It’s easy to be cynical about the automotive business. Between enormous profits, international scandals and environmental damage, the flaws are everywhere. What is less obvious are the incredible people that work in this industry and who often realize that their unique position gives them the opportunity not only to work with cars, but to make a difference in other’s lives.
Case in point, a recent fundraising event I attended courtesy of the Motor Press Guild called Miles4Miles. The event was to benefit the recover of a young and promising journalist named Miles Branman who was in an atrocious motorcycle accident this past winter. He and some friends were stopped at a stop light when a drunk driver plowed into them. Miles suffered extensive injuries including traumatic brain injuries. Now, I could spend the rest five paragraphs telling you how cool Miles is—a more honest, down-to-earth straight up dude you’ll never find. But he’s not one for attention, so trust me that he (and his wife) are special people. Here’s where the story stops being sad…
Every year, the Motor Press Guild holds a driving event where we test drive all kinds of cars on and off road in Malibu. Because somebody must. But this year, FCA rep Scott Brown called two friends (MPG committee chair Chris Wardlaw and YouTube journalist Ron Doron) and said, “How about this year we make it a fundraiser for Miles?” And they were off.
The response was incredible. Mercedes said yes. Jaguar/LandRover said yes. Kia said yes and added, “We’d also like to sponsor the t-shirt (buy one here).” Jeep, Subaru, Nissan, Aston Martin, Acura, McLaren, Toyota..all said yes. In fact, they ALL said yes. The automakers agreed to bring their latest models and to donate money per mile driven for Miles’ recovery and Miles4Miles was born. Automakers and sponsors that were unable to attend donated products to the charity auction, that you can bid on here.
At the event, my job was to drive as many cars as possible and to put on as many miles as possible. With vehicles like this, you don’t have to ask me twice. I started with this little daily driver called the 2019 Acura NSX ($157,500).
I’ve been a huge fan of the NSX since its release because a)it’s gorgeous, b)it’s a feat of engineering mastery and c)it’s designed by an American woman named Michelle Christensen. I’ve done hot laps with pro drivers in the NSX out at Willow Springs, which was fantastic. But I had never driven one, not until Miles4Miles.
Even if you’re a supercar aficionado, this is not your everyday vehicle. With a healthy output of 573 hp and 476 torque, the twin-turbocharged 3.5-liter V-6 achieves all-wheel drive (kinda) thanks to the three electric motors (two in the front and one in the rear). What was most surprising about the NSX wasn’t the speed or performance (I already had my face blown off with the pro driver) but how comfortable and easy to drive it can be in Quiet mode. It’s such a drag to be the d-bag in the super car with earth-shaking revs when you’re stuck in traffic.
Next up, I got in the Aston Martin DB11 V8 Volante ($219,581). If you’ve seen any of my videos, you already know how obsessed I am with the DB11. It’s like someone took your dream purse and attached it to your dream engine. Heaven on earth.
But what’s special here is the Volante, meaning convertible, so you can experience the symphony of engine sounds that this English masterpiece exudes. I dare you to find a more elegant modern car. Just try.
And next, because I’m a gluttonous fool, I drove the Mercedes-AMG GT C ($179,295 as tested). I’ve always thought this vehicle was gorgeous but naively assumed it wasn’t keeping up in the performance category. That was dumb. Not only is this one of the most beautiful cars I’ve ever driven, it held the road like a screaming toddler to its mother’s neck—death grip.
Half way through my drive, I called my husband for the requisite “nah, nah-nah, nah, nah” and he asked if I had tried the paddle shifters. “No,” I said, annoyed. This was supposed to be my gloat, not his. “Do it,” he said, “now.” I put the phone on speaker, placed it in the passenger seat and put the Merc into manual mode. Now we don’t need to get into the string of expletives and ecstacy that followed, but let’s just say they are the sounds usually heard when babies are made. Spectacular. Then I drove it back to the ranch and a fellow journalist walked up and said, “Did you try those paddle shifter?” Why yes I did, dammit.
Next car? A Kia. Oh, calm down. The Stinger GTS (MSRP $44,000– sorry I didn’t get a photo cuz I’m an idiot). This new, limited edition Stinger is easy to spot for it’s only available in the distinctive orange metallic color. Kia is limiting production to only 800 models of the GTS with improved all-wheel drive and drift mode as available options. No, I didn’t drift it. As ridiculous as it was that I got out of 3 legit supercars and then got into a Kia, the contrast really wasn’t that dramatic. Which is just a testimony to this amazing performance sedan whose bang-for-the-buck factor is truly hard to beat. (read my GT1 review here)
Then, over in the corner was this red truck. I wondered, ‘Is that the Ecodiesel?’ Turns out it was. If you’ve driven the RAM 1500 with its crazy 5.7L HEMI® V8 engine with eTorque hybrid, you’ll know that it is a unique truck. So I was looking forward to driving the new diesel 1500 Rebel 4×4 version ($44,940 as tested). The fun started at around 1600 RPM, because that’s when the torque kicks in and delivers 480 lb-ft from its 3.0-liter engine. Say what? Sounds impossible, sounds incredible, but it’s true. If you are someone who likes to tow stuff, brace yourself. This is a fun ride. Oh and the 27 mpg doesn’t hurt either. Now show me that Ecodiesel Wrangler!
As I got out of the RAM, a friend grabbed me and said, “Hey how about a spin in this?”
I’ve always had a hard time saying no to a sexy Italian, so I hopped in. The interior of the Stelvio ($88,540 as tested) is immediately distinctive with finishes that are both luxurious and sumptuous. However, this style isn’t for everyone—the red suede and chrome touches are the constant reminder that ain’t no Volvo, bitches! Driving the Stelvio is like spending a semester in Tuscany– difficult to settle in at first, but then after you become accustomed to the twin-turbocharged 2.9-liter V-6 and its 505 horsepower and 443 lb-ft of torque, you wonder if you really ever need to go home.
Finally, I realized that I only had time left to drive one last car. So I need to pick something cool. Something smart. Something that would leave me with a smile on my face. I picked the 2020 Subaru Outback Onyx Edition XT ($37,750 as tested). Seriously.
Mainly because so many of you guys ask me about this car and I feel silly that I haven’t driven the latest version. Also because my dogs would want me to. Happily the Outback did not disappoint. My issue with the Outback has always been the adrenaline factor, it always seemed to lack any umff. But this new 2.4L turbocharged BOXER engine really pushes it into the fun zone. The new, larger 11.6” touchscreen is also a great upgrade, while the interior itself is also elevated but still remains in the utilitarian Subaru territory. You can have fun in this car, but still pile your wet dogs inside and not panic when it does the wet doggie shake. The Subie is mean to be hosed down, well loved and driven forever.
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On my way home from this event, as I reflected on all of the effort and sacrifice that went into putting this day together, it was astounding. Car companies and car people coming together to help one of our own, it is truly humbling. (I’m not crying, you’re crying!)
If you’d like to help Miles and his recovery effort, buy a t-shirt, go to the online auction or simply donate to his Go Fund Me page. Note: all excess proceeds will go to MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Drivers) an organization that has truly helped Miles and his family through this difficult time. Here is a video about Miles’ accident, his brave recovery and his remarkable family: