Trucks, SUV/crossovers near 80% of 2023 sales

The Sierra AT4X pickup helped the GMC brand to a strong sales year in 2023. (Bud Wells photos)

Among pickup and crossover models posting major gains in ’23 were:

One of biggest sales gains of past year was that of the Honda CR-V.

  • Ford F-Series,
  • Chevy Trax,
  • Honda Civic and CR-V,
  • Infiniti QX60,
  • Nissan Rogue,
  • Subaru Forester and
  • Tesla Model Y.

The sharp dropoff in popularity of four-door and two-door sedans and the declining number of those nameplates available were reflected in the fact only 10 cars models sold more than 100,000 units for the year; 10 years ago, in 2013, 23 car models surpassed the 100,000-mark in sales.

Top sellers the past year were:

  • Toyota Camry for cars,
  • Fords F-Series for trucks,
  • Toyota RAV4 for SUVs/crossovers and
  • Chrysler Pacifica for minivans;

all four are repeat winners from a year ago.

Among pony cars, Ford Mustang outsold the Dodge Challenger and Chevy Camaro, after finishing second to the Challenger the past two years. The Jeep Wrangler retained its lead over the strong, relatively new Ford Bronco, 156,581 to 105,665.

Consistent in sales were three Subaru crossovers – the Outback with 161,814, the Crosstrek with 159,193 and the Forester with 152,566.

Following are sales by model category for 2023:

Back then…2007, Ford King Ranch

Ford King Ranch pickup breaks snow during Sunday storm. (Bud Wells)

What better place than the King Ranch during a big snowstorm.

That’s where I was on a Sunday (in 2007) during the near-blizzard, in the driver’s seat of the 2007 Ford F-150 King Ranch Super Crew 4-by-4 pickup.

That big four-door truck, named for the historic 825,000-acre Texas ranch, handled the ridges of ice left from previous storms and the 6 inches of new snow with barely a slip.

It also offers an extra twist under the hood – its 5.4-liter V-8 engine, mated to a 4-speed automatic transmission, will burn ethanol, in addition to gasoline.

My tests, first with gasoline, then with 85 percent ethanol, produced results for the Ford very nearly the same as earlier comparisons with E85-capable Chevrolet pickups and SUVs.

With gasoline in the tank, cold-morning starts and about 30 percent of the driving on snowy and icy city streets, the Ford averaged 15.2 miles per gallon of fuel. With ethanol, the same ratio of city/highway driving resulted in an average of 12.3 mpg. I experienced the same 3-miles-per-gallon drop with ethanol in tests of Chevrolets. Price for the ethanol was $1.99 per gallon; gas was around $2.05.

Ford Motor Co. is the world’s leading truck builder, and the King Ranch edition should please the more discriminate driver. Its Castano leather seats, of noticeably higher grade than those in a Lincoln Town Car, are a trademarked product from the King Ranch and its leather shop.

The saddle-work-type leather, logos and stitching are a highlight of the interior, which also includes leather console with floor shifter, navigation system with Sirius Satellite Radio, automatic temperature control, power adjustable pedals and power moonroof.

The truck is also equipped with running boards, power-fold heated side mirrors, 20-inch aluminum wheels, skid plates, trailer-tow package, reverse-sensing system and a locking removable tailgate. The truck’s bed is deep, so much so that it is near-impossible to reach over the side to the floor.

Sticker price is $45,340.

The Specs (2007 Ford F-150 King Ranch Super Crew) –

  • Vehicle type,
  • 4wd four-door pickup;
  • Price, $38,665 base, $45,340 as tested;
  • Wheelbase, 150 inches;
  • Length/Width/Height, 244/79/77 inches;
  • Weight, 5,777 pounds;
  • Engine, 5.4-liter V-8;
  • Transmission, 4-speed automatic;
  • Fuel mileage, 15.2 mpg (EPA 14-18);
  • Warranty, 3 years/36,000 miles basic, 5/60,000 powertrain;
  • Competitors, GMC Sierra, Chevrolet Silverado, Dodge Ram;
  • Built at Kansas City, Mo.

Colorado ZR2, GR Corolla, Ioniq 6 tops in ’23

The Chevrolet Colorado was upgraded in power and suspension. (Bud Wells photos)

Especially impressive to me among the many automotive models I tested during 2023 were the Chevy Colorado ZR2 midsize truck, the Toyota GR Corolla Core all-wheel-drive crossover and the Hyundai Ioniq 6 electric car.

The Colorado ZR2 was updated with Chevrolet’s turbocharged, high-output 2.7-liter 4-cylinder engine and a bit more ground clearance; the Corolla is powered by a 300-horsepower, 1.6-liter 3-cylinder with a 3-exhaust emit; the Ioniq 6 is a trendsetter in style and roominess among electrics and traditional sedans.

Toyota GR Corolla crossover gets by with 3-cylinder power.

The Ioniq was one of nine fully electrics I drove during the year; others were Audi Q8 e-tron, Cadillac Lyriq, Ford Mustang Mach-e, Genesis Electrified GV70, Lexus RZ 450e, Nissan Ariya, Nissan Leaf, Tesla Model 3.

As we close out Year 2023, following are highlights in my automotive coverage:

Price range – From $26,540 for the larger, improved Chevy Trax to $162,045 for the BMW 760i xDrive sedan with its luxurious interior.

Christmas goodies – Lemon bread from Lucinda H., Centennial, and Wisconsin kringles from Mary C., Denver, oh, my!

Great looker – The new Toyota Crown hybrid four-door, replacing the Avalon.

6-speed stick – The ’24 Acura Integra Type S matching its short-throw-designed manual to a 320-hp, 2.0-liter turbo 4-cylinder.

The drive – The Land Rover Defender 110S with Bill and Kathy Allen to Kearney, Neb., and Morris Publishing on last day of November to haul back to Colorado the first load of my book, “2,600 Cars and a Dog Sled.”

Followup – Two weeks later, son Dale making the same run alone to Kearney in his Ram Longhorn 1500 turbodiesel to bring back 400 more books to be hardbound by Denver Bookbinding Co.

The Book – A special feature is a written revelation by John Fielder, Colorado’s eminent nature photographer, that he is “a car guy,” and explanation why, given to me shortly before his death in August from pancreatic cancer.

The sleekly styled Hyundai Ioniq 6 electric.

3rd O’Meara in HOF – Brian joined his grandfather, Alfred, and father, Al Jr., in selection to the Colorado Automotive Hall of Fame.

Cornering – “Its cornering capabilities may be the best of anything I’ve piloted to Estes Park,” I said of the ’23 BMW M340i xDrive four-door sedan in late January.

Tremor trim – Ford’s economical, little pickup, the Maverick, flexed a bit of muscle with an added trim level called Tremor, with turbocharged gas-only engine, all-wheel drive, 1-inch lift for ground clearance and tow capacity boosted from 2,000 pounds to 4,000.

Hornet name returns – Dodge Hornet GT revives the name dating back to the Hudson Hornet in the late ‘40s and early ‘50s.

Fuel mileage – 48.6 with Prius Hybrid AWD, 47.6 Honda Accord hybrid.

Gas hog – Lexus LX600 Ultra Lux, 15.1 mpg.

Large touchscreen – The Ford Mustang Mach-e electric, 15.5 inches positioned vertically.

Pure power – BMW XM, the brand’s 1st -ever electrified M vehicle plug-in hybrid with 644 hp, 590 torque. We drove it to Denver’s old Buckhorn Restaurant.

Jan’s favorite – 2024 Mercedes-Benz C300 4Matic sedan.

Best greeting – Happy New Year!

Land Rover Defender hauls books home for Bud

The 2024 Land Rover Defender 110 at Morris Publishing in Kearney, Neb. (Bill Allen photo)

After a 325-mile drive to Kearney, Neb., on a late-November evening, the following morning I backed the 2024 Land Rover Defender 110S into one of Morris Publishing’s spacious warehouse areas, where a team of workers loaded into the SUV several hundred copies of my book, “2,600 Cars and a Dog Sled: Bud Wells’ 67 Years of Newspapering and Automobiles.”

Joining Jan and me for the drive there and back were daughter Kathy and Bill Allen of Greeley. I visited with Ryan Morris, fourth-generation family member working in the printing business with his father, Scott.

With electronic air suspension, 395-horsepower supercharged inline-6 engine and 119-inch wheelbase, the Defender handled the added cargo back to Colorado with ease. Son Dale Wells of Johnstown in his Ram brought back from Kearney a second load of books.

The soft-cover books are on sale and being mailed to purchasers. Hardbound copies are being finished in December at Denver Bookbinding. Either can be ordered at budwellsbooks.com, or by contacting me at [email protected].

The Defender, like other Land Rover/Range Rover products, is an excellent offroader; decent, too, in on-road travel down the highway. Its squared-off rear end maintains its styling tradition, though does little for aesthetic appeal. I like the inline-6 performance, it is plenty powerful and shifts imperceptibly with its 8-speed automatic transmission.

The Defender rests on the lower end of the fuel-mileage scale. While the drive into Nebraska averaged 19.5 miles per gallon, the return trip with the cargo load was only 18.1. From a base price of $67,900, the sticker reached $82,053 with options added, including headlight power wash, configurable terrain response, electronic active differential, cabin air purification, tasman blue exterior with white contrast roof.

Kristin Battenfield, owner/operator of KBat Communications, was first to order the book, “2,600 Cars and a Dog Sled,” and was presented her copy by Bud Wells. (Jan Wells photo)

3-cylinder, 300-hp for Toyota GR Corolla

The Toyota GR Corolla parked at Town Hall in Glen Haven. (Bud Wells)

There sat a Toyota Corolla in our driveway on a fairly quiet afternoon; not just an average nondescript Corolla, this was the 2023 GR Corolla Core all-wheel-drive crossover in a supersonic red exterior finish.

The GR is for Gazoo Racing, Toyota’s performance and motorsports division.

Note the triple exhaust placement. (Toyota)

The compact hatchback has excellent presence with a black matte grille and angular LED headlamps out front and rear spoiler, rear diffuser and triple exhaust – a pipe for each bore. Yes, it’s a turbocharged 1.6-liter, 3-cylinder with 300 horsepower and 6-speed manual transmission. The three-exhaust emit is great sound and, of more importance, reduces back-pressure on the engine.

Inside the sporty five-door, Jan and I headed west into the Big Thompson Canyon, forking to the right at Drake. That put us on the lightly traveled Devil’s Gulch Road, away from the much-busier U.S. 34. The gulch is a 17-mile back-roads’ diversion from Drake to Estes Park. I drive it often.

The numerous sharp bends and short sprints in between are conducive to near-perfect testings of the 3-cylinder/6-speed manual setup. The GR is quick with response and while shifting back and forth between 3rd and 4th gears on the descent back toward Drake, I might have touched the brake twice.

To say of the GR Corolla Core, “It’s not a great ride, it’s a great drive,” is acknowledgement of the extreme rigidity the Gazoo team builds into the specialty vehicles. So devoted it is to a car at a time, the production rate is 49 GR Corollas per day.

The GR Corolla has both front and rear differentials; twist a knob on the center console, you have all-wheel drive with a 30/70 rear ratio, twist it again its AWD is front-based 60/40. It rides on 18-inch wheels, with Michelin Pilot Sport tires.

The special Corolla averaged 24 miles per gallon; its EPA estimate is 21 city, 28 highway, 24 combined.

We were a bit late to get into the Glen Haven General Store (and its cinnamon rolls), which during November is open only on Saturdays and Sundays and closes by 4 p.m.

The GR Corolla’s base price of $35,900 climbs to $39,659 with addition of the limited-slip front and rear differentials, along with JBL eight-speaker premium audio and amplifier, fabric sport seats and GR-trimmed leather-wrapped steering wheel.

On the safety front, it is equipped with pre-collision and pedestrian-detection, lane-departure alert and lane-tracing assist, automatic high beams and road-sign assist.

The GR is on a wheelbase of 103.9 inches, with overall length of 174 and curb weight of 3,250 pounds. Toyota has established a dedicated GR factory at its production facility in Motomachi, Japan. Among competitors are the Volkswagen Golf R and Hyundai Veloster N.

2600 Cars and a Dog Sled

www.KBatCommunications.com

Colorado Journalist, Bud Wells, Releases New Book:

2600 Cars and a Dog Sled

Revving up the excitement just in time for the holidays, Bud Wells, longtime Colorado automotive journalist and aficionado, unveils his latest book: 2600 Cars and a Dog Sled. This book promises to be a game-changer for car enthusiasts and those looking to embrace Bud’s interesting history and 67 years in the newspaper industry.

Exploring the roads less traveled and the highways that wind through the majestic Rocky Mountains and beyond, 2600 Cars and a Dog Sled is more than just a book – it’s Bud’s journey.

To know Bud is to know his love of cars and we invite you to explore the brand new book at www.BudWellsBooks.com  As his wife, Jan, always says: “Bud can remember every single car he’s ever driven.” The book is a lovely reflection on Bud’s years in the Colorado newspaper industry and his love of cars. Full of Bud’s dynamic driving experiences, industry anecdotes and featuring prominent Coloradoans detailing their favorite cars to Bud – we know you’ll love it.

Bud’s 1st Car:  1948 Ford V8 2-door sedan
Bud & Jan Wells

For media inquiries or author interviews, please contact:  Kristin Battenfield    303.903.9981   [email protected]

Volvo XC90 offers wool-blend seats for leather

The roomy XC90 SUV has been a mainstay for Volvo for 20 years. (Bud Wells photo)

The Volvo XC90, introduced in 2003, has through the years retained strong popularity among the luxury midsize SUV competitors – the BMW X5, Mercedes GLE, Porsche Cayenne, Range Rover Sport, Lincoln Nautilus and on and on.

My recent drives were aboard the XC90 Recharge AWD Ultimate seven-seater, a plug-in hybrid which with a fresh charge will provide up to 38 miles of all-electric power before falling back on its regular gas engine.

The powertrain combo of turbocharged 2.0-liter, 4-cylinder engine and 18.8 kWh battery, with 8-speed Geartronic automatic transmission, delivers a combined 455 horsepower and 523 lb.-ft. of torque; mash the throttle and be amazed at the thrust of power.

My Autel charger at home replenished the battery three times (4-to-5 hours per charge), which was enough to hand us an overall mpg of 42.7 for around 200 miles. With four-corner air, the highway travel was smooth, other than an occasional bump too severe for absorption by the 21-inch Pirellis, and a bit of shudder on transfer of power sources.

The big XC90 carried Jan and me in to Denver on a Friday for a stop at the Colorado Auto Dealers Association, then lunch out north with Ted and Shirley King. The Kings are up to their elbows in fudge, preparing and distributing hundreds of delicious batches through the holidays from a long-used secret recipe. 

The light-colored wool-blend seats are optional to the normal leather seats.  (Volvo)

On first opening the driver’s door, I was surprised by the gray-colored, wool-blend seats, instead of leather. Volvo says the seats are perfect, and aims for the day when its products will be all-electric and all-cloth, no leather seats.

I considered Volvo’s seats as among the best in the business 15 to 20 years ago, especially with the XC70 wagon, one of my alltime favorite cars to drive. The wool-blend seats in this new XC90 review model are stylish, form-fitting, comfortable. But give up leather? Are you kidding?

The air suspension and Bowers & Wilkins premium sound added $5,000 to the Volvo’s sticker price, which reached $85,495. Drive-mode settings, adaptive cruise, lane-keeping, heated steering wheel and crystal shifter were among many other highlights.

The XC90 was built in Gothenburg, Sweden.

Scrapbook, email stir memories of midget racers

Bob Smith points to Johnnie Tolan photo in Smith’s scrapbook from his boyhood. (Photo by Debbie Rehfeld)

Bob Smith, a friend from Lochbuie, was carrying an old scrapbook when he stopped by our home in Greeley. Smith, whom I’ve written about previously, is the former longtime, highly successful wrestling coach at Wray High School.

His scrapbook was more like a large photo album in which he had dozens of pictures and newspaper clippings from Denver midget-car racing, a fascination of his growing up in the late 1940s and early ‘50s in north Denver near the Lakeside race track. Jan and I enjoyed turning the pages to the long-ago happenings.

Two weeks later, in an exchange of emails with Jeff Ball, a boyhood friend of my younger brother Kent at Sterling High School more than 60 years ago, we learned some of the racing success of Jeff’s father, who lost his life in a crash in Arizona in the early ‘50s.

Midget car racing at the Lakeside track in Denver was a big attraction in the late 1940s.

Prompted by Smith’s and Ball’s connections, I remembered a summer morning at Wray, probably around 1949 when I was 12, when I sat down and joined in on an outdoor neighborhood gathering. I listened to a couple of the older boys tell of the races they’d seen the night before in accompanying their parents to Lakeside.

Restored midget racer, trailer and 1952 Ford pickup are like those of Bobby Ball’s in early 1950s. (Photo by Jeff Ball)

They kept referring to the “Offys” (Offenhauser engines). “They’re the fastest,” they insisted. My family still owned and operated Dale Wells Ford Garage at Wray, and I quietly remained loyal to the cars powered by V8(60) engines built by Ford, which competed with the 4-cylinder Offenhauser-powered race cars.

Midget racing at the Lakeside Speedway, begun in 1938, was halted for four years during World War II, then resumed in 1946. Bob Smith’s scrapbook is filled with photos and writeups of such race drivers as Loyd Axel, Johnnie Tolan and Roy Bowe into the 1950s, until stock cars emerged as main interests.

Bobby Ball, Jeff’s father, did some racing at Lakeside in 1949, though his main achievements in midget cars were in California and Arizona. In an 18-race midget series at the Phoenix South Mountain Speedway in 1950, Ball won 14 times and was runnerup in the other four runs. He was winner of the 1950 Western States and Arizona Midget series championships, then finished fifth in the 1951 Indianapolis 500 in the Blakely Oil-sponsored Schroeder Indy roadster.

Ball on Jan. 4, 1953, suffered severe head injuries in an accident at Carrell Speedway in Los Angeles, remained in a coma for 14 months, passing away in February 1954.

Smith and Jeff Ball are included in the chapter, ‘My Favorite Car,’ of my book, “2,600 Cars and a Dog Sled: Bud Wells’ 67 Years in Newspapering and Automobiles,” being printed at Morris Publishing at Kearney, Neb. Each cited his first car as ‘favorite:’ Smith a ’36 Ford, Ball a ’51 Chevy. Books can be ordered at budwellsbooks.com.

Jeff Ball.  (Jan Wells)

Jeff Ball enjoyed a career in sales and management of automobile and motorcycle dealerships in northern Colorado. As a young man, he owned two Lotus Super Sevens; a series 2 car with which he toured Europe with a brother in winter of 1966. The second was the Twincam. “I set records on road racing tracks and a world record in AHRA drag-racing class for the car; it ran 13.7 seconds at 103 mph in Scottsdale in 1971 and I won SCCA season championship for its class in sanctioned autocross competition four years in a row,” Ball said. “I promised my mother when I was 10 years of age that I’d never do professional racing, so amateur racing in the Sevens was gratifying.”

Bob Smith graduated from Denver North High School in May 1954, attended University of Northern Colorado (then known as Colorado State College), accepted a position as wrestling coach at Wray High School and directed the Eagles to 30 conference championships in 33 years and 10 state titles. He’s been a car collector. As a young teacher in 1960, he helped overhaul the engine in his Model A in the shop at the Ford Garage at Wray.

Rock Creek trim firms up ’24 Nissan Pathfinder

The Rock Creek edition of the 2024 Nissan Pathfinder.

A bit more rugged-looking is the consensus on the 2024 Nissan Pathfinder in its relatively new Rock Creek trim level.

Power is delivered from a 3.5-liter V-6 engine, with 9-speed automatic transmission and Intelligent 4X4 (basically all-wheel drive), with offroad-tuned suspension. Horsepower is boosted from a normal 284 to 295 for the Rock Creek trim, which also provides seven Drive modes, including Sand and Mud/Rut aimed at offroading.

An Auto mode automatically adjusts power between front and rear wheels, while a hands-on Pro pilot assist system offers lane-keeping, throttle and brake control.

Acceleration response is smooth and plenty powerful at highway speeds, though it is not as instantly responsive as some competitive V-6s at the various rates of speed. When properly equipped, the Pathfinder can deliver up to 6,000 pounds of towing capability.

Inside, the Pathfinder is roomy and comfortable, with seats of leatherette edges and durable-material centers. Rock Creek badging adds to the offroad image presented by the Pathfinder. Its high-riding dash and hood can reduce visibility to the lower areas out front.

Among competitors are the Jeep Grand Cherokee L, Toyota Grand Highlander, Mazda CX-90, Volkswagen Atlas, Kia Telluride, Dodge Durango and several others.

The Pathfinder carried Jan and me on Sunday out to the home of Brent and Tina Wells in Windsor for the 1st birthday of their youngest grandchild, Kade. EPA estimates for the midsize Nissan SUV are 20/23 miles per gallon; my overall average for 220 miles was 21.9.

Sticker price on the big unit is $45,920, including forward-collision and blind-spot warning, automatic emergency braking, second-row captain chairs, remote-engine start and leather-wrapped steering wheel.  

The Pathfinder, built in Smyrna, Tenn., is in its sixth generation. It dates back to 1985. The Rock Creek trim was added for the 2023 model year.

QX65 in ’25 may spark surge for Infiniti QX60

A bright bordeaux with black roof for the 2024 Infiniti QX60. (Bud Wells photos)

The week after testing the new Rock Creek trim of the Nissan Pathfinder, we enjoyed the luxury division’s offering from the same platform, the 2024 Infiniti QX60 midsize SUV crossover.

Similar underpinnings, yes, though while those who promote the Pathfinder make mention of its somewhat rugged capabilities, the Infiniti is marketed for its smoothness of operation and luxurious interior.

The reality of that edge in ride and style is summed up at sticker price. Infiniti QX60 AWD range of prices is roughly $52,000 to $70,000. The Nissan Pathfinder’s AWD pricing goes from $38,000 to $55,000. The high-end Autograph trim of the Infiniti I drove was stickered at $69,445; the Pathfinder Rock Creek $45,920.

Smooth power, particularly in low-end acceleration, is on the mild level from Infiniti’s 3.5-liter V-6 engine, 9-speed automatic transmission and Intelligent all-wheel drive. Tow capacity is 6,000 pounds for the 295-horsepower crossover with wheelbase of 114.2 inches, overall length of 198.2 and curb weight of 4,657 pounds. The QX60 averaged 23 miles per gallon in a 50/50 split of city and highway driving. The Pathfinder of the previous week was equipped with the identical 3.5 engine; its overall average was 21.9 mpg.

Throttle and shift controls are adjusted by drive-mode selection between personal, sport, auto, eco or snow. Sport selection pepped things up a bit. ProPilot assist with navigation link, along with traffic-sign recognition and intelligent cruise control add safety and confidence.

A muscular bumper below a distinctive grille is out front of the beautifully finished deep Bordeaux (red) exterior. Seats and lower dash in the three-row QX60 are dressed in quilted, durable semi-aniline leather; driver and front-passenger seat are heated/ventilated with massaging feature. Second-row seats tilt and slide to provide access to the third row. Other highlights are panoramic moonroof, 12.3-inch infotainment display with Bose Performance 17-speaker audio system, rear-door sunshades and ash-wood trim.

The QX60 accounts for almost half of Infiniti’s sales, though the brand has five other models. Major competitors of the QX60 in the luxury field are the Acura MDX, Buick Enclave, Cadillac XT6 and Lincoln Aviator. Though Infiniti has jumped in sales through the first nine months of 2023, its total of 48,830 trails Buick’s 124k, Acura’s and Cadillac’s 110k each and Lincoln’s 59k.

Based on surveys of luxury consumers, part of the sales lag for Infiniti is lesser engine response than the others; some of that reaction might be overcome with a new model for 2025 – a QX65 two-row crossover with coupelike styling, with possibility of turbocharged power. Its fastback body would apparently be of the same platform as the QX60. It would compete with the BMW X6 and Audi Q8.

An Infiniti M35 from 15 years ago.

Twenty years ago, 2003, Infiniti sold almost 119,000 vehicles. Sedans were in favor then and half of Infiniti’s sales were by the G35 car. The Japanese-based company launched its U.S. sales in 1989 with a Q45 sedan and M30 coupe.