Memorable Drives of 2016: Justin Pritchard

2017 Volvo S90

At autoTRADER.ca we are blessed with award-winning contributors who write high-quality content fuelled by their passion for cars and driving. Their ability to turn even a mainstream car into a compelling story makes for some amazing memories. As 2016 rolls to a stop we’ve asked them all to share their favourites from the year gone.

The boss asked for a list of my most memorable drives over the past year or so. Drives that I’ll remember for a while. Drives with an emotional connection. Maybe, drives that left a lasting impression, impressed me silly, or downright blew my socks off.

Of course, I was happy to oblige. So, in no particular order, here they are.

Mazda MX-5 in a blizzard, on purpose

2016 Mazda MX-5

The new MX-5 is a frisky-pants bit of a thing to drive, and a total hoot to drive in the snow (on proper tires, of course). I’ve long stressed that everything which makes this little bundle of joy a hoot to drive on a track also makes it great to drive in the snow – a theory I’ve put to the test several times, including this past winter, when Sudbury got nearly a foot of snow, and I decided to grab a coffee and go for a spin.

2016 Mazda MX-5

Nobody else was on the roads, because the weatherman said you shouldn’t drive. I had a medium dark-roast in the cup holder, some Rise Against on the stereo, and the six-speed stick in my right mitt. So, I drive around Sudbury’s main and side-roads for hours, giving the limited-slip differential a workout, enjoying more than adequate traction, and lots of slippery, sideways fun. Roof off, of course. This was a fantastic way to spend a Saturday night – conquering the elements in a car that most folks store for the cold-weather months.

2000 Dodge Viper GTS to Conner Avenue Assembly Plant

Conner Avenue Assembly Plant

My Dodge Viper was engineered using Cambrian-era technology, sounds like an overloaded UPS truck, and has interior build quality and materials selection on par with the plastic receptacle my garbage man empties every Thursday morning. But it’s fast, fun, draws crowds, and has an exhaust note that makes coarse chest hair sprout from everyone nearby.

Conner Avenue Assembly Plant

A year ago, just before it was announced that the latest Viper would be discontinued, I took my snake on our longest drive ever: from Sudbury, Ontario to Detroit, Michigan, to visit the Conner Avenue assembly facility which has built every Viper for decades, including mine. Further, I was born just across the Detroit River in Windsor, probably 20 minutes from where my favourite car was.

It was a special trip: totally worth the nine hours of exhaust fumes, rattling, overheated footwear, constant burbling from the exhaust, and water leaks into the cabin from a passing rainstorm. The Viper wears you down and exhausts you, almost literally; but this meaningful voyage also reminded me of the primitive charm and universal appeal that makes my childhood dream car so special. And why I drive it daily: to help put modern-day sports cars into perspective.

2017 Toyota Prius

2017 Toyota Prius

This is one of those test drives that left a lasting impression. If there’s an affordable hybrid car that quashes typical hybrid-car compromise better than the latest Prius, I don’t know what it is. Prius cruises peacefully. It’s roomy. Comfortable. Silly-good on fuel. Has fantastic headlights. Has a steering and suspension system that feel fine-tuned off one another. Really, it drives like any other well-done car in its price range.

2017 Toyota Prius

Add in the highly relevant feature content, and the way the engineers made the latest Prius powertrain feel, literally, seamless and imperceptible as gas and electric power are switched and combined, and you’ve got a hybrid that could convert many a non-hybrid believer. If you’ve historically been apprehensive about driving a hybrid, possibly worried about handling or performance or operational compromises, this is the one to test-drive, to change your mind. Provided you can digest the unique styling, of course.

2017 Volvo S90

2017 Volvo S90

This hefty Swede saw me more surprised and impressed than I’ve been in a very long time. It’s distinctive. The cabin is gorgeous. The seats are the best ones you’ll visit all day. The technology all works seamlessly and flawlessly (other than the self-parking system, which tried to park on top of a Golf). It feels and rides like something with a six-figure pricetag, but my tester was $71,000. And, for that money, you get the best headlights and stereo system in the business.

2017 Volvo S90

In fact, the Bowers and Wilkins stereo system, and the high-performance LED lighting system, coaxed me into numerous nighttime highway drives to enjoy the best high-end stereo I’ve ever heard in a car, while sitting behind what’s probably the best lighting system I’ve ever used. As someone who frequently travels long distances after dark, this car connected with me readily. My father and I even sat back for an hour to rediscover some Pink Floyd on the magnificent stereo. The S90 is also easy on fuel given its size and output, and is a total handsome stud of a thing to look at, too.

Polaris Slingshot

Polaris Slingshot

This three-wheeled, thirty-grand plaything isn’t everyone’s bag of Tostitos, but for those after the latest road-going toy, and especially for those who want to get noticed, the Polaris Slingshot is a wicked little creation.

“Hey, fellas, if there’s any flat bodywork, put a vent or a slash. And make it have three wheels. And give it a face like a sci-fi grasshopper.” That’s how the design brief went, probably. The look and presence of the Slingshot is like nothing else on the road, and attracted more stares and swears than a Porsche 911 GT3 RS.

Polaris Slingshot

The Slingshot is neither the fastest nor best handling rig you could buy for thirty grand with a warranty and cup holders; but the pure, raw and unfiltered feel of the thing, and its short initial gears, and the way it flits in and out of traffic while everyone points at you is an experience unto itself. Shy? Don’t worry: nobody can see you, since you’re in a helmet.

I spent a week in the Slingshot and figured this was as close as it gets to driving your very own open-wheeled race-car on the streets.

VTEC kicking in, in an Ariel Atom

Ariel Atom

The Slingshot is the closest thing you can get to an open-wheeled race-car on the street, and the Ariel Atom is that open-wheeled race car, but one you can only drive on a track.

I drove one for a few laps around the Driver Development Track surface at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park this past summer. It drives like it looks like it drives: fast enough to accelerate the face off your skull if your helmet wasn’t holding in place, and so grippy that it’s likely the racing harness is the only thing keeping your spleen inside of your ribs.

Ariel Atom

The steering is non-assisted, so you feel everything. You can throttle-steer its rear-engine, tube-framed body around with the throttle, like a Porsche 911. It makes the Corvette Z06 feel like a wheelbarrow when you fling it around corners so fast that you laugh afterwards, because you’re still alive.

But all of that aside, you’ve got to hear this sucker wail when VTEC kicks in. Atom gets a tuned-up Honda K24 from a Civic Si sitting between the rear wheels.  The open exhaust is, like, a foot long, and there’s a big-ass air intake, just above your head. The reedy snarl you hear slightly in the Civic Si as VTEC kicks in? Here, it’s loud enough to send nearby wildlife scurrying for cover, and emitted with a tonal potency that feels like it’s turning your brains into delicious strawberry jam. You can’t hear yourself think in the Atom, but that’s A-OK, because this sound will play in your head for hours once you’re done.

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Justin Pritchard
Justin Pritchard is a native of Windsor, Ontario – though he’s called Sudbury his home for the past 20 years. Justin is a full-time auto writer, consultant and presenter of EastLink TV’s AutoPilot. His work can be seen weekly in numerous outlets across the country. When not writing about the latest new models and industry trends, you’ll probably find him fixing his 1993 Toyota MR2 GTS.
Justin Pritchard

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