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The Fifth Rocky Mountain Driving Experience begins

The 2014 BMW 435i convertible is embodiment of the company slogan stating The Ultimate Driving Machine!
The 2014 BMW 435i convertible is embodiment of the company slogan stating The Ultimate Driving Machine!Photo © 2014 by Don Bain

Another dreary day of driving dreadfully new vehicles
Pardon my facetiousness... Designed to allow automotive journalists to rapidly experience a number of vehicles across the beautiful terrain Colorado has to offer, RMAP’s Fifth Annual Rocky Mountain Driving Experience began early today with a drive from the Embassy Suites Hotel DIA to the parking lot of Heritage Square.
One drives a good many vehicles in a truly short period of time, but in some cases with the benefit of a manufacturer’s rep that can quickly update a writer on the newer aspects and capabilities of the cars and trucks available.
Some of the vehicles make lasting impressions while others produce merely fleeting ones – what follows is our best attempt to recall the highlights of the many different automobiles experienced on Day One of RMDE5.

The 2015 KIA Sorrento SX AWD
The first vehicle of the day comes from a drawing of those available and we came up with the new version of the popular KIA Sorrento SX AWD which provided a smooth, comfortable ride, is well but not over-powered by a 3.3-liter V-6 GDI engine, tracks well and comes in at an competitive price point of $39,195 delivered. That’s for a roomy all-wheel-drive SUV that gets 5-star ratings from the NHTSA and comes with a 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty plus more.

The 2014 Jeep Cherokee Trail Hawk
This restyled Cherokee has a snazzy look and lots of equipment at a great price point – in this writer’s eyes aimed a taking away Subaru’s dominance in the Colorado marketplace.
We assume the model driven had the 3.2-liter, 271 horsepower V-6 engine as it climbed the gentle curves between Heritage Square and Nederland with ease. The new Cherokee has a 9-speed automatic transmission and a rear-axle disconnect that enhances efficiency without sacrificing its off-road ability – something a later part of the day was to underline.
It is an excellent choice for the active Colorado commuter and mountaineer on a budget, with a base price of $22,995 and a fully loaded maximum of about $33K. The mileage varies from 22 to 31-mpg, depending on drive mode and engine size.

The 2014 BMW 435i convertible
Early in our auto-writing career, we were lucky enough to drive this vehicle’s hallowed older brother several times. We recall the review began simply:
“Don’t even think about it! Sell the house, sell the kids – you’ve gotta get one of these!”
This 435i is but a stone’s throw from that same statement. All new gauging and controls, as in drive mode selector and display screen operation, foreshadow the delightful performance of the highly efficient, twin turbocharged 3.0-liter V6 engine.
The top goes down quickly and smoothly, much as the BMW accelerates.
It hugs the road and handles so easily, it is an unbridled joy to drive. Winding through mountain roads behind lesser vehicles, we patiently awaited the opportunity to pass a car or two.
Already traveling 45-mph, when the chance to pass arose, we could not help thinking, “Wow-oow,” as we swooped around the cars in the blink of an eye. The twin turbos provide power to spare and cornering that only comes from a finely tuned machine like this. This was definitely our favorite ride of the day, but there were more to come.
By the way, baby has a base of $54,900 and with a host of nice options on the model we describe here, came to a total of $65,775 delivered.

The 2014 Range Rover Evoque
We drove this year’s Evoque, one of last year’s faves, from somewhere near Nederland to the Wild Basin Lodge, a rustic spot for Weddings and other social gatherings. The Evoque also has updated controls and a new direct-injected, turbocharged 4-cylinder engine that has surprising power while achieving roughly 30-mpg on the open road. We will try to add some details on this one soon.

During the visit to Wild Basin Lodge, we had the opportunity to try out several cars on some mildly challenging off-road driving. Mind you these are the kind of roads you don’t take just any car into.

The Toyota 4Runner TRD PRO
This is something of a prototype, if I understood the rep correctly, but a tribute to Toyota’s off-road aptitudes and ability. In this vehicle, driving over the ruts, rocks and convoluted terrain became not a challenge but an afternoon delight. Rough terrain is two parts proper approach and tracking and one point vehicle preparedness. In the hands of a master off-roader, this vehicle will go almost anywhere we can imagine, hardly breaking a sweat for vehicle or driver.

Across the descent of the same course, the Jeep Cherokee Trail Hawk showed similar acumen and nearly as much comfort rolling over rough roads. Not a truly thorough test of its off-road abilities but the hint that it can probably hold its own in the high country.

The 2014 Nissan Rogue

Next we tried the mettle of the 2014 Nissan Rogue on this rough road course and were frankly surprised how well it handled the ascent phase of this exercise. We consider the Rogue to be an excellent urban commuter, based primarily on its feisty 4-cylinder engine; efficient continuously variable transmission and all-wheel drive nature. Nevertheless, none of this urban acumen would lead us to think it would perform on rough mountain roads as well as it actually does. That’s a tip for Colorado drivers who only occasionally venture onto Colorado’s less car-friendly roads.

Last, but certainly not least, we descended from the area above Wild Basin Lodge in the 2014 Nissan Frontier Pro 4X, a ready challenger to the Toyota 4Runner though a tiny bit smaller. One could get bored on less than black diamond off-road courses in this ready and rearing truck.

On the way back to the Embassy Suites DIA, we checked out the Toyota 4Runner street cred and found it to clean up its roll more than well enough for the Mall or the Prom, for that matter.

The 2014 Mazda MX-5

Finally, we jumped into the iconic 2014 Mazda MX-5, the ubiquitous Miata convertible two-seat sports car. As confirmed convertible aficionados, we have always looked at the Miata and thought, “It’s just too small,” with no actual data to back that thought up.
Driving one today, we discovered the reason for that judgment – intuition. Though a marvelous tribute to the glory days of small two-seat foreign roadsters with its intimate feel of the road, six-speed manual transmission and quick folding automatic top – it’s just won’t fit this drivers long-legged, high-waisted six-foot frame. It’s not short by much but just enough to not be comfortable personally.
If you love open-air driving and small convertibles built for two, it might well work for you.

More pictures to come tomorrow!