A Ferocious Beast Dressed in a Bespoke Tuxedo

Generally, when one thinks about monstrous V8s stuffed into daily-driver applications, Dodge and Chrysler come to mind. So, when we received this Cadillac CT5 V Blackwing, a GM product with a hand-built, supercharged 6.2 liter, 668hp V8 fitted to a midsized sedan, we knew we were in for something special. Everything, from the loud snarls and pops of the exhaust, to the mechanical whistle of the supercharger, to the silky-smooth 6-speed full manual (yes, a true 3-pedal manual mated to a V8!) transmission gives the sense that this car was designed and built by enthusiasts, for enthusiasts. Not to mention, this is likely one of the few cars period, including supercars, which can reach over 200mph on a race track. 

While the carbon-fiber splitter, aggressive, flared wheel arches and rear spoiler & diffuser suggest to a casual onlooker that this is a special car, this CT5 still looks tastefully subdued and mature, unlike some flashier options from competitors. Thankfully missing are aggressive neon decals and stripes, and the plethora of badges that make some of the other offerings in this segment resemble kids’ sneakers. This is conservative and tasteful ensemble at home at a country club, at the front of any valet parking, and, with  a stomp of the right pedal, on any race track in the world.  

Unlike most supercars that require the driver to sacrifice practicality for performance, this CT5 Blackwing has three seats in back for taking the whole family for a ride, or as in our case, taking the entire crew out to lunch. The interior of our test car kept up the sporty image with carbon fiber trim and race-like, tri-color bucket seats in the front, with black and white leather trimmed with red. With the base CT5 starting at only $37,000, there are some disappointingly-base carryover interior panels that feel below-grade, but overall, the quality and tech makes the interior is a great place to spend time in. There is plenty of legroom and space for the two front passengers; however, with a full five in the car, we were admittedly a little cramped. The seating crunch might be to make space for the enormous trunk, which makes the car great for family road trips, or for storing race track gear. 

To bring all that supercharged might to a stop, our test car was equipped with the optional carbon ceramic Brembo brakes, which are designed to brake harder, faster, and dissipate heat better than steel rotors. Whether ceramic brakes are worth the $8k upcharge is up to the individual enthusiast looking to tame this beast. 

In the era of downsizing, turbocharging and electrification, being able to drive off the dealer lot in a 3-pedal manual V8 with supercar power and luxurious accommodations is a gem in itself. To be able to have all this for just over $115,000 (price is tested), is a truly compelling overall package from GM priced thousands below its German competitors.

Polestar 2

This totally electric vehicle starts at a price of just under 40k, which is a true bargain for an electric vehicle that is this well-built. The Polestar 2 is extremely solid, making even simple things like shutting the door have a nice, concrete feel to them. 

The car accelerates well, and the electric drive terrain provides instant torque, which is a nice feature for smooth driving. The vehicle also comes equipped with 408 horse power, so it’s a powerful drive for an electric vehicle. I tried the long-range, dual motor version, which can spring from 0-60 in 4.5 seconds. This was surprising for the heaviness of the car, which weighs in at 4680 pounds, though it doesn’t feel heavy when going around a corner because it’s surprisingly well-balanced and composed. 

The Polestar 2 can achieve about 270 miles per charge, which isn’t bad, though it’s no Tesla; speaking on Tesla, while they do offer superior range and are quicker off the line, I would say the build quality, fit, and finish of Polestar 2 is lightyears ahead of its main competitor, the Tesla model 3 or Y. 

The only thing I didn’t like about this car was the infotainment center, which was clunky and not intuitive. For example, the tire pressure monitor system came on, but instructed to open an app to check which tire was low instead of showing the correct tire on the display. Other than this minor inconvenience, however, this was a great vehicle for anyone considering buying an electric car. 

Hyundai Santa Cruz

The first thing I will say about Hyundai’s new pickup truck, the Santa Cruz, is that it is designed to be less of a utility vehicle and more of a sport vehicle to compliment those with an active lifestyle. Its driving style is like that of an SUV, with supple road manners, however the open bed in the back to accommodate things like salty surfboards, muddy dirt bikes, and anything else you’d not want dirtying up your upholstery, is a great feature for those with messy outdoor hobbies. 

Just from a comfort perspective the front and rear compartments both have a decent amount of space to stretch out in; the seats also feature heating and cooling options, which is a nice touch, especially for the adventurer who might be traveling during extreme temperatures for escapades such as snowboarding or water-sports. Additional great features include a sunroof, dual-zone climate control, and large dual-screen display options. 

The Santa Cruz gets about 27 miles to the gallon of gas, and up to 281 horse power drive terrain, making it a decent drive for a truck that prices in at just under 25k. An apt description came from a coworker of mine who described it as “this generation’s El Camino,” which I stand by as accurate. All in all I would recommend this truck for any adventure hobbyist in need of a comfortable ride with a storage bed to accommodate messier pastimes. 

BMW M440 Grand Coupe

For a 4 door coupe, as it’s referred to by BMW, I’d say this is one of the best looking on the market. The sleek and stylish design is indicative of its sporty profile; with a peppy 320 horsepower, and twin turbo inline 6-cylinder motor, this car was good looking and also fun to drive. The all-wheel drive did have a noticeably rear-wheel drive bias, which you can feel when going fast around a corner. 

The ride quality offers a nice balance of sport and luxury, making it a respectable choice for long drives, but also a breeze to handle around corners. The near perfect 50/50 weight distribution enhances the handling characteristics as well; overall, this was a very driver-first vehicle. 

Speaking again to the style, I liked the sleek lines and new age design queues, as well as the controversial front grill, which looks better in person than in images, especially when the car is a darker color, in my opinion. The sloped rear with hatch back is a great look as well as a convenient feature when trying to haul something, since you can put the seats down and open the hatch, versus a normal sedan where you’re limited by the trunk height.

The interior technology is also top-notch, with an intuitive infotainment center design, which can be accessed via touchscreen display or rotary dial knobs. My one complaint was regarding the real leather seats, which came with a protective coating that makes them more durable, but unfortunately gives them a slick, plasticy feel as well. 

The closest competition for this car is the Audi Sportback. If you’re considering between the two, my note of consideration would be in favor of the BMW M440’s better handling and drive. An improvement over the last generation, this latest and newest generation of the series 4 is like a return to BMW’s alleged peak in the mid-late 2000s and a comeback of the quality performance of the ultimate driving machine. 

Kia Sorento Hybrid

First things first, this car gets great gas milage. At 40 miles to the gallon in real world driving, you’ll definitely save a buck at the pump. 

The car is also extremely safe; in addition to Kia’s standard automatic emergency break it comes equipped with rear cross-traffic collision avoidance technology and is available with blindspot detection, so it’s perfect for drivers who prefer a few added protections while they’re on the road. Also featuring adapted all wheel drive with torque vectoring, the car has great corner control so is perfect for maneuvering around tight spaces. 

The hip and edgy design is a stylish bonus, and the spacious interior makes it a great option for big families or lots of friends. As a three-row SUV with plenty of space you’ll have all the room you need for a long road-trip or cross-country sojourn. 

I also appreciated the 10-inch touch screen display and Bose audio sound system, which made for easy GPS monitoring and provided high-quality listening for favorite tunes and podcasts while on the road. 

Spacious, stylish, and safe, this is overall a great ride. Starting at $34k, it is also a good bang for your buck, especially considering the amount you can save on gas. 

Mercedes Maybach GLS 600

In a word, this vehicle can be summarized as quality. The perfect vehicle for the discerning lady or gentleman who prefers to prioritize refinement over flash, the Mercedes Maybach GLS 600 is without par in terms of luxury driving. Extremely well engineered, this vehicle is designed for comfort but can be an athlete when called upon. It is truly impressive how this behemoth of a vehicle handles; cruising with buttery smooth 4 liters of V8, and pumping out 550 horsepower, it is faster at 0-60mph than a Ford Mustang in spite of its hefty size and weight. The Maybach GLS 600 also has advanced air suspension, so when put into “curve mode,” it will tilt itself into a corner to improve handling and make for an even more seamless ride inside. Considering its size and heft, you’d never anticipate it would be so quick to turn a corner like a motorcycle. It is also worth noting that with features like Stop and Go Assist, the Maybach GLS 600 can basically drive itself in rush hour traffic. It won’t navigate, but it will stay in the lanes and follow the vehicle in front without driver involvement when in bumper to bumper traffic. 

The Maybach GLS 600’s closest competitors are the Bentley Bentayga and Rolls Royce Cullinan. When compared with the Bentley, the Mercedes has around the same price point but features better technology, and delivers a smoother ride. It is also more understated, which is a positive if you’re just trying to cruise around town in comfort and not attempting to be a show off. I also thought the interior was much nicer, with less plastic and more leather, wood, and aluminum. 

When compared with the Rolls Royce Cullinan, the interior is about 90% as luxurious, but again the Mercedes has better tech and is also half the price: $160,000 versus $400,000. The vehicle glides over bumps like a Rolls Royce, making it as smooth and supple of a ride as this leading competitor. I would honestly profess that the only big difference between the two is that the Mercedes lacks the pomp and circumstance associated with the Rolls Royce, so again, if you’re just looking for a quality vehicle and not interested in the flash, the more cost-efficient Mercedes might be the vehicle for you. 

When compared to the more traditional Maybach Sedan, I would say this is definitely more of a driver’s vehicle as opposed to feeling akin to a vehicle oriented towards chauffeuring. You feel like you are driving a normal ultra-luxury vehicle versus a limo. Speaking of chauffeuring, I have to mention the very luxurious backseat complete with a champagne chiller and space for two flutes. The backseat also comes outfitted with luxurious massage chairs and convenient work trays so your passengers can be productive or enjoy an adult beverage while on the go. While drinking in the vehicle can only truly be enjoyed when the vehicle is being driven by a commercially licensed driver, the vehicle can also be ordered with a 3 row bench instead at no cost; with this edition the seats are collapsible providing more versatility of use as well. I also really enjoyed the interior lights as well as the heads up display with 3 individual screens. 

While definitely designed to be a street vehicle, no SUV would be complete without off-road capabilities, and the Maybach GLS 600 is no exception. The vehicle comes standard with an off-road recovery, (bounce mode), system designed to get you out of sticky off-road situations. The system uses the vehicle’s air suspension system to quickly raise and lower the vehicle, hence, “bounce mode.” My coworkers and I enjoyed cruising around with it so much this past week, it earned the nickname “baller bounce.” Another great feature of this vehicle, which makes it perfect for gals in heels or small kids, was the retractable step that extends and retracts when entering/exiting the vehicle. 

Overall this is a great vehicle for those who prioritize ride quality over flash. If you’re considering an ultra-luxury SUV, I would highly recommend looking at the Maybach GLS 600! 

Ford Maverick

First things first: this car is a bonkers great deal. Starting at just 20k, it is easily the cheapest pickup truck on the market in the USA, and a great value for the price. With the plethora of modern features, such as automatic rollup windows, a backup camera, a remote control key, and working AC, it is nicer than a 50k luxury pickup from 20 years ago and will be in better condition to boot. The lane change alert is a nice modern safety feature as well. 

Speaking on modern features, the touchscreen digital display with Apple Car Play and Android Auto are convenient for use, and a nice touch to the no-frills interior, which has a modern design and is surprisingly luxurious for the simple plastic and cloth from which it is made. The inside was also surprisingly spacious for a pickup truck; one of my coworkers hitched a ride in the backseat and commented on the relatively ample legroom and roomy seating. 

The truck is on the smaller side for pickups, which is limiting for utility, but makes driving and parking significantly easier. It drives like a small SUV, feeling planted on the ground even at highway speeds. 

This truck also comes with a variety of engines, including hybrid, though all get great fuel economy. It is by no stretch of the imagination a luxury vehicle, however, for a basic utility vehicle it is perfect for cruising around town or as a secondary vehicle for hauling.  

Subaru Forester Wilderness

Created to be Subaru’s off-road division, and aimed at giving thrill-seekers more opportunities to enjoy the great outdoors, the Subaru wilderness badge implicates a set of features uniquely designed with the adventurer in mind. The Subaru Forester Wilderness in particular includes upgraded ground clearance of an additional 9.2 inches, which is perfect for driving on bumpy or uneven terrain, and includes revised gear ratios for improved low-speed approach; it also comes with Subaru’s standard symmetrical all-wheel drive, however over the standard Subaru Forrester, the Subaru Forester Wilderness will tackle even tougher terrain and help you go even farther on your adventure. 

The exterior is also more rugged and chiseled, giving it a look like it is on par with its namesake and is ready to conquer the wilderness – or any environment. The interior is also of a more durable caliber; made with water-resistant upholstery, it is easy to clean and so perfect for any adventure, no matter how muddy. I also appreciated the embossed headrests and special decals, which further enhanced the brawny look, which corresponded well to the rugged exterior. 

The closest competitor to this car is likely the Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk, which is a little on the cheaper end, and at 271, has a higher horse power than the 182 of the Subaru Forester Wilderness. So, if you’re on the market for an adventure vehicle, I’d recommend checking out both before making any decisions. 

Hyundai Kona Electric

Usually when writing these reviews I save the price point for the end, but for the Hyundai Kona Electric I have to start by saying how impressed I am that for about the price of a new Camry you can get an electric vehicle. Coming it at $34k, plus an optional federal tax credit of $7500, the ride makes purchase of an electric vehicle within the realm of the possible even for budget buyers and is, in my opinion, one of the best bargains on the market. 

Perfect for drivers converting from a gas-powered to electric vehicle, this car drives with a similar gait to a gas-powered car; oftentimes I even forgot I was driving an electric car, which I have often noticed to have more quirks that require adjusting to if you’re not used to driving electric. The automatic cruise control was another great driving feature that allowed for an effortless ride. 

The regenerative breaking feature converts breaking energy into electric power, which is great for recharging the vehicle – especially while driving in the city where breaking frequently is a standard. The car boasts an average of 258 mile range, however while driving on the highway I noticed I was getting closer to an average of a 200 mile range. With a respectable horse power of 201, the car was fast enough, though not faster than a Tesla; although, speaking on Tesla comparisons, I will say the Hyundai Kona Electric is a better value and has a better build quality overall. 

Some notable interior features include the heated steering wheel, and heated and cooling seats, which make for comfortable driving in any temperatures. I also appreciated the large digital displays of the entertainment screen and instrument cluster, which felt very high-tech. The car is also notably compact, making for easy maneuvering, but didn’t sacrifice spaciousness on the inside. It also featured a rear hatch with folding seats, making it great for hauling larger items. 

Overall this car is a great ride for the value, and the perfect pick for those transitioning from gas-powered to electric. If you’re considering going electric, consider the Hyundai Kona Electric.

BMW X4

As with the recent trends, SUVs and crossovers are becoming sleek coups on stilts, and the BMW X4 is no exception. While it sports a very modern, stylish visual, the BMW X4 is still reminiscent of the classic BMW look and high-performance feel that BMW drivers have come to expect. Borrowing styling cues from its big brother, the 473 horse power X4 M, the BMW X4 that I tested featured the M sport package, giving it that quintessential BMW character and drive. 

Under the hood, you’re working with 248 horse power, and 4 cylinder twin turbo, which is ample power for getting around town and beyond. With a smooth steering capacity, the car also feels very natural around corners; I really like how it handles. The ride quality was good even in stop-and-go traffic, as well as on the highway and around the city. While not aggressive, the steering wheel has solid feedback, making even jagged turns a breeze. 

Another great feature is the fully digital instrument cluster with customizable viewing modes. Additionally, the infotainment center offers touch screen display as well as a dial on the center console, which controls the radio navigation and Apple car play. I was a fan of the combination dial/touch screen because you can easily rest your hand while changing stations. Other details I appreciated about the BMW X4 were that it is available with colored break calipers, (which look really cool), and the interior trim options, which include red leather seats, and carbon fiber, and aluminum accents.