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2022 BMW X3 xDrive 30 i

Putting a little Sport back in Sport-utility vehicle …

Remember what SUV stands for? Sport-utility vehicle.

Sport was originally part of the equation for these AWD, off-road intending vehicles that have taken over the auto world along with their cousins, crossovers. Funny, not many SUVs feel sporty, yet this week’s drive was the blissful anomaly.

BMW knows a little something about sporty handling and spunky performance and it shows in its X3 compact premium luxury SUV. This was the AWD model, the X3 xDrive 30i, which increased its grip and grins when our June monsoons unloaded.

X3 comes in three trims, the base rear-drive sDrive 30i and this mid-level xDrive, both with peppy 2.0-liter twin-turbo I4s. Then there’s the crazy fast M40i with a twin-turbo 3.0-liter I6. Horsepower is 248 in the two lower models and 382 in the M. All prefer premium gas, so to manage driving costs, this xDrive model may be the safer bet.

Power is smooth, but gives the small SUV plenty of oomph heading onto the highway, especially in Sport mode. There also is Comfort for daily driving and Eco Pro for gas saving. Power runs to all wheels via an 8-speed automatic here, or rear wheels for the sDrive model. Car and Driver magazine says the X3 will do 0 to 60 mph in 6.2 seconds while its top speed is said to be 130 mph.

Fancy wheels and 21-inch Pirelli performance tires.

Handling is quick and precise, something that may surprise you if you’ve driven many other SUVs. The X3 corners like a sports sedan, well balanced and light enough to remain frisky, not trucky. And it is moderately light, weighing in at just more than 4,000 pounds.

Aiding grip were the 21-inch Pirelli performance tires, a $1,550 option. And these are run-flats, so no need for pack a spare.

Watch Mark’s video: Mark Savage reviews the 2022 BMW X3 xDrive 30i – YouTube

Ride too is well-controlled, meaning there’s enough steering wheel and seat of the pants feedback to avoid the numb feel of many SUVs. Yet the ride is not so stiff as to necessitate a Preparation H application. The test for me is railroad tracks, which are a minor jiggle here and even those annoying highway expansion joints do no harm.

Ironically the X3’s fun driving character manages to meld well with its practical side. The interior feels roomy and the cargo space in back is stellar, with some storage under the floor and second row seats that easily fold completely flat. But even with them up there’s more than 28 cubic feet of cargo room, plenty for five or six full-size suitcases.

This Brooklyn Gray Metallic test vehicle was handsome too, its twin kidney-shaped grilles being more restrained than some new BMW noses, although I like both looks as they are distictive. However, this gray paint though looks more battleship gray than metallic, a styling trend right now. Plus it costs $550 extra, only black and white being standard colors. A cool metallic Tanzanite Blue is available, but that’s $1,500 extra. Ouch!

Inside, the X3 is well laid out and simple to navigate, yet also stylish.

Seats are a light tan leather with black dash and door tops. Leather is an option though, $1,450 worth to get this Vernasca covering, which includes dyes and protective finishes. This black dash is what BMW calls SensaTec, sort of a soft rubber texture that I think should be standard, but is part of the bulging M Sport package that adds $4,100 to the sticker.

What do you get for that?

It’s mostly visual, including an aerokit outside along with Shadowline (black) trim, fancy M Y-spoke bi-color wheels of gray alloy, black gloss roof rails. While inside the package includes the SensaTec dash, a thick leather M-Sport steering wheel, and something BMW calls Rhombicle smoke gray aluminum trim.

No denying that aluminum trim looks sharp on the dash and doors, but really, I could live with whatever is standard. Here the console still comes with a gloss black surface, which can be reflective on sunny days. How about a matte finish to avoid blinding the driver?

Those leathery seats not only look good, they are mighty comfy too, with good hip and lower back support, plus the power side bolsters adjust via buttons on the side of the driver’s seat. Got long legs? The lower cushion will extend manually to give more support.. One drawback though, IMHO, the self-tightening seatbelts for the front seats. These snug up on your chest after the SUV is placed into gear. It’s disturbing to most passengers, especially women.

Comfy and luxurious rear seat accommodations!

BMW heats the seats too, along with the steering wheel, yet the seats are not cooled. I found the wheel extremely thick, less easy for smaller hands to hold. I like the leather, but the wheel could be thinner and I’d prefer a flat-bottom race wheel. The heated wheel is not standard, it’s part of a $1,850 premium package that also includes a HUD and gesture control for radio and info screen adjustment. The latter is not needed.

BMW bumps up its info screen and the radio is easy to adjust. Plus, get this, there are 8 radio buttons below the screen that you can program with your favorite stations. Old tech, but perfect!

Overhead is a dual-pane sunroof to brighten the interior. However, there’s no wireless phone charger a major faux pas, although one is available for $500. Also, and this was odd, the roll-top cover over the cupholders and console storage tends to stick, making it quite hard to open. The solution? Almost close it all the way, just don’t latch it.

All the usual standard safety devices are here, blind spot, lane departure and smart cruise, for instance.

The test SUV also added a dynamic handling package for $1,400 that included variable sport steering and M Sport brakes with red calipers. Those (despite their color) help provide performance-level braking if you plan to push the X3 to its natural limits.

Another option, for $900, is the live cockpit pro system with navigation on the big screen, plus Android Auto and Apple CarPlay.

Gas mileage is fine, other than the ute’s desire to drink premium fuel. I got 25 mpg in about a 50-50 mix of city and highway while the EPA rates the X3 xDrive at 21 mpg city and 28 highway.

The good news, for luxury SUV buyers, the base rear-drive model starts at $44,695, very competitive with the likes of its competitors, the Lexus NX, Volvo XC60, Audi Q5 and primo new Genesis GV70. Adding AWD costs $2 grand more, so $46,695, including delivery, for this one.

That’s still less than a Porsche Macan or Mercedes-Benz GLC. However, with all the options on this one it hit $58,490 and that’s more than many mid-size SUVs these days, although they may not be as Sporty.

Snazzy taillights here!

Oh, and to get that high-horse 3.0-liter twin-turbo I6 model, the M40i? Well, it starts at $58,798 and, wait for it … there’s even a special X3M, the M signifying it’s a land-based rocket. M models always cost more for their performance perk. The X3M lists at about $71,000 with delivery, but there’s a 473-horse twin-turbo baby in that one. Oh my!

FAST STATS: 2022 BMW X3 xDrive 30i

Hits: Spunky yet practical. Good looks, power, handling, AWD, and cargo space. Controlled ride, comfy supportive seats, 8 radio buttons, dual sunroof, heated steering wheel and seats, big screen.

Misses: No wireless charger, roll-top cupholder cover sticks, auto-tightening seatbelts, thick steering wheel, cost of options, and premium fuel drinker.

Made in: Spartanburg, S.C.

Good storage room in the rear here.

Engine: 2.0-liter twin turbo I4, 248 hp/258 torque

Transmission: 8-speed automatic

Weight: 4,079 lbs.

Wheelbase: 112.8 in.

Length: 185.9 in.

Cargo: 28.7-62.7 cu.ft.

MPG: 21/28

MPG: 25.0 (tested)

Base Price: $46,695 (includes delivery)

Invoice: $43,995

Options:

Brooklyn Gray metallic paint, $550

Oyster Vernasca leather, $1,450

Dynamic handling pkg. (variable sport steering, M Sport brakes w/red calipers), $1,400

M Sport pkg. (aero kit, SensaTec dash, Shadowline exterior trim, gloss black roof rails, aluminum Rhumbicle smoke gray interior trim, M Sport steering wheel, M Y-spoke bi-color gray alloy wheels), $4,100

Premium pkg. (heated steering wheel, lumbar support, HUD, gesture control), $1,850

Tire upgrade (21-inch performance Pirelli P Zero run-flats), $1,550

Live cockpit pro w/navigation (XM radio 1-year, Android Auto, Apple CarPlay), $900

Credits from deletes, -$350

Test vehicle: $58,490

Sources: BMW, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

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 MINI Cooper S Convertible

Wild paint, cool ragtop make MINI S an extrovert’s dream …

Extroverts love MINI Coopers and they should, people chat you up when you’re driving a Zesty Yellow (looks like neon green) MINI Cooper S Convertible.

Tony was one. He stepped right up in the Woodman’s parking lot to declare the near glowing MINI a sharp looker, and that was before I showed him the amazing power ragtop all decked out to resemble a blacked out Union Jack ($500 extra). Subtle!

It’s that roof that makes this MINI maximum fun, first because it powers down with the flip of one toggle by the windshield’s top. Only takes about 18 seconds for it to fold back into what would be a trunk. More on that trunk in a bit. But MINI (a BMW sub-brand) has finessed the top to retract partially first, creating, for all practical purposes, an open sunroof. Then if you’re wanting total exposure, hold the toggle and the roof reclines completely. Cool! Tony, a Ford F-150 driver, laughed and declared it a winner. It is!

I’ve said before that driving a MINI is more fun than anything else you can do with your clothes on, and it still is. This 2022 S version is frisky and the test car’s blacked-out theme ups the cute factor to about an 11.

In addition to that snazzy darkened British flag motif on the roof the MINI logo on the nose and tail are blacked out, meaning flat black on gloss black. Then there’s gloss black trim on the grille and trim rings on the head and taillights too, plus on a rear trim panel. My buddy Paul suggested all the headlights lacked were fake eyelashes to go completely campy.

Well, that may be a bit much, but onlookers mostly gave the updated MINI an enthusiastic thumbs up. But THEY didn’t get to drive it, and that, mates, is where the fun’s rubber (summer tires here) meets the road.

See Mark’s video: Mark Savage reviews the 2021 Mini Cooper S – YouTube

MINI weighs just a smidge over 3,000 pounds so the S version’s twin-turbo 2.0-liter I4 gives it plenty of oomph with 189 horsepower and a torque rating of 207. Car and Driver reports a 6.2-second run-up from zero to 60 mph. That’s achieved by using a toggle low on the center stack to choose Sport over the Mid or Green power levels. Sport is the fun one and gives the MINI an instant burst of power once you tromp the pedal. Mid is fine for city driving and Green is primarily for show, but aims at gas sipping.

That’s not a big need here as even driving mostly in Sport I managed 28.7 mpg in a mix of city and highway driving. The EPA rates this at 23 mpg city and 33 highway and this MINI prefers higher octane gas for maximum thrust, much as many of us do.

The expressive nose includes black rings on the headlights and a blacked out grille and logo.

Something younger folks may want to consider is something us oldsters mastered long ago, a 6-speed manual transmission. Not many sports cars, or many cars for that matter, offer a manual tranny anymore, but it makes putting that perky power down to the front-drive wheels a hoot as you work your way from first to sixth gear. I even spun the tires a bit, somewhat aided by damp fall streets.

An automatic is available, but for optimal fun, stick with the stick.

Handling is pure BMW, meaning road feel and feedback is primo and steering response quick. You pay for that a tad in somewhat heavier steering feel, but tossing this through corners on winding country lanes is so much fun you’ll barely notice. My only concern is the thick leather steering wheel, which might be a bit too thick for folks with small hands.

My other performance concern is ride. MINI rides on just a 98.2-inch wheelbase and with sport-oriented suspension the ride is rough, actually jarring at times. Comfort on Midwest roads is not its forte, although find a smooth blacktop highway and/or move to the South or West and pavement punishment will be less problematic.

Beyond the tooshie vibration, MINI’s Vibrasage ride is obvious because the passenger’s seat rattles quite a bit over bumps when no one is seated in it. I tried moving the seat to various notches, but to no avail. The rattle remained.

Otherwise the black leather seats here ($500 extra) are well formed so give good back and hip support. These are manual to save weight, but also provide a bottom cushion extension to help make taller occupants more comfortable, and the front seats are heated. That is part of a massive Iconic Trim package adding $7,500 to the price tag. Note that folks much taller than 6-foot-2 will find headroom more of an issue.

Back seat? Yes there is, but no one with legs will be admitted. This is primarily storage room or could hold a suitcase or two on a trip. The trunk won’t be much help as it is rated 6 cubic feet in the convertible, and that’s being generous. An overnight case or three bags of groceries will fit.

Loading isn’t tough, the rear panel below the black soft top folds down like a tailgate. Inside are two levers that can be released to allow the roof’s lower rear edge to be raised to facilitate easier loading of that MINIscule trunk.

Otherwise the black interior remains its quirky self. Those who have seen prior MINIs will feel at home. A larger 8.8-inch round info screen is now standard, although some space is wasted at the top due to its rectangular info screen being housed in the big round gauge opening.

Love this blacked out Union Jack roof. Subtle yet cool!

All that is easy enough to see and use, plus there’s still the knob on the console to quickly scroll through the radio stations. That’s much easier than trying to slide the touchscreen up or down as you drive as it’s a bit touchy.

As for other buttons and controls, they remain much the same as past models with toggles at the bottom of the center stack and some overhead. The steering wheel is somewhat revised with buttons on the hub, but with a tight cockpit this could really use a flat-bottom steering wheel. Also there’s a fold-down armrest between the front seats, but it is best left folded back out of the way, otherwise the driver’s right elbow tends to hit it during shifts.

Safety isn’t neglected, naturally. Driving aids include an active driving assistant system with forward collision, pedestrian and lane departure warning, plus high-beam assist. Rain-sensing wipers are standard and there’s an emergency call system if the car is in an accident. Outside mirrors are heated too.

Also outside you may notice the 2022 MINI has a revised grille and front and rear bumpers, plus sharp new wheels. Combine those spiffy wheels with its bright paint scheme and more than one observer claimed this MINI looked like a Hot Wheels car. That’s all good.

What’s not is the wind and road noise cockpit occupants will hear. Honestly it always sounded like there was an air leak around the tail of the car’s roof, even at moderate speeds. On the highway the truck noise and whoosh of passing cars also were distracting. On a country road, just a bit of tire noise, or if the top was down, well, naturally more wind noise.

Still, if you want a convertible you expect that, although a Mazda MX-5 Miata with hardtop convertible is quieter. Just sayin’!

A cool feature is how the convertible top retracts like a sunroof.

Note too, the test car’s $7,500 trim package really drove the price up, but it includes a bunch of goodies you may want, from the fancy Harmon/Kardon premium sound system (hard to hear with roof down don’t cha know), summer tires, the manual tranny, a navigation system, heated seats, and body-color mirrors, among others.

So the MINI Cooper S Convertible that started at a modest $32,750, with delivery, ended up at nearly $42 grand. If you can live with fewer options there’s plenty of wiggle room between the two extremes.

These snazzy new wheels make the MINI look like a Hot Wheels!

Don’t forget that for the value conscious there’s a base MINI Cooper Hardtop Oxford Edition at $20,600. The non-S MINIs come with a 3-cylinder, 1.5-liter engine that makes only 134 horsepower. An S Hardtop starts at $27,750 while the base convertible lists at $28,750.

So there are ways to snag a sassy-looking MINI that various budgets could afford.

FAST STATS: 2022 MINI Cooper S Convertible

Hits: Fun looks, good power, great handling, power convertible top with sunroof feature, 6-speed manual, plus sharp wheels. Supportive seats with bottom cushion extender, heated seats, big info screen, cool blacked out Union Jack roof.

Misses: Miniscule trunk, rough ride, passenger’s seat vibrates on bumps when not occupied, wind noise and road noise, plus needs flat-bottomed steering wheel.

Made in: Born, Netherlands

Engine: 2.0-liter twin turbo I4, 189 hp/207 torque

Transmission: 6-speed manual

Weight: 3,018 lbs.

Wheelbase: 98.2 in.

Length: 151.9 in.

Cargo: 6.0-8.0 cu.ft.

MPG: 23/33

MPG: 28.7 (tested)

Base Price: $32,750 (includes delivery)

Invoice: N.A.

Options:

MINI Yours Leather Lounge, black, $500

Iconic trim (heated Nappa leather steering wheel, power folding mirrors, keyless entry, wind deflector, body-color mirrors, piano black exterior trim, auto-dimming rearview mirror, storage package, heated front seats, dual-zone climate controls, Harman/Kardon premium audio system, manual transmission, performance summer tires, touchscreen navigation plus with Apple CarPlay, and wireless charger), $7,500

Dynamic damper control, $500

MINI Yours soft top, $500

Test vehicle: $41,750

Sources: BMW/MINI, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

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

2021 Hyundai Sonata N Line

Sonata N Line perks up performance, but remains high value …

Performance comes at a price, always has, always will.

Sometimes the price is simply a higher cost, sometimes it’s a gas-hog engine, sometimes it’s a brutal ride.

Hyundai is known for value so when it introduced its performance N, or now N Line, models a couple years back it wasn’t going to go upscale with pricing. That’s the good news.

Equally happy news is that the South Korean automaker also has the good engineering sense to deliver decent gas mileage with its high-horse turbocharged engines, now offered in the tested Sonata N Line mid-size sedan, Elantra compact sedan, Tucson compact crossover and Kona small crossover. Its Veloster sports coupe even touts a 275-horse turbo in an N model.

But, or maybe that should be Butt, the Sonata N Line’s ride is tough on the tushie. Hyundai, in its effort to create a low-cost high-performance sports sedan firmed up the shock dampers, the engine mounts and added thicker anti-roll bars. Couple that with the tested N Line’s summer 19-inch Continental 245/40 R19 YXL tires ($200 extra) and my tailbone is aching like a guy’s bum that has ridden a horse too far for the first time.

Other than that I enjoyed the N Line playtime.

Hyundai’s Sonata should be familiar to readers as I’ve reviewed both the Limited and Hybrid models since the new model debuted for 2020. It’s a fine mid-size sedan, economical in price, striking in design, and strong on performance yet normally offers a comfy ride. The hybrid model even ups the ante with fantastic fuel economy and a solar roof panel that boosts its electrical charge for added mileage.

Watch Mark’s video: 2021 Hyundai Sonata N Line by Mark Savage

Well, the N Line still looks great, packs the value, but adds a kick in the butt (there I go again) with a 2.5-liter turbocharged I4 that spits out an amazing 290 horsepower. That’s 99 more than its standard Sonata. Torque is rated at a whopping 311 pound-feet and will blast the sedan to highway speeds and beyond nearly as quickly as some luxo-sport sedans that also sport much higher price tags.

Car and Driver magazine has tested an N Line Sonata that hit a top speed of 155 mph while doing 0 to 60 mph in a respectable 5.0 seconds. So this Sonata is capable to be sure.

Helping that is Hyundai’s four drive modes – Normal, Custom, Sport, and Sport+. You can guess which are the most fun.

Both Sport modes kick the fine 8-speed dual-clutch automatic into more aggressive shift patterns to use all that pony power. Sport also firms the wheel to a comfortable level, while Sport+ makes it so heavy that most folks will find it annoying. There’s a fake heaviness to it too, but in either mode the car handles like it’s meant for the track. Of course it’s not, but still powering through aggressive turns is fun and those summer tires grip like gum to the sole of a shoe.

Of course that firm suspension is both great for handling, yet depressing for the derriere. Rolling along a fairly smooth highway the car’s taut feeling can be appreciated, but navigate onto our crater-filled city streets with crumbling edges, massive expansion joints, and general winter-induced degradation and, well, you’ll wish you were aboard the Limited or Hybrid versions with their much smoother rides.

Now if you’re into appearances and sporty ones in particular, the N Line’s exterior and interior will satisfy.

Black grille and distinctive nose styling here!

Outside there’s a blackened grille, quad exhausts, specific racy ground-effects style fascia front and rear with a slight bit of black cladding below the rocker panels. The trunk lid flips up a bit like a spoiler too and the side mirrors are encased in gloss black trim.

Inside the Sonata N Line boasts sport seats with improved side bolster support, something I’d found lacking in earlier Sonatas. These are clad in Nappa dark gray leather and a simulated suede with red stitching, and also feature the N Line logo. Plus there’s a sport wheel, although I wish it were flat-bottomed to enhance the racy looks, which include metal-clad pedals.

Otherwise the dash continues to be well laid out and attractive. It’s black with red stitching like the seats and door panels while all trim is a smoked chrome. Sexy! The console is black gloss surrounding the push-button tranny and drive mode toggle while trim next to that is a sort of smoky metallic tweed pattern.

And with the change in drive modes the digital instrument panel changes its look, the red dials for Sport and Sport+ being pretty snazzy garnering a nod from my 12-year-old grandson.

Seats, in addition to being well shaped and supportive are heated. While overhead is a panoramic sunroof and shade, new in all models from the SEL Plus trim on up.

Dual climate controls are standard along with a wireless phone charger on N Line!

There’s also a dual climate control system, wireless phone charger and inside trunk release. For audiophiles, a Bose 12-speaker stereo system is standard, with 9-inch subwoofer.

All the electronic safety features you’d expect to find are standard too, including blind-spot collision avoidance, rear cross-traffic collision avoidance assist, lane follow and keeping (which can be turned off), safe exit warning, LED running lights, and forward collision avoidance assist with pedestrian recognition. Smart cruise control is standard too.

Add to that a 10-year, 100,000-mile powertrain warranty and good gas mileage. The EPA rates this Sonata at 23 mpg city and 33 mpg highway, this in a car with 290 turboed horses. I got 25.1 mpg in a mix of city and highway miles, sometime with a passenger or two. By comparison, I managed 32 mpg with the 1.6-liter turbo I4 in the Limited model and roughly 45 mpg in the impressive hybrid in earlier tests.

For the record, this 290-horse engine is the same as used in Hyundai’s upscale Genesis brand’s luxurious G80 sedan, but at a more affordable price.

How so? This N Line lists at $34,195 including delivery and with a couple options ended up at $34,564, well below an average new car price these days. That’s high-value high performance.

Finally two other points, one being that an annoyance found in other Sonata models has been eliminated. That was the dash chiming and saying “Check Rear Seat” every time the ignition was turned off. That’s fixed, so bravo.

Plus Sonata is not theft prone. You may have heard that older model Hyundai and Kia (they are related) models have had theft problems due to security system failures and a steering column that was easy to jimmy to start, even without a fob. Well, all Hyundai models with push-button start (like this one) do not have these problems and all Hyundais made after September 2021 will include engine immobilizers to prevent theft.

Phew!

FAST STATS: 2021 Hyundai Sonata N Line

Hits: Good looking sport sedan, oodles of power, sporty handling, sharp interior. Full range of safety features, big info screen, heated seats, 4 power modes, Bose stereo, panoramic sunroof, wireless phone charger, strong warranty.

Misses: Very firm ride, could use flat-bottom sport wheel, theft security remains questionable.

Made in: Montgomery, Ala.

Engine: 2.5-liter, turbo I4, 290 hp

Transmission: 8-speed dual clutch, automatic

Weight: 3,552 lbs.

Wheelbase: 111.8 in.

Length: 192.9 in.

Cargo: 16.0 cu.ft.

MPG: 23/33

MPG: 25.1 (tested)

Base Price: $34,195 (includes delivery)

Invoice: $32,797

Major Options:

R19 summer tire upgrade, $200

Carpeted floor mats, $169

Test vehicle: $34,564

Sources: Hyundai, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

2021 Toyota GR Supra 2.0

Sporty Supra 2.0 a fun, less costly sports car …  

Back in the day, and it wasn’t all that long ago, Toyota marketed its sporty Celica and MR2 models as affordable sporty cars with the emphasis on affordable and sporty.

Moderate cost, moderately sporty performance and more than moderately sexy styling made these fun second cars for the family. Mom or dad could zip back and forth to work in a roadster or fastback that got good mileage, had some pep and still keep socking away retirement money or college tuition funds for the kids.

Those days have passed.

Last year after an 18 year absence Toyota brought back the Supra, the upscale Celica descendent, but for monied buyers. Supra 3.0 starts about $51,000 and can run up to nearly $60 grand. A bit rich for folks looking for fun wheels, but not a second mortgage. It must be said though, that performance was top-shelf.

Now comes the Supra 2.0 for 2021 and instead of a 335-horse turbo I6, it carries a somewhat milder twin-scroll turbo 2.0-liter I4 that makes a respectable 255 horsepower, but still a prodigious amount of torque. That’s rated at 295 lb.-ft. and it comes on quickly when you tromp the accelerator. Both engines are built in conjunction with BMW.

Top speed, says Car and Driver magazine, is 155 mph, and 0 to 60 mph flits by in 4.7 seconds. A Sport mode button helps the less powerful Supra reach such numbers and the fact that this model is about 200 lbs. lighter than its upscale cousin is another plus.

In addition to excellent highway ramp speed and getaway power, the tightly wound I4 delivers a fine exhaust tone. It doesn’t have the playful crackle of the 3.0-version, but it makes a driver feel he or she has plenty of gusto pushing the rear-drive speedster down the highway or away from a stoplight.

See Mark’s video review: https://youtu.be/OtZj7mDOWS0

Ah, but it also gets good fuel economy and the 2.0 debuts at about a $7,000 discount, and both it and the 3.0 are less costly than their BMW counterparts.

That’s not to say that $43,985 is cheap, but the difference helps whittle down a monthly car payment.

Cool too that the Supra 2.0 looks just the same as the 3.0, which is spectacular, exhibiting more curves than a Kardashian, and touting a better reputation. Just like the Supra 3.0, this more real-worldly powered unit handles like a racer on its 18-inch ZR-rated Michelin Pilot Super Sport tires. Grip is exceptional and tossing the car into tight corners and clipping off apexes along twisting roads is a pleasure. As my kids used to say, Cool Beans!

What isn’t a pleasure, as in the higher-horse model is the ride. Those performance tires coupled with Supra’s tiny 97.2-inch wheelbase delivers a ride that is jiggly at best and sometimes downright rough. City streets with all their potholes and burgeoning expansion joint cracks can turn the cockpit into the automotive version of bull riding. Ugh! Even Mazda’s small MX-5 Miata has a more comfortable ride.

But if looks and performance are enough, then the Supra 2.0 is a bargain.

My shocking Nitro Yellow test car started at $43,985, including delivery, and just added that eye-melting color for $425 and a safety and tech package for $3,485 to push it to $47,895. That’s still a stretch as opposed to the Miata, but the Supra packs more punch, just not a removable roof panel.

So what do you lose with the 2.0 vs. the pricier 3.0 model?

Not much that matters if you’re not taking your Supra on a racetrack. Tires are 18-inchers vs. 19 on the top-end model. Front brake rotors are smaller and there are just single piston calipers up front vs. multi-piston calipers on the Supra 3.0. Again, that’s fine around town and in normal braking, whereas the fancier brakes will last longer and remain more consistent on the race track.

Seats are manual in the tested Supra 2.0, but powered in the horsier version. The 3.0 also features adaptive suspension dampers and an electronically controlled limited slip differential. Those are absent here.

Both include the same smooth-shifting 8-speed automatic transmission that couples well to either power plant. No manual tranny is available here. Rats!

Inside, the yellow test car featured handsome black Alcantara leather and suede seating surfaces, the cushions including red and gray stitching to enliven their look a bit. There’s a carbon fiber console and gloss black trim on the doors’ armrests and the center stack wrapping down around the console. Satin silver trims the dash and air vents. Door release handles are satiny too.

The steering wheel is a manual tilt/telescope model, but I wish this wheel was flat-bottomed to create more knee room when entering and exiting. Such wheels also look racier. Plus a heated steering wheel would make the Supra more comfy in winter.

The dash layout is fine and the 12-speaker, 500-watt JBL sound system comes as part of that one big option package. It sounds great at stoplights, but after that it’s hard to hear as there’s a lot of road and tire noise in the Supra. That includes the rustle and clatter of sand, rocks and road gunk that chatters under the vehicle, especially noticeable at slower side-street speeds.

There was also no wireless phone charger here, while the pricier 3.0 version includes one.

Seats are wonderfully shaped, as race seats should be, with tremendous side support for the back and hips. Neither seat is powered, nor do they include heating, while both are on the 3.0 Premium model.

I found the cockpit comfortable and roomy enough while still feeling compact and sporty. One downside to the car’s slinky looks though is large A-pillars that somewhat obstruct side frontal views.

But otherwise safety is well represented due to the option package mentioned earlier. It includes dynamic radar cruise control, a blind spot monitor, rear cross-traffic alert, and parking sensors with emergency braking.

The package also includes an 8.8-inch touchscreen with navigation. The screen is really thin though and I found it hard to use while driving and sometimes hard to see in bright sun. There’s a redundant rotary touchpad control to adjust the screen, but those are always difficult to manage unless the car is stationary.

How’s cargo space under the big rear hatch? Not great, but you wouldn’t expect to carry much more than a couple overnight bags or groceries there, right? The Supra has 10.2 cu.ft, of cargo capacity.

Gas mileage was surprising considering how hard I ran this on the highway and up and down entry ramps. I managed a stellar 32 mpg whereas I’d averaged just 23.4 mpg in the Supra 3.0 a year ago. The EPA rates Supra 2.0 at 25 mpg city and 32 mpg highway. About 60% of my drives were on the highway. Sadly the small turbo I4 requests 91 octane fuel.

For my money, which it would be, I’d go for this light and lively Supra over the powerful 3.0. It’s still a load of fun and the look is just as sexy too.

FAST STATS: 2021 Toyota GR Supra 2.0

Hits: Stellar looks, strong acceleration, sporty handling, good traction, supportive seats, lower cost than Supra 3.0.

Misses: Rough small car ride, noisy interior (tire and road grit), small radio screen, hard to hear radio over road noise, no wireless charger, no flat-bottom or heated wheel, no heated seats, and no manual transmission available.

Made in: Graz, Austria

Engine: 2.0-liter I4, turbo, 255 hp

Transmission: 8-speed, automatic

Weight: 3,181 lbs.

Wheelbase: 97.2 in.

Length: 172.5 in.

Cargo: 10.2 cu.ft.

MPG: 25/32

MPG: 32.0 (tested)

Base Price: $43,395 (includes delivery)

Invoice: $30,985

Options:

Nitro yellow paint, $495

Safety & Tech package (dynamic cruise control, blind spot monitor, rear cross traffic alert, parking sensors w/emergency braking, 8.8-inch touchscreen w/nav, 12-speaker 500-watt JBL audio system w/amp, touchpad rotary control, wireless Apple Car Play, speed limit info, Supra connected services), $3,485

Test vehicle: $47,895

Sources: Toyota, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

2021 Ford F-150 4×4 Supercrew Lariat (hybrid)

Hybrid F-150 generates apocalypse-conquering power …

After 43 years as the best-selling vehicle in the United States I suppose nothing should surprise me about the latest Ford F-150.

Ford hasn’t stayed atop this highly competitive money-making bonanza of a market for U.S. carmakers because it coasts. Nope, it keeps re-inventing the envelope.

For 2021 Ford adds a hybrid powerplant to the F-150 and, get this, a generator in the tail that you could use to power your house during one of our apocalyptic 100-year floods, tornadoes, rains, etc. This monster of a truck is exactly what you’d want during the apocalypse. It should star in a blockbuster movie as it squishes zombies and 4-wheels over a crumbling world’s infrastructure.

Let’s get right to it.

I drove a Rapid Red F-150 4×4 SuperCrew Lariat, a midlevel model that will seat five or six, depending on seat arrangements. Mine was a luxurious 5-seater with a giant console, but more on this interior in a bit.

Most important, this is the first hybrid pickup on the market and if Chevy and Ram are the least bit interested in gaining ground on Ford they’d better have one soon.

Standard in this model is the powerful twin-turbo 2.7-liter V6 gas engine that makes 325 horsepower, or you could get a 5.0-liter V8 with 400 horses if gas burning, or buying, simply doesn’t matter to you.

The hybrid system, added here for $3,300 extra, conjoins a twin-turbo 3.5-liter V6 with a 35kw electric motor with batteries under the rear seat. It makes a whopping 430 horsepower and pounds 570 lb.-ft. of torque all while delivering an EPA rated 24 miles per gallon, city or highway. Combined with a 30.6-gallon gas tank that creates a 700-mile driving range.

Past experience tells me that even with a cyclonic tailwind you’d be lucky to hit 20 mpg on the highway with any gas-only powered pickup. With this one I averaged 20.5 mpg in a week’s drive, with plenty of city and highway miles. The trip computer said I was managing 22 mpg. Either is a vast improvement on pickup gas mileage.

See my video review here: Ford F 150 Hybrid Review by Mark Savage – YouTube

A reminder here that Ford chopped hundreds of pounds from its last generation F-150 by using more aluminum in the body, so Ford has been working on making its full-size pickup more environmentally acceptable for some time.

From a driver’s standpoint the new F-150 is a rocket despite its hefty 5,517 lbs. Power comes on quickly and when you punch it the twin-turbo V6 delivers boatloads of power to get up to highway speeds or out-power most anyone at a stoplight. Handling is reasonable for a big pickup too, easy to keep in its lane and maneuver, except in a crowded parking lot. Then you’ll want to leave a little extra room, even though this one only had the smallest, 5.5-foot, bed. A 6.5- and 8-foot bed also are available.

Ride, well, it’s still a truck. Despite its independent double wishbone suspension up front with coil-over shocks and stamped lower control arm and rear leaf spring with solid axle it’s bouncy. Not harsh, but there’s rock and roll over severe streets and back roads. Although I must say the interior remains comfy and quiet, just some noticeable tire noise on certain pavements.

Ford now uses a fine 10-speed automatic transmission to give the truck a luxury feel while aiding its mileage. Mostly it’s wonderful, at least from third gear on up. Shifts from first to second and second to third can be a little abrupt at times, which you notice when cruising at low speeds on electric power around the neighborhood.

There’s much to praise for Ford’s luxury-level interior too, but first let’s look at its bed and that generator, which is tucked inside the driver’s side rear fender, with power access in the bed’s wall. Here you can plug into various outlets to access 7.2kw of power. This is just a $750 option for the Pro Power system, and would cost you more to get similar generation power from an independent unit. A smaller unit is standard.

The generator hookups in the truck bed is a boon for contractors.

Obviously this is a boon for contractors and construction folks needing quick access to electricity on a job site. Just leave the truck running (Stop & Go will turn off the gas engine shortly) and plug in. The batteries in the truck do the rest through the inverter and generator.

Just how much power is this? Well, I’m cheating a bit here, but found that Ezra Dyer of Car and Driver magazine tested the generator by running extension cords to his house and fired up virtually everything one would need to survive a big power outage. (Truck should sell well in Texas after this winter!) That means a couple fridges, TV, computer and plenty of lights. Ford assures us the power will last at least 72 hours. Wow, just wow!

See the Dyer story here: I Powered My House with the Ford F-150 Hybrid (caranddriver.com)

Talk about a perfect truck to tow a camper. Just plug in wherever you stop and you’ve got lights, heat, etc. to help you smooth out your “roughing it” outing. Speaking of trailering, this hybrid model will tow a magnificent 12,700 pounds, so it’s still a hauler.

Inside, well, nothing is rough in here.

The red truck features a handsome chocolate brown over black interior with doors and dash being two-tone and the seats a perforated black leather with chocolate brown piping while the giant storage box between the front seats is brown with black edging. That box is massive, and here there was a flip-up work surface, just $165 extra.

The F-150’s interior is attractive and luxurious, plus that shift lever can be powered down.

Now, one might wonder how that works since there’s a large shift lever at the front of the console that would prevent the flip-up surface from lying flat. Ford solves this with a button to retract the shift lever. Clever, but it sounds like a coffee grinder during retraction. Hope they work on that for the next go-round, or put the shifter on the column, or make it a retractable knob like some other brands do.

Seating is comfortable and roomy front and rear with fairly flat seat bottoms and more contoured backs. Everything is powered and there are three memory buttons for the driver’s seat. Front seats are heated and cooled and the steering wheel is heated here, as are the outer rear seats.

This dash is an eyeful, mostly in a good way. The instrument panel in front of the driver, plus the infotainment screen are both 12-inchers, so easy to see and read. In fact, the digital speedometer is so big it took me the full week to get used to it, but you SURE CAN see it. Mostly the info screen is easy to see and use too, but the split screen does take a little study, so do that first before you engage the throttle.

Here’s the shifter powering down. It folds flat.

One morning I had a little bugaboo when the screen froze trying to load the navigation system, saying it was in low-power mode. So I couldn’t use the screen until after I’d shut the truck off for several hours and it decided to return to full power mode. Hmmm!

Possible too that one could become overwhelmed by all the dash buttons. I counted 31, plus 1 toggle and 7 knobs. The buttons were a bit much, plus there are more to deal with on the info screen.

Overhead was a fine twin-panel sunroof that adds $1,495 to the sticker, one of 16 options here. I liked it though, and the standard Bang & Olufsen sound system was a winner too. 

Certainly Ford offers a full complement of safety devices from lane-keeping assist to park sensors, blind-spot warning and emergency collision braking, plus a smart cruise control system. I should point out for trailer haulers the cool Pro Trailer system that uses a knob on the dash to help a driver back up to, and attach, a trailer.

Other goodies included a power tailgate ($695) that both powers up and down, plus there’s a fold-out step and handle in the gate. A spray-in bed liner ($595) was added, and there was a yardstick and meter measuring template molded into the tailgate, another benefit for those using this big people hauler as a work truck.

Once the shifter is down the optional work surface can fold flat.

Luckily the F-150 added running boards for $225, otherwise those under 6-foot or so probably would need a stepladder to crawl aboard. Rubber floor mats added $200 and the 360-degree camera another $765. That’s needed for parking.

Other various packages including one for Co-Pilot 360 Active 2.0 and appearance packages added another roughly $10,000. Overall there were $20,000 in options on the Lariat, which starts at $52,675 including delivery. Total then was $70,960, a huge price that falls just short of what I paid for a house 25 years ago.

Don’t be scared off though, there are so many models and configurations that surely you can find an F-150 in your price range. The base regular-cab XL with 2-wheel-drive lists at about $29,000. While a Limited 4×4 hybrid model can nearly hit $80 grand.

Know that there are three cab style choices, three bed lengths, 6 powertrains (including hybrid and diesel), 6 trims and then the performance-oriented Raptor. But that’s for another review.

Ford remains the technology leader among pickups.

FAST STATS: 2021 Ford F-150 4×4 SuperCrew Lariat (hybrid)

Hits: Roomy work truck with luxury interior, hybrid power and improved mpg, plus a built-in generator in the bed. Huge info screen and instrument gauges, large sunroof, heated wheel and heat/cool seats, power tailgate w/step, 360-degree camera, fold-out work area, running boards. Excellent towing power and acceleration, decent handling and Pro Trailer system to help when attaching a trailer.

There’s even a fold-out step and that yellow circle is a pop-out handle to help a user easily climb into the truck’s bed.

Misses: Big truck bouncy ride, difficult parking in tight lots, odd fold-down gear shift lever sounds like coffee grinder, an overabundance of buttons and knobs on dash, info screen got stuck once and couldn’t be used.

Made in: Dearborn, Mich.

Engine: 2.7-liter twin-turbo V6, 325 hp

Transmission: 10-speed automatic

Weight: 5,517 lbs.

Wheelbase: 145.4 in.

A big double-pane sliding sunroof lets a lot of light into the interior here.

Length: 231.7 in.

Cargo bed: 52.8 cu.ft.

Tow: 12,700 lbs.

MPG: 24/24

MPG: 20.5 (tested)

Base Price: $52,675 (includes delivery)

Invoice: N.A.

Major Options: Rapid red paint, $395

3.5-liter V6 hybrid, $3,300

Equipment group 502A, $6,920

6-inch extended accent running boards, $225

Co-Pilot 360 Active 2.0 Prep Package, $995

Twin panel moonroof, $1,495

All-weather rubber/carpet floor mats, $200

Pro Power onboard 7.2kw generator, $750

Interior work surface, $165

Trailer tow package, $1.090

Partitioned lockable storage, $215

Power tailgate, $695

360-degree camera, $765

Lariat Sport appearance package, $300

Wheel well liner, $180

Bedliner, spray-in, $595

Test vehicle: $70,960

Sources: Ford, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

Die-cast: Autoart’s Lamborghini URUS

Lamborghini’s super SUV is an eyeful, even in 1:18 scale …

Naturally few of us will ever be able to afford a Lamborghini, but I know where you can get one for less than $300 … from Autoart and it’s in 1:18 scale.

Like the rest of the automotive market, the raging bull of Italian auto design and supercar power has adapted to the market. It now makes an SUV, the Urus.

Sounds like a planet to me, but a little research tells me it’s a big ol’ long-horned European wild ox that recently became extinct. Scientists say it was an ancestor of domestic cattle, so plays into the wild bull imagery of Lamborghini. Continue reading Die-cast: Autoart’s Lamborghini URUS

2021 Honda Accord Touring Hybrid

Hybrid Accord feels familiar, consistently good …

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

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

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

2020 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray Coupe

Chevy’s mid-engine Vette thumbs its nose at the Supercars

The nose still screams Corvette!
The old and new, a Piper Cub rests behind the 2020 mid-engine Vette at Hartford’s municipal airport.

Chevy’s new Corvette is kryptonite to the ever-growing bevy of Supercars.

For more than 65 years Chevrolet’s everyman’s dream car has put its throbbing V8 power in front of the driver, but with the eighth generation that all changes. Supercars beware!

Now the Vette’s 6.2-liter V8 moves behind the driver in a mid-engine arrangement that seems new and exciting even though supercar makers, plus Ford with its GT, have been milking this layout for years.

While new and exciting looking there’s a familiarity too with the new Corvette. Stand in front and you’ll see the family resemblance, the pointed nose, the long headlights, the rounded front wheel wells. There’s even a tall flat rear shoulder that exudes Corvette styling. Continue reading 2020 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray Coupe