Archive for the Vehicle Reviews Category

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

Posted in Vehicle Reviews on July 24, 2017 by tysonhugie

Odometer (Legend):  554,341

Odometer (MX-5):  5,261

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

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

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

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

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

Love it:

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

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

Hate it:

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

Would I buy it?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cabin perspective

Tight quarters in the center armrest console

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

Red shirts to match red cars.

2008 and 2017 MX-5s, side by side

Which do you prefer?

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

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

Evening cruise with my friend Rob

Quick pic near my office on Central Avenue in downtown Phoenix

Headlight cutoff as seen at night

Red rockets!

Press Preview: 2017 Jeep Compass Limited

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PAPA group

Two-toned (panda-themed?!) interior

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

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

Heartfelt messaging on some silos in southeast Gilbert, Arizona.

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

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

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

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

Have a great rest of your week!

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

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

Odometer (Legend):  548,850


Odometer (MDX):  1,817


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.


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!



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!


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.



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).


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.


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!


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.


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!




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


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


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


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


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.


Left to right:  Gabe, Leon, Tyson


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


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


Great scenery all around!


Group shot


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


2017 Ford Mustang Shelby GT350 Track Event in Phoenix

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

Odometer (Legend):  543,115


Odometer (ILX):  161,603


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.


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?


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.



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.


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.


“Hip” Historian Marshall Shore led the tour


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


ILX with the Clarendon in the distance


The scene of the crime!


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.


Half of our group on boat #2


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


Part of the group.  Living the Arizona dream!


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


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


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


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!


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.


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.


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.


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?


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.


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.



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.


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!


Our group assembled underneath the umbrellas


Matt McAlear, Senior Manager, giving us the run-down


View of the 2nd row of seating.  Fancy piping & leather!


A few folks from our group taking notes on what they learned.


Thanks for reading!

Few pics from this week:


Lonely parking – the way it should be!


Date night at Tempe Marketplace


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


Odometer (ILX):  155,439


Odometer (RDX); 8,397


Trip Distance: 144 Miles




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.


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.


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.


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.


Has the RDX hit a home run?  According to US News & World Reports, Consumer Guide,, 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.



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.



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.



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.



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.


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


Starting our climb up Forest Road 626


Narrow trail made for some challenges when encountering oncoming traffic


Right at home in the woods


Now with a nice layer of dust


Taking in the scenery


Hiking up the final stretch to the watch tower


Lunch spot at Jake’s Corner


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


Those baked beans were delicious!


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





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


Odometer (ILX):  143,798


Let’s get a little mud on the tires!


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 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.


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


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


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)


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


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


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


Dave Lee from Toyota discusses the new 2016 Tacoma


Alex Fedorak from Mitsubishi talks about the new Outlander


Darryll Harrison from VW introduces the Jetta GLI.


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



Nicole Ellan from agreed.


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


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


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


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


ALV Planning Committee at last night’s banquet dinner


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


Chuck taking the wheel in the Scion iA


Don Connors from Toyota teaching us about the Scion iM