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2020 Mazda MX-5 GT RF – The Perfect Tool For The Job

2020 Mazda MX-5 GT RF – The Perfect Tool For The Job

What praises can I sing for the MX-5 that haven’t already been sung from the rooftops? It’s been around over three decades getting progressively better with each iteration. It’s precise and poised. It feels great to the touch.  Some jobs are impossible without the right tool.  But with that tool in hand, the job becomes a pleasure. For the “job” of sports car driving, there’s no better tool.


The RF model features fastback styling. MX-5’s B-pillars actually lift off the car when the power convertible top is let down. It’s not a true convertible, but you get the convenience of a power top, and it only adds about 115 pounds to the car. Visibility is slightly limited relative to the soft top version. The Soul Red Crystal paint looks like custom candy paint straight from the factory, and it’s accented beautifully by the gray on the 17″ alloy wheels.


The Mx-5 makes the best use of the modest interior space. Even six-footers can find a comfortable driving position in the heated seats. A telescoping tilt steering column, now a standard feature, lets you put the wheel exactly where it ought to be. I love the way Mazda brings the body color in on the top of the door sills. I also love the Sport Tan leather covered seats.

The interior looks basic, but has amenities like speakers in the headrests that pipe in phone calls. There are also classy touches like an upholstered dash, stainless door sill plates and alloy pedals. Plunked down onto the dash is a 7 inch touch screen to control the Bose 9 speaker stereo which is plenty loud even with the top down on the highway. It offers all the convenience we’ve become accustomed to; Bluetooth, navigation, etc. The car even comes standard with a backup camera.


I Under the hood is Mazda’s Skyactiv-G 2.0 liter four cylinder that churns out 181 horsepower. Power is pushed through a sublime little six-speed manual to a limited-slip differential. The last time I drove this car I had this to say, “This car was fun with 155 horsepower, it was balanced and always under control. To make it misbehave you had to wring it out a bit. With the added power it’s easier than ever to get this little two-seater to step out of line. But it’s still so well mannered to whip it back into shape when things get too slidey.” That rings as true now as it did then. In the turns the MX-5 is about as predictable and poised as a car can get.

The sounds of the engine and the gearbox one inches from your right thigh keep you intimately connected with the car. Even with the top up, you don’t necessarily feel isolated in this car. It’s a treat for all five senses. It’s hard not to use the same beat down clichés that writers have used since Mazda brought the MX-5 Miata stateside in 1989.


When I reviewed the 2019 version of this car, the top creaked and rattled a bit. Who knows why, another journalist may have tried to shut it on their child. I didn’t have that experience this time. Driving this car is good for your soul. It’s like using a Snap-on ratchet handle after a cheap chinese one. It feels good. It doesn’t just do the job. It makes it a real pleasure. The RF starts at $34,425 and as tested this car cost $35,965. 60 bucks more than last year. You get what you pay for though. An investment in this car will make the job of driving a pleasure.

2020 Lexus RC F – IT’s Better Than Ever, But Is That Good Enough?

2020 Lexus RC F – IT’s Better Than Ever, But Is That Good Enough?

The Lexus RC- F is Lexus’ take on what a luxury sport coupe should be, a two-door blend of comfort Lexus customers are accustomed to, and sports car handling wrapped up in good looks. For 2019 the RC-F got a facelift and a little more horsepower. In my last review of the RC-F, I called it a jungle cat with a gem under the hood.

This thing looks like it would pick a fight with you at a bar, or maybe kick sand in your face at the beach. Look-at-me yellow paint and angular body lines create an aggressive aesthetic for the 2020 RC-F. The roof is carbon fiber, as is the dynamic spoiler which up and down according to the car’s speed. You can also operate it with a button on  the dash so you can flex on posers at red lights. 

IMG_0677Front and center is that crazy Lexus grille. I’ve found the lower it is to the ground the less absurd it looks. The LC500 for example looks exceptional with it. The “check mark” headlights of the previous gen were ditched in favor of these one-piece LEDs. The 19 inch hand-polished BBS are stunning and allow those big Brembo brake calipers to peek through. However, the orange paint on the calipers is a questionable color decision next to the yellow body color and is a $300 dollar option I might omit if I was ordering one for me. But that’s picking nits. 

IMG_0726The fender vents behind the front wheels let everyone know you’ve got the goods under the hood. Out back, diagonally stacked exhaust outlets make this car look as good going as it does coming.

INTERIORIMG_0731Some materials in the RC-F are sort of a letdown. Lexus uses foamy feeling shift boot and plasticy “leather” for the shift boot around the gear selector and on either side of the console. However, you can look all day and not find a seam that’s not laser straight. The blue and white contrasting thread looks beautiful. Seats are dead comfortable especially given the low-slung sporty nature of the car.

IMG_0742The fit and finish in the cabin is exceptional. The RC-F’s interior is adorned with carbon fiber and aluminum accents, but it doesn’t feel over the top. Even the requisite luxury-car analog clock doesn’t feel too out of place.

IMG_0734The Mark Levinson audio system pumps tunes through 17 speakers stuffed into the car. There’s a large infotainment screen in the dash controlled by the touchpad mounted in the console.  It’s also too distracting to use while driving.  All the amenities one comes to expect in a luxury car are present, radar cruise, rain-sensing wipers, blind-spot monitoring and a bevy of other features. 



The V8 in this car sounds lovely. Punch it from a stand still and you’ll get to 60 mph in 4.4 seconds. That’s quick. Acceleration smooth and determined. Lexus engineers give drivers the option to completely disable the traction control and vehicle stability (thank you engineers). The 2020 has a launch control feature that, in spite of watching a handful of Youtube videos, I couldn’t make heads or tails of. The excellent throttle response, precision steering, and high-tech differential keep things from going too wayward. In the bends this car has grip. On the highway the car is quiet and refined.


The RC-F has changed. This is a better car than the one I reviewed in 2017. Back then, I likened it to an apex predator. As I drove it I kept a hungry eye out for ‘Vettes who might want to test their mettle. However, while this car has improved immeasurably, the landscape has changed. This RC-F, with all these goodies, will set buyers $89,000. That’s for a pretty car that’s certainly pretty quick. But can you imagine the sad empty feeling in the pit of your stomach when you pull up the the light and get embarrassed by a Dodge grocery getter that costs practically half what you’ve signed up to pay? That’s a legitimate possibility. The Dodge Charger R/T Scat Pack actually edges out the RC-F’s 0-60 time with a base price around $45k. Ouch.

And as far as hunting Vettes goes, forget about it. The 2020 C8 Corvette is a purpose build murder machine with hyper car speed. When equipped with the Z51 performance package, it’ll get to 60 in under three seconds. It looks outrageous. It will smoke anything on the road. It has more horsepower and costs about $30,000 less than the RC-F. Thirty grand!

So, while the RC-F has improved, I’m afraid Lexus would have to go back to the drawing board to compete. I don’t understand this car. I don’t know who it’s for. It’s aggressive and remarkable but it’s not the best at anything. It’s also terribly expensive. The takeaway: if you want one, don’t doll it up with all the chintzy tinsel. At the base price of $65k this car makes a little more sense, and you won’t be counting how many payments you have left as you watch domestic cars pulling on you.

QUICK NEWS: 2021 Honda Pilot

QUICK NEWS: 2021 Honda Pilot

On June 3, 2020, Honda released the pre-delivery inspection instructions to dealers for the 2021 Honda Pilot which has not yet been officially announced. Noted on the instructions is the addition of an SE trim level. Traditionally, the addition of an SE (Special Edition) trim level for Honda denotes the last model year of a generation. The SE appears to be positioned above the EX-L and below the Touring trim levels and available in both front-wheel drive and all-wheel drive configurations.

The current, third-generation Honda Pilot was introduced in 2015 as a 2016 model. It was refreshed for the 2019 model year. An all-new, 4th generation 2022 Honda Pilot is expected to go on sale next year. An all-new Ridgeline and Passport may soon follow the Pilot considering the parts commonality between the three models.

2020 Honda Pilot shown – photo provided by Honda



Honda has stopped selling subscriptions to ServiceExpress – their service information website intended for use by owners and independent repair shops. ServiceExpress provided relatively low-cost access to repair information, owner’s manuals, accessory information, and a parts catalog and offered searches by subject or keyword. Subscriptions to ServiceExpress were $10 per day, $50 per month, or $350 per year.


Access to service information now requires a subscription to Honda’s Service Information System which costs $25 per day, $125 per month, or $1,250 per year – increases of 250% to 347% over ServiceExpress. The Service Information System was previously intended for use by Honda dealers, but could be purchased by anyone.


Honda states on their website, “In an effort to provide the best experience for our subscribers, American Honda has chosen to maintain one service information website – Service Information System (SIS). SIS offers users expanded search capabilities as well as Tool Integration. We will no longer be selling subscriptions to ServiceExpress.”

The cost of the Service Information System also increased from $20 to $25 per day, from $100 to $125 per month, and from $1,000 to $1,250 per year. The cost for the i-HDS diagnostic software subscription increased from $10 to $30 per day, from $133 to $200 per month, and from $1,547 to $1,800 per year. The i-HDS subscription is the required software component of the Honda Diagnostic System (the Honda-specific scan tool used by Honda dealers). A hardware interface is also required. Subscriptions for Vehicle Security Professionals such as locksmiths, insurers, and members of law enforcement increased by the same amounts.


Subscriptions including information such as removal/installation procedures, diagnostic procedures, wiring diagrams, component locations, specifications, system descriptions, and service bulletins are available here.

While these increased prices are still competitive with offerings from some other automakers, they represent a dramatic increase in the cost to obtain information necessary to learn more about or repair your Honda. Manufacturers continue to move from printed, one-time purchases of service information to subscription-only models. We’d love to hear your thoughts about the increasing cost of service information and the tools and equipment necessary to repair modern vehicles.




After receiving a heavily revised engine with more horsepower along with a list of other changes for the 2019 model year that were significant enough to justify a change in the model designation to ND2, updates to the 2020 model are relatively few.

Android Auto and Apple CarPlay support

Previously, these features could be added using a $199 kit plus installation labor. For 2020, the necessary software and hardware for Android Auto and Apple CarPlay come pre-installed. You no longer have to disassemble the dash on your brand new Miata.

Key fob

For 2020, the Miata gets Mazda’s new key fob design. It is thicker and wider than the old key fob and the buttons move from the front to the side where they may be less prone to accidental presses. The physical key has a much smaller head than the old key which provides less leverage. Fortunately, it’s rarely used except to lock and unlock the storage compartment between the seats

Perforated leather seats

Perforated leather is newly available on the 2020 MX-5 Miata and provides natural ventilation which can make for a cooler experience on warm days. While perforated leather may require a little more care to avoid liquid and dirt from falling down into the holes, I think it looks a lot nicer in addition to the functional advantage. Thankfully, all of this soothing and understated gray is offset by a new, dynamic (again, Mazda’s description) red leather interior.



All interior stitching is now gray. Mazda uses the words soothing, calm, and premium to describe it. I’m tempted to use the words boring, cost-cutting, and consolidation. To me, the MX-5 Miata is a sporty car that deserves a more sporty stitch color than soothing gray – leave that one to the sedans and SUV’s!

Polymetal Gray

Continuing the monochrome theme, Polymetal Gray is a new color shade of gray for the 2020 MX-5 Miata. Mazda describes the color shade of gray as understated and beautiful. I’ll just say that it looks like they forgot to paint the car and sprayed clear coat over the primer, but, hey – lots of folks aren’t happy with only 49 shades of gray!

Door sills

Wrapping up the changes to the 2020 MX-5 Miata are the availability of stainless steel door sills.

There is no official word just yet on pricing, availability, or other changes.

Photos from Mazda



The refreshed 2020 Honda Ridgeline exchanges its 6-speed automatic transmission for a 9-speed unit and introduces paddle shifters and idle stop. A pushbutton shifter replaces a traditional shift lever and a traditional battery has been replaced by an AGM (Absorbed Glass Mat) model. The tailgate can be locked and the number of trim levels have been reduced. Honda’s 8″ Display Audio system is now standard on all trims. The rear doors open wider and Honda Sensing becomes standard across the board. Prices increase by as little as $100 to as much as $2,050 depending on model.


The RT and RTL-T trims have been dropped which simplifies the lineup. The RT trim allowed Honda to advertise a lower starting price for the Ridgeline, but despite this, it was one of the least-popular trim levels. The RTL-T was more popular than the RT, but the fully-loaded RTL-E model was arguably the better value with its list of additional safety, comfort, and convenience features. For 2020, the Ridgeline is available in Sport, RTL, RTL-E, and Black Edition trims.


The outgoing Honda designed-and-built 6-speed automatic proved to be smooth and reliable in many Honda models over the years. The ZF 9HP 9-speed automatic that has replaced it in the 2020 Ridgeline drew some criticism for shift timing and feel in other applications. Over time, Honda has made changes to address these complaints and based on my time driving 2019 Pilots and Passports equipped with the 9-speed automatic, I’d say these changes have been mostly effective.

One of the best features of the 9-speed automatic is the introduction of steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters which allow for manual gear selection. Some situations where this feature comes in handy are engine braking, spirited driving, and downshifting while anticipating a pass. The 9-speed has a considerably lower first gear ratio and a higher top gear ratio than the 6-speed.

Routine maintenance on the 9-speed is more expensive than the 6-speed due to a more complex fluid replacement procedure and the cost of the fluid itself. Fortunately, transmission fluid changes are one of the least-frequent maintenance items. Honda recommends changing the fluid when prompted by the Maintenance Minder under normal conditions, but recommends changing it every 30,000 miles if you regularly drive at low speeds in mountainous areas or tow a trailer.

04 2020 Honda Ridgeline-1200x6452020 Honda Ridgeline RTL-E with black leather interior


Another change to the 2020 Ridgeline is the addition of idle stop – a fuel-saving feature that temporarily stops the engine while the vehicle is stopped and restarts it as you release the brake pedal. I find that Honda’s latest models with idle stop restart quickly, quietly, and smoothly enough, although this feature can be disabled until the next time you restart the engine with the press of a button. An amber indicator light will illuminate in the gauge cluster when you have turned off the idle stop feature.


The 2017-2019 Ridgeline had a curiously-limited rear door opening. Many owners took it upon themselves to replace their rear door checkers with those designed for the front doors to allow the rear doors to open wider. Honda must have listened, because wider-opening rear doors are one of the improvements to the 2020 Ridgeline.


Previously, only the RTL-E and Black Edition trims were equipped with Honda Sensing which includes Lane Keeping Assist System, Road Departure Mitigation, Collision Mitigation Braking System, and Adaptive Cruise Control. For 2020, Honda Sensing is now standard on all Ridgelines. The Blind Spot Information System and Rear Cross-Traffic Monitor are still exclusive to the RTL-E and Black Edition trims. Honda’s LaneWatch camera which was standard only on the RTL-T is in no longer available on the Ridgeline since that trim has been discontinued. For 2020, the Collision Mitigation Braking System now turns back on every time you start the engine. Previously, the feature would stay off if turned off.

2017 Honda Ridgeline - 014-1200x800Honda Ridgeline In-Bed Trunk


Despite three more gears and the addition of idle stop, fuel economy estimates for the 2WD models are unchanged at 19 city, 26 highway, and 22 combined. AWD models improve by 1 MPG to 19 in the city, but lose 1 MPG to 24 on the highway for an unchanged combined rating of 21.


Previously, the lower trim levels were equipped with a Color Audio system that had a 5″ non-touch color screen, but did have a rotary volume knob. The upper trim levels were equipped with a Display Audio system featuring an 8″ touch screen, navigation, and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility. For 2020, the 8″ Display Audio system is installed in all trims, although navigation is included only on the RTL-E and Black Edition. The 8″ Display Audio system still lacks a rotary volume knob that has since returned to other Honda models.


When the second generation Ridgeline was introduced for 2017, there was no tailgate lock available from Honda forcing owners to seek aftermarket solutions. Since then, a genuine Honda tailgate lock accessory became available. The 2020 Ridgeline’s tailgate now has the ability to lock and unlock with the doors. This setting is disabled by default, but can be enabled through the touch screen.

2018 Ridgeline 143-1200x800Honda Ridgeline Dual-Action Tailgate


The two-setting rocker switches for the heated seats have been replaced by three-setting pushbutton switches. While a third heat setting may be of limited value, the seat heaters will now come on automatically during a remote start when it’s cold just like the heated steering wheel – you no longer have to leave the seat heater switch on when exiting the vehicle.


While the wheel designs remain the same, the RTL-E’s wheels are now solid gray instead of the two-tone black and machined finish. The Sport trim is now also available in Modern Steel Metallic while Pacific Pewter Metallic replaces Forest Mist Metallic. Platinum White Pearl continues as a replacement for White Diamond Pearl following a running change during the 2019 model year.


Price increases are reasonable for the Sport trim at $510 for the 2WD and $850 for the AWD considering the addition of paddle shifters, a touch screen, the Honda Sensing suite of safety and convenience features, and a locking tailgate. The RTL trims increase the most by $1,800 for the 2WD and $2,050 for the AWD. The RTL-E and Black Edition increase by only $100 – that’s less than the price of a tailgate lock alone. The 2020 Honda Ridgeline starts at $34,995 including destination and tops out at $44,615 for the Black Edition.

All photos courtesy of Honda