Category Archives: Car Reviews

2022 BMW M440i xDrive Gran Coupe

Lively M440i noses ahead of luxury coupe competition …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good screen and climate controls make operation easy while driving.

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

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

Stylish wheels and red brake calipers add some flare.

So what are the damages here?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FAST STATS: 2022 BMW M440i xDrive Gran Coupe

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

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

Made in: Dingolfing, Germany

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

Transmission: 8-speed automatic

Weight: 4,169 lbs.

Wheelbase: 112.4 in.

Length: 188.5 in.

Cargo: 12.0 cu.ft.

MPG: 22/29

MPG: 25.5 (tested)

Base Price: $59,195 (includes delivery)

Invoice: $55,620

Options:

San Remo Green Metallic paint, $550

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

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

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

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

SensaTec dashboard, $350

Harman Kardon surround sound, $875

Test vehicle: $67,520

Sources: BMW, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

2022 Volvo XC60 B6 AWD R-Design

XC60 touts style inside and out, awesome ride …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FAST STATS: 2022 Volvo XC60 B6 AWD R-Design

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

Thor’s hammer T-shaped headlights rock!

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

Made in: Gothenburg, Sweden

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

Transmission: 8-speed automatic

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

Wheelbase: 112.8 in.

Length: 184.6 in.

Cargo: 22.4-63.6 cu.ft.

Tow: 3,500 lbs.

MPG: 21/27

MPG: 21.0 (tested)

Base Price: $56,195 (includes delivery)

Invoice: N.A.

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

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

Crystal white metallic paint, $695

Power tailgate, $200

Bowers & Wilkins premium audio, $3,200

4-corner air suspension, $1,800

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

Test vehicle: $65,990

Sources: Volvo, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

2022 Lexus NX 350 F Sport

Restyled NX puts emphasis on tech and sassy performance …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A reminder that AWD is standard.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FAST STATS: 2022 Lexus NX 350 F Sport

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

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

Made in: Miyawaka, Fukuoka, Japan

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

Transmission: 8-speed automatic, AWD

Weight: 4,035 lbs.

Wheelbase: 105.9 in.

Length: 183.5 in.

Cargo: 22.7 – 46.9 cu.ft.

MPG: 22/28

MPG: 22.2 (tested)

Base Price: $47,725 (includes delivery)

Invoice: $44,695

Major Options:

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

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

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

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

Panoramic moonroof, $1,600

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

Towing package, $160

Smart phone convenience package, $450

Test vehicle: $55,325

Sources: Lexus, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

2022 Volkswagen Jetta GLI Autobahn

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FAST STATS: 2022 Volkswagen Jetta GLI Autobahn

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

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

Made in: Puebla, Mexico

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

Transmission: 7-speed dual-clutch automatic

Weight: 3,272 lbs.

Length: 186.9 in.

Wheelbase: 105.6 in.

Cargo: 14.1 cu.ft.

MPG: 26/37 (manual)

MPG:  26.6 (tested)

Base Price: $32,990 (includes delivery)

Invoice: N.A.

Major Options:

Pure Gray paint, $395

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

Test vehicle: $33,980

Sources: Volkswagen, kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

2022 Mazda CX-5 2.5 Turbo AWD

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Made in: Hiroshima, Japan

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

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

Weight: 3,809 lbs.

Wheelbase: 106.2 in.

Length: 179.1 in.

Cargo: 31-59.3 cu.ft.

MPG: 22/27

MPG: 24.1 (tested)

Base Price: $37,625 (includes delivery)

Invoice: $36,207

Options:

Soul Red Crystal paint, $595

Navigation system, $450

Test vehicle: $38,670

Sources: Mazda, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

2022 Kia Stinger GT-Line RWD

Power, handling, looks, Stinger as swanky as European makes …

Swanky European luxury sports sedans often crest $50,000, but they deliver the looks and performance that command a premium. Most also have earned a reputation for quickness and precision handling over decades of development.

So what happens when a newcomer sidles up behind the established leaders, looking a little younger, fresher and offering good measures of quickness and precision, yet at a more attractive price?

That’s what Kia has been about on a number of fronts, but its Stinger has been trying to put a charge into the luxury sports sedan market for a couple years now. Initial reactions were strong and for 2022 Kia upgrades its entry-level Stinger GT-Line with a big power boost. Gone is its 2.0-liter turbocharged I4, replaced with a 2.5 turbo I4 that creates … wait for it … 300 horsepower and 311 lb.-ft. of torque. That’s up 45 horsepower, an impressive boost.

Add to that a larger infotainment screen, more standard safety features, sharp LED head and taillights, new alloy wheels and snazzier gloss black and chrome interior trim. Oh, and standard too are rain-sensing wipers, 18-inch alloy wheels, dual-zone climate controls and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto hookups.

The GT-Line, a trim level now across Kia models, replaces the GT as the base rear-drive Stinger and it does so at the surprising price of $37,135 including delivery. AWD is available for another $2,200, keeping the grippy model a smidge under $40,000. Try to find a European brand of this size and speed that competes on price. Heck, most of those are still charging extra for most of their paint colors, including gray.

My attractive Ascot Green (dark metallic green) was a standard color, no extra charge, and the lines are straight out of Ingolstadt with an aggressive nose and fastback flair. In fact, some won’t like to hear this described as a sedan despite its four doors, because the trunk is really a hatch that includes the large rear window.

To me that’s a selling point as hatches are always easier to load and unload and the cargo space is generous here at 23.3 cubic feet. But it’s unlikely a sports sedan buyer is worrying much about what’ll fit under the boot.

Watch Mark’s video: 2022 Kia Stinger review by Mark Savage – YouTube

Let’s return to the power and performance.

The new engine is definitely more torquey and pushes the GT-Line to an excess of highway speeds in short order. Topspeed.com ran it through the timing lights and managed 5.2 seconds 0-60 mph and a top speed of 130 mph. Are a few competitors quicker? Well, yes, but how much will you pay for each tenth of a second?

And if you need more power and quicker acceleration the GT1 and GT2 models both feature a twin-turbo 3.3-liter V6 that cranks 368 hp and 376 ft.-lbs. of torque and boasts a top speed of 167 mph. Of course both versions cost a bit more too, more along the lines of European sports sedans.

Handling is sporty, but best in the Sport drive mode that really firms up the steering effort and adds a precision closer to the European makes, if not quite there. Comfort drive mode is fine for most circumstances, but there’s also Eco, Custom and Smart, the latter of which learns how you drive and how you ARE driving and adjusts the 8-speed automatic’s shift points to fit, along with other engine and suspension adjustments.

Ride is stiffer than in the previous Stinger I’d tested and can be rather bumpy at times on our pot-hole strewn Midwest roads. All those cement highway expansion joints also can get a little old.

Braking is solid and quick with discs front and rear, the front being ventilated, the rears solid. All of today’s major safety equipment is standard here too such as emergency braking, blind-spot detection, lane keeping and smart cruise, plus a safe exit assist system to warn before you open a door into traffic. Note that some luxury makes still charge extra for blind-spot or rear cross-traffic detection.

Inside, Kia delivers another fine dash design. The test car featured a black leather interior with gray seat and dash stitching. Bezels on the gauges and air ducts are chrome with black gloss trim on the console and a flat black thick leather steering wheel and hub, the bottom spoke, door releases and dash buttons being a satin silver.

Kia goes with a big infotainment screen, 10.25 inches, a wireless phone charger and heated front seats, all standard. At least one of those will likely cost extra on a European make.

There’s also a sunroof overhead, but that’s part of a $2,300 sun and sound package that upgrades to a premium Harmon-Kardon audio system and a power front passenger’s seat. The driver’s seat is power, naturally, and both front seats were well shaped to provide back and hip support for if and when the driver decides to push the car toward its top-end performance.

I give Kia designers high marks for the dash’s simple layout and ease of use, from the touchscreen to the climate controls, no confusing symbols or odd button placement and all knobs easy to use.

On the not so great side is the loud annoying welcoming chime that goes off as you start the car and often when you turn the ignition off, along with a chime and dash warning to “check the rear seat.” It was there every time I checked!

Simplicity reins in the Stinger’s interior, adding to the upscale look and feel.

A few other things tweaked my sensibilities, including the drive mode knob on the console. I would prefer a toggle as it’s easier to tap forward for Sport and down for the other, lesser performance modes. I kept turning the knob the wrong way. Also, being a short dude I put the seat fairly far forward of the average size 6-footer and that made it tough to both reach the seatbelt over the driver’s shoulder, and then to latch it into the buckle that gets tucked down into the groove between the seat and console. Gloves made it nearly impossible.

Then there’s the typical complaint for any fastback model, or big SUV, a giant A-pillar and mirror combo that partially obstructs front to side views. I guess that’s why every vehicle now has so many sensors and the much needed 360-degree cameras.

Gas mileage in the GT-Line is good too, rated at 22 mpg city and 32 mpg highway by the EPA. I got 25.3 mpg, not bad for cold weather driving with minor snow on side roads. Premium fuel is preferred, but not required.

Final tally here was just $39,715, about $4,000 less than its nearest competitor from Audi. Add in the AWD and the difference is about cut in half. But the Audi quickly becomes pricier with a few options and a BMW starts about $8 grand higher. Closest may be Nissan’s fine Maxima, also with a 300 hp engine, and front-wheel-drive so likely to handle better in snow than this rear-drive model, although I had no problems on slippery side streets.

Sharp looking headlight design here!

Need more power and fancier interior features? Consider the GT1 starting about $44,000 or the GT2 at about $51,000.

Rumors also say the Stinger may be fazed out in the next year or so with electric models coming that will be performance-oriented too. But they may not look, or sound (twin-turbo V6) this sweet!

FAST STATS: 2022 Kia Stinger GT-Line RWD

Hits: Sporty fastback looks, good power and handling, an excellent sports sedan pricing. Big info screen, sunroof, heated seats, wireless charging, good climate buttons/knobs, big trunk, comfy supportive seats, easy to read dash, good mpg.

Misses: Noisy welcoming chime, and chime telling driver to check the rear seat, plus bumpy ride, drive mode knob instead of toggle, hard to fasten and reach seatbelt for short drivers, big A-pillar/mirror view blockage.

Taillights are slim and trim for an elegant design.

Made in: Sohari, S. Korea

Engine: 2.5-liter turbo 4-cyl., 300 hp/311 torque

Transmission: 8-speed automatic

Weight: 3,792 lbs.

Wheelbase: 114.4 in.

Length: 190.2 in.

Cargo: 23.3 cu.ft.

MPG: 22/32

MPG: 25.3 (tested)

Base Price: $37,135 (includes delivery)

Invoice: $35,510

Major Options:

Sun and sound package (Harmon-Kardon premium audio system, power front passenger’s seat, sunroof), $2,300

Cargo mat, $125

Carpeted floor mats, $155

Test vehicle: $39,715

Sources: Kia, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

2022 Subaru Forester Wilderness

Wilderness trim moves Forester further off road …

I’m not sure it’s ever totally fair to test a vehicle in Wisconsin in January, but then we all DO have to drive here in winter and Subaru designs its cars for our climate with full-time AWD.

So I guess I shouldn’t feel too sorry for the new Forester Wilderness that I hustled around mucky streets for a week during one of our patented January cold spells, several nights plunging below zero. To be honest, the Forester mostly coped fine with the big chill, but the weather put a chill on its gas mileage.

First, let’s focus on the Wilderness trim level, a new moniker for Forester and the Wilderness name is creeping across the outdoorsy-inspired Subaru lineup. Its point, not surprisingly, is to make said Subaru more off-road worthy, while also spiffing up the interior and exterior to lure young buyers to the brand, in case all the dog-loving and national parks-loving promos aren’t enough.

The Wilderness logo easily distinguishes this model.

I get it, and this white test crossover was spiffy looking. First, Subaru has restyled the Forester’s nose so it looks more muscular to fit into the increasingly macho compact crossover market. Second, it offers a full half-inch more ground clearance than other Foresters at 9.2 inches, making it a better trail-slogging vehicle.

There’s plenty more, which we’ll discuss, but visually it’s the Wilderness badges on the front doors, tail, and floor mats plus the cool anodized copper trim that is gonna tickle your iris. There’s a little copper everywhere, inside and out, just enough to please, not overwhelm. The exterior features copper accents on the now stronger black roof rail supports and the Forester name is emblazoned in copper on the black rocker panels. Plenty of black trim along with cladding over the wheel wells and bumpers, and an anti-glare matte black hood decal too.

A lot of black cladding on the Wilderness nose, plus a matte insert atop the hood.

Inside, the steering wheel hub’s lower spoke is copper as is the gear shift knob and X-Mode dial. Subaru also trims its durable StarTex water-resistant seats, along with the dash and doors in copper stitching. Wilderness logos grace the front seat backs too. All cool!

That’s just for looks. Wilderness is pretty much a loaded Forester. On the performance side that includes R17 Yokohama Geolander all-terrain tires for better grip in off-road slop, plus a beefed up X-Mode function with two settings for Snow and Dirt, or Mud and Deep Snow. Again, traction and trail performance step to the fore.

Copper trim on the wheel and shifter and X-Mode knob accent the interior.

Other goodies standard on Forester Wilderness include a 180-degree front view monitor, power tailgate, snazzy Harman Kardon stereo and 8-inch touchscreen that seems just the right size here while many screens have grown to overpower their interiors.

EyeSight, Subaru’s driver safety system with adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping, blind-spot warning and such is standard too, and Wilderness adds lane-change assist, rear cross-traffic alert and reverse automatic braking. Nothing more need be added to all that.

Performance remains solid, which is why Forester is so popular among compact crossovers as it leans a little more heavily on its SUVness.

In addition to the dual-function X-Mode of course there’s full-time AWD that shifts power to the wheels currently with the most grip, no matter if on slippery side streets or mucky trails. It’s a comfort in winter driving as the car corners with more sure-footedness than many other crossovers, and mostly at a lower price.

Handling is light and nimble, making Forester a fun drive in town and parking lots, while also being easy to handle if off-roading. Ride is improved over earlier versions, but still a bit firm as are other small crossovers.

Power, while improving with each iteration, is still Forester’s weak spot. The 2.5-liter Boxer 4 cylinder delivers 182 horses with a torque rating of 176. That’s fine for cruising and low-speed off-roading. But accelerating to highway speeds, or when it’s colder than an iceberg in the Arctic, is labored and noisy. That’s a combo of the engine and an 8-speed CVT.

Braking is fine, but know that if you upgrade to the Premium or higher trim levels the front disc brakes are larger than in other models.

Inside, Forester is comfy with supportive seats, a fine dash layout and Wilderness gets snazzy brushed aluminum pedals.

Brushed aluminum pedals here, and another logo!

Standard here are two-level heated seats, that fine stereo and touchscreen, which are easy to understand and use, and a big sunroof, a win for outdoors-loving folks who want to let in extra sunlight.

The test Forester’s black seats and dash look good too with the copper trim and I liked the feel and durability of the fake leather seats.

What I missed was a heated steering wheel, which would have been nice on the sub-zero mornings and should be standard on a Wilderness. I also found it hard to adjust the climate control’s fan speed while wearing gloves.

But Forester’s interior is roomy with plenty of head and legroom front and rear, easy rear-seat access and good storage space under that power hatch. Interesting too that Forester now has a 51.3-inch cargo opening in back, the biggest in the segment, so wonderful for loading wide loads. Oh, and now there’s one-touch rear seat lowering from inside the hatch too.

Gas mileage normally has been good with Forester. I last got 25.9 mpg in a drive 3 years ago. But with the cold weather and the car groaning to gain power in the cold this time I managed just 19.6 mpg. Disappointing to be sure, especially since the EPA rates this at 25 mpg city and 28 highway.

I’m also disappointed that Subaru still doesn’t offer a hybrid model, which most competitors do. That would help mpg considerably, not to mention buoy Subaru’s mantra of helping and protecting the environment. Subaru is way late to the hybrid game, and I should note that I’ve owned two Subies, including a Forester and an Outback.

Pricing remains a Forester strong point though, with the base model starting at $26,320 with delivery, and remember that includes AWD. There are six trim levels with Touring being the top dog at $35,295. This Wilderness started at $33,945, with delivery, and only added an aluminum engine under guard for $220 to settle at $34,165. That’s well below the average new crossover price.

Forester is a nimble drive and better off-road than many compact crossovers, but it also butts heads with the likes of Toyota’s RAV4 and Honda’s CR-V, big sellers. Wilderness trim gives it an edge for snazzy looks though.

FAST STATS: 2022 Subaru Forester Wilderness

Hits: Sporty looking inside and out in Wilderness trim, light and nimble handling, AWD, 2 off-road settings, comfy 2-level heated seats, good radio/info screen, nice stereo, big sunroof, EyeSight system standard, and power hatch.

Misses: Noisy acceleration, modest power, no heated steering wheel, no hybrid available, and poor mpg (mostly weather related).

Here’s a closer look at the copper gear shift lever and ring on the X-Mode knob on Forester’s console.

Made in: Japan

Engine: 2.5-liter Boxer 4, 182 hp/176 torque

Transmission: Lineartronic CVT 8-speed automatic

Weight: 3,620 lbs.

Length: 182.7 in.

Wheelbase: 104.9 in.

Cargo: 28.9 cu. ft. (74.2 cu.ft., rear seats down)

MPG: 25/28

MPG: 19.6 (tested)

Base Price: $33,945 (includes delivery)

Invoice: $31,863

Major Options:

Aluminum engine under guard, $220

Test vehicle: $34,165

Sources: Subaru, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

2022 Toyota Prius XLE AWD

Hybrid power, interior comfort and awesome MPG = winner!

Hard as it may be to believe, Toyota’s ground-breaking hybrid, the Prius, has been around for 25 years. It’s the top-seller and an excellent choice, still.

A few years ago Toyota wisely improved the Prius styling to round it more and give it a hint of fastback styling while lessening the fuddy-duddy looks of the original.

I could still go for even sleeker looks, but it’s a superior family hatchback now with exceptional gas mileage and even AWD on two of its four trim levels. Mine was an XLE model in a sparkling Supersonic Red that made it stand out in the gloom of gray January days. That color is $425 extra, but worth the upgrade.

The LE and XLE trims both offer AWD, which this one included, and it was timely in that we had a couple moderate snowfalls during my test week. Traction was improved to be sure, but there was still a bit of slippage on my icy drive and area side streets. Still, in Wisconsin the AWD makes sense, even when adding about $1,400 to the bottom line.

Modern looks for the Prius and Frank Lloyd Wright’s famous Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church in Wawautosa!

A base front-drive L Eco model starts at $25,520 with delivery fee, a modest cost for a hybrid that’s rated at more than 50 mpg. The LE lists at $26,730 with delivery, and the AWD model at $28,130. That LE trim adds blind-spot warning, parking sensors and rear cross-traffic alert.

But XLE is what the majority of buyers prefer because it adds SofTex fake leather seats that are heated up front as is the steering wheel. A wireless phone charger is standard too along with 17-inch alloy wheels to add a spiff factor.

Pricing for FWD is $29,740 and the AWD tester lists at $30,750. With just a few options this one nudged just a touch over $32,000. That’s way below the $36,000 average price for a new car, and again, that’s with a solid offering of safety equipment along with heated seats and steering. Bravo!

Watch Mark’s wacky video review …. Mark is a cheerleader for the 2022 Prius – YouTube

Oddly AWD isn’t available on the top-level Limited model, which adds a fancy JBL audio system, a big 11.6-inch info screen, adaptive front lights with a leveling feature and both navigation and a color head-up display. I should note that the test car’s $800 tech package included the HUD plus adaptive front lighting and auto-leveling lights. So this was close to the Limited in equipment level, minus the big screen and hot-shot stereo.

A high-tech, yet simple dash with dual screens makes Prius easy to drive.

In case you haven’t noticed yet, Prius oozes value and usefulness for the average family of four. That’s because its interior is big enough and comfy enough to host four folks while offering a huge 27.4 cubic foot cargo space for trips.

And performance is as fine as many compact crossovers, especially since this has AWD.

Nothing much has changed of late with Toyota’s industry-leading hybrid system, but it doesn’t need to.

The regenerative-braking powered electric system that charges batteries to augment the 1.8-liter I4 gas engine is seamless and efficient. The EPA rates it at 51 mpg highway and 47 highway and the front drive model is slightly better. I managed 41.6 but in snowy single-digit weather. By comparison, I hit an amazing 65.6 mpg with the identical Corolla hybrid power system in warmer weather about a year ago, and 47.2 mpg in a plug-in hybrid Hyundai Ioniq. That Ioniq is rated higher by the EPA, but it doesn’t offer AWD and you must plug it in to get the most from its hybrid system. A full charge delivers about 30-miles of pure electric range.

The tail has been improved, but it’s still a bit of an acquired taste. Cool lights though!

Here the 121-horsepower is modest, of course, but is delivered smoothly via an electronically controlled CVT. At low speeds the electric power is delivered with a slight whine, but the cockpit is extremely quiet. Pressing the accelerator hard for instant power delivers a noticeable moan from that little I4 engine, yet by 40 mph when the Prius is cruising, it quiets right back down.

Three power modes allow you to save more fuel in Eco mode, while Normal is what I used most. Pressing the dash button for Sport mode is something best used when accelerating onto a highway or to escape giant SUVs and pickups while changing lanes in town. It boosts low-end acceleration to a much preferred level, but naturally uses more fuel.

Handling is quick and easy, much more responsive than trucks and SUVs and even many compact or larger crossovers. I won’t call it fun, but it was refreshing to be able to quickly adjust lane position and dive into a highway curve’s apex. Cars are simply more entertaining to drive than high-riders and the center of gravity in the Prius is nice and low.

Ride is good too, but there is the occasional solid thump from deeply creviced Wisconsin roads. One note though, the tires here deliver more road noise on non-asphalt pavement, so that’s a bit annoying on bridges and long stretches of concrete, especially at highway speeds.

Braking is linear, plus I should note there’s a B setting for the transmission. What’s that? It adds more regenerative braking when the car is coasting, thereby replenishing the batteries more quickly. It’s not a huge difference in drag when coasting, so makes sense to use in town for more efficient charging. Note though that the adaptive cruise control will not engage at freeway speeds if the tranny is in the B mode.

The tiny shift lever here deserves a mention. It extends from the lower part of the center stack. It’s so easy to use and much preferred to push-button systems or those activated via a knob on the console. More intuitive, but small enough not to intrude on the flat wireless charging area on the console, just below the shifter.

Do you say tiny shift lever? Yes I did, and it’s petit, but simple to use.

The rest of the dash is simple and easy to see and use. The main instrument panel continues to be center-dash mounted yet large enough for the driver to read without straining his or her eye muscles. The info screen is just seven inches, but a touchscreen that’s simple to use. Small volume and tuning knobs are available too while the climate control is toggle operated. A dual climate system isn’t offered though, a concern for warm- or cold-blooded significant others.

Seats are manually adjusted, but wonderfully supportive for a value-oriented car. These were light gray with black back cushion trim and the dash was similarly two-tone. The XLE model uses SofTex fake leather for its seating surfaces and the feel is darn near leathery, plus easy to clean and maintain, so let the kids eat that ice cream cone in the rear seat!

There’s a certain modern elegance to the Prius interior, that feels high-tech!

Standard too are Android Auto and Apple Car Play hookups. A navigation system is not part of the XLE’s features, but is on the Limited.

Safety Sense 2.0 is standard though and includes automatic emergency braking with pedestrian recognition, the smart cruise control, lane departure assist, automatic high beams, lane tracing assist and road sign assist, which means you’ll always know what the speed limit is when you’re exceeding it.

I’m still not a fan of the Prius split rear window, but at least there is a wiper on the top pane. That clears about two-thirds of the window while the lower pane allows more tail-gating lights to invade the cockpit. Wish it was at least tinted to lessen the glare.

The taillights are sharp, but there’s still the see-through panel next to them that serves as a lower rear windshield and allows tailgaters lights to annoy a driver.

Prius mainly competes with its Corolla cousin and Hyundai’s Ioniq in the hybrid car category, but there are many small hybrid crossovers. Prime among them are the Kia Niro, Toyota RAV4 and Ford Escape, but more arrive at dealerships every month. For instance Hyundai now is offering a Tucson hybrid that we hope to test drive soon.

One final note, Toyota has introduced its Nightshade Special Edition, which it offers on many of its other models. That is a special appearance package basically with the car being all black, white or silver while adding 17-inch alloy wheels. If you select an AWD model, the wheels are 15-inchers.

25 years of constant improvement create a super-efficient Prius at a modest price.

Prius, still the hybrid leader after 25 years. Impressive!

Fast Stats: 2022 Toyota Prius XLE AWD

Hits: Smooth acceleration, stellar MPG, easy handling, AWD, decent Sport Mode power, comfy sedan for four. Good standard safety features, fine info screen that’s easy to use, heated seats and steering wheel, smart cruise, tiny shift lever, comfy seats, wireless charger.

Misses: Road noise on non-asphalt roads, noisy engine under heavy acceleration, funky split rear windows, mild acceleration when not in Sport mode.

Here’s a closeup of the main info screen, which functions simply, which is a plus compared to some luxury makes!

Made in: Aichi, Japan

Engine: 1.8-liter I4, hybrid, 121 hp

Transmission: ECVT automatic

Weight: 3,075 lbs.

Wheelbase: 106.3 in.

Length: 180 in.

Cargo: 27.4 cu.ft.

MPG: 51/47

MPG: 41.6 (tested)

Base Price: $30,570 (includes delivery)

Invoice: $28,528

Major Options: Special paint, $425

Carpeted floor/cargo mats, $259

Advanced technology package (color head-up display, adaptive front lighting, auto-leveling lights), $800

Test vehicle: $32,084

Sources: Toyota, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

2022 Hyundai Santa Fe XRT AWD

Mid-level XRT a stylish and primo family mover …

Reviewing the top-tier models, the crème de la crème that each manufacturer rolls into their press fleets is the norm for automotive reviewers. There’s no sympathy for this I know, but somebody must suffer to inform the masses.

That’s why this week’s mid-level Hyundai Santa Fe XRT AWD was as odd as a 60-degree day in December. Yet it was refreshing and something I would encourage.

The Santa Fe XRT is what “average” families drive, or possibly afford.

Today’s new cars now average nearly $40,000 and trucks and larger SUVs are into the $50,000+ range. And that was before pandemic-induced shortages pushed some vehicle prices even higher.

The XRT, aimed at younger and off-road imagining buyers, starts at $35,185 and the tester was just $35,380, adding only floor mats. Bingo!

At that this Santa Fe includes all-wheel-drive, an 8-inch touchscreen, adaptive cruise control, all the mainline safety features, and an impressive warranty. It’s also roomy enough for four to five adults and has so much cargo room it’s almost unfathomable that a buyer would ever need to use the roof rails up top.

It excels at value.

That starts with a sharp exterior with T-shaped lights up front and a light bar across the tail. Plus the XRT goes blacked-out sporty (sexy?) for trim. The tester was Portofino Gray, so nearly black, while the big grille is blacked out, the roof rails and side moldings the same and each side gets abbreviated running boards that are the perfect height for adults or kids to climb aboard, but not awkwardly large.

Guess what? The special XRT wheels also are black. The look is distinctive.

Watch Mark’s video review: https://youtu.be/gd4EFOe5eyo

XRT is all about appearances though, there’s no increase in power from Santa Fe’s base 2.5-liter I4. It delivers just 191 horsepower with a torque rating of 181. That’s sufficient for family travel, but will not stir your inner rally driver.

Acceleration is mild unless you turn the Drive Mode selector knob on the console to Sport. That both increases low-end power by adjusting shift points in the 8-speed automatic while also firming the steering. In Sport the engine growls more under heavy acceleration, which some may like, but it intrudes on the otherwise quiet interior.

Handling is good in all modes, but again, sportier in Sport. The Hyundai corners well and feels on the edge of sporty for handling among mid-size crossover/SUVs. Other drive modes are Comfort, Snow and Smart. I used Smart mostly because it adjusts to the driver’s inputs, helping acceleration a bit if you get on the gas harder for instance.

Ride is quite nice, well controlled even on our pock-marked Wisconsin roads and scaling uneven railroad tracks like some larger SUVs. Again, this model also tacked on AWD, normally a must in northern states like Wisconsin.

Santa Fe’s interior is stylish and among the best laid out among vehicles, no matter their price point.

XRT features a black cloth interior with super supportive seats that were much more comfortable than those in earlier versions of the Santa Fe. The material is soft and pleasant with a somewhat nubby pattern and the driver’s seat is powered with power lumbar adjustment. Front seats also offer three levels of heat, but even the low setting is pretty toasty.

An 8-inch touchscreen is easy to use and the climate controls arranged below are simple to read and use. A 10-inch screen is available in higher-end trims. Santa Fe also features a push-button transmission on the console. That takes some getting used to and I’d prefer a shift lever or knob that one can easily grab without looking at it, something buttons require.

The instrument cluster is clear and easy to comprehend while driving. It also changes its gauge faces to red if the Santa Fe is slipped into Sport mode.

One odd placement is the vertical phone charger. It’s easy to slide a phone into the console slot right next to the driver, but flat console chargers seem easier and are simpler to retrieve a ringing phone while driving.

The instrument panel does warn you if you are leaving the phone in the car once the ignition is off though. A gauge on the panel also tells the driver when the car in front is pulling away from a stoplight, in case your attention is diverted and you remain stationary.

Note too that because this is a mid-level trim there is no sunroof or heated steering wheel, something a Wisconsin driver might prefer.

Interior space is roomy as previously mentioned and there are two under-floor storage areas in the cargo compartment. Hyundai provides a power hatch too and power rear seat back releases inside the cargo area. Another plus, the manual side window sun screens for row two passengers.

Hyundai doesn’t scrimp on safety devices, even at this mid-level trim. In addition to adaptive cruise control there’s blind-spot warning, automatic emergency braking, lane keep assist and driver attention alert that knows if you’re nodding off or not looking forward regularly. Everything worked fine, but the lane departure chime is annoying. Preferable is the system simply nudging the vehicle back to the lane’s center, which it also does. No chime is needed, unless it satisfies a corporate lawyer or two.

Hyundai’s cool T-shaped headlights give the nose a unique look.

Another practical concern is gas mileage. The EPA rates this at 22 mpg city and 25 mpg highway. That’s about average for non-hybrid models, and Hyundai now offers a hybrid Santa Fe. I got roughly the middle of that rating at 22.6 mpg in about 60% highway driving with two folks usually aboard. The hybrid models are rated at 36 mpg city and 31 highway.

If even the XRT’s $35 grand pricing is too rich for your bank account, consider either of the two lower trim lines. The base SE with front-wheel drive lists at $28,395, and again, adding AWD is $1,700 extra for all but the top Calligraphy trim.

The SEL model that is better equipped than SE goes for $30,225, while power seekers will want the Limited or Calligraphy models, both with the turbocharged I4 that makes 277 horses. They also get better highway gas mileage at 28 mpg, but just 21 mpg city.

A FWD Limited lists at $40,185 and the Calligraphy at $43,885 and comes with AWD standard.

Icing on the cake? Standard is Hyundai’s 10-year, 100,000-mile powertrain warranty, plus it now includes free maintenance for 3 years and 30,000-miles, along with 5-year, 50,000-mile roadside assistance.

If a smaller crossover is what you prefer, Hyundai offers the fine newly restyled Tucson, while folks with larger families may find the Palisade SUV more to their liking.

FAST STATS: 2022 Hyundai Santa Fe XRT AWD

Hits: Sharp redesign, good ride and handling, plus AWD. XRT offers more aggressive look, plus cool T-shaped lights, a power hatch, clear button arrangement on center stack, nice visuals on instrument cluster, heated front seats, large cargo area w/underfloor storage, roomy interior, wireless charger, rear side window screens, power lower rear seats, and solid safety devices. Low running boards make for easy access.

Misses: Engine has mild power, growly under heavy acceleration. No sunroof or heated steering wheel, push button transmission takes some getting used to, lane departure chime is annoying.

Made in: Montgomery, Ala.

Engine: 2.5-liter I4, 191 hp/181 torque

Transmission: 8-speed automatic w/Shiftronic

Weight: 3,810 lbs.

Wheelbase: 108.9 in.

Length: 188.4 in.

Cargo: 36.4-72.1 cu.ft.

Tow: 2,000 lbs.

MPG: 22/25

MPG: 22.6 (tested)

Base Price: $35,185 (includes delivery)

Invoice: $33,624

Major Option: Carpeted floor mats, $195

Test vehicle: $35,380

Sources: Hyundai, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

2022 Toyota Sienna XSE AWD

Sienna still a fine people mover, now a hybrid with AWD …

Minivans come and minivans go, but do you feel you could love one? I think you could.

Toyota has been making its Sienna minivan for nearly 25 years and let’s be honest, it still looks like a minivan. That’s the rub for all minivans, they are utilitarian family movers, excelling at the job. Those two sliding side doors make it super easy to load kids into car seats. The third row allows a family to carry up to eight passengers. That huge cargo bay in back will lug a ton of boxes, suitcases, soccer equipment or Pack n Plays.

So why doesn’t everyone with a family of five or more own one?

Image!

Kia’s new Carnival (reviewed in August) tries to spiff that image up. But face it, short of adding wings and fireworks (not a great idea for a vehicle) a minivan is still a minivan. Toyota knows it is utility that sells its product, but image does play a role. No, Toyota isn’t adding wings to the 2022 Sienna, it’s going all-in on hybrid power and all-wheel-drive safety. Few minivans offer both, but some (Carnival) offer neither.

Toyota is banking on families wanting to help the environment, of being more socially conscious than, say, pickup buyers. So instead of offering a gas-only version and a hybrid, the Japanese firm, which builds its minivans in Indiana, only offers a 2.5-liter I4 hybrid power system with continuously variable transmission.

The result is an EPA gas mileage rating of 35 mpg city and 36 highway. I got 33.0 mpg in a fairly even mix. That’s impressive. I got just 22.6 mpg in the gas-only Carnival tested earlier.

So Sienna is roomy, has a dependable repair record and good resale value, plus the hybrid system provides smooth operation. The CVT’s shifts are fairly seamless and the interior is nearly as quiet as that of a luxury vehicle.

The downside to the 245-horsepower hybrid system is that there’s just 176 lb.-ft. of torque so acceleration is moderate. To gain more oomph you may crunch the accelerator like a Packers lineman stepping on a defender’s toes, but the moan and groan during heavy acceleration is annoying and really the power modest.

No, this is a cruiser with moderately vague steering but decent ride, although the tested XSE AWD model is supposedly sportier than other versions of the van. C’mon!

Toyota claims the suspension has been firmed a bit, but certainly not so much as to disturb the ride, and toggling to the Sport drive mode is senseless. Like the suspension, that mode firms the steering just a smidge, while acceleration seems mostly unaffected. Oh, and the XSE also adds 20-inch alloy wheels if that twerks your chain.

Certainly it’s good news to have AWD for coping with Wisconsin’s slippery environment. That’s a major plus helping the Sienna stand out, along with the hybrid system.

But honestly the interior and safety features are what may sell a minivan as much as its drivability. Here’s what this Ruby Flare Pearl red ($425 extra) Sienna has to offer.

Safety is a strong point with standard features including adaptive cruise control, blind-spot warning, rear cross-traffic alert, active lane-keeping assist, automatic emergency braking and forward collision warning, plus automatic high beam headlights.

The tested XSE featured a dark and light gray interior, the seats being a mid-level gray leather-like Softex fabric with a rusty orange stitching to perk its look. That was on the seats and dash while there’s a gray ribbed top to the console, or flight deck. This thing is massive and wide open beneath, meaning a couple beach or diaper bags and/or beach balls could be stored there. Talk about family friendly.

Need a lot of coffee with all those kiddos climbing around and chattering in back? Well, that flight deck also includes four cup holders for the front seat game wardens. For the juice box crowd in rows two and three Toyota includes 14 more cup holders.

Check out the big flightdeck style console and padded armrests by the storage box.

That big console also is trimmed in leather arm rests on either side to aid adult comfort on long trips, while the tested van included a $1,415 HD entertainment center with 11.6-inch screen for the rear seats. It comes with two wireless headsets. You may need more.

Here’s another view of the elevated console with mega storage beneath.

Standard too are manual second row window sun screens, a benefit when coaxing a wee one to nap while heading to grandma’s house.

Overhead is a small sunroof, which is fine if you’re not trying to let a lot of daylight in. With that screen mounted in the roof a bigger sunroof isn’t even possible.

Toyota’s dash is well arranged and includes a 9-inch info screen that’s simple to see and use. Seats are powered up front and heated, but not cooled. I also found the butt pocket on the driver’s seat a bit snug, and NO, I have not been gaining weight during the pandemic.

Oodles of room in the second row when the seats are all the way back. You’ll want them forward if someone is riding in the third row though.

Second row captain’s chairs will slide an incredible 25 inches for or aft to accommodate tall or short passengers, or large cargo. The second row will slide all the way back to the third row if no one is seated there. Naturally the third row is split and will fold down into the cargo hold in the rear floor, and the rear hatch is powered.

There are a few missing items though. Toyota doesn’t include a heated steering wheel or a 360-degree camera, which seems odd. And while the driver’s voice is picked up on a microphone and projected to the rear so kids know when parental units have had enough, the convex mirror used to spy on the kids is string-bikini thin, making it tough to see in back.

A closeup look at the touchscreen, its controls and the climate controls.

Things added, for a cost, include a 1500W inverter with two 120-volt outlets for $300, and the XSE package runs a grand. It includes a wireless phone charger conveniently on a shelf mid-dash, a premium audio system, the 9-inch info screen with navigation, 12 JBL speakers with subwoofer and amplifier, and black roof rails.

A few other minor options like a cargo net for $49 and mudguards for $149 push the base price of $44,075 (with delivery) to $47,942. For the record, that’s in the ballpark for a loaded minivan, no matter the manufacturer.

Pricing ranges from $35,775 for a base front-drive LE that seats eight all the way up to $51,935 for the Platinum version with AWD. That places the XSE midrange, as is the XLE Woodland Edition at $45,350. It rides ½-inch higher and includes AWD too.

If power ranks higher on your “must” list than hybrid efficiency consider Kia’s Carnival with 290 horsepower from its V6, or the Honda Odyssey with a 280-horse V6.

Chrysler’s Pacifica isn’t far behind, offering a plug-in hybrid V6 with 260 horses. Pacifica also is available with AWD, so can be equipped similarly to the Sienna. However Sienna wins on daily mpg efficiency and the fact its hybrid system does not require a plug-in charge. Regenerative braking keeps its electric batteries powered.

FAST STATS: 2022 Toyota Sienna XSE AWD

Hits: Roomy, dependable, comfortable ride, smooth operation, quiet interior, great hybrid gas mileage and AWD. Loaded with safety equipment, sunroof, heated seats, sliding side doors, huge storage under tall console, third row folds into floor, video screen for rear seats, rear window sunshades.

Misses: Moderate power, engine groan under heavy acceleration, no heated steering wheel, sunroof is tiny, no 360-degree camera, tiny rearview mirror to see kids, unnecessary Sport mode, front seats have tight butt pocket.

Made in: Princeton, Ind.

Engine: 2.5-liter I4, hybrid, 245hp

Transmission: CVT

Weight: 4,610 lbs.

Wheelbase: 120.5 in.

Length: 203.7 in.

Cargo: 33.5-101 cu.ft.

Tow: 3,500 lbs.

MPG: 35/36

MPG: 33.0 (tested)

Base Price: $44,075 (includes delivery)

Invoice: $40,821

Major Options:

Rear seat entertainment system (HD entertainment center w/11.6-inch screen, remote, two headphones), $1,415

1500W inverter w/two 120V outlets, $300

XSE package (wireless charger, black roof rails, premium audio, 9-in. touchscreen w/nav, 12 JBL speakers w/subwoofer, amplifier), $1,000

Ruby Flare Pearl paint, $425

All-weather floor liners, $220

Door sill protectors, $40

Rear bumper applique, $69

Cargo net, $49

Mudguards, $149

Crossbars, $200

Test vehicle: $47,942

Sources: Toyota, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage