Autocar Car Of The Year
Volkswagen's Golf rules the roost in New Zealand after picking up its second major award inside a week.
After winning the NZ Motoring Writer Guild car of the year award last week, the VW Golf confirmed itself as the best drive around but being named the 21st winner of the AMI Insurance NZ Autocar Car of the Year 2013.
Judges are the motoring editors from Fairfax Media NZ and each involved in the driving and judging is an award-winner, with more than 120 years of collective experience in automotive writing and publishing between them.
In order for each of the vehicles to qualify, they must spend a week at the hands of each of the judges, before being eventually brought together with the other class winners for a final head-to-head shoot-out.
Here we wrap up of the day from the judges' annual drive off:
"I just saw God." Paul Owen has a bigger grin than David Cunliffe after cleanly delivering yet another political cliche. He has not yet seen the menu at our annual COTY lunch stop in Pirongia, so I know it is not the prospect of a BLT that has him so excited.
He comes a little closer, and I spot the telltale light sheen of sweat on his forehead, likely made up mostly of adrenaline. He is holding the key to the BMW M135i. Automatically there is an assumption that Owen must have discovered either his or the car's limits during the opening leg of judging day – turning it into his judgment day. "I don't mean having a moment on the road", he explained. "What I mean is that this is the best car anyone can buy on the market for less than six figures," Owen effuses. "It turns you into a God when you're driving it."
So the first car and already Owen has either picked his winner, or he is in a particularly generous mood. Either way, there is no doubting his rather brutal level of admiration for our Performance COTY.
"Getting out of it is like cutting off a leg."
Rather than being some great automotive 'love-in', the annual Car of the Year drive-off is a fairly harsh process. Each of the six cars chosen as the best in class are put to the sword, and while the marking system is adapted to reflect the strengths of each class there is no room for sympathy or allowances given. Dave Moore for example was less impressed by the M135i, "It's not practical. It is quick, but it's cold."
To his credit Owen backed up his emotion with some factual data. "What I really love about it is that it extracts so much performance out of a litre of fuel. If you look at the fuel usage figures it's just 7.5L/100km, which gives you a driving experience to rival a Porsche."
It may rival a Porsche dynamically, but surprisingly the BMW struggled to get away from the two cheapest cars in the COTY line-up (depending on the driver in the BMW-Ed). Both the Ford Fiesta ST and VW Golf were able to stay on the M135's bumper through every section of road. Leaving Moore more than a little impressed. "The biggest surprise was how the Golf kept up with the BMW".
Worthy of note was that the Golf matching the M135i in the final showdown was the TDI…not the 1.4 TSI, which we felt to be the pick of the bunch.
Volkswagen NZ possibly did themselves no favours by delivering the TDI which, while mighty impressive, is no match for the less expensive better balanced $39,750 1.4 Highline. Engine aside, the essential 'Golf-ness' was still the same. While the chassis genuinely surprised with its ability to match the more sporting contenders, the remainder of the car literally ticked every box…except the all too important 'bang-for-buck' thanks to the extra cost of the diesel engine.
Still, oil-burners were well represented this year, with the Mazda6, Ford Kuga and Range Rover all sporting diesel power. While we're at it, every single car had at least one turbocharger.
Common ground was harder to find amongst the judges this year, largely thanks to the strength of all six cars.
The closeness of the vehicles though, was at complete odds with the vastly different opinions of the testers. Take the Mazda6 for example; both Gerhard Kern and Rob Maetzig picked the wagon as their favourite. But where Maetzig raved about Mazda's 'Kodo - Soul in Motion' design strategy, Owen opined "It lacks the elegance of the previous design, particularly the exterior. I find it a little too contrived."
He didn't stop at the styling either, the 6's handling also coming under fire. "It's a fine car up to 7/10ths, when the rear starts bottoming out while trying to keep up with the three hatches".
However, Maetzig remained firm, "I'm the oldest judge, and maybe I'm more in tune with wagons. That's the beauty of having a variety of motoring writers; one man's good looker is not necessarily another person's."
He had support from an unlikely quarter: Peter Louisson. Renowned for loving cars to be light and fast…and pretty much nothing else. He didn't stop at defending the Mazda6's chassis, "It is a pearler of a motor and transmission, there's a lot about the 6 that's good." However, he didn't stop there "but there's a lot about it that's expensive as well."
Gerhard Kern, our AMI judge, said "The Mazda's best feature is its engine, an absolute gem, while the styling and build quality is right up there with the Golf." And we tend to agree.
Cost came up during pretty much every discussion. Like the Golf, the Kuga missed out on crucial 'bang-for-buck' marks due to a more costly Titanium version being put up for consideration. Moore gave the lowest score of the entire day to Ford's SUV. He was adamant the $11,000 cheaper Trend model would have stood a better chance for overall honours.
The price tag was less of a concern to Maetzig who found the Kuga to be somewhat of a killjoy, "the stability control was too aggressive, which is real pity." Louisson wanted no part of that, accusing Maetzig of "pushing too hard…it's great for an SUV." Remember, this is coming from a man who freely admits to being no fan of SUVs, so the Kuga really did win him over, with Doc offering, "praise for the dynamics of the Kuga", largely thanks to it sharing the C1 platform with the Focus."
His love for the SUV's turned out to be fleeting. He couldn't bring himself to like much at all about the Range Rover, which claimed the luxury COTY award. "The new Range Rover while touted as been 400kg lighter, is nowhere near that much lighter…it's remarkably quick…in a straight line, I just didn't like how it went around corners".
He has a point, at over 2400kg, and costing $170,000 the Rangie was undoubtedly the most substantial of the six finalists (double the price of the next costliest car), but for Moore it was a bargain.
"It costs less than a long wheelbase German Saloon, and you can't take one of those off-road…at least deliberately. Nothing comes anywhere near it for the money."
Kern agreed, "There are only superlatives here, it's highly capable and it should satisfy the most discerning buyer." An old fashioned 'back-seat' test revealed one weakness over the German competition, Owen noting, "the width of the rear seat is disappointing, with three adults struggling for shoulder room. I'd have thought that would have been a no brainer for Land Rover to ensure that the rear bench provided full accommodation for five."
So, tight inside but according to Maetzig, the Range Rover is also a tight handler, "I couldn't believe how good the Range Rover was, a great big SUV like that would have as much agility as a car a lot smaller and lot more compact."
Agility was something the cheapest car on test certainly didn't struggle for, costing nearly five-times less than the Range Rover, the Ford Fiesta ST was an automatic favourite for Louisson. "Nothing could get away from the Fiesta, which for its price is pretty remarkable; its performance and dynamics are incredible."
Kern agreed too. "The most rip-snorting fun I've had in a car in decades. Emotional attachment is unavoidable."
While Louisson struggled to choose between the Fiesta and the M135i, Moore has no doubts, calling the little ST, "The best performance car Ford makes." Pushed as to what made it so good, his reply was instant, "It was great fun."
Even Maetzig, who admitted to being the "Simon Cowell' of the judging panel, was all heart when it came to both of the sporting models. "I fell in love with the performance characteristics of both the Fiesta ST and the M135", said Mr Grumpy.
Love however, is not one of the 19 aspects each car is judged upon; in the end an AMI Insurance NZ Autocar COTY needs to be more than a car with a good vibe. As a result the Fiesta and M135, despite topping the lists of three judges (in Louisson's case it was a tie), were only able to muster enough points to finish 4th (BMW) & 5th (Fiesta) with the Kuga recording the lowest score.
Price and heft didn't count against the Range Rover in the final tally, edging out the M135i by just half a point. While the Mazda6, despite some debate over the overwrought styling, was too good an all-round package to ignore; finishing runner-up.
This year's winner was something of the quiet achiever of the bunch, able to match neither the pace of the sporting duo, while not that far behind the Range Rover's fit and finish nor the versatility of the Kuga and Mazda6.
Only one judge scored it as their number one, but across the board it scored well and the numbers do not lie. Meaning the AMI Insurance NZ Autocar Car of the Year 2013 is the Volkswagen Golf.
Small Car of the Year – Ford Fiesta ST: It was shaping as a lacklustre year for the small car in New Zealand, until the Fiesta ST flew in. We see it as the best thing to hit the small car segment in ages. The ST is overtly sporty, but that's ok by us. It's a small car big on performance and thrills per dollar spent, and it's all about entertainment behind the wheel. But it's also a good small car, a handy commuting tool if you don't mind a manual and has a high level of standard features and safety.
Compact Car of the Year – Volkswagen Golf : The key objective for the new Golf was to deliver a better all-round car and yet not charge a cent more for it. And Volkswagen nailed it with this new seventh-generation model. The new Golf is better to drive, more economical and better specified too. The Golf's attention to detail delights, as does the entire engineering concept which has amplified all the good bits and seemingly eliminated all the negatives. And capping it off, VW managed to cut the price across the board.
Medium/Large Car of the Year – Mazda6: The third-generation of the Mazda6 landed early this year featuring the full suite of the Mazda's Skyactiv technologies, meaning it's around 25 per cent more fuel efficient with no loss of performance. That's a good start but it's also roomier, better styled, more confident on road and packed full of technology, including new active safety features. We guess price rises were inevitable but we think the end result is worth the extra asked here.
SUV of the Year – Ford Kuga: Kuga has been a long time coming for Ford, but its sharp looks, driver appeal and feature-laden spec have real market appeal. There are plenty of Kuga models to choose from and all models feature the benefits of all-wheel drive, while it's competitive on space and versatility. What really sealed it for the team was the way Kuga drives for it's right at the top of its class.
Luxury Car of the Year – Range Rover: An all-new alloy model introduced early this year helped re-establish the Range Rover at the top of the luxury pile. Hugely capable it can tow three and half tonnes and wade through rivers, and although most buyers use them to drop the kids off at school, those children get treated to the finest interior ambience and ride quality currently on offer. It's big on space and refinement and is much improved in terms of economy and on-road ability too.
Performance Car of the Year – BMW M135i: BMW's M135i provided one of the best drives of the year. With 235kW of power, the little hatch is a serious flyer. The M-fettled chassis has that fabulous neutral BMW balance and in 135i trim, this car has an impressive power-to-weight ratio. We consider it the thinking man's muscle car; it can reel off 100 kays in under five seconds and yet return fuel use of 7.5L/100km if you show a little restraint.
Motorcycle of the Year - BMW R 1200 GS: The BMW's new R1200 GS is a stunning leap forward for the brand's most popular model and a worthy bike of the year. It's so incredibly complete and well executed that every big bike buyer should ride it at least once, just to experience what all the fuss is about.