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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

Mazda CX-9 Signature

Attractive styling, 3 rows make CX-9 a standout …

Family vehicles come in all shapes and sizes, but Mazda’s CX-9 mid-size SUV is among the more attractive 3-row options with its distinctive beak-like nose.

So many SUVs and crossovers are so darned boxy that it’s nice to see a distinguishing characteristic. Amazingly the CX-9’s design dates back to 2016, yet still looks fresh, although I suspect a freshening will be coming soon.

This one was a top-of-the-line Signature edition in a sedate dark Machine Gray Metallic ($595 extra). Black is the only color that doesn’t cost extra, but the smart money is on the Soul Red Metallic that is Mazda’s absolute best, and if you’re paying extra, well, it only makes sense. Plus the neighbors will suspect you’ve gotten a raise.

Still, several people complimented the Mazda’s look and this model is fine for transporting 6 people as there are captain’s chairs in the middle row. I drove it to Indianapolis for the Indy 500, and it comfortably carried three of us and our luggage, then six of us to the racetrack. Oh, the third row is stingy with foot and knee room, but is fine for hauling folks around town.

All CX-9 models also now come with all-wheel-drive, which is nice that a favored feature isn’t another add-on.

With just the color being an option here the Signature ended up at $49,030. A base Sport model that will seat seven due to its middle row bench seat, goes for $36,505, again with AWD. There are four other trims between the two extremes, the new Touring Plus trim that adds heated and cooled front seats, 20-inch alloy wheels, plus leather seats, is a prime choice at $41,660.

All will drive roughly the same as the engine, tranny and suspensions are identical.

Watch Mark’s video: Mark Savage reviews the 2022 Mazda CX 9 – YouTube

Mazda’s fine 2.5-liter SkyActiv-G turbo I4 delivers generous power, rated at 227 horsepower on regular gas and up to 250 hp if you sell a kidney and splurge on 93-octane premium fuel. Power is good and smoothly delivered via the SkyActiv-drive 6-speed automatic, which includes a console-mounted toggle to engage Sport mode. That firms the steering some and creates more low-end torque for faster getaways from stoplights. In either Normal or Sport the CX-9 hits highway speeds well before you run out of entry ramp.

Handling is typical Mazda responsive, making the CX-9 among the most fun SUVs to drive, especially below $50 grand. And the suspension is quite adept at soaking up bumps without the ride turning floaty.

A big grille, but not as overwhelming as many, plus it blends well with the hood.

Mazda also employs something it calls G-Vectoring Control Plus that adjusts the turbo engine and applies the four-wheel disc brakes based on steering effort. The upshot is that if a driver eases up on acceleration and begins a turn, the power from the AWD shifts toward the front wheels to provide increased traction. Not a big deal in dry summer weather, but it would be helpful in our sloppy winter and fall seasons.

Inside, the CX-9 interior tends toward luxury, yet the pricing is just below entry-level luxury models by other makes.

A luxurious looking interior with quilted leather seats gives the CX-9 a ritzy look.

The gray SUV went with a black over brown interior design, the seats being perforated brown Nappa leather with quilted leather outer edges and bolsters, plus white piping, all to insinuate luxury. Mazda uses real wood, Santos Rosewood, for trim on the dash and doors, but also adds a thin chrome ring atop the console, which is gloss black and therefore reflects on sunny days.

The steering wheel is leather-wrapped with the usual controls on its hub. Plus aluminum trim is used sparsely on the dash and doors, while big Bose stereo speakers fill the front lower door corners. All of this makes the CX-9 look and feel like a luxury vehicle.

This console and dash are easily seen and used while driving.

Seats are powered up front and include heating and cooling there, with just heated second row seats. Rear seat occupants also get their own climate controls and plug-ins for phones and other electronics in the big center console between the captain’s chairs. Third row folks have plug-ins too.

Everyone enjoyed the seat comfort, except the driver. While hip and back support is good, I found the butt pocket to be too hard and my tailbone was burning after about 100 miles. A lunch break was welcome, but the feeling returned further down the road.

Climate controls are easily adjusted via big buttons and knobs below the center dash air vents. However, Mazda’s radio is still clumsily adjusted via a console knob. There is no touchscreen. This remains a huge source of consternation and makes adjusting the radio and other on-screen activities difficult while driving. Good news? The screen is 10+ inches and mounted atop the dash.

The second row is roomy and includes a large console.

Mazda also includes wireless phone charging beneath the dash’s center stack and a navigation system is standard on Signature. However, the nav screen defaults to a fairly close-up view and reverts back to that even after using that center knob to adjust for a longer, say ¼- to ½- mile view to see what’s ahead. Ugh, if I adjust it, I want it to stay where I set it.

In back is the requisite power hatch and the third row seats easily fold forward to create a reasonable cargo area. There also is storage beneath the cargo floor and there are fairly large indentations to the sides behind the wheel wells, great for placing items you simply don’t want to trundle about.

A lot of room in back with row 3 folded down.

Mazda delivers a fine smart cruise control system and the safety equipment we’ve all come to love and demand, such as rear cross-traffic alert, blind-spot warning, 360-degree monitor, lane departure warning, lane keep assist, front and rear parking sensors, and an adaptive front light system.

Other goodies include manual second-row side window shades, 2 memory settings for the driver’s seat, visors with extenders, an inside release for the fuel door and one-step releases for the second row seats to allow for passengers to more easily slide into the third row.

There also is a sunroof, but it’s among the smallest I’ve seen the last couple years, just covering the front seats. Most SUVs and crossovers now offer dual-pane panoramic sunroofs, which I would expect the next generation CX-9 to include.

How’s this for handsome door panel styling and trim?

Also be aware that the center console is rather wide and leads to a bit smaller footwell space for the driver and front seat passenger.

Finally, on the practical fuel economy front, the EPA rates the Mazda at 20 mpg city and 26 mpg highway. I managed 25.9 mpg in mostly highway driving with three of us aboard and our luggage.

Hybrids will do better, but for its size (nearly 200 inches long) and weight (just over 4,400 pounds) the CX-9’s figures are more than competitive.

For families needing space, comfort and AWD, Mazda’s CX-9 is a solid, stylish, sensible choice.

FAST STATS: 2022 Mazda CX-9 AWD

Hits: Stylish looks, good power, sporty handling and smooth ride. Quiet interior, 3 rows of seats, power hatch, wireless charger, heated/cooled front seats, heated rear seats, smart cruise and solid safety devices, big climate buttons, large screen, sport driving mode, good mpg.

Misses: Console-controlled info screen is a clumsy pain, navigation defaults to close-up view even after adjustment, no touchscreen, small sunroof and firm butt pocket makes driver’s seat tiring on long drives.

Just can’t get enough of this nose and how it blends with the hood and lights. Bravo Mazda designers!

Made in: Hiroshima, Japan

Engine: 2.5-liter SkyActiv-G turbo I4, 227 hp/ 310 torque (250 hp, w/93 octane gas)

Transmission: SkyActiv-drive 6-speed, automatic w/Sport mode

Weight: 4,409 lbs.

Wheelbase: 115.3 in.

Length: 199.4 in.

Cargo: 14/4-71.2 cu.ft.

MPG: 20/26

MPG: 25.9 (tested)

Base Price: $47,435 (includes delivery)

Invoice: $45,883

Options:

Machine gray metallic paint, $595

Test vehicle: $49,030

Sources: Mazda, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

2022 Volvo XC60 B6 AWD R-Design

XC60 touts style inside and out, awesome ride …

Rare are the crossovers whose styling stands out enough to catch your eye on the highway or in daily stop-and-go traffic. Yet Volvo’s collection of XC models will do just that.

I’m no expert on style, but (with apologies to former Supreme Court justice Potter Stewart), I know it when I see it.

The tested XC60 B6 AWD R-Design, clad in Crystal White Metallic ($695 extra) seemed intent on raising property values in our neighborhood while resting in our driveway. This was not just another luxury crossover, all boxy and grinning an oversized goofy black-grilled smile.

No, the Swedish carmaker (now owned by China’s Geely Holding Group) still designs with a Scandinavian minimalism and sophistication that gives its vehicles a unique look, while continuing the auto world trend of placing a large logo on its vehicle’s nose. That’s OK, the headlights and grille look lean and taunt and the taillights’ sideways V-design immediately distinguishes the brand.

For the record, a couple years ago Volvo started calling its T-shaped headlight lenses Thor’s Hammer to create a skosh of marketing excitement. They do look sharp!

Watch Mark’s video: Mark Savage reviews the 2022 Volvo XC60 – YouTube

XC60 is sort of a large compact crossover, one level up from the small XC40 and well shy of the XC90 that borders between mid-size and large.

That means XC60 rides on a 112.8-inch wheelbase that gives it outstanding ride quality, more along the lines of a larger crossover, yet is a compact 184.6-inches long, so easy to park and maneuver. Handling borders on sporty as little steering input is needed to switch lanes or zip into a tight parking space.

Power is smooth as silk and plentiful in this R-Design model, a mid-level trim. Standard is a supercharged and turbocharged I4 2.0-liter engine, coupled with a mild 48-volt hybrid system to take some electrical pressure off the powertrain. That’s good for 295 horses and a 310 torque rating, while delivering 21 mpg city and 27 mpg highway, says the EPA. I got 21.0 mpg in about 60% highway driving.

Volvo offers several other power choices though, including a base level 2.0-liter I4 that makes 247 horses and a peppier plug-in hybrid model with 400 horses and that provides 35 miles of all-electric power. But the plug-in will put you mighty close to spending $70 grand.

This R-Design with the gas-only engine and mild hybrid starts at $56,195, with delivery, so certainly a luxury level vehicle. Sadly this one went overboard on options and hit $65,990, so deep into the luxury market.

Certainly the XC60 is easy on the eyes and easy to drive with its silky powertrain, including an 8-speed automatic transmission. Braking is solid too with big vented disc brakes. Towing is possible too as this model is rated to pull 3,500 pounds.

Inside the XC60 continues Volvo’s high standard of style and functionality, this one featuring a light gray leather interior with white piping on the seats and lighter gray to white inserts in the upper seatbacks. The dash includes metal meshwork and the Bowers & Wilkins speaker covers are jeweled-look mesh too.

Volvo’s seats are powered and multi-adjustable, the lower cushion able to be extended, a help for drivers with long legs. Seats also are heated and cooled while being incredibly supportive, especially the seat backs. These are borderline racing seats as they wrap around the front seat folks so well.

Rear seats are heated too, as is the steering wheel, part of a $750 option package that adds headlight washers.

Rear seat gets heat controls, nice info screen up front!

Also added was the Advanced package for $2,050. It includes a head-up display, smart cruise control with driver assistance, a 360-degree camera, advanced air cleaner and 12-volt outlet in the cargo area. The hatch also is powered, but that adds $200, which seems odd these days as power hatches are pretty much standard on trim levels above the base models.

Volvo uses a vertical 10-inch touchscreen to direct infotainment data, such as radio station selection. While it’s easy to see and tap, there also are other features to be accessed by sliding the screen. I find that awkward while driving.

Also, the heated steering wheel and seats are controlled via that screen, but activated by tiny icons that are not the easiest to see and get at, again while driving. But it all looks great!

Overhead is a monster dual-pane sunroof and the test vehicle added an awesome B&W premium audio system, but it carries a big price tag at $3,200. I’ve purchased cars for less.

Other options include a 4-corner air suspension system at $1,800, a feature that certainly adds to the enviable ride comfort here. For another grand the tester added 21-inch 5-double-spoke black diamond alloy wheels. If you’re already at $60,000 and change, why not?

Safety equipment is as you’d expect on a luxury model, or most models at this point, from lane departure assist and other semi-autonomous features, to automatic emergency braking, blind-spot warning, rear park assist, etc.

One other note on the driving front, naturally there is the Stop/Start feature that all modern vehicles now include, aimed at saving miniscule amounts of fuel. But the Volvo also, for safety reasons, will not creep forward once your foot is removed from the brake pedal. Nearly all other vehicles do, and we all use that creep as a stoplight turns green.

Well, here you’ll need to be prepared to touch the accelerator to get any creep as you begin moving away from a stoplight or stop sign. Much like Stop/Start, it takes some getting used to, especially when backing out of a driveway or parking space. The first few times it’s possible you’ll over accelerate. Be forewarned!

I’d also expect a power tilt/telescope steering wheel in a luxury level crossover, along with a power rear hatch. Maybe for 2023!

Yet for beauty and driving comfort coupled with interior style and suppleness, the XC60 is a solid alternative to the European and Asian luxury makes. Few will beat its ride!

FAST STATS: 2022 Volvo XC60 B6 AWD R-Design

Hits: Good looker, excellent power, ride and handling. Big sunroof, heated wheel, heated/cooled front seats, heated rear seats, comfy seats with adjustable side bolsters, big touchscreen, awesome stereo, a stylish luxury interior, plus a full bevy of safety equipment.

Thor’s hammer T-shaped headlights rock!

Misses: Touchscreen use (beyond main screen) is distracting to use while driving and no power tilt/telescope steering wheel here. Plus the power hatch costs extra and this drinks premium fuel.

Made in: Gothenburg, Sweden

Engine: 2.0-liter turbo, supercharged I4, 295 hp/310 torque

Transmission: 8-speed automatic

Weight: 4,378* lbs. (*Car and Driver)

Wheelbase: 112.8 in.

Length: 184.6 in.

Cargo: 22.4-63.6 cu.ft.

Tow: 3,500 lbs.

MPG: 21/27

MPG: 21.0 (tested)

Base Price: $56,195 (includes delivery)

Invoice: N.A.

Major Options: Climate package (headlamp washers, heated rear seats, heated steering wheel), $750

Advanced package (HUD, Pilot Assist including smart cruise control and driver assistance, 360-view camera, 12v outlet in cargo area, advanced air cleaner), $2.050

Crystal white metallic paint, $695

Power tailgate, $200

Bowers & Wilkins premium audio, $3,200

4-corner air suspension, $1,800

21-inch 5-double-spoke black diamond alloy wheels, $1,000

Test vehicle: $65,990

Sources: Volvo, www.kbb.com

Photos: 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 Volkswagen Taos SE

Taos another newcomer in expanding small crossover market …

Oh my, the burgeoning small crossover market just added another competitor, the Volkswagen Taos (rhymes with House), and if value is your main shopping criteria the Taos should be near the center of your bull’s-eye.

Just in the last year I’ve reviewed the following tiny crossover competitors, Mazda CX-30 (2 versions), Hyundai Venue, Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross, Kia Seltos, Chevy Trailblazer, Nissan Kicks and Subaru Crosstrek. There were others earlier as this segment has been swelling like an anaconda swallowing a warthog.

But back to Taos (not New Mexico), VW’s smallest crossover that rides on a 105.9-inch wheelbase with a potentially powerful 1.5-liter turbocharged I4 that makes 158 horsepower, 11 horses more than VW’s Jetta. That figure is near the top of this segment’s power rankings, except for the over-endowed Mazda CX-30 with its 2.5-liter turbo I4 that makes 227 to 250 hp, depending on gas selection. It’s a riot!

For VW this new engine is an efficient and torque-happy number with 184 pound-feet of oomph. Sadly, the test vehicle had the worst case of turbo-lag that I can recall in several years. It hesitated at every chance to accelerate. Pull from the drive, push the accelerator, and wait. Traffic light turns green, push the accelerator, and wait. Turn a corner or head onto a highway ramp, push the accelerator, and wait. Ugh!

If you want power quickly you must mash the accelerator and then there’s still a wait before that turbo launches the VW to excellent highway speeds. The waiting, followed by over-accelerating became tedious.

Too bad, because Taos seems solid and handles well. Steering is light and easy and the crossover corners with little hint of body roll. This could be sporty and fun. Plus Taos is light, just 3,175 pounds. My mid-level SE model was front-drive and I suspect the 4Motion (AWD) would give it even better traction and handling. AWD costs $1,500 extra on all three trim levels.

Ride? Well, this is a short wheelbase crossover with struts up front but just a torsion beam rear suspension, so ride is pretty firm. The potholes weren’t as disturbing as the raised pavement hoo-has. Taos seemed to jump a bit sideways at times on those sharp spots.

Note that the AWD models feature a multi-link rear suspension which may help ride quality some and is the system used by most vehicles these days.

An 8-speed automatic tranny handles the shifts and is aimed at fuel savings. Too bad there are no drive mode selections here to add power or maybe smooth out the performance a bit in a comfort mode. Eco seems to be where the Taos is aimed and it features strong EPA numbers. The estimates there are 28 mpg city and 36 highway. I got a fine 29.4 mpg in about 80% highway driving.

By comparison, the Trailblazer with AWD that I tested posted 32 mpg, the Mazda CX-30 with the turbo managed 26.6 and the Crosstrek posted 25.4 mpg.

Plenty of safety systems are in place, with VW’s Intelligent Crash Response System and automatic post-collision braking, forward collision warning and autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian monitoring, a blind-spot monitor, and rear traffic alert being standard.

The test crossover added the IQ Drive SE package with Travel Assist (VW’s semi-autonomous driving system), smart cruise control, the Stop & Go system, and lane assist, for $895. The Travel Assist worked fine, but seemed a bit over anxious, as some of these do, pushing the car back toward the center or side lines harder than need be. This becomes concerning in construction zones and I could find no way to turn the system off as I dodged Wisconsin’s many orange barrels and cones.

Inside the King’s Red Metallic ($395 extra, and worth it) test vehicle was a fine interior. The SE trim upgrades cloth seats to something called CloudTex synthetic seats. This is a combo of cloth feel and faux leather, which is tough and easy to clean.

The test Taos featured gray seats with white stitching and the doors were two-tone gray while the dash was mostly dark gray with a bluish trim on some plastic bits. The console was flat black, ending sunny day reflection worries.

The SE model upgrades from the standard 6.5-inch info screen to an 8-inch touchscreen that was fairly easy to adjust. Below that are three large climate control knobs, so easy to adjust.

A nice sized screen on the new Taos.

However, during my drive Wisconsin was sweating through a spate of muggy upper-80s days and I had to crank the climate system’s fan to its top-level to get enough cooling and leave it there for about 10 minutes. Then I slowly dialed the speed back. Air was plenty cold from the system, but it took a while to cool the interior and there is no automatic climate setting, again keeping costs down for Taos.

Seats were well-shaped giving good side and hip support and the driver’s seat was powered with a power lumbar support. The front passenger’s seat is manual. But legroom and headroom are good front and rear so it’s easy to load four to five adults in Taos, although five may prefer city jaunts to cross-country tours.

Seats are heated up front and the flat-bottomed steering wheel also is heated, a plus.

Another goodie was the huge panoramic sunroof, a $1,200 add-on. These are increasingly popular in crossovers, but this one was a monster with a gray screen over it to reduce summer sun. But it would be fun to open in spring and fall to be sure. Might not feel like a Jeep, but definitely brings the outside in!

Another plus, a wireless phone charger under the dash’s center stack and the fact that the driver can give the instrument panel multiple looks, adding or deleting various information on either side of the speedometer.

Good news too for those hauling a lot of gear, the VW offers a generous storage area behind the rear seats with 28.1 cubic feet of space. Fold the split rear seats down and that grows to a sizeable 66.3 cu.ft.

Now maybe the best news, pricing. VW starts with the S trim at $24,190 for front-drive and $1,500 more for AWD, known as 4Motion. The tested SE model lists at $28,440 and is FWD. A top-level SEL lists at $32,685 with AWD and a sunroof being the only options.

This Taos added 19-inch black alloy wheels with all-season tires for $395, giving the red crossover a snazzy look since it comes with black cladding over the wheel wells and front and rear fascias. Grand total here was $31,325.

That’s a bargain in today’s car world, although I’d think most Wisconsin drivers would want to add the AWD for traction and to possibly improve ride quality with the multi-link suspension.

Sharp taillights!

By comparison my vehicle of the year, the hot-looking CX-30 starts at $30,050 with delivery and AWD is standard. The tested Trailblazer that is awfully cute lists at $30,070 and includes AWD while the Crosstrek is a little more at $31,440 with AWD and heated and cooled seats, plus a fancy stereo.

As you can see, pricing in this segment is quite close, so test drive several small crossovers before you buy and compare them with like features. This is a well-stocked market with Taos being the new kid on the block!

FAST STATS: 2022 VW Taos SE

Hits: Light easy handling, huge panoramic sunroof, roomy interior, heated well-shaped seats, flat-bottom heated steering wheel, big storage area, wireless charger, multiple dash views, value pricing and good gas mileage.

Misses: Firm ride and concerning turbo lag on acceleration. Couldn’t turn off active lane control, no drive modes to boost acceleration, fan must be turned on top level for quite a while to cool crossover on hot day.

Fancy black wheels give Taos a sporty look.

Made in: Puebla, Mexico

Engine: 1.5-liter turbo I4, 158 hp

Transmission: 8-speed automatic

Weight: 3,175 lbs.

Wheelbase: 105.9 in.

Length: 175.8 in.

Cargo: 28.1/66.3 cu.ft.

MPG: 28/36

MPG: 29.4 (tested)

Base Price: $28,440

Invoice: $27,351

Major Options:

19-inch black alloy wheels w/all-season tires, $395

King’s Red metallic paint, $395

Power panoramic sunroof, $1,200

IQ Drive SE package (Travel Assist semi-autonomous drive assistance, adaptive cruise control, stop & go, lane assist, blind-spot monitor), $895

Test vehicle: $31,325

Sources: VW, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

2021 Volkswagon Arteon 2.0T SEL R-Line

Arteon sedan delivers looks, refinement, value …

Only two years have passed since Volkswagen renamed and restyled its CC sedan as the Arteon, still a name that doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue.

But VW assures us the term is Latin for Art, emphasizing how important design is for the model. Whatever it’s called, this large fastback-styled sedan proves VW is dedicated to handsome cars as well as crossovers and SUVs. Prosit!

As I intoned in my earlier review of Arteon, it’s a sedan that has virtually everything a crossover intender could want, with the exception of a tall ride and boxy shape. This is one of the finest looking family sedan on the road. Edgy, but with fastback styling.

But if you’re after AWD, mucho room for the family and cargo capacity to match, the Arteon checks all those boxes.

The VW rides on a 111.9-inch wheelbase so has oodles of leg and headroom for five adults and the trunk delivers a massive 27.2 cubic feet of cargo room, or up to 55 cubic feet with the split rear seats lowered. Heck, some small crossovers would struggle to offer that much. And instead of a pure trunk, the fastback opens as a hatch so loading and unloading is a cinch.

Yet you’re likely thinking the VW only stuffs a four-cylinder engine under the hood, so it’s likely weak on power. Wrong!

This 2.0-liter is strong, delivering 268 horses and 258 lb.-ft. of torque from the silky smooth turbocharged four-cylinder engine. The result is not only quick acceleration, but luxury car smoothness as it’s coupled with an efficient 8-speed automatic with Tiptronic to allow driver shifts, if desired.

Watch Mark’s video review: https://youtu.be/lsC8_z7ROUQ

There are five drive modes too, accessed easily via a button on the console. Sport mode firms the suspension, alters the gearing for better acceleration and stiffens the steering effort. That’s great on the highway, but in town or at sub-40 mph the Normal or Comfort modes seem best, easing steering and ride comfort. Midwest roads are crumbling!

Yet at all levels Arteon turns into corners with precision like a luxury sport sedan. Won’t find many crossovers doing that without some push or lean in corners. Plus being a sedan the ride is dramatically better than any truck-based vehicle. It’s well controlled, yet sporty. No serious bumps or thumps and railroad tracks and pot holes are barely a blip on your derriere’s radar.

My tested SEL R-Line model with 4Motion, that’s VW’s AWD system, was bathed in a beautiful King’s Red Metallic paint that got raves from onlookers, including my spouse who rarely comments on my test vehicles. That color costs $395 extra but is a stellar choice especially considering most cars are gray or white these days. This stands out!

Inside the styling is simple and elegant with a wide dash that features lean and expansive air vents, making cabin comfort a breeze, literally.

Clean and attractive dash with fine Nappa leather seats create a stylish interior.

The test car featured light gray Nappa leather seats with dark gray trim and a dark gray dash and door uppers with light gray inserts. The dash also had a textured metal trim strip that extended into the doors along with satin silver trim below that. Gloss black trim graces the stack and console surrounding the shift lever.

Controls are easy to see and use and the driver gets a 12.3-inch digital instrument panel that can be adjusted to meet a driver’s particular needs. Best for us seniors, the 8-inch infotainment screen mid-dash is simple to adjust, not always the case in today’s tech-laden touch-and-slide screened vehicles.

The power seats not only look sharp but are firm and well-shaped for long or short hauls, plus the driver gets three-memory settings Seats up front are heated, with three temperature settings. And get this, if you go full-on luxury with the top-tier SEL Premium model you get a massaging driver’s seat is too. Amazing in this price range.

Overhead is a large, but not panoramic sunroof, however the cover is a screen, not a shade so a little light, and warmth seeps through the roof in hot weather.

This SEL R-Line model that features a bit racier look and feel also adds a flat-bottomed steering wheel, naturally loaded with plenty of controls on it hub.

Arteon also comes with dual climate controls, but VW has gone to touch-controlled slides that are a bit too touchy at times, likewise there’s a radio volume slide on the steering wheel’s hub. Not sure why knobs needed to be replaced, but as with all touch-centric controls these are not easy to use when the car is in motion as their adjustment is imprecise.

VW loads up Arteon with electronic safety devices, including parking sensors, automatic high-beam headlights, and an integrated crash response system to alert authorities if you crash. There’s also the standard blind-spot warning, smart cruise control, rearview camera, lane-keeping assist, and emergency braking with pedestrian recognition.

Stop & Go is standard too, an effort to save gas at stoplights, but the annoyance factor of the car shutting down seems hardly worth the minor gain it provides. That’s not a VW thing, it’s across the automotive market.

An economic downside is that Arteon prefers premium gasoline, the higher octane providing part of the VW’s prodigious horsepower. The VW will run on regular gas, but loses some oomph. Still, even powered up the car is rated at 20 mpg city and 31 mpg highway by the EPA. That highway figure is up 4 mpg from the 2019 model I’d driven, a big gain in efficiency. I managed 27.5 mpg, quite good for a large family sedan.

Good news on the pricing front too as a base Arteon SE starts at $38,190. It’s front-wheel drive. An SEL R-Line lists at $42,790 and one with AWD like the test car begins at $44,590. This one just added the sharp red paint job to end up at $44,985. Standard on the R-Line are 19-inch tires, the Nappa leather seats, sunroof, smart cruise control and adaptive LED headlights.

Going top-level Premium R-Line with 4Motion pushes the price to $48,190, but you do get the massaging driver’s seat, heated steering wheel and cooled seats, plus a 12-speaker Harmon Kardon stereo, 3D backup camera and power hatch.

This competes well with the likes of Toyota’s Camry and Honda’s Accord, plus Nissan’s Maxima, Acura’s TLX and Kia’s Stinger, although it’s much racier in performance. I think it even approaches the gorgeous Genesis G80 2.5T tested a week ago, but just not as quiet inside or as luxurious feeling.

FAST STATS: 2021 VW Arteon 2.0T SEL R-Line

Hits: Slick looking fastback sedan with good power, sporty handling, but fine family sedan ride. Smooth and comfy, with a sporty edge, adjustable drive modes, and solid safety features. Roomy interior and trunk under a hatch. Heated seats, large sunroof, flat-bottom wheel, comfortable seats, good sized info screen and easy controls. Plus AWD.

Misses: Prefers premium fuel. Sunroof has screen, not shade. Touch and slide controls hard to precisely use. Awkwardly tight spot for phone under center stack.

Snazzy wheels make Arteon look fast, even while parked.

Made in: Emden, Germany

Engine: 2.0-liter turbo I4, 268 horsepower

Transmission: 8-speed automatic w/Tiptronic

Weight: 3,686 lbs.

Length: 191.6 in.

Wheelbase: 111.9 in.

Cargo: 27.2-55 cu.ft.

MPG: 20/31

MPG:  27.5 (tested)

Base Price: $44,590 (includes delivery)

Invoice: $42,811

Major Options:

King’s Red metallic paint, $395

Test vehicle: $44,985

Sources: Volkswagen, kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

2020 Subaru WRX STI

WRX STI is fast, furious and noisy as …

You know that sound of running a vacuum and it sucking up a load of dirt, gravel and maybe some road salt in winter. Now imagine that sound rattling around in each wheel well of your car.

That’s the first impression of Subaru’s new WRX STI, the raciest of Subies. The lasting impression is of its racer like speed and handling. Continue reading 2020 Subaru WRX STI

2020 Volvo V60 T5 AWD Cross Country

Debonair V60 Cross Country a sensory surprise … 

What vehicles catch folks’ attention these days? If you’re thinking big pickups or SUVs you’d be way off base. That’s what folks buy, not what tickles their eyeballs.

Sporty wagons, now that’s a sensory surprise. Continue reading 2020 Volvo V60 T5 AWD Cross Country

2020 Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross SEL S-AWC

New Eclipse Cross boosts Mitsubishi lineup …

First a quick history lesson on Mitsubishi for new and younger buyers. The Japanese car maker, most famous for making the nimble Zero aircraft during World War II, used to have a small, but fairly full vehicle lineup.

But tough times and a shrinking, aging lineup hurt Mitsubishi in the early 2000s. Its biggest claim to fame and popularity was its sporty Eclipse, but then even that went away as Mitsubishi began to claw back into the market by offering small SUVs. Last year it sold 121,000 vehicles a 2.5% gain over 2018 and its third year of 100,000+ sales and seventh year of growth. Continue reading 2020 Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross SEL S-AWC

2020 Hyundai Sonata Limited

Hyundai Sonata’s beauty is more than skin deep …

Seeing Hyundai’s eighth-gen Sonata makes me feel a bit like Charlie Brown when he sees “the little red-haired girl.” Not sure it’s love at first sight, but “wow,” the 2020 Sonata is stirring. Yet that’s not a description many family sedans evoke.

Hyundai, which along with cousin Kia continues to up the styling ante, has outdone itself with the new Sonata. After stunning buyers with the sixth generation Sonata in 2011 and then coasting on styling for the seventh gen model, this one rocks the sedan market. Continue reading 2020 Hyundai Sonata Limited