Which Delivers Better? Domino’s DXP vs. the World’s Lamest Mitsubishi Eclipse

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From the March 2017 issue

When we heard that Domino’s Pizza was claiming its new DXP is “the ultimate pizza delivery vehicle,” we took it as a call to action. Those pizza suits in their fancy office park on the other side of our very own Ann Arbor might know a thing or two about tomato sauce, but making baseless claims about automobiles is encroaching dangerously on our turf. So we called Domino’s corporate with an ultimatum: We’d stay out of the pizza business if Domino’s would let us test the DXP, preferably one that’s delivered full of fresh product. Nothing short of a scientific evaluation would do.

The DXP appears to be unprecedented. If there’s been a sort-of-purpose-built pizza car deployed by another pizza megacorporation, C/D’s intelligence network is unaware of it. So, in order to stage a proper comparison test, we needed a “typical” pizza-delivery car. Working from lazy stereotypes and lurid high-school assumptions borne out of watching bad 1980s VHS porn (“Ma’am, did you order the large pepperoni?”), we set off to acquire a late-model Pontiac Firebird. “Not a Trans Am,” explained features ­editor Jeff Sabatini, himself a former pizza-delivery driver, “because that’s actually cool. A ratty fourth-gen V-6 Firebird, however, would be the perfect car to embody all the desperation and economic marginalization of the average delivery driver, while also reflecting his unreasonable aspiration to something greater.”

Cheap Firebirds may grow under trees in the Midwest, but in my neighborhood of Santa Barbara, California, they are in short ­supply. Or, at least, their owners have yet to discover Craigs­list. With a deadline fast approaching and no suitable car to use as our control, desperation drove me into Buellton, a nearby one-horse town (and that horse has pinkeye). Along Buellton’s Avenue of the Flags, which is barely an avenue and where there are no flags, are tow shops that retrieve derelicts off the highway. And in front of one was an impounded 2001 Mitsubishi Eclipse on pockmarked wheels shedding its custom flame paint job. Faded glory, bitter automotive betrayal, and a sketchy employment history, all embodied in one black heap. It was perfect, and, according to the tail badge, it was a GT-R. I offered $1300 to the shop that had impounded it, and the offer was immediately accepted, meaning that I overpaid.

Domino’s isn’t trying to hide the DXP’s origins. It’s a Korean-built Chevrolet Spark that’s been transmogrified by Roush Industries in Livonia, Michigan, into an oh-so-adorable mishmash of Good Humor ice-cream truck and Oscar Mayer Wienermobile, all wrapped in self-aware Noid-inspired vinyl graphics. At least it’s better than the mopeds given to pizza-­delivery dudes in Korea, and its “Warming Oven” almost nearly works.

First shown at a 2014 franchisee convention in Las Vegas, the DXP arrives at an inflection point in the history of pizza delivery. According to the 2017 Pizza Power Report issued by PMQ Pizza Magazine, pizza sales in the United States through September 2016 reached just over $44 billion. Large chains, such as delivery-­obsessed Domino’s, outsell independent pizzerias, even as mom-and-pop shops outnumber the corporate stores. Presumably internet ordering systems that store credit-­card and delivery-address data will only increase the chains’ advantage, as PMQ says online ordering will soon overtake phone ordering. Customers are hardly even aware they’re spending real money on pizza as it magically shows up a few minutes after they tap an app. Delivery—by car, Skynet-­loyal drone, or express zombie-gram—is America’s pizza present and future.

Alas, Domino’s had plenty of legalese to keep C/D from actually delivering its ­pizzas. We could drive the DXP, but not make actual deliveries. So we drove it, but we also followed as Joe Hayes, a trained pizza professional, delivered pies around the student ghetto of Isla Vista near the University of California, Santa Barbara. There’s only one seat in the DXP anyhow. It sort of worked out.

Incidentally, again according to PMQ Pizza Magazine, 54 percent of millennials have posted photos of their pizza to social media. Go figure.

Hot Box, Hot Bag, Hot Car

C/D borrowed a T640 thermal imaging camera from Flir Systems to record the temperatures of three fresh-from-the-oven medium pepperoni pizzas. Pizza A was placed in a Domino’s corrugated cardboard box plus the “Heatwave” insulated bag normally used to deliver all Domino’s pizzas. Pizza B was similarly bundled but also placed in the Warming Oven of the Domino’s DXP for delivery. And finally, Pizza C was only put in the box. After an eight-minute trip to franchisee Mark Talarico’s house a mile and a half away, we photographed them again.

So, which one best retained its cheesy, bubbly, toasty deliciousness? Without either the bag or oven around it, Pizza C lost heat rapidly, dropping from a center average temperature of 215 degrees out of the oven down to 161 degrees at delivery. The remaining heat was well distributed around the pie, with the coldest spots at its center where the air gaps from being sliced facilitated cooling.

The bagged Pizza A dropped from 218 degrees at the oven down to 170 degrees at delivery. However, across the pie face the temperature was higher and more consistent, with a cold spot at the center where, we speculate, the pizza came in contact with the top of the box, dissipating some heat.

But it was Pizza B, the one that took its trip in the DXP, that lost the least heat. At 213 degrees, it came out of the oven with the coolest center average temperature, but at a sizzling 167 degrees at delivery, it saw the smallest temperature drop. We suspect that the heating pad in the DXP’s Warming Oven’s bottom isn’t that effective. But the plastic box itself helps retain heat better than just the thermal bag. So if you want your pizza piping hot, ask for delivery in a DXP.

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