Test Fest determines the scribes' favourite cars
Although it’s not perfect, the annual new-car survey by the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC) is arguably the most exhaustive exercise of its kind in North America, possibly exceeded only by Consumer Reports in its number-crunching thoroughness. New models are driven, tested, and scrutinized in 21 different areas, and things such as braking, performance, safety, ergonomics, and value for money are evaluated and rated over a five-day period. Known as Test Fest, this little bun toss takes place during the last week of October, with an overall car of the year announced at the Canadian Auto Show in February.
This year, more than 80 auto scribes were on hand at Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, driving over 180 different cars, and an all-new, all-electric “city car” class was added to the mix. This was the largest turnout in the history of the event, and there were 11 categories.
Here’s how things turned out.
Best New City Car: Ford Focus EV
Up against the Mitsubishi i-MiEV, the EV was more “normal-looking” and surprisingly drivable, with better acceleration, superior amenities, and tighter assembly quality. However, it also costs considerably more. Interestingly, the City of Vancouver has just purchased 13 i-MiEVs, with another 17 on order.
Best New Small Car Under $21,000: Mazda3 SkyActiv Sedan
This one caught everybody by surprise, including me, as the Mazda was up against some very strong competition, including the Toyota Prius C and the Kia Rio LX. My colleagues got this one wrong, in my opinion, but there it is.
Best New Small Car Over $21,000: Hyundai Elantra GT
Why not? The Elantra GT featured one of the highest standard-equipment levels in this category and the second-lowest sticker price. It narrowly edged out—surprise—the Mazda3 SKYACTIV hatchback.
Best New Family Car Under $30,000: Honda Accord sedan
No surprise here. The Accord was the lowest-priced entry in this category and, in my opinion, the nicest to drive. Honda still owns this category, but the Accord edged out the Ford Fusion by just one point.
Best New Family Car Over $30,000: Ford Fusion Hybrid
Ford pretty much ran away with this one. The Fusion Hybrid was the cheapest by a considerable margin and scored well in styling and performance. Second place went to the Chevrolet Malibu. My pick, the Toyota Prius Plug-in, didn’t even place.
Best New Luxury Car: Cadillac ATS
Another surprise, especially when you consider that the other entrants in this class included the BMW 3 Series and two from Lexus: the ES 350 and GS. I think this was a sentimental choice by some of my Ontario-based colleagues, as the ES 350 was the clear winner here, in my opinion.
Best New Prestige/Performance car over $75,000: Porsche 911 Carrera S
Well, duh. None of the others came close in terms of heritage, driving pleasure, or presence. The 911 Carrera is a pavement scalder that can burn up a racetrack yet also function as a grocery getter. That said, it was the priciest one in this category, by at least 12 large. Runner-up: Mercedes SL 550.
Best New Sports/Performance Car Under $50,000: Ford Focus ST
Question for any of my journo peers who voted for the ST: what the hell have you been smoking? This is better than the VW Golf R or Hyundai Genesis Coupe? I don’t think so. Still, it is what it is. Runner up was the Scion FR-S.
Best New Sports/Performance Car Over $50,000: Porsche Boxster
No question. Right now, the Boxster is the best sports car on the market at this price level, and it wasn’t even the most expensive entrant in this category. That would be the Mercedes SLK AMG 55, which came in second, with a price tag more than 20 grand higher than the Boxster’s.
Best New SUV/CUV Under $35,000: Ford Escape 1.6 EcoBoost
Again with Ford. I couldn’t disagree more. This was the priciest model in this category and outdid the runner-up, the Subaru XV Crosstrek, by a mere two points. My pick: the Honda CR-V, which placed third.
Best New SUV/CUV Over $35,000: Hyundai Santa Fe Sport 2.0T
I suppose so, but this was a close one, with the new revamped Nissan Pathfinder right behind it. I would have chosen neither, ticking all the boxes for either the Lexus RX 350 or the GMC Terrain Denali, neither of which even placed.
So, does any of this matter? Apparently. According to AJAC, three separate surveys have shown that consumers are powerfully influenced by a Canadian Car of the Year award win. In 1999, that influence on buyers of the Canadian Car of the Year was 45 percent. In 2002, that percentage rose to 47.5. While in 2005, the survey confirmed an influence of 58.4 percent.
The people have spoken.