ST Car of the Year 2015: Close fight for No. 2 spot

The new BMW 7-series.
The new BMW 7-series.PHOTO: ST FILE

Merely two points separate the cars placed second and fourth on the annual list

There were 10 models in the running for The Straits Times Car of the Year, nine judges on the jury and nine criteria for them to consider: performance, handling, ride, build quality, economy/efficiency, ergonomics, styling, value for money and X factor.

Each finalist was rated against its typical rivals in the same market segment and price range, so the voting and scoring would be equitable.

After the scores were tallied, the BMW i8 emerged the clear winner with 275 points, 39 points ahead of runner-up, the new BMW 7-series.

The victorious petrol-electric racer topped the competition in performance (tied with BMW's 7-series), economy/efficiency, styling and X factor. It also notched up 13 full marks (five points) from the judges in the different criteria - more than the Audi Q7 and BMW 7-series managed together (10 full marks).

The battle for second place was fiercer. The 7-series, with 236 points, finished just a point ahead of the Lexus RC and two points ahead of the Mazda MX-5.

The close finish for the No. 2 spot reflected last year's close fight for pole position, which saw the BMW i3 beat the Mercedes-Benz S-class to last year's crown by a mere point.

The Kia Sorento, a seven-seater sport-utility vehicle, was ranked the highest in value for money, scoring more points (31) in that aspect than the keenly priced Citroen C4 Cactus, entry-level Mazda 2 and generously equipped Ford Mondeo, all of which chalked up 26 points.

Another seven-seater SUV among this year's finalists was the Audi Q7. With air suspension and a supercharged 333bhp 3-litre V6, it was second only to the BMW 7-series, a full-blown limousine (also specified with air suspension in Singapore), in the performance and ride comfort categories.

And the Q7 matched the limo in build quality, suggesting that flagship SUVs today are as well made as their saloon equivalents.

The Q7 also beat the rest in ergonomics. Even the Volvo XC90, one of the most user-friendly big SUVs with its tablet-style infotainment and snazzy displays, could only be second best.

In the styling exam, the two top scorers showed that "eccentric" (Citroen C4 Cactus with 31 points) can be almost as eye-catching as "futuristic" (BMW i8 with 38 points).

Best in the handling section was the light and nimble Mazda MX-5. A bigger surprise was how the large and luxurious BMW 7-series earned the same 30 points in the same category as the Lexus RC, a dedicated coupe. But as mentioned, cars are ranked alongside their peers, not vis-a-vis one another.

One of the most interesting takeaways from this year's contest was how excellent fuel efficiency could be achieved in dramatically different ways.

BMW's i8, a plug-in petrol-electric hybrid packed with exotic high technology, was the economy/ efficiency champion on the scoreboard.

But just a few points behind in second place was the low-tech, low-weight Citroen C4 Cactus with a low-power 1.2-litre three-cylinder.

•The writer is the editor of Torque, a motoring monthly published by SPH Magazines.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 19, 2015, with the headline 'Close fight for No. 2 spot'. Print Edition | Subscribe