David Thomson and Richard Bosselman ease into 2013 by looking back at the cars from the year just past that left a real impression. They start in this issue with small, medium, large and luxury cars.
Small: Kia Picanto ISG: Like Richard's small-car choice, the Picanto ISG applies fuel-saving technology once reserved for far more expensive cars to the mainstream. In this case, it is integrated stop-start technology that gets the nod. So equipped, the cute-looking Picanto still costs less than $20,000, is 20% more frugal than its non-ISG sibling and, thanks to manual transmission, more fun to drive as well. Smiles all round, I say.
Medium: Honda Civic Euro: The absence of a Civic hatch from its Kiwi range has hit Honda hard in recent years, so the recent return of a five-door to the line is good news indeed. That it is a rakishly stylish machine and a cracking great drive as well is both cause for celebration and a necessity, given the calibre of opponents the Civic faces in this highly competitive class.
Large: Chrysler 300C: When space and long-trip comfort are top priorities, large cars are hard to beat. Enter Chrysler's latest 300C, coming to us from the country that has always done bigger and bolder best. This time around, there's welcome European input into interior design, adding a genuine high-quality feel to the cabin of a car that also delivers in the realms of advanced technology, improved refinement and, as before, sheer visual presence.
Luxury: BMW 328i: Very few cars earn the ultimate 5-star accolade in Drivesouth. One such is the latest BMW 328i. This superbly executed machine impresses for its blend of driver-focused and comfort-oriented dynamics, and for a marked improvement in interior space over its predecessor. Right now, nothing else in BMW's range is a class-leader by such a clear margin.
Small: Toyota Prius C: The world's leading provider of hybrid cars, Toyota, always claimed the battery-assisted technology would become cheaper over time. After 12 years and 3.5 million cars built, this truly budget hatch proves the point. It's also less appliance-like than the full-sized Prius, if not so much in the driving - that's still a bit dull, although ride is pretty good, as is the look, and the spec is strong.
Medium: Ford Focus: Pre-facelift, the Focus was a class act. The 2013 updates make a good thing even better. It's not quite nirvana; the Powershift automated manual still lacks paddles (blame miserly bean-counters) and Ford here still cannot find a place for a diesel Titanium hatch, but otherwise all else seems sweet as. And now there's a fantastic hot hatch with the 184kW/360Nm ST.
Large: Ford Falcon EcoBoost: Weak sales don't diminish this car's credibility or importance. Falling Falcon sales and rising fuel prices show why a four is a good ''fit''. I'm not sure if the XT-headed push here was Ford's best idea, and the car's design - especially within - is looking stale, but the driving experience is hugely impressive.
Luxury: Audi RS4: Audi's performance division has been banging out RS cars since 1994 and the badge now attaches to an entire family, but the Franken-A4-stein has always been the central figure, notably in 2004-launched form; a legend for its supercar-rivalling stonk and dynamic purity. The replacement falls behind on steering feel (just) but wallops in all other areas. Another legend born, I'd say.
Next week, SUVs, light commercials and sports cars take a bow, and overall favourites are also revealed.
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