2013 Porsche 911
2013 Porsche 911. Click image to enlarge

Testfest Diaries, Part One

Article and photos by Jonathan Yarkony

Photo Gallery:
2013 Canadian Car of the Year Testfest

Day 3

Wednesday morning I had the luxury of requesting a category, and I doubt anyone will feel sorry for me in the difficult decision I faced between Sports/Performance Over $50K (Best Boxster Ever, Best Camaro Ever—ZL1, Best Mustang Ever—GT500, and the SLK 55 AMG) or Prestige Performance (Best Corvette Convertible Ever, Best 911 Ever, Benz SL 550 fresh off a win in our Comparison Test, and the BMW M5). Life is rough, I know.

Well, after trying to be modest and picking the S/P Over $50K category, it turns out that all the keys of all the cars were already out—I guess I wasn’t the first to elect into that category. After a quick scan of the key boards and checking with the interns serving as key masters, one of our CCOTY Directors made a quick switch in the all-seeing, all-knowing ‘system’, and I was handed the keys to my dream car, the 911. Yes, the temptation was there to just keep driving once I got on the QEW, but the prospect of Corvettes and GT500s and Boxsters back at TestFest (and many more in the years to come) brought me back to our starting point. It doesn’t hurt that the starting point is also where the handling course is located.

2013 Porsche 911
2013 Porsche 911. Click image to enlarge

At the wheel of the 911, this one a Carrera S with the brilliant and super-fast PDK dual clutch automated manual, I finally began to yearn for a more substantial track than the piecemeal sections strung together on the Niagara airport runways. Those sections were an acceleration strip followed by high-speed slalom (though with progressively tighter transitions), wide 90-degree turn, tight slalom, decreasing radius turn, sharp 90-degree turn, then another wide, high-speed slalom and an emergency braking zone to test the absolute limits and capabilities of the brakes. It’s no Mosport, but I could drive it all day long in any of a dozen cars on the premises and have fun every second.

But as on any of the other days, there is a time limit, so eventually I had to park the 911 and walk the keys back to the key exchange. On the topic of keys, I have to compliment the Canadian Car of the Year (CCOTY) team on a job well done. With over 60 entries, and 3 examples of each entry, to be deployed among over 80 journalists for driving on public roads and on the closed handling course, just having vehicles available for every journalist to complete testing in their categories was a challenge, and the team pulled it off without a hitch, most journalists finished their assigned categories by Tuesday and having time to pick up an elective ‘unassigned’ category on Wednesday.

For every vehicle taken out, a barcode attached to the key was scanned, as well as a barcode attached to one’s ID badge—so you knew they could track you down in seconds if you were out on a joy ride… The biggest challenge of the week was the Corvette 427, a C6 generation entered in the final year of its run because of the newly paired convertible body and LS7 7.0L V8—one of the two 427s brought down for the event gave out during the performance testing for the objective acceleration categories, leaving only one car to be tested by everyone assigned to this category, plus everyone that wanted to drive it during the free-for-all times.

Mercedes-Benz SL 550
BMW 3 Series and Cadillac ATS
Mercedes-Benz SL 550 (top), and BMW 3 Series and Cadillac ATS. Click image to enlarge

Anyhow, I managed to pair up with another journalist waiting on the 427, and we claimed it along with the Mercedes-Benz SL 550. We drove them back to back on public roads, then peeled off some rubber on the handling course. While there is no question the Vette was the handling champ of that pair, and possibly the best handler this year at TestFest, I had the SL pegged as the frontrunner in this Prestige Performance group because it had the best combination of design appeal inside and out, quality, features, refinement, handling power, and so on. However, the appeal of the Porsche as a driver’s car must have been simply too much, and its performance was best in every measured test.

We manage to finish the pair with just enough time on the clock for one more journalist to drive the Vette and complete the category, while I entered all my results on the computers set up for online score submission, and even had a chance to review and revise my previously submitted scores before the Wednesday noon deadline.

Lunch saw us through that deadline and then it was time drive a few cars on my personal wish list, as well as significant new launches available here for the first time on Canadian soil (before even their North American press launches). For example, the first car I took out after lunch was the Nissan Sentra, just out of curiosity after what Mike had to say about it in his First Drive. And to get a sense of it against some recent competition, I drove the Dart immediately after, and found the Dart to be superior in most respects, so I found it surprising that it didn’t even make the top three.

To finish off the day, I took the opportunity to drive Cadillac’s ATS and the BMW 328i back to back. It served as confirmation to my assumptions on the Cadillac ATS launch event that I will cover more extensively in my ATS Frist Drive, that the ATS is sharper-handling and more of a driver’s car than the current 3 Series. Granted, this wasn’t exactly an apples to apples comparison, because the ATS was equipped with the 321-hp V6 and its Magnetic Ride suspension that offers an excellent range of almost-comfortable street ride and high-performance track setting that keeps it flat. The 2.0L turbo-four in the BMW didn’t have the lungs and the comfort-oriented suspension in this xDrive model meant it felt more like a roomy and luxurious entry-level premium car to the ATS’ committed sport sedan.

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