Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Western Automotive Journalists Media Days 2015

Last week - April 6th, 7th & 8th - was the Western Automotive Journalists Media Days in and around Monterey, California. Monday was check-in day; that evening there was a showing of the movie "Rush." I've seen the flic in a theater thanks to Scott Brown at Fiat Chrysler Automobiles so I skipped seeing it again. Instead I had a nice meal with my friend Doug and his daughter Shannon.

Every year I take some pictures of the cars arrayed for us on the first day. Here are the pictures:

 Charger Pursuit
 Hellcat!
 Lexus RC 350 F Sport

 VW Golf R
 Corvette Z71
 Mustang EcoBoost
 Subaru BRZ & Scion FRS
 BMW i8 

 MB GLA45 AMG
 Jaguar F-Type

 Toyota Mirai Hydrogen


Tuesday is the day I enjoy the most - driving a variety of vehicles on Monterey area roads. The roster of cars was extensive, listed alphabetically they were (there's an asterisk after the cars I drove):
Acura ILX & MDX; BMW i8, 228i, M4, X5M & X6M; Chevrolet SS Sedan & Corvette Z51; Dodge Challenger Shaker*, Charger ScatPack & Charger Pursuit; Fiat 500 Abarth Hatchback*; Ford Mustang EcoBoost, Mustang GT* & Edge; Honda HR-V*; Infiniti Q50 Sport Tech Deluxe & QX80; Jaguar F-Type; Kia Forte Koup*, Sorento & Soul EV*; Land Rover Discovery* & Range Rover Supercharged; Mazda6*, CX-5 & Mazda3; Mercedes Benz S550 Coupe & GLA250*; Mitsubishi Outlander Sport; Nissan Murano Platinum AWD; Subaru BRZ & Legacy; Toyota Camry XSE*, Prius, Sienna & Mirai Hydrogen; Volvo V60 Cross Country, XC60; VW Golf Sportwagen TDI*, Golf R & Touareg TDI. There may have been a few others that were listed for the track but were also in the road group.

No I didn't drive everything. And I didn't go on the off-road course (I'm just not that into off-roading). I'll give a short synopsis of the ones I did drive - we only drove each one for maybe 5-10 miles. Starting with the Chevy SS Sedan. I doubt that Chevy has sold or will sell too many of these but if you're a bowtie guy and you can afford it ($45,745 base) it should be on your list. It's got a 6.2-liter V8, 415 hp, rear-wheel-drive and available with a 6-speed manual transmission. Even this Ford guy loved the sounds (and acceleration).

Next up was a Dodge Challenger Shaker. I've always had mixed feelings about the Challenger. It's a good looking, retro styled car. But it is big - curb weight is over 2 tons. But damn the Hemi makes power and torque, and it sounds so good.

I've driven a Fiat 500 Abarth before but now they've put a 6-speed automatic in one. The 5-speed stick is more fun but the automatic is almost as good and with paddle shifters you can still play boy racer.

It's been a while since I've driven a Mustang so of course I had to get into the GT. The 5.0 V8 is my kind of engine - 435 hp and 400 lb ft of torque. Send the power through the 6-speed manual to the independant rear axle and hold on. Now if I only had $33,000.

The Honda HR-V is all new and under an embargo to describe how it drives until the end of the month. Let's just say that if you've driven a Honda recently you won't be disappointed. The HR-V is Honda's smallest Crossover. It is based on the Fit platform. You can get it with either a 6-speed manual or a CVT (depending on model).

I drove two Kia models, a Forte Koup and a Soul EV. The Forte Koup is just a nice coup; well equipped and well built. It is not a sports car but a "sporty" car. The Soul EV (electric vehicle) is, well it's an electric Soul. I've like the Soul from the time it was first introduced. Like most EVs range is a problem but EVs are gaining in popularity for around town driving.


Okay I admit it, I am not a SUV guy and I have little use for one, especially one with AWD. But a Land Rover Discovery is more than some off-road brute, it really is a luxury vehicle that just happens to be a SUV. Driving the Discovery you'd be hard pressed to tell that it is a 4-cylinder. With 240 turbocharged horsepower and a 9-speed automatic transmission it feels pretty darn quick.

There were two Mazda6's availabe to drive - a technology model and a more base model. So of course I chose the base model with the manual transmission. I have to say that I am not really taken with Mazda's styling but I was smitten with the Mazda6. The 184 hp SKYACTIV four-cylinder is so smooth that it could have been a V6. The 6-speed manual was perfect. The ride was firm but supple. All in all a really nice 4-door car.

Mercedes has entered the premium compact SUV market with the GLA250. It's a M-B, what do you expect? But you know, if the GLA250 isn't enough for you there is an AMG GLA45 that ups the hp from 208 to 355.

This was my first time in a Subaru BRZ. Quick and fun to drive. But maybe I'm not a kid enough anymore? The ride was choppy and for us older folks getting in and out would become a drag. It still put a smile on my face though.

What can you say about a Toyota Camry? Well-built, reliable and dull? Dull is a state of mind. If dull is being one of the best 4-door sedans available is that a bad thing? I drove a XSE, the top of the line Camry. Dull? No, just very, very pleasant.

Last but definitely not least was a VW Golf Sportwagen TDI. With its 1.8-liter, 170 hp, turbo clean diesel it wasn't the fastest car I drove but you cannot beat its 43 mpg rating. VW's diesels aren't your grandfather's diesels - they are quiet and clean. If I was still working and commuting I would consider a VW diesel.

Tuesday night is our dinner night. The Hyatt Regency Monterey Hotel and Spa put together a very good dinner. And then we had our keynote speaker, one of my least favorite people, none other than Bob Lutz. Lutz did not disappoint, or maybe he did.

He started off by talking about the poor state of education in this country. He's right about that but then he proceeded to blame the teachers and their unions. It's always the unions isn't it Bob?

Bob went after electric vehicles snarling that if it wasn't for government mandates there wouldn't be any because every company that makes one loses money on it. Yeah Bob, government mandates are a terrible thing. The car companies, heck all companies, would always do the right thing anyway right Bob? I mean no government ever had to force a car company to install safety or pollution control equipment right Bob?

Bob talked about General Motors. At one point he said, and I'm paraphrasing, that "they" would cut corners on anything except safety. I guess you haven't heard about an ignition switch problem right Bob? You know, the one that GM knew about and covered up for years. The one that caused many accidents and some deaths. Yeah Bob, GM would never compromise safety.

Bob fielded a question about the UAW taking some responsibility for tanking the Big Three. You know, those greedy unionists. You know, the ones that got millions in golden parachutes when things went south. Oh wait, those were executives.

Frankly Bob Lutz should take a hint from General MacArthur and "fade away."

But enough about Lutz, let's get back to cars and Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. Mazda Raceway is a great track with a ton of history. I've been there a number of times and driven some decent laps. This year for some reason it intimidated me.

I started the day off okay doing drive arounds in a M-B CLS63 AMG with an instructor from Hooked On Driving. The instructor takes 3 potential drivers out at a time; first he drives a couple of laps to show us the line then each driver takes laps. First problem was getting into the back seat wearing a helmet. The CLS roof line slopes pretty drastically and I walloped my helmet getting in. Rattled me a bit. When it was my turn to drive the combination of bad hearing (I'm getting hearing aids soon) and the helmet kept me from hearing most of what the instructor was trying to tell me. I did hear that I was missing my apexes and that I'd developed some bad habits.

The end result was that I drove just one car on the track, the Subaru BRZ. I thought I was doing pretty good, not great decent. And then someone in the Scion FRS came up behind me and passed me.

Part of the problem was a lack of low performance cars for the track. I wasn't alone in that feeling. Another member commented that he likes to start the day in lower powered cars to get in his "groove" before moving up the horsepower ladder. My loss because there were some great cars.

Again alphabetically they were:
Alfa Romeo 4C; BMW X5M & X6M; Chevrolet SS Sedan, Corvette Z51 & Camaro 1LE; Dodge Viper, Challenger Hellcat, Challenger Shaker, Charger Hellcat, Charger Scatpack & Charger Pursuit; Ford Mustang EcoBoost & Mustang GT; Fiat 500 Abarth; Honda CR-Z (breathed on by HPD); Jaguar F-Type; Lexus RC-F; Mazda3 & Mazda6; M-B GLA45 AMG & CLS63 AMG; Mitsubishi Evo; Subaru BRZ; Scion FRS; and VW Golf R.

I snapped some pics of cars in the paddock and entering the pits. Here they are:
 Challenger Hellcat
 Alfa Romeo 4C
 Jaguar F-Type
 Honda CR-Z HPD
 
 Fiat 500 Abarth
 Dodge Viper
 Mazda6
 Camaro SS 1LE
 M-B GLA45 AMG
 Alfa 4C
 Charger Hellcat
 Mustang GT
 Lexus RC-F
 Jaguar Type-F
 Challenger Hellcat engine
Jon Rosner in the Viper.

Every single car on the track was street legal. Some are a little noisy (good noise) but legal. Yet two or three of them were black flagged for being too noisy on the track - neighbors might complain. I have a hard time understanding how a car can be too noisy on the track but okay on the street. 

I especially want to thank all the manufacturers who brought their cars to our event. It takes a lot of nerve to unleash a group of wanna be racers into cars with so much horsepower and worth collectively probably close to a million. Thankfully nothing was returned damaged that I am aware of.

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