Match the road to the ride
5 incredible American roads and 5 incredible cars to drive on them.
If you love driving, you dream of that moment when you're out for a cruise, the weather is fine and you come across a stretch of road that is perfect. With nary a police cruiser in sight, you drop the accelerator and let the good times roll. But why dream about doing it in just your car? Where's the fun in that? We recommend tackling that curvy mountain pass or pushing the limits of speed on that endless straightaway in an idealized vehicle that taps into the very soul of the road in front of you. Here, we match America's best driving roads to the cars we would most like to let loose on them. Let the fantasy begin.
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North Dakota State Highway 46 | SRT Viper (Est: $100,000)
There's been some debate about how perfectly straight North Dakota State Highway 46 is; a satellite view reveals a few slight bends in the road. But in a state with a lot of very straight roads, this is an astonishingly long straightaway. For 123 miles on this lonely two-lane road, from the town of Streeter in the west to Interstate 29 in the east, you barely need to touch the wheel. Far be it from us to tell you to floor it, but you may be tempted to goose the engine and try a standing quarter-mile. You can abide by the speed limit for the other 122.75 miles.
This one's not even on sale yet — it should hit the market in late 2012 — but if you're one of the lucky few to get your hands on a Viper, you're going to want a long, straight line of asphalt stretching to the horizon to try it out on. The specs water the eyes: The Viper's V10 engine produces 640 horsepower — 40 more than the 2010 Dodge model — and 600 lb-ft of torque. With judicious use of carbon-fiber body panels and aluminum engine bits, parent company Chrysler has managed to lower the weight by 100 pounds. That should get this thing up to an estimated 120 mph in a quarter-mile run.
California State Route 1 | Mercedes-Benz SLK ($42,500)
We know, we know. California State Route 1, more popularly known as the Pacific Coast Highway, is hardly a secret, but if you ever need reminding of just how ruggedly beautiful the West Coast can be, this stretch of sparsely populated central California shoreline will make your heart ache with awe. Start in Monterey and drive south for 123 miles until you see Morro Rock, a 500-foot high volcanic cone in Morro Bay. Make a full day of the drive, since there are plenty of great photo ops on the way — Hearst Castle, Bixby Canyon Bridge, the Point Sur Lighthouse — and because, unlike other twisty, turny roads, this one doesn't reward aggressive driving. The PCH has an easy-does-it sort of vibe.
The Pacific Coast Highway is the reason roadsters exist, a road best traveled with precisely one other person, very little luggage and an open top to let in the sea air. The Mercedes-Benz SLK is a perfect balance of performance and luxury, with half of its technology engineered to tame twisty roads and the other half aimed at pampering its occupants. The styling suggests another best-of-both-worlds combination: sports-car aggression and a sleek sexiness that manages to make even ugly occupants attractive (well, it works for us, anyway). Engine options range from a turbocharged 201-horsepower 4-cylinder to a monster 5.5-liter 415-horsepower V8 in the AMG model.
U.S. Route 550 | Lotus Evora ($64,000)
We're going to assume you'll drive this one in the summer, because attempting it in winter requires a death wish. This stretch of U.S. Route 550 in Colorado between Silverton and Ouray, nicknamed the "Million Dollar Highway," is around 25 miles long, with dozens of hairpin switchbacks carved right into the sides of the Rockies. The views are spectacular, but you probably won't see much of it, because some of the tightest S-curves have no guardrails and you'll want to keep your eyeballs trained on the yellow paint. This is no road for the faint of heart or queasy of stomach — especially the 12 miles through the Uncompahgre Gorge, the most challenging part of the route.
The Lotus Evora isn't even the best-handling Lotus — we'd still give that to the Exige — but it has a far more civilized (read, carpeted) interior and, believe it or not, four seats (you can actually sit in two of them). Like all Lotuses, the Evora seriously grips the asphalt; on the skid-pad, this baby pulls close to 1 G. With its superlow center of gravity and midengine layout, the Evora is just the sort of car that pulls you back from the brink of death on perilous mountain passes, threading the needle on dangerous curves. Plus, unlike a lot of supercars that perform like this, the Evora can be had way south of $100,000.
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Why stop at Silverton? Go all the way from Ouray to Durango. Get some great Mexican food for lunch and then return to Ouray for dinner.
What a GREAT day that would be!