attended the Western Automotive Journalists Media Days in Monterey,
Calif. On the day of the ride and drive, we took turns driving a
host of really fun cars through a well-planned, beautiful route
through the Monterey Peninsula.
My first ride
was a Mercedes CLA 45 AMG, a compact Benz with slinky wheels and
really big brakes lurking behind. The turbocharged, 2.0-liter engine
took me by surprise, nailing me into the seat at the first green
light and most after, offering up 181 horsepower per liter and
massive torque. Mercedes says this is the most powerful
four-cylinder turbo engine made, and I was equally impressed with
the broad, easy to use torque band. A super-sweet transmission and
all-wheel drive put the power on the ground with intuitive grace.
Handling and overall performance were right on par with the
spectacular engine ó it was difficult to hand this car off.
The next car
driven was a Cadillac ELR (extended range electric) with an
already-depleted battery. I was amazed at how well the tiny
1.4-liter, 82-horsepower gasoline engine/generator could dutifully
create enough energy during cruise and deceleration periods to allow
fairly impressive bursts of power as we wrung out the many turns
near Elkhorn Slough. I carefully tried using the adaptive (radar)
cruise control on the road and later in stop-and-go traffic (foot
hovering above the brake pedal just in case) as we encountered heavy
traffic near Carmel. The system did a remarkable job of pacing the
car ahead during a variety of maneuvers, including full stops. An
interesting yet pricey car.
was my favorite of all, on the road and on the track the next day.
Itís a large and luxurious vehicle, yet the 550-horsepower,
supercharged engine and eight-speed transmission provided launches
like a 1960s muscle car.
I found the
Fiat 500 Abarth to be about half the fun of my electric version of
the car, even with its high-performance tires and wheels and
assorted upgrades. Compared to the 500E, it was noisy and lethargic
in the twisting turns above Carmel ó there is just no substitute
for the silent and massive low-end torque of an electric vehicle.
At our evening
banquet, I was delighted to discover my tablemate was Graham Henckel,
the very personable head engineer for the Dodge Viper. Instead of
all the many questions about his car I could conjure, I was eager to
ask him how he progressed professionally through his organization to
achieve such a prestigious spot, and how one balances the dreams of
an engineer with the realities of politics and production. I try to
inspire my students to consider building cars instead of just fixing
them, and Grahamís experiences will be great to share.
day we tried out most of the cars driving Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca,
running each car 2.8 laps before trading off for the next one. Mazda
was gracious enough to lend us the track for the day, and we put it
to highly enjoyable use.
the great folks with Hooked on Driving, we played hard, while being
sure to stay within our limits and those of each vehicle. Volunteer
coach Mike helped me better find the right lines and go smoother and
faster than I would ever have attempted on my own. Other
great-to-drive cars included the Corvette Z-51, Chevy SS, Dodge
Viper, Mazda 3S GT, Dodge Challenger RT Shaker, Mercedes E63 AMG,
Subaru WRX, and BMW M5.