This story began at a New Orleans race track. I was test driving the 2014 Aston Martin Vanquish with my own driving instructor.
I could bore you with superlatives or say, very honestly, that after many years of trying out vehicles on racetracks, this time I got it! The exhilarating feel of driving at speed, the sound of the engine, the smell of the leather, the way the Vanquish catches light when it is in motion. Yes, I finally understood the lure of the racetrack and the draw of the Aston Martin. And yes --(ladies you will understand) ---it was a ‘shades of grey’ moment!
Santa Monica, California: The Beetle is a model that needs no introduction; it’s not simply that the “bug” is known around the globe- it’s unique and carries with it a rich history of fun motoring.
Volkswagen brought its latest iteration, a convertible version of the updated Beetle, to the Los Angeles International Auto Show for the global debut of the 2013 VW Beetle Convertible. Although Beetle isn’t the best seller in this German automaker’s lineup, it is definitely the ‘halo’ for the brand and there was no better place than trend-setting LA to take the top off of the halo and also to talk about VW’s increased sales momentum in the U.S. and around the world. VW also brought a group of auto writers to the show and to the sunny and fun California coastal region that runs from Santa Monica to Malibu for a day of top-down motoring in the new Beetle Convertible. It is priced starting at $24,995, with its high-level version priced at $31,195.
What defines the new Beetle is an updated sleek, redesigned exterior and reworked interior. Volkswagen’s convertible bug is an airy, cute and clever version of the car that once redefined the very term “automobile” in the U.S.. Introduced in 1949 as the ‘type 15’ and reinvented in 2003 after a hiatus from the mainstream, the Beetle is an icon of the internal combustion engine, with seating for four adults and a happy-go-lucky character.
This year’s model looks both more modern and more retro at the same time, with a flattened-out, aerodynamic stance that juxtaposes design elements like plain button wheels.
San Antonio, Texas: One of my favorite car stories is about my friend Bob’s elderly grandmother, who drove a Toyota Avalon. She would take four right-hand turns to avoid a left. For a number of years, I thought of this driver as the demographic for this four-door, full-sized sedan. I surmised that this Toyota model was designed to appeal to older, more cautious drivers who loved rolling along in large and long lumbering boats. Times have changed, cars have changed, and so have my impressions of Toyota’s flagship Avalon. I have an all-new impression of the all-new 2013 Toyota Avalon which, by the way, is named for a mythical island in Camelot lore.
Calistoga, California: Nissan’s fourth-generation Pathfinder is completely new—and different in ways that will appeal to more women and families. The SUV weighs less, has more room and gets better fuel efficiency than the model it replaces. What’s also appealing is some clever cargo features and technology capabilities that you can’t find anywhere else in the mid-sized SUV segment. The 2013 Nissan Pathfinder is available in 2WD and 4WD versions and starts at a base MSRP of $28,270, while top-of-the-line Platinum versions start at $40,770. Its competitors are the Ford Explorer, Honda Pilot/Passport, Toyota Highlander/4Runner, and the Chevy Traverse/Trailblazer.
Nissan brought a group of automotive testers to the Solage Calistoga Hotel and Spa to cool our heels at night in quiet luxury, and spend our days motoring on the Calistoga Wine Trail, along twisty and scenic coastal routes. We also drove the 4WD version of the Pathfinder on the dirt track of a nearby ranch, and used the SUV to tow a trailer to assess its pulling prowess.
Just as many modern SUVs have evolved, the Pathfinder’s looks have changed to give it a more car-like, crossover appearance. The new model is lighter by some 500 pounds, more aerodynamic, and has changed from body-on-frame architecture to a unibody build; this makes it ride less like a truck and more like a minivan.
Pathfinder’s front end is distinguished by an attractive curved grille, dominated by a large Nissan badge and backed by a black honeycomb design; it stretches like a pair of wings across the entire front end. Large halogen headlamps wrap around to the sides. Optional fog lamps are mounted in the lower part of the grille.
The roofline slants downward from the shoulders to the tail end, giving the Pathfinder a more coupe-like stature despite its longer, three-row size. Character lines scoop out the middle section like a waist, and the rear liftback has an integrated spoiler. Standard wheels are 18-inch alloys, with bold 20-inch wheels available on the highest-end models.
Inside, Pathfinder is bigger than the previous generation version by 8.4 cubic feet overall, and there is ample room for seven passengers in the three rows of seats.
2013 Nissan Sentra:
With a sleeker profile, lighter footprint and a more upscale interior, the 2013 Nissan Sentra has been completely redesigned for this model year – and it could give dominant players in this category a run for their money. Boasting up to 40 mpg on the highway, this compact sedan also answers the continued demand for fuel efficiency in an era of continually-rising gas prices. On sale now, starting at $15,990, this is Nissan’s seventh generation of this popular, value-priced model.
A gleaming chrome-framed grille defines the front end, which is capped by arrow-point headlamps accented with LED bulbs lined up dot-to-dot under the larger lights. A lowered beltline and more aerodynamically shaped roofline cut a sophisticated profile; the rear end is a bit chunky and low-slung, with wraparound taillamps and a liftgate with an integrated spoiler (on some trims). Chrome also accents the door handles and windows.
Compared to the previous version, the 2013 Sentra has a longer wheelbase but shorter front overhang (and longer rear overhang), for a modern sports sedan look; it is five percent lighter and its drag coefficient is 0.29, down from 0.34 last year. Sixteen-inch wheels and tires are standard; 17-inch wheels are available, as are a few other exterior premium features, such as integrated rearview mirror turn signals.
The 2013 Lexus LS: Lexus has given its flagship sedan a complete redesign and added a new sport version to the lineup. The all-new 2013 Lexus LS 460 is unapologetically big, smooth and sumptuous-both inside and out. Plus, there’s an updated version of its LS 600 hybrid that brings increased fuel efficiency and added plushness. Since it came to the market in 1989, its designers and engineers have set the tone for the Lexus brand by endowing its top-of-the-line model with a high level of craftsmanship, technology and refinement. The newest LS has a more bold exterior; an interior that has been updated with a higher level of quality and technology; there is improved safety and upgraded driving dynamics—along with more than 3,000 new parts! The base LS 460 rear wheel drive version starts at $71, 990 and the LS600 hybrid starts at $119,910.
We came to Tucson, known as “The Real Southwest” and parked overnight at the sumptuous Ritz Carlton Hotel, with accommodations befitting this updated opulent auto. Lexus isn’t shy about its achievements and wants its success to be recognized, so has tailored its ride and drives and media campaign to heighten the prestige of the LS. For its first introduction this summer, Lexus revealed the new model as the centerpiece to an international photo exhibit in San Francisco called the “Lexus Laws of Attraction”, at an L.A. Food and Wine event and at the legendary Pebble Beach Concours d’ Elegance, in Monterrey, California. The new LS F Sport model was unveiled by renowned designers Jonathan Adler and Simon Doonan to a global audience during a live webcast on Lexas.com and Facebook.
Looking at the exterior of the new iconic LS, you’ll notice it has an aerodynamic sweep of a profile, with short overhangs front and rear and a relatively long midsection.
#1 Visiting the Chicago firehouse directly across from Wrigley Field and trading chicken soup recipes with its chef.
#2 Driving an ambulance through the streets of downtown Chicago.
#3 Hanging out watching TV in a fully tricked out luxury RV.
#4 Soaring above Soldier Field (home to the Chicago Bears) in an aerial lift (cherry picker).
#5 Tucking into a creamy bowl of brisket from the Southern Mac and Cheese Truck.
I did all of the above and more at a recent Mercedes-Benz event in Chicago to introduce the many diverse ways that their Sprinter commercial vans are utilized.
Bottom line, the Sprinter can be morphed into anything from a cupcake truck to a luxury motor home, executive coach, ambulance or refrigerated van. As Claus Tritt, Vice President of Operations for Daimler Vans USA, mentioned, “For a commercial vehicle we always say it’s got a sexy back; behind the B pillar it’s all about functionality.”
Had a wonderful opportunity to visit the National Automobile Museum (The Harrah Collection) during my recent road trip with my parents to Lake Tahoe. We could have spent an entire day there!
The National Automobile Museum (The Harrah Collection) set the standard for world-class automobile museums when it opened with its dramatic displays, in-depth historical interpretation and exciting opportunities for visitor participation.
Reno’s National Automobile Museum is ranked one of the “Top Ten” automobile museums in the nation by Car Collector magazine and selected as the “Best Museum in Northern Nevada” by the Nevada Magazine Reader’s Poll.
The National Automobile Museum (The Harrah Collection) features:
• One of the most comprehensive public displays of automobiles in the Western Hemisphere, with more than 200 cars.
• 105,000 square feet on one level, located on the Truckee River in downtown Reno.
• Architecture highlighted by smooth, rounded exterior walls with chrome trim reminiscent of automotive styling and contrasting reflective glass pyramids at the lobby. The popular ‘50s car paint color, heather fire mist, was chosen for the exterior walls.
On the outskirts of San Antonio, Texas Auto Writer’s Association (TAWA) members gathered to drive and review the best 2012 trucks, SUVs, CUVs, and other off-road vehicles for their annual Truck Rodeo.
The Rodeo featured major manufacturers who brought their best and most adept models to compete in this significant challenge held within the country’s ultimate ‘truck state’, Texas.
Virtually every manufacturer who has trucks or Sport Utility Vehicles entered them in the competition and came to San Antonio to present them the TAWA group. Ford brought a few variations of the F-150 including one model which featured their new FX package along with their LARIAT and King Ranch models. These F-150s featured neutral towing capability (on their 4x4s) which allowed the driver the ability to flat-tow. Another innovation within this year’s F-150s is the revived EcoBoost® and 5.0L engines.
RAM, (last year’s Truck of Texas winner) was also at the Rodeo and brought half a dozen variations of their product along with two new releases. The RAM Mossy Oak and the Laramie Power Wagon were both new models featured in the RAM line-up. The Mossy Oak will likely do well with hunters and outdoor enthusiasts because its styling is accented with camouflage patterned accents both inside and out.
The Mossy Oak model was derived from the RAM Outdoorsman and will be available for a limited time while the LARAMIE Power Wagon (a little more luxurious than the inaugural model) is slated to be sold throughout the entire year. A few of the upgrades within the ‘luxury model’ are wood grain paneling and extra chrome for flare.
During the event there were many other newly released trucks, SUVs, and CUVs brought in directly from many manufacturers. Toyota brought a prototype model of the Tacoma TRD T/X Baja Series which is set for official release in May 2012. This soon-to-be-released model is being built at Toyota’s San Antonio plant and is also undergoing final testing for the Tacoma Access Cab and Double Cab 4x4 models. This new series is equipped with a 4.0 Liter V6 and comes with choice of a six-speed manual or a five-speed automatic transmission.
The Baja is also fully equipped with every important feature any serious off-road enthusiast could ever want such as upgraded shocks, coils, traction control, off-road wheels and tires. Needless to say, the test drive on the dusty, hilly, steep and at times wet and rocky off-road course not only showed super engine response and power it also held its own no matter what obstacle it encountered. Most of the off-road specific 2012 models entered in the Truck Rodeo listed suspension upgrades on their more well-known models with an emphasis on capable suspension regarding the newer editions such as the Nissan Titan Pro4X.
After two days of grueling testing of the 51 entrants, the Auto Writer’s turned in their ballots and awaited the final results of who would win one of the highest honors in the land - The Truck of Texas award. Within 12 hours the results were in and many of the manufacturers could not have been happier with their brands results.
Nissan claimed titles such as Mid-Sized Truck of Texas for the Nissan Frontier and Compact SUV of Texas for the auto maker’s Xterra Pro-4X. Dodge Durango won first place for Full-Sized SUV, RAM 2500 Mega Cab Laramie Longhorn took second place for Luxury Pickup Truck of Texas while RAM 1500 earned second for Full-Sized Pickup (Toyota Tundra and Chevrolet 1500 both tied for third).
For the winning Truck Line of Texas the Auto Writers awarded Ford F-150 first place in Full-Sized Pickup Truck and Luxury Pickup Truck of Texas (Platinum EcoBoost® model), while the F-250 claimed top place for Heavy Duty Pickup Truck of the Lone Star truck state.
The complete list of Texas Auto Writer's Truck Rodeo winners is as follows: Truck of Texas: 2012 Ford F-150 SUV of Texas: 2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee CUV of Texas: 2012 Ford Edge Truck Line of Texas: Ford F-150 Full-Sized Pickup Truck: First Place, 2012 Ford F-150; Second Place, 2012 Ram 1500; Third Place, Chevrolet 1500 & Toyota Tundra (tie) Mid-Sized Pickup Truck: First Place, 2012 Nissan Frontier; Second Place, 2012 Toyota Tacoma. Luxury Pickup Truck: First Place, 2012 Ford F-150 Platinum EcoBoost; Second Place, 2012 Ram 2500 Mega Cab Laramie Longhorn: Third Place, 2012 GMC Sierra Denali 2500 HD Crew Cab. Heavy Duty Pickup Truck: First Place, 2012 Ford F-250 King Ranch; Second Place, 2012 Ram 2500 Power Wagon; Third Place, 2012 Chevrolet Silverado 2500 HD. Full-Sized SUV: First Place, 2012 Dodge Durango; Second Place, 2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee; Third Place, 2012 Chevrolet Tahoe. Full-Sized Luxury SUV: First Place, Jeep Grand Cherokee; Second Place, Range Rover Evoque; Third place, Mercedes Benz ML350 Mid-Sized SUV: First Place, 2012 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited; Second Place, 2012 Toyota 4Runner; Third Place, 2012 Toyota FJ Cruiser. Mid-Sized Luxury SUV: First Place, Toyota 4Runner Compact SUV: First Place, 2012 Nissan Xterra Pro-4X; Second Place, 2012 Jeep Compass; Third Place, 2012 Volkswagen Tiguan. Full-Sized CUV: First Place, 2012 Buick Enclave Mid-Sized CUV: First Place, 2012 Ford Edge Limited with EcoBoost engine; Second Place 2012 Dodge Journey; Third Place, 2012 Chevrolet Equinox Compact CUV: First Place, 2012 Toyota Rav4; Second Place, Kia Soul Full-Sized Luxury CUV: First Place, 2012 GMC Acadia Denali; Second Place, 2012 Mercedes-Benz R350 Blue TEC. Mid-Sized Luxury CUV: 2012 Cadillac SRX Premium.
Remember me and my story this Holiday Season. Buckle Up and Say No to Buzzed Driving !!!
We left for home Thanksgiving day in the twilight, filled with Grandma Cleo’s cooking, lots of hugs and our heads filled with family stories shared in laughter.
The drive on Palmdale Highway 138, a two land undivided road, was lined with cars coming and going like bumper cars. I always hated this part of the drive and kept checking my speed to stay at 55 MPH, which was not my normal routine driving practice.
After about ten minutes, feeling overly cautious, I looked over at my son in the front passenger seat and noticed his seatbelt was not fastened and sharply told him to “Put on your seatbelt, NOW!”, and glanced over my shoulder to make sure my other son was buckled up!”
Thirty seconds later a small car driven by a drunken women with five children, only one two year old in a restraint system, swerved from the oncoming traffic right in front of me. There was no way to avoid the accident. I slammed on my brakes to attempt to stop in time. Her oncoming speed and my oncoming speed were equal to at least 110 miles an hour. Not enough time to stop.
That moment of impact will be imbedded in my soul forever. Three of the five children were killed instantly. The woman driver killed her only daughter and two of her sister’s children. The driver (She) survived along with the two year old in the car seat and one other young boy cousin.