After a week at "Testfest," the annual Canadian Car and Utility Vehicle of the Year testing, I'm back home and the mud is finally off my boots. Produced by the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada, the event pulls about 70 journalists from across Canada, who drive a variety of vehicles on public roads, along with either a closed high-speed course or off-road section, and rate them. All vehicles in a category must be driven back-to-back on the same day.
At the end of the week, the category winners are named, and then we vote again to determine the overall winners in the car and utility vehicle categories. They'll be announced next February at the Canadian International Auto Show in Toronto.
So what won, and what should have? I was only one vote in the process, so here's my opinion on it all.
Small Car Under $21,000: Ford Fiesta, Mazda2, Scion xD, Scion xB, Volkswagen Jetta. What won: Ford Fiesta. What should have won: Mazda 2. Sportier handling, more fun to drive and better visibility, even if they are close cousins under the skin.
Small Car Over $21,000: Chevrolet Cruze, Honda CR-Z, Kia Forte5, Nissan Juke, Scion tC. What won: Chevrolet Cruze. What should have won: The voters got it right. The Cruze is one heck of a car for twenty-one grand.
Family Car Under $30,000: Hyundai Sonata, Suzuki Kizashi, Volkswagen Jetta TDI. What won: Volkswagen Jetta. What should have won: Hyundai was robbed. I love diesels, but the Sonata hits that sweet spot in the Canadian marketplace with both barrels.
Family Car Over $30,000: Buick Regal, Mercedes-Benz E-Class Wagon, Toyota Avalon. What won: Buick Regal. What should have one: Buick deserves its trophy, although I'm always pleasantly surprised by how genuinely nice the Avalon is to drive. I can't imagine why anyone would move up to a Lexus.
Luxury Car Over $50,000: Audi A8, BMW 5 Series Sedan, Cadillac CTS Coupe, Hyundai Equus, Infiniti M, Lexus IS350, Mercedes-Benz E350 BlueTec, Volvo S60. What won: BMW 5 Series. What should have won: The 5 Series was a solid choice, although I was surprised by a $64,000 car that had a button for navigation, but didn't actually have a map (apparently the iDrive buttons come as a single unit, so you don't get blank keys if you don't pony up for the nav). A few of us expected the Equus to come away a surprise winner on its price, but it tied for last place.
Prestige Car Over $75,000: Audi R8 Spyder, BMW 5 Series Gran Turismo, Jaguar XJ Supercharged, Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG, Porsche 911 Turbo S. What won: Porsche 911. What should have won: The victor took it in spades. This car is incredible. The SLS turned out to be the prettiest girl at the prom who can't dance: it's drop-dead gorgeous but wobbled its way around the track. Still, I'd love to be seen in it any day of the week, and for that, it really hits its target audience.
Best Sports/Performance: Cadillac CTS-V Coupe, Ford Mustang Shelby, Mercedes-Benz E550 Cabriolet. What won: Cadillac CTS-V. What should have won: I had no qualms about the winner, but I thought they were all worthy. I knew the Shelby wouldn't win because a lot of journalists simply don't appreciate raw Detroit muscle.
Best New Minivan: Honda Odyssey, Toyota Sienna. What won: Toyota Sienna. What should have won: It's a minivan: who cares? That said, the better-handling Honda probably would have taken it if it hadn't been the most expensive, fully-loaded model against the value-priced base Sienna.
SUV/CUV Under $35,000: Hyundai Tucson, Kia Sportage, Mitsubishi RVR. What won: Hyundai Tucson. What should have won: Kia Sportage. Better-looking and a sportier handler than its Hyundai sibling.
SUV/CUV $35,000-$50,000: Ford Edge, Honda Accord Crosstour, Hyundai Santa Fe, Jeep Grand Cherokee, Kia Sorento, Toyota 4Runner, Toyota Highlander Hybrid. What won: Ford Edge. What should have won: The Edge deserved it, although I think Jeep would have had a fighting chance had it entered a less-expensive model. (And if the starter button hadn't been installed upside-down.)
SUV/CUV Over $50,000: Lincoln MKX, Mercedes-Benz R350 BlueTec, Porsche Cayenne, Volkswagen Touareg. What won: Volkswagen. What should have won: The right vehicle took it. That new MyLincolnTouch tiny-button-computer-screen controller is impossible to use when you're driving, and while the Cayenne is lovely, it's just too complicated and way too much money.
What will win overall? I think it's going to stay domestic: I'm betting on Chevrolet Cruze for Car of the Year, and Ford Edge for Utility Vehicle of the Year. Spoilers to watch for will be Ford Fiesta and Volkswagen Touareg.