Lost in America - 2011 Hyundai Equus Long-Term Road Test

2011 Hyundai Equus Long-Term Road Test

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2011 Hyundai Equus: Lost in America

July 22, 2011

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Well, it's a big country. Sometimes you don't end up where you expected. I'm not sure this is because I pay too much attention to navigation systems or too little.

This is how I came to be in the Hyundai Equus at Blackwell's Corner, the place where James Dean stopped for a quick snack on the way to his appointment with fate on the other side of the hills to the west back in 1955. And no, there were no comments from bystanders about the startling resemblance between the Equus and Dean's Porsche 550 Spyder.

It all started with setting the destination on the Equus's navigation system, which is like playing 20 questions with a bad girlfriend.

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Left (too late!) on a Friday afternoon for a run to Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. Can make this trip almost blindfolded a couple of different ways, but was expected for dinner and wanted to ensure the quickest elapsed time and a running update on my ETA for the people who were wondering when I'd arrive. Plus CalTrans had shut down a lane of Interstate 5 in the Central Valley, potentially choking the flow of traffic on a busy departure day for northbound travel.

But it's hard to get this across to a navigation system. Like a bad girlfriend, it starts with a simple question ("Are you busy this weekend?"), and you know the true purpose of the line of questioning will only be revealed much later, when you're suddenly cornered into giving your final answer. It's like a cross-examination in a courtroom drama that you know will lead to the electric chair.

In this case, the navigation system already has in mind the way it wants you to go. You know it'll get you there, even though you'll always be wondering why it's chosen the particular route. But in this case, it would likely choose a route that everyone else would be taking too, putting me into the thick of traffic.

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My only hope seemed to be to pick out a kind of alternate route, which proved to be pretty easy in this case since I knew the ground. Except making the map the right scale for choosing an alternate route (big) and the right scale for selecting highways (small) is not easy with an electronic display. And then you have to trick the navi into choosing way-points along the route in order to set the electronic logic on the right path.

It's not easy, another reminder that navigation systems are better for shuttling around a city than rocketing across an open stretch of country.

In the end I crashed together an overly complicated route that pretty much ended up no quicker than the one that the navi would have picked on its own. It shows me again that the computer plays 20 questions with us because it knows we'll just pick the wrong answer otherwise. In this case, my enthusiasm for any route that incorporates the word "cut-off" led once again to disaster, just as it did for the Donner Party back in 1846.

I tried to evade the backup on Interstate 5 by going north on U.S. 99 through Bakersfield, then cutting across to I5 again on the Shefter highway (it goes right by an airport where James Dean won a sports car race with his Porsche 356), instead of the usual way on CA Hwy 46 (Dean's route toward Paso Robles on that fateful weekend). I was headed to the Lerdo Highway cutoff, which runs past I5 right next to the SCCA's Buttonwillow Raceway.

So I'm running through the endless groves of pistachio and almond trees on the west side of I5 at a good rate (we might not know where we're going, but we're making good time!), and I can't help noticing that the navigation system says the road ends not too far ahead instead of cutting across to CA Hwy 33 as I expected.

And finally there I was at a stop sign with a road right in front of me that seemed to stretch to the horizon toward Highway 33 only the navigation system tells me that it didn't exist. This happens all the time with any navigation system, of course, since roads seem to be built quicker than the map database is updated, especially in rural areas.

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So I went ahead after a moment of reflection and sure enough found Highway 33. Used to be so lonely out here that Bob of BAE (Bob's Automotive Engineering) Turbos said he touched 200 mph in his turbocharged Ferrari 512BB back in the 1970s. Actually it's still pretty lonely. But even after cutting up to Blackwell's Corner at a good rate of speed, it became clear that I wouldn't be making dinner in a timely fashion, so I stopped to call the guys in Monterey.

On the upside, the James Dean signage was another opportunity to admire the artwork of John Cerney, which is everywhere between here and Monterey. I remember it first in 1986 as a tableaux of 1950s cars on the front of that old barn along CA Hwy 68 between Salinas and the front gate to Laguna Seca Raceway. The barn is still there, only the scene changed first to a typical California roadside produce stand in 1997 (I have an art print of it) and now to a kind of mock advertisement for vegetables.

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You're more likely to see Cerney's numerous giant figures in the fields along Highway 101 between King City and Salinas, as well as The Farm, which is at the intersection of Highway 68 and the cut-off (there's that word again) to the Spreckles facility, which once was the capital of the local sugar beet industry. Cerney's work can also be seen in Arizona, plus the advertising signs for the Volkswagen dealership here in nearby Manhattan Beach seem like his work.

So there it is again. I look for a short cut and find myself gawking at random roadside attractions along the way. Someone should keep track of stuff like this. Oh, that's right, they do at www.roadsideamerica.com.

Michael Jordan, Executive Editor, Edmunds.com @ 9,650 miles

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