Cars Of The Year 2020

15 Jan 2020 | 04.11 pm

Cars Of The Year 2020

Kia e-Soul is the first EV to get the nod

15 Jan 2020 | 04.11 pm

Ireland’s motoring journalists come together each year for the Continental Irish Car of the Year awards. Mark Gallivan explains the 2020 judging panel picks

CAR OF THE YEAR
Kia e-Soul (pictured)

Central to the e-Soul’s appeal is the claimed 452km electric range. For an EV model, the e-Soul is keenly priced from €37,495, drives well, has decent space for families and offers good visibility. Now in its third generation, the e-Soul has slim LED front headlights, 17-inch alloys and the boot space increases from 315 litres to 448 litres when the rear seats are folded. 

Jurors commented that the claimed range is realistic and, more importantly, how slowly the charge is depleted – a frequent disappointment in BEV cars. Acceleration is brisk, from zero to 100km/h is 7.9 seconds. The car’s oddball look won’t be everyone’s taste, though the benefit of the square shape is decent interior space for four adults. The e-Soul was also winner in the Compact and Green categories.

MEDIUM CAR
Toyota Corolla

The once dull but worthy hatch/saloon with a staid platform has been moved onto Toyota’s new Global Architecture platform, and now sports enough brio to compete with the Volkswagen Golf and Ford Focus for driver involvement. Toyota’s engineers tweaked the front axle’s geometry, adding a new degree of precision to the steering, making the latest Corolla a surprisingly agile companion. 

Toyota also paid attention to the suspension, adding suppleness that rivals the Golf for. I tested the Hybrid, mostly in city traffic, and the quietness in electric mode is very relaxing.

LARGE CAR
Peugeot 508

The saloon has garnered much admiration for desirable looks, helped by the frameless doors. The fresh thinking extends to the interior, which mirrors the Peugeot’s 5008 cabin, sharing the trademark small sports steering wheel. The 508 is rewarding to drive without being outstanding, and the sloping roof does eat into rear headroom. 

With 1.5-litre and 2.0-litre diesels on offer, it’s best to opt for the bigger engine for decent performance. My favourite in the range is the 1.6-litre petrol, which is gutsy and suits the car’s GT coupé pretensions. The 508 drives well and only starts to fidget when pushed hard. 

LARGE SUV
SEAT Tarraco

Shortlisted contenders in this category included the Audi e-tron and Q8, Mercedes EQC, the BMW X5 and X7 and the blue-collar Ford Ranger Raptor. The Tarraco’s practicality and more sporty driving characteristics than its rivals found favour with the motoring journalists. The value proposition is important too, as entry pricing starts from €31,570. 

Now the flagship SEAT model, the Tarraco dukes it out with its sister cars, the VW Tiguan Allspace and Skoda Kodiaq. Of the three, the Tarraco has the elusive verve factor, though steer clear of the optional bigger wheels, as they harden the ride. In this segment, only the Peugeot 5008 serves up similar fun. 

COMPACT SUV
Volkswagen T-Cross

Aside from the well-proportioned looks and decent interior, the 1.0-litre three-cylinder turbocharged engine has enough poke to haul the 1,750kg gross weight without being strained at higher revs. The availability of the 8-speed DSG gearbox makes the typical choice of a manual gearbox in a car this size almost redundant. The crisp automatic gear changes are a delight, and the disciplined way the car drives over a range of different surfaces shows how much attention VW has paid to the car’s overall composure. 

For me, the biggest draw of the T-Cross is the car’s exceptional refinement, with low noise and vibration. Even though it’s a small car, the T-Cross earned a string 97% score in the Euro NCAP car test for occupant protection. It is easily the best compact SUV to be launched in 2019.

MEDIUM SUV
Audi Q3

The new Q3 saw off category rivals such as the Range Rover Evoque and DS7. Audi has mimicked the flagship Q8’s imperious looks and scaled them into the Q3’s far smaller package. The Q3 is larger than the old Q3, with 78mm added to the wheelbase for better passenger comfort. Well-constructed, solid, and practical, the Q3 has plenty going for it. The only gripes are the slightly rough diesel engines and the firm ride. 

Spending time in the Q3 reminds you of how well Audi builds vehicle interiors. In testing, nothing shook or rattled, and the grade of materials used is top class. Visibility and the seating position are excellent and there is ample space for front and rear passengers. With decent boot space too, the Q3 was a justified winner in this category.

HOT HATCH
Ford Focus ST

This category is a showcase for manufacturers to show how much fun they can engineer into a car that can combine family duties, practicality, and sublime handling. The category shortlist included the Mercedes-Benz A35 AMG, the thrilling Renault Megane RS Trophy, the Cupra Ateca and Skoda Kodiaq RS SUV. What swung it for Ford is the Focus ST’s steering. It is perfectly weighted and offers excellent precision with rewarding feedback that is a rare find these days. 

The petrol Focus ST has adaptive suspension as standard. An optional Performance Pack firms the suspension even further, though most buyers will see this as a step too far unless they regularly take this car to the track. The Focus ST comes with a limited-slip differential – almost a necessity in a car of this type – and works well in keeping the power down while exiting a corner. Unless you’re concerned about mpg figures you should bypass the diesel version. Pricing starts at €39,700. 

PERFORMANCE/LUXURY CAR
Alfa Romeo Stelvio QF

Not many Alfas are sold these days — 39 new cars in the first nine months of this year — but motoring scribes were seduced by the Stelvio QF. Powered by a 2.9-litre V6 engine with 510PS, the Stelvio is dynamically thrilling. Everyone who tested the €118,795 Stelvio QF marvelled at the explosive acceleration and aural cacophony. Though the list price is off the charts, the Stelvio is almost as much fun to drive as a performance saloon despite its bulky size. 

This is no accident, as the Stelvio QF has the same chassis and engine as the widely admired Giulia Quadrifoglio, while the four-wheel drive-train has a Maserati origin. Robert Fedeli, who worked on developing the Ferrari 458 Speciale, tuned this Alfa’s chassis. Until Ferrari unveils a new SUV, buyers seeking Maranello-style thrills will be amply rewarded here.

MPV
Peugeot Rifter

Peugeot’s new Rifter is a replacement for the Partner Teepee and has a mission to transport people while retaining the versatility of a van. The cabin has Peugeot’s i-Cockpit design, with high-mounted dash displays with the steering wheel positioned below the line of sight. 

The interior fit and finish is a class above the Partner Teepee, visibility is excellent, and the amount of glass allied to the high seating position makes the Rifter an easy MPV to park in tight spaces. Car of the Year judges liked the no-nonsense practicality and sheer versatility of the sliding rear doors. Prices start at €23,540.

 

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