2012 Subaru Impreza: Los Angeles to Nevada City
April 10, 2013
I've lived in California my entire life and I've never driven up Highway 395 or seen Lake Tahoe. This trip to Northern California in our long-term 2012 Subaru Impreza would be different. I wanted to take the long route and see something more than flat, soulless freeways. The first leg of the five-day journey will take me to my father's new home in Nevada City, CA, 532 miles away.
After a few morning hours on the road, my first stop is at a vista point on U.S. Highway 395 to stretch my legs at The Aerospace Valley.
Back on the road, I notice that the Subaru locks out the audio settings while on the move. Even with cruise control engaged, the Impreza won't let me adjust the bass levels up when the hip-hop mood strikes or back down when I want to wind down with a podcast.
This is annoying, but I'm thankful for the picturesque route. I stop at Red Rock Canyon National Park, Owens Lake, Mt. Whitney, Inyo National Forest, Mammoth Mountain and Mono Lake and I'm only half way there. The Subaru is comfortable, capable and I'm really cozy after 300 miles.
The speed limit on U.S. 395 is 65 mph, which is five miles an hour lower than most of Interstate 5 travelling up the center of California. The decreased speed does more than slow me down, it builds character. It gives me the opportunity to stop and see small towns with unique architecture and country motels.
This place distinctly reminds me of the Cozy Cone hotel in Cars. I want a dinosaur outside my motel room window. The 12-year-old inside me demands it, but I must move on.
I find a 1972 Honda AZ600 for sale on the side of the highway. I wonder for more than a moment if the 36-horsepower engine could get this microcar up to speed on the freeway quicker than the Impreza, whose 148-hp four-cylinder has its strength sapped by the continuously variable transmission (CVT). The Impreza is fine at speed and acceptable around town, but its leisurely acceleration feels almost dangerous while joining high-speed traffic. It's got no oomph. If I'd brought a few friends on this trip, I'd really have to plan my moves. Alas, the vintage Honda doesn't look like it runs and I need to get going.
After putting some more miles behind me I stop for a photo-op at Walker River. Highway 395 parallels the river for several miles. All four windows go down and the sunroof goes back. It's cold outside, but the mountain air is a crisp and refreshing change to the metropolis smog I'm used to and I have seat heaters.
As I get close to Lake Tahoe, I decide that I agree with editor Phil Reed when he recommends you get the manual transmission for this car. Yet, even though our CVT-equipped Subie feels gutless in the mountains, it's eager and composed around the bends. It's like it wants to succeed at being a good little car, and the all-wheel-drive system definitely helps.
Lake Tahoe is vast and beautiful. I wish it weren't so overcast and gray, but I explore a bit and read some roadside placards. Dinner time is approaching quickly and I want get there before the light fades so I put Tahoe in the rear view.
I told my father that I'd be in for dinner around 6:00 p.m. and that's exactly when I pull up under a light rain, outside his cabin-style home, among the Redwood forests of northern California. Including one full fuel fill-up, snacks, lunch and a dozen impromptu photo shoots, the day has only taken me ten hours. Google maps estimated 9 hours 16 minutes. I've made great time without having to stare at eighteen-wheelers, countless bland fast food restaurants, and endless miles of pancaked roadway. Next stop: Monterey Bay, CA.
Travis Langness, Associate Editor @ 17,630 miles