2014 AJAC CCOTY Small Cars and Family Cars
2014 AJAC CCOTY Small Cars and Family Cars
2014 AJAC CCOTY Small Cars and Family Cars. Click image to enlarge

Review by Greg Wilson, Jeff Wilson, and Jonathan Yarkony, photos by Jonathan Yarkony

Every fall, the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC) organizes its Canadian Car of the Year (CCOTY) and Canadian Utility of the Year (CUOTY) vehicle testing: TestFest. At TestFest we test dozens of new models, from the economical and affordable Mitsubishi Mirage and Nissan Versa Note up to exclusive prestige vehicles like the Merc S-Class and Land Rover Range Rover, or adrenaline-inducing sports cars like the new Corvette Stingray and Jaguar F-Type.

First, we cover the categories that are accountable for much of the consumer interest in new cars, Small Cars (divided into Under and Over $21,000) Family Cars (Over and Under $30,000), which has accounted for over 500,000 sales in Canada to date this year. As much as we get excited by Caymans and E 63 AMGs, we lost the battle-royal for the keys these are the segments most relevant to Canadian consumers, and as such we give them pride of place at Autos.ca. Each of these categories is reviewed by one of the voting members judging that category, who will share their insights and prognostications.

Category: Small Car under $21,000, Greg Wilson

Contenders Price as tested
Mazda3 sedan $20,895
Mitsubishi Mirage $17,098
Nissan Versa Note $19,153
Toyota Corolla $21,000

Two things about this group of affordable small cars became apparent soon after getting behind the wheel(s): you can buy a lot of car for under $21,000 – but the cheapest car is not necessarily the best value. The Mitsubishi Mirage micro-hatchback had the lowest as-tested price but it wasn’t really in the running in this competition: its tiny 74-hp 1.2L three-cylinder engine/CVT combination offers the best fuel economy on paper, but the Mirage is noisy, underpowered, and tinny – $17,000 is too much to pay for this car.

The Nissan Versa Note subcompact hatchback, on the other hand, is a much roomier, quieter hatchback with acceptable performance from its 109-hp 1.6L motor and CVT. It was also the best-equipped car here with fancy features like ‘Around-View Monitor’, satellite radio, and navigation system. The Versa Note’s handling is a bit soft but its main drawback here is that it’s up against two superior compact sedans: the redesigned Toyota Corolla and Mazda3 sedan.

2014 AJAC CCOTY Small Cars and Family Cars2014 AJAC CCOTY Small Cars and Family Cars2014 AJAC CCOTY Small Cars and Family Cars
2014 AJAC CCOTY Small Cars and Family Cars. Click image to enlarge

The new Corolla is much improved over the previous model, particularly in its handling, interior design and feature content. Though it retains a 132-hp 1.8L four-cylinder engine, it offers a new continuously variable transmission that improves fuel economy without being a major drag on performance or driving pleasure. As well, this Corolla’s interior is quite spacious.

Rounding out the list is a 2014 Mazda3 sedan that offers the best acceleration, handling, steering and fun-to-drive experience of the bunch. Its 155-hp 2.0L engine and six-speed automatic provides superior acceleration while offering comparable fuel economy to the Corolla. The Mazda3’s cabin features a new iDrive-like control dial on the centre console for operating audio and telephone functions on the seven-inch dashtop screen, and though this tester wasn’t equipped with satellite radio or navigation, we think this 2014 Mazda3 sedan is likely to win this category.

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