Archive for the Vehicle Reviews Category

2017 “AutoMobility” & Los Angeles International Auto Show

Posted in California, Car Show, Legend, Road Trip, Vehicle Reviews on December 1, 2017 by tysonhugie

Odometer (Legend):  556,770

Trip Distance:  379 Miles

Greetings!  I’m jotting down a few words here from the Media Center at the Los Angeles Convention Center.  LACC is now pretty familiar turf for me, as I’ve had the opportunity to attend a number of times.  Here are write-ups from my prior LA Auto Show visits:

I had to miss 2016 due to work engagements, but I still made it to some of the social eventsRedline Reviews‘ Editor-in-Chief Sofyan Bey was kind enough to extend an invitation to me so I could be a part of the festivities this year.

After two full days about about 10 miles walked between the South Hall and the West Hall to see all the latest and greatest, I can tell you there is a lot of change brewing in the automotive industry as a whole.  Personal mobility is taking on a whole new dynamic, as technology speedily moves toward an increased focus on autonomy.  As cars become faster, safer, and more efficient, similar strides are being made in self-driving technology.  It’s no mystery, though, that I’m a driver.  Is “automobility” something I should dread or embrace?

My trek to LA started on Tuesday afternoon from Phoenix in the Legend coupe.  It’s a tried and true road warrior, and certainly a more comfortable cruiser than the 1992 Integra I drove to Utah last weekend for Thanksgiving.  The closer I got to the epicenter of the 13-million-resident LA metro area, the more congested my beautiful open roads became.  I was delayed about 35 minutes on I-10 nearing Riverside thanks to a combination of accident + commuter traffic.  Gotta love it.  In all, the 379-mile one-way trip took me close to 7 hours.

Wednesday was a jam-packed day of press conferences, kicking off with a BMW presentation around 8:30 and a stampede of journalists migrating from one booth to the next throughout the day.  Some of the big news this year?  Oh just a few highlights that stuck out to me:  Lexus coming out with a 3-row RX SUV.  BMW launching a convertible i8 and new M5.  Mercedes has a new CLS.  Mazda’s next-generation 6 sedan is out.  Subaru has launched its biggest SUV yet, a 3-rower called the Ascent.  Nissan’s “Kicks” replaces the Juke, and Hyundai has its own new cute-ute called the Kona.

600 horsepower, all-wheel-drive BMW?  Hotness.  Not to mention that color.

Jeep’s Wrangler comes back again looking about the same but with a completely new chassis and lots more tech.  Kia debuts its new Sorento, Infiniti shows the QX50, and Lincoln ditches its alphanumeric naming conventions for traditional names like its new Nautilus (replacing the MKX).  That’s a step in the right direction, don’t you all agree?  It was a slow-ish show for Honda & Acura, with no formal press conferences but still plenty to look at inside the respective booths.  I can’t begin to squeeze two full days of automotive news into a few paragraphs here, but check out Redline’s YouTube playlist on the auto show for a glimpse at some of the sights and sounds we enjoyed.

The vehicles on display at LAAS are only part of the appeal of the event.  It attracts some of the world’s renowned auto journalists.  Our team ended up seated in the Media Center right behind most of the Jalopnik staff, including Andrew Collins who I can thank for this awesome piece he put together about a year ago.

The after-hours activities this year were just as entertaining, with a Hyundai-sponsored party the first evening at Novo night club, and a social event in West Hollywood the following night at Doheny Room where I connected with a few fellow journalists.  All too soon, it was time to again part ways with those colleagues.  The Redline team flew out Friday morning and I made my way (90 minutes to drive 38 miles – thanks again, LA!) toward Anaheim for a car show to be held Saturday morning.  More on that to come in a future post!

Acura booth with the redesigned 2018 RLX on display

Don’t mind if I do hang out here!

I admired some of Honda’s hardware while in the booth.  These dozen or more awards are just from this year’s LA Auto Show alone!  There are boxes and boxes of things like this sitting at the corporate office in Torrance.

Fellow car geeks Brian and Chris

Some of you may recognize this ‘other’ Brian – none other than the famous Brian Cooley from CNET.

Quick shot with the Redline team (Sofyan, Peace, Rob) and Honda’s Davis Adams.

Street parking the coupe in West Hollywood!

This might just be the best motel parking space I’ve ever had.  Huge.

Bonus:  A few pics from last weekend’s Thanksgiving trip to Utah

Brother’s redoing his living room and said I could park in it.  Why not?

My nephew Locke

Cruising around some of my old stomping grounds

HUGE shout-out to blog reader Eric who had this custom embroidered Polo shirt made up for me, with the date of my 555 milestone from back in October!  Thanks, Eric!

Over and out!

 

 

 

Test Drive Friday: 2017 “Active Lifestyle Vehicle” (ALV) of the Year Competition

Posted in Arizona, PAPA, Vehicle Reviews on October 21, 2017 by tysonhugie

Odometer (Legend):  556,095

There’s nothing quite like an ‘unsupervised’ test drive.  When I took off from home base yesterday in the 2017 Dodge Durango SRT with its 475-horsepower, 6.4-liter Hemi V8, I was grinning from ear to ear.  Fiat-Chrysler representative Scott Brown had just unlocked the beast’s full potential for me just moments before by teaching me how to put it in “Sport” mode.  Who knew that a 5,300-pound, 3-row luxury SUV could have a sporty side at all?  I can assure you, it does.  And I’m sure everyone within a mile radius heard me, too.  The exhaust note belched like a muscle car.

(photo below by Mark Elias)

Each fall, automotive journalists and athletes get together to put about two dozen or more new vehicles through their paces and select winners in 9 categories.  This year was ALV’s 14th, based at the Hilton Phoenix-Chandler and taking place on Friday, October 20th.  There are so many “car of the year” programs around the country, but this one positions itself a little differently:  ALV hones in on the opinions of people who have special and more demanding needs for their vehicles – namely, athletes and outdoorsy types.  Bicycle-hauling capability, then, among many other criteria, is one of the things that each registered vehicle is evaluated based upon.

Things got underway on Thursday night with a dinner at Crust Pizzeria in downtown Chandler, sponsored by Toyota.  Friday was a full day of automotive action, with both on- and off-road drive routes available to give attendees a chance to put the vehicles through their paces.  The Butcher Jones Recreation Area, near the banks of Saguaro Lake, offered a perfect setting with multiple types of terrain to demonstrate each vehicle’s unique handling capabilities. I drove there in a 2017 Honda Fit, the bright blue “jellybean” as Public Relations representative Davis Adams called it.  Nicely equipped for $22,000, the Fit was a delightful little ride with a versatile interior, which is probably what pushed it to the winner’s circle when it was voted the best entry in the Urban category.

See all that leg room he has?  Lounge ready!

Sometimes, though, the joy in the event wasn’t just talking tech specs with the manufacturer representatives, but rather getting to know them better.  Nissan Public Relations’ Jannelle Grigsby, fresh in from LA, rocked out with me to SiriusXM radio station “BPM” at full blast, moonroof open and windows down in the newly refreshed 2018 Pathfinder.  It was great to get to know Jannelle and the many others who came out to teach us about what sets their brand’s vehicles apart from the competition.  Jannelle’s Titan took home an award in an off-road category.

Taking my drive loops up the Bush Highway, I cycled in and out of vehicles throughout the day, driving 17 of the entered 27 in total.  I had my faves, for sure.  The new Alfa Romeo Stelvio had incredible pick-up for a 4 cylinder SUV.  The Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid, though dressed in minivan sheetmetal, is an absolute riot to drive thanks to its torquey powertrain.  The Volvo XC60 had the best audio system in the whole group, made by Bowers & Wilkins.

And as much of a Honda guy as I am, the 2018 Camry XSE V6 absolutely knocked my socks off.  It feels like so much car for $36,000.  It’s also sporty looking, fast, and loaded with tech features you’d expect to see on a luxury car.  I haven’t yet driven the newest Honda Accord but the Camry is fighting hard for its position in the very competitive midsize sedan market segment.  Representative Chad Moore was understandably very proud of what Toyota’s engineers have achieved.

We were privileged to be in the presence of several elite athletes who cast their votes as well.  Triathlete Lewis Elliot and retired NFL player Mark Walczak participated in the day’s events to contribute their athletic perspective.  At the conclusion of our driving day at 4:00 p.m., I drove the Chevy Equinox back to the Hilton.  It was a super comfortable and easy vehicle to commute around in.

Volkswagen, which had brought out the Tiguan and Atlas, satisfied our afternoon snack cravings with refreshments back at the hotel, and then Kia capped off the night by sponsoring a poolside cocktail hour and dinner.  We got an up close look at the all-new Kia Stinger sedan, glistening in blue paint and drawing a crowd outside from hotel guests who weren’t even part of our program.

Meanwhile, team members from The Carlab in Orange County tallied up the votes and ALV’s emcee Rosalie Michaels announced all the winners at the conclusion of the program around 9:00 p.m.  Here were the winners:

  • Best Value Extreme Off Road:  2017 Nissan Titan Pro-4X
  • Best Value Family:  2017 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid
  • Best Value Off-Road:  2017 Jeep Compass Trailhawk
  • Best Value On-Road:  2018 Volkswagen Tiguan
  • Green:  2017 Chevy Bolt EV
  • High Luxury Off-Road:  2018 Ram Laramie Longhorn Southfork
  • Luxury Family:  2017 Dodge Durango SRT
  • Luxury On-Road:  2017 Alfa Romeo Stelvio
  • Urban:  2018 Honda Fit

Complete vehicle entry list by category:

A few video scenes from throughout the day:

Ready to start a day of driving with Sandra Muñoz (Latinaology) and James Lee (Six Speed Blog)

Our Hilton home base rolled out the red carpet

Breakfast sponsored by Nissan (pictured is Eric Noble from Carlab)

Nina Russin (Carspondent.com) kicking off the activities

With Acura’s Andrew Quillin and the new MDX Hybrid – a fantastic family ride with intuitive handling, impressive performance, and loads of tech

James seems to like the Stelvio!

Let’s just zoom on on his face to be sure:

With Toyota’s Chad Moore and Hannah Johnston in the Camry

Vigor + Civic Type-R in the hotel parking lot.  Finest expressions of Honda performance!  Haha

Drive to Five Review: 2017 Mazda MX-5 Retractable Fastback

Posted in Vehicle Reviews on July 24, 2017 by tysonhugie

Odometer (Legend):  554,341

Odometer (MX-5):  5,261

Going topless in Phoenix in July is risky business – you’re likely to get burned.  This weekend, I didn’t care – I’ve never owned a convertible and I wanted to enjoy the wind in my hair a time or two while I still have any hair at all.

Mazda has aced the formula of what it takes to build a fun-to-drive, budget-friendly sportscar.  The MX-5 that showed up at my house last Wednesday was the 4th generation of a car that launched in 1989 as simple two-seater with a modest 116 horsepower engine and a light chassis.

Today’s version has grown in size and stature, but it holds true to the original objective.  This generation debuted in the fall of 2014 for the 2016 model year.  And just last fall, a special version of this latest MX-5 — the RF, or Retractable Fastback — came to light.  And isn’t it a looker?  “Soul Red Metallic:”  It’s a paint color that’ll cost you $300 additional, but it’s worth it.

These days, it doesn’t seem like 155 horsepower gets you very far (that’s only about 20 more than a Toyota Corolla).  But when you’re in a car that only weighs 2,300 pounds and has dimensions as tight as this one, it’s more than ample.  Besides, this car is all about handling and that’s where its abilities really shine through.  The overall driving feel reminds me a lot of my Integra GS-R, and it made even my little urban 3-mile work commute seem like a theme park ride.

I’d like to simplify this car review into lists.  I’m a list person and I’ve gotten in the habit at work of summarizing things with just bullet points for my senior leaders who are very busy.  So let’s look at a few paragraphs for Love It, Hate It, and Would I Buy It (at $33,885 as-tested).

Love it:

  • Fun Factor.  The MX-5 is like the go-kart I rode at Fiesta Family Fun Center in St. George, Utah when I was growing up.  It’s just so easy to toss around.  The short wheelbase lends itself to an ultra-tight turning radius – maybe even as good as the Prelude 4-Wheel-Steering I had back in the day.  Shift action is crisp and the clutch is easy to get the hang of.  And the convertible top is seriously a one-touch operation.  Cake.
  • Style.  I appreciate that this car sets itself apart from the sea of midsize sedans clogging up the roadways.  It’s something different, something sporty, and something fun to look at.
  • Compact Stature.  Mazda’s “Zoom Zoom” tagline came to mind as I was busting down the 51 freeway, easily able to zip in and out of traffic with a blip of the throttle, a few revs of the Skyactiv 2.0 liter motor, and a turn of the wheel.  And parking at Scottsdale Fashion Square was done lickety-split.  Having a car like this makes you appreciate being the little guy.
  • Audio Experience.  In a cabin as small as the Miata’s, it doesn’t take much audio power to blast your ears.  And the Bose 9-speaker system truly does rock.  Aside from the music, the sounds from the exhaust are equally pleasant – just enough growl at low RPM to give it a sports car feel, but low enough intrusion at highway speed to not give you a headache.  The retractable hardtop seals out most of the road and wind noise with ease.
  • Community.  In this case, the incentive for buying a car has nothing to do with the actual car itself.  People who own these cars love them.  Consider my friend Jeff, who’s owned 6 of them, including the red 2008 in the lead photo of this blog entry.  Or Sofyan, who even though he’s reviewed hundreds of cars on his YouTube channel, chose to buy an MX-5 for his own vehicle. Look at the Sahuaro Miata Club here in Arizona – over 100 active members and regularly-scheduled meet-ups.

On Saturday night, I was driving northbound on Central Avenue in Phoenix and was passed by another Miata.  We exchanged “Nice car!” and head nods.  It’s awesome to think that something as simple as a car could enable someone to meet friends and engage socially, but in this case it’s true.  I love that about the Miata and its tight knit family of enthusiasts around the globe.

Hate it:

  • Ergonomic challenges might make this a tiresome driving experience on a daily basis.  Ingress and egress even for someone of my average height are a challenge, especially if you have a backpack to toss in or other cargo.  The driver’s door swings wide and you have to really reach for it.  And certain placement of the controls made for awkward body contortions.  The volume knob is located down on the console instead of the instrument cluster.  To get to the knob, I kept hitting my elbow because it’s located so far back.
  • Storage limitations.  Along those same lines, I found a tough time even carrying a laptop bag in the car when I had a friend riding with me.  The passenger side footwell is extremely narrow and the small storage compartment in the center console armrest is barely large enough for my work badge and a pair of sunglasses.  Though I guess it would teach people to simplify and not collect car clutter?
  • Visibility.  Those pillars in the driver’s blind spots – though nice to look at from outside – are not easy to overcome when it comes to seeing what’s going on around you.  Even backing out of my own driveway – knowing how many dog-walkers and bicyclists we have in the neighborhood – was a little scary.  I suspect the ‘traditional’ convertible would have better all-around visibility than the RF.

Would I buy it?

Averaging upwards of 45,000 miles per year, my driving patterns for my primary daily car consist of more long-haul than short-haul.  A Miata doesn’t make sense for me because it lacks the cargo capacity, low-RPM cruising, and comfortable touring ride that I need when I’m driving coast to coast (or to Alaska).

However, if I had the money and space for a weekend cruiser – a car to take up the Catalina Highway on occasion or to blast around town on a Saturday night date, during our 8 or 9 months of prime (AKA not scorching hot) weather, I would absolutely consider an MX-5 as the right fit for the bill.  I’d like to call it “the cure for the common commuter.”  A Miata drive every few days is just what the doctor ordered for injecting a little bit of fun in the driving experience.

Many thanks to Mazda for tossing me the keys to this little dose of sunshine.  I appreciate it.

7-minute video here with some observations, driving scenes, and demo of the top operation:

2013 – with my friend Mark’s “NA” Miata

2016 – when James was sampling the ND for the first time (and next to my NSX)

Cabin perspective

Tight quarters in the center armrest console

Cruising around with Hy – though, this shot was in the 2008 model and not the 2017.

Red shirts to match red cars.

2008 and 2017 MX-5s, side by side

Which do you prefer?

“Driving Matters” on the license plate frame – truly a Mazda Mantra.

2.0 liter Skyactiv 4-cylinder with 155 hp and 148 lb-ft of torque

Evening cruise with my friend Rob

Quick pic near my office on Central Avenue in downtown Phoenix

Headlight cutoff as seen at night

Red rockets!

Press Preview: 2017 Jeep Compass Limited

Posted in PAPA, Vehicle Reviews on June 6, 2017 by tysonhugie

The good folks at Fiat Chrysler Automotive are friends of the Phoenix Automotive Press Association, and I was one of a handful of journalists invited two weeks ago to attend a launch event locally for the new 2017 Jeep Compass.  If this face looks like a close tie to its larger and more upscale sibling the Grand Cherokee, that’s intentional.

Scott Brown, based in Los Angeles as the West Region Manager, brought a handsome Compass for our group to see & experience – along with a team of subject matter experts who could educate us on what sets it apart from its predecessor as well as from the competition.

The hot “CUV” or compact utility vehicle segment is hot, and about to get even hotter.  The Jeep ‘fomula’ comes through strong with the new Compass,  according to engineer Jim Lyman who’s the Global Model Lead with 26 years’ experience with the company.  The segment accounts for a staggering 6.5 million units sold globally per year – and it’s still growing.  The key to positioning the Compass is in its “something for everyone” strategy:  17 different powertrain configurations, 4 different price classes, but all with Jeep’s known strengths in trail-rated traction articulation and all-terrain capability.

Cosmetically the Compass is a cut above the model that preceded it, now with bi-xenon HID headlamps, standard keyless entry, and additional soft-touch interior materials.  A great deal of development has gone into improvement of driving dynamics, too, with a fully independent front & rear suspension and “active drive” 4×4 system.  Standard power comes from a 2.4 liter, 180-horsepower gasoline engine and 3 transmissions are available including – and this I appreciate – a 6-speed manual.

While it’s sure to look nice prowling the parking lot, Jim ensured us that this Compass is also designed to inspire confidence in other terrain situations.  (Just so you know, it’s capable of fording up to 19 inches of water and pulling 2,000 pounds!).

Base price comes in at $21,000 with the top-line, as-shown here version coming in at $34,000 in Limited trim.  My time was short during this brief introduction event, but this little CUV will come my way in a couple of weeks when James has it for a week on test, so I’ll follow up with my driving impressions at that time!  Many thanks to FCA for the inside scoop!

PAPA group

Two-toned (panda-themed?!) interior

Here are a couple other random pics from the past few days — including this shot of my TL and Jason’s Mazda 6 when Jason stopped by to stay with us for one night.

I received a gift of some Jay Leno’s Garage detailing supplies from a friend.  I didn’t know Jay was getting into his own line of car care stuff, but I’m excited to give this stuff a whirl.

Heartfelt messaging on some silos in southeast Gilbert, Arizona.

Legend GS ready to take on the streets for this week’s National Acura Legend Meet in Sacramento, to be driven by my friend Alex who’s flying in from Florida today.

The coupe is going, too.  It’s only about 800 miles each way from Phoenix.

Phoenix attractions:  I stumbled across a page online that outlined some of the history of Phoenix, Arizona and it identified this home along 10th St & Buckeye Rd as one of the oldest in existence in the area.  It dates back to 1879.

You can tell it was built with ‘river rock,’ which seems out of place today given the home’s location in the middle of the urban grid, but at that time it was probably a plentiful construction supply.  Not sure who owns this place or what its future holds.  It’ll probably sit there another 138 years just like it has so far.

Have a great rest of your week!

Drive to Five Review: 2017 Acura MDX Advance; Canyon Lake Legend Meet

Posted in Arizona, Legend, MDX, Vehicle Reviews on November 1, 2016 by tysonhugie

Odometer (Legend):  548,850

548850

Odometer (MDX):  1,817

1817

Last Thursday at Bashas’ supermarket in uptown Phoenix, I put the newest Acura MDX to the test doing what it does best!  I made all the soccer moms jealous with every family’s dream ride:  a three-row SUV that brings the comforts of home into a grocery-getter that’s surprisingly fun to drive.

shopping

This striking $57k top-line model brings in all the bells and whistles, including some new-this-year amenities for second-row passengers:  heated seats and captain chairs.  The kids never had it so good!

mdx_front_left

taillight

Prior MDX write-ups are here.  I’ve been lucky to get my mitts on a couple prior iterations of this fine people-mover:

Now in its third generation, this 2017 model is the ‘refreshed’ version of the bodystyle that debuted in 2014.  This latest version wears Acura’s refreshed front end with a grille devoid of the “shield” we’d become familiar with since 2009.  Instead, the styling is now derived from Acura’s Precision Concept and is pentagonal in shape.  Continuing rearward, the design is clean and carried over from prior iterations.  The wheels are 20″ in diameter and a handsome design.  Bling bling!

mdx_in_garage_2

The MDX gives me a “they’ve thought of everything” feeling.  The lights on underside of the sideview mirrors turn on as you approach the vehicle at night to illuminate the ground below.  The liftgate is powered electronically.  And the auto start/stop feature (a fuel-savings enhancement to shut off the motor temporarily at idle when stopped) can be triggered by the level of brake pedal pressure applied.  It took me a couple of minutes to figure that one out, but I fell in love with it when I did.

dash

interior

Bottom line:  this is the most technologically-advanced MDX ever, and it has to be:  the three-row luxury SUV segment in which it dwells is extremely competitive.  And clearly Acura is doing something right:  The MDX is the brand’s top-selling vehicle, moving over 5,000 units in October 2016 (up 23% over the prior September).

mirrors

My test vehicle was a White Diamond Pearl All-Wheel-Drive “Advance” model with Tech, Advance, and AcuraWatch packages.  Basically, “fully loaded.”  The driver seat is 10-way adjustable.  The climate control system has 3 zones.  Everything is push-button or even hands-free.  If you can’t get comfortable driving this MDX, you’re a lost cause.  I had my fair share of fun with it during my 7 days of cruising around in it.  The MDX is the king of the urban jungle.  I noticed that for being a larger vehicle it’s still easy to navigate in crowded city streets and still has great visibility.

mdx_in_garage

It’s easy to see why SUVs have such a stronghold on modern families.  It was nice to have the higher step-in height, and I loved being able to reach straight out the driver side window to swipe my badge and get into my office’s parking garage (as opposed to being in the ILX and having to reach upward to reach the sensor).  Similarly, ATMs are so much more convenient when they’re right at arm level.  I could get used to that!

second_row

Power delivery in the MDX is smooth and predictable with the 290-horsepower, 3.5-liter engine and 9-speed automatic transmission.  For having so many gears, I found the MDX to do surprisingly little gear-hunting.  It is decisive and determined to understand its driver.  While my travels didn’t take me off the beaten path, based on my prior experience with putting a third-gen MDX through its dirt-road paces, I would proclaim this SUV just as comfortable on-road as off-road.  Versatility is the name of the game.

addiction

Is there room in my garage for an MDX right now?  Absolutely.  Do I have a need for one?  Not at all.  Which isn’t to say it would come in handy from time to time.  As a single 34-year-old, I may not fit the target buyer market for this vehicle.  For those who do, it hits an absolute bullseye.

Many thanks to Acura for letting me behind the wheel!

mdx_right_rear

mdx_side

mdx_left_rear

Few other fun pieces of news below from the past week or so.

1979 Honda Accord from The Simpsons – Thanks, Tim, for sending this to me.  Love it.

MDX at night

mdx_in_driveway

My friend Daniel stopped by in his 2012 Acura TL, bringing the Acura count at my place to 8.

daniel_tl

I put up some new posters at the house including three nice, framed 24×36 prints.

garage_art

Battery replacement for both Legends!  Both were 4+ years old.  Thanks Autozone.

battery_replacement

On Saturday morning, I met up with some Legend owners for a cruise to Tortilla Flat near Apache Junction in eastern Mesa, Arizona.  We cruised up Highway 88 through the Tonto National Forest.

tonto

Left to right:  Gabe, Leon, Tyson

three2

Leon’s interior on his 127,000-mile 1994 LS coupe in Pearl White is really nice.

leon_interior

Gabe’s car looks great too considering it is 24 years old and has 257,000 miles.

three

Great scenery all around!

scenery

Group shot

group

Headed back toward civilization, but stopping at the shores of Canyon Lake for a pic.

canyon_lake

2017 Ford Mustang Shelby GT350 Track Event in Phoenix

Posted in Arizona, Vehicle Reviews on April 27, 2016 by tysonhugie

Odometer (Legend):  543,115

543115

Odometer (ILX):  161,603

161603

There’s nothing like a little “horsepower high” to break up a mundane Tuesday!  I escaped the office for a couple of hours recently to attend a track event at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park in Chandler, Arizona.

pass

The Ford Performance program – formerly known as SVT (Special Vehicle Team), and also formerly known as SVO (Special Vehicle Operations) is the company’s division dedicated to performance and race vehicles.  Anybody else remember the long-gone 1998 Ford Contour SVT?

svt_contour

The performance program has recently undergone a lot of changes both in structure and in branding, and Ford has developed a new lineup of vehicles tailored around speed and performance for people who demand more get-up than the average Joe.

nicole_tyson

Many of those vehicles were on display at the track, all the way from the entry level Fiesta ST up to the supercar “GT” model which debuted recently and hasn’t yet gone on sale.  Somewhere in the middle of that hierarchy lies the Mustang, and Ford’s engineers have gone to great lengths to make this one a viable contender against the competition.

briefing

Jim Owens, Marketing Manager at Ford Performance, gave our group of 25-30 individuals a run-down on the lay of the land.  His organization’s goal is to instill the “addiction” for performance in consumers early on and work them through the product lineup as they mature and are able to move on to bigger and better offerings from the company.

interior

After some safety briefings and an introduction to the track layout, I was saddled up in the passenger seat of the 526-horsepower, 6-speed manual Mustang “Shelby GT350” beast and driven around by a professional driver from Ford’s race team based in Salt Lake City at Miller Motorsports racetrack.  Finally I had the chance to do some of the driving myself.  The rumble of the V8 powerplant was unlike anything I’ve driven recently.  I found the clutch take-up to be intuitive and easy to balance.  In a flash, I was already in 3rd gear and I stayed there for pretty much the entire driving portion, taking instructions from my passenger and doing my best to not make a fool of myself on the track.

tyson_mustang

I had a riot!  The car revs willingly to the high end of the rev range because redline isn’t until 8,250 RPM.  I had a great time pushing the car nearly that limit on the long straightaway and I found it to be a better-handling car than I’d expected.  For a $48k entry level starting price, the Shelby GT350 is a helluva play toy for grown ups.  Many thanks to Ford for the invitation to the event!  Here is a short video showing brief highlights from my day.

ford

gt350

Here are a few more photos from the past several days:

On Saturday morning, I went to Tucson and test-drove a clean 1994 Legend GS sedan 6-speed.  Oddly enough, this car used to belong to my friend Ryan in Utah 5 years ago!  I shared a walkaround video with him.

white_gs

That afternoon, my friend Leif and I attended a historical tour of the sights in Phoenix surrounding a controversial murder case.  Back in 1931, a woman named Winnie Ruth Judd killed her two best friends in a sort of dramatic love affair ordeal.  She cut up the bodies, put them into large trunks, and shipped them to Los Angeles via the railway.  She later was caught, convicted, and spent 40 years of her life in jail (though she escaped 7 times).  What a story!

Our two-hour ride took us to some of the sights in town which were significant in the case, including the home of Winnie’s (married) boyfriend Jack Holleran which we went inside, and a drive-by of the original “murder house” in central Phoenix.

wrj_ticket

“Hip” Historian Marshall Shore led the tour

shore_luggage

Starting point was the historic (and also very hip) Clarendon Hotel

clarendon

ILX with the Clarendon in the distance

clarendon_2

The scene of the crime!

murder_house

On Sunday, I had a lake day with friends at Lake Pleasant, a 12-square-mile lake formed from the Agua Fria river.  We rented a couple of boats and spent the day exploring around.  Here is the approach of Scorpion Bay Marina.

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Half of our group on boat #2

boat

I gave my friend Ira a scare.  He tracks my location and saw me out in the middle of the water.

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Part of the group.  Living the Arizona dream!

group

There was some drama this week when my storage unit roll-up door was backed into.

garage

Luckily, the car was far enough forward (plenty of room!) that nothing was damaged.

repair

Hope everyone is having a great week!  Getting closer to Friday!

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.

tyson_james

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.

badge

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?

odyssey_stickerr

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.

dash

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.

screen

remote

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!

pacifica

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:

garage

Lonely parking – the way it should be!

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Date night at Tempe Marketplace

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Have a great weekend!