TMR Team | Jan 26, 2015

Which cars, released in the past 12 months, are the TOP TEN ‘best value buys' of the moment?

Which offer exceptional quality and excellence, the right features, finish, and dynamism at the wheel, to truly deserve a place among the best cars of 2015?

And which should you have on top of your shortlists when choosing your next new car purchase?

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The following cars, listed alphabetically, each released in the past 12 months, make up our TOP TEN, the ones we would recommend most strongly to you.

For each, we’ve spent many hours, many days, and, for some, many weeks at the wheel.

And we’ve looked closely at the value offering - the balance between purchase price, features and performance - and what each offers in the context of its competitors in its segment.

How well it ‘fulfils its brief’, how well it does what it’s supposed to do.

Buying a car is expensive; it’s a balancing act between heart and head, a wrestle between ‘purpose’, need and, yes, enjoyment at the wheel.

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Making the right choice can be tough.

We hope that our time spent testing and analysing each against the other, can help you narrow the field so that you get the car that’s right for you and that, every day when you take the wheel, you enjoy.

Which is our pick - the BEST BUY 2015? You will need to wait till 8:00pm (AEDT) tonight to find out. That’s when we will pull the covers off The Motor Report’s Best Buy Award, 2015.

Here is our TOP TEN to think about until then.

 

BMW i3

  • Price: $63,900 - $69,990 (plus on-roads)
  • Engine/trans: 125kW/250Nm electric motor | 1spd transmission
    The Range Extender i3 carries a 647cc two-cylinder petrol engine acting as a generator
  • Energy use listed: 12.9kWh/100km | tested: 14.9kWh/100km
 

OVERVIEW

BMW’s new i3 is an odd-looking unit, but is, as we commented at launch, absolutely dripping with futurism.

It is filled with the latest in weight-saving and eco-technologies, with a super-lightweight chassis, with recyclable and reusable materials and propelled solely by electric power, or, by electric power with a range-extending small twin-cylinder petrol engine.

Like the Volt and Mitsubishi’s Outlander PHEV, you can happily pack up and head interstate and the range-extending petrol engine will keep things charged to get you there. (You will need to top-up with petrol along the way.)

At $63,900 as a starting point for the all-electric Battery Electric Vehicle (BEV) i3, it may be priced out of reach of many younger buyers and families looking for a second car, but this is a high-quality vehicle that is great to drive and laden with futurist technologies.

The i3 with 647cc Range Extender engine (or REx) starts from $69,900.

Both models feature an electric motor that delivers 125kW and 250Nm, sending power to the rear wheels through a single-speed transmission.

But its ability to run on electricity alone, rather than fossil fuels, will not only save at the pump but help in another small way to reduce the carbon footprint of inner-city cars (where fossil fuels are particularly wasteful).

More to the point, the i3 is a BMW, and, at the wheel, you will discover it carries that typically dynamic and satisfying BMW nature.

As we found when testing, it is not without its flaws, but “the i3 is pretty much the best thing around” in compact commuter cars.

 

OUR REVIEW VERDICT: 4.5/5

As an everyday runabout that's got plenty of room for four, can fit in tight parking spots, is easy to drive, is far from slow, costs substantially less to run than petrol-powered equivalents and isn't lacking in mod-cons, this i3 from BMW is the perfect city car.

Yes, it's priced out of reach of most of us, but it is barely more expensive than a Holden Volt while boasting a greater electric range and a much nicer cabin.

This is quite possibly the best city car ever created. As a sign of things to come, of high-quality EVs with appeal to the driver, the future is looking very good indeed in cars like BMW’s amazing i3.

MORE: BMW i3 News & Reviews | BMW

 

Citroen C4 Grand Picasso

  • Price: $43,990 (plus on-roads); one model grade: Exclusive
  • Engine: 110kW/370Nm 2.0 litre diesel
  • Transmission: 6spd auto
  • Fuel use listed: 4.5 l/100km | tested: 6.8 l/100km
 

OVERVIEW

One of the biggest surprises with Citroen’s C4 Grand Picasso is how well it drives. Driving some people movers is torture, but not this one.

It is also a people mover you would buy for its style and, remarkably, for its verve - it looks really smart and there is a willing diesel with a very handy 370Nm under its stylish futuristic bonnet.

The interior is superb, exceptionally well-featured, and - truly - amazingly spacious. And, as we commented at launch: “the vision from driver and passenger seats is fantastic; there is more glass in this car than a fish-tank”.

Among people movers in this country, the C4 Picasso has them shot to bits for on-road feel and handling, and comes with a lot more gear than the competing Honda Odyssey, Kia Rondo and Carnival.

It also feels more ‘car’, and less ‘bus’.

For the way it drives, for the features packaged into the purchase, and for the way it looks, Citroen’s new C4 Picasso shows the way a ‘people mover’ can be done.

 

OUR REVIEW VERDICT: 4/5

Citroen's C4 Grand Picasso is a really appealing and superbly conceived car. It is, in fact, a high-water mark in people-mover design and execution.

In the absence of one critical factor, it would be a rock-solid four-and-a-half star buy.

What we struggle with, even given the suite of clever technologies built into the Picasso as standard, and the superior feel to the handling and drive experience, is the price.

At $44k plus (and assuming you'll tick at least one option box), you’ll be staring at the better part of 50-large by the time you’ve got it in your garage.

But this is the car for the individual thinker, the one who swims against the tide, and who values ‘difference’. And is prepared to pay for it.

If that’s you, you will love this C4 Grand Picasso.

It’s not for the Odyssey buyer, neither for the Santa Fe or Territory, neither the Mercedes B-Class. They’re all way too conventional.

The Picasso stands apart.

MORE: Picasso News & Reviews | Citroen

 

Ford Kuga

  • Price Range: $27,990 - $46,990 (plus on-roads)
  • Engines: 134kW/240Nm (manual: 110kW/240Nm) 1.5 litre 2WD EcoBoost, 178kW/345Nm 2.0 litre AWD EcoBoost, 132kW/400Nm 2.0 litre TDCI diesel
  • Transmissions: 6sp manual, 6sp automatic
  • Fuel use listed l/100km: 7.0 l/100km (1.5 petrol), 8.6 l/100km (2.0 petrol), 5.7 l/100km (2.0 diesel) | tested: 8.5 l/100km (1.5 petrol), 10.6 l/100km (2.0 petrol), 8.3 l/100km (2.0 diesel)
 

OVERVIEW

Ford’s updated Kuga – with arguably the best engine choices in the segment – can now take the game to Mazda’s CX-5 on a whole lot of levels.

Don’t go looking for changes to the metal - it looks the same. It is the engines, a heart transplant, that transforms this car.

The 2015 Kuga is quite a different little beast to the Kuga it replaces.

Buyers now have a choice of three engines - a 1.5 litre and a 2.0 litre EcoBoost petrol turbo, and a feisty 2.0 litre turbo-diesel.

As we said when we reviewed the updated model: “ these are gritty, eager, enjoyable engines”.

The 1.5 litre produces a lusty 132kW and 240Nm when mated to the auto 2WD Ambient we drove; the 2.0 litre EcoBoost produces a hot-hatch-levelling 178kW and 345Nm.

Lastly, the turbo-diesel with 132kW and 400Nm is a very potent unit, a match for the diesel in the CX-5, and makes this small wagon a very flexible and strong family car.

But it’s not just the engines – the Kuga drives exceptionally well, is very comfortable on-road and has a classy interior feel and brilliant SYNC communication technologies.

 

OUR REVIEW VERDICT: 4/5

No question about it, the new engines transform the 2015 Kuga. The big surprise is the 1.5 litre EcoBoost. Vastly superior and more potent than the 1.6 it replaces, it makes a very strong pitch in the entry-level Ambient.

If you want real performance, the 2.0 litre EcoBoost is exceptionally lively - at least as quick as most ‘warm’ hatches - and the 2.0 TDCI diesel pulls like a train.

Add in a technology-laden interior, a premium-feel finish, and a $27,990 entry-point to the range, and you’ve got a lot of car here in the 2015 Kuga.

For on-road dynamics, it’s right with the segment defining CX-5. (That car, although released last week, missed the timing for our top ten. It will be eligible next year.)

Importantly, it also offers an unusually comfortable and compliant ride. Which is ‘the double’ really - no mashing of the kidneys on crook roads, and a really sporty urgency when asked.

The Kuga is a little under buyers’ radar at the moment. But that will change - this car is very good buying, is beautifully engineered, and will win hearts when the word gets out.

As a portent of things to come from Ford Australia, the future is looking good for the blue oval.

MORE: Kuga News & Reviews | Ford

 

Hyundai Genesis

  • Price Range: $60,000 - $82,000 (plus on-roads)
  • Engines: 232kW/397Nm 3.8 petrol 6cyl
  • Transmissions: 8sp automatic
  • Fuel use listed l/100km: 11.2 l/100km | tested: 10.2 l/100km
 

OVERVIEW

The Hyundai Genesis, the Korean brand's take on affordable luxury, is very impressive.

While it may lack the brand cachet of Audi, BMW, Mercedes and even Lexus, it drives well, has plenty of equipment, acres of space and most importantly feels like a bona-fide luxury car.

The fact that it equals or betters some of its German rivals in certain areas is remarkable considering its $60,000 pricetag on entry.

Two option packs are available, with the most expensive taking the retail price up to $82,000, but powertrain options are limited to a 3.8 litre naturally aspirated V6.

Each of the Genesis models when in our hands attracted more than their share of attention. And the verdict from those who took a closer look was overwhelmingly positive.

This release is the surprise of the year. Few of us thought that Hyundai could get it so right, straight out of the blocks. There is a distant memory of Lexus once doing the same.

 

OUR REVIEW VERDICT: 4/5

It’s easy to underestimate the Genesis.

But it isn’t until you inspect the craftsmanship, indulge in the comfort, and put the Genesis through its paces that you realise how accomplished and impressive this car is.

Perhaps you don't need to extend all the way the Ultimate - at $82,000 it's getting away. But the entry model at $60,000 is very strong buying.

Whichever model you choose though, the Genesis is every bit a proper luxury contender.

Sure, the lack of pedigree will deter some at this end of the market. That said, give it time (Hyundai is allowing itself plenty) and you will see a steady increase in the Genesis’ fortunes.

But do have a look; the Genesis is something special.

MORE: Genesis News & Reviews | Hyundai

 

Mazda3

  • Price Range: $20,490 (Neo manual) - $42,230 (XD Astina automatic) plus on-roads
  • Engines: 114kW/200Nm 2.0 petrol 4cyl, 138kW/250Nm 2.5 petrol 4cyl, 129kW/420Nm 2.2 diesel 4cyl
  • Transmissions: 6sp manual, 6sp automatic
  • Fuel use listed l/100km: 5.0 (2.2 diesel) - 6.1 (2.5 petrol)
 

OVERVIEW

It’s one of Australia’s favourite cars, the Mazda3, and with good reason.

With this car, like the CX-5, Mazda has the formula right. Handsome, packed with just the right amount of features, reasonably-priced and a joy to drive, there is little wonder the new 3 has so quickly won so many friends.

Launched 12 months ago, the 3 has a distinctly European feel to its interior design, and carries a premium aura that belies its $20,490 starting price.

The 3, in many ways, is the car that bridges the divide between Japanese pragmatism and reliability, and European flair and sporting feel.

It also carries a zesty youthful vigour, and is very good buying (whatever your age).

 

OUR REVIEW VERDICT: 4.5/5

Mazda’s previous model 3 managed to cling to second spot in Australian sales charts at the end of its lifespan.

That alone is a measure of the success of this car in this market. But if the old 3 was a sales juggernaut, this new one that is so much improved will - yet again - take the market by the throat and win the affections of buyers both old and new.

And it deserves to.

Not only is it bigger, it’s better built, better equipped and better engineered. In fact, Mazda itself describes the new 3 as being “better in every way”. It’s the understatement of the year.

MORE: Mazda3 News & Reviews | Mazda

 

Mercedes Benz C-Class

  • Price Range: $60,900 - $74,900 (plus on-roads)
  • Engines: 135kW/300Nm 2.0 petrol 4cyl, 155kW/350Nm 2.0 petrol 4cyl, 100kW/300Nm 1.6 diesel 4cyl, 155kW/500Nm 2.1 diesel 4cyl, 150kW/500Nm 2.1 diesel hybrid
  • Transmissions: 7sp automatic
  • Fuel use listed l/100km: 4.0 (Hybrid) - 6.2 (2.0 petrol)
 

OVERVIEW

Mercedes-Benz has a game changer with the new C-Class. It was one of the most hotly-anticipated new releases for 2014, and oozes quality, space, style in buckets, performance and cachet.

Beautifully finished, with supreme handling poise, and with a suite of small but potent turbo engines that deliver astonishing performance and fuel economy, the new C-Class is the defining buy in the luxury segment.

Few cars just ‘do everything right’, the C-Class is one of that few.

There are also more standard features and technologies.

LED headlamps, a digital radio tuner, anti-collision auto-braking and front electric seats are now standard on every model, and higher-end gear like a head-up display, touchpad controller and air-suspension are also available on the C-Class range for the first time, but as cost options.

Of course, it’s not cheap; the base model C 200 petrol retails for $60,900, the price of entry has risen by $1000. But real quality comes at a price.

 

OUR REVIEW VERDICT: 4.5/5

We were expecting it to be good, but this new C-Class is very good.

Even for a brand like Mercedes-Benz, where the expectations will always be high, the new C-Class feels superbly high-end even at the C 200 entry-level.

This new model sets the bar for other premium marques, and, though it competes in a fiercely contested category, right now we can't think of another luxury car with quite the visual sparkle and premium feel of the C-Class.

If you’re in the market for a luxury mid-sized car, and the price is not too much of a leap, the new C-Class demands your attention.

MORE: C-Class News & Reviews | Mercedes-Benz

 

Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV

Price Range: $47,490 - $52,490 (plus on-roads)
Engines: 87kW/186Nm 2.0 litre petrol + two electric motors (137Nm front, 195Nm rear)
Transmissions: No gearbox, just a single-ratio transaxle
Fuel use listed l/100km: 1.9 l/100km (91RON) | tested: 2.1 l/100km. (Our 'tracked' average: 3.8 l/100km)

 

OVERVIEW

Mitsubishi’s Outlander PHEV, the world’s first plug-in SUV hybrid, was another of the surprises of 2014.

It is, in fact, a brilliantly conceived car that does so many things so well. Mitsubishi has some ageing models in its fleet, some past their bedtime, but the PHEV is absolutely not one of them.

With a range beginning at $47,490, this plug-in hybrid does most of the things the BMW i3 does, and most of the things the Holden Volt does, but is at least $15,000 cheaper than each of those.

And no other plug-in hybrid has the seating-room and luggage space of the PHEV, nor the family-friendly capabilities in equal measure to its green credentials.

The PHEV has a range of around 50 kilometres in full-electric mode. Enough, most days, for delivering the kids to-and-from school, plus a bit of running around for some shopping or getting to the gym.

And, should you plug it in to a 15amp household socket in the evening, you'll be able to do it again tomorrow - and not use a drop of fuel. Zero, nil, none.

But, like the range-extender i3, you can drive this car around all week on full electric power, then set off on an interstate haul the very next day.

You will then notice another feature of the PHEV: it is noticeably quiet and composed on road. Thanks to the battery sandwiched below the floor, it is limousine-like for its refinement and serene balance.

It’s also surprisingly lively; quick off the line and able to overtake rapidly. If the minor hassle of daily charging doesn’t deter you, you really must look at the PHEV if you’re considering a new family car.

 

OUR REVIEW VERDICT: 4/5

The closer you get to this car, the more you will like it.

It’s slab-sided styling may not appeal to everyone, but Mitsubishi’s PHEV is the best plug-in hybrid of the moment – and arguably, the best hybrid, full stop.

Like the Prius of a decade earlier, this car breaks new ground for families.

This very clever piece of advanced EV technology not only establishes a new affordable benchmark for sustainable motoring, but, by packaging these technologies into an SUV, Mitsubishi engineers have moved the goal posts significantly in driveability, ease-of-ownership, and practicality.

Anyone considering putting an electric vehicle in their garage should not feel daunted in any way by this car.

You can simply put it in ‘Drive’ and cruise around like in any conventional set of wheels. Except your fuel bills will be so low they’ll barely matter.

And everyone knows how to push a three-pin plug into a power point.

MORE: Outlander News & Reviews | Mitsubishi

 

Nissan Qashqai

  • Price: $25,850 - $37,990 (plus on-roads)
  • Engine/trans: 106kW/200Nm 2.0 petrol 4cyl | 6 spd manual
  • and 1.6 litre turbo-diesel: 96kW/320Nm | xtronic CVT auto
  • Fuel consumption listed (diesel): 4.9 l/100km | tested: 7.4 l/100km.
  • Fuel use listed (petrol): 7.7 l/100km | tested: 8.9 l/100km
 

OVERVIEW

Nissan is no stranger to SUVs. It's got seven separate models currently on offer in Australia, more available overseas and the potential for additions (like the Navara-based wagon) to arrive on these shores.

While some manufacturers have been a bit slower to arrive at the compact SUV party, Nissan is a familiar face, with both the tiny Juke and now the Qashqai stepping in for the Dualis.

The Qashqai takes that former car’s strengths and adds a bucket of refinement and style. Equipment levels are up, the interior has been modernised and the diesel now gets an automatic CVT gearbox as standard.

Across the board, this is a car that is greatly improved over the model that preceded it.

We found the Qashqai to be all that we hoped it to be. This is a very good small cross-over wagon. You won’t be taking it off-road, but you will enjoy it both around the city and on the highway.

 

OUR REVIEW VERDICT: 4/5

The new Nissan Qashqai looks set to repeat its success in the European market, here. For build quality, standard features, technology and family practicality, it is right up there.

And add to that its appealing up-to-the-minute style.

It’s good enough and spirited enough to bring a lot of new younger buyers back to Nissan showrooms.

With sharp looks, a well-presented interior and reasonable list of equipment, the Qashqai is thoroughly good enough to challenge the small SUV class.

If ever there was a Goldilocks story in the new car market, the Qashqai would be the star - it’s not too small inside, not too thirsty, not too big for the city and not too anonymous for its styling.

For many buyers, the smart and satisfying Qashqai will prove to be ‘just right’ among the rising tide of small SUVs.

MORE: Qashqai News & Reviews | Nissan

 

Peugeot 308

  • Price Range: $21,990 (Access manual) - $34,790 (Allure diesel auto) plus on-roads
  • Engines: 96kW/230Nm 1.2 petrol 3cyl; 110kW/370Nm 2.0 diesel 4cyl
  • Transmissions: 6sp manual, 6sp automatic
  • Fuel use listed: 4.6 l/100km (petrol), 4.2 l/100km (diesel)
 

OVERVIEW

The new Peugeot 308 is one of the best we’ve seen from this French giant for quite a few years.

With a beautifully finished interior, and styled with great flair, it captures the strengths of Peugeots-past, and adds just the right touch of modernism and on-road zest to appeal to discerning buyers.

This is a very enjoyable car, and one that feels a cut-above its quite surprising $21,990 entry-point. There is a lot of European quality and style packaged into that price.

Even the top-spec models will surprise for their value.

Of course, while it has scooped a bunch of European-market awards (including Car Of The Year), it hasn’t been around long in this market and is yet to make a meaningful impact in the small car segment.

But it absolutely deserves to sell well. Priced roughly the same as the Golf, the 308 may have just raised the bar in the small car segment.

For engine choices, there is an eager 1.2 litre three-cylinder engine and a grunt-filled 2.0 diesel. But it also offers a great ride and very decent handling.

A 1.6 turbo will join the line-up later in the first quarter this year, followed by the GT performance hatch. The 308 range gives you a lot of reasons to drop into a Peugeot dealer.

 

OUR REVIEW VERDICT: 4/5

If you were underwhelmed by the previous-generation 308, you’ll be blown away by the new one.

It truly represents a return-to-form for Peugeot.

The new 308 is a smart-looking European hatch that doesn’t carry a huge price-premium, handles like a dream and is built to a very high standard.

Importantly, as a European contender in this hard-fought small car segment, the new 308 has the right stuff to stand toe-to-toe, eye-to-eye with the Volkswagen Golf, which has long been the gold standard here.

MORE: 308 News & Reviews | Peugeot

 

Subaru WRX

  • Price Range: $38,990 (WRX manual) - $45,990 (WRX Premium CVT) plus on-road costs
  • Engine: 197kW/350Nm 2.0 litre
  • Transmissions: 6spd/8spd CVT auto | 6spd manual
  • Fuel consumption listed l/100km: 9.2 (manual), 8.6 (CVT) | Tested: 12.8
 

OVERVIEW

The king is back. Rex rules.

This new WRX is improved everywhere. The Impreza interior, shared by the WRX, no longer looks like it was borrowed from last decade; there is a sense of quality inside these doors that has been missing for at least two generations.

This new model is nicely trimmed, comfortable, and airily modern.

And, on road, it’s an absolute belter. The 2.0 litre turbo boxer ‘four’ up front, though carrying a smaller capacity than the 2.5 litre it replaces, is more powerful and less peaky, and will howl its head off but uses less fuel.

There is a sense that this Rex has ‘grown up’.

Though it has lost none of its manic ability to straighten a mountain road, it has moved subtly a little sideways to now feel more the ‘grand tourer’, and less the brat.

Below the new WRX is the best front-end we’ve seen for a long-time. It tucks in and turns so well that it sets a new standard - in this price segment - for cornering response, feel and precision.

 

OUR REVIEW VERDICT: 4.5/5

The new WRX is not just a better car than the model it replaces, it streets its competitors.

High-performance driving doesn’t get much better. We love the Renault Megane RS 265, but this Rex is far more liveable: less the stick of dynamite, but just as quick.

It feels bigger, roomier and more focussed on-road than Ford’s Focus ST, which we also like a lot. But the Focus will be left for dead by the Rex on a mountain road.

Ditto, VW’s Golf GTI, while beautifully finished (it is a Volkswagen after all) it does not have the bullet-proof, straining at the leash feel of the WRX.

This is a very, very good car from Subaru. It is very well priced, beautifully engineered and a gem on-road

(Rex mortuus est, vivat rex.)

MORE: WRX News & Reviews | Subaru
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