Car Review Time!

I usually don’t do posts reviewing cars (at least I haven’t in a while), but I recently test-drove a 2017 Kia Soul. My sister enlisted my help in finding a good car for her, and like any good car-loving brother, I obliged. Somehow, there were no strings attached. We made a stop at the local Kia dealer, and looked at a few Souls. Next up was a test drive. Here are my thoughts on the 2017 Soul:

It’s a great little car. Decent power for it’s size and class. Yeah, I might want a bit more power when passing at higher speeds, or when it’s loaded down with people and gear, but that’s what the new turbocharged version is for! That being said, for everyday driving, it’s perfectly adequate. I’ll talk more about the driving dynamics in a bit.

Now onto how it looks. They’re certainly not for everybody, but I think it looks cool. It’s very roomy inside because of the styling, and the tail lights are cool. Yeah, the front end could look better, but that’s just me. Other people like it. Because of its boxier styling, it’s got great visibility. The windshield is big, and when you’re backing up, you’ve got great visibility. Because it’s a compact car with a very good turning radius, it’s great for big cities where space is at a premium. In white, it looks like an enlarged stormtrooper helmet.

This is the Soul "+" (Plus) model shown.
This is the Soul “+” (Plus) model shown.

The salesman was telling us that his first client was a big, tattooed, Harley-Davidson-riding guy, who really wanted a white Kia Soul because it “looked like a stormtrooper helmet.” It turned out that he was tired of nearly getting hit by cars all the time, so he decided to get a car and keep the Harley for nicer weather.

Yes, those are all of the available colors for the 2017 Soul!
Yes, those are all of the available colors for the 2017 Soul!

Inside the Soul, you’ll find a nice interior. By no means is it a Mercedes-Benz interior, but for what you pay for, it’s great. If you’re tall and find yourself in the backseat, don’t worry! I’m 6 feet tall, and had plenty of room behind the driver’s seat set to my liking! I could easily share the backseat with 2 other people. It’s also very quiet, thanks to Kia’s use of expansion foam in the body cavities. There’s a convenient USB charging port on the front console. There are also available fast-charging ports located inside and on the back of the center console. The overhead LED reading lamps work well. It also has fully automatic climate control.

Pretty swanky for a compact hatchback, don't you think?
Pretty swanky for a compact hatchback, don’t you think?

If you want a backup camera, you’ll get a bigger screen than the cars without  one. Spring for the navigation system and you’ll have a much larger screen (8 inches). You’ll also a 3-month SiriusXM All Access trial subscription, which gives you access to over 160 channels. The available UVO infotainment system (Kia’s intuitive infotainment system) has some neat features that are integrated onto your smartphone: it can keep track of where you parked your Soul, download Kia recommended apps through their App Download Center, monitor your driving habits and provide suggestions on how to improve fuel economy, etc., access 911 Connect or Enhanced Roadside Assistance, and check any maintenance requirements through Vehicle Diagnostics, all on the touch screen. What sweetens the UVO pot is the fact that there are no suscription fees for the first 10 years of access to the UVO system! It’s also Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatible!

It’s also got a suite of safety features, some available and some standard. You can get a rearview camera, a forward collision warning system, a lane departure warning system, and one of the more appreciated features is the blind-spot detection with rear cross-traffic alert. It’s especially helpful when you have to back out into traffic.

This is a picture of the backseat of a Soul EV, but it's the same thing for all essential purposes.
This is a picture of the backseat of a Soul EV, but it’s the same thing for all essential purposes.

Now, onto how it drives. As I said previously, it drives well for something in it’s class. It won’t keep up with a Porsche 911 by any means, but you can have some fun with it, too. You can also change drive modes on the fly with the Drive Mode Select System, which has a button conveniently located on the perfectly sized steering wheel. There’s an Eco mode, which works well in heavier traffic, and a Sport Mode, which is great for merging onto a freeway, or just having some fun. Yeah, the engine gets buzzy at higher rpms, but it’s not a high performance engine. The transmission is smooth; maybe even a bit too smooth for me. It does what you ask of it, but it won’t ever be as quick as a dual-clutch transmission. There’s even a nice EV model that is supposed to drive even better (I didn’t drive it, so I can’t say).

Kia offers industry-leading warranties. You get a 10-year/100,000 mile powertrain warranty, a 5-year/60,000 mile basic warranty, a 5-year/100,000 mile anti-perforation warranty, and a 5-year/60,000 mile 24-hour roadside assistance warranty.

Here’s my takeaway:

Now, would I recommend it? Absolutely, no questions asked. I would even consider buying one for myself. Plus, they’re inexpensive, very reliable, safe, and pretty darn fun cars. Yeah, they would be pretty impractical for somebody who has kids in booster seats, but you could absolutely make it work. They have a lot of space, are safe, and last forever. Oh, and they look neat, especially in white. Kia has some pretty wild colors, which some people like (makes it easier for cops to spot them!).

Buy a New Acura NSX, Get a Custom Film!

Hey everyone! Sorry that it took me such a long time to put this post up, but school was especially stressful this semester. I’m glad that the semester is over, and that I’ll have more time to give the blog more attention. Look forward to more posts in 2017!

I have to admit, the 2017 Acura NSX is quite the looker!
I have to admit, the 2017 Acura NSX is quite the looker!
The interior isn't bad, either.
The interior isn’t bad, either.

Did you know that Jay Leno’s 2017 Acura NSX is #0003? I’m sure you knew that already, right? Why am I talking about this? Well, you and I both know that Jay Leno has one of the most amazing car collections in the world. What makes his NSX really cool is you can watch it’s creation in Acura’s new campaign video called “NSX Originals.”

If and when you drop at least $157,800 on a 2017 Acura NSX, you’ll receive a personalized digital film that matches the exact specifications and serial number of your NSX! Seriously, how cool is that? Pretty damn cool in my book. Oh, and if that wasn’t enough for you, Acura will give you a customized 1:18 scale model that is identical to your NSX! Now, how cool is THAT?

You can immerse yourself in some amazing films of the twin-turbo, V6, hybrid NSX on the microsite (http://www.nsxoriginals.com/acura/en/). You can also watch the build of Jay Leno’s pretty slick NSX at: https://youtu.be/2KzAeU67SXw

According to a release from Jon Ikeda, Acura’s VP and General Manager, “The Acura NSX is a bespoke supercar inspired by an original concept and this campaign speaks directly to that heritage.”

What’s in these films? You can see some behind-the-scenes action of the NSX being built at Acura’s state-of-the-art Marysville, Ohio plant, which highlights the seven key manufacturing periods of the NSX. You might be wondering what those are. Let me tell you. They include: precision robotic welding, space frame construction, a zirconium bath, paint robotics, the three-motor sport hybrid power unit, custom hand assembly, and the rolling dynamometer.

I bet that there won’t be a dry eye in the house when you show your car friends the birthing video of your car!

Also, it’s best to keep that custom scale model out of reach of the kids (or grandkids) – I’m sure that they would LOVE to play with it! Hide it or risk an almost certain, “sorry, I just broke it.” I’m going to go out on a limb and say that the adults are going to want to take the full-size NSX for a spin. But hey, it’s your supercar after all!

Here’s my two cents on the 2017 NSX: After years of teasing us with various concepts, prototypes, and general speculation, the NSX has made a return. The original Honda/Acura NSX was the car that sent Ferrari, Lamborghini, and just about everybody who made supercars scrambling to the drawing board.

The 2017 Acura NSX is what Acura wants you to think of as a “usable supercar.” It’s jam-packed with the hottest technology out there. It’s definitely state-of-the-art, but according to just about everybody who’s reviewed it, that’s not what it is. It’s certainly fast, good-looking, and everything else you want a supercar to be, but a supercar is not designed nor intended to be a car that you can drive every day. While I certainly understand Acura’s point of view, Acura should have followed the original NSX’s footsteps. The 2017 NSX isn’t going to send anybody scrambling to the drawing board. Sticking to the tried-and-true supercar formula brings money in.

I think that the 2017 NSX will sell relatively well, but only time will tell. It’s got some stiff competition, what with the Lamborghini Huracan, Ferrari 488 GTB, Nissan GT-R, and Audi R8.

Does this mean that I don’t like the 2017 NSX? Far from it! I think it’s a fantastic piece of engineering, and certainly a novel idea. Sure, it’s got a lot more computers to save your bacon every day of the week, and twice on Sunday, but every supercar out there is that way. It seems to be a fantastic car. It’s definitely not the car of the future, but it’s one of the faster ways to get to the future. I think it’s safe to say that some of the technology on the 2017 NSX will trickle down to other Acuras in the next few years.

Why Europe Should Be Worried About the Runaway Success of the Ford Mustang

The 2016 Ford Mustang is a great car, especially in the supercar-slaying GT350/GT350R form. It’s relatively fast, affordable, and can be easily modified. It turns out that the Yankee muscle car is now the most popular sports car in Germany. Why should they be worried?

In March, the Ford Mustang outsold the Porsche 911, Porsche Cayman and Boxster, and the Audi TT. It’s not that it’s inexpensive in Germany – a Mustang GT with no options costs about 50,000 Euros, while it costs $32,395 here in the U.S.

The Internet loves to trash talk the typical Mustang owner. A spike in high-profile crashes at car club meets doesn’t help with the Mustang’s PR either.

One of the problems that I have found about the Mustang is that the 1979 “Fox body” Mustang and it’s immediate successors were immensely popular and somehow durable. What does that mean? There’s a ton of them around, and used Mustangs are cheap horsepower. In 1979, there was a Dodge Challenger, which was a re-badged Mitsubishi Galant Coupe intended for the Japanese domestic market. The Challenger/Galant had a lifespan of five years at most, so it’s safe to say that your microwave has some Mitsubishi DNA in it!

Because the Mustang is so inexpensive, various misconceptions about the Mustang are out there. There’s nothing like a Porsche 911 or BMW M3 owner looking down on your ragged-looking Mustang GT with a set of Bilstein coilover shocks on it. Those owners have nothing better to do than look down at the lowly Mustang owner. Show up to a track day in a brand-new Mustang GT, and you’ll hear this kind of trash talk: the Mustang is heavy, it wallows, it doesn’t turn or stop very well, the rear end is uncontrollable, and you’re going to end up taking somebody else out when you spin. None of that is really true.

While the Mustang isn’t exactly light, the GT350R comes within 100 pounds of the BMW M4, a direct competitor to the GT350R. The steering in the GT350R is, according to pro race car drivers, worlds better than the M4. Don’t like the way it stops, even with the available massive Brembo brakes? That’s OK; the aftermarket will give you brakes that are IMSA (endurance racing) spec for less than half the cost of a single Porsche 911 GT3’s brake disc. You can walk into any Ford dealer, walk out with a Mustang in 45 minutes, and have a ton of fun. The GT350 (non-R model) is in a league of it’s own among four-seat performance cars. What about the Mustang being a tail-happy crash magnet? Well, the previous generation is notorious for that. It has a live rear axle, which wouldn’t be out of place on a Conestoga wagon, and couple that with 400+ horsepower, a driver who doesn’t know how to handle that much horsepower, and you know where I’m going. It’s mostly due to user error that there are so many Mustangs crashing. There have been a good deal of BMW M4 crashes as well. Trust me, it’s the same thing with Porsches.

If you haven’t driven a Mustang in a while, or your opinions are based on the old Mustangs with the live rear axle, I strongly encourage you to go down to the local Ford dealer and take a Mustang for a test drive. Any Mustang will do. Your expectations will be shattered.

Inside the Mustang, you’ll be pleasantly surprised. The fit and finish holds up against whatever Germany and Japan have to offer. The interior is both classic and modern. The seats hold you in a bear hug, but are incredibly comfortable for any person. The infotainment systems are easy-to-use, and you’ll never really want more out of them. You’ll get plenty of feedback from the steering wheel, and all of the controls feel like Ford pulled them out of an Audi.

While the Mustang might be a large car, it feels perfectly comfortable on small back roads. You know exactly where the car is, what it’s doing, and how much gas you can give it. The overall driving experience feels like something Mercedes-Benz and Audi would co-develop. The only real differences between any current Mustang and a BMW 4-Series are the high door sills in the Mustang…and the availability of a manual transmission with every engine!

But, don’t take my word for any of this. I’m just an 18-year-old car enthusiast who does all of his automotive homework. Just ask any German car enthusiast. Clearly there’s something amazing about the Mustang, or there’d be a spike in Audi TT sales. Don’t get me wrong – all of the major automotive magazines have given rave reviews of the TT. It’s just you get a whole lot more car for the money out of the Mustang. Even in it’s home country, the Porsche 911, Cayman, Boxster, or BMW M4 is a rare sight. Why? Because they’re really expensive to buy and maintain. While it’s true that the Porsche 911 GT3RS will leave the Mustang (and most cars) far behind at any race track, the 911 GT3RS is a very rare and expensive sighting.

Of course, most German car enthusiasts will say that this article is a load of garbage. Why? Because the March sales are an “isolated incident.” It’s just inventory availability, rebates, and the same occasional fascination with American novelty that sends so many European tourists to the U.S. to ride rental Harley-Davidson motorcycles along Route 66. But, what if it’s not an isolated incident? What if it’s a perfectly reliable indicator of things to come?

After all, BMW, Mercedes-Benz, and Audi have spent the past 15 years engineering any semblance of character and authentic heritage out of their vehicles. The same industry that introduced so many to wonderful cars like the air-cooled Porsche 911, the Mercedes-Benz 450SEL 6.9, the E39 BMW M5, the Audi Quattro, the E30 BMW M3, the AMG Hammer, and the Porsche 944, has abandoned those wonderful examples for 5000-pound SUVs making gobs of horsepower from high-tech twin-turbocharged engines, put down to the ground through fragile AWD drivetrains, all controlled by hundreds of pounds of self-destructive electronics meant to save them from doing just that.

Let’s imagine that this isn’t just an isolated incident. Maybe the Germans are tired of driving expensive, self-destructive, massive transportation pods. They want something that reminds them of their dad’s AMG Hammer, their grandpa’s Mercedes-Benz 450SEL 6.9, their uncle’s Audi Quattro. They want something different. Something real. The Mustang will continue to sell in droves. Soon, the mighty roar and scream of the Dodge Challenger Hellcat will be heard across the Atlantic on the last unrestricted sections of the Autobahn. Trails once populated by Nissan Patrols and Mercedes-Benz G-Classes will be filled to capacity with Jeep Wrangler Rubicons. You’ll hear the bellowing shriek of the Corvette Z06 at the Nurburgring and the Hockenheimring. What’s that massive hulking truck taking up the tiny country road? Is it really a Ford F-250?

OK, I’m going to start to wrap this up. What does this all mean? No matter what happens, there is a very important lesson to be heard. American automakers got lazy during the late 1970s through the late 1980s. This in turn allowed German automakers to bring us incredible cars. Can you imagine picking a Lincoln Versailles over a BMW 528i, or picking a Cadillac DeVille over a Cosworth-powered Mercedes-Benz 190E 2.3-16 (2.3 is the engine size in liters, 16 is the number of valves)?

If German car enthusiasts are buying a Ford Mustang over a BMW M4 or a Porsche Cayman, that should be a message ringing loud and clear in automotive executive boardrooms all over Europe. The last time something like this happened, it was in 1989 with the Lexus LS400. That sent BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Audi, and Lincoln scrambling back to their drawing boards. In turn, that gave us such gems as the BMW 740i, a wonderful crisp, clean cruiser plagued by electronic maladies, and the Lincoln Town Car, which was a great car held back by the fact that it had a horrific drivetrain. The Lexus LS400 also inspired hideous cars like the early 1990s version of the Mercedes-Benz S-Class, which had so many electrical problems it was a miracle if the door opened.

It seems like it might be America’s turn. The German Big Three put peanut butter on their homework and gave it to their dog. America did the same thing 30 years ago, but they have made massive strides with their cars.

All of this is not to say that the BMW M4, Porsche 911, Cayman, Boxster, and Audi TT are horrible cars. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. They are all incredible performance cars that many of us would love to own, or at least go for a spirited drive in. This is a golden age of automotive performance, and the performance cars put out by various manufacturers (American or otherwise) are fantastic.

 

FBI Alerts America to the Dangers of Car Hacking

Earlier this week, the FBI issued a public service announcement warning drivers of the dangers of car hacking. The announcement tells drivers how to prevent cybersecurity attacks, and what to do if the vehicle is hacked.

According to the statement, vehicles have become “increasingly vulnerable to remote exploits” thanks to connectivity features. What connectivity features? Keyless entry and ignition, tire pressure monitoring, infotainment, navigation and diagnostic systems. All of these allow the bad guys to easily access cars. The FBI cautions drivers about the dangers of connecting a third-party device to ports in their vehicles.

The FBI also tells you to be on the lookout when installing updates recommended by the manufacturer. Criminals may send illegitimate emails to owners and trick them into downloading malicious software. This happens with computers and phones, so it should come as no surprise that automotive computers are just as vulnerable. How does one prevent this? Be very careful downloading software from third-party websites or file-sharing programs. Always check the manufacturer’s website to ensure that a software update is truly needed. It’s always a good idea to use a trusted USB or SD card when downloading and/or installing software on a vehicle. Basically, the same precautions you would take with your computer.

What happens if you believe your vehicle has been hacked? First of all, don’t take it lightly. If you think your car has been hacked, check for outstanding vehicle recalls. You should also contact the vehicle’s manufacturer or an authorized dealer. You should also contact NHTSA and the local FBI field office.

Several security scares have come to light in the past few months. A pair of hackers has already demonstrated how they were able to remotely control a Jeep Cherokee via it’s Uconnect infotainment system. Different hackers also were able to hack into a Tesla Model S. Both Jeep and Tesla have taken steps to fix these vulnerabilities. Another security scare was with the Nissan Leaf. The mobile app for the Leaf was shut down by Nissan after a massive security breach.

I guess the solution is to build an old-school hot rod without any electronics on it!

The Cars Best Suited for Just One Task

A lot of time, cars will try and be good at everything, and fail miserably. They end up being great at nothing. The cars I’m going to list all aimed for one specific thing, and completely dominate it.

  • Alfa Romeo 4C: Putting Italian car reliability concerns out the window, let’s talk about what a wonderful car the Alfa Romeo 4C is. It’s the perfect dance partner for winding mountain roads. The sensible money would go to the Porsche Cayman. The Cayman is a wonderful car – don’t get me wrong there. It’s got fantastic power, an interior that would make any car proud, and is relatively affordable. Look at the Alfa Romeo 4C on paper. It looks like an awful car to own. Four-cylinder engine, manual steering, few creature comforts, and some interior trim pieces wouldn’t look out of place in a Chevy Spark. Drive it in the city, and you’ll want to stop it in traffic and run after the bus. But, take it out on a winding back road and you’ll never want to stop driving it. It’s got a guttural four-cylinder with a whooshing turbocharger, a quick-shifting dual clutch transmission, and who needs navigation or a radio for back road blasting? 
  • Dodge Viper ACR: All it takes is one quick look to realize that the Dodge Viper ACR is probably one of the worst cars to drive on a daily basis. It’s got a massive rear wing, a thundering exhaust note that you can hear from a mile away, and it’s just a big car. It would be intriguing to see someone try to daily drive one, but my spine says let them do it! This car is built to keep up with racecars on the track, and set records. That’s exactly what it does. So far, it’s set lap records at 13 different tracks. Yes, 13 different tracks. Few street cars, save for hypercars (even those would have a serious run for their money), could have any chance of touching this car. The exhaust note might sound like it’s right out of a tractor, but tractors sound nice to me!
  • Dodge Challenger Hellcat: How can you not love 707 horsepower for around $60,000? If you expected Dodge to turn it’s burnout machine into some sort of corner carving demon, you should just press ALT + F4 right now. It’s got no interest in chasing Viper ACRs and McLaren P1s around tracks or canyon roads; no this car is the best for burnouts and drag racing (it ran 10.80 seconds in the 1/4 mile on street-legal drag slicks).
  • Jeep Wrangler Rubicon: The Jeep Wrangler has always been one of those vehicles that even non-car people love. It makes you feel instantly cooler, no matter what job you have, even if you never take it off-road. This is especially true in Rubicon form. Just promise me that you’ll take it off-road, because that’s where you WILL be cool. You don’t need to do anything to it to go just about anywhere in it. Just put some gas, friends, and a cooler full of cold drinks and some snacks, and you’re good to hit the trails.
  • Mitsubishi Lancer Evo: There used to be a time when the Mitsubishi Lancer Evo was one of the most desirable cars out there. It had cutting-edge technology that made it feel like you were blasting down a rally stage, even if you were just going to work. Today, unfortunately, that’s far from the case. With Mitsubishi’s announcement that they are going to be ceasing production of the Evo, and no significant updates to the car since it’s launch in 2008, it feels, like well, a car from 2008. However, that all changes when you get less traction. It doesn’t matter how old the car feels; it just feels right at home. That’s where all Evos have shined, and this one is no exception. Taking one for a spin down a dirt road will put a gigantic grin on your face.
  • Nissan Versa: Many people think that the Mitsubishi Mirage is the cheapest new car sold in the U.S., but they are wrong. The Nissan Versa starts about $1,000 lower than the Mirage. If you’re paying $60,000 for a luxury sedan, $1,000 is pretty insignificant. With a $12,000 car, that’s a lot. Then again, you don’t get much of anything for that price. You get air conditioning, ABS, and traction control, and a radio. That’s about all of the major things on the car. Still, it’s the best at being the cheapest new car sold in the U.S. Yes there are dealer wars to see who can sell the car for the least amount of money, but that’s always been the case.
  • Ram ProMaster: If all the cargo you carry home is takeout from Domino’s, then chances are likely that you don’t need a Ram ProMaster. But, if you haul a bunch of stuff around all day, every day, then the Ram ProMaster is a great choice. It’s got an incredibly low loading height, and a lot of space. With all the stuff you can carry in it, you’ll be catching a bunch of nasty looks from UPS and FedEx drivers.
  • Rolls-Royce Phantom: Set aside it’s hefty price tag for a minute. It weighs nearly 6,000 pounds. It’s far from a driver’s car. Even though it has a 6.8-liter V12, it’s far from a fast car. But, the Phantom chucks all of those notions out the window. It’s not concerned with any of those petty things. No, it’s by far the most comfortable car you could ever be in. It’s sumptuous leather seats have only the finest hides sourced from the finest tanneries in the world. It’s whisper-quiet. It’s also astronomically expensive.
  • Toyota Prius: Yes, I know what you’re thinking. I lost my mind a very long time ago! The Toyota Prius is the ultimate car for fuel economy. The new Prius is more fun to drive than the previous generation, but it’s no sports car by any stretch of the imagination. If you go with the Eco model, you’ll get an incredible 58 mpg city and 50 mpg highway. It also looks worlds better. The Prius has been a ground-pounder in terms of paving the way for every other mainstream hybrid.
  • Pagani Huayra: For outright beauty, the Huayra is untouchable. It’s also stonking fast, but there are few cars that you can just sit and stare at for days at a time. It has so many beautiful little details that you really have to look for. It’s the brainchild of the absolutely brilliant industrial designer Horacio Pagani, the man who helped revolutionize carbon fiber technology back in the late 1980s.
  • Ford F-550: This behemoth pickup truck is one of the heavyweights in the towing/hauling ring. It’s basically a step below an International TerraStar. It can tow up to 26,000 pounds, which is absolutely mind-boggling. The insane part is that it does it without really breaking a sweat. It also costs a lot of money, but if you tow and haul lots of heavy stuff around all the time, there is no better option. All you need is a Class C driver’s license, which is the same one for passenger cars.
  • Mazda Miata: For cheap thrills, nothing beats a Mazda Miata. It’s cheap, fights far out of it’s class, and wins. It’s slow in a straight line, but few cars can catch it in the curves. It’s also really nice to go for a late-night cruise with the top down in your Miata. 
  • Dodge Grand Caravan: Like hauling people around, but don’t need a 12-passenger van? The Dodge Grand Caravan is your ticket. It’s got a powerful V6, lots of space, a nice interior, and is easy on the wallet. It’s probably one of the best vehicles to pile your friends in, and go for a long road trip in. Even the third row is usable for adults! 

Tell me what your favorite cars at one specific task are!

The Best $40,000 SUVs You Can Buy

Until about 2012, one could easily delineate between a luxury SUV and a mainstream SUV. It’s different now. Big players in the luxury SUV market (BMW and Mercedes-Benz) have started to move some vehicles down market in the hopes of snagging sales that would typically go to a mainstream manufacturer. Mainstream heavy hitters like Kia, Hyundai, Honda and Mazda are moving up market in the hopes of wooing buyers from the luxury brands. Let’s say you want an SUV but have a budget of $40,000. This can get you a lot of car. It doesn’t matter if you are looking for a luxury SUV or a mainstream SUV. There are many good SUVs to choose from. Here are my picks.

  • Mercedes-Benz GLA250/GLA250 4Matic: While it might look like a hatchback with a body lift, it’s really more than that. Some of us might remember the Mercedes C230 crapback of the early 2000s that was about the same price. Man, was that thing awful! The GLA250 starts at $32,225, and the GLA250 4Matic (AWD) starts at $34,225. That’s a lot of wiggle room for options. You can get the Multimedia and/or Premium packages, both of which give you such goodies as navigation, a Harman Kardon audio system, a rearview camera and heated front seats. That’s a pretty good deal. Throw in the fact that it’s a sporty little crossover, and you’ve got a good deal. You’ve got a mini crossover that is posh and carries the Mercedes-Benz cache. 
  • Audi Q3: The Q3 is another mini crossover, but it’s a very good one. It starts at $34,625 with FWD, and starts at $36,725 with AWD. A good deal for a Q3 would be a FWD Q3 Premium Plus, which starts at $34,625. You get such goodies as HID headlights with LED accents, a panoramic glass roof, leather seats and upholstery, heated front seats and keyless entry/start, all of which are standard. At this point, you can still easily add the Technology and Sport packages without cracking the $40,000 mark. If you need AWD, add on $2,500.
  • BMW X1 sDrive 28i/X1 xDrive28i: The BMW X1 is the cheapest BMW sold in America. It starts off at $32,195 for the sDrive28i and $33,995 for the xDrive28i. It’s a bargain BMW. The result is that you can get a lot of options for less than $40,000, especially with the RWD sDrive28i. You can even get the Sport Line, Technology, Lighting and Driver Assistance packages without cracking $40,000.
  • Land Rover Discovery Sport: Even though the Land Rover Discovery Sport SE starts off at a hefty $38,065, it comes with a lot of bang for the buck. Maybe it won’t break down a ton. It comes standard with a nifty AWD system, an 8-inch infotainment screen, a 5-inch TFT screen for the driver, Bluetooth connectivity, a rearview camera with backup sensors, four (yes, four) USB ports, 18-inch alloy wheels and dual-zone climate control. Throw in navigation ($800) and Jaguar Land Rover’s InControl smartphone apps ($430), you’ll have a sticker price of $39,745.
  • Lexus NX 200t: The NX 200t starts off at $35,405 with FWD, and $36,805 with AWD. It’s a really well-priced crossover for the money. However, you can’t get very many options, because just about everything is bundled into some sort of package. The best deal for the NX 200t would be an AWD NX 200t with the Navigation Package, which includes Lexus’s Enform apps, and it will even stay below $40,000.
  • Lincoln MKC: This is Lincoln’s newest entry into the luxury world. For the past five years or so, they’ve been blundering around the woods with a bag over their heads. None of their cars have been successful lately, and that’s a problem for them. They hope to change that with the MKC. It starts off at $33,995 for FWD models and $36,490 with AWD. It has a lot of standard features including an 8-inch infotainment touchscreen, two USB ports, rear parking sensors, a rearview camera and Bluetooth connectivity. There’s even more wiggle room with FWD MKCs, and for a touch under $39,000, you get navigation, a panoramic sunroof, leather and a hands-free liftgate.
  • Lincoln MKX: Yeah, I know. Two Lincolns in a row. Yowza. The MKX is larger than the MKC, but it’s still a good buy, even if it costs $39,025. You won’t have any wiggle room with this one, but that’s OK. You get the Ford/Lincoln SYNC infotainment system, a rearview camera, a 10-speaker high-quality audio system and keyless entry/start. Just because you go for the base model doesn’t mean that you will be sorely lacking in power. The standard engine in the MKX is a 3.7-liter V6 that is expected to crank out 300 horsepower and 280 lb-ft of torque. It’s the same engine that’s in the base-model Ford Mustang.
  • Acura RDX: Acura has long been a heavy hitter in the bargain-basement fun-to-drive luxury segment. Even though the RDX has gone up in price, it’s still an incredibly good buy. It comes standard with LED headlights, a premium ELS sound system, a power liftgate, a rearview camera and Bluetooth connectivity, all for just $36,190 with FWD models. AWD models are a tad more at $37,690. Even getting the Technology Package will keep the price below $40,000 in FWD models. If you buy an AWD model, you can get the AcuraWatch safety features. The problem is that you can only get one or the other, as getting both packages will crack the $40,000 mark regardless of whether you have FWD or AWD.
  • Volvo XC60 T5 E-Drive/XC60 T5 AWD: Volvo has long been known for their bang for the buck. Their best-selling crossover comes standard with many great features such as City Safety automatic emergency braking, a 7-inch infotainment screen, Bluetooth connectivity and 18-inch alloy wheels. The FWD T5 E-Drive starts off at $37,395, while the AWD T5 AWD starts off at $38,895. The XC60 is right at the same price as many other comparable luxury crossovers. You won’t be able to get many options in the XC60, unfortunately, as many options are bundled into expensive packages that will send the sticker price well over $50,000.
  • Volvo XC70 T5 E-Drive/XC70 T5 AWD: The Volvo XC70 was one of the first crossover wagons to go on sale. Since then, it’s been a staple in the Volvo lineup. It starts off at $38,095 for the T5 E-Drive and $39,595 for the T5 AWD. It doesn’t come with a ton of standard or optional features. It’s also not the best-seller in Volvo’s lineup, as it’s showing it’s age. Volvo has tried to spice it up with a recent refresh and new powertrain options, but buyers would rather buy an SUV than an aging wagon.
  • Jeep Grand Cherokee: The Jeep Grand Cherokee is a great value. It starts off at a cheap $30,990 for RWD models and $32,990 for 4WD models. It offers a great combination of luxury and proven off-road capability. It comes standard with Fiat Chrysler’s amazing UConnect infotainment system, keyless entry/start and a 7-inch TFT display. Because it starts at such a low price, you can buy gadgets and goodies, or step up to higher trim levels. If you want navigation or the optional turbodiesel engine, be prepared to fork out more than $40,000. The navigation system doesn’t come with a package. You have to step up a couple of trim levels. Oh, and it’s built like a gigantic LEGO set. You can easily swap in better suspension, wheels, and just about anything you could think of.
  • Jeep Renegade: The Jeep Renegade is the replacement for the awful Compass and Patriot. It starts off at $18,990 and goes all the way up to $26,990. While it might be the cheapest new Jeep, it’s also in Wards Auto’s 10 Best Interiors for 2015. A fully loaded Renegade won’t even come close to $40,000, which is a good incentive for value-oriented buyers. It offers class-above equipment, a very nice interior and the Trailhawk models have decent offroad capability.
  • Buick Enclave: It’s certainly not the newest three-row crossover on the market, but it’s a very good one, despite having been introduced all the way back in 2008. You can get it in base model form for $39,975. Standard features include 18-inch alloy wheels, Buick’s IntelliLink infotainment system, a rearview camera, remote start and a power liftgate. I’m speaking from experience when I say you should seriously consider it. It’s quick, quiet, and incredibly comfortable for every passenger. It has a lot of space, and gets decent fuel economy for something so large.
  • Buick Encore: Despite being tiny in size, the Encore is a pioneer in the subcompact luxury crossover market. It was also the first of its kind in the segment. It starts off at an incredibly affordable $24,990, and even fully loaded falls far short of the $40,000 mark. It’s got a quiet interior for the segment. It’s a good choice for large city dwellers who need a car, but need it to have space but be small.
  • Ford Edge: Even though it doesn’t have that luxury cache to it, the Ford Edge offers plenty of luxurious amenities. Even if you don’t want to spend more than $40,000, you can get an Edge Titanium with AWD and gadgets such as SYNC with MyFord Touch, navigation and a Sony audio system. You could also get a sparsely-optioned Edge Sport with it’s twin turbo V6 and navigation if you want more power.
  • Ford Explorer: You don’t need to get the Ford Explorer Limited to be well-equipped in one. While the Explorer starts off at $31,645 for FWD models and $33,645 for AWD XL models, your best bet is the $34,345 XLT, which has many more standard features than the XL. Getting the XLT nets you rear parking sensors, keyless entry/start and a 10-way power driver’s seat. You can also get navigation, SYNC with MyFord Touch, remote start, a nine-speaker audio system and heated front seats without coming close to $40,000.
  • Nissan Murano: The 2016 Nissan Murano has a design that certainly isn’t for everybody. It’s aggressive and daring. You can make it even more daring with vibrant paint colors. Even though it looks upscale, you don’t need to go for the range-topping Platinum model to have a well-equipped Murano. The base model Murano starts off at $30,445 with FWD and $32,045 with AWD. Both the SV and SL models offer plenty of conveniences and gadgets including navigation, NissanConnect apps, remote start and two USB ports. While an AWD Murano SV will set you back $39,435, you get a lot of good stuff with it. You get all of the standard SV features, plus Nissan’s Around View camera feature, a premium Bose audio system, leather upholstery and seats and adjustable ambient lighting. That sounds like a good buy to the adventurous, but value-oriented buyer.
  • Nissan Pathfinder: It’s no longer the rugged offroader that it used to be. It’s now more of a mall-roader. It starts off at $30,515 for FWD models and $32,205 for AWD models. The SL trim is the best out of the vast range of models, due to its standard remote start, a power liftgate and leather seats and upholstery. However, other tech goodies will be out of reach, due to the fact that they are stuck in expensive packages.
  • Hyundai Tuscon: The 2016 Tuscon is completely redesigned. In every trim, especially the Limited model, the Tuscon offers value, class-above features and a dizzying array of electronic wizardry in one incredibly stylish package. Regardless of drivetrain choice, the Tuscon Limited doesn’t even come close to $40,000. If you check each and every option box, you will have everything from a 4.2-inch TFT display to navigation to such safety features as automatic emergency braking and pedestrian detection.
  • Hyundai Santa Fe Sport: Hyundai has long been known to pack immense value into their SUVs. The Santa Fe Sport is no exception. It starts off at $25,845. Regardless of whether you get it with FWD or AWD, or different engines, it’s still a very good buy. You can check just about every option box and still not be close to $40,000. For anywhere from $30,000-38,000, the Santa Fe Sport will give you an Infinity Logic 7 audio system, navigation, a panoramic sunroof and a hands-free power liftgate. That sounds like a lot of value for not very much money to me.
  • Hyundai Santa Fe: The Santa Fe is just the three-row version of the Santa Fe Sport. It remains a very compelling buy in its segment. It starts off at $31,295. It comes with a host of standard features including blind spot warning, keyless entry/start and a hands-free power liftgate. Those come with the $36,545 GLS model. However, you can’t get navigation with the GLS, as that comes with the expensive Ultimate Package, which crakcs $40,000.
  • Toyota Highlander: The wildly popular Toyota Highlander is a good buy. It starts off at $30,650. The $37,870 FWD XLE and $38,935 AWD XLE models are the best buys. The XLEs come with the Entune infotainment system, which includes navigation, an 8-inch touchscreen, keyless entry/start and heated front seats thrown in for good measure. Throw in the legendary Toyota reliability and you’ve got yourself one helluva good deal.
  • Kia Sorento: Kia and Hyundai both are well-known for their value injections in every vehicle. The Sorento is the sister to the Santa Fe. The Sorento starts off at a reasonable $25,795. You can get a nicely optioned Sorento EX with either FWD or AWD, or a V6 or turbocharged four cylinder. The standard features on the EX are many, so I’ll just list a few. You get a nifty 8-inch infotainment touchscreen, navigation, a panoramic sunroof, a 7-inch TFT screen, an Infinity Logic 7 high-quality audio system, keyless entry/start and leather seats and upholstery.
  • Honda Pilot: The newly-released 2016 Honda Pilot looks promising to me. It’s got more space than before, better looks than before, and has more features than any other Honda SUV. It starts off at an affordable $30,875 to boot. For the best bang for the buck, go with the EX-L trim with navigation, as you will get the LaneWatch system, Honda Link with an 8-inch main screen and a power liftgate for just a tad under $40,000, even with AWD. That sounds like a good deal to me. 
  • Mazda CX-3: Talk about something that really punches far above it’s weight! It starts off at an incredibly affordable $20,840, but even fully loaded, won’t go past $30,000. The best one to get is the range-topping Grand Touring model. It has a beautiful interior filled with white/black leather/suede upholstery, an amazing infotainment system and a delightful Bose audio system. Throw in some fun driving dynamics for good measure, and you have a winner.
  • Mazda CX-5: The Mazda CX-5 is basically the sports car of the compact SUV segment. It brings goodies that were previously unobtainable to the average person into reach. These goodies include a neat infotainment system and LED headlights. A base model CX-5 starts off at $22,675. While a fully-loaded one won’t come close to $40,000, a $33,655 compact crossover is a bit pricey. But, you will get such safety aids as automatic emergency braking, lane departure warning and adaptive cruise control. Many of the CX-5’s competitors don’t even offer these gadgets. Don’t get the smaller 155 horsepower 2.0-liter four cylinder (it’s a great engine), rather, go for the more powerful 184-horsepower 2.5-liter four cylinder. The smaller engine doesn’t have much of a noticeable fuel economy advantage over the bigger engine.

Those are the best SUVs and crossovers you can buy for under $40,000. They are all great choices, depending on what you are looking for. Of course, I highly recommend you test drive at least some of them before you settle on one!

I apologize for the extreme delay in posting. I’m just crawling out of the pit that is midterms.

Some of the Most Amazing American Race Cars

Racing is in America’s blood. We started off racing horses, which is still one of the most profitable forms of betting to this day. We also love boat racing, whether it be sailboats or motor boats. We also love racing planes. It should only seem logical that we decided to race cars when they came out.

Our country has created some of the boldest, most successful and boldest racecars in history. These cars are some of my personal favorites, and they only scratch the surface of America’s storied racing heritage.

  • Chaparral 2E: Chaparral’s 2D was a very successful racing chassis, the 2J earned immortality thanks to it’s snowmobile-engine-driven suction fans. The 2D was better than both combined. It ushered in the aerodynamics era thanks to it’s driver-adjustable rear wing (which was adjusted via a pedal in the cockpit) and it’s side-pod mounted water cooling system. It was pure Texan ingenuity. Every modern race car owes at least something to the Chaparral 2E.chaparral-2e-03
  • 1967 Gurney Eagle-Weslake Mk. 1: Dan Gurney was a true American racing pioneer. This is what I view to be his masterpiece. He also won a Formula 1 race in this car. That’s about as good as it gets, but I still love this car to pieces. The tiny 11,000 RPM V12 and styling that looks like a shark and torpedo are just icing on the cake.gurneyeagleweslakemk1
  • Lotus 56: It’s not just another turbine-powered IndyCar. It was a car that solidified the basic shape of most high-level race cars from 1967 on out. It sent the cigar shape packing. It also had a one-speed automatic and AWD. While turbines and AWD would be banned from future IndyCar seasons, the shape remained and evolved. Even though it’s got a Lotus name and Peter Chapman modifications, it’s still basically an all-American STP-Paxon car.lotus56
  • 2016 Ford GT GTE: There was no doubt in any car or race fan’s mind when this car rained on every other car’s parade at the Detroit Auto Show this year. It’s 3.5-liter EcoBoost V6 has been proven in the TUDOR Championship series, Chip Ganassi Racing has had lots of success racing Fords and is ready for a new challenge, and what might be most important to those automotive fans who like to cook (like me) is the fact that the rear diffuser is big enough to chiffonade an acre of potatoes without trying. The fact that it is dressed up in a very patriotic livery makes it just that much more amazing.fordgtgte
  • Dodge Viper GTS-R Mk. 1: The original Dodge Viper GTS-R immediately proved that a big V10 is an essential asset in endurance racing. On it’s third outing at Le Mans, the SRT Motorsports team took a class win in 1998. Again in 1999 and 2000. You can’t forget the overall wins at the Nurburgring, Daytona, Spa, and the five (yes, five) FIA GT and two ALMS championships. Plus, the fact that it was incredibly intimidating helped.dodgevipergtsrmk1
  • Corvette Racing’s C5.R, C6.R, and C7.R: For 17 years, The Corvette Racing team has put three generations of increasingly amazing Corvette race cars on the track. All have had an “.R” designation, except the first, which was a “-R.” They have proved themselves multiple times. 1999 marked the first year of the C5-R, which snatched three class wins at Le Mans (among many other wins). The C6.R took seven thundering liters of American muscle around the world, and won many races. The C7.R just grabbed the GTE Pro class win at Le Mans, and that was one of it’s first races!corvettec5-rcorvettec6.rcorvettec7.r
  • Panoz LMP-1 and LMP07: Many, many years before Nissan’s GT-R LM caused folks to scratch their heads as to why a front-engine endurance race car is a good idea, Panoz’s LMP-1 Roadster S and it’s less successful sibling LMP07 proved to the world that an endurance racing prototype does not need to carry their engine behind the driver. Neither car was wildly successful, but the LMP-1 certainly got into a few good battles with the BMW V12 LMRs and Ferrari 333 SPs to snag the 1999 ALMS team championship.panozlmp-1panozlmp07
  • Ford 999: Henry Ford should go down in the history books as a stark raving lunatic (for several reasons) because he took the crude, incredibly dangerous 18.9-liter Ford 999 racecar to 92 mph (the equivalent of somebody taking a car to 300 mph today) – a world record – on a frozen lake. The frozen lake was the only place large enough to get the car up to that speed. It made a whopping 80 horsepower, a lot of noise, and had killed a man a year before. It was a brutish, outrageous car that put Ford on the map, even if he became known for utilitarian and economical Model T’s and the now-legendary 1932 Ford.ford999
  • DeltaWing: No other American creation has so upset the normality of what race cars should look like as the Ben Bowlby-designed, Panoz-managed, Gurney’s All-American Racers-built DeltaWing. The car drastically reduced frontal area to reduce drag and fuel consumption. It worked, and even sparked a copycat (the Nissan ZEOD RC), even though it didn’t achieve any incredible success.deltawing
  • Cadillac ATS-V.R: Cadillac attained massive success for ten years with the CTS-V.R in the Pirelli World Championship Series. Now it’s the turn for the ATS-V.R to take the reins. It’s got some big shoes to fill. It’s got a twin-turbocharged 3.6-liter V6 making somewhere around 600 horsepower that sits somewhere between the massive fender flares and the huge extractor hood. Between this car and the Ford GT GTE, it looks like most, if not all, future American race cars will have forced induction engines.cadillacats-v.r
  • Swift 007.i: The year 1997 was a lucky year. The team owned by Paul Newman and Carl Haas stopped running a Lola chassis, and switched to a chassis made by the American company Swift. The car had a Ford Cosworth engine, Goodyear tires, and an all-American driver in Michael Andretti. I should probably mention that it won it’s first-ever race outing. Talk about coming in with style. Oh, and I was born that year.swift007.1
  • Shelby Cobra Daytona Coupe: This is quite possibly one of the most beautiful cars ever made, as well as one of the most successful. Carroll Shelby needed to make the already-successful Cobra 427 faster, but that meant he needed a more aerodynamic body. He brought on legendary designer Peter Brock, who helped design the 1963 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray. Brock designed a flowing, muscular body that still looks like nothing else on the track. The result was a smashing success. The car won the 24 Hours of Daytona, Le Mans, Spa, and countless other races.shelbycobradaytonacoupe
  • Dodge Daytona/Plymouth Superbird: Mopar’s “Winged Warriors” made aero cars illegal in NASCAR. That should be telling as to how good those cars were. They packed quite the punch with their 426 HEMI engines and special aerodynamics packages. NASCAR outlawed aero cars after 1970. Buddy Baker campaigned a Daytona through 1970, and Richard Petty had one of his most dominant years in 1970 with his Superbird. It’s also one of the most iconic race cars ever.dodgedaytonaplymouthsuperbird
  • 1966 Chevrolet Corvette: The 1966 Chevrolet Corvette is one of the best race cars Chevrolet ever had. It had a walloping punch with it’s 427 cubic-inch big block V8, with the code-name L-88. This engine made any car it was in a true monster. It’s still fast enough to show a modern NASCAR stock car how it’s done on a road course. It’s like carving a statue with a hydraulic shovel. 1966chevroletcorvettel88