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Best new cars of 2015 by segment

Here's a recap of the year's stars, with impressive arrivals and value added to staples.

The Kia Sorento is not the only CarsGuide champion of 2015.

The classy South Korean SUV scooped this year's Car of the Year award and is also our first-choice family wagon but it's only one of the six showroom stars that get The Tick and a recommendation to our best friends.

The showroom scene changed a lot during 2015, partly because of the rising tide of SUV contenders and partly through value improvements and some impressive arrivals. So it's time to revisit the best cars in the hottest showroom classes.

We took our 2014 champions and put them up against the best from 2015, assessing the safety and comfort and quality of the cars, as well as their value against their rivals, to finalise our buyer's guide as the calendar flips into 2016.

We had to consider, among other things, six newcomers in the compact SUV class led by the Mazda CX-3, the impressive updates on the Toyota Corolla and Subaru Liberty, the total change in the one-tonne ute class, the arrival of spin-offs from the pick-ups (Ford Everest, Toyota Fortuner and Mitsubishi Pajero Sport) and even the luxury newcomers led by the Mercedes-Benz GLC.

Only one of last year's winners has managed a repeat success, which shows how far the bar has been lifted this year.

Small cars

Champion: Volkswagen Golf

Smooth and elegant, a COTY winner and better value this past year. But tainted by Volkswagen's global emissions scandal with questions about reliability and future values.

Challenger: Ford Focus

Revamped and revitalised with a simpler cabin layout and a 1.5-litre turbocharged petrol engine that makes more power and torque to ensure it's an even better drive.

Surprise packet: Mazda CX-3

Not a small car but the best of the new baby SUVs is stealing sales from the standard compacts with trendy looks and a slightly higher driving position. A pity it's too costly.

Winner: Ford Focus

More proof that Ford does great cars but struggles to promote them.

Family cars

Champion: Mazda6

Does everything well, nothing badly, and part of the winning line-up at a company that continues to boom.

Challenger: Volkswagen Passat

Another newcomer from the same family as the Golf, with a roomy cabin and boot, good quality and nice price, only lacking personality.

Surprise packet: Subaru Liberty

Revamp brings a big boost to quality and class-leading safety. Nothing to complain about here.

Winner: Toyota Camry

It's all about the $28,990 drive-away deal. The homegrown Camry is so close to the class leaders as a car and it leaps ahead on value.

Compact SUV

Champion: Mazda CX-5

The one we recommend, week in and week out, because of its all-round class. It's good to drive and good to own.

Challenger: Hyundai Tucson

The old ix35 got a new name and a bit more space, as well as a sharp price and locally tuned suspension. Falls just short of the quality of the CX-5.

Surprise packet: Mercedes-Benz GLC

Not for everyone with $60,000-plus pricetags, but the five-seater SUV we would take for family duties. Such a pity it's taken 10 years to get right-hand drive.

Winner: Mercedes-Benz GLC

The right size and price for lots of families, with excellent safety, comfort and equipment. Once again, Mercedes rewrites the rules.

Full-sized SUV

Champion: Nissan Pathfinder

Claimed its crown with seven-seats and a sharp price but not as impressive against the latest Koreans.

Challenger: Kia Sorento

A totally new approach, twinning the Sorento with the Carnival people-mover, pays off for buyers.

Surprise packet: Range Rover Sport

A truly go-anyway machine, from a black-tie gala to the toughest outback roads. A pity it starts at $90,000.

Winner: Kia Sorento

This year's COTY champion has unmatched comfort and quality, as well as locally tuned suspension, starting at family-friendly $41,000.

Sports car

Champion: Porsche 911 GT3

An extreme machine for people who dream, unbeatable on the track but very costly at $300,000 and unruly for road use.

Challenger: Mazda MX-5

The world's favourite sports car is totally new for 2015 but completely familiar with fans of the 1989 original. Ticks all the boxes.

Surprise packet: Porsche Cayman GT4

The Cayman always threatened to challenge the 911 for Porsche bragging rights and this one gets it done. Fast and focused but still more affordable, even from $190,000.

Winner: Mazda MX-5

An instant classic and the only question is whether to take the basic 1.5-litre model or spend $35,000 or more on the 2.0-litre model.

Luxury car

Champion: Mercedes-Benz C-Class

Great for 2014 when it was a runaway COTY winner and just as great for 2015, despite an updated BMW 3 Series that's a much nicer drive.

Challenger: Jaguar XE

Came within a whisker of knocking the C-Class off its perch, courtesy of a willing turbo engine and a great balance between comfort and cornering ability. Let down by a lack of rear leg and headroom.

Surprise packet: BMW 7 Series

Finally, BMW takes its flagship back to a car to enjoy from the front seat instead of the rear.

Pity about the silly 'gesture control'.

Winner: Mercedes C-Class

A successful symbol of the reinvention of the three-pointed star, so good in so many ways, and only outsold by the Toyota Camry in the medium-car class in Australia.

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