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SA Car of the Year: How good are the finalists really?

2017-09-21 13:51

Lance Branquinho

Image: Supplied

Johannesburg - Finalists for South Africa’s longest standing product pageant have been announced and it’s a group of ten quite representative vehicles.

2018 Wesbank SA Car of the Year nominations and winners will never appease all, because award rarely mirrors the market, but the 2018 contenders do represent a fair configuration and price spread.

If Car of the Year reflected market trends and buying power, South Africa would merely have a "bakkie and affordable hatchback of the year" competition because our market is dominated by Hilux, Ranger, Vivo, Etios and the like. 

SA Car of the Year: The finalists in 10 cool pics

Product quality, appeal, innovation and design merit is not necessarily reflected by sales success.

Hence some very low-volume vehicles nominated for the 2017 award. A preliminary analysis of the finalists is challenging as models have been nominated, but manufactures now have the choice of entering a specific derivative, which leaves quite a margin of interpretation regarding drivetrains and exact specification. With that said, the nominated cars are not judged on model derivative, but still the entire range.

Here are the finalists: In alphabetical order

Which vehicle do you think should should be crowned the 2018 SA Car of the Year? Tell us why!

So, which are the relative strengths and weaknesses of each?

Alfa Romeo Giulia

Image: Motorpress

Strengths: As befits the great Alfa tradition, it’s a symbol of fine Italian design lineage South Africans often ignore out of ignorance. A strikingly styled car, immediately recognisable and differentiated from its German rivals with spirited engines and engaging dynamics. In a segment which is dying, at least locally – the compact luxury sedan – Alfa’s latest offering might spark a slight revival.

Weaknesses: Infotainment system’s resolution and processing not comparable to that of German rivals. Dealer network is tiny and there’s always the spectre of potential electronic gremlins.

Audi Q5

Image: Motorpress

Strengths: A disarmingly handsome car with a cabin crafted to such ergonomic excellence you’ll easily perform a 1000km day trek in a Q5 without neglible fatigue. Optional air-suspension revolutionises the ride quality and makes it less likely to sustain any damage off-road. Hugely refined on-road at speed, and vastly more capable off-road than you’d imagine – its mountain climbing ability only being limited by tyre and wheel choice. 

Add the nice-to-have options its price balloons alarmingly. 

Land Rover Discovery

Image: Motorpress

Strengths: Built on Land Rover’s immensely over-engineered Ranger Rover platform, this is perhaps the most convincing blend of true grade-5 off-road ability and luxury car ride quality. Despite enormous optional 21" wheels, Discovery’s air-suspension delivers ride quality that would shame many luxury sedans and the cabin is a delightfully emboldening design. Driving position and visibility is peerless for long-distances behind the wheel. 

Weaknesses: Discovery5 has seen a notable escalation of price and sadly its styling no longer retains the classic Discovery theme, which had become an iconic arrangement of simple details and bold proportions. Engines might be hugely powerful and the drivetrain effortlessly smooth, but Disco’s African Safari heritage undone in the new one with an aversion to dirty diesel, limiting true continent crossing ability. 

Volvo S90

Image: Motorpress

Strengths: Swedish style and ergonomics, a cabin and infotainment system designed to be intuitive instead of intimidating, Volvo's flagship S90 is a marvel for the brand.  Level2 autonomous driving technology that works excellently without being abrupt in its interventions. Optional air-suspension gifts its hugely impressive ride quality across the entire array of African tar surfaces.

Weaknesses: Its 2.0-litre engines are an admirable attempt to reduce emissions and consumption, but the S90 is a large car and therefore not particularly light on fuel. A question lingers concerning the front-wheel drive configuration (there’s a heavier AWD option), when most of its rivals are rear-wheel drive, with all the merits of driving agility that entails for a luxury sedan. 

BMW 5 Series

Image: Motorpress

Strengths: Terrific engines and still very much a luxury sedan for those who delight in the act of driving. New chassis has trimmed a lot of weight (nearly 100kg), improving athleticism and rear-wheel steering makes it terrifically agile when clipping apexes or parallel parking. BMW faltered badly with its original iDrive system years ago, a lesson absorbed and evolved into the current interface, which is delightfully intuitive and features gesture control too. Tidy level 2 driving autonomy. 

Weaknesses: Styling is neither daring enough or sufficiently elegant, rendering an anonymous-looking BMW four-door which lacks the dynamic or static presence of other four-door luxury sedans in its class. Its boot is slightly smaller than some rivals. 

Porsche Panamera

Image: Motorpress

Strengths: Unrivalled as both an oversized four-seater sports car and alternative to domestic air travel, when intimidating distances must be driven in a day. Its immense size has absolutely no influence in blunting the renowned driving experience Porsche has become legendary for. Five-door configuration makes it credibly practical too, with a hatchback aperture making the loading and retrieval of bulky items that much easier.

Weaknesses: Remains a controversial car in terms of aesthetics, especially when not optioned with all the styling upgrades available. The V6 derivatives are very expensive for the relative output and accelerative performance they offer. 

Peugeot 3008

Image: Motorpress

Strengths: In the brutally competitive compact crossover market 3008 delivers remarkable product differentiation with its daring styling and design. An excellently, executed exterior is almost overwhelmed by the brilliantly futuristic cabin, which is by far the most innovative arrangement of form and function of any SUV/Crossover on the market. Few do small capacity turbocharged engines quite like the French and the 3008’s boosted 1.6 petrol pairs particularly well with its six-speed automatic transmission. 

Weaknesses: Cabin not immensely spacious, with rear-passengers of above average height sure to feel a touch claustrophobic. Tiny steering wheel is great for twirling 3008 quickly from lock-to-lock, but might be an oddity to South Africans who are accustomed to meatier helms. No AWD option at this stage, for true gravel travel explorers.

Kia Picanto:

Image: Motorpress

Strengths: Korean cars were once rental-company fodder but Kia’s styling has altered that perception. The latest Picanto might be the cheapest Kia but it is not a budget engineering exercise. Admirable big-car feel at highway speeds and impressive refinement too, with all the quality ergonomics and contemporary infotainment synching you’d expect from a car company which shares a country of origin with Samsung.

Weaknesses: Dynamic safety specification not quite what it should be, a car which feels as adeptly engineered such as this, should have electronic stability control as standard. Absence of a sixth gear can be annoying for both driveability and fuel consumption. 

Suzuki Ignis

Image: Motorpress

Strengths: Depending on the final specification Suzuki decides to enter, this could be the most affordable car up for judging. Considered styling details mean it looks appealing despite the humble underpinnings and Indian market sourcing. Tremendous value offering and with 180mm ground clearance and sensible 15" wheels, it does the budget gravel travel thing rather well. 

Weaknesses: Despite its sub-900kg mass, the 1.2-litre engine doesn’t make it a right-hand lane highway car – blame the absence of a sixth gear and aerodynamic drag due the ample ground clearance and larger frontal area. Lacks a vital dynamic safety feature in electronic stability control – crucial if you’re going to be driving on local dirt roads. Its 32-litre fuel tank requires careful planning if you are keen on backroad exploring into South Africa’s vast gravel road network. 

Toyota C-HR

Image: Motorpress

Strengths: Styling shows that Toyota’s designers are not the shy bunch we always assume them to be, combining a bold shape with all those inarguably reliable mechanical bits the Japanese brand is renowned for. It’s a coupe-like crossover with sufficient dirty road driving credentials to satisfy most South Africans requirements for a weekend getaway car. Toyota’s enormous dealer network means that you’re least likely to be stranded if something goes awry. 

Weaknesses: The 1.2 turbo can be a chore to keep on boost at low speeds and in traffic with a manual transmission. Toyota’s infotainment graphics appear to be have been sourced from a 1990s PC game and luggage space is rather limited too, at only 328-litres. 

Read more on:    south africa  |  car of the year  |  new models

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