In October I test-drove 40 cars in four days. The line up included a $17,000 Smart Car and a $160,000 Mercedes AMG GT S and everything in between.

The event is called Test Fest, and members of Automotive Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC) are invited to it to evaluate the new models for 2016. We vote, and one of vehicles will be picked as the Canadian Car of the Year.

My official categories to judge were Small Cars, Family Cars and SUV’s. We drive each car in the category back to back. It’s the best way to compare them. We judge for the ride quality, ergonomics, noise and vibration, build quality, technology and safety features among other things. Measurements like stopping distance, and acceleration (0-100 km/h) are done by a small team in controlled testing on a track.

It’s fascinating and exhausting. In a big category like SUV’s which includes CUV’s, it’s a marathon of driving. This year 17 vehicles were entered in the SUV category. Compare that to Family cars where just three were in competition. It supports the fact that people who might have bought a Toyota Camry in the past, are buying Jeep Renegades or Mazda CX 3’s instead.

I prefer a car, and one of my favorites at Test Fest was the Volkswagen Golf Sportwagen, it’s a sporty station wagon, simple as that. But it will be a low volume seller for a number of reasons. Station wagons are a niche market, long ago surpassed by SUV’s. People love SUV’s because they perceive them to be safer, roomier and more versatile than that a car.

After testing 17 SUV’s the ones that stand out to me are the Hyundai Tucson and Kia Sorento. Both are priced around $36,000, right in the middle of the pack. I recently had the Sorento for a weeklong test, and that just confirmed my positive impression at Test Fest.

The well-equipped Sorento is like a home away from home. I’ve thought deeply about the appeal of SUV’s and I think they tap into people’s nesting instincts. The Sorento interior

is finely crafted and cozy, the seats heat up and so does the steering wheel, the trunk opens as you approach it, like an obedient dog, and window shades can be pulled up in the backseat to filter out the world. Call it a condo on wheels.

Kia’s genius is to include a swag bag full of features, some standard, some optional, but still at a price that makes you wonder what their profit margin is. Blind spot detection, rear parking sonar, rear cross traffic alert, all-wheel-drive, 3rd-row seating, leather seats, it’s as well equipped as many luxury SUV’s.

The drive, like most SUV’s is competent and completely forgettable. It tracks well, it’s quiet, visibility is good, power from the V6 is suitable for the job, potholes don’t upset it. It’s what most people are looking for.

We drove the Sorento to Buffalo and it was pleasant. In Hamilton we filled it up with firewood and had room to spare. It’s nimble in the city and a bubble of serenity on the highway and it will carry seven passengers in a pinch. It’s practical and a bit posh at a reasonable price.

So the Sorento was a happy discovery at Test Fest, but for wild fun my favorite was the C63

AMG Mercedes. For $93, 990 you get the wail of a V8, 503 horsepower, and the Smokers Package is standard. Politically incorrect but a psychedelic experience.

Written by: Kathy Renwald

Providing a fresh perspective for Hamilton and Burlington

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