2012 Dodge Journey (top); 2012 Volkswagen Touareg TDI Clean Diesel. Click image to enlarge
The BMW 6 Series cabrio placed second, and the Mercedes-Benz S 350 Bluetec – the first use of Benz’ modern diesel tech in a car larger than an E-Class – placed first by a healthy margin. The Benz is a beautiful car: smooth and sure over the road, and swift off the line thanks to the diesel’s big low-end torque.
Best SUV/CUV (Under $35,000) – Winner: 2012 Dodge Journey
As usual, there were three SUV/CUV categories, starting with Best New SUV/CUV (under $35,000), in which Chrysler was guaranteed a win: two entries were Jeeps, and the third was the refreshed Dodge Journey. The Journey won handily, outscoring the second-place Jeep Compass (whose higher as-tested price had me scratching my head) and the Jeep Wrangler, a great vehicle hurt here by its higher price and more singular purpose, which placed third.
Of note are the significant improvements Chrysler has made to the Journey’s ride and interior quality. As well, Chrysler’s 3.6-litre Pentastar V6 is a solid motor and is perfectly suited to a vehicle of this size. It works well in the Wrangler, too, where it feels twice as powerful and about a million times as refined as the 3.8-litre mill it replaces in that truck.
Best SUV/CUV ($35,000-$60,000) – Winner: 2012 Volkswagen Touareg TDI Clean Diesel
The second SUV group, Best New SUV/CUV ($35,000-$60,000), brought together the BMW X1, Dodge Durango, Ford Explorer, Range Rover Evoque and Volkswagen Touareg TDI. Here, the price factor had less of an effect. The winning Touareg TDI had the highest as-tested price ($53,575), but overcame that with the best combination of interior space and finishes, and further benefited from its large cargo hold and fuel-efficient engine. The second-place Evoque ($49,695) and third-place X1 ($42,440) lost out for being just that much smaller inside, and for their less-refined (which is not to say unrefined, by any means) engines. The Explorer placed fourth, and the Durango fifth.
Best SUV/CUV (Over $60,000) – Winner: 2012 BMW X3
2012 BMW X3. Click image to enlarge
The final category, Best New SUV/CUV (over $60,000), saw the BMW X3 xDrive35i, Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8 and Mercedes-Benz M 350 Bluetec come together. After driving all three, I had my money on the Jeep for handling that nearly matched the BMW’s, and its big motor, which made it wicked fast in a straight line. The SRT8 also nearly matches the X3 and Benz for interior quality, but loses out big in the fuel economy score, and both of those things are reflected in the scoring; what was surprising was the Grand Cherokee’s sure-footedness on the Testfest off-road track (although the mud got the better of this particular Grand Cherokee), where it felt better to me than the Mercedes, and about on par with the X3.
In the end, the X3 took top honours, the Benz placed second (by two points), and the Grand Cherokee third.
That leaves aught but a couple of predictions: one for Canadian Car of the Year, and another for Canadian Utility Vehicle of the Year. The odds are on a Korean product winding up as Car of the Year; my educated guess is it will be either a Kia Optima of some ilk, for proving Koreans really can build a great mainstream sedan, or the Veloster for proving the Koreans can build an entertaining sporty car. For the utility vehicle title, I’m going with the Touareg TDI, as it presents an impressive combination of luxury, refinement, power and fuel efficiency.
Canadian Car and Utility Vehicle of the Year awards will be handed out on February 16th, 2012, at the Toronto auto show.
For more details about the Canadian Car and Utility Vehicle of the Year awards, log on to the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada web site.