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2018 Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring AWD

Mazda CX-5 remains a sporty crossover … 2018 Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring AWD

As the world turns toward an all crossover and SUV automotive market it’s encouraging that the likes of Mazda continues to try and design sharp-looking vehicles that drive more like sports cars than trucks.

This week’s fun four-wheeler is the midsize CX-5 crossover in top-level Grand Touring 4×4 trim and bathed oh so beautifully in Soul Red Crystal Metallic paint. That’ll cost you $595 extra, but it’ll also turn heads. Continue reading 2018 Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring AWD

Die-cast: Autoart’s Lotus Exige S

Lotus Exige S exudes sportiness even in 1/18 scaleAutoart Lotus Exige S

British sports cars used to rule the world’s road courses with the likes of Jaguar, Aston Martin, Austin Healey, Triumph, and Lotus slicing through corners to give their drivers a thrill. Speed wasn’t always so essential, but handling was key.

Lotus always has prided itself in creating lightweight, crisp handling cars. But today speed and power are more important than in the formative 1950s and ‘60s, and that’s what makes the Lotus Exige S a highly sought after sports car.

Now Autoart creates a beautiful one in 1/18 scale, the sample car being a bright yellow with black interior. However, the Exige S also is available in red or white; all retail for $130.Autoart Lotus Exige S

The History

               The mid-engine Exige, built in Hethel, England, has been around since 2000, with the first S model appearing in 2006. Exige is now in its third iteration, or Series 3, which is what Autoart’s model portrays. A Series 2 version also is available from Autoart. Continue reading Die-cast: Autoart’s Lotus Exige S

2016 MINI Cooper Clubman

Bigger MINI makes Clubman more useful …2016 MINI Clubman

When does a MINI become so big that it’s not, well, mini?

There’s a fine line to be sure, but the new MINI Cooper Clubman seems to straddle it pretty well. Visually the Clubman is still cute with the round headlights and profile of a MINI, but there’s no doubt it’s longer and, to be honest, more useful than its predecessor.

The new Clubman is roughly 12 inches longer than the former model with a wheelbase that’s five inches longer. The upshot is more rear seat room, decent cargo space with the rear seats folded down, and a smoother ride. There are four doors too, making it easier for folks to slide into the rear seat. The former model had just one rear-open back side door, making seat access a bit clumsy.

Like before, the Clubman keeps its rear panel truck-style doors, which allows for easier loading and unloading. Plus it means wider loads will slide out easily.

All that increases usefulness.

2016 MINI Clubman
Clubman is a lot longer, but still carries the MINI profile.

Continue reading 2016 MINI Cooper Clubman

2014 Chrysler Town & Country Limited

Town & Country minivan carries family, friends and stuff easily and efficiently

Minivans are much maligned by the image conscious, or should we say, self-conscious car buyers. These folks let image stand in their way of buying the most family friendly vehicles on the market.chry1

This week’s Chrysler Town & Country Limited is at the top of the minivan food chain, meaning it’s loaded with extras and luxury items that most families would be proud to wallow in, if they weren’t in a minivan. But heck, a minivan is easy to climb aboard, and this one has a luxurious ride along with good power and tons of storage room. Ah yes, and it will carry a family of seven. Not much else can boast that, and be this comfortable.

First, consider that the tested cashmere (metallic tan) test van had power sliding side doors. This makes it incredibly easy to load up the family for all those kid events, and if you have young children, it’s equally easy to strap them into their child seats. In a sport-utility vehicle, for instance, you have the doors in your way along with a bigger step up, making it tougher for the kid to crawl aboard, and a bigger lift for the parent loading one aboard.

The Town & Country, or T&C, also boasts a power hatch to make loading groceries, luggage or athletic equipment easier too. This one goes a step further with power third-row seats that you control just inside the hatch, part of a $1,995 luxury package. Within seconds you can lower the third row for a hefty hauling area. Cargo space starts at 33.0 cubic feet behind that third seat (about double that of even the largest luxury sedans) and expands to 83.3 cubic feet with the third row down. Continue reading 2014 Chrysler Town & Country Limited

2014 Kia Soul+

kia1
Two black panels in the roof are twin sunroofs.

Cute, youthful Kia Soul impresses on all fronts

We all could use a little more Soul, and Kia is certainly doing all it can to encourage it.

Kia’s Soul is one of the cutest crossovers out there and among the most economical too, both on the pricing and fuel economy fronts. I never ceased to be impressed by this small hatch, tall wagon, or whatever you choose to call it.

First, its hip hamster commercials have helped draw attention to the slope-roofed compact, but its look also sets it apart from other boxy vehicles. Now Kia has slightly stretched its wheelbase and its power while keeping pricing modest so that the youth market the Soul targets has a fighting chance of being able to afford it, even if the minimum wage doesn’t increase.

Let’s start with the driving pluses.

By extending Soul’s wheelbase about an inch to 101.2 inches, the Kia, which already had a good ride, becomes even more manageable on today’s decrepit roadways. There is a still some jiggle on high, or deep road obstacles, but they are mostly well muted, so never a sharp jolt.

kiaHandling is fairly quick and much livelier feeling than in most small utes, crossovers and such. Plus the turning radius is a modest 34.8 feet, so putting this into a parking space or maneuvering crowded East Side streets is a breeze. And at 2,714 lbs., the Soul feels light and agile. The tested Soul+ model also comes with 17-inch tires, one inch larger than is standard on entry-level models. Continue reading 2014 Kia Soul+

2013 Mercedes-Benz GLK350

GLK350 laddles on the luxury

Small luxury utes are nearly as plentiful as entry-level small utes, and sometimes I wonder what you get for that extra $15 grand. But a week in the Mercedes-Benz GLK350 reminded me what it is, luxury looks, feel and ride.GLK1

A bunch of the little luxury utes handle pretty well and a few even look luxurious, but the GLK350 is a heck of a nice blend, and with a base price of $37,090 it’s one of the least expensive vehicles from the famous German automaker. This one added a variety of niceties, so it hit $46,930 before an $875 destination charge.

But the truth of the matter is that even at its base the Benz is luxury oriented and performance is the same, no matter how many extras you add.

Standard is a peppy 3.5-liter DI V6 that creates 302 horsepower so this ute will get up and go from a stop. But in a Mercedes you don’t want to be tossed into the back seat with muscle car power. So there’s a highly refined 7-speed automatic transmission that slips through the gears with velvety smoothness. You barely notice a gear shift. Continue reading 2013 Mercedes-Benz GLK350