What I Learned About The Best New Cars at the MAMA Spring Rally

In the spring, automotive journalists flock to Wisconsin to test new cars at the Midwest Automotive Media Association "MAMA" Spring Rally. Here's what we learned.

Sara Lacey And The Rolls-Royce Ghost. Photo: Robby Degraff
Sara Lacey and the Rolls-Royce Ghost. Photo: Robby DeGraff

MAMA – Midwest Automotive Media Association– lets us test new cars back to back.

What signals spring to you? If you’re into sports there are NBA finals, the Masters tournament for golf, and the NHL finals for hockey. If you’re into fashion there is the Met Gala. And if you’re into writing about cars, there is the Midwest Automotive Media Association (MAMA) Spring Rally

The event takes place every year at Road America, a giant track facility in Wisconsin. There is a full-size track, an autocross track, an off-road course, and street routes around the facility to take new cars out and put them to the test. This year, the two-day event had 44 cars and over 100 automotive journalists driving them in different (venues). This event is special because it gives writers an opportunity to drive cars they may not normally have access to, or drive specialized cars in the environment for which they are designed.

Related: We loved these SUVs at the Texas Truck Rodeo

2023 Mazda Mx-5 Among The Best New Cars At The Mama Spring Rally. Photo: Sara Lacey

2023 Mazda MX-5. Photo: Sara Lacey

What goes on at the MAMA Rally, anyway?

I attended the MAMA Spring Rally for the first time ever this year. I understand why it’s such a huge event for auto journalists. There are representatives from the manufacturers to tell us everything we could want to know about the cars, which really makes the most of our experiences. There are instructors on hand to help us drive the courses better and learn to be faster out there. It also happens to be great fun. Here are some highlights.

Dodge Challenger Last Call Black Ghost At The Mama Spring Rally. Photo: Sara Lacey

Dodge Challenger Last Call Black Ghost. Photo: Sara Lacey

This year, I began with the track

It had been a while since I have driven on one and I’ve never driven the Road America course, so I rode around the track for a couple of laps with a driver. This is great fun, and it helps get the feel of the track without having to worry about anything else. I rode in a Volkswagen Golf GTI with a manual transmission and my driver had it dialed in. As a rider I felt very little body roll and loved how the car felt so stable at a high speed. 

Once I got the feel of things, I hopped into a Dodge Challenger Last Call Black Ghost. The Black Ghost has 807 horsepower, and I have to be honest here, I don’t think I used all of them. But it was an amazing ride nonetheless. The engine roared when accelerated off the line and I just wanted to hear more of it. I had room on the track to get going pretty quickly, but it was also really cool to learn that the steering, transmission, and braking were up to managing all that power. The lap was over way too quickly and I wanted to go again and again. Unfortunately, there were a lot of other people who wanted that experience, too. So I had to swap.

Related: why we’re wild about track driving

2023 Bmw M2 Coupe Blue. Photo: Sara Lacey

I think I fell in love: The 2023 BMW M2 Coupe Blue. Photo: Sara Lacey

A study of contrasts at the MAMA Spring Rally

I then got into the 2023 BMW M2. This car has specific features in it that make it fast and nimble for a track. I had an instructor ride with me still, just to make sure I’m doing the right thing at the right time. The M2 had all kinds of track-specific upgrades and it was wild experiencing the suspension, brakes, and of course the tuned exhaust. I loved going from a big American powerhouse to a nimble German speed demon in a matter of minutes.

A rarity makes an Appearance, courtesy of SpeedFreaks USA

An exceptional treat was being driven on a hot lap in the 2023 Porsche Cayman GT4 RS. It’s a thrill to be in a track-specific car being driven by a professional. I squealed and clapped when I wasn’t holding on. I loved this part of the event because I’m probably not going to ever be able to drive like that, but appreciated being in the car when it’s performing at its peak.

Some of my favorite street drives were cars I’d been waiting to get in for a long time. The 2023 Genesis Electrified GV70 stole my heart. It’s been lauded by critics and I can see why. After the noise and intensity of the track, the GV70 was a quiet respite, focusing on my comfort and that of any passengers I may have. The Volvo S60 Recharge Black Edition was cool too. The look of it was incredibly stylish, with all trims and wheels blacked out. The interior was also black. It was sporty yet comfortable on the road and I loved driving this PHEV, as it uses the electric motors to boost power to the car, but if you want to drive it in “Pure Mode,” you’ll get 41 miles solely on electric power. It’s going to be interesting to see if sedans become more popular as electrification continues.

Related: Want to learn more about PHEVs? Check this out

The 2023 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 4Xe Is Among The Best New Cars At The Mama Spring Rally. Photo: Sara Lacey

2023 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 4xe. Photo: Sara Lacey

The day went quickly, and I was still missing the off-roaders

I made it over to the off-road course to try out some of the more rugged vehicles we had on hand. What made this off-road portion of the rally so cool is that they were put together and manned by Camp Jeep off-roading specialists. There were two options to drive, a green course and a blue course. Some vehicles could only go on the green, and others could do both. The blue course had larger, slower areas for rock crawling, articulation, deeper wells, and generally more technical terrain for the first half of it. The second half was the entire green course. 

A big truck to start

My first try at the course was in the Chevy Silverado Crew 1500 ZR2. It’s a giant truck. It did well on the green course. Again, I hadn’t been out there so I wanted to get familiar with the route and the Silverado didn’t let me down. It’s a bit long, and the turning radius a bit too big for some of the narrow hairpins, but the cameras in the front and back helped me navigate and I didn’t feel concerned or worried that I would get stuck. Or ruin the truck in front of the Chevrolet representative. 

Kia Telluride. Photo: Sara Lacey

Kia Telluride. Photo: Sara Lacey

Are you willing to be surprised?

When I returned to the staging area, a fellow writer told me I just had to try the 2023 Kia Telluride. The Telluride was the X-Pro version of the SUV and I could not resist. I was blown away by how nimble and fearless the Telluride was. I put the SUV into low gear and the car never wavered. Up steep hills, and back down through the mud; it really did great in those hairpin turns riddled with boulders. It reminded me that many of our cars are more capable than we give them credit for. And the Telluride happens to also be wrapped up in a great-looking package, too.

I was also delighted by the 2023 Jeep Compass, a vehicle designated for the blue course and the green course. It was a total champion. I loved that this small SUV conquered all that was thrown at it. It’s stable, sturdy, and the seats were super comfortable as I bounced around and made my way through the rocks.

A classic with a twist doesn’t disappoint

But my favorite of the off-roaders I drove was the 2023 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 4xe. I drove the blue course in hybrid mode and in all-electric mode. The power and torque provided by the electric motor were phenomenal whether being used in conjunction with the turbocharged 4-cylinder engine or on its own. The absolute best part was being in all-electric mode and having the Jeep go quiet. I could hear the rocks and sticks crunching under my tires. The instructors could guide me along the course without shouting. I could hear the other off-roaders and even a few birds. I was delighted. After a lot of driving on the first day, I was wiped out. But no less excited for the next day, as that was when I was going to be able to do the autocross track. 

Bmw M2 Coupe (Grey). Photo: Sara Lacey

BMW M2 Coupe (Grey). Photo: Sara Lacey

What is autocross?

Autocross is a shorter track with lots of tighter turns. It’s great for smaller cars, and I tried every one available. That BMW M2 I drove on the big track was on the autocross track and this is where she and I bonded. I loved the power and the responsive steering of the car on the autocross track and kind of wished I could take it back to the big track to drive it again there, as we were really good together. This car was amazing and I loved every second behind the wheel.

2023 Toyota Gr86. Photo: Sara Lacey

2023 Toyota GR86. Photo: Sara Lacey

I did have another standout favorite though

And that was the 2023 Toyota GR86. From the moment I started driving it, I felt at home. I absolutely loved that it was a manual transmission! I wasn’t sure how I was going to manage that around the track. But it was amazing. It did whatever I asked it, and I felt really comfortable pushing it a bit more than the other cars I drove. Also? Its sticker price was $34,015. Brilliant.

Mini With Gold Wheels. Photo: Sara Lacey

Mini Clubman with gold wheels. Photo: Sara Lacey

Reluctantly wrapping things up at the MAMA Spring Rally

I rounded out the day with more street drives. I learned about all the eco-friendly features of the Volvo XC40 Recharge. The upholstery in it looked like flannel and felt just as soft. It’s got cool details and is just lovely to be in. I loved the grey-green metallic color, the metallic aspect of it was so subtle, like dew drops on a leaf.

Volvo Xc40 Recharge. Photo: Sara Lacey

Volvo XC40 Recharge. Photo: Sara Lacey

A popular color right now is flat grey, particularly when there’s a pop of color or a different metal detail. Like the grey with gold wheels on the Minis and the Porsche Cayman, and the Burnout Grey color with orange brake calipers on the Rolls-Royce Ghost Black Badge. 

2023 Rolls-Royce Ghost. Photo: Sara Lacey

2023 Rolls-Royce Ghost. Photo: Sara Lacey

An elite luxury car makes an appearance, and a big impression

Oh, that Rolls-Royce. I loved looking at it. I loved being in it. So did almost everyone else! The orange repeated itself in grand fashion on the interior of the car. I did not get to ride in it or drive it. But I did get to sit in it and try to find all the super fun features that make the car so unique. Highlights were an in-door umbrella housing, a headliner that is illuminated like the stars in the sky, and the fact that every button and knob felt hefty and made a great noise.

Related: Seeking true luxury? Here’s why we love Rolls Royce 

Rolls-Royce Ghost Interior. Photo: Sara Lacey

Rolls-Royce Ghost interior. Photo: Sara Lacey

The MAMA Spring Rally was over too quickly

It was a spectacular event and I was dazzled by the obvious cars that should dazzle. And I loved getting into a car and having no expectations one way or the other and having it really shine. Like many teams in their championships or invitees to the Met Gala, I hope to go back to the MAMA Spring Rally next year!

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Sara has written about cars since 2005. She used to beat them up with her kids and write about... More about Sara Lacey

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