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As another busy year of running the ruler over the always-evolving new car market draws to a close, RACV’s expert car reviewers Ernest Litera, Greg Hill and Liam McPhan discuss their hits and misses of 2018.
Ernest: Let’s kick things off with the car that made the biggest impression on me, the 2018 version of the Ford Mustang Fastback. In terms of making you feel like a movie star, it’s the one. You sit in it and it feels like a race car. The 5.0-litre engine has stepped up the power, and I really like the manual. You could leave it hanging in a gear at certain revs and it would be echoing off the walls. (Read Ernest’s review of the Fastback here.)
Greg: That’s fantastic if you want a track car, but my angle of looking at cars is realistically living with it, day by day. The Honda Civic Type R, you could. It’s the most civilised sports car I reckon I’ve ever driven.
Ernest: It carries over from the Honda tradition of being very sweet mechanically. It’s like driving a normal Civic, except it goes like hell.
Liam: I know you guys love the Type R, and we found the Ford Focus RS was a bit harsh by comparison. But it had a lot more theatre about it. I couldn’t justify it as an everyday car, but I enjoyed driving it slightly more than the Honda.
Greg: My best of 2018 is a family car, and it’s the Mazda6. We’ve always had it as one of our better cars, but they’ve put the 2.5 turbo petrol engine in it, and it’s just a cracker of an engine as far as driveability goes. They’ve taken a good car and made it better.
Liam: I really enjoyed the Suzuki Ignis. At about $15,000 on the road with a five-speed manual, it doesn’t do anything extremely well, but it doesn’t do anything badly.
Ernest: It’s unassuming and just a good thing to get into. That’s one where we didn’t have an expectation, and really enjoyed it.
Ford Focus RS and Honda Civic Type R
Ford Mustang GT Fastback
MOST IMPROVED DRIVES
Ernest: A lot of cars really stepped up this year.
Greg: One that really improved to me was the Kia Sportage. They didn’t do a lot to it, they tweaked the ride and handling and I was just amazed at the difference it made. They made the right changes in the right places and it stepped up a couple of rungs.
Ernest: I’d go for two Toyotas, the Camry and the Corolla hybrids. Both have come out with newer, slightly more refined versions. They’re now very smart cars, good to drive, good economy. The hybrids used to be at the top of the price bracket and now they’re in the mid-range.
Greg: They’ve always been reliable and do-everything-right but there was no emotion. They’ve injected a bit more character into the cars now, especially the Camry.
Ernest: The Ford Mondeo diesel wagon is a nice, sporty-looking European wagon, and with the diesel engine, I think it’s quite a car and I’ve recommended it to a few people.
Ford Mondeo Trend
MOST DISAPPOINTING DRIVES
Greg: There’s two cars that would have been at the top of my ‘best’ list, but they both had annoying traits that let them down. The first one was the Mercedes-Benz AMG GLC 63 S, with an annoying tyre skip issue. I backed out of our driveway at 6am in the pitch black and all of a sudden it’s going clunk-clunk-clunk in the front end. Great to drive on the open road, but that issue would put me off buying one.
Next is the Volkswagen Polo. Great car. I did the launch on a public holiday in South Australia, so there was no traffic and it drove beautifully. I thought, ‘this is changing the whole perception of light cars’. When we drove it here in stop-start traffic, it was a repeat of the experience we’ve had with other small-engined VWs where the turbo-charged engine and the transmission get tangled up.
Ernest: It’s the dual-clutch auto which obviously has a delay in the take-up and a turbo that doesn’t pick up the engine. In the car we were given, there were some quite disconcerting times in traffic when you go to move and there’s just nothing there.
Greg: For a car whose primary use is city commuting, its fault appears right where you don’t want it.
Liam: For me it was the Fiat 500. The biggest thing was the transmission, which is an automated manual. It slows down, changes gears, then speeds up again. It’s not the most comfortable motion in the world.
Ernest: We had great expectations for the Holden Commodore, and it’s very competent, but it lacks anything that steps it up from the mainstream. It’s European so I expected it was going to stun people.
Greg: It doesn’t do anything wrong, but there’s nothing to suggest you would buy it above something else.
Mercedes AMG GLC 63 S
BEST FAMILY CARS
Ernest: For the best family sedan, it’s hard to go past the Mazda6, and if you’re a family and want a wagon, then the Ford Mondeo diesel wagon was quite refined.
Greg: The Kia Sorento has always been a very good seven-seater, and the newer Hyundai Santa Fe uses basically the same running gear.
Liam: I thought the Santa Fe was good, it had a lot of kit packed into it to bring it into line with the Kia.
Greg: Both of them are very good vehicles that tailor well to their market.
Ernest: If I never drive another SUV I couldn’t care less. It’s its own worst enemy. Every car maker is putting the same formulas into their computers and coming up with the same results.
Greg: I’ve actually come to appreciate SUVs more over the years, not less. The new Subaru global platform that came out last year with the XV was a real step up, and I drove the new Forester this year on the same platform and it lifts a good car up further. The way it steers, the way it handles, just feels better on the road.
Ernest: The Honda HR-V is quite good too. It’s very clever in the way you can reconfigure the interior, the way the back seats fold. There are 15 different seat configurations, and they have very good fuel economy.
Greg: I just recommended one of those to my niece because it’s not too big but she could get the child seats in and all the gear she has to carry.
Ernest: We drove a bunch of electric vehicles recently (see Liam’s reviews here). Hybrid or electric, every model steps up a notch. I think we’ll be talking a lot more about them this time next year ...