Archive for the PAPA Category

Press Preview: 2020 Toyota Highlander Platinum

Posted in PAPA, Vehicle Reviews on February 15, 2020 by tysonhugie

I sat inside a rolling concert hall this week.  It’s been a long time since I heard a stereo this good, and Mariah Carey came through in such crystal clarity that I ran the volume knob all the way to its max setting.

Toyota invited me and some of the other Phoenix-area journalists to a media event on Wednesday to showcase its latest in technology with its three-row Highlander crossover.  The segment in which the Highlander competes is massive in size, with 24 vehicles competing for the same pie.  Highlander comprises 9% of that pie with its annual 228,000 units sold, and with this new iteration, Toyota is hoping to grow that number.

We heard from product expert Dave Lee as he walked us through a series of slides about what’s new and exciting about the Highlander.  The biggest news is powertrain-related, with a hybrid system offered that provides best-in-class fuel economy (topping out at an impressive 36 mpg) and a massive range of 600 miles per tank.  Dave explained how the Highlander’s “PED” (Predictive Efficient Drive) system tracks driving habits and terrains to optimize efficiency of the hybrid + gas combination.

Inside the cabin, there’s more to be seen from a technology perspective, with a massive 12.3″ touch-screen monitor.  It seems all manufacturers today are of the “bigger is better” mindset, and Highlander fits right in.  The only problem I observed is the screen’s susceptibility to greasy fingerprints.  The Highlander comes with driver-assist tech like front & rear parking assist cameras and a digital rearview camera (which can be toggled to ‘regular’).  There are five USB ports and three zones of climate control.

Perhaps one of the most compelling things about the Highlander is its innovative color-naming convention.  This model has an exterior in “Ruby Flare Pearl” and an interior in “Glazed Caramel.”  Seriously.  Makes me hungry.

With a variety of trim levels available, the Highlander can be equipped with an MSRP from the $30s up to pushing $50k.  As a plush family hauler with the latest in modern tech, it’s going to give its 23 competing classmates a run for their money.  Thanks to Toyota for the preview & test drive!

K1 Speed Go-Karting Event & Holiday Travels, & Automotive Updates

Posted in Arizona, ILX, Legend, Milestones, PAPA, SLX, Utah on December 22, 2019 by tysonhugie

Odometer (ILX):  222,222

It seems I’m getting quite a few chances to put the pedal to the metal lately, including a visit to Apex Motor Club earlier this year, and two events at Bondurant a few weeks ago.  This time, I joined some fellow members of the Phoenix Automotive Press Association and we scaled back the size of our racecars to engage a little bit of friendly go-karting on a Friday morning.

K1 Speed opened its doors for an early morning race session specifically for our group.  I was proud to finish in the first half of the pack, but I was clearly outclassed by more skilled drivers in our group.  K1’s cars are all-electric, and they’re a lot faster than you’d think!  I put some of the driver training to work and honestly thought I’d rank better in the final standings.  Journalists John Priddy (left) and Wally Cahill (right) still let me at least pretend I was a first-place winner on the podium post-race.

Coming in at first place was newly-appointed Managing Editor for ClassicCars.com, Tom Stahler.

I spent the remainder of last weekend in northern Utah where temperatures dipped to a frigid 15 degrees during my visit.  I was poorly prepared from a wardrobe perspective.  But, I enjoyed the cozy and warm homes of friends & family members.  This was the scene on the campus of Utah State University where I graduated with my undergraduate degree 14 years ago this month.  Go USU Aggies!

Sunny, Jason, and Brady met up for some Mexican grub in Salt Lake City.

And it was of course awesome to see my grandma, who’ll be 90 next month.

Below are some photos of other recent visitors and events, as we near the end of this year (and this decade).  My stepdad and mom were passing through Phoenix on a long layover flight this week, so I met up with them at the airport terminal for a bite to eat.

The cars have kept me busy these last few weeks.  The NSX got an emissions check & new registration tags, the Integra GS-R got a battery, the Legend GS got new Michelin tires, the ILX got an oil change, the RL got a trip to Tucson, and the SLX got a much-needed bath after RADwood.

Here were some visitors from around the state who stopped by to say hello.

I also welcomed an out-of-towner from Austin, TX who’s been a friend of mine for many years.  In fact, he’s the one who sent his 1993 Legend L sedan over to Arizona when it needed to find a new home in 2015.

My friend Karna sent me some sweet promo materials including a leaflet that had an NSX postcard that looks just like the real thing.

My friend Eric sent me some awesome-smelling cologne called Chrome Legend.  I’ll be saving that bottle!

Andrew from Acura PR sent me two signed posters celebrating this year’s “IMSA” race series wins.  I’ll be giving one away to a lucky blog reader.  If you’re interested, let me know!

He also sent me the 11×17 display poster that was used at RADwood.

I like how they adjusted the original MSRP on there to nearly $60k in 2019 dollars.

I scored a few swag items from Ebay on the 1996 Isuzu Trooper because I was curious to see what kind of literature they put out back then, and how it compared to SLX stuff.  As it turns out, some Troopers were better-equipped than SLXs!  Example:  The “Limited” model had headlight wipers.

I had an idea for a Christmas photo with red & green when my roommate James was road-testing a 2020 Toyota 4Runner recently.  He had it nice and caked with mud for this early-morning glamour shot.

Twins!  I’m looking after my friend Jason’s 1992 Integra GS-R right now.  His car is 0718 and mine is 0343 so they’re separated by only 375 vehicles on the production line.  Jason will be picking up his car in a few weeks, but in the meantime it’s enjoying being reunited with a close sibling.

Aztec Green overload.

“Drive your Legend to work” day, as requested by my friend Alex recently.

Yesterday, the ILX celebrated 222,222 miles on the odometer.  I made sure I was driving 2,000 RPM at 22 miles per hour.  And, I was driving with 2 friends on the 202 “South Mountain” freeway which is a brand new 22-mile stretch of interstate, literally opened just minutes prior.  Amazing how the stars can align when you want them to!  (Or when you want them “two.”).

Apple Maps still doesn’t even show the freeway as existing yet.

Before you go, I thought this was pretty cool and wanted to share.  My friend Owen in Washington spent a couple years of his life gutting and restoring an old Bluebird bus into a liveable RV.  Look at the level of detail in the finished product!

Two new episodes on my YouTube as well.

Have a great Christmas!

Driver’s Ed Extreme: Race Weekend in a Dodge Challenger & a Toyota Supra

Posted in PAPA, Racing, Vehicle Reviews on November 19, 2019 by tysonhugie

Odometer (Legend):  572,259

Twenty-two years ago today, on November 19, 1997, my student driving instructor Mr. Hiatt at Pine View High School issued me this Practice Permit.  Apparently I was 5’8″ and 130 lbs at the time.

How many miles have I driven since then?  It’s tough to quantify.  In my Legend coupe alone, I’ve logged 477,000 miles.  The ILX has traveled about 220,000.  And I’ve owned 27 other cars besides those two over my 22-year driving career.  Safe to say I might be a million-miler.  But even I still have things to learn.

“Everyone deserves to be a better driver,” is a saying I learned from my friends at Out Motorsports who spend their weekends in the relentless pursuit of speed and skill with their racecars.  My own professional driving experience is pretty limited, but I had the chance this past weekend to get behind the wheel of a couple very sweet performance cars to refine the entry-level skills I’m starting with.

Under new ownership this year, the Bondurant School of High Performance Driving has its home base at the Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park in Chandler, Arizona.  Formal classes start around $1,900 and include a one-day program with these components:

  • Ground School
  • Throttle Steer
  • Slalom
  • Accident Avoidance Drill
  • Handling Drill – Oval
  • Skid Control Training
  • Autocross Session
  • Track Lead & Follow
  • Graduation

During a media event for the Phoenix Automotive Press Association (PAPA) last Friday, I got a taste of these offerings at a special event hosted by Bondurant’s Public Relations Agency.  And I must say, I came away impressed and grinning from the chance to put a high-horsepower Dodge Challenger Hellcat through its paces.

The learnings came directly from one of the industry’s best drivers:  Rob Knipe, who personally instructed actor Christian Bale for the recent film “Ford v. Ferrari.”  I’m pleased to report that my best autocross finish time at the end of the exercise was only about 1 second slower than the best time for our group.  But what did I learn?

Some of the key skills that I came away with were fundamentals about understanding weight transfer (optimizing balance of the car’s behavior under acceleration and under braking) and keeping eyes elevated, looking at a wide angle view.  As drivers, we characteristically focus on only certain aspects of our field of vision, keeping a narrow and shortsighted perspective.

But it’s important in a racing situation – and in everyday driving – to take it all in as best possible:  Look where you want the car to go, not necessarily directly where it’s headed.  On a related note, we were instructed to avoid “target fixation.”  While it’s natural to look exactly at an object or obstacle we are headed toward, it’s important to look away from it, focusing on a desired destination.

Since the Challenger I drove that night was an automatic, I had little to worry about from a gear-hunting perspective.  I mashed the gas pedal when it was appropriate to, and trained myself to brake at the right times – in advance of a turn, putting weight on the front tires where it needed to be.  Thanks to traction-control aids I also managed to attack the entire course at the limits of my abilities without a loss of control which could have been embarrassing in front of my journalist colleagues!

Also on display was a not-yet-on-sale 2020 Dodge Charger Hellcat “Widebody,” pictured above, with massive 305-series tires that help this sport sedan achieve max performance.

On Saturday, I made the trip to Wild Horse Pass once more, but this time for a Toyota program.  New for 2020, the fifth-generation Supra has big shoes to fill, since the outgoing model was discontinued over 20 years ago and there has been a great deal of hype around the successor.  This time, Toyota partnered with BMW to create a sportscar that reignites the nostalgia by way of an inline-6 engine which is what the last generation Supra (called the “Mark IV” by enthusiasts) was also powered by.

Dave Lee, Vehicle Product Training Specialist, gave our group the lowdown on some of the engineering features, design background, and performance stats of the new Supra while waiting for our track session to begin.  Benchmarking Porsche Boxster and Cayman, the Supra achieves 50/50 weight balance and has a surprisingly smaller wheelbase than its “86” (formerly FR-S) sibling.

All Supras are powered by a 3-liter, 335-horsepower engine coupled to an 8-speed automatic transmission.  A low center of gravity, launch control mode, active differential, and grippy Michelin Pilot SuperSport tires ensure that all the power gets to the ground exactly when it needs to.

Toyota had slotted our group’s track time into an already-existing National Auto Sport Association (NASA) event at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park which meant our time was closely calculated.  I saddled up in the driver seat with my helmet securely fastened and with a professional driver in the passenger seat.  The Supra launched me around the 1.6 mile track with speed and agility.

Photo credit:  Six Speed Blog

I remembered thinking to myself a couple of times, “I have never driven my own vehicles this hard,” as the trainer yelled at me “BRAKE HARDER!”  It took a couple of laps until I got comfortable actually pushing the vehicle to such an aggressive extent without feeling like I needed to apologize to it.

The Supra left me feeling impressed.  Even with a helmet on, I had ample head room to pivot and oversee my surroundings.  The acceleration was responsive and rapid, and the car’s lack of body roll was confidence-inspiring.  With each lap, I shaved time off – thanks to being more comfortable with the car, with the track, and with my skills.  I think I need just one more session to really fine-tune my expertise ;).

Thanks to the folks at Dodge and at Toyota for letting me satisfy my need for speed!

Jared & Rebecca from ClassicCars.com

Part of the Dodge fleet at Bondurant

Getting ready to head out for a “lead and follow” session

With Paige & Jessica from Toyota’s Public Relations team

Great minds think alike:  Each ‘demo’ Supra had its own maintenance binder

Thumbs up to this one

Quick Visit: 2019 Ferrari Club of America (FCA) Meet in Scottsdale, Arizona

Posted in Arizona, Car Show, NSX, PAPA on November 7, 2019 by tysonhugie

Odometer (NSX):  116,205

You want to know how high-class the Ferrari Club of America is?  They have jewelry for sale at their meets.  I kid you not!  I showed up on Wednesday evening to the Scottsdale Doubletree hotel, home base for this year’s massive 300-car club gathering, and took a stroll through the reception hall.  The whole place felt like it was on another level: wine bar, hors d’oeuvres (I always love spelling that), and yes – the finest of necklaces & rings for your perusal.

I was tempted to take the NSX to the meet-up, but I didn’t.  This was a party for the Italians only.  Peter Volny, fellow Phoenix Automotive Press Association member, was one of the key leaders orchestrating this stampede of sportscars.  His team developed a comprehensive website outlining the day-to-day details, which consisted of all the customary ingredients for a quality meeting of ‘car people’:  Plenty of food, driving opportunities, a show (‘concours’ is the proper term in this caliber of club), and performance driving opportunities at the track.  For the track portion, the Ferrari club went to Apex Motor Club which you’ll remember from a recent blog post.

I took a stroll around the property including the “Ferrari Parking Only” section toward the rear.  The cars ranged in age, configuration, and color in a wide variety.  I’m certain many of them held a market value at or beyond the price of my home.  Several of them were covered up – presumably to keep them from being slobbered on by people like me.  Perhaps my favorite feature of any car there was the “BUELER” plate on this ride.  You’ll recall that the famous movie car from the classic 1986 film “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” was a 1961 Ferrari 250GT California.

I liked this one particularly, and not necessarily because of its color or condition, but because it had bugs on the front end.  I get the feeling a lot of attendees – especially those from more than a couple hundred miles away – had their vehicles transported to the event in bubble-wrapped, fully-enclosed, climate-controlled shipping containers.  This owner put his Ferrari to use as it was meant to be.

This morning, I visited the Scottsdale Sports Complex where the concours was being held.  Judges wore matching yellow shirts and readily identifiable badges on their lanyards.  It was clear they took their jobs very seriously.  Notice they even opened up the gas door here for closer inspection.  Funny enough, we do that during the judging portion at Legend meets, but usually only when a tie-breaker is needed between two exceptionally clean cars.

This year’s FCA meet is reportedly the second-largest in the club’s history:  It’s surpassed in size only by the 2015 event which was held in conjunction with Monterey Car Week.  I am sure I’ll be seeing a few more ‘raris than usual on my day-to-day travels through the end of the event this coming Sunday morning.  Maybe I’ll even sneak my way into the lineup with my Japanese imposter.

The Doubletree is swarmed in high class cars

No shortage of color out here

I think this might have been my favorite shade

So 1980s I love it.

I drove a car similar to these owned by my friend Greg recently.

And the obligatory NSX picture for this post.  Notice, I found a convertible Crown Victoria at the gas station.

‘Legends of Speed’ Phoenix Art Museum Exhibit & ‘Hard Parking’ Podcast Feature

Posted in Legend, PAPA on November 4, 2019 by tysonhugie

Odometer (Legend):  572,202

There’s a new exhibit in town at the Phoenix Art Museum.  It’s called Legends of Speed.  Sounds right up my alley, right?  And in coincidental timing, I hosted a meeting of Legends at my house this weekend, too.  They aren’t very speedy.  We’re lucky they’re even still on the road at this age.

A friend was in town from Alberta with a drone that’s worth more than most of my cars.  He put it to use on Sunday flying high above Uptown Phoenix to capture a few photographs of my property.  I’ve become accustomed to the fact that neighbors get to see this kind of spectacle on a regular basis.

In attendance at the meet-up was a trio of rare Cayman White Pearl 1995 LS coupes owned by Branson, Travis, and John.  CWP was a one-year-only color for the last model year of the Legend.  The car pictured in the middle received an engine transplant within the last couple of weeks and is on its road to restoration.  Isn’t it hard to believe that a 1995 model is now 25 years old?

Opened 60 years ago, the Phoenix Art Museum welcomes about 350,000 guests annually.  The new ‘Legends’ exhibit marks only the second time that a major exhibit in the Museum has focused on automotive art.  The first was “Curves of Steel” in 2007.  From now through mid-March 2020, attendees can visit Legends of Speed in the Steele Gallery at the facility on Central Avenue & McDowell Road in central Phoenix.  The exhibit is comprised of over 20 significant and historic racecars.  Each one was carefully curated for a specific reason and is shown with supporting informational placards.

This one is particularly important in racing history.  It’s a 1968 Ford GT40 that won the 24 Hours of Lemans race two times – in 1968 and again in 1969.  It made 331 laps averaging 115 miles per hour.  Makes me dizzy just thinking about it.

Another of the cars was a 1911 Franklin that was driven in the Cactus Derby – an off-road race from Los Angeles to Phoenix from many years before an interstate freeway linked the two cities.  I can’t imagine making that then-542-mile route in a primitive car like that on entirely dirt pathways.  It took driver Ralph Hamlin about 16 hours to do it.

It was also special for me to see this green 1929 Bugatti Type 35.  It was driven by Hellé Nice, the first Woman’s Grand Prix winner.  In 2016, I had the opportunity to interview Miranda Seymour who wrote a book called The Bugatti Queen all about Nice.  Note that the stick shift for that car is located outside the passenger compartment, and right next to the brake lever.  Be careful which one you grab.

One of my fellow journalists at the press preview asked the question, “What’s the collective value of all the cars on display here?”  Without skipping a beat, our guide grinned and said, “We don’t place a value on art.”  Check out the intro page to the exhibit which includes a short video and check out the cars if you’re in the area over the next few months.  Adult admission is $23.  Below are a few more photos of my Legendary meet up and this legendary exhibit.

If you have time, check out this hour+ long podcast that I was featured on recently with my friend Jhae who hosts “Hard Parking,” featured on Spotify and Apple Podcasts.

Link here

And finally, I realized that today is the 8-year anniversary of the day I rolled 500,000 miles at a red-carpet party in Torrance, California.  So it took me 8 years to drive 72,000 miles, which means the car gets driven exactly 9,000 miles per year – about 1/5th what it used to drive when it was my sole/daily driver.  Throwback vid:

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

Posted in PAPA, Vehicle Reviews on October 25, 2019 by tysonhugie

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!

Modified Minivan Manufacturing: Vantage Mobility International (VMI) Factory Tour

Posted in PAPA on September 23, 2019 by tysonhugie

Odometer (Legend):  566,562

Do you have a friend or family member who uses a wheelchair?  Having been a part of the broader automotive community for over 20 years and in the Phoenix region specifically for over 10, I was surprised to learn recently that one local Arizona company is an industry leader in mobility for folks with disabilities.  It’s a place called Vantage Mobility International (VMI).

Ever since the original Chrysler minivan debuted in 1987 – and even a bit prior – the founders of VMI have tasked themselves with customizing vehicles to make them wheelchair friendly.  The WAV, or Wheelchair Accessible Vehicle, industry has since become a large and important part of the automotive world that I hadn’t ever really thought about until I visiting VMI.  It’s estimated that there are around 30,000 new WAVs sold across the nation each year, from a variety of manufacturers.

Organization leaders and public relations representatives from VMI took me and a handful of other members of the Phoenix Automotive Press Association (PAPA) on a guided tour of the facility in Phoenix.  Our guide through the manufacturing & assembly line areas was named Brian, and he introduced us to the step-by-step process by which a new minivan – straight from Toyota, Chrysler, or Honda, usually – goes through a complete transformation.

Safety first!  Fluorescent vests & goggles – check.

What starts as a cookie-cutter family hauler gets stripped down to basically just a shell.  The floor is lowered 10″ or more via installation of a new frame.  Precision welds are made where the doors are extended, the ramp is installed, and the engine is dropped so that the vehicle’s center of gravity and sense of balance still remains largely the same.  It takes about 2.5 days from start to finish for the conversion to take place and there are about 200 colleagues making it all happen.

Because of the vast number of unique needs that WAV customers have, the vehicles themselves are also heavily customizable.  Some vans even have the ability to “kneel,” like city buses, to lower the angle of the ramp and make for easier ride-up.  There are features available like an integrated remote for quick stow / deploy conversion functionality, power sliding doors, flexible seating configurations, and rust-mitigation coatings on all steel components.  A van that’s intended to be driven by a caregiver, for example, will need to be set up differently than one that will be operated by someone who is in a wheelchair.

One of the great things about VMI’s customization work is that any factory warranties on the vehicles from the manufacturer still apply.  VMI has such a great relationship with the automakers, in fact, that its engineers are invited to take part in the design discussions when new models are undergoing development.  VMI’s Phoenix facility distributes its vans to dealerships only, but its Atlanta operation sells converted vans directly to end users.

The leadership & executive teams at VMI are all mostly new to the organization – within about the last 3 years – and they are all passionate about what they do.  There is a huge opportunity and a need to enable the great numbers of people around the country who have mobility challenges.  The more the VMI team can do to make readily-available solutions for those needs, the happier they’ll be.  I greatly appreciated the chance to have a look around the facility!