Wheels24 correspondent and veteran motoring journalist, Egmont Sippel, names his top 10 cars of 2016. Do you agree with his list? Email us.
Cape Town - It’s like the finals of a beauty pageant, not so? The contestants might all appeal in various ways to various people, but the judges have to pick a winner, small as the margins might be.
Same goes for an annual Top 10 list in the automotive world. Different cars appeal in different ways to different people.
Choose this one, and somebody might say: It’s too expensive.
Choose that one, and others dismiss it as too impractical.
Choose a third and the whole chorus goes: You’re not comparing apples with apples.
So, what then, should the criteria be?
Well, simply the cars that satisfied and gratified most. End of story - although it sounds a lot simpler than what it is.
Vying for the final spot
There are a couple of cars vying for the final spot on my 2016 list: the Ford Mustang, Jaguar F-Pace, Mercedes E-Class, Audi A4, Renault Megane and Honda Civic.
The F-Pace and E-Class are brand new, of course, but I’ve not had enough seat time to judge properly. The Mustang, only driven in 2016, strictly speaking belongs to 2015.
The A4 has morphed into a sophisticate of note, but the car is also strangely devoid of soul. And I’ve not yet had seat time in the BMW M2. Judging by the brilliant M240i with Adaptive Suspension, the M2 should be off the charts - and that’s perhaps why you won’t find it on my list; it’s off the charts.
Do you agree with Egmont's list? Which car(s) would you add? Email us or reach us via Facebook and Twitter.
Here then the ones on the charts. Click on each vehicle's name for a more detailed report.
The top 10 list:
10) Honda Civic Sedan 1.5T Sport (R430 000)
The Renault Megane and Honda Civic are two C-segment stalwarts of respectively the European and American markets.
In the late-1990’s more than 300 000 Meganes were sold every single year in Europe, exactly where the Civic is currently at, in the USA.
Apart from a brief spell in the middle 2000’s (when Europe’s annual Megane sales peaked at 466 000), successes have faded to an alarming 123 000 in 2015, the lowest since Tutankhamun’s death.
Renault clearly had some work to do whilst Honda, on the other side of the Atlantic, was ever so determined to accelerate the company’s current popularity.
The results were two new C-segment cars of undeniable refinement and class, particularly as expressed via impeccable ride quality.
No rocket ships to be found here, though – the emphasis is on efficiency, economy and reliability.
Yet the turbo mills on either side do decent enough jobs and the cars are particularly easy to drive. Well-equipped, too, turning the biggish Civic into an entry level Accord of sorts. It even displays camera images of what’s happening in the passenger side blind spot once you’ve activated the signal to turn left.
The Civic is expensive, but it has bridged the divide between mass market and luxury. That’s why it makes the list.
9) Opel Astra 1.0T (R254 000)
The new Astra enters the market with three fantastic little petrol units: a 1.0-litre 3-cylinder, plus 1.4- and 1.6-litre 4-cylinders, all turbo-charged.
And they’re great, starting with the triple which was conceived to counter Ford’s superlative little 995cc EcoBoost, a triple outright winner of the International Engine of the Year award (2012, 2013, 2014) and five times winner in the sub 1-litre-category.
So, many years down the road and GM had to go to war with Ford again, just as they did in the good old days of big bad V8’s.
And you know what? Ford’s spirited little EcoBoost might stump the Ecotec overall, especially in upper ranges. But GM’s triple delivers where it counts in everyday use, with more low-down thrust and refinement, plus better economy.
It’s a super little engine for a super little car. Ditto for the more powerful engines.
The new Astra, in fact, delivers on every single automotive front imaginable, but the two triples manage something extra: real premium hatchback quality for less than R300 000 each.
A brilliant proposition.
8) Hyundai Tucson 1.6 Turbo (R440 000)
The Hyundai Tucson’s got a record to defend. It beat the VW Tiguan to the market by three years, way back when, and has tenaciously clung to the lead bestowed on it by such an early start.
Now, the second generation Tiguan has been launched to great critical acclaim at pretty much the same moment that delivered the third generation Tucson.
Is the Korean still King of the Hill? Or has German engineering overtaken it, specifically as the Tiguan is basically a Golf on stilts, with VW/Audi’s brilliant MQB platform serving as foundation to both Wolfsburgers?
Well, you sense the solidity and integrity in every pore of the Tiguan: chunky, muscular design; proper door-closing thunks; supreme mechanical engineering; good dynamics; etc.
But say what: the Tucson is not far behind in any of these, whilst it is also cheaper to run and more relaxing to occupy and drive, with well weighted controls and great manual boxes, the diesel’s light, smooth and easy shifter as a specific eye opener.
Plus you get warranties that will outlast the Great Wall of Korea, I mean, China. Understandable then, that Hyundai is not quite the value proposition it used to be. It’s positively gone premium.
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7) Mercedes-Benz GLS500 (with AMG Line body kit; R1.46-million)
Merc ain’t the company they used to be.
That’s not necessarily a negative, but let’s examine.
In the old days, Stuttgart built luxury coaches and nothing else (besides lorries and busses and so forth, but that’s a different story).
Then came 1975’s BMW 3-series which compelled a Benz 190 and eventually the C-Class.
Not content to counter Bee-Em in the luxury compact saloon segment - and reacting to VW’s move into the upper classes - Benz down scaled even further with 1997’s A-Class.
It promptly overturned in the moose test. The slide had begun. Tuscaloosa’s first M-Class SUV’s were a disaster. Merc grappled with heavy financial losses. Eventually the third generation A-Class appeared in 2012 with a vastly underdeveloped chassis. The A-Class had given up one of the two most sacred Merc values: ride quality (the other being safety).
Merc was done. Or not? Yes and no, as it turned out. The new S-Class and its derivatives have proven that Benz still knows what the three-pointed star should be about, but no car in the firmament does it as convincingly as the GLS500. The ride is soft and plush and cossetting. So, achtung! Merc is not done. But the A-Class needs attention.
6) Volvo S90 (released in mid-Jan)
Volvo has always been the poor cousin of the luxury classes. The cars were more than mass-market jalopies, yes, with real premium aspirations, specifically when it came to state-of-the-art safety technology.
But was it enough to distinguish Volvos from the great unwashed?
Eventually yes. The company worked diligently to keep up and forge ahead. Yet limited financial resources were forever going to prevent it from matching the Germans. Volvos were just too heavy, unrefined, cumbersome and overly anonymous.
In stepped Geely in 2009 and out popped Gothenburg’s brilliant new XC90 SUV. The S90 is the XC90’s sedan brother. It debuts in SA in mid-Jan, but I drove it in Spain in mid-2016 already.
It’s a great car.
5) VW Golf GTI Clubsport (R545 000)
The Golf is a special car and the GTI is a special Golf, or actually a whole range of them.
It starts with the stock standard GTI (162kW), on which you can option a Performance Pack delivering an extra 7kW. Next up is the R (which technically is not a GTI as it distributes 206kW to all four wheels), and on either side of the R you’ll find a GTI Clubsport (195kW) and GTI Clubsport S (228kW).
The latter’s been created as a lightweight model with a screaming version of the same 2.0-litrE turbo that drives the R and all other GTI’s. It’s street legal, but it’s been born to race.
The Clubsport, however, is a properly civilized GTI with extra grunt. And if 195kW sounds too little for your itchy right foot, think again. So well balanced is this car in all the main mechanical and dynamic aspects - albeit with a mild sliver of oversteer - that peak power is not only fully exploitable, but fully exploitable with ease.
4) Porsche 718 Cayman (R854 000)
I’m not going to say that Porsche has dropped the ball. They haven’t.
But they’ve downsized on the Cayman and Boxster and added a 718 prefix.
The downsizing affected capacity and cylinder count; the new 2.0- and 2.5-litre mills are flat-fours.
To compensate, those flat-fours had to be turbo-charged.
Power is up, then, and comfortably so. Consumption has dipped. The cars are quicker. Everything that can be quantified on paper has been improved. Even steering and handling operate on a new level. As instruments of speed and accuracy, the 718’s are peerless.
But something big has been lost, besides two cylinders and a number of cc’s: the soulful scream of the venerable flat-six.
The flat-four is loud enough, yes, and over time we’ll will get used to it. But it will never be as melodious and stirring as the flat-6, period.
3) Honda Civic Type R (R616 000)
The Type R has morphed into a street legal race car.
Not a racer, as in The Fast and the Furious, but a race car, ready to blitz tracks with that huge rear-mounted wing, proper race car seats, a peerless drivetrain wringing 228kW out of a technically advanced 2.0-litre, the fastest manual box imaginable, an urgent soundtrack continuously assaulting the senses and prodigious front end grip, only corrupted, strangely enough, by some understeer when you activate the R button to stiffen an already firm set of ZF dampers by another 30%.
The R button also sharpens engine responses, more responsive steering gains a measure of beef and altered mapping delivers more torque at lower rpm.
But tell you what: the Type R is fine just as is, without the R button, which basically serves as a link to transform the car into a pure racing machine.
Which doesn’t mean that you can relax if you don’t use this button. The Type R has an innate ability to urge you on, after which it all turns into an orgy of mechanical and dynamic madness.
When last, for instance, have you seen 1.4g’s in a corner, if ever?
2) Audi R8 V10 Plus (R3.3-million)
Think Lamborghini Huracán without the hard-core edge, fighter jet looks, brutal personality and war-like soundtrack, and you get the surprisingly civilised new R8, replete with a cabin interfacing delicate, spacious, sporty, comfortable and luxurious.
Which is not to say that the R8 ain’t a supercar.
It is. An amazingly arresting body shell and a beautifully confident stance combines with shattering performance to deliver a proper edge-of-the-envelope experience, from standstill to flat-out.
And then you dial it all back to childlike innocence when you hit town. Marvelous.
1) Rolls-Royce Dawn (R11-million)
Claudia Schiffer was one of about eight girls – called the supermodels – who changed the face of beauty and fashion in the 1980’s.
They were famous, sought-after and incredibly well-paid. Schiffer, in particular, made her name impersonating Brigitte Bardot in a striking series of publicity pics for Guess clothing.
She was adoringly beautiful, until you noticed that she walked like a duck.
It’s not all in the gait, of course. But a surprisingly large chunk of the X-factor resides in there. “Something in the way she moves...” George Harrison sang all those years ago, with the Beatles.
Rolls-Royces move effortlessly, with grace, pace and elegance to spare.
So, would I pay R11-million for being able to waft along with the roof down?
Yes, if I had a five-storeyed mansion on the Atlantic seaboard which could be sold to take care of small little irritations like tyre, fuel and servicing bills.
But where to go then, without that Cliftonian roof over my head?
Ah, to my million acre game farm retreat in the Karoo, just for the tranquility of it all. But only on sunny days, so that I can drop the Dawn’s head while my chariot serenely disappear into the distance. Bye-bye!
Do you agree with Egmont's list? Which car(s) would you add? Email us.