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Greetings all,

A few weeks ago I did a couple days of mountain and track driving for the Rocky Mountain Automotive Press group's Rocky Mountain Driving Experience. Mountain drives on day one from Denver International Airport up to Estes Park and back, via Boulder, Nederland, Ward and through Lyons, etc. and day two split between High Plains Raceway and Colorado Off-road Extreme.

At the start of the event I was greeted with this view...





Day one, I drove:


Acura ILX
Pretty tight lil' package. Decent power, great shifter, chock full O' Acura technology goodies. Stereo was a bit disappointing though.


Audi R8 V10 Coupe
The most perfect car ever? Delivers on the decades old cliched promise of "a race car for the street." Ok, maybe not a race car (nothing that claims to be, which isn't, truly is), but a bona fide "track car for the street." I take this thing all day long as my daily driver (after I hit the lotto) and even though I wouldn't track it, I'd be smug in the knowledge that I could and it would excel. In the meantime, I'd drive it to The Capital Grille like it was an A6 and earn Valet pole position as well. And... It would still be parked, front and center, when I finished dinner. That's reverence. Not my first R8 drive (I have a fair amount of street and track time with the 4.2 as well as time at Infineon in the 5.2), and very hopefully not my last. What can I say, I'm a BIG fan. Love these 4.2 style wheels too, particularly as I despise the other Neeper / Niche looking 5.2 wheel (puke).





Mini Cooper S
Backwards baseball cap styling meets a pretty tremendous chassis, mixed with good brakes and a responsive engine / power train with great power delivery. What's not to like? Well, besides the design. Still though, fun, fast, efficient ride.





Range Rover Evoque
Tremendous exterior and interior design. 240hp, 4 cyl turbo is rather serviceable, except... Off the line. The combination of altitude, curb weight and turbo lag will make the "hole-shot," or lack thereof, a deal breaker for many (although they may not realize it until living with it for a while). Better than a Q5? Yeah, likely. If only it had a V6 turbo diesel and a 5,000 lb towing capacity... It'd be my wife's next car (and I'd tow my Elise with it). LOVE the styling and outward / rearward visibility is actually pretty good. Nowhere near as bad as it looks like it would be. One of my favorite rides of the event.





Subaru BRZ
I was excited to get a crack at this, mostly because I knew it would make my Subaru buddy's pants moist. Then I jumped in and realized a pedal was missing. The important one! Save The Manuals! Still tho, pretty solid little car. 2,800 lbs, 200 hp. Which isn't enough hp, especially up at Lyons and Estes Park altitude, especially on the hill climb between the two. Even then, I bet it could make really great use of more juice, even at sea level. Why? Because the chassis is pretty fargin' terrific. Brakes? Powerful and, most importantly, the most Porsche-esque feel that I've experienced outside of a Porsche. Designed to fit a set of track wheels / tires, jacks, jack stands and tools all in the car with the rear seats folded, and for fitting a cage with a modicum of work / cutting of the dash... RESPECT! I didn't get a chance to truly enjoy the RWD on the street drive. With an auto trans, it may as well have been a terribly well ballanced FWDer.







On Thursday I ran the following cars at High Plains Raceway...





...on the short course configuration (T1, T2, T3, T4S at about 80% of the way down the front straight, another short straight, T13S entering the top of the corkscrew from the right / opposite side and back onto the back straight as normal). It isn't my favorite of HPR's configurations, but I'm not gonna complain. It doesn't get much better than track time with someone elses fuel, brakes and tires... I LOVE THE SMELL OF BRAKE PADS IN THE MORNIN'!


Acura ILX. Again, pretty tight lil' package. Handled reasonably well and the sweet shifting manual transmission is the standout here. Good power, serviceable chassis and decent brakes.


R8. Same car I'd driven the day before and track time was the other operand in this car's impressive equation. POWER! I was able to get it just over 130mph on the abbreviated front straight just before nailing the brakes HARD. Running the ceramics and they held up beautifully to a day of flogging by both ham fists, those of us with a modicum of skillz and a lot of lapping by a racer who was giving people thrill rides (I jumped in for one. He was not being gentle with the car). A proper manual trans (though the gate takes some getting used to prior to operating it in anger)... thanks Audi! What a great car. Then again, as an enthusiast, you don't need me to tell you that. A street livable Lamborghini. 525hp and magnetorhealogical dampers = A lady on the street and a freak in the bed! What's not to like? Nuffin'.





Camaro ZL1. BRIGHT yellow. First car I took out in the morning. First car out on track for the day. First time it was taken out at this event. I didn't want to be "that guy" (that overzealous guy that has an off / incident right outta the gate). So I took it relatively easy (HARD to do when it's someone elses consumables) and yet... I still managed to top 130mph at the end of the front straight. 580hp, IRS and magnetorhealogical dampers = Freaky Deaky good!. I've gotta say, this car is AMAZING! Chevrolet truly nails it in this instance. Yeah, you expect those kinda terminal velocities outta this thing, but the handling and chassis balance and the braking performance is more impressive than you'd expect from, well... A Camaro. Bitchin' Camaro! Bitchin' Camaro! Indeed. Great shifter, even better POWAH and Brembo binders that are, seemingly, up to the task (though I'd imagine you'll go through pads like it's a particularly heavy period). On paper this loses out to the new Stang, Chevy claims otherwise, I won't be able to say until I get a crack at that, but Chevy's braggadocio doesn't seem so far fetched now. This car is much better executed than you may have thought. But... I can't own one. With a helmet on I woulda needed about four more inches of headroom to hold my head straight. As it was, I had to hold my head at a 45 degree angle up against the edge of the sunroof opening. Maybe if there wasn't a sunroof. It's a deal breaker for me though the way it is.


Fiat 500 Abarth. Che Bella macchina! This one is kinda easy, especially since it afforded me better headroom than the Camaro! Pretty much the best total package of power, sound, chassis and braking performance on hand, short of the R8. Seating position and shifter may take a little getting used to for some, but that's a relatively minor niggle compared to the rest of the goodness this package delivers. It really does sound great and power levels seem very appropriate for the chassis and weight (unlike BRZ / FR-S). I was particularly pleased with the amount it understeered through T2, which is to say surprisingly less than I had expected / not much (or, pretty much the opposite of the Golf R). A very good value that compounds to a pretty great value when you include the Cool Factor. This car does create a negative externality for all other 500s though... They now all suck. I used to think that all the other 500s I drove were spiritedly fun little street cars. Now they suck. Easily the top pick of the day in terms of Price / Value / Happiness matrix.





Ford Mustang GT. In a word? Meh. Kinda disappointed with this one. Perhaps my expectations were too high after the brilliance of last year's Boss 302 trackday drive, perhaps (even though philosophically I'm a Mustang man when it comes to Pony cars) ZL1's glow was overshadowing, perhaps the pleather Recaros looked better than they held you in? This is a tough one to call. The engine is sublime, but I did have some transmission issues. Shifter feel and throw we're great, gear spacing seemed good too, but I had a lot of trouble with up shifts, while the downshifts went off snickety-snick without a hitch. Not sure if it was a one off issue because it was hot out and the car was being run hard. Then again, that's even less of an excuse and certainly not a good reason at all. Great power delivery and sound though. Would like another crack at this one tho as the shifter issue effectively relageted it to DNF status, from a comparison standpoint. While I'm willing to give it the benefit of the doubt if I can get another crack at it, as it was... it was my least favorite of the day.





Mini Cooper S. So goofy lookin'. So much fun to drive. Another well executed total package. Some vagueness in the shifter, but certainly better shift feel than a stock Elise / Exige. Yeah, it's no S2000 shift feel either (not much is), so who am I to complain. Anywho, in terms of power, chassis and brake balance, the power definitely was outsized and that's saying something as there are plenty of chassis and brakes. The power / power delivery was so good as I easily gained on some of the big bore cars when they were being poorly driven. That's gotta make you smile as well as increse this vehicle's stock. A capable David to more than a few Goliaths out there.




Scion FR-S. Ahhh, the new freshman girl on the block. Apart from the R8, this was the most difficult car to get into. Everybody wanted a turn. It was red and it wasn't as nicely appointed as the BRZ, but... it came replete with that magical, and increasingly rare, third pedal. So, time to have some fun and see what all the hubbub was about. And...? Totally worth the $$. Manual transmission? Check. Center of gravity that's lower than a F458? Check. One tenth the price, at least, of an F458? Check. Better than a 458? Well, let's be serious, but you get the point. Of all the cars on hand, this one made me the most sad that we weren't running the full course. The chassis really woulda shone brightly and I bet it was a scant 50hp (mostly just getting back what it lost from sea-level) away from being the all-in best car for the job that day. That being said, an honest 75hp increase would make this thing a true giant slayer. That's against the car's purpose of being a grassroots / back to basics / affordable sports car though. So while I'm sure some Scion punk-ass will turbo it and net a lot more than a 50hp gain, they won't take advantage of it appropriately. This thing is just a set of sticky tires away from being even greater (and, potentially, exacerbating showing the underpowered nature of the thing). This thing woulda killed at Second Creek (one of our local ex-tracks. Tight and technical). In the words of Kenny Bana... Gold Jerry, gold!





VW Golf R. Given that I'm now a previous gen Golf R owner, I was keenly interested in seeing how this whip would perform. Manual trans, turbocharged, haldex AWD. This thing is just a VW badged Audi S3. As a result, I likely drove this car harder than any of the above and... it's a HUGELY understeery Mother Fer! Brakes were getting soft too (but to be fair, it was getting late in the session and I assume a lot of people were overbraking it, so I bet the brakes were on par with any of the more street oriented vehicles that were on hand). Very good power and power delivery, which I prefered to my R. Very tight interior, as you might expect from VAG products. This car is pretty much as expected. Easy to get out of sorts if overdriven, but that's kinda the definition of "overdriven." A pretty sweet poket rocket (that is nowhere near as "pocket" as the Mini or Fiat) that I would wait the depreciation out on for a few years. This is a pretty tremendous ~$22.500 car. Unfortunately, that's ~$15,000 of depreciation away. That being said, if you didn't need AWD, I think you'd be better off with the GTI version.





More pics here if you're interested: 2012 Rocky Mountain Driving Experience - amoroso's Photos



And there you have it.
 

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shay2nak
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i had same complaint about the Abarth. The seat is too high and the steering wheel doesn't telescope. I can never get a comfortable seating position in that car even though I like it. Unless I can get another seat and an extender on the steering wheel, I'll probably never buy this car.
 

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deja vu on the abarth.
i remember when the smart car was all the rage on this board. :)

nice write up on a bunch of nice cars.
 

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Discussion Starter #11
i had same complaint about the Abarth. The seat is too high and the steering wheel doesn't telescope. I can never get a comfortable seating position in that car even though I like it. Unless I can get another seat and an extender on the steering wheel, I'll probably never buy this car.
Fair point. I could see the ergonomics being tough for some in that way. I don't live with them longer than a week normally.
 

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Grigio over black. Nice R32! may be the best V6 ever made......Beautiful garage BTW
It is a good engine. But calling it a V6 may be overzealous. With only 1 head its hard to be a V. How about an staggered I6?

 

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It's the VW evolution of the narrow angle twin cam V4 used in the Lancia Fulvia the 60s and 70s...not really a total VW design. Alternating long and short intake runs gives it that wide range of torque. I ran a 67 1.3 Fulvia in the late seventies, had to pull the head for a gasket change and discovered something weird and wonderful at the same time, cylinder bores not perpendicular to the head surface?pistons with angled tops? Valve train I had never seen before. Fantastic car! with great ralley history, Not many came to the US.
 

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It's the VW evolution of the narrow angle twin cam V4 used in the Lancia Fulvia the 60s and 70s...not really a total VW design. Alternating long and short intake runs gives it that wide range of torque. I ran a 67 1.3 Fulvia in the late seventies, had to pull the head for a gasket change and discovered something weird and wonderful at the same time, cylinder bores not perpendicular to the head surface?pistons with angled tops? Valve train I had never seen before. Fantastic car! with great ralley history, Not many came to the US.
Interesting.
 

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My Abarth came in last week.... I couldn't be happier with it! I can see why you liked so much Frank, your review was spot on! Iv never owned a turbo so I'm still putting my foot in it all the time! short wheel base is a bit different at first but the handeling is crisp and flat. The fit and finish is much nicer than expected. I opted for the leather seats and not only are they beautiful but quite comfi. I was disappointed with the stock 16" wheels (just didnt like them) so I upgraded to some Euro esseesse 17" ... much better ... I promised myself I wouldn't modify this car....
 

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