Monday, April 28, 2008

TAWA Spring Challenge

(Texas Motor Speedway) I am like a kid in a candy shop: This is the annual Texas Automotive Writers Association (TAWA) Spring Challenge, where the auto makers and marketers ship down their best offerings in aluminum, steel and composits to impress the writers who can make or break their image with Texas auto consumers.
It’s a heady task.

The Big Three have all assembled—Ford, GM, and Chrysler—along with the nameplates of their foreign competitors and wannabe’s: Toyota/Lexus, Nissan/Infinity, Mercedes Benz, Audi, BMW, Honda, Jaguar and Volvo. Kia is here too; Ray Lucia is not.

Collectively, the TAWA group will select this year’s best-bets for “Family Car of Texas,” along with the “most innovative,” “best new design,” “best use of technology,” and “best value.”
It’s a tough choice.

I don’t mind telling you now my overall favorite.
There are some cars here I cannot tell you about until later in the week…and other’s that I know aren’t going to carry much water with most of these writers, but which I like anyway.

I’ve been smitten with Mini Cooper fever. The stretched-version “Clubman” is here to be driven and evaluated. I actually caught up with a Dodge Viper on the track in the Mini “Coop.’” Of course the fact that the yay-hoo in the Viper spun out of control in the first turn might have something to do with that. Still, that driver never regained his feeling for that car, and I easily followed him closely around the track.

My favorite vehicle at this year’s event is the all new Lexus IS F, which you can see between movie trailers in every theater in America. The workmanship is flawless, in true Lexus style. The exhaust is ominous, and when the engine passes through the 3700-rpm threshold, a second set of fuel injectors kicks in to make this machine sound as if the very gates of Hell have yawned open.
I happened to set my highest track speed (90mph+) in this car.

A word about the track.
It’s in the infield of the Texas Motor Speedway, and it’s a one-mile loop set up for road racing; all right-turns except for two lefts. They told us if we made three left turns, we’d probably be in trouble. There is one, comparatively long straight away, that can’t be more than a quarter of a mile, and the rest of the track is turns, dips, and curves.

So Zero-to-90 before the first turn is pretty amazing—not even the Viper had that kind of nimbleness—especially when you know you’ve got to back off the gas and tap the breaks to negotiate a tight, 279-degree turn.
The Lexus IS F was the top choice on my ballot.

When I was driving the Ford Mustang “Bullitt,” another driver in the Lexus stayed glued to my tail. The Lexus is just that good.

In later posts I will tell you about the new Nissan Murano, and it’s high-falutin’ cousin, the Infinity FX-50, the Mercedes SL-Class for 2009, and a pair of Audi’s that were impressive.

I’ll also share with you the details of that other car, the enthusiasm for which dare not be named until after the Media embargo.

I have posted additional photos on my Facebook page.

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