2012 was a fairly exceptional year for cars; Lucky me, I got to drive most of the good stuff. Things kicked off on-stage at the Barrett-Jackson auction in Arizona, a pretty nice place to be rather than the wet and wintry wonderland that is Vancouver in January. As a stream of gleaming sheet metal rolled past — American muscle cars, 60’s arcana like the Amphicar and faithful replicars — I watched the auctioneer semaphore with his gavel and mused internally on the automobile as cultural icon.
Then I went and drove a Kia around.
What a lovely little machine the entry-level car has become. The new Rio is attractive, reasonably peppy and crammed with features that you’d have been paying luxury prices for only five years ago. It’s no rocketship, that’s for sure, but surely a measure of this golden age of motoring must be found in the niceties afforded even the impecunious motorist.
Winging back to the pre-spring snow and sleet, an email arrived from Porsche. Would I like to drive their track-special Cayman R: a lowered, loudened, lightened, Kermit-green speed-pod? Oh, and they’d put snow tires on it.
Certainly would, thank you very much.
A fun week, it has to be said, spent mostly going sideways, whether I wanted to or not. With the iconic 911 getting a little mission-creep towards the Grand Touring designation, the Cayman remains a proper Porsche sportscar. On the other hand, strapping Blizzaks to it makes it flop around like Ussain Bolt wearing snow-shoes.
Then came spring and an unexpected invitation to come drive a reader’s car, the unicorn-grade rarity of a Cadillac CTS-V wagon. This black beast was every inch the Tyrannosaur I had expected, a furiously bellowing rear-drive battlewagon with room for the grandkid’s stroller. Darth Vader, your family car has arrived.
The CTS-V is a fairly famous (or, more properly, notorious) sled, but there were also hidden charms to be found in the everyday machinery. The Volkswagen GLI, for instance, is probably the best conventional sporting sedan I’ve driven all year; it’s conservative to look at, but dearly loves to kick up its heels — and emits a burbling growl that’s more V8 than 4-pot turbo.
Late summer and the appearance of that perennial favourite, the Mazda MX-5. I love this little car so much it’s embarrassing. My friends sure don’t miss an opportunity to rib me mercilessly when I start waxing poetic about its elemental nature and sheer joy to drive. James May, of the BBC’s Top Gear, remarked once that he felt like the car was smiling as he drove it. As tease-worthy a thing like that is to say, it’s pretty much what the MX-5 feels like to drive.
We ran the little red convertible up past Whistler in convoy with a 2010 model, out past the traffic snarling the Sea-to-Sky on a long weekend.
For those that have driven the road, you know that life begins on the road that runs to Pemberton, where the traffic thins and the curving sections stack up, one after another.
Grins and a fizzing four-cylinder racket, and the buffeting of warm air around our heads, and then a scurrying home in a sudden and unexpected downpour as the weather turned foul. Even so, my UK genes had me leaving the top down the whole way — crack 80km/h in an MX-5 and the rain simply goes right over top of the car in the slipstream.
A track-day with Porsche revealed something about myself I never would have suspected: I preferred the huge Panamera to the new 911 Carrera S. Both were fast, but only one was fun.
Neither, as it happens, could hold a candle to what Mazda offered up next: a nearly two-decade old RX-7 Twin-Turbo. This car had been sitting in the Mazda head offices back east and had just 22,000 kms on the clock. I put a few more on it, and what it lacked in electronic tomfoolery it made up for in pure, raw feel.
Almost everything else feels like a driving simulator after driving an RX-7. Too bad it sucked down the fuel like it had a colander for a gas tank. Although that might just have been how I drove it.
A little hype hit the tarmac in early fall, as I was able to drive the new Cadillac ATS, a nimble little sports sedan, and the Scion FR-S, apparently the second coming of Our Lord and Saviour to hear some people talk about it.
The ATS was a lovely little car. Not really what I would consider a Cadillac to be, but an engaging drive nonetheless. The FR-S (or BRZ, if you buy the Subaru twin) was less fun than advertised. Instead of a practical Miata, they’d build a Very Good Car. Just not a great one.
I was born in Chilliwack, for my sins, and while you can take the boy out of the small town, you can’t take the small-town out of the boy. When the chance arrived to drive a 427 Corvette convertible I nearly fertilized my fields with excitement.
This Top Gun experience was followed by the Boss 302 Mustang, and if I liked the regular Mustang quite a bit, I fell head-over-heels for the school-bus yellow Boss. It’s a kid’s car really, noisy and fast and shiny, and every time I cranked the starter, I reverted to the age of twelve. Great stuff.
In the end of fall, it was bucket-list time. I climbed behind the wheel of a Rolls-Royce Drophead Phantom. It was an effortless, wafting, majestic sort of experience and the entire time I felt like a bit of a prat, to be honest.
Also unique was the brief opportunity to drive the all-electric Tesla Model S, with its blistering, near-silent acceleration. If this is the future, sign me up, as the Model S was even more interesting to drive than the critically-lauded Panamera.
So what was the best of the bunch?
Well, ‘round about eleven p.m., mid-week in late September, I loaded the car seat into my own little Subaru, and took our squalling, two-month old daughter out for a drive. It was late, she was tired, I was tired, she was upset for some unfathomable reason, I was rapidly becoming so.
The streets were quiet, and I drove slow, with the exaggerated caution of a new parent. The Subaru bumbled along aimlessly, with all the hums, creaks and rattles of an old car, and slowly, gradually, incrementally, the baby quietened. Of course, she fussed again at every stop sign, but soon even that stopped.
After some time, I pulled back into my driveway and sat for a moment, mentally preparing myself for the Indiana-Jones level of dexterity that’s required to get a sleeping kid out of a car-seat without waking them. Everything was quiet.
It was, easily, the best drive I had all year, and it had nothing to do with the car, nor the scenery, nor the route, nor the destination. Instead, it’s all about who you’re riding with.