Quickies: The Right Hybrid for Texas?

2017 Honda Accord Hybrid
2017 Honda Accord Hybrid Touring sedan – All Photos by Randy Stern

For my Dallas Day Trip Challenge, I had envisioned doing so with a sustainable vehicle to honor Earth Day.

I think the right car was selected for this task. It was a hybrid – not an electric or fuel cell vehicle. With hybrids, there is more flexibility as to where one could go. It was also a mid-sized sedan – not exactly Texas-sized, but the right size and mix to get around the city and the suburbs. And, it had all of the active safety and technology features that would make driving in a new city easier to deal with.

What was presented for the several hours of this challenge was a 2017 Honda Accord Hybrid Touring sedan. It met my criteria…and then some!

For 2016, the Accord went through a mid-cycle refresh that brought out a bit more pizzazz and flash to its popular sedan. The grille became three-dimensional and more chrome was applied, with new LED tail lamps, interior updates and even bigger brakes. The updated Hybrid model was delayed by a year – a new addition to the 2017 lineup.

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My Challenge: Doing Dallas on Earth Day

Reunion Tower
All Photos by Randy Stern

If travel is a challenge – let the games begin!

On Earth Day, I partook of a challenge that had been swimming in my head for years. The challenge is to do a day trip – flying in somewhere that allows for enough time on the ground. Then, spend that precious time on the ground doing as much as humanly possible to see what I have an interest or curiosity about. The catch to this day trip is to go somewhere I have never been before.

In planning this, I researched my possibilities and came up with one city: Dallas, Texas.

The Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex is truly an important location for many reasons. It is a commercial hub, that has a huge technology and scientific economy. The wealth is what we see the most, but it is also economically diverse, as is culturally rich. From all fo the things I read and heard about this area, there has been quite a lot of change over time.

Still, there are points along the way that help shape my interest in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. History plays a huge part – in particular a date that still evokes memories for my generation…and our parent’s generations.

As with every trip, it begins with a run to the airport. Continue reading

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What is a “Good Trip?”

P3206851
All Photos by Randy Stern

What constitutes a good trip?

That all depends on the traveler, really. Commonly, we all want a hassle-free experience from the time we leave home to our return. How that is measured is an individual’s own patience and energy. Your idea of a good trip might not necessarily match mine.

Which brings me to this point: I have my own expectations on how I would like to get there and be treated in the ground and beyond. Mostly, I travel on business, so I do expect some respect in doing so. I can be easy going, but one little moment of attitude and you might not have a happy traveler.

How do I measure what a good trip is for me? Let me go through some aspects of a trip and see what I expect…or, not expect.

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Commentary: What is a Luxury Car These Days?

North St. Paul on a Friday Night 012
All photos by Randy Stern

Remember what a luxury car used to be?

In my youth, luxury cars invited you into a rare air of elegance and grandeur. That meant you sat in a nicely appointed interior and moved with grace along the tarmac. You sat in plush velour or the best leather hides behind a swath of wood trim, elegantly-styled instrumentation, while being entertained by a fine audio system.

Nowadays, a luxury car is all about technology. How much of it can you truly throw into a $40,000-plus automobile? The list of toys on today’s prestige automobiles is unbelievable. If we just start listing out the latest in active safety technology alone, we may forget about the satellite navigation system, intelligent driving aids, central knob controls and smartphone integration inside the cabin. Don’t forget about the airbag count!

The current proposition for luxury cars these days is to pay over $40,000 for the privilege of being guilty for buying a luxury car and showing your true political stripes concurrently. We’re not just talking about hybrids here.

So, I ask this: is the volume of technology on a single automobile the current definition of a luxury car? Continue reading

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V&R Stories: A Pivotal Moment in My D.C. Life

Connecticut Ave NW in Dupont Circle
Photo by Randy Stern

As Easter approaches, we are reminded by the many ways the world celebrates it. Whether we wake up to express our faith or to follow other traditions identified with that date, Easter symbolizes the possibilities of brighter days ahead.

The rites of spring are a part of Easter. The sun warms up the Earth, bringing greenery and bloom to wherever it grows from. This is the one one we all agree on – the permanence of warmth and beauty that makes our lives full. It also welcomes any spring rains to help things grow in the process.

I, too, experienced this sense of renewal on a certain Easter. Twenty years ago, I was fresh from my move east from California. I dove in too deep into my new life in the Washington, DC area and found myself hitting my head on the bottom of the pool. Too many lumps were felt in trying too hard in making new friends without any regard to my professional and private life.

After a deep fall into the abyss of life, things began to turn around. I began a new contract as an administrative assistant for an IT contract at a Department of Defense agency. That would soon become a permanent position with the contract company and a raise towards a more adult wage. That lead to a search for a new home in Northern Virginia.

To do so, I had to go through my own resurrection. Continue reading

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New York 2017: The Demon…and Everything Else

2018 Dodge Challenger SRT Demon – Photo courtesy of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles



Before anyone flashed their credentials at the gates of the Jacob Javits Center, the 2017 edition of the New York International Auto Show already began.

For the two days running up to the formal press days, various automakers already unveiled their newest wares. Some even threw open the covers way beforehand somewhere remotely further from Manhattan. Talk about spoiling the fun…

Perhaps it could be said how much New York means to the North American automotive market. By running everything up until the public sees what’s inside, we must tease them into submission. Fiat Chrysler Automobiles did a fine job in doing so. They teased their 840 horsepower monster – the 2018 Dodge Challenger Demon – to maximum fanboy levels. Mercifully, they showed this Hellraiser of Hellcats through videos that could be seen as trailers to new multi-player games. Throw in the “Fast and Furious” franchise in for good measure and anyone dreaming of getting their license might have stunted their growth.

We expected the Demon to rear its wide body to the universe – a fortnight before press days would begin. What else happened at Javits Center or in the pre-show events running up to the main event? I wonder…

Here are V&R’s the picks from the 2017 New York International Auto Show…

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Commentary: Is A “Good” Car Hard To Find?

2008 Hyundai Sonata 1
Photo by Randy Stern

What is a “good” car?

That is a question that takes on individual meaning since not everyone agrees what a good car really is. Lots of consumers rely on pundits, enthusiasts and the Consumer Union to help them determine what a good car really is.

“So, Randy, what is a good car?”

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A Durango By Any Other Name

2017 Dodge Durango GT AWD
2017 Dodge Durango GT AWD – All Photos by Randy Stern

I remember my first Durango.

That was back in 2012. It was red. Actually, they call it “Redline.” It had a HEMI underneath its hood. At a price of just over $39,000 (in 2012), it was one of the baddest machines Mopar ever thrusted upon us.

Did I mention it was a SUV? It was a mid-sized one with three rows and all-wheel drive.

There had been two total – both with AWD and HEMI power. Both wore the infamous R/T badge – one that told the world of its Dodge Brothers roots.

Based on those two experiences, I found the Durango “brawny” and big. It commanded everything in its wake. You can’t mess with a HEMI-powered three-row SUV. Nothing can.

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Yes, The Four-Ringed One

2017 Audi S6
2017 Audi S6 – All Photos by Randy Stern

A Victory & Reseda review of the 2017 Audi S6

At the top of the pops resides a trio of Teutonic giants. This was not the invention of Wagner or a historic relic of its warring past, but rather of an output from the end of a great and humbling war.

The allies of World War II helped restart a majority of the German automotive industry west of the Soviet Sector. Daimler-Benz, BMW and Auto Union regained traction in the austere 1950s to become global leaders in luxury transport.

While both Mercedes-Benz and BMW grew organically to their perches in the vehicular hierarchy, Audi had to go through some rougher roads to earn their place on a plinth. It took its acquisition by Volkswagen AG – not just Audi, but all of Auto Union – to give it a solid foundation. What we saw was its rebirth – four rings on its grille and a competitive product sitting in Porsche showrooms across the USA.

That was 1970. The car was the 100LS.

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Historiography: The Final Vestiges of Pontiac

2008 Pontiac G6 2
2008 Pontiac G6 – All photos by Randy Stern

It was 2009. The clouds were looming over Renaissance Center as to how to exit from its Bankruptcy case after taking Troubled Asset Relief Fund money. Amid the sell-off of General Motors’ “old” assets, the automaker also announced the wind-down of the Pontiac brand off of their product portfolio. This was the second brand that GM eliminated in the 2000s.

It was not without soul searching for a justification to keeping it. Since its inception, the brand always had an identity crisis. At first, the Oakland Car Company turned out some pretty good cars back in the 1920’s. Corporate efficiency integrated Pontiac into a brand that was just slightly upward in the pecking order of North American offerings. In Canada, Pontiacs were also built on Chevrolet chassis for local consumption.

It wasn’t until the late 1950’s when Pontiac began to forge a different image for itself. It began to differentiate from the rest of GM not by design, but by asserting its performance image. The full-sized 1962 Grand Prix sparked a different kind of muscle car as it exuded mid-level luxury with big engine grunt. The 1964 GTO gave the mid-sized Tempest something affordable and fast – starting the trend of mid-sized muscle cars. In 1967, the Firebird joined a growing number of pony cars that were smaller, lighter and packing a huge wallop under the hood.

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