Five Favorites from a Very Busy Period in This Work and Art

Dodge Dart Social Media Drive 17
"I was only drinking bottled water – from inside that store!" Photo by Randy Stern

Once there were five…then I forgot.

It’s been a while since I did a Five Favorites piece. They usually involve a theme and five items related to that theme. Sometimes, it’s a personal experience that dictates these five items. Sometimes, it’s other factors that parse out the list. Either way, you get five stories from one idea – novel, isn't it?

A thought popped in my head: I've been asked a lot about the vehicles I've driven since the beginning of March. Two particular questions come up: "Which would I buy?" and "Which one would you buy?"

I get it. I'm an automotive writer/journalist. My work appears locally in Lavender magazine and on here for a broader audience. These are questions that would put anyone in my shoes on the spot.

Consider what my cranial-cereberal Rolodex has to go through: Eleven vehicles that spent time at the V&R Garage since early March. An additional eight vehicles were driven at events locally and in Austin, Texas. These vehicles encompass nine manufacturers covering fourteen brands. That's a lot of vehicles to go through!

Now, I have to come up with Five Favorites out of 19 (actually, 18) vehicles. Thanks, readers. Don't get me wrong – much respect due to all of you. You made it this far. Now, here’s your Five Favorites from the past two months of vehicles.

2012 Acura TL SH-AWD 26

2012 ACURA TL: "In the process of driving the TL, I did find that reconnection back to Acura." Yep, I wrote that. Nineteen years divided my ownership of a 1991 Integra RS coupe and this review subject. The TL represented the right Acura for a guy like me – a former brand owner who has grown up with responsibility, but with a streak of youth linking back to the old coupe. The TL is a brilliant car with an excellent all-wheel drive system, fantastic power, a fine transmission, great seats and cockpit and the chutzpah expected by the dual-caliper brand. I can honestly say that this is the best premium vehicle I've driven in the past several years.

2012 CHRYSLER 300 SRT8: Imagine pulling onto the on-ramp onto Interstate 94 near the Minneapolis Convention Center. You want to feel the power on even a short strip of freeway. You could ease onto the ramp and gradually get to speed – or, step on it. I chose the latter. The result was my guide informing me that I hit 444 horsepower upon depressing the throttle hard. I checked if my friends riding in the back seat were OK. They were. This exercise in civilized brutality provided an apex in terms of personal journey into performance. Could I get anything better than this? Of course, you'll say "yes" – I beg to differ. Not with this baby.

2013 DODGE DART: Before anyone asks if I "drank the juice" while I was Austin, I didn't. This vehicle is for real – an unbiased, experiential opinion. I've driven two of these compact sedans, as well as a chunk of its competition. This is a qualified and justified response to those who question whether Chrysler and Fiat could answer the Chevrolet Cruze, Ford Focus, Hyundai Elantra and the rest of its ilk. The task of the Dart is to be the best compact sedan in this market. As production is now in full swing, I would invite you to drive this before you buy anything else. You'll see why I really like the Dart above the rest.

2012 Kia Rio 8

2012 KIA RIO: The talk of growth in the subcompact class is for real. Petrol prices could go either way, but it is still at a point that concerns many motorists with their budgets still not flexing in this election year. That does not mean you can't have fun in a small car. For those of us who cannot afford a MINI Cooper, there's the Kia Rio. Yes, it is a silly comparison, but if I were to tell you how much fun I had in that EX hatchback I reviewed – and how much of a smile it put on my face – you’d think I need counseling. But, it's true. For the money, it's honest fun with efficiency to boot. The EX hatch is all you need, really.

2012 NISSAN ROGUE: Finding the right crossover and SUV is tough, especially when I drove a lot of them over the years. Considering that I did not buy into the whole SUV/Crossover trend until about a decade ago, it took a while to find out which one would put a big smile on my face. What the Rogue does well is to be unassuming, but full of surprises to entertain even the most doubtful of consumer. It's got, space, comfort, performance…and everything works! That’s all you need, really. My soft heart for the Rogue continues, especially when I find myself parked in a row with more than one of them.

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