Archive for the PAPA Category

Press Preview: Pretty Pacifica in Paradise Valley

Posted in PAPA, Vehicle Reviews on April 22, 2016 by tysonhugie

Odometer (ILX):  160,923

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When I showed up to my 15-year high school class reunion last August in southern Utah, I realized just how big of a business minivans are.  Gotta tote those kiddos around!  Graduating class of 2000:  doing our part to populate the world.  The scary part is that kids who were born the year I graduated, are now in high school themselves.  Reality check!

Chrysler engineers know a thing or two about minivans.  Of course they do – they invented the minivan, way back in 1983.  My family never had one – the most kid-friendly vehicle my mom ever drove was a 1988 Jeep Cherokee.  But I rode around plenty in minivans belonging to other family members, like my aunt Jodi’s ride right here with my younger brother Bentley out front.  This van was pretty “pimped” out for its time.  It had a VCR & TV in the back!

bentley_jodi_van

I first saw the new Chrysler Pacifica at the Detroit Auto Show in January.  The Pacifica shares its chassis with the Dodge Caravan and touts over 100 available safety and security features.  The Uconnect Theater rear seat entertainment system is a far cry from the VCR in that pin-striped Caravan my aunt had back in the 80’s.  Chrysler marketing executives call this a “no-compromises” minivan for today’s demanding buyers.

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On Tuesday, I attended a special event for journalists from the Phoenix Automotive Press Association (PAPA) held at a resort called Lon’s at the Hermosa, in Paradise Valley, Arizona.  Chrysler representatives Scott, Matt, and Angela were on-hand to give our group of about 15 people a high level overview of the new Pacifica and its many merits.  Two pre-production vehicles were there for demonstration and driving, ranging from a low-trim entry level to the fully-loaded “Limited” which rings in at just shy of $47,000 including destination.

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Chrysler has made extensive efforts to set itself apart from the competition – namely, the Honda Odyssey and the Toyota Sienna.  While there are other minivans in the marketplace (Kia Sedona, etc), from a market share perspective the big players are the Honda and Toyota.  Minivans in general sell about 1/2 million units a year, so even though a lot of today’s families have shifted to SUVs and crossovers, the minivan is still an important market.

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Matt told us there were 37 “segment firsts” launched in the new Pacifica.  Its 287 horsepower V6 and 9-speed automatic give it a power advantage over the competition – in fact, it’s 40 horses stronger than the Odyssey.  Pacifica touts a 360-degree “bird’s eye view” camera system and three available sound systems, maxing out with a 20-speaker Harmon-Kardon surround system that is guaranteed to wake up the neighbors.  Maybe owning a minivan isn’t as “un-cool” as society makes it seem?

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Interior amenities are spacious and versatile as would be expected from a vehicle in this segment.  The second row seats fold completely flat and the Pacifica can reportedly accommodate 64 4×8 sheets of plywood.  I don’t know of any moms & dads picking up that much lumber at Lowe’s but it’s nice to know the capability is there.  The 3rd row of seats have power reclining, the tri-pane sunroof gives a glimpse of the world above, and the vacuum – yes, Chrysler has copied the HondaVac – actually has a longer hose than the Odyssey does.  “You can vacuum a boat you’re towing, or another vehicle in the garage next to it,” Matt explained.

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Next came the discussion of my favorite feature:  the “Are We There Yet?” App on the “UConnect” entertainment system.  Kids in the back seats can see on the TV screens ahead of them exactly how much longer they have until reaching their destination.  If you’ve ever been on an airline and seen a real-time map update with current location and ETA, the idea is the same here.  Pretty clever, I must say.

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Driving dynamics impressed me.  The shift knob is a rotary style dial that I twisted into Drive and hit the gas.  I found the power to come on smoothly and the Pacifica accelerated briskly for a vehicle of its size.  The touch-screen audio and climate systems would take some getting used to, but luckily some of the functions also have duplicative buttons & knobs for those of us who don’t want to deal with a screen.  Everything is intuitively laid out, including the gauge cluster with a large digital speedometer readout as well as an analog gauge to its right.

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The overall Pacifica package is a well executed attempt to take a larger bite out of that minivan segment pie.  Clearly Chrysler has done its research on what buyers want, and I won’t be surprised to see this one being well received by families everywhere.  Now, what’s the change interval on that vacuum canister?  Every 3,000 miles?

Many thanks to Chrysler for the invitation and up-close look at its newest people-hauler!

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Our group assembled underneath the umbrellas

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Matt McAlear, Senior Manager, giving us the run-down

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View of the 2nd row of seating.  Fancy piping & leather!

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A few folks from our group taking notes on what they learned.

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Thanks for reading!

Few pics from this week:

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Lonely parking – the way it should be!

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Date night at Tempe Marketplace

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Have a great weekend!

Press Preview: Ford F-150 “Pro Trailer Backup Assist” Demonstration

Posted in PAPA, Vehicle Reviews on September 6, 2015 by tysonhugie

Odometer (Vigor):  104,556

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Odometer (ILX):  140,793

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Shout out to my buddy Cody from Random Drive for the sweet Drive to Five logo!

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For a couple of summers in the mid-1990’s, my family spent most weekends at the lakes near our home in southern Utah.  We’d load up my dad’s 1994 Ford F-150 with as much gear as it could handle, latch on our two Yamaha WaveRunners, and crawl into that teeny extended cab for a ride over to Lake Mead or Lake Powell.  Even then, before I was a license-holder, I noted in appreciation how handy my dad was at driving with a trailer full of toys.

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Hey, check out those shades!  Man, I was a nerd.  Still am?

tyson_1996_with_watercraft

The winner of all trailer-towing competitions was most definitely our friend Mike.  He drove this TWO-TRAILER “train” to Lake Powell once with his PowerStroke Ford 3/4-ton pickup.  What is the overall length of this thing?

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Quad cab (long bed!) full size pickup + massive Maxim boat + dual jet ski trailer.  How did he ever get that all down the road?

If you’re like me, you might get a little anxiety when asked to back up a truck & trailer.  It doesn’t happen very often, but when it does, it can take multiple attempts to get it just right – and it can lead to a little frustration, not to mention embarrassment.  Imagine showing up at the boat ramp and wiping out against the dock or completely miscalculating the water entry angle.

“Trailer backing” is not something taught in any Driver’s Ed class that I’m aware of, so for many of us, the first time we were dealt that task was in a real-world situation.  Ford has gone to the drawing board with this problem and developed a solution.

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That solution is called Pro Trailer Backup Assist (PTBA).  Step by step:

  • The trailer is connected to the truck (Ford has developed technologies to help with even this aspect, including a multitude of cameras that lessen the need for a “spotter.”
  • The dimensions of the trailer are loaded into the truck’s computer – it allows multiple “saved” trailers which can be named.  i.e.  “Boat” or “Cargo.”
  • A checkerboard-like sticker is placed facing upward on the tongue of the trailer.  This is scanned/read by a rear-facing camera on the tailgate of the pickup.
  • From “Park,” the driver engages PTBA via a button mounted on the lower instrument panel.
  • Using mirrors, the back-up camera, and the old fashioned “turn your head around” method, the driver removes his or her hands from the steering wheel, shifts into reverse, and allows the truck to idle backward.
  • Trailer direction is controlled via the dash-mounted dial – right to turn the trailer right, left to turn the trailer left.  The truck’s wheel spins on its own – quickly at times – to make needed adjustments.  Releasing the dial entirely causes it to center again and back the trailer straight rearward in its current line.

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How’d I do?  Well, my training was limited.  I started out by playing a touch-screen “game” inside the tent where I used my fingers to direct a backing-up F-150.  I passed that test without destroying a truck or trailer, so walked outside feeling pretty confident.

demo

“Which one do you want to back up?” asked Nick from Ford’s agency.  I scanned the parking lot.  My choices were:  ATV trailer, small travel trailer, larger travel trailer, or… on the horizon, I saw the big enchilada:  a 22-foot-long “Supra” ski boat.  Yes, that’s the one I wanted.

I saddled up inside a white “Limited” trim level F-150 for my real-world demonstration.  When Ford says “Limited,” it’s true.  The VIN / production number of the trunk is printed on a placard atop the center console.  But exactly how many “Limiteds” will be sold?  Ford representatives didn’t know.  The truck rings in at around $60,000 as-equipped and is powered by a powerful yet fuel-efficient V6 “Ecoboost” engine.  Tech specs aside, the purpose of Tuesday’s exercise was to experience Ford’s PTBA system in a controlled environment.

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Nick joined me in the cab of the pickup and I performed a couple of “un-assisted” backing exercises.  It took a bit to get my bearings, but I sorta-kinda got the hang of it.  I didn’t try anything too technical, though.  “Now,” Nick said, “Turn on the backup assist.”  I followed his instructions and got rolling.  It’s pretty intuitive, that little dial.  The degree to which I turned it would correspond with the severity to which the trailer would cut left or right.  And the good news is that even when you go “hard” with the dial and crank it full-tilt, it still won’t let the trailer jackknife.  Somehow, Ford’s engineers have thought of everything.  (And it’s earned them 5 patents)

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So, with some level of skill, I managed to back that ski boat into a narrow parking space at a 90-degree angle.  And with that, I was awarded a short video for my efforts and a keychain & baseball cap as parting gifts.  Thanks, Ford, for showing me the latest in truck tech!

LOOK AT ME GO!

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Hope everyone is having a great holiday weekend!  I just got back in town from Hollywood, CA in the ILX (full write-up to come).

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I had the chance to get these two out for a lap around the block this evening.

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Happy Labor Day!

Press Preview: 2016 McLaren 570S

Posted in PAPA, Vehicle Reviews on May 22, 2015 by tysonhugie

Odometer (Legend):  533,595

533595

Odometer (ILX):  125,855

125855

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It’s fun to dream.  Most of us will never own a vehicle with a six-figure pricetag, but that doesn’t stop us from obsessing over them by doing things like making them our smartphone wallpaper backgrounds.  I was invited as a PAPA member to get a sneak-peek of the new McLaren 570S model at a dealership last Friday evening at a VIP event for automotive media.  The 570S Coupe has a base price of $184,000 and it was unveiled to the world at last month’s New York International Auto Show (photo credit to Autoblog for the above & below).  That pricetag makes the 570S the company’s least expensive car sold in the United States.

570s

McLaren’s dealership on Raintree Drive in Scottsdale, Arizona is very simple and unassuming from the exterior.  As a matter of fact, I’d driven by in the past and didn’t even realize it was there.  Unlike other car dealerships, they don’t need balloons, bright signs, or fanfare to attract people.  When you’re spending $200k on a car, it’s a little different purchase experience than tire-kicking at CarMax.

mclaren_dealership

When I arrived, there were hors d’oeuvres and cocktails being distributed by a fancily-dressed waitstaff.  The 570S was under a white sheet until 7:45 p.m. when a countdown on the flatscreen TV went from 29 to zero and the cover was pulled off dramatically.  We then heard from some McLaren employees including an engineer named Chris Goodwin who played a key role in its development and who told us he’d personally logged “thousands” of miles in the 570S as a means of testing and evaluation.  He’d flown in from the U.K.

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Like other McLaren models, the new 570S has a mid-engine setup, rear-wheel-drive layout and carbon fiber construction (for strength and light weight).  The performance stats on this “baby” McLaren are impressive:  Zero-to-60 happens in a flash at just 3.1 seconds.  Product representatives told us the car can accelerate to 124 miles per hour in 9.5 seconds and has a top speed of 204 miles per hour.  Got a need for speed?  Here’s your car.  Now, if only it didn’t cost as much as I owe on my home mortgage.  You’ll need a $10,000 deposit to secure your spot in line for the car when it becomes available.  The dealership doesn’t yet know how many cars they’ll be allocated, and there will be a 4-month wait from the time of order until delivery.

570s

The representative joked, “McLaren has no intention of building an SUV.  We are a sports car company.  Mid engined, rear-wheel-drive is what we do.”  He also went on to emphasize the fact that the brand is not going for high-volume sales and considers itself in a special niche. I was surprised to learn that despite McLaren’s longstanding reputation in automotive racing, the company has only been in the business of making “road” cars for about the last four years.  The McLaren name has been around in racing since the 1966 Monaco Grand Prix.  Today, the McLaren Formula One team is actually called McLaren Honda.  Why?  Honda builds the engines!  No wonder they’re so successful!

Here are some nitty-gritty specs on the new 570S supercar:

  • 3.8 liter V8 twin-turbo motor
  • 562 horsepower; 443 lb-ft of torque
  • 7-speed dual clutch transmission
  • Double-wishbone independent suspension
  • 19 inch wheels (285 width rear tires!)
  • 17 available exterior colors

Starting with just one roadgoing model, the MP4, the McLaren lineup of cars now consists of a wide range of cars, from this “entry level” 570S to the $1.15 million “P1” model.   The 570S will go head-to-head in the same general price class as the not-yet-on-sale 2016 Acura NSX.  Now that’s a drag race I’d pay money to see.  Below are the rest of the pics from my visit to the preview event.  Thanks for reading!

Bunch of McLarens in the service bay

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This one in the showroom is the 650S model

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Want it?  That’ll be $390,286, please.

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Here’s the interior.

mclaren_650s_interior

A few more pics of the 570S on display

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Lots of carbon fiber

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Are they still called “Lambo doors” when they’re not on a Lambo?

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Interior

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Beefy brakes!

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And a couple of ‘twinning’ silver 6-speed Acura sedans last weekend for good measure.

What’s up for the weekend here in Arizona?  Well, James from Six Speed Blog and I have a couple of 2015 model year pickup trucks at our disposal.  And we’re getting them dirty :).  More on that next week.

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Happy holiday weekend to all.

Press Preview: Ford EcoBoost Challenge Event in Scottsdale, Arizona

Posted in PAPA, Vehicle Reviews on May 4, 2015 by tysonhugie

Odometer (Legend):  533,309

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Odometer (ILX):  124,160

124160

westworld

There’s nothing like the smell of burning rubber on a Friday morning to get your day started.  I fully enjoyed ripping through the gears in a couple of the auto industry’s favorite “hot hatch” cars on a closed course last week

Ford rolled out the blue carpet for us at a media-only event on Friday as part of its 17-city “EcoBoost Challenge” tour.  I attended along with about 20 other members of the Phoenix Automotive Press Association (PAPA).  The venue was WestWorld, on the north end of town in Scottsdale.  It’s the same location where the Barrett-Jackson collector car auction takes place every January.  Some Ford folks kicked off the day with a little background on Ford’s current product lineup and the layout of the event.  Brandt Coultas from the Dearborn, Michigan plant was in attendance.  I’d already met him previously at a Ford F-150 preview event about a year ago.

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Since 2009, Ford’s EcoBoost lineup of engines have made a name for themselves for being powerful yet fuel efficient.  They are all characterized by being turbocharged and utilizing direct injection.  More from Wiki:

Engines equipped with EcoBoost technology are designed to deliver power and torque consistent with those of larger engine displacement while achieving approximately 20% better fuel efficiency and 15% reduced green house emissions than these same engines.

As a matter of fact, when Ford’s representative Tania started talking about the available Mustang powertrains, she ranked the 4-cylinder EcoBoost as a higher performance car than the V6 model.  See how the power compares across the three available motors?

  • EcoBoost 4 cylinder:  310 horsepower
  • V6:  300 horsepower
  • V8:  435 horsepower

Ford’s Mustang test drive lap was way too short.  Even after having completed it twice in a row, I still had probably only driven the car 1/2 mile.  The “acceleration straightaway” was barely long enough to get me through first gear and starting into second before I had to mash the brakes for the first left corner.  But, that corner was a lot of fun – and so was the slalom section through a couple of cones.  My yellow EcoBoost Mustang 6-speed handled really well.  I also found the power very impressive for a 4 cylinder.

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The next event was a “Reaction Time Challenge” on a separate course, equipped with all “ST” models.  I talked awhile back about my first driving experience in a Fiesta ST, which in that case was in a normal, on-road setting instead of a closed track.  Steve Lynch who I recently paired up with for a scenic mountain drive was my nemesis at the start line.  Each of us were equipped with the same vehicle.  The goal here was not to beat any specific lap time but rather to achieve the best reaction time once the light turned green.

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We were instructed to rev the tach to 3,000 RPM for take-off, and I followed those instructions to a T.  The Fiesta spun its wheels just momentarily on take-off but got a grip quickly and I was on my way.  Steve and I blasted in parallel through first gear to the red flag at the end of the very short runway, then clamped down on the brakes.  A digital readout displayed our respective reaction times.  My personal best was a .43 and I think Steve was somewhere in the 5’s.  Following that straight section, there was a curvy section lined with orange cones and then another slalom.  The Fiesta is very light on its feet and I had a blast tossing it around.  The surprising part was that the larger Focus ST actually didn’t feel nearly as fun.  Steve and I agreed on that.  Each of us took two laps in each car.

As some of my readers may know, my younger brother Payton is the driver for the H&S Motorsports race team.  I felt so proud of my reaction time that I sent him a text message.  He had to quickly squash my arrogance by telling me he’d achieved a reaction time of .051 in a diesel-powered Ford Lightning pickup truck.  That’s a near-perfect time!  I guess I have some practicing to do before I race against him.

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(Random video of my brother kicking butt at some drag races)

Being front-wheel-drive, the Fiestas and Focuses (Foci?) handled vastly differently than the RWD Mustang, but I actually preferred them.  I applaud Ford for continuing to cater to customers who demand “fun” in the car that they drive.  I also appreciate that Ford continues offering a stick shift so readily in so much of its lineup.  One of the events at the track day was “Shift Phobia” where first-timers and new drivers could give stick-shifting a try who hadn’t done it before.

It was a great day on the track with Ford, and I definitely gained a greater appreciation for the capability of the EcoBoost lineup of engines.  Ford says that over 4 million EcoBoost-powered vehicles have been sold to date, and that number will certainly continue to grow at a rapid pace.  A remarkable 79% of the new aluminum-bodied F-150 models sold in the Phoenix area have been EcoBoost-equipped (the national average is 60%).  Knowing what I know now, I’m not surprised.  It’s a great formula and the proof is in the performance.

Many thanks to Ford for inviting PAPA to participate at the event!

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Tania giving us the lay of the land (track)

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My 4-cyl Mustang test car

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Behind the wheel of a Fiesta ST 6-speed

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Having a post-lap recap conversation with Steve

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Some of the vehicles awaiting punishment on the Reaction Time Challenge

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Focus ST.  I love this color.

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Bonus Material:

On Saturday, I took the NSX on a “Supercar Saturday” drive with about 50 other cars.  We did about 200 miles – looping up to Roosevelt Lake and then into Globe for lunch, before heading back to Phoenix.  Here’s some cool drone footage.  See if you can spot my car.

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Press Previews: 2015 Chrysler 300 & 2015 Mercedes-Benz GLA

Posted in PAPA, Vehicle Reviews on March 15, 2015 by tysonhugie

Odometer (Legend):  532,734

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Odometer (ILX):  116,158

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Every so often, as a member of the Phoenix Automotive Press Association (“PAPA”), I get an up-close-and-personal look at a new vehicle that’s coming to market, and I like to share those experiences with you.  This week, I attended two media events where automakers invited PAPA affiliates to check out their latest offerings.

First up, on Tuesday, Chrysler hosted a small group of journalists at the Salt River baseball fields in Scottsdale for an introduction to the newly-redesigned 2015 Chrysler 300 just prior to the Colorado Rockies vs. Seattle Mariners spring training game.

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My first look at the refreshed 300 actually took place at the Los Angeles Auto Show last November.  At that time, I put together a short 2-minute introduction video about the 300 in collaboration with Redline Reviews.

Manager of Media Relations Communications, Jiyan Cadiz, took a few minutes to kick off the presentation with an overview of the Chrysler sedan family and the 300’s place within it.  Brand Manager John Zaremba then spoke to some of the key attributes of this bold American sedan.  For 2015, the 300 brings more bang for the buck than ever before.  A redesigned front end with a larger grille exudes the new “face of Chrysler,” and LED foglights and taillights round out the exterior.

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The 300’s starting price point at around $31k puts it right in the midst of a fierce market but Chrysler hopes that luxurious things like standard leather and a rotary shift selector will nudge the car to the top of buyers’ consideration.

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Chrysler has also engineered 4 unique trim levels in an effort to please just about everyone.  The base “Limited” is powered by a 292-horsepower V6 and can be equipped with all-wheel-drive.  Also available are “S,” “C,” and “Platinum” variants.  We got the chance to see a Jazz Blue “C” model.  The color really pops, and the lighter interior with nappa leather sets it off nicely.  A panoramic moonroof is a nice touch on an 88-degree day like the one we were having.

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Chrysler’s 300 is a nice statement of ‘American Attitude” and I look forward to test-driving one soon.

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Here’s a picture of me enjoying the spring training game with automotive spy photographer Brenda Priddy.

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Thanks to Chrysler for allowing us the inside look at its new car!

The second new vehicle I got to experience this week was the 2015 Mercedes-Benz GLA.  Anna Kleinebreil, Assistant Product Manager for CLA, GLA, and SLK, spoke to our group which was assembled at the Phoenix Art Museum on Wednesday evening.  The all-new GLA is Mercedes’ latest entrant into the very hot SUV marketplace and it’s based on the successful CLA sedan which has been around for a couple of years now.

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At our disposal when I arrived in central Phoenix were a GLA250, a GLA45 AMG, and a C400 sedan.  I had the chance to experience all three.  Mercedes has its sights set on Generation Y with the new GLA.  The company is banking on the fact that 25% of its sales volume will come from its “NGCC” (New Generation Compact Car) lineup of automobiles, of which the GLA is a part.

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Currently available are the GLA250 and the GLA45 AMG, both in “4MATIC” all-wheel-drive.  Soon, Mercedes will also debut a front-wheel-drive GLA250 as well, making it the first time the company has ever offered a front-drive SUV.  The “Mountain Gray” GLA that I drove had a base price of $33,300 but was highly optioned out with Panoramic Sunroof, Bi-Xenon Headlamps, Premium Package, Interior Package, Multimedia Package, Sport Package, and Driver Assistance Package.  $48,605 all-in.  That’s a big chunk of change but if you’re buying a Benz, go all-out!

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Interior accommodations are top notch as would be expected in a vehicle from M-B.  I’m still trying to get used to the display screen since it kind of looks like an iPad Mini glued to the dashboard.

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The GLA250 goes head-to-head with the BMW X1 and the Audi Q3.  I haven’t yet driven either of those, but I did leave with a very good impression of the GLA.  Its 2.0 liter turbo 4 cylinder cranks out 208 horsepower which is enough to give a quick pace.  The transmission is a 7-speed DCT with paddle shifters on the steering wheel.

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Behind the wheel, you quickly forget you’re driving a high-profile vehicle since it handles like a sports sedan.  It does take a bit to become acquainted with the controls.  I reached for a shift lever that wasn’t there, only to realize that Mercedes puts its drive selector on a stalk attached to the right side of the steering column.  (Kind of like what my 1986 Chevy Celebrity had, but a little bit more advanced with some push-buttons!).

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Now, here’s the evil twin to the standard GLA250:  the GLA45 AMG.  Black means business.

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Aside from the obvious cosmetic differences from the base model, the 45 packs a punch under the hood as well with 355 horsepower.  Colleagues Beau, Kyle, and I took it for a spin and right away noted how much quicker it was than its sibling.  Special race-inspired seats offer maximum grip from their beefy side bolsters.  The exhaust note is amplified and acceleration is vastly improved.  All in all, it makes for a much more engaging driving experience.  The GLA that we drove had over $5k in other upgrades like a Multimedia package, bringing the as-tested sticker to over $62,000.

The AMG model even has red seat belts.  Sporty!

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Thanks to Mercedes for hosting the PAPA group at this special event!