Featured Reviews
Mitsubishi connects its 2.0-liter engine to battery-powered hybrid motors.

Erika, Outlander tour U.S. to change the world

A Detroit Lakes woman and a Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV with a tiny trailer are on a solo U.S. documentary tour to "change the world."

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Kia Carnival assumes role of ultimate cruiser

Kia made over its Sedona minivan for 2022, and gave it a new name: Carnival, plus a new engine, new stiffer platform and clever touches throughout.

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New Forester -- ideal way to cruise Gordy's

Subaru is maneuvering to stay at the top of the inexpensive SUV genre and the 2021 Forester offers a roomier way for modern-day "cruising."

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Huge and handsome, the Escalade tries hard to justify big sticker.

Lane-changing Escalade splurges atop SUV list

The Escalade has traditionally been the president-carrying limo-SUV of choice for Cadillac, but for 2021, it aims to become the world standard.

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Retro Charger zooms forward with 797 horsepower

Dodge says it will keep making muscle cars as long as niche buyers keep buying them, and the Dodge SRT Hellcat Redeye Widebody sets new standards.

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Bronco Sport fills popular Ford SUV niche

The old Ford Bronco was square, primitive, but beloved in memory, so the name has been revived on an all-new compact SUV, led by the Bronco Sport Badlands.

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Another rainbow shot serves as halo for Nautilus.

Nautilus, Corsair navigate Lincoln SUV pool

Lincoln's fleet of SUVs has added more compact models like the Nautilus and Corsair which have their own assets for combining sporty performance and luxury.

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The 2021 Dodge Durango SRT Hellcat packs 702 supercharged horsepower into an SUV that is a throwback to the 1970s muscle cars.

Page, Durango SRT link 50 years of Mopar

The 2021 Dodge Durango SRT Hellcat packs the wallop of 702 supercharged V8 power into a modern SUV form, successfully linking with 3,000 muscle cars from the era of 50 years ago.

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Tremors big and small shake up Ford rivals

What's new in Ford pickups? How about Tremor off-road models in giant F-250 and compact Ranger extremes?

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Rounded off where it used to be sharp-edged creases, the CT5 stands for refinement.

Cadillac refines CT5's look, tech

Cadillac made the sharp creases of its CT5 luxury sedan familiar, then it rounded off the edges and filled the 2021 Premium Luxury model with high-tech DOHC turbo V6 power.

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Erika, Outlander tour U.S. to change the world

July 29, 2021 by · Comments Off on Erika, Outlander tour U.S. to change the world
Filed under: Weekly test drives, Autos 

Erika Gilsdorf visited Duluth with her Mitsubishi Outlander and her tiny trailer, getting “too much content” on U.S. tour.

By John Gilbert

Erika Gilsdorf drove through Duluth and looked for the perfect parkings spot amid the downtown construction. It had to be big enough to house her 2021 Mitsubishi Outlander, and also the custom-built “tiny house” camping trailer she was pulling behind.

She found the perfect place, on 14th Av. E. and London Road, right near Leif Erickson Park. That meant after we were finished with our casual conversation, she had the opportunity to walk through and marvel at the magical array of hybrid roses unique to Duluth’s Rose Garden.

“I love Duluth,. and I’ve been coming here for a lot of years, but I’ve never seen this Rose Garden before,” Gilsdorf said. “I could stay in Duluth forever, but that’s my problem. Everywhere I go, I want to spend more time, but I always have to move on.”

Gilsdorf is on the third leg of her “What Fuels You” tour, a year-long solo adventure that has already taken her to the Pacific Northwest, down the West Coast from Seattle, through Oregon and California, then across Nevada, Arizona, Texas, the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, and Kansas. “That was Part 1,” she said. “Part 2 took me to Alabama, Florida and the Southeast. This is Part 3, the Midwest.”

Even on busy schedule, there’s time to stop and smell the roses.

Minnesotan Erika Gilsdorf is on solo video tour of U.S.

That’s the familiar part for the Detroit Lakes, Minnesota, native and resident, who has made a career out of being involved with creating video packages for various sponsoring corporations, and for clients such as National Geographic, and others. But this is a different project, because she is also her own producer.

Part 4 will be the East Coast of the U.S., where she is aiming at completing the odyssey of “20 states and 20,000 miles,” as a one-person creator, producer, film crew, and solo participant of her own adventure.

The idea came to her after her life had settled down, following a divorce, and with her 26-year-old son graduated from college and well on his way into adulthood in Portland, Ore.  Maybe driven by restlessness, she decided to do her part to help change the world. A modest objective.

Gilsdorf has been independent enough to operate her own film production company, “South Shore Productions.” since 2001, named after the fact she used to live on South Shore Drive, which runs along the south short of Detroit Lake.

I didn’t know that there was a “Detroit Lake” in “Detroit Lakes.”

From that seemingly unusual base, she has traveled the world, with a film crew and staff, on ventures she has been able to entice sponsors to support, and generally with the idea of promoting lifestyles that are ecologically sound and can lead to helping the world be a better place to live.

Custom minimalist trailer easily follows Outlander plug-in hybrid on national tour.

“I’ve mostly done projects in Central America,” Gilsdorf said. “We’ve done various things in Honduras, but also Belize, and Guatamala. We also did a big project in the Western Balkans, trying to help people in rural areas improve their way of life so they could stay in their homes and live in a way to take pressure off the coast areas but not have to move to the city.”

This time, coming out of the pandemic, she thought of a new idea, to try to inspire people to get serious about helping appreciate and preserve the environment. Her idea was to live a minimal lifestyle that could show an alternative way to move forward.

A 32-foot motorhome was never in her plan. She contacted the American Lung Association for ideas on what auto manufacturer might be interested in a joint venture focused on reducing pollution and improving efficiency. Mitsubishi was suggested.

Mitsubishi is a Japanese conglomerate that built highly-efficient compact cars for several decades, but seemed to be headed for extinction just a few years ago. After stubbornly clinging to its diminishing market share, Mitsubishi’s basis of high technology and advanced electronics has led it to a comeback, slowly and steadily finding stability with an array of compact vehicles with high tech features.

The company hooked up Erika Gilsdorf with a new Outlander, a plug-in hybrid model that would tow a custom-built “tiny” trailer that would be light enough to easily weigh under a 1,500-pound towing capacity — light enough to tow and convenient enough to sleep in and maybe cook in on the road.

Custom trailer-for-one lacks the Outlander’s slippery aerodynamics.

“The friend of a good friend is an architect in Kansas,” she explained. “They work for a company named TotalBoat, specializing in making small, light boats out of fiberglass. We worked out the details, and he agreed to build this trailer for me.

“I got some sponsorships for a generator unit to store power, and a small little fireplace, and a bed that has a slide-out table. I have solar panels on the roof, and they work so well to provide power that I can store the surplus for later use. It’s rare that I have to plug it in anywhere.”

This particular Outlander is a PHEV, a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle, which has electric motors to help power the wheels, in combination with Mitsubishi’s 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine. When she got the arrangements made with Mitsubishi and got her tiny trailer ready to go, she was off.

“I sold my house and hit the road to try to change the planet,” she said, condensing her plan to its most concise. “I enjoy talking to people wherever I go, and I want to engage people with good ideas and who think outside the box for how to live better lives.”

After her carefully planned trips, she returns to Detroit Lakes to put together the stories and videos.

“People can check out the project on Instagram and Facebook, on ‘WhatFuelsYou@USA.com.’ I’ll be sharing stories with leading climate-change activists, and just normal people who are trying to do the right thing for the environment.”

Growing up and living in Northern Minnesota is undoubtedly resp0nsible for much of Erika’s motivation.

“My whole life I’ve been a passionate wildlife-preservation person,” she said. “And I’m fascinated about things like how land is set aside for national places. I also see people who stand up to fracking, and how we’ve all got to do what we can to preserve the environment. There is so much information out there, and so many people have interesting ideas.

“My whole problem is that I always end up with too much content.”

Being based in Detroit Lakes makes it easy to make short journeys  to places like Duluth, and the North Shore, and other home-state parts of her national tour to complement all she has learned from traveling around the world, to places like Ireland, the Balkans, and wherever.

Outlander efficiency has helped Mitsubishi comeback.

She has a friendly, engaging personality and enjoys meeting and talking to people wherever she goes. With her Outlander lettered up with sponsoring groups like “CREST,” for the Center for Responsible Travel, and various other backers, she finds new friends everywhere.

“I had a great conversation when I got to Duluth, with some people at a gas station who wondered what I was doing with all this,” she said, “and I enjoy learning about every place I go from talking to people.”

With the Outlander being a plug-in hybrid, it will go farther on pure-electric power than a normal hybrid, and while not as pure as an all-electric vehicle, there is no “range anxiety” because the Outlander’s electric motors augment the gas engine, and the gas engine recharges the battery pack for the electric motors. That leaves her free to focus on her travels and new experiences.

“I loved the desert,” she said. “And right in the heart of Los Angeles, where they are restoring a river.

“I got depressed for a while, worrying about things like the rain-forests. I used to think you could teach people what has to be done by showing them what’s bad about how we’re living. But instead, i’ve shifted now, to trying to show what’s good about how we’re living, hoping that people might say, ‘I can do that.’ “

She knows her partnership with Mitsubishi is running its year-long course, and her connection with the Outlander has been trouble-free, but she can’t avoid thinking about what might be her next project. Maybe a new electric pickup truck with a camper on the back, or maybe something all-electric, like a small SUV.

It’s important to be able to show people that the future of pure-electric vehicles is coming, with their potential of pollution-free transportation, which inevitably can overcome concerns such as range-anxiety, so that may inspire her to try a pure EV for her next concept.

Mitsubishi connects its 2.0-liter engine to battery-powered electric motors.

But for now, she’s just a very determined woman who has a Mitsubishi Outlander through December 31st, towing a private “tiny house” trailer, and making her way around the country, sharing and accumulating too-much content, which she, as her own producer, must condense on her way to try to make an environmental difference.

Kia Carnival assumes role of ultimate cruiser

July 21, 2021 by · Comments Off on Kia Carnival assumes role of ultimate cruiser
Filed under: Weekly test drives, Autos 

Carnival is slinky, stylish 2022 replacement for Kia Sedona. Don’t call it a minivan!

By John Gilbert

After writing about the joys of cruising, and taking a new Forester from Duluth to Clowquiet to visit Gordy’s Hi-Hat, the greatest drive-in in the universe, I realize I could make a series of “cruising” columns and probably never run out of topics. This week, for example, we can discuss the virtues of the newer-than-new 2022 Kia Carnival, which is so new it ran out from under its previous name.

The previous Kia Sedona was named after a very neat and mystical city in Arizona where, right now the temperature is probably 120 degrees. Kia apparently figured that since people have finally figured out that the Sedona was a minivan, they would gamble that nobody would know that the Carnival is also a minivan, just a fancier and more stylish one..

When is a minivan not really a minivan? Apparently, when the manufacturer renames it in hopes that naive customers, who don’t yet realize that a good minivan is much more versatile and economical than a comparable SUV, might see the light.

We all know the story, about how station wagons became the mode of transportation when a car lacked adequate size for a family, then the minivan burst on the scene and took over the family-hauler work of station wagons. When people got tired of minivans with all their efficiency, they started buying SUVs, and have continued over the last 20 years to make SUVs the popular choice as the contemporary family truckster.

Room for seven or eight, new platform, new 3.5 V6 with 290 horsepower, 25 mpg.

But minivan makers, squeezed to near extinction, have held on, because there remains a smaller but still sizable segment of the market. Many knew well of the most popular Dodge Caravan and Chrysler Voyager, which pooled their talents and became the Pacifica as the top-end minivan from Dodge/Chrysler. Most people also know that Honda and Toyota, those fierce Japanese competitors, have battled with their minivans over the years, with the Honda Odyssey and Toyota Sienna both waging duels for popularity. And both are very impressive, by the way.

Fewer people seem to be aware that from Korea, Kia has been producing a very solid alternative in the Sedona, and if they aren’t aware of it now, they can forget about it, because the new Sedona is now called the Carnival. The new Carnival comes as close as you can get to proving that a rename can fool people into thinking that you’ve built an all-new alternative to the standard minivan.

The Carnival will be a 2022 year model, but it will be available almost as we speak. I is filled with features, not the least of which is an appearance that blends the best features of a minivan and an SUV, which makes it king of its own segment, if you will, while satisfying itself that it may, well, be the king of all minivans, whether reluctant or not.

The Sedona, in its day, was loaded with enough features to take on the Caravan, Sienna and Odyssey, because it felt strong and substantial, and Kia, partner with Hyundai, has had the benefit of very strong engines. The Sedona also benefits from the fact that Hyundai owns its own steel company, which is why Hyundai and Kia cars are loaded with high-strength steel in their build-quality, which gives them a head start in the safety category. So Sedonas always felt solid and safe, and Kia is happy to carry those features over to the new model.

High-end comfort and style fills interior.

Reclining Row 2 buckets slide, recline and have footrest, plus UTube and Netflix on video.

Kia put the Carnival on an all-new platform, which feels solid and stable. We assume it is stronger and safer in its newer and stiffer body, and the company, which has a big power increase to handle its larger size. Hyundai/Kia has been dabbling in making exceptional, small 4-cylinder engines is venturing off in a new direction. Other companies are scrambling to catch up to the winning combination Hyundai/Kia have built into their new cars, and for 2022, Hyundai/Kia have come through with an all-new 3.5-liter V6 that has the same exquisite build quality of its smaller 4s and V6es,

In the Carnival, the engine produces 290 horsepower and 262 foot-pounds of torque, which is a lot for a vehicle of the Carnival’s size, and more than the similarly sized V6es frogmen Honda and Chrysler, and handily outrunning the Sienna, which comes only in a hybrid in its latest model. More power to Toyota for expanding its hybrid reach into minivan territory, but if you want towing power and the ability to accelerate away from a stoplight against a herd of new cars, the Carnival is the one you will most want to drive.

The Carnival is uniquely attractive, departing from the routine of a rectangular box by forming a wide groove that stands as the prominent pillar at the rear edge of the sliding side door. Its shaft of textured silver makes a slinkier design, angling upward from the rear pillar, then angling toward the fashionable strut.

The rear is neatly stylish as well, and the grille is formidable with a grille that fits nicely inside the headlights in a charismatic grille that seems better than virtually any SUV’s design.

The bucket seats are firm and supportive, and the occupants have all sorts of treats from sitting in favorable setting. For example, the second row buckets are every bit as impressive as a first class airline seat. You can slide the seat fore and aft, and it also reclines, and once you’ve reclined the backrest, you also can push a switch and cause the front end of the seat cushion to rise into a lounge-chair foot rest.

Now that you’re sitting in reclined and foot-resting comfort, you can click the two video screens on the rear of the first-row headrests and you can tune in to such attractions as Netflix or U-Tube, which puts normal video screen attractions to shame.

The second-row seats with the footrests are only on the top line seats, while the lesser seat feature has the benefit of greater seat rest distance, which also allows easier access to the third row seats in the 7-occupant capacity of heated and ventilated seats cushions and backrests. In normal cases, that may seem excessive, but in this summer of sizzling temperatures, that sort of cooling is greatly appreciated.

Exterior of Kia Carnival stands out with unusual attention to detail, front to rear.

The new 3.5-liter V6 with the Carnival’s 8-speed automatic combines to provide spirited acceleration and highway force, compared to any available minivan, and it also covers a solid amount of trailer towing. Shifting is smooth and trouble-free, and with EPA estimates of 19 miles per gallon city and 25 highway, it is easy to attain the combined 22 mpg of average fuel economy. I got 24.7 miles per gallon in combined city-highway driving, with much of the tankful spent on Duluth’s steep hillside avenues.

All of the minivans rank high in safety, and Kia has the extra edge of the Hyundai/Kia factor of owning its own steel plant, and the Carnival features standard forward collision avoidance and pedestrian detection, blind spot warning and avoidance, cross-traffic collision warning and avoidance, parking distance warning in reverse, lane departure warning and lane keeping assist, lane following assist, high beam assist, and driver attention warning. In addition, rear occupant alert with motion detection, passenger safe-exit assist that uses blind spot detection radar to detect approaching vehicles, and live video displays of adjacent lanes in the instrument panel whenever such vehicles approach.

Among the over-the-top features in the top-line Carnival, the power sliding side doors and tailgate open at the touch of a switch, and if you open the tailgate, you can stash groceries or other parcels in the deep-well bin behind the third-row seats, and as you do it, you will hear a mild little chirping sound. The Carnival is notifying you that you don’t want to dawdle, because after chirping for a while, the tailgate intends to close and latch. It is called a “walk-away” feature, and it means you can simply walk away without worry, because the tailgate — or side doors — will close and latch on their own.

The Carnival SX Prestige model I test drove was loaded, an “Astra Blue” color that was sort of a blue-grey, and the interior was “Tuscan Umber,” whatever you might imagine that to be. The pleasant cooling air blowing through the seat cushions and backrests also does the same in the second row buckets, and the price, while based at $46,100 has so much standard equipment that the total sticker is $47,770. It may seem like a lot, but it is less expensive by a substantial amount than the top-of-the-line Sienna, Odyssey or Pacifica.

Of more than passing interest, I have driven versions of the new Pacifica, and I noticed in a recent Motor Trend magazine a comparison test of the top models of all four don’t-call-me-minivans, and the ranking came out with the Sienna fourth, the Pacifica third, the Odysssy second, and the Carnival first. That was impressive, because the car magazines usually praise the Korean companies for their technology, but usually stop short of all-out endorsements in comparison tests. Not this time.

Among thoughtful touches, rear windows roll  fully down to enhance wide-open feeling.

Screen clarity highlights rear view screen.

The Carnival is fully loaded, and, with the ability to tune in to U-Tube or Netflix, and greater storage behind the third-row seats than in a Suburban, it just might be the greatest “cruiser-”mobile in the industry.

The new Carnival seems certain to be an overwhelming hit. And if it isn’t, maybe Kia can name the next one the “State Fair.”

New Forester — ideal way to cruise Gordy’s

July 14, 2021 by · Comments Off on New Forester — ideal way to cruise Gordy’s
Filed under: Weekly test drives, Autos 

The new 2021 Forester, larger but still comfortably Subaru.

By John Gilbert

A couple of friends and I were reminiscing the other day about the sheer pleasure of “cruising,” back in the old days, when it was almost an artistic endeavor — particularly in beautiful downtown Duluth, Minnesota, where we happened to be at the time, and where we used to do our cruising.

That really doesn’t have that much to do with this week’s vehicle review, of the 2021 Subaru Forester Sport, although modern-day cruising 50 or 60 years later, can still be achieved.

But we’ll get to that, and how the new Forester, with its beautiful dark blue paint job accented by orange pinstriping, can do the job.

We’d have treasured that Forester back in the late 1950s and early 1960s, when we were eager to jump into a 1951 Studebaker, or a 1952 Mercury coupe, or a 1955 Chevrolet, or a 1960 Volkswagen Beetle. You name it, we’d cruise in it.  Every teenager who could get his hands on a car did so, filling it with several buddies to drive through downtown Duluth on warm summer evenings.

The main street is Superior Street, and it is on a long, flat, horizontal plane just a couple blocks up from Lake Superior’s North Shore, at the bottom of a mile-high hillside. After circling down to Canal Park — which wasn’t Canal Park in those days, but a seedy 1st Avenue East that passed several junkyards to reach the canal area, where somebody had built a drive-in restaurant named King Leo’s. It didn’t have great food, except for the onion rings, which were legendary, but it showed up to try to compete with the primary stop for food and socializing, which was the London Inn, a neat, tidy place on London Road, between 16th and 17th Avenues East.

In redesigned shape, Subaru Forester retains unmistakable family form.

There was a Dairy Queen on the corner of 17th, but the traffic flow turned into the London Inn, circled up on the right side of the building, curled around, and came back down the left side. You looked hard for a parking spot to back into, and if you found one, you might be there for two or three hours, walking up front to get one of the very tasty 19-cent hamburgers, 24-cent cheeseburgers, 15-cent french fries, and maybe a 19-cent milkshake — chocolate, vanilla or strawberry. It was amazing how long you could make those provisions last, while you basically hung out, trying to look cool, in a James Dean sort of way, while watching for friends in the city’s version of teenage socializing.

If you didn’t find a parking slot, you drove out the exit, tjurned right, and made the run back downtown, circling King Leo’s before heading back to the London Inn to seek better luck. We usually rode in Alvin’s old, red Studebaker, which had a green door from a previous repair, and the green door had a ring of apparent corrosion that looked a lot like a wreath, a symbol of future repairs, but we didn’t care, and we knew it made more sense at Christmastime.

We also rode in Halsey’s old Mercury coupe, before he traded it in for a new Mercury coupe, or we borrowed my mom’s 1955 Chevy, when I first got my license, and before she traded it in for a 1960 Volkswagen Beetle, which was a classic cruiser. With a sunroof and a gas heater — both of which were vital pieces, with the sunroof giving some of our gang the chance to stand up as though operating from the conning tower of a submarine, and the ability to stay warm when the air-cooled engine proved its “heater” was an exaggerated term.

Yes, the new Forester would have been the perfect cruiser back then, with its symmetrical all-wheel-drive scaling the steepest avenues, and that orange pin-stripe standing out.

Our reliance on cruising continued during our first two years at UMD, but ended when a couple of us moved away to attend the University of Minnesota. Coming home for weekends just didn’t leave cruising as a prime attraction for our precious time, even though by then I had obtained a 1956 Studebaker Hawk that was a fabulous commuter for the trip home from “the Cities,” and which I have often wished I still owned.

The London Inn was sold to somebody else, and is long since gone, having been somehow rebuilt into a Chinese restaurant, although its memory will return to provide a surprise ending for this review, which puts it one-up on the Dairy Queen, which is now a smoke shop. A smoke shop! Hard to imagine, because not smoking was cool in our group.

The St. Louis River was a perfect backdrop for our “cruise” to Gordy’s Hi-Hat in Cloquet.

If we wanted to relive the cruising days in contemporary times, the only logical destination would be Gordy’s Hi-Hat in Cloquet, which is, without question, the best drive-in restaurant on the planet. There were some good ones in the Twin Cities, such as Porky’s, or Jerry’s, but they disappear into the past once you’ve been to Gordy’s, which has been featured on Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives on two different occasions. For my wife, Joan, and me making the jaunt to Cloquet is mandatory about once a week, to help stretch out the too-short summer months.

Open only from late spring to early fall, Gordy’s burgers, coneys, fish and chips, onion rings, and fantastic milk shakes — real ice cream, with blackberries, blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, butterscotch, hot fudge, pineapple, and several others I can’t remember — are to be treasured by everyone in the area, or driving up or down Hwy. 33 to or from the Iron Range.

We had the perfect vehicle for the jaunt, with a week’s test drive of a 2021 Subaru Forester, which is both familiar enough to seem retro and new enough to bridge the generation gap. The trip seemed more appropriate with our older son, Jack, filling the gap in the spacious back seat.

Indestructible fabric on the seats and dashboard accent the interior.

Climbing into the driver’s seat of a Forester — or any Subaru, for that matter — has a familiar and comfortable feeling, as comfortable as climbing into a favorite pair of Levi’s, or shaking up your teenage memories to recall when you first went “cruising” for an evening’s adventure.

The Forester grew up from being a compact all-wheel-drive station wagon to becoming what “sophistication” led Subaru to start calling an SUV — overlooking the small fact that Subaru made AWD Subarus long before the trendy wheels of culture turned up the nickname SUV.

The new Forester is a little different, changing over to a new size and appearance a year ago, even if it retains that comfortable old feeling. For our Forester cruise, we wound our way out through West Duluth, past Morgan Park, Gary, and New Duluth to Fond du Lac, where we turned up for the always-satisfying drive through Jay Cooke State Park. The winding road traces the St. Louis River as it rushes from Carlton to pour into the St. Louis Bay on the westernmost tip of Lake Superior. Once in Carlton, we had manipulated our way for the short drive into Cloquet.

The Forester Sport still has its usual near-9-inch ground-clearance all around, in case you want to do light off-roading, and the body, which is refined for 2021 as if to be the perfect cruiser.

The test vehicle came with Subaru’s ageless 2.5-liter, flat-opposed 4-cylinder engine, which powers a variety of Subaru models, and turns out a respectable 182 horsepower and 176 foot-pounds of torque. It’s possible to get a turbocharged engine of about the same dimensions with almost 100 more horses, but the existing powerplant is plenty adequate for the Forester’s size and weight. And with the standard symmetrical all-wheel-drive, it never felt underpowered, as long as you didn’t try to get too racy.

The power might be adequate, but it suffers a downgrade because of the CVT — continuously variable transmission — which tended to drone when you’d like it to shift. Shift paddles save the day, allowing you to manually shift what is actually a shiftless or always-shifting transmission. Got that?

Forester driver’s view includes comfortably thick steering wheel.

Subaru owners are extremely loyal, and the cars have gotten better as if to stay ahead of those who cherish them enough to buy another one. They are durable, dependable, outstanding in Northern Minnesota winters, and safe and solid. They don’t always get sensational fuel economy, my personal peeve with the engine design, although our achievable 28.5 miles per gallon was pretty good with the EPA estimates at 26 city, 33 highway. I think you’d have to stay under 65 to reach 33.

All the connectivity features are on board, and the car was comfortably compliant, even on rough, winter-ravaged streets. With a few options, the sticker was $32,090, including an interior that features a leathery-rubbery substance on the bucket seats and dashboard, which appears to be a combination of contemporary class and extremely hardy against normal wear.

The Forester is tall, as tall as the Chrysler Pacifica we recently test-drove, so it’s no longer comfortable in the compact-wagon category, which it has  outgrown.

It was comfortable for adult cruising, and we pulled off at a roadside stop to gaze at the St. Louis River, and to climb the stairs to examine an ancient cemetery with headstones dating back to the 1800s.

We continued on our special trip to Gordy’s, because we had just heard the sad news that Gordy, he of the high hat, died at the Florida home he shared with his wife, Marilyn, and the two were together when he died just short of his 94th birthday, from the worsening effects of cancer.

We paid our respects to current owner, Dan Lundquist, Gordy’s son, and to Sever, Dan’s son and Gordy’s grandson, who works the counter alongside his dad.

A few years ago, we had stopped at Gordy’s for lunch, and I told Dan that I knew Gordy had insisted the ground beef they buy, fresh and never frozen, from a private ranch in Southern Minnesota, was an element of how he insisted that  everything they sell is made from the best ingredients.

The stories of humanitarian generosity Gordy and Marilyn have done for people in Cloquet and the surrounding area are legendary, and you will never hear anybody say a bad word about Gordy. But I told Sever that all the nice tributes written about Gordy after he died don’t say anything about how great the food is! The personal tributes to the man, who worked the counter up until two years ago, are all deserved, but when reporters never mention anything about how good the burgers, or fish, or milkshakes are, you know they have never actually eaten at the place.

Gordy’s closes each winter, from October until May, and when the annual reopening occurs, business booms. With the pandemic, they stayed closed until they came up with the idea of moving the entrance south a hundred yards, so two lanes of cars could enter and inch forward until they got up to the front, from where they were directed to the next opening for a parking place surrounding the restaurant. Very promptly, car-hops would appear at your car-window and take your order, which was delivered in record time. It worked so smoothly, I wondered if they might keep it up, but they have reopened inside for the rest of summer.

New on the menu a couple weeks ago is an orange-cream milkshake, and an orange-cream root beer float. Sever said that Gordy had become very fond of the orange-cream floats, so as a tribute, I added an orange-cream shake to my order.

Modern switchgear and controls are all at arm’s reach.

My favorite Gordy’s story was the day a couple of years ago when I was praising Dan Lundquist for the food and service at the place. I told Dan that Gordy’s is the best drive-in I have ever gone to, and that the only one that ever approached it for quality food and efficient service was 50 or 60 years ago — a place called the London Inn, in Duluth.

And Dan said: “That was my dad’s place, too.”

I was astonished. Sure enough, Gordy and Marilyn built and ran the London Inn in 1955, until 1960, when they sold my first favorite drive-in restaurant, and  built Gordy’s, my new favorite drive-in, closer to home in Cloquet.

Rest in peace, Gordy; your family is making sure your legacy is secure, and we’ll keep cruising out to Cloquet to make sure all is in order.

Lane-changing Escalade splurges atop SUV list

July 8, 2021 by · Comments Off on Lane-changing Escalade splurges atop SUV list
Filed under: Weekly test drives, Autos 

With the subtlety of a sledgehammer, the new Escalade asserts style with front grille, lights.

By John Gilbert
The debate has been long-standing. Which manufacturer makes the best vehicle in the world? And, which manufacturer makes the all-out most luxurious vehicle in the world? Cadillac figures you can use the same answer to solve both questions.

And with as much restraint as Cadillac can summon, it presents its entry — the 2021 Cadillac Escalade Platinum.

There is no such thing as a common, garden-variety Escalade. The most basic Escalade is spectacular, loaded with luxury features and creature comforts for every occupant. But if the competition is for the top rung on the luxury ladder, no feature can be left out, and a few that you’ve never imagined must be incorporated.

For example, all of the top General Motors gadgets are in place, with the 6.2-liter V8 under the hood and s smooth-shifting 10-speed automatic transmission distributing the power to all four wheels, which, by the way, are 22-inch, polished 10-spoke alloys.

Formal boxiness houses third-row seats, spacious cargo hauling capacity.

The ride is smooth, thanks to air-ride adaptive suspension, and magnetic ride control..

The audio sound is spectacular, too, thanks to the AKG studio reference sound system, with 36 — count ‘em, 36! — speakers scattered around the interior. Two of them are included in either side of the front bucket headrests, just so your ears won’t have to strain to hear a speaker as much as four inches away from your head.

But in this era when companies are experimenting with autonomous driving vehicles, the brilliance of electronic devices that can sense other vehicles ahead, behind and beside you, and even pedestrian detection, are pretty common. Along with them, adaptive cruise control allows a driver to not worry about the car ahead, because your vehicles computer, radar, sonar systems will do it for you, maintaining the following distance and either speeding up or slowing down to compensate.

Those things are safety amenities, not just neat features, and among my favorites are the top lane-departure warning units that can first, alert you that you’ve allowed your vehicle to wander across the lane-divider line, and second, keep you in place with a gentle nudging of steering wheel pressure in case your lack of attention has reached the critical stage. Third is lane-centering, which I first experienced when Hyundai introduced its last-generation Santa Fe. It not only keeps you in your lane, but keeps your car centered in that lane — so effectively that you literally could drive home without touching the steering wheel.

Classy interior includes controls for high-tech maneuvers to aid handling.

I am not a fan of total autonomous driving, where the driver can read a book or magazine instead of paying attention to where the car is taking you. To me, maintaining oversight is mandatory, although those things change over time.

But Cadillac has come up with a new wrinkle that takes lane departure warning and assistance to new levels. We could call is forced lane-change, because it actually does change lanes with the same precision that lane-keeping does its thing.

Visualize this, now. You are driving down a three-lane freeway, and you’re in the center lane, cruising along at, say, the speed limit of 70 mph. Sometimes, when you want to make a lane-change, or take the next exit, you might put light pressure on the directional signal stalk to get only two or three blinks without locking on.

With the new Escalade, if you put that sort of pressure on the stalk to the left, for example, the Escalade’s sensors will make sure there is adequate room, and then it will veer you into that left lane without any input by you on the steering wheel.

Going back to Hyundai, with the Palisade light pressure or full turn-signal pressure on the stalk will give you a little video of the lane to whichever side you are intending to change to, which is a wonderful advantage to make sure you haven’t missed something creeping into your blind spot. But Cadillac has taken a giant step beyond that.

I am little nervous trusting a manufacturer — even Cadillac — to do my lane-checking for me, but in congested freeway driving, it might be a true safety feature if your vehicle can check the lane next to you, and at the same time detect a large enough slot three cars back that would allow something as large as your Escalade to fit, and then put you there.

It works for perfect parking assist on a lot of new vehicles these days — another feature you surely will feel uneasy about until you’ve executed it 20 or 30 times and found that it always backs you up, enters the parking space, and squares you away with perfect, driver’s-license-test precision. The first few times, you get out and walk around to verify it’s OK, and you find that it is perfectly placed, near, but not up against, the curb.

Above the quilted leather bucket seats is a suede ceiling and a full-length sunroof.

Huge and handsome, the Escalade tries hard to justify big sticker.

Needless to say, the Escalade is expensive, and the new one with all the trick stuff is right up there with the top models from Mercedes, or Land Rover, or Lexus. And why not? The technology costs plenty, and buyers will expect to pay the toll..

My test-drive Escalade Platinum started at a sticker price of $102,995, and the assist-step running boards, perimeter lighting, puddle lamps, and a cavernous console that becomes a cooler, boosts the bottom line to $109,500.

For that, you ride in supreme comfort, with little items such as an adjustable multi-colored LED strip along the top of the steering wheel so you can match your mood to blue, orange, green or purple with ease.  Rear-seat passengers have their own air-conditioning controls, and video screens built in on the rear of the front-seat headrests. The rear seats slide fore and aft, and the back rests fold down perfectly flat to allow easy access to the third row, where three more occupants can fit. Up front, there is leather on top of the dash, and the tan-color leather on the seats stands out particularly with the Shadow Metallic shade of dark grey on the exterior. The seat color is called Whisper Beige, with Gideon accents.

The ceiling is almost all glass, with a huge, panoramic sunroof letting in as much light or air as you can stand, and whatever amount of the ceiling is not glass is suede leather, making you feel definitely pampered in your leather-wrapped luxury.

Naturally, the 6.2 V8 dispenses plenty of power, but I was pleasantly surprised that the big engine and hefty, square-back Escalade delivered better than the EPA estimated fuel economy of 14 miles per gallon city and 19 highway. We got just about exactly the city mileage, with 13.5, but we beat the highway numbers by recording 21.2 mpg on a couple of freeway trips.

Passengers get to share all the luxury that consumes the Escalade’s driver.

That is certainly not the best fuel economy you can find among large SUVs, but it is better than I anticipated, and definitely adequate while we await the planned and promised switch from fossil-fuel gas-powered engines to all-electric. It won’t be long, maybe four more years, and if the EV version of the Escalade retains all the creature features of the 2021 model, it will be a sellout. Even if, by then, it insists on driving you home.

Retro Charger zooms forward with 797 horsepower

June 30, 2021 by · Comments Off on Retro Charger zooms forward with 797 horsepower
Filed under: Weekly test drives, Autos 


The name that never ends adorns the Charger SRT Hellcat Redeye Widebody for 2021.

By John Gilbert

Whatever the record number of classic retro Dodge Charger muscle cars is, I can’t imagine it topping the estimated 3,000 that were spread across the Washington County Fairgrounds just outside of Stillwater, Minnesota, in a colorful display of the annual “Mopars in the Park” gathering.

But we also have to admit that Dodge, or Chrysler Corporation, or Fiat-Chrysler, or now Stellantis — the name of its newest conglomerate, has been cheating. Sure, there are new Mustangs and Camaros, which are easily distinguished from the classic old Mustangs and Camaros, but when it comes to Mopars, they just keep on building the new muscle cars to greatly resemble the old, vintage, classic muscle cars of the 1969-70 era.

The new Challenger pony car is the best example of the recurring family resemblance, but the new Dodge Charger also has a distinct retro look to it, while being loaded with new, high-tech equipment.

If we want to trace the Charger alone, we note that the basic Charger is a pretty mean-looking beast, and then we can move up by adding appendages onto its name to signify that its power has increased incrementally.

In a hurry before the lupines disappear? The Charger SRT Widebody will get you there.

For example, when the Dodge SRT (Sports Racing Technology) team got involved, the big Hemi V8 was installed along with improved handling characteristics. Then the Dodge engineers, or more accurate the SRT guys, found a way to extract more power, so the Charger SRT Hellcat was born, with more power than any sane person could put to use anywhere but on a drag strip.

Couple years later, still more power was found, and the top model became the Dodge SRT Charger Hellcat Redeye. There were companion Challenger models, too, for those who preferred a 2-door coupe each step of the way up the power chart, but the Charger holds special charm because it is a nasty-looking 4-door family sedan to begin with.

The most recent boost in power is somewhere over the moon, and comes on a new and widened platform, presumably for stability in cornering. It all comes to us in the form of the 2021 Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat Redeye Widebody, and that is the one we’ve evolved to today as a topic that is mind-blowing on several different counts, and it sure is a blast to drive.

More lupines by Lake Superior, and well-contoured rear end houses two large exhaust tubes to clear the air from 797 horses.

The engine is a 6.2-liter Hemi V8, fitted with a supercharger that blows the power to the rear tires in what we might suggest is excessive — 797 horsepower and 707 foot-pounds of torque. The beefed up 8-speed automatic transmission keeps that power under control, and the wide body, coupled with 305-35 ZR 20 tires on 11-inch wide allow wheels, keep the car going where you aim it.

Of course, performance is the keynote of this car, and when you hammer the gas, the thrill of sudden motion is amplified by a spellbinding sound of power from under the hood. They say you can go 0-60 in about 3 seconds, maybe 3.5, but who’s keeping track? Actually, you can, by clicking over the adjustable instrument pod to where it will clock 0-60 times, as well as driver reaction times.

It’s far beyond the old drag-race line, “You snooze, you lose,” but it is fun to see how quickly you can respond to launch all that power going forward.

The car came painted “Smoke Show,” which is what the big-time drag-racers put on when they launch from the starting lights. It is Dodge’s version of the trendy new flat-gray color that has burst upon the auto scene in the last year or two. Never as it been more appropriate than on he Charger Hellcat Redeye Widebody, though, because you could undoubtedly light up the tires in a billowing cloud of tire smoke that would almost perfectly match the paint.

Wide black racing stripes run down the middle, from hood to trunklid, and the grooves and other trim contours set this vehicle apart from its mainstream brethren. The sticker price is another way to distinguish it, because every dose of power costs cubic dollars to attain, and the base Charter SRT starts at $69,995, while loading up all the specialty performance parts boosts it to $86,865.

That’s a lot of money, but it does get you into the stratosphere of specialty hot-rods.

Aside from attracting onlookers from other drivers, pedestrians, and inhabitants of police cruisers, there are some intriguing features of the Charger SRT Hellcat Redeye Widebody. First is that you sit in firm comfort in those bucket seats, and the rear seat occupants are comfortable too, and second, and most surprising, you can drive it every day and, if you can keep your foot off the gas, it will handle its daily duties with calm sophistication.

Instrumentation and controls are modernized, and so i=s the power.

Rich leather bucket seats lead the way in luxurious but sporty interior.

The engine roar is exhilarating, and the power is evident to all, but in normal driving, leaving the shift paddles alone and just trusting “Drive” to shift the 8-speed for you, you hear a change in sound, but you never feel a jerk or an abrupt application of power. The monster engine and the very smooth transmission make it a docile city car when you don’t need a sudden burst of acceleration. And there are other real-world features.

For example, flip open the gas filler door and you have a hapless gas filler, and you can run this car and get all that power on regular gas. A lot of expensive car buyers may overlook such things, but the average price of regular gas in the U.S. is $2.89 per gallon — before Fourth of July increases — and premium costs an average of $3.26 per gallon. That’s nearly 40 cents a gallon more, and if you fill a 12-gallon tank a couple times for a weekend trip, the savings on regular gas are significant.

Nice, big rear camera provides ultra-clear and sharp image.

So for a 797-horsepower Charger to burn regular is a big deal for a consumer. The EPA fuel economy estimates for the supercharged 6.2 Hemi are 17 city and 21 highway. On a trip from Duluth to Minneapolis and back, setting the cruise at the pace of traffic meant 75 instead of the posted 70, but we attained 23.5 miles per gallon, easily topping the EPA highway figure.

There are a lot of cars with much smaller engines, and only one-fourth of the Charger’s power that can’t get more than 23 miles per gallon, which is another plus for the sophistication of the SRT team’s attention to detail and technical expertise.

All of the connectivity and safety devices are built in, of course, and here’s another neat feature: The audio system has a 276 watt amplifier, which figures, to parallel the engine’s power, and the sound was exceptional through only six premium Alpine speakers. Many cars have 12 or 14 speakers, but this Charger proved a mere six speakers could do an excellent job, if they’re the right speakers. Clarity and volume were impressive.

From the side, the Charger SRT Hellcat Redeye Widebody looks in motion while standing still.

The interior is loaded with carbon fibre, leather and suede, making the dash, seats and trim stand out.

For a large chunk of money, you can buy a lot of cars with great seats, an impressive interior, and pleasant accessories and features. But you can’t get all those items in a hot-rod with 797 horsepower unless you select the car with the endless name — the Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat, Redeye, Widebody.

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