Drive Car of the Year 2018: Best Family Car
The traditional ‘family car’ category might be a dwindling one, but that’s simply a reflection of people’s buying habits – not the quality of the cars filling the medium, large and upper-large slots.
The medium fours and large sixes of Australia’s past have morphed directly into SUV equivalents …. right when the successors of our former favourites have truly nailed the brief.
Defending its ‘Best Family Car’ title this year is the hugely roomy, Volkswagen Passat-based Skoda Superb 162TSI, in handsome wagon form. Riding on a 50mm-longer wheelbase than its VW relative, and housing a former Golf GTI engine under its creased bonnet, the Superb’s space, pace and metal-for-the-money attraction appear impossible to beat.
But the new German-built Holden Commodore (in RS Sportwagon guise) has even more power (and more gear ratios) than the Skoda, in a similarly roomy, European-flavoured design that’s also all about jamming itself full of stuff while bringing some design chic to suburban driveways.
On the surface, the current-generation Mazda 6 wagon looks much as it did at launch six years ago, but there’s a lot more than meets the eye to this car – hence why it’s here. A new turbocharged SkyActiv-G engine (from the CX-9 SUV) in this GT-spec version coincides with a comprehensive interior and refinement makeover to quietly transform this ageing Mazda into a surprisingly fresh, beautifully built piece of craftsmanship.
Finally, there’s the long-time medium-car sales champ, the Toyota Camry. Now fully imported from Japan, a white Ascent Sport with a hybrid drivetrain is the most unassuming Camry you could buy. But looks can be very deceiving for this new-generation Toyota.
If it manages to blend the polished driving spirit of the C-HR with the luxury feel of a Lexus, then the Superb will have its work cut out beating this competitive crew.
How do they compare on price?
Sourcing family cars that offered the greatest challenge to our reigning champion doesn’t mean they’re all dead even for price.
The Skoda Superb 162TSI starts at a competitive $42,390, with headline features including 18-inch alloys, a sleek 9.2-inch infotainment screen with sat-nav, lane-keep assist, blind-spot detection, adaptive cruise control, auto-fold mirrors, front and rear parking sensors, three-zone climate control, leather/Alcantara upholstery, an electric driver’s seat with three-position memory, built-in umbrellas in the front doors and sunshades in the rear doors.
But our fully optioned test car copped a $4300 Tech Pack (adaptive dampers with drive-mode selection, hands-free electric tailgate, 12-speaker Canton sound system, wireless phone charging, auto parking, 19-inch alloys, keyless entry and start, sports steering wheel, ambient cabin lighting) and a $1500 Comfort Pack (perforated leather upholstery, electric front passenger’s seat, heated/cooled front seats and a heated rear seat), taking its grand total to $48,190.
The Mazda 6 GT wagon is a head-on Skoda rival. Starting at $45,290, it’s a no-options proposition boasting 19-inch wheels, leather trim, all-seat heating, and an 11-speaker Bose stereo as standard, as well as most of the Skoda’s niceties. The main items missing in the Mazda are an electric tailgate, wireless charging, and the Skoda’s hidden brollies and sunshades, yet as Dave Morley pointed out, “you get a lot of car for 45 grand … perhaps all the car you will ever need to spend your money on.”
And the deeper you look, the greater the Mazda’s appeal. “If you fold down the centre armrest, you get two USB ports and heated rear seat controls,” noticed Dave McCowen.
Holden’s Commodore RS Sportwagon ($39,490) isn’t quite a model-for-model match with the Mazda and Skoda (there isn’t a four-cylinder Holden equivalent; only V6s) but we reckon it’s the most competitive ZB Commodore variant. Especially at its current offer of $41,190 drive-away.
You miss out on keyless entry, adaptive cruise, leather, digital radio and 19-inch wheels (it gets 18s), but it does score an electric tailgate, which could be a winner on chaotic family outings.
Being the only sedan here, our low-grade white Camry is as traditional as 2018’s family bangers get … on the surface. Beneath its low-key exterior hides an entry-level specification that’s abundant for $32,090 (or $32,540 with pearlescent paint). Keyless entry and start, front and rear parking sensors, one-touch power windows, dual-zone climate control, electric driver’s seat (including lumbar adjustment), leather wheel and gearknob, an 8.0-inch touchscreen with sat-nav, and a hybrid drivetrain are all a big deal at such an affordable price.
If you want blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert, that’s the domain of the $40,990 Camry SL Hybrid – a car so loaded its only option is colour.