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Award winner still impresses

The zippy little Hyundai i30 is now available in automatic.

The only difference to the model voted by Carsguide experts as the best of the best in 2007 is that this is the just-released automatic.

The little 1.6-litre diesel engine puts out a very nippy 85kW of power and 255Nm of torque to create a well-balanced and surprisingly spritely about-town car. However, the real quality of the car showed out on a day trip to the South Coast recently when the fully-laden car handled with aplomb on the open road.

Its road handling and zippy acceleration found plenty of praise at the highway speed limit.

We look forward to enjoying its economic six litres per 100km diesel fuel economy, which should keep service station visits to a minimum.

The auto costs $23,490 — $2000 more than the manual. Sitting beside the Hyundai is the rather more exclusive Lexus LS460. There has been plenty written about 'soulless' Lexus models and while the LS460 may not light the fires of passion, it most certainly pushes the “I'm feelin' special” buttons.

There are some technological advances that bewilder more than bedazzle — the eight-gear automatic is one — and there are others that have simple charm, like the superb Mark Levinson sound system.

Rear-view camera, supportive and comfortable leather seats with a huge range of adjustments, ample room and a very acceptable V8 engine all add to the attraction.

One of the stranger impressions of the LS460, however, is that it is dissociative — only because the level of cabin refinement and noise, vibration and harshness levels are so good that you really do keep checking the tacho to reassure yourself the car is turned on.

At a price of $184,874 plus delivery and on-road costs, the LS460 has plenty to live up to.

So far, it is doing a sterling job.

A rather more modest but none-the-less interesting member of the garage is the Subaru Tribeca. This vehicle is the 'giant' of the Subaru range.

It has seven seats, command-drive position and 3.6-litre boxer engine.

But its road manners are more akin to a much smaller car.

There is much to like about the Tribeca, including its new inoffensive front-end, but there a few issues have come to notice with regular use.

To make the third row of seats usable, even for the little tikes, it is mandatory to slide the second row of seats forward. Now, it's good that those seats can be moved but the end result is that both second- and third-row passengers feel the squeeze.

The lack of reach-adjustment on the steering wheel has been a notable problem, but certainly not as much as the radio adjustment buttons that sit proud on the steering-wheel spokes and are prone to channel shifting when the wheel travels to full lock.

On that subject, at 11.4m, Tribeca has one of the best turning circles of any car its size on the market.