Last week a sizeable group of members from the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC) descended on Canadian Tire Motorsport Park north of Bowmanville, Ontario to evaluate and vote on entries in the Canadian Car of the Year program.
The gathering, known as TestFest, is a three-day test-drive event that brings together a wide variety of new and updated vehicles that are competing not only in their respective categories, but are also in the running for the top two awards – Canadian Car and Utility Vehicle of the Year.
This year, there are 55 vehicles entered across 12 categories that cover a broad range of segments from pick-ups to large cars, small cars and premium electric vehicles (EV) to name a few. The evaluations took place on CTMP’s Driver Development Track (DDT), along with an off-road course, local roads in and around the track, and an off-road course designed especially for the four full-size pick-ups in the competition.
I’m tackling several categories for Wheels.ca and this time around it’s time to review premium electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids (EV).
Note: The Mercedes-Benz GLC 350e is also entered in this category but was unavailable for evaluation during the TestFest program.
Third Place – Volvo XC60 T8
The Volvo XC60 T8 is the range-topping model for the Swedish marque’s bestselling global mid-size vehicle and, as a result, it comes with a lot of stuff. Headlining that list of stuff is the T8 or ‘twin engine’ powertrain which means the 2.0-litre gas engine is both turbocharged and supercharged and is mated to an 8-speed automatic and AWD. Now, because the XC60 T8 is a plug-in hybrid, it also has the benefit of drawing power from electric motor that produces about 87 hp for a combined output of 400 hp and 472 lb-ft. of torque. Electric only range is rated at about 40 km.
One of the best things about contemporary Volvos is their interiors. Beginning with the new XC90 in 2015, every new Volvo that has been rolled out since has come equipped with an interior that is downright sumptuous, with fine leathers, rich wood trim and excellent Bowers & Wilkins audio systems. And, of course, the liquid-smooth iPad-sized Sensus display.
If I were just evaluating interiors alone, it’d be hard to vote against the XC60 (and the S90, for that matter). But there are other considerations, and this year there is – unfortunately for Volvo – a truly exceptional vehicle in this category. With that said, the XC60 is a worthy entrant. It has a well-composed and quiet ride yet delivers a surprising level of performance (for an SUV) on road and is also capable off-road. On top of all that, it also delivers hybrid fuel efficiency. In other words, the XC60 is really good, but not the best. It has to settle for third.
Second Place – Volvo S90 T8
Like its XC60 sibling, the Volvo S90 T8 has a lot going for it. The T8 ‘twin engine’ Drive-E platform (2.0-litre turbocharged and supercharged 4-cylinder engine, 8-speed automatic, AWD) works in conjunction with an electric motor to deliver impressive performance and plug-in hybrid fuel economy. The S90 T8 is also a handsomely styled car and comes loaded with amenities packaged in a fashion that exudes a pleasing level of sophistication.
On the road, the S90 T8 delivers a quiet and smooth ride, along with snappy performance and crisp handling that impresses given it’s a fairly heavy car with a long wheelbase. Overall, the S90 T8 is – like the XC60 T8 – an impressive car that is worthy of serious consideration in this class. In another year, it might be the class-winner. But not this year.
First Place – Jaguar i-PACE
The Jaguar i-PACE is the British marque’s first pure electric vehicle (EV), and boy have they done their homework here.
First off, the i-PACE looks like a Jag and, more importantly, it drives like one. For a luxury marque, brand identity is vital to keeping buyers in the fold, as it were. On that score, the i-PACE should keep Jag owners considering an EV in the brand family. Heck, it’s so good that it’ll likely turn just about any Jag owner on to EVs, even those that hadn’t considered owning one previously.
Why do I say that? Well, besides its Jag good looks, it also comes loaded with serious performance credentials. It’s powered by two permanent magnet synchronous electric motors and a 90-kWh lithium-ion battery pack that produces an eye-popping 394 hp and 512 lb-ft. that can rocket the i-PACE to 100 km/h from rest in 4.8 seconds with a top speed of 200 km/h.
I took the i-PACE test vehicle for two laps on the CTMP test track and can verify that it is indeed twitchy fast and has handling characteristics that bely its SUV / hatch body style. But the i-PACE isn’t just about performance because it also has 377 km of range on a full charge, a figure that should ease concerns about range anxiety.
On the inside, the i-PACE offers a clean, sophisticated luxury aesthetic with rich leather seating areas, metal trim inserts and slick-operating digital displays and touch interfaces that offer a wealth of information and are, honestly, pretty nice to look at.
Overall, the i-PACE is a compelling luxury EV that is likely to find favour not only among Jag owners but also those shopping within the wider luxury market. It’s not cheap by any means ($86,500 base MSRP) and it’s an SUV in name only (although it has standard AWD), but its impressive performance credentials, sophisticated styling, and extended range is a gamechanger for the perception of EVs.
For that reason, the i-PACE should win this category and receive consideration for Canadian Utility Vehicle of the Year.
Follow Wheels.ca on