DCOTY 2012: Best family car finalists
Ford Mondeo Zetec EcoBoost.
- Ford Mondeo Zetec EcoBoost (carryover champion)
- Toyota Camry Hybrid H
- Ford Falcon EcoBoost XT
In times gone by, what constitutes a family car was virtually inarguable – a sedan with four doors, five seats, a boot big enough to stash a dozen slabs plus the ice to cool them, and a big six under the bonnet with a thirst Prince Harry would envy.
Such offerings from the likes of Holden, Ford and - more recently - Toyota, have underpinned decades of domination of both private and fleet sales by large cars, with the Commodore in particular establishing a 15-year run as Australia's top-selling car that only came to an end last year.
Medium-size cars, meanwhile, have never topped the charts but have quietly and efficiently carved out a handy middle ground, providing a refuge for those fleeing the size and expense of bigger offerings.
But with buyer tastes swinging violently towards smaller cars and/or SUVs in recent years, large cars in particular have nosedived and manufacturers have reacted to try to resuscitate what was once a healthy golden goose.
Drive's reigning Best Family Car – and its first ever, after the large and medium car categories were merged for the first time in 2011 – is an example of this evolve-or-perish mantra.
The Ford Mondeo Zetec EcoBoost is about as far as it's possible to get from the stereotypical home-grown family hauler with its hatchback silhouette, aggressive European-inspired design and a small-capacity turbocharged engine that punches well above its meagre size.
Officially categorised as a medium-size car, the Mondeo boosts its family appeal with passenger and luggage space to rival many larger cars and SUVs.
Its turbocharged 2.0-litre "EcoBoost" engine combined with a six-speed auto is smooth, refined and punchy, and an official thirst of 8.0L/100km is better than many similarly-sized rivals.
Safety measures including seven airbags, parking sensors and five-star crash safety tick yet more family-friendly boxes.
The first challenger for this year's award is another innovator. The Toyota Camry Hybrid was the original family-size petrol-electric car when it hit the market in 2010.
With the arrival of an all-new Camry it was a car heavily debated when it came to judges settling on finalists. Should we choose the more affordable, basic Camry, the more efficient, but more expensive Hybrid, or the V6-powered Aurion that is for all intents and purposes a Camry with revised styling front and rear?
In the end the argument swung in favour of the frugal Camry Hybrid. Its signature party trick is to provide family-size interior real estate while returning fuel use that many compact cars can only envy – officially 5.2L/100km.
It does this courtesy of a 2.5-litre, four-cylinder engine hooked up to a small electric motor and a bank of batteries that enable the Camry Hybrid to cruise for short distances on the electric energy it captures during braking.
The update earlier this year resulted in a significant improvement in cabin noise, as well as improved handling finesse and ride quality. A price improvement for the new base model also makes the Camry Hybrid the most affordable of our trio of Family Car finalists.
The Mondeo also faces friendly fire this year with one of the aforementioned large cars finding a place in our selection, albeit only after a Darwinian evolution.
The Ford Falcon EcoBoost gets an uprated version of the same boosted 2.0-litre engine first seen in the Mondeo, upping power to 179kW.
At 8.1L/100km the Falcon EcoBoost is the thirstiest car here by a mere fraction, but balances that against easily the best power and torque figures. Drive's testing, though, shows that fuel figure can jump significantly if you access all of the engine's shove.
It also brings to the table a well-resolved dynamics that have been refined over a number of generations –and, crucially, differ from other Falcons in the range - plus spacious dimensions and a handy boot.
Missing the cut were a number of notable new entrants. The new Chrysler 300 represents a marked improvement over the old 300C with a smoother ride, better body control, vastly improved cabin refinement and a loaded equipment list. Its tall starting price counted against it in this company.
A cut-price version of Kia's Optima was reckoned unlikely to challenge the dynamic benchmarks set by the Mondeo, while new European brand Opel's Insignia mid-sizer didn't excel in enough areas to push into a high-quality shortlist.
|Performance Statistics||0-60 km/h||0-100 km/h||0-400 m||Top speed|
|Ford Mondeo EcoBoost||4.7||8.9||16.4||147|
|Toyota Camry Hybrid H||3.9||8.2||16||144|
|Ford Falcon EcoBoost XT||4.4||9||16.6||140|
Previous winners (family car)
- 2011 Ford Mondeo Zetec EcoBoost
Previous winners (medium car)
- 2010 Ford Mondeo Zetec diesel
- 2009 Mazda6 Classic
- 2008 Ford Mondeo LX
- 2007 Ford Mondeo LX
- 2006 Honda Accord Euro
Previous winners (large car)
- 2010 Nissan Maxima 250 ST-L
- 2009 Nissan Maxima 250 ST-L
- 2008 Honda Accord V6
- 2007 Toyota Aurion AT-X
- 2006 Toyota Aurion AT-X