2014 Arizona International Auto Show

Going to the Arizona International Auto Show with my friends has become an annual tradition. This show travels to over a dozen major US cities and always comes to Phoenix for Thanksgiving weekend.

Last year we did something a little bit different. Instead of walking the floor and looking at all of the new models, we stayed outside and went on a bunch of test drives instead. That was so much fun that we did the same thing again!

This year, I drove 7 different vehicles in one day. I tried to pick some cars that were different from my usual go-fast machines. Here are my impressions of the cars I drove this year:

2014 Kia Sorento SUV

I drove the Optima Limited with the 2.0 Turbo last year and was thoroughly impressed with it. Rather than take it for a lap of Phoenix three years in a row, I picked something completely different: a V6 crossover SUV. One thing I really liked was the panoramic glass roof. It had excellent visibility, especially for the rear passengers.

The ride quality was nice and it had a lot of options like heated and cooled seats – things that would have seemed utterly laughable on a Kia just a decade ago. My test drive was short and I didn’t really have a chance to get on it. I really don’t know anything about how it compares to other similar vehicles, but it’s a Kia so it’s probably a good value for the money.

2014 Ford Fusion SE EcoBoost

I am smitten with the look of this car the way a teenage girl might be if Justin Bieber happened to walk by. It just looks gorgeous, like a little baby Aston Martin! This Fusion SE features the optional turbochaged and direct-injected 4-cylinder EcoBoost motor that makes 260 horsepower and yet still delivers 22mpg city and 33mpg highway. it’s got both power and economy with no compromises. Any way you slice it, that’s impressive. This is easily the car I would take home and introduce to my parents.

2014 Lincoln Navigator

The perfect word to describe this car is “traditional.” Lincoln may be going high-tech with their other vehicles, but the Navigator is going into the future kicking and screaming. It has a regular key instead of a push-button start. It has an old fashioned gear shifter instead of buttons. It has analog dials on the dashboard instead of a screen.

The Navigator has a single engine choice – the 5.4L V8 which returns just 14 mpg city and 20 mpg highway. If you hate change and fear the future, you’d better buy a Navigator right now because it’s getting completely redesigned for 2015 with three engine choices, including the twin-turbo 3.5L EcoBoost from the F150.

2014 Lincoln MK X SUV

Going from the Navigator to the MKX felt like being transported forward in time by about 10 years. The MKX felt a lot more nimble and manageable than the Navigator. That thing felt like a tank, whereas this was more akin to driving a Jeep – if Jeep made a luxury SUV.

The MKX was designed to impress, and everything inside felt really nice. Every surface you could touch was soft with wood, leather, and a nice big screen in the dash. Build quality was excellent with very little road noise. Between this and the Navigator, this is the one I’d prefer to live with as a daily driver.

2014 Scion FR-S

Scion (Toyota) have created a very interesting experience with the FR-S. It does a great job at fooling you into thinking you are driving a high-performance sports car. However, it’s really just a very expensive driving simulator. Let me explain:

The FR-S has a big tachometer with a shift light in the center of the instrument panel and paddle shifters on the steering wheel, which makes it look like a race car. The engine revs high and makes a lot of noise, which makes it sound like a race car. The electric steering has been programmed with different presets to make it feel like you are driving a nimble and responsive race car.

The car makes all of these promises of being a high-performance machine, but when you put your foot down, it’s a different story. You can prepare to get spanked by every V6 Mustang and 350Z on the road, because the FR-S only comes with a 2.0L, 4-cylinder boxer engine that makes 200 HP and 150 lb-ft of torque.

Comparing apples to apples, the Hyundai Genesis Coupe also comes with a 2.0L 4-cylinder engine, but it’s turbocharged and makes 274 HP. The Scion FR-S looks every bit as sharp as a sports coupe should but has none of the oomph to back it up. Another 100HP would have made this thing a lot more fun, but I found its acceleration to be underwhelming.

One thing I did like about the FR-S were the racing style seats. Upholstered in faux-suede, they were snug and supportive and very comfortable. Aside from being underpowered, I actually had fun test driving this car. Admitting that makes me a bit embarrassed, because I know that I fall precisely within the age/gender/income demographic that Scion is targeting with this car – but I still wouldn’t buy one. Sorry bro.

2014 Volkswagen Beetle Turbo R Convertible

Let me just state this up front: This is absolutely not a car I would ever consider buying. However, I am comfortable enough with my masculinity to have taken this car for a test drive.

I had just gone for a ride with Mike in the hardtop Beetle, so I opted to take the convertible around the block. The Turbo R engine makes 210 hp from a turbocharged 4-cylinder and it certainly felt quick. With the accelerator floored, the boost gauge pegged at 25psi which I didn’t believe for a second.

The Bauhaus-inspired dashboard was so full of long, geometric lines and negative space that I was overcome with a sudden urge to put some gel in my hair, become a graphic designer, and buy an iPhone that I could plug into the car’s Fender Audio system. Fighting back, I regained control of myself and drove back to the Volkswagen booth. This is the right car for someone, but not me.

2014 Volkswagen Passat TDI

If you spent your twenties tooling around in an lowered MKIII or MKIV Jetta or Golf R32 with a roof rack and some nice wheels, the Passat TDI is the car that will ferry you (and your girlfriend and kid) into your thirties.

The Passat is a bit bigger than the Jetta. It’s a diesel which gets really good mileage. It is, by all accounts, a practical, sensible car and a good value. Safe, reliable, and efficient. And also very boring.

Driving the Passat TDI was the automotive equivalent of eating plain cheese pizza. Sure, it got the job done but it did little to stir the senses or excite the soul. You can’t even hear the turbo and there’s nothing sexy about filling up your car with diesel, no matter how super-ultra-mega-low-sulfur it is.

When your breakfast switches from leftover pizza to Cheerios because they’re good for your heart and your radio switches from indie rock to NPR and you can’t remember your VWVortex password anymore or the last concert you went to and you wake up one morning with the horrifying realization that this thing you’ve thought of as your “job” for the past 5 years is actually a career and that most of your friends are really just co-workers and all those goals and ideals from your twenties are never going to happen and you’re just too tired to even care anymore, you are ready for the Passat. Drivers wanted.

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