All posts in “Cars”

The Ford Bronco Might Beat the Jeep Wrangler in a Delightful Way

It’s pretty obvious by now what the 2021 Ford Bronco‘s intended target is: the Jeep Wrangler. The promised off-road chops, the heavily-alluded-to boxy styling, the middleweight size — hell, even the engine output all point to an SUV that seeks to knock the fabled four-wheeler off its pedestal as America’s favorite off-road lifestyle vehicle.

But perhaps no feature of the new Bronco speaks more to Ford’s Wrangler-killing aims than the fact that, like the Jeep, you’ll apparently be able to toss off the SUV’s doors when you want to feel a little more fresh air. We’ve already seen a patent that suggests Ford has found a way to make driving al fresco safer by adding retractable, inflatable door guards to keep occupants from being tossed out; now, another patent reveals that Ford may have found a way to make it easier to take those doors off in the first place.

The U.S. patent application was published earlier this month, and dug up by the sleuths over at Car and Driver on Friday. While it doesn’t mention the Bronco by name, it seems like the sort of concept that would be perfect for the new off-roader. (Ford’s illustration depicts it on something resembling a Flex, but that wagonoid model seems as likely to score removable doors as a Porsche 911 is a hydrogen fuel cell.)

The patent application, simply put, describes a latch-based system for removing vehicular doors. The latches would stay locked when the doors were in one selected position (presumably closed), but once the doors are moved to a second position (presumably open), they could be switched from locked to unlocked — perhaps by hand, or using some sort of extention tool.

The Wrangler (and Gladiator, for what it’s worth) both require a set of wrenches and screwdrivers to remove the doors. It’s easier than in previous generations of Jeeps — the brand provides a tiny toolkit with everything needed, as well as pictographic instructions — but it still winds up being a process of removing quite a few screws and bolts both inside and outside of the vehicle. Ford’s process sounds not only simpler, but quicker.

Now, whether this will prove the Bronco’s killer app or just another arrow in its Jeep-fighting quiver remains to be seen. But it seems likely that, if Ford is serious about offering a system like this on its new off-roader, it’ll encourage owners to doff their doors more frequently — which will hopefully encourage more brands to offer this sort of feature.

The Complete Full-Size Pickup Truck Buying Guide: Every Model, Explained

Full-size trucks are the quintessential American vehicles. Americans build them; they buy them far more than any other type of car; and perhaps most importantly of all, they have the landscape to make use of them. Profits from full-size trucks provide the American automotive industry’s lifeblood. The Big Three may call themselves mobility companies committed to a zero-emissions future, but it’s selling full-size trucks that will pay to develop that future.

Much like country music, the full-size truck has redefined itself, broadened its appeal and defied entrenched stereotypes over the past couple of decades. Vital competition in this segment has made full-size trucks some of the most sophisticated, capable, practical and luxurious vehicles on the market. The Big Three can’t afford for their full-size trucks to be anything less.

Pickup Truck Terminology

AFM: Active fuel management. A technology that allows the engine to reduce the number of cylinders being used under light loads.
Crew Cab: Term used by most manufacturers for a double cab with four full-size doors.
DFM: Dynamic fuel management. A General Motors technology that allows the engine to choose from between 17 different cylinder firing combinations as needed, for greater efficiency.
Eco: Prefix that indicates some effort has been made to make this engine more efficient…or that the manufacturer wishes to market it as such.
eTorque: Mild hybrid system for Fiat Chrysler engines that adds low-end torque.
Half-ton: Another name for the full-size segment. It used to correlate to payload capacity. It no longer does.
Hemi: Chrysler engine with a hemispherical induction chamber. These are large-displacement, high-output engines used on trucks and muscle cars.
Light-Duty: Another name for the full-size truck segment. Distinguishes these trucks from the “heavy-duty” vehicles optimized for hauling and towing, such as the F-Series Super Duty and Ram 2500.
Long Bed: A truck bed with a length of around eight feet. This length appears most commonly on work trucks. Most buyers opt for a shorter bed for easier handling.
Payload: The amount of weight a vehicle can carry, including passengers and cargo.
Towing Capacity: The amount of weight a vehicle can tow.

Buying Guide

Ford F-150

Thanks to sheer volume, the Ford F-150 defines the full-size truck market. The F-Series has been America’s best-selling vehicle for more than 30 years running; in 2018, Ford sold more than 900,000 of them in the U.S. No other vehicle eclipsed 600,000.

The current (13th) generation appeared for the 2015 model year. Whether you require a basic work truck, a road-going yacht or a badass offroad rig to attempt the Baja 1000 (hi there, F-150 Raptor), Ford has you covered.

Ford made some forward-thinking changes with the last generation. They shifted the body from steel to a lighter aluminum-heavy construction (a move ridiculed by competitors at first, then imitated). Ford also favors turbocharged V6 engines over traditional V8s. These offer a higher output on paper, but many truck buyers still prefer a V8. (Ford may finally give them one on the Raptor.)

Ram and Chevy’s latest truck generations may have caught up. But Ford should move the bar forward again with its next-generation model launching next year, which may include game-changing hybrid and electric F-150s.

Body Styles:

• Regular
• Supercab
• Supercrew

Box Length:

• 5.5 feet
• 6.5 feet
• 8 feet

Trims:

• XL
• XLT
• Lariat
• King Ranch
• Platinum
• Raptor
• Limited

Engines:

• 3.3-liter V6 (290 hp, 265 lb-ft)
• Twin-turbocharged 2.7-liter V6 (325 hp, 400 lb-ft)
• 5.0-liter V8 (395 hp, 400 lb-ft)
• Turbocharged 3.0-liter diesel (255 hp, 440 lb-ft)
• Twin-turbocharged 3.5-liter EcoBoost V6 (375 hp, 470 lb-ft; 450 hp, 510 lb-ft)

Max Payload: 3,230 lbs (3.5-liter EcoBoost)

Max Towing Capacity: 13,320 lbs (3.5-liter EcoBoost)

Base MSRP: $28,495

Chevrolet Silverado 1500

The fourth-generation Silverado was redesigned for the 2019 model year. Chevy’s strategy for competing with Ford has been to offer plentiful customization: If a customer has a particular taste, Chevy will provide an option to meet it. The Silverado has eight different trim levels, each with a corresponding grille design. Buyers can choose from three cab sizes, three box lengths and five different engines. Then you hit a near-endless array of accessories and details.

The Silverado has largely stuck with V8 engines. Tempting outside-the-box buyers with the “2.7-liter engine” which is a (gasp!) four-cylinder has not gone well. The fuel-efficient inline-six diesel engine may do better.

Where the Silverado has struggled is distinguishing itself from competitors. GM’s higher-end luxury options and more innovative technologies largely went to the now-higher-end Sierra. Which is great — for the Sierra.

Body Style:

• Regular Cab
• Double Cab
• Crew Cab

Box Length:

• Short (5 feet 10 inches)
• Standard (6 feet 7 inches)
• Long (8 feet 2 inches)

Models:

• WT
• Custom
• Custom Trail Boss (4WD only)
• LT
• LT Trail Boss (4WD only)
• RST
• LTZ
• High Country

Engines:

• 4.3-liter V6 (285 hp, 305 lb-ft)
• Turbocharged 2.7-liter inline-four (310 hp, 348 lb-ft)
• Turbocharged 3.0-liter inline-six diesel (277 hp, 460 lb-ft)
• 5.3-liter V8 (355 hp, 383 lb-ft)
• 6.2-liter V8 (420 hp, 460 lb-ft)

Max Payload: 2,250 lbs (4.3-liter V6)

Max Towing Capacity: 13,400 lbs (6.2-liter V8)

Base MSRP: $28,300

GMC Sierra 1500

The GMC Sierra has had trouble differentiating itself from the Silverado over the years, mostly because it has been mechanically identical. GM has sought to change this with the new generation, redefining the Sierra as the higher-end rig and giving it the features to back that up.

If the Silverado and Sierra are still corporate twins, the Sierra is the better-looking, more interesting one. It gets the super-lux “Denali” trim and the premium off-road Raptor-rival AT4 trim. The Sierra also gets the first crack at innovative features like the MultiPro six-function tailgate and the CarbonPro carbon fiber bed.

Body Style:

• Regular Cab
• Double Cab
• Crew Cab

Box Length:

• Short (5 feet 10 inches)
• Standard (6 feet 7 inches)
• Long (8 feet 2 inches)

Models:

• Sierra (base)
• SLE
• Elevation
• SLT
• AT4
• Denali

Engines:

• 4.3-liter V6 (285 hp, 305 lb-ft)
• Turbocharged 2.7-liter inline-four (310 hp, 348 lb-ft)
• 5.3-liter V8 (355 hp, 383 lb-ft)
• 6.2-liter V8 (420 hp, 460 lb-ft)

Max Payload: 2,240 lbs (Regular Cab)

Max Towing Capacity: 12,500 lbs (6.2-liter V8)

Base MSRP: $38,395

Ram 1500

Ram became an independent brand apart from Dodge for the 2010 model year, following the Fiat-Chrysler merger. Ram debuted the fifth-generation 1500 pickup for the 2019 model year. Ram focused on offering a premium experience, whether that is ride quality, interior styling and materials, or technology such as a massive 12-inch touchscreen. That focus has earned the Ram 1500 rave reviews, and the pickup won multiple “truck of the year” awards.

The Ram 1500 has a simplified engine lineup compared to competitors. Ram dispensed with both the two-door cab and the long box, leaving those variants to the “Ram Classic.” If you’re into multifunction tailgates, the Ram 1500 has one that splits 60-40.

Body Styles:

• Quad Cab
• Crew Cab

Box Length:

• 5 feet 7 inches
• 6 feet 4 inches

Models:

• Tradesman
• Tradesman HFE
• Big Horn/Lone Star
• Laramie
• Rebel
• Laramie Longhorn
• Limited

Engines:

• 3.6-liter V6 w/eTorque (305 hp, 269 lb-ft)
• 5.7-liter HEMI V8 (395 hp, 410 lb-ft)
• 5.7-liter HEMI V8 w/eTorque (395 hp, 410 lb-ft)

Max Payload: 2,100lbs (3.6-liter V6)

Max Towing Capacity: 12,750 lbs (5.7-liter V8)

Base MSRP: $33,440

Ram 1500 Classic

Ram kept the fourth-generation 1500 in production after the fifth-generation debuted. The older truck is now a budget model with a pared-down trim lineup. With the base-level Tradesman starting at $27,645, it undercuts the rest of the full-size pickup market. The strategy has been so successful, Ram passed the Silverado for number-two best-seller overall. Ram plans to keep the previous model in production, and even update it.

Body Styles:

• Regular Cab
• Quad Cab
• Crew Cab

Box Length:

5 feet 7 inches
• 6 feet 4 inches
• 8 feet

Models:

• Tradesman
• Express
• Warlock
• Big Horn

Engines:

• 3.0-liter EcoDiesel V6 (240 hp, 420 lb-ft)
• 3.6-liter V6 (305 hp, 269 lb-ft)
• 5.7-liter V8 (395 hp, 410 lb-ft)

Max Payload: 1,880 lbs (3.6-liter V6)

Max Towing Capacity: 10,470 lbs (5.7-liter V8)

Base MSRP: $27,645

Toyota Tundra

Toyota launched the first Tundra for the 2000 model year. It was the first Japanese full-size pickup for the American market. It’s more akin to the rest of Toyota’s SUV/truck lineup than its American segment competitors. Updates are rare: The second generation debuted way back in 2007, and was last facelifted in 2014.

The Tundra is the full-sized truck for Toyota fans. It offers the brand’s notable strengths: impressive build quality, formidable off-road chops and unbelievable resale value. Attempts have been made to add luxury (i.e. the 1794 Edition) and off-road cred (the TRD Pro). But the Tundra is a generation behind its American competitors, particularly when it comes to fuel economy; it earns just 15 mpg combined.

Body Style:

• Double Cab
• Crewmax

Box Length:

• Short (5 feet 7 inches)
• Standard (6 feet 7 inches)
• Long (8 feet 2 inches)

Models:

• SR
• SR5
• Limited
• Platinum
• 1794 Edition
• TRD Pro

Engines:

• 5.7-liter V8

Max Payload: 1,730 lbs

Max Towing Capacity: 10,200 lbs

Base MSRP: $33,425

Nissan Titan

Nissan launched the Titan full-size pickup in 2004. The second generation debuted in 2016. It offers a simple lineup, with one engine option (a 5.6-liter V8) and no ability to mix and match cargo boxes. While the Titan is newer than the Tundra, it does not match up with the Big Three competitors in capability, particularly in towing.

What the Titan can offer, compared to competitors, is a value proposition. A buyer who wants a single-cab, long-box work truck and a V8 with reasonable options (power doors and windows, carpet) can it there at a lower price point with the Titan than itscompetitors.

Body Style:

• Single Cab (8-foot box)
• King Cab (6.5-foot box)
• Crew Cab (5.5-ffot box)

Models:

• S
• SV
• SV Midnight Edition
• PRO-4X
• SL
• SL Midnight Edition
• Platinum Reserve

Engines:

• 5.6-liter V8 (390 hp, 394 lb-ft)

Max Payload: 1,930 lbs (Single Cab 4×4)

Max Towing Capacity: 9,660 (Single Cab 4×2)

Base MSRP:$30,690

Note: Purchasing products through our links may earn us a portion of the sale, which supports our editorial team’s mission. Learn more here.

This Company Will Make Your Custom Land Rover Defender Dreams Come True

Time to start thinking about cashing out that 401(k) early. Virginia-based classic car import firm Commonwealth Classics is collaborating with Portuguese restorers Unique Masterpieces on “The Commonwealth Line,” a run of restored, heritage-inspired Land Rover Defenders. Unique Masterpieces will build the trucks, while Commonwealth Classics will import and sell them to U.S. customers.

The Commonwealth Line offers a sumptuous, upscale take on the Defender. Unique Masterpieces sources the importable vehicles from around Europe. They stick with stock engines, but give them a full rebuild. All restoration work but for the custom-dyed canvas tops and leather wrapping is performed in-house by Unique Masterpieces.

Primarily, Commonwealth and Unique Masterpieces will use Defenders produced from 1991 to 1995 using 200 Tdi and 300 Tdi inline-four turbodiesel engines, though they also offer a 3.5-liter V8. They can source Defender 90, 110, and 130 models (including pickups) for a total of 30 different body and top configurations, as well as more than 40 different leather color options.

Related Video: The New 2020 Defender

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Commonwealth offers two different Defender finishes: the standard, more traditional “Heritage Finish,” and a more performance-oriented, design-forward “Signature Finish.” After the finish, customers can add on five different packages. “Performance” adds about 30 percent more power to the engine; “Trail” adds a winch, a hitch, heavy-duty front springs, and locking rear differentials; there’s also “Sound,” “Comfort” and “Tailgate.” (Don’t forget the 16-inch custom-painted Wolf steel wheels.)

Buying a Defender this exquisite is likely a lifestyle decision more than one made because you need a solid off-roader; as such, you likely have some fancier hobbies to go along with it. Commonwealth Classics has you covered. Potential add-ons for the Defender include a bespoke matching two-horse trailer and a cubby containing a cedar-lined humidor. If you want to make this Defender a real gentleman’s club on wheels, you can add some wood flooring.

As one would imagine, you’ll pay for quality. Optioning out a Commonwealth Line Defender won’t come cheap. Defender 90 builds start at $125,000, and Defender 110 builds start at $135,000. That price — more than twice the base cost of a new 2020 Defender — includes a 12-month warranty and 12 months of standard maintenance.

Commonwealth Classics is currently accepting two new Defender builds per month. The production process takes four months. Customers can monitor their build’s progress with a password-protected site, photos, and text updates. You can configure your build here.

The 1990 Lexus LS400, Driven Today: We Need Cars Like This Again

I was eight years old when the Lexus LS400 debuted at the 1989 Detroit Motor Show. My budding love for cars at that tender age manifested in my idolization of bella macchinas from Italy. I was aware Japanese cars existed — a Honda Accord and a Mazda 626 sat in my parents’ garage — but I didn’t fantasize about driving those slow, utilitarian boxes, not when I could drift away into posters of Testarossas and Countaches.

Three decades later, I’ve driven my pin-up heroes —  at least when they deigned to properly function and weren’t overheating or shaking to pieces on the side of the road. Then, a couple months ago during a Lexus event in Costa Rica, I sampled a pristine example of the 1990 LS400 — and realized I’d spent my boyhood worshipped at the wrong altar.

It shouldn’t really be a surprise that the LS400 still feels like an impossibly perfect vehicle 30 years after it was built. Any car that cost more than $1 billion in development over six years (in Reagan-era money, no less) and saw more than 450 prototypes precede the final iteration should emerge as a benchmark which future luxury sedan models ought to measure against.

Slipping into the plush driver’s seat today, it’s boggling how far ahead of its time this cabin was. Holographic, electro-luminescent gauges stare back at you, and there’s an electrochromic rear-view mirror at your disposal. Push-button dials for an equalizer for the radio were standard. There’s even a power switch for the height-adjustable seatbelt. The car is the epitome of omotenashi, a Japanese term that roughly translates into “anticipating your guests needs before they even know what they want — and exceeding them.”

The key turns over a 4.0-liter V8 engine that houses a stable of 254 horses — and, more importantly, simply purrs. The LS400 has the ability to run all the way up to 160 mph; sink your foot to the floor, and the shuffle from 0 to 60 transpires in 8.5 seconds. These numbers may seem paltry by today’s standards, but this car positively flew in 1990.

The main arterial highways of Costa Rica are clean and calm, but the pockmarked B-roads leave something to be desired…unless you’re in the LS400, that is. The luxobarge glides over the roughest crud with aplomb, a credit to the double-wishbone front and rear suspensions. (Air suspension was an option, too.) Toyota engineers nailed the steering feel and ratio; it’s direct and responsive, and you’re never adjusting or shuffling around to get a corner right. And the LS400 can hang in a turn, far better than some of its contemporary cousins.  When I sampled the new GX 460 (and its less-than-stellar road manners) afterwards, I pined for the comfort and handling of the LS400.

The LS400 was fabricated from sandwiched steel, in a bid to mitigate vibration; flush door handles and windows were employed to further reduce wind noise. The result is a cabin so quiet, it still rivals modern Mercedes-Benzes and Bentleys. In fact, the ride is so smooth, cushy and serene that were you to be blindfolded and asked if you were in the backseat of the LS400 or a Rolls-Royce Silver Spur from the same era, you’d be hard-pressed to determine which vehicle you were enjoying.

When Eiji Toyoda set out to create a luxury brand to recapture the buyers his business was losing when they graduated out of Toyota’s lineup, the marques that were defining the segment were Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Jaguar. The LS400 proves even today that Lexus had a winner right out of the gate. It had S-Class presence and drove every bit as well, but only set your wallet back the price of an E-Class.

When my short test drive ended — Lexus wants to keep the mileage on the vehicle low, though with unrivaled mechanical reliability, the brand needn’t fret — I didn’t want to relinquish it. Forget the LFA; create posters of the LS400.

2019 Airstream Bambi Review: The Stylish, Easy Way into Camping Trailer Life

By this point, the only way you don’t know what an Airstream is if you’re a vampire who’s been asleep in a cave for the last century. The aluminum-sided travel trailers have been rolling along America’s roads since the ’30s, their iconic design capturing eyes with the same ease they reflect sunlight. They’ve been featured in countless films and TV shows, and transformed into homes, AirBnBs and works of art.

For 2019, the eight-decade-old company has added a new model to its lineup: the diminutive, adorably-named Bambi. Ask Airstream where the name “Bambi” came from, and they’ll say founder Wally Byam named it after a type of agile deer he saw while overlanding across Africa in the ‘60s. (Dollars to donuts he actually named it after a certain Disney movie, but that’s neither here nor there.) It’s been a common nickname for the company’s small, single-axle trailers for more than half a century — but now, the name has finally been given the honor of formally becoming part of the team, signifying the two-wheeled rigs that are the most affordable way to hop aboard one of the company’s classic aluminum trailers.

The Good: It may be compact, but the Bambi crams more usable space and features into its limited length than most studio apartments. My Bambi 19CB tester was the second-smallest variant, yet in spite of being a mere 18 feet 11 inches long — shorter than a Rolls-Royce Phantom — it had space for a two-burner gas stove, a stainless steel sink, a refrigerator and freezer, an LED television (with integrated antenna), a built-in stereo, a memory foam mattress (sized somewhere between a twin and a double), even a shower and a flushing toilet.

Even with all that gear inside, the interior has a fair amount of space to spread out. During an impromptu Brooklyn tailgate party, I managed to fit seven or eight adults (and one large dog) inside comfortably, with room to spare for snacks and a soft Yeti cooler backpack. A family with kids might find it cramped, but it’s more than spacious enough to serve as a good base of operations for a single adult or a couple.

Who It’s For: First-time Airstreamers looking to dip their toe into the world of trailering adventure; empty-nesters who want to roam freely in retirement but don’t want to wrangle giant trailers and full-size pickup trucks.

Watch Out For: Backing up. As the model that seems most likely to be adopted by trailering novices, you might think the Bambi would pack some sort of technological magic to help maneuver it in reverse more easily.

Nooooooooooooooooope.

Spinning my trailer 180 degrees required a good 30 minutes of Austin Powers-style shuffling back and forth, and that was with the help of the kind owner of the Hipcamp camp site we were staying at — a man whose own history included training people how to drive heavy equipment in the army. A backup camera is standard, though it wasn’t hooked up on mine; regardless, it wouldn’t have done much beyond tell me where I would have gone were I able to keep the thing moving in a straight line for more than three seconds. The first company to sort out some sort of idiot-proof trailer-reversing technology — brake-based torque vectoring? Computer-controlled active steering? SpaceX-inspired compressed air thrusters? — deserves to make a mint.

Alternatives: Safari Condo Alto R-Series ($29,500+); Homegrown Trailers Woodland ($39,495+); Forest River Alpha Wolf ($25,995+); Airstream Nest ($45,900)

Review: Full disclosure: In spite of more than a decade of driving and writing about automobiles, I can count the number of times I’ve towed a trailer on one hand. Actually, I can count the number of times I’ve towed that weren’t under the well-supervised confines of a media junket on one finger; that sole instance involved towing a U-Haul U-Box through a couple dozen miles of country roads, then winding up stuck at a closed bridge on a one-lane road because I couldn’t reverse to a turnaround spot.

So it was with a bit of trepidation that I hitched the Bambi up to the Ford Ranger XLT I’d borrowed as a tow vehicle for a weekend of criss-crossing New Jersey and the lower boroughs of New York City. Yet the Bambi-and-Ranger duo proved blissfully easy to handle, even when winding them through the tight streets of Brooklyn or on the open highways of the Dirty Jerz. The tidy proportions meant turns never proved a problem (at least, when going forwards); the trailer’s brakes were reassuringly dependable and solid, always snapping on in sync with the Ford’s discs; and the Ranger’s EcoBoost engine made easy work of the trailer’s weight, hauling it up to mile-per-minute velocity without issue. Going much beyond that felt a mite worrisome, however; by 70 mph, every imperfection in the road seemed to be magnified into a shimmy in the Bambi that prompted unwanted visions of tank-slapper flips or pileup-causing detachments.

Still, Airstream life isn’t about speed; it’s about taking things slow and easy, leaving troubles and stresses behind in favor of the freedom of the open road. (There’s a reason the Indiana-based company offers a Tommy Bahama trim level on some models.)

Once the driving and parking (and reversing, and re-parking) was done and I’d settled truck and trailer in the tree-lined camping spot within spitting distance of the Delaware River, the Bambi came into its own. The starboard-side awning’s coverage area is on the smaller side, but it’s enough to keep the sun off one or two chairs — or to give you a place to dry before coming aboard in a squall. The nice weather meant I parked my butt in a nearby camping chair instead, but it was nice to know it was there if needed.

My hosts provided fresh water and a power hookup, but I wound up needing neither; the on-board battery never came close to losing all its power, thanks to the solar panel mounted atop the roof. (Pre-wiring for a solar panel is standard, but the panel itself is an option; considering how well it worked, I’d suggest making it the first box you check.) Running the air conditioner built into the roof would probably guzzle the electrons faster than the solar panel could replenish them, but I never needed it, in spite of summertime temps; between the shady interior, the twin roof-mounted ventilation fans and the plentiful screened-in windows (and the screen door), the Bambi’s interior stayed breezy and cool all day long, in country and city alike.

The toilet situation, should you be curious, is best described as “acceptable.” The 19CB variant’s loo occupies an odd middle ground amongst Airstream lavatories; while smaller trailers and touring coaches place the toilet in the shower and larger ones have a miniature bathroom with an actual door, the 19-footer uses an odd W-folding wall that’s designed to offer some semblance of privacy for the tight corner. In practice, it’s less than ideal; let’s just say you should ask anyone else in the trailer to vacate the premises before using the restroom. Functionally, however, it works just fine.

Admittedly, I didn’t have a chance to use the shower — folding my frame inside that tiny space seemed like a violation of the Geneva Convention — so I can’t vouch for the efficacy of its handheld nozzle. (Exhibitionists might have better luck with the outdoor “shower,” a similar handheld nozzle with hot and cold knobs tucked away in one of the exterior ports.) That said, I never had any issues with the flow or temperature of the water blasting from either the kitchen or bathroom sink — which, like the keyholes in a nuclear missile silo, are exactly far apart enough that one person can’t use them both simultaneously — so I have no reason to assume the shower would be anything less than effective.

Another reason to assume the best from the hot water supply: the two-burner gas stove proved as adept as any found in a modern house, if a mite smaller. Same could be said for the kitchen table, which has room for four provided everyone’s comfortable rubbing flanks and knees; same goes for the fridge and freezer combo, too. (The latter can reportedly be quite the power suck; should you rather save the electrons, a good Yeti cooler and a couple bags of ice will likely be every bit as effective for 24-48 hours.)

Indeed, all told, the Bambi does an exceedingly good impression of a tiny, efficient apartment — good enough to tempt this New Yorker away from his hard-won one-bedroom. The night before I had to return the trailer, after my friends had left, I wound up laying in bed watching football on the television, eating a s’more made over the gas stove’s burner. The TV reception was better than in my apartment; the memory foam mattress was comfy than my couch; the sounds of the park beside me more relaxing than the rumble of cable trucks making their way home to their garage near my place. In that moment, it wasn’t hard to see the appeal in tossing that Great American Dream of Homeownership out in favor of living out my days in an elegant rolling apartment.

Verdict: By striking a perfect balance between size, style and comfort, the Airstream Bambi delivers the right combination of features to endear it to anyone who’s long harbored dreams of rolling across the land with a shiny trailer behind them, following the whims of the road. Sure, you can snag a new travel trailer for far less money — but doing so would mean swapping those timeless looks for the blocky looks and garish pseudo-airbrushed designs of most travel trailers and RVs, which are utterly lacking in both elegance and Instagram-ability. (Let’s not pretend the latter is unimportant.)

Indeed, the Bambi pulled off something I never would have expected: It made me into a camping trailer person. I spend my time stuck in traffic fantasizing about car camping trips out West; now I fantasize about doing it with an Airstream.

2019 Airstream Bambi 19CB: Key Specs

Length: 18 feet, 11 inches
Weight: 3,650 pounds
Windows: 11
Refrigerator Size: 4.3 cubic feet
Sleeping Capacity: Up to four people, but two of them better be tiny

Airstream provided this product for review.

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The Best Cars to Buy Right Now, According to Our Motoring Editor

Just Get This

The Best Cars to Buy Right Now, According to Our Motoring Editor


Just Get This is our straight-to-the-best-product-you-can-buy list of Editor’s Picks. That of course goes for cars, too. Check out the list below of the best cars you can buy right now.


Affordable Sports Car

2018 Mazda MX-5

Compact Car

2018 Toyota Corolla XSE Hatchback

Full Sized Pickup

Ram 1500

Large SUV

Lincoln Navigator

Midsize Truck

2019 Ford Ranger

Sports Car

Porsche 718 Cayman/Boxster

Station Wagon

Subaru Outback

The Trials and Triumphs of Overlanding Across America in the Ford Ranger FX4

Going on an overland adventure across the United States is easier than most people think. Stock four-wheel-drive vehicles are more capable than ever; GPS tracks and maps are available online; automotive roof tents make the nights more comfortable than ever. It makes it so easy, you might even think about taking your whole family along as you attempt a 3,500-mile trip along the Continental Divide from Mexico to Canada would not only check it off your bucket list. Which is exactly what photographer Olivier de Vaulx did. 

The Milky Way seems so close it’s almost unreal. Even the most advanced computer-generated images couldn’t approach the complexity of the starry night above our heads.

We’re in New Mexico, on the first night of our Continental Divide journey, laying down on the comfortable mattress of our roof tents and enjoying a show that no movie theater will ever be able to provide. It’s only been a few hours since we started at the border between the U.S. and Mexico at the Antelope Wells port of entry, but we already feel thousand of miles away from our real lives.

My two teenagers didn’t get any cell service the whole day and never complained. Instead, they drove our two Ford Ranger FX4 pickup trucks through the red dirt of New Mexico’s backcountry, which is more fun than any video game. As the day ended, the adventure already felt like a success. But there were still 3,500 miles to go.

Warming Up in New Mexico

Kevin Glassett, avid motorcyclist and retired Hewlett-Packard engineer, put together a daily driving route for our GPS, with paved and off-road options displayed in different colors on our Trail Tech Voyager Pro. The little arrow proves hypnotic; with no risk of getting lost, we tend to drive as much as we can. (Furthermore, since the temperature outside is well above 85 degrees, nobody minds seating in an air-conditioned vehicle.)

The EcoBoost engines of the two Rangers are sipping fuel as slowly as old British lords sip their tea, giving us enough range to travel more than 250 miles a day. The power delivered by the turbos and the smooth ride provided by the FX4 heavy-duty suspensions sometimes even pushes us to switch into rally mode, speeding across the red dirt like professional WRC racers. But being here as a family instead of with a bunch of friends reminds you quickly that overlanding is more about the distance traveled than the adrenaline rush, and we quickly fall back to a more reasonable pace. (Even if the truck didn’t mind going fast.)

As the sun sets, it’s time to start what will become our daily routine: Finding a free camping spot for the night on BLM land, setting up our Tepui Explorer Kukenam and Autana roof tents and cooking some easy-but-healthy meals. Using two plastic coolers and a gas stove, we whip up recipes with enough proteins, carbs and veggies to call this trip a gastronomic experience. GSI Outdoors cooking kits help us keep everything organized for dinner and breakfast, transforming what would be a duty in the army into a genuine pleasure. Once the dishes are washed (using melted ice from the cooler instead of wasting drinkable water), it’s time for a card game or some night photography of the Milky Way. Hello, vacation mode.

Catching Cold in Colorado

The transition between New Mexico and Colorado is somewhat brutal. The elevation rises as we reach the Golden State, and with five times more snow this winter than in previous years, most of the passes in the Rocky Mountains are still closed — as we discover first hand while trying to go over Stunner Pass, just to find a big patch of snow at the summit.

While the first two patches of snow take us only a few attempts to go through, thanks to the high clearance of the Ranger FX4s and the help of the Maxtrax MKII traction mats, the last one proves more difficult. Stuck in the snow, the first Ranger stalls, high-centered and unable to free itself. That’s why we travel with two trucks: The second Ford is able to pull out the unlucky vehicle loose in no time.

The snow being deep as it is, we could have decided to go around by (illegally) driving off the trail. Instead, we keep the overland attitude alive and start digging a path through the snow with a shovel, the whole family taking relays to clear the way. (Turns out overlanding can be a great workout.) After a few hours, we finally make it to the other side…just in time to be welcomed by a hail storm. Colorado is a tough place.

Thankfully, there’s also plenty of sweet opportunities in the state: Hiking and sledding along the snowy summits of Cinnamon Pass, the discovery of old gold mines, paddleboarding sessions in the crystal-clear lakes and watching wildlife such as deer, squirrels, foxes, marmots, moose and bears.

Going Back in Time in Wyoming

The border between states once again brings a huge geographic change. The high mountains are still in the distance, but we now drive on easy trails in the plains. Using our GPS’ ability to show the position of the other vehicle on their screens, the two trucks follow each other at a safe distance, so the second can avoid being blinded by the thick dust raised by the first crew. The long-range Midland MXT115 MicroMobile radios make chatting easy regardless of the distance, helping prevent collisions with upcoming traffic, cattle on the trails, or to request some photo stops.

The wildlife is more abundant than ever; the pronghorns make this American backcountry look like Africa’s savanna, but the bald eagles remind us that we’re still in the U.S. Raised in crowded Southern California, the two teenagers find the emptiness of these vast plains a bit worrisome at first, but they quickly get used to the feeling of freedom that comes with while travelling on this ocean of grass. For dinner, we grill meat like real cowboys, then climb in our comfortable roof tents for a quiet and restful night.

Crossing Wyoming on backcountry roads makes you feel like you’ve gone a century back in time, with barns and farms everywhere along with actual cowboys still making a living off herding cattle. On the sidewalks of the small towns where we stop to buy groceries and water, people wear leather boots and Stetson hats, and the rodeos are organized for the locals, not tourists.

The only issue that has to be addressed is — like in New Mexico, Colorado and later in Montana — the annoying presence of mosquitos. At sunset, it’s like playing roulette: Randomly enough, they can be nowhere to be seen, or everywhere at once. In the latter case, we hide inside the roof tents, the thick fabric an effective shield against the fury of these vampires.

Rock Crawling in Montana

After a couple hours zipping though Idaho, it’s time for the Rangers to confront the harsh reality of Montana. The landscape is dominated by mighty forests, where fallen logs number in the thousands and trails are often damaged by the long winter. If that weren’t enough, bear activity and washed-out trails provide plenty of opportunities for “road closed” signs to appear suddenly around the next corner. Even when the trails are open, it doesn’t mean that they’re maintained; potholes, deep ruts and boulders are sure to challenge our Ford Rangers. At one point, we cover just three miles in four hours.

In these tough conditions, the compact size of the Ford Ranger is a real advantage, since it gives it the ability to sneak between trees that would have stymied big brother F-150. River crossings filled with mud and deep ruts prove opportunities for teamwork: One person behind the wheel, transmission in 4-Low (and rock crawling mode set at low speed, usually); three spotters with hand-held radios to give directions. Doing this, we travel through the slipperiest conditions like seasoned pros.

If these technical sections are fun, the abundance of potholes in the backcountry roads makes the days feel longer. We often don’t finish until night, the Baja Design LED lights helping the (surprisingly good) headlights drill into the darkness of the forest in the quest for the perfect camping spot. The stock shocks provide a quiet ride, though; there are no creaks or rattles to be heard inside the cabins. We’re a long way from the carriages used on the Oregon Trail.

Bienvenue au Canada

Reaching the actual border is incredible: An aluminum pole planted in the middle of the forest marks the separation between the two countries. There’s nobody around; we enjoy the moment by ourselves just as the sun disappears behind the tree line. We couldn’t have asked for better timing to celebrate the end of this incredible trip.

After 3,500 miles, mostly on dirt, we not only followed the Continental Divide across the whole United States, but tightened the bonds between members of our family. Spending the whole summer together, helping each other with driving, navigating, cooking, cleaning, and more, we shared a once-in-a-lifetime experience which made us feel more connected to our country, as well as hooked on the concept of overlanding. The United States is a wonderful playground — and there are still thousands of trails waiting to be explored.

2019 Ford Mustang Bullitt Review: The Mustang You Really Ought to Want

The Ford Mustang has a timeless charm. Imperative to that charm is how much that car channels coolness —  and for buyers of a certain age, the Mustang has never been cooler than when Steve McQueen used it in a car chase in the 1968 film Bullitt. With the Bullitt-idolizing generation at peak disposable income, it’s not surprising Ford tapped that nostalgia well for the third time in less than 20 years for a series of special-edition Mustangs culminating in this one. 

Fortunately, the car itself supersedes the nostalgia. Forget the movie: This car is beautiful, powerful and loud in any context. It’s perhaps the purest distillation of the Mustang’s greatness (at least, in terms of versions not made for the track). But keep in mind: Coolness is seldom cheap, comfortable or practical.

The Good: The Bullitt has a 5.0-liter naturally aspirated V8 that produces 480 horsepower and enough exhaust noise to rouse the peacefully interred. It only — only –comes with a six-speed manual transmission. The retro appearance pares down some of the model’s extraneous styling elements, reducing it to what may be the best-looking Mustang on sale.

Who It’s For: Anyone who wants a sharp-looking Mustang. Sure, it could be someone older living out a Steve McQueen fantasy — but this car does not need nostalgia to sell.

Watch Out For: Well, it’s a muscle car, so by average motor vehicle standards, the Bullitt Mustang is not particularly comfortable or practical. At 18 miles per gallon combined, it’s not very fuel-efficient, either. And introverts be warned: you should be prepared for strangers to approach you to talk about your ride.

Alternatives: The Mustang’s major rival is the Chevrolet Camaro, where the closest analog would be the 2SS trim with the 6.2-liter V8 ($42,995). There’s also the Dodge Challenger R/T Scat Pack Wide Body ($47,740).

Review: The Ford Mustang is like a cheeseburger. There are more sophisticated and more expensive menu items out there. You feel like you should like those items more than you do. You might even talk yourself into ordering them. But the cheeseburger is what you want, even if it’s not so great for the environment.

To torture that analogy a little more, the Bullitt Mustang would be a Juicy Lucy. It’s as much of what you want as you can handle.

Spare your more efficient turbochargers. The Bullitt has a naturally aspirated 5.0-liter V8 dubbed “Coyote” by Ford insiders. Thanks to its exhaust headers and some retuning, it cranks out 480 hp — a 20 hp bump over the standard Mustang GT. The Bullitt edition only comes with a six-speed manual. It has a curated rumble, with exhaust settings that can let you be heard blocks away. You only achieve 15 mpg in the city, but fuel efficiency probably does not factor into your fantasy.

An action-film-themed nostalgia package seems like it should be cheesy, but Ford somehow evades the cheese. Instead of adding shlock, the retro-inspired package simplifies and refines the Mustang. It’s a great-looking car, even if you’re far more familiar with Fortnite than Steve McQueen. (The Highland Green paint in particular looks spectacular.) The Bullitt badging will be a sticking point for some, but it proves unobtrusive if you don’t think about it too hard. My only complaint is the unnecessary odd chrome trim around the side windows and grille.

The Bullitt is a crowd-pleaser, drawing attention and comments wherever you go. That said, expect more construction workers to roll up to you at stoplights than Jacqueline Bisset look-a-likes.

The Bullitt is meant to bridge the gap between the Mustang GT and the more track-oriented Shelby models, a task at which it largely succeeds. It has Brembo brakes, the mechanical bits from the GT’s Performance Package,and some parts from the Shelby models, automatic rev-matching, and a ton of power and grip.  If you have the space to push the Bullitt, it’s brilliant.

That’s not saying it would make for a great daily driver. It can feel tepid under low-speed driving in urban areas; you have to go high on the revs to get to the real power, higher than most will go making a run to the drug store. On the other hand, my tester came equipped with the $1,695 MagneRide suspension, which should be considered a must-have. It handled Michigan’s rocky roads fairly well, though I did encounter some mild bump steer on egregious lumps in the road.

No one buys a Mustang primarily because it’s practical or comfortable. That’s good, because the Bullitt is neither. The trunk is surprisingly spacious, but the back seat is an absolute nuisance. There were times I left it in the garage and took my Volkswagen Golf Sportwagen instead because I could not face the task of getting my son in his car seat — a maneuver that required climbing in from the opposite side of the car. Only years of yoga saved me from a pulled groin.

Setting children aside, it’s still not an ergonomically pleasant car. The seat seemed too high. When I entered a parking garage, I had to shift my head to the right, jam it into the top of the window, and thrust out the window blindly with my credit card to access the reader. I’m 5’11”; a car should be able to accommodate me. Plus, the cupholders were also a couple of inches away from the gear shifter and right in the driver’s arm line, rendering them useless.

With the Bullitt edition, Ford made what may be the best-looking and best-all-around Mustang on sale today. But you do have to pay for it. It starts at more than $8,000 above the GT Premium Fastback. Add in the necessary options like the magnetic ride suspension, and you’re looking at a car coming in significantly above $50,000. That’s a lot for a “regular” Mustang. Indeed, my kitted-out tester priced at $52,885 — not that much less than the base model GT350, which has 50-plus more horsepower and an even bigger V8.

Verdict: Owning a Mustang is primarily about having a cool-looking, cool-sounding car. For the buyer who just wants to cruise and have some old-school muscle car fun, the Bullitt may be the optimal choice.

2019 Ford Mustang Bullitt: Key Specs

MSRP as Tested: $52,885
Horsepower: 480
Torque: 420 lb-ft
0-60 MPH: 4.6 seconds
Top Speed: 163 mph

Ford provided this product for review.

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2020 Lexus GX 460 Review: The Other Leather-Lined Land Cruiser, Improved

In the decade the Lexus GX 460 has existed, it’s amassed a small (but vehemently dedicated) cadre of owners who are off-road community stalwarts. If you’re vexed as to why the GX would be the machine of choice for rock crawling and trail conquering, merely ask any of the proud 60-plus owners who turned up for the annual FJ Summit in Ouray, Colorado this year, and let them regale you with tales of how their snorkel-sporting, jacked-up GXes bested the worst Mother Nature could throw at them. 

Soccer moms these are not — though desire from the SUV buying segment remains equally rabid, considering the GX 460 is Lexus’s fourth best-selling model in the U.S. this year. Despite not having been subject to a redesign over the past 10 years, a refresh for 2020 means Lexus is banking on continuing to appeal to the full spectrum of buyers. We tested the 2020 GX 460 down in Costa Rica’s tropical Papagayo Peninsula to see if the Japanese luxury sport-ute will keep paying dividends for the brand for the next few years. 

The Good: The GX 460’s impeccable off-road credentials hail from the fact that it’s basically a Land Cruiser Prado in disguise. It’s still constructed using body-on-frame tech, a bygone method in today’s era of unibody crossovers. That imbues the mid-size SUV with durability and a sturdy platform for towing, or for when the asphalt’s in the rearview.

For 2020, Lexus provided the GX 460 with additional off-road goodies, again borrowed from Toyota. The aptly named Off-Road Package brings a multi-view camera system capable of aiding drivers through (and over) dicey obstacles, a transmission cooler, additional shielding to protect the fuel tank, Crawl Control (a five-stage version of off-road cruise control, helpful on steep inclines, enabled only in Low range) and Multi-Terrain Select, which allows you to literally dial in the optimal power settings for a host of terrain types, including sand, rocks, moguls and mud. 

Who It’s For: Lexus is hoping GX 460 buyers have a wild streak that’ll see them adventuring out off the beaten path, but without giving up a sumptuous cabin. While you get the same diligent off-road prowess as the GX’s brother-from-another-mother, the esteemed Toyota 4Runner, the GX’s interior makes the 4Runner look like a slouch who showed up to a black-tie gala in a wrinkled T-shirt. If luxury and capability are equally important to you, Lexus hopes you’ll consider the GX 460. 

Watch Out For: The interior has some weak spots. It’s full of luxurious touches and finishes such as Gray Sapele wood; and for 2020, Lexus reimagined the three-spoke tiller and the gauge cluster for the driver. But then you look at the center stack and infotainment system, and the interior starts to show its age. One glance at the busy area — full of redundant buttons and a slow, low-rez touchscreen — and you’re reminded of an era when supercomputers required warehouses.

Another issue: On Costa Rica’s pristine main roads, the truck-like handling common to vehicles with body-on-frame construction was apparent, even with the dampers set to Sport mode. There’s noticeable body roll. Go into any corner with any amount of zeal, and be rewarded with squealing tires. And the six-speed automatic transmission struggles to find the proper gear uphill.

Alternatives: If you’re just looking a plush mid-size SUV mainly for road use with some mild off-road capability, consider the Audi Q7, the BMW X5 and the Acura MDX. Headed into the proper wilds? You’d be wise to consider the Land Rover Discovery, which excels in the cabin comforts and is unflappable when the terrain gets rough. (That said, while priced similarly to the Disco, the GX 460 pulls ahead by a nose. when you factor in reliability and lifetime maintenance costs.)

Review: A light facelift sees the gaping maw that is Lexus’ signature spindle grille make an appearance on the GX 460; triple-beam LED headlights are also new on the front end. These minimal tweaks likely won’t change your opinion of the overall aesthetics, but they do make the model feel more current. An optional Sport Design package gives it a bolder presence, thanks to a different lower-grille design, rear valence, side mirrors, gray 19-inch wheels and a black exhaust tip. 

The SUV was comfortable on the open road, but if you’re used to sporty driving, it isn’t going to curry much favor. The 4.6-liter V-8, good for 301 horsepower and 329 lb-ft of torque, is adequate enough, but the handling simply isn’t dynamic. Perhaps the legions of crossover fans wouldn’t notice or care, but the vague steering provides little road feel. Everyone will notice the hit at the pump, thanks to a meager 15 miles per gallon in the city and 18 mpg on the highway. Efficiency fans, look elsewhere. 

While we’d love to tell you about how great it was to thrash the GX 460 around Costa Rica’s jungles, we sadly cannot: Lexus limited our driving to asphalt alone. So we had to improvise. 

A number of excursions were on offer to the assembled journalists; one to the Diamante Eco Adventure Park for a ziplining and the chance to get face-to-glass with jaguars and sloths sounded intriguing. We chose wisely — partially because sloths are incredible, but more so because the two-mile path from the main road to the resort was unpaved, pockmarked and riddled with sizable rocks.

Here, the GX 460 came alive, almost making up for all of its aforementioned shortcomings. Even though our particular tester had the optional Off-Road Package, we chose to ignore many of its features, leaving it in four-wheel-drive high and sinking the accelerator pedal to the floor — and the GX 460 glided over whatever we aimed at without drama. Ginormous potholes that would swallow lesser tires? Not a problem. A swath of loose rocks, each the size of your fist? You’re barely jostled. The suspension that can be lacking on the road becomes a hero in the chop and crud. It’s no wonder that Lexus yanked a few bone-stock GX 460s to pre-run the grueling Baja 500 and 1000 races ahead of an LX 570, completing the course without an issue — when competing trophy truck teams claimed sections were impassable. 

But plenty of nifty off-road toys, including the Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System, come with the GX 460. Engage four-low and magical things happen underneath your feet, including the disabling of anti-roll bars for greater articulation and changes in rear air springs that reduce roll when trailering or crawling. The access road wasn’t rough enough to warrant any of that, but we can imagine if the GX 460 was this pleasant rollicking over a crumbling dirt road at a steady clip, it’d be great when the going gets properly tough. 

A few weeks after the Costa Rica journey, we were out in Ouray, Colorado, testing the 2020 4Runner and Tacoma when Lexus unveiled a surprise: the GX OR, a beefyversion of the 2019 GX 460 built by the company as a tribute to the enthusiasts who inspire the engineers. It was meant to look factory-made, and the powertrain was left purposefully stock — but a two-inch lift kit with adjustable valve dampening was added, along with Icon control arms and CBI skid plate protection for said control arms. Larger tires and ample custom storage for hauling all your off-road gear complete the comely build. It’s proof of the inner badass below the Lexus’s soft interior.

Verdict: If the bulk of your time behind the wheel will be spent on asphalt, you’ll have to be accepting of saggy road manners, an outdated center stack and infotainment system and mediocre fuel economy. However, if you’re going to spend any chunk of time off-road, the Lexus GX 460 won’t let you down. 

2020 Lexus GX 460: Key Specs

Powertrain: 4.6-liter V-8; six-speed automatic; four-wheel-drive
Horsepower: 301
Torque: 329 pound-feet
Curb Weight: 5,130 pounds
Cargo Capacity: 64.7 cubic feet

Lexus hosted us and provided this product for review.

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BMW X2 M35i Review: A Hot Crossover That’s a Bit Overcooked

The BMW X2 M35i is an affront to an automotive enthusiast’s sensibilities. It looks like a slick, angry hot hatch. It has what could be a wicked 300-plus horsepower 2.0-liter hot hatch engine. But it’s not a hot hatch. Instead of going after the Volkswagen Golf R, BMW lifted the car a touch and made the X2 a “sports activity coupe.” What, you could ask, has this world come to?

Alternatively, you could exhale, concede the point that no one would pay $50,000 for that hypothetical hot hatch, and judge the X2 M35i on its own terms. It’s not an abomination. It does resolve many of the problems enthusiasts have with a bland compact crossover segment. It accelerates from 0 to 60 miles per hour in less than five seconds. But does it go far enough to make those enthusiasts crossover converts?

The Good: BMW built an outstanding 2.0-liter four-pot engine. It delivers a consistent abundance of power that won’t overwhelm you on public roads. The X2 M35’s sensory output reemphasizes that power. The car looks sleek and aggressive, not just for a crossover, and it has a satisfying and rowdy exhaust note.

Who It’s For: This buyer wants a sporty BMW package with the premium M brand badging, accessories, and performance upgrades (brakes, suspension, tuning). But he or she wants it in a tiny crossover coupe package instead of a manual transmission-equipped rear-wheel-drive sedan. Other traits include minimal family requirements and a willingness to splurge.

Watch Out For: The X2 M35i makes few compromises in the name of comfort. The ride quality can be jarring. Rear visibility in the X2 M35i is nearly non-existent. BMW upcharges for technology that’s standard on some cheaper cars, such as Apple CarPlay.

Alternatives: The best comparisons for this car are the Audi SQ2 and the Volkswagen T-Roc R. Neither are sold in the U.S. The Mercedes-AMG GLA 45  has the same idea, but it has a more powerful 375 hp engine and it is more expensive ($53,350). The base model Porsche Macan ($50,900) cannot match the performance, but could appeal to the same buyer looking for a sporty pedigree. 

Review: The X2 M35i has all the raw components to be the hot hatch of your dreams. But instead of taking that less lucrative route, BMW went trendy. It put that high-output 2.0-liter turbocharged engine and M packaging into a coupe-style crossover with a rakish sloping roofline. The X2 M35i is quick. It looks great. But its intended appeal may be a contradiction in terms. 

Let’s start with the good: the engine. BMW knows how to make them. The X2 M35i uses a turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-four putting out 302 hp and 332 lb-ft paired with an especially crisp-shifting eight-speed automatic. Using launch control under optimal conditions, it will accelerate to 60 mph in less than five seconds. In real-world driving, the X2 M35i provides potent power on demand. It never shortchanges you when you hit the gas, and the throaty exhaust note heightens the effect. It’s the engine you would want in a hot hatch.

The X2 M35i looks athletic, sharp and fun. It ditches the off-color cladding from the base X2 for a cleaner, more upscale look. In short, it reads more like a BMW than a small crossover. Other drivers give you a wider berth, presuming you have the aggressive BMW owner gene. My two-year-old son’s first reaction upon seeing it was “race car!”

The interior can be polarizing. My tester had the Magma Red Dakota leather — or, as I called it before looking it up, orange trim. There’s a lot of it. It either will look fantastic to you (if you’re the sort of person who likes the Civic Type R‘s looks) or make your eyes feel like they are bleeding. I came down on the latter side. Fortunately, that $1,450 madness is below eye level while driving, and you can opt for a staid black instead.

The X2 M35i is about as practical as a hatchback. If you have multiple hockey-playing children, get something bigger. Given that size constraint, however, it can be useful. A small rear aperture belies a decent-sized trunk, fit for a family-sized grocery shopping trip or a couple’s romantic getaway. The netted side pocket in the trunk was a perfect fit for my wife’s bottle of rosé.

Where the X2 M35i loses its charm is its ride quality. BMW M cars are pure driver’s cars. They deliver tremendous performance, but that can come at the expense of comfort; they can feel very stiff and unforgiving for everyday driving. The X2 M35i captures that M experience a little too faithfully for a crossover. My tester had an M Sport suspension and 20-inch wheels, which permitted an intimate study of each pavement imperfection (and there are many of those in Michigan). The M sport brakes stopped abruptly. Comfort mode shift settings felt about as ready to party as Sport mode’s 

The X2 M35i is excellent when you tap that power reserve in the passing lane on a smooth highway. But the pugnacity and sharpness becomes a bit much when you’re just popping around the neighborhood running errands, which is what most crossover owners spend their time doing.

Another significant issue? You can’t see out of the back. The rear window is tiny and slanted upward. The D-pillars are chunky. Heads in the rear seats (or even the headrests to protect them) obscure what little you can see. (I laughed out loud at the note on the rear camera to check my mirrors.) The X2 M35i is about as rear camera dependent as a full-size truck.

BMW has drawn some heat — correctly in my book — for converting Apple CarPlay into a subscription service. It’s the sort of thing a $50,000-plus BMW should include (a base model Kia Soul manages it). I also blanched at my 2019 tester’s “Premium Package.” For an additional $1,800 this gave you a head-up display (invisible if you are wearing sunglasses) and navigation (redundant if you have a smartphone). BMW amended that somewhat for 2020. The premium package is now $1,400 and throws in heated seats.

You can see why BMW built the X2 M35i. There was a hole in the lineup for a hotter, more premium version of the X2 — much more so than for a hot hatch). But the X2 M35i feels like BMW overcooked it. Buyers often opt for crossovers for comfort, not just the appearance. Softer touches could have given this BMW crossover a sportier but still palatable ride without the full drawbacks of driving a sporty BMW. 

Verdict: The X2 M35i may be the cute little crossover for driving enthusiasts. But driving enthusiasts are the precise people who would be most annoyed by it being a crossover. The X2 M35i is fun, but it does not square that circle. Those same buyers can buy the Golf R they want for $10,000 cheaper. Even sticking within the BMW crossover realm, you can upgrade to an X3 M40i with an inline-six, 50 more hp, and much more cargo space for a few thousand more. Why wouldn’t you? 

2019 BMW X2 M35i: Key Specs
Price as Tested: $55,020
Horsepower: 302 hp
Torque: 332 lb-ft
o-60 MPH: 4.9 sec
Top Speed: 155 mph

BMW provided this product for review.

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Is This What the Next BMW M4 Will Look Like?

On Monday, BMW revealed the Concept 4 at the Frankfurt Motor Show. The company described it as “a look ahead to the expressive face of the 4 Series range.”

Expressive would be one way to put it. Others might be “gigantic” and “hideous.” It’s not quite Silverado 2500 HD-level enormous, but it’s certainly…prominent.

The Concept 4 presents a novel interpretation of BMW’s iconic kidney grille, in which designers oriented it vertically instead of horizontally. But it still covers a vast horizontal expanse, as well. It sort of looks like a BMW mated with a Lexus, producing an offspring that looks like an aerodynamic beaver. A grille is the focal point of the car, and the focal point of ths car is ugly — and not in a way that will grow on people as the Internet simmers down.

BMW describing this Concept as a “look ahead” to future 4 Series models is a scary thought. That could mean that, in order to park the next M4 coupe or convertible in their driveway — a vehicle that may the best pure sports car in the BMW lineup, and is one of the last to feature a manual transmission — BMW enthusiasts would have to put up with that mug. It would be a particular disappointment considering that model is due for a performance upgrade.

There’s still hope. The design is still in the “concept” stage. There’s still time for BMW to heed criticism and tone that face down for production models. Then again, it’s also possible BMW brushes off the skeptics and strides large-face-first into its “confident and classy” future.

Testing Mercedes-Benz’s Toughest Off-Roaders in Their Natural Habitat

You never truly know what a vehicle is capable of until you see it pushed to its limits by a pro — someone who isn’t particularly concerned about, say, the cost of new tires. But even manufacturer demonstration drives tend to have their limits; in the case of off-road vehicles, you’ll scramble over a few gnarly boulder trails or up and down some steep slopes, sure, but all under the precise direction of helpful instructors. It’s like off-road kindergarten, where you learn and see assorted tricks and capabilities without pushing the vehicle too hard — or discovering whether you’d be able to outrun a charging elephant down a dry creek bed in the thing.

This summer, on an Austrian mountain named Schöckl where Mercedes tests its off-road offerings, the company allowed its expert drivers to show off its famed G-Class SUV’s ability to straight-up assault a steep, craggy downhill at seemingly full throttle, with nary a concern given to preserving tires or the delicate insides of the media occupants.

It was a startling experience, one that proved how little even journalists sometime know about what modern machines are capable of. Of course, these were pro drivers who know the trucks and the trail like the backs of their hands, but all that ultimately amounts to is relative certainty that there won’t be any surprises on the way down. Otherwise, keeping pace means precise but relentlessly aggressive throttle and brake applications while sawing at the wheel constantly to keep the gyrating, undulating, oscillating and cavitating vehicle on something resembling a straight line. Were it not for the steady hand of my gimbal-mounted video camera, the cockpit views would cause you to throw up.

The caravan of G-Classes kept in tight formation all the way down, the only (entirely predictable) incident being a flat tire in one of the vehicles, which the Germans swapped out in minutes without a jack, canting the truck onto a trailside berm in order to hike up the right rear wheel enough to change it.

As eye-opening as the wild freefall was — and even with my newfound appreciation for how much abuse a Gelandewagen can absorb — such adventures are best left to those with years of experience and intimate knowledge of the vehicles. Of course, one of the ways to acquire that experience is through the kind of (repeated) coaching we in the automotive circuit often benefit from. To that end, Mercedes just opened a new G-Class Experience Center on the grounds of the former Nittner Air Base, near Graz, Austria. The center won’t provide quite the hair-raising thrills of our plunge down the nearby Schöckl, but it does more than adequately demonstrate the capabilities of the G-Class via a gauntlet of challenges, from steep metal and dirt slopes to staircases to deep-water fording in a woodsy trail that’s peppered with numerous axle-twisting threats.

During a visit there ahead of the opening, the company provided the media with a selection of Unimogs, the legendary Mercedes-built utility vehicles that ride high on massive tires and are frequently seen embarrassing smaller vehicles on global races such as the Dakar Rally. Their appearance at the G-Class center seemed as though it was meant as much to satiate our collective desire to test the massive machines as it was to demonstrate the full spectrum of off-road prowess the company has honed over the decades. (Fun fact: The Unimog line is now 70 years old.)

Sadly, we couldn’t actually drive the snub-nosed bruisers, due to strict rules about who can drive what even on private property. But we were readily able to get a sense of their what they can do — along with enjoying the fright of riding in a tall machine that’s capable of tilting 38 degrees to the side without falling over.

The Unimog leans heavily on several key qualities: its high-torque output — 660 pound-feet from a 231-hp, 5.0-liter four-cylinder turbodiesel engine; front and rear locking differentials; adjustable tire pressure to allow for maximum surface contact; and its 16 inches ground clearance, which comes by way of portal axles that help keep the undercarriage clear of all the hardware. The ‘Mogs also have eight forward and six reverse speeds and reduction gears to optimize stability at low speeds, as well as axle articulation of up to 30 degrees, which means the chassis can contort itself over bumps and depressions simultaneously while keeping all four wheels in contact with the surface.

Rumbling around the Experience Center’s courses, my veteran driver deftly controlled  the industrial vehicle while effortlessly navigating the terrain. During the water fording, spray burped up into the cabin from gaps in the floor of the vintage model we were riding. Unlike the latest G-Wagen, the Unimog is no luxury ride, but it feels like paradise when you really need something that can do what it can.

The Land Rover Defender Configurator Is Live, Go Build Your Dream One

At long last, Land Rover finally launched the new 2020 Defender this morning, and the company didn’t wait long before giving people the chance to figure out just how they’d spec it.  The Defender configurator is now live on Land Rover’s website. You can now build the new Defender of your dreams…provided that Defender is the four-door 110 model that will launch first before the other variants.

Are you a hardcore Land Rover enthusiast? Budget yourself a solid half-hour to 45 minutes to play around with the tool. Configuring your ideal Defender could take a while. Deciding on your accessory packs of choice — Explorer, Adventure, Country, Urban — is a loaded decision. Am I a Whole Foods Defender person or an Arctic expedition Defender person?

That choice is just the start. There are four tiers of both exterior and interior features.  Then there are seven tiers of “options” and an additional five tiers of “accessories.” Each tier can involve myriad decisions. One option tier, for instance, consists of a choice between 10 different packs. Do you know which of seven different types of rooftop gear carriers you want? Do you need the full $1,838 Pet Care and Access Pack, or just the individual components?

Configuring your new Defender could be good fun, and it may be a jumping-off point for some serious self-reflection. But it will certainly sidetrack you at work today.

Volkswagen’s New Electric Car Looks Amazing, But There’s a Big Catch

On Monday evening, Volkswagen launched the all-new all-electric ID.3 hatchback at the Frankfurt Motor Show. The car arrives to great fanfare, as VW’s people’s-car successor to the Golf and the Beetle and a harbinger for the company’s electric future. Early reports suggest the ID.3 should deliver on the hype.

The ID.3, judging from photographs, looks fantastic. It’s simple and well-proportioned. It resembles what European buyers would want, an updated interpretation of the base Volkswagen Golf (the market’s best-selling car). The off-color black roof and liftgate are au courant without being gaudy. The flash of chrome and logo at the front accounts for the absent grille. EVs looking like cars is a movement we can all support.

A lack of range kept VW’s e-Golf, which could only go 125 miles on a charge according to the EPA, from mass adoption. Volkswagen has resolved that anxiety with the ID.3. First editions will have the mid-range 58-kilowatt-hour battery delivering a range of 260 miles on the Euro-market WLTP cycle (probably around 220 miles EPA). The ID.3 will also have short-range 45-kWh and long-range 77-kWh batteries giving WLTP ranges of 205 miles (175-ish EPA) and 341 miles (290-ish EPA). VW says the ID.3 will absorb 180 miles of range in 30 minutes on a fast charger.

Volkswagen did not give full pricing for the ID.3. The short-range model will start below $33,000 in Germany. Beyond that, VW says prices will be “comparable to that of typical compact vehicles” after the tax subsidies. Buyers will get free charging for a year and an eight-year, 100,000-mile warranty on the battery.

We did not learn any performance details yet. Though Volkswagen says the ID.3 will have a super-low center of gravity “like in racing cars” with the battery packs, and “ideal weight distribution” thanks in part to its standard rear-axle drive. (If there’s one company you would trust to produce a practical, well-handling compact, it would be Volkswagen.)

The only downside, though, is a killer. Volkswagen has no current plans to bring the ID.3 hatchback to the North American market. Perhaps the 268-percent bump in U.S. e-Golf sales so far in 2019 will inspire VW to rethink that stance. The ID.3’s top-notch looks should at least inspire confidence that the eventual ID-platform crossover that arrives Stateside won’t be an overly futuristic ogre.

Aston Martin’s CEO Talks “The Most Important Car In the History Of the Company”

Aston Martin CEO Andy Palmer is the sort of guy who loves his job. It’s clear as day, on his face and in his voice, even when he’s jet-lagged after hopping from Europe to California and pressed into glad-handing customers and chatting up reporters, as he was when we sat down with him during Monterey Car Week. And while some automotive chief executives seems more interest in market caps and synergy, Palmer’s love of his job clearly extends directly — and deeply — into the product portfolio. He can quote chapter and verse on the Aston lineup, and isn’t afraid to speak his truth as he sees fit.

Whether it’s his outspoken nature or just the jet lag , he doesn’t mince words when the topic of the DBX crossover, due to be revealed later this year, comes up early on.

“It’s probably the most important car in the history of the company,” he says. 

The crossover, which has only been shown in lightly camouflaged form, is expected to sell like Natty Ice in Ann Arbor on opening day of the football season — at least, by Aston sales numbers. (Which, admittedly, have lagged a bit of late.) But while it may be the brand’s first dalliance into the realm of high-riding vehicles, Palmer says they’re

“We need to be credible” as an SUV, he says. And to hear him tell the tale, the company has pulled it off. Not only will it be able to haul loads with aplomb — he describes its towing capabilities as “boat-able” —  but it’ll also be fairly capable in terms of its off-road abilities. While it’ll pack four-wheel-drive, he says, it still needs to handle, look and sound like an Aston Martin. Deliver that level of performance in a taller, 4WD platform, he says, and “naturally, you’ll have a car that’s pretty adequate on the dirt.” He cites the Porsche Cayenne as the handling benchmark for the DBX.

The Aston Martin DBX, technically wearing a disguise.

Given Aston Martin’s lengthy history of building grand tourers with their engines stuck out front, though, the DBX doesn’t seem nearly as much of a change in direction as the carmaker’s new push into mid-engined speed machines. Yet here they come, three strong at this point: first, the Formula One-inspired Valkyrie hypercar this year, then the 500-unit Valhalla supercar, after which arrives the Vanquish super sports car in 2022. Each of them will pack a turbocharged V6 engine, tuned to varying states of power and outfitted with different levels of electrical assistance.

That trickle-down strategy, he says, was very much intentional — both to develop the technology and to prepare the world for the new face of Aston Martin. (As an aside: Speaking of the faces of Aston Martin, Palmer was happy to explain the teeny tiny new headlights being outfitted to those new mid-engined cars: they reduce weight, which has become something of a crusade at the carmaker now that they’ve begun working with the Red Bull F1 team.) The endgame of the entire process, he says, was to create a competitor to the Ferrari 488, Lamborghini Huracan and McLaren 720S that was every bit as capable as them. That meant a lot of development.

The Aston Martin Vantage AMR.

Still, Palmer’s Aston Martin isn’t leaving all the pieces of the past behind. The Vantage, for example, remains a taut two-seater with the motor out front — and, as of later this year, it’ll keep the manual gearbox alive for the brand in the form of the sportier Vantage AMR. That stick shift, Palmer says, is an example of the brand living up to a promise to keep the driver involved and rowing his or her own gears. Oddly enough, while the broader American public has long since given up caring about stick shifts, the CEO says it’s been the U.S. market that has kept demand for the old-school manual alive for the brand. Indeed, demand for manual Astons has been rising as of late, Palmer says, half-jokingly, “maybe because we’re the only manufacturer who offers one.”

And while the Vantage may be keeping the stick shift alive solo for now, that might not be the case forever. Will the manual find its way into any other vehicles in the lineup? Like, say, the sultry DBS Superleggera?

“I could see places,” he says, coyly. 

Volkswagen Is Resurrecting the Beetle with the New E-Beetle Electric Concept

Earlier this year, Volkswagen officially stopped production of the VW Beetle, one of the most iconic and influential cars to ever roll off an assembly line. The modern versions had strayed pretty far from the…

2019 Hyundai Kona EV Review: The Future is Here, But It’s Still Expensive

The Hyundai Kona Electric is the electric vehicle version of the Kona subcompact crossover. It’s one of multiple so-called “Tesla Model 3 fighters” aiming to capture a share of the the entry-level EV market, where cars start around $30,000 after factoring in the full $7,500 federal tax credit.

The Kona’s range and perky driving dynamics have made it a hit with reviewers; NACTOY jurors named it the “North American Utility Vehicle of the Year” for 2019, for example. It may be the best affordable EV on the market not made by Tesla. In the EV market, however, “affordable” still means spending $40,000-plus on a small Hyundai.

The Good: The Kona Electric is super-efficient: It delivers 258 miles of EPA range (nearly the most of any non-Tesla EV) out of a small 64-kilowatt-hour battery. Despite that efficiency, it’s quick in everyday driving, thanks to 291 pound-feet of instantly-available torque.

Who It’s For: The Kona EV is for the understated early adopter who finds a Tesla a bit too flashy. This buyer is not the sort to order a smug vanity plate or join an online motoring cult; he or she simply wants a car that cuts his or her carbon consumption.

Watch Out For: Don’t let the “utility vehicle” moniker fool you. The Kona EV is tiny.

Alternatives: Major rivals for the Kona EV matching price, range, and capability include the Tesla Model 3, the Nissan Leaf Plus and the Chevy Bolt. The Kona also has a corporate cousin, the Kia Niro EV, built on the same platform.

Review: The Kona EV may not have been my white whale, but it did take me months to get hold of one in the Detroit-area media fleet. It has been a popular car to write about this year because it addresses some of the fundamental questions about this propulsion shift: Will converting to electric car affect daily life? Will EVs suck all of the enjoyment out of driving? Will anyone who isn’t a tech bro be able to afford one?

After a two-day-stint driving the Kona EV, I can report that the answers to those questions are no, no…and maybe.

Automotive awards jurors like the Kona EV because it’s fun to drive. Small crossovers tend not to make great drivers’ cars, but the Kona EV is not the Nissan Leaf proxy many would expect. It offers 291 lb-ft of torque — more than a Golf R — and because it has an electric powerplant, that torque comes immediately at zero rpm.

This makes it feel super quick in everyday driving. You can sneak up on a BMW driver (literally, since they can’t hear you), and then have enough oomph to roar past them in the fast lane. The Kona’s performance is by no means “ludicrous,” but it’s engaging enough not to make converting to electric feel like an act of penance for carbon-related sins.

The Kona EV combines this performance with efficiency. It has an EPA-rated 258-mile range (longer than a standard Model 3) in spite of having only a 64-kWh battery. I tried to induce range anxiety over my time with the car; even without the Level 2 home charging apparatus most owners will use to top up with overnight, I couldn’t come close. With braking-based regeneration on full blast, I used about 10 miles of range over two days running errands.

I simulated the longest reasonable daily commute from my house in the Detroit suburbs — a 42-mile drive to Ann Arbor, which takes anywhere from about an hour to an eternity, depending on traffic. Over the whole trip, I used 50 miles of net range, then gained about 30 miles back on a charger in a public garage while I devoured a Reuben sandwich. The toughest part of my experience was the inordinate amount of time it took me to realize I had to unlock the car to disconnect the charger.

Owners will likely recharge at night. (At least, those with garages or private driveways will.) It’s only on extended trips where range anxiety would ever become an issue. Even then, it’s stopping for a long lunch at a fast charger; the Kona recharges to 80 percent capacity (206 miles of range) in 54 minutes. Unless you’re doing frequent cross-country trips, electric likely makes sense for you.

I didn’t lead with the Kona Electric’s looks because, unlike a lot of EVs, it blends in. The pockmarked texture and sliver of chrome at the front give the illusion of a grille, so you don’t notice it doesn’t have one. Other than the fancy wheels that improve its aerodynamics, it looks like a regular Kona. My personal preference would have been to choose any color except the “cerulean blue” on my tester.

The Kona EV’s interior felt oddly analog for such a car. There are tactile buttons everywhere: the gear shifter is a series of hard buttons; climate and infotainment adjustment happen with buttons; you even engage the HUD with a button. There’s an argument to be made against Tesla-style touchscreen minimalism, but this felt too far in the other direction.

While you may see the Kona described as a “utility vehicle,” don’t let that fool you. There’s not much utility. The cargo area is small, and the rear seat is cramped. I had to contort my toddler more than usual to maneuver him into his car seat. It may be hatchback-sized, but it feels closer to a Mini than a Golf.

Besides a slight lack of practicality, the major sticking point for prospective buyers may be cost. Battery tech is still too expensive for mass-market adoption. The Kona EV is priced well compared to other EVs — the base model slides in a hair under $30,000 after the tax credit — but that price still can’t compete with internal combustion. Unless you’re committed to buying an electric vehicle, the choice for $40K or so is an entry-level Mercedes sedan, a large, loaded Honda SUV…or a subcompact Hyundai.

Verdict: I suffer from a lot of climate guilt, and the Kona EV is such a good daily driver, I’d consider buying one. Consider it: In reality, most buyers (including me) will need a more practical car. Many will still be tempted to stick with the value found in internal combustion.

Switching to a Kona would be a lifestyle choice, not just a transportation one. If Tesla’s foibles don’t scare you off, it’s a fancier brand, and you can get a Model 3 for only a few thousand more.

2019 Hyundai Kona EV: Key Specs

MSRP As Tested: $44,900
Horsepower: 201
Torque: 291 lb-ft
EPA Range: 258 miles
Battery Size: 64-kWh

Hyundai provided this product for review.

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One of Our Favorite Versions of the Jeep Wrangler Has Returned

When the latest generation of the iconic Jeep Wrangler arrived in 2018, it came bearing tidings of added comfort and refinement — ditching the less-than-pleasant ride and handling of the past versions while keeping all the off-roading capability that made them legendary. But every time a new Jeep arrives, it resets the clock on the endless volley of new trims and special editions — which can mean we have to wait a while to get the Jeeps we really lust after.

Luckily, we’ve now progressed far enough through the Wrangler life cycle for some of the better special editions to start arriving. And perhaps none are quite as delightful as the Wrangler Willys trim, coming to the fourth-generation Wrangler for the first time for the 2020 model year.

To put it simply, the Wrangler Willys brings much of the off-roading capability of the higher-level Rubicon trim at a more easily-digestible price. The Willys takes the basic Wrangler’s capable bones and adds on a rear limited-slip differential, 32-inch mud-ready all-terrain tires, beefier brakes and Rubicon rock rails and shocks, all designed to burnish the rig’s capabilities out past where the pavement ends. (It’s a Wrangler, of course, so four-wheel-drive is standard.)

LED headlamps and foglamps come standard for added visibility, while a black grille and black wheels add visual panache. There’s also a Willys decal on the hood, to keep you from forgetting which Jeep you brought home — but if you still want to make sure your Wrangler stands out in the parking lot, feel free to order it in one of Mopar’s wilder, delightfully-named available colors, such as “Punk’n” (orange), “Hellayella” (bright yellow) and “Mojito!” (bright green, exclamation point theirs).

The best part? The new Wrangler Willys starts at just $33,740 for the two-door model and $37,240 for the four-door. That’s only $2,495 than the effective base model, the Sport S (the cheaper Sport doesn’t even give you power windows, so we doubt Jeep sells all that many); more importantly for budget-minded overlanders, it’s thousands cheaper than the Rubicon, the off-road champ of the lineup. We’ll take our Willys in Mojito!, please.

5 of the Best New Car Lease Deals You Can Find in September 2019

Labor Day has passed, and all those purported “can’t miss” summer savings events on new cars and trucks have ended. But dealers and manufacturers are moving on to their September promotions, and there are still some great offers out there — especially if you don’t need to drive more than 10,000 miles per year and don’t mind handing back your vehicle after two or three years.

Here, then, are five of the best new car lease deals you can find in the US as of September 2019.

Toyota Tacoma – $219/mo.

The Tacoma has at or near the best residual value on the market (though the Jeep Gladiator is gunning for the crown). That can work in your favor for leasing. Toyota has a September lease offer on the base trim SR Tacoma equipped with some broad essentials (double cab version, four-wheel-drive, V6). The lease is for 36 months at $219 per month with $2,999 down. Whatever you do, do not fall in love with your particular truck: Toyota will want more than $25,000 for the three-year-old truck when you’re finished leasing it.

BMW i3 – $299/mo.

The BMW i3 is an aging electric car. It feels dated with avant-garde styling, a 153-mile range and a not-so-ludicrous 170 horsepowwer. But if you want to cut your emissions now while waiting for the EV new car market to grow, the i3 could be compelling. BMW includes a $7,500 lease credit on the i3. For the base model, that works out to $299 per month over 36 months with $3,000 down.

Lexus RX 350 – $399/mo.

Lexus has September lease deals on its most popular model, the midsize RX SUV. This deal will vary slightly by region, but with Lexus throwing in $2,500 in lease cash, you can get an RX 350 AWD for 36 months at $399 per month with $3,999 due at signing.

Acura MDX – $409/mo.

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The Acura MDX is a thoroughly anonymous-looking three-row crossover. But it’s among the more compelling ones to drive. Through the end of October, you can lease a SH-AWD (Super Handling All-Wheel-Drive) version for $409 per month over 36 months with a $2,590 down payment.

Chrysler Pacifica – $229/mo.

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Sometimes, you need to embrace that minivan life. It’s not so bad. Chrysler has a promotion on the Touring L version (the fourth of nine trims) of the Pacifica for September. You can lease one for only $229 per month over 36 months with $2,949 due at signing.

Note: Purchasing products through our links may earn us a portion of the sale, which supports our editorial team’s mission. Learn more here.

Subaru’s New Infotainment System Cures the Brand’s Worst Problem

The unchanging nature of Subarus, manifested in their stubbornly utilitarian designs, has been part of the brand’s enduring charm. But that homespun quality isn’t at all charming when it comes to infotainment: Subaru’s systems have, at times, recalled Amish buggies in a world of modern automobiles.

That all changes with the 2020 Legacy sedan and Outback crossover. In a rare worst-to-first scenario, these latest Subarus have gone all Tesla, with a tablet-style infotainment unit that out-styles and outperforms virtually any mainstream competitor. 

Driving the all-new Legacy in Ojai, California, I was quickly won over by the Starlink multimedia system and its vertically-oriented 11.6-inch screen. The high-definition screen’s huge real estate and handsome, info-rich navigation graphics — the latter courtesy of TomTom — made it a breeze to stay on course. Drivers can instantly rejigger key icons on the screen, as with any smartphone. Electromagnetic near-field communication allows you to pair Android phones simply by touching them to the unit’s NFC scanner, with no Bluetooth link or time-wasting configuration required.

The split-screen display is another first in a Subaru. The system, developed with Japanese supplier Denso, gets its own dedicated processor, with a separate processor for HVAC and other controls. And it all worked flawlessly: No hiccups, no headaches, no digging for the owner’s manual. It’s a whirlwind change from previous Subarus, whose tinny audio systems, scrawny displays and scrawnier buttons recalled the aftermarket stereos that enterprising sorts once sold out of the back of an airbrushed van. 

“Historically, we got dinged for our head units,” says Charles Ballard, Subaru’s product and technology specialist. “The big goal was to get them up to speed, with something that’s fast and intuitive like your phone.” 

The system also avoids too-radical changes that might upset Subie loyalists. You’ll still find trusty analog knobs and buttons for functions like volume, radio tuning and onboard temperature. In doing so, Subaru heeded the advice of New Englanders and other customers in wintry climes, who wear gloves in cars and prefer a few traditional knobs to onscreen controls.  

This being Subaru, the system also offers apps that should appeal to the brand’s oh-so-outdoorsy demographic. The National Parks app, created by Chimani, brings detailed info on all 59 of America’s parkland treasures. eBird, developed in partnership with the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, is a crowd-sourced bird watching app, which lets users track species and the locations where they’ve been spotted. 

For its part, these Subaru species may continue to be spotted most often in the wilds of New England or the Pacific Northwest. But wherever you drive these Subarus, the Starlink system offers ongoing proof of automotive evolution.