Event: WAJ Media Day: A Million Dollar Drive

A Taste of 10 Different Cars Along the California Coast

Story and photos by John Faulkner.

Western Automotive Journalists (WAJ), a Northern California association for automotive writers, annually brings together journalists to drive an assortment of cars, trucks, crossovers and SUVs as well as taking time to discuss current and future product with automotive industry representatives. The event, WAJ Media Day 2021, afforded me a chance to experience some exotic and high-end cars that aren’t normally in the sights of Clean Fleet Report. It gives us a chance to relate a brief experience with a gaggle of cars whose price tags totaled well beyond a million dollars. This is just a taste.

The event was held in last week in Half Moon Bay, California. This scenic town, located 30 miles south of San Francisco, sits on the Pacific Ocean and is known for its annual Pumpkin Festival, and the giant waves at Mavericks.

Seventeen manufacturers brought 27 cars for two dozen journalists to drive along Highway 1 and into the adjacent hills. Since the time in each car was short, about 40 minutes, these are brief observations of the 10 cars I was able to take out for a spin. More reviews will be coming from some of the other notable cars that were there (see list at end of article), so stay tuned. Make sure to sign-up for the Clean Fleet Report newsletter (upper right) to be alerted when longer reviews are posted on several of these cars.

Alphabetically, here are some thoughts on the cars I experienced. All are 2021 models, except where noted.

Outstanding in its field

Acura TLX Type S

  – The twin-scroll turbocharged 3.0L V6 puts out a robust 355 horsepower (hp) and 354 pound-feet (lb.-ft.) of torque sent to all four wheels through a 10-speed automatic with paddle shifters. The TLX growled on ignition, and was throaty as it smoothly went through the gears. The luxury sport sedan category, where cars are expected to deliver sporty driving dynamics, spirited performance and be better looking than a base model sedan, has some fine entries. We found the TLX Type S to check all these boxes. Acceleration was sharp, handling was nimble, and our car, painted in a striking Tiger Eye Pearl, drew attention wherever we roamed. Base price: $53,100.

AMG E53 Cabriolet

  – As the high-performance arm of Mercedes-Benz, AMG puts its special flair on select Mercedes models. In our case the AMG E53 Cabriolet has all the high-quality build expectations of a Mercedes, but with added performance. The 3.0L turbocharged inline six-cylinder gasoline engine was mated to a 48-volt mild hybrid system, producing 429 hp and 384 lb.-ft. of torque, and driving all four wheels through an AMG Speedshift nine-speed automatic. That whoosh you hear and feel, when tromping the pedal, is not only the wind blowing through your hair, but the feeling of stellar acceleration. Base price: $75,000.

Genesis G70 RWD 3.3T Sport Prestige (2022)

  – This G70 premium sport sedan gets-up-and-goes with 365 hp and 376 lb.-ft. of torque. With 0 – 60 times right around 4.5 seconds, the performance was evident when taking mountain curves above the posted speed limit. The Brembo brakes were solid and delivered a high level of driving confidence. Base price: $37,525.

Genesis fields a powerful SUV

Genesis GV80 AWD 3.5T Advanced+

  – All-new for 2021, the midsize GV80 SUV has an optional power-folding third row. The spacious interior design was clean and simple with an emphasis on comfort and convenience. The 375 hp and 391 lb.-ft. of torque from the 3.5L twin-turbo V6 produced more than enough power for family road trips. Base price: $48,900.

Lexus ES 300h F Sport (2022)

 – The F Sport is an all-new trim level for the ES 300h. The F Sport styling cues (unique front bumper and grille, black finish 19-inch wheels, rear spoiler and sport-themed interior) makes this hybrid very distinctive-looking to go with its performance, comfort and excellent 44 mpg highway fuel economy. Pricing will be released when the ES 300h F-Sport goes on-sale in this fall. Last year’s Lexus ES F Sport model (non-hybrid) was $46,550.

Lexus LC 500 Convertible

 – If being looked at is your thing, don’t go any further than the LC 500 Convertible. It is impossible to not be noticed, especially when cruising around with a bright red Infrared exterior and Toasted Caramel leather interior like we did. The gawkers probably enjoyed looking at the LC 500 as much as we liked driving it. There are two engine options–a hybrid system and the 471 hp/398 lb.-ft. of torque in the 5.0L V8 we drove. That power was appreciated to move the 4,540-pound cabriolet along in 4.6 seconds to 60 mph. This grand tourer is ideal for a top down drive in the country or cruising around town, with either making you the center of attention. The Lexus LC 500 Convertible starts at $101,100.

The biggest Maserati

Maserati Levante Gran Lusso

– Gran Lusso is Italian for Great Luxury. It didn’t take but a few minutes in the Maserati Levante to agree it certainly was Gran Lusso! The tri-coat paint on this beautifully designed Italian SUV was called Bianco Alpi or White Alps. The interior in lush leather, with high gloss ebony wood trim, was tri-color of black on the dash, tan for the seats and charcoal gray for the headliner and pillars. The combination was warm and welcoming. Strong performance from the 3.0L twin-turbo V6 that delivered 345 hp and 369 lb.-ft. of torque. The Levante GranLusso exceeded expectations. Base price: $83,890.

Mercedes-Benz S580 Sedan 4MATIC

 – When people say “S Class,” there is no mistake what is being referenced. Ask anyone who knows luxury cars. The opportunity to drive the S580 4MATIC, with rear-wheel steering, gave a view to a level of luxury that was not to be missed. The fit and finish is second to none, all done with German precision. The interior was immaculate with soft premium Nappa leather seats, wood inlays and a black Dinamica headliner, which is an ecological suede made from 100 percent recycled polyester materials. Technology abounds with a 3D driver display, an augmented reality head-up display, and the incredible sounding Burmester 4D surround sound system. The driver and head-up displays need to be seen to be believed, and the sound system required more than just your ears, as the seats become a part of the experience as they vibrate and pulse to the music. The Burmester system is a $6,730 upgrade, but heck, why pinch pennies for what easily is the best sound system I have ever heard in a car. There is far too much to say about the S580 Sedan 4MATIC, let’s leave it is a pure joy to drive! Base price: $116,300.

Rolls-Royce Ghost

 – Unmistakeable. The black and silver “Double R” logo, the distinctive and illuminated Pantheon Grille, and the Spirit of Ecstasy (Flying Lady) hood ornament. For decades you know a Rolls-Royce when you see one, but what about driving one? Sliding behind the wheel of the all-new Ghost you enter a world where workers have hand-crafted every detail, every stitch, every surface. There are many features that makes a Rolls-Royce Ghost special, but it would be a crime to not mention the Shooting Star Headliner, front and rear massage seats, lamb’s wool footmats, power-assist coach doors, rear theater seating and, of course, rear picnic tables for that Grey Poupon moment. The Ghost we drove had a final price of $438,700, so it can’t appeal to everyone. And that is exactly how Rolls-Royce likes it. Base price: $339,000.

Time to round up the wagons

Volvo V90 T6 AWD R-Design

 – I am now and always have been a fan of station wagons. Having rode in one as a kid and then owning a few as an adult, I have always found them to be versatile, roomy and having sharp styling. The Volvo V90 T6 AWD R-Design is no exception as it is a beautifully designed wagon. The performance, from a unique supercharged and turbocharged four-cylinder that puts out 316 hp and 295 lb.-ft. of torque, delivered 5.6-second 0-60 runs. The interior is equally well designed and laid-out, but in our short time behind the wheel, we found the infotainment interface to be confusing. After all our praise about how nice this station wagon is, Volvo has announced it is being discontinued in 2022. So if you are a station wagon aficionado like me, take the V90 T6 AWD R-Design for a test drive. This model of the V90 retails for about $59,590.

Thanks a Million

WAJ Media Day is a special treat, even for auto journalists who review dozens of cars a year. These short drives are an opportunity to get a taste of cars we have not driven (or may not have the opportunity to test), and provide access to manufacturer representatives where we can get the type of information you need to make an intelligent evaluation.

Auto manufacturers work hard to develop good relationships and communication with journalists. They know without honest and objective reviews, getting out the word to you, the consumer, would be difficult at best. Clean Fleet Report thanks the automakers for bringing these fine cars to the Western Automotive Journalist 2021 Media Day. You’ll be reading and seeing more from our drives in the coming weeks.

Acura TLX Type S

AMG E53 Cabriolet

Ford Bronco

Genesis G70 RWD 3.3T Sport Prestige

Genesis GV80 3.5T AWD Advanced+

Honda Civic Sport

Honda Civic Touring

Hyundai Tucson Limited Hybrid AWD

Hyundai Sorento X-Line AWD

Kia Carnival SX Prestige

Kia K5 GT 2.5T

Lexus ES 300h F Sport

Lexus LC 500 Convertible

Maserati Levante GranLusso

Mazda3 Hatch Turbo Premium Plus

Mazda MX-5 Club

Mercedes-Benz S580 Sedan 4MATIC

Mitsubishi Outlander SEL S-AWC

Rolls-Royce Ghost

Ram 1500 TRX

Jeep Grand Cherokee L Summit

Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara 4EX

Subaru WRX Series

Toyota GR Supra 3.0 Premium

Toyota Mirai

Volkswagen Taos SEL

Volvo V90 T6 AWD R-Design

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[See image gallery at cleanfleetreport.com]


Clean Fleet Report is loaned free test vehicles from automakers to evaluate, typically for a week at a time. Our road tests are based on this one-week drive of a new vehicle. Because of this we don’t address issues such as long-term reliability or total cost of ownership. In addition, we are often invited to manufacturer events highlighting new vehicles or technology. As part of these events we may be offered free transportation, lodging or meals. We do our best to present our unvarnished evaluations of vehicles and news irrespective of these inducements.

Our focus is on vehicles that offer the best fuel economy in their class, which leads us to emphasize electric cars, plug-in hybrids, hybrids and diesels. We also feature those efficient gas-powered vehicles that are among the top mpg vehicles in their class. In addition, we aim to offer reviews and news on advanced technology and the alternative fuel vehicle market. We welcome any feedback from vehicle owners and are dedicated to providing a forum for alternative viewpoints. Please let us know your views at publisher@cleanfleetreport.com.

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