Tag Archives: AWD

2022 BMW M3 Competition xDrive

When BMW says Competition, it means it, and then some …

Where to begin?

Once, maybe twice a year, a car arrives for testing that properly belongs on a racetrack as normal city and highway driving will not suffice, like putting pro athletes in a Juniors tournament with one arm tied behind their backs.

That was this week’s BMW M3 Competition xDrive, which might be better suited to running on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s road course, or up at Road America. That Competition part of the name should serve as a major clue as to the sedan’s strengths.

Power is excessive, but I mean that in a good way. This AWD version’s twin-turbo I6 creates a massive 503 horsepower and 479 pound-feet of torque. Top speed is 180 mph and it’ll crush 0-60 mph in 3.4 seconds, BMW tells us. Car and Driver magazine reports 3.5 seconds to hit 60 mph. Whatever!

At the “base” level the M3 is no slouch either, its slightly detuned twin-turbo I6 makes 473 horsepower, but get this, it comes with a 6-speed manual. Not many sports sedans offer that in any form these days. BMW says it’ll do 0-60 mph in 4.1 seconds, if you can live with that.

Move up to the mid-grade Competition (no xDrive) and you’re back to 503 horses and a 0-60 time of 3.8 seconds. So there ARE choices.

Coupled with BMW’s superb 8-speed automatic tranny, complete with big paddle shifters jutting out like antlers behind the steering wheel for manual gear selection, the shifts are silky smooth in the Competition xDrive. So there’s a bit of a luxury feel along with the race car vibe.

Watch Mark’s video: Mark Savage reviews the super bright 2022 BMW xDrive Competitiion – YouTube

Adding to that image for the test car was its retina-melting Sao Paulo Yellow paint job, very similar to the BMW-built MINI Cooper convertible I tested last summer. Some called it lime green, as it certainly has a greenish hue. Still, this baby is easy to find in a parking lot, and surprisingly at no extra charge.

Is this paint job bright enough for ya? Makes the M3 easy to find in a parking lot!

Further spiff comes from BMW’s Yas Marina blue and black leather interior, with touches of that bright yellow for trim. It adds $2,550 to the price tag, but worth every buck.

I’m not sure an interior ever got this much attention from riders and passersby, nor made me want a car as much as this does. The color mix, which some said looked a patriotic nod toward Ukraine, is stunning. Matched with the wild exterior this was easily the most exciting looking car I’ve driven in years, maybe since an Audi R8 14 years ago.

When I began this gig 30+ years ago, I never dreamt I’d see a BMW interior this wild.

As touted earlier, the power drives home the excitement, but the grip the xDrive AWD system adds, along with sports sedan steering precision makes the M3 special. This is the first time xDrive is available on the M3 and adds $4,100 to the sticker. Naturally there are some stout tires here too, Michelin Pilot Sport performance models, ZR19s in front and ZR20s in back.

Other than when it was wet, these fat boys hunkered down to the pavement like gum stuck on a shoe. That means crazy good cornering. My video guy, Paul, giggled like a pre-teen hearing mom cuss for the first time as we put the car through its paces on winding rural roads.

Bright blue and yellow give the interior a spark worth the extra dough!

Let’s see, rocket ship power, super adhesion, light and nimble handling, racy exterior and interior. What’s not to like?

Not much, really, but the ride is race car stiff, so urban pot holes and pavement cracks do stir the interior. Occasionally it was jolting, but mostly well controlled. Railroad tracks were surprisingly easy on the tush.

A few other performance points need addressing here. First, there was an M driver’s package on the test car, which adds $2,500 and raises the electronically controlled speed limiter from 155 to 180 mph. That will only help on the track, which is fine, because the package also includes a voucher for driver training at one of BMW’s two performance centers in the U.S.

Speaking of track time, the M3’s adjustable drive modes include Normal, Sport and Track. That last one optimizes power, shifts, steering effort, and suspension settings for the weekends you take the BMW to the track for an extracurricular workout. I used it to blast down a highway entry ramp and hit a 3-digit number higher than any I’d hit previously. (Do not try this at home!)

There also are adaptive dampers on the M3, plus adjustable brake pedal feel, particularly helpful if on track. A diffuser in back helps stabilize the car at speed and the rear spoiler should help too. It’s carbon fiber, as are the exterior mirror caps. That costs $4,700 extra. A carbon fiber roof is standard.

No flat-bottom wheel, but $3,800 carbon fiber race seats!

Carbon fiber trim is inside too ($950 extra) on the dash and console, plus the steering wheel’s hub. Oddly that wheel isn’t a racy flat-bottom model, which I’d expect. First, it would look the part, but more importantly it would free up some knee space that’s much needed by short drivers trying to extricate themselves from the race seats.

That’s right, the test car added carbon fiber race seats for $3,800. They fit the driver and front passenger like they are track bound with power adjustable side bolsters. These things are extremely comfy, once you drop into them, and that’s how you enter. Then they are as snug as Aunt Agnus hugging you after Thanksgiving dinner.

There’s simply no graceful way to crawl out of the seats, as high as those lower side bolsters are. A driver must pull up on the steering wheel (flip the tilt wheel all the way up and latch it), lift their behind onto the side bolster, and then turn the legs to the door for a less than attractive exit.

A trim tail with subtle wing and less subtle diffuser!

Ironically for such a sporty sedan there’s decent room in the rear seat for a couple adults and a nice sized trunk, in case the M3 needs to haul several sets of golf clubs, or four suitcases for a weekend trip.

There are, of course, all the usual safety features and a wireless charger, power trunk lid, and, get this, 8 actual pre-set buttons for the radio below the 12-inch info screen. Bravo! BMW keeps the console-mounted rotary knob as a redundant way to adjust the info screen.

Seats are heated, not cooled, up front and the steering wheel also is heated, part of the $1,800 executive package. That also includes remote start, the power trunk, an HUD and something called Gesture Control. It doesn’t stop the gestures you may wish, and it can be confusing and annoying. I found it randomly turning on the radio as I was talking (with my hands naturally) to a passenger. And I never could get it to turn up the radio volume with the swirl of a hand, as the screen suggested.

Other add-ons here (not all needed) included a parking assistance package for $800 that adds parking assistant plus, and a drive recorder (think aircraft black box); and M Drive professional for $900 that includes a lap timer (finally!) and onboard drift analysis, again something you’ll only use at the track unless you have extremely tolerant neighbors.

Snazzy multi-beam lights with blue accents.

The cooling, high-performance tire package adds the adaptive suspension, racy Michelin tires and special alloy wheels for $2,400.

If fuel economy matters to you then looking elsewhere is advisable. I got 18.4 mpg in about 60% highway driving and using an admittedly heavy foot when blasting up to highway speed. The EPA rates this AWD model at 16 mpg city and 22 mpg highway. Sadly premium fuel is required.

Price?

Surely you jest, and don’t call me Shirley! Base for this model is $77,895, including delivery. This one hit $95,895 with options. If you simply must save some cash, opt for either the “base” M3 at $71,095, or Competition model at $74,790, and reject the notion of options.

This is a street-legal racer for less than $100 grand and looks spectacular. Surely (I warned you) that counts for something!

FAST STATS: 2022 BMW M3 Competition xDrive

Hits: Racy looks, color and interior. Monster power, excellent handling and grip, AWD. Heated seats and wheel, wireless charger, big easy-to-use screen, 3 drive modes including Track, 8 pre-set radio buttons, spectacular looking interior, extreme seat support w/power bolsters, good trunk space.

Misses: Firm ride, prefers premium fuel, no flat-bottom wheel contributes to tough exit, price, and the annoying unpredictable gesture control. 

Made in: Munich, Germany

Fancy wheels and low-pro Michelin performance tires here!

Engine: 3.0-liter twin turbo I6, 503 hp/479 torque

Transmission: 8-speed automatic

Weight: 3,890 lbs.

Wheelbase: 112.5 in.

Length: 189.1 in.

Cargo: 13.0 cu.ft.

MPG: 16/22

MPG: 18.4 (tested)

Base Price: $77,895 (includes delivery)

Invoice: $74,050

Options:

Yas Marina blue/black leather, $2,550

Parking assistance pkg. (parking assistant plus, drive recorder), $800

Executive pkg. (remote start, heated steering wheel, power tailgate, power trunk lid, Icon Adaptive LED w/Laserlight, wireless charging, gesture control, wifi hotspot), $1,800

M Drive professional (onboard drift analysis, lap timer), $00

Cooling, high-performance tire package (M tech pkg, adaptive M suspension & tire mobility kit, P245/40R19 Front & P255/40R19 rear high-perf tires, M double-spoke bi-color style 861M alloy wheels), $2,400

Carbon fiber trim, $950

M carbon fiber bucket seats, $3,800

M Driver pkg. (electronic speed limiter raised to 189 mph from 155, voucher for driver’s school at BMW Performance Center), $2,500

M Carbon exterior pkg. (carbon fiber spoiler, mirror hoods), $4,700

Test vehicle: $95,895

Sources: BMW, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

2022 BMW M440i xDrive Gran Coupe

Lively M440i noses ahead of luxury coupe competition …

Back in the day (old dudes expression) BMW’s 2002 coupe wasn’t so grand, it was just light and lively and sold like schnitzel in Munich.

Now the German brand’s M440i xDrive is a Gran Coupe that is less light, but awfully lively with 382 horsepower compared with 99 in that original 1960s model. It’s everything a sporting driver could want in a compact Gran Coupe, and I’m sorry, but I like the nose. Then again I liked the Edsel’s nose, back in the day.

Sadly almost every review of BMW’s 4 Series hot rod dwells on its two large kidney-shaped grilles that dominate its beak. Journalists who may have praised the Pontiac Aztek’s dramatic looks or Chrysler’s PT Cruiser for its daring retro design are whining that this nose is “too much.”

They forget that nearly all of today’s luxury makes, and a growing number of others, now tout massive grilles, usually featuring a logo the size of a human head at their middle. Some look better than others.

I also recall both BMW using similar designs in the past and those being considered Iconic. Even Pontiac (remember Ponty?) often used similar styling on its noses, considered sporty, back in the day.

So let’s move beyond the nose. Besides, all the young guys I asked Loved the nose and instantly knew this M440i was a Bimmer. I’m pretty sure BMW’s marketing folks would consider that a success.

This sharp-looking fastback IS fast, nimble and delivers a surprisingly comfortable ride, all at a decidedly luxury price tag.

Watch Mark’s video: Mark Savage reviews the 2022 BMW 440i which sort of looks like a Pontiac – YouTube

First, Gran Coupe’s silhouette oozes speed and sleekness as the rear window and roofline blends right into the short trunk lid. But it’s not just the trunk lid that opens. No, that entire structure, window and trunk open like a hatch. It’s massive, but works fine. Of course the rear seats split and fold in case long cargo needs transported.

Yet it’s unlikely that M440i buyers are primarily seeking cargo carriers.

No, the Gran Coupe is for ripping along highways and rural roads at speed, cornering like it’s a racer. That’s why there’s a twin-turbo 3.0-liter I6 beneath its long snout. As mentioned prior, the turbomeister cranks 382 horses and delivers 369 pound-feet of torque, yet does it so smoothly via the 8-speed automatic that you’ll barely notice when you hit 100+ on a freeway entry ramp. Don’t ask how I know.

Now if you’d care to save some coin and maybe get slightly better gas mileage, a 2.0-liter I4 that makes “just” 255 horses is available in the base BMW 430i, but it’s just rear-wheel-drive.

This M440i xDrive comes with all-wheel-drive, hence the xDrive moniker. That assures all the power is delivered to the appropriate wheels once roads becoming slippery. I’m looking at you Wisconsin.

It seems to me that through the years BMW has softened its ride and steering in most models, just enough to make them feel plush and luxurious on normal Midwest roads. However, the sporty nature is always there, as is the power. This M440i is all that.

Ride is comfortable in all modes (Comfort, Eco Pro, Adaptive), save for Sport. That firms the steering and ride. Steering tightening is welcome, but the firmer suspension setting makes the ride overly stiff. Stick with Comfort for normal driving, or Adaptive that supposedly chooses the appropriate gearing, steering input and ride quality that is called for at any instant.

In any case there is a sport suspension here with struts up front and a fine multi-link system in back – well-controlled, never punishing!

Inside the BMW remains sophisticated and well laid out. Seating is tan leather while the entire interior runs with a black over tan theme. So the dash and door tops are black, the tan trim below that, plus satin chrome trim on dash and doors with a bit of black wood on the passenger’s side dash. That wood is featured on the console’s top too, again with satin chrome trim.

Dash layout is simple and the infotainment screen is a 10.3-incher and easy to see and adjust. There are 8 radio preset buttons below the screen and a small volume control knob for the radio. There’s also a volume adjustment on the steering wheel hub.

Oddly the seats are manually adjusted with a couple handles on the seat’s side and a bar under the lower cushion. I’d expect power at this price. Seats are comfortable and supportive, as you’d expect in a performance-oriented coupe. They also are heated, but not cooled, again something I’d expect at this level.

BMW’s steering wheel is heated too, with a button nestled just below the center hub. However, this is a standard round wheel, where a sportier flat-bottomed wheel makes sense.

Good screen and climate controls make operation easy while driving.

There’s also a good-sized sunroof overhead and a wireless charger just below the center stack. An inside trunk release button is on the driver’s door.

Gas mileage was surprisingly good for a performance car. I got 25.5 mpg in about 60% highway driving, but with several heavy acceleration bursts (solely for test purposes). Sadly to get its full horsepower this twin-turbo prefers premium (93 octane). The EPA rates the car at 22 mpg city and 29 mpg highway, which beats all the SUVs and most of the non-hybrid crossovers.

Stylish wheels and red brake calipers add some flare.

So what are the damages here?

Not so rough at the entry 430i level with the lower horsepower engine and RWD. The base is $46,195, while the tested M440i xDrive jumps to $59,195, including delivery.

But this one was a snazzy dark metallicSan Remo Green that added $550, plus there were six other options that jumped the M440i to $67,520. Most surprising was a $350 add-on for a Sensa-Tec dash, which translates to soft vinyl. Again, I would expect that to be standard.

A nice addition for $875 is the fine Harman Kardon surround sound audio system, much less costly than the $3,200 Volvo wanted for its Bowers & Wilkins system upgrade in the XC60 a few weeks ago. Ouch!

Other add-ons include a $2,400 cooling and high-performance tire package with an upgraded M sport suspension and performance tires, plus fancy double-spoke, bi-color alloy wheels, along with a parking assistance package for $700 that adds a surround view camera and parking sensors.

How’s this for a handsome, stylish door panel?

A driving assistance professional package adds front cross-traffic alert, smart cruise control with Stop & Go, active driving assistant pro, an evasion aid, active lane keeping assist with side collision avoidance, traffic jam assistant and extended traffic jam assistant, for $1,700. I suspect the smart cruise control is optional as BMW designs its cars for enthusiastic drivers who may not want that feature standard.

Finally, for $1,750 the premium package adds a head-up display, the heated front seats and steering wheel, ambient lighting and gesture control technology, which may make you think it won’t allow you to give other drivers hand gestures. Would that it could stop that. But it really allows a driver to make a sweeping motion to turn the radio’s volume up or down, decline a phone call or change a rear camera angle.

Without all the doodads an M440i xDrive could be had in the low $60,000 range and while that’s a luxury price tag, it’s a bargain for this amount of performance.

FAST STATS: 2022 BMW M440i xDrive Gran Coupe

Hits: Sharp fastback styling, super acceleration, sporty handling and good ride. Heated wheel and seats, multiple drive modes, wireless charger, sophisticated interior with big screen, sunroof, and supportive seats.

Misses: Prefers premium unleaded, price. Plus needs flat-bottom wheel, cooled seats and powered seats.

Made in: Dingolfing, Germany

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

Transmission: 8-speed automatic

Weight: 4,169 lbs.

Wheelbase: 112.4 in.

Length: 188.5 in.

Cargo: 12.0 cu.ft.

MPG: 22/29

MPG: 25.5 (tested)

Base Price: $59,195 (includes delivery)

Invoice: $55,620

Options:

San Remo Green Metallic paint, $550

Cooling, high-performance tire package (M tech pkg, adaptive M suspension & tire mobility kit, P245/40R19 Front & P255/40R19 rear high-perf tires, M double-spoke bi-color style 861M alloy wheels), $2,400

Driving assistance professional package (front cross-traffic alert, smart cruise control w/Stop & Go, active driving  assistant pro, evasion aid, active lane keeping assist w/side collision avoidance, traffic jam assistant & extended traffic jam assistant), $1,700

Parking assistance package (surround view camera w/3D view, active park distance control & parking assistant plus), $700

Premium package (gesture control technology, HUD, ambient lighting, heated front seats & steering wheel), $1,750

SensaTec dashboard, $350

Harman Kardon surround sound, $875

Test vehicle: $67,520

Sources: BMW, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee L Summit Reserve 4×4

Going bigger with three rows to carry more crew, plus cargo …

Jeep’s Grand Cherokee has been a stout and stylish off-road capable SUV with a strong niche in the marketplace, so it’s natural for Jeep to try and build on that with a longer version, the L.

Timing might not be in its favor with gas prices soaring at the moment, but a 3-row SUV that’s off-road capable, and loaded with luxury inside just might turn some heads away from the Chevy Tahoes, Ford Explorers, and Honda Pilots of the world. Time will tell.

But from a ride and comfort perspective the Grand Cherokee L, which debuted as a 2021 model, moves among the leaders in this SUV segment. Looks also set it apart, at least from a snout-view where there are the seven bars on the grille and a handsome nose that easily portrays a more sophisticated Jeep image.

Mine was a Silver Zynith ($395 extra) Summit Reserve 4×4 model with a black roof, the absolute top of the line. That means the price is waist-deep luxury level, but the interior certainly delivers on that with enough cowhide to worry any herd.

But let’s look at the dimensional and people-friendly basics.

First, the L is about a foot longer (11.4 inches) than the Grand Cherokee and provides much more cargo space under the hatch. Plus the third-row seat, while slightly elevated, delivers enough foot and legroom for an adult to ride in back. With its second row captain’s chairs though this version will only haul six.

Watch Mark’s video: Mark Savage reviews the 2022 Jeep Grand Cherokee L – YouTube

Getting to that rear row is easy enough too as the second row seats flip and slide forward, although unlatching them can be a little more difficult from the rear seat than when entering through the side door. Kids may want to exit between the captain’s chairs although there is a considerable second-row console there.

Easy access to the third-row seats, plus they power down from inside the hatch.

Also the third row can be powered down from inside the rear hatch and the second row seats also can be released from there for easy loading of long items. So functionally, this is a win for a family of six, or seven at lower levels where a second row bench is available.

Driving it?

Well, there are two engine choices, the tester coming with the more efficient 3.6-liter V6 that makes a strong 293 horsepower and creates 390 pound-feet of torque. A giant 5.7-liter HEMI V8 with 357 horses and a torque rating of 390 also is available

Couple this V6 with five drive modes, Rock, Sand/Mud, Snow, Auto, and Sport, and it’s possible to take the Grand Cherokee L off road into some serious muck and over rocks, small trees, etc. Jeep says this will ford 24 inches of water for cryin’ out loud. Plus the L will tow up to 6,200 pounds, so hook up the camper or pontoon boat and head to the state park.

Happily the extended Grand Cherokee also rides well on and off-road. There’s not much jostling to passengers, even on our crumbling Wisconsin roads, which if you think about it sort of reflect the rocky nature of some off-road trails. The Quadra-Lift air suspension does a superior job of smoothing the ride.

But the steering does not feel as heavy, nor as precise as one might imagine, more of a big luxury SUV feel, which (along with its price) makes me wonder if many L buyers will really take these off-road. Still, keeping it in its lane on the highway is no chore, but cornering at speed you’ll notice some body lean as you would with other large SUVs.

Inside, the Summit Reserve oozes luxury from the get-go.

Luxury is the key inside with quilted leather and real walnut trim on doors and dash.

First, it’s quiet. Second the seats and doors are bathed in an orangish tan Palermo leather that was a bit too orange for my liking, and the family frankly found it garish. It feels high-quality soft and there’s a diamond stitch pattern on the seat edges and doors that insinuates luxury. Dash and door tops are black and Jeep uses real open-pore walnut trim on the dash and doors. That’s impressive and one-ups most of the luxury and near-luxury makes.

Naturally those seats are heated and cooled up front and the rears are heated too. The $3,000 Summit Reserve option package adds cooling to the second row seats, while also tacking on active noise control, a 950-watt amp, deluxe suede-like headliner, and 21-inch tires and special wheels.

Jeep’s seats provide good support and there’s a power lower leg extension to aid long-legged drivers. Second row seats are equally comfy and the third row a little stiffer, but still not bad. Second row manual sun shades and a wireless charger are a $245 add-on, but seem like they should be standard on a luxury ute.

Yes, that’s real wood on the dash and doors. American walnut to be precise.

Yet Jeep also tacks on a $1,795 delivery fee to pad the price as delivery is only coming from Detroit, not off-shore.

Other goodies on the Summit Reserve include a heated steering wheel and giant two-pane sunroof, one of the biggest I’ve seen.

Jeep continues with its easy-to-use infotainment system and big info screen. This is simple to tune and see. The Summit Reserve adds a 19-speaker McIntosh stereo system that sounds great too, but in a premium model you’d expect premium sound.

The McIntosh audio sounds great but reflects at night.

One downside to the McIntosh system though, there are round-topped speakers tucked into the dash’s front corners. Their shape and reflective surface means that in night driving where there are streetlights over the highway a weird circular reflection or flash occurs in the corners of the windshield as you drive. It can be distracting.

Yet on the safety front the Jeep Grand Cherokee L packs everything you’d expect or want, from smart cruise control and lane departure assist to blind-spot warning and cross-path detection. Parking sensors watch all around, including sides (some extra beeps), there’s a 360-camera, pedestrian and cyclist emergency braking systems, and parallel and perpendicular park assist.

The test Jeep added an Advanced ProTech Group IV for another $1,995. It includes a head-up display, night vision w/pedestrian/animal detection, rear-view auto-dimming digital mirror, and interior rear-facing camera to help watch out for rear seat shenanigans.

OK, so the rear end isn’t so stylish, but it has a power hatch.

No running board was added though, so step-in height remains rather high as this has 8.5 inches of ground clearance. For the record, black steps cost $875, chrome steps $975.

All told the test vehicle went from a base price of $61,455, including delivery, to $67,090 after options, putting it solidly in the luxury segment.

I like the slim, elegant look of the Grand Cherokee L’s nose.

Of course, there’s a base model, the Laredo, which is rear-wheel-drive, but that just seems wrong for a Jeep. It starts at $40,685, but adding 4WD increases that to $42,685. The trim levels climb from there to Altitude, Limited, Overland, Summit and the tested Summit Reserve, all of which include 4WD. Fully equipped the Summit Reserve can eclipse $70 grand.

So far there is no hybrid L model, while several competitors do offer a hybrid. One might expect Jeep to add one soon.

Note too that the Wagoneer and Grand Wagoneer models are two more new 3-row SUVs available from Jeep. They are bigger yet, being 10 inches longer overall with a three-inch longer wheelbase and are capable of towing an additional 3,800 pounds.

I reviewed the Wagoneer earlier this year, and will test the Grand Wagoneer soon!

FAST STATS: 2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee L Summit Reserve 4×4

One more shot of the ritzy walnut trim.

Hits: Roomy 3-rows, quiet luxury interior, good power and ride, plus off-road capable. Heated/cooled leather seats, walnut dash/door trim, heated steering wheel and second row seats, giant sunroof, wireless charger, big easy-to-use info screen, five drive modes, power extendable lower seat cushion for driver.

Misses: Feels big and heavy, especially when cornering, big step-in height, so-so gas mileage and no hybrid available yet. High price and the fancy McIntosh stereo speakers in the dash reflect overhead street lights in windshield.

Made in: Detroit, Mich.

Engine: 3.6-liter V6, 293 hp/260 torque

Transmission: 8-speed automatic

Weight: 4,524 lbs.

Wheelbase: 121/7 in.

Length: 204.9 in.

Cargo: 17.2, 46.9, 84.6 cu.ft.

Tow: 6,200 lbs.

MPG: 18/25

MPG: 20.3 (tested)

Base Price: $61,455 (includes delivery and AWD)

Invoice: $63,884

Major Options:

Silver Zynith paint, $395

Summit Reserve Group (21-inch painted aluminum wheels, R21 all-season tires, Palermo leather seats, 19-speaker high performance audio, active noise control system, 950-watt amplifier, cooled rear seats, deluxe headliner, Palermo leather door trim), $3,000

Advanced ProTech Group IV (head-up display, night vision w/pedestrian/animal detection, rear-view auto-dimming digital mirror, interior rear-facing camera), $1,995

Luxury Tech Group V (wireless charging pad, manual second row window shades), $245

Test vehicle: $67,090

Sources: Jeep, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

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 Hyundai Palisade Calligraphy AWD

8 people can ride in style in this upscale Calligraphy model …

Think stylish vehicles and you’d be wise these days to first turn your attention to Hyundai or Kia. The two South Korean carmakers have been breaking the staid auto world’s styling molds for several years now.

Case in point, the tested Hyundai Palisade Calligraphy, an 8-person SUV and family hauler that looks and feels way ritzier than it is. The grille, the lights, the interior, all are standout lookers and clothed in a Sierra Burgundy (think dark metallic red wine) the test SUV looked out of place in my 1950s subdivision. Even its color was trendsetting, or make that trend breaking.

In a world of gray, white and black vehicles (those are the three top-selling “colors” now) the dark red Palisade looked special. People pointed at it like I was hauling a Kardashian to the Oscars for crying out loud.

Really there’s not a lot new to talk about here. I praised the original 2020 Palisade after taking a trip to Louisville and back in it. Comfort, quiet, the snazzy interior and solid power from its 3.8-liter V6 all impressed. Now it gains a bevy of safety equipment as standard and this Calligraphy model is the top trim, so loaded with oodles of whiz-bangs that might be optional on other makes at this price.

So there are the looks, maybe too bold for some, but they can have their gray blend-in mobiles. I like the grille and snazzy lights front and rear. Happy with that V6 too as it delivers a strong 291 horses and smoothly via an 8-speed automatic with Shiftronic, which allows a driver to override the automatic with manual shifts, no clutch of course.

Handling is fairly quick too, making it extremely easy to control on the highway and ride is composed without being plush or floaty. A long wheelbase helps that.

AWD is $1,700 extra on all trim levels, but certainly makes sense in our sloppy Wisconsin climate.

Watch Mark’s video: Mark Savage reviews the 2022 Hyundai Palisade Calligraphy AWD – YouTube

Note too there are five drive modes, Comfort, Eco, Sport, Snow and Smart, which is said to learn your driving style and adjust the shifts to fit your needs and wants. Sport does enliven the acceleration a bit and firms steering too. Yet Comfort was fine 95% of the time; I mostly engaged Sport when zipping onto a freeway.

Did a lot of freeway driving in this too, probably 70% which made the trip computer predict I was getting 20.2 mpg, while in reality it was 19.5. That’s in the Palisade’s wheelhouse of 19 mpg city and 24 highway for the AWD version. The front-drive model earns 26 mpg on the highway. That could be important as gas prices head to the stratosphere.

But for family hauling Palisade is certainly competitive with other large SUVs and minivans on the gas mileage front.

It also has an advantage on many because it will haul eight passengers if you opt for the center row bench seat, no extra charge. Go with the more comfy captain’s chairs and it’ll haul seven adults. That’s right, there’s plenty of legroom in the third row and the one-touch second row seats slide forward easily to let a grownup crawl aboard with minimal grunting and groaning. Second row seats can be positioned to create reasonable foot and legroom for both second and third-row occupants. Bonus!

The third row of seats has adequate room and the second and third row fold flat too.

Granted storage behind that third row is not spacious, but will hold eight bags of groceries. Smartly Hyundai offers power third-row and second-row fold downs via buttons inside the rear hatch. So if you’re loading a lot of goods it’s simple to press a couple buttons and lower the seats for cargo hauling.

This interior is stellar in nearly all ways, and certainly from a quietness and styling standpoint. The tester was decked out in light gray (nearly white) Nappa leather with a bit of quilting pattern on the seatbacks and a sophisticated light tan to gray fake wood trim on the doors and dash. The wood is in strips with satin chrome trim between each layer. Classy!

Overhead is a soft gray simulated suede headliner that helps soak up any excess noise that somehow manages to creep into the cockpit. Trim on the console is a satin chrome herringbone pattern while the dash’s top is black and overhead is a power sunroof up front and power sun shade over a larger stationary roof for the rear two rows of seats.

Standard here is a heated steering wheel, heated and cooled front seats, heated rear seats and 360-degree backup camera along with wireless charger in the console and 10.25-inch infotainment screen that’s simple to use.

Fantastic dash design with large easy-to-use buttons and screen.

In fact, the Hyundai dash is so well designed it’s easy to figure out from the moment you sit in Palisade, no fumbling for knobs that aren’t there or hunting for vague icons that don’t let you know where to find the heat or radio. This is how interiors should function and Hyundai interior designers deserve a big pay increase.

Buttons are all large and logically laid out and the radio tuning is intuitive. No electrical engineering degree is required, a benefit for us less schooled, or old-school, drivers.

Need more? Well, the Calligraphy model comes with a snazzy Harmon Kardon stereo system including attractive satin chrome covered door speakers that look like a jeweler designed them. Sound is good and tuning is easy.

Beautiful design with wood grains atop the door and diamond-pattern leather too.

Flip a turn signal lever and cameras light up in round screens on the instrument panel, one for left turns, one for right, showing you the road and blind-spot behind you in that lane to avoid fender benders and curb scrapes.

Safety equipment is plentiful too, along with lane-keeping assist, forward collision avoidance, driver attention warning, smart cruise control and such, Hyundai adds blind-spot warning, rear cross-traffic alert, turn signals in the side mirrors and safe exit assist. This later item is becoming a norm now and alerts a person when a door is unlatched but oncoming traffic could be a danger. Still best to look over your shoulder, but this may help avoid losing a door when the driver or passenger is distracted. Cool too that the lane departure system can be turned off to avoid unwanted beeps as you dodge construction and pot holes.

Also standard on Calligraphy is a perforated leather wrap on the steering wheel, 20-inch wheels, puddle lamps and that fancy satin chrome trim. Standard on most models too is a power hatch, along with remote start and the excellent one-touch second row seats that quickly fold and slide forward for third-row entry.

For techies, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are here, along with USB ports for the first two rows of seats.

Seats are quite comfy in most regards in all rows. The third row has a bit of a raised floor so that puts your legs at a slightly elevated angle. My only complaint is the power driver’s seat, which has a long lower cushion, meaning it hits the back of short driver’s knees and could be tiring on a long drive. Before buying, check that out if you’re 5-6, or shorter.

Finally let’s revisit Palisade’s value Palisade. First, a well-equipped minivan will cost you $50,000 these days, give or take a grand. Some SUVs will start there and work their way up to $60 grand or more.

This top-level test vehicle started at $49,615, including delivery, and added just floor mats (which should be standard on all vehicles now) for $215 to end up at $49,830.

If you’re budget is more mainstream and your doodad desires are in check, consider the base SE model at $34,575 with delivery and front-wheel drive. But the engine and mechanicals are the same as Calligraphy. An SEL model at $36,925 adds the captain’s chairs instead of 8-person seating, heated seats, power driver’s seat, remote start and three zone climate controls, so may be the best value.

The $46,815 Limited moves upscale with twin sunroofs, Nappa leather, an HUD and 360-camera, power-down third row seats, wireless charger, heated second row seats and the bigger info screen. Remember, adding AWD is an option for all trims, but so far no hybrid model is available.

Snazzy taillights on the Palisade.

Remember too that Kia’s Telluride is a kissin’ cousin to the Palisade and offers stunning styling too. Other competitors include Ford’s Explorer, Toyota’s Highlander, Honda’s Pilot, VW’s Atlas, and the new Jeep Grand Cherokee L (that means Long).

Palisade will haul any family in style in that $35,000 to $40,000 range, and if you can manage the Limited or Calligraphy it’s a luxury ride to be sure.

FAST STATS: 2022 Hyundai Palisade Calligraphy AWD

Hits: Sharp looking SUV, good power, ride and handling, plus AWD and 5 drive modes. Loaded with Harmon Kardon stereo, super center stack/console design, big screen, heated steering wheel, heated/cooled front seats, heated second row seats, turn-signal cameras, power hatch, useful third row seat, wireless charger, lane departure can be turned off.

Great looking headlight design too!

Misses: Driver’s lower seat cushion is long, hits back of short driver’s knees. No hybrid model yet.

Made in: Ulsan, So. Korea

Engine: 3.8-liter V6, 291hp/262 torque

Transmission: 8-speed automatic w/Shiftronic

Weight: 4,127 lbs.

Wheelbase: 114.2 in.

Length: 196.1 in.

Cargo: 18-86.4 cu.ft.

Tow: 5,000 lbs.

MPG: 19/24

MPG: 19.5 (tested)

Base Price: $49,615 (includes delivery)

Invoice: $47,319

Major Options: Carpeted floor mats, $215

Test vehicle: $49,830

Sources: Hyundai, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

2022 Ford Maverick Lariat FWD

Ford returns to the compact pickup market with a hybrid …

Finally, finally, finally the nation’s leading truck maker has returned to the compact pickup market as Ford introduces the Maverick pickup.

Oldtimers will recall the original Ford Maverick as an inexpensive compact car that did not distinguish itself, but this Maverick is gonna be great in the marketplace, just like Ford’s previous Ranger. The old Ranger, not the new mid-size pickup of the same name, used to clog up every high school parking lot in both rural and urban America.

Know why? It was affordable and useful, and by golly, it was a TRUCK. And that’s what young male buyers yearn for as they imagine themselves becoming men, starting a work life and well, just expressing their macho dudeness as they crank their country rock tunes.

Maverick’s looks are less macho than all the bulky mid-size and full-size pickups that look prepared to trounce some demon in a Marvel action movie. Maverick is handsome and understated, not that there’s anything wrong with that.

It’s also highly affordable throughout its three trim levels, and there’s definitely nothing wrong with that.

The base front-drive XL starts at $21,490, including delivery. The mid-level XLT lists at $23,855 and the tested Lariat model begins at $26,985. OMG that’s cheap in today’s truck world. Add $3,305 to any model if you prefer 4-wheel-drive, which most folks do these days. However, you’ll also need to upgrade to Ford’s 2.0-liter turbo I4 engine ($1,085) in order to add 4WD.

Still, even this well-equipped Alto Blue Metallic (dark metallic blue that’s $390 extra) checked in at just $29,340. That after adding a sunroof ($795), Ford’s Co-Pilot 360 safety equipment ($540), a spray-in bedliner (a must at $495) and floor mats ($135). All models are crewcabs.

What may surprise as much as the price it that each of these trims comes standard with a hybrid powertrain. That’s right, Ford’s 2.5-liter I4 is paired with a hybrid system to make this compact pickup a sipper of gas around town. The EPA rates it at 42 mpg highway and 33 mpg city. I got 31.8 in a mix of driving in cold, icy, and snowy weather.

Watch Mark’s video review: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dG2hTmpxMMk

Power is smooth and fairly quiet, but modest unless mashing the accelerator. Part of that can be attributed to its continuously variable transmission. If you need more power, that optional turbo I4, coupled with an 8-speed automatic, delivers 250 horses compared with the hybrid system’s 191 and scant 155 lb.-ft. of torque. Again, the hybrid is fine for normal driving conditions, the turbo is only needed if you plan to tow more.

That’s because the hybrid is rated to tow just 2,000 lbs. while properly equipped ($745 tow package) the turbo-powered Maverick will pull 4,000 lbs. Compare that with Hyundai’s new Santa Cruz, my Zoomie Vehicle of the Year, which can tow up to 5,000 lbs. Santa Cruz is Maverick’s main competition, being the only other compact pickup so far, although it is more stylish and tends toward the crossover end of the market for ride and roominess.

While AWD is extra, there are five drive modes adjusted via a knob on the console. Those include Eco, Normal, Sport, Slippery and Tow/Haul. Sport does boost acceleration some.

Handling is certainly fine with Maverick, which rides on the same chassis as the Ford Escape and Bronco Sport, both of which also are nimble. Steering effort is mild and turn-in for corners fairly precise, making it an easy vehicle on the road and in parking lots.

Ride is another thing. While Maverick is unibody construction, not body-on-frame as are most other trucks, the suspension is pretty firm here. That leads to more bounce and jiggle on our winter-ravaged Midwest roads. Maverick is pleasant on the highway, but on crumbling roads passengers will be shaken, not just stirred.

Braking is good as Maverick packs four-wheel disc brakes.

For the record, Maverick’s bed is 4.5 feet deep and the test unit had a spray-in bedliner. The lift-in height is just 30 inches and the tailgate folds down quickly, no easy-drop, or multiple function version here as on fancier pickups. But this is right-sized to haul lumber, bushes and yard waste. Even a couple bikes will fit in back.

Inside is right-sized too for four, or maybe five folks, if at least one is a child. The rear seats are roomy and there’s oodles of storage space under the rear seat whose bottom cushion folds up.

The test truck’s interior was simple but attractive with brown and dark blue faux leather seats. That blue matches the truck’s exterior. I also like the copper trim on the dash, air vents and door armrests, which are abbreviated and quite easy to use in pulling a door shut. The console is wisely a matte blue and brown so no reflections there on sunny days.

Snazzy copper-colored door pulls add some spiff inside.

Controls and screens are fine, the main gauges easy to see and read and the 8-inch infotainment screen seems even smaller, but was easy to read. The Lariat also has dual climate controls and push-button start, but no navigation system. Note that in an effort to keep costs down the base level features a key start (remember those?) and cloth seats.

Seats themselves are comfy enough here, but the front edge seems to have just a tad too much foam, so puts extra pressure on the legs, just behind the knees, of short drivers. Luckily the driver’s seat is powered, while the passenger’s is not. Yet still the front edge could not be lowered enough for this short driver’s long-ride comfort.

Seats also are not heated, nor is the steering wheel, even at this Lariat level. No wireless phone charger is standard here either.

Good news though, the step-in height is like a sedan or small crossover, so no running board is needed.

On the safety front the Maverick includes a pre-collision assist system, rear-view camera, remote keyless entry and with the $540 Co-Pilot 360 adds blind-spot and cross-traffic alerts, lane keeping alert and aid, driver alert and a full-size spare tire.

For off-road heroes there’s also an FX4 package available for $800. That adds 17-inch all-terrain tires, an upgraded cooling system and high-capacity radiator, hill descent control, a 6.5-inch instrument cluster, a hitch, special aluminum wheels, skid plates and exposed front tow hooks Note that you must upgrade to the turbo engine before adding FX4, adding roughly another grand.

There’s storage room below the rear seat.

The base XL of course is a basic low-content truck to keep the price just above $20,000, but the XLT adds 17-inch aluminum wheels, cruise control, a locking tailgate and power mirrors. The tested Lariat includes the XLT’s features and adds the power driver’s seat, push-button start and 18-inch wheels.

One final plus, the hybrid-powered Maverick features an 8-year, 100,000-mile warranty on that system, while the more powerful 2.0-liter turbo has a 5-year, 60,000-mile warranty.

If you want a pickup, but don’t Need a monster truck, or can’t Afford one, Maverick is a sweet new choice, finally.

FAST STATS: 2022 Ford Maverick Lariat FWD

Hits: Right-sized pickup with excellent handling and super MPG due to hybrid system. Comfy interior, low step-in height, lined bed, easy dash function, 5 drive modes, cool copper interior trim, dual climate controls, seats 4/5, power driver’s seat, and sunroof.

Misses: Just OK power, ride is bouncy at times, a bit too firm, front edge of seats is too high for short drivers’ legs, no heated seats or steering wheel, no wireless phone charger and no 4WD.

Made in: Hermosillo, Mexico

Engine: 2.5-liter I4 hybrid, 191 hp/155 torque

Transmission: CVT automatic

Weight: 3,674 lbs.

Wheelbase: 121.1 in.

Length: 199.7 in.

Payload: 1,500 lbs.

Tow: 2,000 lbs.

MPG: 42/33

MPG: 31.8 (tested)

Base Price: $26,985 (includes delivery)

Invoice: $26,475

Major Options:

Co-pilot 360, $540

Alto Blue paint, $390

Floor liner without carpet mats, $135

Power moon roof, $795

Spray-in bedliner, $495

Test vehicle: $29,340

Sources: Ford, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

2022 Kia Stinger GT-Line RWD

Power, handling, looks, Stinger as swanky as European makes …

Swanky European luxury sports sedans often crest $50,000, but they deliver the looks and performance that command a premium. Most also have earned a reputation for quickness and precision handling over decades of development.

So what happens when a newcomer sidles up behind the established leaders, looking a little younger, fresher and offering good measures of quickness and precision, yet at a more attractive price?

That’s what Kia has been about on a number of fronts, but its Stinger has been trying to put a charge into the luxury sports sedan market for a couple years now. Initial reactions were strong and for 2022 Kia upgrades its entry-level Stinger GT-Line with a big power boost. Gone is its 2.0-liter turbocharged I4, replaced with a 2.5 turbo I4 that creates … wait for it … 300 horsepower and 311 lb.-ft. of torque. That’s up 45 horsepower, an impressive boost.

Add to that a larger infotainment screen, more standard safety features, sharp LED head and taillights, new alloy wheels and snazzier gloss black and chrome interior trim. Oh, and standard too are rain-sensing wipers, 18-inch alloy wheels, dual-zone climate controls and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto hookups.

The GT-Line, a trim level now across Kia models, replaces the GT as the base rear-drive Stinger and it does so at the surprising price of $37,135 including delivery. AWD is available for another $2,200, keeping the grippy model a smidge under $40,000. Try to find a European brand of this size and speed that competes on price. Heck, most of those are still charging extra for most of their paint colors, including gray.

My attractive Ascot Green (dark metallic green) was a standard color, no extra charge, and the lines are straight out of Ingolstadt with an aggressive nose and fastback flair. In fact, some won’t like to hear this described as a sedan despite its four doors, because the trunk is really a hatch that includes the large rear window.

To me that’s a selling point as hatches are always easier to load and unload and the cargo space is generous here at 23.3 cubic feet. But it’s unlikely a sports sedan buyer is worrying much about what’ll fit under the boot.

Watch Mark’s video: 2022 Kia Stinger review by Mark Savage – YouTube

Let’s return to the power and performance.

The new engine is definitely more torquey and pushes the GT-Line to an excess of highway speeds in short order. Topspeed.com ran it through the timing lights and managed 5.2 seconds 0-60 mph and a top speed of 130 mph. Are a few competitors quicker? Well, yes, but how much will you pay for each tenth of a second?

And if you need more power and quicker acceleration the GT1 and GT2 models both feature a twin-turbo 3.3-liter V6 that cranks 368 hp and 376 ft.-lbs. of torque and boasts a top speed of 167 mph. Of course both versions cost a bit more too, more along the lines of European sports sedans.

Handling is sporty, but best in the Sport drive mode that really firms up the steering effort and adds a precision closer to the European makes, if not quite there. Comfort drive mode is fine for most circumstances, but there’s also Eco, Custom and Smart, the latter of which learns how you drive and how you ARE driving and adjusts the 8-speed automatic’s shift points to fit, along with other engine and suspension adjustments.

Ride is stiffer than in the previous Stinger I’d tested and can be rather bumpy at times on our pot-hole strewn Midwest roads. All those cement highway expansion joints also can get a little old.

Braking is solid and quick with discs front and rear, the front being ventilated, the rears solid. All of today’s major safety equipment is standard here too such as emergency braking, blind-spot detection, lane keeping and smart cruise, plus a safe exit assist system to warn before you open a door into traffic. Note that some luxury makes still charge extra for blind-spot or rear cross-traffic detection.

Inside, Kia delivers another fine dash design. The test car featured a black leather interior with gray seat and dash stitching. Bezels on the gauges and air ducts are chrome with black gloss trim on the console and a flat black thick leather steering wheel and hub, the bottom spoke, door releases and dash buttons being a satin silver.

Kia goes with a big infotainment screen, 10.25 inches, a wireless phone charger and heated front seats, all standard. At least one of those will likely cost extra on a European make.

There’s also a sunroof overhead, but that’s part of a $2,300 sun and sound package that upgrades to a premium Harmon-Kardon audio system and a power front passenger’s seat. The driver’s seat is power, naturally, and both front seats were well shaped to provide back and hip support for if and when the driver decides to push the car toward its top-end performance.

I give Kia designers high marks for the dash’s simple layout and ease of use, from the touchscreen to the climate controls, no confusing symbols or odd button placement and all knobs easy to use.

On the not so great side is the loud annoying welcoming chime that goes off as you start the car and often when you turn the ignition off, along with a chime and dash warning to “check the rear seat.” It was there every time I checked!

Simplicity reins in the Stinger’s interior, adding to the upscale look and feel.

A few other things tweaked my sensibilities, including the drive mode knob on the console. I would prefer a toggle as it’s easier to tap forward for Sport and down for the other, lesser performance modes. I kept turning the knob the wrong way. Also, being a short dude I put the seat fairly far forward of the average size 6-footer and that made it tough to both reach the seatbelt over the driver’s shoulder, and then to latch it into the buckle that gets tucked down into the groove between the seat and console. Gloves made it nearly impossible.

Then there’s the typical complaint for any fastback model, or big SUV, a giant A-pillar and mirror combo that partially obstructs front to side views. I guess that’s why every vehicle now has so many sensors and the much needed 360-degree cameras.

Gas mileage in the GT-Line is good too, rated at 22 mpg city and 32 mpg highway by the EPA. I got 25.3 mpg, not bad for cold weather driving with minor snow on side roads. Premium fuel is preferred, but not required.

Final tally here was just $39,715, about $4,000 less than its nearest competitor from Audi. Add in the AWD and the difference is about cut in half. But the Audi quickly becomes pricier with a few options and a BMW starts about $8 grand higher. Closest may be Nissan’s fine Maxima, also with a 300 hp engine, and front-wheel-drive so likely to handle better in snow than this rear-drive model, although I had no problems on slippery side streets.

Sharp looking headlight design here!

Need more power and fancier interior features? Consider the GT1 starting about $44,000 or the GT2 at about $51,000.

Rumors also say the Stinger may be fazed out in the next year or so with electric models coming that will be performance-oriented too. But they may not look, or sound (twin-turbo V6) this sweet!

FAST STATS: 2022 Kia Stinger GT-Line RWD

Hits: Sporty fastback looks, good power and handling, an excellent sports sedan pricing. Big info screen, sunroof, heated seats, wireless charging, good climate buttons/knobs, big trunk, comfy supportive seats, easy to read dash, good mpg.

Misses: Noisy welcoming chime, and chime telling driver to check the rear seat, plus bumpy ride, drive mode knob instead of toggle, hard to fasten and reach seatbelt for short drivers, big A-pillar/mirror view blockage.

Taillights are slim and trim for an elegant design.

Made in: Sohari, S. Korea

Engine: 2.5-liter turbo 4-cyl., 300 hp/311 torque

Transmission: 8-speed automatic

Weight: 3,792 lbs.

Wheelbase: 114.4 in.

Length: 190.2 in.

Cargo: 23.3 cu.ft.

MPG: 22/32

MPG: 25.3 (tested)

Base Price: $37,135 (includes delivery)

Invoice: $35,510

Major Options:

Sun and sound package (Harmon-Kardon premium audio system, power front passenger’s seat, sunroof), $2,300

Cargo mat, $125

Carpeted floor mats, $155

Test vehicle: $39,715

Sources: Kia, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

2022 Subaru Forester Wilderness

Wilderness trim moves Forester further off road …

I’m not sure it’s ever totally fair to test a vehicle in Wisconsin in January, but then we all DO have to drive here in winter and Subaru designs its cars for our climate with full-time AWD.

So I guess I shouldn’t feel too sorry for the new Forester Wilderness that I hustled around mucky streets for a week during one of our patented January cold spells, several nights plunging below zero. To be honest, the Forester mostly coped fine with the big chill, but the weather put a chill on its gas mileage.

First, let’s focus on the Wilderness trim level, a new moniker for Forester and the Wilderness name is creeping across the outdoorsy-inspired Subaru lineup. Its point, not surprisingly, is to make said Subaru more off-road worthy, while also spiffing up the interior and exterior to lure young buyers to the brand, in case all the dog-loving and national parks-loving promos aren’t enough.

The Wilderness logo easily distinguishes this model.

I get it, and this white test crossover was spiffy looking. First, Subaru has restyled the Forester’s nose so it looks more muscular to fit into the increasingly macho compact crossover market. Second, it offers a full half-inch more ground clearance than other Foresters at 9.2 inches, making it a better trail-slogging vehicle.

There’s plenty more, which we’ll discuss, but visually it’s the Wilderness badges on the front doors, tail, and floor mats plus the cool anodized copper trim that is gonna tickle your iris. There’s a little copper everywhere, inside and out, just enough to please, not overwhelm. The exterior features copper accents on the now stronger black roof rail supports and the Forester name is emblazoned in copper on the black rocker panels. Plenty of black trim along with cladding over the wheel wells and bumpers, and an anti-glare matte black hood decal too.

A lot of black cladding on the Wilderness nose, plus a matte insert atop the hood.

Inside, the steering wheel hub’s lower spoke is copper as is the gear shift knob and X-Mode dial. Subaru also trims its durable StarTex water-resistant seats, along with the dash and doors in copper stitching. Wilderness logos grace the front seat backs too. All cool!

That’s just for looks. Wilderness is pretty much a loaded Forester. On the performance side that includes R17 Yokohama Geolander all-terrain tires for better grip in off-road slop, plus a beefed up X-Mode function with two settings for Snow and Dirt, or Mud and Deep Snow. Again, traction and trail performance step to the fore.

Copper trim on the wheel and shifter and X-Mode knob accent the interior.

Other goodies standard on Forester Wilderness include a 180-degree front view monitor, power tailgate, snazzy Harman Kardon stereo and 8-inch touchscreen that seems just the right size here while many screens have grown to overpower their interiors.

EyeSight, Subaru’s driver safety system with adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping, blind-spot warning and such is standard too, and Wilderness adds lane-change assist, rear cross-traffic alert and reverse automatic braking. Nothing more need be added to all that.

Performance remains solid, which is why Forester is so popular among compact crossovers as it leans a little more heavily on its SUVness.

In addition to the dual-function X-Mode of course there’s full-time AWD that shifts power to the wheels currently with the most grip, no matter if on slippery side streets or mucky trails. It’s a comfort in winter driving as the car corners with more sure-footedness than many other crossovers, and mostly at a lower price.

Handling is light and nimble, making Forester a fun drive in town and parking lots, while also being easy to handle if off-roading. Ride is improved over earlier versions, but still a bit firm as are other small crossovers.

Power, while improving with each iteration, is still Forester’s weak spot. The 2.5-liter Boxer 4 cylinder delivers 182 horses with a torque rating of 176. That’s fine for cruising and low-speed off-roading. But accelerating to highway speeds, or when it’s colder than an iceberg in the Arctic, is labored and noisy. That’s a combo of the engine and an 8-speed CVT.

Braking is fine, but know that if you upgrade to the Premium or higher trim levels the front disc brakes are larger than in other models.

Inside, Forester is comfy with supportive seats, a fine dash layout and Wilderness gets snazzy brushed aluminum pedals.

Brushed aluminum pedals here, and another logo!

Standard here are two-level heated seats, that fine stereo and touchscreen, which are easy to understand and use, and a big sunroof, a win for outdoors-loving folks who want to let in extra sunlight.

The test Forester’s black seats and dash look good too with the copper trim and I liked the feel and durability of the fake leather seats.

What I missed was a heated steering wheel, which would have been nice on the sub-zero mornings and should be standard on a Wilderness. I also found it hard to adjust the climate control’s fan speed while wearing gloves.

But Forester’s interior is roomy with plenty of head and legroom front and rear, easy rear-seat access and good storage space under that power hatch. Interesting too that Forester now has a 51.3-inch cargo opening in back, the biggest in the segment, so wonderful for loading wide loads. Oh, and now there’s one-touch rear seat lowering from inside the hatch too.

Gas mileage normally has been good with Forester. I last got 25.9 mpg in a drive 3 years ago. But with the cold weather and the car groaning to gain power in the cold this time I managed just 19.6 mpg. Disappointing to be sure, especially since the EPA rates this at 25 mpg city and 28 highway.

I’m also disappointed that Subaru still doesn’t offer a hybrid model, which most competitors do. That would help mpg considerably, not to mention buoy Subaru’s mantra of helping and protecting the environment. Subaru is way late to the hybrid game, and I should note that I’ve owned two Subies, including a Forester and an Outback.

Pricing remains a Forester strong point though, with the base model starting at $26,320 with delivery, and remember that includes AWD. There are six trim levels with Touring being the top dog at $35,295. This Wilderness started at $33,945, with delivery, and only added an aluminum engine under guard for $220 to settle at $34,165. That’s well below the average new crossover price.

Forester is a nimble drive and better off-road than many compact crossovers, but it also butts heads with the likes of Toyota’s RAV4 and Honda’s CR-V, big sellers. Wilderness trim gives it an edge for snazzy looks though.

FAST STATS: 2022 Subaru Forester Wilderness

Hits: Sporty looking inside and out in Wilderness trim, light and nimble handling, AWD, 2 off-road settings, comfy 2-level heated seats, good radio/info screen, nice stereo, big sunroof, EyeSight system standard, and power hatch.

Misses: Noisy acceleration, modest power, no heated steering wheel, no hybrid available, and poor mpg (mostly weather related).

Here’s a closer look at the copper gear shift lever and ring on the X-Mode knob on Forester’s console.

Made in: Japan

Engine: 2.5-liter Boxer 4, 182 hp/176 torque

Transmission: Lineartronic CVT 8-speed automatic

Weight: 3,620 lbs.

Length: 182.7 in.

Wheelbase: 104.9 in.

Cargo: 28.9 cu. ft. (74.2 cu.ft., rear seats down)

MPG: 25/28

MPG: 19.6 (tested)

Base Price: $33,945 (includes delivery)

Invoice: $31,863

Major Options:

Aluminum engine under guard, $220

Test vehicle: $34,165

Sources: Subaru, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

2022 Genesis GV70 3.5T Sport Prestige

A new ute that Bond, James Bond, could love …

If James Bond were to drive a crossover/SUV (and I pray he doesn’t … ever) I’m convinced it would be a Genesis GV70, just for its looks.

This compact luxury SUV’s looks ooze confidence, sexiness and swagger, very Bondish. They seem to say to all other SUV buyers, “You made a mistake.” And they may have.

Genesis is all about luxury, but high-value luxury where you get more than you pay for or expect to pay. Here in the top-level GV70 Sport Prestige, the styling is fresh, the power raw, the cockpit elegant. One might expect the driver to wear a crisp white shirt with monogrammed cufflinks, a cummerbund and tux, and definitely a Rolex watch.

This athletic SUV is based on the spunky Genesis G70 sedan’s stiff platform, a good place to start if one enjoys frisky handling. There are electronically controlled multi-link suspensions front and rear with something Genesis calls Road Preview. It sees what’s coming and in milliseconds adjusts for it. That helps handling as you sweep through aggressive turns, but also creates a firm sports sedan ride. Some might prefer a little more cushion, but oh my, this was a hoot on twisting rural roads.

A silky 8-speed automatic linked with a throbbing twin-turbo 3.5-liter V6 harnesses power, but with a smoothness reserved exclusively for the upper classes. Gun this baby for a highway jaunt and the V6 tells you it’s about to kick some bootie while pounding out 375 horsepower. Torque rating? 391 pound-feet, thank you.

Boom, 0-60 mph in 4.9 seconds says Car and Driver. Who am I to quibble?

Five drive modes are standard and include Sport and an insane Sport+ that makes the GV70 feel like a twitchy thoroughbred being loaded into a starting gate, all its muscles tensed, ready to spring. Sport was enough to make the Genesis feel like it was ready to slice through the turns at Road America.

View Mark’s video review: Goose approved Genesis GV70 reviewed by Mark Savage – YouTube

I could easily see triple digits in Sport+ in a quick shot down an entry ramp. AWD also is standard with power being rear-wheel biased, but with 50% possibly being shifted to the front in slick conditions.

But this is no pretend powerhouse, those 375 horses make themselves known vocally through two gigantic exhaust outlets molded into the lower rear bumper’s fascia. Cannon ready to fire on the enemy often were of a smaller caliber.

If you’re crazy enough to race your GV70 or take it for spins at the drag strip, launch control is available in Sport and Sport+ mode. Be aware top speed is said to be 150 mph. You think You can beat that?

Yet performance is exactly what the exterior insinuates.

The test SUV’s matte gray (Melbourne Gray) paint scheme, a $1,500 extra, adds a sophisticated image more than a flashy paint job might. This shows subtle elegance goes with the impressive performance. Know that the matte finish shows dirt readily though and one must be careful when washing such a paint scheme. Some commercial car washes won’t do.

Inside, Genesis stylists created a quiet interior with flashy looks. Seats are a mix of leather and suede, the dash a dark brown up top with red stitching and red leather trim on the lower dash and extending into the door panels. Trim is carbon fiber on the console with matte chrome knobs and door releases along with a bevy of dash buttons.

A monster 14.5-inch touchscreen sits mid-dash and the instrument cluster is an impressive 3D display, managed by beaming slightly different digital images to each of the driver’s eyes, creating the illusion of depth. As cool as this looks, I’m old enough to remember analog gauges that were 3D, because they had actual depth. Just sayin’!

Check out the size of that info screen atop the dash … 14.5 inches!

There’s also a sharp heads-up display along with heated and cooled seats up front and heated ones in back. The leather steering wheel also is heated with all those climate controls on a dash touchpad. Normally I’d prefer these controls on the console, but this was easy to see and was quick to function. Sadly the heated seat settings are not remembered once the ignition is turned off.

Genesis seats are well shaped and the driver’s seat highly adjustable, including side bolsters and a massaging feature. Put your hand near the massage button on the bottom cushion’s side and it lights up three settings for pelvic, lumbar and full-body stretching. This is a perfect example of Genesis delivering more than a buyer might expect at the list price. Such a feature is usually a pricey option on German and some Japanese makes.

Snazzy carbon fiber trim on the console here.

As much as I liked the seat’s support I did note the bottom cushion seemed a bit hard after an hour of seat time. Some say the rear seat legroom is a bit tight too for a luxury vehicle. It’s not generous, but four or five average sized adults will easily fit.

On the up side Genesis delivers oodles of cargo space behind that second row seat, a bit of storage under the floor, and a power hatch. Overhead is a panoramic sunroof, which is standard as is a wireless charger. That’s tucked inside a small covered container at the front of the console. It looks a bit like a cupholder, but is easy to use and lets the driver know if a device has been left in the charger once the ignition is turned off.

Two giant exhaust pipes in back and Genesis’ twin horizontal bar lights.

A full load of safety equipment comes on the GV70 including smart cruise control and all the usual automatic warning systems and braking features, plus semiautonomous driving aids.

One item that caused some concern was the rotating dial for shifting gears. It’s right behind a similar, but slightly larger, rotating dial used for info screen and radio station selection. I mistook the radio dial for the shifter several times, until I noticed the shifter has a more textured ring. It’s also lighted at night.

Gas mileage is nothing special, but when performance is a key SUV selling point, fuel economy usually suffers. I managed just 17.5 mpg in a fairly even mix of city and highway driving while the EPA rates the GV70 with the twin-turbo V6 at 19 mpg city and 25 highway.

For better mileage consider the lower level GV70 2.5T models that feature a 2.5-liter single turbo I4 that delivers 300 hp and 22 mpg city and 28 highway.

Those more efficient models also have the benefit of looking just as sexy and bold as this one, but start at just $42,045, including delivery. Again, all models feature AWD.

A base GV70 3.5T lists at $52,600 including delivery or you can move up to the Sport Advanced model at $57,600 or the tested Sport Prestige model that includes both the Advanced and Prestige trim packages. While the Sport lists at $53,645 with delivery, adding those two packages pushes it to $63,545. With its special color this one was $65,045.

Other makes are easily that, if not $10,000 or more higher.

Fancy wheels? Why yes they are!

Genesis also has the warranty advantage on most competitors with a 10-year, 100,000-mile powertrain warranty, and three years or 36,000 miles of free maintenance. Again, more than one might expect, even for a luxury make.

You can check out the attached stat box for all the goodies in those Advanced and Prestige packages, but if you want the full luxury feel, those likely are add-ons you’ll want.

One final note, the 21-inch alloy wheels on this GV70 were spectacular, garnering comments from folks at the gas station (had to stop a couple times) and friends who thought them a terrific final touch.

Even the door panels look both sporty and elegant.

FAST STATS: 2022 Genesis GV70 3.5T Sport

Hits: Stellar looks, excellent power, sporty handling, 5 drive modes, and AWD. Stylish, quiet interior, with heated/cooled seats, heated wheel, panoramic sunroof, wireless charger, full load of safety equipment, massaging driver’s seat, carbon fiber trim, 3D instrument cluster, giant info screen and great warranty.

These are those 3D-style gauges, created via electronics, not actual depth!

Misses: Firm ride, somewhat hard driver’s seat bottom cushion, rear seat short of legroom, round shifter dial same shape as info screen adjustment dial and too close to it.

Made in: Ulsan, So. Korea

Engine: 3.5-liter twin-turbo V6, 375 hp

Transmission: 8-speed automatic

Weight: 4,584 lbs.*

Wheelbase: 113.2 in.

Length: 185.6 in.

Cargo: 28.9.-56.9 cu.ft.

Rear seat view, and separate climate controls.

Tow: 3,500 lbs.

MPG: 19/25

MPG: 17.5 (tested)

Base Price: $53,645 (includes delivery)

Invoice: $50,777

Major Options: Melbourne gray paint, $1,500

Sport Advanced package (Nappa leather seats w/sport pattern quilting, layered edge backlight trim, leatherette upper instrument panel and door panel trim, suede headliner, heated steering wheel, digital key, surround view mirror/blind-spot view monitor, remote smart parking assist, parking distance warning front/rear, parking collision avoidance assist, Lexicon premium audio w/16 speakers), $5,000

Sport Prestige package (21-inch sport alloy wheels, electronic limited slip differential, Nappa leather seats w/suede inserts, carbon fiber trim, 3-zone climate controls, heated second row seats, manual rear side sunshades, 12.3-inch 3D digital cluster, heads up display), $4,900

Test vehicle: $65,045

Sources: Genesis, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

*Car and Driver magazine

2022 Nissan Pathfinder Platinum 4WD

Pathfinder adds third row seat, 20-inch tires, 2-tone paint …

Can mid-size SUVs get any bigger? Well, sure as buyers move away from minivans they find 5-passenger SUVs are too tiny for many of them. Marketing and design folks listen, so here’s another, the 2022 Nissan Pathfinder with a third row.

Pathfinder started out like Ford’s Explorer and Toyota’s 4Runner, to name a few mid-size utes that now, like full-size pickups, have grown large enough for a family of seven, or even eight, if several are wee ones to fill that third row.

Now Nissan would want me to tell you Pathfinder is actually a touch shorter than in 2020, the last previous model year, but it’s miniscule. They also would like me to tell you the third row has more legroom than many, and it does, but still, if second row folks are 6-foot or beyond the third row seats will be fairly snug.

That’s not a complaint, just a warning because I suspect many folks buy that third row as protection, an insurance policy if you will, for the rare occasion they need seating for more than four or five. Think transporting kids to a sports match or movie. Kids 12 and under will fit easily.

Like other SUVs that fancy themselves minivans the Pathfinder has beefed up its fender flares, flattened its hood, widened its stance and pumped it up with bigger tires (20-inchers on the tester). The effect, a muscular SUV look that fits the market and reflects Nissan’s truck, SUV and crossover styles.

But to give Pathfinder some distinction, Nissan now offers two-tone paint jobs, such as the tested top-level Platinum model with 4-wheel-drive. It was a brilliant Scarlet Ember (metallic red) with a Super Black Metallic roof. Sharp!

From a performance standpoint there’s a trusty 3.5-liter V6 under its flattened hood juicing it to the tune of 284 horsepower along with a torque rating of 259. That’s close to the top of the mid-size SUV heap, Kia’s newish Telluride packing 291 horses.

That’s pretty close and means the Pathfinder, with its easy-shifting 9-speed automatic, will do 0-60 mph in 6.7 seconds, darn fine for a ute weighing roughly 4,500 lbs. according to Car and Driver. Gas mileage with the new tranny is respectable too at 21 mpg city and 26 highway according to the EPA. I got 21.5 mpg in a mix.

The Nissan also will tow up to 6,000 pounds too and now includes Trailer Sway Control as standard, a big plus for haulers.

Sadly the pre-production model I tested felt sort of numb on the road as far as handling, but that’s not unusual for mid- and large-utes. There are seven traction modes dialed in atop the console. They range from snow to mud/rut for off-roaders. Sport firmed up the steering some, but didn’t really make it seem any faster off the line or create sporty handling.

Ride is big truck jiggly, especially on raised bumps. Dips were less of a problem, but the bumps and lumps seemed to jar the interior more than I’d expected in a truck with a 114.2-inch wheelbase. An air suspension or more damping for the rear shocks might help.

Two-tone gray leather interior looks sharp and feels high-end too.

The good news is that inside the two-tone gray leather interior looks and feels luxurious and the cabin is darned quiet thanks to thicker acoustic glass. There’s just a bit of tire noise on certain pavements.

I liked Pathfinder’s interior styling with the two-tone gray seats, dash, and doors. The dash’s center stack is surrounded by black gloss trim as is half the console, the rest a satin chrome to avoid reflection by the shifter. Dash side air vents features a brushed metal look as do the door release handles and lower door trim. Door armrests are gloss black on top.

Doors and seats look stylish with quilted semi-aniline leather (Platinum trim) to soften their feel, but I felt the butt pocket itself was still a bit firm. Possible that will be improved on production models.

There are all the usual safety bits as Nissan wisely makes Safety Shield 360 standard on all models. That includes lane departure warning (vibrates the steering wheel and buzzes a bit), blind-spot warning, rear cross-traffic alert and front and rear emergency braking plus high-beam headlight assist.

Moving up to the SV trim adds ProPilot the adaptive cruise control and semi-autonomous driving aids, and by the Platinum trim there’s a 10.8-inch head-up display that some feel aids driver safety. It all works and was easy to understand and use.

Standard too are a 9-inch infotainment screen (up from 8 in the two lower levels), a WiFi hotspot, 360-degree camera, a flat-bottom steering wheel, Nissan Connect Services via Sirius XM, wireless Apple Car Play, but not wireless Android Auto.

Goodies that are added in the Platinum model include heated and cooled front seats and steering wheel, plus heated rear seats, a big dual-pane sunroof and shade, 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster, wireless phone charger, driver seat memory, power tilt/telescope steering wheel and memory, that head-up display and a rockin’ Bose sound system.

As mentioned at the outset, the Pathfinder is roomy and now is available with second row captain’s chairs, which the tester had. That limits seating to seven, 2-2-3. But if you go with a bench second row you could squeeze eight folks in. It’s also worth a mention that the second row captain’s chairs slide and tilt at the touch of a side button, or one on the seat back for third row folks to use. Because they slide and tilt in one motion it’s easy to crawl in back using the second row seat to steady yourself climbing aboard.

With the third row in place there’s 16.6 cubic feet of cargo room. That sounds like a lot, but it’s mostly vertical. A cooler will fit as will several bags of groceries. Fold the row three seats down the cargo area is 79.8 cubic feet, on par with most mid-size SUVs. Nissan also provides reasonable under floor storage space to hide valuables.

Pricing runs from $33,410 for a base S model to $36,200 for the SV, and $39,590 for the SL, probably the best buy. Adding 4WD adds $1,900 to each model.

The tested Platinum started at $49,240, including delivery, and with just a couple minor options hit $50,290. That’s also in the ballpark for top-level mid-size SUVs. The good news is that this is so near luxury that most of us would consider it full-on luxury.

Aspiring to a “luxury” brand means adding another $10,000 to $20,000 to the price tag.

FAST STATS: 2022 Nissan Pathfinder Platinum 4WD

Hits: Muscular styling, good power, 4WD, and a third row seat. Roomy vehicle that will tow, luxury look interior, big dual sunroof, heated/cooled seats and heated wheel up front, heated second row seats, power tilt/telescope wheel, Bose stereo, flat-bottom wheel, smart cruise, full load of safety equipment and seven traction modes.

Misses: Jiggly truck ride, vague steering and fairly tight third row seat.

Made in: Smyrna, Tenn.

Engine: 3.5-liter V6, 284 hp / 259 torque

Transmission: 9-speed automatic

Weight: 4,481 lbs.

Wheelbase: 114.2 in.

Length: 197.7 in.

Cargo: 16.6-79.8 cu.ft.

Tow: 6,000 lbs.

MPG: 21/26

MPG: 21.5 (tested)

Base Price: $49,240 (includes delivery)

Invoice: $47,944*

Major Options:

Illuminated kick plates/welcome lighting, $750

Captain’s chair floor mats, $255

Test vehicle: $50,290

Sources: Nissan, www.kbb.com, Car and Driver

*= Kelley Blue Book Fair Market price

Photos: Mark Savage