TMR BEST BUY AWARD 2013
Of all the new cars launched into the Australian Market in 2013, which is the BEST BUY, the car most worthy of your hard-earned dollars?
It's a market bursting at the seams - no other market on the planet is so over-supplied with choice and so fragmented. Only Toyota has managed to withstand the onslaught and hold steadfastly to the 20 percent market share it has held for twenty-plus years.
In this rapidly changing market, in this watershed year for the Australian car industry, we have selected a TOP TEN list of BEST BUYS from the new model releases of 2013.
The cars in this TOP TEN list are the cars you will buy - those competing for your dollars on showroom floors in 2014.
From this list, on Monday January 13, we will announce a winner: the TMR BEST BUY of 2013.
It was a tumultuous year - especially so for Ford and GM Holden - but also one where the car as a communication platform come of age.
Never before have we seen such technologies, apps and intelligent functions so widely available across the purchase price spectrum: from budget small cars, through family SUVs to premium saloons.
Now, truly, the merger between the car and ‘the information and entertainment age’ is complete.
And it was a year in which self-parking became mainstream. No longer the preserve of the premium sector, this technology, among a ballooning list of other smart technologies, also now sits across the market.
After tens of thousands of kilometres behind the wheels of the new models of 2013, we’ve assessed each contender on a balance of purchase price against quality, features, accommodation and dynamic excellence.
So, who are the contenders? Which cars, in our view, are among the ten BEST BUYS we can recommend to you.
In no particular order they are:
A tour de force from Holden, and, as it has turned out, Holden’s last hurrah in designing and manufacturing cars in Australia.
The VF Commodore is, through-and-through, a superbly crafted car: it handles exceptionally well, is quiet, refined and swift (in whichever engine configuration you choose), and has an interior that might have been lifted from a much more expensive car.
The ‘base’ model Evoke is barely a base model; it brims with smart technologies and premium apps like the MyLink infotainment system, iPod integration and Apple Siri Eyes Free, enhanced voice recognition and Bluetooth audio streaming.
Step up a model to the SV6 and you can add Park Assist, Blind Spot Alert, Reverse Traffic Alert, automatic-release electric park brake, Hill Hold Control and Hill Start Assist and Trailer Sway Control.
The one we like best of all is the LPG SV6, wagon and sedan.
It's a shame the market has swung so permanently away from large family sedans and wagons because this VF Commodore is the best car ever built in this country.
It is also, for what it offers, astonishing buying value.
Pricing ranges from $34,990 (Evoke) to $52,990 (Calais V V8)
Who said the French were losing the plot? A real surprise in size, performance and packaging, Renault’s little Clio is absolutely one of the best value buys of the year.
Comfortable on-road, with a balance and refinement that is a generation better than its closest Korean and Japanese competitors, this little hatch has really long legs and is an effortless tourer. You would happily drive it interstate.
And it's also laden with technologies; standard fare includes a seven-inch touch display with Bluetooth calling/audio connectivity, USB/iPod ports, MEDIA NAV and R-Link systems (in Expression and Dynamique models) which also includes sat-nav.
Then add keyless entry, fuel-saving, stop/start and an eco-driving guidance display, hill-start assist, cruise control, air-con, height- and reach-adjustable steering wheel, electric door mirrors, and electric front windows.
The Clio looks good and is smartly packaged with surprising interior room. Add the newly launched Clio RS to the mix, and there's a genuine good buy here for all seekers.
This little car is great buying and a sure sign of good things to come from Renault.
Pricing ranges from $16,790 (TCe 90) to $23,290 (TCe 120)
We said it at launch and we’ll say it again: "What we have here is a quality medium car - in dimensions, features, comfort and performance - but priced bang in the middle of the small car segment.
Skoda’s new Octavia adds a whole new meaning to 'affordability' for family car buyers."
It's not the last word in style - it's annoyingly bland - but there is nothing wrong at all with the way it drives.
In fact, think of that small car benchmark for handling and dynamics, Volkswagen’s super Golf Mk7, and you’ve precisely summed up the Octavia.
It offers a choice of engines typical of the Volkswagen/Audi stable of cars - a 1.4 litre 103TSI, an eager 132TSI petrol turbo and, perhaps the pick of the stable, the stout 110TDI diesel.
Add a nicely put-together interior and real on-road finesse and there is a lot of appeal in Skoda’s new Octavia.
Then there’s the price range. And it's a knockout: $21,690 (Ambition 103TSI sedan) to $36,840 (Elegance 110TDI wagon).
Volkswagen Golf Mk7
Released mid-year to the Australian market, the delectable seventh-generation Volkswagen Golf is quite simply the benchmark for the sector.
In a year where Volkswagen had its challenges (and, it has to be said, didn’t cover itself in glory in its initial response to customer concerns), it also launched one of the best small cars this market has ever seen.
The new Golf sits on an all-new platform; a bigger and better one but also lighter and leaner than the model it replaced.
And the engine choices, they’re also new. The capacities are familiar, but the ‘twin-charging’ has gone, and outputs are both up, and down.
Everything about driving this car will put a smile on your face: this is one sweet-handling little car.
Quiet, comfortable, sporty and fun, every model in the Golf 7 range: how many cars offer that as a baseline?
Even the entry model 90TSI comes with a touchscreen with smartphone-like swipe and zoom functions plus Bluetooth, USB (iPod also) and SD memory card connectivity.
All in the range also feature smart collision avoidance technology - VW’s multi-collision braking system - as well as tyre monitoring system, battery regeneration and stop/start technology.
Pricing ranges from $21,490 (90TSI) to $34,490 (110TDI Highline)
This is a special car, the Ford Fiesta. Always a real charmer: it handles incredibly well, is surprisingly comfortable and roomy (for such a small car), and has real zest on-road.
It is such fun to drive and so easy to like, the new Fiesta range makes one of the best compact cars even better.
The headline act in the 2013 Fiesta is Ford's new SYNC system, providing hands-free voice-activated in-car connectivity with mobile phones and media players.
Drivers can use voice commands to control the SYNC system, answer phone calls or select music from their smart phones connected via Bluetooth or USB.
All models also have cruise control, power rear windows and a leather-wrapped steering wheel. Seven airbags are also standard, with dual front, dual front side, full-length curtain and a driver’s knee bag.
This is one well equipped small car... and then there’s the Fiesta ST.
As we said when we drove it, “The amount of joy that this little machine delivers is unmatched at its $25,990 price point."
“There might not be a lot of choice when it comes to transmissions or equipment, but this package is positively bulging with thrills.”
With 132kW of power underfoot and 240Nm of torque, this is one lively puppy. We absolutely loved it, and you will too.
Pricing ranges from $15,825 (Ambiente 1.5 petrol) to $25,990 (Fiesta ST).
Mazda CX-5 2.5
Mazda’s CX-5 is the number one selling SUV in the country, and for a very good reason: it is such a satisfying car and such an agreeable drive.
It offers that rare feeling of elan: of a sporty soul with an 'alive' driving feel, but with wagon space and practicality.
If the 2.0 litre (still available) had an Achilles heel, it was that it could feel a little ‘doughy’ if loaded up and having to suddenly find a bit extra - like when needing to overtake or accelerate out of a hole.
It didn’t take Mazda long to address the issue. The simple addition of a larger and more lively engine has made this excellent car an even better proposition.
Now with a 2.5 litre SkyActiv petrol under the bonnet, its numbers aren't huge - 138kW and 250Nm - but the extra power and torque is immediately evident.
And, with little impact on fuel consumption.
Open the doors, and you’re faced with one of the better interiors in the segment. Here, the clean understated lines and soft-touch surfaces of the CX-5 give it a real feeling a class and elegance.
It brims with both youthful charm and family practicality - and that’s a double few can boast.
The CX-5 2.5 litre is a very easy car to enjoy: spend your money on this car and you'll feel you've spent well - it's a quality purchase.
Pricing ranges from $27,880 (2.0 petrol FWD) to $48,620 (2.2 diesel AWD).
Crisp blade-edged lines, a low-slung nose, long bonnet and blistered arches, the Lexus IS range has real sporting visual appeal.
And each, from the entry-level IS 250 Luxury (at $55,900) to the IS 350 Sports Luxury ($84,000), is fastidiously built, sumptuously trimmed and really classy inside.
Simply put, few can match the attention to detail and premium feel that comes with a Lexus badge.
The 2013 IS range, in particular the entry 250 Luxury, puts a premium saloon with genuine sporting dynamics within reach of the family buyer.
And It's kitted to the hilt: standard are heated and ventilated seats, keyless entry and ignition, heated and power-folding wing mirrors, dual-zone climate control, cruise control, power-adjustable front seats, sat-nav and reversing camera.
Lexus' new Enform connectivity system is also standard across the range, using the driver's mobile phone data connection to search for nearby petrol stations (and their fuel prices), up-to-date weather info and also search nearby restaurants or stores.
You can also upload destinations to the car remotely from a smartphone or desktop computer, and, like Holden's MyLink system, Enform can be upgraded with new applications as they become available.
The standard audio system is an eight-speaker Pioneer unit that supports Bluetooth phone and audio integration, has a digital radio tuner and can play media via two USB audio inputs.
Add rear-wheel-drive dynamics, sharp steering and beautifully balanced handling - not to mention 153kW and 252Nm under the nose of the IS 250, and a very robust 233kW and 378Nm in the IS 350 - and you have a very potent premium car at a very good price.
Pricing ranges from $55,900 (250 Luxury) to $84,000 (350 Sports Luxury).
A Mercedes for the masses? The A-Class was one of the surprise releases of the year.
We expected it to be good, but we weren't prepared for just how good.
A small hatchback externally, the room inside is astonishing. And every one in the range is ‘built like a Merc’. That is, built like a vault, with a premium look and a premium feel and the smug satisfaction of that ‘three-pointed star’ in the nose.
From the 90kW and 200Nm of the entry model A 180, to the rapid A 250 Sport with 155kW and 350Nm, each in the range has ample power for the daily drive.
And each with a classy seven-speed twin-clutch 7G-DCT automatic handling operations manages to feel ‘just right’ on the road.
Ride quality is good, despite the standard-issue run flat tyres, and turn-in is sharp - all ingredients of a superbly developed car in one of the best hatch packages you’ll find.
And then there’s the absolutely mental A 45 AMG hatch.
And this is what we said at its launch: “After two days in the saddle (and some scorching track time), this I declare: Mercedes Benz remarkable A 45 AMG is the best high-performance hatch ever made, ever offered for sale.
“The best ever... simple as that.”
Pricing ranges from $35,600 (A 180) to $74,900 (A 45 AMG).
As Mercedes did with the A-Class, Audi surprised the market with dramatically reduced pricing for its new A3 range; most in the range dropping by a minimum of $4000.
And although substantially more affordable, Audi simultaneously lifted the standard equipment in each model. In doing this, a well-kitted premium small car is suddenly within reach of every buyer.
The thing about all Audis - the A3 included - is the superb feel, fit and finish to the interior. Few manufacturers can manage the understated sense of modern style, of quality, good taste and utility of an Audi interior.
Then there’s the handling and performance. The new A3 comes with a lightened platform, with aluminium front guards and bonnet, with a shift rearwards in the overall balance, and with the sparkling on-road performance that accompanies it.
In fact, for on-road dynamics, the new A3 is all about balance.
It is impossible not to enjoy this car on-road. With zesty engines - the 1.8 TFSI manages a 0-100km/h sprint time of 7.3 seconds - and a frugal thirst all round, one of the best handling small cars is also one of the most fuel-efficient.
The new A3 creates a new blueprint for the next generation of sporty hatches.
And if you really want to challenge hybrid fuel consumption figures, have a look at the 1.6TDI which manages an average fuel use of just 3.9 l/100km, while also managing a 0-100km/h time of 10.9 seconds.
With, as standard fare, leather-appointed upholstery, rear parking sensors, dual-zone climate control, cruise control, automatic headlights and wipers, and a multi-function leather steering wheel with paddle shifters, there is little missing from the feature list.
Add Bluetooth hands-free calling and audio streaming, and an electrically-retracted 5.8 inch colour display with eight speaker audio, and you have one very, very appealing small hatch.
And at prices, across the range, that now lean on the Japanese and Koreans.
For what it is, and how well it does it, Audi’s A3 falls comfortably within our top ten BEST BUYS of 2013.
Pricing ranges from $35,600 (1.4 TFSI) to $42,500 (2.0 TDI).
Holden Cruze SRi
Still largely undiscovered, or maybe just a tightly-held secret, this car - the Cruze SRi with the 1.6 litre turbo - is a cracker.
With that feisty little powerhouse under the bonnet and a nicely fettled Australian-engineered suspension, the Cruze SRi’s ace is the price: just $22,490 for the manual and $24,690 for the auto.
Producing 132kW and 230Nm, the 1.6 turbo comes straight from the Opel Astra GTC. Those numbers, in this package, at that price, make the Cruze SRi very good buying.
Almost a hot hatch, but with similar interior space as the revered EH Holden of years past, the Cruze SRi has real get-up-and-go, as well able to fit a young family inside its doors.
It might not come with the best interior in the business - it borders on drab, in fact - but the rest of the package makes a strong case for your attention.
The 1.4 turbo remains available in the Cruze range, as does the 104kW/175Nm 1.8 litre petrol and 120kW/360Nm 2.0 litre turbo diesel.
All engines are available with a six-speed automatic transmission with a sport shift mode in SRi variants.
Pricing ranges from $19,490 (Equipe 1.8) to $22,490 (SRi) and $26,490 (SRi-V).
In a tough market, and with so many capable and appealing cars released in the year, there will always be deserving contenders which don’t quite make the cut.
The following is our list of honourable mentions; terrific cars, good buying and ones you will be proud to own:
About TMR’s BEST BUY AWARD:
This is the fifth year of an annual Award from The Motor Report, a top ten automotive website and the ONLY site in the top ten that has relied solely on ‘search’ and organic growth to achieve its ranking.
The TMR 'BEST BUY' award was previously conferred on New Year’s Eve, but is now announced mid-January. It is awarded to the car that, in the view of our road testers and writers, wins on a ‘BEST BUY’ comparison across the major market segments.
To be in contention for The Motor Report ‘Best Buy Award’, a car must:
- Be enjoyable at the wheel
- Offer well-balanced and predictable driving dynamics
- Be comfortable and well-finished inside and out
- Offer outstanding value in features and performance
- Have been released in the preceding calendar year
Previous winners and what we said then:
“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.”
“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.”
“Refined at the wheel, comfortable, quiet, with a drive experience well-adapted for Australia’s varying road conditions - and with fastidious build quality and attention to detail - the Hybrid Camry is very sharply priced and a landmark achievement for Toyota Australia.”
2009: Multiple Best Buy Awards across each of the vehicle segments (revised the following year).
Stay tuned: on Monday January 13, we will announce a winner: the TMR BEST BUY of 2013.