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Top rides for 2021

Sorento, Bronco, BMW 530e all impress

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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. 

MIDSIZED CROSSOVER: KIA SORENTO
$30,000
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.

HAUTE HAULER: FORD BRONCO
$30,000
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

GREEN MACHINE: BMW 530e
$58,000
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
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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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