Scion FR-S (left) and Subaru BRZ
Scion FR-S (left) and Subaru BRZ. Click image to enlarge

Five Days of Car Testing and Fantasy Fulfillment

Article and photos by Jonathan Yarkony

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2013 Canadian Car of the Year

We are freshly returned from Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, where the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC), myself included, tested over 60 entries for the Canadian Car of the Year awards. While the results are ripe for debate, we thought we’d give you an inside look at the experience of a first-timer at this prestigious and almost overwhelming event. It was both a daunting task and an almost incomprehensible sandbox with all the coolest toys. I mean, Porsche 911s and Boxsters, Ford Shelby GT500s, BMW M5s, the Toyobaru twins, and Corvettes (which soon became Corvette, singular) were only a handful of the machines that were available for testing.

However, it’s not all fun and games, each journalist is assigned to at least two categories, each of which they must evaluate on a single day in back-to-back driving, or else your vote will not count, and worse yet, you have to pay for the hotel yourself! I’m still not sure if I was lucky or hated, but I was assigned to three categories, each with a minimum of five cars, to be evaluated on Monday, Tuesday and until noon on Wednesday. Then the field is wide open for elective categories (Prestige Performance anyone?) on Wednesday afternoon and Thursday, with Friday being a last day to drive and evaluate the category winners that are announced Thursday night. So without further ado, here’s how it went.

Day 1

After a quick breakfast, we had our main orientation session with all of the participating journalists. Don’t break the cars, drive for a minimum of 30 minutes, but no more than one hour, track handling course access is reserved for those who have completed a certified track or advanced driving course like Bridgestone Academy, a manufacturer driving experience, or something like ILR Car Control School. Newbies stay behind for further briefing.

Scion FR-S (left) and Subaru BRZ
Scion FR-S (left) and Subaru BRZ. Click image to enlarge

The newbie briefing is a detailed explanation of the categories in which we evaluate the cars, which are universal for all categories, and the same standard applies no matter what segment you’re driving. In other words, when rating the cargo space or ease of access or handling, apply the same scale for a Boxster as for a Santa Fe Sport. Cool, I can handle that. And as it turns out, my monster category, Sports/Performance Under $50K, with 10 cars, needed to be tackled Monday, as they split the evaluators between the two full testing days.

After clarifying a couple finer points about the rating system and scorecard, it was time to drive. In order to be more efficient, I paired up with another journalist so we could save time on key swaps, and I found it helpful to have someone to bounce ideas and quotes off of.

We started with the most modest performance cars in the category as we discovered the drive route and tiptoed around the ‘handling course’. The Chevrolet Sonic RS was a good baseline for the category, but not really much of a performance car, and even the 170-hp Fiat 500 Abarth showed its sting compared to the sporty-looking Chevy subcompact.

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