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2022 Volkswagen Taos SE

Taos another newcomer in expanding small crossover market …

Oh my, the burgeoning small crossover market just added another competitor, the Volkswagen Taos (rhymes with House), and if value is your main shopping criteria the Taos should be near the center of your bull’s-eye.

Just in the last year I’ve reviewed the following tiny crossover competitors, Mazda CX-30 (2 versions), Hyundai Venue, Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross, Kia Seltos, Chevy Trailblazer, Nissan Kicks and Subaru Crosstrek. There were others earlier as this segment has been swelling like an anaconda swallowing a warthog.

But back to Taos (not New Mexico), VW’s smallest crossover that rides on a 105.9-inch wheelbase with a potentially powerful 1.5-liter turbocharged I4 that makes 158 horsepower, 11 horses more than VW’s Jetta. That figure is near the top of this segment’s power rankings, except for the over-endowed Mazda CX-30 with its 2.5-liter turbo I4 that makes 227 to 250 hp, depending on gas selection. It’s a riot!

For VW this new engine is an efficient and torque-happy number with 184 pound-feet of oomph. Sadly, the test vehicle had the worst case of turbo-lag that I can recall in several years. It hesitated at every chance to accelerate. Pull from the drive, push the accelerator, and wait. Traffic light turns green, push the accelerator, and wait. Turn a corner or head onto a highway ramp, push the accelerator, and wait. Ugh!

If you want power quickly you must mash the accelerator and then there’s still a wait before that turbo launches the VW to excellent highway speeds. The waiting, followed by over-accelerating became tedious.

Too bad, because Taos seems solid and handles well. Steering is light and easy and the crossover corners with little hint of body roll. This could be sporty and fun. Plus Taos is light, just 3,175 pounds. My mid-level SE model was front-drive and I suspect the 4Motion (AWD) would give it even better traction and handling. AWD costs $1,500 extra on all three trim levels.

Ride? Well, this is a short wheelbase crossover with struts up front but just a torsion beam rear suspension, so ride is pretty firm. The potholes weren’t as disturbing as the raised pavement hoo-has. Taos seemed to jump a bit sideways at times on those sharp spots.

Note that the AWD models feature a multi-link rear suspension which may help ride quality some and is the system used by most vehicles these days.

An 8-speed automatic tranny handles the shifts and is aimed at fuel savings. Too bad there are no drive mode selections here to add power or maybe smooth out the performance a bit in a comfort mode. Eco seems to be where the Taos is aimed and it features strong EPA numbers. The estimates there are 28 mpg city and 36 highway. I got a fine 29.4 mpg in about 80% highway driving.

By comparison, the Trailblazer with AWD that I tested posted 32 mpg, the Mazda CX-30 with the turbo managed 26.6 and the Crosstrek posted 25.4 mpg.

Plenty of safety systems are in place, with VW’s Intelligent Crash Response System and automatic post-collision braking, forward collision warning and autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian monitoring, a blind-spot monitor, and rear traffic alert being standard.

The test crossover added the IQ Drive SE package with Travel Assist (VW’s semi-autonomous driving system), smart cruise control, the Stop & Go system, and lane assist, for $895. The Travel Assist worked fine, but seemed a bit over anxious, as some of these do, pushing the car back toward the center or side lines harder than need be. This becomes concerning in construction zones and I could find no way to turn the system off as I dodged Wisconsin’s many orange barrels and cones.

Inside the King’s Red Metallic ($395 extra, and worth it) test vehicle was a fine interior. The SE trim upgrades cloth seats to something called CloudTex synthetic seats. This is a combo of cloth feel and faux leather, which is tough and easy to clean.

The test Taos featured gray seats with white stitching and the doors were two-tone gray while the dash was mostly dark gray with a bluish trim on some plastic bits. The console was flat black, ending sunny day reflection worries.

The SE model upgrades from the standard 6.5-inch info screen to an 8-inch touchscreen that was fairly easy to adjust. Below that are three large climate control knobs, so easy to adjust.

A nice sized screen on the new Taos.

However, during my drive Wisconsin was sweating through a spate of muggy upper-80s days and I had to crank the climate system’s fan to its top-level to get enough cooling and leave it there for about 10 minutes. Then I slowly dialed the speed back. Air was plenty cold from the system, but it took a while to cool the interior and there is no automatic climate setting, again keeping costs down for Taos.

Seats were well-shaped giving good side and hip support and the driver’s seat was powered with a power lumbar support. The front passenger’s seat is manual. But legroom and headroom are good front and rear so it’s easy to load four to five adults in Taos, although five may prefer city jaunts to cross-country tours.

Seats are heated up front and the flat-bottomed steering wheel also is heated, a plus.

Another goodie was the huge panoramic sunroof, a $1,200 add-on. These are increasingly popular in crossovers, but this one was a monster with a gray screen over it to reduce summer sun. But it would be fun to open in spring and fall to be sure. Might not feel like a Jeep, but definitely brings the outside in!

Another plus, a wireless phone charger under the dash’s center stack and the fact that the driver can give the instrument panel multiple looks, adding or deleting various information on either side of the speedometer.

Good news too for those hauling a lot of gear, the VW offers a generous storage area behind the rear seats with 28.1 cubic feet of space. Fold the split rear seats down and that grows to a sizeable 66.3 cu.ft.

Now maybe the best news, pricing. VW starts with the S trim at $24,190 for front-drive and $1,500 more for AWD, known as 4Motion. The tested SE model lists at $28,440 and is FWD. A top-level SEL lists at $32,685 with AWD and a sunroof being the only options.

This Taos added 19-inch black alloy wheels with all-season tires for $395, giving the red crossover a snazzy look since it comes with black cladding over the wheel wells and front and rear fascias. Grand total here was $31,325.

That’s a bargain in today’s car world, although I’d think most Wisconsin drivers would want to add the AWD for traction and to possibly improve ride quality with the multi-link suspension.

Sharp taillights!

By comparison my vehicle of the year, the hot-looking CX-30 starts at $30,050 with delivery and AWD is standard. The tested Trailblazer that is awfully cute lists at $30,070 and includes AWD while the Crosstrek is a little more at $31,440 with AWD and heated and cooled seats, plus a fancy stereo.

As you can see, pricing in this segment is quite close, so test drive several small crossovers before you buy and compare them with like features. This is a well-stocked market with Taos being the new kid on the block!

FAST STATS: 2022 VW Taos SE

Hits: Light easy handling, huge panoramic sunroof, roomy interior, heated well-shaped seats, flat-bottom heated steering wheel, big storage area, wireless charger, multiple dash views, value pricing and good gas mileage.

Misses: Firm ride and concerning turbo lag on acceleration. Couldn’t turn off active lane control, no drive modes to boost acceleration, fan must be turned on top level for quite a while to cool crossover on hot day.

Fancy black wheels give Taos a sporty look.

Made in: Puebla, Mexico

Engine: 1.5-liter turbo I4, 158 hp

Transmission: 8-speed automatic

Weight: 3,175 lbs.

Wheelbase: 105.9 in.

Length: 175.8 in.

Cargo: 28.1/66.3 cu.ft.

MPG: 28/36

MPG: 29.4 (tested)

Base Price: $28,440

Invoice: $27,351

Major Options:

19-inch black alloy wheels w/all-season tires, $395

King’s Red metallic paint, $395

Power panoramic sunroof, $1,200

IQ Drive SE package (Travel Assist semi-autonomous drive assistance, adaptive cruise control, stop & go, lane assist, blind-spot monitor), $895

Test vehicle: $31,325

Sources: VW, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

Die-cast: GP Replicas Ferrari 312 B3

Lauda’s 1974 F1 car a spectacular 1:43 model …

Ferrari’s Formula 1 cars of the 1960s and 1970s were beautiful and less complex looking than today’s multi-winged wonders that seem to have stretched to limousine proportions.

Niki Lauda’s sassy Ferrari 312 B3 of 1974 is a standout example of this with a simple solid nose wing and another on the tail. The fact both were chromed to go with the blazing red bodywork made them all the more attractive and exciting.

I landed a GP Replicas 1:43 scale version and was pleasantly surprised at the detail for basically $70. Also, this was the best packed die-cast car I’ve ever received with a multi-layer box within a box. See the photos below!

The History

Lauda, the three-time World Champ from Austria, needs no introduction. He was an F1 master that took Ferrari to new heights in the 1970s, was almost killed in a 1976 crash, and continued on for years after his miraculous recovery. Winning an F1 title with Ferrari (his second) and later for McLaren.

Sharp case and label on the black base here.

But in 1974 he and Clay Regazzoni, a talented Swiss driver, scored three wins with the B3 version of the stout 312 racer, Lauda winning twice. In fact, the duo set fastest qualifying laps in 10 of the F1 races that season, outpacing their Lotus and McLaren counterparts. Ultimately Lauda finished fourth in the standings and Regazzoni second due to more consistent finishes and fewer DNFs.

Yet the B3-74 and its 490-horsepower flat 12-cylinder engine were not as dependable as Ferrari had hoped, allowing Ferrari to finish only second in the F1 constructors championship. So the B3 was reworked as Ferrari mastered the aerodynamics of the time and morphed into the stellar 312T that won the F1 title with Lauda at the wheel in 1975. The 312T debuted in the third race that season.

The Model

               I like everything about this model starting with that stout packaging to ensure it arrives in one piece, a real plus as sometimes wings, wheels or windscreens are knocked loose in transit.

               The B3’s body shape and Ferrari Red paint job are stellar. Its wings are well-shaped and the chrome finish is fine as are all the decals/logos, mainly Goodyear and Agip at the time as cars weren’t rolling billboards just yet.

Check out the yellow air ducts for the front brakes!

               Front and rear suspensions look realistic and there are yellow brake air ducts in front of the front axles, a particularly nice touch. Goodyear slicks are well labeled and the racing wheels are matte gold.

               Beyond the suspension detail is the snazzy looking engine bay with battery, low tailpipes and again brake air ducts in the exposed engine area beyond the car’s body. The Ferrari’s white wing strut looks substantial too and there’s a rear red light embedded in that, used during rainy races and on warmup laps to alert drivers of the car ahead. There’s even some wiring on the engine, pretty rare in this scale.

               Cool too are the silver screens over the rear radiator ducts, the tall air intake behind the cockpit and a delicate windscreen that blends smoothly into the cockpit’s sides. Niki Lauda’s name is in white script below the cockpit, which is black and includes a steering wheel and realistic looking blue shoulder and lap belts.

               For the record, the numbers are black on white rounded-corner squares and of course the No. 12 that Lauda carried.

               The car rests in a nice acrylic case that features a black base with a nameplate featuring the car’s make and Lauda’s name. This is a limited edition, just 500 being made.      

And this just in. I’ve heard from a large retailer that the Ferrari models from GP Replicas were not licensed properly with Ferrari for the U.S. market and that is costing some retailers money for having sold them. So, it appears these may appear mostly on the overseas digital market sites. Too bad, as this is one of the finest 1:43 scale F1 cars I’ve seen.

My advice, stick with Spark and Ixo brands for good quality 1:43 scale racing models. Or Replicarz is strong on vintage Indycars and Greenlight for current year Indycars.

Blue belts are the highlight of the cockpit.

Vital Stats: 1974 Ferrari 312 B3-74 (Niki Lauda)

Maker: GP Replicas
Scale: 1/43
Stock No.: GP-43-01A
MSRP: $70-110 (various websites)

Check out the boxes the car is packed in for protection. Pretty impressive!

2022 Genesis G70 3.3T Sport Advanced

Can a luxury sport sedan be a value leader? Yes, if it’s a Genesis G70 …

In the olden days, 1980s and 1990s, there were a few grunty sport sedans that wouldn’t send a buyer to Uncle Guido for a small loan.

That was then, this is now, and a loan is a near certainty. But, if a person wants to save some on his or her monthly payments Genesis has a sport sedan worth a looksee. It’s called the G70 and rides on a platform equivalent in size to a Toyota Camry.

So the G70 is a good sized car, but not a luxo limo with monster power and a price tag to match.

Nope, the G70 is extremely fast and handles like a similar sized BMW. It’s fun on the road and faster than nearly anything not costing way north of $50 grand. But the G70 isn’t cheap. It starts at a modest $38,550 for a base rear-drive 252-horsepower turbo I4 version and tops out at $51,445 for the Prestige model with its crazy fast 3.3-liter twin-turbo V6 cranking 365 horses.

The Himalayan Gray test car started at $45,245, that sparkly gray color adding $500, and features the twin-turbo V6. It’s what you’d want if you long for a performance car that looks sharp, but feels luxurious. This was the G70 AWD 3.3T Sport Advanced model, including a $4,300 Sport Advanced package. More on that in a bit.

I’d tested the more luxurious G80 sedan a couple months back and it’s the luxury liner limo with a performance edge, especially with its horsier V6. The G70 is a family sport sedan, a smaller firmer riding rocket ship.

Watch Mark’s video review: https://youtu.be/0xSgncjBmdc

Blasting off on a highway entry ramp it’s easy to eclipse triple digits and there’s more where that came from, which is why Car and Driver magazine puts its top speed at 167 mph. Yeow! That speed is achieved via AWD here. It favors the rear wheels unless the pavement is slick. Shifts via the 8-speed automatic are crisp and the G70’s 365 horsepower pushes you back into its leather seats, just like an old-time V8.

Of course there are drive modes (5 here) to accomplish that oomph. Both Sport and Sport+ will get your juices flowing while also firming the steering effort, but never to the point of being a burden to the driver. Steering is precise and makes the G70 an apex eater. Fun!

The down side is a stiff ride, yet not punishing. Still, that could be helped with softer seats, the G70s are a bit too hard in the butt pocket for a 60-something like me. I also noticed a bit more road/tire noise from the rear vs. the longer G80.

Braking is solid as you’d expect, but at slower speeds I found the brakes a bit grabby. Don’t forget this has AWD too, an aid to traction in winter slop. I’d want that even though it adds $2,000 to any G70.

Inside the test car looked great with gray perforated leather seats and lower door trim, a black dash and upper door trim giving this a modern two-tone appearance. Genesis uses patterned aluminum inserts in the doors and by the console-mounted shifter. Other trim is satin chrome for a classy look.

The white leather seats and trim ooze luxury and comfort.

Overhead is a panoramic sunroof and shade, while under the center stack is a wireless phone charger.

The Genesis info screen is 10.25 inches and easy to see and use. The digital instrument cluster also is attractive and I like the big climate control knobs on the center stack below the info screen. They can be synched or run separately to chill or warm your significant other.

Down below are metal-faced pedals and the power seats are simple to use, both front seats being 12-way adjustable. The leather seats feel fine to the touch, but I and my wife found the seat pockets too firm, which became tiring on a roundtrip to Chicago. However, the seats are heated and cooled, a nice thing during weather extremes. A heated steering wheel is standard while those cooled seats are part of the pricy Sport Advanced package.

Big screen, easy controls and metal-faced pedals create a stylish cockpit.

It also adds the sunroof and a cushion extender for long-legged drivers and tightening side bolsters, which are engaged in Sport and Sport+ modes. I liked that, just wish the bottom cushions were softer.

Other add-ons in that package include parking sensors, snazzy dark alloy wheels, that aluminum interior trim, a dark chrome diamond-patterned grille and a fine Lexicon 15-speaker premium sound system. A visceral aid is the variable exhaust valve system that makes that twin-turbo V6 sound special in Sport and Sport+ modes.

I dig this patterned aluminum trim on the doors and on the console.

And for the techy among us, a digital key system is part of the package. That allows you to use your cell phone as the car key. Great, unless you misplace your phone or leave it in someone else’s car.

Trunk space is less than many in this segment at just 11 cubic feet. A couple sets of golf clubs will likely fit though.

Safety equipment is as you’d expect with all but the parking sensor system standard.

Genesis packs in a lot, including its semi-autonomous driving system that keeps the car between a highway’s center and side lines. It works well and directs the car through high-speed turns too, although it sometimes warns you to put your hands on the wheel even though they already are. It wants you to keep them at the 10 and 2 positions. I also noticed on a long stretch of straight highway that the car sort of ping-ponged between the freeway lines, which felt a bit odd. I suggest holding the wheel as steady as you can to avoid that sensation.

On the plus side is the Genesis/Hyundai 10-year or 100,000-mile powertrain warranty, plus three years or 36,000-mile free maintenance, so oil changes and the like. There’s also a free towing service, connected Genesis devices services and map upgrades for that same period.

One minor annoyance, or oddity, is Genesis, Hyundai and Kia’s insistence on playing a little tune electronically each time the car is turned off and a door opened. I started laughing about it each time after a few days. Really reminds of a washer and/or dryer playing a tune when the load is finished.

Pricing and mpg? The test car with its turbo V6 is rated 17 mpg city and 25 mpg highway by the EPA. I got 20 mpg in a mix that was heavier on city driving and 25.4 in a mix heavy on highway driving. The trip computer was pretty close on its estimates and on one highway stint registered 31 mpg. Nice!

Pricing for this model is $45,245, with delivery and $50,045 with the big package and sparkly gray paint job. A Sport model with the horsey V6 lists at $42,100 with RWD and add $2 grand for AWD. All V6 models add larger brakes, a sport-tuned suspension, dual exhausts and variable ratio steering. Those prices are below the likes of Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz competitors.

Note too that visually the G70 upgraded a couple areas for 2022, with a diamond-patterned grille, refreshed look for the head and taillights, a trunk spoiler lip and a lowered rear license plate to clean up the tail. It creates a sharp package that looks ritzier than its price.

Final word: If looks, performance and practical pluses mean more to you than badge envy the Genesis G70 is a top compact sport luxury sedan choice.

FAST STATS: 2022 Genesis G70 3.3T Sport Advanced

Hits: Fast, sporty handling, classy inside and out, plus AWD. Sharp interior with sunroof, wireless charger, heated/cooled seats, heated wheel, solid safety equipment, great warranty, big climate knobs, metal-faced pedals, plus 5 drive modes.

There’s no denying the G70 delivers a sporty ambiance!

Misses: Firm ride and seats, rear seat is short of legroom, lane departure system sort of ping-pongs car between lines, touchy brakes and car plays funny tune once off and doors opened.

Made in: Ulsan, So. Korea

Engine: 3.3-liter twin-turbo V6, 365 hp

Transmission: 8-speed automatic

Weight: 3,887 lbs.

Wheelbase: 111.6 in.

Length: 184.4 in.

Cargo: 11.0 cu.ft.

MPG: 17/25

MPG: 20-25.4 (tested)

Base Price: $45,245 (includes delivery)

Invoice: $43,281

Major Options: Himalayan Graypaint, $500

Sport Advanced package (park distance warning, 19-inch sport alloy wheels, aluminum trim w/sport pattern, cooled front seats, sunroof, Lexicon 15-speaker premium audio, wireless charging, dark chrome grille, variable exhaust valve system, power driver seat bolster/extender, digital key), $4,300

Test vehicle: $50,045

Sources: Genesis, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

2021 Hyundai Sonata N Line

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other than that I enjoyed the N Line playtime.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Black grille and distinctive nose styling here!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Phew!

FAST STATS: 2021 Hyundai Sonata N Line

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

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

Made in: Montgomery, Ala.

Engine: 2.5-liter, turbo I4, 290 hp

Transmission: 8-speed dual clutch, automatic

Weight: 3,552 lbs.

Wheelbase: 111.8 in.

Length: 192.9 in.

Cargo: 16.0 cu.ft.

MPG: 23/33

MPG: 25.1 (tested)

Base Price: $34,195 (includes delivery)

Invoice: $32,797

Major Options:

R19 summer tire upgrade, $200

Carpeted floor mats, $169

Test vehicle: $34,564

Sources: Hyundai, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

DIe-Cast: 1987 Audi Sport quattro S1 Rally Racer

Autoart’s Pikes Peak racer a mountaintop experience …

Imagine, if you can, driving up a winding 12.42-mile long mountain road, mostly gravel and dirt with no guardrails and sheer drops sometimes thousands of feet straight down to certain death, should you slip over the edge.

Then imagine doing it for time and with a 600 horsepower rally car capable of more than 120 mph in a burst.

That’s what German rally ace Walter Röhrl faced in his one and only attempt at racing in the Pikes Peak Hill Climb in 1987 aboard an Audi Sport quattro S1. He won, and set a new record.

Now Autoart brings us a stunning 1:18 scale replica of that iconic Audi.

The History

Audi won the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb three straight years, 1985 to 1987, with three different drivers, Michele Mouton (first woman winner), Bobby Unser (all-time champ) and Walter Röhrl (2-time world rally champ). By 1986 Audi had won several world rally championships with its all-wheel-drive quattro (always lowercase) models so pulled out of the competition for Group B racers.

So the hill climb was Audi’s last hurrah with the Audi Sport Quattro S1 rocketing up Pikes Peak in Colorado, climbing 4,720 feet through those 156 corners with its 2.1-liter five-cylinder engine pounding out about 600 horses. Of course power drops at elevation, so the Audi “only” had 450 horses available as it neared the top on July 11, 1987. However, a special circulating air system helped boost the Audi’s air pressure for its giant turbocharger to improve its response in the thin mountain air.

Röhrl had been the world rally champ in 1980 and 1982 and he used all his skills to break Bobby Unser’s year-old record by 22 seconds, with a run of 10 minutes 47.85 seconds. The record now is 7:57 minutes, set in a VW ID R by Romain Dumas in 2018.

Röhrl’s comments well after the event? “All I can say is that it was great to take part. It was crazy, but often it is in fact the crazy things which are the best in life. It was the very pinnacle of what can be done with a rally car.”

The Model

This beautiful white wing-laden rally car model by Autoart is a near pinnacle exercise in fine detail, much as was the original. There’s a giant two-tier wing on the tail and another mounted on the massive chin spoiler at its nose.

Beyond the wings is the silky paint job with traditional Audi rust red, brown and black trim down the sides and up to the rear wing’s tip, plus same color racing stripes from hood to tail only broken by the insertion of a giant black No. 1.

There are eight fine white mesh screens in the hood, which features a brown and white Audi logo at its center and two molded-in hood pins at the front corners. The clear headlights feature Bosch logos spread across their faces and that chin spoiler has massive Michelin logos on either side of the racing stripes. The grille is flat black plastic with the four white Audi rings at its center.

Plenty of hood screens, side downforce tunnels and spoilers, plus the chin spoiler.

Under the hood is a well-detailed engine with a monster air intake tube leading to the turbo on the 5-cylinder power plant that lays sideways in the engine bay. There’s wiring and plumbing plus faux sheet metal plating to cover and protect the left side of the compartment. A thick white support bar extends from shock tower to shock tower. The hood is easy to raise and pose open as its white hinges are well-made to reflect the originals.

Sharp under hood detail here on the Audi turbo.

Down the car’s sides are flared fenders with aero tunnels atop the front wheel wells and skirting that includes air deflectors in front of those wheels. A flat rocker panel rests below both opening doors with “quattro” printed in black. The driver’s door includes a vented streamlined mirror and there’s a notch in each door that makes them easy to open for display.

The rear side window is trimmed in black and the flared fenders in back include black plastic screening that would allow air into the wheel wells for brake cooling as the Audi charged up Pikes Peak.

Big decals on each door include a red/white/blue and black Pikes Peak Auto Hill Climb logo, the No. 1, an Audi logo and Röhrl’s name, which also is painted in script above the door with a small German flag representing his homeland.

The roof is sculpted with a giant air tunnel leading to the rear hatch, which includes hinges on top attaching to the blackened rear window, just in front of that oversized two-tier spoiler.

Here’s the winged tail without the trunk cover. Twin fans and fuel filler are inside.

A rear-end cover is removable to show the gas filler and twin fans for additional cooling. Tiny rear lights have black mesh screens over them and the Audi includes white mesh screening under the trunk opening, and a white metal protective shield below that.

Here the trunk cover is in place under the twin wings.

One disappointment, albeit minor, is the treaded tires are not branded Michelin, as were on the original racer. These are generic with white racing wheels that look a bit too much like plastic, although they do include five silver wheel nuts at their core. Plus there are giant disc brakes behind all four wheels.

Inside the car is Spartan, but racy. There’s a black racing seat with Recaro proudly displayed in white on the headrest, and highly detailed red cloth seat harnesses. Of course the Audi is full of white cabin supports to protect the driver should this rally racer roll onto its roof.

Sharp Recaro seat and red cloth seatbelts inside.

A black bare-bones dash, basically a panel for readouts, backs up the four-spoke steering wheel and the panel extends down to the transmission hump in the center and includes a few buttons and switches. There’s a white fire extinguisher on the floor just to the right of a serious looking black-knobbed gear shift lever, plus a couple of silver pipes with periodic black wrapping extend from under the dash along the passenger’s side compartment out the back to the trunk area where those fans are located. Outside the passenger’s door and below the flat rocker panel are three exhaust openings too.

Overall another stellar effort from Autoart as it continues to crank out historically meaningful racers along with its long list of exotics of every ilk and color.  

Vital Stats: Audi Sport Quattro S1 (Pikes Peak, 1987)

Maker: Autoart
Scale: 1/18
Stock No.: 88700

MSRP: $265

Link: Autoartmodels.com

2021 Lexus LS 500 AWD

A high-lux sedan even a CEO could love, and afford …

Rarely do the options on a test car add up to even more than a modestly priced car or crossover itself, but that’s what happened with this week’s high-lux Lexus LS 500 AWD.

            The sumptuous near limo added roughly $30,000 in options (14 to be exact) to crest $110,000. Now don’t take that as a criticism because let’s face it neither you nor I can afford a luxury sedan dripping with such opulent style and oozing electronic gadgets and gizmos that one might imagine sending Jeff Bezos or Richard Branson into outer space.

            This is a CEO-mobile and competes with the likes of Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Audi’s long stretchy sedans that feature the same sort of goodies and enough interior leather to make a cattle farmer blush.

            Everyone can appreciate such plushness. My 12-year-old grandson quickly declared “this is the type of car I want.”

            Certainly there’s plenty to like, starting with the dynamic exterior styling that continues inside with cool dark wood trim with silver etched patterns that blend with the spiffy satin chrome streaks across the dash and air vents.

            Some declare the expansive Lexus spindle grille “too much,” but it has grown on me as all luxury makes have expanded their grilles and nose-mounted logos like a fairgoer’s waistline after wolfing down an entire box of cream puffs.

Is this grille too much? Or does it blend beautifully with the hood lines and lights?

            The way the hood and lights meld into the highly creased nose and grille is brilliant. Likewise the taillights are artistic expressions rarely found in today’s auto designs. And as I have mentioned, the interior is equally pizzazzy. This one featured bright white leather seats with stitching and quilting to set it way apart from the competition while overhead is a white ultra-suede headliner to brighten the interior that otherwise has a black dash and door tops.

            So, not surprisingly, the interior coddles while the undercarriage excites, starting with a twin-turbo 3.5-liter V6 hooked up to a silky 10-speed automatic. Smooth is exactly what you’d expect, but how about 416 horsepower along with a torque rating of 442 pound-feet?

            Watch Mark’s video: 2021 Lexus 500 AWD review by Mark Savage

            A romp down a highway entry ramp easily puts the Lexus at 100+ mph and there are six drive modes to help you get there. Eco won’t, but Normal, Comfort, Custom, Sport, and Sport+ can, especially the sportier settings that firm the steering and adjust shift points to emphasize power, something any CEO could appreciate.

            The older and wiser ones may also like the LS’s velvety ride and easy handling too. No racer on the handling front, the Lexus’s steering effort is mild and easy in all but the Sport settings, thus easy to park while still being super stable on a highway romp.

Inside, again, the LS is board room quiet (active noise control) and the leather seats so soft you’d swear that you were parking your keister atop baby butts, an odd picture, but you get it. These are super soft.

White leather all around could make even a cattle rancher blush!

Adaptive variable air suspension ($1,400 option) here soften things too along with adjusting car ride height. Lexus says this also allows the driver to raise or lower the car a bit for comfortable entry and exit.

            Beyond style the LS has loaded the interior with so much extra it’s hard to wrap up in a paragraph or two, but the $17,580 (that’s right) Executive Package adds that soft semi-aniline leather, and 28-way (crazy) front seats with a Shiatsu-inspired massaging feature. Five quick choices there and all can be tweaked for more specific functions and at various massage pressure levels.

            Oh, and the rear seat gets the same treatment with a 7-inch display screen that adjusts everything, plus allows the passenger-side rear seat to be reclined nearly fully while extending a footrest for a special rear seat passenger. Those seats in back are “only” 22-way adjustable, but front and rear both feature stylish butterfly headrests.

Rear seats recline and massage, need I say more?

            Naturally all seats are heated and cooled and the steering wheel is heated, although I could find no wireless charger here, an odd thing to be missing. There are plenty of plug-in ports though.

            That mega-package also adds the ultra-suede head liner, four-zone climate controls and spiffy power rear sunshades, two for each side window and one big one for the rear window. It retracts automatically if the car is put in reverse, allowing for better rear visibility.

            One could argue that’s plenty of luxury, but wait, there’s more!

            A 24-inch heads-up display adds $1,200, a panoramic glass sunroof another $1,000 (there’s a second stationary sunroof over the back seat with a power sun shade), and a panoramic view monitor for $800.

            The premium wood trim mentioned earlier (above) costs $800, the heated leather and wood-trimmed steering wheel is $410, and illuminated door sills run $450.

            Almost forgot, the test car also packed a Mark Levinson 23-speaker audio system that costs more than a monthly mortgage payment at $1,940. Wow!

            Good news too because Lexus has added a 12.3-inch touchscreen for the info screen and to control that radio. It works fine, negating the need, mostly, for the console’s awkward touchpad. Get this, a CD player is included too. Bravo, us oldsters thank you. Plus much of the fancy seat gyrations, heat and cool are adjusted via the screen. Screen visuals are fine too.

Large twin pipes aid the twin-turbo V6’s exhaust note.

Other pluses include a power tilt/telescope steering wheel, power trunk release and closure, and all the safety equipment you’d expect. Although oddly Lexus charges $3,000 extra for its Lexus Safety System+, which includes pre-collision warning with active braking, active steering assist, pedestrian alert, front cross-traffic alert and lane-change assist. I would expect all that on my luxury car starting at $80,275, including delivery.

The test car also included AWD, a major boon in these northern climes as the car is rear-drive otherwise. That is included in this model’s base price, or is $3,250 extra if you order it on the base $77,025 RWD LS 500. A hybrid model also is available, starting at $84,000.

The closer you look, the cooler these taillights are!

Not that fueling costs will likely worry potential LS owners, but the car uses premium fuel and is rated 17 mpg city and 27 mpg highway by the EPA. I got an even 20 mpg in about a 60/40 mix that was heavier on highway driving.

On the more practical side its 16.9 cubic foot trunk is generous and will easily hold a couple bags of golf clubs.

Bottom line? CEOs and others with $100 grand car budgets, or companies that will lease them such cars, can get everything they want in an LS 500, plus maybe a few things they didn’t even know they wanted, or needed. LS equals Luxury Sedan!

FAST STATS: 2021 Lexus LS 500 AWD

Hits: Beautiful styling inside and out, smooth power, velvety ride, easy handling, 6 drive modes and AWD. Hush quiet interior, big screen, wide HUD, massaging heated/cooled seats, heated wheel, power rear sunshades, two sunroofs, full safety lineup, 23-speaker stereo, plus CD player.

Misses: No wireless charger, touchpad still backup for touchscreen and some would say giant grille is a bit much.

Made in: Tahara, Aichi, Japan

Engine: 3.5-liter twin-turbo V6, 416 hp

Snazzy headlights perfectly blend with grille and hood!

Transmission: 10-speed automatic

Weight: 4,696 lbs.

Wheelbase: 123.0 in.

Length: 206.1 in.

Cargo: 16.9 cu.ft.

MPG: 17/27

MPG: 20.0 (tested)

Base Price: $80,275 (includes delivery)

Invoice: $73,936

Major Options:

Lexus Safety System+ (pre-collision w/active braking, active steering assist, pedestrian alert, front cross-traffic alert, lane change assist), $3,000

Adaptive variable air suspension w/rapid height adjustment, $1,400

Executive package (semi-aniline leather trim interior, 28-way power driver/passenger seats w/massage, ultra-suede headliner, power front seat buckles, butterfly headrests, 22-way power rear seats w/butterfly headrests & memory, message, heat, and 7-inch touchscreen controller, right-rear power recliner w/ottoman, 4-zone climate controls, power rear sunshades), $17,580

Digital rearview mirror, $200

20-inch split 10-spoke alloy wheels w/gloss black & machined finish, $920

24-inch heads-up display, $1,200

Mark Levinson 23-speaker audio system, $1,940

Panoramic glass roof, $1,000

Panoramic view monitor, $800

Premium wood trim, $800

Heated wood/leather trimmed steering wheel, $410

Illuminated door sills, $450

Rear bumper applique, $95

Door edge guards, $155

Test vehicle: $110,225

Sources: Lexus, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

2022 Kia Carnival SX Prestige

Kia’s renamed minivan a festival on wheels …

Minivans are about as popular these days as global warming.

They, like sedans, have fallen victim to the SUV-ing of America. Chrysler, which basically invented the market for primo family movers, has stuck with its Pacifica, while Toyota has the Sienna and Honda the Odyssey. They are the major players.

Kia joined the fray with its boxy Sedona back in 2002 and its vany appearance inspired few. But now Kia has brought out the noisemakers, party hats, and kazoos with a major redesign and a rename to the Carnival, a veritable festival on wheels. And get this, it has restyled Carnival to look much more SUV-like.

While it’s hard to disguise the long tubular design of a minivan, Kia mostly succeeds with a stylish new nose and some satin aluminum cladding on its C-pillar that got nearly as much attention as any high-end sports car I’ve driven. Flash and sparkle sells!

From nose to tail the Carnival looks high-class.

It helped that I was driving the SX Prestige model that tops the Carnival lineup with a starting price of $47,275, including delivery fees. Don’t swallow your tongue after seeing that price tag, any minivan well loaded will crest $45 grand these days.

This one remains front-drive and is not offered as AWD. Carnival also has no hybrid model, yet. Toyota and Chrysler offer that.

But from a hauling standpoint the Carnival is a class-leader in power and interior passenger space. While few of us consider sportiness when shopping minivans, it’s good to have a strong powertrain if you have seven or eight passengers aboard.

Carnival obliges with a 3.5-liter V6 that creates 290 horsepower, slightly more than Pacifica. The engine is smooth and quiet and well suited to its 8-speed automatic. The upside is a nice mix of power and efficiency. The Kia is rated 19 mpg city and 26 mpg highway, a tad more than the former Sedona. I managed 22.6 mpg in a mix of city and highway driving.

Watch Mark’s video review: 2022 Kia Carnival MPV Review by Mark Savage

Four drive modes allow the driver to go to Sport (on a minivan?), Comfort, Eco or Smart, which learns how you drive and adjusts shift points and such to fit your driving style.

Handling also is fairly light and easy feeling and while there’s a bit of body lean in turns, this Carnival is easy to keep under control. Kia built the van on its fine K5 sedan’s platform that features more ultra high-strength steel to help lesson body roll. The minivan feels stable on the highway and is easy to park too. Thank a 360-degree camera for helping the driver maneuver in tight parking quarters.

Ride is mostly fine. On the highway the Carnival felt well planted. It smoothed out most of our crumbling infrastructure’s roughness. But like trucks and other vans there are some thumps and bumps on sharp cracks and pot holes. Still, ride is much as in other minivans or MPVs.

Oh, Kia wants us to call the Carnival an MPV (an old Mazda minivan brand by the way). That stands for Multi-Purpose Vehicle, as if all minivans, crossovers and SUVs don’t fit that category.

While Carnival’s exterior is festive and its performance top-shelf, the MPV’s (OK, I said it) interior is a circus tent full of opulence and inspired features, at least at this SX Prestige level.

The test van, a delicious Astra Blue (metallic blue-green) that costs just $495 extra, featured a full caramel-colored leather interior with black dash and upper door panels. The seats were a perforated leather and are both heated and cooled in this trim. A heated steering wheel also is standard on the Prestige.

Gorgeous seats and interior in the top-level Carnival!

Trim is mostly satin chrome with a gloss black console top again trimmed in satiny chrome. The spiff comes in a dimpled satin chrome dash trim that matches that outside C-pillar trim. I’m sure others will copy this. They should because it looks great, giving the interior a Rolex watch kinda pizazz.

Let’s start with the dash. In addition to its good looks there’s a giant flat touchscreen that looks much like the Mercedes GLA’s I just tested. These are two 12.3-inch screens merged as one unit for a smooth look and interface. Adjustments are easy and buttons large enough for simple adjustment. No dial or touchpad here. Bravo!

The instrument panel gauges and infotainment screen are merged into one unit.

Below is a wireless phone charger and the transmission’s stick shift is easily found and used atop the console.

Front seats are mildly contoured with power adjustments and two memory settings for the driver on the door.

The second row seats slide inward and fully recline with foot rests. Big screens on the front seat backs also provide entertainment for row two occupants!

But the real fun begins in the back seat. Don’t take that the wrong way.

First there are separate overhead climate controls and vents, but many vans have that now. VIP Lounge Seats are the hot stuff here, that and oodles of USB ports, 9 to be exact.

Those VIP seats are powered captain’s chairs with arm rests, but pull a lever on the side and the seats will slide sideways, toward the cabin’s middle, providing more door-side elbow room. Then play with the buttons on the seat’s side and it will recline and put up a footrest. Depending on the front-seat occupants you’ll only be able to extend that so far.

Kia also puts two entertainment screens on the front seat backs. These look like iPads and no doubt will enthrall your young charges. The downside, in my dad’s mind is that these stick out considerably from the seat backs and I can imagine a youngster bumping these while climbing out the power sliding side doors. Avoiding head cracks and gouges will require some parental watching and nagging.

Third row seats fold flat into the cargo bay in back.

Likewise, the power buttons on the VIP seat sides are somewhat clunky. Two main ones require the buttons be held down until the seats are properly reclined or returned to their full upright positions. Additionally, these second row seats can’t be removed since they are powered. They do slide to and fro though.

Also, crawling into the rear seats, which are fairly roomy if the second row seats aren’t pushed all the way back, is a little tight too. But then it’s the wee ones who will likely be sitting back there. That third row easily folds down into the cargo hold inside the power rear hatch, much like other vans.

A classy dimpled aluminum trim panel (like on the dash) spiffs up Carnival’s exterior.

There are two sunroofs here too with the one over the second to third-row seats having both a shade and is able to be opened for fresh air, sometimes needed with little stinkers in back.

I should mention how quiet the interior is too. Very! Both the SX and SX Prestige trims feature acoustic glass windows to cut wind noise. Makes it easier to hear the kids bicker in the third row!

Plenty of safety equipment here too to protect the family.

Kia’s Drivewise systems include forward collision avoidance that watches out for bikers and pedestrians, blind-spot warning and avoidance, rear cross-traffic avoidance, lane keeping assist, smart cruise control, rear parking assist and safe exit assist. The later sounds an alarm if cars are whizzing past your open side doors to warn kids to stay inside until the cars have passed. No more playing in traffic!

All worked fine, but as with some other makes the lane keeping assist was a bit over aggressive in twitching the wheel and redirecting the van to the center of its lane. This mostly becomes a problem in construction zones. Just be aware so you can keep the van out of barricades and orange barrels.

There also was a warning I didn’t care for. Every time the ignition is turned off the van chimes and lights up a message on the instrument panel, saying “Check Rear Seat.” It didn’t matter that no one was in those seats and no door had been opened previously to put a package there. So the warning becomes annoying and no doubt will be ignored when there is something in back, hopefully it’s not Junior.

Carnival simply is so full of goodies and equipment you’ll need to check out all the trim levels to make sure to get what your family needs.

Sharp looking headlights for Carnival!

The base LX starts at $33,275 with delivery, while the LXS lists at $35,275 and the EX at $38,775. I think that may be the best dollar-for-dollar trim. There’s also an SX just below the tested Prestige model. SX lists at $42,275.

The test van was $47,770 with only the paint being an option. For that you get all of the above, plus snazzy black wheels to give the Prestige a sportier look. A few other goodies include LED head and taillights, a Bose premium audio system, the leather seats both heated and cooled for row one and two, plus live navigation system to provide traffic updates.

Remember too that Kia still delivers a 10-year, 100,000-mile powertrain warranty, a comfort for the family budget.

FAST STATS: 2022 Kia Carnival SX Prestige

Hits: Sharp looks, excellent power, good handling, loaded with safety equipment. Cool power reclining second row seats, third row stows in cargo floor, 2 sun roofs, heated/cooled seats, heated steering wheel, 4 drive modes, second row 2 screens, wireless phone charger, snazzy black wheels.

Even the taillights are handsome!

Misses: No hybrid or AWD offered, clunky power rear seat buttons, ride is good, but you still feel sharp bumps as in a truck, annoying chime and screen readout saying to “check the rear seats” every time the ignition is turned off.

Made in: Sohari, Korea

Engine: 3.5-liter V6, 290hp

Transmission: 8-speed automatic

Weight: 4,727lbs.

Wheelbase: 121.7 in.

Length: 203 in.

Cargo: 40.2-141.5 cu.ft.

Tow: 3,500 lbs.

MPG: 19/26

MPG: 22.6 (tested)

Base Price: $47,275 (includes delivery)

Invoice: $45,202

Major Option:

Astra Blue paint, $495

Test vehicle: $47,770

Sources: Kia, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

2021 Land Rover Defender 90 First Edition

2-door Rover a retro rock star in looks, off-roading …

OK, I say Land Rover and what do you picture?

Boxy, utilitarian off-roader running through tall elephant grass or African Savanna grass, a photographer’s head and camera poking from the open roof. Maybe an elephant, giraffe or even a lion wandering in the background?

That’s because in 1948 Land Rover started cranking out said utilitarian boxes after Jeeps had invaded the British landscape during World War II. The Brits were quick, relatively, to duplicate and improve upon the Jeep for its own market and, Boom! Rovers sold like elephant ears at the state fair. Those early models not only had high ground clearance, big rugged tires and four-wheel-drive, but fold down windshields and rear doors where we all fancy hatches these days.

Well, the good ol’ days are back, sort of, as Land Rover jumps back in to the more utilitarian end of the huge SUV market with its Defender series, which had disappeared in 1997 as Rover romped full force into the luxury SUV market where you bloody well know there are more profits!

Defender had been its entry-level more rugged Jeep-like models and now the new Defender 90 and 110 are that, with a healthy helping of luxury ladled on board. I tested the 110 back in January. It rides on a longer wheelbase and features four doors and a luxury price tag.

This time I romped the suburban tundra in a stylish (retro) Defender 90 First Edition two-door that again pressed right up against the luxury market like a lion in heat. This special trim was $65,450 and with just two options hit $66,475. Yet a base model with a less powerful 2.0-liter turbo I4 engine starts at down-market price of $47,125.

On looks alone the Defender 90, especially decked out in a light gray-green metallic Pangea Green paint scheme, is a rock star. Folks gawked, a few asked questions!

This rides on a compact 101.9-inch wheelbase, but still looks muscular and stout. It clears the ground by 8.9 inches, will wade in 35.4 inches of water, and in First Edition trim packs an energetic 395 horsepower 3.0-liter inline 6-cylinder with mild hybrid system to power its electronics. A fine 8-speed automatic transmission easily melds with the big power unit for a luxury feel.

Trust me, a Jeep-like vehicle with a short wheelbase is normally about as much fun to drive as a square-wheeled peddle car. Think Flintstones! But Defender feels refined and quite comfy on most city streets, and in limited off-road romping. There is some bump felt on severe or sharp road imperfections, but ride is generally pleasant indeed.

Power is luxury sedan smooth and instantaneous. Driving the Defender is fun as you can get on the gas and be quickly up to highway speeds. In fact, I found myself over accelerating initially in highway jaunts, needing to whoa this boxy beast down to avoid the constabulary.

Handling is precise and firm with moderate steering effort required and Defender corners well for a tall short-wheelbase vehicle. It never felt tippy, although from outward appearances you might assume it to be top-heavy. I did not get to use this in rugged terrain, but it’s capable and has numerous off-road settings, all controlled via a big touchscreen. I’d prefer a knob or button.

Off-road options include mud ruts, rock crawl, grass/gravel/sand, sand, and wading for those nearly three-foot deep streams that need forded, or should that be Rovered? Comfort and a customizable Configurable setting also are available. Comfort works on city streets and highways.

So nimble is the Defender that parking is a breeze! One assumes that would help in dodging trees and rocks once off into the bush country too.

Speaking of which, there are a bunch of “dear Jesus” handles for both driver and riders to hug when bounding around boulders. The dash also has a rail across the top and at both edges if you need to hang on for dear life.

Otherwise the interior looks utilitarian. Door panels show exposed metal as in a Jeep and overhead there’s a cool fold-back cloth panoramic sunroof, powered of course. Seats are a mix of cloth and perforated leather-like material that would be easy to clean. Some of that texture is carried over into the doors and dash. These were a dark gray to black in the test truck with light gray trim on the doors and dash, which also had a shelf along its top face for storing sunglasses, phones, and rhino tranquilizer darts.

Seats are fairly flat, but powered and heated up front (controlled through the touchscreen) and there’s a jump seat in the middle that can be folded up to allow more elbow room such as that needed when off-roading. Put it down and there are cup holders in its back for the front seat occupants. However, that seat is quite thick and feels pretty confining for the front seat folks and a bit high for a comfy armrest. Put it up though and it somewhat blocks rearward vision.

In fact, rear vision is tough much of the time with the rear seat headrests and spare tire on that back door blocking the view. Thank goodness for the backup camera, mounted overhead in the shark fin antenna housing on the roof.

Rear seat folks also get a little ambient light from side skylights built into the Rover’s white metal top. Opening that cloth sunroof helps too. The skylights are retro styling touches, as are the little round taillights and so much more here. All good, as the styling communicates modernified retro inside and out.

Here’s the info screen with map up and the small shifter on the lower dash.

Not much storage room behind the rear seats, similar to a Jeep Wrangler, but less. Enough space for maybe four or five upright grocery bags. Seats will fold down, of course, and there’s a power height button inside that rear-opening back hatch door. So if you’re loading up and need the vehicle higher or lower for loading comfort that’s a plus.

Not a lot of visibility out the back with the tire there.

Again, I’m no fan of a rear-opening door, especially with a big 20-inch tired mounted on it. The door is heavy and the tire partially blocks rear visibility. Does it look macho and rugged? You bet. But it’s style over function.

What surprised me most? The interior’s quietness. I expected a lot more nubby off-road tire noise (20-inchers here adding $350 to the price), or more wind noise, this being a box on wheels. Not so. Defender’s interior is quiet as a near luxury sedan, allowing you to hear the fancy Meridian sound system, with volume easily adjusted by a roller on the steering wheel.

Happy in an urban setting too, the Defender 90 is a sweet ride!

On the practical side the powerful Defender will tow 8,200 lbs., so is a fine trailer puller, and if the rear seats are down there’s decent cargo space in back. If you’re going to tow you’ll need the trailer hitch receiver, a $675 option.

Rovers are not known for stellar gas mileage, and the Defender 90 is not a true hybrid. It’s rated at 17 mpg city and 22 highway by the EPA, and I got just 17.1 mpg in a mix of city and highway drives.

Rovers, now owned by India-based Tata Motors, are, however, known for electronic gremlins. I found only one slight glitch this time. The rearview camera liked to stay on when the SUV was in Drive for several minutes, but did switch to a front view. Hmm, maybe for watching out for wildebeests, or boulders!

2021 Land Rover Defender 90 First Edition

Hits: Snazzy retro looks, awesome color, off-roading ability in spades, strong smooth power, good handling, nice ride for short wheelbase. Quiet interior, cloth folding panoramic sunroof, heated seats, radio volume roller on wheel, Meridian sound system, easy to park.

Misses: Poor rear visibility, rear hatch opens out like door, tire on door makes it heavy, fold-down optional middle front seat very thick making for uncomfy arm rest, rearview camera stays on when in Drive for several minutes.

Wonder what the fold-down center seat/armrest looks like?
It’s thick!

Made in: Nitra, Slovakia

Engine: 3.0-liter I6, 395 hp

Transmission: 8-speed automatic

Weight: 4,780 lbs.

Wheelbase: 101.9 in.

Length: 180.4 in.

Cargo: 58.3 cu.ft.

Tow: 8,200 lbs.

MPG: 17/22

MPG: 17.1 (tested)

Base Price: $65,450 (includes delivery)

Invoice: $61,604

Major Options:

Tow hitch receiver, $675

Off-road tires, $350

Test vehicle: $66,475

Sources: Land Rover, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

2022 Model Test Drive Previews

A little of this and that …

It’s good to be good, but sometimes better to be lucky.

How would you like to drive a $117,000 Maserati? I’m betting you’d like it!

As a member of the Midwest Automotive Media Association (MAMA) I’m lucky enough to get a few invitations each year to test cars before they hit dealerships, or just as they are about to go on sale.

Last week I joined about 30 of my MAMA colleagues in rural Chicago area to take short test drives in a variety of 2022 models. With luck, I’ll get most of these for a week’s test drive to give you a full evaluation, but for some that’s a month or more away.

So here’s a snapshot of what’s coming for 2022. These are my very short takes on my10-15 minute sessions inside some exciting new vehicles. There’s more coming, but this is what I got to drive.

High roller:

Gotta begin with the priciest, sportiest and most luxurious vehicle all rolled into one, the 2022 Maserati Ghibli Trofeo.

This is the Maserati Ghibli Trofeo. That’s NOT my house in the background!

I’d never driven a Maserati in my 30+ years of car testing and it was worth the wait. Trofeo was even better than I’d imagined and bathed in slinky Italian design and luxury materials. Starting at $110,000 this one cleared the high luxury bar at $117,000 with a black and red leather interior that smelled like it was fresh off the cow. I mean that in a good way.

Car was a medium metallic blue and buttery smooth in ride and handling but with a wildcat 580-horsepower twin-turbo 3.8-liter V8 under its long well sculpted hood. Think male Olympic gymnast muscle for proper bulges and ab toning.

That throbbing pulse under the hood is 580 horses from a silky V8.

That muscle is put to the pavement with rear-wheel drive and two performance drive modes, Sport and Corsa, or Track mode. Both created a sinewy yowl from the V8 and put instant power to the meaty rear tires.

For trim there’s real, yes real, carbon fiber for the nose’s splitter and rear defuser, plus cool Maserati Trident logos on the C-pillars, a fancy jewel-look analog clock on the dash and a subtle Italian flag color bar at the bottom of the B-pillar.

The PR folks called it a perfect dual blend of performance and luxury and who am I to disagree. As they said, GT (Gran Turismo) is in Maserati’s racy DNA and the Trofeo amply defines it.

More Duality:

While I’d take a Trofeo in a heartbeat, it’s well out of my price range. More in tune with that is the spectacular Hyundai Santa Cruz. It is NOT a pickup, no matter what you or I may think. The product planning experts from Hyundai were perfectly clear about THAT. “DO NOT call this a pickup,” they urged.

Hyundai’s new Santa Cruz shares its platform with the new Tucson.

OK, and I get their point. The Santa Cruz has been promised for a couple years, but Hyundai held off until they felt they had it nailed as the dual-purpose – Urban and Outdoorsy – vehicle they intended. Oh, you’ll think it’s a pickup when you see it, but it’s so much more than that, yet it does have a roughly 4-foot open bed in back.

Yet here’s the deal, the Santa Cruz looks like a super hip urbane pickup with swoopy modern lines, lights and grille, but it rides on the Tucson crossover platform and feels like a sporty crossover, yet still has that bed in back. This was designed in North America for this market and it’s comfy and composed, with a super quiet interior, yet offering oodles of power, quick handling (think Mazda CX-30) and a refined ride befitting an entry-level crossover.

Santa Cruz, NOT a pickup, but a crossover with a bed … ok?

Oh, and did I mention it’s cute as a button. Reminds me of Subaru’s former Brat, but much more refined.

Again, I drove it briefly but already I’m feeling as if I’ve driven my Vehicle of the Year. It’s that good. The basics is it rides on a 118.3-inch wheelbase, is 195.7 inches long and has a generous 101.8 cubic foot interior. Yes, four adults will fit.

Base engine is a 191-horse 2.5-liter I4 while a turbo version making 281 horses is the upgrade and what I drove. It moves. It also tows, up to 3,500 lbs. with the base engine or 5,000 for that turbo monster.

Viewed from the front or rear, the Santa Cruz looks youthful.

Pricing will be $23,990 up to $39,720 and the target is 35- to 45-year-old single men that are college grads with no kids and a love of outdoor activities. But trust me, any cool person who feels a need for that small bed will want one. This will be a big seller and soon will be copied by everyone else in the mid-size crossover and pickup (oops) market.

Three other things, and I know I’m going on and on about this. But that short bed will haul a 4×8 sheet of plywood because the wheel wells are flat on top and the tailgate will latch at a 45-degree angle so the plywood will lie flat. The bed also is a composite material so no bedliner is needed and it also won’t rust. … And, the Santa Cruz has the first permanent retractable tonneau cover over that bed and it’s strong enough to hold 220 lbs. of weight to boot. Bravo!

That tonneau cover over the bed is heavy-duty and retracts too. It’s standard!

More trucky:

If you MUST have a real pickup. Well, a real mid-size pickup is the new 2022 Nissan Frontier. It’s got a huge ride height, big tires and super heavy steering that makes it feel like a monster truck even though its dimensions remain more moderate.

The 2022 Nissan Frontier is a pickup’s pickup made for heavy use.

Nissan upgraded the 2021 model after 16 years of few changes to the Frontier, by dropping in a 310-horse 3.8-liter V6. This year Nissan adds a 9-speed automatic transmission to make better use of that power while saving a little fuel too.

The 4X4 Pro-4X version I tested starts at $37,240 and with three option packages hit $44,315, still a reasonable price for such power and off-road ability. Styling tweaks such as blistered fenders give the Frontier a more modern appearance if that’s what motivates a buy, plus the off-road suspension is a winner.

In short, plenty of power, but a heavy feel to the wheel!

Finding a new path:

Nissan’s Pathfinder is new for 2022 too. Say that twice! Pathfinder is one of the original SUVs, originally launched in 1985. But it keeps morphing to add luxury (isn’t everyone?) to its rugged, capable and flexible mantra. Oh, and now it’s longer and has a third-row seat. (This is a theme among mid-size to large SUVS).

Sophisticated looks and a roomy third row seat for the 2022 Nissan Pathfinder.

Nissan has loaded up the Pathfinder with standard safety gear including rear automatic braking now, something it alone offers. But instead of making it longer like most SUVs, Nissan shortened the Pathfinder a bit, while adding to width and height, again by small amounts.

The result is a boxy but sophisticated looking truck, still packing its 3.5-liter V6 that creates 284 horsepower and capable of towing 6,000 lbs. Like the Frontier it adds a new 9-speed automatic, better for towing. And Trailer Sway Control is now standard on Pathfinder. A direct coupling system in 4-wheel drive also smooths out engagement, eliminating a delay in the switch to 4WD.

More acoustic glass quiets the interior and that third row seat is comfy enough for adults that something longer than a drive to the next suburb will now be acceptable.

MINI me:

I’m a short guy, so MINI has always been a car I love, plus it has BMW-type performance, probably because BMW owns the former all-British car company.

Top down, a Zesty Yellow (lime green?) MINI Cooper S is a show horse of a roadster.

I tested the 2022 MINI S convertible with a black cloth top adorned with a black and dull black Union Jack. Snazzy and clever, especially because it powers back automatically and you can stop it part-way back so the front is like an opened sunroof. Way cool!

Top up shows off the matte black Union Jack soft-top.

This one also was a lime green (called Zesty Yellow), so easily visible in any parking lot and listed for $41,750.

The MINI still has a silky smooth six-speed manual and handling that puts most sport coupes to shame. Power remains generous (180 hp twin-turbo I4) in the S model and inside there’s still the big round screen mid-dash, toggles above and below and a digital oval instrument panel over the steering column.

Nothing you do with your clothes on is more fun than driving a convertible MINI!

At the other extreme:

Jeep isn’t known for its mini vehicles, in fact they just seem to keep getting larger, think Wrangler Unlimited and now the new Grand Cherokee L, with L meaning LONGER. Like GM’s Suburbans and Tahoes the Grand Cherokee now offers a stretched version of its boxy full-size SUV.

Big, boxy and long, the Grand Cherokee L adds 15 inches in length for a third row.

Not much to distinguish it in looks, beyond the usual Jeep nose, the rest could pass as a refrigerator on wheels. But it has a third-row seat and is 15 inches longer than what used to be a mid-size SUV, the Grand Cherokee. If you need the space and are a Jeepoholic then this one may be calling your name. Although remember the Grand Wagoneer is coming soon too.

Inside the dash is low and clean and offers a large info screen and easy-to-use info system. In back are push buttons to lower various seats for cargo hauling or to let the kids more easily de-board from that third row seat.

This silver tester was the Overland edition, so more attuned for trail-busting, while the Summit models are luxury (again) oriented and roughly sell in the $68,000 neighborhood.

Adding an electric boost:

Not a full-electric, but the new Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara 4XE enhances its 2.0-liter turbo I4 with plug-in electric hybrid power for use on or off-road. You’ll get 21 miles of electric charge that you can use for trips to the office (if you’re not working from home), or save for when you’re off-roading and want to cut your emissions when out in the woods.

Adding hybrid power doesn’t change a Wrangler’s looks, but helps MPG.

The red and black test vehicle had managed 34 mpg with a bunch of crazy car writers driving it for the day and still got battery power via regenerative braking so that juice helped get the heavy Jeep rolling from a stoplight and aided mpg.

I like the somewhat MINI-style levers, not exactly toggles, on the center stack to put the windows up and down. And remember you can take the tops off a Wrangler, and the doors if you’re really into outdoor driving. Sticker was $56,380 and included a $2,495 hardtop.

Going full-on electric:

This IS the future of cars and trucks, so get used to it. Now Volkswagen shows off its ID.4 compact crossover with a funky gear selector, but oodles of oomph. The tested Pro S model has about 260 miles of range while the standard has 250 miles of plug-in power.

Volkswagen’s electric crossover, the ID.4 is a speedster and quiet.

Oh, and the plug is not up front or on the nose here, it’s right where a gas filler normally shows up on the passenger’s side rear quarter panel.

I liked the ride, power and handling here, all smooth and kicky. But it’ll take any newcomer a while to figure out the buttons and shifter. That shifter is up by the instrument panel and requires the driver turn a knob to engage the gears, and turn it twice forward to go into Drive mode with Regenerative braking engaged. That allows the crossover to generate more power for the batteries when he or she lets off the accelerator and the electric motors slow down the ID.4 and the braking sends electrical charges to the battery packs.

Oh, and to engage Park, one must press the end of the gear selector knob, a bit clunky, but you’ll figure it out eventually.

Might be tough to tell here, but at right is a knob you turn to shift, see D/B for drive!

The good news is that there’s a wireless phone charger where that nasty old easy-to-use shift lever normally would be on the console.

Seems the German designers always have a new idea for some formerly simple function, and then VW puts an unusual name on the driving product, so Tiguan, Taos and now ID.4.

That’s it for now, but my 2022 vehicle reviews kick off with the new Kia Carnival minivan next week on the WUWM website, wuwm.com. Just search for Savage on Wheels! … and a few 2022s have snuck in already if you look carefully there, or on this site.

#mamasummerdrive

Die-cast: Autoart’s 2016-’17 Lamborghini CEntenario Roadster

Here’s how you can afford a $2 million Lambo Roadster …

Not a Lamborghini tractor!

Did you know Lamborghini makes tractors?

Maybe not, unless your gentleman farmer acreage is considerable and located in Europe. I’ll bet you’re more familiar with Lambo’s supercars, like the sumptuous Centenario Roadster, of which just 20 were made and nine sold to rich dudes in the U.S. That is, until Autoart started cranking out spectacular 1:18 scale versions.

I snagged a new metallic red version for review, thanks to Autoart, and like the rest of its Lamborghini lineup, the roadster is gorgeous. This roofless wonder looks faster than an Olympic swimmer or runner in a skin-tight suit. That’s because these composite body models from Autoart are made with the precision of a new laptop’s speediest chip.

First a little history.

Visually it doesn’t get any sleeker than the Lamborghini Centenario Roadster!

The History

Highly limited edition Centenario models were created to honor the 100th birthday of Ferruccio Lamborghini, the firm’s founder, in 2016. All 20 Centenario Roadsters feature a full carbon fiber monocoque chassis and a monster V12 engine. That 6.5-liter V12 pumps out an amazing 770 horses without the need of a turbo. Wow!

Lambo says that will bump the AWD supercar to 186 mph in roughly 23.5 seconds, or 0-62 mph in 2.9 seconds. Short version, it’s quick, like a lightning strike. Officially Lamborghini lists the Centenario’s top speed at 217 mph, if you totally wind out the engine, and we all know we’d try.

OK, this is only 1:18 scale, but it’s still a monster V12!

That’s fast enough, to be sure, plus there’s a rear-wheel steering system, the first in a Lambo, to help it handle any curves thrown its way when ripping along at 200+ mph. Yet the system also helps the car move more gracefully at slow speeds too.

Lambo assures us that all the interiors are individualized (and rightly so) at its factory in Sant’Agata, Bolognese, Italy. Inside there is a large infotainment screen as in all luxury makes these days, plus the seats are either leather (from virgin cows?) or Alcantara and real carbon fiber is used as trim. And not to put too fine a point on it, but if you want to drive one, the closest you’ll likely get is a session on the Forza video game.

A gorgeous face and spectacular interior make the Lambo a collector’s show piece!

For the record, the Centenario models are based on Lambo’s Aventador model and was made only during 2016 and 2017, so pre-pandemic. That short run and low production numbers add to its rarity, and naturally call for a price to match. A new one ran $1.9 million and now they are selling at auction in the $2 million to $2.5 million range.

Not a bad looker from the backside either.

That makes Autoart’s $240 seem so much easier on the Swiss bank account, or more likely the Visa bill or Paypal account.

The Model

Where to start?

The body is sublime and the color, officially Rosso Efesto, a deep metallic red, simply is a show stopper. The scissor doors are released by, get this, the actual door handles. Push and hold them in and the doors, with windows up, flip forward to further expose the racy red and white bucket race-inspired seats featuring Lambo logos on each headrest.

Scissor doors open via a push on the door handle, plus the hood opens too.

All window trim is black with carbon-fiber-look headrest hoop covers and what would be B-pillar supports if there were a roof. Side fascia, rear diffuser and the chin spoiler also are carbon fiber lookalikes.

While the needle-sharp nose is sexy with its thin L-shaped headlights and the Lambo logo, it’s the tail that draws me in. So much going on here.

A lot going on at the rear, from big light bars to snazzy diffuser and a trio of exhausts.

There are the clear-bar exposed taillights and then tiny red brake lights below, between the six red-edged diffuser fins that otherwise appear as carbon fiber. Behind those, tucked under the body’s tail with deployable rear wing are big silver radiators. Then down low between the two innermost diffuser fins are three silver exhaust outlets. And in case you’ve forgotten the car’s name, Centenario Roadster is spelled out between the Lamborghini-labeled flap that separates the light bars.

Now that you’re at the tail take a good look at that throbbing V12 once you lift the separate engine cover, which includes clear plastic panels trimmed in more carbon fiber.

The engine cover pops off easily to expose the naturally aspirated V12.

There’s a V12 Lambo logo atop the engine block and Lamborghini-labeled header covers, various liquid fill containers and silver and black caps, hoses, carbon fiber-look crisscross struts and giant horizontal shocks and springs.

Inside is a beautiful red interior with a white v-shaped pattern on the seats, a steerable flat-bottom steering wheel with red 12 o-clock stripe and Lambo logo on the hub. That big info screen looks shiny and realistic while the console it blends into features oodles of buttons. Autoart creates a sharp black instrument panel pod too and the door panels are exquisitely detailed, including a white loop on each door to help pull the doors down and latched. Inside tops of door panels also appear to be carbon fiber. Snazzy!

Cool interior? Yes it is. Check out the seats and those white loops to pull down the doors.
Here’s an even closer look at the dash and other interior features.

Tucked neatly behind the fancy 5-spoke silver and carbon-fiber wheels are monster drilled disc brakes with red Lamborghini calipers. Tires are treaded low-pro Pirelli P Zeros with red stripes to wrap up the car’s stylish looks.

Awesome silver and carbon fiber-look wheels, red-striped P Zero tires and red calipers!

We’d all like to drive one of these, even if owning one is out of the question. But now Autoart helps solve the second part of that equation. Plus it offers the Roadster in blue, silver, green and yellow, along with this stunning red.

Vital Stats: Lamborghini Centenario Roadster

The hood opens to expose nose detail too.

Maker: Autoart
Scale: 1/18
Stock No.: 79207 (Rosso Efesto/metallic red)
MSRP: $240

Recommended Sellers: Autoartmodels.comReplicarz.com