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Car Spot: It set the bar for luxo SUV

The Jeep Grand Wagoneer is still grand

I’m a huge Jeep guy. I’ve driven and/or owned them for over 30 years. My love affair began when I was fresh out of school TV news reporter in Cedar Rapids, IA and I drove was a 1977 Cherokee Chief (SJ). The other TV stations only had passenger cars so if there was any snow on the ground or any reason to go off-road (sometimes I made them up) they were left behind. My love affair was solidified because my dad worked for American Motors who bought Jeep in 1970 and besides Hornets, Javelins, Matadors, and Gremlins, there were Jeeps in the driveway. The one I remember most was a Grand Wagoneer similar to the one pictured below.

Photo: Jeep

AMC decided to take the Grand Waggy (as it’s affectionately known by fans) and open an entirely new market, luxury SUV’s. So they took this aging platform that had been around since the 60s and loaded it up. It was introduced in 1984. Most examples were powered by AMC’s 360 V-8 and later 401 a 5.9-liter V-8 good for 140 horsepower and 280 lb-ft of torque, shift-on-the-fly four-wheel drive, power everything including the rear tailgate window, leather all around, and carpeting you could bury your toes in. The asking price for all of this was just under $19,000. Just think what that buys you now. Pretty much a tin can with wheels. Nobody in the market had anything like this and its sales were solid but all this fun came to an end after Chrysler purchased AMC in 1987 and discontinued the Grand Waggy in 1991.

This 1987 lives at the Automobile Gallery in Green Bay, WI, and is run by friend Darrel Burnett. It was purchased by founder William “Red” Lewis. It is beyond mint-like most of the cars Red bought and are displayed in the museum. There is not a spot of rust on it and the interior looks just like the day Red took delivery.

Today, even with the intro of the new Grand Wagoneer, it remains in a class of one and is being rediscovered by a new generation of fans. You can find these all over places like BaT ranging in prices from the mid-20s to 50 ish. Some are commanding crazy six-figure pricing at the auctions.

RELATED VIDEO: See my first impression of the new Grand Wagoneer.

I got the bug after seeing this example. I tried to buy it off Darrel but Darrell politely declined. He told me others have asked too. I started doing some research and found that by buying an affordable one you can later sell it without losing money.

RELATED POST: See the other classic Jeep at the museum.

Ah but found it’s probably not a good daily driver. It gets crappy gas mpg, around 10, and the carbureted engine is sometimes finicky. Because of that many are converted to fuel injection. Still, with all of its quirkiness, I want one of these badly. Dealbreaker is my wife who won’t drive a car without all the safety stuff they have on vehicles now.

The Jeep Grand Wagoneer may have demonstrated the extreme profitability of the luxo-truck concept, but with a few exceptions, it remains in a class of one. Unduplicated even decades later, it is now being rediscovered by a new generation of fans seeking a classic respite from the same/same people movers sitting on dealer lots across the country.

Be sure to check back next Friday for another one of my car spots. Have a great weekend.

2021 Ford Bronco

Bucking Bronco sure to give Jeep’s Wrangler off-road competition …

New Bronco is a sweet ride, but only if you’re going off-roading!

Ford’s new off-road worthy Bronco is loaded with impressive features, but it is a bucking Bronco to be sure.

For younger drivers the Bronco name may be new as there hasn’t been one for 25 years. But it was a major competitor to the Jeep CJ-5 and Toyota Land Cruiser in the 1960s and early ’70s when it was a rugged short-wheelbase Jeep-like vehicle. Then it grew to massive SUV proportions before being scrapped in 1996.

This new version is a true off-roader targeting Jeep’s Wrangler, and again with a short wheelbase. As a daily driver it’s a butt pounder and re-arranger of internal organs, but off-road, well, that’s where Bronco wants to be. For folks needing or wanting a daily driver know that there is a Bronco Sport that weighs 1,200 pounds less and rides on the Escape platform. It’s a delight and still reflects the Bronco styling, round headlights and all.

Really it’s sad that Ford’s misguided management of the 1990s dropped Bronco as it was a viable option to Jeep. Consider this the result of a 25-year marketing lesson.

The tested Iconic Silver 2-door Advanced model with Wildtrak package clears the ground by 8.4 inches and boasts a 2.7-liter EcoBoost turbo V6 creating 330 horses and a torque rating of 415. That makes this the top-end big Bronco and its price matches all that muscle, starting at $48,475, with delivery. Options brought it to $53,650.

Note that mine was a 2021 model, which came out late last year, the smaller, lighter Bronco Sport being first off the assembly lines. Prices are up $800 for 2022, the rear-drive base model listing now at $30,795, including delivery. There are five trim levels after the base, including Big Bend, Black Diamond, Outer Banks, Badlands and this Wildtrak.

In short, the Bronco seems just as off-road worthy as a Jeep Wrangler, but is more powerful with more precise handling. It’s also way noisier on the road and with a bouncier ride than a Jeep.

Watch the video: Mark Savage reviews the new Ford Bronco Wildtrak – YouTube

This Bronco features Ford’s fine 10-speed automatic transmission that makes for smooth shifts, but a 7-speed manual also is available for those wanting to control their power applications when crawling over rocks and wading through muck.

There are eight drive modes here, which Ford labels GOAT, as in Goes Over Any Terrain. Settings are Normal, Eco, Sport, Slippery (rain and snow), Sand, Mud/Ruts, Rock Crawl and Baja (for the desert).  Those last three settings are meant for serious off-roading, while the others may be used in more typical driving situations, such as at the beach, on wooded trails or when the weather turns Wisconsiny.

Turning that GOAT dial is easy to select any of these and there also are buttons there for just engaging the on-the-fly 4-wheel drive, automatic, high or low.

Other off-road goodies include Trail Control that is like cruise for off-roading, setting the crawl speed at a low level, plus something called Trail One Pedal Drive where the accelerator is both that and brake as it brakes the vehicle once you take your foot off the accelerator. Think of driving an electric golf cart or maybe a snowmobile where there’s engine braking once the accelerator is disengaged.

But the coolest feature, and most useful, is the Trail Turn Assist that’s engaged via a button on the dash. This cuts Bronco’s turning radius off-road, holding the inner turning wheel’s brake to pivot the Bronco quickly. Loved it and Jeep needs to figure this out post haste to add to its Wrangler. I used it several times in high brush off road and Bronco almost does a 90-degree turn to head the opposite direction, again, at low speed. Bravo!

To be honest, Bronco was way more fun off-road than on. Its squarish design means it functions like a brick passing through the air at highway speeds, plenty of wind noise around the roof and giant A-pillars. Also the doors have frameless windows so they wobble when being closed and add to the wind noise.

But worse, I think, was the banshee howl of the giant 35-inch off-road tires. I could barely talk to a passenger or hear the radio, which had to be cranked if rolling at more than 30 mph.

Those tires and the off-road favoring suspension also makes for a bouncy truck ride that makes a Wrangler feel tame as Jeep has worked for years to get its off-roader to behave better on road.

Power here is excellent though, the 330 horses beating Jeep’s 3.6-liter V6 by 45 horsepower and the turbo giving monster boost. Bronco crushes Jeep’s non-turbo torque rating by 156. That’s a ton! Bronco also will tow up to 3,500 pounds, as will a Wrangler.

Inside the water-resistant (and heated) seats were gray with camouflage black inserts, the doors trimmed in black and tan along with brushed metal inserts. All the grab handles are blue and black, the main ones being at the dash’s end, not on the A-pillars as so many are in SUVs and Jeeps. The A-pillar types seem easier to use, more intuitive and best when using the running boards to climb into a Bronco or Jeep.

Bronco wins the screen wars with a 12-incher in this Wildtrak edition. That’s part of the $3,590 Wildtrak equipment group that also includes a heated steering wheel, 360-degree camera, wireless charger, Bang & Olufsen stereo upgrade, navigation system and smart cruise control, plus a variety of electronic add-ons.

Bronco wins the off-road screen wars for the moment with this 12-incher!

Everything functions well here. I’d just add a flat-bottom wheel to free up some knee room, especially important when off-roading. Auxiliary switches are overhead here and the off-road toggles for locking the front and rear dif and engaging Trail Turn Assist are conveniently atop the dash.

Safety is well covered, as you’d expect, with Ford’s Co-Pilot 360 system, and the smart cruise in the Wildtrak package.

Bronco also offers, like Jeep, that the front roof panels are removable to create a more open-air driving experience. The doors also are removable, which is why the mirrors aren’t mounted on the door frames. Here’s the rub on the roof panels, at least in this model with roof rails. It’s easy to loosen the panels, but I couldn’t figure out how to slide them off as the roof rails prevented raising the panels more than an inch or so, trapping them.

I admit to not trying to work these things loose as the temp was in the teens, or lower, most of my test drive. But be forewarned that if you have roof rails ($365 extra here) roof panel removal will be difficult.

One thing Bronco doesn’t offer, that Jeep does? Well, the windshield will not fold down over the hood. Wouldn’t be a deal breaker for me.

Something the Bronco has that Jeep doesn’t? Trail sights, the black trim atop the front fenders. Look sort of like gun sights, but apparently could help you keep the Bronco aimed properly on a dusty or rocky trail.

Bronco seats are fairly tight, so if you’re a wide-bottom check these out for comfort before a purchase. Rear seat room also is limited in this 2-door model, and the rear seats fold down, but not exactly flat. If you need more cargo space go with the 4-door Bronco as it offers 50% more cargo room than the 2-door. Wasn’t easy to crawl into those rear seats either, but something kids might enjoy.

The tailgate opens out like a heavy door with that tire mounted in back!

Bronco’s rear hatch is like a Jeep’s as it opens like a door and is split so the window folds up once the tailgate is open. That gate is heavy too as the full-size spare, like a Jeep’s, hangs there.

Honestly I was surprised at Bronco’s gas mileage as this thing weighs nearly 5,000 pounds. I managed 18 mpg with 60% of my driving at 40 to 60 mph. The EPA rates Bronco at 18 mpg city and 20 highway, about the same as a Wrangler.

For the record the base Broncos feature a smaller, 2.3-liter turbo I4 engine that makes 300 hp and generates 325 lb.-ft. of torque and gets up to 22 mpg, highway. The lower trim levels also feature an 8-inch info screen instead of the 12-incher here.

Jeep has a serious competitor, finally, and again!

FAST STATS: 2021 Ford Bronco 2-door Advanced 4×4

Hits: Off-road ability matches rugged looks, Trail Turn Assist a gem, excellent turbo power, nimble handling, 8 drive modes. Big info screen, heated wheel and water-resistant seats, running boards, wireless charger, and doors and front roof panels are removable, like Jeep. A 7-speed manual available.

Gun sights? No, Trail Sights on the fenders!

Misses: Horribly noisy interior, bucking Bronco ride, roof rails block easy removal of roof panels, giant A-pillar, frameless door glass rattles when shut, windshield doesn’t fold down, split rear hatch opens like door and super heavy with big spare tire on it.

Made in: Taylor, Mich.

Engine: 2.7-liter EcoBoost turbo V6, 330 hp/415 torque

Transmission: 10-speed automatic

Weight: 4,975 lbs.

Wheelbase: 100.4 in.

Length: 173.7 in.

Cargo: 22.4 – 52.3 cu.ft.

Tow: 3,500 lbs.

MPG: 18/20

MPG: 18.0 (tested)

Base Price: $48,475 (includes delivery)

Invoice: $47,603

Major Options:

Wildtrak equipment group 354A (360 camera, Sync4 w/voice recognition, AppLink, 911 Assist, 12-in. screen, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, smart cruise, LED approach lights, navigation system w/live traffic & route guidance, front park sensors, B&O stereo w/10 speakers & subwoofer, LED mirror lights, evasive steering assist, heated steering wheel, wireless charger), $3,590

Cargo area protector, $120

Tube step power coated, $395

Towing capability, $595

Keyless entry keypad, $110

Roof rail w/crossbars in black, $365

Test vehicle: $53,650

Sources: Ford, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

Diecast: Autoart Suzuki Jimny

Jimny (JB64) is a cute, well-detailed Jeep wanna-be …

Suzuki’s Jimny is a fun little runabout, and even cuter as a 1/18 scale diecast model from the hot shot designers at Autoart.

There’s no doubt this Jeep-like two-door sport-utility is useful and nimble. It has sold like Pocky sticks in its home market, Japan and has been a hit for Suzuki all around the world, with the exception of the United States where Suzuki stopped selling vehicles at the end of 2012.

But Suzuki’s low-cost small vehicles could well be considered something akin to the Beetle of Japan, economical and fun. And lest you think Suzuki is a small-time carmaker, well, it’s the fourth best-selling brand in Japan, behind the giants Toyota, Honda and Nissan, not bad company.

The History

Suzuki launched the Jimny in 1970, so it has had a long run and according to Wikipedia, Suzuki had sold 2.85 million of the little gems across 194 countries as of the fall of 2018. There’s an interesting history behind Jimny too.

It started as the HopeStar ON360. Say what?

Yes, it was originally designed by the Hope Motor Co., a small Japanese manufacturer that Suzuki bought in 1968. So, Suzuki re-introduced the vehicle as its LJ10 (Light Jeep) in 1970 with an air-cooled, two-stroke, two-cylinder engine. It had nowhere to go but up.

From there the engine grew and grew, becoming liquid-cooled as the vehicle began gaining popularity and was shipped off to Australia and then was Suzuki’s first vehicle sold in the U.S. market as a Samurai in 1986. Along the way the Jimny name became its moniker in Japan, and Jimny Sierra elsewhere.

Lest you think it incapable off-road, in 2007 a modified version set the high-altitude record for a 4-wheel-drive vehicle on a mountain at the Chile-Argentina border. It climbed to 21,942 feet, beating a Jeep Wrangler’s mark at the time.

This JB64 version is the fourth generation Jimny, launched in 2018 and the model reflects the styling of Japanese-market models, with no added plastic fender flares, whereas in other markets the black flares are much more pronounced. Jimny remains a body-on-frame vehicle, like a Jeep Wrangler and most of today’s trucks.

The engine is a turbo 3-cylinder that makes about 100 horsepower, rides on a short 88.6-inch wheelbase and weighs less than 2,300 pounds. So it may be appropriate to still consider it a Light Jeep, as it was originally.

The Model

               I’ve grown to love many boxy Jeep-like vehicles over the past 50 years of driving and testing new vehicles. So this Jimny strikes me as a fun, cheap Jeep wanna-be. It’ll certainly stand out in your collection and being an Autoart model you can be sure the design and build quality is high.

               Autoart offers several color combos, but the sample was an earthy Chiffon Ivory Metallic (shiny tan) with a black roof. It appears ready to wander off down a dirt road to bang some ditches.

               The doors fit nice and flat to the body, those wheel wells just showing a slight bulge and the front and rear bumpers are a sturdy black. The nose features running lights in the bumper, black mesh grille work there and in the upper grille featuring what looks like a Superman (Suzuki) logo at its center. Headlights, as with Jeeps and now Ford Broncos, are round, these adding an amber turn signal just above the light and toward each side’s fenders.

               Mirrors are black with white turn signal lamps embedded and the windows are all trimmed in gloss black with a couple black wipers extending from the cowling just behind the hood.

               A small black antenna extends from the rear driver’s side (right drive) roof and a big spare tire hangs on the tail, just as with a Jeep. The tailgate opens out like a door and includes a high-mount brake light atop its frame, black hinge covers and the words Suzuki and Jimny in silver low on the gate. The three-lens red and clear taillights sunk into the black rear bumper look sharp too. Below is a Jimny license plate too.

               Tires are all branded Bridgestone in black, so hard to read, but typical of the real vehicle. Wheels are sort of a matte silver/gray with black Suzuki-logoed caps.

               Naturally the hood, doors and hatch open on this Autoart model, with a nicely detailed engine compartment and fine metal hinges to hold that hood up for display. There’s a tiny hood rod there too, but don’t try to use it, it’s just for decoration.

Engine wiring and plumbing look appropriate with a sharp-looking battery including labels on top. There’s also a white washer-fluid reservoir, a steering master cylinder with white fluid container and other appropriate hoses and filters. The hood’s underside detailing is handsomely molded too.

               Not much to see inside the rear tailgate, except seatbacks and headrests, but the front cockpit looks realistically detailed, and with the wide-opening doors this interior is simple to see. Black interior here with bucket seats, a center console-mounted shift lever, 3-spoke steering wheel with Suzuki logo, and nicely detailed gauges across the dash, including a reflective screen in the dash’s center. Air vents are trimmed in silver.

               U.S. collectors have a rare opportunity with the Jimny to add a popular world vehicle to their collections, and it’s so darned cute they may want a couple in varying colors.

               For the record Autoart offers Jimnys in Pure White, Jungle Green, Bluish Black, Brisk Blue, Kinetic Yellow, most, except the white models, with black or body-colored. Also, the world market models, known as Jimny Sierras (JB74), are available in the same colors, but with the bulging black fender flares that give Jimny a slightly more muscular look.

               Either way this is a cute ute.        

Vital Stats: Suzuki Jimny

Maker: Autoart
Scale: 1/18
Stock No.: 78500 (Chiffon Ivory Metallic/Black roof)

MSRP: $190

Link: Autoartmodels.com

Car Spotting: A wagon as big as a whale

It was the master of the road in its time

I don’t know about you but when I was a kid we always had two cars and one of them was a station wagon. One I remember was a 1967 AMC Rebel. Mom and dad loaded us all up and we went on epic trips, Yellowstone, Mount Rushmore, the World’s Fair in New York, and tons of other places. Station wagons are pretty much ignored now. SUVs and minivans have taken their place.

I spotted a monster of a wagon the other day, this Buick Roadmaster. Manufactured from 1991 to 1996, everything about it was big. Its wheelbase was 115.9 inches, and its total length was 220 inches making it one of the largest vehicles ever built. As a frame of reference, the new Jeep Wagoneer’s wheelbase is larger yet at 123 inches, but total length is a bit shorter at 215.

To get that massive amount of steel moving it was powered by a Chevy 5.0-liter L03 V8. and since that wasn’t enough, it was replaced a year later with a 180 hp 5.7-liter small-block L05 V8. But that still wasn’t enough and in 1994 it received a modified dual-exhaust version of the advanced Corvette-derived 5.7-liter sequential point fuel-injection LT1 V8, increasing output to 260 hp. That’s the same engine used in the Impala SS, Chevrolet police interceptors, Cadillac Fleetwood, Corvette C4, Camaro Z-28, and Firebird Trans-AM.

You gotta love the vista roof and the fake wood paneling on this behemoth. Built on GM’s B-body, the last of these rolled off the Arlington, Texas, assembly line in December of 1996.

Be sure to check out my other car spots and check out my new ones published each Friday.

2021 Ford F-150 SuperCrew Lariat (hybrid)

Ford’s hybrid F-150 SuperCrew is all the pickup a person can use …

Driving the new Ford F-150 SuperCrew Lariat was like déjà vu all over again.

Doesn’t happen often, but I got to test drive the new hybrid version of Ford’s most popular (in fact North America’s most popular) vehicle for a second time in roughly a year. And even more unusual, this was a pre-production model with few miles on it and decked out in Antimatter Blue Metallic, which is a dark (nearly black) paint scheme. I like the name!

Ford’s F-150 hybrid is simply smooth, quiet and packed with power. No reason any truck lover wouldn’t love this beast like an all-expense-paid night at a Monster Truck rally.

Oh, I guess some might not care for the electric hybrid motor’s whine at low speeds, but if you crank the Lariat’s muscle-bound, watt-crazy B&O (Bang & Olufsen) stereo with subwoofer you’ll never hear that whine over George Strait’s strains.

Like the previous tester, this F-150, already starting at $53,025 with delivery, was packed with options, 13 to be exact. That added $19,745 to the sticker. Total? Just (sarcasm) $72,770, or nearly exactly double the cost of my first house. But hey, it would tow!

You get everything but the barn here, and its more efficient and powerful than many of the other seven F-150 trim levels due to its hybrid system, which itself adds $3,300 to the tally. It’s worth it.

Standard in the Lariat is a powerful twin-turbo 2.7-liter V6 gas engine that makes 325 horsepower. You can even still get a thirsty 5.0-liter V8 with 400 horses if gas burning, or buying, matters not to you. A slick 10-speed automatic comes standard with all powertrains.

The hybrid system conjoins a twin-turbo 3.5-liter V6 with a 35kw electric motor with batteries under the rear seat. It makes a whopping 430 horsepower and 570 lb.-ft. of torque all while delivering an EPA rated 24 miles per gallon, city or highway. Combined with a 30.6-gallon gas tank that creates an optimum 700-mile driving range, both downhill and with the wind.

While in warmer weather I’d managed an impressive 20.5 mpg, in zero to 30-degree temps I recorded just 17 mpg this time. Still, that’s what you’d normally expect in straight highway driving with gas-only power. This included plenty of city driving.

Bottom line, the new F-150 is a rocket despite its hefty 5,517 lbs. Power comes on quickly and when you punch it the twin-turbo V6 delivers boatloads of power to get up to highway speeds or out-power most anyone at a stoplight. That electric motor also helps boost low-end acceleration.

Handling is reasonable for a big pickup too, easy to keep in its lane and maneuver, except in a crowded parking lot. Then you’ll want to leave a little extra room, even though this one only had the smallest, 5.5-foot, bed. A 6.5- and 8-foot bed also are available.

Ride, well, it’s a mix because on straight reasonable smooth stretches this feels like a luxury sedan, smooth and exceedingly quiet inside. But once the pavement becomes cracked and uneven, well, it’s still a truck. Despite its independent double wishbone suspension up front with coil-over shocks and stamped lower control arm and rear leaf spring with solid axle this fortress becomes bouncy. Not harsh, but there’s rock and roll that actually shakes drivers and passengers from side to side at times.

Braking is fine and towing power is impressive at 12,700 pounds. That’s plenty buster!

Like the earlier test truck this he-man added the $750 Pro Power onboard 7.2kw generator in the bed so you can power up your tools, heck, even your house, if need be. A smaller generator is standard.

This is a boon for contractors and construction folks needing quick access to electricity on a job site. Just leave the truck running (Stop & Go will turn off the gas engine shortly) and plug in. The batteries in the truck do the rest through an inverter and generator.

As mentioned in the earlier review, this Pro Power unit provides enough juice to run much of your household electronics for 72 hours during a power outage. So the $750 is pretty inexpensive for backup generator power (ignoring the total cost of the truck).

Watch a video review: Ford F 150 Hybrid Review by Mark Savage – YouTube

So, there’s a lot of usefulness as you’d expect with a pickup, but being a SuperCrew there’s a full rear seat and the interior is luxury car level, helping explain the sticker price. Plus this one includes the Lariat package for $6,920 and including everything from heated and cooled front seats, and rear seats to a heated power tilt/telescope steering wheel.

Leather is so deep it would make a herd of cattle jealous, with tan leather seats featuring black trim and a black dash with tan and brushed chrome trim. There’s even a little fake wood trim on the doors. Knobs, and there are plenty, are satin chrome while the steering wheel is a soft, thick black leather. Down low are power-adjustable pedals and the steering wheel is a power tilt/telescope job.

Grab handles stick out from everywhere, and should, for easy mounting of this high-rider. Thankfully there are 6-inch chrome trimmed running boards, ($225 extra) to help boost passengers up into the cockpit, a must.

The info screen and instrument panel are large (both 12 inches) and obviously easy to see and mostly to use, although programming favorite radio stations wasn’t a breeze. Still, all the gauges and knobs are macho big and within easy reach. A giant storage box/armrest divides the front seat and includes a flip-up work surface perfect for a computer, and $165 extra.

One might wonder how that works since there’s a large shift lever at the front of the console that would prevent the flip-up surface from lying flat. Ford solves this with a button to retract the shift lever. Clever, and this one was much quieter than in the earlier test truck.

Seating is comfortable and roomy front and rear with fairly flat seat bottoms and more contoured backs. Everything is powered and there are three memory buttons for the driver’s seat.

Here’s the gear shift knob in its powered down position.

Inside is a gas filler door release and automatic tailgate release. The power tailgate ($695 extra) is easy to fold down or up and there’s a pop-out ladder in the tailgate that helps a normal to small-size person climb aboard the bed. Even a handle that pops up to steady the climber’s ascent or descent. A spray-in bedliner is $595 extra, but you’ll want it.

Engaging the 4WD modes is simple too with a dial on the center stack, while overhead is a button to open the rear sliding window for a bit of air movement or limited access to the bed. Oddly no wireless charger on a $72 grand truck, that’s a $145 option. Hmmm!

A sunroof also is an add-on at $1,495.

Standard though is a bevy of fine safety equipment from lane-keeping assist to park sensors, blind-spot warning and emergency collision braking, plus a smart cruise control system. I should point out for trailer haulers the cool Pro Trailer system that uses a knob on the dash to help a driver back up to, and attach, a trailer.

There’s a fine running board to help us short folks mount this tall beast.

Co-Pilot 360, a semi-autonomous driving system to keep you centered in your lane is a $1,595 add on, plus a 360-degree camera that makes parking a LOT easier adds $765 to the sticker.

Other add-ons here included a trailer towing package for $1,995, onboard scale with smart hitch for $650, electronically controlled suspension damping for $695 and snazzy 20-inch chrome-like PVD wheels for $1,395.

One minor annoyance, like more and more vehicles, the Ford screams out a chime every time the ignition is turned off to warn you to LOOK in the rear seat (no extra charge). Did you leave a kid there? One supposes lawyers are afraid you might.

Cool that there’s a fold down step to help folks crawl up into the bed. That yellow dot is the handle that pops out to help steady the person climbing the tiny step!

This one is high-end luxury pricey, but don’t let that bother you if you need a full-size pickup. There are so many models and configurations that surely you can find an F-150 in your price range. The base regular-cab XL with 2-wheel-drive lists at about $30,000. While a Limited 4×4 hybrid model can hit about $80 grand.

Know that there are three cab style choices, three bed lengths, 5 powertrains (diesel is dropped for 2022), 7 trims and then the performance-oriented Raptor.

Any way you slice it, Ford remains the technology leader in pickups.

FAST STATS: 2021 Ford F-150 4×4 SuperCrew Lariat (Hybrid)

Hits: Roomy truck with quiet luxury interior, hybrid power and improved mpg, plus a built-in generator in the bed. Huge info screen and instrument gauges, heated wheel and heat/cool front seats, heated rear seats, power tailgate w/step, 360-degree camera, fold-out work area, running boards. Excellent towing power and acceleration, decent handling and good safety systems.

Numbers are big on the digital instrument panel!

Misses: Big truck bouncy ride, difficult parking in tight lots, an overabundance of buttons and knobs on dash. Rear seat warning sounds every time ignition turned off.

Made in: Dearborn, Mich.

Engine: 2.7-liter twin-turbo V6, 325 hp

Transmission: 10-speed automatic

Weight: 5,517 lbs.

Wheelbase: 145.4 in.

Length: 231.7 in.

Cargo bed: 52.8 cu.ft.

Tow: 12,700 lbs.

MPG: 24/24

MPG: 17.0 (tested)

Base Price: $53,025 (includes delivery)

Invoice: $49,689

Major Options:

3.5-liter V6 hybrid (430 hp/570 torque), $3,300

Lariat equipment group 502A, $6,920

Co-Pilot 360 Active 2.0 Prep Package, $1,595

Pro Power onboard 7.2kw generator, $750

Interior work surface, $165

Max trailer tow package, $1,995

Onboard scale w/smart hitch, $650

Power tailgate, $695

Continuously controlled damping, $695

20-inch chrome-like PVD wheels, $1,395

360-degree camera, $765

Bedliner, spray-in, $595

6-inch extended chrome accent running boards, $225

Test vehicle: $72,770

Sources: Ford, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

2022 Toyota Prius XLE AWD

Hybrid power, interior comfort and awesome MPG = winner!

Hard as it may be to believe, Toyota’s ground-breaking hybrid, the Prius, has been around for 25 years. It’s the top-seller and an excellent choice, still.

A few years ago Toyota wisely improved the Prius styling to round it more and give it a hint of fastback styling while lessening the fuddy-duddy looks of the original.

I could still go for even sleeker looks, but it’s a superior family hatchback now with exceptional gas mileage and even AWD on two of its four trim levels. Mine was an XLE model in a sparkling Supersonic Red that made it stand out in the gloom of gray January days. That color is $425 extra, but worth the upgrade.

The LE and XLE trims both offer AWD, which this one included, and it was timely in that we had a couple moderate snowfalls during my test week. Traction was improved to be sure, but there was still a bit of slippage on my icy drive and area side streets. Still, in Wisconsin the AWD makes sense, even when adding about $1,400 to the bottom line.

Modern looks for the Prius and Frank Lloyd Wright’s famous Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church in Wawautosa!

A base front-drive L Eco model starts at $25,520 with delivery fee, a modest cost for a hybrid that’s rated at more than 50 mpg. The LE lists at $26,730 with delivery, and the AWD model at $28,130. That LE trim adds blind-spot warning, parking sensors and rear cross-traffic alert.

But XLE is what the majority of buyers prefer because it adds SofTex fake leather seats that are heated up front as is the steering wheel. A wireless phone charger is standard too along with 17-inch alloy wheels to add a spiff factor.

Pricing for FWD is $29,740 and the AWD tester lists at $30,750. With just a few options this one nudged just a touch over $32,000. That’s way below the $36,000 average price for a new car, and again, that’s with a solid offering of safety equipment along with heated seats and steering. Bravo!

Watch Mark’s wacky video review …. Mark is a cheerleader for the 2022 Prius – YouTube

Oddly AWD isn’t available on the top-level Limited model, which adds a fancy JBL audio system, a big 11.6-inch info screen, adaptive front lights with a leveling feature and both navigation and a color head-up display. I should note that the test car’s $800 tech package included the HUD plus adaptive front lighting and auto-leveling lights. So this was close to the Limited in equipment level, minus the big screen and hot-shot stereo.

A high-tech, yet simple dash with dual screens makes Prius easy to drive.

In case you haven’t noticed yet, Prius oozes value and usefulness for the average family of four. That’s because its interior is big enough and comfy enough to host four folks while offering a huge 27.4 cubic foot cargo space for trips.

And performance is as fine as many compact crossovers, especially since this has AWD.

Nothing much has changed of late with Toyota’s industry-leading hybrid system, but it doesn’t need to.

The regenerative-braking powered electric system that charges batteries to augment the 1.8-liter I4 gas engine is seamless and efficient. The EPA rates it at 51 mpg highway and 47 highway and the front drive model is slightly better. I managed 41.6 but in snowy single-digit weather. By comparison, I hit an amazing 65.6 mpg with the identical Corolla hybrid power system in warmer weather about a year ago, and 47.2 mpg in a plug-in hybrid Hyundai Ioniq. That Ioniq is rated higher by the EPA, but it doesn’t offer AWD and you must plug it in to get the most from its hybrid system. A full charge delivers about 30-miles of pure electric range.

The tail has been improved, but it’s still a bit of an acquired taste. Cool lights though!

Here the 121-horsepower is modest, of course, but is delivered smoothly via an electronically controlled CVT. At low speeds the electric power is delivered with a slight whine, but the cockpit is extremely quiet. Pressing the accelerator hard for instant power delivers a noticeable moan from that little I4 engine, yet by 40 mph when the Prius is cruising, it quiets right back down.

Three power modes allow you to save more fuel in Eco mode, while Normal is what I used most. Pressing the dash button for Sport mode is something best used when accelerating onto a highway or to escape giant SUVs and pickups while changing lanes in town. It boosts low-end acceleration to a much preferred level, but naturally uses more fuel.

Handling is quick and easy, much more responsive than trucks and SUVs and even many compact or larger crossovers. I won’t call it fun, but it was refreshing to be able to quickly adjust lane position and dive into a highway curve’s apex. Cars are simply more entertaining to drive than high-riders and the center of gravity in the Prius is nice and low.

Ride is good too, but there is the occasional solid thump from deeply creviced Wisconsin roads. One note though, the tires here deliver more road noise on non-asphalt pavement, so that’s a bit annoying on bridges and long stretches of concrete, especially at highway speeds.

Braking is linear, plus I should note there’s a B setting for the transmission. What’s that? It adds more regenerative braking when the car is coasting, thereby replenishing the batteries more quickly. It’s not a huge difference in drag when coasting, so makes sense to use in town for more efficient charging. Note though that the adaptive cruise control will not engage at freeway speeds if the tranny is in the B mode.

The tiny shift lever here deserves a mention. It extends from the lower part of the center stack. It’s so easy to use and much preferred to push-button systems or those activated via a knob on the console. More intuitive, but small enough not to intrude on the flat wireless charging area on the console, just below the shifter.

Do you say tiny shift lever? Yes I did, and it’s petit, but simple to use.

The rest of the dash is simple and easy to see and use. The main instrument panel continues to be center-dash mounted yet large enough for the driver to read without straining his or her eye muscles. The info screen is just seven inches, but a touchscreen that’s simple to use. Small volume and tuning knobs are available too while the climate control is toggle operated. A dual climate system isn’t offered though, a concern for warm- or cold-blooded significant others.

Seats are manually adjusted, but wonderfully supportive for a value-oriented car. These were light gray with black back cushion trim and the dash was similarly two-tone. The XLE model uses SofTex fake leather for its seating surfaces and the feel is darn near leathery, plus easy to clean and maintain, so let the kids eat that ice cream cone in the rear seat!

There’s a certain modern elegance to the Prius interior, that feels high-tech!

Standard too are Android Auto and Apple Car Play hookups. A navigation system is not part of the XLE’s features, but is on the Limited.

Safety Sense 2.0 is standard though and includes automatic emergency braking with pedestrian recognition, the smart cruise control, lane departure assist, automatic high beams, lane tracing assist and road sign assist, which means you’ll always know what the speed limit is when you’re exceeding it.

I’m still not a fan of the Prius split rear window, but at least there is a wiper on the top pane. That clears about two-thirds of the window while the lower pane allows more tail-gating lights to invade the cockpit. Wish it was at least tinted to lessen the glare.

The taillights are sharp, but there’s still the see-through panel next to them that serves as a lower rear windshield and allows tailgaters lights to annoy a driver.

Prius mainly competes with its Corolla cousin and Hyundai’s Ioniq in the hybrid car category, but there are many small hybrid crossovers. Prime among them are the Kia Niro, Toyota RAV4 and Ford Escape, but more arrive at dealerships every month. For instance Hyundai now is offering a Tucson hybrid that we hope to test drive soon.

One final note, Toyota has introduced its Nightshade Special Edition, which it offers on many of its other models. That is a special appearance package basically with the car being all black, white or silver while adding 17-inch alloy wheels. If you select an AWD model, the wheels are 15-inchers.

25 years of constant improvement create a super-efficient Prius at a modest price.

Prius, still the hybrid leader after 25 years. Impressive!

Fast Stats: 2022 Toyota Prius XLE AWD

Hits: Smooth acceleration, stellar MPG, easy handling, AWD, decent Sport Mode power, comfy sedan for four. Good standard safety features, fine info screen that’s easy to use, heated seats and steering wheel, smart cruise, tiny shift lever, comfy seats, wireless charger.

Misses: Road noise on non-asphalt roads, noisy engine under heavy acceleration, funky split rear windows, mild acceleration when not in Sport mode.

Here’s a closeup of the main info screen, which functions simply, which is a plus compared to some luxury makes!

Made in: Aichi, Japan

Engine: 1.8-liter I4, hybrid, 121 hp

Transmission: ECVT automatic

Weight: 3,075 lbs.

Wheelbase: 106.3 in.

Length: 180 in.

Cargo: 27.4 cu.ft.

MPG: 51/47

MPG: 41.6 (tested)

Base Price: $30,570 (includes delivery)

Invoice: $28,528

Major Options: Special paint, $425

Carpeted floor/cargo mats, $259

Advanced technology package (color head-up display, adaptive front lighting, auto-leveling lights), $800

Test vehicle: $32,084

Sources: Toyota, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

2021 VW ID.4 AWD Pro S

Electric VW well thought out, well-executed crossover …

Electric car haters might as well tune out right now as this review of Volkswagen’s new ID.4 all-electric crossover/SUV might melt your battery pack and explode your motherboard.

That’s because the ID.4 is an extremely well-thought-out and executed EV that most families would enjoy. Like other crossovers and SUVs, it is roomy inside, offers a comfortable ride, a quiet (electrics are quiet by nature) interior, and for us Wisconsinites, there’s AWD.

RELATED: Paul Daniel navigates the electric car madness.

This was the top-level ID.4 AWD Pro S model in Dusk Blue, a mid- to deep metallic blue conjoined with silver roof pillars and a black roof thanks to the $1,500 Gradient package.

ID.4 comes as either a rear-drive Pro or AWD Pro S model. The difference, other than AWD, is that there’s an electric motor front and rear for the Pro S and that gives the ID.4 295 horsepower and 339 lb.-ft. of torque. The rear-drive model has just 201 horsepower and milder torque.

Another difference, the RWD model has a 260-mile range while the AWD’s range is rated 250 miles, although in our 20- to 40-degree weather the most I got on a full charge was 235 miles.

Under hood is still crowded, but with an electric motor and supporting wares.

For the technically inclined this new VW, which is just slightly smaller than VW’s gas-powered Tiguan, uses two 82 kW lithium ion battery packs with 288 pouch style cells that ride in an extruded aluminum case in the floor for power. One electric motor powers the front wheels, another the rear. The batteries are charged via a plug-in charger that neatly stores under the cargo bay’s floor. A standard 120-volt outlet as in my garage slowly adds about 1 to 1.5 miles per hour of charge. A 240-volt charger reportedly more than doubles that.

Naturally there’s range anxiety if one were planning an inter-state trip in the ID.4, but VW has an answer for that, free charging at Electrify America charging stations of which there are about 2,550 nationwide with nearly 5,500 charging stalls. Many are located in Walmart lots and an app will help you find them. A fast charge from 5% up to 80% takes about 40 minutes, just long enough to sample a Slurpy with a side of Slim Jims.

Related video: Shhhhh! Mark Savage reviews the 2021 VW ID 4 AWD Pro S – YouTube

VW says ID will be its sub-brand for electric vehicles and the German carmaker is pushing to have half its sales be all-electric by 2030 with close to 100% by 2040. Much of that is pushed by stricter emission rules in Europe than in the U.S.

ID.4 competes with the likes of Ford’s new Mustang Mach-E, although the VW is more family friendly whereas the Mustang is more performance oriented, not surprising considering its name.

The VW features better ride than Mach-E despite a considerably shorter 108.9-inch wheelbase. Handling is good, but only sporty in the Sport drive mode, one of five. Acceleration is smooth and quiet (some electric whine, naturally), but not rocket ship fast, just quick.

VW claims a 0-60 mph start of 5.4 seconds with the AWD and 7.6 seconds with the rear-drive model. Then again, this is a family crossover/SUV, so you’re likely not planning any dragstrip action. Let’s be honest, most Mach-E drivers aren’t either.

Check out the electronic fuel filler, just where a gas tank door might be located.

For the record the EPA rates the VW at 98 MPGe city, 88 highway. The big info screen readout told me I was getting about 2.5 miles per kWh. So 10 hours of charging should net me about 25 miles of charge. Cruising on the highway I saw the figure hit 2.7 kWh.

A closeup of the electric outlet’s plug.

The key for moms and dads is that the ID.4 is a useful crossover that easily caries four or five adults while offering oodles of storage room behind the second row seats. There’s a power hatch and under-floor storage there too.

VW’s interior is comfy and looks more Star Wars than Saved by the Bell, meaning digital to the max. With a few exceptions it’s quite functional.

First, there’s a small driver’s instrument pod with speedometer and battery mileage readout attached to the manual tilt/telescope steering wheel column. So adjusting the wheel never blocks a driver’s vision of the pod. Bravo!

VW’s instrument pod is delightfully simple.

The other centrally mounted info screen controls virtually everything else and is a bit more than 12 inches. A 10-incher comes on the RWD model. Once you play with it a bit you’ll understand its levels, but there are a few fixes needed. First, there’s no dedicated radio button so you must access it by punching a square button on the left that apparently is Home. Beyond climate controls a radio is the second most used item, so requires a dedicated icon below the screen.

That’s where the climate controls are accessed, but sadly that includes the heated seats and steering wheel. Those should be on the console or steering wheel for easier access. That’s especially important because only the driver’s heated seat setting is remembered once the vehicle’s ignition is switched off. The heated wheel should be recalled too. A friend who adores VW agreed and also noted that the touchscreen was somewhat slow to respond to input too, resulting in double-punching some screen icons.

This odd little knob turns to engage the gears!

Another item that takes some getting used to, but becomes normal within a week’s drive, is the gear-shift selector, a knob attached to the right side of the instrument pod binnacle or hood. Rotate it forward for Drive and back for Reverse. Park requires pushing the end of the knob. Note too that rotating the knob forward twice shifts drive mode into one that allows more aggressive regenerative braking when the vehicle is coasting. Normally the ID.4 coasts like a standard car, but in this B mode the electric motor braking engages more aggressively to boost battery charge and you’ll find yourself using less brake pedal.

The upside of the shifter locations is that this allows for a wide-open console with oodles of storage space and a roll-top storage bin that includes the wireless phone charger. It’s easy to get at and to see, if you leave the bin opened.

The interior is two-toned and extremely elegant.

My test vehicle featured a brown leather dash top and door trim along with perforated black leatherette seats and satin chrome dash trim and door releases and side air vents. Trim on the screens, arm rests and console were piano gloss black. Front seats also come with captain’s chairs armrests that fold back.

Overhead is an absolutely massive panoramic sunroof and shade. The roof is fixed, so does not retract.

Here’s a good view of the simple, stylish dash and instrument pod.

Seating is well shaped and comfy with powered front seats, plus VW wisely goes with a flat-bottom steering wheel to create more knee room when entering and exiting the crossover. I should note that the ID.4 climate system heats extremely quickly too, a big plus in winter and ironic considering the bad ol’ days of the original Beetle’s horrible heater.

On a practical note, the plug-in port for the charger is located on the rear passenger’s side, much as you’d find with a standard fuel-filler door. That will work for some folks, but if your garage’s electrical sockets are on a driver’s side wall or front of the garage, as are mine, this requires you to back the ID.4 in for a charge. Not optimal, and all other EVs I’ve driven had their port in the nose or just in front of the driver’s door, both seem better locations.

That power rear hatch opens wide for cargo.

Pricing? First, remember there’s a $7,500 government tax incentive on most electric vehicles. Those will disappear as each manufacturer’s sales move behind the government-set maximums.

But the current base Pro model lists at $41,190 with delivery and the tested Pro S at $49,370 with delivery. With its Gradient package this hit $50,870.

Additionally the tester was built in Mosel, Germany, because it’s an early model. But future ID.4s are to be built at VW’s Chattanooga, Tenn., plant. VW reports it will make a lower-cost entry-level ID.4 there, with a starting price expected in the $35,000 range.

ID.4 proves that automakers are closing in on affordable electrics that meet family needs and offer reasonable range. This is just the start, more range and more models will be coming along in the next few years. Watch this space!

FAST STATS: 2021 VW ID.4 AWD Pro S

Hits: Smooth, quiet,comfy, plus AWD. Roomy crossover with good handling, ride and power, and 230-mile range in cold weather. Usual standard electronic safety features. Five drive modes, massive panoramic sunroof, heated seats and wheel, fast interior heating, power hatch, comfy seats, flat-bottom wheel, wireless phone charger.

Too much is accessed only through the info screen.

Misses: Climate controls accessed only through touchscreen, no dedicated radio entry to touchscreen, touchscreen somewhat slow to respond, heated wheel not included in climate memory when restarting crossover, odd shift knob by instrument pod, plug in on rear passenger’s side, not convenient for garage plugs.

Made in: Mosel, Germany

Engine: 2 electric motors, 82kWh lithium battery pack, 295 horsepower/339 torque

Transmission: 1-speed automatic

That’s its name, ID.4!

Weight: 4,559 lbs. (RWD), 4,884 lbs. (C&D*)

Length: 180.5 in.

Wheelbase: 108.9 in.

Cargo: 37.5-73.5 cu.ft.

MPGe: 98/88

Base Price: $49,370 (includes delivery)

Invoice: $47,443

Major Options:

Gradient package (20-inch alloy wheels, black roof, silver accents & roof rails & roof accents), $1,500

Test vehicle: $50,870

Sources: Volkswagen, kbb.com

*Car and Driver figs.

Photos: Mark Savage

2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz Limited AWD

Well-timed compact pickup reflects crossover roots …

Few ideas are totally new in the auto world, but often they feel new, or simply put, the time is right.

Take Hyundai’s brilliant new Santa Cruz, a crossover’s crossover, a mix of crossover comfort and convenience and a pickup’s utility. Meshing the two most popular forms of transport today seems as smart at Reese’s mixing chocolate and peanut butter.

At media events Hyundai has gone out of its way to insist the Santa Cruz is not a pickup, but a Sport Adventure Vehicle, a SAV not an SUV. Yet you can be sure that what most folks will see here is a stylish compact pickup.

Yet this isn’t the first time this combo has been tried, nor a funny naming scheme cropped up. Remember Subaru’s BRAT? Probably not. It was a cute pickup that Subaru called a Bi-drive Recreational All-Terrain Transporter. Sounds like something an astronaut might trundle around the moon. That lasted from 1978 through 1994 and then returned, sort of, from 2003-2006 as the Baja, a crossover SUV and pickup with a decidedly stylish exterior. About the same time Ford peddled the Explorer Sport Trac. All featured AWD.

All this is a long way of saying Hyundai’s Santa Cruz is going to be an absolute monster hit. It’s the right blend at the right time. Starbucks would be pumpkin spice proud.

Hyundai based the Santa Cruz on its fine Tucson crossover, a biggish compact with unit-body construction so it behaves like a car, not a truck. Designers worked hard to keep the interior roomy like a Tucson and then turned the rear from an enclosed hatch to a marvelous multi-function compact pickup bed. Santa Cruz is a delight to drive, to ride in and to look at.

The lines seem modern and decidedly un-He-Man obsessed like all those truckier pickups. This is a family hauler first, a macho dirt and shrub hauler second, and with virtually no thumb on the macho scale. Santa Cruz looks youthful, fun, and manageable.

Yet Santa Cruz scores aces on power, ride, and handling with AWD also available if you plan to tow your boat or camper off the beaten path. Hyundai designers seem to have thought of everything.

Watch Mark’s video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bMxZrb3_8Ew

Consider that Santa Cruz offers two engine choices, a decent 190-horse 2.5-liter I4 at a great front-drive entry-level price of $23,990. Meanwhile the tested upper end Limited AWD model adds a turbo to that engine to crank an impressive 281 horses with a torque rating of 311. That’s available in the SEL Premium and Limited, both with standard AWD and listing in the near $40,000 range.

My Limited was a subtle Sage Green (grayish green that costs $400 extra) that was quick to highway speeds and its 8-speed duel-clutch automatic transmission shifted seamlessly. The AWD gave it good traction in the wet, tested well on roads coated with damp leaves in late fall. Engine noise was minimal and the SAV (OK, I said it) felt stout on the highway with little wind disturbance or noise.

But it’s the ride and handling that easily communicates Santa Cruz is NOT a pickup. This one shouts crossover, not truck. The Hyundai has a moderately long wheelbase at 118.3 inches and a smooth ride to confirm it. Bumps and rough pavement are minor occurrences, not tailbone stingers or cranium rattlers. If you love rock ‘n’ roll, buy a truck.

Handling is light and easy. Turn in to a tight curve and there’s just a touch of body lean, but no tail wagging as most trucks are wont to exhibit at higher speeds. AWD calms it and weight seems well distributed here, no nose heaviness. A similarly sized Nissan Frontier driven the following week, for instance, felt much more trucklike with heavy steering feedback and effort. I should have to work that hard?

And get this, I didn’t even need a running board to climb into Santa Cruz.

In fact, comfort is as important as utility here, reflected in interior styling that is space-age sleek, but useful, not gimmicky.

Seats are perforated black leather, the dash black with a gloss black trim line wrapping from the doors across the dash and framed with satin chrome trim. More satin trim on the wheel’s hub and seat backs below the headrests, and additional gloss black trim atop the door armrests and overhead around the sunroof and light controls. Spiffy!

Hyundai’s touchscreen is 10.25 inches wide and simple to use. There also are big simple climate controls, plus a Diffuse button to spread the warm air all around.

 The driver gets a power seat while the passenger’s seat is manually adjusted. Both are well shaped for comfy hip and lower back support. Rear seat folks have good head and legroom too, plus the seatbacks are carved out to provide more knee room in row two. There’s storage space under the rear seats too.

Front seats are heated and cooled in the Limited, which also touts a heated steering wheel. All those controls are on the front of the center armrest/storage box, so easy to locate and use. Perfect!

Below the center stack is a wireless phone charger, USB and 12-volt outlet. Other buttons on the console are for hill descent to control speed when off road, a 4WD lock button, and camera button to allow a full 360-view at any moment.

There’s also a Bose premium sound system and navigation in the Limited, and a sunroof overhead.

All that is unexpectedly refined and family friendly, but what sells me on Santa Cruz, for the utilitarian family side of my pea brain, is the creativity and usefulness of the pickup bed.

There’s a step in the bumper and the tonneau cover easily retracts while there’s a cooler under the bed.

First, I’m short and Hyundai has smartly designed steps into the corners of the rear bumpers and mid-bed below the tailgate, making for easy bed access.

Second, the lockable tailgate is an easy-lower model that doesn’t slam down on your leg if you unlatch it while standing just behind the truck. Ford’s new Maverick compact pickup still has the old flop-down tailgate.

Third, there’s a sturdy retractable tonneau cover with a strap attached underneath so you can release it and toss cargo in the back, then pull the strap to close it. Hyundai says that tonneau will support a lot of weight too, insinuating that even I could stand on it without causing damage.

Need more?

Fourth, there’s hidden storage beneath the composite truck bed. Unlatch that and hide valuables, or fill it with ice and you’ve got a cooler for Packer or Brewer tailgating. Yes there’s a plug there to release the water.

Fifth, inside a small removable side panel is a 115-volt power inverter so you could plug in a TV, or power equipment if needed.

One more thing, Hyundai has designed the truck bed wheel well covers to support plywood, so you can create shelving in the back of the bed to carry additional items, or, well, plywood. Clever!

Snazzy taillights in back too!

All told Santa Cruz will carry 1,568 pounds of stuff in the bed, and it will tow up to 5,000 pounds of trailer, watercraft of snowmobiles. Just like a truck!

Then there’s the usual safety equipment including driver attention and forward collision warning, lane-keep assist, and automatic emergency braking. To get blind-spot warning, rear cross-traffic warning and assist, plus safe-exit warning you need to move up to the upper trim levels. Limited includes it all.  

Gas mileage is OK, certainly better than most pickups. I got 24.8 mpg in about 60% highway driving with up to four folks comfortably aboard. The EPA rates Santa Cruz at 19 mpg city and 27 mpg highway for the AWD model. In fairness, the new Maverick has better ratings and a hybrid system that can get 42 mpg. One suspects a hybrid Santa Cruz will be coming soon.

Credit Hyundai for continuing its stellar 10-year or 100,000-mile powertrain warranty and now adding a 3-year, 36-month free maintenance plan that will include all your tire rotations, oil changes and fluid topoffs. Again, more value for the family.

Pricing is attractive throughout the range too, starting at $25,175, with delivery, for the SE front-drive model with its non-turbo engine. There’s also an SEL Activity FWD model at $31,645 that includes more equipment. Adding AWD to either costs $1,500.

The SEL Premium model is the first with the turbo engine and AWD standard and lists for $36,865 including delivery. The tested Santa Cruz Limited starts at $40,905 with delivery, and with its special color and carpeted floor mats ended at $41,500.

If you think that’s a lot you haven’t priced a pickup or loaded crossover lately.

Thin lights reflect a crossover look.

Some would say Santa Cruz is a market leader, but it’s a market of one, maybe two right now. Honda’s Ridgeline, another civilized pickup, is larger, and Ford’s Maverick (just now debuting) is aimed squarely at pickup buyers with a more macho look, but competitive price.

Santa Cruz is for families with outdoorsy leanings and urban cowboys who don’t own a cowboy hat.

FAST STATS: 2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz Limited AWD

Hits: Stylish crossover/pickup inside and out, good power, excellent ride and handling, plus AWD. Full safety system, big touchscreen, heated/cooled seats, heated steering wheel, wireless charger, sunroof. Useful bed with 2-tier storage, hidden compartment/cooler, electrical outlet, composite bed, easy-retract tonneau cover. Solid build and warranty/maintenance plan.

Sharp looking wheels add even more style to the Santa Cruz.

Misses: Zilch

Made in: Montgomery, Ala.

Engine: 2.5-liter turbo I4, 281 hp

Transmission: 8-speed dual-clutch automatic w/Shiftronic

Weight: 4,164 lbs.

Wheelbase: 118.3 in.

Length: 195.7 in.

Payload: 1,568 lbs.

Tow: 5,000 lbs.

MPG: 19/27

MPG: 24.8 (tested)

Base Price: $40,905 (includes delivery)

Invoice: $39,329

Major Options: Sage gray paint, $400

Carpeted floor mats, $195

Test vehicle: $41,500

Sources: Hyundai, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

2021 Kia Sorento Hybrid EX

Hybrid Sorento a family hauler with a smaller carbon footprint …

Families looking for economy, but needing people-hauling ability, and whose social consciousness nags them about cutting their carbon footprint, should be dancing a conga line toward Kia dealers for a Sorento Hybrid.

This family hauler was redesigned for 2021, along with its cousin, Hyundai’s Santa Fe, both reviewed earlier. Now comes the Sorento hybrid that gets roughly 10 mpg better than the internal combustion engine (ICE) model, yet isn’t a budget buster.

A base ICE-powered model lists about $31,000 while a hybrid starts about $34,000.

Performance? Not much difference between the two in everyday driving.

Acceleration is good, maybe a bit more accelerator effort in the hybrid, but even with a 6-speed automatic in place of the 8-speed dual-clutch with the ICE version, shifts are smooth. Plus the electric often powers Sorento up to 20+ mph so it’s quiet. (There’s a mild beep outside to warn pedestrians when you back up.) The ICE and electric power switchovers are seamless.

Handling is solid too, as in the ICE model with reasonable corner turn-in and not much body lean, if any. I mean the batteries seem to give this a lower center of gravity to feel even more solid on the highway than the previous versions, not that that was needed. Plus the weight seems to quiet the ride on city streets so they are only a bit jiggly. Highways feel like you’re riding on satin.

Kia’s hybrid system mates electric battery-powered motors with a small 1.6-liter turbocharged I4. Combined the systems deliver 227 horsepower compared with 281 horses from the 2.5-liter turbo I4 in the upscale gas version, or 191 horses in a base ICE model. Yet it is torque that pushes or pulls a vehicle up to speed. Torque here is rated a more than respectable 258 lbs.-ft. vs. 311 with the more powerful gas engine.

Any of these will get Sorento up to highway speeds with ease, just the hybrid or larger ICE will do it with more authority. Note there are just three drive modes with the hybrid as opposed to five in ICE models. This one has Eco (the default), Sport, and Smart, which purportedly learns your preferred driving style and mimics it.

Eco was fine in town. I switched to Sport only when on the freeway as it delivers more acceleration and firms the steering for less highway lane fade.

A big plus, in addition to lower emissions, all that Eco driving saves fuel. The hybrid’s electric power comes from capturing power during deceleration and via regenerative braking. I got 37.6 mpg while the trip computer was an enthusiastic 41.6. Still, that compared with 25.7 mpg in the ICE model tested in summer. EPA estimates are 39 mpg city and 35 highway.

Quick calculations show an average driver at that rate would save $444 a year on fuel. There’s no electric cost as this isn’t a plug-in hybrid. That’s coming shortly though. Note that if you drive more than the average 12,000 miles a year you’ll save even more.

All that is so practical, and Sorento is all of that.

Yet as I’ve said before this Kia is handsome with a good-looking nose featuring a hexagonal grille pattern while the tail features snazzy two-bar vertical LED taillights, one shy of looking an awful lot like Mustang’s taillights. Similar to the fancy upscale X-Line Sorento driven earlier, this EX trim model includes a satin chrome accent on the C-pillar, plus the same around windows and a decorative chrome doodad overlapping the front fender and doors. Snazzy!

All Sorentos are nearly identical in size too and come standard with three rows of seats, plus offer optional captain’s chairs in the second row, a segment exclusive. Santa Fe models don’t offer the third row.

So Sorento seats six or seven. The tester opted for the captain’s seats in row two, so would seat six. I like that this opens up some foot room for third row occupants and gives them another path out of the SUV/crossover.

Also Kia has designed a push button atop the second row seats, next to the headrests, and another at the seat’s base. Press these and the row two seats fold and slide forward, making for easy exits from row three. A little friendly persuasion of row two occupants to slide their seats forward a bit also aids leg and foot room in back. Still row three is best for pre-teens as the third row seats are low-riders (close to the floor) so a person’s knees ride up near the chest.

Being a family hauler dictates that safety is of utmost importance. No worries here.

Sorento packs plenty of safety systems. Standard are adaptive cruise control, blind-spot warning, forward collision avoidance and assist with cycle recognition, rear cross-traffic avoidance, lane-keeping, safe-exit assist, and parking sensors. Better yet, the lane-keeping can be turned off to avoid odd steering patterns in town when there’s construction and debris to dodge.

Inside the test vehicle is attractive and well arranged. First, the dash and doors include a sort of quilted metal look to give the EX a bit of a jeweled appearance. Other trim on air ducts and the instrument pod and door releases is satin chrome while around the screen and by the gauges is a gloss black trim with matte black and silver on the console to avoid reflections.

Handsome door styling and snazzy quilted metal trim.

Seats are a light gray perforated leather-like material, plus are heated. The driver’s seat is powered, but the passenger’s seat is manual and both are mildly contoured. I find the bottom cushion a bit hard, but comfy enough for city driving. The dash is black as are the tops of doors and trim. 

Mid-dash is a 10-inch screen that’s easy to see and simple to use. Buttons and knobs are well arranged and labeled. I also like the dual level air vents that adjust to aim air where you need it. Visuals are nice too.

Overhead is a panoramic sunroof with power shade, an SOS system and a power hatch in back. Below the center stack is a wireless phone charger that’s easy to use, better than the Santa Fe’s arrangement. Just remember your phone when you get out of the vehicle. I forgot mine several times. Some vehicles warn you if a phone is in the charger. Not here.

The EX trim is not the top of the line, so it is missing a few things that come on fully loaded vehicles, such as a navigation system and AWD. In Wisconsin the later is most important. It runs $1,800 to $2,300 extra, depending on the Sorento’s trim level. That’s a bit unusual. AWD often is a standard option price, about $2,000.

Note that the hybrid model only is recommended for towing 2,000 lbs., the same as the lower horse ICE model. And unlike the ICE models that are made in Georgia, the hybrids are assembled in South Korea.

Pricing, which was touched on earlier, is attractive for such a well-equipped and designed SUV/crossover. Base price for the tested EX model is $37,760, including delivery. With just the snazzy bright metallic red paint as a $445 option, this one settled at $38,205. Add AWD and you’re at about $40,000.

A base hybrid starts about $34,000 and a plug-in hybrid Sorento will list about $41,000. Like most plug-ins, it’s expected to have about a 32-mile fully charged electric range.

The taillights remind me of those on Mustangs, you?

Gas-powered (ICE) models run from $30,500 up to $44,000 if well equipped.

Choices abound with Sorento, from trim levels to power plants. If cutting pollution is high on your list along with family safety and comfort this hybrid is a desirable choice.

FAST STATS: 2021 Kia Sorento Hybrid EX

Hits: Handsome redesign, good handling, ride, fine power, but exceptional MPG. Panoramic sunroof, third row seats, power hatch, 10-inch screen, clear button arrangement, nice visuals on instrument cluster, heated front seats, large cargo area if rear seat down, roomy interior, wireless charger, and stout safety device lineup.

Misses: No navigation system at this trim level and AWD is optional.

Made in: Hwasung, So. Korea

Engine: 1.6-liter turbo I4 GDI hybrid, 227 hp/258 torque

Transmission: 6-speed automatic

Weight: 3,979 lbs.

Wheelbase: 110.6 in.

Length: 189.4 in.

Cargo: 12.6, 38.5, 75.5 cu.ft.

Tow: 2,000 lbs.

MPG: 39/35

MPG: 37.6 (tested)

Base Price: $37,760 (includes delivery)

Invoice: $38,545

Major Option: Runway red paint, $445

Test vehicle: $38,205

Sources: Kia, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

2022 MINI Cooper S Convertible

Wild paint, cool ragtop make MINI S an extrovert’s dream …

Extroverts love MINI Coopers and they should, people chat you up when you’re driving a Zesty Yellow (looks like neon green) MINI Cooper S Convertible.

Tony was one. He stepped right up in the Woodman’s parking lot to declare the near glowing MINI a sharp looker, and that was before I showed him the amazing power ragtop all decked out to resemble a blacked out Union Jack ($500 extra). Subtle!

It’s that roof that makes this MINI maximum fun, first because it powers down with the flip of one toggle by the windshield’s top. Only takes about 18 seconds for it to fold back into what would be a trunk. More on that trunk in a bit. But MINI (a BMW sub-brand) has finessed the top to retract partially first, creating, for all practical purposes, an open sunroof. Then if you’re wanting total exposure, hold the toggle and the roof reclines completely. Cool! Tony, a Ford F-150 driver, laughed and declared it a winner. It is!

I’ve said before that driving a MINI is more fun than anything else you can do with your clothes on, and it still is. This 2022 S version is frisky and the test car’s blacked-out theme ups the cute factor to about an 11.

In addition to that snazzy darkened British flag motif on the roof the MINI logo on the nose and tail are blacked out, meaning flat black on gloss black. Then there’s gloss black trim on the grille and trim rings on the head and taillights too, plus on a rear trim panel. My buddy Paul suggested all the headlights lacked were fake eyelashes to go completely campy.

Well, that may be a bit much, but onlookers mostly gave the updated MINI an enthusiastic thumbs up. But THEY didn’t get to drive it, and that, mates, is where the fun’s rubber (summer tires here) meets the road.

See Mark’s video: Mark Savage reviews the 2021 Mini Cooper S – YouTube

MINI weighs just a smidge over 3,000 pounds so the S version’s twin-turbo 2.0-liter I4 gives it plenty of oomph with 189 horsepower and a torque rating of 207. Car and Driver reports a 6.2-second run-up from zero to 60 mph. That’s achieved by using a toggle low on the center stack to choose Sport over the Mid or Green power levels. Sport is the fun one and gives the MINI an instant burst of power once you tromp the pedal. Mid is fine for city driving and Green is primarily for show, but aims at gas sipping.

That’s not a big need here as even driving mostly in Sport I managed 28.7 mpg in a mix of city and highway driving. The EPA rates this at 23 mpg city and 33 highway and this MINI prefers higher octane gas for maximum thrust, much as many of us do.

The expressive nose includes black rings on the headlights and a blacked out grille and logo.

Something younger folks may want to consider is something us oldsters mastered long ago, a 6-speed manual transmission. Not many sports cars, or many cars for that matter, offer a manual tranny anymore, but it makes putting that perky power down to the front-drive wheels a hoot as you work your way from first to sixth gear. I even spun the tires a bit, somewhat aided by damp fall streets.

An automatic is available, but for optimal fun, stick with the stick.

Handling is pure BMW, meaning road feel and feedback is primo and steering response quick. You pay for that a tad in somewhat heavier steering feel, but tossing this through corners on winding country lanes is so much fun you’ll barely notice. My only concern is the thick leather steering wheel, which might be a bit too thick for folks with small hands.

My other performance concern is ride. MINI rides on just a 98.2-inch wheelbase and with sport-oriented suspension the ride is rough, actually jarring at times. Comfort on Midwest roads is not its forte, although find a smooth blacktop highway and/or move to the South or West and pavement punishment will be less problematic.

Beyond the tooshie vibration, MINI’s Vibrasage ride is obvious because the passenger’s seat rattles quite a bit over bumps when no one is seated in it. I tried moving the seat to various notches, but to no avail. The rattle remained.

Otherwise the black leather seats here ($500 extra) are well formed so give good back and hip support. These are manual to save weight, but also provide a bottom cushion extension to help make taller occupants more comfortable, and the front seats are heated. That is part of a massive Iconic Trim package adding $7,500 to the price tag. Note that folks much taller than 6-foot-2 will find headroom more of an issue.

Back seat? Yes there is, but no one with legs will be admitted. This is primarily storage room or could hold a suitcase or two on a trip. The trunk won’t be much help as it is rated 6 cubic feet in the convertible, and that’s being generous. An overnight case or three bags of groceries will fit.

Loading isn’t tough, the rear panel below the black soft top folds down like a tailgate. Inside are two levers that can be released to allow the roof’s lower rear edge to be raised to facilitate easier loading of that MINIscule trunk.

Otherwise the black interior remains its quirky self. Those who have seen prior MINIs will feel at home. A larger 8.8-inch round info screen is now standard, although some space is wasted at the top due to its rectangular info screen being housed in the big round gauge opening.

Love this blacked out Union Jack roof. Subtle yet cool!

All that is easy enough to see and use, plus there’s still the knob on the console to quickly scroll through the radio stations. That’s much easier than trying to slide the touchscreen up or down as you drive as it’s a bit touchy.

As for other buttons and controls, they remain much the same as past models with toggles at the bottom of the center stack and some overhead. The steering wheel is somewhat revised with buttons on the hub, but with a tight cockpit this could really use a flat-bottom steering wheel. Also there’s a fold-down armrest between the front seats, but it is best left folded back out of the way, otherwise the driver’s right elbow tends to hit it during shifts.

Safety isn’t neglected, naturally. Driving aids include an active driving assistant system with forward collision, pedestrian and lane departure warning, plus high-beam assist. Rain-sensing wipers are standard and there’s an emergency call system if the car is in an accident. Outside mirrors are heated too.

Also outside you may notice the 2022 MINI has a revised grille and front and rear bumpers, plus sharp new wheels. Combine those spiffy wheels with its bright paint scheme and more than one observer claimed this MINI looked like a Hot Wheels car. That’s all good.

What’s not is the wind and road noise cockpit occupants will hear. Honestly it always sounded like there was an air leak around the tail of the car’s roof, even at moderate speeds. On the highway the truck noise and whoosh of passing cars also were distracting. On a country road, just a bit of tire noise, or if the top was down, well, naturally more wind noise.

Still, if you want a convertible you expect that, although a Mazda MX-5 Miata with hardtop convertible is quieter. Just sayin’!

A cool feature is how the convertible top retracts like a sunroof.

Note too, the test car’s $7,500 trim package really drove the price up, but it includes a bunch of goodies you may want, from the fancy Harmon/Kardon premium sound system (hard to hear with roof down don’t cha know), summer tires, the manual tranny, a navigation system, heated seats, and body-color mirrors, among others.

So the MINI Cooper S Convertible that started at a modest $32,750, with delivery, ended up at nearly $42 grand. If you can live with fewer options there’s plenty of wiggle room between the two extremes.

These snazzy new wheels make the MINI look like a Hot Wheels!

Don’t forget that for the value conscious there’s a base MINI Cooper Hardtop Oxford Edition at $20,600. The non-S MINIs come with a 3-cylinder, 1.5-liter engine that makes only 134 horsepower. An S Hardtop starts at $27,750 while the base convertible lists at $28,750.

So there are ways to snag a sassy-looking MINI that various budgets could afford.

FAST STATS: 2022 MINI Cooper S Convertible

Hits: Fun looks, good power, great handling, power convertible top with sunroof feature, 6-speed manual, plus sharp wheels. Supportive seats with bottom cushion extender, heated seats, big info screen, cool blacked out Union Jack roof.

Misses: Miniscule trunk, rough ride, passenger’s seat vibrates on bumps when not occupied, wind noise and road noise, plus needs flat-bottomed steering wheel.

Made in: Born, Netherlands

Engine: 2.0-liter twin turbo I4, 189 hp/207 torque

Transmission: 6-speed manual

Weight: 3,018 lbs.

Wheelbase: 98.2 in.

Length: 151.9 in.

Cargo: 6.0-8.0 cu.ft.

MPG: 23/33

MPG: 28.7 (tested)

Base Price: $32,750 (includes delivery)

Invoice: N.A.

Options:

MINI Yours Leather Lounge, black, $500

Iconic trim (heated Nappa leather steering wheel, power folding mirrors, keyless entry, wind deflector, body-color mirrors, piano black exterior trim, auto-dimming rearview mirror, storage package, heated front seats, dual-zone climate controls, Harman/Kardon premium audio system, manual transmission, performance summer tires, touchscreen navigation plus with Apple CarPlay, and wireless charger), $7,500

Dynamic damper control, $500

MINI Yours soft top, $500

Test vehicle: $41,750

Sources: BMW/MINI, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage