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2021 Volkswagon Arteon 2.0T SEL R-Line

Arteon sedan delivers looks, refinement, value …

Only two years have passed since Volkswagen renamed and restyled its CC sedan as the Arteon, still a name that doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue.

But VW assures us the term is Latin for Art, emphasizing how important design is for the model. Whatever it’s called, this large fastback-styled sedan proves VW is dedicated to handsome cars as well as crossovers and SUVs. Prosit!

As I intoned in my earlier review of Arteon, it’s a sedan that has virtually everything a crossover intender could want, with the exception of a tall ride and boxy shape. This is one of the finest looking family sedan on the road. Edgy, but with fastback styling.

But if you’re after AWD, mucho room for the family and cargo capacity to match, the Arteon checks all those boxes.

The VW rides on a 111.9-inch wheelbase so has oodles of leg and headroom for five adults and the trunk delivers a massive 27.2 cubic feet of cargo room, or up to 55 cubic feet with the split rear seats lowered. Heck, some small crossovers would struggle to offer that much. And instead of a pure trunk, the fastback opens as a hatch so loading and unloading is a cinch.

Yet you’re likely thinking the VW only stuffs a four-cylinder engine under the hood, so it’s likely weak on power. Wrong!

This 2.0-liter is strong, delivering 268 horses and 258 lb.-ft. of torque from the silky smooth turbocharged four-cylinder engine. The result is not only quick acceleration, but luxury car smoothness as it’s coupled with an efficient 8-speed automatic with Tiptronic to allow driver shifts, if desired.

Watch Mark’s video review: https://youtu.be/lsC8_z7ROUQ

There are five drive modes too, accessed easily via a button on the console. Sport mode firms the suspension, alters the gearing for better acceleration and stiffens the steering effort. That’s great on the highway, but in town or at sub-40 mph the Normal or Comfort modes seem best, easing steering and ride comfort. Midwest roads are crumbling!

Yet at all levels Arteon turns into corners with precision like a luxury sport sedan. Won’t find many crossovers doing that without some push or lean in corners. Plus being a sedan the ride is dramatically better than any truck-based vehicle. It’s well controlled, yet sporty. No serious bumps or thumps and railroad tracks and pot holes are barely a blip on your derriere’s radar.

My tested SEL R-Line model with 4Motion, that’s VW’s AWD system, was bathed in a beautiful King’s Red Metallic paint that got raves from onlookers, including my spouse who rarely comments on my test vehicles. That color costs $395 extra but is a stellar choice especially considering most cars are gray or white these days. This stands out!

Inside the styling is simple and elegant with a wide dash that features lean and expansive air vents, making cabin comfort a breeze, literally.

Clean and attractive dash with fine Nappa leather seats create a stylish interior.

The test car featured light gray Nappa leather seats with dark gray trim and a dark gray dash and door uppers with light gray inserts. The dash also had a textured metal trim strip that extended into the doors along with satin silver trim below that. Gloss black trim graces the stack and console surrounding the shift lever.

Controls are easy to see and use and the driver gets a 12.3-inch digital instrument panel that can be adjusted to meet a driver’s particular needs. Best for us seniors, the 8-inch infotainment screen mid-dash is simple to adjust, not always the case in today’s tech-laden touch-and-slide screened vehicles.

The power seats not only look sharp but are firm and well-shaped for long or short hauls, plus the driver gets three-memory settings Seats up front are heated, with three temperature settings. And get this, if you go full-on luxury with the top-tier SEL Premium model you get a massaging driver’s seat is too. Amazing in this price range.

Overhead is a large, but not panoramic sunroof, however the cover is a screen, not a shade so a little light, and warmth seeps through the roof in hot weather.

This SEL R-Line model that features a bit racier look and feel also adds a flat-bottomed steering wheel, naturally loaded with plenty of controls on it hub.

Arteon also comes with dual climate controls, but VW has gone to touch-controlled slides that are a bit too touchy at times, likewise there’s a radio volume slide on the steering wheel’s hub. Not sure why knobs needed to be replaced, but as with all touch-centric controls these are not easy to use when the car is in motion as their adjustment is imprecise.

VW loads up Arteon with electronic safety devices, including parking sensors, automatic high-beam headlights, and an integrated crash response system to alert authorities if you crash. There’s also the standard blind-spot warning, smart cruise control, rearview camera, lane-keeping assist, and emergency braking with pedestrian recognition.

Stop & Go is standard too, an effort to save gas at stoplights, but the annoyance factor of the car shutting down seems hardly worth the minor gain it provides. That’s not a VW thing, it’s across the automotive market.

An economic downside is that Arteon prefers premium gasoline, the higher octane providing part of the VW’s prodigious horsepower. The VW will run on regular gas, but loses some oomph. Still, even powered up the car is rated at 20 mpg city and 31 mpg highway by the EPA. That highway figure is up 4 mpg from the 2019 model I’d driven, a big gain in efficiency. I managed 27.5 mpg, quite good for a large family sedan.

Good news on the pricing front too as a base Arteon SE starts at $38,190. It’s front-wheel drive. An SEL R-Line lists at $42,790 and one with AWD like the test car begins at $44,590. This one just added the sharp red paint job to end up at $44,985. Standard on the R-Line are 19-inch tires, the Nappa leather seats, sunroof, smart cruise control and adaptive LED headlights.

Going top-level Premium R-Line with 4Motion pushes the price to $48,190, but you do get the massaging driver’s seat, heated steering wheel and cooled seats, plus a 12-speaker Harmon Kardon stereo, 3D backup camera and power hatch.

This competes well with the likes of Toyota’s Camry and Honda’s Accord, plus Nissan’s Maxima, Acura’s TLX and Kia’s Stinger, although it’s much racier in performance. I think it even approaches the gorgeous Genesis G80 2.5T tested a week ago, but just not as quiet inside or as luxurious feeling.

FAST STATS: 2021 VW Arteon 2.0T SEL R-Line

Hits: Slick looking fastback sedan with good power, sporty handling, but fine family sedan ride. Smooth and comfy, with a sporty edge, adjustable drive modes, and solid safety features. Roomy interior and trunk under a hatch. Heated seats, large sunroof, flat-bottom wheel, comfortable seats, good sized info screen and easy controls. Plus AWD.

Misses: Prefers premium fuel. Sunroof has screen, not shade. Touch and slide controls hard to precisely use. Awkwardly tight spot for phone under center stack.

Snazzy wheels make Arteon look fast, even while parked.

Made in: Emden, Germany

Engine: 2.0-liter turbo I4, 268 horsepower

Transmission: 8-speed automatic w/Tiptronic

Weight: 3,686 lbs.

Length: 191.6 in.

Wheelbase: 111.9 in.

Cargo: 27.2-55 cu.ft.

MPG: 20/31

MPG:  27.5 (tested)

Base Price: $44,590 (includes delivery)

Invoice: $42,811

Major Options:

King’s Red metallic paint, $395

Test vehicle: $44,985

Sources: Volkswagen, kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

Savage Racing

Running the Milwaukee Mile with the Rusty Wallace Racing Experience

The guttural roar of a stock car engine and the resulting vibration transmitted through the seat of my racing jumpsuit as I approach Turn 1 at the Milwaukee Mile nearly makes me feel as if I’ll pass out.

I feel woozy in a way I’m unfamiliar with. It’s not fear, it’s not noxious fumes. I don’t feel sick, it’s just the rumble that shakes my innards and maybe my brain stem a little that gets my attention. A person needs to pay attention. Some don’t and they tag the wall. One did at my stock car class mid-May.

This is the Rusty Wallace (yes, that Rusty Wallace) Racing Experience (RWRE). It’s a traveling circus of stock and exotic car classes and experiences for would-be racers, but mostly it’s for those of us who have missed our calling, those who WISH we’d have tried our hand at racing super-modifieds, stock cars or even Indy Cars.

The RWRE travels to 80 race tracks across the U.S. and Canada each year, visiting Milwaukee’s famous one-mile oval at State Fair Park twice a year, in May and September. It’s here just one day each time. Pray for no rain.

I drove 12 laps (well 15 really, but more on that later) after my dear family decided it was time for the old guy to bury the pedal on a race track, not the highway, and in a real stock car, not the family Subaru. It was sort of a belated 65th birthday gift after that marker was Covidified a year ago April.

The day was a blast, but not without its challenges.

Pensive racer Savage before slipping behind the wheel.

I was in the 10 a.m. grouping, which meant a 9:30 arrival to sign away my life and those of my loved ones who came to watch. My 12-year-old grandson was hoping I’d crash because that would be “cool.” It wouldn’t!

Participants who arrive a few minutes early get to watch as pro drivers take paying customers on ride-alongs. That allows you to get used to the bark of the two No. 18 M&M paint scheme stockers blasting around the Mile in the good hands of experienced racers. They look, and sound, fast.

Then it’s into the media center for about 45 minutes of class time explaining the intricacies of driving a 1-mile flat oval. It’s trickier than, say, Daytona where the huge banking in the turns makes driving those turns easier in some ways, but not all.

The key here is timing.

Turns at the 118-year-old Milwaukee Mile are flat and treacherous. Keep the inside wheels on the darker pavement!

Accelerate hard down the straights, then let off the throttle just before the sharp barely-banked turns. (The Mile started as a dirt track, being paved in 1954.) The RWRE folks painted big orange rectangles on the track to let drivers know the optimum spot to get off the gas. Thanks!

Then brake hard when entering the turn, slowly letting off the pressure. That sets the car, moving the weight to the front tires so it steers easily through the turn. A bigger (greater inflation) right rear tire also assures the stock car always wants to turn left, even on the straightaways. Let off the brake when nearing the turn’s apex, then get back, gingerly and smoothly, on the throttle. The car will naturally push up toward the outer wall when exiting the turns. Orange and green stripes have been painted at intervals in the turns and on the straights to give you a precise idea of where you should be.

See Mark’s in-car video: Mark drives a stock car at the Milwaukee Mile

At the Milwaukee Mile, the nation’s oldest continuously operating race track (sorry Indy!), right side tires should be on the lighter, older asphalt track in the turns, and the left side tires on the darker apron down low.

Our instructor made sure we knew that, and that when the spotter on the 1-way radio said Lift and Left, we stayed to the left as let off the throttle, another racer was about to pass. Safety first! Don’t worry, the other drivers were gonna get those same instructions once I caught up to them. I got to pass four cars (never more than 6 on the track at once), two in turns. That’s pressure!

Much of the class involved going over the safety issues, such as how to quickly unhook the HANS device that keeps your head and neck safe (pull two release cords attached to the helmet’s sides), how to flip the latch on your tight five-point safety harness, and how to unhook the window’s safety net. Those are the three essential steps to a safe car exit, should, uh, a problem arise.

Oh, and the instructor passed around a steering wheel so we could get the feel of pulling on the center ring at its base to slide it on and off the steering column. You can’t get in or out of the car with the steering wheel attached. It’s that tight of a squeeze!

A few more tips and questions from the 20 or so other would-be drivers and it’s time to suit up. I chose a black jumpsuit, one because it came in short so I’d fit and didn’t have to wad up the legs, and two, the black is much sexier than the red suits. Those look like you’re on the safety crew … not that there’s anything wrong with that!

Next I grab a sanitized helmet (they ran large), and a balaclava to keep my hair out of my face (not really necessary). Then it’s out to the track to stand in line. This is a good time for pictures with the family as they stand with you in the pits (behind a short wall) until it’s your turn to drive.

“Trophy wife” hugs this racer before he risks his life. Yes, the insurance is paid up! Meanwhile the pit crew stands at the ready, anticipating track action.

Then you wait. The Rusty Wallace school here had five or six Nationwide and Cup series cars for drivers, plus the two for its pros to provide high-speed rides. All was well and but my mind starting playing the game of figuring out which car I’d get. I was hoping for the yellow and black Matt Kenseth style No. 17 DeWalt car, he being our home state hero.

It takes at least 10 (often more) minutes to load a driver aboard a racecar, take pictures, strap in, put on the helmet and ear pieces that let a spotter up in the scoring tower talk to you, and then get the HANS device hooked up properly. It takes a little less time when getting out, depending on how big a rush the conditions dictate.

So you wait and watch as this is repeated and you inch ever closer to the front of the line. Some folks trundle by at what appears to be city street speeds. Others hustle up to racier speeds quickly. You can tell visually, but also much by the sound of the racers as they rocket toward Turn 1. Some backfire at lower speeds.

There was one Oops moment this day, but fortunately it wasn’t My moment.

On my Saturday, the day turned from gorgeous warm spring morning to ugly black skies with a strong wind and sliding temperatures. When I was sixth in line to go racing, it started to sprinkle. Figures!

For safety, the racing was yellow flagged, then stopped.

We waited, tried to stay warm and watched the skies that alternated between sunny and demonic black. The track was directly on the edge of a line of storms moving through. Our phones predicted 100% chance of rain, but we caught a break and after 45 minutes were back to the track. But skies were still threatening.

The group ahead of me started slipping into their cars. Second driver out and the yellow light blinks on. The walkie-talkies crackled with the news. He’d hit the wall exiting Turn 2 on his first lap. Wow!

A closer look at the Oops moment experienced by one racer. Advice? Buy the crash insurance!

We waited some more. The skies darkened further.

A tow truck brought his car back. Ouch! Then an emergency vehicle returned the driver to the pits, none the worse for wear physically. Mentally, well? Crashing is the ultimate embarrassment. Folks applauded lightly as he got out and walked through the crowd. I’m not sure if it was because he could walk, or they were just being kind.

Finally, it was nearly my turn. An older gentleman got to go before me because he was tall and fit the next available car. Who knew there were tall and short cars?

Ready to climb aboard, and doesn’t it look like I belong here?

Then the Blue 2, as the pit boss called it, pulled in. This thundering blue and black Dodge Charger in Rusty Wallace livery, complete with his No. 2 all over it, was to be my beast.

Feet first into the window and onto the seat. Sit on the door frame for a couple pictures. This feels natural, like I should have been doing it for years. Slither inside the 500-horsepower racer and strap into my helmet, loosely. The steering wheel is still on the roof as a RWRE worker cinches up my belts and makes sure the HANS is attached. Then he hands me the wheel and I slip it in place. Turn it a couple times to make sure it’s latched. I needn’t have worried, the spotter will ask me to do that again just before heading on to the track.

Fasten that helmet and get the ear phones in there so I can hear the spotter.

Next my crew member hooks up the window net as I fiddle to slide the ear pieces under my helmet so I can hear the spotter. Now I tighten the helmet and flip the Ignition and Start buttons up, giving it a little gas. The Charger’s engine fires. It’s go time.

Well, almost!

Waiting, and waiting, in the pits. Ready to roll!

Now the pit boss, a Hoosier like me, runs through some final instructions to make sure my radio works, the wheel is attached and I understand Lift and Left. A lot of thumbs up here. OK, I pull up behind the car in line before me as it sits in pit lane. Let the clutch out, but keep those revs up. I don’t want to be the driver that kills his engine in the pits.

I sit anxiously behind the earlier driver for a minute or more. He finally pulls into the merge lane that brings a racer out of the pits onto the back straightaway. Then I wait in radio silence. Where’s the spotter? When do I go? Is my radio working? That huge black cloud is moving over Turn 1 now. Is it gonna rain again? Not now, please!

The cockpit is pretty sparse. HANS device laying on the dash now, but will go behind the head and neck soon. Minimal gauges and a bare steering column awaits a wheel.

After a two-minute wait I hear, “You’re good to go.” Finally!

Slip the stocker into first, then quickly to second to get it rolling and assure I won’t stall in front of the crowd, well, mainly the family. It’s easy into third gear and finally fourth as I pull into the racing line on the back straight. I’m done shifting for now, and there are only four gears anyway.

Take it easy the first lap. Feel the car. It’s heavy. Tap the accelerator on the straight, never a turn. Someone had already learned that lesson today. There’s plenty of giddyup. Then let off into the turn and feel the brakes. They are pretty grabby and squeal at low speeds. I’m probably going 40 mph, a low speed.

Out on the front straight for the first time and I can see the grandstands, the pits, the people in the pits. This is the last time I’ll pay any attention to all that until I pull into the pit lane.

I look like I’m nailing the throttle on this lap!

Lap 2 I accelerate a little harder out of the second turn and then hear Lift and Left. The pro driver rockets by on the outside. Next lap I pick up the pace a little more. Maybe I’m going 60 now. There’s no speedometer in the car, just a tachometer and I’m not really watching it. I’m keeping my eyes on the track. The instructor told us to look where we want to go, never at the wall or you’ll hit it. She told us of a shy driver doing about 30 mph that tapped the wall after being told the session was over because he looked at the wall. Really?

Several laps in now and starting to get the feel, but a yellow light. Shoot, is it raining on the track? I have no moisture on my windshield. Hmm, no rain, no cars stalled. Three laps later it’s green and I’m back in the groove. I pass a car in Turn 3 with the spotter assuring me, “You’re much faster, just go around.” Of course the outside lane in a turn is much closer to the cement wall. I know what it can do to a car. I’ve seen that already today and even though I took out the crash insurance ($75), I don’t want to shell out the $1,000 deductible.

Pass complete, I race down the front straight. A few laps later I catch another car going into Turn 1. Again the spotter advises the high line. I get by as I exit onto the back straight. Still feeling a little iffy in that high groove, but now I’m a racer, I’m passing folks, possibly the older gentleman (he was 80), but still!

Eventually it’s time to pit and let someone else fulfill a dream!

A few more laps and I’m holding the throttle down all the way to the cutoff point, doing heavier braking and feeling that my timing is at least acceptable now. I pass another car as I come out of Turn 4 on the main straight. Did “everybody” see that? What a move!

Just a couple more laps and I was feeling like the revs, the sounds, the roar and the shudder of the steel on jig-built chassis stock car was about to make me pass out. Darn it, this was my chance to shine, but the final lap I took it a little easier, just one last full throttle shot down the back straight before entering the pits.

Easy, really, except that while I was hitting maybe 100 on the straights and averaging about 70 mph on the track, the pros do it much quicker. RWRE doesn’t provide times, but my pit crew said I got better as I went and did 52 second laps, about 70 mph. The lap record is 185 mph or 20 seconds, but that was in an open-wheel Indycar back in 1998. I don’t see how.

Not a bad run for a semi-old-timer with a heavy right foot.

As I climbed from the car, first the window net down, then the wheel off, then release the HANS device, then the belts, then take that now hot helmet off my head. Pull my feet up into the seat and push myself out the window. Ah, fresh air, and a wave to my “fans” before reuniting with the family and taking my place on the victory podium. No autographs please!

That yellow? My brother-in-law and favorite pro photographer had snuck down to the first turn to get some photos of me lapping at speed. The RWRE folks didn’t care for that, so asked him to move and threw the yellow until he was back in the pits.

Everyone’s a winner at the Rusty Wallace Racing Experience!

Hey, but that got me a few extra laps on a track that I’ve known about since I was a kid, worshiping the likes of Tony Bettenhausen, A.J. Foyt, Roger Ward, Jim Clark, Bobby Unser, and my hero Jim Hurtubise. Herk was seriously burned here in a 1964 Turn 4 accident, but came back to race for years after that. That’s what heroes do.

Dreams do come true and Rusty Wallace, the 1989 NASCAR Champion, knows how to make that happen. It’s an experience I’ll cherish until I can’t crawl into or out of a race car anymore. But I’ve seen that it can still be done, even when that racer is 80!

Photos: Patrick McSweeney

2022 Acura MDX SH-AWD Advance

Acura doctors up its MDX , prescribing excellence …

 Rare that an automaker skips making one of its best-sellers for a year, but Acura did that – sort of – with its popular MDX luxury sport-ute to ensure its 2022 MDX was a winner. It is.

            To be accurate, Acura didn’t skip a whole year of selling, just brought out the 2022 early, in February. It’s a looker and a strong performer.

            What changed?

            The exterior was restyled, picking up what Acura calls its Diamond Pentagon grille from the RDX model. It appears to be exploding out of the Acura’s nose, giving it a distinct visual to be sure. The rest is nipped and tucked for a more modern look with squinty headlights and thin taillights that flow from the accent line along its shoulders. Then there’s chrome around the windows and a chrome accent stripe on each side and across the lower tail.

            But MDX (Doctor X?) also becomes longer, lower and wider with great visual proportions plus 2.4 inches of increased third-row seat legroom, making it almost useable by adults. The chassis has been stiffened, which helps with suspension tuning, and there’s a new double wishbone front suspension too that helps its ride and handling. A revised multi-link rear suspension also aids the total package.

            An aluminum hood and front fenders cut a little weight too and inside there’s both wireless Android Auto and Apple Car Play now, along with our good friend, Alexa, to answer all questions, as best she can. She couldn’t immediately identify the driver, but you can train the system to know your voice and therefore respond to you personally.

            Acura delivers a pleasant, luxury oriented SUV that also feels sportier than most big utes while packing plenty of power, although gas mileage is nothing special. All MDX models are gasoline-only for now. Previously a hybrid was offered, but none is currently.

            See Mark’s video review: https://youtu.be/6tY0vgIDUms

            All those underbody changes have helped give the tested MDX SH-AWD Advance model a well-controlled ride that is more pleasant than many light-duty truck-based SUVs. This handles big bumps and cracked streets well. Ride is fairly firm, but never harsh and the sound-deadening here helps occupants feel isolated from the roughest of roads.

            Then there’s the returning 3.5-liter 290-horsepower V6 that gives the MDX the grunt it needs for clamoring to highway speeds, or pull up to 5,000 lbs. A new 10-speed automatic (up from 9) shifts smoothly and seems well mated to the V6.

Four drive modes, Comfort, Normal, Sport and Snow are controlled via a Dynamic Mode knob on the center stack. Normal and Comfort are so similar you’ll like choose one and leave it alone. Supposedly Normal firms the steering effort some, and I suppose it does, but not enough to matter. Each mode also slightly changes the instrument panel gauges (red gauge rings for Sport) and alters the engine’s sound and the interior’s lighting. The V6 delivers a throaty growl when called on to rip up to highway speeds, otherwise it’s quiet and civil. Sport of course accentuates the growl and firms the steering and ride considerably. That will probably work best in southern climes or out West where roads are generally smooth blacktop.

            That SH-AWD moniker in the SUV’s title means it includes Acura’s Super Handling-All-Wheel Drive system that shifts power to the wheels with the most grip. That’s handy here in winter, but also the torque vectoring it allows to the wheels even in the dry means there’s less push in corners. That aids the MDX’s handling and gives it a sportier feel than one might expect in an SUV that’s nearly 200 inches long.

            Base and Tech models come as front-drive, but the AWD system is available for an extra $2,000. Which provides our segue to pricing.

            These MDX models are luxury vehicles to be sure, so not surprising that the base lists at $47,925 with front-drive while the Tech model starts at $52,625. The A-Spec lists at $58,125 and the tested Advance at $61,675, with delivery. Both upscale models come with AWD standard.

            A performance Type S model is due later this year and will pack a turbo V6 creating355 horsepower. It is projected to start about $65,000.

            While most luxury utes deliver strong performance what may set one apart from the other is interior design and feel. On most such points the Acura scores well.

            I’ve mentioned the quiet, and it’s amazing. But the soft leather seats and trim coddle occupants. The tested Phantom Violet Pearl (looks black except in bright sun, then the violet sparkles in the deep paint job), featured black leather seats with gray stitching and similar door trim. The dash is black leather with black stitching.

            Open pore wood trim gussies up the door panels, as does satin chrome trim, also found on the steering wheel hub and dash.

The interior looks fine, although very gray, yet all the controls are easy to use.

            Everything works well here and controls are easy to see and understand. There are toggles for the dual climate controls, simple buttons and roller wheels for adjustments on the power tilt/telescope steering wheel’s hub, and that big knob for drive mode tuning.

            But there’s a touch pad to adjust the 12.3-inch info screen. Size is good, but that pad is best used when the vehicle is not in motion, either parked, or at a stoplight. It’s not as jumpy as some pads I’ve tested, and the firmer you tap or slide your finger on the pad the better it responds. But still, a touchscreen would be preferable.

Logical layout and easy buttons make for a comfy dash and center stack design.

            Seating is comfortable with good head and legroom in the first two rows. Row three will hold a small adult, but they won’t want to go cross country back there. Row three is best for children who are just beyond car seat requirements. Access to the seat is simple.

            Front seats are well shaped for good support, plus both seats offer power controls to extend or contract the lower cushion, lumbar or side bolsters. Massaging seats will be offered later. Front seats are heated and cooled while second row seats are heated and a heated steering wheel is standard on the Advance model.

            There also are parking sensors, a head-up speedometer display that is simply adjusted to suit the driver’s needs, and overhead is a giant panoramic sunroof with power sun screen. Manual screens can be raised on the second row’s side windows.

Door panel controls also look sharp and function well.

            All the usual electronic safety devices are here too, from blind-spot warning to automatic braking, a 360-degree camera, and smart cruise and lane control.

            Row three seats are easily folded down to increase storage space, which could be needed on a trip as there’s just 16.3 cubic feet of cargo room behind the third row. Although there is a good bit of storage under the MDX’s cargo floor too. The power hatch can be activated via fob, an interior button or by waving a leg by the rear parking sensors.

            Negatives? Really much the same as most large luxury SUVs, big A-pillars that when coupled with large side mirrors can obscure the front to side sightlines. Also that third row remains cramped, just less so than before, and gas mileage numbers aren’t impressive.

            I got 21.6 mpg in about 70% highway driving while the EPA says to expect 19 mpg city and 25 mpg highway. Front-drive models get 1 mpg better.

            But there’s a lot to like here and many features, some of which are optional on a few of the competing models. So if you’re in the market for luxury and a large SUV be sure to price each with the exact features you require. While the Acura may start at a little higher price than some, it is competitively priced once standard features are considered.

FAST STATS: 2022 Acura MDX SH-AWD Advance

Hits: Sharp-looking 3-row SUV, good power, sporty handling, nice ride and AWD for grip. Quiet luxury interior, power seat support adjustment, 4 drive modes, big info screen, heated wheel, heated/cooled front seats, heated rear seats, panoramic sunroof, motion-activated hatch, power tilt/telescope steering wheel, Alexa standard too.

Snazzy taillights add a classy touch to the SUV’s tail too.

Misses: Big A-pillars, limited third row foot/knee room, no touchscreen, just touch pad on console for info screen adjustment. MPG not impressive.

Made in: East Liberty, Ohio

Pentagon-shaped grilles seem to all be the rage!

Engine: 3.5-liter V6, 290 hp

Transmission: 10-speed automatic

Weight: 4,565 lbs.

Wheelbase: 113.8 in.

Length: 198.4 in.

Cargo: 16.3/39.1/95.0 cu.ft.

Tow: 5,000 lbs.

MPG: 19/25

MPG: 21.6 (tested)

Base Price: $61,675 (includes delivery)

Invoice: N.A.

Major Options: None

Test vehicle: $61,675

Sources: Acura, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

2021 Mazda CX-30 2.5 Turbo, Premium Plus, AWD

Already a winner, new turbo elevates CX-30 to top tier …

Earlier this year I named Mazda’s slick new small crossover, the CX-30, as my Zoomie 2021 Car of the Year. Little did I know then that it was gonna get better.

The original was sporty looking, featured responsive handling, a quiet near luxury interior and had good power. Now the power is outstanding.

Mazda, as it did with its sporty Mazda3 recently, has added a kicky turbo to its already solid 2.5-liter SkyActiv-G 4-cylinder. The result is a hoot a power rating between 227 and 250 horsepower. That’s up from 168 horses in the original CX-30.

Why, you ask, is there such a range of horsepower for this spiffy turbo?

Because if you’re cheap like me you can fill up with 87-octane fuel and still feel pretty peppy with the turbo delivering 227 horses, or spend a little more for 91 octane (or higher) premium gas and the horsepower jumps to 250. All this in a 3,472-lb. crossover on a short 104.5-inch wheelbase.

Yowza!

Acceleration is crazy quick with the CX-30 easily pressing triple digits down a highway entry ramp. Car and Driver magazine says the petite crossover will snap off 0 to 60 mph in 5.8 seconds and top speed is said to be 128 mph. Coupled with the all-wheel-drive system that’s standard on all turbo-equipped CX-30s and you’ve got the grip to use that power to your advantage, even if the road is a tad wet.

See Mark’s video review: https://youtu.be/daMiHWGAp6w

Note too there’s a Sport drive mode toggle on the console that will give the CX-30 more oomph as needed. It was much appreciated as I zipped away from bulky traffic jams at stoplights. Click it and leap away from the heavy metal beasts with bigger engines, then click it off and cruise. Sport mode helps Mazda’s six-speed automatic that’s designed for fuel economy to put the emphasis on low-end power for as long as you need it.

Likewise the Mazda handles well, not exactly sports car nimble, but quite responsive and easy to zip through tight corners and whip into cramped parking spaces in the city. No body lean or sway even on super windy days, which were plentiful during this drive.

Ride is much more sophisticated in the CX-30 than other short-wheelbase crossovers. Firm? Yes, the ride is, but so well controlled that you’ll feel you’re in a longer-wheelbase crossover costing much more. Sound deadening is awesome too, a quiet interior here insinuates luxury not found in the price tag.

This interior also helps Mazda establish itself as the maker of finer, near luxury, machines, not just another mainstream car maker trying to only compete with the Toyotas,  Hondas, and Nissans of the world.

Like the previous CX-30 I’d tested, this one had a gorgeous leather interior, creamy white seats and brown over black dash with soft brown door armrests and insert trim. That brown on the dash wraps into the door trim creating an especially snazzy look. Trim on the dash and door handles is satin chrome and Mazda includes a leather wrapped gear shift knob and steering wheel. Just wish the wheel was a racier flat-bottomed number.

High-quality interior puts this Mazda well above its competitors.

Those seats are well shaped and the surface feels soft and smooth, again more of a luxury feel than you’ll find in most mid-range crossovers. For the record, the entry level has cloth seats, the next level up gets leatherette and the Premium and Premium plus real leather.

Front seats are powered and have two memory settings for the driver’s seat and a power lumbar too. Front seats also have three-level heat and the steering wheel is heated in the tested Premium Plus model.

Head and legroom are good up front and moderate in back. If a driver or front seat passenger is tall then the foot and legroom becomes tight in back. Cargo room is generous behind the split fold-down rear seats and the hatch is powered.

Dash layout is clean and attractive with an 8.8-inch infotainment screen that’s tucked into an indent atop the dash’s center. I like it being high, but some riders said they’d prefer a lower position. Personal choice I’m sure!

Standard are dual climate controls, a sunroof and a handy 360-degree backup camera.

Safety systems are all standard too, including front and rear parking sensors, rear cross-traffic alert and braking, blind-spot warning, lane departure and smart cruise control. The beeping from the blind-spot warning can be a bit startling the first couple times it goes off, but less so after you know what it’s warning you about.

Other goodies include a fine 12-speaker Bose stereo system, plus Android Auto and Apple Car Play. No wireless charger though. That’s still a $275 option. Outside mirrors also are heated, the wipers are rain-sensing, and front lights are adaptive.

I’d like to call this a perfect vehicle, but that’s not possible, ever. The automatic parking brake is irritating as it sets itself every time the ignition is turned off. No other tested vehicle does this. So each time you start to back up that brake engages to hold you back. You can either press the console’s button, or accelerate harder (not sure that’s wise) and it’ll overpower the brake and it will disengage.

Then there’s the central control knob on the console to adjust the info screen’s radio and navigation systems, etc. Once you play with it a while (several days) you’ll figure out how to get to the station list and change channels, but it’s not easy to do while driving. Saving favorites? The same. I beg Mazda to copy one of the easier systems found in most vehicles now.

But there’s so much else to love here. Sorry Subaru!

CX-30’s styling is leading edge, it’s noteworthy, it’s spectacular. The beak of the hood gives this crossover a nose to remember. Reminds me of the racy beak on 1960s and 1970s Eagle Indycar racers. The slits for headlights are equally appealing and the taillights also make a styling statement.

But all that aside, the Soul Red Metallic paint job is so stunning that it alone could sell someone on the CX-30. Soul Red is absolutely the best current paint color on any car on the market. Everyone commented on it. People asked about it at the gas station and in the driveway. It’ll cost you $595 extra, but is absolutely worth it.

Gas mileage dips a bit on the turbo, and I admit to abusing the Power mode button and having more fun than I likely am entitled. I still got 26.6 mpg as opposed to 31.7, which was amazing, on the original CX-30 with its more moderate power. The EPA estimates this model will get 22 mpg city and 30 mpg highway.

Best of all you won’t be paying a fortune for fun. The base turbo model starts at $30,050 and remember that includes AWD. A Premium model that would satisfy most of us goes for $32,450 and the tested Premium Plus lists at $35,000 including delivery. Non-turbo models with front-wheel-drive start at about $23,000, with AWD adding $1,400 to the price.

With its awesome red paint job and a few minor options the test crossover was $35,995, a bit less than the average price of a new car these days. Bravo!

CX-30 is a no-brainer if you’re in the small crossover market. It’s beautiful while also being a high-value hoot of a drive. Could it be the car of the year for two years in a row?

FAST STATS: 2021 Mazda CX-30 2.5 Turbo, Premium Plus, AWD

Hits: Excellent turbo power, responsive handling, plus AWD. Sporty looks, leatherette interior feels luxurious, big screen, sunroof, heated steering wheel and front seats, 360-camera, smart cruise and safety systems, Bose stereo, comfy supportive front seats, power hatch. High value, fun drive.

Sexy beak and eyes!

Misses: Not a fan of the console-controlled info screen, and ride is firm, but well-controlled. The park brake sets itself every time the ignition is turned off, so annoying to disengage each time you drive the car. Wireless charging (optional) and flat-bottom steering wheel would be nice.

Made in: Salamanca, Mexico

Engine: 2.5-liter SkyActiv-G I4, turbo, 227-250 hp

Transmission: SkyActiv-drive 6-speed, automatic w/Sport mode

Weight: 3,472 lbs.

Wheelbase: 104.5 in.

Length: 173 in.

Cargo: 20.2 cu.ft.

MPG: 22/30

MPG: 26.6 (tested)

Base Price: $35,000 (includes delivery)

Invoice: N.A.

Options:

Soul Red Crystal paint, $595

Cargo cover, $150

All-weather floor mats, $125

Rear bumper guards, stainless, $125

Test vehicle: $35,995

Sources: Mazda, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

Die-Cast: Autoart’s 2018 Dodge Challenger SRT HellCat widebody

In any scale a Hellcat Widebody bulges with muscles …

As retro racy as Dodge’s Challenger has been in its latest iteration, the Widebody version is the most muscular looking and the Hellcat flexes the greatest amount of muscle under the hood.

Sinamon Stick or Destroyer Gray? I gotta go with the brighter Hellcat!

Combine the two, as Autoart has on four new models, and the Challenger SRT Hellcat Widebody oozes with muscle car goodness that could easily be the star of any 1/18 scale collection, depending on color. I say that because three of these are bright and fun, the other a low-key Destroyer Gray.

I scored, receiving both the bad boy gray one, and the stunning Sinamon Stick, a metallic copper, for review. Both feature dual Gunmetal Gray center stripes and black chin and trunk spoilers. Awesome!

The History

I test drove a Hellcat at Wisconsin’s Road America a couple years ago, both in Challenger and Charger iterations and you can believe that their 717-horsepower 6.2-liter supercharged Hemi V8s can push these rear-drive muscle cars to 130 mph, and more, in short order, sounding great all the while.

A Hellcat Widebody makes another 10 horsepower as it adds an additional hood air intake and if you were to “need” more power, there’s an SRT Hellcat Redeye with a blood-vessel bursting 797 horses capable of hitting 203 mph with a 0-to-60 mph run in 3.4 seconds. Take that Ferrari!

See Mark’s review and video of the 1:1 Challenger Scat Pack Widebody: 2020 Dodge Challenger R/T Scat Pack Widebody | Savage On Wheels

Putting that power down requires massive 20-inch tires and, naturally, superior braking power via giant discs to whoa a Hellcat. All that is detailed here on the 1:18 scale model.

The gray Hellcat feature red Brembo calipers and check out that Hellcat logo on the fender too!

Price on the real deal is high, but not as high as the supercars, say Lamborghini, Bugatti and Ferrari. A Hellcat Widebody starts at $73,240 and the Redeye at $75,000, but then you’d be ready for competition while also being street legal. Oh, and now there’s an SRT Hellcat Redeye Widebody that trips the cash register at $80,765 and a Super Stock model at nearly $83 grand, uh, but it also makes 807 hp. Autoart’s versions are much more affordable at $230, and visually they’re nearly as thrilling.

The Model

               I’ll chat up the Sinamon Stick version as that’s my favorite visually and I could find only one eyeball-catching difference between it and its gray muscle beast buddy. The gray model features red Brembo brake calipers as opposed to black on the Sinamon version.

               First, nose to tail the lines are crisp and dead-on 1:18 replicas of the street machines. The hood is beautifully shaped with the center air scoop featuring black mesh grillwork and the hood’s two side air vents also feature black grilles. Mesh grillwork fills all the nose’s split grille openings too and the quad headlights are beautifully reproduced, including the inner running lights with their outer light ring.

               Widebody fender flares look spectacular and the front ones include slightly curved side marker lenses that fit neatly into those flares. Awesome etched metal Hellcat logos accent each front fender and there are SRT markings on the black gas cap and four black Devin’s Rim wheels that grace all Widebody models.

Everything opens on Autoart’s Challenger Hellcat.

               In back the wide flat slit taillights look realistic, the black surround setting off those lights and the black spoiler looks great too. The trunk will open via handsome struts and there’s black flocking finishing off the trunk’s interior. Dual chrome-tipped exhausts are flush with the black lower bumper and Dodge is spelled out with photo-etched letters on the black trunk face. A Dodge license also hangs on the back.

Here’s a close-up look at the under-hood detailing on the giant supercharged HEMI.

               Under the opening hood, which features both scissor hinges and struts to hold it in place, is that massive V8, and yes, it says HEMI on it. A bit of wiring and plumbing is visible, but the engine and supercharger and hoses, plus cooling and liquids containers make for a tight engine bay. Detailing is strong, and impressive if you like to pose your models with the hood up.

               All windows are trimmed in black and there are big black wipers for the windshield and a shark fin antenna atop the roof. Side mirrors included true mirrored surfaces and are body colored. The flush door handles look great too, but make opening the doors a bit of an effort.

Sharp detailing on the Hellcat interior here, particularly the stack and gauges.

               Seeing inside is worth the effort though. Seating is Gunmetal gray with well-shaped racy looking buckets up front and door panels are handsomely crafted, including power window buttons and such on the armrests.

               There’s a T-handled shifter on the wide silver-topped console with two cup holders and buttons at the console’s front edge. Dash screens and air vents are well shaped and look realistic with glossy gauge faces and the steering wheel is nicely detailed with silver lower spokes and flat-edged bottom.

               I know many of us don’t display such gorgeous models with doors open, but if you allow visitors to look inside your models they’ll be impressed with this one.

               Tires are thick beautifully treaded numbers with Pirelli PZero labeling in flat black so they don’t scream for attention. They wrap neatly around the gloss black Devil’s Rim wheels and the Brembo calipers are easily spied in front of the massive front and rear discs. Front wheels also are poseable.

               If neither of these colors would lay rubber in your driveway, the Widebody also is available in Yellow Jacket with a satin black hood or Octane Red (looks deep purple) with no stripes and selling for $20 less, so it’s the bargain buy of the foursome.

               I’m all in for Sinamon Stick!

Want more realism? You’ll need to buy a 1:1 Hellcat.

Vital Stats: Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat Widebody (2)

Maker: Autoart
Scale: 1/18
Stock No.: 71736 (Sinamon Stick) and 71738 (Destroyer Gray)
MSRP: $230 each

Link: Autoartmodels.com

See more detail photos below.

Sharp lights, black mesh grille and a fine SRT and Hellcat logo up front too.
Rear window defroster looks good as does that shark fin antenna atop the Challenger!
Fine-looking hood air scoops and vents with black mesh grillwork make for a great hood!

Why most Motorcyclists are better drivers

Well most of them

It’s coming up on a year when I had my motorcycle accident where a moron in a car pulled out in front of me earning me a trip to the ER and my bike to the salvage yard. And yet, I’m still here to tell about it.

My dream bike

My 07 Hayabusa was starting to cost me money and I was looking for it’s replacement. Not wanting to buy one from the local Suzuki dealer who’s service reputation had gotten sketchy, I looked at other brand, one I had lusted after for a very long time, Ducati. What I purchased was the first bike I saw when I entered the dealership, this 2019 959 Panigali. I think it was the color that caught my eye. Totally different than the Busa but even more fun.

It was love at first sight, my first new bike in about 30 years.

Let me hop back to the title of this blog entry for a second before I get into the details of the accident. I have been riding since I was maybe 20 and have taken multiple bike safety classes, even a racing class at Road America.

Related Video: See me at the California Superbike School

A good instructor will pound into your brain from the beginning that you don’t have all the metal around you like in a car so an accident will most likely leave a mark. You spidey senses have to be on high alert looking way ahead of traffic so you can anticipate a move by a car before it happens. When driving with my wife, she is constantly amazed on my eyes ahead. The other thing taught at the high performance classes is how to fall off the bike when you’ve been hit. Long story short, never put your hands out ahead of you to break the fall and try to relax. Well that last part is kind of hard.

Note I said in the headline that “most” motorcyclelists are better drivers. I know you’ve probably seen the kids on crotch rockets roar past you at high speed, some doing wheelies at 90 mph. Those we call squids because that’s pretty much what they look like after loosing control. If you haven’t seen this, just do a search for videos on YouTube.

That fatefull day

I needed a part for my lawn tractor so decided to take the bike for a spin. I was going on a road that I have traveled tons of times. I was coming up on a 4-way intersection where traffic going in my direction could turn left. If there are drivers stopped waiting for their opportunity to turn, there is a passing lane on the right. So with traffic stopped I proceeded to pass in the right hand lane. Well that’s when the bonehead who was stopped second in line to turn decided to turn right in front of me. Holly shit, this is going to leave a mark I though traveling at 40 mph.

Found this picture of one in a junkyard in Colorado. A good place for it. Wiki photo

The piece of shit that pulled out in front of me was a Toyota Tercel 4-wd sr5 wagon turd brown like this one. The Toyota logo got real big in my visor just before impact. I remember the horizon rotating three times before I came to rest on the pavement. The driver of the Turdcell had pulled way over to the right after impact. I remember laying on my back, mostly there, when the passenger got out and asked why I ran into them. Adrenaline was really pumping and I lifted my head up to respond, what the f…. are you talking about, you turned into me. I was hot. Apparently not getting my message, she asked me again and I responded the same. Then I decided to just lay down and let the paramedics and police take care of things. Witnesses confirmed that the car had indeed pulled in front of me and I flew over the car three times.

Diagram from accident report

Before getting loaded onto the ambulance, I heard the driver tell somebody that he had hurt his hand and was looking for a hospital. Still juiced up on adrenelin, my parting shot was to tell him just to follow the ambulance he put me in. It turns out, the he had a suspended liscense and no insurance. Have a nice day.

My brand new Ducati down. I loved that color

I was fortunate

I always wear a helmet. I can’t believe that there are people out there that don’t. I most likely would not have been writing this blog entry without wearing one.

This helmet saved my life. Note the scratches on the top and back. That could have really left a mark.

I got off easy with some road rash on my hand and a sore back that required therapy. I know, I should have had a broken arm or something. God was watching me that day. I guess it wasn’t my time and I keep asking myself, why am I still here? Well maybe to write this blog entry in the hope that motorists will be more aware of motorcycles, riders take a class, and please wear a helmet. And yup, I got back in the saddle buying a 2020 Panigalli V2 and love it.

My new ride with all kinds of electronic rider aids

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 Mercedes-Benz AMG GLE 63 S Coupe

Mercedes’ racy GLE Coupe is really an SUV …

This new Mercedes-Benz GLE Coupe is a whale of a vehicle and I mean that in mostly the nicest way, beyond its obvious looks.

The GLE Coupe is essentially a large SUV with a whale-like rounded rear end. If you don’t care for the look, Mercedes also offers the GLE as a square-backed SUV.

For styling the M-B designers essentially copied their slightly smaller GLC sport-ute’s rounded coupe profile. Seems Mercedes’ marketers decided that a rounded rear roofline enabled them to label the five-seat ute a coupe. I don’t buy it. Time will tell if luxury ute intenders will.

Labels aside, if you can think of this as a fastback SUV soaked in luxury and performance you’ll be thrilled, even if your name is Jonah. I tested the top-end AMG GLE 63 S Coupe in Selenite Gray. As Mercedes aficionados are well aware, tack the AMG initials onto anything and it’s gonna rock, big time.

AMG is Mercedes performance arm and hand builds its engines, and its assemblers sign each engine, assuring buyers these are unique powerplants, and likely race track worthy. This one seemed so.

The GLE’s heart is a bi-turbo 4.0-liter V8 that pounds out 603 horsepower and a massive 627 lb.-ft. of torque. Its roar could make an F1 racer jealous. The guttural growl of the bi-turbo is beautiful, something you feel deep in your bones.

It’s a rocket too, easily hitting triple digits on a freeway entry ramp. Mercedes claims a top speed of 174 mph. That’s special! Although you’ll never need it, or use all of that. Car and Driver magazine tested the square SUV version and managed 0 to 60 mph in just 3.4 seconds. Can you say supercar, er, truck?

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

However, there are a bevy of fast cars and trucks these days, each seeming to be celebrating the waning days of internal combustion engines (ICE).

Yes, it’s a fastback, but is it really? The Benz Looks like and drives like a big SUV, although way faster and sportier than most!

But AMG takes its job seriously and does a particularly fabulous job tuning the handling and suspension here to give the GLE coupe a racer-like feel, even in Comfort drive mode. There are plenty of drive modes too, from Race (yes) to Slippery, which helps the standard AWD system handle snow and slop.

With great power comes great responsibility though. Hence the need for superior brakes. GLE nails it with monster 16.5-inch drilled front disc brakes featuring red 6-piston AMG calipers. Braking is impressive.

Steering effort is on the heavy side, but engages well with the road and gives the GLE a dialed in feel. In Race mode I zipped through multiple S-curves and winding roadways like a slot car shoed in silicone tires. I was stuck, often doubling or tripling the suggested turn speeds.

Is the Mercedes logo on the grille big enough for ya?

While heavy (5,390 lbs.), the GLE never feels loose or tippy, a major accomplishment with a vehicle that’s 70.2 inches tall and stands with 7.5 inches of ground clearance. Oh, and you can raise and lower the vehicle’s drive height via a console toggle.

Ride is firm, but well controlled as the SUV rides on giant 21-inch tires. Some might like the Comfort setting to tell the shocks to further dampen the ride, especially on choppy city streets. Yet after a week I was toughened up enough to handle the firm feel and with such a whisper-quiet interior (a $1,100 option increases insulation and window acoustics) you are well insulated from road imperfections.

The interior coddles you too. This one featured upgraded (just $250) quilted black leather and suede seats that are heated, cooled and controlled via easy-to-reach controls on the door panel. The dash, doors and flat-bottom steering wheel include carbon fiber trim. The spiffy wheel costs $400 extra though.

The Benz’s dash is well laid out with two 12.3-inch digital high-def screens that meld together so they appear as one two-foot-wide control panel. The center infotainment portion being a touchscreen with multiple functions, and there’s a redundant touchpad on the console for the unthinkable reason you may find it more convenient. You won’t.

Mercedes builds in a LOT of redundancy into controls though. For instance its drive modes and suspension adjustments have at least three different toggles and such to get at them. Easiest is the round knob below the steering wheel’s hub.

Buttons, toggles and door stereo speaker coves are satin metal here while the dash, doors, and part of the steering wheel are carbon fiber. A black gloss roll-back cover at the front of the console opens to reveal a wireless charging station.

Seats are fabulously supportive and you can even extend the front seats’ bottom cushion to give extra support to long-legged drivers. Headrests re powered too and the steering wheel is a power tilt/telescope unit.

Here’s a closeup look at the center stack buttons, screen, and console’s buttons and toggles.

These well-formed seats are heated and cooled, naturally, but the steering wheel is not heated, although the wheel’s partial suede coating helps reduce the need. Ironically Mercedes heats the door armrests though, thanks to a $1,050 option package. First time I’ve seen that.

And get this, these super comfy seats also offer eight massage settings, all controlled via the big infotainment screen. This is a $1,650 “energizing” package that I’ve got to say is like having Magic Fingers to ease the stress of a long drive. These would be golden on a trip, especially the setting that allows the cushions to massage your derriere.

One warning though, it’s best to have your front seat passenger adjust these settings, or to set them before you begin driving as tapping the screen can distracting and sometimes difficult on a bumpy road.

Other interior goodies include a giant panoramic sunroof, and a killer Burmester surround-sound stereo that might be able to deafen your neighbors if you crank it all the way up. Definitely party time, but at a $4,550 price tag it won’t be at my party.

Safety systems are rife here, as you’d expect, but M-B insists you pay $1,950 extra for a lot of them. That includes active levels of lane change assist, steering assist, brake assist and a variety of semi-autonomous features. This is a pricey vehicle. I’d expect all safety features to be standard.

With all this SUV’s power, much safety comes from the great AMG discs and red calipers with multiple piston braking.

Rear seats are a little hard here, but are roomy and there’s reasonable cargo space behind the seats, plus a smidge of hidden storage beneath the floor. Obviously with the slanted rear roofline you lose some vertical storage space. But if you buy something large, you’ll likely pay for delivery anyway.

While a delight in most ways there are a few concerns, beyond those already mentioned. One, the roofline is so low that even at 5-foot-5 I had to duck my head considerably to enter the vehicle. Taller drivers may find mounting the GLE hazardous to their heads.

Also, the massive roof pillars all the way from A to C coupled with the small rear window limit outward visibility. All the safety warning systems and cameras help, but good visibility is the easiest way to make a vehicle safer.

Then there is the column mounted shifter. While that was a common spot for shifters years ago, it isn’t now. Many car makers put the windshield wiper stalk on the right column now, so I found myself shifting into neutral on the freeway a couple times when I meant to engage the wipers. Not great.

Mercedes also is very concerned you’ll leave your key fob in the GLE. Every time you enter and every time you exit a message lights up and dings to remind you, “Don’t forget your key.” Unnecessary!

This is a big, heavy performance ute, so gas mileage is another concern. First, the GLE prefers high-octane gasoline to run at maximum power, but I got just 16 mpg in a week’s driving with more than half on the highway. The EPA rates the GLE at 15 mpg city and 19 highway. This seems a good candidate for hybrid power, and soon.

Even the door panels look special, including power seat controls, oh, and these seats also massage!

Pricing might be a wee high for most folks too. The test GLE starting at $117,050, including delivery. Add in the aforementioned options plus a few more, including fancy wheels and a $1,500 carbon fiber engine cover (oh my!) and the test ute hit $134,000.

That’s way into the luxury market and while the performance and luxury interior may justify the price, I’d want a better looking overall package.

FAST STATS: 2021 Mercedes Benz AMG GLE 63 S Coupe

Hits: Super performance for tall SUV, great power, excellent handling, multiple drive modes, AWD, and quiet interior. Luxury leather interior with heated seats, armrests, killer stereo, mega-sunroof, wireless charger, comfy well-formed seats with massage feature, 24-inch dual display screens. Fantastic brakes, safety systems, and packs every feature but a heated steering wheel.

Snazzy lights and grille give this a Mercedes face!

Misses: Firm ride, low entry-exit headroom at door frame, no heated wheel, drinks high-octane gas and plenty of it. Column shifter odd placement, massive roof pillars, and price may be a wee bit high!

Made in: Vance, Ala.

Engine: 4.0-liter Bi-turbo V8, 603 hp

Transmission: 9-speed automatic

Weight: 5,390 lbs.

Wheelbase: 117.9 in.

Length: 195.3 in.

Cargo: 27.5-63.2 cu.ft.

MPG: 15/19

MPG: 16.0 (tested)

Base Price: $117,050 (includes delivery)

Invoice: N.A.

Major Options:

AMG carbon fiber trim, $1,750

AMG black Nappa leather w/diamond stitching, $250

AMG carbon fiber engine cover, $1,500

AMG performance steering wheel w/carbon fiber trim, $400

AMG cross-spoke forged wheels, matte black, $2,000

Driver assistance package (active distance assist Distronic, active steering assist, active lane change assist, active emergency stop, active speed limit assist, active brake assist w/cross-traffic function, evasive steering assist, active lane-keeping assist, active blind-spot assist, Pre-Safe Plus rear collision protection, impulse side, route-based speed adaptation, active stop-and-go assist, traffic sign assist), $1,950

Warmth and comfort package (rapid heating front seats, heated front armrests and door panels), $1,050

Energizing comfort package plus (air balance package, active multi-contour front seats w/massage), $1,650

AMG night package (front splitter, front and rear apron trim strips, window trim, exterior mirror housing in gloss black), $750

Acoustic comfort package (increased cabin insulation, windshield w/infrared reflecting film, side windows w/acoustic and infrared absorbing film), $1,100

Burmester high-end 3D surround sound system, $4,550

Test vehicle: $134,000

Sources: Mercedes-Benz, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

All-Electric Ford F-150 Lightning announced

Ford to reveal F-150 Lightning May 19 with livestreamed event …

DEARBORN, Mich. – Ford announced today it was launching an all-electric pickup, the F-150 Lightning. The new F-150 Lightning will be revealed May 19 at Ford World Headquarters in Dearborn and livestreamed for millions to watch. 

This is Ford’s hybrid F-150, which is already available. The electric come out next year.

In a press release Ford said the F-150 Lightning “brings innovation, technologies and capabilities to the F-Series, America’s best-selling vehicle, combined with the power, payload and towing capability.”.

The reveal takes place at 9:30 p.m. EDT, May 19, from Ford World Headquarters and will be broadcast live with 30+ ways to watch across physical and digital destinations, including the Ford Facebook and YouTube channels, Twitter, key national publications as well as 18 locations such as Times Square in New York City and the Las Vegas Boulevard.

“Every so often, a new vehicle comes along that disrupts the status quo and changes the game … Model T, Mustang, Prius, Model 3. Now comes the F-150 Lightning,” Jim Farley, Ford President and CEO, said in a release. “America’s favorite vehicle for nearly half a century is going digital and fully electric. F-150 Lightning can power your home during an outage; it’s even quicker than the original F-150 Lightning performance truck; and it will constantly improve through over-the-air updates.”

Added Farley: “The truck of the future will be built with quality and a commitment to sustainability by Ford-UAW workers at the Ford Rouge Complex — the cathedral of American manufacturing and our most advanced plant.”     

Production of the F-150 Lightning begins next spring at the all-new Ford Rouge Electric Vehicle Center.

Ford already markets a hybrid F-150 that Savageonwheels.com reviewed earlier this year. It’s pictured here too.

See Mark’s review: https://savageonwheels.com/2021/04/07/2021-ford-f-150-4×4-supercrew-lariat-hybrid/

2021 Nissan Rogue Platinum

New Rogue evolves back to top of market …

For the past century plus 20 or so years the auto market has seen fits and starts of revolution, but a whole lot of evolution.

Electric cars seem revolutionary now, just as hybrids were 20+ years ago. But when a carmaker has a winner, it often turns first to evolution to keep it selling like Minecraft games among pre-teens.

So it is with Nissan’s best-seller, the Rogue, a compact SUV or crossover, depending on who’s doing the defining. Look around at the next stoplight, or as you drive through your neighborhood. You’ll see a lot of Rogues.

That’s because Rogue has been a steady Eddie, an SUV that most families could afford and that delivered comfort, convenience, and reliability. It still does.

But for 2021 it has been upgraded, offering 11 more horsepower, much more cargo space, a skosh more rear seat room, a stiffer chassis, new rear suspension, upgraded seats and dash and a sharply restyled exterior. When you’re already prom queen all you probably need is a new bouquet. Rogue bought the florist.

See Mark’s video review: 2021 Nissan Rogue review by Mark Savage – YouTube

Let’s start with the outer appearance because Rogue got a lot of compliments at the gas station and from friends and neighbors. The body was tweaked to be pleasantly boxy (muscular in today’s vernacular), but with a two-tone paint option (black roof) and a perfect amount of chrome accents this silvery gold (Champagne) test vehicle absolutely sparkled in the driveway.

Nissan has added chrome to the tallish V-Motion grille, some new HD headlights and turn signal lenses up front, along with black cladding over the wheels and down the sides’ rocker panels, again with chrome accents, and chrome side window trim. The look is much ritzier than the previous model!

Nissan goes with a bold chrome V-Motion grille.

Functionally Rogue now features a unibody chassis that is stiffer than before, making it easier to tune the suspension. Speaking of which, there’s now a multi-link rear unit that will help in any off-road excursions.

Aluminum doors and front fenders save some weight too and a revised automatic CVT helps improve fuel economy. The tested Premium AWD model (top of the line) is rated at 25 mpg city and 32 mpg highway. I got 29.4 mpg in about 60% highway driving. Excellent for a gas-powered SUV.

It’s especially impressive considering Nissan eeked out a 10% horsepower gain to 181 horses from its stout 2.5-liter I4.

Plus you can select from five drive modes for slippery or off-road trundling. Automatic is the main setting, but there’s Sport to boost acceleration and firm steering effort, Eco to do the opposite and save fuel, plus Off-Road and Snow, the latter being a Wisconsin favorite. This model came with AWD to help full-time in sloppy conditions. That adds $1,400 to any trim level.

Power was good too, making a scramble onto the freeway simple and confident. Likewise the Rogue handles well, the chassis stiffening no doubt a factor there, so not much body lean even in high-speed sharp turns. Ride was ok, nothing special and felt firmer to me than my past test drives. That may relax a bit with a full load of passengers. I never had more than two aboard.

Safety is well considered here too with standard blind-spot warning, rear cross-traffic alert, rear automatic braking, a 360-degree camera, intelligent forward collision warning, intelligent lane intervention and automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection.

The ProPilot semi-autonomous safety system has been upgraded too. That includes smart cruise control and steering assist to keep you in your lane. Plus now Nissan tells us, it’ll slow you by braking one inside wheel if you enter a turn too quickly and will automatically slow the Rogue on a highway off-ramp. Remember, GPS knows exactly where you are!

Inside, the Rogue is as handsome and comfortable as any compact SUV, the Premium model featuring thick leather seating, and dash and door trim. This one was black over a butterscotch brown with that orange-tinted brown for the quilted seats and tastefully trimmed in black. There’s a bit of fake wood facing on the passenger’s side dash, textured black trim on the console with brown sides and repeated on the door armrests. Satin chrome trims the dash and air vents and door release panels. This looks classy!

Talk about classy … check out this snazzy new interior look for the Rogue!

Rogue’s dash is pretty special too with a 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster in front of the driver that is adjustable to show items most important to you. The Premium also includes a head-up display and a 9-inch infotainment screen that was extremely easy to see and use, including large volume and tuning knobs.

Below that screen are easily understood climate controls and two large temperature knobs for the dual system. Here’s where you’ll find the heated seat and steering wheel buttons too.

Nissan continues to offer a flat-bottomed steering wheel in Rogue, which makes entering and exiting just a tad easier for knees. Oh, and the five shift modes are managed simply via a knob on the console.

Love the flat-bottomed steering wheel. More vehicles need this!

There’s also a couple plug-in outlets below the center stack, and a wireless phone charger. This one didn’t work, but I read that some early models did not get this feature as there was a shortage of some electronics due to Covid-related work slowdowns. Wireless charging will be on future Platinum models.

Seats are NASA-inspired Zero Gravity shaped, which means comfy with good hip and back support. Powered front seats include a driver’s adjustable lumbar support and two memory buttons on the door. Rear seats are more comfortable than most with oodles of head and legroom and the cushions are a soft comfortable leather that feels rather cushy. Ahhh!

Even the door panels look upscale.

In back the storage space has grown from 32 to 36.5 cu.ft., with the rear seats in place, and 74.1 cu.ft. with those split rear seats lowered. That’s up from 70, so a nice gain. Also, there is a split cargo floor with storage under the covers. The hatch is powered too and can be activated by waving your foot beneath the rear bumper, nice if your arms are loaded with groceries, boxes or kids.

Speaking of which, Nissan offers a small-child friendly feature that rocks, 90-degree opening rear doors. They open so wide a parent can easily strap a wee one in a child’s car seat. Plus, there are manual sun shade for the rear windows to keep bright light out of Baby’s eyes. Brilliant!

Pricing remains broad and value-oriented enough that families should be able to find a Rogue to meet their budget. A base front-drive S starts at $26,745, including delivery. The popular SV model goes for $28,435 and adds ProPilot Assist, 18-inch alloy wheels, an 8-way power driver’s seat and Nissan Connect.

Move up to the SL model and you get 19-inch wheels, a leather interior, panoramic sunroof, motion-activated hatch, tri-zone climate system, power passenger’s seat and memory function for the driver’s seat and steering wheel. List price is $33,095.

The tested Platinum model with virtually everything including AWD, lists at $37,925. This one added a two-tone paint job for $350, illuminated kick plates for $400, external ground lighting at $350, interior accent lighting for $350 and a frameless rearview mirror for $310. I could do without any of these add-ons, except maybe the paint scheme. Total was $39,685.

This is a crowded market with a lot of great choices from the Honda CR-V, Toyota Rav4, Subaru Forester, Ford Escape, Kia Sorento and Hyundai Santa Fe. But Rogue has put itself back near the top of the heap with its restyled, much-improved model.

FAST STATS: 2021 Nissan Rogue Platinum AWD

Hits: Sharply restyled, stylish interior, good power and handling, plus AWD. OK ride, roomy cargo area, easy to see 12-inch digital instrument cluster, 9-inch info screen, heated front and rear seats and steering wheel, 5 drive modes, flat-bottom steering wheel, solid standard safety equipment and ProPilot upgraded.

Snazzy new nose and headlight styling here.

Misses: Wireless phone charger didn’t work.

Made in: Smyrna, Tenn.

Engine: 2.5-liter I4, 181 hp / 181 torque

Transmission: XtronicCVT automatic

Weight: 3,371 lbs.

Wheelbase: 106.5 in.

Length: 183 in.

Cargo: 36.5-74.1 cu.ft.

Tow: 1,350 lbs.

MPG: 25/32

MPG: 29.4 (tested)

Base Price: $37,925 (includes delivery)

Invoice: N.A.

Major Options:

External ground lighting, $350

Two-tone paint, $350

Illuminated kick plates, $400

Interior accent lighting, $350

Frameless rearview mirror w/remote, $310

Test vehicle: $39,685

Sources: Nissan, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage