Australia’s best new car revealed
Toyota's RAV4 Hybrid is News Corp's Car of the Year.
The petrol-electric family SUV, which has been a huge sales hit since its launch in May, beat a quality field of finalists selected from dozens of new models launched in 2019.
News Corp Australia motoring editor Richard Blackburn says the RAV4 Hybrid "could become a watershed car for the industry".
"It's the first SUV to offer hybrid tech at an affordable price," Blackburn says.
"It's guilt-free family motoring - saving the planet without breaking the bank."
The RAV4 triumphed after an exhaustive eight-week testing process, in which the best three cars in seven categories were pitted against each other to come up with the finalists.
Three SUVs, a sedan, a hatchback, a sports car and a ute greeted judges for the final testing, held over two days.
Judges assessed the cars against several criteria: value for money, performance, design, technology and safety.
Three cars made it through to the second day of testing: the RAV4 was joined by BMW's new 330i sedan and the Supra sports car, jointly developed by BMW and Toyota.
Voting was tight but the RAV4 prevailed thanks to its value for money, fuel efficiency, practicality and low ownership costs.
Day one of testing started with a walkaround of each car, with judges poring over price lists and spec sheets, peering into boots and clambering into rear seats to check legroom.
All seven cars were worthy of accolades.
The Mazda3 was an early favourite, having seen off rivals such as the Volkswagen Golf, Ford Focus and Audi A1 this year. Praised for best-in-class safety kit, suave looks and engaging dynamics, the Mazda3's wheezy engine and compromised rear seat cost the hatch a chance at the podium.
Kia's Seltos Sport+ was also something of a dark horse. The brand's first baby SUV is a bright spot in an already impressive range, though we felt it was expensive at $36,490 drive-away and didn't handle as well as the top contenders.
The Volkswagen Touareg shone against premium competition in Launch Edition form but a cheaper version tested here didn't fare as well without the premium car's air suspension, lacking polish on country roads.
Similarly, Mitsubishi's Triton will serve you well for years but back-to-back testing with conventional cars highlighted how inherently compromised pick-ups are for day-to-day driving. It's the best new ute in 2019 but certainly isn't the Car of the Year.
Toyota's Supra delivers driving thrills and concept car styling for a relatively affordable price.
Queensland judge Grant Edwards felt the Supra was "brilliance personified - it's everything you want from a sports car".
We've tested the Supra on road, track, and slippery skid pans designed to highlight a car's weaknesses. It's the complete package, one that makes the impressive new Porsche 911 look expensive.
Toyota's five-year warranty (rare in sports cars) and a stonking BMW-built engine won fans.
But a lack of cabin storage, ANCAP safety rating or customer availability (the Supra is sold out for now) curtailed its run.
Our seven-strong team found it hard to split the RAV4 and 3 Series.
The 330i is everything an executive sports sedan should be - attractive, well-equipped, and packed with tech.
Sedans are no longer the car of choice for Aussie families but the BMW is a brilliant counterpoint to top-heavy SUVs and hugely compromised high-end utes rarely pressed into work duties.
It's brilliant to drive, keying into the tarmac with poise to rival sports cars. A list price of $70,900 plus on-road costs feels like good value in its luxury segment, though our test car's sticker was closer to $90,000 on the road, making it harder to justify in strong company.
Its three-year warranty, premium price and increasingly questionable relevance relegated the BMW to second place.
None of that applies to the RAV4 Hybrid, which starts at $35,140 plus on-roads. We tested it in front-wheel drive GXL grade, priced from $38,140 plus on-roads, or about $42,500 drive-away.
Toyota's HiLux is the best-selling vehicle in Australia today but you could argue the RAV4 Hybrid is the most relevant on sale.
Part of that comes from a generously proportioned and family friendly SUV body, the style preferred by the majority of motorists.
But its hybrid drive, with 2.5-litre petrol engine and electric motor, is a more significant achievement.
Regenerative braking - storing energy in the car's battery every time you use the brakes - makes it more efficient in traffic than on the open road.
Urban customers can expect to use about 5L/100km of fuel when commuting. Smaller, less practical and powerful SUVs will double that in the city.
Hybrids may not be at the cutting edge of the electric vehicle revolution but the tech reduces fuel consumption to an extraordinary degree without owners having to plug them into the electricity grid, or fretting about range anxiety.
Previous testing of new electric cars such as the Nissan Leaf, Tesla Model 3 and Jaguar I-Pace illustrated that EVs can't match conventional vehicles for value for money and practical range.
As such their sales - and impact on the environment - are limited.
Our judges felt Toyota selling 50,000 hybrids a year will do more to reduce the nation's carbon footprint than niche electric cars, which sell in the hundreds.
The National Transport Commission estimates if Australians bought vehicles with best-in-class CO2 emissions, it would halve the national average for new vehicles.
And it's not hard for RAV4 customers to choose a hybrid - the premium is just $2500 on front-drive versions such as the GXL tested here.
It has spritely acceleration with 160kW of combined power and its claimed thirst is 4.7L/100km. It's also composed on the road, with well-sorted suspension and quiet highway manners.
Its spacious cabin caters for passengers with four USB ports, wireless charging, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, rear air vents and strong safety credentials.
Cheap to service, the RAV4 also benefits from a five-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty and strong resale potential - Australian buyers have voted with their wallets, as evidenced by long waiting lists for the new model.
Our judges agree.
Iain Curry reckons the Toyota is the ideal modern family SUV and Bill McKinnon hails it as "the easiest and most convenient entry to the world of green motoring".
"The BMW is a return to form," Craig Duff says. "But Toyota moves the game on."
Value for money
Pricing, equipment, running costs, capped servicing, warranty, service intervals, resale and material quality.
How the car accelerates, stops, shifts gears, corners and soaks up bumps. Also refinement and fuel efficiency.
Leg and headroom, ergonomics, comfort and vision.
Connectivity, ease of navigating screens etc.
Physical crash rating and active safety aids.
2018 Hyundai i30 N
2017 Skoda Kodiaq
2016 Volkswagen Tiguan
2015 Kia Sorento
2014 Mercedes-Benz C-Class
2013 Volkswagen Golf
2012 Subaru BRZ/Toyota 86
2011 Kia Rio
2010 Volkswagen Polo
2009 Volkswagen Golf
2008 Ford Falcon
2007 Hyundai i30
2006 Holden Calais
2005 Suzuki Swift
2004 Ford Territory
2003 Honda Accord Euro
2002 Ford Falcon
2001 Holden Monaro
2000 Mercedes-Benz C-Class
1999 Toyota Echo
1998 Holden Astra
1997 Holden Commodore
The people have spoken and backed our judges' decision to award Car of the Year to the Toyota RAV4 Hybrid.
The Toyota narrowly out-polled the Mazda 3 and the Mitsubishi Triton in our people's choice awards, attracting 18 per cent of the vote to 17 per cent for the Triton and 16 per cent for the Mazda.
The RAV4 is also winning the popularity contest in the real world. Since its launch in May it has been the No.1 selling SUV in the country, overtaking perennial favourite the Mazda CX-5.
Sales last month were up 20 per cent in a new-car market that dipped by 10 per cent.