Johannesburg - As the countdown continues to our Best of the Best awards next month, our judges have been hard at work sorting through the lengthy list of cars launched in South Africa in 2016.
At the end of each year our team of motoring journalists selects an overall winning Best of the Best vehicle - it could be a car, SUV, bakkie, or crossover - as well as victors in various categories. There is also a Best-Styled vehicle voted for by our readers. From the more than 60 new vehicles that have been launched in SA this year, here is our Best of the Best awards shortlist and why we’ve chosen them:
BMW 7 Series: Imagine cruising for long distances, with just one finger on the wheel, while your car steers, accelerates and brakes for you. BMW’s latest flagship saloon does this and much, much more. Multiple perfume diffusers, air suspension, laser headlights, full colour touchscreen key fobs and the ability to remotely park in a tight garage bay are just a few highlights of the new 7 Series.
Mercedes E-Class: The tenth generation E-Class has taken classiness and refinement to new levels in the mid-sized executive sedan leagues.
It’s also one of the smartest cars on sale today with a wealth of technological innovations including some of the most advanced safety, comfort and self-driving features. Much of it may come as optional extras, but a fully kitted E can rival any saloon on the market in luxury stakes, S-Class included.
Renault Megane: Renault’s fourth-gen Megane has muscled its way right to the top of the C-sized hatch pile in quality terms, and now it’s ready to push the segment-leading Golf around. The new hatch features one of, if not the best interiors in its class, and its plush ride is second to none.
VW Caddy: The heavily revised Caddy range gets a smarter new dashboard and other improvements, but remains the ultra-roomy and practical family vehicle it’s always been. It has space for the Brady Bunch and can load anything from mountain bikes to furniture. Great grunt and fuel economy are provided by that 2-litre turbodiesel too.
Opel Astra: Opel has upped its Golf-rivalling game with an all-new Astra hatch that’s lighter yet roomier, more interesting to look at, classier inside and packed with new-age gadgets. The well-priced duty-dodging base models come with Opel’s fine 1-litre three-pot turbo, but Opel also offers brawnier 1.4T and 1.6T alternatives.
Audi A4: Its evolutionary design won’t make your heart flutter, but this all-new A4 takes Audi’s neat, crisp cabin design ethic to classy new levels, particularly if you opt for that Virtual Cockpit. The new A4 is great to drive too, and the ride quality is superb.
Honda BR-V: Like the now-discontinued Mobilio, Honda’s BR-V squeezes a versatile seven-seat cabin onto a rather compact footprint, and adds some SUV style to the mix. The BR-V is more practical than the compact crossovers it competes with in price, and power comes from Honda’s proven 88kW 1.5 Vtec unit.
Audi R8: The second-generation R8 gets more powerful engines and a lighter body for significant performance gains. The two versions are powered by high-revving normally-aspirated V10s that sound as sweet as they perform. The flagship V10 Plus model is the fastest production Audi yet with its ability to go 330km/h flat out. Rear-biased quattro drive makes for neutral and controllable handling.
Ford Focus RS: The new all-wheel-drive Focus RS taps into a driving enthusiast’s sweet spot with probably the most track-capable car in the hot-hatch league. The hard-hitting 2.3-litre turbo petrol Ecoboost engine lays down the law with a claimed 266km/h top speed and 0-100km/h in 4.7 seconds, and there’s a cool drift mode.
VW GTI Clubsport: The GTI celebrates its 40th birthday with a version that sports extra power, fettled suspension and a mean-looking body kit. The 2-litre turbo petrol engine’s 195kW and 380Nm is a healthy hike over the standard GTI’s 162kW/350Nm, resulting in a 5.9 second 0-100km/h time and a 249km/h top speed. Helping to harness it is an understeer-reducing diff lock at the front wheels.
Porsche 718 Cayman and 718 Boxster: Porsche proves that four cylinders can be fun. Even though the aural delights aren’t quite as pleasing, replacing normally-aspirated six-cylinder engines with more powerful turbocharged fours has improved performance. The 718s still drive and feel like thoroughbred Porsches.
Mercedes C63 Coupè: Slightly lighter than its four-door sedan sibling, the Mercedes-AMG C63 Coupè is officially the fastest C-Class ever to come out of Affalterbach. In standard trim its 4-litre twin-turbo V8 fires 350kW and 650Nm to the rear wheels, while an even tail-happier S version gets 375kW and 700Nm.
Honda Civic Type R: Honda held on tight to its high-revving naturally aspirated engines through three generations and 18 years of Civic Type-R, but for the latest version launched this year, finally succumbed to force-fed pressure. No pun intended. With 228kW and 440Nm its first attempt is impressive in output stakes, but credit is also due for the way it delivers power with old-school Vtec feel.
BMW M2: Sure, the M2 is less powerful and therefore less quick in a straight line than its M4 sibling, but then it’s also smaller and more wieldy. It pivots on a tighter axis, it’s more immediate in response to precise steering inputs, and it transmits grip from 19-inch rubber to its driver telepathically. A pointed dagger of a sports coupè.
BMW M4 GTS: The M4 GTS is what happens when race team engineers meet product planners. This blitzen Beemer is as close as you’ll get to driving a full-on touring car, legally, along the N1. Standard fare includes a roll cage, fire extinguisher, carbon body panels and adjustable KW shocks with Eibach springs, all of which are there to ensure fast times between offramps, er at track days.
Porsche 911: Though it may be hard to tell based on looks alone, Porsche’s 911 range went through a major technical upgrade earlier this year. Along with more power for flagship Turbo models, the introduction of a clever Sport Response button on steering wheels and minor styling revisions, came a host of new turbocharged 3-litre flat-sixes for all Carrera and Targa derivatives. Yes, the naturally-aspirated 911 is a thing of the past.
Range Rover Evoque Convertible: A luxury crossover with two doors and a retractable canvas roof? Why not? Range Rover has ventured into a previously unexplored automotive genre with its new Evoque droptop, and the result is surprisingly agreeable. Few vehicles this side of a game viewer can offer open-air offroad experiences quite like this one, even if most will never stray far from inner suburbia.
Jaguar F-Pace: Jaguar enters the adventure league with a stylish SUV on the sporty end of the spectrum, pitched against nimble-handling rivals like the BMW X4 and Porsche Macan. But it has some offroading ability too, with a generous 213mm ride height and All Surface Progress Control which allows steep hills to be ascended or descended without having to touch either the throttle or brake; the driver’s life is simplified by just having to steer.
Volvo XC90 Hybrid: The XC90 was our Best of the Best overall winner in 2015 and now Volvo’s smart SUV is available in a fuel-sipping plug-in hybrid version. It’s able to drive on electricity alone for up to 43km, which means shorter commutes could take place using no petrol at all.
Toyota Hilux: South Africa’s best selling vehicle is reborn with improved refinement, a more comfortable ride and a plush new interior. But it’s tougher than ever, with a stronger ladder frame chassis and a more rigid body. You could say it’s swopped its khaki clothing for a leisure suit but still wears hiking boots.
VW Tiguan: With its sharper design, new MQB underpinnings and advanced gadgetry, Volkswagen’s second-generation Tiguan has every intention of becoming the new segment benchmark. Add to that a classy, roomy and versatile cabin, smooth ride and punchy engines and the new softroader’s chances are looking all the better.
Toyota Fortuner: If there was a Most Improved award to compete for, Toyota’s new-generation Fortuner would certainly have it in the bag. In terms of design, refinement and technology, the latest Fortuner is a great leap forward. Spacious, well equipped and capable off the beaten track, in 4x4 guise at least, the Fortuner is a solid family choice.
Kia Sportage: Kia’s latest softroader is related to the Hyundai Tucson, but has a sportier, somewhat more daring design to go with the new 1.6-litre turbopetrol engine option. The roomier cabin has a decidedly upmarket appearance and larnier versions come loaded with convenience gadgets. Like its Hyundai cousin, the Sportage rides rather nicely too.
Mazda CX-3: With its racy design, the CX-3 is something of a cap-backward rebel in its segment. All models come with a 115kW 2-litre engine, making the Mazda more powerful than its rivals and it’s very well priced to boot. The interior has a pleasantly uncluttered design and it’s roomy enough for those inside, although the boot is on the small side.
Hyundai Tucson: Hyundai’s Rav4 rival comes of age with this generation, which features a more confident look, improved road manners and generous equipment levels. Another feather in its cap is the availability of Hyundai’s brawny 1.6-litre turbopetrol engine, although the familiar 2.0 and a pair of turbodiesels are also on the menu.
Renault Kadjar: The Kadjar brings some of Renault’s voluptuous new-age style to the softroader market. Beneath the skin it’s fairly similar to the Nissan Qashqai, although the French car is a bit larger and the 1.2T base engine is tuned for more power. The cabin has a modern vibe and comes loaded with hi-tech features.