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Brenda Jackson: 1954-2019

JR Motorsports has announced the passing of Earnhardt family matriarch Brenda Jackson at the age of 65, on April 22, 2019, following a hard fought battle with cancer.

Brenda was literally born into racing as the daughter of legendary NASCAR fabricator Robert Gee, who constructed winning cars for many celebrated drivers, including Dale Earnhardt, who she married in 1972. The pair had two children, Dale Jr., and Kelley, before splitting up over the pressure of his trying to establish his professional career.

After a house fire destroyed their home, Brenda took the kids back to her home state of Virginia to live with her father and begin a new life. She eventually married Norfolk firefighter Willie Jackson, in 1985. The family then moved back to North Carolina when Willie retired in 2004, and Brenda soon began working with Kelley and Dale Jr. at JR Motorsports as an accounting specialist,  for the next 15 years.

According to a company spokesman, “Jackson became an ‘instant favorite to her friends and colleagues at JR Motorsports, and her sarcastic musings and straightforward approach injected a brand of humor at became part of its fabric as it grew into a full-time NASCAR racing operation in 2006 and a championship-winning team in 2014.”

“I am a very, very lucky woman, as I get to interact with my kids almost every day,” she commented in 2018. “I’ve got two bright, beautiful kids that I am very proud of. Kelley’s standards are very high. She conducts herself that way and she expects that of everyone else. Dale Jr. just gets bigger and bigger. I am very proud of his accomplishments, but as a mother I am proudest of the way he handles himself with honesty and the way he cares about his family and his friends.”

She was also a staunch supporter of her son’s decision to retire from full-time racing due to his own health struggles caused by multiple concussions, and devoted much of her energy working with The Dale Jr. Foundation and other charitable efforts.

In addition to her children Dale Earnhardt Jr. (wife Amy), Kelley Earnhardt Miller (husband L.W.), Brenda Jackson is survived by her husband of 33 years, William M. Jackson Jr., step-daughter Meredith Davis (husband Jonathan); her grandchildren Karsyn Elledge (18), Kennedy Elledge (13), Wyatt Miller (7), Callahan Davis (16), Claudia Davis (13), and Isla Rose Earnhardt (11 months); her brothers Robert Gee (wife Beverly) and Jimmy Gee; as well as her much loved Pekingese dog, Scully.

Memorial contributions may be sent to Piedmont Animal Rescue or Hospice and Palliative Care of Iredell.

2019 Mazda CX-5 Signature AWD: Still some Zoom-Zoom left

The predecessor to the Mazda CX-7 and Tribute, the 2019 redesigned CX-5 is a much-improved edition to the Mazda lineup. Very comfortable, smooth ride, quiet engine and comfortable seating make this a big contender in this market: A very full lineup, to be sure.

Our 2019 CX-5 was the Signature model, topping out at close to $40,000. A bit steep, but the CX-5 can be had for less and in a handful of model trims. Available are the Sport ($24,350), Touring ($26,615) and Grand Touring ($30,245. Front-wheel-drive is the norm, All-wheel-drive available as an option.

Although our Signature model didn’t want for any extras, it did come equipped with a few options, including cargo mat ($70), all-weather floor mats ($125), illuminated doorsill trim plates ($400)-an expensive but nice touch, Soul Red Crystal Paint ($595)-the color of the year, it would seem, rear bumper guard ($125) and retractable cargo cover ($250.  When opting for the Signature trim level, one now expects to get many bells and whistles.

As expected in this price range, one can expect such goodies as the heated power mirrors with turn lamps, auto-fold door mirror (a must with the size of today’s vehicle mirrors), rain-sensing windshield wipers, keyless entry, push-button start, radar cruise, 8-way power driver’s seat,

A Good Housekeeping Awards winner for two years in a row, the Mazda CX-5 gets koodoos for being a “crossover that looks and feels like a luxury vehicle,” but at a much nicer price. Handling and driving experience get an “A” and GH drivers praises the interior for design, with “luxe details.”

Getting more than you pay for seems an important category these days, and why wouldn’t it be? As the average price for a vehicle today hovers around $36,000. Although at times difficult to come up with, paying $36,000 for a vehicle you keep upwards of 5-10 years these days doesn’t seem like such a bad investment.

Although the Zoom-Zoom tag has been retired from Mazda, you can rest assured they still offer great handling, decent power and sports handling in their vehicles.  An attractive exterior goes along with the Mazda CX-5’s luxury interior and goodies like all-wheel-drive.  As always, our test vehicles are the top-of-the-line editions; ours, the Signature with AWD.

Those looking for a compact SUV that doesn’t feel small, the CX-5 fits the bill. By comparison, the Honda CR-V will feel like a smaller vehicle, so too the Rogue. The Toyota RAV4, though, will be a close competitor. Hard choice today.

Changes to the 2019 CX-5 are noticeable, beginning with the new large grille; a favorite item for change these days. The CX-5’s is distinctive, somewhat indented and comes together at the corners with the hood, featuring sporty slim headlights. This lends a more aggressive look to the Mazda and sets it apart.

Drivers might be surprised how quiet the 2.5-liter, 4-cylinder turbo engine is; it’s barely noticeable at stops and picks up nicely. Fuel economy hovers around 24-25 mpg., and doesn’t seem to be affected by the turbo, even when ramping it up. Not a SUV driver or necessarily a fan, this writer appreciated the CX-5’s feel, as well as the efforts manufacturer’s are making to get this type of vehicle more driver-friendly and FUN.

Drivers won’t be disappointed with the CX-5’s new turbocharged 2.5-liter SkyActiv GI4 engine. Better than some turbos, one doesn’t feel that annoying lag, and can expect a burst of power, and not at the expense of your wallet.

Mazda’s use of G-Vectoring Control Plus uses intermittent light braking on each wheel as you take the corners. The torque vectoring system offers excellent handling that feels sporty, and not so like a SUV.

Frissell’s Fido Friendly Ride

The pups rode with me a few times and both when the rear seats were up and when down. Either way, there’s plenty of room for them and they preferred the windows cracked a tad. The rear seats fold down flat so accommodating dogs or otherwise is a snap. By measure, the Honda CR-V has a bit more cargo room, but for most, the CX-5 space is sufficient.

The Mazda CX-5 interior with leather seats-perforated-offers comfortable seating for all size of drivers. Seats are well-formed and rear seating can hold up to three passengers in comfort. Rear seats in our Signature model were also heated-nice plus. Chrome trim around the dash, with wood insets. Those opting for this trim level will also enjoy a sunroof.

The steering wheels is manual tilt/telescope, and of course, has multiple controls to operate just about anything from the steering wheel. All is intuitive and easy to work.

Of course, one can opt for a more affordable CX-5 in the Sport trim level. But when moving into the top-of-the-line Signature, you get all you need, including heated/cooled front seats, sunroof, top notch safety equipment, 360-degree camera, etc. AWD is standard on this model.


MSRP: $36,890; total vehicle price $39,450; options:    delivery $995

Engine: SKYACTIV-G 2.5-liter, 1.4 intercooled turbo, 227 hp., 31- lb-ft. torque

Transmission: 6-speed SKYACTIV-Drive Auto; manual shift mode, sport mode

Wheelbase: 106.2 in.

Height: 65.3 in.

Width: 62.8 in.

Length: 179.1 in.

Curb Weight: 3,825 lbs.

Tires: P225-55R19 all-season

Wheels: 19-inch alloy

EPA MPG: 22/27

Competition: Honda CRV, Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross, Toyota RAV4, etc.

Size: 5-passenger

 Warranty: 60 month/60,000-miles powertrain lass:

Class: Compact Crossover SUV

Where assembled: Hiroshima, Japan

2019 Lexus LS500 4 DR. Sedan

Susan Frissell, publisher, Women With Wheels

What can one say about the infamous, beautifully designed and executed Lexus LS500 sedan? It’s the best of the best and stands above most others in this somewhat fading category. The Lexus500 “prestige” luxury sedan is available in three iterations: LS500, LS 500F-Sport and LS500h. Our LS was equipped with Lexus’ 3.5-liter Twin Turbo engine, V8 matched to a CVT transmission.

The week’s drive included both city driving, short trips and over the highway, between Indianapolis and Chicago, in mild weather. What can be said about this luxo-boat when traveling across the highway. It goes without saying as there are few who match this vehicle. One can tell by our review this is a favored sedan, although its practicality is questionable, in today’s car price world.

The twin-turbo V6 is also available and new to the brand. The LS500h hybrid edition ups the mpg to about 33 mpg, with 354 horsepower. What was noticeable on Indy’s pothole-filled streets was the way the LS navigated the rough roads. Gingerly going over local side streets took some concentration (over protective!), but the Lexus’ tuning made it possible to take these concrete pavement and potholes with confidence.

As one would expect the interior is constructed of the best materials, including fine leather seating, with 28-way adjustable seats. A match with to its European rivals, the LS is top-notch. We especially liked the updated Z-styled headlights, supremely comfortable luxury features.

The LS’ new wheel design is particularly handsome and we’re growing very fond of the darker wheels; in this case the dark-silver alloy machine finish. Trying to miss low curbs and any other obstructions made this writer nervous.

Rear-seat passengers can expect lots of rear-seat space, for legs and arms. Passengers can easily sit back and work on their laptop while enjoying the ride. As expected in all Lexus products, the LS’ interior is over the top, but appreciated, and it’s new, updated shape is a knockout. In years past, it was hard to justify the price of this rather bland 4-door, large sedan. But for 2019, it’s finally come into its own and shouts “luxury-prestige-class.”

What we didn’t like was the LS’ infotainment menagerie. The driver has a difficult time trying to find a radio station, change the temperature inside the cabin or do anything else while driving. Too dangerous. Too complicated.       

There isn’t a lot to dislike about the LS500, but one nit-pick might be the spring-like ride; not as sophisticated as we would expect, although hardly worth crabbing about. Steering resembles that of a large sedan; a tad floaty and somewhat imprecise, but then, we’re not driving a “performance” car. And again, the difficult to figure out infotainment system.  There isn’t anything to dislike about the Mark Levinson 23 audio system with 23 speakers. We regret not taking more time to just sit and listen to the Levinson, exploring different types of music.

Our test LS500 included the F Sport Package which we very much favor. Included in the package is the F Sport exterior styling, front bumper, mesh grille inserts, rear diffuser and lower door trim, six-piston front brake calipers w/15-7-in ventilated discs, four piston rear brake calipers with 14.1-inch variable suspension (AVS), LFA-inspired sliding instrumentation, F Sport trimmed steering wheel and shift knob with Ultrasuede headliner, F Sport 28-way power-adjustable front seats and embossed headrests, aluminum pedals and interior trim. It’s a beauty.

There is a little more engine noise, improved handling and additional sport drive select modes if you prefer to change your driving feel. The newly designed LS does feel smaller than it’s size and when stepping out of it, a look back reminds you how big it really is. It resembles, somewhat, the sedans (“boats”) of old, yet not floaty.

Options on our press vehicle included just two packages: The Mark Levinson audio system with 23 speakers ($1,940), and 24-inch heads-up display (HUD), which more than once talked back to me. Someone who drives two-footed, more than once I was told that my brake pedal and gas pedal were being pressed simultaneously!! I loved it.

The F-Sport leather heated steering wheel came at no extra charge. Nice on cold days.

The freshly designed 2019 Lexus LS500 now includes Apple CarPlay compatible with Amazon Alexa, and amazon Echo and Android Auto. A 12.3-inch infotainment display with touchpad interface is standard. Responses are slow when operating the touchpad, and as mentioned, awkward while driving.

If you’re interested in a hybrid, the LS is offered in one with a 3.5-liter V6 engine with two electric motors, 44-KWH lithium-ion battery, trick 4-speed auto transmission made just for the hybrid version. One motor is in use at lower speeds while the gas and second electric motors kick in for more power at higher speeds. The hybrid cannot be plugged in, and the small battery can only handle a few miles of electric-only operation. Average mpg is 33 mpg.

The 2019 LS500 sports a 1.3-inch longer wheelbase, up from the previous generation. Seats are heated and cooled, and a 22-way option with a raised ottoman is standard. If your back gets a little sore, you can choose from multiple massage styles!

One can choose from 10 exterior colors; ours was the elegant Liquid Platinum (silverfish). And of course, all the most up-to-date features are standard, some of which include driver/passenger folding mirrors when car is turned off, integrated key remote, cruise with dynamic radar, cruise center lane dis., navigation, 12-speaker audio system with Bluetooth, USB, active noise cancellation. Because so much is included in a base LS500, few options are available: The Mark Levinson Audio System, F Sport trim, Executive Pacakage.


MSRP: $84,420; total vehicle price $88,605; delivery $1,025; Options $3.160

Engine: 3.5-liter Twin Turbo 416 hp., DOHC 24-valve, V8 engine with CVT Timing with intelligence

Transmission: A@D w/Torsen Limited Sliip Center Differential D-4S Direct Cylinder Injection System, 10-speed Sequential Automatic, Drive Mode Select; Eco/Normal/Sport S and Sport S+

Steering: Electronic-power

Tires: 245/50R19 AS, V-rated Run Flat Tires; optional: 24/45RF20 + 275/40RF20 All Season

Wheels: 19-inch alloy with dark-silver, machine finish standard; option 20-inch Split Five Spoke Alloy Wheel w/Dark Graphite finish

EPA MPG: 25/33 mpg

Two trims, 4 configurations

Pricing $75,300-$84,520

Midsize car, Prestige Luxury Sedan, 4-door, 5 seats

Length: 206.1 in.

Width: 74.8 in.

Wheelbase: 123.0

Height: 57.5 in.

Curb Weight: 4,707

Trunk Capacity: 16.95 cu. Ft.

Fuel Tank Capacity: 21.7 gal.

Warranty: 48/50,000-miles Bumper-to-Bumper, 72 mths/70,000-miles Roadside Assistance, 72 mths/70,000-miles Powertrain.

Competitors: 2019 Maserati Ghibli, Acura TLX, Tesla Model S

Best Cars to Invest in: 2019

Corvette Stingray L88 1967-69

Porsche 911 930 Turbo 1975-89

Shelby GT 350 1965-67

Ferrari Dino 246 GT 1968-76

Lamborghini Countach 1974-90

Jaguar E Type 1961-75

Mercedes Benz 300 SL Roadster 1957-63

Land Rover Series 1 1948-56

Lotus Europa 1966-1975

BMW E30 M3 1985-1991

Chevrolet El Camino 1968-72

VW Karmann Ghia Convertible 1955-74

Triumph TR 6 1968-76

Lancia Delta 1986-89

Cadillac Eldorado 1957-60

Porsche Spyder 550 1953-56

Ford Pickup 1933-35

Chevrolet Bel Air 1955-57

VW Beatle 1967-69DeLorean DMC12 1981-83

*Daily Spikes

2019 Lexus ES 350 F Sport Sedan

Susan Frissell, Editor

All-new for 2019, the once stodgy Lexus ES 350 has moved into the much-desirable category of sedans. Who says sedans aren’t a ‘choice’ of vehicle today? We understand that the stats show many drivers moving into SUV’s of all makes, but there are still some of us that prefer a beautiful luxury sedan; particularly one with sport overtones.

Our 2019 Lexus ES 350, with F-Sport package, is just that: A beautiful-and in our case-Ultra Sonic Blue Mica 2.0-sedan. One will recognize the F-Sport version from the regular ES 350 with one glance at the grille; a blacked-out pattern. The F-Sport version also moves up to the LC-inspired 19-inch wheels.

Driving the 2019 Lexus ES 350 was a pleasure and took this writer just a short time to figure out how it all worked inside. As expected, the audio, high-tech Nav system are all available; standard with the Nav/Mark Levinson Premium Audio Package, which was an option on our test ES 350 F Sport. The navigation with a 12.3-inch split screen multimedia, voice-activated Nav system that can map zillions of points of interest, traffic and weather, and display the current speed limit, as well as locate nearby gas stations.

Standard on our ES 350 F Sport was the Amazon Alexa, used just as one does at home. It also syncs to the Nav System, and can be used to control compatible Smart-Home devices, as well as listen to audiobooks, stream Amazon music and check weather, or news briefings. Among other standard and optional high-tech features are Enform Remote, Apple Car Play, Lexus Enform Wi-Fi, Lexus Enform Dynamic Nav, Enform App Suite 2.0, Lexus Enform Service Connect, Drive Mode Select, Custom Drive Mode, Sport S+ Driving Mode, and of course, SiriusXM Satellite radio, among other expected amenities.

No longer in the “dull” category, the 2019 ES 350 has every ‘extra’ you’ll need, and desire. Preferring a ‘performance’ car in our driving life, the ES 350, with F Sport felt much like a BMW in more regards than in the past. No longer ‘anonymous,’ the ES engages you when in the driver’s seat. Alongside the re-designed LS sedan, they resemble royalty in any garage.

Consumers won’t be disappointed in any of the ES versions, but if you want a sports-car feel, in a practical sedan, the F Sport model won’t disappoint. Equipped with the optional Adaptive Variable Suspension (of LC fame), the dynamics are much more fun. If you prefer a sports version, the F Sport is for you, without question. We prefer the Sport/performance version of most sedans. However, even the base ES sedans will please drivers; as they are equipped with swing-valve shock absorbers that soak up bumps well, while keeping the car on track. Side point: This is very important in Indianapolis as this is the city with the most potholes! No contest!

It is difficult to be critical about a Lexus product, although “purists” may argue this point. The ES F Sport, however, does resemble the BMW M550 in certain ways. Now, some may disagree, and that’s all right, since this writer isn’t a track champ. But if you’re also seeking luxury along with a sport feel and performance, the ES won’t disappoint. Take a test drive, preferably, back-to-back with the BMW M 550.

As the years have passed, the once “bland” Lexus products aiming to be ‘mainstream” have since evolved, considerably. They are worthy of most drivers who want excitement and challenge; anything different than the average 4-door sedan feel. If you need that sedan-to cart around your 90-year-old parents-you, at least will feel a compromise on the side of style and performance. Once you drop them off, you’ll want to push the pedal to the medal so it can do its thing. And for this writer, there is something about driving a beautiful automobile.

A lot of the ‘sport’ feel is sensed through the F Sport steering wheel, and through your heels resting on the floor. The new seating is placed lower and more comfortably, enabling the driver to handle this sporty sedan more confidently. The 2019 ES 350 is one of those cars that manages to feel smaller than it is and wrap around you as you guide it along. It may be based on the Avalon, but the large size Toyota never felt as graceful and responsive as its Lexus cousin. The extra structural rigidity of the ES is part of the equation.

This review is of course, based on the ES with the F Sport package. The sport model that is fitted with the optional Adaptive Variable Suspension derived from the beautiful LC, which no doubt helps the dynamics compared to lesser ES trims. For anyone who aspires to driving a car with a true sport feel, yet the amenities of a sedan, adding the F Sport is a must!

Frissell Friendly Fido Four

Nix. No pups in this luxury mobile. Period!


Pricing: $39,600-$44,135
MSRP: $44,035
Engine: 3.5-liter, V6 (shared with the Avalon), 302 hp., 267 torque
Transmission: 8-speed automatic, FWD
Wheelbase: 113.
Height: 56.90
Curb Weight: 3,649 lbs.
Length: 195.90
Width: 73.40
EAP fuel economy: 22/32/26, highway 33
Tires: 235/45/R18
Wheels: 18-inch split 10-spoke alloy wheels with Dark Silver and machined finish
Gallons per tank: 15.9 gal.
5-Seat sedan, 4-door
Warranty: 48-MTHS/50,000-/100,000 HYBRID, BASIC: 72 MTHS/70,000-MILES POWERTRAIN, 8 YRS

IIHS Top Safety Pick+ Honors: 2019 Best of the Best

Susan Frissell, editor

IIHS has chosen it’s ‘best of the best’ vehicles for the year 2019. Last year, only 12 vehicles initially qualified for the top category. Another 27 qualified as IIHS Top Safety Pick Winners.

As automakers continue to make needed changes and improvements, it becomes a little easier to name new cars the “best.” Qualifications by IIHS have been tightened for 2019, including an increase in crash-test standards. As expected, many major brands were in the top running, including Subaru, Kia and Hyundai.

Stricter standards require automakers to get at least a “good” rating in a passenger-side crash test which assess the vehicle’s performance when the front-right corner smashes into something. Also required in the Top Safety Pick list are “good” headlights. Most of the vehicles to qualify must have the optional upgrade packages that have better functioning headlights.

The IIHS has found that many vehicles available do not provide sufficient nighttime illumination due to poor manufacturing, inadequate design and outdated regulations. Insufficient illumination has been the reason no pickups and some popular SUV’s have not been on the list.

The Top Safety Picks include:

Small cars: Honda Insight, Hyundai Elantra (after 9/18), Kia Forte, Kia Niro hybrid, Kia Niro Plug-in Hybrid, Subaru Crosstrek, Subaru Impreza 4-dr. sedan, Subaru Impreza wagon, Subaru WRX;

Midsize cars: Hyundai Sonata, Kia Optima, Subaru Legacy, Subaru Outback, Toyota Camry, Genesis G70, Lexus ES;

Large cars: Toyota Avalon (after 9/2018), BMW 5 series, Genesis G80, Genesis G90, Mercedes-Benz E-Class 4-door sedan;

Small SUVs: Hyundai Kona, Mazda CX-5;

Small cars: Hyundai Elantra GT, Hyundai Ioniq Hybrid, Hyundai Ioniq Plug-in Hybrid (after 8/18), Kia Soul, Nissan Kicks, Toyota Corolla 4-door hatchback;

Midsize cars: Honda Accord, Nissan Altima, Audi A3, Audi A4, Mercedes-Benz C-Class 4-door sedan;

Large cars: Kia Cadenza

Small SUVs: BMW X2, Honda CR-V, Hyundai Tucson, Mazda CX-3, Mitsubishi Outlander, Subaru Forester;

Midsize SUVs: Honda Pilot, Hyundai Santa Fe XL, Mazda CX-9, Nissan Pathfinder (after 8/18), Toyota Highlander;

Minivans: Chrysler Pacifica, Honda Odyssey.

There were, of course, those brands that did not make the list in any category. Those included General Motors, Ford Motor, Tesla, Volvo, Fiat Chrysler’s Jeep, Ram and Dodge.

Next on IIHS’ list will be coming up with measures to assess each vehicle’s performance on pedestrian safety, amid heightened awareness of the pedestrian safety crisis. On that list will be some kind of emergency braking with pedestrian detection.

(USA Today, December 19, 2018)

2019 Toyota Tundra 4×4 Limited Double Cab

>Susan Frissell, Editor

Still a popular pickup, the Toyota Tundra appears to be aging and not in full step with say, the Ford F-150. However, even with all its worthy competitors, the Tundra still sells well and is a ‘luxury’ truck of immense size.

Toyota’s first attempt at a full-size half-ton truck, the Tundra’s competition is plenty, and includes GMC Sierra, Ram 1500, Ford F-150 and Chevrolet Silverado. While the Tundra still sports the 5.7-liter V8 powertrain, the competition has adopted more efficient engines, such as diesel and turbocharged V-6’s. This, of course, affects fuel economy and even at 18 mpg on the highway, the Tundra isn’t measuring up.

But for some, this fact is refreshing. No push-start engine button, no turbocharger whine, or other things that to some, just don’t ‘feel’ like a truck. After all, a truck is supposed to be rugged, but maybe with a few amenities. And, we suppose there are those buyers who wouldn’t buy any truck that isn’t “American.”

Held up against the other trucks out there, the Tundra doesn’t look much different, or dated. A little more simple, perhaps. Frontend updates and some additional safety equipment have been added for 2019.

Modern conveniences such as rear-backup camera w/touchscreen, six airbags, tire pressure monitor, pre-collision system with pedestrian protection, Dynamic Radar cruise control, Lane Departure with Alert, with sway warning system and automatic high beams, abound; along with all the up-to-date safety features.

Our test Tundra, Limited edition, came with leather-trimmed and heated 10-way power-adjusted passenger front bucket seats. The sound system is also up-to-date with Entune Premium Audio with navigation, App Suite, 7.0-touch screen w/backup camera, AM/FM/CD, Phone, Music, Siri Eyes, 3-month free Sirius XM. And, of course, a full tank of gas!

Trim levels consist of the SR, SR5, Limited, Platinum, TRDPro and the 1794 edition. Pricing falls between $31,420-$50,430. Oh, and a full—size spare is standard.

We had both the opportunity to drive the Tundra Limited around town as well as the distance from Indy to Chicago. It handled well on the highway, quietly and with little sway, which is more obvious when driving in-town. Getting used to the great-sized mirrors took some time, particularly, when navigating narrow streets. Thanks to the help of backup cameras and rear-parking assist and blind spot monitor available on the optional Limited Premium Package ($1,065).

Last refreshed in 2014, the Tundra was offered in 2018 as Double Cab and the larger CrewMax. Customers had the choice of 5.6-ft., 6.5-ft. or 8.1-ft. cargo bed, 4.6 V8 or 5.7-L V8 engines, 2 or 4-wheel, with 6-speed transmission.

Frissell Fido Four Friendly Rating

I had hoped the truck would be a pleasurable ride for the Fab Four but instead, they cowardly climbed into the rear seats-with help, of course, as none of them could jump that high. We then tried out, or tried to, the bed, again too high for them to navigate the jump alone. Once Lucy (Chihuahua) and Gypsy (Whippet), the two “Wild Childs” were up in the bed, they became afraid-very afraid. Maybe it would just take a little time, but they both wanted off that bed, immediately.

Too bad, I’ve often considered getting a truck, thinking it would suit them-dogs-just fine. Guess I’ll be rethinking that idea. Too much work for me. A simple command for my dogs isn’t going to get them to jump up into a truck! Spoiled??

The horizontal rear window is power with privacy glass. So the pups can watch the road-backwards.

If you’re wondering about room, though, the rear seats offer plenty of space for dogs, even four! My pups are small and medium, but any dog would fit. And it’s a comfortable ride. Room in the rear seating is generous, with a 60/40 split seat. The front seating is a 40/20/40 split-fold down front bench.

Although it’s never a good idea to ride in a truck with dogs in the bed, people do it. It’s dangerous, even if they are crated. And, some breeds may be better suited for bed riding; think Labs or Aussies. The 6.5-ft. double-walled bed has rail caps and is sturdy and accommodating for other cargo. A deck rail system is equipped with four adjustable tie-down cleats to hold things in place.


MSRP: $43,735; delivery, $1,395
Total vehicle price: $48,610
Options: Running boards ($345); Limited Premium Package ($1,065 includes front/rear parking assist, Sonar, Blind Spot Monitor, rear Cross traffic Alert (upgrades in color-keyed rear bumper), Power Windows with Driver and Front Passenger Auto up/down, Anti-Theft system with alarm, Glass Breakage sensor, Engine immobilizer); TRD Off-Road Package ($70, includes upgrades standard wheels to 18 split 5-spoke TRD off-road package alloy wheels and P275/65R18 tires, includes Trail Tuned Bilstein Shock Absorbers, Engine skid plate, front tow hooks (4×2 models), standard on 4×4 models. LED headlights, LED fog lights (on 5RS and Limited models and 1794 edition models), TRD Off-road floor mats(on 5RS and Limited Models), and Bedside TRD Off-Road Decals).
Pricing: $31,420-$50,430
Engine: 5.7-liter V8, dual-independent VVT, 381 hp., 401 lb.ft. torque
Transmission: 8-speed automatic w/sequential shift 4-WD Demand, Part-time 4WD w/Electronic Controlled Transfer Case, A-TRAC and Auto LSD
Wheelbase: 145.7 in.
Height: 76.0 in.
Length: 228.9 in.
Width: 79.9 in.
Fuel Tank Capacity: 38 gal. (larger fuel tank)
EPA fuel economy: 13/15/18
Bed Length: 78.7 in.
Bed depth: 22.2 in.
Tires: P275/55R20
Wheels: 20-inch alloy
Curb Weight: 5,240 lbs
Tow rate: 10,500 lbs.

2018 Lexus RX 350L Luxury

Susan Frissell
Editor, WWW

Equipped nicely and without want, the 2018 Lexus RX 350L has grown in size and feels much larger than the original RX. And women like driving this? It seemed large to this writer. But, the ever-popular Lexus RX still reigns and is sought after, despite its high price tag.
Our 2018 LX Luxury edition came at a cost of $61,660 total vehicle price, with a couple of options. To be sure, there isn’t anything wanting, and the options add up to high numbers.

For instance, options included were Blind Spot Monitor with Rear-Cross Traffic Braking and Intuitive Park Assist ($1,065), Cold Weather Package (windshield deicer, headlamp cleaner, $200), Triple Beam LED Auto Leveling Headlamps w/washers, cornering large LED front turn signal lamps and rear combination lamps, $1515; 12.3-inch Navigation System Mark Levinson 15-speaker Premium Audio Package, Lexus Enform Destinations (1-year trial), subscription, Lexus Enform App Suite, $3,200.

I guess one can expect to pay upwards of $50,000 today for a premium, large SUV. And because Lexus tops the market, it may be a fair ask. We enjoyed driving the RX but found it too large for our taste. Are consumers really wanting a much larger SUV these days? Guess so.

Our test Lexus RX came equipped with all that’s expected, including a powerful V6 engine, Full-Time Active Control All-Wheel-Drive, ABS, Brakeforce Distribution/Brake Assist, Rain-sensing wipers, Lane Departure alert w/steering assist and lane keep assist, Theft Deterent system, Scout GPS Link, Rear Door Sunshades, 12-way power semi leather-trimmed front seats, heated wood steering wheel, Aluminum roof rails, LED ambient illumination, power back door, power tilt/slide moonroof, Push button stop/start, and 4.2 Multi-information Display with Lexus personalized setting, among other goodies.

We thought the driver’s seat sat tall, although adjustable. It felt as though we were steering a large ship, and noticed at times, it didn’t always hold the road as well as expected. It’s hard to fault a Lexus product, and often there isn’t much that’s negative to note. However, we didn’t enjoy driving the RX as much as other Lexus products.

Seats are large and accommodating for all body types. Controls are fairly intuitive and don’t’ take a large learning curve, which is staying a lot for this writer. Skipping some of the extras (options), buyers can expect pricing to hover around the low $50,000-mark, but discounts do exist.

The RX is a refined third-row luxury SUV based on the Toyota Highlander/Kluger, and offered since 1998. A hybrid version is also available. It’s, as expected, quite and smooth. However, we noticed more wind noise than expected this time around. A fault of this particular press car, or are they getting sloppy? We also noticed when taking corners, the RX felt heavy. And third-row seating isn’t always what you think it’s going to be; meaning, adults will be snug.

Frissell Fido Friendly Rating

The Frissell 4 rode back/forth to Chicago from Indy. Huddled In the adequately covered back seat, mostly sleeping. Space is plenty and the Chihuahuas took to curling up on the floor, which offers a wide space between front/back seating areas. Height proved an issue for the little ones, as well as our 12-year old Whippet, meaning, they were air-lifted in/out of the RX. If time hadn’t been tight, a great picture of them all looking into the front seat from the back would have been taken.

Generally, the 4 behave quite well. If I owned the RX would I allow them to travel in it? Not sure. Would like to think the RX would be the one car that would be kept pristine. Generally, good choices for toting dogs, SUV’s closely follow the smartest car on the road, the Minivan.

Fuel economy isn’t stunning, but this is a heavy vehicle at over 4,000 pounds. So averaging 23-25 mpg. On the highway was about standard. We weren’t complaining.

We’ve noticed a return of the Heads-Up display in vehicles. Is this due to the aging population of drivers? I do have a 2003 Corvette that has a Heads-Up display, and although in the past, I regarded it as ‘silly,’ I’ve begun to rely on it. The color heads-up display in the RX ($600) may not be needed by all drivers, but like all special options, once you become accustomed, you rely on it.

Competition for the RX 350 includes Acura MDX, and Infiniti QX60, among others. Leather seats are not standard on the RX, a surprise at this pricing point.


MSRP: $54,085; total vehicle price $61,660; destination $995.
Pricing: $43,470-$50,520
Engine: 3.5-liter, 290 hp., 24-valve V6 with Variable Valve Timing
Transmission: 8-speed automatic Drive Mode Select, Full-time Torque control AWD
Wheelbase: 109.8 in.
Width: 74.6 in.
Length: 192.5 in.
Curb Weight: 4,222 lbs.
EPA fuel economy: 18/25 mpg. , 21 mpg./ avg.
Wheels: 20-inch supper chrome alloy wheels with color inserts
Tires: 18-inch
Fuel Tank Capacity: 19.2 gal.
MPS: 17/20 mpg
Competition: Lincoln MKT, Infiniti Q60, Acura MDX
Warranty: 4 yr./50,000-miles basic coverage; 5 yrs./70,000-miles powertrain; 6 years/unlimited mileage corrosion perforation coverage

2019 Toyota Corolla Hatchback XSE: Fun in the City

Susan Frissell
Editor, WWW

I, for one, am delighted that the ‘hatchback’ version of the Corolla is here. And dare I saw it, I’m also excited about the comeback of Toyota’s station wagon.’ Of course, it will never be referred to again as a ‘station wagon,’ but the iteration in 2019, is unmistakably, that category of automobile. Too bad Toyota isn’t introducing it here in the U.S.; well, not yet, anyway.

After one week in the newly introduced Corolla Hatchback XSE, our report is favorable. I chauffeured a few friends over the weekend, all of whom liked the Corolla hatchback offering right away. So much so, they headed for the internet and began googling the specs and cost. I have yet to see one on the road, but know they are out there.

One can hardly go wrong putting themselves in a Corolla. Why, I have a neighbor who just last year traded in her old Corolla. It had to be 25 years old, the infamous racing green color, with millions of miles on it. To my surprise, she bought a Volvo SUV. Quite a change, but I think she felt she deserved it after all those years!

The 2019 Corolla Hatchback is available in three trim levels: SE ($19,900), SE AT ($21,090) and XSE AT ($24,090 for manual and $25,010 for CVT-equipped). Our XSE version came in the now popular blue car category; one Toyota calls “Blue Flame.” Liked by all, it turned heads wherever we were in downtown Chicago. Our Hatchback was a prototype model, equipped with the 2.0-liter DynamicForce 4-cylinder automatic. At 168 horsepower, it will get you onto the highway safely, and better than some. It’s quiet, as expected.

The new 2019 Toyota Corolla Hatchback handles well and drives better with its upgraded technology. Although don’t expect the rocket-like experience of say, the VW GTI! The Corolla is equipped with a large supply of standard safety features for an entry-level four-door hatchback. While not a fan of CVT transmissions (an extra at $1,100), I might as well get used to them, but the lag when taking off isn’t always pleasurable.

Trim options available on the Corolla Hatchback are limited, but we think that is a good thing. Too many choices confuse buyers and in this category one expects the basics, and yet, receives a little more. The SE trim level will offer a Preferred Package for CVT models that includes an upgraded multimedia system with Toyota Connected Services and blind spot warning for $1,400. The XSE Preferred Package also is only available on CVT models and for $1,600 it adds a JBL eight-speaker stereo system, a wireless charging pad and dynamic navigation. An adaptive front lighting system also is available on the Toyota Corolla XSE for $415.

Competition for the new Hatchback includes Hyundai Veloster (R-SPEC), the 2018 Honda Civic Hatchback-starting at just about the same price but with a manual transmission, the 2018 Chevrolet Cruze Hatchback ($22,195 starting), and the redesigned 2019 VW Jetta (base trim level $20,645). The latter two vehicles don’t match Toyota’s safety equipment, or other goodies.

Of course, the Corolla’s CVT transmission aids in fuel economy. The manual SE model gets 28/37/31 mpg city/highway, and improves to 32/42/36 mpg with the CVT. In the XSE version, the gas mileage is listed at 30/38/33 mpg. As far as the Corolla’s manual version, the numbers fall a tad behind some of the competitors. We averaged about 34-35 mpg in highway driving, in our automatic.

This is a top-notch, all around vehicle in its segment. The Corolla is peppier, and the interior refinements make this a great value. We-and a passenger-especially liked the Bi-LED combo headlights with auto on/off feature and adaptive front lighting system. It lights the way well, especially when on dark roads. Slyly pointing the way forward, the projected path camera is a welcome feature when doing some nighttime driving.

The seats are comfortable, and our XSE version came equipped with the two-tone leather, a sharp light “Cool Gray.” Legroom is decent in the front seating area, but those in back, if blessed with long legs, might find it a tad cramped. The rear seats are 60/40 split fold-down so space is increased for carrying bikes, packages, etc. Oh, and dogs!

The steering wheel is tilt/telescopic leather, 3-spoke with system controls and paddle shifters. We did not engage the paddle shifters. The leather-trimmed front seats were both heated; the driver’s seat featuring a 8-way power adjustable feature, and the passenger seat a manually adjusted front seat.

The electronics included a 7-inch multi-information display, with Entune 3.0, Auto Plus with App Suite, six speakers and 8-inch touch screen, AM/FM/HD radio and CD player. This writer couldn’t determine if there was a GPS system. A prototype model, we weren’t familiar with the set-up. Nor could we determine where the CD was located (which was listed). As a colleague often reminds me, consulting the manual is the first thing to do. One was not included in our test car.

Additional features on our test Corolla Hatchback Prototype included the Smart Key System on front doors, push-button start, remote keyless entry, LED DRL with On-0ff features, LED fog lights, LED combo tailgates, Black front grille with chrome grille surround, color-keyed power outside mirrors with turn signal and Blind Spot Monitor, Acoustic noise-reducing front windshield, Dual zone A/C, and Integrated backup camera with projected path. All four windows are power with auto up/down.

The redesigned 2019 Corolla hatchback arrived on dealership lots in the U.S. earlier this year and is noticeably ‘changed.’ As an update, it rides on a lighter, more agile platform, which it also shares in some version on the Prius hybrid, RAV4 and Avalon. In addition, fuel economy is markedly improved.

Frissell Fido Friendly Rating

The Frissell Fido Four didn’t get a chance to ride in the Corolla Hatchback, but had they, rear seats would have been collapsed to accommodate all four more leisurely. Although the fit would have been made, the space wouldn’t have been anymore generous than their everyday sedan; in fact, the sedan they ride in on most days is probably more generous.

When thinking about buying a vehicle “fit for a dog” (king?), one’s money is probably better spent (or so friends tell me) on a large SUV (think GMC Terrain, Toyota Highlander, etc), or a minivan than on a compact hatchback. What most pet owners know-or should know-is that transporting a dog in a car without a harness is dangerous. Should a sudden stop be made, any dog, particularly a small dog, will fly through the car, much like a projectile. The best option no matter the wheels, is to crate your dog(s).

All dogs are different in their preferences and when riding in a vehicle, this becomes clear. Most prefer standing, but two of mine, like sitting-or sleeping (Chihuahuas). The Whippets prefer stretching their heads out the window, grabbing plenty of fresh air. This doesn’t accommodate seat belt wear very easily. Truth be told, we don’t seatbelt the dogs like we should. Rather, their leashes are tied to the seatbelts.

Why do dogs love riding in cars? According to Kevin Behan of Natural Dog Training, it may be because they feel as though they are on a hunt. While this could certainly be accurate for the
Whippets, I’m not sure about the Chihuahuas; although Lucille is a different story. She is a hunter by nature.

Apparently, a dog is induced by the synchronized physical movement of a car into a state of emotional suspension; therefore, a dog feels as if it is part of the group that is on the hunt. How much sensory input (energy) can this feeling of weightlessness sustain seems to be determined by the temperament of a dog. They will respond in different ways. For some dogs the feeling can be very strong and when their emotional capacity is exceeded, may strike out at things going past (don’t quote me on this!)

Most of us assume that hunting for a dog means stalking, chasing and killing prey to obtain food. In the animal mind, however, a hunt is a “state of emotional suspension;” the animal projecting itself into its prey. If the prey acts like ‘prey,’ the predator mirrors it by feel with equal and opposite movement in order to counterbalance.

What’s ahead for the Corolla

Expect new changes in the Corolla design coming for the year 2020. Toyota isn’t saying much about the up- and-coming redesigned 2020 Corolla sedan; its 12th generation to go on sale in the U.S. Is there a compact sedan that’s lasted this long? And still gets good ratings. The current design dates back to 2014 and although has had a few tweaks here and there, will welcome a total redo. Particularly, with all the competition today. We can certainly say that about the redesigned-long overdue-Camry. Finally, it’s got some style.

Next week will bring the debut of the redesigned 2020 Corolla which Toyota will emphasize for its ‘global nature’ as a compact sedan. Most likely seen for the first time in the U.S. will be at the L.A. Auto Show in California later this month, with its initial debut at the Guangzhou auto show in China.


Engine: 2.0-liter DynamicForce 4-cylinder DOHC, 66—rpm
16-valve, Dual injection with dual VVT-1, 168 hp., 151 lb.ft. torque
Transmission: Dynamic shift, CVT with physical first launch gear. Drivetrain FWD, suspension independent MacPherson strut front, multi-link rear.
Wheelbase: 103.9 in.
Length: 169.9 in.
Width: 69.9 in.
Curb weight: 3,060 lbs.
Height: 57.1 in.
Tank Capacity: 13.2 gal.
EPA Fuel Economy: 28/37 mpg.
Wheels: 18-inch machine finished alloy
Tires: P225/40R18 in.
Sound system: Entune 3.0 Auto Plus with App Suite, 6 spkrs, 8-inch Touchscreen AM/FM/HD Radio, CD player
Bi-LED combo headlights with auto on/off feature and adaptive front lighting system
LED DRL w/on-off features
LED fog lights
LED combo taillights
Black front grille with chrome grille surround
Color-keyed power outside mirrors with turn signal and blind spot monitor
Acoustic noise-reducing front windshield
Dual zone A/C
Integrated backup camera with projected path
Power windows with 4-window auto up/down
Smart key system on FR doors and trunk with push-button start remote keyless entry
Aux port, USB media port 2 usb charge ports advanced voice recognition
7-inch multi-information display
Leather-trimmed heated front seats with 8-way power adjustable driver’s seat, manually adjusted front passenger seat
60/40-split fold-down rear seats
Tilt/telescopic leather e-spoke steering wheel with system controls and paddle shifters
Interior cool gray
Exterior: Blue Flame
Warranty: Full. Basic: 3 yrs./36,000-miles; Powertrain: 5 yrs.

The Guinness Book of World Records’ best-selling two-seat sports car: 2019 Mazda MX-5 (Miata) RF

Susan Frissell
Editor, WWW

This is not a point one can argue. Anyone who has owned-or even driven a Miata (as we grew up referring to them), knows, this is, indeed, the best little two-seat sportscar out there.

As those in my generation have mused, when growing up in the 1960s, many ached for those British MG’s, Triumphs and of course, the iconic Jaguar XKE. Who could not love these beauties and aspire to owning one.

The bad news, as all know, was that they were not at all dependable. The old joke was “if you owned a Jaguar, you had two. One was always in the shop.”

No matter. We still coveted them. And in Mazda’s wisdom, they knew it too. So, when the little sportster made it over to the U.S. in 1989 as a 1990 model, we were hooked. And as time passed, there were more than one iteration of this little bugger: Our test car for the week, the MX-5 RF edition.

Some debate the value of hardtop vs. soft top. We think both are desirable and perhaps for different driving times. It’s convenient to have a hardtop during cooler months, and when navigating highways, having a quieter cabin is a luxury.

But when temps are upwards of 80 degrees, and the sun is bright in the sky, there’s nothing like the ease and convenience of a soft top. And the Miata’s is so easy to drop at a moment’s notice.

The 2019 Mazda MX-5 RF is for those purists, and those willing to pay an extra $3,000 for the hardtop. Our test 2019 MX-5 RF carried a MSRP of $33,335 and a total price of $36,005. While this may seem like a high price tag lot to many, it’s money well-spent, or so our reasoning goes.

One will have this Miata for years, and with little upkeep. The styling never goes out of fashion, and once a convertible driver, always a convertible driver.

Having assembled more than one million Miatas over the years, those who haven’t spent seat time in the MX-5 have no business criticizing. When Mazda introduced the RF some 18 months ago, adding a retractable roof to the fourth-generation MX-5. They must have known, as the NC model by the end of its life accounted for more than half of the MX-5 sales.

Some owners do make their MX-5 an all-season car. Power windows, cruise control and air conditioning make it all the more practical. The manual soft top can easily be unlatched, thrown over the driver’s shoulder and in five seconds, you’ve gone topless. The soft top is now easier to open and close, but don’t expect much more head room than before. The RF feels even closer inside. In fact, the driver who delivered the MX-5 RF last week was over six feet tall. How he managed that space for 4 hours is amusing.

The MX-5 has been given a bump-at last-in horsepower for the 2019 model year. You can now get your kicks with the 181horsepower engine at 7,000 rpm (17 percent improved). Torque is at 15 lb.ft. at 4,000 rpm.

Roomy trunk space

The RF roof more resembles the targa top. It makes for a quieter cabin, although the newest ragtop iteration is a much better quality soft top. A car buff can argue that while today’s vehicles are easier to drive, they lack the feel of the road. Not so with the Miata, and perhaps that is its number one appeal.

Mazda boasts that the RF hardtop opens and closes in 13 seconds. The switch is located on the dash, easy to see and use. The RF is available in Grand Touring and Club levels. New for 2019 are a standard tilt/telescoping steering column, standard rearview camera, Metallic black wheels, Newly available Smart City Brake and New Traffic Sign Recognition. New packages for 2019 include the New Club i-ACTIVSENSE Package which includes Smart City Brake Support and Lane-Departure Warning, New GT-S package which includes a limited-slip rear differential (our test RF came with this option), Bilstein dampers, shock tower brace and a black roof on the six-speed manual transmission only.

Performance highlights on our RF included a sport-tuned exhaust system, Sport-tuned suspension with Bilstein dampers on manual transmission models, Limited-slip differential on manual transmission models, and shock tower brace on MT only.

The Bose 9-speaker audio system with headrest speakers was a nice upgrade and the sound takes off in this little roadster. Bluetooth hands-free phone and audio streaming, along with Adaptive Front-Lighting System are standard highlights with Mazda’s Advanced Keyless Entry. Pushbutton start is also standard.

The 4.6-inch full-color TFT display is easy to read and works fairly simply. However, the controls are located on the center console so setting down your arm/elbow there-a natural driving position-inadvertently turns the channel when you don’t intend to.

This RF offers so many up-to-date features, it would take a page to list them all. Be assured, you’re getting what you pay for. Just to name a few: power automatic door locks, power windows, one-touchdown, clear wind blocker, tire pressure monitoring system, rear cross traffic alert, lane departure warning system, heated power side mirrors, rain-sensing windshield wipers, heated front seats, etc.

No rides for the Frissell Fido Four this time. although someone before us did give a pooch a ride. The Chi’s would easily fit in the front seat; a squeeze for the Whippets. I once transported all four Fidos in my 2003 Corvette-all in the passenger seat! They weren’t happy.


Engine: 2.0L SKYACTIV Inline-NE-Four Cylinder, 181 HP., 7,000 RPM, 151 LB-FT. Torque, 4,000 RPM
Transmission: Rear-Wheel-Drive, Six-Speed Manual
Type of Vehicle: retractable hardtop sports car
Brakes: Four-wheel disc with ABS
Tires: P205/45R17
Price: As Tested: $33,335; Total price: 36,005; Destination: $$895
Standard Features:Power-retractable hard top, 17-inch alloy wheels, sport suspension with Bilstein shock absorbers, limited slip differential, strut tower bar, advanced blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-t… Read More
Options: Machine Grey Metallic paint AND Auburn Napa interior ($600), GT-S package: Limited Slip Differential, front shock, tower brace black roof ($750), Interior package for M/T, alloy pedals, Red engine oil cap, WMX logo ($425)
Weight: 2,453 LBS
Fuel Economy 26/34/29 MPG