Best Medium Cars 2018

Australia's Best Cars Winners for Best Medium Cars were the BMW 330i Sport Line and the Toyota Camry Ascent Hybrid.

Best Medium Car Under $50,000

Winner: Toyota Camry Ascent Hybrid

The eighth-generation Camry heralds a new era for Toyota in Australia. It’s the first time in 30 years that the car-making giant has offered a fully imported Camry range to the Australian market.

The new Japanese-built sedan is available in four specification levels (Ascent, Ascent Sport, SX and SL) and three engines (2.5-litre four-cylinder, 2.5-litre four-cylinder/hybrid and 3.6-litre V6).

And it’s the Camry Ascent Hybrid that has claimed the title of Best Medium Car Under $50,000 for 2018.

So how come the Camry soared from also-ran to usurp reigning champion, the Mazda6, in just over a year? Put it down to a complete redesign and a sub-$30,000 RRP that is $500 less than the superseded equivalent hybrid model.

Introduced to Australia in November 2017 immediately following cessation of Australian Camry production, the newcomer is the first sedan to adopt Toyota’s New Global Architecture (TNGA), which the company says has transformed the way its vehicles are designed, engineered and packaged.

According to Toyota, TNGA “enables greater freedom in design, resulting in a more athletic profile with a lower roof and bonnet, a better driving position and improved dynamics due to its lower centre of gravity and greater torsional rigidity”. TNGA packaging has allowed the nickel-metal hybrid battery to be moved from the boot area to under the rear seat, improving cargo space and positioning weight lower in the car.

The new 2.5-litre four-cylinder Dynamic Force Engine provides 11 per cent more power (now totalling 160kW) and four per cent more torque (now 423Nm), with thermal efficiency rated among the best in the world. And, a redesign of the hybrid system and new Auto Glide Control system has improved fuel economy to a class-leading 4.2-litres/100km.

Combined with a host of changes to the MacPherson strut front suspension and new rear suspension aimed at improving handling dynamics and ride quality, the boost in performance brings an element of unprecedented driving engagement to the Camry.

Even the CVT has six quick-shifting ratios for manual-like gear changes, while a new sport drive mode has been added, delivering improved acceleration response relative to pedal input.

The latest safety technology is standard across the Camry range and includes a pre-collision system, autonomous emergency braking and lane departure alert with steering assist. Tick the boxes also for seven airbags, all-speed active cruise control, auto high beam and a reversing camera.

Connectivity and creature comforts include an upgraded multimedia system, 7.0-inch display audio with Toyota Link connected mobility, Optitron instruments, 4.2-inch multi-information display, power lumbar adjustment on the driver’s seat, dual-zone air conditioning, keyless entry/ignition and LED headlights.

The extensive engineering and design revisions found favour with Australia’s Best Cars judges, who agreed the Ascent Hybrid was class-leading for smoothness and quietness and equal class-leading for space and ride. It was also awarded top scores in the objective areas of fuel consumption (10 out of 10) and environment.

Significantly, the Ascent Hybrid also scored better than its Atara SL hybrid predecessor in terms of pricing, depreciation, insurance, seating comfort, performance and handling.

All up, this makes the 2018 Toyota Camry Ascent Hybrid a convincing winner and a smart new car buy.

  • Indicative drive-away: $33,509
  • Body type: four-door sedan
  • Fuel economy/fuel type: 4.2L/100km, PULP/hybrid
  • Engine/transmission: 2.5-litre four-cylinder, CVT
  • ANCAP: 5 stars

Best Medium Car Over $50,000

Winner: BMW 330i Sport Line

Medium size cars are continuing to feel the pinch in the market as our obsession with all things SUV keeps growing. But within the relatively small field for this year’s program, competition is still fierce. Premium European and Japanese brands dominate the category and typically showcase the best of their powertrain options and technology portfolios, which is great news for buyers. Over the last few years, the trophy for Best Medium Car Over $50,000 has been a two-way battle between Mercedes-Benz and BMW, with BMW making it two in a row in 2018.

The specification level of the ‘Bimmer’ has changed from Luxury Line to Sport Line for this year, which brings a slight increase in price.

The BMW continues to get the important things right for this segment, and in key areas like seat comfort and build quality, the 330i has few peers. Research shows buyers in this segment rate these attributes over low running and repair and insurance costs.

BMWs are known for their on-road dynamics, built around a philosophy of close to 50/50 front-to-rear weight distribution and (until recently) rear wheel drive. That continues to pay dividends in handling, where the BMW excels over its rivals. A thick-rimmed, leather-wrapped steering wheel communicates high levels of road feel to the driver, while the chassis balance and overall preciseness have yet to be matched by its competitors. Nor does sharp handling compromise the 330i’s ability to soak up bumps and it continues to impress the judges with its excellent marriage of ride quality and handling. All this is achieved without introducing road noise – the 330i rates highly in smoothness and quietness.

BMW’s 185kW/350Nm turbo four-cylinder remains one of the best offerings available, with maximum engine torque always at the ready courtesy of BMW’s slick shifting eight-speed automatic transmission. Acceleration is brisk, and it shades the rest of the turbo four-cylinder brigade in this class over the 0-100km/h dash. That’s not at the expense of fuel consumption, either – apart from the hybrid Lexus models, the BMW leads the way in economy.

The downside to the 330i is its pricing. With an indicative drive away price of $77,459, it falls behind the Mercedes C200 and Volvo S60 by a big margin, countered to some degree by a reasonable standard features list that includes BMW’s intuitive iDrive system and clear head-up display. The winner and finalists all score 10 for safety, no surprise when advanced features such as lane departure warning, autonomous emergency braking, pedestrian warning, and cross traffic alert are the norm.

  • Indicative drive away price: $77,459
  • Body type: four-door sedan
  • Fuel economy/fuel type: 5.8L/100km, PULP
  • Engine/transmission: 2.0-litre four-cylinder, eight-speed automatic
  • ANCAP: 5 stars