Road to redemp­tion

It faced a tough bunch of ri­vals after a pun­ish­ing year — but VW’s Tiguan SUV helped to raise the brand’s im­age

Herald Sun - Cars Guide - - COVER STORY | CAR OF THE YEAR - PAUL GOVER CHIEF RE­PORTER paul.gover@carsguide.com.au

IT’S the Tiguan. Volk­swa­gen is back to its best as a car maker, claim­ing the 2016 Carsguide Car of the Year crown de­spite en­dur­ing the worst year in its cor­po­rate his­tory.

After the com­plaints, con­tro­ver­sies and a $20 bil­lion penalty in the US for emis­sions cheat­ing, VW’s Tiguan SUV eas­ily trumped one of the best fields in the 20-year his­tory of Carsguide’s Car of the Year .

The Tiguan scored on all counts — safety, com­fort, qual­ity and driv­ing en­joy­ment — to take a unan­i­mous first­place sweep with the seven hard-nosed COTY judges.

It fin­ished ahead of the Honda Civic and Audi A4 after two days of in­ten­sive test­ing of a 10-car field of fi­nal­ists.

The Tiguan’s vic­tory is the fourth time in the past eight years that a Volk­swa­gen has claimed the COTY crown, fol­low­ing the Golf in 2013 and 2009, as well as the Polo in 2010.

“This is a well-de­served win by a very im­pres­sive car,” says Carsguide edi­tor Richard Black­burn.

The Civic burst from the pack dur­ing the fi­nal test runs to jump ahead of the A4, Mazda CX-9 and Fiat 124 Abarth after the con­tenders were culled to a fi­nal five after the first day.

“I changed my vote on the fi­nal drive of the Civic. It im­pressed me so much when I went back to it,” says Peter Barn­well.

The A4 also sailed through to the fi­nal vote, al­though some felt it missed the X-fac­tor needed for a COTY win.

“It’s clin­i­cally per­fect but it just doesn’t feel enough like lux­ury to me,” says Joshua Dowl­ing.

The bat­tle for this year’s crown cov­ered most seg­ments of the new-car mar­ket, from fam­ily seven-seaters to road­sters.

The Abarth 124 road­ster — a con­tro­ver­sial in­clu­sion be­cause it’s a clone of the Mazda MX-5 — brings an Ital­ian turbo engine, sports sus­pen­sion, big­ger brakes and dis­tinc­tive front and rear styling. It also comes with an op­tional $2800 Monza sports ex­haust.

“It’s heaps bet­ter value than the MX-5 and a bet­ter drive,” says Black­burn.

“You don’t have to drive it fast to have fun,” says Tim Vaughan.

The other big ques­tion

The Tiguan scored on all counts — safety, com­fort, qual­ity and driv­ing en­joy­ment — to take a unan­i­mous first­place sweep

marks in­volved the Mercedes Benz E300 and the Holden As­tra. Some judges weren’t im­pressed with the ba­sic E200, while the As­tra was a late in­clu­sion and priced at a pre­mium.

But nei­ther one made many friends with the COTY crew.

“It is too much money. Sim­ple as that,” Craig Duff says of the E300.

The test car cost about $118,000 and most judges felt it wasn’t twice as good as the circa-$55,000 Audi.

The As­tra made a good ini­tial im­pres­sion, with a com­fort­able, com­posed ride and a strong turbo engine. Its cheap-look­ing rub­ber steer­ing wheel and a price tag that was sub­stan­tially higher than the best-sell­ing Mazda3 counted against it.

In­clud­ing the As­tra’s, there were four 1.4-litre tur­bos in the field. The Civic’s is a 1.5-litre turbo and even the E300 has a 2.0-litre turbo four and not a V6.

Then there is the tech­nol­ogy, with driver-as­sis­tance on al­most ev­ery car and an in­cred­i­ble bat­tery of lifesaving tech­nol­ogy on the E300.

THE CULL

First out were the Kia Sportage and the E300, with the Korean SUV not liv­ing up to the prom­ise of last year’s COTY win­ner, the sta­ble­mate Sorento.

Most judges found it un­der­whelm­ing. It looks good on pa­per with a seven-year war­ranty and stan­dard leather but its old-school engine and a lack of stan­dard safety tech counted against it.

Ev­ery­one loved the lux­ury and the huge dig­i­tal dash dis­play in the Mercedes but its un­set­tled ride and a less than silky-smooth engine brought it un­done.

“It oozes lux­ury but it’s not the break­through of the C-Class,” says Dowl­ing.

Next out was the Fo­cus RS. Every­body loved hav­ing a sprint in it but no one wanted to own it.

“I re­ally don’t think it rates here. It’s miss­ing two airbags and there is no driver-as­sist tech­nol­ogy,” says Dowl­ing.

“It’s a fun car, but no. It’s too noisy, too jig­gly in the

sus­pen­sion and there’s not enough tech. You couldn’t live with it day-to-day,” says Duff.

After this ex­its, it’s the turn of the Jaguar F-Pace and, de­spite all of Holden’s prom­ises, the As­tra.

“I think the car is let down by the in­te­rior. It doesn’t feel like lux­ury to me,” Chris Ri­ley says of the Jaguar.

“The steer­ing and chas­sis are as good as, if not bet­ter than, a Porsche Cayenne,” says Dowl­ing.

Some judges felt the As­tra was built to a price, de­spite the pre­mium be­ing asked. Many felt it didn’t have the nec­es­sary wow fac­tor in the cabin.

THE FI­NAL FIVE

On the se­cond day, judges as­sessed the Abarth 124, Audi A4, Honda Civic, Mazda CX-9 and Tiguan.

The course was the same but the fo­cus on “real cars on real roads for real peo­ple” was sharper.

“The Fiat is the best adap­ta­tion of a donor ve­hi­cle we’ve seen. It’s a bet­ter Mazda MX-5,” says Black­burn.

“I re­ally like it to drive but is it a Car of the Year?” asks Duff. Most judges felt Fiat could have done more to dif­fer­en­ti­ate the in­te­rior from the Mazda.

Judges felt Mazda’s CX-9 was miss­ing equip­ment and piz­zazz in the cabin.

“The CX-9 is let down by some poor plan­ning de­ci­sions. It needs front park­ing sen­sors, a power tail­gate should be stan­dard and there are no thirdrow air vents,” says Dowl­ing.

The petrol engine was also a query.

“A diesel is a bet­ter way of mov­ing seven peo­ple than a petrol engine. And the steer­ing wheel tugs in your hand when you ac­cel­er­ate,” says Black­burn.

The A4 won marks for its sharp price and class-lead­ing tech­nol­ogy, in­clud­ing a coast­ing func­tion to save fuel and an exit warn­ing sys­tem to de­tect cy­clists and mo­tor­cy­clists.

“The Civic is nearly as big as the orig­i­nal Ac­cord. It has a mas­sive cabin and a big boot,” says Duff.

“It’s not cheap but it has a much classier cabin than the As­tra and any other car in the class,” says Dowl­ing.

Judges were also im­pressed by the per­for­mance of the 1.5litre turbo.

But the fi­nal vote was unan­i­mous in favour of the Tiguan. An im­pres­sive list of stan­dard safety equip­ment — in­clud­ing steer­ing the car back into its lane if it be­gins to wan­der — was backed up by con­ve­nience fea­tures such as au­to­matic park­ing.

Am­ple stor­age, a big load area and clever touches in the well-fin­ished cabin also helped seal the deal, while the driv­ing ex­pe­ri­ence was top-notch.

“It’s got cylin­der-on de­mand tech­nol­ogy, dual-clutch auto, stop-start and a su­perb chas­sis,” says Dowl­ing.

“It’s not the usual Spar­tan Volk­swa­gen. It’s a very im­pres­sive car,” says Black­burn.

Podium fin­ish­ers: Car of the Year VW Tiguan, top; Honda Civic and Audi A4. Pic­tures: Thomas Wi­elecki; main pic­ture lo­ca­tion, cour­tesy of Syd­ney Mo­tor­sport Park

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