How cool are hybrids? Let us count the ways.
First, hybrids aren’t fully electric, so there’s no range anxiety about your battery conking out during a trip. Second, sticker prices are lower for hybrids than for electric vehicles. Third, hybrids—especially plug-in hybrids like those reviewed here—have the lowest lifetime maintenance costs.
And, oh yes, hybrids also boast a hoity-toity lineage: The first hybrid, the Mixte, was built in 1902 by Ferdinand Porsche.
FORD ESCAPE PLUG-IN HYBRID
MPG: 40 city/40 highway
Electric-only range: 37 miles
0 to 60 mph: 7.7 seconds
PROS: Refreshed design, good fuel economy, roomy.
CONS: Some cheap interior plastics, no ventilated seats, no all-wheel drive.
IN A NUTSHELL: The Ford Escape plug-in hybrid is $13,000 less than its luxe sibling, the Lincoln Corsair. But cheaper doesn’t mean lackluster. Exterior styling on an Escape is snazzy, with tasteful LED accent lighting stretching across the top of the grille. Handling is highly responsive, as are the brakes. And there’s plenty of zip when driving in all-electric mode. Ford says this Escape can go 37 miles on battery power alone, but for me it was even better—up to 40 miles. Other nice surprises: a hushed cabin and crystal-clear stereo. There’s only one trim level, but it’s loaded: heated seats, heated steering wheel, dual-zone climate control, tinted rear windows, nav system and more. My test vehicle also came with many sweet options: head-up display, 360-degree split-screen camera, panoramic roof and active park assist. Overall, the Escape may not be as fully upscale as a Lincoln Corsair, but it’s pretty close.
KIA SORENTO PLUG-IN HYBRID
MPG: 35 city/33 highway
Electric-only range: 32 miles
0 to 60 mph: 7.9 seconds
PROS: Fuel efficient, easy to drive, third-row seating.
CONS: Not so sporty, low towing capacity, third row for kids only.
IN A NUTSHELL: Need a larger hauler? The Kia Sorento plug-in hybrid is the most affordable midsize crossovers with third-row seating. A tad slower and less sporty than various competitors, this Kia is still one smooth ride. It felt especially steady as I was weaving through stop-and-go Beltway congestion after some unexpectedly long days at work. In fact, not once did I swear like a New York City cab driver under my breath. What’s more, there’s plenty of bang for the buck: remote keyless entry, hands-free power liftgate, LED interior lighting, second-row sunshades, 12-speaker premium Bose stereo and other goodies. The seating features alone are impressive: heated/ventilated front seats, heated second-row seats, 14-way power-adjustable driver’s seat, 10-way front passenger seat, second-row captain chairs, and 50/50-split folding third-row seat. There are so many safety systems that even Volvo—renowned for its safety innovations—would likely be impressed. I know I was.
LINCOLN CORSAIR PLUG-IN HYBRID
MPG: 34 city/32 highway
Electric-only range: 28 miles
0 to 60 mph: 7.0 seconds
PROS: Glitzy outside, cushy inside, creature comforts galore.
CONS: Pricey, some touchscreen anomalies, battery-only range not so far.
IN A NUTSHELL: As with various other hybrid crossovers, the Lincoln Corsair plug-in is only available in one high-end trim level. Built on the same platform as the less expensive Ford Escape, the Corsair is the better choice for drivers itching for a refined ride. Handling is comparable to a Lexus sedan versus a BMW speedster, though the Corsair is notably faster than an Escape. The Corsair also has a swanky cabin with primo materials. Two new interior colors say it all: Smoked Truffle and Eternal Red. The dash flaunts two large display monitors: 12.3-inch digital gauge cluster and 13.2-inch infotainment touchscreen (note that a few navigation features were less-than-intuitive at first). Nifty amenities include massaging seats, hands-free liftgate, automated parking system and limited hands-free driving. While overall car sales were down last year, sales of EVs and plug-in hybrids were up. These three fuel-friendly rides help explain why.
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Fab gifts for car fans
From stuffed animals to a $20,000 model car
For those of us who still love Tonka Toys and Matchbox cars, here are some fun gift-giving ideas for all ages this holiday season.
Ford Bronco Plush Horse
For kids—or adults who just like horsing around—the Ford Bronco polyester stuffed animal ($27) is super soft and comes with a fluffy mane, glossy black eyes and a kicky green bandana. Bonus: It’s machine washable.
Kia Hamster Seatbelt Buddy
Kia also has its own stuffed animal: the hamster seatbelt buddy ($13), dressed in a black T-shirt and white Kia logo. Two Velcro flaps on the back come together to fit any seatbelt.
BMW Small Fashion Wallet
Nix the purses and over-stuffed billfolds. The BMW small fashion wallet ($70) is only 4.1×2.9 inches and features two card slots, one banknote compartment and the BMW logo tastefully stamped on the outside.
Vintage Subaru License Plate
The vintage-looking SUB-ARU license plate ($12) is made of recycled aluminum and measures 6×12 inches. Is it just me, or could there be a subtle message here: I am a “Sub…Are You”?
Montblanc Enzo Ferrari Special-Edition Pen
Dedicated to race-car driver and automaker Enzo Ferrari, this Montblanc special-edition pen ($1,000) is made of metal, resin and platinum-plated detailing. The pen cap features the dates of Enzo’s birth and first racing victory, while the clip is inscribed with his famous phrase: “You cannot describe passion, you can only live it.”
Ford Lightning Multi-Tool Keychain
Electric vehicle fans will get a charge out of the Ford Lightning multi-tool keychain ($10), which doubles as bottle opener, scissors, knife, measuring tool and nail file. Made of stainless steel, this keychain is named for the EV version of the Ford F-Series, the best-selling truck in the U.S. for 46 years.
Land Rover Classic Watch
Forget a pricey Rolex, the Land Rover Classic Watch ($207) is all about understated elegance. Features include luminated hands and indices, Land Rover lettering, date aperture, textured Italian leather strap, water-resistant casing, and a rotating outer bezel that can be aligned to a second time zone.
Lexus LX 570 Kiddie Car
EVs are everywhere, and that includes the battery-powered Lexus LX 570 kiddie car ($695). Built for ages two to seven years old, this ride has a white exterior, chestnut brown interior and working LED lights, doors and seatbelts. With remote control access, the car can be driven manually by children or controlled by parents. Built-in Bluetooth, FM radio, USB and SD port for music are also here. Oh, and there’s a real horn to help make sure everybody gets out of the way.
Mercedes Game Kit
Planes, trains and automobiles…take this Mercedes game kit ($50) anywhere to jazz up your journey. Includes dominoes, dice and playing cards, all in a sturdy metal box.
Toyota GR Supra ‘Through the Years’ T-Shirt
Celebrating Toyota’s renowned sportster, the GR Supra “Through the Years” T-shirt ($25) has screen-printed silhouettes of this super coupe from 1978 to today. Made of polyester, cotton and rayon, with tear-away label and side seams.
Cadillac Golf Balls
For golfers looking for a Caddy with a capital “C,” these Titlest Pro V1 golf balls ($70) sport the Cadillac logo. Softer, quieter and with better game spin than most of the competition, these golf balls are the most popular on the pro tours.
Ferrari 250 TR 1958 Lucybelle II Model Car
True Ferrari aficionados appreciate how the original 250 TR—named Lucybelle II and driven by American drivers Ed Hugus and Ray Erickson—placed a respectable seventh place at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1958. At 24 inches long, this handcrafted 1:8 scale model ($19,995) has thousands of engineered parts (including a trunk that opens and a removable engine cover) to showcase one of the most coveted Ferraris in the world.
Muscle-car maniac: Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat
You can’t beat this one for a last hurrah in a true muscle car
It’s hard to forget your first love. For me, it wasn’t exactly Danell Leyva or Michael Sam. Yet there was some serious muscle on my primo amore: a Pontiac LeMans 455 sportster.
Sparkly blue. White racing stripes. Twin-scoop hood. Dual exhaust. Feisty engine. Talk about butch points.
I’ve waxed poetic before about this super coupe, which ferried me all through high school. With tender loving care, I kept my beloved ride in great shape.
Alas, the next owner did not. Soon enough, it was riddled with rust, scrapes and scores of dents. Sigh.
But just last month, bittersweet memories of my first car came back when I tested the 2023 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat. This top-of-the-line model boasts hyper horsepower and, seemingly, supersonic speed. There’s also an acres-long hood, low-slung seats and a tricked-out, gauge-laden dashboard.
Driving this rad Challenger was a thundering throwback to muscle cars of yore. It certainly got my motor running, and it likely will do the same for you.
But not for long: This is the last year of production before Dodge begins churning out an electric-only version.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m all in on EVs. They’re fun, fast, and eco-friendly. But if you’re looking for a last hurrah in a true muscle car, the Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat can’t be beat.
DODGE CHALLENGER SRT HELLCAT
MPG: 13 city/22 highway
0 to 60 mph: 3.6 seconds
Cargo room: 16.2 cu. ft.
PROS: wicked fast, kick-ass looks, wake-the-dead rumble
CONS: almost too fast to handle, oh-so-impractical, final year
IN A NUTSHELL: First, the good news. A base-model Dodge Challenger costs $33,000, or $15,000 below the $48,000 average price of a new vehicle today. With a 303-horsepower V6, this two-door hardtop can scoot from 0 to 60 mph in a respectable 5.3 seconds. Not too shabby.
But hey, why settle for “Glee” or “Modern Family” reruns when you can stream more trendy fare like “Dicks: The Musical,” right?
In other words, there are more fabulous Challenger trim levels, each offering more enticing features, styling and power than the next. It all culminates with the SRT Hellcat, which—thanks to an iconic HEMI V8—churns out a ridiculous 807 horsepower and can go faster than many a Ferrari, Lamborghini or McLaren.
Unfortunately, Challenger pricing adds up quickly, especially if you opt for any of the dizzying array of specialty packages, customized paint jobs, interior colors and such. My test car, for example, was an eye-popping $100,000 and included the Redeye, Widebody and Black Ghost configurations. This meant wider wheels and tires, a sportier suspension, larger Brembo brakes, protruding fender flares and a glossy black exterior with white racing stripes across the rear end. The high-test brake calipers, usually bright red, were painted black to highlight the 20-inch silver wheels. For a real retro vibe, there was a circular chrome fuel door that said “FUEL” on the gas cap. The most love-it-or-hate-it feature: the roof, with its funky black-and-gray graphics designed to look like alligator skin.
Production of the Black Ghost is limited to 300 units and is part of Dodge’s “Last Call” series, the automaker’s celebratory nod to the end of the Hemi combustion engine. These special editions include an under-hood plaque stamped with a Challenger silhouette, as well as the factory location of where the car was built.
Driving such a menacing beast was exciting — and scary. At first, there seemed to be too much muscle under the hood, especially on wet roads when this coupe would easily fishtail. But I quickly learned to step on the accelerator ever so gently to still get plenty of thrills. (As for the racetrack-ready “Launch” button on the dashboard, it went unused—though I imagine pressing it just might have taken me airborne.)
The cabin had a smart, old-school ambience yet was full of modern amenities: dual-zone climate control, smartphone integration, flat-bottom steering wheel with paddle shifters, heated/ventilated seats and more. While there was an optional 18-speaker Harman Kardon stereo, turning on the ignition and listening to the throaty rumble was music enough for my ears.
This is no SUV, of course, so don’t expect to haul lots of supplies from Home Dept. But the Challenger does have the most trunk space among sports cars. Split-folding rear seats open up the cargo area even more.
Overall, the Challenger SRT Hellcat was one helluva rush. It offered plenty of speed, sex appeal and ear-splitting screams—from the exhaust pipes, as well as a few of my passengers.
Standout SUVs: Jeep Compass, Subaru Crosstrek
Americans still prefer larger vehicles to sedans
Last year Americans left many old-school chariots in the dust, buying twice as many SUVs as sedans. But while early pioneers like the Jeep Cherokee and Ford Explorer get props for leading the sport-ute charge, today there are more than 170 models. I recently test drove two newish SUVs that kinda-sorta remind me of my Pride bracelet: They make a statement, but at an affordable price.
MPG: 24 city/32 highway
0 to 60 mph: 7.5 seconds
Cargo room: 27.2 cu. ft.
PROS: lots of amenities, good storage, all-wheel drive
CONS: some pricey options, stiff ride, bit noisy cabin
IN A NUTSHELL: Redesigned last year, the Jeep Compass gets a stronger engine for 2023. More power usually means reduced fuel efficiency, but mileage is up almost 10% from the previous model. Another plus: More stowage space, which had been sorely lacking. And all-wheel drive is now standard, so better traction and handling, especially on slick or gravelly terrain.
Despite having chiseled looks like the midsize Jeep Cherokee, the smaller Compass feels lighter and more limber. But while this compact SUV can handle light off-roading, the short wheelbase makes it hard to ignore potholes or speed bumps. In fact, I often had to slow down to a crawl to not seesaw jarringly over them. In other words, any Barbie or Ken wannabes with perfectly coiffed hair will want to stick to smoother surfaces when driving this vehicle.
The well-built cabin is much improved, with higher quality materials. The dash is covered in soft-touch leather—a nice touch—with a 7-inch digital instrument cluster and 10.1-inch touchscreen. Plenty of legroom and headroom in front, but tallish backseat passengers may feel a bit squished.
There are five trim levels, including the top-of-the-line Trailhawk, with more aggressive styling and solid off-road capability. I tested the mid-range Latitude Lux, which costs $5,000 more than the base model but comes with larger wheels, heated seats, and other niceties.
Notable tech features: smartphone integration, Wi-Fi hot spot, Bluetooth, wireless charging, voice recognition, remote start and nine-speaker Alpine stereo.
But it’s the list of safety gear that rally wowed me, such as rearview camera, park assist, lane-departure warning, driver-attention monitoring, rear-seat passenger reminder, pedestrian and cyclist detection, blind-spot monitor, forward collision warning with active braking, and—whew!—so much more.
MPG: 28 city/34 highway
0 to 60 mph: 9.1 seconds
Cargo room: 20 cu. ft.
PROS: decent mileage, comfy seats, user-friendly cabin
CONS: poky base engine, so-so storage, plasticky dashboard
IN A NUTSHELL: With so much sport-ute competition these days, automakers seem to be revamping their SUV models each year (not every four to six years, as in the past). This time, the Subaru Crosstrek receives some nifty design flourishes and major cabin upgrades. Compared to the butch Jeep Compass, the curvier Crosstrek looks trés chic. Think boyish Buck versus trendy Eddie on “911.”
Based on the nimble Impreza hatchback, the subcompact Crosstrek feels car-like and agile. Two engine choices, but opt for the more potent powerplant so it doesn’t feel like you’re just treading water. While the Crosstrek is smaller and slower than the Compass, the ride here is smoother and more composed. Higher ground clearance, tighter suspension and quick all-wheel drive system all help, as does a new direct-steering system. Plus, paddle shifters, which I only needed to use once or twice when merging into traffic, provide plenty of extra oomph.
The Crosstrek cabin, which is surprisingly quiet, offers good legroom for passengers in both the front and back. An optional 11.6-inch infotainment touchscreen is mounted vertically, similar to those iPad-like displays found in the Ford Mustang Mach-E and various luxury vehicles.
It says something when my biggest beef with the Crosstrek is the placement of the odometer reset button, which is only a smidge above the remote start button. Both buttons are completely obscured behind the steering wheel, so I was constantly reaching around and pressing the wrong one. A minor annoyance, to be sure. But if Subaru could fix this ergonomic annoyance, then I wouldn’t have to listen to my husband claim that the problem is actually my own “user error.”
Tip-top pocket rockets: BMW M2, BMW Z4
German automaker leads in rankings for user-friendly options
Sure, German cars are uber exciting, but Asian brands are much more reliable. Right? Well, not exactly.
This year, for the first time, BMW tops the list in what is considered the holy grail of product-quality resources: Consumer Reports. Along with improved reliability, BMW leads in the rankings for user-friendly options—including innovative infotainment systems.
To be sure, seven of the top 10 most-reliable vehicles are still made by Asian automakers.
But today’s BMW drivers can enjoy both style and substance, with rides that are fun, fast, furious—and now very dependable.
BMW M2 COUPE
MPG: 16 city/24 highway
0 to 60 mph: 3.9 seconds
Cargo room: 13.8 cu. ft.
PROS: lively acceleration, taut handling, sexy exhaust growl
CONS: rigid front seats, tight backseat, hard-to-access seatbelts
IN A NUTSHELL: I have a love-hate relationship with two-door cars. They fail the test when it comes to ferrying lots of people or more than a few suitcases. And forget about cross-country trips, especially if you want to pull over and catch 40 winks by stretching out in any sort of rear cargo area. But it’s hard to resist the convenience of a coupe or convertible when scooching into tight parking spaces or weaving through congested traffic. And these rides can be a blast to drive. That’s the case with the BMW M2 super-coupe, a pocket rocket that comes standard with a 435-hp engine and six-speed manual transmission. Expect automotive purists to forgo the optional eight-speed automatic, though it is a tad faster.
The feisty styling boasts flared fenders, muscular side panels and an arousing rear spoiler. As my husband Robert said, “This car is ‘sex on wheels.’ ” Yes, indeed.
Of all the BMW high-performance M cars, the M2 is the smallest and least expensive. Yet it’s loaded with the latest bells and whistles: sport-tuned suspension, track-oriented tires, side-impact airbags, knee airbags, Harman Kardon surround-sound stereo, 12.3-inch digital gauge display and an even-larger 14.9-inch infotainment touchscreen. This second-generation M2 is also longer and wider than before, which adds more leg and elbow room inside.
My test car came with the weight-saving carbon-fiber package. This included bucket seats with rigid thigh bolsters, as well as a quirky hard protrusion that stuck up awkwardly between my legs. Intended to keep you seated firmly in place when swooshing in and out of twisty curves, the intrusive seat design can sometimes smoosh your nether regions. In other words, there’s a reason these seats are called “ball busters.”
BMW Z4 ROADSTER
MPG: 25 city/33 highway
0 to 60 mph: 5.2 seconds
Cargo room: 9.9 cu. ft.
PROS: wicked fast, easy to drive, cushy cabin
CONS: low ground clearance, no second row, skimpy storage
IN A NUTSHELL: Built on the same platform as the less-expensive but also less-luxurious Toyota Supra coupe, the BMW Z4 convertible is more of a comfortable cruiser than cheeky racecar. Two fine engine choices are available, though neither propels the Z4 as fast as the Supra or BMW M2 coupes. Still, handling and braking are splendid. Most important, my tush appreciated the more traditional seating in the Z4 compared with those butt-blasting seats in the M2.
As with all BMWs, styling on this two-seater is dramatically sculpted. My only complaint was with the doors, which are so darn long you need to lean over and reach into another county to close them.
The high-quality cabin is surprisingly spacious, with plenty of headroom, even with the top up. But storage cubbies are few and far between. Luckily, the trunk offers decent stowage, thanks to the power-operated top that takes up no cargo space when lowered. And despite having a fabric top instead of a thick metal one, there’s very little road noise.
As with the M2, the Z4 is actually a lot of car for the money. Pricey competitors to the Z4 include the $101,000 Porsche Boxster S and $110,000 Mercedes SL-Class.
While crossovers and other SUVs may rule most showrooms today, these two rousing, reliable and relatively affordable two-door rides offer plenty of temptation.
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.
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