Each year, drivers pay $12,500 each to slide behind the wheel of a Lamborghini, McLaren, Aston Martin or Alfa Romeo and take them for drive in Napa Valley.
In addition to being handed the keys of the ultraluxury cars, participants in The Robb Report Car of the Year spend three days at Forbes five-star-rated Meadowood Napa Valley Resort in St. Helena and are wined and dined at various wineries.
“There is a synergy between the setting of Napa Valley and these luxury cars,” said Elyse Heckman, spokesperson for The Robb Report, a big, glossy advertorial publication — blending advertising and editorial content — for affluent consumers and those dreaming of becoming one.
Every year, The Robb Report compares and contrasts a selection of what it says are the finest automobiles in the world to determine which truly are the finest cars money can buy.
The event is held yearly in Napa Valley and also in Boca Raton, Florida. This year, according to results announced in February, drivers favored the Lamborghini Huracán.
According to Car and Driver magazine, the Lamborghini Huracán has a 5.2-liter V10 engine and a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission. It can reach 60 mph in 2.8 seconds and has a top speed of 201 mph. The base price is $267,545.
The top choice was followed by the McLaren 720S, the Aston Martin Vanquish S Volante was No. 3, and coming in at No. 4 was the Audi R8 V10 Spyder.
For the car manufacturers, the Napa Valley event is the perfect test kit, Heckman said.
“This is the very demographic who will buy these kinds of cars. It’s straight to consumer. The manufacturer gets viable feedback for future sales,” she said.
Last year’s Car of the Year took place in Napa from Oct. 27–Nov. 10, with more than 200 participants. Car of the Year was the first major event to return to Napa Valley just a few weeks after the area was hit by wildfires.
The Robb Report held a special fundraiser partnering with local vintners and chefs. Among those invited were The French Laundry’s Thomas Keller, Meadowood Executive Chef Christopher Kostow, and Kyle Connaughton, co-owner of Single Thread in Healdsburg. The one-day event raised $100,000 for fire relief.
“It was a lot of fun driving the cars, but the important thing was raising money for the fires,” Connaughton said.
For the event, drivers pair up to spend one day behind the wheel of 13 cars for a test drive.
Thirteen is about the most cars that can be driven comfortably in a day, according to Robb Report’s auto expert Robert Ross.
Drivers in Napa follow a specific route along the Silverado Trail, winding their way past vineyards up to Lake Berryessa.
This year, drivers favored the Lamborghini Huracán saying it was “exhilarating at every level,” “makes you feel like a 5-year-old again,” and “I couldn’t keep myself from screaming when I was going through the gears.”
Drivers, seduced by the power of the cars do get the occasional speeding ticket.
The Robb Report has a relationship with Napa County law enforcement, who are informed of the event, Heckman said.
“They know we have a very defined route,” said Heckman.
The rating system for the drivers is sophisticated and calculated on a tablet, Connaughton said. Each driver answers questions with a grade of A through F, rating such aspects as performance, design, suitability for daily driving, and perceived value. This broad scope of questions helps to level the playing field, with a sedan theoretically gaining a higher score than a single-purpose supercar, Robb Report says.
Models that are chosen by Robb must be new, or at least offer a significant change in specifications from the previous model year, Robert Ross wrote of the event.
“So while a Porsche Turbo S (last year’s co-winner) is a stellar automobile, it’s not new for 2018, and thus doesn’t qualify. Other new models may have been available in Europe but not yet fresh off the boat in America, which explains the absence of cars like the Ferrari 812 Superfast and Panamera Turbo S E-Hybrid Sport Turismo,” he said.