The times, and location of car columns, is a changin’ ….
There comes a time to say goodbye to parts of our lives.
Since 1984 my byline has appeared in the Milwaukee Sentinel, and later the Journal Sentinel, first on feature stories, then business stories and since at least 1989 on a car review column, Savage on wheels. On Jan. 21 my last column appeared in the Sunday Cars section.
We had a lot of fun in those early Sentinel years. Just for grins I tested a military version of the Hummer during the Gulf War, drove the Oscar Meyer Weinermobile, tested a watercraft on Lac La Belle, a Duck at the Wisconsin Dells, and drove a one-horse open sleigh at Old World Wisconsin. I even got to fulfill a childhood dream by taking a 3-day Skip Barber racing class at Road America, and while the Andretti clan didn’t have anything to worry about, I had a blast, and got faster each day.
By my estimate I’ve driven more than 1,500 cars and trucks for my reviews, although never a Ferrari or Lamborghini. Yet I did get to drive a Rolls Royce, Aston Martin, Lotus, along with numerous Jaguars, Audis, Mercedes, Lexus, and Jeeps, even off road. Heck, some brands I tested in that stretch are long gone — Plymouth, Pontiac, Oldsmobile, Saturn, Scion, Suzuki. Looks like brands starting with P and S are doomed!
Don’t ask which car was my favorite, I can’t pick just one.
I left the paper 18+ years ago for a magazine career at Kalmbach Media and there was no reason the Journal Sentinel had to let me keep writing the column. But the editors did, and I’m eternally grateful.
So this is just an online thank you note to everyone who has supported me at the newspaper, and all my faithful readers for 30+ years who have been critiquing (mentally and via email) my reviews, my annual Zoomie awards, and stories from the Detroit, Chicago and Milwaukee auto shows. It was a great ride. Thanks so much.
But wait, there’s more … While bidding goodbye to my newspaper home of 35 years, this is not goodbye for Savage on wheels. There’s still my website, AND, some good news will be coming shortly from another trusted Milwaukee media outlet that plans to carry my weekly car and truck reviews. So stay tuned!
Honda’s Civic Si returns and it’s still an economical sportster! …
If you can get beyond the new Honda Civic Si’s odd Transformer-ish rear-end you’ll find one of the finest, and most economical, sporty coupes on the market.
There’s a lot to like here, even if eye candy is not one of them.
The souped-up Si model has been missing from the Civic lineup for a couple years, so its return is welcomed by entry-level sporty car buyers whose options have been limited since the Si’s demise.
The Si links performance and economy unlike most other cars. It starts at a highly affordable $24,100 while boasting a turbocharged 1.5-liter I4 engine that creates a peppy 205 horsepower.
For a coupe weighing less than 3,000 lbs., that turbo will jack it up to highway speeds quite smartly. Firing up, or down, freeway entry ramps is fun and quick. There’s not much turbo lag with the Civic and its smooth shifting 6-speed manual allows the driver to put as much muscle into acceleration as needed, or desired.
A Sport mode button may help that a little, although I didn’t feel it was needed or provided much extra boost. Mainly the Sport mode firms up the steering wheel, or more to the point, makes steering effort much heavier than when that mode isn’t engaged. I found the normal driving mode just fine and steering response fairly precise without the added steering weight of Sport mode. Continue reading 2017 Honda Civic Si→
Mention the Subaru WRX in front of young adult males and you’re likely to become the most interesting man, or woman, in the world.
Subaru devotees are a, well, devoted lot and WRX fans are darn near rabid. Face it, some folks, especially young males, love speed and yet their wallets aren’t fat enough to go Corvette or BMW shopping and their egos or tastes may not desire a Mustang, Camaro or Challenger. So it comes down to two cars really, the race-ready Ford Focus RS I drove a month or so back, and Subie’s WRX.
Lucky for Subie followers, the WRX just happens to be revamped for 2018 already. But to my way of thinking it blends in too much, not a problem with the winged Focus. WRX needs a more muscular look than just its shallow lower body cladding, splitter on the lower nose and gaping air scoop on the hood. It really doesn’t look fast at all. And don’t get me started on the rear spoiler. It’s virtually non-existent on the tested Premium model.
Several co-workers asked if I had a new Corolla to test drive for the week – really!
Yet the tested bright blue WRX still has the guts that its young, mostly male, audience desires.
Subaru’s well-tested 2.0-liter, direct-injected, turbo, Boxer 4-cylinder pumps an awesome 268 horsepower and 258 ft.-lbs. of torque. It flat out flies after second gear. There’s some turbo lag to be sure, but even if you ease into the throttle from second to third gear it’ll slam you back in the seat and take off like an F-16. Continue reading 2018 Subaru WRX→
New Q60 emphasizes performance, but ride suffers …
Driving similar cars back to back puts both into perspective, an unfortunate turn for the sporty Infiniti Q60.
I’d driven the Mercedes-Benz C300 coupe with 4Matic, its all-wheel-drive system, the week before I slipped behind the wheel of the new Q60, which replaces the fine G37 in Infiniti’s lineup.
The Benz and Infiniti are nearly identical in profile, length and wheelbase. But the Infiniti’s ride, no matter the Drive Mode, was inferior, and by that I mean harsh. The Infiniti felt like I was driving on square tires from time to time when the road surfaces turned crumbly. If you live in a southern clime, or California, where smooth blacktop is prevalent, this wouldn’t be an issue. In the Midwest it’s an issue.
Like the Mercedes, the Infiniti is strong on power and handling. This is a luxury sport coupe with the emphasis on sport, so it actually feels sportier than the Benz. It packs more punch with its 3.0-liter V6 with twin turbos. It’ll crank 300 horsepower and 295 lb.-ft. of torque. It feels powerful from the get-go and will zip away from a stoplight with help from its 7-speed automatic that allows for rev-matching manual downshifts. The Infiniti is fun from a performance aspect.
Handling likewise is fairly firm in all modes and precise so the driver feels in total control. There’s even an all-wheel-drive system on the Premium model I drove, or you can go with the standard rear-drive. This AWD system did not seem to keep the car from spinning its wheels under heavy power on wet pavement as well as the C300 though. Continue reading 2017 Infiniti Q60 Premium AWD→
Vettes are cool even if their current buyers are skewing gray and retired.
Still, you gotta have a little coin to own a new Vette, especially the Z06 model, one of the racier versions. A new one will cost you $79,500, so that’s why Autoart’s 1/18 scale version seems so reasonable at $160. Plus this one won’t run up your insurance payment of deplete your monthly fuel allowance!
Autoart now has several color choices in the newest Chevrolet Corvette, the C7, in Z06 trim. Our test model was a brilliant medium metallic blue. Some might call it electric blue.
We all know the story. Chevy launched Corvette, a two-seat sports car in 1953. It was underpowered and not a big hit initially. But as its power grew, and its refinement with it, the Vette became a go-to car for club racers across North America and then serious racers who put what are now high-horse beasts, through their paces at the 24 Hours of LeMans in France.
Now in its seventh generation, the C7 is as refined, yet racy as any street-legal sports car out there, and a darn sight less pricey than many. The C7 debuted as a 2014 model and rumors persist that the next version will be mid-engine powered, but the C7 already abandoned Corvette’s roll-away headlights. Continue reading Die-cast: Chevy Corvette C7 Z06→
Acura’s big MDX sport-ute is loaded with luxury and high-tech items and graced with a quiet interior and powerful V6.
The top-of-the-line test model was a bright white MDX SH-AW with both the Advance and Entertainment packages. The SH-AWD stands for Super Handling All-Wheel-Drive. Not sure I’d tout the super handling ability, but the Acura does have AWD to help in winter.
Certainly the MDX handles well, but super may be pushing it a bit. There’s also a dynamic mode button on the console to allow a driver to set it for Comfort, Normal or Sport modes. Those adjust the 9-speed automatic transmission’s shift points, the suspension and steering effort.
Normal is fine while Sport firms the steering effort to an extreme measure and Comfort softens the ride to make it accommodating of Midwestern roads ravaged by winter and years of neglect. Note the AWD system is automatic, so the ute has instant traction once the roads turn sloppy.
High-value Toyota Camry hybrid does it all, efficiently …
For 35 years Toyota has cranked out one Camry after another, often grabbing North America’s best-selling car title. That probably won’t be changing any time soon if the 2017 Camry hybrid is any indication.
Everything buyers like about a Camry is here, economy, value, comfort and good all-round driving dynamics. Styling is above average too and if you go toward the higher end of Camry’s lineup, you can get virtually every safety and tech feature available, no matter the brand.
Camry’s hybrid simply drives home the economy and value statement with more emphasis.
First, a base LE Camry hybrid starts at $27,655, including delivery. That’s well less than the average selling price of a car (roughly $35,000) these days. Move up to the SE and the price is just $28,860 and the tested XLE starts at $31,005 with delivery. Loaded, the test car was $34,710, still below that $35 grand figure.
I got 36.9 mpg in about a 50-50 mix of city and highway driving and sometimes with several folks aboard. The EPA rates the hybrid at 40 mpg city and 37 mpg highway. Even with low-cost gas at the moment it’s nice to fill up at $11 for a week’s driving. Continue reading 2017 Toyota Camry XLE Hybrid→
Looks matter in much of life, sometimes fairly, sometimes not. But good looks are so rare in small crossovers and sport-utes that when one has them, it deserves more than a passing glance.
Lexus’ NX is a looker. I’ve said it before, as I’ve tested this vehicle a couple times, and I’ll keep saying it until some other car company out-designs the NX. Its taillights look three dimensional even from a distance and the front lights are big checkmarks laid sideways. Its interior is angular and attractive too, the test unit featuring dark red leather seats with black trim — this is not your German cousin’s luxury crossover!
My test vehicle was the NX 200t F Sport with all-wheel-drive and decked out in a bright sparkling white paint job. Finally, a car that isn’t gray! The white accentuated its spiffy styling, and as in past drives, outside of a stiff ride and horribly clunky radio/navigation tuning system, the NX is a delight.
The 200t features a 2.0-liter turbocharged I4 with variable valve timing. It creates 235 horses and 258 lb.-ft. of torque. That’s plenty of power for a small crossover. The turbo does exhibit some lag under normal acceleration, but flip the dial on the console to the Sport setting and boom, the power is stronger and more instantaneous. I drove it in Sport most of the week, although it resets to the Normal setting every time the vehicle is turned off.
Lexus’ NX 300h that I tested earlier had a 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine with hybrid system to create 194 horses, but it is down on torque and seemed lackadaisical on acceleration. Gas mileage was better in the hybrid, at 29.9 miles per gallon as opposed to 24.5 mpg this time. The EPA rates the 200t at 22 mpg city and 29 mpg highway. Your call, but I prefer the turbo’s power. Continue reading 2016 Lexus NX 200t F Sport→
Chrysler has long had one of the best riding, most comfortable minivans. Chrysler invented the minivan for crying out loud.
But it hasn’t always felt as refined as other brands’ vans.
Now comes the Pacifica, a restyling and renaming of the former Town & Country, which has departed. The old Pacifica crossover, which was sort of a minivan, also is no more.
That’s fine because the new Pacifica looks better than both predecessors and delivers a luxury ride and feel that puts it ahead of many of its competitors.
The nose looks sleeker, more aerodynamic. Inside, Pacifica is extremely quiet, and still comfortable. The tested metallic black top-of-the-line Limited was loaded with everything a family of four to seven could want on a trip — video screens for the kids in back, a panoramic sunroof, a third row sunroof and electronic safety devices galore. Plus room, lots of room.
Seats were tan leather with a dark brown dash, a look similar to that in many luxury sedans. Front seats are powered and have three-level heating and cooling and the first two rows of seats are captain’s chairs, so have fold-down arm rests. The third row seats are split and powered, so you can lower them with the push of a button inside the power rear hatch. Both side rear doors are powered and slide, a feature that starts on the Touring model. Continue reading 2017 Chrysler Pacifica Limited→