Everyman’s Car of the Year, where style and value still matter …
Nothing lasts forever I’m told, so my Zoomie Car of the Year awards appeared in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel for 25 years, then got kicked to the curb. I wrapped up my Zoomies on the Savageonwheels.com website and on WUWM in 2015, and that was that.
But now that my auto review column appears weekly on WUWM’s website, and the annual Milwaukee Auto Show is rolling back around from now until March 1, it seemed a good moment to bring back Zoomie.
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!
Or if you just happen to have an unused airline puke bag, have it handy. What? One of the other things I collect is airline memorabilia, like these seats from a KLM DC-9, which included three. Yup, I’m slowly collecting parts and should have a full airliner in about…..long story. One of my favorite Apps on my iPhone is Hemmings Motor News. On the top of the page they have featured cars for sale along with stories about classic cars farther down. I love seeing mostly cars I will never own but lust over. That doesn’t cost a dime. I recently viewed two cars that stood out. Not that they were cool or collectible but because one was repulsive and the other is an “A” for effort but really? I’ll save the first one for last and build up to it. Continue reading The sick minds of some car builders→
Plug-in hybrid Fusion Energi touts impressive fuel economy
Ford’s midsize sedan, Fusion, has been well received both because of its high-end somewhat sporty looks and its driving characteristics. Fusion may prove to be Ford’s biggest hit since the Taurus was new.
Fusion melds, or should we say, fuses the looks of an Aston Martin or Jaguar’s upscale sporty nose with the tail and profile of a sleek Mazda6 to create a good-looking family sedan that can make any suburbanite proud of his or her nod to trendy car fashions. Gone is the look-alike (nose at least) mid-size sedan.
Add in that Ford has gone all in on hybrids, including this hot “sunset” (metallic deep orange) Fusion Energi SE, and you’ve got a trendy family hauler. It’s economical to drive, if not to buy. While a gasoline-only powered Fusion can be had in the mid-$20,000 price range, the Energi, a plug-in hybrid, starts at $35 grand and change. The tested SE lists at $38,700. Add in a $795 delivery charge and just two options and the test car hit $40,585.
I’ll make this point just once. You don’t buy a hybrid to save money, but to help the environment.
Sure, you’ll save each week on fillups. I got 45.2 mpg and shelled out just a bit more than $20 for 300+ miles of driving in a week. EPA estimates put the car at 43 mpg in all gasoline-powered mode and 88 when combining gas and electric, with a full plug-in charge at night. I didn’t plug in each night, but got about 20 miles of electrical charge for each plug in and registered 111 mpg in a day with the charge and driving about 10 miles beyond it. While the car is charged it shows you getting 999.9 mpg. Cool, while it lasts!
Like the Ford C-Max Energi I drove about a year ago, this one is easy to charge. Unload the special charging cable from the trunk, plug it into a regular 120-volt electrical outlet in a garage and then the cable’s pistol grip into the round outlet on the driver’s side front fender. A little cap rotates, after a tap, to reveal the outlet. About 7-8 hours later you have the 20-mile charge. Using a 220-volt outlet (like your dryer would use) will charge the vehicle in just a couple hours, Ford says. Continue reading 2014 Ford Fusion Energi SE→
When it ain’t broke, don’t fix it! Mazda’s designers and brain trust have shown great wisdom to follow that axiom with the Miata sports car.
For 25 years now the MX-5 Miata has made its mark by NOT changing much. There have been tiny body styling tweaks and interior tucks and thankfully the horsepower grew from 116 originally to 167 today. But Miata has remained true to its original design and purpose, being a lightweight, superb handling sports car with enough pep to put a perpetual smile on a driver’s face.
Soon Mazda will unveil a new Miata, and we’ll hope the designers still don’t break what isn’t broken. But for now we can relish in the fun and modest price tag the current model embodies.
Two years have passed since I last drove a Miata and reading back over that review I couldn’t find anything I’d disagree with from the most current drive. Here’s my latest synopsis.
The “true red” test car was the mid-level Club model with a black power hardtop. That means it’s a convertible, but the hardtop keeps it quieter inside than the standard cloth top. Naturally you pay more, but Miata is still a value-minded roadster. The base Sport model with soft top lists at $24,515 with delivery and the tested Club with hardtop was $29,460, with delivery. Moving up to the Grand Touring hardtop pushes the sticker to $31,345. Continue reading 2014 Mazda MX-5 Miata Club→
Edsel got a bad rap as far as I’m concerned. Heck, I wish they still made them.
As a kid I thought Edsels were cool. I loved the big horse collar grille, the pair of twin headlights and those slim cat-eye taillights. This was styling extreme to the max in an age of styling extreme. It was an age where giant tail fins and portholes in the sides of cars were welcome.
Who wouldn’t like this in your face design from Ford?
Well, apparently nearly everyone, as the Edsel lineup fell flat on its crankcase and was discontinued just a few years later. But styling fashionistas, those of us who appreciate styling daring do, can still get our fix via Spark’s new 1:43 scale Edsel Citation Hard Top Coupe.
Spark recreates the 1958 model in black with a white roof, and the two-tone paint job just makes this all the more attractive because it reflects the fun and style trends of 1950s autos.
Fiat gives Chrysler a fine mid-size car with new 200C
The former Chrysler 200 was so long in the tooth you may have wanted to nickname it Snagglepuss.
It was updated a couple years back by Fiat, after it snaggled Chrysler away from bankruptcy and the U.S. government. Mostly, that change in ownership has done nothing but help Chrysler’s various lineups, and the new Chrysler 200 again confirms that.
The midsize sedan, which rides on the Jeep Cherokee platform (see my interview with the lead engineer done at the Chicago Auto Show) so is available with all-wheel-drive, carries the rounded styling first seen on the sporty Dodge Dart. This is a handsome sedan with swept back rear quarter to give it both a modern and sporty profile. The tested C model with AWD tops the 200 lineup and its $30,195 starting price reflects that. This isn’t your great aunt’s old Chrysler 200 winter beater car.
The 200 comes in basic LX trim with a list price of $22,695 and in that form is front-wheel drive with a competent 184-horse MultiAir 2.4-liter 4-cylinder engine. A mid-level S model is available in all- and front-drive as is this upscale C model.
This C stands out due to its more powerful 3.6-liter V6 that features variable valve timing and delivers 295 horses and a torque rating of 262. Tires also grow to 18 inches and the interior is decked out with leather trimmed heated seats and a load of bells and whistles. The vivid blue pearl (bright metallic blue) test car ladled on three option packages to doll itself up and hit a rather optimistic $34,675, including a $795 delivery charge.
The car itself feels more modern and refined that past 200 models. The engine is strong and will get to highway speeds easily, even with four people aboard. This is a fine highway cruiser for the family and the giant 16-cubic-foot trunk will accommodate a load of luggage.
While the car feels strong, it doesn’t really jump from a stop as you might expect. It feels heavy despite a moderate 3,473 lbs. Its 9-speed (that’s right!) automatic transmission is designed to save gas, but not to put the car on a speedy trajectory, especially in city driving. The car is rated 18 mpg city and 29 mpg highway. I averaged a fine 24.2 mpg in about 75% highway driving and with up to four aboard. Continue reading 2015 Chrysler 200C AWD→
Sporty, high-value Dart GT has power, but ride is too sporty
My previous test of the compact Dodge Dart was near perfect. That was the Limited model, this metallic red beauty was the sportier GT.
Blame it on age or our increasingly decrepit roads, but this one was harder on the derriere.
Oh, I still like the Dart and would recommend the Limited or any model without the sport suspension that the GT features. This one is just too stiff with the ride bordering on harsh. Racy R18-rated tires didn’t help either. The GT intends to be a boy-racer toy at a modest price and it comes close to that goal.
There’s strong power here with a 2.4-liter I4 Tigershark engine with MultiAir to increase fuel efficiency. It generates 184 horses and a torque rating of 171. So pound the gas pedal and the Dart GT responds.
In normal city driving there’s good power too, although some hesitation as you accelerate. Linked to a 6-speed manual, which is standard, you could likely have some fun with the GT. But the test car added an optional $1,250 6-speed Powertech automatic that tames the oomph factor, mostly. You’ll still hit highway speeds easily, but the car feels a bit heavy and the shifts are not as crisp or timely as they would be if the driver was handling those duties.
Still, the car looks sporty with trim lines and an attractive profile. I like the car’s nose and the full body-width LED taillight that reflects other Dodge model styling. Dart looks sharp. Continue reading 2014 Dodge Dart GT→
Infiniti’s unique styling gives new Q50 a muscular look
Infiniti’s sedans continue to deliver unique styling that looks muscular and sporty, but with a style that sets them apart from other luxury sport sedans.
My test car, the Q50S 3.7 AWD was a great looking metallic brown, with a hint of copper in it, so the color also made this one pop compared with the various silver/gray or black sport sedans that flood the market. Like last week’s BMW 428i coupe, this sporty sedan featured all-wheel drive, making it a perfect fit for our climate and road conditions.
Like that BWM, the Q50 comes loaded with luxury and performance items while creating a strong argument for it being racetrack-worthy. On the performance spectrum the Q, which replaces Infiniti’s popular G Sedan, handles like a fine sports sedan. Steering is quick and responsive and in normal mode quite easy to handle.
There’s Drive Mode Select here. That allows the driver to pick Snow, Eco, Standard and Sport. Eco naturally cuts power and changes shift points, while Sport gives the car more oomph off the line while stiffening the steering effort substantially. I feel the Sport mode becomes way too heavy for most drivers to enjoy it, but best to test that yourself if you intend to move up to this level of sport sedan. Standard will be where most folks leave the setting.
How great is the new BMW 4 Series Coupe? My notes showed no, nadda, zero negatives.
I list price by default, because at $50 grand, more than a few of us won’t be able to afford it, and that’s a shame. Because this may be the best all-round performing car I’ve ever driven, no matter the price. The 4 Series (formerly the 3 Series, but that’s now reserved only for sedans), is a perfect blend of power, handling, ride, comfort and looks.
Call it a home run, a royal flush, a perfect 10, or whatever you will.
What surprised me was the ride. I’ve often enjoyed driving BMWs, but rarely have I felt comfortable in them or enjoyed the ride. The 4 Series changes all that. Its well-controlled ride is a combination of a superbly designed suspension mated with BMW’s Driving Dynamics Control system that adjusts the chassis and modulates the engine’s power curve too.
So if you set the DDC on Eco, you get lowered power and a somewhat more pedestrian chassis feel. Move to Comfort and you’ve dialed in ride perfection for our pathetic highways and city streets. One road near my Northwest side church is full of potholes and pavement gaps, creases and crumbling pavement. It regularly puts my test cars’ suspensions to the ultimate test. I barely noticed the craters this week. I was amazed.
The DDC also has Sport and Sport + settings that noticeably bump the torque and firm the ride and steering feel. The Sport + setting is best used on a race course, but the Sport notch kicks the car’s performance up a few serious notches. Continue reading 2014 BMW 428i xDrive→