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 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
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.
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.
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 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’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!
Hyundai Santa Cruz
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.
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 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 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.
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.
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!
BMW M440i xDrive Gran Coupe
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!
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.
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.
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.
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
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!