The morning that dawns in Sutton, West Virginia is clear but mildly overcast. The clouds paint a silvery shimmer over the countryside – one of rolling hills, colour-rich forests and winding roads. It turns out this region is far better enjoyed by daylight. It’s picturesque, and the winding, undulating roads far more fun without the dark and the deer to distract us. The Outlander is working hard on the uphills – the 166 hp/162 lb-ft 2.4L four is a good unit but I’m wishing for the 224-hp V6 underfoot as I make my way by the meanderers.
The Outlander is confident underneath me. Steering inputs make their way from hand to road quickly and with agility unexpected in a fully laden SUV. The body roll is minimal and what little there is, progressive. The Outlander doesn’t lay down or fall over, it just transitions its weight to the outside tires until you become aware that’s about as much as you’ll want to do that.
Brushing the brake pedal or even stomping on the accelerator does little to upset the fore/aft weight distribution, it’s a well-planted little body here. The mountainous roads through West Virginia soon give way to the last, long, straight, boring shot through to Florida. Down through Carolina (both of them) we trudge, the Outlander playing its part of silent companion perfectly. Fuel stops are infrequent, dictated more by Maddie’s bladder than anything else.
We’re averaging 8.1 L/100 km on this trip, not bad given a week’s worth of luggage for our family, my lead foot, and the persistent headwinds. The official ratings are 9.7/8.1/9.0 L/100 km city/highway/combined – we’re bang on that number.
As the road drops into Florida, the scenery becomes less mundane once again. Swamps, wetland forests and greenery abound; I’m finding it hard to concentrate on the road, hoping to see a crocodile – but I don’t.
Our hotel for the first phase of our trip is the Riotel Florida. It’s a small motel but the rooms are spacious, clean, and very well equipped. A dog and a cockatoo co-host us, with their employee, a very pleasant Quebecois man named Frederic to do all the human things needed. Much to Maddie’s delight, there is a pool. Best of all, it’s affordable. $700 for five nights in prime location.
Treasure Island is a spectacular spot with a strip of motels and hotels, all within walking distance to a long, clean public beach plus a vibrant nightlife.
It’s only 20 minutes from St. Petersburg, which is a surprisingly cosmopolitan city with an active entertainment district downtown. We’re there for the IndyCar Grand Prix of St. Petersburg – and the whole town is clearly up for some racing action.
For four days we use the Outlander to ferry us from track to hotel, to supermarket, to track, to hotel; hustling back each day to give Maddie maximum time in the pool, or in the ocean. I prefer the pool – it’s warmer.
After an extra day on Treasure Island (because beach) we leave before dawn to head to Disney World – it’s a two-hour drive to Orlando and we want to make it in before it gets insane.
Driving up to Disney World we’re afraid the road signs will give the game away, each one passes with a chuckle as we realize Maddie is too embedded in her book to look up and see them. It’s only as we approach the entrance that we get her attention.