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A vote for eco-friendly rides

Two fine green machines in the Escape, Leaf

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2020 hybrids
Ford Escape Hybrid

While it’s important this year to work with family and friends to help get out the vote, I’ve also needed the occasional distraction. That’s why test-driving cars has been a welcome reprieve. Luckily, the two green machines below turned out to be fine diversions.

FORD ESCAPE HYBRID
$29,000
Mpg: 43 city/37 highway
0 to 60 mph: 8.7 seconds

What better way to escape all the political pandemonium than, well, in a Ford Escape? This year marks the return of the hybrid version, as well as the debut of a plug-in hybrid. What’s more, this compact crossover has been fully redesigned, with all the poise and pluck of a Porsche Macan. While the Macan may be twice as fast—and twice the price—the Escape Hybrid has a 200-hp engine that is still fairly quick. Precise steering is a plus, as is the sturdy suspension that translates into almost no body roll. Inside, the front seats are comfortable but not exactly snug.

Tasteful gauges and controls are easy to use, including an 8.0-inch touchscreen and 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster. As for cargo capacity, a small lithium-ion battery pack takes up a bit of rear-seat legroom but still leaves plenty of space. While it does take a few jujitsu-like maneuvers to fold the rear seats completely flat, this is a minor quibble. Two trim levels are available, both with keyless entry, push-button start, heated seats and smartphone integration. For a $5,000 premium, the high-end Titanium level adds lots of extras: ambient lighting, hands-free liftgate, 10-speaker Band & Olufsen stereo, rain-sensing windshield wipers and more. You can even splurge on a panoramic sunroof and head-up display, though the price tag will start to hit $40,000. But at least those hybrid fuel savings will help offset some of the cost.

NISSAN LEAF
$32,000
Range: 150 to 226 miles
0 to 60 mph: 8.4 seconds

With all the hoopla surrounding flashy high-end electric vehicles like the Audi e-Tron, Jaguar I-Pace or any Tesla model, it’s easy to underestimate the Nissan Leaf. Yet this subcompact has been a tough competitor ever since it was introduced 10 years ago. Back then, the paltry 73-mile range caused battery anxiety every time I slid behind the steering wheel. But the range on this EV has been doubled, thanks to improved technology and a more aerodynamic design—including sculpted headlights that deflect wind from the side mirrors. With the new Leaf Plus model, there’s an even more powerful motor and larger battery pack to extend the range to an impressive 226 miles. While the Leaf Plus adds $6,550 to the sticker price, it also comes with a fast-charging port and upgraded stereo, nav system and adaptive cruise control. But even a base-model Leaf comes with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, as well as safety features like lane-keeping assist, blind-spot monitor and collision warning with emergency braking.

Options include LED headlights, surround-view camera, heated seats and heated steering wheel. Sadly, the back seats don’t fold flat, and there’s no telescoping steering wheel. Some EV contenders also offer more features and a longer range, though often for a price. Overall, the Leaf seems like something George Jetson would drive, from the almost cartoonish styling to the high-pitched whirring motor. There’s also a geeky e-Pedal driving system, which allows the driver to speed up, slow down and even stop the vehicle using only the accelerator pedal. This makes for a rad ride, especially when tackling twisty switchbacks or weaving through commuter traffic. Then there’s the ProPilot semi-autonomous feature, which keeps the car centered in its own lane and automatically brakes/restarts in any kind of gridlock. There are other practical reasons to buy a Leaf, such as Nissan’s renowned reliability and a warranty that covers the battery for up to eight years or 100,000 miles. But as far as EVs go, the Leaf gets my vote because it’s fun and playful.

Nissan Leaf
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Autos

Holiday gifts for car lovers

Something for everyone, from a Barbie Maserati to Subaru dog sweaters

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Sure, a $100 gift card to use at the gas pump or EV charging station is a nice stocking stuffer this holiday season, but there are plenty of other much more playful gifts for car fans. 

Subaru Blue-Striped Beanie

To help reduce waste and carbon emissions, Subaru offers assorted eco-friendly clothing. This includes a blue-striped beanie ($15), made from 100% recycled acrylic knit and festooned with a sassy pom on top. Subaru Motorsports USA logo is embroidered on the side. 

Barbie Maserati Grecale Trofeo SUV 

For megabucks motorheads, Neiman Marcus offers its annual holiday catalogue —a collection of “fantasy gifts”— with the Barbie Maserati Grecale Trofeo SUV ($330,000). This fab ride—in shocking pink and with yellow accents—can sprint from 0 to 60 mph in less than four seconds. Only one is available, with 10% of the sale donated to the Barbie Dream Gap Project, which helps provide equal opportunities for girls and young women. 

Hyundai Nexo Kiddie Car

Back in the day, there were Hot Wheels, Matchbox Cars and Tonka Toys. Today, there’s the Hyundai Nexo kiddie car ($737), an electric-powered plaything with vegan leather, stitched seating and rear sensors that beep when there’s an obstruction. Parents can control the car via a Bluetooth remote-control system. Charging time: seven hours.

Mercedes Classic 300 SL Desk Clock

Turn back time with the Mercedes classic 300 SL desk clock ($85) made of aluminum and stainless steel, with a wave pattern on the dial similar to the design used on the dashboard of that vintage Benz. 

The Godfather Cadillac Model Car

Like Marlon Brando, here’s an offer you can’t refuse: The Godfather Cadillac ($23), a diecast model of the 1955 Fleetwood in that movie. 

Ferrari Wraparound Sunglasses

Caio bella! Sleek unisex sunglasses ($1,275) from Ferrari feature a futuristic wraparound design with steel frame, titanium nose pads and the automaker’s prancing-horse emblem on each lens. 

Maserati Blue Unisex Socks

What better stocking stuffer than, well, socks. Maserati’s blue unisex socks ($31) are made of a high-quality blend of cotton and technical fabric, with the Maserati trident logo inlaid on the side and sole of each sock. Ideal for outdoor activities or sports.

BMW Scooter

The BMW kid’s scooter ($120) is made of durable plastic and metal, with a height-adjustable steering bar and convenient storage drawer to hold stuff. Available in choice of two snazzy color combinations: white/raspberry or black/orange. 

Ford Bronco Holiday Adult Onesie

Ford is proud of its ugly holiday sweaters, but this year there’s the Bronco holiday adult onesie ($45). Made of 100% polyester polar fleece, this glorified pajama comes with loose-fitting hood, tight-fitting cuffs for your arms and ankles, and a cringe-worthy design in maroon, sage and cream coloring. 

Land Rover Heritage Watch

Inspired by old-school aviator timepieces, the Land Rover Heritage Watch ($282) has a leather strap, rugged stitching and early Land Rover logo on a matte black dial and ion-plated case. Available with a snazzy Land Rover presentation box.

Subaru Dog Sweater

Subaru offers festive gifts for those four-legged members in your family, including a holiday dog sweater ($35) made of jacquard knit. Other Subaru pet-centric presents: collars, leashes, clip-on safety light, travel roll-up mat, toss-n-chew dog toy, fleece plushie full of cat nip, and more. 

Retro Datsun Lunch Box

Gearhead foodies will appreciate the Datsun lunch box ($15), with images of two iconic cars from that retro automaker: the racy 240z roadster on one side and the stylish 510 sedan on the other. 

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Autos

Charged up about electric vehicles

Bolt EUV, BMW iX xDrive 50 offer climate-friendly style

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Chevrolet Bolt EUV

For me, electric vehicles are like superheroes. They nix tailpipe emissions. They combat climate change. And they come with scads of slick gadgets. 

Today’s cutting-edge EV designs also look, well, electrifying. And you can’t beat the adrenaline rush, the ability to dash lickety-split down the road—even when tapping the accelerator ever so slightly. 

I recently drove two EVs that gave me a real charge. And who knows, they just may help save the planet. 

CHEVROLET BOLT EUV
$29,000
MPGe: 125 city/104 highway
Driving range: 247 miles
0 to 60 mph: 6.8 seconds

Shazam! As with that comic-book superhero, lightning has struck the compact Chevy Bolt EV hatchback. The result: the all-new Bolt EUV—aka Electric Utility Vehicle—a compact SUV that’s six inches longer than the hatchback. Sure, the six-year-old Bolt EV was nicely updated last year, but the surprise addition of the larger EUV brings much-needed legroom for rear-seat passengers. Both Bolts sport the same offbeat design, full of comely creases and large windows for an airy interior. And there are notable amenities, including LED headlights, heated exterior mirrors, remote start and remote keyless entry. 

But the EUV comes with so many extras, especially in the Premier trim level: Bose stereo, onboard navigation system, panoramic sunroof, illuminated charging port and more. This is also the first Chevy with Super Cruise, an advanced hands-free-driving system for automatic braking, steering and acceleration. The cabin features a 10.2-inch infotainment screen, 8-inch digital display, smartphone integration and flat-bottom steering wheel with integrated audio controls and such. 

While I prefer traditional gearshift levers versus the gear-selector buttons in the Bolt, more automakers are opting for such gearshift buttons, toggles or knobs because they take up less space. Battery range is listed at 247 miles, but I fared closer to 270 miles. You get only four miles of charge per hour using a standard 120-volt outlet, but a full-charge from a 240-volt outlet takes just seven hours, which is decent. Along with the eight-year/100,000-mile battery warranty, roadside assistance is five years/60,000 miles. Overall, both Bolts—whether hatchback or EUV—are stylish and affordable. But expect the new Bolt EUV to ferry around those superheroes in your life a bit more comfortably.  

BMW iX xDRIVE 50
$85,000
MPGe: 86 city/87 highway
Driving range: 315 miles
0 to 60 mph: 4.2 seconds

Beware the magical powers of a BMW iX xDrive 50, the automaker’s first all-electric SUV. This rousing ride boasts the speed of The Flash, the tenacity of Thor and the savvy of Storm. In other words, what’s not to like? Sure, this all-new BMW costs three times as much as a Chevy Bolt EUV. But the iX scoots down the road a lot faster, tackles twisties with confidence and brakes like a true race car. 

Size-wise, the iX is akin to a midsize BMW X5 SUV, with comfortable seating for five passengers and beaucoup storage space. Here the comparisons end. With sci-fi styling, the iX is more futuristic than anything BMW has tried before. Take the signature kidney-shaped grille, which has been bent and stretched as if from another dimension. Cameras, radar gizmos and other sensors are hidden in the grille, which is covered by a polyurethane coating that gives it the power to heal itself—or basically erase—any minor scratches or dings. I mean, like, wow.  

Frameless windows and the flush exterior door handles add to the aerodynamic ambience. As for the interior, this is what I imagine cockpits in luxury space shuttles will look like someday. There’s a funky hexagonal steering wheel, a center console that seems to float between the front seats, and buttons instead of handles to open the doors from the inside. Hovering atop the dashboard is an elongated digital monitor, stretched to fit the 14.9-inch infotainment display and 12.3-inch digital gauge cluster. 

The seat-adjustment controls, infotainment control knob and other switchgear can be ordered in crystal glass. And many materials in the iX are recycled, including carpets and floor mats made from used fishing nets and other items. Also of note: When flying down the highway, the cabin is one of the quietest available, beating even Bentley and Rolls-Royce. For 2023, a high-performance iX M60 model arrives with even more power and pizzazz. Another super vehicle we can look forward to on the road.

BMW iX xDRIVE 50
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Autos

Smart haulers: Nissan Pathfinder and Ford Expedition

Two big bruisers that won’t break the budget

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Nissan Pathfinder

Electric vehicles are charging ahead, with the passage of a landmark clean-energy bill last month and automakers designing innovative new models. But a world of electric-only vehicles will take time. In the U.S. the goal is 2035, but until then many drivers—especially those looking for huge haulers—will still need to rely on traditional gas-powered rides. 

Luckily, there are some smart choices out there, including these two big bruisers. 

NISSAN PATHFINDER
$35,000
Mpg: 21 city/27 highway
0 to 60 mph: 6.7 seconds

The completely redesigned Nissan Pathfinder is a big step up from the previous model. Although classified as a midsize SUV, this year’s new Pathfinder is now a lot longer, wider, and taller. The result: a spacious cabin with oodles more storage compartments and enough room for up to eight passengers. Another plus: Accessing the third row is much easier here than in most SUVs. Gone is the slouching profile of the previous Pathfinder, last updated 10 years ago (about twice the time most vehicles receive a redesign). The edgier styling is also boxier, but in a good way, with a chiseled front fascia, brawny side panels and strapping rear end—you know, sort of like Luke Evans. 

Despite having the same capable V6 engine as before, fuel economy is slightly better. An updated transmission improves acceleration, while stiffer springs and other tweaks shore up the steering and overall handing. In other words, there’s no mushy bounciness over potholes and speed bumps. Thicker glass and extra insulation create a more muted cabin. And there’s a modish vibe with high-quality materials, including finely stitched seats, faux brushed-aluminum trim and a sporty flat-bottom steering. Most impressive, though, are the high-tech bells and whistles: smartphone integration, wireless charging pad, voice-command capability, windshield head-up display, 360-degree bird’s-eye camera, ambient interior lighting, 13-speaker Bose stereo and scads of safety options. 

During a weekend getaway along the East Coast this summer, my husband Robert sat regally in one of the second-row captain’s chairs as he occasionally bellowed, er, gently suggested alternate routes to less congested roads. It may not have been the same as being chauffeured around in a limousine, but it sure felt that way—for both of us. 

FORD EXPEDITION
$53,000
Mpg: 17 city/23 highway
0 to 60 mph: 6.7 seconds

Speaking of limos, President Biden’s ride—nicknamed “the Beast”—shares dimensions with another jaw-dropping vehicle: the Ford Expedition, which is almost 18-feet long. (An extended-wheelbase model—the Expedition Max—stretches, incredibly, about 20 feet.) At 5,500 pounds, the Expedition is lightweight compared with the Beast, which weighs four times as much. Gas mileage in the Expedition is decent for such a large hauler. And acceleration is superb, with an energetic twin-turbo V6 available in three configurations. 

Slipping behind the wheel, I expected this hulking SUV to be a challenge driving in city traffic. But the composed handling is more akin to the midsize Nissan Pathfinder, which itself performs like a smooth yet sporty family sedan. And the front parking sensors, backup camera, surround-view camera and parking-assist feature help you fit this full-size Ford practically anywhere. 

For 2022, the Expedition gets a midlife makeover, with some styling cues that echo a ritzy Range Rover: less exterior chrome, streamlined grille and thin wraparound headlights. Luxe amenities include a tech-laden dashboard, tri-zone automatic climate control, massaging front seats, power-folding second and third seats, and running boards that automatically deploy whenever getting in or out of the vehicle. While a 12-inch touchscreen for the infotainment system comes standard, you can opt for the stunning 15.5-inch vertical display found in the all-electric Mustang Mach-E. Other notable goodies: Wi-Fi hotspot, rear-seat entertainment system, 22-speaker Bang & Olufsen stereo and even hands-free driving. Best of all are two new trim levels: the rugged Timberline, with better off-road capability, and the supersonic Stealth, which rockets from 0 to 60 mph in just 4.9 seconds—faster than a high-performance tuner car. 

While the Expedition may not be built for heads of state like that other Beast, this behemoth is affordable and full of fine features. And it came in handy when I drove to Goodwill to donate boxes of baubles and such that had been gathering dust in the basement. But don’t tell my husband — many of those trinkets were his. 

Ford Expedition
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