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Sunday Drive: Off to Denver and the Rocky Mountain Driving Experience

September 2, 2018
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2019 Ram truck featured at lunch this year at the Rocky Mountain Driving Experience in Estes Park, CO. at the Stanley Hotel.

So what do you get when you mix 26 automotive journalists, 20 new cars, a very nice hotel and Estes Park, Colorado? The answer would be this year’s Rocky Mountain Driving Experience, or RMDE, in Denver, Colorado. We have now attended this event for the past six years and have loved it every time.

We are members of a group of journalists in the Rocky Mountain area that go by the name of Rocky Mountain Automotive Press, or RMAP for short. This group encompasses fellow writers from Wyoming, Colorado, Nebraska, Kansas and even New Mexico. They all have one thing in common: a love of automobiles and telling stories about those cars.

Some like us receive a vehicle every week and some are just starting in the ‘biz.’ We have become friends with those that have been around for a longer period of time, and it is always a great time to renew friendships. Many of the manufactures also send representatives along with vehicles who will answer questions and ride along, making the experience a very useful tool.

This year we had offers from Fiat, Ram, Jeep, Chrysler, Volkswagen, Ford, Nissan, BMW, Mercedes Benz, Kia, Mazda, Subaru and Volvo. This year’s RMDE was a two-day event. On the first day we drove to the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado, swapping vehicles three times along the way.

On the way up we started our day in the new 2018 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid S with a full charge. This is a great family vehicle, plus getting 18 miles on electricity is a great bonus. In the minivan world the Pacifica really stands out with storage, along with looks and abilities to which other brands are still trying to catch up.

Next up was a ride in the Jeep Wrangler Sahara with our friend Kelley Enright from Fiat Chrysler Automobiles. We always enjoy time in a Wrangler and loved the open feel of the four doors. As a soft top, it was easy to take off the roof on the second day and get some open road time with the Jeep.

Our last ride before lunch was in the all-new 2019 VW Jetta. This redesign is very well done from Volkswagen with a completely digital dashboard. The representative from VW was quick to point out that it was completely reconfigurable, so if the driver wanted, the entire screen could be a map for navigation. It is a great looking car with awesome tech. Way to go VW, we are looking forward to a week with this one.

Once at the Stanley, we were treated to a wonderful lunch from Ram trucks. After lunch we were introduced to the all-new 2019 Ram 1500 pickup. This new design is one of the best we have seen in the truck world, with technology and comfort levels that were incredible.

The Longhorn edition comes with a new 12-inch high definition touch screen in the center console that can be configured to show all kinds of handy information. Additional space has also been given to the cab of the truck, most of which is now in the back seat, giving the Ram class-leading space back there. They have also increased the size of the floor storage in the rear to accommodate a slide in hitch, which we though was a great idea.

After lunch we had to channel our inner Steve McQueen as Ford now has a new edition of the Mustang called the Bullitt, paying homage to the 1968 movie Bullitt where McQueen has an epic chase scene through the street of San Francisco.

The new Mustang Bullitt comes complete as a fastback and in Highland Green metallic paint with almost no badging, just like the one in the show appeared. At just over 500 ponies, yes, it was wheel-spinning fun to drive; but be warned that it only comes with a manual transmission with a classic white pool ball like shifter knob.

The fifth vehicle of the day was the new Fiat 500X Adventure. This new look comes with different colored mirrors and other accents as Fiat continues to redefine their vehicles for the U.S. market. The 500X is larger and comes in AWD, which makes it way more adaptable to Utah weather. There is also more space, as we found out with four adults fitting comfortably for the 45 minute drive.

Our last ride of the day was in a Volvo XC40 along with Russel Datz, the Volvo representative at RMDE. It’s great to get all the low-down on a vehicle beforehand from someone who knows it inside and out. The new Volvo comes with all kinds of storage and places to put stuff — even a hidden credit card holder in the center console.

The XC40 is luxury refined with some of the leading technology in the industry. Leather seats that we could have sit in all day were awesome, and the full-on digital dashboard is amazing and configurable. The huge center console touch screen runs everything in the vehicle, and of course, the Volvo has more safety features than we can mention in this limited space.

The day ended with a great dinner sponsored by Nissan where we got the lowdown on the new Nissan Leaf — their all-electric offering. With up to 150 miles of range on a single charge and all kinds of torque, it should be a great addition to any family for a daily driver. It should also charge in 2.5 hours at a level 2 charging station.

The next day we had a chance to go out in the Leaf. Along with a pleasing look, the electric vehicle proved to have all the speed and comfort we have become accustomed to in regular vehicles. We are hoping to get a week with the Leaf to really see if electric would be a good option for us.

A couple of other highlights were the Kia Stinger — a very powerful new sedan from the Korean company. We were also very impressed with the 2019 Subaru Ascent and the hardtop Mazda RX-5 convertible.

Getting a chance with 20 new vehicles in two days is always a great experience, almost like sensory overload along with robbing a candy store all at the same time. There are so many new offerings in the market and they all have awesome features to be considered when buying a new vehicle. From the 20 we drove it would be hard to say which was the best or even stood out the most. It is just great to see old friends, make new ones, and most of all, get to drive a bunch of great vehicles all in one location!

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