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Mike Stevens | Jan 5, 2012

TMR’S TOP TEN BEST BUYS 2011

Which cars of 2011 make TMR’s list of TOP TEN BEST BUYS? Which should you have on your car-buying shortlist? And which of this exemplary few is number one?

Looking back through the new car releases of 2011, and the tens of thousands of kilometres we’ve spent behind the wheel on cramped city streets, on country highways and back-roads, in the outback and high in mountain trails, we have narrowed the field to a TOP TEN.

Our assessments, and the composition of the final list, is based on a value for money judgment: balancing purchase price and cost of ownership against quality and excellence.

Quality and excellence, of course, embodies comfort and capability; handling and safety, fuel consumption and ease of ownership, versatility, and engineering. Plus, importantly, the enjoyment and satisfaction provided at the wheel.

So, which is king of the heap for 2011? Our pick may surprise you. And it’s not one car, but two – joined at the hip in development, and head and shoulders above all in their segment.

The best value buy of the moment and, in our view, the most versatile as a family car, as a recreation vehicle, as a tough workhorse and, in fact, the best new car release of 2011 is the Ford Ranger Double Cab ute, and its Mazda twin, the BT-50 Dual Cab.

With Mazda-developed chassis and underpinnings, a Ford Australia-designed body with a spacious family-friendly cabin, big tub and 3.35 tonne towing capacity (for 3.2 litre DT), plus class-leading dynamic safety features and a quite brilliant Ford drivetrain, the Ranger/BT-50 twins have the capability, style and ‘liveability’ to redefine the family car.

Our choice of the Ford Ranger/Mazda BT-50 for BEST BUY for 2011 is indicative not only of the excellence of the products, but of how much has the Australian vehicle market changed.

In 2011, the Territory ended the year outselling the Falcon in monthly sales. Holden’s locally-built Cruze small car, with 33,785 sales for 2011, almost doubled Falcon’s 18,741 sales for the year.

And, as confirmed by the VFACTS figures for 2011, the three best-selling cars of the year are at opposite poles in the market, and from three completely different vehicle categories: the HiLux utility came in third, the large car Commodore at number two, and the small car Mazda3 in number one position.

Where once the Australian market was defined by its large family cars, it is now as diverse as the country itself.

There is no “typical Australian car” – the notion is now a fiction. Nor is there a typical Australian car buyer.

There is however a ‘best of the best’ for 2011: that car is the Ford Ranger/Mazda BT-50. Gut-strong work-ute, brilliant off-road, and a fine family car – each of these twins is all three.

 

Ford Ranger Double Cab 4X4

Vehicle style: 4X4 Dual Cab Utility
Price: $43,890 (XL 2.2 manual), to $59,390 (Wildtrack 3.2 automatic)
Engine(s): 2.2 litre turbo diesel I4, 3.2 litre turbo diesel I5
Power/torque: 110kW/375Nm (2.2DT) 147kW/470Nm (3.2DT)
Fuel consumption: 8.1 l/100km (2.2DT), 8.9 l/100km (3.2DT)

2012 ford ranger launch review 02

We were expecting Ford’s new Ranger XLT and XL twin-cab 4x4s to be good, but few could have expected how good.

For engineering, for practical work-horse capability and refinement, Ford has leap-frogged every other contender in the sector. Bar none. It is impossible not to be impressed.

Starting from a clean sheet of paper, and seven years in the making, this is one exceptional dual-cab ute. On every objective measure, where HiLux is good, Ranger is better. Ditto for Triton, Amarok and Navara.

Toyota’s HiLux deserves its four-star rating. It has pounded its usurpers mercilessly for nearly two decades. But Ford’s new Ranger is a game-changer.

 

BT-50 XTR Dual Cab 4X4

Vehicle style: 4X4 Dual Cab Utility
Price: $48,810 (BT-50 XTR manual), to $50,890 (BT-50 XTR automatic)
Engine: 3.2 litre turbo diesel I5
Power/torque: 147kW/470Nm
Fuel consumption: 8.9 l/100km

2012 mazda bt 50 launch 04

Like the Ranger, Mazda’s BT-50 is a tour de force. Strong, capable, effortless both on road and off it, it’s a very complete package.

It offers passenger car appointments, features and NVH refinement.

In six-speed manual or six speed auto, the new BT-50 is a heck of a lot of car as well as a tough work or play ute.

For what you get for your money, we think you won’t buy better. You absolutely won’t be disappointed.

 

Kia Rio

Vehicle style: Light five-door hatch
Price: $16,290 (Rio manual), to $21,990 (Rio SLi automatic)
Engine: 1.4 litre petrol I4, 1.6 litre direct-injected petrol I4
Power/torque: 79kW/125Nm (1.4), 103kW/167Nm (1.6)
Fuel consumption: 5.7 l/100km (1.4 manual), 5.6 l/100km (1.6 manual)

2012 kia rio sli 5door australia 01

Kia’s all-new 2012 Rio joins a growing list of light cars that set new standards in dynamics, style, performance and equipment.

In range-topping SLi trim, with a willing 1.6 litre engine, the Rio packs enough features and finesse to keep its Euro opposition on its toes - even some of the more fancied ones.

And it does this while keeping the price of entry below $20,000 when equipped with the six-speed manual.

For style, driving dynamics, build-quality and equipment, the 2012 Kia Rio is comfortably on par with its Japanese competitors and just a very short step from the class-leading and more expensive, and more costly to own, Volkswagen Polo.

It’s a very good drive and certainly worth your careful consideration.

 

Ford Territory TDCi

Vehicle style: Medium Five-door SUV
Price: $43,240 (Territory TX TDCi 2WD), to $63,240 (Territory Titanium AWD)
Engine: 2.7 litre turbo diesel V6
Power/torque: 140kW/440Nm
Fuel consumption: 8.2 l/100km (RWD), 8.8 l/100km (AWD)

ford territory tdci

Ford Australia’s new diesel Territory is the best ‘all-rounder’ family wagon ever designed and built in this country.

It took a long time to get a diesel - the meaty and masterful 2.7 litre Duratorq V6 - but it has been worth the wait.

In terms of refinement and super-impressive noise/vibration/harshness levels, the Territory TDCi is up there with the best diesel SUVs in the world.

The additional of the diesel puts to bed what had previously been an issue for the Territory - its fuel consumption - and delivers the towing capacity of a trade-ute.

The 2011 Territory is improved everywhere you care to look. This is one very impressive box from Ford Australia.

For on-road dynamics and comfort at the wheel, there is daylight between the new Territory and its nearest rivals for your dollars, the Captiva and Kluger.

Family wagons for middle Australia don’t get any better.

 

Holden Cruze SRi and SRi-V

Vehicle style: Small four-door sedan (or hatch)
Price: $24,990 (Cruze SRi manual), to $30,490 (Cruze SRi-V automatic)
Engine: 1.4 litre turbo petrol I4
Power/torque: 103kW/200Nm
Fuel consumption: 6.4 l/100km (manual), 6.9 l/100km (auto)

2011 holden cruze series ii 02 sri 02

Holden’s new 1.4 iTi turbo Cruze, the SRi and SRi-V, now built in Australia, comes with tweaked styling and a distinctly sportier look for both sedan and new hatch. Beneath the skin however, it’s hiding some big news.

Revised suspension, six-speed manual or six-speed auto transmission, and a thrifty yet strong turbo-charged engine give the SRi and SRi-V models lively on-road performance, but with a meagre thirst.

The result is a Cruze that can now compete, on its merits, against the best in the small car class.

It was already a competent small-car contender; the raft of refinements brought by the series II update has strengthened its case.

The value on offer with the sharply-priced Cruze SRi and SRi-V iTi turbos - the handling balance, its flexible and delightfully balanced 1.4 litre engine, and the innovative audio system – puts it comfortably in our TOP TEN.

 

Ford Focus

Vehicle style: Small sedan (or hatch)
Price: $21,990 (Focus Ambiente hatch), to $36,590 (Focus Titanium TDCi sedan)
Engine: 1.6 litre petrol I4, 2.0 petrol I4, 2.0 turbo diesel I4
Power/torque: 92kW/159Nm (1.6), 125kW/202Nm (2.0), 120kW/340Nm (2.0DT
Fuel consumption: 6.2 l/100km (1.6 manual), 6.6 l/100km (2.0 manual), 5.5 l/100km (2.0DT auto)

Ford’s sporty new 2012 LW Focus is a defining car. Spend time with it and you will understand why the European press has heaped such praise upon it.

Inside and out, and on the road, it really impresses.

From the entry-level Focus Ambiente to the top-tier Titanium, it is laden with features and technology, or can be specified, that you simply don’t expect to find in the small hatch and small sedan segment.

But, not only superbly equipped, it is also a cracking drive – it is better balanced and more refined than the Mazda3 and at least a match for the Golf.

And where the outgoing Focus seemed a little beige, the new four-tier model line-up - entry-level Ambiente, mid-series Trend, then Sport and the higher-end Titanium models - is brimming with personality.

In the small car segment, it is a real standout. If shopping for a classy, stylish, feature-filled and beautifully-built small car, each in the Focus range is worth a careful look: it is certainly one the best buys of the moment.

 

Mitsubishi Challenger 2WD

Vehicle style: Medium SUV
Price: $36,990 (manual) to $39,490 (auto)
Engine: 2.5 litre turbo diesel I4
Power/torque: 131kW/400Nm
Fuel consumption: 8.2 l/100km (manual), 9.6 l/100km (automatic)

2012 mitsubishi challenger launch 01

A family-sized high-riding wagon with rear wheel drive and a strong 2.5 litre turbodiesel under the bonnet, and on road for less than $40,000? Plus Mitsubishi’s capped price servicing - how can you go past it?

It’s not the sharpest knife in the drawer, nor is it dripping with sexy style, but if you’re looking for good honest value in a tough-as-boots family wagon, take a long hard look at Mitsubishi’s rear-wheel-drive Challenger SUV.

For towing a boat or a horse float, for family holidays or simply for carrying a ‘Kingswood-sized’ load, the Challenger beats its front-wheel-drive wagon competition at a canter. Only the Commodore Sportwagon comes close.

With an enormous boot, a nicely finished interior, a robust ladder-frame chassis down below and 3.0 tonne towing capacity, and all with starting price of $36,990, the Challenger makes it own case.

 

Hyundai i40 Tourer

Vehicle style: Medium five-door wagon
Price: $32,490 (Active 2.0 manual), to $46,490 (Premium 1.7DT auto)
Engine: 2.0 litre petrol I4, 1.7 turbo diesel I4
Power/torque: 130kW/213Nm (2.0), 100kW/330 (1.7DT)
Fuel consumption: 6.8 l/100km (petrol auto); 5.6 l/100km (diesel auto)

2012 hyundai i40 premium exterior 029 b

Starting at $32,490, the stylish Hyundai i40 Tourer buys itself. But while it’s certainly one of the most handsome of family wagons, there’s substance behind the style.

The i40 Tourer Active 1.7 CRDi automatic, at $36,490, with 100kW and 320Nm (330Nm with the manual transmission), is remarkably quiet and refined both at idle and at cruising speeds (a match, in fact, for the refinement of some of the better European turbodiesel wagons).

Styled at Hyundai’s design centre in Russelheim, Germany, soft-touch plastics abound in the interior, panel gaps are tight and there is a quality-feel to the switchgear.

Available in auto across the range, for both petrol and diesel models, it is also well-sorted dynamically with a suspension tuned specifically for Australian roads. Hyundai’s i40 Tourer is one of the biggest surprises of the year.

 

Lexus CT 200h

Vehicle style: Small luxury hatchback
Price: $39,990 (Prestige), $55,990 (Sports Luxury)
Engine: 1.8 litre I4, petrol-electric hybrid
Power/torque: 73kW/142Nm
Fuel consumption: 4.1 l/100km

2011 lexus ct200h f sport longterm 07

The CT 200h’s interior and coachwork is exquisite in detail and quality; it has the room of a sedan but the sharp modern lines of a hatch; you can wring its neck mercilessly and it refuses to develop a thirst.

And, given time, you’ll enjoy driving it – its electric stuff will get you in.

The quality of the coachwork, panel fit, paint and chrome highlighting is simply first class. The longer you look at it, and the more attention to detail you discover, the better it gets.

The sort of quality inside and out that you find in the CT 200h range, particularly at a sub-$40k entry point (the Prestige sits at $39,990), is very hard to find.

And, while its hybrid drivetrain lacks urgency, it can swallow kilometers in a very un-hybrid-like way.

The Lexus CT 200h is, on any measure, a very fine piece of machinery. It’s no sports car, but one of the finest iterations of a hybrid you’ll find.

 

Skoda Yeti

Vehicle style: Compact SUV
Price: $26,290 (Yeti 77TSI 2WD), to $37,990 (Yeti 103TDI AWD)
Engine: 1.2 litre turbo petrol I4, 2.0 litre turbo diesel I4
Power/torque: 77kW/175Nm (1.2), 103kW/320Nm (2.0DT)
Fuel consumption: 6.6 l/100km (77TSI manual), 6.7 l/100km (103TDI automatic)

2012 skoda yeti 4x4 103tdi manual review 09

This is the best effort yet by Skoda - the Yeti is a real charmer. It won't set the world on fire for its looks: but there's a brattish charm to the front and its boxy wagon lines are more about utility than uber style.

Its appeal though is more than skin deep. It's swift, easy to drive, comfortable on road, and, off-road, can be pounded to within an inch of its life and still bob up for more.

For a couple or young family, we get the sense it will withstand almost anything you or your kids can throw at it, or spill on it.

For a similar price to its Volkswagen cousin, a mid-spec Jetta, you get a 2.0 litre TDI turbo-diesel delivering 103kW of peak power and a handy 320Nm of torque, similar interior space (though narrower), and a bucketful of personality to boot.

It's a very complete package, Skoda's Yeti. We think you will like it a lot.

 

BMW 118i hatch

Vehicle style: Small luxury hatchback
Price: $42,100 (118i manual), to $45,493 (118i automatic)
Engine: 1.6 litre turbo petrol I4
Power/torque: 125kW/250Nm
Fuel consumption: 5.8 l/100km (118i manual), 5.9 l/100km (118i automatic)

2012 bmw 1 series review tim 03

It’s got a face that might scare the kids, but, with its new 1 Series, BMW has put the possum in the henhouse.

Its pricing, revised downward in a vastly improved car, throws down the challenge to a brace of rapidly improving contenders in the small car segment.

Although a premium package – it’s obvious the moment you open the door – the 1 Series is now competing where it has barely competed before: on price.

Our pick is the petrol-turbo 118i Sport. It’s not overly powerful, but a masterclass in balance, sporting verve and driver appeal.

With a petrol engine as good as the 118i, the case for the diesel is significantly diminished. Power is up, the torque gap narrowed, and the fuel consumption advantage of the diesel hauled back.

BMW’s new 1 Series is one fine car.

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