Posts tagged Road Trip
After spending road tripping out to Chicago for the 2017 Chicago Auto Show in a brand new Maserati Ghibli, we couldn’t help but wonder what other cars on the show floor would make great road trip vehicles. We loved the Ghibli for its ability to gobble up long stretches of highway and tight, twisty roads with ease, but depending on your situation, there might be even better options out there. So we figured we’d break down our coverage of the show into a list of our best road trip vehicles based on different possible adventures or goals.
Ask anyone and they’ll tell you that I’m a die-hard car guy. Motor oil pump through my veins and it’s a common occurrence for me to get goose bumps just from a car’s exhaust rumble. Needless to say I’m a bit discerning when it comes to cars and won’t settle for just any car. My daily driver has to be fun and evoke some emotion. At the same time it has to be practical, particularly since I haul my two kids (two years and four years old respectively) around all the time and of course because we live in Minnesota.
If I had to pick one car from the portfolio of Morrie’s brands that fit my persnickety car preferences I’d most definitely land on a Subaru STI. So that’s exactly what I did. And to kick off my caretaking of my new ride I loaded the family up for a good old-fashioned road trip to the lake. You’ll notice there was at least one non-lake diversion, though.
Now that spring has sprung, it’s time to pull off those car covers, dust off the maps, and hit the road. To help, we’ve assembled a few of our favorite roads within about an hour of the Twin Cities. Depending on where you’re from, we picked multiple routes to be convenient but they’re all worth exploring if you can find a spare hour or two for a cruise.
East of the cities, near Afton Alps is Stagecoach Trail which snakes around the hills and bluffs near the St Croix River. Admittedly, at only a little over 15 miles, you’ll probably spend more time driving there than you will on the road itself, but it’s scenic enough that it’s worth a few laps on its own. And then when you’re done, just hop back onto Hwy 10 or 94 and head home. Or stop by Afton State Park for some beautiful scenery along the river or load up the golf clubs and play a round on the nearby golf course.
For those seeking a longer route, take Stagecoach Trail south to Hwy 10 and cross the river into Prescott, WI and enjoy following the other side of the St Croix River south along County Hwy 35. The alphabet soup of great driving roads – including County Roads O, OO, K, VV, C, EE, and A – are all easily accessible from County Hwy 35 and serpentine through the hills while offering some challenging drives and beautiful scenery near the Lake Pepin area.
Heading straight west out of the cities on 394 will take you onto Hwy 12 out to County Rd 6. Follow that west to Watertown, before turning south onto County Rd 25 for a couple miles to Hwy 7 which will take you back towards the cities. It’s an easy loop around Lake Minnetonka but the real highlights here are the number of great little diners and cafes along the way to stop at for a bite to eat, or take any number of little side streets to find access to the lakes in the area. This isn’t a route that is meant to be at all challenging or a test of a driver’s skills, but it’s great for a casual cruise on a warm summer evening.
If you’re on the west side of down and looking for something a bit longer, take Hwy 7 west out to County Rd 11 and head south to Hwy 5 in Victoria where you’ll take a left followed by a right to stay on County Rd 11/Victoria Drive and keep heading south for as long as you like. Depending on how much time you have, you can cross the Minnesota River into Belle Plaine on State Hwy 25 and head back on 169 N or continue south down to Henderson or LeSeur and follow the river back however you’d like.
We hope to see you out on the road this summer! And obviously, Morrie’s Automotive Group advises you to follow all posted speed limits and obey all traffic laws while you’re at it.
While being a photographer isn’t really as glamorous of a job as it looks, it does occasionally have some benefits. For example, I had the opportunity to fly out to Los Angeles, California last week for some photoshoots and while I was out there, Mazda USA kindly hooked me up with an all-new 2016 CX-3 to drive while I was out there. Although I would’ve loved a new MX-5 Miata to run through the canyons and to the beach, the CX-3 did a great job of swallowing all of my extraneous camera gear. It even came with the new Mazda Connect system that integrated perfectly with my phone in seconds so I could stream some tunes and read messages from my wife as I drove up the coast, all without having to touch my phone!
With Mazda’s reputation for sporty, fun-to-drive cars, I scheduled an open day into my trip so I’d have time to put the nimble little CX-3 to the test and see if it delivered the “zoom-zoom” experience of other Mazdas. My plan was to leave my friend’s condo in LA around 10:00 AM on Monday morning, drive up the 101 Highway to Santa Barbara for lunch, then take the Highway 154 north, away from the beach and into the hills for a bit before rejoining the 101 via Highway 246 to head back towards the beach at Gaviota State Park. My goal was to end up at Point Concepcion State Marine Reserve, which looked like a beautiful and rocky point that juts out towards the Pacific Ocean. With a solid mix highways, mountain roads, and even a few dirt roads along the way, I knew that the Mazda CX-3 would get a solid workout on this nearly 350 mile round-trip drive.
I waited until LA’s notoriously horrible rush hour traffic subsided before hitting the road on Monday. The drive up to Santa Barbara was surprisingly boring since the 101 Highway doesn’t really follow the coastline at all but once I made it up to Santa Barbara, I found some parking right on the beach and set off to explore a bit. After a quick bite down the road at In-n-Out Burger in nearby Goleta, CA, I backtracked a little bit to get back to Highway 154.
This is a fast, twisty highway that snakes through the hills, offering beautiful views of Santa Barbara and the ocean. While scouting the route the night before, I stumbled upon Painted Cave Road, a little ribbon of tarmac that had a huge concentration of tight, technical corners and didn’t stray too far from the general route I’d laid out for myself. With nothing but time on my hands, I figured I’d give the road a try and see where it took me. I made a quick exit off of 154 and was immediately confronted with an incredibly steep climb up a single-lane serpentine road. The views were breathtaking but I was forced to keep my eyes on the road for fear of careening off the side of the road and down a VERY steep drop.
After rejoining the 154, I continued past the oasis of Lake Cachuma before hopping onto Highway 246 where I drove through the picturesque town of Solvang, a town so proud of their Danish heritage that many of the buildings feature windmills and similar architecture to what you’d see in Copenhagen. Eventually I rejoined the 101 heading south towards Gaviota State Park and the beach. My plan was to arrive at the state park and then immediately hop onto Hollister Beach Road which runs right next to the ocean and looked like it should lead me to – or at least close to – Point Concepcion. Unfortunately, my plan hit a snag when only about a mile down the road I came up to the entrance to a gated community. The gatekeeper rather sternly informed me that road didn’t go through unless I happened to be on his list for the day. As I turned around and headed back towards Gaviota State Park, I pulled up Google Maps on my phone and quickly found another route, one more than an hour out of my way, that looked like it might be promising! I hopped back on the 101, this time heading back to the north and hitched up with Highway 1 which would take me back through the hills along the coast briefly before exiting at Jalama Road. According to Google, this would take me towards Jalama State Beach and onward to Cojo Bay Road, which I’d follow south to eventually get to Point Concepcion. I figured if I didn’t waste too much time, I could get there in time to watch the sunset.
While Jalama Road eventually led me to yet another gated road that I couldn’t traverse, it turned out to be one of the best driving roads I’ve ever encountered. I couldn’t make it to my final destination but it ended up being a blessing in disguise because it meant I got to drive back on my new favorite road! It’s a beautiful mix of fast, flowing corners with lots of elevation changes through a mix of hills, meadows, and forests before culminating in an absolutely breathtaking view of the ocean stretched out wide in front of me. By the time I hopped back on Highway 101 and was headed back to LA, the sun was beginning to set. I made it just short of Malibu before I was able to stop for a quick photo-op as the sun set over the horizon. The rest of the drive back to LA was dark and uneventful but the Mazda CX-3 made a great, and comfortable, companion for my 10 hour drive. While the 146-hp SKYACTIV inline-4 provided enough grunt to make it through even the steepest of mountain passes while still returning very respectable fuel economy and the interior, while befitting of a $20,000 subcompact CUV, offered all the features, technology, and comfort that I expected and then some! The CX-3 takes all the things that makes the Mazda3 such an amazing car and adds a little bit extra ground clearance and interior volume. I’d call this one a home-run for Mazda!
Yesterday I made the trek out to our Mazda store in Chippewa Falls Wisconsin and thought it would be a great time for an extended road test and blog post highlighting one of the models we sell. In most cases I make the trip out to Chippewa Falls alone, but in this case I was joined by three colleagues, Brian, Kristen and Ali. Needless to say we needed a car that would provide a comfortable ride and adequate space for the four of us on our 220 mile journey. I was also hoping to avoid awkward road trip games so it was important that our car had a bevy of tech gadgets that could keep everyone entertained and muffle any spontaneous singalongs in the back seat. In the end we settled on a Kia Optima SX Turbo and I must say I was pleasantly surprised.
By way of democratic vote I was nominated driver and can now add Corporate Chauffeur to my job description. Despite a few objections to my driving style (see photo of Brian shrieking below) I think it was a good choice.
You see, I was actually looking forward to driving the Kia Optima and seeing seeing what the car offered beyond it’s great looks. For anyone who has seen the new Kia Optima you have to admit that it is a good looking car, in fact the entire 2012 Kia lineup is marked by great styling, but I was really interested in the whole package. A car cannot get by on looks alone and after just a few miles in the car my impressions were positive.
Overall ergonomics are quite good with a multi-function steering wheel that puts a number of controls right at your fingertips, including shift paddles, controls for the cruise control, telephone and audio system. These controls came in handy when Brian selected the Sirius satellite radio techno channel, BPA, and tested the Infiniti audio system. I was quickly able to adjust the volume to more tolerable levels.
The integrated telephone bluetooth made phone calls easy and allowed us to have a couple of impromptu conference calls. This car was equipped with the premium package, which included the aforementioned audio system, as well a rear backup camera, navigation system, panoramic sunroof and push button ignition. Short of the photo op below I can’t say I really used the navigation system, but I am sure it would have come in handy for Brian and Kristen who both hail from New Jersey. Neither Brian nor Kristen have spent any time in Wisconsin and got a kick out of the regional offerings available at the gas station we stopped at on our way to Chippewa Falls. I suppose when you think of it, you don’t see to many gas stations that go above and the beyond basics like cheese curds and offer shoes, tanning, taxidermy, crystal collectables, deer lures, 96 ounce sodas and church services – all in one place!
The multi-way adjustable driver’s seat was quite comfortable, offering a good combination of support and comfort. Beyond being just heated the Optima seats are also ventilated, a nice feature that is more common on $60,000 luxury cruisers than on a $28,000 Kia sedan. Kristen and Ali, both sitting in back, indicated that there was more than enough legroom and that their seats were comfortable. In fact, there was enough room for them to repurpose the back seat as a mobile office, using their laptops to stay up to date on work.
The only complaint stemmed from a convenience feature integrated into the driver’s door. Every time I opened the door the seat moved back for easier egress, which worked out great for me, but tended to crush Ali’s legs in the back seat.
In terms of ride and performance, the Optima did it’s job flawlessly. The 2.0 liter turbocharged four cylinder, packing 274 horsepower, provided more than enough power to accelerate to the speed limit and beyond. Despite encountering a cross section of Wisconsin’s worst drivers and left lane hogs, I was able to maneuver out of their way with ease. The Optima is not positioned as a handling dynamo and our trip, predominately spent on I-94, did not provide many encounters to push its handling limits. Yet, it did a fine job taking on the handful of cloverleafs that we encountered providing a good combination of firmness and comfort. Steering wheel weighting felt good and the turning circle proved more than adequate when I missed a turnoff and had to pull a u-turn. The 6-speed automatic seamlessly adjusted the gearing as needed and never hunted for gears.
All in all, the Kia Optima SX Turbo worked great as our corporate commuter and I can say with confidence that the Optima is much more than just a pretty face. It’s looks are combined with sporty performance and a driver centric interior available with all the latest bells and whistles. As equipped at just a tick over $28,000 this Optima provides a ton of value and in my future travels to Chippewa Falls I’m sure that I’ll grab the keys to an Optima again.