Top finalists for Car of the Year revealed
It's been a tough year for the car industry, as COVID lockdowns emptied showrooms and halted production lines.
Models were delayed and launches were postponed as overseas factories closed and the local industry dealt with a savage drop in sales.
But despite the tough economic conditions, the boats finally arrived and Australian car buyers were treated to a rush of new models in the second half of the year.
This year, we've sampled more than 100 cars from Fords to Ferraris, before settling on a "magnificent seven" finalists worthy of our 24th annual Car of the Year award.
COVID has forced a change in format for this year's testing.
Last year we ran a playoff-style contest, with the three best new entrants in seven categories competing head-to-head in a comparison test before the winner progressed to the finals.
This year, we'll still award winners in each category, but we've decided simply to pick the best seven new arrivals for 2020, regardless of the type of vehicle.
That means SUVs dominate the finalists, reflecting the changing tastes of buyers.
In all, there are five SUVs, one hatchback and a sedan.
Judges with decades of experience will put the field through their paces, examining the vehicles according to five key criteria: value for money, performance, design, safety and technology. The winner, and the best cars in each category, will be named on Friday, December 4.
FORD FIESTA ST
Compact cars are disappearing (Honda Jazz), becoming expensive (Toyota Yaris), or focusing on performance (Hyundai i20N) as buyers adopt SUVs. Ford's Fiesta ST is for buyers who don't want a dynamically compromised, high-riding crossover. Packed with features and powered by a charming three-cylinder turbo engine and blessed with engaging handling, the Fiesta is for folks on a budget who love to drive.
By replacing the Ford EcoSport with the Puma, the Blue Oval traded its worst car for one of its best. Fun to drive, generously-appointed and competitively priced, the Ford Puma is a worthy addition to the baby SUV crowd. Safe, fun and interesting to look at, the Puma is a return to form for Ford.
Volkswagen's Czech cousin has form at Car of the Year, taking the trophy in 2017 with the Kodiaq family SUV. The Kamiq is its smaller cousin, blending sophisticated engineering with myriad "simply clever" touches in an attractive package. Based on VW's similar-sized T-Cross, the Kamiq brings loads more equipment for the money, including a powered tailgate and rear armrests to join handy features such as USB points in the back seat.
TOYOTA YARIS CROSS HYBRID
First-rate driver aids and the addition of a new central airbag help make the new Toyota Yaris Cross an impressive machine. It also brings to seven the number of high-riding Toyotas there are to choose from. The baby SUV is surprisingly spacious - bigger than Toyota's original RAV4 - and an affordable hybrid option brings impressive efficiency.
Volkswagen introduced a pair of SUVs in the compact T-Cross and larger, Golf-based T-Roc. While the smaller model is bested by its Skoda Kamiq cousin, the T-Roc's sharp looks, impressive roadholding and clever tech make it a contender. As hatchback sales decline, the T-Roc is positioned to attract customers who don't want a Golf.
The previous Kia Sorento made history in 2015 as the first SUV to win our annual award. Bigger and better than before, the Sorento GT-Line combines generous space for seven people with luxury-car tech at an affordable price.
Sedans might be out of vogue for luxury buyers, but that doesn't make them irrelevant. BMW's 3 Series came close to winning in 2019, and Audi's A4 has the ingredients to spring a surprise. Attractive, dynamic, and loaded with innovative features, the new A4 is the quintessential Audi.
A handful of impressive cars missed our cut-off date, ruling out the Toyota GR Yaris, Kia Carnival, Lexus IS300, Hyundai Palisade and more. Other models were deeply impressive but a little too expensive to vie for outright victory (including the Porsche 911 Turbo), compromised on safety (Jeep Gladiator), or were less polished than rivals (MG ZST).
Value for money: Pricing, equipment, running costs, capped servicing, warranty, service intervals, resale and material quality.
Performance: How the car accelerates, stops, shifts gears, corners and soaks up bumps. Also refinement and fuel efficiency.
Design: Leg and headroom, ergonomics, comfort and vision.
Technology: Connectivity, ease of navigating menus etc.
Safety: Physical crash rating and active safety aids.
Originally published as Top finalists for Car of the Year revealed