Low-priced, high-value rides: Kia Sportage, Nissan Rogue
Finally, car buyers are paying less than the sticker price for a new car
Hallelujah! For the first time in two years, car buyers are paying less than the sticker price on a new car. After a years-long economic rollercoaster — driven by the pandemic, the war in Ukraine and a gaping shortage of microchips needed to produce cars and trucks — vehicle inventory is finally up. And automaker incentives—those much-touted discounts and cash-back offers—are back, too.
But lest you think we’ve returned to the days of pre-COVID pricing, here’s a reality check: The average price for a new vehicle in 2019 was just shy of $39,000, while this year it is expected to top—yikes!— $50,000.
That’s why the two compact crossovers reviewed here are so appealing. Both look sassy, handle sharply and are chock-full of standard gear. Best of all, sticker prices on these rides start below $30,000.
MPG: 25 city/32 highway
0 to 60 mph: 9.3 seconds
Think of the Kia Sportage as Dorian Gray: an alluring crossover that never gets old. The popular Sportage is the automaker’s longest-running nameplate in America, arriving here in the mid-1990s. But this fifth-gen version—completely redesigned for 2023—mirrors the edgy, come-hither look of a luxe-laden Lexus NX. There’s a slightly obnoxious, wraparound grille, which caused more than a few raised eyebrows each time I zipped around town. And don’t ask me why, but the design of the hiked-up rear-end reminded me of a buff Tom of Finland character wearing spikey heels—those would be Jimmy Choo or Christian Louboutin pumps, of course, not any of that clunky Naturalizer stuff. In other words, the Sportage could easily set tongues wagging at your next drag story-time event. Inside, the hedonism continues, with an obscenely wide digital monitor that stretches almost fully across the dashboard. This includes a 12.3-inch instrument panel and 12.3-inch touchscreen infotainment system. Even the base model gets heated seats, and the rear seats both slide and recline. Remote keyless entry, smartphone integration and Wi-Fi hotspot are standard. So are various safety features, such as forward-collision warning, lane-departure warning, lane-keeping assist and a driver-attention system that can sense if you are getting drowsy. But trust me, with all the sybaritic delights—including heated steering wheel, premium stereo, panoramic sunroof, and satin chrome accents—there is plenty here to keep you awake. There are also a dozen trim levels, with three priced below $30,000. This includes a fuel-friendly hybrid, with up to 44 miles per gallon on the highway. My test vehicle was the X-Pro Prestige, which was fully decked out. My only complaint was the tepid engine, which is pokey compared with the hybrid and some other highly competitive crossovers. Luckily, I really enjoyed the capable handling and braking. And overall, it would be hard to resist the class-leading warranty and passenger room in the Sportage, as well as that tantalizing design.
MPG: 30 city/37 highway
0 to 60 mph: 8.4 seconds
The iconic Nissan Rogue was completely redesigned in 2021. As with the Kia Sportage, this means snazzier styling—inside and out—as well as improved handling and a quieter interior. But there also are some key differences. The Sportage flaunts a more in-your-face exterior, has better towing capacity, and is available as a hybrid or plug-in hybrid. Kia also offers a better warranty, and its vehicles have higher reliability ratings. Yet while the Sportage has more rear-seat legroom, the Rogue boasts more front-seat legroom and headroom. The Rogue also has a larger fuel tank, so fewer stops at the gas station, as well as better horsepower and torque. And the Rogue is a bit narrower and has a smaller turning radius, which makes it somewhat easier to maneuver. I enjoyed testing the Sportage, as noted above. But the Rogue was just as delightful in its own way. While the exterior design may be more sedate on the Rogue, it is still beguiling. Yes, the interior is low-key, but it echoes the restrained cabin of a sporty BMW. This included a simple-yet-refined dashboard, upscale trim and pleasing soft-touch materials throughout. There is no ginormous, IMAX-like digital display as in the Sportage, but the sleek easy-to-use infotainment touchscreen does sit prominently atop the dash. Acceleration, cornering and braking were all sure and capable, and standard safety features included automated emergency braking with pedestrian detection as well as blind-spot monitor with rear cross-traffic alert. Choosing either the Sportage or the Rogue is like choosing between, say, the sparkly RuPaul or the spellbinding actress Daniela Vega. Personally, it would be a thrill to drive anywhere with either one.
All charged up: Ford Mustang Mach-E, Mercedes EQB
Move over, Tesla!
Move over, Tesla! Elon Musk may have delivered a record number of electric vehicles last year, but rivals are certainly nipping at his heels. Robust demand for the all-electric Mustang Mach-E, for example, has helped make Ford the second-best EV producer in the U.S. And global EV sales for Mercedes more than doubled in 2022, thanks in part to the automaker’s all-electric crossover: the EQB. Motorheads like me are all charged about such electrifying rides, and for good reason.
FORD MUSTANG MACH-E
Battery range: 270-312 miles
0 to 60 mph: 5.1 seconds
OK, fine, Ford sold fewer than 62,000 EVs in the U.S. last year compared with over 522,000 cars sold by Tesla. Yet while Tesla sales were up 40%, Ford EV sales skyrocketed a whopping 126%. Yes, Tesla sold an impressive 1.3 million-plus vehicles worldwide in 2022, but Ford expects to sell 2 million EVs by 2026. The Mustang Mach-E—first introduced as a 2021 model—shows you one way Ford expects to get there.
For 2023, Ford knew better than to mess with the winning design of the Mach-E, which is at once futuristic and timeless. My fave styling cue is the clever use of flush-mounted buttons on the outside door frames instead of clunky conventional door handles.
Inside, with the battery placed under the floor, there’s oodles of room for passengers and cargo—including 60 cubic feet of stowage with the rear seats folded. Beneath the center console, there’s enough space for a handbag or small computer case.
The wide dashboard has a built-in soundbar, as well as large vertical touchscreen for the infotainment system. An active-safety system—with forward-collision alert, emergency braking, evasive steering and such—is now standard across the lineup.
This year the battery range can reach up to 312 miles, which outpaces much of the competition—including the Hyundai Ioniq, Volkswagen ID.4 and Volvo C40 Recharge. Another plus: Mach-E sticker prices have been reduced between $400 and $5,700, depending on trim level. Pricing also has been slashed for the extended-range battery, from $8,600 to $7,000.
Sure, there’s still a big difference between the $46,000 base model and $65,000 high-test GT. But trust me, the thrill of that GT is hard to resist. Stomp on the accelerator, enjoy the excitement as your body is thrust back against the driver’s seat, and be prepared to achieve warp speed. Rocketing from 0 to 60 mph in just 3.5 seconds took my breath away—literally. Many auto aficionados were skeptical when Ford first gave this EV the seemingly bait-and-switch moniker of a “Mustang,” but the GT version of the Mach-E comes closest to feeling like a true pony car.
One side note: With so much emphasis on EVs today, it’s easy to forget how much of a gamble it was for Ford to create the Mach-E. After all, this was not the automaker’s first electric-car rodeo. Henry Ford built a prototype for a low-cost battery-powered vehicle in 1913, then opted for the internal combustion engine. Other experimental EVs came and went, including the quirky 1966 Ford Comuta minicar and an all-electric 1998 Ford Ranger pickup, which lasted only four years.
Lucky for Ford, it looks like the Mustang Mach-E is a keeper.
(For more on the Ford Mustang Mach-E, read “One Lean, Mean Green Machine.”)
Battery range: 205-243 miles
0 to 60 mph: 5.6 seconds
My, how time changes things. As recently as 2020, Mercedes said that its diesel-powered cars were here to stay. But within a year, Mercedes announced it would go all-electric by 2030.
Enter the Mercedes EQS. This flagship sedan debuted last spring in the U.S. and was followed by the seven-passenger EQS SUV. Both EVs are exquisite, oozing luxury and overflowing with techno gadgetry. But—ouch!—pricing for these beauties starts at $105,000 and tops out at close to $170,000.
Fortunately, for those of us on a plebian budget, there’s the new Mercedes EQB. At half the price of its larger EQS siblings, the all-electric EQB is built on the same platform as the gas-powered GLB compact crossover. And except for minor styling tweaks and a bit quicker acceleration, the EQB looks and handles like the GLB. That’s a good thing for anyone needing some reassurance when making the leap to their first EV.
Despite the low price on a base-model EQB, standard features include power liftgate, dual-zone climate control, automated parking, ambient interior lighting and other niceties. There’s also the MBUX infotainment system, which comes with 10.25-inch touchscreen, voice-recognition technology, smartphone integration and a navigation system.
While the EQB does seat seven, third-row legroom is extremely tight. Best to leave those seats folded flat, unless carting around kids—and only for short distances.
Comparing the Ford Mustang Mach-E and Mercedes EQB is easy: Both have similar pricing and amenities. The Mach-E is certainly faster and has more of a space-age ambiance, but the traditional driving experience of the EQB is comforting on long drives. And, well, the EQB also has that coveted three-point star found only on a Mercedes.
Dodge Durango, Land Rover Defender 130 hit the mark
While many EVs are fun, eco-friendly and increasingly affordable, it’s sometimes hard to resist the siren call of a captivating ride with an old-school combustion engine. For me, this includes the Dodge Durango R/T and Land Rover Defender 130—two midsize SUVs that really get my motor running.
MPG: 19 city/26 highway
0 to 60 mph: 7.4 seconds
First produced 25 years ago, the Dodge Durango was a stand-in for anyone who eschewed minivans but still needed a workaday vehicle for hauling kiddos and soccer gear. In other words, you wouldn’t see Billy Porter as Fab G in “Cinderella” ditching his glittery-orange Maybach for a Durango.
Or would you? Thanks to various updates, today’s Durango is fancier, fitter and faster than ever—especially in the higher trim levels. I test drove the RT version, which is a few steps above the mid-range GT and comes with a magical V8. Zipping from 0 to 60 mph in just 6.2 seconds was a thrill, though the less-thirsty V6 is fine for everyday commutes. And until it is discontinued at year-end, the super-fast SRT Hellcat model—costing an eye-popping $104,000—allows speed jockeys to hit 60 mph in just 3.6 seconds.
What I like most about all Durangos is how nimbly these brawny-looking haulers handle weaving in and out of traffic. Not as slick as a true sport sedan perhaps, but still. And even though there are plenty of all-new and radically redesigned SUVs, the basic functionality in the Durango is impressive: User-friendly infotainment system, acres of second-row legroom, and more stowage and towing capacity than most competitors. One downside: The amount of safety gear, while decent, is less than expected. Only a backup camera and blind-spot monitor are standard, though adaptive cruise control, automated emergency braking and other driver-assistance features are available options.
Luckily, the Durango doesn’t skimp on other features. Even the base-model comes loaded: LED headlights, keyless entry/ignition, roof rails, three-zone automatic climate control, smartphone integration and more. By the time you get to the R/T, there are beefier tires and automatic high beams, as well as a sunroof, nav system, Wi-Fi hotspot and larger touchscreen. Instead of the standard six-speaker stereo, the R/T comes with a nine-speaker Alpine stereo with subwoofer. But if you really want to get the party started, then splurge on the thundering 19-speaker Harman Kardon system.
A vehicle for soccer moms and dads? Pfft, not anymore.
LAND ROVER DEFENDER 130
MPG: 17 city/21 highway
0 to 60 mph: 7.4 seconds
The first Land Rovers were boxy military-inspired vehicles introduced in 1948. Four decades later, the Defender arrived on U.S. shores. By then, it looked like a wayward Jeep for second-rate safari expeditions, which wasn’t exactly a draw. The Defender soon exited American showrooms but was sold elsewhere until 2016, when it was retired from service.
Or so it seemed. In 2020, the Defender was back, rereleased with an utterly modern makeover. This latest Defender is a complement to the Land Rover Discovery, a tamer SUV with softer styling and a family-oriented vibe. While both vehicles have a renowned history of off-road prowess, only one can be alpha. That would be the Defender, with its tall ground clearance of 11.5-inches and an absurd wading depth of 35.4 inches.
Along with the standard two- and four-door models, a new long-wheelbase Defender—the 130—joins the lineup this year. That’s the vehicle I test drove for a week. Like all Defenders, it has a Jekyll and Hyde character: off-road ruggedness, but refined and limo-like when wheels hit the pavement. At 13.3 inches longer than the standard four-door model, this extended Defender has three rows of seating to accommodate eight passengers comfortably. Alas, with the third row up, there’s not much cargo room. But anyone stuck in the back will find the journey pleasant: There are USB ports, optional seat heaters, a tall roofline for decent headroom, and a separate sunroof with a manual shade.
While no V8 option is available, you can choose from two six-cylinder engines that are both mild-hybrids. Considering the Defender 130 weighs 5,500 lbs., handling is surprisingly spot on. So are all the cabin niceties, like sleek chrome trim, real wood veneer, large touchscreen, air-purification system, four-zone climate control, heated second- and third-row seats, privacy glass and premium Meridian sound system. As I found when driving other Land Rovers, it took me time to relearn how to operate the less-than-intuitive infotainment system and climate control dials, which also adjust the heated/ventilated seats.
But that’s a small complaint, considering how much this large Defender has to offer.
Lightning strikes twice with all-electric Ford F-150 pickup
This dazzling eco-ride will take your breath away
Years ago as I was walking to work, a driver wielded his ginormous Ford F-150 pickup truck into a parking space barely big enough for a Mazda Miata. He then strode into my office building with the swagger of a total yahoo: seemingly clueless about parking etiquette, let alone climate change.
A short time later, this urban cowboy was introduced as our new supervisor. My internal eye-rolling kicked in after learning he had three toddlers. I mean, how practical is a monster hauler—with its sky-high ground clearance and limited interior cargo room—when ferrying around a trio of rugrats?
But my haughty ’tude soon started to wane after learning he also had a minivan. This dude just couldn’t quit his F-150 because it was tough and “free spirited.” While I appreciated his passion, I didn’t fully understand it. Pickups to me are workaday trucks: basic, utilitarian and, well, no big whoop.
That is, until last week when I tested the all-new, all-electric Ford F-150 Lightning. This dazzling eco-ride took my breath away, blasting off from a standstill to 60 mph in four seconds and dodging through traffic like Lionel Messi.
Call it a jolt (or lightning bolt) to the senses, but now it’s my turn to be the total yahoo when it comes to a pickup.
FORD F-150 LIGHTNING
MPGe: 76 city/61 highway
Range: up to 320 miles on a full charge
0 to 60 mph: as quick as 4.0 seconds
During the past year, various all-electric pickups have gone from concept to reality. There’s the cartoonish-looking Rivian, with a smiley front end that looks like something out of a “Cars” movie, and the GMC Hummer EV, which could easily be mistaken for a modish lunar rover.
Enter the Ford F-150 Lightning, with its sprinkles of futuristic styling cues, including distinctive light bars atop both the grille and tailgate. While the overall design may not be as outre as a Rivian or Hummer, the Lightning still turns plenty of heads.
Most notable, the Lightning is very practical. A Rivian, for example, is 14.6 inches shorter so has less passenger and cargo room. A Hummer is seven inches wider, making it harder to navigate city streets. And both the Rivian and Hummer are taller than a Lightning, which—yikes!—can barely scooch under the clearance bar in a parking garage itself.
There’s lots of leg room in both the front and back seats. And those rear seats flip up, allowing you to conveniently stow gobs of gear underneath. There also are a few dividers to help keep cargo organized and prevent items from jostling around.
But perhaps the coolest feature is the “frunk,” or front trunk. This storage space—where the engine used to be—is an impressive 14.1 cubic feet. That’s enough room for two golf bags or three medium-sized suitcases. The funky frunk is also water-resistant, drainable, lockable and has four 120-volt outlets and two USB chargers. There’s even an emergency release latch, just like in a standard trunk. Best of all, the lid opens and closes electronically, with just two taps to the keyfob. When I did this the first time, it looked as if the Lightning was actually yawning—or getting ready to eat someone.
And here’s a first: If your household ever loses power, a fully charged Lightning can serve as a backup generator for up to three days.
The real excitement, though, is behind the wheel. Power comes from two electric motors configured to provide standard all-wheel drive. Add in the extended-range battery for more horsepower and torque, and this pickup handles just like a sports car. The instant acceleration—especially when stomping on the gas, er, throttle pedal—must be what it’s like when a spaceship rockets off the launch pad. Except in the Lightning, there’s no back-and-forth shuddering, and no noise. Everything’s perfectly, eerily quiet in the well-insulated cabin.
Many interior features in the Lightning are also in the snazzy Ford Mustang Mach-e crossover, including the optional 15-inch infotainment screen that looks and behaves like an iPad. Other pleasing add-ons include max-recline seats, hands-free driving system, Bang & Olufsen premium stereo and twin-panel moonroof.
For more than 40 years, the traditional gas-engine F-150 has reigned as the best-selling vehicle in America, so the Lightning is a big risk for Ford. Yet with stellar performance and boffo functionality, it’s hard to see this electrifying pickup losing the crown.
Holiday gifts for car lovers
Something for everyone, from a Barbie Maserati to Subaru dog sweaters
Sure, a $100 gift card to use at the gas pump or EV charging station is a nice stocking stuffer this holiday season, but there are plenty of other much more playful gifts for car fans.
Subaru Blue-Striped Beanie
To help reduce waste and carbon emissions, Subaru offers assorted eco-friendly clothing. This includes a blue-striped beanie ($15), made from 100% recycled acrylic knit and festooned with a sassy pom on top. Subaru Motorsports USA logo is embroidered on the side.
Barbie Maserati Grecale Trofeo SUV
For megabucks motorheads, Neiman Marcus offers its annual holiday catalogue —a collection of “fantasy gifts”— with the Barbie Maserati Grecale Trofeo SUV ($330,000). This fab ride—in shocking pink and with yellow accents—can sprint from 0 to 60 mph in less than four seconds. Only one is available, with 10% of the sale donated to the Barbie Dream Gap Project, which helps provide equal opportunities for girls and young women.
Hyundai Nexo Kiddie Car
Back in the day, there were Hot Wheels, Matchbox Cars and Tonka Toys. Today, there’s the Hyundai Nexo kiddie car ($737), an electric-powered plaything with vegan leather, stitched seating and rear sensors that beep when there’s an obstruction. Parents can control the car via a Bluetooth remote-control system. Charging time: seven hours.
Mercedes Classic 300 SL Desk Clock
Turn back time with the Mercedes classic 300 SL desk clock ($85) made of aluminum and stainless steel, with a wave pattern on the dial similar to the design used on the dashboard of that vintage Benz.
The Godfather Cadillac Model Car
Like Marlon Brando, here’s an offer you can’t refuse: The Godfather Cadillac ($23), a diecast model of the 1955 Fleetwood in that movie.
Ferrari Wraparound Sunglasses
Caio bella! Sleek unisex sunglasses ($1,275) from Ferrari feature a futuristic wraparound design with steel frame, titanium nose pads and the automaker’s prancing-horse emblem on each lens.
Maserati Blue Unisex Socks
What better stocking stuffer than, well, socks. Maserati’s blue unisex socks ($31) are made of a high-quality blend of cotton and technical fabric, with the Maserati trident logo inlaid on the side and sole of each sock. Ideal for outdoor activities or sports.
The BMW kid’s scooter ($120) is made of durable plastic and metal, with a height-adjustable steering bar and convenient storage drawer to hold stuff. Available in choice of two snazzy color combinations: white/raspberry or black/orange.
Ford Bronco Holiday Adult Onesie
Ford is proud of its ugly holiday sweaters, but this year there’s the Bronco holiday adult onesie ($45). Made of 100% polyester polar fleece, this glorified pajama comes with loose-fitting hood, tight-fitting cuffs for your arms and ankles, and a cringe-worthy design in maroon, sage and cream coloring.
Land Rover Heritage Watch
Inspired by old-school aviator timepieces, the Land Rover Heritage Watch ($282) has a leather strap, rugged stitching and early Land Rover logo on a matte black dial and ion-plated case. Available with a snazzy Land Rover presentation box.
Subaru Dog Sweater
Subaru offers festive gifts for those four-legged members in your family, including a holiday dog sweater ($35) made of jacquard knit. Other Subaru pet-centric presents: collars, leashes, clip-on safety light, travel roll-up mat, toss-n-chew dog toy, fleece plushie full of cat nip, and more.
Retro Datsun Lunch Box
Gearhead foodies will appreciate the Datsun lunch box ($15), with images of two iconic cars from that retro automaker: the racy 240z roadster on one side and the stylish 510 sedan on the other.
Charged up about electric vehicles
Bolt EUV, BMW iX xDrive 50 offer climate-friendly style
For me, electric vehicles are like superheroes. They nix tailpipe emissions. They combat climate change. And they come with scads of slick gadgets.
Today’s cutting-edge EV designs also look, well, electrifying. And you can’t beat the adrenaline rush, the ability to dash lickety-split down the road—even when tapping the accelerator ever so slightly.
I recently drove two EVs that gave me a real charge. And who knows, they just may help save the planet.
CHEVROLET BOLT EUV
MPGe: 125 city/104 highway
Driving range: 247 miles
0 to 60 mph: 6.8 seconds
Shazam! As with that comic-book superhero, lightning has struck the compact Chevy Bolt EV hatchback. The result: the all-new Bolt EUV—aka Electric Utility Vehicle—a compact SUV that’s six inches longer than the hatchback. Sure, the six-year-old Bolt EV was nicely updated last year, but the surprise addition of the larger EUV brings much-needed legroom for rear-seat passengers. Both Bolts sport the same offbeat design, full of comely creases and large windows for an airy interior. And there are notable amenities, including LED headlights, heated exterior mirrors, remote start and remote keyless entry.
But the EUV comes with so many extras, especially in the Premier trim level: Bose stereo, onboard navigation system, panoramic sunroof, illuminated charging port and more. This is also the first Chevy with Super Cruise, an advanced hands-free-driving system for automatic braking, steering and acceleration. The cabin features a 10.2-inch infotainment screen, 8-inch digital display, smartphone integration and flat-bottom steering wheel with integrated audio controls and such.
While I prefer traditional gearshift levers versus the gear-selector buttons in the Bolt, more automakers are opting for such gearshift buttons, toggles or knobs because they take up less space. Battery range is listed at 247 miles, but I fared closer to 270 miles. You get only four miles of charge per hour using a standard 120-volt outlet, but a full-charge from a 240-volt outlet takes just seven hours, which is decent. Along with the eight-year/100,000-mile battery warranty, roadside assistance is five years/60,000 miles. Overall, both Bolts—whether hatchback or EUV—are stylish and affordable. But expect the new Bolt EUV to ferry around those superheroes in your life a bit more comfortably.
BMW iX xDRIVE 50
MPGe: 86 city/87 highway
Driving range: 315 miles
0 to 60 mph: 4.2 seconds
Beware the magical powers of a BMW iX xDrive 50, the automaker’s first all-electric SUV. This rousing ride boasts the speed of The Flash, the tenacity of Thor and the savvy of Storm. In other words, what’s not to like? Sure, this all-new BMW costs three times as much as a Chevy Bolt EUV. But the iX scoots down the road a lot faster, tackles twisties with confidence and brakes like a true race car.
Size-wise, the iX is akin to a midsize BMW X5 SUV, with comfortable seating for five passengers and beaucoup storage space. Here the comparisons end. With sci-fi styling, the iX is more futuristic than anything BMW has tried before. Take the signature kidney-shaped grille, which has been bent and stretched as if from another dimension. Cameras, radar gizmos and other sensors are hidden in the grille, which is covered by a polyurethane coating that gives it the power to heal itself—or basically erase—any minor scratches or dings. I mean, like, wow.
Frameless windows and the flush exterior door handles add to the aerodynamic ambience. As for the interior, this is what I imagine cockpits in luxury space shuttles will look like someday. There’s a funky hexagonal steering wheel, a center console that seems to float between the front seats, and buttons instead of handles to open the doors from the inside. Hovering atop the dashboard is an elongated digital monitor, stretched to fit the 14.9-inch infotainment display and 12.3-inch digital gauge cluster.
The seat-adjustment controls, infotainment control knob and other switchgear can be ordered in crystal glass. And many materials in the iX are recycled, including carpets and floor mats made from used fishing nets and other items. Also of note: When flying down the highway, the cabin is one of the quietest available, beating even Bentley and Rolls-Royce. For 2023, a high-performance iX M60 model arrives with even more power and pizzazz. Another super vehicle we can look forward to on the road.
Two small, fun, and affordable rides
Ford Maverick, Kia Nightfall easy on your wallet
Who doesn’t love a bargain? At $47,148, the average price of a new car is quickly approaching — yikes! — $50,000. So when I recently tested two vehicles that cost only half as much, you might assume such rides appeal to my penchant for being kinda-sorta cheap. OK, this is partly true, but along with affordable MSRPs, these low-cost chariots offer lots of other pleasant surprises.
Mpg: 42 city/33 highway
0 to 60 mph: 7.7 seconds
With all the hoo-ha over electric vehicles, I wasn’t expecting to go gaga over a rather traditional pickup. Yet that’s what happened with the Ford Maverick, an all-new compact truck that comes standard as a hybrid. While a non-hybrid is available, it’s hard not to love the hybrid’s stellar fuel efficiency.
I also think this pickup looks sexy, with sumptuously curved sheet metal that any fashionista could love. Another plus: The Maverick is the least expensive tiny pickup out there. It’s also surprisingly comfy, available only as a four-door crew cab with ample legroom and headroom, as well as nifty storage spaces. The low-slung truck bed, which can carry cargo up to 1,500 pounds, makes loading and unloading easy. And if, say, you’re looking to enter a float in your local Pride parade, this small but mighty hauler can tow up to 4,000 pounds.
Built on the same platform as two popular Ford SUVs—the Escape and Bronco Sport—the Maverick boasts handling more akin to a steady sedan than a rough-and-rugged truck. Sure, there was some annoying jostling over potholes, but the steering and braking were precise. All models offer niceties such as remote keyless entry, steering-wheel audio controls, smartphone integration and forward-collision warning. While various option packages add up quickly, some features are hard to resist: Bang & Olufsen premium stereo, wireless smartphone charging pad, power-sliding rear window, key fob with remote start, adaptive cruise control and more.
During my weeklong testing of this vehicle, I took it on a few far-flung treks outside the city. Each time, it was refreshing to tumble back into the Maverick for my drive home. For me — wink, wink — this pickup was the perfect pick-me-up.
KIA SELTOS NIGHTFALL
Mpg: 25 city/30 highway
0 to 60 mph: 7.5 seconds
When I first slid behind the wheel of a Kia Seltos subcompact SUV last year, the low price — $24,000 for the base model — was beguiling. Overall, though, the funky styling and available options were more notable than the actual ride and handling. Not so when I recently drove the latest Seltos — this time the Nightfall Edition, which feels like a completely different vehicle.
For just $3,000 extra, the Nightfall trim level adds a bit more style and a lot more substance. This includes a zippy 175-hp turbo engine, which shaves off almost a full second when accelerating from 0 to 60 mph. There’s a smooth seven-speed automatic transmission and all-wheel drive for grippier traction. And larger 18-inch tires offer more road control, as well as slightly higher ground clearance for better driver visibility.
Inside, the upscale design and materials are still impressive. But while all models come with tinted rear windows, smartphone integration, automatic headlights and keyless entry, the Nightfall adds heated front seats, large touchscreen, navigation system, wireless phone charger, sunroof and other amenities. A blind-spot monitor (with rear cross-traffic alert) is also included with the plentiful array of standard safety gear. To distinguish the Nightfall from its Seltos siblings, there are even blacked-out wheels and exterior trim accents for a sportier look. It’s hard to believe that these two vehicles I drove are related. But with the Nightfall, the difference is night and day.
2022 AAA Car Guide – Going High-Tech often means going electric
Mustang Mach-E Takes Top Honors – Researchers: its got a dramatic new profile, is powerful, electric, quiet, quick, roomy & fun to fun drive
LOS ANGELES – New vehicle shoppers primarily want two things in their next ride – better fuel efficiency and more driver assist safety features. According to AAA, nearly 80% of drivers want automakers to focus on improving fuel economy.
And 76% want active driving assistance systems (ADAS), like automatic emergency braking, lane keeping assistance, and adaptive cruise control. Addressing these twin desires can be accomplished with the newest batch of EVs (electric vehicles), which are often the most technologically cutting-edge and the most fuel efficient.
Many of the world’s major automakers have announced plans to dramatically increase electric vehicle production or phase out gasoline-powered vehicles entirely by 2035. The AAA Car Guide helps consumers navigate the changing automotive marketplace by ranking and rating the newest vehicles available for sale, including alternative fuel vehicles.
For the 2022 edition of the AAA Car Guide, the 2021 Ford Mustang Mach-E Premium AWD earned the overall top score. Researchers noted this Mustang has a dramatic new profile, is powerful, electric, quiet, quick, roomy and fun to fun drive. The AAA Car Guide provides consumers with reviews highlighting how many advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) are included in the vehicle along with other criteria and information. All category winners for 2022 are electric, plug-in electric hybrid, or hybrid vehicles. In addition to being highly fuel efficient, the winners are also loaded with the latest in advanced driver assistance systems.
In 2021, electric vehicle sales rose to nearly 477,000, representing 3.3% of total vehicle sales – but a whopping 81.5% increase over 2020 sales. Of the 62 vehicles reviewed for the 2022 AAA Car Guide, six are electric.
“EV sales, while small, are growing, and the signs are everywhere that the future is electric,” said Megan McKernan, manager of the Auto Club’s Automotive Research Center that produced the guide. “And that future may arrive faster with consumer preferences changing because of factors such as high gas prices and the gradual phasing-out of gasoline-powered vehicles in some areas..”
The 2022 AAA Car Guide includes comprehensive reviews of each vehicle based on 12 criteria, including the number of ADAS safety features, fuel efficiency, emissions, braking, handling, ride quality, and acceleration. These vehicles are tested, scored, and placed in one of five vehicle categories by the Automotive Research Center (ARC) of the Automobile Club of Southern California, a member of the AAA federation of motor clubs.
“Our research is designed to eliminate the guesswork for consumers when they are looking to purchase a new vehicle,” said McKernan. “The AAA Car Guide is an easy-to-understand resource that can help improve consumers’ decisions when it comes to car buying.”
Industry analysts forecast that the COVID-19 pandemic, the semi-conductor chip shortage, and the proliferation of EVs will affect the availability, types, and prices of new and used cars in 2022. For those in the market for newer used vehicles, the online AAA Car Guide website also contains links to the two prior editions in 2021 and 2020.
Each of the 2022 AAA Car Guide winners has numerous ADAS safety features and achieves high fuel efficiency by being hybrid or all-electric, generating a higher score. The highest scoring ranked by category are:
Winners, detailed evaluation criteria, vehicle reviews, and an in-depth analysis of the ADAS technology can be found at aaa.com/carguide.
The AAA Car Guide also contains detailed information about AAA’s recent research on current automotive technologies and topics, such as advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS), gasoline quality, headlight effectiveness, and safely transporting a pet in the vehicle.
Chi-chi crossover SUVs
Say goodbye to barebones econoboxes
Mpg: 22 city/29 highway
0 to 60 mph: 6.1 seconds
Back in the day, Oldsmobile tried to rebrand itself with corny commercials featuring celebrity icons. Trouble was, not even William Shatner, Ringo Starr or even the automaker’s catchy tagline—“Not Your Father’s Oldsmobile”—could overcome the lackluster vehicle lineup. But not so with Lincoln. Hunky Matthew McConaughey has boosted sales of the luxury brand for eight years now. His quirky rhapsodizing of all things Lincoln is bolstered by increasingly stylish and innovative people pleasers.
This includes the Corsair, a compact SUV introduced just two years ago. As if tempting fate, this is the same name as the full-sized sedan and coupe produced back in 1958 by Ford’s ill-fated Edsel division. But today, with chiseled features and space-age gizmos, this new Corsair is likely to be around for generations. Lincoln SUVs tend to emulate Lexus in styling and creature comforts. The Corsair looks sportier—think Audi Q5 or BMW X3—though without the grippy handling and tight cornering. But that’s OK, because the result is a smooth and pampered ride—a big plus on long-distance trips.
Three trim levels, including a top-of-the line Grand Touring plug-in hybrid. I test drove the mid-level Reserve, with all-wheel drive and oodles of standard features: panoramic sunroof, hands-free liftgate, LED fog lamps, auto-fold side mirrors, 14-speaker Revel stereo and more. Tons of options, and those 24-way, perfect-posture seats are particularly fine. To avoid feeling dazed and confused with so many drivers emerging from the pandemic, there’s also a head-up display and a Co-Pilot360 Plus package with surround-view camera and automated parking. Impressive crash-test scores are a bonus, as is the long powertrain warranty (six years or 70,000 miles). As for value, the Corsair is built on the same platform as the popular Ford Edge, which is priced just slightly less. Yet this Lincoln exudes all the flair and luxury of high-end vehicles costing so much more.
MERCEDES AMG GLB35
Mpg: 21city/26 highway
0 to 60 mph: 4.9 seconds
Like Jon Hamm, the voice of Mercedes for over a decade, the renowned German automaker is well endowed with notable attributes. But while the actor’s calming voice is in sync with the rich aura of a genteel Benz, that’s not the case with the hellfire AMG GLB35 compact crossover. This sporty rabble-rouser—with plucky styling, screaming exhaust note and a fierce 302-horsepower turbo engine—is more in tune with, say, the grit and gumption of Megan Rapinoe.
Sure, the basic GLB is just fine, but this AMG high-performance model boasts brushed stainless-steel pedals, silver chrome paddle-shifters and a flat-bottom steering wheel. What’s more, the crisp steering, lithe handling and taut braking tugged at my boy-racer heartstrings each time I slipped behind the wheel.
A tall cabin allows for plenty of headroom, and there’s a decent amount of cargo space for such a small vehicle. But while a third seat can be ordered, I’m not sure anyone would want to perform the contortions necessary to sit there. Along with the sassy attitude, the GLB35 is still plenty classy. LED headlights and taillights come standard, as do rain-sensing wipers, dual-zone automatic climate control and ambient lighting that can be customized with choice of 64 colors. There are two large, 10.25-inch digital displays: one for the instrument cluster and the other a touchscreen for the infotainment system. And some $10,000 in options include panoramic sunroof, 12-speaker Burmester stereo, logo puddle lamps, real-wood trim and other goodies. Overall, the GLB35 is a rebel with a cause: part tuner car, part pocket rocket and, above all, nonstop excitement.
Two models offer strong, confident, inspiring styling
By JOE PHILLIPS
As usual, June is bustin’ out all over, with Vice President Kamala Harris making history by joining in the festivities. But the fun doesn’t have to end there. Two fine crossover SUVs show how easy it is to keep the party going indefinitely. I call them Pride rides—strong, confident and inspiring.
BMW X5 XDRIVE 45E
Mpg: 20 mpg (gas only), 50 mpg (electric and gas)
0 to 60 mph: 4.7 seconds
In 2015, back when Gus Kenworthy and Caitlin Jenner came charging out of the closet, BMW was making its own hoopla with the X5 xDrive 40e. This was the automaker’s first plug-in hybrid, an engineering marvel that could shift seamlessly between EV and gas-engine mode. Ride and handling were as good as any traditional SUV. And despite a hefty curb weight, acceleration to 60 mph was a decent 6.2 seconds.
Fast forward to the X5 xDrive 45e, the next-gen model rolling into showrooms this year. Thanks to the pandemic, this debut has been more subtle. But the enhancements are quite substantial. The new engine—stronger and quieter than the previous model—helps this midsize SUV blast to 60 mph in just 4.7 seconds. Despite being over 400 pounds heavier, the updated X5 is actually nimbler. And the electric-only range is 31 miles, or twice as far as the old model. That’s a good thing, because overall fuel economy is now 20 mpg versus 24 mpg. Luckily, most motorists drive only about 30 miles each day anyway. (Or at least they did prior to the pandemic.)
Inside, the cockpit design is minimalist chic, but with lots of standard features: faux-leather seats, panoramic roof, two 12.3-inch digital screens, and smartphone integration for both Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. All-wheel drive also is standard, even in electric-only mode. Along with all the latest safety gear, there’s active cruise control with a stop-and-go function that can be used at speeds up to 130 mph (yo, for autobahn drivers, not those of us stateside). And during a much-needed weekend getaway with some freeway backups, the traffic-jam-assist feature worked its magic: I was able take my hands off the wheel and relieve a lot of driver fatigue and frustration as the vehicle drove itself. This also was a blessing for my partner, who didn’t have to listen to me swear like a New York City taxi driver.
MERCEDES GLS 450
Mpg: 20 city/24 highway
0 to 60 mph: 5.8 seconds
For a few more bells and whistles, there’s the Mercedes GLS 450. This full-size SUV has acres of cargo room and can easily seat seven passengers. For a sportier vibe, you can swap out the second-row bench seat for two captain’s chairs.
A robust six-cylinder engine comes standard and provides plenty of punch. The entry-level GLS handles just as effortlessly as the higher-end V8 model, which adds another $23,000 to the price tag. Both vehicles are smooth operators, with all-wheel drive and a sophisticated suspension that raises and lowers the chassis. There’s even a clever pothole-sensing system to neutralize nasty bumps and enhance the feeling that this hulking SUV is floating on air. As with many BMWs and Mercedes, the GLS now comes with two huge 12.3-inch screens: one for the digital gauges and the other for the infotainment system.
Various pricey options abound, including five-zone climate control, a tablet to operate the infotainment system, and front and rear massaging seats that can be programmed to apply soothing relief to your back, tush or both. As if such amenities weren’t enough, you can toss in heated and cooled cupholders, as well as a cabin fragrance system with choice of four aromas. Both Mercedes and BMW offer vibrant ambient lighting, with thin strips of interior lights illuminating the foot wells, door panels, dashboard trim, climate control vents, cupholders, speaker rims, center console and more. To tap into your inner rainbow, the GLS has a digital color wheel where you can choose from 64 lustrous hues. You can customize the lighting even further, selecting different colors to illuminate various parts of the interior at the same time. For me, calling up some funky mood lighting and a few rockin’ Pride songs on the stereo is the perfect way to get the party started.
Smart rides for trying times
Two affordable options as supply dwindles and demand soars
As if the pandemic, political discord and even cicadas weren’t enough, now there’s trouble brewing when trying to buy a new car. Parts shortages of computer chips, rubber, and other supplies mean new-vehicle inventory is down a whopping 40 percent. And with supply so low, demand is ratcheting up. So expect higher prices, along with fewer dealer and automaker incentives. But there are still opportunities out there. This includes opting for less popular models, such as coupes or sedans instead of hot-ticket SUVs and trucks. Or choosing niche models like the Fiat 500X or Mini Cooper Countryman. These two rather off-beat rides may lack the overall room and practicality of larger crossovers, but they perform nicely and are relatively affordable—at least for now.
Mpg: 24 city/30 highway
0 to 60 mph: 8.7 seconds
Buying a Fiat is all about making a fashion statement, combining Italian flair with frugal pricing. The automaker’s decision to reduce its lineup and focus on just one vehicle—the 500X subcompact crossover—only adds to the cachet. Everything about the 500X is charming, including the Lilliputian size, retro exterior and dazzling dashboard with interlocking display gauges. And the name of the base-model adds a bit of whimsy: Pop. There are three other trims—Sport, Trekking and Trekking Plus—but none of them is exactly racy or off-road ready.
Built on the same platform as the Jeep Renegade, the 500X handles fairly smoothly, at least on the freeway. The short chassis makes it difficult to glide over bigger bumps and potholes, and some body sway is noticeable on tight curves. With just 14 cubic feet of back-end cargo space, there’s room only to haul some groceries and such. Still, the four-cylinder turbo engine is perky enough, and the standard all-wheel drive came in handy during a few unexpected downpours. The well-bolstered seats now have updated upholstery, and those funky circular headrests look like something from a Flash Gordon spaceship. There are a surprising number of safety features, including automated emergency braking, blind-spot monitor with rear cross-traffic alert, and lane-departure warning with lane-keeping assist. And warranty coverage is decent, though there is no complimentary scheduled maintenance. Sure, the 7-inch infotainment touchscreen seems tiny compared with larger displays in other crossovers. But those vehicles cost more, and at least the Fiat comes with smartphone integration and three USB ports. Options include a Beats stereo, heated seats, LED headlamps, front and rear parking sensors, and even a panoramic sunroof. Yes, there’s plenty of personality here and also a decent number of amenities.
MINI COOPER COUNTRYMAN JCW
Mpg: 23 city/31 highway
0 to 60 mph: 4.4 seconds
For a bit more room and a lot more vroom, there’s the Mini Cooper Countryman. The base model starts at a very affordable $29,200. But the test vehicle that arrived for me to review was the souped-up JCW edition. While it’s definitely pricey, this pocket rocket costs much less than high-performance crossovers from BWW or Mercedes. Yet it’s just as blisteringly fast. The acceleration literally took my breath away, and the guttural exhaust rumble—which was downright primal—turned more than a few heads.
The Countryman is the largest vehicle in the Mini lineup, and for 2021 the exterior gets a tasteful refresh. This includes a flashier grille and bumpers, as well as the clever Union Jack design etched into the taillights. The JCW model boasts larger wheels, more form-fitting seats, rear spoiler and a sport-tuned suspension that helps transform this crossover into a tuner car. Along with keyless entry and power-folding mirrors, there’s also a rear-view camera, ambient lighting and wireless charging. But while Apple CarPlay is available, Android Auto is not. As with the Fiat 500X, the high seating and deft placement of side pillars help with driver visibility. But the Countryman does offer a tad more legroom and rear cargo space. Either vehicle will do, though, if you’re itching to toss in a few overnight bags to simply get away from it all.
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