I'm not the kind of guy who goes in much for tourist traps. I've never seen the “world's largest ball of twine,” for example. But there I was in Memphis, Tennessee with Hyundai for the Southeast media first drive of the redesigned 2015 Sonata with the prospect of visiting Elvis' Graceland for the first time dangling in front of me. What was I going to say, no?
I had no more than walked in the front door of the Westin Memphis hotel than I was ambushed by a contingent of Hyundai PR types asking if I was interested in tagging along on a spur-of-the-moment pilgrimage to Graceland.
I hadn't even checked in yet. “Um, well, ah, er...,” I stammered.
I had a couple of work-related things which needed my attention, but an offer to see the home of the world's iconic rock and roller doesn't come every day. It was approaching 2:00 in the afternoon. A tidy group of a half-dozen-or-so media types, giddy with anticipation, was already forming in the lobby for the trek to Elvis' former crib.
|Obtaining our copy of this stunning pic only cost $25! But it was printed on authentic glossy paper.|
My knee-jerk reaction to such opportunities is to simply say, yes, and deal with any consequences later. I guess it's really more of a guiding principle than a reaction. In any case, I followed it, joining this merry band of wide-eyed tourists after checking in and depositing my bag in room 327.
As we filed out of the hotel, an example of my reason for being in Memphis sat gleaming in the bright sunlight in front of the Westin's entrance. The 2015 Hyundai Sonata is one fine looking sedan.
|The Gibson Guitar factory is across the street from the Westin.|
As an accessible premium-like sedan – think Genesis for the unwashed – here are a few Sonata highlights that you may find compelling: Its cabin is sufficiently roomy to earn it a “large” classification by the EPA. Its interior volume dwarfs all of its benchmark competition, such as Toyota Camry, Honda Accord, Nissan Altima and Ford Fusion. All interior components are redesigned to enhance driver comfort and confidence.
Two four-cylinder engines power assorted Sonata versions. Although the base 2.4-liter four with its 185 horsepower is an eager power source, the 245-horsepower 2-liter turbocharged four is nothing short of a blast to pilot. It is aggressive and responsive. It attacks the corners like Michael Moore going after a sack of Oreos. Hyundai pairs both engines to a six-speed, driver-shiftable automatic transmission.
Seven airbags include a new driver's-side knee airbag. Other standard or available safety features, such as forward-collision warning, blind-spot detection, rear-cross-traffic alert and lane-departure warning increase the sense of security. Toss in automatic high-beam control, adaptive cruise control with full-stop capability and automatic trunk opening, and you begin to get an idea of just how advanced the new Sonata is.
The list of multi-media features is extensive as well. Sonata offers everything from Pandora to Hyundai's Blue Link with remote start.
Anchoring the price structure is the $21,150 Sonata SE. From there prices wind their way to as much as $33,525 for a loaded-up Sonata Sport 2.0T.
Although the roads from Memphis down through Mississippi along its Delta Blues corridor aren't overly challenging, they are rather twisty, despite being pancake flat. The Sonatas armed with both engines were a delight to drive. Without question, the turbocharged 2-liter provided the more exciting experience, but my driving partner and I were also smitten with the less potent four. The most glaring difference between the two engines is that the transmission stays pretty busy with the non-turbo.
|Graceland's "Jungle Room."|
We, of course, wouldn't discover all of this until the next day when we would pile into Sonatas and head into Mississippi. In the meantime, we were Graceland bound.
Make no mistake: Graceland is a tourist trap of the first order. Hyundai was kind enough to pony up the $37 cost of my embarking on this tour of all things Elvis. I won't dwell on the varied and somewhat creative means by which the good folks running Graceland have concocted over the years to separate enthusiastic Elvis fans from their money. But they are legion.
|Not really a mansion by today's standards.|
The house itself is less than a mansion by today's standards. Seeing it for the first time wasn't as big a shock as my first up-close-and-personal gander at the Alamo, but I certainly expected something bigger. Inside, some rooms are quite tasteful; while others looked like they were designed by a color-blind decorator tripping on LSD. Green shag carpet on the ceiling? Really?
Even as someone who grew up in the Elvis era, I forget just what a big deal he was and continues to be. Scores of gold and platinum records line the hallways. Many of his stage costumes are displayed as well.
|1956 Cadillac Eldorado Convertible.|
Although not huge, the car museum is stocked with a number of pristine and interesting vehicles.
Paying visitors also get to shuffle by Elvis' grave. Elvis has indeed left this mortal coil.
I am glad I went, but wouldn't bother going back, even on someone else's nickle.
|Ground Zero is actually in one of Clarksdale's nicer buildings.|
Perhaps the highlight of my Memphis visit – other than climbing behind the wheel of the redesigned Sonata – was the lunch stop on our driving day. We paused for a little midday nourishment at the Ground Zero Blues Club in Clarksdale, Mississippi. Anyone with a background in Blues, I am told, is aware of Ground Zero. It's a must-see stop on a journey along the Delta Blues corridor.
As we munched on barbecue and fried catfish, we were treated to a live performance by a rather exceptional Blues trio. The atmosphere was funky, the barbecue passable and the music stellar.
|Beale Street in Memphis on "Bike Night."|
I made 30 or more round trips between Louisville, Kentucky and Las Cruces, New Mexico, which meant driving through Memphis a lot in the seventies. While working on the travel TV series “Discover America,” I had reason to fly into Memphis two or three times, but then hopped in a car and drove off somewhere else. This was the first time in my life I actually spent some real time in Memphis. I am impressed.
It was a quick two-night stay, but I enjoyed the experience. A longer Memphis visit is now on my bucket list.