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Aaron gets cleaned up and talks about a Lexus NX and why the F Sport model is probably worth skipping. The NX is Lexus’ aim towards small families and single parents and it hits the mark very well. Most of the time. Find out what Aaron thinks and what’s up with this luxury crossover.

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Can you fall in love with a truck?

When it’s a RAM 1500 Rebel equipped with a host of off-road specialty equipment and a load, throaty exhaust, the answer – at least, for me – is a resounding YES.

The Ram 1500 was fully redesigned for model year 2019, and it’s more of the same. And when I say more of the same, I mean more of the same innovation and attention to detail. First, the brand reduced the weight of the 1500 by more than 200 pounds, and at the same time increased the payload and towing capacity. On top of that, a mild hybrid power system (called eTorque) made its debut.

Available in seven trim levels (Tradesman, HFE, Big Horn, Rebel, Laramie, Longhorn and Limited), the 1500 is in its fifth generation and is competitive. The Tradesman is spare and designed to work hard, the Big Horn is right in the middle with comfort touches and durable exterior, and the Limited is a luxury car in truck form. Standard on all trims is a 3.6L V6 (305 hp, 269 lb-ft of torque). The optional upgrade (not available on the HFE) is a 5.7L V8 generating 395 hp and 410 lb-ft of torque.

Mopar accessories on tap

The RAM 1500 is one of the most-accessorized vehicles with over 200 options available. The vehicle I tested this time around was a Mopar Rebel, which has all of the thrills and chills of off-roading ruggedness and a smattering of accessories that contribute to the look and feel of this truck. This truck was made for mud and off-pavement adventures, and we put it to the test.

Add-ons included:

  • Off-road running boards
  • Off-road wheel flares
  • RAM bar with five-inch LED lights
  • Door sill guards
  • Mopar cat-back exhaust

What the %^& is a cat-back exhaust? 

According to Auto Anything, a cat-back exhaust system is a simple power modification that frees up your exhaust gas flow and produces a fierce engine note. The term “cat-back exhaust” can be defined as the section of an exhaust system that attaches after the last catalytic converter in the system. Aftermarket exhaust systems are designed to be freer flowing than a stock exhaust, which means the engine can release more horsepower and torque. What you can’t see, you can hear: the roar is definitely noticeable. In the best ways, of course.

Get DECKED

In the bed of this RAM 1500 Rebel, a DECKED system had been installed, sporting two full bed-length drawers. For an additional $1,150 for a 5’7” bed length, the DECKED system is made from 100% recycled HDPE (high density polyethylene, commonly known as plastic) co-molded to a galvanized recycled steel subframe. The drawers can hold 200 pounds each, and they’re weatherproof, including rain, snow, extreme UV light, and severe temperatures.

What I liked about the DECKED system is that it requires no drilling or alteration of the truck whatsoever. The oversized handles are designed for use with gloves and made for work, but it’s just as capable and useful for a drawer full of groceries, tailgating supplies, camping gear, or sports equipment. What you might consider, if you like the idea of the DECKED system, is that it does not work with the RamBox Cargo Management system. Nor is it compatible with any in-bed towing packages like 5th Wheel and Gooseneck packages.

More fun, more everything

For model year 2019, there is more rear-seat space than its predecessor; a smooth, sedan-like suspension; quiet cabin; updated technology, and more.

The Rebel comes standard with:

  • Skid plates
  • Front tow hooks
  • Specialized off-road tires
  • Fortified shocks and suspension
  • Electronic-locking rear axle
  • Hill descent control
  • Class iv hitch receiver
  • LED headlights and foglights
  • 115-volt power outlet
  • Power-adjustable driver seat
  • Apple CarPlay and Android Auto
  • 12-inch touchscreen display

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Kristin talks about the Corvette and why it’s so great. While all the talk right now is on the new mid-engined 2020 model, Kristin loves the 2019 Grand Sport model with its beautiful red and massive appeal. Here’s her take.

For a full review, see Kristin’s writeup on Cars Her Way: https://www.carsherway.com/post/the-corvette-is-still-red-hot

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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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Both Aaron and Kristin talk about the new Jeep pickup truck, the Gladiator. After having driven most of the renditions available for this truck and having spent a fair amount of time with it, Drive Mode is in agreement that the 2020 Gladiator is legendary.

We’ve gone off-road with it in California, stripped it down (https://drivemodeshow.com/2020/01/01/how-to-strip-a-jeep-gladiator-in-3-minutes/), and saw the new Mojave trim in Chicago (https://drivemodeshow.com/2020/02/11/unwrapping-the-jeep-gladiator-mojave-in-chicago/). Oh, ya, we drove it on the road too. Mostly to get where the good stuff was.

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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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