Korean cars capture honours at Test Fest auto show
For the first time in memory, there were no Japanese cars in top spot at the annual Automotive Journalists’ Association of Canada (AJAC) “best of” competition in Niagara, Ontario, and the Koreans pretty much stole the show.
This little bun toss, known as Test Fest, sees writers from across the country show up and drive all the new models. This year, some 75 journos took part and drove more than 200 cars in 11 different categories—$5,000,000 worth of automobiles—over a four-day span to come up with their picks to click.
The cars are put through their paces on a track, over an off-road course, and on city and country roads. Performance data is acquired, and each car is judged on things like ride quality, power-train responsiveness, handling, braking, value for money, ergonomics, and so on. Journalists can’t vote for any model of car without driving every model in that category. I’ve been attending Test Fest for 25 years, and we are kept on the run for the entire four days. This ain’t no picnic.
Anyway, the votes have been counted and here are the winners of the 2012 AJAC car of the year awards.
Best new Small Car Under $21,000
Hyundai Accent The Honda Civic was relegated to third place, and even the supercool new Fiat 500 was left out in the cold. Although the Accent is a competent little appliance, it doesn’t exactly stir the blood, and my vote went to the aforementioned Fiat 500. Chevrolet’s new Sonic was touted to take this one but didn’t even make the top three.
Best new Small Car Over $21,000
Hyundai Elantra Hyundai officials have called this model one of the most significant cars the company has ever produced, and it certainly has a lot going for it. Standard equipment level is high, styling is outstanding, and build quality is topnotch. Performance could be better, but it still sounds like a winner to me. Second place went to the Ford Focus, with the Subaru Impreza taking third.
best new Family Car Under $30,000
Kia Optima LX Another Korean entry, and rightly praised. Aside from being one of the hottest-looking cars on the road, the Optima has a high level of drivability and an accessible price tag, and is plenty of car for the money. This was a tough one to win, with competition coming from the VW Passat TDI (second) and Toyota Camry (third). I voted for the VW, but the Optima deserved the win.
best new Family Car Over $30,000
Kia Optima Hybrid Again, no surprise here. A competent hybrid with a non-CVT transmission for 30 large? Hard to argue with that. And it’s probably redundant—almost patronizing—to point out how far the Koreans have come over the past decade. Interestingly, the Optima Hybrid beat out the Hyundai Sonata Hybrid here and both share the same drive train and parent company.
Best new Sports/Performance car Under $50,000
Hyundai Veloster As one onlooker remarked at the awards ceremony: “Never mind ‘The Koreans are coming.’ They’re already here.” That said, there’s no way the homely Veloster has it over the Dodge Challenger or Mercedes C-Class coupe. I don’t know what my colleagues were smoking. Second went to the VW Jetta GLi, with the Kia Optima SX coming in third.
Best new Sports/Performance Car Over $50,000
BMW 1M Coupe This is where the Koreans leave the party. European manufacturers still own this segment of the market; the Bimmer was the right choice. This is a pavement-scalding, throw-your-neck-out-of-whack-while-accelerating corner carver. Second went to the Porsche Cayman, with the Mercedes C-Class taking third.
Best new SUV-CUV Under $35,000
Dodge Journey All three entries in this category were Chrysler products, but the Journey was the right choice—it’s well priced, versatile, roomy, powerful, and thoughtfully designed. No AWD, however, and Chrysler reliability over the long haul remains a big question mark. The Jeep Compass was runner-up, and the Wrangler took third.
Best new SUV-CUV $35,000-$60,000
Volkswagen Touareg This won it last year as well, and it was the only diesel in this group. That doesn’t stop it from being a topnotch contender in every area, however, with the best fuel economy in this category. Look for this one to take home the gold in the overall car-of-the-year competition in February. Second: Range Rover Evoque. Third: BMW X1.
Best New SUV-CUV Over $60,000
BMW X3 I disagree wholeheartedly with my colleagues’ choice here. The X3 is an overpriced, underachieving techno box that doesn’t even have a proper 4WD system. Too much money, too little car. The Mercedes M-Class, which should have won, took second, with the Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8 coming third.
Best New Luxury Car
Mercedes C-Class C350 Sure… Why not? That said, pitting the Chrysler 300C and Buick LaCrosse against this car doesn’t seem equitable, somehow. Mercedes wrote the book on luxury, and the C350 was one of the pricier models in this group. Second went to the aforementioned 300C, with one of the few Japanese cars in this year’s winners’ circle, the Acura TL, coming in third.
Best New Prestige Car Over $75,000
Mercedes S-Class S350 Bluetec 4Matic That’s quite a mouthful, but it means that the winner was one of the most beautiful cars ever built, with a thrifty and clean diesel engine mated to a full-time 4WD system. How could it not win? Second went to the BMW 6-series Cabriolet, with the formidable Jaguar XKR-S taking third.