C&D/R&T Ride and Drive
Ride and Drive is a free series of test-drives on very short handling courses by Car and Driver & Road and Track magazines. It promotes the new Subaru Legacy 2.5GT, Subaru's new 250hp AWD 2.5L family hauler against the BMW 325i (the RWD competitor) and the Volvo S60/V70 (the FWD competitor).
This event was strictly limited in attendance, to about 30-40 people per half-hour session. Bags of chips and bottles sodas were provided, rendering this a definite lower-budget experience than the Lexus Taste of Luxury event a few weeks ago. The benefit of this smaller event was a much higher focus on instruction and handling, with an initial session demonstrating concepts of the racing line, looking ahead, and weight distribution and weight transfer by driving instructors from across the country. The introductory session was 15 or 20 minutes long, and was pretty informative-- the lead instructor was very good at explaining the basis, particularly as he broke down the differences between FWD, RWD, and AWD.
Nick K. and I met there, while Barry/Kim/Grace arrived a bit late, so we ended up in different groups.
We split into three groups, each rotating among the three different courses: traction, acceleration, and handling. Each course had a different feature, with one of each car at each course. Short explainations were supposed to be given as we shifted among the three stations, but in reality we did not get much instruction at each course before entering the cars, which was disappointing. (I think it would have made the event much more useful).
Nick and I hit the traction course first, where they had a hairpin turn, then a right-hand sweeper into a patch of sand, then a quick 2-turn slalom at the end of the course. The Volvo was the only one I pushed hard enough to get to break loose over the sand. AWD should have been a convincing advantage for the Subaru, but no one in our group got the BMW to break loose either. Neither the Volvo or the BMW had the sport package, which hurt the Volvo's handling pretty badly: it was universially panned as the worse handler. The BMW 325 was consistently praised as the best-handling car present, although the Subaru did fairly well. Having to reacquaint myself on the first course with both automatic transmissions and turbos probably affecting things as well, although we only got one lap per car, so I couldn't be certain. I just know the instructors were a hell of a lot faster than we were!
The next course we hit was acceleration. Cars were unique at this one, we had the wagon version of each. Straightaway with a radar gun at the end, hard left turn, hard right turn then let off the brake slowly, then roll on the gas... I think. I forget exactly. Again, instruction was fairly minimal, but the head instructor, John, was talking to us a bit as well and seemed pretty enthusiastic about taking us around the 3rd course (handling) himself. Our actual instructor at this course was actually trying to be helpful, letting us know when I completely screwed up at one point (let completely off the brake too early. Hello understeer! Hello weight transfer!), but not too much else... The radar gun was neat on a longer course at the Lexus event, but on such a short course here, it was more of a distraction.
Handling was definitely the most interesting course, particularly with John instructing, as he demonstrated weight transfer, turn-in points, and inertia. (ok, not so much about inertia) The consequences of improper turn-in and how to position yourself in the seat/with the steering wheel were things that none of the other instructors had taught Nick on, and he instructed us continuously throughout the course, which was very helpful. At the end he drove the course, clearly showing us how much faster he was; the other instructors tended to drive first, which John believed was the opposite of what they should have been doing. Something about not wanting us to try and imitate them, since we clearly would not be skilled enough to do so!
Fundamentally, it was good to know I've got the basics down very well. I just need more seat time to improve things further. The impressions we were left of all of the cars was fairly distinct by the end of the event, unlike the massive Lexus event. The exit gifts were a nice CD wallet and some other trinkets, while the exit tent held a comprehensive selection of Subarus, including last year's WRC car. A film crew was also in one corner, doing interviews. As we had a Mitusbishi Evo8 owner with us, we didn't get interviewed. ;-)
It was an informative, structured event that wasn't bad. It simply could have been much better.
And how was the Subaru Legacy 2.5GT compared to the competition? The Volvo felt nicer inside, but not by much. The BMW felt the least nice inside of the three, but to compete at an equivalent price point, that was expected. The Legacy felt nice inside, but it lacked the simple "good" feeling I had hoped for. Exterior-wise, it looks better in pictures. In person, I was decidedly underwhelmed.