Two things we know about the Canadian Car and Utility Vehicle of the Year, which will be announced next month as part of the opening ceremonies / Press Day for the Canadian International (a.k.a. 'Toronto') Auto Show:
1. Neither will be the same as the corresponding North American awards, which went to the Ford Fusion Hybrid and Ford Transit Connect van, neither of which made the Top Three here in Canada.
2. The Car at least is going to be a German brand.
The three car finalists are the BMW 335d sedan, the Volkswagen Golf GTI, and the Volkswagen Golf Wagon TDI. Hence, it will be a German winner (even Inspector Clouseau could have made that deduction).
The three Utility (truck, van, SUV, Crossover) finalists are the Lexus RX450h, the Subaru Outback and the Volkswagen Touareg TDI Clean Diesel.
OK, a third thing: given that Volkswagen garnered three out of the six finalists, the job of VW Canada's PR guy Peter Viney is safe for the moment!
All right all right, a fourth thing: three of the six are Diesels, and only one (the Lexus) is a hybrid. Should tell you something.
Er, can I add a fifth thing? Despite some very strong contenders from the domestic brands, notably the Buick LaCrosse, Ford Taurus, Chevrolet Equinox and Cadillac CTS Sport Wagon, there will be no joy in Oakville or Oshawa on that day.
The finalists are chosen in a second-round ballot of eligible Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC) members, from the vehicles which won their respective categories in October's Test Fest, still to our knowledge the most detailed and comprehensive Car of the Year evaluation process in the entire universe.
I am historically, notoriously, inaccurate in guessing how my colleagues are going to vote on these awards. But I would have sworn that the Mazda3, eligible in two categories and from a brand that has traditionally done well in these competitions, would have made the top three.
I wondered during the Test Fest why the BMW was even there. The 335d is a fantastic car, no doubt. But the 3-Series is hardly new, with only the Diesel powertrain being substantively different from previous years' models. Usually, a new engine alone is not enough to qualify a vehicle for this event.
But I also know from previous experience on the Organizing Group (we HATE calling it a 'committee') that determining eligibility is a very challenging process; if you're not there in the meetings, you have no idea what goes on. Our system works on the basis that IF it is there, you as a voter have to treat it as if it belongs, whether you personally think it does or not. Obviously, enough voters thought enough of the oil-burning Bimmer to make it win its category, and to put it into the top three overall.
(Incidentally, we do NOT conduct a third vote amongst these top three. The votes have been cast and counted; only the accounting firm of KPMG knows the results until they are announced at the Auto Show Press Day, and all they have released so far are the finalists.)
The VW GTI is also a terrific little car.
But for me the obvious winner should be the VW Golf TDI Wagon. Great room, great performance, great handling, amazing economy, and it starts below 30 grand. I don't know why about 70 percent of Canadians don't buy this thing - it is all most of them could possibly ever need.
And it is NOT prejudice on my part that I happen to own the predecessor model, an '03 Jetta TDI Wagon. "Pre-judice" means "pre-judging". I think of it as "post-judice" - judging AFTER having had personal experience with the thing.
On the Utility vehicle side, I'd lean towards the Subaru Outback, a very well-rounded successor to a vehicle that was already pretty good. It has the strong advantage over the other two in that it is by far the most affordable.
On the "Miss Congenialty" side of the competition, the Best New Design comes down to the Audi A5 Cabriolet, the BMW 335d (again!?) and the Ford Taurus/Taurus SHO.
Should be a slam-dunk for the Audi.
Best New Technology, selected by a subset of AJAC voting members with specific engineering expertise including (blush) yours truly, will be one of: Audi's 'Drive Select' system which allows the driver to choose various driving parameters, including engine mapping, suspension settings, steering response and transmission shift speed; Ford's 'MyKey' system, which allows Mom and/or Dad to program certain features in the car - inability to shut off ESC or turn the radio up too loud; set a maximum speed; keep the seat belt warning chime going incessantly if the belt isn't buckled instead of shutting off after eight seconds - when the kids (or maybe each other) is driving the car; and Volvo's CitySafety system, which automatically brakes the car to a stop should it sense an imminent low-speed in-city collision, the prospect of which the driver is apparently unaware (cell phone, anyone?)
In my view, Volvo should win this.
Best New 'Green' Technology, selected by the same group as above, saw a tie somewhere along the line, so we have four finalists: Ford's New Generation Hybrid system and Smart Gauge, as fitted to the Ford Fusion Hybrid; Mercedes-Benz S400 Hybrid with Lithium-Ion battery; Toyota/Lexus plant-based ecological plastics; and Toyota/Lexus Beltless Atkinson Cycle hybrid engine with cooled exhaust system.
My bet is on the Ford Fusion Hybrid system.
(In a little over two weeks) may we have the envelopes please: