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It’s rare for a halo model to arrive before the bread-and-butter versions, but differing production schedules have brought the updated German-built ST several months ahead of the Thai-sourced mainstream LZ Focus range.
The previous ST’s heavily bolstered and body colour-coded Recaro front seats remain, and their boy-racer looks are now complemented by a flat-bottomed steering wheel. European-spec STs score new 19-inch wheels with sticky Michelin Pilot Sport II rubber, but Australian models make do with grey-painted versions of the previous 18-inch design, with still-grippy Goodyear Eagle F1s. As before, the Focus ST’s family and daily credentials include ISOFIX child seat mounts in the rear, a reasonable 316 litres of cargo space with the seats up and a space saver spare beneath the boot floor. Helping to justify the marginal price rise is the eight-inch SYNC2 multimedia system, which steps up from the previous five-inch unit.
This clearly wasn’t enough for Ford, with a revised chassis setup front and rear that includes stiffer springs and bushes up front, and retuned dampers all round. The looks, the noise and the loud interior trim create a sense of occasion that exceeds all immediate rivals. We punted the ST through some of the best driving roads surrounding Victoria’s Yarra Valley, and its willingness to change direction, predictable cornering balance and entertaining rear-steer reaffirmed its reputation as an outstanding handler.
The manual gearbox is a delight to use quickly, with a short throw and well-defined gate, but the engine’s breadth of torque helps you rocket from point-to-point even if you hold a taller gear than ideal.
The looks, the noise and the loud interior trim create a sense of occasion that exceeds all of the ST’s immediate rivals. Like all current Focus models, the new ST carries a five star ANCAP safety rating, with dual front, side and full-length curtain airbags, along with rear parking sensors. Toyota said in a statement the steering intermediate extension shaft may not have been adequately hardened, allowing the splines that connect the extension shaft to the steering box to deform and wear out if the steering wheel is "frequently and forcefully turned into full lock while driving at a slow speed".
Toyota Australia spokesman Mike Breen said in the "worst case scenario a motorist continuing to drive under the conditions may cause the shaft to wear out, resulting in loss of control". He said there have been three reported cases in Australia so far, none of which has resulted in incidents. The Prius is affected by an additional recall for a defective water pump. It is news Toyota does not need as it tries to retain its global primacy ahead of General Motors. Autonomous cars soon won't be a dream, but not everyone is convinced they will lead to safer roads and a lower road toll.Look, no hands! All things considered, the Polo is a long-term CarsGuide favourite and there is plenty to like in the 81TSI. Priced at only $19,990 driveaway (plus $2500 for the auto) the Suzuki Jimny offers a huge amount of driving fun for a very modest outlay. Mercedes' GLA Class completes the small car triple-play so beloved of its compatriots Audi, VW and BMW - a hatchback-based SUV.
The cheaper BMW X1 is a better drive than the Merc but has a dull interior while the Audi Q3 is a more convincing SUV.
The contemporary theme continues inside the cabin, particularly the dash with its classy blue backlighting. Even as a budget buy, the Active comes well equipped with strong safety credentials and the expected audio enhancements like full iPod integration. Move further up the range and the Highlander gains a reversing camera, leather and panorama glass roof. Like the rest of the "i" cars, the ix35 should continue to lift the company's profile - and more importantly sales. The design is contemporary, the equipment list long and includes things like panoramic sunroof on the $37,990 Highlander, as well as leather, heated seats, reversing camera, hill start assist and hill descent control.
Shorter rear passengers and small children might also find the rear seats a bit claustrophobic because of the car's high tapering window line. There is plenty of luggage space and cabin storage but the ix misses out on the added versatility of flip-fold rear seat cushions that provide a flat load area with the rear seatbacks down. The ix35's design, safety and equipment is a match for the Japan, but there is a big "but" when it comes the car's suspension and ride.
Even though the Highlander is a porky 1706kg, the 2.0-litre diesel is a gem and can overcome any weight disadvantage with solid response right through the rev range courtesy of the silky six-speed auto. Economy is respectable but the car's touring range, with a 55 litre tank, is a little on the small side.


The EcoBoost engine already pushes the on-paper limits for a front-driver, particularly with max torque on tap all the way from 2000-4500rpm, but torque-vectoring stability control and clever calibration help to make the most of the Goodyears. The ST’s SYNC2 screen also incorporates a reversing camera display and will dial 000 automatically if an airbag is deployed. CarsGuide thinks $39,000 or better is essential.Sliding into the DS3 Racing comes as a surprise. Spun off the A Class platform, it has the extra height and the four-wheel drive its 4Matic badge implies.It also has some chunky urban warrior chic black plastic, big wheels to fill its huge arches and that now unmistakable Mercedes aesthetic. It would be like comparing a supermodel like Miranda Kerr with a gymnast from the former East Germany. The 2.0-litre four cylinder Active is front-wheel drive only and its $26,990 entry point for the five-speed manual is chasing the small car segment.
There are six airbags, stability control, traction control and anti-skid brakes, hill descent control and hill start assist.
The leather feels good but some of the hard plastics on the doors and dashboard show that Hyundai is still behind with soft-moulded plastics. A thick D-pillar and small rearward-most side window calls for some caution when parallel parking. A full-size spare is a welcome addition when some of its more highly fancied rivals, like the VW Tiguan and now the Subaru Outback, make do with a spacesaver. Despite being tuned for Australian conditions, the suspension crashes over bumps, transmits too much noise to the cabin and generally feels underdone. In this respect, the ix lags behind rivals like the Mazda CX-7, VW Tiguan and Nissan X-Trail and even the latest Honda CR-V. Low-down urge is impressive and at highway speeds there is plenty of torque in reserve for overtaking.
The drivetrain is accomplished in so many areas but more work is needed on the ride and handling. So, why am I driving a Polo with a bottom line at $20,790, before it even leaves the showroom?Because, like most cars, there is the Polo you want and the Polo you can afford.
Its greatest competition is Audi's gracefully ageing Q3 while the now-elderly - but capable - X1 brings up the rear.
But we know that an SUV is sometimes irresistible and if you want the one that's bang up to date, the Merc is the one to get. We've seen the arrival of the competent i30 hatch and wagon, the iLoad and iMax load luggers and announcement of the Sonata mid-size sedan replacement, the i45, which is receiving rave reviews overseas.
Put them side-by-side and even a person with only a passing interest in cars will spot the differences. Gone is Tucson's bland, boxy styling, replaced by what Hyundai refers to as "fluidic sculpture" styling that owes more than a passing nod to BMW's "flame surfacing" styling of a few years ago. It is a full-time electronic all-wheel drive that automatically controls power distribution to the wheels. Our range-topping Highlander arrived in the Carsguide carpark after a thorough workout by one of the specialist magazines.
The leather seats are inviting and have plenty of back support but could do with more shape in the cushion and once settled behind the wheel the lack of reach adjustment is annoying. Fortunately the rearview camera - located in the rearview mirror - helps judge tight parking spots. If you have the 208 GTI I think there will be no problem with this car," says DS3 product manager Benjamin Maigre. The $15,990 drive-away deal that has just been extended until March 31 is for a Polo 66TSI manual, which means you get a pretty basic package and an engine that's more about fuel economy than response or performance. The Tiguan is so old it can't be considered in the same breath.In a way, the GLA kicks off the second-generation of German small SUVs by being the last of the first. However, the body was snug, the doors shut with confidence and the whole car felt rock solid.
The high-tech R-series turbo-diesel is smooth, quiet, powerful and out-torques its direct rivals.


You do get cruise control, but no reversing camera.Jump to the $21,000 car and the Polo becomes much nicer, with a Comfortline upgrade for everything from that reversing camera to radar cruise control and an 81kW engine that gives the car some real punch. With a mass of just 1060 kg the little Suzuki is a featherweight, carrying half to a third of the weight of the big boys.Light weight is a huge advantage when driving on the beach. Whichever it is, it needs to be good to take on the competition.VALUEThe GLA 250 opens the bidding at $57,900.
It promises — as VW has done with the Golf package that eventually will underpin 40 models — better quality and all-round refinement.The Racing is not as racy as its name suggests but it's a well-balanced package.
Pay a little more again, as many people do, and you also get a classy seven-speed double-clutch automatic gearbox.Everything is familiar, but a little different.
That's a big jump from the GLA 200 diesel and a fair way short of the potty 265 kW $80,430 GLA 45. There is enough aural entertainment to make city sprints fun, the six-speed manual is slick and the steering is well-weighted.When I get seriously involved on a winding country road it's happy to go, turn and stop. And generally betterSo all Polos are not alike, and the 81TSI is a significantly different - and better - car than the basic model we had at the Car of the Year judging for 2014. Or should that be chunky A (sorry) because it shares a lot of its styling flourishes with the humbler hatchback.
Otherwise is much as it started life.Sliding into the upscale Polo, everything is familiar, but a little different. The GLA is 4417 mm versus the A-Class's 4292 mm but isn't appreciably bigger on the inside.The slightly blunt front end is capped by a shapely bonnet and the rest is basically standard raised hatchback, with wheelarches in unpainted plastic.
Kids will make light of its, but their grandparents may struggle.The luggage area is small, but has good height so you can cart a large suitcase and the like. It's not a heavy-handed SUV, just enough to convince the SUV buyer that they're buying one. So that could mean a Hyundai i30, Mazda3 or Toyota Corolla, admittedly only with a manual gearbox and no frills. The two rear seatbacks fold down individually to greatly increase the volume.The Jimny would provide good day-to-day transportationPower, if that's not too strong a word as there's only 62 kilowatts of it, comes for a reasonably modern four-cylinder, twin-cam, fuel injected engine.
It drives through a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmission.Thankfully our road test Jimny had the manual gearbox as the extra few kW the auto would have stolen from the engine would have made it a real slug. Well put-together and slickly designed, there's just a few suspect plastics choices to worry about. The manual had to be changed down to fourth, occasionally third, gear to get up and over hills during on-road driving. There are sometimes too many movements required to do something simple and it can be hard to work out what's "in focus" for the rotary dial. The shortcut buttons for the dial are sometimes ignored by the software causing jabbing and swearing.
However, the screen itself is clear and well positioned with good detailing and smooth graphics.There's too many seemingly randomly-placed buttons around the cabin, too and button presses don't always tell you what you've just done.
Throttle response from the 2.0-litre turbo is a bit soft in Eco, but all that is forgotten when you introduce the pedal to the carpet. The transmission swiftly kicks down and rides the torque, shifting seamlessly between the seven ratios.Curiously, the sound of this engine is quite different than in the CLA or A - it sounds more gravelly, perhaps to give a bit more of an impression of ruggedness. It's not disagreeable, just strange, something you might only notice if you've gone straight from one to the other.It's not a fireball, but never feels slow as long as you're forthright with your right foot.
Suburban running is as relaxed and easygoing as its highway composure, although some surfaces bring a hearty roar from the 19-inch run-flat rubber.



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