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2015 CarsGuide Car of the Year | mid-term report


The field is taking shape — we assemble the front-runners and check the form of prospects arriving in the coming months.

The Mazda CX-3 is in but the Honda HR-V and Renault Captur are out.

The Audi TT is in but the Holden Cascada is out.

That's my assessment of the field so far as we search for the best new car of 2015.

Good is still good, but it's not good enough when the biggest prize in Australian motoring is on the line.

Even a car as initially impressive as the Land Rover Discovery Sport is marked down heavily on value when you consider it as a CarsGuide Car of the Year contender.

It's the same for the Ford Mondeo, which looks good, is packed to the hilt with technology but has lost its mojo on the open road.

Similarly the Ford Focus ST, which is a great drive, is too narrow in its appeal.

The CarsGuide team has already driven more than two dozen good cars in the opening half of the year and it's time to see what's looking good for a spot for the top-10 run-off in December.

There are some surprising failures and the line-up could change dramatically with a rush of impressive newcomers booked for the second half but this is how the COTY 2015 contenders are shaping up.

Audi TT - from $71,950

The new German coupe is everything the TT always could — and should — have been.

It's had a muscle-car makeover that covers a broad spectrum from the sharper body shape to the driving dynamics and cabin space.

All right, it should have a standard rear-vew camera, but that omission is offset by gains in other areas that count for a performance car.

And the interior, with its integrated display screen in front of the steering wheel, is top-notch.

BMW 2 Series Active Tourer - from $44,000

This one is a slow burn because it's not like previous BMWs.

For a start, it has front-wheel drive. And it puts family first.

It's more like the i3 electric car than a 3 Series which is a good thing for people who put comfort and space and quality ahead of the Ultimate Driving Machine.

It might be a clunky in the front suspension but it's classier than we expected and the flexible cabin, which will later include a third row of seats, is up there with the best.

Kia Sorento - from $38,990

Cars as good as the Sorento should allow Kia to make the final breakthrough in Australia.

Look beyond the country's longest warranty and you find a family seven-seater that's good-looking, practical and nice to drive.

It could do with more steering feel but that's a very minor thing for people who need a seven-seater.

Inside, the cheap and cheerful Kias of a decade ago are a distant memory, replaced by quality finishes, soft surfaces and great attention to detail.

Mazda CX-3 - from $19,990

The best of the new-age mini SUVs wins a spot by trumping rivals including the HR-V and Captur, something it achieves with quality, refinement and a class-leading starting price.

It's never going to star for a family with such a small boot but it's developed from the Mazda2 that starred in last year's COTY run-off.

It looks good, drives well and works for twentysomethings who crave an SUV, delivering the elevated seating position without being too bulky.

Subaru Liberty - from $29,990

The new family sedan is a welcome return to form for a company that went backwards during the global financial crisis.

Honda and Mitsubishi are still recovering but Subaru is back to what it does best with a quiet, comfortable, refined and well-priced car for Australian families. It also maintains Subaru's impressive reputation for cutting-edge safety.

As always, it comes with all-wheel drive and provides the platform for the equally impressive Outback.

THE CHALLENGERS

The back end of 2015 will bring a number of impressive newcomers, from the baby Skoda Fabia through to the muscular Ford Mustang, bigger Hyundai Tucson and youthful Jeep Renegade.

For now, the best of the bunch looks like this:

Audi Q7

This car could be as impressive, in its own SUV style, as the Volkswagen Golf Mk7. It's first with the mechanical package that will go under several VW Group arrivals, including the next Porsche Cayenne and Bentley Bentayga. So we're expecting class leading comfort, quality and a great family drive.

Ford Mustang

If the born-again Mustang is half as good as the hype it will be a serious COTY contender. Early drives in the US point to best-yet dynamics for the first 'Stang with factory right-hand drive. There is even a four-cylinder EcoBoost engine. More than 2000 Australians are paid-up and waiting for their car to arrive, sometime in November.

Jaguar XE

This one needs to be more than good to challenge the Audi A4, BMW 3 Series and Mercedes C-Class. But Jaguar learned bitter lessons from its X-Type, which was no more than a re-bodied Ford Mondeo, and is pushing hard with an XE that gets everything from an aluminium backbone to new-age engines. In Australia, the key will be in the pricing and equipment.

Mazda MX-5

The world's favourite sports car is odds-on for a COTY spot. It's been completely reworked for 2015 despite a body that could only be an MX-5. It's promising a much-needed improvement in cabin space and overall refinement, as well as Skyactiv engine technology that already works in Mazda's mainstream models. Add the lightweight body and sharp pricing. There is already a queue for early deliveries.

Ford Ranger

The all-new Mitsubishi Triton and Nissan Navara for 2015 are good but not great, which leaves the Ranger to challenge the all-new Toyota HiLux for the benchmark in utes. This midlife update is more than just a mild makeover. It has new panels, tweaked driving dynamics and on the flagship model it has technology that would make a German SUV blush.

Toyota HiLux

More than just a truck, the HiLux has been Australia's favourite ute for more than a generation, not just because it scores with miners but because it can be most things to most people. The new HiLux promises everything from a new turbo diesel to car-like quality and refinement.

Volvo XC90

It's been a very long time since the first XC90, which has given Volvo — after its change from a Ford subsidiary to Chinese ownership — plenty of time to develop a benchmark upscale SUV. Extensive work on everything from cabin comfort and quality to best-in-class safety technology — wrapped in a good-looking new bodywork — should make the XC90 something special and a '15 standout.

NOTABLE MISSES

Alfa Romeo 4C - The Italian version of a Lotus Elise is a looker and a goer, but too costly.

Ford Mondeo - Not as good as the previous car, although cabin space is excellent.

Holden Cascada - Most impressive of the new Euro Holdens, good but not great.

Hyundai Sonata - Not up to the standard of Hyundai's other newcomers, although value is good.

Renault Captur - Funky bodywork makes big promises but the undersized engine cannot deliver.

Toyota Camry - A top car by any measure but not enough change for a COTY run.

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