Too SLXY for My Shirt: RADwood 2019 Car Show in Los Angeles

Posted in California, Car Show, Road Trip, SLX on December 9, 2019 by tysonhugie

Odometer (NSX): 116,405

Odometer (SLX): 140,616

Odometer (ILX):  221,578

Odometer (Legend Coupe):  572,261

Trip Distance:  353 Miles

“Hmm,” Chris said from the passenger seat as he shrugged his shoulders.  “Sounds kinda scary.”

I was pretty deflated.  I had just proudly pinned the accelerator to the floor in my red brick of an SLX and it did the best it could to get up to highway speed.  Moments later, he gestured the making of a cross against his chest as we both collectively said our prayers that the old SUV would get us safely to Phoenix, still about 250 miles away, across the barren desert at nighttime with intermittent rain showers.

We made it.  A bit of wind turbulence and poor visibility (one of my headlights is so dim it barely works at all) were about the only problems we had.  We got home to Phoenix at midnight local time after an exhausting day of celebrating the totally tubular 1980s and 1990s in cars & culture.  This was the third time I’ve attended the ‘RADwood’ show in Los Angeles.  In 2017, I took the Legend, and in 2018, I took the Integra sedan.  I always have a riot when being surrounded by such awesome people & cars.

And this time – in a perfectly orchestrated inconvenience – the event was held up a canyon with zero cell signal.  So, from about 8:00 a.m. until 4:00 p.m., I spent the day doing what we all did during the 1980s and 1990s:  Actually making real-life conversation with people.  It was pretty freakin’ awesome.

My trip to RADwood was by way of two very special collector cars:  a 1989 Dodge Lancer Shelby (Greg’s) and a 1998 Ford Contour SVT (Jason’s) – both with 3-pedal transmissions.  Unfortunately for us, and for all other show-goers on Saturday, Mother Nature felt like giving us a few rain showers.  While the downpours held out aside from a little trickle here and there, the mud left me wishing I’d brought my galoshes.  It was so slippery, in fact, that I fell down while helping push a Honda CRX with a dead battery into its parking space.  Good thing I had a spare pair of pants on-hand.

At least the 1986 Preludes owned by my friends Chris Hoffman and Chris Green looked spectacular.

The star of the show – at least for me – was a special project vehicle that I had a small role in bringing to life.  It’s right here, pictured with none other than RADwood royalty Bradley Brownell himself, and my friend & automotive journalist Steve Ewing.

You’ll probably remember my old “Fir Green” 1997 Acura SLX that I picked up a year ago from a friend.  It ran & drove okay, but the transmission slipped in third gear and the seats were thrashed.  I enjoyed it for a few months around town as a Home Depot cruiser.  Its life was about to change, however, when Andrew Quillin from Acura Public Relations asked me in late Spring if I had a lead on any SLXs for sale.  I didn’t know of anything decent offhand, so I said, “You can have mine.”

And so it happened.  On June 18, Acura’s fleet management representative drove away in the green beast from my house in Phoenix and I wasn’t sure if or when I’d ever see it again.  Not only did I see it again, but, it had been transformed into a completely different vehicle.  Over the course of the next several months, the SLX spent its summer in Marysville, Ohio, at Honda’s Research & Development facility, getting a cosmetic facelift and a full mechanical transplant.  Behold:

Engineers James Robinson and Jordan Guitar led a team of people who swapped the tired, 178,000-mile 3.2 V6 with a race-tuned 2-liter turbo out of the Pikes Peak RDX racecar.  But they didn’t stop there.  The transmission was replaced with a push-button 10-speed automatic and the vehicle was equipped with Acura’s signature Super Handling All-Wheel-Drive (SH-AWD), plus a fully independent rear suspension.  The only subtle hint that this SLX is something a little different is the hue of Performance Red paint and the side exit exhaust forward to the left rear tire.

While official drag-race numbers have not yet been captured, I’m fairly certain the SH-AWD SLX would smoke my stock example in any performance event.  I haven’t yet driven it.  I only took a brief ride during a mid-November film shoot in the San Diego area.  The result of that film shoot is here, brought to life with the creative mind of Acura’s Zach Vlasuk.

As RADwood pressed on, I connected with friends and colleagues from near & far.  I also got to be the eyewitness (or even acting clergy?) for the official sale transaction of a white 1988 Legend coupe that changed hands from one owner to another during the course of the show.  The Acura representation across the show field was in fact pretty impressive:  Even the award-winning second-gen Legend sedan driven by Rob Pia was in attendance, and it won a well-deserved trophy at the conclusion of the show.

Congrats, new Legend owner Daniel!

I made it through the afternoon without any further mud-slides, and I had a great time rubbing shoulders with the leaders & engineers who brought the SLX project to life.  I even had about a dozen of them sign my dashboard with a silver Sharpie, including Executive Creative Director Dave Marek who drew me a picture!

As for the project SLX SH-AWD, it’s gone on to achieve all sorts of fame by way of automotive media outlets in every corner of the country and even internationally.  Here’s an example of one piece by Jalopnik.  And no, I’m not getting the vehicle back, but maybe I can sweet-talk Acura into a test drive.  After some race training, of course :).

Here’s my 5-minute video on this year’s RADwood, and a few photos follow.

Westbound in the SVT Contour

Barrett-Jackson is one of many sponsors & participants in the growing RADwood movement.  Pictured here is Matt Ferguson from Public Relations.

If I were to cheat on Acura, it might be for one of these.  Love it.

Resto-mod SLX sporting custom floor mats, wood trim, reupholstered leather, and a push-button transmission.  But – don’t worry – the tape deck stuck around!

My co-pilots Jason and Chris

Acura senior executive Jon Ikeda was out enjoying the party, too.

Even the former owner of the green SLX, Wyatt, popped in to say hello.

And now – if you are interested – here are a few shots from the filming of the reveal video, and a behind-the-scenes look at some of the effort it took to produce.

Three SLXs in one place!  That never happens.

That engine is more than meets the eye!  And you should hear it!

Setting up a camera mount on my Radiant Red

“For sale by owner” – come and get it!

Actress Amy McRoberts

Andrew from Acura – one of the main brains behind the operation.

Old and new in a San Diego garage

And lastly, since I’m too lazy to put these in their own blog entry, I wanted to thank and recognize a few people who have visited my house in the last few weeks including automotive journalists Clint Simone from Motor1 and Sofyan Bey from Redline Reviews.

I also hosted some fellow Acura friends including my friend Leon who was in town from Los Angeles.

I hope all my readers had a nice Thanksgiving.  I spent it in southern Utah with my RDX-driving friend Shaun and with many of my family members.

Grandma

Mom (and her 2016 RLX)

And the newest member – 1-year-old Ava Mae, inside her Escalade.

Have a great week!

Ocean-to-Ocean Highway Bridge in Yuma; San Diego & LA Quick Trip

Posted in Arizona, California, ILX, Road Trip on November 23, 2019 by tysonhugie

Odometer (ILX):  220,586

Trip Distance:  866 Miles

Sometimes it’s when you least expect it that interesting roadside attractions pop up and call your name.  I was about halfway from Phoenix to San Diego on Wednesday afternoon when I spotted a neat looking bridge off to the right side of Interstate 8 in Yuma, crossing the Colorado River.  I’d been making good time on my 6-hour trip and had a few minutes of daylight left, so I figured I’d take the next exit and give it another look.  As it turns out, the detour was totally worth the effort because I got to learn about a 104-year-old historic landmark.

This was also the second time I’ve found a noteworthy bridge in Yuma.  The other one was the abandoned Bridge to Nowhere that I blogged about five years ago.  Who would have thought that you could find such cool water crossings in a city that’s smack dab in the middle of the middle of the desert?

This bridge ended up being the “Ocean to Ocean” bridge, constructed in 1915, which crosses the Colorado River at the Arizona-California state line.  It’s a narrow roadway that over time became both structurally at risk and also functionally obsolete, since it was bypassed in 1956 by a newer roadway nearby on 4th Avenue, and then again by Interstate 8 in the 1970s.  Today it serves as a one-laner and carries a road called Penitentiary, named after the historic Territorial Prison State Park nearby.  A railroad trestle bridge runs parallel to it.

From 1988 through 2001, the Ocean to Ocean Bridge was closed to automobile traffic because of structural deficiencies, but a $3 million restoration project allowed it to be made safe once again for automobiles.  And even though my visit was short, it was fun to get to experience it.

The rest of my CA trip was action-packed with a night in San Diego and then a night in Hollywood.  The LA Auto Show’s press/media days concluded Thursday and I made it to the area in time to participate in an after-party at a place called Doheny Room on Santa Monica Boulevard.  The gathering was an annual reunion of about 40 auto-journalist friends of mine.  It was great to see old friends and make a few new ones.

That’s a picture of me with Sofyan Bey of Redline Reviews and Aaron Bragman of Cars.com.

I stayed at the InterContinental Hotel that evening in downtown Los Angeles which, at 73 stories, is the tallest building west of the Mississippi and has 889 guest rooms.  My friend Brian and I were on the 58th floor and the view was stunning.  My ears popped a few times from the pressure change when going up and down the elevator.  Cleverly, the lobby is actually not even on the floor/ground level.  It’s on floor 70.  So as a guest, you have to first go all the way upstairs to appreciate the view before you can proceed to your hotel room.  I thought it was pretty cool.

In typical LA fashion, traffic on Friday was hectic and it took me 45 minutes to Uber the 8 miles to retrieve my ILX in West Hollywood.  Parking the car at InterContinental would have been valet-only, and it would have cost me $46.  So I opted to ditch it in a residential area for the night.  Once I finally got behind the wheel again, it was a pretty straight shot to find Interstate 10 and take that all the way home to Phoenix.  My only pit stop was for a brief lunch stint in Palm Springs at a terrific taco place on Palm Canyon Drive.

Thanks for coming along for the ride!

Oh, and here are the fuel stats for the trip.  The ILX rolled 220,000 miles and achieved about 31 mpg overall.

San Diego night stay with my friend Ryan who has a 6-speed Accord 2.0

Working my way home on Friday afternoon

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

Quick Visit: 2019 Ferrari Club of America (FCA) Meet in Scottsdale, Arizona

Posted in Arizona, Car Show, NSX, PAPA on November 7, 2019 by tysonhugie

Odometer (NSX):  116,205

You want to know how high-class the Ferrari Club of America is?  They have jewelry for sale at their meets.  I kid you not!  I showed up on Wednesday evening to the Scottsdale Doubletree hotel, home base for this year’s massive 300-car club gathering, and took a stroll through the reception hall.  The whole place felt like it was on another level: wine bar, hors d’oeuvres (I always love spelling that), and yes – the finest of necklaces & rings for your perusal.

I was tempted to take the NSX to the meet-up, but I didn’t.  This was a party for the Italians only.  Peter Volny, fellow Phoenix Automotive Press Association member, was one of the key leaders orchestrating this stampede of sportscars.  His team developed a comprehensive website outlining the day-to-day details, which consisted of all the customary ingredients for a quality meeting of ‘car people’:  Plenty of food, driving opportunities, a show (‘concours’ is the proper term in this caliber of club), and performance driving opportunities at the track.  For the track portion, the Ferrari club went to Apex Motor Club which you’ll remember from a recent blog post.

I took a stroll around the property including the “Ferrari Parking Only” section toward the rear.  The cars ranged in age, configuration, and color in a wide variety.  I’m certain many of them held a market value at or beyond the price of my home.  Several of them were covered up – presumably to keep them from being slobbered on by people like me.  Perhaps my favorite feature of any car there was the “BUELER” plate on this ride.  You’ll recall that the famous movie car from the classic 1986 film “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” was a 1961 Ferrari 250GT California.

I liked this one particularly, and not necessarily because of its color or condition, but because it had bugs on the front end.  I get the feeling a lot of attendees – especially those from more than a couple hundred miles away – had their vehicles transported to the event in bubble-wrapped, fully-enclosed, climate-controlled shipping containers.  This owner put his Ferrari to use as it was meant to be.

This morning, I visited the Scottsdale Sports Complex where the concours was being held.  Judges wore matching yellow shirts and readily identifiable badges on their lanyards.  It was clear they took their jobs very seriously.  Notice they even opened up the gas door here for closer inspection.  Funny enough, we do that during the judging portion at Legend meets, but usually only when a tie-breaker is needed between two exceptionally clean cars.

This year’s FCA meet is reportedly the second-largest in the club’s history:  It’s surpassed in size only by the 2015 event which was held in conjunction with Monterey Car Week.  I am sure I’ll be seeing a few more ‘raris than usual on my day-to-day travels through the end of the event this coming Sunday morning.  Maybe I’ll even sneak my way into the lineup with my Japanese imposter.

The Doubletree is swarmed in high class cars

No shortage of color out here

I think this might have been my favorite shade

So 1980s I love it.

I drove a car similar to these owned by my friend Greg recently.

And the obligatory NSX picture for this post.  Notice, I found a convertible Crown Victoria at the gas station.

‘Legends of Speed’ Phoenix Art Museum Exhibit & ‘Hard Parking’ Podcast Feature

Posted in Legend, PAPA on November 4, 2019 by tysonhugie

Odometer (Legend):  572,202

There’s a new exhibit in town at the Phoenix Art Museum.  It’s called Legends of Speed.  Sounds right up my alley, right?  And in coincidental timing, I hosted a meeting of Legends at my house this weekend, too.  They aren’t very speedy.  We’re lucky they’re even still on the road at this age.

A friend was in town from Alberta with a drone that’s worth more than most of my cars.  He put it to use on Sunday flying high above Uptown Phoenix to capture a few photographs of my property.  I’ve become accustomed to the fact that neighbors get to see this kind of spectacle on a regular basis.

In attendance at the meet-up was a trio of rare Cayman White Pearl 1995 LS coupes owned by Branson, Travis, and John.  CWP was a one-year-only color for the last model year of the Legend.  The car pictured in the middle received an engine transplant within the last couple of weeks and is on its road to restoration.  Isn’t it hard to believe that a 1995 model is now 25 years old?

Opened 60 years ago, the Phoenix Art Museum welcomes about 350,000 guests annually.  The new ‘Legends’ exhibit marks only the second time that a major exhibit in the Museum has focused on automotive art.  The first was “Curves of Steel” in 2007.  From now through mid-March 2020, attendees can visit Legends of Speed in the Steele Gallery at the facility on Central Avenue & McDowell Road in central Phoenix.  The exhibit is comprised of over 20 significant and historic racecars.  Each one was carefully curated for a specific reason and is shown with supporting informational placards.

This one is particularly important in racing history.  It’s a 1968 Ford GT40 that won the 24 Hours of Lemans race two times – in 1968 and again in 1969.  It made 331 laps averaging 115 miles per hour.  Makes me dizzy just thinking about it.

Another of the cars was a 1911 Franklin that was driven in the Cactus Derby – an off-road race from Los Angeles to Phoenix from many years before an interstate freeway linked the two cities.  I can’t imagine making that then-542-mile route in a primitive car like that on entirely dirt pathways.  It took driver Ralph Hamlin about 16 hours to do it.

It was also special for me to see this green 1929 Bugatti Type 35.  It was driven by Hellé Nice, the first Woman’s Grand Prix winner.  In 2016, I had the opportunity to interview Miranda Seymour who wrote a book called The Bugatti Queen all about Nice.  Note that the stick shift for that car is located outside the passenger compartment, and right next to the brake lever.  Be careful which one you grab.

One of my fellow journalists at the press preview asked the question, “What’s the collective value of all the cars on display here?”  Without skipping a beat, our guide grinned and said, “We don’t place a value on art.”  Check out the intro page to the exhibit which includes a short video and check out the cars if you’re in the area over the next few months.  Adult admission is $23.  Below are a few more photos of my Legendary meet up and this legendary exhibit.

If you have time, check out this hour+ long podcast that I was featured on recently with my friend Jhae who hosts “Hard Parking,” featured on Spotify and Apple Podcasts.

Link here

And finally, I realized that today is the 8-year anniversary of the day I rolled 500,000 miles at a red-carpet party in Torrance, California.  So it took me 8 years to drive 72,000 miles, which means the car gets driven exactly 9,000 miles per year – about 1/5th what it used to drive when it was my sole/daily driver.  Throwback vid:

Company from CA, SLX + NSX Pics, Legend Matching Odometers, & Other Car Updates

Posted in Arizona, Integra, Legend, NALM, RL, SLX, TLX, Vigor on October 28, 2019 by tysonhugie

Odometer (ILX):  219,230

How was everyone’s weekend?  It’s been busy around here as I’ve been getting back to my routine.  Just two days after returning from the mega Florida trip, I had company in town from San Diego and San Francisco for a few days.  My guest book is spilling over onto page 41 since I bought my house in September of 2016.  Let me know when you want to book your reservation (rental cars are available).

I’ll let the photos tell the story below because there’s really not much else to elaborate on.

Ryan and I took the ‘homeless’ white Legend that I’ve been storing for about a year to brunch.

He has his sights set on the Vigor.  At 6-foot-6, he barely fits in that thing.

We also took the 1992 Integras out for a spin.

I’d like to introduce my friend Michael’s new 1996 Prelude Si.  It’s beautiful!

Ben and Smiley arrived on their way back to the Bay Area from Florida on Saturday evening.

Ryan’s Accord 6-speed was looking extra juicy.

I took the Legend for its emissions test last Wednesday.  It passed the test without any challenges.

Here are the recordings for pollutants since I first registered the car in Arizona about 12 years ago.  In some cases the numbers are questionable or inconsistent.  Actually – the numbers this time were better than they were 2 years ago, for all 3 measures.  Go fig.

I needed to juggle some cars around so I parked the 2 ‘reds’ in the driveway for a few pictures on Sunday.  You’ll see more of the SLX in the coming months as it’s involved in a special project.

Similar gauge layout, vastly different driving experiences.

Do you prefer Formula Red or Radiant Red?

My buddy Chris from Maryland, who has the twin to my Legend GS sedan, knew that his recent trip to Florida would cause his car to surpass mine in mileage.  So we figured out a way to commemorate the milestone.  I took my car to Wendy’s and recorded the odometer after I parked it back in the garage.

The reading was 161,440 at the time.

So Chris, similarly, took his Legend to Wendy’s.

And he captured a picture at 161,440.  At this point, Chris’ car is likely to stay ahead of mine for the foreseeable future.

I took a scenic drive on Sunday in the RL out to Saguaro Lake in the Tonto National Forest.  I was scouting drive & lunch locations for a potential bid to host the 2020 NALM event here in Phoenix next fall.

More to come on that, but here’s a 3-minute preview video to the scenery & venues for consideration.

Have you been following any updates on the special Acura TLX PMC Edition?  It’s a TLX built at the NSX factory in Marysville, Ohio, and they’re only making 360 units.  The first one I saw in person was #026, on 7/26/2019 at Acura North Scottsdale.

And since that one was behind velvet ropes, the first one I actually sat in was #146 on 9/26/2019 at Acura of Tempe.

I’ve yet to get behind the wheel but it’s a pretty cool car because it blends Advance and A-Spec packages which historically have been mutually exclusive.  Have a good week!

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!