The problem wasn't in the preparation: Blame Mother Nature throwing a curve ball - or more likely an ice slab.

Toyota and its media agencies spent more than a year planning its list of press events, including lining up a Jan. 27-31 shindig in Charleston for auto writers to test-drive the restyled 2014 Highlander SUV.

The carmaker knew to hold the press event in the more temperate South as well as in the East, since the invited journalists would be from the East Coast and Midwest.

And all was well the first day in Charleston; Temperatures were in the 60s with little or no precipitation. But after that, the weather turned cold - and rainy - as ice.

Bridges froze up Tuesday night and stayed that way into Wednesday. Not until Thursday afternoon did the Ravenel Bridge to Mount Pleasant reopen, even though temperatures remained below 32 degrees. Then on Friday morning, thawing ice chunks fell from the bridge's towering cables, hitting more than a few cars and trucks.

Through it all, the Highlander show went on.

The press event's home base was the Market Pavilion hotel on East Bay Street in downtown Charleston. Auto writers were to arrive on predetermined dates and spend a day or two driving the SUV on mapped out and GPS-directed excursions to such places as the Charleston Battery downtown, Magnolia Plantation west of the Ashley and Fort Moultrie on Sullivan's Island.

But the weather raised havoc. At least one whole group was scratched, not only due to the bad weather in Charleston but because of the massive traffic jam in frozen Atlanta. A number of flights from Georgia's capital to Charleston International were delayed or canceled, including those for some of the auto writers.

Still, more than 50 automotive journalists took part in the test drives out of 90 or so originally, organizers said.

Toyota was eager to show off the new Highlander, which sports a more streamlined look with bolder lines, third row seating and an all new entertainment package.

The New Jersey- and Michigan-badged test vehicles in Charleston last week included top-of-the-line XLE models priced at close to $40,000. At the same time, the SUV can be purchased for much less. A base Highlander will cost in the upper $20,000s when they arrive at dealerships in the next few months, said Joe VanHoose of Atlanta-based Jackson Spalding, which helped organize the press event for Toyota.

Somewhat coincidentally, the event took place the week before the Super Bowl. During the game, Toyota unveiled a Highlander ad sporting the Muppets.

The carmaker chose Charleston for its January press stop in part because it wanted places that SUV owners would likely travel. Organizers designed routes that were considered "adventures," like a family taking a vacation to well-known visitor spots or a couple going on a getaway trip to somewhere new and exotic.

Toyota held a similar event in Miami two months ago for the new Tundra full-size truck and the Corolla compact sedan, said Erin Santy, vice president of fellow organizer SHIFT Communications.

Despite the ice-related hiccups, Santy was complimentary. "You can't complain about the reception we've been getting," she said.

VanHoose, who raved about the food and "Southern hospitality," said the groups ate lunches at Poogan's Porch and dinners at McCrady's a few blocks south on East Bay Street. "They've been great," he said.

Among the writers taking a test drive Friday at the Charleston event was Danny Dumas, a freelancer for Esquire and GQ among others.

"I'm a big Civil War buff," he said. "This is a great place for history."

Even without the nasty weather, Dumas was on a tight timetable, arriving Thursday evening from Hawaii and then scheduled on Friday to fly back to his home in San Francisco.

Reach Jim Parker at 937-5542 or