Cars of the year

The road to COTY glory starts here. Place your bets...

TOBY HAGON

THIS is it, the full rundown of the 43 eligible vehicles for our 2016 COTY award. And, no, you didn’t read that wrong. COTY 2016.

For the fi rst time since the award’s inception in 1963, Wheels COTY will be branded with the year in which the award is announced, rather than when the testing took place. It’s a mild tweak to the world’s longest continuously running motoring award, one that now refl ects the winner’s year of reign.

With prices stretching from $12,990 driveaway to half a million dollars, the list of eligible vehicles for the gruelling seven-day judging process is among the most diverse in the award’s 53-year history.

Only one will win. As editor Glenn Butler points out, COTY ain’t about giving everyone a gong, it’s about rewarding the best and highlighting the standouts.

“Yes, its purpose is to identify the Car of the Year,” Butler said, “but COTY plays a signifi cant secondary role recognising the year’s exciting cars that had an impact on the broader market.”

In addition to Ford’s highly anticipated Mustang, the fi eld includes Mercedes-AMG’s even more muscular GT S, with its twin-turbocharged V8, while BMW’s radical i8 supercar teams three-cylinder petrol power with electric motors for a 266kW carbonfi bre punch.

BMW has high hopes the i8 will defend its COTY crown, fresh from the controversy of the brand’s fi rst win with the i3 electric car last year.

If you ever needed evidence of just how quickly the Australian car market is changing then this year’s infl ux of SUVs is it. For the fi rst time, SUV nominees effectively match the number of traditional passenger cars, with 21 eligible new models, from 17 manufacturers.

Small SUVs spearhead the charge, with the new Mazda CX-3 and Honda HR-V leading the infl ux of predominantly on-road, high-riding vehicles.

Then there’s the Jeep Renegade and its mechanical twin, the Fiat 500X, and the long-awaited Vitara replacement from Suzuki. Throw in Renault’s cute Captur and it’s a bumper compact SUV fi eld that’s indicative of a market increasingly overriding tradition.

Stepping up an SUV size and there’s Hyundai’s impressive Tucson – fresh from a comparison victory – and the latest Subaru Outback. Kia’s Sorento also brings high hopes from a brand that’s never scored a COTY gong; the Sorento impressed in our sevenseat SUV shootout thanks to well-sorted dynamics and a quality interior.

There’s also an all-new nameplate in the form of fl edgling Chinese brand Haval – one of 25 that could front Australia’s most experienced and hard-nosed judges – with three SUVs (H2, H8 and H9). Haval is almost unheard of in Australia, but it sells more SUVs in China (the world’s largest car market) than any other.

Our extensive list of SUV eligibles includes a host of luxury offerings in the form of the Mercedes-Benz GLC (a crucial new mid-size for the BMW X3 and Audi Q5) and GLE Coupe, the latter bringing some three-pointed-star fl air to the category created by the

THE LIST OF ELIGIBLE VEHICLES IS THE MOST DIVERSE IN COTY HISTORY

BMW X6. Speaking of which, there’s also a new version of the X6, which refi nes the SUV-coupe formula.

BMW also has its new X1, complete with front-drive underpinnings and some Aussie design infl uence from Calvin Luk.

Audi’s second-generation Q7 makes the list, having shed 325kg of its substantial bulk to bring newfound agility to the sizeable seven-seater.

Land Rover’s Discovery Sport arrives with a famous nameplate wrapped in smaller packaging, but it’s the cleverness of this Freelander replacement that could make it a COTY dark horse.

Volvo, too, is hoping its all-new XC90 – the fi rst since the original some 12 years ago – can deliver COTY excellence.

The Swedish seven-seater brings new thinking under the bonnet in the form of a range of four-cylinder engines, as well as one of the most advanced active safety systems fi tted to a production car.

Rounding out our fl ood of SUVs are two designed with off-road conditions in mind.

The Ford Everest was developed extensively in Australia and is being produced in Thailand alongside the Ranger ute on which it’s based, while Toyota’s Fortuner – also the result of local engineering input – is a revival of the concept behind the once popular 4Runner, teaming new-gen Hilux mechanicals with a seven-seat body.

That Hilux leads a trio of utes eligible for COTY contention this year. It is all-new – Toyota says only the Toyota sticker across the tailgate is carried over – and refi nes the popular dual-cab formula b bo four t sys o r dev an alon it a beh team mechanical o contentio s acro an form

LOUD AND CLEAR

AFTER the spirited discussion generated by last year’s victor, we’ve clarifi ed the judging procedure and tweaked the fi ve key pointsscoring criteria.

This year’s event marks a step-change in transparency and inclusiveness, but reputations will still count for nothing and impartial objectivity reigns. And the winner will have gone through the industry’s most exhaustive selection process.

COTY remains our celebration of the cars of the year. The whittling process starts here. genera ju p scoring cha bu nothin w th

increasingly used by families and as everyday vehicles. Can this more refi ned look and feel still convince as the ‘unbreakable legend’? It’s a big ask.

Nissan has its new NP300 Navara – an all-new iteration of the popular dual-cab, and the fi rst ute in its segment to eschew rugged leaf springs in favour of more controlled coils at the rear – and Mitsubishi’s all-new Triton also makes the fi eld.

From workhorse to track warriors, Alfa Romeo’s 4C is waiting patiently on the dummy grid. The super-focused carbonfi bre two-seater is billed as the renaissance of an Italian brand that’s been fl ailing for decades. It signals a new dawn for Alfa and that momentum should carry through to the forthcoming Giulia that we’re already looking forward to featuring in next year’s COTY.

Other sporties include Audi’s third-generation TT – in both coupe and roadster guises – and the Lexus RC that comes with a rare (for 2015) inclusion of a naturally aspirated V8.

When it comes to cars with pedigree, though, few stand up to the COTY torture as well as the Mazda MX-5. A winner in 1989 and 2005, the simple yet beautifully executed formula of a lightweight, rear-drive sports car has long impressed against the stringent Wheels COTY criteria. Mazda’s renewed focus on cutting weight and doing more with less will surely please the judges.

The most expensive vehicle eligible for Wheels COTY 2016 is the Mercedes-Benz S-Class Coupe; the top-whack S65 AMG model – complete with a twinturbo 463kW/1000Nm V12 – sells for $498,610, about 40 times more than our most affordable contender. Never let it be said that this competition is anything but a broad church.

Straddling the ground between sports car and luxury sedan is Jaguar’s most exciting entry in years, the all-new XE. It fi nally

FOR THE FIRST TIME, SUV NOMINEES ALMOST MATCH THE NUMBER OF TRADITIONAL PASSENGER CARS

NEW BUT NOT NEW ENOUGH FOR COTY

Some of the new-for-2015 models that are ineligible for Wheels COTY 2016:

HOLDEN INSIGNIA

Next generation will form the basis of the fi rst-ever imported Commodore, but this Insignia is no different to the Opel model available here previously (except it’s cheaper!).

INFINITI QX80

It might be new to the fl edgling luxury brand, but the QX80 is pure Y62 Nissan Patrol underneath, ruling it out of COTY eligibility. pu under C

CITROEN C4 PICASSO

It drops the Grand tag but doesn’t add enough of anything else, utilising the same platform and engine of the bigger peoplemover in the Citroen family. dro util eng mover

VF SERIES II

A worthy update for the end of the Aussie Commodore line (V8-powered models are the standouts), but the body is unchanged, as is the chassis on all but SS-V Redline.

TOYOTA CAMRY

Billed as the biggest mid-cycle update ever to the popular mid-sizer, new panels can’t hide virtually unchanged mechanicals.

HOLDEN ASTRA

Return of the Astra nameplate is big news for Holden, but the car is identical to the one that wore Opel badges here a couple of years ago.

gives Jaguar the fi repower against the mighty Mercedes C-Class and BMW 3 Series.

When it comes to crossing over, BMW’s 2 Series Active Tourer arguably pushes the boundaries harder than most. Its high-riding body gives it some people-mover cred, while its compact dimensions ensure city-friendly manoeuvrability. How will the judges feel about the fi rst frontdrive BMW ever?

It wouldn’t be COTY without plenty of mainstream offerings and it’s been a big year, with a fresh Subaru Liberty, the return of the Hyundai Sonata (replacing the i45), a new Kia Optima, VW’s latest Passat, and (fi nally) a newgeneration Ford Mondeo.

Seeing how manufacturers attempt to solve the same problem from divergent angles is one of the joys of COTY and the results are anything but predictable.

Aussie-made cars are again conspicuously absent from the list of COTY hopefuls.

The update to the Commodore, mpt m thing ussie-spicuously he in the form of the VF Series II with its excellent V8 option, simply isn’t enough to warrant an entry. Similarly, the largely new skin for Toyota’s Camry can’t hide the fact that what lurks beneath is largely unchanged.

Not that Holden will necessarily miss out on the COTY action; its Cascada convertible – a drop-top version of the soon-to-be-replaced Astra – is new to Australia so technically classifi es for entry, even if the latest version of the affordable four-seat convertible has been around for three years overseas. That ought to be more than enough to iron out any teething production issues.

Kia’s Carnival cuts a lone people-mover path, bringing a new body that still offers the same eight-seat value that has made it a segment leader.

But it’s the affordable end of the market that offers so much COTY promise. Suzuki’s unassuming Celerio brings serious $12K value with a thrummy three-cylinder while Skoda’s Fabia packs plenty into its sub-$20K Euro package.

For now our challenge is to whittle those 43 eligible models – compromising more than 140 variants between them – down to a more manageable COTY fi eld. By the time you pick up the next issue we’ll have that sorted. Hopefully.

AN AUSSIEMADE CAR IS AGAIN ABSENT FROM THE LIST OF HOPEFULS

KEY COTY CHANGES

More inclusive selection process Minimum sales requirement scrapped Criteria refi ned to remove unknowables such as plant effi ciency Award name now matches the year of reign ...and no Peter Robinson, who for 43 years helped shaped the world’s longest-running award for motoring excellence.