My Favorite Winter Driving Getaways (2014 Version)

2014 Mazda6 Grand Touring 4
Take me somewhere warm! All Photos by Randy Stern

It appears everyone has begun the year on the road.

That is good news for the economy. People are traveling again. They are expanding their budget, even while finding bargains. The idea of value is a great motivator towards accomplishing that trip you always wanted to go on.

As an automotive website, the idea of travel would always include our primary subject. Whether it is flying in and picking up a car, or leaving direct from home on some uncharted drive, you cannot simply deny a drive away from home.

But, where would you want to go? Every year, I speculate on those types of trips if I were in the mood doing so. The formula has not changed – pick a destination, find something vehicular to do and chose an appropriate vehicle in doing so.

After all, it has been too damn cold around here! Time for a change in climate…

THE DESERT RUN: I was always told that it takes the same amount of time to go from Los Angeles to Phoenix as it does to San Francisco. I have never done the trip eastbound on Interstate 10. Not sure why, but it will take another place I have never been to do so: Palm Springs. The trip always looked cool – immortalized in the Tears For Fears video for their mega hit "Everybody Wants To Rule The World." For both Palm Springs and Phoenix, you need something cool. In my case, a simple 2014 Mazda6 would do. It may look great for me, but it would not one to attract attention. Palm Springs is now a gay mecca. I suppose I would have plenty of fun. A night or two would do in the Coachella Valley. That would be necessary for what lies ahead. We are talking hours of desert across California and Arizona to make it into the oasis called Phoenix. The Valley of The Sun has plenty to offer culturally and otherwise. The worst part would be heading back to Los Angeles to return the Mazda. Maybe if I return to Palm Springs for another fortnight of fun…

DISCOVERING THE OTHER AMERICA: Latin America has always been an elusive place. It has charm, heritage, rhythm and soul. Uruguay has been getting a lot of great coverage from the travel media for the multicultural life in Montevideo to the fine beaches on the Atlantic. Though a few days in Montevideo would spur the exploration of candombe (that's the hand drummer in me), the drive east to the Atlantic is what is truly in store. This trip requires something typical in Uruguay. The latest Chevrolet Cobalt LTZ would be suitable. It is actually a Brazilian-made subcompact sedan, not a warmed-over Delta platform model now superseded by the Cruze. There are plenty of places to stop – La Paloma is the key town to shoot for. Yet, you could do a resort along the way in Punta del Este or Punta del Diablo. Argue, as you may, but I heard Uruguay has the best beaches on South America’s Atlantic coast.

ADRIATIC EXPOSURE: The fall of the Eastern Bloc certainly opened up some travel possibilities. A quarter century ago, the floodgates opened up to world we never thought we would see and enjoy. Yet, in some places, a war interrupted our want of exploring certain places. On the Adriatic Sea, one such coast paradise is now open for business – and how! The starting point is a classic location – Venice. Sure, I would love to play in the canals and enjoy the architecture, but Slovenia and Croatia await! But, first, you must some tolls to the Italian road authority all the way to Trieste. A jaunt through Trieste will get you into Slovenia for a few miles. A bit inland into Croatia, you would finally head south towards the Adriatic coastline. There are two cities worth checking out – Split and Dubrovnik. The coastline itself I heard is amazing and both cities show off a Mediterranean charm with a mix of antiquity and modern Southern Europe. How would I get there? How about a Fiat 500C? Sounds appropriate for a coastal run into Croatia.

HOBBIT-FREE VACATION: If you want to visit New Zealand, try not to fall for the cliches. It means not visiting any of the landscapes used in Peter Jackson's franchise based on J.R.R. Tolkien's books. Staying on the North Island is a safe bet by connecting the dots between Wellington and Auckland. The journey is taken with the country’s most popular car – the Toyota Corolla. This time, it is the new hatch model in the Levin ZR trim. The Corolla actually works when traversing the North Island's roads, which are as challenging as some notable ones around the world. The typical route is to cut right through the North Island direct. You could also do one of two coastal routes – either one may induce a stay overnight. That is simply fine as to enjoy a bit of New Zealand life in-between the capitol and its most populous city. Having never been to Aotearoa, there is a quaintness to its smaller towns, whether it is a Maori village or a seaside town. The discovery is half the adventure – if not whole. One more cliche not to so in New Zealand – put on Lorde's new album via the audio system.

A PERSONAL INDULGENCE: In Europe, winter trips usually mean heading towards Mediterranean Sea. As with the run from Venice to Split and Dubrovnik, there are plenty of other places where sightseeing has a somewhat different meaning. In my case, I would like to enjoy the company of guys I am attracted to for the week. The first place that comes to mind is Sitges, near Barcelona. Since this is an automotive site, this would require some driving. Instead of starting in Barcelona, I would have to drive from another city. Madrid is only 585 kilometers to the sandy beaches and resorts of the Balearic coast. A truly Spanish car would do the job – a Seat Leon FR 5-door with a 2.0litre TDI and DSG combination. Must get it in a wild color, too! That way, you could possibly stand out. A form of plumage, if you will. Then again, Europeans are not much into showing off. They rather see you; see if you are interested and so forth. There are places for guys like me. Heck, why should I be worried, right? Did I mention the 585-kilometer drive through the Castilian and Catalan countryside?

CLICHED RESPONSE: Florida is not exactly a driving Mecca. However, it has a lot of eye candy in Miami Beach. One could start there, but why would you want one of the cliched motors – Aston Martins, Bentleys, Rolls-Royces, McLarens, Ferraris and such – if you just want to get off Collins Avenue? If your destination is the Tampa Bay area, get something 'Murican. A Dodge Challenger SRT is perfect for this situation. The Chally is comfortable with a wallop to pack. They do attract on South Beach – polished up in black would be preferable. Once you leave Dade County, the road is yours and no one is going to hold you back. You blast through the Everglades quicker than an airboat. Fort Myers and Sarasota are nothing but blurs from the rearview mirror. In my case, my destination will include friends, acquaintances and random others. What would make the occasion is the car itself – set to arrive portside in downtown St. Petersburg. The arrival is announced by its snarling exhaust note and the authority of 470 horsepower. Orgasmic? As long as the weather is warm…

THE VEHICULAR LOPPET: A Loppet is a Nordic skiing event – mainly in festival or competition form. Obviously, skiing is usually done on a mountain facing downhill. Where I live, we do not have enough mountains to warrant such activity. We do have plenty of Nordic skiing – cross-country skiing, if you will. Winter driving could be seen as a Loppet onto itself. You could also throw in some speed skating – albeit done badly. The point of driving in winter is the adventure into cold temperatures, mounds of snow and ice giving the world a very different perspective. The topography of the Upper Midwest prairielands ranges from completely flat to rolling slight elevations. To tackle this vast space, I suggest something almost rally-worthy. My weapon of choice would be a 2014 Mitsubishi Lancer Ralliart. With only a modification to switch to winter tires – Bridgestone Blizzaks, to be exact – it has the performance to make a drive through snowy rural landscapes at least entertaining. The object is to scale enough miles to make the drive worth it. I think Sioux Falls would work just fine. There is one caveat: No Interstate highways. This sounds like a challenge!

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