I am winging my way home from my third trip to Arizona in as many weeks. I am counting "three" even though on one of them I actually wound up overnighting just north of the Arizona-Utah line. Because Land Rover flew us in and out of Phoenix for that particular event, I'm am exercising a little creative license.
I go back yet again in two weeks with Toyota for its RAV4 program. I haven't been to Arizona on a car event in two or three years. Going four times in five weeks is a record for me. Before I get back there for Toyota, though, I'll mosey up to Chicago for the auto show. A few days bracing myself against single-digit temps flanked by Arizona stays in the 70s should be at least a bit of a shock to my system.
Kia staged its press launch of the 2014 Forte and 2014 Sorento at Scottsdale's W Hotel.
I've stayed in several Ws over the years. They are trendy affairs with an attitude of sorts. My major complaint with the chain was always that lighting seemed an insurmountable challenge for them. Staying in a W was something akin to appearing as an extra in a Fellini film. The last couple I've stayed in, though -- including the Scottsdale property, seem to have overcome their aversion to guests being able to find their way around without the aid of a seeing-eye dog and invested in some light bulbs. I could actually read my room number on my door without pulling out my cell phone and pointing the illuminated screen at it.
My room was just down the hall from Kia's hospitality suite, which I thought was brilliant planning on its PR staff's part. You don't want to turn me lose in an elevator with a few pops of Templeton Rye sloshing around in me. My room was comfortable and well suited for my work needs.
For Thursday's drive, we paired up with half the group first climbing aboard Sorentos and the remainder piloting Fortes. My partner and I grabbed a Sorento for the morning's travel.
Kia's drive route took us east and then south, including the communities of Mesa, Superior, Globe and Kearny. Of course, the scenery was magnificent, featuring mesas, mountains and stands of Saguaro cactus.
All of the Sorentos were of the $36,700 SX AWD variety. This isn't the top of the Sorento food chain, but darn close. At $24,100, the entry-level LX FWD is considerably less.
Many of the changes to Sorento are evident at first glance: new front and rear fascias, new rear-end appearance, new headlamps and so forth.
Inside the center console with its larger touchscreen is new, as is the gauge cluster. Although the exterior dimensions remain the same, Kia squeezed more passenger space out of the existing wrapper. Legroom in both the second- and third-row seats is greater. All in all, 80% of the parts in the 2014 Sorento are new or redesigned.
Sorento's all-new 3.3-liter V6 delivers 290 horsepower and provides plenty of grunt. When properly equipped, it can tow up to 3,500 pounds. We really liked the FlexSteer on our SX. Providing "Comfort," "Normal" and "Sport" modes, it can switch from one to another with the push of a button on the steering wheel. The firmest Sport setting really increases the steering feel to the driver.
One other Sorento aspect worth mentioning is its library-quiet passenger environment. We were amazed at its ability to shut out everything from engine noise to tire hum.
For the afternoon's touring, we mounted up into a Forte EX. This is the higher-end model of the two-trim-level lineup. Kia has yet to announce official pricing, but execs said a well-equipped LX will fetch about $18,500 when they go on sale in mid March.
Forte is also completely redesigned for 2014. To say this sedan looks a lot more expensive than it is doesn't do it justice. It is a fine looking machine. Furthermore, Kia packs it with unexpected features like satellite radio, Bluetooth connectivity and power-heated outboard mirrors. Standard in the EX is Kia's next-generation UVO infotainment system. Also offered is the FlexSteer system available in the Sorento.
Although my driving partner and I agreed that with a turbo version of Forte's 173-horsepower 2-liter four-cylinder engine this small sedan would be a flat-out hoot to drive, we found the four-banger to be more than adequate for every-day driving needs. It is responsive and athletic.
Typically on such ride and drives, one journalist drives while the other navigates using a booklet of printed instructions. It's up to the navigator to pay sufficient attention to the directions to keep the team on course. That's a wonderful theory, but doesn't always play out perfectly in practice. Occasionally the instructions can be ambiguous, the navigator may misread an instruction or, in some cases, the navigator may just be asleep at the switch.
Missing a turn doesn't always lead to catastrophe. More often than not, one or the other or both team members realize the road just passed was "the" turn. Easily fixed, the driver makes a U-turn, goes back and takes the appropriate route. Sometimes a team doesn't realize its mistake until they reach the mileage for the next course change and that road isn't there. A closer look at the route book reveals the navigator's error. Then it's a matter of going back and making the correct turn. On most routes the discovery of the error is no more than a couple of miles because there are a bevy of turns.
Teams have been known to be missing in action -- lost as last year's Easter egg -- for hours, but that is rare.
On the afternoon's driving segment my partner remarked after about 40 miles that this was her kind of ride and drive because the road was nearly perfect and the route included almost no turns. We might go 20 or 30 miles between a course change on the route Kia mapped out. Can you see where this is going?
When my driving partner made that fateful remark, we were about 10 miles beyond a turn I simply missed in the route book. It wasn't as though there were a bunch of turns and this one got lost. Nope, I just missed it.
There we were blissfully barreling along, oblivious that with every mile, we were traveling farther away from where we should have been. At lunch, one of the Kia PR folks made a big deal out of the size of a copper strip-mine hole that we shouldn't miss seeing. It was indicated in our route book with the appropriate mileage. We should have realized something was amiss when our trip odometer clicked over on the mine's mileage and there was no big hole. In fact, we were in a town of some sort.
Our reaction was that the PR type was full of crap -- many of them are -- and there wasn't really much to see. There were nearly 35 miles between the turn we missed and the next one. When we arrived at the mileage for the next turn, we suddenly realized my mistake. Pulling off the road, I rechecked the instructions and discovered what I had overlooked. Boy, was my face red.
"How could we have missed that," I mused out loud.
"What do you mean 'we'," she shot back.
"Well, you are in the car, too," I offered.
"There's no 'we'," she barked. "This is you, and you're driving the rest of the way!"
We changed places and she promptly tweeted what a directionally challenged loser I am.
Actually, we are good friends. Some part of the blame falls on the fact that we were talking and cutting up so much, I just wasn't paying attention.
Doing the math wasn't difficult. We had driven about 35 miles out of our way and had to drive that same 35 miles back to the missed turn. Yep, that's 70 miles.
On our way out, we had passed at least two unmarked, white police cars traveling the opposite direction. I made the U-turn and put the peddle to the metal, keeping alert for white, unmarked police cars heading our way. I'd be blasting along when suddenly I'd see a white vehicle heading toward us in the distance. I'd brake just to discover it was a pickup truck or a civilian in a white Chevy Impala. We didn't realize just how many white cars are on the highway in Arizona until we started looking for white police cars. Every-other vehicle on the road in Arizona is white. No kidding.
After retracing our steps and getting back on course, my primary goal was to ensure we weren't the last car back to the W. Believe it or not, we weren't. Others came straggling in behind us.
Once in the hospitality suite, I gulped down an 8th Street Ale from the Four Peaks brewery in Tempe. It was a little hoppy for me, but good. Getting lost is thirsty work.
As part of our dinner the second night, Kia secured the services of Jason Asher, GQ magazine's "The Most Inspired Bartender of 2010." Jason had concocted four specialty drinks for Kia. He was manning his own small bar in one of the small areas off the real bar.
As we arrived at dinner, servers passed out little samplers of Jason's four drinks. I was particularly taken with a liquid gem Jason called "Tiger Nose." Including Templeton Rye, bitters and some other mystery stuff, it was spectacular. Watching him make them was a trip in itself.
Answering the annoying call of my alarm at 4:15 the next morning to make my 5:00 ride to the airport was no easy task.
Damn Tiger Nose!