Category Archives: Car Reviews

2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz Limited AWD

Well-timed compact pickup reflects crossover roots …

Few ideas are totally new in the auto world, but often they feel new, or simply put, the time is right.

Take Hyundai’s brilliant new Santa Cruz, a crossover’s crossover, a mix of crossover comfort and convenience and a pickup’s utility. Meshing the two most popular forms of transport today seems as smart at Reese’s mixing chocolate and peanut butter.

At media events Hyundai has gone out of its way to insist the Santa Cruz is not a pickup, but a Sport Adventure Vehicle, a SAV not an SUV. Yet you can be sure that what most folks will see here is a stylish compact pickup.

Yet this isn’t the first time this combo has been tried, nor a funny naming scheme cropped up. Remember Subaru’s BRAT? Probably not. It was a cute pickup that Subaru called a Bi-drive Recreational All-Terrain Transporter. Sounds like something an astronaut might trundle around the moon. That lasted from 1978 through 1994 and then returned, sort of, from 2003-2006 as the Baja, a crossover SUV and pickup with a decidedly stylish exterior. About the same time Ford peddled the Explorer Sport Trac. All featured AWD.

All this is a long way of saying Hyundai’s Santa Cruz is going to be an absolute monster hit. It’s the right blend at the right time. Starbucks would be pumpkin spice proud.

Hyundai based the Santa Cruz on its fine Tucson crossover, a biggish compact with unit-body construction so it behaves like a car, not a truck. Designers worked hard to keep the interior roomy like a Tucson and then turned the rear from an enclosed hatch to a marvelous multi-function compact pickup bed. Santa Cruz is a delight to drive, to ride in and to look at.

The lines seem modern and decidedly un-He-Man obsessed like all those truckier pickups. This is a family hauler first, a macho dirt and shrub hauler second, and with virtually no thumb on the macho scale. Santa Cruz looks youthful, fun, and manageable.

Yet Santa Cruz scores aces on power, ride, and handling with AWD also available if you plan to tow your boat or camper off the beaten path. Hyundai designers seem to have thought of everything.

Watch Mark’s video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bMxZrb3_8Ew

Consider that Santa Cruz offers two engine choices, a decent 190-horse 2.5-liter I4 at a great front-drive entry-level price of $23,990. Meanwhile the tested upper end Limited AWD model adds a turbo to that engine to crank an impressive 281 horses with a torque rating of 311. That’s available in the SEL Premium and Limited, both with standard AWD and listing in the near $40,000 range.

My Limited was a subtle Sage Green (grayish green that costs $400 extra) that was quick to highway speeds and its 8-speed duel-clutch automatic transmission shifted seamlessly. The AWD gave it good traction in the wet, tested well on roads coated with damp leaves in late fall. Engine noise was minimal and the SAV (OK, I said it) felt stout on the highway with little wind disturbance or noise.

But it’s the ride and handling that easily communicates Santa Cruz is NOT a pickup. This one shouts crossover, not truck. The Hyundai has a moderately long wheelbase at 118.3 inches and a smooth ride to confirm it. Bumps and rough pavement are minor occurrences, not tailbone stingers or cranium rattlers. If you love rock ‘n’ roll, buy a truck.

Handling is light and easy. Turn in to a tight curve and there’s just a touch of body lean, but no tail wagging as most trucks are wont to exhibit at higher speeds. AWD calms it and weight seems well distributed here, no nose heaviness. A similarly sized Nissan Frontier driven the following week, for instance, felt much more trucklike with heavy steering feedback and effort. I should have to work that hard?

And get this, I didn’t even need a running board to climb into Santa Cruz.

In fact, comfort is as important as utility here, reflected in interior styling that is space-age sleek, but useful, not gimmicky.

Seats are perforated black leather, the dash black with a gloss black trim line wrapping from the doors across the dash and framed with satin chrome trim. More satin trim on the wheel’s hub and seat backs below the headrests, and additional gloss black trim atop the door armrests and overhead around the sunroof and light controls. Spiffy!

Hyundai’s touchscreen is 10.25 inches wide and simple to use. There also are big simple climate controls, plus a Diffuse button to spread the warm air all around.

 The driver gets a power seat while the passenger’s seat is manually adjusted. Both are well shaped for comfy hip and lower back support. Rear seat folks have good head and legroom too, plus the seatbacks are carved out to provide more knee room in row two. There’s storage space under the rear seats too.

Front seats are heated and cooled in the Limited, which also touts a heated steering wheel. All those controls are on the front of the center armrest/storage box, so easy to locate and use. Perfect!

Below the center stack is a wireless phone charger, USB and 12-volt outlet. Other buttons on the console are for hill descent to control speed when off road, a 4WD lock button, and camera button to allow a full 360-view at any moment.

There’s also a Bose premium sound system and navigation in the Limited, and a sunroof overhead.

All that is unexpectedly refined and family friendly, but what sells me on Santa Cruz, for the utilitarian family side of my pea brain, is the creativity and usefulness of the pickup bed.

There’s a step in the bumper and the tonneau cover easily retracts while there’s a cooler under the bed.

First, I’m short and Hyundai has smartly designed steps into the corners of the rear bumpers and mid-bed below the tailgate, making for easy bed access.

Second, the lockable tailgate is an easy-lower model that doesn’t slam down on your leg if you unlatch it while standing just behind the truck. Ford’s new Maverick compact pickup still has the old flop-down tailgate.

Third, there’s a sturdy retractable tonneau cover with a strap attached underneath so you can release it and toss cargo in the back, then pull the strap to close it. Hyundai says that tonneau will support a lot of weight too, insinuating that even I could stand on it without causing damage.

Need more?

Fourth, there’s hidden storage beneath the composite truck bed. Unlatch that and hide valuables, or fill it with ice and you’ve got a cooler for Packer or Brewer tailgating. Yes there’s a plug there to release the water.

Fifth, inside a small removable side panel is a 115-volt power inverter so you could plug in a TV, or power equipment if needed.

One more thing, Hyundai has designed the truck bed wheel well covers to support plywood, so you can create shelving in the back of the bed to carry additional items, or, well, plywood. Clever!

Snazzy taillights in back too!

All told Santa Cruz will carry 1,568 pounds of stuff in the bed, and it will tow up to 5,000 pounds of trailer, watercraft of snowmobiles. Just like a truck!

Then there’s the usual safety equipment including driver attention and forward collision warning, lane-keep assist, and automatic emergency braking. To get blind-spot warning, rear cross-traffic warning and assist, plus safe-exit warning you need to move up to the upper trim levels. Limited includes it all.  

Gas mileage is OK, certainly better than most pickups. I got 24.8 mpg in about 60% highway driving with up to four folks comfortably aboard. The EPA rates Santa Cruz at 19 mpg city and 27 mpg highway for the AWD model. In fairness, the new Maverick has better ratings and a hybrid system that can get 42 mpg. One suspects a hybrid Santa Cruz will be coming soon.

Credit Hyundai for continuing its stellar 10-year or 100,000-mile powertrain warranty and now adding a 3-year, 36-month free maintenance plan that will include all your tire rotations, oil changes and fluid topoffs. Again, more value for the family.

Pricing is attractive throughout the range too, starting at $25,175, with delivery, for the SE front-drive model with its non-turbo engine. There’s also an SEL Activity FWD model at $31,645 that includes more equipment. Adding AWD to either costs $1,500.

The SEL Premium model is the first with the turbo engine and AWD standard and lists for $36,865 including delivery. The tested Santa Cruz Limited starts at $40,905 with delivery, and with its special color and carpeted floor mats ended at $41,500.

If you think that’s a lot you haven’t priced a pickup or loaded crossover lately.

Thin lights reflect a crossover look.

Some would say Santa Cruz is a market leader, but it’s a market of one, maybe two right now. Honda’s Ridgeline, another civilized pickup, is larger, and Ford’s Maverick (just now debuting) is aimed squarely at pickup buyers with a more macho look, but competitive price.

Santa Cruz is for families with outdoorsy leanings and urban cowboys who don’t own a cowboy hat.

FAST STATS: 2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz Limited AWD

Hits: Stylish crossover/pickup inside and out, good power, excellent ride and handling, plus AWD. Full safety system, big touchscreen, heated/cooled seats, heated steering wheel, wireless charger, sunroof. Useful bed with 2-tier storage, hidden compartment/cooler, electrical outlet, composite bed, easy-retract tonneau cover. Solid build and warranty/maintenance plan.

Sharp looking wheels add even more style to the Santa Cruz.

Misses: Zilch

Made in: Montgomery, Ala.

Engine: 2.5-liter turbo I4, 281 hp

Transmission: 8-speed dual-clutch automatic w/Shiftronic

Weight: 4,164 lbs.

Wheelbase: 118.3 in.

Length: 195.7 in.

Payload: 1,568 lbs.

Tow: 5,000 lbs.

MPG: 19/27

MPG: 24.8 (tested)

Base Price: $40,905 (includes delivery)

Invoice: $39,329

Major Options: Sage gray paint, $400

Carpeted floor mats, $195

Test vehicle: $41,500

Sources: Hyundai, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

2022 Infiniti QX55 Sensory AWD

New QX55 a fun mix of fashion and luxury …

Mixing fashion and fun in a luxury SUV/crossover is about as commonplace as legislators agreeing on something.

Yet Infiniti has done it with its new QX55 for 2022, and this comes after its launch of the near perfect QX50 for 2021. That SUV/crossover also slots in to the compact to mid-size range, sort of a tweener, not that there’s anything wrong with that.

The QX55 rides on the same platform and has an identical wheelbase, but is about 1.5 inches longer than the QX50 with a much more stylish rear end and profile that insinuate fastback and sporty as opposed to square back and utilitarian. Coming or going the QX55 looks as sporty and spiffy as a guy in a black crewneck sweater while donning a tweed blazer with leather elbow patches.

Some vehicles simply look snazzy. This one does. Doesn’t hurt that it was bathed in a brilliant metallic red called Dynamic Sunston, a $900 option. (Wouldn’t it be fun to dream up these color names?) Nor did it hurt that its interior was a creamy soft light gray leather trimmed in charcoal-colored soft finishes for dash and doors.

Styling aside for a moment, the QX55 mostly excels for its nimble and energetic driving coupled with a supple yet responsive ride. These are tough mixes to get just right, but Infiniti manages it.

There’s an alacrity to the handling that makes this Infiniti seem more sport than utility. The turning radius is modest so the SUV/crossover feels more crossover than truck, almost sport sedan. Point the toothy nose toward a turn’s apex and the turn-in is swift and the grip from 20-inch tires and a standard AWD system is dead on.

Power is identical to the QX50 with a high-tech 2.0-liter variable compression turbo I4 (VC-Turbo) kicking out 268 horses and 280 pound-feet of torque. The power is smooth and well managed by the slick shifting CVT. Not all CVTs are this good, but Nissan/Infiniti have pretty well mastered these and they also mildly help gas mileage.

Related Video: Ride along with Mark

But it’s the VC-Turbo that still merits a special mention. Nissan worked on this system for 20 years before perfecting it. No one else has. Variable compression means it can automatically vary the piston’s stroke and thereby change compression as the driver demands more or less power. That makes a more efficient engine, and one may surmise could extend the life of ICE (Internal Combustion Engines).

This efficient VC-Turbo engine is special.

I got 24.1 mpg in a mix heavier on freeway driving and the EPA rates this at 22 mpg city and 28 mpg highway.

Any way you look at this power plant though, it provides oodles of oomph to aid the QX55’s agility and fun-worthiness. One drawback, the engine sounds like it’s working pretty hard under full acceleration, so can thrum more than one might expect in a luxury vehicle. All this is more pronounced in Sport mode than in any of the other three drive modes, engaged via a console toggle. Smartly the QX55’s power chant calms quickly and it cruises in relative silence on the freeway.

Ride also is pleasant, something that often can’t be said for SUVs and larger crossovers. The suspension here takes the edge off crude city bumps and pavement crumbles and in fact there’s a bit of sporty firmness to help the Infiniti feel in tune with the road.

Move inside and the cockpit is impressively quiet with acoustic glass to silence wind and road noise along with enough sound deadening to immediately impress that this is a luxury vehicle. That leather interior makes a good impression too as does the stylish design and trim that confirm the QX’s upscale leanings.

Infiniti gives the QX55 a sharp and stylish interior.

Light gray semi-aniline leather seats are soft and moderately supportive, yet comfy. There’s light gray stitching in the dash and doors plus black open-pore maple trim on both dash and doors with a satin chrome trim encompassing the wood. Gloss black trim surrounds the upper info screen and a flat black finish keeps the console from reflecting sunlight. Gray leather also trims part of the console and center armrest.

Seats are heated and cooled and the info screen simple to use, plus this bad boy offers up a Bose Performance Series stereo with 16 speakers that stimulates the ears. There’s also wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Navigation and traffic update info is included while the radio functions are adjusted on a second lower screen with climate and seat buttons all around it for easy access and functionality.

Adding to the luxury feel is a power tilt/telescope steering wheel, power hatch and sunroof. That hatch is motion-activated so can be opened with the wave of a foot below the bumper.

Plenty of head and legroom here for front and rear seat occupants too. No third-row seat as this isn’t a land yacht, but good storage behind the rear seat at 26.9 cubic feet and more than 54 cubic feet if you fold down the rear seats. Its sister, the QX50 has more cargo room, as it’s boxier, so if you haul a lot the 50 might be your better bet.

Those slanting C-pillars are stylish, but big, so limit rear visibility.

Must mention too that the A-pillars and C-pillars are thick, so can limit outward visibility. Of course there’s a 360-degree camera to help in parking lots, a plus. The top-trim Sensory model that I had also includes smart cruise control and ProPilot Assist, Infiniti’s semi-autonomous driving system. It engages with cruise control only, so doesn’t impede lane construction dodging in town. Smart!

On the freeway this allows you to punch in a speed and let the crossover do most of the lane watching and slow-traffic avoidance. You MUST keep hands on the wheel though or it’ll let you know you’ve been negligent. I really like this system compared to most.

Is that logo on the monster grille big enough for ya?

All the other usual safety systems are here too and all trims come with blind-spot warning and forward emergency braking.

Three trims are offered, all with AWD. The Luxe starts at $47,525, while the mid-level Essential is $52,625 and adds leather seats and the spectacular Bose 16-speaker system. This top Sensory model loads on all the goodies and that smart cruise and ProPilot system at $58,075, including delivery.

Style is uppermost in the Infiniti designers’ minds.

With only a couple minor options the tested QX55 settled at $60,250. That’s competitive with the likes of BMW’s X4, the Mercedes-Benz GLC, Land Rover Evoque and equally sporty and fun Alfa Romeo Stelvio.

I fawned over the QX50, but this QX55 is way sportier looking and driving. Can I have one of each?

FAST STATS: 2022 Infiniti QX55 Sensory AWD

Hits: Sporty styling and handling, good power, nice ride plus AWD. Luxurious, quiet interior, comfy heated/cooled seats, Bose premium stereo, 4 drive modes, easy climate buttons, power hatch, power tilt/telescope steering wheel, sunroof and lane departure only engages with smart cruise control

Misses: Big A- and C-pillars limit visibility and Sport makes engine noisier than expected in luxury crossover.

Made in: Mexico

Engine: 2.0-liter VC turbo I4, 265 hp /280 torque

Transmission: CVT automatic

Weight: 4,065 lbs.

Wheelbase: 110.2 in.

Length: 186.3 in.

Cargo: 26.9-54.1 cu.ft.

MPG: 22/28

MPG: 24.1 (tested)

Base Price: $58,075 (includes delivery)

Invoice: $55,374 (KBB Fair Purchase Price)

Major Options:

Exclusive paint, $900

Lighting package (welcome lighting, illuminated kick plate), $925

Cargo package (reversible cargo mat, cargo blocks, console net, cargo net, rear bumper protection film), $350

Test vehicle: $60,250

Sources: Infiniti, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

FALL RALLY DRIVES & Videos


MAMA Fall Rally: So many vehicles, so little time …

Once or twice a year, lately depending on the Covid threat, Midwest auto writers gather their helmets and egos before snagging seat time in the latest new machines from the top automakers.

I use that term loosely because, to be honest, most of the vehicles that they make, and we drive, are trucks, SUVs, and crossovers. So be it.

This October we spent nearly two days at Road America, the National Park of Speed, near beautiful Elkhart Lake, Wis., at what’s called the MAMA Fall Rally, MAMA standing for Midwest Automotive Media Association. That’s us Midwest journalists who cover the auto industry year-round.

The Toyota Supra makes for sharp eye candy, while the new electric Mazda MX-30 rests in back.

The gig is we can take a few choice vehicles, usually the fast and furious type stuff, onto the Road America racecourse. Awesome! Second, we can take most of the vehicles around the access roads at the race track, or out on the surrounding highways and byways, always being mindful of the local constabulary.

So this year my videographer and co-driver Paul Daniel and I jumped in a bunch of these newbies to snag videos for you, driving impressions for me to use in reviews, and photos to share now and later of the new sheet metal, and plastic.

Here’s a quick look at some of our drives

Karma GS-6

This is a series electric like the former Chevy Volt (too bad it got axed) where there’s a gas engine, but it’s used to charge the batteries so the Karma is powered by electric motors only. But the gas gives it a sizeable range, more than 300 miles. This is a full-on luxury, think Gran Turismo like a Maserati Trofeo Ghibli, or such. Cost is $100 grand and change, nearly $110,000 here. For more, watch this video.

Here’s the new Jeep Compass, sharp, but it’s the interior that will impress.

New Jeeps:  Jeep Grand Cherokee L, Grand Wagoneer, Compass

Paul here, our resident Jeep guy. Jeep has been busy this year launching or will be launching a bunch of new vehicles this year. They enter the three-row SUV category with the Grand Cherokee L. That’s right three rows of seats and seats that can actually seat somebody older than your fourth grader. They are also in the process of updating the Compass which competes in the compact SUV category. I was impressed with the pre-production model I drove and it should help improve its ratings. See the video.

New Grand Cherokee L. L stands for lots of room.

Grand Wagoneer though was Jeep’s biggest launch, literally with a wheelbase of 123 inches. It’s also the highest priced Jeep in the lineup with the top model going for almost $105,000. You’ll note the Jeep name isn’t on the vehicle anywhere though, just Grand Wagoneer.

The interior is nothing short of spectacularly packed with leather and wood (real wood) and all the tech you could possibly imagine. Digital displays line the dashboard. The one in front of the passenger will, say you’re looking for a place to eat, search places nearby, get directions, and then swipe it over to the driver’s side. This stuff is straight out of the movie Ironman. The only thing missing is the woodgrain exterior paneling from the original. Somebody will do that. Check out our video here. 

Jeep grand wagoneer
The only thing missing is the woodgrain paneling on the new Grand Wagoneer.

Jeep Wrangler Unlimited 392

I’m excited that Ford brought back the Bronco. Competition improves the breed and even though I’m a Jeep guy, somebody nipping at their heels will make them bring new options to the market. Case in point, the big V8 that Jeep pounded into the Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon. I got a chance to take it off-road. The rumble alone gives this a huge cool factor, something Bronco doesn’t have, yet. Ride along with me here. Notice the big grin on my face.

Jeep wrangler 392
Paul after his muddy ride in the 392 beast.

Jeep’s First Hybrid, the Wrangler 4xe

Who would have ever imagined a hybrid Jeep much less a Wrangler? It’s here and the number one selling hybrid to boot. I drove this after getting out of the 392 and the first thing I noticed was the sound or lack of it. It was super quiet, but handled the muck, mud, and rocks just as well as the 392. Jeep’s new plug-in-hybrid Wrangler promises 375 horsepower and 49 MPGe. It will get to 60 in just under seven seconds, not too shabby.

The 4xe is the second-most powerful Wrangler behind the 392 V8 model, and the most fuel-efficient if you pay attention. The hybrid powertrain and battery add significant weight, offsetting the Wrangler 4xe’s performance potential and gas-only fuel economy. Fail to plug in the Jeep Wrangler 4xe regularly, and you not only give up all of its advantages, but without the battery charged, it returns poorer fuel economy than a regular four-cylinder Wrangler. However, keep the battery charged with a 220v outlet and you’ll be in for a treat. The other treat is the $7,500 tax credit you get for going green in this Jeep. Thanks Uncle Sam!

hybrid jeep, wrangler 4xe
New Jeep Wrangler 4xe

Hyundai Santa Cruz

New Santa Cruz. Lots of fun in a small package, plus a pickup bed.

I should have one of these non-pickup pickups shortly for a full drive. This cutie is based on Hyundai’s fine Tucson crossover, but with a pickup bed in the back. Yet it’s stylish and will hold four adults easily with good rear-seat room. It also drives and rides like a crossover, which is its base. Look for this and the new Ford Maverick compact pickup to duke it out for sales. Check out our quick walk-around video.

Subaru’s restyled BRZ sports car has the power and the handling!

Subaru BRZ

This is a cousin to Toyota’s 86. Both are 2+2 sports cars for the economy-minded, but who want generous power and sports car handling. Rare I know. But the BRZ was a hoot on the track, handling great, easy to point into corners, decent brakes, and plenty of grunt from its new naturally aspirated 2.4-liter boxer engine, thanks to Subaru. That belts out 228 horsepower and sounds much racier than you might imagine. Can’t wait for a week’s drive in this baby!

Alfa’s Giulia is one fine driving sports sedan, and its nose looks racy too!

Alfa Romeo Giulia QV

Not many Fiats or Alfas even offered by Stellantis in this country. Who’s Stellantis? That’s the conglomerate that owns Dodge, Jeep, Ram, and Chrysler.

Anyway, the Giulia is a delight to drive, with very quick handling, and excellent sports sedan ride. It feels tight and well-made, despite what you might have heard. Power is kick-ass quick and with a rip-roaring tone too, and there’s an 8-speed automatic to put the power down efficiently too. Manuals are fun, but today’s automatics shift quicker than mere mortals. Alfa says 0-60 mph flies by in 3.8 seconds. I can’t argue with that.

VW’s new ID.4 is pure electric and delivers 260 miles of range on a charge.

Volkswagen ID.4

VW is all-in on electric vehicles, both in Europe and here in the States and its ID.4 is its first foray into full electric. It’s a compact crossover with 260 miles of range and VW will pay for your first three years of fast charges wherever you need them. Nice! From a looks standpoint, ID.4 is a middler, with no real standout looks. But then it also doesn’t look like a Prius or Insight to scream that it’s eco-friendly. By the numbers, it’s got good power at 295 horses and 339 lb.-ft. of torque, which VW says does 0-60 in 5.4 seconds. Respectable!

Related Story: Is the world ready for EV’s?

Driving it was fun, although the funky gear selector on the side of the instrument pod takes a lot of getting used to. Power is good, handling fine and ride seems OK, although a longer drive is upcoming so I’ll know more then. AWD also is available and at $43,675 VW is happy to point out this is the least expensive AWD EV. Possible the ID.4 will get VW back in the game in the US.

The NX has new styling and is loaded with sensors and gizmos that make it special.

Lexus NX

While the former NX was a nice small crossover it didn’t strike me as anything special, considering it’s a Lexus. I considered it a fancy Rav4. But it has been reworked and electrically gizmotized to a major degree. It’ll let you know, for instance, if a bicyclist is riding by so you won’t open a door in front of the cyclist. So more beeps and whistles that some will love. I can do without that, but the ride is sublime, handling quick and responsive and the interior concert hall quiet. Now it IS special.

Compact pickups are a coming thing and Ford’s Maverick is cutting edge!

Ford Maverick FX4

I remember when Mavericks were cheap Ford cars, now it’s a compact pickup like Ford Rangers used to be before they grew up to be as big as an old F-150. But the Maverick will sell like weed at a rock concert because it truly is a useful small pickup and starts about $20 grand. Bingo, this is exactly what folks have been asking for for years. Very capable, easy handling, good ride and if you go hybrid (brilliant idea!) it’s rated now at 42 mpg by the EPA. This is gonna be a monster hit!

Doesn’t get much cooler than this rocket-like BMW.

BMW M440i xDrive Gran Coupe

BMW uses a carbon fiber seat in the M440i.

Trust me, everyone at the rally wanted to get a little seat time in this beast. The color alone assured you were taking a trip down the Hot Wheels track at about a 75-degree angle. Power? Oh yeah! How’s 503 horsepower grab you and delivered to all four wheels. Twin-turbo power is said to do 0-60 mph in 3.4 seconds and I believe it. This is a rocket, but with giant discs to slow it just as quickly. Handling? It’s a BMW. Nuff said. And I LOVED the racy carbon fiber seats that were as comfy as a luxury sedan, but waaaay more supportive. Hope I get to test this one for a week sometime!

Bronco is finally here and the Wildtrak is made for off-roading.

Ford Bronco Wildtrak 4-door

Yes, that spelling is right as car makers love funky spellings of common words. A lot of folks have been waiting for Bronco and it’s slowly making its way into the market. The 4-door version looks all the world to me like a Land Rover and Ford assures us it’ll go off-roading like a champ. It offers a roof that folds back like a Jeep too, and despite looking like a monster truck, it’s easy to handle and drives smaller than it is. Bravo. Power is from a 2.7-liter EcoBoost engine that makes 310 horsepower with the turbo kicking out 400 lb.-ft. of torque. Love this new SUV! Here’s a quick walk-around video.

Mazda’s first EV, the MX-30, features clamshell doors for easy rear-seat access.

Mazda MX-30

First, Mazda took its stellar CX-30 compact crossover and then dropped in an electric power system to make its first EV. Like the CX-30 (my car of the year for 2021) it handles great and rides well. But the electric power makes it super quiet and peppy off the line, well, much like the CX-30, but with electrons running things instead of gas. Basically, it’s quick, handles, and rides well. Need more? Its other different feature is clamshell rear doors which create a nice large opening for folks to climb in the rear seats. Range is 130 miles, so better than some EVs, but not up to Tesla or Mustang Mach E standards. The good news, a hybrid model is said to be coming soon.

Sharp styling and a broad price range means there’s a Tucson to fit most budgets.

Hyundai Tucson

First, the Tucson has been restyled and looks as sharp as the rest of the Hyundai lineup. Plus running from $25,000 to $35,000 for starting prices and including a sporty N Line model, it is family-friendly. I like its ride and handling in particular as some compact crossovers can be a little severe in ride quality sometimes. Power is decent too with a 2.5-liter I4 delivering 187 horses, plus this cockpit is sharp looking too.

Love traditional V8 power? A Mustang Mach 1 is a track-seeking missile.

Ford Mustang Mach 1

OMG, this is muscle car madness at its finest if you still love the roar of a gasoline-powered V8, and really, who doesn’t? I won’t go into all the details here. I’ll just say this, 480 horsepower at less than $55,000. Top speed 168 mph and on the track it’s more fun than a human should be allowed to experience, well, almost. For a full review: 2021 Ford Mustang Mach 1 Premium | Savage On Wheels

Plenty of spunk and sporty handling in the Mazda3 hatchback. Zoom, zoom!

Mazda3 Turbo

Nothing new and exciting here, but the Mazda3 hatch was already exciting and still is one of the coolest sports hatches in the world. Had this one on the track and did 110 mph easily on a long straightaway and man this baby handles too. Needs performance tires naturally, but the 2.5-liter turbo I4 cranks 250 horses and sounds like it means business at high revs. AWD gives it super traction too!

2022 MINI Cooper S Convertible

Wild paint, cool ragtop make MINI S an extrovert’s dream …

Extroverts love MINI Coopers and they should, people chat you up when you’re driving a Zesty Yellow (looks like neon green) MINI Cooper S Convertible.

Tony was one. He stepped right up in the Woodman’s parking lot to declare the near glowing MINI a sharp looker, and that was before I showed him the amazing power ragtop all decked out to resemble a blacked out Union Jack ($500 extra). Subtle!

It’s that roof that makes this MINI maximum fun, first because it powers down with the flip of one toggle by the windshield’s top. Only takes about 18 seconds for it to fold back into what would be a trunk. More on that trunk in a bit. But MINI (a BMW sub-brand) has finessed the top to retract partially first, creating, for all practical purposes, an open sunroof. Then if you’re wanting total exposure, hold the toggle and the roof reclines completely. Cool! Tony, a Ford F-150 driver, laughed and declared it a winner. It is!

I’ve said before that driving a MINI is more fun than anything else you can do with your clothes on, and it still is. This 2022 S version is frisky and the test car’s blacked-out theme ups the cute factor to about an 11.

In addition to that snazzy darkened British flag motif on the roof the MINI logo on the nose and tail are blacked out, meaning flat black on gloss black. Then there’s gloss black trim on the grille and trim rings on the head and taillights too, plus on a rear trim panel. My buddy Paul suggested all the headlights lacked were fake eyelashes to go completely campy.

Well, that may be a bit much, but onlookers mostly gave the updated MINI an enthusiastic thumbs up. But THEY didn’t get to drive it, and that, mates, is where the fun’s rubber (summer tires here) meets the road.

See Mark’s video: Mark Savage reviews the 2021 Mini Cooper S – YouTube

MINI weighs just a smidge over 3,000 pounds so the S version’s twin-turbo 2.0-liter I4 gives it plenty of oomph with 189 horsepower and a torque rating of 207. Car and Driver reports a 6.2-second run-up from zero to 60 mph. That’s achieved by using a toggle low on the center stack to choose Sport over the Mid or Green power levels. Sport is the fun one and gives the MINI an instant burst of power once you tromp the pedal. Mid is fine for city driving and Green is primarily for show, but aims at gas sipping.

That’s not a big need here as even driving mostly in Sport I managed 28.7 mpg in a mix of city and highway driving. The EPA rates this at 23 mpg city and 33 highway and this MINI prefers higher octane gas for maximum thrust, much as many of us do.

The expressive nose includes black rings on the headlights and a blacked out grille and logo.

Something younger folks may want to consider is something us oldsters mastered long ago, a 6-speed manual transmission. Not many sports cars, or many cars for that matter, offer a manual tranny anymore, but it makes putting that perky power down to the front-drive wheels a hoot as you work your way from first to sixth gear. I even spun the tires a bit, somewhat aided by damp fall streets.

An automatic is available, but for optimal fun, stick with the stick.

Handling is pure BMW, meaning road feel and feedback is primo and steering response quick. You pay for that a tad in somewhat heavier steering feel, but tossing this through corners on winding country lanes is so much fun you’ll barely notice. My only concern is the thick leather steering wheel, which might be a bit too thick for folks with small hands.

My other performance concern is ride. MINI rides on just a 98.2-inch wheelbase and with sport-oriented suspension the ride is rough, actually jarring at times. Comfort on Midwest roads is not its forte, although find a smooth blacktop highway and/or move to the South or West and pavement punishment will be less problematic.

Beyond the tooshie vibration, MINI’s Vibrasage ride is obvious because the passenger’s seat rattles quite a bit over bumps when no one is seated in it. I tried moving the seat to various notches, but to no avail. The rattle remained.

Otherwise the black leather seats here ($500 extra) are well formed so give good back and hip support. These are manual to save weight, but also provide a bottom cushion extension to help make taller occupants more comfortable, and the front seats are heated. That is part of a massive Iconic Trim package adding $7,500 to the price tag. Note that folks much taller than 6-foot-2 will find headroom more of an issue.

Back seat? Yes there is, but no one with legs will be admitted. This is primarily storage room or could hold a suitcase or two on a trip. The trunk won’t be much help as it is rated 6 cubic feet in the convertible, and that’s being generous. An overnight case or three bags of groceries will fit.

Loading isn’t tough, the rear panel below the black soft top folds down like a tailgate. Inside are two levers that can be released to allow the roof’s lower rear edge to be raised to facilitate easier loading of that MINIscule trunk.

Otherwise the black interior remains its quirky self. Those who have seen prior MINIs will feel at home. A larger 8.8-inch round info screen is now standard, although some space is wasted at the top due to its rectangular info screen being housed in the big round gauge opening.

Love this blacked out Union Jack roof. Subtle yet cool!

All that is easy enough to see and use, plus there’s still the knob on the console to quickly scroll through the radio stations. That’s much easier than trying to slide the touchscreen up or down as you drive as it’s a bit touchy.

As for other buttons and controls, they remain much the same as past models with toggles at the bottom of the center stack and some overhead. The steering wheel is somewhat revised with buttons on the hub, but with a tight cockpit this could really use a flat-bottom steering wheel. Also there’s a fold-down armrest between the front seats, but it is best left folded back out of the way, otherwise the driver’s right elbow tends to hit it during shifts.

Safety isn’t neglected, naturally. Driving aids include an active driving assistant system with forward collision, pedestrian and lane departure warning, plus high-beam assist. Rain-sensing wipers are standard and there’s an emergency call system if the car is in an accident. Outside mirrors are heated too.

Also outside you may notice the 2022 MINI has a revised grille and front and rear bumpers, plus sharp new wheels. Combine those spiffy wheels with its bright paint scheme and more than one observer claimed this MINI looked like a Hot Wheels car. That’s all good.

What’s not is the wind and road noise cockpit occupants will hear. Honestly it always sounded like there was an air leak around the tail of the car’s roof, even at moderate speeds. On the highway the truck noise and whoosh of passing cars also were distracting. On a country road, just a bit of tire noise, or if the top was down, well, naturally more wind noise.

Still, if you want a convertible you expect that, although a Mazda MX-5 Miata with hardtop convertible is quieter. Just sayin’!

A cool feature is how the convertible top retracts like a sunroof.

Note too, the test car’s $7,500 trim package really drove the price up, but it includes a bunch of goodies you may want, from the fancy Harmon/Kardon premium sound system (hard to hear with roof down don’t cha know), summer tires, the manual tranny, a navigation system, heated seats, and body-color mirrors, among others.

So the MINI Cooper S Convertible that started at a modest $32,750, with delivery, ended up at nearly $42 grand. If you can live with fewer options there’s plenty of wiggle room between the two extremes.

These snazzy new wheels make the MINI look like a Hot Wheels!

Don’t forget that for the value conscious there’s a base MINI Cooper Hardtop Oxford Edition at $20,600. The non-S MINIs come with a 3-cylinder, 1.5-liter engine that makes only 134 horsepower. An S Hardtop starts at $27,750 while the base convertible lists at $28,750.

So there are ways to snag a sassy-looking MINI that various budgets could afford.

FAST STATS: 2022 MINI Cooper S Convertible

Hits: Fun looks, good power, great handling, power convertible top with sunroof feature, 6-speed manual, plus sharp wheels. Supportive seats with bottom cushion extender, heated seats, big info screen, cool blacked out Union Jack roof.

Misses: Miniscule trunk, rough ride, passenger’s seat vibrates on bumps when not occupied, wind noise and road noise, plus needs flat-bottomed steering wheel.

Made in: Born, Netherlands

Engine: 2.0-liter twin turbo I4, 189 hp/207 torque

Transmission: 6-speed manual

Weight: 3,018 lbs.

Wheelbase: 98.2 in.

Length: 151.9 in.

Cargo: 6.0-8.0 cu.ft.

MPG: 23/33

MPG: 28.7 (tested)

Base Price: $32,750 (includes delivery)

Invoice: N.A.

Options:

MINI Yours Leather Lounge, black, $500

Iconic trim (heated Nappa leather steering wheel, power folding mirrors, keyless entry, wind deflector, body-color mirrors, piano black exterior trim, auto-dimming rearview mirror, storage package, heated front seats, dual-zone climate controls, Harman/Kardon premium audio system, manual transmission, performance summer tires, touchscreen navigation plus with Apple CarPlay, and wireless charger), $7,500

Dynamic damper control, $500

MINI Yours soft top, $500

Test vehicle: $41,750

Sources: BMW/MINI, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

2022 Hyundai Kona Ltd. AWD

New Kona ups the power, yet remains cute high-value crossover …

Roughly three years had passed since I last tested Hyundai’s small crossover, the Kona. I’d almost forgotten just how much fun it is.

That can’t be said for all the little crossovers, plus Kona offers AWD and remains friendly to your bank account.

For 2022 Kona’s chassis and rear suspension are strengthened, which helps ride, and the crossover grows by 1.6 inches while its exterior styling is freshened a bit. That’s sort of like giving the cutest kid in your class a new doo or cooler glasses. Kona was already a cute ute, offering a two-tone paint scheme like Mini. It comes in some fun colors too. My tester was a bright Teal Isle blue reminiscent of a toddler’s plastic wading pool.

This time I drove the top-level Limited with AWD, which ensured the Kona packed more power, not that its base 147-horse 2.0-liter I4 is a sissy. It’ll move in Sport mode.

SWEEEET! That’s what Kona is. It’s like eating dessert before dinner!

But this top-end model packs a 1.6-liter turbocharged I4 that delivers 195 horses with an identical torque rating. That’s 20 more horses than the 2021 model. The upshot? Kona sprints away from stoplights well in Normal drive mode (one of three), but turns into a party cart in Sport mode when the shift patterns emphasize low-end power.

Yet the engine, even with an AWD system to support, gets respectable gas mileage. The EPA rates this turbo at 27 mpg city and 32 mpg highway. I got 27 mpg in about 80% city driving.

Aiding Kona’s pep is its 7-speed Ecoshift dual clutch transmission, which makes good use of the power, giving the Hyundai smooth yet zippy acceleration and a quality feel. Lower trim levels now use a CVT with the 2.0-liter engine.

Beyond the welcomed power boost, everything Kona had going for it three years ago remains.

Handling is quick and easy with little lean in turns. Parking is a breeze and slipping in and out of tight highway traffic feels like blasting around a slot car track. Traction is stout with the AWD and Goodyear R19 rubber underneath. Smaller tires are standard on lower trims. Note too that AWD is $1,500 extra on the SEL and higher trim levels.

With Kona you feel you control the car, not the other way round. It helps that its lane departure system can be disengaged with the press of a button too to stop an irritating chime. Yet the crossover still pushes some back toward the lane’s center due to that system. I’d prefer the driver be given full control via that on-off button.

Ride is decent for a short-wheelbase crossover, with that strengthened rear multi-link suspension doing a solid job of handling southeast Wisconsin’s crumbling roads and jarring expansion joints. In town and on railroad tracks you’ll feel those bumps, but they don’t pound the interior occupants as in some small vehicles.

Also, unlike some small crossovers, Kona manages to be high-value, but never feels cheap.

A simple elegance creates a highly functional and attractive interior.

The interior is fairly quiet for its size and price, so you can hear the fancy Harmon Kardon stereo that’s standard in this Limited model. There’s some wind noise, but road noise is well dampened.

Kona’s cockpit also is simply elegant while being highly functional.

The Limited comes with twin 10.25-inch screens, one a digital number for the instrument panel and the other rising out of the dash’s center for infotainment purposes. It’s a touchscreen and simple enough to use, plus features navigation so you don’t have to futz with hooking up your cell’s GPS.

There’s a wireless phone charger too in a cubby at the base of the center stack. It’s a bit touchy, so be sure the light there comes on to signal you’re actually charging the phone.

Kona’s dash matches the dark gray perforated leather seats and most trim is a flat or non-glare gray. That’s great on the console as it removes the threat of sun reflecting off a chrome surface. The trim extends to the door panels while a gloss black trim surrounds the info screen and the air vents at each end of the dash feature satin chrome, same as the door releases.

Apple Car Play and Android Auto also are standard.

Despite being an entry-level vehicle Hyundai doesn’t chintz on safety equipment. The SEL, Limited and N Line models come with a full safety suite. That includes front collision avoidance assist, lane keeping with lane follow, blind-spot collision avoidance assist, safe exit warning, downhill brake control, hill start assist, tire pressure monitor and driver attention warning. Similar features still cost extra in some vehicles, including a few luxury models. Sight lines also are good here with a very airy feeling cockpit.

Smart cruise control is standard on the Limited, as are heated front seats. Speaking of which, these seats are shaped to give reasonable side and hip support, but do feel a tad hard, so might be a little tough on a long trip, depending on your tooshie’s cushioning.

Rear seat headroom is fine and legroom not bad for average size adults. Taller folks may find legroom a bit tight, but Hyundai did manage to find an additional half-inch of rear legroom for 2022 models.

I make no secret of my love for hatchbacks and, well, crossovers are basically taller hatchbacks. This hatch is manual, to keep costs down, and includes a rear window wiper, a must for Wisconsin winters.

Hatchbacks rock, like rock candy!

Cargo space behind the split, fold-down rear seats is reasonable at 19.2 cubic feet. Remember that many mid-size and smaller sedans often only offer 14-16 cubic feet of trunk room. Fold the rear seats down and there’s 45.8 cubic feet of space, about enough to hold a college dorm room worth of stuff.

Pricing is impressive still for Kona. A base SE model starting at $22,175, including delivery. Again, that gets you the less powerful engine, but it can still be fun in Sport mode.

Move up to the SEL model, an attractively equipped mid-level offering and the price is $23,975. Remember you can add AWD for $1,500. The SEL improves tire size from 16 to 17 inches, adds heated outside mirrors, rear privacy glass, satellite radio, and the safety suite.

Those are the trio of headlights below the thin running light up top!

The tested Limited AWD with its leather seats and fully loaded equipment level starts at $31,175 with delivery. This only added $155 worth of carpeted floor mats to register a $31,330 final sticker.

Folks aiming for a sportier model now can choose an N Line, starting at $28,085. It includes the same turbo I4 as in the Limited, 18-inch wheels, an 8-way power driver’s seat, wireless phone charger, the bigger screen, automatic climate controls and heated sport seats.

But don’t confuse it with the Kona N, which debuts this fall and packs a crazy 276-horsepower engine, an 8-speed automatic, Pirelli 19-inch performance tires, a special corner carving differential, active sport exhaust and electronically controlled suspension. Pricing is yet to be announced.

What we do know is it’ll be a rocket and we also know all Hyundai models include a 10-year, 100,000-mile powertrain warranty.

Even the taillights are specially styled here.

And if that’s not enough to consider, consider this. There’s a Kona Electric starting at $34,000, a price cut from last year. It has a range of 258 miles and the equivalent of 201 horsepower from its electric motor. It has been Kelly Blue Book’s EV of the Year since 2018 when it was launched. That’s a strong recommendation.

OK, that’s the skinny on the new Kona. The original was fun and this one’s funner, uh, more fun!

FAST STATS: 2022 Hyundai Kona Limited AWD

Hits: Sharp looks, peppy engine, good handling, AWD, 3 drive modes, and quiet interior. Fine digital instrument panel, big info screen, smart cruise control, sunroof, wireless phone charger, hatch with wiper, heated seats, fancy stereo, good sight lines and you can turn off lane departure assist.

Misses: Seats are a tad hard and tall folks may wish for more rear legroom, although it has improved slightly.

Made in: Ulsan, South Korea

Engine: 1.6-liter turbo I4, 195 hp

Transmission: 7-speed dual-clutch automatic

Weight: 3,106 lbs.

Wheelbase: 102.4 in.

Length: 165.6 in.

Cargo: 19.2-45.8 cu.ft.

MPG: 27/32

MPG: 27.0 (tested)

Base Price: $31,175 (includes delivery)

Invoice: $29,544

Major Options: Carpeted floor mats, $155

Test vehicle: $31,330

Sources: Hyundai, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

2021 Lexus IS 350 F Sport AWD

Sport luxury sedan goodness; if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it …

Sorry if this sounds like a broken record (remember those?), but Lexus refuses to mess with success when it comes to its IS 350 sports sedan.

For instance, Lexus sticks with its trusted 3.5-liter V6, keeps the IS 350’s overall dimensions within an inch of its predecessor and delivers the same smooth luxury feel to go along with ample performance to still claim it as one of the best sports sedans for less than $60,000.

OK, so what DID change?

The tested Iridium Silver ($425 extra) test car, an AWD model, looks sleeker than its earlier models because Lexus has gone with its newer thin swept taillights and full-width light bar in back and thinner headlights that meld perfectly into the stylish creases of the hood and front fenders.

The look is stunning, although some may still argue that the large angular spindle grille here is garish. Well, pish posh because all luxury makes are going shamelessly crazy with large, visually striking grilles bedecked with monster logos on their noses. It’s ironic because all the grilles are uniquely shaped to identify the brand, so logos are mostly unnecessary accouterments.

Beyond styling, Lexus has strengthened its chassis, which makes for easier ride and handling tuning, while also cutting weight a bit with aluminum vs. steel control arms and lighter springs and anti-roll bars.

The standard touchscreen has been upgraded to a 10.3-incher, perfect for this size car, and the seats are covered in NuLux, a faux leather. You’ll likely not be able to tell it from the real deal as the surface is soft as a baby’s bottom.

For the tested F Sport the suspension and brakes are upgraded. There’s a double wishbone front suspension with gas shocks and a stabilizer bar and a multi-link rear suspension. Brakes feature 4-piston calipers with 13.1-inch discs in front and 11.7-inchers in back. Stopping power is excellent.

View Mark’s video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qTgbQ-TaHio

Likewise the rest of the IS’s performance is what you’d expect. The 311-horse V6 is strong and will quickly propel the AWD sedan to highway speeds, although adding a turbo would surely make acceleration more exciting. That AWD system favors the rear wheels unless there’s a slippery surface, so the speed nearly always comes from those back wheels, 19-inchers, but more on that in a minute.

The V6 in the AWD models is linked with a Lexus 6-speed automatic, which some might think outdated as 8- to 10-speed trannies are grace many a luxu model as they mildly help boost gas mileage. But this one is perfectly suited here and delivers buttery smooth shifts. If you go with the rear-drive model an 8-speed automatic comes standard.

Handling and ride are pure sports sedan. You can toss the IS into corners with confidence as the steering is quick and the grip as sticky as a toddler’s fingers. No body lean either, and all that improves in Sport and Sport+ drive modes that are part of the F Sport package. The car also offers Eco, Normal and Custom modes.

Ride is firm but so well controlled by all those lighter and new suspension pieces that you feel a jiggle on railroad tracks or pot holes, but never a sharp rap to the tailbone. Ride is as confident and plush as the steering is taunt.

Inside the biggest upgrade, in my little mind, is the fine 10.3-inch touchscreen that also includes a radio tuning knob below it. No longer must you rely on the awkward haptic touchpad for tuning as you drive. The pad is still there to help access other screen functions, but is rarely needed. Finally!

Red enough for ya? Seats are comfy and look sharp too!

Lexus stylists are not shy, as the grille would indicate, so they deliver a black over red interior with matte medium red NuLuxe seats. The soft fake leather looks great too. Plus Lexus continues with some of the best seats in the biz with awesome hip and kidney support, a real pleasure to ride in these power seats. Plus the fronts are heated and cooled. Bravo!

Head and legroom are good up front and moderate in back, but if no one is super tall in the family everyone will fit comfortably. If you need more legroom, consider the Lexus ES.

Complementing the red seats is black dash and door trim at the tops along with red door trim with faux leather inserts below that. The lower dash is red plastic too and this is where I had a quibble. I expected a better finish. The lower door and dash plastic looked a bit too shiny and, well, like plastic. A matte finish would squelch some of that luster to better match the seats and upper dash.

Ironically, the rear seat door trim seemed much more muted and acceptable. Maybe the front trim was a one-off test car finish issue.

That black dash features red stitching as does the leather steering wheel, which really should be a flat-bottom number for a sport sedan. That would create easier entry and exit for driver knees. Good news though, the steering wheel is heated, much needed in northern climes.

Sharp rear lights with a full tail light bar!

The rest of the IS dash layout is fine, the touchscreen a winner, and the controls all easy to use and figure out. Oh, and Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are now standard.

The test car added mucho options, as seems the practice on Lexus models of late. A power sunroof, not panoramic but fine, adds $1,100. The other major interior add-on was a souped up Mark Levinson audio and navigation system with voice recognition. For $2,740 you get the touchscreen and nav, but the audio is crazy powerful with 1,800 watts (about 1,000 extra over the norm) and 17 speakers. Old folks with hearing difficulties will have no trouble grooving to Motown tunes now. And get this, there’s a CD player. Yes! Again, catering to the older demographic that may be intending to buy a luxo sport sedan.

What the IS doesn’t have is a wireless phone charger, a big oversight. Sure, you can plug a phone into outlets inside the console’s big well-padded armrest/storage box, but if you’re like me, it’s a lot easier to forget a charging phone that’s out of sight.

Other options include a park assist program with panoramic view mirror that runs $1,400 and the F Sport Dynamic Handling Package costing $3,800. It includes flat black BBS wheels that give the IS a high-perf look. And as mentioned above the sporty drive modes and an adaptive suspension system are part of the deal. Ash trim adds to the interior’s glitz and a small carbon fiber trunk lid spoiler are included in the package, along with a Smart access card key.

A triple beam LED headlight package for $1,250 is the last major spiff, but a few others provide thick plastic floor mats and illuminated door sills, etc.

Standard are all the electronic safety features you’d assume on a luxury sedan, and good news, the lane departure system can be turned off for easier city and construction zone driving.

The test car started at $45,925, with delivery, and all those options pushed it to $58,040. That’s well into the luxury range, but not unusual among competitors, such as the BMW 3 Series, Audi A4, Acura TLC, Mercedes C Class and Volvo S60.

It’s also not unusual for a high-performance car to need premium fuel. That’s suggested for this V6, although it will run fine on lower octane, just not as peppy. Gas mileage is just OK tough. I got 21.5 mpg in a mix of city and highway while the EPA rates this at 19 mpg city and 26 mpg highway.

Fancy BBS black wheels and giant rotors set off the wheels.

If less power is OK by you, then save some cash with an IS 300 that features a turbocharged I4 that creates 241 horsepower. It lists at $39,000 and also comes with a smaller 8-inch touchscreen. Adding AWD costs $2,000 but also upgrades to a V6 packing 260 horses.

For luxury sport sedans the IS continues to be a solid and comfortable choice, plus it includes a 6-year, 70,000-mile powertrain warranty. Its reliability and strong resale value don’t hurt either!

FAST STATS: 2021 Lexus IS 350 AWD

Hits: Sporty styling inside and out, smooth power and shifts, quick handling, AWD and big-time brakes. Large touchscreen, heated wheel and heated/cooled seats, sunroof, fancy audio system plus CD player, and lane departure control can be shut off.

Misses: No wireless charger, touchpad still a backup for touchscreen, no turbo to boost V6 power, front door panels/lower dash too plastic looking, and some would say grille is garish.

Made in: Tahara, Aichi, Japan

Engine: 3.5-liter V6, 311 hp

Transmission: 6-speed automatic

Weight: 3,800+ lbs.

Wheelbase: 110.2 in.

Length: 185.4 in.

Cargo: 10.8 cu.ft.

MPG: 19/26

MPG: 21.5 (tested)

Base Price: $45,925 (includes delivery)

Invoice: $42,782

Major Options:

Intuitive Parking Assist w/auto braking, rear pedestrian detection, and panoramic view mirror, $1,400

F Sport Dynamic Handling package (19-inch flat black BBS wheels, drive mode select w/Sport/Sport+/Custom modes, adaptive variable suspension, Ash heated/wood-trimmed steering wheel and interior trim, carbon fiber rear spoiler, Smart access card key), $3,800

Triple beam LED headlights, $1,250

Nav/Mark Levinson audio package (nav system w/10.3-in. touchscreen, Enform Dynamic nav system, voice command, destination assist, Mark Levinson 17-speaker and 1,800 watt premium surround sound system), $2,750

Premium paint, $425

Power moonroof, $1,100

Illuminated trunk sill, $450

Rear bumper applique, $85

Illuminated door sills, $425

All-weather floor mats, trunk tray, $290

Door edge guards, $140

Test vehicle: $58,040

Sources: Lexus, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

2022 Volkswagen Taos SE

Taos another newcomer in expanding small crossover market …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A nice sized screen on the new Taos.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sharp taillights!

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

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

FAST STATS: 2022 VW Taos SE

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

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

Fancy black wheels give Taos a sporty look.

Made in: Puebla, Mexico

Engine: 1.5-liter turbo I4, 158 hp

Transmission: 8-speed automatic

Weight: 3,175 lbs.

Wheelbase: 105.9 in.

Length: 175.8 in.

Cargo: 28.1/66.3 cu.ft.

MPG: 28/36

MPG: 29.4 (tested)

Base Price: $28,440

Invoice: $27,351

Major Options:

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

King’s Red metallic paint, $395

Power panoramic sunroof, $1,200

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

Test vehicle: $31,325

Sources: VW, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

2022 Genesis G70 3.3T Sport Advanced

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The white leather seats and trim ooze luxury and comfort.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FAST STATS: 2022 Genesis G70 3.3T Sport Advanced

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

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

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

Made in: Ulsan, So. Korea

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

Transmission: 8-speed automatic

Weight: 3,887 lbs.

Wheelbase: 111.6 in.

Length: 184.4 in.

Cargo: 11.0 cu.ft.

MPG: 17/25

MPG: 20-25.4 (tested)

Base Price: $45,245 (includes delivery)

Invoice: $43,281

Major Options: Himalayan Graypaint, $500

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

Test vehicle: $50,045

Sources: Genesis, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

2021 Hyundai Sonata N Line

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other than that I enjoyed the N Line playtime.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Black grille and distinctive nose styling here!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Phew!

FAST STATS: 2021 Hyundai Sonata N Line

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

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

Made in: Montgomery, Ala.

Engine: 2.5-liter, turbo I4, 290 hp

Transmission: 8-speed dual clutch, automatic

Weight: 3,552 lbs.

Wheelbase: 111.8 in.

Length: 192.9 in.

Cargo: 16.0 cu.ft.

MPG: 23/33

MPG: 25.1 (tested)

Base Price: $34,195 (includes delivery)

Invoice: $32,797

Major Options:

R19 summer tire upgrade, $200

Carpeted floor mats, $169

Test vehicle: $34,564

Sources: Hyundai, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

2021 Lexus LS 500 AWD

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rear seats recline and massage, need I say more?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The closer you look, the cooler these taillights are!

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

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

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

FAST STATS: 2021 Lexus LS 500 AWD

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

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

Made in: Tahara, Aichi, Japan

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

Snazzy headlights perfectly blend with grille and hood!

Transmission: 10-speed automatic

Weight: 4,696 lbs.

Wheelbase: 123.0 in.

Length: 206.1 in.

Cargo: 16.9 cu.ft.

MPG: 17/27

MPG: 20.0 (tested)

Base Price: $80,275 (includes delivery)

Invoice: $73,936

Major Options:

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

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

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

Digital rearview mirror, $200

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

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

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

Panoramic glass roof, $1,000

Panoramic view monitor, $800

Premium wood trim, $800

Heated wood/leather trimmed steering wheel, $410

Illuminated door sills, $450

Rear bumper applique, $95

Door edge guards, $155

Test vehicle: $110,225

Sources: Lexus, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage