The 2019 Rocky Mountain Redline Rally
2019 Subaru Forester Masters the Million Dollar Highway
Wait! Is this a fun travel story, or some 2019 Subaru Forester driving impressions? Yes.
My Redline Rally journey began with a thud at 0-dark-thirty Monday morning when the luxury hybrid SUV I was driving coasted to a halt 55 miles from the airport. Total electrical failure. I couldn't even open the rear hatch to extract my bag. So I wrestled it out through a second-row door. Luckily, I found an early-working Lyft driver, who got me there in time.
After arriving at the Denver airport along with a gaggle of other participating journalists, I was handed the keys to an Alfa Romeo Giulia TI Sport AWD to drive to the spectacular Red Rocks Amphitheater in Morrison, Colorado. Wait! That Alfa is no truck or SUV! Right. Our Jasper Green Forester Touring test car was accompanied by six other vehicles that do not normally qualify for attention in this publication. Besides the Alfa, they were an Acura NSX, a Honda Civic Type R, a Genesis G70 3.3T, a Nissan Altima AWD, and a Toyota Supra. Enough about them. For now.
This inaugural Redline Rally was planned, organized, and very well executed by a hard-working group of friendly folks called Rocky Mountain Redline—which also puts on four-wheel-drive and winter ice-driving events—with the goal of putting us busy auto writers behind the wheel of a variety of interesting new vehicles on scenic Colorado roads to visit some fascinating places. They (and participating vehicle hosts) hoped we would be inspired to communicate about the vehicles, the journey, and those awe-inspiring locales. And we were.
Alfa Romeo host Steven Richards and I enjoyed good conversation on the (otherwise boring) 58-mile drive to the Red Rocks Ampitheater—scene of some great outdoor concerts—in his sporty Giulia, then climbed a zillion steps to see the stage and spectacular views behind it. Then we headed to the nearby Fort Restaurant for lunch, a briefing, and a car swap. We were told by enthusiastic Rocky Mountain CEO Melissa Schulte that we'd be driving at altitudes between 5,000 and 11,500 feet; we'd have spotty (if any) cell phone service; and should watch for wildlife, falling rocks, bicyclists, construction, and maybe police along the way.
The next leg was 65 miles to the South Park Historical Foundation in Fairplay in a new Nissan Altima sedan (regretfully not powered by Nissan/Infiniti's new variable-compression VC engine) with host William Mattiace. It's nice but underpowered at ~9,000 feet. And it's worth noting that this South Park is the authentic Old West town in which the animated series is based.
Then came a 45-mile drive with Toyota hostess Christine Henley to the Mount Princeton Hot Springs resort in the Toyota Supra, the hot new sports car codeveloped with, and powered by, BMW. I had not yet experienced the new Supra, and I pretty much liked it despite no opportunity to work it hard on fast, curvy two-lanes, and its arguable ugly face. After a long, long day, we were rewarded with drinks, dinner, and a good night's rest.
Morning brought a hearty breakfast, semi-working phones and Internet (at least in the lodge), and a 37-mile, mostly uphill drive on more interesting roads to the 11,312-foot Monarch Crest on the Continental Divide (the natural divide between where water flows either east or west) with host Jeff Jablanski in a Genesis G70. While walking to the very interesting gift shop there, someone wondered aloud whether there was wildlife at that elevation. Then a little chipmunk skittered across the path in front of us. I guess so.
Next was a 41-mile run in the Acura NSX high-tech hybrid sports car with Acura host Andrew Quillin. Painted a very unsubtle orange, blue, and silver design with "NSX Pacecar" in large letters on its sides, the tester was on its way to serve as a pace car for the Pikes Peak Hill Climb. It delivered terrific performance and handling on some twisty mountain roads to the Gunnison Visitor Center.
Then came an invigorating 46-mile drive in the quick and amazingly agile (for a powerful front-drive car) Honda Civic Type R with hostess Natalie Kumaratne to the impressive Morrow Point Dam in Cimarron, where the beautiful lake behind it is Colorado's largest body of water.
After lunch, it was my turn to ride in (not drive) one of the cars, so I wisely chose the Forester. The back seat was surprisingly roomy, comfy, and friendly for a long-legged six-footer somewhat uncomfortable being driven by someone I didn't know. But that drive was just 14 miles to the Ouray Visitor Information Center, where we were treated to a special safety briefing before taking on the Million Dollar Highway.
For the first rainy 8.5 miles, I was in the back seat listening to the journalist driving explain to Subaru host Chuck Ballard that she was from California so she rarely had to drive in the rain—or on such narrow, twisty, scary roads with sheer cliffs (on my side of the vehicle) and steady traffic, including huge semis, coming at us on hers. At least she was driving slowly as I peered far down the cliffs, wondering whether any off-road excursion could be survivable.
Then, thankfully, it was my turn to drive. And that's when I began to really appreciate the Forester. It was solid, stable, sure-footed, and agile enough to take the (less dangerous) curves with some alacrity and little drama, even when the rain turned to snow near the top of the highest pass. And patient Chuck seemed calm and unafraid for the rest of our 62-mile drive to the touristy but appealing western Colorado town of Durango. I also appreciated the Forester's much-improved new interior, comfy seats, user-friendly infotainment system, and multiple safety features, including standard "EyeSight" Driver-Assist Technology and Symmetrical all-wheel drive. My only complaint was somewhat sluggish performance (especially at altitude) from its 182hp 2.5L flat-four and CVT transmission.
Chuck and I were first to arrive at the ultra-authentic 1898 General Palmer Hotel, where we were soon joined by Rocky Mountain's Melissa, who informed us the support truck with our luggage was delayed by a flat tire. So I walked Durango's main street, impressed by all the cool-looking restaurants, shops, and bars, many offering live entertainment on a Tuesday night. The truck was there when I returned, our rooms were sorted out, and I rode the state's oldest (phone-booth-size) elevator to my room on the third floor. Nothing fancy, but it was warm, comfortable and quiet—except for occasional loud whistles from the narrow-gauge railroad across the parking lot—and it offered strong, reliable cell service and Wi-Fi.
That treacherous Million Dollar Highway claims a fair number of motorists each year, but all of us survived it intact, and our journey was topped off by drinks, dinner, and good conversation at the even older (1887) Strater Hotel down the street. Then it was off to bed for a 4:30 a.m. departure to the Durango airport and home or (for several of us) our next event.