And the nom­i­nees are. . .

We’ve whit­tled down the list of con­tenders for Aus­tralia’s big mo­tor­ing prize to this top 10

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

TEN cars, one win­ner. That’s the sim­ple for­mula with the field set for the 2016 run­ning of the Cars­guide Car of the Year award.

The 20th con­test for the big prize in Aus­tralia mo­tor­ing mixes fam­ily cars, SUVs and driv­ing favourites but, sadly, noth­ing homegrown.

The clos­est thing to an old­school Ford or Holden, the Mus­tang from Amer­ica, failed to make the grade in a year when the con­tenders push the bound­aries on de­sign, qual­ity, tech, value and — thank­fully — driv­ing en­joy­ment.

The bot­tom end of the pack is led out by the Honda Civic and Holden As­tra and the lineup is topped by the Mer­cedes-Benz E300.

Fiat’s Abarth 124 and Ford Fo­cus RS rep­re­sent the per­for­mance world and four SUVs — Kia Sportage, Jaguar F-Pace, Mazda CX-9 and Volk­swa­gen Tiguan — seek to re­peat last year’s fam­ily wagon suc­cess for the Kia Sorento.

As al­ways, we se­lect a sin­gle model to rep­re­sent each of the COTY con­tenders, go­ing for the car that best fits the COTY cri­te­ria. So, here are the con­tenders for 2016:

AUDI A4 1.4 TFSI $55,500

The classy A4 is com­pletely new, with im­pres­sive tech­nol­ogy and a well-fin­ished cabin. It drives well and is com­pet­i­tively priced in a class where the Mer­cedes C-Class rewrote the rules and took a COTY crown. But is the miss­ing “wow fac­tor” go­ing to hurt it in this field?

ABARTH 124 $41,990

Some peo­ple say the Ital­ian clone of the Mazda MX-5 is a great car made good. But not us, as the Fiat pack­age com­bines retro styling that works with a torquey 1.4-litre turbo and a chas­sis pack­age — Bil­stein shocks, big­ger wheels, Brembo brakes — that sharp­ens the car and is avail­able as a Sport kit on the MX-5 in Amer­ica. Even so, can Fiat claim credit for the Mazda work?

FORD FO­CUS RS $50,990

The RS hit the head­lines for its con­tro­ver­sial Drift mode but that’s only for the track and the pocket rocket is fun on al­most any road. It’s a good look­ing hot hatch and ticks the boxes for wings, Re­caro buck­ets and add-ons but it’s not as quick as Ford says and it’s also heavy and a bit dull at times. The man­ual gear­box is old school in a world of slick shift­ing dou­ble­clutch gear­boxes but

that is not hurt­ing de­mand, which far ex­ceeds sup­ply.

HOLDEN AS­TRA R 1.4 AUTO $24,190

Fi­nally, an all-new Holden that’s not just a price-fighter. The As­tra is back as a Eu­ro­pean small-car con­tender with a Red Lion badge, look­ing to erase the fail­ure of the Opel As­tra and lure back peo­ple who re­mem­ber the name­plate at its best. The As­tra drives well and the tech­nol­ogy is good. But the pric­ing is con­tro­ver­sial, even more than a VW Golf, and the tech­nol­ogy only comes bun­dled in ex­pen­sive op­tion packs.

HONDA CIVIC VTI-L AUTO $27,790

Af­ter a se­ries of misses, the new Civic is a re­turn to form for Honda thanks to a space-age dash, roomy pas­sen­ger space and big boot, and styling that stands out in a crowd. It’s also back to Honda qual­ity stan­dards. Still, the price hurts in the su­per-com­pet­i­tive small­car class, and you need to up­grade to the VTi-L to get the bet­ter safety pack­age and the

JAGUAR F-PACE 20D $74,340

There is orig­i­nal think­ing in the body de­sign, the cabin has great space, it’s an ex­cel­lent drive and you only need to get the ba­sic diesel en­gine to get the best re­turn. The start­ing price is good, too, but op­tions are ex­ten­sive and costly and you must pay more for safety that’s stan­dard on op­po­nents. In­side the cabin, the F-Pace is short on the es­sen­tial “Jaguar-ness”.

KIA SPORTAGE SLI 2WD $33,990

The Sorento sta­ble­mate won COTY last year and the all-new Sportage is another im­pres­sive new­comer from South Korea. It looks good, value is great and the war­ranty is su­per-long. The sweet spot is filled by the SLi front-driver that does the job for fam­i­lies. Lo­cal sus­pen­sion tun­ing re­ally works, giv­ing Kia an edge against the Ja­panese. The en­gine is a lit­tle lack­lus­tre and some of the class’s ex­pected ac­tive safety gear isn’t avail­able.

MAZDA CX-9 SPORT FWD $42,490

The best thing about the new seven-seater is the re­fine­ment and all-round qual­ity. It has a quiet and re­lax­ing cabin for up to seven and makes a solid case for any fam­ily. It has an im­pres­sive turbo en­gine, ex­em­plary road man­ners and good safety gear. It also shows what Mazda will pro­duce across the range in com­ing years. The spec­i­fi­ca­tion sheet is a bit light com­pared with its ri­vals and on the cheap­est model the steer­ing tugs un­der ac­cel­er­a­tion.

MER­CEDES-BENZ E300 $107,900

Once again, a win­ner from the world’s old­est car maker. It has rein­vented the E-Class as it had al­ready done with the C-Class, with an awe­some in­te­rior in­clud­ing the big­gest dis­play in the busi­ness, loads of tech­nol­ogy point­ing to au­ton­o­mous driv­ing and Ben­zstyle qual­ity. The E300 was the fi­nal in­clu­sion in the line-up af­ter prov­ing its cre­den­tials with a great en­gine and air sus­pen­sion, re­mov­ing reser­va­tions about the base E. It will strug­gle on value, though, as it at­tracts the ridicu­lous lux­ury car tax, adding thou­sands to the price.

VW TIGUAN TREND­LINE 110TSI AUTO $31,990

This is the SUV that VW has needed for far too long and is part of the re­build­ing process af­ter Diesel­gate. The ba­sic styling is a bit bland but it does the job and there is clever pack­ag­ing, loads of space, stan­dard auto safety brak­ing and lane de­par­ture warn­ings. It is quiet to drive, has a great en­gine and solid road man­ners. Even so, VW can­not es­cape — yet — the ques­tions about longterm own­er­ship costs.

Our short-listed cars push the bound­aries on de­sign, qual­ity, tech, value — and driv­ing en­joy­ment

FORD FO­CUS

HOLDEN AS­TRA

ABARTH 124

VOLK­SWA­GEN TIGUAN KIA SPORTAGE JAGUAR F-PACE MAZDA CX-9 MER­CEDES E300 AUDI A4 HONDA CIVIC

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