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APA at The 2018 AJAC Car of the Year TestFest

By: Ron Corbett, APA Staff Writer 


Vehicles arrayed at Mosport ready for AJAC testers

The Auto Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC) car of the year TestFest took place at Mosport Raceway in Ontario on October 25th and 26th, 2017.

About 65 AJAC journalists, including the APA's Ron Corbett, attended the two day event to drive the latest models from vehicle manufacturers. Their votes on the 55 different models present as well as the vehicles they have driven in the past year, will determine which vehicles will be picked for Car of the Year and Truck of the Year for 2018 in time for next February's Toronto International Auto Show.

Following are driving impressions for the most significant vehicles available at the TestFest this year.


The new Kia Rio is a neat and tidy styling job 

Kia Rio

The latest Rio was unveiled almost a year ago but it has only recently gone on sale in Canada, and the TestFest was the APA’s first opportunity to experience it.

Though all-new, the Rio is about the same size as its predecessor and cabin space is similar. The interior is conservatively elegant, with crisply-marked gauges, a clear infotainment screen and logical minor controls. Cabin materials are attractive, especially in the leather-trimmed range-topper at the TestFest.

Kia’s 1.6L four is mated to a conventional six-speed automatic transmission, and delivers sufficient performance and refinement, as well as being quiet on the highway. The ride-handling compromise is well-judged.

Although the Rio was the most modest car at the TestFest, it was the most impressive when its solidity, performance, refinement and features are measured against its price. Unless you need more space, it's unnecessary to spend more money on a car. 

Humdrum styling of the new Volkswagen Atlas envelopes a roomy cabin 

Volkswagen Atlas

The Atlas puts Volkswagen in the heart of the three-row CUV segment, a new one for the firm and an important one, especially in the United States. The Atlas also provides Volkswagen owners a solution when they outgrow their two-row Tiguans.

While the Atlas will not win any aesthetic prizes, inside or out, it is a roomy, comfortable, versatile vehicle that is a pleasure to drive. With the 3.6L V6, the Atlas accelerates quickly and cruises serenely. VW has expended considerable effort on the suspension which delivers both reassuring control and pleasing suppleness. Though light, the steering is precise and tracks well at highway speeds and the brakes stop the Atlas with authority. 

The new Volvo XC60 combines styling elements with Volvo's newest models with an echo of its long-lived predecessor as well

Volvo XC60

After the XC90 and S90-V90, the XC60 is the third new Volvo to be built on Volvo’s latest variable platform. This new XC60 and the upcoming XC40, will have to sell strongly for Volvo to prosper in Canada.

The cabin is stylish, sumptuous and comfortable; fantastic seats are an old Volvo tradition. Cargo space is good.

The supercharged AND turbocharged 2L engine in the T6 variant accelerates with authority at any speed. While fast, flexible and quiet on the highway, the T6’s sound profile is disappointing. The T6 handles confidently and despite its enormous wheels and low profile tires, never jostles occupants over bumps.

Being a Volvo, the XC60 features a massive array of active safety equipment.

Ultra-sleek styling of the new Honda Accord will cause rival firms some sleepness nights this year  

Honda Accord

The 10th generation Accord, like the most recent Civic, is a radical re-imagining what the Accord can be, and totally reboots the nameplate. Its silhouette has echoes of the new Civic, but eliminates a lot of the extraneous styling gargoyles, resulting in a sleek elegance. The cabin looks upscale and is constructed from attractive components. Finally responding to negative comments about the infotainment system in the Civic and Pilot, Honda has developed a new interface for the Accord that is delightfully straightforward. Seating is comfortable, with impressive rear legroom for the midsize sedan segment.

The 1.5L turbo four powering the Accord is quick, flexible and quiet when cruising but drones annoyingly at low speeds and when gentle acceleration is needed. The CVT harnesses the power of the 1.5 turbo very well. While numb, the steering is precise and nicely weighted. Honda has done a good job at reconciling ride and comfort on the new Accord.


While more adventurous that its predecessors, the new Camry looks a bit staid compared with the new Accord 

Toyota Camry

With an expressive dash centre stack and some wild shapes, Toyota pulled out all the stops when they designed the new Camry’s cabin. Clear instrumentation and logical controls are a snap to use. Substantial seats and good room welcome riders. Large windows lend an airiness to the cabin.

Unlike Honda, which has gone all-turbo for the new Accord, Toyota retained simpler normally-aspirated non-turbo engines for the new Camry. A new eight-speed automatic transmission replaces the previous six-speed in gas models, and contributes to a more traditional driving experience. The hybrid returns for 2018 with the old powertrain. The SE hybrid Camry driven at the TestFest was quiet and refined. Once a very soft riding car with slightly nautical handling, the Camry now drives a lot like the Honda Accord. 

Fronted by the traditional Alfa-Romeo grille, the Giulia is clearly a product of the Milanese firm  

Alfa Romeo Giulia TI AWD

Though Alfa-Romeo has sold a handful of exotic mid-engined 4C sports cars over the last few years, the Giulia represents the defacto return of the marque here after a 22 year absence.

While some observers find the Giulia’s exterior styling, except for the traditional Alfa grille, a bit pedestrian, the cabin is universally appreciated for its traditionally elegant design, attractive components and careful assembly.

Other than the starter button, confusingly located on the steering wheel, the dashboard is a success, with big, clear gauges and straightforward minor controls. The Giulia’s seats are supportive, but the cabin is narrow, headroom is restricted, rear seat legroom is tight and access back there is difficult as it is hard to get your feet in and out of the car.

Unlike the zingy, tuneful Alfa-Romeo fours of yesteryear, the 2L turbo four in the Giulia sounds like a diesel at idle and doesn’t deliver thrilling sounds as it revs either. It is, however, flexible and impressively quick. The Giulia's ride is on the firm side but has just enough suppleness for comfort and the perfectly weighted, communicative steering is the gateway to extraordinary agility. Impressive! Strong braking.

FiatChrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne fancies Alfa-Romeo to be the next Audi in North America, but doesn’t consider that it took Audi 40 years, untold dollars, countless lean years and several near-death experiences to finally become a success. Once the diehard Italo-philes have purchased their new Alfas, there may not be a sustainable market for this brand here. If you want a Giulia, it might be best to lease it. 

Despite a few "lines to nowhere" the new Odyssey is a neat styling job 

Honda Odyssey

Honda’s new spin on its commodious people hauler is already on sale. Like its predecessor, the cabin of the new Odyssey is roomy and very comfortable, but occupants will now enjoy significantly improved cabin materials as well.

Honda’s 3.5L V6 moves the Odyssey with authority and mates well with its the new 10-speed automatic transmission. The Odyssey manages a good compromise between ride comfort and agility and is a delightful highway cruiser.

This second-generation Crosstrek is all-new, really 

Subaru Crosstrek

Essentially no more than an Impreza on stilts, Subaru has somehow hit upon a profitable sub-market for its compact platform that drew roughly 10,000 buyers to the nameplate in 2016.

Like the Impreza it's based on, the Crosstrek’s 2L four provides adequate performance overall, although it lacks urge at highway speeds. The CVT, programmed to mimic the operation of a conventional automatic transmission, optimizes the power output of the 2L four and delivers pleasing fuel economy for an all-wheel drive car.

The Crosstrek's ride is supple without a trace of wallow when the road turns twisty, and the steering is nicely weighted and precise.

The cabin is a very traditional design with clear displays and very logical controls. Subaru’s newest info screen is easy to use and audio quality, a weak point in older Subaru’s, is now quite good. The Crosstrek features comfortable seats and enough space for all-day comfort for a quartet of adults. The new Crosstrek cargo area should be big enough for most buyers.