Concours d’Elegance Scottsdale 2015

Arizona BiltmoreFor all the flak that the “One Percent” takes from the plebes, you can’t say they don’t know how to have fun. A gorgeous Frank Lloyd Wright-designed resort, great January weather in Arizona, and a huge collection of exceedingly expensive cars all make for a really great day. Everyone also seemed to like the booze too, so there’s that.

Concours

AwardsThe Concours d’Elegance (French for “competition of elegance” according to Wikipedia) is a remarkable show of very old autos. There are Concours d’Elegance events in several U.S. cities, like Pebble Beach, Calif. and Amelia Island, Fla., and in foreign cities including Lake Como, Italy and London. The Scottsdale event only began last year, but it certainly didn’t look like a fledgling group this year on the lawns of the Arizona Biltmore resort. There were a lot of people, a lot of cars, and clearly a lot of money these people can toss around on what they want.

BrothersI have never really paid much attention to the Concours d’Elegance shows before now, partly because I just don’t know very much about vehicles from these eras. From what I saw the newest cars there were the Ferrari Daytona or Mazda Cosmo, both from the early 1970s. Most of the other cars were at least 20 years older, and there were several cars I saw from 1909 and the 1910s. This show is not about muscle cars, big blocks and red Solo cups like the kinds I’m used to. The Concours d’Elegance is swanky, expensive and the cars are typcially very European. The dress code is nothing less than boarding school chic instead of cut off jeans and muscle shirts.

My brother, Kyle, and I weren’t really sure what to expect from the show since we aren’t exactly A-list celebrities. We don’t often get dressed up beyond our trips to church. The refreshing thing about the show was that everyone we interacted with was more than eager to share their enthusiasm for cars, just like what we have experienced at Cars and Coffee and Barrett-Jackson. Just because the formality of the event is bumped up a notch doesn’t mean the passion and camaraderie isn’t.

Yeah, that's just a Lamborghini Miura hanging loose. No big deal.

Yeah, that’s just a Lamborghini Miura hanging loose. No big deal.

I have forgotten what car this was, but it was one of those gorgeous Fiat or Alfa coupes.

I have forgotten what car this was, but it was one of those gorgeous Fiat or Alfa coupes.

Because I know so little about automobiles this old I couldn’t authoritatively pick a favorite based on a combination of objective and subjective criteria like I can for newer cars. I didn’t know the powertrains, nor what was or wasn’t groundbreaking at the time. My choice was purely based on aesthetics. That said, I was particularly fond of some really classy Fiat and Alfa Romeo coupes from the 1960s. I was also particularly pleased with the Mazda Cosmo, based entirely on the fact that it had houndstooth patterned seats. We need more of that spunk in modern cars besides the GTI (although the GTI does it so well).

I mean, look at this. Houndstooth seats! In a Mazda! I need it.

I mean, look at this. Houndstooth seats! In a Mazda! I need it.

1971 Mazda Cosmo

1971 Mazda Cosmo

Kyle really liked a old Mercedes for no other reason than it was gorgeous. I like it also because it was really photogenic.

Kyle

1067 Mercedes-Benz 300D

Mercedes 300D

1967 Mercedes-Benz 300D

1967 Mercedes-Benz 300D

1967 Mercedes-Benz 300D

We didn’t stick around for the awarding of the prizes because we didn’t really even know what categories there were, who we would have voted for if we were judges, etc. It was just a lot of fun to spend a few hours living the way the other half does, light piano music playing over the loudspeaker and all, and the remaining pictures and video should sufficiently sum how awesome Concours d’Elegance was this year in Scottsdale.

1937 Rolls Royce Phantom III

1937 Rolls Royce Phantom III

Who doesn't love an original Gullwing?

Who doesn’t love an original Gullwing?

As seen on a Ferrari Daytona.

As seen on a Ferrari Daytona.

Unlabeled cars were the boon of my existence that day. All I know is that this was an Aston Martin.

Unlabeled cars were the boon of my existence that day. All I know is that this was an Aston Martin.

1933 Pierce-Arrow Silver Arrow

1933 Pierce-Arrow Silver Arrow

1909 "Blitzen Benz." The presenter said the only thing faster than this racer at the time was a bullet.

1909 “Blitzen Benz.” The presenter said the only thing faster than this racer at the time was a bullet.

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A Second Trip to Heaven (Barrett-Jackson), But With More Pictures and Video

I tried on the Focus ST. It seemed a good fit.

I tried on the Focus ST. It seemed a good fit.

I went to Barrett-Jackson again today, but this time with my dad and sister. Fortunately for us we found a whole wing of cars my brother and I didn’t see when we were there last week. That whole section was dedicated to automakers displaying current products, and was dominated by the Big Three. It was glorious. The pictures will speak for themselves, but I will say that Best In Show is a straight up tie between the 2015 Corvette Z06 and the 2016 (that’s right) Cadillac CTS-V. The CTS-V was auctioned and sold for $170,000. I assume it is one of the first models to be sold and the proceeds went to charity. Or some old men were really excited about this car and kept bidding. A lot.

Edit: I later saw via Car and Driver that the CTS-V was auctioned off for the College of Creative Studies in Detroit.

I’d also like to apologize for taking primarily detail shots. With so many people swarming around it was sometimes hard to get shots of the whole car.

Check out the video from the track that I finally got to cooperate via YouTube at the bottom of the page. It’s short, but cool. Also check out this video of me riding along in a Corvette. It was a super short ride, but it was freaking awesome.

I won’t say more except that it was a delightful day, and I could have taken thousands of photos. Luckily I only took hundreds.

Hard to decide, but this was one of my favorites all day. I absolutely need one.

Hard to decide, but this was one of my favorites all day. I absolutely need one.

Cadillac CTS-V

Cadillac CTS-V

Cadillac CTS-V

Cadillac CTS-V

I could feel my arteries clogging, and I loved every last bite.

I could feel my arteries clogging, and I loved every last bite.

Getting in touch with my inner fattie, which is to say my general outward appearance.

Getting in touch with my inner fattie, which is to say my general outward appearance.

Dodge Viper

The Viper kind of scares me. But in a good way.

The Viper kind of scares me. But in a good way.

I think the whole Barrett-Jackson atmosphere is the adult form of Disneyland, and the track is the equivalent of the rides.

I think the whole Barrett-Jackson atmosphere is the adult form of Disneyland, and the track is the equivalent of the rides.

The Dodge Charger Hellcat kind of looks like a guppy, but a really ferocious one that will eat you whole.

The Dodge Charger Hellcat kind of looks like a guppy, but a really ferocious one that will eat you whole.

Way up front there is a car being auctioned. I already knew I was poor, and Barrett-Jackson only solidified that understanding for me.

Way up front there is a car being auctioned. I already knew I was poor, and Barrett-Jackson only solidified that understanding for me.

Finding Paradise: My First Trip to Barrett-Jackson

My list of favorite things in life definitely includes but is not limited to: fast cars, fried food, and lots and lots of money. And since I have never really been into sports, I have seldom felt a real kinship with lots of perfect strangers at a large event like sportsy folks do at big games. The good news is that I have found a place that fulfills those desires on my list and happens to be full of likeminded folks I can call my friends.

Dodge Challenger HellcatIt all happened on Saturday afternoon when I laid eyes on the majesty that is the Barrett-Jackson auto auction in Scottsdale, Ariz.  It was quite literally love at first sight. I reckon that it is probably “meant to be” when the first thing you see from the parking lot is a track with professional drivers doing hotlaps in brand new Vipers and Corvettes. They were just screaming, and I couldn’t get enough. Alongside the track was a tiny drag strip where two Challenger Hellcats were strutting their stuff. I hadn’t even shown my ticket to get in and I was absolutely giddy. (Video to come later when technology becomes more cooperative.)

Dodge Viper

That was my introduction to the Barrett-Jackson festivities, and a great big check on the “fast cars” item on my favorites list. And one of the things I liked best aside from the excessively fast and loud cars was the fact that I knew that everyone else that was there liked it all too. You don’t just happen upon an auto auction you have to pay to get into and think, “Huh. I think I’ll stay.” No, you’re there because it’s the best and you know it. (And I would have paid for it because it’s awesome, but here’s a quick shout out to my brother’s friend who got us in for free. That was cool.)

DSC_1637I think one of the other reasons I like it so much is because Barrett-Jackson looks like a lot of Southerners that happened to be able to afford really cool, historical, and typically American-made cars got together to throw a week-long party. There are carts and carts of fried food I normally expect to see at the county fair (no complaints here), the aforementioned sports cars running to redline and destroying their rear tires, local and no-so-local artists selling their auto-themed goods, and rows upon rows of beautiful cars waiting to be auctioned. No complaints regarding any of those things, really. The only thing missing was a Confederate flag.

For anyone that may not be aware, Barrett-Jackson is a huge auction held at the start of every year in Scottsdale, Ariz. and other cities throughout the country. Many a collectible car will pass over the auction block over the course of the week-long event. And when I say “collectible,” we are talking painstakingly restored to “as new” condition, or meticulously preserved as a token of automotive history. But it is more than that too.

DSC_1636

The auction takes place at a huge venue with the previously mentioned outdoor track where the Big Three had performance cars to ride in, and tamer models to test drive. It isn’t a giant track, but it’s enough for the professional drives to scare you a little bit and make those cars roar. There were huge tents with cars waiting to be auctioned off, as well as rows and rows of models inside a giant warehouse on display before they changed hands.

Photo Jan 10, 6 01 40 PMMy brother, Kyle, and I thought that the racecars with original damage were pretty cool, and a Ferrari F40 wasn’t bad either. I heard later that this one might be a reproduction, but there was supposed to be a real one there too. I never saw it, but the black one was pretty sharp.

Photo Jan 10, 6 03 25 PM

Photo Jan 10, 5 06 56 PMThere were also some peculiar finds there. On the weird end was a customized Ford Aerostar. On the awesome end was a three-wheeled car!

Kyle and I discussed what kind of collectible we each would like to own. (For your information I have always loved the second generation Corvette, and just like every other white conservative male in America, I want a split window Stingray.) We also discussed the merits of the Chevrolet Nomad, which is another personal favorite. Kyle said that the world needs more two-door wagons like the Nomad today. I agree wholeheartedly.

DSC_1620

DSC_1629Inside were also brand new models on display for the general public, including the BMW i8, which got a lot of attention from the crowd. Also, the new Mercedes-AMG GT S was there, though with much less gawking from the crowd, even though it would be my personal choice between the two. Either way, it was fun to see two sexy models I hadn’t seen in the flesh before.

Photo Jan 10, 4 59 31 PM

Back to my list of favorite things: fast cars [check], fried food [check], and lots of money. Well, there’s a check in the sense that the people buying and selling pristine automobiles from both recent and bygone eras shows that there is a lot of money in and around Barrett-Jackson. Unfortunately none of that money is my own, but I suppose I shouldn’t give up on the future. In the meantime I am happy to walk the rows of those tents and that warehouse to see the beautiful automobiles that the thousands of other people there also appreciate. They’re perfect strangers, but we share a bond created by our love of all things cars.

When Your Work is Play: A Car Writer’s Story

He didn’t describe it as a regular occurrence, but Steven Ewing did say that racing Volkswagen’s newest hot hatch, the Golf R, over a frozen lake just north of the Arctic Circle in Sweden earlier this year was a perk of his job as a senior editor at Autoblog. Other bonuses include driving Dodge’s three most powerful models from Dallas to Las Vegas in three days, and other trips throughout the nation and world to see and experience the newest things the car world has to offer.

Between trying to keep myself from sounding like a spazzy teenage fan and recording what Ewing was saying to me during our phone interview, I thought I was going to die from jealousy.

Photo courtesy of Steven Ewing.

Photo courtesy of Steven Ewing.

Ewing is a largely self-taught writer and car enthusiast from Detroit, where his passion for everything automotive manifested pretty early on in his life. That’s just how it works in Motor City, apparently.

“I got into cars at an early age,” he said. “When you grow up in and around Detroit like I did, it’s kind of hard not to.”

Everyone has a friend or relative that works with one of the Big Three (Chrylser, Ford and General Motors) that are headquartered there, and attending the Detroit Auto Show was just a part of childhood, Ewing said.

And destiny seemed to be calling him to a career as an auto writer when he was just 12 years old. Ewing was reading Automobile Magazine on the couch one day when his mother walked in and said, “I work there now!” She got a job in the office there and worked with the staff for several years.

“Having a family member in that side of the business was a dream come true,” he said, and he got to meet the staff and see the new cars the writers were testing.

In high school, Ewing was part of the student-run paper and worked on layout and design. He started interning with the Automobile Magazine staff as a teenager, and wrote his first car story when he was 17 about a BMW driving program for teens he participated in.

“When I was learning to drive, [my mother] would teach me on their long-term cars,” Ewing said. He even got some lessons from Jean Jennings, former editor-in-chief and cofounder of Automobile Magazine, when he was learning to drive stick shift. Meeting car writers early on is how he got his foot in the door (and across the sill and into the driver’s seat) in automotive journalism.

Ewing decided to postpone college when he graduated from high school—he had been accepted to a few places, but said that none of them felt right at the time. For a while he managed a Spencer’s at a mall, but a chance to start working in the car business came to him when his mother left Automobile Magazine to work at a different car publication, Winding Road.

Washing cars and answering phones were his first responsibilities at Winding Road, but things changed when the staff let him take a minivan, the Hyundai Entourage, home for the weekend. Ewing wrote what he thought about it in an email to David E. Davis Jr., the editor-in-chief of Winding Road, and they started giving him more cars to drive and chances to write.

In late 2009 Autoblog contacted Ewing about a new writing gig, and he took it. Five years later he is now a senior editor that does a lot of things for the web-only publication. He manages the national schedule of cars that are to be tested, keeps track of required maintenance of Autoblog’s long-term vehicles, edits stories and codes for the website, not to mention driving and writing his own articles.

“I kind of have a jack-of-all-trades role at Autoblog,” Ewing said. That is impressive considering he does not have any formal journalism training, but he just had the “knack for writing and for cars” and chose to chase those passions, he said. And it isn’t lost on him that he is lucky to have found a job completely dedicated to his interests as a car enthusiast.

“I can honestly say that, regardless of the stress and the hours, I firmly believe I have the best job in the world, and I will never take that for granted,” he said. “Everything that’s not perfect about it is totally outshined by how amazing it is.”

Ewing is animated when he describes how learning to drive on frozen Swedish lakes required him to throw out everything he knew about spirited driving. He doesn’t skip a beat when you ask him which of the three Dodge cars he road tripped in is his favorite. (It was the Charger Hellcat, by the way.) It is clear that this stuff doesn’t get boring for him, and that the details matter.

These experiences have been “breathtaking” and “hysterical,” and he said that “flying into the sunset” as he descended from a mountain road earlier this year was more than just managing high speed in a vehicle that isn’t in showrooms yet, which was undoubtedly awesome. But it was also about remembering the beauty of the U.S. and learning to appreciate American vehicles in a new way.

Fifty percent of his job requires managing the fleet of cars in Autoblog’s possession and taking care of other website duties, he said, but it seems that Ewing is putting the remaining 50 percent to good use. He mentioned learning and education a number of times, and what some would only use as a fun road trip in a Dodge Viper earlier this year, Ewing made to something bigger than that.

“I learned a lot about myself and a lot about car control,” he said. “I learned a lot about my limits and the limits of a car.”

Ewing has aspirations to always keep learning and becoming better, always taking something from the editors he has had in the past and putting it into his work.

“You learn something from everyone you talk to,” Ewing said. He even said that he has thought about getting a college degree, although he doesn’t have any immediate plans for that.

And for those interested in breaking into the automotive journalism industry, he said the best thing anyone can do in the meantime is to keep writing—for yourself and for anyone that will publish you.

“Learning to hone your craft and really enjoy it, that’s the best thing, in my opinion, that you can do,” Ewing said. Chase the passion for cars and the determination will be clear in the writing—that is what will make the difference when a job opportunity arises.

Clearly it worked for him.

Millennial Motors Wrap-up: Lessons Learned for Car Buying

IMG_1871Over the course of the last four months I have visited six dealerships and driven at least 15 cars, which has been very enlightening for me. I learned a lot about the things that are most important to me in a vehicle as I drove small cars, crossovers, pony cars and trucks, but I also learned a lot about the process of working with dealers and how to interact with them. Here are a few things I learned:

Know what you want before you get to the dealer. It’s so much easier to show up at a dealership and know what car you are interested in and at what price. Look at a dealership’s models online before you go, that way you can head straight to the cars you like and want to see. Salesmen have a horrible reputation for being nasty crooks, and I think that can be totally true sometimes, but taking control from the get go makes it easier on you if you know exactly why you are on that lot.

IMG_1721Explore all of the options within your price range. When I first started the Millennial Motors series I originally imagined I would test drive every single model that falls within the compact car category. There are tons of options to choose from in that segment alone. When I saw the Mazda CX-5 while I was at the dealership looking at the smaller Mazda3 I realized there was a whole world within my ideal budget that I wasn’t looking into at all. I ended up really enjoying my experience driving Subaru crossovers and realized they are really good options for the money—so good that were I actually buying a car I probably would have written off a majority of compacts I had looked at. You might think you want a compact or a specific brand, but narrowing your search too much from the start could cause you to miss the perfect car because you didn’t look a little bit further into what your money can get you.

This process is time consuming. I was at dealerships for covert missions to drive brand new cars and write about them. It took time to explain to salesmen what I wanted, find the precise car I needed to drive and actually get behind the wheel. When I would let them mock up a payment schedule with me the time I was there doubled. Buying a car is a very serious thing, so make sure you have driven all the cars you want and know you have found the one. After that, you have to be willing to spend the time to get the keys. It takes time working out a loan, any trade-in you might have, etc. And salesmen sometimes make it longer than it really has to be:

Have a thick skin and stand your ground. When I drove the Ram 1500 Express last week I was excited when my salesman said they don’t work on commission. I thought it meant they would be less pushy. That was only true for the first 30 minutes. After I told them I needed to think about it, the sales manager came over and tried to get me to take the truck home overnight to really see if I liked it. I told him no. He tried to seal the deal by lowering the price a little bit when I said I was worried the payment would be too much. To calm those fears he told me that any Joe Shmoe that “works at Walmart can make this payment.” Then, in the ultimate act of desperation, he asked when I last had my timing belt changed on my car. Mine hasn’t been changed lately, and he made it a point to tell me the cost of a new timing belt would equal the cost of one month’s payment on a brand new car. (The joke is on him—I have a chain that doesn’t need replacing! Sucker.) As a car lover that takes good care of my personal vehicle, it was extremely insulting that he would insinuate that maintaining my dependable, smooth running Honda would ruin me financially. They were really desperate for a sale that day, and I thought his antics were ridiculous. I was tired of being there so long, and some of them really won’t stop trying until you leave the lot.

IMG_1816Consider used, and look private party. The whole point of this series was to look at what the new car market has to offer, but as I went to each lot I had this same thought each and every time: how much money could I save if I bought a two-year-old version of this exact model? When I set the price cap at $25,000 I was thinking about young people that are just getting their first jobs, maybe getting married and moving to new cities. But it always struck me as both irresponsible and unrealistic for someone in their 20s to buy a car this expensive, and then tack on $3,000 in additional tax and fees. I’m certainly not in a place to fork out $28,000, or incur that amount as debt. Finding the exact car you drove on the lot but with a handful of miles and only two years of wear won’t be impossible, and you will save a lot of money. Sometimes you find that car on a used car lot, which means you will still pay taxes on it, but even then you will spend less. Look on websites like Autotrader and Craigslist, consider driving to the next largest city where they might have more options (I bought my car in Phoenix despite being Tucson-based), and take your time. The right car is out there, and it’s just waiting for a loving new owner.

Millennial Motors: 2014 Ram 1500 Express 4×2

Ram 1500As I have tried to expand the kinds of cars tested for the Millennial Motors series, I was extremely disappointed in the lack of large vehicles offered for less than $25,000. I was beginning to think that the only things available were small or midsize cars and a handful of crossovers. And then I stumbled upon a whole lot full of Ram 1500 pickups that fall just within that price goal.

(Point of clarification: “Ram” used to be a Dodge model. In an effort to rebrand their trucks altogether, Dodge created the Ram brand in which all of their truck or utility vehicles fell. This truck is technically a “Ram 1500” now because of that rebranding, not a “Dodge Ram.” It didn’t really do much, considering the trucks are sold at Dodge dealers, but that’s why I’ll never refer to it as a Dodge.)

I had been searching for a full size pickup to drive, but even base model Ford F-150s and Chevrolet Silverados all fell closer to $30,000 or higher. It was extremely disappointing that even work trucks seemed beyond the reach of young people.

2014 Ram 1500 ExpressMy dad, who has owned full size pickups for the last 35 years as a landscape contractor, said he wasn’t shocked I found a Ram at the right price. A lot of people are switching to Ram trucks because they can get a vehicle that fulfills their needs (typically contracting work, in this case) for a much better price than comparable trucks from other automakers, he said.

Even better, this “Express” model that I drove isn’t the cheapest one on the lot. There was also a bare bones, stripped down work truck available that starts at around $22,000. And for those looking into the future, depending on towing needs and truck configuration, the Ram can easily stretch into the $50,000 range. Clearly, there is a lot to be had in the truck world considering the difference between the cheapest and most expensive trucks can equal the cost of an extremely well equipped Honda Accord.

The Ram I drove went for $24,389 after dealer rebates (which I’m pretty sure are continually available. Don’t feel pressured into buying now because the “rebate” will end. It probably won’t. I digress). I have to hand it to Ram, for being one of their cheapest options, the Express is a pretty good looking truck. I love that it has a painted grill and bumpers, 20-inch wheels, dual exhaust and a burly, 395 horsepower V8.

2014 Ram 1500 Express

2014 Ram 1500 ExpressFor a Millennial that cares a lot about looks and price (read: me), this truck really gives the feel of being more expensive than it is from the outside, and that’s important. It’s the only truck that can really provide that, even your budget was a lot higher. These Rams are all better looking and packaged from the outside than all other competitors until you reach the top trim levels.

That said, the interior doesn’t necessarily exude the same feel. There are large swaths of hard plastic, and it isn’t a particularly beautiful or inspiring interior. The cavity over the glovebox is meant to be functional, which it is, but is ugly. The truck has typical cloth seats, power windows and locks (which are an extra option on this model actually, not standard), Bluetooth phone connectivity, and USB and auxiliary jacks. But the switchgear all feels pretty good, and stereo and HVAC controls also feel high quality. The stereo’s touch screen is also plenty easy to use and has good, clear graphics. It is a place I could get comfortable, but not necessarily a space I admire for its design. It will sufficiently execute all functions that I need it to.

2014 Ram 1500 Express

2014 Ram 1500 Express

Truck packaging is also a complex but important component to car shopping. The pushy sales manager at the dealer told me that a majority of people will never regret buying a car or SUV that fits their needs, but that at least 35 percent of people that buy regular cab trucks (like this one) will regret having not purchased something with more seats/interior space. To purchase a quad cab Ram (a five-seater instead of three) that is similarly outfitted like the Express I drove, buyers will need to pony up about $3,000 more. There are work trucks that come in quad cabs for about the same price as the single cab Express, but they lack any form of visual interest and interior options.

2014 Ram 1500 ExpressAlso worth considering are drivetrain and engine needs. I specifically drove a V8 because it’s probably the cheapest eight cylinder model available anywhere. I also chose to drive a 4×2 because I don’t need off road capabilities. Opting for a V6 will save buyers some money (and gas), but it removes the cool dual exhaust from the back. If someone needs four wheel drive capability, that will raise the price a bit.

The last bit of configuration is determining what bed length is needed. I drove a standard, short bed model.

I have driven trucks and big SUVs before, but it has been a long time since I spent much time behind the wheel of such a large vehicle. I really like having a high seating position, and the 395 horsepower was a lot of fun. That is easily twice as much power as anything else I have tested for this blog. It never felt underpowered or incapable of passing other cars.

The burly motor is connected to an 8-speed transmission that is very smooth, and can be manually controlled by two buttons on the steering wheel. The buttons certainly aren’t meant for sporting—they are a bit slow, and kind of cumbersome to use, but will get the job done if towing or driving through a mountain pass.

Also, in lieu of a traditional gear selector lever, Dodge/Ram/Chrysler products are starting to introduce a rotary gear selector.

What I had forgotten about driving large vehicles is how they handle—there was so much more body roll than I remembered that I was a little bit nervous to take a sweeping overpass with narrow lanes at speed. The ride was also a bit jostling, but driving down 22nd Street in Tucson is jostling in a Rolls Royce, so maybe that’s not very representative of what everyday driving would be like.

I loved the way the truck looks and its power. Unfortunately, for the eco-friendly or the budget conscious, the fuel economy isn’t spectacular. The Ram is probably pretty comparable to other V8 pickups in the segment, and is more efficient than trucks used to be, but at 15 mpg city/22 mpg highway/17 mpg combined, it isn’t exactly a fuel sipper. It’s a chugger.

EPA gas mileage estimates: 15 city, 22 highway, 17 combined.

EPA gas mileage estimates: 15 city, 22 highway, 17 combined.

On the whole, I really found the Ram 1500 Express a compelling package. This truck has the look I like, enough basic technology to fulfill my needs, and was fun to drive. For young people that may be starting their own business or need to really tow something a crossover can’t handle, I don’t think they should be disappointed the Ram is the cheapest truck option out there.

Subaru Showdown: 2015 Forester vs. 2014 XV Crosstrek

Subaru has long been the black sheep of Japanese automakers—just popular enough to be sufficiently well know by consumers, but different enough to never quite fit in with the likes of Honda, Toyota and Nissan.

IMG_1878With each new generation that Subaru unveils, they inch closer to the mainstream in look and appeal while retaining their core values of practicality and all-wheel drive ability that have set them apart from others for a long time.

When I visited the Subaru lot in Tucson a few weeks ago, I was shocked at how easy it was to find multiple models that slotted in below the $25,000 mark. Specifically, the Impreza, XV Crosstrek and Forester stickered for less than the $25k price cap, but I thought the crossovers (the XV Crosstrek and Forester) more compelling options, so I drove them both and left the Impreza out this round.

2015 Subaru Forester

2015 Subaru Forester

2014 Subaru XV Crosstrek

2014 Subaru XV Crosstrek

The instrument cluster is identical in both cars.

The instrument cluster is identical in both cars.

Both cars come with standard all-wheel drive (Subaru’s claim to fame and differentiation from competitors), bluetooth phone connectivity, USB and auxiliary inputs, 17-inch alloy wheels, and other typical accouterments found across the board. These cars actually have identical stereo interfaces, instrument clusters, steering wheels and general controls (HVAC, windows, mirrors, etc.).

The radio and HVAC controls are also identical in the Forester and XV Crosstrek.

The radio and HVAC controls are also identical in the Forester and XV Crosstrek.

What separates these cars truly is packaging: the Forester is a slightly larger, more upright and conventional crossover. It has a larger engine and slightly higher entry price to compensate for the additional real estate and grunt. The XV Crosstrek is the smaller, swoopier little brother that comes with less power and a marginally lower price than its big sibling.

The color information screen in the Forester is a feature the XV Crosstrek does not have.

The color information screen in the Forester is a feature the XV Crosstrek does not have.

There are only three differences in interior features that set these particular cars apart. The XV Crosstrek I drove had heated seats, and the Forester didn’t. But the Forester had a backup camera (standard on all models, optional on XV Crosstreks) and a handy color screen above the stereo controls that shows realtime MPG data, trip information, radio settings, etc. That’s it—three small conveniences, none of which are real deal breakers making one or the other a clear choice.

The two even match up closely in fuel efficiency. The XV Crosstrek just beats out the Forester by one mpg all around:

The Forester's EPA gas mileage estimates: 24 city, 32 highway, 27 combined.

The Forester’s EPA gas mileage estimates: 24 city, 32 highway, 27 combined.

The XV Crosstrek's EPA gas mileage estimates: 25 city, 33 highway, 28 combined.

The XV Crosstrek’s EPA gas mileage estimates: 25 city, 33 highway, 28 combined.

These cars are as close to being identically outfitted as they can be, and because of that, there are a few important numbers to consider then:

2015 Subaru Forester

2015 Subaru Forester

The 2015 Forester I drove was being sold for a special dealer price of $23,777. It comes with a 170 horsepower four-cylinder engine mated to a continuously variable transmission (CVT). [Disclosure: original sticker price was $25,540 after dealer-installed window tint.]

The 2014 XV Crosstrek I drove was being sold for a special dealer price of $23,298, and packs a 148 horsepower four-cylinder engine attached to the same CVT. [Disclosure: Original sticker price was $24,476 after dealer-installed window tint.]

2014 Subaru XV Crosstrek

2014 Subaru XV Crosstrek

I list these figures like this because a price difference of $379 isn’t a compelling case for one or the other—that money is totally negligible in the grand scheme of car buying. And considering that there are no major differences in the way these cars are outfitted, it makes choosing between the Forester and XV Crosstrek tricky.

What drivers will have to decide is what they want their car to do, how they want their car to feel, and what package best delivers what they are looking for.

The Forester's cargo hold is very generous.

The Forester’s cargo hold is very generous.

The Forester is noticeably wider, and feels airier inside because of the larger windows all around. The 170 horsepower on hand don’t make for an extremely quick car, but a decently peppy one that will be sufficient for most motorists. However, the Forester behaves more like an SUV than the smaller XV Crosstrek. It rides smoothly, but has more body roll and less direct steering feel. It is easy to drive, but not particularly thrilling.

The XV Crosstrek's cargo hold is respectable.

The XV Crosstrek’s cargo hold is respectable.

The XV Crosstrek, on the other hand, is clearly a smaller car (despite what the kind salesman kept trying to tell me). The cargo area is generous for the size of the car, but is significantly less capacious than the Forester, and there is much less shoulder room. The other difference was how the XV Crosstrek handled on the road. It is also smooth, but has sharper steering feel which makes everything you do while driving a bit more fun than the Forester. It feels more surefooted and responsive, probably by virtue of being built on the smaller Impreza’s platform.

The only serious letdown about the driving dynamics of the XV Crosstrek was how underpowered it felt. There is only a 22 horsepower difference between the two, but it really felt significant after driving them back to back. Especially considering that these cars are almost identical in features and price, the sheer difference in power was very disappointing.

For some, the cargo space will be the determining factor. For others, the performance. The last criterium I consider though is the overall statement of the car. I love that the XV Crosstrek is so distinct from anything else its size. It makes the kind of statement I want a car to make because it has way more personality than the Forester. The black wheels and black paint are the combination I would opt for, but it comes in a lot of interesting colors to fit all sorts of personalities and tastes. It isn’t beautiful, per se, but it is handsome in its own way. In general, it’s just much spunkier than the Forester, and I love that.

The standard black wheels are a fun visual feature few cars in this class have.

The standard black wheels are a fun visual feature few cars in this class have.

The Forester just isn't quite as dynamic as other crossovers.

The Forester just isn’t quite as dynamic as other crossovers.

With that said, the Forester isn’t an ugly machine, but is a more plain take on an incredibly competitive segment (notable rivals include Honda’s refreshed CR-V, Toyota’s fairly new RAV-4, among others). It clearly does its job well, but with less spark than the XV Crosstrek. It seems to lean towards the practicality side of things instead of the fun side.

These two both make compelling cases for consideration across the board. For crossovers with all-wheel drive, they come in at great prices and will legitimately allow millennials the flexibility to spend a weekend camping or at the ski slopes that a lot of other cars in this price range will not provide. They are practical and usable machines.

If I really had to make the choice between the two, I would side with the black XV Crosstrek. It isn’t quite as spacious, and I really wish it had the extra 22 horsepower from the Forester, but it combines the do and the feel in ways that better suit my lifestyle and personality than its big brother. The Forester is a good choice. I would encourage all potential buyers that want a crossover to look at Subaru. But I love the spunky look and more dynamic driving feel of the XV Crosstrek, and I think it is a solid choice for the money.