AJAC car of the year awards: Who will win?

It’s not just fun and games at AJAC TestFest

  • Car queue in the bad traffic road. Selective focus.

Driving 46 shiny new cars, trucks and SUVs in five days is tough work, but not many people would believe me when I say it. I was one of 73 voting journalists who took part in this year’s TestFest in Niagara Falls from Oct. 20-24. It is an event held annually by the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC) to pick the Car of the Year and Utility Vehicle of the Year in Canada.

Which cars were driven the most?

While I didn’t get to drive all the 49 entries in TestFest, I came darn close with 46. The average number of test-drives per reviewer was 23, so I was well above average.

Interestingly, the cars that had the most test-drives of all were the two smallest in the bunch in the City Car category— the Kia Soul EV and the Smart ForTwo Electric Drive. We don’t always get a chance to drive fully electric vehicles, so it seems most journalists took advantage of the opportunity. These two cars were driven an average of 61 times each.

Next best were the two cars in the Small Car Under $21k category— the Honda Fit and Nissan Micra. These vehicles were both driven an average of 54 times each.

For any gearhead, TestFest would be a dream come true. After all, who wouldn’t jump at a chance to take a $216,000-plus Porsche 911 Turbo S through a short handling course? Or how about slipping behind the wheel of a super sexy $154,900 Mercedes-Benz S-550 Coupe or the 707 hp Dodge Challenge Hellcat? Maybe your dream would be to pilot a 2015 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray Convertible with the top down on a warm, sunny fall day.

AJAC TestFest Contestant 2015 Dodge Challenger Hellcat

I had the opportunity to do all this and more at TestFest. And while it’s a blast to drive all these high-end automobiles, the majority of cars, trucks and SUVs at TestFest are ones that many of us might consider as our everyday drivers and family cars.

That’s the whole idea of AJAC TestFest— to allow professional reviewers a chance to evaluate cars, trucks and SUVs that are new or significantly changed for the 2015 model year and select the best new vehicles in various categories. From there, the list is whittled down and ultimately a Canadian Car of the Year and Utility Vehicle of the Year are named.

How do consumers benefit?

Where consumers can benefit from this entire process is the TestFest comparative vehicle data is passed on to the public to help them make their new car buying decisions.

What makes AJAC’s Canadian Car of the Year program so unique is that professional automotive journalists test vehicles back-to-back on the same day, under the same driving conditions and on public roads so that the information that is passed on to the buying public is relevant to everyday driving.

These are people who do road tests week-in and week-out so they know a thing or two about cars. Many of us have driven a number of the vehicles here previously, but it’s interesting how your opinion of a vehicle might change when you drive it back-to-back with the competition.

Read More: AJAC TestFest highlights the best new vehicles

Journalists are assigned to categories

All voting journalists are assigned specific categories that they were obligated to drive. My categories were Family Car Over $30k, Luxury Car Under $50k and Luxury Car Over $50k. Entries included Hyundai Sonata, Subaru WRX and Toyota Camry Hybrid in the first category. The second included the Acura TLX, Mercedes-Benz C-Class and Volvo V60. The third category was an interesting one with four very strong entries— Acura RLX Hybrid, Cadillac ATS Coupe, Hyundai Genesis and Kia K900.

AJAC TestFest Contestant 2015 Volvo V60 Polestar

Once the assigned categories were driven and voted upon, journalists could jump to another group, but of course, they had to drive all the vehicles in the class back-to-back all on the same day for their votes to count.

Auto companies are eager to get involved

It’s an interesting exercise and one that all of the voting journalists take seriously. And it’s why the auto companies are so eager to get involved— if one of their vehicles happens to win a category or goes on to win car or truck of the year it could mean a lot of additional sales.

AJAC has conducted five consumer surveys going all the way back to 1999 and the results show that winning a CCOTY award is important to car buyers. In fact, last year a Maritz Research survey of 2013 Honda Accord buyers for AJAC and Honda showed that 100 per cent of the respondents knew that the Accord had been named Canadian Car of the Year and 56 per cent said the award had a positive influence on their car buying decision.

I won’t tell you which cars, trucks and SUVs I think will win, but I’ve got my list and I’ve checked it more than twice. The voters have decided and we’ll all find out the category winners on Dec. 11 and the Canadian Car of the Year and Utility Vehicle of the Year at the Canadian International Auto Show in Toronto next February.

AJAC TestFest Contestant 2015 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray

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