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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.

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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.

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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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2020 Jeep Gladiator Rubicon – I Was Wrong and I’m Sorry

2020 Jeep Gladiator Rubicon – I Was Wrong and I’m Sorry

I was driving 80mph when a white Jeep Gladiator blasted by me in the right lane.
“How dare he? And in such a vehicle!” Bitterness and disdain washed over me like an acid flashback washes over a Deadhead boomer. “Who buys these things?” I shouted, shaking my fist at the inside of my windshield.

Visions of silly decals, angry headlight kits, and aftermarket wheels and mud tires that never seem to get dirty danced in my head. I had a long-held opinion that Jeeps were very expensive toys that didn’t make a good daily driver. When I saw that white Gladiator pass me in the slow lane I felt the familiar ire rise in my heart. “Oh look at that, jeep stuck a box on the back of their Wrangler.” I was wrong.

To me, Jeeps fell into about three categories:

  1. Mall Crawlers – usually a Wrangler Dressed out to look off-roady but never really make it off the asphalt
  2. Clapped-out Cherokees- which are usually heard or smelled before they’re seen. Often lifted with last week’s mud still visible on the fenders. Sometimes driven by zealous teenage boys.
  3. Legit offroaders – the hardcore, don’t tread on me, I took my swaybars off for “more articulation bro”, no-top when it’s 30 degrees out types. Usually seen with bald mud tires. Their owners should be avoided unless you’re ready to enter an inescapable pit of conversation about approach angles, locking differentials and lamentations about body lifts.

EXTERIOR

In October, Texas’ finest automotive journalists descend on the Texas Hill Country. It’s called the Texas Truck Rodeo, and it’s a crucible where one truck is elevated above all others and selected as the Texas Auto Writers Truck of Texas (read “the world”). The Jeep Gladiator would be there and I wanted to drive one.

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I got to spend some quality time with this firecracker red ragtop Rubicon. Initially, the proportions look a little funny but you get used to it. In 10 years when they change it, we’ll look back at this design and say, “why couldn’t they have left it alone.” Jeep engineers have done a good job staying true to the no-nonsense, functional design aesthetic while embellishing it here and there to offer some style.

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Thankfully, the kitschy stuff kept to a minimum and the marketing impulse to stencil Jeep on every panel has been curbed. When you sell something that looks like nothing else (aside from a Mahindra Roxor but that’s another article) you really don’t have to advertise that way. Batman didn’t have to paint “Batmobile” on the side of his ride, the wings, afterburner and menacing black paint give it away.

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INTERIOR

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Inside the Gladiator Rubicon, you’ll find a heated steering wheel and heated leather seats. Pretty swank for a vehicle with removable doors. In the dash, there’s an 8.4 inch display that controls the Alpine sound system. It displays the navigation and some other goodies too. A delightful array of buttons and switches for locking the differentials and disconnecting the swaybars occupies space ahead of the shift levers.

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Seats are firm but comfortable. The second row has space for adults. This jeep comes with the optional wireless Bluetooth speaker that tucks away into a special compartment behind the second row. Pretty neat, but it’s a $295 option I might skip.

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THE DRIVE

Under the hood, there’s a 3.6 liter V6 connected to an eight-speed automatic transmission. This sends power to the front and rear Dana 44 axles with electronic locking differentials and electronic swaybar disconnects. The power on-road is good, and offroad the Jeep feels plenty torquey.  Fox 2.0 shocks come standard on the Gladiator Rubicon.

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Vehicles on mud tires ride rougher and make extra noise. Combine that with a ragtop and you get what should be a cacophonous ride. I’m not saying the gladiator Rubicon is bending the laws of physics, but it is much quieter than I anticipated. It’s surprisingly smooth when you consider it’s off-road capabilities. I listened closely as I drove on asphalt and only identified one rattle. This Jeep was fitted with adaptive cruise control which makes for a relaxing interstate experience. Instead of the rattly, squeaky Jeep I expected, I was met with a level of sophistication and comfort I hadn’t anticipated.

When it’s time to play in the dirt, the Gladiator shifts effortlessly from two to four-wheel-drive on the fly. There’s gratification in grabbing the lever of a manually shifted transfer case that a push-button doesn’t deliver. It’s also reassuring to know that electrical gremlins won’t stand between me and four-wheel drive when I need it most.

I especially liked the forward-facing trail cam. It’s like having a spotter outside on the trail. Jeep even fitted it with a little washer nozzle to clean it off when the going gets muddy. The Jeeps handled the off-road course without breaking a sweat.

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Jeep claims the Gladiator Rubicon gets 17 mpg around town and 22 on the highway. These numbers aren’t great, but next year Jeep is offering their first diesel option which they claim is going to be the most efficient Wrangler ever.

THE DIRT

Zealots and kooky branding aside, there’s nothing like a jeep. Be ready to save your pennies and nickles though because Jeep isn’t in the business of giving these things away. The base price for a 2020 Gladiator Rubicon is $44,600. If you want it dressed up the way this one is, you’ll be in it for closer to $59k. Of course, you don’t have to go with a Rubicon package and a no-frills Sport model can be had for $33k.

Due to some silly biases developed in my adolescence, I have largely ignored Jeep. After getting to know the Gladiator I see that it’s peerless offroad and remarkably civilized when you hit the pavement. It’s so nice to be pleasantly surprised. It almost takes the sting out of being so wrong. Almost.IMG_9460.JPG

2019 Hyundai Kona SEL AWD – It’s Not Electric and That’s OK

2019 Hyundai Kona SEL AWD – It’s Not Electric and That’s OK

During the week I drove this car, I had a lot of questions about Konas. Not this Kona, the electric ones. “Hey, how far does that thing go on a charge?” “Hey, how long does it take to top up the batteries?” “HAY, WHAT’S IT LIKE TO DRIVE THE FUTURE AND SAVE THE PLANET?” I disappointed everyone, saying “I dunno it runs on dinosaur guts.” At which point they lost interest in the little Hyundai. But just because it’s a gas-burner does it deserve to be ignored?

EXTERIOR

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Of course not. The plucky little Kona may not be remarkably beautiful, fast or extraordinary in any way, but it is good and it is cheap.  From the outside, the Kona could be almost any other crossover. It doesn’t help that it’s coated in Forget-Me White paint. There’s a CUV shaped hole in the market and just about every manufacturer has a four-wheeled peg to fit. This is Hyundai’s peg, and it’s pretty darn good.

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It has slits for headlights that look like they’re borrowed from a Jeep Cherokee circa 2014. They’re reminicent of the look my older sister gave me when I decapitated her Barbies (sorry Chrystal). The taillights are equally grumpy. There’s black plastic body cladding over the wheel wells and along the rockers. Some may find this unsightly, but it’s dead practical. Shopping carts can bag into it at the store and it won’t chip like a painted fender.

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Hyundai designers fell prey to the current trend of floating rooflines, but it’s easily one of the more tasteful examples. 17inch alloy wheels offer a quality look to the Kona and are standard equipment. Overall, it looks frisky, like it’s ready to play. It’s not a serious off-roader and it’s not trying to look like one.

INTERIOR

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The Kona’s seats are wrapped in black cloth with houndstooth inserts. This is just like a 1969 Camaro. That’s fun. Hyundai could easily have done black and grey to remind us that life is just a bleak and bitter landscape of pain and regrets pocked with shattered dreams and that we all ultimately die. But no, they went with something fun and funky! It also probably hides the inevitable Taco Bell stains.

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This Kona was fitted with the Tech Package. That gives it eight-way power seats, a power sunroof, Infinity sound system, a shark fin antenna and Hyundai’s bluelink services. The touch screen interface is easy to navigate and easy to reach without leaning forward in your seat. The interior layout is somewhat spartan but it’s not uncomfortable. Forward collision avoidance and cross-traffic alert systems come standard. I like that there’s still a mechanical connection to the transmission and there’s an old fashion, yank-style, hand brake. The rear seats are roomy enough for adults and downright spacious for offspring.

THE DRIVE

Under the hood, beats a capable 2.0-liter four-banger. It uses the Atkinson cycle which is basically magic. Actually, it’s a modified Otto cycle that gives the pistons a bit of a running start on their way toward the cylinder head thus increasing fuel efficiency. That’s connected to a six-speed auto with drive mode selection. Nail it on an on-ramp and it complies and accelerates to highway speed without complaint. With a sub seven second 0-60 it’s not setting the world on fire, but it’s not a painfully slow drive either. Hyundai says we can expect 30mpg highway and 25 around town. These aren’t stunning numbers, but it’s still what I consider economical.

THE DIRT

This little Kona comes with a ton of amenities standard. But even when you doll it up with the extras that this one has, the tech package and shark fin antenna, it’s still under $26,000. In 1969 money that’s only $3,700, or roughly the price of a brand new ’69 Camaro, and Camaros never came in AWD with Bluetooth connectivity. So there you have it, if you want an icon from the heart of the muscle car era, buy a Hyundai Kona.

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2019 Mazda 3 Premium AWD – An efficient Commuter That’s Fun to Drive

2019 Mazda 3 Premium AWD – An efficient Commuter That’s Fun to Drive

The 2019 Mazda 3 is a slick and comfortable small sedan with good options. In Mazda fashion, the 3 gets incrementally better with each passing year. The last one I drove was in 2017, how does the new one compare?

EXTERIOR 

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Outside, the Mazda 3 looks good. I like the uncluttered nature of its styling. The long low hood, raked C-pillars and stubby trunk all add up to give the Mazda 3 a sporty profile. The chunky 18-inch alloy wheels and LED headlights and taillights have an upmarket look. I especially like the front grille treatment. The Soul Red Crystal metallic paint has to be one of the most appealing factory colors on any car.

INTERIOR

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Inside this press car was outfitted with white leather wrapped seats and dash. I can’t say I’d like to be accountable for keeping it clean over the life of the car, be for the week I had it, it presented no issues. The seats are comfortable and there’s room enough in the back seat for grown ups.

The premium trim gets you a Bluetooth capable, 12 speakers Bose stereo. Android Auto and Apple Carplay make connecting your phone to the car seamless.  A moonroof with one-touch open lets the light in and the Active Driving Display projects vehicle information like speed, cruise control settings and even navigation aids onto an area in the driver’s line of sight to keep eyes safely on the road. Mazda has integrated the 3’s infotainment screen into the dash more and it looks good. It’s a subtle change that indicates they’re still improving the car little by little.

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Mazda’s infotainment system controls are some of the most intuitive on the market.
There’s a multi-function control wheel and a few shortcut buttons that make navigating the menus a breeze. Within the console, there’s a Qi wireless charging pad. I like this layout because it encourages us to drop the phone in the console while we drive.
THE DRIVE

Under the hood, the 2.5L SKYACTIV-G 186 horses and 186 lb-ft torque. Not huge numbers, but the car never feels anemic. The 6-speed automatic transmission is nice and snappy.  In fact, it’s fun to goose the little 3 around and its predictable driving character inspires confidence in the bends.

Mazda says that we can expect the AWD 3 to get 25 mpg around town and 33 on the highway.  The combined mileage is 2 mpg worse than the front wheel drive version. However, if you live in a snowy climate I imagine that you’ll find the AWD a good investment. Highway driving is quiet and smooth.

THE DIRT

The base price on the 2019 Mazda 3 is $27,900. Adding the Premium package gets you some features you might not expect in a non-luxury brand. This includes the heads up display, leather seats, moonroof, paddle shifters and adaptive lighting to name a few. Other available options featured on this car include illuminated door sills like a lexus and a frameless rearview mirror like those found in a Volvo.  All these push the price point to $30,930.

The last time I reviewed this car was in 2017, at that time I called the car a good value. I haven’t changed my mind. It’s still an efficient commuter/kid hauler that’s fun to drive and offers good amenities. I would like to see a return of the Mazdaspeed3 which had a turbo option.