Category Archives: Auto Reviews

2024 Alfa Romeo Tonale tested at Cheyenne

The 2024 Alfa Romeo Tonale at the Wyoming State Capitol Grounds in Cheyenne. (Bud Wells photos)

The 2024 Alfa Romeo Tonale Veloce showed up at my house on the first day of June and attracted attention everywhere I drove it, partly for its recognizable triangular grille, for its verde green finish and for its distinctive 20-inch, five-circle wheels.

The 2024 Alfa Romeo Tonale at the Wyoming State Capitol Grounds in Cheyenne. (Bud Wells photos)

Named for a high mountain pass in Italy, the Tonale SUV crossover is similar to the new Dodge Hornet; they’re produced in Naples, Italy. The Tonale I drove is a plug-in hybrid, offering up to 30 miles of all-electric charge.

Jan joined me for a drive north into Wyoming, only as far as Cheyenne.

After dinner, we left the Rib and Chop House restaurant in downtown Cheyenne as dark clouds rolled overhead; just out of the city heading south on U.S. 85, we hit heavy rain for about 15 miles. The Tonale had little problem with the water in roadway, but that and the downpour led to a message, “Driver Assist System Unavailable. Service Required.” ” When I asked of this later, Ross Littman, Alfa Romeo product manager, explained, “As with all modern vehicles, heavy rain can obscure the forward collision warning sensor’s ability to ‘see’ the road; the car was simply warning the driver that the forward warning and automatic emergency braking are unavailable due to the severe weather conditions and driver should be alert.”

Once we passed through the rain onto dry pavement, the message was gone, all systems including cruise worked fine, no problem.

Lifted by the 30 miles of electric range, the mpg for the 118.4-mile trip was 41.2. The plug-in hybrid technology performs with a 1.3-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder combined with a 15.5 kWh battery, the gas/battery combo producing 285 horsepower and 347 lb.-ft. of torque.

Being built alongside the Alfa Romeo Tonale in a Stellantis factory in Naples, Italy, is the Dodge Hornet. Base engine in both models is a 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder; also offered are plug-in powertrains for up to 30 miles of all-electric travel.

Beyond those similarities, the Tonale interior is dressed up for the luxury field, competing with Audi Q3, BMW X1 and Mercedes GLA. The Hornet will go against Mazda CX-30, Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4 and Hyundai Tucson.

I’ve enjoyed my time in the good-handling Tonale, which has drawn a good measure of interest everywhere it’s been. The Tonale, listed as a compact, is 8 inches shorter in wheelbase and overall length than the Alfa Stelvio SUV crossover which I tested several years ago.

The Alfa Romeo paddle shifters are very large; they’re column mounted, stationary compared with much smaller paddles mounted on the steering wheel. I prefer the smaller paddles.

Pricing for the Alfa Romeo Tonale begins at $44,590 for the Sprint trim; the model I drove is the top Veloce level, which begins at $49,000 and with several options climbed to $54,500.

Timberline adds rough edge to Ford Expedition

The Ford Expedition competes with full-size, four-wheel-drive SUVs. (Bud Wells photo)

With its relatively new Timberline trim, the 2023 Ford Expedition is a strong competitor against the Jeep Wagoneer, Chevy Tahoe and Suburban, GMC Yukon, Toyota Sequoia and Nissan Armada among full-size, four-wheel-drive SUVs.

The big body-on-frame Expedition is reinforced with offroad chops from Timberline, including tuned suspension and shocks, increased ground clearance, shorter approach and departure angles, two-speed transfer case, steel skid plates, electronic limited-slip differential, tow hooks and all-terrain tires.

The eight-passenger sport ute casts a large presence, standing 6½ -feet high, 210 inches in overall length and curb weight of 5,625 pounds. Available also is the Expedition Max, a foot longer in length and wheelbase of 131 inches, compared with the Expedition standard of 122.5.

“Plenty big enough,” I say of the standard Exped, during my review. A high-output, twin-turbocharged 3.5-liter V-6 EcoBoost engine delivers 440 horsepower/510 lb.-ft. torque, with 10-speed automatic transmission.

Handling of the Expedition, not surprisingly, is like most big, heavy SUVs, a bit of understeer at times. Lane centering is controlled very smoothly, with little wander. Ride comfort is soft, right up there with the Tahoe and Yukon. The Expedition can tow up to 9,300 pounds.

Dominant in the up-front interior is the large infotainment screen. (Ford)

Open the driver door, step up onto the platform running board, sit down in the pilot’s seat and instantly focus on the huge, 15.5-inch, vertically positioned infotainment screen. The LCD screen is part of a special package of options which boosts the price past $80,000 from a base of $71,400. Included are panoramic vista roof, the running boards, trizone electronic temp control, Bang & Olufsen premium sound, remote start, heavy-duty radiator, second-row heated seats and third-row power-fold seats.

Bill and Kathy Allen joined Jan and me for a drive to Sterling, where we visited with Dave and Norma Wagner, Rick and Jana Lock. Even with the 200-mile roundtrip highway run, the Expedition was disappointing in overall fuel mileage – 15.6 mpg. Its EPA estimate is 15/19. The SUV rides on Goodyear Wrangler 265/70R18 tires.

Sticker price reached $83,505 for the Expedition Timberline. Less expensive trim levels are XL, XLT and Limited; higher trims are the King Ranch and Platinum. XL pricing begins around $57,000 to $58,000. The Expedition is produced at a Ford plant in Kentucky.

The Expedition has been around for more than 25 years. When it showed up in the fall of 1996 as a ’97 model, we spent a vacation week driving it to Durango and back. That one was 6 inches shorter in overall length than today’s model. It was equipped with a 4.6-liter V-8 engine with tow capacity of 6,100 pounds, compared to today’s 9,300 tow capacity with the EcoBoost V-6.

4th-gen Honda Pilot TrailSport toughens exterior

Roominess has been added to the interior of the 2023 Honda Pilot. (Bud Wells photos)
Roominess has been added to the interior of the 2023 Honda Pilot. (Bud Wells photos)

The fourth-generation 2023 Honda Pilot showed up larger in size and noticeably improved upfront with a newly designed, more upright grille, departing from the long-used horizontal-bars-type. Its exterior structure is somewhat boxy, like a Kia Telluride or Nissan Pathfinder.

Looking a bit more rugged in TrailSport trim, the new Pilot is 200.2 inches in overall length, almost 4 inches longer than the ’22 version, and its wheelbase has increased by 2 ½ inches.

Smoothness of shifts has improved with a 10-speed automatic transmission replacing last year’s 9-speed; the 3.5-liter V-6 engine develops 285 horsepower, 5 more than a year ago.

The Pilot review model is front-wheel-drive based and is equipped with all-wheel-drive capability.

Even helped by a 100-mile round-trip drive to Thornton, the Pilot managed only 19.7 miles per gallon overall in the week of my possession. Its EPA estimate is 18 city/23 highway/20 average.

The Thornton run was to the home of Dan and Jamie Johnson last Saturday for celebration of the 97th birthday for my longtime friend, Richard Johnson. Dick and I worked together on the city desk at The Denver Post in the early 1970s (the latter days of columnist Red Fenwick). Johnson in later years became a features writer for the paper’s Empire Magazine.

The Pilot isn’t intended as an offroad competitor of Wranglers and Broncos, though with the new Trailsport trim its suspension has been lifted an inch, it has steel skid plates and Continental 265/60R18 all-terrain tires. Max tow capacity for Pilot AWD models is 5,000 pounds.

The dressed-up interior features a 9-inch color touchscreen with surround-view camera, wireless Apple CarPlay/Android Auto/phone charger, heated steering wheel. By touching CabinTalk icon on the home screen, front-seat driver or passenger are able to speak to rear-cabin occupants through audio-system speakers or headphones.

The 2005 Honda Pilot was a foot shorter in overall length than today’s model.

From the added length of the new Pilot comes roominess and more comfort in the second- and third-row seats. The third row has more shoulder room and legroom than that in the Toyota Highlander. Push a button and second row seatback leans and entire captain’s chair slides forward to allow ease of entry into the third-row seating. Cargo space behind the third row amounts to 18.6 cubic feet and 48.5 feet with the seats folded.

Sticker price on the ’23 Pilot AWD TrailSport is $50,150. Cheaper trim levels are Sport and EX-L; more pricey than the TrailSport are the Touring and Elite.

Honda, after rebadging the Isuzu Rodeo as a Honda Passport from 1993 to 2002, fully joined the midsize SUV competition in 2003 with its first Pilot. Originally produced in Alliston, Ontario, it has since 2007 been built in Lincoln, Ala. This year’s Pilot is a foot longer than the original 20 years ago.

Range Rover Sport V-6 uses supercharge/turbo

The Range Rover Sport retains its clamshell hood in the redesign. (Bud Wells photos)

Add 23-inch wheels and an extraordinarily long rear spoiler to the muscularly redesigned 2023 Range Rover Sport and its imposing presence raises the question: Has the Sport moved into the full-sized Range Rover’s territory, sizewise?

A glance at the spec sheets for the two dispels the urge to park them side-by-side; the big daddy Range Rover still rules. The Sport, at almost 195 inches in overall length, is a foot shorter and 300 pounds lighter.

Note the large wheels and lengthy rear spoiler on the Range Rover Sport.

Underhood in the ’23 Range Rover Sport SE Dynamic, which I drove in March 2023, is a 3.0-liter turbocharged and supercharged inline-6-cylinder of 395 horsepower/406 lb.-ft. torque mated to an 8-speed automatic transmission and all-wheel drive.

Stronger V-8 power is still available in the Range Rover Sport, along with a couple hybrid options; next year is expected to bring an all-electric Sport to the lineup.

Performance is satisfactory from the word “go,” when the supercharger boosts early, then the turbo takes over at midrange. Tied to the AWD setup are selectable terrain choices, with the V-6 power lending smoothness. My overall fuel mileage average was 23.2; the Sport’s EPA estimate is 18/26 mpg.

The well-balanced Range Rover Sport, with air suspension, offers a comfortable ride, highlighted with an interior of plush Windsor leather, power reclining heated rear seats and Meridian sound. The five-passenger interior is attractive, except for the cheap-looking upper panels on the doors, durable but cheap.

The Range Rover Sport reached $100,085 in sticker price with the addition of the wheels, head-up display, heated washer jets, heated steering and pixel LED headlights. Included as standard items are panoramic roof, power sunblind, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto/Amazon Alexa integration, rain-sensing wipers and safety aids adaptive cruise with steering assist, emergency braking, lane-keep assist and traffic-sign recognition.

The Range Rover Sport is built in Solihull, United Kingdom. Among competitors in the luxury midsize SUV field are Mercedes GLE-class, BMW X5, Audi Q7, Porsche Cayenne, Genesis GV80, Lincoln Aviator, Volvo XC90, Lexus RX350 and others.

Reader responds

Bud: I’m a loyal reader of your Saturday feature in The Denver Post; regarding one-pedal driving as you mentioned in your review of the Nissan Leaf. I hear lots of reviewers talk of one-pedal driving with electric cars, but, I wonder, how does the person behind in traffic know when you’re braking? If you’re not pushing the brake pedal to slow down or stop, your brake lights won’t let the cars behind you know that you’re about to slow down. This seems like a serious safety concern. Thanks. – George B.

Well, George, when using one-pedal driving, the brake lights will function as if the driver is using the traditional hydraulic brakes. The brake lights illuminate when the accelerator pedal is released, making drivers behind the car aware that it is slowing down.

Sporty, new Dodge Hornet GT a Denver Auto Show star

The 2023 Dodge Hornet GT Plus is compact crossover. (Bud Wells photos)

The 2023 Dodge Hornet has been flitting all about Denver and northern Colorado in this cold week of early spring; it didn’t sit still till it reached the Colorado Convention Center in preparation for the 2023 Denver Auto Show.

The Hornet, an all-new compact crossover, was listed as one of top attractions as the car show returned to the convention center for the first time since 2020.

The Dodge Hornet GT Plus is powered by a turbocharged 4-cylinder engine, 9-speed automatic transmission and standard all-wheel drive. A plug-in hybrid version, called the Hornet R/T, is expected to go on sale this summer. The gas-powered and hybrid models are the first small product for Dodge dealers since the Dart sport sedan showed up for a relatively short run 10 years ago.

The Hornet is being built alongside the Alfa Romeo Tonale in a Stellantis factory in Naples, Italy.

While the Alfa will compete against luxury competitors Audi Q3, BMW X1 and Mercedes GLA, the Hornet considers its prime challengers are Mazda CX-30, Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4 and Hyundai Tucson.

Prospective Dodge buyers apparently aren’t bothered by the Italian build site, as a company spokesman explained that more than 14,000 orders were received in less than 24 hours after the Hornet’s reveal.

The Hornet is a sporty handler, and gets improved performance from a Sport button on the steering wheel which lends an instant boost of 25 horsepower for 15 seconds. Its 2.0-liter Hurricane engine develops 268 horsepower and 295 lb.-ft. of torque.

The “mail-slot-type” grille on the new Dodge Hornet.

Front-end enhancements include a “mail-slot”-style grille in the front fascia and integrated heat extractors in the hood. Stiffness-stressed suspension increased handling capability and four-piston Brembo brakes add safety control. EPA fuel-mileage estimates are 21/29.

Inside, Harmon Kardon sound is excellent, and the little Hornet has a real horn, to be heard above the normal street noise.

From a base price around $36,500, the tab climbs to $40,215 with black-finish touches for the “cue-ball” white exterior, active driving assist, intelligent speed assist, surround-view camera and drowsy-driver detection.

Dodge resurrected the Hornet model name, having acquired rights to the name from the Chrysler Corp. purchase of American Motors Corp. in 1987.

I well-remember the original Hornet as a Hudson in the late ‘40s and early ‘50s. The Hudson company built cars in Detroit from 1909 to 1954, when it merged with Nash-Kelvinator to form American Motors.

Interior adds appeal to ‘23 Nissan Altima; Leaf electric tested

The 2023 Nissan Altima SR is a roomy, midsize four-door sedan. (Bud Wells photo)

A steady increase in roominess over the years has lifted Nissan’s sleek midsize sedan, the Altima, into a competitive position for 2023 with the segment-leading Toyota Camry and Honda Accord. Japan-based Nissan depends on a combination of the Altima and the Rogue compact crossover for almost half of its sales in the U.S. I drove the new Nissan Altima SR four-door into northeastern Colorado.

Also in my possession recently was the 2023 version of the Leaf SV Plus, a front-drive, all-electric, compact hatchback sedan.

The 2023 Nissan Leaf SV Plus near the Dam store in Big Thompson Canyon. (Bud Wells photo)

On its shiny side, the Leaf has a newly styled grille, a great-looking 5-spoke aluminum-alloy wheel design (if you buy the SV Plus model) and offers a smooth ride.

The other side of the Leaf are the range providers. The Leaf SV Plus is equipped with a 60 kWh lithium-ion battery and 160 kW electric motor for EPA estimated range of 212 miles; The Leaf S has only a 40 kWh battery and 110 kW electric motor for estimated range of 149 miles.

The Leaf, which has been around since 2011, has not been a big seller; it’s those relatively low range estimates that have lessened the sales potential.

A new wheel design enhances exterior of the Leaf electric. (Nissan)

Leaf pricing starts around $30,000 for the S and $35,000 for the SV Plus (sticker price on the review model brought to me is $36,985). The Leaf last year was 12th-best-selling fully electric vehicle in the U.S.

Back to the internal-combustion-engine-powered Altima, which I drove with Bill and Kathy Allen and Jan aboard, out east on U.S. 34 (and I-76) to Sterling. In visiting with sister Norma and Dave Wagner, Jan Lock and Rick Wagner, we were told Sterling now has a public charging station for electric cars and that work has begun on location for a Starbucks store, reinforcing status for Sterling as the trade center for northeastern Colorado.

Underhood in the new Altima is a 2.0-liter, variable-compression turbocharged 4-cylinder engine of 236 horsepower and 267 lb.-ft. of torque. The turbo boost diminished somewhat the normal drone of the continuously variable transmission (CVT), with paddleshifters also in the mix.

Overall performance was very satisfactory; the Altima averaged 32.4 miles per gallon for the 210-mile drive. Its EPA estimate is 25/34. Aided by the boost, there was no apparent lag in passing power on I-76. Ride comfort was compromised by sport suspension for better handling.

Overall lengths of the top-three-selling midsize sedans indicate how closely aligned they are – Honda Accord 195.7 inches, Nissan Altima 192.9 and Toyota Camry 192.7. In its early years of existence, the Altima was shorter at 185 inches. The Accord’s added length contributed to its edge in trunk space at 16.7 cubic feet to 15.4 for the Altima and 15.1 for the Camry.

ProPilot Assist, engaged by a blue button on the steering wheel, keeps the Altima in the center of its driving lane with minimal input from the driver, maintains a preset distance from the car ahead even in slowdowns and accelerations. The ProPilot was first installed in a Nissan product in 2018. Other safety items are automatic emergency braking, blind-spot and rear cross-traffic alert and around-view monitor.

The Altima’s appearance became more distinctive this year with new front fascia styling which on the SR trim includes a special “black chrome” grille finish and, inside, a dual-stitch interior fabric design and expanded center-console storage. Rear-seat legroom is a plus.

The ’23 Altima, assembled in Canton, Miss., carries sticker price of $36,440, including 12.3-inch color touchscreen display with navigation, wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, Bluetooth hands-free phone system, Bose audio, leather sport seats, power moonroof, heated front seats, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, traffic sign recognition.

Low-end pricing begins around $27,000; all-wheel drive is available on certain models. Besides Camry and Accord, other midsize competitors for the Altima are the Hyundai Sonata, Subaru Legacy, Chevy Malibu, Kia K5 and Volkswagen Passat.

Production is ending this year for the Nissan Maxima, which competed against the Toyota Avalon in the full-size sedan market.                                                           

Solar octane Toyota Sequoia Hybrid brightens snow-white day

The 2023 Toyota Sequoia Hybrid gets first taste of snow near Kersey. (Bud Wells photo)

Wow! Two weeks after I revealed the newest Toyota color – solar octane (bright orange) – on the Tacoma pickup, the same hue showed up on the all-new 2023 Sequoia SUV delivered to me.

The blazing new color surprises me on the big, tough, Sequoia, but forget that flash for there are bigger, more important changes of far more consequence.

The ’23 model is the first real makeover of the Sequoia in 15 years or so, sending the new one into the modern automotive mix.

It’s now a hybrid. The only way you can buy it is as a hybrid. It’s gas and electric beneath the hood.

Its V-8 power is the past, it’s been replaced; the future is today with a twin-turbo V-6 engine and an electric motor generator housed between the V-6 and its 10-speed automatic transmission.

Instant response with excellent acceleration is delivered by the powertrain’s combined output of 437 horsepower and 583 lb.-ft. of torque. All this and a jump in EPA-rated fuel economy to 19 city/22 highway from the former 12-16.

The Toyota Sequoia TRD Pro Hybrid showed up in time to venture out into a storm as far as the Kersey area before blowing snow drove us back home.

Complementing the Sequoia’s tough-looking exterior is a comfortable interior with well-bolstered, leather front seats, large flat infotainment screen, switch for selecting 2 Hi drive, 4 Hi or 4 Lo, lots of cubby holes and bins for storing small items.

Toyota has replaced last year’s independent rear suspension with solid rear axles. The ’23 model is 3 inches longer in overall length to 208 inches, though it still rides on the same 122-inch wheelbase.

The Sequoia’s catback exhaust still emits a satisfying rumble and burbling sound out the rear pipes.

Built in San Antonio, the 2023 Toyota Sequoia TRD Pro Hybrid lists sticker price at $80,291. Among features are multi-terrain selection, crawl control, Fox shocks, radar cruise control, lane-departure alert with steering assist, road sign assist, cast-aluminum running boards, auto-leveling LED headlights, aluminum skid plate, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, heated and ventilated front seats, power liftgate with flip-up glass and TRD roofrack.

Among other makes offering full-size, three-row SUVs with seating for eight are the Chevy Tahoe and Suburban and GMC Yukon, Ford Expedition and Lincoln Navigator, the new Jeep Wagoneer and Nissan Armada.

AWD added to ‘23 Toyota Corolla Hybrid – let it snow

The Toyota Corolla Hybrid is redesigned for 2023. (Bud Wells photos)

Okay, friends, this one’s for all of you who have suggested I drive a car of much-lesser expense on occasion.

It’s a popular compact four-door sedan, a gas/electric hybrid with expanded horsepower.

And, if the hybrid feature isn’t enough especially for us Coloradans, its maker has added all-wheel drive, which is put to good use in this snowy winter of 2022-‘23. All this for $30,000.

It’s the 2023 Toyota Corolla Hybrid SE AWD; it illustrates sleekness from its sharply sloped nose all the way back to a short-overhang rear deck.

While the car was parked for a photo at Glenmere Lake in Greeley, neighborhood resident Joan Adams walked alongside it, stopped and commented on how well she liked the exterior color. What color is it, she asked. Well, manufacturers go to great lengths to distinguish their particular choice of hue, such as “solar octane,” “midnight lake blue,” “diffused sky.”

I, too, liked the color and had already checked out its definitive name – “dark gray,” I told her. She’s driven Toyotas through the years, including a 1986 pickup for 352,000 miles, and seemed quite impressed with the Corolla hybrid.

Horsepower has been boosted from 121 to 138 for the Corolla’s power sources, a 1.8-liter 4-cylinder engine and two electric motors. The second motor is rear-mounted to power the rear wheels when needed in response to front-wheel slippage.

Fifteen years ago, the Corolla was shorter and less-sleek than today’s model.

Teamed with a continuously variable transmission, the hybrid power still is on the light side, though the transition between front-drive and AWD is seamless. By engaging Sport drive mode, the Corolla accelerates much more responsively than when in Eco or Normal mode. The tradeoff in use of Sport is a decline in fuel mileage.

EPA estimate for the Corolla hybrid is 47 miles per gallon in city, 41 on highway and 44 combined. My overall average after use of all three modes was 40.4 mpg. It rides on Dunlop 225/40R18 tires.

The review model had no power seat, even for the driver, and no heated seats. The interior, boasting good back-seat legroom but somewhat tight in headroom, is fairly plain-looking, with durable sport fabric-trimmed seats. Trunk space is wide, though fairly shallow and amounts to only 13.1 cubic feet.

The Corolla is 182.5 inches in overall length on a wheelbase of only 106.3 inches. Its narrow track is barely wider than 60 inches. Curb weight is 2,850 pounds. It is built at Aichi, Japan.

Pricing begins around $28,000 for the Corolla SE with all-wheel drive and hybrid power; the addition of JBL premium audio, power outside mirrors and blind-spot monitor, boosted sticker price to $30,518. Other trim levels are the cheaper LE and more expensive XLE.

For 2023, all Corolla hybrid models are equipped with Toyota Safety Sense 3.0 precollision system, lane-departure steering assist, proactive driving assist and deceleration assist. Hybrid-related items are covered with an eight-year/100,000-mile warranty and the hybrid battery with 10-year/150,000-mile warranty.

Tremor trim added to Ford Maverick

The 2023 Ford Maverick, with unibody construction and turbocharged engine. (Bud Wells photos)

Consumers undoubtedly will be shopping for an electric version of the Maverick pickup several years down the road from now, as Ford apparently is waiting only for an expected decline in battery prices before adding the electrified model to the Mav.

The Ford Maverick, which went on sale in late 2021 for the ’22 model year, is one of the hottest small pickups available.

In fourth-quarter results reported in January 2023, the Maverick with 22,568 sales outperformed the Chevy Colorado (20,602), Nissan Frontier (19,830) and Jeep Gladiator (17,587) for runnerup position behind the longtime popular Toyota Tacoma among compact pickups.

If Mavericks eventually roll off the assembly line packing electric power, they will complement Ford’s lengthy dominance in full-size pickup sales from its F-150 and F-150 Lightning Electric models.

My first test of the little Maverick was in May ‘22 in its unibodied, front-wheel-drive, gas/electric hybrid version, based on the Ford Escape and Ford Bronco Sport. It delivered an average of 37.2 miles per gallon from its 191-horsepower, 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine, an electric motor and continuously variable automatic transmission.

Coming my way early this year was the 2023 Maverick with turbocharged gas-only engine, all-wheel drive and the new Tremor Offroad Package, including 1-inch lift for added ground clearance, enhanced front and rear suspension and towing capacity increased from 2,000 to 4,000 pounds with the turbo and AWD, but without the Tremor package.

The Ford Ranger, slightly larger than Maverick, is a body-on-frame truck.

The turboed 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine is mated to an 8-speed automatic transmission, generating 250 horsepower/277 lb.-ft. of torque, and its EPA estimate is 22/29 miles per gallon. The Tremor finish lends the Maverick a tougher look, with strong stance. Its bed is only 4 feet, 6 inches in length. The Mav showed solid traction in the snow, with little slippage.

The Maverick is more carlike in ride and handling than, say, the little-bit-bigger Ford Ranger, a body-on-frame pickup. “This is the product for people who never thought they wanted a truck,” said Ford President and CEO Jim Farley Jr., of the Maverick.

The ’23 Ford Maverick, in Lariat Tremor AWD trim level, carries base price of $29,440; the Tremor option, plus bedliner spray-in and Ford Co-Pilot 360 with adaptive cruise, lane-keeping and blind-spot alert, boosted sticker tab to $37,485. This is almost $10,000 pricier than the front-drive Mav I drove last year.

A very close competitor to the Maverick is the new Hyundai Santa Cruz, also of unibody construction, 4 inches shorter than the overall length of the Maverick, and with a small bed slightly shorter than the Mav’s. Volkswagen also is expected to produce an all-electric small pickup in the near future.

Ford officials have hinted that preceding the arrival of an electric Maverick will be a PHEV (plug-in electric hybrid) version.

Land Rover adds smoothness to Defender 130

The new Land Rover Defender 130 features a squared-off rear end. (Bud Wells)

The new, lengthened 2023 Land Rover Defender 130 First Edition was my drive one day in late January – 50 miles to Denver, then out west almost to Golden for a “visit” with Dr. Tom Pott, dentist. On my return route home, though the feeling in half my face was at ebb, my thought process was near peak in respect for the onroad capability and handling of the Defender.

Land Rover planners, owing their existence to offroading, nevertheless ditched body-on-frame construction in favor of unibody for the revived Defender 130, added fully independent/height-adjustable air suspension for down-the-road, smooth comfort.

With strong acceleration, only a very occasional lag is felt in the performance of the 395-horsepower, 3.0-liter inline-6-cylinder engine with an electric supercharger and a 48-volt hybrid boost. The Land Rover’s 5,900-pound curb weight takes a toll on fuel mileage – 19.8, EPA estimate is 17/21. Also available are 4-cylinder and V-8 engines.

Shifts from the German-built ZF 8-speed automatic transmission are near-imperceptible; the Rover’s all-wheel-drive system kept us moving, as it switched back-and-forth from rear-wheel to four-wheel control through deep snow in the streets all over town. A heated steering wheel was welcomed on 0-degree mornings.

The Defender’s long body, 211.7 inches (same as Cadillac Escalade), sports a tough, sturdy-looking front end. Along the sides, the C pillars at window level are covered with what look almost like white, rectangular stick-ons. A squared-off rear end and large spare wheel cover do little for aesthetics. The body sits high, with optional 22-inch wheels, and has no step rails or running boards. It has 11.5 inches of ground clearance.

The roomy, well-designed, 8-passenger interior for the new Defender. (Land Rover)

The 8-passenger interior is roomy and comfortable for all three rows of seating, with Windsor leather and panoramic roof. In full use, all those headrests and the spare-tire cover hinder vision out the rear windows. The Meridian sound system and an 11.4-inch infotainment screen are user-friendly.

Accessing the 130’s Terrain Response system, like I told two years ago in reviewing the ’21 Defender, requires touching a button on the center stack, pushing in the driver-side heat-temperature control knob and dialing in the preferred setting among normal, snow, mud, rock crawl, etc. It offers a mode for traversing deep water in roadways or small streams.  

We all know Land Rovers are of English heritage, have been for 75 years; don’t spread it around, but this one is built in Nitra, Slovakia. Global expansion is the explanation.

Sticker price for the ’23 Defender 130 reached $92,725 with the 22-inch optional wheels at an added $2,000, a package which boosted tow capacity to 8,200 pounds for $1,850 and heated windshield/washer jets/steering wheel for $1,500.

Land Rover, along with Jaguar, is owned by Tata of India. Its LR lineup includes Range Rover, Range Rover Sport, Range Rover Velar, Range Rover Evoque, Land Rover Defender, Land Rover Discovery and Land Rover Discovery Sport.