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