The Mercedes-Benz A-Class hatchback has won the inaugural AA Driven New Zealand Car of the Year award.
Judges said the smallest Mercedes snared the award because of its built-in artificial intelligence technology and "unparalleled" driving experience. Its "Hey Mercedes" voice control system responds to spoken commands for tasks such as altering the air conditioning, changing radio stations or navigating a new route.
The honour was announced at a motor industry event in Auckland last night. The Suzuki Swift Sport hatchback won the people's choice award, and the new Toyota Corolla hatchback was named safest vehicle on New Zealand roads.
The overall winner was decided by a panel of nine motoring journalists and representatives from the AA, while the peoples' choice award was judged by votes from more than 53,000 AA members and Driven readers.
Chief judge and Driven editor-at-large Liz Dobson said the decision to award the big prize to the A-Class was easy.
"This is the complete package; a great looking hatchback with not class-leading, but class-breaking technology, plus must-have standard safety features," she said.
"This hatchback is truly 'A Class' ahead of the rest – it has a price tag, sci-fi technology and a fuel-efficient engine that will impress."
For AA motoring services general manager Stella Stocks, the awards mark the culmination of a lengthy and comprehensive voting process.
"Each of the top 10 finalists vying for car of the year was put through its paces in a comprehensive trial both on the road and at the Pukekohe Park Raceway with all judges scoring from the driver's seat. The results speak for themselves giving buyers the definitive answers they've come to expect from the AA," she said.
The Hyundai Kona EV was named best electric vehicle/plug-in hybrid electric vehicle. It's being heralded as the family-friendly electric SUV with real-world battery performance.
Dobson said Hyundai realised it was onto something special when it launched the EV version of the Kona compact SUV, and it had been proven right with this win.
New Zealand's Safest Car for 2018 is likely to be a popular choice for Kiwi motorists, with the Toyota Corolla taking out top spot.
Stocks said it was not just car buyers who benefitted from the safety elements in a vehicle — everyone had a stake every time a new car started rolling on the road.
"The safest car award isn't judged, it's calculated with data from the Australasian New Car Assessment Programme, and I'd like to congratulate Toyota for this important recognition," she said.
With more than 53,000 Kiwis voting in the people's choice award, this was the biggest public motoring vote to date. The Suzuki Swift was a clear favourite for its cutting-edge technology, exhilarating turbo performance and fearless design.
The Swift Sport also won best in class for micro/small car category, while the Mercedes-Benz A-Class won the small car category.
The Holden Commodore was the medium-large car winner, with the Mazda MX-5 judged top of the sports/coupe and convertible range.
The luxury car winner was the BMW 5-Series (including M5) while the Volvo XC40 won the best small SUV category.
Medium SUV honours were won by the Subaru Forester, with the Mazda CX-8 winning the large SUV category.
Luxury SUV winner was the Jaguar F-Pace, and the Volkswagen Amarok won the ute category.
Driven is owned by NZME, publisher of the Herald.