The 2021 Rocky Mountain Driving Experience (Part 2)

Note: This is part 2. Please start here, as needed: The 2021 Rocky Mountain Driving Experience (part 1)

I’d enjoyed driving the 2022 Nissan Frontier with Derek, the Nissan product specialist, but generally speaking, I prefer to drive these vehicles solo so I can screw with settings, crank the stereo, stop if I see something interesting (or a good photo backdrop), etc. Next up in the driving queue was a solo drive of the…

2021 Honda Ridgeline AWD Sport

Another pickup truck, but Honda’s been producing heavy duty and construction equipment since the earliest years of the company. It knows a few things about this segment.

2021 honda ridgeline awd sport

I found the Ridgeline a bit more spacious than the Frontier, and a bit better appointed too. That “crew cab” second row of interior seats fit well into the vehicle too, making this a surprisingly family-friendly vehicle if you need space to tote things, bring equipment back from the arena, whatever. Surprisingly, it sported a 9-speed automatic which made it a decently responsive drive with plenty of power from the 3.5L V6 engine with variable cylinder management (VCM). Still, it averages 21mpg, though that’s pretty good for a vehicle in this class. Total price: $40,860.00

In a lot of ways, modern crew cab pickups seem more like SUVs where the cargo space in the back is replaced by a flatbed. Cover the flatbed on the photo above and it’s almost a Honda CR-V. A good thing? Probably, as long as the companies can keep the rigidity and handling because it’s in the SUV category that most companies are innovating the most, as is logical given worldwide vehicle sales of SUVs. In a word, it’s a HOT category.

2022 Hyundai Tucson Limited Hybrid AWD

Speaking of SUVs, next up was the 2022 Hyundai Tucson Limited Hybrid AWD in Quartz White:

2022 hyundai tucson ldt awd hybrid

With an infotainment system shared by the Kia line, it was a solid, comfortable option in the mid-range SUV category. It is, however, so generic that you could swap out front grill medallions and people would believe it’s a Honda, Kia, Toyota, probably even a Ford or Chevy. Not a bad thing, but this vehicle could use a bit more verve to engage drivers. It is a bit underpowered with a 1.6L 4 cylinder hybrid engine featuring a 6-speed automatic transmission. Yes, not a continuously variable transmission like the Toyota hybrid system. It delivers solid fuel efficiency, though, an average of 37mpg combined. No price was shared.

2022 Nissan Pathfinder Platinum 4WD [Pre-Production]

I went from the Hyundai to the Nissan Pathfinder, a pre-production model for us to check out in “Obisidian Green Pearl” (apparently each model has its own name for the same colors?)

2022 nissan pathfinder platinum 4wd

This was a more exciting SUV to drive, powered by a big 3.5L V6 with 9-speed automatic transmission. It’s bigger and more spacious inside, though it still has that typically austere feel to the interior of many Nissan vehicles that aren’t in the “luxury” class. The Platinum edition offers quite a few extra safety features and vehicle smarts that make this a solid contender in its class, though at a price quite a bit higher than the Hyundai hybrid. There were no fuel-efficiency ratings included in our paperwork but the Nissan site lists 23mpg combined. Price: $50,290.00, making it the most expensive SUV in the entire RMDE fleet.

2022 Genesis GV70 AWD Sport Prestige

Don’t know who Genesis is? You’re not alone. It’s the luxury sub-brand of Hyundai, just as Acura is Honda’s luxury brand and Lexus is Toyota’s luxury brand. You knew those, right? Suffice to say, Hyundai knows how to make a luxury automobile that has almost none of the Korean heritage of the Hyundai lineup, as you can see:

2022 Genesis GV70 AWD sport prestige

The wheels were definitely a bit weird, looking a bit like the ceiling fan in my daughter’s bedroom, but that’s the only oddity in an otherwise delightful luxury SUV. This vehicle features a big, powerful 3.5L V6 with 8-speed automatic transmission and paddle shifters if you want a bit more control over shifting. Did I accidentally switch to paddle shifters while pulling off the highway? Yes. Did I know how to get OUT of paddle shifter mode and back to the regular automatic? No. But that’s another story!

I will say that this is a very nice vehicle, one definitely worth checking out if you’re in the market for a luxury SUV that isn’t yet another BMW X5 or Mercedes. Just think of the confusion those other parents will have in the drop-off line when they look at your obviously luxury vehicle, but can’t place the Genesis brand. Is it a Chrysler? A Bentley? Only you’ll know.

The vehicle has a mediocre 21mpg combined fuel efficiency and a hefty $64,045.00 price tag.

And finally, my last, and mostly favorite car of the day…

2021 Volkswagon ID.4 1st Edition

There were a number of hybrid vehicles for us to drive, but the only full EV was this cool looking ID.4 model from Volkswagon:

2021 volkswagon vw id.4 1st edition

There’s a lot to like with this EV, from its splendid performance and handling to the futuristic (and maybe slightly inspired by Tesla) front grill design that eschews the actual grill. EV’s don’t need grills because there’s no engine to cool, so why have one? Fully charged, the vehicle has about a 250-mile range and I found it was able to regenerate some electricity in certain situations (driving down a mountain, using the brake as needed).

The real problem with the ID.4, at least in this first gen release, is the interior design. It’s a minimalist look inspired by futuristic flying cars or something, but there are just too few controls to make the user experience smooth and easy. For example, I never did figure out how to turn the radio on or off without using the voice control system, nor could I find the music volume controls. Here’s the dash:

2021 volkswagon vw id.4 interior dashboard

The space between the front seats is completely void of any controls. So how do you put it in gear? How do you change radio stations or turn on the climate control system? The controls are there, but it takes a bit of study to understand how it all works, for sure. I drove the ID.4 twice, once around Red Rocks with my friend Angelia, and the second time from The Fort down to Golden at the end of the day. Angelia drove first and it took her a minute or two to figure out the gear shift mechanism (a streamlined control just to the right of the behind-the-steering-wheel display).

Then there was my drive back down the hill, where I used the voice control system to request driving directions to the destination hotel. I double-checked the address against my iPhone, but somehow when I just blindly followed it, I ended up at the wrong location, about 20min from the hotel. Yeah, I know, I should have realized earlier than when I was just a few blocks away from the incorrect destination, but I’ll claim fatigue. Once I ignored the ID.4 nav system and just relied on Google Maps on my phone, I was able to quickly zip to the hotel and wrap up my day. User input error? Probably. But I would swear I double-checked the address, even down to zipcode, and it was correct on the VW display.

I’m a big fan of EVs and watch the space closely, so I had read quite a bit about the ID.4. It was a great drive and one of the most truly futuristic vehicles I’ve ever driven. Having said that, change for the sake of change might not produce the very best drive experience for people, so I think VW needs to have a major rethink of the controls and infotainment system in this vehicle. Fix that and this is going to be a splendid vehicle and quite popular with the EV SUV set. Price: $45,190.00.

And So To The End Of Another RMDE

After all that driving, chatting with new and existing friends and colleagues, I was exhausted and was actually happy to get back into my humble little 2017 Mazda CX-5 and head home, via a pit-stop at Starbucks. A day very well spent.

Questions or comments about any of these vehicles? Leave a comment, I’ll respond!

Huge thanks to the entire RMAP team, notably including Craig Conover, Michael Cotsworth, and Angelia McGowan, for all their work pulling this event together. It remains my favorite car event of the year, far more fun and interesting than even the annual Auto Show (which is hopefully coming up in just a month or two).

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