A first among firsts

Kia’s fam­ily seven-seater stands out, set­ting a prece­dent in a sin­gu­lar field

Herald Sun - Motoring - - COVER STORY - PAUL GOVER CHIEF RE­PORTER paul.gover@cars­guide.com.au

THE car star of 2015 is the Kia Sorento. It’s the 19th win­ner of the Cars­guide Car of the Year con­test, top­ping an 11-car shootout in­volv­ing the best new­com­ers in ev­ery cat­e­gory from baby SUVs to the utes that are now sell­ing so well.

There are plenty of firsts in 2015, in­clud­ing the first unan­i­mous win since the orig­i­nal COTY judg­ing in 1997 gave the prize to the VT Holden Com­modore, the first ap­pear­ance by a ute, the first 11car field — thanks to the last­minute ar­rival of the MercedesBenz GLC — and the first win by a seven-seater SUV.

The Sorento’s win is the sec­ond for the Korean maker, fol­low­ing the Rio small hatch in 2011. It was an easy de­ci­sion af­ter a two-day shootout with more than 25 hours of driv­ing by the seven COTY judges.

“It’s ev­ery­thing you need for a fam­ily,” Cars­guide ed­i­tor Richard Black­burn says.

“It’s the best Kia yet and they haven’t cut cor­ners any­where,” Joshua Dowl­ing says. “There’s auto-up for all four win­dows, air­con in the third-row seats, full-size spare and the sev­enyear war­ranty is a bonus.”

The Sorento takes top spot ahead of the GLC and the Mazda MX-5, the Mercedes hurt by its pres­tige po­si­tion and price and the MX-5 marked down ( a lit­tle) be­cause it’s still “just” an MX-5 and not a ma­jor break­through.

Judg­ing, as al­ways for the Cars­guide award, fol­lows the mantra of real cars on real roads for real peo­ple. So there are no ex­otics, de­spite the im­pres­sive claims of the likes of the Mercedes-Benz S Class and Lam­borgh­ini Hu­ra­can.

So the price spread for the 11 con­tenders is from $24,390 for the Mazda CX-3 Maxx to $89,950 for the Volvo XC90, al­though the $67,900 bot­tom line of the GLC is blown out by more than $8000 by pres­tige paint and op­tion packs that add a big­ger in­fo­tain­ment screen, sun­roof and head-up dis­play.

As the 11 con­tenders are as­sem­bled in Sydney for two tough days of driv­ing on roads that will ex­pose any flaws, Black­burn sets the rules.

“This is not com­par­i­son of cars in the same class,” he says, “so we’re look­ing at why it should be a Car of the Year and why it should not be. So we’re look­ing at what the car is good at and what it’s not so good at.”

That is bad news for the Holden Com­modore SS-V Red­line, which ev­ery­one ar­rives want­ing to drive. The car feels old and un­der­done and the per­for­mance is not nearly as good as we ex­pect with the prom­ise of 305kW.

“It’s the best Com­modore ever made,” Dowl­ing says, “but it’s not Car of the Year. It’s the first car to go up in fuel consumption in a long while.”

“It’s like paint­ing over the wall­pa­per,” Black­burn says.

The first cull comes af­ter all the driv­ers have tried all the cars in all con­di­tions, up to 110km/h in free­way run­ning down to 60km/h over nasty bumps on a relic road from the orig­i­nal Hume High­way.

The six that are parked af­ter day one are the Com­modore, Mazda CX-3, BMW X1, Volvo XC90, Audi RS3 and Jaguar XE.

The Mazda is best in its bunch but not good enough in a COTY field. The X1 is un­der­done in the driv­ing dy­nam­ics that were once a given on a BMW. The Volvo is too costly, the RS3 is too fo­cused on fun and the Jaguar has a use­less rear seat.

Chris Ri­ley says of the CX-3: “It might be best in class but that doesn’t say much for compact SUVs.”

“If that’s the fu­ture of BMW, they’re in a bit of trou­ble,” Dowl­ing says of the X1.

Craig Duff on the Volvo: “You should not have to pay ex­tra for safety for a brand that made its name on safety. You need to spend an­other $1250 on the D5 we have to get the In­tel­liSafe Sur­round pack with blind spot mon­i­tor­ing.”

“It looks good and sounds amaz­ing,” Peter Barn­well says of the RS3, “but $80,000 plus on-roads ... really?”

Black­burn says of the Jaguar: “For me, the rear seat kills it. It’s just not big enough and it’s not just legroom but the head­room.”

The fi­nal five are a curious mix that re­flects the chang­ing tastes in Aus­tralian mo­tor­ing.

The Volk­swa­gen Pas­sat rep­re­sents old-school four-door sedans but there are two SUVs, the MX-5 to prove that sports cars are still alive in the 21st cen­tury and the Ford Ranger to rep­re­sent the new breed of four-door fam­ily ute.

Day two of COTY judg­ing

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