The annual Canadian Car of the Year program (CCOTY) is a unique opportunity provided by the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC) for members to test the year’s latest and greatest cars, SUVs, CUVs and trucks back-to-back on road and track to determine the Canadian car and utility vehicle of the year. The featured track is the driver development track at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park (nee Mosport). Testing also took place on the roads in and around the Bowmanville area where the track’s located. There’s even an advanced off-road course to really put the CUVs and SUVs to the test. While we test cars year ‘round, aside from the odd comparison choice, rare is the chance to test them shoulder to shoulder as we do here.
Vehicles are broken down into categories and Wheels.ca had numerous journalists on-hand to put everything to the test.
Note: Official category results will be revealed at the Montreal Auto Show in January and final results for Canadian Car of the Year and Canadian Utility Vehicle of the Year will be revealed at the Canadian International Auto Show in February. The following picks are our personal favourites.
Fourth: Kia Soul
I really wanted this car to do better in the category – I really did. Why? Well, it looks cool, somewhat reminiscent of the funky kei cars and SUVs you see all over Japan and its native South Korea, just on a North American-sized scale. It’s unique-looking, roomy enough inside and provides a great seating position as well as an easy-to-access cabin. The new looks it received for 2020 are a bit of a mixed bag, however; the headlight style borrowed from the Stinger doesn’t look quite as good of a fit for the Soul, and the lower grille makes for a bit of an under-bitey look. All of a sudden, the Soul looks like it’s trying a little too hard. That was never a problem before.
The other knock against it is that powertrain; it makes use of a mild-hybrid Atkinson cycle, which is fine for efficiency but doesn’t make for spectacular forward progress. Doesn’t help that the Soul now has an electronically-variable automatic transmission (CVT), which, again, is fine for efficiency, but low on the excitement quotient. A car that looks like this should at least give a nod to the enthusiasts, no?
Second (tie): Kia Forte
The Soul’s more traditionally styled sibling finishes higher up the list thanks to a number of qualities, including its chunky but somewhat luxurious styling, fantastic steering and punchy 147 hp four-cylinder turbo motor. It’s amazing just how much difference a proper engine and transmission choice can have even when we’re talking about quasi-entry-level cars like these. So what cost it points? Mainly, it was the infotainment system and its GPS map that doesn’t adequately display upcoming roads. CarPlay and Android Auto are here, though, so you can move past all that by using Google Maps.
Second (tie): Toyota Corolla
One of the biggest surprises not just of the category but of the event in general, the latest Corolla does a good job of shirking its car-as-appliance past with some cool, aggressive styling (especially on the front fascia), funky interior and even though it does use a CVT, the car tested gets “Direct Shift” tech, which allows for greater takeoff and more of a manual feel. Past that, the current Corolla impresses as it always has: great ride, pretty good passenger space with comfortable seats and a surprisingly roomy trunk. Faults? Like the Forte, it boils down to the Corolla’s infotainment system, with its old-ish graphics and support for CarPlay, but not Android Auto.
First: Mazda3 Sport
It’s got the looks both inside and out, it’s got the ride and handling and now, it’s got the tech, too. Mazda’s products have almost always been the “fun” alternatives to their competition; they’d often have the livelier steering rack and more agile chassis. Recently, however, they’ve been lagging on the infotainment front and so the latest 3 gets the first application of Mazda’s new infotainment that is faster, looks better and has compatibility for Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
On top of that, the 3 now gets an AWD option, making it the only vehicle in the segment other than the Impreza with AWD. All factors that contributed to its win here.