Mazda's CX-5 was last night named the AMI Insurance NZ Autocar Car of the Year, heading off a talented bunch of vehicles that emerged over the past 12 months.
It was hard work settling on the six category finalists, detailed below, and in the end, the fight for the overall COTY gong was a close-run thing, with just two points separating the winning Mazda CX-5 from the Volvo V40 in the runner-up position.
Reflecting the economic times, the average price of the six vehicles on test was just over $50k, and apart from the five-cylinder Volvo, all were powered by a four-cylinder engine. It was easily the most economical COTY drive-off ever, but no less entertaining than usual.
In testing the six category finalists, representing the entire spectrum of the new car market - small, compact, medium/large, SUV/utes, luxury and performance - were brought together for a back-to-back road evaluation.
The six finalists were put through a two-day road test with the journey is broken up into six legs. Throughout the course of both days, they were assessed out of 100 points and are scored on aspects such as design, performance, safety, practicality, specification and value. The judges swapped from vehicle to vehicle and completed a score sheet, weighted so that cars in each category could be reasonably compared with those from another.
The CX-5 topped three judges' score sheets and amassed a crucial two points more than the Volvo V40 to see it finish on top making it the second year in a row that the winner of SUV/utes category has gone on to take the overall award.
Small Car of the Year: Suzuki Swift Sport
The Swift was a winner last year, and with its sportiest halo variant again eligible for the award on the account of a new powertrain, we couldn't help but vote it a winner again in 2012. This is a lot of car for less than $30k. Suzuki has added refinement and economy yet kept the performance and fun-to-drive nature intact. OK, they might have taken away the delightful steering, but a more liveable yet still lovable Swift Sport is all good in our books.
People's Choice winner: Suzuki Swift Sport.
Compact Car of the Year: Volvo V40
The executive newcomer snuck in late to steal the title from the Civic Euro, winning on its styling, safety and overall desirability. It fits plenty into its compact dimensions, including some of the best seats around and an interior design that wouldn't look out of place on a vehicle costing twice as much. It's a comfortable yet dynamic car that does so many things so right.
People's Choice winner: Honda Civic Euro
Medium/Large Car of the Year: Toyota Camry
While we liked the Falcon Ecoboost, its lone XT offering wasn't enough to win a gong here, while the 300C is a great car if a little pricey. Hyundai's i40 spiked some interest, but the quiet achievers are the ones you need to watch, like the Toyota Camry, which picked up the award. The most improved player of the year proves that big cars aren't dead. Now more interesting to look at and drive, it's refined, well specified and no longer a rental car joke.
People's Choice winner: Hyundai i40
SUV of the Year: Mazda CX-5
There were plenty of contenders here, but the CX-5 was a clear victor with the clean-sheet approach to its design. With a choice of two- and four-wheel-drive options, frugal petrol and powerful diesel engines and three well considered model lines, the CX-5 range has something for everybody. It's a versatile wagon that offers room enough yet doesn't waste space. That it looks good, is well priced and above all, is satisfying to drive sees it the deserved winner.
People's Choice winner: Mazda CX-5
Luxury Car of the Year: BMW 3 Series
The 3 Series is another to stand head and shoulders above the other class contenders. With the latest edition, BMW has kept the essence of the model intact, meaning that it remains a car with the driver at its heart, but now there is even more of the good stuff, seemingly without the loss of any character. The 3 is more spacious and refined yet cleaner and quicker while also being safer. It's a more-of-everything scenario, which makes it a hard-to-beat package.
People's Choice winner: BMW 3 Series
Performance Car of the Year: Toyota 86
What could possibly beat not only a brilliant new Porsche 911 but also the astounding Boxster? A $40,000 Toyota is what. The 86 is a sports car that has gone back to the basics. It offers balanced, entertaining handling, its controls are a tactile delight, and its engine needs to be worked to deliver. The accessibly priced 86 also wins because of its usability in terms of the everyday, and when exercising its abilities.
People's Choice winner: Toyota 86
PEOPLE'S CHOICE AWARD
Winner of the inaugural award is the Toyota 86, which netted 15 per cent of the overall votes, nudging out the Mazda CX-5, which accounted for 14 per cent.
Judges comments on the overall Car of the Year winner, the Mazda CX-5:
Paul Owen (NZ Autocar contributor): "Mazda has managed to inject a diesel SUV with the MX-5 gene."
Shaun Summerfield (NZ Autocar contributor): "The impressive CX-5 is miles ahead of other Japanese and Korean SUVs. In fact, it's better than most of the Europeans as well."
Rob Maetzig (motoring editor Taranaki Daily News): "The CX-5 represents everything that is good about Mazda at present and it's easily the best vehicle of its kind on the market."
Paddy Casey (AMI guest judge): "Plenty of space, comfortable with lots of extras in a value-for-money package."
Kyle Cassidy (editor, NZ Autocar): "Does so many things well and there's little wrong with it."
Peter Louisson (senior editor NZ Autocar): "Best truck in the segment, and a great Kiwi wagon."
Dave Moore (motoring editor The Press): "The complete family car."
MOTORCYCLE OF THE YEAR
Also named overnight was the Motorcycle of the Year which has gone to the MV Agusta F3, beating the new Ducati Monster 659.
Judge Paul Owen said: "These are two focused bikes targeting different markets. The Ducati is the best learner bike ever created, however, it's shaded here by a finely honed sports bike with a full ensemble of electronic riding aids that only costs $5k more."