TMR Best Buys Of 2012: The Toyota 86 And Subaru BRZ

Tim O'Brien | Jan 1, 2013

AUSTRALIA'S TEN BEST CAR BUYS OF 2012

Which, of all the worthy releases and new models of the past calendar year, is the BEST BUY of 2012? And which made TMR's TOP TEN LIST of BEST BUYS?

The year gone, 2012, was one of unexpected fortune for the Australian automotive sector. A global economy in a state of numb dissarray, and consumer sentiment here patchy at best, is not supposed to produce a record year in retail car sales.

But the magic million sales arrived in November, putting the market squarely on track for a history-making record.

And how good were the cars? Surely, for a decade or more, there has not been a year when so many very, very good cars – interesting ones, the type you’d happily recommend to family and friends – have landed in this market.

Our job, in finding 'the best of the best' buys for TMR’s 2012 BEST BUY Award, has never been so difficult.

But after tens of thousands of kilometres behind the wheels of the new models of 2012 - and after hundreds of hours on the open highway, around mountain roads, on the race track, city streets, back roads, off-road trails and goat-tracks - a clear winner has emerged.

In making this choice, we've assessed each contender on a balance of purchase price against quality, excellence in execution, and how well each succeeds in its intended function.

Our winner, the TMR BEST BUY Award for 2012, goes to the Toyota 86 and Subaru BRZ twinned pair.

WINNER: Toyota 86/Subaru BRZ

Vehicle Style: Sports coupe
Price: 86 from $29,990 (plus on-roads) | BRZ from $37,150 (drive away)
Engine: 2.0 litre boxer engine | Power/Torque:147kW/205Nm
Fuel efficiency (listed): 7.8 l/100km

Developed co-jointly, this pair simply astonishes for buying value.

Spend some time at the wheel, and you’ll get out of either one scratching your head, “How is this possible: a car this good, this complete... and at this price?”

The 86 and BRZ are simply head and shoulders above all comers for sheer buying value and capability. We’re not alone in this choice.

At sub-$40k on the road, and, in Toyota 86 GT entry spec, costing barely more than a mid-market small hatch, we’ve not seen such superb buying value in decades.

If you’re in the market for a personal coupe, don’t dare spend a cent more on any other until you’ve driven one of this pair.

And if you’re among the lucky ones to have jagged one into your garage, you can be smug in the knowledge you’re driving the best buy in the market.

Sporting style, rapier handling, superb balance; the Toyota 86 and Subaru BRZ embody all that each promises to be, and at a price for the young driver.

We'd have either in a heartbeat: TMR’s BEST BUY for 2012, and worthy winners.

The next best, and deserving of honourable mentions, are Toyota’s superb Camry Hybrid, and Ford’s equally masterful Ecoboost Falcon.

Each were pipped at the post for the top gong, but each – like the 86 and BRZ – have the power to surprise. And each, perhaps, are far better cars than the market currently recognises.

The other 'runners-up’ – the remaining seven – follow in no particular order. All are excellent buying, at the pinnacle of new car releases for 2012 and deserving of your close inspection in the showroom.


Honorable Mention: Toyota Camry Hybrid

Segment: Mid-size sedan
Price: H: $34,990 | HL: $41,990 (plus on-roads)
Power: 118kW petrol | 105kW electric | Combined system output: 151kW
Torque: 213Nm petrol (plus variable torque from the electric motor) | electric: 270Nm
Fuel efficiency (listed): 5.2 l/100km

No; a hybrid is not supposed to drive this well, nor this eagerly. Beautifully built, nicely trimmed and effortless on road, Toyota’s 2012 Camry Hybrid is a real surprise.

Priced lower than the model it replaces, the new car carries many more standard features, is vastly improved dynamically, and is, quite simply, a very fine vehicle.

As we commented when first exposed to Toyota's new mainstream hybrid at launch, it shows “a balance, on-road poise and fleetness-of-foot that is totally unexpected”.

For overtaking, it leaps from 80kmh to licence-busting speeds in bare seconds. It's genuinely brisk.

With this new model, Toyota Australia has hatched something more than a little special for the mid-size family category. It impresses on nearly every measure that matters.

Oh yes, and it's a hybrid. But aside from its ability to bypass a petrol pump, you'd never know about the battery in the boot.

And at a starting price of $34,990? The Camry Hybrid is a real surprise and exceptional buying.


Honorable Mention: Ford Falcon Ecoboost

Vehicle style: Large family sedan
Price: from $37,235
Engine: Ecoboost 2.0 litre I-4 VCT turbo | Power/Torque: 179kW/353Nm
Fuel efficiency (listed): 8.1 l/100km

Ford’s remarkable Ecoboost 2.0 litre I-4 VCT turbo works better under the bonnet of the Falcon than many can have imagined.

Of course, there is no surprise to the formula: a powerful 2.0 litre ‘four’ in a large car has been the staple of European premium brands for decades.

But driving the nimble and responsive Ecoboost Falcon seriously challenges Aussie notions of what defines a big, effortless, family sedan.

First, it's far from slow. With a long flat torque curve and a lusty 353Nm available from 2000rpm, you would barely pick that there was anything other than a big strong Aussie six under the bonnet.

And second, the Ecoboost Falcon has the 'settled' nature on-road of a lazy six. It doesn't fidget or hunt for gears, is untroubled by hills and equally untroubled with a load aboard.

This is one impressive car, with a very impressive engine. Built like a vault, the Ecoboost Falcon offers big car refinement and performance, and space for the longest adolescent leg.

The Ecoboost adds a noticeable level of finesse to an already fine car - one that is, in our view, better engineered and better buying than many of the imported models eating into its sales.

It too is a rock-solid TOP TEN Best Buys contender.


BMW 3 Series 318d and 320i

Vehicle Style: Medium premium sedan
Price: $56,400 and $57,600
Power/Torque: 318d (turbodiesel): 105kW/320Nm I 320i (twin-turbo petrol): 135kW/270Nm
Fuel Economy 320i (listed): 6.0 l/100km | 318d (listed): 4.5 l/100km

BMW’s 3 Series sets the standard for dynamic sporting sedans.

Two new engine variants - the 318d 2.0 litre turbodiesel, and 320i 2.0 litre TwinPower turbo petrol - at two new family-friendly prices, puts these two models firmly into our TOP TEN Best Buys for 2012.

At $56,400 and $57,600 respectively (inc. GST and LCT), the 318d and 320i are the new entry level models to the 3 Series range.

Entry level they may be, but you'd hardly know it. Each is beautifully finished, astonishingly frugal and simply superb at the wheel.

No other badge delivers that same sense of sporting elan or driver engagement. And each will effortlessly swallow highway kilometres and, when required, accelerate like a hot-hatch.

The overwhelming sense when driving either of these cars is of a very fine machine.

We like the lines, and we like the fastidious fit and finish, but we like most that BMW builds cars that are first and foremost simply great cars to drive.


Mazda CX-5

Vehicle Style: Medium SUV
Price range: $27,800 - $46,200 (plus on-roads)
Engines: 2.0 litre SkyActiv petrol | 2.2 litre diesel
Fuel efficiency (listed): 6.9 l/100km Petrol | 5.7 l/100km Diesel

Since the day it appeared in Australian showrooms, Mazda’s CX-5 has been bolting out through the glass doors and into the garages and carports of middle Australia.

Proof, most certainly, that the company that mostly ‘gets it right', has got it right again with the new CX-5.

SkyActiv petrol or diesel, this is one very good medium-sized wagon. It’s smart inside, surprisingly roomy (ample there for a growing family), built to typical Mazda standards of fit and finish, and, in diesel form in particular, has an eager turn of speed.

And it’s more refined on road than every one of its price-point competitors.

Of course, as we commented at launch, it's ploughing the toughest of markets. Between the Sportage, new Honda CRV, Tiguan, Rav4 and Forester (among others), it's hard to spot a dud.

But it barely takes 30 seconds at the wheel of the new CX-5 to recognise that this one is special.

With crisp modern lines, alive and responsive handling, a beautifully trimmed and appointed interior, and superior on-road dynamics, Mazda has a very good car here.

Good buying in 2WD or AWD, petrol or diesel, Mazda’s CX-5 is certainly one of the very best of 2012.


Toyota Prius c

Vehicle Style: Five-door light hatchback hybrid
Price: $23,990 (plus on-roads)
Power/Torque: 74kW/111Nm | Fuel efficiency (listed): 3.9 l/100km

This one is the sleeper from Toyota. At just $23,990 for the price of entry, edgy lines and a look all of its own, the Prius C is a hybrid for a new age of informed buyers.

With this car, at this price, Toyota has landed something special into the small car class. The Prius C is a genuine TOP TEN Best Buys contender.

In an era of potent small engines, its Atkinson cycle and hybrid drivetrain is more leisurely than most, but the Prius C marches to the drum of efficiency.

In this, its performance is remarkable. Paying little attention to the fuel read-out, and not sparing the right foot, we managed an average consumption of 4.5 l/100km in a week of driving.

Its bold interior does it no harm, nor its carpark 'presence' - the styling sets it a little apart - and nor the uncompromised on-road experience.

We like it a lot, the Prius C. It provides another solution for greener, more sustainable motoring, but at a price for the younger driver.


Holden Volt

Vehicle style: EV Small hatch
Price: $59,990 plus on-roads
Engine: 1.4 litre 16-valve petrol 4cyl, two electric drive motors, 16.5kW/h battery.
Torque: 111kW/370Nm | Fuel consumption (listed): 6.3 l/100km

Its appeal might be limited by the price of entry, and there may be a ‘parts-bin’ petrol engine in the nose that would be better replaced by a smaller purpose-built unit, but the Holden Volt is a defining vehicle for 2012 and, quite simply, the way of the future for personal transport.

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’.

It does what no current hybrid can do – the Volt can be driven entirely, and for a whole journey, on electric power alone. And then be charged from a garage wall-socket for a repeat performance the following day... and the one following.

For city commuting, it need never resort to the petrol engine. And, unlike other all-electric EVs, it will never leave you languishing by the side of the road.

But it can also be driven to Darwin. Because the petrol engine it carries is a portable charge-station (as well as assisting when additional power is required at highway speeds).

The Volt is a car like no other. Spookily near silent when on the move, that it is an accomplished drive and stylishly penned is all bonus.

No Top Ten list for 2012 is complete without it – look closely, because this car is a crystal ball to the future.


Renault Megane RS 265

Vehicle style: Sports hatch
Price: from $42,640
Engine: 2.0 litre F4R 16-valve turbocharged petrol | Power: 195kW/360Nm
Fuel efficiency (listed): 8.2 l/100km

Yes, it’s the bad-boy of the bunch, and yes it’s raw and uncompromising – but my gosh it’s fast and my gosh it appeals.

Renault's new Megane RS 265 hatch is among the hottest of hot hatches. And we love it for it.

A front driver, it pulls like a train, but with barely a trace of torque steer, barely a tickle of axle-tramp, and barely a touch of understeer.

Few cars package such blistering performance with such a nicely balanced chassis and such a visceral drive experience. If you can’t enjoy this car, start looking for a pulse.

Straight out of the box, the RS 265 is a track day weapon. Few can have expected such a superbly-executed performance hatch from the French carmaker, much less one comfortably on-road at a sub-$50k price.

As we commented at launch, “whether in Cup or Trophy configuration, the RS 265 is one very good hot-hatch from Renault”.

It looks good, it's well priced, and it has the muscle to match its athletic lines. This Gallic scorcher is another surprise, but a rock-solid TOP TEN Best Buy contender.


Volkswagen Up!

Vehicle style: Sub-light hatchback
Price:
$13,990
Engine: 1.0 litre petrol inline three | Power/Torque: 55kW/95Nm
Fuel efficiency (listed): 4.9 l/100km

A Volkswagen with this much character at $13,990? Forget that the Up! is competing in the micro category, it’s a fun car, full stop.

Cheekily styled and filled with character, the Up! is proof that just three cylinders in a tiny package can have all the city-smart appeal and cachet of larger, more expensive cars.

Its roomy interior oozes quality, it’s the only car in its segment to get collision-avoidance technology and the ‘thrummy’ three-cylinder engine sitting in the nose is a really appealing little unit.

Although available in five-speed manual only, it’s barely a debit in a car this light and easy to drive (and auto versions of its competitors push their prices into the lower end of the next vehicle category).

And it’s also fun to row through the slightly notchy gate (the action feels strangely like an old Beetle).

Sure, there’s some cost cutting – no wind-down rear windows and no airbags for the rear passengers - but look again at the cost.

It might be the cheapest of the Volks stable, but the Up! is a super little car. And one you’ll love like a puppy.


Toyota Corolla

Vehicle style: Small five-door hatch
Price: from $19,990 - $28,490
Engine: 1.8 litre petrol inline four. | Power: 103kW/173Nm
Fuel use listed: 7.1 l/00km manual, 6.6 l/100km CVT

Toyota’s Corolla is the most popular car on the planet for a reason – it does what it does exceptionally well.

Now into its eleventh generation, the new Corolla hatch is sharply and appealingly styled, resoundingly well-built, and substantially improved in driveability and on-road comfort.

Under the skin, the new model is more about steady evolution than boundary-pushing innovation, but that’s its strength.

Now with a constantly-variable transmission (CVT) replacing the old car’s four-speed auto, and a mildly re-worked 1.8 litre engine (with a few more kilowatts, but slightly less torque), it is the sum of the parts that makes the case for the Corolla.

It’s snug, quieter on-road than most, nicely balanced (if not sporting), and as happy in urban duties as on the highway – the new Corolla is a very well-rounded car.

It’s also more generously equipped than before, and the price has fallen: the entry-level Corolla Ascent now sneaks in under the $20,000 barrier.

The new model is what it needed to be - an improved, better, classier Corolla - and solid TOP TEN buying value.


TMR CAR REVIEW TEAM

Tim O’Brien
Tony O’Kane
Mike Stevens
Malcolm Flynn
Kez Casey
Ian Crawford
Karl Peskett

Filed under: Featured, car of the year, News, lifestyle, tmr best buy, best buy, Advice, special-featured, tim o'brien, tmr best buy 2012, australia's best cars 2012, australia's best cars, cars of the year

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  • CP says,
    2 years ago
    5 likes
    I suppose no surprises with the winner as it starts at the Black Caviar odds everytime it enters a contest. Rightly so though. Glad to see Hybrid Camry and the Ecoboost Falcon up there. Both great value family size vehicles. I thought the Up would have showed more of a challenge but a manual only option in this day and age wont cut it. Not interested in the clutchless model either as with 55kw it would make you hate driving.
  • Seth Black says,
    2 years ago
    1 like
    Great pick. The Toyota is sold under the Scion brand here in the States. Happened to see the article because it got picked up by BadBlue Car News (and is on the front page) -
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