RMDE III: Riding, driving the High Plains on Day 1

A significant aspect of the Rocky Mountain Driving Experience held June 15-16 is the opportunity to drive the latest models from numerous manufacturers on the open highways of Colorado’s high plains as well as venturing up the highest paved road in North America, often in the company of a brand representatives. This adds a real world component to the significant if less common experience provided by the off-road and track aspects of the two-day event.

The first such opportunity was provided by the elegantly European indulgence of the 2012 Audi A7. The comfort and operational confidence it provides is really just a prelude to the performance and tech-savvy of this sly, seductive sedan.

The A7 is powered by Audi’s 3.0-liter TFSI V6 engine that develops 310 horsepower it channels through the smooth-shifting eight-speed Tiptronic automatic transmission. The result is seamless, rocket-like acceleration through the gears and the interstate onramp – easily exceeding ambient speeds on the shortest of merging traffic lanes.

The array of technology on board with thrill even the most jaded techie while it emits low levels of CO2 but is just average for particulates. Still the powerful engine gets a combined mileage rating of 23-mpg and has a base price of $59,250. Audi is making headway in U.S. sales thanks to a combination of luxury, performance and sheer value that’s hard to beat.

On the return trip from the CORE part of the event, we rode in the back seat of the all-new Chrysler 300C, providing an unusual point of view. The 300C has been largely reinvented incorporating over 4,100 points of input derived from Chrysler owners. What we noticed from our backseat point of view was the large interactive display screen in the center of the dash to the driver’s right and a surfeit of legroom.

Again we notice an over emphasis on the large 5.7-liter HEMI V8, instead of the development by Chrysler of a more efficient V6 power plant delivering better fuel economy and maintaining or improving output. The 300C gets a combined mileage rating of only 19-mpg. Further, though the brand has made progress in eliminating particulates from the engine’s emissions, it continues to pour out greenhouse gases at an alarming rate.

Returning to the Holiday Inn DIA, we had the pleasure of driving the VW Passat with a factory rep along. “It’s designed and engineered in Germany, but the new Volkswagen Passat is built in America for the American Market,” he said. “We’ve got class-leading legroom – more than the Accord, which is actually a full size vehicle. We’ve got more head and legroom than the Sonata, Camry, Previa and our other competitors.”

Though not yet confirmed by the EPA, the Passat expects a mileage rating of 43-mpg in a non-hybrid, non-diesel vehicle. Considering the 18.5-gallon fuel tank, the Passat has what may be the highest single tank range for any gas-powered vehicle on the market at nearly 800 miles.

That evening we drove home in the well planned and executed Chrysler 200C roadster. This all-new Imported from Detroit model shows the company is not totally overlooking industry trends and can put out a vehicle that is stylish, adequately powered, reasonably economical, technologically up to date and a pleasure to drive as well – all for a base price of $31,240.

With that sticker price you don’t give up things like leather seats, heated in front; Bluetooth, stability or traction control; remote starting, halogen headlamps, 6.5 inch touch screen display, 30 gigabyte hard drive with a 3,000 track capacity or a leather-wrapped steering wheel. For some, being able to lower the hardtop with a push of a single button is a big plus, however a few little things are optional. A Boston Acoustics speaker upgrade, navigation and the brilliant ability to use flex fuel is just $750.

Though locally gas is back down to $3.49 a gallon, E85 fuel is still about 50¢ cheaper and will probably maintain that margin with petrol begins its inevitable inflation again.

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