Summer is barely under way but already I have had my perfect 2013 driving moment.
First, my definition of “perfect”: a combination of a magnificent road (preferably discovered for the first time) and an automobile ideally suited to that road and situation.
The envelope please: Long Sault Parkway, 7 p.m., May 30, Porsche Boxster.
Let’s begin with the road. Long Sault Parkway is on the St. Lawrence east of Cornwall. If you’re driving to Montreal on Highway 401, you’ll see the signs. Turn off. It’s a short detour well worth the time.
The Long Sault Parkway is actually a series of 11 islands that were created from high points of land left after the flooding of the St. Lawrence River during the construction of the Seaway in the 1950s. It’s about 11 kilometres long over small bridges and causeways through beautiful parkland, with the waters of the St. Lawrence on both sides. Think Florida Keys on a smaller scale, but better.
Several villages once stood where the river now runs, which is explained in the Lost Villages display along the Parkway. There are hidden campgrounds and small beaches and travelling the Parkway is free. I had never visited it before and what an under-appreciated gem – it’s the most beautiful short road in Ontario.
Now to the car: the 2013 Porsche Boxster. This is an authentic mid-engined roadster and my favourite Porsche of the new generation. Reworked from front to back, the Boxster is slightly larger, yet slightly lighter, and has better fuel economy and more power than previous models. The styling has also been cleaned up. Just as the new 911 gets closer to its original styling, and that of the predecessor 356C, the Boxster has more than a suggestion of the great Porsche Spyders of the 1950s.
Behind the driver and ahead of the rear axle is the best place for the engine in a two-seater in my book. It puts the centre of gravity in the centre of all places, which helps deliver superb handling. The engine also sounds better coming from behind.
Also key to a perfect driving moment is an open top. I fought and struggled with manual Porsche convertible roofs for years, but now they operate flawlessly with the tough of a button. The Boxster roof disappears in seconds and you’re sitting low to the ground, sun in your face, wind in your hair, the way you’re meant to be. This kind of fun isn’t cheap – you’ll fork out $56,500-plus for the starter model.
The cockpit is tight but comfortable. The base model’s 2.7-litre flat-six produces 265 horsepower, which is more than enough. Engineers have used every trick in the book to make this engine howl magnificently when you hammer it – but don’t do that on the Long Sault Parkway.
A car like this makes you drive it respectfully. It is not difficult to drive at all, but it’s more than a transportation appliance and it improves the enjoyment of seeing new sites. I could say the same for a BMW Z4 or a Mercedes-Benz SLK but, on May 30, I was in the Porsche. I’m sure I’d also enjoy the Parkway in a Corolla or a Cruze, but it wouldn’t be the same.
When you’re stuck in a Toronto traffic jam on a sweltering day, a car is nothing more than a necessary evil. But really, it’s a freedom machine. Get out of the city, find the perfect road and tour to your heart’s content. That’s my plan for the summer.