EACH year, the best and brightest in Canadian automotive journalism gather at Niagara-on-the-Lake for a massive shakedown of the year’s newest cars.
Did I attend? Well, no.
Sorry, did you miss the part where I said best and brightest? Should they deign to expand the invite to include most likely to use excessive hyperbole, most likely to use four words where one would do, and/or most likely to drive the AMG Mercedes off the track and directly into the catering van, then maybe I’ll make the cut.
Let’s wait until next year.
In the meantime, as picked by the various members of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada – nearly all of whom are somewhat bemused to call me a colleague – here are the 11 best cars in Canada for 2012.
Best new small car
Split into two subcategories of more than or less than $21,000, it could be argued that the small-car category has become the most cutthroat competition in the country. After all, Canadians buy small cars as if we’re Europeans, eschewing big, thirsty rides in favour of fuel-
efficient hatchbacks and diminutive sedans.
This year, it’s a double-win for Hyundai both above and below the $21K mark with, respectively, the Elantra and the Accent taking top honours in highly competitive fields. The Elantra faced off against the Ford Focus and a new, more-efficient Subaru Impreza, but brought home the bacon with stylish design and class-leading fuel economy.
For the Accent, the big win is pipping that perennial bestseller, the Honda Civic. While the larger, more powerful Civic might seem better matched against the Elantra, the Accent’s all-new design and gutsy 1.6-litre direct-injection engine gave it the edge.
Perhaps this category sweep might have been a shock five years ago, but the Korean car makers have been keeping the hits coming for several years now: it’s about time they started piling up the kudos.
Best new family car
Speaking of category sweeps, the Koreans are at it again, this time with two versions of a single model. Best for less than $30,000 was awarded to the Kia Optima sedan. Best for more than $30K was awarded to the Kia Optima sedan – with a hybrid powertrain.
Having driven both models, I can tell you that the Optima must have been an easy choice for the judges. With top-grade interior materials and a handsome design, Kia’s entry in a category which can be a bit humdrum is a breath of fresh air. In fact, I kind of feel like both cars should come with a chisel in the glovebox, so you can knock off the badges and fool your neighbours into thinking you dropped 60 grand on a new Audi.
The Hybrid Optima takes that luxury-brand level of sophisticated design and adds efficiency, particularly for highway driving – not normally a hybrid strong-suit. It’s also sportierlooking than the base Optima, with a lower ride-height and styling details lifted from the fire-breathing turbo-charged Optima SX.
Best new luxury car
While the upstarts (but can we really call Korean manufacturers upstarts anymore?) might be sweeping the first categories, it was a much more storied badge that took first place in the Luxury segment: Mercedes-Benz.