Welcome to the inaugural CarAdvice Winners Circle, our debut annual award program showcasing our editorial team’s motoring highlight releases of the year.
After some long and hard consideration of the pros and cons of more traditional award formats, it was ultimately reader and car industry feedback – through surveys, garage day chats and even a focus group – that moulded exactly the form Winners Circle would take.
It quickly became clear that awarding one car out of all 2018 releases, or handing out accolades evenly across the myriad car segments, was never going work in CarAdviceLand…
There were two crucial, recurring themes in that feedback. For one thing, you find long-winded and meandering ‘car of the year’ awards boring and untrustworthy. And for another, we are constantly encouraged by you to inject more personal subjectivity in any review or appraisal process.
Combine these two simple premises and apply them to a 13-strong, extremely diverse and opinionated editorial team – who often can’t agree on the time of day – and, well, our patently untraditional and elegantly straightforward Winners Circle award format created itself.
Eagle-eyed readers will eventually notice a couple of cars and journos are missing from parts of this story. May you never have to experience the thrill of wrangling an entire editorial team and more than a dozen (mostly) unique cars for the same day and location...
Photography: Frank Yang and Angus Callinan
Here’s how Winners Circle works
Each team member got to choose his or her highlight machine of the year, and how each interpreted the word ‘highlight’ was purely down to personal preference.
Critical excellence, land-marking significance, fun factor, x-factor, et al – each judge could and would leverage their highly personal and subjective whims to choose not only their highlight machine of the year, but also a runner up or two deserving of a shout out.
The only stipulation was that yes, hand on heart, the team member would splurge their own coin – in some cases very hypothetical coin at that – and park their choice in their own driveway.
Naturally, we hoped and frankly expected the diversity of our team and the different prerogatives of its members would translate into a somewhat vibrant mix of 2018 highlights. So you’ll see, it’s about as an eclectic mix of machinery as you could possibly imagine.
There was no scoring, no rating, and no critical comparison amongst our ‘bests of 2018’. But we did converge the field and the team at the Australian Automotive Research Centre in Victoria to celebration our favourite vehicles of the year.
Predictably, exotica made up a fair chunk of team members’ favourites lists in 2018. While the rear-engined V10 R8 format has long been a fixture of Audi’s range, it’s amazing how removing the front drive shifts skyrocketed the super sports car’s popularity amongst the CarAdvice opinion makers.
Senior Road Tester Paul Maric chose the Audi R8 RWS as his Winners Circle pick of 2018, with Editorial Manager Trent Nikolic nominating it as this runner up for the year.
“This car that blows you away at first glance and becomes even better once you’ve had the chance to give it a decent lashing,” Paul explains. “It’s easy to drive and could comfortably be used as a daily driver.”
By stark contrast, newshound Journalist Scott Collie found favour in the groundswell of electric offerings and chose the BMW i3S, largely off the strength of an April test where he managed to commute in the revolutionary little EV an entire week on a single charge.
The i3 is hardly a spring chicken in 2018 though, as Scott points out: “its overwhelming weirdness is a charming reminder of what happens when talented automotive engineers are given a bit of freedom.”
Indeed, almost everything about this continually evolving motoring mould-breaker, due for an 120AH update in 2019, looks and feels as cutting edge today as when we first reviewed it way back in 2013.
To demonstrate Scott’s preferences aren't completely fringe dwelling, his Winners Circle runner-ups included the Skoda Kodiaq SUV and price-savvy if now sadly defunct Volkswagen Golf GTI Original hot hatch.
If there’s a more dramatic counterpoint to BMW’s electric city car than a red meat-eating, naturally aspirated V8-powered Ford Mustang GT coupe that pulled CEO Andrew Beecher’s heartstrings more vigorously than any other in 2018.
“The Mustang offers visceral rear-wheel-driven giggles, it oozes road presence and delivers loads of go for your dough…so long as you’ve got the cash to splash on replacing rear tyres,” says Beech. “This is the best-value sports car on sale today in Australia.”
Three leading lights in and two trends are quickly emerging. Firstly, Winners Circle is quickly shaping up as a intense melting pot of diversity. Secondly, each thus far has been the latest, updated version of what’s otherwise a familiar stalwart range.
Sure enough, it wouldn’t be long before an all-new nameplate would muscle its way onto the Winners Circle rostrum…
The all-new Hyundai i30 N landed in Oz with sizeable impact in 2018. And the measure of its mettle was that no fewer than three CarAdvice team members nominated the fledgling Korean hot hatch as a finisher in their respective Top Three choices. While Podcast Host and Road Tester Mandy Turner and Producer and News Editor Mike Stevens bestowed the runner-up gong to the i30 N, Road Tester Kez Casey elected the pint-sized rocket ship his top pick of 2018.
“It’s an effusively raucous little ball of fun,” reckons Kez. “It’s so involving, so grippy, so playful and so ridiculously loud and primal in N-mode – good old-fashioned giggly fun.”
The true highlights of 2018, Kez’s opinion, weren’t all purely about split-melon grin factor, with the all-new and patently grown-up fourth-gen Mercedes Benz A-Class and newly turbocharged Mazda 6 ranges representing the cream rising to the top of the year’s best releases.
From the reasonably sublime to the utterly ridiculous, Comparisons Editor Curt Dupriez – yours truly – nominated the easy front-runner for 2018 most extreme and ballistic weapon to grace editorial review: the McLaren Senna. But so implausible was this unicorn hypercar’s appearance at our Winners Circle get-together, I needed a Plan B…
The Mercedes-AMG G63 is perhaps the most ridiculous device to hit Oz in (very late) 2018, and it muscled and pummelled its way to the top of my personal list of 2018 Bests simply because it made me laugh and smile more than anything else I drove all year.
“It’s really just a big toy, one that taps my naughty inner juvenile,” I wrote. “And one that perhaps encourages shenanigans a bloke my age certainly shouldn’t (and won’t) admit to here and now in any journalistic capacity.”
Given that nothing else branded the memory banks with nearly as much heat in 2018, it’s a struggle to nominate a third-place-getter to fill out my Winners Circle 2018 trifecta –though a perennial personal favourite, the Porsche 911 GT3, give it a good shake…
Above: James 'leave me alone I know what I'm doing' Wong reminds our video chief Dave Hutton that a Corolla truly deserves its place in such company...
While not nearly as glamorous as many of its Winners Circle contemporaries, the reinvented Toyota Corolla drew resounding praise from everyone at CarAdvice who drove it in 2018.
Its widespread popularity is certainly a rare and highly commendable accolade within this particularly diverse field of list-toppers and Journalist James Wong name-checked the ZR Hybrid, specifically, as this year’s absolute highlight.
“The new-generation model is such a leap forward in so many ways,” James explains. “It steers and rides beautifully, regardless of the surface or speed, and it’s probably the first time in my life where driving or owning a Corolla can be considered ‘cool’.”
Like Scott, James also singled out the new Skoda Kodiaq as one of the most outstanding releases of the year.
It’s always a strong bet that when driving enjoyment weighs into any annual ‘best of’ lists, Porsche will be sniffing around the rostrum. And as a dyed-in-wool brand tragic it’s with little surprise that Mandy Turner chose the Porsche 911 GT3 as her list-topper this year. Sampling both the regular and Touring versions of the hard-core GT3 breed was, by her account, one helluvan introduction to experiencing the latest-generation 911 or any persuasion.
“I was squealing like a little girl on the inside,” Mandy reveals of her first 911 experience as a CarAdvice reviewer. “Sure, you can get an adrenaline rush by skydiving, or bungee jumping, but for me it’s driving a Porsche GT3. It’s such a pure supercar that’s so addictive and so unforgettable.”
Given Australia’s love for utes, it’s little surprise that CarAdvice’s resident mud-slingers were drawn towards perhaps the most talked-about new off-road toy of the year, the Ford Ranger Raptor.
Off-Road Editor Sam Purcell ranked it as his pick of the beaten path bunch for 2018 and, as mentioned above, 4X4-loving Paul Maric ranked it inside his top three.
While Ford’s latest poster child mightn’t be the last word in hard-core off-roading, work-a-day practicality, towing or family friendliness, it does unapologetically target a fresh angle and spearhead what’s sure to become a growing trend in multi-terrain load-luggers: sheer fun factor for sake of it.
“The Raptor is more capable, fun and engaging than any other ute,” Sam reckons. “It’s the next evolution of 4WD in Australia, signaling a very exciting future to come.”
Not a bad effort for the off-road newcomer that knocked Sam’s other choice, the industrial strength Mercedes-Benz G-Professional, off its perch for favourite dirt machine of 2018.
Trent Nikolic’s choice of the Abarth 595, the Fiat 500-based city-car-cum-urban-go-kart, couldn’t be more different than the Raptor even if the rationale behind the choice comes from a very similar place.
“Where the 595 really shines for me is in fitness for purpose,” he says. “That's where the Abarth nails its brief in spectacular fashion.”
Further, other elements such as the “best execution of a retro design outside the last generation of the Mustang” and “fun for the dollars outlaid” combine to create a particular Italian-brewed cocktail Trent reckons just couldn’t be matched in 2018.
Meanwhile, to demonstrate that life’s spice is variety, Trent's dream garage of 2018 would park the diminutive Abarth alongside the Audi R8 RWS and, real estate permitting, the behemoth RAM 1500 pick-up truck.
Renowned for his enthusiasm for all manner of fun-filled metal, founder Anthony Crawford's long list of 2018 favourites eventually narrowed down to the machine that facilitated his best thrill ride of the year: the Lexus GS F at the famed Hakone Skyline driving route in Japan.
“Right from the outset, this is one of those rare cars you can trust in from the get-go, even on track and pushing at ten-tenths,” Anthony explains.
“No turbos, no superchargers and no hybrid systems, it’s pure and unadulterated V8 intoxication. It’s so well balanced, with superb response and feedback that it begs you to push harder but without the fear factor of some performance models.”
Above: Good thing somebody chose an SUV. (Could do without the crotch shot though, Sully...)
As a measure of balance to the crew’s collective seat-of-the-pants enthusiasm, Senior Editor Mike Costello combined head and heart to nominate perhaps his critical favourite vehicle of 2018, the Hyundai Santa Fe Highlander.
Much like the Toyota Corolla – which Mike chose as his Winners Circle runner-up – the Korean SUV proves that motoring excellence is as much in the volume-selling domain as it in the hands, minds and hearts of enthusiasts and well-to-doers.
“I love that Hyundai has taken bold steps with interior design and in high grade materials that take Santa Fe to a higher echelon,” Mike explains. “It’s specifically developed the suspension for local roads and the SUV is loaded with active safety tech in Highlander grade. It’s both form and function.”
Dipping into his more indulgent side, Mike chose the luxury flagship Lexus LS500 sedan to round out his favourite rides of the year.
If there’s a genre left unrepresented in the field thus far but has a huge following in the CarAdvice camp, it’s fast performance wagons.
So Mike Stevens elected what’s surely the perennial favourite among petrolhead mums and dads, the Audi RS4 Avant, revamped for 2018 in lean and sharp turbo V6 form. A popular choice, too, given Culture and Lifestyle Editor Rob Margeit nominated the same as second place in his personal Top Three.
“It's a family hauler that truly hauls arse, in a straight line and through corners alike, and it does it in all conditions,” Mike explains. “No other luxury wagon outside the Audi stable can claim that in quite so angry a fashion. Yes, I do dig its rival the AMG C63 Estate, but that just doesn't turn heads the way this baddy does.”
Rounding out the Winners Circle 2018 field is one the year’s latecomer launches, the feisty Alpine A110, as chosen by Rob Margeit, who attended the international debut late in 2017 and has been raving about it ever since.
“It’s a car that demands to be driven and driven hard,” says Rob. “But it’s not just about speed. The Alpine’s real trick are its superb dynamics. It’s entirely predictable and razor sharp. I knew it was love.”
Similarly effusive enthusiasm was echoed by Anthony, who had the opportunity to punt the French sportscar during the Targa High Country road rally event in late 2018.
Meanwhile, Rob mirrored Paul's affection for the Jaguar I-Pace, returning from the Australian launch gushing about the new electrically driven Leaping Cat SUV.
When viewed as a collective, the CarAdvice Winners Circle 2018 field is clearly as rich in diversity as the voices and opinions of the team members championing their pros.
We’re convinced that when we look back on 2018, our 13 favourites will be among the highlights that defined their era and played a huge part in making the motoring landscape as interesting and vibrant as possible.