5 Fantastic Fall Drives

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Fall is that time of year when it is better to be on the way than to arrive; when roadsides blaze with color, and motorists chart a course north to follow the foliage.

For some, the merest dip in the mercury conjures up visions of rural Vermont with cow-studded pastures, covered bridges, and souvenir shops purveying cheddar cheese and maple sugar candy. But the change of seasons is no less an attraction elsewhere in America. And no matter how rustic or remote the scenery, it can be even more appealing with the right car.

Pennsylvania by Pony Car

Chevrolet Camaro convertible
Chevrolet Camaro convertible

The Amish country of Pennsylvania is the perfect destination for a weekend drive in fall, and there may be no more enjoyable way to do it than in a 2012 Camaro convertible. The route to the Pennsylvania Dutch countryside leads west out of Philadelphia for about an hour before you reach the bosky villages of Intercourse, Bird in Hand, and Blue Balls and the traffic along Route 30 slows to the pace of a horse-drawn carriage. For a while the road seems to abound with every imaginable form of touristic hucksterism – all-you-can eat “farm style” restaurants, souvenir shops with lamps made from horseshoes, quasi-Amish straw hats, amusement parks, flea markets, auctions, and cafes selling shoo-fly pie and funnel cake – but then you turn off onto a back road and modernity disappears.

This is the countryside depicted in “Witness,” a world where neighbors still gather at barn raisings, where small boys walk behind six-horse plows, and life goes on much the way it did a century ago.

This doesn’t mean the Amish — young and old — won’t gather around to admire your Camaro ragtop.  “The Camaro is timeless,” says Monte Doran, Chevy spokesman. “For Baby Boomers, it’s the muscle car they fell in love with in 1969. For teens the Camaro is ‘Bumblebee,’ the hero of Transformers.”

But the new ragtop also has its practical side. “Fuel economy is respectable for a four-seater muscle car,” says Doran. “The Camaro’s V-6 delivers 29 mpg on the highway and puts out 323 horsepower, as much as the V-8 of 10 years ago.”

No less importantly, the Camaro ragtop was never an afterthought; it was designed at the same time as the coupe. Thus the lack of cowl shake and torsional stiffness is better than a BMW 3-Series convertible’s.

In short, losing its tin top is the best thing that could have happened to the Camaro; with the steel top gone so is that squashed, glowering demeanor; the car simply looks happier. 

With its top down, so do its drivers.

Rocky Mountains by Off-Roader

Land Rover Range Rover Evoque
Land Rover Range Rover Evoque

Viewed in autumn from the 14,000 foot peaks of the Rocky Mountains, Aspen, Colorado takes on the rich golden glow of its endless aspen groves and wildflower fields. Though most famous as a celebrity-ridden ski resort, a hardy lot of adventurers also know Aspen for the plentitude of old logging and mining trails that lace its slopes, making it a favorite venue for fashionable off-roading.

Admittedly, “fashionable” and “off roading” aren’t too often conjoined, but that may soon change with the advent of the 2012 Land Rover Range Rover Evoque. It’s the SUV that thinks it’s a sporty convertible, with a panoramic roof, shapely carosserie, and zero-to-60 time of 7.1 seconds. The Evoque line is being launched with three models and two body styles. The five-door comes in Prestige, Pure, and Dynamic models; the two-door in the latter two styles. They all offer the standard-issue power features — entertainment features like Bluetooth, USB, and an LCD touch screen as well as phone and optional hard-drive navigation systems. All-weather traction is a given and the Evoque’s go-anywhere talents are enhanced by eight inches of ground clearance.

As befits an avatar of trend, the Evoque leaves scarcely a stone unturned in its quest of green-ness, adopting such technologies as electrical power-steering assist, a smart alternator that works hardest when the car is slowing down, an up-shift indicator, early torque-convertor lockup, and stop-start capability. Range Rover says these all paid off with an 8 percent fuel-consumption improvement over the company's 3.2-liter V6.

No matter how stylish you look wheeling your new Evoque down Black Bear Trail, you and your passengers will surely enjoy spectacular views outward through the optional panoramic roof. 

New England by old English sports car

Jaguar XK convertible
Jaguar XK convertible

In New England, this often means the 2012 Jaguar XK convertible. It’s curious, perhaps, that a car that evokes sunlit motoring comes from England, a country famous for fog and drizzle, but this year the British- built drop top takes on an additional dash of panache. Civility and a luxurious ride remain the big cat’s signature traits but it goes positively feral in its latest trim and performance levels.

The basic XK gets its power from a 385-horsepower V-8 that’s coupled to a six-speed automatic which launches the convertible from zero to 60 mph in about five seconds. The newest Jag also sports headlights with LED elements for indicator and running-light functions. Likewise the fender vents are new; gone are the clunky vertical gills, replaced instead by a horizontal air slot.

Supercharging the XK’s V-8 turns it into an XKR with 510 horsepower, 60 mph times below 5 seconds, and a $103,500 MSRP. Tweak the powerplant a little more and that XKR becomes an XKR-S with 550 hp, a top speed of 186 mph, and before you know it you’re writing out a check for $132,000.

Just so bystanders will know you’re driving something extra special, the optional cosmetics for 2012 include an Aerodynamic Pack with front splitter and larger rear spoiler, side sill extensions and 20" Kasuga alloy wheels and a dazzling choice of grills, scoops, and vents. Press a button on the suspension selector and the XK’s handling goes from boulevard to chicane; thus configured you’re ready to go out and join your fellow foliage fanatics toodling along at a fraction of the posted speed limit.

Desert by Military Vehicle

Jeep Wrangler
Jeep Wrangler

With its calderas, lava flows, and rock formations like cathedrals New Mexico is one of the most scenic parts of the country in any season, But it becomes especially colorful in fall when the chili fields around Santa Fe turn from deep green to a vivid red and the canyons reverberate with the rumble of Jeep Wranglers rolling out into the desert.

Jeep Chic reigns in these parts of the country – the older and more worn the vehicle, the greater its éclat. This is not to say anyone would kick a newer Jeep out of his or her garage, especially not the 2012 Wrangler. It’s loaded with all the muscularity that has made Jeep an American icon, as popular among women as men. “Seventy-five percent of our buyers are male, but Jeep has always had a strong female following,” says Chris Ellis, Head of Product Marketing for Jeep. “We just don’t know how many women drive Jeeps. Then, too, we don’t know how many of these buyers are buying for their wife or daughter. Not for its ruggedness but for its reliability and safety.”

Or for getting up close and personal with nature. No marque offers a greater array of outdoorsy features including winch and winch ready bumpers, special pan system to keep things lubed at gymnastic angles, a removable cloth or fibre glass top for taking in the vistas, and 32-inch wheels for picking your way over the most rugged terrain.

The Wrangler’s power train is remarkable on two counts. First, this year’s model adopts a Chrysler 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6 with 40 percent more hp and 10 percent greater torque. Second, where other marques boast of top speeds, the Wrangler talks about how slow it can go — half a mile per hour with its RockTrac crawler system in low gear.

When it comes to scenic off-roading, few states can rival New Mexico, and the good news is, you can do so legally and inexpensively. A permit from the Bureau of Land Management costs a mere $18 for 90 days. For the hard core, Jeep’s manufacturer recommends using a grease pencil to dim the chrome on the steering wheel, to avoid flashes of sun when creeping up on your prey.

Wine Country by Italian Grand Tourer

Maserati GranCabrio Convertible Sport
Maserati GranCabrio Convertible Sport

While their friends back East are packing up and turning around for the return drive home, California foliage followers will head for Napa and Sonoma where the colors don’t peak until mid October. Here, just like the vintage lifestyle itself, the roadside palette takes its cue from the vineyards, the intense purples and reds that color from Napa and Sonoma harvests and which could have inspired the rich color schemes on the 2012 Maserati GranCabrio Convertible Sport.

There are a lot of cars that bespeak success, virility, or simply wealth. However, in its performance, appointments, and aesthetics, the Maserati ragtop bespeaks something much more rare – refinement. It does this with a carosserie that is nothing short of stunning. The most striking thing about the new Maser is its grille; big and bold with the distinctive trident in the center it hearkens back to Maserati’s race cars of the 1950s.

The ignition triggers a kind of silky growl from Maserati’s all-alloy 4.6-liter V8 engine that drives 450 horsepower and 376 ft-lbs of torque through a ZF six-speed automatic transmission. The drivetrain benefits from Maserati’s very own Friction Reduction Program, which allows the car’s engine to be more reactive to the driver’s inputs while also cutting fuel consumption by six percent.

The motoring enthusiast who really wants to have fun can take delivery of his new Quattroporte Sport convertible in Italy and then drive over the Dolomites to the Autobahn and open ‘er up. Unlike the new Mercedes-Benzes, BMWs, and Audis, which are limited to 155 mph, the Maserati is unlimited and so will continue accelerating to its top speed of 177 mph.

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