2022 Suburban fills huge body with luxury

December 1, 2021 by · Comments Off on 2022 Suburban fills huge body with luxury
Filed under: Weekly test drives, Autos 

New Suburban blends OLD body on frame and new unibody design for better agility.

By John Gilbert

Whether it’s football season, hockey season, basketball season, or buying-a-new-vehicle season, we can all agree that the “American way” is to own something bigger and more imposing than anything any of your neighbors are interested in. That’s not always true, particularly from this column, where I’ve always stressed that buying a vehicle should mean you get the smallest version of something that’s big enough.

The 2022 Chevrolet Suburban can convince you otherwise — if you can afford it. With a base price of $58,800 and an as-tested sticker of $79,370, the 2022 Suburban I got to live with for a week was the Suburban AWD Premier model, and it did its best to spoil us throughout a November week that included a small dose of snow and slippery roadways in Northern Minnesota. It never slipped, and never missed a beat.

It pampered us as though the nastiest cold wind blowing out of Canada to us along the North Shore of Lake Superior might just as well have been a soothing breeze on the western shore of Key West, Florida. You are in a fortress on wheels — 20-inch wheels, at that — and you could get massaged into believing that you are impervious to any outside problems. Yes, it took on a personality, and if we owned it, we would have to bestow some fitting nickname on it

Squarish formal rear design houses large storage room with all three seat rows in place.

Going back to the sports analogy, it’s like your son grew up as a wide receiver and turned into a defensive tackle, or you planned on a quick-striking centerman and wound up with a hulking defenseman who appreciates the alternative term “policeman.” Or you envisioned an elusive, 3-point-shooting guard and instead raised a power forward who crashes, bangs and rebounds. But a successful team in any sport needs all the elements. Read more

Kia varies 2022 Carnival forms, prices

November 25, 2021 by · Comments Off on Kia varies 2022 Carnival forms, prices
Filed under: Weekly test drives, Autos 

Kia’s 2022 Carnival brings a new look and appeal to minivans.

By John Gilbert
We’re still a month away from 2022, but on Thanksgiving Weekend, we can be thankful for our health — if we have it — and for some early arrivals on the automobile scene, as 2022 models — if we can afford one. One of the notable newcomers is the Kia Carnival, which has jumped into the minivan segment and elbowed its way to the highest level of the tightly defined field.

Being able to stay warm as the temperature drops below freezing is important, of course, but so is the ability to see outside, and some of the wonders we’ve been witnessing in the spectacular sunsets on the North Shore of Lake Superior during autumn of 2021.

Sundown comes early, but spectacularly, along the North Shore of Lake Superior. — Photo by Jack Gilbert.

If you like to drive to Grandmother’s House for holidays and you have three or more kids, you will be thankful for the amenities in the Carnival. And while becoming a home on wheels for trips, the airiness and openness of the Carnival gives occupants in all three rows separation as well as room for their own space.

Regardless of how many vehicles I’ve been able to test dive, it’s always like coming home again to get into the newest minivans, and that has only been amplified by exposure to the new Carnival. Think about it. What better conveyance for the family to finish Thanksgiving dinner, watch a little football, and then load up the Carnival to go for a relaxing drive to check out sunset, and some neighborhood Christmas lighting? Read more

Best Prius yet adds AWD, Lithium-ion battery

November 15, 2021 by · Comments Off on Best Prius yet adds AWD, Lithium-ion battery
Filed under: Weekly test drives, Autos 

2022 Toyota Prius XLE with all-wheel drive adds to hybrid legacy.

By John Gilbert

Over the past couple of decades, the opportunity to test-drive the latest Toyota Prius has become a requirement in the auto-writing business, but for the upcoming 2022 model year driving the new Prius XLE is an absolute attraction more than a duty.

Nobody has done more to build, promote and sell hybrid vehicles than Toyota, and in its decades of long-range plotting and planning, two things have happened for Toyota. One is that for the first time, Toyota has become the No. 1 corporation in U.S. car sales. The second is that while the Camry midsize sedan, Corolla compact, and RAV4 SUV are all enormous sellers, but without attendant fanfare the Prius has supplanted all of them to become the most identifiable icon of Toyota.

The hatch lid has transparent upper lip to allow rear-view mirror visibility above and below the aerodynamic but subtle wing.

If you have withstood the urge to buy a pickup or SUV and still want a sedan, the most logical segment might be to seek a compact 4-door sedan with sleek aerodynamics, which will house four adults, have sporty acceleration and handling, and can achieve fantastic fuel economy. And, oh yes, see if you can find one with all-wheel drive, too, and include the technology to take us into an electrified future.

The 2022 Prius XLE AWD-e checks all those boxes, and for a surprisingly reasonable price sticker of $32,084, climbing from a base price of $29,575.

Lithium-Ion battery pack allows deep storage area.

The idea of a hybrid being a stodgy and boring ride is long-gone, in Toyota’s world. The company, after almost stubbornly staying with Nickel-metal hydride battery units for most of its Hybrid Synergy Drive vehicles, has made the major transition to the higher-tech and more convenient Lithium-ion battery packs. You first appreciate the difference when you open the hatch and see a large, almost cavernously deep storage space — right where previous Priuses had a high shelf covering the old and bulkier battery pack and leaving precious little room. The Lithium-Ion battery pack fits low on the floor, where it can efficiently feed the electric “traction motor” that powers the rear wheels in the clever all-wheel-drive system.

Up front in the bright “Supersonic Red” vehicle there is a familiar and dependable 1.8-liter gasoline engine, which creates the electrical energy for the main battery pack, which moves the vehicle, and to supplement the main battery’s drive system when you need more power to accelerate or scale a hill. The rear wheels are driven in perfect coordination with the conventional front-wheel drive up to 43 miles per hour, when the rears quit helping. Not bad, and seamless, although I’m wondering how Duluth winters will challenge that plan.

Presumably, if it’s extremely slippery a sane driver won’t be going over 40 mph so there will be no question; I just wonder about cruising at 65 on a wintry but clear freeway and hitting some ice where AWD would be more than welcome. My guess is that it would engage as you suddenly slow down. Read more

Aviator Hybrid comfortable way to make memories

November 3, 2021 by · Comments Off on Aviator Hybrid comfortable way to make memories
Filed under: Weekly test drives, Autos 

With a color that matches the threatening grey skies, the 2021 Aviator stands ready.

By John Gilbert

The new Lincoln Aviator returns for 2021 as a favorite luxury SUV of mine, based on its reasonable size and agility, and its striking new-age looks. My whole family agrees. It is smaller than the large Navigator, and for 2021 the new Aviator takes a bold step to keep up with technology by adding that magical marvel of engineering known as hybrid.

Being equipped with the electric motor and battery pack to complement with the power of its turbocharged 3-liter V6 means the Aviator can fly with some economy-minded SUVs while certifying its luxury status. The sticker price on the Aviator Grand Touring Hybrid is up there at the bottom edge of the costly segment of SUVs — a $68,900 base price boosted to $84,325 by some spectacular dips into the option bin.

White leather seats that envelop your upper torso while adding split cushions adjustable under your thighs to offer more support to driver and front passenger. While the level of luxury is obvious, the power is more subtle, until you step on the gas. The combined outlay of the 3.0-liter twin turbocharged V6 with the 13.6 kilowatt-hour battery pack’s electric motors reaches 494 horsepower and a remarkable 630 foot-pounds of torque.

Even so, the new Aviator triggered some flashbacks to 30 years ago in me, as I was admiring the Aviator’s classy appearance when parked   near Lester River on the North Shore of Lake Superior, on the outskirts of Duluth. The subtle grey paint job was enhanced by the sky, which offered a dramatic light and dark grey background in the fading afternoon light.

With hybrid assist, the Aviator has power and AWD to match its luxury.

It was chilly, and windy, and as I was looking forward to watching Game 4 of the World Series that very night, I heard predictions that along with probable rain, we could get what they like to call a “wintry mix” of stuff falling from those grey clouds. All of that, plus our anticipation for getting home in time to watch Game 4 of the World Series brought some reminiscences back to me of 30 years ago Halloween week..

At the Gilbert Compound, we’re heavy into cars of all sorts and sports of all sorts, leaning heavily toward hockey, but with baseball and football following. So as hockey get started and football is in midseason, our world stops its normal spinning for the World Series as October ends with Halloween.

So it was, 30 years ago, as Halloween approached and I was in the same frame of mind, writing about cars and sports at the Minneapolis Tribune. A highlight of my sports writing had included helping cover the 1987 World Series, when the Twins beat St. Louis as Frank Viola pitched into the eighth inning of a deciding 4-2 victory at the Metrodome. Two years later, I was also there, when the Twins returned for the 1991 World Series to face Atlanta. St. Paul native Jack Morris took the ball and stalked out to the mound and pitched the Twins to a 10-inning 1-0 victory. Read more

Modern Maverick could be Ford’s bargain bonanza

October 29, 2021 by · Comments Off on Modern Maverick could be Ford’s bargain bonanza
Filed under: Weekly test drives, Autos 

The 2022 Ford Maverick is conveniently downsized from Ranger-size, but retains the look of a larger pickup.

By John Gilbert

It was only a week-long test drive, but the 2022 Ford Maverick proved it could have the power to establish new ground-rules in the hotly competitive world of pickup trucks. Fr0om its performance, and the impact it seemed to have on others, it indicates that style counts a lot, color and pizazz matter too, further proves trucks have indeed become the new cars of the current era…and it might even indicate the love of enormous pickups could be heading for the history books.

Now, all those things can’t possibly happen because of one undersized pickup, can they?

After all, there will always be a need for large pickups for those who need size and power for heavy work detail, so we aren’t ready to render them as dinosaurs. But midsize and compact trucks are gaining in popularity, and the Maverick gives off a a macho, big-trick impression while also handling with agility and car-like city maneuvers, and strong economy and sticker-price benefits.

We hadn’t had a test car for a few weeks, because of chip shortages and pandemic hangover, so we were thankful when the Maverick showed up. As a veteran auto writer, I recall less than fondly Ford’s first Maverick, a compact that seemed to be built of leftover parts from predecessors, most of which were more attractive and more successful. When Ford stopped making the original Maverick, I was relieved, being a lover of neat cars. So the return of the Maverick wasn’t something our household had been eagerly awaiting.

Maverick’s Velocity Blue rivals September waves on Lake Superior.

But Ford, gambled that a new generation twice removed won’t remember the downside of the previous Mavericks, and besides, this one is a pickup. Ford is king of pickups, with the large F150 the top seller annually, and the larger F-250 and F-350 hauling hefty things, and now the return of the Ranger downsized pickup is battling compact pickups from Chevy, GMC, Toyota and Nissan. Ford never spott a trend it didn’t see as a challenge, and this one, toward downsizing success, allowed Ford to follow its own current trend. So out comes a downsized downsized pickup called the Maverick — a bit smaller than the Ranger but still with a rugged pickup-y macho look.

The test vehicle was not a loaded Lariat, or a semi-loaded XLT, but an XL, which still has an impressive sound but which counts as Ford’s delineation of the “base” model in our era of marketing hyperbole. That’s fine, I figured, because I enjoy getting the more base models sometimes just to avoid being spoiled by all the gadgetry of the loaded versions. It’s fun, however, to test the options, too; maybe later.

Short but deep box on the crew cab interior give the Maverick full utility.

This test Maverick was decidedly unloaded, and the price tag reflected it: Base price $19,995, just so we can announce it as “under $20,000,” and as equipped it rose to only $23,860.

We were going to drive this Maverick as if we were a young family and this was our choice of family car. Three of four times, when I’d park downtown or at the Whole Foods lot, a passerby would catch my eye and walk over with repetitive approaches: “Is this the new…Maverick? We’ve been looking at these online. How do you like it?” That would be followed by several minutes of conversation, and after several, I was impressed at how many people spotted the vehicle and knew it was a Maverick, since it hadn’t reached the public yet, or many showrooms, even.

One Ford salesman I know said his dealership had never had such overwhelming requests for information and for advance orders, and he said they have taken to suggesting buying immediately when a load show up, because the word now is that anyone making an order as October ends will mean delivery sometime in midsummer 2022!

The shape, the styling, the Velocity Blue Metallic paint, all were attractions, and the super-neat shape and size were too. When you park next to a full-sized pickup, you’re amazed how low the Maverick is. A normal adult can look over the top of the roof. Women are choosing pickups more and more, and there seems to be a universale attraction of female buyers seeking Mavericks.

It was the perfect week to have the Maverick, because the UMD hockey team was headed off to Minneapolis to face the arch-enemy University of Minnesota Gophers Friday night, with a return match in Duluth Saturday. We decided to drive down and see how our former Minneapolis home area had changed over the past 10 or 20 years.

Among the options on the Maverick were a 2.0-liter EcoBoost turbocharged engine with 250 horsepower, and 277 foot-pounds of torque, plus a sophisticated 8-speed automatic transmission with autostart and stop-start, and LED headlights with auto-dim and automatic shutoff.

Among the options NOT included at that very low price were: Styled alloy wheels, cruise control, leather (or any facsimile thereof) on the bucket seats, navigation, cruise control, seat heaters, satellite radio, foglights (although there were neat fake foglight covers that made it look like you really had ‘em but you were being careful to protect ‘em). Those, remember, were all among the missing features that higher-trim Mavericks would have or could have. Did I mention cruise control?

Comfortable fabric bucket seats and simple interior are pickup assets.

Without cruise on the freeway, the Maverick was more truck-like, eager to wander and less than precise in its steering trajectory. Maybe a Sport mode button could have helped that feeling of almost constant correcting just to stay in your lane,.

We registered 28.4 to 29.2 miles per gallon with the turbocharged 2.0 and the slick transmission, making highway driving pleasant.

As we were leaving Duluth Friday, I got an email from Victoria Orchard, a wonderful little apple orchard on Victoria Avenue just before it runs into Lexington in the St. Paul suburb of Shoreview, where we lived for 30 years. A very neat lady named Molly ran that orchard for years, continuing after her husband died, and is still at it, into her 90s. We walked to it frequently from our townhouse when I worked at the Minneapolis Tribune, and we discovered that near the end of the season, Victoria Orchard offered a scarce variety named Chieftain. It is the only place I know that sells Chieftain apples — a hard, crisp red apple with a unique flavor that never lost its crispness even after a month, or two, or three,  in our refrigerator.

It is an apple developed by experiment at Iowa State University, as I understand it, and they generally need warmer growing areas than Minnesota. Only a few of them keep growing at Victoria, and I stopped in there a few weeks ago to make sure some Chieftains were coming. I was assured they were, but not for several more weeks. On Friday, I got a message they would be offered in very short supply in early November. I messaged back my thanks and wondered if a preliminary batch might be ready that very day. They said they would have a sackful ready for us, so we drove directly there.

As I got out of the Maverick to purchase the prized Chieftains, we returned to the truck to find a fellow with an original style Ranger. “That’s the new Maverick, eh?” he asked. We had the usual discussion. He was impressed with its size, style, and workmanship. The Chieftains, by the way, were as fantastic as I had remembered.

We drove on and parked adjacent to Mariucci Arena for $10, which is the same it was 20 years ago, unlike AMSOIL Arena in Duluth, which apparently considers parking fees part of the competition with the “Main U,” and doubled the parking rate from $5 to $10 this year! As we got out of the Maverick, another in the string of interested would-be buyers asked all about it.

I had contacted Brian Deutsch to check on my press credential for the game. Good thing, because it hadn’t gotten through. He said don’t worry, he’d take care of it. I knew the rematch in Duluth was a sellout, but the Gophers haven’t been drawing near the automatic sellouts of the past, so I mentioned that my wife, Joan, was coming with me but I didn’t think we’d have a problem buying a ticket. We got there, and at the press check-in, there was my pass. And a fellow said, “You’ve got another one.” Sure enough, Brian had arranged a “media support” pass for Joan.

Perfect size for trips to shopping centers, Maverick attracts female buyers.

It was a much-appreciated and hospitable move by Mr. Deutsch, and it went that way all night. My seat in the press box was on the red line, where I could look around from a press box that I had actually designed as a favor to a Gopher booster who wanted all the ideas I could muster as the best parts of all the arenas I had been in. We met with the contractor, who put almost every one of them into the design of what remains the best arena in the country to watch a hockey game.

My suggestions included raising the press box as its own iunit, then dropping a lower row for the writers to work, free of the between-periods congestion, as well as placing the concession stands on the outer wall, leaving the entire inner edge of the extra-large concourse to standing room spots. By midseason, they put stripes on the floor and started selling specified standing-room tickets because the view was so spectacular.

Such a hospitable evening included saying hello to arena old-timers and veteran workers during and after the game, and I felt only slightly guilty because UMD, my “new” team to cover, had overwhelmed a very good Gopher team and not only won 5-3, but swept the series with a 2-1 edge the next night in Duluth.

We returned to the Maverick after the Friday night game and were surprised to find several of our favorite pizza places either gone or moved away, or closed by 9 p.m.(!) so we called out to Panino’s on Hwy. 96 in Shoreview and ordered the best sandwiches in town to go. The wrapped specialty sandwiches were just like the old days, and we hit the freeway.

On the way North, I admit to some erratic driving, but I will blame the lack of cruise control and the somewhat twitchy steering feel for requiring enough corrections to convince the Maverick to flash the “Stop and rest” signal, thinking I was being erratic. Joan repeated the urging, and no matter how many times I told her I wasn’t tired or out of control, she believed the very pushy electronic system.

The convenience of maneuvering in traffic and parking, without having to guess the proximity of your front corner over the gigantic hood and fender of a full-size pickup, makes me realize that compact pickups might well be heading toward displacing larger pickups for the masses who want, rather than need, a pickup. And Ford has a very slick 2.0 turbocharged engine with 8-speed automatic on a platform that can serve the Escape, the Bronco Sport, and now the new Maverick, rather than give the “base” model a low-rent powertrain.

Maverick XL was $23,000 without many options, but had full and adjustable gauges.

Back home, we had one more experience with a young couple at a Vanilla Bean restaurant breakfast in Mount Royal. “What do you think of this?”, the guy said, and while he did all the talking, his wife stood by attentively. Turns out, she had seen pictures of the Maverick and loved it, so she specked one out equipped the way she wanted at just over $30,000. Velocity Blue and all.

This one is very neat, I told them, but she would be wise to add some options. Especially cruise control. Because the test Maverick proved to be the first time I lost a domestic debate to my wife, who enlisted the vehicle electronics for support!

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