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Top rides for 2021

Sorento, Bronco, BMW 530e all impress



2021 cars, gay news, Washington Blade
Kia Sorento

It’s hard to think about cars at a time when our health, our city, and our country is under siege. But for me, writing a car column is a respite from so many gut-wrenching events, from the political to the pandemic. When I eventually do tap back into my newsfeed, I’m more energized and can focus on trying to move forward. I hope reading about cars does the same for you. 

Mpg: 24 city/29 highway
0 to 60 mph: 6.5 seconds

A new year usually signals the start of auto show season. But the pandemic caused many 2020 shows to be cancelled, and now some of them—like the one in D.C. usually held in January—have been rescheduled for later in 2021. 

While local gearheads will have to wait at least until spring for our show, there are already plenty of head-turning vehicles rolling onto dealer lots. This includes the radically redesigned Kia Sorento, a midsize crossover that blends the burly styling of a full-size Telluride with the cheeky curves of a compact Sportage. All three Kias are pleasant to drive, with decent gas mileage and sharp handling. But the Sorento works especially well in the city, offering ample cargo space and an ability to fit almost anywhere. Unlike most competitors, this mid-sizer comes with a third row and a surprising amount of legroom. There’s a choice of four engines, including a traditional hybrid and plug-in hybrid. Base models boast LED headlights, heated outside mirrors and smartphone compatibility. 

Safety gear includes forward-collision braking, driver-attention sensors, lane-departure warning and 360-degree parking camera. When you change lanes, cameras also display live footage of the blind spot on the instrument panel—which has a large, digital-gauge cluster that looks like something from an Xbox game. Other niceties include push-button start, panoramic sunroof, 10.25-inch infotainment touchscreen and 12-speaker Bose stereo. But sometimes the coolest features are the simplest ones: netted pockets on the sides of the seats that can hold your smartphones.

Mpg: 21 city/26 highway
0 to 60 mph: 5.9 seconds

After a 24-year hiatus, the Ford Bronco is back. But forget the rounded edges and slanted rear windows from 1996 when production ceased. Instead, the boxy retro styling evokes the 1966 original: bold and brawny. This new Bronco targets the Jeep Wrangler, duking it out for off-road bragging rights. Ground clearance is higher on the Bronco, and it can make sharper turns. There’s also one-pedal driving, which automatically applies the brakes just by lifting your foot off the accelerator. Ford decided to attach the side-view mirrors to the vehicle frame, not the doors. This way the mirrors stay in place when you remove the doors. As if this wasn’t enough for off-road enthusiasts, a Sasquatch package offers 35-inch monster tires, stiff shocks, a suspension-lift kit and other goodies for trail seekers. The optional manual transmission is a nice touch, as are marine-grade vinyl seats that can be hosed off after a day of play. Choice of two removable hard-top roofs, or you can simply opt for a soft top that can be pulled back to let the sunshine in. Underneath the rough-and-tumble exterior is a spartan yet chic cabin. The 12-inch touchscreen is the largest in this class, and the hard-plastic surfaces and rubberized switch gear make things easy to clean. There’s even a clever slide-out tailgate you can use as a table. 

Ford Bronco

Range: 350 miles
0 to 60 mph: 5.7 seconds

Facelifts can do wonders. Just look at the latest BMW 530e, with its sleeker headlights, stretched grille, and spiffy nips and tucks to the sheet metal. Available in rear-wheel or all-wheel drive, this plug-in hybrid has a new electric motor to boost overall power. Slip behind the wheel and be prepared to be swathed in luxury. The cabin is whisper quiet, and the standard faux-leather trim is just as supple as the real thing. There’s also enough tech gear to rival a space shuttle, including a 12.3-inch digital driver’s display, 12.3-inch infotainment touchscreen, cloud-based maps and smartphone integration. Among all the safety features, there are a few shout-outs: front and rear cross-traffic alert, and a traffic-jam-assist option. Recharging takes seven hours using a standard outlet, and the 530e can travel 21 miles on battery power alone. The first 5-Series sedan rolled off the production line in 1972, just three years after Stonewall. We should all look so good as we approach 50.

BMW 530e


Fab gifts for car fans

From stuffed animals to a $20,000 model car



For those of us who still love Tonka Toys and Matchbox cars, here are some fun gift-giving ideas for all ages this holiday season. 

Ford Bronco Plush Horse

For kids—or adults who just like horsing around—the Ford Bronco polyester stuffed animal ($27) is super soft and comes with a fluffy mane, glossy black eyes and a kicky green bandana. Bonus: It’s machine washable. 

Kia Hamster Seatbelt Buddy

Kia also has its own stuffed animal: the hamster seatbelt buddy ($13), dressed in a black T-shirt and white Kia logo. Two Velcro flaps on the back come together to fit any seatbelt. 

BMW Small Fashion Wallet

Nix the purses and over-stuffed billfolds. The BMW small fashion wallet ($70) is only 4.1×2.9 inches and features two card slots, one banknote compartment and the BMW logo tastefully stamped on the outside. 

Vintage Subaru License Plate

The vintage-looking SUB-ARU license plate ($12) is made of recycled aluminum and measures 6×12 inches. Is it just me, or could there be a subtle message here: I am a “Sub…Are You”?

Montblanc Enzo Ferrari Special-Edition Pen

Dedicated to race-car driver and automaker Enzo Ferrari, this Montblanc special-edition pen ($1,000) is made of metal, resin and platinum-plated detailing. The pen cap features the dates of Enzo’s birth and first racing victory, while the clip is inscribed with his famous phrase: “You cannot describe passion, you can only live it.”

Ford Lightning Multi-Tool Keychain

Electric vehicle fans will get a charge out of the Ford Lightning multi-tool keychain ($10), which doubles as bottle opener, scissors, knife, measuring tool and nail file. Made of stainless steel, this keychain is named for the EV version of the Ford F-Series, the best-selling truck in the U.S. for 46 years.  

Land Rover Classic Watch

Forget a pricey Rolex, the Land Rover Classic Watch ($207) is all about understated elegance. Features include luminated hands and indices, Land Rover lettering, date aperture, textured Italian leather strap, water-resistant casing, and a rotating outer bezel that can be aligned to a second time zone. 

Lexus LX 570 Kiddie Car

EVs are everywhere, and that includes the battery-powered Lexus LX 570 kiddie car ($695). Built for ages two to seven years old, this ride has a white exterior, chestnut brown interior and working LED lights, doors and seatbelts. With remote control access, the car can be driven manually by children or controlled by parents. Built-in Bluetooth, FM radio, USB and SD port for music are also here. Oh, and there’s a real horn to help make sure everybody gets out of the way. 

Mercedes Game Kit

Planes, trains and automobiles…take this Mercedes game kit ($50) anywhere to jazz up your journey. Includes dominoes, dice and playing cards, all in a sturdy metal box. 

Toyota GR Supra ‘Through the Years’ T-Shirt

Celebrating Toyota’s renowned sportster, the GR Supra “Through the Years” T-shirt ($25) has screen-printed silhouettes of this super coupe from 1978 to today. Made of polyester, cotton and rayon, with tear-away label and side seams. 

Cadillac Golf Balls

For golfers looking for a Caddy with a capital “C,” these Titlest Pro V1 golf balls ($70) sport the Cadillac logo. Softer, quieter and with better game spin than most of the competition, these golf balls are the most popular on the pro tours.

Ferrari 250 TR 1958 Lucybelle II Model Car

True Ferrari aficionados appreciate how the original 250 TR—named Lucybelle II and driven by American drivers Ed Hugus and Ray Erickson—placed a respectable seventh place at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1958. At 24 inches long, this handcrafted 1:8 scale model ($19,995) has thousands of engineered parts (including a trunk that opens and a removable engine cover) to showcase one of the most coveted Ferraris in the world. 

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Muscle-car maniac: Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat

You can’t beat this one for a last hurrah in a true muscle car



Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat

It’s hard to forget your first love. For me, it wasn’t exactly Danell Leyva or Michael Sam. Yet there was some serious muscle on my primo amore: a Pontiac LeMans 455 sportster.

Sparkly blue. White racing stripes. Twin-scoop hood. Dual exhaust. Feisty engine. Talk about butch points.

I’ve waxed poetic before about this super coupe, which ferried me all through high school. With tender loving care, I kept my beloved ride in great shape.

Alas, the next owner did not. Soon enough, it was riddled with rust, scrapes and scores of dents. Sigh.

But just last month, bittersweet memories of my first car came back when I tested the 2023 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat. This top-of-the-line model boasts hyper horsepower and, seemingly, supersonic speed. There’s also an acres-long hood, low-slung seats and a tricked-out, gauge-laden dashboard.

Driving this rad Challenger was a thundering throwback to muscle cars of yore. It certainly got my motor running, and it likely will do the same for you.

But not for long: This is the last year of production before Dodge begins churning out an electric-only version.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all in on EVs. They’re fun, fast, and eco-friendly. But if you’re looking for a last hurrah in a true muscle car, the Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat can’t be beat.

MPG: 13 city/22 highway
0 to 60 mph: 3.6 seconds
Cargo room: 16.2 cu. ft.

PROS: wicked fast, kick-ass looks, wake-the-dead rumble
CONS: almost too fast to handle, oh-so-impractical, final year

IN A NUTSHELL: First, the good news. A base-model Dodge Challenger costs $33,000, or $15,000 below the $48,000 average price of a new vehicle today. With a 303-horsepower V6, this two-door hardtop can scoot from 0 to 60 mph in a respectable 5.3 seconds. Not too shabby.

But hey, why settle for “Glee” or “Modern Family” reruns when you can stream more trendy fare like “Dicks: The Musical,” right?

In other words, there are more fabulous Challenger trim levels, each offering more enticing features, styling and power than the next. It all culminates with the SRT Hellcat, which—thanks to an iconic HEMI V8—churns out a ridiculous 807 horsepower and can go faster than many a Ferrari, Lamborghini or McLaren.

Unfortunately, Challenger pricing adds up quickly, especially if you opt for any of the dizzying array of specialty packages, customized paint jobs, interior colors and such. My test car, for example, was an eye-popping $100,000 and included the Redeye, Widebody and Black Ghost configurations. This meant wider wheels and tires, a sportier suspension, larger Brembo brakes, protruding fender flares and a glossy black exterior with white racing stripes across the rear end. The high-test brake calipers, usually bright red, were painted black to highlight the 20-inch silver wheels. For a real retro vibe, there was a circular chrome fuel door that said “FUEL” on the gas cap. The most love-it-or-hate-it feature: the roof, with its funky black-and-gray graphics designed to look like alligator skin.

Production of the Black Ghost is limited to 300 units and is part of Dodge’s “Last Call” series, the automaker’s celebratory nod to the end of the Hemi combustion engine. These special editions include an under-hood plaque stamped with a Challenger silhouette, as well as the factory location of where the car was built.

Driving such a menacing beast was exciting — and scary. At first, there seemed to be too much muscle under the hood, especially on wet roads when this coupe would easily fishtail. But I quickly learned to step on the accelerator ever so gently to still get plenty of thrills. (As for the racetrack-ready “Launch” button on the dashboard, it went unused—though I imagine pressing it just might have taken me airborne.)

The cabin had a smart, old-school ambience yet was full of modern amenities: dual-zone climate control, smartphone integration, flat-bottom steering wheel with paddle shifters, heated/ventilated seats and more. While there was an optional 18-speaker Harman Kardon stereo, turning on the ignition and listening to the throaty rumble was music enough for my ears.

This is no SUV, of course, so don’t expect to haul lots of supplies from Home Dept. But the Challenger does have the most trunk space among sports cars. Split-folding rear seats open up the cargo area even more.

Overall, the Challenger SRT Hellcat was one helluva rush. It offered plenty of speed, sex appeal and ear-splitting screams—from the exhaust pipes, as well as a few of my passengers.

Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat
Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat interior.
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Standout SUVs: Jeep Compass, Subaru Crosstrek

Americans still prefer larger vehicles to sedans



Jeep Compass

Last year Americans left many old-school chariots in the dust, buying twice as many SUVs as sedans. But while early pioneers like the Jeep Cherokee and Ford Explorer get props for leading the sport-ute charge, today there are more than 170 models. I recently test drove two newish SUVs that kinda-sorta remind me of my Pride bracelet: They make a statement, but at an affordable price. 

MPG: 24 city/32 highway
0 to 60 mph: 7.5 seconds
Cargo room: 27.2 cu. ft.

PROS: lots of amenities, good storage, all-wheel drive

CONS: some pricey options, stiff ride, bit noisy cabin

IN A NUTSHELL: Redesigned last year, the Jeep Compass gets a stronger engine for 2023. More power usually means reduced fuel efficiency, but mileage is up almost 10% from the previous model. Another plus: More stowage space, which had been sorely lacking. And all-wheel drive is now standard, so better traction and handling, especially on slick or gravelly terrain. 

Despite having chiseled looks like the midsize Jeep Cherokee, the smaller Compass feels lighter and more limber. But while this compact SUV can handle light off-roading, the short wheelbase makes it hard to ignore potholes or speed bumps. In fact, I often had to slow down to a crawl to not seesaw jarringly over them. In other words, any Barbie or Ken wannabes with perfectly coiffed hair will want to stick to smoother surfaces when driving this vehicle.  

The well-built cabin is much improved, with higher quality materials. The dash is covered in soft-touch leather—a nice touch—with a 7-inch digital instrument cluster and 10.1-inch touchscreen. Plenty of legroom and headroom in front, but tallish backseat passengers may feel a bit squished. 

There are five trim levels, including the top-of-the-line Trailhawk, with more aggressive styling and solid off-road capability. I tested the mid-range Latitude Lux, which costs $5,000 more than the base model but comes with larger wheels, heated seats, and other niceties. 

Notable tech features: smartphone integration, Wi-Fi hot spot, Bluetooth, wireless charging, voice recognition, remote start and nine-speaker Alpine stereo. 

But it’s the list of safety gear that rally wowed me, such as rearview camera, park assist, lane-departure warning, driver-attention monitoring, rear-seat passenger reminder, pedestrian and cyclist detection, blind-spot monitor, forward collision warning with active braking, and—whew!—so much more. 

MPG: 28 city/34 highway
0 to 60 mph: 9.1 seconds
Cargo room: 20 cu. ft.

PROS: decent mileage, comfy seats, user-friendly cabin

CONS: poky base engine, so-so storage, plasticky dashboard

IN A NUTSHELL: With so much sport-ute competition these days, automakers seem to be revamping their SUV models each year (not every four to six years, as in the past). This time, the Subaru Crosstrek receives some nifty design flourishes and major cabin upgrades. Compared to the butch Jeep Compass, the curvier Crosstrek looks trés chic. Think boyish Buck versus trendy Eddie on “911.” 

Based on the nimble Impreza hatchback, the subcompact Crosstrek feels car-like and agile. Two engine choices, but opt for the more potent powerplant so it doesn’t feel like you’re just treading water. While the Crosstrek is smaller and slower than the Compass, the ride here is smoother and more composed. Higher ground clearance, tighter suspension and quick all-wheel drive system all help, as does a new direct-steering system. Plus, paddle shifters, which I only needed to use once or twice when merging into traffic, provide plenty of extra oomph. 

The Crosstrek cabin, which is surprisingly quiet, offers good legroom for passengers in both the front and back. An optional 11.6-inch infotainment touchscreen is mounted vertically, similar to those iPad-like displays found in the Ford Mustang Mach-E and various luxury vehicles. 

It says something when my biggest beef with the Crosstrek is the placement of the odometer reset button, which is only a smidge above the remote start button. Both buttons are completely obscured behind the steering wheel, so I was constantly reaching around and pressing the wrong one. A minor annoyance, to be sure. But if Subaru could fix this ergonomic annoyance, then I wouldn’t have to listen to my husband claim that the problem is actually my own “user error.”

Subaru Crosstrek
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