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2022 Lexus NX 350 F Sport

Restyled NX puts emphasis on tech and sassy performance …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A reminder that AWD is standard.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FAST STATS: 2022 Lexus NX 350 F Sport

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

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

Made in: Miyawaka, Fukuoka, Japan

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

Transmission: 8-speed automatic, AWD

Weight: 4,035 lbs.

Wheelbase: 105.9 in.

Length: 183.5 in.

Cargo: 22.7 – 46.9 cu.ft.

MPG: 22/28

MPG: 22.2 (tested)

Base Price: $47,725 (includes delivery)

Invoice: $44,695

Major Options:

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

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

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

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

Panoramic moonroof, $1,600

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

Towing package, $160

Smart phone convenience package, $450

Test vehicle: $55,325

Sources: Lexus, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

2022 Subaru Ascent Onyx edition

Biggest Subaru offers three rows, more comfort …

Subaru has this love-all thing going with the environment, and who can blame it. National Parks and dogs are universally loved and tying your sales to either seems a no-brainer. I mean baseball and apple pie had already been tried.

Subie’s latest love is the Ascent, its large SUV, although it’s only moderately large, keeping in mind that its customers likely won’t want to pull a Queen Mary-size trailer to the campgrounds. It’s unique too in that while being only modestly big it can seat up to eight people, the third row being best for short hauls and assuming a second-row bench seat. The tester had second-row captain’s chairs, so could carry seven.

To sexy up its models Subaru has added Onyx editions, which means trim is blacked out, such as the grille, roof rails, wheel well cladding, mirrors, a rear spoiler, and exterior badging. Even the Onyx’s special 20-inch aluminum alloy wheels are black. The effect is somewhat slimming and stealthy. Plus this one was Autumn Green Metallic, which means a somewhat gray green with some sparkle, but a shade that mostly serves as forest camouflage.

Ascent is easily the most comfortable Subaru. I own an Outback and the ride in the longer wheelbase Ascent is light years smoother, not that the Outback is harsh. Handling too is nimble considering this is a 196.8-inch long vehicle. Most large utes feel big and somewhat cumbersome, not the Ascent. A trip out Holy Hill way proved its grip and stability in sweeping turns littered with falling leaves, and its comfort on some questionable rural roads.

Power is another water bottle in Ascent’s backpack. Subie is known for its boxer engines, also known as horizontally-opposed as the pistons move back and forth nearly horizontally like a boxer’s arms. This is the newer 2.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder that pounds out 260 horsepower, enough to gallop up to highway speeds with ease while dispensing only moderate engine drone, something my Outback has aplenty.

Power is linked to the AWD system via a Lineartronic CVT or continuously variable transmission. Subaru and Nissan seem to have figured these out best among the automakers, their purpose being smooth and efficient power that saves fuel. I’ll drone on about that in a bit.

But shifts seem properly stepped and smooth, which creates further comfort for the fam.

Watch Mark’s video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_zV11YraQPI

Inside, the Onyx edition gets all jiggy with fake carbon fiber trim on the dash and doors and figuring you’ll likely be hiking and biking the seats are made of a soft StarTex water-repellant material. It looks a bit like leather but is actually more cushioned and feels softer to the touch, but remains easy to clean.

Seats here are gray with charcoal-colored trim and gray stitching. Dash and doors are black except for the fake carbon fiber trim while door releases are chrome and there’s satin chrome finish by the console shifter. Gloss black trims the center stack and 8-inch touchscreen. A smaller 6.5-inch screen comes in base models.

I like how the touchscreen works, and that there are knobs for volume and tuning. There’s also tri-zone climate controls standard, meaning separate front seat controls, plus a system for the second row occupants.

A $2,200 option package upgrades to that 8-inch screen, which I like better than the massive reflective screen now in Outbacks. Other goodies in the package include a cargo cover, which can be stored under the cargo floor, a voice-activated Tom-Tom navigation system, smartphone integration, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto along with a spectacular panoramic sunroof. I only wish wireless phone charging were part of this gig.

This is the right size of screen, not too big, or too small!

But standard here are heated seats and the heated steering wheel for the Onyx, plus there’s a power hatch and all the safety equipment that Subaru has to offer via its EyeSight system.

That encompasses a lot and it functions efficiently. There’s blind-spot warning, adaptive cruise control, lane keeping and centering, emergency braking, automatic high beams, and steering responsive LED headlights.

I also like the X-mode button on the console that is meant for off-roading. It is basically a hill-descent system to keep the vehicle, which has 8.7 inches of ground clearance, from over accelerating down a steep incline or loose soft or rocky surface. That allows the driver to better maintain control when off road.

Second row seats fold and slide forward for third row access.

I’d be remiss to not mention the excellent head and legroom in front and row two. Row three is tighter on leg and knee room. Occupants will want to talk nice to row two folks so they will slide their seats forward a bit.

Also a plus for all Subarus is the A-pillar and mirror placement on the doors. There’s a sealed vent window between the two that give better side sightlines than in most SUVs and crossovers, notorious for their monster A-pillar/mirror combos that obstruct side views.

Note too that cargo space is modest behind that third row seat, but wonderful once it is down. So if you need a third row on occasions, but not always, Ascent is a healthy hauler of both people and gear. It also will pull 5,000 pounds, so campers and two-up trailers are no problem.

Two things that could be improved though are interior noise levels and gas mileage. I noticed more road and wind noise in Ascent than in some competing SUVs and crossovers. It wasn’t a racket, just more noticeable than in a few others.

MPG is my bigger concern. I love the outdoors and clean air and national parks and all that as much as the next person. But I managed just 21.7 mpg in a fairly even highway to city mix. EPA says 20 mpg city and 26 highway for Ascent. After driving the marginally smaller Kia Sorento hybrid a week earlier and netting 37.6 mpg I was shocked by the low average here. Subaru needs a hybrid system, and now, for its entire lineup. Hybrids are a stepping stone to cleaner air and better climate, so you’d think would be a major part of Subie’s technology platform. Other brands already are there.

Lecture complete!

Finally there’s price, and here the Ascent continues to impress, as did all its driving characteristics. The Onyx starts at $39,120, including delivery. With its option package it hit $41,320, just a smidge above the average new car price.

Lesser models are more affordable of course. The base, which seats eight, lists at $32,295 while the top-level Touring starts at $45,445.

Ascent is atop Subaru’s lineup in performance, comfort and family utility. Its MPG needs work.

FAST STATS: 2022 Subaru Ascent Onyx

Hits: Roomy, high-value AWD SUV with good power, nimble handling, comfy ride. Big sunroof, heated seats and steering wheel, will seat up to eight. X-mode good for off-roading, soft easy-clean well-formed seats, power hatch, good sightlines and broad range of safety equipment.

Misses: No wireless charging, interior could be quieter. MPG not impressive, could use hybrid system.

Made in: Lafayette, Ind.

Engine: 2.4-liter turbo boxer 4, 260 hp /277 torque

Transmission: Lineartronic CVT automatic

Weight: 4,542 lbs.

Wheelbase: 113.8 in.

Fancy black wheels are part of the Onyx edition.

Length: 196.8 in.

Cargo: 17.6-86.0 cu.ft.

Tow: 5,000 lbs.

MPG: 20/26

MPG: 21.7 (tested)

Base Price: $39,120 (includes delivery)

Invoice: $36,648

Major Options:

Package (cargo cover, panoramic moonroof, STARLINK 8.0 nav, 8-in. high-res touchscreen, smartphone integration, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, Bluetooth, voice-activated nav by TomTom), $2,200

Test vehicle: $41,320

Sources: Subaru, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

2022 Hyundai Kona Ltd. AWD

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A simple elegance creates a highly functional and attractive interior.

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

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

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

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

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

Apple Car Play and Android Auto also are standard.

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

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

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

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

Hatchbacks rock, like rock candy!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Even the taillights are specially styled here.

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

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

FAST STATS: 2022 Hyundai Kona Limited AWD

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

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

Made in: Ulsan, South Korea

Engine: 1.6-liter turbo I4, 195 hp

Transmission: 7-speed dual-clutch automatic

Weight: 3,106 lbs.

Wheelbase: 102.4 in.

Length: 165.6 in.

Cargo: 19.2-45.8 cu.ft.

MPG: 27/32

MPG: 27.0 (tested)

Base Price: $31,175 (includes delivery)

Invoice: $29,544

Major Options: Carpeted floor mats, $155

Test vehicle: $31,330

Sources: Hyundai, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

2021 Lexus IS 350 F Sport AWD

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

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

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

OK, so what DID change?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sharp rear lights with a full tail light bar!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FAST STATS: 2021 Lexus IS 350 AWD

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

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

Made in: Tahara, Aichi, Japan

Engine: 3.5-liter V6, 311 hp

Transmission: 6-speed automatic

Weight: 3,800+ lbs.

Wheelbase: 110.2 in.

Length: 185.4 in.

Cargo: 10.8 cu.ft.

MPG: 19/26

MPG: 21.5 (tested)

Base Price: $45,925 (includes delivery)

Invoice: $42,782

Major Options:

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

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

Triple beam LED headlights, $1,250

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

Premium paint, $425

Power moonroof, $1,100

Illuminated trunk sill, $450

Rear bumper applique, $85

Illuminated door sills, $425

All-weather floor mats, trunk tray, $290

Door edge guards, $140

Test vehicle: $58,040

Sources: Lexus, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

2022 Ford Maverick pickup preview with photos

New compact hybrid truck starts at $19,999, on sale this fall …

Ford recently announced a new compact pickup, surprising the market by not calling it Ranger, as its compact had been known for years. Today it shows off the new Maverick pickup.

Boomers will remember the Maverick name from a compact car Ford sold in the 1970s, but for today’s intended buyer Maverick may seem appropriate for a pickup that isn’t the norm, mainly huge. Nope, this one is full-efficient, full of current (hybrid) technology and more.

But it also will be affordable for Gen X, Y and Z buyers, starting at just $19,999. That’s the market the old Ranger inhabited until it disappeared in 2011.

Maverick doesn’t go on sale until fall, but Savageonwheels.com hopes to test drive one ASAP when these get out into the Midwest journalist fleet.

Here’s what Ford tells us the new Maverick has going for it.

  • Fuel-efficient: Maverick is the first standard full-hybrid pickup in America and promises to be the most fuel-efficient truck with a targeted EPA rating of 40 mpg in the city.
  • Compact yet roomy: Its compact size will make it easy to maneuver and park, but Ford says there’s room for five adults and plenty of storage space (see the accompanying photo). The interior is stylish and spacious, with thoughtful features and the versatility for city and rural lifestyles.
  • Smart technology: Includes a standard 8-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, standard FordPass Connect with embedded modem and Ford Co-Pilot360 technologies like automatic emergency braking and automatic high beams.
  • Functional: Maverick offers a unique FLEXBED, which is packed with standard features and opportunities to transform the cargo box into a complete makerspace to fit owners’ lifestyles. The flexible bed offers a multi-position tailgate, slots for lumber to be inserted to subdivide the bed, 12 anchor points, two 12-volt 20-amp pre-wired sources plus two 110-volt outlets are available.
  • Ford Tough durability and capability: 1,500 lbs. of payload capacity–equal to 37 bags of 40-pound mulch. The standard hybrid provides 2,000 lbs. of towing to haul personal watercraft to the lake, while the optional 2.0-liter EcoBoost gas engine can tow up to 4,000 lbs., enough to bring a typical 23-foot camper on a weekend getaway.

For those looking for high-powered intro excitement Ford says actress Gabrielle Union (She’s All That and 10 Things I Hate About You), will show off the Maverick on her Instagram and TikTok channels, and on Ford’s social media channels. Maverick will be Ford’s first vehicle to debut on its new US TikTok channel.

2021 Hyundai Elantra SEL

Elantra offers value with distinctive looks, spunky performance  …

Surprises tend to hang out at the low end of the automotive market, where expectations may be lower because, well, prices are lower.

That continues to be the case with Hyundai’s popular Elantra compact sedan, refined and upgraded for 2021. I had the SEL model, just one up from the base and a sweet spot for Elantra to be sure.

In brief, here’s what it has going for it, price, reliability, performance, looks, and solid safety and comfort features. Oh, and did I say price? Yes, yes and yes! Continue reading 2021 Hyundai Elantra SEL

2021 Honda Accord Touring Hybrid

Hybrid Accord feels familiar, consistently good …

Honda’s Accord hybrid is consistent, consistently good, just like the internal combustion version.

I suppose if you refined most products, constantly improved them, for 40+ years you’d end up with a diamond of sorts. Honda deserves a lot of credit though.

This week I slipped behind the wheel of a platinum (sparkly) white Accord Hybrid Touring, its top model, and it felt like returning home after a long vacation. Remember those? Continue reading 2021 Honda Accord Touring Hybrid

2020 Volkswagen Passat SEL

Crisply styled Passat a high-value sedan …

When was the last time you heard of a car costing less than it did three years ago?

I’m betting never, unless it was a 3-year-old used car.

Well, Volkswagen is making a big push again in the U.S. You’ve likely seen its ads for the new Atlas Cross Sport crossover. Yet VW hasn’t abandoned sedans like most U.S. car makers. And its restyled 2020 Passat is not only a crisply styled sedan, it’s less expensive than when I drove a comparable SEL three years ago. Continue reading 2020 Volkswagen Passat SEL

2020 Mazda CX-30 Premium

Mazda’s sporty new CX-30 crossover a top choice …

If I were to vote on my car of the year today, it would be the Mazda CX-30, a new larger subcompact crossover, up a step from Mazda’s current CX-3.

This new crossover in the fastest growing part of that market is easily the most stylish, most luxuriously finished and most fun to drive to date. It’s a thing of beauty and performance. Continue reading 2020 Mazda CX-30 Premium

2020 Hyundai Venue SEL

Hyundai new Venue a primo entry-level vehicle …

If you’re belly-aching about the costs of new cars you obviously haven’t driven a Hyundai Venue.

This all new crossover from Hyundai is as good as it gets for entry-level vehicles, the kind recent college grads and others just working their way into our economy can afford. But this is not a cheap econobox, a base car that you’d feel embarrassed to drive. No way! Continue reading 2020 Hyundai Venue SEL