Clawing Even Higher

Cargazing
By Derek Price
Ford would be justified if it wanted to take a breather from developing the F-150 Raptor, already far and away the most capable off-road pickup for sale today.
Anyone who’s had the good fortune of taking a Raptor into a field or desert and mashing the gas pedal to the floor knows one thing: this machine is on another planet from every other factory-built pickup.
Heavily modified from the ordinary F-150, the Raptor has a wider stance, dramatically longer suspension travel, aggressive tires, advanced 4×4 traction control, unmistakable look and — of course — monster power that lets it blast through unwelcoming terrain at extremely high speeds.
Designed not just for slowly lumbering over trails and rocks like most of its competitors, the Raptor is built to gobble up miles of wilderness at freeway speed. No other factory-warrantied pickup comes close to its ability to make a cow pasture feel smooth as glass at 80 mph.

The Ford F-150 Raptor is designed not just for off-roading, but off-roading at freeway speeds. It’s a showcase of engineering and technology that’s dramatically different from most factory-built trucks.

It would be easy for Ford to relax while customers happily pay up for the privilege of driving the king of Baja-style driving, starting over $50,000. But they’re not letting off this truck’s richly rewarding gas pedal one bit.
FOX shocks have long played a key role in the Raptor’s otherworldly performance. For 2019, Ford worked directly with the racing-suspension experts at FOX to create what they’re calling Live Valve technology that takes the system to a new level.
This system adjusts suspension damping in real time by electronically controlling valves in the shocks. It results in more comfort on the pavement, better performance off-road and better resistance to bottoming out the suspension.
It even has sensors that detect when the truck is midair — a unique need for the Raptor — so it can make the damping as stiff as possible to absorb the energy of the truck’s landing.
There are improvements to low-speed control, too. Trail Control works like cruise control for off-roading, letting the driver select a speed between 1 and 20 mph. The truck will control the throttle and brakes on its own to maintain that speed, freeing the driver to fully concentrate on maneuvering in difficult conditions.

Recaro sport seats are now available in the Raptor, offering more bolstering to keep the driver and passenger comfortably supported in aggressive driving.

Finally, Ford is making Recaro sport seats available in the Raptor this year. With lots of bolstering, they do a good job at holding people in place while this truck does what it’s built to do — conquering tough terrain at speed.
Beyond the jaw-dropping off-road capability, the most noteworthy thing about this truck is the smooth, turbine-like whirr that emanates when you press the throttle. The feeling is more like a spaceship than a traditional V8 rumble thanks to the highly boosted V6 under the hood.
In fact, “sci-fi off-roader” is the best way I can describe driving this current-generation Raptor. It’s a rolling showcase of amazing off-road hardware and software, like it was dropped here from another planet to instantly make every other off-road pickup feel out of date.
Pricing starts at $52,855 and can easily top $70,000 with customization options.

At A Glance

What was tested? 2019 Ford F-150 Raptor 4×4 ($52,855). Options: Equipment Group 802A ($9,365), exterior graphics package ($1,075), interior blue accent package ($2,395), spray-in bedliner ($595). Price as tested (including $1,595 destination charge): $67,880
Wheelbase: 134.2 in.
Length: 220 in.
Width: 96.8 in.
Height: 78.5 in.
Engine: 3.5-liter turbocharged V6 (450 hp, 510 lbs.-ft.)
Transmission: 10-speed automatic
Fuel economy: 15 city, 18 highway

RATINGS
Style: 9
Performance: 10
Price: 7
Handling: 8
Ride: 8
Comfort: 7
Quality: 7
Overall: 10

Why buy it? 
It’s the most capable off-road pickup for sale today, designed not just for low-speed traction but also high-speed blasts through the wilderness. Its FOX suspension is now electronically controlled for better comfort and performance.

Posted in Ford

Charger Roars Ahead

Cargazing
By Derek Price
At a time when trucks and SUVs are storming to sales records, Dodge’s muscle cars seem to be an anomaly.
Not only are they different from most passenger cars — designed more for nostalgic Detroit style and rumbling power than basic transportation — but they’re actually increasing in sales, roaring to 70 percent growth since 2008, Dodge says.
As I see it, their rebellious spirit is key to that growth, very unusual at a time when sedan and coupe sales are shrinking overall.
I can sense the rebellion when driving the Charger R/T, a V8-powered slap in the face to Elon Musk. It’s the polar opposite of the insufferable future where passenger cars are predicted to head: powered by silent batteries and filled with passengers who cede control to computers and sensors.
The Charger’s weakest engine, a V6, makes 292 horsepower, nearly twice as much as popular but mundane crossover vehicles while still delivering a 30-mpg government fuel economy rating on the highway.

Packing nostalgic styling and ample power, the Dodge Charger muscle car offers thrilling excitement and four-door practicality.

Its strongest engine, the 707-horsepower Hellcat V8, offers otherworldly speed and frightening noises at a comparatively attainable price of $67,045. That price is a tiny fraction of what exotic supercars with the same — or even less — power output often command.
My tester, the R/T Scat Pack, falls somewhere in the middle.
With 485 horsepower on tap and a starting price under $40,000, it’s the best performance-per-dollar bargain I’ve ever seen.
It’s a hoot to drive, too, making enough noise to wake up the neighborhood when you turn the key and capable of spinning the rear tires on command. It’s as far from today’s boring “car of the future” as you can get, and I love that about it.
It’s also impressively practical. A huge trunk, spacious back seat and recliner-width front buckets make it usable and downright comfortable for family highway trips. In fact, I prefer a car like this with its long wheelbase, ample power and compliant ride over a crossover vehicle for road trips, despite their popularity.

The Charger’s roomy cabin is impressively useful for road trips, with spacious seating in front and back along with a voluminous trunk.

The Charger’s muscular throwback styling is just a bonus to me.
It’s a rolling homage to 1960s Detroit, unabashedly different from every other vehicle on the road. It has four doors for family-friendly practicality, but it turns heads much like the two-door Mustangs, Camaros and Challengers that roam in its high-horsepower pack.
A new SXT all-wheel-drive model and Charger GT rear-wheel-drive performance model are added to the lineup for 2019. GT and R/T models get upgrades to their chassis and even more aggressive styling, including an angry-looking air intake on the hood.

At A Glance

What was tested? 2019 Dodge Charger R/T Scat Pack ($39,995). Options: None. Price as tested (including $1,495 destination charge): $41,490
Wheelbase: 120.2 in.
Length: 200.8 in.
Width: 75 in.
Height: 58.5 in.
Engine: 5.7-liter HEMI V8 (370 hp, 395 lbs.-ft.)
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic
Fuel economy: 16 city, 25 highway

RATINGS
Style: 8
Performance: 10
Price: 9
Handling: 7
Ride: 7
Comfort: 7
Quality: 6
Overall: 8

Why buy it? 
It’s a loud, aggressive, roomy answer to the boring direction passenger cars have been heading, to their detriment. It makes a statement, is thrilling to drive and has four-door practicality for families.

 

Posted in Dodge

Sleek and Efficient

Cargazing
By Derek Price

The new-generation Lexus ES makes the case that “all new” doesn’t have to mean “very different.”
The 2019 version of Lexus’ pantry-staple executive sedan offers one surprise — its sleeker, bolder, and mildly polarizing design — while delivering more of what makes it perennially popular with buyers.
When a new-generation car is introduced, manufacturers often take the opportunity to choose a new direction for it. That was the case with the car I drove last week — the 2019 Kia K900 — which made the startling shift from smooth boulevard cruiser to sharp-edged sports sedan. It’s also the path Toyota chose with the newest Camry, taking it in a thrilling visual direction and offering a more heart-rate-jolting feel from the driver’s seat on certain trim levels.
The new ES, in contrast, charts a steady course.
Yes, it looks quite different, with a lower, wider and longer shape that mimics the fresh Avalon platform upon which it’s based. For a traditionally conservative car from a traditionally conservative brand, at least, the dramatic iteration of Lexus’ spindle grille injects a serious dose of adrenaline.

The Lexus ES gets a new design that keeps it true to its roots while adding a sleeker, more aggressive look than ever before.

Beyond that, the new generation takes everything that was great about the old ES and cranks the volume knob to 11.
Its ride remains smooth and silent, even more so than in the past. Its lower, wider stance improves the feel in corners, too, without sacrificing its trademark comfy highway experience.
While the most driving enjoyment would come from the revised 3.5-liter, 302-horsepower V6 engine and eight-speed transmission on the ES 350, my tester was the slower but more practical hybrid flavor.
Between its four-cylinder engine and two electric motors, the ES 300h makes a combined 215 horsepower while delivering 43 mpg in the city and 45 on the highway, according to government ratings. That’s both more powerful and more efficient than the 2018 model.
It has the comforting, smooth feel of Toyota’s contemporary hybrid system, too. This hybrid drivetrain, which uses the gasoline engine and regenerative braking to recharge its battery, is one of the most transparent and refined on the market. The transition between low-speed electric power and higher-speed gasoline power is almost imperceptible.
The interior is redesigned to add much of the driver-focused feel of its big brother, the LS. The driving position feels more natural than before, with a lower seating height and adjusted pedal and steering wheel angles that — for my average size, at least — fit like a glove.
It also implements my one complaint about the LC and LS: the awkward touchpad interface near the center armrest.
Much like laptop computers, the ES uses a sensitive touchpad that allows your finger to control functions on a digital screen. It doesn’t bother me when at a complete stop, but I never can seem to get comfortable using it while driving.
This system, Remote Touch Interface, feels fussy and too sensitive while in motion, when every bump or turn makes your finger move. I prefer simple touchscreens but might one day get used to this Lexus interface, and perhaps even grow to love it, if given enough time.

The ES joins two of Lexus top-tier models, the LS and LC, with the brand’s most driver-focused cabin. Dominated by a huge digital display, it’s meant to put all the important controls and information within convenient reach.

Other than than the goofy touchpad, the cabin is a heavenly place to spend time. All the controls and information are instantly accessible for the driver, with an easy-to-use button and knob layout that other luxury cars would be wise to imitate. And in typical Lexus fashion, its materials and construction are top-notch, with that glorious combination of supple, smooth leather, rich wood trim and granite-like solidity.
Lexus is also rolling out something new that seems to match its swept-back bodywork: an F SPORT package with a more aggressive look and feel.
Pricing starts at $39,600 for the ES 350 or $41,410 for the hybrid ES 300h. It tops out at $45,060, before options, for the Ultra Luxury hybrid trim.
The F SPORT version, with its head-turning styling and Adaptive Variable Suspension, is priced at $44,135.

At A Glance

What was tested? 2019 Lexus ES 300h Ultra Lux ($44,960). Options: Blind spot monitor package ($1,900), wireless charger ($75) 18-inch wheels ($950), 10.2-inch HUD ($500), navigation package ($1,920), heated steering wheel package ($480), illuminated door sills ($379), carpet trunk mat ($105). Price as tested (including $1,025 destination charge): $52,294
Wheelbase: 113 in.
Length: 195.9 in.
Width: 73.4 in.
Height: 56.9 in.
Engine: 2.5-liter inline four-cylinder with hybrid electric motor (215 total system horsepower)
Transmission: Continuously variable
Fuel economy: 43 city, 45 highway

RATINGS
Style: 7
Performance: 7
Price: 8
Handling: 5
Ride: 9
Comfort: 9
Quality: 8
Overall: 7

Why buy it? 
A new-generation design makes it catch the eye better than ever before without sacrificing its smooth, silent, practical, comfortable demeanor.

Posted in Lexus

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