30 December 2022

Canberra, here's your Car of the Year for 2022

| James Coleman
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Hint: It’s none of these. Photos: James Coleman.

We’ve wrapped up another year and had the New Year’s Eve party and eat-less/do-more resolutions, but there’s one more pressing order of business.

That’s right – naming Canberra’s best car of 2022.

‘Best’ is a big word – like ‘nice’ or ‘pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis’ – but, in this case, it consists of rattling off the cars I’ve tested this year and seeing where it takes us. The same tactic as last year, and nobody complained about that winner.

We start with the Toyota Supra, which everyone will tell you is a BMW Z4 underneath, as if that were a bad thing. But it does mean that if you’re a 19-year-old yobbo, in two decades’ time you won’t be able to ‘mod’ as easily.

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Next is the Mazda MX-30, which is a puzzle. There are more stylish and practical hybrids out there without the RX-8-inspired doors, while in pure electric form, there’s only about 224 km of range. It comes across a bit like the token effort of a child who knows no screen-time for a week is hanging in the balance.

The Isuzu D-Max builds on a reputation and does all the stuff you’d want from a dual-cab ute but, in posh spec, feels like it was hurried out the door when the bosses saw how its rivals were taking off.

The Lexus UX300e is the brand’s first attempt at a mass-market EV so, needless to say, it takes the form of a zippy little crossover (they even kept the analogue clock). But for less you could get a Tesla Model 3, which – despite being Canberra’s best-selling EV – feels more special. At least until you realise your speed is only displayed on the centre screen and the battery warranty is voided if you dare to add your own heads-up display to the dash.

The BMW iX on a carpet of autumn leaves in Phillip. Photo: James Coleman.

The BMW iX is another case where the manufacturer is said to have pulled out all the stops. Once you get over the enormous kidney grille on the front, there’s no doubt it’s a good-looking beast, which makes the fact it’s a slightly underwhelming drive a hard pill to swallow.

Comparatively, the Hyundai IONIQ 5 glides down. Here’s an EV – and Hyundai for that matter – that is genuinely cool. But given the wait time on a new one has blown out, maybe check back in for Car of the Year 2024.

The Mazda CX-5 keeps a good thing going, especially in GT SP form, which is the best-driving SUV out there for the money. But the lower-end models are blighted by the brand’s dated infotainment system.

READ ALSO 2022 Year in Review: Living the Canberra lifestyle

The Lexus NX 450h offers a claimed pure electric range of 87 km, a good deal more than most other plug-in hybrids, but at $89,000, you do have to pay for it.

The doors on the Audi e-tron shut with exactly the noise you’d expect, but apart from the fact the wing mirrors are actually cameras, there’s nothing particularly special about it.

We should all be immensely pleased a thing like the Subaru WRX still exists but, as a sedan, there is all that black plastic cladding to come to terms with. Some will also mention the CVT gearbox as a weakness, but there’s no denying it still presents as a rugged, energetic car.

The Polestar 2 is eminently Swedish, by which I mean built with head-spinning levels of attention to detail. The $60K base model made sense at first as a more solid alternative to Tesla, but the modern Volvo EV fleet now offers a very similar deal. The performance versions on the other hand… It soundly beats an electric boat too.

For the Kia EV6, see the Hyundai IONIQ 5. It’s the same car in a different skin. Together with their new premium and polished Sportage, it really shows how far the brand has come. For many families, who only concern themselves with how many charge ports are scattered around the cabin, the fact the Sportage wasn’t very dynamic to drive probably isn’t too important. But it was still a blight.

While we’re on the topic of how far things have come, a few years ago, you wouldn’t have wanted to see your worst enemy dead in a Chinese car. Not so in the Haval H6GT, even if there is still some finessing to do.

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For something with seven seats, the Jeep Grand Cherokee handles its weight very well on and off the road. But there are few interior plastics, not helped by a price increase of $20K for the base model.

It took a while but I finally got into the Volkswagen Golf, even if it meant settling for the R model, which is basically a five-seat supercar with a boot. But for $11K more than the outgoing model, you get an infotainment system so bad even VW’s new CEO has announced updates.

The Toyota Corolla Cross is a Corolla that’s a bit higher off the ground. There’s not much else to say. It’s sensible and it works but you’d prefer to hand the keys to the valet before driving up to the front of any posh hotels.

Honda Civic

A Civic in … err, Civic. Photo: James Coleman.

As for the Honda Civic, it’s the finest ‘normal’ car to drive out there. But thanks to some model slashing, it’s hardly for the hoi polloi anymore – prices start at $47,200. And for the millionth time, where are the parking sensors?

For the Volkswagen T-Roc, see the Golf, but add extra height and swap out the infotainment system for one with buttons.

The BYD Atto 3 arrived this year as one of Australia’s cheapest EVs and, provided the price doesn’t go up again, you get a lot for $51K. But that’s the thing – despite the six-year warranty, it is still largely untried (we don’t want to do a Wheels magazine, when they named the Holden Camira the Car of the Year 1986).

We’re getting to the pointy end here, so we could go with the Mercedes-Benz C200, which is perfect in every way. But it’s a Mercedes. You knew it would be.

Then there is the Subaru BRZ, a car I still look back on with a smile for its devotion to throwing back to the simple two-door sports coupes of 1970s Britain. Add in two doors and a seat and you have the square root of the hot hatchback – the Hyundai i20 N.

The car that got the most people the most excited was undoubtedly the new Ford Ranger, and with good reason. It’s gruff and muscly but also polished. There’s a sense of humour too – I love how the dedicated spot in the centre console for your Maccas fries made it through all the board meetings.

The 2023 CUPRA Formenter VZe at Minto Galloway, near Hall. Photo: James Coleman.

But I have to say the one that stands out the most was Volkswagen’s Spanish cousin. In what’s expected to be best-selling plug-in hybrid VZe form, it’s a very similar proposition to the Lexus NX. But it’s even more of a joy to drive, and look at, and listen to. And pay for – prices start at $60,990.

To top it all off, there’s a pure electric range of 58 km to save you on commuting and a total range of 2105 km for traversing halfway across Australia in a jiffy. And the turbocharged four-cylinder engine can sound like a V8. Everyone is happy, but in far from a compromised way.

Yes, Region‘s Car of the Year for 2022 is the CUPRA Formentor.

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How about informing us about which cars are most reliable, have well priced spare parts and which dealers/makes have a good reputation for looking after their customers.

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