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Hip hybrids: Ford Escape, Kia Sorento, Lincoln Corsair

These rides have the lowest lifetime maintenance costs

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Ford Escape plug-in hybrid

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 

$41,000

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

$54,000

MPG: 35 city/33 highway

Electric-only range: 32 miles

0 to 60 mph: 7.9 seconds

Kia Sorento plug-in hybrid

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

$54,000

MPG: 34 city/32 highway

Electric-only range: 28 miles

0 to 60 mph: 7.0 seconds

Lincoln Corsair plug-in hybrid

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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Autos

All charged up: BMW i7 xDrive6

Fairy dust goes a long way in this all-electric luxe sedan

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BMW i7 xDrive60

Sometimes it’s good to be a fairy godmother. That’s how it was for me when organizing a surprise dinner party for my husband Robert, who was celebrating a milestone birthday. 

Event planning isn’t my thing, yet somehow the stars aligned. It seemed like all I had to do was wave a wand and — voila! — the magic began.

Make reservations at a fave intimate restaurant, which often gets booked months in advance? Zing! Ensure that family and childhood friends from across the country could all attend the same weekend? Zing! Find a handsome pianist to serenade us with Broadway show tunes. Zing again!

The only thing missing: a stunning chariot. But then, at the last minute, my test car for the week turned out to be—zing!—the all-electric BMW i7 xDrive60 glam sedan. 

BMW i7 xDrive60

$121,000

MPGe: 87 city/95 highway

Range: 291 to 321 miles 

Fastest charging time: 212 miles in 34 minutes (80% charged) 

PROS: Hyper fast. Sublime cabin. Dazzling tech.

CONS: Pricey. So-so cargo area. A sedan in a world of SUVs.

IN A NUTSHELL: To drive or not to drive, that’s the question with the BMW i7. Rarely is it more exciting to be the passenger than the driver in a sports sedan, especially a Bimmer. But as I chauffeured my husband to the restaurant on his birthday, he seemed to be having way too much fun enjoying the dizzying array of creature comforts.

Spa treatment. The futuristic seats, made of quilted Merino leather, are as plush and comfortable as anything from Roche Bobois. But the optional cashmere/wool fabric looks and feels even better. All seats—both front and rear—come with ventilation and heating that activates much quicker than in most cars. The superb massage function does bodywork like a real masseur—but without the need to tip 20% when your session ends. 

Concert-hall acoustics. Other high-priced rides offer premium audio, but the standard Bowers & Wilkens stereo in the i7 is bravo: 18 speakers and 655 watts. Better yet, my test car had the much-ballyhooed Diamond Surround Sound System, with 36 speakers powered by a 1965-watt amplifier. Yes, two of those speakers use actual diamonds to increase clarity. The result is perhaps the best-sounding vehicle acoustics ever.

IMAX-like screen. The Rear Executive Lounge Seating package adds a reclining right rear seat with footrest and a center console with foldable table that serves as a floating desk. Think first-class seating on an airplane. Most impressive is the huge, 31-inch 8K theater screen that drops down from the ceiling and comes with Amazon Fire capability. All rear window shades lower and the panoramic-glass roof shade closes when in theater mode. Built tastefully into the armrest on each rear door is what looks like an Apple iPhone to control the rear lighting, movie screen and other functions. Any home theater system should be so good.

Racecar features. Up front, the driver is spoiled with many other goodies. A curved digital screen, the same as in the cutting-edge BMW iX SUV, houses a 12.3-inch instrument cluster and 14.9-inch infotainment monitor. Two motors—one for each axle—creates an impressive 536-horsepower. Press the accelerator and—whoosh!—the i7 sprints from 0 to 60 mph in just 4.1 seconds. The amazing auto-leveling suspension absorbs potholes and speed bumps as if this 6,000-pound sedan were floating on air. 

Rolls-Royce aura. BMW, which also owns Rolls-Royce, has sprinkled the i7 with stately design cues. This includes softer, more graceful styling and none of the severe, chiseled angles of previous BMWs. Other plusses: Swarovski crystals in the headlights and 22 precision-focused LEDs in the high beams. But the illuminated grille, while impressive, has a more ominous vibe. (Stephen King’s Christine, anyone?) 

Full-size comfort. The i7 is a full-figured ride, more than 17-feet long and 6.4-feet wide. Here’s where the automatic parking comes in handy, allowing this BMW to parallel or perpendicular park itself. Trunk capacity is 18 cubic feet, which is decent but less than some competitors. Inside, though, there are plenty of clever storage compartments. 

A pretty penny. Full of options, my test car was a wallet-busting $152,000. But that’s a bargain—well, sort of—compared with the high-performance i7 M70. With 650 horsepower and a 0-to-60 time of 3.5 seconds, the M70 is the fastest all-electric M car ever made. It also costs $169,000. 

Alas, such sticker prices are too rich for my blood. Sorry Robert, maybe if we win the lottery.

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Sport haulers: Jeep Grand Cherokee, Mercedes GLE-Class

Updated cabins, adept handling, and more

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Jeep Grand Cherokee

Now that March Madness and the Masters are over, it’s time for, well, everything else. For my husband and me, this means water sports, as in kayaks and rowing sculls, which is why we trekked to the Potomac for the George Washington Invitational regatta last weekend. 

Alas, high winds splashed cold water on the event, canceling much of it. But there was still plenty of spirited camaraderie to rival “The Boys in the Boat.” 

And I was reminded of my time years ago as a rower with D.C. Strokes, ferrying teammates to races up and down the East Coast. Back then my ride was a dated, rather cramped four-door sedan. 

If only we could have paddled around in a sporty SUV like the two reviewed here. Now that would have been some smooth sailing (wink-wink). 

JEEP GRAND CHEROKEE 

$40,000

MPG: 19 city/26 highway

0 to 60 mph: 7.5 seconds

Maximum cargo room: 37.7 cu. ft. 

PROS: Updated cabin, adept handling, strong towing 

CONS: So-so gas mileage, no third row, pricey trim levels

IN A NUTSHELL: Rough, tough and buff. It’s doesn’t get much more butch than a Jeep. This year’s Grand Cherokee is no exception, with rugged looks, expert off-road capability and better-than-average towing capacity of 6,200 pounds. 

There are a dizzying number of trim levels—more than a dozen—starting with the barebones base-model Laredo at an affordable $40,000. The lineup tops out with the Summit Reserve 4xe PHEV, which is almost twice the price at $76,000 and one of various plug-in hybrid versions available. Those plug-in hybrids can drive up to 25 miles on all-electric power before the four-cylinder gas engine kicks in. Otherwise, you can choose from a standard V6 or V8. Gas mileage on all trim levels is basically the same as the competition. 

Where the Grand Cherokee really shines is in the handling. More refined than a Wrangler but less lavish than a Land Rover, this Jeep maneuvers just as well on city streets and highways as it does on bumpier terrain.    

I tested the mid-range and mid-priced Overland, which comes standard with four-wheel drive and large 20-inch wheels. It also boasts a slew of niceties, such as quilted upholstery, panoramic sunroof and high-tech digital displays. These include a 10.25-inch infotainment touchscreen and rear-seat entertainment system. 

The nine-speaker Alpine stereo, designed specifically for the Grand Cherokee, is pleasing. But I really wanted to hear the boffo 19-speaker McIntosh surround-sound system that Jeep also offers. Sigh, it’s only available on the premium Summit trim level. 

MERCEDES GLE-CLASS

$64,000 

MPG: 20 city/25 highway

0 to 60 mph: 6.6 seconds

Maximum cargo room: 33.3 cu. ft. 

PROS: Lush interior, silky-smooth suspension, speedy 

CONS: Some confusing electronics, tight third row, many competitors

IN A NUTSHELL: For a more high-class hauler, there’s the Mercedes GLE-Class. This midsize SUV is similar in size to the Jeep Grand Cherokee. But instead of seating five passengers, the GLE can carry up to seven. Sure, legroom in the optional third row may be tight for taller travelers, but it’s perfect for a cocky cockswain or two. 

Six trim levels, ranging from the base-model GLE 350 to two high-performance AMG models. For eco-conscious buyers, the GLE 450e plug-in hybrid arrived earlier this year and can run on battery power alone for almost 60 miles. 

My test car was the top-of-the-line AMG 63 S 4Matic, a head-turner in every way. Priced at a whopping $127,000, this GLE looks best in glossy black with the Night Package, which includes tasteful jet-black exterior accents and matte-black wheels. To complete the Darth Vader effect, there’s a deep, menacing exhaust rumble that’s downright threatening.

You expect such a ride to be wicked fast, and it is: 0 to 60 mph in a blistering 3.7 seconds. Yet the carbon ceramic brakes with their devil-red calipers are equally impressive in slowing things down quickly. 

Inside, each GLE comes with two large digital displays on the elegantly sculpted dashboard. My favorite feature is the “Hey Mercedes” digital assistant, which responds to voice commands such as opening or closing the sunroof, operating the infotainment system or activating the climate controls. 

It’s hard to find sport seats that are more comfortable, especially with the heavenly massage function (though those massage controls could be a bit more user-friendly.) For AMG models, the seats come with red-contrasting stitching and red seatbelts—a nod to the devilish demeanor under the hood.

Considering all the SUVs available in showrooms, few make quite the splash of a GLE.

Mercedes GLE-Class
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Glam rides: BMW X6 and Range Rover Velar

Impressive standard features elevate these lower-priced options

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BMW X6

Many sport-utes with ho-hum styling still impress me by offering scads of standard features and a low MSRP. But sometimes it’s hard not to be seduced by what I call glam rides—pricier vehicles with plenty of attitude. You know, like something Cassandro might drive. 

BMW X6 

$75,000 

MPG: 23 city/26 highway

0 to 60 mph: 5.2 seconds

Maximum cargo room: 59.6 cu. ft. 

PROS: Outré styling, posh cabin, raw power

CONS: Less rear visibility, limited storage, costly options

IN A NUTSHELL: Trust me, it’s hard not to fall in love with a BMW X6. This recently updated crossover, with its coupe-like profile, swept-back grille and breathtaking acceleration, had me at hello. High ground clearance and oodles of high-tech features turn this high-end hauler into one helluva wild ride.

Sure, the sharply sloped roof hampers rear-seat headroom and cargo capacity. But up front there’s more room than expected, along with a dramatically curved digital dashboard. And the ginormous panoramic moonroof helps make the interior feel quite spacious. 

How good is this BMW? Zipping up to Baltimore last month during a day of downpours and clueless commuters, my husband and I started rethinking our promise to never buy a budget-busting vehicle. For us, bad weather and heavy traffic usually result in clenched teeth, heavy sighs and my swearing like a sailor. Yet the hushed cabin, 16-way power front seats and ability to control the stereo and other functions simply by waving my hand were all very Zen. Ditto the finely tuned suspension, steering and braking, which anticipated my every move. Instead of shying away from rush hour on our return home, I leaned in. 

Myriad safety features — from forward-collision alerts and blind-spot monitors to lane-departure warnings and a 360-degree camera — batted away any concerns about fender benders. Same for the option packages that allow you to park the X6 automatically, store familiar maneuvers and drive hands-free at up to 85 mph.  

Power in the base-model — which is what I test drove — comes from a lively 375-hp turbo, with a 48-volt hybrid system to improve gas mileage. There’s also a smooth eight-speed automatic transmission and all-wheel drive for sure handling on slippery roads. Pricing begins at $75,000, but options on my test car brought it up to—whoa!—88,000. 

For more grit and growl, there’s the xDrive60i, with a 523-hp twin turbo that helps this Bimmer sprint from 0 to 60 mph in 4.2 seconds. And the top-of-the-line X6 M Competition with a 617-hp V8 is even faster at a blistering 3.7 seconds. But I am much too afraid to drive this gnarly high-test model—it starts at $128,000. 

RANGE ROVER VELAR

$63,000 

MPG: 19 city/25 highway

0 to 60 mph: 5.2 seconds

Maximum cargo room: 70.1 cu. ft. 

PROS: Refined design, chic interior, lotsa storage

CONS: Tepid base engine, more sedate handling, pricey

IN A NUTSHELL: While Range Rovers are known for being oh-so-classy, the Velar is much sassier than the rest of the lineup. 

The sweeping front fascia would make Ariana Grande proud: Svelte grille, sporty wraparound headlights and stretched, corset-like air ducts in the bumper.  

Inside, the look is spartan but elegant. All knobs and other switchgear are mostly hidden or activated by an 11.4-inch infotainment touchscreen that seems to hover in front of the dash. Even the ubiquitous cruise control and stereo buttons on the steering wheel seem to have vanished, though look closer and they are tastefully integrated into the design. 

While the Velar may be classified as a compact vehicle, it looks and feels much larger. Compared with the midsize BMW X6, both have ample seating for five people. Front-seat dimensions are practically the same, but the supposedly smaller Range Rover has better back-seat headroom and legroom. It also holds almost 20% more cargo. 

Built on the same platform as the popular Jaguar F-Pace, the Velar has a relaxed ride compared to the more athletic BMW X6. Power is less aggressive on the Range Rover, with choice of two competent but hardly rip-roaring engines. 

Build quality is impressive, including the optional leather-free interior that uses an upscale composite of wool and polyurethane. And while even the base-model comes with interior ambient lighting and a premium Meridian stereo, you can opt for the 17-speaker 3D system for an even more “Maestro”-like experience.  

Overall, the Velar may be less of a rabble rouser than the BMW X6, but there’s still plenty here to dazzle the senses.

Range Rover Velar
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Retro rides: Dodge Hornet PHEV, VW ID.Buzz Microbus

Everything old is new again

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Dodge Hornet PHEV

A new year means new vehicles sashaying into dealer showrooms. But for 2024, retro is in, with nostalgic nameplates like the Dodge Hornet and VW Bus proving everything old is new again. Between you and me, though, let’s leave the Cadillac Cimarron, Ford Edsel and anything remotely resembling a Yugo as footnotes to history. 

DODGE HORNET PHEV

$41,000

Electric-only range: 33 miles

MPG: 74 MPGe (electric/gas), 29 MPG (gas only)

0 to 60 mph: 5.6 seconds

Cargo room: 54.7 cu. ft. with rear seats down

PROS: Stylish, comfy, peppy

CONS: Snug, bit bouncy, pricey

IN A NUTSHELL: According to automotive lore, the first Hornet (1905-1906) was a short-lived, two-seat runabout from Horner & Sons. Then came the British-built Wolseley Hornet (1930-1936, and again 1960-1961). Next up, the Hudson Hornet (1951-1957), available as family sedan, coupe or convertible. The performance-oriented coupe—nicknamed “Fabulous Hudson Hornet”—would rule the world of stock-car racing and establish the Hornet’s daredevil image. AMC created its own Hornet (1970-1977), but this time for a blah compact car—a sibling to the butt-ugly Gremlin. To be fair, one of the best movie stunts ever is James Bond performing a corkscrew car jump over a Bangkok river while driving an AMC Hornet. 

Now, after a decades-long hiatus, Dodge has resurrected the Hornet name for its all-new subcompact SUV. While this latest Hornet debuted as a 2023 model with a gas engine, the buzz this year is the addition of a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV)—the first ever from Dodge.

The Hornet PHEV comes in two versions: R/T and R/T Plus. Both pack plenty of punch, with twice the horsepower of many competitors. Use the paddle shifters to activate the PowerShot system, which adds an extra 30 horses for even more oomph. Alas, this feature—which allows the Hornet to boast muscle-car acceleration—lasts only about 15 seconds before the system needs to cool down for another 15 seconds. 

But no matter the speed, the standard all-wheel drive and premium Brembo brakes keep everything under control. One handling complaint: Because of the short wheelbase, there is some annoying bobbing up and down over large potholes. 

Built on the same platform as a tony Alfa Romeo Tonale, the Hornet shares similar design cues, including chiseled side panels, narrow LED headlights and high roofline. But only the Hornet has two sleek, functional hood scoops. 

Inside, the Alfa ambience continues with a nicely sculpted dash, flat-bottom steering wheel and scooped-out center console. Even the door handles and infotainment system look the same in both vehicles. 

As with all hornets, beware the sting. In this case, it’s pricing: A fully loaded Hornet R/T Plus can easily approach $55,000. 

VOLKSWAGEN ID.BUZZ MICROBUS

$55,000 (est.)

Range: 260 miles

Fast-charge time: Up to 80% in 30 minutes 

0 to 60 mph: 7.5 seconds

Cargo room: 138 cu. ft.

PROS: Fun colors, fun styling, fun ride 

CONS: Limited appeal, limited production, limited trim level 

IN A NUTSHELL: Legend has it that a Dutch businessman sketched the VW van after visiting a Volkswagen plant in 1947. Two years later a prototype was built, and the first Microbus rolled off the production line in 1950. 

Production ceased in 2014, but only after countless variations were built—many with beds, sinks, tents, picnic furniture, surfboard racks and the like. This proud symbol of the counterculture hippie movement of the 1960s likely has been in more movies, TV shows, and magazine ads than there have been Grateful Dead concerts (2,300-plus so far, for all you Jerry Garcia fans). 

While technically a 2025 model, the all-electric VW ID.Buzz arrives later this year. The chassis is from the ID.4 electric crossover, but everything else is new. Groovy colors include Cabana Blue, Mahi Green, Pomelo Yellow, Energetic Orange and more. 

The space-age cabin has an “Orville” vibe, with a large 12.9-inch touchscreen hovering over the dash, 30-color ambient lighting and an expansive windshield. The accelerator even has an audio/video “Play” symbol engraved on the pedal, while the brake pedal is engraved with the “Pause” symbol. Too cute? Well, maybe… 

Two trim levels, but only the long-wheelbase model will be sold in the U.S. That means three rows of seats, with optional captain’s chairs in the second row. The front seats even come with a massage function. Oh, and the optional panoramic sunroof with electrochromic tint can change from opaque to clear with the swipe of your finger. Shagadelic, baby!

While the Dodge Hornet R/T can trace its lineage to at least one fast and fabulous forebear, fans of this new VW can thank generations of Deadheads for spreading the love about the original bus. But crank up the sublime 14-speaker Harman Kardon stereo, and this new VW suddenly channels another far-out ride: “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.”

VW ID.Buzz Microbus
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Autos

Car crazy: Nissan Altima, Suburu Impreza

Gas-to-electric timing isn’t happening as quickly as we expected

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Nissan Altima

Cars are out. Sport-utes are in. And electric vehicles will replace internal-combustion vehicles tomorrow. Eh, not so fast.

Doing everything possible to lower emissions and save the planet is a good thing, of course. But the gas-to-electric timing isn’t happening as quickly as many of us expected — or hoped. EV sales have stalled for various reasons: expensive sticker prices, higher interest rates, lingering range anxiety and a limited charging network. It will take time for those issues to shake out. 

As for the car-versus-SUV debate, some drivers like me still like being able to opt for a sedan or hatchback. That’s especially true when a traditional car checks all the boxes: style, comfort, handling, eco-friendly and affordable. Luckily, both cars here do just that. 

NISSAN ALTIMA

$27,000

MPG: 27 city/40 highway

0 to 60 mph: 8.0 seconds

Cargo room: 15.4 cu. ft.

PROS: low price, high safety score, enjoyable to drive

CONS: tepid acceleration, some cheap plastics, limited production

IN A NUTSHELL: Looking at the Nissan sedan lineup, you can say sayonara to the full-sized Maxima. (Well, at least the gas-powered version. This flagship nameplate is returning in 2025 as a much-anticipated EV.)

Ditto the itty-bitty Versa, which will be discontinued in two years. 

As for the compact Sentra, its future is secure (at least for now) thanks to robust sales.  

Then there’s the midsize Altima, which is set to follow the same fate as the Maxima and Versa, despite having similarly strong sales as the Sentra.

But wait! After a week testing the Altima, I found plenty of reasons to buy one before they’re gone. 

This sedan is large enough to carry up to five passengers and scads of cargo, but small enough to park almost anywhere. There’s also affordability: Only 8% of new vehicles are less than $30,000. And at $26,000, the base-model Altima is about half the average price of a new car—which is a whopping $48,000. 

As for gas mileage, the Altima averages 40 mpg on the highway, which ain’t shabby. Same with the many standard features: keyless entry, push-button ignition, three USB ports, satellite radio and more. Notable options include heated steering wheel, 12.3-inch touchscreen, nine-speaker Bose stereo and heated side mirrors with turn-signal indicators. One minor glitch: Nissan offers one of the best 360-degree birds-eye backup cameras, but the resolution here could be crisper. 

Overall, it’s hard to ignore such responsive steering and solid build quality, along with the quiet cabin and high reliability ratings. Oh, and expect Altima pricing to get even lower as the eventual end date nears.

SUBARU IMPREZA

Subaru Impreza

$25,000

MPG: 27 city/34 highway

0 to 60 mph: 7.8 seconds

Cargo room: 20.4 cu. ft.

PROS: updated this year, full of features, surprisingly roomy

CONS: low ground clearance, bit noisy inside, no more sedan 

IN A NUTSHELL: To better compete against the onslaught of SUVs and pickups, the Subaru Impreza has been redesigned this year. Gone is the sedan, but what remains is one hot hatchback. With a wider grille, bolder wheel arches and stiffer chassis, there’s now an edgy tuner-car vibe. 

Fold down the back seats and — voila! — the stowage capacity more than doubles to 56 cubic feet. Plenty of storage in the console and door pockets, as well. Each of the center-console cupholders can hold 32-ounce containers, so fewer stops at Starbucks. And even the rear cargo area has water-bottle holders—a bonus during roadside stops or tailgating events. 

Those dual 7-inch displays in the base model are fine but, well, a bit meh. Better to opt for the enhanced 11.6-inch vertical touchscreen, like those found in higher-end vehicles from Lexus and Volvo. 

I test drove the performance-oriented RS trim level, which boasts more power, spiffy wheels, paddle shifters, wireless smartphone charging pad, and heated wipers and side mirrors. Options include sunroof, power driver’s seat and 10-speaker Harmon Kardon sound system. 

The list of safety gear is equally fine, with adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitor with rear cross-traffic alert, forward collision warning with automatic braking, evasive-steering assist and more. My favorite: adaptive LED headlights that swivel when turning the steering wheel to give better illumination in curves. Those LEDs also perform a razzle-dazzle light show when first turned on. 

One quibble: interior road noise, which is a bit more than expected. But then, hey, you get to enjoy more of that sexy engine growl.

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Autos

Fab gifts for car fans

From stuffed animals to a $20,000 model car

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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. 

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Muscle-car maniac: Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat

You can’t beat this one for a last hurrah in a true muscle car

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Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat

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
$73,000
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.

2023 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat interior
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Standout SUVs: Jeep Compass, Subaru Crosstrek

Americans still prefer larger vehicles to sedans

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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. 

JEEP COMPASS
$29,000
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. 

SUBARU CROSSTREK
$27,000
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.”

Subaru Crosstrek
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Tip-top pocket rockets: BMW M2, BMW Z4

German automaker leads in rankings for user-friendly options

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BMW M2 Coupe

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

$64,000

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

$55,000

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. 

BMW Z4 Roadster
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Low-priced, high-value rides: Kia Sportage, Nissan Rogue

Finally, car buyers are paying less than the sticker price for a new car

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Kia Sportage

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.

KIA SPORTAGE
$28,000
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.  

NISSAN ROGUE
$28,000
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. 

Nissan Rogue
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