HIGHLIGHT: Mercedes-AMG GT S was a stunning high point of 2015, albeit a pricey one.
HIGHLIGHT: Mercedes-AMG GT S was a stunning high point of 2015, albeit a pricey one.

Our motoring best of 2015

THE end of another year in the motoring world and it's been a busy one.

We've had brilliance, we've had disappointment and we've had controversy. Technology has wowed us (and sometimes confused us), performance has blown our minds and car styling has both bewitched and befuddled us.

The Volkswagen emissions scandal has been 2015's biggest news story - and still has a long way to run - while figures show we're buying record numbers of new cars, SUVs are going gangbusters (still), while traditional passenger car sales continue to slide. And if a manufacturer doesn't have hybrid and electric cars in its current or near-future range, they're starting to look very backwards indeed.

Our motoring writers Grant Edwards and Iain Curry have had little rest trying to keep up with the Australian market's new offerings (we have more than 50 brands for sale here), so we asked them to relive some of the highlights of their 2015 motoring year.



Best car driven this year?

There have been a couple of stand-outs, one being the Ferrari FF. A super car for the family, it's one wild ride with an even wilder price-tag… our test machine with extras cost close to $1 million.

But for theatre, driveability and excitement, the Mercedes-AMG GT tops the Christmas list. The sound, the acceleration and the cornering prowess, it's bloody brilliant.

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MILLION-DOLLAR BABY: Ferrari FF was Grant Edwards' most memorable drive in 2015.

Biggest surprise of the year

Just the name caused initial concern. Celerio sounds like a vegetable which has been to the tanning studio. But the Suzuki Celerio provide to be a truly likable bargain-basement offering ($12,990).

With outstanding fuel consumption and reasonable interior space, the pint-sizer is a great second roundabout or first car for a youngster.

The 2015 Suzuki Celerio.
SURPRISINGLY GOOD: Suzuki's tiny Celerio won us over.

Which car do you think has been the market's most significant in 2015?

It's difficult to go past the electric-powered BMW i3. While living in a regional area, we still managed to drive the i3 for a week without using a drop of fuel (we did drive the range extender version for peace of mind).

Not only was the i3 fuel savvy, it was also engaging inside and out with distinctive design and unique packaging.

The BMW i3.
SIGNIFICANT: BMW's electric i3 showed the future is here now...and it won us over. Mark Bean

Favourite stretch of road you've driven this year?

Without doubt, experiencing The Mountain cannot be beaten. Sampling Bathurst in a range of vehicles on two separate occasions confirmed its status as the nation's most challenging stretch of bitumen.

Television coverage never does the place justice, with its steep terrain, tight corners and ever-encroaching concrete deserving of immense respect.

And of all the years with many hot laps, the journey with Neil Bates in a Lexus RC F was one of the only occasions where I have ever felt on the edge. It was outstanding, and raised the level of respect for the nation's best drivers another notch.

Mount Panorama
HOLY GROUND: A drive at Bathurst's Mount Panorama was an unforgettable experience

Anything else on your mind?

With the imminent closure of Australian manufacturing, it's intriguing to see the likes of Ford and Holden shift their marketing attention.

This year Ford will be relying on the Mustang to turn the punters' heads to the Blue Oval badge ahead of the Falcon's final days. Holden has already started pushing its barrow, with the first trio of European- sourced models as it trots out a swag of new models from within the GM stable over the coming years.

On the incoming front, prepare yourself for the onslaught of plug-in hybrids. Prestige brands Mercedes and Audi will be leading the charge (so to speak), while it will also be intriguing to see the various brands show off their green intentions in 2016.

Holden's European pin-up, the Astra VXR.
HOLDEN'S FUTURE: New models like the Astra VXR will lead Holden into a new future without Australian manufacturing.



Best car driven this year?

Cruel question; there have been so many good things. I'll keep things in the real world (unlike Grant Edwards), as despite how epic that Merc-AMG GT S was, its $300k price banishes it to the unobtainable corner. About a 10th of that price will get you in a lightweight, pure, rear drive and beautiful looking roadster that reminded me how much damn fun driving can still be. Mazda MX-5 for me. The 1.5-litre with manual gearbox please.

Mazda MX-5 2.0-litre. Photo: Contributed
CHEAP THRILLS: Iain Curry said the Mazda MX-5 1.5-litre was a true standout in 2015 model launches, blending a thrilling drive with fun dynamics, beautiful design and compelling price.

Biggest surprise of the year?

Hyundai's Sonata on Targa Tasmania roads. The mid-size sedan was a hoot to drive, nicely balanced, quick, luxurious and roomy. It even looked great. The surprise came with it being such a great all-rounder and me coveting something badged "Sonata". Honourable mention to Skoda's Fabia Wagon, too. Space, refinement, infotainment and price were all pleasing in this gem: the only wagon in its segment.

Long term test 2015 Hyundai Sonata. Photo: Iain Curry / Sunshine Coast Daily
HAPPY SURPRISE: Hyundai's new Sonata may be in the dwindling mid-size sedan segment, but the big Korean surprised with its practical nature and impressive dynamics. Iain Curry

Which car do you think has been the market's most significant in 2015?

Mazda's CX-3. It had to be something from the SUV segment as the market is going nuts for them - small SUV sales are up more than 30% compared to this time last year.

The CX-3 looks great and starts at under $20k; no wonder it's out-selling all its rivals already. Just the sort of offering to have buyers moving (even more) away from traditional passenger cars.

The Mazda CX-3 Akari.
SUV SURGE: Mazda's CX-3 was a standout in new SUV launches: the small SUV segment in particular enjoying a sales boom.

Favourite road you've driven this year?

Between Grafton and Armidale in Northern NSW. National parks, nature reserves and incredible twisty roads. Steering a new BMW 330i helped with the joy. Oh, and a first bash on the Wakefield Park circuit in a VW Golf R Wagon was a technical treat.

The new BMW 3 Series sedan and wagon. 330i Touring pictured. Photo: Mark Bean
COUNTRY DRIVE: Some excellent driving roads in Northern NSW between Grafton and Armidale... Mark Bean

Anything else on your mind?

New car prices. I reckon we've had it too good for too long now.

There's been a price war with so many competing brands, and it can't be sustainable. Not with a weaker Australian dollar, the cost of meeting our demand for included equipment (especially infotainment) plus greater expectation on the safety and emissions front. We'll always want more for less, but don't be surprised if prices start climbing in 2016.

New 2015 Toyota Corolla Hatch Photo: Contributed.
PRICE CRASH: The Toyota Corolla of today is around the same price as it was more than 20 years ago. But for how much longer?