‘Forza Horizon 5’ hands-on: A Ford Bronco fever dream in the desert

Bronco. Every. Time.

This has been my motto while playing the preview build of Forza Horizon 5, the latest iteration of Playground Games’ open-world racing series. Horizon is the chill, microdosing cousin of Forza Motorsport, with festival vibes, ridiculous race tracks set in lush environments, and, of course, a virtual garage full of gorgeous vehicles.

Forza Horizon 5

Playground Games

Horizon 5 takes place in a fictionalized Mexico, which makes it the perfect stomping ground for the 2021 Ford Bronco, an SUV that I’ve been drooling over for more than a year in real life. It’s the first new model in 25 years, it’s styled after the first-generation Bronco that Ford rolled out in 1965, and, best of all, it comes in a cactus gray colorway. However, for a multitude of reasons — the global chip shortage, supply-chain slowdowns and the sheer expense of it all — I’m not likely to get my feet on the pedals of a new Bronco any time soon. That’s where Horizon 5 comes in.

Horizon 5 begins with a yellow Bronco Badlands strapped to the floor of a plane, ramp lowered behind it with clear sky soaring by. Starting the game drops the vehicle out of the plane, parachuting you onto the rim of a snow-capped volcano. Immediately, you’re driving at high speeds, following a trail down the fiery mountain and getting a feel for the Bronco. It moves like a heavy piece of machinery, tilting on quick turns and cannonballing down the road, sturdy yet sensitive. (The obligatory, “I like my partners the way I like my SUVs” goes here.)

And then the next car drops from the sky — a zippy 2020 Corvette Stingray Coupe that drives much differently than the Bronco, turning on a dime and floating over the road. After a few minutes with that, a 1989 Porsche 911 Desert Flyer parachutes past a herd of flamingos, zooming down forest trails with fantastic handling. Finally, the Mercedes-AMG One, a superfast hybrid sports car, finishes the ride by racing an airplane.

Forza Horizon 5

Playground Games

Each of the starting vehicles has its own sensibilities and strengths. They all finally land at the Horizon Festival, a massive music and racing extravaganza held in the Mexico desert. This is the main hub of the game, and it’s a party atmosphere filled with bright pink signs, crowds of cheering fans and a ceaseless barrage of fireworks, confetti and hot air balloons.

This is where you’re given the chance to pick a vehicle for the first time, and it’s the origin of my Horizon 5 mantra: Bronco. Every. Time.

It’s not that the Bronco is the fastest or smoothest vehicle in the game, but it feels right rolling through the rugged desert landscape. It’s the vehicle I want to be driving in real life, and it’s incredibly satisfying to maneuver it up winding mountain roads, along charming city streets and into the heart of massive dust storms.

To be fair, I don’t actually pick the Bronco every time — there are some races that the SUV simply can’t win, given its top speed and wide turns, and for these I’ll happily use one of the sports cars. But when it comes to exploring, I’m all about the Bronco.

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Tech News

President Biden Drives 2022 Ford F-150 Electric Prototype

Ford isn’t quite ready to reveal the 2022 F-150 Lightning electric pickup truck, but when the president of the United States wants a test drive, how do you say no?

President Joe Biden visited Ford’s Rouge Electric Vehicle Center, the Detroit-area factory that will build the Lightning, yesterday and got behind the wheel of a camouflaged prototype of the new truck. He’s likely the first person outside of Ford to drive the Lightning and gave it a positive review.

“This sucker’s quick,” Biden said after pulling up to a gaggle of media, as documented by C-SPAN cameras. The president even tried to time acceleration, saying his stopwatch showed zero to 60 mph in 4.3 seconds. What appears to be an un-camouflaged Lightning can also be seen in the background of photos taken during Biden’s factory visit. That’s not something Ford wants the general public to know just yet, as truck’s official reveal is tonight, but it’s hard to argue with that kind of publicity.

Biden is a genuine car enthusiast. He owns a 1967 Chevrolet Corvette convertible, which was a wedding gift from his father. As president, he has also become an advocate of electric vehicles, pushing for measures to boost sales, as well as more domestic battery production, and the electrification of government vehicle fleets. Still, as a Chevy owner, Biden might be a little disappointed that arch-rival Ford is launching its electric truck first.

The Lightning follows the Mustang Mach-E SUV and E-Transit van as Ford’s third mass-market electric vehicle. It may not be first, but it might be the most important. The internal combustion F-150 has been America’s bestselling vehicle for decades, so making it electric opens up a massive new market to EVs.

While Ford has never built an electric F-150 before, the name is familiar. The original Ford Lightning was a performance version of the F-150 sold in the 1990s and early 2000s. Boasting a powerful V8 engine, it was once crowned world’s fastest production pickup truck by Guinness World Records.

The 2022 Ford F-150 Lightning reveal streams at 9:30 p.m. ET tonight on Ford’s YouTube and social media channels. We’ll also have full coverage here at Digital Trends. The truck starts production in spring 2022.

Editors’ Choice

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Watch Ford Testing Its New Driver-assist Tech on Road Trip

Ford took its next-generation driver-assist technology on a North American road trip that covered more than 100,000 miles.

The hands-free highway driving feature, which the U.S. auto giant is calling BlueCruise (formerly Active Drive Assist), was tested in five 2021 F-150 trucks and five all-electric 2021 Mustang Mach-E vehicles ahead of a rollout for owners of the same vehicles later this year.

The road trip, featured in the video at the top of this page, tested BlueCruise’s hands-free driving technology in real-world conditions over 62 days, through 37 states and 5 Canadian provinces.

Ford’s BlueCruise technology ensures vehicles stay centered in the lane, and can also handle stop-and-go traffic. The automaker said it tested the system on faded highway lines and during thousands of miles of severe weather.

Celebrating the test in a tweet, Ford CEO Jim Farley appeared to take a swipe at Tesla, which features similar technology in its own vehicles, saying: “BlueCruise! We tested it in the real world, so our customers don’t have to.” Toward the end of last year, Tesla released a beta version of its premium driver-assist system, called “Full Self-Driving,” for select Tesla drivers to try out.

BlueCruise! We tested it in the real world, so our customers don’t have to.

— Jim Farley (@jimfarley98) April 14, 2021

Emphasizing safety, Ford notes that its driver-assist features are “supplemental and do not replace the driver’s attention, judgment, and need to control the vehicle.” Tesla, for the record, issues a similar note of caution to its customers.

To ensure drivers stay focused on the road and don’t embark on any hazardous shenanigans such as playing with their phones while cruising along, BlueCruise issues a prompt telling the driver to retake control if it detects a lapse in attention. For this, it uses multiple interior cameras to track not only the driver’s head movements, but also their eye movements, a feat that Ford claims the technology can perform even if the driver is wearing sunglasses.

As for pricing, Ford explains: “For F-150, BlueCruise is available as a part of the Ford Co-Pilot 360 Active 2.0 package for a total of $1,595 — $600 for the software and $995 for the hardware. The Ford Co-Pilot 360 Active 2.0 package is standard on F-150 Limited and available as an option on Lariat, King Ranch, and Platinum models.

“For Mustang Mach-E, BlueCruise comes standard on CA Route 1, Premium, and First Edition variants. It’s an available package on the Select trim for $3,200 — $600 for the software and $2,600 for the rest of the package — as part of the larger Comfort and Technology package.”

Commenting on the latest version of its driver-assist technology, Ford safety engineer Alexandra Taylor said: “Driving can be an exhilarating and empowering experience, it can even be relaxing, but occasionally driving can be stressful … We’re confident that BlueCruise hands-free technology will make some highway driving a much less stressful driving experience.”

Editors’ Choice

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Tech News

Billionaire clown Elon Musk drags the late Chris Farley into Tesla’s feud with Ford

There’s never a dull moment in tech. Elon Musk and Ford CEO Jim Farley got into it on Twitter yesterday after a new Ford advertisement seemingly tossed shade at Tesla’s Autopilot.

Heads up: The real lead here is that Ford’s new BlueCruise kit, a driverless car system, will launch on certain Mustang and F-150 models. Can we all take a moment to recognize how awesome the idea of an autonomous Mustang in the future is?

But: Elon being Elon, there was no way the news was ever going to be about anything other than him.

Ford CEO Jim Farley apparently couldn’t resist trolling Tesla a bit when he tweeted that his company tested BlueCruise “in the real world, so our customers don’t have to.” This has been interpreted to be a jab at Tesla’s simulation-based training methods.

Musk responded (to a tweet featuring the quote) by invoking Farley’s cousin, the late Chris Farley. Yes, that Chris Farley:

Many on Twitter found the reply innocuous and good-natured, others saw it as over-the-top and disrespectful. It’s generally considered impolite to use a clip of someone’s deceased relative to troll them on social media.

Here’s the thing: It’s macabre for Musk and Farley to joke about training driverless cars. Autopilot failures have been a contributing factor in numerous accidents involving Tesla vehicles, some of which were fatal.

There is currently no production vehicle on the market that can drive itself safely and/or legally. We’ve seen the videos and the fact remains: level two autonomy is not self-driving.

Tesla’s “Autopilot” and “Full Self Driving” systems are not capable of auto-piloting or self-driving. Full stop.

[Read: The biggest tech trends of 2021, according to 3 founders]

This kind of rhetoric, two childish CEOs bantering about the abilities of their vehicles, gives consumers a bloated view of what these cars are capable of. Whether consumers think Ford’s built something that’s better than “Autopilot,” or that Tesla already has things figured out – it seems the reality of level two autonomy is getting lost in the hype.

The bottom line: The technology powering these vehicles is amazing but, at the end of the day it’s just glorified cruise control. Drivers are meant to keep their hands on the wheel and their eyes on the road at all times when operating any current production vehicle, whether its so-called self-driving features are engaged or not.

When these companies and their CEOs engage in back-and-forth on Twitter, they’re taking a calculated risk that consumers will buy into the rivalry and enjoy the capitalist competition as it plays out for their amusement.

They take the same kind of calculated risk when they continue marketing their products as “self-driving” features even after customers keep overestimating their abilities and dying.

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Rocket League is about to get a special Ford F-150 RLE bundle

Psyonix has announced the Ford F-150 Rocket League Edition (RLE), an upcoming vehicle bundle that will be available in hit game Rocket League. The bundle, quite obviously, will feature a version of the Ford F-150 truck, as well as some bundled items like a player banner, SE wheels, RLE engine audio, and more.

The Ford F-150 RLE features a Rocket Boost and will hit the game’s Item Shop on February 10. The bundle, which will also include a Chairman Decal in addition to the aforementioned items, will be priced at 1500 Credits. Buyers should note that the bundled items can only be used with the Ford F-150 RLE vehicle.

Likewise, players won’t be able to customize the F-150 RLE vehicle with items from other licensed properties. In addition to this bundle, Psyonix has announced the Ford + Rocket League Freestyle Invitational event that’ll feature eight freestylers who battle it out for a real 2021 Ford F-150.

The event will last for two days and take place on February 24/28. This will come ahead of the North American Major Grand Finals planned to broadcast on Twitch. Psyonix says RLCS X Winter Majors will have Ford as its presenting sponsor on all upcoming events.

The developer says it will announce the competing players, as well as hosts, judges, and everyone else that will be participating in the Ford + Rocket League Freestyle Invitational later this month.

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