It has been a huge year at CarAdvice. The team weighs in with its thoughts on the cars of 2014...
Editor in Chief
My top three cars of 2014:
Ferrari 458 Speciale - The best car I’ve driven (yet!) so a shoo-in for one of my picks for the year. Not all Ferraris are perfect 10/10 cars, but the Speciale is simply sensational in the way it delivers stunning performance and handling through genuine F1-derived technology – crucially without removing the driver as a vital component to extracting the best out of the car.
Peugeot 308 - The French brand went off the boil in the previous decade but the 308 follows the 208 and 2008 to show Peugeot is back to form – with a particularly welcome return to good-riding cars. The 308 may not ultimately be quite as good as the class-leading Golf but it’s easy to recommend over the ubiquitous VW if you want a far more stylish interior that looks like it is inspired by Bang&Olufsen.
Mercedes-Benz C-Class - It’s not better than a BMW 3 Series in every aspect but like the previous (W204) model it is an overall package that’s the pick of the mid-sized luxury car segment. What’s different with the new, W205 is that it has one area that moves the game on in a significant way – the masterfully executed cabin that owes more to the S-Class than the A-Class.
Surprise of the year: Hyundai Genesis – The South Korean car maker makes consistently good vehicles, though I make no apology for wanting even more from the company’s cars in the way they steer, ride and handle. Hyundai’s first right-hand-drive foray into luxury cars is still some way off the dynamic benchmarks of the Germans, but the Genesis’s ride comfort, attentive and spacious interior, and hushed levels of refinement mark this as a highly relaxing drive and a worthy consideration beyond mere value.
Disappointment of the year: Infiniti Q50 – Nissan’s luxury arm is still building its presence in Australia and there were great hopes for this first all-new model to be launched locally. Infiniti mooted the steer-by-wire system as a technological advancement but it’s a step backwards for steering precision and enjoyment compared with rivals, while the chassis doesn’t stack up sufficiently for either expected levels of ride comfort or assured handling.
My top three cars of 2014:
Alfa Romeo 4C - Driving the Alfa Romeo 4C flat out in Italy was one of my highlights of 2014. The 4C is just like a Lotus Exige, except it doesn’t fall apart when you’re driving it. The Alfa’s ability to go around corners flat out is scary to say the least. I am a big fan of its ‘little-Ferrari’ styling as well.
Mercedes-Benz C-Class - The new Mercedes-Benz C-Class demonstrates how to build a car that will stand the test of time. The previous generation still looks good today but the new model takes all that is good about the new S-Class, shrinks it down to a more reasonably sized car and brings with it an interior unmatched in its class for what is without doubt one of my favourite cars this year.
Porsche Macan - I tried rather hard to buy a Porsche Macan this year, but since I wasn’t the only one, the 10-month wait list was a bit of an issue. The Porsche Macan is the best SUV ever made. If you don’t need the bigger size of the Cayenne, the Macan drives like no SUV should and for a reasonable price.
Surprise of the year: Hyundai i10 – Back in January, I raced an i10 across France to Monaco against World Rally Championship driver and Aussie, Chris Atkinson. We got to speeds of well over 190km/h and the little i10 kept it going without a moment of hesitation. It’s an excellent little car, though it seems that given the diminishing value of the Australian dollar and the car’s European-made credentials, we may never see it here.
Disappointment of the year: Ford FG X Falcon – I think for me, Ford’s handling of the Falcon launch has to go down as the biggest disappointment of 2014. For what was the LAST EVER Ford Falcon launch, the icon received little in terms of coherent thought and planning. Hopefully then, when the Falcon is finally dead, Ford will begin a more constructive way of promoting its excellent product line-up without the heavy burden it so poorly carries now.
My top three cars of 2014:
Porsche 911 GT3 - I’d been waiting for a decade to drive what I have always considered as the ‘ultimate’ Porsche production car and can categorically say: it was worth the wait. Astonishing performance for a road car on a racetrack, and as easy to drive as a Porsche Boxter.
Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat - The baddest Dodge of all time, and the most fun you’ll ever have in a street-legal sedan, sums up my 2000km drive in the addictive Hellcat. Armed with an outrageous 527kW, it’s the most powerful production sedan in the world and will light up the rear 275 rears with simple prod of the throttle. It’s also got a sonic boom for an exhaust note that’s so loud we were stopped by the San Francisco Police Department (on two occasions) for making too much noise, and we weren’t even speeding.
Mini Cooper - It’s not a Cooper S, but its 1.5-litre three-cylinder turbo petrol engine is a cracker and just as much fun as its more powerful sibling but uses way less fuel. It even sounds good, and the new interior with a BMW-derived iDrive infotainment system makes the iconic Mini even better as a daily driver.
Surprise of the year: Tesla Model S – I had no idea the all-electric Tesla was such a complete package. The P85+ we drove in the United States gets a useable range of well over 400km; it can carry five adults and their luggage and can blow away most performance cars (that’s V8s and turbo sixes). It’s also got the coolest infotainment system in the business, and one of the best audio units I’ve ever heard. But best of all, you can drive 2200km without using a single drop of fuel.
Disappointment of the year: BMW X4– I was expecting this vehicle to look a whole lot better than it does. Instead, it looks awkward and characterless. It’s also more expensive than the brilliant Porsche Macan, at least in 3.0-litre petrol guise.
My top three cars of 2014:
Audi S1 - Since when does Audi do silly cars, with bright green and yellow paint and retro sticker packs? Since the lovable Audi S1 arrived, that’s when. It’s so un-Audi, so un-formal in both the way it looks and drives. Audis have long been criticised for being dynamically inert and uninvolving, but when I drove the short-wheelbase, all-wheel-drive, 370Nm S1 and felt it dancing between mild understeer and throttle adjustable oversteer, all was forgiven. Some call it a bit ragged for $50K; that’s okay, they can buy the faster, more composed, but I’d say less fun Golf R for the same money. What a choice.
Citroen Grand C4 Picasso - Kids are not something a twenties male really thinks about, but if I had a small family the $44,000 Citroen Grand C4 Picasso would act as the SUV I’d never buy. Not only does it look cool on the outside, but its interior design is both premium and characterful, while having all the nifty storage compartments and clever folding seats for which people-movers are renowned. The best bit is that the refined, torquey diesel, quick and precise steering and cushy ride make for a lovely drive.
Mercedes-Benz GLA250 4MATIC - This hatchback-cum-SUV made the shortlist of my favourite cars for the year, but being no great fan of the A-, B- or CLA-Class never thought it would get up. But the extra suspension softness of the GLA-Class, teamed with the sweet 2.0-litre turbo petrol engine from the A250 Sport hot-hatch, makes for an alluring combination. The all-wheel-drive system sends drive to the rear wheels, so it is involving dynamically too. Being a bit bigger than an A-Class is perfect for some who don’t need a bloated SUV, and the cabin is loaded with kit and lots of clever tech as standard for $57K – or the same price as a boggo 3 Series. One of my favourite ‘snow cars’.
Surprise of the year: Peugeot 308 – The French are swinging! The Peugeot 308 just missed out on making my top three, ousted by the equally excellent Grand C4 Picasso. Renault has always made fantastic hot-hatchbacks, but the new base Clio and even the base Megane show promise. Then there’s the forthcoming 208 GTi 30th Anniversary edition next year, and the 308 GT luxury-sports hatch. Where the Germans keep plugging niches that don’t exist, and replacing cars with essentially the same design, the French are finding their mojo again, especially impressive in troubled financial times.
Disappointment of the year: Infiniti Q50 – Journalists loved speaking with recently departed Infiniti boss Johan De Nysschen on the stands at a motor show because the German-born, ex-BMW executive spoke so frankly. The bloke who told me that Australian sales of Infiniti were not sustainable also promised that the new Q50 would be its heavy hitter. If there was one car that I wanted to love this year, then, it was this one. The diesel with high levels of clatter that shivered through the weirdly weighted steering, a mish-mash of Nissan and Infiniti cabin controls, and a clunky ride were alarming, however. Swapping to the petrol V6 hybrid improved refinement, but it seemed overpowered for the chassis and the stability control was constantly spooked. I wish the struggling Japanese sports-luxury brand success, which made the Q50 all the more disappointing.
My top three cars of 2014:
Tesla Model S - This is the first electric car I've driven that I actually want to own. I want to experience more of this car than I already have (nearly two weeks on the road in the US left me hungry for more!). The Model S changes the game. No - it throws away all the rules and gets out the coloured pencils and cardboard and makes an all-new game. But the supporting infrastructure will be the biggest roll of the dice for the tech-heavy US brand in Australia.
Kia Pro_cee'd GT - Stupid name aside, this stylish turbocharged Kia three-door hatch is what I'd buy if my budget was 30-odd grand. It trumped two decent jiggers in our budget hot-hatch test, and having spent more than a week in the Pro_cee'd GT this year (including in the updated 2015 model that gained the much-needed touchscreen media system), I delighted in its all-round abilities: sharp handling, decent grunt and a lovely interior. I couldn't recommend it highly enough ... provided you like manual gearboxes and can handle a bit of hip pocket pain for its scheduled servicing (every six months or 7500km).
Mini Cooper - Not the Cooper S - surprisingly! The new more affordable Mini Cooper, with it's rambunctious three-cylinder petrol engine is a treat, particularly with the six-speed auto gearbox. It's more spacious inside (and larger outside) and it feels lively and likeable in urban and recreational driving. The lightness over the nose compared with the bigger-engined (2.0-litre four-cylinder) Cooper S means it's a hoot - and considerably cheaper than the performance model. I just wish Mini would do something about its excessive (and pricey!) options list.
Surprise of the year: Toyota Tundra – I don't need a big ute. I have no use whatsoever for a 5.8m-long, V8-powered dual-cab work truck. But I'd be more than happy to have one of these in my driveway. Not only is it a nice thing to drive, it's spacious, safe, and substantially practical. The conversion from LHD to RHD by Performax International isn't perfect, but it's close enough. Surely Toyota, Ford and GM must be considering RHD versions of these big rigs for their next-generation iterations. I bet there'd be plenty of people willing to fork out $80-$100K for something like this, particularly if it was factory-backed - it's very likeable. Just a shame about the current price (approx $120K).
Disappointment of the year: Porsche Panamera S E-Hybrid – I expected a lot from the German sports car specialist's large hybrid sedan. In retrospect I probably shouldn't have, because this isn't what Porsche has built its name upon. It's a 5.2m-long, four-door, four-seat sedan weighing as much as an Asian elephant with a filler cap that doesn't demand racing fuel but instead accepts a power cord. I get why they've done it - it's a means of reducing fleet emissions and flexing their technological muscle. And while it's claimed consumption of just 3.1L/100km is amazing for a Porsche, and is backed by a claimed 0-100km/h time of 5.5sec, this felt simply like a car built to tick some ideological box, rather than one I'd want to have in my garage. And that's probably the first time I've ever said that about a Porsche.
My top three cars of 2014:
Audi S3 sedan - The Mercedes-Benz CLA is nice, but the classical three-box shape and bang-on proportions of the Audi A3 sedan float my boat much more. Thrown in the S3 quattro drivetrain, meaning the brilliantly beefy 2.0-litre turbo engine, to go with the balanced chassis and properly luxurious cabin, and you have a wonderful little machine for an up-and-coming executive with a sense of tasteful restraint.
BMW i3 - Okay, it’s too expensive. But just look at it. The i8 looks even more exotic, but the i3 is ostensibly just a city hatchback. I also admire the wholesale company approach to environmentalism. The car is made in a German factory powered solely by wind turbines, and uses carbonfibre in a way few cars with a ‘super’ suffix do. It’s a bold, trickle-down gambit for the Bavarian company, and I hope it works.
Lexus RC350 F Sport - Lexus has nailed it this time. The RC looks the business — like a proper muscle car — and provides a great balance between sharp handling with its four-wheel-steer system and excellent suspension. Seriously, it soaks up crappy roads like a luxury sedan. Combine that with a typically Lexus-quality cabin, albeit one with an unusual touchpad interface that may take some familiarisation, and a price of $75K that frankly makes a BMW 435i look a little silly, and you have a genuinely good offering. Lexus will properly shed the tag of bridesmaid in the luxury market if it keeps this up.
Surprise of the year: Kia Pro_cee'd GT – Very silly name for a very good car. I suspected Kia’s first proper hot-hatch would be a commendable effort, but I was surprised by just what a complete package it turned out to be. There are few of the rough edges of a Cerato Koup Turbo or Veloster SR, instead this European-made hatch is a delight, with great balance and handling and a punchy little turbo engine. Kia went and added sat-nav and made it even sharper value, too. It’s still not as fun as a Toyota 86, but it does offer a more spacious and upmarket interior, more punch and above-average dynamics. Bravo Kia.
Disappointment of the year: Jeep Compass – Look, it’s possibly unfair picking on something this long in the tooth, but I gave a 4.5/10 rating — one of CarAdvice’s lowest to date — to the Jeep Compass Blackhawk. I’d leave it alone, but Jeep actually sells it in decent numbers month after month. Move past that interesting styling and you have a package that comes up short in almost every area. Jeep has in many ways made some good steps to move beyond its hit-and-miss recent past, but this is an unwelcome throwback. Yuck.
My top three cars of 2014:
Lamborghini Huracan - The Lamborghini Huracan was a revelation on the awesome Sepang Moto GP circuit in Malaysia. Hot as hell and humid, yet the Huracans were beat on mercilessly all day without a single fault light showing up. Just as comfortable cruising around the pits in full auto at 60km/h as it is flat out on track in Corsa mode, the Huracan is at the forefront of the new breed of super sports cars. It's sub 10-second 0-200km/h time is mind blowing. As you'd expect from Lamborghini, it looks the part too. Not many of us have 300+ grand to spend on a car, but if I did, I'd buy a Huracan in a heartbeat.
BMW i8 - The BMW i8 provided me with an insight into the future of performance motoring - and it's not as bland or boring as anyone expected. Sure, the i8 looks futuristic and attracts attention wherever it goes, which is part of the schtick. It's not a supercar, it doesn't handle like one and it's ultimately not fast enough to be in that rare company, but the potential is there and it adds super low fuel usage into the equation. I drove it in typical city traffic for a few days too and it's a bona fide BMW. That is, easy to drive and user friendly.
Kia Pro_cee'd GT - The little Kia Pro_cee'd GT might have the silliest name in motoring, but it was a genuine highlight for 2014. The pricing is the first thing that grabs you, but the styling is spot on too. Kia has kicked a serious goal with this little hot-hatch. It's not as fast as some, but it's as much fun, if not more, than any other hot-hatch on the market. The grip and balance is exceptional from a company not previously known for its hot-hatches and I'd have one in my driveway as a daily runaround without thinking twice. I loved it.
Surprise of the year: Porsche 911 Targa 4S – While the Pro_cee'd GT was a real surprise, so was the Porsche 911 Targa 4S. It's a great car, I knew that going in, but I didn't expect to enjoy it as much as I did.
The Mercedes-Benz C-Class C300 Hybrid is another vehicle that has real potential too. Most of the alternative or hybrid vehicles I drove this year impressed with their prowess, and they aren't nearly as soul destroying as motoring enthusiasts might expect.
Disappointment of the year: Toyota Camry RZ – I listed the Camry RZ as a disappointment mainly because the sporting accents and spoilers have no place on a Camry. I'm not sure who Toyota is targeting with this car, and I don't know who has more to answer for. Toyota for building it, or the buyer for actually paying money for it...
New Cars Editor
My top three cars of 2014:
Peugeot 308 Touring - It didn’t come until November, but my automotive highlight of 2014 – the Peugeot 308 Touring – was well and truly worth the wait. The 2014 European Car of the Year impressed as a hatchback but stole my heart in wagon form. The sexy styling, elegant interior, nuggety steering wheel with quick steering, torquey and efficient diesel engine, lightweight body, Golf-rivalling ride quality, enormous boot, practical interior… I could go on. The lack of rear air vents is my only gripe, though one that’s quickly forgotten from the driver’s seat.
Citroen Grand C4 Picasso - Twenty-five-year-old males are supposed to drive racy hot-hatches and dream of Italian supercars. They aren’t supposed to get excited about giving their footy mates lifts in diesel-powered French people-movers. But that’s exactly what I found myself doing with the Grand C4 Picasso. It’s the most stylish seven-seater on the planet with a luxurious rather than utilitarian interior and is more fun to drive than any bus in history. If only I didn’t have to have four kids to justify buying one…
Honda Odyssey - Last year the Ford EcoSport made my top three, not because it was particularly good, but because the two of us shared an unforgettable experience together in India. The Honda Odyssey became 2014’s EcoSport after joining me and three friends on a 2000km round trip between Sydney and Byron Bay for the Splendour in the Grass music festival. Captain’s chairs with arm rests, leg rests and recline functions treated passengers Mel and Yanns to business class luxury, while an unexpectedly heroic moment on a twisty back road near Mullumbimby irrevocably bonded man and machine. Floor mats that cover almost every surface of the cabin floor also made the clean-up job at the end of our week-long trip about a thousand times more painless than anticipated.
Surprise of the year: Jeep Cherokee – Not vomiting at the sight of the Jeep Cherokee was a definite surprise this year. After working for much of 2013 with a jammed ‘q’ key after projectiling across my keyboard upon the Cherokee’s unveiling, it’s fair to say I had low expectations (and a light lunch) before meeting it in the flesh earlier this year. I was pleasantly surprised, then, when I not only didn’t have to fight my gag reflex, but actually kinda liked it. Especially the white Trailhawk we had for a week, with its black bonnet decals and red details, that turned heads everywhere it went. Mur-ka!
Disappointment of the year: Volkswagen Up! – The decision to axe the delightful little Volkswagen Up! from the local line-up still makes my heart heavy more than eight months on. I don’t blame Volkswagen. In its words, sales of the smiley city car were “insignificant” in the super price sensitive ‘sub-light’ segment, where it was outsold many times over by the Mitsubishi Mirage, Nissan Micra, and other tacky tikes. Its lack of an automatic transmission – or rather, Australians’ lazy left feet – and its ‘premium’ $13,990 price meant it never really stood a chance in our market. But I loved it. I loved its thrummy three-pot engine, its perfect steering, smooth ride, playful handling, and its cleverly packaged and high quality cabin. Rest in peace, little guy. You are sorely missed.
My top three cars of 2014:
Subaru BRZ – A basic but proper driver’s car that reflects mid- to late-90s Japanese sports cars like few others, the Subaru BRZ is a brilliant blend of sublime dynamics and low horsepower that equally rewards your best with its own.
Renault Megane RS275 Trophy – When one of the world’s best front-wheel-drive performance hatchbacks gets even better, it’s time to take notice. And getting to punt the latest Renault Megane RS275 Trophy around some of Tasmania’s best blacktop is something I still think about…
Jaguar F-Type Convertible V8S – Open-top motoring doesn’t get much better than this. Combining awesome noise with rear-wheel drive and even more awesome noise, the Jaguar F-Type Convertible V8S is a resounding highlight of 2014.
Surprise of the year: Volvo S60 Polestar – Sure, a near-on $100,000 Volvo is surprise enough, but despite its mildly ludicrous sticker price, the Volvo S60 Polestar really is a dead-set sleeper. Properly fast in a straight line and even faster again through the twisties, this four-wheel-drive Swedish supercar is vastly capable and genuinely impressive. It’s also the ideal choice if you want to surprise others, particularly of a night through your favourite back road bends…
Disappointment of the year: BMW M3/M4 – With a new twin-turbocharged 3.0-litre inline six-cylinder engine, aggressive styling and a brand-new nameplate, there was much to be excited about with the arrival of the new BMW M3 sedan and M4 coupe. Unfortunately, the communicative, playful and friendly puppy dog that was the E90/E92 M3 has been replaced with a snappy and distant little tech-laden model that, while ridiculously fast and capable, seems annoyed at you all the time. Pass.
My top three cars of 2014:
Lexus NX300h - I love the look of this car. In a segment where conventional styling rules, this breaks all the rules. The exterior is sharp and angular, while the interior is in-your-face bold. It's roomy, drives well and has so many extra touches.
BMW i3 - At first glance I shuddered. But it grows on you. And then 'BAM!' - suddenly it's 'the cutest car ever' and you want one. The extensive use of sustainable materials throughout is impressive, giving it a very distinct look. The suicide doors are an entertaining novelty - and it's got guts. The tyres may be a little skinny, but this thing can go fast!
Audi A3 Cabriolet - This manages to combine fun and practicality in a nicely packaged convertible. Most drop-tops are unable to carry much luggage, but the split-folding rear seats offer a bit of extra room when you need it. It's also well priced and the quattro and diesel versions are both great cars to drive.
Surprise of the year: Mercedes-Benz GLA45 AMG – It's like a toddler having a tantrum while setting off firecrackers. Perfect for scaring unwitting pedestrians with a quick downwards paddle shift, it screams and pops like nothing else. Plus, the steering wheel is covered with delightful alcantara.
Also, a special mention to the Hyundai Genesis here. It deserves a mention because it is so well put together for the price. This could have been an epic failure or a raging success - it has certainly impressed me.
Disappointment of the year: Volkswagen Beetle – This is only a disappointment because of the lack of time I got to spend in it. Unfortunately a malfunctioning fuel pump control module brought a swift end to my joyride, leaving me stranded kerbside in a cul-de-sac waiting for a tow truck. Better than in the middle of a busy highway though.
Producer - Video & Digital Media
My top three cars of 2014:
Dodge SRT Viper - somehow Dodge managed to combine the engine out of a truck with the body of a sports car and make it amazing. It sounds incredible, goes like stink, and offers big rewards if you put in the effort. Points for being an old-school manual too.
Dodge Charger Hellcat - Yeah, another Dodge, but what a car! Over 700 horsepower in a comfortable, practical, four-door family sedan is just epic. The ridiculous power reserves make absolutely no sense, but they are damn good fun to dip into. And the noise, oh the noise!
Mini Cooper - The base model of the new Mini has to be one of the best of the bunch. The new 1.5-litre engine is an absolute cracker, the interior comfort and quality have improved significantly, and it's simply a much more liveable and likeable car than before. Add to that the keener pricing, and it's a winner.
Surprise of the year: Honda Jazz – Seeing three big mountain bikes fit into a Honda Jazz with three seats still in place. I didn't believe you, Jez, till I saw it for myself!
Disappointment of the year: BMW M4– As a former BMW owner and Bimmer fan, I expected to love this car, but its new wooshing whistling engine lacks the thrill of the high revving naturally aspirated fours, sixes and eight of the past.
My top three cars of 2014:
Porsche Macan - It ticks the box on all points that I look for in a car. It looks great, drives well and provides good value. It’s sporty and fun, but practical and even economical. There was a lot of hype surrounding its release and I didn’t want to like it as much as I did, but it really is a great car and something I would consider buying.
Mercedes-Benz C-Class - When the little one looks like the big one, you know you’re onto a winning product. The new C has redefined the benchmark for its category, and that doesn’t happen very often. I’m very much looking forward to the C63.
Peugeot 308 - I spent a lot of time in a 308 in Europe (travelling a wee bit further than I might have suggested to Peugeot - sorry about that). But with almost 6000km completed in just two weeks, the little Pug reinforced the French Revolution that we are seeing from the brand. It's stylish, comfortable, practical, economical and well priced - can you ask for anything more in a car?
Special mention to the Falcon XR8 - it’s big and heavy and generally a bit old and low-rent inside… but boy is it fun. The power and noise are pure Aussie muscle car, it handles well and represents excellent value. Go for the manual though.
Surprise of the year: Holden Trax – There was a lot to like about Holden’s little SUV and the new turbo engine just adds a little more pep. Great value, practical and surprisingly fun to drive - the little Trax is greater than its budget heritage would suggest.
Disappointment of the year: Subaru WRX STI– Yes it is fast, and yes it is a proper rally car… but that was cool 20 years ago - everyone else has moved on but the STI feels like it has stayed in the 90s. The plastic interior and all-or-nothing performance isn’t what I expected in 2014. I have matured but the big WRX hasn’t.
My top three cars of 2014:
BMW i3 - So the future is here and it feels like fun. What I can categorically say about EVs in 2014 is that I have zero interest in hybrid technology (well the i8 may be an exception). The Tesla and the i3 ram home the fact that hybrid EV cars that carry petrol engines simply to allay the paranoia associated with 'range anxiety' are not the future of automotive enjoyment as they incorporate the worst of both worlds - like carrying a generator to charge your smartphone. It is far better to just get over it and learn how to survive a day with a full charge after buying the EV that makes sense for how you intend to use it. Pure EVs have now come of age and while some at team CarAdvice will wax lyrical about the Tesla, for me it is the $63,900 BMW i3 that won my heart and my head. If you think EVs are not fun and sporty then try driving one of these around town where the instantaneous torque and silent running make this somewhat ungainly looking car almost an eco-hot-hatch. The interior also captures the moment far better than many of its EV competitors that seem obsessed with creating quasi-futuristic techy designs, whereas BMW has struck out on the renewables and organic material path, and frankly is all the better for it.
Mercedes-Benz C250 - I know, I know. With so much hype around this car it is easy to be cynical about the superlatives spouted out around this highly anticipated launch. However spend some time in one and this all changes. Yes, the new C-Class really is that good. In fact the only thing that annoyed me about this car is that so much has been written about the boundary pushing levels of interior design and quality, that it would be easy to think this car is a just case of design over function. Wrong. The drivetrain and chassis engineering – for this 43-year-old male car enthusiast who would never have considered a lower-specced C-Class as a viable choice in his car ownership CV – is first class. This is an executive express that you can still enjoy your driving in.
Audi S1 - And the strange thing about the S1 is initially I absolutely did not want to like it. Overpriced and overdone were my initial preconceptions.
Wrong. This is a car for those that love their seat-of-the-pants driving. Small cars driven fast and well is what the S1 is all about. Its notchy yet positive gearshift, perfect clutch feel, and clever Haldex all-wheel drive that can apportion an even 50/50 split of power between front and rear wheels when needed all combine to help get the 170kW of power and 370Nm of the twisty stuff down to the ground no matter what the road conditions throw at you. Typical Audi interior ergonomics and connectivity make the S1 an easy place to live in for work or play. Fitting into my personal favorite car buying category – fast cars you can afford – the S1 got under my skin in the way that made you find excuses for a quick (very quick in fact) run up to the shops for that thing you deliberately forgot.
Like it? I liked it so much I bought one for our first CarAdvice branded company car coming in March 2015.
Surprise of the year: Mahindra Pik-Up– So I grew up on a farm. Not much of a farm but it did come with the usual activities of livestock, hay cutting and baling, firewood collecting, and of course tractors. What it also made me appreciate is machinery that is ‘fit for purpose’ and does exactly what you expect it to do when you demand it.
Enter the Mahindra Pik-Up. From certain rear angles when you squint it is reminiscent of a Land Rover Defender ute, which is nice. From the front it looks like a surprised dugong – not so nice. Sure, if you were picky you may point to the lack of rear airbags, or the snot green lining on the door pockets, or the seat fabric that was last seen on the seats at the Rooty Hill RSL in the 1980s. And sure, some of the interior trim is a bit slapdash, but at least you can pull back the poorly fitting plastic caps and tighten the dashboard yourself.
But then you drive it. The 2.5-litre turbo diesel is no class leader in terms of refinement, however it is a low-stressed performer that does the job in traffic or out on the farm. It feels unbreakable too. Ditto the five-speed manual gearbox - with long, truck-like throws, there is no mistaking that this Mahindra puts agriculture back into agricultural. That is no bad thing, however, and when you take the cheap and cheerful pricing of $19,990 driveway (single-cab 2WD) or $25,990 for the dual-cab 4WD into consideration, the Pik-Up starts to look like the farming bargain of the year - and makes some other utes look downright overpriced. No, this is not a ute for the inner-city tradie, but rather one for those that work their utes into the ground.
Disappointment of the year: Ford FG X Falcon – So that's what $100 million of capital expenditure looks like on the inside? This car had so much potential to end an iconic Australian-built legacy on a high, but that the best Ford could do was to make a few token changes to a decade-old interior beggars belief. This is of course despite a good result for the front end exterior changes. Tough times are where Aussies dig deep with innovation and resilience and while the blue oval team has absolutely thrown its best at the engine and suspension setup on the XR8 halo car, the rest of the range goes out with not a bang but a whimper. I expected better.