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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 LC500h – The Most Beautiful Lexus Ever

2020 Lexus LC500h – The Most Beautiful Lexus Ever

Back in 2012, I remember seeing the achingly pretty LF-LC Concept. I thought, “Lexus will never build something that outrageous for the road.” I was dead wrong. Fast forward five years and I saw early models, re-monikered the LC 500, gliding along city streets. I couldn’t wait to get my hands on a press loan. In October 2019, I got the opportunity to spend two full weeks with the gorgeous LC 500h.

EXTERIOR

Get ready for attention. While filling up somebody may saddle up to you and say, “Hey nice car, how long have you had it?” You may reply, “Not long, about a week.” He, a hard-working white-collared suburbanite, will look you up and down and silently wonder how an unshaven, rakish neerdowell can afford such a machine. He’ll wonder where his life went wrong as he climbs into is F-150 and stares longingly at the hard creased body and perfect proportions of the LC500.

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It’s a stunning thing to behold, and really the first design by Lexus that’s swept me away.  That’s why I assert that this is the most beautiful Lexus ever built. Now, you may be thinking, “What about the LFA, huh?” Well, perhaps you need a refresher. Go ahead and Google it, I’ll wait… See, I told you. While the LFA was certainly a departure in design terms, I don’t consider it beautiful.

The LC 500 looks like a low-production hyper-car. It’s classy too. It manages to be outstanding without being garish. There are no silly wings or splitters hanging off the front or rear to spoil the profile and you won’t find any day-glo accents. It’s simply a stunning shape.

Back

The LC 500 has a long low hood, sweeping A-pillars, and a neat little trunk space. It’s a formula for a sexy silhouette. It’s low, slinky and pinched in the middle, resulting in a slightly arched look. Like a cat ready to pounce. There are no odd angles to the car. From the front corner, it has no rival. The wheel design makes the optional 21 inch rims look even larger. They tuck perfectly within the wheel wells. Lastly, this is the first car I’ve seen where Lexus’ spindle grille really works.

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INTERIOR

The interior is lovely too. The materials are excellent and the execution is about as nice as you’ll find in any car. This is no surprise though, Lexus brought in the same craftsmen they employed for the LSA to do the finer work on the LC 500. It sounds nice too, this press car was fitted with the optional 13 speaker Mark Levinson audio system.

Int 1

The seats are firm and after about 350 miles you’ll feel it, but just look how pretty they are. The door panels feature a gorgeous sweeping design stitched into Alcantara, carbon fiber accents and bespoke Lexus branded fasteners.

INT 2

The 2020 LC500h features a 10.3 inch display controlled by Lexus’ baffling touchpad interface to control everything from the A/C to the navigation. It’s bizarre and nearly impossible to use. I didn’t figure out how to activate the heated and cooled seats for a week. But who cares? Look how pretty the car is.

Gauges

THE DRIVE 

In the two weeks, I had the car I made the drive from Dallas to Austin and back.  On-ramp acceleration is quick. Combined power from the dual electric motors and 3.5 liter V6 is 354 hp. That’s good for a 0-60 time of 4.8 seconds. Faster than a 911 Carrera and only .2 slower than the 471 hp V8 LC 500.

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Power is transmitted to the rear wheels through a four-speed automatic combined with a CVT setup that acts like a ten-speed auto. It’s efficient too, Lexus claims the LC 500h gets 35 mpg on the highway and 27 around town. I didn’t keep that close an eye on the mileage numbers, but I can vouch for a 500 mile range before the fuel light comes on.

Mash the gas pedal and the LC 500h V6 leaps into a sonorous departure. The back end gives a subtle slither before the traction control engages to keep the nose pointed in the right direction. It’d be a pity to bend one of these beautiful fenders. When you’re not hotdogging around, the drive is smooth and quiet. Different drive modes change the ride from firm to supple. It’s an excellent interstate hauler and predictable handling makes winding back roads fun.

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On the hill country backroads outside Austin, there were ghostly quiet moments when EV mode would kick on at speed. Cruising over winding blacktop through pristine scenery when the engine cuts out and the electric motors silently waft the car along at 60 mph is my favorite memory driving the car.

THE DIRT

I don’t really know who this car is for. There are more comfortable, more sporty and less expensive cars. However, you’d be hard-pressed to buy anything this lovely to look at. It’s not only the best-looking Lexus ever built, it’s in the running for one of the best-looking things on four wheels made in the last two decades.

It has supermodel skin over a distance runner’s guts. The LC 500h has a sticker price of $97,000. When it’s dolled up the way this one is you’ll be out nearly $104k. That’s a whole lot of dough and makes this car the third member of the Dirt on Cars $100k club.

Last year, a Rembrandt doodle of a guy with a mustache sold for $80,000. This car, to my eye anyway, is much better looking and I challenge anyone to drive a Rembrandt etching at 100 miles per hour. I admit to being more than a little smitten with the LC-500’s looks. In my head, there’s a flow chart, where each path leads from a fault to the ultimate answer “But just look how pretty it is.”

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