Ray Ho 6/20/22

After a couple years of hiatus due to COVID19, the MPG (Motor Press Guild) Drive Day finally resumed at the Calamigos Ranch nested in the Malibu canyons.  Like prior years, this event allows car journalist members to drive and evaluate more new vehicles. I know it’s hard work but somebody has to do it.

Thanks to Tesla and more recently some petroleum industry extortionists, EVs are more popular than ever.  So why not start with some EV fun?

First up is the highly acclaimed Kia EV6.  This Steel Matte Gray example is the GT-Line AWD model equipped with dual motors rated at 320 hp and 446 lb-ft of torque.  The car was quick but surprisingly did not feel very fast.  The ride also seemed too compliant.  If you don’t care much about road feel then it is worth considering.  It does have an excellent 310 miles range.  Its $58K as tested price is on par with other performance EVs. 

Next is the Volvo C40 Recharge.  Comparing it back to back with the Kia EV6 really highlighted the Volvo’s performance car like road feel.  In fact it may be a little too harsh for some.  But man was this thing blistering fast!  It boasts over 400 hp with 0 to 60 in a little over 4 seconds.  The typical Volvo Scandinavian elegance design is an added bonus.

Speaking of design, how do you like the distinctive styling of the Genesis GV60 Performance AWD?  This luxury version looks better proportioned than the Kia EV6 cousin.  This lovely matte white and blue combo Genesis is the real deal.  It was neck breaking fast yet incredibly comfortable.  It has a meaty steering wheel and handled like a high performance grand touring car.  The rotating crystal ball shifter maybe a gimmick but it does add to the overall character of the car.  When I become an EV fan I would definitely put the GV60 at the top of the list.

I was setting myself up for disappointment by wrapping up my EV driving with the Toyota bZ4X.  This Toyota is a sister car of the Subaru Solterra.  Can’t comment on the Solterra but the bZ4X felt way too slow in comparison with the other EVs tested.  I understand it is less expensive but I was pedal to the metal and didn’t feel the typical EV pull.  Besides, the instrument gauge is way out there that I almost prefer the big iPad on the Tesla Model 3.  I said almost. 

Another rising vehicle segment belongs to the compact trucks.  I picked next the XLT or the mid-grade trim in the Ford Maverick lineup.  No you won’t feel like Tom Cruise in a fighter jet but this truck can be had for a cost of about 2 hrs of plane rental for shooting the Top Gun movie.  Even at this price point, the truck doesn’t look, and more importantly, doesn’t feel cheap.  Sure it has hard plastics galore but the material and color scheme somehow makes it work.  I don’t mind the old school analog gauges either.  Ditto for the need to put the key into the ignition switch in the steering column and actually turn it to start the engine (you newly licensed will figure this out).  Hey at least there is a keypad for the driver door.  Note the backseats are a little too upright so I image it can’t be too comfy on long rides.  But as a truck, the small cap is great for weekend Home Depot runs.  However if you are a contractor then you should consider the Ford F-150 Lighting Pro instead.  Like a good contractor, I think Ford has hit this one on the head.  The Maverick is a great affordable light duty truck with an efficient hybrid drive-train.  I can see why this is such a great proposition for someone who is looking for an all around useful vehicle or just wants to slam it like it is 1985.

I can’t talk about the Maverick without also mentioning the Hyundai Santa Cruz pickup.  Yes Hyundai has come a long way since they first introduced the forgettable Excel back in…. you guessed it…1985.  My first impression when I climbed in was that the Santa Cruz is a class above the Maverick.  It felt plush in comparison.  It also drove very well and felt more refined.  I found myself forgetting that I was even in a truck … ok with a teeny cab.  This could be a solid family car/commuter/truck.  Its as tested price of $41K, or about twice the Maverick starting price, is still less than the average cost of a new car.

All that being said, the hottest vehicle segment still belongs to the small SUVs.  I was looking forward to test out the updated 2023 Kia Sportage Hybrid.  This SX-Prestige AWD version clocked in at a reasonable $38K.  The Sportage looks really nice especially in this Shadow Matte Gray finish.  Unfortunately, it looks much better than it drives.  There is really nothing wrong with it but I find it a little boring.

Luckily the I landed myself in the VW Golf R.  Since its introduction, the Golf R has always been among the best hot hatches.  It’s so much fun wiping it around in the canyons. It has more than enough power with precise handling but the steering feels is a tad light for my taste.  I guess daily driving a Scion FR-S has elevated my expectation for the steering feel. 

The other enthusiast car I drove is the Subaru WRX.  It is also very fast albeit with an even lighter steering rack.  Everything else is fine but the unbearable droning exhaust note inside the cabin gave me a mild headache.  I suppose at least people will notice you when you drive in and out of car meets.

Wanted to see how the other halve (people with huge cars and comparable size wallets) lives, I ventured into the massive Lexus LX600 SUV.  This thing is a giant luxury cruiser. Driving it predictably felt heavy and big but in a vehicle like this, the highlight should be at the rear passengers compartment.  Just hang out at the back, enjoy a cold beverage while getting a message.  Of course you can electronically push the front passenger seat forward to get Your Majesty more legroom. Would you also like your fancy steak supersized?