How the best are evaluated: Choosing the car of the year no easy feat
The cars below are contenders in the Automotive Journalists Association of Canada's testing for Canadian Car of the Year. The Under $21,000 category is first, then the Over $21,000 category.
$20,895 as tested
Looking better is only the start. The outgoing Mazda3’s yawning, carp-like grille is gone – and the new model’s added width improves the proportions. Dynamically, it’s the class of this bunch with great handling and steering feel, and okay ride. The new engine has more pulling power from cruising speeds with improved fuel efficiency as a bonus. As with the Corolla, the array of features includes a back-up camera.
2. Toyota Corolla LE
$21,000 as tested
Any Corolla I’ve owned has been cheap. Now Toyota has introduced luxury trappings and a lounge-sized rear seat. Interior materials impress. Note the 6.1-inch audio screen with back-up camera, standard in all models starting at $19,215. The $21,000 model competing here has seat warmers as well as air conditioning, remote locks, sunroof, all the trimmings. The engine is sluggish, if fuel-efficient.
3. Nissan Versa Note
$19,153 as tested
Nissan surely learned a thing or three designing a new taxi for New York City. This small package boasts limo-like, stretch-out rear-seat room that exceeds small-car expectations. Comfort is fine in the front seats, too, but Versa’s soft ride turns harsh over abrupt bumps. I like the all-round vision that makes shoulder checks a cinch as faster traffic rushes by. The Versa powertrain delivers fuel efficiency, not acceleration.
4. Mitsubishi Mirage
$17,098 as tested
Although the term “econobox” has pretty much disappeared, Mirage renews the concept. It does have all the frills (air conditioning, automatic, heated seats) if hardly any performance. Our Mirage blew in gusting winds and accelerated slowly with all 74 horsepower whining in protest. Still, there’s room for four. Other pluses: Price. Fuel efficiency rated at 5.3 city, 4.4 highway. Ten-year, 160,000-kilometre powertrain warranty.
***** Small Cars - Over $21,000 *****
1. Ford Fiesta ST
$28,027 as tested
Bright orange inside and out, ST appears to be a case of a pumpkin turned into a rally car instead of a carriage by the Ford ST fairy godmother. Or maybe they chose “molten orange” $400 paint option for their TestFest entry as appropriate for Halloween, along with the $500 painted wheels and brake calipers. It’s a high-powered roller skate totally intended for fun driving, yet not completely impractical with room for four.
2. Mazda3 Sport
$26,855 as tested
The Sport designation invites comparison with the Fiesta ST, but this Mazda3 model skews more to practicality than high performance. Still, the shift paddles beneath the steering wheel and the steering wheel’s red-stitched leather hint at character differing from the regular Mazda3, as do twin exhausts and an heads-up speed readout in the windshield. Horsepower is 184, torque 185, with satisfying results.
3. Chevrolet Cruze Diesel
$26,110 as tested
It’s a diesel, therefore unlike any other car in the category. I feast on the diesel thrust and thrum, and the highway fuel consumption is best in class. The interior is great, with ample room front and rear and impressive materials. The cup holders are the best, a lidded tray on top of the dash is great for coins and keys, everything is well thought out. Cruze Diesel is luxurious in feel and function, if not pretension.
4. Kia Forte Sedan
$21,895 as tested
Nice car, but last in its category. In my evaluation it’s tops only in all-round visibility – important when changing lanes. The shades of grey interior establish a somewhat colorless character. Ride quality over bumps isn’t great, wind noise intrudes from the driver’s door. Still, Forte Sedan exhibits style with its exterior lines and I love the view from the driver’s seat, faux carbon fibre framing the instruments. Another plus? The excellent sound system has knobs.