The mission: Help me pick a car for a road trip to a human factors conference in the Adirondacks.
Next week I'm heading to my favorite conference, Driving Assessment 2013. Held biannually, 200 or so researchers get together to present work on how people interact with cars, with talks on topics like driver performance and distraction. It's great to hear the latest research, as it gets the brain juices going.
Another great thing: this year the conference is at Lake George in New York's Adirondack mountains. No need to suffer flying on a buzzy regional jet out of Hartford to get there. I can just wander over to the office key board and pick one of the many cars from Consumer Reports' test fleet.
You'd think this is easy. After all, while we have 52 cars available right now. But it's more complicated than it sounds.
For instance, driving our entertaining Fiat 500 Abarth would be downright masochistic.
This trip cries out for the highway fuel-sipping Chevrolet Cruze diesel, or our comfy Kia Cadenza. But we're racking up break-in miles on those cars before testing, and they need to circulate through our staff for their impressions. I can't hog them for four days.
There are some cars finished our testing program but are otherwise occupied. Our Chevrolet Impala would be a fabulous road trip car, but it needs to stick around for photography. Same with our Jaguar XF. (Also, it's 56 miles from the Jag dealer in Albany to Lake George. Just saying.) And I don't dare try to pry the keys of our super-popular Jeep Grand Cherokee out of my colleagues' hands.
So I've narrowed down my choices to three contenders:
- Our 2012 Chrysler 300 V6 is still hanging around the track. Slide into the sofa-like seat, grab the baseball-bat-like "wood" steering wheel, and point this cruiser up the New York State Thruway. With 13,800 miles on the odometer, it still feels new--an improvement over our tired-feeling early-build 2011 300C. Lots of plusses here, including the great Uconnect infotainment system. Plus, the trial Sirius/XM satellite subscription is still active.
- I have a love/hate relationship with our 2013 Cadillac ATS. Super-nimble and poshly finished, this compact sports sedan is a total blast to drive. But the 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine in our car can be unrefined. Worse, the Cue infotainment system drives most of us batty. It's not growing on us.
- If I want to save CR some gas money, I could take our 2013 Ford Fusion Hybrid. With a quiet cabin and great ride, I'd have a comfortable trip. Our Hybrid lacks the annoying MyFord Touch system yet still has Sync voice-command control for phones and music players. You think about this stuff when driving to listen to driving distraction research.