How the best are evaluated: Choosing the car of the year no easy feat
The cars below are contenders in the Automotive Journalists Association of Canada's testing for Canadian Car of the Year. The Under $50,000 Luxury category is first, followed by the Over $50,000 category.
1. Mercedes-Benz CLA 250
$40,245 as tested
The new little Benz scraped out a win due to its solid chassis, thrifty-but-potent turbocharged four-cylinder engine and the lowest price of the class. My notes also pointed out strong brakes and excellent steering, which contribute to a fun car to drive enthusiastically. The engine and transmission are well-matched and the seats very supportive. Getting into and out of the rear seat is a challenge and there isn't much headroom back there, but the trunk is the largest of this lot.
2. Lexus IS 350 RWD
$48,950 as tested
This is the fastest car of the lot with the best brakes – a true joy on twisty roads. The engine is silky smooth and the eight-speed automatic a nice match. The interior shouts "Lexus quality" with exceptional fit, finish and material quality. The ergonomics are spot on. The ride can be brittle over rough surfaces and there is less interior and trunk space than all but the Lincoln hybrid.
3. Kia Cadenza
$44,995 as tested
This car fairly shouts "value." It is absolutely loaded with high-tech features, many of which the others do not offer even as an option and, for that reason alone, gets an extra point on my card. It has the largest interior, extremely spacious back seat and second-largest trunk. It is also a strong performer thank to a smooth, powerful V-6, but on the flip side is it is the thirstiest of the bunch.
4. Buick Regal
$44,930 as tested
Buick's European-developed Regal doesn't come out on top in any area, finishing in the middle of the pack or below in performance, fuel economy, braking, and both interior and trunk space. The engine pulls strongly, but there is a fair bit of shake and it sounds like a four at idle, not especially a strong point in a luxury car. On the plus side, it is the only all-wheel-drive vehicle in the category this year.
5. Lincoln MKZ Hybrid
$47,975 as tested
Saving fuel and the planet comes with a price; the Lincoln Hybrid is just not fun to drive and the battery robs much of the trunk space, leaving what is left in a weird shape. If you can get beyond the controversial design, the "fancy Fusion" has a well-crafted interior and absolutely slays the rest when it comes to fuel mileage. The handling is also at sea in this lively crowd.
***** Best New Luxury Car (Over $50,000) *****
1. Acura RLX
$55,990 as tested
This one surprised me. As is often the case at TestFest, when you add up the scores at the end of the day, the totals tell a different story than the perceptions. The RLX has a great drivetrain, is light on its feet with excellent suspension and steering and Acura has chopped almost $20,000 from the price. The interior is worthy of the luxury class and the all-wheel-drive system more sophisticated and useful in fair weather than most.
2. Cadillac CTS
$75,900 as tested
Great job, Cadillac. Keep producing cars like this and you will regain some of that lost lustre – and a new generation of buyers. This one, in VSport trim, had a classy interior. The twin-turbo V-6 is a gem, posting the fastest acceleration and passing time in this category, while the brakes provided the shortest stopping distance. The chassis is tied down and the ride/handling combo nicely balanced. The back seat is not as spacious as many in this class.
3. Mercedes-Benz E 250 BlueTec 4Matic
$64,050 as tested
Mercedes is arguably the diesel king and the TDI unit in the new E-Class is the latest – and easily the best – in a long line of compression ignition engines. This one is clean and thrifty, but unable to keep up with this pack in terms of acceleration or passing ability. It leads the pack in fuel efficiency, beating even the Infiniti hybrid. Built like a tank and boasting the latest-generation diesel, this is a car that welcomes long life and long distances.
4. Hyundai Equus
$72,299 as tested
The South Korean company didn't sneak this one in, it came through the front door bristling with features, technology and build and material quality worthy of the best. The 429-horsepower V8 is smooth as silk, and faster than most. The Equus is a brave attempt at playing in the big leagues. Compared back-to-back it is surprisingly competitive. As befits a luxury car, it has the biggest interior in this bunch and that space is just as opulent as you'd expect.
5. Jaguar XF AWD
$72,300 as tested
This Jag has a gorgeous interior, a supple suspension that makes a mockery of rough surfaces and a silky six-cylinder engine nicely matched with an eight-speed automatic that put it mid-pack in terms of acceleration but near the back when it comes to fuel consumption. The all-wheel-drive system means you can enjoy this car year-round. The trunk is big but the interior is somewhat cramped, especially in the rear seats.
6. Infiniti Q50 Hybrid
$56,450 as tested
Bristling with technology, perhaps too much so. The new Q50 is the latest iteration of the G35/G37 line with the same gruff-sounding VQ series V-6 used throughout the Nissan and Infiniti lines for a long time. The industry's first steer-by-wire system is a letdown, totally lacking in feel and feedback. The hybrid system works seamlessly and gives this car the best mileage in the group. The battery takes up a lot of trunk space and what is left is strangely shaped.
7. Lincoln MKZ
This car was just plain disappointing. The suspension struggled with some surfaces, and the steering and suspension do not invite enthusiastic motoring. The engine delivered the second-slowest acceleration times, trailing only the Mercedes diesel, which has 30 per cent less power – but boasts vastly better fuel mileage. The quality is there and the design is one that you either love or hate. The MKZ trailed the others on my score sheet in too many areas and led in none.