Prowling up Ontario?s West Coast in a 2014 Jaguar XKR Convertible, I wonder why, in all my years of living in the Big Smoke, it has taken me so long to discover the stretch of Ontario that hugs the shores of Lake Huron.
What?s not to like about endless white sandy beaches gently lapped by warmish water, charming little towns, a provincial park, and, if you?re so inclined, the wild summer party that is Grand Bend?
On this day, the air is hot, the sun strong and the Jag?s top stowed under its tidy tonneau. The burbling of the 510 hp supercharged 5.0L V8 makes for a good soundtrack.
I start at the southern part of this region, near the Pinery Provincial Park, a 2,532-hectare natural reserve. The park is home to two rare ecosystems: freshwater dune grasslands and the Oak Savannah. The savannah is a transition zone between prairie grasslands and oak forests. It?s all but gone elsewhere. The Pinery protects about 50 per cent of the world?s remaining Oak Savannah. Why is it still here? Good fortune. The sandy soil is no good for farming, and plans, in 1929, for a huge golf resort fell through for lack of financing.
While the town of Grand Bend is only nine kilometres north on The Bluewater Highway (Hwy. 21), it has none of the tranquility of the Pinery.
Turn left off 21 onto Main St and you?re right in the heart of the experience. Lined with shops and bars, this strip takes you to the famed beach. It?s where car guys come to cruise. This Sunday, there is a steady stream of heavy metal, ranging from muscle cars, to antiques to hot rods.
I pull the XKR over for some quick photos. Sure enough, the black cat starts drawing admiring stares. This car is a timeless beauty. It?s one of designer Ian Callum?s finer creations.
Kyle Holmes, a young auto body worker out for a day at the beach, pays tribute to the Jag by leaping into a shot and giving the rock ?n roll salute. I reciprocate by giving him an eight-gun salute on my exit.
If you?re staying in Grand Bend, check out the top-notch stage productions at the Huron Country Playhouse, and, for those with a penchant for noise and drama, the Grand Bend Motorplex is Canada?s largest quarter-mile drag racing track. There?s something going on most summer weekends. Friday night?s ?Test-and-Tune? gives you the chance to thrash your street machine.
I point the sleek prow of the XKR north on Hwy. 21 and head toward Bayfield. The quaint main street is lined with galleries, craft shops, antique purveyors and eateries.
Be sure to drop into the Black Dog Village Pub and say ?Hi? to owner Ted McIntosh. He and his wife, Kathleen, came here eight years ago, scraped the paint off this historic grocery-store-cum-beer-hall and turned it into a going concern. The food is fabulous, and with 50 beers and 150 whiskies on the menu, it?s a destination for aficionados of these elixirs. Lots of good live music, too.
The 2014 Jaguar XKR Convertible starts at $116,125 and features the aforementioned supercharged 510 hp, 461 lb.-ft. 5.0L V8 coupled to a 6-speed ZF auto. This tester sports the $12,200 Dynamic and Black Pack that bestows 20-inch gloss-black forged alloys, a 10 mm. lowered ride height, uprated adaptive damping and more aggressive body bits. The 250 km/h top speed limiter is lifted, allowing your follicles to theoretically experience a 280 km/h breeze.
Heading north to Goderich, I find Hwy. 21 under construction and pretty beat up. While these conditions are usually the undoing of most open top cars, the Jag is barely ruffled. Nary a quiver upsets its super-rigid structure and the adaptive dampers absorb all but the worst impacts. Masterful chassis tuning.
This is not to suggest the rag-top Jag is nothing more than an elegant cruiser. Let it be known this feline?s alter-ego boldly asserts itself when the accelerator is prodded.
The supercharged V8 bellows, acceleration is ferocious, and with little provocation, the shapely back end of the car is quick to sidestep. This siren will go all muscle-car on you in a heart beat.
Goderich was once proclaimed by Queen Elizabeth II to be Canada?s Prettiest Town. The town is a little bruised now. There is still evidence of the F3 tornado that devastated the town and much of the octagonal town centre two years ago.
I visit the Huron Historic Gaol just a few blocks away. Opened in 1841 and decommissioned in 1972, it was the site of the last public hanging in Canada on Dec. 7, 1869. Three weeks after Nicholas Melady swung for the murder of his father and mother in-law, the federal government banned public hangings.
Officially, Ontario?s West Coast runs another 35 km. north to Amberly Beach.
You can?t visit this region without experiencing the spectacular sunsets. There is beach access from almost anywhere along the Bluewater Highway. Find a quiet spot and take it in!
2014 Jaguar XKR Convertible
Price: $116,125 base, $128,325 as tested
Engine: 5.0 L supercharged V8
Power/torque: 510 hp/461 lb.-ft.
Fuel consumption L/100 km: 14.2 city, 9.2 hwy (premium fuel)
Competition: BMW X6 Convertible, Mercedes-Benz SL 550, Maserati GranTurismo Convertible, Porsche 911S Cabriolet
What?s best: A beautiful car that coddles and kicks butt.
What?s worst: A tiny trunk, thirsty for gas, and a dated touch-screen interface.
What?s interesting: Exhaust ?can? with electronically operated valves gives the XKR its growl.