Top ten “car of the year finalists” have been announced
Honda has re-designed its popular Civic, looking to get its groove back. WSJ’s Dan Neil joins Tanya Rivero to discuss his test drive. Photo: Honda
TEN cars, one winner. That’s the elementary formula with the field set for the two thousand sixteen running of the Carsguide Car of the Year award.
The 20th contest for the big prize in Australia motoring mixes family cars, SUVs and driving favourites but, sadly, nothing homegrown.
The closest thing to an old-school Ford or Holden, the Mustang from America, failed to make the grade in a year when the contenders shove the boundaries on design, technology, quality, value and — gratefully — driving enjoyment.
Last year’s winner of Car of the Year, the Kia Sorento.
The bottom end of the pack is led by the Honda Civic and Holden Astra and the line-up is topped by the Mercedes-Benz E300.
Fiat’s Abarth one hundred twenty four and Ford Concentrate RS represent the spectacle world and four SUVs — Kia Sportage, Jaguar F-Pace, Mazda CX-9 and Volkswagen Tiguan — look to repeat last year’s family wagon success for the Kia Sorento.
As always, we select a single model to represent each of the COTY contenders, going for the car that best fits the COTY criteria. So, here are the contenders for 2016:
Audi A4 1.Four TFSI $55,500
The classy A4 is downright fresh, with epic technology and a well-finished cabin. It drives well and is competitively priced in a class where the Mercedes C-Class rewrote the rules and took a COTY crown. But is the missing “wow factor” going to hurt it in this field?
Packed with technology: Audi A4.
Fiat Abarth one hundred twenty four $41,990
Some people say the Italian clone of the Mazda MX-5 is a good car made good. But not us, as the Fiat package combines retro styling that works with a torquey 1.4-litre turbo engine and a chassis package — Bilstein shocks, fatter wheels, Brembo brakes — that truly sharpens the car and is available as a Sport kit on the MX-5 in America. Even so, can Fiat claim credit for the Mazda work?
The Abarth one hundred twenty four is Italian motoring at its best.
Ford Concentrate RS $50,990
The RS hit the headlines for its controversial Drift mode but that’s only for the track and the pocket rocket is joy on almost any road. It’s a good looking hot hatch and ticks the boxes for wings, Recaro buckets and add-ons but it’s not as quick as Ford says and it’s also strenuous and a bit abate at times. The manual gearbox is old school in a world of slick shifting double-clutch gearboxes but that is not hurting request, which considerably exceeds supply.
Cheap thrills: Ford’s Concentrate RS.
Holden Astra R 1.Four auto $24,190
Ultimately, an all-new Holden that’s not just a price-fighter. The Astra is back as a European small-car contender with a Crimson Lion badge, looking to erase the failure of the Opel Astra and lure back people who recall the nameplate at its best. The Astra drives well and the technology is good. But the pricing is controversial, even more than a VW Golf, and the technology only comes bundled in expensive option packs.
The European-built Holden Astra.
Honda Civic VTi-L auto $27,790
After a series of underdone misses, the fresh Civic is a comeback to form for Honda thanks to a space-age dash, roomy passenger space and big boot, and styling that stands out in a crowd. It’s also back to Honda quality standards. Still, the price hurts in the super-competitive small-car class, and you need to upgrade to the VTi-L to get the better safety package and the turbo engine that’s essential because the standard engine is underdone.
The Civic is a welcome comeback to form for Honda.
Jaguar F-Pace 20d $74,340
There is original thinking in the bod design, the cabin has excellent space, it’s an excellent drive and you only need to get the basic diesel engine to get the best comeback. The beginning price is good, too, but options are extensive and costly and you must pay more for safety that’s standard on opponents. Inwards the cabin, the F-Pace is brief on the essential “Jaguar-ness”.
Jaguar’s very first foray into SUVs, the F-Pace.
Kia Sportage SLi 2WD $33,990
The Sorento stablemate won COTY last year and the all-new Sportage is another awesome newcomer from South Korea. It looks good, value is fine and there is that super-long warranty. The sweet spot is packed by the SLi front-driver that does the job for families. Local suspension tuning indeed works and gives Kia an edge against the Japanese. The engine is a little lacklustre and some of the active safety gear in the class is not available.
The Kia Sportage is well priced.
Mazda CX-9 Sport FWD $42,490
The best thing about the fresh seven-seater is the refinement and all-round quality. It has a quiet and loosening cabin for up to seven and makes a solid case for any family. It has an outstanding turbo engine, exemplary road manners and good safety gear. It also shows what Mazda will produce across the range in coming years. The specification sheet is a bit light compared with its rivals and on the cheapest model the steering tugs under acceleration.
The Mazda CX-9 appeals to families.
Mercedes-Benz E300 $107,900
Once again, a winner from the world’s oldest car maker. It has reinvented the E-Class as it had already done with the C-Class, with an awesome interior including the fattest display in the business, fountains of technology pointing to autonomous driving and Benz-style quality. The E300 was the final inclusion in the line-up after proving its credentials with a fine engine and air suspension, removing reservations about the base E. It will fight on value, however, as it attracts the ridiculous luxury car tax, adding thousands to the price.
The Mercedes-Benz E300 features autonomous driving tech.
Volkswagen Tiguan Trendline 110TSi auto $31,990
This is the SUV that VW has needed for far too long and is part of the rebuilding process after Dieselgate. The basic styling is a bit bland but it does the job and there is clever packaging, explosions of space, standard auto safety braking and lane departure warnings. It is quiet to drive, has a superb engine and solid road manners. Even so, VW cannot escape — yet — the questions about long-term ownership costs.