Category Archives: Car Reviews

2022 Subaru WRX Premium

WRX better in a rally than on a road, but it rocks …

After we had been driving for two blocks my wife, a devout Subaru owner, asked rather emphatically, “WHO would ever buy this car?”

The car in question was a flashy metallic Solar Orange Subaru WRX Premium, the rally racer style compact sedan with a ride so rough that nine out of 10 dentists recommend it to patients with loose fillings.

It doesn’t help that we live in a 1950s subdivision with asphalt streets featuring cracks and crevices widened and sunk by 60+ years of Wisconsin winters. Even still, on better roads it only takes a manhole cover’s slight indentation or the dreaded expansion joints on cement streets to jolt the family jewels or crack that dozen eggs freshly purchased at the farmer’s market.

All this in spite of, or possibly because, Subaru engineers firmed up the chassis and suspension on this fifth-generation WRX to improve cornering and (supposedly) ride. To that end they mounted the rear anti-roll bar directly to the chassis, upgraded shock dampers and stiffened the torsional rigidity of the chassis by 28%.

That’s all excellent news for rally racers who take their WRX to rutted dirt-road racing contests every weekend, but for city driving, not so much.

There’s at least one other practical point that may not make this a top choice for the average family’s next sedan. That’s noise.

Again, for the boy or girl racer who thrives on the throb and rumble of a boosted boxer 4-cylinder, the Subie’s new 2.4-liter twin-scroll turbo engine is a positive. It creates 271 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque that feels like a rocket booster is strapped to this compact sedan based on Subaru’s Impreza platform.

For the rest of us the guttural growl, especially while the car is stationary or at modest city speeds, is deafening when the windows are lowered, and radio sound swamping with windows up. Once cruising at highway speeds the blat calms enough to allow radio listening, but still it’s best to crank that baby up.

That said, I told my wife that the WRX is aimed at young folks (mostly) who desire speed, speed and speed, yet at an affordable price.

In that case, the Premium model is a winner, starting at just $32,600, including delivery. For that you get a handsome neck-stretching sedan that easily carries four adults, has a decent-sized trunk for suitcases, boogie boards (fold down the split back seats), and AWD for any off-roading you feel appropriate.

Ride we know is an issue, but handling is fantastic with dual-pinion electric power steering that provides great road feel and more vital, a quicker response. That’s what you need for racing, or just driving fun, preferably on a smooth road.

This version also features a 6-speed manual transmission that adds to its friskiness. Throws are fairly long though, so think about paying $427 extra for an STi short-throw shifter. If you’re lazy, or getting older like me, you may want to opt for the 8-speed automatic that adds about $2,500 to the Premium model’s bottom line, but varies by trim level.

Speaking of which, there are four WRX trims, the base WRX that starts at $30,100 or $31,950 with the automatic, the tested Premium for $32,600 or $34,650 automatic, the Limited at $36,990 or $39,240 automatic, and the new GT, which is AWD and packs a drive mode selector, the automatic tranny, and Recaro seats. It lists at $42,890.

Recaro seats are snug to hold driver and passenger tight.

Recaro seats are wonderful for racing and look great too, so maybe going GT is worth it. But the seats in the Premium model are pretty stout already.

The interior here was black cloth with red stitching for a sporty look. But the seats were so well formed with sterling hip and back support that I wish we had the same in our family’s Outback. These are manually adjusted, but don’t look down your nose at that. Naturally it saves weight by foregoing electrics, but a pump handle easily dials in the optimal seat height and the rest is just fore and aft and seat back angle adjusted via levers. Simple!

Front seats also are heated and the interior is roomy enough for four adults, while the trunk will hold their bags.

The info screen is mammoth!

Subaru goes with a matte black dash while the trim across the dash, around the screen and shift knob, is a satin chrome. Both restrict glare and reflection. Fake carbon fiber trim on the doors looks realistic and I wouldn’t mind seeing that spread across the dash to sexy this up a bit.

Mid-dash from virtually top to bottom is Subaru’s 11.6-inch Starlink tablet-like info touchscreen. It certainly looks impressive, but I have two concerns. First, it’s tough to adjust the radio while driving and second that large screen can reflect big time when the sun gets at it. Sad that Subaru has done so well on all the other dash and interior trim to limit glare, and then there’s this.

Another view of the screen and shifter!

Otherwise I like the interior, with its aluminum alloy clad pedals, plus a racy D-shaped steering wheel. That allows for more knee room when entering and exiting, plus looks sporty. Some pricier makes that tout performance still don’t use this racier-styled wheel. Weird!

A slew of safety devices are available, but most only come standard with the automatic transmission-equipped models. That includes smart cruise, forward collision warning and emergency braking, lane centering and such. Blind-spot is standard starting on Limited models.

So beyond the AWD and great handling the main safety feature is excellent sight lines and visibility. Like all Subarus, there is an open sightline between the A-pillar and side mirrors. The majority of car makes don’t offer this design feature, creating a large blind spot.

Angular styling for the lights add character!

A couple other items notable by their absence, a wireless phone charger (in a car aimed at young people) and no sunroof. Ditto! The leather wrapping on the steering wheel, if it is leather, seems too slick to me. For a performance car I’d expect a wheel with more grip.

Finally, a few notes about the exterior, beyond the eye-catching metallic orange paint job.

First, there are black plastic front and rear diffusers and wheel well trim. The plastic has a bit of a pattern to its surface, so not just glossy or matte black plastic. There also is black cladding along the rocker panels that could be considered ground effects and on the trunk lid a subtle body-colored spoiler.

Many previous WRX models have gone with garishly tall wings on the trunk lid. This tiny lip-like spoiler looks much more presentable to adults. However, there is an optional $540 spoiler that is larger if your ego requires that.

That’s one wide air scoop in the WRX’s hood.

But there IS already a 25-inch wide air scoop on the hood that screams 1970s muscle car. For most of us, that would probably suffice.

All this leads us to the mundane mention of fuel economy. Performance always has its price, but it’s not too steep here. The EPA rates the WRX at 19 mpg city and 26 highway. I got 24.2 mpg in about an even mix. Be forewarned that this Subie prefers premium fuel though.

With just a couple minor options the test car hit $32,894. That’s not much in today’s market for anything with AWD, a hood scoop and thunderous thrust.

Party on!

FAST STATS: 2022 Subaru WRX Premium

Hits: Powerful punch in a compact rally car, excellent handling and traction with standard AWD. Super comfy supportive seats, heated seats, low-profile spoiler, D-shaped steering wheel, hood scoop, big info screen, fake carbon fiber trim.

Misses: Rough, Rough ride, noisy interior, no wireless charging, no sunroof, long-throw shifter, limited standard safety equipment, steering wheel too slick, and big touchscreen both reflects and is not easy to adjust the radio while driving. Prefers premium fuel.

Made in: Japan

Four exhausts create a little ruckus upon acceleration!

Engine: 2.4-liter turbo 4-cylinder boxer, 271 hp /258 torque

Transmission: 6-speed manual

Weight: 3,320 lbs.

Wheelbase: 105.2 in.

Length: 183.8 in.

Cargo: 12.5 cu.ft.

MPG: 19/26

MPG: 24.2 (tested)

Base Price: $32,600 (includes delivery)

Invoice: $30,712

Major Options:

Floor liners, $132

Side rail plates, $162

Test vehicle: $32,894

Sources: Subaru, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

2023 Genesis GV60 Performance

Electric crossover delivers power, luxury and looks …

Each new electric vehicle that hums sweetly into my driveway seems closer to what consumers ultimately will want and demand, some even exceed those desires in clever ways.

The smartly future-forward styled Genesis GV60 Performance, a top-end luxury electric crossover, is a prime exceeder. Two examples being the first-ever facial recognition system on a consumer vehicle, and further setting the pace for gadgetry supremacy is its rotating crystal sphere shifter. More on both in a sec.

But, and not to be a Debbie Downer here, range and price remain the biggest hurdles all electrics must overcome and here the GV60 gets close, but with its lower-cost Advanced model that features more range.

The tested Uyuni White ($575 extra) Performance version features just a 235-mile range, while its Advanced model touts a more substantial 280-mile range. Simple science, performance and power suck up range.

Let’s get at the specifics for the GV60, which I consider one of the best looking EVs to date. Its cousins, the Hyundai Ioniq5 and Kia EV6, are the others, each with a distinct style.

With the Performance moniker you expect rocket-like thrust, ego-stroking horsepower and miniscule 0 to 60 mph times. The GV60 Performance delivers.

Its twin 215-horsepower electric motors, one for the front wheels, one for the back, deliver 429 hp. (Not sure why it’s not 430!) But that is Not enough my friend. No, there’s a Boost button on the steering wheel to compete with Tesla’s Insane setting. The booster rocket button delivers another 54 hp for a total of 483 and a torque rating of 516.

Boost lasts for 10 seconds and trust me (see video) will push the AWD GV60 to 100+ mph in the short distance of an average highway entry ramp. Boost is a literal blast that can make even the most jaded auto writer laugh out loud.

Car and Driver reports a 3.7-second 0 to 60 time and a top speed of 151 mph, in case you’re late for a board meeting.

Watch Mark’s review video: Mark Savage review of the All Electric GV 60 Genesis – YouTube

Watch another on GV60 tech: Genesis GV60 EV tech – YouTube

While there are three drive modes, Eco, Comfort, and Sport, the Boost button overrides and will allow you to thumb your nose at the exotic or muscle car/truck at the stoplight next to you. Eco, by the way, does considerably help extend battery range as it puts more charge back in the pack under coasting and braking action.

Comfort softens the ride and is perfect for city driving as steering is easy and the long wheelbase and electronically controlled suspension here soften pot holes and create a lovely luxury ride. Sport naturally firms up the suspension and steering effort.

Those batteries add heft (GV weighs nearly 4,800 pounds) and lower the vehicle’s center of gravity to make it handle like a sport sedan and eliminate body roll in turns. Whether cruising the highway or rocking along our lunaresque city streets the GV60 feels calm and comforting.

Standard AWD provides strong traction and the 21-inch Michelin tires offer solid footing, including after a rain. Yet I must note that I did spin the tires a couple times after hitting the Boost button.

Getting into the GV60 is easy with a fob in your pocket, or you can use the Genesis smart key app, OR you can use its facial recognition system. Say what?

Yep, the driver’s side B-pillar has a facial recognition system built in. Once programmed you just stand by the car’s side and peer into the spot you can see on the pillar and it will unlock the car in a Jetson-like few seconds. So far, the crossover does not fold up into a briefcase.

Once inside the high-tech hijinks continue once you press the Start button. The fancy crystal sphere on the console that glows a light red will rotate the crystal side down and up pops the dimpled shifter knob to rotate to the appropriate gear setting. Press the button at its center and the GV60 returns to Park. That also happens if you simply turn off the vehicle. .

The crystal sphere rotates into a shifter ball!

The look inside is as clean and futuristic as most of us want, while still offering some familiar buttons.

That starts with the dash’s dual 1-piece screen that houses 12.3 inches of driver digital instrument panel and 12.3 inches of infotainment screen. Easy to see, certainly. Plus easy to use after just a day of driving. Below that is the climate control unit with toggles for temperature selection and buttons for directing the airflow from the wide air ducts just above and along the dash.

A wide dual screen makes viewing gauges and info easy and simple.

The usual cruise and computer control buttons are on the steering wheel hub and there’s a wireless charger in the console, just vertically insert the phone in front of the armrest. Simple, and if you forget the phone a friendly semi-human sounding voice will remind you it’s charging as you open the door to exit.

Seats are wonderful. The test unit featured a navy blue leather interior and dash with yellow stitching to create a sophisticated, yet youthful, look. Both front seats also are powered and the driver gets a four-way power lumbar adjustment along with power side bolsters for more lateral support. Long-legged drivers will appreciate that the lower cushion also will extend to support those daddy long legs.

This Navy Blue leather interior with yellow piping looks ritzy.

The front seats are heated and cooled and the rear seats heated. Genesis also adds a heated steering wheel, a must in our northern clime.

GV60 comes standard with nearly everything else you’d ever want, and some of which you might not care about. There’s a power tilt/telescope steering wheel, giant sunroof and power shade (but the roof, like in a Tesla, does not open), a Head-Up Display, and a fine Bang and Olufsen stereo. One misplaced roller button control, the volume for that stereo is at the center of the console between a couple other buttons. Generally these are on the steering wheel hub, an easier spot to find it while driving.

Need big power for 10 seconds, press this Boost button!

Safety features? Oh my, everything but mind controls for other drivers.

Standard are forward collision avoidance and assist, lane keeping assist and lane follow assist, blind-spot collision avoidance assist (including cameras that show your right- and left-side blind spots when the turn signals are engaged), a surround view monitor, rear cross-traffic collision avoidance and assist, smart cruise, Stop & Go, driver attention warning, high-beam assist, parking distance warning, parking collision avoidance and remote smart parking, if you trust your car to just pushing a button to park. I’m sure I’ve missed something, but you get it, as in you get everything currently known to mankind.

The electric plug-in charging is like all other electrics in that using your garage charger at the standard 120 volts is nearly useless. I plugged in overnight and got a 3% boost. You’ll want to install a 240-volt charger if you purchase an electric vehicle, including this one.

The hatch opens wide to swallow luggage or lumber, just fold down the rear seats.

The good news is that at a fast 800-volt charger the GV60 will go from 10 to 80% power in 18 minutes, says Genesis. It reports a 400-volt charger will take 73 minutes to do the same and with a 240 at your home it’ll go from 10% to fully charged in 7 hours.

Genesis also wants to encourage you to travel in the GV60, so it provides 3 years of free charging at Electrify America chargers spread across the country. Over time, and thanks to the federal infrastructure bill approved by Congress, there will be more chargers in place making longer distance travel easier to plan.

My minor complaint on charging is that the GV60’s plug is on the passenger’s side rear quarter panel. I’d prefer it on the driver’s side so it’s nearer a wall plug in a garage.

For the record, the test GV60 was made in South Korea, but future models are to be built at Hyundai’s Montgomery, Alabama, plant.

Pricing is the last bugaboo that electric must overcome and the GV60 gets it half right, sort of. Realizing this is a luxury vehicle with a quiet high-end interior loaded with features and a comfy ride befitting its luxury nature, the tested Performance model lists at $68,985, including delivery. Only the paint job was extra, for a suggested price of $69,560, and demand is high enough you’ll probably have to pay at least that.

Going with the Advanced model that includes a few less features and less power at “just” 314 horsepower yet still an amazing 416 pound-feet of torque, saves you $10 grand. It lists at $59,985, still not pocket change, but for a luxury make it’s in the ballpark.

Note that the Kia and Hyundai electrics mentioned earlier and riding on the same platform start at considerably less. Note too that none of these makes currently meet the new U.S. qualifications for a $7,500 tax break, although future models made in the U.S. may. Be sure to know before you buy.

FAST STATS: 2023 Genesis GV60 Performance

Hits: Future forward styling inside and out, good power + Boost button, easy handling, luxury ride and AWD. Clean stylish dash, big dual 1-piece screen, crystal sphere shifter, face recognition entry, heated/cooled and supportive front seats w/power side bolsters, heated rear seats, HUD, multiple drive mode, sunroof w/shade, solid safety systems, B&O stereo, power tilt/telescope and heated wheel. Wireless phone charger w/left behind alert.

Misses: Range limited to 235 miles, sunroof doesn’t open, plug-in is on passenger’s side rear quarter panel, radio volume roller is on console instead of steering wheel hub, costly.

Genesis headlight styling is clean and elegant!

Made in: So. Korea (future builds in Alabama)

Power: 2 160kW electric motors w/77/4 kWh battery, 429-483 hp/516 max. torque

Transmission: 1-speed reduction gear

Weight: 4,769 lbs.

Wheelbase: 114.2 in.

Length: 177.8 in.

Cargo: 29-54.7 cu.ft.

MPGe: 97/82

Base Price: $68,985 (includes delivery)

Invoice: $68,985

Major Option: Uyuni White paint, $575

Test vehicle: $69,560

Sources: Genesis, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

2022 Tesla Model S Long Range

All the hype is real from a performance standpoint, but …

Finally, I have driven the future, a Tesla.

No, this wasn’t my usual one-week test drive of a manufacturer’s new vehicle. Tesla didn’t provide me the bright Pearl White Model S Long Range, a private owner did.

Tesla, you see, is the Apple of automakers where its own early-adopter cultish clan that by scarcity, word of mouth, and superiority of intellect choose its future customers. Ferrari understands.

But marketing aside, the trendy Tesla was at my disposal for a couple days in stinking hot Las Vegas, where I estimate a good 10% of cars are now Teslas. Makes sense as Teslas are made just over the border in Freemont, California. Plus gas prices have forever been crazy high on the West Coast, and pollution is a big concern there too. So going electric holds much appeal.

It really should, from a performance standpoint at least, to many of us.

If muscle cars or exotics with neck-stretching acceleration are your obsession, well, electrics should be your new best friend. All are fast because electrics deliver instant torque via direct drive electric motors and single-speed fixed gear transmissions. No lag, no waiting for a turbo to kick in. Like your electric razor or hair dryer, the electrons flow instantly. Boom, there it is!

I have driven other electrics, so that part wasn’t new. It was the whole Tesla experience that was different. And, let’s get this out of the way now. Whether you like Elon Musk or not, Tesla is the top-selling electric car maker.

So how’s a Tesla drive? What are its advantages? And …what are the Model S’s drawbacks?

Let’s take a look, and be forewarned this is not exactly like most of my test drives as it was such a short duration.

First, the S is a sport luxury sedan in all the ways you picture one in your mind’s eye.

It’s sleek, including door handles that fold into the body panels’ sides and pop out when it’s time to open a door. Oh, and it’s really a hatchback as the back window and trunk open as one. That surprised me, but I love it.

Power and handling are pure sports sedan. How so?

Well, the dual AC electric motors, one powering the front wheels, one the rear, create (and I’m not making this up) 825 horsepower along with 960 pound-feet of torque. Is that a lot? You bet. Consider that a new rear-engine Chevy Corvette makes 495 horsepower with 470 pound-feet of torque and will do 0-60 in 2.9 seconds and has a top speed of 184 mph, says Car and Driver. That’s a two-seat sports car, but still.

No engine here! There’s a frunk in front, great for storing charging cables, etc.

The Tesla Model S gets all that power from a 100 kWh lithium ion battery pack, which due to its substantial weight also gives the Tesla a low center of gravity that makes it handle like, well, a sports luxury sedan. The car feels well planted, handles turns with a precision you’d expect and its AWD means that even if you were running it in soggy weather or on slipper streets it’ll perform with gusto and confidence.

Ride, due to that weight (the car weighs more than 4,500 pounds) and a long wheelbase is excellent too. Smooth and silky it’s what I’d call a Buick or Lexus ride, but with a more performance-oriented stiffness to make the car feel connected to the road. I must say though that Las Vegas roads are generally so smooth that it’s not like testing a car in the frost-heave capital, Wisconsin.

Safety is copiously covered. All the usual blind-spot, lane-keeping and parking sensors are here, and ready to beep.

Yours truly at the wheel, er, yoke! I miss that steering wheel top!

Luxury? Well, this Model S starts at roughly $96,000 and most are selling for more like $105,000 and there’s a waiting list that can stretch many months.

So you’d expect luxury, and Tesla delivers. The body on the test car was spotless and seams were straight and equal. So reports of poor build quality didn’t show here.

Inside, the black leather seating was excellent too and the seats well-formed. They also were heated up front, but cooled would make sense for 110-degree Vegas. My advice, don’t wear shorts if you’re driving one in Vegas, Phoenix, the Southwest, etc.

A lot of leather here, plus a giant screen and a yoke for steering.

Of course what everyone talks about in Tesla’s interior is its aircraft-style yoke that replaces the age-old steering wheel, oh, and a gargantuan info screen. It’s overwhelming.

First that yoke. It takes some getting used to, but is easy to master especially for highway driving. Where I noticed it feeling particularly odd was during parking maneuvers or turning a tight corner where one would naturally grab the top of a steering wheel to turn it sharply. Not possible here, so spin that power steering yoke with your hand on one side of the yoke, or a finger under one of the spokes. That maneuver reminds of early 1960s cars with over-boosted power steering that could be spun with a finger.

A close-up of the yoke and digital driver’s screen.

Ironically the steering wheel was heated, totally unneeded in much of the South and Southwest.

Touchscreen? OK, it’s way too much and of course controls virtually every function known to mankind short of rocket launching, but since this is Tesla, that’s likely to come.

The navigation system makes you feel like you’re looking at an entire city map, so a driver will always want to pinch it to visually zoom in on where they were driving.

Can a touchscreen be too big? Yes it can!

Also, you can open garage doors, call up radio stations ad nauseam, use voice command to find apps, ask it for directions, order lunch, etc. Naturally there’s a screen for setting up or observing battery charging (done through the driver’s side taillight). Ironically there is no Android Auto or Apple CarPlay here though.

And get this, you engage the single-speed fixed gear automatic transmission via the screen too. Slide your finger UP along its left edge and the car moves forward. Slide your finger down the screen’s left edge and the car moves backward. Weird, but I suppose one would get used to it. One also supposes this will soon be the norm for electrics.

The soft leather rear seats are roomy and comfortable, with a console for controls.

Of course there’s a 360-degree camera that looks amazing on the screen and the Tesla stereo is a high-quality number that makes you feel you’re in a concert hall. Heck, it’s so quiet in here that it feels like symphony hall.

Overhead is a giant tinted panoramic sunroof, which looks super, but really needs a sun shade. Why? Well, even though tinted and supposedly deflecting the sun’s rays, the roof gets incredibly hot … at least in Vegas. How hot? You do NOT want to touch it. It’s painful to touch.

Other interior bugaboos include an extremely wide console that feels somewhat intrusive and sounds hollow if you tap it, plus shoulder belts that cannot be adjusted for driver height. That seemed particularly odd as nearly all cars, crossovers and SUVs now allow the shoulder harness to be moved up or down a few inches. This one was too high for me, so crossed the left edge of my neck. Not comfy.

It’s possible you didn’t know the Model S was a hatchback, but it is.

In back the hatch’s cargo area is generous and easily accessed. It’s rated at 25 cubic feet and don’t forget there’s a 3.1 cu.ft. frunk (front trunk). Might wanna keep your charging cable there though.

Speaking of electricity, a Tesla supercharger will give the vehicle a 200-miles boost in 15 minutes of charging. But most folks will overnight charge at home and that can take most of the night. For efficiency you’ll want a 240-volt garage charger. That ran $500 in Vegas and installation was another $600 or so, varying by electrician.

But a nearly full charge (Tesla recommends 90% to preserve battery life) will get a Model S roughly 400 miles of range, plenty for a week’s commute to most downtowns and one of Tesla’s key selling points as it leads the industry in charge range.

Fancy wheels, big brake rotors too, and low-pro tires.

Extras are rare. A full self-driving feature (and we’ve all heard the sad tales) costs $10,000 extra, while stylish Arachnid wheels add $4,500. They look cool, but cut your driving range by 9%, according to reports.

Folks needing more power can move up to the Model S Plaid for $131,900. It has three electric motors making a mere 1,006 hp. That may be a bit of overkill even for folks with self-confidence issues. Probably not!

FAST STATS: 2022 Tesla Model S Long Range

Hits: Sleek looks, excellent electric power, precise handling, smooth ride, plus full-time AWD. Big sunroof, 360-degree camera, heated wheel and front seats, big touchscreen, quality stereo, a stylish quiet and comfy interior, plus a full bevy of safety equipment. Roomy cargo area inside rear hatch.

Misses: Touchscreen overwhelmingly large, no shade on sunroof that becomes extremely hot to the touch, extremely wide console, shoulder belts height is not adjustable, no cooled seats, odd steering yoke and odd touch and slide transmission engagement on screen.

Made in: Fremont, Calif.

Engine: Dual AC electric motors w/100 kWh lithium ion battery, 825 hp/960 torque

Transmission: Single-speed fixed gear automatic

Weight: 4,561 lbs.

Wheelbase: 116.5 in.

Length: 196.0 in.

Cargo: 25.0/3.1 cu.ft. (trunk/frunk)

MPGe: 124/115

Base Price: $96,190 (includes delivery)

Invoice: N.A.

Major Option: Garage charger, $500

Test vehicle: $96,690

Sources: Tesla, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

2022 BMW 240i xDrive Performance

Entry-level sports coupe’s performance a throwback …

If you wait long enough history often repeats itself, sometimes even for the better.

Example: BMW’s new 2 Series sport coupe. In ancient times, when Johnson, Nixon, Ford, and Carter were our presidents, BMW was famous for its 2002 sport sedans. Cute (but boxy) sedans that could rip around corners with just enough power to be fun and handle like the 2-seat sports cars that were still being made at the time.

This new 2 Series coupe (OK it’s a coupe, not a sedan) is a throwback in that sense, as it’s not huge, it’s not a crossover, and it’s not an SUV with a monster V8 and bulging 22-inch tires.

No, the tested M240i xDrive rides on a modest 107.9-inch wheelbase and is just 179.4 inches long. That means it’s smaller, even with its miniscule rear seat, than Lexus gorgeous LC500 sports car. Plus, like the old BMW 2002 sedans it’s light and lively, and doesn’t require cashing out your IRA account to finance.

Let’s start at the bottom of this incredible performance market with the BMW 230i with a base sticker of about $38,000 including delivery. It’ll cost you $2,000 more for xDrive, BMW’s AWD system. So, for $40k you’ve got a sporty coupe that handles great, looks sporty and packs a strong 255-horse 2.0-liter turbo I4.

Move up to the 240i for about $10,000 more; the tested xDrive model lists at $49,545. I know that’s not cheap, but it is reasonable for a home run of a car with looks, power, handling, grip and ride.

The pertinent numbers?

This version packs a twin-turbo 3.0-liter I6 that creates 382 horsepower and an impressive 369 pound-feet of torque. Car and Driver says the 240i will do 0 to 60 in just 4.1 seconds, while the 230i takes 5.5 seconds. All that power, in both models, is channeled through a silky 8-speed automatic to deliver kick-ass acceleration that is as impressive as it is refined.

Power is muscle car strength and the handling feels racetrack ready. With the xDrive AWD system the traction is superb too, although remember that AWD adds weight to the coupe while the 230i without it might seem even more nimble. Side note, the 240i is about 350 pounds heavier than the 230i, even without the xDrive.

Watch Mark’s video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G9nvc2uzhIo

Four driving modes allow the 240i’s pilot to ride in Comfort or pretend it’s race day by dialing in Sport mode, which of course firms the ride, handling and adjusts tranny shifts. Adaptive and Eco Pro also are available, but Comfort is just fine for both performance and city driving where you’ll be dodging street craters. Ride is downright civil in Comfort mode, even here in Midwest Lunar Land.

But there’s more than performance to recommend the 2 Series coupes, including looks. With a long hood and short tail this belies muscle car stance and profile, and, get this, the nose features small BMW kidney-shaped grilles that fit the car dimensionally. These are not the screaming monster nostrils some of its new larger sedans and coupes snort with. Perfect!

Add to that a spectacular paint scheme, a deep eggplant-like metallic purple that the BMW marketing crew labels Thundernight Metallic ($550 extra, but do it). Ah, to work on the paint color naming team!

Inside, the BMW is a nice mix of modern digital controls and normal analog buttons and such, all wrapped in typical black leather finery, this with blue stitching to brighten it just a touch. That costs $1,450 extra, and may even be worth it.

Add to that what designers call aluminum tetragon trim for $150. That defines the console and dash to give the 240i’s interior a jeweled look that is now seems as popular for interiors as a Starbucks is on every corner.

Comfort and convenience are on their front foot here too. Seats are heated as is the steering wheel, part of a $2,750 premium package. That also adds adaptive LED headlights, a head-up display and Live Cockpit Pro with navigation. LCP is a fancy digital instrument panel that displays not only a speedometer, but radio stations, cruise control and a live nav map, among other necessities.

The BMW seats also are exceptional in their support and adjustability including power adjustable side bolsters and an extendable lower seat cushion that’s helpful to drivers with long legs. A power lumbar support was added here too, costing $350 extra.

Rear seats are for show and insurance purposes, but trunk space is good for a sports coupe, easily accommodating golf clubs or several suitcases.

Other goodies inside include a 12.3-inch touchscreen that is reasonably easy to adjust and includes, get this, 8 actual buttons just below the screen to program in your favorite radio stations. Bravo. Oddly BMW continues offering its rotary dial on the console to search the info screen for various functions, but it’s a redundant system that isn’t needed.

A fine Harman Kardon surround sound system enlivens the audio scene, but of course adds $875 to the bottom line. Standard though is a wireless charger under the center stack and the steering wheel is a thick leather-wrapped M model, although a racier flat-bottom would seem more appropriate.

I’d also like to see cooled seats that would help take the edge off these black leather bun warmers in summer.

Safety features such as blind-spot warning and lane departure are mostly standard, but a driving assistance package adds smart cruise control, a drive recorder for when you head to the racetrack, active park distance control, and a parking assistant feature, plus a surround view camera with 3D feature. That’s $1,450 extra.

            Gas mileage is acceptable for a high-horse sport coupe, rated at 23 mpg city and 32 mpg highway by the EPA. I got 26.4 mpg in about an even mix of city and highway driving. But, and it’s a big but, the BMW prefers premium (91 octane) fuel. Ouch!

            Final numbers?

            This one listed at $49,545, which seems on target for this market, but it skyrockets once all the options are added, hitting $56,845. Considering this is the entry-level 2 Series that seems a bit much. In fact, the lower cost 230i seems the bigger bargain at roughly $40,000, including xDrive.

            If you desire power, handling and looks the 230i or 240i hit on all cylinders though. Consider too the venerable Ford Mustang, and even the soon to depart Chevy Camaro. On the import side the new Nissan Z will give the BMW a run for its money and the Lexus IS sedan sort of fits in this category too.

FAST STATS: 2022 BMW M240i xDrive

Hits: Sporty looks, cool color, great power, excellent handling and grip with AWD. Ride good in Comfort mode. Heated seats and wheel, wireless charger, easy touchscreen, super seats with adjustable side bolsters. 4 drive modes, 8 pre-set radio buttons, sporty interior with blue seat/console stitching, good trunk space.

Misses: Prefers premium fuel, no flat-bottom wheel, needs cooled seats, gets pricey with so many add-ons. 

Spiffy wheels and blue brake calipers!

Made in: Mexico

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

Transmission: 8-speed automatic

Weight: 3,871 lbs.

Wheelbase: 107.9 in.

Length: 179.4 in.

Cargo: 10.0 cu.ft.

MPG: 23/32

MPG: 26.4 (tested)

Base Price: $49,545 (includes delivery)

Invoice: $46,645

Options:

Thundernight (purple) metallic paint, $550

Black leather seats w/blue stitching, $1,450

Driving assistance pkg. (active cruise control, parking assistant plus, drive recorder, active park distance control, surround view w/3D) $1,450

Premium pkg. (heated steering wheel, heated front seats, adaptive LED lights, head-up display, Live Cockpit Pro w/nav), $2,750

Aluminum tetragon trim, $150

Lumbar support, $350

Harman Kardon surround sound, $875

Various deletes, -$275

Test vehicle: $56,845

Sources: BMW, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

2023 Honda HR-V AWD EX-L

Larger platform, refined styling make HR-V a better family car choice …

Surprises can be pleasing or concerning, something to celebrate or something to require pulling the bedspread up over your noggin.

Honda’s new 2023 HR-V, its small SUV/crossover, is full of the former, yet seeing a starting price of $24,895 I had concerns. I anticipated a homely yet efficient box on wheels, as per the first gen model that debuted as a 2016 model, a real party animal if you’re a family of accountants.

But nooooo, the restyled, redesigned HR-V now rides on Honda’s larger Civic platform, not the former’s Fit chassis. It’s longer, lower and wider, all good things for performance, while remaining svelte at just over 3,200 pounds.

The styling leans toward sleek with a roofline that elegantly sweeps down in back and a new nose and tail that look as modern as any competitor. Additional sound deadening, an active noise cancellation system, and acoustic glass make it quieter inside too.

But the big deal is a multi-link rear suspension to replace the former torsion beam, improving ride quality to the point of HR-V not feeling so small. It corners with confidence and the steering is lively too.

Power also increases from 141 horses to 158 from the new 2.0-liter I4. No turbo here, but that would make it a blast. Still, at this weight and with this crossover’s handling ability the HR-V seems perky and peppy and downright fun to drive, much like Mazda’s CX-30, almost.

The automatic continuously variable transmission is super smooth too, giving the HR-V solid off-the-line performance, almost like a regular variable gear tranny.

Watch Mark’s video: 2023 Honda HR V AWD EX L review by Mark Savage – YouTube

Honda equips the crossover with three drive mode toggles too, Normal, Eco and Snow, the latter being something us northern states folks appreciate. No Sport mode here to pump up the power, but I didn’t miss it, much. Yet Honda does include as standard a hill descent button on the console in case you get off road and need to slowly creep down an incline while retaining good traction.

Make no mistake, this new HR-V has no business going off-roading, but the tested EX-L model included AWD that will help traction in winter slop. AWD costs $1,500 on all three trims.

Honda is also generous with safety equipment with the base LX model featuring forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking, lane departure warning, lane-keeping assist, smart cruise control and automatic high beams. The tested EX-L adds low-speed braking control, parking sensors, driver attention monitor, and blind-spot warning too.

Slip inside the HR-V (still a less than inspired name) and the interior looks and feels roomy, but also more upscale than one might expect in this price range.

The Nordic Forest Metallic (a snazzy blue-gray that costs $395 extra) sported a black leather interior and black to gunmetal honeycomb dash trim that reflects that of the nose’s grille. This is real metal, if that matters to you, and adds a bit of youthfulness to a car aimed at – you guessed it – young buyers.

Incredibly the door panels, arm rests and any area where an elbow may touch are well padded to create a luxury feel. Remember the cheap hard plastic of previous value models? Not in this Honda.

The steering wheel is leather-wrapped and the EX-L model upgrades the info screen from the standard 7-incher to a 9-inch touchscreen that’s simple to use and see. There also are dual climate control dials below the screen and a wireless phone charger tucked under the center stack.

Honda includes a power driver’s seat here and both front seats are heated and well contoured. Honda redesigned its seats for the HR-V to create more support and that’s obvious for the lower back and hips. Front and rear seats also are roomy so four adults could easily take a trip in this crossover.

Lots of cargo room behind the split folding rear seats too. Gone are the former folding “magic seats”, but these seats fold flat and create a cavernous cargo hold if the rear seats are lowered. One thing you don’t get is a power rear hatch, but then this is a high value model and really, it’s not difficult to close a small crossover’s rear hatch.

I like the traditional console-mounted stick shift too because it’s simple to grasp and does not require you look down at the console as so many of today’s buttons and rotary knobs do.

OMG, a shifter you can actually get ahold of!

Did I mention the small sunroof? No, but you get that standard on the EX-L, along with a 180-watt 8-speaker audio system.

And all this costs just $30,195, including delivery, for the AWD-equipped EX-L. The test car added only the handsome blue-gray paint scheme, so listed at $30,590. As mentioned earlier the base LX starts at $24,895 and a well-equipped Sport model starts at $26,895.

One downside, for now, there is no hybrid model. Yet for a gas-only crossover the HR-V is rated at a solid 25 mpg city and 30 highway. The front-drive models get just a bit better mileage and I managed 30.6 in about 70% highway driving with up to four folks aboard.

Seems hard to beat this feature-packed small crossover considering Honda’s fine reliability record. Other challengers in this market include the sporty Mazda CX-30 and Subaru CrossTrek that feature AWD standard. The Toyota C-HR, Hyundai Kona and Kia Seltos also are solid competitors.

Don’t let anyone tell you there are no good cars/crossovers for $30 grand or less!

FAST STATS: 2023 Honda HR-V AWD EX-L

Hits: Confident handling, peppy power, good ride and AWD. Fine MPG, roomy and quiet interior, small sunroof, and wireless phone charger, plus 9-inch info screen, dual climate controls, power driver’s seat, well contoured seats, heated front seats and normal stick shift. Full range of safety features standard along with hill descent control.

Misses: No Sport mode among toggle drive-mode selections, no power hatch.

Made in: Mexico

Engine: 2.0-liter I4, 158 horsepower/138 torque

Transmission: CVT automatic

Weight: 3,219 lbs.

Length: 179.8 in.

Wheelbase: 104.5 in.

Cargo: 24-55.1 cu.ft.

MPG: 25/30

MPG: 30.6 (tested)

Base Price: $30,195 (includes delivery)

Invoice: N.A.

Major Option: Nordic Forest paint, $395

Test vehicle: $30,590

Sources: Honda, kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

2022 Volkswagen Tiguan SEL R-Line

VW’s handsome compact crossover an efficient high-value drive …

Volkswagen was once the automotive love child of my Boomer generation, but time changes things and VW has become one of the back markers in the U.S. auto market, although not worldwide.

Lately it has turned much of its attention to electric vehicles, the ID.4 crossover/SUV tested last December is a prime example. These are well thought out and executed vehicles, yet VW has not abandoned gas-only powered models just yet, in fact it revamped its popular compact crossover, the Tiguan for 2022.

What Tiguan has going for it is efficiency, handsome looks and handling that puts many other crossovers and small SUVs to shame. That, is a key feature that remains from the second gen 2018 Tiguan that I reviewed, and thank goodness.

Some crossovers still make do with lazy steering, but that’s not in VW’s DNA. This tester being the top-level SEL R-Line model with standard AWD (4 Motion VW calls it) was a blast to drive and I ran it around a variety of winding roads where it excelled.

Tires have grown from 18 to 20-inchers, these being Pirellis and they eagerly grip the road and combined with the AWD the light and nimble Tiguan feels downright sporty and stuck to the pavement.

Plenty of power here too with the returning 2.0-liter turbocharged I4 generating 184 horsepower and 221 pound-feet of torque. There is a slight hesitation when the aluminum-clad accelerator pedal is tromped, but after that little hiccup Tiguan jumps to highway speeds with ease.

Ride is mostly well controlled with an independent suspension at all corners, but it can get a bit choppy on particularly uneven Midwest secondary roads and city streets. Thankfully the cockpit is well insulated so not much road noise is transmitted to the interior, making it feel more refined than a few competitors.

VW also delivers a variety of drive modes to make Tiguan more useful in snow and muck. There are Snow, Off-Road Automatic and Off-Road Custom settings along with the more standard Eco, Normal, Sport and Custom modes all engaged via a dial and button combo on the console. The key to more fun motion is Sport because it pumps up the engine performance and shifts from the 8-speed Tiptronic automatic to give Tiguan a more aggressive launch.

The Off-Road modes can help when winter arrives or if pulling a light boat trailer or camper into a state park camp site or along a dirt road. Tiguan will pull up to 1,500 pounds.

New this year are outward tweaks including LED headlights and taillights along with a more refined nose that makes Tiguan appear tailored and svelte as opposed to the popular Thor-inspired musclebound look many crossovers and SUVs favor.

Inside VW added digital gauges in this refresh and the dash and screens are well laid out and easy to use, even while driving. Not all crossovers can make that claim.

The 10-inch touchscreen for info and radio is just the right size and two inches larger than in lower trim levels. Sadly the infotainment screen takes quite a while to engage when the vehicle is first started.

Below that screen are touchpad type climate controls where a driver slides a finger along the controls to raise or lower temperatures or fan speeds. I’m not a huge fan, but it worked fine, although not sure how great it would work in winter when a driver is wearing gloves.

Miraculously VW also sees fit to equip the SEL R-Line with heated and cooled front seats, a win for budget-minded crossover buyers in the northern climes where both can be needed within a week’s changeable weather.

A flat-bottom wheel is welcome in the new Tiguan.

Other interior pluses include a flat-bottom leather-wrapped steering wheel, a wireless charger under the center stack and a big sunroof with shade.

Seats? Well, that’s a derriere downside as these are quite hard, front and rear so that after about an hour’s drive your bum will start to ache, unless your tushie is more padded than mine. A younger, and fit, passenger agreed that these were among the hardest seats she had ridden in.

The driver’s seat is powered though, including a power lumbar to help provide lower back comfort and the second row seats are quite roomy, allowing for taller passengers to easily fit. Likewise the storage room behind row two seats is generous and there’s a power hatch in back for easy access. Rear seats fold down nearly flat and while there were manual release levers in the cargo area I could not get them to unlatch the rear seat backs.

Despite that flat-bottom wheel I also found tight knee space under the steering column so exiting the Tiguan required some care to not bang a knee. This is primarily a problem for shorter drivers as they, like me, will have the seat a little further forward for comfortable pedal pushing.

Outside the test crossover was a beautiful Atlantic Blue Metallic, a dark sparkling blue, while the interior was gray perforated leather for the seats, while lower trim levels offer cloth or a fake leather seats. The dash was black on top but the lower 2/3 was gray to match the seating. Same with the doors and trim, but a black and gray stripped insert that sort of looked like wood is used as door and dash trim.

This SEL model also packs a fine 480-watt Fender audio system.

VW includes a good selection of safety equipment including automatic emergency braking, blind-spot warning, lane assist (mild corrections) and smart cruise control among others.

Gas mileage is good for a compact crossover with an EPA rating of 21 mpg city and 28 mpg highway. I beat that with mostly highway driving that netted 30.8 mpg.

Pricing is a happy surprise too as the base front-drive Tiguan S with the smaller info screen and cloth interior lists at $27,785, including delivery.

There’s also an SE at $31,415, this trim adding the power hatch, dual-zone climate controls, fake leather seats, wireless charging, blind-spot warning, lane-keeping and smart cruise control, making it a preferred choice while still economical.

The SE R-Line Black model jumps up to $34,245 but adds the panoramic sunroof, front and rear parking sensors, 15-color ambient lighting and a leather-wrapped steering wheel. Adding AWD to any model except the tested SEL costs $1,500.

The tested SEL R-Line lists at $37,790 with delivery and this one added no options. The highest trim level includes a heated steering wheel, 360-degree camera, road sign recognition system, automatic high beams and a self-parking system, plus the items mentioned earlier.

Note too that the front-drive models come standard with a third row seat, but experience shows this is quite tight so only useful for small children and for short duration rides. No third row is available in the AWD models such as the tester.

Tiguan is certainly a high-value compact crossover that competes well with the market leaders such as Toyota’s RAV-4 and Honda’s CR-V. For ride and handling the other good choices are Mazda’s CX-5 and Subaru’s Forester, although they offer a bit less cargo room. The new Mazda CX-50, which is 5 inches longer than the CX-5, should be considered if increased interior space is vital.

FAST STATS: 2022 Volkswagen Tiguan SEL R-Line

Hits: Handsome styling, nimble handling, good power and AWD. Large easy to use screen, digital climate controls, heated/cooled front seats, various drive modes, big sunroof w/shade, wireless charger, power hatch.

Misses: Hard seats,tight knee space to steering column for short drivers, info screen slow to start, some acceleration hesitation and choppy ride on uneven roads.

Made in: Puebla, Mexico

Engine: 2.0-liter turbo I4, 184 horsepower/221 torque

Transmission: 8-speed Tiptronic automatic w/Sport

Weight: 3,856 lbs.

Length: 186.1 in.

Wheelbase: 109.9 in.

Cargo: 37.6-73.4 cu.ft.

Tow: 1,500 lbs.

MPG: 21/28

MPG:  30.8 (tested)

Base Price: $37,790 (includes delivery)

Invoice: $37,122

Major Options: None

Test vehicle: $37,790

Sources: Volkswagen, kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

2022 Volvo XC40 Recharge Twin Ultimate

Nimble, powerful XC40 Recharge a bit shy on range …

Electric power is coming, and quickly, to some car makes, Volvo being a prime example.

Its compact SUV, the XC40, debuted just a couple years back, but now is available with full electric power from twin electric motors, one front, one rear. This version is known as the XC40 Recharge Twin Ultimate, one up from the base Plus model.

Price is appropriately luxury-based and today’s auto buyer must be prepared for some sticker shock for most electrics, but more on that in a few nanos.

From the performance standpoint, the nimble XC40 Recharge is packed with electrons and rated at 402 horsepower with a torque rating of 486. Like most electrics the acceleration is both smooth and instantaneous, easily capable of triple digit speeds within the confines of a highway entry ramp.

Also, like its gas-powered version, this XC40 handles well with a sporty flair. Steering is quick and precise, but with a heavier feel than the gas-only model. Ride, as in the earlier test drive is fairly well controlled, but still a bit chattery over crumbling Midwest roads. A longer wheelbase would help smooth that some as witnessed in some competing models.

Those are the basics, so let’s charge right into the electrics of this Volvo.

There are twin electric motors driving the front and rear wheels as the XC40 has full-time AWD. That’s great for Wisconsin and upper Midwest winters. But … the range is just 223 miles on a full charge. Laudably that’s up 15 miles from last year’s model, but still well short of some competitors. Think Tesla, VW’s ID.4, and Ford’s Mustang Mach-E, some of which even cost less.

The plug-in here is on the driver’s side rear quarter panel, much like a gas filler cap. Many electrics have the power in the nose or front driver’s side quarter panel. Wish the industry could agree where this should go. In my garage the front plug-ins are easier.

As with other electrics there’s a frunk, a small trunk up front that allows Volvo to put the charging cable up there. That’s fine, but with the outlet in the rear, storing it under the cargo floor might be preferable.

Watch Mark’s video: 22 Volvo Recharge Review – YouTube

Note too that charging is slow for most of us with 120-volt outlets. I got about 1% of charge per hour of charge, the equivalent of 2 miles of power. So, a 12-hour overnight charge netted about a 13 percentage point increase or 26 miles. I stopped at a ChargePoint (240-volt) charger (first ones I visited at the website’s suggestion were for a company’s employees, not the public), and it netted a 2% charge every 15 minutes, so 8% an hour, or 16 miles. Cost is roughly $1 an hour.

Still, unless you’re leaving the vehicle to charge overnight you’re not filling it up.

For the record, the EPA rates the Volvo at 92 mpge city and 79 highway as you use the charge faster at higher speeds and when the vehicle is under more stress, such as going up hills.

My experience is you’d be wise to top-off every night or two if commuting around town. I blew through about 25% of the charge running to the other side of town and to a friend’s house in a nearby suburb. Oh, and most electrics, including this Volvo, suggest only a 90% charge to preserve battery life, but cutting daily range.

Volvo’s shift-by-wire single-speed automatic tranny is fine and uses the power effectively. Plus there’s one-pedal driving as with other electrics, meaning you simply use the accelerator, rarely the brake.

Thor’s Hammer headlights are still a Volvo thing!

That’s because the electric motors brake the car quite quickly once you let off the go-pedal. In fact, it can feel rather sudden, so you quickly learn to feather off accelerator pressure to slowly coast to a stop. The upside is any coasting or braking helps recharge the batteries some, so in stop-and-go city driving you use less power as you’re constantly regenerating power, and there’s a gauge on the dash to show you that.

Beyond the power source, the XC40 is a fine luxury SUV with crisp good looks and an attractive interior.

This medium gray model, with a hint of sparkle, runs $695 extra. Gray is hot right now and most colors, even gray, cost extra on luxury makes.

Meanwhile, the interior is a soft gunmetal gray leather known as NuBuck. I thought it was fake leather originally, but a little research tells me it’s made from the top grain of the cowhide, said to be tougher so it’ll wear longer. Its surface is sanded to give it a consistent appearance that also feels a lot like suede.

That gave the XC40 interior a luxury feel and the leather seats and shifter both feature white stitching that add depth and definition. A silver and black patterned metal trim on the dash and doors adds a jeweled look, while the console top is mostly gloss piano black, which reflects some on sunny days. Then there’s an odd bit of gunmetal gray felt-like material that lines the console’s sides and inside door panels. It felt and looked more downscale than the rest of the interior.

Mid dash is a 9-inch touchscreen. This is the same as Volvo has been offering for several years that requires touching one of four menu choices to find the radio, navigation, etc. Then there are various screens beyond that, obtained by sliding the others. All that is too squirrely to deal with while driving once beyond the main screen.

There’s also a screen that tells you the current charge level and estimated miles of range you have. A button there will allow a driver to maximize the charge as it slightly decreases the SUV’s climate system (fan speed and temp). You’ll barely notice, but it did extend my range on one drive.

Volvo includes a fine Harmon Kardon stereo and a wireless phone charger in the console. Overhead is the requisite giant sunroof, but it can be a bit tricky to operate as you can tap or barely touch the overhead button or use a slide action that will either open, tilt or slide the sunshield back. Getting that right took several tries each time as it often wanted to open the entire roof when I just wanted the inner shield retracted.

Unsure of your range? Check the big info screen.

Seats are relatively comfy up front and roomy in back. The front seats are heated as was the steering wheel here, a $150 option that’s worth it for our clime. Oddly the seats weren’t cooled, something I’d expect at this price point. There also was no power tilt/telescope steering wheel.

The XC40 easily carries four adults and five can sneak in on a short ride. Plus there is generous cargo space under the power hatch. Volvo claims you could tow 2,000 pounds of trailer, but remember that will suck down your battery power more quickly and reduce range.

Pricing is at the upper end of this segment, especially considering range.

The base XC40 Recharge Plus starts at $56,495 with delivery while the tested Ultimate lists at $59,245. With just two options this one costs $60,090.

Competitors include the Mach-E, id.4, Tesla Y and the new Genesis GV60 that I hope to review this summer.

Here’s the frunk with the Volvo charging cord neatly wrapped inside.

If you prefer gas power, the XC40 touts a 2.0-liter I4 turbo with 248 horsepower that goes rocket fast in Dynamic mode and runs about $46,000 well equipped.

FAST STATS: 2022 Volvo XC40 Recharge Twin Ultimate

Hits: Good looks, excellent electric power, precise handling and full-time AWD. Big sunroof, heated wheel and front seats, big touchscreen, quality stereo, a stylish luxury interior, plus a full bevy of safety equipment.

Misses: Touchscreen (beyond main screen) is distracting to use while driving and no power tilt/telescope steering wheel or cooled seats in front. Chattery ride on rough roads and the electric charge range is limited to 223 miles.

A stylish tail on Volvos features vertical lights.

Made in: Ghent, Belgium

Engine: Twin electric motors w 78 kWh-lithium ion battery, 402 hp/486 torque

Transmission: Shift-by-wire single-speed automatic

Weight: 4,763 lbs.

Wheelbase: 106.4 in.

Length: 174.8 in.

Cargo: 57.5 cu.ft. (rear seats down)

Tow: 2,000 lbs.

MPGe: 92/79

Base Price: $59,245 (includes delivery)

Invoice: N.A.

Major Options:

Metallic gray paint, $695

Heated steering wheel, $150

Test vehicle: $60,090

Sources: Volvo, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

2022 Toyota GR86 Premium

Sporty looks, handling and a price sure to entice …

Hyundai’s Veloster N last week tops the A-list for sporty, affordable wanna-be racers because it has oodles of muscle and attitude. This week’s Toyota GR86 Premium is a bit easier on the eyes, but easily wedges into this segment at an A-.

Here’s my reasoning.

If you want power, agility and looks, the Veloster is a kick-ass option and as tested only $35,005. In every way the GR86 (more on the name in a sec), is the Veloster’s equal, except on the power front. Veloster had 275 horses while the Toyota has a still generous 228 hp.

But before you think GR86 should maybe drop to B+ with such a big boost bulge, consider this, the Toyota rides better (still bumpy), offers more sensuous lines and costs less. You heard that right.

The difference is the GR86 is a sporty car, not a racer. Think upgraded Celica from years ago.

A little background. The GR86 is a close cousin to Subaru’s BRZ. Subaru and Toyota jointly engineered the BRZ and GR86, which is why it’s Subaru’s only non-AWD vehicle (keeps costs down) and why it packs the only 4-cylinder boxer engine in Toyota’s lineup. Boxers are a Subaru specialty (Porsche too) and provide smooth power that’s very linear.

Both cars have sporty, sophisticated looks that get noticed. I even had a guy with a thundering Tacoma buzz me on the highway in hopes I’d give chase. It helped that the test car was bathed in an orange-tinted bright red that Toyota dubs Track bRed (get it? Track bred), and for which it charges $425 extra.

The good news for GR86 buyers is that after skipping the 2021 model year, it’s back and that flat-4 cranks 228 horses, a 23 horse gain from its previous 2.0-liter boxer engine. Torque is up too, nearly 30 pound-feet to 184. That means more grunt off the line and, get this, it’s connected to a 6-speed manual transmission. Stick fans rejoice!

View Mark’s video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UkcBOVUcQa8

Shifting is smooth and easy and it’s easy to chirp the rear-drive tires, not to mention get a little tail waggle around sharp turns, especially if the pavement is a wee bit damp.

GR86 is simple driving fun with a light (weighs only 2,833 lbs.), but precise steering effort. A limited-slip differential also aids cornering and acceleration out of a turn. This is a car that makes you want to hit the twisties, just for the fun of dancing the Toyota around corners. How much fun is it? Well, Car and Driver named this and the Subaru (by default) to its Top 10 car list this year, and C&D writers are even more obsessed with handling and power than me!

I wish the shifter throws were short and sweet like those in Mazda’s MX-5 (think Miata), but they are longer and the ball-shifter is big for a small driver’s hand. Still, a stick is a hoot to drive. For the record, an automatic is available for $1,500, but really?

Ride is bumpy as this is a short-wheelbase car, just 101.4 inches, but amazingly it was not as abrupt as last week’s Veloster, which really IS aimed more at buyers intending to purchase some track time. I found the GR86 ride tolerable for most city drives.

Braking is impressive and aids the sporty image. Discs are vented and 11.6 inches up front and just a fraction smaller in back.

Now, that name, why GR? It stands for Gazoo Racing, which helped develop the car and is Toyota’s longtime motorsports team and a division of the Japanese automaker.

Outside you’ll see GR and Toyota designers gave the nose a smooth rounded schnoz, avoiding the angular looks of the Veloster and funky Honda Civic Si and the boxier styling of Volkswagen’s venerable Golf GTi. There’s a modest trunk lid spoiler to add some tail flare and the roofline has a decidedly Porsche sweep to it. The result is a pleasant, sporty blend.

Inside, the interior is simple and easy to navigate, with extremely supportive seats, a new bigger info screen, plus two-level heated seats.

Seats themselves are a black suede type material with faux leather trim and gray stitching. There’s also a gray partial racing stripe that projects partway up the bottom cushion then reappears partway up the back cushion. Looks sharp.

Dash and doors are black and feature that suede material atop the doors to add a softer feel than the hard plastic elsewhere. The console is a flat black/gray that avoids reflections often found on consoles using black gloss trim. Satin chrome trims the console’s edge.

Toyota boosts the infotainment screen up to 8 inches and it’s easy to set and find channels, plus there are tuner and volume knobs. However, that volume knob led to an odd discovery. It’s so close to the touchscreen’s edge that apparently my little finger frequently touched the screen as I adjusted the volume, changing the radio to FM. Took me a while to figure it out as I couldn’t immediately tell that my pinky was the culprit as the touch was so slight.

Below the screen are big, easy to use climate control dials and toggles, and there’s a Track button on the console that changes the driver’s instrument panel for a racier look. I could not feel a dramatic change in performance with Track engaged, maybe a touch quicker acceleration.

Complementing the sporty interior is metal-faced pedals, all three, but Toyota does not go with a flat-bottom steering wheel that would give the GR86 a racier look and open up knee space for entering and exiting.

Speaking of which, crawling out of the GR86 is not too difficult, despite being a low-riding vehicle. It was much easier to exit than the Veloster, while both had tall side bolsters on their seats that can restrict exiting. There IS a rear seat in the Toyota, but it’s mostly useless. I’m short, so keep the driver’s seat fairly far forward and my 13-year-old grandson could not squeeze behind my seat to sit upright. Instead he laid sideways while we remained parked in the driveway.

The best use for the rear seat is for cargo as the trunk is a petite 6.3 cubic feet, so maybe the back seat is a bit more useful than I give it credit for. Rear seats do fold down to extend cargo room.

The Premium model’s stereo comes with 8 speakers, but to hear it you must crank it as the road noise is considerable, especially on cement highway pavement. I’d prefer a bit more sound deadening.

Electronic safety devices are minimal here, but are exactly what most of us would demand, blind-spot warning and rear cross-traffic alert. No smart cruise or lane-keeping assist as the point of this car is to be driven, not computer-guided.

Gas mileage was just OK at 23.4 mpg in a week’s driving and about 70% on the highway. The EPA says to expect 20 mpg city and 27 highway. The biggest concern is the GR86’s preference for premium fuel. With performance there’s always a price. Ouch!

What’s a little premium fuel when your car looks this awesome?

The better news is pricing. Starting price for the Premium model is $31,325 and includes delivery, while a base model with 6-speed manual lists at $30,225. Remember an automatic adds $1,500.

With a few minor add-ons the test car settled at $32,975, so about $2 grand less than the Veloster.

The choice between the two could come down to price, styling and ride. Performance geeks will be happier with the Veloster. Folks who appreciate value, more sophisticated looks along with sporty performance should shop the GR86 or BRZ.

Fast Stats: 2022 Toyota GR86 Premium

Hits: Sporty looks, light responsive handling, 6-speed manual tranny and good power and braking. Bigger info screen, 2-level heated seats, big easy climate buttons and toggles, supportive seats, metal-faced pedals. Simple high-value fun.

Gorgeous, sporty, spunky and light on its wheels, that's the GR86. Congrats Toyota, it's also AFFORDABLE!
Even the taillights look great!

Misses: Road noise, bumpy ride, no flat-bottom wheel and prefers premium fuel. Useless rear seat and a touchscreen design that is too easy to bump the FM button when trying to adjust the radio volume knob.

Made in: Japan

Engine: 2.4-liter boxer 4, 228 hp/184 torque

Transmission: 6-speed manual

Weight: 2,833 lbs.

Wheelbase: 101.4 in.

Length: 167.9 in.

Cargo: 6.3 cu.ft.

MPG: 20/27

MPG: 23.4 (tested)

Base Price: $31,325 (includes delivery)

Invoice: $29,811

Major Options: Track bRed paint, $425

Carpeted floor/cargo mats, $249

GR shift knob, $149

GR air filter, $75

Preferred accessory pkg. #2 (all-weather floor liners, all-weather cargo tray, first aid kit, quick charge cable package, keyed glovebox), $364

Auto-dimming mirror w/Homelink, $230

Rear bumper applique, $69

Door edge guards, $89

Test vehicle: $32,975

Sources: Toyota, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

2022 Hyundai Veloster N

N versions mean economical fast fun and high fashion too …  

Folks who bemoan the lack of low-cost cars, especially models that are fun to drive and exciting to look at need to be moaning less.

This week’s hot wheels came in the form a Hyundai Veloster N swathed in Performance Blue paint and featuring orange accents. Mature autophiles will immediately think Gulf Oil Le Mans racer paint scheme. Yes!

Veloster is a hot hatch and only comes in Hyundai’s performance-oriented N trim now as it focuses its marketing on younger drivers and those that particularly enjoy athletic driving. If this were a high-end car it would be considered a halo car for the brand. But Hyundai is clever, delivering the modestly priced Veloster N as a compact rocket sled of a car that delivers the racy feel that its looks promise.

First, the Veloster N comes standard with a 6-speed manual transmission so the boy racers and us older folks who enjoy a clutch will be doing the happy dance.

Second, the only engine is the former performance-package boosted 2.0-liter turbo I4 that pounds out an impressive 275 horsepower. That, as far as I can find, is the most power for this market, just beating out Subaru’s impressive WRX by 7 horses.

Third, there’s a limited-slip differential underneath that cuts wheel spin and torque-steer, a common malady of high-horse front-drive wanna-be racers.

Fourth, Hyundai’s Veloster is shod in Pirelli P Zero performance tires for massive grip, IF you’re pushing the N to its limits.

Fifth, for looks and potentially for performance (top speed is 155 mph), Hyundai equips the Veloster N with a 2-stage rear spoiler that looks serious, and is.

Veloster N sports a big black spoiler over the rear hatch! Snazzy lights too!

Sixth, the drive mode selectors (blue paddles on the steering wheel hub) allow five choices, Normal, Sport and Eco on the left, N and N Custom on the right. Those firm up the suspension and quicken throttle responses for more aggressive starts. Likely you’ll only need Sport, but if you are hitting the track, the N and N Custom may be more appropriate.

Seventh, and finally, the Veloster boasts big ol’ discs front and rear for strong on-track braking. The front discs are 13.6-inchers and the rears are 12.4-inch rotors. These discs deliver a firm brake pedal feel that helps buoy a driver’s confidence. And yes, the calipers are orange to match the car’s other trim too. Cool!

Watch Mark’s cool video: Mark Savage reviews the fun 2022 Hyundai Veloster N – YouTube

The upshot is a hatchback that runs up to 60 mph in 4.8 seconds, says Hyundai. And my highway entry-ramp test shows that’s possible, as are triple digits by the bottom of the ramp. Now the test car featured Hyundai’s fine 8-speed automatic, so I didn’t have to do the shifting, yet the push back into the seat was still quite effective when tromping the accelerator.

Twin pipes in back give the Veloster some impressive burble and bluster!

Better yet, from an aural standpoint, the tranny coordinates with the exhausts (two BIG pipes) to deliver a satisfying burble at every downshift as you lift slightly going into corners. Hey, your passenger doesn’t know you’re not doing this yourself, right?

Cornering itself is quick and tight but with only moderately firm steering effort, so the Veloster isn’t tiring at all and encourages a driver to clip off a corner’s apex while getting quick on the gas for maximum exit speed.

The price you pay, as in most sports-oriented cars, is a stiff ride that only gets stiffer in the performance driving modes. Even in Normal the ride is so firm you’ll want to dodge as many potholes as possible, although ironically, railroad tracks didn’t seem to upset the suspension much.

Veloster’s fun is in its quick throttle response and steering, sort of like a very refined go-kart.

Inside the Veloster N looks as special as its exterior with N logos on door sills, shifter and seat backs. Seats are black cloth and faux leather with a blue racing stripe up the middle of each front seat and chrome trim bejeweled with the N logo, just below the headrest. A textured dark gray trim keeps the doors and dash serious looking and prevents interior reflections.

Sharp, but manageable interior here, another well-planned Hyundai cockpit!

The manual front seats are extremely supportive, especially for the hips and lower back, and the driver gets a pump handle on the seat’s outward edge to raise and lower the seat, making an easy adjustment for tall or short drivers.

Hyundai continues with stylish and practical dash layout that is simple and driver friendly. The center info screen is a modest 8 inches, but wisely not a distraction and easy to tune. Buttons for it and climate controls are large and intuitive.

Racy big bolster seats with cutouts in the seat back’s top. Cool!

Veloster’s rear seat is primarily for storage and slipping small folks in for a quick drive to the grocery. Surprisingly there’s a third door here too. It’s on the passenger’s side with the release built into the rear side window trim, so relatively unnoticeable. That small rear door opens forward like a regular door too, helping rear seat riders gain easier access than flipping the passenger seat forward. It also is helpful for loading groceries into the rear seat.

Storage room under the hatch is reasonable and the rear seats split and fold down.

Love the blue seatbelts, and they are easy to reach.

Other pluses inside include an Infinity stereo with 8 speakers, although you’ll need to crank it a bit to hear as the interior is fairly noisy, not helped by the performance tires. There’s also Bluetooth connectivity, an overhead SOS system and satellite radio, although that’s a 90-day trial.

Missing is a wireless charger, although a 12-volt, USB plug and phone charger outlet are in the open bin just below the center stack.

I’d also like to see a D-shaped (flat-bottom) steering wheel to go along with the car’s racy looks, and although it would add cost, heated front seats and a heated steering wheel would be preferred for our climate. There’s also no sunroof here, but if you’re intending this for some track time, such a roof is probably not a priority.

Safety features that are useful, such as blind-spot warning, stability control, forward-collision avoidance assist, lane following assist and keeping are standard, and the lane keeping can be turned off. Bravo! No smart cruise here, but again, this is a driver’s car.

A rear door on the passenger’s side makes it easier to crawl in the back seat.
The door release is hidden in the window trim.

Gas mileage is decent for a performance-oriented car, rated 20 mpg city and 27 highway. I split the difference at 22.9 mpg in aggressive highway and normal city driving.

Now to the pricing, the most pleasant surprise for those bemoaners. The 6-speed manual-equipped Veloster N lists at $33,545, including delivery, while the tested automatic goes for $35,005 with delivery. There were no options.

That’s a modern marvel of economy as the average new vehicle cost exceeds $45,000. Note too that there are several other modest cost performance hatchbacks or sedans available for car lovers and those who enjoy driving.

Twin pipes and a diffuser below, big spoiler up top. Serious racer cred!

Honda’s Civic Si has considerably less power, the Volkswagen Golf GTI is closer and has a nice ride, considering, and the Subaru WRX is just a smidge under Veloster’s power, but starts several thousand dollars lower. Next week, I’ll be driving Toyota’s GR86 sports coupe. So we’ll see how it stacks up.

FAST STATS: 2022 Hyundai Veloster N 

Hits: Hot hatch with spoiler, racy steering feel, bodacious power, super grip, supportive seats, stylish dash with easy buttons and info screen, third door, pump handle to raise seat height, high-value pricing.

Misses: No wireless charger, heated seats or steering wheel, no sunroof, stiff ride, cramped rear seat. Needs a D-shaped steering wheel.

WOW!

Made in: Ulsan, South Korea

Engine: 2.0-liter turbo I4, 275 hp/260 torque

Transmission: 8-speed wet dual clutch automatic

Weight: 3,106 lbs.

Wheelbase: 104.3 in.

Length: 167.9 in.

Cargo: 19.9-44.5 cu.ft.

MPG: 20/ 27

MPG: 22.9 (tested)

Base Price: $35,005 (includes delivery)

Invoice: $33,784

Major Options: None

Test vehicle: $35,005

Sources: Hyundai, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

2021 Ford Escape Titanium PHEV FWD

Plug-in hybrid saves oodles of gas, I spent less than $5 in a week …

If Ford’s plug-in hybrid Escape was any more middle of the road it would have a white stripe painted down its centerline.

Escape is a fine family of four crossover with sufficient power, easy handling and good passenger and cargo room inside. It’s pleasant looking. In fact, its nose resembles a much pricier and sportier Porsche Macan, so maybe you can fool a few neighbors.

Considering the average price of a new vehicle now is pressing $46,000 it’s nice to know a family could still escape in this Ford for $26,800, including delivery, at its base front-drive level. That packs just a 1.5-liter turbocharged 3-cylinder engine that still makes a healthy 180 horsepower.

Naturally there are varying trims and options for that gas-only powered model, plus a standard hybrid where battery power is added via regenerative braking, but the tested plug-in hybrid model starts at a still family friendly $35,185 in SE trim, and $37,920 in the preferred SEL trim.

The test crossover was the top-level Titanium model starting at $40,130 but it crept up to $43,025 with its fancy Rapid Red Metallic paint ($395) and a Titanium preferred package, including a dual-pane sunroof, wireless charging and fancy floor mats, for $2,500.

Even at that, the test Escape is below the going rate for new wheels in our supply-chain challenged world.

Yet there’s one feature that sets this Escape apart in this middlers paradise, its plug-in charging system. While standard hybrid technology has been around for a couple decades now, the plug-in system is more a past 5-year phenomenon. With a plug-in, a cord with pistol grip plug connects to an outlet in the Escape’s front left fender (looks like a fuel door) and then connects to any outlet, 120- or 240-volt that is available, usually in your garage.

At 120 volts it takes roughly 8-10 hours for a full charge that nets the Escape about 35 miles of electric charge. If you have a partial charge already, it can take just 2 to 4 hours for a full charge. If you have a 240-volt charger (like you would for a dryer) a charge takes about half as long.

Watch Mark’s video: Mark Savage reviews the 2021 Ford Escape Titanium PHEV FWD – YouTube

This is perfect for folks commuting less than 30 miles daily roundtrip to work or running errands. In my week’s drive I never fully used the battery charge, so ended up needing only 0.8 gallons of gas, or just short of $4. Imagine that for a week’s driving of roughly 200 miles.

My calculations put my fuel economy at 208.1 mpge and 41.75 mpg for the gas only. The key here is running on the electric charge as much as possible. I have no cost figures for my evening charges for the crossover’s battery, but one suspects it would be several dollars as opposed to $20-30 for equivalent gas. Reducing emissions, naturally, is the big-picture advantage.

A side note here. The Escape offers four battery use driving methods via a button on the console. One is for electric driving only, another is Automatic so chooses gas or electric as the power system computer deems appropriate, another allows you to run on gas while you maintain whatever battery charge you have. This makes sense to save the battery power for city stop-and-go driving where the electric is most efficient. The final setting allows the engine and regenerative braking to help boost battery life, although I didn’t find it helped much more than the Automatic setting.

All this is a long way of saying the plug-in system works well and is easy, provided you have a garage or indoor place to plug in regularly. It makes daily driving much more economical, especially with today’s higher gas prices.

For the record, the hybrid system works in conjunction with a 2.5-liter I4 engine and makes up to 221 horsepower while the standard hybrid system packs 200 horsepower. The transmission is a CVT, so smooth, but not peppy.

Acceleration is pretty mild, but due to the electric power it comes instantly so pulling away from a stoplight feels quicker than one might expect in a compact crossover.

Handling is fairly light and easy, so parking and lane maintenance are a breeze and cornering is good, especially at city speeds. Ride is decent too, not smooth, but not too abrupt on sharp city ruts and expansion joints.

Note too that the gas-powered and standard hybrid Escapes are available with AWD, but the plug-in is only a front-drive model.

The bright metallic red test crossover was attractive and featured a two-tone black and tan leatherette interior, the seats being tan with black trim and the dash and doors black. Ford opts for an inexpensive looking fake light wood look metal trim on the dash and doors that does not seem appropriate for a top trim level.

Attractive two-tone interior gives the Escape a handsome look inside.

Ford’s instrument panel and infotainment screen are easy to see, read, and use, although the infotainment screen is smaller than most these days. Still, functionality is good and all dash and steering wheel hub controls are simple.

This one also includes heated front seats and a heated steering wheel, plus power seats. However, the seat cushions are all relatively flat so provide very little hip and back support. That’s fine in town, but on a long drive could become tiring.

Nothing special here, but the screen, buttons and knobs are easy to see and use.

The giant sunroof overhead is nice, as is the wireless charging, both part of the Titanium option package.

Front and rear seats are roomy for four adults and there is plenty of cargo room under the power rear hatch. However, below the floor here there was a big gaping hole that housed a battery and should have had a spare tire, but none was there and the finish of that cargo hold under the floor looked straight out of the 1960s with no padding. This could be a one-off test car situation, but give a look at any Escape you are intending to buy to make sure this is not an issue.

This was rather odd, no spare tire and not much finishing under the cargo floor.

Standard safety equipment is well represented here with Ford’s Co-Pilot 360 system standard, including pre-collision assist with pedestrian detection, blind-spot warning, cross-traffic alert, lane-keeping assist, forward collision warning and smart cruise control.

There’s also another safety device no doubt demanded by corporate lawyers, and this is becoming a major annoyance in more and more vehicles. It’s what I call the “Don’t Forget the Kid” warning for the rear seat. It beeps at you once the ignition is off and warns on the info screen, “Check Rear Seat for Occupant.”  You can press the OK button on the steering wheel hub to stop the beeping, but still, this is unnecessary for most drivers who have children.

Still, I suppose that’s family friendly, even if the beeping sends mom or dad into a frenzy as they try to get out of the car and into the mall, grocery store, or wherever, with a kid in tow.

Here’s a closer look at the main dash controls.

In general, fewer beeps and alarms in cars today would be a welcome change. Light up the warning on the screen if necessary to avoid lawsuits, but stop with the noise pollution.

Overall though the Escape is a middler’s dream, an inexpensive vehicle that can haul a family of four in relative comfort while also getting great fuel economy. Competitors include Toyota’s RAV4 Prime, the new Hyundai Tucson, and the Subaru Crosstrek. All come with AWD.

FAST STATS: 2021 Ford Escape Titanium PHEV FWD

Hits: Plug-in hybrid provides 35 miles of electric charge, comfy family crossover with easy handling, simple dash controls and fabulous mileage if fully charged. Heated seats and wheel, good safety equipment, 4 choices of battery power use, wireless charger, dual sunroofs, power hatch and fair ride.

Misses: Plug-in only available with front-wheel drive, annoying alarm every time you turn off ignition warning “Check Rear Seat for Occupant,” poor finish and no spare tire under cargo floor, seats are flat with little support.

Made in: Louisville, Ky.

Engine: 2.5-liter I4 hybrid, 221 hp

Transmission: CVT automatic

Weight: 3,870 lbs.

Wheelbase: 106.7 in.

Length: 180.5 in.

Cargo: 34-61 cu.ft.

Tow: 1,500 lbs.

MPG: 105 (gas-electric), 40 (gas)

MPGe: 208.1 (tested), 41.75 mpg (gas only)

Base Price: $40,130 (includes delivery)

Invoice: $38,863

Major Options:

Rapid Red Metallic paint, $395

Titanium premium pkg. (floor mats, panoramic sunroof, wireless charging), $2,500

Test vehicle: $43,025

Sources: Ford, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage