Main Street in Motion: What I think.Posted: August 11, 2011
In a related article, Nick talked about his experience at Main Street in Motion, an event created by General Motors, in order to show off their lineup and all the improvements they’ve made (or in some cases, not made) over the past years. It’s worthy to note that, after a quick talk with another patron, that GM used to do these events often, and this was the first time they’d done this in quite some time. Knowing that, I took some drives and a few observations. For example, they attempted to get lower-optioned versions of competitor vehicles at any chance they could, with some notable exceptions, which I will get to later. Also, like Nick said, the entire event was free of charge.
First stop? The Buick tent. Here, Buick offered drives of the Regal CXL and Turbo, as well as the LaCrosse CXL and CXS. As competition, Buick offered up an Acura TL and TSX, as well as a Lexus ES350–the lone representative of Lexus at either event. I took the LaCrosse on the track first, and managed to, with the traction control active, chirp the tires off the line. This, combined with surprisingly sprightly dance moves around the track, made me think twice about my thoughts on Buick’s image. They’re doing a great job improving it, and the interior work shows this as well–both the Lacrosse and Regal have interiors lined with nice leather, wood, and trim. In particular, they’ve styled everything very well, something I cannot say about the Lexus.
The ES350 is, in a word or two, surprisingly terrible. It’s boring to look at, boring to sit in, and worse, not that good to drive. The interior is nicely made, with excellent materials, but it looks somewhat drab with its conventional center stack and traditional console. When next to the Lacrosse, it’s downright old-fashioned. The V6 pulls well, but it handles a bit nervously and rides horribly–the end of the track contained a rough-road simulation, and the Lexus almost knocked my teeth out. I’d take the Buick over this embarrassment any day. Unfortunately, the TL makes Buick sweat in all the wrong places. It’s just as well-equipped as the CXS, but has a much more active personality, and is much more fun out on the track. The TSX does exactly the same thing to the Regal Turbo–it’s a much more fun car to drive, while offering the same quality inside and out. Buick’s coming along well, but Acura is going to make them lose a lot of sleep at night.
Chevrolet had its cars lined up next door, including a few Cruzes, a few Malibus, a pair of Impalas, and some competitor products. My belief that Chevy deserves a medal for the Cruze rang true as soon as I took a lap in the LTZ and the cheaper Eco model. Neither will set your hair on fire–but they’re fun in their own right, offering up good steering and brakes, while giving you quality that will shatter any predisposition you have. The Cobalt was pretty much an also-ran–the Cruze runs away with the show. Meanwhile, GM offered a Civic, a Corolla, and an Elantra to compare. I tried the Civic (I’ve driven the Elantra before, as most of you know, I did not like it very much), and was underwhelmed. I expected better from Honda–this thing has an interior that felt a bit cheap, an instrument panel that just confused me, and styling that makes it look too much like the previous-gen model.
The Malibu, on the other hand, is in its last full year now. GM unveiled a new one this spring, to go on sale this fall, and I can see why. It was good when it was new, but it’s outdated now. Chevrolet gave a Camry and an Accord to measure against the Malibu, and the Accord’s much better–it handles better and has higher-quality interior materials, while the engine, despite it being the base offering, felt lively and sounded as such. The Camry, though, is underwhelming, even compared to the Malibu–at a glance, it looks even less interesting, and it drives as such. I’m still wondering why they didn’t provide a Fusion or a Kia Optima to compare.
Full-size cars? Er…GM should probably rethink their approach. The two Impalas drove just like I expected–neither one has any ability on the track, and the Taurus that they offered for an alternative walked all over it, as did the Maxima too. In fact, the Ford isn’t that bad at all, but it still isn’t quite up to the Maxima’s standard. Meanwhile, I’m not going to go into detail about the Impala’s classic GM interior–plastic, plastic, and more plastic. GM has to start working on this segment if they want to get sales to increase–the Impala is dated to the point of sour milk.
The Acadia Denali provided was accompanied by an Acura MDX Tech, a Nissan Murano SL, and a Hyundai Santa Fe. I was genuinely shocked at how well the Denali handled tight turns, all while offering a well-equipped interior and excellent design details. The MDX, though, is even better; its AWD system, combined with the great chassis Acura blessed this truck with, allows it to corner so well that I couldn’t believe what I was driving. Meanwhile, the lumbering Murano, despite its well-proven VQ35 engine, has no chance in the corners, offering up tire squeal, body lean, and understeer. The Santa Fe was better than the Nissan, and it’s cheaper.
I drove a few GM trucks, including a Suburban, Yukon XL, Yukon Hybrid, and a Silverado pickup. The Suburban is enormous–anyone who’s ever tried parking a barge will understand. Hustling one around a tight autocross-style track is downright fun, up until you die. I drove an Expedition King Ranch to compare and thought it was slightly more nimble than the Tahoe/Yukon Hybrid on offer also. I was, however, blown away by the Ram trucks. They offered two Laramie crew cabs, a 1500 Hemi and a 2500 Cummins diesel. The Cummins in particular offers a huge amount of pulling power from a dead stop, and once the turbo spools up, expect momentum to kick in. The Hemi, meanwhile, is eager and sounds great on the move. However, the interiors kill the GM trucks–they’re comfortable, upscale, and seem to be durable too.
The performance track was my first chance to ever drive a Camaro and a Corvette. I had the same GM rep in the seat for the Camaros, and my Corvette passenger was exactly the same guy who accompanied Nick in the Camaro SS. The Camaros were surprising, in that all were a bit quicker than I expected, and their interiors were surprisngly comfortable. The ‘Vette, however, was the most fun I had all day. A yellow Corvette convertible that I’m allowed to drive, right now? Yes, I think I’ll do that. While I was nowhere near as fast as Nick (and I didn’t scare anyone), I genuinely enjoyed the opportunity of driving this car, and I was disappointed that GM didn’t offer a Mustang or two to compare to the Camaros on site. I drove the coupe at the NJ event as well, and it felt much more apt in the corners than the convertible.
Finally, I drove the Volt. Twice. What a car–Nick’s reviewed it, and in the near future, I’ve spoken about its place in the market for now and the future already, so I’ll make this quick. It’s not ahead of its time–it’s of its time. This is an amazing piece of engineering, and GM deserves every award that it has received for it, and then some. Overall, I truly enjoyed my time at the Philadelphia event, and the East Rutherford event as well at the end of July. GM would be smart to do this again–what a great idea.