Archive for the Vehicle Reviews Category

Drive to Five Review: 2019 Acura RDX SH-AWD Advance

Posted in Accord, RDX, Vehicle Reviews on August 9, 2018 by tysonhugie

Odometer (Legend):  563,495 Miles

Odometer (RDX):  911 Miles

Refined, Dynamic, and Xceptionally equipped.  I guess that’s how I’d define the acronym that Acura pinned on its latest version of the crossover that so many have come to know and love.  Does it look at home in this garage?

The Acura RDX, now in its third generation, is a power player for the Acura brand.  It sells over 50,000 units per year.  That success is impressive given the competitive segment that the RDX plays in:  It seems, everyone is trying to get in on the crossover game.  Over the years, I’ve been able to see firsthand the evolution the RDX.  Back in 2016, I put a prior-gen model through its paces on a mountain climb.

Building each upon advancements in technology since the RDX first launched in 2007, the 2019 model year version was first shown at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit in January 2018, and it went on sale six months later.  You can see the differences between the third and second-gens here.

I got my hot little hands on the first one in the Phoenix area media fleet this past Wednesday.  It only had 775 miles on the odometer when I turned the key.  Or rather, pushed the Start button.  This is a level of tech I’m not accustomed to!  You can practically get a whiff of the new car smell just from looking at the interior.  What if they made scratch & sniff computer monitors?

Getting settled into the RDX, I enjoyed the step-in height right off the bat.  I’m accustomed to riding low to the ground, so this was a nice change of pace – especially when I needed to throw my backpack and laptop into the back seat as I left the office.  Speaking of the seats, the driver’s seat was ergonomic perfection – especially when cranked up to Level 3 on the ventilation setting.  It is August in Phoenix, after all.

The RDX is about as well-rounded as any vehicle can be.  It exhibits polite road manners, it’s easy to maneuver and park, scoots down the road with plenty of power, and offers up some great utility for folks with active lifestyles who need that extra cargo room or ground clearance from time to time (in my current collection of 7 Acuras, none have All-Wheel-Drive capability – sadly).

Over my seven days with the RDX, I had time to capture perspectives of both positive and negative nature.  Maybe it’s easier to just summarize a few of those points in list form.

  • Loved:  Power, ELS audio system, visibility, illumination, seats, step-in height, fit & finish, ride quality, convenience tech (power liftgate, smart key, head up display), panoramic roof, storage solutions, HVAC effectiveness, overall size – not too big, not too small, gauge cluster display (fun graphics upon start/stop), CarPlay interface
  • Disliked:  Touch pad interface, dynamic selector placement (I’d prefer a volume knob front and center instead), occasionally intrusive safety tech, default automatic start/stop, black wheels

Performance is the name of the game, with the RDX producing 272 horsepower (that’s two more than my 1992 NSX!) out of a 2-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder.  A ten speed automatic transmission (again, outdoing the NSX with double the gears!) puts the power to the ground lickety-split.  I found “Sport Plus” mode to generate a surprisingly quick acceleration experience for a vehicle that weighs nearly 4,000 pounds.  I got a kick out of the graphics on the Snow mode setting.

It’s worth mentioning that as an audiophile, I greatly appreciate the efforts made to create a great sounding listening experience in the cabin.  I was provided some ELS Studio 3D audio files on a USB stick that I played at max volume.  I can say with a certainty that Dire Straits’ “Money for Nothing” sounds at least as good in the new RDX as it sounded in my old TL Type-S with a DVD-Audio sound system.

Acura’s return to its “Precision Crafted Performance” mantra from the brand’s early days is evident here, especially considering the RDX can be outfitted in A-Spec.  The A-Spec trim has always been known as the sportiest, and offers up suspension & handling updates among other features.

Tipping the cash register at just over $48,000, this RDX was highly equipped, but still offers a nice value for those wanting a well-rounded package.  I thank the folks at Acura for the chance to put this one through its paces for a few days!

I’ve uploaded a video capturing some of my experience with it.

Here you can see the head-up display

Multiple camera angles when putting the vehicle into reverse

When I parked the RDX and walked away, I received a notification about where it was located.  This could be handy at concerts, in unfamiliar cities, etc.

Roommate took this while I was playing Musical Cars on Saturday morning.  The RDX felt right at home swapping spaces with some fellow Acuras.

Out and about on Saturday with Greg’s 1995 NSX.

Visiting Vlad who has a Civic Type-R.  He liked the RDX, too.

Safe seating for my Chipotle take-out transport!

Lots of controls down here to the left of the steering wheel.

View from the cargo compartment

And the cargo compartment itself.  Pretty roomy!

Until next time!

Bonus material – I have another Honda at the house.  This one needs some love.

A Honda Beat, Leather Seats, and Other Deets

Posted in Detailing, Legend, Vehicle Reviews on July 3, 2018 by tysonhugie

Odometer (Legend Coupe):  561,566

Odometer (Legend Sedan):  158,203

“Midship Amusement” – what in the world could that possibly mean?  Sometimes a translation comes across a little funky when crossing continents.  When Honda engineers put together the Beat, a 3-cylinder compact car, in Japan 27 years ago, they thought that would be a fun tagline to promote the car with.  And I can say with a certainty that this little 2-seat, mid-engined car did indeed provide the most automotive amusement that I’ve had in years!

A friend recently went through extensive efforts to import and register one such car to the states: a remarkably well-kept 1991 model in yellow with only 47,000 kilometers on it (about 29,000 miles).  He was in Arizona with the car earlier this week and I got to try my hand – my left hand, that is – at shifting through its 5 gears.

One of about 33,000 total cars produced between model years 1991 and 1996, the car is a total grin-machine.  It turned heads from the second we backed it off a trailer, on every street corner, and in my own driveway.  Speed demon it is not, but the handling is precise and the shifter operates with typical Honda flawlessness.

I was able to get comfortable in the small cockpit and got acquainted with the controls.  Everything is the same as a left-hand-drive car except for the turn signals & wipers being reversed.  So the pedal layout, shift pattern, and everything else is exactly as you’re already used to.  My friend and I blasted through the gears in urban Phoenix for a few miles and by the time I’d gone a couple of blocks, I was already comfortable managing it.

That zebra-patterned interior is really one of the best parts!

Here’s a video of my experience trying the Beat out.

I spent some time over the weekend performing a leather seat conditioning on the Legend sedan.  It has original seats, and they’re in nice shape but have some cracks on them.  The process involved a product called Fiebing’s Neatsfoot Oil from the local Tractor Supply store.  It’s a regimen usually reserved for other saddles, boots, and other leather items but I’d heard from a few people it was good for car interiors.

What I discovered is that it does a nice job of moisturizing, but on lighter seats like mine, it will permanently stain the cracked areas darker so they become more visible.  I only recommend this process if you have black seats or they’re still in nice condition. This is a picture from when the oil was soaking in.

Midway through ‘soaking’

And here’s a video capturing the start-to-finish process, including a few scenes from other things like a 72,000 mile Integra GS milestone.

Since you’re already on YouTube, check out this video montage capturing the most recent 220 submissions to my “spy shot” collection.  I don’t have time to crop and upload all of them like I’ve done in spy shot blog entries in the past, but I did put them into a video which I hope you’ll enjoy.  Thanks to all who have contributed!

I have a few more links to share as we close out this week’s updates.

Darren from IDrewYourCar.com finished the latest piece of artwork for the gallery in my garage.  Check out his rendering of the 1992 Integra sedan.

And Pat from Honda Vintage Culture has started releasing T-shirt designs that revolve around Honda motorsports heritage.  A couple of weeks ago, his first 3 designs came out on Blipshift.  Subscribe to his website, VintageCulture.store and follow his page on Instagram at @hondavintageculture for more information!

My friend Kai has listed the 1989 Honda Accord SE-i that was being stored at my house for the last 6 months.  It only has 43,000 miles on it.  The 7-day, no-reserve auction began on Monday.  It’s a great car and I hope it finds a good home.

A few shots I helped Kai with ended up making their way into the auction.  Here is the listing.  He’s off to a strong start already.  At the time I type this, it’s been online for only about 1 day with bids in the low $2,000s, 156 watchers, and over 3,400 views.

Here’s the 72,000-mile readout on the Integra GS.

My friend Michael visited from Chicago last week and we met up for a bite to eat.  He has a gorgeous Vortex Blue TSX.

I also met up with my friend Daniel who has an awesome TLX A-Spec.

Thought you’d get a kick out of this license plate on a Civic Si.

Have a great holiday week!

Drive to Five Review: Nevada Ghost Towning in the 2017 Acura MDX Sport Hybrid

Posted in Ghost Town, MDX, Nevada, Utah, Vehicle Reviews on February 13, 2018 by tysonhugie

Odometer (Integra):  246,192

Odometer (MDX):  5,756

Trip Distance:  1,056 Miles

I needed a workhorse to travel back to an 1800s mining town this past weekend and Acura gave me just the right vehicle for the job.  After now completing over 1,000 miles in the latest iteration of its 3-row SUV, I can say with a certainty that the latest MDX is a capable, fun-to-drive machine that offers up first class comfort for a trip of that distance.  Do I have to give it back?

This now marks the fourth time I’ve put a third-generation MDX through its paces.  Here are some prior reviews from here on the blog:

Coming up in April, Las Vegas, Nevada will once again play home to a regional Acura NSX club meet-up called WestFest.  Last year, the event brought out over 50 cars and 80 people.  As part of the planning committee, my role is to establish and plan out the logistics of a scenic group drive to be held on Saturday, April 28th.  It’s not easy to come up with drives for a caravan of that size.

Considerations:

  • Where haven’t we been yet?
  • What will traffic & weather patterns be like on the day & time of our trip?
  • What are the road conditions – are they appropriate for a group of sportscars?
  • Are there any tolls or park fees to consider?
  • How can we keep everyone together, or does it make more sense to split the group?
  • Are there places for fuel and snack stops along the way?

As one can imagine, it takes a great deal of effort to coordinate such an activity.  I partnered up with my friends Dane and Brandon, both Las Vegas locals, to take the MDX out on Saturday morning and scout the terrain.  It was the perfect vehicle for our expedition to the desert:  Second-row accommodations are posh, with captains’ chairs and plenty of space all around.  There are of course independent climate controls for passengers in those areas.  Meanwhile, I pampered myself up front with a heated seat heater, heated steering wheel, and convenient cup holder for my iced caramel macchiato.  You’d think we were going to the local shopping mall and not to the middle of nowhere.

Our drive route for the day was about 160 miles and took us 4 hours from start to finish, including our sightseeing and lunch stops.

Nelson, Nevada is one of many ghost towns in the vast expanses of land around the southwest.  It’s nestled in El Dorado Canyon, about 12 miles off Highway 95 to the east.  If you blink, you might miss the turnoff, so it’s a good thing Dane was coaching me from the passenger seat on where to make my exit at Highway 165.  We passed only one other vehicle on the way into Nelson from there.

The two-laner got a little more narrow, a little more rough, and more curvy as we dipped down in elevation toward the Colorado River.  Soon the buildings of the old mining town came into view, along with dozens of old cars left out to the elements with windows down (or broken out) and interiors rotting away.  I parked the MDX in a dirt lot and we got outside to wander around a little, noting how silent it was outside aside from the scuffling sound made from our shoes on the gravel.

We must have been the first tourists in town that day, because an old man came out of what appeared to be the main general store and put away the ‘closed’ sign while inviting us inside.  The wooden building doubles as his home, but he sells all sorts of remnants of the Wild West in there.  My favorite display was an exhibit of some the various films that the town of Nelson has appeared in, including the Kurt Russell classic “Breakdown.”

Luckily for us (and unlike Kurt Russell’s red Jeep Grand Cherokee in that movie), the MDX was didn’t give us any check-engine lights or troubles of any nature.  We snapped a few photos in Nelson before continuing eastward another few miles to where we could nearly drive right to the banks of the mighty Colorado River on a dirt road.  There was a nice paved turnaround spot that I think will make for a perfect photo-op for the group of NSXs at the April event.

Our next destination on the drive loop was Searchlight, Nevada – a teeny spot on the map that (like most small towns in that area) – got its start as a mining community in the late 1800s but mostly dried up by the mid 1950s.  The name came from one of its original prospectors who said, “It would take a searchlight to find gold out here.”

Dane, Brandon, and I rolled onward toward Highway 164 westbound and then over to Interstate 15 northbound.  I hit the gas on the onramp.  For a full size SUV that’s loaded down with technology and comfort niceties, the MDX still scoots down the road with more than ample power.  I observed an overall combined MPG of about 26 despite going heavy on the throttle a few times.  Range on a full tank is in the high 400s.

The Country Club Buffet at Primm Valley Casino, right along the California-Nevada state line, satisfied our hunger before we made our last stop of the day.  Stacked along the east side of I-15 are 7 columns of vividly painted boulders, referred to as “Seven Magic Mountains.”  The massive rocks were cut from a nearby quarry and painted fluorescent colors by Swiss artist Ugo Rondinone.  The art installation was opened in 2016 and will be removed sometime this year, so I was glad to get a chance to see it.

The MDX stickers at $58,000 as-tested, including Tech & Advance packages with a full suite of AcuraWatch driver-assistance aids.  I found the LKAS (Lane Keeping Assist System) to be helpful but could do without the ACC (Adaptive Cruise Control).  I much prefer to set a cruise speed and have it be maintained – with the Adaptive engaged, the vehicle starts slowing down well in advance of approaching a vehicle ahead, so you have to change lanes very early which isn’t always possible or convenient.  It’s something I could learn to live with, but just an observation.  The only other gripe I had was with the aesthetics of the black wheels.

There’s a lot to love about the MDX.  Those captivating jewel eye headlights with LED turn signals are just as much “function” as they are “form.”  The ELS Studio Premium audio system will knock your socks off.  I set the bass and the subwoofer to maximum levels for optimal punch, and it retained crisp clarity all the way up to max volume level 40.  Sirius XM channel “90s on 9” never sounded so good.  And if it’s solitude you want, a quiet cabin is easy to achieve too.  I sailed along at 75 mph with minimal wind, road, and engine noise.  The MDX’s 7-speed dual-clutch transmission keeps the revs low at those speeds.

It was tough to give the keys back after being pampered for 7 days, but I was glad for the opportunity to sample the high life!  Below is a 7-minute video and a collection of other photos from my week with the Modern Steel Metallic MDX.  Thanks, Acura, for the loaner!

Back seat comfort

Fueling up at Circle K in Phoenix

And we’re off!

Rolling into Las Vegas at sunset

5,000 mile milestone!

Arrival in Nelson

The ‘general store’ in Nelson

Loved this 1950 Buick!

Next stop:  Interstate 15

Red carpet treatment!  Brandon & Dane getting the door at Primm Valley

Seven Magic Mountains in the Nevada desert

Brandon’s 1993 Legend L 6-speed coupe

MDX parked in front of Siegfried and Roy’s house in Las Vegas!  See the “SR” on the gate?

Thanks for coming along for the ride!

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!