Archive for the Vehicle Reviews Category

Reviews: 2022 Acura MDX Tech, 2021 Honda Accord Hybrid Touring [And some Legend/Integra Stuff]

Posted in Accord, Integra, Legend, MDX, Vehicle Reviews on May 15, 2021 by tysonhugie

Let the good times roll! I got to enjoy a couple more new vehicles in recent weeks, aside from my previously-tested Honda Ridgeline in the last blog post.

The Accord is now in its 10th generation and I was blown away at the level of content for a $38k pricetag – not to mention that the car gets over 40 mpg. My video link is below.

The MDX, on the other hand, is now in its 4th generation as of the 2021 model year, and it is definitely the best yet. My video on that is also below.

Stats / Summary:

2022 Acura MDX SH-AWD A-Spec

290 hp 3.5-liter VTEC; 7-passenger, 10-speed automatic, $58,125 as-tested

Good Stuff:

Aesthetics

  • New design is attractive
  • Attention to detail – true “Flagship” level of quality
  • Lighting front & rear

Performance / Drivability:

  • Steering wheel weight / effort
  • Great acceleration, smooth power delivery
  • Good grip and handling for a vehicle of its size & height
  • Sturdy overall feel
  • Turning radius surprisingly good

Amenities / Tech:

  • Precision cockpit design, materials and finishes top notch
  • Mini MDX in gauge cluster
  • Good screens – size, resolution
  • Nice back-up camera
  • Great panoramic roof with sliding shade
  • Sound system A+
  • Wireless charging tech
  • Tri-zone climate / heated & ventilated seats
  • Ambient interior lighting at night

Not a Huge Fan:

  • Learning curve with infotainment
  • Observed MPG (16 over 200 miles in-town)
  • Friend suggestion – Maybe incorporate HUD into this trim (Avail on Advance)

Changing things up a bit from the reviews, I will share a couple other videos about recent fun. My friend Scott from Palm Springs picked up a 1994 Legend LS coupe automatic a few weeks ago and I got to celebrate his 200,000th milestone in it on his way back to Palm Springs.

Also, another friend Mark scooped up a 1992 Integra GS-R locally that I helped him pick up, so I filmed a video with that as well. The car is now on its way to Connecticut.

Have a great weekend!

Review: 2021 Honda Ridgeline AWD Sport

Posted in TLX, Vehicle Reviews on April 22, 2021 by tysonhugie

Hey y’all. How’s everyone been doing?

Life is moving pretty swiftly here as 2021 seems to be blazing past. I spent this past week in a Honda Ridgeline, I’m currently in a Honda Accord Hybrid, next week I’m getting an MDX, and if all goes to plan, I’m snagging a new TLX Type S in another month or so (for keeps!). Automotive adventures seem to be the name of the game over here. Typical.

Before you go too far, I have to put in a plug for my friend Michael who is selling an exceptionally clean Legend. It ends Monday at no reserve on AutoHunter.

https://autohunter.com/Listing/Details/6497137/No-Reserve-1995-Acura-Legend-SE

On Wednesday, Acura published a YouTube video that’s been a long time (years, even) in the making. Without giving away the whole plot, it has to do with the rebirth of the “Type S” name in the brand’s lineup of cars. I was lucky enough to get to work with Acura on some behind-the-scenes aspects of the film, including sourcing the RSX-S and TL-S that were used in the production. Below are some photos from the day when we shot out at the Honda Performance Center in southern California (I got to hang with Acura VP Jon Ikeda for part of the day).

Then, I’ll embed Acura’s video, along with one that I put together discussing my involvement (not yet published / “listed” on my channel, but will be soon).

Now, let’s get down and dirty into some automotive review chat.

The Honda Ridgeline pickup has been around since 2006 in a variety of iterations, and for 2021 it received a long list of enhancements to better set it apart as a unique and capable vehicle. In my 13-minute video, I discuss some of those and give my feedback on what I loved and didn’t love about the truck.

I fully recognize that there are a handful of you who would rather read a blog than watch a video, so the nuts & bolts are here.

  • 2021 Ridgeline AWD Sport with Honda Performance Development package ($2,800 add-on) = $40,880
  • 3.5-liter V6 with VTEC and 280 horsepower
  • 9-speed automatic transmission

While I love that the Ridgeline is going for a more rugged look now than ever before, I’m not fully onboard with so much black plastic body cladding. I do, however like the refreshed grille, wheels, and dual exhausts. The truck could use a little more ground clearance in the front, and maybe another USB outlet or two. As with other similar Honda and Acura products I’ve tested, I didn’t love the 9-speed ZF transmission or the auto stop/start.

There’s plenty about the Ridgeline to enjoy though. It has one of the most innovative tailgate designs I’ve ever seen, since it can drop down in a traditional sense but also swing out via a left-side hinge.

The ride quality – both on- and off-road – is confidence-inspiring and almost sedan-like in comfort. I liked the keyless tech, push-button start, and sound system quality. The lighting is great with the LED bulb treatment up front, and the rear aesthetics with HPD graphics and aggressive dual-exhaust system are attractive. The cloth interior was super comfortable! Storage solutions are immense, from a giant console to an in-bed “cooler” with a built-in drainage system. The rear seats also fold up for max space within the bed.

Perhaps best of all, all Ridgeline models are now all-wheel-drive so the truck has the all-weather / all-terrain capabilities to back up its more rugged look. It’s the perfect pickup for people who have occasional DIY projects or adventure aspirations that involve hauling, off-roading, or towing.

Thanks for checking it out with me!

A Week with a Civic Type R

Posted in Vehicle Reviews on January 2, 2021 by tysonhugie

It’s that time again! Happy New Year. Here’s my 2020 mileage summary. Miles are down 29% from 2019, and in fact have fallen consistently every year since I started creating charts like this in 2016. Womp!

Last week, I got my hands on a pretty sweet performance car. But I pulled up to the Circle K gas station near my house and immediately had a bit of “wing envy.” I didn’t even realize that could be a thing. But the lime green 1969 Dodge Daytona clearly had my Civic Type R beat in terms of size.

The Daytona’s owner was a good sport about letting me take a photo of his car, but he didn’t seem to care much about my Honda.

I just finished up a week with one of Honda’s most well-engineered creations: A 2020 Civic Type R. Launched in 2017 and based on the 10th-generation Civic, the Type R is the holy grail for performance enthusiasts. Its 306-hp turbo charged 4-cylinder is paired with a six-speed manual transmission and a limited-slip differential. Suede sport seats with supportive bolsters make sure you’re planted firmly when you go to take that first corner. And given all the confidence the car inspires, you’ll likely take the corner quickly.

The list of “track credentials” on the Type R is lengthy, and the car is engineered be driven in performance situations. Suspension equipment includes MacPherson struts up front, a rear multi-link setup, adaptive damper syste, electric power steering, and Brembo brake calipers up front. I was hard pressed to contain the excitement as I rowed through the cars – it’s a car that absolutely nails the Fun Factor.

Here are a few things I loved about the car, which had 5,000 journalist miles on it.

  • Exclusivity – this isn’t a Civic for everyone. In fact, some dealers take on a hefty market adjustment.
  • Power delivery – it doesn’t matter which gear you’re in, the turbo seems to engage readily and eagerly.
  • Suspension – it’s so tightly wound, it teetered on my the ditch leading into my driveway. Yet, in Comfort mode, it still manages to be compliant around-town.
  • Seats – the best in the business.
  • Steering (and steering wheel) – that Alcantara material makes for great gripping.
  • Cargo utility – this is a hatchback, after all. A very quick one at that.

And a few things that were sorta hit-or-miss for me:

  • Sound – it “looks” like a screamer, but even in Sport and “R” mode, the exhaust note from that tri-tip system was surprisingly subdued.
  • MSRP – whether or not these are going for $38k or even more, it seems that puts this car more in line with well-equipped Acura models or other sports car alternatives.
  • Passenger utility – the rear middle seat is not a seat, but rather a console with two cup holders.

The styling of the car is either a love-it-or-hate-it thing. I could go either way on it. It’s eye-catching and got me plenty of attention throughout the week. All the aero treatment on the car is indeed functional in some sense, so it’s not just for looks.

I was thrilled to get to spend a Championship White Christmas with this pocket-rocket. Enjoy my 14-minute video and let me know what you think. Happy New Year to all!

Lastly, congrats to my new friend Ramsin who purchased my 1999 Integra GS-R. The car is now home in California.

Quick Look: 2021 Honda Odyssey Elite

Posted in Vehicle Reviews on December 26, 2020 by tysonhugie

According to Merriam-Webster, an odyssey is any long, complicated journey, often a quest for a goal, and may be a spiritual or psychological journey as well as an actual voyage. The year 2020 in itself has felt like a bit of an odyssey, filled with unexpected twists and turns. I guess it’s fitting that Honda dropped off an Odyssey minivan to finish the year out in style.

Unfortunately, my time with the Odyssey was shorter than I like to have for most of my vehicle reviews because of some travels that crept up. But I still got to spend a few days admiring the merits of the Odyssey — and realizing just how lucky today’s kids are. In the late 1980s, my brother and I used to ride in the bed of a pickup truck on a homemade bench seat – for reals. I think it had a seatbelt, but I can’t remember.

Contrast that with the plush accommodations found in any late-model minivan and it makes modern travel feel like an executive white-glove transport service. The Odyssey has rear air, entertainment, bucket seats, and a versatile demeanor that can suit a family of just about any size.

The Odyssey rides now on its fifth-generation platform, having been around since the mid 1990s. The van had humble beginnings, powered by a 2.2-liter 4-cylinder mated to a four-speed automatic transmission. Today, it has a 280-hp VTEC V6 which effectively puts it beyond even the power output of my 1992 NSX.

Couple that performance with packaging and content that rival most modern luxury cars, and you can see why the van gets 40% of retail minivan market share today. It’s also been the top-selling retail minivan for 10 years. While the one I tested had a sticker of nearly $50k, lower models start in the $30s. The window sticker is below. If I didn’t know better, the van feels way more “Acura” than “Honda.” And that’s a great thing.

While I didn’t get a chance to put more than a couple hundred miles on this van, I fell in love with it more than I thought I would. The easy step-in, comfy buckets, and heated steering wheel / seats were just part of the welcoming demeanor. I put together a 13-min video on my YouTube of some of my observations.

Back to my holiday weekend fun now. At 1:30 today, I’m picking up the buyer of my 1999 Integra GS-R and he’s driving it home. The car is headed back to California where it spent its entire life except the year I’ve owned it. I hope you all had a very happy and safe Christmas!

2021 Acura TLX SH-AWD Advance – Week in Review

Posted in TLX, Vehicle Reviews on October 27, 2020 by tysonhugie

Odometer (TLX):  927

Usually when a car’s getting dropped off at the house, it means that I’ve added to the collection.  This time, the delivery was just a short-term loan — but it was a fun one!

I’ve followed the launch of the second-generation TLX since the August 2019 reveal of the “Type S Concept” in Monterey, California.  Last month, the car went on sale in non-S trims, and next spring the model lineup will be fully complete when the Type S variant with an all-new 3-liter V6 turbo goes on sale.

The TLX’s original platform which debuted in 2014 was revamped from the ground up, and Acura did its homework to place the car at the front of the competitive segment in terms of design, technology, performance, and handling.  The car I received was configured in Advance spec, coming in at $49,325 including destination and handling.

I’ll keep things short & sweet with regard to my takeaways, because after all, I’m just an everyday journalist with an oddball Acura-ddiction.  I’ll share my review in bullet point form, just like I share data with senior leaders at the office.  I guess I’m still in my 9-5 mode this evening.

Love it:

  • Performance from the 2.0-liter 272-hp inline-four is surprisingly snappy.  The car delivers easy acceleration especially considering its size.
  • The TLX steering, for some reason, is one of my favorite things.  The radius is small, the wheel is nicely weighted and has the right thickness to it.
  • Interior fit & finish are top-notch, with quality materials including open-pore wood and nice leather.  Ambient lighting (customizable in over 20 colors) gives a luxo-vibe.  My fellow Acura-driving friend Daniel (who’s currently in an RDX A-Spec) said the same.
  • Adding onto that, the cabin overall just feels “cozy” to me.  The positions of the armrests are nicely laid out, and thanks to a console-mounted volume knob, you don’t have to reach for anything.
  • Tech & audio system are A+.  I like the resolution of the infotainment screens.  The ELS 17-speaker 3D sound system will really knock your socks off.
  • Aesthetically, I think the car looks really wicked from the front and I like the LED-everything lighting.  The rear, I’m not yet too fond of but I think with some aero accessory treatment could be pretty sweet.
  • SH-AWD delivers really good cornering and traction.
  • Wireless phone charging (part of the Advance package) was a welcome alternative to fumbling with a charge cord each time I got inside the vehicle.
  • Overall, the car ‘drives smaller than it is.’  As in, it’s a huge car dimensionally but it feels light and nimble.

Questionable:

  • It’s likely I didn’t fully understand all the individualization capability in the driving dynamics settings, but whether configured in Sport, Comfort, or Normal, I seemed to detect some floatiness in the suspension and it felt like it bounced rather than absorbed bumps in some cases.
  • I wish Auto-Stop/Start could be set up to never come back on, but it seemed to reactivate every time I turned off the car.
  • The 10-speed transmission gives good power whenever and wherever needed, but the Park button was unsettling.  The car felt like it would continue to jostle for a second after I pushed it.

Indifferent:

  • I didn’t really like the touchpad interface initially but grew to not mind it.  It beats having to put greasy fingers on a touch-screen.  Plus it’s pretty intuitive once you get the hang of it.
  • Head-up display is a nice feature for some, but I preferred to turn it off and just rely on the large, nicely laid out gauges in the cluster.

Thoughts?

The car is exceptional enough that it confirmed my decision to get one.  Not in this trim level, but rather as an upcoming Type S variant in 2021.  I think it’ll make a suitable daily driver to grow up to after having driven the ILX for nearly 8 years.  Even though it sacrifices a clutch pedal and some of the “raw” driving feel, it more than makes up for that with the abundance of tech and creature comforts.  Plus it can still look and feel sporty.

Stay tuned.  Thanks for reading!

Great Escape: 2020 Acura TLX PMC Edition 6-State, 3,000-Mile Road Trip

Posted in Road Trip, TLX, Utah, Vehicle Reviews on June 15, 2020 by tysonhugie

TLX Odometer Start 5/29/2020:  2,233

TLX Odometer End 6/12/2020:  5,369

Trip Mileage:  3,136

Acura gave me the key to a 2020 Acura TLX for two weeks, and I used it to deliver pizza & garlic bread.  Before that phrase prevents me from ever getting a demo car from them again, let me explain.

My grandpa’s favorite pizza place, Fredrico’s, is located 400 miles away from his home.  He’s nearly 90 years old and doesn’t get to travel as much as he used to, so his opportunities to taste Fredrico’s food are few and far between these days.  But I crafted an idea of a way I could make it happen as part of a summer road trip.  The strategy involved a to-go order, a cooler, and effective time management to get the meal delivered six hours away.  It worked out perfectly, and here’s the video of my arrival right on time at 5:00 p.m. for dinner in St. George, Utah.

The pizza run was just one of many rewarding aspects of my over-3,000-mile, 6-state, 12-day road trip in a new car that was allocated to me by Acura for press use.  And the experience was exactly the great escape I’d been needing after being cooped up in quarantine for a couple of months.

The year 2020 has taken each one of us for a pretty unpredictable ride.  What started out as an anticipated year of celebrations for me – car meet-ups, a high school reunion, and family festivities – started cascading like a row of dominoes as every event cancelled in sequence.  And two months into what became a worldwide health crisis, I learned that the future and stability of my own career was in jeopardy.  A mandatory unpaid furlough added to the drama, but I engineered a way to turn that downtime into some serious up-time.  Enter the Acura TLX.

I’ve followed the limited-production TLX “PMC Edition” since it was first introduced in a press release on April 11th, 2019.  In fact, I knew about it a day prior, because Andrew from Acura Public Relations clued me in privately via email a day in advance.  His email stated, “I think you’re going to like this one.”  Indeed, I did.

Even before that, I’d followed the evolution and launch of the first-generation TLX for a long time.  I was present in January 2014 when it debuted in concept form at the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) in Detroit.  I met Jarad Hall, its lead designer.

The TLX production model was unveiled 3 months later in New York.  I first drove one that August, and in February of the following year I secured one for a thorough road test via some Arizona scenic byways.  It’s now been 5 years since I really had much of a chance to spend time with one.  Until now.

I flew from Phoenix, Arizona to southern California on Friday morning, May 29th with as many precautions as I could possibly put into place.  The entire travel experience was somehow new for me, despite being such a seasoned traveler:  Mask regulations, distancing practices, in-flight announcement changes, sanitization measures, new signage, and modified boarding procedures.  It was a unique opportunity.  Andrew picked me up in the PMC Edition #027/360 with 2,233 miles on the odometer, and the adventure started from there.  I had lunch with a fellow Acura enthusiast who brought out his 1988 Integra Special Edition.  Aren’t those white wheels so 1980s?

My first order of business was getting back home to Phoenix to load up the car with luggage since I’d flown to California with only a backpack.  While there, I tried the TLX on “for size” by introducing it to the heritage Acura vehicles in my garage.

The trip route was intentionally designed to minimize ever having to re-use the same stretch of road.  And aside from a few small areas, I succeeded in that.  For 3,136 miles, I made my way through California, Arizona, Utah, Idaho, Wyoming, and Nevada.  I reconnected (at a safe distance whenever possible) with family & friends, mapped out some roads I’d never seen before, and saw some of Mother Nature’s finest landscapes in the Rocky Mountains.

No interstate adventure would be complete without saying hi to some of my fellow Acura enthusiast brothers and sisters, so I made a special point to arrange a meet-up in Salt Lake City with friends including Sunny, Trevor, and Shaun who brought out their TSX, TL, and RDX respectively.

The trip’s capstone was a 3-day weekend in a small town nestled at the base of the Grand Teton mountain range called Jackson Hole.  As home to about 10,000 people, Jackson acts as a hub of recreation for that region.  In the wintertime, skiers swarm the town for the opportunity to hit the 3 ski areas, and in the summertime, there are dozens of hikes and activities to entertain people in the great outdoors.

My dad & stepmom joined for that leg of the trip.  We took an 8-mile early-morning hike at Bear Paw Lake in Grand Teton National Park, where we had the place nearly entirely to ourselves aside from a few mosquitoes and other forms of wildlife.  Bear sightings, for better or for worse, were zero that day.  We had some fun capturing ourselves on the Town Square live webcam stream from multiple angles, as shown in the trip recap video below.

Climbing out of Jackson on Highway 22 to the west, the ascent sharply climbs from about 6,000 feet to about 8,500 feet with 10% grades and avalanche slide paths via the Teton Pass.  I chose this route because it provided the most direct access to eastern Idaho where I stayed at my uncle Jeff’s cabin for a night.  With temperatures in the low 30s that day, there was a likelihood I’d run into snow and I was optimistic I’d get to put the TLX “Super Handling All-Wheel-Drive” to a test, but aside from wet roads and heavy fog, I had plenty of traction to get where I needed to go.

I added a few hundred extra miles to my trip in Idaho because I wanted to reconnect with a couple of friends there.  After passing through small towns like Arco (“first city in the world lighted by atomic power”) and seeing what there was to explore at Craters of the Moon National Monument (basically, an abundance of lava caves), I dropped into the city of Twin Falls along the Snake River.

My friends Josh and Pete met up with me there for the best all-you-can-eat sushi in the state.  Josh also presented me with a custom, hand-built Hot Wheels display board that I’ll post photos & videos of in the coming weeks.  The Idaho hospitality was definitely very much appreciated!

My return to Phoenix included a few more stops to see people as well as the aforementioned Fredrico’s Pizza delivery run.  I made the most of each and every checkpoint along the drive home, even popping in to say hello to my friend Casey who works at the Shell gas station in small Mona, Utah off Interstate 15.  My entire handwritten fuel log – or at least the 13 fuel stops since starting out in Phoenix – was left in the glove compartment for posterity.

It’s hard to believe six years have passed since I first laid eyes on a TLX – the design is modern and the car drew compliments everywhere I took it.  I hadn’t even made it out of Orange County California without a fellow driver rolling down the window in his Mazda and waving to get my attention to ask, “How much is the A-Spec?”  And the coolest part of my drive experience was the fact that this particular TLX wasn’t just any A-Spec, it was one of only 360 total cars hand-assembled and hand-painted at Acura’s Performance Manufacturing Center in Marysville, Ohio.

I reluctantly gave the key back to my Valencia Red ride, but will forever enjoy the memories that were created on this trip.  The TLX PMC Edition was the perfect travel companion, delivering 28 miles per gallon thanks to an eco-minded 9-speed transmission that revs low at freeway speed.

I found the TLX’s 290 horsepower 3.5-liter V6 more than ample to crest the mountain passes (and overtake slower traffic) with ease, and I was spoiled by the car’s awesome stereo system and driver-assist technology.  Even the most vigilant driver can benefit from the occasional nudge of the steering wheel when beginning to veer from a travel lane, and even though I disliked that feature initially, I found it helpful as time went on.

And maybe I’m getting old (would you believe 40 is coming up next year?  Yikes!), but I fully enjoyed having an automatic transmission as a change of pace so I could more freely focus on other enjoyable attributes of the driving experience.

Now, who needs a pizza delivered and what toppings can I get you?

12 days in 12 minutes:

Flanked by 1994 Legends

Marble Canyon along Highway 89A, Northern Arizona

Entering Hildale, Utah

Mom representing with her Acura hat

…. And with her Crystal Black pearl 2016 RLX

Salt Lake City meet-up with my friend Eric and his 1989 L coupe

Another enthusiast meet up with Daniel of @redlabelspec (check out his awesome cars on Instagram)

Another state crossed off the list!

Bridge on Highway 89 in Logan Canyon, Northern Utah

Wyoming State Line

Teton Village, near Jackson Wyoming, with dad & stepmom

Throwback photo series – our family has a tradition of taking photos by this elk statue in Jackson.  Here we are in about 1992.

And in 1997.

In 2000.

In 2014, from my prior Jackson trip.

And finally in 2020.  The trees have changed, haven’t they?

Entering Grand Teton National Park

The highest peaks there are over 13,000 feet in elevation.

Visiting Uncle Jeff in Driggs, Idaho (check out that Chevy II Nova)

Arco, Idaho

Craters of the Moon National Monument, Idaho

More from Craters of the Moon

Josh’s RDX and the TLX PMC Edition

Some glamour shots my brother Payton got of the TLX

Thanks for coming along!

Press Preview: 2020 Toyota Highlander Platinum

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Red Hot Tamale: 2020 Honda Civic Si Sedan HPT 6-Speed Review

Posted in Civic, Vehicle Reviews on January 1, 2020 by tysonhugie

Odometer (Civic):  2,264

Who’s hungry?

Don’t worry; I brought enough to share with the whole class.

This candy is described on its packaging as “Fierce Cinnamon.”  I guess that’s about how I’d also classify the latest iteration of Honda’s Civic Si sedan.  It’s a contemporary compact sedan souped up with the aero treatment, aesthetics, and performance enhancements that tuners love, in a package that’s still as reliable as a Corolla.  The Si evokes a high schooler vibe, especially in the “arrest me” Rallye Red.  It’s no wonder some of the prior journalists who tested this Civic (ahem, I’m looking at you James) got pulled over for seemingly no reason while driving it.

I was lucky to escape the wrath of any highway patrol during my time with the Civic, but I still managed to have a heck of a good time with it.  I found it to be a competent everyday driver that delivers a sense of fun and adventure on even the most boring commute.  Just lay into the throttle in second gear beyond 4,000 RPM and you’ll get it.

This marks the second time I’ve had the chance to review a 10th-generation Civic.  The last one was a 2019 model year 1.5-liter “Touring” sedan back in September.  The primary gripe I had with that car was its Continuously Variable Transmission.  Well, guess what?  This week’s car had an honest-to-goodness stick shift.  And I loved it.  The ‘HPT’ noted in the model name of this one refers to its optional High Performance (Summer) Tires.

Here’s the rundown, in bullet point form as I like to do it.

Good

  • Seating position is absolute perfection for me while resting the elbow on/near the center armrest
  • Stereo & tech is relatively intuitive and rear-view camera clarity is good
  • High-rev performance feels almost magical for an engine only 1.5 liters
  • Headlight enhancements are a sweet modernization and give a premium look
  • Clutch action, shift throws, and round metal shift knob are slick, sheer Honda perfection
  • MPG delivery is great for a car this fun to drive (EPA 26/36)
  • Price point ($26,130 as tested incl. destination) feels like a lot of bang for the buck
  • Thoughtful conveniences like the power port in the passenger front footwell area

Bad

  • Blind spots are relatively large – this is something I observe on almost every new car that I test due to higher belt lines and larger pillars
  • I’m not a fan of an electronic parking brake on a manual car.  I’d feel a lot more comfortable grabbing a lever.
  • As with any turbo motor, torque on the low end is relatively scarce
  • I prefer an analog speedometer (at least to supplement the digital readout)

Ugly 🙂

  • I’m still not a fan of black wheels
  • Can we get LED rear turn signals to keep things uniform front & back?  (I said the same about the Acura ILX A-Spec I recently tested)

Verdict

Go sample a Civic Si.  I’m confident it’ll satisfy your sweet tooth for a value-packed car with some zing to it.  Any shortcomings are far outweighed by the bang for the buck.  It’s a great blend of practicality and performance if you have craving for a Hot Tamale of a car.

Honda compact sports cars separated by 21 years.  And look how big the Civic grew!

The Civic Si’s front end makes the ILX 2.4 look pretty mundane.

It was worth noting, I celebrated 2,222 miles with the Civic at 12:22 at 22 miles per hour.

This, of course, after I just posted about hitting 222,222 on the ILX.  It’s that kind of luck.

Happy New Year!

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

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

Odometer (Legend):  572,259

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo credit:  Six Speed Blog

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

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

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

Jared & Rebecca from ClassicCars.com

Part of the Dodge fleet at Bondurant

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

With Paige & Jessica from Toyota’s Public Relations team

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

Thumbs up to this one

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

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

This past Friday was sweet.  And not just because of the sugar cookies.

One of the best benefits of being affiliated with a local automotive media community is the chance to get behind the wheel of new vehicles each year to see how & where the industry is evolving.  You may recall my prior involvement with a program called the Active Lifestyle Vehicle of the Year (ALV) starting in 2012.  ALV eventually evolved into a broader scope – focusing not only on certain types of vehicles but rather exposing journalists to a little bit of everything.  It was phased out after 2017.

The Southwest Lifestyle Media Drive was then launched in 2018 to better align the Phoenix area press event with the key stakeholders, the vehicles in consideration, and the brilliant landscape that many of us call home.  And instead of being a formal road test or evaluation event, it’s a no-strings-attached opportunity to put vehicles through their paces without worrying about needing to tally up scores in a mountain of paperwork after the fact.  I like the evolution that this event has taken.

The host venue for this year’s activity was the Crowne Plaza San Marcos in Chandler, Arizona.  It’s a historic and hospitable place to begin with, but it also at a crossroads of some great driving opportunities in both urban and freeway settings.  Event Director Becky Antioco stated that there were 13 vehicles available to experience, and over the course of the day I was able to experience several.

The standout vehicle for me – and I never thought I’d say this – was a 2020 Toyota Camry with special “TRD” (Toyota Racing Development) add-ons.  A Camry with sporting aspirations?  Unheard of.  But all it takes is one look at the aero treatment, the custom interior, and the stunning color to know that this Camry is a little something special.  I ran it through the gears (8-speed automatic, of course) in a spirited launch up the Loop 202 onramp and enjoyed the 301-horsepower V6’s exhaust note.

The surprise came when I pulled up the monroney spec sheet and realized it’s priced at $32,920.  That’s some serious sticker shock in a positive way instead of a negative way.

One of the media drive’s main sponsors this year was Nissan.  A product representative gave us a walk-around of the Versa “SV” – an impressively equipped sedan for its $14k-21k price point.  Back in the day, the big competition was in the number of cup holders a vehicle had.  Today, it’s all about the tech, and the Versa has 3 USB ports.  It also has fancy things like “rear door alert,” to audibly notify the driver a reminder that they’ve put something in the back seat if the doors are opened in a certain sequence before starting a drive.  Innovation at work!

Another vehicle that stood out to me was the latest Ram.  The tailgate opens via the conventional method, but has also has a trick up its sleeve:  You can open it down the middle like a set of barn doors, too.  Think of the versatility here – especially if (as in our test truck) your pickup has a tonneau cover securing valuables being hauled in the bed.  I like it.

Thanks to the SW Lifestyle planning team and to all the manufacturers who put the event together!