2013 Lexus GS 350: Circuit of the Americas to Van Horn, Texas
February 28, 2013
No, I was not allowed to drive our 2013 Lexus GS 350 F Sport around the Circuit of the Americas racetrack outside Austin, Texas. Nevertheless, the COTA track is a big reason why I came here.
The Jeep brass chose Austin, Texas as the base of operations for the launch of the 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee, and for two solid reasons. The nearby Inks Ranch has some Moab-like rocks that make for decent off-roading, and the new Circuit of the Americas racetrack has more than enough asphalt and challenging corners for the 470-horsepower SRT version.
Even though the Lexus GS 350 was forced to sit on the sidelines throughout, I was allowed to hammer around America's newest Formula One circuit in the Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT with nary a speed limit or lead-follow pace car.
The lapping ended just before noon. After a nice chat with longtime friend Lon Bromley, the Director of Safety at the track, I eventually rolled out through the gate and pointed the Lexus west toward home at noon-thirty.
That's a bit of a late start for what I hoped would be a 400- or 450-mile day, but I nevertheless needed to put a good dent in my drive home on this first stint. El Paso, some 587 miles distant, seemed a bridge too far, but towns of any size are few along Interstate 10 in west Texas. You can't get picky.
For example: drive past Ozona (pop. 3,225) and the next town is Fort Stockton (pop. 8,404) some 108 miles down the road. Go beyond Fort Stockton and you're looking at another 120 miles to Van Horn (pop. 2,435). After that you might as well continue on for another 121 miles and roll all the way in to El Paso.
Kurt and I made this run last June in a Shelby GT500, with an extended side trip down to Terlingua, besides. But there were two of us to the share the driving and we left the as-yet unpaved Circuit of the Americas well before noon. Oh, and we arrived in El Paso near midnight.
Needless to say my Internet search for "west Texas hotels on Interstate 10" returned few results. But the Hotel El Capitan in Van Horn, Texas came up big: 103 Trip Advisor ratings with a 4.5-star average.
I called. They had rooms. They were reasonable. Sold. I plugged the address into the Lexus navigation system and set sail.
The first 125 miles on the "quickest" route put me on highway 290, a typical Texas two-lane. That's not half as bad as it sounds because, like many such Texas roads, it's mostly arrow straight, deserted and carries a 70 mph speed limit. I made good time.
Things ratcheted up another notch when I got to Interstate 10, where the speed limit is 80 mph all the way to my exit in Van Horn.
Why do they have high speed limits in west Texas? Look again at the town sizes and separation distances. Now look out the windshield and see few other cars. It makes perfect sense.
The Lexus' navigation system couldn't make sense of 70-mph secondary roads and 80-mph interstates, though, and its ETA estimates were in complete denial: 375 miles in 6 hours and 20 minutes works out to 59 mph. Ha! Meanwhile, Google Maps' estimate of 5 hours and 8 minutes represents a 73-mph average and a firmer grip on the reality of west Texas.
The price of speed, of course, is reduced fuel economy. I made a pit stop in Fort Stockton for fuel and the Lexus was good for 25.7 mpg. Not too bad compared to its 28 mpg highway rating considering the 80-something circumstances. And the savings in time and sanity was well worth whatever extra money I paid.
Rain started falling over the last 50 miles before Van Horn, but there was never enough to get the wipers going full time. I didn't like the rain sensing feature much, though. It seemed to sense rain and flap about when there wasn't much there and then sat idle when it should have done something. At least there's a manual setting.
Turns out I didn't need the navigation system to find the El Cap when I eased off the interstate at 9:00 p.m. Van Horn proper is pretty tiny, and I caught sight of the neon signs on the roof before I got to the bottom of the exit ramp. Trip advisor got it right, too. Place is nice, a quaint restored and modernized 1930's-era hotel. I slept like a stone.Dan Edmunds, Director of Vehicle Testing @ 11,880 miles