How to test-drive a car

I used to write for a men’s lifestyle website. When we were not publishing hard-hitting reviews of things like magnetic lingerie, we reviewed other useful products, such as cars. I was invited to test-drive the Suzuki Kizashi. This was in spite of the fact that I have never written about cars before in my life.

“The point of inviting guys like you,” Suzuki’s PR guy told me, in so many words, “is to get writers who are not car experts behind the wheel.”

This set my mind at ease as I was perfectly qualified.

Case in point: A few weeks ago I noticed that one of the blinkers in my very, very affordable domestic compact car was clicking faster than the other. When I signaled right, I got a normal click cadence. Click-pause-click-pause-click-pause. When I signaled left, it like crazy, like a metronome after an eight-ball of cocaine.

I asked my dad, who happens to be a real man, about the click pattern, and he said that I have a bulb burned out. So that’s going set me back a cool … $800? I don’t know. I was playing Tecmo Bowl when I should have been tearing apart transmission blocks.

My girlfriend accompanied me on the trip from Los Angeles to San Diego to test-drive the Suzuki Kizashi. Kizashi, in case you were wondering, is Japanese for “The Thing That Suzuki Makes That Is Not A Motorcycle.” As part of what was billed as a “lifestyle drive,” we were given the option to stay the night at Torrey Pines Lodge, which we accepted, because we are both journalists and this might be our only chance to ever stay at Torrey Pines Lodge without having to sell plasma.

The Suzuki people told us that as part of our stay we were eligible for complimentary spa treatments, which we also accepted. I opted for a massage.

“If you think it will help me drive,” I said.

The massage proved to be the most challenging part of the lifestyle drive. I never know whether to get naked or leave my underwear on when I get a massage. At fancy high-end joints like Torrey Pines, they drape a heavy blanket over your butt and legs, so it does not matter if you are nude or not underneath. No one can see anything.

But I suffer from the irrational fear that a sudden wind-burst could shoot right through the room and lift that blanket up, revealing my private area to a suddenly-impressed masseuse. Then what is already an awkward situation (a stranger being paid to touch my body) is made even more awkward (the stranger can see what effect her touching my body is having on my body.)

So I keep my boxers on because it would be less awkward if a tornado blows through the room.

After a woman is paid to touch me there is nothing I like more than a shower, and the Torrey Pines Lodge spa men’s room offers excellent shower facilities. My private shower had not one, but two sets of curtains. There were outer curtains, then a small disrobing area where a man could have a seat, in case he grew tired while disrobing, then the shower, which had another set of curtains. I firmly believe that all showers should have two sets of curtains, in case one set of curtains fails, like for instance if the tornado from the massage room makes its way to the shower area.

Showered, shaved, refreshed, I finally got to the most crucial part of the test-drive – drinking all night. I was invited to a pre-dinner cocktail reception, where scotch was served, then a dinner where wine was served, followed by an after-party where beer was served. I had never test-driven a car before, so I kept drinking, because I did not want to look like an idiot. I knew it was time to retire for the evening when I started inviting everyone in the room to be a guest on my podcast, even though I did not know any of these people and am pretty sure most of them had never listened to a podcast before.

Finally, the next morning, we got down to the real work. We listened to a speech about the car, then we all walked around the car and said things like “ooh” and “nice interior” and “is that an updated fascia?”, then we touched the car, then we took photographs of the car and finally we drove the car. It was an impressive car. Unlike my very, very affordable domestic compact car, when you are driving the Kizashi you cannot hear the gas in the gas tank swish when you make a right turn. The Kizashi also can play an iPod, has a sunroof and offers push-button ignition, which means you don’t need a key to start the car, but the key does need to be nearby. So, heads up, if you buy a Kizashi and lose your car keys, try to lose them within three feet of the steering wheel.

The Suzuki people (who could not have been nicer or more professional) planned a trip for us from coastal La Jolla to Julian, a sleepy, little Western town 50 miles inland where, we were told, we would be given pie. With printed directions in hand, and me behind the wheel, my girlfriend and I proceeded to head north on I-5, away from our intended destination. I refused to admit that I was going the wrong way. In fact, I was fully prepared to drive all the way back to Los Angeles and pull in my driveway before conceding that I had, indeed, taken a wrong turn out of the parking lot. But my girlfriend did that thing that all women do so well – manipulating men – and reminded me that there was pie waiting for us if we turned around, and so I did.

This is pretty much when I discovered the main thing about test-driving a car for media review. It makes you drive like an absolute maniac. I did things I would never do in my own car, or in a car I might purchase and pull into my driveway someday. For example, I mashed the pedal to metal when I got on the freeway just to see how fast I could get to 60. Mind you, I did not keep track of how fast I got to 60. I just remember getting to 60 and thinking, “Yeah, that’s pretty fast.”

The Kizashi I drove was a Sport and was loaded with features and, again, this caused me to absolutely lose my mind. I attempted to use every single feature in the car at once. I turned on the blue tooth, cranked up the MP3 player, tried to see how cold I could make myself with the dual-climate air conditioner, flicked the headlights and brights, toggled back and forth between 2-wheel and 4-wheel drive, opened the windows, opened the sunroof, moved the keys around to see if the engine would shut off, set the cruise control, cranked the music all the way up, turned it all the way down to see if I could hear the engine and cranked the music back up, all while going 60 mph on a two-lane highway while accelerating through corners and occasionally posing for photos. I can honestly say that the Kizashi is such a good car that it drives itself. It had to. Or I would not be here today.

As part of a caravan of journalists testing cars, we were the last to arrive. When I walked into the meeting spot I checked my phone and found that I had received a nervous message from a Suzuki person: “Hey, Joe, just checking to see where you are. We thought you’d be at the restaurant 15 minutes ago. Please bring the car back. We’ll do your podcast, if that’s what it takes.”

I let my girlfriend drive back, which was probably for the best, because it’s hard to use the blue tooth, crank up the MP3 player, turn on the air conditioner, hit the headlights and brights, toggle the 4-wheel drive, hide the keys, open the windows and the sunroof, set the cruise control, accelerate through corners, pose for photos and eat pie at the same time.

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