Tag Archives: Car of the Year

2022 Cars of the Year

Savage names his top vehicles, the annual Zoomie Awards …

Zoomie art by Stuart Carlson

Last year’s Zoomies were all about monster speed and power, this year’s are all about hybrids, high value and family fare. That’s OK though, because that’s where most of us live.

While I was testing new Corvettes, Challengers, BMWs, Mercedes, Lexus LC 500s, and Dodge Durango SRTs in 2020, the minivans, hybrid crossovers and family sedans dominated 2021’s drives. And you know what? Nearly all were excellent, making some of my Zoomie choices as hard as picking your favorite child

So what’s a Zoomie?

It’s my annual choice of the top vehicle among the 50 or so I’ve tested in the past year. But there’s more than one great vehicle every 12 months, so I call out the best in various categories, from basic wheels to luxury rides. The purpose of Zoomie, since 1990, has been to select a vehicle for the masses, but one with styling flair, something that’s fun to drive, yet also delivers value. Zoomie is an everyperson’s car of the year, but with pizazz.

Zoomie always appears just as the Milwaukee Auto Show is about to roll into the Wisconsin Center downtown. This year the show runs from Feb. 26 to March 6, and not surprisingly is sponsored by area auto dealers.

This year I’ve divided the Zoomies into several categories, and as always, the best Zoomie wraps up the report. Let’s start with the now under-appreciated cars. With fewer manufacturers even making cars, this would seem to be a neglected market. But it’s not, some brands are still making great looking and driving cars, in all price ranges.

Best Cars:

Kia’s sexy K5 offers fastback styling and one of the sharpest grille-light combos around!

Entry-level: Kia K5 – The Optima was a fine family sedan and the newly restyled and renamed K5 is a sporty fastback with a refined ride coupled with good power and handling, but as with most Kia and Hyundai models, packed with content that normally costs extra on other makes. The turbo I4 kicks out 180 horses and gas mileage is decent too at 27 mpg city and 37 highway. I got 28.5. But starting at basically $29,000 the K5 makes a family look ritzier while delivering comfort and safety. Let’s address the elephant in the room here too as Kia and Hyundai models have been major targets of car thieves. Both assure that new models, all with push-button start, are much less likely to be stolen, so I feel confident touting the new models.

If you need to spend even less, the Hyundai Kona and Elantra are other strong bets for high value and good looks.

Sleeker Honda Accord now offers an excellent hybrid system for efficiency and value.

Hybrid: Honda Accord Hybrid – This was one of the easiest picks as the new Accord’s styling has been vastly improved so it looks sleeker and the hybrid system is as smooth and seamless as any on the market. The Accord satisfies with a quiet, comfy interior, easy-to-use controls, light and breezy handling, 212 hp from its Atkinson-cycle I4 and hybrid electric motors, and a superb ride. It’s rated 44 mpg city and 41 mpg highway. I got 31.3 mpg. And all this in a family-sized sedan that lists at $37,590.

Go ahead, try and tell me this isn’t one sharp-looking luxury sedan!

Luxury: Genesis G80 – Genesis is still newish to the market as Hyundai’s luxury brand, but the G80 looks like Bentley could have designed it with exquisite exterior proportions. Handling is effortless, power 300 horses strong from a turbo I4 and ride every bit a luxury ride. Interior styling is clean and simple with a giant info screen and content is generous from heated seats to solid safety equipment. Price as tested was $49,125. That’s way below similar sized European makes this well equipped.

Honorable mention to Volkswagen’s Arteon sedan, another fastback model with elegant styling. VW isn’t often considered a luxury brand, but Arteon could pass for entry-level lux!

Best Convertibles:

Oh yeah! MINIs are always fun, but going topless makes them even more liberating!

Entry-level: MINI Cooper S – I said in my review that driving a MINI is more fun than anything else you can do with your clothes on, and I stand by that. This new version has a drop-top that can be powered back to resemble a sunroof, or lowered entirely. On the test car that roof was a subtle darkened matte black Union Jack, and the paint job a not so subtle Zesty Yellow (lime greenish) that made it the focus of other drivers’ attention. Still, its 6-speed manual with a twin-turbo I4 that creates 189 horses and a 207 torque rating make it a hoot and a half to drive. The automatic is fine too. MINI is nimble and sporty with killer looks and a $33,000 base price.

A jewel of a car, now with a soft drop top and a sporty red interior, BMW’s M440i rocks!

Luxury: BMW M440i – Looking for the Rolex watch of cars? This sleek 4 Series convertible is a jewel of a car, fast, frisky, fun. But isn’t that what you expect from a luxury convertible that starts about $65 grand? BMW returned to a canvass top that gives the car a sportier, leaner look and it’ll even drop as you drive, up to 31 mph. Clever! The 3.0-liter twin turbo I6 cranks 382 horsepower and 364 in torque, plus a mild hybrid system helps its gas mileage (26.2 tested), incredible for a car that will hit 150 mph and whose handling, ride and braking are all aces. I’m stoked!

Best Crossovers/SUVs:

The perfect-sized Bronco Sport handles so well you’ll forget it’s a crossover.

Entry-level: Ford Bronco Sport – This is the first of many Fords in the 2022 list, and bravo for bringing back the Bronco name and some of its original styling to give off-roaders another strong choice. Watch out Jeep! This Badlands 4×4 model is perfectly sized for city driving and parking, exhibits excellent handling and enough power (250 horses) to be fun on highway or slopping in a mud bog. Riding on Escape’s platform you’d never know it to drive it as it feels so nimble. Plus pricing is milder than I’d expected, starting around $28,000 and topping around $38,000. The boxy styling reflects Land Rover and old-time Bronco and now seems fresh and exciting, again. Welcome back Bronco!

It’s only an honorable mention, but the CX-30 Turbo is a gem, and already won a 2021 Zoomie, before it had its hot rod turbo 2.5-liter engine!

Honorable mention goes to Mazda’s fabulous CX-30 Turbo. Regular readers may recall the CX-30 was last year’s Zoomie of the Year as it offers precise handling, good ride and solid power, plus AWD and fantastic looks (love it’s beaked nose), especially in red. But NOW it adds a 2.5-liter turbo to belt out 250 horses, making it a near perfect sporty crossover at an affordable price.

Hybrids:

Handsome and high-value the Kia Sorento screams BUY ME to families.

Entry-level: Kia Sorento – I had to split this category because the hybrid market is exploding for crossovers and SUVs and the Sorento is the cream of the current crop for affordable family crossovers. Its gas-only model is fine, but the hybrid wowed me. Get this, at $34,000 the hybrid manages nearly 10 mpg better (37.6 tested mpg) than the gas-only version, and of course the styling remains the same, along with a fine interior with stellar dash layout. Acceleration is even better in the hybrid and cornering seems improved too.

Luxury crossover buyers should keep an eye out for the Volvo XC60 hybrid. Gorgeous!

Luxury: Volvo XC60 Recharge T8 – This is where much of the auto world’s design and marketing efforts are aimed, the regular hybrid and plug-in hybrid luxury crossover market. Volvo took the styling lead a couple years back with XC60, now it adds a hybrid system to the torquey 2.0-liter supercharged and turbocharged I4 to slap out a crazy 400 horsepower. Wow, this sharp looker and handler will haul arsel. And starting at $62 grand, this isn’t even a high-end luxury crossover.

Need 3 rows of seating, great power and good looks? Acura’s MDX answers the bell!

Luxury: Acura MDX – This popular 3-row SUV grew a bit, getting longer, lower and wider, but adding an aluminum hood and front fenders to save weight and was restyled to look even more elegant. The result is a fine, yet not too large, luxury SUV with a touch of sportiness (remember the S in SUV stands for Sport). So with a 290-horse V6 and SH-AWD (that’s Acura nomenclature for Super-Handling-All-Wheel-Drive) the MDX can go about anywhere a luxury SUV needs to, and at speed with precise handling. Nice! Inside is super quiet with open-pore wood trim and all the amenities expected at $61 grand and change. Even your pal Alexa comes with.

Chrysler’s Pacifica is handsome, a plug-in hybrid and offers AWD, win, win, win!

Best Minivan: Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid – Chrysler has become one of the quiet Stellantis brands. That’s the former Fiat-Chrysler company that makes Jeep, Dodge, Chrysler, Ram, Fiat and Alfa-Romeo for the North American market. But when you think of the former Chrysler Corp. its minivans should be top-of-mind as they invented the modern minivan 35+ years ago. Pacifica is a smoothly styled van that continues to lead with innovations, including offering AWD and a hybrid version. Not all vans offer both. The plug-in hybrid system gives roughly 30+ miles of electric-only power and regenerative braking helps extend that in city driving. Acceleration is quick (260 hp), safety features are bountiful, comfort is uncompromised and pricing is competitive, if not a bit lower than most competitors.

Honorable mention is warranted because Kia’s Carnival debuted this past year and is a sharply styled minivan with metallic bling inside and out, plus features galore, and still in the $45,000 to $50,000 range. But so far it has no AWD or hybrid models, which may be a short-term concern. Still, it’s a delight to see and drive. It was also recently named the Midwest Automotive Media Association (MAMA) family vehicle of the year, so Midwest journalists agree, it’s a winner.

Not only is the Ford F-150 a best-seller, it also has a hybrid model with impressive MPG!

Best Pickup: Ford F-150 SuperCrew Hybrid – Ford continues to lead the pickup segment and in fact is adding an electric version, the Lightning. But the hybrid I tested was as perfect a pickup as is out there right now. It’s huge, tall, strong and efficient, plus offers a power generator in the bed that will power your house for hours, make that days, in an emergency. But all of the standard F-150’s strong points are here, plus the hybrid system that boosts gas mileage to a respectable 24/24 mpg rating. I got 20.5 mpg. That’s with the 3.5-liter V6 hybrid system that adds $3,300 to the price of a $52,000 SuperCrew Lariat model. Big pickups are not inexpensive!

This electric crossover features Mustang styling cues and stole its name from the muscle car, but it’s still a crossover. HOWEVER, it is very Quick!

Best Electric: Ford Mustang Mach-E – Ford opted to name its first mid-size electric crossover the Mustang Mach-E because it knew that Mustang name would bring it more attention than virtually any other Ford-owned name. They were right, and its styling, with some Mustang cues and logos, make it one of the better looking electric crossovers. Driving performance is strong too, its 88 kWh extended range battery and electric motors combining for 346 hp and a 260-mile range for the tested AWD version. 0 to 60 mph happens in 4.8 seconds, so it’s quick, like a gas-powered Mustang. While inside the dash looks decided modern (think Tesla as a target) with a massive 15.5-inch vertical info screen.

An honorable mention to VW’s ID.4, which falls a bit short on styling compared with the Mach-E, but also is available with AWD and a 250-260-mile range on a full charge. It’s comfy and well thought out, but has some quirks that kept it from the top spot here.

Now THIS is a Mustang! Mach I is a rocket whose power could make a macho man blush!

Most Fun: Ford Mustang Mach I – I know this seems like a Ford lovefest as we approach the top Zoomie award, but I’m a car guy and I love excellent power and handling so I had to include the venerable V8 gas-powered fastback Mustang Mach I. This is a no-apologies muscle car that looks fast, sounds fast and IS fast. It has a race-engineered GT350’s subframe and suspension, 6-piston Brembo disc brakes, re-tuned super precise power steering and a switch to engage or flip off the traction control. There’s Track and Sport+ drive modes in case you want to race the thing, and you likely will Want to. There’s also a TREMEC 6-speed manual standard to engage the 5.0-liter V8 that pumps 480 horsepower. Price is about $52 grand and, well, outside of some Hellcats and SRTs from Dodge, nothing much else touches this. A fantasy car for us aging, but still sporty, Boomers!

A quick honorable mention goes to the Dodge Durango Hellcat because it rips like it’s a dragster. Can you believe a 0-60 mph time of 3.5 seconds in a mid-size SUV? Believe it, but that’s what a supercharged 6.2-liter HEMI V8 with 710 horses will do for ya. A year earlier I drove the SRT version and was wowed by it, yet this ups the wow factor considerably.

Santa Cruz is stylish, offers great power, ride and handling, plus has a useful bed. Wow!

ZOOMIE: Vehicle of the year: Hyundai Santa Cruz – And now for something completely different.

Kudos to Hyundai for finally pushing the car world back into the compact pickup world that had been so successful with the likes of Ford Rangers, Chevy S10s, Datsun (later Nissan), Toyota, and Mazda pickups in the 1970s through the 1990s.

Hyundai calls Santa Cruz an SAV, Sport Adventure Vehicle, which is just so much marketing talk, but the point is this isn’t Just a pickup.

No, Hyundai has re-invented this market with a slick, stylish, California-chic pickup that doesn’t even ride on a truck chassis. Santa Cruz (perfectly named to ooze California-chic) rides on Hyundai’s Tucson crossover platform so it behaves like a crossover, not a bumpy bouncy body-on-frame truck. Ride is stellar and with its full cab it’s basically a crossover with a pickup bed, meaning the family fits just fine, but if one needs to haul bushes, dirt, or even dirt bikes it’s easy and cleaner than slopping said goods inside a crossover’s hatch.

That tonneau cover is strong enough you could stand on it!

Santa Cruz scores aces on power, ride and handling while also offering AWD if you need to tow a camper or small boat to the lake or a campsite. Two engine choices include a 190-horse 2.5-liter I4 and a turbo version with 281 horses for more serious fun. Prices range from a front-drive model with the base engine at $24,000 to the Limited with AWD and the turbo, pressing $40 grand. Still a bargain!

Not your Dad’s, or Grandpa’s pickup, it’s compact and efficient.

Color selection is fun and youthful, grayish green or blue-gray, for instance, while inside is a 10.25-inch info screen, simple dash layout and plenty of upscale content for the price, think heated and cooled seats, etc. And the bed, well, it has a cooler built-in for tailgating, steps designed into the corner of the bumpers for climbing aboard, a lockable tailgate, and with a retractable tonneau cover that is strong enough one could stand on it. Wow!

Certainly not everyone needs a mid-size or full-size pickup, and maybe more importantly, many of us can’t afford those $50-$70 grand monsters. If style, price and putting Fun into automotive Function are atop your shopping list, Santa Cruz is the compact pickup you’ve been looking for!

Zoomie Car of the Year Awards 1990-2014

25 Years of Zoomies

Here are my Car of the Year Awards for the first 25 years of the Savage On Wheels column, as they appeared in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. This year the Zoomies will appear only on this website. Watch for their posting …. very soon!

Art: Stuart Carlson
Art: Stuart Carlson

Here are the past Zoomie winners:

2014: Mazda3 (light, swoopy hatchback with power, fun handling and fuel efficiency)

2013: Dodge Dart (sassy smart looking small car, full of youthful features, value)

2012: Chevrolet Volt (good looking, well built and cutting edge technology)

2011: Ford Mustang (in any trim a beautiful, fast, fun car with excellent ride and handling)

2010: Suzuki Kizashi SLS (modest price, good looks/handling, loaded with goodies)

2009: Volvo C30 (sassy, economical, fun with fresh styling)

2008: Nissan Altima Coupe (awesome looks, good value, fun drive with power)

2007: Mazda5 (stylish blend of sportwagon-van, low price, practical)

2006: Ford Fusion (good looks, good value, improved fit and finish) Continue reading Zoomie Car of the Year Awards 1990-2014

2015 ZOOMIE Car of the Year Awards

Zoomies: The Everyman’s Car of the Year, where style and value still matter

Zoomie got kicked to the curb this year, after 25 years of top car selections for the Milwaukee newspaper.

mark savage, savageonwheels.com, honest car reviews, zoomie award
Art: Stuart Carlson

Hey, stuff happens!

So while you didn’t get to see my top car, hybrid, crossover, etc. selections in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel after 25 consecutive years, you can see them here. I hope you also hear, or heard, me chat them up on WUWM’s (89.7 FM) Lake Effect show on March 9.

Zoomie backstory

My Zoomie Car of the Year was launched in 1990 as a response to what I thought a travesty. Noted car mag Motor Trend had just dubbed the bulbous whale-like Chevrolet Caprice, that of big city taxi fame, as its Car of the Year.

OMG!

This was the year that Mazda had launched its soon to be iconic Miata roadster, the first, the best and the most affordable sports car ever. I had to right a wrong!

Thus, my first Zoomie (named after my brother Steve’s iguana) went to the Miata, instantly setting the automotive world right – even if said world was fully unaware.

NOW … 26 years later I’ve driven roughly 1,300 cars and trucks and use that as my basis for selections. Yet I only compare the vehicles I’ve driven in the past year, since the last Zoomie Awards, for Car of the Year, and other categories as befit the past year’s fleet.

My intent, as always, is to select a car for the masses, but one with styling flair, something that’s fun, yet also delivers value.

So you won’t see a Ferrari, Bugatti or Lamborghini here (uh, they’ve never even invited me to drive one), but the award also won’t go to a big ol’ truck either, as they simply aren’t fun or sporty, ever.

Now the envelopes please: Continue reading 2015 ZOOMIE Car of the Year Awards

Chasing Classic Cars: You find them when you least expect them

A car show at an air show

Car shows, classic cars, plymouth, mercury, chevy, pontiac covnertibleSo this past weekend, I was up with my buddies in Oconto, WI putting on an airshow with our radio controlled airplanes. Our gig was actually just part of a bigger event they held at their local airport. Well one of the other parts was a classic car show. I saw the shiny bright objects right away and when I was in between flights took a walk over. All kinds of cool cars and they pictures I’m sharing here are just a sample of the cars there.

A 1970 Mercury Cougar Eliminator

The Cougar was Motor Trend magazine’s Car of the Year for 1967 and helped Mercury sales quite a bit when it was introduced in 1967. A Mustang twin? Well sort of except that unlike a lot of other cars built on the same platform that make minor changes, Mercury did a lot. This with the Eliminator package was high performance. The owner wasn’t around but if it had a 427 in it, would be worth some serious cash.

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The Duster everybody wants

There basic model was kind of…eh. It was built for economy and they don’t have a lot of value to collectors, however this one with the 440 is and are very affordable muscle cars. I found one on Hemming’s for around $15 grand. Not a lot of dough for a very fast car.

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OOOOOOh…Barrracuda

The Plymouth Barracuda was a two-door car that was manufactured by the Plymouth division of the Chrysler Corporation from 1964 to 1974. This is a third-gen Cuda and the redesign for the removed all its previous commonality with the Valiant. I love the color treatment on this one.

cuda-front, chevy, pontiac covnertible

A rare Firebird

This is a first-gen made from 67-69. I believe this is a 68 and what makes it rare it the 440 and its a convertible. Hemming’s trend guide showed that it would go for about $117,000.

, chevy, pontiac covnertible, chevy, pontiac covnertible

The classics of classics

This 1957 Chevy convertible was pretty cool. I also love the drive in touch. Depending on the package it had pricing goes up to $120,000. What’s not to like about a car show? Two of my loves, cars and planes.

, chevy, pontiac covnertible, chevy, pontiac covnertible, chevy, pontiac covnertible

Promo model: 63 Rambler Classic

English: 1963 Rambler Classic 660 Station Wago...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Even though I was only 9 in 1963…there, I blew the cover on my age, I still remember a lot about that year, the Kennedy assassination for sure. The Beatle’s U.S. TV concert, Route 66, and we had just moved from Madison to Milwaukee when dad got a job at….wait for it…American Motors. And to think he almost took the job at the chicken factory. It was also the year we had traded our 58 Rambler for the 63. It was white with a red interior. I’ve been looking for a promo car like that for a long time.

The 1963 Classic was the first all-new cars developed by AMC since 1956. Keeping the philosophy of the company,  they were more compact – shorter and narrower by one inch, as well as over two inches lower than the preceding models. Even though they were smaller, they lost none of their “family-sized” passenger room or luggage capacity featuring a longer 112-inch wheelbase. Now does that sound familiar today in cars?

Savageonwheels.com, promotional model cars, promo model cars, American Motors, AMC, Paul Daniel creative digital managerFor the 1963 model year, the Rambler Classic line was completely redesigned with subtle body sculpturing. Outgoing design director, Edmund E. Anderson, shaped the Classic that was named Motor Trend magazine’s 1963 “Car of the Year.” These were also the first AMC models that were influenced by Richard A. Teague, the company’s new principal designer.

Throughout its life in the AMC model line-up, the Classic was the high-volume seller for the independent automaker. In 1963 mostly because of that car, many times the company was listed by some as part of the Big 4, outselling other brands such as Buick, Dodge, Mercury Chrysler, and Cadillac.

So here’s my 63 Rambler. Dad might have brought some home but most likely they were victims of car bombs Savageonwheels.com, promotional model cars, promo model cars, American Motors, AMC, Paul Daniel creative digital managerSavageonwheels.com, promotional model cars, promo model cars, American Motors, AMC, Paul Daniel creative digital manager(firecrackers) or car fires, or ???? I bought this one at a car show. Not sure how much I paid for it but it wasn’t a lot. Maybe $50-$70. All the parts are on this one. There is some minor warping on the right front quarter panel and the bumpers could probably need a re-chroming but otherwise in pretty good shape. I’m still looking for the white body, red interior one. If you’re not an AMC geek like me it could be for an entire Car of the Year collection. Good luck on finding the other AMC COTY in a promo model. It was the Renault Alliance.