First out were the Kia Sportage and the E300, with the Korean SUV not living up to the promise of last year’s COTY winner, the stablemate Sorento.
Most judges found it underwhelming. It looks good on paper with a seven-year warranty and standard leather but its old-school engine and a lack of standard safety tech counted against it.
Everyone loved the luxury and the huge digital dash display in the Mercedes but its unsettled ride and a less than silky-smooth engine brought it undone.
“It oozes luxury but it’s not the breakthrough of the C-Class,” says Dowling.
Next out was the Focus RS. Everybody loved having a sprint in it but no one wanted to own it.
“I really don’t think it rates here. It’s missing two airbags and there is no driver-assist technology,” says Dowling.
“It’s a fun car, but no. It’s too noisy, too jiggly in the HOW THEY FINISHED 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
suspension and there’s not enough tech. You couldn’t live with it day-to-day,” says Duff.
After this exits, it’s the turn of the Jaguar F-Pace and, despite all of Holden’s promises, the Astra.
“I think the car is let down by the interior. It doesn’t feel like luxury to me,” Chris Riley says of the Jaguar.
“The steering and chassis are as good as, if not better than, a Porsche Cayenne,” says Dowling.
Some judges felt the Astra was built to a price, despite the premium being asked. Many felt it didn’t have the necessary wow factor in the cabin. On the second day, judges assessed the Abarth 124, Audi A4, Honda Civic, Mazda CX-9 and Tiguan.
The course was the same but the focus on “real cars on real roads for real people” was sharper.
“The Fiat is the best adaptation of a donor vehicle we’ve seen. It’s a better Mazda MX-5,” says Blackburn.
“I really like it to drive but is it a Car of the Year?” asks Duff. Most judges felt Fiat could have done more to differentiate the interior from the Mazda.
Judges felt Mazda’s CX-9 was missing equipment and pizzazz in the cabin.
“The CX-9 is let down by some poor planning decisions. It needs front parking sensors, a power tailgate should be standard and there are no thirdrow air vents,” says Dowling.
The petrol engine was also a query.
“A diesel is a better way of moving seven people than a petrol engine. And the steering wheel tugs in your hand when you accelerate,” says Blackburn.
The A4 won marks for its sharp price and class-leading technology, including a coasting function to save fuel and an exit warning system to detect cyclists and motorcyclists.
“The Civic is nearly as big as the original Accord. It has a massive cabin and a big boot,” says Duff.
“It’s not cheap but it has a much classier cabin than the Astra and any other car in the class,” says Dowling.
Judges were also impressed by the performance of the 1.5litre turbo.
But the final vote was unanimous in favour of the Tiguan. An impressive list of standard safety equipment — including steering the car back into its lane if it begins to wander — was backed up by convenience features such as automatic parking.
Ample storage, a big load area and clever touches in the well-finished cabin also helped seal the deal, while the driving experience was top-notch.
“It’s got cylinder-on demand technology, dual-clutch auto, stop-start and a superb chassis,” says Dowling.
“It’s not the usual Spartan Volkswagen. It’s a very impressive car,” says Blackburn.