Saturday 25 October 2014

3 series leaves its rivals standing

Published 11/11/2012 | 05:00

WITH the end of the year approaching, it's time again to select the Continental Irish Car of the Year 2013. From 11 shortlisted cars, 28 jurors from the Irish Motoring Writers Association will cast their votes this week. The winner will be announced on November 22 -- but in advance here's how I voted.

First to be eliminated is the BMW 6 series Gran Coupe (reviewed on page 5), for no other reason than the price. It is beautiful to look at, scintillating to drive -- but with a price tag close to €100,000 it is so far beyond the reach of most people that it is my first casualty.

The Mercedes M-Class is the best to date, but the luxury SUV is a victim of austerity. It's a high-quality and refined piece of engineering, but so few will be sold that this is the second car off the list.

Next up the BMW M5 is without doubt the ultimate sports car that can double as a family saloon. It is incredible to drive, but while it may be the most powerful M car ever, the sobering price tag of €135,000 and motor tax bill of €2,258 means it's impossible to propose it for car of the year.

Then comes Kia's new Optima which is beautifully styled with echoes of the Jaguar XF. On the road it is comfortable but not memorable. While it is a lot of car for the money, it offers nothing special by Kia's standards.

In seventh place is Toyota's GT86. Fans of affordable, rear-wheel drive sports coupes will adore this car. On paper the coupe is deceptively dull with a 2-litre flat-four engine producing 197bhp and 205Nm of torque, just enough to get you from 0 to 100 in less than eight seconds. But on the road the GT86 is razor-sharp and exceeds all expectations. The interior is plasticy and the rear seats are best reserved for laptops or handbags, so this put the GT86 seventh in my list.

At number six is the Mazda CX-5. The first Mazda to feature Skyactiv technology, this allows fuel consumption and emissions to be reduced through a combination of weight reduction and redesign. Priced above most rivals, it is let down by the interior trim.

The Kia Cee'd is no cheap and cheerful Golf-sized family hatchback. It is sharp to drive, well-equipped and backed by an unbeatable seven-year warranty and is a worthy contender in our final top five.

At number four is the Peugeot 208. At a time when small cars are consistently getting bigger, the 208 makes a refreshing change.

So to the top three.

Ford deserves credit for introducing a really clever door system to the small car segment. There are no fixed B-pillars in the car so when the rear sliding doors are open the entire side of the car is revealed. In addition, the B-Max drives and handles really well, and with the 1-litre Ecoboost three-cylinder engine it is so much more than a supermini mpv.

In second place is the excellent Volvo V40. Stunning looks, delicious interior, incredible technology and great driving dynamics, the V40 has the potential to change your view of Volvo for ever. It is also the world's safest car and features the world's first airbag system to protect pedestrians. But safety comes at a high cost, and the V40 is the second on the list because of price.

After all this, the number one spot goes to the BMW 3 series. Press the start button and instantly you are reminded why this is such an iconic car.

It is intoxicating to drive and is perfectly balanced with a super-refined engine.

Choosing a winner is never easy, but the Car of the Year should set new standards, and the 3 series blends excellent economy with performance and fine handling, leaving rivals standing.

1. BMW 3 series

2. Volvo V40

3. Ford B-Max

4. Peugeot 208

5. Kia Cee'd

6. Mazda Cx-5

7. Toyota GT86

8. Kia Optima

9. BMW M5

10. Mercedes-Benz M-Class

11. BMW 6 Gran Coupe

(I missed from the list the Volkswagen UP!, Fiat Panda and the Citroen DS5). GH

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