Memorable Drives of 2016: Dan Heyman

2016 Mazda MX-5

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 by.

Whether it was the destination, the drive or the vehicle itself, 2016 was an incredibly lucky, banner year for me when it came to cars; my automotive bucket list seemed to be getting checked off faster than I could fill it. My drives this year consisted of, among other things: Ford F-Series Super Duty pickups with 900+ lb-ft of torque, driving up a ski hill in another pickup – the Nissan Titan XD – dipping my toe in the world of hydrogen-power with the Toyota Mirai and driving on an exact replica of the Nürburgring’s famed Karussell corner at the Porsche Experience in Los Angeles.

That was all gravy, but what follows are the real standouts:

A Rolls-Royce Wraith on a cloudy day in Vancouver

2016 Rolls-Royce Wraith

Anybody who’s spent time in Vancouver – actually, anybody who thinks they know something about Vancouver – knows that the “cloudy” part of that statement is no big deal. It did, however, provide me an excuse to use one of the Wraith’s coolest party tricks, and that’s the umbrella stored in the front fender. That’s one of many, of course; the umbrella is easily accessible there because the doors open backwards, and since you can’t easily reach them to close them, there’s a handy button to do so.

2016 Rolls-Royce Wraith

Then there’s the silky-smooth 6.6 – six point six – litre V12 engine good for 624 hp and 590 lb-ft of torque, which allows you to pile on speed so quickly in the heavy (5,380 lb) Rolls coupe you feel like nothing can stop you; you’re just a big hunk of good ol’ fashioned, unstoppable British iron. From the doors, to the self-hiding Spirit of Ecstasy at the intersection of the hood to end all hoods and grille to end all grilles, to the gorgeous cowhide and starlight headliner, the sense of occasion is as massive with the Wraith as anything I’ve ever driven, or likely ever will.

A Porsche Panamera on the Autobahn

2017 Porsche Panamera 4S

It doesn’t quite register when you first see it; a white sign featuring a circle with three black stripes through it. It’s quite innocuous, but it means the world here on the derestricted number 8 highway between Munich and the resort town of Tegernsee: no more speed limit. What’s truly amazing is how the all-new 2017 Porsche Panamera 4S hides its speed so well that before you know it, you’ve clipped 240 km/h with plenty to spare.

2017 Porsche Panamera 4S

That feeling of effortless power is helped by the traffic around you that’s moving at pretty much the same speed, further disguising just how fast you’re going. Then, once you’re off the ’bahn and it comes time to tackle the bending road less travelled, the Panamera amazes once again with its chassis agility, slicing through the picturesque German Alps with their precipitous drops, cowbells and roads that are marked as two-lane, but have room maybe for one-and-a-half. Breathtaking.

A Ford Focus RS on the track…and everywhere else

2016 Ford Focus RS

This was a bit of a two-parter in that I drove the RS on the open road months before I actually got the chance to take to the track. Even then, though, on one of my favuorite driving roads, I knew the 2017 Ford Focus RS would do fine on pretty much any road you put it on. The 350 hp turbo four-cylinder sends power to all four wheels in quick fashion with hardly any turbo lag, providing a fantastic off-beat burble through the twin exhaust while it’s at it.

2016 Ford Focus RS

Then, smart torque vectoring means turns are dispatched with such perfection that Ford had to include a “Drift” mode to add a little more drama. Even on the track, however, I found this totally unnecessary as there’s something to be said for doing your best to clip that apex just a little bit more, and get on that accelerator just a little earlier on exit. With a chassis this well-sorted and playful, there’s no need for electronic gimmickry. Give me good torque vectoring for better turn-in, and I’m good.

A drop top pony car on a time-capsule date

2017 Ford Mustang GT Convertible

Sometimes, in this age of active lane-keep assist systems and radar cruise control, you just want to get into something wonderfully analogue and just drive. That’s where the 2017 Ford Mustang GT Convertible (with a manual transmission, of course) comes in. It’s loud ’n’ proud just like fireworks on July 4th – especially when finished in oh-so-classic Ruby Red – and you just want to get in it and drive to the local soda fountain.

Which is exactly what my wife and I did. In BC and Alberta, the White Spot restaurant chain still operates a network of carhop-equipped locations. Just like the old days, all you have to do is roll up to the designated area and you’re greeted by a server (no roller skates, sorry). You order your burger and fries (a Triple-O burger for me, please), and she returns with a long, skinny tray that spans the entirety of the passenger compartment. Just be careful not to get ketchup on the upholstery.

2017 Ford Mustang GT Convertible

Then, to cap things off, you gotta get to the drive-in theatre for a double bill. Luckily, there are still a few of these left. They tend to sit far out of town – it’s darker there, you know – which is good, because it means we city-dwellers need to take a long drive to get there. Which, when it comes to cars like this on summer nights like these, is perfectly fine by me.

A Mazda MX-5 in the mountains

2016 Mazda MX-5

We move from one fiery red convertible to another. Where the Mustang’s drive was great and the destinations were the stars of the show, this time it’s the drive itself that wins all the laurels. That’s because I was in one of the best driver’s cars available today: the Mazda MX-5 roadster, as pure a driving experience you can get these days, with its telepathic steering, snickety gearlever and instantaneous throttle response. All the more reason to take it on one of BC’s best driving roads: Duffey Lake Road, or the mountainous portion of Highway 99 between Pemberton and Lillooet.

2016 Mazda MX-5

It’s home to a string of grades and cambers, sweeping turns and hairpins the likes of which you dream about when it comes to pure driving bliss. It’s a string of road that demands commitment, but so addictive is it once you get into a rhythm that even when you’re kilometres farther down the road than originally expected, you just want to keep going.

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Dan Heyman

Dan Heyman

Dan Heyman is a car guy through-and-through, ever since his first word was “Toyota”. Dan has worked as a full-time automotive journalist since 2010, having driven and written about everything from Abarths to Sierras and tackled race tracks from Texas to Toronto during that time.