Featured Reviews

2022 Suburban fills huge body with luxury

Chevrolet gave its huge Suburban a new platform for 2021, so for 2022 it gains refinement of features such as suspension and interior amenities.

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Kia varies 2022 Caravan forms, prices

Koa's long-standing Sedona has been a solid minivan, but as the segment regroups, the superb Carnival replaces the Sedona for 2022.

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Best Prius yet adds AWD, Lithium-ion battery

Toyota continues to set the pace for hybrid technology, and the 2022 Prius XLE features 50-plus mpg and all-wheel drive.

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Aviator Hybrid comfortable way to make memories

.Lincoln is stepping out of the shadow of Ford's truck and SUV domination, offering an Aviator Hybrid that could stir up the luxury 3-row SUV segment

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The 2022 Ford Maverick is conveniently downsized but retains the look of a larger pickup.

Modern Maverick could be Ford's bargain bonanza

Just when you thought Ford had blanketed the pickup industry, it brings out an attention-grabbing Maverick compact pickup price from $20,000 for 2022.

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Taking the stylish CX-30 and adapting it to 
 for 2022.full EV with a rotary engine backu-up creates the MX-30. (Photo by Jack Gilbert.)

Enormous Grand Wagoneer tips scales at Rally

Mazda's new electric MX-30 was among assorted new vehicles from various manufacturers lured auto writers to Elkhart Lake for the Midwest Auto Media Association's Rally.

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Hybrid model boosts Tucson over competition

Hyundai's strides to improve quality and technology in all its cars and SUVs reaches new levels with the 2022 Tucson Hybrid.

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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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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.

With some degree of sarcasm, I’ve previously identified a Cadillac Escalade as “a Suburban with bling,” and that generally holds true, and you could add the GMC Denali into the same grouping, because General Motors continues to duplicate the Suburban and dole versions out to every division that wants one.

All sarcasm aside, though, if you have a young, growing family that already has accumulated three kids, or more, any SUV you might be interested in has got to be big enough to accommodate the whole family. Also, we won’t reiterate the idea of checking out the newest crop of minivans, which make the most economic sense for those with larger hauling requirements, nor will we chastise those who simply insist they “don’t want a minivan” regardless of logic.

If you watch the news, Suburbans are the vehicles of choice when presidents need a ride to the airport, or dignitaries show up from a foreign country and need transporting in a motorcade. Maybe there will be an Escalade mixed in, but the very look of the Suburban is what matters, and the new one is crafted with a squared off, formal-looking, shape.

Luxurious leather and well-finished features aid Suburban refinement.

Driving the Suburban is easy, and it helps you there, too, with all the latest electronic gadgets to alert you to danger or to help you stay in your lane. Having a large, 6.2-liter V8 under the hood, and a 10-speed automatic transmission to keep it in the correct rev ratio, makes it responsive, as it should be, with 42.0 horsepower and 460 foot-pounds of torque. There is nothing wrong with that traditional old pushrod engine, unless you are seriously into fuel economy. We got 10-12 miles per gallon in and around city driving with a few short trips and blips as high as 16.2 mpg added in. And at 11.56-to-1 compression ratio, it wants 91-octane premium fuel, which costs over 50 centers more per gallon than regular.

New grille, encased by LED running and headlights make a statement of prominence.

Handling is far better than the Suburbans you might remember, as a changeover last year gave it independent rear suspension, and a newly devised platform that is partly unibody rather than conventional body-on-frame. Until that change, GM’s biggest SUVs were pretty simple, by taking a Silverado pickup platform and plunking a luxury body onto it. The new one, now a year into operation, is stronger, safer, and allows it to handle with much better agility.

It also picks up on Chevy’s magnetic ride control, with mechanical limited slip, a 2-speed transfer case, hill-descent control, and beefed-up cooling and controls for enhanced trailer towing. One of the aims of the new Suburban is to declare that it is capable of going off-road, so it has a rugged undercarriage and the capability of doing more than just getting the family up to the cabin in summertime, or to the snowmobile or skiing destination in winter. The all-wheel drive system will take care of that without straining.

Exterior appeal is enhanced by the color itself, which is called “Evergreen Gray Metallic.” Apparently near Detroit, the evergreens grow gray, although we still make them various shades of green in Minnesota. I might recommend “Evergray Metallic” as an alternative.

Once inside, the color scheme is ‘Jet Black/Maple Sugar,” and it is welcoming because you know the perforated leather bucket seats are heated and cooled, as are the second-row buckets. The second row might be the place to be, with two buckets, and a third-row bench in the way-back. The 10-speaker Bose audio system will encapsulate you with sound.

Huge video LCD screens should keep second and third row occupants entertained.

But those second-row buckets and third-row occupants have 12.6-inch diagonally-measured LCD HD screens for video watching to keep the kids occupied enough to avoid the “are we there yet” comments.

We all know it is just a matter of time until the changeover comes, to replace traditional gasoline engines with some form of electrification of some sort, hybrid or pure electric. But until we get to that, those of us with big families or car-pooling necessities will need to get everyone to their destinations. And the 2022 Suburban is a valid candidate to haul everyone there in comfort and convenience.

Not only that, but the occupants can go back to that opening analogy and watch their favorite sports event in some form on those large screens affixed to the backs of the front buckets.

Kia varies 2022 Caravan forms, prices

November 25, 2021 by · Comments Off on Kia varies 2022 Caravan 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?

I had a chance to write an earlier piece on the Carnival, which happened to be an SX Prestige model, loaded up with options to be priced up near $50,000. Reclining airline-type second row seating and virtual everything you could find in the option bin justified that price, but you don’t have to go all-in on options to find a Carnival that can transport an expanding family to its various appointments. We got another chance to spend a week with a Carnival SX, which is still a fairly high-ranking member of Kia’s clan, but about $5,000 less costly than the Prestige. The base Carnival starts at about $32,000.

Stylish exterior helps lift Carnival above and beyond the outgoing Sedona.

Buyers might wonder why Kia changed the name of its Sedona minivan to Carnival, and one easy answer is that in all other markets of the world, Kia’s long-standing minivan has been named Carnival, so for 2022, with an all-new platform, an all-new engine, all-new looks and new personality, why not give it the worldwide name as well?

Once again, it’s important to note that minivans have somehow become scorned by the more-macho SUV-buying crowd, but it’s also important to point out that no vehicle on the planet except a city bus makes more sense for the economical and efficient transporting of six or seven occupants. Large SUVs are great, and fun, but they are generally far less fuel-efficient, and require larger engines to do their thing on truck platforms. Minivans start out on unibody platforms, allowing them to stay lighter and tighter, and more fuel-efficient.

The minivan segment has shrunk, out of SUV trendiness, but it remains a solid  manufacturers’ location for profit if you can make a minivan of exceptional quality and features. And that’s what has happened in the industry, with all current minivans having two things in common: Excellent products — from Honda (Odyssey), Toyota (Sienna), and Chrysler (Pacifica) — and a unanimity from all manufacturers to try to convince buyers their vehicle is not just a plain ol’ minivan.

Choices of features include leather or cloth seats, but all Carnivals get the new 3.5-liter direct-injected V6 engine.

With exceptional roominess for family hauling, and all being about equal, those entries give buyers a wide-ranging group, and Kia’s ability to move right into their territory is impressive for the South Korean company.

The clean look of the Carnival combines a high-tech image as well as a classiness. The grille shows a new look, and the smooth sides and rear are up to contemporary standards. So it all comes down to how your family will accept or appreciate what you get for your investment.

All levels of the Carnival come with a new 3.5-liter V6 engine, direct injected, and with 290 horsepower and 262 foot-pounds of torque. That equates to a 3,500-pound towing capacity, which is a lot, meeting or exceeding most midsize SUVs for families who have a boat or travel trailer to pull.

Driving the Caravan is peppy because of the power output of the new engine, and the 8-speed automatic shifts smoothly and keeps you in command at all speeds or bursts of acceleration. The ability to take off with a sporty burst, and get up to freeway speed and hold it easily are assets, and that power also lets you appreciate the tight handling Kia has engineered into the new Carnival. I’m not sure it would beat all its rivals around a handling course, but I suspect it might.

It’s also impressive that Kia has put the same drivetrain into all models, and price ranges from $31,000-$50,000,. rather than putting an inferior or underpowered engine in the lowest models.

We got from 25-27 miles per gallon with moderate driving, mostly citified, during our week.

All controls are easily located on the Carnival console.

When you drop down from the top of the line SX Prestige model, you can lop off a few features without missing them. That includes dropping from the very good Bose Premium audio system to the standard Kia system, and eliminating the impressive leather seats for comfortable and hardy cloth buckets, and if you don’t tell the kids that the higher model has reclining buckets with lounge-chair-like under-calf footrests, they’ll never know what they’re missing. I’m surprised how many folks don’t want or enjoy sunroofs, because our family loves them, but losing the huge, twin-pane sunroof is another victim of saving $5,000 or more on the sticker price.

The other assets Kia can boast against its rivals is the impressive suite of safety items Hyundai and Kia have compiled over the last decade. As its steering and handling have improved in all vehicles, the South Korean partners have also come up with items like lane-departure alert and then lane-departure prevention, which led up to the current lanc-keeping and lane-centering devices which use computers and cameras to keep you in the center of your lane even while engaging tight curves. In city driving, rear surround view is a big help, augmenting the cross-traffic alert and front and rear collision avoidance.

And a very neat and unique device puts a rear-facing camera shot of the adjacent lane whenever you hit the directional signal to change lanes, and transposes it into the instrument panel gauge, momentarily replacing either the tachometer or speedometer.

One-touch sliding side doors offer easy access to Carnival’s third row.

And, of course, the Carnival takes advantage of Hyundai’s traditional 10-year, 100,000-mile powertrain warranty. For the future, I will be eagerly awaiting the additions of hybrid and other electric-vehicle advances that are coming on some smaller vehicles and SUVs soon, and quite logically might appear on future Carnival models. Toyota’s Sienna offers a hybrid model for 2022, and others also offer all-wheel drive.

Kia has jumped into the highest realm of minivans, so it’s not likely to overlook such competitive items.

Sleek but distinctive silhouette graces Carnival.

Maybe we’re on the verge of seeing a whole new vehicle craze for expanding families. After trying to ignore minivans to choose an SUV of some kind, maybe buyers will start turning away from the vast array but sameness of SUVs and start clamoring to get into a premium minivan.

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.

Arrow-shaped — or maybe “aero” — gives the new Prius a slick silhouette.

The attractiveness of the Prius XLE is that it doesn’t look like the “science project” many first hybrids did. It is shaped like an arrowhead — a sleek wedge rising up from the low front to the rooftop, and then dropping at the rear, after it clears head-space for rear-seat occupants. It looked tight to me, so to prove that 6-foot adults could fit in the rear, I climbed aboard and found that after getting in, my head was clear of the ceiling, and my knees didn’t have to be pressed against the contoured rear of the front buckets.

The instruments are above the dash and in the middle of the modern interior.

Driving the new Prius is enjoyable and — dare we suggest? — exciting. You get in, with the key on your person, and push the button. An indicator says “Ready,” and you get used to looking for the information on the wide center-display atop the dash, while there is no instrument panel directly in front of the driver. That becomes an easy adjustment, and besides, you have a head-up display to give you vital information displayed on the windshield, so you simply have to get used to having fantastic forward visibility.

See the power flow and a comparison with previous trips.

If you have driven judiciously, using the various instruments to tell you where your power is coming from, and how you’re doing for fuel economy, you might have fully charged the battery pack, and if you want, you can push the button and lock it into EV mode, which means you can drive silently on electric power only for about 20 miles. Obviously, that might get most of us to work and back, but there is no “range anxiety” with the hybrid, because once you’ve used up the electric power, that gas engine kicks in to immediately start recharging the electrical system and make it power the car.

Below the information screen, at the lower edge of the center stack, the gearshift lever allows you to go from park to reverse, to neutral and to drive. To the right of that is a mode switch, letting you select Eco, Power or EV modes. The Prius runs swiftly in normal, and it becomes a pocket racer if you choose power.

Of course, a heavy foot will use more gas-engine power, and when you finish your drive to the shopping center, or back home, shutting off the engine gets you a screen that indicates how long your trip was and what your gas mileage was. Interesting, that with an EPA estimate of 49 highway, and 51 miles per gallon city, for a combined 47 mpg, it is challenging to see if you can put the regenerative braking to use and drive wisely enough to brake lightly as you approach a stop, and avoid hot-rod starts.

My best was 56 miles per gallon for a full day, and the graph gives you a readout of what your daily usage was for each day. Obviously, you also can zero it at any time to record a specific trip. The significant thing is that while there are times you need full power to scale a steep hill, you realize after a couple of days that the most efficient way of driving the car is also the smartest way to drive anyway.

Spacious and adequately roomy for four, the Prius XLE welcomes passengers inside.

While Toyota is the clear industry leader in hybrids, both for itself and its Lexus premium brand, it also is not hiding from the inevitable electric vehicle future. In fact, word is that Toyota is just about to announce its plans for EVs to come in the next year or two, and we can pretty well bet that it will be something to impact the industry’s next trend.

However, if you want to get the best of both worlds — dependable gas engine and futuristic hybrid power — the 2022 Prius XLE AWD-e is already out and awaiting customers.

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.

The luxury of leather and high-tech electronics make the Aviator a pleasant ride.

There were a lot of special things about that, especially now it consideration for the pitch-count metrics and analytics that threatens to turn baseball into robotics. Manager Tom Kelly might have realized he’d better get the bullpen ready as the 1991 Game 7 went into the 10th, 0-0. But as he passed Morris in the dugout, Morris said: “Don’t even think of taking me out. This is my game.” And with that, he finished a 126-pitch shutout and the Twins won their second, and most recent, World Series title. It helped put Morris into the Hall of Fame, and deservedly so.

That game was on October 27, 1991, and the weather was fine for late fall, as I prepared to cover a home-and-home hockey series between Minnesota and St. Cloud State, with the Friday game in St. Cloud. Before that, though, I decided to drive my test car — a 1991 Mitsubishi Diamante — from our home in Shoreview to Duluth to visit my mom and to take care of some banking business for her. I recall sitting in the bank office looking out over the Aerial Bridge, and the grey sky was threatening, just as it was earlier this week, so I decided to hustle and start the drive back to the Twin Cities.

The Diamante was a superb car, a luxury sedan with front- or all-wheel drive, and a smooth performer. Off I went, and, sure enough, the mid afternoon greyness did, indeed, lead to a “Wintry mix,” even though the term hadn’t yet been invented ny meteorologists. I love to drive in foul weather, especially if evaluating a car, and I made it home as the snowstorm was worseningo on that Thursday afternoon. It never stopped. It kept falling that evening and all night. It was among the heaviest snowstorms ever to hit the Twin Cities, accumulating at the airport to 28.4 inches, pretty much burygin all the plans for Halloween night. And it kept going Friday, the next day.

Sleek as well as elegant, the new Aviator Hybrid is at the top of the list of 3-row luxury SUVs.

If you’re over 40 or so, you undoubtedly remember that the famous “Halloween Blizzard” was worse in Duluth, where it simply kept snowing at the rate of about 2 inches per hour until Thursday, Friday, Saturday and much of Sunday left the city buried under a record 36.9 inches from a record sustained snowfall.

Still, I reasoned that by Friday afternoon, the highway department would have made Interstate 94 passable, so I was heading for St. Cloud and that hockey game. My wife, Joan, decided to accompany me on the adventure, driving right home afterthe game. The Gopher team drove by coach bus to St. Cloud. I was notified by the Tribune to not go on the trip, and the paper had cancelled coverage of nearly all events, ordering earlier deadlines. I told them I was going, and not to worry. We never spun a tire as that Diamante hauled us to St. Cloud for the game. Afterward, we learned the Gophers had checked into a hotel to spend the night rather than venturing back out on the freeway. We drove back, again without spinning a tire, and we had almost complete, beautiful solitude as very few other vehicles were on I-94. Mostly snowplows, carving out igloos around stalled vehicles on the shoulders, or off, because you couldn’t discern where the road ended and the ditch began!

It was a tremendous adventure, perhaps a bit reckless on our part, but I was able to write a thorough review of the foul weather attributes of the Diamante.

Careful elements of the grille and its front-end wrapping shows Lincoln’s attention to detail.

The incredible thing to me, as my reminiscences gave way to my current cruising along the North Shore in my test-Aviator, was that all the media is calling for contributions to the many residents who recall living through that Halloween Blizzard of 1991 — exactly 30 years ago this year. And I wondered beyond that how many others recalled that the storm of the century struck only four amazing days after we were enjoying the summertime glory of the World Series.

It was extra special for me, maybe, driving from Shoreview to Duluth and back to Shoreview, and then to St. Cloud and back — all the time seeing more cars buried to their roofs than moving.

The luxury of those days 30 years ago was impressive, but nothing like the luxury built into the 2021 Aviator. The rich, grey paint job contrasted with the white leather on the seats, and the metal and wood trim throughout the interior make it comfortable as well as plush. The ability to tune the driving modes from normal to economy, or to slippery or deep snow-sand-mud, thank you, or to Excite, for a racier firmness, helps the agility, and the smooth and silent precision makes the Aviator a pleasure to drive in all circumstances, for anyone in all three rows of seats.

In its attempt at uniqueness, Lincoln has placed a small panel on the lower edge of the dashboard, where, after only a brief search, you discover their purpose. They are push-button controls for the transmission. Drive, neutral, reverse, and park are all lined up, with the ignition push-button on the top of the dash.

I found all the modes worked well, but I preferred the Excite segment, which stiffens the suspension and adds a dose of extra power to the crisper shift points. A fun aside to the Aviator is its ability to keep track of how much battery-power you’re using along with the potent output of the twin-turbo 3-liter V6. The addition of the electric motors added to the punch available at the tap of your toe.

If you drove hard and used up the available electric power, you can regain some of it by brake regeneration, but this was a plug-in hybrid, and if you are home or at a charging station, you pop the tailgate and under the carpeted floor is a receptacle for storing items. In there is a nice packaged case with an electrical plug at both ends. You pop the small door on the front left flank, similar to a gas filler door, and plug in your cable, then plug the other into the charging unit, and in a reasonable time, you’ve replenished full electric power. You can switch it to run only as an EV — electric vehicle — for a short distance. On the test vehicle, we showed that it would take 3.1 hours to fully charge on a 240-volt high-speed charger, or 11.5 hours on 120-volt household power.

We got down as low as 23 miles per gallon on mostly gas-engine only, while the gauge showed we had a high of 56 miles per gallon with judicious use of combined gas-electric power.

This is where we’re heading, folks. In a couple of years, we’ll probably be testing an all-electric Aviator. But in the meantime, a luxurious but high-performing Aviator Hybrid is an excellent compromise, as you sit there in your grey SUV looking out over the grey churning waves of

As Joan drove, I shot details of the Aviator’s interior.

Lake Superior. The radio guy talks about a wintry mix, and the ominous grey clouds above suggest that it is getting to be that time of year.

But thanks to the ineptitude of the Twins, and the chances of duplicating the dual thrills of a World Series title and a record blizzard, may prevent us from repeating the incredible Halloween Blizzard of 1991. And that’s OK.

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!

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