Tag Archives: hybrid

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

2022 Cars of the Year

Savage names his top vehicles, the annual Zoomie Awards …

Zoomie art by Stuart Carlson

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

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

So what’s a Zoomie?

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

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

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

Best Cars:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Best Convertibles:

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

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

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

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

Best Crossovers/SUVs:

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

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

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

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

Hybrids:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2021 Ford F-150 SuperCrew Lariat (hybrid)

Ford’s hybrid F-150 SuperCrew is all the pickup a person can use …

Driving the new Ford F-150 SuperCrew Lariat was like déjà vu all over again.

Doesn’t happen often, but I got to test drive the new hybrid version of Ford’s most popular (in fact North America’s most popular) vehicle for a second time in roughly a year. And even more unusual, this was a pre-production model with few miles on it and decked out in Antimatter Blue Metallic, which is a dark (nearly black) paint scheme. I like the name!

Ford’s F-150 hybrid is simply smooth, quiet and packed with power. No reason any truck lover wouldn’t love this beast like an all-expense-paid night at a Monster Truck rally.

Oh, I guess some might not care for the electric hybrid motor’s whine at low speeds, but if you crank the Lariat’s muscle-bound, watt-crazy B&O (Bang & Olufsen) stereo with subwoofer you’ll never hear that whine over George Strait’s strains.

Like the previous tester, this F-150, already starting at $53,025 with delivery, was packed with options, 13 to be exact. That added $19,745 to the sticker. Total? Just (sarcasm) $72,770, or nearly exactly double the cost of my first house. But hey, it would tow!

You get everything but the barn here, and its more efficient and powerful than many of the other seven F-150 trim levels due to its hybrid system, which itself adds $3,300 to the tally. It’s worth it.

Standard in the Lariat is a powerful twin-turbo 2.7-liter V6 gas engine that makes 325 horsepower. You can even still get a thirsty 5.0-liter V8 with 400 horses if gas burning, or buying, matters not to you. A slick 10-speed automatic comes standard with all powertrains.

The hybrid system conjoins a twin-turbo 3.5-liter V6 with a 35kw electric motor with batteries under the rear seat. It makes a whopping 430 horsepower and 570 lb.-ft. of torque all while delivering an EPA rated 24 miles per gallon, city or highway. Combined with a 30.6-gallon gas tank that creates an optimum 700-mile driving range, both downhill and with the wind.

While in warmer weather I’d managed an impressive 20.5 mpg, in zero to 30-degree temps I recorded just 17 mpg this time. Still, that’s what you’d normally expect in straight highway driving with gas-only power. This included plenty of city driving.

Bottom line, the new F-150 is a rocket despite its hefty 5,517 lbs. Power comes on quickly and when you punch it the twin-turbo V6 delivers boatloads of power to get up to highway speeds or out-power most anyone at a stoplight. That electric motor also helps boost low-end acceleration.

Handling is reasonable for a big pickup too, easy to keep in its lane and maneuver, except in a crowded parking lot. Then you’ll want to leave a little extra room, even though this one only had the smallest, 5.5-foot, bed. A 6.5- and 8-foot bed also are available.

Ride, well, it’s a mix because on straight reasonable smooth stretches this feels like a luxury sedan, smooth and exceedingly quiet inside. But once the pavement becomes cracked and uneven, well, it’s still a truck. Despite its independent double wishbone suspension up front with coil-over shocks and stamped lower control arm and rear leaf spring with solid axle this fortress becomes bouncy. Not harsh, but there’s rock and roll that actually shakes drivers and passengers from side to side at times.

Braking is fine and towing power is impressive at 12,700 pounds. That’s plenty buster!

Like the earlier test truck this he-man added the $750 Pro Power onboard 7.2kw generator in the bed so you can power up your tools, heck, even your house, if need be. A smaller generator is standard.

This is a boon for contractors and construction folks needing quick access to electricity on a job site. Just leave the truck running (Stop & Go will turn off the gas engine shortly) and plug in. The batteries in the truck do the rest through an inverter and generator.

As mentioned in the earlier review, this Pro Power unit provides enough juice to run much of your household electronics for 72 hours during a power outage. So the $750 is pretty inexpensive for backup generator power (ignoring the total cost of the truck).

Watch a video review: Ford F 150 Hybrid Review by Mark Savage – YouTube

So, there’s a lot of usefulness as you’d expect with a pickup, but being a SuperCrew there’s a full rear seat and the interior is luxury car level, helping explain the sticker price. Plus this one includes the Lariat package for $6,920 and including everything from heated and cooled front seats, and rear seats to a heated power tilt/telescope steering wheel.

Leather is so deep it would make a herd of cattle jealous, with tan leather seats featuring black trim and a black dash with tan and brushed chrome trim. There’s even a little fake wood trim on the doors. Knobs, and there are plenty, are satin chrome while the steering wheel is a soft, thick black leather. Down low are power-adjustable pedals and the steering wheel is a power tilt/telescope job.

Grab handles stick out from everywhere, and should, for easy mounting of this high-rider. Thankfully there are 6-inch chrome trimmed running boards, ($225 extra) to help boost passengers up into the cockpit, a must.

The info screen and instrument panel are large (both 12 inches) and obviously easy to see and mostly to use, although programming favorite radio stations wasn’t a breeze. Still, all the gauges and knobs are macho big and within easy reach. A giant storage box/armrest divides the front seat and includes a flip-up work surface perfect for a computer, and $165 extra.

One might wonder how that works since there’s a large shift lever at the front of the console that would prevent the flip-up surface from lying flat. Ford solves this with a button to retract the shift lever. Clever, and this one was much quieter than in the earlier test truck.

Seating is comfortable and roomy front and rear with fairly flat seat bottoms and more contoured backs. Everything is powered and there are three memory buttons for the driver’s seat.

Here’s the gear shift knob in its powered down position.

Inside is a gas filler door release and automatic tailgate release. The power tailgate ($695 extra) is easy to fold down or up and there’s a pop-out ladder in the tailgate that helps a normal to small-size person climb aboard the bed. Even a handle that pops up to steady the climber’s ascent or descent. A spray-in bedliner is $595 extra, but you’ll want it.

Engaging the 4WD modes is simple too with a dial on the center stack, while overhead is a button to open the rear sliding window for a bit of air movement or limited access to the bed. Oddly no wireless charger on a $72 grand truck, that’s a $145 option. Hmmm!

A sunroof also is an add-on at $1,495.

Standard though is a bevy of fine safety equipment from lane-keeping assist to park sensors, blind-spot warning and emergency collision braking, plus a smart cruise control system. I should point out for trailer haulers the cool Pro Trailer system that uses a knob on the dash to help a driver back up to, and attach, a trailer.

There’s a fine running board to help us short folks mount this tall beast.

Co-Pilot 360, a semi-autonomous driving system to keep you centered in your lane is a $1,595 add on, plus a 360-degree camera that makes parking a LOT easier adds $765 to the sticker.

Other add-ons here included a trailer towing package for $1,995, onboard scale with smart hitch for $650, electronically controlled suspension damping for $695 and snazzy 20-inch chrome-like PVD wheels for $1,395.

One minor annoyance, like more and more vehicles, the Ford screams out a chime every time the ignition is turned off to warn you to LOOK in the rear seat (no extra charge). Did you leave a kid there? One supposes lawyers are afraid you might.

Cool that there’s a fold down step to help folks crawl up into the bed. That yellow dot is the handle that pops out to help steady the person climbing the tiny step!

This one is high-end luxury pricey, but don’t let that bother you if you need a full-size pickup. There are so many models and configurations that surely you can find an F-150 in your price range. The base regular-cab XL with 2-wheel-drive lists at about $30,000. While a Limited 4×4 hybrid model can hit about $80 grand.

Know that there are three cab style choices, three bed lengths, 5 powertrains (diesel is dropped for 2022), 7 trims and then the performance-oriented Raptor.

Any way you slice it, Ford remains the technology leader in pickups.

FAST STATS: 2021 Ford F-150 4×4 SuperCrew Lariat (Hybrid)

Hits: Roomy truck with quiet luxury interior, hybrid power and improved mpg, plus a built-in generator in the bed. Huge info screen and instrument gauges, heated wheel and heat/cool front seats, heated rear seats, power tailgate w/step, 360-degree camera, fold-out work area, running boards. Excellent towing power and acceleration, decent handling and good safety systems.

Numbers are big on the digital instrument panel!

Misses: Big truck bouncy ride, difficult parking in tight lots, an overabundance of buttons and knobs on dash. Rear seat warning sounds every time ignition turned off.

Made in: Dearborn, Mich.

Engine: 2.7-liter twin-turbo V6, 325 hp

Transmission: 10-speed automatic

Weight: 5,517 lbs.

Wheelbase: 145.4 in.

Length: 231.7 in.

Cargo bed: 52.8 cu.ft.

Tow: 12,700 lbs.

MPG: 24/24

MPG: 17.0 (tested)

Base Price: $53,025 (includes delivery)

Invoice: $49,689

Major Options:

3.5-liter V6 hybrid (430 hp/570 torque), $3,300

Lariat equipment group 502A, $6,920

Co-Pilot 360 Active 2.0 Prep Package, $1,595

Pro Power onboard 7.2kw generator, $750

Interior work surface, $165

Max trailer tow package, $1,995

Onboard scale w/smart hitch, $650

Power tailgate, $695

Continuously controlled damping, $695

20-inch chrome-like PVD wheels, $1,395

360-degree camera, $765

Bedliner, spray-in, $595

6-inch extended chrome accent running boards, $225

Test vehicle: $72,770

Sources: Ford, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

2022 Toyota Prius XLE AWD

Hybrid power, interior comfort and awesome MPG = winner!

Hard as it may be to believe, Toyota’s ground-breaking hybrid, the Prius, has been around for 25 years. It’s the top-seller and an excellent choice, still.

A few years ago Toyota wisely improved the Prius styling to round it more and give it a hint of fastback styling while lessening the fuddy-duddy looks of the original.

I could still go for even sleeker looks, but it’s a superior family hatchback now with exceptional gas mileage and even AWD on two of its four trim levels. Mine was an XLE model in a sparkling Supersonic Red that made it stand out in the gloom of gray January days. That color is $425 extra, but worth the upgrade.

The LE and XLE trims both offer AWD, which this one included, and it was timely in that we had a couple moderate snowfalls during my test week. Traction was improved to be sure, but there was still a bit of slippage on my icy drive and area side streets. Still, in Wisconsin the AWD makes sense, even when adding about $1,400 to the bottom line.

Modern looks for the Prius and Frank Lloyd Wright’s famous Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church in Wawautosa!

A base front-drive L Eco model starts at $25,520 with delivery fee, a modest cost for a hybrid that’s rated at more than 50 mpg. The LE lists at $26,730 with delivery, and the AWD model at $28,130. That LE trim adds blind-spot warning, parking sensors and rear cross-traffic alert.

But XLE is what the majority of buyers prefer because it adds SofTex fake leather seats that are heated up front as is the steering wheel. A wireless phone charger is standard too along with 17-inch alloy wheels to add a spiff factor.

Pricing for FWD is $29,740 and the AWD tester lists at $30,750. With just a few options this one nudged just a touch over $32,000. That’s way below the $36,000 average price for a new car, and again, that’s with a solid offering of safety equipment along with heated seats and steering. Bravo!

Watch Mark’s wacky video review …. Mark is a cheerleader for the 2022 Prius – YouTube

Oddly AWD isn’t available on the top-level Limited model, which adds a fancy JBL audio system, a big 11.6-inch info screen, adaptive front lights with a leveling feature and both navigation and a color head-up display. I should note that the test car’s $800 tech package included the HUD plus adaptive front lighting and auto-leveling lights. So this was close to the Limited in equipment level, minus the big screen and hot-shot stereo.

A high-tech, yet simple dash with dual screens makes Prius easy to drive.

In case you haven’t noticed yet, Prius oozes value and usefulness for the average family of four. That’s because its interior is big enough and comfy enough to host four folks while offering a huge 27.4 cubic foot cargo space for trips.

And performance is as fine as many compact crossovers, especially since this has AWD.

Nothing much has changed of late with Toyota’s industry-leading hybrid system, but it doesn’t need to.

The regenerative-braking powered electric system that charges batteries to augment the 1.8-liter I4 gas engine is seamless and efficient. The EPA rates it at 51 mpg highway and 47 highway and the front drive model is slightly better. I managed 41.6 but in snowy single-digit weather. By comparison, I hit an amazing 65.6 mpg with the identical Corolla hybrid power system in warmer weather about a year ago, and 47.2 mpg in a plug-in hybrid Hyundai Ioniq. That Ioniq is rated higher by the EPA, but it doesn’t offer AWD and you must plug it in to get the most from its hybrid system. A full charge delivers about 30-miles of pure electric range.

The tail has been improved, but it’s still a bit of an acquired taste. Cool lights though!

Here the 121-horsepower is modest, of course, but is delivered smoothly via an electronically controlled CVT. At low speeds the electric power is delivered with a slight whine, but the cockpit is extremely quiet. Pressing the accelerator hard for instant power delivers a noticeable moan from that little I4 engine, yet by 40 mph when the Prius is cruising, it quiets right back down.

Three power modes allow you to save more fuel in Eco mode, while Normal is what I used most. Pressing the dash button for Sport mode is something best used when accelerating onto a highway or to escape giant SUVs and pickups while changing lanes in town. It boosts low-end acceleration to a much preferred level, but naturally uses more fuel.

Handling is quick and easy, much more responsive than trucks and SUVs and even many compact or larger crossovers. I won’t call it fun, but it was refreshing to be able to quickly adjust lane position and dive into a highway curve’s apex. Cars are simply more entertaining to drive than high-riders and the center of gravity in the Prius is nice and low.

Ride is good too, but there is the occasional solid thump from deeply creviced Wisconsin roads. One note though, the tires here deliver more road noise on non-asphalt pavement, so that’s a bit annoying on bridges and long stretches of concrete, especially at highway speeds.

Braking is linear, plus I should note there’s a B setting for the transmission. What’s that? It adds more regenerative braking when the car is coasting, thereby replenishing the batteries more quickly. It’s not a huge difference in drag when coasting, so makes sense to use in town for more efficient charging. Note though that the adaptive cruise control will not engage at freeway speeds if the tranny is in the B mode.

The tiny shift lever here deserves a mention. It extends from the lower part of the center stack. It’s so easy to use and much preferred to push-button systems or those activated via a knob on the console. More intuitive, but small enough not to intrude on the flat wireless charging area on the console, just below the shifter.

Do you say tiny shift lever? Yes I did, and it’s petit, but simple to use.

The rest of the dash is simple and easy to see and use. The main instrument panel continues to be center-dash mounted yet large enough for the driver to read without straining his or her eye muscles. The info screen is just seven inches, but a touchscreen that’s simple to use. Small volume and tuning knobs are available too while the climate control is toggle operated. A dual climate system isn’t offered though, a concern for warm- or cold-blooded significant others.

Seats are manually adjusted, but wonderfully supportive for a value-oriented car. These were light gray with black back cushion trim and the dash was similarly two-tone. The XLE model uses SofTex fake leather for its seating surfaces and the feel is darn near leathery, plus easy to clean and maintain, so let the kids eat that ice cream cone in the rear seat!

There’s a certain modern elegance to the Prius interior, that feels high-tech!

Standard too are Android Auto and Apple Car Play hookups. A navigation system is not part of the XLE’s features, but is on the Limited.

Safety Sense 2.0 is standard though and includes automatic emergency braking with pedestrian recognition, the smart cruise control, lane departure assist, automatic high beams, lane tracing assist and road sign assist, which means you’ll always know what the speed limit is when you’re exceeding it.

I’m still not a fan of the Prius split rear window, but at least there is a wiper on the top pane. That clears about two-thirds of the window while the lower pane allows more tail-gating lights to invade the cockpit. Wish it was at least tinted to lessen the glare.

The taillights are sharp, but there’s still the see-through panel next to them that serves as a lower rear windshield and allows tailgaters lights to annoy a driver.

Prius mainly competes with its Corolla cousin and Hyundai’s Ioniq in the hybrid car category, but there are many small hybrid crossovers. Prime among them are the Kia Niro, Toyota RAV4 and Ford Escape, but more arrive at dealerships every month. For instance Hyundai now is offering a Tucson hybrid that we hope to test drive soon.

One final note, Toyota has introduced its Nightshade Special Edition, which it offers on many of its other models. That is a special appearance package basically with the car being all black, white or silver while adding 17-inch alloy wheels. If you select an AWD model, the wheels are 15-inchers.

25 years of constant improvement create a super-efficient Prius at a modest price.

Prius, still the hybrid leader after 25 years. Impressive!

Fast Stats: 2022 Toyota Prius XLE AWD

Hits: Smooth acceleration, stellar MPG, easy handling, AWD, decent Sport Mode power, comfy sedan for four. Good standard safety features, fine info screen that’s easy to use, heated seats and steering wheel, smart cruise, tiny shift lever, comfy seats, wireless charger.

Misses: Road noise on non-asphalt roads, noisy engine under heavy acceleration, funky split rear windows, mild acceleration when not in Sport mode.

Here’s a closeup of the main info screen, which functions simply, which is a plus compared to some luxury makes!

Made in: Aichi, Japan

Engine: 1.8-liter I4, hybrid, 121 hp

Transmission: ECVT automatic

Weight: 3,075 lbs.

Wheelbase: 106.3 in.

Length: 180 in.

Cargo: 27.4 cu.ft.

MPG: 51/47

MPG: 41.6 (tested)

Base Price: $30,570 (includes delivery)

Invoice: $28,528

Major Options: Special paint, $425

Carpeted floor/cargo mats, $259

Advanced technology package (color head-up display, adaptive front lighting, auto-leveling lights), $800

Test vehicle: $32,084

Sources: Toyota, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

2022 Cadillac XT6 Premium Luxury AWD

No big fins, but Caddy recaptures luxury in an SUV …

Luxury, and the perception of luxury, dictate price in the auto world, always have.

But today the statistical differences between vehicles within a segment often are miniscule, a half inch here, five horsepower there. Exterior or interior styling, and the vehicle’s brand perception are the differentiators. The decision to buy often comes down to these.

Is Cadillac still America’s most luxurious brand, or do you prefer an Acura, Lexus or one of the European makes, for which you generally will pay a premium?

Cadillac certainly would argue that it’s the No. 1 luxury brand made in the U.S., although Tesla could argue that point as it’s now No. 3 overall behind BMW and Lexus. Yet if you think traditional American brands, well Cadillac is still light years ahead of Lincoln in sales.

SUVs of course are the growing segment and that’s where this week’s XT6 falls. It’s a handsome, elegant mid-size SUV, and bigger than Caddy’s XT5.

XT6 is based on the GMC Acadia platform and premiered in 2020. On looks, inside and out, the Cadillac is a winner. Performance and luxury feel also should put it on any luxury 3-row SUV buyer’s must-drive list. Both XT models are sharply styled, particularly those vertical running lights up front and (it’s amazing to say this) its understated Cadillac crest-shaped grille.

The test ute was a sophisticated Rosewood Metallic, a sparkly red-tinted copper color ($625 extra) that was blessedly not gray, silver, or white, as are nearly all other SUVs on the market. The interior also featured an equally stylish, tasteful two-tone tan and black cockpit with semi-aniline leather seats topped by Cadillac crests atop their back cushions. The dash was tan over black with a glossy fake wood trim, silver Bose door speaker covers, and chrome trim around the dash and doors’ wood.

Cadillac’s center info screen is an 8-incher, somewhat smaller than those in many of its competitors, but easy to see. My only serious interior complaint is the glossy nature of that wood trim which morphs into a glare monster on sunny days. Matte finishes rock, so tone it down!

Like the similar Acura MDX tested last year everything functionally is exactly what you’d expect, sufficient for a luxury vehicle, but not standoutish.

Power churns from a 3.6-liter V6 that is not turbocharged. It cranks 310 horsepower so is strong enough to pull 4,000 pounds of trailer and motorized boy toys. MDX, by the way, pulls 5,000 pounds.

Ride is well cushioned with MacPherson struts up front and a five-link independent rear suspension. Here’s where Cadillac excels compared with many competitors who feel even their mid- to full-size SUVs must be sporty, right down to a rump-thumping stiff ride. Instead, Cadillac smooths the ride, isolating the passengers from even serious bumps and thumps. Bravo!

Handling is respectable and steering feedback a bit better than I’d expect in this size SUV. The XT6 was simple to control on the freeway and an easy ute to park.

The tested Premium Luxury model (mid-level of three trims) also sported AWD, which is easily accessed via a large button on the console. That drive mode includes Sport, Touring and Off-Road. Traction was good in moderate snow and the Sport setting automatically put the vehicle in AWD to best hook up the power to the pavement.

I used Sport only when needing a quick burst of speed. It helped smooth the acceleration and add more low-end torque, so a driver may prefer to use it, but the ute defaults to Touring. In Touring and AWD there was a bit of acceleration lag, a bit odd because this is a naturally aspirated V6, not a turbo, where lags are more likely.

Some might say that’s a disadvantage in that gas mileage is rated 18 mpg city and 25 mpg highway. Turbos usually achieve better. I got just 17.5 mpg, but admittedly we had a few sub-zero mornings during my test.

One might also expect a hybrid model to be available with enhanced mileage figures, but so far Cadillac doesn’t offer a hybrid XT6. There is a 9-speed automatic tranny though and that, in theory, aids fuel economy. It certainly shifts smoothly.

Safety equipment is as expected, including automatic braking with pedestrian recognition, lane-keeping assist and blind-spot warning. But other items are optional, somewhat surprising at this price.

For instance it takes a $2,350 technology package to add a HUD (head-up display), park assist with automatic braking, HD surround view and recorder, plus rear pedestrian alert and a rear camera mirror (hot trend) with washer.

Another $1,300 driver assist package adds reverse automatic braking, enhanced automatic braking and adaptive cruise control, now becoming standard across the industry. The package also adds the super annoying automatic seatbelt tightening feature. This over-snugs the belt just as you put the car in Drive, then loosens it. Useless!

A cool night vision option is $2,000, but obviously not needed. I did find it entertaining as it lights up on the dash when it sees a person or animal way ahead of you at night. During these dark winter days that could be especially helpful.

Cadillac’s interior offers everything one would expect in a luxury SUV from all that leather on the seats, steering wheel and horn cap ($5,000 platinum package) to the suede headliner.

Standard are heated front seats, wireless phone charger, power tilt/telescope steering wheel, OnStar, remote start, tri-zone climate controls, power hatch, heated steering wheel, panoramic sunroof and rain-sensing wipers.

A $750 comfort and air quality package adds heated rear seats, cooled front seats and an air ionizer. One minor annoyance here, the touchpad used to activate front seat heat or cooling, along with climate directional controls. The pad’s surface flexes just enough that it doesn’t always engage the first time it’s pressed, especially if the user is wearing gloves. The nearby temperature toggles are fine though.

The CUE system (Cadillac User Experience) also is upgraded to include a 14-speaker Bose Performance audio system, for $1,000. I mostly hear no difference, other than wattage, from most such systems, but this one really separated instruments’ sound during songs so that they sounded as if they were coming from various areas of the car. That was cool!

Note too this was a 6-passenger model ($800 extra) with captain’s chairs in the second row. A second row bench is standard and would allow the XT6 to carry seven. Room is generous in the third row, as the second row seats will slide forward. But the floor is raised in row three so knees ride a little higher than in row two. All seats are comfy, both soft due to the leather surfaces, and well-formed for hip support support. Cadillac also provides power buttons inside the power hatch to lower the third row seats, and buttons inside the second row doors to lower third row headrests and seats.

Good room in the third-row seat and it’s easy to get back here, or fold seats down.

Naturally the interior is extremely quiet.

XT6 also excels at cargo space, if either the third row, or second and third are lowered. The space is massive. With the third row in place there’s just room for a row of grocery bags behind the seat.

Two more add-ons to mention, one for $800 upgrades the headlight system, including curb spotlights that shine to the side when the turn signals are activated, plus lighted door handles, which are classy.

Optional too is a retractable cargo cover that adds $150 to the bottom line. You’re kidding right?

Attractive styling and door trim in the XT6.

Speaking of which, the starting price for the Premium Luxury’s bottom line is $56,040, including delivery. That’s less than most of the European competitors, but more than the MDX. And with its long list of options the tester hit $70,965. My first house cost half that much.

An entry-level Luxury model with 2.0-liter turbo I4 with 237 horsepower starts at $49,740. Adding AWD pushes it up $2,000.

A top-level XT6 Sport, which comes with AWD, red Brembo brake calipers, a torque vectoring differential, adaptive suspension and quicker steering, lists at $59,415.

Competitors beyond those listed include the likes of the Audi Q7 and BMW X5 at the higher price end, although the Caddy offers a better warranty. Or consider the Genesis GV80, Volvo XC90 or Lincoln Aviator nearer to the Caddy’s price range.

So many choices!

FAST STATS: 2022 Cadillac XT6 Premium Luxury AWD

Hits: Handsome 3-row SUV, good power, well-cushioned ride and AWD. Quiet luxury interior, 4 drive modes, heated wheel, heated/cooled front seats, heated rear seats, panoramic sunroof, power tilt/telescope steering wheel, wireless charger, HUD, comfy seats, oodles of storage (rear seats down).

Snazzy taillights and trim in back.

Misses: MediocreMPG and no hybrid available, dash’s fake wood extremely reflective, hesitant acceleration except in Sport mode, touch pad for seat heat and some climate controls flexes so doesn’t always engage first touch. 

Made in: Spring Hill, Tenn.

Engine: 3.6-liter V6, 310 hp/271 torque

Transmission: 9-speed automatic

Weight: 4,700 lbs.

Wheelbase: 112.7 in.

Length: 198.8 in.

Cargo: 12.6/43.1/78.7 cu.ft.

Tow: 4,000 lbs.

MPG: 18/25

MPG: 17.5 (tested)

Base Price: $56,040 (includes delivery)

Invoice: $53,440

Major Options:

Platinum package (semi-aniline leather seats, Modena leather-wrapped wheel, leather horn pad, suede headliner, premium floor mats, real-time damping suspension), $5,000

Technology package (HD surround vision, automatic parking assist w/braking, 8-inch color gauge cluster, HUD, rear pedestrian alert, surround vision recorder, rear camera mirror w/washer), $2,350

Night vision, $2,000

Driver assist package (auto seatbelt tightening, reverse automatic braking, enhanced automatic braking, adaptive cruise control), $1,300

Cadillac User Experience w/navigation, Bose Performance audio 14-speaker system, $1,000

6-passenger seating, $800

Premium headlamp system w/lighted door handles, $800

Comfort and air quality package (heated rear seats, air ionizer, cooled front seats), $750

Special paint, $625

Security cargo shade, $150

Test vehicle: $70,965

Sources: Cadillac, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

2022 Toyota Sienna XSE AWD

Sienna still a fine people mover, now a hybrid with AWD …

Minivans come and minivans go, but do you feel you could love one? I think you could.

Toyota has been making its Sienna minivan for nearly 25 years and let’s be honest, it still looks like a minivan. That’s the rub for all minivans, they are utilitarian family movers, excelling at the job. Those two sliding side doors make it super easy to load kids into car seats. The third row allows a family to carry up to eight passengers. That huge cargo bay in back will lug a ton of boxes, suitcases, soccer equipment or Pack n Plays.

So why doesn’t everyone with a family of five or more own one?

Image!

Kia’s new Carnival (reviewed in August) tries to spiff that image up. But face it, short of adding wings and fireworks (not a great idea for a vehicle) a minivan is still a minivan. Toyota knows it is utility that sells its product, but image does play a role. No, Toyota isn’t adding wings to the 2022 Sienna, it’s going all-in on hybrid power and all-wheel-drive safety. Few minivans offer both, but some (Carnival) offer neither.

Toyota is banking on families wanting to help the environment, of being more socially conscious than, say, pickup buyers. So instead of offering a gas-only version and a hybrid, the Japanese firm, which builds its minivans in Indiana, only offers a 2.5-liter I4 hybrid power system with continuously variable transmission.

The result is an EPA gas mileage rating of 35 mpg city and 36 highway. I got 33.0 mpg in a fairly even mix. That’s impressive. I got just 22.6 mpg in the gas-only Carnival tested earlier.

So Sienna is roomy, has a dependable repair record and good resale value, plus the hybrid system provides smooth operation. The CVT’s shifts are fairly seamless and the interior is nearly as quiet as that of a luxury vehicle.

The downside to the 245-horsepower hybrid system is that there’s just 176 lb.-ft. of torque so acceleration is moderate. To gain more oomph you may crunch the accelerator like a Packers lineman stepping on a defender’s toes, but the moan and groan during heavy acceleration is annoying and really the power modest.

No, this is a cruiser with moderately vague steering but decent ride, although the tested XSE AWD model is supposedly sportier than other versions of the van. C’mon!

Toyota claims the suspension has been firmed a bit, but certainly not so much as to disturb the ride, and toggling to the Sport drive mode is senseless. Like the suspension, that mode firms the steering just a smidge, while acceleration seems mostly unaffected. Oh, and the XSE also adds 20-inch alloy wheels if that twerks your chain.

Certainly it’s good news to have AWD for coping with Wisconsin’s slippery environment. That’s a major plus helping the Sienna stand out, along with the hybrid system.

But honestly the interior and safety features are what may sell a minivan as much as its drivability. Here’s what this Ruby Flare Pearl red ($425 extra) Sienna has to offer.

Safety is a strong point with standard features including adaptive cruise control, blind-spot warning, rear cross-traffic alert, active lane-keeping assist, automatic emergency braking and forward collision warning, plus automatic high beam headlights.

The tested XSE featured a dark and light gray interior, the seats being a mid-level gray leather-like Softex fabric with a rusty orange stitching to perk its look. That was on the seats and dash while there’s a gray ribbed top to the console, or flight deck. This thing is massive and wide open beneath, meaning a couple beach or diaper bags and/or beach balls could be stored there. Talk about family friendly.

Need a lot of coffee with all those kiddos climbing around and chattering in back? Well, that flight deck also includes four cup holders for the front seat game wardens. For the juice box crowd in rows two and three Toyota includes 14 more cup holders.

Check out the big flightdeck style console and padded armrests by the storage box.

That big console also is trimmed in leather arm rests on either side to aid adult comfort on long trips, while the tested van included a $1,415 HD entertainment center with 11.6-inch screen for the rear seats. It comes with two wireless headsets. You may need more.

Here’s another view of the elevated console with mega storage beneath.

Standard too are manual second row window sun screens, a benefit when coaxing a wee one to nap while heading to grandma’s house.

Overhead is a small sunroof, which is fine if you’re not trying to let a lot of daylight in. With that screen mounted in the roof a bigger sunroof isn’t even possible.

Toyota’s dash is well arranged and includes a 9-inch info screen that’s simple to see and use. Seats are powered up front and heated, but not cooled. I also found the butt pocket on the driver’s seat a bit snug, and NO, I have not been gaining weight during the pandemic.

Oodles of room in the second row when the seats are all the way back. You’ll want them forward if someone is riding in the third row though.

Second row captain’s chairs will slide an incredible 25 inches for or aft to accommodate tall or short passengers, or large cargo. The second row will slide all the way back to the third row if no one is seated there. Naturally the third row is split and will fold down into the cargo hold in the rear floor, and the rear hatch is powered.

There are a few missing items though. Toyota doesn’t include a heated steering wheel or a 360-degree camera, which seems odd. And while the driver’s voice is picked up on a microphone and projected to the rear so kids know when parental units have had enough, the convex mirror used to spy on the kids is string-bikini thin, making it tough to see in back.

A closeup look at the touchscreen, its controls and the climate controls.

Things added, for a cost, include a 1500W inverter with two 120-volt outlets for $300, and the XSE package runs a grand. It includes a wireless phone charger conveniently on a shelf mid-dash, a premium audio system, the 9-inch info screen with navigation, 12 JBL speakers with subwoofer and amplifier, and black roof rails.

A few other minor options like a cargo net for $49 and mudguards for $149 push the base price of $44,075 (with delivery) to $47,942. For the record, that’s in the ballpark for a loaded minivan, no matter the manufacturer.

Pricing ranges from $35,775 for a base front-drive LE that seats eight all the way up to $51,935 for the Platinum version with AWD. That places the XSE midrange, as is the XLE Woodland Edition at $45,350. It rides ½-inch higher and includes AWD too.

If power ranks higher on your “must” list than hybrid efficiency consider Kia’s Carnival with 290 horsepower from its V6, or the Honda Odyssey with a 280-horse V6.

Chrysler’s Pacifica isn’t far behind, offering a plug-in hybrid V6 with 260 horses. Pacifica also is available with AWD, so can be equipped similarly to the Sienna. However Sienna wins on daily mpg efficiency and the fact its hybrid system does not require a plug-in charge. Regenerative braking keeps its electric batteries powered.

FAST STATS: 2022 Toyota Sienna XSE AWD

Hits: Roomy, dependable, comfortable ride, smooth operation, quiet interior, great hybrid gas mileage and AWD. Loaded with safety equipment, sunroof, heated seats, sliding side doors, huge storage under tall console, third row folds into floor, video screen for rear seats, rear window sunshades.

Misses: Moderate power, engine groan under heavy acceleration, no heated steering wheel, sunroof is tiny, no 360-degree camera, tiny rearview mirror to see kids, unnecessary Sport mode, front seats have tight butt pocket.

Made in: Princeton, Ind.

Engine: 2.5-liter I4, hybrid, 245hp

Transmission: CVT

Weight: 4,610 lbs.

Wheelbase: 120.5 in.

Length: 203.7 in.

Cargo: 33.5-101 cu.ft.

Tow: 3,500 lbs.

MPG: 35/36

MPG: 33.0 (tested)

Base Price: $44,075 (includes delivery)

Invoice: $40,821

Major Options:

Rear seat entertainment system (HD entertainment center w/11.6-inch screen, remote, two headphones), $1,415

1500W inverter w/two 120V outlets, $300

XSE package (wireless charger, black roof rails, premium audio, 9-in. touchscreen w/nav, 12 JBL speakers w/subwoofer, amplifier), $1,000

Ruby Flare Pearl paint, $425

All-weather floor liners, $220

Door sill protectors, $40

Rear bumper applique, $69

Cargo net, $49

Mudguards, $149

Crossbars, $200

Test vehicle: $47,942

Sources: Toyota, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

2022 Lexus ES250 AWD F Sport

Lexus ES250 a rare luxury sedan with AWD …

Sedans are nearly as rare today as a functioning VHS tape player, even in the luxury market. Rarer still are sedans with all-wheel-drive and a starting price well below $50,000.

I never thought I’d say this, but Lexus offers a cost leader, a high-value premium mid-size luxury sedan with its stylish ES250 AWD F Sport. That was my tester for the week, the top-level ES in Iridium, a bright metallic silver that costs $500 extra.

Some folks bemoan the massive maw that is the Lexus grille, but I think its design blends so well with the hood and jagged Z-shaped headlights that it creates a unique and exciting look, especially compared with some staid European brands. In profile the ES is svelte. Consumers must agree as Lexus continues to be among the top three luxury brands in U.S. sales and the ES a steady seller.

Beyond slinky looks the ES has a lot going for it, first is that AWD system that is standard on the entry-level ES250 that starts at $41,875, including delivery.

Ride is pleasant too and the power is delivered in the typical smooth Lexus manor via an 8-speed automatic transmission. There are ample safety features, a comfy leather interior, big trunk, a new larger touchscreen that has moved closer to the driver for easier access and if you prefer a hybrid powertrain, that’s available too, for just $1,100 extra.

Standard power is the solid Lexus 2.5-liter I4 that generates 203 horsepower and 184 lb.-ft. of torque. That’s on the low side for a luxury sedan and even with three drive modes, Sport, Normal, Eco, there’s not much oomph here. I occasionally turned the rotary knob atop the instrument panel hood for Sport mode. But I decided Normal wasn’t much different.

Sport holds the lower gears a tad longer and adds a smidge more acceleration, but mainly it just firms the steering feel. That’s fine, but the car feels more luxurious in Normal mode when the engine isn’t cranking so hard.

The F Sport trim, one would think, might help that, but no, it has the same engine as the base model. What F Sport does is firm the suspension and wraps you in wonderfully supportive race-style seats. I could do with less ride firmness, but loved the seats.

Watch Mark’s video: https://youtu.be/naqXdExzaAA

F Sport also puts a spoiler on the trunk, adds rain-sensing wipers, fancier 19-inch black alloy wheels, a moveable main instrument cluster and those bolstered seats that also are heated and cooled.

If one wants more power though Lexus offers the ES350 with a much gutsier 3.5-liter V6 that makes 302 horsepower. Car and Driver magazine says the V6-powered ES does 0 to 60 mph in 6.1 seconds, a full two seconds quicker than the ES250. And irony of ironies the ES350 starts at the same price as the ES250. BUT, and it’s a big one, the 350 does not come with AWD, nor is it available as an option. That seems odd. Surely a luxury car buyer wouldn’t mind paying another grand or so for AWD, at least if they live in the upper Midwest.

While on the power point, Lexus also offers the ES300h, a hybrid with 215 horsepower. It delivers an impressive 44 mpg average. That’s about double what I got in a week’s drive in the F Sport, a mediocre 22.5 mpg and easily half at 50 mph or more. The EPA estimates this model at 25 mpg city and 34 highway. I was nowhere near that.

Inside the ES F Sport is stylish with an aluminum trim ring that runs from the doors across the dash. That trim is part of the F Sport upgrade. Otherwise the interior is black perforated leather seats, soft door and center console armrests and satin chrome door releases, dash buttons and a bit of trim.

Everything is neat and tidy too with a big 12.3-inch touchscreen (8 inches in the base model) with an analog clock in its driver’s side edge for easy time keeping. And thank goodness for the touchscreen, plus a dual-function interlocking knob for radio tuning and volume.

In the past there was only the awkward remote touchpad on the console for adjusting the info and radio screen. It’s still there if you’re addicted to it and love it like your first born. But the touchscreen is much easier. Plus Lexus moved the screen about four inches closer to the driver for easier use. Bingo!

An easy-to-use large touchscreen is a major interior upgrade!

Seats as mentioned earlier are snug and powered, providing maximum lower back and hips support. Several riders commented on their comfort, something Lexus has delivered consistently.

The interior is roomy enough for four average size adults too, plus there’s a big trunk in back, here including a power trunk lid. I think that unnecessary on a sedan, but for $550 it’s yours. Oddly those rear seats don’t split and fold down though, so you won’t be carrying any oversized cargo.

Overhead is a sunroof and shade, but the roof is small especially if you’re used to driving a crossover or SUV which now go panoramic for nearly all their sunroofs. A wireless charger is located in the console storage box/armrest. I’m not a fan of hiding these as it’s so easy to forget your phone when exiting the car, but this one also occasionally failed to charge. There’s a light there to indicate a charge, but who watches that while driving, especially if it’s inside a box.

A $2,900 navigation and stereo upgrade added a snazzy 17-speaker, 1,800-watt Mark Levinson surround sound system, the big info screen and voice recognition system. The stereo sounded great and satellite radio brought me everything from Willie Nelson to Lynyrd Skynyrd along with Larry the Cable Guy and Jim Gaffigan. How did we ever exist with satellite radio?

Standard safety features include a pre-collision system with pedestrian recognition, smart cruise control, lane keeping assist and departure alert with steering assist, smart high-beam headlights, road sign assist, blind spot monitor with rear cross-traffic alert, and smart stop technology.

A $565 package that normally adds some of that to lower trims also includes park assist and automatic braking. The parking sensors were quite loud and touchy which becomes annoying in grocery store lots where it warns you there are cars on either side and, oh, that big cement light post in front that you may not see.

I love this headlight design and how it works with the grille’s lines.

The sedan’s big A-pillars could make it hard to see some side cross-traffic too, but that’s where all those safety sensors should help.

While the F Sport starts at a relatively modest luxury sedan level of $46,525, including delivery, this one added 12 options, a few that were frivolous though. I’ve mentioned a couple, but there also was a $500 head-up display, $210 for a power rear window sunshade, and $180 for the F Sport style heated leather steering wheel with wiper deicer and fast response interior heater. Hmm, shouldn’t an F Sport wheel come standard on the F Sport model?

Speaking of which there were a few minor options that seem like they too should be standard on a luxury car, such as carpeted trunk mat ($120), cargo net ($75), door edge guards ($145) and a rear bumper applique ($80).

Impressive looks that stand out from all the SUVs and crossovers on the road!

Total damages for the tester were $53,565, which sounds like a lot of money, and is. But really that’s quite economical in the premium midsize sedan market. Consider a BMW 5 Series, Audi A6 or Mercedes-Benz E Class all start about $54,000 to $55,000, and THEN add options.

That’s probably why Kelly Blue Book has rated the ES250 its best midsize luxury sedan value for three straight years. That and the fact the Lexus has a superior resale value.

I’d prefer the ES250 with a turbo to boost its power, or just go with the hybrid, which seems just as quick if not quicker and will save you money at every fill-up.

FAST STATS: 2022 Lexus ES250 AWD F Sport

Hits: Sporty styling inside and out, smooth power and shifts, AWD, and pleasant ride. New large touchscreen, big trunk, comfy interior, super supportive seats, heated/cooled seats, heated wheel, sunroof, wireless charger, fancy stereo, good safety features.

Black wheels come on the F Sport.

Misses: Modest power, Sport mode doesn’t help acceleration much, small sunroof, big A-pillars, wireless charger hidden in console storage box and didn’t always charge.

Made in: Georgetown, Ky.

Engine: 2.5-liter I4, 203 hp/184 torque

Transmission: 8-speed automatic

Weight: 3,780 lbs.

Wheelbase: 113.0 in.

Length: 195.9 in.

Cargo: 16.7 cu.ft.

MPG: 25/34

MPG: 22.5 (tested)

Base Price: $46,525 (includes delivery)

Invoice: $43,648

Major Options:

Blind spot monitor, rear cross-traffic alert, intuitive parking assist w/auto braking, $565

10.2-inch head-up display, $500

Triple beam LED headlights, $1,215

Power rear sunshade, $210

Nav/Mark Levinson audio package (nav system w/12.3-in. touchscreen, Enform Dynamic nav system, voice command, destination assist, Mark Levinson 17-speaker and 1,800 watt premium surround sound system), $2,900

Hands-free power trunk, $550

Premium paint, $500

F Sport heated leather steering wheel w/windshield wiper deicer and fast response interior heater, $180

Carpeted trunk mat, $120

Cargo net, $75

Rear bumper applique, $80

Door edge guards, $145

Test vehicle: $53,565

Sources: Lexus, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

Ford’s Maverick hybrid pickup earns top EPA city MPG rating

New hybrid rated 42 MPG city, 37 MPG combined …

A 2022 Ford Maverick at Road America, with Indy Lights racer on track.

Last week a bunch of us Midwest auto writers got to give the new 2022 Ford Maverick Hybrid pickup a spin up at Road America, and trust me Ford is gonna sell a LOT of Mavericks, both ICE and hybrid powered.

Now the EPA has today rated the hybrid at 42 mpg in city driving, making the Maverick the most fuel-efficient hybrid pickup in the States. That’s huge for Ford and for cleaner air. Maverick is first of all a compact pickup, think of it along the lines of the old Ranger pickup, but with better drive, ride and now fuel technology.

I was impressed by how well the Maverick handled and weathered bumpy pavement, a given here in the Midwest. This feels more refined and yet is modestly priced so families can afford one. Base price is around $21,000, with delivery fees, for the 2.0-liter ICE (Internal Combustion Engine) EcoBoost model that went on sale in September. That engine has 250 horsepower and will tow 2,000 to 4,000 pounds.

The base model features a 2.0-liter EcoBoost turbo 4, the hybrid has a 2.5-liter I4 and hybrid system to boost gas mileage.

Maverick Hybrid pickups are to start hitting dealerships in December so will likely be getting to customers by January. The truck is rated 37 mpg in combined city and highway driving. Note that hybrids usually deliver better fuel economy in city driving when their electric motors do more of the work. Ford says EPA estimated driving range is 500 miles for the hybrid too.

The hybrid model packs 191 horsepower and will tow up to 2,000 pounds. It is powered by a 2.5-liter I4 and hybrid electric motors.

Both models are known as SuperCrews with full-size rear doors and seating for four or five.

#mama21rally

2021 BMW X5 xDrive45e

Smooth plug-in hybrid adds power, better fuel economy to SUV

Luxury and power are as ubiquitous as peanut butter and chocolate. BMW knows that and blends the two with just a smidge of social consciousness in its latest X5 mid-size SUV/crossover.

Its full name is X5 xDrive45e.

What that means is that the power now comes from a plug-in hybrid system that combines a mild 48-volt hybrid’s electric power with a silky 3.0-liter inline-6 with twin turbos. Power is 389 horsepower and it’s as smooth and seamless as any engine or hybrid system on the market.

Jamming the accelerator still delivers a velvety romp up to triple digit speeds, but now with the hybrid’s electric power you can toddle around town for 30 miles using only the electric power. Or you can toggle between Sport, Hybrid, Electric or Adaptive on the console and use or conserve your electric charge.

I switched to Sport as I was heading onto the freeway knowing I’d need that electric power when I got downtown, and let’s face it, if you’re going to be cutting your car’s emissions doing so in a more congested urban area makes the most sense.

The plug-in works like all others I’ve driven. Pull the plug and charger from the compartment under the hatch’s floor and plug into a standard 120-volt outlet in the garage. You get about one mile of charge per hour of plug-in time. So, overnight I ended up with 15 more miles. That means I can use no gas running to the grocery, Target or wherever in the neighborhood. Plug in again and the next day I’m likely at a full charge for a longer drive.

Combined with the gas power I got 28.3 mpg and this is rated from 20 mpg gas-only, up to 50 mpge on electric.

Typical plug-in hybrid outlet on the driver’s side.

Forget about the hybrid system, which is easy to do while driving, and the X5 remains one of the top mid-size luxury SUVs. It’s big and feels it at 5,646 pounds. But this is a BMW, so it handles well, turns into corners with a fair amount of precision and is easy to keep in its lane on the freeway.

Most surprising was the excellent ride, but then it does feature an air suspension system that once you’ve ridden on it you’ll wish it were on every SUV in the market. Trust me, I’ve had nice SUVs in the past, but few coddle like this one.

Watch Mark’s video review: X5 xDrive45e review by Mark Savage – YouTube

Of course that xDrive moniker means the BMW has AWD so is great in sleet, slush and snow. And the $650 M Sport brake package gives it excellent stopping power plus the calipers are a snazzy blue, which was a nice accent to the Arctic Gray Metallic ($550 extra) paint scheme. That’s dark gray with a hint of blue sparkle in it.

Boosting the X5’s looks is the M Sport package itself that adds $5,500 to the sticker, an already stout $66,395. For that you get all sorts of trim and appearance upgrades including Shadowline exterior trim, aluminum tetragon interior trim, high-gloss Shadowline roof rails, Vernasca leather seat trim, an M steering wheel and M Star-spoke bi-color wheels and an aero kit to smooth out airflow over the boxy body.

The other major add-on is the Executive Package, which from its name lets you know who may not be able to afford this. At $4,050 it adds a huge panoramic Sky Lounge sunroof and shade, rear manual side sunshades, 4-zone climate control, a head-up display, wireless phone charger, Harmon Kardon surround sound system with gesture control (not what you think!) a WiFi hotspot, Bluetooth and Icon adaptive LED headlights with Laserlight. Those are fancy headlights, but sadly do not shoot out real (Austin Powers style) l-a-s-e-r-s.

By the way, gesture control means a driver can rotate a finger (not just that one) clockwise in front of the infotainment screen and it will turn up radio volume, or the other way to crank down the sound. While on the stereo, the big 12.3-inch touchscreen also includes eight radio memory buttons under the screen, getting back to old-school channel selection. Bingo!

Two-tone black and white leather looks sharp here.

The X5’s interior is, as you’d expect, a snazzy leather stronghold with white leather seats in the test vehicle, plus white lower trim on the doors and dash, the tops of which are black. That Vernasca leather is real leather but with a stamped artificial grain and artificial coatings that makes for easy cleaning.

There’s also a spectacular jewel-like metal trim (tetragon shaped and part of the M Sport package) that graces the dash and console, with a metal clad cubby door able to retract over much of the console to reveal the wireless charger and cup holders. Satin chrome trim also accents the leather-clad steering wheel and the door releases.

Love the jewel look of the satin chrome trim on the dash and center stack.

Seats are comfy, as they should be. But BMW enhances its power controls here with $750 multi-contour seats, meaning they have multiple lumbar and side bolster adjustments. Plus the lower seat cushion can be extended to aid long-legged drivers. Seat memory buttons are included too.

But here’s the thing. To add heated front and rear seats costs $350 extra and $250 more for the steering wheel and armrests to be heated. I’d expect heated seats and wheel to be standard at this high-end luxury pricing, and the armrests, well, whatever. You should probably be driving, not resting arms. Just sayin’! Oh, and no cooled seats here. Funny, most $50 grand vehicles offer those as standard now.

Another view of the snazzy stack. A lot of buttons here too!

As for safety equipment, the X5 includes what you’d expect, plus adds a Drivers Assist Pro package with extended traffic jam assistant and active driving assistant, semi-autonomous aids. I find these often are too intrusive and push the vehicle hard toward the lane’s center often when not wanted, as in a work zone with lanes that shift and also when other cars sag into your lane and you try to dodge them this pushes you back toward the other car. Couldn’t turn this one off altogether either.

Add to that a cruise control system that was much more complicated than others I’ve tested. Yikes, push a button and set a speed. That should do it, even on these smart cruise systems.

A few other points to ponder.

First, the X5 is not just beauty it’s also beast enough to tow 7,200 pounds, so trailering is very possible. Note you’ll pay $550 extra for the trailer hitch.

And cargo space is fine at 33.9 cubic feet behind the second row seat, or 71.2 cubic feet if that seat is folded flat. A release under the power hatch allows quick rear seat folding too. A third row seat is available on some X5 trim levels, but it appears that only offers room for small kids in row three. As is, this one will haul five adults comfortably.

Underneath the test ute added 21-inch M wheels with performance tires for $950. Certainly the tires aided grip, but to me these looked a bit outsized for the X5. That’s a personal taste thing as the 19-inchers that are standard would do just fine.

Finally, the test vehicle hit a Rockefeller-like $81,695 after adding 10 options. A base (if you can call it that) xDrive40i starts at about $60 grand and includes AWD and a fine 335-horse 3.0-liter I6 twin turbo.

Move up to the M50i version and the price jumps to $83,795, but you get a monster V8 pumping 523 horsepower and you can thumb your nose at the environment, and nearly everyone else as you rocket away from a stoplight.

FAST STATS: 2021 BMW X5 xDrive45e

Hits: Excellent power, ride, handling plus AWD and plug-in electric to aid emissions and mpg. Four drive choices, panoramic sunroof, heated wheel/armrest and front/rear seats, wide touchscreen, multiple seat adjustments, 8 stereo memory buttons.

Cool wheels and blue calipers!

Misses: Heated seats and wheel cost extra, no cooled seats, complicated cruise control ties into semi-autonomous driving system.

Made in: Spartanburg, S.C.

Engine: 3.0-liter twin turbo I6, 389 hp

Transmission: 8-speed automatic

Weight: 5,646 lbs.

Wheelbase: 117.1 in.

Length: 194.3 in.

Cargo: 33.9-71.2 cu.ft.

Tow: 7,200 lbs.

MPG: 20/50 (w/electric)

MPG: 28.3 (tested)

Base Price: $66,395 (includes delivery)

Invoice: $62,315

Options:

Arctic Gray Metallic paint, $550

Drivers Assist Pro pkg. (extended traffic jam assistant, active driving assistant pro), $1,700

M Sport pkg. (See story), $5,500

Executive package (panoramic Sky Lounge LED roof, rear manual side sunshades, glass controls, 4-zone climate control, Icon adaptive LED w/Laserlight, head-up display, Harmon Kardon surround sound system, wireless charging, gesture control, WiFi hotspot, enhanced USB & Bluetooth), $4,050

21-inch M wheel with performance, $950

M Sport brakes w/blue calipers, $650

Trailer hitch, $550

Front/rear heated seats, $350

Heated front armrests/steering wheel, $250

Multi-contour seats, $750

Test vehicle: $81,695

Sources: BMW, 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