Heav­ens open to test best of best

NT News - Motoring - - FRONT PAGE - By MARK HINCH­LIFFE

THE weather plays a sur­pris­ingly key role in COTY 2010. Af­ter two years of test­ing regime in ru­ral NSW, the Cars­guide team last year switched to south­east Queens­land.

But the skies open for the sec­ond year in the Sun­shine State and rain on our pa­rade of 10 fi­nal­ists.

The rain also adds an ex­tra chal­lenge to the ex­haus­tive two-day test, as first stop on our 400km-plus course is his­toric Lake­side Park race­way.

There are no lap-record runs as our top 10 are only as­sessed for high-speed sta­bil­ity and road noise, han­dling lim­its, brak­ing re­li­a­bil­ity and con­sis­tency, and emer­gency dy­nam­ics that can­not be tested safely on pub­lic roads.

The cir­cuit also pro­vides an op­por­tu­nity to test wet grip lev­els, some­thing lack­ing in pre­vi­ous years of judg­ing.

Un­der cover at the cir­cuits cor­po­rate fa­cil­i­ties, the judges also line up the ve­hi­cles and com­pare how each ful­fils their de­sign brief. We stuff the cars front and back with pas­sen­gers, prodd and probe all the con­trols and switches, dig un­der the cargo floor, pore through the en­gine bay and crawl un­der­neath for a thor­ough in­spec­tion.

Af­ter sev­eral hours of prob­ing and al­most 100km of on-track test­ing with each ve­hi­cle, the 10 cars and judges leave the pic­turesque cir­cuit for the equally scenic hills of the Sun­shine Coast hin­ter­land.

These roads pro­vide a mix­ture of sur­faces, cam­bers and cor­ners on which to test the daily driv­ing du­ties of the ve­hi­cles.

Again, patches of rain throw an­other vari­able into the test­ing as we mo­tor up the ranges to Malenys new­est re­sort, Spicers Tamarind.

The first evening of judg­ing in­volves sev­eral hours of de­bat­ing all as­pects of the ve­hi­cles while go­ing through the tech­ni­cal spec­i­fi­ca­tions and com­par­ing price and value against their show­room com­peti­tors.

The next morn­ing, the 10 fi­nal­ists are perched on the edge of the Black­all Ranges over­look­ing a breath­tak­ing vista of the Sun­shine Coast for a pho­tog­ra­phy ses­sion, be­fore set­ting out on an­other full day of real-world test­ing.

The roads on the sec­ond day in­clude some smooth and some rut­ted gravel, im­por­tant as most Aus­tralians will at some stage drive on un­paved sur­faces.

While the gravel roads aren’t used to test the ve­hi­cles po­ten­tial rally cre­den­tials, they are im­por­tant for as­sess­ing road noise, clear­ance, vul­ner­a­bil­ity of the un­der­body, tyre grip, driver-aid safety sys­tems and dust­proof­ing.

A fi­nal 100km high­way cruise gives judges the op­por­tu­nity to test econ­omy, cruise con­trol and tour­ing po­ten­tial.

In the end, each judge lists all 10 ve­hi­cles in or­der of pref­er­ence ac­cord­ing to the judg­ing cri­te­ria, with 10 points awarded for their first choice, di­min­ish­ing to one point for their last choice. And then the re­sult goes, Sur­vivor style, into a sealed en­velop for the big an­nounce­ment.

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