Last weekend, the Automotive Journalists Association of Canada announced its category winners for the year during its Test Fest event. Metro writers Jil McIntosh and Mark Atkinson were among the automotive journalists at the AJAC event who were invited to get behind the wheels of 157 new vehicles and make their picks. Here’s the list of the category winners and what our experts have to say about them:

MARK ATKINSON: Mazda’s smart update to the popular 3 sedan hits all the right notes. The updated design, revvy engine and nimble reflexes make this one entry-level car that doesn’t feel like a penalty box.
JIL MCINTOSH: The inaugural Mazda3 took Car of the Year in 2004, and could possibly do it again. Razor-sharp handling remains a key feature, although electronic stability control isn’t part of the $20,595 as-tested price.

Mazda3 Sport: BEST NEW SMALL CAR (over $21k)
MA: The hatchback version of the Mazda3 offers up a more powerful engine, new dramatic sheetmetal and a classier cabin, but still brings great value and fun to Canada’s most popular car class.
JM: Hatchback styling and great performance blend with 2.5-litre, 167-horsepower four-cylinder engine. The interior looks great.

Volkswagen Golf Wagon: TDI BEST NEW FAMILY CAR (under $30k)
MA: Don’t be confused by the name change — the new Volkswagen Golf Wagon is last year’s Jetta Wagon with a facelift, a great new audio/nav system and some new badges. Carryover turbodiesel engine is excellent.
JM: VW Golf returns for 2010; this new wagon replaces the 2009 Jetta Wagon. Powerful, smooth diesel engine uses a combined 5.8 L/100 km; a full array of safety features is standard.

Ford Taurus: BEST NEW FAMILY CAR (over $30k)
MA: The best name reincarnation yet, the brand new Taurus is not the abused-rental-car of old. Classy lines, great interior space, a powerful engine, good dynamics and a long list of standard features highlight Ford’s big turnaround.
JM: Taurus name returns on an all-new Ford flagship. Roomy and smooth-riding, it uses a 3.5-litre V6, six-speed automatic, and all-wheel-drive; standard MyKey feature lets parents limit speed and radio volume for young drivers.

MA: Compact dimensions and a torque-monster turbodiesel engine give the 335d Sedan nimble dynamics, excellent acceleration and over 1,000 km to every tank of fuel.
JM: The world’s bestselling premium sedan makes a whopping 425 lb-ft of torque equipped with this 3.0-litre diesel engine. Optional sport suspension further improves the already-tight handling.

MA: This will hopefully end the arguments over whether the Panamera is a true Porsche. Was faster in acceleration and had better handling than the Audi R8 5.2 FSI, and equalled the new BMW 750i for interior luxury.
JM: The surprise of the show: no one expected a four-door sedan to accelerate, handle and brake anything like this. Sure, it’s $172,300, but those with the money are in for a treat.

Volkswagen Golf GTI: BEST NEW SPORTS/PERFORMANCE CAR (under $50k)
MA: The GTI is back – although it never really left. Facelift and new audio/nav system are this fast Golf’s biggest highlights. Fast, tossable, aggressive package.
JM: At 200 horsepower, the lightweight GTI spins on a dime, sticks in the corners, and eats asphalt for dinner. The $35,640 as-tested price includes a twin-clutch, direct-shift auto gearbox for nearly instantaneous shifts.

MA: It’s not often that manufacturers offer fewer cylinders in their top-line sports machines, but Audi’s move to a supercharged V6 from the previous V8 means less weight, better fuel consumption, and improved handling.
JM: Supercharged V6, 7-speed automatic, Quattro all-wheel-drive and zero-to-100 in 5.2 seconds: what’s not to love? Rear-seat passengers enjoy more legroom than before, thanks to a redesigned chassis with longer wheelbase.

MA: Audi’s classy A5 Cabrio offered a tautly designed package, sumptuous fabric top and decent storage space. Good dynamics and fuel efficiency round out the package.
JM: A soft top may seem outdated against retractable hardtops, but weight is significantly reduced. Four-cylinder engine delivers 211 horsepower; creamy-smooth steering makes this four-seater an all-day treat whether the roof’s up or down.

Subaru Outback: BEST NEW SUV/CUV (under $35k)
MA: Subaru addressed the main complaint of the previous-generation Outback by stretching and widening the chassis. Now there’s limo-like space in the back of the tastefully redone cabin. PZEV engine is enviro-conscious without the smugness.
JM: It feels more like a big station wagon, with roomy interior, great ride and Subaru’s trademark all-wheel-drive. Its 170-horsepower four-cylinder uses Partial Zero Emission Vehicle (PZEV) technology for cleaner tailpipe emissions.

Volkswagen Touareg TDI Clean Diesel: BEST NEW SUV/CUV ($35k-$60k)
MA: Like the 335d, the VW Touareg TDI Clean Diesel won more for its new turbodiesel engine than for anything overly excellent and new. Torque, smooth acceleration and fantastic fuel mileage highlight this off-road-ready Vee-Dub.
JM: Equally at home on pavement or rough cottage roads, Touareg features a 3.0-litre V6 diesel engine, all-wheel-drive, hill climb and descent assist, and up to 3,500 kg in towing capacity.

Lexus RX450h: BEST NEW SUV/CUV (over $60k)
MA: The redesigned Lexus RX450h combines loads of technology, entertainment luxury and comfort features into one highly refined go-anywhere package. New-generation hybrid drive means more power, greater efficiency and fewer tailpipe emissions.
JM: This all-wheel-drive hybrid SUV can run on its battery alone; fuel consumption is a combined 6.9 L/100 km. Innovative, intuitive navigation/climate/audio controller looks and works like a computer mouse.

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