Featured Reviews

Polestar, e-tron, Ioniq 5, EV6 top TC Auto Show

The 49th Twin Cities Auto Show runs through Sunday, May 22, at the Minnesota State Fairgrounds, with an array of electric vehicles amid the new-car displays. And even fair food!

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Mustang Mach-E strikes stunning pose with a calm Lake Superior background.

Mach-E fits inside Ford's Mustang corral

Familiar form of the Ford Mustang has been expanded to adoprt the new Mach-E -- a pure electric vehicle with 270 miles of range and hot acceleraton.

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Ford Raptor gains capability every generation, conquers blizzards with ease.

Raptor easily blows through 14-inch snowstorm

Ford builds F150 pickups for almost every imaginable owner niche, but the Raptor stands out as the pinnacle of the entire segment.

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Chicago Auto Show renews hope in EVs, cars

The Chicago Auto Show runs through February 21, 2022, and while limited in size, shows our future electric vehicles, such as the Kia EV9 concept.

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A few styling quirks set the 2022 Mitsubishi Outlander apart from the herd of compact SUVs.

Outlander proves Mitsubishi is alive and well

Mitsubishi once delivered several engines and subcompacts to Chrysler, but hopes to revive its U.S. presence with a redesigned Outlander SUV.

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Bronco versatility includes 2-door, stick shift

Ford's popular Bronco comes in two sizes, and the larger version has a 2-door available, and its larger, more rugged size is aimed at off-roading.

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4Runner adds loaded TRD Sport

Toyota already is through four generations of the venerable 4Runner, and for 2022, it adds a flashy TRD Sport model that expands its versatility

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Grand Cherokee gets the 'L' in there for 2022

When Jeep brought out the fifth generation of the Grand Cherokee for 2021, it added a stylish "L" version, elongated to contain a third-row seat.

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Right tires can improve Cadillac XT5 and XT6

Cadillac addressed both midsize lengths with the 2022 XT5 and XT6, but make sure you have the best tires for winter driving.

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...and even a winter storm couldn't dim the Niro's functionality.

All-electric Kia Niro powers through Duluth test

Kia brought out the Niro as a compact hybrid, but for 2022 an all-electric version offers silent but quick acceleration and 237 miles of range, even while visiting Duluth winter.

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New Sienna is Toyota’s link to exciting future

December 8, 2021 by · Comments Off on New Sienna is Toyota’s link to exciting future
Filed under: Weekly test drives, Autos 

Toyota Sienna lights up the late autumn sunset in Duluth with style, hybrid and AWD for 2022.

By John Gilbert
It has been challenging but fun, to try to keep up with the flurry of SUVs on the market, and to discuss and debate the benefits of minivans compared to SUVs. My findings are that often minivans are the best family haulers because of their economy and versatility, and the wonderful competitiveness of the top of the line entries. The new Kia Carnival, just out as an advance 2022 model, might rank at the top, challenging the very impressive Honda Odyssey, Chrysler Pacifica, and Toyota Sienna.

But the more you expect things to stay the same in the automotive world, the more they seem to change. With that in mind, I got to spend a week in Duluth, Minnesota, with the 2022 Toyota Sienna, which comes in one flavor — spectacular.

Every aspect of every vehicle is open to challenging competition these days, and the Sienna has been a solid contributor to Toyota’s worldwide wealth despite going 10 years before its makeover, which came for the 2021 model year. It was a major change, with a new platform, body, powertrain and features.

The refined 2022 checks allo the boxes for family-hauler wannabes. For example, you want all-wheel drive? Check. The new Sienna XSE that I drove had electronic-all-wheel drive. You want a hybrid? Check. The new 2022 Sienna XSE is the top of the line, but all Siennas come with your choice of powertrains — as long as your choice is a very efficient hybrid.

Even the rear of the Sienna has stylish .contours surrounding its room for 7 occupants and storage space.

This particular hybrid consists of a 2.5-liter, dual-overhead-cam, direct injected  4-cylinder and with two electric motors, combining to direct 245 horsepower to all four wheels.

Toyota is pretty synonymous with hybrids, of course, and this one works through a continuously variable automatic that works smoothly and efficiently at all times and facing whatever driving challenges you might find. For me, it was scaling the steep avenues of Duluth, and the Sienna zipped up with ease, while still delivering just over 36.2 miles per gallon. The EPA estimate says 35 city, 36 highway, so we were a smidge over that.

The look of the new Sienna steps up in class, particularly to be as flashy test vehicle, which came in a stunning red exterior color called “Ruby Flare Pearl,” which is pretty expressive as names go. I found it looked especially good when parked with a colorful sunset lighting the sky in the background.

Rich fabrics and leather line the high-tech interior of the 2022 Sienna XSE.

Toyota fans have been wondering what the company has up its sleeve, to meet competition on the way to electric vehicles. All I knew was the promise that Toyota would be announcing some new directions toward EVs soon, just before the word leaked out this first week of December, 2021, by way of Automotive News, sourced from, of all places, Beijing. Yes, apparently Toyota is planning to work with an aggressive Chinese battery-maker named BYD to create and launch a small electric vehicle in China that could revolutionize the EV business.

Toyota stubbornly stuck with nickel-metal-hydride battery packs for its Prius, while the world pulled an end run and chose lithium-ion, and then lithium-ion polymer because the batteries were lighter, charged faster, retained power longer and delivered more power. Toyota finally gave in and started using lithium-ion battery packs, even in the Prius. Toyota’s eagerness to work with China’s BYD is its new concept, described as lithium-ion-phosphate Blade batteries. Even as Toyota is striving to develop its own batteries, BYD has started using solid-state lithium-ion cells for longer range and more efficient energy storage in what is called its Blade battery, creating thinner and lighter batteries than lithium-ion, and they have the advantage of not using cobalt or nickel, which are costlier, yet are less prone to overheating and have a longer shelf-life.

Reportedly, Toyota investigated a joint venture with BYD several years ago but did not go through with it. One of the issues is that Toyota has such rigid standards for testing and perfecting new designs, while BYD seems to charge ahead and turn its experiments into real-world vehicles. This time, the innovation has lured Toyota to the possibility of a joint venture to give Toyota the same technical advantages that Tesla already has attained; Tesla uses BYD-style batteries in its Model 3 and Model Y vehicles sold in China.

While that may be the most exciting news out of Toyota since the establishment of its Prius, the new Sienna indicates current Toyota vehicles are at a high level on their own.

The interior of the 2022 Sienna XSE includes comfortable and supportive bucket seats in front and in the second row, where occupants have their own wireless headphones and connectivity, with 11.6-inch screens.

Leather bucket seats and under-console storage are added features.

Control center on console and info screen are thorough.

The second row buckets are not removable, but stow low onto the floor, and they also slide more than 2 feet fore and aft, creating easy access and more room in the third row. The better to enjoy the upgraded audio system, which consists of 12 JBL speakers plus an amplifier and subwoofer.

Driving the Sienna is more car-like than truck-like, or even minivan-like. The XSE package adds to the full complement of safety features by also installing a sport handling suspension. The lane-departure alerts are now bolstered by lane-tracing capability to keep you following the best trajectory around curves.

My personal style while driving any hybrid is to think ahead and slow down before needing to stop, to reclaim regenerative braking power that feeds the battery pack. The Sienna also has a driving mode switch that allows you to choose a sport setting and also more economical or normal settings, and you also can click a switch that gives you dedicated electric power or focuses on the regenerative energy-capture.

All of these features, of course, come at a cost. The Sienna starts at a base price of $42,860, but remember you’re getting all-wheel drive and the hybrid powertrain, and loading it up with the XSE luxury touches such as leather seats and upgraded interior, all of which boost the sticker to $47,942.

With electronic all-wheel-drive, the 2022 Sienna XSE can venture wherever roadways might go.

Also, remember that competition is fierce, and the Carnival, Odyssey and Pacifica are worthy choices for customers. But no minivan — or SUV family-hauler buyer — should overlook a test drive in the new Sienna. Our test-drive beat the early December snowfall that hit Duluth, but knowing the S
ienna can be had with AWD, I want another chance!

2022 Suburban fills huge body with luxury

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

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

By John Gilbert

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

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

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

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

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

Kia varies 2022 Carnival forms, prices

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Best Prius yet adds AWD, Lithium-ion battery

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

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

By John Gilbert

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

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

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

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

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

Lithium-Ion battery pack allows deep storage area.

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

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

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

Aviator Hybrid comfortable way to make memories

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

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

By John Gilbert

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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