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Pocket rocket wins 25th annual Car of the Year award

Now in its 25th year, the AMI NZ Autocar Car of the Year awards are back with the supreme winner revealed today.

The Suzuki Swift Sport has been named the 2018 Car of the Year following analysis by some of the country’s most respected figures in the motoring community.

NZ Autocar editor and head judge, Kyle Cassidy, says it’s exciting that the Swift Sport has taken out the supreme award considering its versatility as a family vehicle and a peppy performer on the road.

“It's a mild mannered commuter in the city with a turbocharged engine, balancing fuel economy with ease of driving, but then it delivers thrilling performance when you want. It's simple thrilling fun to drive.

“It's styled to impress, as does the level of standard specification and safety gear,” Cassidy says. “That it all costs less than $30,000 and comes with a 5-star ANCAP rating is amazing.”

Throughout the year, a range of vehicles are tested and given an overall score out of 100. The same rating system is used on the final judging day, which took place on February 12 at the Clevedon Hotel, south of Auckland. Those vehicles with the highest scores at the end of the year are awarded class wins.

“The six category winners are chosen from more than 130 vehicles tested and come together for the final back-to-back drive-off around rural Clevedon in south Auckland, to determine the overall winner,” Cassidy explains.

“On the day each vehicle is scored on aspects of design, performance, driving dynamics, practicality and value, with a maximum of 100 points available.

“The scoring system is weighted towards a vehicle’s particular strength in order that a supermini can be compared fairly with a six-figure luxury contender,” Cassidy says. “It’s a system that has proved robust as the winners over the last decade have come for a variety of different categories including the Mazda CX-9 and Honda Civic Type R, Ford Ranger and Ford Fiesta, and Volvo XC-90 and VW Golf.”

As well as the supreme winner, AMI and NZ Autocar have announced the winners in seven categories, including the AMI Safety Award – the Mercedes Benz A-Class.

“The AMI NZ Autocar Safety Award recognises the safest car released during the past year. This is based on how the vehicles fared in local crash testing, reviewing the Australasian New Car Assessment Programme (ANCAP) results,” Cassidy explains.

“The list of safety features for the A-Class is long, including the fact that there are nine airbags,” Cassidy says. “It has an active bonnet, auto emergency braking (AEB) (?), electronic stability control (ESP) (?), a driver attention monitor, blind spot monitoring, crash responsive emergency lighting and first-aid kit, active lane keeping and traffic sign recognition.

“There’s also a Pre-Safe accident anticipation system in which the car senses a crash is imminent and prepares the occupants for the worst (pretensions safety belts, closes windows and panoramic roof), reducing the risk of potential injury,” Cassidy says.

AMI’s Eve Whitwell says the AMI Safety Award is a good indicator for consumers when it comes to purchasing a new vehicle.

“The Mercedes Benz should be acknowledged for its work in helping protect those most vulnerable on the road, with the A-Class achieving the highest ever pedestrian protection rating, and equalling the highest Child Occupant Protection rating too."

Whitwell says the news that the Swift Sport has taken out the supreme award is welcome news considering its versatility and affordability.

“We realise that some vehicles may be out of reach for the average New Zealand family, so it’s important to highlight the best in innovative approaches to safety. It’s fantastic to see the Swift take out the supreme award knowing it’s an affordable option for Kiwis wanting to keep themselves, their family and other drivers safe on the road.

“Before Kiwis buy their next vehicle, we really encourage everyone to check Rightcar.govt.nz to check the safety rating,” she says.

AMI NZ Autocar Car of the Year category winners

Under $30,000 category winner: Seat Ibiza

What the judges said: “Seat's Ibiza is an overachiever for a small car. It backs up its sporty styling with agile dynamics and a goer of an engine that can be as economical as it can be exciting. It offers good value in standard guise while offering options for those that want to add more to this small car gem.”

$30,000 - $45,000 category winner: Kia Niro HEV

What the judges said: “The Niro is stellar value, and being a hybrid its fuel economy is excellent. We liked its practicalities as well as its levels of refinement and safety. It looks good and drives well too meaning you don't have to compromise on anything to own a highly efficient SUV.”

$45,000 - $60,000 category winner: Subaru Forester Premium

What the judges said: “The Forester is purpose built for New Zealanders who want to get out and see this great country. There's a spacious, feature packed cabin while Subaru's AWD underpinnings give it the ability to go further. Yet it's still right at home in the city where it comforts occupants and keeps them safe with its myriad safety features. And it's got a great price tag too.”

Luxury category winner: Porsche Cayenne S

What the judges said: “The Cayenne S is a technological tour de force wrapped in luxury, masquerading as a sportscar. That something so large and luxurious can drive so convincingly is quite an achievement. And that it can pull a 3.5 tonne load off road is something else.”

Performance category winner: Suzuku Swift Sport

What the judges said: “The new affordable performance benchmark, the Swift Sport does so much right. It's a mild mannered commuter in the city, it's turbocharged engine balancing fuel economy with ease of driving, but then it delivers thrilling performance when you want. It's simple thrilling fun to drive. It's styled to impress, as does the level of standard specification and safety gear. That it all costs less than $30,000 and comes with a 5-star ANCAP rating is amazing.”

Safety category winner: Mercedes Benz A-Class

What the judges said: “The AMI Safety Award recognises the safest car released during the past year, and this year the winner was the Mercedes-Benz A-Class. For cumulative score, taking into account child protection (91 per cent), safety assist features (73 per cent) and vulnerable road user protection (92 per cent), it was the Mercedes A-Class that produced the best overall performance.

“One of the most important safety aspects of the new A-Class and one that’s easily overlooked, is the AI-driven Siri-like assistant, summoned with the ‘Hey Mercedes’ command. ‘She’ can assist the driver with tasks that might otherwise be distracting, like changing radio station or temperature setting, inputting a sat nav destination, and even suggesting alternative routes if traffic is heavy. It’s essentially the icing on the safety cake for the new A-Class.”

Electric Vehicle of the Year: Volkswagen e-Golf

What the judges said: “The e-Golf impressed us as a discreet EV package, looking like any other Golf as opposed to a visual oddity. It is one of the least expensive new EVs and comes comprehensively specified. Its range is sufficient, and drives much like a regular Golf, but with more oomph around town, and it’s so quiet and refined.”

Bike of the Year: Kawasaki Ninja 400

What the judges said: “The Kawasaki Ninja 400 can take on more expensive machinery and still hold its head high. It has vibrant performance, a terrific gearbox and good brakes backed by ABS. It handles and rides with poise and precision, looks great and even manages good economy. It represents unprecedented value.”