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!

Enormous Grand Wagoneer tips scales at Rally

October 26, 2021 by · Comments Off on Enormous Grand Wagoneer tips scales at Rally
Filed under: Weekly test drives, Autos 

Enormous is the key word to describe the new Jeep Grand Wagoneer, although luxury is a close second.

By John Gilbert

Not every one of the newest cars are keepers, even though the battle for hyperbole seems never-ending among auto writers. For example, back in the 1960s, when I first started writing about cars for the Minneapolis Tribune, I got a wide assortment of cars to drive from press fleets in Chicago, and one of those was the Jeep Wagoneer.

It was large, bulky, and while loaded with features that could justify a higher price than the Cherokee and Grand Cherokee, I never had good luck with the Wagoneer or Grand Wagoneer. Electrical malfunctions and weird actions that convinced us it was haunted by an evil spirit plagued us every time we had one.

The weirdest was when I requested a base Cherokee, and they sent me the fanciest Grand Wagoneer made. Oh no, I thought, but I persevered. It was the middle of winter, and our older son, Jack, was playing hockey in a frigid, natural-ice facility at Breck School. After the game, we hustled outside into 10-below temperature, and walked hastily to the parking lot at the end of a building. Then we heard the steady bleating of a car horn in the distance.

We got to the corner and discovered it was our Wagoneer. Without an alternative, I got the hood up and pulled the wires to the horn to stop the noise. We got inside, sharing a laugh about the weird luck, and found the Wagoneer battery had died of its own hand. A jump start got us home, and after that, we gingerly hooked up the horn, and learned that it only honked whenever we turned left.

When they stopped making Wagoneers, we celebrated. Now, to my horror, Jeep has reincarnated the Grand Wagoneer for 2022. I hadn’t seen one in person yet, but last week, at the MAMA Fall Rally at Elkhart Lake, Wis., where an assortment of new vehicles was presented for the trials by journalists, I saw this huge apparition and realized it was a Grand Wagoneer.

My older son, Jack, who also is my co-driver, co-tester, and photography aide, and who had accompanied me on the nearly 6-hour drive from Duluth to Elkhart Lake, said: “Jeep makes so many vehicles that are normal size and a lot of fun. Why would they make a huge vehicle like that.”

So there I was, reduced to defending the move. Because various size Jeeps are enjoyed by many owners, if a family adds a new baby or needs more room, they have to recommend to a potential buyer that he’d best head to a Chevy dealer and buy a Tahoe or Suburban. ince those are the most profitable vehicles on the road, Jeep and its bosses decided they ought to build a Suburban-sized SUV that retained the utility of other Jeeps but could easily fit three rows of seats in, and, I suggested, a fourth if necessary.

Carefully matched light walnut woodgrain covers consoles and dashboard in theleather-lined Wagoneer..

The Grand Wagoneer drives surprisingly well, with modes to reach a reasonable facsimile of “sport,” and it also won my vote for the best luxury vehicle on the premises. Without a doubt, it has the most luxurious interior I’ve ever been in, with, I suggested, enough wood to panel your rec room. And enough leather to panel the den. The price tag climbs over $100,000 and either stood out or was met with scorn by everybody there.

Belonging to the Midwest Auto Media Association (MAMA) is a great benefit to journalists who wrote about cars from all over the country, and among the highlights of each year is when the annual MAMA Spring and Fall Rallies take place. We gather at Elkhart Lake, Wis., each spring and at Joliet, Ill., each fall, so that we can test-drive the latest vehicles from all the manufacturers at one place — the Road America road cours in the spring and the Autobahn Club track in the fall.

The past two years have disrupted out perfect world, of course, and while we all were sad when last year’s rallies, and auto shows, etc., were postponed and then cancelled. We don’t know if we’ll ever get back to normal, or fi maybe we’ll get used to something called the “new normal,” but we made a bold step in that direction on Wednesday and Thursday, October 13 and 14, to get something of a taste of the “good ol’ days” when MAMA held its usual spring rally in the Fall of 2021.

Such diversions are common at the Rallies, with manufacturers; reps on hand to answer questions, although I find the newest wave of PR folks are a lot like the newest wave of social-media “auto writers,” whose knowledge of vehicles and engines is superficial at best. Read more

Hybrid model boosts Tucson over competition

October 16, 2021 by · Comments Off on Hybrid model boosts Tucson over competition
Filed under: Weekly test drives, Autos 

Top model of new Tucson has glossy grille, through-grille LED headlights, and Hybrid.

By John Gilbert

For exactly a decade, Hyundai has surged from being a South Korean interloper on the automotive scene to becoming a surprising competitor and then a superior product for solid quality, technology and fuel efficiency all at once, in both its cars and its SUVs. It was the 2011 model year when the Sonata was totally redone to ignite Hyundai into the future. The new Sonata and Elantra now lead the way for Hyundai sedans, while the large Palisade and the compact Kona have set high standards, large and small, for SUVs.

A year ago, Hyundai redesigned its Santa Fe, the midsize SUV entry, leaving only the Tucson in need of renewal. That renewal is happening right now. The redesign is outstanding, and thrusts the Tucson as a 2022 model up into the heady atmosphere dominated by the RAV4, CR-V, Rogue and CX-5 — the outstanding entries from Toyota, Honda, Nissan, and Mazda, respectively, Japan’s top vehicles.

Just being clustered with those four is a high achievement, but the Tucson is more than that, despite what the evaluators at Motor Trend might suggest. In its latest issue, Motor Trend compared the Tucson with the CR-V, RAV4 and Rogue in a recent issue, and ranked the CR-V first, but apparently figured readers wouldn’t notice that the RAV4, Rogue and Tucson all were equipped with competitive 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engines, while the CR-V had a 1.5-liter turbocharged 4 — and with the advantage of the only turbo engine, it ran away with the performance categories.

Flashy design finishes at rear on 2022 Tucson Hybrid, with room in comfort for five.

Turbochargers can do that for a smaller, higher-revving engine. To be fair, however, the magazine could have tested the Tucson model I drove, which was the “Ultimate,” and came with a turbo 1.6 engine, plus a hybrid setup with a battery pack stashed under the back seat. Frankly, I like all of those other vehicles, and the Mazda CX-5, as well, but switching to the zippier 1.6 turbo in the Tucson would have put it on equal performance footing with the CR-V, and adding the hybrid technology vaults it above and beyond that elite group.

The 1.6 turbo has a strong-enough 180 horsepower, and adding the 44.2 kW electric motor adds 59 horsepower from 1,600-2,000 RPMs, and boosts the Tucson to a combined 226 horsepower and 195 foot-pounds of torque. The point where the torque, or power, hits its peak is all-important to performance, and the Tucson Hybrid’s toque peaks at 0 RPMs — zero — and stays at that peak up to 1,500 revs. The LG Chem battery pack is a 270-volt Lithium-ion polymer. unit that rests flat on the floor, under the rear seat, which also gives the Tucson a mid-engine weight characteristic.

Under the skin, the Tucson is 182.3 inches long with a 108.5 inch wheelbase and weighs 3,762 pounds with all-wheel drive. Independent front and rear suspension uses MacPherson struts in the front and a multilink set-up at the rear. A big reason for the solid feel to the Tucson is the rigidity of the platform, plus the body-strength that comes from a high dose of high-strength steel and high-tensile steel from Hyundai’s own steel plant.

The new Tucson is a 2022 model, and while it borrows from the classy Palisade, and the Santa Fe, I think it steps boldly ahead to establish a new face for Hyundai. But while discussing performance, I must point out that in a week’s time driving up and down the North Shore of Lake Superior, and scaling and descending the steep hills of Duluth, Minnesota, I found the performance was not only outstanding in the Tucson, but the fuel economy went off the scale. Read more

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. Read more

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. Read more

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