Odometer (Legend): 527,276
Odometer (ILX): 56,926
Some of us thrive on being on-the-go all the time. Aside from being an avid road tripper, I juggle other hobbies including competitive long-distance running. People who have lifestyles like mine demand a lot from their vehicles. That is the notion behind the Active Lifestyle Vehicle of the Year program, now in its 10th year.
Each October, automakers enter vehicles to compete in this event that brings together athletes & autos for a day of evaluation. Last year, I was the team captain in charge of the group evaluating the hybrid & alternative fuel vehicles. This year, I assembled a team of 10 athletes and we spent the morning taking turns driving the 5 vehicles that were entered in the “Luxury On-Road” and the “Luxury Family” divisions. Those vehicles were as follows:
- 2014 Acura MDX
- 2014 Audi SQ5
- 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT
- 2014 Mercedes-Benz E350 Wagon
- 2014 Volkswagen Touareg TDI
There were a few key areas of evaluation that we focused on when casting our ballots:
- How well did the vehicle’s design & size fit with my active lifestyle?
- Could I find a comfortable seating position?
- Were the climate, radio, and other features intuitive?
- Was there sufficient room & security for athletic equipment?
- Did the engine have sufficient power?
- And so on.
ALV was hosted at Local Motors in Chandler, Arizona. Local Motors is a unique automaker that collaborates with buyers who help co-create their own vehicles, including the go-anywhere Rally Fighter. Here’s a little information on LM from the company’s YouTube channel:
Local Motors is the first car company to co-create vehicles online with its virtual community of designers, fabricators, engineers and enthusiasts from around the world. Through open-source principles, Local Motors helps solve local transportation-related problems, locally; makes transportation more sustainable, globally; and delivers, through distributed manufacturing, game-changing vehicles and components.
The Local Motors facility was the perfect venue for ALV due to the availability of an off-road driving course. The athletes on my team had a great time putting our test vehicles through their paces. In the end, the crowns for the divisions that my team evaluated went to the Audi SQ5 for “Luxury On-Road” and Acura MDX for “Luxury Family.” Check out the extensive photo gallery below for a closer look at the people and the cars that made this day memorable. Thanks for reading!
The day before the ALV program, Acura Western Region Public Relations representative Vincent Manganiello flew in. I was able to meet up with him for a bite to eat before heading to the ALV festivities. I proudly wore my blue 2013 National Acura Legend Meet (NALM) shirt for the occasion. Vince and I had a great discussion on Acura goings-on.
Ultra marathon runner Jenn Shelton also flew in to participate as a celebrity judge. She is sponsored by Hyundai and is the country’s fastest woman to run a 100-mile race. Yes, 100 miles. It takes about 15 hours for her to run that distance (achieved in 2007). Next weekend, she’s running the Grand Canyon from the South Rim to the North Rim… and back again. Where does she get all that energy? I had a great time visiting with her as I shuttled her in my ILX to ALV from the Phoenix airport.
Later that evening, a “welcome dinner” was hosted at The Gilbert House, in Gilbert, Arizona. It’s a 1928 Sears Roebuck home that was converted to a catering business in the 1980s. Famed automotive spy photographer Brenda Priddy (at left below) was on-hand to handle photography duties. My friend (and a fellow ALV team captain) Woody was thrilled to see her.
I sat at a table with Woody and Vince for dinner. The salmon entree was exquisite!
Always seeking ways to further tie together athletes & automobiles, ALV was pleased to welcome some retired NFL football players who served as celebrity judges. Here, Rob and Nina Russin sat with Mr. & Mrs. Bernard Wilson (Arizona Cardinals).
On Saturday morning, check-in was a frenzy of people but we got everyone squared away with nametags and packets of information including their ballot forms. From there, we were turned loose for walkaround presentations by the OEM representatives and then got behind the wheel for drive time.
Here I’m standing in front of some of the vehicles my team was assigned to evaluate.
Our ‘victim’ vehicles were ready to be put to the test. Here, the Acura MDX, Mazda CX-9, and Mazda CX-5 lined up.
My ILX tried to hide between a couple of 2014 Jeep Cherokees so that it could compete.
No such luck. What does everyone think of that new Cherokee front end? Pretty wild!
Some of the “Best Value – Family” vehicles lined up here for a photo-op:
The 2014 Toyota 4Runner took home the award in Best Value Off-Road. It’s a highly capable rig!
Audi representative John Shilling came to present two vehicles – the 2014 Audi SQ5 and the 2014 Q5 TDI (diesel).
We gathered for his walkaround presentation and learned about the SQ5. Its motor is derived from the well-loved Audi S4 and has over 400 horsepower.
Hands-down, Woody’s favorite vehicle was the SQ5. I think I smelled tire smoke when he rolled back into the parking lot.
Volkswagen representative Darryll Harrison presented the 2014 VW Touareg TDI (diesel) and its many features.
Diesel powerplants are becoming much more commonplace in new cars, and the level of refinement VW has achieved with the Touareg is remarkable. It doesn’t even sound like a diesel.
Darryll was also busy showing off the SportWagen TDI.
Jenn took the Mercedes-Benz E350 Wagon for a spin and was all grins.
In the back seat, Mercedes representative Diedra educated us on some of the many features of the wagon.
No local car event would be complete without a spy appearance. Brenda Priddy was there to capture the action on camera.
Ever seen a 4×4 Jeep with a Track setting LAUNCH CONTROL? You’re looking at a control panel on the console of the 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT. It was a crowd favorite for the entire day.
Jack’s grin can only mean one thing: He’s about to put those 470 horses to work. The SRT is powered by a 6.4 liter HEMI motor. This thing scoots, and as Chrysler representative Scott Brown put it, “It begs to be flogged.” At $68,000, Scott told me that it’s not uncommon for Corvettes to be traded in on one of these.
Chuck with the impressive $70k E350 4MATIC, highly optioned out with a Sport package and AMG wheels. Read more about this awesome wagon in my recent Drive to Five Review.
Check out this gorgeous 2014 Grand Cherokee “EcoDiesel.” This rig has a whopping 730-mile range on a full tank of gas. That would come in ultra handy on some of my cross-country drives. I posed for a picture with the Jeep and with Chrysler representative Kathy Graham.
At the other end of the cost spectrum, we had the 2014 Nissan Versa Note, entered in the “Urban” category. This car, at only $17k, was definitely a nice bang-for-the-buck ride. It even had heated seats for that pricetag!
The Kia Soul, at around $24k as-equipped, took home the award for that category, beating out both the Versa as well as the Fiat 500L.
Speaking of Kia: “Best Paint” was not an ALV award category, but if it had been, I would have definitely presented it to the Kia Sorento. The jewel-like red color was so stunning that a police officer pulled one of the athletes over in it.
Mike, Jim, Will discussing facts & figures about our competitor vehicles.
The blue Buick Encore was a much smaller ride in person than I thought it might be. Quite the fun rig!
Seat back and looking cozy in the driver’s seat, Will tested out the audio system.
The 2014 Durango was entered in the “Best Value – Family” category. Some of the athletes even brought their kids with them in order to properly evaluate its versatility.
Here are some of my team members: Jim, Tyson, Kevin, Cameron
Charles, Katy, and Woody
Mike, Tyson, Rob, Jack, and Paul
And Will, with the one vehicle (pictured at center) he would have LOVED to take home if Jeep had let him.
Many thanks to ALV Co-Founder Nina Russin for putting on an amazing event, 10 years and counting.
Since the core content of my blog is my love for Acura, I’ll share a little about the 2014 MDX Advance that participated in ALV this year. The MDX was popular with the athletes all day.
Redesigned 100% for the 2014 model year, the MDX is whisper quiet going down the road. That is, until you lay into the throttle and awaken the 290-horspower, 3.5 liter direct injection V6 engine which roars to attention. The MDX is chock-full of driver assistance technology, including a lane-keeping system that maintains position within a lane when the driver begins to veer.
Vince completed a brief walkaround presentation for the MDX and highlighted some of its features. This 7-seater even has tri-zone GPS-linked climate control.
“Let’s roll!” says Woody.
And they’re off.
Chuck and I were mesmerized by the signature “Jewel Eye” headlamps which have individual LED bulbs. At nighttime, this setup provides optimal illumination. Even the high beams are Jewel Eye.
Paul is an Acura guy through and through, since his daily driver is a 2013 TL SH-AWD, so he felt right at home behind the wheel of the new MDX. He said he liked that the touch-screen gave “feedback” feel when pushing buttons.
This MDX in particular was equipped with the Tech, Advance, AND Entertainment packages. Woody, Charles, and Rob (left to right, below) put it to the test. There is a gigantic 16.2″ DVD rear entertainment system with HDMI and wireless headsets. As-equipped, this vehicle goes for $57,400 including destination.
Congratulations to Vince and the rest of the Acura team on an outstanding vehicle!
I had a great time at the ALV program and look forward to participating again next year.