Lexus Changes Prescription

By Derek Price

The RX mid-size crossover — Lexus’ most popular model by far — gets an update for 2020 that makes it more responsive to drive and easier to access tech features.
Every time Lexus updates the RX, though, I worry they’re going to wreck its famously silent and marshmallowy ride. If firm-riding, “sporty” BMW and Porsche SUVs are the villain in my automotive drama, this Lexus saddles up on a white horse to rescue me with its comfy seats and squishy suspension.
The RX heroically defends the traditional luxury-car role: wafting occupants in smooth, isolated silence. And it stands strong even as it looks more aggressive on the outside, morphing into an angular, twisted abstraction of its former jellybean shape.
This year, the RX moves slightly in the sporty direction while maintaining an isolated feel.
Its suspension and steering are tweaked to respond faster and wallow less in corners, mainly thanks to stronger stabilizer bars and bushings. Shock absorbers and dampers are also upgraded to work in tandem with the stronger roll bars. A stiffer body structure, which benefits from more spot welds and adhesive this year, adds to the built-from-granite driving feel.

Lexus’ fastest selling model, the RX luxury crossover, gets an update for 2020 that makes it feel more responsive from the driver’s seat.

This vehicle’s Achilles heel, its clumsy digital interface, gets a much-needed overhaul that makes it easier to use. It still has a touchpad like old laptop computers, something I’ve always thought is a terrible idea in a car, but also pairs it with a screen you can control by touching directly. If you dislike the touchpad, as I do, you can simply touch the screen itself.
Better yet, the RX is finally available with both Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, so you can plug in a smartphone to instantly access the two best car interfaces on Planet Earth.
The visual updates are subtle and evolutionary, not revolutionary.
Front and rear fascias are both updated to fit with the contemporary Lexus look. A new design for its standard 18-inch wheels catches the eye, and two new color choices are available: Moonbeam Beige Metallic and Nori Green Pearl.

Technology takes center stage in the RX, including a large touchscreen that can run Apple CarPlay and Android Auto for simple, intuitive smartphone connectivity.

It continues to be available in a three-row version, called the RXL, that squeezes in a back seat.
For people who like a sportier look and feel, Lexus offers two modified F SPORT packages for the 2020 RX. One of them offers the look of an F SPORT without its noticeably more aggressive driving feel, which is the one I’d prefer as someone who likes its inherent softness.
If I want a sports sedan, I’ll buy a sports sedan.
For those who insist on modifying a perfectly smooth luxury vehicle, though, the F SPORT’s performance upgrades include a variable suspension system, aggressive dampers, a sound system that pumps more exciting engine noises in to the cabin and a Sport+ driving mode. You can even get it with red seats.
In the opposite direction, drivers who want to burn less fuel will be happy with the RX Hybrid, which is rated for 31 mpg in city driving.
Pricing starts at $44,150 for the RX 350, or $47,950 for the F SPORT version.
The three-row RX 350L starts at $47,300, while the RX 450hL Luxury, the three-row hybrid version with the highest trim package, tops the lineup at $56,510.

At A Glance

What was tested? 2020 Lexus RX 450hL ($50,510). Options: Luxury package ($6,000). Price as tested (including $1,025 destination charge): $57,535
Wheelbase: 109.8 in.
Length: 196.9 in.
Width: 74.6 in.
Height: 67.7 in.
Power: Parallel system with gas engine and electric motors (308 total system horsepower)
Transmission: Continuously variable
Fuel economy: 20 city, 28 highway

Style: 9
Performance: 10
Price: 10
Handling: 8
Ride: 9
Comfort: 9
Quality: 8
Overall: 9

Why buy it? 
Lexus has sharpened the styling and driving sensations of its ultra-popular crossover for 2020. The best smartphone systems are also finally available for mobile connectivity.

Posted in Lexus

Ram Hauls In Awards

By Derek Price
I can’t recall any vehicle at any price that’s raked in awards faster than this one, the new Ram 1500 pickup.
Since it was introduced over a year ago as a 2019 model, the half-ton Ram was named North American Truck of the Year, Motor Trend’s Truck of the Year, Green Truck of the Year, Truck of Texas, the top rated truck by Edmunds, along with numerous honors for its spectacular cabin and innovative, gigantic touchscreen interface. even recently named it the 2020 Luxury Car of the Year, the first time that title has ever gone to a pickup truck. Go figure.
After driving it for a week, it’s easy to see why this truck’s trophy case is overflowing.
It’s highly capable, as any full-size pickup has to be to remain competitive today. With the ability to tow 12,750 pounds and a max payload of 2,300 pounds, it’s built to do serious work and play. That’s impressive but hardly surprising.
The real shocker is how refined this truck feels.

The Ram 1500 is widely regarded as the most refined, luxurious pickup for sale today. Its all-new design has resulted in a long list of industry awards.

Other pickup brands will be spending the next few years playing catch-up with the new-generation Ram’s silent, smooth ride. It really is supple enough to be named Luxury Car of the Year with its careful attention to noise isolation and buttery suspension feel on the highway.
No competitor can currently match the materials and design in its cabin, either.
At every price point — and especially on the high-end luxury trims — the Ram 1500 exudes quality and sophistication. The Ram Limited with its genuine leather, gorgeous wood trim and 12-inch touchscreen does more to justify the stratospheric price of luxury trucks than its counterparts at Ford and General Motors.
Where does it fall short?
While you can get it with more efficient engines, including a V6 and a light-duty diesel starting this year, fuel economy with the V8 isn’t impressive. With four-wheel drive, my V8-powered tester was rated for 15 mpg in the city and 21 on the highway.

A quiet highway ride and refined-but-stout suspension make the Ram 1500 a joy to drive in the city and on road trips.

Also its off-road-focused model, the Rebel, looks cool but doesn’t stack up in performance when compared to the Ford F-150 Raptor. While that’s a tiny slice of the pickup market, I still wish Ram would turn this spectacular chassis into a Raptor-like halo truck for enthusiasts and headline writers. We can hope.
As a broad half-ton truck lineup, though, Ram may have created the best pickup ever built in this new 1500. Yes, it can do the hauling and towing jobs pickups are designed to do, but it does so in a way that’s so comfortable and family-friendly that it hardly feels like a truck at all from the driver’s seat. It’s more relaxing and comfortable to drive than most cars I test, yet it has a well-designed pickup bed and impressive tow numbers when you need them.
Pricing starts at $31,695 for the base Tradesman trim with a quad cab and tops out at $57,390 for the Limited, before you add any options and a hefty $1,695 destination charge.
My crew-cab Big Horn tester came with more standard equipment than the Tradesman but still had a serious-work-truck feel, not a lot of frivolous luxury materials. It’s priced from $38,395 with two-wheel drive, before options.

At A Glance

What was tested? 2019 Ram 1500 Big Horn Sport Crew Cab 4X4 ($42,240). Options: Pearl-coat paint ($100), Customer Preferred Package 25Z ($995), sport appearance package ($1,195), bed utility group ($845), Level 2 equipment group ($2,400), rubber floor mats ($135), 5.7-liter V8 engine ($1,395), deployable bed step ($195), speaker and subwoofer system ($595), 8.4-inch Uconnect touchscreen system ($795). Price as tested (including $1,695 destination charge): $52,285
Wheelbase: 144.6 in.
Length: 232.9 in.
Width: 82.1 in.
Height: 77.6 in.
Engine: 5.7-liter HEMI V8 (395 hp, 410 lbs.-ft.)
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic
Fuel economy: 15 city, 21 highway

Style: 9
Performance: 10
Price: 10
Handling: 8
Ride: 9
Comfort: 9
Quality: 8
Overall: 9

Why buy it?
It’s the most sumptuous truck for sale today. Its highway ride is luxury-car supple and silent, yet it can tow up to 12,750 pounds.

Posted in Ram

Complete Overkill

By Derek Price

I can’t imagine any other nation where this conversation would take place:
“You know what we should do to that 707-horsepower car? Give it 90 more.”
That’s apparently what someone at Dodge said when imagining the Redeye version of the Challenger, which adds 90 horses to make it even more ridiculous than its “ordinary” Hellcat sibling.
It’s the very embodiment of American excess.
I spent more than a week driving the most powerful factory-built muscle car for sale today, and the experience was equal parts awe-inspiring, bewildering, and downright terrifying.
What’s it like to drive a car with 797 horsepower — more than some race cars — on public streets?
First, it’s disorienting. All your expectations for what a vehicle can do have to be recalibrated, seeing how a slight blip of the throttle can make the world move by at warp speed. It can feel empowering when you want to pass someone in the blink of an eye, but also frightening when you realize how fast you’re approaching the blunt end of an 18-wheeler.

With a top speed of 203 miles per hour, the Dodge Challenger Hellcat Redeye is the definition of American excess. Its supercharged V8 engine makes 797 horsepower.

Second, it’s delicate. Unlike most cars, where my bad habit of mashing the gas pedal to the floor as if it’s a toggle switch when I want to go faster isn’t much of a problem, the Hellcat Redeye requires a deft touch. You have to feather the throttle slowly, gently and carefully.
Only once the car is settled and pointed in a perfectly straight line can you finally — and still cautiously — push the gas pedal to the floorboard. On public streets, you can only do that for a couple of seconds before reaching send-me-to-jail speeds.
Worse, if you’re sloppy with the throttle, it’s all too easy for the back end to swing violently around. Physics being what they are, a heavy engine up front and unimaginable power going to the back wheels means the tires can lose traction before your reflexes even realize it.
Third, it’s exhilarating.
Once you get used to the wildly excessive power, it’s an absolute hoot to drive. It moves so much air and makes so much rumbling noise that it feels like you’re piloting an entire weather system, not just driving a car.
My favorite thing about it, though, isn’t the Greek-god exhaust sounds or the neck-snapping acceleration. It’s the breadth of capability you can change by using digital sliders on its Uconnect touchscreen.
It may seem counterintuitive, using an LCD screen to control a car that feels so raw and mechanical, but it works beautifully and intuitively. You can set the car in pre-defined Street, Sport or Track modes, or you can do what I did most of the week and customize the feel however you like. You can change the car’s personality from docile to homicidal depending on your mood and your driving route.

Performance and sensations can all be tweaked through the Challenger Hellcat’s digital touchscreen.

Using the custom settings, it’s possible to dial back the power of the engine, make the suspension feel dramatically softer or harder, make the transmission shift smoothly or violently, and set the traction control system anywhere from conservative to free and wild.
That means it can be a remarkably comfortable highway cruiser in the morning, then a ferocious track-day monster in the afternoon.
What does all that cost? The 707-horsepower Hellcat starts around $59,000, and the Redeye Widebody adds another $17,000 on top of that.
Yes, that’s a lot of money. But if you want more horsepower than this from a warrantied, factory-built car, you’ll have to spend in the millions to do it.

At A Glance

What was tested? 2019 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat Redeye Widebody ($59,245). Options: Hellcat Redeye Widebody package ($17,000), Plus package ($1,695), technology group ($1,295), driver convenience group ($1,095), Laguna leather package ($1,795), summer tires ($695), Connect 4C NAV with 8.4-inch display ($795), brass monkey wheels ($995), gas guzzler tax ($1,700). Price as tested (including $1,495 destination charge): $87,805
Wheelbase: 116.2 in.
Length: 197.5 in.
Width: 85.4 in.
Height: 57.5 in.
Engine: 6.2-liter supercharged V8 (797 hp, 707 lbs.-ft.)
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic
Fuel economy: 13 city, 22 highway

Style: 7
Performance: 10
Price: 10
Handling: 5
Ride: 8
Comfort: 7
Quality: 7
Overall: 10

Why buy it? 
It’s an over-the-top American muscle car. It stands out not just for its insane power but also its extraordinary ability to customize the feel and response for street or track use.

Posted in Dodge