A little of this and that …
It’s good to be good, but sometimes better to be lucky.
As a member of the Midwest Automotive Media Association (MAMA) I’m lucky enough to get a few invitations each year to test cars before they hit dealerships, or just as they are about to go on sale.
Last week I joined about 30 of my MAMA colleagues in rural Chicago area to take short test drives in a variety of 2022 models. With luck, I’ll get most of these for a week’s test drive to give you a full evaluation, but for some that’s a month or more away.
So here’s a snapshot of what’s coming for 2022. These are my very short takes on my10-15 minute sessions inside some exciting new vehicles. There’s more coming, but this is what I got to drive.
Gotta begin with the priciest, sportiest and most luxurious vehicle all rolled into one, the 2022 Maserati Ghibli Trofeo.
I’d never driven a Maserati in my 30+ years of car testing and it was worth the wait. Trofeo was even better than I’d imagined and bathed in slinky Italian design and luxury materials. Starting at $110,000 this one cleared the high luxury bar at $117,000 with a black and red leather interior that smelled like it was fresh off the cow. I mean that in a good way.
Car was a medium metallic blue and buttery smooth in ride and handling but with a wildcat 580-horsepower twin-turbo 3.8-liter V8 under its long well sculpted hood. Think male Olympic gymnast muscle for proper bulges and ab toning.
That muscle is put to the pavement with rear-wheel drive and two performance drive modes, Sport and Corsa, or Track mode. Both created a sinewy yowl from the V8 and put instant power to the meaty rear tires.
For trim there’s real, yes real, carbon fiber for the nose’s splitter and rear defuser, plus cool Maserati Trident logos on the C-pillars, a fancy jewel-look analog clock on the dash and a subtle Italian flag color bar at the bottom of the B-pillar.
The PR folks called it a perfect dual blend of performance and luxury and who am I to disagree. As they said, GT (Gran Turismo) is in Maserati’s racy DNA and the Trofeo amply defines it.
While I’d take a Trofeo in a heartbeat, it’s well out of my price range. More in tune with that is the spectacular Hyundai Santa Cruz. It is NOT a pickup, no matter what you or I may think. The product planning experts from Hyundai were perfectly clear about THAT. “DO NOT call this a pickup,” they urged.
OK, and I get their point. The Santa Cruz has been promised for a couple years, but Hyundai held off until they felt they had it nailed as the dual-purpose – Urban and Outdoorsy – vehicle they intended. Oh, you’ll think it’s a pickup when you see it, but it’s so much more than that, yet it does have a roughly 4-foot open bed in back.
Yet here’s the deal, the Santa Cruz looks like a super hip urbane pickup with swoopy modern lines, lights and grille, but it rides on the Tucson crossover platform and feels like a sporty crossover, yet still has that bed in back. This was designed in North America for this market and it’s comfy and composed, with a super quiet interior, yet offering oodles of power, quick handling (think Mazda CX-30) and a refined ride befitting an entry-level crossover.
Oh, and did I mention it’s cute as a button. Reminds me of Subaru’s former Brat, but much more refined.
Again, I drove it briefly but already I’m feeling as if I’ve driven my Vehicle of the Year. It’s that good. The basics is it rides on a 118.3-inch wheelbase, is 195.7 inches long and has a generous 101.8 cubic foot interior. Yes, four adults will fit.
Base engine is a 191-horse 2.5-liter I4 while a turbo version making 281 horses is the upgrade and what I drove. It moves. It also tows, up to 3,500 lbs. with the base engine or 5,000 for that turbo monster.
Pricing will be $23,990 up to $39,720 and the target is 35- to 45-year-old single men that are college grads with no kids and a love of outdoor activities. But trust me, any cool person who feels a need for that small bed will want one. This will be a big seller and soon will be copied by everyone else in the mid-size crossover and pickup (oops) market.
Three other things, and I know I’m going on and on about this. But that short bed will haul a 4×8 sheet of plywood because the wheel wells are flat on top and the tailgate will latch at a 45-degree angle so the plywood will lie flat. The bed also is a composite material so no bedliner is needed and it also won’t rust. … And, the Santa Cruz has the first permanent retractable tonneau cover over that bed and it’s strong enough to hold 220 lbs. of weight to boot. Bravo!
If you MUST have a real pickup. Well, a real mid-size pickup is the new 2022 Nissan Frontier. It’s got a huge ride height, big tires and super heavy steering that makes it feel like a monster truck even though its dimensions remain more moderate.
Nissan upgraded the 2021 model after 16 years of few changes to the Frontier, by dropping in a 310-horse 3.8-liter V6. This year Nissan adds a 9-speed automatic transmission to make better use of that power while saving a little fuel too.
The 4X4 Pro-4X version I tested starts at $37,240 and with three option packages hit $44,315, still a reasonable price for such power and off-road ability. Styling tweaks such as blistered fenders give the Frontier a more modern appearance if that’s what motivates a buy, plus the off-road suspension is a winner.
In short, plenty of power, but a heavy feel to the wheel!
Finding a new path:
Nissan’s Pathfinder is new for 2022 too. Say that twice! Pathfinder is one of the original SUVs, originally launched in 1985. But it keeps morphing to add luxury (isn’t everyone?) to its rugged, capable and flexible mantra. Oh, and now it’s longer and has a third-row seat. (This is a theme among mid-size to large SUVS).
Nissan has loaded up the Pathfinder with standard safety gear including rear automatic braking now, something it alone offers. But instead of making it longer like most SUVs, Nissan shortened the Pathfinder a bit, while adding to width and height, again by small amounts.
The result is a boxy but sophisticated looking truck, still packing its 3.5-liter V6 that creates 284 horsepower and capable of towing 6,000 lbs. Like the Frontier it adds a new 9-speed automatic, better for towing. And Trailer Sway Control is now standard on Pathfinder. A direct coupling system in 4-wheel drive also smooths out engagement, eliminating a delay in the switch to 4WD.
More acoustic glass quiets the interior and that third row seat is comfy enough for adults that something longer than a drive to the next suburb will now be acceptable.
I’m a short guy, so MINI has always been a car I love, plus it has BMW-type performance, probably because BMW owns the former all-British car company.
I tested the 2022 MINI S convertible with a black cloth top adorned with a black and dull black Union Jack. Snazzy and clever, especially because it powers back automatically and you can stop it part-way back so the front is like an opened sunroof. Way cool!
This one also was a lime green (called Zesty Yellow), so easily visible in any parking lot and listed for $41,750.
The MINI still has a silky smooth six-speed manual and handling that puts most sport coupes to shame. Power remains generous (180 hp twin-turbo I4) in the S model and inside there’s still the big round screen mid-dash, toggles above and below and a digital oval instrument panel over the steering column.
Nothing you do with your clothes on is more fun than driving a convertible MINI!
At the other extreme:
Jeep isn’t known for its mini vehicles, in fact they just seem to keep getting larger, think Wrangler Unlimited and now the new Grand Cherokee L, with L meaning LONGER. Like GM’s Suburbans and Tahoes the Grand Cherokee now offers a stretched version of its boxy full-size SUV.
Not much to distinguish it in looks, beyond the usual Jeep nose, the rest could pass as a refrigerator on wheels. But it has a third-row seat and is 15 inches longer than what used to be a mid-size SUV, the Grand Cherokee. If you need the space and are a Jeepoholic then this one may be calling your name. Although remember the Grand Wagoneer is coming soon too.
Inside the dash is low and clean and offers a large info screen and easy-to-use info system. In back are push buttons to lower various seats for cargo hauling or to let the kids more easily de-board from that third row seat.
This silver tester was the Overland edition, so more attuned for trail-busting, while the Summit models are luxury (again) oriented and roughly sell in the $68,000 neighborhood.
Adding an electric boost:
Not a full-electric, but the new Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara 4XE enhances its 2.0-liter turbo I4 with plug-in electric hybrid power for use on or off-road. You’ll get 21 miles of electric charge that you can use for trips to the office (if you’re not working from home), or save for when you’re off-roading and want to cut your emissions when out in the woods.
The red and black test vehicle had managed 34 mpg with a bunch of crazy car writers driving it for the day and still got battery power via regenerative braking so that juice helped get the heavy Jeep rolling from a stoplight and aided mpg.
I like the somewhat MINI-style levers, not exactly toggles, on the center stack to put the windows up and down. And remember you can take the tops off a Wrangler, and the doors if you’re really into outdoor driving. Sticker was $56,380 and included a $2,495 hardtop.
Going full-on electric:
This IS the future of cars and trucks, so get used to it. Now Volkswagen shows off its ID.4 compact crossover with a funky gear selector, but oodles of oomph. The tested Pro S model has about 260 miles of range while the standard has 250 miles of plug-in power.
Oh, and the plug is not up front or on the nose here, it’s right where a gas filler normally shows up on the passenger’s side rear quarter panel.
I liked the ride, power and handling here, all smooth and kicky. But it’ll take any newcomer a while to figure out the buttons and shifter. That shifter is up by the instrument panel and requires the driver turn a knob to engage the gears, and turn it twice forward to go into Drive mode with Regenerative braking engaged. That allows the crossover to generate more power for the batteries when he or she lets off the accelerator and the electric motors slow down the ID.4 and the braking sends electrical charges to the battery packs.
Oh, and to engage Park, one must press the end of the gear selector knob, a bit clunky, but you’ll figure it out eventually.
The good news is that there’s a wireless phone charger where that nasty old easy-to-use shift lever normally would be on the console.
Seems the German designers always have a new idea for some formerly simple function, and then VW puts an unusual name on the driving product, so Tiguan, Taos and now ID.4.
That’s it for now, but my 2022 vehicle reviews kick off with the new Kia Carnival minivan next week on the WUWM website, wuwm.com. Just search for Savage on Wheels! … and a few 2022s have snuck in already if you look carefully there, or on this site.