It Was a Good Day…

2011 Chevrolet Volt 3
A starting point – 2011 Chevrolet Volt. All photos by Randy Stern

In a single day, I met various GM executives, employees, interns and my main contact at the company. I also met some great people and vehicles at the three Twin Cities dealerships where GM was holding their outreach programming at.

I did mention that drove six vehicles in the process. What were they? What did I think of them? Let's start with the most important product in GM's history first…

CHEVROLET VOLT: This is a vehicle that I've only experienced in a passenger seat. You can feel the electric motor's torque so much from another seat – but what about from the most important place in a vehicle? One must drive it to understand what it is all about.

The Volt is unique because it is an extended range electric vehicle. The primary source of power is the electric motor. When the batteries are out of juice, a 1.4litre ECOTEC four-cylinder petrol motor kicks in. However, it would be better to concentrate on charging the electric motor before you go to a petrol pump – that is what GM wants you to do with a Volt.

It pays for itself if you're only doing a commute under 35 miles round trip without resorting to taking the freeway. Not everyone has that kind of commute these days, however.

Arguments aside, the one thing that will catch anyone off guard is how the Volt drives like any other vehicle. It shares the same platform as the Cruze, the Delta II, which is proven to be a solid basis for a car. The electric motor is quiet, but it delivers loads of torque – 275lb-ft of it! If you stay with the electric motor, the torque simply keeps on coming. There is an automatic gearbox connected to the Volt, which makes this drivetrain easier to manage.

In previous rides in the Volt, I felt cramped in the back seat. I was less cramped in the front passenger one. Behind the wheel, I felt as comfortable as if I was driving a Cruze. I also like the combination of tech and familiarity in the cabin. Yes, it looks like something out of a portable gadget (of any brand), but you'll find familiar and friendly GM switches to help ease the shock of the new.

In all, I have a feeling this will do well once it gets some exposure in all markets. If you have the capability to charge the Volt up when you're at home, make the investment if you're serious about being sustainable and committed to improving the environment.

I'm glad I got a chance to drive the Volt to fully comprehend that it is not a strange alien from Planet Claire – but a solid vehicle for everyday use.

2011 Chevrolet Camaro SS Convertible 2

CHEVROLET CAMARO SS CONVERTIBLE: To comprehend the Camaro SS, feel my heart stop. That was exactly what occurred when I pressed the accelerator upon the entry onto Interstate 694. I know I can be a lead foot, but humility is not required when there's 426HP and 420lb-ft of torque from a monster 6.2litre V8.

The thrust is just the first shock. There were plenty of surprises that were revealed while driving the drop-top Camaro. The chassis, for example, did not reveal any flexing or weaknesses with the top down. We had three people on board, which may have helped. If I ran solo, I would probably not notice any chassis weaknesses due to the absence of a steel roof.

The second surprise came in the form of sorted driving dynamics. Modern Muscle Cars are dismissed for lacking any honest suspension geometry or maneuverability unworthy of a Europhile. What if I told you that the Camaro is based on GM's Zeta platform – the one that spawned the Pontiac G8 (er, Holden Commodore) and Chevrolet Caprice PPV (er, Holden Caprice)? The result is a great chassis with a solid ride/handling mix and strong brakes.

The third shock came from this question: Why the convertible? Several sittings in the Camaro coupe tested my ability to see out of the smallest possible viewpoints of a vehicle. With the top down, I do not have that problem. I have enough windshield to see out of and infinite vision everywhere else. I also found the Camaro to be much more amenable to my body in the convertible form. The late-1960s inspired cabin is simply superb to work with.

I needed to get the Camaro under my belt. I'm glad I did. That is one sweet ride. Just like that one chance to drive a Porsche, a Ferrari or a Corvette, my chance at a Camaro SS was fulfilled with my heart back in order.

GMC SIERRA 1500: OK, I like GM pickups. I know they're getting ready to overhaul the entire full-sized line (SUVs included), but I love the current generation…just because.

The HD was a fortress onto itself. Yet, many pickup consumers would rather not get too hardcore. The 1500 works just fine. I prefer it in the GMC form. The SLE comes with the more work-grade instrument panel, which I see no problem in comparison to the higher grade atmosphere of the Chevrolet Silverado 2500HD LTZ back in June. In fact, I like the SLE cabin. It's inoffensive and tough – at the same time.

With all four wheels connected, the 5.3litre V8 was relaxed when motivated. It's far from a lazy worker, mind you. Not only that, it rides extremely well with an empty bed. The point of this configuration is for the person who is building a deck at home or a big IKEA run. Perhaps carrying a few folks in the bed down a Pride parade…

The GMC was ripe for the sampling thanks to an argument I had the day before with a close friend. He was set on the Ford F-150 based on his family's current vehicle and some stock in Dearborn. My argument is simple: The GMC puts a smile on my face. The F-150…not so much.

What was driven at Buick-GMC

BUICK ENCLAVE: Like Alexander, I felt like I've conquered the world. Instead, I can say I've driven every form of the Lambda crossover ever made by GM.

The Enclave was not a perfect Lambda. Perhaps it is because of some design elements made it longer than it really is, and it is felt while driving it. One thing I was concerned about was the steering wheel not being able to adjust higher to compensate for my seat position. Sitting lower in the Enclave did not help me at all. Remember, I have a tall torso.

In the Enclave, the free-revving 3.6litre V6 feels a bit under control. It doesn't leap out like it does in the GMC Acadia. It simply goes about its business with probably too much ease. The ride is about the same – smooth like buttah. Too smooth for my taste, I'm afraid. Maybe it is proper to have such a smooth ride for a seven seater with so much luxury and style.

Don't get me wrong, the Buick works perfectly for its target market. If the larger full-sized SUVs (Tahoe/Yukon/Escalade) are just too big for you, the Enclave is a solid choice for a seven-seat premium SUV/crossover. There's more than enough style and luxury to keep everyone happy over a long journey.

After driving all four Lambda crossovers, which one would I'd buy? The Acadia. Hands down.

CADILLAC ESCALADE PLATINUM: In June, I was pitched to review the extended length model of the Escalade Platinum, the ESV. I turned it down. There was something about it that didn't sit right with me – the $85,000-plus price tag, for example.

Come to think of it, I should have just gone for it.

Driving the standard length Escalade is more ideal in my case. The shorter length makes things more manageable, while maintaining a smooth ride and the subtle thrust from its 6.2litre V8. It is a very relaxed vehicle overall. You need to be relaxed to drive an Escalade.

It is still a huge conveyance despite the shorter length. Everything is big inside. Despite some initial concerns, there is nothing insanely garish about the ultra-top end Platinum package – rather tastefully done, if you ask me. The seats aren't very supportive, but they're big enough for me command the Escalade through anything it wants to do. In all, the Escalade is better finished off than any of its siblings – the Tahoe and the Yukon.

Understand that it's largess may put off some folks. If you want to feel the road or have some sort of feedback from the chassis or the motor – the Escalade is not the right SUV for you. But, if want something that rolls smooth and is bigger than everyone else's ego, the Escalade is your ride.

2011 Cadillac Escalade Platinum 72011 Cadillac CTS-V 2

CADILLAC CTS-V SEDAN: Superlatives are what makes the CTS-V. From a supercharged 6.2litre V8, there is 556HP on tap, with 551lb-ft of torque. If given the chance, I would go from 0-60 in 3.9seconds. These are numbers that are associated with the likes of Ferrari, Lamborghini, BMW's M division and Mercedes-Benz's AMG unit.

My experience in the CTS-V yielded another superlative: The most powerful vehicle I have ever driven in my life.

To be given the license to run 556 horses is an honor I felt was earned through a lifetime of loving the automobile. It is like crossing off another line item on the bucket list. No, it doesn't have the mammoth torque of the Duramax diesel from the Silverado 2500HD. 551 is more than enough grunt to blow down two roadside rest stops. Having lived through the change in standards of calculating horsepower, I never thought I'd see the day when anything over 400…let alone, 500…ponies were within the reach of my right foot.

The surprise to all of this is the way it simply moves. It idles quietly and smoothly. It takes 30MPH speed limits in stride. Unleash it, and it does so without brute force. It will spool through the gears (mine was automatic, BTW), but it does so without the drama of a supercar. Not to mention, it is very sorted – a solid ride coupled with excellent road manners. One must remember to play nice when getting behind the wheel. All that power and the other superlatives that go with the CTS-V can be pretty tempting to a lead-footed driver.

For a reference point, I've driven the CTS in the 3.0litre V6 form in 2010. This one is much, much better. Sure, it's crossed off my bucket list, but before I kick it over – I want another go round, please?

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