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Toyota Echo Star Car 1999

Toyota Echo a car to put stars in your eyes

The offerings range from those destined for icon status to others whose existence will be quickly forgotten.

Finding the formula -- that elusive mix of luxury, enjoyment, value, technology and fun -- means sales and profitability to the winners. For the losers ... it's back to the drawing board.

Finding a winner for best car was never going to easy, such was the diversity of the entrants.

But the 1999 Star Car, judged by News Limited motoring experts across the country, is the Toyota Echo.

Here's what the experts say:

The class of '99 is as good as it gets in the motoring world.

We've had something new and impressive in every size and type of car, from the howling Honda S2000 convertible sports car to the super-luxury Mercedes-Benz S-Class and the baby Toyota Echo.

The news has been just as good for family car shoppers, with the smooth new Subaru Liberty, Mazda MPV and Jeep's Grand Cherokee covering all fronts.

Picking the best from the best has been really tough this year -- with a diverse galaxy of stars that don't line up or compete directly in any sense.

The funky little Echo was a favorite, as were a pair of sports car trend setters: the Honda S2000 and Audi TT.

The Mercedes-Benz S-Class broke new ground in every area, and a couple of homegrown heroes, the Holden Statesman and Ford's Falcon ute, helped prove the local industry is doing a great job as we head into the new millennium.

Does everyone understand how good the Falcon ute is -- do they understand it's the world's best ute?

Showcased best in the XR versions, Ford's latest Falcon workhorse is a tribute to the company's ute heritage.

The Lexus IS200 might not run a screaming, pumped-up powerplant, but it is a joy to drive. Pin-sharp steering, sweet chassis and a character that's hard to ignore adds up to a desirable sports sedan.

Jeep's Grand Cherokee is best served up as a Limited guise 4.7 litre V8. Some do not appreciate the big Cherokee's rolling gait across uneven bitumen -- a legacy of a pair of live axles and a search for smoothness -- but there is no doubting the Limited's ability in the rough.

Holden's Statesman is a big, cosy tourer. It has an excellent ride, best complemented by the effortless 5.7 litre V8; back-seat room is remarkable and the value as a home-grown limousine is hard to ignore.

Toyota's Echo will win praise around the globe this season. It is cute, in an innovative way, and quite practical in this small-car class. But it's not cheap -- and the 1.3 litre engine struggles with a load.

Then there's the Honda S2000, another candidate likely to take home any number of awards with sizzle and style.

There were some serious contenders I couldn't consider as, for various reasons, they weren't properly tested this year. They are led by Honda's pulse-quickening S2000, Audi's TT quattro, Ford's Ka, the Toyota Echo and BMW's 3-series Coupe.

Those aside, in car judging -- as in life -- you make the best of what you have and it's still an impressive line-up.

Honda's street-racer, the Integra Type R, is not for everyone, but provides roar and soar for those prepared to risk licence points.

The Audi A4 1.8 turbo quattro wins its place because it is the best-balanced package we slammed a door on this year.

Rarely do you come across a car where power and handling are not fighting for supremacy. A wonderful drive, if expensive at $62,300.

The Pajero iO is rewarded for proving you don't have to be a tank to take on the tough stuff. Mitsubishi has squeezed off-road ability into the iO along with a fair degree of road manners, for just $29,031.

If the Peugeot 406ST suffers it is only by comparison with its svelte sibling, the 406 Coupe. But that is only in the metal -- under the skin the ST boasts all of Peugeot's renowned suspension dynamics. If you are prepared to do a little work with the five-speed manual, you will be rewarded with a refined experience -- at an affordable $41,900.

Then there is the Mercedes S-class. To drive this technological showboat on wheels is to know what refinement is.

This is driving in subtle and supple luxury. No wonder we all aspire to own one. At an entry-level $169,500 (plus on-road costs) no wonder we don't.

And the winner is ... the Audi S3, at least for me. This car is fun, and what is life without fun?

There is refinement, aggressive styling without overt showiness, comfort, quality, power and a torque curve so flat and wide you could sleep on it.

Yes, it has only three doors, and yes, costs $69,900, but it leaves you smiling.

The Audi TT introduced the world to the look of the new millennium and demands to be installed as Star Car of '99.

There were more TT copies at the Tokyo Motor Show in October than a Hong Kong watch store, but the motoring world will remember only the original.

The TT coupe is not simply a brilliant design concept; the package sets new standards for automotive excellence and it's the funkiest car of the century.

In second place on my podium is another passion car, Honda's stunning S2000 sports. It's a performer which will pass the test of time.

The Holden Statesman is my third pick. The long wheelbase car has proved itself at home and abroad as a limousine capable of meeting and beating the best -- within a tight price window.

Mazda's MPV is a people-mover which richly deserves fourth place and, even with a silly name, the Mitsubishi Pajero iO is a lot of four-wheel-drive for the dollar and grabs fifth spot.

The Peugeot 206, which stakes a claim as one of the best looking and most proficient models in the hot hatch class, comes sixth.

The street savvy Echo hatch is oh-so-cute (forget the sedan), practical and fun to drive in the city. Toyota's pricing strategy for its bouncing baby, with its odd mix of options, takes some edge off its affordability. Nevertheless, this little trend-setter for Gen-X is surprisingly roomy.

It's cheap to run, safe, comes with a Toyota badge and is the pick of the small car crop.

Honda stole the show with its S2000. It's pure indulgence but pure exhilaration and never mind there's bugger all storage space.

Subaru has become a consistent car builder of the decade with not a crook car in its line-up: the WRX, Forester, Outback, Liberty and even the Impreza all impressing. But the Liberty has been refined into such a classy vehicle for those who need load-carrying ability plus the bonus of go-anywhere traction.

Audi's TT quattro is stunning when it comes to retro styling, with enough sex appeal to make everyone stare as you drive by. The design is flawed only by a tight back seat and initial high-speed handling problems didn't help its image.

Ford's ute ain't humble any more. This workhorse is a clever design with the grunt of a true-blue V8 to match. As much at home in the 'burbs as in the bush.

Proton's Satria GTi is the real surprise. The poor man's WRX, perhaps, and while it hasn't got the same aura, this cafe racer doesn't lack performance or handling, thanks to tinkering by Lotus.

The Toyota Echo is the latest son of a conservative Japanese family. On value for money, combined with sophisticated engineering beyond its mini-class status, it wins.

Forget people saying the styling is weird -- take 'em for a drive.

The outrageous styling of the Audi TT will keep the neighbourhood jealous for years. But don't buy one if you're introverted.

Girls love the Honda S2000: it makes kids smile and dads' eyes glaze over as the brain calculates loan repayments. The 9000rpm rev-limiter competes with speeding tickets as the only ways to slow the roadster down.

The Mercedes-Benz S-Class is breathtaking, but tragically unaffordable to most.

The Holden Statesman, big and brassy on the outside, is blanc mange on the inside, with Euro suspension bits and Detroit under the bonnet -- a welcome to multi-cultural Australia.

Is the Peugeot 406 HDi really a diesel? Only the bowser (and your wallet) knows. Low running costs will be magnified next year as the doomsday crowd claim petrol will hit $1 a litre.

New benchmarks have been set in almost every area of car design this year.

From pace to grace and style to space, there's a car from the class of 1999 for everyone -- led by the Toyota Echo.

The cheeky baby isn't a technological leader but breaks ground in overall packaging for small cars.

It looks good -- in hatchback form only -- has heaps of space inside and is well-built, drives well and feels solid.

Honda's rip-roaring S2000 scores my second prize, if only for its engine. The screaming four-cylinder is the star of the car.

Holden's latest luxury limo, the Statesman, will put Fishermens Bend on the world stage. It's the focus of Holden's export plan to the Middle East and proves Australian-built cars can match the best in the world -- for a lot less money.

The Subaru Liberty wagon was one of the best of last year's bunch and the sedan is my pick of the family car class.

Audi's spunky TT has the look of the new millennium and deserves fifth place while, lastly, the Mercedes-Benz S-class has taken luxury motoring to new levels.

Best for 1999

1.Toyota Echo, 38pts
2.Honda S2000, 25pts
3.Audi TT, 22pts
4.Mercedes-Benz S-Class, 20pts
5.Holden Statesman, 17pts
6.Ford Falcon Ute, 13pts
7.Audi S3, 10pts
8.Subaru Liberty, 9pts
9.Lexus IS200, 6pts
10.Mitsubishi Pajero iO/Peugeot 406, 5pts

How they voted

PAUL GOVER, National Motoring Editor
1. Mercedes-Benz S-Class
2. Toyota Echo
3. Holden Statesman
4. Subaru Liberty
5. Honda S2000
6. Ford Falcon ute

MIKE DUFFY, Adelaide Advertiser
1. Audi TT
2. Honda S2000
3. Holden Statesman
4. Mazda MPV
5. Mitsubishi Pajero iO
6. Peugeot 206

KEVIN HEPWORTH, Daily Telegraph, Sydney
1. Audi S3
2. Mercedes-Benz S-Class
3. Peugeot 406ST
4. Pajero iO
5. Audi A4 1.8 Turbo quattro
6. Honda Integra Type R

BRUCE MCMAHON, Courier Mail, Brisbane

1. Ford Falcon ute
2. Lexus IS200
3. Jeep Grand Cherokee V8
4. Holden Statesman
5. Toyota Echo
6. Honda S2000

ANDREW MACLEAN, Herald Sun, Melbourne
1. Toyota Echo
2. Honda S2000
3. Holden Statesman
4. Subaru Liberty sedan
5. Audi TT
6. Mercedes-Benz S-Class

NEIL DOWLING, Sunday Times, Perth

1. Toyota Echo
2. Audi TT
3. Honda S2000
4. Mercedes-Benz S-Class
5. Holden Statesman
6. Peugeot 406HDi

KEITH DIDHAM, Mercury, Hobart
1. Toyota Echo
2. Honda S2000
3. Subaru Liberty
4. Audi TT
5. Ford Falcon ute
6. Proton Satria GTi

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