As an automotive writer, I’m privileged to be a part of the Rocky Mountain Automotive Press Association. It’s a great group that lets me connect both with lots of other auto writers but also with car manufacturers, their reps, and the PR companies that help all the vehicle makers get press coverage. The fact that they’re all a really nice bunch and great fun to hang out with is just an added benefit. Every year RMAP has also sponsored what’s become known as the Rocky Mountain Driving Experience, allowing us to drive dozens of different cars in a beautiful Colorado venue, with manufacturer’s reps present to answer questions and talk about the vehicles they’re repping. It’s a car lover’s dream afternoon!
This year we repeated the venue that worked so well in 2021, The Fort Restaurant in Morrison, Colorado, just a couple of miles from Red Rocks Amphitheater. Red Rocks is a world-class outdoor music venue that many headliners have said is one of their very favorite places to perform, and even driving by the venue shows why: It’s gorgeous, nestled amidst these red monoliths on the very eastern edge of the Colorado Rockies. Our group rents out the entire restaurant and takes over the parking lot for the day:
The above is just a small subset of the vehicles that were part of the lineup this year, including vehicles from Toyota, Mazda, Kia, Jeep, Nissan, Lexus, Hyundai, Honda, and Genesis. It was a good mix of sporty vehicles, SUVs, and trucks, representing traditional ICE (internal combustion engines), hybrids, and full EV (electric vehicles). We could drive any of the vehicles in any direction we’d like, with the base rule being that we had to be back for the next driver in no more than 30 minutes. I typically drove for 15-20, with a stop mid-trip to take some photos.
The rest of this is a photo album of what I drove and my one-line experience and thoughts about each vehicle. If any of them catch your eye, definitely go to the manufacturer’s Web site to learn more. But first, here’s another shot of the vehicular lineup on the other side of the parking lot (though, yes, eagle-eyed readers will notice the bright orange Toyota Tundra Pro shows up in both):
I actually started the day by driving the 2022 Jeep Grand Cherokee 4xE electric vehicle up from our meeting spot in Golden, Colorado, with the Jeep rep sitting next to me. It was a smooth, quiet drive:
What most people don’t realize is that even the least sporty EV still has far more pep and power than most any gas engine, and that was definitely true with the Grand Cherokee. It was a fun, very smooth ride, with plenty of power to head up into the mountains, and so quiet that we chatted at highway speeds as if we were sitting at a café enjoying cappuccinos. Lots to like with this well appointed family SUV.
The first actual vehicle I drove was, amusingly, not actually supposed to be part of the RMDE lineup: The Genesis GV70 was how the Genesis rep had arrived at the venue. He was there to show off the GV60, but kindly tossed me the keys and invited me to take it on a test spin:
The GV70 sports a standard gas engine with a lot of horsepower and a great interior style that reflects its branding as a “luxury SUV”. Genesis is the premium line from Kia & Hyundai (just as Accura is Honda’s premium line and Lexus is Toyota’s premium brand). It’s very nice and a fun drive with lots of unique and intriguing touches.
I came back to The Fort and swapped it for the Genesis GV60, which was a completely different driving experience, a full EV that even featured a ridiculous straight-outta-fast-and-furious “Boost” button on the dashboard. The GV60 is already a fast, powerful EV but the boost gives you lots more oomph for about ten seconds and it’s crazy. We were laughing out loud at just how much power it offered for that passing-uphill scenario (or blowing that Lambo off the starting line, as appropriate):
It’s fairly unassuming from the outside, with a front that’s a bit reminiscent of the Porsche SUV styling, but it’s a doozy of a drive experience – it’s possible we drove way too fast up some winding little mountain roads – and a fascinating interior design that’s unlike anything in the Kia and Hyundai lineup. If you’re in the EV market, definitely check out the Genesis.
From there I went to a Kia Sportage, a vehicle I’ve driven before and really liked:
This model year features a more rugged front style and a terrific, futuristic rear bumper design and logo that gets people talking. It’s not the Kia of a decade ago, there are a lot of design touches helping make this a brand appealing to a younger, first-time buyer. This Sportage definitely is intended to compete with some of the Subaru vehicles in this class. Since it was an EV, this Sportage also had a really fun “frunk” front trunk storage compartment hidden under the hood:
The perfect place to hide your valuables since what crook would think to look under the hood for storage?
I don’t know if Kia and Hyundai form a keiretsu in the traditional Japanese sense of a manufacturing collective, but they definitely work closely together – and jointly launched the Genesis line – so it was a logical next step to go from the Kia to the Hyundai Palisade. I was very impressed by the Palisade last year and this newer model didn’t disappoint:
Again, another big SUV, but this time it’s a three-row and the interior feels a lot like an Escalade or other premium vehicle in its class. The dashboard was also terrific, well laid out with logical and attractive controls. It also had one feature that I hadn’t experienced before and that I really didn’t much like at all: A rearview mirror that was actually a display screen hooked up to a rear-facing camera:
The concept was really interesting because it removes any obstacles and ensures you have a good view, but it really messed with my eyes and I found I had to stare at it for a second or two before my brain could figure out the depth and ‘zero in’ to be in focus. A number of cars are moving to this feature and I have to say, I’d immediately turn it off and just have it as a mirror myself. Do you have something like this in your car? How do you find it works once you get used to it?
Next up was the Nissan Pathfinder Rock Creek edition, which I drove into scenic downtown Morrison for its photo shoot:
I admit to being a bit lukewarm about Nissan vehicles, but this Pathfinder Rock Creek edition was terrific, well-appointed, comfortable, and a fun drive. Just look at those fantastic wheels and the throwback slots on the front grill, a tribute to the very first generation of Pathfinder, almost twenty years ago!
Not every vehicle in the lineup was $50K or more, some car companies brought their more entry level vehicles. Honda offer us the chance to drive the newly introduced Honda HR-V, little brother to the popular Honda CR-V SUV in the lineup:
An entirely functional and comfortable compact SUV that has a lot of design elements and dimensions in common with my personal Mazda CX-5. This category of compact SUV that’s perfect for one or two, but has space for more as needed, is all the rage in the US marketplace so it’s no surprise to see every car manufacturer – even Lamborghini and Ferrari – pay attention to the small sports ute. Okay, maybe the Lamborghini and Ferrari models are a bit more expensive than this entry-level offering from Honda.
Toyota had a strong presence at RMDE this year too, bringing both Toyota and Lexus offerings. The vehicle that caught everyone’s eye was the big orange beast, the Toyota Tundra TRD Pro:
You can see that it’s a color so intense that my camera couldn’t quite capture it, oversaturating the image and making it look a bit more red than the actual vehicle is in person. It’s a great, comfortable drive experience, and Toyota has a big hit with both the Tundra and its smaller cousin, the Tacoma. I know a lot about them because my son just bought a 2022 Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro, which we’ve been hearing about for months. For a company that started out making small, fuel-efficient sedans, Toyota’s come a long way, and the Toyota Racing Development TRD lineup has lots to recommend. If you’re in the market for a bigger “suburban” truck, the Tundra should be on your list.
I swapped the Tundra for a Lexus LX 600, yet another large, luxury SUV:
The Lexus brand has been around for quite a while now, having launched its first vehicle back in 1989. The company consistently produces luxury vehicles with solid drive performance, including a surprising line of luxury sedans that actually drive a lot more like sports cars. The LX 600 has that big, boxy look of a larger SUV, but once inside, it’s quiet and comfortable, with a dashboard design that was a pleasure to use:
Yes, the graphic on the top right is showing the approximate center of gravity, fun to watch as you take turns really fast. Which, of course, I did not do during this drive event. Interesting in the above is how the drive modes and options are so front-and-center, unusually so even for a more off-road focused vehicle.
At some point during all of this we went back to The Fort for lunch on the back patio. The restaurant is famous for serving unusual meats but I just ate without asking what we were served. It was delicious, and the restaurant definitely pays homage to its heritage, as the front area shows:
Very photogenic, even if it might be a slightly idealized versus what you would have seen if you had visited that spot 150 years earlier. Still, a venue well worth checking out, if nothing else than just for the breathtaking views of Denver and points eastward.
Finally, the vehicle I drove back down from The Fort to our starting spot in Golden, Colorado, was the 2022 Mazda CX-50, the sporty, more rugged version of my own CX-5. In style and drive experience, it was darn similar:
I’m already a big enough fan of the Mazda design language that I bought a car from the company five years ago. It’s still going strong and while it might lack some of the power of a fancy EV, it’s a solid, reliable SUV with sufficient room for me and my family and gets decent gas mileage. The CX-50 is a nice update to the vehicle, with a slightly less awkward front grill design. It would be a very easy switch, though I’m actually holding out for the Mazda CX-70 which will be the company’s first plug-in hybrid for the US market. Maybe in 2023. Maybe 2024. But it’s coming.
Anyway, that was it. Another wonderful driving experience and a chance to experience a lot of vehicles in one of the most beautiful driving regions of an already beautiful state. Big thanks to the RMAP team for putting this together and Nissan for sponsoring our delicious lunch at The Fort. I’m ready to go back next year, for sure!