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23
Dec

Die-cast: CMC’s 1954-55 Lancia D50

CMC’s latest F1 car a stunning Lancia D50 … CMC Lancia D50

Lancia was a late-comer to Formula 1 racing after World War II, but it had the genius of engineer  Vitorrio Jano as its secret weapon. He had created the successful Alfa Romeo 8C pre-war.

So in late 1954 Lancia’s beautiful and unusual D50 joined the F1 circuit for the last race of the season, the Spanish Grand Prix where 2-time world driving champ Alberto Ascari put it on the pole with the fastest time.

While setting a fast pace with a record lap, it wasn’t reliable and lasted only 9 laps. But what had captured the racing public’s interest and other designers’ attention was its design with two outrigged pannier gas tanks, its off-center engine mount and low seating position to better distribute weight.

Now CMC nails the design in 1/18 scale with another hand-built metal die-cast model consisting of 1,598 parts, and no, I didn’t count them all.

The History

Gianni Lancia wanted to be a part of the F1 racing world so had Vano design the radical D50. Unfortunately it basically bankrupted his car manufacturing company by mid-1955 and he handed over the team to Enzo Ferrari. Read more

20
Dec

2018 Volvo XC60 T6 AWD Inscription

Volvo XC60 a sweet ride – fun, luxurious, nimble …2018 Volvo XC60

Sometimes the hardest reviews to write are those for vehicles I’ve really enjoyed, the ones that stand out among the 50+ vehicles I test in a year.

This week’s tester, the Volvo XC60 with the Inscription package shouldn’t be hard to ladle syrupy praise on. It’s just that great, comfortable and sporty just don’t seem thick enough.

I’ve driven plenty of Volvos through the years and many were fine, just often overpriced and not as comfortable or fun to drive as other makes. Well, the XC60 is fun, luxurious, nimble, exceedingly quiet and comfortable, and as stylish as any SUV or crossover today.

Price, well, that still is an issue to me, but more on that in a bit.

This Swedish-made crossover starts with a powerplant that boggles the mind, an engine, if you will, that seems outlandish in its design. First, it’s a 2.0-liter I4 much like you’d find in many small to mid-size utes and crossovers. Yes, it’s turbocharged to give it more power and keep its gas consumption at reasonable levels too.2018 Volvo XC60

Ah, but here’s the funky part, Volvo also supercharges its tiny 2.0-liter. What? Yes, it turbocharges and supercharges the four-banger to give this more kick than most crossovers, even the pricey luxury ones. The engine packs 316 horsepower and 295 ft.-lbs. of torque. If you consider this, because it has all-wheel-drive, a sport-utility vehicle, then by golly it delivers on the sport side. Read more

13
Dec

2018 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport 2.4 SEL AWD

Outlander Sport still under the radar … 2018 Mitsubishi Outback Sport

            Mitsubishi continues to fly under the radar among the Japanese car makers in the U.S., with just a few models and those don’t change often.

But the Outlander Sport has been one of its success stories, as it spun off from the larger Outlander SUV a few years back. This is a small ute, or crossover, about a foot shorter in length than Outlander.

It’s handsome, easy to maneuver in a parking lot and an automotive bargain. But it’s no benchmark to be sure.

The body is tidy and looks a bit sportier than many mainline small utes. I tested a pretty metallic red almost top-level SEL with AWD. The later is a bit of a misnomer in that you must engage the 4-wheel-drive system while cars and wagons such as Subarus are AWD all the time. Still, that’s easy because there’s a big button on the console. Press it once and you go from 2WD to 4WD.2018 Mitsubishi Outback Sport

Price though is what sets it apart. You can easily pay $30-35 grand for a decent AWD crossover or small ute, but the SEL model starts at $26,835, including delivery. Even with its pricey Touring Package, a $2,000 option, the test vehicle checked in at just $29,110. That’s a certifiable bargain.

That AWD works fine once engaged, and the Outlander Sport SEL now comes with a bit horsier 2.4-liter I4 engine. This one has 168 horsepower compared with 148 in earlier models and lower cost trim levels. Read more »

6
Dec

2018 Hyundai Sonata Limited 2.0T

Hyundai’s Sonata just keeps getting better … 2018 Hyundai Sonata Limited

Hyundai’s Sonata is back on track to being a major challenger to the likes of Toyota’s Camry and others in the crowded mid-size sedan market.

Hyundai’s last generation Sonata wasn’t nearly as attractive as its predecessor. This one is a sharp looker with a distinctive nose and improved profile. That will snag buyers attention, but its new 8-speed automatic transmission and improved ride should seal the deal, along with price.

Always a high-value car, the 2018 Sonata has a lot going for it. Admittedly I tested the top-level Limited 2.0T that is heavy on sporty performance, and all the bells and whistles. But wait until you get a load of the price.2018 Hyundai Sonata Limited

But first, the “Machine Gray” (metallic gray) Limited touts Hyundai’s strongest engine, a 2.0-liter turbocharged I4 that delivers a peppy 245 horsepower and a 260 torque rating. As with many cars and crossovers today there are a number of drive modes for the driver to select.

There’s Eco, which garners the highest gas mileage at the cost of power, Comfort, which is the middle ground of handling, power and ride, and Sport, which firms the steering and pumps up the power. That was great for accelerating onto the highway or away from a crowded traffic light when a lane change was in order. Read more

29
Nov

2018 Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk

Jeep Trackhawk boasts 707 hp, too … 2018 Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk

There is now a 707 horsepower Jeep.

You read that right, and the first question most folks ask is, Why would Jeep do this?

The answer: Because they can.

There’s no reasonable or logical reason, except that Fiat/Chrysler, which is the overindulgent parent of Jeep and Dodge, has been playing up its youthful exuberance via high-powered vehicles for several years now. Yes, this has a Hemi in it!

First it was the Hellcat, both as a Dodge Challenger and Charger, using the same 6.2-liter supercharged Hemi V8 that powers this Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk. Then there’s the Demon, another Challenger with even more power and aimed directly at the drag strip crowd. But there’s little chance many folks will be buying a Jeep to race at the local drag strip, especially when the tested Trackhawk’s price tag nudged $91 grand.2018 Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk

Yet a few folks, and you know who they are, always need to have the biggest, well, engine on the block. They are the buyers that previously have snapped up the top-end sports cars and muscle cars of the past. Think Corvette envy.

The Hellcats, Demons and Trackhawks are shoving that with both hands to a new level, and doing so with in-your-face marketing. Read more

22
Nov

2017 BMW X3 xDrive 35i

BMW X3 has the street cred, but what about style? …2017 BMW X3 xDrive 35i

This week’s drive begs the question of style and performance vs. reputation and performance. How so?

The tested BMW X3 compact SUV is a direct competitor of the Alfa Romeo Stelvio I tested a week prior. Darn near the same dimensions, the Alfa is just an inch longer. Similar power too, the BWM having 20 more ponies under its hood.

The difference is in looks, styling if you will, and reputation. While Alfa has a performance reputation, the long-term reliability of its vehicles has historically been a bit sketchy. BMW boasts of being the ultimate driving machine, and generally has a stronger long-term reliability rating.

Face value though, that impression that hits you when you first see a vehicle, is all in the Alfa’s favor. It looks lean and fast and, well, a bit sexy if you can see that in a car. Its nose is distinctive, like no other. It turns heads. Read more »

16
Nov

2018 Alfa Romeo Stelvio AWD

Beautiful Stelvio puts in the crossover fast lane …2018 Alfa Romeo Stelvio

Even if Italian beauty were only skin deep, maybe that would be enough when it comes to cars and crossovers.

The new Stelvio, Alfa Romeo’s first crossover or SUV, whichever you wish to label it, is a beauty. Its face is unique in today’s bland auto world with a rounded distinctive nose that immediately signals to car connoisseurs that this is an Alfa. And what the hay, a little Italian styling passion can be easy on the eyes.2018 Alfa Romeo Stelvio

Stelvio, named for a famed road in Italy’s Alps, also embodies the Alfa heritage for sporty performance. For years Alfas were major competitors and winners at European racetracks. Heck, Enzo Ferrari got his start managing Alfa’s race team pre-World War II.

Even in the tested base trim Stelvio performs more like the sport sedan it’s based on, the Giulia, than you’d expect in a modest-sized crossover. Like so many of today’s new vehicles, the Stelvio goes with a 2.0-liter turbocharged I4 under its lean and long hood. That might sound small for an SUV, but this unit cranks a spritely 280 horsepower with a 306 torque rating.

There’s not a lot of rumble since it’s a turbo, but the Stelvio gallops up to highway speeds like a race horse that has just been spurred in the rump. There’s a bit of engine yowl from under the hood, but only a twinge to let you know you’re not driving a domestic.2018 Alfa Romeo Stelvio

Not surprisingly the Alfa prefers premium fuel’s higher octane to light the fire in its belly. Power kicks in quickly with no noticeable turbo lag and the sporty 8-speed ZF transmission seems beautifully suited to the turbo, providing smooth, efficient shifts. Read more »

13
Nov

Die-cast: Whitebox’s Valiant Acapulco

1960s Valiant Acapulco a simple car, no matter the year …Valiant Acapulco

We all have our first car stories, but in 1963 my dad brought home our first new car, at least in my lifetime. It was a white 1963 Plymouth Valiant convertible with black soft top and red vinyl interior and a push-button automatic transmission.

It was nothing fancy, but to have a convertible was certainly exotic. Plus the car’s slant-6 engine was solid and the car ran like a top for 7 years.

So there’s a certain nostalgia I felt when WhiteBox’s red Chrysler Valiant Acapulco arrived for review. The 1/43 scale model is a nice reproduction of a mainline car that a lot of folks owned, and only a slight change from that ’63 model of which I was so fond. In fact, more than 225,000 Valiants were sold in 1963, its record year.

The Chrysler Valiant was a rebadged Plymouth Valiant sold in Mexico, hence the Acapulco model designation. Dodge also had a similar model, the Dart. There’s a bit of confusion with the labeling here in that the Acapulco was sold in Mexico starting in 1967 and the review car’s license is a 1967 Oklahoma plate. I confirmed with American-Excellence, who had sent the car, that it’s mislabeled as a 1965 model.  It is in fact a 1967 Valiant.

The History

Valiant was Plymouth’s compact car entry and was remodeled in 1963 to be less radical looking. It appeared slim and trim with a slightly longer hood than trunk. The fake spare tire on the trunk lid from earlier models was abandoned. Read more »

10
Nov

2018 Volkeswagen Atlas V6 SEL w/4Motion

VW goes big into the SUV market with Atlas …2018 Volkwagen Atlas

There are no awards for being late to the party, but VW is hoping sales are its consolation prize for finally creating a large SUV, the Atlas.

It won’t win any styling awards (can you say big and boxy?), but it’s certainly stout and a bargain!

While every major automaker, including the likes of Mercedes-Benz and Porsche, have created a large SUV, it took VW until late this summer to release its Atlas, a 2018 model that is very nearly the same dimensionally as the Dodge Durango I tested a couple weeks back. Both are a pleasure to drive.

What the Atlas has going for it is nimble handling, good acceleration and a ride to match, but it’s also modestly priced. How modest?2018 Volkwagen Atlas

The base S model starts at $31,425 including delivery and touts a 2.0-liter turbocharged I4 that makes 235 horsepower. That’s with front-wheel drive, naturally, but even the tested SEL model with V6 and 4Motion (AWD) was just $42,690. No options were added either and with a $925 delivery fee the dark Platinum Gray Metallic test ute went for $43,615.

While that still won’t fit into everyone’s household budget, compare that with the tested Durango’s $49,360 price tag. In fact, most large utes roll out of the showroom at roughly $50 grand. Chief competitors are the Honda Pilot, Chevy Tahoe, Ford Explorer, Nissan Pathfinder and Toyota Highlander. Read more »

5
Nov

Die-cast: Automodello’s 1981 AAR Gurney Eagles

Automodello’s Gurney Eagles are beauties …

1981 AAR Gurney Eagle

The 1981 Pepsi Challenge (No. 48) driven by Mike Mosley and the blue White Castle entry driven by Chip Mead at the Indy 500.

Dan Gurney stopped racing at the enf 1970, but his influence on open-wheel racing continued for decades afterward. Yet the 1970s and early 1980s were the zenith for his All-American Racers (AAR) Eagles.

Gurney’s Santa Ana, Calif.-based shop turned out highly competitive Eagle chassis for the Indy Car series. Eagles were consistent winners. Even the ultra-successful Team Penske used them for a while as they were outperforming Penske’s own chassis.

Yet in 1981 AAR went a whole new route with its design, making virtually everything behind the driver’s cockpit into a wing that created terrific downforce to increase cornering speeds.

Now, Automodello joins Replicarz in creating high-quality 1/43 scale resin historic Indy racers with its model of the AAR 1981 Eagle that sat on the front row for the Indy 500 and won a race in Milwaukee. It also makes a second Eagle that was entered in the 1981 race.

The History1981 AAR Gurney Eagle

The radical Eagle design with its broad, flat rear side pods and extension behind the rear wheels, plus a small wing atop what was essentially a lower wing, caught everyone at the 500 by surprise. Mike Mosley, a speedy Indy veteran with tough luck, was the driver of Gurney’s famous No. 48.

In addition to its design, including two large air scoops hanging off the engine cover to feed air to its fragile Chevrolet V8, the Eagle was painted a bright yellow and white and labeled the Pepsi Challenger. Read more

3
Nov

2018 Chevrolet Equinox FWD LT 2.0T

New Chevy Equinox shrinks, but that’s a good thing …2018 Chevrolet Equinox

Chevrolet updated the Equinox for 2018 by doing something carmakers rarely do these days, shrinking it.

Equinox is nearly 5 inches shorter than its predecessor, but it feels lighter and livelier to drive, another rare accomplishment. Usually carmakers add inches and weight to increase their appeal to a wider expanse of the buying public.

So for compact sport-utility and crossover buyers looking for something less trucky and more nimble like a car, Equinox becomes a solid choice along with Mazda’s CX-5.

In its base trim, the L model, Equinox is both inexpensive and mildly powered. It starts in front-drive mode at $25,525 including delivery fee, and its I4 is a 1.5-liter turbo that creates 170 horsepower. In the Equinox L the tranny is a six-speed automatic and that combo leads to an EPA rating of 26 mpg city and 32 mpg highway. Laudable!2018 Chevrolet Equinox

Ah, but the majority of buyers are likely to move up to the LT model, which is what I tested in its pumpkin spiced Orange Burst Metallic paint scheme. The OBM color gets your attention, and that of friends and co-workers, all for just $395 extra.

The LT is the first Equinox with Chevy’s new 2.0-liter I4 turbo that cranks 252 horsepower and is rated at 260 for torque. This creates a much speedier and more satisfying drive as the turbo spools up quickly to get the crossover up or down a highway entry ramp before a big 16-wheeler is breathing down your tailpipe.

The tested LT with just front-drive seemed light and lively on the weeklong drive. It cornered well and steering effort was light. Parking was simple. Read more »

30
Oct

Die-cast: NEO’s 1956 Buick Centurion XP-301

Buick’s 1956 concept car really did have futuristic features …1956 Buick Centurion

GM’s concept cars of the 1950s were showcased in traveling shows called Motorama and actually looked futuristic and in some cases included features that would show up on future cars, sometimes way into the future.

One was the bright red over white Buick Centurion XP-301 that was displayed in 1956 Motorama shows. NEO now offers a stellar example of the show car in 1:43 scale, and the resin model may surprise you.

The History

The Centurion, a name later used in the 1970s by Buick, was a Harley Earl design reflecting the aircraft and rocket styling touches that were so popular in the 1950s as the U.S. was rushing toward the space race.

Its pincher like nose design with headlights in rocketlike pods would grab everyone’s attention at the time, along with the tapered tail that looks like a jet engine with overhanging flat fins. Oh, and then there’s the bubble top, completely clear except for the metal support structure and window frames. Read more »

26
Oct

2017 Dodge Durango GT Blacktop AWD

Outlier Durango delivers function and style …2017 Dodge Durango GT Blacktop

Dodge’s Durango is an outlier of sorts. It features function and style while many of the better selling large SUVs maintain a staid look, favoring square exteriors and overly manly interiors with oversized gauges, knobs and air vents.

Durango though likes to spiff itself up, like it’s saying it wants to be formal, but likes to party too.

This week’s case in point, the large Durango GT Blacktop AWD. While not as racy, or gas thirsty as the R/T version I tested a couple years back, this one still has plenty of muscle, while maintaining a sporty look, at least as sporty as SUVs go.2017 Dodge Durango GT Blacktop

Under the hood is a 3.6-liter V6 with variable valve timing and boasting 293 horsepower. Torque is rated at 260 lb.-ft. The engine is strong and the Durango, while not nimble, feels substantial and quick enough to outrun traffic as you pull onto the freeway. I had this on a roundtrip to Toledo and it cruised the toll roads with ease and was quick to pull out and pass slow semis and dawdlers.

Dodge uses an 8-speed automatic transmission with the V6 and the tranny shifts smoothly and efficiently. While not in the league with hybrids, the Durango managed 22.0 mpg on the trip, including some city driving along with long stretches of highway. The Dodge drinks regular and the EPA rates it at 18 mpg city and 25 highway. I had a fairly heavy load of luggage in the back and one passenger. Read more

23
Oct

Die-cast: Replicarz’s 1920s Duesenberg Indy 500 winners

These Indy 500 winners are real Duesys …

Replicarz 1924 Duesenberg Indy 500 winner

Replicarz 1924 Duesenberg Indy 500 winner: L.L. Corum and Joe Boyer

Indianapolis-based Duesenberg Automobile and Motors Co. was a powerhouse at the Indianapolis 500 in the 1920s, winning three out of four years from 1924-27.

Duesenbergs were known for their strong engines, and the company made marine and aviation engines during World War I. But following the war its founding brothers, August and Frederick Duesenberg, moved the company to Indianapolis. They loved powerful engines and created some of the best of the era for their Indy racers. They also made competitive chassis for Indy racers.

Now Replicarz, which has made 1/43 scale 1920s Miller racers, turns its attention to 1/18 scale resin versions of the Indy-winning Duesenbergs. They’re sharp, as usual.

The History

Duesenberg won its first Indy 500 in 1924, the first car with a supercharger to win Indy. Drivers L. L. Corum and Joe Boyer shared the driving duties and the following year the popular Peter DePaolo, won in a bright yellow Duesy.  After Frank Lockhart won aboard a Miller in the rain-shortened 1926 race, Duesenberg was back in the winner’s circle in 1927 with George Souders at the wheel. It was Duesenberg’s final Indy win.

The outgoing DePaolo, who later authored the autobiography Wall Smacker, is noted for being the first driver, and car, to average more than 100 mph for the entire 500 miles at Indy. His record was 101.127 and lasted until 1932 when Fred Frame averaged more than 104 mph. Read more »

20
Oct

2017 Honda Civic Si

Honda’s Civic Si returns and it’s still an economical sportster! …2017 Honda Civic Si

If you can get beyond the new Honda Civic Si’s odd Transformer-ish rear-end you’ll find one of the finest, and most economical, sporty coupes on the market.

There’s a lot to like here, even if eye candy is not one of them.

The souped-up Si model has been missing from the Civic lineup for a couple years, so its return is welcomed by entry-level sporty car buyers whose options have been limited since the Si’s demise.

The Si links performance and economy unlike most other cars. It starts at a highly affordable $24,100 while boasting a turbocharged 1.5-liter I4 engine that creates a peppy 205 horsepower.

For a coupe weighing less than 3,000 lbs., that turbo will jack it up to highway speeds quite smartly. Firing up, or down, freeway entry ramps is fun and quick. There’s not much turbo lag with the Civic and its smooth shifting 6-speed manual allows the driver to put as much muscle into acceleration as needed, or desired.2017 Honda Civic Si

A Sport mode button may help that a little, although I didn’t feel it was needed or provided much extra boost.  Mainly the Sport mode firms up the steering wheel, or more to the point, makes steering effort much heavier than when that mode isn’t engaged. I found the normal driving mode just fine and steering response fairly precise without the added steering weight of Sport mode. Read more »

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