I just test drove 25 cars in two days. That’s the marathon that is Canadian Car of the Year testing. The vehicles tested were worth about 1.2 million, from the cheapest Kia Rio at $23,000 to the most expensive Lexus LC500h at $118,000. All kinds of vehicles are eligible for 2018 Car of the Year, and members of the Automotive Journalists Association of Canada evaluate as many as they can at the event called TestFest, and also throughout the year.
TestFest is held at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park (formerly Mosport), but we don’t drive the cars on the big track. A smaller development track is available for testing, and we drive on the normal roads around Bowmanville.
We have about 30 minutes to evaluate a car. It doesn’t seem like much, but it is assumed that auto journalists drive a lot of these vehicles during the year, and get impressions then.
When you have been testing cars for years you can judge some basic functions quickly. How is the acceleration and the braking? Is the car noisy inside, does it exhibit vibration and harshness, and how does it handle rough roads? We judge the look of the vehicle both inside and out, the ergonomics, visibility, safety features and entertainment and tech functions. Auto journalists like to say that there are no bad cars anymore, but that doesn’t mean you love or even like them all.
I’ve never liked the Prius, and once again, driving the 2018 model at TestFest my feeling was confirmed. It seems to be a car for people who hate cars. Nothing in it functions like a car, it is the equivalent of getting your meal from a vending machine. I did like the all electric Chevy Bolt with its driving range of 383 kilometres, and the high quality VW e-Golf.
For those wary of all-electric vehicles, the Kia Niro is a shrewd choice. The Niro, classified as a small crossover, with a gas/hybrid engine promises impressive fuel economy of about 4.5 L/100km. I drove the fully loaded Touring edition at TestFest, and as is Kia’s trademark it came with everything short of a built-in bread machine for about $33,000. It has a smart looking leather interior, and comes with autonomous emergency braking, and front collision warning, among many other safety features along with premium sound, and wireless phone charging. It’s not fast but steering is sharp, driving it is fun and visibility in the roomy cabin is excellent.
The new Honda Accord was there, a lot of people love it but it left me cold. I much preferred the sprightly and boldly styled Toyota Camry in the Large Car category.
I drove pick-up trucks. The Honda Ridgeline- lived up to its description as a “lifestyle truck.” I preferred the more manly Chevy Colorado, but the Ridgeline with its restrained profile might be right-sized for a certain crowd.
Just because the Lexus LC 500h was super expensive doesn’t make it super exciting. I like the radical exterior look, like a bunch of folded aluminum foil, and the inside was space age and far out. But the drive of the hybrid was curiously clinical and on the sterile side. If I was shopping for an expensive, sporty and exclusive car, I would choose the Porsche Boxster at $80,000, it was terrific to drive.
Of all the cars at TestFest my heart was stolen by the Alfa Romeo Giulia. It’s a bundle of joy at $64,000. The steering is razor sharp, the transmission shifts like a whip, it’s fast and looks like nothing else on the road. The Giulia moves like a lithe sprinter, while so many other sports cars seem too encumbered by size and technology.
At the end of the last day of testing I drove the Honda Civic Type R in the Sports-Performance category. Loved the rawness of the performance, but the styling-is a total disco inferno. A big wing at the stern, screaming red interior accents, it’s in your face full time. But driving it is full of delicious excitement and it’s only $40,000 bucks.
The Canadian Car (and Truck) of the Year winners are announced at the Canadian International Auto Show in February.