JOHANNESBURG - As part of our Best Buys awards for 2019, Drive360 and IOL Motoring has named our top three cars in five different categories.

These are the three compact vehicles that continue to impress us for their value for money, segment-defining characteristics and overall pleasure to live with and experience. 

Our top 3 lists are based on our experience with the cars, and our team’s interactions with one another based on these experiences, which might come in handy as you go tyre-kicking this holiday season.

Ford Everest is a mountain of an SUV

Launched with a new 2.0-litre bi-turbo engine and some exterior tweaks this year, the Ford Everest comes in as the second Ford product in this year’s Car of the Year competition in the 4x4 Adventure category. 

The Everest slots in perfectly between an everyday car and mama’s taxi as well as heading to the great outdoors as a lifestyle vehicle. 

As the world trend in vehicle sales continues its upward spiral towards SUVs, the Everest, although not as popular as its Ranger sibling, remains a favourite among many South Africans. 

In terms of exterior design, I prefer the Everest to the competition partly because it looks more aggressive and suited to the job. 

Ford’s 10-speed automatic gearbox mated to the 2.0-litre twin turbo engine works well and although 10 gears sounds like a lot, the settings are well-balanced and it shifts effortlessly. 

Should you be concerned about low gearing when loaded or towing there is a Progressive Range Select system that allows you to exclude gears. 

The engine pushes out 157kW and 500Nm, 10kW and 30Nm more than the 3.2-litre turbo diesel, which is still available. 

Changes to the suspension set-up such as moving the front mounted stabiliser to the rear of the front axle and the relocation of the jounce bumper has made a considerable difference to the Everest’s handling both on tar and on long dirt roads. 

It’s a fully-fledged 4x4 as well with low range and a rear-differential lock that will get you around some serious off-road trails. 

Fitted with Ford’s familiar SYNC 3 infotainment system that’s probably one of the most intuitive on the market it also includes Tracks4Africa as standard something that anyone crossing our borders would appreciate. 

Safety-wise, you’re ensconced in a cocoon with a long list of features that’s likely to keep you safe should things go awry. In addition adaptive cruise control, with forward collision alert and lane keeping assist, to mention a few, makes the Everest a very attractive proposition. - Willem van de Putte

Ford Ranger for the yumpers

There are many bakkies and SUVs out there that claim to be adventure vehicles, but Ford’s Ranger Raptor is easily the epitome of that genre.

In fact, this stroppy-looking hulk would probably get very offended if you didn’t take it dune hopping every once in a while.

Seriously though, it would be a huge waste to buy yourself a Raptor and not take it to play off the beaten track regularly. The bakkie was built for high-speed off-roading, and the secret is in the wheels and suspension.

The Raptor rolls on 285mm-wide BF Goodrich all-terrain tyres and rides 51mm higher than civilian Rangers, with ground clearance listed at 283mm.

Ford threw the leaf spring rear suspension system in the dumpster, replacing it with an integrated Watt’s linkage that allows the axle to move up and down with minimal lateral movement. Race-developed Fox Racing shocks were also added, for good measure, complete with Position Sensitive Damping.

What all that means, out in the wild, is significantly improved wheel travel, up 32% upfront and 22% at the back. As a bonus, the fancy new suspension system also results in a more comfortable ride.

However, if there is a downside to the Raptor, it’s the small 2-litre diesel engine. Although the twin-turbocharged unit is impressively powerful for its size, with 157kW and 500Nm on tap, this is a heavy vehicle and it ideally needs a bigger engine to do it justice.

But whether you're cruising in town or turning your farm trails into a rally stage, the Raptor is a pleasant place to pass time, thanks to its supportive bucket seats upholstered in plush but durable Technical Suede, as well as creature comforts like dual-zone climate and Sync3 infotainment.

Priced at R819 400, the Ranger Raptor is not perfect, but it is an impressive piece of kit, and one that's purpose-built for gobbling up terrain at speeds you wouldn’t have been able to in other 4x4s. If you can live with its size, it is also surprisingly comfortable to drive in town - but what are you doing there anyway? - Jason Woosey

Mitsubishi Triton needs you

Why oh why don’t more people buy Mitsubishi Tritons? The latest-generation is one of the most underrated vehicles across all segments.

My mind was blown away by the sheer capability of it as a daily vehicle, as well as its GT-carlike cruising ability and its high-level of standard features. It has paddle-shifters behind the steering wheel, for example, which you won’t find on your Gazoo Racing bakkie.

That 2.4-litre turbodiesel engine might seem like it’s out-of-touch with high-end offerings, but you get 133kW and 430Nm and a slick-shifting six-speed slushbox. It’s no Ranger Raptor, but does well with its blend of a car-like drive with off-road capability, and comfort is uncanny at this price point.

Mitsubishi’s Super Select 4 all-wheel-drive system has been enhanced with a new Off-road mode which has settings for gravel, mud/snow, sand and rock.

Triton has this Star Wars-like style, and the interior is so plush that it puts Mitsubishi’s range-topping big-body Pajero to shame.

A good model to buy is the 2.4DI-D 4x4 Auto, priced at R599 995 because it offers electric windows and mirrors, the all-wheel drive system, a thumping Apple Carplay and Android Auto-supported audio system, leather where you need it and stylish alloy-wheels that are so good they look after-market.

Tritons come with a three-year/100000km warranty and the range-topper comes with a five-year/90000km service plan.

It’s light on diesel, with great road manners, and feels so tough you will end up exploring roads less travelled even if you aren’t a big off-roader, just because it’s so darn driveable. Pritesh Ruthun

Drive360