DC to Detroit in a Toyota 4-Runner (and RFD’s Top 10 NAIAS Moments)

Over the course of four days, RFD Editor-in-Chief William Byrd and I put over 1,100 miles on a 2016 Toyota 4-Runner Limited while heading to the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) in Detroit, Michigan, and then back home to DC.   

Spending every waking (and non-waking) moment with a coworker, much less your boss, for four days straight can go two ways, horrible or really horrible. Good thing our trip to the NAIAS went really well, and the Right Foot Down team had a blast covering the Detroit Auto Show.  Will and I were like Neil Armstrong, we took one big step for Right Foot Down.  It was our first time covering the NAIAS, we laughed, drank, cried, ate, got pulled over, froze to death, and our hotel room definitely smelled of men after we left.  We made our mark on Detroit, and we learned a great deal about how to cover an event as large as NAIAS.  So aspiring auto journalists, take note of our successes and failures if you plan to go next year.  

Here are 10 things we enjoyed on our road trip to the NAIAS.

#1. Our Toyota 4-Runner press vehicle.  It was a brilliant road trip car and safely and quickly guided us to Detroit.  Despite police, snow, sleet, rain, it took us to Detroit and back without any complaints.  While the interior may not be as plush as some of the competition in the $40,000 range, it does a lot of things well.

2016 Toyota 4-Runner Limited

#2. Wendy’s.  I haven’t eaten that much Wendy’s since my college days.  When you are taking a 1,000+ mile journey you need quick and affordable food. That’s exactly what Wendy’s provided. The #10 meal was my best friend.  RIP Dave Thomas.

#3. Networking.  This seems obvious to those in the business world, but automotive journalist are of a different breed.  We don’t always like people, we like cars. It can be hard to talk to humans for longer than one minute.  At the NAIAS you have the top industry experts, journalists, and executives all in one building.  You are bound to talk to people who can change your life, so do it.  Talk, and keep talking to everyone you can.   Ever night, there are fun (and free) events around the area; if you aren’t invited, ask someone where and when they are happening and just show up.  You never know when you’ll end up at the cars.com awards ceremony with Fall Out Boy and Walk The Moon playing.

#4. 4-Wheel Drive.  I loved driving our 4-Runner on the highway, because you can clearly see the road from your high seating position.  It’s four-wheel-drive system and locking center differential came in handy. On our way to Detroit we encountered inclement weather that was already derailing other cars.  As much as Will was trying to get a GT350 as our road tripper, when the snow was coming down sideways somewhere past Cleveland, I was glad we were in the 4WD Toyota.  The 4-Runner pushed through the bad weather and got us to Detroit safely (well maybe not Cannonball time, as the ~300’ish mile range meant multiple fuel stops each way)!

2016 Toyota 4-Runner Limited

#5. Concept cars.  Multiple times over the weekend, people told me that Buick will never build the gorgeous new Avista as a production car.   I kept scratching my head, and wondering why? Most postulated that it competes too closely with the Camaro and the ATS-V, all of which the GM Alpha platform, but when they’ve done such a great job, why stop?  It was a theme that I picked up multiple times.  Most car companies want to make a statement, and a stunning concept car is one way to do it, even if it never makes it to the shoroom.  The Buick Avista is just one concept car, among several at this year’s NAIAS, but may have been our favorite.

Buick Avista concept

#6. Toyota’s JBL stereo.  During long road trip, sometimes you run out of things to say to each other. Luckily the 4-Runners stereo came to the rescue and pumped up the jams.  The bass, treble, high and lows were all equally balanced.  Hip-hop stations were my favorite because of the excellent subwoofer.

#7. Planning.  On the first day alone there were over ten new cars unveiled with over 5,000 people trying to see each one.  It was quite difficult to post up and get a good view of each one. Plan which cars you really want to see, and adjust your day accordingly.  We did just that, and were able to get an upfront spot at the Audi unveiling of the H-Tron. Audi’s new concept vehicle powered by Hydrogen.  Exciting.  We captured a short video on our iPhone and instantly uploaded it to twitter. It was easily our most popular social media post of the week!

#8. Old School Toyota.  I own a 1996 Toyota Previa, and both have similar driving characteristics and interior.  This isn’t always a bad thing because Toyota in the 90s was making great cars.  But people today want more modern cars.  The 4Runner looks, drives, handles like a truck, and has a truck-like interior.  If you want a rugged, all-terrain, reliable Toyota, this is your ride.

2016 Toyota 4-Runner Limited

#9. Canada.  Despite the American dollar being strong and Canada being cheap, it may not be not worth staying across the border while attending the NAIAS.  Will and I stayed at the lovely Caesar Hotel and Casino in Windsor, Canada, and had an excellent time.  Despite being a great hotel, we had to cross the US/Canada border each night and morning to get back and forth to the auto show.  This ended up being a hassle that I don’t think we’ll want to do again.  Lesson learned.

2016 Toyota 4-Runner Limited

#10.  The Road Trip. Some think driving is a chore, some think robots should do it, but the team at Right Foot Down finds enjoyment in almost all kinds of driving (Editors Note: daily commuting in DC is debatable Mike…). The 4-Runner handled the trip with grace.  We got pulled over by the police within the first 20 miles of the trip.  We traversed through snow, sleet, hail and rain. We went to Canada, and back.  And to Canada and back.  We hung out with Mike Spinelli and made fun of the VLF automotive Force i Hammerhead Eagle Thrust.  We interviewed interesting people from Mazda, Dodge/SRT, BMW, and Ford.  But most of all we had fun!

2016 Toyota 4-Runner Limited

I hope you enjoyed viewing our content from the 2016 NAIAS in Detroit. You can bet that Right Foot Down will on attending more events and covering other auto shows. Stay tuned for more reviews, editorials, and rants.