So, of all the cars released onto the Australian Market in 2012, which will make The Motor Report’s list of Top Ten Best Buys?
And, from this list, which is the best-of-the-best?
In this quest we make a value-for-money judgment, balancing purchase price and cost of ownership against quality, fitness-for-purpose and engineering excellence.
From this ‘top ten’ list, on Tuesday January 2, we will announce both the overall winner and the Top Ten Best Buys of 2012. These are the cars that will be competing for your dollars on showroom floors in 2013.
And unlike other ‘best car’ awards, our list encompasses the whole year and all releases for 2012 - including late releases like the new Mazda6 (a clear contender).
This year, Wheels COTY pins the tail on the BRZ/Toyota 86; CarsGuide did likewise in a similar BRZ tie with the 86, while the motor club magazines behind ‘Australia’s Best Cars’ have a long list again dominated by Germany and Korea.
Last year, we awarded the Ranger/BT-50 as king(s) of the heap, the Best Buy for 2011 from our list of Top Ten Best Buys - and the market would seem to agree.
What of 2012?
THE CONTENDERS FOR TMR’S TOP TEN
To declare our hand early, following is the ‘long shortlist’ of contenders - in order of release - for TMR’s Top Ten Best Buys of 2012.
Hyundai Veloster: Takes the sporty coupe idea in a whole new direction: one part sexy, one part practical and always eye-catching. And a brash turbo version takes care of the ‘need for speed’.
BMW 3 Series: With the new model, BMW has managed to find improvements to an already very impressive car. Spacious, fastidiously engineered and a joy at the wheel, is this the best-handling family-sedan available anywhere?
Mazda CX-5: In petrol and diesel, 2WD and 4WD, the CX-5 is a cracking car with a superior feel at the wheel, space for a young family, and typical Mazda interior flair.
Volkswagen Amarok Auto: Proof that sometimes the simple solutions are best. Volkswagen’s refined and comfortable Amarok eight-speed ZF auto can climb up a wall, and down the other side, without a transfer case. Low, low crawling gears, and smart traction and descent technologies are responsible.
Toyota Prius C: A hybrid for a new age of informed buyers, and at just $23,990 for the price of entry. Toyota brings something new to the small car class with funky looks, a vivid colour palette, bold interior, and few compromises.
Audi Q3: Simply the best handling small SUV on the market. In TFSI trim, it has the verve of a hot-hatch, a premium interior, and a pricetag in reach of young professionals – Q3 puts the word “sport” back into Sport Utility Vehicle.
Toyota Camry Hybrid: What a surprise. A hybrid isn’t supposed to drive this well, nor this eagerly. Beautifully built, nicely trimmed and effortless on road, this is a Hybrid for the driver.
Toyota 86 (and Subaru BRZ): The same car? Not quite. Toyota’s 86 heads into battle with a ‘stripped down’ model, the GT, with a hefty price advantage over the Subaru. Simply brilliant buying no matter which way you hold the page.
Holden Volt: This is a defining car for 2012, but its appeal is limited by the price of entry. Is it a hybrid, or a hybrid on a hybrid? Whatever, the Volt’s all-electric, or assisted electric, or petrol-driven solution, is a new take on the old chestnut of ‘range anxiety’.
Ford Falcon EcoBoost: A proven formula of European premium brands – a powerful 2.0 litre ‘four’ in a large car – who could ever have imagined it would work so well in the Falcon? Driving it seriously challenges Aussie notions of what defines a big, effortless, family sedan.
Hyundai i30: A good car made better. Yet another advance in design, value, handling and equipment for the segment.
Opel Astra: Sexy styling, solid handling and punchy turbocharged engines make Opel’s new Astra a genuine threat to class benchmarks VW Golf and Mazda3. Very tasty and sharply-priced in GTC form in particular.
Alfa Romeo Giulietta JTDM: Just when you thought Alfa would disappear entirely through buyer disinterest, the JTDM Giulietta appears. Italian flair, a muscular diesel, poised handling and (dammit!) "passion"… yes, finally a contender from Alfa Romeo.
Renault Megane RS 265: The baddest of the bad-boys; Renault’s stove-hot Megane RS 265 is a riot at the wheel. Fast? It’s blistering – thank you French Gendarmerie for inspiring this superbly balanced scorcher.
Hyundai Santa Fe: Sharp lines matched by a very decent drive, an exceptionally well-kitted interior and a very family-friendly price.
Volkswagen Up!: Volkswagen wasn’t reading the manual for tiny city cars when it dreamed up the Up!. Proof that just three cylinders in a tiny package can be as much fun as you want it to be, and as sophisticated.
Toyota Corolla: The Corolla is back, make no mistake. The 2013 Corolla is not only stylish inside and out, it drives exceptionally well, and lays down the gauntlet to the Korean contenders.
Kia Sorento: A double act with the Santa Fe, but with a difference: the robustly engineered Kia family wagon offers a V6 petrol – as opposed to the Hyundai’s ‘four’ – as well as a willing diesel.
Focus ST: Cheaper than the Megane, nearly as quick, and sitting on a beautifully-sorted sports chassis. It’s a sleeper at the moment, but absolutely one to consider if rapid hot-hatch performance, and a civilised ride, fall into the same sentence in your considerations.
Volkswagen Passat Alltrack: A more versatile, better looking, and wholly more desirable Passat wagon. There’s a lot of AWD 4Motion capability in this family wagon, and it’s surprisingly affordable.
Mazda6: Just to complicate things at the death-knock for the year, Mazda drops the new 6 onto the market. Incredibly stylish, more refined and a vastly improved drive, it might just redefine the medium-car segment for family buyers.
Honda CR-V: It might be a new hat on an old platform, but Honda’s new CRV is an improved car in a nicely-styled package. No question that this surprisingly roomy wagon will have a lot of appeal for family buyers.
Which of this year's releases will get the gong? Tune in on January 1 for all the details.