Rocky Mountain Driving Experience: Winter Park ’23

rocky mountain driving experience rmde 2023Every spring we Rocky Mountain automotive journalists get together with representatives from most of the major automotive manufacturers and have a combination road rally and informal set of presentations about the latest and greatest. Organized by the Rocky Mountain Automotive Press, RMDE is a highlight of the year, a terrific time with great people, great cars, and some spectacular driving routes. This year we finally got back to an overnight format, after a few years of one-day events. There are always new people, of course, but the core group is quite engaging and entertaining, representing publications like The Denver Post and Car & Driver, among many others. And, of course, Planet Dave represents too!

Our route this week started at our usual base in Golden, Colorado, at the foot of the majestic Rocky Mountains. Our seven-pit-stop path had us head along the Peak to Peak Highway for many miles through quaint mountain towns, taking a break in Lyons for lunch and a presentation from Honda. Then it was back up into the mountains thru Rocky Mountain National Park and its breathtaking Trail Ridge Road. Winding through the mountains we ended up at Winter Park for a presentation from Toyota, followed by a tasty dinner where we learned all about the Alfa-Romeo Tonale and our overnight in the very quiet (no snow!) ski resort town. Day two we had breakfast sponsored by Korean luxury brand Genesis, then headed back over the lovely Guanella Pass, eventually making our way back to Golden and our own vehicles.

During these two days, I drove at least two million dollars worth of vehicles, though the average price was probably around $75K-$80K. Somehow I ended up driving the Mercedes EQS 580 on three of the approximately fifteen legs, which was not a hardship at all. Indeed, it was one of my favorite vehicles with its ultra-modern three-display dashboard and comfy pillows attached to the headrests. Other vehicles were a bit less impressive, where the exterior design was great but the interior disappointed, or vice-versa. But I know, you want to see photos, so let’s get into it!


One of the best moments of the RMDE event is walking out and seeing the lineup of shiny new vehicles. This year did not disappoint, with a veritable rainbow of beautiful cars and trucks:

rmde 2023 rmap - starting lineup in Golden

This is a subset of the total vehicles: We had 21 cars, SUVs, and trucks present for the event, plus support vehicles. Manufacturers represented included GMC, Range Rover, Alfa-Romeo, Hyundai, Kia, Nissan, Toyota, Lexus, Genesis, Mazda, Jeep, Mercedes, Acura, Land Rover, and Honda. Toyota had the most cars representing, including the new Prius Prime plug-in hybrid, the new flagship Crown luxury sedan, and the Corolla GR, the only manual transmission in the lineup.

My pal and fellow auto journalist Angelia joined me in the first vehicle, the Land Rover Defender:

rmde 2023 rmap - land rover defender

I’m actually scheduled to get this vehicle for a week so won’t say much about it here, other than to note that Land Rover’s getting better and better at finding the sweet spot between tough/rugged and comfortable/luxury. It was a pleasure to drive and was extraordinarily quiet inside, even as we were climbing up some steep grades.

Next up was the car I kept driving, the Mercedes EQS 580:

rmde 2023 rmap - mercedes eqs 580

It’s a full EV coupled with the luxury of the Mercedes brand and it was pretty amazing. My favorite feature, as I said earlier, was that they actually have pillows affixed to the headrests, making it delightfully comfortable to rest your head. One topic that came up again and again is the frustration that car makers have trying to sell hybrids, plug-in (PHEV) hybrids, and EVs to the general car market and I kept telling them to focus on the drive experience. Every hybrid has lots of oomph, with PHEV typically better (some car companies are now adding a hybrid as a sort of super-turbocharger) and EVs? Oh, baby, even little EVs are like tiny rockets. The Mercedes might look benign but push down on that gas pedal and you’re at 60mph before you can blink.

Quite literally switching gears, I then drove a GMC Canyon, the company’s smaller pickup (you can see the bigger GMC Sierra behind it):

rmde 2023 rmap - gmc canyon

Given that my son just bought a Toyota Tacoma small truck, a direct competitor to the Canyon, it was really interesting to see how this smaller GMC truck compared. In fact, there’s a lot to like here, including a far superior interior design and a nicely scaled-down rugged exterior that will undoubtedly have some people confuse it with the Sierra. It had plenty of pep for our mountain roads too. I also drove this in Rocky Mountain National Park and it handled very well on the tight, windy roads.

In fact, here’s a picture from RMNP’s Trail Ridge Road, one of the most spectacular roads I’ve ever driven:

rmde 2023 rmap - rocky mountain national park RMNP trail ridge road

At its highest point, it’s 12,183 feet above sea level – that’s 2.3 miles – and even when the weather elsewhere is sunny, it can be rainy or even snowy on the road. Check to ensure it’s open before you head to the park if this is your destination too: It’s often closed. What you immediately notice about the road is that there are no guardrails. You do not want to pass anyone on this road, for sure, it demands full attention and even some of the experienced drivers in our group were a bit wobbly at our next stop.

Back to cars, though!

Perhaps the least inspiring of all the vehicles I drove on the first day was the Hyundai Santa Fe:

rmde 2023 rmap - hyundai santa fe

Overall, I’m quite impressed with the huge strides that Hyundai has made with its vehicles, but the Santa Fe is about as generic an SUV as you can buy, and the interior dash design is one only a 747 pilot would love, with a huge grid of buttons on the center console to control everything. On the upside, you don’t have to hunt for controls, but it really does bring to the fore just how complicated modern vehicles are nowadays.

By contrast, fellow Korean manufacturer Kia has been hitting it out of the park with its styling and improved design language in the last few years, as highlighted by its far more exciting SUV, the Kia Telluride:

rmde 2023 rmap - kia telluride

Isn’t “midnight lake blue” a gorgeous color? I also had the pleasure of sharing the Telluride drive with Terissa Matusalem of Kia Motors, which gave us a chance to talk about the design features and changes going on with Kia. It has gone in a few short years to a company whose lineup is well worth checking out if you’re in the market for a sedan, SUV, or EV.

Speaking of gorgeous colors, the “verde fangio” green of the Alfa Romeo Tonale was just breathtaking:

rmde 2023 rmap - alfa romeo tonale green

I’m not typically a fan of greens – it’s a color that’s hard to get right on a vehicle – but man, the Tonale (pronounced “toe-nall-ee”) was just wonderfully eye-catching. The styling, the attention to detail (can you see the colors of the Italian flag hidden in the side view mirror casing?), the wheel design, this is a car that turns heads.

Unfortunately, once you get into the Tonale, the experience is quite different and I was quite startled and disappointed by the completely generic vehicle interior. Instead of taking the “Italian” design notes from the exterior, it offers the most dull and boring of dashboard layouts. Driving it was fun, but Alfa Romeo (a Stellantis brand) really needs to iterate on the interior design to make this a must-own vehicle. By contrast, when I wrote about the Fiat 500X, I loved the interior design, and that was back in 2019.

The diametric opposite of the bland Tonale interior was the interior of the delightful high-end luxury Genesis G90:

rmde 2023 rmap - genesis g90

This is a relatively new car brand that’s a spin-off from Hyundai, but has a luxury identity all its own, and sold 56,000 cars in the United States last year. That’s notable because it means that Genesis outsold Nissan’s Infiniti line, an impressive accomplishment for a car brand that only showed up in the United States in 2016. Next up from Genesis: Dedicated dealerships.

Back to the G90. This is a company that really focuses both on the driver and passenger experience to an extreme degree. Last year I was delighted by the “crystal ball” gearshift of the Genesis GV60, and this year what I immediately fell in love with was the button on the center console that closed the door for you. That’s right, once you slide into the seat, you can push a button and it’ll close the driver’s or passenger’s door rather than making you lean out and pull the handle. Necessary? Of course not. Something I’d use every day nonetheless? Oh heck yeah. If you’re in the market for extreme luxury, definitely check out Genesis.

Finally, I did have a little time behind the wheel of what I consider the logical successor to my own personal car, the Mazda CX-50:

rmde 2023 rmap - mazda cx50

The exterior looks almost identical to my 2017 CX-5 and, honestly, it’s hard to tell what’s changed with the interior other than a larger display screen for the infotainment system, but this is just a solid, reliable vehicle that has every safety feature you can add and at a very reasonable price. A bit boring compared to the Tonale’s sexy exterior and the Genesis luxury interior? Yes. But sometimes simple and reliable wins the race, as we learned from Aesop and his fables.

After all that driving, it was a pleasure to relax with a nice Italian dinner at Doc’s Roadhouse in Winter Park, followed by most of us making an early night of it. Unusually for me, I slept well my first night at elevation – our hotel was at 9,121 feet above sea level – and woke up ready for more driving, which I’ll cover in part two of this writeup: RMDE 2023: Day Two.

#rmde2023 #rmapmedia #auto #cars


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dave taylor vertigo film swirl backgroundPlanet Dave is run by Dave Taylor, who has been writing about film, cars, games, and his lifestyle for many years. He's based in Boulder, Colorado and assures readers he's only occasionally falling into a gravity well or temporal distortion field.

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