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In a symbolic changing of the guard the Mercedes-Benz C-Class luxury sedan has won News Corp Australia's CarsGuide Car Of The Year award for 2014.
In a close contest the Mercedes fended off the reborn Ford Falcon XR8 muscle car, the Honda Jazz hatchback and seven other top contenders that were judged against their like rivals rather than each other.
A sign of our changing taste in cars, the $60,000 Mercedes-Benz – priced the same as the top-end versions of the Holden Commodore and Ford Falcon – outsold the Falcon by almost two-to-one last month as the latest figures show buyers are switching from locally-made vehicles to premium foreign brands.
The C-Class is on track to become the second-best selling medium car behind the Toyota Camry and ahead of the Mazda6 after Mercedes finished inside the Top 10 for the third time this year in November, ahead of mainstream brands such as Honda, Kia and Jeep and just behind Subaru.
The Mercedes was voted by six judges as the unanimous winner because it was the only one of the Top 10 contenders to reset numerous automotive benchmarks, with advanced features that will soon trickle down to more affordable models such as a pedestrian-protecting pop-up bonnet, an automatic emergency braking radar system, and a class-leading nine airbags.
The C-Class also undercuts its direct rivals on price and over-delivers on standard equipment, much of which is optional on dearer competitors.
The Mercedes C-Class is a window to the future for the average family sedan
CarsGuide editor Richard Blackburn said: "The Mercedes C-Class is a window to the future for the average family sedan. The sophisticated crash avoidance technology it showcases is slowly making its way into mainstream cars. And that means safer motoring for our grandchildren and ultimately fewer lives lost on the roads."
Mr Blackburn said it was "no fluke this car is now outselling traditional family cars, including the Ford Falcon, the Mazda6, Honda Accord and Subaru Liberty".
"It may not initially seem a bargain at $60,000, but the Mercedes-Benz is great value for the state-of-the-art technology it has on board," said Mr Blackburn.
The final tally showed the new Ford Falcon ranked higher than expected given its limited mechanical changes, but the supercharged XR8 – in effect a cut-price Falcon GT – delivered exactly what performance car buyers want. However the former family favourite was relegated to second place as it didn't advance the automobile.
"The Ford Falcon XR8 is a stunning muscle car and will surely become a collector's item in years to come," said Mr Blackburn. "It's a fitting end for a nameplate that has been a proud part of Australian history for more than five decades."
The diverse field of Top 10 contenders for the 2014 award also included Australia’s top two selling cars: the Toyota Corolla and Mazda3, as well as the recently released Mazda2, Honda Jazz and Volkswagen Polo hatchbacks.
The Honda Odyssey people mover and Nissan Pathfinder hybrid represented the seven-seater family car contingent.
Unlike regular car comparison tests, the Carsguide Car Of The Year contenders are compared against their like rivals rather than each other and measures how well they fulfill their intended function, and how advanced they are for their vehicle type.
In the close contest the Falcon XR8 was nobbled by lacking such basics as automatic power windows and other items found standard on cheaper rivals, although it was praised for having a 000 phone system that automatically calls emergency services if the airbags are deployed in a crash.
The Honda Jazz was praised for its sharp price, roominess, clever seating system and extensive list of standard equipment, including a rear view camera as standard, but in the end the judges deemed it lacked the refinement, polish and driving enjoyment of other cars in its class.
Six judges from across the News Corp Australia, with more than 100 years of car testing experience between them, voted in this year’s contest.
Top 10 contenders: Car Of The Year 2014
Mercedes-Benz C Class
Ford Falcon XR8
Toyota Corolla sedan
Subaru WRX automatic
Car Of The Year By The Numbers
14 people including judges and support crew
$356,250 worth of vehicles
6000km driven (combined total)
24 hours of testing
3000 photos taken
8 hours of video filmed
2 rounds of voting to determine a Top 5
2 cars had automatic stop-start technology
1 car had crash avoidance technology
1 car had a pedestrian protecting pop-up bonnet
1 car had nine airbags, another had 7, but the total airbag count for all cars was 64
0 dummies spat
1 unanimous decision