NIAGARA FALLS, ON -- It's the end of October, and that can only mean one thing:
Try as I might to convince family and friends that AJAC's annual week-long Car of the Year evaluation event is hard work and serious business, they can see right through my feeble protestations. The truth is that I look forward to this the way a six-year-old anticipates opening presents on Christmas morning. A kid in a candy store has nothing on me.
The event, put on by the Automobile Journalist Association of Canada, will see more than 75 members from across the country gather in Niagara Falls to evaluate 58 entries in 12 categories over a span of five days.
I've been assigned to three of these categories, and my focus for the first three days of testing will be to drive each of the entries in a given category back-to-back on the same day and on the same route.
For each entry I'll be filling out a ballot, assigning numerical scores for such subjective parameters as ride, handling, interior quality and styling. Our ballot scores will be tabulated, weighted and combined with objective data such as fuel consumption, acceleration and braking to contribute to an overall points score for each vehicle.
The vehicle with the highest weighted score will win its category. Category winners will be announced at a press conference in early December. For more information on the Car of the Year program visit www.ajac.ca.
My assigned categories look like this:
FAMILY CAR OVER $30K
With hybrids hitting the mainstream, this class includes two vehicles with conventional gas engines, two 'traditional' hybrids and a plug-in hybrid.
Chevrolet's full-size Impala is totally redesigned and promises to bring sophisticated styling and technology to GM's bread-and-butter brand. The
Mazda6 was introduced earlier this year, and it too is all-new. Always a looker, the 6 is now a leader in fuel economy with its Skyactiv technology while injecting some driving fun into what is normally a mundane class of cars.
Speaking of driving fun, VW's Jetta Turbocharged Hybrid seeks to put to rest the notion that hybrids can't have any. And Honda re-enters the mid-sized hybrid market with a new approach to hybrid technology. Its new four-banger can cut out entirely while the car is being driven on electric power, going beyond the electric-assist motors of previous Honda hybrids.
Finally, the Ford C-Max Energi brings a plug-in hybrid to the party. With larger battery packs and the ability to charge them on the grid rather than the conventional hybrid setup that requires the engine to keep them juiced, this new generation of hybrids further reduces our dependence on gasoline to get us where we're going.
LUXURY CAR OVER $50K
What can I say; I have expensive taste. This yummy category includes seven entries from the likes of the usual luxury suspects, plus -- what's this? -- Hyundai.
That's right, the $72,000 Equus wants to play with the big boys. We'll see how it stacks up against Cadillac's redefined (and upmarket) CTS, Jag's XF, Infiniti's Q50 (its replacement for the G37), Lincoln's classy MKZ, the new RLX from Acura and Mercedes-Benz's E250 -- a diesel that will likely lose the horsepower wars but will bring with it class and efficiency in a package brimming with torque.
SUV/CUV OVER $60K
There I go again, picking a category with all the toys. I've had the chance to drive Acura's new MDX and came away quite impressed. Buick's new Enclave continues that company's tradition of building a luxury van for those who don't want a van. The BMW X5 goes into its third generation and is sure to wow us with its driving dynamics, but Porsche's Cayenne diesel and Land Rover's Range Rover Sport will have something to say about that.
And then there's the Mercedes-Benz GL 350, the company's full-size crossover that also comes to the party with a diesel engine.
At the end of the day, it doesn't matter whether a vehicle is a diesel, gas or gas-electric hybrid. What matters is how it stacks up against its peers in this head-to-head comparison, and we'll be letting you know how things shake out when the week is done. Stay tuned.