Journalists offer early opinions in search for Car of the Year

NIAGARA FALLS – This mecca for honeymooners was turned into ground zero for Canada’s automotive journalists who gathered here late last month to drive, evaluate and vote on the best new cars of the 2015 model year.


Known as Testfest, this event is the first and largest component of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada’s (AJAC) Car of the Year program, which culminates with the announcement


of its top two awards – Canadian Car and Utility Vehicle of the Year – at Toronto’s Canadian International Auto Show in February. This year, writers tested 50 new cars, trucks and crossovers, with the goal of choosing those that represent the best combination of performance and value to help Canadians make an informed decision when purchasing their next new car. Here’s a rundown of this year’s entries.


City car: The Kia Soul EV goes up against the Smart Fortwo Electric Drive.


Kia’s chances will depend on how good its first all-electric drivetrain is.


Small car (under $21,000): Here’s where you’ll find the Honda Fit and Nissan Micra. The latter is Canada’s least expensive car, but Honda has an advantage with the Fit’s surprisingly roomy interior.


Small car (over $21,000): The VW Golf’s combination of refinement and space give it an edge over the Kia Forte5 and Mini Cooper.


Family car (under $30,000): The redesigned Chrysler 200 and Subaru Legacy go up against a refreshed Toyota Camry in what will be a close race that we think Toyota will win.


Family car (over $30,000): A gas-electric Camry Hybrid competes here with Hyundai’s Sonata and, curiously, Subaru’s WRX. The Sonata’s long list of standard kit will play in its favour.


Luxury car (under $50,000): This bracket pits the Acura TLX against Mercedes-Benz’ C 300 and Volvo’s V60 wagon. Look for the Benz to make a strong run for the top.Luxury car (over $50,000): Acura’s larger RLX Sport Hybrid competes with the Cadillac ATS coupe, Hyundai Genesis and Kia K900. The Genesis and ATS are both strong entries.Sports-performance (under $50,000): Ford’s controversial turbo four-cylinder Mustang takes on the BMW M235i, Kia Forte Koup SX, Subaru STI and VW GTI. Look for BMW or VW to take top spot.


Sports-performance (over $50,000): Dodge’s outrageous Challenger Hellcat is the on-paper highlight, but Ford’s V8-powered Mustang GT is a favourite; the third entry is Volvo’s V60 Polestar.Prestige (over $75,000): Two Cadillacs – the Escalade and the ELR range-extended electric – go up against the Mercedes-Benz S550 Coupe, whose good looks and big power will earn it plenty of favour.


Prestige-performance (over $75,000): This group brings together the BMW M4, Chevrolet Corvette convertible, Jaguar F-Type R coupe and Porsche 911 Turbo S. We won’t be surprised if the M4 wins, but the Jag might be good enough for an upset.


SUV-CUV (under $35,000): Nissan’s Rogue is the most refined of this trio, rounded out by the Subaru Outback and Honda CR-V; the Rogue’s interior space for the price gives it the edge.SUV-CUV ($35,000-$60,000): The mid-priced group of SUVs and crossovers includes the Chevrolet Tahoe, Toyota Highlander, Lincoln MKC and Mercedes-Benz GLA 250. The Lincoln is a good balance of size and performance.


SUV-CUV (over $60,000): The huge GMC Yukon XL Denali is the outlier next to the performance-biased Mercedes-Benz GLA 45 and Porsche Macan. Expect Porsche to take the honours.Pickup: This category ignores price and size constraints, so GM’s new small Chevy Colorado and GMC Canyon go up against the full-size Ford F-150 and Dodge Ram 1500. The performance advantage afforded by Ford’s lightweight aluminum body may be enough to give it the win in this group.Category winners will be announced Dec. 2, and the top three contenders for Car and Utility Vehicle of the Year will be revealed in January at the Montreal International Auto Show.