This is the third installment of a five-part series chronicling our Great Lakes Circle Tour in the 2014 Chevrolet Impala. We started with Lakes Erie and Ontario. Today is Lake Huron. Tomorrow we’ll circle Lake Michigan. On Friday we’ll let you know how many moose we spotted as we traced Lake Superior’s shoreline.
Rarely does a road trip story involve a boat, but when traveling around the Great Lakes, there’s practically no way to avoid it. When we planned the trip around Lake Huron — the second-largest of the Great Lakes as measured by surface area — a ferryboat from Tobermory on the northern tip of Ontario’s Bruce Peninsula to Manitoulin Island played a big part of the route. Not only would the two-hour ferryboat ride shave more than 100 miles off the 1,000-mile trip, it would also give some spectacular views of the lake and Georgian Bay.
But low water levels this spring in the Great Lakes forced the delay of the opening of the ferry service for the season, and the boat ride was off. Nevertheless, with motor gopher Tom Foley riding shotgun, we made a run up the Bruce Peninsula in the 2014 Chevrolet Impala. Going up and down the peninsula added more than 120 miles to the trip, but the views of the lake and Georgian Bay were worth the extra miles. Plus, the roads were virtually free from travel trailers and motorhomes, making the drive that much easier.
Port Huron: Crossing into Canada
Our tour began in Port Huron, Michigan, crossing into Canada via the Bluewater Bridge over the St. Clair River at the southern end of Lake Huron, and then heading north through the farmlands of Ontario.
Driving on local two-lane roads, the flat, fertile farmland gives way to more rocky, rolling terrain as you head north, as if the glaciers of the Ice Age had been here just last week. The route through Ontario was primarily on two-lane roads, and with dire roadside warnings about $10,000 fines for excessive speed, we kept the 305-hp V6 throttled back. Ontario bans the use of radar detectors, so my time in Canada was spent cruising at or near the speed limit of 100 km/hr (62 mph). There was plenty of time to think. Thank you, Canada!
After successfully avoiding both moose and deer, we pulled into Sudbury for the night with 550 miles behind us.
Impala: Silence of the Great White North
Is it Canada, or is it just real quiet in here?
The Impala is surprisingly quiet. Part of it comes from a fairly rigid structure, so it doesn’t flutter very much on rough pavement. But more important is a pretty comprehensive complement of acoustic insulation and even sound suppression. There is plenty of sound deadening material within the body, and even the carpet has been chosen for acoustic insulation. It’s also interesting that even this everyday sort of sedan gets a laminated windshield and front side glass, and even the engine cradle plays a role in keeping things quiet.
And like so many new vehicles, the Impala even offers active sound suppression. Microphones in the ceiling detect engine noise, and then the frequencies are processed by a computer. Finally the audio system’s speakers play frequencies that counteract the noise. The result is not just a quieter cabin but also the cancellation of noise from the torque converter locking up at low speed, so you can get better fuel economy without enduring any audible distraction. It’s standard equipment in Impala models that feature the four-cylinder engine.
Sudbury: Navigation, Please Respond!
Leaving Tobermory, we set the Impala’s navigation for Sudbury, Ontario. It was only 93 miles away as the crow flies (or as the ferry boat would have sailed!), but it was 223 miles away by road. This is what happens when you have high-tech GPS navigation instead of paper maps, as when you make a wrong turn or just go the long way, you know exactly the number of miles it has cost you. Maybe it’s better not to know, eh?
Speaking of the nav system, it troubled us. The touchscreen operating interface seemed so slow to respond that we had to stab at the screen repeatedly to respond. This system is the latest thing from GM, a version of the highly regarded CUE electronics in the Cadillac ATS and XTS, but simple things like input response show you that there’s more to it than just circuit boards.
Sault Ste Marie: Your Tax Dollars at Work
After a long day, we did another one, and it was made just a bit longer by members of the U.S. Border Patrol at Sault Ste. Marie (pronounced: “Soo Saint Marie”) in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. They couldn’t figure out why General Motors would let us drive one of their cars around the lake. And really, who could blame them.
Eventually, the situation was resolved without any body cavity searches, and we headed downtown for lunch in the “Soo,” the nickname for the border town with a sister city of the same name right across the river in Canada. After a terrific cheeseburger at Mohoney’s Alley, we headed back toward I-75 but noticed a lake freighter — the 634-foot Buffalo — passing through the Soo Locks. The locks lift and lower boats going between Lakes Huron and Superior. Superior is more than 20-feet higher than Huron, and watching the massive freighters inching their way through the locks is an interesting process to witness.
Interstate 75 made quick work of getting from the Soo to St. Ignace where the Mackinac Bridge — the country’s third longest suspension bridge — would take us across the Straits of Mackinac and back to the Lower Peninsula. After some photos in Mackinaw City we got on route 23 — a smooth two-lane road — and headed south. The trip odometer read 1,034.8 miles as we rolled into Bay City for the night.
Impala: Game of Thrones
When you’re covering a lot of miles, you have a lot of time to think about the place where you’re sitting. Fortunately we greatly admired the seats of the new Impala.
The seats are pretty grand, carefully bolstered in a way to be supportive rather than soft, yet their scaled to be large enough to deliver full-size comfort to full-size drivers like us. We spent 14 hours in the saddle one day, so such things matter.
The driving position also plays a role here, as the greenhouse is pretty expansive, and your view is relatively unrestricted by the A-pillars, which have to provide not only structural support for the roof but also incorporate the curtain air bags. Also the rear-seat headrests fold down in this LTZ for better driver visibility.
The Thumb: Pure Michigan
A short day of less than 200 miles that included a tour around the outer edge of Michigan’s beautiful, seldom-visited Thumb. (Look at it on a map and you’ll see why it has this nickname.) The flat farmland is dotted with hundreds of wind turbines, giving the area a futuristic look.
We stopped for one last lighthouse photo at Point Aux Barques in Huron County, and then rolled back into Port Huron. Total mileage for our 2014 Impala was 1,202.7, and the fuel mileage of 30.5 mpg was impressive for a car with more than 300 hp under the hood.
The 2014 Chevrolet Impala is a quiet (one of the quietest Chevys in recent memory) comfortable ride with a rocking sound system that is perfect for a road trip. While we were disappointed the Tobermory ferry wasn’t running, we now have a reason to repeat the trip. With stunning, sweeping views of Lake Huron at nearly every turn, this trip reminded even this native Michigander that we live in a beautiful state, and how fortunate we are to have an equally beautiful country as our neighbor.
The Statistical Record: Lake Huron
Miles traveled: 1,203.7
MPG observed: 30.5
Now Playing: Canadian rockers: Rush, Neil Young, Bryan Adams, Bachman Turner Overdrive and the Guess Who. Michigan rockers: Bob Seger, Grand Funk Railroad and Kid Rock. Highlight: ZZ Top performing “Lagrange” live on the Howard Stern show, courtesy of SiriusXM radio.
Best Road: M23 from St. Ignace to Oscoda, which includes lovely views of Lake Huron nearly the entire way.
Best Food: Yellow lake perch, Dunleavy’s Eatery & Pub in Augres, Michigan. Second place: Cheeseburger at Moloney’s Alley near the Soo Locks, Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan.
Best things about 2014 Impala: 305-hp V6, which delivered more than 30 mpg
Worst things about 2014 Impala: Nav system touchscreen that is not sensitive enough.
Fun fact: Manitoulin Island in Lake Huron at the entrance to Georgian Bay and part of the province of Ontario is more than 1,000-square miles and is the largest lake island in the world.