AJAC’s 2016 TestFest Showcases New Car Testing
When the invitation came to attend the Canadian Car of the Year, 2016 TestFest, at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park in Bowmanville, Ontario, it was an opportunity that could not be missed by this Young Drivers of Canada blogger. This was, after all where the Canadian Car and Truck of the Year is decided by AJAC, the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada, so it was an opportunity that could not be missed. With a cameraman in tow, we were off to find out how AJAC picks its vehicles.
Arriving at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park, located one and a half hours north of the GTA, the grounds were impressive. In addition to the main registration building, the venue included a performance track, a go-kart track and event building where lunch was served. There was no need to walk, as a quick and efficient Mercedes mini-van shuttle was used to cart journalists and guests from the lunch building back to the main registration area.
Once registered, we waited for our contact, Gary Grant who is the co-chair of the Canadian Car of the Year awards. The waiting area was filled with the hustle and bustle of journalists filing stories, writing up their vehicle evaluations and casting their voting ballets. It was also media day, which saw journalists filming and photographing vehicles for their stories. We even caught up with Russ Bond of TSN’s Motoring TV, filming a review of the 2016 Mercedes AMG GT Coupe for an upcoming episode.
The New Mercedes GLE 350 Conquers the Off-Road Testing Track
Gary chose to take us around in Mercedes’ latest 350 GLE SUV crossover utility vehicle. We later learned that it was a diesel, which was unbelievable as there wasn’t a single indication of the rumbling and vibration of my 2005 Jetta, that was normally experienced with a diesel vehicle. This vehicle was so quiet. Since we were only guests, we were not able to drive any of the vehicles, but that did not stop Gary from giving us an in-depth experience of the vehicle’s capabilities. As Gary put it so eloquently, “We are going to go onto a sort of advanced cottage road, to evaluate what an SUV or crossover owner might experience on their way to the cottage.”
And what a cottage road it was!
We started out on what appeared to be a grass/gravel road, nothing exciting but after a twist and a turn, we were now in deep ruts, climbing to a very steep apex, which we crowned almost effortlessly. I suggested that the course must have been almost impassible on the previous day, during the torrential rain the region experienced. Gary explained that the weather conditions did not dampen the testing and in many cases, allowed journalists to evaluate the test vehicles under conditions that would normally be experienced by regular drivers.
As we continued, the test course became rocky and as we made our way through, the Mercedes remained stable, absorbing any side to side movement, allowing for a continued smooth ride. However, at one point, the front sensors began to scream in protest as we descended down a steep portion of the course. Gary explained that the vehicle thought we were going to crash as the sensors were picking up the road underneath. That of course, did not happen. It was all so controlled. Tight turns were handled with ease by the luxury SUV.
Our test drive also included a lap around the performance track at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park track. This track is used for many events where a performance is measured. We did not attempt to push the limits of the SUV on this track since as Gary explained, most of the AJAC journalists have some background in driving, either professionally or on a performance level, that allows them to test vehicles to their limits. Safety is paramount at the AJAC event and our lap around the track was to show the course only.
Due to time constraints, Gary had to leave us after the performance test run, which enabled us to wander around the main staging area where all the vehicles were parked and made ready for testing. We followed the Mercedes AMG GT to the start of the performance track. This was the vehicle that Russ Bond from TSN’s Motoring TV was test driving and filming for an upcoming episode. But before the GT Coupe took to the testing, we were stopped in our tracks when Ford’s latest Shelby 350 made its way to the track. The rumble of its engine exemplified the true meaning of a muscle car.
Other vehicles made available to the AJAC journalists included the latest Golf R from Volkswagen. Despite their recent emissions scandal, VW has brought in their highest horsepower Golf vehicle into Canada. Touted as the hottest hatch, the 2016 Golf R features over 292 horsepower and comes in a manual transmission so drivers can have complete performance control.
The newly re-designed Smart car was also available for testing and photography. We couldn’t help ourselves and pondered whether the vehicle could be swept away in a severe wind storm. There continues to be something about that car that makes me think it can just float away – remember the movie UP!
Our day then concluded, with a deep appreciation for what AJAC does to choose the Canadian Car and Truck of the Year. The in-depth testing requires each member of an AJAC test team to compare each vehicle in the designated class, on the same roads and under the same conditions to ensure the final evaluation is objective. The results are tabulated on a detailed rating form by each of the team members. Evaluations include assessment of a vehicle’s performance regarding its handling, acceleration, braking and off-road capability (if applicable). Vehicles are also evaluated based on their design, interior, cargo capacity and even safety features. So it’s a complete picture that emerges for every car and truck tested.
Voting ballots are submitted confidentially by each test member and are subsequently tabulated professionally by KPMG. The findings are not disclosed to anyone, including AJAC until the awards presentation where the winners are announced. AJAC publishes the data that is collected on its website and encourages consumers to view the findings at http://www.ajac.ca/web/ccoty/.
Although we only spent a day at the testing facility, AJAC writers committed an entire week to determine the next Car of the Year. These journalists should be truly recognized, for the commitment they make to provide Canadians with an objective review of some of the finest cars available to Canadian consumers.
For Young Drivers of Canada, the day was a great opportunity to see how new cars are tested and the effort put into determining the Canadian Car and Truck of the Year awards. A special Thank You goes out to Gary Grant and his team for the coveted invitation.