Following the muddy launch of the TRD Pro models of Toyota’s Tundra and Tacoma, we headed to the Northern reaches of the Ottawa Valley for a week of work with a sweet Cement Grey Taco, with the DCS Appliances event trailer in tow. That combined rig stirred up attention everywhere we went, so when a similar trip came onto the horizon recently, it only made sense to see how the big brother Tundra would fare.
The event would see us head from Whitby to Mont Tremblant, a ski town in rural Quebec which also is the home of Le Circuit Mont Tremblant, where we would spend a the better part of the week feeding our friends from Driveteq, who would be spending a couple of days lapping the historic race track.
Once again, we would be grilling on the trailer mounted DCS grill, but we would also be roasting a pig in our La Caja China roaster, which meant we needed a capable hauler with lots of space. We knew the Tundra is big and that the TRD Pro version is tough off road, but would it do the tasks we were presenting it with? We also knew that the Tundra can be a tad on the thirsty side so we were curious to know how it performed when fully loaded.
The traditional domestics have worked hard to surpass the traditional import truck makers when it comes to interior feel and some of them (specifically Ram’s attention to detail) have risen above the rest, including the Tundra. While the interior of the Tundra is both sporty and tough looking, our thoughts were more to the comfort side of things for a long week of driving. How would the seats fare under the weight of my 3XL sized frame and how would my back feel at the end?
Off road packages offered by some manufacturers tend to be of the mild, stickers and fluff variety while others go to the extreme in offering full desert racing spec for those wannabe Baja racers. The TRD-Pro version of the built-in-Texas Tundra falls somewhere to the right of that pendulum arc, offering subtle design cues along with carefully chosen performance upgrades. Beyond the visual branding cues, the most immediately noticeable is the addition of a high flowing performance exhaust, which gives the 381 horsepower 5.7L V8 some serious bark to go with its bite.
When knowledgeable off road enthusiasts start a new build, one of the first changes they often make is to install Bilstein dampers on all four corners, as much for their ability to smooth out a vehicle’s on road presence as for their excellence in the rough stuff. It is heartening that Toyota’s engineering team chose to go the same route when outfitting the TRD-Pro Tundra, as the highway ride is firm yet delightfully smooth for such a big truck.
Naturally, our trip began with the obligatory McMuffin stop!
Our route would take us from Durham region, east of Toronto, through cottage country and skirting the nation’s capital before crossing over into Quebec and heading to ski country. For years, when heading to Ottawa, we would travel the route along Highway 401 like most drivers, until we learned that the trip following the two lane Highway 7 is just as quick. The driving is much more laid back, with great views and lots of little towns to explore and grab a coffee along the way.
We know the route well now, so our exploration began after our usual visit to Costco in Gatineau to pick up beer for the week. For Ontario residents visiting the Ottawa area, it is worth mentioning that beer in Quebec is seriously cheap. At Costco, which is less than 10 minutes from Parliament Hill, a 24 bottle case of Stella Artois is $46.95 plus deposit at The Beer Store. The same package at Costco is just $27.95 plus deposit.
Having allowed ourselves an extra day before we had to feed the masses, we decided to take a fairly direct route to Mont Tremblant, so we could make the most of our time away. Our drive took us north east on the scenic Highway 50 headed towards the Laurentians, before turning north on the more interesting 323 at Montebello.
As the countryside switched from riverlands to mountains, we began to encounter long, steep climbs. These ascents were of little concern to the heavily loaded rig, but there was one really cool side effect: the six speed transmission dropped to fourth for long stretches, the big V8 spun up to 3,500 rpm at 100 km/h, with a bellow worthy of a Trans-Am car bouncing through the neighbouring forest.
It is worth noting that during our first two days with the TRD-Pro, just booting around town with an empty truck, we averaged about 16.8 L/100 km. As I said before, we knew that the Tundra was a bit thirsty. We were pleasantly surprised to find that even with a very full load, the Tundra’s fuel economy improved to an impressive 16.2 L/100 km at highway speeds.
If you talk to any car racers from the golden age of the late Sixties about Le Circuit Mont Tremblant, inevitably the call it St. Jovite. This is largely because the largest neighbouring town, the one which actually has stores etc. is called St. Jovite. The actual town of Mont Tremblant is a tiny hamlet in between the racing circuit and the gigantic pedestrian village at the base of the historic mountain.
We spent our first night in a wonderful, independent resort called Château Beauvallon, just a few minutes from the pedestrian village. This was the last week in May and we learned that while visiting ski country in the off season can mean that some features, like restaurants, are not available, there are also some perks. We were one of only three rooms occupied in the 70 room hotel and staff had nicely located us directly next to the outdoor hot tub, while the other guests were on the opposite side of the hotel. Even though the on site restaurant was closed, dinner was no problem, as the hotel offered a free shuttle to and from the village.
Several of the restaurants in the village were also closed given the time off year, so we settled on dinner at the chain restaurant Casey’s. To say we were unimpressed would be charitable.
I was determined to have a bit of fun so I decided that a visit to Le Diable, a micro brewery right in the pedestrian village, was in order. I have been to the joint on a bunch of press trips, and every single time had a great time. Named after the river which winds its way though the region, Le Diable is night time hub where locals and visitors congregate to consume adult beverages in a setting that is part ski chalet, part sugar shack. On this trip, we spent our evening chatting with a lady who works for the company which owns the resort, watching the shenanigans of a gaggle of off shift employees who were treating the bar like their own playground. It really was quite entertaining!
Our next few days were spent trackside at the iconic racing track, which hosted the Canadian Grand Prix in 1968 and 1970. We were providing catering for the guests of Driveteq, a company which provides multiple levels of service to driving enthusiasts, from track days and instruction to race car rentals. They have recently included travel in their repertoire, shepherding participants to “bucket list” tracks such as Mosport, Tremblant and The Glen. That meant that we spent our week surrounded by all sorts of sporting machinery, from Alfa Romeo and Porsche to McLaren and Ferrari.
For our final day in town, we took the opportunity to drive some of the spectacular roads around the area. Most are well groomed pavement, with literally hundreds of challenging curves and elevation changes. Mindful of the reality that ski country is usually also cycling country, we learned that the off road focused suspension tuning is remarkably adept at handling twisty roads. The Bilstein shocks do a great job of keeping the wheels planted on hard acceleration over uneven pavement.
The countryside is dotted with cool little hamlets, vintage resorts from days gone by and spectacular views, making a drive through the area almost as much fun as taking in a track day. Watch out for wildlife though, as deer are plentiful and closer in to the ski resort they are not shy.
For the drive home, we took a similar route home through the Laurentians on our way back to Gatineau, but didn’t think about stopping thanks to the torrential rain. Until of course we came across the home town of Canadian hockey legend Guy Lafleur. Ville de Thurso has a large sculpture of the famed Canadien, so we had to stop by for a quick pic.
The drive home through Ontario cottage country was uneventful as the sun finally broke through and the roads dried out.
It should actually be pointed out that Quebec is Toyota truck country as there seem to be more of them than any other brand on the roads. Local truck fans knew instantly what our truck was and parking lot compliments were made frequently. One guy event took a picture to send to a buddy.
Overall, the Tundra proved to be a more than willing work partner during the entire trip. We actually spent two full weeks with the truck and it averaged out to 16.3 L/100 KM which is more than acceptable given the tasks it was given. From a comfort level, both driver and passenger were in great shape at both ends of the trip, never feeling anything but comfort.
The Tundra TRD-Pro is one of those test vehicles that I was sad to see go. Very sad.
Something really cool happened last Fall, when I introduced my kid Duncan to the world of autocross: He brought his best friend and his Fifty-something year old Dad along with their respective machines. Since that first event, the trio have become autocross buddies, learning the ropes of competitive driving from the ground up. Watching from the edge of the circle so to speak, has been good fun and surprisingly satisfying. Yes, I am still addicted to driving, but it is just so cool watching these guys grow. Even the old guy!
On Sunday, they took in their third event with the Oshawa Motorsport Club in the parking lot at Durham College here in Whitby, where there was a super mix of rookies and old dogs competing in a wide variety of equipment.
In today’s truck market, it is pretty safe to say that there is no such thing as a bad pickup truck. I suspect that for many buyers, the truck which best fits their sense of style is the one they buy. With fuel prices on the rise however, real world fuel economy has to be just as important for many.
Last Fall, in a Toronto Star special section, I named the Ram 1500 Ecodiesel as the best truck on the market for just that reason. With a full week of towing the DCS Appliances event trailer, the diesel Ram sipped just 11.1 L/100 km. That was a stark contrast to the little Ford Escape Ecoboost I had driven the week before, which chugged down 12.2 L/100 km and that was without a trailer.
Our 2017 catering season began with a bang last month, with 6 events in 5 days, and I was excited to see how the HEMI powered 2017 Ram 1500 Sport would perform when towing.
Our tester was outfitted with the 5.7L HEMI V8, mated to an 8-speed automatic transmission with four wheel drive. This engine generates 395 horsepower and 410 lb-ft of twistie goodness. The silky smooth shifting 8-speed is an effort to improve the fuel economy from what could conceivably be a rather thirsty powertrain. It is a HEMI after all!
As equipped, our Sport version of the Ram 1500 is configured to be capable of towing 10,140 lbs according to an FCA tool located at Ram Body Builder. Like some other truck manufacturers, Ram chooses to make it difficult to find actual tow ratings for a specific vehicle. While we were nowhere near that max number, we did tow the event trailer, weighing in at around 2,500 lbs, for more than 500 km. Not surprisingly, the trailer was barely noticeable from behind the wheel. We did however see quite a difference on the trip monitor.
Before we hitched up our little party on wheels, the Ram averaged 14.2 L/100 km. Not as miserly as the Ecodiesel, but we expected that. Once the trailer was hooked up, that number climbed to 15.8 L/100 during mostly highway driving. Still, this is not bad compared to some of the other trucks we have driven. The Toyota Tundra has shown us 16+ l/100 km on a couple of occasions.
As one might expect, the interior of the Ram Sport is more than up to the task of bolstering the masculinity of its owner. The challenge is that the days of cheap plastic interiors are long gone and just having a decent interior isn’t good enough to make a truck stand out. The Ram squad gets this and where their trucks shine is in the attention to detail. Quality surfaces, intricate stitching and cool contrasting trim are the norm. The lounge in an historic country club would be a good comparison.
As I get older, my assessment and appreciation of the comfort a vehicle provides has changed. I still love sports cars, that will never change, but at the end of a long day of grilling at an event, certain things are important to me. Ease of entry is a big one. While as an off road enthusiast, I abhor side step rails. In the interest of clean and sporty good looks, the Ram Sport does not have them. Normally, that would be a good thing, but when my back and legs are sore from standing all day, the climb up into the cab is a pain in the back. Of course, other models of the Ram 1500 have them, so this is a quibble. Once my aching back is inside, it is a different story.
It sounds lazy, and it totally is, but I don’t want to work too hard to do anything. Everything I might use should be one touch or simple. The Sport does all of this, with simple controls, auto down windows, auto climate control etc. The seats are perfectly comfortable for a big guy like me, better than several other models in the class.
Naturally, the back seat is spacious enough to seat 3 adults. For most of our time with the truck however, we had the back seats folded up and deployed the Ram’s cool flat floor which turns the back seat into a massive, secure, second cargo area. Coolers, storage bins and even propane tanks fit easily into the space. Just remember to never leave propane tanks inside a closed vehicle!
I have never been one to have a favourite vehicle. I tend to like conveyances that offer either total utility or outright performance. The cost of operation has never really factored into my desires. Fuel prices have risen so much these days though if I were shopping today I would have no choice but to be more picky about economy. I would have to choose a diesel variety over gas if I were choosing a Ram 1500, despite the awesomeness of the HEMI powerplant. The Sport is not available with the excellent 3.0 L Eco-Diesel, so I think my own choice today would be the similarly priced Outdoorsman model over the Sport. It has fewer sexy options, but more work oriented options.
“Faster than Travis Pastrami and Sébastien Ear Lobe combined”
Forget pickup trucks, Canadian rednecks prefer to hoon in Subarus! At least the rally focused brand is the vehicle of choice for rural Ontario funny guy Randy Rod-Knock!
Taking over a property just a few minutes away from the historic Mosport circuit at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, the guy shreds the lawn before taking flight off a berm in the yard.
Caution: NSFW language to follow.
Once upon a time, starting out in motorsport was difficult. At the entry level, you could take part in an autocross, a low speed event in a parking lot. Good fun, but not fast enough for many adrenaline junkies. To get onto an actual race track involved going to school, getting a racing license, buying or renting a race car and then actually going racing. Lapping days as we know them today did not really exist.
Part of that was because the cars really weren’t very safe and neither were the race tracks. Today’s cars are safer, more reliable and definitely perform to a much higher level. Likewise, most tracks in North America have evolved so that they are more friendly (as in safer) for lapping day type events.
My cousin John, a one time Supercross racer who was known for his crash-tacular style, recently made a return to motocross action after three decades away. Today’s bikes jump higher, farther and faster than they did back in the day and when Cousin John hit the dirt this time, his body was quick to point out that he is no longer a spring chicken. The speed bug has bitten again however, and John is determined to feed it, but has decided to come over to the dark side and do it on four wheels, with a roll cage. The inevitable question has arisen: “What kind of car should I start with?”
Over on the Grassroots Motorsports forums, the answer to every question is “Miata”. While I don’t disagree at all, I myself don’t fit in most Miata race cars and I suspect that my cousin (we haven’t been face to face in years) wouldn’t be at home in one either. Rather than start throwing out potential ideas, I have put together a series of questions for him so we can narrow down the field a bit.
- Roughly what sort of budget parameters are we looking at? The conversation has to start here. There is no point in looking at ex-Chumpcar entries if you are willing to spend six figures on your first car. Let’s start with some basic idea of how much we are going to spend.
- Are you planning to drive the car on the street or will it be track only? If you have the space to store a dedicated track car, a tow vehicle and are willing to buy and store a trailer, then your options open up greatly.
- What is your own physical shape? If you are a round guy like me, or a very tall guy, you should plan accordingly. There are lots of great track day options out there that I simply do not fit in, because I am too fat. No NASCAR style road course cars in my future. Likewise, as much as I love the Ariel Atom, it just isn’t comfortable for more than a dozen or so laps.
- How fast do you think you want to go? For some people, fast isn’t really that fast. For someone like my cousin, who has experience with speed, fast is likely going to mean FAST.
- What type of track is your “home” track? Is it tight and twisty or is it a high speed monster? Having a track day car that suits the place you are starting out will flatten out your learning curve a bit.
- What do participants at your local track drive at lapping days? Sure, it is fun to stand out from the crowd, but if everyone drives Mustangs and you show up with a Camaro, you will notice the difference. That is not to say that you won’t be welcomed with open arms, but you might not meet anyone who knows your specific car well enough to answer any questions you have along the way. You might also become the target of some friendly ribbing every now and then.
- Do you have any aspirations or expectations that you might move on from lapping into competition? If you have unlimited budget, then this may not be so much of an issue, but if you are scraping together your shekels to buy a track ready car, you might want to find out if there is a class that it fits into at your local venue. This will make the transition that much easier.
- Do you enjoy wrenching on your own car or would you prefer to just show up and drive? For some people, there is just as much fun in building and maintaining a car as there is in driving it. That is cool, but others have no interest in that aspect and would rather just strap in and go. Those guys might be more inclined to drive a newer, production based car that is turn key, or have a local shop look after the car and bring it to the track for you. That is another budget consideration.
- What kind of cars do you actually like? While Miata may be the answer to just about every question, the roadster platform might not fit the bill if you are addicted to the angry rumble of a big, hairy muscle car. Yes, I know that you can shoehorn an LS into a Miata, but that might not be an optimal choice for a first time track toy.
Answer these questions as honestly as you can and list them in the comments below, so we can begin the decision process!
When most people think of a great road trip vehicle, they have visions of a fancy grand touring car, or maybe a luxurious sedan. We aren’t like most people. For us, the perfect road trip vehicle is a car that is light, nimble and fun to drive, has lots of space for our stuff and whatever junk we might accumulate along the way and gets great fuel economy. If it can catch the interest of some onlookers along the way, that is even better.
With our event season about to go crazy, Mrs. G and I decided that a bit of a road trip was in order, so we poked about on Google maps to find an Ontario destination that we had not previously explored. We settled on the town of Perth, about an hour west of the nation’s capital. We had driven through the town before, in the Summertime, and took notice of the historic limestone buildings and bustling pubs and patios so we thought it was worth a look.
Our steed for the trip would be the second smallest roller skate in Nissan Canada’s fleet, a Monarch Orange 2017 Versa Note SV. Long time readers may recall that back in the day, we used to rally a tiny, front wheel drive Suzuki, and we are still passionate about sporty little econo-boxes. From a specs standpoint, it wasn’t too different from our old rally car, albeit a lot more comfortable and about 30 decibels quieter. The extra pair of doors makes the Versa a bit more practical too.
The Versa Note boasts 1.6L DOHC 4 banger which sends a massive 106 horsepower to the front wheels, through a 5 speed manual transmission, just like our old rally car too. Yes, I know it isn’t really massive, but it is just enough for a real enthusiast to be able to have a bit of fun on a challenging road.
We loaded our stuff into the cargo area, with no need to fold down the split rear seats, leaving the back seats open for any hitchhikers we might have picked up along the way. If this was 1976. A quick dive into the local McDonald’s drive through for breakfast and we were on our way. Unlike most people these days, I don’t look for the quickest way from A to B on a road trip. Most people leaving the outskirts of Toronto on Highway 401, but the reality is that the major highway route only saves about 10 minutes off this trip. Instead, we headed north on Highway 115 to Peterborough and then turned to travel east on highway 7. The speed limit on 7 is 80 km/h, but the average flow of traffic is about 105 km/h and the scenery is infinitely more interesting to look at.
Our first stop was in the tiny town of Norwood, where I dropped in for a bit of a sales visit at the well known Ralph’s Butcher Shop. Just opening up for the season, the owner, a delightful gent named James(?), told me that they make a whopping 81 different varieties of sausage. Needless to say, Ralph’s is a popular spot for cottagers on their way up from the city.
About 10 km up the road, we made a quick stop in Havelock to take some kissy face selfies by an old caboose, before heading towards the cool mid-sized town of Madoc. We were on the hunt for a pub, but we found butter tarts instead. On the town’s main drag, we came across a shop called Hidden Goldmine Bakery which is a nifty combination of bakery, antique shop and home decorating place. We picked up a six pack of tarts (with raisins of course) and were headed out the door, when Mrs. G spotted it. A vintage bacon press! If the words bacon press on the top weren’t already cool enough, when I turned it over, there is the image of a chubby pig on the bottom. Not only did I have to buy it, but that pig is going to be my next tattoo!
Leaving town, we chose a sort of backwards looking route back to Highway 7, which led us down a rough cottage road towards a closed Summer resort, where we were surrounded by a working sugar bush. While most trees were joined, modern style, by plastic tubing to collect the liquid gold used to make maple syrup, here and there were clumps of trees with old school collection buckets.
Back on to the main highway, we got into a less interesting rhythm and we were itching for a bit more fun. There aren’t many side roads that run east/west in this part of the province, because there are so many lakes and rivers, so we were excited to find Fall River Road. With a coarse gravel surface, this path has so many tight turns that the map doesn’t do it justice.
Fall River Road is pretty rough in sections, which means that speed must be kept lower than one might hope for, which is probably a good thing in a street car, as this road throws out a few gotchas! The first thing I did of course was flick off the Versa’s stability control, remembering that the ABS is still fully functional. That means that I would be able to get the car sideways to set-up for fun corners but that if I did anything silly like enter a turn too fast, the little car would understeer into the woods. That was not going to happen under my watch!
After about 10 minutes of super technical fun, we turned left on Armstrong Road and the road surface transitioned to the most beautifully smooth hard pack gravel. The turns were a bit more open, allowing for a bit more speed. The Versa Note is quite simply a champ at dealing with fun mixed surface roads like this at a somewhat enthusiastic pace.
This is the area in which the annual Lanark Highlands Rally takes place and most of the time, these roads are devoid of any traffic. Eventually, Armstrong Road straightens up and the occasional farm makes way to rural family homes and our drive takes on a more leisurely tourist pace.
Arriving in the town of Perth, we make a stop at the Perth Brewing Company to stock up our room before setting out on foot to explore the town.
Dating back to 1816, the town of Perth, Ontario is primarily a Summer tourist destination these days, with shops and eateries all through the town. When checking in to the surprisingly cool Best Western Plus right in downtown Perth, we asked the Front Desk Dude where he would go if he were looking for a late afternoon snack and a pint. Without hesitation, FDD suggested we check out Fiddleheads, which is conveniently located directly across the street.
Situated in the basement of the historic Code’s Mill, Fiddleheads has a super cool pub vibe that features 176 year old stone walls and wood beams. Our waitress had a lovely Irish accent, which made the place that much more inviting. We nibbled on fresh, house made pizza with locally sourced toppings. It wasn’t the best pie we’ve ever had, but it hit the spot. We will return.
After a swim and a nap, went for a walk around the town and eventually wandered over to O’Reilly’s Ale House, which has some pretty solid reviews on Yelp and a pretty sweet looking location. It was a Thursday evening, about 8 o’clock and every other place we passed was almost empty, but O’Reilly’s was packed.
We grabbed the coolest table, which was elevated above the bar, ordered drinks and a charcuterie platter. It looked fantastic and came on a wonderful, live edge wood tray. The ciabatta demi was nice and warm and the cheese duo were fantastic if a little bit on the skimpy side. The meats however seemed like a bit of an afterthought. Too thickly hand cut, basic, middle of the road grocery store deli meats were not what we expected. The quick pickled red onions were fab. The real surprise however, and the absolute star of the platter, was the dipping sauce, of which no specific mention was made.
That little, red dish of heaven is TOTALLY worth a mention of its own. Made by local company, Perth Pepper and Pestle, this stuff is a Curry Cardamom Everything Sauce. Click the link and either order some online or find some in a store if you live up that way. It will change your life forever!
While we were there, we noticed a tiny shelf on the way to the bathrooms, with nothing on it. We asked our waitress about it and she had never noticed it. She asked a long time employee and she hadn’t noticed it either. A couple of days later, we returned for a pint and left a friendly surprise on the shelf. I can’t wait for our next visit to see if it is still there.
The following day, we made a short trek over to Smiths Falls to grab some shoes. Yeah, I know, flip flops in March are a gamble. Anyway, we found the town to be absolutely gorgeous and yet hideously depressed at the same time. There wasn’t even a single pub that looked interesting enough to entice us out of the car. Very sad, as there is so much tourist potential there.
On the way back, we found an incredible spot that is worthy of its own episode of American Pickers. The gent who owns Rideau Antiques has been collecting stuff for 55 years. His assistant is just a pup, having only been helping peddle junk for 35 years. The place is on Rideau Ferry Blvd, between Perth and Smiths Falls and offers maybe an acre of hunting on one side of the road, and a barn full of stuff on the other. You know you are in for a hunt when the owner hands you a flashlight before you venture into the barn! There is a lot of new-ish junk, mixed in with some truly vintage finds, all sort of loosely organized. We easily spent a couple of hours, pretty much overwhelmed by the amount of stuff. I did at least by a scruffy old Matchbox Can-Am car.
Day 2’s dinner did not go as we had hoped. Perhaps the best thing I can say is to check out my Yelp review. Our post dinner visit to DQ was uneventful and successful.
The problem with short road trips is that they come to an end all too quickly, even if the final day starts with a tiny pumpkin and a mammoth wheel of cheese. For our trip home, we decided once again to stay off the beaten path as much as possible. With the final snow of the season laying heavily on the ground, that promised to give us an exciting day!
Roads which had been beautiful, hard pack gravel just a couple of days earlier had turned to legitimately treacherous passages. Even with proper snow boots and keeping speeds below 40 km/h, it took all of my years of performance driving experience to keep the tiny Nissan on the island. Icy bits, covered with heavy slush made the going tough. Super fun, but it required every ounce of concentration and what would have taken 20 minutes driving before took us over an hour. Meanwhile, the Versa soldiered on.
As we approached Madoc, I saw one of those blue Ontario Travel signs for O’Hara Mill. I had no idea what it was, but thought it was worth investigating. Talk about an awesome needle in a haystack sort of find. Out there, in the middle of freaking nowhere, was this incredible pioneer museum type of place with some great Ontario history.
Patrick O’Hara and his family settled the area in 1823 and his descendants lived on the farm until more than a century later. Over the years, the family farm grew to include a sawmill.
The Moira River Conservation Authority, bought the farm in 1954 and then the sawmill in 1965. It was designated as a park and to this day, five of the original buildings remain on the site, including the mill.
Run by the community, a number of log cabins have been re-located to the site from the area and a new visitor centre was added in 2009. The museum offers kids programs, hiking trails and seasonal events including ice skating and Christmas events.
While the buildings were closed at the time of our visit, the park is always open and there were people wandering around exploring the site. We are going to make an effort to return for a visit this Summer to explore further.
One last stop along the way was a quick photo bomb at the Actinolite Log Cabin Restaurant, just to make our friends at Actinolite smile.
If you think you need an expensive grand tourer to explore the back roads of your state or province, you are totally wrong. You need a fun and functional, economical little hatchback like our Versa Note tester. Our tester stickered out at just a tick over 17 grand, offered fuel economy that averaged at about 6.8 l/100 km and kept us grinning the whole time. Even if you only need a runner for around town, the Versa Note is totally worth a look.
Little known fact: This guy took his driver’s test way back in 1984 at the wheel of, wait for it, a Nissan Sentra. I failed.
It wasn’t the car’s fault. The cream coloured first generation Sentra belonged to my Young Drivers of Canada instructor and was a perfectly delightful little econobox. The problem was that I was used to driving a ’78 Dodge Monaco station wagon that was just a tick under 18 feet long, a full four feet longer than the Sentra. When it came time to parallel park, a skill which I had mastered in the Mopar, my sense of geometric movement(is that even a thing?) was all out of whack. It took two tries to get the job done and I failed my test.
The Sentra has changed a lot over the years, not the least of which is its size. The current model, the seventh generation, is now 182″ in length, a full 15″ lomger that the original. Two inches longer than a first generation Altima. This seems to be a trend within the industry, where each generation of vehicle is larger than the next. So where does that leave bump in stature leave the Sentra in Nissan’s model line-up?
To be truthful, Sentra still slots in below the now much larger Altima, but it is no longer the lowest rung on the brand’s model ladder. The excellent Versa Note is the Sentra’s next smaller sibling, while the economical Micra (here in Canada at least, sorry America) is now the entry level Nissan.
Suitably, the Sentra has stepped up its interior quality game, while adding a bunch of more upscale options as buyers will expect. It has also become that tough character that many auto scribes fret over: the nice car. In other words, the Sentra is a nice car. There is nothing horrible one can say about it, while at the same time there is nothing that makes a reviewer go off his nut with enthusiasm.
Attractive styling is evident inside and out. Cargo space is decent for a small sedan and interior fit and finish are what you would expect of a vehicle at this price point. The driving experience of the 2016 model was less than exciting though, mostly due to the rather disappointing 130 horsepower generated by its 1.8L four banger. The CVT transmission offered on most models did not help, but thankfully a 6 speed manual was available, which spiced things up a bit.
For the 2017 model year, Nissan has made an effort to bump the Sentra up from being a nice car to being a sporty car with the addition of a turbo charged version. That led many of us within the enthusiast community hoping that at least the spirit of the historic SE-R models would be riding along with the Sentra SR Turbo. The bump to 188 horsepower is substantial and squashes any commentary about the car being under-powered, but doesn’t go so far as to inspire any boy racer wet dreams.
What we have here is a really nice compact sedan which has just the right amount of oomph. In other words, a nice car.
Bear in mind that I have a bit of history with the brand and I am in their corner. I heartily recommend the boosted Sentra to those in the market for a nice little sedan. I however, want more.
The company takes its motorsport seriously these days, from international endurance racing to the born and bred in Canada Micra Cup. That passion for motorsport has led the company to create a bevy of NISMO branded machines that typically back up their aggressive looks with much improved performance. I would suggest that it is only a matter of time before a Sentra appears sporting NISMO badges, big brakes, stiffer springs, fatter tires, grippy seats and noisy exhaust.
When that car arrives, and it will, I will get excited.