DriveLife https://www.drivelife.co.nz New Zealand's Enthusiast Driven Motoring Publication, Automotive News, New Car Reviews and Used Car Reviews Tue, 22 Oct 2019 18:41:31 +0000 en-GB hourly 1 Three electrics plug into New Zealand Car of the Year https://www.drivelife.co.nz/2019/10/three-electrics-plug-into-new-zealand-car-of-the-year/ https://www.drivelife.co.nz/2019/10/three-electrics-plug-into-new-zealand-car-of-the-year/#respond Tue, 22 Oct 2019 18:25:34 +0000 https://www.drivelife.co.nz/?p=44811 Three electric vehicles are among the 10 finalists for New Zealand’s most prestigious automotive award.

Candidates to secure this year’s New Zealand Car of the Year are, in alphabetical order:

  • Audi e-tron
  • Ford Focus
  • Holden Acadia
  • Hyundai Santa Fe
  • Jaguar I-Pace
  • Mazda 3
  • Mercedes GLE
  • Peugeot 508
  • Tesla Model 3
  • Toyota RAV4

The e-tron, I-Pace and Model 3 all run purely on battery. The New Zealand Car of the Year is voted on by the New Zealand Motoring Writers’ Guild – professional automotive journalists who test the vehicles in their home environments around the country.

DriveLife is one of very few motoring magazines in New Zealand that have more than one Guild member; Fred Alvrez is both a full member and Guild Secretary, Rob Clubley is a full member, and John Galvin is Friend of the Guild.

The expert commentators have previously acknowledged the growing importance on electric vehicles in New Zealand, having given the honour to the BMW i3 in 2015.

“Simply having three electric vehicles in the top 10 shows how far this technology has come, and how much New Zealand has embraced it,” New Zealand Motoring Writers’ Guild president Richard Edwards says.
“Even so, with seven other incredible vehicles in the top 10 they have a challenge ahead.”

The award’s winner will be decided by 21 voting members and announced live on TVNZ One’s Seven Sharp programme in December.

Now in its 31st year,  New Zealand Car of the Year is the country’s most prestigious motoring award, being a truly independent award without commercial ties. The present titleholder is the Subaru Forester.

Criteria span how the vehicle performs its intended role; its styling, interior design and accommodation; fit, finish and quality; ride and refinement; performance; road-holding and handling; value for money; active and passive safety and environmental responsibility.

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2019 USA Road Trip – part 9: Week 5 https://www.drivelife.co.nz/2019/10/2019-usa-road-trip-part-9-week-5/ https://www.drivelife.co.nz/2019/10/2019-usa-road-trip-part-9-week-5/#respond Sat, 19 Oct 2019 19:00:00 +0000 https://www.drivelife.co.nz/?p=44749 Day 29

The drive to the car ferry that will take us from Orient Point, New York to New London, Connecticut was an easy 45-minute drive, all the way east on Long Island. We spied the Atlantic Ocean – the first ocean we’ve seen since leaving LA, 3 weeks ago.

Boarded and ready
Goodbye, New York state
Arriving in New London

We were booked on the 10am ferry but we arrived early, and the 9am ferry was just about to leave, so we got on board that one instead. The 80-minute ride was a breeze, if a little rocky. We got to the other side, to New London. Yet another historic town, with buildings dating back to the 1700s. We didn’t linger here, and instead hit the road to head towards Boston, but taking a side route to go via Jamestown, Newport and Plymouth. Jamestown was first up, after heading across a long bridge. It’s on an island, and it looks like a fairly wealthy area, judging by the houses and huge motor yachts at the marina.

The bridge to Newport in the distance

After a walk around the town, we headed on towards Newport, across an even larger bridge – this one with a $4 toll to get over. It was pretty impressive though, and almost on par with the Auckland Harbour Bridge. We didn’t actually stop in Newport, it’s a city and we prefer small towns. Plymouth was up next, and one of our destinations on the list was to see the Plymouth Rock. This is apparently the rock that the first boat load of pilgrims landed on, in the USA – or I guess, New England. I say apparently, because there is some discussion around it actually being “the” rock. Reports say it was 121 years (!) before someone said, and I paraphrase, “I’m pretty sure that’s the rock they landed on”.

The part of Plymouth Rock that is left
The portico that covers Plymouth Rock

After an obligatory photo, it was a walk around Plymouth township itself. For people from New Zealand, it’s quite incredible to walk past houses – some that are pretty run down but still in use – with plaques above the door with years like 1755, or 1738. Mind blowing stuff. We also checked out the Pilgrim’s Hall Museum, $12 each to get in and nicely done. They say this is the oldest building that’s a museum in the USA, having been built in 1824.

Looking at Google Maps, it was still over an hour to get to our Air BNB in Boston, so we walked back to the car, and hit the road again. It seems roads in New England are just as bad as everywhere else in the USA – the car got hammered, sometimes skittering in its lane, the potholes were so bad. Some serious repairs need to be made!

We made it to Boston, after battling the horrible traffic. Every car was crawling along, and as usual no one used their indicators to change lanes, which made for a stressful drive. Today we managed to get through four states: New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts.

Day 30

It was a car-free day today, as we’d been warned about parking costs in Boston, and also the traffic adding to that. Instead, we Ubered to the local train station, and bought a one-way ticket each ($2.90), with trains running every 5 minutes at that time of the day. We were in the centre of Boston in 15 minutes, so much less stress than driving. The ‘T’ trains, are the oldest in the USA, having been commissioned in 1897. Yup, you read that right, 1897. They say they are unreliable, but we had no issues. Still better than driving.

A Boston landmark, the Hood bottle

Our first thing for the day was a Segway tour. We’ve done these before in the USA, and they are a great way to see lots of a city in a short time. Luckily for us, there was just the two of us and our tour guide – perfect. We got a really personal tour of Boston, moving around the city quickly to lots of the historical places, including of course the Boston Tea Museum, where it’s close to where they actually threw the tea into the harbour. We’d come to visit it later, after our tour. Zipping around the streets some more, our guide, Andy, gave us a good run down on the revolution, telling us juicy stories along the way, and pointing out historical landmarks where events actually happened, hundreds of years ago.

After the Segway tour, we headed up-town, and did a visit at the old State House. This was built in 1795, and for $12 you can wander through and check out the stories and artefacts. Every July 4th, they still read out the Declaration of Independence from the balcony. Bostonians are obviously very proud of the part they played in the revolution, and rightly so.

Looking back over the city, with the Tea Party Museum in the foreground

We thought we’d head to the Boston Tea Party Museum, but then checked out the price: Over US$28 each to get in. It doesn’t look that big, and we decide to hold on to our money and give it a miss. That’s just a little too high to be worthwhile, for us anyway.

Boston’s very impressive Massachusetts State House

After some lunch, we headed off to do our next tour, this one a 2-hour walking tour of the murders and mysteries of Boston Beacon Hill Crime Tour, with our guide, David. There is no doubt David is a story teller, as he nailed every one that he delivered to our group of 25 people. We stayed close to Beacon Hill, so the actual walking part was only a mile and a half, but it was enough for him to fill with stories about the sordid past of Boston.

Very much a case of the old and the new, in Boston

Next up was dinner time, and what better place than Cheers. Okay, not the actual Cheers bar from the TV programme, but the bar that they based Cheers on. This place must be a gold mine for the owner – it was packed on this Tuesday night, with people downstairs and up. There’s lots of photos of the Cheers actors in the actual bar, as well as a whole shop full of Cheers stuff to buy.

Overlooking Boston Commons. Multiple sources say there are thousands of bodies buries under here, from the Revolution

Last event for the day was another walking tour, this one with Megan from Haunted Boston Ghost Tours as our guide. This was definitely a more R18 rated tour, and again we had about 25 people joining along. It went on for 2 hours, as Megan gave us story after story of more murders and intrigue. Some of them were new to us, and others were variations of the ones we got from David, but it will still great. Each story was delivered with passion, with a theatrical angle. We’d recommend this tour, if you want to get the juicier stories of Boston.

That was it for the day, 10pm and we were pretty stuffed, so it was an Uber back to our Air BNB.

Day 31

Today, we’d be driving slowly to the town of Danvers, in Massachusetts. We wanted to stay in Salam itself, but the accommodation costs there are ridiculous. Danvers is just 20 minutes from Salem, so saving hundreds of US$ a night was worthwhile.

Leaving Boston, we headed up to Westford to catch up with a friend for breakfast, at Paul’s Diner. We’d never been to Paul’s, but at 10am it was packed, and we had to wait for a seat. That was a good sign. Once we did eat, we can see why the locals love it – great food, and good coffee.

From Westford, we went on to the small town of Concord, to take a look around. We are walking past buildings still in use today, that were built in the 1700s. Incredible. Concord was a key town in the War of Independence as the site of the first battle, and we felt the need to come back here one day and take a better look around.

We were driving along, about to head out of Concord, when my wife spied a sign for Orchard House – home of Louisa May Alcott, who wrote the book, Little Women. Apparently she wrote the book in the actual house, and you can only visit by joining a guided tour. We got our tickets and waited, and then got taken around each room, with different guides explaining each room, how they lived, and how it related to Louisa. The house itself was built around 1650, with rooms added on after that, but it’s mostly intact and original, and you can only imagine how many people have been through the place in the last almost 400 years.

Time to hit the road, and in 30 minutes we were checked in at Danvers. Later in the afternoon, we headed towards Salem, as we have a ghost tour on tonight, but we stopped at The Cheesecake Factory for dinner, because The Big Bang Theory.

The ghost tour was good, but there were over 30 people in our group, so it made it hard to hear the tour guide now and then. And then we saw another tour group, with over 60 people in it – crazy. Our guide tells us that there’s 30,000 people living in Salem, and in October every year they get a million visitors in that one month. The tour itself was entertaining, covering off not just the Salem Witch Trials but all the other dark stories of the town’s past. It was interesting that in Salem, they hanged less than 20 people, and yet in the state of Connecticut, they hanged over 500 – but Salem gets all the visitors. The town puts it down to the old TV programme, Bewitched. Apparently there was a studio fire in LA before they filmed the last few episodes, and one of the production team seemed to remember something witchy in Salem (on the other side of the country!) centuries before. So they filmed those episodes in Salem, and that gave the town the tourism push.

And boy, have they embraced that push. There are shops selling witchy stuff everywhere, people walking around in clothes from the 1700s, people doing séances in their shops day and night, palm and tarot readings every ten feet. Well, it felt like it anyway. It does have a nice vibe though, and one of the main historic streets (Essex Street) is closed off to general traffic, which makes it a more pleasant place.

Day 32

We headed back into Salem township and wandered through the town, waiting for our first walking tour to start. This was another good tour, with an engaging guide who even threw some singing into the 2-hour walk. All the time we’re walking, we can see other walking tour groups from other companies doing the same thing, as well as ‘trolley’ buses driving around, full of tourists like us. The town is pumping, but it is October and as mentioned, that’s this town’s crazy period.

Essex Street, in Salem

After the tour, we went and visited the Witch Dungeon Museum, which gives you a guided tour on how things went with the witch trials. This started off with some actors playing out a trial, and apparently their script between an accused woman and her accuser is the actual transcript from the original court trail. It does go to show you just how easy it was to accuse someone of being a witch. Some people accused their neighbours, just so they could then take their land and possessions once they’d been hanged. Husbands accused wives because they wanted to be rid of them. In simple terms, the general consensus was that since the town was run by Puritans, kids got bored. The Puritan religion meant that kids couldn’t speak unless spoken to, and everything was restricted. So the minister’s daughter got bored, started acting crazy just to try and express herself, and someone said she was a witch. Then it was all on, as the craze grew and grew. It was only when the governor’s wife was accused of being a witch, that the governor said something like, “that’s it, it stops now”, and it stopped instantly.

The council setup 19 of these memorial stones, each to represent one of the victims of the Salem Witch Trials. Each stone has the name of the victim, the date they were killed, and how

Our last event for the day was a murder-mystery dinner at a local, historic hotel (built in 1924) – the Hawthorne Hotel. This was based on the game, Cluedo (that Americans call simply ‘Clue’). Both my wife and I are rookies at this, and it showed. There were ten tables of punters, with ten people to a table. The actors playing the part of the Colonel, etc did extremely well, and the whole event was carried out professionally. It was a fun night, and we got to have some good discussions with others at our table, who were all American. We definitely won the award for farthest travelled, and all were impressed with our long drive from LA to get to Salem.

House of the Seven Gables, that the famous novel was based on

Day 33

We’re going to Portland today, or somewhere around there. We’re not actually sure where we’ll stop for the night, as we have the luxury of a spare night. We’re due in Bangor, Maine tomorrow but today is a cruisy one.

The wild Atlantic Ocean

We headed north to Maine, but stop in the town of Portland for the night. On the way, we pass through New Hampshire for a short time, as we make our way up the east coast. It’s a Friday, so the hotel adds a surcharge onto the cost, and we pay the most we’ve paid yet for a hotel – US$169 plus taxes. Argh America – taxes are added to everything, and are never simply included in the cost.

Can’t go to Maine without at least one lighthouse photo

Day 34

Nearing the end of our driving days now, sadly, as we head north for the last time to go to Bangor, Maine.

We headed away from Portland on to Highway 1 instead of the interstate, as it’s a much more scenic route, and generally follows the coastline north. Our first stop today was in the town of Brunswick, for coffee and a wander around the town on foot. I know I keep saying it, but I’m blown away when there’s dozens of building that are on a town’s main street – or any street- and there from the 1700s or 1800s. Brunswick is no different, and it’s so cool to walk around a town like this, imaging what it was like two centuries ago.

Post coffee fix, we hit the road again, passing trees that were changing colours almost as we went; reds, pinks, purples, oranges, yellows – it felt like all colours were being represented by the autumn leaves. We’d been wanting to visit New England in the Fall for this very reason, and it’s not overstated: if you are coming to New England, come in the Fall. It’s incredible, and any photos do not show what it’s truly like.

Hunger pains hit, and we cruised into the town of Wiscasset.  We’d had clam chowder in Boston, now it was time for a famed lobster roll. Basically, it’s lobster in a bread roll, but a Maine tradition. We stopped and went onto the wharf, where there was a caravan selling lobster. We assumed that meant it would be fresh.

First warning sign: cash only.

Second warning sign: a lobster roll is $22.95 plus tax

Third warning sign: a large French fries is $4.25 plus tax

We should have known this place was a tourist trap. We were going to buy two lobster rolls but not at that rate. Luckily the girl serving said they were ‘quite big’ so I thought one to share plus a large fries to share would be plenty. This is America, after all. Then we picked up our order – the roll was a six-inch bread roll, with some lobster jammed in it. The sign says they use a whole lobster (”and then some!”), but it wasn’t a whole lobster, unless it was a baby. The fries came out in a tiny cardboard container. This might cost a dollar at a diner, but here? That’s $4.25 plus tax, thanks.

The lobster was okay, but we didn’t get the feeling it was fresh at all. Lesson learnt, never again. Yeah, right.

At least the view was good

Heading out of a town where we felt ripped off, we followed Highway 1 until we got to the town of Rockland, for a coffee break. Another nice, friendly town with lots of old buildings. We didn’t spend too long here, but it had a good vibe to it.

While heading towards Bangor, we started ringing to book accommodation. Up until now, all we do is rock up into a town and find a hotel, unless it’s a town like Boston or Philly, where you know you have to book in advance. Hotel after hotel in Bangor? Full. Apparently this is a double-whammy weekend; it’s Columbus Day on Monday, and this weekend is Canadian Thanksgiving, so lots of Canadians head south for some reason. And where do they all head to? Bangor, of course.

We tried calling other towns we’d be passing through – all full. Closer and closer we got to Bangor, and in the end we pulled over. There’s not enough room to sleep in a Corvette. In desperation, we called lots more hotels, and finally found one that had a room – at US$379 for the night (plus taxes, of course). Ouch. With no other options, we booked the room. If we want to stay tomorrow night? The rate is now $167. Shame on you, Marriot Hotels – scamming people an extra US$200 for a night, just because you can. Believe me, we’ll be checking out as late as possible to get our money’s worth.

Americans love their statues of Paul Bunyon, this one in Bangor

Day 35

A lazy day.

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2019 Porsche Panamera Sport Turismo Turbo S e-Hybrid – Car Review – Is this the ultimate family wagon? https://www.drivelife.co.nz/2019/10/2019-porsche-panamera-sport-turismo-turbo-s-e-hybrid-car-review-is-this-the-ultimate-family-wagon/ https://www.drivelife.co.nz/2019/10/2019-porsche-panamera-sport-turismo-turbo-s-e-hybrid-car-review-is-this-the-ultimate-family-wagon/#respond Tue, 15 Oct 2019 04:00:56 +0000 https://www.drivelife.co.nz/?p=44700 What’s the best way to cover 2000 kilometres in Europe with enough style, performance, and space to not get bored? There’s one one obvious answer – the Porsche Panamera Sport Turismo. It literally has the Italian word for ‘touring’ in its name and the version of the Panamera I have happens to the best. 

The Sport Turismo is a new body style for the second generation Panamera. More shooting brake than wagon, Porsche don’t refer to it as such because ‘wagon’ is a marketing friendly term. It’s also not as dull as more wagons, maintaining that quintessentially sporty styling we’ve come to know and love from Stuttgart’s finest. During my time in Italy earlier this summer, I was able to put the Panamera Sport Turismo through an extensive 10-day test through some of the most beautiful parts of Italy. 

The Range 

Like its conventional four-door counterpart, the Sport Turismo comes with a range or V6 and V8 engines. There’s no diesel for this generation, Porsche are wanting to distance themselves from that dirty business and focus more on petrol power and electrification. 

As with any Porsche model, the range is quite a confusing mix of random letters. The base car comes with a 3.0-litre turbocharged V6 with 243kW, the Panamera 4S with a 2.9-litre turbocharged V6 with 324kW, the Panamera GTS with a 338kW 2.9-litre turbocharged V6, a Panamera Turbo with a 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8 producing 404kW. 

Porsche have two e-Hybrid versions of the Panamera. The base Panamera 4 e-Hybrid utilises a 3.0-litre V6 from the base car with an electric motor for a combined 340kW. Finally, the range-topper and the one I’m testing is the Panamera Turbo S e-Hybrid. Got that? It’s quite a mouthful but it’s got the same 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8 from the Turbo but with an additional electric motor giving the Turbo S a very adequate 500kW.

Prices for the Panamera 4 Sport Turismo start from $225,400 and go all the way up to $435,500 for the range-topping Turbo S e-Hybrid. That’s also before ticking any of the many boxes on Porsche’s options list. 

First Impressions

It’s a big, imposing car. This thing has presence. It’s quite large, stretching at over 5 metres long and close to two metres wide. It’s a lot easier on the eye than the previous generation Panamera for sure, but I’d go as far as to say it’s better still than the new four-door Panamera. It doesn’t have the Panamera Turbo’s crazy extending Transformers style active rear wing but it does have a shooting brake style shape, which is infinitely cooler. 

As it’s a hybrid it comes with many Acid Green bits to remind you and everyone else that you’re saving the world in your 500kW Porsche. The carbon ceramic brakes have Acid Green callipers, there’s more Acid Green trim on the e-Hybrid badges on the front doors, and more on the model badging at the rear. My test car also came equipped with the Sport Design package which adds sportier bumpers, skirts, and wheels. 

The Inside

No one does premium interiors quite like Porsche. There’s an unmistakable look and feel to the interior of the Panamera. If you’ve been in any of Porsche’s modern sports cars, the interior of the Panamera will feel familiar and sporty, yet posh enough to compete with some of the most luxurious sedans and with all the modern gizmos to make Silicon Valley execs drool. 

It’s a proper tech tour-de-force inside with two fantastically crisp digital displays on either side of the central analogue speedo making up the gauge cluster, a large heads-up display unit above that, and a massive 12.3 inch central display screen which controls literally everything. Most of the time it works as a touch screen but should you find that a bit fiddly, there’s rotary dial that helps you jump through menus too. 

When I say the central screen controls everything, I mean everything. This is where you go to change the car’s driving modes, to raise and lower the rear spoiler, raise and lower the lift, set navigation destinations, climate control, and even the bloody central air conditioning vent. That was probably the most annoying thing about an otherwise brilliant car; having to go into the central screen to adjust one vent. 

Actually, no I lie. The most annoying thing about the Panamera were all the piano black surfaces which attracted dust and fingerprints. If anyone ever commits a crime in a Panamera, it’ll be easy to find their fingerprints because literally every surface on the centre console is a magnet for dust and prints. If you like things perfect and clean, you’ll probably only last about 10 seconds in this car. That said, the haptic touch buttons were neat and would only light up when needed. 

The infotainment is brilliant. It’s Porsche’s own, though the sat-nav is basically Google Maps. That’s not necessarily a bad thing since that’s pretty much better than any other OEM navigation system. Porsche’s infotainment is intuitive and the screen is nice and crisp. There’s no lag going through different menus either. But if you’re an iPhone user you probably don’t need to get too accustomed to it as the Panamera comes with Apple CarPlay. Annoyingly, it doesn’t take up the whole 16×9 screen ratio, instead it only takes up about two-thirds of the screen real estate leaving space on the right for some handy shortcut menus such as a shortcut to raise and lower the spoiler and to put it into Sport+ mode. You know, the important stuff. 

As this is technically a wagon, though Porsche doesn’t quite call it that, we should talk about space. There’s enough. Porsche calls the Sport Turismo a 4+1 but the middle seat is pretty much there for aesthetics only. This is strictly a four seater. The boot isn’t as spacious as that of an Audi RS6 or Mercedes-AMG E63. To add insult to injury, since this is a hybrid, the boot is actually smaller than the more affordable Turbo variant since the batteries and electric motor eat into the luggage space. Then the bag for the charge cables also takes up a bit of space in the boot as there’s nowhere else to put them. I guess that’s the price you have to pay for the more striking looks and Turbo S bragging rights.  

The Drive

As much as I love single purpose cars, I’m also a sucker for a car that can do it all. A car that’s comfortable enough to use daily without needing to be on a first name basis with a chiropractor yet exciting enough that I can take it on a twisty bit of road without fear of falling asleep. The Panamera covers all those bases, and some. 

The Panamera has dual characteristics; it’s two completely different cars depending if you have it in ‘Normal’ or ‘Sport’ mode. In ‘Normal’ it’s a big, comfy, luxurious grand tourer that’s refined at cruise and is perfectly docile. Then, at the touch of a button it transforms into loud brash sporty thing. In Sport, and especially in Sport+, it makes childish pops and crackles on both upshifts and downshifts. 

Then  there’s the power and speed. Even in ‘Normal’ it’s a quick car, there’s never a moment in the Panamera where you’d ever think this was a slow car. The ferocity of the power just comes in different levels. In Sport+ it’s pretty much instantaneous to the point where the accelerator pedal is almost like activating a slingshot. I’ve only felt acceleration this quick in mid-engine turbocharged supercars, which is to be expected. But in a four-door wagon weighing over two-tonnes it’s completely and utterly mind boggling. Porsche’s brilliant PDK dual-clutch transmission is the best in the business, it offers super quick shifts without jolting you or the car. 

The combination of that brutal twin-turbocharged V8 with the electric motors filling in the boost is nothing short of astonishing. It takes you by surprise, the power is almost always instant and while it might say e-Hybrid, this thing sounds anything but eco-friendly when you introduce the right pedal to the carpet.  

If you keep mashing the right pedal the speedo will keep climbing and you have to think to yourself, will it ever stop? Of course it will stop at just shy of 320 km/h. It’s almost dangerous how it can make triple digit speeds feel like double digits. At speed it’s incredibly stable and takes away all sense of speed, this is a true autobahn monster. It doesn’t matter how fast you go, the car feels completely stuck to the ground. Whether that’s the mass keeping it down or the clever AWD system or the fantastic Michelin Pilot Sport 4 tyres, it’s truly impressive. It just gives you so much confidence to keep pushing the car. 

The ride was surprisingly supple too. I was expecting this car, especially in its lowest ride setting, to be harsh like the E63. However, there was never a point I thought it’d break my spine, even on some of Italy’s sketchy roads. The body control was sublime too. Porsche have done the best job they could to make it feel smaller to drive than it looks. Once you start getting it on some twisty roads you momentarily forget this is a near 5-metre long wagon.  

Sure, it’s not razor sharp as you’d expect from a Porsche sports car, it never was going to be with this much mass, but still very much feels like how you’d expect a Porsche wagon would drive like.  The handling of the Panamera is more capable and reassuring than it is ‘fun’. It’s not something you’d look forward to taking for a mountain blast but if said mountain is several hundred kilometres away you’ll have a great journey there in this. 

If you haven’t noticed by now, this is a big heavy car and drinks fuel accordingly when batteries are not charged. There’s three different e-modes; Charge, Hold, Auto. Charge uses the petrol engine to replenish charge for the batteries, Hold keeps what remains in the batteries at bay when you’re ready to use them, and in Auto the car decides when to charge and when to hold. That said, if you’re hammering along in any of the sporty modes then the batteries will charge automatically. A quick blast up and down a mountain road was enough to fully charge the batteries back up again. Still, it’s a mighty impressive car and while I didn’t get close to the claimed 3L/100km fuel economy the 7L/100km I managed to average over the 2000km I drove it was still pretty impressive for a near two-tonne 500kW super-wagon. 

The Competition

Brand/ModelEnginePower/TorqueFuel, L/100km0-100 kph, secondsPrice – High to Low
Ferrari GTC4LussoT 3.9-litre V8 twin-turbo, petrol 449kW/760NM10.73.5$473,000
Porsche Panamera Sport Turismo Turbo S e-Hybrid4.0-litre V8 twin-turbo petrol + electric 500kW/850NM3.03.4$435,500
Mercedes-AMG E63 S3.8-litre flat six twin-turbo petrol 450kW/850NM10.83.4$231,600

The Pros and Cons

ProsCons
• Blisteringly quick
• Solid fit and finish of materials
• Infotainment crisp and intuitive 
• Handles well for such a big heavy car 
• A perfect all-round cruiser
• Cool styling 
• Technical tour-de-force
• Not as spacious as you’d expect for a wagon        
• Fussy central vent.
• Eye-watering starting price. 

What do we think of it?

One of the best all-rounders out there. But with the likes of the RS6 coming in to town soon, the soon-to-arrive refresh will need to give the Panamera more ammo to come out guns blazing if it wants to remain the top dog in the fast family wagon world. 

For now though, the Panamera Sport Turismo, especially in its top Turbo S e-Hybrid trim, is one of the most impressive and desirable all-rounders on the market right now. It’s a true jack-of-all trades that’ll comfortably take you and your friends cross country, do the school run in pure electric mode, and give the most exotic of supercars a run for their money. 

Its price is eye-watering, sure, but my god it’s an incredible bit of kit. It’s completely unnecessary but that’s what makes it so damn baller. 

Vehicle TypeStation Wagon
Starting Price$435,500
Tested Price$450,000+ (est)
Engine4.0-litre V8 twin-turbo petrol engine plus electric motor hybrid
Transmission8-speed auto PDK with manual mode
0 – 100 kph, seconds3.4
Spare WheelNone
Kerb Weight, Kg2,325
Length x Width x Height, mm5040 x 1937 x 1432 mm
Cargo Capacity, litres425
Fuel Tank, litres80
Fuel EfficiencyAdvertised Spec – Combined –  3.0L / 100km
Real World Test – Combined –  7.0L / 100km
Low Usage: 0-6 / Medium Usage 6-12 / High Usage 12+
Turning circle11.9m
Small: 6-10m / Medium 10-12m / Large 12m+
ANCAP Safety RatingsN/A
Warranty3 year, 100,000 km

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2019 USA Road Trip – part 8: Week 4 https://www.drivelife.co.nz/2019/10/2019-usa-road-trip-part-8-week-4/ https://www.drivelife.co.nz/2019/10/2019-usa-road-trip-part-8-week-4/#respond Tue, 08 Oct 2019 04:00:39 +0000 https://www.drivelife.co.nz/?p=44628 Day 22

It was only a few hour’s drive to Bowling Green, Kentucky, to visit the National Corvette Museum. From the outset of the planning of this road trip, I wanted to go to this museum, regardless if we bought a Corvette, or not.

Some of you may remember in 2015 when a huge sinkhole appeared, and sucked down 8 Corvettes into the bowels of the earth.

Naturally, we parked in the ‘Corvette only’ parking area (yes, it is A Thing) and went inside. Another reason to get inside, is to get away from the heat – it’s 35 degrees outside, and muggy as hell. In the main foyer is a half-dozen C7s, and they look superb. A couple of them are up for grabs via raffle tickets. The National Corvette Museum is totally non-profit, and has no funding from GM, so runs alone. They have raffles going all the time (for a new Corvette) to raise money. Tickets vary from $20, to $300 each – this is dependent on the number of tickets sold. For $100, you can buy a ticket that has total ticket sales of just 1500. I thought that was pretty good odds! There’s a catch – non-US residents have to take a cash prize of US$50K instead. I’d rather have a new Corvette.

Anyway, I pay my $12 to get in the museum, and straight away join into a Museum Tour group (no charge) with Wayne as the tour guide. This went on for just over an hour, and was the best way to find out all the info I needed to know. The museum itself is excellently done – one of the best car museums I’ve ever been to – and having someone on the inside give us the run down was a far better option.

C1 cut-away

Wayne gives the small group the guided tour, and although I struggle to understand his accent at times, it’s all good stuff and we don’t linger too long at any one point. I ask him what the main things people ask him are; two things he says, “have you got a C8 Corvette here, and where is the sinkhole?” He laughs as he says this, because according to the stats, after the sinkhole was repaired, patronage to the museum went up 50% – everyone wanted to see the sinkhole, or at least where the sinkhole was. You’ve got to hand it to museum management here; the sinkhole exhibition by itself is superbly done. There are interactive exhibits just about the sinkhole, videos, and more info than you could almost spend time reading about. Every car that went down the hole is covered off.

He goes on to tell us that only 3 of the 8 cars that fell in the hole were rebuilt – the rest were too far damaged. Internally, I am incredulous. Surely they can’t be that bad to be beyond repair. Then we see them, and they are totalled. Mother nature has dealt to the Corvettes big time, and you can see why they didn’t bother trying to rebuild them. Photos you see here do not do justice to the damage the cars sustained.

These three cars were the only ones rebuilt

In the same area as the sinkhole was (it’s marked out with tape so you can visualise it) there’s cars on the edges which weren’t affected by the sinkhole at all – they just sat there while the others fell in. Quite incredible to read about, and even more so actually being there and looking at the site.

This museum is done brilliantly
The Ford Thunderbird is included as it was the car that prompted Chevrolet to do *something* about the C1 Corvette’s performance

In this same area, there is a car I didn’t realise existed; a C4 Corvette with a V12 engine, that pumps out over 600HP. It’s six inches longer than the standard car (all for the engine) and apparently it runs. Looking under the bonnet, the conversion looks great, and almost factory.

There’s so much more to look at of course, and we follow Wayne about the exhibits. He shows us a C7 Corvette, a white convertible, sitting proud. How did the museum get this particular car? A guy won one of the Corvette raffles, and duly picks up his new Corvette. He buys another raffle ticket…you guessed it, he wins another Corvette. So he does an incredibly generous thing, and gifts it to the museum.

I need this at home
Zora Arkus Duntov’s own C3 Corvette. He was the man that ‘saved’ the Corvette
C8 Corvette mule
1986 mid-engined concept car

After far too long wondering about the museum, it’s time to head off to our next accommodation. Still 35 degrees outside, we grab a couple of photos and then hit the road. We’re headed to London for the night via the Cumberland Parkway, and on the way will pass by Somerset, Glasgow, Manchester and Edmonton. I see a pattern forming here.

Day 23

Simply a driving day today, as we are heading towards Richmond, Virginia, to spend a few days with a friend. While in Richmond, I will replace the shocks, and also the centre console facia plate. I’m hoping to get a couple of other things done on the car too. We’ve already passed the 6,000km mark, so it may even be time for an oil change again soon.

Leaving London, Kentucky, our first stop was in the town of Corbin. You’ve likely never heard of Corbin, but I bet you know of its most famous resident. Colonel Sanders started KFC in this town, and we stopped at the museum (which is also an actual KFC) for a few photos and to read up about the man. Like many businesses, it was the interstate that killed his hopes for KFC, so I guess the interstate really was a blessing in disguise. As soon as the interstate opened up, business dropped right off (he had a motel and attached restaurant at the time), so Colonel Sanders sold up, and the rest is history, as he focused on his secret fried chicken recipe.

It was interesting that when he sold the motel and restaurant, he had enough money to pay his debts and his taxes – and that’s it. He only had his pension of $105 a month to kick-off Kentucky Fried Chicken. It shows you the determination and commitment of the man who had almost no money, as well as the success of the product of course.

After Corbin, we stayed on a dual-lane carriageway for a lot of miles, with cruise control set at 55mp/h. It was far slower than the interstate, and far more interesting. The road was great – so much smoother than the interstate, and the scenery was excellent as well.

We were planning to get to Roanoke in Virginia tonight, but after our stops it’s getting a bit late so we stop short and instead stay in Salem, still in Virginia.

It was funny with our drive today, due to the roads we were on we went from Kentucky to Tennessee, to Virginia, then back into Tennessee, then back into Virginia. At least we didn’t lose any time today, crossing over time zones.

Day 24

Another driving day, and early on we get to Bedford, Virginia to gas up the car. I think this must be our cheapest fill-up yet, at $2.57 a gallon for the top grade premium – that works out to NZ$1.08 a litre. Unleaded is a whole lot cheaper, but the Corvette wouldn’t like it.

Spotted in Virginia…

For lunch, we call into another random small town – this one is Appomattox. It’s 36 degrees outside the car, so after a quick walk along the main street (it doesn’t take long), we head into a diner called Granny Bees, and it’s full of locals eating, so we know it should be good. My wife orders a grilled cheese sandwich ($2.10) and I get a cheeseburger ($3.55). They are both great, and my burger is fresh and hot. We’re saving space for desert, so I get a double chocolate pie, while my wife gets a lemon chess pie (yes, lemon chess pie. It’s a Thing, apparently). Both of those are excellent too, and all their pies are home-made.

Main street of Appomattox

While ordering, we get the familiar, “where y’all from?”. They don’t get many New Zealanders in Appomattox, although reading up on the history of the town, this town was pretty important in the Civil War. This is the site of Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s surrender to Union General Ulysses S. Grant on April 9, 1865, essentially ending the American Civil War., and there’s a museum that’s apparently a very worthwhile visit. We don’t have time today, but both decide this is a town we’ll be coming back to another trip.

We travelled only 350km today, but as usual it’s taken us all day with stops for fuel, coffee, toilet, and looking through small towns.

Tomorrow I plan to replace the shocks in the Corvette myself, as well as a few other tasks – the shocks are number 1 on the list. But, when we get to our friend’s place in Richmond, Virginia, I check out the tool situation. It’s not too good, and also – and most importantly – they don’t have the bottle jack that they thought they did. I’m not keen to replace shocks using the car’s scissor jack, so in the morning we’ll call our friend’s local garage they use, and see if they can squeeze the car in.

On that, I’ve been emailing local garages in Richmond since weeks ago, trying to book the car in to get the shocks replaced. A garage with the right tools can do this job so much quicker than I can. But I get no response – so I email again, and again – no response. Yeah, I should have just called them on the phone, but really I wanted it on email so I could be specific about what I wanted done. Although I’m replacing the shocks, I definitely want to keep the old, original ones and the actuators that are mounted on top of them, so I can get them rebuilt at home one day, and put them back on the car. We’ve found this same scenario with other US companies replying over email – many of them simply don’t. Frustrating!

Day 25

We put an early morning phone call into Allen Tire Inc to see if they can get the Corvette in today, and yes, they can. Excellent. I’m going to leave the car there, as they don’t know when they’ll actually start working on it. They seem pretty confident that they’ll get the shocks done, as I ask about an oil change. The oil is still sort of clean, but since the car has been pretty much sitting around for years, I’d rather do an oil and filter change now and be done with it. I’ve got a feeling the filter will be filled up with gunk since it was changed in LA.

No problem they say, and I go with Mobil 1 synthetic. “If you have time,” I say, “I’d like to get the front discs skimmed.” After the explanation that I mean rotors, they apparently don’t skim rotors anymore, instead simply replacing them. Faster and easier. How much are the new rotors? $80 each. I can’t argue with that, so tell them to go ahead and order them if they have time to arrive today.

Baby gets new gas shocks

Later in the day the car is almost ready to pick up. There’s a hold-up though; they swapped out the right-hand rotor no problem, but when they opened up the box for the left-hand one, it was the wrong part. They talked to the supplier, and got another one sent. Wrong one again. Got another one sent. Wrong one again. When I turned up, they were waiting on box 4 to arrive, and see if it was the right part – and it was. The shocks have been switched out, and I have the old ones and the actuators so I can get the shocks rebuilt sometime and reinstalled. The oil and filter have been changed, with Mobil 1 put in. So all three jobs were done, and we’re ready for another 3,000km or so of driving before our trip ends.

At last, the right disc (or rotor) turns up and is fitted

On chatting to Brian and Jimmy at Allen Tire Inc, you can see these are ‘real’ car guys. They are into drag racing, and go on to tell me about Drag Week, which recently was held. For Drag Week, you bring your drag car along, take it down the strip, then drive it (yes, on the road) to another drag strip, and do it all over again. Then it’s off to another drag strip. So the cars have to be somewhat legal (apparently the law is fairly lenient during Drag Week), but I can imagine the noise and heat on the open road in these cars, let alone the fuel they would suck through. Jimmy goes on to say an Aussie team bought a Chev Chevelle in Virginia just for Drag Week, and then spent three months getting it ready. They’ve had Kiwis through as well – and it sounds like a blast. Now, I just need to organise a sponsor to send me there, buy a car and do Drag Week…

On the way back, the brakes feel a whole lot smoother, and stopping at the traffic lights is a whole heap better. I can’t tell any difference with the shocks yet, but we’ll wait until a bumpy road (won’t take long to find one of those!) and also a nice, windy road, to see the difference.

Tomorrow, it’s on to Philadelphia.

Day 26

A simple drive to Philadelphia today, so no real stress. We did notice the temperature dropping steadily as we headed north, it was 26 when we left Richmond, and 9 when we got into the central city of Philly later in the evening.

We got to our hotel first, then dumped our bags and headed straight into the city for a ‘Grim Philly’ ghost tour. We love these sorts of funky tours, where you learn about the seedier side of a city. But the ghastly side of Philly came out as we headed to town…the traffic. Horrendous does not even get close, as we slowly edged our way to town. “We’ll make it, we’ll make it,” was replaced with “I think we’ll make it,” and then “we won’t make it,”. We were hoping to stop for dinner on the way, but we had to flag that, not enough time with the huge traffic jams. Once we were almost to our destination, we took a wrong turn and somehow ended up on Ben Franklin Bridge, and then crossed into New Jersey! No idea how that happened, but no stress we thought, just go back over the bridge and into Pennsylvania. But first, we had to pay the $5 toll fee to be able to get out of New Jersey. Joy.

But we did make it just in time, parked the car up and got to our ghost tour. It was an excellent tour, with about 20 or so people joining in. Philly has a deep, sordid past, and our tour guide was animated and engaging. There’s tales of prostitutes, beavers, and so much more that I can’t say here. It is an R18 tour, after all, and well worth the $25 fee.

On the way back the traffic at 1030 at night was almost as bad as it was when we arrived in town at 4pm. Not good!

Day 27

Today was my first time back in jeans since leaving New Zealand. Although it was freezing last night at our ghost tour, I braved it out. Not so today, there’s a bite in the air and jeans it is. We head to the city, the traffic is a bit better than it was last night, but up rears another Philly bug-bear: the roads. I’ve been mentioning how bad the roads are across the USA, but Philadelphia takes the prize for the worst roads. They are incredible. There’s parts where the whole car is launched up in the air, and then plummets back down again. Huge potholes, that absolutely hammer the car. There does seem to be road works going on here and there, but it’s a reason I can’t wait to get out of this town.

The view from the top of the ‘Rocky Steps’

This morning we’ve got another walking tour, this one a bit more child-friendly, with just as many people as last night. But again, our guide is a good one, and takes us on a two-hour walk through old city Philly, pointing out key places and giving us some great insights into the founding of the USA. There’s almost no cross-over from last night’s tour, and again we’re so glad we did this instead of just walking around the city looking at a map.

Elfreth’s Alley takes the title of ‘the oldest residential street in America’, dating back to the 1700s

We went on to our next stop, Eastern State Penitentiary. We’d planned to visit this old prison ages ago. It was opened in 1829, and was still operating right up to 1971 – that’s almost 150 years. Straight off: if you are going to Philly, put this place on your must visit list. It’s an audio tour (included in the price of $16), so very much like Alcatraz. For me, it was done better than Alcatraz, and there were places (cells) where local artists had put some of their work, that was related to the prisoners there. Without wanting to use too many clichés, it’s an amazing place to visit – and facts like they had indoor plumbing and heating before the White House stick in my mind. Go there if you are in Philly.

30-foot high wall if you want to try and escape
Central gun – I mean, watch tower
It’s an ominous looking place that must have been mind blowing in 1829!

Time for dinner after walking around the old prison, so on local advice we headed to choose from either Pat’s King of Steaks, which has the enviable title of the place where Philly Cheese Steaks started. Right across the road from Pat’s is Geno’s Steaks, which has a great reputation for Philly Cheese Steak too. We’d decide when we got there, which took ages due to the traffic. I could not live in Philadelphia.

On arrival, we went with Geno’s, mainly because the queue at Pat’s was halfway around the building. We walked across the road to Geno’s, and I waited in the longish queue. Both ‘restaurants’ have no indoor seating – it’s all outside, and both places have rubbish laying around all over the place. I get the feeling they don’t do any cleaning up until the end of the night, as stuff is blowing around the streets. It’s a bit of a production line at Geno’s, as they take your order and whip up your Philly Cheese Steak in a flash. Both places are cash only, and the cynical side of me wonders how much income they actually declare to the tax department….

We sit outside in the coolish autumn air and eat our cheese steaks. It’s actually pretty good – messy, but tasty. My wife and I look at each other after having them, then look across to Pat’s King of Steaks. We can’t really review both places, unless we eat at both places? So we go across to Pat’s, where the queue has now gone down. There’s clear instructions before you get to the window to order, on how to order. If you want onions, you must sat ‘wit’, no onions is ‘wit-out’. Make sure you know what meat you want, and have your cash ready. I get a bit flustered at the window when it’s my turn to order, and the guy gets annoyed. He pretty much throws my Philly Cheese Steak down on the counter. I feel like I’ve been served by the Soup Nazi from Seinfeld.

And the winner? While Pat’s King of Steaks may have invented it, the award goes to Geno’s. Pat’s meat tastes like it’s been defrosted before being cooked, and is pretty watery. The table next to us agrees, so it’s not just us.

Day 28

Pretty much another driving day, as we head towards New England. We’ve booked to stay in a smallish town this evening, Riverhead, New York. It’s on Long Island, but way east of Brooklyn and The Bronx, and it means a short 40-minute drive the next morning to catch the car ferry to New London, in Connecticut.

Not much to report for today, except that as we were passing through the small town of Lahaska, we spied signs that said, ‘Corvette Car Show’. How could we not? In thirty seconds, we arrived at the car show, and there were over 100 Corvettes on display. It was the 25th Annual Tri-State Corvette Show for the Tri State Corvette Club, that covers Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York.

Amazing C7
C2 Corvette. Simply stunning

Some drivers were still cleaning engine bays with cotton wool buds, while most were just relaxing with their cars, waiting for the judges. There was a huge range of Corvettes, with a surprise feature of at least 35 C7 models, the latest version. Some very rare ones on display too, including the Callaway C4 twin-turbo, which I have never seen before. This one was one of just 16 convertible Callaways produced, and I can imagine it’s almost priceless. This is one rare car. The owner had the price list with the car, and while the car was under $30K brand new, the Callaway Twin Turbo option added another $28K to the price. As you can guess, they didn’t sell too many.

It was a great start to the day, and luckily they didn’t have any Corvette parts of memorabilia on sale, otherwise the car may have filled up just that bit more – not that we can fit anything else in it.

Callaway twin-turbo
Love the license plate

We cruised on Pennsylvania’s terrible roads some more, staying off the toll roads today, so it was more back roads than interstate. The Corvette ticked over 33,000 miles as we moved states into New Jersey, so that’s already nearly 9,000km we’ve done in the car. I had estimated we’d do 10,000km in our six-week road trip, but that’s going to be way low.

After lunch, we drove on and crossed into New York state, through some exciting traffic. If I thought drivers in the US were fast and crazy, New York drivers took this to another level, as they cut in front of us all the time, and indicators were apparently not working on any car.

Still, we made it to Riverhead, stressed but undamaged. Tomorrow it’s an early start to catch the ferry to a state we’ve never been to before: Connecticut.

Previous article is here

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2019 USA Road Trip – part 7: Week 3 https://www.drivelife.co.nz/2019/10/2019-usa-road-trip-part-7-week-3/ https://www.drivelife.co.nz/2019/10/2019-usa-road-trip-part-7-week-3/#respond Fri, 04 Oct 2019 19:00:10 +0000 https://www.drivelife.co.nz/?p=44462 Day 15

Leaving Albuquerque, we had one mission today; get to Amarillo by 6pm for a horse trek ‘with real cowboys’ that we’ve booked in. Since it’s only 500km or so, that should be easy and means we can take our time and scope out a few of the car museums in some of the old Route 66 towns that are off the interstate.

We hit the I40 again, set the cruise control at 75mp/h or so, and sit back with a cup of coffee.

The Corvette hits a milestone today; 29 years-old and ticks over 30,000 miles

First stop was in the small town of San Rosa, where there is a ‘car museum’ with a shop attached. A bit like yesterday’s museum at the Petrified Forest, the shop here takes up most of the space, or at least it used to. We came to this one in 2007, and over half was a shop. This time, it’s a bit better, with 35 or so cars in varying states of repair – some of them disrepair – but for $5, if you have time it’s worth a stop and wander through. Some of the cars are for sale, so be careful at this place, you may come out with more than you went in with.

Stunning 1948 Buick Straight 8

We cruised eastward, finally getting to the very small town of Adrian. This town has the title of being the midpoint of Route 66 – complete with a sign, of course. There’s a shop and café on the other side of the road from the sign, so if you have time they are worth a look.

Halfway on Route 66, at last

Driving on, we went through thousands (and I mean that) of wind turbines, as we crossed into the state of Texas. They are everywhere you can see, and it’s not like they are miles off to the side of you – the interstate goes right through the middle of a huge wind farm. It’s quite a sight.

We stopped for late lunch, marvelling at our great use of time, only to find that somewhere we crossed a time zone, and had lost an hour. A quick check of GPS showed that if we hit the road now, we’d just make it to our 6pm time for horse trekking at Cowgirls and Cowboys in the West in Amarillo, not allowing for any roadworks etc.

So hit the road we did, moving as quickly as we could to Amarillo, Texas. We did get there in time – with five minutes to spare – and my wife went off hunting for the cowboys to ogle over. But on this day, there were no cowboys. Just two attractive cowgirls in their early 20s, complete with checked shirts and boots. Fine by me.

Spotted just off a main highway. My wife not keen to stay here, for some reason

Before we headed off on our trek, we were standing around waiting when what comes along, but a huge Tarantula. My wife, who hates spiders with a passion, freaked out. It was big, and a little scary. But as often happens, it was just trying to get away from us. We let it.

Prior to going on our ride, I asked Jessica and Grace (our cowgirls) about snakes – they freak me out. “No chance of snakes, too cold.” Phew. We had the health and safety talk, mounted up and headed off on our trek. Not 50 feet from the barn, what do I see crossing right in front of my horse but a freaking snake, a good metre long. There may have been an involuntary squeal of fear that came out of me. Jessica looked back at the snake, which was slithering far too quickly for my liking, and said, “Oh, that’s Mike. We don’t kill him since he kills all the rats.” Well, that’s okay I guess (it isn’t).

Just a small sample of a cache of old cars we see at the side of the highways, everywhere on our trip. Most are in better condition than these

The trek itself was excellent. We thought it was going to be quite boring as we had crossed miles of flat land to get to the ranch. But not long after heading off on the horses, we went down, then down some more. After 15 minutes of riding, we ended up at the edge of a canyon, the Palo Duro Canyon. This is the second largest canyon in the USA, and is not very well known. Most people (like us) just flock to the Grand Canyon. This canyon is 800 feet deep and 120 miles long.

Jessica went into great detail about the canyon, giving us a fantastic history lesson on it and what has happened there. One of those stories was on the Battle of Palo Duro, and she recalled all the events in a timeline, along with all the names of those involved. It was an excellent and unexpected part of the trek, and really made it worthwhile.

After our 90—minute trek, we headed back into Amarillo and found a hotel. For dinner, we went to the Big Texan restaurant. We’d been here in 2007 and had to visit again. This restaurant started in 1960, and its claim to fame is its 72oz steak. On the way to Amarillo, we saw huge billboard after huge billboard for the Big Texan, offering a ‘free’ 72 ounce steak – that’s 2.5Kg to you and I. There’s a catch of course; you have to eat the steak in under 60 minutes, or you have to pay for it – US$72. If you eat it in under an hour, then sure – it’s free. But wait, there’s more! You have to eat the 2.5Kg steak AND a shrimp cocktail, baked potato, salad, and a roll with butter.

There’s a table setup higher than the rest of the restaurant, with 6 timers sitting above it, so you can see how long each person has before they run out of time. A shame though, no one was keen to try it the night we were there. You can check out the list of people who have accomplished this though, including the winning time of 20 minutes by a woman weighing in at 56Kg, who straight after the first steak went on to have another one and then another one – that’s three of those 2.5Kg steaks and sides, eaten in under 20 minutes. Crazy. Here’s the video of her doing just this:

Day 16

Leaving Amarillo, we turned back and headed west for a few miles, to head back to Cadillac Ranch. We would have stopped here on the way past yesterday, but no time since we were almost late for our horse trek. Most people know of Cadillac Ranch, or have seen the photos. Ten old Caddys buried into the dirt in the middle of a farmer’s (rancher’s?) field. They are a total tourist attraction, and even early in the morning there were 6 cars parked outside the fields.

You can bring your own spray cans of paint, and go hard out painting whatever you like on whatever car you want. There is a downside to this; people seem to just drop their empty cans and the can caps on the ground, and drive off. They are all over the place, and really detract from the setting. Such a bummer. I was talking to a local in Amarillo, and she mentioned that a few weeks ago, someone set fire to one of the cars, for whatever reason. I know I said it of people doing stupid things at the Grand Canyon, but it’s worth saying again; what is wrong with people?

Just a small sample of the rubbish left behind

Anyway, we took some photos, and got back on the I40 to get to our next Route 66 town, passing through many more wind turbines. Actually, we’d pass through more wind turbines later in the day when we went into Oklahoma.

First stop was the town of McLean, who has the claim to fame of having the museum for barbed wire, called the Devil’s Rope Museum. Attached to this is also a Route 66 museum, so we thought it was worth checking them out. Both are free, so nothing to lose. The barbed wire museum takes up 75% of the floor space, and the Route 66 one is cool, but quite small. Still, for free, we can’t complain.

The biggest thing for me here was the separate room dedicated to the Dust Bowl. I’ll be honest, I had no idea what the dust bowl was all about. During the Great Depression, dust storms spread for hundreds of miles across the state of Texas, and southern states of the USA. There were photos here of houses with dust halfway up the walls. Of course, it killed crops and livestock, and some 75% of the population migrated to other areas, and who can blame them. It was a sobering room to visit.

From McLean, we got back on the interstate until we reached the old Route 66 town of Groom. There wasn’t much for us in Groom, but a wonky tower called The Leaning Tower. Makes for a good photo op at least.

Back on the road again, we headed to Shamrock, another town that hasn’t prospered from Route 66 and its glory. But we did find an old diner that has been restored back to how it would have been ‘in the day’ and it’s well worth a stop in to look at – the Tower Station and U-Drop Inn Café. But, they don’t serve food here. We asked for a local recommendation for lunch, and were sent up to the Mesquite Canyon Steakhouse. They have home-made onion rings here that are the size of an orange, and the steak fries I had were like half a potato each – just how I like them. Yup, they do it bigger in Texas.

From Shamrock, it was a straight run through thousands more wind turbines to Oklahoma City, where we’re staying for the night.

Interesting, with the old pickup but with Tesla chargers out the back

Day 17

According to the song, Oklahoma City looks oh-so pretty, but we didn’t get time to check this claim out. Another driving day today, but still hitting old Route 66 towns where we can.

First stop for today is Chandler, which apparently is the pecan capital of the world. We don’t buy any though – didn’t see any for sale – but do grab some coffee to drink in the car. On the way to get coffee, we pass by the drive-in pizza shop. I’m not sure how long you have to sit in your car though, while they make your pizza.

Which town do you want? F, or ZZ?

From there we stay on 66 and cruise through the old-school town of Davenport. My memory of this town is the road through the main street – bricks! The poor car shudders its way along them, and then we find we have to go back the same way, back over the brick road. Ouch.

Staying on 66, we motor along and eventually get to the town of Stroud, still in Oklahoma. These are all towns that all traffic headed to LA from Chicago would have gone through. There’s not too much to see in Stroud, but it was great to see that no big chain stores or fast food outlets had infiltrated the town yet, and it still had that old-town look to it.

It’s a sign we should stop…

We didn’t stop there, but in the town is the Rock Café. A claim to fame for this café is that they ‘used’ the owner of the café as the inspiration for the character Sally, in the Cars movies.

Eventually, we got to Tulsa. Our first time here, and we were both blown away by the size of the town. There seem to be huge skyscrapers everywhere, and it’s definitely not the small country town you expect it to be.  At the end of the day we end up in Joplin, Missouri, and I can’t stop thinking about Janice Joplin every time I think of the city name. Tomorrow it’s on to St Louis, still in Missouri.

On the way into Joplin, I spy more than one drive-through liquor store. Taking that drive-through pizza concept just that one step further.

Day 18

It’s an almost-cold 17 degrees Celsius this morning, as we hit the road out of Joplin. There was actual water on the car this morning, since it rained last night. We have yet to see actual rain since we landed, but can only assume the water wasn’t put on the car by the locals.

Another of those Route 66 icons, the world’s largest rocking chair

We stop for a coffee at the Ozarkland store. It’s filled to the brim with stuff for sale – some of it Route 66, some it just ‘stuff’. I can’t believe how many signs are for sale here; everywhere you look, there’s some sign with a witty, humorous, or uplifting slogan on it. I get chatting to the owner while my wife goes off shopping for more stuff, and she says New Zealand is on her bucket list, as she loves to hunt. I ask her about snakes – my most non-favourite reptile – and she says “they’re everywhere” outside the shop. Joy. She asks how many varieties of snakes we have in New Zealand, and is almost disbelieving when I say we don’t have any. I’m pretty sure as we left, I hadn’t convinced her that I wasn’t joking.

Yes, another Route 66 icon

On the road again, we passed through the town of Springfield, mainly because The Simpsons. I don’t see any enormous donuts, and am a little sad over that.

So we continued on the I44 interstate, getting off Route 66, and make it to Newburg to go to the Cookin’ from Scratch restaurant. It’s attached to a gas station, and out front is a Chev El Camino in a sad state, and with a  huge rooster on the back of the pick-up. That was as good a sign as any that we should eat here. The food was typically American – plentiful. It seemed to be made from scratch too, and was as fresh as you could want.

Because a giant rooster and a Chev El Camino just go together

After lunch, we had tracks to make if we wanted to go up the Arch in St Louis today, so it was back on the interstate with the cruise control set at a certain speed that I won’t disclose. We made it to the Arch, and had 4 minutes left to buy tickets to get the last ride up. A quick jog over with enough time to buy them…and they’ve sold out of the last ride. Bugger. So it’s a night in St Louis tonight, and we’ve pre-purchased tickets online for the first ride up at 930am. We’ve not been to St Louis or up the Arch since 2007, and it’s one of the things I really wanted to do this trip.

Day 19

Leaving the hotel, we drove the short distance down to find parking by the St Louis Arch. This took a while, not because of traffic, but because of the cobblestone streets. The Corvette does not like these, as we shudder and shake over them. The cobblestones aren’t all over the city, but it seems like every street we go down has them.

This is a real photo, even though it looks like an ‘artist’s impression’

After 15 minutes we found parking ($8) right on the Mississippi River, and right opposite the arch. After queueing up for what seemed like ages, we finally got to climb inside the little egg-like lifts that take you to the top of the 630-foot arch. If you are claustrophobic, these egg-lifts are not for you. With 4 people inside, things are very friendly as you rub knees with the person sitting next to you. I hate to think how a tall person would get on.

Great views over the Mississippi River from the top of the arch

But it’s worth the ride, as we climb out at the top and take in the view. It’s a stunning view all round, right over the Mississippi, and on the other side over the side and far into the distance. The windows you look out are only small, but it’s enough. After a while, it’s time to head back down in the lifts.

Since we were here last in 2007, there’s been a huge change on the ground floor. There’s now an excellent museum here, not just covering the archway and its construction, but the whole of St Louis (history etc) and great coverage of the Louisiana Purchase, and how it affected locals (spoiler alert: badly). There’s also some fantastic interactive displays that will keep you and any kids with you entertained. It’s really world-class, and I wish we would have had more time to spend here. Allow a good hour to troll through the museum by itself, if not more time.

Heading out of St Louis, we crossed a bridge and signs told us we had now entered the state of Illinois, our 7th state so far on this trip. First stop today, other than getting coffee, was in the Route 66 town of Staunton, at Henry’s Rabbit Ranch. There’s a couple of reasons for the ‘rabbit’ title. Henry has an obvious love of rabbits (the furry kind) and also Rabbits, the automotive kind. We know them as VW Golfs, but in the US they are called a Rabbit. Henry has around 40 of them (!), with a half dozen ploughed into the ground, like a VW version of Cadillac Ranch. It doesn’t seem like a lot to bring the tourists in, but like anything a little bit weird on Route 66, they do – in their droves.

Of course, there’s also Henry’s gift shop, filled with Route 66 stuff for sale (it’s a small shop, so doesn’t take long for a look over). Henry sees the Corvette, and drags me off to his dark workshop, where he has a red ’84 C4 Corvette, with the digital dash. He’s obviously proud of it, and shows off the engine to me – you could eat your dinner off there, even though the car has done 170K miles. The light is too dark to get a decent photo, but I have a drool over it anyway. His is the base model with few options, and even has cloth seats – the standard seat, which most owners dumped for the leather option. Bit it’s a stick shift (manual to you and me) and he loves it for that.

We got back on the road, as we’d spent far too long at the arch in St Louis and at Henry’s, we needed to make up some time. Mid-afternoon, I almost soiled my pants when my phone starting shrieking for no apparent reason. A quick check showed an emergency warning of flash flooding in the area we were on. I’m not sure how the authorities knew my number or where I was, so that’s a little disconcerting. Even more disconcerting is that just after I got the message, the sky turned a dark black, and then the thunder and lightning started up. It was an incredible sight to see, as we’d get double and triple flashes of lightning, and thunder that rolled on and on.

Another Route 66 landmark

No rain came, so we went on with our plans to stop in the town of Pontiac. There were a couple of reasons to visit Pontic; the town has a very cool Route 66 mural I want to get a photo with, and there’s a car museum I want to go to. We head to the mural, passing a number of others on the way. It’s now coming to me that towns either really grab a hold of the whole Route 66 thing, or they don’t at all. Pontiac certainly does. We get a photo, then cruise back to the town square, which takes all of thirty seconds. Pontiac is a nicely compact town centre.

I headed off to the Pontiac Oakland Car Museum, while my wife goes shopping. I’ll have to own up here; I didn’t do any research on the car museum, before we got to town. The name of the museum and the town we were in should have been the giveaway – the museum only has Pontiac cars. Well, there are a few pushbikes too, but they Pontiacs as well. Still, for a donation it’s a good place to check out, and I drool over a Trans Am Pace Car (one of the cars that was on my original list of potential cars), a Fiero and juiciest of all, a 1970 GTO Judge.

We’ve seen a few Fieros on our travels already – some parked up, rusting away, but some mobile. They’re an interesting little car, and remind me heavily of the Fiat X-19.

But the GTO Judge…drool drool. There’s a video running showing how it came to be. Apparently John DeLorean wanted to sell this car, but there were rules around power output and the size of the car. DeLorean got around this by adding the GTO as an option (for all of $295), and the muscle car was born.

After Pontiac, we settled back onto the interstate towards Chicago, until the rain hit. And boy, did it hit us. Lots more thunder and lightning, and rain so heavy people were pulling over. It was hard to see the lanes at times, and it went on like this for the 100-mile trip. Not fun, but we made it to Chicago in the dark, and parked up for the night.

Day 20

We drove into Chicago central today, and paid US$54 for 8 hours’ parking. The parking costs are horrendous in the city, so I can see why some people get the train in and leave their cars at their hotel. But we did want to take the Corvette in, to take it to the end (well, beginning really) of Route 66 for a photo. It wouldn’t have been the same if we didn’t do this.

5,500km later, we made it

So that’s Route 66 done and dusted. After 5,500km and two weeks of slowish driving, we made it. Sure, we did it back to front by ending the journey in Chicago, but buying a car in LA was a far better option than buying one here.

The ‘bean’, a well-known and heavily visited Chicago tourist spot

After wandering about the city for a while, getting the obligatory photo at the ‘bean’, we headed to a local coffee shop to meet up with Rick, from the walking tour company. We paid $25 each to do a 3-hour walking tour along the riverfront, and it was well worth it. Often when we turn up to a new city, we just walk around aimlessly, looking like tourists.

It was so much better to talk to a local, and hear the history of every place we walked past; every building, the location and stories behind the Dearborn Fort site; we stood there, right on the site while Rick gave us all the history behind it. It was an excellent walking tour, and thoroughly recommended. We only walked about 1.5 miles, so it wasn’t a hard 3 hours of walking at all. Part of the history included taking us to a place on the river where 844 people lost their lives on an overloaded boat; It was the saddest of stories, and all the more impacting when you are standing right there, looking across to the same building (that’s still standing) that they used as a morgue. Sobering stuff.

After eventually getting out of the city, we headed back to the hotel. Tomorrow we were aiming to do the 7.5-hour drive to Bowling Green, Kentucky, but we’ve decided to split the drive up and stay in Indianapolis instead. Just a shame though, there’s no racing on while we are there.

Day 21

It was a nice 20 degrees Celsius as we left Chicago, and jumped straight onto the interstate to head south towards Kentucky. At some point, we cross into the state of Indiana, and before the day is out we’d be in Kentucky.

Compared to all the kitsch towns of Route 66, the drive today was pretty boring. 75mp/h, all day long. We only had a 700km drive today, but with stops for food and coffee, it still took a while. And that’s not to mention the road works, that seemed to go on and on and on…one lot went on for 37 miles (around 60km)!

These duallies look enormous from the rear

Instead of driving to Bowling Green, Kentucky (who comes up with these names?), instead we’ve stopped short and are staying in the city of Louisville – but still in Kentucky. It’s just a few hour’s drive tomorrow to get to Bowling Green.

We find a hotel, and parked outside is a very nice, blue C7 Corvette. I drool over it quite a bit – I love our $7,500 C4, but who wouldn’t want the (almost) latest model?

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Taking a Commodore VXR on the Gumboot Rally Championship https://www.drivelife.co.nz/2019/10/taking-a-commodore-vxr-on-the-gumboot-rally-championship/ https://www.drivelife.co.nz/2019/10/taking-a-commodore-vxr-on-the-gumboot-rally-championship/#respond Wed, 02 Oct 2019 23:00:47 +0000 https://www.drivelife.co.nz/?p=44506 The Gumboot Rally is a twice-yearly event run in New Zealand by a small group of committed petrolheads. The purpose being to explore and enjoy the best lesser-travelled roads in New Zealand, see some out of the way places, join in a scavenger hunt and have a great time. Each event is themed and teams put in quite an effort dressing up themselves and their cars. The theme for the September 2019 rally was “Gumboot Rally Championship” and I was determined to bring Project Rusty along, as it’s basically a rally car. 

Well, life intervened, and as the rally drew nearer I realised that my car wasn’t going to be up to a 2000+ kilometre trip over a weekend, it was still partly dismantled, and had no WoF. And I didn’t fancy rushing it and coming back from another Gumboot on the back of an AA truck like last year’s Taupo event. Adding to that disappointment, my daily driver Audi A4 decided its cam chain tensioners had had enough, and it wasn’t economically viable to repair. 

I couldn’t do the Gumboot without a car, so I had a chat with our friends at Holden New Zealand, and they had a new Commodore VXR available that weekend. As long as we brought it back in one piece as it was going to be signwritten and used as a show car at the Supercars race the following week. I thought this was an excellent choice – the new Commodore is a great car which gets an unfair amount of negative comment online purely because it’s not the same as the old Aussie-built car.

My co-driver and I flew up to Auckland the day before the rally and Ubered to Schofield Holden in Newmarket, armed with our Gumboot Rally sponsor sticker pack and most of the items on the infamous Gumboot “what to bring” list. All we were missing was a jerry can. Purpose unknown.


It was pouring with rain when we arrived and the car was sitting outside – not the greatest for sticking decals on a car. We talked nicely to the detailing guys and they let us move the car indoors and helped us dry it off. Soon we had the stickers installed and we were on our way to our hotel for the night. But not before we had a chance to stand back and have a good look around the Commodore. Finished in Absolute Red, with 20” wheels and red Brembo calipers, the Commodore VXR is a great looking car. And I think the rally stickers really look the part too.

The rally started this time at SafeStore in Westgate. We were a little delayed by grabbing the required jerry can, and the need for a Mcbreakfast, arriving at 9am just as the car park was filling up. It was quite a sight, packed with around 65 cars of all types and ages, from 1960s American cars, 1970s British, 1980s Japanese, 2000s Australian, and many more. Plus of course our shiny new 1200km Commodore, though the honour of being the newest car was taken by a bright Orange Colorado. Some serious work had been put into some of the cars for the event, not to mention the teams’ costumes.

Soon we were called indoors for the drivers’ briefing, where it was made clear that this event is on public roads, and road rules must be adhered to. We also had the first chance to look at our route books for the event. Finally the purpose of the jerry can was revealed – every time we were out of the car we had to carry it, or we’d be penalised on points. It was at that point some teams regretted bringing the biggest cans they could find!

As we queued to leave, we had a quick read of the book to get an idea of where we were going and what we had to do. The book consists of directions – which were a little clearer this time than previous events, and occasional questions based on things we would spot along the way. Then there are missions, such as “Go into Mitre 10 and buy rally supplies”. These ones always cause much amusement for locals when 65 cars and 140 people all arrive at about the same time and invade a local town or shop, dressed in costume and carrying jerry cans.

Bonus points can be achieved by spotting a series of landmarks along the way, and noting their order. We only managed to spot one of the nine so we failed that test!

Once we were out on the open roads we had a bit more of a chance to test the Commodore’s abilities. When you accelerate there’s a lovely growl from that 3.6-litre V6. It’s pretty quick too, with 235kW of power, driving all four wheels via a very slick 9-speed auto transmission. It’s a pretty big car but it handles well, it feels stable and planted and the 4 wheel-drive system lets you power around corners with ease. There is a fair bit of tyre noise from those 20” wheels on rougher surfaces,as you get with most cars. This was not unexpected but it seemed to confuse the voice recognition system several times, making it activate at random times with an Aussie-accented lady piping up with “How can I help you?”. What made it more irritating was when she was cancelled, and you just wanted her to shut up, she said “I hope I can help you next time”. Every time. Sigh.

At various points along the way, there’s a diversion onto gravel roads, with a tarmac alternative given if you don’t want to risk the dust and stone chips. Holden had given us the okay to take the gravel sections, so it would have been rude not to give it a go. Fortunately the rain had stopped, and the damp surface meant the roads were less dusty than they might usually be. They were great fun in the Commodore. When cornering on the more slippery surface there was initially a little understeer, then the four wheel drive and safety systems did their magic and the car just drove nicely around the bends, giving the driver a real confidence. We took it pretty easy, but that feeling of looseness on a gravel surface is really enjoyable.

By lunchtime the sun was blazing and outside temperatures up to 19 degrees. This was when we really appreciated the dual-zone climate control, but even more so, the ventilated front seats. As the event continued we found ourselves driving through farm country, coastal roads, tourist towns, stopping at various out-of-the-way spots and trying to complete our missions. The Commodore performed well throughout the day and was easy to jump in and out of to perform the various tasks.

I have to admit we cheated a little at the end of day 1 after about 300km of driving. The sun was low and in our eyes, and we were both getting pretty tired, so we skipped the final twisty bit, and ferry trip from Russell, and took a short cut up the main highway to the Copthorne in Paihia where the first day’s driving ended. We had a little extra time to check in and have a quick glass of wine before the evening meal and festivities.

At the overnight stop, the Gumbooters all sit down and have a buffet dinner together, and there’s a prize giving for best theme (voted for online). This is the chance to socialise and get to know a few people, or catch up with friends from previous events.

The next morning, after a very disappointing room service continental breakfast we gathered in the hotel car park with the others, ready to head off for the day. Day two was more of the same fun and games, more locations as we headed across to the West then meandered South towards the finish. One highlight was a bonus mission to call at the home of a Gumboot regular who wasn’t on this event and drop off an 80th birthday card for him. He had no idea that we were all coming to invade his street!

There were more highway sections on day two, with quite a big distance to cover, but we still managed some more gravel fun and a lot of great driving roads. A few times on the highway sections we made use of the Commodore’s smart cruise control to make sure we kept to speed limits, and took some of the stress out of the longer sections.

Eventually we all made it to the final destination at the Wade Tavern in Silverdale, for a well-earned meal and drink. It was another well-organised Gumboot Rally event and we had a great time. The Commodore performed flawlessly and coped with all of the roads effortlessly, keeping us comfortable and cool. Over the whole event the car was pretty good on fuel too, in fact we equalled the quoted figure of 8.9l/100km. Not bad for a big V6!

The Commodore VXR does a great job as a comfortable grand tourer, with enough power to make a satisfying drive, but plenty of comfort and safety features to make sure you’re well protected. Thanks again to Holden for loaning us the Commodore VXR.

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2019 Alpina XD3 – Car Review – The Alpina of SUVs https://www.drivelife.co.nz/2019/10/2019-alpina-xd3-car-review-the-alpina-of-suvs/ https://www.drivelife.co.nz/2019/10/2019-alpina-xd3-car-review-the-alpina-of-suvs/#respond Tue, 01 Oct 2019 04:00:48 +0000 https://www.drivelife.co.nz/?p=44470 Diesel cars may have their days numbered but that doesn’t mean there aren’t any worth your time. The investment in R&D on diesel engines, especially by the European manufacturers, over the last two decades has been immense. Audi and Peugeot showed the world that diesel could be successful in sports cars racing on a global scale with their entries in the Le Mans 24 Hours. On the road, we’ve seen some bonkers performance diesels from Volkswagen, Audi, and Porsche. 

Of course, a scandal a couple years ago (largely thanks to the aforementioned German conglomerate) tainted the once seemingly never ending run of diesel dominance. Manufacturers pulled back on their diesel lineup while the Germans were quickly trying to distance themselves from the fuel by completely getting rid of diesel variants and replacing them with hybrid and EVs. 

But there are still a select few who stand by the advances of diesel’s torque, long-distance range, and newfound smoothness. One of the best modern examples are BMW’s diesels and in particular BMW diesels that have been fettled by Alpina. 

Those who’ve read my review on previous Alpinas such as B5 sedan, B4 Coupe, and diesel D3 sedan will know I’m a huge fan of the small manufacturer. It’d be an understatement to call them an aftermarket tuner, they’re so much more than that. Their cars are made alongside BMW’s own products in their factories and are finished off at Alpina’s facilities. 

Being a small manufacturer, Alpina are only capable of producing around 1700 cars a year. Japan gets about 400 of those cars each year, signifying it as one of Alpina’s most important markets. But Alpina are wanting to expand more towards North America and Middle East, that’s where the money is, so they’ll be a change in what the Alpina line up looks in the future. Like other manufacturers, it’ll be more SUVs than cars. 

There won’t be an Alpina 8-Series Coupe or Cabriolet, there won’t be an Alpina 4-Series Coupe or Cabriolet, instead it’ll just be the Gran Coupe versions of those cars to prioritise production for the petrol and diesel-powered Alpina X7. SUVs are all the rage now, you know. 

The Range

That’s where the XD3 comes in. It’ll be the first of a whole new generation of SUVs for Alpina. This is Alpina’s second SUV, after the first-generation XD3 based on the F25 generation. Interestingly Alpina have never fettled with the X5. I’m not sure why as that would make a perfect subject for Alpina’s treatment. This new XD3, based on the brilliant G01 X3 picks up where the old one left off. 

Right-hand drive markets get the one XD3 with a 3.0-litre in-line six bi-turbo diesel producing 245kW and a whopping 700NM of torque. That’s enough to get the all-wheel drive XD3 from 0-100 km/h in just 4.9 seconds and on to a top speed of 254 km/h. Left-hand drive markets get a slightly more bonkers quad-turbo in-line six with 280kW and 900NM of torque. 

First Impressions

I’m a huge fan of the way this looks. From the modest Alpina body kit, to the quad-exhausts, Alpina stripes, 21-inch multi spoke alloys, and the blue brake callipers, this thing looks the business. There’s enough to differentiate this from ‘normal’ X3s but not too much that it looks garish and boy racery. 

Most people won’t bat an eye at this and wouldn’t even know it was as rare and exclusive as it is. They probably wouldn’t even guess it’s a good $30,000 more than a X3 M40d. But for those who know what it is and what Alpina is will give it the respect it deserves. Which is perfect for the type of people who buy Alpinas. These are the type of people who have a fleet of supercars but buy an Alpina when they want to drive around incognito but still in something cool, rare, and fast. 

The Inside

The best way to describe the interior of the XD3 is that it’s like a high-specced X3 but with more Alpina badges. It’s got the same tech, leather, and materials as top BMW models but that’s not a complaint. It’s just a very nice place to be in and why fix something that’s not broken? 

You get BMW’s best fit and finish with some Alpina touches added in for good measure such as the Alpina badged wood trim and the optional Alpina diamond stitching on the headrests. Alpina don’t do as much to the 3 and 4-Series level cars as they do for the 5-Series and above, those get a much more comprehensive overhaul, but that’s not to say the XD3 is spartan. 

The optional full-length panoramic roof brings in a tremendous amount of light into the cabin when open making it feel nice and airy. Very premium indeed. Mood lighting is nice too, though not quite as bright or having the same colour variations as its rivals. 

It is quite spacious, but so is the X3 on which it’s based on. It can accommodate 5 adults easily with three abreast at the back if they’re small or for short trips. The capacious boot will be enough for any situation. If you need a third row, Alpina are working on a fettled version of BMW’s X7 monster truck as we speak with both petrol and diesel engines on offer.  

The Drive

Think of this more as a Bentley than an Aston Martin. It’s more of a cruiser than a sporty SUV, that’s the job for the X3M. No, it won’t be able to shame a Macan around a racetrack but at the same time a Macan doesn’t have the same amount of space, comfort, or effortless torque as this. 

If you do a lot of motorway driving, or have to drive between the North and South Islands regularly, I reckon the XD3 would be a great companion. It’s competent enough around corners that it doesn’t lean or float too excessively, but the fantastic Alpina tuned dampers soak up even the worst of bumps well. 

I’ve previously driven a X3 xDrive20d with the M-Sport package and while that rode well enough, what Alpina has done to the suspension and damping on the XD3 is night and day. Most German SUVs have quite firm rides but the Alpina manages to turn the bumpiest of roads into somewhat acceptable terrain that won’t break your back. And this is with 20-inch wheels!

The diesel engine is torquey enough to overtake any truck that might get in your way while being so efficient you won’t need to keep stopping at random petrol stations in the middle of nowhere. Alpina claims a combined 6.4L/100km, in the real world with my not-so-efficient driving style I was getting around 8.1L/100km. Which, for an SUV with 245kW and 700 addictive NM of torque on tap isn’t bad at all. When you get tired, there’s a raft of safety and driving aids to help you along such as adaptive cruise control, blind spot assist, and lane keep assist. It’s just a very pleasant car in general. 

The Competition

Brand/ModelEnginePower/TorqueFuel, L/100km0-100 kph, secondsPrice – High to Low
Alpina XD33.0-litre straight-six twin-turbo diesel245kW/700NM6.44.9$151,000 (est)
Range Rover Velar D300 R-Dynamic HSE3.0L V6 diesel turbo221kW/7006.56.4$144,900
Porsche Macan S3.0L V6 turbo petrol260kW / 450Nm9.05.3$125,900
BMW X3 M40d3.0-litre inline-six twin-turbo diesel 235kW/680NM6.74.9$125,200
Audi SQ53.0-litre V6 turbo petrol260kW/500NM8.35.4$122,900
Mercedes-AMG GLC433.0L V6 Petrol twin turbo270kW / 520Nm8.84.7$118,800
Jaguar F-Pace Sd3.0L V6 turbo diesel220kW / 700Nm6.05.8$114,900

The Pros and Cons

ProsCons
• Effortless torque
• Long range economy
• Brilliant Alpina suspension damping
• Handsome styling
• Exclusivity 
• Considerably pricier than the car it’s based on
• Interior too similar to ‘standard’ X3
• Having to go to Australia to get one

What do we think of it?

This is more for the relaxed driver than someone who wants a hot-hatch handling SUV. The effortless performance from the torquey diesel is almost addictive while the relatively economical thirst makes this a great candidate for the family all-rounder. 

The high asking price might put some buyers off, but take solace in the knowledge that you won’t see another on the road. It stands out enough from other X3s while still being a handsome and understated thing. This is a car that’ll only get the attention from those who know. It’s an exclusivity thing. 

Alpinas have always been for a small type of clientele, for people who want cross-country performance and comfort wrapped in a subtle and usable package. Not everyone will understand an Alpina but that’s part of what makes these so cool. 

drivelife-car-review-chevrons-four
Vehicle TypeSUV
Starting Price$151,000 (est)
Tested Price$165,000 (est)
Engine3.0-litre inline-six twin-turbo, diesel engine
Transmission8-speed auto ZF with manual mode
0 – 100 kph, seconds4.9
Spare WheelNone
Kerb Weight, Kg2,015
Length x Width x Height, mm4732 x 1897 x 1665 mm
Cargo Capacity, litres550/1600
Fuel Tank, litres68
Fuel EfficiencyAdvertised Spec – Combined –  6.4L / 100kmReal World Test – Combined –  8.1L / 100kmLow Usage: 0-6 / Medium Usage 6-12 / High Usage 12+
Turning circle12mSmall: 6-10m / Medium 10-12m / Large 12m+
ANCAP Safety RatingsN/A
Warranty3 year, 100,000km

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2019 Mercedes-Benz GLE300d – Car Review – black diamond https://www.drivelife.co.nz/2019/09/2019-mercedes-benz-gle300d-car-review-black-diamond/ https://www.drivelife.co.nz/2019/09/2019-mercedes-benz-gle300d-car-review-black-diamond/#respond Sun, 29 Sep 2019 23:00:31 +0000 https://www.drivelife.co.nz/?p=44419 How do you improve on something that’s already very good? It’s a question I often ask myself, as we mourn the passing of a certain model that is loved by all who drive it. Just how much more can you do to develop a car to exceed what it can already do?

Mercedes-Benz took that bull by the horns, and have given us a new GLE model, to replace the well-respected outgoing model. With two all-new engines and a styling update, can the GLE move buyers from the ‘old’ model and into the new?

We got sent a 300d model to find out.

The Range

Take your pick from two models in the GLE range; the 4-cylinder 300d (tested), or the 6-cylinder 400d. Both are diesel-turbo motors, and both are fitted with a 9-speed automatic. All-wheel drive is standard.

The 2.0-litre diesel in the 300d manages a healthy 180kW of power, and a nice 500Nm of torque. Moving up to the 400d, that means 243kw and 700Nm of torque. The manufacturer claims the 300d should give you 6.9 litres/100km of fuel, while the 400d is rated at 7.7.

Both are fitted with the latest version of Mercedes-Benz’ heads-up display (HUD), 20” alloy wheels, the MBUX infotainment system, the MULTIBEAM LED lighting package, and also the Parking Package with a 360-degree camera.

Also as standard, you can expect to get ambient lighting with 64 colours, open-pore oak wood trim, leather upholstery, 4-way electric lumbar support for the driver, an electric park brake, heated front seats, a nappa leather steering wheel, all windows are auto up/down, THERMATIC climate AC, velour floor mats, automatic high beams, an electric tailgate, keyless entry and start, Mercedes-Benz logos in the puddle lamps, auto wipers, 2×12.3” displays with touchscreen and voice control, and Mercedes me Connect.

Standard safety features include nine airbags, Active Parking Assist, and the Driving Assistance Package incorporating Active Distance Assist DISTRONIC, Active Brake Assist with cross-traffic function, Active Steering Assist, Active Lane Change Assist, Active Blind Spot Assist and PRE-SAFE® PLUS crash preparation system.

The 300d and 400d are identical, except for the engine.

Our test car was fitted with quite a few options, including a tyre pressure monitoring system ($850), the 7-Seat Package ($3,900), the AMG Sports Package ($9,900), the Luxury Seat Package ($3,700), the AIRMATIC Package ($3,400), Obsidian Black Metallic Paint ($2,100), 22” AMG 5-Twin Spoke Alloy Wheels ($2,000). Removed from our test car was a panoramic roof and also wireless phone charging, saving $3,600. The total for our test car was $150,450.

As always, there are so many options and option packages for this car, it would take pages of text to cover them all.  A highlight would have to be the E-ACTIVE BODY Control package, more on this later. You get to choose from 2 sets of 20” rims as standard at no cost, then there’s a no-cost 21” rim set, and then on to 2 sets of 22” rims.

Colour-wise, you get white at no charge, but then must pay to have any other colour, most of them at $2,100 and a couple at over $3,000. There’s your normal muted range of greys and silvers that most Mercedes-Benz seem to be, but also added in the mix is a stunning blue called Brilliant Blue Metallic, and an equally stunning Emerald Green Metallic.

You can read more about the GLE300d on Mercedes-Benz New Zealand’s website.

First Impressions

It’s hard not to like a black Mercedes-Benz, no matter what the model. Our test GLE looked great, especially with the optional 22” alloys. These rims not only suited the car, they looked excellent. I had mixed reviews on the look of the GLE over my week with the car – mostly in favour, but a few felt it looked a bit stumpy, even though this is one large SUV.

I must admit, I’m not a fan of designs where (looking from the rear) the cabin squeezes in from the top of the doors up, and looks a lot narrower than the rest of the car. But overall I like it, and the new gen GLE is a good refresh over the previous model.

The Inside

Opening the door of any new Mercedes-Benz is a treat, and the new GLE is no exception. Open pore oak wood grain on the doors, dash and centre console greet you, and is always a sign of a quality motor car.

Our car had the optional Luxury Seat Package, which didn’t look that much different to the standard ones, but still looked excellent. At last Mercedes-Benz is moving to integrate its central displays, and this has been done very nicely in the new GLE. Not quite 100% integrated, but looking a lot less like an afterthought now.

There’s some new grab handles on the centre console, quite big and chunky ones too. At first I thought these were a bit of a ‘just to be different’ thing, but I did end up using them quite a bit. They look great too, and have a band of LED strip lighting around them, which adds some bling at night time.

There’s a noticeable amount of stitching in this car; it’s everywhere. The main takeaway from this is that the stitching is perfect, everywhere. The whole cabin oozes quality materials and workmanship.

Rear legroom is extremely generous, and the boot is good at 630 litres, unless you have the third row up. Then it’s acceptable for a seven seater, but as always, that third row really hacks into your cargo space.

The Drive

The 2019 GLE 300d and 400d both come with all-new diesel engines. I will admit, when I picked up the 300d I was a bit disappointed – the 243kW, 700Nm six-cylinder 400d sounds like an amazing engine. But not one to complain, I jumped into the 300d and hit the road. The new 2-litre, turbo four-cylinder diesel 300d is impressive. You can tell it’s a diesel, but at times – even around town – it has you wondering if it really is an oil-burner. Even at a cold idle on the outside of the car, it impresses all over again. This is an incredibly quiet diesel engine, and can put to shame a few petrol engines for lack of noise.

Cruising on the motorway at a steady throttle, the engine is almost imperceptible, and as smooth as you could want. It’s not quite on par with a BMW X5 30d (the base model) and its 3-litre straight six diesel, but it’s still a great engine for a four-cylinder. With 500Nm of torque, passing or climbing hills is drama free, and as usual the 9-speed 9G-TRONIC trans is faultless. 

Right gear at the right time, and silky smooth changes up or down. With a 0-100 time of 7.2 seconds, this 2.0-litre diesel is no slouch. There’s no need to worry about brakes in the GLE; repeated panic stops from 100km/h sees no drama at all, just solid and straight stops every time. They are extremely progressive too, so you can modulate them perfectly.

Along with that incredibly quiet engine, on the motorway and open road, tyre noise and wind noise are kept to very low levels, bordering on silence at times. One time at the traffic lights, I put the window down to check if it was double-glazed (it’s not) – it really is that quiet inside.

My week with the 300d included a day trip from Wellington to Taupo and back, and it was the perfect car to do it in. Stress free, quiet, torquey. Couldn’t ask for more than that. On that trip, I made extensive use of the (optional) massaging seats. You get a range of choices of massage type to pick from with these seats; Hot Relax Back, Hot Relax Shoulder, Activating Massage, Classic Massage, Wave Massage, Mobilizing Massage, Active Workout Backrest, and lastly, Active Workout Cushion. We’ve had test cars before with massaging seats, but these are the first ones I’ve tried where the base of the cushion also massages your legs and, well, your butt.

These did make a difference to my long drive (and not only the massaging butt bit) and I did appreciate them. I arrived in Taupo (after leaving at 5am) feeling pretty good, and no aches at all. Sure, the quality of the seats helped here – they are supremely comfortable – but I am convinced the massaging side of things made it a better trip too.

With the Luxury Seat Package on our test car came heated and cooled front seats; and you can adjust the heat/chill for the left seat too, from the driver’s seat. I could see this being handy for some people with elderly passengers who would struggle with the controls themselves. The second row of seats are fully electric too, with the same style controls on the rear doors. These includes electric headrests as well. From the boot, you can electrically raise and lower the second row, however the third row (optional) are manually controlled. You can also raise or lower the rear suspension from the boot, for easier loading/unloading.

Along with the seats, some other GLE features made the trip that much easier. The GLE 300d has steering assist, so it was a matter of guiding it along, but letting the car do most of the steering. I don’t think the GLE’s steering assist was as accurate as that in a BMW or Audi, but it still made the drive simpler.

I mentioned just how good those 22” rims look, but I was worried about ride quality. Having 22” rims means you will have very low profile tyres, and that can mean a hard ride. It isn’t. The 300GLE rides very well, and on par with the Audi Q8 we tested with the same size rims. It’s an impressive feat, although I was a little disappointed that our test GLE wasn’t optioned with the $13,000 E-ACTIVE CONTROL suspension package.

New for the latest generation of the Mercedes-Benz GLE SUV is the option to add E-ACTIVE BODY CONTROL, which brings together several key technologies to improve the driving experience. Road-surface scan enables on-board cameras to identify imperfections in the road surface ahead and pre-adjust suspension settings, while curve-tilting function can lean the vehicle into bends, improving road-holding and passenger comfort.

We first saw this at the S Class launch, and it blew me away, going over speed bumps like they didn’t exist. Then John had this suspension on the 560 S Class Coupe and was impressed as well. It simply obliterates any sort of a bump, and has the added advantage of curve tilting, so it goes around corners just that much better. It is a $13K option – but if it was me, I’d be sacrificing other things to get that suspension, if I had to.

But that’s not to say the standard suspension is too soft, or doesn’t handle; the GLE300d does very well on any road, even the twisty ones. Taking it over the Desert Road with its 20km/h corners was too easy, even with the high stance of the car. Helping things along here are the huge 325/35 rear tyres. They not only look enormous to cars behind you, they give you a heap of grip, wet or dry. The fronts aren’t so small either, at 285/40. This means grip isn’t an issue, and you can fair chuck this hulking Merc around on a bendy road.

Naturally all GLE models have adaptive cruise control, and the GPS-tracking side of things has filtered down from the S Class to this model. This means that as you approach a corner and are using adaptive cruise control, the car will slow down to ensure a safe speed as you drive around it. Like the A Class with the same feature, it does seem to slow down a little too much for my liking, but it’s still a huge improvement overall over other adaptive cruise control systems.

The adaptive cruise will also take you down to a complete stop, and has the nice trick of starting you off again if the traffic in front moves away. I’ve been waiting for this feature to arrive for a while now, and it’s just another one of those techy things that makes driving in heavy traffic a breeze.

My return trip from Taupo was in darkness, and the adaptive LED headlights came into play. They are freaking amazing. We’ve had lots of test cars with adaptive LED headlights, and the GLE’s are right up there with the best. Okay, probably not quite as good as BMW’s laser headlights we saw in the X5 M50d, but excellent all the same. Even starting the car at night is a bit of a thrill, as the headlights do all sorts of moving left and right, up then down before they are all set. It’s a great party trick for your passengers.

When we tested the BMW X5 M50d, I was in awe of the new HUD; maps are shown across the screen in a massive 12” or so width, in full colour, with names of streets. Other HUD info is great too, and I thought it would take a long time for other manufacturers to catch up with BMW on the HUD front. How wrong I was. The GLE has an upgraded HUD too, and it’s superb. The HUD is divided into three segments, and you can customise what you want in each segment. For each segment, you can choose from a fuel economy gauge, current speed limit, current speed, a G Meter, navigation, media, and more.

At the bottom of the HUD is your current cellphone signal strength, cellphone battery level, brake auto hold off/on, your adaptive cruise speed, and the track or station you are listening to. The GLE HUD will also warn you of traffic to your left or right on the motorway, and if you get too close to an object (say in a tight car park), an image of the car will pop up on the HUD and show you exactly where you are in danger in bright orange. Admittedly, BMW’s SatNav on their latest HUD is far better, but in other respects the HUD on the GLE is better again.

On the Daily Drive, things are pretty well sorted with that excellent engine and plenty of torque. Visibility is above average, with the chunky C pillars blocking some of the rear-side view, but the extra windows in front of the D pillars help here. There’s also Lane Change Assist to help you on the motorway if you have adaptive cruise control on; simply hit the indicator for which side you want to change lane into, and the GLE will wait for a gap and then move over for you.

There were few things I could pick holes in with the GLE. Changing tracks or stations using the steering wheel control is fiddly and doesn’t work most of the time, and you have to have the iDrive system in Media before this will work anyway. You can change tracks using the touchpad, and I used this most of the time, but it was a bit hit and miss too. In saying that – and I’ve said this before – the volume thumbwheel on the steering wheel (there’s one on the centre console too) is the best I’ve ever used, meaning a single control for volume up/down and mute.

Speaking of the centre console, I’ve mentioned the new grab handles on it, which are surprisingly usable, but I found it a little weird that Mercedes-Benz choose to put the suspension height adjusting control right there behind the touchpad’s wrist rest. I really can’t see drivers wanting to change the car’s height that often that it needs to be in such a prominent place, and also it’s a good two inches wide, so it takes up a lot of centre console real estate. It wasn’t anything that would worry me, but it did seem a strange location.

One more thing that didn’t impress me was the all black interior. With the deletion of the sunroof in our test car and a black headliner, seats and door panels, the GLE is pretty dark inside. A panoramic sunroof would have made all the difference here.

That’s pretty much my list of ‘don’t likes’ for the GLE 300d; it does almost everything extremely well.

Mercedes-Benz suggests the 300d should return 6.4 litres per 100km of diesel. Even with my trip to Taupo, I didn’t get near that, ending up with a figure of 8.2L/100km in over 1000km of driving. Still, for the performance of this heavy SUV, I was happy with that number.

The Competition

Brand/ModelEnginePower/TorquekW/NmNumber of seatsCargo capacity, litresTowing capacity, unbraked/brakedFuel L/100kmBase Price – High to Low
Lexus LX450D4.5-litre, twin-turbo, V8 diesel200/6505701750/35009.5$160,100
Porsche Cayenne3.0-litre, V6 turbo petrol250/4505770na/35009.2$138,900
BMW X5 30d3.0-litre, 6-cylinder, twin-scroll turbo-diesel195/6205/7 opt.645750/27007.0$135,200
Mercedes-Benz GLE 300d2.0-litre, 4-cylinder diesel-turbo180/5005/7 opt. 630 750/35006.4$128,200
Audi Q7 TDi3.0-litre, 6-cylinder, turbo-diesel160/5007705750/35005.8$117,400

The Pros and Cons

ProsCons
Quality interior materials
Engine smoothness, quietness, performance
Build quality
Rear legroom
HUD
Driving dynamics
Seat comfort (optional upgrade)
Adaptive cruise operation
Adaptive headlights
Dark interior in our test model

The Verdict

This was another test car I didn’t want to give back. It fitted what I do on a daily basis perfectly, and is also the perfect car for those occasional trips I take to Taupo, or Auckland.

When awarding a 5-chevron rating to any car, it has to be something special – not just something that does everything well. The GLE 300d is that; it not only drives beautifully, it feels like it’s something special every time you get behind the wheel.

The previous GLE range was excellent; the new 2019 GLE 300d is brilliant.

2019 Mercedes-Benz GLE 300d

drivelife-car-review-chevrons-five

5.0  Chevrons

Vehicle Type5 door, large all-wheel drive SUV
Starting Price$128,200
Price as Tested$150,450
Engine4-cylinder diesel turbo
Transmission9-speed automatic
Power, TorquekW/Nm180/500
Spare Wheel Space saver
Kerb Weight, Kg 2261
Length x Width x Height, mm N/A
Cargo Capacity, litres630 seats up
2055 seats down
Fuel Economy, L/100kmAdvertised Spec – combined – 6.4
Real World Test – combined – 8.2
Low Usage: 0-6 / Medium Usage 6-12 / High Usage 12+
Fuel tank capacity, litres 80
Towing CapacityKg, unbraked/braked 750/3500
Turning circle, metres12.02
Small: 6-10m / Medium 10-12m / Large 12m+
 Warranty 3 years, unlimited kilometres, scheduled servicing included
ANCAP Safety Ratings5 Star
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2019 USA Road Trip – part 6: Week 2 https://www.drivelife.co.nz/2019/09/2019-usa-road-trip-part-6-week-2/ https://www.drivelife.co.nz/2019/09/2019-usa-road-trip-part-6-week-2/#respond Wed, 25 Sep 2019 01:00:52 +0000 https://www.drivelife.co.nz/?p=44375 Day 8

We had breakfast at the Grand Canyon Caverns Inn today, and right outside are number of cars, in varying states of disrepair. Interestingly, because America and all that, the collection includes a Triumph Spitfire (an automatic?!), an Alfa Romeo Sprint Veloce, and a Jaguar 420G that looks like it’s running a V8.

The dry weather helps to keep the cars in some sort of rust-free condition, but the hot sun isn’t doing them any favours. There’s also a C4 Corvette parked out front, complete with police stickers and flashing lights. It doesn’t look like it’s pulled any one over for quite a few years, though. I scan it for any parts I might want, but there aren’t any.

After breakfast, we drive a mile down a private road to the caverns. We’ve never been here before, and only found out about them by accident. The story goes that in 1927, a guy named Walter Peck is riding his horse across some land to go play poker, and at one point the horse just stops dead, and Walter nearly falls off. He gets off to find a huge hole in the ground. It’s pouring with rain, and he can’t understand why the hole isn’t filling up.

There’s a good reason for that – the caverns are freaking enormous, in places 200 metres across. Walter buys all the land for 18 cents an acre, deciding he’s going to find gold, silver and diamonds. He doesn’t, so instead he does this thing called “Dope on a rope”, where for 25 cents he will lower you into the caverns while you hold on to a rope, but he does give you a lantern and spare matches. This might be an OSH hazard. After a while, a ramp is built to go down way underground for tourists, and now there’s even an elevator to take you down 210 feet underground.

If you want to, there’s even accommodation at 220 feet below the surface, with your ‘room’ 200 feet wide by 400 feet long and a ceiling that’s 70 feet above you. We do the long tour – 50 minutes – and Dino, our guide, tells us that it’s a steady 53 degrees down here, day in day out. It’s a welcome respite from the heat outside. We get the full tour of the caverns, including a mummified bobcat called Bob, and for $20 the cavern tour is excellent value. This includes going past the accommodation too. Totally recommend a stop in here, as it’s only an hour long and is well worthwhile.

Moving on from the caverns, we hit the road to Seligman. This is a town we’ve been to a few time before, and one of the first to really embrace the whole Route 66 revival. You can tell this by the number of shops in the small town selling Route 66 memorabilia; it’s everywhere. Of course we buy some, and take time to check out the other stuff they have that’s not for sale. Good to see the Austin Healey in one of the shops that I spotted 3 years ago when we came through here in our Dodge Challenger. I don’t think that Healey is ever going to see the light of day again.

Just one of the converted gas stations in Seligman, now a Route 66 shop

Driving on from Seligman, we turned off the main road to follow the old Route 66 to the ‘town’ of Crookton. There isn’t much here but a few houses, and a deserted gas station – one of what feels like hundreds we will see on this trip. We got a photo with our Challenger here in 2016, and I couldn’t resist doing the same thing again with the Corvette.

We got forced back on to the I40 interstate, and at last got to a 75mp/h speed limit – 120km/h. We made the most of this, and before long we took an off-ramp and headed into the small town of Ashfork, another town that Route 66 travellers used to go through. It’s pretty quiet here, but we go to check out the museum anyway. Driving through the town I spotted this derelict Ford Thunderbird. Every single town we drive through I see wrecks like this out on the road, or in people’s back yards. It feels like a real-life barn find, without the barn.

Mid-afternoon we got to the thriving Route 66 town of Williams. This town does so much better than the others, since it’s the gateway to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon (GC). Tomorrow we’ll be taking a train to the GC, the first time we’ve done that. I’m looking forward to having a break from driving, and comparing it to the West Rim that we were at a few days ago.

’cause ’merica

Day 9

We’re off to the Grand Canyon again today, but this time it will be the South Rim. We last went to the South Rim in 2007, and this time we’d be doing it a little differently, instead of driving there, we’re boarding the Grand Canyon Railroad for a 2-hour ride to get to the GC. There’s a few reasons for this; it means I get a break from driving, and also the railway goes to places where there is no road, so we’d be seeing scenery that we’ve never seen before.

It cost us around US$200 for the return trip. On the way there, we’d be in the cheapest carriage (Coach) and on the way back, the next level up of Pullman Class. Sounds very fancy. We wandered to the train station after breakfast – Williams is so small, you can pretty much walk everywhere – and waited to board. The train is much longer than you’d think it would be – guessing around 8 carriages, and most of them at least half full. I can imagine in the peak season it would be chocka full.

Love this hotel sign on a one-way street in Williams, Arizona

Each carriage gets its own staff member to entertain you, as well as giving you instructions on where to go and do things at the GC, and what you shouldn’t do. Taking a selfie while walking backwards towards the edge was a good example. A few months ago, a tourist did just this and fell to her death.

On that, the last time we went to the GC, we bought a book called, “Death in the Grand Canyon”, which lists out all the people who have died there, and how they died. It’s sobering reading. I still remember one horrific (true) story of a man who wanted to surprise his daughter, so he pretended to jump over the edge, lost his footing and fell to his death. There are many more stories like that, and we notice there’s a new edition of the book out, which includes all the new deaths at the GC since 2007. What is wrong with people?

Anyway, we’re on the train, and I think we scored the funniest, well, Conductor I guess. He had everyone laughing, making fun of people but also pointing out things we should look out to see as we travelled the 60-odd miles to the GC from Williams. Sure, it was scripted, but he did it well.

We see these double-decker trains every day, some of them are over a kilometre long

An entertainer came along at one point, sang a few songs while playing his guitar, and made fun of people too. All in fun though. As we climbed higher and higher, the scenery started to change, from flat, featureless plains to hillier countryside with thousands of Ponderosa Pine trees.

At last we made it to the GC at 11.30, and we’d need to be back by 3.15 to get on board the train. We’d already been warned that the train will leave without us, and the taxi fare to get back to Williams is US$160. Ouch. The Conductors tells us that two weeks earlier, one passenger was busy on his phone on board the train, talking to his wife who was not going to make it back in time. $160 later, they got back to Williams.

We had a map, and had already decided how far we could go without running out of time, and that basically meant staying in the same area, but moving about the buildings and walking along the edge of the rim. It is a stunning place to be – different from the West Rim we were at the other day, and just as breath-taking. Did we see people doing stupid things? Of course we did, natural selection and all that.

We went into a few shops, as you have to pass through some of them to get to excellent vantage points (of course), and while the views are amazing and the whole place reeking of majesty, since we were here last it’s gone very commercial. It felt like everything was there to get money off us. The Grand Canyon is a National Park, but boy the commercial operators there are doing their best to extract every tourist dollar they can. Sure, that’s their job, but it felt overboard. I went to buy a simple sandwich at the Fountain food stop. US$7.50 for something that didn’t look appetising at all. I stuck with a $2.75 pretzel instead. I can get a whole meal with coffee for $7.50, at a diner.

All too quickly, it was time to head back to the train, this time to Pullman Class. We didn’t get to walk past people in the cheap seats, but instead boarded directly onto the Pullman Class carriage. Not quite what I expected, for the extra money we got opening windows with shades. That was pretty much the difference. We had a new conductor in this carriage, a woman originally from Wisconsin, who wasn’t as funny as our first one, but still did well. She must get sick of saying the same things, day in day out.

One the way back, we did get ‘robbed’ after the train was forced to stop. Cowboys complete with bandanas and pistols boarded the train, and held us all to ransom. Or we just gave them money, I think that was pretty much the plan all along. It was fun, they made a few jokes and then made off with our hard-earned cash.

Day 10

It’s sort of cruisy day today, we’re leaving Williams and heading to Flagstaff for breakfast, then south to Phoenix for a few days at my cousin’s house. I’ve had some parcels delivered there, including the new head unit, so I’ve set aside at least one day to get some work done on the car.

We leave Williams and it’s a nice 19 degrees Celsius. It feels so much better outside than it has been, but then we’re pretty high up so chiller temperatures are to be expected.

Eventually we hit the road to Phoenix, and the temperature outside climbs more and more…until it hits 38 degrees – double what it was when we left Williams this morning.

The scary part is that when you actually get to the runaway truck ramp, you can see it’s been used quite a lot…

On the way to southern Phoenix, we stop in at Tom and his wife Jane’s house. I ‘met’ Tom through the Corvette Forum website, and he kindly suggests I stop in there on the way past, and we spend a few minutes checking out the pinking noise the engine is making occasionally. My wife rolls her eyes at this ‘five-minute job’ but agrees, it’s a pretty generous offer, especially since we’ve never met Tom or Jane.

We get to the town of Gilbert on the northern side of Phoenix, and spend some time chatting while the car’s engine cools down. It’s 38 degrees outside, and feels hotter in Tom’s garage, so it doesn’t really seem to cool down at all. Tom and I check the timing, and find that it’s 2 degrees retarded. Really, advancing it will only produce more pinking, but we adjust the timing anyway, and I take it for a test drive around the block. Tom is 6 foot 8, so he can’t even fit in the car. He has a C3 Corvette, and he fits in that okay.

But the car is the same. We try different things, throw around different ideas but in the end the problem beats us. It’s now around 5pm, and we’ve been at the house for nearly 3 hours. Not quite the 5-minute job I had thought it would be. Jane graciously asks us if we want to head out to dinner with them, since it would be a crazy idea to get anywhere near the interstate at this time, and we agree. We head off to Joe’s Real BBQ in Gilbert township. It’s Wednesday night, but the place is almost packed, and the smells coming out of the kitchen make my stomach rumble.

The reason Joe’s Real BBQ is packed – the food is excellent. It’s a real come-as-you-are restaurant, and worthy of a visit if you as passing through Phoenix.

We get to my cousin’s house at 9pm, and it’s still 35 degrees. Welcome to Phoenix!

Day 11

It’s a working-on-the-car day today. I have an ambitious plans of:

  • Installing the new head unit
  • Installing the reversing camera
  • Replacing the O2 sensor
  • Replacing the wiper blades
  • Fixing the drooping headlining
  • Replacing the rear hatch struts.

With a whole day set aside for car stuff, I’m feeling I might get most of this list done.

First off, I went to get the new head unit in, as then I can get started on the reversing camera. After watching a You Tube video, I remove 5 screws to pull off the facia plate. The plate comes off easily, and the ‘old’ single DIN Kenwood stereo with it. Five-minute job! The Kenwood that was in the car is a modern one, with Spotify, Pandora and iHeartRadio capability. But I really want Apple CarPlay, so we can use GPS more easily, and also the single DIN stereo in that double DIN slot looks terrible.

Before shot

After removing the Kenwood from the facia plate, I’m feeling pretty good. If I can get the new stereo in in say an hour, I’m on track. Then I have a look at the wiring that’s behind it all. For less than $20, you can buy a connection kit that joins the Corvette wiring loom by way of a plug, then the other end is the wires you need to connect to your new head unit. So simple. But no…the previous owner who put the head unit in, cut the wires away from the blocks and then crimp connected them to the head unit. I mark the wires anyway, but it does mean more time, where I could have just joined onto a connection kit.

I’ve purchased a Metra mounting kit; it comes with all sorts of stuff, but all I’m after are the two plastic mounting plates that are made for my year of Corvette. I screw them onto the new Sony head unit, then do a test-mount. It looks good, and I won’t need to cut anything. The only drawback is that the previous owner also cut away at the facia plate to get the new head unit in, and now you can see those gaps either side of the new one. I can easily buy a new facia plate for $50, so that will be added to the must-buy list.

Before screwing the head unit in place, I need to sort out the wiring. Joining the speakers up should be painless, but I’m working inside my cousin’s garage in Phoenix, Arizona, and it’s 35 degrees inside the garage. I have two huge fans cranked up, but still I’m sweating and the wires keep slipping through my fingers as I’m joining them. Argh. Regardless, I get them hooked up, and then the trouble started. As usual, there’s a wire from the head unit for a constant 12-volt feed, and then the second wire that hooks into the accessory circuit, so the stereo only comes on with the key.

The next 4 hours (I wish I was joking) was spent pulling more and more of the car apart, searching for a wire that would give me 12 volts on accessory position on the key, or even with key on. It’s stinking hot, I’m sweating like a pig and now I’m crawling around under the steering wheel where there’s no room at all, and half the interior is now laying on the floor of the garage, along with assorted screws. Not fun.

I gave up at this point, and resorted to using the forums at www.corvetteforum.com/forums and ask the question; while all the Googling in the world says the accessory wire should be orange, why I don’t have an orange wire?  Not helping is that I don’t have a 12-volt tester, so I’m using a method of just seeing if the head unit turns on when I use a short piece of wire to hook into a plug. Anyway, within minutes someone replies and says use pink/black. Bingo. I find one under the steering wheel, and it works.

At this point, I started to put the car back together. It’s 4pm, and I’ve been on this since 930. But the feeling of actually getting somewhere keeps me moving, even if my arms and back are aching, and I’ve got cuts and scratches on my hands. It all goes back together nicely, and I flag attempting to put the reversing camera in. Too tired to do more wiring, and really I’m over it for the day.

I do put the new struts in for the hatchback glass, but another problem. I’ve purchased some that are supposed to have the connectors for the heated rear window, but they send me ones that don’t. I stick them in anyway, and I’ll have to get them to send the correct ones.

There’s just enough energy for me to replace the O2 sensor. The car has been pinking a little too much for my liking. Possibly it’s the altitude, but again the Corvette forums suggest replacing the O2 sensor to see if it resolves it. First thing this morning I popped into O’Reilly auto parts and picked up a new one for $20, and also borrowed their O2 sensor removal tool (for free). Finally, something that actually goes the way I planned. In less than 15 minutes, I’ve got the new O2 sensor in place.

With some success, I push on to replace the wiper blades, last job I can cope with. These were purchased from an O’Reillys in Los Angeles, and was told they were the right ones for the car. They aren’t. Sure, they go onto the arms, but they hit the bonnet, and there’s no way they are going to work. I shoot back to the local O’Riellys to take the O2 sensor tool back, and the wiper blades. The guy there takes me to a shelf, and hands me another set. “I bet you a million dollars, these will work,” he says. We go out to the car, and they don’t fit. Same problem – hitting the bonnet. I should have taken that bet. The guy goes out the back of the store, and returns with some blades by themselves – and that’s it. This is all I needed anyway, so I’ll fit them tomorrow, and also fix the headlining.

The drive back to the house doesn’t seem to produce any pinking at all, but the real test will be when the car is loaded up. So far though, it’s looking good.

The reversing camera? Mentally, I’m not prepared to have another go at that one tomorrow. I tried to install it in LA, but gave up. I have a garage to use now, but after today’s efforts, I’m struggling to find the inclination to get all sweaty again. We’ll see.

Day 12

Another day working on the car today, or hopefully much less than a day. My body is no longer a temple, as I get aches from all muscles after yesterday’s workout, under the dash.

Almost done scraping all the old glue off

Today should be much easier; I pull the removable top off the car to fix the headliner. It’s sagging down right across it, and rubs on my head while I’m driving and looks terrible. I manage to get the headliner off in ten minutes, then spend ten more scraping off the old glue, and vacuuming it up. Then I used a can of spray glue to coat the foam, press the headliner back in and tuck it into the sides. This was all done in less than half an hour, so after yesterday’s marathon, I’m feeling pretty good. I get the new wiper blades trimmed down to size, and even vacuum the car and clean the windows.

Almost done and looking a whole lot better

Then I get a message from Tom, from the Corvette Forum. He suggests we really should have changed the spark plugs, to see if that fixes the pinking. I had thought about that the other day too, but looking at the spark plugs put me off; one bank looks impossible to get to. Since the engine would be far too hot if I drove to Tom’s house again, so incredibly he says he’ll drive the 50 miles to where we are staying (yes, Phoenix is bloody enormous) and bring all the tools we need.

Tom arrives early afternoon, and we start to pull the spark plugs on the left bank – the easy ones. They look ancient, and possibly original, and one has some carbon build up, which could contribute to the pinking. We decide to head off to get new plugs, thereby putting off the ugly job of pulling the plugs on the right hand bank. Another visit to O’Riellys auto parts, and surprise, they don’t carry them in stock for my car. Not to worry he says, pay for them now and you can drive the ten minutes to the warehouse and pick them up from there. It sounds like a plan, and I pay for the plugs, but hitting the interstate to get to the warehouse is a nightmare. It’s only 2pm, but traffic is already building up. We get back to the house in 30 minutes, then while Tom gaps and installs the new plugs on the left bank, I tackle the right bank.

After 20 minutes, I managed to remove the spark plug leads, which were hard enough by themselves. I soldier on, and pull the first plug, then am stumped. The only way to move onwards is to remove the centre plastic wheel well cover. This is only 6 bolts, and allows me to pull the second plug. I ignore the third plug – it’s right behind the header – and move to the fourth plug in the bank. This one was actually the easiest, and takes only a few minutes to get out. But that third plug…not going anywhere. I ended up pulling off the wheel arch cover that’s on the rear of the front wheel as well, and manage to get the spark plug socket and ratchet in there, but it’s not going anywhere, still the wrong angle.

Tom suggests that we pop along to the O’Riellys (again!) and but a flexible head for the extension bar, as this is something he didn’t bring with him, and he feels confident it will work. I’m not so sure, but I know leaving one spark plug out would drive me crazy. So we head back again to O’Riellys – I’m almost on first-name terms now – and buy a flexible head, and go back to the house.

This helps, but it feels like the spark plug has been torqued up to 100lbs in the alloy head. Then the noise came. A crack, that didn’t sound good. Yup, insulator broken, so no choice now, the plug has to come out. With a lot more brute force, I get the plug out.

Thankfully, it was only 45 minutes or so to get all the plugs back in – with some thread grease on them to make them easier next time. Everything is put back on the car, and a drive down the road and it feels like a new car. It has a lot more get up and go, and is smoother too. Should have replaced them in LA. The pinking seems to have stopped now, so that’s a bonus, and it’s good piece of mind knowing all the plugs are new.

That’s it for today, my body aching worse than ever. Time for a beer.

Day 13

We had great plans to get away early from Phoenix today, but it didn’t happen. It was 9am when we left, so that’s not too bad. 28 degrees outside, as we headed towards the I40 and then the I17, to retrace our route we took to get to Phoenix three days ago.

Saguaro cactus, which only grows in Arizona

We start the climb from the 1,000 feet above sea level that Phoenix is, and will end up 7,000 feet up when we get to Flagstaff. This will be a good test of the Corvette’s cooling system. Halfway, we stop off at Rock Springs Café, which is famous for its pies. Not meat pies, but dessert pies. The café has been running since 1918, so we’re pretty sure they have their pies sorted out, and it turns out, they have. We grab an apple and rhubarb slice, and it’s delicious. The car park is pretty full; this seems to be a well-known venue.

Road legal, and at the pie shop

The drive goes on, up and up. In two hours, we get to Flagstaff, and turn right to head east towards Albuquerque. The speed limit has been 75mp/h pretty much all the way, and it will stay at that all day, and the temperature is now down to a nice 20 degrees. The car’s cooling system has coped just fine, and barely raised above halfway up the gauge. True to the Route 66 song, we don’t forget Winona, and pull off the interstate to see what all the fuss is about. There’s not a lot to see in Winona; a few houses scattered about, and a single gas station. We grab some cold water from the Shell, and also get a free ‘Don’t forget Winona’ sticker. Winona hasn’t quite cashed in on the song lyrics of Route 66 yet. We’ll be getting to Winslow soon, we’ve been there before and that town totally milks the lyrics of Take It Easy.

The most prominent thing in Winona

Back on the interstate we go, and shoot through to Winslow. Do we play Take It Easy as we roll into town? Of course we do – it’s a local law I think. While Winona was a bit of a ghost town, Winslow is the opposite. There are people standing on a corner next to a flat deck Ford, the cafes are busy, and the Route 66 souvenir shops are pumping.

Stunning Chev El Camino in Winslow

Avoiding the Route 66 sorts of diners, we walk up the road to a café the locals use, the Brown Mug Café. We’re sold as soon as we walk in the door, as we are asked if we want coffee. We’re the only tourists in the café, so yes, this will do for lunch. Although, there is a plaque on the wall thanking the café for its support of the local baseball team…in 1988. Sometimes I think there should be a law on just how long you can keep something like this on the wall…

Hitting the road again, we do the 30-minute drive to Holbrook, still in Arizona. We’ve been through here a few times before. This time we’re tempted to stay at the Wigwam Motel, but can’t quite bring ourselves to do it. Instead, we stay right across the road at the Globetrotter Motel, still right on Route 66.

Just saw an ad for the new Chrysler Pacifica people mover on TV, while writing this. The Pacifica comes complete with a built-in vacuum cleaner. Not sure where they can go to from here…add in a coffee maker?

Roads are so much smoother here than LA!

Day 14

Breakfast at the Globetrotter was great – actual scrambled eggs made hot for us (not powdered), real jams, and they even had a little New Zealand flag on the table, just for us. Little things, but much appreciated.

This is a longish drive day to Albuquerque, New Mexico. This will be our third state to visit. Leaving Holbrook was easy enough, and within 30 minutes we were at our first stop, the Petrified Forest. There was a ‘museum’ just inside the turnoff, so we pulled in to check the museum out and use their restrooms. Hmmm. The museum consists of one wall about 20 feet long with some old Native American baskets inside display cases, and a few other trinkets. The rest of the huge place was simply a shop. The toilets were both shut off for use. We didn’t spend long there – not recommended at all.

View down to the visitors centre at the Petrified Forest

This is a national park, so it’s $20 for a car to get inside the park gates, when you go past the first ‘museum’. It’s a beautiful place, and is a must-see destination. There is petrified wood everywhere you look, as well as stunning vistas. We stopped in at the official visitor’s centre, and checked out the movie showing (well worth it) and read some of the info. Then it was off behind the visitor’s centre to walk around some of the petrified wood, and read the supplied info. It was ‘only’ 25 degrees outside, so was easily bearable.

From there, we continued through the park in the car. It’s a nicely sealed road, with a 45mp/h speed limit. Since it was Sunday and still early, we barely saw another car. Next stop was the ‘agate bridge’ – a huge tree that had fallen, been petrified and was walked on by the visitors of the 1930s. You can’t walk on it now, but it was cool to see it, and the huge expanse of landscape behind it.

Next stop was some petroglyphs, that you weren’t allowed to go up to, but could use the binoculars to look at them. It was like being right in front of them, and since the stop was ten seconds off the main road, worthy of a look. It was here we saw some crows; huge birds, with big menacing-looking beaks. One sat on top of a sign, and was not afraid of us in the slightest. Scary birds.

After that, we headed to the Painted Desert. Another stunning place, with incredible variations of colours to be seen. An amazing natural beauty to witness. For our $20, you get to see sights you aren’t going to see anywhere else in the world, and apparently the Petrified Forest is the largest in the world. From one of the vantage points on the Painted Desert, you can see 108 miles (!) into the distance.

Further along the road from the Painted Desert is a slice of the original Route 66. This is the only national park to actually have some of it left inside the park. Okay, there’s not a lot to see, but it’s there. We were here last in 2007 and there was only a bumper off a ’59 Caddy, but now they’ve added a 1936 (?) Dodge to add some history to the site.

It was time to get back on to the I40 interstate, set the cruise control at 75mp/h (or thereabouts) and head to Gallup, New Mexico. At last we’d be hitting another state. I’ve got to say, we were a bit disappointed with Gallup. For some reason, we both thought it’d be lit up like Seligman, and cashing in on all the people going to the old Route 66 towns. Not so. We simply drove along for mile after mile, seeing very little memorabilia. We did spot a Route 66 diner, but it was shut.

Incredibly, just off the interstate is the Continental Divide. It’s a point where water either flows to the Atlantic or Pacific Oceans. It’s a little weird to just stand there, and imagine water on one side flowing into a different ocean than water on the other side.

After Gallup, back on the interstate. At one point, we pulled into a Love’s Truck Stop to get some coffee, and there gassing up was an ancient motorhome, totally decked out like something out of The Walking Dead. Three girls were driving the RV to Edwards, California to Wasteland Weekend, a huge post-apocalyptic festival that happens every year. And that isn’t a wrap on their RV – they pretty much just started throwing paint at it.

Back on the interstate again, and finally I see the signs I’ve been waiting for. “Minimum speed left lane, 65mp/h”. So if you are in the ‘fast’ lane, do at least 65mp/h or move over. We also see “Keep right unless passing” signs every mile or two. If only New Zealand drivers could read signs. After a few more hours of steady 75mp/h, we arrived in Albuquerque, for the night. Tomorrow it’s 4 hours’ driving to Amarillo, but there’ll be more stops along the way, no doubt. My only hope is that my wife doesn’t buy too much more stuff. My vision out the back window of the Corvette is getting smaller and smaller…

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2019 USA Road Trip – part 5: Days 4-7 https://www.drivelife.co.nz/2019/09/2019-usa-road-trip-part-5-days-4-7/ https://www.drivelife.co.nz/2019/09/2019-usa-road-trip-part-5-days-4-7/#respond Mon, 16 Sep 2019 05:00:04 +0000 https://www.drivelife.co.nz/?p=44340 Day 4

This morning, Best Buy will be installing the new double-din head unit with Apple Car Play, so we can use GPS on our phones more easily. I had given Best Buy all the details on email so knew they’d be prepared in advance, and nothing would go wrong. Or so I thought.

I rocked up for my 10.30 appointment, to find that they hadn’t ordered the mounting kit needed for my car. Yes, the request was in the email I had sent, saying what I wanted done and what they needed to supply, but that didn’t get read apparently. They did try calling me they said, but didn’t bother emailing. How long to get a mount kit? At least 7 days. I was out of there at that point, no reason to hang around.

So instead I’ve ordered the mount kit and the head unit I want online, and am having them sent to my cousin’s house in Phoenix, and I’ll do the install myself. I’d normally install it myself anyway, but a lack of tools doesn’t make me keen to try.

This will become a familiar sight…

Back at the Air BNB, I took the reversing cam out of the box, wanting to spend the now spare-time installing the cable for it, so it will be ready to connect to the head unit in Phoenix. On a hot Los Angeles day, there I was outside in the sun, trying to run a cable from the back of the Corvette to the front. I have the cuts to prove it. Those who say General Motors cars of the 90s were not well made should try doing this. Everything is tight, very few gaps and everything really well made and designed. But that means it’s almost impossible to get that cable through from the number plate to the inside of the car. I spend 90 minutes in the sun, dismantling more and more of the car to try and get that freaking cable to the cabin.

YouTube suggests that I can route it through the same hole as the antenna cable, but I can only just see that grommet, let alone trying to get another cable through there. Oh, for a drill. I give up at this point, and it will have to wait until Phoenix as well.

Day 5

We’d always planned to take the car for a decent drive today, to see how she runs for the long trip ahead. On the advice of the previous owner, we headed to Mt Baldy, which apparently has some awesome driving roads and views. Since it’s a good 90 minutes’ drive away, it was going to be a good way to see how the car behaves.

But, LA…couldn’t live there. The traffic is horrendous, and we spent a lot of time either stopped, or crawling along. Our fuel economy since I first filled the tank is 19.8L/100km. Not good.

Hopefully roads like this will improve our fuel consumption

After forever, we got to the road that leads to Mt Baldy, which is actually a ski field in the winter. Who knew? We drive up the mountain, noting the bear crossing sign on the way up. It is a stunning place, and instantly reminds us of Colorado more than California. A quick drive around at the highest point you can drive to, we headed down to a parking area and took a walk along the side of a river. I must admit, this is a pretty nice place and so very different from LA.

No chance of snowballs today

We grabbed a coffee at Mt Baldy Lodge on the way down (still 4,000 feet above sea level though), and then turned right onto Glendora Ridge Road. It was at the point that I thought we’d found the ‘driver’s road’ that the previous owner had talked about. He said this is the road that a lot of guys in LA take their cars out to test them on.

I have a good feeling about this road

I can see why. It’s quiet – we only come across a few other cars – and the corners are to die for. Tight 10mp/h turns, dips and rises, and a stunning view to go with it, as we drive along the ridge. It’s a excellent place to take the Corvette, and I’ve got to say it’s impressed me on this road. The car may be 29 years old, but the turn-in is superb, the steering feel excellent and the cornering almost flat. It almost falls into the turns, and responds beautifully to acceleration coming out of them. From memory, the C4 Corvette was the first production car to break 1.0g, and it shows. Those 275/40 tyres do not want to let go. The brakes could do with a bit more power and a lot more feel, but the rest of the car is perfect on this road.

Superb views from Glendora Ridge Road

This road goes on off for 20 or so miles, when we wind back down and into civilisation. That was fun.

As well as actual corners!

 Lunchtime now, and we head to the old Route 66 and find a diner called Mr Ds. As you can imagine, they’re cashing in on being on Route 66, with Mother Road memorabilia adorning the walls, booths with red vinyl and a juke box in the corner. Still, the food is good, and the prices not bad either.

We left Mr Ds, crossed the road and then I felt it. Puncture. Hobbling along (on my new tyres!), I pulled off the road and spent some time lowering the spare tyre. Luckily I had already checked it to make sure it was there and had air in, and where the jack and wheel brace were. But oh man, it was hot. Thirty-four degrees, and I’m outside doing physical work. I got it done as quickly as possible, then headed to the closest American Tires store, for a free puncture repair. It only took an extra hour out of our day, and now I have actually put the spare on, I know the story. But I’m hoping that’s the first and last time. The spare is a space saver, and there’s no way the normal wheel would fit into the spare carrier, so if we are loaded up and on the road, there’s no places to put the wheel except maybe on my wife’s lap.

It was time to head back to our Air BNB, and the traffic meant it took two solid hours. But we had achieved what we set out to do, and the car is all set for the next 5 weeks and 10,000km. We hope.

Day 6

Not even one week in, 5 weeks to go, and the boot is full

This is it – today we hit the road proper. We headed straight to Santa Monica Pier, the Saturday traffic seeming to be as bad as the rest of the week. Santa Monica Pier isn’t actually the original location of the end point of Route 66, but there’s an official sign there, and the location was sort of moved to there by local businessman. It will do for us.

And yes, I know – this is the end of Route 66, not the beginning. Route 66 was for all those people wanting to come from the other side of America to the West Coast. But being Kiwis, we do it a little differently, so we are doing Route 66 in reverse. Get over it.

Obligatory photo done, we grabbed coffee and hit the road. We’re trying to do Route 66 where we can, but also being mindful that if we did, it would take forever. You can still drive through longish stretches of Route 66 in places like Pasadena or San Bernardino, but there are literally hundreds of sets of traffic lights to go through to do it. We’re going to aim for the highlights, or places where we’ve already decided we want to go.

We cruised through Pasadena and San Bernardino though, then on toward Barstow, our first official stop. Getting off the I40 interstate, Barstow is only a minute from the off ramp. It’s a quieter town now, but still quaint in places, and they are definitely cashing in on Route 66 status, with lots of signs along the side of the road. Time to grab a coffee and some donuts, incredibly the donut shop did not have AC, and with the heat of the ovens in there, it felt like an oven in the shop. Crazy.

Onwards we drove, and then pulled off the interstate into the town of Needles, which has the award for one of the hottest places in the USA. It’s done it for us too, as for the first time the temperature outside hits 108 degrees, or 42 Celsius.

Needles all done, we headed off to go to the old mining town of Oatman, Arizona. Actually, heading out of Needles we crossed a bridge into Arizona, our second state for this trip.

As a family, we went to Oatman ten years ago with our kids, telling them all about the wild burros. Burros roam the streets we said, eating food from your hand. In 2009, it was too hot and there were no burros to be seen. This time though, we don’t even make it to Oatman, and stumble across some on the road – they were on the road itself. We pulled over, and sensing a chance of food, they almost ran to us. We didn’t have any food, but they were still friendly enough.

It was almost 6pm now, so we got back into the car and drove the last few miles into Oatman, passing more burros on the way. They are all very friendly, and will quickly approach you for food, with shops on the main street of this historic Route 66 town selling burro food. But we’re too late for any shops to be open, and if I’m honest, that was fine by me. The last time we came here it was packed with people. This time at 6pm, we were nearly the only ones there, and I even manage to get the car in the middle of the town for a photo, since there’s almost no traffic.

Darkness had come since being in Oatman, and without telling my wife, I’m really conscious of how low we are on fuel. The dash is telling me we’re running on reserve, and we’ve got another 26 miles of driving – some of it up hill, with lots of corners – to get to the next town of Kingman, where we’re going to stay tonight. I’m driving with fuel economy in mind now, coasting as much as possible and keeping a keen eye on my instant MPG figure on the dash. But we did make it, paying $3.19 a gallon to fill the car up with Premium, or around NZ$1.30 a litre.

That’s today over, as we book into a Quality Inn in Kingman, including a cooked breakfast for US$61 for the night. Tomorrow, it’s a drive to the West Rim of the Grand Canyon, where we can walk out onto a glass platform overlooking the canyon.

Still can’t believe this Corvette was $7500

Day 7

In the hotel car park. We see this a lot on the road, great way to move trucks

Today was going to be a long one, so it was time to fill up on a big cooked breakfast. For most hotels in the US, breakfast is included, but we’ve seen a huge variation in quality right across the US on other trips, with some of them bordering on inedible. The Quality Inn we stayed at in Kingman wasn’t quite at that level, but let’s just say I went with a continental breakfast for a reason. The scrambled eggs (always powered, always rubbery) looked terrible, the sausages looked like they’d been out partying all night, and the hash browns were simply bits of grated potato thrown on a hot plate for a few seconds. No thank you.

After a non-cooked breakfast, we headed away from Kingman and drove straight to the West Rim of the Grand Canyon. Almost no traffic on the road, we only passed a few cars in an hour of driving. Fine by me, as I let the car have its head a few times where it was safe.

Not the sort of sign we see at New Zealand rest areas, I’m happy to say
So little traffic!

In 2007 we went to the Grand Canyon, as the West Rim attraction was still in construction. This includes a glass walkway, sticking out from the canyon wall, so you can see directly below you to the bottom, 2,000 feet away. It was hot as hell – around 38 degrees before lunchtime – and crowds weren’t too bad at all. We’d picked a good day/time to be here. The walk out over the canyon was breath-taking in some ways, but we were a bit put off. The entire time we were outside trying to take in the majesty of the location, all we could hear were the professional photographers telling people how to stand, were to look etc, so they could take a bunch of photos to sell to them. It took the edge off the visit, and we didn’t spend half as long on the glass walkway as we had planned. For the extra cost of doing that part of it, we wouldn’t do it again.

But we did do the zip lining over the canyon. It doesn’t actually go over the full canyon, but parts of it. It’s been featured in Amazing Race, so we knew we’d have to do it. After paying US$71 each, we got geared up and taken to the first platform, which takes you 1,000 feet to another platform, with the highest point 500 feet above the canyon floor. I was a bit disappointed with the ride. Sure, it was great to look down, but I only hit 32mp/h on the ride, and felt like I could have gone twice as fast. Once on the next platform, were got geared up again, and then went on a 2,000 foot ride, with the canyon floor 700 feet below us. Very picturesque, but this time I only managed 29mp/h, and for me the ride was about the speed. Still worth doing, but not if you’re in it for a fast ride.

Views of the Grand Canyon from the West Rim are stunning

That over, it was the end of the day and we headed to back to Kingman, then on through Peach Springs, to our overnight stay at the Grand Canyons Caverns. They have cabins here, so we are booked in, and tomorrow we’ll do the caverns tour, and then spend the rest of the day on Route 66 exploring some of the smaller towns.

The road up to the West Rim is amazing; smooth and lots of excellent corners

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