Hyundai Equus on the test track at TestFest
Hyundai Equus on the test track at TestFest. Photo: AJAC. Click image to enlarge

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Category winners influence purchasing decisions

By Paul Williams
Photos by AJAC and Chris Chase

Photo Gallery:
2011 AJAC TestFest

Each Fall in Canada, the leaves turn red, the temperature drops, and AJAC (Automobile Journalists Association of Canada) journalists congregate in Niagara for the annual new-vehicle testing event that’s come to be called “TestFest.”

This year, 48 vehicles new to the Canadian market were divided into 11 categories representing the various vehicle types and price points that Canadian consumers shop.

As you may know, not all vehicles on the market are tested each year in the AJAC Canadian Car of the Year program. This is because there are well over 250 models available in Canada, and the AJAC program is so thorough that testing every vehicle every year is simply not practical (the cost, the time required and the logistics involved would make such an endeavour unrealistic). From AJAC’s perspective, you can either dumb the program down, or rigorously test fewer vehicles; AJAC does the latter.

TestFest Journalists taking 3 vehicles off road on the same route to do a proper comparison
TestFest Journalists taking 3 vehicles off road on the same route to do a proper comparison. Click image to enlarge

But because AJAC journalists test a subset of vehicles representing those new to the market each year, and because the testing procedures are generally consistent year over year, consumers are able to compare results over time: an excellent benefit!

All of the results — current and historical — are available at , where consumers will find the most comprehensive test data — objective and subjective — available from any journalist organization in the world. You can compare this year’s small car winner with last year’s; or this year’s compact SUV with one from two or three years ago. This is a huge benefit to consumers, having access to data that is trusted and comprehensive.

The quality of the AJAC results is not lost on Canadian consumers. For instance, 74 per cent of Buick Enclave buyers (Best New SUV over $60,000, 2008) were aware of the AJAC award and 41 per cent stated that they were positively influenced by it. In 2002, a survey of Nissan Altima buyers showed awareness of 69.9 per cent, and in 2005, 55 per cent of then Car of the Year Mazda3 buyers responded that they were aware of the AJAC award.

The 2011 Canadian Car of the Year event was somewhat unusual in that a field of only 48 vehicles were entered, with a preponderance of luxury and performance cars (the luxury sector is doing very well in Canada). In general, however, the auto sector has not yet recovered from the collapse of 2008/2009, with sales increasing slowly. However, expect a record number next year, as manufacturers roll out new product in their attempt to regain and consolidate market share in an improving economy.

Mercedes and Hyundai pass each other on the street during a test run
Mercedes and Hyundai pass each other on the street during a test run. Click image to enlarge

The November 2010 program featured all-new or next generation 2011 vehicles in a range of categories. The category winners are eligible to be named 2011 Canadian Car of the Year or Canadian Utility Vehicle of the Year, both of which will be announced at the Toronto Auto Show in February, 2011.

But although the two “big” awards are announced later, it’s the category winners that are arguably the most important to Canadian consumers. After all, if you’re shopping for an inexpensive compact sedan, the Canadian Car of the Year won’t be of much help if it happens to be a sports car. Interesting, perhaps, but not directly relevant.

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