The First XI

This year’s line-up is a dream team of pace ma­chines, heavy-hit­ters and all-rounders

The Advertiser - Motoring - - COVER STORY - RICHARD BLACK­BURN CARS­GUIDE ED­I­TOR

FI­NALS fever has ar­rived at Cars­guide. Over the past 12 months, we’ve sam­pled hun­dreds of new cars and whit­tled them down to 11 con­tenders for our an­nual Car of the Year ti­tle.

Why the odd num­ber? To tie in with cricket sea­son? Not quite. At the last minute, we got the chance to in­clude a wor­thy con­tender that won’t fea­ture in any of our com­peti­tors’ end of year awards.

So, af­ter a hastily or­gan­ised drive, we gave a start to the Mercedes-Benz GLC, an SUV that shares its un­der­pin­nings with the 2014 Car of the Year, the C-Class.

The GLC is un­likely to get the rails run the C-Class did last year — to be frank, 2014 wasn’t a stel­lar year for new ar­rivals.

Com­pe­ti­tion this year has been much tougher, with some cars that looked like con­tenders at the half­way mark not making the fi­nal cut.

The Subaru Lib­erty was just shaded by Volk­swa­gen’s new Pas­sat, Audi’s TT coupe and BMW’s 2 Se­ries Ac­tive Tourer missed out, as did other big ar­rivals such as the Hyundai Tuc­son, Ford Mon­deo, Chrysler 300C and Toy­ota HiLux.

This year’s field ranges from the all-con­quer­ing Mazda CX-3 small SUV to Volvo’s ground­break­ing lux­ury XC90 seven-seater. In be­tween there’s the mag­i­cal Mazda MX-5 — a sen­ti­men­tal favourite — and Kia’s ac­com­plished fam­ily all­rounder, the Sorento. There’s mus­cle in the form of Audi’s RS3 and Holden’s brutish SS-V Com­modore Red­line and, with the Pas­sat, mid-size class. Pocket rocket doesn’t do this lit­tle fire­cracker jus­tice. Audi has shoe­horned half a Lam­borgh­ini V10 into the en­gine bay of a small hatch­back. The five­cylin­der en­gine puts out more power than some V8 Com­modores and matches that out­put with a bark as big as its bite. It dis­patches the 0-100km/ h dash in 4.3 sec­onds, match­ing cars twice its price. It puts that power to the ground with all­wheel-drive through a slick-shift­ing sev­en­speed dual-clutch auto.

$56,500

$78,900

The orig­i­nal X1 was one of the best han­dling SUVs on the mar­ket, with cor­ner­ing abil­ity that matched lower-rid­ing hatch­backs. Un­for­tu­nately the boot-space matched that of some small hatches too. The new X1 is a much bet­ter all­rounder, with enough space be­hind the rear seats for a de­cent amount of fam­ily gear. It loses lit­tle of its driv­ing edge in the switch from rear-drive to front-drive — there is on-de­mand all-wheel drive on some mod­els. We’ve picked the xDrive20d AWD version, which has one of the sweet­est diesel en­gines avail­able.

$57,620

Ford’s pop­u­lar work­horse saw off a big field of chal­lengers, in­clud­ing the

The con­tenders: Mazda MX-5, main; (clock­wise from left) Volvo XC90, Audi RS3, Kia Sorento, BMW X1, Mazda CX-3, VW Pas­sat, Jaguar XE, Holden Com­modore and Ford Ranger

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