Mother nature can be one fickle witch. For evidence, look no further than the scorched Texas hill country landscape we’re driving through at the moment. The worst drought on record has sapped water from lakebeds, turning Austin’s sprawling Lake Travis into little more than a kiddie pool. So far this year, Austin has experienced more than ninety days of 100 degree heat, keeping both the city’s native Mexican free-tailed bat population (and fixed-gear-riding hipster population) in the shade for most of the day. The lack of green vegetation has also driven hordes of Odocoileus texanus, aka Texas White tail deer, to the roadside in search of the only suitable grub for miles. This last factoid is of particular interest to us at the moment, because my co-driver and I happen to be hurtling past the same roadsides these deer find so enticing at 60 mph. I have always been intrigued by deer. Whereas some people see them as a pest, others believe that they should be protected. You can learn more about some of the different species of deer here: https://feedthatgame.com. On the route we decided to take, deer carcasses appear frequently enough to serve as mile-markers, and the live ones are nearly as plentiful. At this moment, the only feature of our 2012 Kia Soul+ that is of any worth to me is its widescreen windshield.
I’m looking out the passenger window, taking in the beautiful Southern California landscape. It’s going by rather quickly, as it happens, but that’s not unusual for today.
“That’s a hundred…”
We’re on an arrow-straight stretch of desert mountain road, climbing toward the next of what feel like endless rocky peaks. The last car we saw was an overburdened Civic, and we weren’t with them long. Everything’s brown and rocky; abrupt, but beautiful, at least in the eyes of a man who spent a good bit of his life in the desert southwest. I nod absently at his latest update.
We’re getting a bit short on straight road and the upcoming crest is obscuring my view of the scenery. My attention shifts back to the car and the journey at hand. We have a driver change coming up, then a lunch stop in–wait, what was that last bit he said?
“One hundred and tweennnnntyyy… that’s the limiter.”
I shrug slightly, taking in the sensation. Feels like seventy, I think, giving a half-nod of approval. “Not bad.”
Don’t call it a “Five Hundred.” It’s a Cinquecento. After a 27-year absence, Fiat has returned to the largest auto market in the world with a heritage nameplate on a subcompact that packs some serious style and a whole lot of substance. SSL crossed the country to check out Chrysler’s new compact standard-bearer in sunny southern California, and left quite impressed with the little car that proves that premium styling and performance don’t have to come with a premium price.
The man before us in this crowded Los Angeles garage, Mustang head honcho Dave Pericak, is about to burst. He knows what the press is about to learn: that there are two muscular rabbits in his hat, and he’s going to pull them out with an absolute maximum of hyperactive enthusiasm. We all know the numbers: 305 horsepower for a revitalized V-6 and 412 ponies in the five-liter. 31 miles per gallon for the automatic six, 26 mpg for the stick-shift V-8.
What we don’t know, or perhaps haven’t considered, is the significance — the context — of these numbers. There’s a Honda Accord sulking outside this garage. Why? It seems Mr. Pericak wishes to make a particular point. Honda is synonymous with fuel efficiency in the minds of the American public, but the Accord V-6 coupe is rated at just 28mpg. As an automatic. As a stick-shift, it gets 25. Take a moment to think about that. A front-wheel-drive Honda coupe can’t match the mileage of a rear-wheel-drive ponycar. The antiquated, low-tech, “oxcart-axle” Mustang may be faster and more powerful than the Accord, but we all expected that. Did we expect that it would be more fuel-efficient as well?
By the time the relatively rapid press briefing is over, we all understand what’s happened here. While Chevrolet was aiming its Camaro at the Mustang, Ford was aiming elsewhere. The V-6 Mustang is a two-fisted blow to the throat of competitors as diverse as the aforementioned Accord and the Hyundai Genesis Coupe. The five-liter takes the core values of that revamped car and adds enough pace to walk away from some very rapid automobiles. And both cars are priced to cause heartburn everywhere from the RenCen to Ingolstadt.
Faithful Ford truckers often fall into a dichotomy. Lightning enthusiasts crave quick rigs to gain cred at the track. Bronco fans miss muddy rockcrawlers meant for trails. Ford’s Special Vehicle Team could’ve easily built a truck for either purpose, but as guardians of automotive culture, it’s not their duty to take a safe route. SVT rethought “speed truck” ethic entirely. Instead of engineering a tire-shredder, SVT focused on sustaining high speed off-road in a way that no stock vehicle has before. The 2010 Ford SVT F-150 Raptor tackles both asphalt and desert sands so masterfully that it is instantly deserving of supercar status. The Raptor’s victories in design, safety, navitainment and ergonomics mean that it isn’t just a great truck — it’s a great vehicle. Children will mount posters of this desert bandit on their walls. In an era of lowest-common-denominator commodity cars, that’s indicative praise indeed.
If you weren’t able to follow my Tweets from the introduction, this video preview of the 5.4-liter V8-equipped model should tide you over until this winter, when Ford will begin shipping faster Raptors equipped with a new 6.2-liter V8. You can expect a full review from Speed:Sport:Life then.
It would be poetic to say that the return of the Great American Sedan was announced as the speedometer of the 2010 Taurus SHO swept past the one-hundred-and-twenty-mile-per-hour mark with the insouciant prowess of a young Mark McGwire taking practice swings in the batter’s box. And it would be more than delightful to describe the way this big sedan trail-braked into an off-camber hairpin, smoking in sideways and providing my dry-heaving fellow member of The Press As A Whole the most panoramic view possible of the Great Smoky Mountains above the spectacular dashboard and sculpted bonnet while the steering spoke to me with crystalline clarity and the transmission snapped off two flawless downshifts. Or I could describe how, on a hill so steep walking it would be a challenge, the twin-turbo SHO squeaked its front tires for a nearly imperceptible moment before swapping drive to the back wheels and rocketing us up the slope with the force of a small-block Chevy.
The truth of the matter, however, is that I knew everything I needed to know about the 2010 Taurus when I was handed a floppy-looking interior door skin.