Car tests may be grueling, but they don’t always reflect what the average driver experiences on a day-to-day basis. At Latino Traffic Report, my mission is to test cars in real world conditions.
That said, I recently stepped up to run for Austin City Council. Dashing from candidate forum to candidate forum, as well as touring my 45-square-mile district not only exposed me to parts of town I hadn’t explored, it ramped up the normal test-drive.
The 2014 campaign cycle included the very first single-member-district election in Austin. When I realized that Latinos made up the largest portion of the residents in my district (43 percent), I felt Latino voters also needed a choice on the ballot. After polling friends to find a candidate, the consensus was that I should run, so I did.
In the true spirit of single-member-districts—to cast a wider net to attract candidates because of the more affordable nature of running in a district rather than citywide—I embarked on a “do it yourself” campaign. While I didn’t win, I came in third out of nine candidates and on a budget of nearly $4,000. Not bad, right?
On the campaign trail, I relied on each test vehicle to get me around town. From navigation systems to cargo capacity, here’s how the following vehicles met the challenge.
I registered a campaign treasurer in July in the middle of a long-term loan with the 2015 Dodge Dart Limited. I would get to know this vehicle the best, spending three months with it rather than just the normal week. I thoroughly enjoyed this underrated sedan from Dodge.
I averaged a city/highway fuel economy of 26/33 miles per gallon (mpg) from the 2.4-liter four-cylinder matched to a six-speed transmission. But what really made this car special was the inclusion of fancy features not normally associated with this segment, e.g. an optional seven-inch Thin Film Transistor (TFT) customizable gauge cluster, white (not grey) and black leather seats, a heated steering wheel, the ParkView rear backup camera and ParkSense rear park assist, and blind spot warning.
It even had a CD player, which is hard to find on new FCA (Chrysler) products.
A navigation system on the campaign trail is essential. The Dart’s was easy to program, especially with the big 8.4-inch touch screen. The UConnect infotainment system was also intuitive.
Finally, the price was right. The as-tested MSRP for the 2014 Dodge Dart came to $24,985.
The Infiniti QX70 stands out in a crowded segment as a performance luxury crossover utility vehicle (CUV). While its looks support that description, especially the rims, I found the 2015 QX70 to be quite handy as well, especially for loading and unloading campaign signs.
In a do-it-yourself campaign you rely on the kindness of friends and family. One in particular, Connie McCracken, lent her design skills to create my logo for the campaign signs. The day I collected my first set of signs and loaded them into the QX70 was the day the campaign officially took off.
The 60/40 split folding and reclining rear seats deployed easily, expanding cargo capacity to 62 cubic feet. Running around town (and in and out of parking lots) to meet with Connie brought the Infiniti’s innovative Around View Camera into use.
Powered by a 3.7-liter V6 matched to a seven speed automatic transmission with Adaptive Shift Control, the QX70 achieved an average fuel economy of 19.2 mpg. I did take the QX70 on a road trip to Dallas and the 23.8-gallon gas tank made it there and back (400 miles) without refueling.
In the middle of the Texas heat, the QX70 also offered relief with cooled as well as heated leather seats, specifically, the optional quilted seats with purple accent stitching.
The as-tested price for the 2015 Infiniti QX70, with the Technology ($2,950), Premium ($4,300), and Sport ($3,500) packages came to $58,085.
Sharing the same platform as the Dodge Dart, the Chrysler 200 offers a lot of the same attributes, but with a bit more panache and a few exclusives.
For starters, a 3.6-liter V6 matched to a nine-speed automatic transmission powered the 200S that I drove, improving the EPA estimated fuel economy to 18 mpg in the city and 29 mpg on the highway. I averaged 24.7 mpg. The base engine is the 2.4-liter inline four-cylinder.
This test model also included all-wheel drive (AWD), a nice option in this segment, adding road confidence.
The S model comes with unique exterior features like gloss black trim and accent pieces, gloss black surrounding the side windows, and integrated dual exhausts.
Like the Dart, the 8.4-inch UConnect display and navigation system came in very handy. I also received a lot of compliments on the campaign trail from folks who appreciated the 200’s all-new exterior design and blue paint.
The MSRP for the 2015 Chrysler 200S came to $32,775 and included the Navigation package ($1495), the Comfort ($795), and the Premium Lighting ($795) groups.
GMC Terrain Denali
The GMC Terrain Denali AWD arrived on the Wednesday before my neighborhood association’s candidate forum. This was the culmination of two months of forums so I felt pretty prepared plus it was nice to arrive (and hopefully make a good impression) in such an elegant SUV.
I also took to the streets block walking around this time, one of the best parts of the campaign. The Terrain made carting yard signs, in case one of my neighbors opted to display their support, particularly handy. Its 60/40 split and sliding rear seats deployed easily as did the power liftgate.
The Terrain set itself apart from its onset, with a standard rear backup camera—you don’t have to opt in for the Denali to get it.
Driving door-to-door put the standard blind spot monitor and rear cross traffic alert systems to good use.
As a Denali, it had fancy options like red accent stitching and the Denali brand on the leather seats, enhanced ride and handling, and TV screens in the headrests, but oddly, didn’t have push button start.
Pricing for this top-of-the-line version of the 2015 GMC Terrain came to $42,430.
By the time the Chevy Silverado 1500 Z71 4WD LT Crew arrived, it was time to vote.
Early voting began October 20 and for candidates, that meant putting up signs at a handful of precincts. What better vehicle to receive that week than the Chevy Silverado? It carried a lot of signs in its five-foot eight-inch bed plus the EZ Lift and Lower (dampened) tailgate—added with the 2014 Silverado redesign—was put to good use.
A 4.3-liter V6 engine matched to a six-speed transmission powered the test model but the Silverado also offers a choice of two V8 engines (a 5.3-liter and 6.2-liter). The V6 had an EPA estimated city/highway fuel rating of 17/22 mpg. Running around from precinct to precinct, I averaged 17.3 mpg.
The MyLink infotainment system with an eight-inch touch screen works like a tablet, but since I don’t own one it took a little practice to get used to the right sweeping motion required to program radio station presets. I also could have used a backup camera.
Still, the Silverado will hold a special significance for me since it’s the truck that took me to the polls to cast my vote.
The 2015 Chevy Silverado Z71’s as-tested MSRP came to $47,060.
While the Silverado took me to the polls during early voting, the all-new 2015 Subaru Legacy 2.5i rolled up six days before voting day, November 4. While I had posted a few signs at precincts for early voting, the Legacy and its trunk (15 cu. ft.) expanded even further with the seats folded flat to fit the more than 100 campaign signs I distributed with my boyfriend, Mike Flores, to more than 30 precincts election eve.
In addition to its cargo capacity, the Legacy’s navigation system needed to find some of the outlying precincts with addresses I didn’t recognize, even after having lived in Austin for more than 32 years.
The EPA estimated fuel economy rating for the 2.5i is 26 mpg in the city and 36 mpg on the highway. During my one-week loan, I achieved an average mpg of 29.6
My favorite optional feature was the Subaru Rear Vehicle Detection System that added Blindspot Detection, Rear Cross Traffic Alert, and Lane Change Assist.
The Legacy also carried me to my campaign watch party to watch the results.
The as-tested price for the 2015 Subaru Legacy Premium 2.5i came to $27,480.
While I gave it a good fight, a do-it-yourself campaign can only do so much. As mentioned earlier, I came in third out of nine, but considering the obstacles my campaign faced, I was pleased. I hope others will be inspired to run in 2016 and keep the spirit of single-member districts alive—money should not prohibit anyone who feels the call to public service.
My focus after the election, however, was collecting my precious signs and depositing them at the City of Austin’s recycling center. What better vehicle to get for the test drive than the Nissan Frontier Pro-4X with a 59.5-inch-long bed with 27.1 cubic feet of cargo room?
Powered by a 4.0-liter V6 engine matched to a five-speed automatic transmission, the Frontier has an EPA estimated city/highway fuel economy of 15/21 mpg. I averaged 16.4 mpg.
While I didn’t take the Frontier off-road, I did engage the shift-on-the-fly knob for 4Hi during a downpour for a little added road hugging.
This model also included a NissanConnect navigation system that still came in handy, and the Luxury Package ($2,100) with heated front seats, a roof rack, and a sunroof.
The as-tested price for the 2015 Nissan Frontier Pro-4X came to $35,655.
Sometimes I get two cars in one week to review, so while I traveled around collecting campaign signs in the Nissan Frontier, I was also able to switch gears and enjoy the comfort and elegance of the 2015 Hyundai Sonata Limited.
In its seventh generation, the 2015 Sonata continues to build on the last redesign that was so successful—it was a finalist for the North American Car of the Year honors in 2011.
As a Limited model, the Sonata I drove included extras, like brown leather seating, proximity key entry that unlocks the doors as you approach, blind spot detection, and a rearview camera. Interesting innovations included the hands free smart trunk opener that opens automatically after three seconds if the driver has the keys in a pocket or purse, but hands full.
While it competes in the midsize segment, its enhanced interior volume of 122.4 cubit feet earned it an EPA classification as a “large” sedan.
Powered by a 2.4-liter gasoline-direct injection four-cylinder engine and matched to a six-speed automatic with Shiftronic simulated manual shifting, the Sonata averaged 27.5 mpg on the test drive.
Additional packages on the Sonata added a heated steering wheel, panoramic sunroof, cooled front seats, and forward collision warning.
As tested, the 2015 Hyundai Sonata MSRP came to $32,510.
I ran for office because I believed in the equitable representation that single-member districts promised. I didn’t have much money for this campaign, but I did have many assets, including family, friends, and this excellent fleet of vehicles.