Automobile Journalist Association of Canada’s (AJAC) 2017 Canadian Car of the Year Awards

January 19, 2017 Updated: January 19, 2017

For most people, buying or leasing a brand new vehicle is likely the second largest purchase you might make. And if you prefer the latest and greatest in technology and engineering innovation combined with style, you might do this on a reasonably regular basis.

Buying a vehicle whether it’s a truck, sedan, SUV, or CUV is pretty subjective.

You might pay attention to reviews you see: your opinion might be swayed by a commercial on television or, your neighbour or colleague has regaled you with their “expertise” and recommendations.

What if you were able to listen to and see what a large group of professional automotive writers have to say? Would their thoughts and opinions possibly encourage you to look at one car over another?

Recently, eight “Best New” category winners were announced by the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada, better known as AJAC. The results were tabulated by KPMG, the accounting firm that works with the association and its annual Canadian Car of the Year award’s committee.

The vehicles named will now compete for the overall Canadian Car of the Year and Canadian Utility Vehicle of the Year honours, which will be announced at the Canadian International Auto Show in Toronto February 16, 2017.

The category winners represent the voting results by the largest group of Canada’s best-known automotive journalists, who gathered this October in Clarington, Ontario for a four-day test-drive evaluation of brand-new or significantly changed models. The event, known as “TestFest,” was hosted by Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, and welcomed Michelin, BF Goodrich, Canadian Black Book, and the Steel Market Development Institute as partners.

“TestFest is the most intensive new-vehicle evaluation process out there,” said Gary Grant, co-chair of the Canadian Car of the Year committee. “No other organization employs such stringent testing methods to determine its award winners.”

The rigorous testing program includes real-world driving on public roads, exactly where consumers drive, so the test data and vote results are directly relevant to potential car and utility vehicle buyers. The results are not based on the personal opinion of just one or two journalists. Instead, more than 60 respected automotive journalists each drove vehicles in their categories back-to-back on the same day, under the same conditions, to ensure fair and objective comparisons. Using a detailed rating form, comprising 21 separate evaluation parameters that include acceleration, braking, vehicle dynamics, maneuverability, even off-road capability, where applicable, each parameter is rated using a prescribed 0–10 rating scale.

Every detail, from safety features to cargo capacity, is thoroughly scrutinized, discussed, and individually rated by secret ballot.

 “This unique program is absolutely testing-based,” said Justin Pritchard, co-chair of the Canadian Car of the Year committee. “We have dozens of experienced vehicle testers driving dozens of vehicles, back to back, over the course of several days. This testing process generated 1,384 test drives, producing over 100,000 data points and 1,058 category ballots. It’s important to note that every aspect of this testing data is shared online via our website, http://www.ajac.ca so shoppers can see how any given vehicle won its category, or how it stacked up to the category winner.”

Epoch Times had an opportunity to ask Senior Executives from the winning OEMs for their thoughts on being declared category winners by professional reviewers from across Canada.

BEST NEW SMALL CAR & BEST NEW SPORTS / PERFORMANCE CAR

Hyundai Elantra, (best new small car) with 682 points, and scoring highest in Value.

Hyundai Elantra (Sport), (best new sports/performance car) with 682 points, and scoring highest in Occupant Environment and Ride Dynamics.

(Right: David Taylor, CCOTY Committee Member, Left: Don Romano, president and CEO, Hyundai Auto Canada Corp.) (David Taylor)
(Left: David Taylor, CCOTY Committee Member, Right: Don Romano, president and CEO, Hyundai Auto Canada Corp.) (David Taylor)

Epoch Auto: With these two category wins, what do you believe are your company’s strengths?

Don Romano, president and CEO, Hyundai Auto Canada Corp.: I see the Elantra and Elantra Sport wins stemming from one simple decision, and that was when engineers developed the SuperStructure as the basis from which to build the vehicles. The SuperStructure is made from advanced, high-strength steel from Hyundai’s own steel plant and was the result of vehicle engineers and metallurgists working side-by-side to deliver a stiffer, stronger frame. That frame means all Elantras deliver a sportier ride, isolate the cabin from noise, and improve collision protection. It seems simple, but every one of the Elantra’s strengths can be traced back to that SuperStructure.

Epoch Auto: Will this award have a positive effect on sales?

Mr. Romano: Yes, most definitely. AJAC is an authority. Over 60 automotive journalists that review cars all year long tested the Elantra back-to-back with its competition. Their expert judging of the Elantra and its merits showed the car was class-leading in both the Small Car and Sports-Performance categories. Study after study, we see that customers from all walks of life truly value the opinions of experts in any field, and the automotive field is no different.

Epoch Auto: How does Hyundai Auto Canada Corp. view the Chinese-Canadian market?

Mr. Romano: The Chinese-Canadian market is immensely important to Hyundai. This is a growing group of educated, savvy customers that know the value of the products they’re buying. Hyundai dealers recognize that, with more and more of them hiring staff capable of helping customers in multiple languages to respond to our customer’s needs and exceed their expectations.

BEST NEW LARGE CAR

Volkswagen Golf (Alltrack), with 680 points, and scoring highest in Exterior Styling, Throttle and Engine, and Transmission Performance.

(Left: Maria Stenström, president and CEO of Volkswagen Group Canada Inc., Right: David Taylor, CCOTY Committee Member) (David Taylor)
(Left: Maria Stenström, president and CEO of Volkswagen Group Canada Inc., Right: David Taylor, CCOTY Committee Member) (David Taylor)

Epoch Auto: Judging by your broad smile, this award means something to Volkswagen?

Maria Stenström, president and CEO of Volkswagen Group Canada Inc. Now available with Volkswagen’s 4MOTION all-wheel-drive, the Golf Sportwagen and Alltrack give Canadian consumers a real option when it comes to four-season vehicles. Consumers are seeking a roomy, fun-to-drive alternative in the crossover (CUV) segment, and that is just what we have provided. Add to this the impending arrival in 2017 of our seven-passenger Atlas sport utility vehicle (SUV) and a completely redesigned Tiguan compact SUV and you have a comprehensive lineup of AWD vehicles that offer a compelling combination of size, capability, and value. We are delighted to have the Alltrack receive AJAC’s 2017 award for “Best New Large Car”. This honour shines a spotlight on a vehicle that offers a true alternative to the traditional CUV or SUV.

Epoch Auto: How important are specific niche markets to Volkswagen–specifically in the greater Vancouver and Toronto regions?

Ms. Stenström: Volkswagen has long been a dominant player in the domestic Chinese market, and was the first foreign manufacturer to set up a base of operations in the country.  Now; over thirty years later, our familiarity with the market has afforded us the advantage of tried and true market awareness. The Chinese-Canadian consumer instantly recognizes the quality, value and prestige of our product, and our lineup within Canada is growing to further address their wants and needs. As one of the world’s largest manufacturers, we will continue to leverage our international experience to provide models that are custom-tailored to each individual market.

BEST NEW LARGE PREMIUM CAR

Buick LaCrosse, with 656 points, and scoring highest in Fuel Efficiency.

(Left: Mike Speranzini, brand director, Buick Canada, Right: David Taylor, CCOTY Committee Member) (David Taylor)
(Left: Mike Speranzini, brand director, Buick Canada, Right: David Taylor, CCOTY Committee Member) (David Taylor)

Epoch Auto: Why do you believe the Buick Lacrosse was scored the winner?

Mike Speranzini, brand director, Buick Canada: The LaCrosse represents the new face of the Buick brand. It has been redesigned to offer full-size sedan customers a striking, all-new design and sophisticated technologies. The LaCrosse is the most technologically advanced sedan we have ever made.

Epoch Auto: Will this award benefit future sales of the Lacrosse?

Mr. Speranzini: Our AJAC award win is another reinforcement of our brand’s dedication to providing our customers with outstanding vehicles that deliver attainable luxury. The LaCrosse is our flagship vehicle, featuring the new face of Buick and is giving customers a reason to come back to Buick.

Epoch Auto: Does Buick relate specifically to Chinese-Canadian customers?

Mr. Speranzini: The Chinese-Canadian community is a growing demographic and as such requires a customized approach to how we communicate with them. Buick is a premium brand that delivers aspirational vehicles that inspire, reward, and delight. Buick is perceived as one of the most premium luxury brands in the Chinese market, with over a million units sold a year. Many Chinese-Canadian buyers also hold that perception of the brand and there is a large opportunity for us to leverage Buick’s high brand affiliation in Canada. Further, in 2017, we are looking for new ways to connect with the Chinese Canadian buyer and on January 18, we became the first automotive brand to join WeChat.

BEST NEW PREMIUM SPORTS / PERFORMANCE CAR

BMW M2, with 658 points, and scoring highest in Value.

(Left: Hans Blesse, president and CEO of BMW Group Canada, Right: David Taylor, CCOTY Committee Member) (David Taylor)
(Left: Hans Blesse, president and CEO of BMW Group Canada, Right: David Taylor, CCOTY Committee Member) (David Taylor)

Due to scheduling conflicts, BMW were unable to discuss their win directly.

BEST NEW SMALL UTILITY

Subaru Forester, with 678 points, and scoring highest in Value, Off-road Capability, and Occupant Environment.

(Left: Ted Lalka, vice president, Product Management, Marketing & Customer Experience, Subaru Canada Inc., Right: David Taylor, CCOTY Committee) (David Taylor)
(Left: Ted Lalka, vice president, Product Management, Marketing & Customer Experience, Subaru Canada Inc., Right: David Taylor, CCOTY Committee) (David Taylor)

Epoch Auto: Notwithstanding the obvious, tell us why the Forester won this category.

Ted Lalka, vice president, Product Management, Marketing & Customer Experience, Subaru Canada Inc.: The Subaru Forester received a major refresh for 2017 to offer enhanced safety, performance, and convenience helping it stand out amidst its all-new competition. This compact SUV offers an unbeatable combination of all-road/all-weather capability, superior reliability, advanced safety features, exceptional value, and sheer driving enjoyment.

Epoch Auto: Will this award benefit Subaru and its dealer network going forward?

Mr. Lalka: The Forester is Subaru’s best-selling model in a lineup of vehicles that helped us achieve our fifth consecutive sales record with over 50,000 sales in Canada last year. With 13,798 units retailed in 2016, the Forester is Subaru’s volume model in a growing category, which is helping Subaru secure its foothold as an attractive alternative to mainstream brands.

Epoch Auto: Is there a message you would like to convey to Chinese-Canadian consumers?

Mr. Lalka: The Chinese-Canadian community is important to Subaru. Our message is the same message (that) we deliver to all Canadians: Subaru is a unique automotive company that provides an extraordinary combination of safety, performance, and adventure in vehicles that have earned an incredible reputation for delivering outstanding value in vehicles which tend to remain on the road longer than average.

BEST NEW LARGE UTILITY

Chrysler Pacifica, with 664 points, and scoring highest in Interior Styling, Occupant Environment, and Ride Dynamics.

(Left: Bradley Horn, Product Communications, FCA Canada, Right: David Taylor, CCOTY Committee Member) (David Taylor)
(Left: Bradley Horn, Product Communications, FCA Canada, Right: David Taylor, CCOTY Committee Member) (David Taylor)

Epoch Auto: What is FCA’s strength in this category?

William Levasseur, vice president, Sales and Marketing, FCA Canada: FCA’s been the minivan leader since we created the segment more than 30 years ago. More than 14.3 million FCA minivans have been sold globally since. We understand this segment and the needs of its customers. Chrysler Pacifica provides unparalleled versatility, innovative entertainment, technology, and more than 100 advanced safety and security features–attributes families’ demand. 

Epoch Auto: Does this AJAC award hold any significance to FCA and its dealers?

Mr. Levasseur: Third-party recognition, especially from the expert members of AJAC, is a top-level endorsement. These awards resonate with consumers because they come from experts who test drive vehicles from across the industry and have a broad base of knowledge to apply. The AJAC award is yet another feather in Pacifica’s cap.

Epoch Auto: Does this vehicle’s broad appeal transfer to the Chinese-Canadian market?

Mr. Levasseur: That’s the beauty of our minivans: their design, versatility, technology, and safety lends to broad appeal. Canadian consumers purchase their vehicle based on it being a best fit for their busy family. FCA knows the minivan segment and its customers. In Canada, 70 percent of the minivans sold, come from FCA. The all-new Chrysler Pacifica is the ultimate family vehicle, exceeding the wants and needs of modern parents.

BEST NEW PREMIUM UTILITY VEHICLE

Mercedes-Benz GLC (GLC 300 4MATIC), with 658 points, and scoring highest in Value, Noise, Vibration, and Harshness (N/V/H).

(Left: Brian D. Fulton, president and CEO of Mercedes-Benz Canada, Right: David Taylor, CCOTY Committee Member) (David Taylor)
(Left: Brian D. Fulton, president and CEO of Mercedes-Benz Canada, Right: David Taylor, CCOTY Committee Member) (David Taylor)

Epoch Auto: As a premium manufacturer, does another award hold any significance for Mercedes-Benz?

Brian D. Fulton, president and CEO of Mercedes-Benz Canada: We could not be happier that one of our most popular vehicles has gotten the kind of recognition it deserves with this win in the Best New Premium Utility Vehicle segment at the (AJAC) Canadian Car of the Year Awards. The light truck market is growing increasingly important for manufacturers, which only makes this win for the GLC 300 4MATIC even sweeter. I would like to thank the AJAC journalists who participated in this worthy competition for affirming our commitment to providing best-in-class vehicles.

We will be attending the award for the Canadian Car of the Year and Canadian Utility Vehicle of the year next month and will report with the final results, quotes, and photographs.

David Taylor is an independent automotive lifestyle writer, producer, and editor based in Barrie, Ontario who is fascinated by innovation and technology which enhance the overall driving experience. He’s also a member of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC) and has been a Director for the Canadian Car of the Year award program since 2014. Follow him on Twitter @Omemeeozzie or on Instagram @hugoscaroftheweek.