Rocky Mountain Driving Experience 2023 Review: An Exhilarating 2-Day Drive Through the Rockies
The Rocky Mountain Driving Experience (RMDE) is an annual event that’s put together by the Rocky Mountain Automotive Press group. This year, the drive event started in Golden, Colo., and took us through the Rocky Mountain National Park so that we could test drive the different cars at different elevations and take in the majestic scenery. After an overnight stay in Winter Park, we would continue on the next day through the Guenella Pass and back to Golden.
The experience itself changes every year to keep things fresh and various automakers bring out their cars for us to drive. I know, it’s a tough job, but someone has to do it.
There were 45 attendees and 21 cars to drive, so we switched cars at every checkpoint (20 to 30 miles in between) to get a feel for as many as possible. That meant that we only got around 20 to 30 minutes in each car. It was a different experience than last year’s Rocky Mountain Driving Experience, which was a one-day event.
Here are the cars that I was able to test drive over the course of the two-day trip this year.
Day 1: A few SUVs, a lot of great scenery, and some light-headed driving
After a quick driver’s meeting in the morning, our group left the parking lot of a hotel to start the journey. Since there were more journalists than cars, we all paired up and set off to the first checkpoint around 20 miles away.
2023 Mercedes-Benz GLE 63 AMG
There’s nothing like 603 hp to start your morning! The 2023 Mercedes-Benz GLE 63 AMG is a two-row, five-seat SUV that’s powered by a bi-turbo V8 that pushes out over 600 hp and 627 lb-ft of torque. With only a 20-minute route, I didn’t get much seat time in it, but I can say that it has a comfortable ride that’s a little stiff, has sticky brakes with plenty of stopping power, and a lot of thrust in a straight line. It was a great car to start the event with, especially since my driving partner and I got a little lost and had to backtrack and make up for lost time to get to the next checkpoint.
2023 Toyota Crown
After the first checkpoint, I hopped into a 2023 Toyota Crown with another journalist. I didn’t drive it, but I didn’t feel like I needed to since I drove it at an event last month. Also, I found out that you can get a different impression of the car when sitting in the passenger seat. As such, the Crown lives up to the soft and serene ride that Toyota intended it to have.
I didn’t feel much as we traversed the craggy mountain roads, thanks to the car’s cushy suspension. Also, its hybrid drivetrain was quiet but powerful despite the high elevation. A full review of the Toyota Crown should be coming in the future.
2023 Mercedes-Benz EQS 580
The 2023 Mercedes-Benz EQS 580 was up next, and it was by far one of my favorite cars on the trip. The EQS 580 provides a pillow-soft ride and a super-quiet cabin that hides the power that lies beneath it. The dual-motor system puts out a whopping 536 hp, which equates to 0-60 mph times of around 4.5 seconds. If you stab the accelerator at any speed, you’re met with rollercoaster-like acceleration that’s sure to make you smile, even if you hate rollercoasters.
I also enjoyed its Hyperscreen infotainment system, which had a detailed map that guided us through the detour we had to take during the trip due to a freeway closure. Apparently, car-crushing rockslides happen from time to time, and this time, a rockslide threw our whole route off the intended path. Fortunately, no cars were crushed, and the EQS 580 is the perfect car to take a long detour in.
The lunch stop included a presentation from Honda and Acura
After making it to our lunch stop in Lyons, we got a presentation from Honda on the 2023 Accord Hybrid. The Accord is all-new for 2023, and if you want to read all about it, check out our full review. Afterward, a representative from Acura was on hand to give us a tour of the all-new Integra Type S.
This performance version of the Integra brings about 320 hp and an adaptive suspension that’s great for the street or track. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to drive it, but I look forward to experiencing it in the future.
2023 Range Rover Sport
After lunch, we set out in a 2023 Range Rover Sport. It’s amazingly opulent and has plenty of power to handle any rough and tough roads you can put it on. At some points, I felt like driving off the paved road and plowing through nature because I felt like it could do it. After all, the Range Rover Sport has over eight inches of ground clearance and a hybrid powertrain with 355 hp. But instead, my driving partner and I made our way to the next checkpoint in a more civilized manner.
2023 Mazda CX-50
At the next checkpoint, we scurried over and hopped into the 2023 Mazda CX-50. This was the point in the journey when we went through the Rocky Mountain National Park and made our way to the highest point in the trip – which was around 13,000 feet in elevation. Fortunately, the CX-50’s turbocharged engine didn’t lose steam when trudging up the mountain. The car also has an all-wheel drivetrain, which didn’t really come in handy, but we felt secure having it while driving through the inclement weather at the top of the mountain. At this point, I also started feeling very light-headed while driving, forcing me to pull over and switch drivers so I could catch my breath.
2023 Land Rover Defender 130
After realizing that I wasn’t going to die from a lack of oxygen, I claimed the 2023 Land Rover Defender 130 at the next checkpoint. I wasn’t able to drive it on the short stint to the next checkpoint, but it was pretty luxurious and rode well from a passenger’s point of view.
2023 GMC Sierra AT4-X
If you could mash a full-size luxury car with a full-size truck, you’ll get the 2023 GMC Sierra AT4-X. It was powerful like an ox, more spacious than my one-bedroom apartment, and more luxurious than many mid-grade luxury cars. It has a factory two-inch lift, an advanced suspension for capable off-road driving, and a 420-hp engine. It also costs over $90,000.
Day 2: A few short drives and a long journey home
After a good night’s stay at a hotel in Winter Park, Colo., we kicked off the day with a presentation from Toyota. The representative went over the new Prius, the Crown, and the GR Corolla. It was an eclectic trio of cars, but a good one nonetheless. There was also a presentation from the Genesis representative about the 2023 G90, which is the full-size luxury sedan everyone should experience at least once in their lives.
2023 Toyota GR Corolla
My second day of driving started off with the 2023 Toyota GR Corolla. Again, I only got around 20 minutes to take pictures of the car and drive it, so there’s not much to report on. However, I can say that the turbocharged three-cylinder engine puts out 300 hp, which comes on seamlessly and quickly, despite the high elevation. The car’s suspension also felt stiff but compliant, and the interior was spartan but accommodating. After only 20 minutes, it was clear that the GR Corolla is a competent competitor to the Honda Civic Type R with its power and performance.
2023 Lexus IS 500
The 2023 Lexus IS 500 is the high-performance version of the entry-level sedan. That means that Lexus stuffed its tried-and-true 5.0-liter V8 engine with 472 hp into the IS sedan and beefed up the suspension. On the road, the V8 engine sounds amazing as it works its way through the RPM range, and the 8-speed automatic transmission shifts smoothly and keeps it in the powerband.
2023 Jeep Grand Cherokee L
The 2023 Jeep Grand Cherokee L has three rows and plenty of luxurious features. It also looks more luxurious than rugged on the inside with its stitched leather surfaces and embroidered seats. It even had a front-seat passenger screen so the person sitting there could pay attention to the navigation. My only gripe was that its 293-hp, 3.6-liter V6 felt underpowered at the high elevation, but it’s good enough for around-town driving.
The Rocky Mountain Driving Experience was a whirlwind of an event
After going through the Guenella Pass, we made our way back to our starting point. Ultimately, the Rocky Mountain Driving Experience this year was a memorable event that provided a decent amount of seat time in a lot of cars. I wish I had more seat time in all of them, but luckily, I should be getting some of these cars to review in the future.
Stay tuned for more of our full reviews of these cars!