Tag Archives: Hyundai Santa Cruz

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!

2022 Nissan Frontier Pro-4X Crew Cab 4X4

Horsey Frontier both civilized and off-road ready …

Pickups are becoming so civilized it’s possible that urban cowboys won’t want to sidle up to them pretty soon.

All pickups used to be boxes on big knobby tires with a big ol’ floor-mounted stick shift, a metal bed and rusty (after a couple years) tailgate that flopped down like an exasperated teenager into the family couch. Pickups were strong and he-manly and cheaper than the sports cars that also identified their owners as high-T.

Sorry pardner, but much of that is long gone as crew cabs and modern technology have conspired to soften pickups and make them the family station wagons of today.

Nissan knows that, of course, but isn’t about to let its Frontier slide into sissydom. Last year it poured a new 310-horsepower 3.8-liter V6 with 9-speed automatic into the mid-size Frontier (a near clone to Ford’s Ranger in size and function). That gave Frontier the horsiest engine in class, plus a smooth-shifting tranny to boot, so a saddlebag full of power, but with refinement.

For 2022 the entire Frontier, outside of that engine and tranny, have been restyled and rethought to take on this growing market of mid-size pickups ruled by Toyota’s Tacoma.

Unlike last week’s smaller, stylish and refined Hyundai Santa Cruz, a compact crossover/pickup, Nissan went for the muscular manly styling that has dominated the market since the 1960s. It works, but isn’t so tall as to make a feller jump up into its cab like mounting a horse in one leap. Oh, this one added the fine off-road style step rails ($750), but they were hardly needed. No, the tested Frontier Pro-4X Crew Cab, designed for off-road loving pickup owners, sits low enough to make daily access easy.

Related video: Mark Savage reviews 2022 Nissan Frontier Pro 4x truck – YouTube

Where the hooves should be Frontier offers nubby R17 All-Terrain tires on painted alloy wheels, yet coupled with Bilstein off-road shocks the on-road ride is surprisingly supple and easy on the gluts. A rear suspension stabilizer no doubt helps too. The fam won’t mind riding in Frontier because of usual pickup ride quality (bouncy), and the driver will appreciate the giddyup provided by that V6 while so many other mid-sizers go with turbo 4-cylinders. Nissan Only offers the V6.

Handling is surprisingly quick and responsive as Nissan engineers revised the steering ratio for more precise handling, an aid especially in avoiding highway lane fade. Not a lot of play in this wheel. Downside is the steering is quite heavy in Frontier, very trucky, not crossover-like at all. Gym rats may like this while the rest of us could use a little lighter feel.

Useful, sure! Frontier has a 5-foot bed including spray-in liner, part of the $1,990 Pro Convenience Package. That package also adds Nissan’s snazzy Utili-track system with four adjustable tie-down cleats. That tailgate also is dampened so it doesn’t flop down too quickly, plus the tailgate locks, but no tonneau cover like the Santa Cruz has.

This one did add a grizzly bear-strong Sport Bar ($1,095) just behind the cab. It adds off-roading panache, but also includes a light on top to make bed loading easier at night. Nissan also includes side bed lights here. And while I loved Hyundai’s bumper infused steps this has a fold-down step on the driver’s side tail below the bumper. It’s easy to fold down and flip back up.

Frontier’s interior looks trucky, meaning muscular, black and off-road useful. There’s a knob on the dash to engage the 4-wheel-drive system, a big 9-inch touchscreen, large radio and climate control knobs and the usual steering-wheel hub with cruise and info screen controls.

I liked the functionality of it all and the black (really more of a charcoal gray) leather seats were soft and fairly comfy for city driving. Hip support was good, but the seats could use more lower-back support and the rear seats, while roomy enough for a couple adults could use some seat-back adjustments. The backs are nearly straight up and down and could be tiring after a short ride. The previous week’s Santa Cruz had a much more passenger friendly rear seat despite being smaller.

On the plus side though are heated front seats and heated steering wheel, plus the driver’s seat is fully powered while the passenger’s seat is manual. The back seats also fold and there’s storage beneath the seats.

I liked the open wireless phone charger on the console’s tail by the driver’s seat and center storage box. That’s easy to reach and easy to see if the phone is charging. The charger and heated seats are part of that Pro Convenience package that also includes a 120-volt power outlet in the bed.

Oddly the space between seats and door panels is incredibly tight. I couldn’t easily get my hand between the two to retrieve an item in the door pocket. Not real user friendly!

On the safety front there’s automatic forward collision warning, but to get more safety gar you need the Technology Package for $990. It includes lane departure warning, blind-spot warning, rear cross-traffic alert, a rear sonar system, rear automatic braking, high beam assist, smart cruise and traffic sign recognition. I feel blind-spot and rear cross-traffic alert really should be standard on all vehicles today.

Some useful electronics are standard though, including Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, Bluetooth, satellite radio, navigation, NissanConnect, Wi-Fi hotspot and voice recognition for audio features. There’s a rear-view camera of course, hill start and descent assist and a trailer sway control system, all pluses when towing or off-roading.

Speaking of which, the Frontier will pull 6,720 pounds, not quite the 7,500 that Ranger pulls, but sufficient for most average trailers and gear.

Making the Tactical Green ($395 extra) test truck a little nicer was the Pro Premium Package that adds a Fender premium audio system with 10 speakers, the leather seats, auto-dimming mirror with Homelink, sunroof and beadlock alloy wheels. Cost is $2,790.

I wasn’t a fan of the Army-style green, but the militarization of pickups seems a natural step at this point. Gun racks are still extra though.

Sadly gas mileage is pickup poor at 17 mpg city and 22 highway. I got 18 mpg in about 60% highway driving.

Pricing is higher than Ranger, mostly. A base 2WD Frontier S starts at $29,340. That’s for the crew cab with full-size rear doors, and let’s be honest, that’s what most folks want, and need. An SV crew cab goes for $32,140. Both also have a $1,175 destination charge.

There’s a Pro-X model that is 2WD only, but looks tougher like the tested Pro-4X, so blacked out grille with orange Nissan logo, and another on the steering wheel.

The 4WD Pro-4X lists at $38,415 including delivery and the tested truck hit $46,965 with all its options. That’s pretty steep for a mid-size pickup. But again, that’s where the market is headed for mid-sizers. Note too that mid-size pickups are as large as full-size pickups were 15-20 years ago.

I like the open running boards, made for off-roading, but easy to climb on.

A King Cab with small rear doors that open backward is also available and will save buyers a few bucks, but is far less useful for family hauling. And even most urban cowboys have a couple little outlaws to corral for soccer practice.

FAST STATS: 2022 Nissan Frontier Pro-4X Crew Cab 4×4

Hits: Useful family pickup, right size, good power, shifts, ride and handling. Lined bed, easy-lower tailgate, deployable step, strong tie-downs. Trucky interior but big screen, heated seats and wheel, big radio and climate knobs, smart cruise and safety suite, wireless phone charger.

There is an easy-fold step in back.

Misses: Heavy steering feel, seat backs need more side support, back seat backs too straight for long rides, low mpg, a bit pricey.

Made in: Canton, Miss.

Engine: 3.8-liter V6, 310 hp/281 torque

Transmission: 9-speed automatic

Weight: 4,709 lbs.

Wheelbase: 126.0 in.

Length: 210.2 in.

Cargo bed: 5-foot

Tow: 6,720 lbs.

Payload: 1,460 lbs.

MPG: 17/22

MPG: 18.0 (tested)

Base Price: $38,415 (includes delivery)

Invoice: $37,788*

Major Options:

Premium paint, $395

Off-road style step rails, $750

Bed access package, $540

Pro Convenience package (spray-in bedliner, Utili-track system, 120-volt power outlet in bed/rear console, heated outside mirrors, heated seats, heated steering wheel, LED under rail lighting, remote start, trailer hitch w/wiring, intelligent around-view monitor w/moving object detection and off-road mode, wireless charging), $1,990

Pro Premium package (Fender premium audio w/10 speakers, leather-appointed front/rear seats, auto-dimming mirror w/Homelink, tilt/slide sunroof w/manual shade, 17-inch beadlock alloy wheels), $2,790

Sport bar, $1,095

Technology package (lane departure warning, blind-spot warning, rear cross-traffic alert, rear sonar system, rear automatic braking, high beam assist, smart cruise, traffic sign recognition), $990

Test vehicle: $46,965

Sources: Nissan, www.kbb.com, *KBB Fair Market

Photos: Mark Savage

2022 Model Test Drive Previews

A little of this and that …

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

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

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

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

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

High roller:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More Duality:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More trucky:

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

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

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

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

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

Finding a new path:

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

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

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

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

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

MINI me:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

At the other extreme:

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

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

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

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

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

Adding an electric boost:

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

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

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

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

Going full-on electric:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#mamasummerdrive