Reporting Vinnie Richichi
MONTICELLO, N.Y. (93-7 THE FAN) — A few times a year, those of us who review cars and trucks for fun and profit get a chance to do some pretty cool things. Factory tours, driving a new model before it hits the street, talking to movers and shakers in the car business… even sometimes getting a chance to ask a car designer over dinner why they put those funky ports over the wheel well on the 2012 Gizmo Rebop Royale.
But for my money, there are not many events much cooler than Track Days sponsored by the industry group IMPA or International Motor Press Association.
For two days automotive journalists including yours truly gathered at the Monticello Motor Club in upstate NY and drove cars from a gathering of the best manufacturers have to offer. From a $450,000 Rolls Royce to 17 grand worth of Kia Forte I put over 20 cars through country terrain and on a off road course designed to put SUV’s through the grind.
On the second day a number of the cars were set up for our driving pleasure on the track at the MMC where we can put them through their paces unencumbered by life’s little restrictions like traffic lights, pedestrians and speed limits. Just you and the roar of the engine one on one. It is a blast.
Here are a few of my quick impressions of some of the cars I drove both on the road, on the track and over the off-road course.
I list them in no particular order…just my raw impressions…
Dodge Charger Law Enforcement Edition: Nothing more invigorating than cruising through town in the FRONT seat of a police car. You get to see life from the other side…people slowing down , kids walking down the street like they are doing nothing…highway traffic slowing to 55 when you stop on an overpass above the interstate. Very comfortable car to spend 8 hours in and there is really nothing like a 7 speed transmission and a 6 speed siren!
Audi RS5 Coupe: A beast in elegant clothing! One of my favorites of the event, Audi has created a sports coupe that is powerful, fun to drive, handles like a sports car and has all of the luxury elements that put it a step above other cars in it’s class. It also sounds awesome when you hit the gas pedal.
Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8: Suppose they took a full on hot rod and stuffed it into an SUV. They did and this is it. Might be the fastest and best handling SUV I have ever driven. Chrysler takes all of the racing technology of the SRT series and drops it into this family car so that mom can take the kids to a soccer game faster than she ever has before and dad can blow off Camaros and Challengers on the interstate.
Mercedes Benz C63 AMG Sedan: If this car doesn’t get your juices flowing, Jack you dead! 451 horses and a top speed of 174 mph are just the beginning of this super sedan. The motor grumble is sexy, the suspension and handling other worldly and the driving experience exciting. Seats that hug you in an interior that makes you feel safe at any speed the C63 AMG is a perfect combination of speed and luxury.
Chevy ZL-1 Camaro: I wish this car was around when I was in my twenties. I would have been a lot more popular. Chevy stuffed the Vette engine, a beefed up suspension, a slam bang transmission and lots of fun into its sports coupe and the results are phenomenal. Butt pinning power, road gripping handling, superb stopping all make this the poster boy for the rebirth of the muscle car. I’ll take three…one each in red white and blue!
Chevy Corvette Grand Sport: 0-60 in 4 seconds, 430 HP, spectacular cornering and handling and the grooviness of driving a Vette. This special edition that celebrates Corvettes 60th year is an all out animal on the track and a refined luxury coupe on the street. OK I admit I am biased because I am a Vette owner but this one gives you the best of both Corvette worlds, neck snapping power and sports car handling. The only car I took around the track twice!
Ford Focus Electric: The future is electric and this plug in Focus hatchback says the future is here. Comfortable, quiet and surprisingly quick the Focus Electric was quite impressive around the streets of Monticello. I have to admit I waved everytime I passed a gas station. Great commute/city car!
Fisker Karma: A nice 4 seat sports car that makes you feel like you are doing something for the environment. Comfortable, great lines, with the use of recycled materials in the interior very very eco-friendly and expensive the Karma was one of the more interesting drives. Can’t wait to spend a week in one.
Chevy Spark: Chevy’s entry into the itty-bitty-city car market is small and stylish with bold colors inside and out. It drove like a small car, nimble and maneuverable through traffic and great for parking. Good car for a shade under $13,000.
Rolls Royce Phantom Coupe: As luxurious as it gets on 4 wheels. Driving the Phantom is an experience like no other. From the front opening doors to the distinct gearshift right on through the powerful V12 engine there is a special feeling when you drive a Rolls. The car moves well, handles nicely and is like nothing else on wheels. It’s no speed demon but do you really want to go fast when you are driving a half a million dollar car? I’m taking it slow spending time in the hand crafted leather and wood interior and drinking in every minute of the world’s finest motorcar!
Mercedes-Benz G63 AMG Gelandewagen: As much as I sing the praises of the Jeep Cherokee SRT-8 above I have to admit that the Gelandewagen (German for pretty darn fast) takes the hot rod SUV to a whole different level. While the G is unreal luxury and speed and butt pinning torque it is also a very distinct vehicle. You just aren’t passing a bunch of these on the back roads unless your back roads are in Beverly Hills or Greenwich, CT! Actually at 534 horsepower and a 0-60 time of 5.3 seconds you are probably not passing this one at all. So for $134,000 you get to drive all of the luxury of a top line Mercedes as far up the mountain top as you would like. Added bonus…the grooviest exhaust sound of any of the SUV’s out there! Very very impressive.
There were a number of other impressive cars I drove as well…The new Dodge Dart, Cadillac CTS-V wagon and XTS sedan, Volkswagen Golf R line and Nissan’s GT-R. All in all a great two days under sunny skies putting the best in the car world through their paces…kind of like a chef’s sampler. I can’t wait for the main courses!
Listen to Vinnie on Drivetime with Vinnie Richichi and Rob Pratte Saturday mornings 7 a.m. to 8 a.m. on Newsradio 1020 KDKA and The Vinnie and Cook Show Monday-Friday 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Sportsradio 93-7 The Fan