2014 AJAC CCOTY Luxury and Performance Cars
2014 AJAC CCOTY Luxury and Performance Cars
2014 AJAC CCOTY Luxury and Performance Cars. Click image to enlarge

Review and photos by Autos.ca staff

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 covered the big sales categories in Small Cars and Family Cars, SUVs and crossovers, plus the pickups, but now it is time for the cars that get the blood boiling or the senses tingling: Luxury and performance cars. Of course, to start it off we have the fairly accessible and popular affordable Luxury cars under $50,000, a hotly contested and interesting segment that sees a wide range of brands and sizes, from the diminutive CLA to the large but surprising Kia – who would have ever figured the Mercedes-Benz would be the most affordable in segment, and a Kia the largest in the same segment. The we’ll move on to the Luxury Over $50K, the opulent Prestige category, and last but not least, a single Sports and Performance category that seemed to inherit some leftovers from the luxury categories. Each of these categories is reviewed by one of the voting members judging that category, who will share their insights and prognostications.

Category: Luxury Car Under $50K, Steven Bochenek

Contenders – Price as tested
Buick Regal – $44,930
Kia Cadenza – $44,995
Lexus IS 350 – $48,950
Lincoln MKZ Hybrid – $48,850
Mercedes-Benz CLA 250 – $40,245

Good news for all of us with under $50K to spend on a vehicle: it’s a great time to be alive. The five cars on offer this year were superbly crafted. For fairness’s sake, impressions are organized here alphabetically.

The sporty, yes sporty, Buick Regal is probably not what you think. Its 2.0L four-cylinder turbo engine, though less powerful than some competitors, is hugely efficient and essentially the same one that powers 2013’s Best New Luxury Car, the Cadillac ATS.

Kia Cadenza was the subject of much banter during TestFest. Picture an optimized Optima – a little bigger, heavier and with a 3.3L direct injected V6 that achieves 293 hp and 255 lb-ft torque. It boasts a supple and welcoming interior. Driver dynamics immediately encourage confidence behind the wheel and into turns.

2014 AJAC CCOTY Luxury and Performance Cars2014 AJAC CCOTY Luxury and Performance Cars
2014 AJAC CCOTY Luxury and Performance Cars. Click image to enlarge

You’d expect the rear-wheel-drive Lexus IS 350 to be a thrill with its hefty 3.5L six-cylinder engine. And it is. The progressive rate power steering gets sportier with your speed. Though there’s plenty of bling to pamper passengers, this was not the best value of the day.

Lincoln MKZ Hybrid has a fresh and original look. It feels really good inside too, that glass dome promoting a cheery atmosphere. With so much promise up front, the ride itself is less thrilling. Corners work but acceleration isn’t satisfying. Perhaps diesel would have made a better re-introduction to the Lincoln brand than hybrid.

Balanced and precise, understated and elegant, the Mercedes-Benz CLA 250 was, surprisingly, the least expensive car in the segment. The ride is tactile and peppy, courtesy of the dependable rack-and-pinion steering and turbo thrust. It was also the best value.

My personal favourite is probably the Kia Cadenza. For a non-luxury brand, Kia bravely eschewed overdoing it with trinkets. Plus, even after the victorious Optima, it was still utterly unexpected. However, my pick for the winner is the CLA 250 because it’s a helluva’ nice car for the price and has that impeccable pedigree. In short, no buyer’s ever going to look foolish for choosing Mercedes-Benz.

Of course if you have significantly under $50K, life is tough as always.

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