Best Small Premium Utility Vehicle: 2020 Canadian Car of the Year
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.
We here at Wheels.ca drive just about every new car every year, but driving one in January and one in November isn’t always the best way to compare two vehicles. Which is why the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada’s (AJAC) Canadian Car of the Year TestFest event is a great way to recalibrate and drive a whole class of new vehicles back to back. The event happens around Canadian Tire Motorsports Park, north-west of Toronto, and features plenty of driving on local roads, and gives us the ability to test luxury crossovers like these on pavement, gravel, dirt, and even grass. Taking them on roads that emulate your drive to school or work, but also the weekend trek to the cottage or the remote trail in that park you love.
Of course, the cars are broken down into categories, with cars of similar intent battling it out for top spot. Wheels had a team of journalists at the event driving all of the cars we could, so here are our picks for Small Premium Utility Vehicle.
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: Lexus UX
The Lexus UX was introduced just last year, but it feels much older on the inside. Most likely because the interior is a near copy of the rest of the Lexus lineup, which means we’ve already been seeing it for a few years. Against the rest of this class, the awkward remote touch pad interface is bothersome and the interior materials used just don’t line up, and the space for both cargo and passengers is small even by small crossover standards.
Where the UX excels, though, is at the gas pumps. That’s the advantage of offering a naturally aspirated 2.0L four and a similar engine with a hybrid motor. Both offer top of the class fuel economy, with the hybrid miles ahead of the rest, though neither engine is a powerhouse offering well under 200 hp. The hybrid is the only one to offer all-wheel drive, but it’s front-drive only above around 70 km/h.
Second(tie): Range Rover Evoque
The Evoque is unquestionably the entry in this class that offers the most exterior style. It’s a handsome take on a smaller and sportier version of its bigger siblings, and the new generation looks even better than the first. On the inside, though, things aren’t quite as stylish as on the outside, and that’s despite the cool not leather but not hard plastic material Range Rover has used for the dash top. Again, while the Evoque doesn’t work as hard on the styling inside as it does outside, it’s still loaded with cool stuff. Like the massive panel that controls the vehicle modes and climate settings. The big screen is well laid out, and it changes with contextual info to make things even simpler. Light-up controls on the steering wheel are equally cool. It’s just a shame that the vents look like they’re borrowed from a Mazda2, and the wide center console pushes the front seats outwards, making the driver’s space cramped and off-center feeling. It puts the A-pillar uncomfortably close to the center of your view out the windshield. It was also the one we found to have the most rattles on the “mars landscape” pavement portion of the test loop.
The Evoque’s optional 296 hp turbo-four offers up loads of power, but unlike in the Jag that shares it, here it felt uninspired and a bit dull. Likewise, the handling and ride balance was comfortable but uninvolving. It had the off-road capability you’d expect from a Land Rover product, limited by the on-road friendly tires drivers demand more than any other component. If style is most important to you, this is the obvious choice, but while we feel there are better choices in this segment, this one won’t disappoint.
Second(tie): Jaguar E-Pace
Yes, there’s a tie here. And maybe that shouldn’t be a surprise, since, after all, the E-Pace and the Evoque share a platform. Despite that, this one is still unmistakably a Jaguar, inside and out. The plain white paint of our tester probably isn’t the best colour to show this one off, but it’s still handsome. On the inside, it’s even better. That bright red leather interior isn’t for everyone, or every vehicle, but this one pulls it off very well. The leather used is rich and soft enough to make you ignore the hard plastic that surrounds the shifter and the infotainment system display.
The E-Pace has a much narrower centre console than the Evoque, which means more space for driver and front passenger, and you feel like you’re sitting in the proper place in the car. Not out over the edges of the platform. While the 296 hp four feels dull in the Evoque, here in the E-Pace it’s a bit more rattly. Until you get on the throttle, especially in Dynamic mode, where it comes to life and gives you the charge that a good Jaguar engine should. Likewise the handling, which is typical crossover dull at lower speeds seems to respond well when you take this cat by the scruff and go for a bit of a run. Evoque or E-Pace comes down largely to which bodywork you prefer, and if you want high-tech climate controls or something a little more conventional. The Jag was also less rattly on the test loop.
First: Volvo XC40
In 2009, with Saab disappearing, and Volvo’s sale to Geely complete, it seemed like times were dire for the Scandinavian automobile. But, as it turned out, Swedefans had nothing to worry about. As yet, no vehicle better demonstrates that than the company’s first compact crossover, the XC40. This is, frankly, what a compact crossover should be. Despite its small footprint, there’s loads of space inside. It’s the only one of the four with a back seat suitable for anyone over six feet, and it has loads of cargo space. Volvo’s Sensus infotainment isn’t the most intuitive, and it can’t match the good looks of the Evoque’s system, but give it a few minutes and it’s one of the easiest systems around to use.
The XC40 gets wonderfully supportive seats, in this T5 trim finished in a wonderfully soft suede material. The gearbox can find itself floundering on occasion, but toggle up the Polestar Engineered settings on the drive modes button – a must-have option – and things get very interesting very quickly. The 249 hp turbo-four comes to life, making louder turbo noises to delight the senses, and bringing forward a wonderful whooshing sound at full throttle. If you’re just taking this one for a drive around town, it’s a delight. If you’re planning to go for a fun drive, it might not quite match the E-Pace, but it’s definitely ready to put a smile on your face and keep it there.