The GM Report: A Tale of Two Buffets

By Deane Barker on October 24, 2007

I’m more than a bit behind on my reports from the GM Blogger Junket, but I’m going to try and catch up here. I’ve already written about the Milford Proving Grounds in general, and about the Advanced Driving Techniques course we went through in the morning.

Next up: lunch. And more cars.

Lunch was catered into a small building on the edge of Black Lake. It was about what you’d expect from the biggest company in country — a palatial buffet. In attendance were the engineers of GM’s Hybrid program, as well as some of the design engineers.

I was happy to sit next to one of the guys who designs the interiors of the cars. In the corner was a new Malibu LTZ, sister car of the Saturn Aura. So I immediately marched him over and showed him the trim piece that an Aura I rented in Chicago used to assault my hip whenever I climbed into it.

Additionally, we had an interesting conversation about what size person they design for. Turns out they design for the 3rd to 97th percentile of human heights. Anyone under or over that is so rare and would require such drastic changes, that they’re sort of out of luck.

Anyway, lunch was the just the first buffet. I love food and all, but the second buffet was waiting right outside the doors to the building. It was a paddock of about 30 brand new GM cars and trucks. Keys in the ignition. Exit to the test track clearly marked.

I was the first one out of the building.

The cars were lined up neatly in rows, grouped by manufacturer. There was a good cross-section from every GM nameplate, as well as a handful of Saabs.

I went up and down the rows for about three hours. They had us set up on the “Driving Conditions Course” (see the aerial photo), which took eight or nine minutes to get around.

So you picked a car and drove to the exit point where a guy with a clipboard wrote something down (no idea what). He’d hold you here until the car in front of you got a ways out, depending on the difference in cars. If you were in the Vette, you had to wait a bit longer to give the car in front more lead time.

All in all, I drove perhaps 20 different cars. Mostly the sports cars. My notes:

Ponitac Solstice / Saturn Skye
Too. Damn. Small. I’m six-foot-four, and no amount of fiddling with the seat adjustment was going to fit me in these things, which is too bad because they drove well and the turbo versions were awfully quick (260 h.p. in a roller skate will do that).

Sadly, any enjoyment of the performance was pre-empted by the wind trying to slice the top of my head off. And if I drove it with the top up, my head hit the roof. Tragic.

Cadillac CTS and STS
They had about seven different models and combinations of these two there. They were all absolute dreams to drive. A bit less power than I would have liked, but they drove beautfilly and had every creature comfort you could think of.

The STS is larger and rolls around a bit in the corners — your traditional “big ‘ol Caddy.” In one of my trips in the STS, I found a XM channel devoted to movie soundtracks. I spent 10 minutes jamming to the “Crimson Tide” theme music. It was somehow fitting.

(Just outside the paddock was a 2007 Cadillac CTS-V. I would have loved to have driven this, but it was the designated “chase car.” The CTS-V is a CTS with the 400 h.p. LS-1 dropped in sideways. I’ve driven one in Sioux Falls before — they’re something else.)

Saab 9-5 Aero
Woof — this car was a blast. It had a turbo V-6 and a six-speed in the body of a station wagon. Great little sleeper rocket. It handled great and would plaster you back in the seat when you put your foot down and the boost came up. I drove this one two or three times — it was that much fun.

The interior was a little austere in the Scandinavian tradition, but I stopped caring the first time it tried to rip my head off.

(Note: the above picture is poor. The Saab I’m discussing is the red one, partially obscured.)

Saab 9-7X Aero
This is an SUV based on the TrailBlazer platform. What gets more interesting is when you drop a 390 h.p. motor in it — a detuned version of the Corvette engine. It was beautfully appointed and went fast-ish. It had a lot of power, but it still had a lot of weight to move around.

In the end, I missed the point — you’re not going to get something that big to go fast enough to make me want to buy it for the speed. And without that, you’re just paying a lot.

Chevy Corvette
Hold your horses — we’ll talk about the Corvette at length tomorrow…

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