This year's SA Car of the Year finalist decision was probably the most surprising of the entire 22 years of the competition, with the end list unchanged from that voted by the SA Guild of Motoring Journalists' general membership.
Every year all guild members are invited to take part in a mail vote to decide on "semi-finalists" from among the vehicles launched during the year - usually from November to October.
The scores are tallied, and audited, then this list is whittled down to a number the 30 plus COTY jury, comprised of top SA motoring journalists, considers to be both workable in terms of the tough test day sessions, as well as meaningful.
In the past this has usually been eight, but, for instance, if there is only one point between the eighth and ninth cars, they may decide to test all nine rather than arbitrarily dump the ninth.
Or if there's a huge gap between seventh and eighth, they may opt to test only seven.
This process took place as usual this year, and much lively and meaningful debate ensued between the jury members on both eligibility and suitability.
The jury then voted - in a secret ballot - and low and behold, although some positions had changed, the top eight was exactly the same as they started with!
Just to remind you, the following were the finalists, and judging will take place early next year for a final reveal in March.
- Toyota Avensis 2.2 D-4D Exclusive
- Honda Civic Sedan 1.8 VXi
- Renault Clio 1.6 Dynamique 5-door
- Lexus IS250 (A)
- Alfa Romeo 159 2.2 JTS
- Opel Astra GTC 1.9 CDTI
- Ford Focus ST
- Hyundai Accent 1.6 GLS HS
How COTY works
Meanwhile many readers have asked for a complete breakdown of how the SA Car of the Year competition works.
Firstly only one winner is declared; there are no categories or classes; and the results below first place are never revealed.
Because of those three elements the contest has maintained a remarkably high level of integrity and prestige in its 22-year history.
But, how can you compare an entry-level small vehicle with, say, a super luxury model costing more than R500 000?
The South African Car of the Year makes this possible - and does so in an entirely objective manner utilising the opinions of the full Guild of Motoring Journalists (which has more than 200 full working members).
This is how it happens:
- All new passenger car models released in a particular year (with cut-off dates pre-published in the rules) are considered by a Validation Committee.
- Excluded from ongoing consideration are vehicles which are not significantly new; are not produced in sufficient volumes (and more about this later), and which fall outside the appropriate time bracket.
The Validation Committee then releases a list of eligible vehicles which is then distributed to the Full membership of the Guild for the first voting process.
The volume issue has become critical. What is, for instance, "sufficient" volume for a vehicle costing R350 000 compared to a vehicle costing R80 000? After much recent debate the volume criteria will now be settled by establishing percentages of market share in each market category.
Back to the voting: all Members are polled with the eligible list and are given eight votes to select the finalists they would like to see considered in the final cut.
The results of this voting are then collated (again by the Validation Committee) and tabled to a full meeting of the Car of the Year Jury.
(The Jury members are made up of evaluators who have been on more than two Car of the Year evaluation events. They come from a full spectrum of highly qualified vehicle evaluators right through to people who write ordinary road impressions in day-to-day motoring columns.)
The Jury, guided by this initial vote, then discusses the various candidates which have emerged, and it votes for the eight finalists. This vote is counted by auditors and announced the following day when the finalists themselves are revealed to the industry and the wider public.
Then the vehicles are evaluated over two or three Test Days. The route of this event ensures that each vehicle in the hands of each evaluator (the Jury members and their assistants) is evaluated in similar circumstances.
It is important to note that they are not being compared to each other.
A considerable amount of information is collated for the Jury on the vehicles which compete with the eight separate finalists and evaluators are urged to bear this in mind when they test the cars.
They constantly ask themselves the question: "How does this vehicle (one of the finalists) compare with its competitors in its market".
Throughout the evaluation each evaluator answers the same set of questions on each of the finalist models and "scores" each vehicle in broad categories under parameters of "value for money", "static", "dynamic" and "personal perceptions".
The value of money category represents more than a fifth (21%) of the total number of points which can be scored; the static area (which has varying points allocated to parameters of styling, finish, visibility, loadability, and access (just over 4% each) for a total of 26%, and dynamic (an average of just over 7 points each allocated to performance, handling, braking, comfort, ergonomics, active safety) for a total of 40%, and the personal perception which has an allocation on its own of 6%.
All these scores are added up and an average score per entered model is calculated - that average taken over the full spectrum of Jury members voting in the score books.
Then, over the previous history of the competition, the scores have built up a database of past results and these have been graphed against value.
So, you have a line which represents the results of all scoring over the eight or so years which represents the expected number of "COTY points" which each model will deliver at a particular price. The price is corrected each year to inflation so that you are comparing apples with apples.
The statisticians call this process "a target curve of points v. price".
The drawing of this ideal curve then allows the actual average point for each car in the particular year of the competition to be compared with this ideal and the entrant which has the largest positive difference becomes the winner.
This is how one can compare models across the full spectrum with each other and with their competitors.
The result of each year's Car of the Year is announced at a glittering and prestigious industry banquet.
This event on its own (sponsored by the event's main sponsor WesBank) has become a very significant item on the motoring calendar.
Upwards of 400 people now attend and it is the showcase of who's who in the industry and the media which covers it.
Only one event takes place at this awards banquet - the announcement of the winning car.
Tension mounts and it is an intriguing evening where the organisers have sometimes come up with very innovative ways of "revealing" the winner.
1986 Toyota Corolla Twin Cam
1987 Mercedes 260
1988 BMW 735i
1989 Toyota Corolla Gli Executive
1990 BMW 525i
1991 Opel Monza 160 Gsi
1992 Nissan Maxima 300 SE
1993 BMW 316i
1994 Opel Kadett 140
1995 Opel Astra 160iS
1996 Audi A4 1,8
1997 BMW 528i
1998 Ford Fiesta Fun
1999 Alfa Romeo 156 T-Spark
2000 Renault Clio 1.4 RT
2001 BMW 320d
2002 Audi A4 1.9 Tdi
2003 Polo Tdi
2004 Renault Megane 1.9 DCI
2005 Volvo S40 2.4I
2006 Audi Sportback 2.0 T FSI