The VW Mk8 GTI Is A Pleasant Upgrade

A New Generation Of The Iconic Hot Hatch Has Arrived, But How Good Is It?

For decades, the Volkswagen GTI has enjoyed being the go-to hot hatch for enthusiast drivers who crave a fun, practical car. Arriving in Europe in 1976, and landing on U.S. shores in 1983, the GTI has been a massive success for longer than I’ve been alive. Growing up from a truly inexpensive, basic, and peppy little three-door hatchback, VW has kept it real, making reasonable upgrades with regard to power and features in the GTI over the previous seven generations. When I tested the Mk7 GTI two years ago, I looked at it as a sendoff for what I considered the best generation of the model’s extensive history.

With this new eighth generation, VW has given the GTI a full makeover, with a bump in power output while receiving fresh exterior looks and a redesigned, more tech-focused interior that brings the hot hatch into the current decade. VW has a good group of competitors aiming to take its spot atop the hot hatch throne, with Honda, Hyundai, and Toyota in the mix. Thankfully the hot hatch market is still a healthy one, but is the VW GTI still the right one to buy? I took a week-long test to sort that out.

The Useful Specs

The 2022 VW GTI packs a 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine that produces 241 horsepower and 273 lb-ft of torque (up 13 and 15 ticks over the Mk7 GTI, respectively), giving it an advantage over the updated Honda Civic Si I reviewed earlier this year. With your choice of a 6-speed manual transmission or a 7-speed DSG, this tester was equipped with the two-pedal setup. The Mk8 GTI can sprint from 0-60 in 5.1 seconds, which is about 0.7 seconds quicker than the last generation. Top speed is still limited to 155 MPH, which no one should ever try to hit in a little hatchback.

Built on Volkswagen’s long-used MQB modular platform, the GTI shares its underpinnings with several fun compact VAG models. With a full slate of touch-ups to the suspension and chassis, VW claims this new generation of the GTI is more composed yet more capable in the corners. Making several design changes with the body, the Mk8 GTI also looks a bit more upmarket while offering some striking angles. The cockpit receives plenty of changes too, giving the GTI a more modern take on the hot hatch cabin you’ve been familiar with for ages.

Offering three trim levels, VW added a bit more standard equipment to the base S trim, with the SE and Autobahn trim levels still available as the price increases in reasonable chunks. The base price of the GTI S starts at $29,880, SE models begin at $34,630, and the Autobahn has an MSRP of $38,330. The test model VW sent me is the SE trim level, painted a fantastic shade of Kings Red, with Titan Black–and plaid–cloth interior, optioned with the 7-speed DSG (an $800 option), which hits a total MSRP of $36,485.

The Enjoyable City Hatchback

It should come as no surprise that the Mk8 GTI is a great city car that can serve a small family nicely while being a fun weekender. With the standard Golf no longer in the VW lineup, the GTI is the only hatchback from the German manufacturer offered to Americans, with the push for people to buy the Taos crossover. VW also axed the 3-door GTI option, with the 5-door being the only way to take this hot hatch home, which is the practical option for most people.

Sticking to its roots, the Mk8 GTI makes any boring commute or errand run more entertaining. As the car market has cranked up engine specs to levels few people can truly handle, the GT packs enough juice under to satisfy your thirst for fun. Sneaking in and out of slower traffic is definitely enjoyable in this new GTI, and never was I thinking it was lacking power. VW’s refinements to the GTI’s suspension make it cope with bumpy downtown streets with ease while still offering good feedback. EPA fuel economy estimates are 25/34/28, and I managed 27 MPGs during my week with the GTI. Not bad considering I was driving it with more fun intended, rather than trying to optimize efficiency.

Updating the styling of the GTI was done perfectly. Sharper lines are done tastefully, and the new headlight housings add a hint of anger to the package. The Mk8’s wheelbase matches the previous generation, at 103.6 inches, but the overall length bumps up to 168.8 inches. At 57.6 inches high and 70.4 inches wide, a more planted look is given to the Mk8 GTI, met with wide front air intakes at the front and a punchier shoulder line. Sporty 18-inch wheels complete the refreshed GTI’s look wonderfully without looking too busy.

With proportions that fit four people and their stuff, the new GTI might be small next to traffic filled with crossovers, but it’s perfectly sized for reasonable people. The updated seats look the part of a modern hot hatch, while the plaid pattern in the center material gives a nod to GTIs of yesteryear. The front buckets definitely keep you in place when playful driving happens, with lateral support nicely designed where it’s needed. Cargo space isn’t massive, so don’t expect to take a family of four on a road trip with the Mk8 GTI, but the hatch will easily carry a week’s groceries and handle a few roller bags.

A new cabin design theme adds a more tech-heavy setup, with a new 10-inch infotainment screen commanding your attention in the center console. VW gives the new system Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, which are frankly better to use than the native software. Screen taps and swipes are a little on the slow side, which isn’t great for this new system. The all-digital instrument cluster is a nice upgrade compared to the somewhat basic analog dials in the Mk7 I reviewed, with all sorts of ways to configure your GTI’s ideal display. Digital controls make their way to the steering wheel too, which don’t have any feedback when using them, and are easy to accidentally tap when turning the wheel.

My biggest gripes with this new setup are divided between the lack of a volume knob–opting for a digital slider instead–and the same style of buttons for the climate control. Neither of these are backlit, so making adjustments at night is a complete guessing game. Why VW overlooked illuminating these controls is a mystery, and losing physical temperature buttons or a volume knob is something too many OEMs are doing to otherwise good cars.

Playing In The Twisty Stuff

Escape the daily grind, and seek your nearby curvy farm-to-market routes, because that’s where VW’s eighth-generation GTI shines. Opt for the sport drive mode, and the GTI quickens its pulse without feeling too feisty. I liked the custom drive mode to let the suspension feel a little smoother, but even the sport setting wasn’t too firm when I gave the GTI a good flogging. The turbocharged engine doesn’t exhibit much lag at all, and the throttle response is steady and direct. Exhaust notes from the GTI aren’t the most inspired, but it’s not too boring either. I’d also like a bit more real noise from the tailpipe rather than some fake tones sneaking through the cabin speakers.

While most GTI buyers will opt for the DCT, to reduce the effort needed to motor around, VW still offers a slick-shifting manual for the purist. Being an analog driving experience fan, I have no complaints with the dual-clutch ‘box in this Mk8 GTI, with a stubby little shifter like Porsche uses for the 992 with a PDK. Hooked up to an electronically-controlled limited-slip differential that adds to grip and confidence in the corners, the front-wheel-drive GTI doesn’t exhibit the usual torque-steer twitch typically felt in front-drive cars equipped with a mechanical LSD. When providing quick steering inputs, the Mk8 feels smooth and precise, as one would expect from this iconic hot hatch. Brake feel was a bit on the soft side, but never did I feel like the GTI wasn’t equipped with enough braking power to control and scrub speed as needed.

VW threw a ton of suspension upgrades at the Mk8 GTI, and compared to the Mk7 I love, this new generation feels more compliant yet easier to stuff into a fast bend. 225/40/18 H-rated Pirelli P Zero All Season rubber is definitely the limiting factor in truly unlocking the fun times behind the wheel of the Mk8 GTI. Damping is great, considering the S and SE trim levels stick with traditional dampers. If you want adaptive dampers, you’ll have to spend a bit more cash for the Autobahn trim, which also gets leather seats and a few other comfort upgrades in the cabin, but the 19-inch wheels wrapped with summer performance tires are a big advantage. Craving the ultimate performance from your hot hatch? VW still offers a Golf R variant that packs 315 horsepower and all-wheel-drive.

The Popular Hot Hatch Improved, But It Isn’t Perfect

With a history spanning generations of loyal buyers, VW continues to satisfy the demand of an enthusiast driver with the new Mk8 GTI. This iconic hot hatch may be inching its way upmarket while increasing its price, but VW is still delivering a fantastic driving experience in a practical package. Not without gripes in the cabin, thanks to some button-less controls, the new GTI is still a wonderful successor to the Mk7 I praised. The challenge is that the GTI now has some great competition in the form of the Civic Si and Hyundai Veloster N.

Even though it’s down on power versus the GTI, I still prefer the handling dynamics of the new Honda Civic Si I tested, which had sharper steering feedback and more enjoyable sensations in quicker corners. Honda only offers the Si as a sedan, which gives the GTI one advantage in my eyes. The Si also has one of the best feeling shifters currently fitted to any new car, and costs $8,000 less than the GTI SE. With a price that sneaks up near $40,000, the GTI is pricing itself against Honda’s Civic Type-R, which is due for a new generation later this year. However you decide to spend your money, I can easily say you’ll still be happy opting for this new GTI.

Audi RS e-tron GT: This Fast EV Thrives In A Crowded Segment

The cousin to the Porsche Taycan ticks different boxes, yet still rocks as an enthusiast driver’s electric car.

If you’re in the market for a large electric performance four-door, you have no shortage of options. In a field Tesla enjoyed being the only entrant into for ages, Porsche, Lucid, Mercedes, and Audi have decided to snag good-sized pieces of the pie. With options to suit any driver’s needs for luxury, outright performance, long range, or a special cool factor, electrified speedy sedans are now all over the road.

As if the Volkswagen group didn’t have a strong enough seller with the Porsche Taycan, with its full slate of trim levels and body styles, it decided to throw an Audi option into the mix. Audi’s e-Tron line started with the practical hatchback A3, and later added crossover options, but it didn’t have a sedan. Fixing that problem, Audi introduced the e-Tron GT, which you might recognize from Marvel’s Avengers: Endgame film.

In its standard form the new Audi e-Tron GT is stylish, well-equipped, and properly quick, but for some enthusiasts, that didn’t quite do the trick. To scratch their itch, Audi delivers something a bit more stout, and added its RS badge to the equation. Having tested a bunch of good EVs over the past couple years, I wanted to see what was up with Audi’s new RS e-Tron GT, and was lucky to get one for a week.

The Juiced Specs

Audi packs the RS e-Tron GT with a 93 kWh battery pack that cranks out 590 horsepower in normal conditions, and bumps up to 637 in boost mode, paired with 612 lb-ft of torque. This power output is in between the Porsche Taycan GTS and Turbo variants. With a permanent magnet motor strapped to each axle, a single-speed transmission up front and a two-speed transmission at the rear, Audi connects its quattro all-wheel-drive to propel the RS electric four-door from 0-60 MPH in just 3.1 seconds on the way to a top speed of 155 MPH.

The RS e-Tron GT’s battery pack is set up with an 800V electric architecture, offering DC fast charging. EPA estimates that the RS e-Tron GT can cruise up to 232 miles of range on a full charge (only sacrificing 6 miles compared to the standard e-Tron GT, and offering about 30 more miles than its Porsche cousins), with MPGe estimates of 79/82/81 (city/highway/combined).

Pricing for the standard Audi e-Tron GT starts at $102,000, with the RS variant bumping up to $139,900. with the Year One package optioned (which adds 21-inch wheels with summer tires, laser headlights, black Audi rings and badges, ceramic brakes, loads of carbon fiber trim inside and out, Nappa leather all over the cabin and seats, power steering plus with rear wheel steering), and Tango Red Metallic paint gracing its exterior, this RS e-Tron GT tester hit a total MSRP of $161,890 after destination.

The Fun Way To The Office

Commutes to work and errand runs are a blast in the RS e-Tron GT, and every single person you pass will give it favorable second looks thanks to sharp styling lines that take some cues from Audi’s attractive A7. Quickly I was reminded that this EV has an RS badge slapped on the back, with the batteries ready to dump their energy to shove you past slower moving traffic. Using the steering wheel paddles engages the trio of brake regen modes, which the most aggressive works nicely for one-pedal driving around the city.

I toyed with the individual drive mode in Audi’s Drive Select system, and put the power in the most efficient mode, tightened up the suspension, and calmed the fake engine sounds to enjoy a refined sport sedan that was still ready to strike in an instant. In the comfort drive mode, this e-Tron will feels remarkably composed, with the three-chamber air suspension softening the bumpiest city streets, and neatly masking the 5,100-pound curb weight as I maneuvered around town. Even putting the suspension in its sportier setting doesn’t disrupt ride quality, while sharpening response when you want to be more playful.

Bang & Olufsen provides the audio system to this electric Audi, and they thump nicely with exceptional clarity. Those speakers definitely feed in a variety of propulsion sounds depending on the drive mode, but you’re able to customize this, but I was surprised how much road noise made its way into the cabin. Attribute some of this to the more eco-friendly version of Goodyear’s Eagle F1 rubber fitted to the optional 21-inch wheels.

Seats in this RS model definitely hit the marks for a performance model, but are refreshingly comfortable during longer drives. Having heating, ventilation, and massage modes for the front buckets are great too, although the ventilation fans are quite loud compared to other cars I’ve tested. Stuffing the kids in the back seat of the RS e-Tron GT won’t punish them, but your adult friends will feel cramped in a space that doesn’t offer much more legroom than the smaller Audi RS5 Sportback I drove last summer.

Trunk space is a bit small too, which is a shame for a four-door with such big dimensions. I wish Audi had some sort of wagon option for this fast EV, or at least made this e-Tron a sportback, but imagine the Volkswagen brass didn’t want to cannibalize the Porsche Taycan’s Sport Turismo and Cross Turismo options. If you really need a bunch of boot space from a fast Audi, the RS6 Avant I reviewed–albeit petrol-powered–will be the way to go.

The RS e-Tron GT has a fantastic cockpit design, which is more conventional than the Porsche Taycan or Tesla Model S, thankfully filled with physical buttons for all the useful controls. Audi’s virtual cockpit controls the 12-inch instrument display, with plenty of ways to configure your perfect layout and data points. If you’ve spent time in any new Audi in the past few years, you’ll have no trouble getting acclimated to the switches inside the RS e-Tron GT. The steering wheel features the great controls Audi has implemented for nearly two decades, sticking to the “if it ain’t broke…” methodology.

As I’ve praised in other Audis I’ve reviewed in the past couple years, the latest version of MMI is wonderful. Featuring a cool design that’s still intuitive, the high-resolution 10-inch touchscreen is neatly integrated into the dash, with wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto installed. There’s also a wireless mobile charging slot vertically hidden in the center armrest. I like how Audi hid a pair of USB-C ports under the center of the rear seat, making it easy for your friends and kids to charge their devices.

Electrified Performance Aplenty

Audi didn’t just smack its RS badge on the back of this EV lightly, because this e-Tron means business when it comes to flogging it along a canyon road. Engage the dynamic drive mode, and this electric performance car adjusts its mood to be a madman. Unleashing the 600+ horsepower results in a savage shove of acceleration, with a noticeable kick from the second gear change from the rear gearbox, and no difficulty planting you firmly into the seat back for the duration of any go pedal application.

While it may not boast silly peak figures like its rivals, the RS e-Tron GT will happily rip from corner to corner, instantly making straightaways disappear. To keep up with its Tesla and Lucid rivals, Audi should probably introduce some sort of wild power package to keep up with those competitors that offer some truly ridiculous peak figures. Not that the power in those models is fully usable, but there are buyers who want that flex and are willing to spend stupid money to acquire it.

An alcantara-wrapped version of the same steering wheel I liked in the RS6 Avant is installed, with the perfect rim thickness to allow for feeling a crisp turn-in. I appreciate the optional power steering plus and rear axle steering fitted to this e-Tron, making cornering wonderfully sharp, seemingly shrinking the size and mass it actually possesses. The Goodyears are good at managing grip in the bends, but do give up a hint of traction in faster corners. I wish there was a tire more focused on outright performance fitted to the RS e-Tron GT instead of one that has a bit of its design meant to improve battery range. That big carbon fiber diffuser out back actually manages airflow nicely, improving stability while cleaning up turbulence to maintain a super slippery 0.24 drag coefficient.

Carbide brake rotors are fitted to the RS e-Tron GT by default, compared to steel ones on the standard model, and the ceramic discs included in the Year One package came in handy. Because the RS e-Tron tips the scales at over 5,000 pounds, any harder back road thrashing session would likely induce some fade in the non-carbon rotors. Initial pedal feedback is lighter than I prefer (especially in one of the less aggressive brake regen modes), but firmer applications will result in a good bit of bite to effortlessly slow this performance EV when approaching a corner.

The Usual EV Demands And Challenges

Because it packs an 800V architecture, the Audi RS e-Tron GT can rapidly charge to get you back on the road. Find a super fast charging point, and Audi says this e-Tron model can juice up from 5% to 80% in as little as half an hour. Like the Porsche Taycan, Audi fits a pair of charing docks to the front fenders of the RS e-Tron GT, with a Level 1 & 2 jack on the left side, and the DC fast charging port on the right side. While having a fast charging setup in the RS e-Tron GT is great, maximizing its capabilities at a public charger isn’t truly likely in the States.

Even though the Volkswagen group has rolled out a decent charging network–thanks to Dieselgate–Electrify America doesn’t have enough charing points within major cities, typically placing them at the edges of metro areas to make longer drives easier to manage. If you want to juice up on EA’s wickedly fast charging points, you’re likely to waste a lot of miles to get to them and back home. The Electrify America points near Austin are far from the city center where I live, stuck with the nearest one being about 30 miles away at an outlet mall.

I’ll concede that buyers who can afford the RS e-Tron GT will likely have a home with a garage paired with the budget to install a fast charger, but public charging infrastructure still has a long way to go to promote real EV adoption growth. Thankfully Audi’s native navigation system allows drivers to search and filter charing station results based on charging speed and availability, which can come in handy if you’re driving in unfamiliar territory.

At 232 miles of maximum range on a full charge, this fast Audi EV doesn’t have miserable range, but it’s not fantastic either. While it has a bit more to offer than its Porsche relatives, Audi needs to give the e-tron GT more range if you want to enjoy it on a road trip. With Tesla offering around 400 miles of range as an option in its Model S, and Lucid stretching range up an astonishing to 520 miles, the game has changed, and this Audi should provide more. Given that most RS e-Tron GT owners will likely stick to their local area and rarely take a long road trip, this EV’s range will probably be fine for them.

The Segment Didn’t Need It, But Audi Supplied A Great Fast EV Anyway

Audi’s e-Tron lineup is only growing, in a time when OEMs need to reduce emissions and improve economy, but thankfully the RS badge is getting added to the mix. Because it lands in the middle of the Porsche Taycan sampling, both in terms of performance and price, the e-Tron’s justification comes down to the sharper appearance and more traditional cockpit layout to get my attention. I imagine Volkswagen is happy to have people considering its fast EV options across multiple manufacturers.

Because the Taycan GTS has a Sport Turismo option (which this wagon lover adores), boasting a bigger cargo area with better access, it gets my vote. If the storage space isn’t a hot ticket item for you, the Audi RS e-Tron GT will be a fantastic performance EV sedan to scoot around the city while being an absolute blast on canyon roads. Should the enthusiast driver not be ready to make the switch to a fully electric car, the less expensive Audi RS6 Avant is still a wonderful dino juice-chugging wagon that’s sitting on the same showroom floor.

Ford F-150 Tremor Hits The Off-Road Truck Sweet Spot

The Raptor doesn’t have to be the only good way to take a Ford F-150 off-road.

Resting on its laurels is not something the Ford F-150 is capable of doing. Even though it has been the best selling vehicle in the country for 45 years, the F-Series continues to kick the collective ass of half-ton pickup class. With a different trim level and equipment sampling for all sorts of pickup drivers, the F-150 can satisfy any truck need. While the F-150 has been offered with an FX4 off-road package for some time, it isn’t great for more severe off-road work. For the past several years, F-150 drivers who wanted to take on the most demanding trails were left with one option, in the form of the Raptor. A hardcore pickup that was fitted with all the right kit for blasting any off-road park, the Raptor also carried a price tag to match.

Beating up your budget with its MSRP, and getting marked up wildly at dealers, the F-150 Raptor wasn’t the most approachable pickup to own. Knowing it had to provide something a little easier on the wallet, Ford has introduced the Tremor trim level across its Ranger and F-Series lineups, sporting some goodies for off-road fun, but not going wild with the most rugged gear. The F-150 being the latest to receive the Tremor treatment, it quickly caught my attention. After doing several off-road tests in hardcore vehicles, including the Ford Bronco Badlands I adore, I wanted to see how a full-size Blue Oval model got down.

The Big Stats

Ford offers a bunch of engine options for the F-150, including three different gas V6s, a turbo diesel V6, a 5.0-liter V8, and a hybrid version of the most popular F-Series 3.5-liter EcoBoost V6. The F-150 Tremor I tested was fitted with the 3.5-liter EcoBoost V6, so I’ll stick to its figures. In this F-150 Tremor, the EcoBoost V6 produces 400 horsepower and 500 lb-ft of torque. Also equipped to my tester was a 10-speed automatic and electronic shift-on-the-fly four-wheel-drive, with two-wheel-drive being the standard driveline for the F-150.

Built on a high-strength steel frame, all current F-150 models feature a high-strength, military-grade, aluminum alloy body. The F-150 has regular cab, super cab, and SuperCrew cabin options, and beds that can measure either 5.5, 6.5, or 8 feet. In the case of the Tremor, Ford ships it in SuperCrew configuration with a 5.5-foot box, the 3.5-liter EcoBoost V6, and the 10-speed automatic transmission plus standard four-wheel-drive. The F-150 Tremor’s exterior and interior show off a few details that quickly distinguish it next to its F-Series siblings, and underneath there is plenty of off-road ready equipment installed to brush off anyone calling it a mall-crawling poser. I’ll dive into the off-road parts and details later in this review.

The standard F-150 4×4 SuperCrew has a starting price of $49,505, and the Tremor package tacks on an extra $6,065. This Stone Gray Metallic tester also added Ford’s CoPilot 360 Assist 2.0, a power sliding rear window, the 2 kW Pro Power Onboard generator, interior work surface, trailer tow package, partitioned lockable cabin storage, front axle with the Torsen differential, tailgate step, 360º camera package, and Ford’s Toughbed spray-in bedliner to raise the total price to $63,120 after destination. For comparison’s sake, a base level Ford F-150 Raptor starts at just under $70,000.

A Practical Daily Driver

Off-road capabilities might be the emphasis of this Ford F-150’s setup, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be a decent truck for your usual commuting and errand running. Even with rugged suspension components and all-terrain tires fitted, the Tremor’s ride quality is surprisingly compliant. Ford’s engineers do a great job of providing steering feel that is responsive yet not too heavy. I was shocked how nimble the Tremor was around the city.

Ford’s 3.5-liter EcoBoost engine is the perfect option for its F-150, with plenty of power and torque across a wide rev range, even if old school truck guys scoff at it being a V6. I tested the 5.0-liter V8 last summer, and liked the noises it makes more than the EcoBoost, but frankly the V6 has better response and torque on-demand. My favorite F-150 engine is the PowerBoost hybrid option, which cranks out even more torque while adding a big bump in fuel economy and range.

Cabin design in the F-150 Tremor is fantastic. The F-150 seats, both front and rear, are massive yet supportive, allowing occupants to ride in complete comfort for several hours. The Tremor seat material has a certain urban camo look to it too. I also like how Ford designed smart storage bins under the rear seats that pop up 60/40. Cupholders are big and deep too, ready to secure your Whatasize drinks.

There isn’t a wasted inch of space inside the F-150, with no shortage of places to stuff away anything you’d want inside, and every single switch and control is right where you think it should be. Proper buttons are used on the steering wheel controls, in addition to the climate system. Ford’s Sync 4 infotainment system’s 12-inch touchscreen is intuitive too, and provides exceptional visibility when backing up and towing, thanks to the 360º camera system.

The Working Class Hero

Upholding the company’s long-running reputation as a pickup that can please any owner on any job site, the F-150 Tremor is a fantastic workhorse. Rather than a bunch of gimmick features, Ford loads the F-150 with tons of useful functions inside and out. Equipped with lockable tie-down points, and the optional Toughbed spray-in bedliner and tailgate step, Ford makes this F-150 Tremor’s bed ready for your gear. In this tester’s setup, the payload capacity is a respectable 1,885 pounds, which makes it ready to handle your dirt bikes, quad, or overlanding camping setup. With the capability of towing up to 10,900 pounds, the F-150 Tremor has no trouble pulling a family’s camper or boat.

When the workplace goes remote, the F-150’s interior can be a mobile office. With a 4G LTE hotspot installed, a 120V/30A outlet next to the climate controls, and the optional interior work surface (which has a power folding feature for the gearshift while allowing the center armrest to fold over to a flat space over the shifter and cupholders) box ticked, the Tremor can be a comfortable place to hammer out some work on your laptop.

Like other F-150 models equipped with the 3.5-liter EcoBoost V6, Ford’s Pro Power Onboard is available with 2.0 kilowatts of exportable power (via a 120V outlet) in the bed for tools, an air compressor, electric chainsaw, or a good assortment of entertainment components at your football tailgate party. If you’re looking for even more power in the bed of the F-150, upgrade to the PowerBoost engine package to get access to the 2.4 kW and 7.2 kW (which upgrades to one 240V and two 120V outlets) onboard generator options. Feel free to take a deeper dive into the Pro Power Onboard specs and capabilities on Ford’s site if you want to know more.

Tackling The Trails

Looking the part of an off-road attacking pickup, Ford gives the F-150 Tremor plenty of kit to make it stand out next to its F-Series brethren. Unique gray matte-finish 18-inch wheels are wrapped with 33-inch General Grabber all-terrain tires which are great for hooking into rocks and gravel. The Tremor’s hood and front-end are redesigned to give a punchier look, while a Tremor-specific grille has a blacked-out Ford oval and details painted the signature Tremor color of Active Orange. The two front recovery hooks also get the Active Orange treatment, in case someone needs a little help along the trails.

Fixed running boards that look like those fitted to the Raptor are mounted close to the body to minimize damage, and a cutout rear bumper makes room for high-flow dual exhaust tips that flank its two rear recovery hooks. There are also Active Orange-highlighted badges on the F-150 Tremor’s fenders, bed side, and tailgate. The Tremor’s cabin gets a few unique treatments too, with seat trim that sports special stitching, and there are Tremor-specific materials and finishes for the instrument panel, center console, and doors. Not just a cool looking package, the Tremor is packing plenty of hardcore parts underneath.

The Tremor’s suspension features retuned springs to raise ground clearance to 9.4 inches. Revised front hub knuckles and upper control arms are accompanied by Tremor-specific monotube front and twin tube rear shocks which are tuned for softer damping at low speeds, with additional damping and control for more severe off-road sessions. There’s also a big bash plate under the front of the F-150 Tremor to minimize damage. The F-150 Tremor boasts an approach angle of 27.6º, a breakover angle of 21.2º, and a departure angle of 24.3º. There’s also an extra inch of front and 1.5 inches of rear suspension travel versus the normal F-150 4×4 giving more confidence over rougher terrain.

The F-150 Tremor may not have the G.O.A.T. modes (mostly cooler branding) that the Ford Bronco I tested possesses, but it still has smart drive modes for taking on any trail, including normal, sport, tow/haul, eco, slippery, deep snow/sand, and mud/rut modes. The rock crawl mode automatically engages the rear locking differential, turns off stability and traction control, reduces throttle response, adjusts shift points, and displays the available 360º camera view on the massive infotainment screen. This mode allowed this amateur off-road driver to do fun things on the trails with ease. Ford also planned for its Tremor drivers to add accessories, so there’s a six-position auxiliary power switch pack mounted in the overhead console so owners can easily add off-road winches, air compressors, and lighting (with several off-road lighting systems available as dealer-installed options).

Like in the Bronco, Ford gives the F-150 Tremor the one-pedal drive mode to allow for left foot braking and greater control over more challenging surfaces. I also appreciate Ford giving the F-150 Tremor the Trail Turn Assist system that I also liked in the Bronco, which made for making shorter turns around tight spaces in this full-size pickup. This system also made it easier to do silly donuts in the dirt. There’s also a locking rear differential and the option to upgrade to a Torsen limited-slip front diff. Upper trim level Tremors get upgraded with a torque-on-demand transfer case similar to the installed in the F-150 Raptor that merges all-wheel-drive and four-wheel-drive capabilities to better conquer more demanding off-road environments.

I like that the Tremor gets standard hill descent control, which made rolling down a gravel-covered dirt trail easier to navigate, but this Tremor I tested didn’t get the available Trail Control (which operates like cruise control for off-road use). At no point did I feel like I needed any extra off-road equipment installed on the F-150 Tremor to handle some reasonably challenging trails. If you really want a meaner-looking F-Series, the Raptor does boast a more pronounced grille and bigger tires, met with some more rugged suspension parts tucked under its wider fenders, but prepare to drop significantly more cash.

Ford’s Bargain Alternative To The Badass Raptor

Ford figured out that off-roading F-150 drivers needed a less expensive option in the lineup rather than having to spend over $70,000 on a Raptor. With the Tremor package, off-road enthusiasts get plenty of the hardware and software Ford provides to the more hardcore F-Series option at a much more attractive price.

There’s little the F-150 Tremor can’t accomplish for a truck owner, and I think Ford hit a home run with this new off-road ready pickup. The F-150 Tremor packs plenty of off-road kit in a more subtle body package, making it look less like the brotastic pickup the Raptor is sometimes judged for being. For the better price point, and the sleeper appearance, I think the Ford F-150 Tremor is the right off-road full-size pickup to buy.

The Audi S5 Cabriolet Is A Speedy Drop-Top

A fun open-air experience doesn’t need an impressive spec sheet. This quick German convertible is a hoot.

The Audi S badge means a more performance-focused model over the standard variant, built to deliver its drivers in comfort while covering miles at a rapid pace, and the S5 model has been around since 2007. When Audi chose to offer the S5 as a Cabriolet a couple years later, it replaced the S4 version that had grown seriously long in the tooth. Taking on a couple iterative updates in this generation, the S5 Cabriolet now looks sharper, and adds a bit more tech to the standard features list.

Somewhat more tame than its RS5 sibling–which I enjoyed testing last summer–the S5 model doesn’t flex big stats, but intends to deliver a solid driving experience. In its Cabriolet guise, this two-door Audi’s fun increases considerably with the element of an open-air experience. Competing with the BMW M440i convertible and Mercedes-AMG C43, the S5 has some strong rivals. With some good weather in the forecast, I happily accepted the arrival of this fun-focused drop-top Audi.

The Key Figures

Audi’s A5 is the standard form of the coupe and cabriolet model, powered by a 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder, with the S5 being the more fun-focused variant. Stuffed under the angular hood of the Audi S5 Cabriolet is a 3.0-liter twin-turbo V6 that produces 349 horsepower and 369 lb-ft of torque. The S5 Cabriolet’s output is just less than the drop-top versions of the BMW M440i and Mercedes-AMG C 43, but the Audi’s acceleration figure is nearly identical. Through an 8-speed automatic and standard quattro all-wheel-drive, the Audi S5 Cabriolet can sprint from 0-60 in 4.7 seconds on its way to a top speed of 155 MPH. EPA fuel economy estimates are 20/26/22 (city/highway/combined), which is on-par with its other German rivals.

Pricing for the base A5 Cabriolet begins at $52,200, and the quicker S5 increases the base figure to $63,400, making it similarly priced to the M440i and C 43. Thankfully Audi makes packaging easier on buyers, with three distinct trim levels that package lots of features, and I tested the top Prestige trim–an upgrade costing $8,100–which adds a Bang & Olufsen audio system, adaptive cruise control with traffic jam assist, Audi’s virtual cockpit instrument cluster, head-up display, and a stack of tech and safety features. With a stunning shade of District Green paint (a $595 option) and 20-inch wheels and summer tires fitted, this S5 Cabriolet hit a total price of $73,540 after destination.

A Composed City Convertible

While the Audi S5 Cabriolet is designed to be a blast to toss around, it’s still a luxury car at heart. Thanks to thick insulation within the acoustic top, cruising around with the roof closed makes the S5 Cab remarkably quiet. I appreciate how well the S5’s suspension smooths out the bumpiest city streets without disconnecting the driver from a responsive chassis with balanced feedback. The hint of electric assist to the steering rack makes city streets simple to tackle, and maneuvers in tight parking garages effortless.

The twin-turbo V6 may reward a spirited driver on a fun route, but keep the Audi Drive Select in the comfort mode, and the behaved operator will enjoy a daily driver that’s refined and comfortable. The turbos and exhaust tone down fun noises out of the back of the S5 Cabriolet, so if you want raunchier sounds, the dynamic drive mode is your friend. Shifts from the 8-speed Tiptronic are nearly imperceptible in the comfort mode, and sharpen ever so slightly in the dynamic drive mode.

The S5’s seats look sporty, but are definitely comfortable for long treks. The back seats are only going to carry younger kids, so don’t try to stick your adult friends behind you when driving unless they’re professional contortionists. Instead of worrying about seating capacity, I deployed the manually-fitted mesh wind deflector that covers the rear seating area to calm cabin turbulence. Dropping the S5 Cabriolet’s roof takes about 20 seconds, including operating all four of the side windows, and tucks away into a storage box that has to be manually dropped in the trunk.

Touch points are intuitive and use quality materials, and I like that there’s just enough digital instrumentation throughout the cockpit. The Audi Virtual Cockpit features a 12-inch high-resolution screen that allows for three distinct viewing modes, in addition to a simplified display for less distraction when taking night drives with the top down. As many manufacturers concede that drivers will opt for Apple CarPlay and Android Auto (both are standard with wireless connectivity in the S5 Cabriolet), Audi still delivers a great MMI infotainment system that has clear and easy software incorporated into another high-resolution display that measures 10 inches across.

Wonderful Open-Air Performance

Compared to its faster RS5 sibling I reviewed, the S5 is definitely more tame, but don’t sleep on its capabilities when you attack a twisty back road. Toggle the dynamic drive mode, and instantly feel the engine adjust its mood, with the idle rising while the exhaust tone gets throatier. Boost from the S5’s turbocharged V6 engages smoothly, delivering surprisingly quick response to help this quick convertible close long gaps between the bends. A performance car doesn’t need a massive horsepower figure to be a blast, and the S5 Cabriolet is more than competent as an open-air sportscar.

Grip from Audi’s quattro all-wheel-drive is fantastic, aided by the Dunlop Sport Maxx summer tires that are part of the 20-inch wheel upgrade. Even in its sportiest settings, the S5 Cabriolet is still composed, and does an exceptional job of concealing its 4,167-pound curb weight. I’d like a hint firmer ride in the dynamic mode, but the S5 still drives like it’s on rails. If you demand more cornering abilities from the S5, tick the $2,500 S Sport package option box to equip a sport rear differential, adaptive dampers, and cool red brake calipers, and the $1,150 dynamic steering system will add electric assistance to the steering rack to improve the S5’s steering in any condition.

Audi prepares the 8-speed transmission with shorter gear ratios for the lower gears, pairing with the twin-turbo V6’s low-end torque to enable quicker response and acceleration, but wisely fits taller ratios for the upper gears to keep revs low while conserving fuel. I played with the manual shifts with the paddles, and enjoyed the flexibility, but was still impressed with the automatic shift mapping Audi gave the S5 Cabriolet.

The Positive Points

This S5 Cabriolet is in its second generation, with Audi making significant updates in 2020. Most noticeably, the S5 Cab’s exterior was sharpened to be more impactful, with a cooler fascia with a grille that resembles the look of the one fitted to the quicker RS5 model I reviewed last year, and sports more aggressive lines from nose to tail. I can’t say enough good things about the District Green paint applied to my tester, which has pink and bronze sparkles lightly mixed in which erupt in the sunlight.

Audi does a great job of providing a cabin that’s subtle yet cool. A good blend of leather, carbon fiber, and metallic trim completes a cockpit that’s sporty yet upmarket. If you’ve been inside any Audi over the past ten years, you’ll have no trouble using every switch and button inside the Audi S5 Cabriolet, applying the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mindset effectively. The Nappa leather sport seats are not only upholding the Audi Sport lineup theme, but provide great support in their basic setup, while having great power lateral boosting to keep you planted when tossing the S5 Cab into corners.

A Couple Deductions

Making use of the convertible feature will significantly eat into the storage capacity, making my run to the airport during this test a little more complicated to stash a carry-on roller bag in the boot. When driving with the top up, the blind spot on the passenger side is significant, making you rely on the side mirrors and blind spot indicators. This is why I prefer roadsters over coupes adapted into convertibles, which make a fewer compromises. At least the top stores away completely concealed, with a hard panel covering it.

I didn’t apply too heavy a right foot during my week-long test with the S5 Cabriolet, but managed to only achieve 16 MPGs on average (versus the 21 city EPA estimate). I also feel that the drive modes Audi offers in its S and RS models could have better distinguished characteristics to provide a better overall experience. These complaints are tiny though, as the overall positives of the S5 Cabriolet far outweigh the negatives.

This Drop-Top Is Surprisingly Good

Audi does a great open-air sportscar with the S5 Cabriolet, providing plenty of fun in a great looking package. As is the case with many Audi S and RS models, the company does a fine job of blending style with a luxury car that will happily gobble up miles on longer adventures. I’d happily take road trips in the S5 Cab, and make sure to make several detours along winding routes.

If more hardcore performance is what you need, the Audi RS5 variant will tickle your fancy but sadly there’s no cabriolet version in the RS line (only offering a coupe or four-door sportback) which gives the BMW M4 an advantage against Audi and Mercedes. If a bigger stat sheet isn’t as important, the S5 Cabriolet will be a great addition to your drive, no matter if it’s to the office or along a canyon roads.

The Genesis G70 Crashes The Sport Sedan Party

The soirée for a bunch of German saloons was just shown up by one good Korean.

In a not so quiet manner, Genesis has rebuilt its brand identity, placing some well-established German marques in its sights. With each Genesis model I’ve reviewed over the past two years, there’s been an immediate enjoyment with a sleek exterior design met with a stunning cabin, and some exceptional driving impressions to boot. To attempt to sway the buyers of BMW, Audi, and Mercedes, Genesis is not just using its great looks and features to accomplish the task, but the price points for its models are catching attention too.

In the smaller premium sport sedan class, the Audi S4, BMW M340i, and Mercedes-AMG C43 have long-enjoyed the established base of drivers who want those models, and Genesis wants a slice of the pie. With the 2022 G70, Genesis freshened its looks inside and out to get up to speed with the rest of the lineup, and wants to inform the enthusiast driver that plenty of fun can be had behind the wheel too. Having tested several Genesis models and the competition it wants to grab market share from, I wanted to see if the Genesis G70 was a worthy adversary.

The Important Figures

Genesis offers the G70 sedan with two different engines, including a 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder and the upgrade to a 3.3-liter twin-turbo V6. The 2.0T produces a respectable 252 horsepower and 268 lb-ft of torque, and the 3.3T cranks out 365 horsepower and 376 lb-ft of torque. Rear-wheel-drive is standard, and all-wheel-drive is optional. The Audi S4 is the only rival which has less peak horsepower (349) than the top-level G70, with the BMW M340i and AMG C43 both producing over 380. The Audi and AMG offerings both come standard with all-wheel-drive, and the BMW M340i has rear-wheel-drive standard with all-wheel-drive optional.

An 8-speed automatic is the only transmission offering in the G70, with shift-by-wire and steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters. For those who want to impress at the stoplight, the 4-cylinder G70 will scoot from 0-60 in around 6 seconds, and the V6 turbo with AWD can complete that task in as little as 4.5 seconds (4.8 with RWD) with the Sport Prestige package that adds a limited-slip differential, keeping it within inches of its competition at the end of a sprint. The Genesis G70 measures 184 inches of overall length, 72 inches wide, and 55 inches tall, with a 111-inch wheelbase, making it similarly sized next to its German rivals.

Genesis is smart with packaging its options, allowing for easy selections of two different packs. One (Sport Advanced, $4,300) focuses on cool features and amenities, and the other (Sport Prestige, $4,000) adds premium materials for the interior, but the upgrades to the G70’s brakes, limited-slip differential, and electric adaptive suspension are the more appealing ones. Opting for all-wheel-drive adds about $2,000 to the sticker too.

Base price for the Genesis G70 starts at $37,775 for the 2.0T with rear-wheel-drive, and the 3.3T bumps up to $42,350. The G70 tester I was sent was equipped with the 3.3-liter engine, rear-wheel-drive, and ticked both of the package option boxes to ring up a total price of $51,445 after destination. That figure is massively attractive against the G70’s foes. The S4 starts at $51,000, the M340i begins at $54,000, the C43’s base price is $60,000, with those numbers increasing significantly as option boxes get ticked.

Upgrading Your Commute

Spending hours a day commuting isn’t wonderful, but if you’ve got to waste time in traffic, the Genesis G70 is a nice place to be. Others on the road definitely give the redesigned 2022 Genesis G70 plenty of approving second looks, especially as that massive black chrome grille and split LED lights both front and rear catch a glimpse. Genesis delicately balances itself as a bargain performance luxury brand, and the G70 nicely executes an added hint of style versus its German counterparts. I definitely find it the more attractive option next to the S4, M340i, and C43.

Response from the twin-turbo V6 is nicely responsive in the comfort drive mode, and shifts from the 8-speed automatic are smooth. Go easy on the throttle to best hit the EPA fuel economy estimates of 18/27/21, because I barely hit 17 MPGs during my week-long test with this Genesis that may have involved a hint more spirited driving. The G70’s upgraded adaptive suspension is a fantastic job of minimizing any bumps in the road surface, yet still offers good response when having a hint of fun on any detours between home and the office. Steering feel is just heavy enough, without requiring too much elbow grease at city intersections.

The G70’s cabin is nicely appointed, especially with the upgraded Nappa leather ventilated seats wrapped around you. I love the quilted stitching pattern utilizing red contrasting over the soft black leather that adorns the cabin, and appreciate just enough brushed metallic trim pieces completing a sporty yet refied look. Thankfully there isn’t a single bit of piano black trim inside the G70’s cockpit either. There’s a bit of plastic used for key touch points in this entry-level Genesis, with climate knobs that are closer to Hyundai quality than other Genesis models, but the placement and controls are all intuitive.

Occupants both front and rear will enjoy a cabin that’s more spacious than it appears, with adults having enough legroom for a drive to dinner. Genesis has a smart pair of buttons on the inside shoulder bolster that allows the right rear passenger to adjust the recline and depth of the front passenger seat, in case they need additional space (something I’ve noticed in every new Genesis I’ve reviewed). Storage capacity is big too, with a passthrough and folding rear seats to improve space and access. Tech is plentiful in the Genesis G70, with a 10.25-inch touchscreen infotainment system that features Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. I like that the G70’s instrument cluster that utilizes a digital screen for the center and right third, with the latter switching to a side view camera display when indicating a lane change.

I appreciate how Genesis groups together its option packages. The Sport Advanced package adds parking sensors, cool 19-inch wheels, a sportier trim inside the cabin, ventilated front seats, a bigger sunroof, wireless mobile device charging, a dark chrome grille, variable exhaust, power seat bolster and cushion extender, the Genesis digital key, and a Lexicon 15-speaker premium audio system that has loads of tone where it matters.

Surprisingly Good Performance

Enjoying a weekend sprint along a canyon road is something the Genesis G70 is surprisingly good at. To contend with its German competitors, the G70 packages together an exceptionally sharp handling dynamics. I was stunned with how composed the G70’s chassis was during more spirited driving. The 4-cylinder will probably provide enough power for the average driver, and can save several thousand dollars, but the V6 is the engine an enthusiast wants. Boost spools up more effectively when you smoothly apply the throttle, and displays a hint more lag when the driver smashes the go pedal, so be smart with your inputs to have the most fun.

In its sport or sport+ drive modes, the G70 noticeably changes its personality, wanting to pounce the curves and unleash its fantastic powerplant. The driver aids noticeably relax their desire to step in when in sport+ too, so you better be on your game if you’re trying to flog the G70 in this mode. Upshifts wait a bit longer than the comfort mode, allowing the engine to rev more freely, but the shift logic when needing to bounce up and down does exhibit a slight delay, so I employed the manual shifts for optimal fun.

The Genesis G70’s adaptive dampers firm up pleasantly in the two sportier modes, without being too rigid. I found that my happy custom drive mode put them in the simple sport setting, and the same went for the steering, which felt over-boosted in the sport+ setup, but I definitely enabled the powertrain’s abilities. Michelin Pilot Sport 4 tires are wrapped around 19-inch wheels, providing confidence in the bends and plenty of heat allowed into the compounds before they want to break traction. If you’re in a region that experiences snowfall, dropping $2,000 on all-wheel-drive will help you better cope with the winter conditions, but I like the G70’s rear-wheel-drive setup that allows the tail-end a hint more rotation and requires a bit more steering skill from the driver. Taking some weight off the front axles is something I prefer too.

The driver who cares about having a blast on a twisty road should spend the extra $4,000 on the G70’s Sport Prestige Package that adds bigger Brembo brakes with monoblock calipers, a limited-slip differential, and an adaptive suspension. The Brembo brakes are fantastic on longer runs along winding back roads, allowing harder inputs with great feel and feedback. Opting for the $4,300 Sport Advanced package also includes a variable valve exhaust system while upgrading a bunch of tech and amenities, but I have to offer a little gripe about the big oval-shaped openings in either side of the bumper being fake while concealing two smaller exhaust tips.

A Fantastic Alternative To The Usual German Sedan Selection

As Genesis has finished refreshing its entire lineup, the G70 is a fantastic upgrade to an already good sport sedan. Now boasting the same good looks as its siblings, the Genesis G70 is a stunner with proportions that I love. Not just possessing a body and cabin that are easy on the eyes, the Genesis G70 is a wonderful sport sedan that offers a fantastically balanced chassis paired with a potent engine.

This Korean manufacturer picks a fight with German contenders that have held onto their title belts for a little too long, and will please those who bet on the underdog that exhibits shockingly good performance at a bargain price. Against the Audi S4, BMW M340i, and Mercedes-AMG C43, the Genesis is easily my favorite to drive along a twisty road, look at, and enjoy knowing how much cash it saves those who choose to stick it in their garage.

The Honda Passport TrailSport Isn’t Truly Rugged, But It’s Good

Not quite the off-road champ it wants to be, this Honda still works.

As if the midsized affordable SUV marketplace isn’t packed enough, Honda thought it would offer another one. With its three-row Pilot selling reasonably well, some drivers didn’t need the extra seats from a good platform. Enter the Honda Passport, which is a slightly smaller version of the midsized SUV that ditches the third row for more storage space. Featuring a near-identical cabin and powertrain to the Pilot, the Honda Passport saves a couple bucks, holds more stuff, and goes on family adventures with a hint of style.

To please the driver that wants a bit more rugged appearance, Honda has introduced the Passport TrailSport trim level that slots into the middle of the Passport offerings, and eliminated the most basic Sport trim level. Looking a bit beefier than the more conventional family hauler spotted at the school pickup line or at soccer practice, does this go anywhere look work for the Honda Passport TrailSport? I gave it a whirl to find out.

The Helpful Specs

Honda stuffs its 3.5-liter V6 under the hood of all Passport models, with 280 horsepower and 262 lb-ft of torque on-tap. A 9-speed automatic is the only transmission choice, and two-wheel-drive is the standard driveline on the base model Passport, but this middle trim TrailSport package and the top Elite trim level come standard with Honda’s torque vectoring all-wheel-drive system. Honda’s Intelligent Traction Management system also includes several drive modes for various terrains.

To make the Passport TrailSport look the part of a tougher family SUV, Honda gave it several distinguishing styling touches inside and out. The exterior gets a unique grille treatment, and more aggressive front and rear bumpers are paired with silver-painted skid garnish details. The grille and tailgate get bright orange TrailSport badges. TrailSport-specific machined-finished 18-inch wheels with pewter gray details are shod with beefier 245/60R18 Firestone all-terrain tires to add to the slightly meaner look, compared to other Passport trims which get 20-inch wheels with lower profile tires.

Cabin treatments in the TrailSport include orange stitching on the seats, door panels, and steering wheel, with the front seat headrests receiving embroidered TrailSport logos. The TrailSport trim gets standard all-season rubber floor mats which also get that unique orange logo. The gauge pod in the TrailSport has the updated gray lighting and white needles as the rest of the Passport lineup, but features a black chrome gauge surround that’s only installed in the TrailSport. When cruising around at night, the cabin is lit with TrailSport-exclusive amber ambient lighting.

Pricing for the standard two-wheel-drive Honda Passport begins at $37,870, which increases by $2,100 to add all-wheel-drive. The top Elite trim comes packed with features at $45,430. The middle trim TrailSport has a starting MSRP of $42,470, and with a $395 premium added for Platinum White Pearl paint and a $1,225 destination charge, this Passport TrailSport tester hit a total price of $44,090.

The Competent Family Carrier

It comes as no surprise that the Passport TrailSport is a good midsized SUV, given Honda’s track record for reliability and functionality. The powertrain is proven, albeit a little on the older side, and is potent enough to get this family hauler moving effectively. Not needing to impress with the stat sheet, the Passport’s V6 is smooth and strong where it needs to be, and the 9-speed automatic shifts smoothly to keep it composed in the city. EPA fuel economy estimates are 19 / 24 / 21 (city / highway / combined), paired with a 19.5-gallon tank, allowing longer treks with fewer stops to fill up with regular unleaded.

Ride quality is composed, with a good bit of body roll when you try to carry some speed into a corner, but the Passport’s chassis stays where it needs to. Bigger sidewalls around 18-inch wheels on the TrailSport trim make for greater compliance, making street bumps disappear while minimizing chassis disruption though a suspension that’s still better on pavement than gravel. I also appreciate how light and direct steering inputs are in the Passport TrailSport.

The Passport’s interior is no-fuss quality that’s expected from Honda, with an intuitive cockpit that features a tidy layout. If you’ve been inside a Honda Pilot or Ridgeline lately, you’ll recognize the components and design throughout the Passport. Space inside the Passport is massive, with loads of room to stretch out whether you’re in the front or back seats. Lateral support from the Passport’s seats could be slightly better, but the comfort level is great. Because the Passport has a shorter overall length than the Pilot and ditches the third row seats, cargo volume is downright massive, offering 50 cubic feet of space behind the second row seat and boasting a whopping 100 cubic feet with the second row folded flat. In the cargo area, the Passport also has a concealed storage compartment for stashing away reasonably-sized items.

Carrying the same infotainment software installed in other Honda models, the Passport TrailSport has an 8-inch touchscreen with plenty of customization options and a cool way to enable shortcut buttons on the screen. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are on-board too, although without wireless connectivity options, and there’s a wireless charging pad ahead of the shifter. The standard 215-Watt audio system features 7 speakers and a subwoofer, which isn’t bad, but if you care about premium audio, you’ll want to upgrade to the Passport’s Elite trim level to upgrade to 540 Watts ands 10 speakers.

Appearing More Rugged, But Reasonably Capable

A quick glance at a TrailSport will quickly reveal that it’s the cooler looking Honda Passport. Not just a dressed up version of an already good family hauler, the Trailsport’s front and rear track widths are increased 10 mm to increase stability and provide a wider stance. For those who need to pull their boat, off-road toys, or camper, 2WD Passports can tow up to 3,500 pounds, and AWD models up the towing capacity to 5,000 pounds with Honda’s towing package installed.

Ground clearance is 7.5 inches for a two-wheel-drive Passport, and the all-wheel-drive upgrade increases the figure to 8.1. Approach angle is 21.1°, and the departure angle is 24.3°, which isn’t too hardcore, but isn’t too pedestrian either. Honda equips the Passport with snow, sand, and mud off-road drive modes, which are quickly engaged with a button next to the gear selector. The modes do a good job of dialing in the right amount of grip needed to cope with the trails, but you’re not going into any ridiculous rock crawling events in the Passport TrailSport.

In a muddy and slightly rocky patch at a nearby park, I was more than happy with what the Passport TrailSport offered, knowing it’s not intended to tackle extreme conditions like a Ford Bronco or Land Rover Defender. For the adventurous family that wants to escape the city for a nice state park that has reasonably muddy or mildly rocky trails, this SUV will get you there and back in peace.

The Good Bits

I’ve always felt that the Honda Pilot looked too bloated for a family SUV, and the Passport is a refreshingly smaller package. The proportions are better balanced with this model, and the TrailSport’s bigger sidewall tires complete the look nicely. If someone really needs the third row of seats, the Pilot will be a nice addition to the family’s driveway. The updated fascia, chunkier rear bumper, and bigger exhaust tips are cool too.

Rather than padding the bottom line, Honda includes its Honda Sensing suite of safety features as standard equipment, offering adaptive cruise control, lane keeping assistance, road departure mitigation, forward collision warning, and emergency braking without charging thousands more. Honda also has some proprietary software in its lane keeping system that seems to eliminate the annoying ping pong sensation other systems do between the lane lines.

Intuitive functionality inside the Honda Passport TrailSport is fantastic. Switchgear doesn’t have to be wildly stylish or made with space age materials to work, and Honda did a good job with switches and buttons that are well-placed. The gear selection buttons will take a quick adjustment, but I like how they save space in the center of the cockpit. USB ports and power outlets are simply placed in the Passport’s cabin, giving the kids plenty of options to charge their devices during a road trip. Space is effectively used in the Passport’s interior, with loads of flexible spots to store items of all shapes and sizes.

Less Than Great Things

Understanding that Honda offers a practical SUV for families, and not a real deal tough off-roader, there are stylish details that could have been more functional. In the TrailSport trim, Honda gave this Passport some rugged looking treatments, but metal skid plates and tougher fender trim would have done it some favors. Same goes for the thicker sidewall tires that could be a hint wider to really complete the off-road look. Thankfully Honda indicated that it will offer meatier tires and an off-road tuned suspension in the next couple model years.

While I praised Honda for giving the Passport’s interior plenty of thoughtful design elements, the instrument cluster leaves a bit to be desired. There’s a lot of wasted real estate, and the center screen should be able to provide more usable data on the fly while also offering a higher resolution display. Storing your gear in the back of the Honda Passport TrailSport is easy, thanks to a square-shaped tailgate and storage area, but the power tailgate only gets a hands-free feature on the top Elite trim level. Those who want a more rugged go-anywhere model want easier ways to put their mountain bike in the back after ripping up the trails.

This Practical SUV Gets It Done

Honda did a good job giving the Passport TrailSport more rugged touches within the exterior and the cabin, making it cooler than the typical family SUV. As someone who likes to conquer off-road trails on a somewhat regular basis, I wish Honda would have thrown somewhat tougher kit at its exterior to make it better at taking a beating. For most families, this won’t be an issue.

Deep down, Honda knows its buyers, their demands, and how to move a reliable product. The Passport TrailSport delivers the features and looks that Honda’s core buyers want, and makes its drivers slightly cooler than the usual parent at soccer practice. It’ll also go just enough places off-road during family trips to make the trip memorable. For those reasons, I think Honda did a good job with the Passport TrailSport.

The Ford Maverick XL Hybrid Is A Brilliant Budget Pickup

The most basic new truck you can buy is surprisingly good.

The mini truck used to be an exceptional option for plenty of drivers. A compact offering that carried a decent amount of stuff in the bed, had a little engine that got the job done while providing decent fuel economy, and a no-fuss cabin that did enough for making a commute or work trek barely comfortable. As pickups have become massive, thirsty, and wildly expensive, the world needs a basic compact truck that can get simple tasks done while providing more versatility than a crossover without breaking the bank. Ford has figured this out, and introduced the Maverick as a compact pickup to be reasonably functional, moderately powered, fuel efficient, and attractively priced.

A few months ago, I reviewed the Maverick’s middle XLT trim level, in all-wheel-drive form, with the punchier engine option, and thought it was the perfect small truck for anyone at around $31,000. What I wanted to learn more about was the most basic model Maverick Ford offers, its XL hybrid model. With front-wheel-drive in a pickup, real truck guys might scoff at it, but the entry level hybrid Maverick focuses on massive fuel economy at a starting price of $20,000. I had to see what was up with this budget pickup.

The Key Specs

Ford builds the new Maverick on a unibody platform, specific to the Maverick. In its standard form, the Ford Maverick is propelled by a 2.5-liter 4-cylinder hybrid that produces a combined output of 191 horsepower and 155 lb-ft of torque. The Maverick’s optional engine is a new 2.0-liter EcoBoost turbocharged 4-cylinder that produces 250 horsepower and 277 lb-ft of torque. A CVT with front-wheel-drive is the default drivetrain, with all-wheel-drive paired with an 8-speed automatic available as an option for either engine.

All Maverick models are SuperCrew four-door pickups, with a 54-inch bed. Dimensions include an overall length of 199.7 inches, a 68.7-inch height, 72.6-inch width, and 8.3 inches of ground clearance. The Maverick’s wheelbase is is 121 inches, with a front track measuring 63.4 inches, and a rear track of 62.8. Compared to the Hyundai Santa Cruz, the Maverick has a 4-inch advantage with its overall length and wheelbase, but gives up two inches in the overall width and track categories. I’ll dive into the towing and cargo capacities in a moment. The big draw to the Ford Maverick isn’t just its reasonable proportions, but also its price.

At a base price of $19,995, and a destination charge of $1,495, the total MSRP of this Maverick XL hybrid is $21,490. That figure makes it several thousand dollars cheaper than the Hyundai competition, which in all fairness starts with a bit more equipment. Opt for the XLT trim, and the base price is $22,360, with the range topping Lariat starting at $25,860. Adding the 2.0-liter EcoBoost engine adds about $1,000 to any trim level, and upgrading to all-wheel-drive (which is only available with the 2.0L) will add another $2,000 to the ticket. Go wild on upgrading with a leather interior and heated seats, adaptive cruise control, improved towing capacity, and off-road capability, and the Maverick’s sticker price can shoot up to a still reasonable $35,000 (matching the loaded Santa Cruz’s figure).

Basic Daily Functionality

Budget packaging is clear with the XL trim level of the Ford Maverick, but that doesn’t make it unpleasant to drive. Ride quality is a bit on the firm side, thanks to spring rates designed to cope with cargo being tossed in the bed. Handling is still decent in the front-wheel-drive Maverick that has a basic twistbeam rear suspension rather than the independent multi-link trailing arm setup provided with the all-wheel-drive models. Surprisingly the Maverick is more agile than any truck I’ve driven, with dynamics that resemble a small sedan rather than a pickup. Crossovers I’ve reviewed in the past couple years don’t feel as nimble as the Maverick.

Instead of having a tachometer in the instrument cluster, Ford gives the Maverick hybrid a power consumption gauge to indicate how much you’re consuming when hitting the throttle and the amount being regenerated under braking. When coming to a stop, the digital display will show how much energy has been recaptured under braking and deceleration too. The hybrid engine has decent power on-tap, and the hybrid assistance provides a reasonably smooth torque curve. The 2.0-liter I tested in the Maverick XLT is noticeably quicker, but if power isn’t important, take advantage of the obscene fuel economy offered by the hybrid engine.

While the all-wheel-drive EcoBoost engine has EPA fuel economy estimates of 22/29/25, its front-wheel-drive variant gets a slight bump of an added mile per gallon in each condition. The hybrid Maverick increases the fuel savings dramatically, offering a whopping 42/33/37 (city/highway/combined) MPGs according to the EPA estimates. During my week-long test, I hit an average of 38 MPGs, which is fantastic for a truck of any size, and beats plenty of new compact cars currently on sale.

Despite its compact intentions, the Maverick’s cabin is actually quite roomy. Seating position up front is somewhat low, allowing for a great amount of headroom. The width of the cockpit is reasonably spacious too. At 5’11” I’m not terribly tall, but even when sitting behind my driver seat position, the back seat of the Maverick didn’t feel too cramped. A couple friends had no trouble hopping in the back seat when we made a dinner run, but did mention the ride was a bit stiff for them.

Ford’s Sync infotainment system is installed within the somewhat small touchscreen, but it gets the job done. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto come standard, but in the most basic XL trim, the Maverick doesn’t have Sirius XM satellite radio. I have a hunch Ford has prepared the Maverick’s interior for future updates, as is clear when spotting the big storage hole next to the infotainment display. I appreciate the smart design of the door handles, that allow for easy grabs from any angle, while using an unconventional appearance. Same goes for the nicely separated compartments ahead of the cupholders and shifter, where anyone can pop their phone or other small items.

The Humble Worker Bee

A front-wheel-drive pickup isn’t going to attract big truck buyers, but the Ford Maverick is designed as a solution to drivers who need a hint more function than the sedan or crossover they’ve had for ages. Thankfully intelligent all-wheel-drive is available at a reasonable price, in addition to Ford’s FX4 off-road package with beefier tires than the Continental all-seasons fitted here, should you want to go places far from the city streets. Even as a basic pickup, I got the nod of respect from several construction and electrical workers I came across around downtown Austin (which is seemingly under constant construction), which was pleasantly surprising. When I was parked to take pictures of the Maverick, I had separate groups of people walk over to ask me about it and poke around. This truck has plenty of appeal.

One key advantage of the Ford Maverick is bringing simple versatility to the masses without trying too hard to appear rugged or functional. A 4.5-foot bed may not seem big enough, but for weekend warriors, mountain bikers, or casual campers, that bed will be more than enough to tote their belongings. Anyone who has paid attention to the fleet at an auto parts store will remember when small pickups were the ideal solution, and the Maverick will be appealing to them.

Ford designed smart Flexbed features from its larger trucks into the Maverick’s cargo area, with plenty of factory and dealer-installed accessory options to fit the bed however the owner needs. From tie-downs, power outlets, bike racks, and tool solutions, Ford really put some effort into planning the Maverick’s workhorse capabilities. Base payload capacity in the Maverick is only 1,500 pounds, but that’s not bad for the average person. Standard towing capacity is 2,000 pounds, which can increase to 4,000 pounds with an optional towing package. You won’t be pulling a massive boat with the Ford Maverick, but that’s not the focus of a pickup in this segment.

Cabin functionality is somewhat simple, but the rear seat does fold flat (once you drop the headrests), allowing for the interior to serve as an additional secure storage area. What’s really interesting is Ford’s crowdsourced 3D printing platform known as Ford Integrated Tethering System (FITS), which allows Maverick owners to design, produce, and install various storage and functional solutions that fasten into the cabin’s receiving points.

Simplistic At Its Core

Hitting a price target of $20,000 meant that Ford went truly spartan with its base XL trim. From the basic steel wheels wrapped in basic all-season tires to the black plastic body cladding and rear bumper, the Ford Maverick keeps costs low with simple features. The XLT and Lariat Maverick trims get cooler wheels wrapped with better tires, and are touched up with better exterior trim too, if the cheaper exterior is a breaking point. At least LED headlights are standard on all Maverick models. One funny feature is the practical beep tones emitted from the Maverick when reversing, as the hybrid model uses its silent electric power when backing up.

I can complain that Ford went with some seriously dated switchgear you’d recognize from a 10-year-old Focus, instrumentation that’s truly plain, and single-zone climate control components to hit the Maverick’s price target, but at least these details have the core functions they need to provide to drivers. The Maverick XL’s cockpit is really cost-cutting compared to the next level up XLT trim level, with bigger use of hard plastics and cheaper cloth seating surfaces, but Ford didn’t make this cabin sound too cheap. It surprised me how quiet this budget pickup was during my driving around a busy city, without any rattles or squeaks. Upper trim levels will carry over the touch points from the XL, but the seats, door trim, and center console will be treated to softer materials.

Basic Isn’t Bad In A Little Truck

Ford hit a home run with the new Maverick. With a massive gap in the pickup market, people needed an inexpensive model that offered good functionality versus the crossover they’ve been stuck with. Whether you’re an occasional camper, frequent cyclist, gardener, farmer’s market vendor, or skilled laborer, the Ford Maverick will tick several boxes for anyone who wants a pint-sized truck that gets the job done. The only challenge for Ford is keeping up with the immense demand for this new little truck, as dealer’s can’t keep them in stock. Pickup purists and manly men may scoff at the compact Maverick, but Ford makes plenty of trucks to satisfy any their needs.

If the Maverick is too small or too simple, there’s an all-new Ranger coming later this year, to meet the demands of the midsized truck driver. The daily drivability and massive fuel economy of the Maverick should impress anyone, especially when opting for the efficient hybrid model during a time of wildly high gas prices. For those who know exact what they need from a small truck, the Ford Maverick will meet their demands and go easy on the wallet both with monthly payments and at the gas pump. I think the Maverick is a great small pickup, and a massive hit for Ford.

The 2022 Mazda CX-9 Doesn’t Quite Hit The Spot

With three rows, four cylinders, and lots of tech, this SUV still raises plenty of questions.

Wander to any grocery store, mall, or soccer field, and you’ll come across plenty of three-row family SUVs that likely cover a dozen different manufacturers. This seven-seat SUV segment is flooded with so many options against the Mazda CX-9, including the Ford Explorer (which I recently reviewed), Honda Pilot, Toyota Highlander, and Hyundai Palisade. Back when Mazda introduced the CX-9 in 2006, it was based on the same platform as the Ford Edge, and shared the same V6.

While this big Mazda CX-9 offers the features parents look for, has decent looks, and focuses on reasonably enjoyable driving impressions, to sway buyers from other manufacturers, it has to assemble a package to make itself attractive, practical, affordable, and fun. There’s no shortage of crossovers in Mazda’s lineup, with a couple appealing introductions in the past year. With this second generation CX-9 still rolling around since its update in 2016, does it keep up with its rivals?

Some Useful Figures

Mazda powers the CX-9 with the same turbocharged 2.5-liter SKYACTIV-G engine that produces 227 horsepower and 310 lb-ft of torque when filling the tank with 87 octane regular unleaded fuel, and bumps up to 250 horsepower and 320 lb-ft of torque when opting for 93 octane. Paired with a 6-speed automatic and all-wheel-drive, Mazda also fits the CX-9 with its version of a torque vectoring system to give drivers more confident handling.

At a curb weight of 4,409 pounds, the Mazda CX-9 tips the scales at a similar figure to its rivals. The CX-9 has 3,500-pound towing capacity, which is a bit less than much of the competition. Despite having a turbocharged 4-cylinder under the hood, the 2022 Mazda CX-9 has EPA fuel economy estimates of 20/26/23 (city/highway/combined).

For 2022, Mazda made the starting price cheaper for customers while adding all-wheel-drive as standard equipment, now at a base of $35,280. In its most loaded Signature trim, this tester starts at $47,210, and after adding Machine Gray Metallic paint for $595, the total MSRP is $49,030 after destination.

Family Practicality Over Fun

The 2022 Mazda CX-9 has a reasonable footprint for a seven-seat family SUV, and doesn’t feel massive inside or out. When on the road, there’s a sensation that it weighs a bit more than it truly does, and I think much of that is because of how firmly sprung the CX-9 is, even though there’s a good bit of body roll in the corners. Given the same steering wheel as the Mazda 3 models that compete with cars like the Honda Civic, the CX-9 could use a larger diameter unit instead, to help with steering effort around the city. Slower 90º turns took more work to complete, with much more input required than I expected from a car in this class. The Bridgestone Ecopia all-season tires wrapped around 20-inch wheels aren’t sporty either, focused more on efficiency. There are drive modes, including a sport option, but there wasn’t much a difference in overall driving personality when toggling the sport setting.

Mazda defines its driving experience in the CX-9 as Jinba-ittai, a philosophy that lies at the heart of Mazda’s development, which describes the relationship between a horse and its rider. The challenge is that the 2022 CX-9 doesn’t truly feel as engaging as the “Zoom Zoom” sensations that used to get me excited about Mazda’s offerings. From the same company that provides a pure driving experience in the iconic MX-5, the CX-9 doesn’t make any drive more engaging. Equipped with the same engine as the Mazda 3, the CX-9 is downright underpowered as a three-row SUV. Having to spend more on premium fuel to get the most of its engine, the CX-9 is still woefully slow against a few of its competitors, facing a 30 or 40 horsepower disadvantage against several that don’t require premium unleaded to enjoy better power.

For parents who aren’t concerned about having a lot of fun on errand runs or trips to drop the kids off at school, the Mazda CX-9 provides a reasonably comfortable cabin, with decent space for stuffing kids in the rear two rows. Mazda is smart to make the second row seats adjustable on a slider, in case slightly taller passengers hop in the back, and even in that forward position, adults won’t feel too cramped. The CX-9’s cargo space is good too, with 14.4 cubic feet of space with all the seats up, 38.2 cubic feet with the third row down, and a whopping 71.2 cubic feet of storage volume with the second row folded flat too.

Mazda provides a 10.25-inch infotainment screen that has Apple CarPlay and Android Auto installed, but uses a knob and buttons below the shifter to adjust settings and controls, rather than being a touchscreen. There’s wireless charging in a compartment ahead of the gearshift, but if you want to make use of it you’re losing CarPlay functions as wireless CarPlay isn’t available in the CX-9.

Good Details And Trim On A Reasonable Budget

In this Signature trim, Mazda gives the first- and second-row seats Nappa leather treatments, with nice stitching patterns and good lateral support. I like the patterns of the contours too, finished with white piping along the bolster edges. Touches of wood accompany nice polished metallic trim along the CX-9’s interior, giving it a hint more class than its competition.

I appreciate the three-zone climate control system working quickly and effectively, in addition to the heated and ventilated front seats met with heating functions in the middle row. The 12-speaker Bose audio system incorporates active noise cancellation, which was great for quieting outside disturbances along busy downtown streets.

The Highs and Lows

To provide the second- and third-row passengers more space, Mazda seemed to compromise cabin volume for the front two seats. A look at the CX-9’s profile will show how short the front doors are versus the rear, making it easier for the rear passengers to get in and out, but I felt cramped in the driver’s seat. At 5’11”, the front seat was far too high off the floor, making my head feel too close to the roof while being far above the dash. The side view mirrors are also too far back, making me have to look all the way to my side to check my blind spot. Mazda should have mounted them a good ten inches further ahead, to provide more natural visibility.

Mazda describes its interior design as the result of studies on how humans move, attempting to engineer its cars to feel like a natural extension of the driver’s body, which is clear when using any of the CX-9’s controls. While I appreciate this focus, I don’t love that the pieces in the top-end CX-9 are the same stuff used in the Mazda 3 that competes with a more basic Honda Civic or Toyota Corolla. At nearly $50,000, the CX-9 needs to feel like a premium model. As several manufacturers have switched to capacitive touch components, Mazda is sticking with more functional switchgear. The digital instrument cluster uses the same white color for the rings, numbers, and increments, so it all blends together. Having some contrasting color or larger speed indication would help a lot.

Getting a stack of safety systems is pretty common in family SUVs, and Mazda makes sure the CX-9 gets adaptive cruise control, pedestrian detection, and collision mitigation features to keep you moving smoothly with less chance of incident. Having tested a few of the Mazda’s competitors over the past year, the lane keeping and adaptive cruise features weren’t great when tested on the freeway. The lane keeping aid didn’t seem to function most of the time I tried it along a well-defined stretch of expressway, even in a toll lane with dividing posts.

This Family SUV Just Isn’t Good Enough

In its base trim, the Mazda CX-9 is a more attractive buy for the family on a budget, but as the trim levels and price go up, the value proposition of this three-row SUV goes down. At just shy of $50,000, the CX-9’s price is on-par with its rivals’ best offerings, but that’s inching toward a higher segment of car. For nearly the same money, one could get a 2022 Acura MDX in its lowest–yet still impressively equipped–trim. The only sacrifice would be ventilated seats. I’d go that route instead, or at least consider a loaded Honda Pilot.

Mazda provides a good looking, nicely equipped, and safe family SUV with the CX-9, but it’s lagging behind its competition. The driving impressions don’t capture any of the “Zoom Zoom” sensations of Mazda’s past, and the interior switchgear isn’t as nice as it should be. Riding on a reputation of quality cars a family can afford while being fun, the 2022 CX-9 doesn’t get the job done. Mazda needs to give its top model a heavy update that includes significantly more power and a nicer cabin, and if it did that, it would be a contender again.

The 2022 Cadillac CT4-V Blackwing Renders The BMW M3 Obsolete

Cadillac introduces a new name to the fast sedan game, and absolutely crushes it.

When Cadillac first revealed the V Series brand in 2004, it did so with a CTS platform that was barely luxurious, but packed the powertrain from the C5 Corvette Z06. As a model that was designed to contend with the small speedy sedans of Germany, the CTS-V was a bargain, but with some compromises made with fit and finish. Quickly building a reputation as a less expensive American alternative to the Audi RS4, BMW M3, and Mercedes-AMG C63, the Cadillac CTS-V upped the ante by stealing the supercharged engine of the Corvette ZR1 for its second generation model in 2008, and moving up to a bigger class against the RS6, M5, and E63. Adding a coupe and wagon variant to the mix, GM gave enthusiasts several options for getting the right second generation CTS-V for them.

To improve its handling and overall build construction, in 2014 the third generation CTS-V was assembled on GM’s Alpha platform. This model prominently established the Cadillac as a true contender in its class, and solidified the brand’s identity. As this new CTS bumped up to a bigger sedan segment, Cadillac needed to keep a model offering to compete with those smaller German performance sedans. Enter the ATS-V, also built on GM’s Alpha chassis, featuring a twin-turbo V6 under the hood. At a massive discount against its German rivals, the ATS-V was a blast to drive, and when I gave it a road trip test in 2016, I said it was the model to buy while saving a ton of cash. BMW’s M3 might be the class leading seller, but the American marque wants a piece of the action.

The Detroit-based manufacturer decided to toss all V Series brand equity out the window in 2020, when it launched the latest generation with new–and somewhat confusing–naming conventions. Now known as the CT4, the ATS was replaced with a new design, improved interior quality, yet retained the chassis that contributed to its fantastic driving characteristics. The trouble was that Cadillac slapped a V badge on a lesser sedan, diluting the name, and causing plenty of head scratching. As enthusiasts, journalists, and owners cried out when Cadillac hurt its reputation, the company announced there was a new model and name coming, that would uphold the values of the V Series, and offer seriously good performance at a value price point. It’s called the Blackwing, and while its name may not make much sense, with production limited to just 139 examples, what’s underneath absolutely does.

The Good Figures

Continuing to employ the twin-turbo 3.6-liter V6, the 2022 Cadillac CT4-V Blackwing produces 472 horsepower and 445 lb-ft of torque. This figure is more than the Audi RS5’s peak 444 horsepower, on-par with the standard M3 output, but just less than the 503 in the M3 Competition and AMG C63. A 6-speed manual is the standard transmission, with a 10-speed automatic is the standard transmission available. Rear-wheel drive is the only choice in the Blackwing–hooked up to an electric limited-slip differential–just like the standard BMW M3, with the M3 Competition, C63, and RS5 all featuring all-wheel-drive.

Through this drivetrain, the automatic-equipped CT4-V Blackwing can rip from 0-60 MPH in 3.9 seconds, and the manual model will hit that figure in just 4.1, with both models boasting a top speed of 189 MPH. The Alpha platform has been updated, now featuring GM’s Magnetic Ride Control 4.0, passive dampers from ZF, and hollow stabilizer bars. The 2022 CT4-V Blackwing’s dimensions are comparable to the Audi RS5 Sportback, BMW M3, and AMG C 63, and sports a curb weight of 3,860 pounds in manual form, with only a slight bump in mass with the automatic transmission.

Like its predecessors, the CT4-V Blackwing may not offer refinement in its cabin that contends with the German offerings, but the price point catches the eye. At a base price of $58,995, the CT4-V Blackwing is an attractive offering at a savings of $10,000 against the base price of the M3, and is nearly $20,000 less than a C63 or RS5. Even when loaded with factory upgrades including the natural leather seats, sunroof, heads-up display, interior ionizer, ventilated and massaging front seats, and $7,000 worth of carbon fiber trim packages, the loaded Satin Steel Metallic CT4-V Blackwing I tested hit an MSRP of $77,090.

The Practical Daily Sedan

Without being overly focused on outright performance, and while maintaining some Cadillac personality, the CT4-V Blackwing is remarkably composed as a city driver. The Magnetic Ride Control dampers are fantastic, giving the CT4 great response without compromising ride quality. The 6-speed manual transmission is a gem, with a light pedal input needed to change gears, and great clutch feedback. 18-inch wheels are a refreshingly civil size on the CT4-V Blackwing, offering a bit more sidewall from the Michelin Pilot Sport 4S rubber, and plenty of grip in any condition without making too much road noise.

Keeping the drive mode in the tour setup (Cadillac’s comfort setting), the CT4-V Blackwing softens any chassis disruption, keeps the engine a bit more chill, and allows the electric-assist steering to feature smooth inputs and light feedback. Continue utilizing the tour mode and behave yourself during throttle applications, and you just might hit the EPA fuel economy estimates of 15/23/18. I barely managed 16 MPGs during my week-long test, but there was no way I wasn’t going to play with the CT4-V Blackwing as much as possible.

Cabin design in the CT4 is essentially a scaled-down version of the CT5’s setup, which is a good thing. Not as cool or as finely appointed as the German rivals, Cadillac still offers a nice interior to spend plenty of hours inside. Though the belt line is high, and the roof is slightly swept, the space you experience inside the Blackwing is great for a sedan of its size. Fitted with optional natural tan leather wrapped around the sporty seats, this faster CT4 is wonderfully comfortable, with a seating position that’s perfect for cruising or hooning. Back seat occupants should probably be kids, and there’s a hint of lateral support in those rear seats, but your adult friends may not gripe much if you’re making a quick run to get food. The CT4’s trunk is big too, with a couple organized spots at each side for your smaller items.

Long gone is Cadillac’s awful Cue infotainment system, replaced by GM’s NexGen touchscreen setup, which is intuitive and quite functional, complete with an actual volume knob. I’ll admit I had never heard of AKG audio systems before testing these new generations of Cadillac models, but the system in this CT4-V Blackwing is good, with plenty of tone where it matters. Could the speaker grilles look cooler when Mercedes has badass metal ones with its Burmester system? For sure. Paired with wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, the CT4-V Blackwing has wireless charging for your mobile phone, with its pad neatly placed in the storage compartment under the climate controls.

The CT4’s steering wheel has a hot button to employ the customizable V Mode for your spirited driving, and if you want to switch drive modes, there’s a toggle switch next to the shifter. I appreciate Cadillac offering a “My Mode” setup in addition to the V Mode, so you can have even greater flexibility when driving. Extra tweaks to the fake engine sounds being pumped through the speakers are a funny thing to include.

Storming The Twisty Stuff

The spec sheet may not stand out, in a time when everything gets 500 horsepower under the hood, but the CT4-V Blackwing’s twin-turbo engine is stout enough. Not exceptional, especially the sound it makes through its quad square-shaped exhaust tips, this boosted V6 still provides a smooth surge of torque, especially when you’re already at a decent speed along a canyon road. I could give a shit about 0-60 times, because what really matters is how well the CT4 pulls between 45 and 75, and this is where the Blackwing shines. As pace increases, the turbocharged CT4-V Blackwing’s powerband has no tapering effect either, happily surging toward triple digits and beyond.

Clicking off effortless gear changes is a joy in the CT4-V Blackwing, with a positive sensation each time to slide that short throw shifter that shows off its 3D-printed gear pattern. Engaging the rev matching mode made downshifts easier, met with a rowdy blip of the throttle, and keeping me from having to nail my heel-and-toe efforts. Make the sacrifice in your commuting to opt for the manual transmission, as the 10-speed auto in the CT4 is the same I tested in the CT5-V Blackwing, which hunted for gears too often for my liking. Also, manuals are dying off, and fewer are being offered in fun sedans, so enjoy this while you can.

Where the Blackwing may give away some power to its German rivals, its chassis is wonderful. More compact than the more powerful CT5-V Blackwing, this CT4 setup was designed to be effectively fun to flog in any decent driver’s hands. Its steering is perfectly sharp, especially in the sport or track drive modes, offering the right amount of weight and effort required to nail every apex. This fast Cadillac’s proportions are perfect too, allowing the 109-inch wheelbase to stabilize the car alongside its 60.5-inch track. Without the extra weight–and hint of cornering confidence–of all-wheel-drive, the CT4-V Blackwing likes to slide if you smash the throttle as you exit a corner. A bit more confidence could come from adding all-wheel-drive, like the CT4’s competitors have, but I like the challenge from needing to manage control and power while taking some weight off the front axle.

A quick toggle switch for the Performance Traction Management system is mounted on the steering wheel, and allows you to let the Blackwing dance as effectively as you like. The PTM can also be customized in the V Mode, to keep as much or as little help intervening when on a track or fun road. Playing with these settings, I found that the PTM in sport was just right for twisty roads, maintaining just enough stability control while still letting me fling the Cadillac’s ass-end.

What stunned me is how composed it was during any harder session along a curvy route. Without tiny sidewalls, the Michelin PS4S tires worked in harmony with Cadillac’s magnetic dampers to quickly dismiss any bumps while eliminating any hint of chassis disruption. Brembo also supplies fantastic steel brakes, which have wonderful pedal feel and plenty of heat tolerance during reasonably fun canyon road sessions. I wish Cadillac offered the CT4-V Blackwing with ceramic rotors, like it does on the CT5 variant, for those who really want to push the envelope without the risk of brake fade. Should the gray calipers not be your thing, spend $595 to either opt for gold or red ones.

If tracking the CT4 is on your agenda, maybe opt for some better pads and fluid, and consider a second set of wheels with tires that will last longer than the Michelins (which are great for the street but melt on track). Also tick the $1,600 option box to add Cosworth’s Performance Data Recorder system that uses high definition cameras and comprehensive data logging that can be reviewed in the desktop app to get the most out of your track days.

The Really Good Things

Cadillac gave the CT4-V Blackwing reasonably tame looks, particularly up front. While it’s twin-turbocharged, there aren’t massive–and hideous–grilles to cope with the Blackwing’s additional cooling needs. The CT4’s profile looks good, without being too busy with fake sweeping lines. Even with 18-inch wheels fitted, the fender gap is perfect too.

Respect to Cadillac for only charging $600 to add massaging and ventilating front seats, although you have to upgrade the seating surfaces through another package to allow this feature. The design of quilted stitching, perforations, and contrasting piping is super cool, and the carbon structures and alcantara backing with the V logo add extra style points. If you wear dark wash jeans, you definitely need to opt for darker leather.

Cadillac now incorporates a fully digital instrument cluster that’s customizable not only in how the data is displayed, but how simplistic the pod can be. I liked being able to toggle off all the tire pressure, fuel economy, and temps to only see the tachometer and speed to minimize distractions. Track mode really kicks things up, making a wide digital rev counter stretch across the top of the screen while the gear and speed are centrally placed.

Less Than Favorable Aspects

The CT4-V Blackwing is a stylish sedan, but doesn’t look as clean and impressionable as its CT5 sibling. The angles are a bit busy, and the back end is too sharp for my liking. While some drivers want the extra carbon fiber goodies slapped around its exterior to give it a shouty “I’m a fast sedan” appearance, I’d ditch them to not only roll around in a sleeper, but to also save several thousand dollars. The carbon fiber lip splitter was also begging to be cracked any time I parked the CT4-V Blackwing, as the parking sensors didn’t seem to be calibrated for the extra few inches of expensive material.

Steering wheel controls employ actual buttons, which offer a nice click, but the audio adjustments are far from intuitive. The scrolling wheel should control the volume, and instead plays with modes on the display. The buttons on each side of that control switch through menus, rather than skipping tracks or presets. Really strange. Another odd detail that bothered me was the positioning of the indicator stalk on the steering column, which was placed too far forward. I had to physically move my left hand ahead and out of an optimal grip position to hit the blinker, and that stalk was considerably further away than the one on the right side that controlled the wipers.

As I mentioned when I tested the CT5-V Blackwing, there’s no distinguishing detail on the exterior of the CT4 model to let you know this is the fastest model Cadillac offers. After tossing the V Series’ brand equity out the window when introducing the Blackwing, the company should have made some sort of model designation on this brilliant sedan’s body. The only indication of a Blackwing model is hidden along the seat bolster’s piping, and could easily be overlooked.

An Exceptional Sport Sedan, But It’s Too Limited

When I reviewed the Cadillac CT5-V Blackwing, I thought it was an astoundingly good performance sedan for under $100,000, making it considerably less expensive than its German super saloon rivals. My one concern with it was that its 668 horsepower needed a wide open road or track to be fully enjoyed. With the CT4-V Blackwing, Cadillac has packaged together wonderfully useable performance, fantastic handling, and a price point that makes it more attractive. The Cadillac CT4-V Blackwing possesses an engine that isn’t too powerful for its chassis, delicately balancing on looking underpowered on paper, but providing a complete driving experience that I crave more of.

Cadillac has some engineers I’d like to shake the hands of, because the CT4-V Blackwing is one of my favorite new cars I’ve driven in the past few years. The only car I’d want more is the now-unavailable BMW M2 CS, which cost around $90,000. In my ideal spec, this Blackwing would be closer to $68,000, which is seriously good value. When comparing the CT4 to the BMW M3, Audi RS5, and AMG C63, it may not be as nice inside (which might be its only disadvantage), but it’ll be more fun to use as a canyon slaying daily driver while pocketing a ton of cash. I just wish Cadillac opted to produce more than 139 of them, because there are thousands of enthusiasts who should end up owning one, and taking a big bite out of the M3’s market share.

The Ford Explorer Is The Forgotten Reasonable SUV

Not flashy nor powerful, but who says a simple SUV can’t be good for many families?

Since 1991, Ford has sold its Explorer SUV to families with modest budgets, and holds the title of the best selling SUV in America. Back when it was launched, the Ford Explorer was set to replace the Bronco II, and was built on a Ford Ranger light truck platform. As new generations launched, including 2-door and pickup variants decades ago, Ford has dedicated a new chassis platform for the Explorer, now slotting into its lineup between the Edge crossover and Expedition full-size SUV. While it has been around since George HW Bush was in the White House, its popularity hasn’t been as solid in the past couple of generations, as the marketplace for SUVs has gone wild with options.

Now in its sixth generation, the Ford Explorer sticks to its roots of providing good value and reasonable pricing in its three-row SUV package. Ford still gets to pad its balance sheet by providing plenty of law enforcement officers with its Police Interceptor models, now based on the current Explorer, rather than the Crown Victoria and Taurus in years past. For those families who want a practical and affordable midsized SUV, does the Explorer still get the job done?

The Useful Specs

The sixth generation Ford Explorer now boasts a plethora of trim levels of three-row midsized SUV to please nearly any family, whether the demands involve basic appointments, sporty looks, off-road capability, or somewhat nicer treatments inside. In a segment that includes the Chevrolet Traverse (with the GMC Acadia built on the same platform), Hyundai Palisade (and its Kia Telluride sibling), Mazda CX-9, Toyota Highlander, and Honda Pilot, the Explorer has plenty of competitors to deal with.

Ford provides three engine options for the Explorer, starting with a 2.3-liter EcoBoost 4-cylinder that produces 300 horsepower and 310 lb-ft of torque, a 3.0-liter EcoBoost V6 with 400 horsepower and 415 lb-ft of torque, and a hybrid variant that is fitted with a naturally-aspirated 3.3-liter V6 which puts out 318 horsepower and 322 lb-ft of torque. All new Explorers are delivered with a 10-speed automatic transmission and rear-wheel-drive, with intelligent four-wheel-drive as an available option.

The Explorer XLT I tested is the starting point for the seven trim levels Ford offers, with a base price of $37,075. At the top of the food chain is the King Ranch model, which starts at $53,995. The XLT tester was equipped with the 2.3-liter engine, and added all-wheel-drive, the XLT sport appearance package (with 20-inch wheels wrapped in self-sealing all-season tires), Co-Pilot 360 Assist+ Adaptive Cruise Control, a cargo management system in the back, and Infinite Blue Metallic paint to hit a total MSRP of $45,305.

A Practical Family Hauler

Because it’s now built on a crossover platform, the Ford Explorer is a composed daily driver, compared to its early generations that were more truck-like. Tipping the scales at around 4,300 pounds, the Explorer isn’t exactly light, but the base 2.3-liter engine doesn’t struggle to get the SUV moving, thanks to its wide powerband that I also appreciated in the Ford Ranger models I’ve tested over the past couple years. Drivers who crave more power will desire the ST or higher trim levels, with a seriously potent V6 that I enjoyed in the Lincoln Aviator I reviewed recently.

The 10-speed automatic shifts smoothly, and the four-wheel-drive system feels nicely sorted during any city driving. Ride quality is surprisingly refined, even without an adaptive suspension. Not boring, but not exciting, the Explorer XLT’s response in the corners is perfectly fine for a midsized SUV. Want a little tighter suspension and better handling? The ST is the way to go. Michelin Primacy all-season tires are competent enough for the task as a family SUV, and are remarkably quiet too. EPA fuel economy estimates are 20/27/23 (city/highway/combined), and I achieved 22 during my week-long test that was more focused on city driving.

There’s a full slate of drive modes easily selected with a knob mounted near the space-saving rotary gearshift, and while there isn’t an individual mode, there are a couple off-road options in addition to hill descent control for times when you take your Explorer… exploring. If your weekend and vacation excursions involve a boat or small camper, you’ll be happy to know the Explorer can tow up to 5,300 pounds when equipped with the 4-cylinder, and can bump up to 5,600 pounds if one opts for the EcoBoost V6.

Once inside the Explorer, the cabin is a no-fuss setup. Everything is intuitively designed, and touch points are placed throughout the cockpit. Ford’s Sync 3 infotainment system is installed in a reasonably-sized touchscreen, with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto ready to supplement your user experience. The instrument cluster has a big tachometer and speedometer, flanking a multifunction digital display that shows extra data points while allowing the driver to configure additional settings. Ford also supplies USB-A and USB-C ports in the concealable storage pocket ahead of the shifter and cupholders.

Thanks to a 198-inch overall length and 119-inch wheelbase, the Explorer’s cabin is quite spacious. Shoulder, hip, and headroom are considerable for the front two rows, and the six-seat configuration made for quick access to the third row. Third row legroom is a decent 32 inches, so adults could make quick drives stuck back there, but the seat is mounted low to the floor, so adult knees will be bent tightly. Ideally kids are going to be the third row occupants, and they’ll be fine. Cargo space is more than sufficient in the back of the Ford Explorer, and increases significantly with the third row seats folded flat.

The Good Points

Ford gave the Explorer a positive facelift for the sixth generation, making the fascia more sleek, adjusting the shape of the taillights, and giving the front a wider look. Putting some thought into rear seat access, Ford installed a rugged step to the outside of each middle row seat, adding stability while making the transition to the third row easier for those of us who have struggled to hop into that space.

The Explorer benefits from tons of places to store items of any size, which is nice for big families. If there’s a space in the dash or console, Ford found a way to make it useful. Kids can stuff their belongings all over the Explorer’s cabin, with plenty of spots to have McDonald’s fries hide and stink up the interior. The rear cargo area has the usual sort of hidden compartment with an optional storage organizer, and I like the additional side pockets designed into the floor for medium sized items like battery cables or a first aid kit.

A Couple Deductions

The Ford Explorer isn’t an eye-catching package, commonly overlooked by buyers who want a more interesting SUV. While its exterior lines are tidy, the Explorer isn’t particularly interesting. Even in its upper trim levels, I don’t love its looks, and in this crowded class of SUVs, there are more attractive competitors. I chuckled when I realized the name “Explorer” is printed on the exterior five times, with a placement along the lower body cladding of each front door, inside each headlight housing, and in the center of the tailgate. Just in case anyone wondered what this SUV was.

That simple theme is continued inside, with some somewhat basic themes and materials used throughout the cabin. Even after being updated in the past two years, the switchgear and panels aren’t wonderful. The seats could use a bit more lateral support too. If you care about nicer materials, particularly on the seating surfaces, upgrade to a Platinum or King Ranch Explorer.

A Basic SUV Isn’t A Bad One

The Ford Explorer might be somewhat simple, but it’s a humble SUV that fits the needs of many American families. It can be as nice or as basic as they desire, and has adjusted to meet demands of SUV drivers. Toting the kids to school and soccer practice doesn’t have to be done with style and luxury features, and the average family can appreciate an SUV designed with them in mind.

The segment might be filled with nicer models or cooler names, but the Ford Explorer gets the job done. It’s practical, has a price that meets modest budgets, is decently built, and offers good enough reliability from a name people trust. It’s hard to knock Ford for continuing to offer the humble Explorer for over 30 years, and I imagine it will continue to sell reasonably well for years to come.