Saturday, 27 OCT 12
A few weeks back, Mike had pulled out a copy of Car & Driver, turned to a random page, and tossed it over to me.
“We have to do this”.
“This” was an event at Gillette Stadium where we’d get the chance to test out four cars: A Honda Accord, a Hundai Sonata, a Toyota Camry, and a Nissan Altima. The goal wasn’t just to dick around with the cars though, they folks at Car & Driver had a plan for us – fully test the cars, review the specs and the rides, and then make a decision about which one was the best.
It was the definition of crisp fall morning when I showed up, but unfortunately when I showed up for almost 30min after Mike had shown up… and 40minutes after I was supposed to. Because of that I wasn’t able to get in on the same group that Mike was driving with – so I occupied myself waiting for the next group by relaxing, playing Plants Vs Zombies, and drinking down some excellently roasted coffee.
That… turned out to be a mistake. I should have remembered from my SCUBA trip down in Hawaii (Ed Note: See “Hawaiian Adventures: SCUBA Diving), but Coffee has the unfortunate side effect of giving me a rather impressive weakness to motion sickness. Not usually a problem, but… if you happen to be driving cars around an obstacle course… not really the opportune situation.
The first few runs were on the the closer course – named the”A”, or Atlantic, course by the roadhands who’d set everything up. This one was more of a quick-motion course versus a standard-issue race course – it started out with a dodging motion where you threw the car around a few cones stuck in the middle of the road, and then moved on to a few simple sweeping turns and then finishing up on a Slalome course.
The driving was quite awesome, and this was really the first time I’d ever gotten to really push a car to its limits. The tires screamed as I hauled the steering wheel around to dodge the cones in the road. The car shook and the brakes smoked when I cut around the slolumes.
It was awesome.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to feel awesome about how well I was able to handle the car, because I wasn’t grouped alone – each drive was done with a team of three… and my team was made up of two older guys who owned their own racing team. Motorcycle racing, but the skills were obviously transferable, since these guys knew how to drive.
The focus that they had when driving was almost scary, and the skill that they tossed the cars around with was jaw-dropping. They seriously were able to cut at least 15% of the time off my laps, and I don’t think they were even trying.
But as we went on, I got better as I absorbed some of their tricks and tips. Cutting the wheel a bit earlier, not being afraid to really lay into the brakes or accelerator, and knowing exactly what line to take when entering the courses. All of these little things added up to major differences in how I drove.
But, at the end of the day, the coffee won out. We had barely started into the second course, which was aptly called the Pacific Course, when I just couldn’t take any more. I bailed after the first lap, leaving the guys to finish the tests on their own while I completed a desperate battle against my stomach.
I finally won out against my rebellious stomach, thankfully, but by that point the driving was done and it was time to head into the final tent to give our total decisions on the cars. We were given specially-programmed iPads with a huge survey on them, and slowly but surely I worked through the list of questions they put to me. They were pretty evenly split between three main topics – performance, aesthetics, and the “general feel” of the cars.
My personal thoughts are as follows:
- Aethetics – Sonata, hands down. The other three were near-literal carbon copies of each other, whereas the Sonata actually had a bit of uniqueness to the body and design. Not much, mind you, but just enough that I could tell who made it without looking at the insignia.
- Drive – Here the Sonata lagged behind a bit, literally. The Camry and Altima had significantly more “get up and go” from my viewpoint, and though I didn’t get to test them out on the longer track they performed quite nicely on the short maneuverings of the Atlantic course.
- “Feel” – the enigmatic feel of a car… Impossible to describe, but I did honestly feel most connected to the Accord… if only because that’s what I currently drive. There really were very few similarities between the car I drove in, and the car I tested though. The 23 years between my cars manufacture and these test cars showed a lot of changes, but I could still feel that original intent behind the design.
- Total best car – There is none. I could make up a ton of BS about power and drive, feel and looks, but at the end of the day these four cars are all equivalent. And if you’re buying an Accord or a Camry, you’re not looking for performance or looks, you’re looking for reliability and price. So if I were to recommend one that a friend buy? I’d recommend whichever one has the highest reliability scores and the lowest price. Because from what I tested, there’s not nearly enough differences to make any legitimate differentiation.