BMW engine boosts Supra to new Toyota image

October 7, 2021 by · Comments Off on BMW engine boosts Supra to new Toyota image
Filed under: Weekly test drives, Autos, Uncategorized 

New tweaks upgrade fifth-generation Supra style for 2021, including less-obnoxious nose.

By John Gilbert

The idea that folks at Toyota are going through a “second childhood” takes root from the fact that the Japanese auto giant has hit the market with several sports coupes, convertibles and racy vehicles in the last few years. The upscale Lexus LC500 was the subject of my review here just a few weeks ago, as the 6-figure pinnacle of luxury-performance, and now, before October gets far enough along to threaten us with some foul weather, we’ve got to also check out the 2021 Toyota Supra and declare it the company’s bargain luxury-sports car.

Actually, the bargain sports car of the Toyota line is the unfortunately-named Toyota 86, an under-$30,000 sports car built jointly with Subaru, using Subaru engines, and almost identical to the Subaru BRZ.

The new Supra is a completely different story. If working a jont-venture with Subaru was a good idea for a low-slung sports car, then working the magic combination with BMW to come up with the Supra is even better, and a mid-$50,000 price point is a comparative bargain when you know you’ve got the same 3.0-liter inline 6 made by BMW for its new M4 sporty coupe.

The Supra is a grand old name in Toyota lore, starting as a stretched out luxury model of the Celica coupe three decades ago, and it persisted as a powerful sporty cruiser with a potent Toyota in-line 6 and all of the company’s advancing technology. Toyota even stretched the Supra out into a “2 plus 2” model with a jump-seat behind the two buckets.

Times change, and with its new upscale Lexus brand also needing vehicles, the Supra disappeared from the U.S. market just over 20 years ago. Toyota now is on a movement to shed its stodgy, conservative image, and after its Lexus sports cars and sportier leaning of Toyotas, the company brought back the Supra name on an exotic-looking new sports coupe as the fifth-generation Supra for 2020.

The look of the Supra didn’t dazzle men when it first came out for 2020. I knew it was something of a composite vehicle jointly created by Toyota and BMW, giving it legendary heritage from two international automotive legends. But it had this extra-prominent nose that I thought made it look, well…ugly.

Bright red Supra stood out as the Northern Minnesota leaves started changing color.

Anyhow, after a few slight revisions, a 2021 model of the Supra showed up for me to test drive, up and down the North Shore of Lake Superior in mid-September, just before the leaves were turning color, and it was a pure, bright red attention-grabber. So, too, were the grooves and scoops and contours that pretty well obscured the nose. The nose! What happened to the nose? The prominent beak was modified to the point its nose is no longer is objectionable, in my humble opinion, and you can judge for yourself from the accompanying photos.

Similar in size and intention to the LC55 Lexus, which cost somewhere north of six figures, I was pleasantly surprised to find the Supra was more like the mid-$52,000 range, which is definitely a bargain, by comparison.

Under the hood is a 3.0-liter inline 6, which could have been built by Toyota in the old days, but is built by BMW today, and certainly not a bad choice. Traditional sports car buyers will appreciate the rear-drive platform, although I could foresee all-wheel drive in the future.

This twin-turbocharged 6 delivers 382 horsepower and 368 foot-pounds of torque through an 8-speed transmission, directly to the rear wheels. The car handles with great precision, with a platform also from BMW’s engineers. You can play with the drive mode switch and get into sports settings that heighten the stiffness and the tightness of the steering and suspension, and turns the exhaust from mellow to raucous.

Lots of contours and vents — some of them functional — identify the new Supra.

There are a couple of drawbacks. One is that while the bucket seats comfortably engulf your body once seated inside, getting inside is another matter. Toyota should offer a racy-looking helmet with every Supra — not because you are going racing, but to protect you from a concussion if you try to “hop in.” You climb in at your own risk, with one foot first and then a contortionist’s elasticity, or — my choice — you back in, lowering your backside until you feel that seat cushion, then you bend, fold and mutilate your legs up and in, as you try to also bring your head inside.

Whap! That’s where I dislodged my baseball cap every time, which wasn’t a problem, compared to the thunk of your head hitting the roofline. After a few tries, I got better at it, by not wearing a cap, and by scrunching my head down and back to squeeze it in without contract.

Getting out is actually easier, because you throw open the door, lean your head out, and then attempt to vault the rest of your body up and out. The thing is, while a whole exercise routine could be coordinated into getting in and out, it’s so impressive to be inside the Supra, you might just decide to stay in there and minimize how frequently you have to get in or out.

Instrumentation is clear and concise and easy to read, although setting the audio controls takes some doing. The Supra is another in the recent trend of vehicles that seems to have overlooked the convenience of a simple, easy-to-use audio system. Such ease of operation is increasingly important to potential buyers in their decision-making process. I would never advocate making a decision based on such a marginal thing, but convenience is no longer marginal, not when some companies make simpler controls.

All of the contemporary safety devices are on board, including front, rear and side detectors with cautioning alarms, and assistance to help you stay in your lane or not to pull into an adjacent lane if something is there.

Comfort dominates the Supra interior.

The attraction of the Supra is readily evident to anyone driving it for only a few days. I pulled into a gas station and when I climbed out to get to the pump, I heard someone say, “Nice car!” I turned around and located the fellow who added, simply, “Supra?”

Yes, I told him, but I felt compelled to acknowledge that it wasn’t my car, but a factory test-drive vehicle that I got to test-drive for that week. The fellow decided I had the greatest job in creation, because I could drive such spectacular cars but didn’t have to pay for them. I explained how the process works, and that I wrote an analysis of the cars I get each week, but that, yes, it is a pretty special and much-appreciated opportunity.

Another young fellow driving a car he has spent special attention tuning up pulled off the main road and into a parking lot abruptly when he drove past my parked Supra. He jumped out, leaving his door open, and hustled over to give the car a close-up examination. Something similar happened nearly every time I stopped or parked the Supra.

With everything on the test-car, the price was nearly $55,000, but that’s still only about half of what the more luxurious Lexus LC500 sticker read, nd the performance of that turbo-6 can challenge any other sports car.

Toyota style and BMW 3-liter 6 make flashy combination for modest price tag.

The benefit of BMW precision in the platform and in the responsiveness of the 3.0-liter engine, singing its turbocharged song up through the rev-range is impressive. Paddle shifters help, although I found the 8-speed automatic upshifted and downshifted with surprisingly well-timed shifts.

You’re reminded of that BMW performance heritage every time you choose to paddle shift up there around 7,000 RPMs, which is where the engine computer shuts off the fuel flow. That’s plenty high, and enjoyable. Even without engaging the sport mode, the steering and suspension helps you always go where you’ve urged the Supra to go, with no harshness interrupting the pleasantly stiff platform and the harmonious suspension and steering.

There might have been complaints from rear-seaqt occupants — except there is no rear seat, just a small platform to toss a jacket or camera case under the rear window.

There are a few other suggestions I would make to Toyota, after driving the car for a week, aftger figuring out a way for drivers who might be 6 feet tall to bring their heads in with them. And that is to do something about the incredibly annoying wind buffeting. Cruising on a 70-ish day means you needn’t activate your air-conditioning, instead enjoying fresh air by opening your windows.

That works well puttering around urban streets, and helps you hear the neat exhaust sound more, but as you build up revs and get up to, say, 45 miles per hour, you suddenly hear a loud thrumming vibrating through the interior. It is startling enough that I thought I might have blown a tire! If you go a little faster, it gets worse, although it doesn’t seem to be there below 45. My question is that the same company makes that Lexus LC500 convertible, and with the top down, there is no wind buffeting. So they can’t figure out how to solve this? C’mon.

With all the computerized driving techniques available these days, Toyota not only tweaked the appearance of the Supra a bit, but it also went underneath and returned the adaptive steering, the rate of adaptive variable suspension, and the programming for the stability control.

Another wonder of the Supra is that with all those electronic things collaborating to keep you driving and steering precisely, you have no idea it’s all there. You just know it goes where you point it, and swiftly.

When I did get out for refueling, it asked for 91 octane (premium). As I’ve often suggested, that is something to take into account when purchasing a car, because gas stations nowadays seem unflinching when they price premium fuel at 60 cents more per gallon. I got 28 or 29 miles per gallon in combined driving, heavy on city streets and hills, with liberal doses of acceleration, just because it was fun. But if you stop and calculate how much more you’ll have to pay for a month or a year of fuel refills, a regular-burning sporty vehicle makes a lot of sense.

The Supra dazzles from any direction, and resembles a jet fighter from the side.

The Supra is also offered for 2021 with a 2.0-liter turbocharged 4, which will get good power and better fuel economy. Might be worth checking.

Still, if Toyota wanted a sports car that brings to life the heritage the company seemed to abandon 21 years ago, bringing back the Supra for a fifth generation, with an inline 6 that adds BMW prestige to the picture, the 3.0 Supra deserves all the attention a buyer can summon.

CX-30 perfect fit in Mazda’s SUV lineup

October 1, 2021 by · Comments Off on CX-30 perfect fit in Mazda’s SUV lineup
Filed under: Weekly test drives, Autos 

The Mazda CX-30 fits between the CX-5 and the compact CX-3, which the CX-30 replaces.

By John Gilbert

The unprecedented summer dryspell slowed the streams to a trickle and had the effect of diminishing the usual dramatic change in foliage colors along the North Shore of Lake Superior. That point was driven home to me when I had the chance to test drive a 2021 Mazda CX-30 for a pre-autumn week, and the faintness of the leaves’ color was dramatized by the vividness of the familiar Mazda color of “Crystal Soul Red Metallic.”

Without question, I am a devoted follower of the brilliant technology that has gone into Mazda vehicles, especially in the last couple of decades. While remaining a small player world automotive competition, Mazda turns loose its engineers and designers to ,ake every vehicle a creative endeavor. The result usually is to upgrade the Mazda fleet into world-class vehicles with amazing technology under the skin.

The CX-30 is an example of how Mazda governs itself. The Hiroshima company seemed to have things in order with two sedans — the Mazda3 compact and the Mazda6, a sporty and luxurious intermediate with full-size room — and three SUVs, the CX-3 subcompact, the CX-5 midsize, and the CX-9 near-full-size. with three rows. The CX-5 was just right, with adequate rear seat room and stowage space, and the heart of a performance vehicle.

The CX-3, however, was just plain too small. Only very small children could fit in the rear seat if the front buckets were in normal position, although it might have been the perfect agile SUV for a single driver.

Limiting the interior to two roomy rows of seats leaves good luggage space.

Mazda went back to the drawing board and hustled up its next generation to solve the issue. The plan is to rename those SUVs, with the CX-3 being scratched and replaced by a new vehicle — the CX-30, with significantly more room than the CX-3, but not quite up to CX-5 dimensions. Obviously the  plaviouslyn calls for a new CX-5, slightly enlarged to make more room for the CX-30, and it will be called the CX-50, and a new CX-90 will follow to replace the CX-9.

On the car side, Mazda made a controversial decision to eliminate the Mazda6, a car that has earned high marks from critics and fanciers alike.The Mazda3 will now gain more relevance, with slightly enlarged dimensions, and both a sedan and hatchback. The sedan is beautiful, looking like a downsized Mazda6, while the hatchback has an SUV-looking rear end that houses a roomy rear seat — and it now offers all-wheel-drive.

Bt enough of the ancestry. The exterior of the CX-30 has a certain similarity to the family that includes the CX-5 and CX-9, but the contours and lines along the sides blend in that unique and artistic Mazda manner, proving less is more by ignoring the tendency to outline every line with chrome or other trim. The CX-30 has very little trim, and entrusts the gently folding and intersecting contours to come together in a manner that makes it look like it’s going 60 when it’s parked.

If every fold and contour catches all the light, the Crystal Soul Red enhances that technique by looking as though the paint is 6 inches deep. I have said that in my opinion, that color is the most appealing color available on any production car, and while nearly every company has turned its attention to upgrading its color palette, I see no reason to change my opinion.

Firmly comfortable front bucket seats in white leather enhance surprising luxury inside.

The bucket seats in the CX-30 are firm and comfortable, worthy of a long trip where you can store driving fatigue in the trunk with your luggage and laundry. There is no place for fatigue inside the cabin. The instruments are straightforward and businesslike, and you can control the alternative settings easily on the console.

The one place I’d take issue is the audio system, where Mazda seems to have given in and joined the industry-wide tendency to make all their audio controls needlessly complex.

OK, if there’s another nuisance it might be that Mazda’s nanny is looking out for us in odd ways. When you ahut it down after a run to Target, you probably shift the lever into “P” for park. When you return and hop into the driver’s seat, you hit the button to fire up the engine, shift into “D” for drive, and go… nowhere. The CX-30, on its own, engages the parking brakek when you shift into park. Now, I have heard suggestions that engaging the parking brake is easier on the transmission than just using park, but I can’t recall the last time anyone i knew wore out their “P” on the shifter.

Still, you get used to pushing the button to escape having the brake on, and once used to it, it would become second nature if you owned the car.

From the side, the merging contours with Crystal Soul Red Metallic make a striking pair.

Along those lines of security, if you stop in an unusual parking situation and open the door to make sure you’re within your assigned lines, and you put it in reverse to roll back and perfectly center your car — nope! It won’t let you engage any gear if the door is open. Not a bad safety feature, even if it ranges from unusual, with gusts to nuisance-level.

Driving the CX-30 fits right into the exceptional level, where other Mazda products reside in their own zoom-zoom world. Mazda’s newest engine is in the test vehicle, a 2.5-liter powerhouse made more potent by turbocharging. The 2.5 turbo develops 225 horsepower and 310 foot-pounds of torque, distributed through Mazda’s own in-house 6-speed automatic transmission to all four wheels, via Mazda’s own I-Active all-wheel-drive.

Mazda has its reasons for limiting the number of gears to six, mainly spacing the gears to allow room to rev freely in each gear. The engine is very willing to rev freely, so let it rev. Why come up with an 8 or 10 speed, if six will handle the power with flexible efficiency? On top of that, Mazda has installed steering wheel paddles for those who want to manually govern their shifts.

The 2.5 also benefits by Mazda’s Skyactiv engine design, which is a highly refined method of building every component of the engine to work harmoniously with the others.  A benefit is that they designed it to high-compression levels, with the ability to run just fine on regular gas.

Another proven and unique feature in the CX-30 is Mazda’s innovative G-Vectoring suspension. This is an absolute wonder, the benefit of brilliant engineering and stubborn devotion to doing it right. After considerable testing for a decade, Mazda suspension engineers found a breakthrough.

When you turn the steering wheel abruptly, say for a 90-degree turn, the computer assumes your intention and guides your trajectory and for a millisecond it decreases the power and softens the shock to the outside front wheel. That seems counter-intuitive, which is probably why it took those engineers so long to perfect it. But in reality, the momentary combination of shock and power reductions aims your Mazda to make the turn as intended.

Unbelievable as it sounds, it’s worth a trip to a Mazda dealership for a test drive, because you won’t feel any of that technology, All you feel is that you complete the turn  with such precision that you never seem to have to correct the steering wheel. That may not seem significant, and it may take you a while to realize it, but you don’t realize how much correcting you do with a “normal” car.

Other mainstream cars may offer vectored turning capability. but it’s mainly bolstering the outside front or light braking of the inside front, and is nothing like Mazda’s G-Vectoring.

Rear seats can hold three and also fold down for huge rear storage.

When you combine all those technical assets,  the CX-30 handles like a sports car and you will appreciate the agility without even paying tribute to those engineers.

Developing and refining all those advancements led the folks at Mazda to decide they were charging too little for their cars and SUVs, so a year ago, they embarked on a plan to upgrade the interiors and luxury touches in their vehicles to justify moving them upscale, in an evolutionary way.

The CX-30 test car, with leather seats, and all the lane departure warning and assist features, plus stability control  and the safety measures of more expensive vehicles, has a sticker price of $35,995.

You can find competitive vehicles, made in Japan, Germany, South Korea or the U.S., that compete with that $35,000 price range. But you cannot find any other vehicle with engine technology to rival Skyactiv, and for certain, you will not find any other car with G-Vectoring.

An enormous sunroof adds to the ambience of the CX-30, and a 12-speaker Bose audio system enhances the occupant pleasure. This is a vehicle you would enjoy driving or riding in for a cross-country jaunt, and getting 28-30 miles per gallon is a nice benefit. We got that sort of fuel economy in mostly city driving, up and down the hills of Duluth, Minnesota, where the avenues that scale the hills are world class.

Going up was easy, with all that power, and coming down was easy, too, because the automatic transmission is eager to readily downshift on its own, and you can coax it with the shift paddles if the descent is steep enough.

Soft contours make the CX-30 stylish, not overdone trim.

If you find a couple more nitpicks than I’ve mentioned — I’d prefer flat black to the reflection-prone gloss black used in the Mazda — you don’t have to drive the CX-30 every day to appreciate it. You can just park it outside, where the sunlight can play off those very artistic contours, and dazzle your senses with Crystal Soul Red Metallic.

Compact GLA 250 packs Mercedes punch

September 24, 2021 by · Comments Off on Compact GLA 250 packs Mercedes punch
Filed under: Weekly test drives, Autos 

Being compact makes the Mercedes GLA250 an appealing alternative.

By John Gilbert

The classic stature of Mercedes Benz automobiles runs all the way back to the company’s origin, in the late 1800s. You could say it runs back to when Daimler and Benz first met, except one of the wonderful legends of the company is that the two built competing vehicles and they never did meet, despite dwelling only a few miles apart. The incorporating of the two came after both pioneers had died, and it’s safe to say that while both had visions of what a motorized carriage could be, undoubtedly neither could have envisioned the evolution of cars to today’s standards.

To say nothing of trucks.

While Mercedes cars retain the iconic nature of the ultimate luxury sedans, the always-expanding array of Mercedes SUVs is just as iconic, from the largest all-terrain and luxury family haulers to the most compact. As it turns out, after being completely impressed with all the SUVs, by personal favorite comes down to the GLA250 — a compact but fully capable vehicle that will do anything its owner might bid it to do.

Easy North Shore commute to Grand Marais, and Minnesota’s one particular harbor.

While spending a week with a 2021 model GLA250 4Matic SUV, we put it through its family-hauler paces on the hills of Duluth, Minnesota, as well as a pleasant trip up Lake Superior’s North Shore on the legendary Hwy. 61 up to Grand Marais, a pleasant destination that gets close to the Canadian Border but provides an artsy stop with shops, restaurants, and that One Particular Harbor protecting the sailboat landings from the sometimes temperamental Lake Superior. That is the perfect setting for a destination drive as well as some hiking trails both in and near town.

Several models of Mercedes cars and SUVs cost into six figures, but he GLA250 is an absolute bargain next to the luxury flagships. The base price of the test vehicle was $38,230, which qualifies it as a bargain by any measure. The test 250 came loaded with features, including the AMG suffix for the corporate high-performance branch that does everything from high-performance engine tuning to superb suspensions, steering and brakes, as well as some styling and interior upgrades. With everything tallied, the sticker was $55,585 — still a bargain, considering when I was first asked, my estimate, knowing it was a bargain, was $65,000.

The test car came in Polar White, a gleaming metallic paint that reflects light in a dazzling manner and makes you think of a frozen pond with ice formations, which we see plenty of in Northern Minnesota winters, and causes me to cry “foul” for Mercedes to name its color after something that isn’t always pleasant in the Northland.

LED lights front and rear and a shape that fits two rows of seats and a large luggage space.

The glistening white made the black accents indicating AMG’s work stand out, such as the 20-inch black alloy wheels and the trim on the grille. As it has evolved, the 250 has grown pleasantly rounded corners on its blunt youthfulness, and it now looks more attractive because of it. The comfortable bucket seats, and the comfortable rear seat, make the GLA250 a great highway partner, and the quickness and agility give it a sportiness that doesn’t detract from its overall fuel-efficiency.

Instead of a high-tech V8, or one of tis new potent turbo 6es, the GLA250 has a 4-cylinder that is turbocharged and bolstered to 221 horsepower, which is plenty when combined with the engine’s 258 foot-pounds of torque. The column shift lever is something you might get used to quicker than I do. It sticks out on the right, a slender lever that you can press down to get into drive or lift up to engage reverse. It rests in its spring-loaded home between those two spots, although I must warn you of the tendency to flip it thinking you’re going to get an intermittent wipe of the wipers and instead you shift into “D.” You realize it about the time you realize you didn’t get your single swipe with the wipers.

Straightforward gauges and controls greet the driver, who is welcome to feel sporty.

It’s more fun to shift using the paddles on the steering wheel to adjust the 8-speed automatic up or down anyway. The EPA listing for the 2.0-liter 4-cylinder is 24 city and 33 highway, providing a composite average of 27 miles per gallon. We did better than that for an average, watching it reach as high as 32 mpg but maintaining an average of anywhere between 28-32 mpg even in mainly city driving.

There are some “nanny” type intrusions that can startle you in normal driving. If you’re cruising along on a deserted highway with nice, wide shoulders, you might allow your vehicle to ease over near the side stripe on the road, but if you touch that stripe, your GLA250 overreacts suddenly. Instead of a gentle gong, or a bit of a chattering, the vehicle nearly stops on a dime and lets out a loud shudder that makes you think you might be about to strike something that isn’t there.

There’s safety in extra security, but I got this reaction three or four times when I let the GLA wander just a bit. I’m not complaining, and perhaps you could adjust it to be less-intrusive, but I scolded myself for not staying more attentive and staying more centered in my lane.

For the most part, the automatic or active safety devices are starkly efficient. The vehicle will stop short of striking an object, and it will give you a lane-departure warning, or a rear backup alert if something is coming on the street behind you as you back out of your driveway or parking slot.

Nerve center on console lets you adjust everything and it reads out on info screen.

For driving position, you can get infinite settings for comfort, and you can adjust the driving mode to firm up the steering and suspension and hold the shift points to higher revs. I preferred the “Sport” setting, finding it pleasingly better for control and never approaching being harsh.

Acceleratiuon is excellent, and the steering wheel is perfectly grippable, with all sorts of redundant controls to operate all the features. The LED lights, front and rear, are also excellent. I particularly liked showing off the light-show aspect of merely turning on the headlights, because when you switch them on, they come on immediately, but then they sweep in a specific rhythm to the left and right and back with their own private fanfare before coming on to brighten your night with a solid wall of white as brilliant as the paint job.

The lights do a similar routine when you first put on your high beams, giving you a little reminder that these things mean business, and you might want to turn on the automatic dimmers.

Interior features firm, comfortable leather buckets, contemporary and stylish controls.

If I have a complaint about the GLA250, it is the excellent Burmeister surround audio system, because you have to deal with a needlessly complex system of clicking onto radio, then searching for where AM, FM, or Satellite settings interchange, then scroll up or down for a few minutes to locate the station you want. Then you can set it on the preset, which should take care of everything, but it seems that when you start up again, the audio system goes into some sort of default mode so that it can tell you what stations should be preset.

But generally, the optional features are also worthwhile and even fun or enjoyable. The sunroof, for example, is an expansive, two-pane thing with its own power inside shade. The 64-color ambient lighting, for example, allows you to choose whether you’d like red, bright orange, vivid blue, Vikings purple, or 60 other choices, and they come alive in a batch of accent lights, including a line that traces the dashboards and wraps around onto the doors. In the daylight, you can appreciate the Black Linden Wood trim in the interior, and all those items can command attention because the black and grey leather seats are comparatively subtle.

With generous seating for five, plus a lot of luggage room behind the back seat, the GLA250 becomes a fully accommodating family hauler especially for smallish families. The wireless charging, Apple CarPlay or Android Auto are standard features, as are all the safety gadgets, of which Mercedes has always been at the forefront.

Enormous sunroof lets the sun shine in front and rear, when you allow it.

If you also want an attractive shape, sporty power, superb handling, good fuel economy, surprisingly reasonable sticker price, comfort, an edge of raciness, all the requisite connectivity things, you can click off your priorities for buying a luxury SUV and find the GLA fills them all.

And if you know a typical 12-year-old neighbor or relative, maybe you can get him to tune your radio.

LC500 dazzles from looks, power, to top

September 17, 2021 by · Comments Off on LC500 dazzles from looks, power, to top
Filed under: Weekly test drives, Autos 

Lexus LC500, stunning in “Infrared,” is a new standard in luxury sports cars.

By John Gilbert

If you were buying a car and could only pick one, would you prefer a high-performance sports car with exceptional power and handling, or a stunning, great-looking sports car that freezes passersby in their tracks every time you drive past?

The answer, of course, is both. And both are readily attainable — for a price. The provider of this spectacular vehicle that combines such mind-blowing attributes is Toyota. Surprised?

Known almost exclusively for steady, durable and intelligent engines and vehicles, Toyota has made inroads into the higher-performance segments in the last couple of years, mostly through its upscale Lexus nameplate. They’ve struck paydirt, with the 2021 Lexus LC500.

That badge has been the ultimate, for Lexus, and the plateau of excellence has been raised on several counts with the 2021 L:C500.

The sleek, form-fitting roof gives the LC500 the sleekness of any coupe when up.

First, beautiful as a coupe, for this year, it’s a convertible. The LC500 is great looking with the top up, as a coupe, but it goes from attractive to spectacular with the holding of a concealed console switch that executes a mechanical coordination of erector-set inner parts, which raise the rear deck, lift off the sleek roof, and nestle it down into the rear compartment before uncoiling the mechanical routine and latching the decklid over the whole thing. It takes about 12 seconds for the process, which means you can easily put the top down at a stoplight. More importantly, if you’ve been driving top-down and avoiding the threat of rain sprinkles, you can put the top back up at the next stoplight in the same brief mechanical flurry to keep you dry.

The test LC500 came in “Infrared,” a sizzling metallic red that reflects every meaningful bit of light back at your receptive eyes. Somehow, convertibles look better in red, and red looks better in Infrared.

Comfortably thick, steering wheel has shift paddles for 10-speed.

Toyota also straddles another fine line to reise above the reputation of being stodgy and using its excellent engines for so long they become outdated. An exceptional engine can stand the test of time, but there is a difference between an exceptional engine and a decade-old exceptional engine.

The LC500 conquers the debate by getting Toyota’s well-proven 5.0-liter V8, with its dual overhead-camshafts and combination direct fuel injection, and it gets new life in the LC500 as a 471-horsepower unit under the hood of the sleek convertible. It gives you all the performance you might have thought was beyond such a luxurious vehicle. Lexus will use that same engine in a couple of other luxury sedans for the upcoming model year, as well.

All the many controls are handled from the center console switches.

In the LC500, the engine runs through a 10-speed automatic, and if the power comes on too smoothly, you can use those long, readily-reached paddles on either side of the steering wheel to upshift and downshift whenever you choose. And your choice can be altered by the simple clicking of a console toggle switch that shows you on the instrument panel that you can keep clicking until you get comfort, economy, or sport, or sport-plus. Sport tightens up the steering and suspension, and hold the revs to a higher calling. and sport-plus does it moreso, supplementing the power and handling enhancements with a bold, mellow roar of power.

Toyota advertising has only recently gone onto a campaign to rave about the new-found sportiness of the Camry and the Corolla, by showing drivers cheerfully smiling while  virtually street-racing across bridges and around parking ramp circular exits. They’s let their engineering do the talking on the LC500.

As a subtle example, Toyota, which prefers to do everything in-house, has engaged Yamaha to provide and tune the actively adjustable dampers on all four corners of the LC500.

Exceptional bucket seats support you no matter how hard you push that firm suspension, or power around a tight curve, and a thick, grippy steering wheel fills your hands and encourages you to experiment with the handling limits.

If that’s a brief overview of how the LC500 fills both the requirements of power and performance as well as being clearly the best-looking vehicle ever built by the corporation, in my opinion, the other element of such a creation is the sticker price. It is a high, reflective of the theory that technology and refinement costs a lot. The base price is $101,000, and as tested, with all the extra ingredients from 21-inch alloy wheels to the magical top, the sticker says $112,420.

Everybody who asks, flinches at the thought of any car costing that much, which causes me to explain that a lot of high-tech equipment is expensive, and when you get all that is offered on the LC500, it is probably worth the high price.

In the quest for superlatives, save a few for the Mark Levinson audio system, which is a premium device with possibly the best separation of sounds I’ve ever heard in a car, or in-home unit. It plays through a 13-speaker surround system that gives you radio, satellite radio, Bluetooth, MP3, and even a CD player. We folded my older son and resident audiophile, Jack, into the very tight, very small rear seat — at his own choosing — and as we drove all over. Up the North Shore and later down to St. Paul to the Minnesota State Fair, as well as catching one of the closing weekends at Gordy’s Hi-Hat Drive-In in Cloquet, and on every jaunt we marveled at how fantastic the sound system was.

Pick your favorite angle, the LC500 is dazzling.

These days, a lot of performers rerecord their top tunes onto new albums, for contemporary updates to established songs. Several times we wondered if we were listening to new versions of old songs, because of newly discovered background guitars, for example, and later realized we were not. We were hearing all the sounds that had been previously obscured or suppressed by lesser sound systems, including in our home, now isolated and featured by Mark Levinson, whoever he is.

That is not to say everything is perfect in the LC500, even at its steep price. The long console has a palm pad to ease your use of a fingertip mouse panel that you use to summon up all the various controls on the center stack’s 10.3-inch display. But it often was reluctant to respond promptly to my fingertips, and other times it seemed hyper. Frequently, both extremes came together, such as when I was trying to scroll up to reach a certain satellite radio station, and after going up, up, and up, suddenly it would switch to AM. Maddening. If we owned the car, I’m sure we’d get used to its idiosynchracies, but as it is, every time we wanted to tune the radio it was a source of frustration.

The climate control was a similar puzzle of mouse-ramblling that was complex. I worked for 20 minutes to kill the seat-ventilation that blew chilly air through the perforated backrest of my seat when it was not needed, and after solving it, a few minutes later my back was scorched because the system had switched from cooling to heating, unintended. Again, I would get used to it if I owned the car, instead of just turning it off and not using it any more during my weeklong test.

The latest news from JD Power, by the way, tells us that the latest Initial Quality survey of new cars calculates the nuisance factor of adjusting electronic controls right along with power, performance, handling, comfort and convenience attributes of a new car. Personally, I don’t think that’s appropriate. If an aftermarket company installs an audio, climate control, or cell-phone connectivity system that is needlessly complex, I don’t think it should detract from a new vehicle’s operation.

Stealing the appeal of Duluth’s Aerial Bridge, the LC500 is at home anywhere.

My suggestion to JD Power is to exclude the audio and connectivity controls from all the other new-vehicle operations in the equation, and then conduct an entirely separate poll to determine the best and worst operational processes for a separate ranking.

With the LC500, there is an easy solution. Put the top down, switch to Sport, and then turn the climate control and audio system OFF as you drive off over the horizon to the tune of that mellow exhaust note — poorer, maybe, but well-satisfied.

Turbo-3 lifts Bronco Sport above 30 mpg

September 9, 2021 by · Comments Off on Turbo-3 lifts Bronco Sport above 30 mpg
Filed under: Weekly test drives, Autos 

Joan hiked off to Iona’s Beach in Castle Danger on our drive in the Bronco Sport Outer Banks.

By John Gilbert

The new Ford Bronco Sport — the smaller of the two Broncos being introduced for 2021 — may be the big seller for Ford because of its sophistication as a utility vehicle for everyone, not just heavy-duty off-road types. There are various models within the Bronco Sport group, and having reported on a couple of them, it’s time to also delve into the Outer Banks.

Or maybe you dive into the Outer Banks, if you’re taking a late-summer vacation. We took it everywhere, to play tennis, and to go hiking, where my wife, Joan, enjoyed exploring new trails.

The inner features of the Outer Banks model are set up for folks or small families that have an adventurous side and may want a vehicle that will do anything and everything as a small-family hauler, but also can take the water-toys along and make sure the leftover sand can be easily washed out, or the family hound can be transported home messy knowing you can clean up with a rinse.

I found the Outer Banks had its biggest surprise under the hood, where the Rapid Red Bronco Sport carried Ford’s smallest mainstream engine — a 1.5-liter, 3-cylinder, turbocharged up to EcoBoost standards, which means 181 horsepower.

Stylishly rounded square corners are accented by LED lights all around.

When you go for a test-drive, do not bypass this one just because it’s a 3-cylinder, which seems weird to the sensibilities of American buyers used to V8s, V6es, or 4s.

In building engines, a lot of 4-cylinders run smooth, but a lot of them don’t, too, because they have a harmonic vibration that frequently needs to be settled down with anti-vibration techniques, up to and including counter-balance shafts. Remember companies such as Volvo and Audi used to have 5-cylinder engines that had the same effect on buyers, but having 3 or 5 cylinders means inherently vibration-free operation.

So when you take a drive in a Bronco Sport, try the Outer Banks and pretend that you’ve been told it is either a small V6 or a quite-potent 4-cylinder, and you’ll be extra impressed at the pep of that 1.5 EcoBoost. For those who understand all that, knowing it is a turbocharged-3 will be an attraction, rather than a detriment, and the way it sips fuel running around in traffic will impress you even more.

What will astound you, is when you stop to refill the fuel tank and calculate that on your last tankful you got 32.4 miles per gallon. That is not just an estimate, either. The test vehicle I drove for a week up and down the North Shore, revisiting Hwy. 61 along Lake Superior’s wildfire-smoke-infested air in this late summer of 2021, was driven in both highway travel and up and down the hills of Duluth, Minnesota.

Our combined driving included a run up the Shore to Castle Danger, where we again marvelled at the all-rock expanse of beach. After all our combined driving, our tankful calculated out to 32.4 miles per gallon.

Now, in an all-wheel-drive SUV, even if compact, that’s impressive, although I must admit we never bothered with the AWD in the heat of August, which has now proven to be the hottest in Duluth’s history.

For those unfamiliar with the Bronco Sport, it gets the old name on an all-new project, which is a sort of boxy vehicle plunked down on a smaller platform from the full-sized Bronco. No sense creating an all-new platform, though, because the popular Ford Escape compact SUV is right across the showroom and is one of Ford’s most popular vehicles. So Ford put the neat new body on the Escape platform.

With some surprise, I find the Bronco Sport, boxy or not, handles with quicker agility than the sleeker Escape, so the match works.

Comfortable bucket seats up front, and fold-down bench in the rear are covered with this special bullet-proof fabric that feels rugged and yet not uncomfortable, and again is aimed at efficient clean-up. You could, as mentioned, hose out the rubberized rear storage area, after you’ve folded the rear seats down, or by leaving them up.

The larger EcoBoost 4 develops 245 horsepower, which is more than enough for any service. I say more than enough because I am convinced the EcoBoost 3 with its 181 horses can breeze up Duluth’s steepest mile-long avenues with ease.

High-tech material readily washes out in large storage area after vacation, or lake ventures.

In fact, a feature I really appreciate is the hill-start assist, which some may find unnecessary. When you drive up Lake Avenue, however, and come to a 4-way stop at fourth Street, for example, you step on the brake to stop fully, and the stop-start system kills the engine. The hill-assist holds you position in place, though, so when it’s your turn, you stop on the gas, the engine starts instantly and the hill-assist releases in the same instant, and you’re off.

The 8-speed automatic transmission is standard on all Bronco Sport models, whether you prefer the Badlands, or any other model to the Outer Banks.

My Sport Outer Banks 4X4 listed for $36,440, which included Ford’s Co-Pilot 360 assist, and the Outer Banks package, rising over the base $32,160.

All the connectivity stuff is there, with rear-view camera, remote keyless entry and remote start, reverse sensing, terrain management, wireless charging, power moonroof, B&O audio system with 10 speakers, the latest version of Ford’s SYNC, LED lights fore and aft, foglights, tailgate assist with a lift-glass that also is handy when you don’t want to open the whole lift gate.

One of these days, I’ll get the just-released larger Bronco for a test-drive, but as of now, the Bronco Sport is fully satisfying from the standpoint of creature features, comfort, utility, as well as power and handling agility, and the climate control and audio system.

Any thought that the EcoBoost-3 won’t be enough power is easily overwhelmed by the realization that you might have your hands on a quick and agile compact SUV that is also capable of getting over 30 miles per gallon.

Trendy design of the Bronco Sport gives new life to the Escape platform.

The other day, I went to fill up with gas and found I was too far away from one of those stations that advertised $2.99 per gallon, so I settled for one that sold regular for $3.09 a gallon. As I hooked up my credit card, I noticed that premium fuel was $3.59 a gallon at that very pump.

No wonder they advertise regular, and why they don’t boast about premium at $3.59. Having to pay 60 cents more per gallon for premium? Calculate that out over the course of a month, or a year, and you will appreciate that your vehicle runs just fine on regular. And then add in that your Outer Banks not only runs on regular, but gets 32 miles per gallon!

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