Early bolters throw COTY wide open

Ten new releases have already staked a claim for whatís shaping as our toughest decision ever

THIS year is turning into an absolute belter for the car market Ė and for Australiaís biggest motoring accolade.

Impressive new models have been arriving thick and fast to boost the local market and, while the final field for the 2017 Wheels Car of the Year is still months away from being finalised, itís worth considering 10 newcomers that already stand out as serious contenders.

With some heavy-hitters still to arrive, hereís Nathan Ponchardís early form guide, in no particular order:

SKODA SUPERB

With space, style, performance and value by the container load, Superb is an on-paper scorcher.

However, that underdone standard suspension tune may hinder its progression to the final round.

FORD FOCUS RS

Arguably Fordís greatest-ever hot hatch, with A45-matching grunt for barely two-thirds the price. Also comes with 2011 Focus DNA, which may be just too old to compete when it comes to refinement.

AUDI A4/S4

At its sweetest and most plush in standard form, yet brimming with dazzling tech in upper-end models.

Will the pricey and not-as-great S4 be its undoing?

JAGUAR XF

Continues the XEís dynamic excellence and improves on its cabin space, but is the interior special enough to challenge the new E-Class? Will need to be staggeringly good on the road to compete head-on.

TOYOTA PRIUS

Newfound dynamic and design focus for Toyotaís green poster-child makes this a car to have for more than just its efficiency.

But do its proven mechanicals sit well with its high-tech image?

HONDA CIVIC

Major return to form for Honda, particularly in terms of dynamics, but thereís no manual and the 1.5 turbo isnít Honda-sweet. And itís no Accord Euro.

Would need to really surprise to win.

MERCEDES-BENZ E-CLASS

Techno overload makes the new E-Class Benzís headline sedan. But the E300 and twin-turbo E400 will still be on the boat come COTY time, leaving all the work to the E200 and E220d. Thatís a big task...

MAZDA CX-9

The strongest expression yet of Mazdaís SkyActiv mantra in a family car, and an effortless class benchmark. This could become the first SUV since the Ford Territory to take the famous gong.

FORD MUSTANG

A heart-over-head performance coupe that makes up in value and dynamic va-va-voom what it lacks in practicality.

But will ride and rear-seat room be its COTY kryptonite?

BMW M2

After the imperfect 1M and not-quitegood- enough M3/M4, the M2 has made the world fall in love with BMW M again.

But is it too sharply focused for COTY? Or will that focus get it over the line?