2015 Drive Car of the Year: Best city SUV


View the 2015 Drive Car of the Year full winners list Australians love an underdog. And they are also enamoured with the new breed of baby soft roaders that have swamped showrooms over the last two years, forcing us to create a new category for Drive Car of the Year; the Best City SUV. Without a carry over champion, the battle for the baby bush basher title was expected to be a hard fought one between the two most popular combatants in this burgeoning segment, the Mazda CX-3 and Honda HR-V. There were some judges that questioned how the new-age Suzuki Vitara – the fourth-generation of the car that ultimately pioneered of the class – had made it to become a finalist, as it isn’t a big seller and nor is the most powerful or the cheapest to purchase. But it was those judges that hadn’t driven it before our testing, and it was those judges that came away genuinely surprised by the Vitara’s combination of excellent driving dynamics, space, value for money and long-term ownership credentials – enough that the Suzuki stole a surprise victory as the inaugural Best City SUV. “That is a great little car that drives a lot better than I thought it would,” said one judge. With a sticker price of $23,990 (but available for $24,990 driveaway for the foreseeable future), the front-drive Vitara RT-S with a six-speed automatic slots right into the thick of the action of the class, and, even in its most basic specification, was praised for its spread of standard equipment, such as sat nav, a reverse camera and seven airbags. While the cabin’s overall presentation looks and feels a little cheaper than its rivals, the Vitara makes good use of its space with heaps of headroom, adequate rear legroom for small families and a decent boot. Similarly, its 1.6-litre four-cylinder doesn’t produce any headline numbers – with its 86kW/156Nm outputs the lowest of this trio – but it punches well above its weights as a willing engine that revs smoothly, is quiet at cruising speeds and well-matched to the automatic. The fact the Vitara tips the scales at just 1075kg (the third lightest car among the 52 finalists behind only the Mazda MX-5 and Mazda2) helps the Vitara compensate for its lower outputs, and also contributes to a claimed 6.0L/100km fuel economy figure – the best of this bunch – as well as its on-road agility. Beyond the car itself, the Suzuki is also the cheapest to own, with the highest forecasted retained value and, despite its six-monthly service intervals, is the least expensive to maintain over the first three years. STRICT EMBARGO: 6am 4/12/2015 DCOTY Best city SUV group Photo: Mark Bean The Vitara didn’t have it all its own way though and was closely challenged by the CX-3, which scored top votes from two of the six judges. All agreed the high-riding hatch based on the Mazda2 was the classiest to look at and its cabin was the best presented with a stylish dash, comfortable front seats and good quality materials. At $22,390 (plus on-road costs) for the second-tier Maxx in front-wheel drive configuration, the CX-3 is an enticing proposition with a long list of standard equipment that includes sat nav, a reverse camera, six airbags and the most powerful engine in this contest, a perky yet frugal 2.0-litre four cylinder that produces 109kW/192Nm while sipping an average of 6.1L/100km. Adding to the safety side of things, the CX-3’s optional safety pack brings automated emergency braking and blindspot warning at an affordable $1100. In isolation the CX-3’s more sporting character makes it a fun little car to punt around town with direct steering and a solid stance in the bends, but its sharp ride means that most bumps are transferred directly into the cabin and there’s noticeable road noise on anything but smooth surfaces. The back seat also isn’t as capacious and the boot is the smallest of this trio, but still suitable for small family duties. While the judges commended Mazda for still fitting a full-size spare tyre (where both the Suzuki and Honda had space savers) and it had the longest service intervals at 15,000kms, the CX-3 cost the most to maintain over the first three years. That leaves the HR-V to fill the final step…

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