Western Automotive Media Days Return! Hooray!

I belong to a writer’s group, the Western Automotive Journalists (WAJ). Every year since 1997 I have attended their Media Day (and later Days). That is with the exception of 2020.

In the past the events were held at race tracks, first Sears Point (now Sonoma Raceway), then Laguna Seca (now WeatherTech Raceway), and once at Thunder Hill. I’ve always enjoyed the track days but I realized a couple of years ago that I was no longer up to the task so my main focus became the on-road drive day.

This year a track was not available so it was all on the road driving. Suited me just fine. The venue was different from any that we’ve had before – a drive from Cameron’s Pub (http://cameronspub.net/)/The Aristocrat Hotel in Half Moon Bay, down Highway 1 to the San Gregorio General Store (http://www.sangregoriostore.com/). I know the route well, it’s an easy drive and a good place to get the feel of a car.

There were 27 cars available to drive with about 5 hours of driving available and twenty minutes (give or take) for a round trip. There was no way I could have driven every single car for the one day I attended but I did get into eleven different vehicles. I’ll list them in alphabetical order with a few comments.

’21 Acura TLX Type S 

For me this was a nice size sport sedan, a 4-door sedan that could serve as the family vehicle and fulfill your Walter Mitty fantasies. Powered by a turbocharged, 3.0-V6 that makes 355 h.p. at 5,500 rpm, the TLX moves along very nicely even though it is on the heavy side (4,221 lbs.). The 10-speed automatic seemed up to the task. The paint color (Acura calls it Tiger Eye Pearl) reminded me of pureed squash. The Acura public site says the TLX Type S starts at $52,300. 

’21 Ford Bronco Badlands 

Having driven a 4-door Bronco a while ago I was eager to get into the 2-door. It's almost a totally different vehicle. I heard a couple of diametrically opposed opinions from other writers. One said enthusiastically that "Jeep should be worried" while the other griped that 'there was too much road noise.' I couldn't agree less with either. No disrespect to the Bronco but I doubt Jeep is worried. I think Ford will sell many, many Broncos but I don't think they will steal too many Wrangler owners. I'm pretty sure there's enough potential buyers out there for both. 

Is the 2-door Bronco Badlands noisy? As compared to what? Yes there is more road noise than in the steel roof 4-door but it is on par with a Wrangler with a similar roof.

I'd opt for the 2.3-liter, EcoBoost 4-cylinder although the 'more power' folks will go with the 2.7-liter, EcoBoost V6 (the four makes 300 h.p., the V6 30 more). The Badlands Bronco starts at $42,095. It's a fun ride.

I hope I can get into one soon.

’21 Genesis G70 RWD 3.3T Sport Prestige

The first car I hopped into was this Genesis G70. I can't get over how nice, how competent, all the Genesis vehicles are. They remind me of when Honda introduced the Acura Legend, or Toyota the Lexus LS400 - quantum leaps. In my opinion the Genesis G70 is one of the best sport luxury (or luxury sport) sedans out there. 

I've never driven a G70 with the base turbocharged 2.0-liter four. It could be the greatest four-cylinder on the face of the earth but the twin-turbocharged, 365 h.p. V6 is the engine to get in my opinion. It felt much more powerful than its advertised rating.

It is obvious to me that Genesis sweats the details. The G70 3.3T starts at $48,700.

Another car I'd like to get for a week.

’21 Genesis GV80 3.5T AWD Advanced+

In my opinion the GV80 should be dubbed one of the safest vehicles ever built. It was a GV80 that Tiger Woods crashed. If you saw the aftermath of that wreck with the balled up GV80 you might agree. Probably not something Genesis wants to dwell on but the accident is testament to the safety of most new vehicles.

I'm not a SUV guy, especially not a big one, but I appreciate the quality and luxury of the Genesis. This is traveling in style for sure. 

The GV80 3.5T (a 2.5-liter, 300 h.p. 4-cylinder is available in base models) AWD Advanced+ starts at $65,550.

’21 Jeep Grand Cherokee Summit

I think the word that comes to mind for the Grand Cherokee Summit is 'Wow'! It really was sumptuous inside. Really. This is not your slog through the muck and mire of a dystopian world Jeep (although it is a Jeep and it could do it), it is the Jeep that gets you to your ski chalet in style and comfort. 

I was impressed with power and smoothness of the 3.7-liter V6, I honestly couldn't tell whether it was a 6 or 8-cylinder when driving it. The Summit, not the top Grand Cherokee, starts at $54,085, almost $20,000 more than the base Laredo E.

’21 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara 4Xe

I know you're thinking, "a hybrid Wrangler?" Yup and it makes perfect sense to me.

First you have to understand that an electric motor makes all of its torque instantly. Torque is what you need. Add in the extra power (105 h.p.) of the electric motor and you get a total of 375 h.p. More importantly there is a total of 476 lb-ft of combined torque! Not too shabby. Being a plug-in hybrid you really won't notice the electric side, it's just there to help you rock crawl.

Jeep has done its best to civilize the Wrangler while keeping it rugged. There is still a lever to engage the transfer case instead of a push button or dial. There is still a lot of tech built into the Wrangler, it's just not in your face.

I'm not really an off road guy, it's just not my thing. And I don't live where the weather makes it difficult to go to the corner store. But thousands love the Wrangler. I hope they can adapt to a more modern one.

The Wrangler Sahara 4Xe starts at $49,805.

’21 Maserati Levante S GranLusso

Anyone with any interest in all things automotive knows Maserati. If you remember the golden era you think of the Birdcage Tipo 61 race car. If your knowledge is more recent you may think of a Maserati as the car so many Hip-Hop stars bought. Or maybe like me you think of a noisy Ghibli barking and crackling through traffic. But I've never had the opportunity to drive a Maserati until now.

Like just about every auto maker Maserati makes an SUV and this is it. Okay I'll say it, the highlight of driving the Levante was the sound of the Ferrari sourced twin turbo 3.0-liter V6 that makes 424 h.p. It's a shame that they hide the engine with its 'Maserati' cam covers under a plastic cover. Of course the mess of wires and fuel lines would need to be neatened up but those cam covers are beautiful.

The Levante S GranLusso starts at $94,920.

Monarch/Motivo Electric Tractor

Okay I confess that I didn't get to drive this tractor. Never even heard it run. It looks good on paper and has an admirable goal - eliminate dirty, internal combustion engines from farms. Additionally it can be driverless, programmed to work all by itself. If they ever build a version for the rural homeowner I see a market - no more donning a snowsuit to plow the driveway, just send the tractor out to do it on its own.

’21 Ram 1500 TRX

I just called it 'The Beast' although it is often just a sleeping Beast. But prod it with your right foot and hold on! The Beast awakens and rockets off like no 4X4 pickup you've ever driven before. 

Here's some numbers - 702 h.p., 0-60 in 4.5 seconds, and 1/4 mile in 12.9 seconds @ 108 mph.

Here's some other numbers - 1,310 lb. payload, and 8,100 towing maximum. 

The downside, if it really matters (it doesn't) is fuel economy that hasn't been seen in decades - 14 mpg on the highway. 

Technologically the TRX is one of the most advanced 4X4s out there, not that the tech intrudes on the driving experience or fun. 

Ram TRX starts at $69,995, not including $1,695 destination charge. TRX Launch Edition prices start at $88,570, plus destination charge.

I would love to have one for a week but I'm not sure my license would survive.

’21 Rolls-Royce Ghost

I drove the Ghost from our staging area to our lunch stop, Long Branch Saloon & Farms (https://www.longbranchfarms.net/), a distance of 5 miles. When I got there I grabbed the Monroney and almost had a heart attack. I'd just driven a car priced at $438,700! And I had to safely return to my starting point. Knees knocking and brow sweating I made it back without an incident. It took a few minutes for my heart rate to settle down.

According to the Rolls-Royce rep there are only two hold overs on the 2021 Ghost, the Spirit of Ecstasy (the winged lady on the hood who hides when you shut off the car) and the umbrellas that hide in the doors.

The first thing the rep had to tell me was how to close the doors. The front doors open so wide that most people cannot reach them to shut them. Don't worry R-R has you covered; there is a switch on the center console that shuts them for you. 

Driving off I was astounding by the silence. I've driven quiet cars before but this really was silent. I got into the throttle just once and there was a pleasant, but not intrusive, engine note. 

About the only criticism I had was the rather bland light gray color that actually drew attention. Go figure. 

’22 Volkswagen Taos SEL

Taos is VW's new, small SUV. Not tiny small but around Honda CR-V size, give or take. Big enough for a family of up to five. So now VW has four SUVs; Atlas, Atlas Sport, Tiguan, & Taos.

I've liked most recent Volkswagens because they are styled like a good suit - they will look good for a long time. They also have very good driving manners.

Over the past few years I've felt that VW power ratings were conservative. Driving them always gave me the impression there was more power than reported. The Taos was no different. The 1.5-liter, turbocharged four is rated at 158 h.p. The Taos isn't the quickest car out there but it isn't a snail either. With any luck I'll get one for a full week to review.

Taos starts at $22,995. 

’21 Volvo V90 T6 AWD R Design

This has got to be about the slickest wagon since the Dodge Magnum. Station wagons, or as Volvo says 'Estate' are like a drug to me and the V90 looks like something I'd mainline. Three hundred sixteen horsepower is nothing to sneeze at especially when it can motivate a 3,500 lb. car to sixty mph from zero in 5.8 seconds.

Even with AWD I'm not sure how the 19" wheels and tires would fare in the snow but that can be fixed and I don't normally drive in snow any more.

I did think there was maybe a little too much road noise (tires and wind) but I could live with it.

With a price of $59,590 the V90 T6 AWD R-Design is a bargain for a fast, luxury wagon.

I haven't had a Volvo in a long time, maybe it's time?


COVID cancelled last year's WAJ Media Days, heck it cancelled just about everything. This year's Media Days may have been dialed back a little but I had a good time. I got to drive some really nice cars, hang out with some folks I haven't seen in over a year, and spend some time around my old haunts. 

A huge thank you to all the auto companies that trusted us with their products. We really couldn't do it without you. For those companies that didn't participate know that you were missed and I for one hope to see you next year. 

The people at DriveShop and Page One Automotive deserve a standing ovation. And not just the top folks but all those that kept the cars clean and sanitized. You are the unsung heroes. 

Thanks to Motivo/Monarch for treating us to a great meal at Pasta Moon (http://www.pastamoon.com/) in Half Moon Bay. I remember when Pasta Moon was a tiny place at 315 Main Street.

A S Class in the Old West?

Mercedes provided a BBQ lunch Tuesday at the Long Branch Saloon & Farms. They displayed the new S Class (beautiful) and gave us a short presentation. Thank you.

Cameron's British Pub fed the group Tuesday night curtesy of Acura. I had already high-tailed it back to Tracy.

A huge thank you to WAJ President Brian Douglas and the executive for making this happen. I know some were disappointed that they couldn't shred tires and play race driver at a race track but I thought it was very good. The route was long enough to get a feel for the cars but not so long that a car would disappear for an hour or more. 

I think the only negative was that our staging area took over the parking lot that serves the Aristocrat Hotel and Cameron's. 


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