New kids on the block
As the year draws to a close, we rate the newcomers against the established showroom stars
NEW cars don’t automatically go to the top of the class when they are released. Sometimes Brand A’s latest and greatest is no better than what rivals already sell. Typically — and increasingly — the rapid introduction of technology helps the newcomers get the better of the previous class leaders. We look at which new arrivals raised the bar and which didn’t.
Champ Suzuki Celerio Practicality powers the Celerio, from the frugal 1.0-litre engine to the boxy styling housing the biggest cabin and boot of this trio. It is also cheap at $13,990 drive-away with a continuously variable transmission. Challenger Holden Spark The Spark is the coolest kid on the block but also the most expensive at $15,690 for the CVT. Buyers get one of the better rides in the class plus Apple CarPlay/Android Auto connectivity. Surprise packet Kia Picanto A new Picanto is due in April but the current model’s sharp pricing ($14,990 drive-away with four-speed auto) and seven-year warranty already appeals. It lacks connectivity but misses out on little else. Winner Kia Picanto Playing on price hasn’t hurt the Picanto and it easily fulfils its brief as a cheap, reliable city runabout.
Champion Ford Focus Still an overpriced and so under-appreciated contender. It goes and handles with the best … but the base Trend hatch costs a hefty $23,390. Challenger Holden Astra The Astra R starts at $21,990, without the autonomous emergency braking found in other variants. The car rides and steers well and the engine is willing. Surprise packet Subaru Impreza It’s always been a bit of an alsoran and quality suffered post the GFC but the latest model has upped the ante on refinement, cornering ability, cabin presentation and technology. The only disappointment is a so-so engine. The mid-spec 2.0i-L is the pick at $24,690 for the CVT. Winner Subaru Impreza A welcome return to form for the brand. Can’t wait for WRX.
Champ Toyota Camry Even if private buyers account for one in five Camry sales, the Japanese car is still Australia’s most popular family vehicle. Vanilla, yes, but real vanilla, not the artificial stuff. Challenger Subaru Liberty Enough people are sold on the all-wheel drive and adaptive cruise control/AEB to rank the polished Liberty third in this segment. A $29,990 base price is $1500 more than a Camry. Surprise Skoda Octavia Takes some beating as a value proposition, given the starting price of $22,990. A willing 1.4litre turbo and good handling, backed by adaptive cruise control and AEB. Winner Skoda Octavia The price is too good to ignore … get over the brand phobia and get hold of a seriously good deal.
Champ Mazda CX-5 The CX-5 can’t be faulted for the way it drives. Mazda bundles active driving aids into the base $27,890 Maxx as the smart SUV moves into run-out mode. There’s a new model in 2017. Challenger VW Tiguan Quality materials, impressive default equipment and a torquerich 1.4-litre turbo typify the Tiguan. Throw in a chassis that doesn’t mind taking a turn and the $31,990 price makes sense. Surprise Kia Sportage Rare for Kia to not deliver a decent ride but the Sportage loses out over broken ground. Decent cabin quality on the $28,990 entry car but only the top model gets newer safety tech. Winner VW Tiguan Carsguide’s Car of the Year, a smartly styled and packaged SUV that drives well.
Champ Kia Sorento As seven-seaters go, the Sorento stands tall. Admission starts at $40,990, though that excludes the likes of AEB. The Kia drives as well as anything in the class, better than many mid-sizers. Challenger Mazda CX-9 Refinement rules, from the smooth 2.5-litre turbo to the well-insulated cabin. At $42,490 the base version has active driving aids and a stylish interior. Someone forgot the third-row air vents. Surprise VW Passat Alltrack Five-seater Alltrack combines car-like handling with SUV roominess in the second row and cargo area. The $50,790 price gets the latest safety tech. Winner Kia Sorento The Sorento does more with less. Practicality is at the fore and Kia shows its ilk needn’t drive like barges.
Champion Mazda MX-5 Simplicity and purity of piloting makes an MX-5 such affordable entertainment, with a brilliant chassis and small engines that deliver across the rev range. Challenger Ford Focus RS As a daily driver, combines fun and frustration. It can’t roll over anything bigger than a flattened soft drink can without feeling it — and that affinity with the road makes it so involving. Surprise: Abarth 124 Spider It’s the Mazda chassis fitted with better shocks and brakes, turbo engine and limited-slip diff to help with drive out of corners. It is sharply priced at $41,990 against the 2.0-litre MX-5 GT at $39,550. Winner Ford Focus RS The RS is ferociously fun car to drive hard, even if it is hard on your body most of the time.
FORD FOCUS RS