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  • 2023 Honda Pilot Trailsport: A better everyday 4Runner

    This new Pilot Trailsport isn’t what I expected. For worse, but also better 2023 Honda Pilot Trailsport review with The Road Beat Words and pictures by Mitchell Weitzman Honda is in the middle of a complete relaunch, with nearly every single mainstream model being refreshed in the past two years now. First came the Civic, setting the stage for a new design direction, followed by the Accord, HR-V, CR-V, and now the big Pilot, Honda’s flagship vehicle for the brand (unless you count the NSX, badged as a Honda in other countries). I loved the new Civic and Accord, so I had big hopes for the Pilot, and what I found subverted expectations in both good and bad ways. While I hoped for a more upscale and efficient SUV than its immediate predecessor, this Trailsport edition comes across more as an improved everyday 4Runner. For most people, the Trailsport edition of the Pilot is indeed the superior 4Runner. With the 4Runner firmly stuck in an era that predates social media even, Honda is smart to exploit the growing lack of innovation in that revered model line by creating the modern, utilitarian SUV Toyota needs to reinvent. Is this going to replace a 4Runner TRD Pro or those that pour big money into their Rubicon-ready rigs? No, but those wanting some mild, yet real off-ride chops in a modern and huge package for the same fifty grand, the Pilot Trailsport is a winner and the right choice. What’s it do better than the run-of-the-mill 4Runner SR5 or Limited model? Lots. The interior is about three generations newer and nicer, with materials that feel luxury by comparison and with scarce use of torrid, shiny plastics. The electronics are modern with a an easy touchscreen system that, if anything, is oddly undersized in this application. Better yet, the Pilot drives like a modern vehicle thanks to a unibody construction that bestows accurate and direct steering that can be appreciated on the daily. Suspension is supple over bumps, owing to its ability off-road with some extra travel and ride height, yet doesn’t fall apart in the handling department when you approach and engage corners. There’s body roll, but the handling flat out nukes that of a 4Runner. The 3.5L V6 sinks the boat anchor of a four-liter that inhabits the 4Runner, churning out a smooth 290 horsepower from the V-TEC-enabled six-cylinder. Add in a transmission with literally twice as many gears (that’s 10 here) as the Toyota, operation is fluid and immediate. Not as responsive I would like, but one that significantly dates its Japanese compatriot. 0-60 MPH takes seven seconds flat, easily besting the 4Runner, and my average MPG of 20 also represents an increase of about three over past tested 4Runners. So, more power all the time, and while using less fuel; that’s a win-win. Comprehensively stronger in all the areas that matter, the Trailsport is entering a niche basically exclusively vacated by 4Runners. It’s not the absolute rugged, roll-it-off-the-showroom-and straight-into-Baja kind of vehicle like top-tier 4Runners, but considering most end up never seeing dirt or trails ever and are bought primarily based on coolness, the Pilot Trailsport represents a large leap forward with some real off-road abilities of its own that should not be discounted (there are a few terrain controls to access as well). Compared to standard Pilots, there’s a two-inch lift with a suspension tuned for the grit, along with tires that look the business. On curb appeal alone, the Pilot Trailsport nails the appearance brief, and the fact it's a Pilot, meaning three rows of seats with an abundance of space, just sweetens the deal. With what the average SUV and even 4Runner owner would ever feel comfortable tackling, the Pilot Trailsport can do just about all the same things in greater comfort and refinement. I haven’t had the chance to drive a standard Pilot, like a Limited model directly aimed at the mainstream Highlander and Telluride crowd, but this utilitarian version offers something that they cannot in the form of a legitimate alternative to the venerable 4Runner in ability. However, it is when you compare it against more conventional, crossover SUVs that the Pilot Trailsport disappoints. For nearly $50,000 I did expect more from the interior in terms of quality. It’s definitely a step-up from its prior iteration, but against key rivals I am left a little disappointed with its lack of luxury. You’re left with a vehicle that isn’t necessarily any nicer than an Accord or Civic Limited, and the small 9" screen here does look laughable given the vast dash it lives on. A mighty leap over a 4Runner, but the Mazda CX-9s and Tellurides of the world have a distinct edge. Maybe the top-shelf, more luxury-oriented Pilots will change my mind, but this is still an almost-50-grand large car, and I just hoped for better at this price from Honda. Put it this way, I thought this car cost maybe $45,000 at absolute most before checking the window sticker. Another drawback is the 10 speed automatic I previously praised, but isolated on its own, the shifts could be smoother and faster. Downshifts, especially when controlled manually, are executed with a lackadaisical approach and provides next to zero engine braking, making it difficult to use the transmission to help control your speed. Transitions in traffic from coasting/braking down to five MPH or less (and not stopping) before easing onto the throttle again can result in lag and some jolts from lazy throttle response. I do really like this Pilot Trailsport because of what it offers over a 4Runner. And because most are not tackling tricky terrain every day in their crossovers or SUVs, there’s little in the real world that a 4Runner can do than this Trailsport cannot. The real off-roaders wouldn’t consider one anyways as they’ll be swayed more to a Jeep Wrangler, Bronco, or an intense 4Runner build or TRD Pro. However, to those that want a large SUV to drive day-in and day-out, a vehicle with some visual cred and attitude, the Pilot Trailsport hits the mark head-on and makes the current 4Runner kind of obsolete in the process. 2023 Honda Pilot Trailsport As-tested price: $50,150 Pros: Rugged looks, Decent off-road, way more civilized than 4Runner Cons: Lacks finishing and luxury of other $50,000 competitors

  • 2023 Lexus IS 500 review: Greatness held back

    Great value aside, a fantastic engine alone can't hide the fact the IS 500 could use some work to unleash the potential lurking beneath. 2023 Lexus IS 500 review with The Road Beat Words and pictures by Mitchell Weitzman Five liters of naturally aspirated V8 greatness. Unfortunately, that alone can't make for a great performance car. Take the Lexus IS 500 for example, a mild-mannered sedan that has has been entrusted with their trademark, hooligan-spec five-oh V8. You'd think I'd be singing praises enough to change the course of the turbocharged and electrified tides, but I was left somewhat disappointed, not with the car itself, rather by how much better it could and should be to make it the fighter it so sorely wants to be. There's no shortage of acclaim towards this amazing engine. Comprising a swept volume of five liters through its eight cylinders arranged in a familiar V configuration, it's a marvel in an age of digitized and uncharismatic turbocharging. Outright power stands at 467 horses, and despite the capacity, this is a engine that lives for revs and doesn't have a whole lot going on down low below 3,500 RPM. Bury your foot and watch the revs climb to their 7,000 RPM peak and it's then that you'll understand what we're all missing with all these downsized six and four-cylinder replacements. You might need to call the local undertaker and let him to check that none of the deceased have waken from the dead during the cavalry of V8 explosion, a feat and trait that only a V8 can make. Even with all that on-paper oomph, the IS 500 is not a light car, weighing close to 4,000 pounds, and as such, 0-60 MPH isn't all that impressive in 2023, taking 4.4 seconds to dispatch the benchmark time. A BMW M340i might have nearly 100 less horsepower on the spec sheet, but it's a faster car at any point in its rev range with ballistic thrust from a Bavarian turbocharged inline-six. However, it won't sound as good doing so. Also not helping is an aging and derelict eight-speed automatic transmission that can be woefully slow to respond to downshift inputs via the paddles, and upshifts have both a delay and are lackadaisical in actual shift time. New transmissions have progressed so far, including Lexus' own 10-speed unit in the LC 500, as I can't help but feel this reminds of an old (and bad) automated single-clutch sequential transmission. You would hope that the transmission is at least smooth because of its laziness, but there's harshness during shifts even. Slow and hardly smooth - not a good combination. Oh, and first gear is way too short, and at times, pulling away from a stop feels like its in limp mode due to how the throttle response is programmed combined with that short gearing. It's like they made it this way to avoid drivers from blowing up the rear tires, but it comes across like a massive overcorrection. Utilizing one of the sport modes helps here, but the default, standard driving characteristic should be better. When it comes to tackling the twisty bits, the chassis and handling are a mix of disappointment and relief. As to what I like, the suspension is soft enough to make for a comfortable ride over a variety of pavement, and it's also rarely upset by larger intrusions. And because the suspension is on the softer side, it means the Lexus, as a performance car, is more approachable in terms of its limit when you do decide to wring its neck a bit as the symphony of combustion beckons you so. This allows you to gain confidence behind the wheel as you're fed increased information as the chassis leans and loads up through each corner. The downside to this, is that the IS 500 cannot be considered anything resembling a track car. Even on my preferred local roads, the limit of its soft suspension becomes apparent as composure can be lost in quick transitions. When combined with a high curb weight, that makes for a lot of pounds sloshing from side to side during fast left-right changeovers that it struggles to handle. The overall character is an impression more of a classic muscle car, having a lazier nature and less an appetite for hard charging through the bends. That's not to say the IS 500 is a complete dog, because it isn't - it's actually a lot of fun to drive quickly in due part to that V8 emitting noises like an Avenger Gatling gun, but it's not the performance sports sedan you might be hoping for in the mold of a BMW M3 or Alfa Quadrifoglio. Remember, this is not an IS F, but an 'F Sport,' meaning it doesn't get the full-fat treatment and thus has a chassis begging for upgrades. I reckon a set of good coilovers and anti-roll bars would go a long way improving the capabilities for track and hard driving duties. And while I didn't get a chance to test them fully, I've heard the brakes do not stand up to even moderate track driving. I further found the steering to be too light and lacks resistance AKA re-centering, and this light and loose nature of the steering certainly doesn't help in conjunction with those soft springs. Still, disable the traction and stability control, which you annoyingly and tragically have to be at a full, complete stop to turn off, and you can easily hang the 'rear out in some nice moments of oversteer in slow, 90-degree corners. However, I really cannot understand the oversight in needing to come to a complete stop in order to turn off the driving aids. If you're under 30 MPH, you can halfway disengage them, but the moment your speed climbs back up above 30, the leash is fully tightened again. For a car like this, that's a just lame bit of programming. What cannot be denied (in most any Lexus product) is the inherent quality and luxury inside. With sumptuous leather and a steely solidity to it all, this is the caliber and characteristic you would expect and want in a luxury car. Rattles were non-existent (and this is a press car that has had a hard life), and I predict it'll stay that way for a long time. The obvious downside? Lexus has still not introduced its updated infotainment system here, so you're still stuck with the vile, villainous cauldron of ineptitude that is the trackpad-operated interface. I'm tired of writing about it; It sucks and it might be enough for some to turn away completely from owning one of these. I don't understand how Lexus has still not updated all their models in this regard. Beeps and bongs are ever-present in typical Lexus and Toyota tradition, but I also found the active safety systems on this example to be far too intrusive and nigh-on dangerous. Multiple times behind other cars at intersections, I would release the brake when the light turned green, but if the car in front hasn't moved far enough, the collision avoidance engages and completely cuts power on you. Then, the car in front pulls away while you're still left for several seconds in actual limp mode. This happened once at an intersection where I had cars coming up behind me at speed, while I'm just sitting there literally powerless, flooring it to go and get out of the way, but to no avail as the car in front has now disappeared into the distance. I wasn't even close to hitting them and I've never had this problem in any other car I've tested. Actually, wait, I have had this happen before, and it was in other Toyota products...The way it cuts power so abruptly and for so long ends up putting you in a more dangerous situation than what it thought of avoiding in the first place. When you're just cruising, though, this is a very nice vehicle. The V8 gently churns away and burbles, the seats and ride quality are very comfortable, and it even doesn't get horrid gas mileage, averaging a decent 22 MPG during our week together. For the casual driver that wants a luxurious and characterful car, but that'll never take it on hard weekend drives - let alone the track - the IS 500 makes a pretty good case for itself (if you can stand the infotainment). A BMW and Mercedes might seem trite and boring, whereas the uncommon Lexus with a burly V8 suddenly is now a way of standing out. And did I mention that it looks magnificent? Wow is it a pretty thing. You can do a lot worse than the Lexus IS 500, but I think Lexus can also do a lot better. Having that engine and an 'F Sport' in its name - even it's not a real full big F - demands and yearns for a more capable chassis as a sports sedan. If you just want a comfy cruiser with the same looks and you don't care as much for driving, there's the cheaper IS 350. I think if you're wanting a car with a big and punchy V8, you're going to want it to also be a more sporting prospect and as a more affordable M3 alternative. There are already other similarly-priced soft-core performance sedans like the boring Audi S4, of which this IS 500 at least trounces in terms of charisma and character. Even if it's objectively inferior to BMW's M340i, again only one of them has that burly V8 that pushes the desirability above the expected. But that's the thing, and maybe the most impressive part of the IS 500 when all is considered: it starts at less than $60,000, even with this fully-fledged tester pushing that to just $66,525. Despite its flaws, the value is undeniable. Still, there is more greatness to be had here, just Lexus is holding it back. 2023 Lexus IS 500 F Sport Performance As-tested price: $66,525 Pros: Wonderful V8 engine; Great value and quality Cons: Too soft for hard driving; Old transmission and oppressive aids

  • 2023 Monterey Motorsports Reunion recap and photos

    The annual historic races at Laguna Seca once again serve as a time capsule to eras bygone. Photos by Mitchell Weitzman Another year, another Monterey Car Week. A permanent staple in my routine each year is attending the Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion, a historic racing event featuring the race cars of generations past. A racing car was born and bred for the sole purpose of its fury held within, and instead of being shut-up in some museum for eternity, it's a blessing to have owners of these wonderful, imaginative machines take them back to where they yearn for: the race track. Utilizing the incredible natural landscape and elevation of WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, the Reunion offers the chance to see these valuable motorsport icons lapping the famed coastal tarmac instead of parked on the lawn at Pebble Beach. The event is also quite affordable in comparison to the several hundred dollars needed for a pass to any of the main shows on the Peninsula. A ticket gets you access to nearly every part of the circuit, plus the paddock to see the racing cars prepped and worked on by their entrants. Owners and crew are usually more than happy to talk with fans about their favorite vintage race car. If the glitz and glamor of other shows are a little too stuffy, or you're looking for a break from the crowded streets of Ocean Ave. in downtown Carmel, the Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion is a must-see each year. Looking at cars is one thing, but watching them race by at full-tilt, with raucous V8 or wailing V12 noises is definitely worth the price of admission alone. Below you'll find my photographic highlights from the 2023 Monterey Motorsports Reunion at Laguna Seca.

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  • New Car Reviews and Automotive Photography | The Road Beat

    2023 Monterey Motorsports Reunion recap and photos 2023 Lexus RX 500h F Sport Performance: All show, no sport 2023 Toyota Prius review: Shockingly good (and sexy) Professional automotive reviews and photography of the latest new cars, SUVs, and trucks 2023 Lexus RX 500h F Sport Performance: All show, no sport 2023 Toyota Prius review: Shockingly good (and sexy) 2023 Toyota Crown Review: Give me back the Avalon 2023 VW ID.4 Pro S review: a taxing affair 2023 Toyota GR86 Auto Review: Not aging well enough 2023 Honda CR-V Hybrid review: improvements all around all reviews The lens behind The Road Beat | Mitchell Weitzman Photography view portfolio Photographer with accredited experience photographing the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, SRO GT World Challenge, NTT IndyCar, MotoAmerica, and historic racing. contact IndyCar IMSA & SRO MotoAmerica The Road Beat | Professional Car Reviews and Automotive Photography

  • New vehicle photos | The Road Beat

    New vehicle image galleries

  • Lexus LC 500 Convertible Photo Gallery | The Road Beat

    2021 Lexus LC 500 Convertible Photos Read the full review here on the Road Beat

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