Archive for the Vehicle Reviews Category

Press Preview: 2020 Toyota Highlander Platinum

Posted in PAPA, Vehicle Reviews on February 15, 2020 by tysonhugie

I sat inside a rolling concert hall this week.  It’s been a long time since I heard a stereo this good, and Mariah Carey came through in such crystal clarity that I ran the volume knob all the way to its max setting.

Toyota invited me and some of the other Phoenix-area journalists to a media event on Wednesday to showcase its latest in technology with its three-row Highlander crossover.  The segment in which the Highlander competes is massive in size, with 24 vehicles competing for the same pie.  Highlander comprises 9% of that pie with its annual 228,000 units sold, and with this new iteration, Toyota is hoping to grow that number.

We heard from product expert Dave Lee as he walked us through a series of slides about what’s new and exciting about the Highlander.  The biggest news is powertrain-related, with a hybrid system offered that provides best-in-class fuel economy (topping out at an impressive 36 mpg) and a massive range of 600 miles per tank.  Dave explained how the Highlander’s “PED” (Predictive Efficient Drive) system tracks driving habits and terrains to optimize efficiency of the hybrid + gas combination.

Inside the cabin, there’s more to be seen from a technology perspective, with a massive 12.3″ touch-screen monitor.  It seems all manufacturers today are of the “bigger is better” mindset, and Highlander fits right in.  The only problem I observed is the screen’s susceptibility to greasy fingerprints.  The Highlander comes with driver-assist tech like front & rear parking assist cameras and a digital rearview camera (which can be toggled to ‘regular’).  There are five USB ports and three zones of climate control.

Perhaps one of the most compelling things about the Highlander is its innovative color-naming convention.  This model has an exterior in “Ruby Flare Pearl” and an interior in “Glazed Caramel.”  Seriously.  Makes me hungry.

With a variety of trim levels available, the Highlander can be equipped with an MSRP from the $30s up to pushing $50k.  As a plush family hauler with the latest in modern tech, it’s going to give its 23 competing classmates a run for their money.  Thanks to Toyota for the preview & test drive!

Red Hot Tamale: 2020 Honda Civic Si Sedan HPT 6-Speed Review

Posted in Civic, Vehicle Reviews on January 1, 2020 by tysonhugie

Odometer (Civic):  2,264

Who’s hungry?

Don’t worry; I brought enough to share with the whole class.

This candy is described on its packaging as “Fierce Cinnamon.”  I guess that’s about how I’d also classify the latest iteration of Honda’s Civic Si sedan.  It’s a contemporary compact sedan souped up with the aero treatment, aesthetics, and performance enhancements that tuners love, in a package that’s still as reliable as a Corolla.  The Si evokes a high schooler vibe, especially in the “arrest me” Rallye Red.  It’s no wonder some of the prior journalists who tested this Civic (ahem, I’m looking at you James) got pulled over for seemingly no reason while driving it.

I was lucky to escape the wrath of any highway patrol during my time with the Civic, but I still managed to have a heck of a good time with it.  I found it to be a competent everyday driver that delivers a sense of fun and adventure on even the most boring commute.  Just lay into the throttle in second gear beyond 4,000 RPM and you’ll get it.

This marks the second time I’ve had the chance to review a 10th-generation Civic.  The last one was a 2019 model year 1.5-liter “Touring” sedan back in September.  The primary gripe I had with that car was its Continuously Variable Transmission.  Well, guess what?  This week’s car had an honest-to-goodness stick shift.  And I loved it.  The ‘HPT’ noted in the model name of this one refers to its optional High Performance (Summer) Tires.

Here’s the rundown, in bullet point form as I like to do it.

Good

  • Seating position is absolute perfection for me while resting the elbow on/near the center armrest
  • Stereo & tech is relatively intuitive and rear-view camera clarity is good
  • High-rev performance feels almost magical for an engine only 1.5 liters
  • Headlight enhancements are a sweet modernization and give a premium look
  • Clutch action, shift throws, and round metal shift knob are slick, sheer Honda perfection
  • MPG delivery is great for a car this fun to drive (EPA 26/36)
  • Price point ($26,130 as tested incl. destination) feels like a lot of bang for the buck
  • Thoughtful conveniences like the power port in the passenger front footwell area

Bad

  • Blind spots are relatively large – this is something I observe on almost every new car that I test due to higher belt lines and larger pillars
  • I’m not a fan of an electronic parking brake on a manual car.  I’d feel a lot more comfortable grabbing a lever.
  • As with any turbo motor, torque on the low end is relatively scarce
  • I prefer an analog speedometer (at least to supplement the digital readout)

Ugly 🙂

  • I’m still not a fan of black wheels
  • Can we get LED rear turn signals to keep things uniform front & back?  (I said the same about the Acura ILX A-Spec I recently tested)

Verdict

Go sample a Civic Si.  I’m confident it’ll satisfy your sweet tooth for a value-packed car with some zing to it.  Any shortcomings are far outweighed by the bang for the buck.  It’s a great blend of practicality and performance if you have craving for a Hot Tamale of a car.

Honda compact sports cars separated by 21 years.  And look how big the Civic grew!

The Civic Si’s front end makes the ILX 2.4 look pretty mundane.

It was worth noting, I celebrated 2,222 miles with the Civic at 12:22 at 22 miles per hour.

This, of course, after I just posted about hitting 222,222 on the ILX.  It’s that kind of luck.

Happy New Year!

Driver’s Ed Extreme: Race Weekend in a Dodge Challenger & a Toyota Supra

Posted in PAPA, Racing, Vehicle Reviews on November 19, 2019 by tysonhugie

Odometer (Legend):  572,259

Twenty-two years ago today, on November 19, 1997, my student driving instructor Mr. Hiatt at Pine View High School issued me this Practice Permit.  Apparently I was 5’8″ and 130 lbs at the time.

How many miles have I driven since then?  It’s tough to quantify.  In my Legend coupe alone, I’ve logged 477,000 miles.  The ILX has traveled about 220,000.  And I’ve owned 27 other cars besides those two over my 22-year driving career.  Safe to say I might be a million-miler.  But even I still have things to learn.

“Everyone deserves to be a better driver,” is a saying I learned from my friends at Out Motorsports who spend their weekends in the relentless pursuit of speed and skill with their racecars.  My own professional driving experience is pretty limited, but I had the chance this past weekend to get behind the wheel of a couple very sweet performance cars to refine the entry-level skills I’m starting with.

Under new ownership this year, the Bondurant School of High Performance Driving has its home base at the Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park in Chandler, Arizona.  Formal classes start around $1,900 and include a one-day program with these components:

  • Ground School
  • Throttle Steer
  • Slalom
  • Accident Avoidance Drill
  • Handling Drill – Oval
  • Skid Control Training
  • Autocross Session
  • Track Lead & Follow
  • Graduation

During a media event for the Phoenix Automotive Press Association (PAPA) last Friday, I got a taste of these offerings at a special event hosted by Bondurant’s Public Relations Agency.  And I must say, I came away impressed and grinning from the chance to put a high-horsepower Dodge Challenger Hellcat through its paces.

The learnings came directly from one of the industry’s best drivers:  Rob Knipe, who personally instructed actor Christian Bale for the recent film “Ford v. Ferrari.”  I’m pleased to report that my best autocross finish time at the end of the exercise was only about 1 second slower than the best time for our group.  But what did I learn?

Some of the key skills that I came away with were fundamentals about understanding weight transfer (optimizing balance of the car’s behavior under acceleration and under braking) and keeping eyes elevated, looking at a wide angle view.  As drivers, we characteristically focus on only certain aspects of our field of vision, keeping a narrow and shortsighted perspective.

But it’s important in a racing situation – and in everyday driving – to take it all in as best possible:  Look where you want the car to go, not necessarily directly where it’s headed.  On a related note, we were instructed to avoid “target fixation.”  While it’s natural to look exactly at an object or obstacle we are headed toward, it’s important to look away from it, focusing on a desired destination.

Since the Challenger I drove that night was an automatic, I had little to worry about from a gear-hunting perspective.  I mashed the gas pedal when it was appropriate to, and trained myself to brake at the right times – in advance of a turn, putting weight on the front tires where it needed to be.  Thanks to traction-control aids I also managed to attack the entire course at the limits of my abilities without a loss of control which could have been embarrassing in front of my journalist colleagues!

Also on display was a not-yet-on-sale 2020 Dodge Charger Hellcat “Widebody,” pictured above, with massive 305-series tires that help this sport sedan achieve max performance.

On Saturday, I made the trip to Wild Horse Pass once more, but this time for a Toyota program.  New for 2020, the fifth-generation Supra has big shoes to fill, since the outgoing model was discontinued over 20 years ago and there has been a great deal of hype around the successor.  This time, Toyota partnered with BMW to create a sportscar that reignites the nostalgia by way of an inline-6 engine which is what the last generation Supra (called the “Mark IV” by enthusiasts) was also powered by.

Dave Lee, Vehicle Product Training Specialist, gave our group the lowdown on some of the engineering features, design background, and performance stats of the new Supra while waiting for our track session to begin.  Benchmarking Porsche Boxster and Cayman, the Supra achieves 50/50 weight balance and has a surprisingly smaller wheelbase than its “86” (formerly FR-S) sibling.

All Supras are powered by a 3-liter, 335-horsepower engine coupled to an 8-speed automatic transmission.  A low center of gravity, launch control mode, active differential, and grippy Michelin Pilot SuperSport tires ensure that all the power gets to the ground exactly when it needs to.

Toyota had slotted our group’s track time into an already-existing National Auto Sport Association (NASA) event at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park which meant our time was closely calculated.  I saddled up in the driver seat with my helmet securely fastened and with a professional driver in the passenger seat.  The Supra launched me around the 1.6 mile track with speed and agility.

Photo credit:  Six Speed Blog

I remembered thinking to myself a couple of times, “I have never driven my own vehicles this hard,” as the trainer yelled at me “BRAKE HARDER!”  It took a couple of laps until I got comfortable actually pushing the vehicle to such an aggressive extent without feeling like I needed to apologize to it.

The Supra left me feeling impressed.  Even with a helmet on, I had ample head room to pivot and oversee my surroundings.  The acceleration was responsive and rapid, and the car’s lack of body roll was confidence-inspiring.  With each lap, I shaved time off – thanks to being more comfortable with the car, with the track, and with my skills.  I think I need just one more session to really fine-tune my expertise ;).

Thanks to the folks at Dodge and at Toyota for letting me satisfy my need for speed!

Jared & Rebecca from ClassicCars.com

Part of the Dodge fleet at Bondurant

Getting ready to head out for a “lead and follow” session

With Paige & Jessica from Toyota’s Public Relations team

Great minds think alike:  Each ‘demo’ Supra had its own maintenance binder

Thumbs up to this one

Test Drive Friday: 2019 Southwest Lifestyle Media Drive – Chandler, Arizona

Posted in PAPA, Vehicle Reviews on October 25, 2019 by tysonhugie

This past Friday was sweet.  And not just because of the sugar cookies.

One of the best benefits of being affiliated with a local automotive media community is the chance to get behind the wheel of new vehicles each year to see how & where the industry is evolving.  You may recall my prior involvement with a program called the Active Lifestyle Vehicle of the Year (ALV) starting in 2012.  ALV eventually evolved into a broader scope – focusing not only on certain types of vehicles but rather exposing journalists to a little bit of everything.  It was phased out after 2017.

The Southwest Lifestyle Media Drive was then launched in 2018 to better align the Phoenix area press event with the key stakeholders, the vehicles in consideration, and the brilliant landscape that many of us call home.  And instead of being a formal road test or evaluation event, it’s a no-strings-attached opportunity to put vehicles through their paces without worrying about needing to tally up scores in a mountain of paperwork after the fact.  I like the evolution that this event has taken.

The host venue for this year’s activity was the Crowne Plaza San Marcos in Chandler, Arizona.  It’s a historic and hospitable place to begin with, but it also at a crossroads of some great driving opportunities in both urban and freeway settings.  Event Director Becky Antioco stated that there were 13 vehicles available to experience, and over the course of the day I was able to experience several.

The standout vehicle for me – and I never thought I’d say this – was a 2020 Toyota Camry with special “TRD” (Toyota Racing Development) add-ons.  A Camry with sporting aspirations?  Unheard of.  But all it takes is one look at the aero treatment, the custom interior, and the stunning color to know that this Camry is a little something special.  I ran it through the gears (8-speed automatic, of course) in a spirited launch up the Loop 202 onramp and enjoyed the 301-horsepower V6’s exhaust note.

The surprise came when I pulled up the monroney spec sheet and realized it’s priced at $32,920.  That’s some serious sticker shock in a positive way instead of a negative way.

One of the media drive’s main sponsors this year was Nissan.  A product representative gave us a walk-around of the Versa “SV” – an impressively equipped sedan for its $14k-21k price point.  Back in the day, the big competition was in the number of cup holders a vehicle had.  Today, it’s all about the tech, and the Versa has 3 USB ports.  It also has fancy things like “rear door alert,” to audibly notify the driver a reminder that they’ve put something in the back seat if the doors are opened in a certain sequence before starting a drive.  Innovation at work!

Another vehicle that stood out to me was the latest Ram.  The tailgate opens via the conventional method, but has also has a trick up its sleeve:  You can open it down the middle like a set of barn doors, too.  Think of the versatility here – especially if (as in our test truck) your pickup has a tonneau cover securing valuables being hauled in the bed.  I like it.

Thanks to the SW Lifestyle planning team and to all the manufacturers who put the event together!

Drive to Five Review: 2019 Honda Civic 1.5T Touring Sedan

Posted in Civic, Vehicle Reviews on September 10, 2019 by tysonhugie

Odometer (Civic):  4,000

The other day, I was enjoying a rare, quiet, movie night at home and ended up picking the 2006 flick “Employee of the Month,” starring Dane Cook.  One of my favorite lines in that movie refers to a Honda Civic.  A 1981 Civic, to be exact.  After a golf ball attack ensues, the proud owner of a rickety old Civic proclaims, “This is an ’81 Honda – how dare you?!”

That car (and clip) make me think of this brilliant magazine ad from back in the day.

Certainly there are many of us who can relate to the protective attitude about our vehicles.  My younger brother drove a hand-me-down 1984 Civic 1500 “S” hatchback in high school – a hand-me-down from my great-grandmother.  This was what our family’s driveway looked like 20 years ago.  Two Legends, a Prelude, and a Civic.  Those were the days!

The Civic has been around as Honda’s compact vehicle offering since 1972 and it has been in its current (10th!) generation since the 2016 model year.  My current 2013 Acura ILX rides on Civic underpinnings and so I can already attest that the level of reliability is all it’s cracked up to be.  Where the Civic differs greatly from its Acura sibling is in sheer volume of sales:  In August 2019, here were some select stats:

  • Civic:  34,808 units
  • Accord:  30,558 units
  • ILX:  1,439 units
  • RLX:  38 units
  • NSX:  25 units

The only vehicle that sold more than the Civic was the CR-V at 44,000 units.  Honda has a home run on its hands, and I set out over the past several days to find out why.

My test-car was powered by turbocharged 4-cylinder engine coupled with a continuously variable transmission (CVT).  The Touring trim level brings nice amenities including leather interior, 10-speaker audio system, and a host of tech like cameras and navigation.  It also has nice looking 18″ alloy wheels, LED headlights & taillights, and a rear decklid spoiler to set things off cosmetically.  Total MSRP including destination and handling runs $28,220.

I had the chance over the past 7 days to put about 500 miles on the car in a combination of city and highway driving environments, and took the chance to assemble some ‘goods’ and ‘bads’ along the way.  To keep things simple, I’ll just dish out the review in that format.

Likes, in random order:

  • Tech – The window sticker on this car reads like Acronym City.  Check some of these out, and study them for the quiz later:
    • ACC – Adaptive Cruise Control
    • CMBS – Collision Mitigation Braking System
    • LDW – Lane Departure Warning
    • LKAS – Lane Keeping Assist System
    • RDM – Road Departure Mitigation
    • FCW – Forward Collision Warning
    • EBD – Electronic Brake Distribution
    • VSA – Vehicle Stability Assist
      • Basically, this Civic almost drives itself.  Do you like all that “helpful” tech, or are you against it?  I’ll let you decide for yourself.
  • Audio – SXM, bluetooth compatibility.  I was driving along and heard an amazing song I liked on the radio.  When the song concluded, I pulled into a church parking lot, paired my iPhone, found the song on YouTube, and blasted it again.  That kind of tech compatibility is awesome!
  • Camera (right side + rear).  Did you know that this car activates a passenger sideview mirror-mounted camera every time you turn on the right turn signal?  It’s pretty sweet.  The back-up cam also has nice resolution.
  • Looks – LED front end – to me, the car “looks” high end from many angles.  The whole front end is graced with LED lighting treatment.  I like the black grille, and the wheels seem borrowed from the sporty “Si” trim model and have a nice look to them.
  • Value / Packaging – I remember being excited about some of the aforementioned features when I first tested the 2014 Acura RLX (a $60k car).  Here we are a few years later talking about how they are available on a < $30k compact.  It’s pretty sweet.
  • Interior Ergonomics – The more I got acquainted with the Civic, the more I liked how things are placed inside the cabin.  I was pleased that there is a compartment for a cell phone below the instrument panel.  And the center armrest opens up to a HUGE storage bin with removable cup holders.
  • Highway Driving Dynamics – The Civic is super smooth at anything above 55 or so.  It would make a great long-hauler.  Perhaps why my friend James took it to LA and back when he tested it a few weeks ago.
  • Anonymity – Sometimes you just want to blend in, and this car does a good job of that – especially in the color that I tested.  I’m also going to put this attribute on the ‘Dislikes’ section.

Dislikes, in random order:

  • City Driving Dynamics – As much as I tried to make the most of the Continuously Variable Transmission, I just couldn’t love it.  One morning on my commute to work I was so discouraged to get blasted off the line by an aggressive-driving old Altima.  I didn’t stand a chance.  I like my torque delivered more rapidly when hitting the accelerator.
  • MPG – I admit to being heavier on the throttle than most people would be, but I still only got about 29 mpg which is quite a bit lower than the 33 mpg combined on the EPA rating.
  • Tech Nitpicks – I didn’t like the clicky sound the steering wheel volume audio button made, or where it was located.  I also think there should be a “manual” button or knob somewhere on the dash to advance the track / radio station.  It would mean being able to keep eyes on the road a little better.  Finally, when the right-side cam is activated via turn signal, you can’t do anything with the audio system unless you hit the Home or Audio button to go back to that screen.
  • Anonymity – This is on the bad list, just like it’s on the good list.  Since I was driving a Civic, I started noticing Civics, and, they’re everywhere.  I guess that goes back to the fact that Honda is selling over 30,000 of them every single month.  I like to stand out a little more.

Main takeaways:

For a comfortable, tech-packed compact commuter, it’s tough to do much better.  The Civic is economical without being completely uninspiring.  It looks good both coming and going, the connectivity is modern, and the chassis is nimble and precise.

As an enthusiast, I need a little more engagement from the powertrain – quicker off-the-line swiftness and more tangible connection with how the engine is revving and when.  Perhaps there’s a way to configure an Si model (manual, please) in a way that blends everything I like about the latest Civic into one package.  I’d say go ILX for about the same price, but the ILX doesn’t have a stick anymore.

For now, I am happy to recommend this car to anyone who wants a compact car with exceptional bang for the buck and effortless reliability.  A little anonymity on the streets isn’t always a bad thing either.  The sheriff will never even see you coming.

Video:

Platinum White Pearlescence: 2019 Acura ILX A-Spec Review

Posted in Del Sol, ILX, Integra, Vehicle Reviews on June 26, 2019 by tysonhugie

Odometer (2013 ILX Premium):  215,114

Odometer (2019 ILX Premium A-Spec):  5,329

It’s about time I got to try out the latest ILX!

Since its mid-2012 debut as a 2013 first-year model, the gateway model to the Acura brand has undergone two separate ‘refresh’ exercises – the first in 2016, and now again in 2019.  Quality has improved, tech has advanced, styling has evolved, and yet the pricetag has stayed constant and even gone down throughout the way.  At $32,545 as-tested for the A-Spec variant that I put a few hundred miles on over the past week, I consider it a very strong bang for the buck.

It’s no mystery that the elimination of the manual transmission option that took place in 2016 was a dagger to my heart and soul, but the new 8-speed dual-clutch transmission is not that bad.  In fact, I sort of enjoyed more of a kick-back driving style over the last few days.  It must be old age settling in because I’ll be turning 38 later this year.  Yikes.

The ILX I tested has essentially the same motor as my 2013:  a 2.4-liter, 201-horsepower, straight-four with iVTEC.  So it goes without saying that long-term maintenance should be a breeze (I’m well into the 200k+ range with mine).  Where the new ILX sets itself apart from mine is in terms of the technology.  Navi with voice recognition, touch-screen display, ELS Studio premium 10-speaker audio, and a host of safety features are all things that are “new” to me.

Beyond that, the aesthetic treatment is handsome, with the A-Spec package bringing in 18″ wheels, sport red leather seats with suede inserts, a contrasting decklid spoiler, and exclusive badging.  I have to admit I considered for a moment whether Acura would notice if I swapped the interior of the 2019 into my 2013, but it’s probably best that I not find out.

It was fitting that along with the new ILX came a 2018 Kelley Blue Book “5-Year Cost to Own” trophy that Acura representatives gave me for my display case.  I can’t think of any other individual who can attest with 100% certainty of that.  The car has cost me $7,600 to maintain over the course of 215,000 miles.  That includes 29 oil changes, 8 air filters, 2 sets of rear brake pads, 2 transmission fluid changes, and 4 sets of tires.

I found the newest ILX to deliver all that I’ve come to know and enjoy from my 2013 – sans the clutch pedal – and even a bit more.  I think the 2019 would make a great, efficient, reliable daily driver for someone that gives exclusivity and value at the same time.  Consider the fact that Acura sold only 1,351 ILX models nationwide in the month of May 2019.  To put that in perspective, that same month the company sold 5,415 RDX models and Honda sold 32,800 Civics.  Personally I love driving something that not everyone else drives.

Dig It:

  • Large back-up cam screen
  • Audio system +++
  • Blind spot monitoring tech
  • Appearance – exterior, especially rear
  • Nimble, fun-to-drive dynamics
  • Improvements to details like the key fob quality
  • Subtle features like a “Start” button that changes color
  • Bang for the buck – so much content for the price

Meh:

  • Aux + cig lighter hook-ups are in the center console under a lid
  • Rear cross-traffic alert overly sensitive – beeps when cars are passing by even far away
  • Front turn signals are LED, rear are halogen – should be uniform
  • Multiple people commented on the obnoxiously large “A” emblem up front
  • I don’t know if I’ll ever be a fan of black wheels
  • Some LED license plate lighting would be an inexpensive way to class up the rear

Here’s a video I put together, and below are some pics from my week with this sweet little ride.

KBB awards on display!

The subtle yet effective aesthetics are evident here

From this perspective the cars are 100% similar

The LED taillights are perhaps my favorite feature of all

Head to head

The bottom line

Keys – old, new.  The new is more durable and feels heavier / higher quality.

Check out the comparison of “A” badges

Short vid and pics from over the weekend, including a jaunt to “Horny Toad” in Cave Creek for lunch, and a meet-up with friends in east Mesa.

The Captiva Blue 1993 del Sol Si belongs to fellow YouTuber Chris Sadowski.

Mirel came out in his Legend

Mirel, Chris, Tyson, Corey, Nick, Jonathan, Greg, John, Ken

Two of the cars in attendance were extremely rare Turbo Grand Prixs, produced in partnership with McLaren for the 1989 and 1990 model years.

Phoenix Automotive Press Association Event: Gladiators & RAMs

Posted in PAPA, Vehicle Reviews on May 19, 2019 by tysonhugie

It’s always a special treat when I get an invitation to road test the latest in automotive offerings because I spend such a good chunk of time driving vehicles that are “old school.”  Whether we want to accept it or not, the year 2020 is just around the corner and even though the year “sounds” so far in the future, it’s nearly upon us.

Technology has come a long way:  The electronic capabilities of a vehicle have gone far beyond the AM/FM cassette tape decks of yesteryear and evolved into navigation systems, self-driving aids, driver assistance / safety features, and much more.  Gadgets and gizmos are everywhere to be found, and some are easy to figure out while others require a bit more of a learning curve.  The owner’s manual of one of the RAM pickups that I drove on Thursday was 700 pages long.

Fiat-Chrysler representative Scott Brown and a few others from his team hosted some members of the Phoenix Automotive Press Association (PAPA) for a ride-and-drive event in Paradise Valley, Arizona to showcase some of the latest from the brand.  One featured vehicle was a new-for-2020 Jeep Gladiator pickup truck, answering the question “Why can’t I have a Jeep and a truck at the same time?”  I guess we can call it a Juck, or a Treep.  Either way, I loved it.

The Gladiator that I drove was powered by a 3.6-liter Pentastar V6 engine coupled with a 6-speed manual transmission.  You read me right, a real honest-to-goodness shifter and a clutch pedal – and that was my favorite thing about it.  The ability to be in complete control of the vehicle gave me a great deal of confidence when cruising around the drive loops in Paradise Valley, even if not being able to adequately experience any of its go-anywhere / off-road capabilities.  As the only open-air truck on the market, Gladiator puts its occupants out in nature where many of them want to be.  The windshield even folds flat just like the traditional Wrangler.

Also available for demo were a handful of pickup trucks, all the way up to a RAM 3500 Laramie Longhorn which offers luxury car amenities on a vehicle that boasts enough power to pull a house off its foundation and drag it around the block.  It’s no mystery that RAM’s formula is getting something “right” – in 2018, the company sold over 600,000 trucks and RAM is #1 in the heavy duty segment with 40% of overall market share.  Here again we see RAM leading the pack in tech:  auto-tailgates, trailer towing packages, auxiliary cameras, and even power convex mirrors are among some of the features that can be equipped on these trucks.

When Motor Trend named RAM 1500 the truck of the year for 2019, the voting was unanimous.  Scott pointed out that it was the first time the answer has been so cut & dry.  After sampling some of RAM’s offerings, I can definitely see the allure.

Thanks to Scott and the rest of the FCA team for the hospitality!

Our host venue

Gladiator interior

This Gladiator was headed to the “Overland Expo” in Flagstaff, equipped with all sorts of custom features

Sticker on on the ‘Overland’ Gladiator concept

Detail on stitching on one oft he RAM pickup door panels

Power Wagon, and it does have plenty of power.  Some of these trucks have torque figures of 1,000 lb-ft.

The underside of the center console has a mathematics reference grid, including the Pythagorean Theorem.  Gotta love all the “Easter Eggs” that manufacturers sometimes hide for us to find!

Thanks Scott!