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2020 Mazda 3 AWD – PRactical doesn’t have to Mean boring

2020 Mazda 3 AWD – PRactical doesn’t have to Mean boring

I’ll admit it. I’m typically sweet on Mazdas. I don’t own one and nobody’s paying me to say that, I just like the down to earth functionality designed into them. I also like that you can push them a little carder than comparable cars before they cry uncle. In a word, they’re fun. How does the Mazda 3 AWD stack up?
 
EXTERIOR

 
A-number-one, I dig the aesthetic. Angry headlight and nose-down posture lend an air of aggression to the relatively mild Mazda. I even think its little overbite is dreadfully charming. The black 18″ alloy wheels go wonderfully with the “polymetal gray metallic” paint. Some may find the proportions of this hatch a little unusual; perhaps a little rump heavy. But they work for me. Of course, I think the second gen Cadillac CTS Coupes are among the most gorgeous cars designed in the 21st century, so consider that when weighing my opinions on a car’s good or bad looks.

 
 
INTERIOR

 
The deep red leather seats, which Mazda refers to in their build sheet as simply “red”, look stunning in both quality and color. The dash is wrapped in the same “red” and features laser straight French seams. In fact, all the upholstery in the car is above average, especially when you consider this is not a luxury car. I’m a fan of the way Mazda puts their media controls in the console. There’s a learning curve, but they’re logically laid out and above all you can use them without taking your eyes off the road. Bluetooth connectivity is remarkably fast, like instant, and there’s a handy dandy QI charger for all your resonant inductive coupling needs.

 
Laying the rear seats down pinches front seat leg room a little, and you’re going to have trouble operating the console lid. However, it does open up the back end to haul a surprising amount of junk. Or just one old dirty compressor.
 
 
THE DRIVE
 
This is not an easy car to see out of. The back window looks tiny from the drivers seat and the blind spots created by the c pillars are some of the biggest I’ve seen. This car might be more fun with a manual shift rather than the six speed “sport mode” automatic, but I don’t know if it would be better per se.

Under the hood, a 2.5 liter naturally aspirated four banger churns out 186 horsepower and equally as many torques. An electric emergency brake will prevent you and your no account buddies from sliding around the parking lot behind the movie theater. Mazda does a good job of prioritizing the driving experience of their cars. Even the humble 3 has above average feedback from the brakes and steering. It’s fun to push the car through curves. One issue I noticed is that the A/C struggled a little on warmer days. It made me wonder how it would do during the Texas summers

 
THE DIRT
 
It could be a little more fun, and at $31,470 it could be a little less expensive. Of course you could save some scratch if you elected to forego the 425 dollar illuminated sill plates. There’s nothing wrong with the car though, and this AWD model is sure to be a hit with folks that experience snow and ice each year. The Mazda 3 delivers a typically Mazda experience. Maybe not the fastest, but great feedback from the brakes and steering wheel and enough zip from under the hood to keep us engaged.

 

2020 Mazda MX-5 GT RF – The Perfect Tool For The Job

2020 Mazda MX-5 GT RF – The Perfect Tool For The Job

What praises can I sing for the MX-5 that haven’t already been sung from the rooftops? It’s been around over three decades getting progressively better with each iteration. It’s precise and poised. It feels great to the touch.  Some jobs are impossible without the right tool.  But with that tool in hand, the job becomes a pleasure. For the “job” of sports car driving, there’s no better tool.

EXTERIOR

The RF model features fastback styling. MX-5’s B-pillars actually lift off the car when the power convertible top is let down. It’s not a true convertible, but you get the convenience of a power top, and it only adds about 115 pounds to the car. Visibility is slightly limited relative to the soft top version. The Soul Red Crystal paint looks like custom candy paint straight from the factory, and it’s accented beautifully by the gray on the 17″ alloy wheels.

INTERIOR

The Mx-5 makes the best use of the modest interior space. Even six-footers can find a comfortable driving position in the heated seats. A telescoping tilt steering column, now a standard feature, lets you put the wheel exactly where it ought to be. I love the way Mazda brings the body color in on the top of the door sills. I also love the Sport Tan leather covered seats.

The interior looks basic, but has amenities like speakers in the headrests that pipe in phone calls. There are also classy touches like an upholstered dash, stainless door sill plates and alloy pedals. Plunked down onto the dash is a 7 inch touch screen to control the Bose 9 speaker stereo which is plenty loud even with the top down on the highway. It offers all the convenience we’ve become accustomed to; Bluetooth, navigation, etc. The car even comes standard with a backup camera.

THE DRIVE

I Under the hood is Mazda’s Skyactiv-G 2.0 liter four cylinder that churns out 181 horsepower. Power is pushed through a sublime little six-speed manual to a limited-slip differential. The last time I drove this car I had this to say, “This car was fun with 155 horsepower, it was balanced and always under control. To make it misbehave you had to wring it out a bit. With the added power it’s easier than ever to get this little two-seater to step out of line. But it’s still so well mannered to whip it back into shape when things get too slidey.” That rings as true now as it did then. In the turns the MX-5 is about as predictable and poised as a car can get.

The sounds of the engine and the gearbox one inches from your right thigh keep you intimately connected with the car. Even with the top up, you don’t necessarily feel isolated in this car. It’s a treat for all five senses. It’s hard not to use the same beat down clichés that writers have used since Mazda brought the MX-5 Miata stateside in 1989.

THE DIRT

When I reviewed the 2019 version of this car, the top creaked and rattled a bit. Who knows why, another journalist may have tried to shut it on their child. I didn’t have that experience this time. Driving this car is good for your soul. It’s like using a Snap-on ratchet handle after a cheap chinese one. It feels good. It doesn’t just do the job. It makes it a real pleasure. The RF starts at $34,425 and as tested this car cost $35,965. 60 bucks more than last year. You get what you pay for though. An investment in this car will make the job of driving a pleasure.

2020 Lexus RC F – IT’s Better Than Ever, But Is That Good Enough?

2020 Lexus RC F – IT’s Better Than Ever, But Is That Good Enough?

The Lexus RC- F is Lexus’ take on what a luxury sport coupe should be, a two-door blend of comfort Lexus customers are accustomed to, and sports car handling wrapped up in good looks. For 2019 the RC-F got a facelift and a little more horsepower. In my last review of the RC-F, I called it a jungle cat with a gem under the hood.

EXTERIORIMG_0727
This thing looks like it would pick a fight with you at a bar, or maybe kick sand in your face at the beach. Look-at-me yellow paint and angular body lines create an aggressive aesthetic for the 2020 RC-F. The roof is carbon fiber, as is the dynamic spoiler which up and down according to the car’s speed. You can also operate it with a button on  the dash so you can flex on posers at red lights. 

IMG_0677Front and center is that crazy Lexus grille. I’ve found the lower it is to the ground the less absurd it looks. The LC500 for example looks exceptional with it. The “check mark” headlights of the previous gen were ditched in favor of these one-piece LEDs. The 19 inch hand-polished BBS are stunning and allow those big Brembo brake calipers to peek through. However, the orange paint on the calipers is a questionable color decision next to the yellow body color and is a $300 dollar option I might omit if I was ordering one for me. But that’s picking nits. 

IMG_0726The fender vents behind the front wheels let everyone know you’ve got the goods under the hood. Out back, diagonally stacked exhaust outlets make this car look as good going as it does coming.

INTERIORIMG_0731Some materials in the RC-F are sort of a letdown. Lexus uses foamy feeling shift boot and plasticy “leather” for the shift boot around the gear selector and on either side of the console. However, you can look all day and not find a seam that’s not laser straight. The blue and white contrasting thread looks beautiful. Seats are dead comfortable especially given the low-slung sporty nature of the car.

IMG_0742The fit and finish in the cabin is exceptional. The RC-F’s interior is adorned with carbon fiber and aluminum accents, but it doesn’t feel over the top. Even the requisite luxury-car analog clock doesn’t feel too out of place.

IMG_0734The Mark Levinson audio system pumps tunes through 17 speakers stuffed into the car. There’s a large infotainment screen in the dash controlled by the touchpad mounted in the console.  It’s also too distracting to use while driving.  All the amenities one comes to expect in a luxury car are present, radar cruise, rain-sensing wipers, blind-spot monitoring and a bevy of other features. 

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THE DRIVE

The V8 in this car sounds lovely. Punch it from a stand still and you’ll get to 60 mph in 4.4 seconds. That’s quick. Acceleration smooth and determined. Lexus engineers give drivers the option to completely disable the traction control and vehicle stability (thank you engineers). The 2020 has a launch control feature that, in spite of watching a handful of Youtube videos, I couldn’t make heads or tails of. The excellent throttle response, precision steering, and high-tech differential keep things from going too wayward. In the bends this car has grip. On the highway the car is quiet and refined.

THE DIRT

The RC-F has changed. This is a better car than the one I reviewed in 2017. Back then, I likened it to an apex predator. As I drove it I kept a hungry eye out for ‘Vettes who might want to test their mettle. However, while this car has improved immeasurably, the landscape has changed. This RC-F, with all these goodies, will set buyers $89,000. That’s for a pretty car that’s certainly pretty quick. But can you imagine the sad empty feeling in the pit of your stomach when you pull up the the light and get embarrassed by a Dodge grocery getter that costs practically half what you’ve signed up to pay? That’s a legitimate possibility. The Dodge Charger R/T Scat Pack actually edges out the RC-F’s 0-60 time with a base price around $45k. Ouch.

And as far as hunting Vettes goes, forget about it. The 2020 C8 Corvette is a purpose build murder machine with hyper car speed. When equipped with the Z51 performance package, it’ll get to 60 in under three seconds. It looks outrageous. It will smoke anything on the road. It has more horsepower and costs about $30,000 less than the RC-F. Thirty grand!

So, while the RC-F has improved, I’m afraid Lexus would have to go back to the drawing board to compete. I don’t understand this car. I don’t know who it’s for. It’s aggressive and remarkable but it’s not the best at anything. It’s also terribly expensive. The takeaway: if you want one, don’t doll it up with all the chintzy tinsel. At the base price of $65k this car makes a little more sense, and you won’t be counting how many payments you have left as you watch domestic cars pulling on you.