Today is January 25th, 2019. It’s a special day for Redline, as it marks the second anniversary of this blog. As promised, I’m posting a special article to celebrate the occasion. So, ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the inaugural Redline Car of the Year!
Four judges sorted through the hundreds of new model launches and mid-life facelifts released on the Australian market in 2018, and formed a list of their top 40 picks. This list was whittled down to just 10, with the remaining vehicles ranked to determine the final Car of the Year.
The shortlist goes as follows, in alphabetical order:
- BMW X5
- Ford Focus
- Holden Commodore
- Hyundai i30 N
- Hyundai Santa Fe
- Jaguar I-Pace
- Mercedes-Benz A-Class
- Toyota Corolla
- Volkswagen Polo
- Volvo XC40
Let’s begin the countdown, from 10th place to the overall winner.
#10 – Holden Commodore
In 10th place is the all-new, ZB-generation Holden Commodore. It’s a major departure from Commodores of old – the iconic rear-wheel-drive V8 layout has been dropped in favour of more conservative turbo-four and V6 engines that drive the front or all wheels.
Despite the radical change, the new powertrains are excellent, with a punchy entry-level turbo engine and a grippy all-wheel-drive system. However, the poorly-calibrated nine-speed automatic, disappointing performance from the range-topping VXR and low quality interior materials mean that the new Commodore takes the wooden spoon in this contest.
#9 – Ford Focus
In 9th place is the new Ford Focus. The fourth generation of the Blue Oval’s small car is now sourced from Germany, and is a big step up over its predecessor. List prices have gone up across the range, although the Focus comes standard with a characterful 134kW turbo three-pot, eight-speed automatic, an excellent touchscreen infotainment system and a suspension tune designed by Ford’s European arm that manages to blend ride comfort with sharp, fun-to-drive handling.
However, Ford’s decision to fit only the wagon models with fully-independent rear suspension, along with the high price of entry to the range, relegate the Focus to just 9th place. An entry-level Ambiente variant with a non-turbo 1.5-litre engine and less kit is believed to be in the works – this could’ve upped the Focus’ score.
#8 – Jaguar I-Pace
In 8th place is the Jaguar I-Pace. It’s the British brand’s first foray into electric vehicles, which beats the Germans to the punch in the process. The charged-up mid-size SUV features a 294kW AWD drivetrain, a high-quality interior, lots of tech, impressive driving dynamics (for a two-tonne vehicle) and a real-world range of 470km. There isn’t really much to complain about.
However, the I-Pace was relegated to eighth place not because of its own flaws, but the strengths of the other contenders. The next seven cars are simply more revolutionary and noteworthy than the Jag.
#7 – Mercedes-Benz A-Class
In 7th place is the fourth-generation Mercedes-Benz A-Class. It has cemented itself as the leader in the premium hatch segment, thanks to sharp looks, high quality interior materials and benchmark levels of technology. The dual 10.25-inch touchscreens and MBUX infotainment system are revolutionary for a car of this size, with AI-driven functions, augmented reality navigation and a smooth, feature packed user interface.
Ultimately, despite one of the judges voting it as their overall car of the year, the A-Class lost out due to its firm ride with the standard fixed damper setup, hesitant dual-clutch automatic transmission and average practicality.
#6 – Toyota Corolla
In 6th place is the new Toyota Corolla. The world’s best selling car has been given an overhaul for 2018, with a bold and daring (but well-received) new look. The all-new TNGA platform that underpins it is equally as bold as, unlike previous Corollas, the twelfth-gen hatch handles well and rides softly over all bumps. Inside, there’s a higher quality cabin with more premium materials, along with a generous list of standard safety and comfort equipment.
The new Corolla isn’t perfect. The rear seats are not very spacious, and the boot measures in at a paltry 217 litres – 69 litres less than the smaller Yaris light hatch positioned below the Corolla. In addition, there’s no Apple CarPlay or Android Auto available anywhere on the range, and satellite navigation is still a $1000 extra on the base Ascent Sport. Due to these major shortcomings, the Corolla takes sixth in Redline’s inaugural Car of the Year.
#5 – Volkswagen Polo
In 5th place is the Volkswagen Polo. The new Polo is much bigger than its predecessor, with a wheelbase that’s just 66mm shorter than the 2008 Mk5 Golf that was positioned a class above. That dimensional increase is most evident inside, where there’s class-leading passenger room and an impressive 351 litres of boot space. Technology wise, there’s been a major upgrade, with an 8.0-inch infotainment display fitted as standard, an optional fully-digital instrument cluster, as well as an array of advanced safety technologies.
The GTI performance flagship has also returned for another generation, with a detuned version of the Golf GTI‘s 2.0-litre turbo-four that produces 147kW and 320Nm. Sadly, it isn’t available with a manual gearbox, with a six-speed DSG being the only option.
It’s not perfect. The styling is still very Volkswagen-like (aka, bland), the optional packages available across the various variants get pricey quickly, and the new seven-speed dual-clutch auto still suffers from the same low-speed jerkiness as its predecessors.
The new Polo may be the new leader of the light hatch class, but its few (but notable) flaws prevent it from taking the overall Car of the Year title.
#4 – Hyundai Santa Fe
In 4th place is the Hyundai Santa Fe. The Korean brand’s fourth-generation seven-seater sports a bold and aggressive new exterior design that looks nothing like the conservative appearance of its predecessor. Inside, there’s a high quality cabin, with an 8.0-inch infotainment screen on higher trims, and an abundance of plush, soft-touch materials on the dashboard that would not be out of place on a more premium car.
On the top-spec Highlander, there’s an expansive list of standard safety equipment and technology, including a 360-degree camera, adaptive cruise control, and a one-of-a-kind feature that uses side-mounted sensors to prevent passengers from opening the doors when a cyclist or car is approaching.
However, the Fe’s engine lineup is not as commendable. The 2.2-litre turbo-diesel may provide ample performance, but the 138kW base petrol engine leaves a lot to be desired. In addition, there’s no powerful V6 option, nor is there an entry-level front-wheel-drive model.
Nonetheless, the Santa Fe has enough exterior aggression, interior sophistication and sophisticated technology to earn a fourth place position.
#3 – Volvo XC40
In 3rd place is the Volvo XC40. Volvo’s first compact SUV (and the first new 40 Series model in five years) is met with high expectations, and must be a standout to gain traction within its cut-throat market segment. The XC40 is aimed at younger buyers, evidenced by the funky styling, modern lines and optional two-tone paint. Inside, it features the same portrait infotainment screen and digital instrument cluster as larger Volvos, plus a set of ergonomic sports seats and orange interior carpets exclusive to the flagship R-Design.
The driving experience is great as well – the top-spec T5 engine offers plenty of punch, complemented by direct steering and little body roll. In addition, there’s plenty of safety tech, with Volvo’s praised Pilot Assist semi-autonomous driving system featuring as standard.
However, the XC40 is let down by its high servicing costs. With the top-tier SmartCare Plus servicing plan, each scheduled service (every 12 months) costs over $1000. In addition, the ride can be firm on the 20-inch wheels and R-Design sports suspension. As a result, the XC40 has been assigned to third place – a fantastic result for a quirky brand like Volvo.
#2 – Hyundai i30 N
In 2nd place, the runner-up to the overall Car of the Year, is the Hyundai i30 N. It’s the Korean brand’s first attempt at building a proper hot hatch, aimed at the Volkswagen Golf GTI, Ford Focus ST and Renault Megane RS. It has been designed by the company’s new N performance division, led by ex-BMW M chief Albert Biermann.
Hyundai may have set their target high, but there’s no doubt that they’ve delivered. Under the bonnet is a 202kW/353Nm 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder driving the front wheels that’s good for a 0-100km/h sprint time of 6.2 seconds. As standard, it features an array of performance components, including a limited-slip differential, variable exhaust and adaptive dampers. The i30 N drives well too – a locally-developed suspension tune delivers excellent balance and an overall package that’s extremely fun to drive.
There’s lots of kit inside too, with a standard 8.0-inch infotainment screen, autonomous emergency braking, satellite navigation and more. That’s not even the best bit – the i30 N is priced from just $39,990 plus on-road costs, undercutting its competition that cost thousands more with less tech and weaker powertrains.
There’s not much to dislike, apart from the lack of an automatic gearbox, which will land in late 2019. Subsequently, the i30 N takes the runner-up spot in Redline’s Car of the Year.
Winner – BMW X5
Drumroll please… the winner of Redline’s inaugural Car of the Year is the all-new BMW X5.
The fourth-generation of the pioneering luxury SUV touched down in Australia near the end of 2018 with big shoes to fill. The biggest advances made by the G05 X5 over its predecessor have occurred inside, where there’s a fully digital BMW Live Cockpit gauge cluster and a new 12.3-inch infotainment screen running iDrive 7, which have been taken from the latest 3 Series and 8 Series models. Technology has been given an upgrade as well, with laser headlights, adaptive cruise control and all the latest gizmos, including a Reversing Assistant that tracks your steering inputs and can reverse out of tight and complex spaces.
Under the skin, the X5 is based on the same modular CLAR platform used by the X3, 3 Series, 5 Series and other models. That means it not only handles and drives well, but boasts a soft, comfortable ride thanks to optional air suspension. The engines under the bonnet are good too, with even the standard 195kW/620Nm ’30d’ inline-six turbo-diesel potent enough to satisfy all drivers.
Don’t just take my word for it. Here’s what the other judges said about the new X5:
Will: “BMW has evolved what was a great car into an excellent one, placing the new X5 firmly at the top of the class. The G05 drives as nicely as its F15 predecessor, but significantly ups the luxury credentials with a revised interior and a cushier ride. The tech also takes a big step up with an all-new iDrive system and all the latest driver aids. It is the same. Just better.”
Jordan: “For the new BMW X5, the folks in Munich have taken a risk in messing with a winning formula by giving their large SUV a revolutionary interior featuring BMW’s latest iDrive 7 infotainment system with a huge digital instrument cluster, all on a new modular platform shared with other new Beemers. The ‘base’ xDrive30d blends great dynamics, power and plenty of torque, while the M50d takes performance to another level thanks to its quad turbo setup. Great job, BMW.”
James: “The new BMW X5 has really stepped up its game in all aspects, becoming a clear class leader and a car truly deserving of the COTY award. Building upon what the previous F15 got right, the new G05 brings a whole host of technological advancements to the segment whilst adding a new meaning to luxury in the form of its vastly overhauled interior. However, most astounding of all is BMWs commitment to maintaining the price of the old 30d for the new model. A commendable achievement.”
Finding any major flaws with the new X5 is difficult. There isn’t much it does wrong – it’s comfortable, fast, luxurious, packed with technology, safe, practical and can seat seven. What’s not to love? For that reason, it deserves the title of Redline Car of the Year.
If you managed to get to the end of this article, thank you. It was a lot of work to write and plan, and I hope you enjoyed it.
Also, a big thanks to Will, Jordan and James, who helped judge this and determine the Car of the Year. It wouldn’t have been possible without them.
Cheers, to another prosperous year of excellent new cars and equally brilliant articles.