Archive for the Vehicle Reviews Category

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

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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!

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Group shot

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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

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

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ILX with the Clarendon in the distance

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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.

pleasant

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!

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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

160923

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.

left_side

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

umbrellas

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!

vigor

Date night at Tempe Marketplace

ilx

Have a great weekend!

Drive to Five Review: Climbing Arizona’s Mount Ord in a 2016 Acura RDX

Posted in Arizona, RDX, Vehicle Reviews on February 21, 2016 by tysonhugie

Odometer (Legend):  542,120

542120

Odometer (ILX):  155,439

155439

Odometer (RDX); 8,397

8397

Trip Distance: 144 Miles

map

group_with_rdx

ord_sign

Just 33 miles up State Route 87, my road trip companions and I found ourselves veering off the beaten path to explore a trail called Forest Road 626 that would take us on a dramatic ride to over 7,300 feet in elevation.  While only six miles in length, the road offered up a sample of rugged terrain in the Tonto National Forest including patches of snow, rocky ground, ruts, and steep climbs.  Sounds like the perfect environment for a crossover vehicle looking to prove itself as a capable, go-anywhere (and do it in style) rig.  Enter the RDX.

g1_rdx

The Acura RDX, now in its second generation, first debuted 10 years ago at the New York International Auto Show as a 2007 model year vehicle (pictured above).  It was a compact answer to the surging demand for sport utility vehicles and it was born as the little brother to the larger 3-row Acura MDX crossover.  Today, that little brother has matured, going from its turbo 4-cylinder engine to a larger V6 powertrain when the 2013 model year hit.  The RDX also grown dimensionally both inside & out, and with this latest iteration promises to be more refined and luxurious than its predecessor.

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For the last several days, I put a Basque Red Pearl RDX “Advance” through its paces to see just how it stacks up.  On paper, the RDX is the clear frontrunner of its class.  Powering the RDX is a 3.5 liter single-overhead-cam “i-VTEC” V6 engine with Variable Cylinder Management.  It delivers a horsepower rating of 279 with a respectable MPG rating of 22 combined.

emblem

Acura has packaged its RDX so that it provides a lot of bang for the buck.  And it needs to, because the segment in which it competes has some impressive contenders like the Audi Q5, BMW X3, and Lexus NX.  My test model came equipped with the line-topping “Advance” trim with 18-inch wheels, remote engine start, parking sensors, heated & cooled front seats, fog lamps and rain-sensing wipers for those 3 months of the year when we actually get moisture in Phoenix.

interior

Has the RDX hit a home run?  According to US News & World Reports, Consumer Guide, Edmunds.com, and Kelley Blue Book, it absolutely has, since each of these respected entities has given the RDX a recent award.  But this is my review, so I’ll see if I agree with their assessment.

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headlight

Right off the bat, the RDX wooed me with its Jewel Eye headlights and sexy lines, but I discovered that this is one runway model that isn’t afraid to put on hiking shoes.  Demeanor is collected and precise on the highway.  From my place in south Scottsdale to Fountain Hills where we made a Starbucks stop, the RDX tracked straight, quietly, and with more than ample passing power at 65-75 miles per hour on the Beeline Highway.  Driving aids like the Adaptive Cruise Control and Lane-Keeping Assist System (LKAS), when enabled, make the RDX feel almost autonomous when desired.

pavement

rear2

The good news for the folks who will take their RDX camping or off-roading is that the composure stays intact when the going gets rough.  There is good feedback from the steering & suspension but never a loss of control.  I found the OEM Michelin tires to be grippy even in the loose gravel as we made our climb.  And when faced with a deep section of slushy snow on a north-facing (shaded) section of the trail, I admit I thought about turning back but we pressed onward and the RDX maintained its footing.  We used the paddle shifters to downshift when descending the grades so we could stay off the brakes.  All said, the driving experience was refined and confidence-inspiring.

rdx_in_snow

rdx_dirt

From the top of Mount Ord, my friend Chandler waved the “magic key” and granted us access to the small cabin at the base of an 8-story-tall fire watch tower.  Chandler works for the Forest Service and his team staffs the cabin and tower every year starting in April which is considered the beginning of fire season.  It was incredible to climb a few flights of stairs and catch a 360-degree view of the beautiful Tonto National Forest that surrounded us.

shack

view_from_tower

We’d worked up an appetite and made one last stop before heading home to Scottsdale:  Lunch at “Jake’s Corner” off Highway 188, a place that’s been a waypoint for travelers since it started as a stagecoach stop exactly 100 years ago.  It was perfect weather outside for enjoying a burger and homemade beans with the gang.

tyson_at_jakes

So is the RDX a winner?  Coming at $44k including destination & handling in fully loaded trim, it’s still $13k cheaper than its big brother Acura MDX that I tested last year, and (as far as I’m concerned) offers just as many creature comforts without sacrificing anything except the 3rd row seat.  I consider it a near-perfect solution for someone needing all-weather / all-terrain capability with luxurious amenities and just the right size.

Likes:  Style (except for the wheels), performance, handling, packaging (use of space).  Dislikes:  Touch-screen infotainment, interior color (too light, shows dirt easily), phone pairing disabled while in motion (even for a passenger).  I also think the adaptive cruise control should allow for a closer following distance.  Even when adjusted to the shortest distance it felt like the vehicle was holding me back too far.

The 2016 RDX delivers unmatched value where it counts the most.  Give one a whirl if you haven’t yet!  Below are the rest of the photos and a short video from our adventure.  Thanks as always for coming along for the ride, and to Acura for letting me put a few miles on a new RDX!

Northbound Highway 87

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Starting our climb up Forest Road 626

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Narrow trail made for some challenges when encountering oncoming traffic

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Right at home in the woods

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Now with a nice layer of dust

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Taking in the scenery

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Hiking up the final stretch to the watch tower

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Lunch spot at Jake’s Corner

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Dollar bills on the ceiling.  This seems to be a “thing” at most western-themed bars around here

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Those baked beans were delicious!

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And a few beauty shots with the Formula Red NSX & Basque Red RDX.  Just because.  Enjoy!

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fronts

rear

head_to_head

2015 Active Lifestyle Vehicle of the Year (ALV) Awards – Chandler, Arizona

Posted in Arizona, Vehicle Reviews on October 17, 2015 by tysonhugie

Odometer (Legend):  538,420

538420

Odometer (ILX):  143,798

143798

Let’s get a little mud on the tires!

alv_logo

There are so many “vehicle of the year” contests in the world today that it’s sometimes tough to keep track.  This one in particular is unique in that instead of vehicles being evaluated by automotive journalists alone, the ballots are cast by the end users who actually plan on putting the vehicles to work for their designed purposes.  For 4 years now, I’ve joined forces with Event Co-Founder Nina Russin of Carspondent.com to put the event together each October.  This year, we also engaged the efforts of Test Driven TV’s own Sam Haymart, who played an instrumental role.

truck_lineup

The Active Lifestyle Vehicle of the Year (ALV) program has now concluded its 12th season, bringing automobiles and athletes together with the intent of identifying exactly which new (or significantly improved) vehicles in today’s marketplace are optimal for someone who has demanding needs and an active lifestyle.  We’re talking about the outdoorsy people – triathletes, ball players, kayakers and adventure-seekers of any type.  They’re rating vehicles based on things like all-weather capability, ease of using climate control functions with gloves, hauling capacity, ease of loading, and many other criteria unique to this demographic.

Here are my write-ups on ALV programs of years prior:

With each year, the size and scope of the event grow and what once started as just a handful of athletes getting together to review some new cars has now turned into a full two-day event that draws over 60 athletes, many of whom are elite competitors in their respective sports.  Also on the guest list are several retired NFL football players and media representatives from local agencies.

ALV 2015 kicked off on Friday with a “Media Day” for credentialed journalists who wanted to come see & experience the vehicles that were entered this year.  Some 20 vehicles were set up in the parking lot of our host facility, the historic San Marcos Crowne Plaza in downtown Chandler, Arizona.  The following day, we had about 60 athletes come on-site for the ride-and-drive.  Meet my team:

  • Rear:  Tyson, Chuck, Paul
  • Front:  Jack, Alan, Matt, Chandler
  • Not pictured:  Mike

team

We were assigned to evaluate the following four “URBAN” vehicles, each of which stickered at < $25,000:

500x

Fiat 500X:

  •  Base MSRP: $20,000
  • Horsepower: 180 Hp @ 6400 rpm
  • Torque: 175 lbs.-ft. @ 3900 rpm
  • Off-road: No
  • Towing: No
  • Bicycle friendly: Yes
  • Fuel economy: 21/31 mpg city/highway (FWD)

ia

Scion iA:

  • Base MSRP: $15,700
  • Horsepower: 106 Hp @ 6000 rpm
  • Torque: 103 lbs.-ft. @ 4000 rpm
  • Off-road: No
  • Bicycle friendly: No
  • Towing: No
  • Fuel economy: 31/41 mpg city/highway

im

Scion iM:

  • Base MSRP: $18,460
  • Horsepower: 137 Hp @ 6100 rpm
  • Torque: 126 lbs.-ft. @ 4000 rpm
  • Off-road: No
  • Bicycle friendly: Yes
  • Towing: No
  • Fuel economy: 27/36 mpg city/highway

soul

Kia Soul:

  •  Base MSRP: $15,900
  • Horsepower: 164 Hp @ 6400 rpm
  • Torque: 151 lbs.-ft. @ 4000 rpm
  • Off-road: No
  • Bicycle friendly: yes
  • Towing: No
  • Fuel economy: 24/31 mpg city/highway

Each car had its own merits, but in the end, the Kia Soul took home the prize in this segment for various reasons.  The most important reason, I think, was its power delivery.  In a class of vehicles that are clearly economy-minded, the Kia definitely felt like it had the best power.  “This one actually gets up and goes,” Jack said when he took the Loop 202 onramp for the freeway portion of the drive route.  Additional niceties that put it at the top of its group were the large panoramic sunroof and the best-in-class stereo.

Other winners for this year’s ALV program were as follows:

  • Best Value On-Road:  Mitsubishi Outlander
  • Best Value Off-Road:  Ford F-150
  • Best Value Family:  Ford Edge
  • Luxury On-Road:  Mercedes-Benz GLE450
  • Luxury Off-Road:  Jeep Grand Cherokee

More photos follow!  First, with journalist and fellow ALV Jury Panel member Sue Mead

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Dave Lee from Toyota discusses the new 2016 Tacoma

dave_lee

Alex Fedorak from Mitsubishi talks about the new Outlander

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Darryll Harrison from VW introduces the Jetta GLI.

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This one was fun!  It had a 6-speed manual.

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vw_interior

Nicole Ellan from ClassicCars.com agreed.

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Nissan’s newly-redesigned Titan even made an appearance!

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The GMC Canyon Diesel came dressed to impress in all sorts of gear-hauling equipment.  The off-road category was exceptionally competitive.

canyon

Fleet coordinator Carrie Owens had her work cut out for her.

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PAPA (Phoenix Automotive Press Association) members Kyle & Zac Baker took the Jeep Renegade for a spin.

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ALV Planning Committee at last night’s banquet dinner

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My team learning about the Kia Soul before starting the driving portion of the event

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Chuck taking the wheel in the Scion iA

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Don Connors from Toyota teaching us about the Scion iM

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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

104556

Odometer (ILX):  140,793

140793

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

drive_to_five

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.

lake_truck

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?

mike_truck_trailers

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.

tyson_with_truck_boat

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.

sticker

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.

dash

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!

raptor

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!

Drive to Five Review: 2016 Acura ILX Tech Plus

Posted in Arizona, ILX, Road Trip, Vehicle Reviews on July 26, 2015 by tysonhugie

Odometer (Legend):  534,140

534140

Odometer (2013 ILX):  135,215

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Odometer (2016 ILX):  6,399

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Trip Distance:  306 Miles

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tyson_with_both_ILX

I’ve already had over 3 years of experience in road-testing Acura’s entry level model which debuted as a 2013 model in mid-2012.  I can say with a certainty that over the last 135,000 miles, my ILX has been a real peach to own and maintain:  Zero unscheduled maintenance, flawless performance and it still handles as nicely as the day I got it.  But, as can be expected, inevitably automakers have to go back to the drawing board every few years and make updates to their vehicles to keep them at the forefront of technology and design trends.

Enter the newly-refreshed 2016 ILX to join the TLX and RLX sedans in the Acura sedan family.  It was November 2014 when Acura first showed us the production-ready 2016 ILX at the Los Angeles International Auto Show which I attended with the Redline Reviews crew.  Unveiled in stunning Catalina Blue in A-Spec trim, the ILX was a sight to behold.

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Notable changes for the ’16 model year include both cosmetic and performance enhancements.  Gone is the base model’s weak 150-horsepower motor, and now standard across all ILX models is the 2.4 liter, 201-horsepower 4-cylinder engine.  It’s the same one that my ILX has, and which came standard on stick-shift-only models from 2013 through 2015.

The sad news is that the manual transmission, with its sheer perfection in its crispness and precision, is now eliminated as an option.  For 2016, all ILX models will have an 8-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission, carried over from the car’s larger TLX midsize sedan sibling, which I’ve already reviewed.  I’m a die-hard 3-pedal manual guy, but that new automatic left me impressed.  More on that later.

Before even seeing the refreshed ILX itself, it only takes one look at the key fob to know what great lengths Acura went to on improvements.  Gone is the “chrome” plated unit that gets chipped and ugly within months of normal use.  Now the fob is a hard black plastic that feels quality and looks like it will endure the test of time much better.

keys_old_new

My test model was equipped with three different package options, including (but not limited to!) the following:

Premium Package:

  • Leather Sport Seats
  • XM Satellite Radio
  • Auto-Dimming Rearview Mirror
  • Blind Spot Information
  • Rear Cross-Traffic Monitor

Tech Package:

  • Navigation System with Voice Recognition
  • ELS 10-Speaker Sound System
  • GPS-Linked, Dual-Zone, Automatic Climate Control

AcuraWatch Plus Package:

  • Adaptive Cruise Control
  • Collision Mitigation Braking
  • Road Departure Warning
  • Lane Keeping Assist

All of the above brings the tally up to $33,820 including destination and handling.

Where to Today?

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To put this new ILX to the test along with my “old” ILX, a few friends and I (okay, 16 of us!) headed for the hills of the Catalina Mountains north of Tucson, Arizona to a place where I’ve visited multiple times in the past – Mount Lemmon Scenic Byway.

In attendance were a wide variety of cars — ten of them, in fact:  Two ILXs, a Mini Cooper, a GTO, a 370Z, a TL, an FR-S, an RS5, a 300ZX, and… a Corolla to round things out nicely!  Brock’s orange Mini 6-speed was the cutest crowd pleaser of the bunch.  Did you know it’s powered by only a 3-cylinder motor?  If I’d taken my 1994 Acura Vigor on this drive, we would have had 3, 4, 5, 6, AND 8 cylinder motors all present on this 300-mile Saturday cruise.

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No road trip is complete without proper fuel, and for some reason my friend Peter has a tradition of buying these orange-flavored Hostess Cup Cakes every time we take a drive together.  He shared one with me.  Thanks, P!  Breakfast of champs.

cupcakes

Interior

Getting even more settled into the cabin with its “Graystone” colored leather appointments, I started to take note of the many things that were different from my personal car.  Sun visors are made from the same fabric as the headliner, rather than from vinyl.  There’s now a two-setting memory seat function with controls on the driver’s door panel.

ilx_interior

memory_seats

The instrument cluster has a higher resolution display between the gauges and a lot more available information.  The bezel around the cupholders on the center console are now a painted finish rather than chrome, keeping the reflective sunlight from beaming occasionally in the driver’s face as it sometimes does with my 2013 model.  Even the seat belt buckles are a new design that’s easier to grab!

Love that rear camera which uses a much larger screen and with higher resolution than the one I’m used to looking at.

screen

Overall fit & finish felt great, as is expected from a premium brand.  I do wish the plastic lower part of the door panels was more resistant to scuffing, as my ILX at 3 years old is showing fairly significant wear there from getting in & out of the car.

Exterior

You’ve already seen those brilliant “Jewel Eye” headlamps which I adore, but the whole front & rear ends of the ILX have been reworked to give it a more aggressive performance vibe.  The grille has been tweaked slightly and the ILX now has a new set of 17″ shoes.  An optional “A-Spec” package offers 18″ wheels and fog lamps which further heighten the curb appeal.

fronts

My favorite thing about the outside of the car is the LED turn signals.

Driving Experience

Amenities and handsome looks aside, the driving experience is really of greater importance to me.  Clearly the 201-horsepower, 2.4 liter 4-cylinder motor is a bulletproof powerplant, having logged well over 100,000 miles on mine without skipping a beat.  Direct-injection is a new addition to that motor for 2016.  For a lightweight car like the ILX, that kind of power is more than sufficient to get forward momentum at a brisk rate.  I didn’t get the chance to have a flat-out drag race between my ILX and the 2016, but they feel right on par with one another in terms of acceleration.

gauges

Right off the bat, it’s easy to tell just how civilized the 2016 ILX has become compared to its predecessor.  Where my ILX 6-speed revs at nearly 3,500 RPM at 80 miles per hour, the new ILX 8-speed only works the motor at a little over 2,000 RPM.  This translates into a substantially quieter cabin thanks to diminished engine and exhaust noise.  You can actually carry on a conversation in there!

Mount Lemmon was bustling with bicyclists and tourists as is typical on a Saturday, but the 26-mile stretch from Tanque Verde Road all the way to Summerhaven at 8,200 feet gave us dozens of curves to evaluate our diverse group of cars.  When you’ve got a lineup of sports cars in your rearview mirror and you’re in the lead, you feel the pressure of setting a pace that’s fast enough to be fun but conservative enough to be safe.  Both ILXs are well suited for canyon carving.

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The 8-speed automatic transmission is a revolutionary dual-clutch unit, carried over from the Acura TLX model.  Shifts are lightning fast and to be honest, I couldn’t believe that it got into 5th or 6th gear by the time it got to the end of my residential street!  Eight gears sounds like a lot, but I was pleasantly surprised at how little “gear-hunting” the car had to do when commanded to accelerate.  A drop of the throttle beckons near-instantaneous response from the powertrain as it downshifts.

frs_ilx

The general consensus on the ILX was a hearty thumbs up in pretty much every regard.  Donald, who owns a 2009 TSX, said the car felt more nimble than his car.  Peter, who drives a 2004 TSX, said he was most impressed with the response from the transmission, especially in Sport mode.  I have to agree with him.  During descent from Summerhaven, the car would effectively hold its gear, avoiding the need to get on the brakes frequently.  We stopped briefly during our descent to enjoy the view of Tucson from “Windy Point” rest area.

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Safety Tech

The technology advancements in the new ILX are extensive, ranging from not only the “fun” stuff like the rocking, 10-speaker ELS stereo, to a full suite of safety features.  The lane departure warning does a really nice job of accurately reading the road, the adaptive cruise control is a convenient way to “set it and forget it” with regard to speed maintenance, and there are six airbags in the cabin.  All of Acura’s sedans are rated as top safety picks by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS).

both_ilxs

Final Take

While the ILX didn’t have the bloodthirsty growl of Kyle’s 400-horsepower GTO or the on-rails handling of the FR-S, in my mind it hits a bullseye in purpose and function.  It’s a comfortable cruiser on the highway – quieter, more refined, and better appointed than the prior iteration.  Yet it still has a thirst for a twisty mountain road and feels right at home with its Michelins gripping a tight hairpin on a mountain pass like the Catalina Highway.  For anyone in the market for a fun-to-drive sports sedan, I’d give this one a nod of approval.

Here are the rest of my photos and a very short walkaround video!

old_new

402 combined horses at my command!

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Graystone interior

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Driveway duo

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Sunset in Scottsdale, Arizona

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Pre-roadtrip with staging at Chevron

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Arrest-me-red Scion definitely was a crowd pleaser

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Midpoint on the drive – Picacho Peak, at the Shell station

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A few scenes from around Tucson

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ILXs at a stoplight side-by-side

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Brunch bunch at Viv’s Cafe off Catalina Highway in Tucson, Arizona

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Kyle’s GTO getting ready to lead the pack upward from Windy Point rest area

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Enjoying cooler temperatures at higher elevations north of Tucson

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Matt’s 370Z NISMO getting surrounded by ILXs

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Can I please have these LED taillights for my car?  I wonder if they’re plug & play.

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Rest area

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Descending from Summerhaven

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Photo-op!

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Back to Tucson we go

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Following Peter who was at the helm of the 6-speed 2013 ILX

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Rounding up the gang for lunch post-drive

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Still having fun with my “new” old Vigor, by the way!  This week it got a valve adjustment, new distributor cap, and a full detail.

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