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2014 CarsGuide Car of the Year | XR8 vs C200

Old-school muscle versus a glimpse at the future - FG X Falcon XR8 versus Mercedes-Benz C200

Selecting a Car of the Year is a bit like lobbing a grenade. It's sure to draw an angry response and you need to be prepared to cop the flak.

The CarsGuide crew was bracing for just that as soon as we figured out the two stand-out candidates for this year's Car of the Year were the Falcon XR8 and the Mercedes-Benz C-Class.

The irrelevant versus the unaffordable, the detractors would say. They have a point.

At a time when hybrids and ultra-efficient turbocharged four-cylinders are the future, the XR8 is so old-school it could be labelled the Falcosaurus.

As for the C200, it's the second most expensive car in this year's field. But it pays not to rush to conclusions.

The Falcon and the Mercedes-Benz were judged not against their rivals but in terms of how they performed relative to their intended purpose. In other words, whether they did what it said on the box.

The judging criteria covered engine performance, safety, driveability, value for money, comfort and practicality. Each car was rated against the criteria, rather than the other finalists.

And on that score, it's hard to argue against either choice. As an old-fashioned muscle car, the Falcon delivers on its promise emphatically. The supercharged 335kW V8 is about as hairy-chested as you'll get anywhere in the world for a production sedan. And it makes all the right noises - supercharger whine, V8 burble, exhaust crackles and pops. The transmission is the perfect partner for a high-performance engine.

It feels relaxed around town but as soon as it senses the driver is in a hurry it adapts accordingly. Its safety package gets five stars, complemented by huge Brembo brakes and a system that will call 000 if it senses a serious accident.

Its cornering ability defies its heft, the cabin is comfortable and spacious and it's big enough for a family of five and their luggage. And the knockout punch is the value: It's basically the same car as the FPV GT, which sold for roughly $25,000 more just last year.

The Mercedes, meanwhile, is a completely different beast but equally impressive in the way it nails its brief.

The C200 is a glimpse of what will flow down to cheaper cars in the future

The punchy turbocharged four-cylinder propels the Benz like a six-cylinder, yet sips just 6.0L/100km - a whisker more than the tiny Honda Jazz - thanks to a state of the art seven-speed auto with stop-start technology. The safety arsenal includes nine airbags and a host of driver aids, including fatigue detection, blind spot assistance and collision prevention.

Inside, the cabin channels much bigger and more expensive Benzes, with a touchpad controller, satnav, adjustable mood lighting, electric handbrake, reversing camera and much more.

On the road it can adjust the way it drives to suit your mood, changing engine and transmission responses, as well as suspension and steering settings.

And as with the Falcon, the value equation is compelling. Most of the space-age gadgets, which have flowed down from top-end limousines, are standard. On the competition, most are expensive options.

So why the Mercedes and not the Falcon? Because the Ford is a brilliant execution of an age-old idea, but the C200 is a glimpse of what will flow down to cheaper cars in the future. It is the one car in the field that sets a benchmark for automotive excellence. That's why it was a unanimous choice.

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