2017 Volvo XC 90. Safety is the new Big Sexy with this Norse God of Luxury.

Where Luxury Meets Saftey In Total Harmony

 

The Volvo XC90 T6 AWD Inscription a full-size SUV with a lot of Safety and Luxury
The Volvo XC90 T6 AWD Inscription a full-size SUV with a lot of Safety and Luxury.

Volvo is one of those brands that in the past has been an anti-status symbol for an anti-consumerism movement. Those educated, environmentally aware people who were green, long before being “granola” such was considered in vogue. Volvo, with its very strong Scandinavian heritage, has been a symbol of safety, a producer of staid though somewhat dull vehicles, this is about to change. Yes the God of the Saftey is about to become a sex symbol.

 

 

The Volvo XC90 is a Norse God when it comes to hauling people and cargo
The Volvo XC90 is a Norse God when it comes to hauling people and cargo.

 

This past winter’s North American Auto Show in Detroit, there was a lot of buzz about their XC90 model, to the point where as the Cars.com’s media party celebrated it with a Best Of Award. This Fall after attending the Automotive News Marketing Seminar, and hearing from Bodil Eriksson, Vice President, Product, Marketing and Communication for Volvo Car USA, who spoke about the expectations from many that Volvo would be extinct by the end of the 2000 recession.

 

 

Instead, the company has built on its strong heritage of safety, adding luxury to safety as a selling point instead of raw performance, which has been how automakers have sold cars for years. Resulting in a surge in the popularity of their vehicles, with reported brand sales ever since. With that, we got the chance to get behind the wheel of several of Volvo models, including the XC90 T6 AWD Inscription for a week. And we were duly impressed with the vehicle being safe and luxurious instead of spartan.

 

 

The Volvo XC90 Luxurious interior.
The Volvo XC90 Luxurious interior.

Still, a quite sensible vehicle that any self-respecting anti-consumer, “Volvonist” would feel comfortable in, though maybe feel a twinge of guilt for liking the heated steering wheel, and massaging seats with cushioned leg extensions. Though the XC90 is large, it does not feel that way from behind the wheel. While the 20 to 25 mpg on premium fuel may not be impressive in other vehicles, for this full-size SUV, it is not bad!

 

 

Volvo XC90's 2.0 liter Turbocharged and Supercharged engine returns 20 plus mpg on preimium fuel
Volvo XC90’s  powerful 2.0 liter Turbocharged and Supercharged engine returns 20 plus mpg on premium fuel.

When it comes to engine size, the Europeans are challenging our American idea that a big car means a big engine, and a big engine means plenty of power. Volvo has not sacrificed power on the XC90, and others that use this same powerplant. Volvo has attached both a turbocharger and a supercharger to their 2.0 Liter inline 4-cylinder premium gasoline fueled engine, coupling that to a capable All-Wheel Drive system through a flawless 8-speed Geartronic™ Automatic Transmission, we found the XC90 had more than enough get up and go, even for those drivers who are used to 8-cylinders in an SUV. The XC90 averaged 21 mpg during normal driving, and we would expect higher with more highway time. The only complaint was the noise of the engine, similar to that of kitchen hand beaters being run at high speed, which reinforced the fact that there was a small engine under the hood.

 

 

Volvo XC 90 features Walnut wood inlay and Aluminum accents along with a Bowers & Wilkins Premium Sound system.
Volvo XC 90 features Walnut wood inlay and Aluminum accents along with a Bowers & Wilkins Premium Sound system.

Inside the XC90 behold plenty of luxury touches, from the leather seats to the nicely trimmed linear walnut inlaid dash and console, highlighted by aluminum trim with ambient light throughout the cabin.

 

 

Volvo XC90 Center information Screen feeds the driver and passenger a wealth of information from maintenance to infotainment
Volvo XC90 Center information Screen feeds the driver and passenger a wealth of information from maintenance to infotainment.

 

The large center display screen is one of the best out there, easy to see and use, especially while driving. It presents a wealth of information from entertainment options to the vehicle’s mechanical information, you can even pull up the owners manual if desired.

 

 

 

Volvo XC90 massaging leather seats are heated, ventilated, cooled with extendable thigh support. Comfortable for long or short trips.
Volvo XC90 massaging leather seats are heated, ventilated, cooled with extendable thigh support. Comfortable for long or short trips.

 

 

Seats are where the Scandanivan automakers have always done a great job. Making them comfortable and for long periods of time, and the seats on this XC90, front and back continue this tradition.

 

 

Volvo XC 90 features a pop up child's seat in the center of the 2nd row
Volvo XC 90 features a pop-up child’s seat in the center of the 2nd row.

The built-in child’s seat in the center of the rear bench is a simple and very family friendly feature, as is the optional 3rd-row seating, which while not the most spacious, still offers comfort for smaller passengers. Though the Volvo purists may find  the ventilated massaging seats a bit of a reach.  Though many find a heated seat and steering wheel most welcome on those frosty days, no matter if you are in Sweeden or in the state of Maryland.

 

 

 

Volvo XC90 Dash provides info like who is in safely in their seat, and who has a seat belt on
Volvo XC90 Dash provides info like who is in safely in their seat, and who has a seat belt on!

The dashboard keeps you informed, and the graphical heads up display provide excellent information to the driver, as well as it is easy to see, which is rare if you wear sunglasses with progressive lens. While most of the vehicle information shows up on the center display, basics like Pilot Assist with adaptive Cruise Control, a semi-autonomous driving feature that we found useful in city traffic.

 

 

Volvo XC90 features Thor's Hammer LED DRL as well as Active Bending headlights
Volvo XC90 features Thor’s Hammer LED DRL as well as Active Bending headlights.

Volvo has always been ahead of the curve when it comes to safety, and the XC90’s has it in its DNA. Today, safety is more than seatbelts, whiplash protection, and airbags, much more. With Lane-keep and departure warning, low-speed pedestrian, cyclist, and large animal detection, Run-off-Road Mitigation, and detection as well as collision detection systems, provide a strong sense of safety. Active bending headlights that follow the movement of the front wheels, and light where you are going, not just straight ahead of the vehicle is very reassuring especially in low light situations.

 

Volvo XC90 Excellence is opulent with rear video screens and crystal glasses.All of this safety and luxury comes at a price. The sticker on our XC90 T6 AWD Inscription test vehicle, with delivery, was $72,805, we also got behind the wheel of a T8 E-AWD Excellence with a $105,895 sticker earlier this year, and were quite impressed with both vehicles. While the plug-in hybrid provided better fuel economy, it also had some opulence items such as crystal gear shift knob by Onefors®and matching crystal glasses in the rear center console, that were way beyond the ideals of any anti-consumer who would have bought a Volvo in the past.

After a week of driving this XC90, we were sad to see it leave, and would consider it. Check out any current discounts that Volvo may be offering, along with any buying services your credit union, membership club or association membership benefits may provide.

 

Volvo XC90 is everything a luxury full-size SUV needs to be, Safe, Fuel Efficient, and Fun to Drive
Volvo XC90 is everything a luxury full-size SUV needs to be, Safe, Fuel Efficient, and most importantly, Fun to Drive.

 

Words and Images by William West Hopper

This 2017 Volvo XC90 T6AWD Inscription was provided for one week, at no cost to Queer4Cars. It was supplied solely for the purpose of producing a  product review. All words and images belong to Qeer4Cars and are our personal impression of the vehicle. This review is not an advertisement.

Jaguar Redefines Marketing, A Movie Featuring You As The Star Along With The Car

Jaguar offers a full line of vehicles from sports cars to sedans to an SUV.
Jaguar offers a full line of vehicles from sports cars to sedans to an SUV.

Jaguar is taking to a big stage to let consumers know that their brand, an iconic heritage one, offers a modern line of cars that are very different from just a few years ago. This stage is not one of repetitive prime-time television ads, nor is it annoying pop up ads on your digital device. What Jaguar has done is put you in charge of their promotion, using the digital magic of the social share of a short video.

 

Jaguar features the iconic "The Leaper" mascot of the brand since 1938,
Jaguar features the iconic “The Leaper” mascot of the brand since 1938,

And here is where Jaguar got smart, they know that since this movie features you, you will share it on your social media channels. You become a star of a classic British Spy film, the talented British spy, the only thing you have to do is prove that you can drive. And what better to drive, then the iconic British Automobile, the Jaguar, in this case their new XE.

 

Jaguar worked with Facebook in partnership where you can make one of the scenes your personal Facebook Profile photo, a first for both companies. Jaguar is sure you will share it to your friends. And 85% of those that attend the Art of the Performance Tour do make the video and then share it via their social channels.

The Story Board for Jaguar's short film about you the British Spy and the perfect car.
The Story Board for Jaguar’s short film about you the British Spy and the perfect car.

Automobile companies have used ride and drive events as a way to showcase their cars, once you leave, all you have are memories, and a trinket. Any selfie images would be self-produced, and would not be as compelling as what #TheAudition creates with both you and the Jaguar. The process is simple, you review the story board, the script, practice facial expressions you will use in the scenes, head over to hair and makeup (yes you get made up like a movie star) and then head onto the sound stage where the director gives you the cues and gets you on camera. With rave reviews from the staff, like any star would expect!

Jaguar XE models ready to be taken out on the autocross course.
Jaguar XE models ready to be taken out on the autocross course.

Off you go to drive the cars on the street and an autocross course while they create the film. Stitching you into an already edited film, and you never end up on the cutting room floor. In just a few minutes you receive an email with a link to your film, and of course the Jaguar.com website.

 

Jaguar gives each attendee a key chain with the Jaguar mascot as a memento of The Art of Performance Tour.
Jaguar gives each attendee a key chain with the Jaguar mascot as a memento of The Art of Performance Tour.
Jaguar uses an RFID bracelet to identify visitors for their movie production.
Jaguar uses an RFID bracelet to identify visitors for their movie production.

Take a moment in the lounge to view your film on your own device and enjoy some cucumber sandwiches and proper English tea. While there you have a chance to access the Jaguar.com build site and talk with products specialists who are available to answer questions. One last digital moment is a photo with “the Leaper” Jaguar’s mascot, a Jaguar has taken the simple mass market demonstration event to the next level with the use of technology, what you do not see is the technology that makes it all happen. It starts with an RFID bracelet that you wear throughout the event. This tag identifies you and is attached to everything you do from each of your film scenes, your actual drive experience, to your memento photo and exit survey. This is what makes sure your digital content always has you in it.

 

Jaguar's Sports Car the F-Type and X-E Sedan.
Jaguar’s Sports Car the F-Type and X-E Sedan.

In talking with Kim McCullough Vice President, Marketing for Jaguar land Rover North America LLC, she spoke of how compelling this program has become bringing an event focused younger consumer to the brand with a very good return on investment. Jaguar had doubled their under 35 audience, as well as brought in many buyers new to the brand, looking for vehicles different from the traditional luxury and status cars that have become the mass-market norm. The Audition has exposed 92 million people via social sharing of this personal video where they co-star with the Jaguar in an action packed short film that is classically British, and ends in “Feed My Cat” which is a metaphor for the consumer to connect to the Jaguar brand.  And it turns

 

William West Hopper with the Jaguar Mascot
William West Hopper with the Jaguar Mascot.

Words and Images by William West Hopper

Note: This review was done during the open consumer days of Jaguar’s Art of Performance Tour. Mr. Hopper had the opportunity to spend time with Jaguar employees during this visit and was not given anything that was not available to the general public who attended.

Topless or Hot Rod…. Three Mercedes-Benz Coupes!

Mercedes-Benz S-Class Cabrio
Mercedes-Benz S-Class Cabriolet

With the bright sun and crisp fall air, there is no better time than to take a convertible out for a drive, especially one with the Star on the steering wheel.

Mercedes-Benz C43 4MATIC Cabrio Coupe
Mercedes-Benz C43 4MATIC Cabrio Coupe
Mercedes-Benz C63 S AMG Coupe
Mercedes-Benz C63 S AMG Coupe

On a recent trip to Monticello Motor Club in the Catskills of New York State, there was a choice to test drive: an S550 designo Cabriolet, a C43 AMG 4MATIC Cabriolet, as well as a C63S AMG Coupe. After being impressed with the C300 Coupe earlier this year, I took out the C43 first.

 

 

Mercedes-Benz AMG C43 4MATIC Cabriolet proposed window sticker
Mercedes-Benz AMG C43 4MATIC Cabriolet proposed window sticker

The C43 4MATIC Cabriolet priced out at $66,965 with Premium 2 package and a few other goodies. My first impression behind the wheel was that it was very tight, especially on roughly paved roads. My only complaint was with the unbelted right passenger seat belt which flapped in the wind with the top down. Once that was taken care of, there was pure bliss in driving the topless coupe. Plenty of power, a very well appointed interior, and comfortable. For a C-Class, it seemed quite roomy inside, though the trunk did lose space compared to the C-300 Coupe.

 

Mercedes-Benz S-Class Cabriolet
2017 Mercedes-Benz S-Class Cabriolet (Euro-spec).  Photo by MBUSA

S550 Cabriolet, which from a quick glance is hard to tell from the C-Class. Once inside you appreciate the larger cabin, no question this is the flagship of the Mercedes-Benz line with the appointments that only the S-Class offers. The being one of the exclusive design models it commands a $161,675 price tag, with optional Swarovski Crystal Headlamp accents a $1,750 option, as well as other more mundane ones like the Sport Package with lots of decorative body styling details, and warmth and comfort package featuring heated steering wheel and front center and door arm rests, something special to keep you warm on the crisp fall days.

 

Mercedes-Benz S550 dash features two display screens.
Mercedes-Benz S550 dash features two display screens.

While these two Cabiros are similarly styled, they are appointed differently, and behind the wheel, you feel the difference in their size.  As expected the smaller C-Class handled nimbly, and the heavier S-Class, you felt the weight of a full size car. The S-Class is still quick to respond, both to steering and acceleration input, there was no question it is a heavier road car.

 

Mercedes-Benz C43 Dash
Mercedes-Benz C43 Dash

The C63 S AMG Coupe is a bit of both, the size of the C-Class, though the AMG’s muscular lines expand the C-Coupe in a good way. The bi-turbo 4.0 L V-8 engine puts a lot of power through the 7-speed automatic transmission with touch shift. This car has power that you hear through the growl of the exhaust and feel as you drive. And indeed it is heavier than the C300 or C43, though still as nimble as its lower powered cousins. The C63 S AMG Coupe starts at $75K, we did not have a sales sticker to see exactly how the one we drove was priced with options and destination fees.

Mercedes-Benz C63 S AMG has a very muscular rear.
Mercedes-Benz C63 S AMG has a very muscular rear. Which matches its very burly exhaust sound.

C43 Cabrio was the best all-around car for the money out of the bunch, power, luxury, comfort and all the bells and whistles you could want at an affordable price. While there was not a price sticker on the C63S AMG Coupe, with the full race track ready AMG aspects of it, no doubt put the price higher than the $75K base price of that model. And a ONE hundred and sixty-six thousand-dollar S-Coupe Cabrio, seems excessive, as nice as it was, gp for the less costly C43 and bank the other hundred grand.

Words and images (unless otherwise noted) are by William West Hopper

A Tale of Two Sporty Cars Under $30K

 

2016 Subaru BRZ Hyper Blue Edition
2016 Subaru BRZ HyperBlue Edition

As the summer came to a close, both a Hyundai Veloster RSpec and a Subaru BRZ Hyper-Blue Series were delivered back-to-back, giving me a chance to compare these two under $30K 6-Speed Manual 4-cylinder powered sports cars. Each very different vehicles, both aimed at the younger enthusiast oriented driver, and quite available to folks of an older age.

The 2016 Hyundai Veloster R-Spec in Pacific Blue. A lot of fun for very little dough!
The 2016 Hyundai Veloster RSpec.

While both were blue in color, each one was as different as their azure color. Both have plenty of power from 4-cylinder engines. The BRZ has a naturally aspirated 2.0-liter premium fueled Boxer Engine that Subaru is so well known for, the Veloster a smaller 1.6 dual-spool turbo (axis) that runs on regular fuel. Both 4-seaters, the BRZ a classic 2-door with a trunk, and the Veloster an unconventional 3-door hatchback. Both share limited rear passenger headroom, the Veloster offers leg room for the rear seat passengers, where in the BRZ to provide back seat legroom involves taking it from those in the front.

 

Onboard technology; the Veloster has a multi-display dash easily controllable from the steering wheel, and a 7” center stack screen that provides information on vehicle operation as well as the audio system.  The BRZ is very driver-centric, with the tachometer being front and center, and the speedometer off to the side, but also shown digitally so you know, that you are exceeding the speed limit. The BRZ provided basic info, mileage, mpg’s, but not a complete suite of information like the Veloster’s cluster did, which provided on both the dash and center display. Both vehicles featured all the latest from side-curtain airbags, backup camera, and very visible LED lighting.

 

Interior design, both used materials that were nice to the touch, with a layout that was focused on the driver, and bolstered sports seats. In layout and design, the BRZ was more race-car inspired, while the Veloster is more mainstream as a sporty vehicle. Both cars have touch screens in the center stack, the Veloster required less distraction from the road to use it, mostly due to the having the controls on the steering wheel, while the 2016 BRZ did not have controls on the steering wheel, the 2017 model does. I find having those controls located on the steering wheel helped the driver keep their eyes on the road.

So where is the difference in the two BLUE Sports Cars? Design, Price, and Drivability, would be the answer. Design: BRZ is the more classic sports car with the long hood, with an interior that favors the driver and front seat passenger with small cargo space. While the Veloster design is like a drop of water in the wind, with interior space for driver and all passengers and cargo area that can be expanded by putting the rear seats down. The BRZ wins for a sexy sleek design, while the Veloster wins for functionality.

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Drive Train: Veloster RSpec features a 1.6 turbo that runs on regular fuel, which gives it plenty of pep to a six speed transmission which gives it plenty of control, and front wheel drive, which can be a bit temperamental, (tire spin). The BRZ has a powerful 2.0 Boxer premium fueled engine, that shifts through the 6 speed manual with ease. The rear wheel drive is more of a conventional enthusiast sports car.  While I liked both cars for performance, I felt more exhilarated by the Veloster in performance.

On-board Technology: Both feature center mounted touch screens, the BRZ’s 6.2” provides basic infotainment information and connects to your phone for Bluetooth operation, while the Veloster’s 7” provides infotainment and vehicle operation, as well as Bluetooth telephony. Both dashboard clusters feature analog gauges, the Veloster’s info screens give more info than you need. The BRZ features a basic digital speed display, odometer, fuel economy, nothing fancy.

Price: Veloster is the lower priced of the two with a delivered price of $22425. BRZ HyperBlue Series at $28,485. Both have lesser and higher cost options, depending on how you equip the vehicle. Long term value, insurance value, and deprecation have not been considered, but for just the numbers, the Veloster wins this by rolling off the dealer’s lot six-thousand dollars cheaper.

Drivability:  While neither would be a choice for a long road trip, due to their tight sports suspension and race-style bucket seats. Both are a lot of fun to drive with the 6 speed, and even with 4-cylinder engines have plenty of power band for routine driving. The BRZ has a noisier cabin, with road and gear noise from the mechanicals. The Veloster was a bit smoother ride with a quieter cabin. My choice here would be the Veloster, even though the driver’s seat was uncomfortably tight on my derriere’.

Flash and Noticeability, the BRZ in the Hyper-Blue Series trim with black spoke wheels drew plenty of attention where ever it went. The Veloster slipped by with a bit more obscurity. BRZ for the win here.

Over all, both are a lot of fun to drive. If you are a tight-wad like I am, the Veloster is my choice. But the BRZ has a lot to offer, though at a higher cost.

Words and images by William West Hopper

Subaru BRZ, A Driver’s Sports Car for Under $30K.

 

2016 Subaru BRZ Hyper Blue Edition
2016 Subaru BRZ Hyper-Blue Edition

Check out the Queer4Cars Youtube Video

Pulling into a driveway with the 2016 Hyper-Blue Edition Subaru BRZ  the first response was, “That’s a pretty car, what is it?”  I said, “A Subaru!”  “I thought Subaru’s are for trekking in the woods” was the surprised response.

While we Americans have long had an image of the Subaru brand as being one that is utilitarian, sturdy, and dependable with its Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive, and boxy design, many are not aware that the brand is so much more, and this 2016 Hyper-Blue Series Subaru BRZ is a great example that not all Subies are set for rough roads.

 

Subaru SVX, one of the early sports cars of the brand.
Subaru SVX, one of the early sports cars of the brand. (photo credit, unknown)

 

While you may not think of Subaru as high-performance muscle cars, it has a long history of sporty cars, and even “sport trucks,” think the original Brat from the 1970’s or the SVX of the 1990’s, not to mention the ever popular rally and autocross favorite the WRX, which is often seen modified and street racing.

 

 

Fraternal Twins, Scion FRS & Subaru BRZ.
Fraternal Twins, Scion FRS & Subaru BRZ. (photo credit Sofyan Bey, Redline Reveiws)

The BRZ shares a platform and design with the Toyota 86 (previously known as the Scion FRS,) in a classic sports car shape. These are the collaboration by two automakers, bringing the best of each brand to the build. Subaru’s legendary Boxer Engine, Toyota’s long history of sports cars, combined into a sporty riding and handling coupe,

 

 

 

 

Subaru BRZ Hyper Blue Edition features stitching on the steering wheel, and seats that match the exterior paint.
Subaru BRZ Hyper Blue Edition features stitching on the steering wheel, and seats that match the exterior paint.

The BRZ is a young auto enthusiast’s car, it could be considered pretty lean for most modern auto consumers. While it has plenty of standard features, this car is a driver’s car, and really nothing more, creature comforts are basic. The BRZ is noisy, you hear not only the road, and what sounds like a number of the mechanicals from the engine and transmission, though in a good way, almost to the level of a decades earlier import mini-pickup truck noisy.

 

 

Subaru BRZ touch screen info center is not as intuitive as it could be.
Subaru BRZ touch screen info center is not as intuitive as it could be.

While most American driver’s will just turn up the radio to drown out any unwanted sounds, the BRZ’s radio is not an audio enthusiasts dream, and the touch screen controls were hard to use, and required you to take your eyes off the road. This has been changed with the 2017 model by putting audio controls on the steering wheel.

Subaru BRZ rear seats are in name only, leg room is not optimal.
Subaru BRZ rear seats are in name only, leg room is not optimal.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

While the BRZ has seats for four, but best fits two, a driver and a passenger, as the back seats have almost no legroom, fine for packages, but little else.

Subaru BRZ trunk space can be enlarged by putting the rear seat down.
Subaru BRZ trunk space can be enlarged by putting the rear seat down.

 

 

Trunk space is small though adequate for a simple over night trip,  don’t plan on using it to load up at the big box store, that is what the Outback or Forester is for.

 

 

 

 

 

Agility is a big part of the fun of the BRZ, steering inputs are immediate and put you exactly where you aim the wheel.

Subaru BRZ has a short throw 6-speed manual shift, though an automatic is an option.
Subaru BRZ has a short throw 6-speed manual shift, an automatic is an option.

With short shifts, that are very solid and intentional, it did take a while to learn where each of the six-manual-speed shifts were located.  Revving the 2 liter normally aspirated Boxer engine was not a problem when you missed a shift, (it sounded great) and was very forgiving. This street racer was quite secure on the road, and provided an economical 29 mpg on premium (91 or higher fuel) after a week of driving on both straight line highway and twisty country roads.

 

Subaru BRZ Hyper Blue Edition featured very nice black wheels, a Brembo Brake caliper option is also available.
Subaru BRZ Hyper-Blue Edition featured very nice black wheels, a Brembo Brake caliper option is also available.

Do not think this car is going to let you slip by unnoticed, the attention factor is high, especially in this Hyper-Blue (a bright powder blue) color with shiny black wheels. I found that this car got attention from everyone from young boys, to the highway patrol, which means you have to be careful how you drive it.

 

It is indeed a driver’s car, and for under $30K, it is a car that you will enjoy if you enjoy spirited driving. It is not a car where you set the cruise control and get to your destination without thought. This is a car that is all about the road, as the fun is in the driving, and the destination is just where you end up.

 

Words and Photographs (other than where noted) by William West Hopper.

wwh-in-brz-tux
William West Hopper in the Subaru BRZ Hyper- Blue Edition prior to attending the Radnor Concours d’ Elegance Black Tie Dinner.

Racing the Mortal Minivan. Toyota’s Sienna on the One Lap America Circuit

 

Toyota Sienna at One Lap America 2016 Summit Point Raceway. Front Sienna SE+, Rear Sienna R-Tuned.
Toyota Sienna at One Lap America 2016 Summit Point Raceway. Front Sienna SE+, Rear Sienna R-Tuned.

This past April, Toyota invited a handful of Washington DC area automotive journalists to join them at Summit Point Raceway to see two original manufacturer built minivans, not customized racecars, compete in the One Lap America race series. Toyota USA’s Engineering and Marketing departments were campaigning a Sienna R-Tuned Concept and a Sienna SE+ during the week-long – multi-state racing event, that is One Lap America. Where they were raced all day, then driven hundreds of miles to the next track at night to get back on the track and race again the next day.

 

Reality TV Star Rutledge Wood and Champion racer Craig Stanton, sign autographs at the 2016 One Lap America stop at Summit Point Raceway
Reality TV Star Rutledge Wood and Champion racer Craig Stanton, sign autographs at the 2016 One Lap America stop at Summit Point Raceway.

 

Toyota brought on Top Gear America’s, Rutledge Wood, a bearded hipster TV reality show host, as well as Grand-Am Rolex GT Champion race driver Craig Stanton, to pilot these vans, and a crew to support them as they raced the week away, with everyone working together like a seasoned race team.

 

One Lap America 2016 Toyota Sienna SE+ at Summit Point Raceway
One Lap America 2016 Toyota Sienna SE+ at Summit Point Raceway,

 

 

 

 

 

Toyota’s purpose was both promotional, and an engineering one. Showing off that Toyota’s best-selling Sienna minivan could compete heartily with serious racecars, but also as an opportunity for the engineering team to tweak the van for better overall drivability in everyday situations and longevity.

Toyota Sienna R-Tuned, stripped and caged for racing the One Lap America 2016 series
Toyota Sienna R-Tuned, stripped and caged for racing the One Lap America 2016 series.

 

A Toyota Sienna R-Tuned Concept vehicle, interior stripped out, caged with a custom suspension, and many modifications the Sienna SE+, tricked out with TRD Badging, on the shifter and oil cap, dark tinted lights and Pirelli P Zero tires, and the fluids replaced to better perform under racing conditions. Inside the SE+, sans roll cage, the seats were slipped in for passengers, or removed when out on the racetrack in competition. While both vans were labeled “Concept”, each appeared to be using off the shelf parts and products that any amateur racer could get.

 

Riding inside the Toyota Sienna SE+ on the 2016 One Lap America parade lap at Summit Point Raceway
Riding inside the Toyota Sienna SE+ on the 2016 One Lap America parade lap at Summit Point Raceway.

 

During a break in the racing, a van load of the DMV Scribes drove the Sienna SE+ on Summit’s Main course. While none of us were as track savvy as the competitive team from Toyota, it was fun to get a minivan loaded with adults and seats on a race track, then see it stripped and back out racing minutes later in Wood’s capable hands.

 

Toyota and Racing: Toyota vehicles racing is nothing new, from enthusiast’s auto crossing Scion’s to Camry’s chasing round the NASCAR oval; Toyota Trucks going at it in the dessert in an off-road rally; Lexus IS F-Sport in a street race. Toyota has a racing brand, TRD, that you see proudly on street vehicles, pretty much everywhere you go. But the common family hauler, the Sienna minivan, that is not what is thought of when the topic of competitive racing is discussed.

Toyota Sienna SE+ Sporting the TRD and all the One Lap America promotional stickers for 2016
Toyota Sienna SE+ Sporting the TRD and all the One Lap America promotional stickers for 2016.

This was one of those times where automakers wanting to appeal to that “younger Dad”, And make him think of motorsports and minivan in the same sentence. Instead of wrestling with the admission one has achieved stable adulthood and needs to transport their kids, friends of the kids, the dog, and a variety of belongings, around suburbia.

Toyota Sienna R-Tuned engine bay featuring the TRD logo on the oil cap
Toyota Sienna R-Tuned engine bay featuring the TRD logo on the oil cap.

 

With this One Lap America experience, Toyota is not only showing that the family haulers can be the equivalent to racecars, as these two Sienna minivans indeed hauled it down the racetrack with the best of them, often competing with high-power performance monsters. In the end the team completed the week-long event in first place with 160 points, 65 more than its Acura MDX competitor, the other entrant in the Truck/SUV class.

 

One Lap America is the ultimate road trip, stopping at 12 different tracks over 8 days, in 7 different states. One Lap America is a race series for the enthusiasts sponsored by Grassroots Motorsports Magazine and Tire Rack. Starting in 1984 this is the 32nd year running. A legendary race, made even more so by the movie Cannonball Run.

 

The Toyota Sienna 2016 One Lap America Team, showing off their badges, showing they have donated to the charity.
The Toyota Sienna 2016 One Lap America Team, showing off their badges, showing they have donated to the charity.

 

More information on the Sienna One Lap program and the Toyota Engineering Motorsports team can be found at SiennaOneLapofAmerica.com as well as on  toyotaengineeringmotorsports.com. In addition, fans can follow along via Toyota’s FacebookTwitter, and Instagram channels.

 
Information on the One Lap of America event can be found at OneLapofAmerica.com.

The Toyota Sienna competitively racing against serious race cars in the 2016 One Lap America Series at Summit Point Raceway
The Toyota Sienna competitively racing against serious race cars in the 2016 One Lap America Series at Summit Point Raceway.

As they say while out racing, “Keep the Shinny Side UP!”

 

Words and Photos by William West Hopper

 

Fun to Drive, Easy to Own, The Hyundai Veloster R-Spec is Both a Performance and and Economy Car.

The Hyundai Veloster R spec, a hot hatch at an economy car price.
The Hyundai Veloster R-Spec, a hot hatch at an economy car price.

This little 6 speed took me back to my 20’s, which made it the perfect car on the eve of my 59th birthday. Driving it, I found myself instinctively down shifting into stops, and apexing around the cloverleaf’s on the highway exits. What better way to start the celebration of almost six decades, than to have a fun sports car to drive, which is exactly what the Hyundai Veloster  is, and not what I was expecting!

Veloster Turbo has a Six Speed with a B&M Racng Sport Shifter.
The Hyundai Veloster Turbo has a Six Speed with a B&M Racng Sport Shifter.

 

 

 

 

Before this summer, I never put much thought into the Hyundai product line, thinking they were uninteresting, cheap, disposable, transportation, for people who did not enjoy driving. That all changed when I got to try out the Elantra during the introduction of the sport line to local journalists in July, and definitely changed after spending a week in the R-Spec Veloster.

 

 

Hyundai Veloster has a 7 inch touch screen in the center stack.
Hyundai Veloster has a 7 inch touch screen in the center stack.

First and foremost, I am impressed by the fit and finish as well as the materials used on the inside of Hyundai’s cars. What we often see on lower priced cars, and some pricier ones, is the use low cost materials, i.e. “cheap plastic.”  Not Hyundai, the Veloster’s dash and door trim were well designed with a hint reminiscing of carbon fiber, and felt like something that should be on a higher-end vehicle. The center display screen for the radio is not only large at seven inches, it is full color, and a touch screen, with adult sized touch points. The screen is a true provider of infotainment, feeding you plenty of information, from the rear view camera, to the Blue Max app showing how fuel efficient a driver you are. The 450 watt Dimension Premium Audio, with 8 speakers provides high end sound through any of the radio channels and the XM Sirius satellite service, and easily connected to an iPod or phone. Steering wheel mounted audio controls make changing the volume or channels effortless.

 

Studded chrome sport pedals are some of the many extras in the Hyundai Veloster R-Spec, a lot of sports car, for very little money.
Studded chrome sport pedals are some of the many extras in the Hyundai Veloster R-Spec, is a lot of sports car, for very little money.

Who would have thought this little Hyundai, would also be a performance car? The Veloster features fancy rubber studded pedals,bolstered front sport seats with matching sporty red seat belts, and a tight B&M Racing® Sport Shifter. And when you release the clutch and hit the gas the twin-scroll turbocharger hitched to the 1.6 dual continuously variable valve timed engine kicks it providing plenty of power, (201 HP with 195 lbs of torque @6k rpms,) mated to the 6-speed manual gearbox, there was an immediate response to getting off the line at any stop light. It is quite clear that the throaty growl of the exhaust is not just piped in performance driving music. Though I do have to admit I stalled it a couple of times, thinking that I was driving an economy car, instead of getting on it, like I would in a performance car. The Veloster wanted me to power it up!

2 doors on the right, 1 on the left, and a hatch in the back. Hyundai Veloster has doors where you will use them.
The Hyundai Veloster R-Spec, a hot hatch at an economy car price.

It is an economy car! Just one that makes you feel like you are driving a HOT Sports hatch.There is the question, is the Veloster a coupe or a sedan? With it’s water drop in the wind shape, with a .32 coefficient of drag, it has an odd configuration of three passenger doors. The Veloster has doors where you need them, two on the right, (sedan-like), one on the left, (coupe-like.) Let’s just call it a sports car, a economy minded performance hatchback.

 

 

Veloster features plenty of trunk space in the lift over hatch, put the rear sets down and you have a cargo hauler.
Veloster features plenty of trunk space in the lift over hatch, put the rear sets down and you have a cargo hauler.
Plenty of leg room, but not headroom, for two rear passengers in the Hyundai Veloster.
Plenty of leg room, but not headroom, for two rear passengers in the Hyundai Veloster.

Inside the Veloster is spacious, not at all claustrophobic, the front has plenty of room for the driver and passenger,  and there is leg room for two passengers in the back seats, though head room is limited. And when the rear seats are not in use, they can easily be put down to extend the already spacious deep trunk. Plenty of safety with  front, front side impact and curtain airbags. A concern I heard was the driver’s visibility out of the rear window, I did not experience any rear visibility issues, and setting the exterior side mirrors correctly, blind spots were minimized.

The rear window in the hatch of the Hyundai Veloster gives a clear view of what is behind you.
The rear window in the hatch of the Hyundai Veloster gives a clear view of what is behind you.

 

Hyundai Veloster R-Spec with a 6 speed manual comes at a $22,425 delivered price, and runs on regular fuel. A Performance Car for economy car money.

 

Hyundai Veloster R-Spec boasts a 1.6 twin scroll Turbo GDI puts out 201 horsepower and 195 lbs of torque.
Hyundai Veloster R-Spec boasts a 1.6 twin scroll Turbo GDI puts out 201 horsepower and 195 lbs of torque.

The base Veloster starts at $18,000 and the top-of-the-line Turbo model with an automatic transmission tops out at $23,800, not including any discounts you may be eligible for. Only two option packages are available, each cost $2,100: Technology, (more gadgets,) and Style (includes a sunroof and more goo-gahs.) There are a number of dealer installed accessories you may want to add to make one your own.

 

 

Sirus XM Radio is just one of the audio options on the Hyundai Veloster R-Spec.
Sirus XM Radio is just one of the audio options on the Hyundai Veloster R-Spec.

 

You will not be in a boring transportation appliance, between enough power and G-forces to push you back into your seat, and a raspy exhaust note, all in a car that drinks regular grade gasoline, and gives you 27 mpg, as we experienced.

 

Red leather bolstered seats & door inserts, and matching seat belts give the Hyundai Veloster R-Spec an sporty look and feel.
Red leather bolstered seats & door inserts, and matching seat belts give the Hyundai Veloster R-Spec an sporty look and feel.

The Veloster will make you feel like a kid again, it did for me! And at a price that takes away any guilt about buying a play toy to make driving fun again. While it will not impress those in their Ferrari’s, McLarens, or AMG’s, you will not be paying the costs for to keep up with that level of ego either. Then when the teen driver in the family is ready, you can let them drive it, and then you will be the coolest Uncle ever!

 

 

Where the real story is for this little sports car is the price tag for the R-Spec we tested, $22,425 delivered (not including tax tags etc), which includes $825 freight and handling

William West Hopper with the fun to drive 2016 Hyundai Veloster R-Spec, that is also inexpensive to own.

William West Hopper with the fun to drive 2016 Hyundai Veloster R-Spec, that is also inexpensive to own and to operate.

Words and photos by William West Hopper

 

Thanks to Hyundai USA for providing us the R-Spec Veloster to test out for a week.

 

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