Author

Nicole Wakelin

What is the Rebelle Rally?

The Rebelle Rally is the first women’s off-road navigation rally in the United States. This 8-day competition allows nothing but topographical maps, compasses, and roadbooks to navigate a 1,200-mile route from Nevada to California. That’s the official description of the rally that you’ll find on the Rebelle Rally website along with all the details about what you need to do to participate.

What you won’t find there is an idea of what it really means to drive this thing, to navigate it, and to cross the finish line. Having just completed the 2020 Rebelle Rally, here’s what it was like to be a rookie Rebelle.

The Work Starts Well Before the Rally

There is a serious amount of planning required to be ready for the rally. This includes everything from securing a vehicle and a teammate to making sure you pack all the required and non-required stuff you’ll need anyway. Tents, sleeping bags, snacks, water bottles, duct tape, zip ties, spare tires, recovery tracks, and an ever-growing list that makes you think, “We’re going to need a bigger car.”

Training, Training, Training

Do you know how to drive off-road? Do you know how to tackle everything from mud to silt to rocks to sand dunes? Even veteran off-road drivers will want to brush up on the skills they don’t use as often. For me, that was sand dunes. I live in the northeast where sand dunes are wee little things and you can’t drive on them, so there was a lot to learn. Several days out on the west coast with an expert gave me the skills I needed to compete.

If you’re the navigator, then you have a whole new world of skills to learn. As I driver, I at least knew how to drive before the Rebelle. But how many people know how to use a compass, read a topographical map, plot latitude and longitude, and then plan a route using scale rulers to track the distance? You in the back raising your hand, good for you, and thank you for your service.
Everyone else, yeah, that’s what I thought.

The Third Teammate

Every team is comprised of two women. The driver drives. The navigator navigates. But it’s really a team of three. The third teammate is your vehicle. In my case as the driver for Team #142, that third teammate was an Infiniti QX80 that was graciously provided by Infiniti.

While you might think about going off-road in more traditional off-road vehicles (Insert Jeep Wave here,) you can do the Rebelle in all sorts of vehicles from 4x4s to crossovers. As the driver, getting behind the wheel of a luxury SUV and taking it into the dirt was especially appealing.

Infiniti gave our trusty steed steel bumpers, a 3-inch lift, new shocks, and rock rails, but underneath it was still a beautiful luxury SUV. It was phenomenal. I thrashed that thing through whoops in the sand dunes in Glamis, gave it a nice bit of desert pinstriping driving through open OHV areas, and maybe put one small dent in the rear bumper in a particularly rocky bit of terrain. (Sorry, Infiniti, my bad.) That thing didn’t even flinch.

There was something especially sweet about sleeping in a tent for a week, showering less than I will admit, and eating nothing but protein bars for lunch every day, but still having a ridiculously comfortable ride to hop into every morning. How comfortable?

There was one self-camp day where we all sleep in our tents clustered together in the dunes. All of us, that is, except for Team #142. We just reclined the seats and slept in the QX0. It was glorious.

The Rally is Hard

No. Really. It’s hard like you wouldn’t believe. This is no lightweight, easy rally that’s toned down for women. This thing is hardcore. Through the entire race it’s just you and your teammate making sure your car is ready, you’re ready, and your stuff is ready.

There’s no hotel at the end of the day. Instead, you have your tent at a base camp that moves every couple of days. One night you don’t even have a base camp. You set up your tent and haul your stuff back and forth to your car. Some nights it’s cold and you’ll find yourself sleeping in your clothes. And jacket. And hat and gloves. Some nights it’s hot. You have to be ready for any kind of weather.

The Days Are Long

Part of what makes the rally hard are the long days. You’re up at around 4am to get the day’s maps so the navigator can start plotting checkpoints – the key to gaining points and winning the rally. Once you cross the start line, you have around 10 hours of driving and navigating to those checkpoints until you return to camp. That’s a long day for a traditional road trip on paved roads. It’s grueling off-road, but you will push through, chug another cup of coffee, and do it again the next day.

It’s Worth It

Long days. Rough conditions. Mental and physical challenges. Why would anyone do this thing?! Because at the end of it all, you did it. The driver drove 1,200 miles of rugged, challenging terrain. The navigator navigated 1,200 miles of checkpoints. You. Did. It.

And through it all, not only did you have your teammate, you had the women of the rally there as support. Everyone is competing against each other, but everyone wants success for each other, too. Whether that means a win, a top ten finish, beating last year’s ranking, or simply getting to the finish. The rally’s biggest cheerleaders are the other teams.

There’s nothing quite like being a part of the Rebelle Rally, crossing that finish line, and being able to call yourself a Rebelle.

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2020 Lincoln Aviator

A luxury SUV with plug-in hybrid efficiency

The 2020 Lincoln Aviator is an all-new SUV with seating for up to seven passengers in a lush and elegant cabin. This is a true luxury car and it feels like one. It also looks like one with a bold exterior design that includes a massive grille that demands your attention. This helps the Lincoln Aviator stand out amid the growing number of large SUVs on the road.

It’s available in a range of four trims, including the exclusive Black Label and the plug-in hybrid Grand Touring. We spent our drive time with the Grand Touring Black Label, which combines the efficiency of the plug-in hybrid with the luxury of the Black Label at a price of $87,800.

Hybrids are nothing new and you’ll find plenty of them in the grocery store parking lot. They’re a part of the automotive landscape in such a way that they no longer stand out or draw attention as something unique. Plug-in hybrids, however, are a different story.

2020 Lincoln Aviator

Embrace the plug-in life

These aren’t as popular as their non-plug counterparts. That doesn’t mean they’re lesser, just that the public hasn’t been as willing to buy into the idea of plugging in a car at night. The same is true for pure electrics. It’s still a little weird to plug in your car when you get home.

If you can shake off that weirdness, then you get the benefit of paying less to fuel your car. The overall cost of charging a plug-in hybrid or electric is less than relying on a gas-only engine. There are also tax breaks for buying one depending on where you live. Finally, there’s the added benefit of reducing your impact on the environment especially in areas where power is generated by more environmentally friendly methods.

Unlike an electric which must be plugged in to charge because it only has battery power, this is optional on a plug-in hybrid. You can run it on gas if that’s what you prefer of if plugging in isn’t convenient.

Running it purely on that gas engine, the Lincoln Aviator Grand Touring gets an EPA-estimated 23 mpg combined. Plug in to charge and that number jumps to 56 MPGe. It’s your call, but embracing the plug-in life will save you some cash.

A powerful and responsive engine

Honestly, though, if you’re looking at a vehicle like this, then you’re probably not on a tight budget. This is a luxury SUV so there are far cheaper options you can choose. The whole reason to pay extra for the Aviator is for that distinctive luxury-car vibe that can’t be had at bargain basement prices.

Power comes from a direct injection twin-turbo 3.0-liter V6 and an electric motor for 494 system horsepower and 630 lb-ft of torque. This is paired to a 10-speed automatic transmission. The Aviator is a big vehicle, but those numbers make it surprisingly peppy. Press the accelerator and you won’t find power lacking.

While it has plenty of power, handling is a little soft. It’s more luxury family hauler than sports car. You will feel the bulk of the Aviator as you change lanes and it’s not exactly the kind of thing you want to push hard through the corners, but that’s okay. The Aviator is all about a luxury experience for passengers and on that front it delivers.

2020 Lincoln Aviator

Luxury car comfort at its peak

The Grand Touring Black Label includes leather seats that are 30-way adjustable, heated, and ventilated for the driver and front passenger, leather-wrapped steering wheel, quad-zone climate control, and ambient lighting. The second-row captain’s chairs are just as roomy and comfortable, so families won’t be fighting to see who gets to sit up front.

The Aviator looks like a luxury car and it feels like one. It has the elegant design, high-quality materials, and spacious, comfortable interior you’d expect in a luxury SUV. The Aviator also offers the opportunity to be different.

It’s not the same as every other three-row out there. It’s not the most popular choice and you probably won’t pass a heck of a lot of them on the highway. It’s a luxury SUV that gives you the chance to stand out from the crowd in the most elegant way possible. And as a plug-in hybrid, it lets you be environmentally conscious and save a few bucks at the same time.

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Cadillac XT6

Cadillac adds a new SUV to the family

The 2020 Cadillac XT6 is an all-new three-row crossover with room for up to seven passengers with a spacious and luxurious interior. Consumers are moving away from sedans toward more versatile SUVs and crossovers and the XT6 is Cadillac’s effort to lure those customers.

There’s a choice of only two trims, both of which offer an upscale, luxury experience. This is a Cadillac, after all, and that badge means you ride in luxury no matter which trim you choose. This includes a wide range of safety features, a powerful engine, and an elegant interior.

Power for the XT6 comes from a 3.6-liter V6 engine with 310 horsepower and 271 lb-ft of torque paired to a 9-speed automatic transmission. This is a large vehicle, but it has no trouble getting up to speed and easily merges into heavy highway traffic. While the XT6 is responsive and powerful, it’s never harsh.

This isn’t an SUV that focuses only on power. When you hit the gas pedal, the engine responds in kind, but acceleration is smooth and quiet. You hear the engine, but it in no way intrudes on the passenger experience. The 9-speed transmission works unnoticed in the background further enhancing the ride quality for passengers.

Luxury looks inside and out

The XT6 puts a priority on luxury starting with bold exterior styling. The Sport has a black grille, window moldings and roof rails and the option for 21-inch wheels. The Premium Luxury takes a more traditional approach with bright finishes and its own unique wheel treatment. Each has a distinct look, but both are unmistakably Cadillac.

A long list of standard features includes leather seating surfaces, heated front seats, heated steering wheel, power liftgate, tri-zone automatic climate control, and a power-fold third row. That power-folding third row makes it easy to switch between passengers and cargo and takes the stress out of reconfiguring the seating as your needs change. Options include a heated second row, and a variety of packages that add carbon fiber, wood, and premium leather accents. The XT6 is the perfect vehicle for simply relaxing and enjoying the trip.

There’s seating for seven with optional second-row captain’s chairs that take seating down to six, but offer a more comfortable ride. Either way, the second row is spacious with plenty of headroom and legroom. Even the dreaded middle seat isn’t such a bad deal and won’t leave that passenger anxious for the trip to be over.

The third row in any SUV is tough for adults, but the XT6 has enough room for all but the tallest passengers in its third row. Kids will find it downright spacious and something of an escape that lets them sit in their own little world away from the boring adults up front.

Stay connected and entertained

Infotainment features an 8-inch touchscreen, wi-fi connectivity, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and 6 USB ports spread across all three rows. There’s also a new controller to make navigating the system easier. Rather than a rotary dial that only spins, it tips like a joystick controller for a game console. It’s a small change, but one that makes the system easier to operate.

The 2020 Cadillac XT6 has a wide range of standard and available safety features along with excellent crash test results. It earned an overall 5 stars from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and is an Insurance Institute for Highway Safety 2020 Top Safety Pick+.

Standard safety includes forward collision alert, automatic emergency braking, front and rear park assist, and rear cross-traffic alert. Available features include reverse automatic braking, and night vision, which uses infrared sensors to see obstacles you might not otherwise see in the dark.

The Premium Luxury starts at $52,695 with front-wheel drive or $55,690 with all-wheel drive. The Sport has standard all-wheel drive with pricing from $57,095. The all-new 2020 Cadillac XT6 is a full-size SUV that delivers a genuine luxury experience with the prestige of the Cadillac brand.

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A choice of four affordable trims

The 2021 Kia Seltos is the latest vehicle to join the Kia lineup. This new crossover slots between the smaller Kia Soul and larger Kia Sportage with an affordable price point and sizing that’s ideal for city dwellers.

Available in four trims, the base LX starts at $21,990 with standard all-wheel drive and a 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine. It has 146 horsepower and 132 lb-ft of torque and is paired to a continuously variable automatic transmission. If you don’t want all-wheel drive, the Seltos does offer front-wheel drive, but only on the S trim, which is one step up from the base LX.

Those who want a more responsive ride will appreciate the 1.6-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder that’s available on the S at $25,490 and standard on the top SX with pricing of $27,890. It jumps to 195 horsepower and 175 lb-ft of torque and is paired to a 7-speed automatic transmission.

A small car doesn’t need a big engine, even for merging into high-speed highway traffic, but having one does make things a lot more fun. We spent a week with the SX and its peppy turbocharged engine and found it a happy little ride to sling through the corners.

Enjoy the quiet

It’s also worth noting that the Seltos is quiet. The thing with many of the vehicles in this class and at these price points is that they’re loud. They’re not intended to be luxury cars with supremely quiet interiors, which is fine, but no one wants to feel like they’re riding with the windows down when they’re quite firmly closed.

The Seltos offers an impressively quiet ride, even at high speeds. There’s minimal road and wind noise and an unexpected thunderstorm that drenched the roads in rain and surprise puddles still wasn’t enough to make the interior loud. It’s something you’ll appreciate during long commutes or that multi-state road trip.

Along with being quiet, the Seltos has a comfortable interior with room for five passengers. Those up front will find plenty of space even if they’re on the tall side, but the back seat isn’t exactly spacious. It’s great for two adults, although it will seat three. We’d only do three passengers for quick trips. On longer trips, even two will want to be swapping with those up front to stretch out a bit.

Fully-featured at every trim

Adding to the appeal of the Seltos are its standard features. There’s an 8-inch infotainment touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, 6-speaker audio, and automatic cruise control as standard features. The SX sees the addition of a 10.25-inch touchscreen, navigation, and Bose premium audio.

All but the base trim also gets a suite of safety features that includes forward collision avoidance assist with car and pedestrian detection, lane departure warning, lane following assist, and lane keep assist. That’s a wide range of features for a vehicle that tops out at $27,890.

It’s also easy on the budget with good fuel economy. It gets an EPA-estimated fuel economy of 29 mpg in the city, 34 mpg on the highway, and 31 mpg combined with front-wheel drive and up to 27 mpg in the city, 31 mpg on the highway, and 29 mpg combined with all-wheel drive.

Room for your stuff

Finally, the Seltos blends passenger comfort with cargo versatility. There’s 26.6 cubic feet behind the second row with 62.8 cubic feet behind the first row. It’s not as roomy as a large SUV, but it easily manages the family’s luggage or supplies for the latest home improvement project.

The 2021 Kia Seltos is a strong offering in a crowded segment. An attractive and comfortable interior, affordable pricing, and a choice of responsive engines make it a top pick for crossover shoppers.

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2020 Subaru Outback

The Subaru family wagon gets an upgrade

The 2020 Subaru Outback is all new this year marking the sixth generation of this popular family wagon. A lot has changed over the years with updated styling and new technologies, but some things are still the same. It’s still a workhouse of a wagon with room for the family, ample cargo space to carry their stuff, and more capability than the average wagon.

There’s room for five passengers in a comfortable and durable interior. Even in top trims of the Outback that have richer materials and extra amenities, it never feels delicate. You won’t worry if the kids manage to get their snowy winter boots on the seats or the dog leaps through the car with muddy paws. This is a car that can stand up to real life rather than needing to be coddled.

When it’s time for cargo, the Outback holds 32.5 cubic feet behind the rear seats or 72.5 cubic feet behind the front seats. It also has a long load floor so it can manage objects up to 75 inches long. If whatever you have is still too big, then take advantage of its ability to tow up to 3,500 pounds when properly equipped.

2020 Subaru Outback

The return of the turbocharged engine

There’s a choice of two engines starting with a 2.5-liter 4-cylinder with 182 horsepower and 176 lb-ft of torque. For the first time since 2009, there’s also a turbocharged option. This more powerful engine boasts 260 horsepower and 277 lb-ft of torque. Both are paired to a continuously variable automatic transmission.

While either does the job of getting the Subaru Outback up to highway speeds, the turbocharged engine is the more fun of the two. It’s responsive when you press the accelerator and removes the anxiety of trying to merge with heavy highway traffic. It also gets great fuel economy. The base engine gets an EPA-estimated 26 mpg in the city, 33 mpg on the highway, and 29 mpg combined with those numbers dropping by just 3 mpg across the board for the turbocharged engine.

Subarus are capable things, so you’ll find 8.7 inches of ground clearance along with standard all-wheel drive with X-Mode. It makes short work of snowy, rutted roads and just as easily tackles more rugged off-road adventures where the average wagon wouldn’t stand a chance.

2020 Subaru Outback

Plenty of tech upgrades

The Outback shows off updated tech this year with standard EyeSight driver assist technologies. This gives you pre-collision braking, pre-collision throttle management, adaptive cruise control, and lane keep assist with sway warning even on the base trim. A 5-star rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and a 2020 Top Safety Pick+ rating from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety further enhance the Outback’s safety appeal.

Another nice tech upgrade is the Subaru Outback’s massive 11.6-inch vertical touchscreen for the infotainment system. This is standard on all but the base trim, which has dual 7-inch touchscreens. The larger screen makes it easy to follow navigation and easy to swipe between menus to find what you need quickly. It can also be customized so you can put the things you use most front and center.

The 2020 Subaru Outback is available in a range of seven trims so you’ll be able to find one that works for your needs and your budget. Pricing runs from $26,645 to $39,695.

2020 Subaru Outback

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Is it time to make the switch to an EV?

The 2020 Nissan Leaf enters its second decade this year, which may be a surprise to those who think of electric vehicles as something new to the market. There aren’t a lot of EVs on the road, but they have been around awhile, just under the radar of most shoppers. That’s changing as the charging infrastructure improves and the number of EVs on the road slowly increases. Although the Leaf isn’t new, Nissan has continually upgraded their little EV with new features that give it wider appeal.

The big news this year is the addition of Nissan Safety Shield 360 as a standard feature. This includes key advanced safety technologies including automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, rear automatic braking, rear cross traffic alert, blind spot warning, lane departure warning, and high beam assist. There’s also standard forward collision warning, lane change intervention, and blind spot intervention. These features make the 2020 Nissan Leaf a compelling choice for those who put a priority on safety.

Nissan Leaf

No range anxiety here

One of the biggest considerations when buying an electric vehicle is range. There’s a considerable amount of worry that you’re going to run out of juice with nary a charging station in sight. That fear was a bit more warranted years ago before EV charging stations started showing up everywhere from malls to offices to grocery stores.

Even if there aren’t a lot of charging stations where you live, the reality is that most people drive less in a day than what an EV can handle. There’s a choice of two range options with the Leaf. The base Leaf is available in two trims with a 40 kWh battery and a range of 149 miles. The Leaf Plus has a 62 kWh battery that extends that range to 226 miles in a choice of three trims.

Look at those numbers for a minute. Most people don’t drive 149 miles in a day. Even fewer drive 226 miles. That means most people who purchase a Leaf will only ever need to charge it at home. While the Leaf might be a charging challenge on a road trip, it’s easily able to handle the average daily commute without requiring a desperate search for a charging station.

Nissan Leaf

A well-equipped range of trims

Short-range versions of the Leaf are available in two trims with room for 5 passengers. The long-range Leaf adds a third trim with more comfort and convenience features. Standard Leaf features include manually adjustable front seats, suede seating surfaces, and an 8-inch infotainment touchscreen with 4-speaker audio, Apple CarPlay, and Android Auto.

The SV adds the option for a power driver’s seat with heated front seats along with additional standard features including HD radio, 6-speaker audio, and NissanConnect EV with navigation. The SL makes the options on the SV standard and adds more premium touches. These include a standard 7-speaker Bose audio system, LED low beam headlights and daytime running lights, and leather seating surfaces.

Nissan Leaf

The sound of silence

Driving an EV is something that feels a little weird at first. You push a button, the car is on, and you don’t hear an engine because there isn’t one. That lack of sound is true inside and out, which is why the government requires EVs make sounds anytime they’re operating at low speeds or moving in reverse. Pedestrians might not otherwise hear the vehicle and risk stepping into its path.

This year, Nissan upgraded those sounds to fall in line with U.S. vehicle regulations slated to go into effect on September 1, 2020. At speeds under 18.6 mph, it emits a constant tone and in reverse it emits a pulsing chime. Like the lack of noise when you turn on the Leaf, those sounds are a bit odd to hear at first, but quickly become a pleasant background to the drive experience.

The Leaf is a comfortable and responsive ride ideally suited to 4 passengers although 5 work for smaller trips. There’s minimal road noise, although wind noise picks up in poor weather. The large infotainment screen is a welcome feature and it’s well-positioned for both driver and passenger. Standard Apple CarPlay and Android Auto keep you connected and the cabin’s smaller size makes conversation easy.

Nissan Leaf

Driving with the e-Pedal

There are a several unique features found on the Leaf. First, the gear shift is a flat, round joystick on the center console. It’s easy to use, but not intuitive and takes time to become second nature. Another unique feature is the e-Pedal, which is engaged at the press of a button. With the e-Pedal, you don’t need to use the brakes and can instead use only the accelerator to bring the car all the way to a stop. This takes a bit of practice, but once you get the hang of it and hop back into a car without this feature, you’ll realize how nice it is not to have to use two pedals to drive.

The 2020 Nissan Leaf is a solid choice for those in the market for an electric vehicle. A choice of three trims and two powertrains lets you pick the one that’s right from your needs and helps make the Leaf more affordable for those who drive shorter distances. The Leaf starts at $31,600 while the long-range Leaf Plus starts at $38,200 making it an affordable option in either guise.

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Jeep Gladiator Mojave

The first Desert Rated Jeep

The Jeep Gladiator is all-new for the 2020 model year and finally gives Jeep enthusiasts a midsize pickup ready to off-road. Despite being a new model, Jeep didn’t wait around to introduce a little something extra to the lineup in the form of the Mojave trim. This trim is special, not just because it’s new for the Gladiator, but because it’s the first-ever Desert Rated Jeep.

Jeep fans are already familiar with the Trail Rated badge. This is the badge you’ll find on the most off-road capable versions of Jeep’s vehicles. It’s the badge you want if going off-road isn’t an afterthought, but a priority.

Now there’s a Desert Rated badge and it means exactly what you think. Jeeps with this badge are specially tested to handle the rigors of desert driving. That means they’re up to the challenge of high heat and lots of sand so you can have more fun out on the dunes.

Jeep Gladiator Mojave

Passing the test

This isn’t just a clever name Jeep slapped on the side of the Gladiator. It means this Gladiator, and future vehicles with this badge, have passed a series of tests broken out into five categories. These tests include ride control and stability, traction, ground clearance, maneuverability, and desert prowess.

It passes these tests with a series of enhancements specifically designed to make the Mojave a true desert racer. It has a 1-inch front suspension lift to keep the nose out of the sand if you catch some air and a best-in-class ground clearance of 11.6 inches. There are Jeep Performance Parts step sand slider side rails, silver front skid plate, a half-inch wider track, and a modified suspension system.

That suspension system includes high-performance Fox 2.5-inch internal bypass shocks to make high-speed runs easier. They reduce the chance of bottoming out and help create a smoother ride in all conditions. There are also front and rear external shock reservoirs to prevent shock fade along with suspension fluid designed for high temperatures.

The Mojave also has industry-first Fox front hydraulic jounce bumpers. These are like a second pair of shocks that offer additional damping force and soften impacts. Whether you’re racing over desert terrain, driving along a dirt road, or managing uneven pavement, the Mojave’s suspension improves control and passenger comfort.

Jeep Gladiator Mojave

A capable truck in any trim

In the brief time that the Gladiator has been available, it’s already proved its mettle off-road. The launch program included a ridiculous amount of mud thanks to unexpected rain and plenty of rocks and loose gravel to traverse. It handled well and lived up to Jeep’s reputation for building off-road capable vehicles.

The Mojave comes to us in the middle of a rather unprecedented time. The launch program, which was supposed to be at the end of March, was cancelled due to the coronavirus, but Jeep managed to get the Mojave out to journalists where it was still a possibility to do so.

That gives us all a chance behind the wheel, but not necessarily a chance to drive it in the sand at high speeds. Instead, I spent a week driving it on-road and off-road in more typical conditions with mud and dirt and rocks and it handled beautifully.

Much like any off-road focused vehicle, it has a decent amount of bounce when you take it on the highway thanks to its specially tuned suspension system. There’s also a fair amount of road noise from the tires and wind noise even with the hardtop.

Jeep Wave included

Still, we loved driving the Gladiator Mojave. It’s capable and it’s a head turner, evidenced by the number of people remaining at a safe six feet away, waving, and telling me they loved the thing. It’s definitely Jeep Wave approved.

While we can’t speak to its desert prowess first-hand, we can speak to Jeep’s reputation. When the brand builds a vehicle and says it’ll go off-road, they mean it, and we fully expect the Mojave to be true to its Desert Rated badge when this whole thing passes.

The Jeep Gladiator Mojave arrives this spring with a starting price of $43,875.

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2020 Toyota Tacoma truck

Get ready to fall in love with “The Taco”

There are die-hard loyalists for nearly every automotive brand out there. Heck, people still wax poetic about Saab and you can’t even buy those anymore. It doesn’t matter. Loyalty is loyalty. Truck people, however, take loyalty to a whole new level and will argue with their dying breath that their truck is the best.

Enter the Toyota Tacoma. Known fondly as the Taco, people love this little truck and they especially love taking it off-road.

What’s new for 2020?

The current generation of the Tacoma was all-new for 2016 so what you see today has been around awhile. Toyota did decide to give things a bit of a refresh this year with an updated design and new infotainment system. It includes either a 7-inch or 8-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and Amazon Alexa. Small details, but they make a big difference in a world where connectivity counts.

There’s a range of six trims so you can get your Taco in exactly the right flavor for your needs. There’s the SR, for those who want a more basic truck without unnecessary frills; or the SR5, which is one step up the trim ladder and adds extra amenities. Sitting at the top of the lineup is the Limited if you want a more luxurious experience for passengers.

In between you have the most rugged options of the lot, all of which get the Toyota Racing Development (TRD) badge. Choose from the Sport TRD, TRD Off-Road, or TRD Pro, which is the version of the Tacoma we had the opportunity to drive.

It’s powered by a 3.5-liter V6 with 278 horsepower and 265 lb-ft of torque paired to either a 6-speed automatic or a 6-speed manual.

Yes, you read that right: it has an available manual transmission.

We took a manual transmission Tacoma off-road last fall and can vouch for its capability and fun factor in the dirt. Those who don’t want to have to deal with the fancy footwork will be perfectly happy with the automatic.

Time to get dirty

This truck is designed for the off-road set, which means it’s a little bouncy on the pavement. Potholes and uneven road surfaces won’t go unnoticed and there’s a fair amount of road noise. If you’re looking to eliminate those inconveniences, then avoid the TRD trims. On the other hand, if you want to go play in the mud, the TRD Pro is the trim for you.

It gets standard four-wheel drive with an automatic limited slip differential, TRD-tuned off-road suspension with 2.5-inch Fox internal bypass coil-overs and rear remote reservoir shocks, 16-inch TRD Pro black alloy wheels with all-terrain tires, front skid plate, and multi-terrain select with crawl control. That’s a hefty dose of off-road capability and it all comes together when you venture past the pavement.

Also new this year is the Multi-terrain Monitor, which is standard on the TRD Pro. At the press of a button, it displays front, rear, and side views around the truck right on the infotainment screen. This makes navigating off-road surfaces easier and removes the worry that you’ll miss something hiding in your path.

Veteran or newbie, the Tacoma will take you wherever you want to go

While some trucks look like they can take on rugged terrain, the Tacoma TRD Pro actually can handle going off-road. If you want to climb up a rock-strewn hillside, clamber across uneven terrain, or take a trip through the mud, the Tacoma does it and it does it with ease.

It’s a great choice whether you’re new to off-roading or a hardened veteran. The Tacoma has the capability to tackle challenging terrain, but it won’t make the process a stressful one for new drivers. If you want to learn, then the Tacoma is ready to teach.

Pricing for the 2020 Toyota Tacoma starts at $26,050 for the base trim. If you want the impressive capability of the TRD Pro, then you’re looking at $43,960.

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Audi S4

Yes, it’s worth it.  

Audi is known as a luxury performance brand, which means it makes cars not everyone gets the chance to drive. They’re the cars you see in traffic or maybe in the parking lot at the mall and wish were yours. That’s the moment you do a bit of rationalization in your head and tell yourself it’s silly to spend that kind of money on a car and you’re just fine in your [insert boring car here]. After spending some time in the S4 sedan and Q7 SUV, we can wholeheartedly say that spending your hard-earned cash on a luxury car gives you an experience that’s worth every penny.

2020 Audi S4: does it perform as well as we’d hoped? 

This year, Audi gave the S4 a host of upgrades that take what was already quite a nice sedan and make it even better. Park last year’s S4 alongside this year’s model and you will see myriad small changes that give it a sportier, more elegant look. This is a performance sedan, not just an appliance designed to get you from point A to point B. Instead it gets you there in style and with a smile on your face.

The S4 sits at the top of the A4/S4 lineup as the sportiest of the lot. Pricing for the base A4 starts at $37,400 while the S4 comes in at $49,900. What you get for that price increase is additional power, improved handling, and a more luxurious interior.

Under the hood is a 3.0-liter turbocharged V6 engine with 349 horsepower and 369 lb-ft of torque paired to an 8-speed automatic transmission. That’s a lot of power for a sedan and it shows when you step on the gas. The S4 accelerates smoothly and evenly and makes merging into heavy traffic effortless.

As for the dreaded turbo lag – that brief hesitation when you first mash the pedal – it’s there, but only when you’re being extremely aggressive. Most of the time you aren’t hitting the gas like you’re trying to win a race, so the turbo lag is barely an issue.

As for comfort, this is every bit a luxury car. Leather and Alcantara seats with heavy bolstering hold you in place without squishing larger frames. They’re 8-way adjustable with massage and heat to ease your tired muscles.

Infotainment boasts a new 10.1-inch touchscreen mounted high on the dashboard. It’s easy to see and easy to use with a short learning curve so even passengers who are completely unfamiliar with the system will find it workable.

The 2020 Audi S4 offers a true luxury experience in a performance sedan. That’s all well and good, but what if you have a family and need seating for more than five passengers?

2020 Audi Q7: family-focused and still sporty

You don’t have to give up the idea of luxury simply because you have a family. The Audi Q7 has three rows of seating with room for up to seven passengers with a luxurious, performance-focused experience similar to what’s found in the S4 sedan.

It even offers the same engine, although with a small dip to 335 horsepower. This is a large vehicle so you  might think that would kill performance, but don’t worry. The Q7 is still a spirited and sporty SUV.

The biggest performance difference is in the handling. This is an SUV, not a sedan, so on tight twisty roads it feels bigger with more body roll, but it’s not enough to dull the fun of driving the Q7.

While the second row is roomy, the third row is tight. Headroom is too low for tall adults and even those of average height will need to move that second row forward to fit. It’s best reserved for the kids. When it comes time for cargo instead of people, there’s up to 72.4 cubic feet of room for your stuff.

Pricing on the Q7 starts a bit higher at $54,800 for the base model, which has a less powerful engine. The top trim, which is what we drove, comes in at $60,800.

Not everyone can afford a luxury car, but for those who can, Audi offers good reason for the investment. The S4 sedan and Q7 SUV offer upscale interiors and powerful performance that don’t disappoint. Both are available at dealerships now.

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