By David Thomas on October 8, 2013
Every year the Midwest Automotive Media Association hosts spring and fall rallies. At these events, automakers assemble their latest wares all in one location for automotive press members to check out.
This year, the event's fall version was held at the Autobahn Country Club in Joliet, Ill., and our staff was surprised and conflicted by a number of the 70-plus cars on hand. Here's a photo gallery of the event along with commentary from our editors on new cars such as the Chevrolet Corvette Stingray, Cadillac CTS, Ford Fiesta ST and others.
The cars are organized according to manufacturer and driven on streets around Autobahn. They're also driven on the track or off-road if the cars are capable.
The track was a lead-follow affair that cut down on top speeds, but gave journalists an appreciation of each car's handling. It was also a lot less stressful than the spring rally's usual track: Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wis.
All our editors raved about the Cadillac CTS Vsport, which others on our staff had tested previously. "I had a blast with the Vsport on the track. This engine is more powerful than the first-generation CTS-V's, and the chassis is better than the second generation, not just the first. I was pretty happy with the 3.6-liter on the street, too. This is one of the cars I left the rally looking forward to driving a lot more," said Executive Editor Joe Wiesenfelder, who summed up our team's thoughts on this model.
"The new CTS is much more of a driver's car than its predecessor," said editor Mike Hanley added. Editor Joe Bruzek was impressed with it, too. "The CTS Vsport was my favorite track experience of the day. Not for being the fastest, but because it was a huge surprise that this oddly proportioned sedan was as comfortable and proficient on the track and absolutely embarrassed the Infiniti Q50."
The new Infiniti Q50 features an adjustable steering system with steer-by-wire. It elicited contrasting viewpoints. "I enjoyed it on the street, though I wasn't wild about the feedback from the by-wire steering. I liked it less on the track," Wiesenfelder said.
Hanley thought differently. "The technology makes the driving experience more entertaining, especially the responsive drive-by-wire steering with selectable ratio and assist level."
"I kept the steering on the most aggressive level for my street drive and thought it was a blast," Managing Editor David Thomas added.
We compared notes on some of the vehicles at the facility's gates while our driving impressions were still fresh.
Audi was stressing its diesel lineup, and most of the editors were impressed. "I've always loved the A7, and the TDI version doesn't come up short to my high expectations," Thomas said.
"I drove only the A8L; it's great. I don't care for the steering, but the diesel engine works very nicely with it. Off the line is no problem, but it definitely lacks the high-speed passing power you get with the gas engines," Wiesenfelder noted.
Hanley also piloted the A8L. "The new torque-rich diesel engine is easy to like, as is the well-crafted cabin. Less appealing is the wonky brake-pedal feel."
Opinions were mixed on Ford's high-powered Fiesta ST. "So much fun. Great, cohesive package. Livable ride quality with great handling and steering, and enough power to rise way above other subcompacts without exceeding the car's own dynamic limits. It even sounds really good," Wiesenfelder raved.
"The seating position was so awkward I never got to enjoy pushing it. I also thought the Fiesta felt too unstable in tight corners on the street for my liking," Thomas countered.
Bruzek found the ST more likable in a track setting. "It took winging the Fiesta ST around the track to fully appreciate the package's feistiness. It almost drives like a rear-wheel-drive car with [a] proneness for oversteer."
The new Chevrolet Corvette Stingray was enjoyed, but it left a few of us bewildered. "A few up-tempo laps around the track revealed more body roll than I was expecting, but that V-8 does sound great," Hanley said.
"Honestly, it was hard to tell. I was either behind a particularly slow lead vehicle or we were so far below the Vette's capabilities, I didn't get a feel for it," Wiesenfelder said. He also noted he didn't take it on the street like Thomas did.
"The Vette won me over with a ride that wasn't too firm and an engine that had all the power I would need," Thomas said. "Very visceral experience when pushing hard and then it turns fairly subdued when getting from Point A to B."
Mazda's new 3 sedan and hatchback were on hand with the smaller 2.0 engine. It didn't move the needle much for our editors. "It's still a nice driver among the compact-car set, but the redesigned Mazda3 has lost some of the fun factor that made the prior generation so entertaining," Hanley said.
Wiesenfelder echoed those sentiments. "The 2.0 is very nice, but it doesn't give the thrills that Mazda often brings to this tame category. As expected, the dynamics are good and the engine, though modest in power, was very drivable with the six-speed manual."
Thomas was impressed by it. "The 3 has improved looks inside and out and still has the handling market cornered in this segment. The optional navigation system was also stunning. I don't see where it goes wrong."
Bruzek also had kudos for the Mazda3's tech. "The knob-based multimedia system works surprisingly well for being in an inexpensive compact car. The menu is easy to navigate with large text and intuitive flow of multimedia and system controls."
A reader asked a question about the new Jeep Cherokee's cargo floor, so Thomas took a photo of the flap that covers the cargo-floor gap when the second-row seats are folded. The flap can cover the gap when the second-row seats are slid all the way forward.
"I learned that when taking a panorama shot, a car moving at high speed disappears and one at low speed like the Viper, above, gets elongated a bit," Thomas said.
Managing Editor David Thomas has a thing for wagons and owns a 2010 Subaru Outback and a 2005 Volkswagen Passat wagon. Email David