CHEAP thrills were the winning formula for Car of the Year in 2012.
At a time when young people are falling out of love with the car, a $30,000 sports car has taken out Drive's annual automotive award.
Developed in conjunction with Subaru as part of a novel collaboration between rivals, the sleek four-cylinder two-door Toyota 86 marks the revival of the affordable sports car segment.
Aimed at younger buyers and driving enthusiasts, the 86 GT was praised by the nine judges for its sharp pricing.
In an industry where cost-cutting and fuel-saving measures have been honed to a fine art as manufacturers try to boost profits, the 86 and its Subaru twin have gone back to basics with a traditional rear-wheel-drive sports car layout and driver-focused appeal.
While the Subaru BRZ and 86 are almost identical, the Toyota's lower price - albeit with fewer features - earned it the top gong. The 86 was deemed the most significant of the 13 category winners for 2012, which were priced from less than $20,000 for the Volkswagen Polo 77TSI (best city car) to more than $250,000 for the Porsche 911 Carrera S (best performance car over $80,000).
Nine of the category winners - which cover the full spectrum of the Australian new-car market - were powered by four-cylinder engines, something indicative of a shift to smaller, more fuel-efficient engines.
The locally produced Toyota Camry Hybrid also became the first petrol-electric car to win a category - best family car - in a year when hybrids are on track for record sales. For the first 10 months of the year hybrid sales are up 48 per cent.
Six of the category winners were powered by diesel engines, which typically use between 25 per cent and 30 per cent less fuel than an equivalent petrol-powered car.
The Car of the Year awards also recognised key developments in the fields of safety and environmental friendliness.
The Safety Innovation Award went to the Volkswagen Up for its standard fitting of an auto braking crash avoidance function in a sub-$20,000 city car.
DRIVE CAR OF THE YEAR 2012 THE WINNERS
Car of the Year & Peoples choice Toyota 86 GT
Best City Car Volkswagen Polo 77TSI
Best Small Car Ford Focus Trend
Best Family Car Toyota Camry Hybrid H
Best People Mover Honda Odyssey
Best 4WD Jeep Grand Cherokee Laredo diesel
Best Ute Mazda BT-50 XT