Electric MINI packs power, cuteness into a, well, mini package …
Have you ever driven an electric Go-Kart, maybe at an amusement park, in the Dells, or even an indoor karting track?
That’s what it’s like to drive the new electric MINI Cooper SE. Power is instantaneous and the car is a bullet off the line. It’s light and lively and a nimble handler that anyone would enjoy tossing around a small racetrack. In fact, it’s a rush to slam it around corners anywhere.
On the fun factor scale the electric MINI, signified with the E in the SE nomenclature, is a solid 10.
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→
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→
First a quick history lesson on Mitsubishi for new and younger buyers. The Japanese car maker, most famous for making the nimble Zero aircraft during World War II, used to have a small, but fairly full vehicle lineup.
But tough times and a shrinking, aging lineup hurt Mitsubishi in the early 2000s. Its biggest claim to fame and popularity was its sporty Eclipse, but then even that went away as Mitsubishi began to claw back into the market by offering small SUVs. Last year it sold 121,000 vehicles a 2.5% gain over 2018 and its third year of 100,000+ sales and seventh year of growth. Continue reading 2020 Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross SEL S-AWC→
Stylish Mazda3 AWD, a car for drivers who love to drive …
Some people still enjoy driving a car, its feel, its handling, its sharp engagement of power, yet their bank accounts don’t allow for a BMW.
What to do?
Mazda has an answer, its Mazda3 in either sedan or hatchback mode. Both are driving dandies. This week’s drive was aboard a dark metallic gray ($300 extra) Mazda3 Premium sedan, its top of the line trim. Making it even better, this one added all-wheel-drive, something only Subaru’s Impreza offers in this price range and market segment. This car was made for Wisconsin.
First, the Mazda3 is a sharp looking compact sedan with a handsomely styled nose and a fabulous looking, and quiet, interior that speaks of luxury, not economy. And, if you want sporty handling to pair up with sporty looks, this is one of the few primo choices that regular folks can afford.
Mazda starts by making its formerly optional 2.5-liter SkyActiv-G I4 engine standard across the Mazda3 lineup (sedan and hatch). It is both fuel efficient and peppy, generating 186 horsepower with a torque rating to match. Not only that, it drinks regular unleaded and expels minimal emissions. The engine is no rocket, but when you engage the electronic Sport drive mode via the console toggle, it leaps to action, zipping the Mazda3 to highway speeds with vigor.
In Normal mode the sedan hesitates a bit upon acceleration, but still has good power, just seems less energetic. Gas mileage doesn’t suffer. I managed 28.0 mile per gallon in about a 50/50 mix of city and highway while the EPA rates this at 25 mpg city and 33 mpg highway, again on regular gas.
Much of that you can attribute to Mazda using a fine 6-speed automatic transmission to engage the power. No CVT (Continuously Variable Transmission) here. Sometimes those can be a bit lackadaisical as they aim to save fuel instead of instilling excitement. Note though that the automatic is all that’s available in the sedan and just one Mazda3 model, the Premium trim hatchback, offers a manual.
So while the Mazda3 will scoot pretty well, it’s more sports car peppy than muscle car macho. What it does well is create a joyful, fun feel for the road due to its fine handling. The Mazda3 turns into sharp corners with authority and purpose. There’s good feedback to the wheel that is appropriately firm, but not heavy. That translates to an entertaining, athletic drive.
Ride continues to improve from generation to generation in the Mazda3 and this longer 107.3-inch wheelbase helps create a well-controlled ride. However, Mazda returned to a torsion bar rear suspension (think previous-gen Mustang), away from a multi-link. I’ve enjoyed driving many a car with torsion-bar suspension, but this feels just a bit choppy on our distressed Midwest roads. Ride is never uncomfortable, but you’ll definitely know when you square up on a pothole.
Remember too this model added all-wheel-drive, so traction is improved in wet, sloppy weather, a norm much of the year for Wisconsin drivers.
As much fun as the Mazda3 is to drive, you’ll feel like you’ve slipped into at least an entry-level luxury sports sedan inside the Premium edition.
This sparkly gray tester featured a cream and black leather interior. The dash, doors and seats are all coated in leather, the seats being perforated (yes, and heated). The appearance is stylish and eye-catching. Trim is thin chrome on the dash and doors with satin chrome trim on the black leather wheel’s hub. The console’s face is black gloss with more black leather trim along its sides.
There’s a fine Bose sound system here and its chrome speaker covers on the doors add a bit of a jeweled looked to the interior. Fit, finish and quality inside look much improved from earlier models and the cockpit is much quieter too.
I like Mazda’s dash layout as it’s clean and easy to understand, and the infotainment screen is a sizeable 8.8 inches, plus is nicely tucked into the dash top’s center. That’s a styling improvement from earlier models.
Sadly (and I know I’ve said this before), Mazda doesn’t use a touchscreen, instead sticking with a big knob on the console to control the infotainment system. This is similar to the likes of BMW and Audi, not a good thing. This system isn’t intuitive. Just changing the channel is tough, and forget about setting or deleting favorites. Radios need to be simple enough to tune with a button punch while driving.
That somewhat spoils this otherwise fine interior for me.
Otherwise, the Premium model is a winner, coming with a full list of safety features, such as blind-spot warning, lane departure warning and assist, smart cruise control, automatic emergency braking, adaptive front lighting and driver attention monitor. The latter is touchy, occasionally setting off a series of beeps and flashing a steering wheel image on the center instrument panel screen.
I also found the lane control to be overly strong, really turning the wheel hard away from a centerline to the point of being insistent. Sometimes, it must be noted, there is something that you’re avoiding on the road and you need to quickly adjust the wheel yourself to avoid that pothole, hubcap, mystery item, etc.
Overhead there also is a panoramic sunroof, and the car includes heated seats, a power driver’s seat with two memory settings, visors with extenders, paddle shifters behind the wheel, push-button start and a head-up display. Dual climate control also comes on the Premium model.
Seating is comfortable in front with mild contouring, and note that the heated seats get really warm, so the lowest setting is most used after a couple minutes of bun warming.
Legroom is particularly cramped in back, especially when a taller passenger or driver is up front, necessitating the front seat be pushed well back. Think of this as a back seat for kids primarily.
The rear seats split and fold flat to boost cargo room, which is a reasonable 13.2 cubic feet before seats are lowered. Releases in the trunk allow a driver to put the seats down without opening a rear door too.
Also, it should be noted the sedan is about eight inches longer than the hatchback to create expanded rear seat and cargo room.
There are a couple other concerns though. First, the Mazda3 automatically applies the park brake every time the car is turned off, or put into Park. That might make sense if this had a manual transmission, but it does not. This means the driver must press a brake release button every time the car is started, just to get it rolling. Can’t say how many times I put the car in Reverse only to have it strain against the parking brake as I tried to back from a parking space. It’s a small thing, but annoying daily.
Second, the A-pillars are rather large, somewhat blocking front side views at intersections, and while I was happy to have a wireless charging station ($275 extra), this one is in the storage box/armrest between the front seats. So to access it you must raise the armrest, which is awkward it you need to access the phone while driving. It’s also easy to forget the phone in the box.
Enough whining, the happy news beyond how this drives, is pricing. This upscale Premium version with AWD started at $28,820, including delivery. AWD is about $1,400 extra on a Mazda3 sedan. With just a few minor options the test car ended up at $30,645, a bargain at today’s prices.
Yet a base model with 16-inch wheels and tires, cloth interior, etc. starts at $22,420 for the sedan and $24,520 for the hatchback, considered a premium model of sorts. Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are now standard on all Mazda3s.
Select and Preferred trim levels come with 18-inch wheels and tires and leatherette interiors plus dual-zone climate controls. Preferred adds the power driver’s seat and memory features, a 12-speaker Bose sound system, heated seats and XM radio.
Premium gives you the bigger alloy wheels, adaptive lighting, fancy leather interior materials, the head-up display, sunroof and paddle shifters.
Even at the top-end of its trims the Mazda3 is a delight to drive, offering better styling inside and out than many of its competitors.
FAST STATS: 2020 Mazda3 AWD Premium
Hits: Sharp looker and sporty handling, peppy acceleration in Sport mode, controlled ride, plus AWD and good gas mileage. Quiet, luxury interior at value pricing, heated seats, large screen, panoramic sunroof, wireless charger and full complement of safety equipment.
Misses: Park brake sets automatically every time the ignition is turned off and is annoying to disengage each time you start the car, awkward rotary knob to adjust infotainment screen, large A-pillar restricts view, wireless charger location not convenient.
Lexus RX 350L, when you’re entitled to more luxury …
There’s no doubt we’re an entitled society from top to bottom. But when one slides behind the steering wheel of a Lexus RX 350L it’s hard not to feel a strong urge of entitlement, and contentment.
Granted, I’m lucky to get such a chance, but my dark metallic blue (nightfall mica) 350L AWD Luxury model was the right vehicle at the right time for a road trip to northern Wisconsin (the Warrens area) for a slog around a cranberry bog with the family. So four of us settled into the gray and black leather interior, along with our luggage, and simply relaxed. Continue reading 2019 Lexus RX 350L AWD Luxury→
This may be overstating it some, but if ever there were a modern-day Volkswagen Beetle in both spirit and style, it would be Kia’s sweet Soul.
Consider that 11 years into its run the styling has been updated in tweaks to nose and tail, but the basic shape has stayed the same with its boxy looks offering a bit of swagger with its roof that tilts slightly downward in back. Somehow the look is sporty and fun, as opposed to the boring boxes on wheels, such as Scion’s XB and Nissan’s freakish Cube, that have come and gone, not to be missed. And this time around the headlights are thin slits with a light bar up front that sort of reminds of a Chevy Camaro nose. Fun! Continue reading 2020 Kia Soul GT-Line 1.6 Turbo→
A loaded-down road trip to Minnesota was the perfect test for Honda’s latest crossover/SUV, the midsize Passport.
You may recall Passport as a midsize SUV offered earlier by Honda until 2002. It was a revamped version of Isuzu’s Rodeo (Remember Isuzu?). This is a whole new beast and a dandy one at that. Continue reading 2019 Honda Passport AWD Elite→
There was a day when a Cadillac HAD to be as big as a cruise ship and loaded down with enough chrome to make a knight on horseback feel inadequate.
No more. Cadillac has decided that affordable luxury with interesting styling is the way to get post-Boomer buyers to park their lattes and espressos in Cadillac cup holders. Witness the new XT4, the smallest Caddy SUV, just a notch below its fairly petit XT5. The XT4 is svelte and sexy with beautifully sculpted front and rear lights and a handsome grille that give it a more distinctive look than many SUVs. Continue reading 2019 Cadillac XT4 AWD Sport→