Rocky Mountain Driving Experience Review: So Many Cars, So Little Time

As an automotive journalist, I have the unique privilege of driving different new cars every week to review them. Once in a while, I get the chance to drive multiple cars in one day. The Rocky Mountain Driving Experience was one of those days. There were plenty of cars to drive but very little time to drive them. I can’t complain, though. Here is how my experience went.

What is the Rocky Mountain Driving Experience?

The lineup of cars at the Rocky Mountain Driving Experience
The lineup of cars at the Rocky Mountain Driving Experience (minus the Chevy Corvette) | Joe Santos, MotorBiscuit

The Rocky Mountain Driving Experience is an annual event that’s put together by the Rocky Mountain Automotive Press Group – a group for journalists in the Rocky Mountain region. For this year, several automakers, including Honda, Acura, Jeep, Lexus, Toyota, Nissan, Hyundai, Chevrolet, and Kia, provided the cars to drive.

There were around 27 journalists in attendance, and we all gathered at a local Denver, Colo., restaurant called The Fort to start the drives. The agenda for the day was simple; the journalists would drive as many cars as they could through the surrounding mountain roads in the morning, have lunch, and then continue the drives in the afternoon.

Nissan was also on hand to us an exclusive walkaround of the 2023 Pathfinder Rock Creek edition before our lunch break. It was a quick and informative presentation. But the best part, of course, was driving the cars. The only issue was that there were far more journalists than cars, so getting into every one of them was difficult. Here is the lineup of cars that I was able to drive, including some impressions.

2023 Nissan Z

The 2023 Nissan Z parked in a spot
The 2023 Nissan Z was my favorite car of the day. | Joe Santos, MotorBiscuit

My first car for the day was the 2023 Nissan Z. Needless to say, it was quite the stunner and my favorite car in the pack by far. As I was driving it, I got a couple of “thumbs up” gestures from onlookers. I even heard one guy ask his friend, “What is that?” as I drove by. Celebrity factor aside, I found the Z to be a competent and capable cruiser that really came alive with the stab of the throttle.

I didn’t get much time with the car, but in the tight turns I took it through, the Z stuck to the road well. The car’s steering was responsive, and the suspension was well-sorted. Also, there’s no doubt that the 400-hp twin-turbo engine could scoot this thing along nicely. But I was only able to get a small glimpse with the short drive I was able to take it on. That being said, it definitely felt powerful.

2023 Acura Integra

The 2023 Acura Integra on a canyon road.
The 2023 Acura Integra drove a lot like the Civic Si, but better. | Joe Santos, MotorBiscuit

Up next was the recently-released 2023 Acura Integra. In short, the Integra drove exactly like I expected it would. It felt like a 2022 Honda Civic Si with a more luxurious interior and a softer suspension. However, the Integra’s adaptive suspension can be changed with the flick of a switch. Honestly, it doesn’t change much, but it was enough to feel a difference on the winding canyon roads I drove it on.

Also, the 200-hp turbocharged 1.5-liter engine did not disappoint, nor did the slick-shifting manual transmission. My only gripe is that the car’s rearward visibility is small compared to the Civic Si’s. Otherwise, it felt just as spritely and fun, although it wasn’t necessarily fast.

Note: I did spend some time with the 2022 Honda Civic Si on hand to compare it to the Integra. It felt largely the same. However, the Civic’s suspension did feel a little more coarse. That goes to show that the Integra is a little more refined.

2023 Kia Sportage

The 2023 Kia Sportage sits on the side of a canyon road.
The 2023 Kia Sportage had great road manners. | Joe Santos, MotorBiscuit

After spending time in the sportier cars, I spent a little time in the SUVs. The first was the 2023 Kia Sportage. Upon entering the car, I was impressed with its dual 12.3-inch displays and modern layout. It’s safe to say that Kia has come a really long way.

Driving-wise, the Sportage felt a little ho-hum with its 187-hp engine. However, power isn’t the point of this compact SUV. After all, this was the X-Pro Prestige model that comes with all-terrain tires, X-Pro wheels, and a taller 8.3-inch ground clearance.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t put all that stuff to use since we were driving up paved canyon roads. But the Sportage felt well-composed, and I’m sure the extra off-road equipment will come in handy when I can really test it in the future.

2023 Mazda CX-50

The 2023 Mazda CX-50 on a mountain road.
The 2023 Mazda CX-50 was fun to drive, especially for a small crossover. | Joe Santos, MotorBiscuit

The 2023 Mazda CX-50 was a joy to drive with its turbocharged 2.5-liter engine that puts out 227 hp and 310 lb-ft of torque. No, it’s not a pocket rocket, but it definitely gets up and goes for a small SUV. The CX-50 handled the tight turns well and felt really sporty despite its high-heeled stature.

2023 Nissan Pathfinder Rock Creek

The 2023 Nissan Pathfinder Rock Creek sitting on the side of a canyon road.
The 2023 Nissan Pathfinder Rock Creek drove really well. | Joe Santos, MotorBiscuit

The 2023 Nissan Pathfinder was honestly my favorite SUV to drive for the day. Compared to normal Pathfinder models, it has all-terrain 18-inch tires on it, a heightened ride height, and a little more power (+ 11 hp). Despite the knobbier tires and taller height, I was utterly blown away at how smooth and composed it felt on paved roads. It felt like I was driving a large sedan as opposed to an off-road-ready SUV, and its engine felt smooth and refined.

2023 Honda HR-V

The 2023 Honda HR-V sitting next to a canyon road.
The all-new 2023 Honda HR-V was impressive. | Joe Santos, MotorBiscuit

The last car of the day for me was the all-new 2023 Honda HR-V. I have a lot of experience with the previous-generation HR-V, so I was curious as to how the new one would drive. First, the revised engine makes 158 hp (up from 140), and I could tell it made a good difference when going uphill.

The one part I didn’t like was that it was connected to a CVT, which made the power delivery feel very rubber band-like upon heavy acceleration. Otherwise, the car’s suspension felt smooth, and the HR-V stuck well to the road in the tight corners.

So many cars, too little time

Ultimately, the Rocky Mountain Driving Experience was a fun event, and I’m thankful I got to spend time in the cars I did. There were 10 different cars to pick from, but with so many journalists and only 30 minutes to spend with each one, it was tough to get through them all in one day. However, it was a fulfilling time, and I hope I get the chance to spend more time in each one for a longer review.

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