Call the roll: Best in class

The Courier-Mail - Motoring - - News - PAUL GOVER CHIEF RE­PORTER

THE Kia Sorento is not the only Cars­guide cham­pion of 2015.

The classy South Korean SUV scooped this year’s Car of the Year award and is also our first-choice fam­ily wagon but it’s only one of the six show­room stars that get The Tick and a rec­om­men­da­tion to our best friends.

The show­room scene changed a lot dur­ing 2015, partly be­cause of the ris­ing tide of SUV con­tenders and partly through value im­prove­ments and some im­pres­sive ar­rivals. So it’s time to re­visit the best cars in the hottest show­room classes.

We took our 2014 cham­pi­ons and put them up against the best from 2015, as­sess­ing the safety and com­fort and qual­ity of the cars, as well as their value against their ri­vals, to fi­nalise our buyer’s guide as the cal­en­dar flips into 2016.

We had to con­sider, among other things, six new­com­ers in the compact SUV class led by the Mazda CX-3, the im­pres­sive up­dates on the Toy­ota Corolla and Subaru Lib­erty, the to­tal change in the one­tonne ute class, the ar­rival of spin-offs from the pick-ups (Ford Ever­est, Toy­ota For­tuner and Mit­subishi Pa­jero Sport) and even the lux­ury new­com­ers led by the Mercedes-Benz GLC.

Only one of last year’s win­ners has man­aged a re­peat suc­cess, which shows how far the bar has been lifted this year. Cham­pion VW Golf Smooth and el­e­gant, a COTY win­ner and bet­ter value this past year. But tainted by Volk­swa­gen’s global emis­sions scan­dal with ques­tions about re­li­a­bil­ity and fu­ture val­ues. Chal­lenger Ford Fo­cus Re­vamped and revitalise­d with a sim­pler cabin lay­out and a 1.5litre tur­bocharged petrol en­gine that makes more power and torque to en­sure it’s an even bet­ter drive. Sur­prise packet Mazda CX-3 Not a small car but the best of the new baby SUVs is steal­ing sales from the stan­dard com­pacts with trendy looks and a slightly higher driv­ing po­si­tion. A pity it’s too costly. WIN­NER Ford Fo­cus More proof that Ford does great cars but strug­gles to pro­mote them. Cham­pion Mazda6 Does ev­ery­thing well, noth­ing badly, and part of the win­ning line-up at a com­pany that con­tin­ues to boom. Chal­lenger VW Pas­sat An­other new­comer from the same fam­ily as the Golf, with a roomy cabin and boot, good qual­ity and nice price, only lack­ing per­son­al­ity. Sur­prise packet Subaru Lib­erty Re­vamp brings a big boost to qual­ity and class-lead­ing safety. Noth­ing to com­plain about here. WIN­NER Toy­ota Camry It’s all about the $28,990 drive­away deal. The home­grown Camry is close to the class lead­ers as a car and it leaps ahead on value. Cham­pion Mazda CX-5 The one we rec­om­mend, week in and week out, be­cause of its all-round class. It’s good to drive and good to own. Chal­lenger Hyundai Tuc­son The old ix35 got a new name and a bit more space, as well as a sharp price and lo­cally tuned sus­pen­sion. Falls just short of the qual­ity of the CX-5. Sur­prise packet Mercedes-Benz GLC Not for ev­ery­one with $60,000plus pric­etags, but the five-seater SUV we would take for fam­ily du­ties. Such a pity it’s taken 10 years to get right-hand drive. WIN­NER Mercedes-Benz GLC The right size and price for lots of fam­i­lies, with ex­cel­lent safety, com­fort and equip­ment. Once again, Mercedes rewrites the rules. Cham­pion Nis­san Pathfinder Claimed its crown with sev­enseats and a sharp price but not as im­pres­sive against the lat­est Kore­ans. Chal­lenger Kia Sorento A to­tally new ap­proach, twin­ning the Sorento with the Car­ni­val peo­ple-mover, pays off for buy­ers. Sur­prise packet Range Rover Sport A truly go-any­way ma­chine, from a black-tie gala to the tough­est out­back roads. A pity it starts at $90,000. WIN­NER Kia Sorento This year’s COTY cham­pion has un­matched com­fort and qual­ity, as well as lo­cally tuned sus­pen­sion, start­ing at fam­i­lyfriendly $41,000. Cham­pion Porsche 911 GT3 An ex­treme ma­chine for peo­ple who dream, un­beat­able on the track but very costly at $300,000 and un­ruly for road use. Chal­lenger Mazda MX-5 The world’s favourite sports car is to­tally new for 2015 but com­pletely fa­mil­iar with fans of the 1989 orig­i­nal. Ticks all the boxes. Sur­prise packet Porsche Cay­man GT4 The Cay­man al­ways threat­ened to chal­lenge the 911 for Porsche brag­ging rights and this one gets it done. Fast and fo­cused but still more af­ford­able, even from $190,000. WIN­NER Mazda MX-5 An in­stant clas­sic and the only ques­tion is whether to take the ba­sic 1.5-litre model or spend $35,000 or more on the 2.0-litre model. Cham­pion Mercedes-Benz C-Class Great for 2014 when it was a run­away COTY win­ner and just as great for 2015, de­spite an up­dated BMW 3 Se­ries that’s a much nicer drive. Chal­lenger Jaguar XE Came within a whisker of knock­ing the C-Class off its perch, cour­tesy of a will­ing turbo en­gine and a great bal­ance be­tween com­fort and cor­ner­ing abil­ity. Let down by a lack of rear leg and head­room. Sur­prise packet BMW 7 Se­ries Fi­nally, BMW takes its flag­ship back to a car to enjoy from the front seat in­stead of the rear. Pity about the silly ‘ges­ture con­trol’. WIN­NER Mercedes C-Class A suc­cess­ful sym­bol of the rein­ven­tion of the three­p­ointed star, so good in so many ways, and only out­sold by the Toy­ota Camry in the medi­um­car class in Aus­tralia.

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