2019 Gold star awards

THERE’ A BIG DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A CHEAP CAR AND ONE THAT’ CRACKING VALUE. YET UNLOCKING THAT EQUATION CAN BE COMPLEX, WHICH IS WHY WE’ VE DONE IT FOR YOU. HERE ARE OUR RECOMMENDATIONS THAT AREN’ JUST GOOD TO DRIVE, THEY’ RE GREAT TO OWN

WORDS JAMES WHITBOURN, ALEX RAE + ANDY ENRIGHT

Crunch go the numbers

01 Depreciation

The biggest cost of ownership for most new cars. Of the 2000-plus cars number-crunched, Glass’s three-year retained value figures ran as low as 33 percent for the worst depreciators, to as high as 69 percent for something like Toyota’s 02 LandCruiser GXL.

02 Insurance

We used comprehensive insurance quotes obtained online from Budget Direct for a 35-yearold male living in Chatswood, NSW, Rating One for life, no finance, with the vehicle declared for private use.

03 Fuel

Annual fuel cost has been calculated on ADR combined-cycle consumption figures – not real-world, but a good base for comparison. Annual distance travelled is taken as the ABS Australian average of 14,000km, and fuel 04 prices on the day were used.

04 Purchase price

Most new-car buyers set out with a budget in mind, so the survey is divided into price brackets. The real cost of owning the car is depreciation, which is where purchase cost comes into our value analysis.

05 Real cost

It’s relatively easy to put a representative number on the three-year cost of depreciation, fuel and insurance, so the total of these running costs equates to 80 percent of a car’s score.

06 Servicing costs

Widespread fixed- or capped-price servicing schemes would make it possible to compare car servicing costs, but for the fact they’re not universal. We can score service intervals; a longer interval may result in less expense and increases 07 convenience, so it takes the maximum 10 points.

07 Warranty

Yes, a seven-year warranty gives greater peace of mind compared with shorter one. However, it’s impossible to put a hard cost on what an extralong warranty is worth; it only translates into cash if something fails and is fixed without cost. 08 Accounts for 10 points out of 100.

08 The Wheels pick

This is to assist all of you who don’t always follow your accountant’s advice. Still with an eye firmly fixed on the bottom line, this is the model we reckon nails a sweet spot for driving enjoyment, comfort, and value ... if you can stretch to it.

Small SUV

MAZDA CX-3 NEO (FWD)

VISUAL AND DRIVER appeal put the Mazda near the top of the average small-SUV buyer’s shopping list. Meanwhile, strong value credentials see it rise to the top when considered purely by the numbers. It is elevated above the Renault Captur and Suzuki Vitara by having better three-year resale than the former and a lower entry price than the latter. The result, in theory at least, is a $1500 lower cost of depreciation over the first three years. The CX-3 is thirstier, with fuel economy at 6.3L/100km, but like the Vitara it is happy on the least-costly 91 RON. Mazda’s newly offered five-year warranty is a big plus compared with the previous three-year cover yet merely sees it match rivals’ equally generous warranties here.

The Mazda needs a service every 10,000km or 12 months, which for the average Australian will be more often than the Renault but a break on the Suzuki’s tight six-month schedule. Finally, on insurance cost, all the placegetters are at the reasonable end, in the $600 to $700 bracket.

Maxx Sport manual $23,690 if it was our money on the line, we’d spend the extra $1900 on a manual Maxx Sport. rate as a better choice than the entry-level Neo, seeing it’s fitted with alloy wheels rather than hubcaps and provides more upmarket interior The optional turbo-diesel and all-wheel-drive improve performance further (admittedly with a tag now pushing past $28K), one the only small SUVs with AEB as standard.

Medium SUV

MAZDA CX-5 MAXX (FWD)

IT’S BEEN COMING for more than a decade: sports utility vehicles now surpass passenger cars in the Australian sales charts from monthto-month. It’s only a matter of time until they top normal cars in full-year sales. The popularity of SUVs has resulted in an increasingly crowded class, which is good news in terms of the broad selection on offer. It also makes a coveted Gold Star Cars gong that much sweeter in the popular medium-SUV class. The CX-5 was a game-changer when it arrived, remains a class favourite, and duly takes gold. At $30,380 as a manual, it’s bang on the entry price for the segment and, with 56 percent resale, sheds the least to depreciation here. Meanwhile, the 2.0-litre petrol engine is miserly, runs on regular unleaded, and only needs a trip to the spanner-man every 12 months. The Sportage runs a close second, its terrific warranty offsetting only average official fuel economy, with stout resale and class-cheapest insurance. Ford’s midsize SUV isn’t a sales frontrunner, but it’s a decent steer, with a sharp price, strong resale and excellent economy, so perhaps it should be.

WHEELS’ PICK

Mazda CX-5 GT $45,390

It’ surprising Mazda even offers our GSC winner in its range, because the hard truth is not many Aussies shopping in this segment want a manualequipped, front-drive Maxx. Much nicer, if you can finance it, is the GT, available with the CX-9’ lovely 2.5-litre turbo-petrol, all-wheel drive, and far nicer kit – alloys wheels (instead of steelies), leather trim, Bose sound, sunroof, adaptive cruise control … the list is long. The family will love it.

Large SUV (7-seater)

MITSUBISHI OUTLANDER ES

WHEN IT COMES to putting seven bums on seats for minimum cost, the mid-size Mitsubishi cannot be matched. The nearest alternative in terms of value is the Honda CR-V at $38,990, almost $8000 more than the Outlander. (The affordable sevenseat Nissan X-Trail, at $32,490 and ranked fifth overall, got smashed for its tight servicing intervals, short warranty period and thirsty engine). Meanwhile, the entry price and depreciation pushed the CR-V down to second spot, as the Mitsubishi went close to a clean sweep of the five scoring criteria, only losing out on insurance cost against the Hyundai Santa Fe with its low $805 per annum for comprehensive coverage. Though the Hyundai has a strong diesel engine, the Outlander’s 2.4-litre petrol uses the least fuel, at 6.7L/100km officially (using regular unleaded), proving it is an efficient all-rounder.

WHEELS’ PICK

Hyundai Santa Fe Elite CRDi $54,000

Newer and nicer than the ageing Outlander, the Hyundai Santa Fe has some of the latest family bus technology like sensors that prevent locking a stray child in the third row. The mid-grade Elite gets the nod for all-round value, adding bling such as larger alloys, leather trim, and fancy puddle lamps. Mod cons include keyless entry, 8.0-inch display with live traffic updates, and electric seat adjustment.

Premium SUV

VOLVO XC60 D4 MOMENTUM

A STEP UP in both quality and price from the usual crossover wagon is the Premium SUV segment. Competing neck and neck with the Mercedes on price at $61,990, the German would likely come out on top if it were not for the Volvo’s frugal diesel engine and low insurance cost that give it the win. The only oiler of the three here, the Swede records a claimed combined fuel consumption of 5.4L/100km. It also nudges ahead with the lowest comprehensive insurance quote of $863, while the Mercedes has the highest at $1161 per annum. All three premium SUVs share the same three-year warranty period and 12-month/15,000km service interval, though the Mercedes claws back some value with the lowest depreciation value over three years. A close fight, but a sensible win for Sweden.

WHEELS’ PICK

Volvo XC60 T5 Momentum $64,990

Diesel not your thing? Well ditch the stinky hands at the bowser and those rattly NVH issues (admittedly, Volvo’s 2.0-litre oiler is a refined unit) and step up into the T5 XC60. For $3000 more compared to the class winner, you get a smooth and gutsier 187kW/350Nm turbo four petrol that will slice 1.6sec off your 0-100km/h sprint as your race the kids to school.

Dual-cab ute

MITSUBISHI TRITON GLS PREMIUM

EVEN ON FACE value the Diamond Star dual-cab ute is a great buy. The Triton is among the least costly in class – represented here in top-spec trim among mid-spec rivals – and comes loaded with standard equipment, including some of the best active safety tech in the segment. Having just had a facelift, it is a genuine tough-look alternative to Ford’s Ranger. Its gruff, torquey 2.4-litre turbo-diesel four uses less fuel than the other placegetters, at 7.6L/100km officially, despite being paired with a five-speed auto rather than oppositions’ six-speeders.

An extended seven-year warranty is a further conquest, and the Mitsubishi’s 12-month service interval tops the Holden Colorado’s nine months while matching the Ford. The Mitsu’s resale isn’t as optimistic, though this top-tier model at a considerable discount to the others means you pocket thousands up front.

WHEELS’ PICK

Ford Ranger XLT 2.0L $59,790

Although nearly $8K more than the Triton, Ford’s Ranger XLT is the better ute. Steering feels more natural and connected, the cabin more comfortable, suspension more compliant (yet with better towing capacity at 3.5-tonne) and the 2.0-litre engine mated to a 10-speed auto is quiet and refined. AEB, adaptive cruise and steering assist is available in the $1700 Tech Pack.

Mainstream hatch

KIA PICANTO S

SUB-LIGHT CARS can be a false economy – not cheap enough to be worth the saving over a light car and much the same money as a good newish used small car. None of that is true of our sub-light – and overall Gold Star Cars 2019 – champion. The Kia Picanto S might only be about $1000 less costly than many light cars, but the fact it’s not a lesser option – just a smaller option – means it still adds up. You see, while some sub-lights are a bit sub… standard, the Kia looks good, steers and handles well, and goes all right with a 62kW 1.2-litre engine pulling 976kg. The depreciation cost of owning a Picanto over the first three years is less than almost any other new car. The baby Kia uses just 5.0L/100km officially, on regular unleaded, without any fancy eco-tech. The 12-month service interval makes complete sense for such a mechanically conventional and simple machine, and Kia’s industry-standard seven-year warranty seals the deal.

WHEELS’ PICK

Corolla SX $26,870 surprise a sub-light hatch got the top gong given cheap-as pricing, but space and substance, the mid-spec Toyota Corolla SX looks packed with gear: adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assist, headlights and an 8.0-inch touchscreen, along with dual-zone climate wireless mobile charging, sat-nav, and keyless entry and start.

Premium hatch

MINI COOPER

MINI’S ACE IS that it offers a lower-cost premium light car than BMW and Mercedes, which are at least $10,000 more expensive to buy into. While the Cooper is pricey for a baby hatch, at $29,900, it’s a cost-effective way into a classy little car. Despite having the poorest retained value of 46 percent, its relatively low purchase price equates to the least depreciation in dollars over three years. It splits the two Germans for fuel economy (although there’s hardly anything in it across all three), shares the same three-year warranty period, is the cheapest to insure and, along with the BMW, has the longest servicing interval at 25,000km/24 months. Small and affordable but doesn’t feel cheap? This could be your car.

WHEELS’ PICK

Mercedes-Benz A-Class A250 4Matic $49,500

With an extra two doors, punchy 2.0-litre turbo engine, sophisticated AWD and multi-link rear suspension, the A250 is from a class above the Mini, and priced accordingly. Is it worth it? If the pace and poise don’t convince you, perhaps the twin 10.25-inch screens stretching across the sculpted dash will.

Mainstream sedan

SKODA OCTAVIA 110 TSI

SNIFFING AROUND THE medium-car options suggests a low$30K entry is the norm, so the Skoda’s $24K price tag is its key to success. Containing the entry cost to mid-spec small-car money not only makes it appealingly affordable up front, it does wonders for minimising the cost of depreciation, despite a 41 percent three-year resale (compared with rivals’ 44 and 47 percent figures.) Owning the likeable Czech for the first three years costs you about $14K in depreciation – the least here, and quite good in overall terms. It’s also highly economical, at 5.4L/100km officially, thanks to a flexible 1.4-litre turbo four and six-speed manual combo, albeit on premium fuel while its rivals use regular. A 12-month service interval and inexpensive annual comprehensive insurance, at $669, are further pluses. The brand’s move to a five-year warranty makes Toyota’s (and parent Volkswagen’s) three-year warranty look stingy.

Toyota Camry Ascent Hybrid $30,090

Wheels is on record as stating, “The Ascent Hybrid is all the Camry ever need”, and Gold Star Cars 2019 delivers the same message. The imported Toyota sedan’s slick hybrid drivetrain provides standout quality – an enviable 4.2L/100km official economy – and it’s a charm to drive on a long road trip.

Premium sedan

LEXUS IS 300h

A RECURRING THEME for winners in our GSC categories is that they’re the most affordable of the top three finalists. Not so the Lexus IS 300h. Splitting the difference in price to the Audi and Benz, the IS 300h claws back points with its efficient hybrid drivetrain, longer warranty period, and reasonable insurance cost. In contrast to the usual three-year warranty offered in the premium segment, Lexus offers a longer four-year term for added peace of mind, and it again splits the Germans with a comprehensive insurance quote at $949 per year. Besting the Audi and Lexus’s 12 month/15,000km service interval, the Mercedes wins with a longer 25,000km period, despite housing a sophisticated 48-volt hybrid system. The Audi scores a solid point for its lower depreciation, dropping $27,489 over three years.

WHEELS’ PICK

Lexus IS 300h

The IS 300 might cost nearly $6K more than the fine-driving Audi A4, but its combination of extensive standard spec, decent dynamics, hybrid thrift and four-year warranty are sufficient to earn it the Wheels pick.

Performance

VOLKSWAGEN POLO GTI

JUST AS HYPER-HATCHES own the $75K-plus Performance category for value, the humble hot-hatch is the dominant force in the sub-$75K hi-po segment. Turbocharged light hatches took out all three podium spots, relegating any sort of rear-drive sports car variety (in the form of the Toyota 86 and Mazda MX-5) to also-rans, as well as ousting the Hyundai i30 N. The hi-po placegetters are all in the $30K ballpark, but the Polo hangs on to substantially more of that outlay than rivals with a tidy 56 percent three-year resale figure. It’s the least costly to insure too, at $662/year for comprehensive cover.

WHEELS’ PICK

Hyundai i30 N $39,990

Despite pricing itself out of contention for the win against the $30K trio, Hyundai’s first go at a hot-hatch is a cracker, and won our 2018 mega-test at the ultra-challenging Haunted Hills circuit in Victoria. Beyond a well-sorted chassis, it has a feisty engine that makes all the right noises.