Test Drive Friday: 2019 Southwest Lifestyle Media Drive – Chandler, Arizona

This past Friday was sweet.  And not just because of the sugar cookies.

One of the best benefits of being affiliated with a local automotive media community is the chance to get behind the wheel of new vehicles each year to see how & where the industry is evolving.  You may recall my prior involvement with a program called the Active Lifestyle Vehicle of the Year (ALV) starting in 2012.  ALV eventually evolved into a broader scope – focusing not only on certain types of vehicles but rather exposing journalists to a little bit of everything.  It was phased out after 2017.

The Southwest Lifestyle Media Drive was then launched in 2018 to better align the Phoenix area press event with the key stakeholders, the vehicles in consideration, and the brilliant landscape that many of us call home.  And instead of being a formal road test or evaluation event, it’s a no-strings-attached opportunity to put vehicles through their paces without worrying about needing to tally up scores in a mountain of paperwork after the fact.  I like the evolution that this event has taken.

The host venue for this year’s activity was the Crowne Plaza San Marcos in Chandler, Arizona.  It’s a historic and hospitable place to begin with, but it also at a crossroads of some great driving opportunities in both urban and freeway settings.  Event Director Becky Antioco stated that there were 13 vehicles available to experience, and over the course of the day I was able to experience several.

The standout vehicle for me – and I never thought I’d say this – was a 2020 Toyota Camry with special “TRD” (Toyota Racing Development) add-ons.  A Camry with sporting aspirations?  Unheard of.  But all it takes is one look at the aero treatment, the custom interior, and the stunning color to know that this Camry is a little something special.  I ran it through the gears (8-speed automatic, of course) in a spirited launch up the Loop 202 onramp and enjoyed the 301-horsepower V6’s exhaust note.

The surprise came when I pulled up the monroney spec sheet and realized it’s priced at $32,920.  That’s some serious sticker shock in a positive way instead of a negative way.

One of the media drive’s main sponsors this year was Nissan.  A product representative gave us a walk-around of the Versa “SV” – an impressively equipped sedan for its $14k-21k price point.  Back in the day, the big competition was in the number of cup holders a vehicle had.  Today, it’s all about the tech, and the Versa has 3 USB ports.  It also has fancy things like “rear door alert,” to audibly notify the driver a reminder that they’ve put something in the back seat if the doors are opened in a certain sequence before starting a drive.  Innovation at work!

Another vehicle that stood out to me was the latest Ram.  The tailgate opens via the conventional method, but has also has a trick up its sleeve:  You can open it down the middle like a set of barn doors, too.  Think of the versatility here – especially if (as in our test truck) your pickup has a tonneau cover securing valuables being hauled in the bed.  I like it.

Thanks to the SW Lifestyle planning team and to all the manufacturers who put the event together!

10 Responses to “Test Drive Friday: 2019 Southwest Lifestyle Media Drive – Chandler, Arizona”

  1. If someone forced me to drive a V6 Camry XSE, it wouldn’t be the worst thing. I couldn’t say that 15 or more years ago!

  2. Seems like a really cool event – and it’s interesting to see the Camry moving strongly into the performance space, especially since Toyota has stayed with the V6, as opposed to the Accord which is turbo-only.

  3. The Camry will probably be more reliable long term than the Accord Turbo.

  4. That’s a really red paint color! How do you get the VIP passes to all of these events? 🙂

  5. That Camry’s a nice looking car! Three USB ports though – why? Things are getting far too high-tech for me these days!

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