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And the winner is? Nifty Thrifty Swift

Top spot... Suzuki's excellent little Swift unexpectedly came out of nowhere and was given the seal of approval

It takes the top spot from Mitsubishi's crucial new 380 which edged out its family car competitor the Hyundai Sonata by the narrowest of margins.

Votes were collated from the motoring editors of carsguide newspapers around Australia. They were asked to rate their top six cars of 2005 based on a best to sixth-best point-scoring system of 10,6,4,3,2 and 1.

The little Swift is a worthy winner. It brings bags of fun and value to small-car driving at a time when the segment is already vibrant.
Comfortable, sprightly and with styling to suit the market, the Swift is a quality return for a long-lamented badge. Keep tuned for the GTi later this year.

The Swift won praise from many writers. Mark Hinchliffe (Brisbane's The Courier Mail) says: ``The Swift's Euro styling, top-build quality and high specification levels at an affordable price make this the leader of a fiercely competitive class.''

Neil Dowling (Perth's The Sunday Times) says: ``The Swift shows cheap doesn't have to mean suspect build quality and it has high levels of safety, equipment and styling that hits the target market right on the head.''

Keith Didham (Hobart's The Mercury) says: ``The real surprise for the year didn't come from any of the big names in the new car game but from often overlooked Suzuki. Its new Swift is affordable, [is] well packaged with standard features, looks good and is fun to drive. What more could you ask for?''

But Mitsubishi's new 380 also rated well with some writers, giving it enough points to finish second overall. Bryan Littlely and Stuart Martin (from Adelaide's The Advertiser) say: ``The 380 does check most of the boxes, particularly impressive is the build quality, interior space, and the 3.8-litre, V6 engine which really delivers.''

Still, I could not fit the 380 into my top six.

The sentiment and hype surrounding Mitsubishi's ``saviour'' has been enormous and there is little argument the Adelaide manufacturer has produced a very competent competitor in the large family sedan category.

However, dispassionately considered, the 380 is a good car rather than a great one.

The models we have had through the test garage have all had minor build quality issues: the 3.8-litre engine is also thirsty and from the front, the car still has design questions unanswered.

Easily the biggest improver in the field came from Hyundai. The new Sonata is the most impressive quantum improvement -- model-to-model -- in memory.

Design, style, quality and value are all ticking the right boxes at last. Performance from the V6 is all you could ask and let down only by a little vagueness in the steering. A grand effort from the Korean manufacturer.

Another to impress is the Volkswagen Golf GTi. The badge has rarely been affixed to a poor one. Certainly a couple of bland ones in the recent past, but this latest model redresses that in spades. It goes hard and sticks harder and all with a good degree of comfort and luxury. Also impressive is the Nissan Murano, a very different take on the SUV.

It is really a comfortable, large sedan with command seating, all-wheel drive and certainly a style all its own.

A regular contender, Mazda's MX5, is still the benchmark in affordable drop-top sportscars. The latest model is slightly larger, slightly more spacious and slightly more practical. For all that it remains true to the driving dynamics that have stood it apart for almost two decades.

Chrysler's 300C has styling that is instantly recognisable and surprisingly practical. The rest of the package is not too shabby either.

You could expect a 5.7-litre V8 to be thirsty -- and it is despite Chrysler's multi-displacement technology. Still, you simply have to love the car. Others to rate well (but without making my top half-dozen) included both the Mitsubishi Evo IX and the Subaru 2.5-litre Impreza STi. Both are stunning in their own realm -- but it's a highly restricted realm.

For that reason and that reason alone these two little crackers didn't make the final six.

BMW's 3 Series is again a segment leader but lost out because as a step forward over the previous models, it was incremental rather than sensational. Porsche's wonderful 911s fall into the same category. It is certainly one of the best drives of the year but with small improvements over what was already one of the auto world's true objects of desire.

There were others that came close -- Ford's Focus, the new Lexus IS, Audi's A4, the Range Rover Sport -- but in what was a vintage year for new cars, the six that gained The Daily Telegraph's nod did so in a tight selection process. The Herald-Sun's Paul Gover, meanwhile, gave VW's Golf GTi his top vote.

He says: ``There were plenty of worthy contenders among more than 50 newcomers in 2005, including the make-or-break Mitsubishi 380 and even the impressive new Lexus IS250 and GS430. The Golf GTi took my top spot because it proves Volkswagen can still do a great car, as well providing a single vehicle that can be all things to most people. It has plenty of space, a punchy engine, the brilliant DSG manual-matic gearbox, and a six-month waiting list to prove its success in Australia.''

carsguide car of the year previous winners

2004 - Ford Territory
2003 - Honda Accord Euro
2002 - Ford Falcon BA
2001 - Holden Monaro
2000 - Mercedes-Benz C-Class
1999 - Toyota Echo
1998 - Holden Astra
1997 - Holden Commodore VT


How they rated

 carsguide car of the year 2005
1. Suzuki Swift -- 42 points
2. Mitsubishi 380 -- 23 points
3. Hyundai Sonata -- 22 points
4. Volkswagen Golf GTI -- 16 points
5. Lexus IS250 -- 16 points
6. Ford Falcon BF -- 14 points
7. Mazda MX-5 -- 11 points
8. Volkswagen Polo TDI -- 10 points
9. Chrysler 300C, Saab 9-3 Aero, Audi A4, Nissan Murano -- 3 points


How they voted

Daily Telegraph: Kevin Hepworth
1. Suzuki Swift
2. Hyundai Sonata
3. Volkswagen Golf GTI
4. Nissan Murano
5. Mazda MX-5
6. Chrysler 300C

Herald Sun: Paul Gover
1. Volkswagen Golf GTi
2. Suzuki Swift
3. Hyundai Sonata
4. Ford Falcon BF
5. Mitsubishi 380
6. Mazda MX-5

Adelaide Advertiser:
Bryan Littlely/Stuart Martin

1. Lexus IS250
2. Mitsubishi 380
3. Mazda6
4. Ford Falcon BF
5. Hyundai Sonata
6. Ford Focus

Brisbane Courier Mail:
Mark Hinchliffe

1. Volkswagen Polo TDI
2. Hyundai Sonata
3. Ford Falcon BF
4. Ford Territory SY
5. Suzuki Swift
6. Chrysler 300C

Perth Sunday Times: Neil Dowling
1. Mitsubishi 380
2. Volkswagen Golf GTI
3. Suzuki Swift
4. Saab 9.3 Aero V6
5. Ford Focus
6. Mitsubishi Evo IX

Hobart Mercury: Keith Didham
1. Suzuki Swift
2. Lexus IS250
3. Hyundai Sonata
4. Mitsubishi 380
5. Mazda MX5
6. Mercedes B-Class

Townsville Bulletin: Karla Pincott
1. Suzuki Swift
2. Mazda MX-5
3. Ford Falcon BF
4. Audi A4
5. Mitsubishi 380
6. Chrysler 300C

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