Featured Reviews
Toyota style and BMW 3-liter 6 make flashy combination.

BMW engine boosts Supra to new Toyota image

Toyota's return to the sports-car game is enhanced by the 2021 Supra -- a $50,000 2-seater with potent 3-liter inline 6 and impressive platform both from BMW.

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

CX-30 perfect fit in Mazda's SUV lineup

Mazda is a small company with big intentions, and the 2021 CX-30 fits perfectly into its SUV crop, replacing the too-small CX-3 with a roomy, strong-performing compact.

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Compact GLA 250 packs Mercedes punch

Mercedes has a wide variety of cars and SUVs, but if you don't need a third row, check out the compact GLA250 for all the luxury and sportiness at a bargain price.

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

LC500 dazzles from looks, power, to top

Lexus is Toyota's upscale brand, but the 2021 LC500 proves as either coupe or convertible it also is the company's high-performance/luxury nameplate.

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Turbo-3 lifts Bronco Sport above 30 mpg

Ford has connected on style with the new Bronco Sport, and one of the surprising models is the Outer Banks, with a peppy 1.5-liter turbo engine.

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F-150 adds hybrid to boost power, mpg

Ford has just about done it all, with pickup trucks, but its new F-150 offers hybrid electrical support to its 3.5-liter PowerBoost for a range of nearly 700 miles.

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Parked at the entrance to Duluth's Rose Garden, the revised Buick Envision shows off its new look.

Did Buick Envision 'Chinese takeout?'

General Motors used Buick to make sales inroads into China, and part of the payback is the Buick Envision, a smooth, stylish SUV built entirely in China.

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Infiniti Q50 adds AWD to upscale bargain

Competition among Japanese luxury brands is stiff, but the new Infiniti Q50 rises to the top with twin-turbo V6 and AWD.

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Unusual curves and contours sets Ascent apart from normal Subarus.

Ascend lets Subaru ascend to big SUV realm

Subaru has been a solid builder of compact SUVs through the years, but now the Ascent raises the company up to 3-row competition.

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

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

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

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Kia Carnival assumes role of ultimate cruiser

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

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

By John Gilbert

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New Forester — ideal way to cruise Gordy’s

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

The new 2021 Forester, larger but still comfortably Subaru.

By John Gilbert

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

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

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

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

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

In redesigned shape, Subaru Forester retains unmistakable family form.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Indestructible fabric on the seats and dashboard accent the interior.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Forester driver’s view includes comfortably thick steering wheel.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lane-changing Escalade splurges atop SUV list

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

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

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

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

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

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

Retro Charger zooms forward with 797 horsepower

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

 

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

By John Gilbert

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bronco Sport fills popular Ford SUV niche

June 26, 2021 by · Comments Off on Bronco Sport fills popular Ford SUV niche
Filed under: Weekly test drives, Autos 

Neither sleek nor racy, new Bronco Sport is a perfect family compact SUV.

By John Gilbert

Vehicle buyers are nothing if not eager to jump onto whatever trendy bandwagon might be coming around the block. And manufacturers are quick and clever about heading off our desires with products we just can’t do without.

A perfect case in point is the new Ford Bronco, which is a compact SUV adorned with the beloved name out of the past, when Ford made a Bronco that was big and square and rugged and primitive, but would haul stuff and operate as a family utility vehicle before the term SUV had been dreamt up. Its ruggedness worked for adventurers who rambled off the beaten paths. It had two rows of seats and the rest was for stowage. It was not designed for comfort so much as for taking folks into the hinterlands, beyond roads.

In the years since the original Bronco bucked its way into history, Ford has fought the good fight about designing and building SUVs from the tiniest subcompact on up through the largest Expedition, with a half-dozen or more steps in between those extremes.

But as sophistication settles in, Ford has found a way to wedge an all-new compact SUV in among the Explorers, Escapes, Edges, Expeditions and all, and it did it right — even including revisiting the name Bronco. The new Bronco is a squarish but attractive body plunked down on the impressive drivetrain of the compact Escape, including the 2.0-liter EcoBoost 4-cylinder engine and 8-speed transmission.

Styling wraps all the way around the new Bronco, but the choice is the Sport Badlands.

An interesting wrinkle is that there are two Broncos — a normal Bronco and a Bronco Sport. The Bronco Sport is actually a bit smaller than the Bronco proper, and it shares unibody construction with the Escape. I have not yet driven the Bronco, but I have had some extensive test-drive time with the Bronco Sport, in fact it was the Bronco Sport Badlands edition, and along with more compact size, it comes with revised suspension, all-wheel drive, and rear cargo floor that is covered with a rubberized material that goes up the rear seat backrests. Read more

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