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Despite the demise of traditional automobiles and the runaway popularity of sport utility vehicles and their crossover cousins, it’s still possible to find engaging, driver-oriented sports sedans. The 2022 Audi S3 slots in among the best.
The slots reference is apt because the S3’s tidy size, quickness, and youthful handling make it sometimes seem like a full-size version of those toy slot cars competing on indoor public raceways around the country.
It’s the middle of three versions of Audi’s subcompact four-door sports sedans: A3, S3, and the upcoming RS3. The A3 was a semi-finalist for North American Car of the Year, an organization of 50 automotive journalists from the U.S. and Canada. The S3 and RS3 are more powerful and expensive versions of the A3.
The last time DriveWays looked at an Audi A-Class was the 2019 RS, which we described then as one of the sweetest performing automobiles anywhere.
The 2022 S3 reviewed here doesn’t quite measure up to that standard. It has some rougher edges, mainly because it and the A3 are powered by 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engines. The S3’s makes 306 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque, while the RS3 gets Audi’s smoother 2.5-liter five-cylinder engine with 401 hp and 369 lb-ft of torque.
Power gets to the pavement through a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission (DCT), which snaps off shifts up or down in milliseconds. The new transmission shifter is a large toggle switch operated by a thumb and forefinger, which requires looking down until you get used to it. There are both “drive” and “sport” settings; the latter holds shift points to higher engine revs for quicker throttle response.
Four driving modes also can be selected with the touch of a button: Dynamic, Comfort, Auto and Individual. For rapid running, choose the “sport” setting and select Dynamic, which makes performance adjustments to the steering and suspension system.
However, do not choose “sport” for highway cruising because the higher revs will ravage fuel economy, which is not outstanding to begin with, rated at a city/highway/combined 23/32/27 mpg on premium fuel.
Still, the S3 comes across as an exciting driving machine with a prominent engine bark under hard acceleration, enough to rocket it to 60 miles an hour in the four-second range. It comes standard with Audi’s Quattro all-wheel drive, a tightly snubbed but supple suspension system and quick though heavy steering.
The ride suffers some from the low-profile high-performance run-flat tires, but it is controlled on all but the roughest surfaces, making it a reasonably comfortable commuter as well as a stoplight dragster.
With just 88 cubic feet of space for passengers and a small trunk of 10 cubic feet, the S3 is classified by the EPA as a subcompact, though on the threshold of the compact class. It has ample space up front for the driver and passenger with quilted leather upholstery and prominent side bolsters.
Outboard back seat passengers also are treated to decent head and knee room, though entry and exit takes a bit of torso twisting. As usual in many current vehicles, the center-rear passenger suffers with a hard cushion, shortchanged space and a floor hump.
The tested S3 came with full safety equipment, some optional, including automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, forward collision warning and avoidance, active lane keeping assist, rear cross-traffic assist, head-up display, blind-spot warning, adaptive cruise control, auto-dimming mirrors and tire pressure monitoring.
Comfort and convenience items include three-zone automatic climate control, navigation system, SXM satellite radio, Bluetooth audio streaming, smart phone interface, Bang & Olufsen premium sound system and a panoramic glass sunroof. Unfortunately, the sunroof had a shade made of a flimsy perforated cloth which admitted too much sunlight—a characteristic of some European luxury cars.
Given a competitive set of luxury performance cars, including the Cadillac CT4-V, BMW M235i Gran Coupe and Mercedes-Benz AMG A35, it’s no surprise that the Audi S3 leans toward the pricey end of the spectrum.
The tester came with a starting price of $45,945. With options that included a $6,600 Prestige package, the Nappa leather and Sport packages totaling $2,350, and the Black Optic package with the performance tires at $1,950, the S3’s bottom line sticker price topped out at $57,440.
Though the 2022 Audi S3, in this view, cruises behind the earlier generation 2019 RS3 in memorable affection, it is a worthy successor and a linchpin in Audi’s skill set at delivering desirable small sports sedans.
It’s clever and so simple, but it illustrates the creative thinking that went into the design and engineering of the all-new 2022 Ford Maverick XL pickup truck.
It’s the tailgate, which everyone takes for granted but is becoming a design element of its own, as witnessed on the multi-talented tailgate on the GMC full-size pickups.
Not complicated on the Maverick. Drop the tailgate, and it lines up flush with the cargo bed. But simply move the side cable supports to a higher connection, and it stops on an angle.
That enables the Maverick, with its 4.5-foot cargo bed, to carry the familiar 4X8-foot sheets of plywood. They rest on the rear wheel well arches and line up precisely with the tilted tailgate. There also are tie-downs to secure the plywood and other cargo.
Ford also has produced do-it-yourself videos called “Hack Your Maverick” that have detailed instructions and costs of materials to make and install a bed rack for $45 to secure two bicycles; another to make a bed side rail for additional tie-downs, also $45, and a third to add an air compressor and bed lighting for $60. Electrical connections for the last lurk behind a small door on the left-rear side of the bed.
It’s all in keeping with Ford’s laudable effort to deliver a genuine low-cost pickup truck and compact passenger carrier in one package. The company has decided to stop making passenger cars to concentrate on trucks, crossovers, and other sport utility vehicles, some with electric power.
The new Maverick is a precursor. The base XL model with front-wheel drive and a continuously variable automatic transmission was tested for this review. The standard power source is a hybrid, with a 2.5-liter gasoline engine and two electric motors delivering a combined 191 horsepower and 155 lb-ft of torque, which earned a city/highway/combined fuel economy rating from the EPA of 42/33/37 mpg.
You also can order all-wheel drive and a 2.0-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine that makes 250 hp and 277 lb-ft of torque. That setup comes with an eight-speed automatic transmission.
There are three Maverick versions: the tested XL with a $21,490 price tag, including the destination charge; XLT at $23,775, and Lariat at $26,985.
Though it lacks a few amenities, the tested XL came with comfortable cloth upholstery with good seat bolsters and plenty of head, knee, and leg room for four passengers. There’s a center seatbelt in the back for a fifth passenger, who gets a hard cushion and intrusion of a floor hump and the center console.
The XL does not have power outside mirrors, so you must adjust them manually by reaching out the windows. There’s also no cruise control, automatic climate control, or satellite radio. The air conditioning is manual, single zone. But Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard. There’s an eight-inch center touch screen, AM-FM stereo radio, power windows and door locks, tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, Wi-Fi hot spot, and automatic emergency braking.
On the road, the XL’s hybrid power train delivered strong, seamless, and smooth performance, not unlike the new Ford Bronco Sport, with which it shares a platform. Without an instrumented test, the estimate here is that the zero-to-60-mph acceleration is in the seven- to eight-second range, so it’s no slouch in traffic.
The Maverick cruised quietly in modest motoring on smooth roads. Things get a bit more raucous with engine and road noise intrusion at Interstate speeds, but overall, there’s little hesitation in taking a long cruise.
It also feels planted on the road, though the ride can get a bit bouncy on rough surfaces — as with most empty pickup trucks. There’s a solid feel and feedback through the steering, and the Maverick takes curves flat, with little lean, if you don’t push it too hard. Its relatively small size enables a tight turning circle and good maneuverability in crowded places.
There’s no denying that Ford knows trucks. Its full-size F-150 is the most popular vehicle in the United States and has been the best-selling pickup truck for over 40 years.
Model: 2022 Ford Maverick XL hybrid four-door, five-passenger pickup truck.
Engine/motors: 2.5-liter four-cylinder gasoline; two electric motors; combined 191 hp, 155 lb-ft torque.
Transmission: Continuously variable automatic with front-wheel drive.
Overall length: 16 feet 8 inches, including 4.5-foot cargo bed.
The yin and yang of the 2022 Jeep Grand Wagoneer surfaced on a modest trip around town, followed by a visit to a big city’s mangled traffic.
Puttering around Northern Virginia outside Washington, D.C., and stopped at a light, a late model Cadillac Escalade pulled up alongside. The driver stared at the big, black sport utility vehicle and asked what it was.
“The new Jeep Grand Wagoneer,” was the reply.
“Beautiful,” he replied.
Less than 10 minutes later, at another light, another driver in a 2001 Mitsubishi Montero Sport pulled up alongside, looked and asked what it was. The answer was the same.
“Beautiful,” he said.
Only later, after a comfortable and uneventful cruise to Baltimore on Interstate 95 — one of the most clogged freeways anywhere — were the encounters with sticky urban traffic. Highlights included the back-and-forth maneuvers trying to enter a narrow hotel parking garage with a giant Jeep that measures nearly 18 feet long, 7 feet wide and 6 feet 4 inches tall.
Passengers were unanimous. “It’s too big,” they said.
That phrase and the “beautiful” exclamation were repeated over the next couple of days at a family outing as other admirers and the curious either viewed or rode in the Grand Wagoneer.
So, the verdict is that this resurrection of a pioneering and storied sport utility vehicle with luxury accouterments and off-road credentials is that it is both beautiful and too big.
The latter certainly is true. It’s the most massive Jeep ever. It has three rows of seats and can comfortably accommodate seven passengers, including three adults in the third row, the latter almost unheard of even in big SUVs. An eight-passenger version with a second-row bench seat instead of captain’s chairs also is available.
Well, it’s not actually too big if you’re used to driving a full-size pickup truck or an SUV like the Chevrolet Suburban or Ford Expedition. Jeep is part of the Stellantis automotive group and the Grand Wagoneer is built on the full-size Ram pickup truck platform. However, it has an air suspension system, independent at the rear, for improved ride and handling instead of the Ram’s solid rear axle.
The first impression behind the wheel and moving off is that this is a luxury vehicle, not unlike a big GLS-Class Mercedes-Benz. It has a hefty, quality feel and delivers a quiet, comfortable ride on well-maintained road surfaces — what almost anyone would cherish for a long-distance trip without driver fatigue.
That should be no surprise given the tested Series II’s sticker price of $102,030, up from a base of $96,845, including the destination charge. And that’s not even the most expensive version. The top-of-the-line of five models, the Grand Wagoneer Series III Premium, starts at $109,980.
But the Series II with four-wheel drive comes with enough chops and goodies to satisfy almost any luxury SUV intender. Start with the power train.
The engine delivers 471 horsepower and 455 lb-ft of torque, or twisting force, from the company’s proven 6.4-liter V8 engine. It is hooked to an eight-speed automatic transmission with a two-speed transfer case for off-road adventures.
The combination is enough to move this more than three-ton beast to 60 mph in the six- to seven-second range, with a top speed of more than 100 mph. For boaters and those with luxury-home trailers, it can tow up to 6,400 pounds. Unsurprisingly, the penalty is an EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption rating of 13/18/15 mpg.
The Grand Wagoneer comes with full safety equipment, including automatic emergency braking and collision warning, rear cross-traffic alert, blind-spot monitoring, lane departure warning with lane-keeping assist, night vision with pedestrian and animal detection, adaptive cruise control, a head-up display, and a self-parking function.
Touch screens appear across the dash and in the second-row seats. They cover climate and other controls, including Apple Car Play, Android Auto, rear-seat entertainment, and high-performance McIntosh audio. There are 23 speakers, subscription Wi-Fi hotspot and USB ports in all three rows of seats.
After all, this is still a Jeep, so it has sophisticated off-road equipment like a front differential with a disconnect function, limited-slip rear differential, and terrain and speed control for slow-motion maneuvering in rugged areas. But you might want to give serious thought about whether to take it on something like the famed Rubicon Trail in California.
It’s too big.
Model: 2022 Jeep Grand Wagoneer Series II 4X4 three-row sport utility vehicle.
Engine: 6.4-liter V8; 471 hp, 455 lb-ft torque.
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic with four-wheel drive and two-speed transfer case.
Ford’s fondness for free-spirited, even feisty, names for its vehicles comes to fruition with the 2021/22 Bronco revival, especially the two-door Black Diamond model with four-wheel drive and a seven-speed manual gearbox.
It joins the Raptor trucks; Mustang models, including those with electric power or brutish gasoline engines, and the all-new Maverick, now no longer an economy sedan but a small pickup truck with a hybrid powertrain.
There’s some minor confusion because the Bronco name attaches to two completely different vehicles—the Bronco Sport, a pleasant compact crossover sport utility vehicle based on the Ford Escape, and the off-road oriented Bronco tested here.
The Bronco comes in six versions, starting with the Base trim level and its price tag of $31,490, and climbing up to the top-line First Edition, which nudges $60,000 with options. There are two engine and transmission choices, along with available four-wheel drive.
Driven for this review was the 4X4 Black Diamond version, up two notches from the Base model and down four from the First Edition. It is powered by a 2.3-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine that makes 300 horsepower and 325 pound-feet of torque. It arrived with a starting price of $38,340 and, with a modest list of options, topped out at $40,025, reasonable given its off-road capabilities,
On the tester, the turbo four-banger was mated to a seven-speed manual gearbox, with second through seventh of those speeds set up for overall driving. First gear has an ultra-low crawl ratio for turtle traveling in rugged terrain.
The other drivetrain combination pairs a 10-speed automatic transmission with a twin-turbocharged V6 engine that delivers 330 horsepower and 415 lb-ft of torque to the rear wheels or all four wheels. The V6 is not available with the seven-speed stick shift.
At first blush, this Bronco comes across as a lean, mean machine that would be amenable to an owner who relaxes in sack cloth and ashes. Though it’s as well equipped as most vehicles are these days, it makes do with manual climate control and without adaptive cruise control.
As with its main competitor, the Jeep Wrangler, you can remove the roof and doors for adventuring in the elements, where it is most comfortable in its steel skin. This is a vehicle for challenging the boondocks; it is not suited to long-distance cruising.
There’s plenty of power from the turbo four-banger, and the seven-speed manual gearbox shifts smoothly, though with long throws. (You don’t use the crawl ratio in normal on-road driving). Zero to 60 miles an hour acceleration is in the seven second range and the EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption rating is 17/19/18 miles to the gallon.
At highway speeds, the cavernous interior functions like an echo chamber, amplifying sounds from tires, road, engine and wind. At lower speeds on smooth surfaces, it quiets down some but the racket at speed, combined with a stiff, choppy ride, can make for driver fatigue.
The Bronco handles well enough in everyday traffic, though the steering is slow at 3.5 turns lock to lock. But the saving grace is its short wheelbase — the distance between the front and rear axles — of just 8 feet 4 inches, which results in a tight turning circle for maneuvering on and off-road.
There’s plenty of utility to go with the sport qualities. It is strictly a four-passenger vehicle with bucket seats in front and back. The back seats only partially fold, limiting the cargo carrying capability of 22 cubic feet with the seats up and 52 cubic feet folded. Loading is through a big sideways opening third door. Unfortunately, it is hinged at the right side, which means that the person doing the loading has to stand in the street.
Embarking passengers, especially into the back seats, presents a challenge. The step-in height is more than knee high and, as in any two-door, you have to clamber past the front seatback. Children and tall gymnasts won’t have much of a problem but it’s nearly impossible for older adults to crawl back there. The lesson here is if you’re going to regularly accommodate passengers, wait for the four-door Bronco.
The Ford Bronco dates back to 1966 and the version most similar to the 2021/22 model was the last of the first-generation Broncos in 1977. It was about the same size and had a V8 engine but with just 135 hp.
Model: 2021/22 Ford Bronco 2-Door Advanced 4X4 Black Diamond sport utility vehicle.
You could call Ford’s new 100% electric F-150 Lightning the Renaissance Man of pickup trucks. This tantalizing cookie does it all:
Quiet and comfortable long-distance highway cruising, hands-free if you wish, for up to five passengers.
A front trunk, or “frunk” of 14 cubic feet to carry their luggage and a 53 cubic feet cargo box out back with unlimited air above to carry whatever else.
Rapid acceleration. How’s zero to 60 miles an hour in 4.5 seconds?
Confident handling on twisting mountain curves.
Outstanding towing and load carrying capabilities.
Off-road competence that rivals a Jeep or Land Rover.
Fully charged, a range of up to 320 miles.
Oh, and should you have a power failure at home, it can supply electricity to your house for three to ten days, depending on how judiciously you use it.
The F-150 Lightning is Ford’s tour de force for the upcoming electric age of motor vehicles. With gasoline prices and consumer interest soaring, electrics are poised to steadily increase in sales. It won’t happen overnight but one analysis estimates that half of the new vehicles sold in 2050 will be electric.
It’s almost certain that the Lightning will be prominent among them. For more than 45 years, the Ford F-Series gasoline and diesel fueled trucks have been the best-selling vehicle brand in the United States. Of course, that includes heavier duty versions. But the F-150 has the distinction of being the most popular motor vehicle of all time.
Despite its more muscular gasoline brethren, the F-150 Lightning is no lightweight. Standing empty, it weighs 6,171 pounds and, depending on equipment and battery size, can carry loads of 1,952 to 2,235 pounds. It also can tow trailers weighing 5,000 pounds to 10,000 pounds.
Moreover, it does so with relaxed aplomb. At the recent press introduction in the Texas hill country near San Antonio, the Lightning XLT model driven for this review hauled a 5,000-pound trailer carrying a tractor. It was effortless. From behind the wheel, it did not feel much different from driving empty and without a trailer. The surprise was to look in the rear-view mirror and see a driverless tractor bearing down on the rear bumper.
On the curving hill country roads, the Lightning calmly responded accurately to steering inputs. The handling was enhanced by a new coil spring independent rear suspension system and a superb chassis design that delivered a low center of gravity. The electric motors are installed low down, level with the encased lithium-ion battery pack beneath the passenger cabin.
All-wheel drive is standard, with one surprisingly small electric motor driving the front wheels and the other between the rear wheels. Together they punch out 580 horsepower and 775 lb-ft of torque, or twisting force.
Because electric motors deliver instant torque as soon as they are switched on, off-roading with the tested XLT was almost like a ride in the park. There was no need for a low-range transfer case, and a locking differential helped power through tougher stages.
The super cool benefit of the Lightning comes with the Ford Charge Station Pro, included on some higher trim levels and an option on less expensive versions. The home-installed system can swap power, functioning as a charger for the truck and a generator for the house during a power outage.
With this high-tech stuff, including Ford’s hands-off driving mode with adaptive cruise control, the Lightning doesn’t come cheap. The tested XLT had a base price of $54,669, including the destination charge, and a tested price of $75,814. Other trim levels are the base Pro, at $41,669; Lariat at $60,169, and the luxurious Platinum model at $92,569.
Anticipation for this exciting new truck has been widespread, with reports that more than 200,000 potential buyers have ordered the Lightning even without knowing much about it. Unfortunately, there have been reports of dealers jacking up the prices to customers before deliveries started. Ford is working to squelch that.
Once the word gets out, it would be no surprise to witness a classic stampede of buyers for their new rides.
Model: 2022 Ford F-150 Lightning XLT four-door pickup truck.
Motors: Dual, front and rear electrics with extended-range battery; 580 hp, 775 lb-ft torque.
Transmission: Single speed direct-drive automatic.
The 2022 MINI Cooper S Hardtop 2 Door represents the culmination of more than 60 years of thinking — and designing — outside the box, inspiring a level of affection, and fame few automobiles have ever achieved.
The first Mini was conceived in Great Britain as a tiny, inexpensive, fuel-efficient two-door hatchback. Introduced in 1959, it could fit in a box measuring 4x4x10 feet and still carry four people. To do it, engineer Sir Alec Issigonis designed it with features outside the existing box.
Issigonis worked for the British Motor Corp., which initially sold the Mini as the Austin Seven and Morris Mini Minor. His concept was a small hatchback with caster-like 10-inch wheels out on the corners and equipped with a crosswise-mounted front engine and front-wheel drive to maximize passenger space.
The result was a little boomer with a 34-horsepower four-cylinder engine of less than one-liter displacement with a broad stance and low center of gravity that optimized handling. It soon won racing and rally victories, especially after racer John Cooper tuned it, while at the same time functioning as economical transportation for millions of the hoi polloi.
It became so mesmerizing to people everywhere it was sold that, by the turn of the millennium from the 20th to 21st centuries, Mini sales were over five million, and a panel of 130 international automotive journalists had selected it “European Car of the Century.” It also was voted the second-most influential car of the 20th century, behind the Ford Model T but ahead of the Volkswagen Beetle.
However, new anti-pollution regulations in 1968 kept the Mini pandemic from the United States — that is, until Germany’s BMW (Bavarian Motor Works) acquired the Mini name and some assets and introduced the modern MINI in 2002 to American buyers.
MINI still assembles its cars in the United Kingdom (in Oxford), but the hot hatch is essentially a German car with British heritage. Almost a third of its parts, 32%, come from Germany, compared to 19% from the U.K.
So, it’s okay to think of the 2022 MINI Cooper S Hardtop tested for this review as a British BMW, or maybe a German MINI. It exhibits characteristics of the automobiles of both countries, including some British eccentricities and German solidity.
But it’s no longer a minuscule mule for the masses. It still has its charms of small size for competent handling, shooting holes in traffic, ease of parking, and decent fuel economy. Although it has no direct competitors, it is relatively expensive — more like a Volkswagen GTI than a Nissan Versa or Sentra.
The tester came with a starting price of $27,750, including the destination charge. With options that included a panoramic sunroof, dual-zone automatic climate control, touchscreen navigation, Apple CarPlay, and custom upholstery, the suggested delivered price came to $34,850. Automatic emergency braking and lane-departure warning are standard.
But it no longer can fit in the original Mini’s box. It is 12 feet 8 inches long, 4 feet 8 inches tall, and 5 feet 8 inches wide. That’s still small by U.S. standards, which classify it as a subcompact based on its interior volume, totaling 80 cubic feet for passengers with a scant 9 cubic feet for cargo.
With the injection of German technology, this new MINI S is more of a high-performance hatchback like the VW GTI, Hyundai Veloster, or Subaru WRX. MINI power emanates from a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine with twin turbochargers that pumps out 189 hp and 207 pound-feet of torque. The grunt makes its way to the front wheels by way of a six-speed manual gearbox. An automatic transmission is optional.
Many enthusiasts, including this one, prefer the manual. But the six-speed, though it works well enough once you get used to it, is a bit of a disappointment. The shift linkage is stiff and somewhat bumpy shifting up and down through the gears. No snick-snick here. There’s also a steep learning curve to master the infotainment system housed in the big circle in the dash.
On the road, the tested MINI Cooper 2 Door delivered what its predecessors always have: driving entertainment. Punch the throttle, shift quickly, and you can hit 60 mph from rest in about six seconds, accompanied by engine roar as the revs build. Cruising, it all quiets down to a smooth surge of power with “go-kart handling” on curves.
Model: 2022 MINI Cooper S Hardtop 2 Door subcompact hatchback.
Detroit, Michigan — The Ford Motor Co. won two of the three major 2022 United States and Canada vehicle awards Tuesday, Jan. 11, with all-new entries: the Ford Maverick pickup truck crowned North American Truck of the Year and the Ford Bronco winning the Utility of the Year award.
Car of the Year went to the re-designed 2022 Honda Civic, the 11th generation of a perennial favorite that has held its own against the increasing popularity of crossover sport utility vehicles.
The awards, which date back 28 years, are sponsored by the North American Car of the Year organization, composed of 50 automotive journalists from the United States and Canada. NACTOY bills itself as the longest-running independent vehicle competition — and the only one unaffiliated with any media outlet.
Journalist members of NACTOY (including this writer) must drive and evaluate all of the nominees for three rounds of voting. This year started with 36 nominated vehicles, which resulted in nine finalists—three in each category. The votes, tallied by Deloitte, an international financial services firm, are kept secret until the final announcement.
Winners were announced at the Huntington Place convention center in downtown Detroit, formerly named “TCF Center” and, before that, “Cobo Hall.” The event was co-sponsored by NACTOY and the Automotive Press Association, an organization of automotive journalists based in Detroit.
The 2022 Honda Civic is available as a four-door hatchback and a four-door sedan. Honda will introduce high-performance Si and Type R models later this year. In 2021, Honda Civic U.S. sales totaled 263,787, good for second place after the Toyota Corolla.
Other finalists for Car of the Year were the Lucid Air, an all-new, stunning and expensive 100% electric luxury sedan built in an Arizona factory by a new company based in California, and the Volkswagen GTI and R, high-performance versions of the VW Golf.
The Truck of the Year Ford Maverick is an all-new, entry-level small pickup truck slotting in below the Ford Ranger. It has a starting price of $21,490 with a hybrid power train, a 4.5-foot cargo bed, a payload of 1,500 pounds, and carries four passengers.
Other finalists for Truck of the Year were the Hyundai Santa Cruz, a stylish small pickup truck built like a crossover sport utility vehicle, but with a near $40,000 price tag fully equipped. The other is the Rivian R1T, an innovative full-size all-wheel drive electric pickup truck with four motors and 800 horsepower but a price tag that can easily exceed $70,000.
The Ford Bronco Utility of the Year is a resurrection of an earlier SUV and a challenge to off-road capable vehicles in the Jeep Wrangler and the Land Rover Defender category. It’s a big, brawny SUV that, in addition to a four-door version, comes in a utilitarian two-door with a seven-speed manual transmission.
The award likely does not apply to the Bronco Sport, a completely different compact crossover SUV with underpinnings similar to the award-winning Ford Maverick pickup truck.
Also-rans for Utility of the Year were the slick luxury Genesis GV70 crossover SUV and the futuristic electric Hyundai Ioniq 5, one of a cache of new fast-charging electrics from South Korea’s Hyundai and Kia. Genesis is Hyundai’s luxury brand.
Dedicated automotive publications often do comparison tests of vehicles that compete in the same category. But two of the newest midsize pickup trucks are so individual in themselves there’s no comparison between the 2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz and the 2022 Nissan Frontier.
The Santa Cruz is Hyundai’s first foray into this distinctively American vehicle innovation, though the company doesn’t even call it a pickup, preferring the term “adventure vehicle.” But hardly anybody will think or speak of it that way. It’s a pickup.
Meanwhile, there’s no mistaking the athletic Frontier for anything else. It also is all-new, after the previous generation continued primarily unchanged since the 2006 model. It’s a traditional design, with the body mounted on a frame, where the Santa Cruz is built more like a modern crossover, with a unit body like a car.
Both pickups are innovative enough to be nominated for Truck of the Year by the North American Car of the Year organization, an independent jury of 50 automotive journalists in the United States and Canada, including this reviewer. Three rounds of voting are scheduled before the winner is announced next January.
The success of these new trucks will depend on customers’ mindset—whether they prefer a traditional-looking, hard-working pickup like the Frontier or a more stylish and entertaining driving machine like the Santa Cruz.
A look at the specifications accompanying this review demonstrates the differences. Next to the Santa Cruz, the hunky Frontier is more powerful, weighs more, can tow heavier loads, is longer and taller, and has a larger cargo box. But the Santa Cruz has more space inside for passengers, delivers better fuel economy, and its rated payload is just one pound less than the Frontier’s.
The Frontier’s open cargo box has a capacity of 40 cubic feet and plenty of lights and tie-downs for whatever anyone might want to haul.
Though the Santa Cruz’s cargo box is smaller at 27 cubic feet, it has a built-in cover that works like a tracked window shade to lock away contents and protect them from the weather. There’s also a drainable storage tub under the floor that can hold ice and beverages.
The tested Frontier was a pre-production SV model with high and low range four-wheel drive and a base price of $36,290, including the destination charge. Options packages brought the bottom-line cost to $42,205. Pre-production vehicles have slight differences in equipment, fit, finish, and assembly from the final production version.
The Hyundai Santa Cruz was a production top-line Limited model with all-wheel drive. Fully equipped, its only option was $195 for carpeted floor mats, which brought its delivered price up to $41,100.
Differences between the two pickups emerge in driving. The Frontier is a work truck with heavy, slow steering and a choppy ride when empty. Power comes from its 3.8-liter V6 engine, which delivers 310 hp and 281 lb-ft of torque through a nine-speed automatic transmission the driver can shift manually.
Highway cruising is mostly serene, with some engine and tire noise intrusion, depending on the road surface. Seats, with Nissan’s zero-gravity design, are comfortable and supportive. The driver’s seat has power adjustments, but the passenger gets manual controls. Outboard back seats are spacious, though a bit shy on knee room.
Infotainment is controlled by large center screen, and there are big rotary knobs for radio and climate controls. Equipment includes Apple Car Play and Android Auto, adaptive cruise control, blind-spot warning, rear automatic emergency braking, a trailer hitch, a spray-in cargo bed liner and heated front seats.
Drive the Santa Cruz and the experience mimics being cosseted in a luxurious, high-tech cabin. The jarring note is there are no knobs; only touch buttons. It can be distracting to, say, change the radio volume while underway.
The 2.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine makes 281 hp and 311 lb-ft of torque to all four wheels through an eight-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission with a manual-shift mode. It’s enough to nail 60 miles an hour in the seven second range.
Like its garage mate and sibling, the 2022 Hyundai Tucson, the Santa Cruz has a sporting feel with responsive steering and tight cornering in the twisties, along with a supple and quiet ride that easily eats up the miles.
The 2022 Honda Civic marks the modern maturity of a tiny economy car that made its U.S. debut nearly half a century ago. Since then, the Civic has garnered worldwide sales of over 18 million, more than half of them in the United States.
In July 1972, it started out as a sedan and hatchback, each with two doors, front-wheel drive and a 1.2-liter two-cylinder engine. Later it morphed into the Civic’s famed 1200 four-cylinder CVCC engine, which delivered 50 hp and 68 lb-ft of torque through a four-speed manual gearbox.
The CVCC was a marvel, meeting U.S. emissions requirements without add-ons and tuned to run on leaded or unleaded gasoline while delivering fuel economy of over 40 mpg. It became sought after in the shortages of gasoline during the Arab oil embargo of 1973-‘74.
The Civic was 11 feet 8 inches long and weighed 1,450 pounds. Its base price was a dollar a pound, or $1,450, though you could spend up to $3,300 in 1974 dollars. In 2021, the equivalent dollar amounts would be $8,182 and $18,622.
For 2022, the Touring model tested here delivers 180 hp and 177 lb-ft of torque from a state-of-the-art turbocharged 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine. Power makes its way to the front wheels via a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) with a step-shift feature making it feel something like a conventional automatic, though the faux shifts are very subtle. It also has a manual shift mode controlled by paddles on the steering wheel to mimic a seven-speed transmission.
The CVT is the only transmission available on the new sedans. Enthusiasts who prefer to shift for themselves will await the introductions of the 2022 hatchback, Si and Type R, which will offer Honda’s six-speed manual gearbox, one of the best sticks for front drivers.
The Civic Touring’s EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption is 31/38/34 mpg. Fully equipped, the tester came with a sticker price of $29,295, well below the current average price of about $40,000 for an automobile in the U.S.
Honda Sensing, the manufacturer’s suite of safety equipment, came standard on the test car. It included automated emergency braking with pedestrian detection, adaptive cruise control, and lane-keeping assist with road departure mitigation. Other safety features included blind spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic monitor, low-speed braking control, rain-sensing windshield wipers, knee air bags for the driver and front-seat passenger, electronic brake force distribution, and tire-pressure monitoring.
With its all-new styling, the Civic has it both ways: Though more generic, the fastback treatment makes it resemble other streamlined compact/midsize sedans, including its bigger sibling Accord and even some luxury machines like the Audi A5.
Inside, the tested Touring featured perforated leather-trimmed upholstery, enhanced by wide front seats with prominent bolstering to keep the torso secure in fast corners. Comprehensive instruments, including a digital speedometer, are displayed white-on-black on an LCD screen, while a nine-inch center color touch screen handles navigation, SXM satellite radio, and wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
In back, the outboard seating positions deliver more than adequate head and knee room, and the doors open wide for ease of entry and exit. The center seating position, as usual, is inferior but in this application has a comfortable cushion, though feet must still be splayed on both sides of a large floor hump.
The trunk, which contains a temporary spare and the tools needed for a roadside tire change, is roomy and nicely finished, though the unprotected C-hinges could damage some contents.
On the road, the Civic Touring delivered adequate though not stirring performance, along with competent handling manners and a comfortable long-distance ride. Punch the throttle and it will accelerate to 60 miles an hour in the seven-second range, more than adequate for freeway ramps and passing on two-lane roads.
There are three drive modes — Eco, Normal, and Sport — easily selectable without taking eyes off the road. Sport mainly affects shift mapping but you can drive in Eco and still grab better performance by simply flooring the throttle.
The only somewhat jarring note was that a good deal of road noise on rougher surfaces made its way into the cabin. On newer asphalt highways, the experience was more serene.
Given its affordable price, this new Civic stands out. From a bitty economy car five decades ago, it has grown into a fully realized sedan that can hold its own on performance, comfort, reliability and desirability in almost any company.