Featured Reviews
Prius styling has come a long way in its rise to icon status in Toyota's fleet, which now includes even the Avalon.

Toyota Hybrids range from Avalon to Prius trio

Toyota has become synonymous with hybrid development, and for 2017 the range of Tyota Hybrids runs from the signature Prius trio to the luxury Avalon sedan, as well as SUVs.

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Pure EV has 124-mile range and can recover 80 percent of full power in 23 minutes.

Ioniq gives Hyundai advanced EV and hybrid

Hyundai shot high with its new Ioniq, aiming for the most efficient electric vehicle, as well as the top-mileage hybrid and plug-in hybrid. EV with quick-charge recovery and 124-

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Jeep Compass still here, finds bold new path

In Jeep's array of successful SUVs, the Compass seemed forgotten. The new model, however, makes a giant stride to challenging siblings like Cherokee and Renegade.

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Looking more "mainstream" than Subarus normally do, the 2017 Impreza is entirely new.

New Impreza hidden in plain view

The Impreza has been a loyal soldier for Subaru, and its reward is an all-new platform, body, interior, and overall impression for 2017. The Impreza 2.0 Sport starts at $23,000.

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Atlas handled swollen rivers of Texas Hill Country with ease.

Atlas more than a shrug as VW's large SUV

Volkswagen's array of vehicles ranged from compact cars to midsize SUVs, but the company's dealers and customers wanted a large, 7-seat SUV -- so the Atlas was born.

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Mazda's CX-9 for 2017 has a sleeker and more luxurious demeanor.

As biggest Mazda, CX-9 fills key niche

As a small car company, Mazda can alter its course swiftly, and while revising its engines to Skyactiv potency and improving its sedans, it also heightened the technology of its

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Rugged exterior of Ram 2500 Power Wagon looks imposing, and fulfills that image.

Ram Power Wagon lives up to lofty image

It doesn't matter if you realize that Dodge made a rugged military truck called the Power Wagon during World War II, or even that you recall the first production version. The 201

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Mercedes Metdris vans offer reasonable size for cargo or riders.

Metris offers new reasons to tour auto show

Driving a new Mercedes Metris cargo van added to the curiosity of checking out the passenger version at the Twin Cities Auto Show.

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If it is intended to replace the late and beloved Taurus SHO, the Fusion Sport looks the part.

New Fusion adds flair with Sport model

Ford's Fusion has been a stalwart member of the growing midsize segment for years, but without fanfare the car's revision for 2017 has various upgrades -- including a Sport model

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Irregularity of winter blizzards are nothing to the allroad with its venerable quattro AWD.

Audi allroad returns with all-road perfection

Audi followed through on the idea of discontinuing its allroad wagon a couple of decades ago, but it is back for 2017, and it is lower and sleeker but still over-built for this e

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As biggest Mazda, CX-9 fills key niche

March 31, 2017 by · Comments Off on As biggest Mazda, CX-9 fills key niche
Filed under: Weekly test drives, Autos 
Mazda's SUV selection now covers the compact CX-3, roomier CX-5, and expanded CX-9, which meets the demands of families that need 7 seats.

Mazda’s CX-9 for 2017 has a sleeker and more luxurious demeanor.

 By John Gilbert

An automobile company is only as good as its customers determine. If its cars are too big, too small, too bulky, too stodgy, well, you can go down the road a ways and find a company that might more closely fit what you’re looking for.

Mazda, meanwhile, a comparatively small Japanese company, must be eavesdropping. Maybe there’s a wiretap. Or at the very least, they’ve been reading my mail. Because Mazda continues to make vehicles that impress me;  no weaknesses, just assets. It holds over to their array of SUVs, too. I thought the first CX-9 was too big and a little ungainly, while the CX-7 was sporty and quick, but not economical enough.

When Mazda reorganized its engine and drivetrain manufacturing, and restyled its sedans, it came up with the CX-5, a midsize SUV that handles like a sports car and is perfectly compact. In the last year, Mazda brought out the CX-3, which is smaller and more compact, to the point that even I, who prefers as compact as you dare, find the back seat pretty cramped, if you intend for any humans more than 12 years old to ride back there.

Meantime, before redesigning its outstanding sedans — the compact Mazda3 and the midsize Mazda6 — the company came out with a completely redone CX-9 a year ago. Its largest SUV will satisfy the most discerning fancier of larger SUVs, who like to complain about compact crossovers being too small.

We got a chance to test-drive a 2017 Mazda CX-9, and my wife Joan, agreed with me about every characteristic of the vehicle. It was stunning to look at, in “snowflake white pearl,” which made the vehicle fairly glimmer in any light, and even stand out at nighttime.

Businesslike and sporty gauges and steering wheel give CX-9 driver full control.

The look of the CX-9 also impresses, because it has a bold and forceful open grille, with the top protruding a bit in an aggressively sporty manner. From the side, the silhouette makes a striking pose also, looking lower than it is, and sleek from front to rear, with all the contours and grooves fitting in well with the sometimes mystical concepts Mazda has for its flowing design.

Under the hood, Mazda’s jewels of technology prevail in every model, since the company went to its holistic “Skyactiv” design for creating engine that unify intake, exhaust, combustion chambers and everything else, internally as well as externally.

For those whose eyes glaze over when you talk about such technicalities, suffice it to say that Mazda gets more power and more fuel economy out of a given engine displacement than any other company, in normally aspirated form. Read more

Ram Power Wagon lives up to lofty image

March 31, 2017 by · Comments Off on Ram Power Wagon lives up to lofty image
Filed under: Weekly test drives, Autos 

Rugged exterior of Ram 2500 Power Wagon looks imposing, and fulfills that image.

By John Gilbert

All right, we’ve established a few ground rules for large pickup truck wars, which have escalated to the point where the full-size trucks are so huge, the new breed of midsize trucks seems more than large enough. But if we did have to have a monster truck truck-off, so to speak, what would we pick to win?

That’s pretty impossible to say, because truck wars have such indelibly inscribed sets of favorites you’re sure to offend somebody when you pick something different. More likely, everybody makes their contribution.

Having previously reported on the Ford monster dualie F350, it’s hard to find anything bigger or bossier. The F250 Super Duty, meanwhile, is a monster that could be a candidate for king of the reasonably-sized monster trucks. And Ford’s Raptor is a specially built performance king for serious off-road duty with an ultra-macho on-road presence.

None of that prepares us for today’s topic, however. Which would be Dodge. Now Dodge, for example, gets no choice any more because Dodge trucks are no longer Dodge trucks; they are Rams. We will accept as a valid candidate the newest and most monster-like Ram of them all, the “Ram 2500 Power Wagon Crew Cab 4X4.” Got all that?

If a Power Wagon needs power, how about a 6.4-liter Hemi V8? This is the basic engine that powers the Hellcat Charger and Challenger models, with 707 tire-screeching horsepower, only this one is normally aspirated, and it is beefed up for heavy-duty trucking.

If you’re taking a group to see, for example, a Monster Truck competition, the Ram Power Wagon would be the ideal conveyance.

Neatly stowed inside the front bumper is a 12,000-pound winch.

The heavy-duty grille rollbars add to the impression that you’re ready for some heavy use. And imbedded horizontally into the front bumper is a small cable with a little tag on the end. It is a 12,000 pound winch. Pull the tab and it uncoils. I figure you could use this thing to drive along after a blizzard and pull your neighbor’s semi out of a ditch, if necessary.

This monster is, indeed, a monster, and it even has a feature or two that puts it onto a higher monster plateau than the huge Fords. It is a “bad”-looking truck, in the manner of current vernacular where “bad” means “real good,” or, as humans used to say, “cool.” Only the Ford Raptor rivals the visual impact of the Power Wagon. Read more

Metris offers new reasons to tour auto show

March 16, 2017 by · Comments Off on Metris offers new reasons to tour auto show
Filed under: Weekly test drives, Autos 

 

Mercedes Metdris vans offer reasonable size for cargo or riders.

By John Gilbert

When the Twin Cities Auto Show arrived on the same weekend as the Minnesota state high school hockey tournament, I knew I’d find a way to get to both events, even though they are separated by the 10 miles from the Minneapolis Convention Center to St. Paul’s Xcel Energy Center ice arena.

The Twin Cities Auto Show, scheduled through March 19, is not one of the nation’s major shows, more of a dealer-oriented and operated show with vehicles contributed by the regional dealerships, and without the Detroit-Chicago-L.A.-New York displays of concept cars and futuristic things. The theme is similar, however, with an emphasis on trucks and SUVs, and reflecting the nation’s sudden urge for compact crossovers (CUV), and electrified vehicles.

The “Car of the Show” was the new Chevrolet Cruze Coupe, and after strolling through the dozens of Chevrolets looking for a two-door Cruze, I asked somebody and learned that the “Coupe” term is in roofline silhouette only, which other manufacturers call “Four-door coupe” styling.

Chevrolet’s Cruze “Coupe.”

Aside from drawing the scorn of our new President Trump for having the audacity to build the Cruze Coupe in Mexico, instead of the United States, Chevrolet has designed a winner with the Cruze Coupe, which has a neat style and a fastback roofline that ends in a hatchback.

While I never tire of strolling among a lot of new cars at any auto show, I had a couple of specific reasons for my search at the Minneapolis Convention Center. I had been doing a test drive on a 2017 Mercedes Metris that week, and I was quite curious about that vehicle, spooky as it was handling a light snowfall on top of some serious melt-then-freeze ice in my driveway.

The Metris has a front engine with rear-wheel drive, which is not the right prescription for driving through Duluth, MN., in wintertime in any reasonably competent manner. But I made it.

Metris in the wild.

Metris seats.

 

 

 

 

 

Metris cargo hold.        

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New Fusion adds flair with Sport model

March 2, 2017 by · Comments Off on New Fusion adds flair with Sport model
Filed under: Weekly test drives, Autos 

Fusion gets some restyling for 2017, but also adds an AWD Sport model.

When the Ford Fusion was first introduced, I thought it was the most appealing design ever slapped onto the sheetmetal of a Detroit sedan. It still stirs the senses when one drives by.

For 2017, it was time for a major revision and upgrading of the Fusion, and Ford has done the job well. Particularly well, in the case of the Fusion Sport, which is a high-performance version of the venerable family sedan.

As a member in good standing of the midsize segment, which has come under heavy pressure from the enlarging gang of compacts below and the larger crossover SUVs coming at it from above. But the best midsize cars hold their own well, including the Accord, Camry, Mazda6, Altima, Sonata, Optima, Malibu, and Passat sedans == and the Fusion is right in there.

The Sport, however, is something else. Not since Ford made a top-level Taurus in high-performance SHO form has the company made such a stirring everyday driver as the Fusion Sport.

The sweeping lines resembling 4-door-coupe style makes the new Fusion stand out.

In keeping with Ford’s concept of downsizing in the engine bay, to let V6es do the job of V8s, and hot 4s replace V6es, the Fusion Sport makes top use of its EcoBoost plan to replace a solid engines with an enlivened but smaller engine, turbocharged to jack-up performance.

The garden-variety Fusion comes with your choice of a 1.5 or 2.0 liter 4-cylinders, where the 2.0 can be turbocharged to meet EcoBoost standards, plus there’s a hybrid that adds an electric motor to the 2.0’s output. Or, you can move up to the Sport.

That gets you some subtle trim touches, a neat interior, slick wheels that are 19-inchers, sportier suspension, and two major features that should leave the more mundane members of the competition wheezing and looking at the Fusion Sport’s quad tailpipes.

One of those is a twin turbocharged 2.7-liter EcoBoost V6. The 2.7 gets twin turbochargers to boost — literally — power up to 325 horsepower and 380 foot-pounds of torque. All that power makes great use of the other major feature — all-wheel drive. Read more

Audi allroad returns with all-road perfection

February 22, 2017 by · Comments Off on Audi allroad returns with all-road perfection
Filed under: Weekly test drives, Autos 

 

Audi’s allroad is lower, sleeker and still has more ground clearance for versatility.

By John Gilbert

A couple of decades — and an SUV craze or two — ago, a good friend of my younger son asked me how wise it would be to buy a used Audi allroad, which was a very nice and svelte station wagon-type vehicle that you could actually take off the road because of some armor-plating underneath.

Now, I’ve always been a big fan of Audi’s technology, and I’ve visited the Audi home plant in Ingolstadt, Germany, a couple of times, but I issued a word of caution to my young friend, because the word behind the scenes at that time was that Audi was going to discontinue the allroad because of slow sales. So he bought something else.

Flash forward a few years, and I saw an allroad and I realized that the drivetrain and all the mechanicals were all fine in the car, and my advice was premature for a young family in St. Paul. Now it is 2017, and while Audi is at the top of its game in competing with BMW and Mercedes for fine German car sales, I paused in my favorable impression of a new Audi A4 sedan because my test car for a mid-February week was (trumpets, please) a 2017 Audi allroad.

Irregularity of winter blizzards are nothing to the allroad with its venerable quattro AWD.

After this review gets filed, I’m going to notify my son’s friend and apologize for my hasty suggestion years ago, and advise him that maybe he should look anew at the allroad. Incidentally, at Audi’s insistence, allroad is spelled with a lower-case “a” just as its quattro all-wheel-drive system is spelled with a lower-case “q.” In fact, it’s amusing to note that Motor Trend, Car & Driver, and other auto publications insist on spelling it with a cap Quattro, as though that distinction makes them superior in some fashion.

The new allroad is all-new, and it is a superb vehicle, with, of course, quattro, which made confronting a Northern Minnesota snowstorm and its below-zero after-effects a simple matter, both for traction, stability, and exercising those seat-heaters.

It is based on the platform of the new A4 sedan, which has grown up in recent years with its price rising with its sophistication. It is now Audi’s base compact/midsize sedan, pushing the larger A6 and A8 up a couple of price categories. Read more

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