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2014 CarsGuide Car of the Year preview

As the exhaustive COTY drive program starts, CarsGuide covers the market segments — the focus as ever is on testing real cars for real people on real roads.

The field for the 2014 Carsguide Car of the Year contest is in the starting blocks.

The 10 contenders cover every corner of Australia’s new-car showroom, from baby cars to SUVs and luxury cars to people-movers. There is even a performance car.

The COTY favourite is the Mercedes-Benz C-Class but there are dark horses including the updated VW Polo and Toyota Corolla sedan, as well as the classy little Mazda2 that’s a late inclusion for the contest.

And then there is the Ford Falcon XR8, an Aussie hero that’s the poster car for the final FG X Falcon.

The two-day COTY contest puts them head-to-head with a simple mantra: real cars for real people on real roads.

So we’re looking first at value, then everything from safety to comfort, quality and efficiency. It’s the same approach that most people take to their new-car purchase but with a much sharper focus.

VW has dominated the COTY results in recent years with the excellent Golf and Polo, which work so well despite unanswered questions about ownership beyond the warranty.

But no one knows what will happen when we get down to voting for the biggest prize in Australia motoring.
The contenders are:

Ford Falcon XR8
From $52,490

This is as good as the Falcon gets, as Ford Australia does all it can to make the FG X special for the time it has left as a car maker at Broadmeadows. Ford fans have been calling for the return of the XR8 for years and the best news is the car picks up the 335kW supercharged V8 engine lifted directly from the discontinued FPV GT.

Honda Jazz VTi
From $14,990

Honda retreated in the global financial crisis, and has also just axed the Accord Euro that’s been so popular in Australia. Honda played smart by adding a standard rear-view camera to the new Jazz but that’s just the start for a car that’s a genuine step forward.

Honda Odyssey VTi
From $38,990

Few Australians buy people-movers but the new Odyssey provides a good reason to look past an SUV. A genuine family van, it is also well equipped and well built. It’s been a long-term success in Australia, despite rivals including the Toyota Tarago and the latest classy Citroen Picasso.

Mazda3 Neo
From $20,490

Australia’s favourite car for 2013 got a total makeover for 2014 that includes everything from the SkyActiv powertrain to a new body and chassis. It’s a looker that backs the style with impressive quality and driving dynamics. The Mazda3 take the fight to the Toyota Corolla for sales and the VW Golf for everything else.

Mazda2 Neo
From $15,790

More like a condensed Mazda3 than any previous Mazda2, the Japanese company’s new starter car is mini but definitely not tinny. The cabin quality is impressive, it goes well with SkyActiv technology, and the value is up with a price that’s down.

Mercedes-Benz C200
From $60,900

The world’s oldest car maker performed a magic trick with the new C-Class, creating a condensed S-Class limousine that still comes in below the LCT threshold. It’s packed with technology, takes a new approach to luxury cabin design and drives incredibly well in C200 starter form.

Nissan Pathfinder hybrid
From $42,990

Earlier Pathfinders were a bit rough-and-ready despite their heavyweight credentials but the new model is much more car-like and a serious alternative to a Toyota Kluger or Ford Territory for Australian families. The hybrid package is the icing on the cake.

Subaru WRX
From $38,990

The long-term Subaru hero is still a performance bargain. Its user-friendly constantly variable transmission is one of the biggest changes and challenges to the turbocharged pocket rocket. This time around the emphasis has switched from the engine to the chassis in the WRX, a major departure that changes the game.

Toyota Corolla sedan
From $20,740

Four-door compacts are not generally as popular as hatches but that has not stopped Toyota from creating a sedan that trumps its five-door variant. It’s a little more expensive but the pay-off comes in greater refinement in a body that works for many downsizers.

VW Polo 66TSI

The starter car for VW in Australia following the axing of the Up is a long way better than basic motoring. It goes surprisingly well, has a solid Golf-style feel and meets most of the needs of baby-car buyers. As always, though, we wonder about life beyond the warranty.

We’re looking first at value, then everything from safety to comfort, quality and efficiency. It’s the same approach most people take to their new-car purchase but with a much sharper focus.