Drive Car of the Year 2015: And the Winner Is…

After our biggest Car of the Year awards ever Australian know-how comes out on top.

The story of Drive Car of the Year in 2015 could be subtitled, Ford: A New Hope.

It has been a rough few years for the blue oval brand – not only has it suffered a decline in sales it has had to endure the negativity surrounding its decision to end local production in 2016.

But as our testing has discovered, if you look past those problems you find a car company with a lot to offer. Ford has invested heavily in updating its range as it transitions to a future as a fully-imported line-up.

The result is a very strong family of cars. Ford was represented in six categories at Car of the Year in 2015 and won five – Best Small Car (Ford Focus Trend), Best Family Car (Ford Mondeo Trend), Best Performance Car under $60,000 (Ford Focus ST), Best Ute (Ford Ranger XLT) and Best 4WD (Ford Everest Trend).

If that wasn’t enough, three of those five – Everest, Ranger and Focus – ended up among our five finalists for the overall title of Drive Car of the Year.

In the end it was the Ford Everest Trend that claimed the most votes to win the coveted title, making 2015 a banner year for the blue oval at our awards.

But that only tells part of the story. The success of the Everest is a win for Ford Australia’s future because while it is manufactured in Thailand, the Everest (and its Ranger twin) were designed, engineered and tested in Australia by Ford’s Melbourne-based team.

This is what the future of the Australian car industry looks like – exporting our know-how, not building cars for the local market.

Ford Australia currently employs 1100 designers and engineers and will add more over the coming years as it becomes a hub for the Asia-Pacific region.

But regardless of where it is built and who engineered it the Everest is simply a very good SUV.

It won over the Drive judges with its ability to do so many things very well.

It may be based on the Ranger ute but it feels more refined and well-mannered than its rivals like the Holden Colorado7, Toyota Fortuner and Mitsubishi Challenger.

That’s because it features a different rear suspension set-up than the Ranger in order to give it the ride and driving qualities of an SUV. And it works too, as the judges were all impressed with how the Everest handled itself both on the road and during our on-track dynamic testing.

Coupled with a more comfortable and luxurious interior than the Ranger, and seven seats as standard, the Trend is a great family SUV option too. Standard gear includes dual-zone airconditioning, leather trimmed steering wheel, cloth trimmed seats, reversing camera, front and rear parking sensors as well as a 10-speaker stereo with Ford’s SYNC2 infotainment system that includes DAB+ digital radio.

Safety hasn’t been forgotten either and the Trend also comes equipped as standard with adaptive cruise control, forward collision alert mitigation, lane keeping assist and lane departure warning. Ford’s MyKey is also included, strengthening its role as a family friendly SUV by allowing parents to place limits on the car when they let their children drive unsupervised.

But it is still a highly capable off-roader, which is why it won our Best 4WD title. The Everest has a multi-mode terrain management system that allows you to tune the all-wheel drive settings depending on the surface. It also has 225mm of ground clearance, 800mm wading ability, 29 degrees approach angle, 25 degrees departure angle and 21 degrees ramp over angle.

And that was what ultimately won over the judging panel – the Everest’s ability to play so many roles. It is an SUV that is just at home wading through a river on the way to remote campsite or driving down to the local shops with the family on-board.

The Everest didn’t have it all its own way though in the final voting. Indeed, the fact there were five finalists instead of our usual four underlined how close and competitive the field was and the debate amongst the judges.

The Ranger impressed all the judges and took a unanimous victory in the Ute category, but in the final voting (when judges only have one vote) it suffered from being too similar to the Everest and not as family focused or flexible.

The Focus Trend played well with the judges thanks to its latest update. Ford gave the new model a more modern 1.5-litre turbocharged petrol engine, replaced the dual-clutch transmission with a smoother six-speed automatic and simplified and modernised the interior. But it retained the Focus’ engaging and well-mannered driving dynamics making it a very well-rounded small car.

The Kia Sorento SLi CRDi was a similarly impressive offering. The Family SUV category winner offers a punchy yet frugal diesel engine, spacious cabin, composed driving manners and good value.

But it can’t match the Everest’s off-road ability and, in such a high quality field, that wasn’t enough to earn it enough the top pick.

The same can be said for the final member of our quintet, the Mazda MX-5 1.5 GT. After taking out the Best Convertible title the born-again Japanese roadster was a strong contender for the top prize.

The judges loved the decision to return to the drop top’s compact, lightweight roots, praising the Mazda for its simplicity and sheer driving enjoyment.

But even that wasn’t enough to win over enough judges to take the crown. That’s because even though the Everest is the best car, it offers more than just that. We said last year that the best could be ahead for the Australian car market, and the Everest proves that that is most definitely true.

If Ford Australia can continue to produce world-class vehicles like the Everest, then Australian car lovers can be very proud.


Ford Everest Trend

Ford Ranger XLT 4×4

Ford Focus Trend

Mazda MX-5 1.5 GT

Kia Sorento SLi CRDi


Source: Drive.com.au

by Stephen Ottley
04 December 2015