27 Brands and 52 Cars at MPG Track Day
Motor Press Guild (MPG) is the Southern California trade association for automotive journalists. MPG’s goal of bringing together writers with automotive industry representatives is best demonstrated by its annual Track Day at Willow Springs Raceway. For those of you that have never been to Willow Springs, it is guaranteed you are familiar with this track as it has appeared in hundreds of commercials. Recognizable by its twisting track with extreme elevation changes and barren landscape, Willow Springs offers a challenging test for journalists and racers alike.
Motor Press Guild hits the track at Willow Springs
In early November, journalists headed 90 miles northeast of Los Angeles to strap on a helmet and get behind the wheel of some pretty cool cars. After a safety talk, warnings and driving rules, off we went in a very orderly and polite manner to get in as many cars as we could in a seven-hour timeframe.
My first drive was the 2017 Subaru BRZ Series Yellow. This limited-edition version is designed for track use with improved performance and handling and includes a Track Mode setting. In other words, it’s ideal for a few laps on a racetrack. A quick summary is the car was an absolute blast to drive and continues the good reputation Subaru has for designing fun sports cars.
I then got into these 2017 cars that all begged to be driven fast around the track.
- Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio
- BMW X3 M40i
- Dodge Durango SRT
- Fiat 124 Abarth
- Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk
- VW Jetta GLI
On To the Off-Road
The auto manufacturers also brought a few SUVs and trucks for off-road driving. The off-road course is intense, with a near-sheer drop off the mountain surrounding Willow Springs Raceway. There were several to choose from, and I opted for the Land Rover Discovery turbocharged V6 diesel. You want rock climbing in luxury? Look no further!
The off-road course offers some challenges
The permanent 4WD utilizes Land Rover’s All-Terrain Progress Control technology. When engaged, the air suspension lifts for an additional 2.95-inches of ground clearance, and the speed can be set for as slow as 1.2 mph for a safe and confident feeling using the Hill Descent Control. I say safe and confident because the rutted, scree we were descending, in a near straight down pitch, required this fantastic technology to get to the bottom of the hill without scratching the roof.
Next up was a visit to Willow Springs second and smaller track, the Streets Of Willow, where three cars were staged with factory, professional drivers that would provide white-knuckle hot laps.
Did someone say fast cars? And faster drivers
I had the opportunity to ride (maybe hang on is a better description!) with Patrick Long in the Porsche Panamera Executive AWD, Joel Miller in the Mazda MX-5 Miata RF Grand Touring and Adam Seaman thrashing a BMW M3. If you ever get the opportunity to have a professional driver, especially one from a factory race team, take you around a track in a high-performance car, don’t make the mistake of saying “no.” It is a blast!
The AWD Porsche Panamera Executive and the RWD BMW M3 were far more powerful cars than the RWD Mazda MX-5 Miata RF. So, while the rear end was sliding on the Porsche and BMW, the Mazda was controlled and smooth through the corners, and tracked like a MX-5 Miata is known to track.
It was fascinating to watch how each driver/car approached the corners differently, before all hitting the apex in the same place. As an automotive journalist, experiences with people that really really know how to handle a car are invaluable for my reviews.
The Real Test–Country Roads
To slow things down a bit as the day was coming to a close, I drove a few cars on the country roads surrounding Willow Springs Raceway.
- Alfa Romeo Stelvio Ti
- Mini Countryman SE PHEV
- Nissan 370Z Heritage Edition
- Volvo V90
- VW Atlas
After all the excitement of driving on the tracks and off-road, it may seem a let-down to drive on regular roads, but this though could not be further from the truth. Even on a short drive, journalists can get a quick feel for a car they will later request for a longer-term loan.
We were glad to get a preview of the plug-in Mini
Clean Fleet Report tests cars from seven to ten days before we write a ‘Road Test’ review. This is the best way we know to give you, our readers, the best evaluation of a car so you can add it to your shopping consideration list. Therefore, full reviews on many of the listed cars will be posted on Clean Fleet Report in the coming months.
The auto manufacturers work hard to develop good relationships and communication with journalists. They know that without honest and objective reviews, getting out the word, to you the consumer, would be difficult at best. Clean Fleet Report thanks all the participating auto manufacturers that were part of the Motor Press Guild’s Willow Springs Track Day.
Diesel’s Very Alive & Found a Good Home
Some things are made for each other. We believe that goes for modern diesel engines and SUVs, particularly those capable of real off-road adventures. The 2017 Land Rover Discovery Td6, which we drove at the recent Western Automotive Journalists’ Media Day program, fully embodies the concept.
The big boys like the Discovery are designed for diesel
Driving off-road road (and, we’d add, on-road) requires torque. It is the most elemental part of driving—that grunt power to launch from a dead stop or accelerate in critical situations. Not coincidentally, that’s why we love electric vehicles, since electric motors provide maximum torque at low speeds. But as the weight of the vehicle increases, electrics tend to strain as they have to add weight to carry the batteries that provide the power. Moving to the traditional internal combustion engine, the diesel version is one that provides a great balance of tremendous torque and a more acceptable power-to-weight ratio.
The other aspect where diesel thrives is moving large vehicles. It’s no accident that diesel power is behind locomotives, giant ocean-going vessels and some of the largest land equipment found in mines in the arctic. A compression ignition engine does the work, while delivering fuel efficiency superior to spark-ignited engines fueled by gasoline.
The Brits Take It to the Limit
While much of the automotive world has been treating diesel as a pariah in light of the Volkswagen emissions cheating scandal, the Brits at Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) have taken an opposite tack. The company has a long history with diesel and a stable of luxury vehicles not oriented toward fuel efficiency, so diesel power is a logical approach to meeting the increasingly stringent standards for engines around the world while still delivering the performance expected in this class of convenience.
With its executives railing against the “demonization” of diesel, JLR has moved forward by introducing diesel powertrains in both its Jaguar sedans and SUVs as well as in the venerable Land Rover SUVs.
The badge that covers all the bases–on-road & off
We drove the 2017 Land Rover Discovery Td6, which we think is the perfect fit for the 3.0-liter turbodiesel V6 engine. It cranks out 254 horsepower, significantly less than the base 3.0-liter supercharged gas engine, but delivers 443 pounds-feet of torque, which is what a 4900-pound SUV really craves.
The power is needed to haul around the seven-passenger off-road machine, capable as are all Land Rovers of going far beyond the mall-cruising they are typically relegated to in this country. With its 26-mpg highway rating and 22.5-gallon tank, the diesel Land Rover is capable to taking you more than 585 miles on the highway or into the outback. As with most diesels, I suspect with some judicious driving and a light load 30 mpg highway is within reach in the Discovery.
A Full Luxury SUV
While Land Rover has its roots in hard-core off-road machines and retains that basic capability, in recent years it has moved dramatically into the hard-core luxury market. The 2017 Land Rover Discovery HSE Luxury Td6 I drove was probably the epitome of the brand. While a basic Discovery with the 340-horsepower supercharged gas engine starts at $49,990, the diesel variant starts at $58,950 and the Luxury model I drove began at $65,950 with a full-contingent of premium features. But, of course, you could add to that and easily push the cost up into the stratosphere.
Soft touch and secret spaces
Everything is easy, as it should be, in a luxury SUV. Surfaces seems soft-touch, where a gentle press of a finger brings electronics to life or alerts the features of your desires. I didn’t get a chance (this time—I have in the past) to take the Land Rover off-road to really get a feel for its capability, but on-road it offered smooth power with a wonderfully high-riding, commanding point of view from the 12-way power driver’s seat. The upgrade 825-watt, 14-speaker Meridian sound system was what you might expect. Other luxury and technology features were in abundance.
As is befitting a luxury vehicle, the slight diesel clatter at start quickly dissipated as the SUV got up to speed and smooth and quiet torque was available throughout the powerband. The 2017 Land Rover Discovery Td6 continues a strong tradition as an unmatched four-wheel-drive off-road machine that simultaneously delivers a full measure of luxury. It was a pleasure to spend a short time with this aspirational machine.
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Clean Fleet Report is loaned free test vehicles from automakers to evaluate, typically for a week at a time. Our road tests are based on this one-week drive of a new vehicle. Because of this we don’t address issues such as long-term reliability or total cost of ownership. In addition we are often invited to manufacturer events highlighting new vehicles or technology. As part of these events we may be offered free transportation, lodging or meals. We do our best to present our unvarnished evaluations of vehicles and news irrespective of these inducements.
Our focus is on vehicles that offer the best fuel economy in their class, which leads us to emphasize electric cars, plug-in hybrids, hybrids and diesels. We also feature those efficient gas-powered vehicles that are among the top mpg vehicles in their class. In addition, we aim to offer reviews and news on advanced technology and the alternative fuel vehicle market. We welcome any feedback from vehicle owners and are dedicated to providing a forum for alternative viewpoints. Please let us know your views at firstname.lastname@example.org.