DESERVING OF THE TITLE: 'The VW Passat is a clear and obvious leader in almost every way', writes Alex Parker. Image: Wheels24 / Sean Parker
The Opel Astra took top honours at the 2017 South African Car Of The Year (COTY) awards on March 15. Alex Parker shares his views.
Cape Town - I like the Opel Astra. It’s a really genuinely good car. I like the way it looks and I like the way it handles.
I especially like the class-leading space in the back and the luxury-car levels of really useful safety kit you can have, such as lane keeping assist, intelligent headlights and forward Collision Alert with automatic braking.
I think it’s got a good range of engines too - the 1.6T is a proper sleeper-rocket, coming in only a few notches weaker than a VW Golf GTi but decidedly more under-the-radar in terms of its looks and is notably cheaper to buy (by more than R90 000 if you want the DSG). The one-litre triple is a good entry-level motor, but the money is probably on the 1.4 turbo as the all-rounder you actually want.
READ: A worthy winner? Opel Astra takes 2017 Car of the Year crown
On par with a Volkswagen Golf?
But it isn’t as good as a Golf by other measures. The cheaper torsion-beam rear suspension can get crashy and twitchy on fast roads, whereas the posh independent set-up on a Golf would maintain more composure. And, good as the interior is, it’s not a match for the sheer quality and usability of the Golf. This is nothing to be ashamed of. VW Group products are always intimidatingly well made.
Car of the Year debate
And so we end up at the nub of all Car of the Year debates. To some – family owners looking for space and safety kit, for example – the Opel might be a better car. Its lesser price will again recommend itself to those worried about cost.
But, equally, the Golf’s superior interior, smarter engineering, and its bombproof resale values, will recommend it more to others.
READ: Inside Mazda's fallout with the 2017 SA Car of the Year
It’s not always easy to disentangle all this stuff. But when it comes down to it the Car of the Year finalists are not up against each other, but whatever else exists in its segment. The winner ought to be the car that competes best against its obvious peers.
In its segment, then, what’s really better than a Volkswagen Passat? In an admittedly decimated area of the market, to me the Passat is a clear and obvious leader in almost every way.
It is far from being a new observation, but if Car of the Year was awarded in various categories, with one “best of show” overall winner, this would remove the debate about what a Car of the Year ought to be.
But given that this is not the case, the Guild’s decision to take what appears to be a consumer-led approach this year, with practical concerns about the rocketing cost of new cars, the benefits of safety equipment and space in a generally excellent package is entirely legitimate.
My car of the year will never be the same as yours, and as such I think it’s only fair to take the SA COTY result on face value and say, indeed, that times are tough, consumers are stretched and cost of ownership is, in 2017, an overwhelming concern. It was a terrifically tough call for Volkswagen, but hearty congratulations to Opel nonetheless.