It’s that time of the year again. We know, we know, 2020 is well gone, thankfully. At DriveLife, we generally do our car of the year awards for the previous year in January; this gives us the Christmas break to mull over choices, throw brands and models at each other to (eventually) come to some sort of an agreement.
While there were hiccups in our car reviews last year (cough-COVID!-cough), we still managed to review 59 vehicles in 2020.
As always, DriveLife is the only car magazine in New Zealand that does feature-length car reviews, so you know you are getting all the nitty-gritty details on that car you are looking at purchasing. We understand that whether you are spending $20K, $40K or even over $100K, you want to know what that car is really like. We clock up the miles on our test cars, so you can be sure we will deliver all the ins and outs for each car we review. For that reason, we know we can be sure the cars we give the following awards to are deserving. If you don’t agree or if you do, leave us a comment.
A quick note re our awards. You’ll notice they’re not boring awards, like “Best SUV of the Year”. Meh. We like to do it differently, so here’s our Best Of list, which admittedly does include a few ‘normal’ awards like Best Value, and Best Family Car. Keep in mind we do have some criteria, such as the car having been reviewed in New Zealand – so any tests by our man in Japan, Ken Saito, are out. The review has to have been published in 2020, and the car must have been supplied by a distributor or brand.
Enough of the talk, on with our awards. We’ll start off first with a description of the award, then a summary of the winner and runner up by the person who reviewed the car. The description pretty much carries over from last year’s awards.
Best 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.
WINNER – Landrover Defender – Offroad Terrain System
The new Land Rover Defender was like chalk and cheese to its predecessor. While still being as capable as the old one, it brought a raft of gadgets to the driver’s aid. The Offroad Terrain system was amazing. So much information is displayed to the driver about the vehicle and its surroundings, allowing you to almost see under it when you’re driving over different obstacles from its 360 degree camera system.
RUNNER UP – Peugeot 2008 GT – 3D Cockpit
The 3D Cockpit of the 2020 2008 is a talking point. Everyone who got into the passenger seat noticed it, as from that angle the 3D-ness of it really stands out. And the thing is, it’s not just a gimmick or party trick, it’s actually usable. The “hologram effect” as Peugeot calls it, means that whatever main item you have at the front (likely for New Zealand this will always be the speedo) stands out above everything else. While this makes it an even better option to have, it is still a very cool party trick. Your passengers will love it.
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.
WINNER – MERCEDES-AMG GLE 63S Coupe
It seems an AMG keeps winning this award, and with good reason; they sound incredible. Even before hitting the loud exhaust button on the centre console, the AMG GLE 63 S Coupe sounded amazing. It burbles along as only a V8 can. To be different – or perhaps it’s better – that loud exhaust button on this car doesn’t simply open up a butterfly in the exhaust; it opens up a second, smaller exhaust pipe to give you better noises, and it delivers them. The Mercedes-AMG GLE 63 S Coupe is almost worth buying just for the exhaust note.
The C63 63 S Estate won this last year, let’s see if someone can take this award away from Mercedes-AMG next year.
RUNNER UP – Hyundai i30N Fastback
A fundamental requirement of this award is for the car to produce a noise that excites your inner 9-year old. While it’s no V8, the noises from the i30N Fastback’s turbo spools, whooshes and exhaust backfires will leave a smile permanently imprinted on your face. It’s deserving of a podium finish for 2020.
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.
WINNER – Subaru Impreza
The Subaru Impreza mightn’t look too compelling based on exterior looks, yet underneath the surface, you have Subaru’s proven AWD, a spacious interior, adaptive cruise control, and all of the tech you’d expect from a car with another $10,000 on the price tag. Although the changes for the 2020 Impreza were minor, few vehicles can challenge the Impreza’s equipment provision for it’s $32,490 price tag. Of the cars we drove in 2020, the Impreza continued to stand-out.
RUNNER UP – Kia Seltos LX
Many manufacturers have their own rendition of the budget friendly vehicle, but Kia had the nous to package that into a SUV. The Seltos LX has a funky design, a cavernous interior, plus decent performance and fuel economy, while undercutting the majority of the small-medium SUV crowd. Kia ensures you get plenty for your dollar with the Seltos LX, hence winning the runner-up award.
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.
WINNER – Ford Fiesta ST
After driving this car in anger, I wanted to buy one but my wife had other thoughts on this (“no” was pretty much it). It nails everything I would want in a driver’s car; it handles incredibly well, it’s a manual, the steering is quick, it’s nicely balanced, it pops and crackles up and down the gears, and it’s a whole heap of FUN.
I titled my review for this car, Hot Hatch Heaven, and I stand by that. The 2020 Ford Fiesta ST is brilliant, and does exactly what you expect it to do for the bargain price of just under $40,000. This is a shame though, as it was $35,490 when we tested it, which made it an even bigger bargain. Still, it’s a huge fun machine, with only the VW Polo GTi coming close to its driver’s car credentials.
RUNNER UP – Hyundai i30N Fastback
“Dude, I almost had you” is an apt quote to represent the competition here. The i30N Fastback is an exceptional driver’s car. This one was a close race for sure, but fundamentally, the i30 Fastback is an evolution, rather than a revolution. That, and the Fiesta was over $20,000 cheaper.
Eco Warrior 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 running costs while doing your bit to save the planet.
WINNER – Hyundai Ioniq EV
The Ioniq II was the first EV I had driven and it successfully convinced me of the viability of electric vehicles for an average New Zealander.
It’s efficient, with energy consumption levels in the 14kWh/100km ballpark. It’s effective, with impressive daily performance and a real-world range of around 300kms. Finally, it’s better priced than the majority of the competitors. Sure, it mightn’t be pushing any tech boundaries amongst EVs, but the Ioniq represents a realistic EV for the majority. Even the Prime Minister ferries herself around in an Ioniq EV.
Hence, the Ioniq II takes out the Eco Warrior award for 2020.
RUNNER UP – Mercedes BENZ EQC
The EQC is the New Zealand Motoring Writer’s Guild Car of the Year for 2020, and it is excellent. This isn’t simply because it’s an EV; while the EQC costs far more than most people will ever pay for a new car, within the range of Mercedes-Benz cars it’s roughly the same cost as you’d pay for a petrol or diesel model. Compare this to the Hyundai Kona EV, which costs over double what the equivalent petrol version costs. The EQC is definitely a worthy runner-up for this award.
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?
WINNER – Skoda Kamiq Monte Carlo
Sometimes a car seems to sit just-right in that goldilocks zone of the market it’s designed for, and the Kamiq Monte Carlo is one of those cars. The balance of price and spec represents great value, it’s big enough but not too big, comfortable, looks good, and is well deserving of our Family Car of the Year title.
RUNNER UP – Mitsubishi Pajero Sport
The Pajero Sport VRX is a well packaged bit of kit that will take the family anywhere on and off the road. It’s got good space, practical and versatile. I could see this vehicle quickly becoming part of the family.
Hottest Car of the Year
This award is all about looks. Which vehicle would create the best bedroom poster, desktop or phone background?
WINNER – Hyundai i30N Fastback
We can’t not give this thing an award, can we? It’s the same excellent i30N recipe, with its blistering performance and the raucous turbo and exhaust noises, packaged in a sexy new Fastback body with Performance Blue paint, this Hyundai transfers you straight into the original Fast and Furious movie. We would definitely roll in this Hyundai.
RUNNER UP – Audi RS6
In my opinion the RS6 has always been the king of performance wagons. Since the first day I saw one I lusted after it for many years and now owning a 2009 V10 RS6, I have never regretted it. The 2020 Audi RS6 is everything that the older generation was and more. Where I felt there was room for improvements they have, all while keeping it a luxury experience.
The RS6 will always be the ultimate performance everyday family wagon.
Luxury Car of the Year
The Luxury award represents the pinnacle of what manufacturers can offer in terms of comfort, quality and style.
WINNER – Volvo XC60 Polestar
The Volvo XC60 T8 AWD R-Design Polestar Engineered is a really great package. It hits the nails on the head for style, value, safety, performance, comfort and luxury. There are few cars available on the market that feel as well built or as refined, and comfortable as the XC60. It was tight between the XC60 and GLS 400d, but the value of the XC60 pushed it over the line.
RUNNER UP – Mercedes-Benz GLS 400d
The GLS has it all, a long list of specs and toys, 7 adult-sized seats, big boot and powerful engine. It’s a Mercedes-Benz cruise ship SUV, with every aspect of the tech, luxury and driving experience. I love big SUVs, I think the bigger the better, especially for a family SUV. The bigger it is the more practical it is for all the things that every day life throws at you.
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?
WINNER – Jeep Gladiator
We all know and love the Jeep Wrangler, but for those who said the Wrangler wasn’t enough of a truck for them, Jeep delivered the mighty Gladiator. Even while sitting on your tarmac driveway, it screams “I’m a rough, tough truck and I’m ready for action!”.
RUNNER UP – Land Rover Defender
The Land Rover Defender is a living legend, and the new model has that anything you can do I can do better attitude. When it comes to tough trucks, the Defender will always be high on the list.
Unexpected Car of the Year
This award is for the vehicle that turned out to be a big surprise compared to our unjustified expectations.
WINNER – Ford Fiesta ST
You might be surprised to see the Fiesta ST winning this category. Here’s the thing; when I had this car booked in to test, there was major disappointment that it wasn’t the Focus ST – that was the car I really wanted to drive. So it was with some trepidation that I picked up the Fiesta ST in March.
I was sold on it within the first minute of my drive, and never worried about it not being the Focus ST from that first minute on. Honestly, I wouldn’t bother with the Focus ST. With New Zealand’s roads and speed limits, the Fiesta ST does everything you want, for twenty grand less. Twenty grand! That buys you a Suzuki Swift for your Daily Drive, and the Fiesta ST lives in the garage for your weekend blast. I totally did not expect the Fiesta ST to be so good.
RUNNER UP – Mitsubishi ASX
After reading Rob’s review of the previous generation of ASX, I wasn’t too keen on testing the new one. After a week, this was a car I could easily live with as my Daily Driver. It looks good, it’s well equipped, and does everything you would expect of a small SUV. A huge improvement on the previous model.
DriveLife 2020 Car of the Year
And so it comes to this – our Car of the Year for 2020. This award is for the best Car of the year and is only open to those vehicles that we rate highly 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. Please note this is not the Cheapest Car of the Year award. It isn’t about cost – it’s about being the best car overall that we have reviewed.
Winner – Landrover Defender
The entire team drove this car and we all loved it, each and every one of us didn’t want to give it back. There is much to like about this reborn legend; it’s funky, practical and has some outside the box styling. It’s safe to say that the new Defender is a hit and has opened up from a niche market to something for everyone. It’s tough, it has all the right gear and it’s built ready for everything life can throw at it.
A deserving winner for our 2020 Car of the Year title.
Runner up – Skoda Superb Scout
In the current range, there’s not a single Skoda model I don’t like, and at the top of the Like List is the Superb. We reviewed the Scout model in July, and all it did was remind me how good the Superb is. More than fast enough, AWD, smooth, incredibly spacious, well appointed, well built, value for money…the accolades go on and on. Even better, it proves not everyone needs to buy an SUV for space.