Sift­ing through all the starters

Herald Sun - Motoring - - NEWS - RICHARD BLACK­BURN CARS­GUIDE ED­I­TOR richard.black­burn@news.com.au

THERE are few bad cars on the road th­ese days, which made it tougher than ever to pick a field for Cars­guide’s 2015 Car of the Year award.

The process started in De­cem­ber last year. A week af­ter we awarded the MercedesBenz C-Class our gong, we were on the launch of the new Subaru Out­back.

It was the first of more than 300 new cars we pored over be­fore ar­riv­ing at 11 fi­nal­ists. In be­tween there were head-to­head bat­tles and three-way shootouts be­tween the most im­pres­sive of the new­com­ers and the ex­ist­ing bench­marks.

Com­par­i­son tests are vi­tal be­cause it’s easy to come away from a new car launch im­pressed by Brand X’s lat­est and great­est. But it takes back-to-back test­ing — on the same stretch of bi­tu­men, same pot­holes, same free­way — to sort the win­ners from the also-rans.

This year’s COTY judg­ing threw up a few sur­prises. The first was the CX-3. It felt good to drive on the launch and when we tested it against the best in its class, it also came out on top. Up against our other fi­nal­ists, it felt un­der­done and over­priced. The con­clu­sion? The mini-SUV may be the new “must-have” au­to­mo­tive ac­ces­sory but none of the new breed — there have been six all-new ar­rivals this year — is as prac­ti­cal or fun to drive as a hum­ble hatch­back.

Next was the BMW X1, which fel­low judge Joshua Dowl­ing called “the most unBMW BMW I’ve driven”. An SUV from a Ger­man lux­ury brand for a tad over $60,000 sounds like a good deal, es­pe­cially when a Toy­ota Kluger can cost sim­i­lar money.

While much im­proved over its pre­de­ces­sors in some ar­eas, the X1 was un­der­done in oth­ers. The seats, usu­ally a BMW high­light, were flat and un­sup­port­ive, while the front sus­pen­sion crashed rudely over bumps.

To a much lesser ex­tent the same crit­i­cism could be lev­elled at our run­ner-up, the Mercedes-Benz GLC. It is still an im­pres­sive ve­hi­cle but not as well sorted as the C-Class. In their quest for new buy­ers, are the lux­ury brands los­ing their lux­u­ri­ous­ness?

The sur­prises weren’t all bad, though. The fact that the Ford Ranger made our fi­nal five is tes­ti­mony to the huge ad­vances made in one-tonne utes in re­cent years. The Ranger didn’t feel a mil­lion miles off the rest of the field on our road loop.

A decade ago, jump­ing out of a Volvo into a Ford ute would have been like trad­ing the Merc for a Massey Fer­gu­son. Not now.

Which brings us to the last — and most pleas­ant — COTY sur­prise: the win­ner, Kia’s Sorento. Ever since the Kore­ans pinched Audi’s head de­signer, Kia cab­ins have looked a cut above their com­peti­tors. Lo­cal sus­pen­sion tun­ing has made them ride bet­ter, while their diesel en­gines are on par with some of the best for re­fine­ment. Add an in­dus­try lead­ing sev­enyear war­ranty and there’s plenty to like.

If you’re put off by the badge on the nose, it’s your loss.

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