A record 28 models represented by 64 variants will make the Wheels Car of the Year starting grid for 2011. After a week of extensive testing, and rigorous culling, a final top six will be selected, one of which will win the Australian automotive industry’s most coveted prize.
Fifteen models hail from Germany, four each from Japan and Korea, two from Britain, and one each from Italy, Australia and the US. The locally-built contender is the Holden Cruze hatchback, deemed eligible thanks to its fresh bodystyle, new steering and rear suspension design, and the addition of a turbo engine. The SZ Ford Territory is not eligible as no major suspension or structural changes were made to the SX model that won our COTY award in 2004.
Light hatchbacks are represented by the Kia Rio, Skoda Fabia, Suzuki Swift and Toyota Yaris. The Holden Barina and Hyundai Accent aren’t nominated, both considered below average in the class.
In addition to the Cruze, the crew of small cars that make the grid include the Alfa Romeo Giulietta, BMW 1 Series, Ford Focus, Hyundai Elantra, Lexus CT200h and VW Jetta. Step up to the mid-sized class, and the Hyundai i40, Kia Optima and VW Passat are candidates for the award, leaving behind the mediocre Peugeot 508 and Renault Latitude, both of which were not invited to take part.
Six SUVs are in for a shot at the title – the BMW X3, Jeep Cherokee, Range Rover Evoque, Mini Countryman, Skoda Yeti and VW Touareg – one more than the crop of sports coupes/convertibles, which includes the Honda CR-Z, Mercedes-Benz C-Class Coupe and SLK, and VW Golf Cabriolet and Scirocco.
That leaves three premium sedans – Audi A6 and A7, and Mercedes-Benz CLS – to round out the 28 models in the 2011 field.
Coverage of the 49th Wheels COTY – now the world’s longest continuously run automotive award – will be split over two issues. The January issue (on sale December 21) will cover the entire field being put through the wringer at the testing cauldron that is Holden’s Lang Lang Proving Ground. After a dramatic cut, the top six will take to the roads around Albury for the February issue, on sale January 18 – the same day the winner of Wheels Car of the Year for 2011 will be announced.