AA DRIVEN COTY: The best light commercials and Clean & Green cars of the year
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This week we continue our rollout of the category finalists for the AA DRIVEN New Zealand Car of the Year award.
We’ll be awarding wins in 10 different categories: Small SUV, Medium SUV, Large SUV, Passenger, LCV, Clean & Green Hybrid/PHEV/BEV, Sports and Performance, Luxury and Safety, not to mention the outright AA DRIVEN NZ COTY.
The focus is on cars launched in the last 12 months, but in fact we have considered all cars on sale as long as they have a five-star crash rating. Let’s take a look at the finalists for the LCV (utes, vans) and Clean & Green (BEV/PHEV/Hybrid) categories.
Prior to 2021, the Isuzu D-Max was the tough, simple option in the one-tonne ute world. The latest model is still rugged, with 800mm wading ability and a rear differential lock standard on all 4x4 models. But it’s also now one of the most high-tech and sophisticated light trucks on the market.
The size and scope of the model range is dizzying, from workhorse models to the “lifestyle” oriented X-Terrain. Safety is a strong suit: it’s the safest one-tonne ute ever tested by Ancap and even the entry-level LX has eight airbags, a full suite of driver assists including stop/go adaptive cruise, and a reversing camera.
LDV’s pure-electric urban delivery van hits the sweet spot for commercial Battery Electric Vehicles (BEVs) in NZ right now. It’s compact on the outside, making it perfect for city work, yet offers a practical loadspace that’s 2.1m long and 1.3m high.
It’s the right price, starting at under $55k, yet offers great range: 280km from the standard model or 400km for the battery upgrade. And because it’s a pure electric vehicle, it qualifies for the full $8625 Clean Car Discount from the Government. It is in fact one of the cheapest BEVs on sale in NZ.
The eDeliver3 is not yet crash-tested by Ancap, but the Government’s RightCar website gives it the full five stars.
The Hilux is an icon in NZ, but in many respects we feel like it’s come of age with the latest model. Toyota has moved to give it the more truck-like appearance favoured by Kiwi buyers, and also
introduced much clearer differentiation between the multitude of models; because status is another important thing to ute buyers.
The 2.8-litre diesel that powers most of the range has been powered up to an impressive 150kW/500Nm, while chassis comfort has been significantly improved for both on-road and off-road work. Tweaked tech like an electronic rear limited-slip differential also eases progress in the rough.
In short, Hilux is now a much more rounded truck for both work and play. Toyota’s “no-haggle” Driveaway Pricing is the icing on the cake, making virtually every model a value-leader in the segment.
CLEAN & GREEN FINALISTS
Battery Electric Vehicles (BEVs, or pure-electric) are arguably the closest thing to guilt-free motoring, and the Government’s Clean Car Discount of $8625 has certainly sparked a lot of interest among buyers - and potential buyers looking to make the leap to pure-electric driving for the first time.
The MG ZS EV has become an overnight sensation. It was already NZ’s cheapest BEV, but with the rebate the retail price is down to $40,365, meaning you’re getting pure-electric driving for mainstream family-car money.
It’s a fun drive around town and with 263km WLTP range, it’s a budget BEV that doesn’t skimp on battery power. We like the full suite of active safety kit, too.
Peugeot NZ moved rapidly to get the e-208 to market following the announcement of the Clean Car Discount. It looks the part, with shades of classic Peugeot GTI models in the styling. But it’s also a polished and cleverly packaged BEV, with great battery capacity (349km range) and truly smooth performance.
Finally, you cannot ignore the influence and impact of the Tesla Model 3 on the NZ BEV market. It’s a familiar proposition now, but that Clean Car Discount and a price drop from Tesla have combined to make it much more affordable (post-rebate, the Standard Range Plus is now just $58,275) – with a resultant explosion in sales of the compact sedan.
Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicles (PHEVs) potentially bring the best of both worlds: zero-emissions commuting ability from a small battery (40-60km is typical), yet with the backup of petrol-electric hybrid operation to eliminate range anxiety on longer trips.
We’ve been deeply impressed with the execution of Ford’s Escape PHEV. It gives 59km EV range, but the key to its success is ease of operation. You can just drive it and forget about the technology, but if you prefer to manage the various modes it’s very easy to do with a single control: you can prioritise battery power, save it for later or even charge the battery with the petrol engine.
We’ve only recently reviewed the MG HS PHEV (so recently we haven’t publish the story yet), but it’s also emerged as an impressive package of urban EV-ability with smooth hybrid operation. It’s refined, full of technology and represents strong value for money.
The proof of concept for practical PHEV-SUVs really came from the Mitsubishi Outlander. And now Mitsubishi has packaged that Outlander AWD powertrain into the smaller Eclipse Cross, which makes up our three top-ranked PHEVs. It’s well-proven, good to drive and can even be fast-charged on a DC station if you choose (a rarity for PHEVs).
Over the last decade, hybrid powertrains have done the most good for the environment of any “green” technology. They’re cost-effective, meaning hybrid cars are accessible to a broad range of buyers; yet they also bring a drastic reduction in fuel economy (typically 30 per cent, sometimes more).
Honda has put a new spin on hybrid tech with the Jazz e:HEV, which has a petrol engine – but mainly to generate power for the battery and electric motor. So while you don’t actually plug the battery in, it’s almost always electric power that drives the wheels.
A watershed moment for Toyota’s big Highlander was the addition of E-Four hybrid powertrain technology with the new model. It’s a more muscular version of the system fitted to the best-selling RAV4, so it works as well as you’d expect.
And speaking of the RAV4: it’s also on our list of top hybrids for 2021 because it continues to set the pace in its segment for value, ease-of-use and outstanding fuel economy. It’s deservedly one of the best-selling new vehicles of any kind in NZ.