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2018 Wheels Car of the Year: The contenders

By Barry Park, 20 Nov 2017 COTY

Car of the year 2018 contenders cover LONG

One of Australia’s cheapest cars is in the running for this year’s award – and a surprise entry from an Aussie hero. What else makes the cut?

A REAL gloom was cast over Australia’s automotive landscape this year, one that’s been a long time coming.

After almost seven decades of continual passenger car production, we now face a future where everything on our four-wheeled landscape is fully imported. Like Donald Trump’s early morning Tweets, every time we pass a Ford Falcon, Holden Commodore or a Toyota Camry it’s a bittersweet reminder that our world is out of balance.

But there is hope beyond the horizon, and nowhere is that clearer than the line-up for the 2018 Wheels Car of the Year awards. The field of contenders has been assembled, and while it’s not one of the biggest yet, it is potentially one of the best.

One thing stands out significantly this year; the number of SUVs up for contention significantly outweighs the number of traditional passenger cars in the race for the 2018 awards. Yes, the Mazda CX-9 – the second-only SUV after the Ford Territory to take the WCOTY title – won last year, but it was only one of six high-riding wagons lined up for the award. This year we have 11.

That’s reflected somewhat in this year’s official new-car sales data, where SUVs and SUV-styled crossovers now easily outsell their lower-riding rivals.

So what is worthy of consideration for the 2018 Wheels Car of the Year awards? This year has been notable for a number of potential game-changers that have launched, and there’s even a lingering last taste of Aussie spice sprinkled into it.

Here’s the list of cars that has made the cut.

Alfa Romeo Giulia
Alfa’s new large luxury offering has turned the high-priced luxury car norms on its head, producing a range of emotive and dynamically competent sedans that fire up the emotions, but don’t raid the bank account too severely.

Previous winners: None

Audi Q5
Something of a latecomer to the SUV scene, this is Audi’s second generation of its high-riding mid-size wagon. It’s more polished and more capable, but buyers will have to dig a bit deeper into their pockets to add one to the driveway. Audi’s been the bridesmaid for a few years now; is it the Q5’s year?

Previous winners: None

BMW 5 Series
The seventh generation of BMW’s all-new executive powerhaus lobbed early this year laden with the forefront of the German luxury car maker’s driver assist technologies. Our early taste shows the 5er’s under-bonnet brilliance isn’t immediately backed up by the strong dynamics the badge was renowned for, though.

Previous winners: BMW i3 (2014)

The former ugly duckling of BMW’s sharp-looking SUV line-up has finally evolved into a swan. The Audi A5-rivalling X3 has made huge advances over its predecessor, but it is yet to square up against rivals to see if the changes are enough to push it to the head of the field.

Previous winners: BMW i3 (2014)

Holden Equinox
It hasn’t yet launched in Australia, but Holden’s new SUV was keen to see if it could bloody some noses ahead of its official release. We should learn more about what the Lion has in store for its Captiva replacement in late November.

Previous winners: HK Monaro (1968), LC Torana (1969), TX Gemini (1975), VB Commodore (1978), JB Camira (1982), VN Commodore (1988), VR Commodore (1983), VT Commodore (1997), XC Barina (2001), VE Commodore (2006)

Honda CR-V
Continual improvement is the name of the game at Honda, and its fifth-generation midsize SUV doesn’t disappoint. It’s added a seven-seat version for the first time that adds even more family practicality, and a turbocharged petrol engine.

Previous winners: Prelude 4WS (1987), Odyssey (1995), CRZ (2011)

The most potent sedan to ever wear a HSV badge rumbles into WCOTY contention as the last-ever representative of Australia’s proud car-making heritage. Is its earth-shaking 474kW serve of 6.2-litre V8, rear drive growl enough to stir the emotions of judges one final time?

Previous winners: None

Hyundai i30
You’d be mistaken for thinking the badge belonging to the once cheap and cheerful i30 was erroneously placed on a European hatchback. Stylish, slick, and sporting newfound dynamics once sorely missing from one of Australia’s best-selling cars, is it finally time for a Korea change?

Previous winners: None

Hyundai Kona
Extroverted looks are wrapped around Hyundai’s new compact SUV as it enters one of the most competitive sandpits of the new-car market. Related to the i30 hatch, the Kona introduces the same sense of roominess in a segment that has sometimes sorely lacked it.

Previous winners: None

Kia Stinger
The other Korean car maker could have taken the easy path with its new mid-size liftback sedan, fitting it out with front-wheel drive and an uninspired four-pot. Instead, we have a front-engined, stove-hot engined sports car that leaves everyone who drives it wondering how it will look in their driveway.

Previous winners: None

Land Rover Discovery
It’s the first new version of the Discovery in a decade. There’s still a sense of the stepped roof and the offset swinging rear door, but don’t let that fool you – the more mature Disco is one of the most advanced luxury off-roaders on the market.

Previous winners: None

Lexus LC
Science fiction hits the road in one of the most compelling packages we’ve seen at WCOTY in some time. Don’t like a low, long hybrid V6-engined coupe that serves V8-like performance for less pain at the pump? Then swap it out for a real 351kW/540Nm 5.0-litre V8 at no extra cost!

Previous winners: LS400 (1990)

Mazda CX-5
Lower, longer and sharper to look at, Mazda has taken the formula that made the previous-generation midsize SUV one of Australia’s best-selling vehicles, and evolved it. If the CX-5 wins, it will be a three-peat for the brand following on last year’s success of the CX-9 and the year before that, the MX-5.

Previous winners: Mazda 323 (1980), Mazda 626 (with Ford Telstar, 1983), MX-5 NA (1989), Mazda 626 (with Ford Telstar, 1992), RX-8 (2003), MX-5 NC (2005), MX-5 ND (2016), CX-9 (2017)

Peugeot 3008
Packing plenty of showroom appeal, the now SUV-styled 3008 should appeal to a wider group of buyers compared with the van-like appearance of the car it replaces. It’s one of the most fashionable interiors on the market, too.

Previous winners: None

Porsche Panamera
The flagship front-engined coupe combining iconic Porsche styling with a more practical four-door design is back for a second generation, adding even more stunning performance to a generation of Panamera that, thankfully this time around, doesn’t look like a bloated 911.

Previous winners: None

Range Rover Velar
Move over, Range Rover Evoque. Land Rover’s newest luxury-focussed SUV eschews the sport-focussed vibe of the
Evoque to deliver slightly more conservative, tech-driven looks with luxury packaging. And more range options than you would think possible.

Previous winners: None

Skoda Kodiaq
The cheap(er) Czech brand has introduced an affordable, sensible seven-seat SUV on the Australian market that isn’t as poorly kitted out as you think. Petrol-only for the moment, a diesel version is soon expected to join the line-up.

Previous winners: None

Suzuki Swift
The Suzuki Swift has the distinction of being the cheapest car at WCOTY. But it’s not that cheapness that has the Swift in front of the judges; instead, it’s the lightweight chassis, engaging dynamics and perky little engines complementing what has evolved into a roomy city runabout.

Previous winners: None

Tesla Model X
The Californian car maker’s SUV-styled people mover with its vertical-lift doors and stonking straight-line performance is the cutting edge of battery-electric technology, with a price to match. But what’s the point?

Previous winners: None

Toyota C-HR
It’s been a while since we’ve been this interested in a Toyota-badged product. Funky to look at, it sits on Toyota’s all-new chassis that is already under the Prius hybrid hero, but will soon spread to the Camry and Corolla. Oh, and turbo engines, too.

Previous winners: 86 (with Subaru BRZ, 2012)

Volkswagen Arteon
The flagship of Volkswagen’s Passat passenger car range arrives sporting a sharp new suit and a name to help it carry the premium it commands: the Arteon. It’s a single, standalone halo model for the German car maker that takes it up to the luxury car class establishment.

Previous winners: Passat (1974), Golf VI (2009), Polo (2010), Golf VII (2013)

Volvo XC60
The now Chinese-owned Volvo has taken the formula that made the previous generation XC60 a bestseller for the brand, and lifted it to an even more premium level. The top-spec one has an intriguing drivetrain: a turbocharged, supercharged 2.0-litre hybrid.

Previous winners: None