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Here, journalists evaluate all seating positions in a sedan. Photo by Bill Roebuck.

More than 60 vehicles were evaluated over four days by 60 automotive journalists from across Canada. Here, journalists evaluate seating positions in a sedan.

2006 models tested back to back at AJAC's TestFest

By Bill Roebuck

Multi-purpose vehicle team lines up vehicles for on-track evaluations at Shannonville.The annual Car of the Year TestFest organized by the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC) took place Oct. 26-29, 2005, at and around Shannonville Raceway Park, east of Belleville, Ont. More than 60 automotive journalists (including your editor) were on hand to test 62 eligible models during the four-day event.

AJAC is an association of professional automotive experts who test-drive, and report on, new vehicles in various media, such as

The program for selecting the Best New Vehicle in each of 11 classes, as well as the overall Canadian Car and Truck of the Year, is unique in the world. Unlike some other awards, they are not a popularity contest. They are unbiased and scientifically sophisticated.

Key features of the TestFest, which is only open to members of AJAC and not accessible to members of the public, are:

- Unbiased, rigorous, scientifically sophisticated testing procedures
- Not a racetrack event, but a combination of "real-word" testing on public roads, track and off-road testing, where applicable, and static evaluation
- Specialized performance testing by teams of 'experts'
- Testing of complete classes by teams and individuals
- Back to back comparisons under the same conditions
- Individual voting by secret ballot
- Results weighted according to class priorities and price
- Hard test data that the consumer can rely on.

TestFest is conducted at and around Shannonville Raceway Park, making use of roads in the surrounding area between Trenton and Napanee in south-eastern Ontario.

Automotive writers share their comments after each team evaluation. Photo by Bill Roebuck.Team members use a detailed rating form, comprising 21 separate evaluation parameters that include acceleration, braking, vehicle dynamics, manoeuvrability, even off-road capability, where applicable. Each parameter is rated using a prescribed 0-10 rating scale. Every detail, from safety features to cargo capacity, is thoroughly scrutinized, discussed, and individually rated by secret ballot.

All driving routes specified for team evaluations include varying degrees of hills and corners, portions of Highway 401, paved two-lane roads with various surface conditions, and gravelled roads. Routes are selected to correspond, as much as possible with the intended primary use of the vehicles. They typically take 15 to 20 minutes to complete, permitting each vehicle in a class to be driven, back-to-back, on the same route.

Performance and vehicle dynamics tests, which would be potentially unsafe if performed on public roads, are conducted on Shannonville's tracks, skid-pad, and/or an adjacent off-road test site, as appropriate. Track evaluations are designed to simulate possible real-world driving situations.

AJAC's experts test drive cars 52 weeks of the year. They typically test one car over the period of a week or so. However, to ensure the highest standards of rigorous, objective testing, it is essential that back-to-back comparison testing take place under identical conditions. This means driving a similar group of vehicles back-to-back using the same roads, the same surface, on the same day, to ensure valid comparisons that fine tune the distinctions between them.

Mazda representative reveals the Mazda5's hidden underseat storage feature. Photo by Bill Roebuck.AJAC's annual Car of the Year Awards' TestFest ensures that these standards are met.

Photographs showing the testing are available online at

After the event, the voter's ballots are tabulated by the international accounting firm KPMG. The results are kept confidential -- even from AJAC -- until the awards press conferences, when the category and overall winners are announced.

Category winners will be announced in December 2005 and the comparative vote results posted to the AJAC web site for your use as a resource/buying guide.

The overall Canadian Car of the Year and the Canadian Truck of the Year will be announced during the first media day of the Canadian International AutoShow in Toronto in February 2006.

The following vehicles have been entered in the 2006 Canadian Car of the Year Awards in various categories.

Chevrolet HHR
Honda Civic Sedan
Hyundai Accent
Kia Rio5
Pontiac Pursuit Coupe
Toyota Yaris hatchback

FAMILY CAR (under $35,000)
Chevrolet Impala
Ford Fusion
Hyundai Sonata GLS V6
VW Jetta
VW Passat

FAMILY CAR (over $35,000)
Audi A3
Audi A4 Avant
BMW 3 Series Touring
Buick Lucerne
Dodge Charger RT
Hyundai Azera
Saab 9-3 SportCombi
Toyota Avalon

Audi A6
BMW 5 Series Touring
Infiniti M45 Sport
Lexus GS
Lincoln Zephyr
Mercedes-Benz CLS-Class
Mercedes-Benz R-Class

Audi A4
BMW 3 Series
Lexus IS
Subaru Impreza WRX Sedan

Chevrolet Cobalt SS
Chevrolet Corvette Z06
Honda Civic Coupe Si
Mazda MX5
Mitsubishi Eclipse
Pontiac G6 GTP Coupe
Pontiac Solstice

Ford Explorer
Hummer H3
Jeep Commander
Kia Sportage
Mercedes-Benz M-Class
Nissan Xterra
Range Rover Sport
Saab 9-7X
Suzuki Grand Vitara

Dodge Ram
Lincoln Mark LT
Honda Ridgeline

Kia Sedona
Mercedes-Benz B-Class
Pontiac Torrent
Subaru B9 Tribeca

Chevrolet Impala Ethanol Flex Fuel
Honda Civic Hybrid
Lexus RX 400h
Toyota Highlander Hybrid
Volkswagen Jetta TDI

Chevy Trailblazer SS
Dodge Magnum SRT8

AJAC also evaluates individual new technologies in new models. The following are entered in the 2006 Best New Technology Award category:

1. Audi Fuel Straight Injection Engine (FSI)
2. BMW 3.0 litre inline 6-cylinder engine with magnesium alloy crankcase
3. New Civic Hybrid System (1.3-litre with VCM and i-DSI)
4. Infiniti Lane Departure Warning System
5. Mercedes-Benz B-Class Sandwich Floor Platform
6. Toyota Hybrid Synergy Drive(HSD) with electric all-wheel drive (AWD)
7. Direct and Port Fuel Injection for 2006 Lexus IS 350


The primary purpose of AJAC's Car of the Year Awards program is to provide consumers with sound, comparative information on which to base their new vehicle buying decisions.

In 2002, the Nissan Altima was our choice for Canadian Car of the Year. Nissan made a concerted effort to promote winning those awards in its marketing and advertising programs.

To determine both buyer awareness of the Canadian Car of the Year Awards, and what impact winning those awards had on consumers decisions to purchase those vehicles, AJAC engaged the firm of Thompson Lightstone and Company Limited to conduct a survey of Nissan Altima buyers.

The survey was conducted according to professional standards and structured so as not to bias the responses.

The results of that survey are conclusive. The Canadian Car of the Year Awards are definitely important to, and an influence on, Canada's new car buyers.


Almost seventy per cent (69.6%) of those who purchased or leased a Nissan Altima in the past 12 months indicated that they were aware that the Altima won the AJAC Car of the Year Award.

Of those, 93.3% (64.8% of all customers) said they were influenced to purchase a Nissan Altima to some extent because it was the "Canadian Car of the Year".
47.5% of those who were aware of the award said its purchase influence was "strong to extremely strong".

That strong/extremely strong influence was greater among women (57.1%) than men (43.1%).

These results are even stronger than those determined in a 1999 survey of Acura 3.2 TL buyers, when it was the Canadian Car of the Year. AJAC can say, once again with certainty, that the Canadian Car of the Year Awards have a significant influence on the purchase decision of Canadian car buyers.

For more information about the Canadian Car of the Year Awards visit our web site at or contact the AJAC office: 1-800-361-1516.
©2005 Bill Roebuck,