THE Car of the Year for 2017 is ... a what?
It's a Skoda. The Kodiaq. A family seven-seater that trumps the very best of the newcomers that arrived in Australian showrooms over the past year.
The Kodiaq is the first car of the year champion from the Czech brand that once was the butt of cruel jokes about its reliability.
One of the world's oldest car makers - and part of the giant Volkswagen group - Skoda was introduced locally in 2007 and has struggled to gain a foothold in the competitive local market.
The Kodiaq's victory will surprise many - it was rated a 34-1 chance with bookmaker Sportsbet - but it scored a unanimous victory in the final run-off.
The Skoda is built off the same underpinnings as the VW Tiguan, which took the car of the year prize in 2016, but it's improved in many ways.
Its cabin works as a comfy five-seater or occasional seven-seater and smile-inducing little touches include a built-in torch, a pair of umbrellas, iPad holders, a rubbish bin and pop-out rubber strips on the doors to prevent carpark dings.
"It's the Swiss Army knife of cars. I love it," says judge Joshua Dowling.
The Kodiaq, from about $46,000 on the road, comes with a five-year warranty, which makes it a winner on the value front. A rare downside is Skoda resale values, which don't yet match the quality of its cars, largely because the brand is relatively unknown.
The Kodiaq had to beat one of the toughest fields in the 21-year history of News Corp's Car of the Year, with 10 contenders ranging from the baby Kia Picanto city car priced at $15,690 drive-away to the luxury Audi Q5 SUV from $72,400 on the road.
There were also the sporty Honda Civic Type-R, with a rorty turbo engine and sports suspension, and the Kia Stinger, a landmark car from South Korea that recalls the strengths of the Holden Commodore with a twin-turbo V6 and rear-wheel drive.
The Kia was the popular choice in a reader poll that attracted more than 85,000 votes. About 28 per cent of respondents chose the Stinger, ahead of the Audi Q5 and Honda Civic Type R.
The 2017 Car of the year contest was the first without a single contender from a local maker. Ford, Holden and Toyota failed to make the grade with any of the imported models that now fill their showrooms after the end of local manufacturing.
Holden and Volkswagen have won the award the most. The Commodore won in 1997, the Astra in 1998, the Monaro in 2001 and Calais in 2006. Volkswagen won with the Polo in 2010, the Tiguan last year and the Golf in 2009 and 2014.
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