It’s that time of year again. January 25th, 2020 marks the third anniversary of this site, and to celebrate we’re back with the second running of the most prestigious** award in the Australian automotive industry: Redline Car of the Year.
Like last year, four judges sorted through the hundreds of all-new models and major facelifts launched in Australia in 2019, with each forming a list of their top 15 picks. These lists were collated and filtered down to just 10, with the remaining vehicles ranked to determine the ultimate winner.
To succeed in this contest a vehicle not only had to be fit for purpose and be an objectively good offering, but stand out from the crowd and push the bar further, in innovation, style, performance or otherwise.
The list of contenders goes as follows, in alphabetical order:
- BMW 3 Series
- Kia Seltos
- Mazda 3
- Mercedes-Benz EQC
- Peugeot 508
- Tesla Model 3
- Toyota GR Supra
- Toyota RAV4
- Volkswagen Touareg
- Volvo S60/V60
Without further ado, let’s begin the countdown, from 10th place to the overall winner.
10th place: Mercedes-Benz EQC
In 10th place is the Mercedes-Benz EQC, the brand’s first electric vehicle ever to be sold in Australia and the first in a multi-billion-dollar line of EQ-branded EVs.
Priced from $134,900 plus on-road costs, it slots in between the performance-oriented GLC 43 and GLC 63 S AMG models – fitting considering its 300kW power output and 5.1-second 0-100km/h sprint time.
Unlike most EVs, you’d be forgiven for thinking the EQC was petrol-powered, since there are no bold design elements or futuristic cues to speak of. The interior is equally as conventional, with a high-tech, dual-screen dashboard design borrowed from existing Benzes featuring, running the brand’s excellent MBUX infotainment system. Rear seat and boot space are adequate for the class, too.
However, it’s in the driving experience that the EQC begins to fall apart. While performance is excellent, and the ride is both quiet and comfortable, the 80kWh (net) lithium-ion battery pack only facilitates an ADR driving range of 434km.
Convert that to the more realistic WLTP test cycle and you’re looking at 353km – far less than the 470km and 507km distances claimed by the Jaguar I-Pace and Tesla Model X Long Range respectively.
The compliance-car-like range combined with limited supply means the EQC falls short of being a true game-changer for electric vehicles Down Under.
9th place: Peugeot 508
In 9th place is the all-new Peugeot 508, priced from $53,990 for the GT seda… just look at it. Can you think of many sub-$60,000 cars that look better than the mid-size Pug? We couldn’t – that’s why we gave it second place in the Value category of the inaugural Redline Automotive Design Awards back in September.
However, Peugeot knows full well the 508 won’t survive in the tough Australian marketplace on looks alone, thus it has thrown everything but the kitchen sink at the sole variant of its sedan and wagon duo. The sportily-named GT packs luxurious Nappa leather trim, large infotainment and instrumentation displays, 18-inch alloy wheels, adaptive cruise control, full LED lighting and much more.
Peugeot has given its all under the bonnet, with the sole engine available to Australian customers the cream of the crop among the options available overseas. While its 165kW/300Nm outputs and circa-8-second 0-100km/h sprint time are modest, the 1.6-litre turbo-four is the first engine ever offered Down Under fitted with an emissions-reducing petrol particulate filter (PPF), a technology the Volkswagen Group and other brands have touted to be infeasible and incompatible with our low-quality fuel.
Other hits of note are the cavernous boot in both the liftback and wagon, and a competitive five-year warranty that’s sure to help quell the typical French-car stereotypes.
However, it falls down in certain areas. No entry-level variant will certainly hurt sales, as near-$60,000 on the road is a hefty chunk of change for a mid-size sedan sans a premium badge.
More importantly, there’s the interior: while it may look sharp, and the materials are soft and high quality, the small, low-mounted steering wheel and unconventional driving position could alienate a chunk of buyers. That’s why the Peugeot 508 is forced to settle with 9th place – a still-remarkable effort for a smaller brand.
8th place: Kia Seltos
In 8th place is the Kia Seltos, the Korean brand’s long-awaited contender in the hotly contested small SUV class.
The pint-sized crossover arrived in October with a four-strong, value-packed range, featuring standard autonomous emergency braking across all variants.
The interior is up to par with the class, sporting durable (though not that soft) materials and a large 10.25-inch touchscreen on top-spec variants (entry trims get 8.0-inch units). The locally tuned ride is compliant on upper-spec variants and suited to Australian roads, there’s plenty of space inside and Kia’s staple seven-year warranty is class-leading.
While it be a good steer, it’s under the bonnet where the Seltos falls down. Three of the four variants come standard with a 110kW/180Nm 2.0-litre naturally-aspirated four-pot which, despite its surprisingly impressive CVT auto, isn’t up to scratch compared to the 265Nm 1.6-litre turbo fitted as standard to the GT-Line (and optionally to the Sport+).
Combined with a stiffer ride on front-drive model grades thanks to torsion-beam rear suspension, the hard plastics inside and the fitment of mere 60km/h camera-based AEB on the S and Sport – which, in contrast to the related Cerato hatch, still permits a five-star safety rating – relegates the Seltos to eighth in this contest.
7th place: Volvo S60/V60
In 7th place is the all-new Volvo S60 and V60 duo, Sweden’s latest-generation answer to the BMW 3 Series, Alfa Romeo Giulia and their mid-size luxury sedan rivals.
The final Volvo models in the range to be overhauled (following the demise of the V40 hatch in 2019), the mid-size pair look sharp and suave, like somewhat like scaled down S90/V90s, with a contemporary Scandinavian design incorporating many of the brand’s latest styling cues.
The interior is equally as contemporary, sporting Volvo’s latest cabin layout shared with the XC60 and larger 90 Series family. The Tesla-esque 9.0-inch portrait infotainment display and 12.3-inch digital instrument binnacle – both of which are standard across the range, even on the entry-level $54,990 T5 Momentum sedan – are among the best in the class, while the materials feel plush and premium.
The S60 and V60 are the final models in the (global) lineup to gain an electrified option. While most Australian models get a potent circa-190kW 2.0-litre turbo-four, the flagship T8 ups the ante with an arsenal of turbochargers, superchargers and a plug-in hybridisation, together posting some pretty enticing figures: 311kW, 50km of EV range, 2.0L/100km and 0-100km/h in 4.3 seconds.
Too good to be true? Absolutely. The T8 is nowhere near as fast as its on-paper stats indicate, local tests pegging the 0-100 sprint time in the low five-second bracket – ouch. It doesn’t compensate for its performance shortfalls through frugality, either, with real-world economy nearing on 8L/100km a likely sight for buyers.
All that plus a firm ride on R-Design models, no AM radio (likely an issue for country buyers) and rear legroom on the tighter side means the sleek Swedes must settle with seventh place.
6th place: Volkswagen Touareg
In sixth is the third-generation Volkswagen Touareg, which touched down in local showrooms in May.
The first all-new Touareg in eight years, the biggest changes are inside, where the large SUV has undergone a technological makeover. Option the $8000 Innovision package and you’re treated to a mammoth 15.0-inch infotainment touchscreen, that’s complemented by a 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster, ambient LED lighting and more. We reckon it’s a must-tick option – it gives the cabin an ambience more premium than its badge denotes.
Safety technology is equally as advanced, with standard equipment including all-speed AEB, adaptive cruise control, lane-keep assist and much more.
Powering the Wolfsburg wagon is a 190kW/600Nm 3.0-litre turbo-diesel V6, noteworthy for its role under the bonnet of the Amarok V6. It offers a wave of torque, while matched to an eight-speed torque-converter automatic gearbox that’s smooth and unobtrusive.
However, the brilliance of the diesel motor could be seen as a disadvantage for some: there’s no petrol engine on offer. That, combined with the lack of a seven-seat option, and a badge that shares its cachet with record-smashing fines and $18,000 city cars, means the new Touareg scores 6th place – a still-admirable result.
5th place: Toyota RAV4
Rounding out the top half is the all-new Toyota RAV4 and yes – you have reason to be surprised.
Three years ago Toyota CEO Akio Toyoda promised ‘no more boring cars’, and the new RAV4 is a clear fruit of that message. Its styling is edgier than any iteration before it, and it rides on an all-new platform that’s better to drive than ever.
Don’t just take our word for it. The buying public clearly agrees, since there’s a waiting list for some hybrid variants of up to six months.
Over 60 per cent of sales have been for the hybrid – far beyond Toyota’s expected 30 to 40 per cent split – and for good reason. The 2.5-litre system is efficient (claiming 4.8L/100km combined), potent (8.1 seconds to 100km/h) and costs just $2500 more than its 2.0-litre petrol equivalent.
Inside, there’s a more upmarket cabin, with premium-feel materials at key touchpoints and an intuitive infotainment system with long-awaited smartphone connectivity (albeit six months after launch).
Equipment levels are generous, too, with the Japanese brand’s full suite of safety tech fitted as standard across all variants.
However, it’s not perfect. That long waiting list is bound to turn off groups of buyers, the base engine in the range is somewhat lethargic, and while we might like the looks, some won’t. For that reason, the RAV earns fifth place.
4th place: BMW 3 Series
In 4th place is the BMW 3 Series, the latest generation of the German marque’s bread-and-butter offering.
The G20 iteration is an evolution of the winning 3 Series formula, with sporty design inside and out and a value-packed range that sees all variants benefit from digital instrument clusters, adaptive LED headlights, torquey turbo engines and much more as standard.
Speaking of the interior, it’s certainly a nice place to be. The 10.25-inch iDrive 7 infotainment system is class-leading, the dashboard design is a modern spin on the classic BMW layout, and the materials are certainly up to par for the price point. It’s certainly better than all of its fellow European rivals, as we found out first-hand in December when we pitted the 330i up against the Alfa Romeo Giulia Veloce.
The 3er has typically been the enthusiast’s luxury sedan of choice, and the G20 is no different. It manages to ride well and remain whisper quiet without losing any dynamism, complemented by a punchy all-turbo engine lineup headlined (for now, until the new M3 arrives later this year) by the M340i xDrive and its sweet 3.0-litre straight-six.
It’s hard to fault the new 3 Series, but perhaps that’s its shortfall. It might be the class leader, but (to our eyes) it lacks that groundbreaking touch or revolutionary pizzazz that will really set it apart from the crowd. For that reason, it scores a close-but-no-cigar-worthy fourth in our contest.
3rd place: Mazda 3
In 3rd place is the all-new Mazda 3 hatch.
It’s the first model in the Japanese brand’s new-look, new-generation lineup, and it’s aiming for a bold upmarket push towards more premium offerings like the Volkswagen Golf and Peugeot 308.
Its new intentions are immediately evident outside, where there are no harsh body lines or sharp creases to be found. Instead, the new 3 opts for a more rounded look, with the hatch focusing on sportiness and the sedan pointing toward luxury. We love it so much we awarded it second place overall in our recent Automotive Design Awards.
However, it’s the interior that’s the true showstopper. Once again, it’s more premium than anything else in its class – let alone price point – with a classy layout, neatly integrated floating 8.8-inch touchscreen and semi-digital instrument cluster. The materials feel premium, too, with leather placed at all the key touchpoints.
Under the bonnet, it’s less rosy. Anyone familiar with the old 3’s engine lineup will easily understand the new one: it’s the exact same, bar one or two-kilowatt increases here and there. The entry-level 2.0-litre petrol is merely adequate for around-town driving, while the upper-spec 2.5-litre is peppier, but not up to scratch compared to turbo rivals like the i30 N Line and soon-to-be-discontinued Astra RS-V.
It’s about time we mention the elephant in the room: price. Yes, spec-for-spec the new Mazda 3 is superbly equipped (plastic steering wheel on the base model aside), but the entry price to the range has gone up nearly $5000. Unfortunately, to the average buyer a price hike is a price hike – no matter how much ‘premium’ marketing Mazda throws at them,
The effects are already starting to show, with sales dipping 19.7 per cent in 2019 compared to 2018, with just half a year on sale. To be fair, the entire small-car segment as a whole was down by similar percentages, however the Mazda’s Korean rivals in the Hyundai i30 and Kia Cerato – which haven’t attempted a move upmarket – have grown their sales.
Overall, higher pricing combined with a smaller boot and compromised visibility in the hatch award the new Mazda 3 with third place – still a podium finish.
2nd place: Toyota GR Supra
In 2nd place is the reborn, fifth-generation Toyota Supra. If hype was the sole criteria, this would take the crown by a country mile.
The first Australian-bound production model to wear the ‘GR’ moniker of the Gazoo Racing performance division that helped develop it, the ‘A90’ arrives over 15 years since the legendary A80’s demise, and five years after the first production-feasible concept was shown off.
However, there’s a catch. In case you’ve been living under a rock, the new GR Supra was developed in close conjunction with BMW, with the shared platform serving as the basis for the latest-generation Z4 roadster. The two share their 250kW/500Nm, 3.0-litre turbocharged inline-six engines, rear-drive layouts, eight-speed automatic gearboxes, brakes, suspension… the list goes on.
Despite the protests of Toyota engineers – who claim development of both cars occurred, for the most part, independently – there’s no hiding the BMW roots. The powertrain feels linear and torque-rich – as we’ve come to expect from B58-powered vehicles – and the ZF-sourced transmission is smooth and responsive.
But is that such a bad thing? BMW isn’t known for building bad-to-drive cars – after all, its tagline is ‘the ultimate driving machine’.
While the drivetrain might be Bavarian, the GR Supra doesn’t feel like a carbon-copied Z4. For starters, there are just two drive modes: Normal and Sport.
In the former the ride is compliant and well-suited to day-to-day city driving, but bump it into the latter and the coupe gets tauter. The adaptive dampers – with a Toyota-specific tune that’s definitely noticeable – get firmer, powertrain response is sharpened and the sports exhaust enters its fruitiest setting, producing natural crackles and pops, and audible turbocharger spool.
The only real niggle in the driving experience is a spongy brake pedal after spirited driving… oh, and the lack of a manual transmission.
Yes, the interior is straight out of a circa-2015 BMW product, but would you prefer that or the cabin from a C-HR? We’d take the German route any day.
The reborn GR Supra is a brilliant machine, with a punchy powertrain, sharp dynamics and a sweet exhaust note earning it true sports car credibility. But is it a true Supra? Only sales figures – and the legacy it leaves – will tell.
In the words of The Beatles: ‘I get by with a little help from my friends‘.
WINNER: Tesla Model 3
10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, one. The winner of the 2019 Redline Car of the Year is the Tesla Model 3.
The fourth model released by the fledgling automaker touched down in Australia in August, aimed squarely at the mid-size luxury sedan segment currently occupied by the class-leading BMW 3 Series – the fourth-place finisher in this year’s COTY – and Mercedes-Benz C-Class.
On paper, the American challenger is off to a good start. The entry-level Standard Range Plus – priced from $67,900 plus on-roads at the time of writing, an important caveat considering the volatility of Tesla’s pricing – is $3000 cheaper than a BMW 330i, yet sprints to 100km/h from a standstill two-tenths faster and offers a competitive 409km range on the more realistic European WLTP test cycle.
However, it’s the top-shelf Performance that nabs the headlines. Its $93,900 starting price might seem dear for a 3 Series rival sans a premium badge, but its 3.4-second 0-100km/h time tells a different story. With no battery pre-heating or Ludicrous+ mode to mess around with, there’s not much else capable of catching it in the traffic light drag race.
In fact, its closest price-for-acceleration rival comes from within, via the larger $143,900 Model S Performance. Opt for a combustion engine and you’ll need a $159,990 Lotus Exige Sport 410 to even match it.
Don’t think it’s a one-trick pony, either. While the ride on the 20-inch wheels might be firm, the flagship Model 3 is a surprisingly good steer, with excellent Brembo brakes, plenty of steering feel, sticky Michelin rubber and a dedicated ‘Track Mode’ for circuit duties.
Lower-spec variants offer spades of enjoyment, particularly the Long Range AWD with its still-organ-shifting 4.6-second acceleration claim.
However, it’s the interior that’s potentially the Model 3’s biggest asset. You’d be forgiven for thinking Tesla is a technology company first, car company second, considering the sheer size of the central 15.0-inch touchscreen that the entire cabin is seemingly designed around.
There’s no instrument cluster or any physical buttons – everything is controlled from the mammoth screen. In addition to staple functions like satellite navigation, Spotify integration and performance settings, there’s a set of well-publicised ‘easter eggs’, including ‘Emissions Testing Mode’ – read: fart mode – a fireplace feature, an arcade full of games and a sketchpad.
They’re perfect companions for roadside juice-ups at one of the ‘Supercharger’ locations spread around the east coast, which are growing in number and will soon support rapid 250kW fast-charging recently introduced overseas capable of 0 to 80 per cent recharges in under 30 minutes.
Smartphone-style over-the-air updates further enhance the experience – evidenced by a downloadable 5% power gain in early 2019 that didn’t require a single visit to the dealer.
Safety technology is equally as superb, with all variants getting Tesla’s Autopilot semi-autonomous driving system, which controls pedals and steering on the highway, and can change lanes by itself with a simple flick of the indicator stalk – one of the few physical controls in the entire car.
Don’t just take it from me – here’s what the other judges had to say:
James: Quite possibly the single most significant and influential car of our time, the Tesla Model 3 truly deserves first place. A bold statement? Yes, but the Model 3 manages to offer breathtaking performance, revolutionary technology and a host of segment firsts, all for just list price of $67,900. Whilst build quality can be questionable, the 3’s flaws pale into insignificance when you consider its sheer value-for-money.
Jordan: At $67,990, the entry-level Model 3 brings over-the-air software updates, a range that doesn’t suck and pure electric driving for a price that’s a fair match to the staple crowd of luxury midsize sedans, dominated by BMW’s excellent new 3 Series. However, it’s in the Performance variant that the Model 3 really shines, offering Mercedes-AMG C63 and BMWs M3 performance for C43 and M340i money. It isn’t perfect – build quality is controversial and production-line inconsistencies hampered early production – but it’s the technological advancement in both automation and EV development that should be commended. Well done Tesla!
Will: The Tesla Model 3 pushes the boundaries of what is possible in the modern automotive landscape. It democratises the forward-thinking prestige of the Tesla brand, shaming rivals for similar money in terms of innovation and green-cred. Not only does it boast class-leading performance for its own segment, but for those one or two rungs above. The same can be said about its technology suite, much of which was only a dream a few short years ago. It is the future of the automotive industry, for the people – and it’s here now.
As our judges have touched on, the Model 3 is not perfect – build quality is definitely poorer than that of the cars it competes with – with panel gaps you could ‘park a bus in’ – and initial production was slow.
However, it’s the effect this car will have on the EV landscape that grants it the win in this contest. While other manufacturers have been either been messing around with compliance cars made to dodge fines, or avoiding building electric vehicles at all, Tesla has been refining its processes, developing its technologies and taking notes from others to not just build a car people can afford to own, but one they want to own.
Hop on board. The future has arrived.
If you’ve gotten this far, thanks for reading. Putting this together took a lot of time, planning and word-crunching.
I’d like to extend my gratitude to judges James, Jordan and Will that gave their input on picking the contenders and deciding the winner.
Until next year!