Mark Savage

Automotive Contributor

Mark Savage writes the auto review column, Savage On Wheels, for WUWM (formerly for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel) and Savageonwheels.com. He is also the executive editor of American Snowmobiler magazine and editor of FineScale Modeler magazine, both part of Kalmbach Media in Waukesha.  Savage is an Indianapolis native where he fell in love with cars, the Indy 500 and all things fast, dating back to his pedal car days. He speaks with fellow contributor Dan Harmon each month.

Mark Savage

Our electric car future receives another jolt of energy with the arrival of Kia’s Niro EV.

If you believe electrics are a fad and that internal combustion is the only way to go, you’re in for a shock. Because all the carmakers are rushing to get full electric cars and crossovers onto the highways as quickly as they can. In the short-term, the hybrids and plug-in hybrids are the way to go. But with mainstream cars like the Niro being electrified, it’s only a matter of time until one is in your driveway.

2020-Jeep-Wrangler-Unlimited-Sahara
Mark Savage

A couple of years back, I drove the newly redesigned Jeep Wrangler Unlimited and was wowed by how much better it rode and drove than previous Wranglers.

For those who don’t worship Jeeps as God’s gift to off-roaders, the Wrangler (two-door) and Wrangler Unlimited (four-door) are Jeep lovers’ favorite Jeep. They look decidedly Jeepy, like updated World War II workhorses, but with today’s interior finery and much better fit and finish outside. Plus, they aren’t all olive drab. My test unit was Firecracker Red, a bright red that looks great.

Mark Savage

Bare bones cars are a rarity today. Even the low-cost sedans that serve as entry-level vehicles for most car makes are far from what we would have called “basic transportation” just a decade or two ago when cars still had crank windows.

Take this week’s dandy little Nissan Versa SR for example. With a starting price of just $19,135, including delivery, you’d think this spiffy Electric Blue sedan would be about as bare bones as car makers go to satisfy the needs of the low-budget shopper. But you’d be wrong and the metallic blue paint job is only example one.

Mark Savage

Subaru’s handsome Outback seems to have overrun southeastern Wisconsin roads. And it makes sense. The Outback is practical for families and also empty-nesters looking to travel in comfort and safety, all at a high value and with AWD.

Full disclosure, my family owns a 2017 Outback, so I knew what to expect when I test drove the 2020 line-topper, the Touring XT. But there were a few surprises. Three stand out: the new 2.4-liter turbocharged Boxer 4-cylinder engine, the giant new infotainment screen, and a heated steering wheel. The trio are major improvements.

Mark Savage

Ford’s Explorer is the ubiquitous family SUV. It’s likely today’s 20- and 30-somethings think of Explorer as what mom and dad, their uncles, cousins and maybe a brother or sister drove, or still drive.

There are a lot of Explorers on the road and to be honest, Explorer was one of the first super popular SUVs to persuade car buyers to switch to trucks. At its peak, it was selling more than 400,000 units a year. After just a few years on the market, it became one of the top 10 best-selling vehicles of the year.

Mark Savage

Coming off an underwhelming performance from a Range Rover Evoque, the new Mercedes-Benz GLC was an absolute dream to drive.

The Benz felt more lively with better power, better handling and a better ride than the Evoque, and while still pricey, it costs $4,000 less. Granted the Evoque is better looking than the staid, yet stately, Mercedes, but do you want looks or performance? Oh, and everything worked on the Mercedes in contrast with the Rover.

Mark Savage

Range Rover’s new Evoque stirs a $64,000 question: Do you expect your new vehicle’s climate control system and heated/cooled seats to work every time you start the vehicle?

Apparently the answer is, no!

Despite my “Yulong White” test vehicle’s $64,000 price tag, those systems worked about half of the time. I shouldn’t have been surprised — many auto writers and buyers have complained of electronic glitches in their Range Rovers through the years. I even heard of one writer having both of the giant 10-inch info screens fail to work in a test vehicle.

Mark Savage

The day after Hyundai’s Racing Red Veloster N arrived, it snowed. I know, it’s too early, but it snowed. It was exactly the wrong time to have this peppy high-value street racer, this toy that is perfectly aimed at the bullseye that is the youth market.

On dry pavement, this Veloster N is a hot hatchback that rocks like it’s meant for the rally circuit. In fact, last May I got to rallycross an N on Road America’s go-kart track and it was one of my favorites. It handles and it’s quick. Plus, the racetrack was smooth, so no ride issues.

Mark Savage

Small SUVs and crossovers are nearly as thick these days as political pundits, so it takes some effort to separate one from the mob of little tall wagons.

Lexus tries, with some success, with its NX 300, based on the previous generation Toyota RAV4 platform. As in much earlier times, Toyota tries with styling. The big deal here is its giant spindle grille and fancy 3D taillights outside, and its multicolored interior, even though the colors are black and white.

Mark Savage

I declared the Kia Telluride the finest SUV I’d driven in ages and an absolute winner in every way when I drove it last June. But its kissin’ cousin, the Hyundai Palisade is equally as praiseworthy.

Don’t make me choose between Palisade and the Telluride, although on price the Hyundai seems to have a slight advantage.

READ: 2020 Kia Telluride SX AWD Review

Mark Savage

You simply must admire the marketing genius of a car company that dubs its LED headlights as Thor’s Hammer.

Volvo wins that honor with several of its latest models. The powerful headlights project a T, hence the Thor nomenclature. The latest hammering of lights I witnessed was on a beautifully sculpted Volvo S60 sedan, but not just any such sedan.

Mark Savage

There’s no doubt we’re an entitled society from top to bottom. But when one slides behind the steering wheel of a Lexus RX 350L it’s hard not to feel a strong urge of entitlement, and contentment.

Granted, I’m lucky to get such a chance, but my dark metallic blue (nightfall mica) 350L AWD Luxury model was the right vehicle at the right time for a road trip to northern Wisconsin (the Warrens area). So, four of us settled into the gray and black leather interior, along with our luggage, and simply relaxed.

Mark Savage

Hybrids in general, particularly plug-in hybrids, are becoming the way to go for families looking for the best fuel economy, or socially conscious buyers wanting to reduce their carbon footprint.

Fortunately, the hybrid market just keeps expanding while becoming more affordable.

2019-honda-civic-review
Mark Savage

Honda's Civic is a mainstay in the small car market. Why? It has been around for years, remains affordable, and comes in three body styles, sedan, coupe and hatchback.

All of those traits make it unusual. And for the past few years Honda designers have been trying to create a bit more visual excitement with Civics that feature sharp creases and angles that frankly, always make me think of a kid’s Transformer toy. Some love it, others, not so much. I find the nose appealing, the profile acceptable, and the rear end rather garish.

Mark Savage

This may be overstating it some, but if ever there were a modern-day Volkswagen Beetle in both spirit and style, it would be Kia’s sweet Soul.

Mark Savage

A loaded-down road trip to Minnesota was the perfect test for Honda’s latest crossover/SUV, the midsize Passport.

You may recall Passport as a midsize SUV offered earlier by Honda until 2002. It was a revamped version of Isuzu’s Rodeo — remember Isuzu? This is a whole new beast and a dandy one at that.

I drove a black forest pearl Passport Elite, a pre-production model that most maker would be proud to claim as a full-on productions model. The paint job was spectacular, appearing dark metallic green in sunlight and black just as soon as there were clouds overhead.

Mark Savage

Sports cars used to be more plentiful. But as we Americans have become larger, so have our cars, crossovers and trucks. Rare is the sporty or sports car, and rarer yet, one we could afford.

But in 1970, Nissan introduced its Datsun 240Z, a long-nosed low-slung sports car with quick handling and a modest price. That same formula is working for 2020 as Nissan launches its 50th Anniversary edition of the Z car, now a Z370.

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Mark Savage

Luxury and prestige have their price. And for Audi’s largest SUV, the Q8, that starts at $68,395.

Luckily, that includes delivery charges — and to be honest, quite a lot else. Think of this as the SUV version of Audi’s fancy pants A8 sedan, which as a top-line model you’d expect to be loaded.

The Q8 is a five-person luxury hauler with oodles of head and legroom front and rear, plus a sizeable cargo area in back. This also is sleek looking (for an SUV), giving it some personality, which again, you’d expect for this price.

Mark Savage

If you’re looking for a mid-size sport-utility truck or crossover with a third-row seat, you might’ve chosen the most competitive segment for your vehicle search.

That’s where the perfectly fine Nissan Pathfinder finds itself. After more than 30 years on the market, Pathfinder is a known quantity, an expected strong value and good ride. It remains so, but then so are most of its competitors: Mazda CX-9, Ford Explorer, Chevy Traverse, Toyota Highlander, Honda Pilot and the newish Volkswagen Atlas and Subaru Ascent. All are solid choices.

Mark Savage

When you’re driving to the home of the MoonPie, you need something that boasts American pride and craftsmanship, and that’s what I got from Chevy for a rare trip to Chattanooga, Tenn.

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Trucks, SUVs and crossovers — oh my. What's a poor sedan to do?

There was a time when sedans were king of the roads. If you needed more cargo room, you bought a station wagon. But those days are long gone. Trucks, SUVs, and crossovers have reigned supreme, basically, since the gas shortages of the 1970s.

But sedans have been quietly doing their thing this whole time, getting us from point A to B without any fanfare besides the occasional headline. And while there are fewer choices these days, the remaining ones have upped their game to stay competitive.

Mark Savage

There was a day when a Cadillac had to be as big as a cruise ship and loaded down with enough chrome to make a knight on horseback feel inadequate.

No more.

Cadillac has decided that affordable luxury with interesting styling is the way to get post-boomer buyers. Witness the new XT4, the smallest Caddy SUV, just a notch below its fairly petit XT5. The XT4 is svelte and sexy with beautifully sculpted front and rear lights and a handsome grille that give it a more distinctive look than many SUVs.

Mark Savage

If you’re a person who prefers the happy medium to going full out off-roader or suburban commuter for your pickup, Chevrolet’s Colorado will suit you well.

This bright red (Red Hot) Colorado was the top-level ZR2 with the Bison package, so slots in at the high-end of this segment’s pricing and is fully meant for off-road action. Not living on a farm or being a contractor that frequents construction sites, I had to settle for an on-road test.

Mark Savage

About a decade ago, Ford’s Ranger was a compact pickup made primarily, or so it seemed, for teenage boys to range around small towns and suburban areas.

Rangers were small, had inexpensive wheels, and were often the first truck a kid owned. Eight years after Ranger disappeared from Ford’s truck landscape, it’s back and it has grown into a midsize pickup, a true hauler that you could use to tow a decent-sized trailer and boat, or snowmobile.

Mark Savage

You’ll either want a Jeep Gladiator pickup, or you won’t.

What I mean is, the long-awaited Jeep pickup is an image vehicle as much as it is a pickup. That’s not to say it doesn’t function as well as a pickup, it certainly does. But it looks like a Jeep, and that’s really all that matters.

Case in point: my sister-in-law declared it an “ugly thing”, while another woman rider, who loves and owns Jeeps, said it looked “fantastic.”

Mark Savage

Electric cars have come a long way over the past few decades, but they still only run a short distance. Once limited to traveling less than 100 miles before needing a recharge, some modern electric vehicles have doubled that mileage.

"I guess what's impressive to me is that electric cars are coming on stronger and stronger. They have more distance, more range than they used to have, and there's more of them out there," notes automotive contributor Mark Savage.

Mark Savage

No matter how much good I have to say about Nissan’s new Leaf (and I have plenty to say), I’m not sure you’ll believe me.

That’s because the original Leaf, as revolutionary as it was as the first fully electric car to be marketed to the masses, was underwhelming, if for no other reason than that its range was only about 80 miles. Certainly that would be fine for a city commuter, but not real practical for much more than that.

Mark Savage

Ford revamped the nose and tail styling of its successful Edge crossover for 2019 and at gave it more power and a better transmission.

I’d driven a new Edge Titanium last winter and it, along with the lower level SE and SEL, is aimed squarely at the family market. But this bright metallic blue ST edition had a decidedly sportier edge to it.

Mark Savage

Volkswagen's (VW) new luxury family sedan proves that cars are not dead yet. This sporty fastback is simply so much more fun and comfortable to drive than an SUV or large crossover that it makes you wonder why cars are falling out of favor.

VW has launched the Arteon (odd name to be sure, but not a deal breaker) to replace the CC which was equally attractive. The tested Chili Red (medium metallic red) SEL with 4Motion has everything a family predestined to buy a ute or crossover could want.

Mark Savage

 

There’s no denying that pickups are the dandies of our nation’s auto buyers. Ford’s F-150 has been the top selling vehicle in the U.S. for 37 years now and Chevy’s Silverado pickup has been No. 2 most of that time. Chrysler’s Ram pickup is No. 3 now, just a sliver behind the Chevy.

That’s right, the top 3 best-sellers are all pickups, and the Ford by a wide margin, nearly 2 to 1 vs. the Chevy and the Ram.

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