“It’s a Las Vegas-like atmosphere, where even in the dead of night, you’d be fooled into thinking it’s daytime…”

AS Jag F-TypeCoupe 

Downtown Niagara Falls can induce sensory overload for some. Including myself.

The Ontario city’s bright lights, flickering signs and novelty-themed stores take some time to absorb into the system. It’s a Las Vegas-like atmosphere, where even in the dead of night, you’d be fooled into thinking it’s daytime. The illuminated multicolour bulbs pulse as gatherers from all over soak it all in. Then there are the casinos…

One could also experience a sensory overload when a Jaguar F-Type R Coupe growls with purpose as it saunters down the road.

Inside the cabin, you’re greeted with everything that might make your senses tingle. A carefully crafted cabin, an 8-speed automatic transmission and 550 prancing ponies from a 5.0L, V8 engine, wait patiently to be unleashed on a purpose-built handling course.

Not to mention, there’s also a Porsche 911 Turbo S, a BMW M4 and Chevrolet Corvette Stingray Convertible all eager to accompany you on a test loop.

Those four vehicles comprise the Prestige – Performance (over $75K) category at the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada’s annual TestFest; a time when journalists from all across Canada have the opportunity to back-to-back test what’s new on the market (See Bob McHugh’s TestFest Driveway cover story). Before my senses went into overdrive (with the Jaguar and others), I had a much more sensible time with my specifically assigned categories.

The first of three groups I tested was the Small Car under $21k, which included the Honda Fit and the Nissan Micra. Then there was the SUV/CUV under $35k class including the Honda CR-V, Nissan Rogue and the Subaru Outback 2.5i. And finally, Sports/Performance under $50k that allowed me to get behind the wheel of the BMW M235i, Ford Mustang (with the 2.3L, 4-cylinder Ecoboost engine), the Kia Forte Koup, Subaru WRX STI and the VW GTI.

The Nissan Micra, for just under $16k is a great value and the car is fun to drive.

Then there’s the Subaru Outback ($33,695- price as tested), which was a surprise for me. It didn’t break a sweat on the off-road portion of the test and drove really nicely on the road. Of course, I can’t complain when I have the keys to the seventh generation VW GTI, or the Subaru WRX STI, or even the BMW M235i.

Yes, it’s fun to enjoy the combined effort of engineering, design, and execution prowess, but the modus operandi of the weeklong event is to pick the best of the best.

While it’s fantastic to take out some of the most incredible machines on the market, I was pleasantly surprised how much I took to the City Car category. Driving the Kia Soul EV and the smart fortwo electric drive were definite highlights.

Being a huge fan of EVs, it’s nice to know that the category is growing. I mean, I’d love to be able to afford a Tesla Model S (as would many), it’s just not always a reality. But the pint-sized smart and the roomier Soul EV are ideal urban rompers.

Another noteworthy vehicle that impressed me was the Volvo V60 Polestar. Clad in a Rebel Blue exterior colour, it was a hoot experience. With 345 horsepower from a turbocharged 6-cylinder engine, the all-wheel drive wagon is not only practical, but also something that left me wanting to drive it again and again. There’s room for five and a couple strollers in the trunk. A perfect family hatch?!

Then there was the Challenger Hellcat. I mean, 707 horsepower in an urban setting seems like overkill, no? Nevertheless, Dodge has done a fabulous job with updating the interior and overall refinement of the vehicle that now turns even more heads.

Winners will be announced here starting in December.

Contact: alexandra [dot] straub [at] drivewaybc [dot] ca

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