AJAC Test Fest 2008

The twentieth edition of AJAC’s intensive week of comparative testing and various annual events is well underway, and this editor is enjoying every well-filled second of it to the fullest, once again.

I must make a confession, and it's an easy and pleasant one: I believe that I am truly and completely addicted to the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada's annual fall ritual that brings journalists from across the country together to test the very latest cars, trucks and utility vehicles.

The testing itself is quite incredibly thorough, exhaustive and structured. AJAC and its successful spin-off; the Canadian Car of the Year Group, have been refining the process for two decades, the final goal being the selection of almost a dozen category winners, and the overall Canadian Car and Truck of the Year.

World-class and improving with age

I certainly am among those who firmly believe that the AJAC awards program is the best in the world. It's not perfect - yet - and that's exactly the point: we keep refining them, just as carmakers keep refining their creations. And as far as I know, the perfect car has yet to be built.

The editor’s drive to this year’s Test Fest: the all-new 268-hp Honda Accord Coupe (photo: Marc Lachapelle)

Competition improves the breed, as the saying goes, and four-wheel vehicles are no exception. AJAC's aim, through its members and COTY Group directors, is to make Test Fest the best, the fairest, the most objective, and the most comprehensive competition between the year's newest offerings destined for the Canadian market.Every year, you can trust that AJAC has gone to the greatest imaginable lengths to make sure that all the award winners are the most deserving, in all possible respects.I am also quite proud to say that most of the names you see on the bylines of articles published on MSN Autos have been closely and directly involved, to various degrees, with the creation and constant evolution of the AJAC awards over the past two decades.Indeed, Jim Kenzie, Gerry Malloy, Richard Russell and yours truly have all been Car of the Year Chairs or Presidents since 1995; Jeremy Sinek has been part of the COTY Group as a director, and both Michael Bettencourt and Bob English have unfailingly attended, tested and voted through the years.Richard Russell, who is Co-Chair of the 2008 Car of the Year Management Group, tells all in his full preview of the 2008 Car of the Year program:

Canadian Car of the Year preview with the 59 models in contention

Richard explains the process in great detail and lists the 59 new 2008 vehicles that will be in contention for the 12 category awards, and the overall Car and Truck of the Year trophies:An intense start to a mildly frenzied week

AJAC calls it Test Fest, and blames me for coming up with that name. Again, it came quite easily: here we were, testing dozens of new vehicles in the often chilly last few days in the next to penultimate month of the year. One day, I simply joked about the whole affair being an 'October Test Fest' of sorts. My AJAC buddies dropped the obvious first word, and the rest simply stuck, to this day.

Reviewer Jim Kenzie and his newest auto calendar

I reckon it did because Test Fest describes the whole affair rather well: It's a crazy happening that lasts four or five days at the most but often feels like more than a week-long, and it is chock-filled with vehicle tests and multifarious events that are vital components of what AJAC is all about to its 122 current members (all categories included).A record number of 74 voting AJAC journalist members will be converging on Niagara-on-the-Lake for a second year. In previous years, the event had been headquartered at Shannonville Motorsport Park in Ontario. The big change of venue was quite successful last year, but the COTY Group and AJAC have typically made various changes and refinements to the process and logistics.AJAC's tech wizard, Ryan Blair, has even built two fully-redundant wireless networks to better and more reliably serve the bar code system that registers and controls every single vehicle 'check-out' by journalists throughout the four days of actual comparative testing. Not to mention the fact that journalists now enjoy impeccably solid wi-fi internet access in the huge AJAC tent, right by the test track at Niagara Regional airport.Top advanced driving instructor Pierre Savoy has also fine-tuned the excellent handling test track that he had laid out on some of the airport's runways for last year's event, with the help of Bob Armstrong and Amyot Bachand. I thought I would sorely miss Shannonville's oh-so familiar and ever-challenging Fabi and Nelson tracks, but I was won over by that new course. You can explore all of a vehicle's handling traits, and unfailingly discover any vice, by threading its myriad expertly-placed orange pylons.So many models, so little time...

I did get in a few fast laps aboard Audi's enthralling R8 super sports car, but most of my time, during the first two days of Test Fest, was spent gathering performance data for the 59 vehicles in close cooperation with fellow journalists and MSN Autos contributors Gerry Malloy and Jeremy Sinek. The resulting acceleration and braking data are now available on the AJAC site:

Acceleration and braking measures for 2008 models in contention

AJAC Test Fest 2008

Meanwhile, on the first day, other AJAC members were taking 'refresher' or initiation courses in advanced driving that would qualify them to later drive on the high-speed handling course.Other members started their 'virtual team' evaluations (a novelty this year) in their assigned categories on the very first day. This will continue throughout the week, interspersed with various other activities such as AJAC's annual general assembly, awards banquet and Technology of the Year presentations.The performance data is in, and the annual general assembly was adjourned earlier tonight. I'd better shut this operation down, because in very few hours, I will be testing all six models in my assigned category: Sports / Performance cars under $50,000. As Annie Lennox has so inspiredly sung: "Sweet dreams are made of these..." Stay tuned.