Heavens open to test best of best
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.