The carsguide car of the year 2008 finalists have been announced.

carsguide car of the year 2008

Hyundai i30 wins the 2007 carsguide Car of the Year! See how the rest of the cars stacked up.

As with any ultimately subjective award there is going to be heated discussion about the merits of the carsguide Car Of The Year winner.

The simple fact is that, in the opinion of the judges, the best car won. What the Hyundai i30 did was to impress more judges, more often.

When it came to final voting the little Hyundai scored five top votes out of a possible nine, three second place votes and one third place.

It was a comprehensive result under any criteria.

Set aside your prejudices then, take your hands from the childrens' eyes...the i30 CRDi is not only stylish and excellent value, it is a grand drive. Pretend it's not Korean and you will love it.

Good-looking, comfortable, well-trimmed and very well made - there is little not to like about what has been one of the biggest surprises of the year.

And when you get to looking under the bonnet the story only gets better. The 1.6-litre common rail direct-injection turbo diesel is a treat and the match with the five-speed manual is one made in engineering heaven. Raw figures of 85kW and 255Nm do not tell the full story, as it punches above its weight and drives like a far more expensive car.

There will those who rightly point out the i30 doesn't come with an automatic gearbox option; true enough, and although one is on the way early next year that was not given consideration in the judging.

There are others who will say, again quite rightly, that the car does not have nor offer cruise control. That was assessed in the judging and weighed accordingly.

Some may even point out that side and curtain airbags and stability control are not standard. True again, but the car voted into the finals was specified as one fitted with the Protecz Pack and the $1790 price of the option was factored into the value equation - as it was with the Mazda2.

There were also a few points lost through the steering, its shortcomings in feel more than performance. Still not class leading but staggeringly better than anything Hyundai has offered before.

In the initial voting, when 45 different cars were nominated, the i30 performed just well enough to get into the final field. It sat closer to the bottom of the qualifiers than the top and many of the judges - while accepting that the Hyundai was one of the better cars released this year - did not believe it would feature when the whips were cracking.

Then came the testing. As each of the criteria were applied the Hyundai first surprised then delighted as time after time it more than held its own against an extremely strong field.

There were some hicoughs - handling, particularly on the track, marked it down slightly - but any ground lost there was quickly regained in other areas.

Ride on both track and road was well satisfying. The bumps soaked up with alactricty while poise and balance were maintained with the aplomb of a ballet dancer.

Few touched it for build quality. Fit and fitment was excellent and over the course of three days over some extremely rough country roads the i30 let out nary a squeak or rattle of protest.

On the safety front the Protecz Pack lifted the i30 to where it needed to be - no better than most of the finalists but at a safety level that every manufacturer should aspire to and no new-car purchaser should accept less than.

On the subject of innovation the i30 scored not only for the quantum leap it made for Hyundai in general but for some of the small things that will endear it to a generation of owners.

iPod, or MP3 player, connectivity is not unique - several high-end brands offer it and others can be adapted to accept it - but in the i30 it is built in to the core of the car.

Integrated USB ports in the centre storage bin mean that either a memory stick or an iPod connection cord can be plugged in to the car's sound system. The device is tucked away out of sight while song selection, volume and general controls are easily at hand.

Still, in the end regardless of how functional, safe or reliable a car may be it is the ability to draw people to it with styling that determines its commercial success.

That has never been a Hyundai strong point ... until now.

Look at the i30 from any angle and you will see shadows of styling cues from all the smartest of the Euro hatches. That is not to say Hyundai's stylists have simply lifted ideas - they are no more guilty of styling by assimilation than most car designers today.

What they have done is blend the bits they wanted into a very attract whole. A very functional whole.

And all of this comes at a value equation impossible to ignore.

Congratulations to Hyundai.

VW GOLF GT TSi

Clever, exciting, functional, responsible and a stack of fun to boot. What a great little unit the “twin charger” Golf is.

Anyone who imagines this is merely a Golf GTI minus the vowel is disabused of the notion in 7.7 seconds. That's the time it takes this latest and cleverest incarnation of the exceptionally successful Mark V Golf range to reach 100km/h from standing.

Looking for all the world like a conventional Golf, there are devilishly clever things happening under the bonnet. The engine is a slight 1.4-litres, but is uniquely configured with both a supercharger and a turbocharger.

Driven through a slick DSG gearbox, performance is seamless and economy enviable. More than any current Golf, the GT lends itself equally to carving B-road or puttering about the 'burbs as a family drive.

However, the TSi (now known as the Sport) is essentially an engine. A very, very clever and influential engine and the heart of the car - but in the end it is an engine, not a brand new car and because of that the TSi has stumbled at the final hurdle.

MAZDA2 MAXX

This was one of the favourites going into the final round and while it did nothing to disappoint it would be fair to say the Mazda was simply run down at the post.

The little Mazda2 is the second generation of Mazda's smallest car but it has all the good things the company's deserved reputation promises.

Interior quality is good with surfaces and inclusions that neither look nor feel cheaper than the car's sharp pricing. Exterior styling is eye-catching, build quality good and - this is a real Mazda trait - the dynamics are superb.

The balance between ride quality and the ability to drive the car hard without upsetting it is a lesson to the makers of a whole range of far more expensive models.

Enthusiastic performance is not the Mazda2's forte, but you can not expect too much from a frugal 1.5-litre engine tubned down from the previous model to meet emission requirements.

While rear headroom was good the paucity of knee-room was an issue for some, as was the smallish boot space.

On the safety front, the car scores well for structural strength and comes standard with two airbags. Four extra bags and a stability program can be added for $1100 as it was on the test vehicle.

MITSUBISHI LANCER VR

The Lancer has long been regarded as the pick of Mitsubishi's non-AWD stable. Not only has it been the platform for the marque's super Evo range but as a medium-sized daily-duty family convetyance.

Yet, it has rarely engendered passion or rated on anyone's list of handsome cars.

This time around the Lancer is desireable in its own right and extremely capable to boot. The new Lancer - possibly for the first time in the badge's history - appeals to a very broad market, collecting the ladies' vote for its neat, well balanced lines and that of the men for its purposeful stance.

It works better inside as well, with a more spacious and attractive cabin that lifts the car from mundane and puts it onto the shopping list of anyone looking for a mid-sized sedan.

Mitsubishi has dropped the 2.4-litre engine, replacing it with a more efficient 2.0-litre offering, but added a more efficient CVT gearbox in place of the old automatic.

Apart from scoring points for its looks, the Lancer VR also picked up marks for safety a stronger body and standard electronic stability control.

On the road the Lancer is a very competent performer - in fact, one of the better balances between all-out track attack and general daily driving.

It excels in neither area but handles both with a good degree of capability.

MERCEDES-BENZ C280 AVANTGARDE

Aspirational marques, like Mercedes-Benz and BMW, start any comparison behind the eight-ball with a widely held perception that they are, by their nature and price, exceptional.

While largely good, ocassionally great and always plush, the high-enders do stand as an example that price is not always the best guide to quality.

However, in the case of the Merc's new C-Class - and the 280 Avantgarde tested here in particular - quality will out.

There is little doubt that after several model cycles of merely holding its ground the new C-Class takes the three-pointed star another giant step forward.

This may be the Mercedes version of the "people's car" but this time around it has not shirked at all on styling, quality or dynamics.

The styling is sharp, the 3.0-litre 170kW V6 is both strong and smooth and the seven-speed auto appears eminently happy to be associated with it. The Avantgarde is stylishly fitted out with superb seats and a seriously rich feel to the general trim.

Ride comfort is excellent, the suspension is compliant and offers a good balance between highway cruising and backroad bruising.

Steering feel-for a Mercedes-is quite good with a nice progressive weighting.

At $85,000 plus it is not going to find a home in every suburban garage, but for those shopping in the just sub-$100,000 aisle it represents a compelling argument over its natural rivals.

HOLDEN VE UTE SV6

Holden's work-a-day VE was one of the last cars to sneak into the final round but once in the top 11 it showed why the Ute has become such a cult leader.

Variously known as the Tradies Sportscar or a two-seater coupe with a really big boot - utes, in general, have in the past been forgiven many a shortcoming in comfort and dynamics in favour of their versatility.

The SV6 needs no apologist. Not only is the car imbued with all the inherent benefits of the ute but also gains the considerable styling and dynamic advances from the VE range - including the Calais V Series which won last year's Carsguide COTY.

This is simply a fun car that can be driven with all the verve of a sportscar, simply cruised along as a comfortable and competent transport or put to work.

Out on the road, the Ute really shines with a compliant suspension that soaks up the worst Australia's country roads can throw at it while relaxing back to a very comfortable highway cruiser.

The cabin is a fine place to be, with modern styling, intuitive controls, comfortable and supportive seats and lots of storage space, including a nifty little hidey-hole for a laptop.

Where the Ute didn't please the judges was with a serious lack of vision out the rear and from the B-pillar which makes merging or turning from an angled side street a nerve-tingling exercise.

There was also some comment on the six-speed manual gearbox being a touch clunky.

FORD MONDEO ZETEC

Has been earning rave reviews in Europe and shows every indication of being a winner for the Blue Oval in Australia.

Ford's trump card in the mid-sized market comes in four variants, with three engines and two body shapes to pick from but the auto Zetec sedan, tested at COTY, is expected to be the volume seller.

However, life is not going to be a walk in the park for Mondeo with some serious competition in its segment - not the least of which will be the all-new Mazda6 which is just over the horizon.

What the judges liked about the mid-sized Ford were excellent driving dynamics, edgy style, a willing engine, refined comfort and value for money thanks to a generous list of features and safety equipment including seven airbags.

Areas where the red pen came out and scores were marked down were objective form over function niggles and some subjective dislikes.

The Mondeo's Euro lustre was dulled by issues of vision through the heavy front and rear pillars, a dashboard that allowed more than acceptable reflection on the windscreen and switchgear on the fiddly side.

Several of the judges also felt that the seating was too low with not enough adjustment.

On the road the Mondeo won plenty of ticks with nice balance, a reassuring tautness and excellent steering feel. The cabin is spacious - it feels almost as roomy as a Falcon - and the boot is cavernous, although shortish drivers may find it a stretch to close the high-rise lid.

SUBARU IMPREZA RS

From a company that has set the agenda for affordable safety in Australia. The entire Impreza range has a full kit of airbags - including side curtains, stability control and all-wheel drive as standard.

That scores the Impreza high by any criteria, so where did it lose ground on those ahead of it?

The naturally aspirated four-cylinder boxer engine is not the most enthusiastic of powerplants and it continues to slurp fuel rather than sip it despite marked improvements over recent models.

The little Impreza is well trimmed with comfortable seats and good use of tonings. It was not helped at all during the COTY testing by being saddled with a less-than-cutting edge four speed automatic.

That was pretty much the downside of the Impreza's critique.

While the radical styling change divided opinion it didn't really tell against the car as even those not enamoured with it did not find it offensive.

On the road the Impreza's general demeanour and good ride won votes while on the track the opportunity for the car to show its full wares was hampered by the automatic gearbox.

BMW X5 3.0d

BMW's second-generation X5 wagon is a major rework of a successful format - a combination of soft-road abilities and good on-road dynamics wrapped up in a prestige package.

The restyled X5 is bigger, allowing for the option of seven seats, and benefits from some interior style tweaking which lifts it even further into the realms of plush.

With a number of engine, transmission and chassis refinements the big soft-roader keeps its crown as the pick of the luxury SUV's in their natural habitat of city blacktop.

The X5 has amazing poise and performance for a high-riding two tonne machine and the clear pick of the stable as a touring wagon is the 3.0-litre diesel-powered X5.

It is a shame that some of the new technology showcased here - the run-flat tyres, the iDrive controls and the "keyless" ignition - do not always lend themselves to long distance runs down outback tracks.

The absence of a spare tyre - BMW argues that runflats make one redundant - is an issue if you are planning on taking the X5 on any sort of extended outback run.

There was also the question of just how dustproof the test car was after evidence of some intrusion from an average unmade country road.

BMW 335i SEDAN

Rarely has something so good been so disappointing. It was with universal regret that the spanking 3.0-litre twin turbo six was sent to the back of the field because of the company it kept.

All the wonderful characteristics and adrenaline-inspiring capability of one of the world's great powerplants counted for little against a suspension and tyre package that should not appear on the same car.

The 335i Sedan, let's ignore the optional M suspension package for the moment, is a great package. Styling is sharp, interior trim plush, standard equipment on a par for BMW and the general feel of the car rock solid.

Even with the M suspension and the run-flat tyres, on the track few came close to the 335i for balance and poise. However, on the road loop all the good feelings swiftly went away.

The ride was harsh and control compromised. In short, it was anything but a relaxing drive.

Most of the judges suspected that in it's basic form the 335i sedan would have been a very serious contender for top honours. Unfortunately, the car could only be rated on what was at hand.

VOLVO C30 T5

If it's a Volvo it must be mainstream, if not boring. It's an image the Swedish manufacturer has been trying to shake - with varying degrees of success - for the best part of a decade. It is now an undeserved image. The C30 T5 won much of its initial cred for the out-there styling (particularly the rear) and the promise of a serious fun factor to rival BMW's Mini.

There was also the promise that the torquey, turbo-inline five-cylinder shared with Ford's XR5 Focus and Mondeo models would lift the C30 above the ordinary.

Well, it did prove to be fun and the engine, linked to a slick six-speed manual, was willing and, considering the C30's near-1400kg bulk, fairly able. It is no racer but under normal conditions there is little reason for complaint.

But the C30 failed to light up the judging panel in some of the little things. The handbrake was a particular bugbear - not easy to use and on the wrong side of the centre console.

More than a couple of the judges also felt the wood treatment on the floating centre panel just a little naff. Overall, the car didn't produce enough wow effect for enough of the judges.

 

Read all our carsguide Car of the Year 2007 coverage here