Porsche And Pixar Announce The Return Of Sally Carrera At South By Southwest

Celebrating the 20th anniversary of Sally Carrera from the animated film Cars, her original designers are reviving the model with the newest Porsche 911 generation.

Photo: Kurt Bradley

Fresh off its recent announcement of a three-year cooperation agreement with South by Southwest® (SXSW®)–the annual festival of tech and culture which brings tens of thousands of attendees to Austin, Texas each year–Porsche announced a new project working alongside Pixar. Marking the 20th anniversary of the 2002 Porsche 911 on which Sally Carrera is based, Cars Production Designer, Bob Pauley, and Creative Director, Jay Ward presented the story of how Sally first came to life, in a conversation led by Porsche Cars North America Spokesperson Jade Logan. On display during this event was the actual running model of Sally Carrera, meticulously restored by the Porsche Museum in Stuttgart, following her longtime hibernation after being a touring celebrity during the years of three Cars films being released.

The discussion with Logan, Pauley, and Ward took attendees along the path from the idea of a character in Cars to be the love interest of the film’s star, Lightning McQueen. Telling the tale of Sally Carrera, the presenters described the character that is based on a 2002 Porsche 911 Carrera. Sally is from California, and grew tired of life in the fast lane. She made a new start in the small town of Radiator Springs, and is the town’s attorney on a mission to help get Radiator Springs “back on the map.” She strived, always, to make a difference – to help.

A unique insight into the creative process of sketching, modeling, and rendering an animated character showed how the California-based Pixar Animation Studios team paired with Porsche to bring a road-going icon to the animated film world. From arrival of the 996, the Pixar team painstakingly captured photos of the 911 to then understand key features of the sportscar, but to adapt the design into a character with expressions and a personality. Over several months, designers and engineers took part in dissecting the Porsche 911 and rebuilding it to resemble the on-screen character Sally Carrera. The body was cut in half, overall length shortened by seven inches, A pillar raised, and the fascia remodeled to give Sally a mouth. To pair with the Southern California landscape and sunset colors, Sally is painted a unique shade of blue, which helps her character stand out next to her co-star Lightning McQueen (a bright red race car).

Photo: Pixar
Photo: Kurt Bradley

Accelerating a special charitable project intended to benefit the well-being and education of children, Porsche and Pixar have been investing months into developing a new version of the character Sally Carrera from the animated film Cars which will be auctioned for charity with RM Sotheby’s. Porsche followed up the announcement the following morning, stating that proceeds from the auction will support life-changing programs for girls and young women through Girls Inc. as well as the USA for UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, to provide aid to children and their families affected by the conflict in Ukraine.

For the 2022 Sally Carrera model, a team from Pixar Animation Studios led by Pauley and Ward will work alongside Style Porsche in Weissach and Porsche Exclusive Manufaktur in Stuttgart to commemorate this milestone. Different from the initial Sally Carrera, the 992 version will be a street-legal model that the new owner will be able to enjoy along their favorite stretch of twisty road. The designers showed concept sketches and idea drafts around what this new 992-based Sally should be like, and what new features she had to possess. There was also the hint of the new model being featured on the big screen.

To accompany the new 992 variant of Sally Carrera, Porsche Design will be creating a one-off timepiece to accompany the 911 when it’s auctioned. Expect the chronograph to incorporate plenty of Porsche Design’s stunning features, but the team indicated that this unique watch will intertwine Sally Carrera details and many bespoke parts to craft a truly special piece to accompany this remarkable sportscar.

Image: Pixar
Image: Pixar
Image: Porsche

Hosted in downtown Austin, Porsche described the motto of the venue as “A Creator’s Mind” that demonstrates the secret sketch pad of its design department. Outside the venue, Porsche had its 911 Vision Safari on display. Once you step inside the space, you instantly feel small, as Porsche filled the room with massive scale versions of items you’d expect to find around a Porsche designer’s desk. While this studio was a cool interactive experience, Porsche also presented the “Porsche Unseen” studies which include a handful of Porsche concept cars few people have seen in person.

Placed throughout the room, Porsche put its Vision Gran Turismo concept car in its most prominent spot, which gamers will recognize as the model featured in the Sony Playstation game Gran Turismo 7. Also on display are the Porsche Vision Spyder, Vision Turismo, and 904 Living Legend. Attendees of this year’s South by Southwest festival will be able to take in all the stunning concepts while exchanging ideas with designers and engineers from the brand and with team members from Porsche Digital from March 11-20, 2022. For those who can’t make it, enjoy a sampling of the cars I was able to capture.

Photo: Kurt Bradley
Photo: Kurt Bradley
Photo: Kurt Bradley
Photo: Kurt Bradley
Photo: Kurt Bradley
Photo: Kurt Bradley
Photo: Kurt Bradley
Photo: Kurt Bradley
Photo: Kurt Bradley
Photo: Kurt Bradley
Photo: Kurt Bradley
Photo: Kurt Bradley
Photo: Kurt Bradley
Photo: Kurt Bradley
Photo: Kurt Bradley
Image: Pixar
Image: Pixar

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.

This 2022 BMW M240i Is A Purple Pocket Rocket

An updated sports coupe gets plenty of improvements.

Proper M models from BMW are legit contenders in their respective classes, and to capitalize on this, the Munich marque was smart to slap a lighter version of that celebrated letter on several of its models. When the 2 Series got this treatment nearly a decade ago, the M235i was instantly hot. A bargain version of the iconic brand, offering some stellar performance for your enthusiast dollar. Sure, having more numbers after the M meant it wasn’t quite the hot model in the lineup, but BMW hit a sweet spot.

For 2022, the 2 Series coupe got an upgrade in both sheetmetal and powertrain, but the styling is going a different direction than its truly polarizing 3 and 4 Series siblings, while still testing the patience of BMW loyalists with its looks. Thankfully the exterior lines aren’t too edgy, and the numbers on paper catch the eye, but is this new 2 Series a true sportscar player at a price that’s easier to stomach?

The Important Figures

Under the 2022 BMW M240i’s hood is the B58, a twin-scroll turbocharged 3.0-liter inline-six–also found in the BMW M340i sedan–which cranks out a healthy 382 horsepower and 369 lb-ft of torque. A ZF 8-speed automatic is the only transmission (clutch your pearls, manual fans), and BMW’s xDrive all-wheel-drive is the default driveline too. With this powertrain, the M240i will sprint from 0-60 MPH in just 4.1 seconds, on its way to a 130 MPH top speed on all-season run flat tires (or 155 when fitted with optional summer performance tires).

BMW adjusted the 2 Series coupe’s dimensions for 2022, now sporting a 62.2-inch front and 62.8-inch rear track, which is nearly identical to the faster M2. A 2-inch longer wheelbase now measures 107.9 inches, and the weight distribution is 53.1/46.9 front to rear. The entry level 230i coupe is standard with rear-wheel-drive, and this quicker M240i comes with BMW’s xDrive setup that spins all four wheels. Due to possessing all-wheel-drive, the M240i conceals a bit more weight than the proper M2, tipping the scales at 3,871 pounds.

Because of its compact coupe size, the power it packs, and the price point, the 2022 BMW M240i has a mixed group of competitors. Cross shoppers could consider a Toyota Supra, Porsche 718 Cayman, or Audi S3, depending on which of those categories tickles their fancy most effectively. At a base price of $48,560, the BMW M240i catches plenty of enthusiasts’ attention. After ticking a few options boxes, and adding a stunning shade of Thundernight Metallic paint, this tester hit a total MSRP of $56,845.

A Compliant Cruiser

BMW is nailing the civility challenges some sports cars can’t overcome. The M240i is a fantastic daily driver, benefitting from the adaptive dampers from the last generation 2 Series’ M2 CS–that I called the best driver’s car BMW has ever produced–that provide a sublime city driving experience. Surprisingly, the M240i doesn’t feel as heavy as it truly is, and the adaptive suspension is the primary reason. There’s good responsiveness from the M240i’s suspension, but the tech softens any chassis harshness one would expect from a sporty coupe.

Electric assistance makes the M240i’s steering feel light yet sharp in its comfort and eco modes, and only gets properly heavy when put into the individual or sport modes. Now boasting all-wheel-drive, the BMW M240i offers greater confidence when the weather is less than favorable. In standard trim, the M240i comes with a square setup of 19-inch wheels wrapped in 225/40/19 all-season rubber, but this tester was fitted with M Sport 19-inch wheels with meatier 245/35/19 front and 255/35/19 rear Pirelli P Zero summer tires for added grip.

The turbocharged engine concealed beneath the M240i’s sculpted hood is a gem, offering plenty of smooth torque that helps it scoot past slower commuters effortlessly. While there’s sufficient power ready to consume lots of premium unleaded, BMW does have an eco drive mode to tame the throttle response and mapping, making the EPA fuel economy estimates of 23/32/26 more attainable. I like that each of the eco, comfort, and sport drive modes in the M240i can have individual configurations, giving the driver greater flexibility for dialing in the perfect setup for any driving mood. My errand running setup was in the eco pro mode, but I made the steering tighten up, and kept the suspension in comfort.

Once you slip into the driver’s seat, the M240i’s cockpit looks identical to that in the bigger brother BMW 4 Series, down to the thick-rimmed multifunction steering wheel. Even the console for the shifter, drive modes, and iDrive puck look like they were plucked from the upper segment BMW model. Similar to the 4 Series is the M240i’s infotainment and climate control cluster, which neatly includes easy to use controls.

A tasteful update over last year’s 2 Series, the materials in the 2022 BMW M240i definitely aren’t entry level, giving it an advantage over its rivals. For an extra $150, BMW gave this M240i cool aluminum tetragon trim too. Seats are big and plush, with good headroom and shoulder width up front. Legroom in the back seat isn’t great, but this is a compact coupe, so as long as your adult friends aren’t stuck back there for anything longer than a quick run to get a bite to eat they’ll live. Trunk space is plentiful in the M240i too, and if you need even more storage, the rear seats fold flat.

BMW’s adaptive cruise control is great, which I tested thoroughly on a couple Austin-area toll roads, but it’s part of the $1,450 driver assistance package that also includes extra parking assistance, a drive recorder, and a 3D surround view on the infotainment display. Wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard in the M240i’s infotainment system, with a wireless mobile charging pad installed in the compartment which also conceals the cupholders. I suggest spending an extra $875 to upgrade to the Harman Kardon audio system, which sounds fantastic.

A Proper Back Road Plaything

It may not be a full-fat BMW M model, but don’t sleep on the M240i. Possessing under 400 horsepower doesn’t make big headlines in the sports car world, but don’t scoff at the M240i’s 382 peak horsepower output. The straight-six is pleasantly punchy, offering its peak 369 lb-ft of torque across a massive plateau from 1,800 – 5,000 RPM, allowing this purple machine to scream with ease. Could this enthusiast driver be happier with more power? Sure, but frankly the M240i’s power is more than sufficient. Exhaust notes from the M240i aren’t the most striking, but this M-lite model is supposed to be more composed than its proper M siblings, even if it’s apparent there are fake engine sounds being pumped through the speakers.

BMW’s choice to fit all-wheel-drive may have added weight over the front axle, but that is a compromise I’ll happily make because the upgrade certainly improves front-end stability when tossing the M240i into fast sweepers. If you’re really pissed about BMW having all-wheel-drive, you’ll be happy to know that the M240i will have a rear-wheel-drive option later this year. I expected a bit more understeer with all-wheel-drive, versus rear-drive 2 Series models I’ve tested in the past, but the M240i still likes to slide its ass-end, thanks to a bit of rear-wheel bias. The standard M Sport rear differential effectively manages slip angle too, making it exit any corner smoothly even if you’re heavy on the throttle.

My sport individual setup put the engine and transmission in sport plus, steering in sport (because sport plus just seemed a little too heavy and sensitive), but like every other grumpy 40-something reviewer I stuck the dampers in comfort. Unless you’re on the smoothest track, keep the suspension in its soft mode, particularly as the adaptive suspension will perfectly compensate for any bumps while providing the perfect amount of firmness faster than your synapses fire.

BMW says this new M240i has more negative camber than the last generation, helping the Pirelli contact patch stick where it’s supposed to in the corners. I still don’t love the P Zero, and will continue to crave the Michelin Pilot Sport 4S as the all-around rubber champ until something better comes along, but the Pirellis held up quite well when I gave the M240i a good thrashing session along a twisty road just outside of Austin. The bright blue calipers clamping on steel rotors didn’t get too hot during fun sessions either, and the pedal feedback was bang-on.

The M240i’s revised front end sports new kidney grilles–which thankfully aren’t massive like the M3 and M4–that incorporate air flap control to reduce drag when the engine is running at optimal temperatures while sliding open when additional cooling is required. Out back, the M240i gets a neatly integrated rear lip spoiler. While crafting a new body design, BMW claims it reduced the M240i’s lift by 50% thanks to optimized aerodynamics.

The Pros And Cons

Thank you, BMW, for offering the M240i with this wildly cool paint as the launch color. Thundernight Metallic isn’t just a cool name, but the deep purple shade has a great amount of metallic flake mixed in to create a stunning look when any dose of sunlight hits it. Reshaping the new M240i was an overdue task, and this finished product has mixed results. Overall, the look is good, and the more pronounced fender flares give this compact sports coupe a more muscular stance, but BMW didn’t get the fascia right. The new kidney grilles are cool and functional, but I don’t understand why the angled side vents are so big and sharp. Then there’s the tail end. Much like the front, the lines seem too edgy, and slightly cheapen the look of this upmarket sports car.

Details around the M240i have some positives. I like the new adaptive LED headlight housings, which have circular lighting projectors within the sharper housings. The texture worked into the daytime running light element is futuristic too. Gray metallic caps are used over the side view mirrors, offering a hint more contrast to this compact BMW’s body, and the shadow line trim around the bumpers and grilles is a nice feature. The M240i’s seats are comfortable to spend hours in, and subtle in appearance, as opposed to the ones fitted to the M3 and M4. I also like the blue contrasting stitching that completes a sporty look.

There are a couple points deducted in the cockpit. I am not a fan of the gauge cluster. It is now a fully digital display that can be customized, but the needles for the tachometer and speedometer are tiny, and the numbers all blend together too easily. Nothing about them truly stands out to make a needle nor number clearly visible. Drive modes have individual buttons, so you have to take your eyes off the road to make sure you’re pressing the correct one. I wish there was a knob for this function, like there are in other German sports cars.

The climate control system doesn’t have a sync button on the dash, so if you want to align all the ventilation, you have to tap the A/C menu button and make a couple extra adjustments on the infotainment screen. Buttons are also less than intuitive on the steering wheel, with the roller used to change menus on the gauge pod, rather than adjusting volume. Instead that’s done with the + / – buttons. Those last two items are small complaints though.

A Great Little Sports Coupe

BMW gave the M240i a great stack of updates for 2022. Its power is plentiful, the steering is precise, and the handling is fantastic. The new M240i’s exterior appearance may not be as tidy as its predecessor’s, but the refreshed body is more stylish without being as polarizing as the M3 or M4. The M240i may not offer flashy stats like its bigger M siblings, but there’s more than enough performance to satisfy this enthusiast. I won’t deny that I look forward to reviewing the next iteration of the M2 and its faster variants, but this lesser M model still ticks plenty of boxes.

When I evaluate the M240i’s capabilities, its compact packaging, and its sub-$60,000 price, I compare it to BMW’s E46 M3. Still one of my favorite performance cars from the early 2000s, it offered stellar performance at the right price, with proportions that nailed it for me. When viewed in that light, the M240i is a modern interpretation of that iconic analog driving gem, ready to put a massive grin on your face as you conquer a twisty road, and I think that makes it a big hit.

The 2022 Honda Civic Si Keeps It Real

The updated bargain sport sedan still hits its marks.

Since the 1980s, Honda has cranked out the ideal fun car for those with more modest budgets, in the form of the Civic Si. When it first arrived, the Civic Si was a compact hatchback with a slight bump in performance over its normal offerings, focused on the driver who wanted a little more enjoyment from their weekday commute and weekend drives. Having previously owned three earlier generations of the Civic Si personally, I was easily the target demographic that loved what Honda produced in the segment.

When I tested the 2020 variant of the Si just over a year ago, I thought it was the best way to spend $26,000 on a new car. It may have had some edgy styling cues that would please the youths more than the responsible adult, but Honda sold tons of them. Now in its eleventh generation, the Honda Civic has moved upmarket inside and out. With fresh exterior lines that resemble those of the Civic’s Accord big brother, the 2022 model tidies up its appearance with a more mature look, but underneath it still possesses the goodies the fun driver wants. To see if the new Civic Si was still holding up its reputation, I gave it a fun test around the streets of Austin, Texas.

The Key Specs

For 2022, Honda built an all-new Civic, and when I drove the top-end Touring trim last fall, I thought it was a great new edition of the best-selling compact sedan. Carrying over the majority of the powertrain from the 2020 Si, this new one has a retuned version of the 1.5-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder that 200 horsepower at 6,000 RPM. In revising the Si’s engine mapping, the 2022 model’s torque curve is wider, with its peak 192 lb-ft of torque available 300 RPM sooner, and staying steady from 1,800 – 5,000 RPM. Unlike its early versions, the 2022 Honda Civic Si is not the high-revving VTEC screamer of those B-Series years, now having a redline of just 6,500 RPM.

A 6-speed manual is the only transmission in the 2022 Civic Si, hooked up to a lightweight single-mass flywheel and helical limited-slip differential to drive the front wheels. In spite of having a more flexible power band, the 2022 Si accelerates from a standstill slightly slower than the car it replaces. Now hitting 0-60 MPH in 7.1 seconds, and tripping the lights at the end of a 1/4-mile run in 15.3 seconds, the 2022 Si isn’t going to leap off the page, but Honda isn’t focused on winning drag races with this new Civic.

Competing with the VW Jetta, Subaru WRX, and Hyundai Elantra N, this new Si has some strong rivals in the bargain fun sedan segment. As one would expect from an all-new model that takes on a bunch of upgrades, the 2022 Honda Civic Si price is up around $2,000 versus the 2020 model. Thankfully Honda makes pricing simple, with one factory option being stickier summer tires over the standard all-season performance rubber. The 2022 Si’s base price is $27,300, and the HPT (high performance tire) option adds just $200. This tester added Blazing Orange Pearl paint, for another $395, to hit a total MSRP of $28,910 after destination.

A Daily Driving Sleeper

Act surprised, a Honda Civic Si is great to drive as a city car. The turbocharged engine is punchy enough to make your errand runs run, without exhibiting the erratic energy of a heavily caffeinated terrier. Jumping onto a freeway is definitely enjoyable, with enough power to effortlessly scoot past slower moving traffic. Opt for a shade a paint more subtle than this orange example, and you’ll easily sneak up on fellow motorists who underestimate the fun this Si packs.

Because its powerplant doesn’t have to rev to the stratosphere to make its power, as opposed to earlier Si models, the 2022 Honda Civic Si offers good flexibility across its rev range without the need to downshift if you’re under 4,000 RPMs. Keep the Si in the normal drive mode, and the throttle response is composed and light, making it easier to achieve the EPA fuel economy estimates of 27/37/31 (city/highway/combined) MPGs. I was a bit more playful during my week-long test in the Civic Si, and only averaged 27 MPGs.

Though its suspension includes plenty of upgrades to improve its performance on more fun stretches of pavement, Honda didn’t make the Civic Si too firm when completing more typical errand runs and commutes to the office. Gone are the adaptive dampers I appreciated in the last generation Si, and I suspect this was to reduce costs. I was shocked Honda included them in a car that was under $30,000, and hoped they’d stick around in this all-new Si, as they worked nicely to calm bumpy city streets while offering more confidence when playing behind the wheel of the Si. With a hint of electric assist, the Civic Si has light yet precise steering feel, and the leather-wrapped wheel fits neatly into my hands.

The 2022 Honda Civic Si receives the same cabin upgrades as the standard models, getting hardware that a new Accord driver would recognize. The new infotainment touchscreen measures 9 inches across, and the updated instrument cluster features a new 7-inch LCD setup with customizable gauges. Wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard equipment pumping through a new 12-speaker Bose audio system, which Honda claims is the best system ever featured in a Civic Si. Sticking with USB-A ports, Honda provides a pair of them just ahead of the shifter, where there’s a good cubby to toss your phone, keys, and any other small items.

Practicality is still at the high Honda standard, with plenty of storage space (and big bottle holders) in the doors, center armrest, and in the trunk. Properly functional cupholders are placed between the seats, with good depth to keep a massive fountain drink cup stable. Legroom and headroom are great for back seat passengers, thanks to Honda adding 1.4 inches to the Civic Si’s wheelbase, now a class-leading 107.7 inches. There isn’t much in the way of lateral support for the back seat, so don’t get too wild when running to lunch with a couple coworkers in the Si.

Those who care about safety will be happy to know that Honda still makes its Honda Sensing® suite of driver-assistive and safety technology standard, and added traffic sign recognition and a driver attention monitor to the 2022 Si. A couple under-appreciated features are Honda’s adaptive cruise control that smoothly maintains speed without that rubber band sensation, and the lane keeping assistance system that continually centers the Civic without that ping pong effect between the stripes.

Keeping Up A Sporty Reputation

Days of the wrapping up the tach to get any fun out of a VTEC engine are gone, and the 2022 Honda Civic Si allows the driver to enjoy some punch at nearly any RPM. Sure, this 1.5-liter engine loses some revs, but Honda figured out that the enthusiast will appreciate some available torque that doesn’t resemble the low-end output of a weed eater. Honda also says it revised the engine’s power to not taper off as the tachometer needle surges past its peak output, while also sharpening throttle response. The result is a good little motor that still likes to rev, but provides some good pull when you want it to take off at lower RPMs.

Like most sporty cars, Honda gives the 2022 Civic Si a drive mode selection for normal, sport, and individual modes, although the individual one doesn’t have many variables to toy with. Thankfully there is good separation between the sport and normal modes, giving this updated Si noticeably different moods. It won’t blow the doors off many cars at a red light, but that doesn’t matter to me. The power band in the Si is smooth, and the engine is a joy to set free. Tight gear ratios provide a little extra punch without falling out of the boost too easily, and the exchange of each through the new shifter is nothing short of exceptional.

When I drove the Civic Type-R Limited Edition last summer, I thought it had the best shifting this side of a Porsche 911 GT3, and the Civic Si exhibits very similar directness and a positive click, with 10% shorter throws than the 2020 Si. The leather-wrapped aluminum knob is not only cool looking, but fits my hand perfectly. Clutch engagement is simple and clearly established, and I praise Honda for sticking to its roots by only offering a stick in the Civic Si. The 2022 Si now has rev-match control to keep the RPMs in the sweet spot, while make you look cooler when downshifting with a friend in the passenger seat. Speaking of seats, the front buckets in the Civic Si keep you planted when flogging this quicker Civic.

The new Si’s suspension sports stiffer springs (8% stiffer in front and 54% stiffer in the rear), firmer dampers, and its anti-roll bars are thicker (27 mm hollow front and 18 mm solid rear) than a standard Civic, translating to fantastic sensations on twisty roads. Borrowing the front and rear compliance bushings, upper arms and lower B-arms from the Civic Type-R, the Si is ridiculously composed in the bends. I just wish Honda didn’t get rid of the fantastic two-mode adaptive dampers the last generation benefitted from. Steering feel is improved using a 60-percent stiffer torsion bar connecting the steering shaft to the steering rack pinion gear. Thanks to an extra half inch of rear track and a 1.4-inch longer wheelbase than the 2020 model, the 2022 Civic Si allows the driver to toss it around with greater agility. Lateral grip is surprisingly high in the 2022 Si, shrugging off the understeer you’d expect from a front-wheel-drive compact car. Attribute much of that stability to the limited-slip diff, and Honda’s tinkering with the steering system that greatly improves feedback in the bends.

I appreciate Honda offering sportier tires as a factory option on the Civic Si, but I’m not a big fan of the Goodyear Eagle F1 rubber that’s wrapped around the cool black 10-spoke wheels. While they’re more than confident in the corners, with a square 235/40R18 setup, the noise level is a bit high. I love the Michelin Pilot Sport 4S over damn near any tire, but understand that every OEM isn’t going to equip them. Maybe Bridgestone’s 5001 would be a good alternative, like I’ve tested on a few affordable fun cars. An upgrade over previous generations of the Si, this 2022 model gets bigger brakes than the standard Civic models, now with 12.3-inch front rotors (up 1.2 inches), and 11.1-inch rear rotors (0.9 inch larger). If your weekend plans include track or autocross duty, you’ll want to upgrade the pads and fluid, as a longer stint of tossing the Si got the brakes to exhibit a bit of fade.

Rather than being a bit over-the-top like its Type-R sibling, the Civic Si receives more subtle styling. Honda wants people to recognize the Si as a fun variant, and I appreciate that its packaging is more tame. Simple badges adorn the decklid and front grille, and a reasonable black rear lip spoiler is fixed to the trunk. Even the exhaust pipes are more civil on the 2022 Civic Si, using a small tip on each side of the rear bumper, a departure from the big central trapezoidal outlet that was fitted to the 2020 model. The note resonating from the exhaust isn’t exactly gnarly, but at least the turbocharged Si isn’t totally muted in an era of OEMs being concerned about melting glaciers.

Some Pros And Cons

Revising the Civic Si’s looks was a smart move by Honda. The 2022 Si can attract slightly more mature buyers who still want a fun yet practically priced car. Gone are the aggressive and downright pointless exterior angles, replaced by smoothly flowing contours from nose to tail. The Civic Si’s cockpit is neatly upgraded too, getting a smaller version of the good steering wheel from the Accord, which utilizes physical switches and buttons for the audio and cruise control system. Deviated red stitching completes a sporty effect too. Honda is now offering a cabin that’s as nice as the one in the VW Jetta, and is definitely better sorted than its Subaru and Hyundai rivals.

The Si’s front seats are woven with sporty red cloth centers, get black Alcantara outer sections, and are pulled together with red stitching. Not as flashy as the seats in the Civic Type-R, the 2022 Si’s are slightly calmer. This theme carries over to the door cards, competing a tastefully fun interior. My one gripe with them is that Honda got rid of the heated function to the front seats, which was a standard feature in the previous generation Si.

In its effort to move upmarket, the Civic gets a few treatments from its Accord big brother, including a similar instrument cluster. I’m not in love with this gauge pod, as it’s a bit too spartan. The last Si had a more prominent speed display in the center, and the overall look of the cluster was more sporty. Now it’s kind of plain. With a huge amount of cargo space in the trunk, the Civic Si can haul a ton of your stuff, with added capacity when folding the rear seats 50/50. I just wish there was a bit more versatility and compartments in there, to better stash smaller items away.

A honeycomb design element is featured in the quick Civic’s front grille, and there’s a hint of that look used in the cabin’s vents. While they’re cool at first glance, what’s lacking in the Civic Si is dual-zone climate control, which was standard in the last generation, and is only available in more nicely-appointed Civic trim levels. As someone with a frequent passenger who’s often colder than me, that’s a big feature to delete, Honda. At least the control knobs for the climate control system have a nicely textured finish and a positive detent.

Still The Affordable Fun Car You Want

Honda has continually upgraded the Civic Si with each new generation, but it maintains its identity. It’s a blast to drive, offering enough power for a car of its size, boasting plenty of grip in the corners, and has one of the best manual shifting experiences available. At the same time, the Civic Si is still the practical sedan you expect from Honda.

I can’t help but offer a tiny gripe that Honda has taken away a few creature comforts while bumping up the price a couple grand. In the past generations, the Civic Si was a steal in its class, offering a load of standard equipment and performance for less cash than its competitors. While sneaking in at just under $30,000, which is on-par with its rivals, Honda still delivers a great value play with the Civic Si, and it’s definitely the fun compact sedan I’d opt for.

THE MERCEDES-BENZ S580 RAISES THE EXECUTIVE SEDAN BAR AGAIN

Boasting supreme luxury and cool styling, this loaded flagship sedan leads the field.

When Mercedes-Benz launches a new S-Class, the industry takes note. Always the pinnacle of the German marque’s capabilities, the S-Class brings new tech, features, and styling cues to the lineup, and makes the competition step up its game. Recognized as the sedan that hauls bank executives, dignitaries, and celebrities alike, this Mercedes-Benz icon has serious expectations to conquer.

Competing with the BMW 7 Series, Audi A8, and Maserati Quattroporte, the S-Class will always have rivals at its heels. In its newest form, Mercedes has unveiled its executive sedan to suit the driver as much as the driven occupant. Having reviewed a variety of ultimate luxury sedans including the Rolls-Royce Ghost and Bentley Flying Spur, I wanted to see how a slightly more attainable luxury sedan got along, so I gave it a comprehensive test.

THE KEY SPECIFICATIONS

Mercedes-Benz offers the new S-Class with two different engine options. In the S500, a turbocharged 3.0-liter straight-six (shared with the AMG GT 53 I reviewed) makes its way under the hood, coupled with Mercedes’ EQ Boost 48V mild-hybrid system, producing 429 horsepower and 384 lb-ft of torque. In S580 guise, Mercedes provides its exceptional 4.0-liter biturbo V8, also equips its EQ Boost system, which bumps the output to 496 horsepower and 516 lb-ft of torque. The S580 is driven by a 9-speed automatic that powers all four wheels, and the sprint from 0-60 MPH takes only 4.4 seconds.

At 208 inches long, 77 wide, and 59 tall, the S-Class has a 65-inch front and 66-inch wide rear track, and a wheelbase measuring 126 inches. In its ultimately appointed–and more expensive–Maybach offering, Mercedes extends the wheelbase and overall length seven inches, providing the rear cabin occupants a massive space to be driven in. Thanks to extensive use of aluminum in its construction, this luxobarge tips the scales at just 4,775 pounds.

Mercedes offers the S580 in three distinct trim levels, with the Luxury Line being its standard model, at a base price of $117,700. The upper trim is the Executive Line model, which adds seating and entertainment upgrades to the rear cabin, focused on the driven occupant. The model I tested is the AMG Line, in the middle of the lineup, adding sportier details inside and out, with a base price of $122,000.

Painted Obsidian Black, treated with Sienna Brown and Black Exclusive Nappa leather, and trimmed with Slate high-gloss poplar wood trim, my tester added 22-inch AMG wheels with performance tires, rear-axle steering, the Burmester 4D high-end audio system, warmth and comfort package, night package, and 3D technology package to hit a total MSRP of $142,090.

THE BEST WAY TO COMMUTE TO THE OFFICE

As expected from a car of this caliber, the all-new Mercedes S580 is wonderful to spend time cruising in. While the standard inline-six in the S500 is a good powerplant, the biturbo V8 stuffed into the S580 is the one you want. With its peak 516 lb-ft of torque available from 2,000 – 4,000 RPM, there’s no hesitation when you want the S-Class to surge ahead, complimented by the smoothest torque-ll provided by Mercedes’ EQ Boost mild-hybrid system. Unfortunately Mercedes no longer has a 12-cylinder option in the S-Class, like is standard in the Rolls-Royce Ghost I enjoyed, and is optional in the Bentley Flying Spur and BMW 7 Series.

The S-Class glides over the bumpiest city streets, thanks to its adaptive AIRMATIC suspension that prevents any disruptions inside this massive chassis. Despite being a huge executive sedan, the S580 is remarkably nimble, and the rear-axle steering is a great option box to tick for added agility. Pirelli P zero rubber is wrapped around the 22-inch wheels in the AMG Line, which denitely help it cope in the bends. I took this S-Class along twisty roads on multiple occasions, and was more than pleased with how confidently it carved corners.

The dynamic drive modes offer eco, comfort, sport, and sport plus defaults, and my favorite individual setup involved putting the engine in comfort, the suspension in sport, and the steering in sport too. I liked a hint firmer response–but not too stiff–from the adaptive dampers, as the comfort mode was more floaty than I prefer. Demand even more cornering prowess? Drop $6,500 on the E-Active Body Control that employs a stereo camera system that works in harmony with the 48V electronics in the suspension to minimize body roll, pitch, and dive characteristics under any driving condition. Even if that drive is only made between one’s massive house and the office or country club.

The new S-Class is treated to a cabin that’s upholding the new Mercedes look that perfectly balances cool and luxurious. The S580’s seats are supremely good, with loads of support in the right spots, and heating, ventilation, and massage modes that will spoil you along any drive. The pillows attached to the headrests are a nice touch too. I suggest taking a long road trip to truly exploit the comfort provided in this flagship Mercedes.

The Burmester 3D surround audio system (a $6,730 option) is among the best I’ve heard in any car, even versus the Naim for Bentley system in the Flying Spur and the Bespoke Audio in the Rolls-Royce Ghost I reviewed, detailed with cool metallic speaker grilles (featuring tweeters that unscrew outward when the system is on). If the speakers aren’t potent enough, Mercedes supplies laminated glass that’s heat and noise-insulating, and IR-reflecting, to make sure you aren’t affected by any outside elements.

BEING DRIVEN IN COOL LUXURY

While driving the new Mercedes S580 is great, spending time in the back seat is fantastic. Even without opting for the Maybach model that boasts an extra seven inches of wheelbase that benefits the rear cabin, the legroom rear passengers will enjoy in the S-Class is massive. The optional warmth and comfort package adds rapid heating, cool ventilation, and power adjustments to the rear seats, while also giving the front passengers added heating in the center and door armrests.

If you’re the person being driven more often than driving, spend the extra cash for the Executive Line S580 that enhances the seating setup with massaging modes, a footrest on the right side, four-zone climate control, and upgrades to the MBUX infotainment system to allow for easier controls while utilizing a tablet that docks in the cooler center armrest that also conceals a wireless charging pad.

THE EXCEPTIONAL DETAILS

While the Mercedes-Benz S580’s exterior may project that it’s an understated executive sedan, but there are countless details that make it cool. The sculpted panels carry subtle styling lines that flow smoothly around its body, cleanly connecting the headlights to the taillights. The classic grille contains the cruise control radar components, and there’s still the iconic Mercedes-Benz hood ornament installed.

Under its fine sheetmetal, Mercedes-Benz has gone wild appointing its interior with some of the coolest tech you’ll spot inside any car currently on sale. An additional $3,000 will upgrade the cockpit with an augmented reality heads-up display and a 3D instrument cluster. The 64-color ambient light modes can be adjusted as desired, but I went for the cool Miami Sunset theme that cycles through retro pastel shades.

While cool speakers, ambient lights, and space age materials aren’t new to luxury cars, Mercedes has a party trick few can match, tucked into its infotainment’s settings: “Energizing Comfort” modes. Whether the S580’s occupants are in need of a boost of energy, want to calm themselves after a long day, or have just taken a dose of their favorite psychedelics (please don’t do this and drive), the S-Class will set up a mind-blowing experience.

Depending on the mode selected, an adaptive color theme is introduced through the ambient lights, the seat and armrest heaters crank up if it’s a warming theme or the seat ventilation fans activate, a unique massage mode begins, and the Burmester audio system flexes its prowess as instrumentals blast through all its numerous speakers. It’s an immersive experience like nothing else, and I strongly recommend making friends with a new S-Class owner, wandering to an open space at night, and firing up one of these modes.

THE POSITIVE POINTS

As more luxury manufacturers are making bold styling changes, Mercedes insists on keeping the S-Class refined. Every panel has the tiniest gap that is perfectly measured around the entire body. Soft-close doors silently operate, yet still have a solidly-weighted feel. Door handles are similar to those found on a Tesla Model S, but with smooth and silent extending and concealment when entering or exiting the S-Class.

I expected the new S-Class to be extremely well-assembled inside, but this S580 is exquisite. A blend of big high-resolution displays for the instrument cluster and MBUX infotainment system, fine quilted leather, and cool metal trim that compliments large wood panels complete a cabin I adore. Follow any stitching, wood, or metal trim line, and you’ll never spot a deviation or imperfection. Considering the S580 costs half the price of the Bentley Flying Spur and a third of the cost of a Rolls-Royce Ghost, the interior detailing of the S-Class is on-par with them both.

A FEW TINY COMPLAINTS

Where the complete outer proportions of the Mercedes S-Class are great, the front grille is a little large when presented between the smaller headlamp housings. I get that Mercedes wanted the front-end to be striking, but the main grille element needs to shrink about 20 percent. This is about as much of a complaint as I can find around the S580’s body, as it still looks ridiculously good.

Continuing the trend throughout its updated cabin designs, Mercedes has incorporated more capacitive touch controls for the seat adjustments, and I would prefer some physical movement that’s given more of a positive click when making each of the many seat sections move. The same gripe extends to the steering wheel setup that I didn’t love in the Mercedes E350 I drove not long ago. With physical controls being eliminated, Mercedes makes you take your eyes off the road to adjust the climate control or volume of your favorite music. At least the volume slider adjusts intuitively when you slide your finger either direction.

“THE BEST OR NOTHING” EPITOMIZED

More than a catchy tagline, the principle of “The Best or Nothing” is effectively applied to the new Mercedes S-Class. As is the case each time Mercedes-Benz releases a new S-Class, the luxury flagship benchmark has been reset with this newest edition. Best of luck to the S-Class’ rivals, in an attempt to compete with what is the best offering in its class by far. The S580 demonstrates the finest engineering and craftsmanship Mercedes can produce.

Met with timeless looks outside, the S580’s cabin is treated to wonderfully modern styling touches and a cool factor like no other flagship sedan. Pair a refined chassis with a mild-hybrid powertrain that creates a truly smooth surge, and the Mercedes-Benz S580 is as joyful behind the wheel as it is from the back seat. There’s nothing like a Mercedes-Benz S-Class, and I think it is absolutely the executive sedan to buy.

Ford Bronco Badlands: Off-Road Badassery Defined

Wanna be a baller, shot caller, 33-inch meats on this rock crawler.

After several months in the wild, the all-new Ford Bronco has received plenty of praise from owners and motoring journalists alike. A properly sorted truck platform that can go damn near anywhere while being civil on the street, the Bronco got high marks from me, when I reviewed its more city-friendly Outer Banks trim level last summer. I made sure to give the new Ford Bronco a solid examination during that test, putting plenty of city miles in addition to loads of off-road hours on the truck.

By no means was the Outer Banks model a slouch in the rocky terrain of a favorite off-road park, but that setup is more focused on being the mall crawler that occasionally gets dirty. I wanted to see how the more hardcore Bronco performed where it mattered, so I rang up the people at Ford, and they sent the Badlands model my way for some proper analysis.

The Good Stats

The Bronco has two engine options no matter how many doors you prefer, with a base 2.3-liter turbocharged four cylinder and the manual transmission, and a 2.7-liter twin-turbo V6 as an upgrade. The bigger engine provides 330 horsepower and 415 lb-ft of torque if you ll the tank with premium unleaded, and offers 315 horses and 415 lb-ft if you opt for regular unleaded. While the V6 option is stout, the EcoBoost 4-banger is a bit more tame, offering a decent 300 horsepower and 325 lb-ft of torque when using 91 octane, and 275 horsepower and 315 lb-ft when using 87.

Ford oers the new Bronco in two- and four-door bodies, including soft or hard top options, with a full slate of trim levels to hit the sweet spot for any driver. Selectable four-wheel-drive comes standard on the Ford Bronco, with your choice between a 10-speed automatic or 7-speed manual (with a crawl gear) available in the four-cylinder model, and the V6 has the 10-speed auto as its only transmission (which was the setup in the Outer Banks model I reviewed earlier in the year). This two-door Badlands model was equipped with the smaller 2.3-liter engine, hooked up to the 7-speed manual.

The 2-door Ford Bronco has a base price of $29,995, with 4-door models starting at $34,695, with the 2.3-liter EcoBoost 4-cylinder as the standard engine. Add a couple thousand to the sticker price if you want the V6. In rugged Badlands trim, this Antimatter Blue tester didn’t add the seriously hardcore Sasquatch off-road package, but opted for the 3,500-pound towing package while adding an accessory cargo protector, keyless access keypad, roof rack and cross rails above the removable hardtop, and partial leather and vinyl black seats to hit a total MSRP of $52,060. That figure is nearly identical to the more powerful and more nicely equipped four-door Outer Banks model I reviewed this summer, and is level with the starting price of the luxurious and capable Land Rover Defender 90 I had last month.

Reasonably Civil In The City

The Ford Bronco won’t try to disguise the fact that it’s a proper truck underneath its attractive rugged body, but it’s surprisingly comfortable for cruising around town. The standard four-cylinder engine has punchy low-end torque, met with some close-ratio gears in the manual transmission, but the power isn’t fantastic if you’re covering more freeway than city miles. Not as composed as the ride provided by the Land Rover Defender 90’s air suspension, the traditional shocks and independent front suspension in the Bronco provides a remarkably compliant ride when dealing with bumpy concrete streets in the city.

Even with 33-inch BFGoodrich All-Terrain T/A K02 rubber fitted to its 17-inch wheels, the Bronco Badlands doesn’t dish out a beating during your commute or on errand runs. If you’re rarely traveling off the safety of pavement, you may want to opt for an Outer Banks model that gets more city-friendly Bridgestone Dueler tires. Turning corners in the Bronco is simple, thanks to a steering and suspension setup that manages dynamics much better than I expect in something so ready to be a blast off-road.

Considering it’s more focused on being rugged and cool, Ford gives the Bronco a moderately-appointed interior, that delicately balances cost-saving materials with a design that provides decent cabin comfort and cool looks. The Badlands model’s partial leather and vinyl seats aren’t as nice as the Outer Banks trim I enjoyed this summer, but they aren’t too spartan. Heated front seats and steering wheel are a nice touch when it’s chilly outside. If you want to get a seriously refined and trimmed cockpit in your off-roader, you’ll have to spend a bit more to upgrade to a Land Rover Defender.

Thankfully Ford carries over the switchgear and center controls you’ll recognize from the full-size F-150 pickup, which also utilizes the new Sync 4 infotainment system in a big 12-inch touchscreen that has wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto installed. I appreciate the rubber-coated buttons throughout the interior, which keep dirt and sand from getting trapped under the controls when you take the Bronco off-road.

The Confident Explorer

Bringing the Bronco back to the market was a big risk for Ford, knowing it had to provide enthusiasts with an exceptional off-road machine. Thankfully the Bronco Badlands is fantastic when you leave the comfort of paved roads in search of less stable terrain. Cool branding makes Ford’s G.O.A.T (Goes Over Any Type of Terrain) Modes exciting on paper, but the setups make guring out how to dial in the Bronco foolproof. Each mode will correctly pick whether the Bronco needs to be in two- or four-wheel-drive, locks the dierentials accordingly, enables the hill descent control, and allows the right amount of slip if you’re playing on sand, rocks, or mud. Equip the Bronco with the 2.7-liter V6 and its automatic transmission, and Ford also provides one-pedal driving (which I enjoyed using when I tested the Bronco Outer Banks).

Buy a First Edition or Badlands trim level, and the Bronco comes standard with front and rear locking dierentials that are optional on all trim levels. Ford’s advanced 4×4 system is standard on all but the base model Bronco, coupled with a 3.06:1 low ratio, allowing easier engagement of the 2-way transfer case that gives more competent grip when the surface isn’t so grippy. In Badlands trim, the 7-speed manual flexes a 94.75:1 crawl ratio in addition to a proper crawl gear below 1st gear, and the 10-speed automatic still has a healthy 67.80:1 crawl ratio. The Badlands equipment also includes steel bash plates under the front and rear of the Bronco, keeping its vital parts safe from rocks you encounter on the trails. Trail turn assist is a cool feature that works with the locking diff to make tighter turns a breeze.

A Dana AdvanTEK M190 independent front suspension is standard up front with a Dana 44TM AdvanTEK M220 solid differential out back. The front suspension also includes twin forged A-arms with long-travel coil-over springs with HOSS-tuned heavy-duty dampers, and the rear suspension has a 220 mm solid rear axle with long-travel, variable rate coilovers with HOSS-tuned heavy-duty dampers. The Bronco Badlands also gets upgraded with a detachable front sway bar, allowing for even greater articulation in demanding conditions. Opt for the Sasquatch package, and Ford will upgrade the durable suspension with Bilstein position-sensitive dampers with end-stop control valves.

Approach, breakover, and departure angles are 35.5º, 21.1º, and 29.8º respectively, which bump up significantly if the Bronco is optioned with the Sasquatch package’s 35-inch bead lock capable wheels and tires. All Broncos sport a 33.5-inch fording depth, in case you need to cross a bit of water, and boast 8.4 inches of ground clearance in standard trim, which bumps up to 11.6 inches with the 35-inch rubber tted. All of these figures are marginally less than the Land Rover Defender 90 I took off-road offers. The gures and equipment sheet might be impressive, but I had to nd out just how much more capable the Bronco Badlands was o-road compared to its nicer Bronco Outer Banks sibling and the legendary Land Rover Defender 90.

To keep the playing field level, I took the Bronco Badlands to Hidden Falls Adventure Park, which is located about an hour northwest of Austin. In this environment, I found out where the extra off-road kit in the Badlands setup went to work. Covering the same stack of trails I did previously, the Badlands kicked ass with ease. Around most of the paths covered, I simply picked the Baja G.O.A.T. Mode, which selected the 4H drivetrain, turned on the front camera that converts the infotainment screen into a massive front view, and tapped the button atop the dash to disconnect the front sway bar. If speeds exceed 20 MPH, the Bronco will automatically reconnect the front sway bar, but will unhook it again once you’re back down to slower speeds. This feature came in extra helpful when I was driving faster on smoother trails between more demanding stretches when having that extra flex allowed came in handy.

The Bronco Badlands’ upgraded suspension, more aggressive tires, and tighter gears made crawling rocks ridiculously simple. The crawl gear is awesome, but it’s not as if using the normal 1st or 2nd gears won’t provide enough confidence when ascending up somewhat demanding rocky hills. While driving a stick is cool in many conditions, I actually prefer having the automatic take away one complication when my average-at-best off-roading skillset is put to the test. The extra power and torque from the Bronco’s optional V6 is a welcome upgrade too. Even with the lesser engine and manual gearbox selected, the Bronco Badlands kicked ass all over these rocky Texas Hill Country trails. Not once did I come across a situation where the Bronco couldn’t dominate the rocks, and I gave it some seriously challenging off-road action. An amateur off-road driver will be astounded by how the Bronco makes having a blast so simple.

“And when Alexander saw the breadth of his domain, he wept, for there were no more worlds to conquer.”

Some Notable Highlights

Ford nailed the styling of the new Bronco, and the two-door body is my choice. The rugged look is perfectly proportioned, and the rear occupants and cargo volume aren’t terribly compromised by only getting two doors. The rear passengers may gripe about getting in and out of the Bronco’s back seats, but if you aren’t often taking friends or kids along for a ride, ditch the four-door Bronco. I also like how the new Bronco has a modern take on a classic look, better executing that idea than Land Rover did with the new Defender (which also looks quite good).

To give outdoorsy types more functionality, Ford was smart to set up the Bronco’s exterior with plenty of hookups. The top of the front fenders have useful hooks that not only function as tie-downs, but double as indications for the corners of the Bronco’s body when you’re wandering off-road. To capitalize on the massive aftermarket supply of off-road parts, Ford has hundreds of factory and dealer-installed accessory options at your disposal, and was smart to set up tons of pre-drilled mounting points that all use one of two or three fasteners all over the Bronco. Even the interior has pre-amped accessory switches above the rearview mirror, so that you don’t have to damage the interior when adding more lights and features outside the Bronco. Those who want to record their adventures will appreciate the GoPro mount and extra charging ports atop the dash.

Ride quality on the street is the biggest advantage the Bronco holds over the Jeep Wrangler, and it’s obvious Ford took its time engineering this new off-roader to address nearly any gripe a Jeep driver has. An independent suspension up front pairs nicely with a modern rack-and-pinion steering system, and it pains me that Jeep refuses to spend the money to engineer and install these in the Wrangler. I don’t want to hear a single Jeep driver talk about off-road capabilities over an independent setup, as the Bronco had zero issues attacking demanding trails alongside modded Jeeps during my tests. Ford also gives the Bronco frameless doors that allow drivers to quickly detach and store the doors on-board, rather than ditching them on the trails. Side mirrors are mounted to the cowl, rather than the doors, so that Bronco owners can see clearly all along the sides when storming off-road.

A Few Point Deductions

Cool, tough looks have some trade-offs. Because of the boxy shape, the Bronco is an aerodynamic challenge, sacricing fuel economy and cabin composure. At just 21 MPGs, the 2.3-liter Bronco could be more economical, and the wind noise from the hardtop and roof rack is intrusive at speeds over 60 MPH. A new roof design is being rolled out, but a bit more interior insulation would do the Bronco some favors too.

The cargo area does employ a split tailgate feature, but you have to open the lower door half completely to allow the trim edge of the glass top to lift up. I wish Ford allowed the glass to open independently from the door part, for easier loading of smaller items. I like that Ford allows the driver to toggle between several views and data layouts in the instrument cluster, depending on what sort of driving conditions you’re exposing the Bronco to, but I wish it was bigger with better resolution.

The Best On- And Off-Road Experience For Your Money

Ford rolled out one seriously good o-road machine with the new Bronco, and did so while addressing all sorts of demands the o-road driver has in addition to making it respectable to drive on the street. With a nice enough interior, the Bronco can serve nicely as a daily driver, but if you’re not wandering along the trails more than a couple times per year, opt for the nicer setup in the Bronco Outer Banks trim level. If the fit and finish isn’t enough to satisfy a luxury off-road driver, a few grand more will put a nicely equipped Land Rover Defender in your driveway.

I think the Badlands two-door hardtop model with the 2.7-liter V6 and the 10-speed automatic is the perfect setup, thanks to hardware that improves off-road capabilities without sacricing too much as a city car. Those who want even more terrain-conquering features will likely spend about $5,000 more to opt for the Sasquatch package. Thankfully Ford has a handful of trim levels to choose from, and there’s a perfect Bronco for nearly any budget and driver. Even if you’re a total newbie, make sure to take the Bronco on off-road adventures often, rather than wasting all the of its potential.

Evaluating The Land Rover Defender 90 As It Was Designed To Be

No mall crawler, this 2-door Defender gets a proper off-road test.

Decades of adventures around the globe give the Land Rover Defender credentials few vehicles can match. During its more recent history, Land Rover has become a brand synonymous with well-heeled drivers who want a luxury vehicle in the city that can occasionally lug things around on the farm, but there are still plenty of people who know what it’s capable of. When this new Defender was released, Land Rover set out to bring back that popular off-road status back into focus while still delivering a composed city cruiser.

When I gave the new Defender 110 an initial test earlier this year, I was limited to gathering my impressions in the city without going off-road, as a winter disaster hit Texas during my time with it. This massive storm covered the Lone Star State in unprecedented amounts ice and snow, took out Texas’ flawed power grid, and after over a week with millions of people without power or running water, energy companies continued to achieve record prots rather than investing in equipment and winterization improvements, and government officials either remained silent–or tucked their tails and skipped town to seek warmer conditions–as hundreds of people lost their lives while freezing inside their own homes.

To keep the roads clear, and allow emergency workers to serve their communities, I scrapped my plans of taking the Defender 110 to a favorite off-road park to evaluate its capabilities. As I step off my soapbox, I’ll state that I was fortunate to remain safe throughout the winter disaster, though I did lose power and water for several days. Since then, Land Rover released the two-door Defender 90, and offered me a chance to pick up where I left off.

The Useful Specs

Land Rover ships the Defender as either two- and four-door models, named the 90 and 110, respectively. In the previous generation, those numbers indicated the inches of wheelbase for the Defender. Though the proportions have grown for the new Defender– with the 90 now sporting a 101.9-inch wheelbase and overall length of 184 inches, and the 110 boasting a 119-inch wheelbase and 197-inch overall length–Land Rover opted to maintain its previous naming conventions.

Base trims of the Defender can be equipped with a 2.0-liter turbocharged four, producing 296 horsepower. Just like the Defender 110 I reviewed earlier this year, the two-door 90 model shown here–known as the P400 option–is powered by a 3.0-liter turbocharged inline-six, supplemented by a mild hybrid pack, making 395 horsepower and 406 lb-ft (550 Nm) of torque. Mated to an 8-speed automatic transmission, the Defender is driven by all-wheel-drive and a 2-speed transfer box intended for your off-road excursions.

Starting price for the Land Rover Defender 90 in its S and SE trim levels actually start a hint higher than its 110 sibling, with a bit more standard equipment, at $52,300. Other trim levels include X, X-Dynamic, and a 518-horsepower V8 selection that loads up the features list while hitting a sticker price just over $100,000. The Pangea Green First Edition model–which packages together plenty of popular options into a middle of the road trim level–I tested has an MSRP of $64,100, and after adding a tow hitch receiver, off-road tires, and the destination charge, the total price as tested hit $66,475.

THE URBAN ADVENTURE VEHICLE

Despite its large proportions and a commanding presence, the Land Rover Defender 90 is remarkably composed as a city driver. Both Defender models I’ve driven have been equipped with the optional–and truly sublime–adaptive air suspension which easily masks the 5,000-pound curb weight as this Land Rover glides through the concrete jungle with only the slightest bit of body roll.

Contrary to my initial concerns for a massive SUV equipped with Goodyear’s All-Terrain Adventure rubber that’s more suited to unpaved surfaces, the Defender 90’s electric- assisted power steering was precise and offered the ideal amount of steady feedback, while needing little elbow grease to maneuver. It may resemble the utilitarian look and target demographic of the Mercedes G-Class–which I gave good marks during a recent review–but the Defender exhibits far better on-road manners at a significantly lower price.

The mild-hybrid powertrain is eortlessly smooth, delivering a subtle shove when you apply the Defender’s throttle. The P400 powertrain is great, even if a 0-60 MPH sprint in 7.6 seconds isn’t impressive, but the Defender has a sucient amount of power and torque according to this enthusiast driver. There are plenty of people who will spend more money to opt for the new V8 Defender if they don’t think the P400 is quick enough.

Moderate use of the go pedal will make it easier for the Land Rover Defender to hit its EPA estimated 17/22/19 MPGs. While the cabin is exceptionally quiet, I still appreciate hearing the slightest rumble from the Defender’s straight-six. The two-door Land Rover’s 8-speed automatic changes gears at an imperceptible level, rounding out a rened driving experience.

Interior treatments in the Defender 90 are a nice ensemble of functional and stylish materials. There are ways to increase your level of luxury, but I like the mixed materials in this First Edition trim that’s exactly like the cockpit in the Defender 110 I previously reviewed. The Defender’s interior is denitely nicer than the upgraded trim you can get inside the Ford Bronco I evaluated this summer, which is still good for its class. Heated memory front seats are standard, and seat ventilation is available in upper trim levels. With the folding fabric roof fitted, rather than the panoramic glass sunroof, I liked driving the Defender with its cabin totally exposed to the sun and sounds of the city.

Land Rover claims the Defender 90 can seat 6 if you opt for the front jump seat–as my tester had–having three occupants up front and out back, but a tiny child would be the only person to sit in the middle of either row. The Defender 90 is a cool package with good proportions in its two-door form, but most drivers will benefit from having easier entry to the back seats while utilizing added cargo space found in the four-door Defender 110. Even though the boot space isn’t great in the Defender 90, the rear seat folds down 40/20/40 when more storage is needed.

Tech equipment is plentiful in the Defender, with a big and customizable instrument cluster, a 10-inch infotainment screen featuring JLR’s PIVI Pro infotainment UI that’s supplemented by Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and featuring sounds that pump through a 400-watt Meridian audio system. The Defender also has plenty of USB-A and USB-C outlets spread throughout its interior, for all your devices. Because rearward visibility is compromised by the optional spare tire mounted to the tailgate, Land Rover supplies a digital screen feature in its rearview mirror, which works in harmony with a high-resolution camera mounted atop the Defender. It does take a bit of getting used to, since it’s not a true representation of the distance between you and the car behind you, but it does a good job.

TOUGH YET USEFUL DETAILS

Maintaining a classic Defender appearance while incorporating a new Land Rover design language, the shape of the Defender 90 is cool yet refined. The fascia is impactful yet upmarket, and the fenders are ever so slightly around the meaty tires to give a muscular impression. Atop the hood are rubbery trim panels that allow you to make the spot a workspace without the worry of your stuff slipping off. The tailgate is still a flat surface, and there’s a cool nod to the old Defender’s taillight design that now uses LED strips around the edges with updated lighting components to add a modern finish.

Seating surfaces have a combination of durable leather and textile to offer a hint of luxury while being easy to clean whether you’re wiping up your kid’s breakfast or mud you splattered on the trails. Floors are rubberized for quick cleanups, and all-weather mats have deep walls to help keep any mud, sand, or water from sneaking under the Defender’s seats.

The dash and top of the interior door panels are treated with a rubberized material that looks like a blend of Alcantara and leather, which has a soft touch. Neatly incorporated into the dash panel are a set of pockets and shelves, perfect for stashing smaller items when you’re out exploring. I also like the exposed fasteners in the door panel, showing the trim fitted to the exterior color-painted metal.

DOMINATING ANY TERRAIN

Proving its worth in the great unpaved domain, the Land Rover Defender 90 and I headed to Hidden Falls Adventure Park, about an hour’s drive from the bustle of downtown Austin, Texas. Having evaluated the Ford Bronco along these trails this summer, I wanted to see how a more luxurious and slightly better equipped Defender 90 got along. In this environment, the Defender exhibited its off-road prowess in demanding conditions.

With a quick tap of a button next to the climate control system, the Defender temporarily converts the passenger side temperature knob into a dial to engage its terrain response modes, and opens up its 4×4 settings on the infotainment screen. Offering several dedicated terrain modes (including rock crawl, grass/gravel/snow, mud / ruts, and sand) in addition to allowing a custom conguration, Land Rover makes it simple to dial in the Defender to conquer any surface.

There are also quick buttons to engage the hill descent control and lock the differentials as you see fit. Once you’re in any of the off-road drive modes, the infotainment screen will activate its cameras, offering a wide angle front view, in addition to this view with side views provided by cameras mounted under the side mirrors. I found that trio of displays vital when working the Defender along some trickier paths that were lined with rocks and brush.

While exploring a good variety of terrains at this off-road park, I was able to quickly swap between Land Rover’s modes and test them all. I would also set the ride height to its tallest setting, to avoid damaging any of the Defender 90’s undercarriage. Over moderate rocky stuff, I could simply keep the Defender in its comfort mode with the suspension raised, and this SUV wouldn’t stress at all. As the incline increased, and texture got more dramatic, the 20-inch Goodyear All-Terrain Adventure tires easily grasped the surface, and steadily worked the Defender onward.

When crawling over rocks, the Defender 90 (fitted with its air suspension) has 38º approach and 40º departure angles, and thanks to its shorter overall length and wheelbase versus its big brother Defender 110, the breakover angle bumps up from 28º to 31º. Overhangs are 38 inches up front and 45 inches in the back. Ground clearance is 8.9 inches with the coil springs, and increases to 11.5 inches in the most aggressive off-road setting when equipped with the air suspension. The Defender 90’s maximum angles for ascent, descent, and traverse are all 45º. Should you approach a stream, you’ll have no issues wading through water up to 34 inches deep, and the infotainment screen lets you see just how much wet stuff you’re working through.

I gave the Defender 90 an extensive test alongside a few friends in other off-road customized vehicles, and this Land Rover stood above them all, while impressing a few other park patrons in wildly kitted-out Jeeps who initially scoffed at this class of vehicle invading their turf. I’m an amateur off-road driver at best, and in no way did I feel uncomfortable pushing the Defender along technical trails that blended variations of mud, rocks, sand, and some massive water puddles because it was so capable and easy to drive. Purists may say that the hardware and tech Land Rover offers takes away from the experience, but I’d rather reduce my stress along a rocky path and be able to fully enjoy the trek.

THE ULTIMATE SUV MORE PEOPLE SHOULD PROPERLY EXERCISE

After giving this Land Rover two-door setup a complex test both in the city and along some rocky trails, I still feel that the Defender is the best off-road SUV you can buy, with abilities on the trails that easily match up with the Ford Bronco I loved, but with higher levels of renement in the cabin and on any streets you cruise along. It may cost more than the Bronco, depending on which trim level and options you desire, but the Land Rover Defender has a price point to satisfy many buyers’ demands and budgets.

Realizing that the vast majority of Land Rover buyers will only use them on the street, and barely explore the highest off-road competencies, that won’t stop me from telling you how exceptional the Defender is when you wander away from your comfortable city life. If you decide to make the Land Rover Defender your daily driver, I beg you to make sure to exploit its off-road capabilities–and tackle new adventures–as often as possible. You’ll be glad you did.