Canadian Car of the Year gets down to the best of the best
By Jim Bray
The Automobile Journalists Association of Canada's Best Car award is now down to three finalists.
Well, six, technically - but that's a pretty steep winnowing from the 182 vehicles that were eligible for this year's Canadian Car of the Year Awards. And it means there are now only three contenders (or a contender and two pretenders?) for the titles of Canadian Car of the Year and the Canadian Utility Vehicle of the Year.
That's because the new Honda Accord (Best Large Car in Canada) also made the short list and it's winning all sorts of awards from various groups inside and outside of Canada. It's a fine car, too, but I'd rather own a Mazda 3, the Best Small Car in Canada. Alas, the 3 isn't "all-new" this year, while the Accord is, so that may also work against Mazda winning yet again. Still, Mazda took three categories in 2014 (two for the Mazda 3 and the overall Car of the Year went to the Mazda 6), and it's a perennial finalist and category winner.
Hondas, especially as showcased in the Accord, appear to be on their way back in terms of usability. For example, they've put real knobs back on the centre stack for the audio system and, while that may sound like not much of a deal at all, it is if you've tried to change stations or crank the volume in a recent Honda while driving. Their nannies are still very annoying, but the cars are still built well and, as long as you don't mind a continuously variable transmission, they drive well, too. Bet on the Accord winning.
The third vehicle not to have been left on the Car of the Year roadside yet is the Volvo S90/V90 (which took the "Best Large Premium Car" in Canada category). They're good vehicles, undoubtedly, but plain in appearance and weird inside; I would have given the nod to any of the competitors in this category (Porsche's new Panamera, Lexus' awesome LC coupe and the Genesis G80 sports sedan) over the Swedes, especially the Genesis for its audacity in taking on the big players in the luxury sport sedan market and doing it so well right out of the box.
But, as usual, that's just me and my votes count as only one of nearly 100 journalists voting. Boy, I get tired of them being wrong!
Still in the running for the Utility Vehicle honours are the Chrysler Pacifica (Best Minivan in Canada) and the other two Mazdas, the CX-5 (Best Small Utility Vehicle in Canada) and CX-9 (Best Large Utility Vehicle in Canada). I had to duck lest I get struck by lightning for having actually enjoyed driving the Chrysler (and it was a hybrid, to boot!), but I loved both Mazdas - and no, not only does Mazda not pay me, but I've never owned a Mazda, either - though I would!
I'd have a tough choice between the CX-5 and CX-9. The CX-5 is more my size of vehicle, and I love driving it, but the CX-9 three row SUV is nearly as great to drive and is so luxurious you might mistake it for a Lexus or Acura or something. And the CX-9 is $52,121 CAD loaded, whereas the competitors I've named (the new, three row Lexus RX 350L and the Acura MDX) start at $66,050 and $56,276.25 respectively. They're all great "crossovers," but even though it's only a four banger (with gobs and gobs of lovely turbocharged torque) and supposedly not a "premium" vehicle it's the best of those three to drive and the one I'd buy if it were my money.
So, naturally, I figure the Chrysler will win…
For 2018, the Canadian Car of the Year awards voting was changed to include all new vehicles available to Canadians, rather than the past method of only allowing entries from vehicles that were new to the market or revised significantly. I think that's great!
Heck, just because a car isn't all new doesn't mean it can't hold its own against the upstarts. This is undoubtedly why cars like the Mazda 3, which was upgraded this year but isn't a new generation, beat out some all-new models such as the Kia Rio (which I liked a lot, too).
This year, we could also vote on vehicles we'd driven throughout most of the year, in our own neck of the woods, rather than just at the Canadian Car of the Year TestFest. This is a double-edged sword because we generally get a whole week with review cars but only a half to three quarters of an hour at TestFest. So we get a better feel for the cars we drive at home - but on the other hand we drive category entrants back to back at TestFest, which is better for an apples-to-apples comparison.
As AJAC's press release about this short list said "if we drove them, then we had an opinion on them – and we passed that opinion on through an anonymous system of standardized voting to determine which vehicles are the best of them all."
According to AJAC, the expanded testing helped lead to nearly 3,000 ballots being cast on 182 eligible vehicles. Sure glad I didn't have to tabulate all that!
Once the 14 overall category winners were chosen, the three finalists on each side of the vehicular ledger were chosen in a second round of voting in which we AJAC members were tasked with choosing the category winners that we thought deserved to be the overall best car and utility vehicles for 2018.
The next step is for the final votes to be tallied in preparation for the Big Announcement - which will happen next week, February 15th, at the Canadian International Auto Show in Toronto. The results "are a closely guarded secret, known only to the auditing firm of KPMG," according to AJAC.
Bet on the Accord and Pacifica, if for no other reason than to continue my tendency toward calling it wrong. I do think one of the Mazdas will take the Utility Vehicle title, though, possibly the CX-9.
I'll either brag or eat crow in an upcoming rant.
Copyright 2018 Jim Bray
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