What’s best at TestFest?
Kelly Taylor and Haney Louka predict top picks for 2016
CANADIAN TIRE MOTORSPORT PARK, Ont. — TestFest returned to an actual racetrack for the first time since 2005 and the timing couldn’t have been better. While we didn’t use the Grand Prix track, the smaller, tighter driver development track was a far better test of acceleration, handling, braking and steering than TestFest has provided since that last racetrack, which was Shannonville.
Just off the Grand Prix track, the development track was created specifically to attract ride-and-drive programs from a variety of carmakers. In addition there was also an excellent off-road course to evaluate trucks and SUVs.
Carmakers provided a shortened, but worthy list of entries for both courses. Some of the off-road stars included the Jeep Renegade, Volvo XC90 and even, most unexpectedly, the new Honda HR-V.
On the racetrack, the Mercedes AMG GT S, Mazda MX-5, Chevrolet Corvette Z06, Cadillac CTS-V and Ford Shelby 350 GT all earned high praise.
The winners of the individual categories will be announced in early December. For now, fellow Free Press Autos writer (and 2015 AJAC Canadian Automobile Journalist of the Year Kelly Taylor) are going to give you our predictions. Try not to take these predictions too much to heart, they are only partially based on what we thought was the best car. We also have to try to handicap how the other journalists vote, as well as take into consideration the hard performance data.
Honda Civic, Smart Fortwo, Scion iM, Toyota Yaris Sedan, Volkswagen Jetta 1.4 TSI
This is a hard-fought category, with all entrants making strong cases for themselves. The car that impressed me the most, given how vastly improved it is, was the Honda Civic. But, perhaps due to very tight availability of a car launched just the week before, it was also the best-equipped car in the category, but also the priciest. In a class that attracts the most pricesensitive buyers in the market, a high price is going to hurt a car’s chances more than heated seats will help. The VW Jetta 1.4 TSI has the best combination of performance, price and features, with 184 pound-feet of torque on tap from the 1.4-litre turbo.
KELLY: VW Jetta TSI, and not just because VW could use some good news about now.
HANEY: While it’s difficult to argue with Kelly’s prognostication, I think the new Civic is significant enough it will overcome its high price to take the category. It sets a new benchmark for the class and instantly makes the VW look 15 years old when parked next to it.
Chevrolet Volt, Hyundai Sonata Hybrid, Volkswagen Golf Sportwagon 1.8 TSI
Another hard-fought category, with two cars that are also Canadian Green Car of the Year nominees in the Sonata hybrid and Volt. Kelly found the Sonata Hybrid just didn’t handle transitions from braking to power well, with the gas engine revving before the hybrid coupling system dumped its power to the wheels with a disconcerting amount of chirp. In all other respects, the Sonata Hybrid is every bit as good as the non-hybrid. So it seems this category comes to the Volt and the Golf. The Volt, which is almost always an electric vehicle (the gas range extender primarily only charges the battery, with gas power reaching the wheels only in rare limp-home or hard-driving conditions), has the most torque, the best fuel economy and is competitive in all other respects. But the Volt is $15,000 pricier than the Golf.
KELLY: VW Golf Sportwagon 1.8 TSI. Price is the killer here.
HANEY: VW Golf Sportwagon 1.8 TSI, and not just because I have a Golf wagon of my own.
Sports performance under $50K
Mini Cooper JCW, Chevrolet Camaro RS, Hyundai Veloster Turbo