By Jim Bray
Hyundai's Elantra copped a couple of category crowns in the 2017 Canadian Car of the Year Awards, announced on Tuesday, December 6 in Toronto.
Click on the image to open a "Car of the Year TestFest" slideshow.
The South Korean automaker's compact sedan was named Best New Small Car and its new Sport version won Best New Sports/Performance Car. The news comes in the wake of the Canadian Car of the Year TestFest held at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park during the last week of October.
Eight category winners were announced in all, the winners now competing head to head with each other for the overall bragging rights as Canadian Car of the Year and Canadian Utility Vehicle of the Year, which will be announced next February. AJAC, the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada, under whose auspices the competition is held, will also name the Canadian Green Car of the Year awards next March.
Voting was done by scores of automotive journalists after an intensive week in southern Ontario, our subjective votes tabulated with objective test results performed on all the cars to ensure apples-to-apples comparisons. The data were compiled by KPMG, the accounting firm that has worked with the Association and its Canadian Car of the Year awards extravaganza since before I started attending nearly 10 years ago.
"TestFest is the most intensive new-vehicle evaluation process on the planet," said Gary Grant, co-chair of the Canadian Car of the Year committee. "No other organization employs such stringent testing methods to determine its award winners."
I don't know how other groups evaluate their "winners," but I do know that we who attend AJAC's TestFest have to take our jobs seriously, judging each entry on a variety of parameters, from styling to ergonomics to handling and more.
The eight winners cover the automotive spectrum from small cars to prestige sport/performance cars and SUV's, categories broken down further into "mainstream" and "premium" categories.
Here's a listing of the category winners, with their runners up, as released by AJAC Tuesday morning:
BEST NEW SMALL CAR
BEST NEW LARGE CAR
BEST NEW LARGE PREMIUM CAR
BEST NEW SPORTS / PERFORMANCE CAR
BEST NEW PREMIUM SPORTS / PERFORMANCE CAR
BEST NEW SMALL UTILITY
BEST NEW LARGE UTILITY
BEST NEW PREMIUM UTILITY VEHICLE
As you can see, none of the winners were runaways; such is the state of auto making these days that it's tough to find a piece of junk. I periodically find cars I don't like, or that rub me the wrong way for whatever reason, but junk? Nope.
Well, there's the Smart fortwo….
As usual, I disagree with some of the choices but I agree heartily with some. I'm particularly surprised about the Elantra Sport winning its category. It's a great car and of the three vehicles in this category it's probably the one I would actually buy, but it's no sports car. I'd have given this category to the Ford Focus RS which, as I said in my roundup of TestFest, "this one is a beast! It's all wheel drive, with a nice six speed manual transmission and its 2.3 litre turbo four puts out 350/350 (hp/torque). And it goes like heck, emitting the most glorious farts when you most desire them. The downside? $49,064 price, as tested."
I didn't drive the "Best new large car" category, but if I had I'm pretty sure I'd have voted for the VW Golf Alltrack, which I've driven for a week since then - and loved, though I'd probably purchase the "non-raised" suspension available on the Golf Sportwagon 4MOTION because I don't care about off road capability but I do like all wheel drive.
I didn't like the Buick LaCrosse very much, so it figures that it won Best New Large Premium Car. I also didn't care for the Volvo S90, which came in second. My nod would have gone to the new Genesis G90, which didn't even make the "top three" cut. The third place Mercedes E Class is a better car, but with too many annoying features that seem to be there for the sake of features - such as seat side bolsters that move into you as you corner - but I thought the Genesis was more significant this year because it represents a whole new car-making-and-marketing ballgame from South Korea, in a manner reminiscent of how Toyota and Nissan turned the luxury market on its ear with their original Lexus and Infiniti models.
I would have given the Best New Premium Sports/Performance car honour to the Mercedes-Benz C Class AMG, which I referred to at the time as "an iron fist in a velvet glove." The winning BMW was great to drive, don't get me wrong, but I have issues with BMW interfaces which, despite improvements, are very frustrating. The Benz is far less annoying (though the newest ones have their issues, too) and, while my heart is always with anything from Porsche, I thought the Benz was better as "all new" than the 911.
The Subaru Forester is an okay choice for Small Utility Vehicle; I didn't really have a preference in this group, even though I drove them all, but would probably have leaned toward the third place Kia Sportage because of its standard features, driveability, and styling. And because it doesn't come with a CVT transmission like the Subaru does.
Great things are being said about the Chrysler Pacifica minivan, though I haven't driven it. I'd driven the Mazda CX-9 before TestFest, however, and liked it a lot. Even though they've downsized the power plant in the new CX-9, from a V6 to a turbo four, it still has oodles of "Zoom-Zoom" and it's hard not to love that. I would have been very surprised if I had liked the Pacifica or the GMS Acadia more.
Finally, the New Premium Vehicle winner (the Mercedes-Benz GLC 300 4MATIC) is a good choice in its category. It's a very nice vehicle inside and out, though I also liked Maserati's Levante S except for its weirdly long paddle shifters.
My kiss of death - er, prediction - for Best Utility? I figure the Forester will cop this one, though if I were Emperor (which seems to be taking a lot longer than I'd expected) I'd give it to the Mercedes-Benz GLC. I imagine this makes the Pacifica a shoo-in.
We only have about 40 minutes for each vehicle (since we need to get through as many as possible!), so we basically just get a good first impression, but since it's back-to-back apples-to-apples comparisons in each category it turns out pretty well - even though a lot of the other attendees obviously voted wrong.
Or, as co-chair of the Canadian Car of the Year committee Justin Pritchard said, "Our program is absolutely testing-based. We have dozens of experienced vehicle testers driving dozens of vehicles, back to back, over the course of several days. This testing process generated 1,384 test drives, producing over 100,000 data points and 1058 category ballots. It's important to note that every aspect of this testing data is shared online via our website, so shoppers can see how any given vehicle won its category, or how it stacked up to the category winner."
Check back in February to see which of these winners will go on to score the much coveted title of 2017 Canadian Car of the Year.
Copyright 2016 Jim Bray
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