Day 2:

Day by Day Review: Testfest in Niagara daily car reviews car of the year
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My first day at Testfest was certainly a lot of things: exciting, hectic, tiring and fun all rolled into one day that just flew by. I managed to drive 11 cars; had I realized dinner was at 7:00 and not 5:00 I would have probably driven 12 or 13 — live and learn! The weather forcast for today was for cloud and for tomorrow rain so I made a point of testing the convertibles today as well as the Prestige over $75k, so I spent my day in luxury cars… not bad.

Although it was a treat to drive the Audi R8, S4 and Porsche Panamera around the track (to name a few) it certainly makes for some tough choices when voting as you really are splitting hairs when it comes to things like interior confort, quality and design.

Day by Day Review: Testfest in Niagara daily car reviews car of the year
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I drove all the convertibles in the category. Rumour has it the BMW Z4 was disqualified because they entered a manual when the others entered automatics (don’t ask me I’m not on the board of directors). That left the Lexus IS 350C, the Audi A5 Cabriolet and the Nissan 370Z Roadster. The first two, have a similar target market — luxury convertible — while the Z sits by itself as the lone sports car. On the road, I enjoyed the Lexus the most, which surprised me. The hardtop convertible made for a quiet ride top up, and top down, wind was channelled cleanly. On the track, the 370Z was the clear winner to me, which puts the Audi in the middle as good both on road and track — tough category to predict a winner in, but my guess is the A5.

The next set of cars I drove were in the Prestige over $75k category. This category, once again, is interesting, consisting of three large luxurious vehicles: the Mercedes-Benz S400 Hybrid, the BMW 750i and the Porsche Panamera, plus a lone wolf of a pure sports machine, the Audi R8 5.2 FSI (V10). The first three cars differ quite a bit, although one could argue the 7 Series and the Porsche have similar aspirations of sporting luxury.

Day by Day Review: Testfest in Niagara daily car reviews car of the year
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The Merc was just not my cup of tea, as it’s a very soft and large sedan that coddles but is also a technological wonder — too soft for my liking, although visibility was great compared to the rest of the vehicles I drove. The BMW 7 Series was a fun car to throw around on the track. With four-wheel steering it was very agile, more so than you would expect from such a large sedan. On the road, the BMW was nearly as comfortable as the Mercedes-Benz while providing a more sporty edge when asked for. As many would expect, the R8 was phenomenal on the track — extremely fast, perfectly balanced and easy to drive; on the road, it can be a cruiser as well, but it does have a hard edge to it. With respect to visibility, let’s just say you will be seen but you may not be able to see.

The Porsche Panamera was the surprise of the day. I expected it to be similar to the 7 Series as that seems to be its target. But it was not only as good as the 7 Series on the road; it was as good, if not better than, the R8 on the track. A double threat, the Panamera impressed everyone who drove it. Turn-in was incredible and the speed you could carry through the fast corners was unbelievable, but you can also drive your kids to school on Monday… amazing.

Day by Day Review: Testfest in Niagara daily car reviews car of the year
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I also grabbed the keys to the cars in the Sport / Performance over $50k category today. This category includes the Jaguar XFR, the Mercedes-Benz E-Class Coupe and the Audi S4. After stepping out of the prestige category, this one was even more impressive, with vehicles for half the price that were only a hair shy from being as good. The Jaguar XFR, with an as-tested price of approximately $85,000, seemed like a bargain, with lots of power and quiet luxury on the inside. The highway drive was great, though the track drive not so much, as it felt too heavy and the traction and stability control systems were too intrusive. The Mercedes-Benz E-Class coupe, at around $71,000, seemed even better at first; although the interior is not as luxurious as the Jag’s it is well put together. On the track, the Merc is fun to drive as well. The Audi S4 is a clear winner in my mind, with an as tested price of only $55,000. It was just screamingly quick on the track with an incredible chassis, and on the road it was quiet and refined!

Tomorrow I’ll be starting my day with the Sports / Performance under $50k category. These are the types of vehicles that driving enthusiasts buy, and they are more of what I suspect I and my readers are looking forward to most– although one can’t complain about the high-dollar fun that was had today.




About James Bergeron

James Bergeron is an Ottawa-based automotive journalist. James holds a national FIA race license and actively races and stewards at race events.