CATEGORY: Urban warrior
WINNER: Mazda CX-5
WHO WILL LOVE IT: Families; soccer mums; weekend adventurers.
WHY WE LOVE IT: SUVs are the avo toast of the car world – everyone wants one. And what’s not to love? The high view, OTT safety features and ample space are hard to beat. It’s no wonder they are the vehicle of choice for Australian families, but the selection can be overwhelming.
The best SUVs are like a reverse Tardis – looks large from the outside, but shrinks when you’re behind the wheel (no-one wants to feel like they’re driving a bus) and Mazda has perfected this formula.
The CX-5 (from $28,690) takes our top honours for the way it deftly handles both urban duties and the demands of an active family. Happily, it’s also lovely to look at, appearing far sportier than anything else in its category, and it’s so easy to drive.
OTT EXTRAS: The safety features are truly impressive, like the car’s ability to “sense” an impending accident and stop by itself.
CATEGORY: City Slicker
WINNER: FIAT 500
WHO WILL LOVE IT: Style mavens; lovers of Italian cool; singles; young couples.
WHY WE LOVE IT: Fiat’s funky two-door 500 first riolled into the hearts of fashion-focused motorists in 1957. Relaunched in 2007, it washed into Australia from the catwalks of Milan riding a wave of nostalgia – and it wasn’t alone. Mini’s equally old-school Mini Cooper was again prowling the streets, while the VW Beetle had also returned from the dead. But only the Fiat 500 (from $18,000) stayed true to its retro style.
However, the 500’s classic Euro design can’t hide the high-tech gadgetry of this makeover, with touch screens and button-festooned steering wheels peppering the entire range.
Yes, it’s uncomfortable for any adult-sized humans forced to sit in the back seat. But it’s also stunning to look at, a dream to park dull and will inject la dolce vita into the most dull commutes.
FASHION CRED: With special collaborations already rolled out with Gucci, Paco Rabanne and Diesel, watch for more a-list designer hook-ups.
CATEGORY: Cutting edge
WINNER: BMW i3
WHO WILL LOVE IT: Minimalist-loving, tech-savvy early adopters; successful start-up entrepreneurs.
WHY WE LOVE IT: If Apple has taught the world anything it’s that we’re all happy to get our geek on over technology – as long as it’s beautifully packaged.
BMW’s designers knew this when they created the i3, a vehicle that looks like it’s just driven here from the year 2035. From the interior that feels like a high-end Scandinavian furniture shop, to the electric motor that produces no nasty carbon dioxide at all – while still providing seamless and silent acceleration.
The electric motors will provide you with (up to) an extraordinary 200km of range between charges. To reduce power-shortage-panic you can purchase a Range Extender, which can kick in to recharge your batteries when they’re getting low, effectively doubling your car’s driving range.
All i3s sold in Australia also have a built-in SIM card so your car can talk to BMW and provide bespoke advice about your battery range, based on current traffic conditions and the weather. If you’re getting low on juice it can guide you to your nearest electric vehicle charging station.
Everything about the i3 feels great, from the way you’re saving the environment to the modern, airy interior, but looking this good – and wearing a BMW badge – was never going to come cheap. Prices for the most advanced small car on the road start at $63,900.
WHY VEGANS WILL LOVE IT: Interestingly, the i3 is available with an entirely vegan interior, made from specially chosen eco-fibres instead of cow hides.
One to watch out for in the Cutting Edge category: Tesla Model S
It’s fair to say that Tesla’s Model S - an all-electric, super sports car that can sit four adults in comfort (while simultaneously making all of them nauseous with its prodigious acceleration) – has shaken up the car industry. Yes, it’s so cutting edge you need gloves to touch it, but it’s also not cheap, with prices ranging from $114,100 to north of $255,000.
CATEGORY: Small Packages
WINNER: Hyundai i30
WHO WILL LOVE IT: Coin-saving couples; young families.
WHY WE LOVE IT: While some of Hyundai’s old cars looked like crumpled chip packets (hi, Excel) a recent design revolution – led by former Audi style chief Peter Schreyer – has injected some cool into Hyundai’s look.
As a result, the Korean brand now produces some of the best-looking cars on the road, and that formula has been tinkered with – and improved – for the i30 hatch.
Its street appeal joins a technology-packed offering, with a larger and more practical interior, and a bigger boot that will swallow all a family can throw at it: car seats, groceries, sports gear. As Australians downsize from Holden Commodores and Ford Falcons, an i30-sized vehicle is the obvious car choice for new families. It’s one of the country’s most popular cars and also one of its best valued (from $21,450).
TECH ALERT: Check out the massive touch screen in the centre console, which can cleverly mirror your iPhone screen.
One to watch out for in the Small Packages category: BMW M140i
Not all hatchbacks are created equal, and BMW’s speed-hungry micro-machine is setting a new pace. The M140i’s potent turbocharged engine provides plenty of power, while its burbling exhaust and performance-focused interior complete the hot hatch experience. This is one very good small package indeed. From $64,000.
CATEGORY: Eco Lovers
WINNER: Nissan Leaf
WHO WILL LOVE IT: Mums who are environmentally conscious – with one eye on their children and he other on keeping the planet alive.
WHY WE LOVE IT: There was a time when opting for an electric ride meant sacrificing style, performance and the ability to drive further than your longest extension cord, but continuing innovations have significantly overhauled this market.
Nissan’s Leaf has been doing the all-electric thing since 2012, and the Japanese brand’s tech-heavy five-seater (it’s the size of a larger hatchback) is one of the more economical entry points into the segment.
Sure, its $46,990 price is expensive, but you’ll never have to pay for fuel again. And don’t forget it has zero emissions.
The Leaf’s battery can be charged to 80 per cent capacity in just 30 minutes, provided you have the right kind of charger, or it can be slowly recharged overnight. Once full, you’ll get somewhere in the vicinity of 150km of driving range (for some that’s a week’s worth of driving with one charge).
OTT EXTRAS: The awesome tech that can pre-cool your car on hot days, by using your smartphone to remotely start the air conditioning.
The one to watch out for in the Eco Lovers category: Jaguar I-Pace
Eco-friendly has never been so luxurious! This five-seat electric SUV is a thing of beauty, with its handcrafted interior, sexy styling and earth-shattering – and eerily silent – performance. Expect to pay more than $100,000 for the privilege.
CATEGORY: Sexy in the City
WINNER: Porsche Macan
WHO WILL LOVE IT: Suburban thrill seekers who live life in the fast lane
WHY WE LOVE IT: The problem with sports cars is they can be painfully impractical. Think two seats sitting so close to the ground they require Cirque du Soleil skills to climb in and out of, plus sees Porsche take the heart of the world’s best sports cars and wrap it in the practical body of a Goldilocks-sized SUV.
While more than 85 per cent of Porsche owners are male, the German brand has made no secret of the fact that this car has been created with female sensibilities in mind.
The interior is a thing of beauty, with its seats and dash awash with leather and suede. It’s perfect for navigating those cramped inner-city streets, but its high-riding position and a boot that can store enough gear for a weekend away make it a standout proposition of sexy practicality.
LOOK OUT FOR: The fastest version, the Macan Turbo ($143,500), will leave competitors in a SUV-shaped cloud of dust.
CATEGORY: Dream Car
WINNER: Ferrari California T
WHO WILL LOVE IT: Attention-seeking extroverts.
WHY WE LOVE IT: Ferrari’s goal for this convertible was to have 50 per cent female buyers (compared to 10 per cent or fewer for its other models). What they achieved is a car that appeals to anyone with a pulse.
The California T is so lushly leathered it feels like you’re sitting in a Fendi bag, but it can also raise your pulse when its V8 engine hurls you from 0 to 100km/h in 3.9 seconds.
And it’s still a Ferrari, which means it will make you feel special (and ludicrously wealthy) every time you open its vault-like doors. You will, of course, have to be ludicrously wealthy to own it – the price starts at $409,888.
LIKE IT FAST? Flip the sexy manettino dial from “Comfort” to “Sport” and you will feel like a race driver as you effortlessly glide through any series of bends you throw at it.