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2019 SA Car of the Year: Which top model should grab the coveted title? - Part 1

2018-12-14 10:48

Lance Branquinho

Hyundai Kona silver

Image: Janine Van der Post/Wheels24

From budget models to luxury SUVs, the 2019 SA CA of the Year sees a star-studded line-up vying for the coveted title. Lance Branquinho take a look at each of the finalists.

We’ve separated the 2018 Car of the Year finalists into two groups, splitting the list alphabetically.

2019 SA Car of the Year: Here's what you need to know about the 5 new top car categories

Below is a short analysis of the merits (and demerits) – of each candidate. If you are braai-side this vacation and the car of the year topic flows into conversation, you’ll have some choice facts to field.  Stay tuned for part 2 in next week.

Alfa Romeo Stelvio

Why it might win: Distinctive design an ode to Alfa’s storied history and a brilliantly engineered platform makes Stelvio lighter and more agile than any of its German SUV rivals.

Why it won’t: Exceptionally narrow dealer network and Alfa’s legacy of indifferent product quality cannot be ignored. Italian infotainment user experience in need of a renaissance to become relevant and user-friendly. 

Honda Civic Type R

Why it might win: The world’s fastest front-wheel drive car and in an industry where the manual gearbox needs saving, the Type R is a hero for those who believe in double de-clutching.

Quirky Japanese but very undiluted in its performance. Two-litre turbo motors can be ferocious and the six-speed manual is a tremendous mechanical interface – for those who value and have the skill to self-shift a high-performance car.

Why it won’t: Not a comfortable day-to-day driver and slower than all its German 2-litre rivals. Doesn’t feature any breakthrough drivetrain or torque vectoring technology.

A charming driver’s car, but not a wildly advanced one. Difficult to fathom the nomination. Outrageous styling aside, it doesn’t redefine the segment. Front-wheel drive is a novelty with 228kW, but beyond that and a charmingly mechanical six-speed gearshift, there’s not much. 

Hyundai Kona

Why it might win: Traditional Hyundai values (generous equipment, build quality) in an uncharacteristically striking design. The i30 is a regarded platform and this is a high-riding i30. If you want to be different, but safe in the knowledge that very little will go wrong with your crossover, this is a good choice.

Why it won’t: Styling might be too daring for some and has the risk of dating badly in a season or two. The South African specification Kona doesn’t feature the multi-link rear suspension available in other markets, dulling the polish of its dynamics.

Lexus 250ES

Why it might win: Lexus by name, but global Toyota Camry eight-generation platform by nature. Not fast, but very generously equipped sedan and possibly the quietest cruising cabin environment in a sub-R1m car. Lexus quality and customer experience promises – as always – to offer a completely unburdened ownership prospect.

Why it won’t: A victory would be implausibly difficult to justify with VW’s Arteon competing in the same segment. Annoyingly fiddly infotainment interface. A naturally-aspirated engine is efficient, but you won’t be overtaking trucking traffic on impulse – especially at Gauteng motoring altitudes. 

Mercedes-Benz A250

Why it might win: Enormous improvement on the previous A-Class in terms of mechanical structure and ride quality. MBUX infotainment and driver assistance systems are futuristic technology made real, by Mercedes, for the hatchback segment.

A250’s 2-litre engine and an evolved version of Mercedes-Benz’s seven-speed dual-clutch transmission make for a very adaptable blend of hot hatchback performance and cruising economy. 

Why it won’t: Expensive. C-Pillar blind spots remain, as does claustrophobia for rear-seat passengers. Silver coloured plastic, masquerading as imitation metal, doesn’t make for a premium cabin architecture.  

Mitsubishi Pajero Sport

Why it might win: Mitsubishi build quality and legacy off-road ability. Pajero Sport’s Super-select 4x4 system remains the class standard for those who require their family off-road wagon to go where others can’t. Ability to run a locked centre-differential in high-range makes it a terrific extreme dune field exploration vehicle.


Why it won’t: Ford’s Everest and Toyota’s Fortuner weren’t considered worthy in previous years, so it would be unlikely for Pajero Sport to win this round of COTY. Abysmally asymmetric rear styling. 

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