Had the opportunity to drive nine new cars recently at and around the historic Willow Springs International Raceway in Rosamond, Calif., just a bit north of Lancaster and Palmdale, as well as west of Edwards Air Force Base. Best of the bunch? The Scion iM.
Every year, the Motor Press Guild — the Southern California automotive writers group — manages to coax new cars from the manufacturers for two days of track and street driving. The track is historic and unique and a thrill to drive. I should say tracks, as Willow Springs has seven of them; I’m fortunate to have been able to drive on three… or is it four.
The street drive is equally fun. If you’re up there, or want to get there, take Highway 14 north from LA through the Antelope Valley to Rosamond Road, then head west (if you head east, you’ll end up at the front gate to Edwards). A couple of miles from the freeway, you’ll pass Willow Springs International Raceway, one of the oldest tracks in the country. Mark that as your starting point.
From Willow Springs Raceway, continue on Rosamont Road west, making a right at 90th Street West. Continue north as it changes name to Tehachapi Willow Springs Road, a mostly straight line except for a nice twist shortly after your turn.
Make the right at Backus Road, which is mostly straight with gentle curves, but has some fun, quick elevation changes at the base of the mountains. There’s even a spot where, if you hit it at the right speed, might lift a wheel or two off the pavement.
The right turn at Mojave Tropico Road has some delightful curves and hairpins as you head south again to Rosamont Road. Be sure to slow down at the middle school. It’s a nice drive if your day trip is a bit outside of San Diego (about three hours out, by the way).
Of the nine cars I drove, the most fun and the most surprising was the Scion iM, a little wagon with a lot of umph paired with a low center of gravity, taught suspension (but not punishing) and really quick steering. The test car had the six-speed manual transmission; an automatic will probably be on most of the cars sold. The 1.8 liter, four-cylinder engine puts out 137 horsepower, plenty for a little, light car.
My total time with the car was only about a half hour, but I was impressed with the comfortable seat, amenities, visibility and easy access to the cabin.
The price was as good as the drive… $18,460 to $19,200; fully loaded includes navigation, leather-wrapped steering wheel, backup camera, lots of other goodies. Scion seems to have lost its unique looks, as the front end looks pretty much like a Corolla, but this isn’t your boring friend’s Corolla. It’s a great car at a great price.
Why was it my favorite? Road fun and price. At legal speeds on a good road, everything in the car was working to make it a fun drive. You can’t say that about something with huge horsepower that can only be pushed on a track. And the price; you could buy a fleet of them for the price of one of the other cars I tested.
The other cars I drove were (all 2016 models except where noted and in no particular order) the: MX-5 Miata; Mercedes-Benz AMG GLE 63 S Coupe; 2015 Dodge Challenger Scat Pack; Acura RLX Sport Hybrid; 2015 Infiniti Q70 5.6; Cadillac ATS-V sedan; and a Honda HR-V. Nice way to spend a couple of days.