Friday, November 18, 2011

NAFA Fleet Ride and Drive offers insight into the cars you see everyday

When you think of exciting cars, things like hot rods, sports cars, and performance sedans may come to mind. The idea of Fleet vehicles certainly doesn’t stir the soul. Rental cars, cargo vans, and police cars typically aren’t the stuff that dreams are made of.

On the other hand, I really like to learn about all types of cars. Sure, old Chevelles and Corvettes are great, but time never stands still, and there’s a whole world of new stuff out there. That’s why I always look forward to attending the annual National Fleet Management Association (NAFA) Mid-America Chapter Ride and Drive, which was recently held at the Ameristar Casino in Kansas City.

This event caters primarily to regional fleet buyers, who are responsible for buying cars and trucks for everything from traveling salespeople to heavy delivery. It is fun to go out and drive cars, but for some of these folks, an event like this can influence millions of dollars in vehicle purchases. Representatives from various manufacturers, and even some local dealerships, are on-hand to answer questions and offer test drives of all kinds of new models.

I would be happy going to something like this once a week, because the more vehicles you can drive, the more you can appreciate them. At this event alone, I probably drove a dozen vehicles on actual roads, and many of them are things that I may not have been able to drive or never would have thought to drive anywhere else.

One of the cars I was most excited to test was the new Caprice police vehicle. With a 355-hp, 6.0-liter V8 putting power down to the rear tires, this is a car that I could definitely live with. I can’t wait until they come up with a civilian version, then ten years pass so I can afford to own one!  In the meantime, expect your local law enforcement officials to be sporting these soon.  I wrote a more in-depth story about these not long ago, should you want to check that out.

The fanciest car there was a new BMW 535i. This car had a turbocharged 3.0-liter inline six under the hood, matched up to an EIGHT speed automatic transmission. It was nice inside, no doubt, with a lot of modern technology throughout the tastefully appointed cockpit. My biggest complaints were that it had a really aggressive throttle, and it was hard to pull away from a stoplight smoothly. Plus, I’m pretty sure that the Caprice I drove just before it could kick this cars hiney in most performance competitions, all for less than half the money.

Some of the more mainstream cars that I tested included the newly redesigned Chrysler 300 (much nicer than the previous model and not as claustrophobia-inducing inside), a new Chrysler 200 (finished off way better than the outgoing Sebring, but not different enough to erase the memory), a Buick Regal Turbo (kinds smallish inside, but very nice, and ran surprisingly nice for a four-banger), a Volkswagen Jetta TDI wagon (the diesel means torque off the line, but intolerably underpowered in all other conditions), a new Ram 1500 Crew Cab (Muzak version of Rocky Mountain High was playing on the satellite radio, one of the most relaxing rides of the day), and a new Dodge Avenger (meh).

My least favorite vehicle was a little Volvo XC60 crossover. This thing had no power, no room, no driving pleasure whatsoever. I remember specifically thinking how upset I would be if I owned one of these as I drove along. It did have a neat braking feature where you could run up on something and it would stop you without hitting the brakes. But I think even that would get annoying after awhile. As I look through my pictures, it appears that I forgot to snap the outside of it, too.

Anyway, I did take a few pictures, and you can see them in the slideshow below. True, this may be more like looking at normal, everyday cars in a parking lot as opposed to the normal car show pictures, but think about how cool this slideshow is going to be 40 years from now.

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