Driving Two Extremes

By Derek Price

If you want to drive a dichotomy, this is your vehicle.
The Lexus GX exhibits not just split personalities but diametrically opposed ones.
It’s ostensibly built for serious off-road driving with high ground clearance, a sophisticated 4×4 system and pavement-crushing weight from its stout frame and solid body. Yet it’s also clearly designed for, and much more frequently encountered within, the parking lots of luxury shopping centers.
A bizarre option combination on my GX 460 tester sums it up perfectly.
One is the new-for-2020 Off-Road Package that’s a $1,570 upgrade on the Luxury model. It includes things you’d want on a serious trail-crawling SUV, including cameras to view the surrounding terrain, a transmission cooler, extra protection for the fuel tank, along with crawl-control and special traction settings for off-road driving.
The other is a $2,020 Sport Design package that includes 19-inch wheels, special styling touches and a lower grille surround up front.
Yes, you read that correctly. Lexus equipped this particular vehicle with extra off-road capability and, maddeningly, a lower front grille and giant wheels, perfect for destroying them on the trails.

The Lexus GX is refreshed for 2020. It can tow up to 6,500 pounds and has a new Off-Road Package for added capability on rugged paths.

While that combination makes zero logical sense to me, it does encapsulate the two extremes of what the GX is trying to do: look stylish and know that you could, if you really wanted, leave the luxury parking lot and drive straight into the Rocky Mountains.
The GX is a legitimate SUV built for actual performance, not just looking the part like today’s popular crossover vehicles. Thanks to its beefy frame and 301-horsepower V8 engine it can tow up to 6,500 pounds, and it has 8.1 inches of ground clearance for traveling over obstacles. Approach and departure angles of 21 and 23 degrees help it get past dips and hills like a mountain goat.
It also has the typical SUV downsides: a more truck-like, portly driving feel and poor gas mileage, rated at 15 mpg in city driving. Most drivers would be happier with the more comfortable and efficient RX crossover, which is why it sells in huge numbers, but you can do more with the GX if you need the capability.

The GX has three rows of seating and spacious cargo capacity. The third row seats have a power-folding function on Luxury models that can raise and lower them at the press of a button.

The GX 460 does a good job masking its truck-like underpinnings under a layer of rich leather and upscale features, especially on the Luxury grade with its incredibly comfortable heated and cooled seats, power-folding third row and lighted running boards.
It also comes standard with the Lexus Safety System + this year. The no-extra-charge package includes radar cruise control, collision sensors that can detect and respond to both cars and pedestrians, lane departure alert and “intelligent” bright headlights.
After a minor update for 2020 that includes revised front styling, some parts of the GX still feel dated, including the overall cabin design and the infotainment system. The digital touchscreen doesn’t look as modern or respond as fast as more freshly designed Lexus products. Its Mark Levinson sound system upgrade and back-seat entertainment setup with two huge screens are both top-notch, though.
Pricing starts at $53,000 for the base GX or $65,410 for the Luxury model.

At A Glance

What was tested? 2020 Lexus GX460 Luxury ($64,265). Options: Mark Levinson surround sound ($1,145), off-road package ($1,570), dual screen rear entertainment system ($1,985), sport design package ($2,020). Price as tested (including $1,025 destination charge): $72,010
Wheelbase: 109.8 in.
Length: 192.1 in.
Width: 74.2 in.
Height: 74.2 in.
Engine: 4.6-liter V8 (301 hp, 329 lbs.-ft.)
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic
Fuel economy: 15 city, 19 highway

Style: 8
Performance: 9
Price: 5
Handling: 6
Ride: 8
Comfort: 7
Quality: 9
Overall: 8

Why buy it? 
It’s highly stylish in the city and highly capable in the sticks. It has the look and comfort of a luxury vehicle for people who need the capability of a true SUV for off-roading or towing.

Posted in Lexus

More Than Work

By Derek Price

Ford’s Super Duty pickup trucks have long been known for how they work. But what about play time?
That’s the question the Tremor, a new version of the F-250 and F-350 heavy-duty pickups, tries to answer.
The Tremor name has been used in Ford’s lineup before, including with sport trucks that aim to inject a little excitement into an otherwise utilitarian machine. In this new truck’s case, though, it’s bringing some fun into an area that Ford hasn’t ventured before: heavy-duty pickups designed for off-road performance.
Ford owns the light-duty off-road game with its mind-bending Raptor. It is, by far, the best half-ton truck you can buy from the factory if you want to have fun off the pavement.
The Tremor, though, takes a very different approach from the Raptor.
Instead of building a bigger, heavier truck for high-speed blasts through deserts and cow pastures like the Raptor excels at, the Tremor is designed for more traditional off-roading — climbing trails, fording streams, crawling over rocks, or more commonly just driving on rutty dirt roads and paths in rural areas.
And like its competitors, the entrenched Ram Power Wagon and the newcomer GMC Sierra AT4, it includes some luxury along with the off-road goodies.
What kind of upgrades does it come with?

Ford has created a heavy-duty pickup designed for off-road performance. The new Tremor competes with the Ram Power Wagon and GMC Sierra AT4 in this competitive segment.

For starters, the Tremor carries the largest tires ever fitted to a heavy-duty pickup from the manufacturer, Ford claims. The 35-inch Goodyear Wrangler Duratrac tires are mounted on 18-inch rims, and they offer fantastic traction on a wide variety of surfaces.
A two-inch lift and a shorter air dam up front help it get a whopping 10.8 inches of ground clearance, which Ford says gives the Tremor best-in-class water fording ability of 33 inches. Approach and departure angles of 31.65 degrees and 24.51 degrees are better than any previous Super Duty.
Massive shocks are custom built for this truck to give it better body control. To me, it feels a lot firmer over bumps than the Ram Power Wagon and slightly firmer than the Sierra AT4. That could be a downside depending on what percentage of driving the truck will be doing on pavement or off.
A rock-crawl mode works when the pickup is in 4×4 low gear, helping control the vehicle slowly and steadily in hairy situations. It also has many of the same customizable modes of Ford’s high-end pickups for towing, saving fuel, driving on ice, snow or sand.

The Tremor off-road package is available with the XLT, Lariat, Platinum and King Ranch trim, pictured here.

It also gets Trail Control, which works like cruise control for off-roading. This feature, previously available on the F-150 Raptor and the Ranger, is added for the first time ever on the new Super Duty.
For power, the Tremor is offered with either the new 7.3-liter gasoline V8 or a 6.7-liter Power Stroke diesel.
My tester came with the new monster gas engine, and it felt surprisingly refined considering it’s built first and foremost for hard work. The V8 is rated for 430 horsepower at 5,500 RPM and 475 pound-feet of torque at 4,000 RPM.
For max towing, the diesel is rated for 1,050 pound-feet of torque.
The Tremor off-road package is available on XLT, Lariat, Platinum and King Ranch trims, on both the F-250 and F-350 trucks.
Pricing starts at $54,680 for an XLT with the Tremor package, which includes the 7.3-liter engine and four-wheel drive.
The 6.7-liter turbodiesel upgrade is priced about the same as a good used car, $10,495.

At A Glance

What was tested? 2020 Ford F-350 Lariat 4×4 Tremor ($61,015). Options: Lariat sport package ($4,295), Ultimate Trailer Tow camera system ($1,600), Lariat Ultimate Package ($3,495). Price as tested (including $1,695 destination charge): $69,265
Wheelbase: 159.8 in.
Length: 250 in.
Width: 105.9 in.
Height: 81.3 in.
Engine: 7.3-liter V8 (430 hp, 475 lbs.-ft.)
Transmission: 10-speed automatic
Fuel economy: Not rated

Style: 7
Performance: 8
Price: 5
Handling: 6
Ride: 5
Comfort: 6
Quality: 7
Overall: 7

Why buy it?
The new Tremor is built to work on the weekdays and play on the weekends.

Posted in Ford

Heavenly Sensations

By Derek Price

If there’s a heaven for driving enthusiasts, I suspect the people running Mazda right now will get an extremely pleasant afterlife.
Let’s face it. The car world is filled with sinners today. Dealer lots are packed with dull sedans that ever-fewer people are excited about buying. Shoppers seem to prefer the wickedness of unbelievably bland crossover vehicles with their bulbous shapes and high centers of gravity.
Some brands are even openly committing genocide on manual transmissions and, most horrific of all, replacing them with mushy CVTs.
Can you imagine the kind of evil it takes to do that? I can’t even wrap my mind around it.
Mazda, though, is doing saintly work through products like the all-new CX-30. Yes, it’s a crossover, which means it’s not quite as much fun to drive as the brilliantly designed, lower-to-the-ground Mazda3, my favorite reasonably priced sedan and hatchback on the market today.
But by crossover standards — and even by the measuring stick of many sporty sedans, for that matter — it’s tremendous fun to drive.

The CX-30 is an all-new crossover introduced for 2020 that slots between the CX-3 and CX-5 in Mazda’s lineup.

Like the Mazda3, the CX-30 feels as if it was built by people who actually care about driving, something that’s all too rare today. Tight steering, a firm suspension, responsive brakes and a rev-happy engine combine to make it genuinely fun on winding roads.
I believe Mazda could have sold a boatload of CX-30s if they just created another boring crossover. But they didn’t.
You can feel it from the driver’s seat, and you can see it in the design.
While most CUVs look like they started out as hatchbacks before designers stuck a straw into them and blew hard to make them get all puffy, the CX-30 is sleek, trim and svelte. There are no pretensions of silly, fake, truck-like machismo in its lines.
In fact, the silliest thing about it is the name.
It slots between the CX-3 and the CX-5 in Mazda’s North American lineup. The only advantage of alphanumeric names is for situations exactly like this, when the logical name for this vehicle should be CX-4. Elmo could explain that on Sesame Street.
In a page pulled straight from Infiniti’s “How to Confuse Buyers” playbook, though, Mazda calls this the CX-30. Go figure.
Aside from the oddball name, this vehicle seems completely void of mistakes. Its cabin is one of the nicest in its hotly competitive category, with ample soft-touch materials and a snazzy look that makes it feel more expensive than it is.
It even managed to avoid the mortal sin that is all too common today: a transmission that saps all the fun from driving. Many modern crossovers either use a transmission with far too many gears or, worse, a rubber-band-like continuously variable gearbox.

The CX-30’s cabin has a premium feel, especially in the higher trim levels priced closer to $30,000. Its starting price is $21,900.

The six-speed automatic in the CX-30 responds quickly and confidently, delivering a much more driver-friendly sensation than most small crossovers it competes with.
If you care about the way a vehicle feels over the road — how it changes direction and “communicates” with the driver through sensory feedback — I think the CX-30 is in a class by itself. It does all the boring stuff exceptionally well, too, including an easy-to-use infotainment system and plenty of safety features. But for people interested in the fun stuff without paying a fortune, it stands alone.
You can buy crossovers that are more rewarding to drive, but they cost double or more what this one does. The Alfa Romeo Stelvio, Porsche Cayenne and BMW X-Whatever are all amazing machines, but they’re not built for people on a budget. The starting price is $21,900.
For building the most car-like, fun-to-drive, affordable crossover on the market, the folks at Mazda deserve a special place in automotive heaven. I’d be in favor of a marble statue here on Earth, too.

At A Glance

What was tested? 2020 Mazda CX-30 Premium AWD ($29,600). Options: Machine gray paint ($300), frameless auto-dim mirror ($275), navigation SD card ($450). Price as tested (including $1,045 destination charge): $31,570
Wheelbase: 104.5 in.
Length: 173 in.
Width: 70.7 in.
Height: 62.2 in.
Engine: 2.5-liter four cylinder (186 hp, 186 lbs.-ft.)
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Fuel economy: 25 city, 32 highway

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

Why buy it?
This fresh product from Mazda has svelte looks and an engaging driving feel, two things that are rare in small crossover vehicles. It’s the most fun-to-drive, yet affordable, vehicle of its type.

Posted in Mazda