2019 was another great year, with DriveLife bringing you yet more cars to consider, each with a full-length review. You know we don’t do things in halves; each car gets a solid number of words written about it, so you know if it will be the car for you, or not. We have over 350 reviews currently, and we are looking forward to breaking through the 400 mark as soon as we can. 

This year’s DriveLife Car of the Year awards has a list of 48 vehicles to choose from. They’re divided across 11 award categories, each with their own criteria which we will cover as we move through each one.

It may seem strange to be awarding these in January, but here at DriveLife, good things take time. We like to mull over our choices more to make sure we are 100% certain we are voting for the correct car. We also feel that the year should be finished before we can award 2019 Car of the Year, as you never know when that special vehicle may come along.

As per last year, the system of eligibility is simple; vehicles can only be considered if they have been supplied by the manufacturer/distributor and fully reviewed in New Zealand by at least one member of the DriveLife team, and the vehicle must also be driven between January 1st and December 31st of that awards year.

Each category has to reflect how DriveLife’s team felt about the cars and their segments. We all agreed that rating vehicles based on the class would not work for us, as we take in-depth reviews on each vehicle we drive. We also felt that many cross the boundaries of their market segments when it comes to nominations. That was the stance we took last year, and it works for us, so we aren’t changing it.

Since we wanted awards that embodied what the DriveLife team was all about, we continue with the following categories, the same as last year:

  • Driver’s Car of the Year
  • Best Value Car of the Year
  • Hottest Car of the Year
  • Luxury Car of the Year
  • Toughest Car of the Year
  • Coolest Gadget of the Year
  • Family Car of the Year
  • Unexpected Car of the Year
  • Best Sounding Car of the Year
  • Eco Warrior Car of the Year;

and the main award of 

  • Car of the Year

So let’s get into it and run through each category, list the candidates and what we were looking for, followed by the winner and an honourable mention for the runner-up.

2019 Driver’s Car of the Year
This award goes beyond you grinning when you approach the car, eager to get behind the wheel. To be eligible for this award, the driver has to be grinning about the drive, without even seeing the car; that’s the sign of a true driver’s car. 

Final Candidates for 2019

WINNER – 2019 Driver’s Car of the Year – Hyundai i30N

The i30N absolutely satisfies the above criteria for our driver’s car of 2019. Press that N button and everything about the drive is grin-inducing and satisfying, but for me the icing on the cake are the thoroughly rude noises it makes. Those growls, whistles, pops and crackles satisfy the inner child and help make the i30N a worthy winner.


For me, this was a close call. I drove the i30N, and it blew me away. Then came along the 2019 MX5-RF, with a little more power than the 2018 MX-5, and finished in Soul Red. I could have cried. With a road height similar to a go-kart and handling to match, I can never see the MX-5 not being in the top 3 for this award. From the short-shift gear change, to the looks, to the feel. Runner-up yes, but an incredible drive every time.

2019 Best Value Car of the Year

The value for money award is a subjective thing, but sometimes overlooked. Regardless of cost, this award represents excellent value in technology, performance, safety – or just features – compared to their competitors.

Final Candidates for 2019

WINNER – 2019 Best Value Car of the Year – Suzuki Jimny

This is the second year in a row that Suzuki have won our Best Value award, with the Swift Sport being last year’s winner. It’s well deserved, the Jimny is an awesome little off-roader which is great fun to drive on the road too. And at a little over $26k there’s really no competition.

RUNNER UP – Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV

While the Jimny is a great little car, and great value for a 4WD, for the average family it’s hard to go past the Outlander PHEV. Okay, it’s only 5 seats compared to the ‘normal’ Outlander’s 7, but still, add in that PHEV system that gets you around 50km of range on battery, and for $52,490? Bargain.

2019 Eco Warrior Car of the Year

This award is for the vehicle that just wanted to stick it to the oil companies of the world. It’s all about reducing the running costs while doing your bit to save the planet.

Final Candidates for 2019

WINNER –  2019 Eco Warrior Car of the Year – Jaguar I-PACE

The Jaguar I-Pace is a Jaguar at heart, with futuristic flare. A very easy car to live with, and the I-Pace would be top of our list if we were in the market for a fully electric car.

Note: No Teslas were reviewed in time for our 2019 awards, so cannot be considered for this or any other category.

RUNNER UP – Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV

When we test an EV, the first thing people ask is, “but how far can I drive it?”, as if they drive 500km every single day. For those who are a bit tentative about dipping their toes fully into the EV world, the Outlander PHEV is a great option. Hell, it won this category last year. From the driveability, to the PHEV system, to the price – the Outlander PHEV is an excellent all-round package.

2019 Luxury Car of the Year

The Luxury award represents the pinnacle of what manufacturers can offer in terms of comfort, quality and style.

Final Candidates for 2019

WINNER –  2019 Luxury Car of the Year – Audi Q8

It’s hard to go past a high-spec BMW or Mercedes-Benz for luxury, but this year, the Audi Q8 takes the award out. There’s something about the entire SUV that exudes luxury. The (optional) 22” rims looked amazing – still the best rims I’ve ever seen – and opening the door opens your eyes to what is obviously a luxury car. The split centre screens, the leather, the finish. We doubt Audi were aiming for luxury when they designed the Q8, but it hits this category on the head. 

The mix of frameless doors, piano black, suede, and leather combine to make the Audi Q8 this year’s winner in this category.


With three Mercedes-Benz in the finals, Runner Up was going to be difficult. But for me, the X5 M50d was the choice. And believe me, it wasn’t down to the ‘Clarity Glass Package’ that the M50d comes with; you may remember this includes a glass gear shifter, but I did not like it at all. But the rest of the car? Awesomely luxurious. 

2019 Hottest Car of the Year

This award is all about looks. Which vehicle would create the best bedroom poster, desktop or phone background?

Final Candidates for 2019

WINNER –  2019 Hottest Car of the Year – HSV Chevrolet Camaro ZL1

There is not much more to say about the HSV Chevrolet Camaro ZL1. Everything about it has been dialed to 11; the engine, the driving experience and the styling. It’s a clear winner in our eyes as the Hottest Car of 2019.

RUNNER UP – BMW M2 Competition

The BMW M2 Competition is a beautiful car, but it’s not that much different from the regular M2. Only the true fanatics would notice the difference, leaving it just short of the top spot this year.

2019 Toughest Car of the Year

This award is about the rough and tough. Which vehicle would take you over the toughest terrain while trying to survive a zombie apocalypse?

Final Candidates for 2019

WINNER –  2019 DriveLife’s Toughest Car of the Year – Mitsubishi Triton VRX 4WD

The Mitsubishi Triton is a savage beast, a take anywhere, do anything and just keep going to work truck. Not only is it great value for money, it’s a great looking truck too.

Compared to some other utes, the tough Triton felt just right, like your favourite work boots.

RUNNER UP – Suzuki Jimny

Despite being tiny and one of the cheapest 4WD cars available, the Jimny still has that rough and tough feel. Its interior is designed to take some abuse and be easily cleanable, it’s great off road and does give you the sense that you could drive pretty much anywhere.

2019 Family Car of the Year

This award is all about practicality, and if you could only have one car, then which would be the best all-round vehicle for the family of today. Long family on a road trip? Space for everything? Can it take knocks from unruly kids? And the dog in the back?

Final Candidates for 2019

WINNER –  2019 Family Car of the Year – Hyundai Santa Fe Elite 2.2 diesel

I was in Mahia over the Christmas break, staying at the campground, which was packed. The most common SUV there? Hyundai’s Santa Fe. Some old, some new, but there in abundance. There’s a good reason for this; the Santa Fe has a loyal following. It seems once you buy one, there’s no going back.

I loved my week in this car. Highly equipped, great design, fantastic chassis dynamics, and a smooth, sweet little diesel-turbo to push it along.

It’s in a tough group here, and for me, this was probably the award that was hardest to decide on. But at the end of the day, the Hyundai Santa Fe Elite diesel would be an excellent family wagon.

RUNNER UP – Holden Acadia LTZ-V

It was a close one, it had all the same tick boxes as the winner. A great car and very well equipped for family life. For size it’s hard to beat, packed with toys, however with only one engine option it lost by a nose to the Santa Fe diesel.

2019 Unexpected Car of the Year

This award is for the vehicle that turned out to be a big surprise compared to our unjustified expectations.

Final Candidates for 2019

WINNER –  2019 Unexpected Car of the Year – Ford Endura Titanium AWD

The Ford Endura was a blank slate to me. I expected it to be like other mainstream SUV’s, ticking a list of boxes without any real drama or excitement. However the Endura had stepped outside the box; it is very different, very funky, an all-round great SUV. When I dropped it back, I was blown away by how good it was. If it’s in your price range, go check it out.

RUNNER UP – Mitsubishi Outlander VRX diesel

Admittedly I didn’t expect much from the Outlander. I hadn’t driven one for ages, and honestly I’d already written it off as a boring car before I got behind the wheel.

Now, I’ve driven all of the Outlander range, and each is excellent in its own right. I love the PHEV, but if you need 7 seats and the ability to tow a decent weight, it’s hard to go past the VRX diesel. Great looks, great price, great driveability. 

2019 Coolest Gadget of the Year

This award is for the coolest feature or technology advancement, the one that feels like it comes from Q’s lab waiting for James Bond to arrive.

Final Candidates for 2019

WINNER –  2019 Coolest Gadget of the Year Holden Acadia – haptic seat

This year’s coolest gadget won because of the increased focus of safety it delivered to the driver. The Holden Acadia’s haptic driver’s seat is a simple yet brilliant idea. Sometimes there are far too many sounds in the cabin of a family car, having alerts that vibrate in the seat could be the deciding factor of a safe trip home.

RUNNER UP – Audi e-tron 55 quattro – Virtual Mirrors

Audi are the first to put a system like this into a production model, and though it has some quirks, their Virtual Mirror system is undeniably cool. Cameras on the sides are linked to screens in the doors, which have integrated blind spot warnings, and automatically adjust to give better night vision. The reduced drag over traditional mirrors also gives the e-tron a small amount of extra range.

2019 Best Sounding Car of the Year

This award is all about sound, amazing glorious sound. It’s all about that feeling it gives you when you hear it, and what can sometimes lift an average car into an amazing car. All those things that make a petrolhead grin every time the throttle is pressed.

Final Candidates for 2019

WINNER –  2019 Best Sounding Car of the Year – Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG S Estate

Sound is a very personal thing, some might think the ZL1 should have won, but I didn’t like the sound from the Supercharger. But the roar from the mighty V8 in the C63 has always been hard to beat – a thunderous sound that lets the world know this car means business.


I think most people would have put money against a diesel being anywhere near the top two in this category – me included. But the quad-turbo M50d is a mind-blowing drive. The sound it makes reminds me of an old 3-litre straight-six BMW petrol engine – I kid you not. It’s so good, I had to ask BMW what electronic anhancements they had made to the engine. The anwer? None. It just sound awesome, all by itself.

2019 Car of the Year

This award is for the best Car of the year. This category is only open to those vehicles that we gave a Five Chevron rating to in our reviews. We take lots of things into account to award our Car of the Year; so it’s not focused on just one aspect.

Final Candidates for 2019

WINNER –  2019 Car of the Year – Holden Acadia LTZ-V

The Holden Acadia has not received the credit that it’s due in a market that’s dominated by SUV’s. It’s big, luxurious, spacious, full of toys and rolls like a car that’s twice the price. I didn’t think I would like it or even expect much from it. However, I was pretty blown away by what you can get for your money.

After my time behind the wheel, I was disappointed to let it go. Hands down the Holden Acadia LTZ-V did everything the market wanted from it, while being delivered at a great price. It’s a clear winner for the DriveLife 2019 Car of The Year.  

RUNNER UP – Mazda CX-5 Takami

The CX-5 is one of those cars that seems to do nothing wrong. When I tested a mid-range GSX model in 2018, the review was titled ‘Still the medium-SUV King’. The diesel was always the one to go for though, as the performance of the 2.5-litre petrol engine was always down on the torquey diesel. Then Mazda chucked a turbo on, effectively giving you the same engine as in the much bigger CX-9. This has made the CX-5 even better, and now it’s an impossibly tough choice between the petrol or diesel engines.

Either is excellent – as long as it’s the Takami petrol model.

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Fred Alvrez
How on earth to start this? I've been car/bike/truck crazy since I was a teen. Like John, I had the obligatory Countach poster on the wall. I guess I'm more officially into classic and muscle cars than anything else - I currently have a '65 Sunbeam Tiger that left the factory the same day as I left the hospital as a newborn with my mother. How could I not buy that car? In 2016 my wife and I drove across the USA in a brand-new Dodge Challenger, and then shipped it home. You can read more on www.usa2nz.co.nz. We did this again in 2019 in a 1990 Chev Corvette - you can read about that trip on DriveLife. I'm a driving instructor and an Observer for the Institute of Advanced Motorists - trying to do my bit to make our roads safer.


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