On October 11, we attended the Washington Automotive Press Association (WAPA) 2013 Rally in Potomac, Maryland. Area journalists, automotive analysts and brand representatives came out to look at some of the best vehicles the automotive market has to offer. WAPA and the OEMs put together an impressive event; with such a plethora of vehicles on hand from nearly every segment and limited time available, we had to be selective with which cars or trucks we chose to drive. Having never taken part in such an event, the experience for me was akin to being a kid in a candy store and I was sure to get a taste of the best cars on which I could get my hands.

Accompanied by my fellow automotive analyst from NADA, David Paris, it was time to get in some cars and hit the streets, and although the rain was doing its best to sour the experience, nothing was going to slow us down.

With so many vehicles and only a couple hours available to us, it was inevitable that we would only get to drive a fraction of the cars and trucks, which meant missing out on some we wished to try out. Nevertheless, we still got to check out a lot of great automobiles, but instead of writing about every single one, I will highlight a few that I believe stood out the most.

The 2014 Hyundai Equus

While the Hyundai Equus has been on sale in the United States for a few years now, I finally had the chance to see it up close and not only appreciate how fantastic the luxury sedan is, but also how far the Korean automaker has come over the past two decades. As the car pulled up to the driveway, it left quite an impression as the sedan gives off an air of importance like it means business. The car certainly carried an image of luxury, especially when viewing it in person, prompting David and I to dub the vehicle, “The Presidential Estate,” as the car seems fitting for a person of high stature.

At 6 feet 3 inches tall, it is not often I am in a car and feel like the interior is spacious, but that is the exact feeling I got when riding in the Equus. Once we took off with David in the driver’s seat, we were pleasantly surprised by how fast and powerful the sedan is and quickly shifted into sport mode to get a better sense of the car’s abilities. Even with the rain coming down and the roads wet, the flying horse was sharp through the turns and provided incredible acceleration, which made for an entertaining yet smooth ride. You would not take this kind of car out to the drag strip or to a car meet because that is not part of its character, but if confronted with a challenge or a need for speed, the Korean sedan is certainly no pushover and is not one to get bullied around.

The car truly makes those inside feel privileged and confident, but by no means does it do so in a snobbish, elitist way. In many regards, the Equus is a luxury sedan for the humble, self-made man or woman who does not feel the need to boast or show off yet does not take a back seat to anyone else. Just like the people who drive it, the Hyundai Equus has come a long way to reach the high level upon which it now stands and is most definitely a car that will make anyone feel like a boss.

The 2014 Land Rover Range Rover Sport Supercharged V8

In many ways, the Range Rover Sport strives to be the best SUV imaginable, with remarkable off-road performance, blistering speed and all the creature comforts for which one could ask. The reason why the vehicle stands out is the sheer excessiveness of everything it offers, which adds to its appeal for some people while coming off as a bit ostentatious to others. As David and I waited to try out the Range Rover, another driver hopped out of the SUV and we subsequently asked him what he thought of the ride. Looking as if he had just been violated by the vehicle, he succinctly replied, “It is a bit… too much for my taste.” He then added, “I much prefer the Volvo [XC60],” which was also present at the rally. While I disagree with the Volvo comparison made by the gentleman, I understood where he was coming from and quickly recognized that the SUV is in no way meant for Main Street nor is it for the faint of heart.

Upon taking off on our drive, the Sport took off like a rocket on wheels with absolutely no regard for wet pavement, staying planted while increasing in speed through every wind of the road. Its supercharged V8 roared as David hit the accelerator yet the suspension kept the ride so smooth that we reached terrorizing speeds without even noticing. As we passed the oncoming 2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray Coupe, which was also available to drive at the rally, we wondered aloud whether or not we could beat the super sports car in a race. Despite what seems like a ludicrous proposition, the Range Rover Sport really is that ridiculously quick and instills confidence that one could stand toe-to-toe with some of the fastest cars on sale today.

The interior of our test car was covered in cream-colored leather that accentuated the cabin well, but dirtied easily and seemed fairly nonsensical as a color choice for a vehicle with such off-road capability. It was easy to get the impression that the interior was designed to not just appeal to high society, but also do so with a kind of flamboyance not seen with other luxury marques. There was no questioning the comfort provided by the spacious cabin inside the vehicle; however, the center stack seemed like somewhat of an afterthought with a mediocre touchscreen and controls that looked more suitable for a commodity car. It is almost as if Land Rover was so consumed with making the most luxurious, high-performance SUV that it favored flashiness and extravagance over sensibility. The Sport is by no means devoid of flaws, but its character exudes a level of self-assurance through its overabundances that can come across as charming. While not perfect by any means, for someone with a taste for luxury and performance with some pizazz and attitude mixed in, the Range Rover Sport is a worthy candidate to do the trick with its blend of both naughty and nice.

The 2014 Mazda6

For years, Mazda has tried to distinguish itself through sporty and fun vehicles as opposed to your average, run-of-the-mill automobile, but has struggled to resonate with the typical mainstream buyer. Consequently, the company has had a history of financial difficulties due to its small size and has never been able to outgrow its modest stature to become a truly volume automaker. However, with its SkyActiv technologies and a new vehicle design language, Kodo, things are looking up for the company from Hiroshima and one need look no further than the new Mazda6 as proof.

As expected, it was easy for the participants at the WAPA rally to be drawn to the premium vehicles and sporty cars, but despite competing in the non-luxury midsize sedan segment, the Mazda6 was not just an ordinary car to be overlooked. With beautiful, sweeping lines and a much more upscale feel compared to its previous generation, the new sedan is offered as arguably one of the most attractive packages in the mainstream market. Once inside, the cabin exhibits a high level of refinement with regards to its layout and controls, similar to German brands like Volkswagen and Audi, giving off the impression that the vehicle is more semi-premium than it is commodity car. According to Mazda, the interior includes accents inspired by the brand’s racing heritage, which is demonstrated through its red stitching and sporty gauges, compelling the driver to push the car in ways a normal midsize sedan should not.

Sitting in the driver’s seat, I eagerly drove onto the road and instantly got the impression that the car could do much more than take a person from point A to point B. The Mazda6 performed well through the bends and felt true to the sporty nature of the brand’s cars, which made for an entertaining drive. On the downside, while the midsize sedan’s handling ability encouraged me to go faster, the potential of the Mazda was limited by its 184-hp, four-cylinder SkyActiv-G 2.5L engine, which is the only available powertrain at the moment.

Although the car was constrained by its lack of power, the vehicle still made for an enjoyable ride with great potential and is available with a 6-speed manual transmission unlike most of the competition. The yet-to-be released diesel offering and its high torque output should do much to increase the engagement level, especially if is also offered with the stick.  It is also rumored that an even sportier Mazdaspeed6 variant is being considered and would target models such as the Audi A4 and BMW 3-series. As for now, the new sedan can make the case that it is the class of the segment with its combination of elegant design, refinement, driver engagement, and fuel economy. The Mazda6 is a remarkable achievement for the small Japanese automaker and its future is bright, but as good as car is already, it may very well get even better soon enough.