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The 12 rides of Christmas

Canadian auto journalists pick their 2014 favourites

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Kia Soul

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Kia Soul

Ask anyone in the auto business and they'll tell you that the month of December can be painfully slow. When the Christmas decorations get dusted off for another festive season, sales typically begin to stall and don't gain traction again until the New Year.

If you're like me, this sounds like the perfect time to unleash your inner-Winnipegger and strike the deal of the century. Thanks to incentives that include reduced or non-existent interest rates, special holiday pricing and even cash-back, purchasing a new vehicle during the holiday season seems downright sensible.

As an added bonus you get to chauffeur family and friends around during the holidays in your shiny new ride.

To help make your Christmas car-shopping experience even easier, the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada, better known as AJAC, has just released its 12 "Best New" 2014 vehicle category winners.

The category winners grabbed the most votes recently at Test Fest in Niagara Falls, where 80 automobile journalists from across Canada subjected the finalist vehicles to five days of comprehensive evaluations. To be eligible, the vehicles had to be either brand-new or significantly changed.

Now, if you're shopping for me, there are a pair of vehicles on this year's list that would suit me fine. The 2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray is, in my humble opinion, the sweetest Corvette since 1963. It combines a hint of nostalgia with generous helpings of modern technology, all wrapped up in a swoopy and ultra-sexy package.

Granted, it would have to sit in my garage for the next five winter months, but I'm okay with that because you're also going to buy me a 2014 GMC Sierra, right?

In case you missed it, General Motors has totally redesigned both the Chevrolet Silverado and the GMC Sierra. The GMC version has been getting all the attention in the looks department, and it's easy to see why. With a front grill that clearly means business, crisp new body lines and the nicest and most functional pick-up truck interior I've ever parked my butt in, the General is riding into 2014 with a bang!

On the small-car front, Mazda continues to refine the stellar Mazda3. In stock trim the new models are a pleasure to drive and come very well-appointed for not a lot of money. Bump up to a Mazda3 Sport and you get even more bang for your buck and some classy trim. The first thing you'll notice with the new Mazda3 is how substantial it feels. The doors close with a satisfying thud and the ride and handling is equally solid.

Last year, it was all about Hyundai, but Kia is now in the spotlight with a pair of vehicles taking best honours. The Kia Soul may be kind of funky-looking, but that's okay -- funk is cool. With loads of room for your family and even a pet or two, the Soul is a great family car that seemingly does it all. Think of it as an SVT, sedan/van/truck. The fact that it looks more than a bit like Santa's sleigh is an added holiday bonus.

The Kia Sorento on the other hand, is more of a traditional-looking CUV that is absolutely loaded with creature comforts and infotainment features, all for the same price as many stripped-down models offered by the competition.

In the SUV market, the new Jeep Cherokee has been getting rave reviews. Even Jeep purists like me are impressed with how Jeep managed to give Cherokee a fresh new lease on life without losing all of its legendary trail capabilities. The new Cherokee offers great fuel economy, a cozy but comfortable interior and, above all else, the ability to tackle a Winnipeg winter.

If your Christmas bonus was a good one, you may want to take a close look at the new Acura MDX. You get a premium price tag with this premium SUV, and you'll also get all the looks. Acura has finally dialled this one in perfectly. An awesome blend of power, handling, comfort and style, the new MDX is without question my favourite new SUV.

If you're in the market for a new vehicle, even if you're just in the early stages of making a choice, now is the time to take a look. With the slower pace at local dealers, the holiday season is a great time to start shopping around. Bring the sales manager cookies and maybe he'll play Santa!

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 6, 2013 E2

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