Of all the sports and muscle cars at Run to the Sun, the first car on my drive list was the 2012 Fiat 500 convertible. The sound of Nelson Muntz’s laugh echoed faintly off the doors of the Mercedes Benz CLS63.
2012 FIAT 500 CONVERTIBLE
During its original 18-year run, the Fiat 500 established itself as an iconic pioneer of the affordable small car genre alongside the likes of the Volkswagen Beetle and Mini Cooper.
The new Fiat 500 is burdened with the monumental task of filling its own tiny shoes and reintroducing the Fiat brand to North America.
Now that Fiat owns Chrysler, the stakes are high for the 500 to successfully represent a much needed small car position in Chrysler’s lineup.
Luckily the 500 is just that: small. Besides the Smart Fortwo, it’s the smallest car sold in the United States.
At six-feet tall with provocatively broad shoulders, I expected to be pretzeled clownishly into the 500 during our leg of the drive together. Instead the interior room was surprisingly ample; while six inches shorter and two inches narrower than a Mini Cooper, the 500 is four inches taller allowing the driver’s seat to be elevated to increase legroom and visibility.
During my short time with the 500 I was impressed with the handling and cute as a button styling. Factor in 30city/38hwy fuel economy with the manual and there’s a lot to like about Fiat’s newest ‘lil darling. Let’s just hope that reliability proves to be less reminiscent of the original than the rest of the car.
CAMARO SS CONVERTIBLE
There’s not much to say about the 2012 Camaro SS that hasn’t already been said. In most performance comparison tests it comes in a close second to the new Mustang 5.0 and beats the 2011 Dodge Challenger hands down.
Perhaps the biggest gripe amongst critics and consumers alike is that the Camaro’s low-slung roof line makes the cabin feel like you’re being slowly crushed in a trash compactor; visibility is horrible from the driver’s seat.
Throwing the top down on the 2012 Camaro SS convertible relieves the claustrophobia and as one of GM’s reps put it, “Makes it feel like a whole new car.”
To help prove his point we dropped the top at 7:30 in the morning on the second sunny day of the event and sped past locals trapped in the doldrums of the morning commute on I-5 South.
With the nothing but blue sky overhead and open air above the doors, weaving through traffic with 426hp to play with was definitely more enjoyable.
CADILLAC CTS-V COUPE
For those that haven’t heard, the Cadillac’s CTS-V is a beast with a pedigree. For starters, it’s powered by a 556hp detuned version of the supercharged 6.2-liter V8 from the Corvette ZR1. To keep it classy the power is channeled through a magnetically controlled adaptive suspension system tuned at the Nurburing.
The result is a car that goes from zero to 60mph in a hair over four seconds and can hang with the likes of the BMW M series and Mercedes-Benz AMG lineup. Keeping in mind the CTS-V starts at a relative bargain price of $63K, there’s a strong case to be made that it just might be the most exciting car to come out of Detroit since the inception of the muscle car.
Somewhere in the Farmer Joe country of Marysville, Washington I found myself behind the wheel of the CTS-V on a depressingly boring leg of the route that trudged along 35mph stretches of two-lane roads.
When a ninety degree turn presented itself unexpectedly I dropped into second gear entering the turn and pressed the gas to the floor heading into the curve.
There was a split moment of under steer before the traction control kicked in and slingshot us out the other end with enough lateral acceleration to crack an egg on the inside of the driver’s side door.
If you’re allergic to grinning this car might kill you.
HONDA CIVIC SI COUPE
There’s something special about railing the hell out of a little car with more power than it needs and still getting fuel economy in the upper twenties to low thirties. With a 2.4L four-banger making 201hp and 170lb-ft, limited-slip front differential and sport-tuned suspension, no other car I drove at the event better defined its own market segment than the Civic SI coupe.
Furthermore, it was more fun than any other car on the list, even the V8-powered beasts that made more than twice the horsepower.
The reason for this is simple. On Skagit Highway South, the Lotus Evora S screamed past a three car clump of our procession towards open road. The Audi A7, Mazda RX-8 and Mustang Boss 302 followed suit driving as hard as the backcountry road would allow, but they were barely beginning to draw on their real potential.
With the V-Tech wound up to her sweet spot I managed to keep up with the pack but had to drive the Civic flat out to do so. It was exciting and it wasn’t easy.
The Civic SI is a car you can experience at its limit without having to take it to the track - 200hp at redline is always more fun than 600hp sluffing around town.
Speaking of which, a gentleman from Toyota was nice enough to lend me a 2012 Scion XB and TC for week loans shortly after Run to the Sun concluded.
Inspired by the youth culture brand and its saucy image, I was introduced to street racing culture, automotive escapism and the strangely seductive power of “Voodoo Blue”.
PART 1: http://tinyurl.com/3jdf4t4