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SA Car of the Year 2017: Top 5 contenders, dark horse and disappointments

2017-02-10 08:05

Janine Van der Post

READY FOR ACTION: The finalists for the 2017 SA Car of the Year finalists lined up for testing.Image: Wheels24 / Sergio Davids

Wheels24's Janine van der Post is an official judge at the 2017 Wesbank Car of the Year competition. Wheels24 editor Sergio Davids was also in attendance as a trainee juror. 

Johannesburg - The 2017 WesBank SAGMJ Car of the Year is upon us and it's a rare jury member indeed whom has not yet selected his/her top cars for the title ahead of testing.

Yet each year it's the underdogs that impress the most whereas the cars you think will do well, don't always live up to expectations. The winner will be announced on March 15.

The 2017 SA Car of the Year testing was held at the Kyalami race track in Gauteng.

Below are the 10 finalists: in alphabetical order

 • Audi A4

 • Honda Civic

 • Hyundai Tucson

 • Jaguar F-Pace

 • Mazda CX-3

 • Opel Astra

 • Renault Kadjar

 • Toyota Fortuner

 • Volkswagen Tiguan

 • Volkswagen Passat

I've added my top choices, disappointing choices and my 'dark horse' in the competition. Wheels24 editor Sergio Davids, a trainee jury member at this year's competition, shares his thoughts too.

1. Audi A4:

Van der Post: When put through its paces on the various testing modules, the Audi delivered on performance, handling and everything else, every time. It's a beautiful car too.

Davids: Good handling, enhanced performance and great tech...  the ninth-generation A4 has lifted its game remarkably in SA. It's possibly the best A4 yet; it's elegant, refined and surprisingly sporty. The drawback is a steep price tag and perception of being 'mundane'.

2. Opel Astra:

Van der post: The Astra is the cheapest car of the lot, not that it really mattered since we don't put the cars up against each other, but judge it for being the best in its segment. With that said, it stood out the most to me for three crucial judging categories: overall excellence, value for money and affordability. It's a car for the people and one worthy of winning the SA Car of the Year crown.

Davids: Agile, well-equipped and very practical... Opel has delivered yet another great hatchback. The Astra ticks all the right boxes in the SA hatchback market and could see the brand scoop its first win in decades.

Image: Wheels24 / Sergio Davids

3. Hyundai Tucson:

Davids: The Tucson has reinvented itself with an eye-catching exterior design making it one of the best-looking SUVs in its class. Its biggest selling points are a well-insulated cabin, a new suspension setup that feels composed on gravel as it's on tar and steering that's less artificial than its predecessors. Its let down by a lack of sophistication compared to rivals and an overall 'middle-of-the-road' approach.

Van der Post: I've been smitten by the new Tucson since it was launched locally in 2016. It's a great mommy-van/family car but I really wasn't expecting it to impress as much as it did, especially on the dynamic handling tracks, or even on the high-speed sections. It even handled situations of being thrown into corners or emergency manoeuvres on wet skidpan tracks. I wouldn't be surprised if it outscored some of the more popular finalists.

4. Volkswagen Passat:

Van der Post: I wasn't expecting much from VW's flagship sedan but I was in for a great surprise. The Passat is highly underrated in SA, it's a magnificent car. It not only looks good but delivered on most of the judging criteria, especially in terms of performance and driveability, and reliability.

Davids: VW has delivered a quality sedan fit for any family or executive. It's engine is sporty, transmission (at least in DSG guise) sublime and overall it's a fantastic sedan. The Passat unfortunately is overshadowed by sister brand's A4, a car most would rather choose if only because of the badge and the perceived quality it brings.

5. Volkswagen Tiguan

Davids: Volkswagen's best-selling compact SUV builds on its predecessor and then some. It's aggressively styled, fitted with quality materials and its DSG transmission is a pleasure behind the wheel. It faces tough competition from the Tucson but benefits from better tech and transmission/engine options.

Van der Post: It's difficult to fault the Tiguan as this SUV, and its Passat sibling, represent German engineering at its best. The Tiguan is superior in its class in terms of technology and even driving impressions are highly-rated. At times, I'd say the Tiguan even outperformed the Passat.


6. Renault Kadjar

Van der Post: I loved the French automaker's offering at its launch as well as the test drives in Cape Town. But after a few good kilometres on the clock, its niggles were revealed during testing. While the interior looks great, its build quality and plastic finishes is a dissapointment. Rattles and squeaks are not part of a pleasant driving experience, but with all that said, it still makes a great little car for those who are not too fussy. It's stylish and has enough niceties to satisfy the owner looking for an alternative SUV.

Honda Civic
Davids: Honda's flagship is possibly the best-looking version of the Civic yet. Assertive styling, enhanced tech, spacious interior and extremely comfortable to drive (as long as you're not in a rush). It's let down by a temperamental CVT transmission and lack of engine options. A real disappointment as it's nowhere near as sporty as it appears. It's major selling point is its comfort and it's back by Honda's reliability.

Van der Post: The Honda Civic is one of the best-looking finalists, hands down. Inside it has a solid build and I love the scroll-over audio volume control on the steering wheel. It's very comfortable throughout the cabin, and it's a pleasant drive too. Sadly, it lacks in performance, and doesn't feel as stable in handling exercises as what it looks.

Dark horse
Jaguar F-Pace:

Davids: Jaguar's foray into the realm of SUVs has paid off with the launch of its F-Pace. It combines the best characteristics of Jaguar and partner Land Rover, (read: luxury and performance), in a much more practical package. This latest AWD-fitted cat on the prowl makes timid kittens out of its competition. Its agility belies its size, its fantastic through the bends even at speed and a luxurious interior is on par with premier flagship sedans.

Van der Post: Jaguar's F-Pace is an all-in-one deal. It looks pretty assertive with a prowling stance, it has all the capabilities of an SUV and drives like a sporty sedan. It's practicality has to be its trump card. Its a great drive, handles like Donald Trump taking on the world, yet it was marginally outperformed by the other competitors in their own segments.

Reader's poll:

How the judging process works:

All the Coty finalists are tested thoroughly during two days, usually at the Gerotrek testing facility in Pretoria, but this year it took place at the Kyalami International Circuit for the first time. Day 1 comprised the vehicles being tested on two various modules which included high speed tracks, emergency exercises on the skidpan and a short, but thrilling, dynamic handling track.


Day 2 is spent doing on-road driving tests, as well as static evaluations. All scoring categories have been repackaged, and the number of categories has increased to 12. The table below was used as a guideline of the most important aspects to consider in each category. 

How the scoring works:


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