pin
Hood pins flopped in the breeze on my Road America run.

So I get the green light and immediately mash the throttle down to the floor. Good Geeze! The tires screeched, engine sounds roars, and I get pinned back into my seat! My reaction was to start laughing hysterically like I was on a thrill ride. Btw, I love those. We rocket toward turn one where I put on the binders and turn in. A turn later we’re rocking down the Moraine Sweep but slowed down by a cone kink. Think I hit 125. But bleeding off the speed we picked up and then making a hard left and up under the Corvette bridge then another hard left and then a right to Hurry Downs building up speed and hitting the binders again hard and turning right into the long sweeping Carousel. Here my coach tells me to apex late in the turn. Now we blast to the kink where there’s another set of cones to slow us down. I can almost hear the car asking me why.

Such a fun and race course
2024 Dodge Challenger Black Ghost on the track at Road America
Me in the Black Ghost just past the Johnsonville bridge heading into the Carousel.

Our last chance to hear the engine roar is Kettle Bottoms where I get the speedo to hit 129 before another cone kink then onto Canada Corner, turn 13 and finally turn 14, up the hill and back into the Paddock area where the ride ends. Wow, what a ride, what a ride.

2024 Dodge Challenger Black Ghost with SRT branding
SRT badging throughout.

Smiling ear to ear it’s a ride I will never forget. Oh did I mention that the car I drive before that was a brand-new Corvette? Another fantastic ride but the cars couldn’t be farther apart. The Vette is more like a professional athlete, with toned muscles, and can run a 440 in 45 seconds while the Challenger had plenty of muscle but was more like a hooligan you’d find in an Irish bar. Both you’d want in your corner as one of your buddies.

RELATED Video: I drive the Dodge Durango Hellcat

Which would I buy, if money was no object, and it is? Probably would lean towards the Corvette since it’s the total package even though it costs more. It’s fast, handles like a dream, and looks so darn cool. It is a car I have lusted over since it came out in 2019. Mark and I had one out on a Sunday drive up to a local small airport I frequent and the trip was magical. It had just come out and everyone looked at it. Yup, we were the cool guys in the new Vette for one day.

2023 Corvette at Road America before my drive
Me right before my ride in the Vette.

If you’re lucky enough to have 100 grand and be one of 300 Black Ghosts, you will own a piece of history since this is the end of the line for the Challenger and the Hemi. You can thank the numbskulls in Washington for essentially making cars like this go away and try to replace them with EVs claiming that will save the planet, which it won’t. Yup, I’m wearing my feelings on my sleeve but for me once you take an internal combustion engine out of a car and replace it with an electric, it has no sole. Sure you get great acceleration but there’s no rumble at start up and roar when you punch the gas peddle. Cars like the Black Ghost will rocket in value in the coming years while a comparable EV will just fade into the sunset.

2024 Dodge Challenger Black Ghost
It comes in Pitch Black with a black faux-gator-skin roof vinyl that mimics the look of the original. It also features a chrome “Dodge” front badge, and chrome script “Challenger” badges on the grille, front fender, and rear spoiler. It rides on 20-inch Satin Carbon wheels, and stopping power comes via black six-piston Brembo brakes.

Thanks for stopping by and putting up with my politics but hey, I’m a Petrohead. Check back next Friday for another one of my spots along with some of its history. Have a great weekend.

2023 Genesis Electrified G80 AWD

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2023 Acura Integra A-Spec Tech

Acura’s hot horsey hatch is back, finally …

Here’s a recipe for success – hot hatchback styling, 200 horsepower, slick-shifting 6-speed manual tranny, a bright red suede and leather interior, and a rockin’ stereo.

Acura insists on adding its luxury nameplate and requisite big toothy grille into the spicy blend that is the new Integra A-Spec Tech. That’s a top of the line Integra with all the goodies, but a surprisingly affordable entry price.

Who says your automotive tastebuds can’t be stimulated at a reasonable price?

First, let’s refresh. The Integra was Acura’s racy entry-level hatchback for years, but disappeared (why oh why?) all the way back in 2006, before marketers at the Honda luxury brand finally realized its buyers were quickly skewing older and there was nothing much to offer Gen Y or Z.

Boom, take the spirited 1.5-liter turbo I4 from its kissin’ cousin, the Honda Civic SI and design a bit more upscale 4-door hatch to capture a more youthful market, entry-level luxury sport car types.

Propulsion from said turbo 4 is a spritely 200 horsepower with192 pound-feet of torque. Turbo means quick and exciting power, and linking it with a fine short-throw rev-matching 6-speed manual and the fun has begun. Rev-matching means the car automatically blips the throttle as you downshift. Cool!

While there’s some road noise here the engine itself is another silky Honda winner that operates well within itself so it doesn’t feel stressed, especially if you shift a bit before redline.

Handling is sporty too with MacPherson struts up front and a multi-link suspension in back to tame the ride and help give the car a sport-tuned feel. The Integra rides on a 107.7-inch wheelbase that’s just enough to eliminate severe ride over crater-pocked Wisconsin roads.

Plus Acura goes with three drive modes that can be toggled into action on the console. Comfort is best in town, while Normal ups the acceleration just a bit and then Sport turns on the afterburners and stiffens the steering feel considerably. In essence, this covers the buyer from luxury up through sporty.

The electric variable ratio power steering offers some reasonable road feedback too, again putting the emphasis on sporty, not racy.

I like Integra’s look, especially its nose and profile, but then I think hatchbacks are always slicker than sedans. Acura and Lexus noses are definitely in-your-face but the hood and headlights blend well into the massive grinning grille here.

Inside, well, brothel red suede and leather gives this a sexier look than most hatchbacks and premium sport coupes. The suede is standard on the Tech model and this fun factory look works with the dark metallic gray (Liquid Carbon, $500 extra) exterior. Naturally the dash and door tops are black to take the edge off the flamboyant seats and door panels.

Cooler yet (IMHO) are the metallic mesh air vent covers and gray metallic textured dash trim, and satin chrome door releases, trim, etc. This looks youthful and decidedly less mature than most luxury makes. It’s NOT your dad’s Acura!

The info screen is easy enough to use and is a fine 9-incher, up from a 7-inch model in the base Integra. The digital driver’s screen is easy to read too with some adjustability and red gauge needles too.

Acura’s dash is a nice mix of buttons, knobs, and touchscreen functions. Knobs tune the radio and climate controls, along with a few directional buttons. This trim also adds awireless charger under the center stack.

Pedals are stainless steel for a sporty look and the steering wheel a thick leather with red stitching to match the seats. I’d prefer a flat-bottom wheel in any sporty car, but this one didn’t impede entering and exiting as the power seats and power tilt/telescope wheel were simple to adjust for driving and egress comfort.

With short folks up front there’s plenty of legroom for adults in the rear seat, and even average size folks will fit fine. While the seats look and feel high-class, in a sporty car like this I’d expect more hip support, the bottom cushion being a bit too hard and flat. The rear seats are pretty comfy though. Trunk space behind them is generous, plus the seats fold down flat. The cargo well is deep and there is a bit of a reach over the tail when loading the trunk.

Overhead is a standard-size sunroof with manual shade.

But the big deal for audiophiles is a 16-speaker ELS Studio Sound system with two overhead speakers to rock the occupants. It sounded super too and was easy to tune via the touchscreen.

Snazzy door design includes a chrome stereo speaker cover.

Safety equipment is solid too with smart cruise control, collision mitigating braking, front and rear parking sensors, lane departure warning and lane keeping assist, forward collision warning, cabin departure mitigation, which warns if you’re about to open a door into traffic.

For the record, moving up from the base model to the A-Spec gets you the 10.2-inch driver’s digital screen, stainless steel pedals, contrast stitching on the seats, sport-tuned suspension, and 18-inch alloy wheels, up from 17-inchers. It also makes the manual tranny an option.

Going this top level with the Tech package means that suspension is adaptive (3 modes), plus adds the suede seat inserts, bigger info screen and the rockin’ stereo.

Pricing? Well, you can go base and get an automatic CVT (Continuously Variable Transmission) that will not put an emphasis on acceleration or performance and pay just $32,495, including delivery. Options are available, but not the 6-speed.

Move up to that A-Spec and it’s just $2,000 more and the manual is available. Or move up to the Rev-matching manual version that is the A-Spec Tech as was tested. Price is an incredible $36,895. All this one added was the special paint color for $500 to hit $37,395. With average car prices now exceeding $45,000, that’s a deal!

 That turbo needs its capsaicinoid for pep, and here that’s higher octane fuel, so go premium. Of course one can use regular, but power will drop off a bit over a couple tankfuls. Yet you’ll be getting 26 to 36 mpg says the EPA, so maybe the extra cost for premium won’t hurt too much. I got 30 mpg in a mix of city and highway outings and was happy to use all the horses the Integra had to offer.

Folks seeking sporty hatches with a 6-speed stick are today’s unicorn hunters. Yet Acura/Honda happily has more than one answer.

If you don’t need a luxury nameplate, consider a $30k Honda Civic SI that packs the same powerplant and 6-speed manual, weighs 200 pounds less, is two inches shorter, and features blander styling. It’s even rated a tad quicker by Car and Driver magazine, 6.8 seconds 0-60 mph vs. 7.0 for the Acura. Your tush will never perceive a difference.

Yet if  you want a bigger blast, know that the habanero version, Integra Type S, is coming this month as a 2024 model and will add a 2.0-liter turbo I4 that generates 300+ horsepower to the mix!

Spicier indeed, but with a hotter price tag at $51,995.

FAST STATS: 2023 Acura Integra A-Spec Tech

Hits: Sharp-looking hatchback, peppy power, sporty handling, good ride and slick six-speed manual transmission. Sexy interior, red suede/leather seats, metallic mesh air vents, power driver’s seat, 3 drive modes, good screen, wireless charger, stainless steel pedals, heated front seats, sunroof, snazzy stereo. Good cargo space.

Misses: A bit noisy inside, needs flat-bottom steering wheel, seats firm and need more hip support, prefers premium fuel.

Made in: Marysville, Ohio

Engine: 1.5-liter turbo I4, 200 hp/192 torque

Transmission: 6-speed manual

Weight: 3,150 lbs.

Wheelbase: 107.7 in.

Length: 185.8 in.

Cargo: 24.3 cu.ft.

MPG: 26/36

MPG: 30.0 (tested)

Base Price: $36,895 w/delivery

Invoice: N.A.

Major Options:

Special paint, $500

Test vehicle: $37,395

Sources: Acura,

Photos: Mark Savage

2023 Toyota Sequoia Platinum 4WD Hybrid

Big Sequoia is improved, but has a couple Big issues …

Big, bold, beautiful?

It’s hard to argue beauty for any full-size SUV although the sparkling silver paint job on this motoring monster, the Toyota Sequoia, added some sparkle. But Sequoia, as its name implies, is big and the restyling for 2023 helps it fit into the attractive Toyota style mix, be it bold or just shapely.

Certainly this giant Platinum model that takes root mid-level in the Sequoia forest is much improved from its predecessor, yet has two major issues that might give one pause. More on those after this short commercial break!

Sequoia not only was restyled but a hybrid power system was added, something Toyota knows quite a bit about. And that leads to one of its substantial improvements, gas mileage. This 3.4-liter twin-turbo V6 coupled with a mild hybrid system that helps power the body-on-frame truck to 18 mph, is a powerhouse, while being more efficient.

How much so?

Well, I had managed just 16.7 mpg in the previous generation Sequoia in nearly all highway driving. Here I got 18 mpg in a mix of city and highway, and actually saw 20 mpg in a highway stint. The EPA rates the hybrid at 19 mpg city and 22 highway. I know that’s still pathetic, but for a nearly 6,000-pound truck those numbers represent quite an improvement.

Note too that this powerplant generates 437 horsepower and a whopping 583 pound-feet of torque. That makes acceleration easy and almost spunky from a stop, plus Sequoia will tow up to 9,310 pounds, no small number, and up 2,200 pounds from earlier models.

Handling is decent here too as the truck is easy to maneuver and keep in its lane on a highway. I had this in particularly windy weather and it was simple to control, only mildly affected by our typhoonish spring winds.

Notably the Sequoia features three rows of seats, the third row powering down via buttons under the power hatch or on panels just inside the rear doors and next to the second row seats so one can reach them without crawling in back. Those second row seats also spring forward with the pull of a handle to allow easy access to row three.

But, and like all things Sequoia it’s a Big but, knee room and foot space is precious in the third row, even though those seats will slide 6 inches to and fro. Yet there’s a bigger issue.

Here’s the issue, an awkward cargo area that takes work to flatten out for cargo.

The hybrid batteries and a new live axle rear suspension, creates enough rise under the rear floor that when lowered the third-row seats stick up about 6 inches higher than the small cargo deck behind them. Thus, no flat floor for carrying luggage, lumber, or bags of mulch or top soil.

Oh, Toyota has a fix, but it’s inelegant.

A shelf that can be fitted in several slotted positions helps level the entire cargo area, but the shelf is awkward to maneuver and has two flaps on the back intended to lay flush on the backs of the third-row seats. They do if those seats have been pulled all the way back, otherwise you find yourself fiddling with the levers under those seats after the shelf is in place. Frustrating!

Watch our video: (186) 2023 Toyota Sequoia Platinum 4WD Hybrid review by Mark Savage & Paul Daniel – YouTube

While whining, let me mention the other oversized problem, Sequoia’s vanity-cabinet-size rearview mirrors. These monsters seriously block side views as they extend out nearly a foot on either side of the cockpit, and that’s before a driver powers them out even further. This $290 option allows the mirrors to extend about 5 inches further, a useful feature when trailering, although Toyota includes a number of other trailering assists on Sequoia, such as Trailer Backup Guide and StraightPath Assist.

This is the monster mirror, NOT fully extended!

As a short driver I could barely see to the side at an intersection as the mirrors are so tall. I found myself boosting up with my legs to see over the mirrors. Dangerous for me, but a 6-foot something driver may be fine, especially if they have a long torso. For parking purposes the mirrors will power fold flat against the truck’s side.

But let’s return to the other improvements.

Gone is the old 6-speed automatic, replaced by a smooth 10-speed automatic tranny that helps create a bit of a luxury feel as it applies the power seamlessly. It also helps improve gas mileage.

Here you can see the power running boards unfurled, because the door is open.

The old truck had solid running boards, while this one adds power-retracting boards, a trend among high-priced SUVs. These cost $1,005. Why not just $1,000? That $5 seems petty on a luxury SUV. Note too that if this system ever fails you’ll likely need a step-ladder to climb aboard.

Standard now are heated and cooled front and second-row seats, plus a heated steering wheel. Wise move for a big luxury ute.

Here’s a look at the gray leather interior.

One should note that the Sequoia is based on the Tundra pickup platform, which is also used for the Lexus LX 600 SUV. Like all those it has multiple drive modes, with Comfort being the setting you’ll want 90% of the time. But Eco, Normal, Sport and Sport+ are here too. I laugh at the Sport settings for monster trucks, but they are here if you choose to use them.

There’s also a Crawl Control feature to alloy off-roaders to engage when navigating rocks and rough terrain. Think of it as off-road cruise control.

Additionally the test truck added a load-leveling rear air suspension for $1,045. That will help when towing, but ride while fairly well damped is bouncy as with most pickups and large SUVs. So hit a large crater and the Sequoia sucks it up pretty well, but over uneven roads there’s bounce like in a baby buggy.

That’s a big info screen, some might say too big.

I probably should have mentioned that AWD came on the tester at about a $3,000 premium. You wouldn’t be off-roading without it.

Sequoia’s interior has been modernized, meaning the tiny info screen has been replaced by a 14-inch mega-screen. That seems a bit much, but the good news, it’s an easy to use touchscreen, so no awkward touchpad on the console. Plus Toyota delivers a large volume knob and the big screen shows the 360-camera images in fine detail.

Because a $499 dash cam was added here the screen switches to a front view every time the vehicle stops, which seems unnecessary. I can plainly see out the front. It would have helped if the camera looked to the sides to make up for those blasted protruding side mirrors.

The dash also is button happy with a plethora of toggles and buttons for everything from climate controls to the heated and cooled seats (I like that), plus copious trailering and ride height adjustments. By my count there are 11 buttons on the dash left of the steering wheel, 12 toggles on the stack and 11 more buttons below the toggles. A few more buttons grace the thick leather steering wheel’s hub too.

Another new addition, a wireless charger in the console’s front is welcome. The console itself being trimmed in black gloss finish is often very reflective. The cupholders include a cover and the giant storage box/armrest between the front seats offers multiple layers for storage.

Sunroofs? Yes, there are two and they are big too.

Overhead are giant sunroofs, one occasionally generated mild wind noise. Inside, the black leather seats are fairly flat and along with the doors and dash include blue trim piping. The test truck also added a 10-inch color HUD for $600.

Standard, as it seems on all Toyotas now, is its fine suite of safety equipment, everything from smart cruise control to pre-collision warnings and pedestrian detection. Excellent!

A look at pricing shows the Sequoia jumped $8,000 from the earlier models, maybe a bit more than one might expect despite all the improvements made for 2023. Still, large SUVs are now mostly in the $60,000 to $100,000 range and the base Sequoia SR5 with rear-drive and just an 8-inch info screen starts at $59,960. A Limited starts at $69,300 and adds more features while the tested Platinum lists at $75,560 with 4WD. A rear-drive model is $3,000 cheaper.

A TRD Pro model is sportier and equipped more for off-roading with 4WD standard as is a roof rack to carry your kayaks, etc. It lists at $77,660.

The top-end Capstone model starts at $79,895, which is almost where the test truck settled, at $79,379. A quick check online shows a monthly loan payment of $1,297 with $8,000 down, no trade-in and a loan rate of 3.19%.

That was nearly my mortgage payment for 20 year, and for that I got a shower and kitchen sink. Don’t fret though, this powerful Sequoia will easily pull a trailer big enough to include both.

FAST STATS: 2023 Toyota Sequoia Platinum 4WD (Hybrid)

Hits: Massive truck with three-row seating, improved gas mileage with hybrid, excellent power and AWD. Huge info screen, heated wheel and heat/cool front and rear seats, 360-degree camera, big sunroof, wireless charging, power running boards, hatch and power-down third row seats. Excellent towing power and acceleration, decent handling and good safety systems.

Misses: Massive mirrors seriously block side views, cargo area not flat initially with third row seats down, awkward panel adjustment to help remedy that, bouncy truck ride, uncomfy third row, a lot of dash buttons and toggles, and if power running boards ever fail you’ll need a stepladder to climb aboard.

Made in: San Antonio, Texas

Engine: 3.5-liter twin-turbo V6/hybrid, 437 hp/583 torque

Transmission: 10-speed automatic

Weight: 5,855 lbs.

Wheelbase: 122 in.

Length: 208.1 in.

Tow: 9,310 lbs.

MPG: 19/22

MPG: 18.0 (tested)

Base Price: $75,495 (includes delivery)

Invoice: $68,903

Major Options:

10-in. color HUD display, $600

Power extending mirrors w/convex spotter mirror and light, $290

Load-leveling rear air suspension, $1,045

Power running boards, $1,005

Dash cam, $499

Ball mount, $87

Carpeted floor/cargo mats, $358

Test vehicle: $79,379

Sources: Toyota,

Photos: Mark Savage

2023 Lexus ES300h F Sport

A hybrid luxury sedan priced almost like a family sedan …

Luxury and value go together a bit like peanut butter and caviar, at least in the car world.

That’s to say, they don’t. Usually, luxury vehicles push nameplate and a few fancy doodads at a premium price. Folks wanting their image or reputation to be aided by a luxury badge often don’t mind paying more than a little extra.

Lexus rocks the normalcy boat with its new ES300h sedan, ladling lavish luxury inside while providing a handsome family sedan at just a smidge beyond mainstream (Toyota) pricing.

First, it’s a wonder that any car maker is making cars these days, but Toyota and Lexus still do. ES300h is a sedan with a hybrid powerplant. That means a 2.5-liter I4 gas engine paired with a hybrid system, which the carmaker has been fine tuning now for 20+ years.

Think Prius, but then the system moved upstream. Hence the Lexus luxury model.

Power is typically modest, just 215 horses and a torque rating of 163. But the delivery is smooth, steady and stealthy quiet. You can perk it up some by opting to use two of the five drive modes. Sport and Sport+ give the front-drive sedan a bit more oomph when slipping away from a stop.

But mainly the ES simply feels cushioned, quiet and capable. Ride is superior, well damped by the suspension system here and comfortable even over the roughest roads. All that and this was a sport-tuned F Sport model. Handling is light and easy and fairly responsive too. Not much play in this steering wheel.

And, like any family sedan, there’s room for five adults with oodles of rear legroom and then a big trunk in back with a power lid ($550 extra). That’s not just a power release, this trunk lid powers up like an SUV or crossover hatch. Not really needed as there’s no high reach required to close the trunk, but hey, Lexus delivers a luxury experience.

That starts outside where the ES300h’s lightning bolt style lights are perfectly matched to the hood and grille’s design. While I’m no fan of the giant grille and logo which all luxury makes now employ, Lexus designers have made their designs work because the hood’s creases and meld with the lights’ design.

Watch our video: (186) 2023 Lexus 300h review by Mark Savage and Paul Daniel – YouTube

Yet it’s the ES300’s interior that delivers the full luxury experience in form, feel and function.

Gone is the icky touchpad that used to frustrate folks tuning the radio or trying to find info on the infotainment screen. That change alone deserves accolades. Now the screen is large at 12.3 inches in this F Sport model, part of a $1,030 option package. But it’s a touchscreen that’s easy to adjust and use, even as one drives.

Of course the interior is quiet, both because this is a hybrid running on electric battery power when started and at speeds below 20 mph or when cruising, but there’s sufficient sound deadening to knock down the typical road noise from wind and pavement.

Lexus loads this F Sport model with a gorgeous black and bright white leather interior, the seats being white with black trim, and the doors having white panels with black tops that blend well with the dash. Major trim along the top edge is Hadori aluminum, something Toyota says reflects the beauty of ancient Japanese swords. Marketing!

But it looks sharp along with satin chrome door releases and trim and flat black door armrests and console. Atop that, by the way, is a wireless phone charger midway, just between the center armrest and cup holders. It’s easy to lay a phone atop it and easy to retrieve the phone if there’s an incoming call. Excellent!

Other buttons and gauges are all easy to see and use, plus the F Sport includes what it calls a moveable meter, the instrument pod in front of the driver. Press a button on the steering wheel and the speedometer moves from the center to the right and digital info gauges are rearranged. Not a necessity, but another touch of luxury.

Handsome door panel design and fine function.

For $500 more the test car added a head-up display. I’ve grown to like these, but again, not a necessity.

Other pluses? The steering wheel is a power tilt/telescope number and the thick leather wheel is heated in the F Sport. I wish the wheel also was flat-bottomed. Also standard here are automatic heated and cooled front seats. Set the button to automatic and the car adjusts the seat temp to meet current conditions. The steering wheel heat also is automatic and warms quickly.

Overhead is a standard size sunroof and there’s a 10-speaker premium sound system in the ES. A full safety suite is standard too along with smart cruise control.

A standard size sunroof in the Lexus, no monster sunroof.

F Sport models come with extremely supportive, almost race quality, seats. Side bolsters are perfect for comfort and with the power lumbar can be made to fit most any derriere and aging back for a long trip. Massaging seats would be nice too, but would likely add another $5k to the price, and that’s not what the ES is all about.

No, it’s about luxury and value and this hybrid model is also about excellent gas mileage. If you’re not ready for an electric car, hybrids are the happy middle ground.

This Lexus is rated 44 mpg city and 43 mpg highway. Like the similar Toyota Camry hybrid I tested last year, this ES over-delivered on fuel economy. I got 46.5, even better than the trip computer was estimating, and standard unleaded or E85 gas (a bit cheaper) will do.

Downsides, well, not much. Some have commented that the rear seat doesn’t split and fold down as do most sedans. But there is a pass-through and those rear seats are so comfy I doubt any passengers will complain that the seats won’t budge.

And like most auto writers, I’d love a bit more power, but I realize the market Lexus is after here, and value and responsible fuel economy are bigger selling points.

Now that pricing. A base ES250, the only ES with all-wheel-drive, starts at $42,590 and the car uses a 2.5-liter I4 that makes 203 horsepower. Moving up to a hybrid model pushes the price only modestly to $43,790, but the five hybrids and eight other ES models are all front-wheel drive.

Power seekers may prefer the ES350 with its 302-horsepower 3.5-liter V6.

The test car was an F Sport, which puts a premium on performance looks and tuning, so it started at $49,985, much closer to its luxury car competition. With more than a few options it settled at $54,255, about where those competitors start, often without a hybrid system. There’s a reason the ES300 has been a Kelley Blue Book Best Buy for 5 years running.

Note too that if you like these looks and the fine Toyota hybrid system, a nameplate-ignoring buyer could consider a Camry hybrid. Last year’s test drive was among the best hybrid sedans I’ve ever driven and the car is only two inches shorter and rides on a 3.8-inch shorter wheelbase. Going top-shelf there will run about $40,000-$42,000, or where the Lexus starts.

While touching on price and value, note that the Cloudburst Gray paint job here is just $500 extra. I say Only because more and more luxury makes, heck all makes, are charging up to $750 for anything other than white. Lexus offers six colors as standard on the ES300h, so no extra charge.

Value and luxury, a tasty mix for those of us without caviar taste, or pocketbooks.

FAST STATS: 2023 Lexus ES300h F Sport

Hits: Sharp styling, great mpg, excellent ride, good handling, comfy family sedan. Good rear seat and trunk room, sunroof, automatic heated/cooled front seats & heated wheel, large info touchscreen, wireless charger, smart cruise control and solid safety suite, plus 5 drive modes, 10-speaker sound system, supportive power seats. Value pricing.

Misses: Modest power, rear seats don’t fold down.

Made in: Georgetown, Ky.

Engine: 2.5-liter I4 hybrid, 215 hp/163 torque

Transmission: ECVT automatic

Weight: 3,730 lbs.

Wheelbase: 113 in.

Length: 195.9 in.

Cargo: 16.7 cu.ft.

MPG: 43/44

MPG: 46.5 (tested)

Base Price: $49,985 (includes delivery)

Invoice: $45,530

Major Options:

Head-up display, $500

Triple beam LED headlights, $1,215

Smart access CardKey, $100

Lexus Interface w/ 12.3-inch touchscreen, Drive Connect w/cloud nav, intelligent assistant (Hey Lexus), Destination Assist, $1,030

Power truck w/kick sensor, $550

Cloudburst Gray paint, $500

Carpet trunk mat, $130

Door edge guards, $155

Rear bumper applique $90

Test vehicle: $54,255

Sources: Lexus,

Photos: Mark Savage

2023 Nissan Leaf SV Plus

Leaf is a low-cost leader among EVs …

All credit to Nissan for being the first major car maker to launch an all-electric model, the Leaf. Seems like yesterday.

But no, Leaf has been around more than a dozen years and remains the most affordable electric, and one that still is eligible for a $7,500 tax credit. Not only that, Leaf is a cute hatchback that has abandoned its awkward birthing looks to be a useful city car that most of us could afford.

Equally as important, it can be plugged into a standard 110/120 outlet and charged enough overnight to run a typical day’s errands or the jaunt to work and back. Is it the car you’ll want to drive cross country? Probably not, but the tested Leaf SV Plus would get you to Madison and back on a full charge.

Nissan’s Leaf still is short of range compared to most other EVs, this top-level SV Plus having 212 miles on a full charge, while the base Leaf offers just a 149-mile range. Cold weather will cut into that some too as I had the test car on a morning that started about 10 degrees with a noontime of 24. While the digital dash claimed 212 miles of range on a 100% charge, a roundtrip to church (about 8 miles) sucked 22 miles of range.

On a 40+ degree day the mileage use was about 2.5 miles per percent, so range was near the full 212, depending on if I were to engage the Power mode instead of Eco. That boosts acceleration noticeably, but cuts about 10 miles off the battery range. Turning off the radio and climate controls also  saves 5-7 miles, but most of us prefer heat and A/C in the proper seasons.

For the record, Nissan says recharging Leaf at a fast charger (only a few even available in Milwaukee at a South Side Walmart) can boost its battery power from near 0 to roughly 80% in 40 minutes. That’s slower than most other electrics that can do a similar charge in about half the time to 30 minutes. If you install a 240-volt charger in your garage a full charge can be had in 11.5 hours for the longer-range SV Plus, or 7.5 hours for the base Leaf.

For practical purposes though, an overnight charge will net you 30-40 miles of range for the next day, and lets face it, most of us would try not to run our batteries to zero.

So let’s turn our attention to driving, a key element for any vehicle, yes?

Watch our video review: 2023 Nissan Leaf SV Plus review by Mark Savage – YouTube

Well, the Leaf rides on a 106.3-inch wheelbase and with its lithium-ion batteries tucked into the car’s floor its center of gravity is low, something most electrics can tout. That helps the car corner well and feel well-planted on the road, although this is front-drive and no AWD is available. Steering is quick.

The car’s 214 horsepower and instantaneous 250 pound-feet of torque help it smoothly slip away from any stoplight. In Eco mode that’s nothing special, but press the Eco button on the console and Power mode engages to help Leaf shoot away from most any other vehicle at a stoplight. It’s fun, like other electrics.

There’s also an e-Pedal function that allows for one-pedal driving. Engage it on the console and there’s more regenerative braking pull to quickly slow the car once you take pressure off the accelerator. Not only does it aid in slowing and stopping, it helps slightly recharge the batteries to extend range. If e-Pedal is not engaged the car coasts like a standard vehicle would once you let off the accelerator.

Ride is the only downside, and it’s not atrocious, just jiggly. Our crumbling streets stir up the interior a bit, but I’ve witnessed tougher rides in $75,000 trucks and SUVs. Note too there’s some road noise and some whine from the electric motor, which becomes most noticeable at slow speeds. The Leaf also chimes when backing up to alert pedestrians that the hatchback is moving since there’s no engine noise to warn them.

Inside the tested dark metallic blue SV Plus featured a mostly black plastic interior, at least for door trim and dash. The seats are a soil-resistant soft cloth, black with blue horizontal stripes. It’s attractive and the headliner was gray.

There’s no sunroof, but the SV Plus does perk up the accessories vs. the base model. This one comes with two-level heated front seats and a heated steering wheel and side mirrors, a heat pump for quicker interior warm-ups, plus a 360-degree camera, 8-way power driver’s seat, cargo cover and the premium paint job. SV Plus also adds smart cruise control and steering assist to the safety suite, which comes with automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, lane departure warning, blind-spot warning rear cross-traffic alert and rear automatic braking standard.

I like the flat-bottom steering wheel that helps open up knee room for easy egress and the fine touchscreen that makes radio and info control easy. The driver’s digital gauges can rotate between screens, but a wise driver likely will leave up the one telling how much charge is left.

If an inexpensive EV can feature a flat-bottom wheel, all cars could!

Seats themselves are well shaped and supportive and there’s room enough for four adults assuming normal stature. Cargo space is good behind the rear seats, but those split and fold down if needed. The hatch is manual.

A simple gauge cluster shows speed and charge remaining.

Sadly there is no wireless charger here, but plugs are available just above the open bin at the center stack’s base. Yet there is Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity and Nissan Connect allows you to use your smartphone to check the car’s charge level. Satellite radio also is standard.

The orange cap covers the standard wall charge plug, the gray for fast chargers.

From a practical standpoint the two charging outlets are in the nose under a flap remotely released from the left dash. One outlet is for a fast charger, the other for a 240- or 110-volt outlet with an adapter. A satchel in the trunk is provided to stow the charging cable.

Pricing, as alluded to earlier, is attractive for Leaf, especially if you want a second car for city driving, mostly. The base model with the 149-range lists at $29,135 including delivery. It only packs 149 horses, but you’d be buying this version totally for efficiency.

The more well-equipped SV Plus starts at $37,135, with delivery, and the test car added just $160 kick plates so settled at $37,295, well below the average cost for a new vehicle. Note too that Leaf is still eligible for a $7,500 tax credit as this is built in the U.S., in Tennessee. There’s also an 8-year, 100,000-mile battery warranty.

If price alone isn’t enough to get you to turn over this new Leaf, well, there are a few competitors to consider. Each has a longer range. Prime competitors include the Hyundai Kona with a 258-mile range, Chevy Bolt at 259, and Kia’s Niro at 250 miles. Bolt costs about $32k, Kona $35k and Niro $41k. Again, most charge at least somewhat more quickly than the Leaf, but none beat its entry-level pricing and some may not be eligible for a tax credit.

FAST STATS: 2023 Nissan Leaf SV Plus

Hits: Useful hatchback, good acceleration (and power mode), quick handling, reasonable charge times, flat-bottom wheel, heated seats/steering wheel, power driver’s seat, 360-camera, smart cruise, solid safety equipment, comfy seats, nose-mounted charging, e-Pedal mode, fine touchscreen, and modest cost.

Misses: Ride is a bit jiggly, some road road noise, just 212-mile range, no wireless charger or sunroof.

Here’s the charge cable bag in the trunk.

Made in: Smyrna, Tenn.

Engine: 160kW AC Synchronous Motor, 214 hp/250 lb.-ft. torque

Transmission: 1-speed direct driveautomatic

Weight: 3,900 lbs.

Wheelbase: 106.3 in.

Length: 176.4 in.

Cargo: 23.6-30 cu.ft.

MPGe: 121/98

Range: 212 mi./212 observed

Base Price: $37,135 (includes delivery)

Invoice: N.A.

Major Options:

Kick plates, $160

Test vehicle: $37,295

Sources: Nissan,

Photos: Mark Savage

Car Spot: 1980 Briggs & Stratton Six-Wheel Hybrid Concept

Yup, the people known for making great small engines came up with this.

This spot is sort of special to me because Briggs & Stratton is located right here in Milwaukee, and has been manufacturing small engines since 1908. If you have a lawn tractor, chances are it has an engine they manufacture. It also turns out that one of my flying buddies, Mike Dorna, works as Manager-Rapid Prototyping Center there. So we were talking one night over some beers about hybrid cars and the conversation turned to Briggs & Stratton developing a hybrid way back in 1980, 17 years before the Toyota Prius hit the market.

Briggs & Stratton Hybrid still looks good today.

This was a strictly one-off concept designed to be a technology demonstrator. It was put together using Ford Pinto front end and Volkswagen Scirocco doors, along with custom panels created by Brooks Stevens who lived in Milwaukee and was also a designer of the 60s era Jeeps. If you squint, you can sort of see elements of a 1980s L-Body Dodge Charger.

Concept are designed by Brooks Stevens from Milwaukee. Briggs & Stratton photo
A perfect vehicle for the early adapters. Briggs & Stratton photo

The idea behind this unusual hybrid was to showcase a more efficient way of travel and, in style. In theory, the electric motor and its instant torque would be used to get the car up to speed, then the gasoline engine would be used to maintain highway speeds. The top speed was just over 60 mph, but in 1980 the U.S. national speed limit was 55 mph so, in theory, this car could easily run within the limits of the law.

RELATED VIDEO: Learn more about the car and see it drive

Engine compartment with electronics towards the rear.
Batteries in the rear. Disconnected since it’s not in use.

Briggs & Stratton built this six-wheeler concept, giving the 12 Globe Union 6-volt batteries their own driven axle. With this additional 72-volt system at the rear, the company’s parallel hybrid was capable of 68 mph on its combined power and they hired Richard Petty to prove it. The 6-volt lead-acid batteries would also grant Briggs & Stratton’s 3200-pound hybrid a pure electric range of at least 45 miles. and giving it a combined mileage of around 30 mpg. Think about that. Doesn’t seem like a lot but the majority of hybrids we test can only go 20 miles on more powerful and lighter batteries. It also featured disc brakes at the front to handle the mass, a Recaro interior and had the unmistakable sound of an air-cooled industrial flat-two.

An interior right out of the 80s complete with Recaro seats and manual transmission

The car toured the country, taken to events in a special trailer sharing with the public what Briggs & Stratton could do. The last time it was on the road was in March of 2020 when on the streets of California, Jay Leno and a Briggs & Stratton Engineering Technician achieved 60 mph. Keep in mind that this was with just an 18-horsepower air-cooled twin-cylinder Briggs engine under the hood. An electric motor is connected to the engine, which then connects to a four-speed manual transmission sending power to the first set of rear wheels. The second set was just there to handle the extra weight of the batteries.

Jay Leno with the Briggs & Stratton Hybrid. YouTube screenbgrab

The Briggs & Stratton Hybrid concept cost a quarter of a million dollars to build, and when it was unveiled in 1980 there was no clear path forward for the vehicle. The company had no plans to put it into production and is the only one of its kind but it displays a shocking amount of hybrid technology that was far ahead of its time. Today this one-time star sits quietly in the museum located at the company’s headquarters in Milwaukee along with Briggs & Stratton’s other historical accomplishments.

Almost looks like a fastback.

Thanks for stopping by and checking out our blog. Have a great Easter! Check back next week for another spot along with some of its history and have a super weekend.

2023 BMW X1 xDrive 28i

BMW delivers spunky small crossover starting below $40k …

Small crossovers are a dime a dozen, but spunky luxurious ones are a bit rarer. And spunky ones starting below $40,000 are as precious as that last hidden Easter egg found before the cat discovers it.

BMW offers several luxury spunkmobiles, as do a couple of its Germanic competitors, yet for 2023 the Bavarian Motor Works upped its game by restyling its entry-level X1. In fact, it grew it enough to exceed its X2 in size while approaching the pricier X3’s dimensions. An aside, a couple weeks back I named the X3 one of my top 10 test vehicles.

See the X3, and more, here: Savage picks the Top 10 Cars | Savage On Wheels

This X1’s styling is refined and its fairly large twin kidney-shaped grille exudes an essential BMW look that bespeaks sportiness. The interior is restyled too and brings this BMW up to current luxury standards while also evoking a style that assures this is not your father’s Bimmer.

Yet this practical little crossover impresses most with its power and handling while satisfying the buyer who insists on gasoline power.

Under its sharply tailored hood is a peppy 2.0-liter twin turbo I4 that cranks an impressive 241 horsepower and boasts a torque rating of 295. With the X1 weighing just 3,750 pounds that’s more than enough power to boost it up to highway speeds in less than 6 seconds. Car and Driver says the X1 hits 60 mph in 5.4 seconds and except for a bit of turbo lag at the outset, the BMW delivers a sports car vibe.

Handling too is just what the arzt (doctor) ordered.

Steering is responsive with a moderately heavy feel and the X1 turns into corners with authority and agility, never exhibiting a tall wagon feel. Bimmer purists likely would prefer a sedan or coupe, but most of us find this exhilarating. Aiding the traction is a now standard AWD system along with traction and stability control. Four-wheel vented brakes create impressive braking power too.

Add in the Driving Dynamics Control and a driver can tune in three drive modes with Active being the go-to and Sport giving the BMW a kick in the seat of its breeches. An economy mode also is available.

Yet the X1 gets such fine gas mileage that Eco mode likely will be mostly for show. I managed 29.5 mpg in a mix of city and highway driving while the EPA rates this at 25 mpg city and 34 mpg highway. Sadly to extract the maximum pony power one needs to administer premium fuel. That power is transmitted to the four drive wheels via a dual-clutch 7-speed automatic transmission, while an 8-speed tranny comes with the longer X3 model.

Ride is well-controlled in the Bimmer, but decidedly firm. A run over a rustic road in a nearby rural area confirmed that passengers won’t be punished in the X1, but there is a bit of shake when traversing big cracks and potholes. Riding on a 106-inch wheelbase the X1 is right on the edge of needing a bit more length to spread out bumps and jolts.

Watch our review video: 2023 BMW X1 review by Mark Savage & Paul Daniel – YouTube

No hybrid system here, although BMW is committed to moving its lineup to electric power in the next 7-8 years. As for hybrid competition, the Volvo XC40 Recharge (plug-in) would seem a prime alternative, but it costs about $15,000 more. The Lexus UX also is in this segment and gets better gas mileage while the Mercedes GLA is a near twin in performance and pricing.

Inside, the X1 impresses too, moving BMW further away from the staid all-black and gray interiors that German makes favored for decades.

Tough to reach under the floating console to retrieve items in the bin below.

This one features sharp angles for the satin chrome door pulls and a fine single digital unit that houses the driver’s instrument panel and the infotainment screen, which is large without being garish. Seats and door panels are black and orange and feature Sensa Tec upholstery, a fake leather BMW now uses frequently. It adds $500 to the price tag, but feels and looks much like leather, but has the full support of the bovine populace.

The test crossover added sport seats too, another $400. These are extremely supportive and comfortable with excellent side and back support. Many pricier options will not deliver the long-term benefits of these seats, so these are a must.

This needs a flat-bottomed wheel to free up knee space for shorter drivers.

While there’s plenty of room here for four adults and rear seats also are comfy, there’s one flaw – the lack of a flat-bottom steering wheel. Shorter drivers (I’m 5-5) will have the seat fairly far forward which creates a crunch for knee room under the steering wheel when entering and exiting the X1.

I solved this by flipping up the tilt/telescope wheel each time I got out, but that’s a bit of a nuisance.

Sharp door panel and handle styling in the X1.

Another concern is the floating console, a popular trend among car interior designers. The idea is to open up space below the console for purses and other carry-ins, so maybe a laptop or tablet. A fine idea, but the BMW console features a support on the passenger’s side. That really curtails access to that lower bin for a passenger. I too found it nearly impossible to retrieve a cell phone from the bin while sitting in the driver’s seat. Again, with a shorter driver positioning the seat far forward it cuts off easy access to the area below the console.

The good news is that a wireless phone charger is directly under the center stack, so easy to use and access. That’s part of a $4,200 Premium Package that also includes heated front seats and a heated steering wheel. Those can be set automatically via the info screen and then left to do their magic as temperatures dictate. Seat and wheel both have three heat levels.

Excellent twin-panel sunroof here!

The package also adds a HUD, park distance control, 360-degree camera, a harman/kardon premium sound system, and other cockpit refinements.

Overhead is a dual sunroof and in back is a power hatch.

Oops, I’ve neglected to tout the $650 paint scheme, called Utah Orange. It was spectacular and judging by the many unsolicited comments I received, I’m not alone in my admiration. This is a metallic burnt orange somewhat reminiscent of early 1970 Mopar colors, and Nissan now also features a similar shade.

Utah Orange is an eye-catcher that’ll make the neighbors jealous.

Practicality plays a role here too as a family of four can toss four bags under that power hatch for a road trip. Cargo space is rated at 26 cubic feet, and yes the rear seats split and fold down, increasing that to 57.2 cu.ft.

Pricing may be the biggest surprise on this BMW as it starts at $39,550, including delivery, and there are no premium trim levels to consider, just option packages like the Premium package on this one. So one could snag a sporty X1 for roughly $40k, or add some goodies and end up like this one at $46,245, or thereabouts.

That’s what you’ll expect to pay for a small luxury crossover, and this one comes with enough power to make it fun, yet useful. If you prefer a hybrid or electric you’ll need to look elsewhere for now, and it’ll cost more.

FAST STATS: 2023 BMW X1 xDrive 28i

Hits: Spunky yet practical with excellent power, handling, AWD, good mpg, and well-designed interior. Comfy supportive seats, dual sunroof, heated steering wheel and seats, good combo digital dash and large screen, plus power hatch and a stellar color too.

Misses: Firm but well controlled ride, steering wheel needs to be flat-bottomed as legroom is tight on exit. The floating console also is hard to access from both the driver, but particularly the passenger’s side. This also is a premium fuel drinker.

Made in: Regensburg, Germany

Engine: 2.0-liter twin turbo I4, 241 hp/295 torque

Transmission: 7-speed dual-clutch automatic

Weight: 3,750 lbs.

Wheelbase: 106 in.

Length: 177.2 in.

Cargo: 26-57.2 cu.ft.

MPG: 25/34

MPG: 29.5 (tested)

Base Price: $39,550 (includes delivery)

Invoice: $37,315


Utah Orange metallic paint, $650

Premium pkg. (heated steering wheel, Comfort access key, auto-dimming mirrors/rearview mirror, heated front seats, block gloss trim, interior camera, active driving assistant, parking assistant plus, harman/kardon premium sound system, wireless charging, life cockpit pro w/HUD, anti-theft recorder, active park distance control, surround view/3D), $4,200

Line pkg. (satin alum. ext. trim, SensaTec dash, xLine content), $500

Remote engine start, $300

19-inch Y-spoke bi-color wheels, $600

Sport seats, $400

Test vehicle: $46,245

Sources: BMW,

Photos: Mark Savage

2023 Toyota bZ4X XLE FWD

All-electric crossover features a funky name, and interior …

Electric vehicles are growing in number, range, and pricing options.

That’s all well and good, but not all feel like a big step forward. When that feeling comes from a Toyota, it simply feels odd. It’s especially weird since Toyota and Subaru, two long-time winners in design and function, worked together on their kissin’ cousins, the bZ4X and Solterra, respectively.

I haven’t driven Subie’s Solterra, so judgment of that must wait, but the red and black bZ4X I tested during a chilly February spell left me, well, cold.

Where to start?

Well, the name is atrocious. No one in their right mind will even remember it as it’s so muddled, especially with a lowercase “b” while the rest is uppercase. Toyota says bZ4X stands for … hold on now … below Zero (get it?) as emissions are zero, but I’m pretty sure they can’t be below. The 4 indicates this is close in size to Toyota’s popular RAV4, and X means crossover. Got it? Stop giggling!

Assuming you’ll never tell anyone what your new vehicle’s name is, then consider its range. Electrics mostly have ranges of 280-310 miles now and often are AWD and those still  manage 250 miles of range. The Toyota (I won’t pound that alphanumeric cluster into your gray matter) is rated at 252 miles, so right at the edge of that range bubble, but note that this is a front-drive model.

Note too that Ford’s Mustang Mach-E, Volkswagen’s ID.4, Hyundai’s Ioniq5 and Kia’s EV6, all have greater range.

Not to pile on, but I never saw more than 201 miles of range when charging this in my garage with 120 power. But I charged for 30+ hours once when the batteries were at about 2/3 capacity and got just 40 miles of range. Frequently the digital screen would initially register 240 miles or so, but by the time I’d backed from my driveway, it dropped to 201 miles. My driveway is NOT 39 miles long.

Toyota says its compact crossover will fully charge from a low level in 9.5 hours on a Level 2 (240V) charger, or from a low level to 80% charge in 30 minutes on a fast charger (150kW, or more). It says going from near zero to full takes 50 hours on a common 120V outlet such as mine. My experience shows that to be optimistic in winter.

Add to that a few glitches, such as the regenerative braking boost pedal not working all the time. This is the button on the console that allows the driver to use one-pedal driving. That means you use the accelerator primarily and then there is boosted regenerative braking to slow the vehicle as you let off said accelerator. It recharges the battery more quickly than just driving like a gas-powered car and coasting to stoplights, etc.

It did work, just not all the time and would give a screen message saying it was disabled.

Then there was another message about the digital phone not connecting that continually popped up on the large infotainment screen. It offered two choices, retry for a hookup, or cancel. I hit cancel and the message would disappear, for about 2 minutes, then pop up again, and again, and again. First world problem, but annoying as all get-out and distracting.

There were some other issues, but we’ll get to those as I need to tell you, dear reader, how this Toyota drove. I wish I had better news.

Watch Mark’s video review: Toyota bZ4X Electric Crossover review by Mark Savage – YouTube

Certainly acceleration is good, as in all electrics. If you tromp the accelerator the Toyota jumps to life and quickly exceeds highway speeds. The power is smooth and quiet via the automatic tranny and power is rated at 201 horsepower. Fine!

But ride is stiff and choppy, sort of what one might expect from a short-wheelbase car, not a crossover on a 112.2-inch wheelbase. Handling is just OK, but feels heavy in turns. Naturally there’s a low center of gravity here with batteries located in the chassis, but a RAV4 feels much more nimble by comparison.

Couple that with a somewhat hollow or unmuffled sound to the interior which could be noisy at times. Additional sound deadening material is called for to dampen the noise level.

The Supersonic Red ($425 extra) and black exterior was fine, the black trim over the wheel wells being a bit more extreme than on most crossovers, so helpful in differentiating this model from other Toyota crossovers.

The driver’s instrument pod is tough to see as the wheel blocks the view.

Inside though, well, the design is early Jetsons like it’s trying too hard to be futuristic and that’s without a steering yoke like Tesla offers. That yolk IS available here, but this gray and black interior featured a regular steering wheel and textured cloth seats. All seats are manual.

The driver’s instrument pod is mounted high and far back in front of the tilt/telescope wheel that extends only at a low angle, all the moveable steering column’s hard gray plastic exposed, but matching the instrument pod’s hood. With a yoke one could probably see all the pod’s digital screen, but with this wheel short drivers will have to lay the wheel basically in their lap to fully view the screen.

A lot of storage under the bridge console, but hard to retrieve items from below.

Then there’s the giant long console that acts like a bridge over a monster open bin. Great for storage, but hard to retrieve any item as the console is wide creating an awkward angle to reach in, at least for a driver less than 6-foot-1.

Next to that, and in front of the passenger is a carpet or seat cloth-covered dash with no glove box. One assumes Toyota designers figure a family will use that big storage area beneath the console. I put the three driver’s type manuals in the door pocket to avoid them sliding back and forth in that bin, which they did initially.

Overhead too is a fixed-panel panoramic sunroof, good to let in light, but it can’t be opened. The shade to cover it is powered though.

This twin sunroof is just that, it’s fixed so won’t open.

Seats are well contoured and comfy, but again, manually adjusted. Dash buttons and the touchscreen are easy enough to use and there’s a wireless charger atop the console, but has a flip up cover to enclose it. That cover’s edge sort of gets in the way when retrieving a phone.

The Toyota will certainly carry four adults comfortably, and five will fit if needed. Storage room behind the split rear seat is good too, but there’s no power hatch, and this has a heavy hatch. For power one must move up to the top Limited trim level. This was the XLE and there are only two trims.

The Limited adds a 9-speaker JBL sound system, heated rear seats, a digital key, 20-inch alloy wheels, heated and cooled front seats, fake leather seating, an 8-way powered driver’s seat, 360-degree camera and the powered hatch. Range drops to 222 miles on Limited, Toyota says.

Cost jumps from a very reasonable $43,215 for the XLE model to $49,995 for the Limited. AWD (the Subaru system) is available as a $2,080 option and electric power is increased to 214 horsepower. The test vehicle settled at $44,409 with just its three options.

For the record, the Subaru version of this vehicle, the Solterra, comes standard with AWD, but starts at $46,220 to account for that.

Toyota also includes its fine Safety Sense 3.0 suite, even on this entry-level trim. It includes pre-collision warning with pedestrian detection, smart cruise, lane departure alert with steering assist, automatic high beams, and road sign assist. There’s also blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert. That’s a benefit.

Note too that the weather package here adds $500 to the cost, but includes the all-important heated steering wheel and heated front seats.

It seems the bZ4X (sorry) was kept quite basic and given some odd design tweaks to keep it as low in cost as possible, plus allow this FWD model to slot in below its Subaru counterpart. I applaud the effort to keep costs down, but its interior styling and functionality is less than I’d expect from Toyota.

FAST STATS: 2023 Toyota bZ4X XLE FWD

Hits: Good acceleration, moderate cost for electric. Panoramic sunroof, big screen, heated and supportive front seats, heated wheel, solid safety systems, wireless phone charger.

Misses: Range limited to 201 miles in cold weather, stiff ride, heavy feel in turns, fairly noisy interior, sunroof doesn’t open, manual seats, no glove box, regenerative braking boost mode did not always work, no power hatch, odd dash, odd driver instrument pod, odd repeat digital messages on screen, and odd name.

At least the electrical outlet is easy to get at.

Made in: Japan

Power: Single electric motor (150 kW), 201 hp/196 torque

Transmission: Automatic

Weight: 4,266 lbs.

Wheelbase: 112.2 in.

Length: 184.6 in.

Cargo: 27.7-56.9 cu.ft.

MPGe: 131/107

Range: 252 mi/201 observed

Base Price: $43,215 (includes delivery)

Invoice: N.A.

Major Options:

XLW weather pkg. (heated steering wheel, heated front seats), $500

Supersonic Red paint, $425

Carpeted floor, cargo mats, $269

Test vehicle: $44,409

Sources: Toyota,

Photos: Mark Savage