New kids on the block

As the year draws to a close, we rate the new­com­ers against the es­tab­lished show­room stars

Herald Sun - Cars Guide - - FEATURE - CRAIG DUFF craig.duff@news.com.au

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.

CITY CARS

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.

SMALL CARS

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.

FAM­ILY CARS

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.

COM­PACT SUV

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.

FULL-SIZE SUV

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.

SPORTS CAR

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.

SUBARU IM­PREZA

FORD FO­CUS RS

KIA PI­CANTO

SKODA OC­TAVIA

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