Starting next month, the V&R Garage will be alive with activity once again.
I'm looking forward to welcoming the first vehicles of the year for review. It's been too long of a winter pining over snow storms that never happened, warmer air that is un-Minnesotan and the want of being behind the wheel once again.
Needless to say, it is lot of work to absorb every nuance of a vehicle and convey feedback on those points. The driving part is what makes this work worth every moment.
The experiential part of this art is to tell the story of the vehicle to you. Perhaps I should explain how I approach these reviews so you could get an understanding of what you will be reading in the next several months.
If you read my reviews in the past, I look at its history and current context of the subject prior to setting off to experience the vehicle. Then, I ask a question. It may be a question based on prior discussions about the vehicle or brand. It could also be based on my own understanding of the market and to the subject's place in it. That question sets the temper of how the review will be undertaken and where it might lead.
Data is also gathered on the vehicle upon its arrival. There are some things you might need to know – such as what's under the hood, how much power does it have, what kind of equipment level it has to offer and a few details here and there for context.
There is a lot more to the story than turning the key and driving it somewhere. I need to know the relationship between me and the driver's seat. I am not an average-sized person, so anything related to space, room and comfort simply is variable form that standpoint. I prefer loads of room, so I could be comfortable anywhere in the vehicle. I also need to know whether the instrumentation is readable and easy to get information quickly. I need to know whether I could operate the climate control and audio functions without having to contort from my position.
More examination of the interior includes a sitting in the back and a look in the cargo area. You may never know what may come my way sometimes. Sometimes, I have friends who would be gracious in helping me for this part. If I am not comfortable in the back seat, they could well be even more comfortable than I. I might even run an errand to utilize the cargo space – for free, of course!
Considering I have been around very technical people…or, those who love gadgets like mad…I have a few tests that feed into the geek side of us. For example, does my BlackBerry sync up with the available Bluetooth connection? Is the navigation system accurate? How well does the telematics system work in assisting the driver with various services – if available, of course.
The driving part takes a majority of the data I intake on a vehicle. Each vehicle goes through some tests to gauge its driving dynamics and performance. There are plenty of road conditions to work through for any vehicle.
In the Twin Cities, we have a mix of driving situations that provides a better picture of a vehicle's behavior. Near the V&R Garage is a nice stretch of twisting and challenging surfaces – Theodore Wirth Parkway in Minneapolis. It may not be a canyon road, but its turns and not-so-smooth surfaces create a "torture chamber" for any vehicle. The drawback of Wirth Parkway is that it has a 25MPH speed limit and is closely monitored by Minneapolis' Park Police. Rest assured that there is no hooning happening out there.
The freeways near the V&R Garage also provide a good sense of any vehicle. There are a few challenge spots that I take in consideration when driving. On Minnesota Highway 100 between Cedar Lake Road and Excelsior Boulevard, there is a pinch area where one lane becomes a collector for a couple of exit, leaving two lanes pinched in through a narrow opening. On rush hour, this is a bad place to be. It makes driving towards the south and southwest metro a bit of a challenge at other times. For the most part, the rest of the freeway system seems to be just fine.
If I want to test fuel efficiency, I am within minutes of some exurbs and rural byways. On the Interstates, the speed limit is 70MPH. However, there's nothing like a smooth piece of two-lane US or state highway somewhere beyond the reach of the Twin Cities that would give a car some time to sip its fuel rather than drink it. Fuel economy is also tested when given the chance to stretch out my sea legs for another town. I try to take a long distance journey if it is called for – ranging from heading to Duluth for the day or somewhere overnight, such as Iowa or the Dakotas…maybe Wisconsin or Illinois.
Perhaps the most challenging test is on the streets of Minneapolis and Saint Paul. The most important driving that I do is if I need to be somewhere specific. If it is an event I have to attend, such as the weekly Bear Coffee in Uptown, an errand, or a date (if such a thing ever happens to me…), the challenge in itself is a balance of the vehicle's ability, traffic patterns and patience. A vehicle's true stripes are earned when it can manage through traffic and other potential stressors on the road.
On occasion, I will have a vehicle that might need some special testing. If there is snow on the ground, it is good chance that the all-wheel-drive system or any of the traction-assist function would come into play either on snow or iced/caked conditions. Every year, I do a truck piece (or, hope to at least). That would mean testing out its payload or sizing it up through my daily routines. If last year’s piece on the Chevrolet Silverado 2500HD is any indicator, a truck in my care is a test onto itself – a good one, mind you.
Could expectations be met when I put a vehicle through its paces as stated above? Not every vehicle is a winner. The manufacturers know this, as you do. Yet, my approach is to simply find the good and understand why there are parts of the vehicle that may not satisfy everyone. Overall, find a way to convey all of this that is both informative and entertaining.
There is a bit of a change in terms of my automotive writing. Starting this year, vehicle reviews will appear first on Lavender magazine, the LGBT publication for the Twin Cities and Upper Midwest. The reason for this shift is multi-fold, but designed to help boost interest and traffic amongst the readership. On occasion, you may pick up a copy at wherever the magazine is distributed. On those occasions, you get to see my bearded face (well…formerly bearded) and a review article inside.
These reviews will be rebroadcasted on V&R about the same time it appears on Lavender's website (or in print). That is for the benefit of the rest of you. It will be the same review, but I may add a few bits to expand on some ideas over there.
There may also be some exclusive items on V&R. If I reviewed a vehicle previously on here and Lavender, I would do a different take on it for something a bit more topical – just for you.
One last piece of the puzzle is in utilizing social media. If you happen to be on V&R's Facebook page, you may want to pay attention a bit closer this year. Not only will I show an initial photo of the review subject, but I may have you come meet it somewhere – especially if you are in the Twin Cities. Twitter, Google+, and now Pinterest will also be in play to engage with you in providing instant feedback and to experience these vehicles while they are in the process of being reviewed.
As I mentioned above, next month will see plenty of activity at the V&R Garage. Without divulging further details, I can confirm that I will be reviewing vehicles from General Motors, Mazda, Hyundai, American Honda and Kia. Later this year, more vehicles will be coming from Toyota and Chrysler. More details as they come…
I am not one to divulge the secrets of the trade. But, I would like to be as transparent as possible during this process. After all, we live in an age of instant information where our actions are observed by the second by many interested parties. Why not share the moment? Being behind the wheel is one of those moments worth sharing…as long as I don't update and drive, of course.