Tag Archives: Mark Savage

2022 Volkswagen Jetta GLI Autobahn

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FAST STATS: 2022 Volkswagen Jetta GLI Autobahn

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

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

Made in: Puebla, Mexico

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

Transmission: 7-speed dual-clutch automatic

Weight: 3,272 lbs.

Length: 186.9 in.

Wheelbase: 105.6 in.

Cargo: 14.1 cu.ft.

MPG: 26/37 (manual)

MPG:  26.6 (tested)

Base Price: $32,990 (includes delivery)

Invoice: N.A.

Major Options:

Pure Gray paint, $395

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

Test vehicle: $33,980

Sources: Volkswagen, kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

2022 Kia Stinger GT-Line RWD

Power, handling, looks, Stinger as swanky as European makes …

Swanky European luxury sports sedans often crest $50,000, but they deliver the looks and performance that command a premium. Most also have earned a reputation for quickness and precision handling over decades of development.

So what happens when a newcomer sidles up behind the established leaders, looking a little younger, fresher and offering good measures of quickness and precision, yet at a more attractive price?

That’s what Kia has been about on a number of fronts, but its Stinger has been trying to put a charge into the luxury sports sedan market for a couple years now. Initial reactions were strong and for 2022 Kia upgrades its entry-level Stinger GT-Line with a big power boost. Gone is its 2.0-liter turbocharged I4, replaced with a 2.5 turbo I4 that creates … wait for it … 300 horsepower and 311 lb.-ft. of torque. That’s up 45 horsepower, an impressive boost.

Add to that a larger infotainment screen, more standard safety features, sharp LED head and taillights, new alloy wheels and snazzier gloss black and chrome interior trim. Oh, and standard too are rain-sensing wipers, 18-inch alloy wheels, dual-zone climate controls and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto hookups.

The GT-Line, a trim level now across Kia models, replaces the GT as the base rear-drive Stinger and it does so at the surprising price of $37,135 including delivery. AWD is available for another $2,200, keeping the grippy model a smidge under $40,000. Try to find a European brand of this size and speed that competes on price. Heck, most of those are still charging extra for most of their paint colors, including gray.

My attractive Ascot Green (dark metallic green) was a standard color, no extra charge, and the lines are straight out of Ingolstadt with an aggressive nose and fastback flair. In fact, some won’t like to hear this described as a sedan despite its four doors, because the trunk is really a hatch that includes the large rear window.

To me that’s a selling point as hatches are always easier to load and unload and the cargo space is generous here at 23.3 cubic feet. But it’s unlikely a sports sedan buyer is worrying much about what’ll fit under the boot.

Watch Mark’s video: 2022 Kia Stinger review by Mark Savage – YouTube

Let’s return to the power and performance.

The new engine is definitely more torquey and pushes the GT-Line to an excess of highway speeds in short order. Topspeed.com ran it through the timing lights and managed 5.2 seconds 0-60 mph and a top speed of 130 mph. Are a few competitors quicker? Well, yes, but how much will you pay for each tenth of a second?

And if you need more power and quicker acceleration the GT1 and GT2 models both feature a twin-turbo 3.3-liter V6 that cranks 368 hp and 376 ft.-lbs. of torque and boasts a top speed of 167 mph. Of course both versions cost a bit more too, more along the lines of European sports sedans.

Handling is sporty, but best in the Sport drive mode that really firms up the steering effort and adds a precision closer to the European makes, if not quite there. Comfort drive mode is fine for most circumstances, but there’s also Eco, Custom and Smart, the latter of which learns how you drive and how you ARE driving and adjusts the 8-speed automatic’s shift points to fit, along with other engine and suspension adjustments.

Ride is stiffer than in the previous Stinger I’d tested and can be rather bumpy at times on our pot-hole strewn Midwest roads. All those cement highway expansion joints also can get a little old.

Braking is solid and quick with discs front and rear, the front being ventilated, the rears solid. All of today’s major safety equipment is standard here too such as emergency braking, blind-spot detection, lane keeping and smart cruise, plus a safe exit assist system to warn before you open a door into traffic. Note that some luxury makes still charge extra for blind-spot or rear cross-traffic detection.

Inside, Kia delivers another fine dash design. The test car featured a black leather interior with gray seat and dash stitching. Bezels on the gauges and air ducts are chrome with black gloss trim on the console and a flat black thick leather steering wheel and hub, the bottom spoke, door releases and dash buttons being a satin silver.

Kia goes with a big infotainment screen, 10.25 inches, a wireless phone charger and heated front seats, all standard. At least one of those will likely cost extra on a European make.

There’s also a sunroof overhead, but that’s part of a $2,300 sun and sound package that upgrades to a premium Harmon-Kardon audio system and a power front passenger’s seat. The driver’s seat is power, naturally, and both front seats were well shaped to provide back and hip support for if and when the driver decides to push the car toward its top-end performance.

I give Kia designers high marks for the dash’s simple layout and ease of use, from the touchscreen to the climate controls, no confusing symbols or odd button placement and all knobs easy to use.

On the not so great side is the loud annoying welcoming chime that goes off as you start the car and often when you turn the ignition off, along with a chime and dash warning to “check the rear seat.” It was there every time I checked!

Simplicity reins in the Stinger’s interior, adding to the upscale look and feel.

A few other things tweaked my sensibilities, including the drive mode knob on the console. I would prefer a toggle as it’s easier to tap forward for Sport and down for the other, lesser performance modes. I kept turning the knob the wrong way. Also, being a short dude I put the seat fairly far forward of the average size 6-footer and that made it tough to both reach the seatbelt over the driver’s shoulder, and then to latch it into the buckle that gets tucked down into the groove between the seat and console. Gloves made it nearly impossible.

Then there’s the typical complaint for any fastback model, or big SUV, a giant A-pillar and mirror combo that partially obstructs front to side views. I guess that’s why every vehicle now has so many sensors and the much needed 360-degree cameras.

Gas mileage in the GT-Line is good too, rated at 22 mpg city and 32 mpg highway by the EPA. I got 25.3 mpg, not bad for cold weather driving with minor snow on side roads. Premium fuel is preferred, but not required.

Final tally here was just $39,715, about $4,000 less than its nearest competitor from Audi. Add in the AWD and the difference is about cut in half. But the Audi quickly becomes pricier with a few options and a BMW starts about $8 grand higher. Closest may be Nissan’s fine Maxima, also with a 300 hp engine, and front-wheel-drive so likely to handle better in snow than this rear-drive model, although I had no problems on slippery side streets.

Sharp looking headlight design here!

Need more power and fancier interior features? Consider the GT1 starting about $44,000 or the GT2 at about $51,000.

Rumors also say the Stinger may be fazed out in the next year or so with electric models coming that will be performance-oriented too. But they may not look, or sound (twin-turbo V6) this sweet!

FAST STATS: 2022 Kia Stinger GT-Line RWD

Hits: Sporty fastback looks, good power and handling, an excellent sports sedan pricing. Big info screen, sunroof, heated seats, wireless charging, good climate buttons/knobs, big trunk, comfy supportive seats, easy to read dash, good mpg.

Misses: Noisy welcoming chime, and chime telling driver to check the rear seat, plus bumpy ride, drive mode knob instead of toggle, hard to fasten and reach seatbelt for short drivers, big A-pillar/mirror view blockage.

Taillights are slim and trim for an elegant design.

Made in: Sohari, S. Korea

Engine: 2.5-liter turbo 4-cyl., 300 hp/311 torque

Transmission: 8-speed automatic

Weight: 3,792 lbs.

Wheelbase: 114.4 in.

Length: 190.2 in.

Cargo: 23.3 cu.ft.

MPG: 22/32

MPG: 25.3 (tested)

Base Price: $37,135 (includes delivery)

Invoice: $35,510

Major Options:

Sun and sound package (Harmon-Kardon premium audio system, power front passenger’s seat, sunroof), $2,300

Cargo mat, $125

Carpeted floor mats, $155

Test vehicle: $39,715

Sources: Kia, 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 Infiniti QX55 Sensory AWD

New QX55 a fun mix of fashion and luxury …

Mixing fashion and fun in a luxury SUV/crossover is about as commonplace as legislators agreeing on something.

Yet Infiniti has done it with its new QX55 for 2022, and this comes after its launch of the near perfect QX50 for 2021. That SUV/crossover also slots in to the compact to mid-size range, sort of a tweener, not that there’s anything wrong with that.

The QX55 rides on the same platform and has an identical wheelbase, but is about 1.5 inches longer than the QX50 with a much more stylish rear end and profile that insinuate fastback and sporty as opposed to square back and utilitarian. Coming or going the QX55 looks as sporty and spiffy as a guy in a black crewneck sweater while donning a tweed blazer with leather elbow patches.

Some vehicles simply look snazzy. This one does. Doesn’t hurt that it was bathed in a brilliant metallic red called Dynamic Sunston, a $900 option. (Wouldn’t it be fun to dream up these color names?) Nor did it hurt that its interior was a creamy soft light gray leather trimmed in charcoal-colored soft finishes for dash and doors.

Styling aside for a moment, the QX55 mostly excels for its nimble and energetic driving coupled with a supple yet responsive ride. These are tough mixes to get just right, but Infiniti manages it.

There’s an alacrity to the handling that makes this Infiniti seem more sport than utility. The turning radius is modest so the SUV/crossover feels more crossover than truck, almost sport sedan. Point the toothy nose toward a turn’s apex and the turn-in is swift and the grip from 20-inch tires and a standard AWD system is dead on.

Power is identical to the QX50 with a high-tech 2.0-liter variable compression turbo I4 (VC-Turbo) kicking out 268 horses and 280 pound-feet of torque. The power is smooth and well managed by the slick shifting CVT. Not all CVTs are this good, but Nissan/Infiniti have pretty well mastered these and they also mildly help gas mileage.

Related Video: Ride along with Mark

But it’s the VC-Turbo that still merits a special mention. Nissan worked on this system for 20 years before perfecting it. No one else has. Variable compression means it can automatically vary the piston’s stroke and thereby change compression as the driver demands more or less power. That makes a more efficient engine, and one may surmise could extend the life of ICE (Internal Combustion Engines).

This efficient VC-Turbo engine is special.

I got 24.1 mpg in a mix heavier on freeway driving and the EPA rates this at 22 mpg city and 28 mpg highway.

Any way you look at this power plant though, it provides oodles of oomph to aid the QX55’s agility and fun-worthiness. One drawback, the engine sounds like it’s working pretty hard under full acceleration, so can thrum more than one might expect in a luxury vehicle. All this is more pronounced in Sport mode than in any of the other three drive modes, engaged via a console toggle. Smartly the QX55’s power chant calms quickly and it cruises in relative silence on the freeway.

Ride also is pleasant, something that often can’t be said for SUVs and larger crossovers. The suspension here takes the edge off crude city bumps and pavement crumbles and in fact there’s a bit of sporty firmness to help the Infiniti feel in tune with the road.

Move inside and the cockpit is impressively quiet with acoustic glass to silence wind and road noise along with enough sound deadening to immediately impress that this is a luxury vehicle. That leather interior makes a good impression too as does the stylish design and trim that confirm the QX’s upscale leanings.

Infiniti gives the QX55 a sharp and stylish interior.

Light gray semi-aniline leather seats are soft and moderately supportive, yet comfy. There’s light gray stitching in the dash and doors plus black open-pore maple trim on both dash and doors with a satin chrome trim encompassing the wood. Gloss black trim surrounds the upper info screen and a flat black finish keeps the console from reflecting sunlight. Gray leather also trims part of the console and center armrest.

Seats are heated and cooled and the info screen simple to use, plus this bad boy offers up a Bose Performance Series stereo with 16 speakers that stimulates the ears. There’s also wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Navigation and traffic update info is included while the radio functions are adjusted on a second lower screen with climate and seat buttons all around it for easy access and functionality.

Adding to the luxury feel is a power tilt/telescope steering wheel, power hatch and sunroof. That hatch is motion-activated so can be opened with the wave of a foot below the bumper.

Plenty of head and legroom here for front and rear seat occupants too. No third-row seat as this isn’t a land yacht, but good storage behind the rear seat at 26.9 cubic feet and more than 54 cubic feet if you fold down the rear seats. Its sister, the QX50 has more cargo room, as it’s boxier, so if you haul a lot the 50 might be your better bet.

Those slanting C-pillars are stylish, but big, so limit rear visibility.

Must mention too that the A-pillars and C-pillars are thick, so can limit outward visibility. Of course there’s a 360-degree camera to help in parking lots, a plus. The top-trim Sensory model that I had also includes smart cruise control and ProPilot Assist, Infiniti’s semi-autonomous driving system. It engages with cruise control only, so doesn’t impede lane construction dodging in town. Smart!

On the freeway this allows you to punch in a speed and let the crossover do most of the lane watching and slow-traffic avoidance. You MUST keep hands on the wheel though or it’ll let you know you’ve been negligent. I really like this system compared to most.

Is that logo on the monster grille big enough for ya?

All the other usual safety systems are here too and all trims come with blind-spot warning and forward emergency braking.

Three trims are offered, all with AWD. The Luxe starts at $47,525, while the mid-level Essential is $52,625 and adds leather seats and the spectacular Bose 16-speaker system. This top Sensory model loads on all the goodies and that smart cruise and ProPilot system at $58,075, including delivery.

Style is uppermost in the Infiniti designers’ minds.

With only a couple minor options the tested QX55 settled at $60,250. That’s competitive with the likes of BMW’s X4, the Mercedes-Benz GLC, Land Rover Evoque and equally sporty and fun Alfa Romeo Stelvio.

I fawned over the QX50, but this QX55 is way sportier looking and driving. Can I have one of each?

FAST STATS: 2022 Infiniti QX55 Sensory AWD

Hits: Sporty styling and handling, good power, nice ride plus AWD. Luxurious, quiet interior, comfy heated/cooled seats, Bose premium stereo, 4 drive modes, easy climate buttons, power hatch, power tilt/telescope steering wheel, sunroof and lane departure only engages with smart cruise control

Misses: Big A- and C-pillars limit visibility and Sport makes engine noisier than expected in luxury crossover.

Made in: Mexico

Engine: 2.0-liter VC turbo I4, 265 hp /280 torque

Transmission: CVT automatic

Weight: 4,065 lbs.

Wheelbase: 110.2 in.

Length: 186.3 in.

Cargo: 26.9-54.1 cu.ft.

MPG: 22/28

MPG: 24.1 (tested)

Base Price: $58,075 (includes delivery)

Invoice: $55,374 (KBB Fair Purchase Price)

Major Options:

Exclusive paint, $900

Lighting package (welcome lighting, illuminated kick plate), $925

Cargo package (reversible cargo mat, cargo blocks, console net, cargo net, rear bumper protection film), $350

Test vehicle: $60,250

Sources: Infiniti, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

FALL RALLY DRIVES & Videos


MAMA Fall Rally: So many vehicles, so little time …

Once or twice a year, lately depending on the Covid threat, Midwest auto writers gather their helmets and egos before snagging seat time in the latest new machines from the top automakers.

I use that term loosely because, to be honest, most of the vehicles that they make, and we drive, are trucks, SUVs, and crossovers. So be it.

This October we spent nearly two days at Road America, the National Park of Speed, near beautiful Elkhart Lake, Wis., at what’s called the MAMA Fall Rally, MAMA standing for Midwest Automotive Media Association. That’s us Midwest journalists who cover the auto industry year-round.

The Toyota Supra makes for sharp eye candy, while the new electric Mazda MX-30 rests in back.

The gig is we can take a few choice vehicles, usually the fast and furious type stuff, onto the Road America racecourse. Awesome! Second, we can take most of the vehicles around the access roads at the race track, or out on the surrounding highways and byways, always being mindful of the local constabulary.

So this year my videographer and co-driver Paul Daniel and I jumped in a bunch of these newbies to snag videos for you, driving impressions for me to use in reviews, and photos to share now and later of the new sheet metal, and plastic.

Here’s a quick look at some of our drives

Karma GS-6

This is a series electric like the former Chevy Volt (too bad it got axed) where there’s a gas engine, but it’s used to charge the batteries so the Karma is powered by electric motors only. But the gas gives it a sizeable range, more than 300 miles. This is a full-on luxury, think Gran Turismo like a Maserati Trofeo Ghibli, or such. Cost is $100 grand and change, nearly $110,000 here. For more, watch this video.

Here’s the new Jeep Compass, sharp, but it’s the interior that will impress.

New Jeeps:  Jeep Grand Cherokee L, Grand Wagoneer, Compass

Paul here, our resident Jeep guy. Jeep has been busy this year launching or will be launching a bunch of new vehicles this year. They enter the three-row SUV category with the Grand Cherokee L. That’s right three rows of seats and seats that can actually seat somebody older than your fourth grader. They are also in the process of updating the Compass which competes in the compact SUV category. I was impressed with the pre-production model I drove and it should help improve its ratings. See the video.

New Grand Cherokee L. L stands for lots of room.

Grand Wagoneer though was Jeep’s biggest launch, literally with a wheelbase of 123 inches. It’s also the highest priced Jeep in the lineup with the top model going for almost $105,000. You’ll note the Jeep name isn’t on the vehicle anywhere though, just Grand Wagoneer.

The interior is nothing short of spectacularly packed with leather and wood (real wood) and all the tech you could possibly imagine. Digital displays line the dashboard. The one in front of the passenger will, say you’re looking for a place to eat, search places nearby, get directions, and then swipe it over to the driver’s side. This stuff is straight out of the movie Ironman. The only thing missing is the woodgrain exterior paneling from the original. Somebody will do that. Check out our video here. 

Jeep grand wagoneer
The only thing missing is the woodgrain paneling on the new Grand Wagoneer.

Jeep Wrangler Unlimited 392

I’m excited that Ford brought back the Bronco. Competition improves the breed and even though I’m a Jeep guy, somebody nipping at their heels will make them bring new options to the market. Case in point, the big V8 that Jeep pounded into the Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon. I got a chance to take it off-road. The rumble alone gives this a huge cool factor, something Bronco doesn’t have, yet. Ride along with me here. Notice the big grin on my face.

Jeep wrangler 392
Paul after his muddy ride in the 392 beast.

Jeep’s First Hybrid, the Wrangler 4xe

Who would have ever imagined a hybrid Jeep much less a Wrangler? It’s here and the number one selling hybrid to boot. I drove this after getting out of the 392 and the first thing I noticed was the sound or lack of it. It was super quiet, but handled the muck, mud, and rocks just as well as the 392. Jeep’s new plug-in-hybrid Wrangler promises 375 horsepower and 49 MPGe. It will get to 60 in just under seven seconds, not too shabby.

The 4xe is the second-most powerful Wrangler behind the 392 V8 model, and the most fuel-efficient if you pay attention. The hybrid powertrain and battery add significant weight, offsetting the Wrangler 4xe’s performance potential and gas-only fuel economy. Fail to plug in the Jeep Wrangler 4xe regularly, and you not only give up all of its advantages, but without the battery charged, it returns poorer fuel economy than a regular four-cylinder Wrangler. However, keep the battery charged with a 220v outlet and you’ll be in for a treat. The other treat is the $7,500 tax credit you get for going green in this Jeep. Thanks Uncle Sam!

hybrid jeep, wrangler 4xe
New Jeep Wrangler 4xe

Hyundai Santa Cruz

New Santa Cruz. Lots of fun in a small package, plus a pickup bed.

I should have one of these non-pickup pickups shortly for a full drive. This cutie is based on Hyundai’s fine Tucson crossover, but with a pickup bed in the back. Yet it’s stylish and will hold four adults easily with good rear-seat room. It also drives and rides like a crossover, which is its base. Look for this and the new Ford Maverick compact pickup to duke it out for sales. Check out our quick walk-around video.

Subaru’s restyled BRZ sports car has the power and the handling!

Subaru BRZ

This is a cousin to Toyota’s 86. Both are 2+2 sports cars for the economy-minded, but who want generous power and sports car handling. Rare I know. But the BRZ was a hoot on the track, handling great, easy to point into corners, decent brakes, and plenty of grunt from its new naturally aspirated 2.4-liter boxer engine, thanks to Subaru. That belts out 228 horsepower and sounds much racier than you might imagine. Can’t wait for a week’s drive in this baby!

Alfa’s Giulia is one fine driving sports sedan, and its nose looks racy too!

Alfa Romeo Giulia QV

Not many Fiats or Alfas even offered by Stellantis in this country. Who’s Stellantis? That’s the conglomerate that owns Dodge, Jeep, Ram, and Chrysler.

Anyway, the Giulia is a delight to drive, with very quick handling, and excellent sports sedan ride. It feels tight and well-made, despite what you might have heard. Power is kick-ass quick and with a rip-roaring tone too, and there’s an 8-speed automatic to put the power down efficiently too. Manuals are fun, but today’s automatics shift quicker than mere mortals. Alfa says 0-60 mph flies by in 3.8 seconds. I can’t argue with that.

VW’s new ID.4 is pure electric and delivers 260 miles of range on a charge.

Volkswagen ID.4

VW is all-in on electric vehicles, both in Europe and here in the States and its ID.4 is its first foray into full electric. It’s a compact crossover with 260 miles of range and VW will pay for your first three years of fast charges wherever you need them. Nice! From a looks standpoint, ID.4 is a middler, with no real standout looks. But then it also doesn’t look like a Prius or Insight to scream that it’s eco-friendly. By the numbers, it’s got good power at 295 horses and 339 lb.-ft. of torque, which VW says does 0-60 in 5.4 seconds. Respectable!

Driving it was fun, although the funky gear selector on the side of the instrument pod takes a lot of getting used to. Power is good, handling fine and ride seems OK, although a longer drive is upcoming so I’ll know more then. AWD also is available and at $43,675 VW is happy to point out this is the least expensive AWD EV. Possible the ID.4 will get VW back in the game in the US.

The NX has new styling and is loaded with sensors and gizmos that make it special.

Lexus NX

While the former NX was a nice small crossover it didn’t strike me as anything special, considering it’s a Lexus. I considered it a fancy Rav4. But it has been reworked and electrically gizmotized to a major degree. It’ll let you know, for instance, if a bicyclist is riding by so you won’t open a door in front of the cyclist. So more beeps and whistles that some will love. I can do without that, but the ride is sublime, handling quick and responsive and the interior concert hall quiet. Now it IS special.

Compact pickups are a coming thing and Ford’s Maverick is cutting edge!

Ford Maverick FX4

I remember when Mavericks were cheap Ford cars, now it’s a compact pickup like Ford Rangers used to be before they grew up to be as big as an old F-150. But the Maverick will sell like weed at a rock concert because it truly is a useful small pickup and starts about $20 grand. Bingo, this is exactly what folks have been asking for for years. Very capable, easy handling, good ride and if you go hybrid (brilliant idea!) it’s rated now at 42 mpg by the EPA. This is gonna be a monster hit!

Doesn’t get much cooler than this rocket-like BMW.

BMW M440i xDrive Gran Coupe

BMW uses a carbon fiber seat in the M440i.

Trust me, everyone at the rally wanted to get a little seat time in this beast. The color alone assured you were taking a trip down the Hot Wheels track at about a 75-degree angle. Power? Oh yeah! How’s 503 horsepower grab you and delivered to all four wheels. Twin-turbo power is said to do 0-60 mph in 3.4 seconds and I believe it. This is a rocket, but with giant discs to slow it just as quickly. Handling? It’s a BMW. Nuff said. And I LOVED the racy carbon fiber seats that were as comfy as a luxury sedan, but waaaay more supportive. Hope I get to test this one for a week sometime!

Bronco is finally here and the Wildtrak is made for off-roading.

Ford Bronco Wildtrak 4-door

Yes, that spelling is right as car makers love funky spellings of common words. A lot of folks have been waiting for Bronco and it’s slowly making its way into the market. The 4-door version looks all the world to me like a Land Rover and Ford assures us it’ll go off-roading like a champ. It offers a roof that folds back like a Jeep too, and despite looking like a monster truck, it’s easy to handle and drives smaller than it is. Bravo. Power is from a 2.7-liter EcoBoost engine that makes 310 horsepower with the turbo kicking out 400 lb.-ft. of torque. Love this new SUV! Here’s a quick walk-around video.

Mazda’s first EV, the MX-30, features clamshell doors for easy rear-seat access.

Mazda MX-30

First, Mazda took its stellar CX-30 compact crossover and then dropped in an electric power system to make its first EV. Like the CX-30 (my car of the year for 2021) it handles great and rides well. But the electric power makes it super quiet and peppy off the line, well, much like the CX-30, but with electrons running things instead of gas. Basically, it’s quick, handles, and rides well. Need more? Its other different feature is clamshell rear doors which create a nice large opening for folks to climb in the rear seats. Range is 130 miles, so better than some EVs, but not up to Tesla or Mustang Mach E standards. The good news, a hybrid model is said to be coming soon.

Sharp styling and a broad price range means there’s a Tucson to fit most budgets.

Hyundai Tucson

First, the Tucson has been restyled and looks as sharp as the rest of the Hyundai lineup. Plus running from $25,000 to $35,000 for starting prices and including a sporty N Line model, it is family-friendly. I like its ride and handling in particular as some compact crossovers can be a little severe in ride quality sometimes. Power is decent too with a 2.5-liter I4 delivering 187 horses, plus this cockpit is sharp looking too.

Love traditional V8 power? A Mustang Mach 1 is a track-seeking missile.

Ford Mustang Mach 1

OMG, this is muscle car madness at its finest if you still love the roar of a gasoline-powered V8, and really, who doesn’t? I won’t go into all the details here. I’ll just say this, 480 horsepower at less than $55,000. Top speed 168 mph and on the track it’s more fun than a human should be allowed to experience, well, almost. For a full review: 2021 Ford Mustang Mach 1 Premium | Savage On Wheels

Plenty of spunk and sporty handling in the Mazda3 hatchback. Zoom, zoom!

Mazda3 Turbo

Nothing new and exciting here, but the Mazda3 hatch was already exciting and still is one of the coolest sports hatches in the world. Had this one on the track and did 110 mph easily on a long straightaway and man this baby handles too. Needs performance tires naturally, but the 2.5-liter turbo I4 cranks 250 horses and sounds like it means business at high revs. AWD gives it super traction too!

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

Die-cast: GP Replicas Ferrari 312 B3

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

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

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

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

The History

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

Sharp case and label on the black base here.

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

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

The Model

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

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

Check out the yellow air ducts for the front brakes!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blue belts are the highlight of the cockpit.

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

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

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

DIe-Cast: 1987 Audi Sport quattro S1 Rally Racer

Autoart’s Pikes Peak racer a mountaintop experience …

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

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

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

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

The History

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

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

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

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

The Model

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

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

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

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

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

Sharp under hood detail here on the Audi turbo.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sharp Recaro seat and red cloth seatbelts inside.

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

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

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

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

MSRP: $265

Link: Autoartmodels.com

Die-Cast: DNA Collectible’s VW Golf GTI Clubsport S

Golf GTI Clubsport S a hot hatch even in 1:18 scale …

Never as a teen or 20-something driver did I think Volkswagen would create a performance-oriented hatchback.

The Beetle was about to go away, the Rabbit was new, and the Dasher was sort of sportier looking, but really, not so hot. Yet over the years VW’s Golf has evolved, and in GTI trim has become a darned racy hatchback with great handling and good power.

Well, in Europe VW has taken the Golf even further, and that’s what DNA Collectibles shows off with its new 1:18 scale Golf GTI Clubsport S, a sizzling hot hatch only available overseas, at least for now. This fits right in with DNA’s, well, DNA of producing rare and limited run models from makes such as VW, Audi, Volvo, Saab, and Subaru. The GTI is No. 37 among its releases during its first several years of creating fine resin die-cast vehicles. Continue reading Die-Cast: DNA Collectible’s VW Golf GTI Clubsport S

2019 Hyundai Santa Fe Ultimate 2.0T FWD

Hyundai’s Santa Fe should be on your test drive list …

If you’re in the market for a compact crossover there’d better be a good reason you haven’t test driven a Hyundai Santa Fe yet. You’d be crazy not to.

The 5-passenger Santa Fe, formerly the Santa Fe Sport, practically sets the bar for this crossover segment for everything perhaps except handling. Mazda’s CX-5 excels there. Continue reading 2019 Hyundai Santa Fe Ultimate 2.0T FWD