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2008 AJAC TestFest

AJAC Car of the Year event tests 59 new 2008 models

By Bill Roebuck

Audi R8 and 2008 Mini Cooper S at the Welland Canal for TestFest 2008. Photo courtesy AJAC/Arne Glassbourg.More than $4.3 million worth of new 2008 vehicles have been tested by Canadian automotive journalists in what is likely the world's most comprehensive evaluation of contenders for 2008 Car of the Year Awards.

The awards available include the Car of the Year, Utility Vehicle of the Year, Best New Technology and Best New Design. There's also a Most Coveted award available this year.

The evaluation process is based on 'real-world' back-to-back testing of similar models on the same day under the same circumstances, on the same routes, on public roads. Additional on-track testing also was used in the appropriate categories.

The event took place in and around Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont., and at a temporary test track set up at the Niagara Regional Airport, over four days, from Oct. 30-Nov. 2, 2007.

The annual TestFest event, organized by the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC), attracted 59 all-new 2008 models, sorted into 12 vehicle categories, and saw them tested back-to-back by a dozen teams of journalists (74 in all) over four days. This year's event had sunshine and relatively mild temperatures each day, helping to make it one of the best ever since the competition was first held in 1988.

Aerial view of the test facility for TestFest 2008. Photo courtesy AJAC/Arne Glassbourg.Team members use a detailed rating form comprising 21 separate evaluation parameters that include acceleration, braking, vehicle dynamics, manoeuvrability and, where applicable, off-road capability (two separate off-road tracks were used in such testing). Every detail, from safety features to cargo capacity, was thoroughly scrutinized, discussed and individually rated through secret ballots.

TestFest is a major undertaking every year. With at least three models of every vehicle entered on hand for testing, and a total of 59 entries, there were roughly 180 vehicles for journalists to test. The as-tested prices of the models entered in the competition ranged from $18,049 to $170,700 -- with the Saturn Astra at the low end and the Audi R8 at the top.

The fastest car tested was the Audi R8, with a 0-100 km/h time in AJAC's own performance testing at the track of 4.5 seconds (the slowest, in case you're curious, was the Saturn Aura Green Line Hybrid at 11.1 seconds (and it was just 0.2 seconds slower than the non-hybrid version of the same car).

Of course, braking is just as important as acceleration in AJAC's evaluations. Here, the best to come to a stop from 100 km/h was the Cadillac CTS, which stopped in an impressive 35.9 metres, while the furthest distance -- 54.2 metres -- was taken by the Dodge Dakota pick-up. Among all categories, stopping distances of around 40 metres or less was good, however, many models ranged in the high-40s in several categories.

With so many vehicles to test over various routes around the Niagara-on-the-Lake area and on the test track, most journalists are able to evaluate 18 to 20 vehicles during TestFest. Some are able to test more -- personally, on behalf of, I was able to drive 27 vehicles in seven of the 12 categories.

According to an AJAC survey, each individual vehicle is driven on average by more than 10 journalists during TestFest -- and some are driven by as many as 22.

Audi R8 ($170,700) next to 2008 Staurn Astra ($18,049) as tested. For the price of one Audi R8, you could buy nine Saturn Astras and have $8,259 left over. They both have a Nav System.Of course, my total was not even half of the available models. Yes, it's certainly a case of 'So many cars, so little time!' The categories represent every type of vehicle on the road -- small, family, luxury, prestige, sports and performance, convertibles, pickups, SUVs and crossovers. Some categories, such as SUV/CUV, are large so are split by price range (this year, this segment represented 36% of all entries, so it was split into three categories).

Ballots submitted by team members are tabulated by KPMG, an international accounting firm. The results are kept confidential -- even from AJAC -- until the awards press conference. This year the category winners will be announced on Dec. 4 in Toronto.

At this point, AJAC members do further road tests in a special 'ride and drive' of the finalists in each category to refresh their opinions and vote on the overall Car and Utility Vehicle of the Year winners. The overall winners of these and the other awards will be revealed at the Canadian International Auto Show in Toronto on Feb. 13, 2008.

As soon as the winners are declared, the comparative test data and vote results will be posted on the AJAC website at for use by consumers as a buying guide. Three AJAC surveys have shown that consumers are powerfully influenced by a Canadian Car of the Year award win. In 2005, the survey confirmed that the results had an influence on buyers of the Canadian Car of the Year of 58.4%.

The importance of back-to-back comparative testing

AJAC members (L-R) Jeremy Sinek, Marc Lachapelle and Gerry Malloy take a break during performance testing at TestFest 2008. Photo courtesy AJAC/Arne Glassbourg.AJAC's experts test drive cars 52 weeks of the year. They often 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. AJAC's annual Car of the Year Awards' TestFest ensures that these standards are met. Key features of the TestFest are:
Unbiased, rigorous, scientifically sophisticated testing procedures
Not a race-track event, but a combination of 'real-world' testing on public roads, track and off-road testing, where applicable, and static evaluations
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.

Posted Nov. 3, 2007 (c) 2007

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