Life Motoring

Sunday 31 August 2014

Substance or style in battle for car crown

Published 11/11/2012 | 05:00

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Campbell Spray and Geraldine Herbert veer in slightly different directions to choose winners for their car of the year

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IT was rather like her Gwyneth Paltrow to my Oliver Hardy when I and Contributing Editor Geraldine Herbert met for the refresher day for the Continental Irish Car of the Year.

Along with other members of the Irish Motoring Writers' Association we put 11 cars on the shortlist through their paces in north Kildare. However, it is a rather inexact science in choosing the very worthy eventual winner, as the shortlist is made up of two cars each from four different categories: small, family, executive/luxury and performance, and three from the compact category. All totally new -- not just mid-life modifications -- cars on the Irish market in the year up to October 31 are eligible and IMWA members chose the 11 from the longlist of 35.

There was a notable absentee when the Volkswagen UP! didn't make it on to the small shortlist. This may have been because on the longlist it was presented in three guises: UP!, Skoda Citigo and Seat Mii so votes would have been dispersed. I must say I didn't particularly like the Skoda Citigo, possibly because the violent green colour was off-putting, but the UP! itself is more refined, especially in a fetching black and white.

I think it will do well on the European stage. Other absentees included the well-specced Honda CR-V and the luxurious seven-seat Hyundai Santa Fe -- probably because they were launched very late in the year and members hadn't time to test them properly.

The refresher day is mad: jumping in and out of cars, which ranged from the enormous Mercedes M-Class to the petite Peugeot 208, and then driving them on mixed routes. Price, warranty and overall value for money are taken into account, alongside all the technical stuff, and of course the basics of just how well a car drives. As there were five premium models among the 11 -- and another is Toyota's return to the performance coupe sector -- the ordinary driver may feel a bit ignored, but shouldn't.

Last year's winner was the small Kia Rio and most years the overall winner is a mass market car. However, it is important that judges don't just go that way as the premium cars have become more affordable and the majority of technical, safety and comfort innovations start with them before trickling down to the more affordable models.

My Paltrow-like colleague goes through the shortlist in detail but my top vote went to the Volvo V40, followed by the Kia Cee'd and Toyota GT86.

The Volvo is a fantastic blend of style, safety and comfort; the Cee'd is the almost perfect compact and one to recommend to friends, as I did its predecessor; while Toyota should be congratulated in bringing back their sporting mojo in a very fine way. At the other end of the scale, the M5 is a wonderful car but absolutely crazy for our roads.

My votes were:

1: Volvo V40

2: Kia Cee'd

3: Toyota GT86

4: Peugeot 208

5: BMW 3 Series

6: Ford B-Max

7: Kia Optima

8: Mazda Cx-5

9: Mercedes-Benz M-Class

10: BMW 6 Gran Coupé

11: BMW M5

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