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Picking the best car in a year of 1.1 million projected sales is Carsguide's task this week. As record November sales of 98,700 were announced, our team was testing its 10 plus one (we'll explain in a minute) finalists in the 16th annual Carsguide Car of the Year.
The candidates and testers go through an exhaustive evaluation regime. There is an unprecedented number of SUVs in the field, a reflection of this segment's domination of the passenger car market. For the first time, there's a dual-cab ute. Purists argue these are not cars but trucks. Yet they are the primary vehicle for tens of thousands of families. So it's in.
The finalists' countries of origin mirror your buying preferences in 2012. Four hail from Japan, two each from Korea and Thailand, one each from the EU, Australia and the US. Even in a year of outstanding prestige and luxury car releases - from McLaren through to the Porsche 911 to the Lexus GS - Carsguide's preference remains for cars the vast majority of us buy with our own money.
We'll address the prestige cars of the year next week. At barely under $60,000, Holden's revolutionary Volt is the most expensive car here. Five start under $30,000. Wherever possible we have stipulated entry level models with automatic transmissions.
Ford Falcon Ecoboost G6 ($40,835)
Not strictly the base model, but no one pays top dollar for a new Falcon. It's likely to be the last version of the long-time (ago) No.2seller, and it's a family car of staggering value.
Ford Ranger XLT ($55,390)
Easily the winner of our multi-ute comparison test, this locally developed tradie lugger-cum-family hauler is the best of the new generation.
Honda CR-V VTi ($29,790)
We want to see how the just-released version of the original suburban soft-roader stands up. As in ever more SUVs, this version isn't “burdened” by all-wheel-drive.
Holden Volt ($59,990)
The Cruze body conceals the most sophisticated car ever to bear the Holden badge, a clever and above all practical electric vehicle augmented by a petrol engine.
Hyundai i30 Active ($20.990)
The first version was our 2007 COTY. The second continues the value story, adding shapely design and even desirability.
Kia Sorento Si Diesel (from $38,990)
The Korean success story isn't confined to small cars. This is a big, quality SUV with a capable and efficient diesel engine.
Mazda CX-5 Maxx FWD ($29,880)
Very much the SUV counterpart to the Mazda3 it's getting so you can't go five minutes without seeing one. The entry level petrol car is all the CX-5 you need.
Toyota Corolla Ascent ($21,990)
Toyota has remembered that design isn't inimical to the Corolla's traditional virtues. Probably the next No.1 seller.
This is why COTY 2012 is 10 cars plus one. These are variants of the same car, with different badges. As we've said: “In either guise the sum remains the same: that's two-thirds Subaru technical know-how plus one-third Toyota design, transmissions and an engine tweak equals the best affordable sports cars in decades and the best under $100,000. Suffice that while Subaru supplied the heart and limbs, Toyota has provided the soul, the will and the financial way.” No wonder waiting lists for both stretch into next year.
Volkswagen Up three-door ($13,990)
Can the most affordable European car in local history and best driver in its class overcome the disadvantage of no automatic transmission?
Some excellent cars are, of course, not here. In isolation BMW's 3 Series can be superb, especially the new hybrid version. But its popular versions were twice trounced this year in comparisons with Mercedes-Benz's C-Class. Honda's Civic is simply not a sufficient advance on the previous model or compelling in a madly competitive small car market.
We liked (very much) some versions of Peugeot's 208 but feel it falls down on value next to the class leading Volkswagen Polo, our 2010 winner. It was hard to leave out the fun Hyundai Veloster, the year's best-selling “sports” car and even an early favourite, but the two best reasons for doing so can be found above.
Check Carsguide next week in print and at carsguide.com.au to learn the winner of the only car of the year contest that matters.
CARSGUIDE COTY CRITERIA
Value Design Engineering Safety Relevance
The COTY contest comes down to how well each contender does its job and how it stacks up against its rivals, both in the top-10 shootout and in showrooms around Australia. These are the tough questions:
1. What does it cost to buy, what will it cost to run and how does its value compare to its rivals?
2. Does the design work, inside and out, make a significant advance? How well is it finished?
3. Is the engineering, from the engine to the road, best in class and right for Australia?
4. Would you trust your family to the safety package, from the airbags to the spare tyre?
5. Is the car right for our times, right for our roads and the right choice for ordinary Australians?
CARSGUIDE COTY HALL OF FAME
2011 Kia Rio
2010 VW Polo
2009 VW Golf
2008 Ford Falcon G6E Turbo
2007 Hyundai i30 CRDi
2006 Holden Commodore Calais V
2005 Suzuki Swift
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
Judges: Paul Pottinger, Carsguide editor; Paul Gover, Carsguide chief reporter; Joshua Dowling, News Ltd national auto editor; Karla Pincott, Carsguide online editor; Craig Duff; Chris Riley; Stuart Martin; Neil Dowling; James Stanford; Drew Gibson.