If it’s late September, it can only mean one thing-the annual International Motor Press Association’s annual two-day Test Days event. This is The Garage’s fifth trek to this event. Test Days is open to IMPA members only, but is a massive event, bringing together a large group of manufacturers with an impressive showing of cars. This was Test Days’ second year in the beautiful Catskill Mountain area of New York State. For two days the event was hosted by the professional staff at Monticello Motor Club, a private, members-only race track. Think of it as a country club, but instead of swinging a golf club, you’re pounding your sports car on a track.
Test Days is divided into two distinct sessions. Day one has us enjoying a wide variety of cars on the scenic, winding roads of the Catskills. Day two is track day, where we get to unleash the cars at Monticello’s fantastic race course. During both days, a rigorous off-road course was available. On day one, I kept to the tarmac. Here’s a sampling of the cars I drove, all of which can be seen in the photo gallery at the end of this post.
On a crisp autumn day in the Catskills, the weather was picture perfect. Taking my time in picking my first car to drive, I made a promise to stick to cars I normally don’t get my hands on. I started with the Range Rover Evoque. I love the looks of the Evoque, and it was a comfortable ride, but my doors weren’t blown away. With a 2.0L direct injected turbo four making 240hp, the Evoque was adequate, but not particularly as fast as its sporty profile suggests. And with an as tested price tag of over $54,000USD, I have a problem with that. I’ll take a BMW X1 with the twin-turbo inline six with the M Sport Package and laugh all the way to the bank.
A little let down by the Evoque, it was time to turn my attention to something more interesting. Well, the 2013 Corvette Grand Sport (pictured above) seemed suitable. With the roof off, nothing but me and the open road ahead, the Corvette was positively glorious. Powered by a 6.2L V-8 knocking out 436hp paired to a six-speed manual, the ‘Vette was the perfect driving companion. Turning from a stop sign it was all to easy, and hilariously fun to kick out the tail on take-off. The Corvette will be whatever you want it to be, as she is happy to be driven hard, or simply loaf along. And whatever your choice, she is so easy to drive and very forgiving. Our heavily optioned Grand Sport rang in at just under $71,000, but for what you get it is still a great performance buy.
It is events like Test Days that sometimes give other cars an unfair advantage. After enjoying the Corvette, I jumped into a 2013 Nissan 370Z Roadster. Top down, gorgeous day, I take off in the Z, and well…I’m bored. Had I picked a Prius, I’d likely be praising the 370Z (as I did in 2009). The Nissan Z had no faults to point out, but the Roadster had such a calm demeanor that I did not recall from driving the hardtop. No doubt a fine car, but the Corvette was a very tough act to follow.
If any car really surprised me that day, it had to have been the Jaguar XJ Supersport. While fellow car journalists stood in line for V-8 powered AMG Mercedes, and M-powered BMW’s, the Jaguar was sitting all by itself, so I figured ‘Why not?’ What I found was an exceptionally comfortable Jaguar. Oh and quite a fast one. Powered by a 5.0L supercharged V-8, this leviathan launches like a beast starving for asphalt, and for all the refinement, offers a glorious V-8 bellow to boot. If there was one wrinkle in the car, when I opened the sunroof, there was an annoying creaking sound. Had I just spent the $112,000 price of admission, I would not be pleased. That aside, the XJ Supersport is a luxuriously lined rocket ship. For a car company who thought it was best served waxing nostalgic about the 1960′s for decades, with the XJ Supersport firmly points to the future direction of Jaguar in the 21st century. Just fix the damn creaky sunroof.
And well, yes, if there is a Nissan GT-R at my disposal, I am going to drive it. This was the Black Edition, packing an impressive 545hp. This was my second time at the wheel of a GT-R. The capabilities of the car are sky high, far greater than a mere mortal like me could possibly achieve. The prodigious power, lightning-quick shifts and remarkable grip are accomplished with little drama, apart from the G’s you’re feeling in the deeply sculptured sport seats. The GT-R’s performance is astonishing, but it is done so with virtually no emotion. If you’ve read reviews comparing the GT-R to a video game, that assessment is right. And for nearly $108,000, I don’t just want to go fast or have perfect grip, I want to feel something.
I drove into Ellensville, New York late on what had been a stormy night in a new Hyundai Elantra Coupe the night before. Even with GPS, I got a little lost. Nearly midnight, this low slung four door pulls up while I am studying the route guidance. It’s a fellow from press fleet management company STI at the wheel of a Fisker Karma, a company who provides several of the cars you see me review at The Garage. So, Fisker is here? And yes, I wanted to sample one.
If a Fisker Karma guided me to the resort IMPA was using, my test drive of the Karma was somewhat misguided. Spotting one of the two Fisker’s available to drive, I hopped in, started her up, and rolled away, with Fisker’s PR staff just feet away. I proceeded about 20′ straight ahead, where again I needed clearance from IMPA staff to leave the parking area in a press car. I was waved on. So, after a test drive, I was shocked when a Fisker PR person marched up to me to inform me there was a waiting list for the Karma, and someone was supposed to accompany me. I apologized, but I don’t understand why Fisker and IMPA simply let me drive away.
I do wish I had an engineer with me. Granted, the Fisker had been driven up from northern New Jersey the night before, and the resort had no plug-in facility for plug-in hybrids. So power was from the 260hp gas engine, and whatever energy the batteries could capture under braking. It was late in the day, batteries depleted, the Fisker did not feel all that fast. With climate control set to 68 degrees F, A/C on, the car struggled to deliver cool air to the cabin. The car was plenty comfortable up front, but the rear seat, which only seats two, was pretty tight, especially for a car this size. Materials were of good quality, but owners of comparably priced BMW’s and Mercedes-Benz’s will look at the the Karma and dismiss it as high-end kit car.
That’s a tall order for a car that starts at $96,000 with an unproven track record, not to mention the debacle at Consumer Reports where their loaner had to be towed away. Yes, the car is drop dead gorgeous, especially in person. In electric mode, the Karma emits an eery sound to make you aware of its presence. If you’ve watched Star Wars: Return of the Jedi and recall the sound of the Empire’s shuttle, it’s sort of like that.
But I will reserve final judgement of the Fisker Karma if I ever have the chance to properly review one. It’s similar to when The Garage reviewed the Chevy Volt. It really took a week of living with the Volt to understand it, and I suspect the Karma is no different. Driving a Volt with little to no battery juice does not paint a realistic picture, and the same is the case with the Karma.
And on that note, it was time to call it a day and make the half hour drive back to the resort. Final thoughts? The Range Rover Evoque as equipped would have been fine, if only priced about $10,000 less. The Fisker Karma is an unknown quantity, having not experienced it properly. The 370Z Roadster’s relaxed nature came as a surprise. The Jaguar XJ Supersport is an unsung hero car at the top of the luxury sport sedan food chain. But the hero car for the day was without a doubt the Corvette Grand Sport. Not the highest tech, nor most powerful car, nor expensive, but the Corvette pushed all the right buttons. Loud, raw, and brutally fast when you want it, or calm and comfortable as well, the Corvette represented the best of both worlds.
Please stay tuned for Part II of my commentary on IMPA Test Days where I tackle the race track and the most brutal off-road driving I’ve ever done. And I hope you enjoyed riding shotgun with me!