Beautiful and breezy Palm Springs, California was the idyllic backdrop for Heels & Wheels, a media event exclusively for female automotive journalists and female manufacturer representatives. Produced by Christine Overstreet (Overstreet Events and PR), the purpose of the media drive was to introduce a variety of vehicles to female members of the press, and to get feedback on everything from the design and ride of the cars to the functionality of the cars’ storage capacity from our unique perspective. Over 30 ladies were in attendance representing an impressive selection from the automotive industry’s powers that be, including MotorWeek, News Week, CNET, Kelly Blue Book, Edmunds, and of course Automotive Rhythms. But the real guests of honor were the autos provided by Chevrolet, Chrysler, Dodge, GMC, Honda, Hyundai, Kia, Mazda, Mitsubishi, Saab, and Volvo.
The eleven available vehicles for the test drive ranged from hybrids to luxury cars to SUVs and minivans. I experienced ten out of eleven, specifically the 2012 MAZDA5, 2011 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport SE, 2012 Honda Civic Hybrid, 2011 Chrysler Town & Country Limited, 2011 Dodge Journey Crew AWD, 2011 Volvo C70, 2011 GMC Acadia Denali, 2011 Chevy Cruze Eco, 2011 Hyundai Tucson and 2011 Saab 9-5.
Best in Show: Of course, there is not much that’s more subjective than what makes an automobile great. Depending on your age, where you live and your lifestyle in general, choosing the vehicle that is best for you is really, well up to you. However there are a few features and options that make some vehicles stand out in the crowd of options that are available to today’s savvy and tech hungry car buyers.
GMC Acadia Denali: I spent the majority of my time in this attractive crossover vehicle, driving and riding in it for the 2-hours back and forth from Los Angeles to Palm Springs. A few of the “pros” for the Acadia Denali, in addition to its looks, were its smooth ride and stylish and roomy interior for front and rear seat passengers. The Acadia Denali’s 3.6-liter V6 engine with 288 hp and 270 lb-ft of torque provided impressive pick-up and power as we motored along LA’s highways to our destination for the weekend, the Viceroy Palm Springs and back to LA. Additionally, the vehicle’s “slippery” accoutrements (i.e. the outside mirrors, the flap behinds the back tires, etc.) were all aerodynamically constructed to ensure no air disruption of the Acadia’s forward motion and the crossover comes fully loaded, almost everything is standard except for a few features like the audio system with navigation and the rear seat entertainment system.
MAZDA5: For me, the MAZDA5 was a joy to drive. I’m the first to admit I’m a bit of a speed demon, and this little car can go. At first glance, I wasn’t sure what class the vehicle fell into, but the two sliding doors made me curious. After reading the specs, I was surprised to learn that it is indeed considered a minivan. The vehicle’s 4-cylinder engine with its 157 hp and 163 lb-ft of torque zipped up and down the Palm Spring roads, and the car did surprisingly well for its small size in the wind tunnel portion of the test drive. Although there aren’t a lot of bells and whistles, (no navigation, simplistic dash, etc.), the vehicle’s spacious interior offers plenty of passenger and cargo space and has a lot of stylish and appealing little details (e.g., the contrasting stitching in the seats). Additionally, the easy fold-down seats make it a great tailgating vehicle. Add in an economical starting price of $19,195 and you can see why the MAZDA5 ended up being a fan favorite.
Volvo C70: There’s nothing like riding along the open road, top down, wind in your hair and sunshine beaming all around you. Well actually, accomplishing all of the above in the Volvo C70 can only make the scenario more enjoyable. The C70 is a beautiful and elegant vehicle that gets noticed. It’s quick, with its 227 and 236 lb-ft of torque, and easily glides up and down the road. The C70’s hardtop retracts in a long 30 seconds at the touch of a button and is surprisingly spacious for a convertible. It seats 4 adults, albeit not comfortably for an extended trip. In keeping with Volvo tradition, the C70 boasts a lot of safety features including their rollover protection system, side impact protection system, reinforced passenger compartment, side head and side-impact airbags for the driver and the front seat passenger, and all seats have three-point seatbelts with pre-tensioners. The C70 starts at $39,950.
Saab 9-5: If sleek, panther-like vehicles are your thing, then take a look at the Saab 9-5. This car, with its aggressive stance and beautiful exterior, is a head turner. It sits low to the ground, hugs the road, and its V6 and 300 hp put out a nice amount of power, getting from 0-60 mph in 6.6 seconds. We drove the Aero model which comes fully loaded with features like keyless entry, corner brake control, electronic stability program, Saab XWD (all/cross-wheel drive), aluminum sport pedals, 12V power outlets, Aero sports leather steering wheel, dark titanium-effect trim, keyless start (actually a point of contention with some of the Saab enthusiasts on the test drive who missed the signature cockpit like key slot on the console), panoramic moonroof, rain sensor, Bluetooth phone integration system, OnStar, headlight washers, and plenty of safety features like the active head restraints, anti-theft alarm, seat belt pretensioners/load-limiters, and tire pressure monitoring system. All of this can be yours starting at $49,565.
“Fuelly” Functional: With rising fuel costs becoming more of a burden on American drivers, manufacturers are looking to introduce products that can offer some relief at the pump. Alternative fuel vehicles are booming, and rightfully so.
Honda Civic Hybrid: As one of the first car companies to enter into the Hybrid vehicle market, Honda is ahead of the game when it comes to offering fuel efficient technology. Although the Civic Hybrid is not very exciting in the looks department, its seamless integration of hybrid technology is impressive and the car’s intelligent Multi-Information Display (i-MID) is a pretty nifty tool. The i-MID displays the vehicle’s drive information, allowing you to see how efficiently you’re driving with an indicator light that goes from blue to green; a display that shows whether or not gas or battery is the power source currently fueling the vehicle and it also shows the basics, like what song is playing and the optional Navigation system. The 4-cylinder engine and the lithium-ion battery pack puts out 44 mpg on the highway and in the city. The suggested starting price is $24,050.
Chevrolet Cruze Eco: Chevy has a winner on its hands with their Cruze model; in the first quarter of 2011 they sold over 1.1 million units of the vehicle, their best first quarter ever. The Cruze Eco could have easily gone under the “Best in Show” category because it’s very attractive for its class, has a roomy and pleasant interior and a smooth ride. But because the 1.4-liter turbocharged, 138-hp engine achieves 42 mpg on the highway it seemed only right to tuck it into the fuel efficiency column. The Chevy Cruze offers a lot of bang for the buck with amenities typically found on more upscale vehicles like Bluetooth, USB port, Pioneer 9-speaker audio system, navigation and 18” aluminum wheels. It also doesn’t skimp on safety either, the Cruze is an IIHS Top Safety Pick and offers features like stability control with rollover sensing system, traction control, ABS, OnStar, and 10 standard airbags. Pricing starts at $19,175.
Bang for your Buck: We all know that sometimes, affordability really is the determining factor for buyers, especially those new to the auto market. When that’s the case, test drive as many cars as possible, because there are a lot of economic options available that give you a lot of amenities at a great value various spending levels.
Mitsubishi Outlander Sport: What makes this cute little crossover SUV impressive is that it’s chock-full of standard features. The Outlander Sport’s color multi-information display, active stability control with hill start assist, seven airbag safety system (which includes a driver’s knee airbag), all-wheel control, one-touch start/stop engine switch, FUSE hands-free link system with USB port, and magnesium alloy paddle shifters are just a few of the features that come standard. Basically, the only optional features are the 9-speaker Rockford Fosgate audio system, the panoramic glass roof with adjustable LED mood lighting and the navigation system. The biggest downside for me is that the 148-hp 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine didn’t put out a lot of oomph, but with a starting price of $22,995, the lack of power is not enough to take away from the Outlander’s appeal.
Hyundai Tucson: Hyundai’s entry in the crossover SUV market offers a lot for little, starting at just $18,895. I didn’t actually drive the vehicle, but as a backseat passenger I appreciated the ample legroom that the cabin offered, and although the model we were in wasn’t plush or luxurious, it boasted a good-looking interior and my personal favorite, plenty of cupholders! The inline 4, 16-valve, 176-hp engine gives the SUV a decent amount of power and it comes with the option of front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive.
Baby (or Little League Soccer Team) on Board: Like I said before, lifestyle plays a big part in determining the vehicle that’s the best fit for a driver and/or her family. Typically, with the addition of children comes the need for something larger with more storage capacity or on the other end of the spectrum empty nesters looking to pack the vehicle to capacity and hit the road may also be attracted to the large SUV/minivan segment.
Chrysler Group – Dodge Journey Crew and the Chrysler Town & Country Limited: Both of these vehicles are large, offering plenty of room to shuttle your family to and fro. Being a city girl myself, the idea of having to parallel park one of these puppies on any of DC’s streets leaves little to be desired, but for drivers needing more room to lug the necessities of their lifestyles both vehicles fit the bill. The Dodge Journey Crew has plenty of storage space, and the front passenger seat folds flat, allowing enough space to fit an eight foot ladder. It also comes with a built in booster seat and plenty of cargo space. The 283-hp, 3.6-liter V6 engine gives the Journey plenty of get up and go, and overall the vehicle is eye-catching. Pricing starts at $30,940.
With its long base and rigid steering, the Chrysler Town & Country was a little laborious to drive in the beginning, but after hitting the open road, the minivan’s ride smoothed out, thanks in part to the all-new 3.6-liter Pentastar V6 engine that puts out 283-hp. And storage is a breeze for the Town & Country, it has two types of seating (low-back bucket seats and “stow-n-go” seating) and plenty of storage compartments which allow for different storage and seating configurations including the second and third row seats folding into the floor leaving 143.8 cubic feet of space. The Town & Country Limited starts at $38,660.