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2015 Car of the Year preview

The 2015 Car of the Year line-up.

This year's line-up is a dream team of pace machines, heavy-hitters and all-rounders.

Finals fever has arrived at CarsGuide. Over the past 12 months, we've sampled hundreds of new cars and whittled them down to 11 contenders for our annual Car of the Year title.

Why the odd number? To tie in with cricket season? Not quite.

At the last minute, we got the chance to include a worthy contender that won't feature in any of our competitors' end of year awards.

So, after a hastily organised drive, we gave a start to the Mercedes-Benz GLC, an SUV that shares its underpinnings with the 2014 Car of the Year, the C-Class.

The GLC is unlikely to get the rails run the C-Class did last year — to be frank, 2014 wasn't a stellar year for new arrivals.

Competition this year has been much tougher, with some cars that looked like contenders at the halfway mark not making the final cut.

The Subaru Liberty was just shaded by Volkswagen's new Passat, Audi's TT coupe and BMW's 2 Series Active Tourer missed out, as did other big arrivals such as the Hyundai Tucson, Ford Mondeo, Chrysler 300C and Toyota HiLux.

This year's field ranges from the all-conquering Mazda CX-3 small SUV to Volvo's groundbreaking luxury XC90 seven-seater. In between there's the magical Mazda MX-5 — a sentimental favourite — and Kia's accomplished family all-rounder, the Sorento. There's muscle in the form of Audi's RS3 and Holden's brutish SS-V Commodore Redline and, with the Passat, mid-size class.

Audi RS3 - $78,900

Pocket rocket doesn't do this little firecracker justice. Audi has shoehorned half a Lamborghini V10 into the engine bay of a small hatchback. The five-cylinder engine puts out more power than some V8 Commodores and matches that output with a bark as big as its bite. It dispatches the 0-100km/h dash in 4.3 seconds, matching cars twice its price. It puts that power to the ground with all-wheel-drive through a slick-shifting seven-speed dual-clutch auto.

BMW X1 xDrive20d - $56,500

The original X1 was one of the best handling SUVs on the market, with cornering ability that matched lower-riding hatchbacks. Unfortunately the boot-space matched that of some small hatches too. The new X1 is a much better all-rounder, with enough space behind the rear seats for a decent amount of family gear. It loses little of its driving edge in the switch from rear-drive to front-drive — there is on-demand all-wheel drive on some models. We've picked the xDrive20d AWD version, which has one of the sweetest diesel engines available.

Ford Ranger XLT - $57,620

Ford's popular workhorse saw off a big field of challengers, including the legendary Toyota HiLux, as its reward for introducing cutting edge technology to a segment that has generally been a poor cousin for safety and comfort. It helps that the big Ford also has plenty of power, can tow 3500kg and drives better than one-tonner rivals.

Holden Commodore SS-V Redline- $52,490

It's old-tech, it's destined for oblivion, so why is it here? In the same way as the Ford Falcon XR8 surprised last year's COTY judges, this hairy-chested Holden makes the cut because it nails its brief brilliantly. The V8 puts out 304kW and can slingshot the car to 100km/h in about five seconds. That performance is backed up by excellent brakes and suspension. It can also seat five in comfort if needed and costs half what you'd pay for a similarly powered European sedan.

Jaguar XE Prestige 20t - $60,400

This is not the Jaguar your rich uncle drove. It's much cheaper, better built and a whole lot more fun to drive. Going for the German heartland, the VE is a sporty sedan that rivals BMW's 3 Series for poise and precision through corners and challenges Mercedes-Benz's C-Class for comfort and cabin ambience. We've chosen the cheapest variant, the Prestige 20t, which gets a punchy four-cylinder turbo.

Kia Sorento SLi - $44,990

Seven seats, seven airbags, seven-year warranty ... the Sorento is seventh heaven for family buyers. The cabin is a standout in its class, combining practicality with quality finishes and soft-touch materials. The seating layout is flexible, it's well equipped for the money and its road manners are more than up to the task of hauling the loved ones. The quiet and frugal diesel engine is the pick.

Mazda CX-3 Maxx - $24,390

Mazda rarely puts a foot wrong these days and the CX-3 is no exception. With the possible exception of the Ranger, it has come through the sternest test to make this year's final, outgunning half a dozen all-new rivals. Inside and out, the CX-3 is the best-looking of the bunch and it comes well equipped with standard satnav and reversing camera. It's also good to drive and easy on the wallet at the pump.

Mazda MX-5 - $31,990

An early favourite with most judges, the MX-5 is the cheapest ticket to open-top fun. The latest model goes back to basics, forgoing cabin luxuries and a folding metal roof to give enthusiasts a genuine lightweight roadster experience. Our judges chose the less powerful 1.5-litre engine because they thought its free-revving nature best suited the overall package.

Volkswagon Passat 132 TSI - $34,990

There's a lot to like about this year's European Car of the Year. The cabin is immaculately finished and spacious, with loads of leg room in the back and a big boot. But the Passat's trump card is the way it drives. The 1.8-litre turbo four-cylinder is a pearler of an engine, revving freely and returning impressive consumption for the punch it packs. Comes with an array of optional driver aids.

Volvo XC90 - $89,950

Volvo has always created simple, elegant cabins but the XC90 takes things up a notch. The look is minimalist, with no unnecessary buttons or dials. The iPad-style centre screen is simple and easy to navigate, while the cabin is full of thoughtful touches including easy to access third-row seats and the trademark integrated booster seat in the second row. It's a lot dearer but it adds much more driver assistance tech to justify the price.

Mercedes-Benz GLC 250 - $67,900

With an enviable pedigree, the GLC was always going to be a standout. Surprisingly capable off-road for what is basically a city-focused SUV, the GLC comes well equipped with a nine-speed auto, nine airbags, automatic emergency braking and blind spot monitoring. Inside it has the up-market ambience of the C-Class. We've picked the petrol version because it's more responsive than the two diesels.

Which car do you think will take out top spot? Tell us in the comments below.

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