How vehicles earn top honours in Canada

About 70 automotive journalists from across Canada, including yours truly, spent three days last week testing, evaluating and comparing 48 of the newest vehicles on the Canadian market.

The event, called TestFest, is held about 90 km east of Toronto at the Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, previously known as Mosport. I’m not licensed to drive on a track, so I drove the vehicles on grid roads and highways in the area.

Each vehicle is scored on 19 categories (including such elements as driver position, visibility, throttle response, cargo capacity, handling and value) on a one-to-10 scale. The results are tallied and determine winners in various categories, such as large premium car, large utility vehicle, premium electric vehicle, small utility vehicle and so on. From these, the overall Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC) car of the year and utility vehicle of the year are named early next year.

“It’s important for a consumer to know if one car is better than another,” says AJAC president Mark Richardson.

“Different people have different tastes. Some people will want a fast car, some will want a large car, or a comfortable car — or some just want a blue car,” he says.

As an AJAC member, I also score vehicles that I test throughout the year. Attending TestFest provides an opportunity for a concentrated testing period.

“We have about 70 judges who drive these cars, and decide which are their favorites and why. So consumers can see which cars get the most points and are most popular — and for what reasons,” Richardson explains.

For car dealerships in Saskatchewan, having an AJAC award winner in the showroom is good for business.

“With customers turning to impartial review for guidance, the AJAC award acts as a seal of quality for anyone interested in our product, which drives more traffic through our doors,” says Kristy Gaudry, general manager of Regina Mazda.

“Our staff are very proud of all of our awards and happily share our success,” she adds.

Leon Dyck, new vehicle sales manager at Wheaton Chevrolet in Regina, says, “It’s definitely nice to receive these awards, and beneficial to point these out to the consumers.”

Vaughn Wyant, who operates several dealerships in Western Canada, sees the value of AJAC awards, saying they “certainly help the consumer make a decision.”

Wyant also says sales staff mention AJAC awards when making comparisons with the competition.

“I think any point of pride in any business is how you build the esteem for everyone involved, from the sales and service staff, the OEM employees and most importantly the consumer. We all want to be associated with success.”

During my three days at TestFest, I drove 23 vehicles, from a $22,798 Nissan Kicks to a $139,852.25 Lexus LS 500 h.

Among the highlights of the vehicles I drove:

– The sheer speed of the Jaguar I-Pace EV 400. This electric car has 394 horsepower, can go 0-100 km/h in 4.8 seconds and has a top speed of 200 km/h, according to Jaguar.

– The luxury of Volvos. I drove three — V90, XC60 T8 and S90 T8 — and they were all tasteful, elegant and luxurious.

– The ease of using navigation screens on Mazdas — the Mazda 6, CX-5 and CX-9. Instead of looking for buttons on the touch screen and then having to pinch the screen to zoom in or out, the Mazda has a selector knob on console that can be operated as easily as adjusting the volume on the sound system.

– The ease of driving electrics. As well as the aforementioned Jaguar I-Pace and Volvos XC60 T8 and S90 T8, I also got to test out the  Chrysler Pacifica hybrid van, Honda Clarity, Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV, Nissan Leaf and the Volkswagen e-Golf.

– The fun of driving a sporty SUV, the Alfa Romeo Stelvio. It has the shape of an SUV and has the hauling capacity of an SUV, but it drives like it’s an Italian sports car, say an Alfa Romeo Giulia.

TestFest also includes events each evening — a trade show, the AJAC Annual general meeting and the AJAC awards banquet.

I was honoured to be the runner-up for one of the awards — the CAA Road Safety Journalism Award — for an article I wrote that appeared in the Leader-Post Driving section on Sept. 7, 2018, “How technology is making semi-trucks safer.”

This award, now in its seventh year, “draws attention to the importance of public service journalism on road safety” according to CAA.

This is the first time I have been nationally recognized for my automotive writing, and it’s a wonderful honour.

The winning article was written by Kelly Taylor of the Winnipeg Free Press.

Justine Pritchard was named Jaguar Land Rover Journalist of the Year, the most esteemed award available to members of AJAC.

For more information, please go to

Dale Edward Johnson is a member of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC) and serves as a judge for the car of the year program. This was the fourth year he attended TestFest for the Leader-Post.

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