Off-Roading

Lexus and Blackberrry Mountain team up for new off-road adventure

Lexus GX SUVs take to the trails at Blackberry Mountain, a luxury resort in the Great Smokey Mountains.

Photo courtesy of Lexus

Blackberry Mountain in Walland, Tennessee is the newest home of the Lexus Off-Road Adventure. The 5,200-acre Relais & Châteaux-designated resort will now offer the 90-minute program to guests.

Located in the Great Smoky Mountains of East Tennessee, the Lexus Off-Road Adventure at Blackberry Mountain puts guests behind the wheel of a Lexus GX on a course designed to hone their off-roading skills. Participants are offered instruction on six off-road challenges: Rock Crawl, Side Tilt, Hill Climb and Descent, Balance Beams, Log Crawl and Axle Twist.

In addition to the obstacles, the scenery of the resort envelops drivers as they're shown landmarks and waypoints of the mountains and Tennessee Valley.

"Lexus and Blackberry Mountain are a terrific fit as we're both passionate about delivering amazing experiences for our guests," said Lisa Materazzo, vice president of Lexus marketing. "Our GX 460 has off-road capabilities that few luxury SUVs can match, and there's no better way to experience them than a drive on this rugged and scenic trail."

Blackbery Mountain joins sister resort Blackberry Farm in offering the program, which also includes a complimentary two-hour test-drive of Lexus vehicles for all guests of the resort.

Each Lexus Off-Road Adventure has a maximum of three guests. Drivers must be 21 years old or older and passengers much be 10 years old or older.

To find out more about the program and to reserve your stay to take part in the Lexus Off-Road Adventure, contact Blackberry Mountain directly.

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Production of the Volkswagen ID.4 will mark the automaker's first all-electric SUV launch. The ID.4 will have about 310 miles of range, depending on the drive package.

Photo courtesy of Volkswagen AG

Volkswagen is investing heavily into electric vehicles (EVs), even in the U.S. where the models make up a smidgeon of the sales each year. The company has already begun expanding its Chattanooga, Tennessee factory to build a North American center for the engineering and assembly of EVs.

That doesn't mean that they're just working on cars. They're working on the design of the "things" that go into cars as well. Much of this will happen at the Engineering and Planning Center (EPC) in Chattanooga. Breaking ground on the center is set to happen soon with the expectation of it being fully operational by spring 2021.

Volkswagen Chattanooga plant Volkswagen is investing $800 million and adding 1,000 jobs at its Tennessee plant. Photo courtesy of Volkswagen AG

The EPC will feature a unique, state-of-the-art high-voltage laboratory that is designed to develop and test electric vehicle cells and battery packs. These cells and packs are slated to be assembled in the U.S. before being inserted into vehicles.

"There are two ways that auto companies approach the development of electric vehicle batteries," said Wolfgang Maluche, Vice President of Engineering at Volkswagen of America. "A lot of them will farm out the development and testing of batteries to another company, and some will actually do the work of developing and testing in-house. We are doing the latter."

The lab will include pressure testers, explosion-rated climate chambers and – perhaps the most unique – a custom multi-axis shaker table (MAST), which is designed to test the integrity of vehicle components in some of the roughest conditions they might face on the road.

According to Volkswagen, most automotive labs have MASTs, "but almost none were designed for electric vehicle batteries". EV batteries present their own set of testing challenges because of their size and weight. They typically weight hundreds of pounds each, making them the heaviest component in an EV.

"The battery is not only shaking; it is going through a series of harsh conditions to test its durability in a variety of possible environments, from the South Pole to the Sahara," said Jason Swager, the Director of Electrical Development. "We needed to build a MAST that could withstand the immense force and frequency that we need to test these batteries."

Volkswagen describes the process:

"To run a MAST at such high frequencies, Volkswagen had to design its own tool rather than using an outside supplier. The supports for the MAST will be buried 12 feet under the lab's floor and buttressed with concrete to help withstand the forces in use. Volkswagen's new lab will be only the second location in the country with a MAST of this size."

Volkswagen is building the lab to LEED standards. "This lab was planned to be as sustainable as possible," said Maluche.

The production version of the Volkswagen ID.4 EV is expected to be revealed soon. It will be produced at the factory. The company recently celebrated the 1 millionth vehicle to roll off the line at the plant.

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From haunted hotels to beachfront properties and spas, this list has it all.

Photo courtesy of Mission Inn Hotel & Spa

Ready for a classic American road trip? Staying at one of America's historic hotels can compliment the experience by providing a unique stay at a property that doesn't fit the standard hotel chain box, all while providing first-class amenities and charm.

USA Today readers chose these top hotels during an online poll. Some have appeared on the list in previous years though rankings have shuffled. The youngest hotel on this list is 91 years old. The oldest celebrates its 173-year anniversary this year.

Scroll down to see the winners.

No. 10 - The Langham, Huntington – Pasadena, California (1907)

The Langham, Huntington

Photo courtesy of The Langham, Huntington

The Langham, Huntington dates back to the Gilded Age, but its has generations of unique history, including a rough start - the original hotel property closed after just one season of service. Still, it lives on today, much refreshed and revived. The hotel sits in the Los Angeles metro but offered a peaceful respite from the hustle and bustle of the crowd. Historical Property tours are offered daily at 2:00 p.m.

No. 9 - Congress Hall – Cape May, New Jersey (1879)

Congress Hall

Photo courtesy of Congress Hall

Named as America's First Seaside Resort", Congress Hall traces its roots back to the early 19th Century with the property starting as a boarding house in 1816. A fire destroyed that property, but the owners rebuilt. The new lodgings became a frequent destination for U.S. presidents including Ulysses S. Grant, Franklin Pierce, and James Buchanan. It was President Benjamin Harrison that made Congress Hall his "summer White House" and conducted the affairs of state from the hotel.

No. 8 - The Hermitage Hotel – Nashville, Tennessee (1910)

The Hermitage Hotel

Photo courtesy of The Hermitage Hotel

The Hermitage Hotel in downtown Nashville sits at the intersection of old meets new in the booming Southern town. The 122-room luxury hotel has played host to a long list of famous Americans including Babe Ruth, President John F. Kennedy, Patsy Cline, and Johnny Cash. The pet-friendly establishment has its huge painted glass lobby skylight as just one of its standout architectural features.

No. 7 - Grand Hotel – Mackinac Island, Michigan (1887)

Grand Hotel

Photo courtesy of Grand Hotel

Located on Michigan's Mackinac Island, the elegant Grand Hotel is steeped in history and tradition. It's home to the world's longest porch, which comes fully stocked with rocking chairs, that allows for views of the Straits of Mackinac. No cars are allowed on the small island so you'll take a ferry from the mainland then travel via horse-drawn carriage, bicycle, or on foot to the hotel.

No. 6 - Deer Path Inn – Lake Forest, Illinois (1929)

Deer Path Inn

Photo courtesy of Deer Path Inn

Halfway between Milwaukee and Chicago, on the Illinois side of the border, sits the Deer Path Inn, not too far from Lake Michigan. The design of the newly restored hotel is reminiscent of a 15th century Tudor mansion, complete with roaring fireplaces and English gardens. Guests can book afternoon tea or grab something stronger in the on-site pub.

No. 5 - The Francis House – Calistoga, California (1886)

The Francis House

Photo courtesy of The Francis House

The Francis House is unique, not just for Napa Valley, but also for a hotel. It boasts just five guest rooms and is the only stone building with authentic French Second Empire architecture in Napa County. It was shut in 1965 and remained vacant for 52 years until it was given a new life in 2018. The hotel is located near a number of tasting rooms.

No. 4 - Mission Inn Hotel & Spa – Riverside, California (1876)

Mission Inn Hotel & Spa\u200b

Photo courtesy of Mission Inn Hotel & Spa

The Mission Inn Hotel & Spa in Riverside, California is easy to overlook with all the hustle and bustle of the Los Angeles metro area. However, it stands worthy of consideration with spaces filled with fine art (it houses the oldest bell in Christendom, dating back to 1247), its link to Hollywood movie history (it's been featured in numerous films), and ties to U.S. Presidents (Presidents Roosevelt, Taft, Hoover, Nixon, Reagan and George W. Bush have all stayed there). The hotel also has an award-winning spa and breathtaking architecture, which help it stand out from the crowd.

No. 3 - Grand Hotel Golf Resort & Spa – Point Clear, Alabama (1847)

Grand Hotel Golf Resort & Spa

Photo courtesy of Grand Hotel Golf Resort & Spa

The Grand Hotel Golf Resort & Spa in Point Clear is part of the Autograph Collection of hotels. It sits just south of Mobile on Mobile Bay, right on the edge of the Gulf of Mexico. The resort features two golf courses, a 20,000-square-foot spa, tennis courts, and white sand beaches.

No. 2 - Historic Hotel Bethlehem – Bethlehem, Pennsylvania (1922)

Historic Hotel Bethlehem

Photo courtesy of Historic Hotel Bethlehem

The Historic Hotel Bethlehem has only been around since 1922 but the tradition of hospitality began at the site of the current hotel in 1741. The historic accommodations recently added a 5,000-square-foot convention center. Each year, the town goes all-out during the Christmas season, but year-round, you'll find that the Historic Hotel Bethlehem is celebrating its ghosts.

No. 1 - The Peabody Memphis – Memphis, Tennessee (1869)

The Peabody Memphis

Photo courtesy of The Peabody

The Peabody is also known as the "South's Grand Hotel" and is known the world over for its elegance and five resident ducks, who march through the lobby daily at 11 a.m. and 5 p.m., something that has been happening since 1940. The hotel is located in downtown Memphis, just steps from the Mississippi River.

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