By Chris Chase; photos courtesy Michelle Siu/AJAC

For Hyundai Canada and Kia Canada, this was a year to remember: the Korean brands walked away with a combined five category wins in this year’s Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC) Testfest event.

Testfest is the annual week-long operation that culminates in Canadian auto writers from the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada choosing the best cars in a number of categories, from which the overall Canadian Car and Utility Vehicle of the Year are chosen. Fifty-six vehicles were entered this year, in 11 categories, with as-tested prices ranging from $16,599 (Hyundai Accent) to $141,600 (Jaguar XKR-S).

Read on for the winners in each category, along with my thoughts on each group of vehicles, and the cars and crossovers I think will take home Canadian Car and Utility Vehicle of the Year honours.

2012 Hyundai Accent
2012 Hyundai Elantra
2012 Hyundai Elantra
2012 Hyundai Accent (top), 2012 Hyundai Elantra and 2012 Kia Optima LX (bottom). Click image to enlarge

Best New Small Car (Under $21,000) – Winner: 2012 Hyundai Accent

In the Best New Small Car (Under $21,000) category, the 2012 Hyundai Accent was the victor, earning a total of 698.2 points, less than three points’ advantage over the mechanically-similar Kia Rio, and nearly 10 points better than the third-place Honda Civic. Other entrants included the Chevrolet Sonic, a solid little car I thought would do better in this group. The adorable Fiat 500 and Toyota’s attempt to out-smart Mercedes, the iQ, were the bottom-finishers here, losing out for reasons of value-for-money and practicality, respectively, in a class of car where AJAC members apparently appreciated the Accent’s high value quotient.

Best New Small Car (Over $21,000) – Winner: 2012 Hyundai Elantra

Hyundai also took top honours in the Best New Small Car (Over $21,000) with its compact Elantra. This car was introduced last year, as a 2011 model, but too late for inclusion in last year’s Car of the Year competition. It wasn’t too late for this car to impress in a field that included the Ford Focus, Subaru’s Impreza and the Volkswagen Beetle. In a four-car race, only one would be denied a place on the podium, and that was the Beetle, a stylish and solid-driving car nonetheless outclassed by three practical four-doors, two of which were far less expensive. The second-place Focus (by 4.4 points) would have stood a better chance had Ford entered a lower-spec version of the car; the $27,779 SEL trim was pricier than the Impreza (third place) by almost $4,000 and topped the Elantra’s as-tested price by more than $5,000. And given the Elantra Limited’s heavy dose of standard content and sub-$23,000 price, it’s no wonder it ran away with value vote.

Best New Family Car (Under $30,000) – Winner: 2012 Kia Optima LX

Kia’s Optima LX took the title of Best New Family Car (under $30,000). In case you’ve noticed a trend thus far, this is a good time to mention that Hyundai and Kia won in five of this year’s 11 categories, a sure sign of the impression these companies are making with well-engineered and aggressively-priced cars. The Optima was up against a trio of other sedans (Chrysler 200, Toyota Camry and VW Passat TDI), and a pair of wagons (Chevrolet Orlando and the more-like-a-minivan Mazda5). The Passat placed second, followed by the Camry in third.

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