Cars are often the most expensive thing people own short of property.
So if you’re shopping for a new one, seeking out expert independent advice is a great place to start.
Our team tested dozens of new cars this year, reporting on the good, bad and ugly from the automotive landscape. Here are 10 hits and misses from 2019:
The 2019 News Corp Car of the Year winner had to be here. Toyota capitalised on the trend toward SUVs and green-minded motoring with a model that is also great to drive, cheap to run, and a safety leader.
Road tester Bill McKinnon said the RAV4 Hybrid “nails the family wagon brief in every respect, and if you haven’t previously considered a hybrid, you will after you take a test drive.”
Motoring editor Richard Blackburn said the RAV4 “could become a watershed car for the industry”, thanks to a price that starts from $35,140 plus on-road costs.
“It’s the first SUV to offer hybrid tech at an affordable price … It’s guilt-free family motoring — saving the planet without breaking the bank.”
BMW 3 Series
If the Toyota was the car are most likely to recommend, BMW’s new 3 Series is the one we want to buy.
“If I didn’t drive other people’s cars for a living, I could be very happy with one of these,” Bill McKinnon said.
“The Ultimate Driving Machine is back.”
David McCowen praised BMW’s driver-focused approach.
“Goldilocks be damned. BMW took a stand with the new 3 Series rather than serving up mama bear’s lukewarm porridge in hope of being all things to all people.”
The world’s best sports car entered a new generation in 2019. Porsche’s 911 is the benchmark by which other performance cars are measured. It’s the yardstick, the atomic clock, the compass for any car with sporting pretence.
And John Carey found the new 992-generation is simply “a better 911”.
“It can’t be easy to lift a legend to new heights but Porsche has done so. Again.”
Toby Hagon praised the new 911 as “brutally quick and magnificent to drive”, while Iain Curry pushed it to the limit around the Bend in South Australia, finding its “engine response is mighty no matter your revs, the brakes revel in punishment and the way this car encourages to turn in harder, brake later and get on the power sooner is addictive”.
As David McCowen put it: “The 911 is still the one to beat”.
Alfa Romeo Stelvio
While no one was surprised by the brilliance of Porsche’s latest car, Alfa Romeo’s Stelvio Quadrifoglio was a revelation.
Craig Duff tested it on circuit, reporting that “as a performance SUV the Stelvio earns pole position, at least on a racetrack.”
Richard Blackburn said “the Stelvio drives like no SUV is supposed to”.
It’s the car that puts the “sport” in SUV.
Hyundai i30 N Fastback
The hatchback version of Hyundai’s i30 N won our overall Car of the Year award in 2018.
Its four-door “fastback” cousin is also a cracker.
As Bill McKinnon said, “you’ll find any excuse to drive it”.
“Each time you do, you’ll learn more about its capabilities, which are up there with the sharpest hot hatches — Renault Megane RS, VW Golf R and Honda Civic Type R … The Fastback body gives the i30 N a much more stylish silhouette than the ho-hum hatch but underneath it’s the same 2018 COTY-winning performance package at a bargain price.”
Hyundai i30 N-Line
As impressive as the i30 N is, a watered-down i30 N-Line cousin does not push our buttons. It looks just like the performance hero, but isn’t nearly as good to drive.
David McCowen felt it “represents style over substance”.
“It’s a competent car that takes the middle ground, aiming to please most without excelling in any one area.”
Bill McKinnon agreed that the N-Line “doesn’t quite nail its intended compromise between performance and comfort.
Nissan was ahead of the game with its original Leaf, but the new one failed to capitalise on that momentum. It’s expensive, ordinary to look at and dull to drive. And its USP — the ability to use its battery to power your house during a blackout — isn’t available in Australia yet.
Bill McKinnon said “the Leaf is too dear and too restricted in application to be considered by anyone outside a major city.”
Ian Curry pointed out that “this spec of hatchback with a petrol engine would cost about $15,000 less”, while Jules Lucht felt “the Leaf is crying out for more fun and personality”.
David McCowen compared the Nissan Leaf with Hyundai’s Ioniq, reporting back that “a Toyota Corolla Hybrid makes more sense than either and is half the price”.
Chevrolet Camaro ZL1
Heavy-hitting V8s also copped the pointy end of the stick. Craig Duff had a lot of fun behind the wheel of HSV’s 477kW successor to the homegrown GTS, the Chevrolet Camaro ZL1, but found “the price, short warranty and lack of standard safety count against it.”
The Camaro ZL1 costs US$62,000 in its homeland, and $159,990 here. It’s a bargain if you compare it with a Porsche or Aston Martin, but a rip-off alongside Ford’s Mustang. It also misses out on active safety kit and has no ANCAP crash rating.
“Shock and awe is the strategy at play in the Camaro,” David McCowen said.
“Thrilling to drive, the ZL1 brings all-American supercar-hunting performance for those prepared to look past questions over value and safety.”
News of the Toyota Tarago’s demise saw plenty of people come forward with stories of family road trips. Richard Blackburn has a few tales, and the former Tarago owner felt its replacement wasn’t up to the job.
“The Granvia is a fit-for-purpose people-mover that will appeal mainly to commercial operators but it lacks the versatility and accessibility of the Tarago it replaces.”
Bill McKinnon agreed, highlighting a lack of storage space in the big bus.
“As a people-mover, the Granvia eight-seater does indeed move people efficiently, safely and comfortably. But it’s seriously overpriced and it’s ridiculous that you can’t carry people and their gear.”
The lowest road test score of 2019 went to the Suzuki Jimny. Be sure the car’s 2.5 star rating won’t be posted on the fridge in Suzuki’s Hamamatsu headquarters.
Noisy, cramped, compromised and generally backward on paved surfaces, the Suzuki Jimny only makes sense when you head off the beaten track.
We took a Suzuki Jimny off-road with a Toyota LandCruiser and Jeep Wrangler, coming home shocked that the tiny Jimny could keep up with some of the best four-wheel-drives you can buy.
“It romps through our water crossing, sending chocolate-coloured liquid splashing over the bonnet like a frenzied kid whipping up an arvo glass of Milo,” David McCowen said.
Iain Curry laid out its many foibles before confessing that he would “forgive this car anything”, such is its charm.
Bill McKinnon acknowledged its off-road abilities before sinking the boot in.
“Take off-road capability out of the equation, though, and you’re left with a primitive, unrefined, below-average drive, with highly questionable crashworthiness.”
Originally published as New car arrivals in 2019: hits and misses