Tag Archives: sport sedan

2022 Subaru WRX Premium

WRX better in a rally than on a road, but it rocks …

After we had been driving for two blocks my wife, a devout Subaru owner, asked rather emphatically, “WHO would ever buy this car?”

The car in question was a flashy metallic Solar Orange Subaru WRX Premium, the rally racer style compact sedan with a ride so rough that nine out of 10 dentists recommend it to patients with loose fillings.

It doesn’t help that we live in a 1950s subdivision with asphalt streets featuring cracks and crevices widened and sunk by 60+ years of Wisconsin winters. Even still, on better roads it only takes a manhole cover’s slight indentation or the dreaded expansion joints on cement streets to jolt the family jewels or crack that dozen eggs freshly purchased at the farmer’s market.

All this in spite of, or possibly because, Subaru engineers firmed up the chassis and suspension on this fifth-generation WRX to improve cornering and (supposedly) ride. To that end they mounted the rear anti-roll bar directly to the chassis, upgraded shock dampers and stiffened the torsional rigidity of the chassis by 28%.

That’s all excellent news for rally racers who take their WRX to rutted dirt-road racing contests every weekend, but for city driving, not so much.

There’s at least one other practical point that may not make this a top choice for the average family’s next sedan. That’s noise.

Again, for the boy or girl racer who thrives on the throb and rumble of a boosted boxer 4-cylinder, the Subie’s new 2.4-liter twin-scroll turbo engine is a positive. It creates 271 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque that feels like a rocket booster is strapped to this compact sedan based on Subaru’s Impreza platform.

For the rest of us the guttural growl, especially while the car is stationary or at modest city speeds, is deafening when the windows are lowered, and radio sound swamping with windows up. Once cruising at highway speeds the blat calms enough to allow radio listening, but still it’s best to crank that baby up.

That said, I told my wife that the WRX is aimed at young folks (mostly) who desire speed, speed and speed, yet at an affordable price.

In that case, the Premium model is a winner, starting at just $32,600, including delivery. For that you get a handsome neck-stretching sedan that easily carries four adults, has a decent-sized trunk for suitcases, boogie boards (fold down the split back seats), and AWD for any off-roading you feel appropriate.

Ride we know is an issue, but handling is fantastic with dual-pinion electric power steering that provides great road feel and more vital, a quicker response. That’s what you need for racing, or just driving fun, preferably on a smooth road.

This version also features a 6-speed manual transmission that adds to its friskiness. Throws are fairly long though, so think about paying $427 extra for an STi short-throw shifter. If you’re lazy, or getting older like me, you may want to opt for the 8-speed automatic that adds about $2,500 to the Premium model’s bottom line, but varies by trim level.

Speaking of which, there are four WRX trims, the base WRX that starts at $30,100 or $31,950 with the automatic, the tested Premium for $32,600 or $34,650 automatic, the Limited at $36,990 or $39,240 automatic, and the new GT, which is AWD and packs a drive mode selector, the automatic tranny, and Recaro seats. It lists at $42,890.

Recaro seats are snug to hold driver and passenger tight.

Recaro seats are wonderful for racing and look great too, so maybe going GT is worth it. But the seats in the Premium model are pretty stout already.

The interior here was black cloth with red stitching for a sporty look. But the seats were so well formed with sterling hip and back support that I wish we had the same in our family’s Outback. These are manually adjusted, but don’t look down your nose at that. Naturally it saves weight by foregoing electrics, but a pump handle easily dials in the optimal seat height and the rest is just fore and aft and seat back angle adjusted via levers. Simple!

Front seats also are heated and the interior is roomy enough for four adults, while the trunk will hold their bags.

The info screen is mammoth!

Subaru goes with a matte black dash while the trim across the dash, around the screen and shift knob, is a satin chrome. Both restrict glare and reflection. Fake carbon fiber trim on the doors looks realistic and I wouldn’t mind seeing that spread across the dash to sexy this up a bit.

Mid-dash from virtually top to bottom is Subaru’s 11.6-inch Starlink tablet-like info touchscreen. It certainly looks impressive, but I have two concerns. First, it’s tough to adjust the radio while driving and second that large screen can reflect big time when the sun gets at it. Sad that Subaru has done so well on all the other dash and interior trim to limit glare, and then there’s this.

Another view of the screen and shifter!

Otherwise I like the interior, with its aluminum alloy clad pedals, plus a racy D-shaped steering wheel. That allows for more knee room when entering and exiting, plus looks sporty. Some pricier makes that tout performance still don’t use this racier-styled wheel. Weird!

A slew of safety devices are available, but most only come standard with the automatic transmission-equipped models. That includes smart cruise, forward collision warning and emergency braking, lane centering and such. Blind-spot is standard starting on Limited models.

So beyond the AWD and great handling the main safety feature is excellent sight lines and visibility. Like all Subarus, there is an open sightline between the A-pillar and side mirrors. The majority of car makes don’t offer this design feature, creating a large blind spot.

Angular styling for the lights add character!

A couple other items notable by their absence, a wireless phone charger (in a car aimed at young people) and no sunroof. Ditto! The leather wrapping on the steering wheel, if it is leather, seems too slick to me. For a performance car I’d expect a wheel with more grip.

Finally, a few notes about the exterior, beyond the eye-catching metallic orange paint job.

First, there are black plastic front and rear diffusers and wheel well trim. The plastic has a bit of a pattern to its surface, so not just glossy or matte black plastic. There also is black cladding along the rocker panels that could be considered ground effects and on the trunk lid a subtle body-colored spoiler.

Many previous WRX models have gone with garishly tall wings on the trunk lid. This tiny lip-like spoiler looks much more presentable to adults. However, there is an optional $540 spoiler that is larger if your ego requires that.

That’s one wide air scoop in the WRX’s hood.

But there IS already a 25-inch wide air scoop on the hood that screams 1970s muscle car. For most of us, that would probably suffice.

All this leads us to the mundane mention of fuel economy. Performance always has its price, but it’s not too steep here. The EPA rates the WRX at 19 mpg city and 26 highway. I got 24.2 mpg in about an even mix. Be forewarned that this Subie prefers premium fuel though.

With just a couple minor options the test car hit $32,894. That’s not much in today’s market for anything with AWD, a hood scoop and thunderous thrust.

Party on!

FAST STATS: 2022 Subaru WRX Premium

Hits: Powerful punch in a compact rally car, excellent handling and traction with standard AWD. Super comfy supportive seats, heated seats, low-profile spoiler, D-shaped steering wheel, hood scoop, big info screen, fake carbon fiber trim.

Misses: Rough, Rough ride, noisy interior, no wireless charging, no sunroof, long-throw shifter, limited standard safety equipment, steering wheel too slick, and big touchscreen both reflects and is not easy to adjust the radio while driving. Prefers premium fuel.

Made in: Japan

Four exhausts create a little ruckus upon acceleration!

Engine: 2.4-liter turbo 4-cylinder boxer, 271 hp /258 torque

Transmission: 6-speed manual

Weight: 3,320 lbs.

Wheelbase: 105.2 in.

Length: 183.8 in.

Cargo: 12.5 cu.ft.

MPG: 19/26

MPG: 24.2 (tested)

Base Price: $32,600 (includes delivery)

Invoice: $30,712

Major Options:

Floor liners, $132

Side rail plates, $162

Test vehicle: $32,894

Sources: Subaru, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

2022 BMW M3 Competition xDrive

When BMW says Competition, it means it, and then some …

Where to begin?

Once, maybe twice a year, a car arrives for testing that properly belongs on a racetrack as normal city and highway driving will not suffice, like putting pro athletes in a Juniors tournament with one arm tied behind their backs.

That was this week’s BMW M3 Competition xDrive, which might be better suited to running on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s road course, or up at Road America. That Competition part of the name should serve as a major clue as to the sedan’s strengths.

Power is excessive, but I mean that in a good way. This AWD version’s twin-turbo I6 creates a massive 503 horsepower and 479 pound-feet of torque. Top speed is 180 mph and it’ll crush 0-60 mph in 3.4 seconds, BMW tells us. Car and Driver magazine reports 3.5 seconds to hit 60 mph. Whatever!

At the “base” level the M3 is no slouch either, its slightly detuned twin-turbo I6 makes 473 horsepower, but get this, it comes with a 6-speed manual. Not many sports sedans offer that in any form these days. BMW says it’ll do 0-60 mph in 4.1 seconds, if you can live with that.

Move up to the mid-grade Competition (no xDrive) and you’re back to 503 horses and a 0-60 time of 3.8 seconds. So there ARE choices.

Coupled with BMW’s superb 8-speed automatic tranny, complete with big paddle shifters jutting out like antlers behind the steering wheel for manual gear selection, the shifts are silky smooth in the Competition xDrive. So there’s a bit of a luxury feel along with the race car vibe.

Watch Mark’s video: Mark Savage reviews the super bright 2022 BMW xDrive Competitiion – YouTube

Adding to that image for the test car was its retina-melting Sao Paulo Yellow paint job, very similar to the BMW-built MINI Cooper convertible I tested last summer. Some called it lime green, as it certainly has a greenish hue. Still, this baby is easy to find in a parking lot, and surprisingly at no extra charge.

Is this paint job bright enough for ya? Makes the M3 easy to find in a parking lot!

Further spiff comes from BMW’s Yas Marina blue and black leather interior, with touches of that bright yellow for trim. It adds $2,550 to the price tag, but worth every buck.

I’m not sure an interior ever got this much attention from riders and passersby, nor made me want a car as much as this does. The color mix, which some said looked a patriotic nod toward Ukraine, is stunning. Matched with the wild exterior this was easily the most exciting looking car I’ve driven in years, maybe since an Audi R8 14 years ago.

When I began this gig 30+ years ago, I never dreamt I’d see a BMW interior this wild.

As touted earlier, the power drives home the excitement, but the grip the xDrive AWD system adds, along with sports sedan steering precision makes the M3 special. This is the first time xDrive is available on the M3 and adds $4,100 to the sticker. Naturally there are some stout tires here too, Michelin Pilot Sport performance models, ZR19s in front and ZR20s in back.

Other than when it was wet, these fat boys hunkered down to the pavement like gum stuck on a shoe. That means crazy good cornering. My video guy, Paul, giggled like a pre-teen hearing mom cuss for the first time as we put the car through its paces on winding rural roads.

Bright blue and yellow give the interior a spark worth the extra dough!

Let’s see, rocket ship power, super adhesion, light and nimble handling, racy exterior and interior. What’s not to like?

Not much, really, but the ride is race car stiff, so urban pot holes and pavement cracks do stir the interior. Occasionally it was jolting, but mostly well controlled. Railroad tracks were surprisingly easy on the tush.

A few other performance points need addressing here. First, there was an M driver’s package on the test car, which adds $2,500 and raises the electronically controlled speed limiter from 155 to 180 mph. That will only help on the track, which is fine, because the package also includes a voucher for driver training at one of BMW’s two performance centers in the U.S.

Speaking of track time, the M3’s adjustable drive modes include Normal, Sport and Track. That last one optimizes power, shifts, steering effort, and suspension settings for the weekends you take the BMW to the track for an extracurricular workout. I used it to blast down a highway entry ramp and hit a 3-digit number higher than any I’d hit previously. (Do not try this at home!)

There also are adaptive dampers on the M3, plus adjustable brake pedal feel, particularly helpful if on track. A diffuser in back helps stabilize the car at speed and the rear spoiler should help too. It’s carbon fiber, as are the exterior mirror caps. That costs $4,700 extra. A carbon fiber roof is standard.

No flat-bottom wheel, but $3,800 carbon fiber race seats!

Carbon fiber trim is inside too ($950 extra) on the dash and console, plus the steering wheel’s hub. Oddly that wheel isn’t a racy flat-bottom model, which I’d expect. First, it would look the part, but more importantly it would free up some knee space that’s much needed by short drivers trying to extricate themselves from the race seats.

That’s right, the test car added carbon fiber race seats for $3,800. They fit the driver and front passenger like they are track bound with power adjustable side bolsters. These things are extremely comfy, once you drop into them, and that’s how you enter. Then they are as snug as Aunt Agnus hugging you after Thanksgiving dinner.

There’s simply no graceful way to crawl out of the seats, as high as those lower side bolsters are. A driver must pull up on the steering wheel (flip the tilt wheel all the way up and latch it), lift their behind onto the side bolster, and then turn the legs to the door for a less than attractive exit.

A trim tail with subtle wing and less subtle diffuser!

Ironically for such a sporty sedan there’s decent room in the rear seat for a couple adults and a nice sized trunk, in case the M3 needs to haul several sets of golf clubs, or four suitcases for a weekend trip.

There are, of course, all the usual safety features and a wireless charger, power trunk lid, and, get this, 8 actual pre-set buttons for the radio below the 12-inch info screen. Bravo! BMW keeps the console-mounted rotary knob as a redundant way to adjust the info screen.

Seats are heated, not cooled, up front and the steering wheel also is heated, part of the $1,800 executive package. That also includes remote start, the power trunk, an HUD and something called Gesture Control. It doesn’t stop the gestures you may wish, and it can be confusing and annoying. I found it randomly turning on the radio as I was talking (with my hands naturally) to a passenger. And I never could get it to turn up the radio volume with the swirl of a hand, as the screen suggested.

Other add-ons here (not all needed) included a parking assistance package for $800 that adds parking assistant plus, and a drive recorder (think aircraft black box); and M Drive professional for $900 that includes a lap timer (finally!) and onboard drift analysis, again something you’ll only use at the track unless you have extremely tolerant neighbors.

Snazzy multi-beam lights with blue accents.

The cooling, high-performance tire package adds the adaptive suspension, racy Michelin tires and special alloy wheels for $2,400.

If fuel economy matters to you then looking elsewhere is advisable. I got 18.4 mpg in about 60% highway driving and using an admittedly heavy foot when blasting up to highway speed. The EPA rates this AWD model at 16 mpg city and 22 mpg highway. Sadly premium fuel is required.

Price?

Surely you jest, and don’t call me Shirley! Base for this model is $77,895, including delivery. This one hit $95,895 with options. If you simply must save some cash, opt for either the “base” M3 at $71,095, or Competition model at $74,790, and reject the notion of options.

This is a street-legal racer for less than $100 grand and looks spectacular. Surely (I warned you) that counts for something!

FAST STATS: 2022 BMW M3 Competition xDrive

Hits: Racy looks, color and interior. Monster power, excellent handling and grip, AWD. Heated seats and wheel, wireless charger, big easy-to-use screen, 3 drive modes including Track, 8 pre-set radio buttons, spectacular looking interior, extreme seat support w/power bolsters, good trunk space.

Misses: Firm ride, prefers premium fuel, no flat-bottom wheel contributes to tough exit, price, and the annoying unpredictable gesture control. 

Made in: Munich, Germany

Fancy wheels and low-pro Michelin performance tires here!

Engine: 3.0-liter twin turbo I6, 503 hp/479 torque

Transmission: 8-speed automatic

Weight: 3,890 lbs.

Wheelbase: 112.5 in.

Length: 189.1 in.

Cargo: 13.0 cu.ft.

MPG: 16/22

MPG: 18.4 (tested)

Base Price: $77,895 (includes delivery)

Invoice: $74,050

Options:

Yas Marina blue/black leather, $2,550

Parking assistance pkg. (parking assistant plus, drive recorder), $800

Executive pkg. (remote start, heated steering wheel, power tailgate, power trunk lid, Icon Adaptive LED w/Laserlight, wireless charging, gesture control, wifi hotspot), $1,800

M Drive professional (onboard drift analysis, lap timer), $00

Cooling, high-performance tire package (M tech pkg, adaptive M suspension & tire mobility kit, P245/40R19 Front & P255/40R19 rear high-perf tires, M double-spoke bi-color style 861M alloy wheels), $2,400

Carbon fiber trim, $950

M carbon fiber bucket seats, $3,800

M Driver pkg. (electronic speed limiter raised to 189 mph from 155, voucher for driver’s school at BMW Performance Center), $2,500

M Carbon exterior pkg. (carbon fiber spoiler, mirror hoods), $4,700

Test vehicle: $95,895

Sources: BMW, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

2021 Hyundai Sonata N Line

Sonata N Line perks up performance, but remains high value …

Performance comes at a price, always has, always will.

Sometimes the price is simply a higher cost, sometimes it’s a gas-hog engine, sometimes it’s a brutal ride.

Hyundai is known for value so when it introduced its performance N, or now N Line, models a couple years back it wasn’t going to go upscale with pricing. That’s the good news.

Equally happy news is that the South Korean automaker also has the good engineering sense to deliver decent gas mileage with its high-horse turbocharged engines, now offered in the tested Sonata N Line mid-size sedan, Elantra compact sedan, Tucson compact crossover and Kona small crossover. Its Veloster sports coupe even touts a 275-horse turbo in an N model.

But, or maybe that should be Butt, the Sonata N Line’s ride is tough on the tushie. Hyundai, in its effort to create a low-cost high-performance sports sedan firmed up the shock dampers, the engine mounts and added thicker anti-roll bars. Couple that with the tested N Line’s summer 19-inch Continental 245/40 R19 YXL tires ($200 extra) and my tailbone is aching like a guy’s bum that has ridden a horse too far for the first time.

Other than that I enjoyed the N Line playtime.

Hyundai’s Sonata should be familiar to readers as I’ve reviewed both the Limited and Hybrid models since the new model debuted for 2020. It’s a fine mid-size sedan, economical in price, striking in design, and strong on performance yet normally offers a comfy ride. The hybrid model even ups the ante with fantastic fuel economy and a solar roof panel that boosts its electrical charge for added mileage.

Watch Mark’s video: 2021 Hyundai Sonata N Line by Mark Savage

Well, the N Line still looks great, packs the value, but adds a kick in the butt (there I go again) with a 2.5-liter turbocharged I4 that spits out an amazing 290 horsepower. That’s 99 more than its standard Sonata. Torque is rated at a whopping 311 pound-feet and will blast the sedan to highway speeds and beyond nearly as quickly as some luxo-sport sedans that also sport much higher price tags.

Car and Driver magazine has tested an N Line Sonata that hit a top speed of 155 mph while doing 0 to 60 mph in a respectable 5.0 seconds. So this Sonata is capable to be sure.

Helping that is Hyundai’s four drive modes – Normal, Custom, Sport, and Sport+. You can guess which are the most fun.

Both Sport modes kick the fine 8-speed dual-clutch automatic into more aggressive shift patterns to use all that pony power. Sport also firms the wheel to a comfortable level, while Sport+ makes it so heavy that most folks will find it annoying. There’s a fake heaviness to it too, but in either mode the car handles like it’s meant for the track. Of course it’s not, but still powering through aggressive turns is fun and those summer tires grip like gum to the sole of a shoe.

Of course that firm suspension is both great for handling, yet depressing for the derriere. Rolling along a fairly smooth highway the car’s taut feeling can be appreciated, but navigate onto our crater-filled city streets with crumbling edges, massive expansion joints, and general winter-induced degradation and, well, you’ll wish you were aboard the Limited or Hybrid versions with their much smoother rides.

Now if you’re into appearances and sporty ones in particular, the N Line’s exterior and interior will satisfy.

Black grille and distinctive nose styling here!

Outside there’s a blackened grille, quad exhausts, specific racy ground-effects style fascia front and rear with a slight bit of black cladding below the rocker panels. The trunk lid flips up a bit like a spoiler too and the side mirrors are encased in gloss black trim.

Inside the Sonata N Line boasts sport seats with improved side bolster support, something I’d found lacking in earlier Sonatas. These are clad in Nappa dark gray leather and a simulated suede with red stitching, and also feature the N Line logo. Plus there’s a sport wheel, although I wish it were flat-bottomed to enhance the racy looks, which include metal-clad pedals.

Otherwise the dash continues to be well laid out and attractive. It’s black with red stitching like the seats and door panels while all trim is a smoked chrome. Sexy! The console is black gloss surrounding the push-button tranny and drive mode toggle while trim next to that is a sort of smoky metallic tweed pattern.

And with the change in drive modes the digital instrument panel changes its look, the red dials for Sport and Sport+ being pretty snazzy garnering a nod from my 12-year-old grandson.

Seats, in addition to being well shaped and supportive are heated. While overhead is a panoramic sunroof and shade, new in all models from the SEL Plus trim on up.

Dual climate controls are standard along with a wireless phone charger on N Line!

There’s also a dual climate control system, wireless phone charger and inside trunk release. For audiophiles, a Bose 12-speaker stereo system is standard, with 9-inch subwoofer.

All the electronic safety features you’d expect to find are standard too, including blind-spot collision avoidance, rear cross-traffic collision avoidance assist, lane follow and keeping (which can be turned off), safe exit warning, LED running lights, and forward collision avoidance assist with pedestrian recognition. Smart cruise control is standard too.

Add to that a 10-year, 100,000-mile powertrain warranty and good gas mileage. The EPA rates this Sonata at 23 mpg city and 33 mpg highway, this in a car with 290 turboed horses. I got 25.1 mpg in a mix of city and highway miles, sometime with a passenger or two. By comparison, I managed 32 mpg with the 1.6-liter turbo I4 in the Limited model and roughly 45 mpg in the impressive hybrid in earlier tests.

For the record, this 290-horse engine is the same as used in Hyundai’s upscale Genesis brand’s luxurious G80 sedan, but at a more affordable price.

How so? This N Line lists at $34,195 including delivery and with a couple options ended up at $34,564, well below an average new car price these days. That’s high-value high performance.

Finally two other points, one being that an annoyance found in other Sonata models has been eliminated. That was the dash chiming and saying “Check Rear Seat” every time the ignition was turned off. That’s fixed, so bravo.

Plus Sonata is not theft prone. You may have heard that older model Hyundai and Kia (they are related) models have had theft problems due to security system failures and a steering column that was easy to jimmy to start, even without a fob. Well, all Hyundai models with push-button start (like this one) do not have these problems and all Hyundais made after September 2021 will include engine immobilizers to prevent theft.

Phew!

FAST STATS: 2021 Hyundai Sonata N Line

Hits: Good looking sport sedan, oodles of power, sporty handling, sharp interior. Full range of safety features, big info screen, heated seats, 4 power modes, Bose stereo, panoramic sunroof, wireless phone charger, strong warranty.

Misses: Very firm ride, could use flat-bottom sport wheel, theft security remains questionable.

Made in: Montgomery, Ala.

Engine: 2.5-liter, turbo I4, 290 hp

Transmission: 8-speed dual clutch, automatic

Weight: 3,552 lbs.

Wheelbase: 111.8 in.

Length: 192.9 in.

Cargo: 16.0 cu.ft.

MPG: 23/33

MPG: 25.1 (tested)

Base Price: $34,195 (includes delivery)

Invoice: $32,797

Major Options:

R19 summer tire upgrade, $200

Carpeted floor mats, $169

Test vehicle: $34,564

Sources: Hyundai, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

2020 Toyota Camry TRD

TRD makes Toyota’s Camry racy …

Toyota’s Camry has won three NASCAR championships and a fair number of “stock car” races to get there, but be honest, do you think of a Camry as racy?

Camry mostly conjures the image of a practical family sedan. But that could change, and all because of Toyota’s 2020 Camry TRD. For those not versed in car jargon, TRD stands for Toyota Racing Development. That’s the Toyota division that concentrates on making racing equipment for its vehicles, and race cars for various series.

It’s also affectionately pronounced Turd! Not quite the same ring as Chrysler’s Mopar. Continue reading 2020 Toyota Camry TRD

2020 Mazda3 AWD Premium

Stylish Mazda3 AWD, a car for drivers who love to drive …

Some people still enjoy driving a car, its feel, its handling, its sharp engagement of power, yet their bank accounts don’t allow for a BMW.

What to do?

Mazda has an answer, its Mazda3 in either sedan or hatchback mode. Both are driving dandies. This week’s drive was aboard a dark metallic gray ($300 extra) Mazda3 Premium sedan, its top of the line trim. Making it even better, this one added all-wheel-drive, something only Subaru’s Impreza offers in this price range and market segment. This car was made for Wisconsin.

First, the Mazda3 is a sharp looking compact sedan with a handsomely styled nose and a fabulous looking, and quiet, interior that speaks of luxury, not economy. And, if you want sporty handling to pair up with sporty looks, this is one of the few primo choices that regular folks can afford.

Mazda starts by making its formerly optional 2.5-liter SkyActiv-G I4 engine standard across the Mazda3 lineup (sedan and hatch). It is both fuel efficient and peppy, generating 186 horsepower with a torque rating to match. Not only that, it drinks regular unleaded and expels minimal emissions. The engine is no rocket, but when you engage the electronic Sport drive mode via the console toggle, it leaps to action, zipping the Mazda3 to highway speeds with vigor.

In Normal mode the sedan hesitates a bit upon acceleration, but still has good power, just seems less energetic. Gas mileage doesn’t suffer. I managed 28.0 mile per gallon in about a 50/50 mix of city and highway while the EPA rates this at 25 mpg city and 33 mpg highway, again on regular gas.

Much of that you can attribute to Mazda using a fine 6-speed automatic transmission to engage the power. No CVT (Continuously Variable Transmission) here. Sometimes those can be a bit lackadaisical as they aim to save fuel instead of instilling excitement. Note though that the automatic is all that’s available in the sedan and just one Mazda3 model, the Premium trim hatchback, offers a manual.

So while the Mazda3 will scoot pretty well, it’s more sports car peppy than muscle car macho. What it does well is create a joyful, fun feel for the road due to its fine handling. The Mazda3 turns into sharp corners with authority and purpose. There’s good feedback to the wheel that is appropriately firm, but not heavy. That translates to an entertaining, athletic drive.

Ride continues to improve from generation to generation in the Mazda3 and this longer 107.3-inch wheelbase helps create a well-controlled ride. However, Mazda returned to a torsion bar rear suspension (think previous-gen Mustang), away from a multi-link. I’ve enjoyed driving many a car with torsion-bar suspension, but this feels just a bit choppy on our distressed Midwest roads. Ride is never uncomfortable, but you’ll definitely know when you square up on a pothole.

Remember too this model added all-wheel-drive, so traction is improved in wet, sloppy weather, a norm much of the year for Wisconsin drivers.

Cream and black leather interior makes this a stylish entry-level sport sedan that many folks can afford.

As much fun as the Mazda3 is to drive, you’ll feel like you’ve slipped into at least an entry-level luxury sports sedan inside the Premium edition.

This sparkly gray tester featured a cream and black leather interior. The dash, doors and seats are all coated in leather, the seats being perforated (yes, and heated). The appearance is stylish and eye-catching. Trim is thin chrome on the dash and doors with satin chrome trim on the black leather wheel’s hub. The console’s face is black gloss with more black leather trim along its sides.

There’s a fine Bose sound system here and its chrome speaker covers on the doors add a bit of a jeweled looked to the interior. Fit, finish and quality inside look much improved from earlier models and the cockpit is much quieter too.

I like Mazda’s dash layout as it’s clean and easy to understand, and the infotainment screen is a sizeable 8.8 inches, plus is nicely tucked into the dash top’s center. That’s a styling improvement from earlier models.

Sadly (and I know I’ve said this before), Mazda doesn’t use a touchscreen, instead sticking with a big knob on the console to control the infotainment system. This is similar to the likes of BMW and Audi, not a good thing. This system isn’t intuitive. Just changing the channel is tough, and forget about setting or deleting favorites. Radios need to be simple enough to tune with a button punch while driving.

That somewhat spoils this otherwise fine interior for me.

Otherwise, the Premium model is a winner, coming with a full list of safety features, such as blind-spot warning, lane departure warning and assist, smart cruise control, automatic emergency braking, adaptive front lighting and driver attention monitor. The latter is touchy, occasionally setting off a series of beeps and flashing a steering wheel image on the center instrument panel screen.

Nicely designed doors and release lever, plus the radio’s speaker cover looks sharp.

I also found the lane control to be overly strong, really turning the wheel hard away from a centerline to the point of being insistent. Sometimes, it must be noted, there is something that you’re avoiding on the road and you need to quickly adjust the wheel yourself to avoid that pothole, hubcap, mystery item, etc.

Overhead there also is a panoramic sunroof, and the car includes heated seats, a power driver’s seat with two memory settings, visors with extenders, paddle shifters behind the wheel, push-button start and a head-up display. Dual climate control also comes on the Premium model.

Seating is comfortable in front with mild contouring, and note that the heated seats get really warm, so the lowest setting is most used after a couple minutes of bun warming.

Legroom is particularly cramped in back, especially when a taller passenger or driver is up front, necessitating the front seat be pushed well back. Think of this as a back seat for kids primarily.

The rear seats split and fold flat to boost cargo room, which is a reasonable 13.2 cubic feet before seats are lowered. Releases in the trunk allow a driver to put the seats down without opening a rear door too.

Also, it should be noted the sedan is about eight inches longer than the hatchback to create expanded rear seat and cargo room.

There are a couple other concerns though. First, the Mazda3 automatically applies the park brake every time the car is turned off, or put into Park. That might make sense if this had a manual transmission, but it does not. This means the driver must press a brake release button every time the car is started, just to get it rolling. Can’t say how many times I put the car in Reverse only to have it strain against the parking brake as I tried to back from a parking space. It’s a small thing, but annoying daily.

Second, the A-pillars are rather large, somewhat blocking front side views at intersections, and while I was happy to have a wireless charging station ($275 extra), this one is in the storage box/armrest between the front seats. So to access it you must raise the armrest, which is awkward it you need to access the phone while driving. It’s also easy to forget the phone in the box.

Enough whining, the happy news beyond how this drives, is pricing. This upscale Premium version with AWD started at $28,820, including delivery. AWD is about $1,400 extra on a Mazda3 sedan. With just a few minor options the test car ended up at $30,645, a bargain at today’s prices.

Yet a base model with 16-inch wheels and tires, cloth interior, etc. starts at $22,420 for the sedan and $24,520 for the hatchback, considered a premium model of sorts. Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are now standard on all Mazda3s.

Good looking taillights give the car a more upscale look.

Select and Preferred trim levels come with 18-inch wheels and tires and leatherette interiors plus dual-zone climate controls. Preferred adds the power driver’s seat and memory features, a 12-speaker Bose sound system, heated seats and XM radio.

Premium gives you the bigger alloy wheels, adaptive lighting, fancy leather interior materials, the head-up display, sunroof and paddle shifters.

Even at the top-end of its trims the Mazda3 is a delight to drive, offering better styling inside and out than many of its competitors.

FAST STATS: 2020 Mazda3 AWD Premium

Hits: Sharp looker and sporty handling, peppy acceleration in Sport mode, controlled ride, plus AWD and good gas mileage. Quiet, luxury interior at value pricing, heated seats, large screen, panoramic sunroof, wireless charger and full complement of safety equipment.

Misses: Park brake sets automatically every time the ignition is turned off and is annoying to disengage each time you start the car, awkward rotary knob to adjust infotainment screen, large A-pillar restricts view, wireless charger location not convenient.

Made in: Mexico

Engine: 2.5-liter SkyActiv-G I4, 186 horsepower

Transmission: 6-speed automatic w/manual mode

Weight: 3,248 lbs.

Length: 183.5 in.

Wheelbase: 107.3 in.

Cargo: 13.2 cu.ft.

MPG: 25/33

MPG: 28.0 (tested)

Base Price: $28,820 (includes delivery)

Invoice: $27,624

Major Options:

Cargo mat, $100

Illuminated door sill trim, $425

Machine gray paint, $300

Frameless auto-dim mirror, $275

Navigation SD card, $450

Wireless charging pad, $275

Test vehicle: $30,645

Sources: Mazda, kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

 

 

2020 Volvo S60 T8 E-AWD Inscription

 Oh my, Volvo’s S60 hybrid delivers blow like Thor’s Hammer …

You simply must admire the marketing genius of a car company that dubs its LED headlights as Thor’s Hammer.

Volvo wins that honor with several of its latest models. The powerful headlights project a T, hence the Thor nomenclature. The latest hammering of lights I witnessed was on a beautifully sculpted Volvo S60 sedan, but not just any such sedan.

No, Volvo is committed to going all electric sooner instead of later, so this was the S60 T8-AWD Inscription model. It’s Volvo’s top-of-the-heap hybrid touting a combined 400 horses from its 2.0-liter turbocharged and supercharged I4 engine and an 87-horse hybrid electric motor.

The sexy sparkling pearl white (that’s $645 extra) mid-size luxury sedan was a powerhouse jumping onto the freeway, or hustling away from a stoplight. No wheel chirp from the AWD system and there are four power modes to let a driver decide how much oomph is needed at a moment’s notice, or how much economizing. Adjustments are made on the console.

Pure hybrid delivers plenty of kick as the S60 hybrid is rated 295 ft.-lbs. of torque. It feels like much more though. And yes, the gas engine with its 313 horses of turbo and supercharged power kicks in to add more thrust. Think of it as Volvo’s Saturn V hooked up to all four wheels.

In case you don’t want to pay extra for the hybrid, nor like the idea of plugging your car into your garage outlet each evening, a standard S60 is available with just the 300+ horse turbo/super I4. A standard turbo I4 that makes 250 horsepower also is available. Costs are less for those than the hybrid.

But for now let’s focus on this hybrid rocket, which also handles like a fine sports sedan. While feeling substantial it also is light enough to whip through a serious series of S-curves with no tail-wagging or sway. A new double A-arm suspension up front and multi-link system with composite leaf spring in back do the trick. This Volvo handles.

Ride is as you’d expect, firm, sporty and well-controlled. Not smooth enough to be considered ultra-luxurious, but nearly as good as most German makes that purport to be ultimate sports sedans.

The Volvo also was a fine machine to have during one of our incredibly rainy fall weeks. Its traction was stout, never putting a wheel wrong even when pushed a little harder than might be wise in the wet, certainly on wet leaf coated streets.

A quick word here on the car’s svelte looks before we gaze inward. I like the S60’s lines, its lowered hoodline gives it a slim profile, yet it still sports a large Volvo grille with equally imposing Volvo badge that could nearly pass for a superhero’s shield. Thor maybe?

It’s also worth noting for the uninitiated that plug-in hybrids are simple to recharge as popping the trunk, removing the charger and cord, and plugging the charger into a port just in front of the driver’s door. Then plug the cord into a garage outlet. Even with a 110-line it only took 3-4 hours for a full charge, which got me about 25-30 miles of pure electric zoom.

Note the plug-in’s cap just in front of the driver’s door. It looks like a fuel filler door.

While in that mode I saw 53-58 MPGe, but running mostly on gas with a little electric help throughout the week I ended up at 37.5 mpg. It appears the key to stellar economy is regular evening recharges.

Inside, the car is extremely quiet, as are most hybrids because there’s not much engine noise. Sound deadening is good too, so road noise is minute.

This white sedan featured a two-tone dark brown and medium brown leather interior, the dash, doors and steering wheel being dark, the seats the milder shade, with contrasting stitching. There are driftwood inlays in the dash and doors, plus satin chrome trim on the dash, air vents, and door handles. Black gloss finish trims the large vertical infotainment screen and there’s a crystal-like shift knob that glows at night.

Seats are well-shaped and power up front, with the lower cushion able to be extended, a benefit to taller drivers. The front seats also are heated and cooled, plus add a massaging feature activated via a control at the front of the seats’ door-side panels, yet visually adjusted on the infotainment screen. All of those perks are part of a $2,200 leather seat package.

Meanwhile heated rear seats and a heated steering wheel add $750 to the price tag.

The S60’s interior is roomy too, certainly to haul four adults cross country, while the trunk is a bit limited at 11.6 cubic feet.

The 9-inch tall Sensus infotainment screen works well and is much like a smart phone, allowing the driver, or preferably a passenger, to slide the screen either direction to reveal many options. Sliding one way unveals 19 functions while the other reveals 22 apps. While it’s easy to figure out, it really is complex enough that safety dictates a second operator, or only making adjustments while the car is at rest.

The advantage of a large screen, naturally, is seeing its navigation map more easily. For the record, the test car’s stereo also was an audiophile’s, well, dream. The Bowers & Wilkins premium sound system adds $3,200 to the car’s cost, but it could melt your ear buds, and I mean that in a good way.

Other pluses include a large power sunroof, a head-up display, and all the safety devices we’ve come to expect, from parking sensors and blind-spot warning to emergency braking and pedestrian recognition systems. City Safety helps avoid low-speed accidents, smart cruise is standard as is auto high-beam headlights that bend around corners. And yes, that backup camera delivers a 360-degree view.

What doesn’t the S60 include? A wireless charging station. Plenty of places to hook in a power cord, but nothing cordless for your phone.

Then there was one more concerning oddity. Occasionally there was no heat from this South Carolina-built car. Maybe it thought only air conditioning would be required.

I set the temperature, even to HIGH, and pressed the Auto button to fire up the heat several mornings. Nothing, no fan noise, no nothing. Adjust the fan and the air pouring from the vents was only cold. Then, miraculously, two days before I returned the car the heat popped on and continued working the rest of the drive. Odd!

Figuring that if your car had such a glitch a sharp dealer would fix it, I’d have no trouble buying a Volvo. At its base T5 Momentum level with the 250-horse turbo I4 the car’s a bargain starting at $36,795. And there are plenty of models to choose from between that and this top-line T8 hybrid.

The test car listed at $56,395, including delivery. With its various options this one settled at $64,190, including $800 for fancy wheels.

Bottom line? S60 is a lively hybrid that can increase your fuel economy substantially, while still providing a powerful, fun, sporty and safe drive. But check the heater before you drive off the lot.

FAST STATS: 2020 Volvo S60 T8 E-AWD Inscription

Hits: Sporty looking sedan, kick-butt power, sporty handling, AWD and with quiet, luxurious interior. Tall vertical infotainment screen, massaging front seats, 4 power modes, comfy seats, roomy interior, big sunroof, heated steering wheel and powerful great sounding stereo. Oh, and a plug-in hybrid so excellent mileage.

Misses: No wireless charging station and occasionally no heat, plus too much futzing with the multifunction info screen.

Made in: Ridgeville, S.C.

Engine: 2.0-liter super and turbocharged I4 & plug-in hybrid electric motor, 400 hp (combined)

Transmission: 8-speed Geartronic automatic

Wheelbase: 113.1 in.

Length: 187.4 in.

Cargo: 11.6 cu.ft.

MPG: 69 electric & gas / 30 gas only (EPA)

MPG: 37.5 (tested), 53-58 (when primarily electric)

Base Price: $56,395 (includes delivery)

Invoice: $53,071

Major Options:

Leather seating package (Nappa leather seats, ventilated front seats w/cushion extensions, power adjustable side support and backrest massage for front seats), $2,200

Heated rear seats and steering wheel, $750

Metallic paint, $645

Bowers & Wilkins premium sound system, $3,200

Park assist pilot, $200

19-inch Inscription alloy wheels, $800

Test vehicle: $64,190

Sources: Volvo, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

 

 

2019 Kia Optima SX Turbo

Optima Turbo is comfy, fast, high-value sport sedan for families …

If you prefer driving a car rather than a truck or crossover and have been searching for the perfect sport sedan that will fit your budget, yet carry five folks comfortably, look no further.

Kia’s Optima SX Turbo wants to be your playmate. It’s standing next to other makers’ sedans, jumping up and down and yelling, “Pick me, pick me.” And you should. Continue reading 2019 Kia Optima SX Turbo

2018 Audi A5 Sportback quattro

Sporty Audi A5 Sportback looks slick, fast …2018 Audi A5 Sportback

Fastbacks look, well, fast. Audi has decided its sportbacks will look slick too and that’s what Audi calls its new A5 hatchback. This is a sedan with a hatch that in profile is reminiscent of Audi’s spectacular A7, a good thing indeed.

In addition to styling panache, the A5 Sportback delivers plenty of giddy-up and sport sedan handling, with a well-controlled, but sporty ride. Continue reading 2018 Audi A5 Sportback quattro

2018 BMW 530e xDrive iPerformance

BMW 530e hybrid defines ‘ultimate driving machine’ … 2018 BMW 530e xDrive

The 530e sedan defines why BMW can justifiably lay claim to building the “ultimate driving machine.”

This plug-in hybrid exudes everything one would want from a luxury car, with the added benefit of a hybrid system. Continue reading 2018 BMW 530e xDrive iPerformance

2018 Kia Stinger GT2 AWD

Kia’s Stinger GT2 a world-class sport sedan … 2018 Kia Stinger GT2

Like Porsche when it launched the unlikely Macan, its first sport-utility vehicle, Kia has crushed expectations by creating a premium level sports sedan with its 2018 Stinger.

Continue reading 2018 Kia Stinger GT2 AWD