Which one of the latest 2014 cars is the quickest around a race track? One way to find out is to have one driver run a few laps at the same racetrack and on the same day. What better day than a sunny Colorado afternoon with ambient temperatures around 80F and barely a single cloud in the sky? Yours truly had the chance to take seven cars around the short-course configuration of High Plains Raceway (this is the configuration that includes both straightaways). This track is located at nearly a mile above sea level so naturally aspirated cars will struggle.
What follows is data and first track impressions on seven randomly selected cars.
7. 2014 Nissan Altima 2.5 S – 1:13.48
Why put a four-cylinder Nissan Altima on a race track? Turns out, the Altima is a well-composed and balanced sedan. It’s not afraid to see the corners or the straightaways. The 2.5 liter engine produces 182 horsepower and a CVT put the power to the front wheels. I was pleasantly surprised how this family sedan handled the track. Traction and stability control systems cannot be fully defeated, but the Altima does not lean too much in corners. Acceleration above 80 mph is very gradual as the car struggles to find oxygen. The character of this Nissan actually reminded me of that of a Mazda.
6. 2014 Mazda3 2.5 – 1:11.24
Speaking of Mazda – it’s no secret that the company makes cars and crossovers that are good in the twisties. This Mazda3 hatchback is no exception. The 184 horsepower 2.5 liter motor is hooked up to a 6-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters, which work well. On the track, the Mazda3 is composed and confident, and the Sport mode on the transmission increases the revs and the fun.
5. 2014 Nissan Juke NISMO – 1:10.46
You have heard people rave above the Juke and its NISMO variants. It feels small and nimble on the track, and the 6-speed manual transmission is quick and easy. And the 1.6 liter direct-injected and turbocharged engine boasts 197 horsepower and does not mind hanging out above 6,000 rpm and right near its redline. The well-balanced chassis and nearly non-existent body roll instill more confidence and allow for quicker lap times.
4. 2014 Dodge Challenger Shaker – 1:09.42
This orange machine hearkens back to the old days of massive horsepower and showmanship. The hood cutout houses the functional air intake to feed the 5.7 liter 375 horsepower beast within. The other historic signature of the Challenger is the 6-speed manual transmission handle that reminds of the pistol-grip. The V8 rumble is very refreshing, but it’s not quite as loud as the muscle cars. On the track, the Challenger still feels big and requires some manhandling. Still, the brakes feel like they are up to the task, and the chassis provides good grip through corners. I struggled a bit with the very short-throw shifter and I think it cost me at least a couple of seconds on the track. I would need more than a day to really get used to it. This is not a complaint. This car is a hoot to drive in any environment.
3. 2014 Ford Fiesta ST – 1:09.27
Yep, the little Fiesta ST got around the track a couple of blinks quicker than the big Challenger. This car weighs in at just 2,720 pounds and it’s being propelled by a 1.6 liter direct injected EcoBoost that produces 197 horsepower. Wait a minute, this is practically identical displacement and output as that of the Juke. This pocket rocket sends the power only to the front wheels, but technological tricks like torque vectoring virtually eliminate torque steer and understeer. This is not only the third fastest car on this list, it is also the third most fun.
2. 2014 Infiniti Q50 S – 1:08.97
Sebastian Vettel, thank for your help developing this car! What a great performance luxury sedan this is. It does feel like a four-time Formula 1 world champion had something to do with this car. The 3.7 liter V6 produces 328 naturally aspirated horsepower, but it does not struggle to push the car to nearly 110 mph down the straight. The grip is tremendous and the Q50 S is very easy to drive fast on the track. The steering (albeit electrically boosted) feels a little light at first, but it does not detract from a super fun track experience. Dare I say it? This car may be better than the 3-series.
1. 2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA45 AMG – 1:04.12
This AMG creation stands in a class by itself in this randomly selected group. The 2.0 liter four-cylinder makes a mind-boggling 355 horsepower and sends it to all four wheels via a 7-speed AMG dual clutch transmission. This is a tool that feels a little sharper than the solid Q50 S. It’s not the most powerful car in this group, but it is a turbo and getting to triple-digit speeds is effortless. The brakes are up to the task, and the suspension setup is just right. The CLA45 is not a poser. It’s the real deal.
Thanks to all the manufacturers that brought the cars to the 2014 RMDE event and made this eclectic comparison possible.
Check out this speedy race track video review of the #1 car from 2013 RMDE track-week.