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APA at the 2020 AJAC Test Fest

By Ron Corbett, APA Staff Writer 

Vehicles awaiting drivers in front of the key hut that is the nexus of TestFest (AJAC photo) 

The Auto Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC) car of the year TestFest took place at Mosport Raceway, in Ontario, on October 29th and 30th, 2019.

Dozens of AJAC voting journalists from across Canada attended the to day event to drive the latest models from vehicle manufacturers. The votes generated from the impressions of the models on hand for evaluation will determine which vehicles will be picked as the 2020 Canadian Car of the Year and Truck of the Year.

Following are driving impressions of the most significant vehicles available at the TestFest this year, presented in the order in which they were driven.


Sleek Camaro has a 2L turbo four under its hood 

The concept of a powerful, yet lighter engine, in the nose of a performance car, is an intriguing one.

The Camaro provided for the TestFest was powered by a 275 horsepower 2L turbo four hooked up to a six-speed manual transmission--an automatic is available--that sends power to the rear wheels.

While power is ample and acceleration is swift, the engine is reluctant to rev and delivers its power unenthusiastically.

The Camaro’s clutch is precise and lighter than expected but the gearchange, while always finding the right gear, features long throws and a clunky feel.

The steering of the Camaro loads up nicely on corners and is pleasantly weighted, but the extra wide tires tend to follow lines and grooves in the pavement.

While the exterior of the Camaro is very attractive, its window-body-ratio is very biased toward the body; with outward visibility an afterthought.

The Camaro’s cabin is stylish, with some interesting touches like the climate controls, but materials could be better and spending a bit more money on the gauge graphics would lift the look of the interior considerably. Interior room is tight, even in the front seats, which themselves are quite comfortable. 

The impressively sporty Hyundai Veloster N  

Hyundai Veloster N

Like AMG for Mercedes and M for BMW, Hyundai has chosen a letter, in this case N, to identify the highest-performance versions of its vehicles.

Hyundai provided an N version of its small Veloster hatchback for AJAC members to evaluate at the TestFest this year.

While the car if fully featured, Hyundai did not spend lavishly on the cabin of the Veloster, which is furnished in a typical fashion for a compact hatchback.

Where Hyundai did spend the money was, except for the obvious “go-faster” exterior embellishments, on the performance mechanicals of the car.

Power stems from a turbocharged 2L four that cranks out 275 horsepower. The engine is strong, flexible, zingy and acceptably muted in day-to-day operation. However, if you engage the “N” mode, the engine bellows as it approaches the redline and pops and crackles on the over-run. Hyundai wisely makes the “fun” aspects of the N available when you are in the mood for them but lets you enjoy reasonable refinement otherwise.

The clutch of the N is light in weight and smooth in engagement. The gearchange is both precise and has little lost motion.

Steering is beautifully weighted and precise but doesn’t follow grooves in the road like some other cars shod with wide, low profile tires.

The ride-handling compromise, with firm control combined with enough resiliency to prevent beating passengers up, reflects a lot of very careful development by Hyundai.

In practical terms, front occupants enjoy enough space as well as the wonderfully locating but not confining front seats. The rear seat has reasonable space for a small, sporty car and the rear door on the passenger side of the car eases access considerably. The trunk is amply spacious and with a hatchback, versatile.  

Hyundai chose the crossover format for its Nexo hydrogen fuel cell vehicle

The Nexo is Hyundai’s second-generation fuel cell car which should become available to private customers in the next year or so.

Power stems from a hydrogen powered fuel that creates electricity on board to power the 160 electric motor. Range is claimed to be up to 570 kilometres, with refuelling with hydrogen stated to take only five minutes.

With lots of faux alloy trim and some interesting colour choices, the Nexo’s cabin looks avant-garde but avoids some of the goofiness that shows up in some high-tech cars.

Other than a slightly bus-like driving position, the Nexo’s cabin is roomy and comfortable for both front and rear riders. Cargo space is acceptable but not as spacious as one would expect in so large a car. Though the multiple buttons on the swept back centre console look intimidating at first, the buttons for various functions are grouped together and the controls are easy to master.

Except for the fact that power is generated on board by the fuel cell, the Nexo drives the same as an electric car powered by a battery pack. The Nexo’s steering is light but accurate and confident handling is allied to an absorbent ride. 


The design of the new Ford Escape is hardly original but looks good nonetheless

Long overdue, the new-generation Escape is on sale now.

While a new 1.5L turbocharged three-cylinder engine (like the 1.5L MINI Cooper) will power the bulk of new Escapes, only the optional 245 horsepower 2L was available to sample at the TestFest. The 2L is fast, flexible, and is more refined than many of the 2L turbos powering some luxury brands sampled at TestFest.

The lusty 2L four was hooked up to a conventional hydraulic eight-speed automatic transmission that is well matched to the power characteristics of the engine.

The steering of the Escape is light but precise and the ride-handling compromise arrived at by Ford reflects a lot of hard work.

The new larger body pays big dividends inside as the car is now very roomy and comfortable for four large adults who don’t need to pack carefully for a trip as cargo capacity is ample. The driver faces an attractive transistor-film-technology (TFT) gauge cluster and its controls for climate and audio systems are straightforward. The seats, both front and rear, are more comfortable than previously and cabin materials, except for the faux wood trim on the Titanium, are attractive. 

Subaru buyers like subtle styling progress and this all-new Outback looks little different from its predecessor

The only engine on offer at TestFest was the 2.4L turbo four that debuted in the Ascent last year. While not as silky smooth at the 3.6L flat six it replaces, the new engine is acceptably smooth and with 260 horsepower, it moves the Outback with authority. 

The steering is quick, but oddly, it is heavier than expected at low speeds, lightening up as speed increases, the reverse of what is thought of as ideal.

With an absorbent ride combined with a touch of controlled lean in fast corners, the Outback displays traditional Subaru suspension characteristics.

Subaru pulled out all the stops when designing the cabin of the new Outback. Other than the massive centre screen, the rest of the cabin, including crisply-marked conventional gauges, reflects very traditional taste, all rendered in very luxurious materials. The seats are comfortable front and rear and there is good space for adults in the back seat. Like many Subarus, the cargo deck is high, leaving a shallower that expected space between the cabin floor and the bottom of the windows. 

The chic and capable Range Rover Evoque 

After what seemed like a century, Jaguar Land Rover finally introduced a second-generation version of its luxury compact crossover, the Range-Rover Evoque.

The HSE version of the Evoque supplied by JLR was powered by a 300 horsepower 2L turbo four is one of JLR’s homegrown Ingenium engine series.

The 2L turbo engine emits slightly gravelly noises at low speeds but produces stirring sounds as revs reach the redline. Power delivery is linear, strong and enthusiastic at any speed. The nine-speed automatic transmission is carefully mated to the engine and delivers smooth upshifts and reacts quickly to requests from the driver.

Steering is nicely weighted, quick and precise and the wheel itself is a delight to hold.

Braking is strong with a reassuring pedal feel.

The Evoque combines a firmly resilient ride, without a hint of harshness, with very confident handling.

With small windows, visibility is not ideal

Range-Rover fashions some of the most elegant cabins in the business and despite the Evoque’s position as the entry-level Rang-Rover, the firm did not hold back on style. The driver faces some finely-rendered transistor-film-technology (TFT) gauges and very crisply-marked screens for navigation, audio and climate operations.

With elegant two-tone leather, artfully-crafted alloy trim and matte-finished soft-touch trim, the cabin of the Evoque is very luxurious. Seating is comfortable front and rear but rear seat legroom is tight for a vehicle this big. Despite the low-slung appearance, headroom is ample. The cargo bay is substantial and the rear seat features a 40/20/40 split for maximum flexibility.


It may look like a Wrangler Unlimited but the Jeep Gladiator is a standalone vehicle

While it looks like a Wrangler Unlimited with a cargo box, the Gladiator is, with a unique chassis frame and driveline components, a standalone model.

On the road, the longer wheelbase and greater overall length of the Gladiator over the Wrangler Unlimited aid ride comfort, which, while not absorbent, is now no longer a deal-breaker as it can be for the Wrangler. In addition, the Gladiator’s handling is steadier and more settled than it is on the Wrangler.

The 3.6L V6 powering the Gladiator furnishes ample urge with greater smoothness than it does in the Wrangler, perhaps because exhaust noise isn’t rumbling around inside the crewcab body style compared with the wagon body of its showroom mate.

The conventional eight-speed automatic transmission delivers smooth upshifts, attentive downshifts and a mechanically relaxed cruising gear.

The TestFest incorporated a challenging off-road test track for pickup trucks which the Gladiator easily shrugged off in the four-high setting, not requiring four-low to get the job done.

The Gladiator, cabin, with copious soft-touch surfaces and matte finished plastics, delivers a welcoming cabin ambience. That said, like the Wrangler, high ground clearance and small door apertures make getting in and out of the Gladiator a struggle for many people. Once inside, the seats are comfortable and the very upright driving position of the Gladiator provides a glimpse at what driving must have been like in the 1920s.

Like the Wrangler Unlimited, a vast array of top and door configuations are available. 

Though not pretty, the Toyota GR Supra is certainly distinctive

A Bimmer in a Kimono or Ichiban, Nummer Eins, as it is known to its friends, the GR Supra is Toyota’s coupe spin on the componentry created by BMW for the latest Z4. Except for the styling, the GR Supra was created by BMW and built by them for Toyota.

Unlike previous Supras, which were substantial vehicles, the new GR Supra is a very compact car. Not only is the car small, it is also low, and combined with the rear-wheel drive architecture of the car, the GR Supra is not a paragon of space efficiency. However, once you wedge yourself into the car, the seat is supportive and locate the driver very well, and there is sufficient room inside even for larger drivers. The trunk, accessed via a hatchback tailgate, is surprising spacious. The driver faces a very Lexus-like instrument binnacle but there are also a number of very BMW-like cabin fittings in the car. Interior materials and assembly quality are very good.

The sole power choice is BMW’s turbocharged inline six that produces 335 horsepower in this application. The engine, with strong urge and instant response, emits a cultured yet intoxicating noise.

Hooked to the turbo six is a conventional eight-speed automatic transmission (no manual offered) that seems to exist exclusively to turn the driver’s thoughts into action.

Steering is precise, linear, beautifully weighted and faithfully telegraphs road surface information back to the driver.

Outward visibility is limited, with the driver confronted with a bit of headliner when peering out the side windows combining with a limited view out the raked rear window.

Toyota and BMW seems like a odd corporate collaboration and while the GR Supra is not the large, brawny sports coupe the Supra name was founded on, the car itself is very compelling road companion. It is certainly reassuring, after a long period of somnolence, to experience a truly thrilling BMW-developed car once again.