By Paul DeGuiseppi, MACS Manager of Service Training
This past fall, I once again took the trek to Lake Harmony, Pa. to participate in IMPA (International Motor Press Association) Test Days. If you’re a “car whack” (as I am), it doesn’t come much better than this – IMPA members get the opportunity to drive a broad variety of the newest offerings from most vehicle manufacturers that sell in the U.S. market.
Here are the vehicles I drove, and my impressions of them. I’ll give you this up front – their individual missions considered, not one of them was bad. However, some were “badder” than others.
Volkswagen Jetta TDI SEL – I’ve been reading many good things about the newest VW diesels, so I chose this as the first car to drive. It turns out that all the good things I read are true. The average person would never know it was a diesel. It had almost imperceptible turbo lag, and accelerated briskly, with a nice torquey feel. To me, it’s the perfect anti-hybrid. I like that.
Volkswagen Jetta 2.5 SEL – It was interesting to drive the gas engine Jetta directly after stepping out of the diesel. I didn’t see much difference in dynamics between the two, with the exception that the gas car’s torque curve seemed to be more equally distributed over the engine’s rpm range.
Hyundai Genesis Coupe 2.0 TR Spec – The absolute sports car bargain for the day, perhaps the 2011 model year. This vehicle has a base price of $24,500, and it’s a quite nicely equipped RWD looker at that. The car Hyundai provided had only one option; carpeted floor mats for $105. I drove nothing else that matched this car’s performance-for-the-price quotient.
Mazda3 2.5 Five Door – Another case of a very satisfying-to-drive car for the money. Very crisp steering and handling, and not too shabby acceleration either. Couple its great ergonomics and nicely appointed interior with the fact that you can even haul stuff, and you have a fantastic all-around daily ride.
Camaro SS – This was the first of the three American pony cars I drove, one right after the other. It accelerates and brakes pretty well, but its interior is a shallow chasm, and its instrument panel is a cartoon. Especially in light of its competition, this car (with a sticker price around $38K) did not appeal to me in any way.
Mustang GT – Ford marked 2011 with the return of the 5.0 in the Mustang. As good as the 4.6L 2005-2010 GTs of the current platform Mustang were, this one nudges the dial to “11.” Fantastic acceleration, braking, steering, handling, seats, outward vision and sounds. With a sticker of $40K, it’s a car so much better than the Camaro for only two large more..
Dodge Challenger RT – My absolute favorite of the three ponies. While it’s a little slower than the Camaro or Mustang, this car just has a certain charm that the other two don’t. Its sight lines, larger dimensions and pistol grip shifter catapult my mind back to lighter times.
For me, that makes its sticker, which was $1K higher than the Mustang’s, well worth that small difference.
BMW 335iS Coupe – This car’s double-clutch seven speed is the fastest-shifting automated manual transmission that I have ever experienced. Coupled with the 320 horsepower from its torquey twin-turbo, inline six, it helps shoot this car from a standing start like it’s a Ruger .204. Of everything I drove this day, this would be the one I’d have taken home.
Mazda2 – This new-to-the-U.S. market subcompact could be the ultimate demonstrator of the adage “it is more fun to drive a slow car fast than a fast car slow.” Its exterior dimensions also belie its interior roominess. Overall, a pleasant little thing.
Audi A3 TDI – If you like the diesel engine in the Jetta (or Golf), but want a nicer car wrapped around it, you need look no further.
Chevrolet Cruze LTZ – Word up to Civic, Corolla, and a few others: be afraid. Be very, very afraid.
Mini Cooper Clubman S – I’ve partaken of one of these every time I’ve attended this event. It just wouldn’t be Test Days if I didn’t. I’m happy to report that the polish is still on the apple. Driving one of these might even be more fun than watching mid-term election results on TV.
Lexus ISF – This is the only Toyota I drove because it’s basically the only Toyota I like — excluding, perhaps, the essentially “constructed of unobtainium” LFA. I like this one because it doesn’t feel like a Toyota. It actually feels (dare I say) sort of like a BMW or Benz. Its 5.0L, 416 horsepower V-8, eight speed automatic transmission, and RWD layout certainly contribute to my fondness.
Suzuki Kizashi – I challenge you to find a $24,000 car with a nicer interior. It’s also a pretty pleasing (if not exciting) drive. This car is truly the anti-Camry-Accord-Altima. Anyone considering the purchase of a mid-size Japanese sedan really needs to check this out.
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The 32nd annual Mobile Air Conditioning Society (MACS) Worldwide Convention and Trade Show will take place January 18-20, 2012 at the Rio All Suite Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, NV.