Tag Archives: featured

1981 Mazda RX-7

Johnny Lightning creates a racy tribute with new Mazda RX-7 …

Mazda has been a favorite car maker of mine since I was fresh out of college and bought a GLC hatchback. Remember the Great Little Car?

Well, it wasn’t great, but it was good and low-priced, which fit a newly minted college graduate’s budget. Plus it was crazy reliable, with a manual choke, so it ALWAYS started.

Just as I was dipping my toes into the car market Mazda was expanding its lineup to include the racy Wankel rotary engine-powered RX-7. You might say it was Mazda’s prescription for speed, helping solidify its sporty image for years to come. Mazda even raced the RX-7, challenging Nissan’s 240Z.

This Johnny Lightning beauty at just 1:64 scale is a tribute to Mazda’s first racer, featuring its markings, but the body work of the 1981-‘85 RX-7s. It’s sharp and moves JL up another notch in fit and finish for the small die-cast market where it leads in realism, especially in the muscle car realm. This is muscle of a different sort though.

The History

Mazda introduced the RX-7 as a 1979 model, replacing the RX-3, which was decidedly less sporty looking. The Wankel rotary engine and the car’s low-slung long-hood design were the big news. The RX-7 was small and light enough to avoid some Japanese road taxes too, making it a popular model from an economic standpoint too. Plus the new engine packed more power.

Mazda, who had raced the RX-3, was quick to get the RX-7 into racing and in 1979 finished first and second in the GTU class at the Daytona 24 Hours, and were fifth and sixth overall, a pretty impressive start. Later in the year the Mazda also won the 24 Hours of Spa in Belgium, although those cars had been tweaked and tuned by the Tom Walkinshaw (TWR) racing team.

In fact, RX-7s won the GTU championship in IMSA eight straight years, from 1980 to 1987, often taking the top two or three spots. Ultimately it won more IMSA races than any other car.

Those racers also had rear a rear spoiler and wide over fenders along with a chin spoiler. The Johnny Lightning car is based on the FB version of the RX-7, which came a bit after the original. This is a street version, which means they have no spoilers, but the 1981 FB models now had integrated plastic-covered bumpers, wide black rubber body side moldings, and wraparound taillights. Engine controls also were upgraded. 

The Model

               This new casting, which retails for just $12.99, uses the two-tone green markings over a creamy white that the original RX-7 sported in the Daytona endurance race. There are big black No. 7s enclosed in black circles on the hood and doors, plus Mazda is printed big on the nose and in a blue bar across the top of the windshield.

               On the rear hatch’s lid is a “Powered by Rotary” decal and there are Union 76 and Bridgestone logos on the rear quarter panels. Another Mazda decal is on the fenders just before the doors, and a circular orange NGK spark plugs decal on each door.

               The FB’s large black side moldings are here, just above the two-tone green stripes along the car’s lower edges.

               Details that make the car look particularly realistic even in this small scale are black door handles, dual black side mirrors with silver faces and black hinges on the rear windscreen, plus a large black wiper at its lower edge. The rollaway headlights are shut to give the car a racier and smoother look, plus the hood opens forward, as on the original.

               Under the hood is a black engine block, but it is flat as was the rotary in the RX-7s, just a blue air filter on top for a little color. The rest of the cast-in details are white under the hood, which does take a bit of effort to pry open the first time. I scratched a tiny bit of paint off, but then this is a race car, so what’s a little race wear? The hood fits beautifully when closed.

               Of course the undercarriage is cast in great detail, as on all JL and Auto World models. Plus the black radiator air intake panel under the nose is nicely detailed.

               But the final bit of fun here are the wheels, which are four twin-spokes each with the spokes being a copper-gold, similar to some models sold in the U.S. that featured gold-anodized wheels. Plus the tires are rubber on JL cars. Bravo!

               A quick note here to call out our Auto World friend, Chad Reid, as the graphic artist on this model, along with a new red Motorcraft Ranger parts truck. The truck uses a Motorcraft logo on each door with a two white and one black stripe down each side as accents. It looks sharp and you can imagine one of these pulling into your repair shop’s parking lot, circa 1983.

 Reid says he chose Motorcraft red for the truck as it seemed perfect for a parts truck, and he also drew on a old Nylint Ford Ranger’s markings for inspiration. Both the Motorcraft Ranger (also $12.99) and RX-7 are limited editions, with just 2,496 being made of each.

The Ranger is a pre-order with shipments expected soon, but the RX-7 is in stock now.              

Vital Stats: 1981 Mazda RX-7 (racer tribute)

Maker: Johnny Lightning
Scale: 1/64
Stock No.: SCM099
MSRP: $12.99

Link: Autoworldstore.com

2022 Hyundai Palisade Calligraphy AWD

8 people can ride in style in this upscale Calligraphy model …

Think stylish vehicles and you’d be wise these days to first turn your attention to Hyundai or Kia. The two South Korean carmakers have been breaking the staid auto world’s styling molds for several years now.

Case in point, the tested Hyundai Palisade Calligraphy, an 8-person SUV and family hauler that looks and feels way ritzier than it is. The grille, the lights, the interior, all are standout lookers and clothed in a Sierra Burgundy (think dark metallic red wine) the test SUV looked out of place in my 1950s subdivision. Even its color was trendsetting, or make that trend breaking.

In a world of gray, white and black vehicles (those are the three top-selling “colors” now) the dark red Palisade looked special. People pointed at it like I was hauling a Kardashian to the Oscars for crying out loud.

Really there’s not a lot new to talk about here. I praised the original 2020 Palisade after taking a trip to Louisville and back in it. Comfort, quiet, the snazzy interior and solid power from its 3.8-liter V6 all impressed. Now it gains a bevy of safety equipment as standard and this Calligraphy model is the top trim, so loaded with oodles of whiz-bangs that might be optional on other makes at this price.

So there are the looks, maybe too bold for some, but they can have their gray blend-in mobiles. I like the grille and snazzy lights front and rear. Happy with that V6 too as it delivers a strong 291 horses and smoothly via an 8-speed automatic with Shiftronic, which allows a driver to override the automatic with manual shifts, no clutch of course.

Handling is fairly quick too, making it extremely easy to control on the highway and ride is composed without being plush or floaty. A long wheelbase helps that.

AWD is $1,700 extra on all trim levels, but certainly makes sense in our sloppy Wisconsin climate.

Watch Mark’s video: Mark Savage reviews the 2022 Hyundai Palisade Calligraphy AWD – YouTube

Note too there are five drive modes, Comfort, Eco, Sport, Snow and Smart, which is said to learn your driving style and adjust the shifts to fit your needs and wants. Sport does enliven the acceleration a bit and firms steering too. Yet Comfort was fine 95% of the time; I mostly engaged Sport when zipping onto a freeway.

Did a lot of freeway driving in this too, probably 70% which made the trip computer predict I was getting 20.2 mpg, while in reality it was 19.5. That’s in the Palisade’s wheelhouse of 19 mpg city and 24 highway for the AWD version. The front-drive model earns 26 mpg on the highway. That could be important as gas prices head to the stratosphere.

But for family hauling Palisade is certainly competitive with other large SUVs and minivans on the gas mileage front.

It also has an advantage on many because it will haul eight passengers if you opt for the center row bench seat, no extra charge. Go with the more comfy captain’s chairs and it’ll haul seven adults. That’s right, there’s plenty of legroom in the third row and the one-touch second row seats slide forward easily to let a grownup crawl aboard with minimal grunting and groaning. Second row seats can be positioned to create reasonable foot and legroom for both second and third-row occupants. Bonus!

The third row of seats has adequate room and the second and third row fold flat too.

Granted storage behind that third row is not spacious, but will hold eight bags of groceries. Smartly Hyundai offers power third-row and second-row fold downs via buttons inside the rear hatch. So if you’re loading a lot of goods it’s simple to press a couple buttons and lower the seats for cargo hauling.

This interior is stellar in nearly all ways, and certainly from a quietness and styling standpoint. The tester was decked out in light gray (nearly white) Nappa leather with a bit of quilting pattern on the seatbacks and a sophisticated light tan to gray fake wood trim on the doors and dash. The wood is in strips with satin chrome trim between each layer. Classy!

Overhead is a soft gray simulated suede headliner that helps soak up any excess noise that somehow manages to creep into the cockpit. Trim on the console is a satin chrome herringbone pattern while the dash’s top is black and overhead is a power sunroof up front and power sun shade over a larger stationary roof for the rear two rows of seats.

Standard here is a heated steering wheel, heated and cooled front seats, heated rear seats and 360-degree backup camera along with wireless charger in the console and 10.25-inch infotainment screen that’s simple to use.

Fantastic dash design with large easy-to-use buttons and screen.

In fact, the Hyundai dash is so well designed it’s easy to figure out from the moment you sit in Palisade, no fumbling for knobs that aren’t there or hunting for vague icons that don’t let you know where to find the heat or radio. This is how interiors should function and Hyundai interior designers deserve a big pay increase.

Buttons are all large and logically laid out and the radio tuning is intuitive. No electrical engineering degree is required, a benefit for us less schooled, or old-school, drivers.

Need more? Well, the Calligraphy model comes with a snazzy Harmon Kardon stereo system including attractive satin chrome covered door speakers that look like a jeweler designed them. Sound is good and tuning is easy.

Beautiful design with wood grains atop the door and diamond-pattern leather too.

Flip a turn signal lever and cameras light up in round screens on the instrument panel, one for left turns, one for right, showing you the road and blind-spot behind you in that lane to avoid fender benders and curb scrapes.

Safety equipment is plentiful too, along with lane-keeping assist, forward collision avoidance, driver attention warning, smart cruise control and such, Hyundai adds blind-spot warning, rear cross-traffic alert, turn signals in the side mirrors and safe exit assist. This later item is becoming a norm now and alerts a person when a door is unlatched but oncoming traffic could be a danger. Still best to look over your shoulder, but this may help avoid losing a door when the driver or passenger is distracted. Cool too that the lane departure system can be turned off to avoid unwanted beeps as you dodge construction and pot holes.

Also standard on Calligraphy is a perforated leather wrap on the steering wheel, 20-inch wheels, puddle lamps and that fancy satin chrome trim. Standard on most models too is a power hatch, along with remote start and the excellent one-touch second row seats that quickly fold and slide forward for third-row entry.

For techies, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are here, along with USB ports for the first two rows of seats.

Seats are quite comfy in most regards in all rows. The third row has a bit of a raised floor so that puts your legs at a slightly elevated angle. My only complaint is the power driver’s seat, which has a long lower cushion, meaning it hits the back of short driver’s knees and could be tiring on a long drive. Before buying, check that out if you’re 5-6, or shorter.

Finally let’s revisit Palisade’s value Palisade. First, a well-equipped minivan will cost you $50,000 these days, give or take a grand. Some SUVs will start there and work their way up to $60 grand or more.

This top-level test vehicle started at $49,615, including delivery, and added just floor mats (which should be standard on all vehicles now) for $215 to end up at $49,830.

If you’re budget is more mainstream and your doodad desires are in check, consider the base SE model at $34,575 with delivery and front-wheel drive. But the engine and mechanicals are the same as Calligraphy. An SEL model at $36,925 adds the captain’s chairs instead of 8-person seating, heated seats, power driver’s seat, remote start and three zone climate controls, so may be the best value.

The $46,815 Limited moves upscale with twin sunroofs, Nappa leather, an HUD and 360-camera, power-down third row seats, wireless charger, heated second row seats and the bigger info screen. Remember, adding AWD is an option for all trims, but so far no hybrid model is available.

Snazzy taillights on the Palisade.

Remember too that Kia’s Telluride is a kissin’ cousin to the Palisade and offers stunning styling too. Other competitors include Ford’s Explorer, Toyota’s Highlander, Honda’s Pilot, VW’s Atlas, and the new Jeep Grand Cherokee L (that means Long).

Palisade will haul any family in style in that $35,000 to $40,000 range, and if you can manage the Limited or Calligraphy it’s a luxury ride to be sure.

FAST STATS: 2022 Hyundai Palisade Calligraphy AWD

Hits: Sharp looking SUV, good power, ride and handling, plus AWD and 5 drive modes. Loaded with Harmon Kardon stereo, super center stack/console design, big screen, heated steering wheel, heated/cooled front seats, heated second row seats, turn-signal cameras, power hatch, useful third row seat, wireless charger, lane departure can be turned off.

Great looking headlight design too!

Misses: Driver’s lower seat cushion is long, hits back of short driver’s knees. No hybrid model yet.

Made in: Ulsan, So. Korea

Engine: 3.8-liter V6, 291hp/262 torque

Transmission: 8-speed automatic w/Shiftronic

Weight: 4,127 lbs.

Wheelbase: 114.2 in.

Length: 196.1 in.

Cargo: 18-86.4 cu.ft.

Tow: 5,000 lbs.

MPG: 19/24

MPG: 19.5 (tested)

Base Price: $49,615 (includes delivery)

Invoice: $47,319

Major Options: Carpeted floor mats, $215

Test vehicle: $49,830

Sources: Hyundai, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

Car Spot: Classic Vette

It’s Spring (nearly) in Wisconsin

The snow melts, the birds start chirping, baseball begins, and classic cars come out of their long winter hibernation here in Wisconsin. Not that this third generation C3 Corvette would have to worry about rust but they don’t handle well in snow.

Patterned after the concept car, the Mako Shark, in 1968 it was the first of many Corvettes to be a pace car for the Indy 500. The 350-cu.in.  engine replaced the old 327 as the base engine in 1969, but power remained at 300 hp. 1969 was the only year for a C3 to optionally offer either a factory-installed side exhaust or a normal rear exit version with chrome tips. The all-aluminum ZL1 engine was also new for 1969. Listed at 430 hp but it was reported to produce 560 hp and propelled a ZL1 through the 1/4 mile in 10.89 seconds.

In 1968 there were 28,566 produced, a jump of about 5,000 from the previous C2. I couldn’t see what engine this example had but assuming it’s the base 327, Hagerty values one in good condition, which this one appeared to be, about $25,000. Not a bad price for vintage late ’60s early ’70s muscle.

Stop back next Friday when I’ll have another car spot to share and have a great weekend.

2022 Volkswagen Jetta GLI Autobahn

VW’s Jetta a value-oriented icon that exudes the joy of car driving …

I feel a little sorry for younger drivers who have grown up riding in, and then driving, mostly trucks and SUVs. They simply won’t know how much fun it is to drive a car.

Cars are lighter, more nimble, and generally handle much better than trucks and SUVs. Often they look better too, especially hatchbacks.

And get this, they almost always get better fuel economy and cost less than their porky truck-based counterparts. With gasoline prices going gaga on us now, is it possible cars may again gain more attention?

All this is to say Volkswagen’s new Jetta GLI Autobahn is a hoot that’ll scoot.

VW’s longtime compact sedan comes in five trims, this GLI Autobahn being the top-level but with a price that may surprise, $32,990 for the automatic version, including delivery. The first four trims are even more economical, starting at $21,390 for the 6-speed manual-equipped S, which features a new 1.5-liter turbo I4 that makes 158 horsepower and 184 lb.-ft. of torque.

The Sport, SE and SEL models all feature that same engine, but the GLI Autobahn gets jiggy with a 2.0-liter turbo I4 that pumps out 228 horses and is rated at 258 for torque. That’ll get your attention when he slap the accelerator. You might even chirp the front-drive wheels. And get this, a manual tranny is available in all trims, the automatic adding just $800 to the sticker.

The Pure Gray ($395 extra) test car was an automatic (7-speed dual-clutch), but with five drive modes (Eco, Comfort, Normal, Sport, and Custom) it was easy to transform it from a comfy city car to a rocket sled heading onto the freeway. Yes, Sport mode firms the steering and crams more power to the low-end so acceleration is, quite literally, a blast. Given the proper highway entry ramp and sparse traffic triple digits are easily reached. Don’t ask how I know!

Sport also turns that turbo into a growling beast with enough exhaust resonance to wake up even a sleeping pre-teen in the back seat. Yes, grandpa still knows how to have fun!

Watch Mark’s video: Mark Savage reviews the sporty 2022 Volkswagen Jetta GLI Autobahn – YouTube

But hey, some $50,000 to $80,000 pickups and SUVs have power to jet along the freeway or down an entry ramp. However, they won’t handle like a compact sports sedan and that’s what the Jetta is, reminding me of the former BMW 2002 models, light, nimble and fun.

Jetta is light on its 18-inch black alloy wheels (part of a $595 Black Package), weighing in at just shy of 3,300 pounds. Steering is quick and responsive. This sedan corners well and makes dodging pot holes even seem fun.

Ride is firm but well controlled, so not as abrupt as one might suspect at this price and in a car with Teutonic ancestry. Ride comfort was better than many compact crossovers.

Braking is fine too with discs front (11.3-inch) and rear (10.7-inch), plus VW even paints the Autobahn’s calipers red to sexy them up. Oh, and there’s a red trim line on the blacked-out grille, and plus red stitching on the leather seats. Sharp!

This interior is fairly quiet too for the price and performance, the only rumble coming in that Sport mode, but that’s when you want it, right?

Black leather seats with that red trim give the interior a handsome, yet sporty feel and VW smartly opts for a flat-bottom steering wheel for added flair. A flat wheel helps with knee room normally too, but the Jetta’s steering column is quite thick and short drivers will find themselves tapping their right knee on it when exiting. Not a problem for taller drivers with the seat further back and legs out straighter.

Otherwise the cockpit is primo with soft dash and door surfaces and a large digital instrument panel now standard along with an 8-inch infotainment screen that’s simple to use and read. The radio includes a volume knob and there’s a volume slide on the steering wheel too.

The drive modes are activated via a button on the console and that console-mounted shifter, which includes a clutchless manual feature, is trimmed in red. Ach du lieber!

There’s a sunroof and manual shade overhead and VW’s seats are well-contoured for lower back and hip support. The driver’s seat is powered, but the passenger’s is manual. However, both are heated and cooled. A wireless charger under the center stack also is standard on this trim.

Standard too is smart cruise control and most of the safety features one now expects, rearview camera, cross-traffic alert, blind-spot monitor, plus lane departure assist and warning.

Jetta Autobahn also touts remote start, illuminated door sills, a snazzy Beats 9-speaker audio system, automatic climate control, stainless steel pedals and three seat memory buttons for the driver.

Front and rear seat room is good for four adults, five folks will fit if one is smallish. And those rear seats split and fold, naturally. Yet the trunk is large at 14.1 cubic feet, so several good size suitcases will fit, no problem.

The manual version of the Jetta with the smaller engine nets 26 mpg city and 37 mpg highway says the EPA. Automatics these days are comparable. I got 26.6 mpg in a mix of city and highway driving during cold snowy weather, so I’d expect a bit better most times.

VW’s Autobahn trim comes so well equipped you may not need to add any options, but this one came in the special color (really, gray is special?) and the $595 Black Package added a black roof, tiny lip of a rear spoiler, black 18-inch alloy wheels and black mirror caps. It seems a reasonable price for a few exterior spiffs.

Total here was $33,980 and that screams bargain to me for the performance, features and comfort afforded here. Or you can buy a luxury sport sedan for $50 grand, or more.

FAST STATS: 2022 Volkswagen Jetta GLI Autobahn

Hits: Peppy sedan (manual available) with sporty handling, but fine family car with roomy interior, sunroof, heated/cooled front seats, smart cruise and substantial safety features. Good mpg, well-controlled ride, supportive seats, wireless charger, flat-bottom steering wheel, and big trunk.

Misses: Tight knee space to steering column for short drivers.

Made in: Puebla, Mexico

Engine: 2.0-liter turbo I4, 228 horsepower/258 torque

Transmission: 7-speed dual-clutch automatic

Weight: 3,272 lbs.

Length: 186.9 in.

Wheelbase: 105.6 in.

Cargo: 14.1 cu.ft.

MPG: 26/37 (manual)

MPG:  26.6 (tested)

Base Price: $32,990 (includes delivery)

Invoice: N.A.

Major Options:

Pure Gray paint, $395

Black package (black roof, spoiler, mirror caps, and 18-inch alloy wheels), $595

Test vehicle: $33,980

Sources: Volkswagen, kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

2022 Mazda CX-5 2.5 Turbo AWD

Turbo CX-5 a sporty compact crossover with a Soul (red) …

Mazda has a winner with its CX-5 compact crossover so it’s no surprise it hasn’t changed drastically in the three years since I’d tested it.

Wisely Mazda added its turbocharged version of the already peppy 2.5-liter SkyActiv-G I4 engine along the way and now makes AWD standard on all CX-5 models. Plus it smoothed out the nose and tail a bit and retuned the suspension a tad while also adding more supportive seats. All good things, although I liked the more beak-like nose of the previous model just fine.

Still, the CX-5 stands out in a market of lookalikes, plus the test crossover came in Mazda’s stunning Soul Red Crystal Metallic. That’s a bright metallic red that virtually has no peer for a brilliant red, and is well worth the $595 up-charge.

All that is to say the CX-5 Turbo is an exceptional looking and driving vehicle for the price. It leans heavily toward luxury with a quiet and soft leathery interior, it packs loads of comfort and safety equipment and it drives like a sports sedan, nearly.

For me the looks are enough to make me want a CX-5, but for most folks it likely comes down to price, power and standard equipment. The Mazda wins there too.

A base model starts at $27,125 including delivery, and remember, that’s with AWD. So for the entry price you get the looks and AWD. Standard engine is the non-turbo 2.5-liter with 187 horsepower, and hooked up with a fine 6-speed automatic with a Sport mode. It’ll scoot, but the CX-5 Turbo will scamper.

The boosted engine creates 227 horses on regular fuel and if you can afford premium petrol, well, it’ll pound out 256 horses, up 6 ponies from the previous model. Torque rating is 310 lb.-ft. and there’s zero lag as it kicks in when you tromp the accelerator, entering a highway at 70+ mph. Yes, it’ll push you back in the seat. The wild ones at Car and Driver magazine say this will do 0-60 mph in 6.1 seconds and top out at 130 mph. That’s plenty quick!

See Mark’s video: Mark Savage reviews the 2022 Mazda CX 5 2 5 Turbo AWD – YouTube

But gas mileage remains reasonable with a 22 mpg city and 27 mpg highway rating from the EPA. I got 24.1 mpg in about 60% city driving and a more aggressive right foot than is probably necessary.

Handling is precise and sporty with this crossover is easy to push into tight turns and feel as stable as a lower center of gravity sedan. The AWD helps of course, but the balance in this Mazda is excellent.

Engineers worked to further smooth the ride, and it may be marginally better than previous models, but the sporty feel is still there, meaning it is firm. On the highway or reasonable road surfaces that’s great. On moon-crater Midwest streets there’s some bump and thump to passengers, yet always remaining well controlled, not abusive.

Braking is strong with vented front discs and solid rear discs. Plus Mazda’s MI-Drive allows the driver to toggle Normal, Sport, or Off-Road settings to increase low-end power and firm the steering in Sport. Off-Road helps distribute power to the most appropriate wheels, although I’d consider this a mild off-roader, such as gravel and dirt paths in a park.

Plenty of safety equipment standard here too, including smart cruise control, blind-spot monitor, lane keeping assist and warning, along with the 360-degree camera and cross-traffic alert. And a major plus, the lane departure can be turned off via a button on the lower left dash, meaning you don’t need to fight the system when in construction zones or dodging pot holes that require you to straddle a lane marker.

Besides the color the tester added only a navigation system for $450, including a color screen that is 10.3-inches wide, and standard on the CX-5. I like this info screen because it’s wide, but thin so it doesn’t stick up too far from the dash’s center and never seemed too reflective, a problem with some giant screens mounted on the center stack. I’m looking at you, Subaru.

Mazda continues to do a great job of making its interiors both quiet and luxurious feeling with a soft fabric on the dash and doors. No, it’s not leather, but feels high-end soft, which also must quiet the interior a bit. This one used black leather with red stitching on the seats to snazzy it up. There’s also chrome trim on the air vents and along the doors and dash beside fake carbon fiber trim. The console is trimmed in gloss black and the lower steering wheel hub is chrome.

The Turbo line also comes with a sunroof, heated steering wheel along with heated and cooled seats, plus dual climate controls, and a Bose stereo with 10 speakers. A wireless phone charger under the center stack is also standard.

Seats are improved too with increased lower back and hip support. Front seats are roomy, but the rear is cramped in the middle position so I’d call this a four-passenger crossover.

In back, the hatch is powered and there’s reasonable storage space, just not as much as some in this class. But those rear seats do fold down flat to create a larger carrying surface.

While I’m learning to use the Mazda radio and info screen system, which is controlled via a console control knob, I’m no fan. Give me a touchscreen or real radio knobs and buttons for easy use while driving. To fit the sporty nature of the CX-5 it needs a flat-bottom steering wheel too.

Pricing runs from that roughly $27 grand starting price up to $39,875 for the top-level Turbo Signature model, naturally featuring this turbo engine. There are six trims between the two, this Turbo model listing at $37,625, including delivery, and $38,670 as it was equipped. So it’s easy to choose a trim level with the power and features you’d want, and still sneak in below a $40,000 price tag, nearly the average cost of a new car/crossover these days.

This is a crowded vehicle segment with many strong competitors, but for looks and performance for the price the CX-5 leads the pack. Also start watching for the new CX-50, a similar model aimed more at the off-roading crowd.

FAST STATS: 2022 Mazda CX-5 2.5 Turbo, AWD

Hits: Stylish lines, excellent turbo power, responsive handling, plus AWD standard. Gorgeous color, interior feels luxurious, wide screen, sunroof, heated steering wheel, heated/cooled front seats, dual climate controls, 360-camera, smart cruise and safety systems, Bose stereo, comfy supportive seats, power hatch, and wireless charger. High-value, yet fun drive.

Misses: Still not a fan of the console-controlled info screen, and ride is firm, but well-controlled. Could use flat-bottom steering wheel.

Made in: Hiroshima, Japan

Engine: 2.5-liter SkyActiv-G I4, turbo, 227 hp (256 hp, w/premium gas/310 torque)

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

Weight: 3,809 lbs.

Wheelbase: 106.2 in.

Length: 179.1 in.

Cargo: 31-59.3 cu.ft.

MPG: 22/27

MPG: 24.1 (tested)

Base Price: $37,625 (includes delivery)

Invoice: $36,207

Options:

Soul Red Crystal paint, $595

Navigation system, $450

Test vehicle: $38,670

Sources: Mazda, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

Diecast: Johnny Lightning 1:64 Muscle Cars & Showcase

Latest Lightning 6-packs loaded with color, detail …

The recent Muscle Cars release and a few older JLs in the new Auto World case.

I find it sort of amazing that muscle cars from the 1960s through the ‘80s remain so incredibly popular with collectors, both of 1:1 cars and those of us who love smaller diecast models, which are infinitely more affordable.

Johnny Lighting is well aware, which is why it has been cranking out 1:64 scale diecast cars and trucks for years, and its parent company Auto World the same, plus larger scale 1:18 muscle cars too.

The 2021 Muscle Cars release 3, version A.

One of Johnny Lightning’s mainstays has been its Muscle Cars and other themed 6-packs, made with A and B releases, each in authentic manufacturer colors. The current is Release 3 for 2021 (supply chain deliveries still catching up), featuring a 1968 Shelby GT-500 KR, 1965 Chevy Chevelle Wagon, 1986 Buick Grand National, 1977 Pontiac Firebird T/A, 1970 Dodge Dart Swinger 340, and 1970 Plymouth GTX.

The 2021 Muscle Cars release 3, version B.

All are sharply cast and feature the usual opening hoods with detailed engine bays, or at least as detailed as a 1:64 model likely needs to be. All the cars also feature rubber tires, some branded, a few simply blackwalls.

Let’s get right to the six models.

The Models

               This Shelby GT-500 is sweet, and in Calypso Coral (a bright orange) it’ll stand out in any collection. Johnny Lightning models the KR version of the 1968 Mustang/Shelby. That originally stood for King of the Road, which this certainly was with its Cobra Jet 428 V8, which was listed at 335 horses, but was said to be much closer to 400.

               At the time this was the most powerful Mustang and would do 0-60 mph in 6.5 seconds, impressive in the day.

JL tells us that the King of the Road phrase was being considered for trademarking by Chevrolet at the time, but clever Carroll Shelby quickly worked to secure the name and KR trademark before the slow-moving Chevy could get the job done. Shelby was always aggressive and knew how to get things done!

This model has a black engine bay with blue V8 block, a tan interior with good detailing molded into its face. Along the rocker panels is a white racing stripe with the GT-500 KR name included and Shelby is spelled out in silver on the nose and tail. Little details can add some spiff and here there are not only silver door handles, but two silver dots on the hood to represent hood pins, and Shelby’s coiled Cobra logo on the front quarter panels. The license proudly announces KR 428 to signify the GT’s engine and the tires are labeled Goodyear.

A fun addition to this set is the 1965 Chevelle Wagon, a rare beast in that it was only made for two years, 1964 and ’65. Making this one even more interesting is the Turtle Power logo on the doors, one that was used by Turtle Wax in the 1960s. Somehow it seems even more appropriate as the model comes in Turtle Wax Metallic Green.

Other highlights include the slight bulge in the wagon’s rear roof that somehow makes it look faster, silver Malibu script on the rear quarter panels, Chevy’s twin flag logos tucked between the front wheel wells and nose, a blue and red Chevy logo on the grille and Firestone-labeled tires. Wheels are chrome mags.

Under the hood the engine block is orange with a black air filter and the interior is black. Oh, and there’s a Turtle decal inside both rear side windows.

The Buick Grand National looks intimidating in a black paint job.

If black indicates Intimidator-style power on a 1980s muscle car, then the 1986 Buick Grand National may be your favorite among this six-pack. It’s boxy, big and black, with a gray and black interior featuring high-back seats.

In the day the 1986 model was the best-selling of the three-year run of Grand National’s, although a Regal had a Grand National package in 1982. More than 5,500 Grand Nationals were built in 1986, more than double the first two years of production, combined.

Improvements had been made for ’86 too, with its 3.8-liter V6 turbo gaining an intercooler and seeing its horsepower jump from 200 to 235, making it capable of doing 0-60 mph in 4.9 seconds and a quarter mile on the dragstrip in 13.9 seconds. That made it the fastest production car in the U.S., beating Corvette, Camaro and Firebird, its GM stable mates. Car and Driver magazine tested the Buick and found it faster too than a Lamborghini Countach. Amazing!

               This one features the bulge at the rear of the hood with 3.8L Turbo logo, the Grand National logo on the front quarter panel just in front of the doors, another on the trunk sill and a license plate with GM on it. I particularly like the blacked out grille (as most vehicles now offer) but with its fine silver outline and the twin rectangle headlights framing it. Sharp!

The Pontiac Firebird and Buick Grand National both look racy!

               Pontiac, now long-gone, was a major player in the muscle car wars, its Firebird always fast and its roll in the 1977 movie, Smokey and the Bandit, with Burt Reynolds, assured its fame. That Firebird with its Screaming Eagle on the hood was black, while this ‘77 Pontiac Firebird T/A is a handsome Brentwood Brown Poly. I think of it as metallic bronze.

               This one features the “Bandit” package that cost 1,141 with the Hurst Hatches (T-top), while a $556 version omitted the hatches, but put that eagle on the hood. This eagle is black and gold, the wings wrapping around the hood’s power bulge that protrudes through the hood. Under it was a 200-horse V8.

               Other feature here include a tan interior with black steering wheel, Trans Am label on the nose, tail, and front quarter panels, a 77 Bird license, and gold-spoked wheels tucked inside BF Goodrich-labeled tires.

               Muscle came in all shapes and sizes, proven by the 1970 Dodge Dart Swinger 340, a restyle that year to give it a split grille in front and taillights embedded in the rear bumper (not a great idea). But the Dart had been muscled up over the years and while other models in the Chrysler-Plymouth lineup would outshine the Dart, this one was quick.

The little Dart Swinger packed a major punch in a lightweight platform.

               First, it started with the 340-cu.-in. V8 (thus the Swinger 340) that created an impressive 275 horsepower in a 3,170-pound car. And all this for just $2,808. Heck, that’s a modest option package price on today’s cars.

               Both hood and trunk were long and the rear window sloped to give the squarish car a somewhat fastback look. The bumble bee rear wraparound stripe remained from earlier versions, and while it looked best as a black stripe on a yellow car, this white version with blue stripe is sharp. Up front were dual fake hood scoops and the model includes silver Swinger script behind the doors and under the C-pillar.

A lot of Mopar power represented here with the Dart and GTX.

               Tires are unbranded here and wheels white with a modes chrome cap at their center. Windows are trimmed in silver as are the door handles and gas cap.

               Plymouth was known for its muscle and funky colors in the late 1960s and early 1970s. So it’s no surprise that Johnny Lightning created a Moulin Rouge (dark pink) 1970 Plymouth GTX for this set. Known as the Gentleman’s Muscle Car, the GTX got a new grille and taillights for 1970 and of course the Power Bulge hood returned with a single Air Grabber scoop on top.

A muscular V8 was under that GTX hood.

               A 440 Super Commando V8 with four-barrel carburetor was standard, generating 375 horsepower, while a 426 HEMI V8 was optional. It made 425 horsepower, major muscle.

               This pink beauty features the GTX’s clean lines, that snazzy hood and black racing stripes on the sides along with GTX decals just behind the fake rear brake air scoops. GTX is emblazoned on the grille and Plymouth is spelled out on the tail. Window trim is silver, as are door handles, wipers and like the Shelby, two dots on the hood to represent hood pins. There are 440 decals next to the Air Grabber scoop too, and tires are labeled as Goodyears.

Here’s the whole A version collection from the latest Johnny Lightning release.

               The B release

               This second set offers its own unique colors with a few other visual differences from the A release.

               The Shelby comes in Highland Green, one of the most popular Mustang colors and is simply a sharp looker, without being as flashy as the orange A version. While the Chevelle Wagon shows its lines much better in the Silver Pearl Poly Turtle Wax paint job than the dark green on the A model. I prefer the black Buick Grand National to this Rosewood Poly (copper) version in the B collection, as it seems to me most Grand Nationals were black, and certainly look more racy in that color.

               Version B’s Firebird is Cameo White and it accentuates the car’s lines better than the Brentwood Brown Poly in Version A. Again there’s the Screaming Eagle on the hood, and I like the black trim around the T-top openings.

               The biggest differences seem to be the Dart Swinger and Plymouth GTX in the B release. The Swinger is Light Blue Poly with a black stripe around the tail, but also a matte black roof and trim on the hood scoops that give this one a racier look. On the GTX the color is Burnt Orange Poly that is a fine copper finish like a shiny penny. But with white racing stripes on the sides, a matte black roof and matte black center portion of the hood, including the air scoop. It’s sharp!

               New Display Case

               Auto World now is offering a snazzy 3-in-1 Showcase that satisfies a number of display needs. First, it’ll hold a 1:24 scale model, so for plastic car builders it’ll protect one of their project cars, of which dust is the primary enemy.

But it also will hold three 1:43 scale cars or nine 1:64 scale vehicles, which is what I did with it immediately, using a few Johnny Lightning cars I had sitting on a dresser, plus the six that came the above reviewed six-pack. Naturally JL, Racing Champions Mint, Playing Mantis, Matchbox and Hot Wheels all will fit in the case.

Naturally the top is clear acrylic and rounded on the edges for a more sophisticated display. And instead of the top popping off for car placement it’s hinged, which makes for easier opening and makes the case less likely to be shaken and possibly damaging its contents. That can happen as sometimes a case’s tight-fitting top can jam on the bottoms and be hard to remove.

Here we see the removable 2-tier platform. Take it out and a 1:24 model fits!

The bottom here is black and there’s a removable 2-tier platform that would allow a 1:24 model to be placed flat on the bottom. I like the 3-tiered look with the platform in place though as now more cars can be positioned on three levels for easy viewing.

Excellent!

Vital Stats: Muscle Cars 6-packs

Maker: Auto World/Johnny Lightning
Scale: 1:64
Stock No.: JLMC027/06 A&B
MSRP: $51.99

Link: Autoworldstore.com

Vital Stats: 3-in1 Showcase

Maker: Auto World
Scale: 1:24 to 1:64
Stock No.: AWDC004
MSRP: $19.99

Link: Autoworldstore.com

2022 Ford Maverick Lariat FWD

Ford returns to the compact pickup market with a hybrid …

Finally, finally, finally the nation’s leading truck maker has returned to the compact pickup market as Ford introduces the Maverick pickup.

Oldtimers will recall the original Ford Maverick as an inexpensive compact car that did not distinguish itself, but this Maverick is gonna be great in the marketplace, just like Ford’s previous Ranger. The old Ranger, not the new mid-size pickup of the same name, used to clog up every high school parking lot in both rural and urban America.

Know why? It was affordable and useful, and by golly, it was a TRUCK. And that’s what young male buyers yearn for as they imagine themselves becoming men, starting a work life and well, just expressing their macho dudeness as they crank their country rock tunes.

Maverick’s looks are less macho than all the bulky mid-size and full-size pickups that look prepared to trounce some demon in a Marvel action movie. Maverick is handsome and understated, not that there’s anything wrong with that.

It’s also highly affordable throughout its three trim levels, and there’s definitely nothing wrong with that.

The base front-drive XL starts at $21,490, including delivery. The mid-level XLT lists at $23,855 and the tested Lariat model begins at $26,985. OMG that’s cheap in today’s truck world. Add $3,305 to any model if you prefer 4-wheel-drive, which most folks do these days. However, you’ll also need to upgrade to Ford’s 2.0-liter turbo I4 engine ($1,085) in order to add 4WD.

Still, even this well-equipped Alto Blue Metallic (dark metallic blue that’s $390 extra) checked in at just $29,340. That after adding a sunroof ($795), Ford’s Co-Pilot 360 safety equipment ($540), a spray-in bedliner (a must at $495) and floor mats ($135). All models are crewcabs.

What may surprise as much as the price it that each of these trims comes standard with a hybrid powertrain. That’s right, Ford’s 2.5-liter I4 is paired with a hybrid system to make this compact pickup a sipper of gas around town. The EPA rates it at 42 mpg highway and 33 mpg city. I got 31.8 in a mix of driving in cold, icy, and snowy weather.

Watch Mark’s video review: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dG2hTmpxMMk

Power is smooth and fairly quiet, but modest unless mashing the accelerator. Part of that can be attributed to its continuously variable transmission. If you need more power, that optional turbo I4, coupled with an 8-speed automatic, delivers 250 horses compared with the hybrid system’s 191 and scant 155 lb.-ft. of torque. Again, the hybrid is fine for normal driving conditions, the turbo is only needed if you plan to tow more.

That’s because the hybrid is rated to tow just 2,000 lbs. while properly equipped ($745 tow package) the turbo-powered Maverick will pull 4,000 lbs. Compare that with Hyundai’s new Santa Cruz, my Zoomie Vehicle of the Year, which can tow up to 5,000 lbs. Santa Cruz is Maverick’s main competition, being the only other compact pickup so far, although it is more stylish and tends toward the crossover end of the market for ride and roominess.

While AWD is extra, there are five drive modes adjusted via a knob on the console. Those include Eco, Normal, Sport, Slippery and Tow/Haul. Sport does boost acceleration some.

Handling is certainly fine with Maverick, which rides on the same chassis as the Ford Escape and Bronco Sport, both of which also are nimble. Steering effort is mild and turn-in for corners fairly precise, making it an easy vehicle on the road and in parking lots.

Ride is another thing. While Maverick is unibody construction, not body-on-frame as are most other trucks, the suspension is pretty firm here. That leads to more bounce and jiggle on our winter-ravaged Midwest roads. Maverick is pleasant on the highway, but on crumbling roads passengers will be shaken, not just stirred.

Braking is good as Maverick packs four-wheel disc brakes.

For the record, Maverick’s bed is 4.5 feet deep and the test unit had a spray-in bedliner. The lift-in height is just 30 inches and the tailgate folds down quickly, no easy-drop, or multiple function version here as on fancier pickups. But this is right-sized to haul lumber, bushes and yard waste. Even a couple bikes will fit in back.

Inside is right-sized too for four, or maybe five folks, if at least one is a child. The rear seats are roomy and there’s oodles of storage space under the rear seat whose bottom cushion folds up.

The test truck’s interior was simple but attractive with brown and dark blue faux leather seats. That blue matches the truck’s exterior. I also like the copper trim on the dash, air vents and door armrests, which are abbreviated and quite easy to use in pulling a door shut. The console is wisely a matte blue and brown so no reflections there on sunny days.

Snazzy copper-colored door pulls add some spiff inside.

Controls and screens are fine, the main gauges easy to see and read and the 8-inch infotainment screen seems even smaller, but was easy to read. The Lariat also has dual climate controls and push-button start, but no navigation system. Note that in an effort to keep costs down the base level features a key start (remember those?) and cloth seats.

Seats themselves are comfy enough here, but the front edge seems to have just a tad too much foam, so puts extra pressure on the legs, just behind the knees, of short drivers. Luckily the driver’s seat is powered, while the passenger’s is not. Yet still the front edge could not be lowered enough for this short driver’s long-ride comfort.

Seats also are not heated, nor is the steering wheel, even at this Lariat level. No wireless phone charger is standard here either.

Good news though, the step-in height is like a sedan or small crossover, so no running board is needed.

On the safety front the Maverick includes a pre-collision assist system, rear-view camera, remote keyless entry and with the $540 Co-Pilot 360 adds blind-spot and cross-traffic alerts, lane keeping alert and aid, driver alert and a full-size spare tire.

For off-road heroes there’s also an FX4 package available for $800. That adds 17-inch all-terrain tires, an upgraded cooling system and high-capacity radiator, hill descent control, a 6.5-inch instrument cluster, a hitch, special aluminum wheels, skid plates and exposed front tow hooks Note that you must upgrade to the turbo engine before adding FX4, adding roughly another grand.

There’s storage room below the rear seat.

The base XL of course is a basic low-content truck to keep the price just above $20,000, but the XLT adds 17-inch aluminum wheels, cruise control, a locking tailgate and power mirrors. The tested Lariat includes the XLT’s features and adds the power driver’s seat, push-button start and 18-inch wheels.

One final plus, the hybrid-powered Maverick features an 8-year, 100,000-mile warranty on that system, while the more powerful 2.0-liter turbo has a 5-year, 60,000-mile warranty.

If you want a pickup, but don’t Need a monster truck, or can’t Afford one, Maverick is a sweet new choice, finally.

FAST STATS: 2022 Ford Maverick Lariat FWD

Hits: Right-sized pickup with excellent handling and super MPG due to hybrid system. Comfy interior, low step-in height, lined bed, easy dash function, 5 drive modes, cool copper interior trim, dual climate controls, seats 4/5, power driver’s seat, and sunroof.

Misses: Just OK power, ride is bouncy at times, a bit too firm, front edge of seats is too high for short drivers’ legs, no heated seats or steering wheel, no wireless phone charger and no 4WD.

Made in: Hermosillo, Mexico

Engine: 2.5-liter I4 hybrid, 191 hp/155 torque

Transmission: CVT automatic

Weight: 3,674 lbs.

Wheelbase: 121.1 in.

Length: 199.7 in.

Payload: 1,500 lbs.

Tow: 2,000 lbs.

MPG: 42/33

MPG: 31.8 (tested)

Base Price: $26,985 (includes delivery)

Invoice: $26,475

Major Options:

Co-pilot 360, $540

Alto Blue paint, $390

Floor liner without carpet mats, $135

Power moon roof, $795

Spray-in bedliner, $495

Test vehicle: $29,340

Sources: Ford, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

Diecast: 1956 Ford F-100 pickup

Auto World creates a simple, iconinc Ford pickup …

Ford’s pickup hasn’t always been the best-selling vehicle in North America, it just seems that way. But in the 1950s Ford redesigned its F-1 pickup and renamed it the F-100 (now the F-150), all in an effort to overtake Chevrolet.

By 1956 the second generation Ford pickup had been restyled several times in just four years, the grille, logo and windshield getting new touches each time, yet the ’56 model is iconic in its look and started driving Ford toward its pickup dominance.

Auto World marks that moment in time with the release of its 1:18 scale 1956 Ford F-100 Pickup in Diamond Blue, the factory color that so many pickups were bathed in before leaving one of the dozen factories, including one each in Canada and Brazil, that made them.

Again AW’s model delivers high value as the pickup features opening hood, doors and in this case, a tailgate that will drop flat if unhooked. Front wheels also are steerable.

The History

The ’56 Ford had a nose-heavy look created by its set-back front-axle, low profile and prominent front fenders. The grille was new for this year with the V8 emblem at its middle, the A-pillars were vertical now, and the snazzy Ford truck logo featuring a gear with a lightning bolt through it, the background being a red and black shield.

Ford also used a wraparound windshield this year and added an energy-absorbing steering wheel and double-grip door latches for safety. Inside, there also was a hooded instrument panel, much like cars were then offering.

A hooded instrument panel was new to trucks in 1956.

Pricing was $1,580 and the F-100 was offered with eight engine choices from a 100-horse base Straight-6 or Flathead V8 up to a powerful 300-horse Y-Block V8. That made this the most powerful Ford pickup to date. Of course that battle for best pulling power and hot rod performance continues with Ford’s Raptor models.

Ironically, despite the redesign, power, and safety improvements, sales still slumped in 1956, with Ford selling just 137,581 pickups. By comparison, Ford sold 363,032 F-150 pickups in 2021.

The Model

               Simplicity reigns in this nostalgic 1956 Ford pickup, even the soft light blue color feels homey and vintage.

               The opening doors are basically vertical rectangles, the A-pillar being straight-up and the silver-trimmed vent windows being tall rectangles inside a horizontal rectangle-shaped window. Fenders are big rounded metal coverings to keep all that mud and muck stirred up in the farm field from flipping up on the wide black running boards as the farmer or construction worker went about their daily duties.

The tailgate notches in place or will fold straight down.

               The bed in back is a simple box stuck inside those rear fenders with a black bed liner and a tailgate that notches in place. Pull up on that and it unhooks to lay flat down behind the vehicle, no hinges here, as there were none on a pickup in 1956.

               The nose features a white grille with the V8 logo and single round lights also housed in that white metal trim. The Ford truck logo is dead center on the raised hood’s center bulge and the bumpers, front and rear are straight flat metal bars that have been chromed. Fancy this ain’t!

               But I like the truck’s basic nature.

               Naturally that big hood will open via large hinges and beneath is the yellowish-orange V8 block with Ford-labeled headers and a round black air filter. There’s a radiator and a few other under-hood bits and pieces, plus molded in firewall and hood features that give this a simple air of realism. Probably could use some oil splattered about or mud under the hood to show it has been used, but maybe that model will be another version from AW.

               Wipers are chrome trimmed as are the big side mirrors, door handles and round dog dish style hub caps with Ford simply engraves across their center. Wheels are blue to match the truck’s body and there are thin whitewalls for the unbranded, but treaded tires.

               A chrome and red Ford F-100 logo sticks on the side of the hood for branding purposes and to add a little bling to a truck that was definitely for work, not play, as they are today.

               AW also delivers a nicely detailed underbody here with exhaust and suspension pieces, so something to see if you display in a mirror-bottom display case.

               But as with all other models from Auto World, this comes in a sharply decorated window-box container that could easily serve as your display box. There’s even a panel in the box bottom so you can see some of that undercarriage.

               Super paint quality on a real metal die-cast model that looks and feels authentic. Auto World’s latest home run, and this pre-production sample was perfect. You can pre-order now.              

Vital Stats: 1956 Ford F-100 Pickup

Maker: Auto World
Scale: 1/18
Stock No.: AW290
MSRP: $115.99

Link: Autoworldstore.com

2021 Ford Bronco

Bucking Bronco sure to give Jeep’s Wrangler off-road competition …

New Bronco is a sweet ride, but only if you’re going off-roading!

Ford’s new off-road worthy Bronco is loaded with impressive features, but it is a bucking Bronco to be sure.

For younger drivers the Bronco name may be new as there hasn’t been one for 25 years. But it was a major competitor to the Jeep CJ-5 and Toyota Land Cruiser in the 1960s and early ’70s when it was a rugged short-wheelbase Jeep-like vehicle. Then it grew to massive SUV proportions before being scrapped in 1996.

This new version is a true off-roader targeting Jeep’s Wrangler, and again with a short wheelbase. As a daily driver it’s a butt pounder and re-arranger of internal organs, but off-road, well, that’s where Bronco wants to be. For folks needing or wanting a daily driver know that there is a Bronco Sport that weighs 1,200 pounds less and rides on the Escape platform. It’s a delight and still reflects the Bronco styling, round headlights and all.

Really it’s sad that Ford’s misguided management of the 1990s dropped Bronco as it was a viable option to Jeep. Consider this the result of a 25-year marketing lesson.

The tested Iconic Silver 2-door Advanced model with Wildtrak package clears the ground by 8.4 inches and boasts a 2.7-liter EcoBoost turbo V6 creating 330 horses and a torque rating of 415. That makes this the top-end big Bronco and its price matches all that muscle, starting at $48,475, with delivery. Options brought it to $53,650.

Note that mine was a 2021 model, which came out late last year, the smaller, lighter Bronco Sport being first off the assembly lines. Prices are up $800 for 2022, the rear-drive base model listing now at $30,795, including delivery. There are five trim levels after the base, including Big Bend, Black Diamond, Outer Banks, Badlands and this Wildtrak.

In short, the Bronco seems just as off-road worthy as a Jeep Wrangler, but is more powerful with more precise handling. It’s also way noisier on the road and with a bouncier ride than a Jeep.

Watch the video: Mark Savage reviews the new Ford Bronco Wildtrak – YouTube

This Bronco features Ford’s fine 10-speed automatic transmission that makes for smooth shifts, but a 7-speed manual also is available for those wanting to control their power applications when crawling over rocks and wading through muck.

There are eight drive modes here, which Ford labels GOAT, as in Goes Over Any Terrain. Settings are Normal, Eco, Sport, Slippery (rain and snow), Sand, Mud/Ruts, Rock Crawl and Baja (for the desert).  Those last three settings are meant for serious off-roading, while the others may be used in more typical driving situations, such as at the beach, on wooded trails or when the weather turns Wisconsiny.

Turning that GOAT dial is easy to select any of these and there also are buttons there for just engaging the on-the-fly 4-wheel drive, automatic, high or low.

Other off-road goodies include Trail Control that is like cruise for off-roading, setting the crawl speed at a low level, plus something called Trail One Pedal Drive where the accelerator is both that and brake as it brakes the vehicle once you take your foot off the accelerator. Think of driving an electric golf cart or maybe a snowmobile where there’s engine braking once the accelerator is disengaged.

But the coolest feature, and most useful, is the Trail Turn Assist that’s engaged via a button on the dash. This cuts Bronco’s turning radius off-road, holding the inner turning wheel’s brake to pivot the Bronco quickly. Loved it and Jeep needs to figure this out post haste to add to its Wrangler. I used it several times in high brush off road and Bronco almost does a 90-degree turn to head the opposite direction, again, at low speed. Bravo!

To be honest, Bronco was way more fun off-road than on. Its squarish design means it functions like a brick passing through the air at highway speeds, plenty of wind noise around the roof and giant A-pillars. Also the doors have frameless windows so they wobble when being closed and add to the wind noise.

But worse, I think, was the banshee howl of the giant 35-inch off-road tires. I could barely talk to a passenger or hear the radio, which had to be cranked if rolling at more than 30 mph.

Those tires and the off-road favoring suspension also makes for a bouncy truck ride that makes a Wrangler feel tame as Jeep has worked for years to get its off-roader to behave better on road.

Power here is excellent though, the 330 horses beating Jeep’s 3.6-liter V6 by 45 horsepower and the turbo giving monster boost. Bronco crushes Jeep’s non-turbo torque rating by 156. That’s a ton! Bronco also will tow up to 3,500 pounds, as will a Wrangler.

Inside the water-resistant (and heated) seats were gray with camouflage black inserts, the doors trimmed in black and tan along with brushed metal inserts. All the grab handles are blue and black, the main ones being at the dash’s end, not on the A-pillars as so many are in SUVs and Jeeps. The A-pillar types seem easier to use, more intuitive and best when using the running boards to climb into a Bronco or Jeep.

Bronco wins the screen wars with a 12-incher in this Wildtrak edition. That’s part of the $3,590 Wildtrak equipment group that also includes a heated steering wheel, 360-degree camera, wireless charger, Bang & Olufsen stereo upgrade, navigation system and smart cruise control, plus a variety of electronic add-ons.

Bronco wins the off-road screen wars for the moment with this 12-incher!

Everything functions well here. I’d just add a flat-bottom wheel to free up some knee room, especially important when off-roading. Auxiliary switches are overhead here and the off-road toggles for locking the front and rear dif and engaging Trail Turn Assist are conveniently atop the dash.

Safety is well covered, as you’d expect, with Ford’s Co-Pilot 360 system, and the smart cruise in the Wildtrak package.

Bronco also offers, like Jeep, that the front roof panels are removable to create a more open-air driving experience. The doors also are removable, which is why the mirrors aren’t mounted on the door frames. Here’s the rub on the roof panels, at least in this model with roof rails. It’s easy to loosen the panels, but I couldn’t figure out how to slide them off as the roof rails prevented raising the panels more than an inch or so, trapping them.

I admit to not trying to work these things loose as the temp was in the teens, or lower, most of my test drive. But be forewarned that if you have roof rails ($365 extra here) roof panel removal will be difficult.

One thing Bronco doesn’t offer, that Jeep does? Well, the windshield will not fold down over the hood. Wouldn’t be a deal breaker for me.

Something the Bronco has that Jeep doesn’t? Trail sights, the black trim atop the front fenders. Look sort of like gun sights, but apparently could help you keep the Bronco aimed properly on a dusty or rocky trail.

Bronco seats are fairly tight, so if you’re a wide-bottom check these out for comfort before a purchase. Rear seat room also is limited in this 2-door model, and the rear seats fold down, but not exactly flat. If you need more cargo space go with the 4-door Bronco as it offers 50% more cargo room than the 2-door. Wasn’t easy to crawl into those rear seats either, but something kids might enjoy.

The tailgate opens out like a heavy door with that tire mounted in back!

Bronco’s rear hatch is like a Jeep’s as it opens like a door and is split so the window folds up once the tailgate is open. That gate is heavy too as the full-size spare, like a Jeep’s, hangs there.

Honestly I was surprised at Bronco’s gas mileage as this thing weighs nearly 5,000 pounds. I managed 18 mpg with 60% of my driving at 40 to 60 mph. The EPA rates Bronco at 18 mpg city and 20 highway, about the same as a Wrangler.

For the record the base Broncos feature a smaller, 2.3-liter turbo I4 engine that makes 300 hp and generates 325 lb.-ft. of torque and gets up to 22 mpg, highway. The lower trim levels also feature an 8-inch info screen instead of the 12-incher here.

Jeep has a serious competitor, finally, and again!

FAST STATS: 2021 Ford Bronco 2-door Advanced 4×4

Hits: Off-road ability matches rugged looks, Trail Turn Assist a gem, excellent turbo power, nimble handling, 8 drive modes. Big info screen, heated wheel and water-resistant seats, running boards, wireless charger, and doors and front roof panels are removable, like Jeep. A 7-speed manual available.

Gun sights? No, Trail Sights on the fenders!

Misses: Horribly noisy interior, bucking Bronco ride, roof rails block easy removal of roof panels, giant A-pillar, frameless door glass rattles when shut, windshield doesn’t fold down, split rear hatch opens like door and super heavy with big spare tire on it.

Made in: Taylor, Mich.

Engine: 2.7-liter EcoBoost turbo V6, 330 hp/415 torque

Transmission: 10-speed automatic

Weight: 4,975 lbs.

Wheelbase: 100.4 in.

Length: 173.7 in.

Cargo: 22.4 – 52.3 cu.ft.

Tow: 3,500 lbs.

MPG: 18/20

MPG: 18.0 (tested)

Base Price: $48,475 (includes delivery)

Invoice: $47,603

Major Options:

Wildtrak equipment group 354A (360 camera, Sync4 w/voice recognition, AppLink, 911 Assist, 12-in. screen, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, smart cruise, LED approach lights, navigation system w/live traffic & route guidance, front park sensors, B&O stereo w/10 speakers & subwoofer, LED mirror lights, evasive steering assist, heated steering wheel, wireless charger), $3,590

Cargo area protector, $120

Tube step power coated, $395

Towing capability, $595

Keyless entry keypad, $110

Roof rail w/crossbars in black, $365

Test vehicle: $53,650

Sources: Ford, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

Diecast: Autoart Suzuki Jimny

Jimny (JB64) is a cute, well-detailed Jeep wanna-be …

Suzuki’s Jimny is a fun little runabout, and even cuter as a 1/18 scale diecast model from the hot shot designers at Autoart.

There’s no doubt this Jeep-like two-door sport-utility is useful and nimble. It has sold like Pocky sticks in its home market, Japan and has been a hit for Suzuki all around the world, with the exception of the United States where Suzuki stopped selling vehicles at the end of 2012.

But Suzuki’s low-cost small vehicles could well be considered something akin to the Beetle of Japan, economical and fun. And lest you think Suzuki is a small-time carmaker, well, it’s the fourth best-selling brand in Japan, behind the giants Toyota, Honda and Nissan, not bad company.

The History

Suzuki launched the Jimny in 1970, so it has had a long run and according to Wikipedia, Suzuki had sold 2.85 million of the little gems across 194 countries as of the fall of 2018. There’s an interesting history behind Jimny too.

It started as the HopeStar ON360. Say what?

Yes, it was originally designed by the Hope Motor Co., a small Japanese manufacturer that Suzuki bought in 1968. So, Suzuki re-introduced the vehicle as its LJ10 (Light Jeep) in 1970 with an air-cooled, two-stroke, two-cylinder engine. It had nowhere to go but up.

From there the engine grew and grew, becoming liquid-cooled as the vehicle began gaining popularity and was shipped off to Australia and then was Suzuki’s first vehicle sold in the U.S. market as a Samurai in 1986. Along the way the Jimny name became its moniker in Japan, and Jimny Sierra elsewhere.

Lest you think it incapable off-road, in 2007 a modified version set the high-altitude record for a 4-wheel-drive vehicle on a mountain at the Chile-Argentina border. It climbed to 21,942 feet, beating a Jeep Wrangler’s mark at the time.

This JB64 version is the fourth generation Jimny, launched in 2018 and the model reflects the styling of Japanese-market models, with no added plastic fender flares, whereas in other markets the black flares are much more pronounced. Jimny remains a body-on-frame vehicle, like a Jeep Wrangler and most of today’s trucks.

The engine is a turbo 3-cylinder that makes about 100 horsepower, rides on a short 88.6-inch wheelbase and weighs less than 2,300 pounds. So it may be appropriate to still consider it a Light Jeep, as it was originally.

The Model

               I’ve grown to love many boxy Jeep-like vehicles over the past 50 years of driving and testing new vehicles. So this Jimny strikes me as a fun, cheap Jeep wanna-be. It’ll certainly stand out in your collection and being an Autoart model you can be sure the design and build quality is high.

               Autoart offers several color combos, but the sample was an earthy Chiffon Ivory Metallic (shiny tan) with a black roof. It appears ready to wander off down a dirt road to bang some ditches.

               The doors fit nice and flat to the body, those wheel wells just showing a slight bulge and the front and rear bumpers are a sturdy black. The nose features running lights in the bumper, black mesh grille work there and in the upper grille featuring what looks like a Superman (Suzuki) logo at its center. Headlights, as with Jeeps and now Ford Broncos, are round, these adding an amber turn signal just above the light and toward each side’s fenders.

               Mirrors are black with white turn signal lamps embedded and the windows are all trimmed in gloss black with a couple black wipers extending from the cowling just behind the hood.

               A small black antenna extends from the rear driver’s side (right drive) roof and a big spare tire hangs on the tail, just as with a Jeep. The tailgate opens out like a door and includes a high-mount brake light atop its frame, black hinge covers and the words Suzuki and Jimny in silver low on the gate. The three-lens red and clear taillights sunk into the black rear bumper look sharp too. Below is a Jimny license plate too.

               Tires are all branded Bridgestone in black, so hard to read, but typical of the real vehicle. Wheels are sort of a matte silver/gray with black Suzuki-logoed caps.

               Naturally the hood, doors and hatch open on this Autoart model, with a nicely detailed engine compartment and fine metal hinges to hold that hood up for display. There’s a tiny hood rod there too, but don’t try to use it, it’s just for decoration.

Engine wiring and plumbing look appropriate with a sharp-looking battery including labels on top. There’s also a white washer-fluid reservoir, a steering master cylinder with white fluid container and other appropriate hoses and filters. The hood’s underside detailing is handsomely molded too.

               Not much to see inside the rear tailgate, except seatbacks and headrests, but the front cockpit looks realistically detailed, and with the wide-opening doors this interior is simple to see. Black interior here with bucket seats, a center console-mounted shift lever, 3-spoke steering wheel with Suzuki logo, and nicely detailed gauges across the dash, including a reflective screen in the dash’s center. Air vents are trimmed in silver.

               U.S. collectors have a rare opportunity with the Jimny to add a popular world vehicle to their collections, and it’s so darned cute they may want a couple in varying colors.

               For the record Autoart offers Jimnys in Pure White, Jungle Green, Bluish Black, Brisk Blue, Kinetic Yellow, most, except the white models, with black or body-colored. Also, the world market models, known as Jimny Sierras (JB74), are available in the same colors, but with the bulging black fender flares that give Jimny a slightly more muscular look.

               Either way this is a cute ute.        

Vital Stats: Suzuki Jimny

Maker: Autoart
Scale: 1/18
Stock No.: 78500 (Chiffon Ivory Metallic/Black roof)

MSRP: $190

Link: Autoartmodels.com