Driven Car of the Year: Ute, Luxury and Motorbike

The Land Cruiser 70 double cab flat-deck. Photo / Phil Hanson
The Land Cruiser 70 double cab flat-deck. Photo / Phil Hanson

UTE OF THE YEAR
WINNER: Toyota Land Cruiser 70

Bet you didn't see this coming, what with the influx of such glamour utes as Ford's Ranger, the Holden Colorado, Nissan's 550Nm Navara torque-meister and more versions of Volkswagen's Amarok.
The trouble was, new utes are becoming increasingly suburban and more car-like than cars.
As the others bragged about their electronic cleverness and whisper quiet cabins, along chugged the new Toyota Land Cruiser 70 double cab ute, leaving muddy tyre prints behind it.
The 70 bucked the trend. It had almost no electronic aids. It only just got ABS, a couple of airbags and rear disc brakes. Its tyres were not street-oriented. It was the only Japanese ute left with a whack-it-into-the-rocks beam axle front suspension.
It even came standard with a raised air intake for driving across rivers deep enough to lap against the windscreen. Its V8 turbodiesel won't care.
Tick the optional $2500 front and rear differential locks and little could stop it. This would be the one you'll want if one of our volcanoes suddenly blows.
Like the single cab versions that have been around for years, the double cab Cruiser 70 was an ultimate working ute, tough as an anvil but now even more useful with its extra set of full-sized rear seats.
Read Phil Hanson's test of the Land Cruiser 70 here
- Phil Hanson

Runner up: VW Amarok Auto

LUXURY CAR OF THE YEAR
WINNER: BMW Gran Coupe 650i

BMW New Zealand's luxury four-door coupe won this award by a nose - in particular its 'shark nose' front grille.
The styling of this vehicle followed the 6 Series family, with the same exterior cues and interior design.
The interior was all class befitting this segment.
We picked the 650i over the 640 diesel as the petrol engine had a twin Power variable twin-turbocharged 4.4-litre direct injected V8 petrol engine (330kW at 5500-6000rpm, 650Nm at 2000-4500rpm)
Added to that was an eight-speed automatic transmissions with steptronic and assisted by Driving Experience Control. This allowed you to select differing modes - Eco-Pro, Comfort, Sport and Sport+ - that, among other things, alter the engine's response.
It also won praise for its intensive safety package including park assistant, rearview camera, heads-up display, and the optional speed limit info that reflected the road speed in the heads-up display.
Low slung, it hugged the road and powered through corners with ease - just like a shark in search of prey.
Read more on the Gran Coupe here

Runner up: Mercedes-Benz SL500

MOTORCYCLE OF THE YEAR
WINNER: Triumph Explorer

The year started with an MV Augsta Brutale, and ended aboard a Hyosung LAMS learner-approved bike; from an Italian hooligan with heritage and a price tag to match, to a Taiwanese machine aimed at learner riders seeking something with style on a budget. In between we rode Harleys, Hondas and Husqvarnas; Syms and Suzukis; Aprilias, Moto Guzzis and Triumphs; Yamahas, Kawasakis and more; some brands were in short supply and we missed a few completely.
New Zealand road bike sales were hit badly by the recession, but bikes make affordable congestion-busting runabouts and cheap performance toys; cars don't deliver the bang for buck a motorbike can. So what should you buy?
No Bike of the Year award is truly definitive without riding every motorcycle on sale, but we get just 30 or so each year.
So some worthy contenders don't appear on our shortlist simply because they weren't available; BMW's launched some exciting machines this year, but they're in short supply, and Ducati's press fleet is based in Australia so doesn't get ridden on Kiwi roads, to name but two.
The winner had to suit a wide variety of riders, and the roads on which we Kiwis ride; had to push the bar out a bit and preferably not break the bank.
Aprilia's Tuono hit my shortlist - high performance that works in the real world, but unless you're a track bunny the fancy electronics just add cost.
Honda's NC700S also scored highly. A modest price, outside-the-square design that puts storage space into the 'tank' and keeps weight low, and frugal running in an agile package you'll enjoy hustling through a tricky set of bends despite the modest capacity.
But it couldn't trump the winner - the Triumph Explorer. A large dual purpose bike with an adjustable seat height to suit a wide range of riders, it boasts a new purpose-designed 1215cc three-cylinder engine, a six-speed floating gearbox and a robust build it'd be as easy to fix on the East Cape or the Russian Steppes. It's not as agile as a sports bike but the wide bars let you tip it deep into bends, the motor pulls strongly and progressively from low revs to an eyebrow-raising high-rev punch of acceleration, and the suspension will absorb almost anything NZ's varied roads can deliver. It also gets lots of clever high-tech functions including ABS and traction control, an extensive options list to tailor it to almost any need, and a price set a whisker below its BMW competition.
Honourable mentions go to bikes I'd happily add to my own garage, where personal preference trumps objective common sense. Husqvarna's Nuda back-roads hooligan and Ducati's Streetfighter, quite possibly joined by that Honda, for runs to the dairy or rural-urban commutes when a two-wheeled equivalent of your Hyundai makes more sense than an Italian thoroughbred.
Read more about the Triumph Explorer here
- Jacqui Madelin

Runners up: Aprilia Tuono & Honda NC700S

- NZ Herald

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