GIVEN the intensity of Wheels Car of the Year testing at Holden’s Lang Lang proving ground, there was zero chance that all 40-odd new models launched in Australia during 2017 would make the COTY grid.
That long list needed whittling to eliminate any marginals from contention. First to go were cars too closely related to existing models, despite styling differences.
That meant Audi’s A5/S5 Coupe, Sportback and Convertible, and Mercedes-Benz’s E-Class Coupe, Cabriolet and All Terrain Wagon – each blessed with the same DNA as last year’s A4 and E-Class sedan COTY finalists – had their invites respectfully withheld.
Same with the Audi TT RS (too close to 2015’s donor car), the red hot Honda Civic Type-R (not fundamentally altered enough to qualify), and the refreshed Volkswagen Golf Mk7.5.
In the Golf’s case, being closely based on 2013’s superb COTY winner is great for its competitive advantage, but not its chances of being eligible this time around. And while Holden’s Astra sedan is a respectable thing, it doesn’t bring enough advancement or freshness in any particular area to be nominated.
Ditto Kia’s likeable but unadventurous Picanto and Rio hatches, despite the Picanto being a cut above its compatriots for entertainment and appeal.
The Cross Country-only Volvo V90 wagon doesn’t have the ride quality we expect of a COTY-nominated vehicle of its type, while the Maserati Levante SUV lacks any real USP beyond being a chunky wagon with a Trident badge.
More controversially, we vetoed both the Mini Countryman and Audi Q2 – direct rivals in the premium small SUV category – because neither truly stood out given their 40-something price tags and elevated aspirations. And we left the interesting Renault Zoe electric hatchback on the shelf because, despite its gutsy 41kWh battery and 400km range, it’s a five-year-old car with a carryover Clio interior.
The ultra-low volume KTM X-Bow lacks ESC so is ineligible, and McLaren’s stunning 720S was sadly unavailable.
Which brings us to what’s in.
We extended a wildcard grid position to both the late-arriving Hyundai Kona and the Holden Equinox simply because we lacked enough experience behind their respective steering wheels to make a judgment. And even though judges expressed concern about the HSV GTS-R W1’s eligibility inclusion, the ballistic V8’s imminent extinction gifted it a ‘Captain’s Pick’ guernsey.
So here’s the 22-strong field for Car of the Year 2018. Good luck picking the winner. We reckon it’s anyone’s game.