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Honda CivicHonda drives off with Canadian Car of the Year title

By Jim Bray
February 11, 2016

In what's undoubtedly a surprise to very few people, the 2016 Honda Civic has been named Canadian Car of the Year by the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada.

The award comes on the heels of the 10th generation of Honda's top selling small car having not only topped its category at the Car of the Year TestFest last October but its beating out all competitors to score the North American Car of the Year award at the North American International Auto Show (a.k.a. "Detroit") in January of this year as well.

I congratulate the fine folks at Honda for their win, even though I don't agree with the Civic having earned that honour: I thought the VW Golf Sportswagon 1.8 TSI, which took its "Best Family Car category," should have won. But that's part of the appeal of AJAC and the CCOTY contest: no single person's opinions or prejudices can affect the overall outcome so, while there were many people voting who were obviously wrong, the consensus rules.

The new Civic brings what Honda says is a complete redesign and reengineering process to the vehicle that has been Canada's top selling new car for 18 years in a row. That's a pretty compelling record of winning, not only of awards but of loyal customers, and while I have my issues with the latest Civic (and, to be honest, recent Hondas in general), I could never stoop so low as to say it's a bad car. It just didn't speak to me the same way it spoke to other car writers.

And that's fine - it's why the free market, whether it be of products or ideas - is so great.

As for my Civic angst, check out my review of the Touring model, which will appear in this space next week.

Needless to say, the folks at Honda are happy with the honour. Jerry Chenkin, President, Honda Canada Inc. said in a press release announcing the win that "on behalf of the thousands of Honda associates across the country including the more than 4000 at our HCM facility who lead global production of the tenth generation Civic, I'd like to thank AJAC for this award. The all-new Civic is the most innovative, ambitious and advanced iteration Honda has ever produced, setting a new benchmark in the compact car segment and we're both elated and humbled that AJAC has recognized this achievement." 

Civics, by the way, may be Japanese in origin and corporate structure, but the ones sold in Canada are built in Canada, at Honda's facility in Alliston, Ontario.

The 2016 Civic sports, though that may not be the best term for a CVT-afflicted car, a new architecture, as well as new styling inside and out. It also features a pair of new engines, including a turbo version. And if you're single and need to be nagged while you drive, it can be had with an abundance of Honda Sensing safety and driver-assistive technologies - the type of nannies (lane change, adaptive cruise control, pre-emptive braking and the like) that are becoming mainstream, sapping a lot of the enjoyment out of the driving process. This is industry-wide, so Honda is not to be blamed here, though the annoying right side view camera is their fault alone (so far).

But enough with raining on Honda's parade. The company deserves kudos regardless of one writer's ingrained stick-in-the-mud-iness. After all, it's a heckuva competitive marketplace and any car that wins such awards has to have something going for it.

I can't comment on how other awards - such as the Detroit one - are arrived at, but I've been part of AJAC's TestFest for several years and it's about as exhaustive a process as you can get. Not only are the competing cars in a category driven back to back to ensure our subjective opinions are arrived at as apples-to-apples comparisons, but they're also put through a series of objective performance tests by people who know what they're doing.

According (no Honda joke intended) to Gary Grant, co-chair of the Canadian Car of the Year committee "TestFest is the most intensive new-vehicle evaluation process on the planet. No other organization employs such stringent testing methods to determine its award winners." And while the journalists' test drives at TestFest are quite short - a maximum of 45 minutes, since we have a bunch of contenders to contend with - and therefore only give you a quick "first impression," the impressions add up.

"Our program is absolutely testing-based," said Justin Pritchard, co-chair of the Canadian Car of the Year committee. "We have experienced vehicle testers driving dozens of vehicles, back to back, over the course of several days. This testing process generated 1,911 test drives, producing over 110,000 data points and 1701 category ballots."

The journalists' test drives were done in the area around Canadian Tire Motorsports Park (nee Mosport), on some lovely (and some not so lovely) roads in the area surrounding the facility. There are also handling courses and a decent off road course for the SUV's. It was an excellent place to put the vehicles through their paces, even if only briefly.

Pritchard also pointed out that every aspect of this testing data is shared online via the AJAC website, "so shoppers can see how any given vehicle won its category, or how it stacked up to the category winner."

The announcement of the Civic's copping top honours was made at a press conference at the Canadian International Auto Show happening now in the Centre of the Universe.

Honda faced some tough competition, not only in its category but overall as well. There were nine categories in all (plus a "green car" to be named later regardless of its body colour), from the Civic's "Small Car" and the Jetta's "Family Car" to "Sports/Performance" and "Prestige" vehicles as well as SUV/Crossover categories. Mercedes Benz won two awards (for their awesome new C 63S AMG and the AMG GT (S Coupe), Volkswagen was also a double winner (scoring the award in the "lower end" Sports/Performance segment for its lovely Golf R as well as the "Family Car").

Other category winners included Kia (Sorento - SUV/Crossover), Mazda (CX-3 - SUV/Crossover), Volvo (XC 90  - SUV /Crossover), and GM (Chevy Silverado - pickup truck).

TestFest is open to qualifying vehicles that are either all new or significantly changed. 

Congratulations to all the winners and, of course, to Honda for their big win. But don't forget to check out my review of the 2016 Civic Touring sedan next week.

Copyright 2016 Jim Bray

Jim Bray is a member of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada. His columns are available through the TechnoFile Syndicate.

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