Best EV/Plug-in Hybrid: 2020 Canadian Car of the Year
Official category results will be revealed at the Montreal Auto Show in January and final results for Canadian Car of the Year and Canadian Utility Vehicle of the Year will be revealed at the Canadian International Auto Show in February. The following picks are our personal favourites.
The annual Canadian Car of the Year program (CCOTY) is a unique opportunity provided by the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC) for members to test the year’s latest and greatest cars, SUVs, CUVs and trucks back-to-back on road and track to determine the Canadian car and utility vehicle of the year. The featured track is the driver development track at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park (nee Mosport). Testing also took place on the roads in and around the Bowmanville area where the track’s located. There’s even an advanced off-road course to really put the CUVs and SUVs to the test. While we test cars year ‘round, aside from the odd comparison choice rare is the chance to test them shoulder to shoulder as we do here.
Vehicles are broken down into categories and Wheels.ca had numerous journalists on-hand to put everything to the test.
Note: Official category results will be revealed at the Montreal Auto Show in January and final results for Canadian Car of the Year and Canadian Utility Vehicle of the Year will be revealed at the Canadian International Auto Show in February. The following picks are our personal favourites.
Fifth: Hyundai Kona Electric
Yes, it finished last, but in a group where first and last were separated by less than a full point, the Kona Electric needn’t feel too bad. It’s a well-equipped entry into the market with a strong 415 km of claimed range, fast charge capability and an interior that doesn’t suffer too much from battery intrusion. Why did it finish where it did? Well, the exterior styling’s not to everyone’s tastes, and the infotainment system is starting to feel a little long in the tooth.
Third (tie): Hyundai NEXO
I know, I know – unfair, right? I mean, this is a car with hot new hydrogen tech that should be the beacon for the way we’re going for personal mobility, right? It shouldn’t be this far down the list. Well, yes; that’s partially true. I’m a big fan of hydrogen power as I’d driven the NEXO before the CCOTY program and experienced it in the city, on the highway, and at the pump. That last thing is the kicker; as of right now, there are about three places in all of Canada where you can easily fill a hydrogen car, and none of them are in Ontario. Of course, Hyundai can’t be blamed for what could be seen as political short-sightedness but the bottom line is with competition as close as it is here, something had to give. With a base price of $73,000, it’s also a pricey way to get into the alternative-fuel/EV game.
Third (tie): Nissan Leaf Plus
With the transition to its second generation, the Leaf finally escaped from that which had always plagued it: odd exterior looks that were too futuristic, really. Sound strange? Maybe, but as more and more people considered a move to EV, more and more were finding that they didn’t want to look so much like they were driving something with a futuristic EV powertrain; see the Chevrolet Volt’s transition as it moved to its second generation.
So it looks more handsome now, and with the move to “Plus” status, gets more range to the tune of almost 400 km. Add fast-charge capability and one of the lowest costs of entry in the segment, and you can see why the Leaf remains popular. Knocks against it include the rear subwoofer making for a non-flat load area in the trunk, as well as some finicky bits like the odd gear selector joystick.
Second: Kia Niro EV
Like the Leaf, the Niro gets a futuristic EV platform but more handsome, down-to-earth looks that do well to stay modern without going over the top. Also like the Leaf, it gets just under 400 km of range from a full charge.
Unlike the Leaf, however, it gets a flat load floor in the back as the subwoofer is housed in the cargo bay wall, and the rear seats fold to provide a nearly flat load floor. That’s all very good stuff, since this is the full-EV version with all that battery jammed in there somewhere. Other plusses include zippy acceleration thanks to a reduction gear 1-speed direct-drive transmission and instant torque delivery – there’s even a sport mode, if you so wish!
Like its Hyundai cousins, its aging infotainment cost it here, as well as its slightly squishy handling. Small nitpicks, but when you’re up against our winner…
First: Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid
More than just a hybrid, the Pacifica is actually a plug-in hybrid, meaning extended all-EV range (to the tune of about 40 km) thanks to a larger battery that can be plugged in to charge, as well as charged by the usual hybrid stuff like brake regen and coasting. It’s also got the best infotainment here with its huge display, crisp graphics and intuitive interface. Further, while it is a minivan, it’s a thoroughly modern take on one, looking more like a blown-up station wagon than it ever has before. That’s the new-school stuff.
What really sets the Pacifica apart in this company, though, is actually more of the old-school variety; Chrysler have been minivan masters for decades now (making the addition of a PHEV version obvious; they tend to be ahead of the curve in this segment), and all that knowhow has led to the Pacifica having great interior space, a well-controlled ride, smart Stow N’ Go seating (only in the third row, however; they had to fit that big battery somewhere) and enough storage for a small army, likely of 10-year-old hockey players.
The Pacifica was already good; the addition of an efficient PHEV powertrain takes it to the next level.