As strange as it sounds, the performance car categories are some of the toughest to judge at the 2016 Canadian Car of the Year. New drive mode technology, traction control settings, power delivery mapping and transmission software help every one of these make Mr. Joe Average feel like Lewis Hamilton. Well, almost.
So, after a painstaking crunching of the numbers and spinning of the tires (both on the open road and the Driver Development Track at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park in Bowmanville, ON), here are some of our favorites:
1. 2016 Ford Mustang GT350
If there was one word to describe this baby (there isn’t; there’s many more), it would probably be “legendary”. Of course, the car is too new to earn that adjective all on its own, but here’s the thing; if anybody knows their Mustang/Shelby nomenclature, they know that “GT 350” is a very important alphanumeric combination in the canon. After all, the first Mustang that legendary Texan gentleman racer Carroll Shelby ever invented was called precisely that, and trade values for pristine examples of those tread well into six figure territory today.
So Ford had better get this one tight.
Happily, I would say that they have. Get past the heaviness of the clutch action, and you’re treated an immensely rewarding drive experience both on road and on track. Power is rated at 526 hp and by golly, does it ever feel it; activate the louder exhaust with a flip of a toggle switch, and it sounds it, too. Never have I heard an exhaust note change so much with the press of a button.
You’d think that this car would mainly be about straight-line speed and corners be darned (and indeed, many past Mustangs have been worthy of that accusation), but now that the all-new Mustang on which the GT 350 is based gets a multilink rear-axle, things have changed. The latest Shelby now has the handling to match that beefy powerplant, and a well-tuned traction control system to even let you hang the tail out if you’re feeling adventurous. Really, though, as soon as you sit in the cockpit and glance out over that long, striped hood, well, that’s really all there is to it.
2. 2016 Chevrolet Corvette Z06
The “switch” used to lower the exhaust baffling in this fiberglass monster is actually the throttle pedal; depress it more than three-quarters of the way, and the exhaust note switches from “loud” to “feral”, ripping into your chest like a machine gun. The accompanying hip shake that accompanies such aggressive acceleration is just the cherry on top.
That’s 650 hp and 650 lb.-ft. of torque you’re feeling, which makes the Z06 the most powerful car in the entire event. It’s fast, it’s loud and it handles like a race car (the low seating position makes you feel like you’re in a race car, too), because, well, it pretty much is, especially in Z06 configuration.
Of course, if you’re interested in a more civilized cruise, then perhaps the addition of Apple Carplay and Android Auto will be of some interest to you; it turns the infotainment display into a mirror image of what you’re used to seeing on your phone, only it’s not illegal to use it while you’re driving.
3. 2016 Porsche Cayman GT4
Apple Carplay? Android Auto? Forget it. You’re lucky if you get an adjustable seat in the GT4; the cars at the even didn’t even have that option, as they were equipped with fixed-back carbon fibre buckets that can be slid fore and aft, and that’s about it. You can change them for less hardcore options, but would you really want to?
Which is fine, because once you let this thing rip, all you’re going to be thinking about is how to better your lap times, or where to get the best price on a fireproof racing suit.
You see, the Cayman GT4 is built from a similar mold to that which is used for Porsche’s other race cars for the road such as the 911 GT3. That means a 385 hp 4.0L flat-6 engine with racing internals, racing suspension and a steering rack that somehow knows what you want to do before you even twitch a wrist. I’m serious: it’s telepathic, this thing and is as honed and robust a performance tool as you’ll likely ever drive. I can’t even believe its road legal. It’s loud, it’s proud and it isn’t afraid to show it.
4. 2016 Volkswagen Golf R
If ever there was a hot hatch to conquer all hot hatches, this has to be it; at the retail level, anyway. Power is rated at 292 hp and 280 lb.-ft. of torque, all channeled through a six-speed manual transmission to all four wheels—you can get a DSG automatic, too, but why would you want to? The manual is so good, and it belongs in a pocket rocket like this.
Here’s the thing, though; you can drive the R at normal levels thanks to well-tuned suspension dampers and smooth engine, and you still get the added piece of mind provided by the AWD. Not to mention it’s based on the Golf, a fantastic car in its most basic form.
Of course, the AWD system really shows its worth when you start to hit the bends. The tires dig in to have you hurtling down the road at astonishing pace, and since it’s so well-sorted, well, you feel like a championship wheelsmith.
5. 2016 Mercedes-AMG GTS
As loud as the Z06 is, it has nothing on the un-godly cacophony that rips through the cabin, the neighbourhood and the general ecosystem once you depress the “go” pedal in this monster of a coupe.
It looks the part, too; a bit like a flying saucer from the rear, and a classic grand touring coupe in profile. It’s unlike pretty much any Mercedes seen before, even more futuristic than the SLS AMG it replaces.
You sit nice and low, the chunky leather steering close-at-hand and your connection to a surprisingly agile steering rack. I guess because the AMG doesn’t give you that sense of road racer when you first encounter it (as do the Porsche and Corvette), you don’t expect it to handle as well as it does. I supposed that’s not fair, but it is what it is. It makes for a truly pleasant surprise when you first begin to really push it, whether you’re on your favorite road, or a track.
This car really is about the sheer ferocity of forward motion it presents, though. 0-100 km comes at just a hair over 4 seconds (making it the second-fastest car here, as-tested by journalists at the event), which is enough to have your shoulders pressed ferociously into the seatbacks. It’s phenomenal, and it’s as addictive a feeling as you’ll get from performance driving.
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