19 January, 2021

We road tested 65 new cars  in 2020. Among them, 13 finished ahead of the pack. 

Like everything else in 2020, cars had a year like no other.

Car manufacturing plants across the world slowed down or shut down completely, new car sales continued their slow down from 2019 and fuel prices hit record lows.

With fewer new cars available for purchase, fewer used cars were getting traded in, which led to reduced availability of used cars and hence an increase in their price. For some, cancelled overseas holidays meant vehicle purchases were made instead, and some areas of the vehicle industry received a boost.

These included car makers which were able to meet demand, and the parts and servicing industry which benefitted from more Western Australians wanting to prepare their vehicles ahead of wandering out yonder.

Not all the upheaval in 2020 was a result of COVID-19 though.

Holden, for example, announced in February that the whole vehicle brand would be closed down by the end of 2020, after 72 years. Closing after a much shorter stint in Australia was Infiniti, Nissan’s luxury brand, which also stopped selling cars here at the end of 2020.

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Other manufacturers continued to launch new or heavily revised vehicles, such as Toyota’s Hilux, Fortuner and Prado. Toyota also gave us the new Yaris, which now comes as a hybrid, a hot mini-hatch called the GR Yaris and a baby SUV named the Yaris Cross.

Numerous other new hybrid vehicles entered the market, including Subaru’s Forester and XV hybrid models, and premium plug-in hybrid models including the Mercedes-Benz A250e, the Audi A3 Sportback 40 TFSI e and the Volvo XC40 Recharge.

Also in 2020, Land Rover launched its keenly anticipated new Defender, Audi launched their e-tron electric SUV, and Isuzu gave us their all-new D-Max ute range. Mitsubishi fielded its updated Pajero Sport, while Mazda launched its innovative and economical new Skyactiv-X engine, which runs on petrol but burns fuel using compression-ignition – a little like a diesel.

The excellent new Kia Sorento also landed late last year, and Nissan revealed the prototype for their long yearned-for 400Z sports car.

We also saw a huge improvement in the availability of the life-saving technology, autonomous emergency braking (AEB). This went from being standard equipment in 54 per cent of new cars in 2019, to being standard in 71 per cent of new cars in 2020.

So after a year like no other on our roads, here’s a selection the best cars we tested and were impressed by in 2020.

Light car – Toyota Yaris Hybrid

Toyota Yaris Hybrid

The new Yaris brought with it a hike of almost $7000 where old and new entry level Yaris models are compared, but it did get a bevy of safety and convenience features. The new hybrid version of the Yaris is as well-suited to city commuting as a duck is to water. It’s extremely economical (3.3L/100km in the lab-tested consumption) and runs on ULP 91. It’s quite fun to drive, has a 5-star ANCAP safety rating, and is also cheap to service.

Category: Light car
Make and model: Toyota Yaris Hybrid
Price (drive away from): $32,650
ANCAP safety rating: 5 stars
Body type: Hatch
Fuel economy/fuel type: 3.3L/100km; unleaded 91
Engine/transmission: 1.5L petrol/electric hybrid; CVT

Small car under $35,000 – Mazda3 G20 Touring

Mazda 3 GT Touring

The current Mazda3 was a tremendous improvement over its predecessor when launched in April 2019. It has one of the least intrusive engine stop-start systems in a non-hybrid, and the interior is designed to minimise driver distraction and fatigue. If you can afford the extra spend to just over $35,000 drive away for the G25 Evolve auto, go for it – it’s a better drive than the smaller engined G20.

Category: Small car under $35,000
Make and model: Mazda3 G20 Touring
Price (drive away from): $34,950
ANCAP safety rating: 5 stars
Body type: Hatch
Fuel economy/fuel type: 6.2L/100km; unleaded 91
Engine/transmission: 2.0L; six-speed auto

Small car over $35,000 – Mercedes-Benz A 250

Mercedes Benz A Class

We drove iterations of the A-Class in both 2019 and 2020, and the baby Merc continues to stand out among premium small cars. Premium fit and finish in the interior continue to stand out in the A-Class, as does the MBUX infotainment system with its crisp and clear displays and intuitive interface. The 165kW and 350Nm from the 2.0-litre turbo produces plenty of sporting flavour without shouting about it.

Category: Small car over $35,000
Make and model: Mercedes-Benz A 250
Price (drive away from): $58,430
ANCAP safety rating: 5 stars
Body type: Hatch
Fuel economy/fuel type: 6.5L/100km; premium unleaded 95
Engine/transmission: 2.0T; seven-speed dual clutch auto

Large car over $65,000 – Audi A6 40 TFSI

Audi A6

Large cars may be a fading segment, but survivors remain in our midst, like the A6 sedan. Gone are the days when a large sedan needed a big engine – our test car had a 2.0-litre petrol. Plenty of room and safety technology in an attractive, agile and economical premium alternative to an SUV. Just be aware of the lengthy options list.

Category: Large car over $65,000
Make and model: Audi A6 40 TFSI
Price (drive away from): $97,200
ANCAP safety rating: 5 stars
Body type: Sedan
Fuel economy/fuel type: 6.3L/100km; premium unleaded 95
Engine/transmission: 2.0T; seven-speed dual clutch auto

Sports under $60,000 - Hyundai i30 N Performance

Hyundai i30N

In an age when automatic transmissions rule, the appeal of the sensational but manual-only i30 N was limited to manual-friendly enthusiasts. Now though, an i30 N with an eight-speed dual-clutch auto is set to arrive in the first half of 2021. We drove the manual late in 2020 to check out some of the other recent updates, like some slight engine output increases, new seats and lights. When the DCT auto appears later this year, it’ll swell the i30 N’s fanbase, who nowadays are known as ‘N-thusiasts’.

Category: Sports under $60,000
Make and model: Hyundai i30 N Performance
Price (drive away from): $45,900
ANCAP safety rating: 5 stars
Body type: Hatch
Fuel economy/fuel type: 8.0L/100km; premium unleaded 95
Engine/transmission: 2.0T; seven-speed manual

Small SUV under $40,000 – Mazda CX-30

Mazda CX-30

The CX-30 filled an important gap in the Mazda SUV range when it arrived in February 2020, sitting between the tiny CX-3 and the larger CX-5 mid-sized SUV. Essentially a higher-riding Mazda3, the CX-30’s interior exudes the same high-quality fit and finish seen in other Mazdas, along with great ergonomics, sharp handling and seamlessly functioning infotainment technologies.

Category: Small SUV under $40,000
Make and model: Mazda CX-30
Price (drive away from): From $32,680
ANCAP safety rating: 5 stars
Body type: Wagon
Fuel economy/fuel type: 6.5L/100km; unleaded 91
Engine/transmission: 2.0L; six-speed auto

Small premium SUV – BMW X1

BMW 1Series

The X1 is one of the top four most popular small premium SUVs, up there with the Mercedes GLA-Class, Audi A3 and Volvo XC40. We tested the XDrive25i, meaning it was an all-wheel drive petrol. It’s roomy inside for a small SUV (for both cargo and people) and with 170kW and 350Nm, that turbo petrol is gutsy. Choose the three-cylinder diesel and you’ll save $13,850 and 1.8 litres of fuel per 100km.

Category: Small premium SUV
Make and model: BMW X1
Price (drive away from): $72,480
ANCAP safety rating: 5 stars
Body type: Wagon
Fuel economy/fuel type: 7.1L/100km; petrol
Engine/transmission: 2.0L petrol; eight-speed auto

AWD SUV under $55,000 – Toyota RAV4 Hybrid

Toyota RAV4 Hybrid

Hybrid versions of the RAV4 were in high demand and low supply in 2020. Supply of battery components for the hybrid RAV4 was part of the reason, but being a neat-driving, fuel-efficient and affordable mid-sized SUV were all major factors in creating strong demand. The AWD Hybrid Cruiser is the best of the bunch, but the GXL at nearly $4000 less is also great buying.

Category: AWD SUV under $55,000
Make and model: Toyota RAV4 Hybrid
Price (drive away from): $41,540
ANCAP safety rating: 5 stars
Body type: Wagon
Fuel economy/fuel type: 4.8L/100km; unleaded 91
Engine/transmission: 2.5L petrol/electric hybrid; CVT

Large SUV $55,000 - $70,000 – Kia Sorento

Kia Sorento GT-Line

Kia kicked a game-winning goal with the new Sorento when it hit the market in September 2020. The last one was already one of the best SUVs in the segment. This one gets a new eight-speed dual clutch transmission for (claimed) improved fuel economy. Ride quality is excellent, and inside, brushed aluminium finishes and USB ports abound. If the bustling world outside is too much, on the GT-Line variant there’s also a choice of calming ambient sounds including ‘Lively forest’, ‘Warm fireplace’ and Calm ocean waves’.

Category: Large SUV $55,000 - $70,000
Make and model: Kia Sorento
Price (drive away from): From $50,300
ANCAP safety rating: 5 stars
Body type: Wagon
Fuel economy/fuel type: 6.1L/100km; diesel
Engine/transmission: 2.2L diesel/eight speed dual clutch

AWD SUV $70,000-$150,000 – Audi Q8

Audi Q8

We road tested the Q8 in early 2020, and what stood out was just how well Audi has catered for the seemingly incompatible consumer demands for tall-ish SUVs that go, stop and handle like sports cars. Beneath the surface of its raked, muscular haunches is a range of advanced safety gear and a choice of a petrol or diesel 3.0-litre V6.

Category: AWD SUV $70,000-$150,000
Make and model: Audi Q8
Price (drive away from): From $145,000
ANCAP safety rating: 5 stars
Body type: Wagon
Fuel economy/fuel type: 6.9L/100km (diesel); diesel and petrol
Engine/transmission: 3.0L diesel/eight speed auto

All-Terrain SUV - Land Rover Defender

Land Rover Defender

At 68 years, it’s fair to say Land Rover got a good run out of the last Defender model, which ran in various guises but without a major redesign from 1948-2016. This completely new Defender is tremendously capable off road, with the major upgrades being refinement, safety and comfort levels that are now fit for the 2020s, not the 1950s. It’s also cheaper than you might expect.

Category: All-Terrain SUV
Make and model: Land Rover Defender
Price (drive away from): From $80,000
ANCAP safety rating: 5 stars
Body type: Wagon
Fuel economy/fuel type: 7.6L/100km; diesel
Engine/transmission: 2.0L diesel/eight speed auto

4x4 Dual Cab Ute – Mitsubishi Triton

Mitsubishi Triton

Updates to the Triton for 2020 included a range of notable extra equipment being added to more models, including a rear differential lock on GLS and GLX+ models, Mitsubishi’s clever overhead air circulator for rear passengers in the double cab GLX+ models and keyless ignition on all GLS models. It also gets a seven-year warranty. Stretch to the GLS to also get the Super Select transmission.

Category: 4x4 Dual Cab Ute
Make and model: Mitsubishi Triton
Price (drive away from): From $46,740 (GLS auto)
ANCAP safety rating 5 stars
Body type: Dual cab ute
Fuel economy/fuel type: 8.6L/100km; diesel
Engine/transmission: 2.4L diesel/six speed auto

Electric Car – Jaguar I-Pace

Jaguar i-Pace

Jaguar’s all-electric SUV received some welcome and important updates in 2020, including a new infotainment system. The old system, unlike the car itself, was notoriously slow to respond to inputs. The upgraded I-Pace can also now charge more quickly from a home wallbox. Fully charged, the 90kWh lithium-ion battery will take you – according to Jaguar – up to 470km.

Category: Electric car
Make and model: Jaguar I-Pace
Price (drive away from): From $142,930
ANCAP safety rating: 5 stars
Body type: SUV
Electricity consumption: 22 – 25.2kWh/100km
Engine/transmission: Single-speed automatic