Fun Stuff

General Motors Smorgasbord: Track Style

Corvette or Camaro? Why choose when both are on the menu amid several other GM models? Join us trackside and in the scenic hills of Durham County, Ontario, as we sample a 2017 smorgasbord of GM offerings.

General Motors Canada lured me to Canadian Tire Motorsport Park (née Mosport) offering track time in the Chevrolet Corvette and Camaro.

They also had loaners on-hand for local tootles in a convertible Corvette Stingray, Chevrolet Spark, Cruze, Cruze Hatchback, Malibu and Malibu Hybrid, the Buick Envision and LaCrosse and the GMC Acadia. But most of us stopped listening after hearing Corvette and Camaro.

If you’ve never driven at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, put it on the bucket list. It’s a national treasure: 4 km of liquid track with 10 turns and several mounds to keep you guessing. Our own editor Jacob Black had trouble with turn 10 recently. You’d need to drive it dozens of times to become comfortable enough to push any car hard without killing yourself.

Fortunately we had professional drivers from the Ron Fellows Driving School coaching us unprofessional wannabes, turn by mound by gear.

First the Camaro RS: Could Stand for Revelatory and Striking

Chevrolet Camaro RS

There’s something slightly cartoony about a Camaro. Its muscular nose-forward stance is reminiscent of Warner Brothers’ chesty bulldog. I recently spent a weekend in the over-the-top Camaro 2SS and was humbled by its immense power. So I decided to sample the RS instead on the track.

Its 3.6L six-cylinder engine and eight-speed automatic transmission with paddles would have many true believers screaming heresy, compared to the stick and hemorrhage-inducing V8 in the SS, but the sheer nimbularity of this beast was revelatory.

The Camaro loved the corners. It loved the straights. Though slightly trepidatious, I loved it all. The RS engine achieves 335 hp at 6,800 rpm and rips out 284 lb-ft of torque at 5,300. This was more than enough red meat for pretty much any sane day-to-day driver. If you really think you need more power and really feel you’re not getting enough enjoyment from the RS, speak to your doctor. Or your priest.

The cockpit in the Camaro coddles the pilot. A head-up display keeps your eyes where they need to be: ahead and up. As with most Chevrolet models this year, standard goodies drown the driver at the entry-level price. (From a heated steering wheel to three months of satellite radio, we almost can’t afford not to buy one, honey.)

Now the Corvette Z06: Welcome to the Main Course

Chevrolet Corvette Z06

It was almost Thanksgiving and we’d been given a pass to the grownup table. This car would fail any urine test, but only if you caught it first. Light but with a supercharged 6.2L V8 engine achieving 650 hp and 650 lb-ft of torque, this marvelous supercar comes as close as to teleportation as a Marvel superhero.

Anyone who tells you they’re a great driver at any track has either spent a lot of time there getting to know it, or is a liar. The coaching kept me afloat but this drive was a crack-hit of information overload, stuffed into an injection of adrenaline direct to the heart.

The driving instructor led another writer and me out of the pit lane. I was the caboose in our small fleet procession, listening to his play-by-play instructions from a walkie-talkie belted into in the passenger seat. We threw it into third and stayed there the whole time.

Next? Being two drivers behind, I found it exquisitely baffling, trying to process his directions from 50 meters and two seconds behind. It wasn’t so much a stream of consciousness as a fire hose of hyper-consciousness. His instructions: eyes forward, listen, feel the corner, don’t fight the car, just enjoy it, caress the brake, milk the accelerator – and keep listening.

Chevrolet Corvette Z06

The best advice?

“Remember to breathe,” barked the walkie-talkie. He must be talking to the other guy.

“Keep your grip on the wheel loose.” Maybe he’s talking to me.

“Don’t fight the car. Just enjoy it.” OK, he is talking to me.

Don’t fight it? What a manifesto for any driver’s division of attention! A racer manages to smell what’s coming seconds and microseconds in the future while still executing flawlessly in the moment.

After a couple of laps of instruction, I started to acclimatize and recognize sections of the track. But the fire hose of information wasn’t easing at all because the speeds were increasing. Yet we were still in third gear.

This machine is growling like a grizzly. How fast am I going? I looked down to see. Oops.

“Keep your eyes up,” laughed the walkie-talkie as I almost invented a new path to the pit lane.

Next loop was the last. A good thing. Your arms (and heart) tire surprisingly fast if you aren’t used to this level of performance. I was grinning like a lottery winner.

So which is better, the Corvette or the Camaro? The answer is yes! With such good instruction each is a treat. Normally I would hands-down vote for the Corvette but on this day, it was a tie for first place.

Mind there was the Stingray Convertible for local roads

Chevrolet Corvette Stingray Convertible

If you get stuffed at the track, there’s nothing like a complement of new vehicles to cleanse the palate. Sun was peaking between scudding clouds, so the Stingray’s roof came down. After my time on the track, it was a pleasure to leave the safety techs on but see how this Corvette performs on the local roads and country lanes. Hills and bends proliferate here too. So, again, good luck seeing how high you can shift the seven-speed manual transmission, commanding the 6.2L V8 engine.

The details are more noticeable at a sensible speed limit. The steering wheel feels like a good handshake from an old friend. The door latch is a minute button, probably because you’re arms are so sore from all that shifting and manly steering. The trunk is barely big enough for your girlfriend’s overnight bag and little else. Good!

Pound for pound and dollar for dollar, it’s hard to beat a Corvette Stingray for sheer driving pleasure-cum-value – especially with the roof down. Tell the wife: 80 mm narrower than the Z06, the Stingray’s ideal to fit in the garage as the second family car. Or sample something else on the day’s menu.

Malibu and Malibu Hybrid

Chevrolet Malibu

Chevrolet has revamped much of its lineup this past year. All the new models are priced to impress but the Malibu is designed to do so too. It’s gorgeous, period. A lot of people say it looks German. Upon first viewing, they’re surprised to see the bow-tie logo there.

The space is cleverly proportioned with a huge trunk (even in the hybrid). The steering feels a tad artificial but the Malibu drives well and is well-stuffed with safety features.

All new Chevrolet models are working hard to increase fuel efficiency but the Malibu Hybrid takes the idea to a whole new level with a government rating of 5.0 L/100 km – if you keep your revving civil. My ride was short on this day. My rating was above that but not by much, cruising in a sweet spot of 70-ish km/h.

Cruze and the New Cruze Hatchback: a Hint More Sex

Chevrolet Cruze RS

You read above that the Malibu is attractive. The Cruze is its younger brother, bearing the same design gene. Recently I wrote here that the redesigned Cruze is a “well-balanced blend of value-packed engineering, comfort, just a hint of sex, and technology.” I stand by that now – not just because I work at a standing desk. Yet the new Cruze Hatchback increases the sexiness. Compact and alert-looking, it’s like those tiny perfect American gymnasts we saw taking all the golds last summer: diminutive and adorable but without a wasted centimeter anywhere and frankly tough-looking. The Cruze delivers a lot of tech for the opening price but you’re getting a good deal more. It’s a fun, comfortable ride.

GMC Acadia: a Middle-of-the-Road Choice

GMC Acadia

You Canadians sure do love your SUVs. This may be the one you want despite the fact that Canada expelled the Acadians in the 18th century. There’s all-wheel drive, which we all think we need. There’s loads of cargo space. The seats fold six ways from Sunday. The second and third rows are easy to get at but, if you’re reading this, you’re probably too big for the third row for longer than rides of ten minutes.

Chevrolet Spark: Second-Least Expensive Car on the Market

Chevrolet Spark

Any car you buy begins to depreciate the minute you drive it off the lot. Therefore all cars are expensive. The least-expensive in Canada is the Nissan Micra and I prefer how it drives to the Spark. But that’s it. For the extra $7 that the Spark costs and for the commuter stuck in traffic, it leaves the Micra in the ’80s: power windows – yes, that’s still a thing – a rear-vision camera and an infotainment system that turns your car into a hotspot through the OnStar basics package.

Here’s another quote I stand behind: “The (Spark) owner won’t feel they’re being punished for being on a budget.” Driving it after a nearly an hour in Corvettes graphically demonstrated how powerful it isn’t but the Spark is very light on its feet and perfectly capable of earning you speeding tickets too. You’ll simply be better fixed to pay them.

Best Surprise of the Day? Buick Lacrosse Premium AWD

Buick Lacrosse

The fact is most of us will never drive at a track. Our reality is considerably more workaday and the Lacrosse accommodates. It has the luxury feel of a top-level German (I know, I know) performance sedan but the price tag of a middling one. Picture the Impala if it hadn’t been caught smoking and sent to reform school.

Loaded with features, the Lacrosse is designed to ease the aging process of aforementioned frustrated commuters with bling like heated/cooled front seats of perforated leather and heated steering wheel.

But with if you’re occasionally blessed with an open road, flick into sport mode. The Lacrosse is as intuitive, surprising and satisfying as the Cadillac ATS. If you spend a lot of time on the road, hold your monthly sales call by handsfree while doing donuts near the track. Buick “quiet tuning”, a lightweight sound-baffling treatment, keeps the 3.6L V6 engine as hushed as church. Exactly unlike the Camaro and Corvette.