There is nothing scarier in the world than having your dreams come true. That is my conclusion after I had the honor and privilege of being one of the first people in North America to drive the 2011 Honda CR-Z hybrid sport coupe. But what was scary to me before I embarked on my journey to San Francisco (where Honda held the launch) soon became one of the most memorable three days of my life.
In High School whenever anyone asked me what I wanted to do with my life I always said that I wanted to write about cars for a living. For a while now I have been testing cars and writing reviews for various websites on the internet. In leaps and bounds my work and exposure has grown but I had, as of yet, never attended a North American press launch. I work from home so the need for even the most casual of business attire is rarely an issue.
Since I had no idea how to pack for such an event I, of course, packed more changes of clothes than Elizabeth Taylor on her way to a movie set. The comedic aspect of this became apparent to me when I arrived at SFO on the same flight with a far more experienced gentleman from a major automotive publication who had packed a suitcase that was essentially as big as my shaving kit. Ah, well.
We then rode in a 2010 Honda Odyssey to the Embarcadero District of San Francisco to our final destination-the gloriously modern Hotel Vitale which offered views of the Bay Bridge (see photos). On the ride over I got a great deal of helpful advice from the auto journalist who packed so lightly as to what usually happened at press launches.
In fact everyone who knew this was my first press launch, from various auto journalists to the talented PR staff at Honda, was incredibly kind and full of great advice. Thanks to all of you-you know who you are. The one person I will mention by name is the person who most inspired me in becoming an auto journalist.
Her name is Ann Job and she works for the Associated Press so no doubt you have read some of her car reviews in your local hometown newspaper. She realizes that most cars aren’t purchased for track days where quarter mile times, cornering g-forces and the ability to get killer lap times on Germany’s Nurburgring are important. Do you really have plans to take your next new car to Germany? I didn’t think so.
She was very kind to me and allowed me to tell her what an inspiration she had always been to me. I may have bowed and curtseyed like she was the Queen of England but she never treated me like some fanboy stalker so many thanks to Ann. In my eyes she will always be an automotive rock-star.
The first night was filled with a nice press dinner and introduction to the 2011 CR-Z. We got to get a close-up look at the inside and outside of the car but the real meat of the CR-Z experience wouldn’t happen until early the next morning. Thankfully, the dinner ended just before the season finale of “Glee” so I had time to watch it on the flat-screen TV in my room. Such are the nature of my priorities.
I woke early the next day for breakfast in the main conference hall of the Hotel Vitale which was yet another killer spread of various great tasting foods. Over the course of the 3 days I began to wonder how veteran auto journalists who attend these functions on a non-stop basis don’t wind up weighing 350 pounds. At every possible occasion Honda fed us better than your average Italian grandmother living in the Bronx.
After a media presentation where we were given a binder with all of the technical information about the 2011 CR-Z we were led out to a parking lot filled with 16 press cars. There were 32 journalists at the event so we were paired up in different models. I, of course, staked out the first 6-speed manual CR-Z that I could find and didn’t budge an inch. It was red, too, which turned out to be my favorite 2011 Honda CR-Z color.
I let my journalistic co-hort take the first leg of the drive across the Golden Gate Bridge into Sonoma County as I played navigator with the directions. During his driving stint I really got to see how well the CR-Z could tackle corners. So much so that I lamented the omission of an “oh-sh*t” handle on the passenger side. Just to be fair, the other journalist in the car with me lamented the same omission when I was driving.
After my stint behind the wheel, our directions led to the Sonoma County Fair Grounds where an autocross course was set up so we could drive the CR-Z at its limits. The only issue-I had never driven any car on an autocross course or any race track of any kind. Sure, I had a favorite winding driving road near my home (which I still think is a more realistic test of a car’s performance) but how was I going to compete with these seasoned journalists and track racers?
A slight feeling of terror gripped me at the thought of spinning out or knocking over all the autocross cones. My mind raced to an episode of “The Brady Bunch” where Greg and Marcia had a driving competition in which they had to keep from knocking an egg off of a plastic cone much like to ones that surrounded the autocross course. Greg wound up knocking the egg off the cone so I prayed, “Oh lord, please don’t let me be Greg Brady today.” Actually, I should pray that every day but that is beside the point.
Honda also had a classic 1985 Honda CR-X, 2010 Honda Insight and 2010 Honda Civic Hybrid on hand to test on a city/freeway loop for comparison purposes. Although I knew I was going to do a test of all those vehicles (see earlier installments for how those went) I knew I had to conquer my fear of the autocross course first. So I sat and watched a few journalists tackle the course and I studied the corners and layout of the track so I would know when to brake, upshift, downshift and accelerate.
Finally, it came to my turn and as I waited at the starting line, I decided to just go for it and drive the CR-Z in full-speed b*lls out style. Damn the torpedoes, I thought, how many opportunities do you get to drive a car as fast as you can and essentially abuse a set of tires and brakes? I dumped the clutch at the red-line and the CR-Z shot forward like a rocket and I took my first hard left without knocking over a cone or spinning out. The rest was like a blur-a really awesome blur .
I reached the end of the autocross course, slammed on the brakes and was hugely impressed with the strength of the CR-Z’s bog standard braking system. My only thought? “I wanna go again!” So, I did three more runs and never crashed or knocked over a cone. I felt like a winner. I felt like Marcia Brady. Take that, Greg Brady.
All I will say is that I didn’t come in first or last and that I was very pleased with myself as to how far off I was from the winning time. I could have towed the line around a few corners a bit better or driven the whole autocross with the engine bouncing off the rev-limiter (as more than one did) but I just couldn’t bring myself to abuse the car in that way.
Maybe I lack the killer instinct to be a number one autocross racer but I tell you the experience is positively addicting. If you ever have the opportunity I recommend it highly (especially in a car like the 2011 Honda CR-Z). After all of the excitement at the Sonoma County Fair Grounds we drove the CR-Z back to San Francisco across some of Sonoma County’s greatest driving roads.
When I got back to the Hotel Vitale I thought that the big events were over but Honda had a surprise in store that was utterly non-automotive in nature. Honda had rented out the newly re-built Academy of Sciences Museum in San Francisco’s picturesque Golden Gate Park (the original had been damaged beyond repair in the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake that I still remember vividly). As a native of the Bay Area, I knew what a big deal this museum was even if some of the more spoiled, rude and unappreciative auto journalists did not (you know who you are).
We got a full tour of the facility including some time on the “living roof” which is covered in plants native to California. Apparently the Italian architect who designed the building wanted it to look like it was rising up out of the ground with Golden Gate Park still on top of it. How very Italian.
Then we were free to explore the Academy of Science’s awe inspiring underground aquarium. There are two things that bring me to a place of Zen-like peace-one is driving a car and the other is walking around an aquarium. It was an experience that I will never forget.
Also, if you think car companies buy off journalists at these events I will tell you exactly what I received from Honda over the course of the 3-day event-a Honda hat, water bottle, a CR-Z technical specs binder, a $15 gift certificate for cheese at one of our stops in Sonoma County and lots of food. So, no, I wasn’t bribed unless you count dairy products as bribery.
In conclusion, I wrote this article in honor of the staff at Honda that planned the 2011 CR-Z event in San Francisco (you know who you are). They really gave me a great insight to what kind of car this is and also gave me some memories that I will never forget. And even if my dreams aren’t the same as yours, you can’t really ask more out of life than the fulfillment of lifetime goals. I, personally, can’t wait for my next Honda press launch.