Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Winning wheels

Annual TestFest uncovers the best of the new crop

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By the time you read this, I will have spent the previous three days climbing in and out of more vehicles than a valet parking- lot attendant.

I will have climbed in the backseat of cars far too small for me, shot about 1,000 photos and flogged high-performance machines around a test track like there's no tomorrow.

Yeah, tough life. I know!

It's that time of year again, folks, time for the Canadian Car of the Year awards program, held at the Niagara District Airport near Niagara-On-The-Lake, Ont.

Throughout the four day event, known in the automotive industry as TestFest, Automobile Journalist Association of Canada (AJAC) members from across Canada evaluate and grade 2012 models that are either all-new or significantly redesigned for the model year.

This year, a total of 55 new models in 11 categories are eligible for the awards. According to the AJAC website, the purpose of the Canadian Car of the Year Awards (CCOTY) program, is to provide consumers with sound, comparative information on vehicles that are new to the market.

Every year, the top automotive journalists from across Canada gather for a comprehensive four-day, new-vehicle evaluation. We arrived here on Monday and have been driving like mad to get all the testing done and our ballots submitted in time for today's deadline.

The purpose of these evaluations is to select the best new vehicles in various categories as well as an overall Car of the Year and Utility Vehicle of the Year. A Best New Technology award and the Best New Design award are also chosen.

Individual journalists pick three different categories and teams are assembled based on those choices. Every member of a test team compares each vehicle in its class -- back-to-back, on the same roads, under the same conditions to ensure objective evaluation. There is also a test track flanked with pylons on the airport runway that allows the journalists to test the vehicles' handling and acceleration in a safe, controlled environment.

Team members use a detailed rating form comprising 21 separate evaluation parameters that include acceleration, braking, vehicle dynamics, manoeuvrability and even off-road capability, where applicable. Each parameter is rated using a rating scale of 0 to 10.

Every detail, from safety features to cargo capacity, is thoroughly scrutinized, discussed and individually rated by secret ballot. Those ballots are then tabulated by the international accounting firm KPMG. The results are kept confidential -- even from AJAC -- until the awards press conferences later today, when category and overall winners will be announced.

This year marks my second invitation to TestFest. Last year, since I was a rookie, my votes didn't count, but this year I'm in like Flynn. Fellow Free Press AUTOS writer and TestFest veteran Haney Louka has also been invited back this year. If our schedules allow us time, we will have an opportunity to drive every car at TestFest, but our votes only count for our chosen categories.

Louka will be evaluating and voting in the following categories: Family car over $30K, Sports/Performance under $50K and SUV/CUV $35-60K.

My categories are: Small Car under $21K, SUV-CUV under $35K and Luxury Car.

Here is a list of all the eligible vehicles and their categories, with both my and Louka's predictions for winners noted. We may not agree entirely on which vehicles will win their respective categories, but we both agree we are thrilled to be invited to partake in the festivities!

Look for a listing of all the category winners in next Friday's paper, but if you can't wait that long, be sure to check out the AJAC website at any time today after 5 p.m. for the winners!



SMALL CAR (under $21k)

Chevrolet Sonic Sedan, Fiat 500, Honda Civic Sedan, Hyundai Accent, Kia Rio 5, Nissan Versa Sedan, Scion iQ. Predictions: Louka-Hyundai Accent. Willy-Scion iQ.

SMALL CAR (over $21k)

Ford Focus, Hyundai Elantra, Subaru Impreza, Volkswagen Beetle. Predictions: Louka-Hyundai Elantra. Willy-Ford Focus.

FAMILY CAR (under $30k)

Chevrolet Orlando, Chrysler 200, Kia Optima LX, Mazda5, Toyota Camry, Volkswagen Passat TDI Clean Diesel. Predictions: Louka-Kia Optima LX. Willy-Toyota Camry.

FAMILY CAR (over $30k)

Chevrolet Volt, Dodge Charger, Hyundai Sonata Hybrid, Kia Optima Hybrid, MINI Countryman, Toyota Prius v. Predictions: Louka-Chevrolet Volt. Willy-Chevrolet Volt.


Acura TL, Buick LaCrosse eAssist, Chrysler 300S, Infiniti M35h, Lexus CT 200h, Mercedes-Benz C-Class C350 4MATIC Sedan. Predictions: Louka-Infiniti M35h. Willy-Mercedes-Benz C-Class C350 4MATIC Sedan.


Buick Regal GS, Dodge Charger SRT8, Honda Civic Si Coupe, Hyundai Veloster, Kia Optima SX, Mercedes-Benz C-Class Coupe, Volkswagen Jetta GLI. Predictions: Louka-Volkswagen Jetta GLI. Willy-Dodge Charger SRT8.


BMW 1 Series M Coupé, Chevrolet Camaro Convertible, Chrysler 300 SRT8, Hyundai Genesis R-Spec, Mercedes-Benz CLS-Class, Porsche Cayman R. Predictions: Louka-BMW 1 Series M Coupé. Willy-Porsche Cayman R.

PRESTIGE (over $75k)

BMW 6 Series Cabriolet, Jaguar XKR-S, Mercedes-Benz S-Class S350 BlueTEC 4MATIC. Predictions: Louka-Jaguar XKR-S. Willy-Mercedes-Benz S-Class S350 BlueTEC 4MATIC.

SUV-CUV (under $35k)

Dodge Journey, Jeep Compass, Jeep Wrangler. Predictions: Louka-Dodge Journey. Willy-Jeep Wrangler.

SUV-CUV ($35k-$60k)

BMW X1, Dodge Durango, Ford Explorer, Range Rover Evoque, Volkswagen Touareg TDI Clean Diesel. Predictions: Louka-Ford Explorer. Willy-Ford Explorer.

SUV-CUV (over $60k)

BMW X3, Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8, Mercedes-Benz M-Class. Predictions: Louka-Mercedes-Benz M-Class. Willy-Mercedes-Benz M-Class.

Overall Canadian Car of the Year predictions:

Louka-Kia Optima LX

Willy-Toyota Camry

Overall Canadian Utility Vehicle of the Year predictions:

Louka-Ford Explorer

Willy-Ford Explorer

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 28, 2011 F1

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