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 family cars 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.

BEST FAMILY CARS

Mazda's CX-5 is trendy and high-tech

It's no surprise that the three finalists in the family vehicle category happen to be SUVs. This follows the international trend with SUVs making up more sales across all manufacturers.

That’s also the case with Mazda, in this instance the CX-5, which was launched in 2012 and continues to be its best-seller.

Recently upgraded, the CX-5 embodies the Mazda Kodo Soul of Motion signature and is one of the better-looking SUVs on our road with tweaks to the grille, front and rear lights. It also happens to be one of the safest cars.

Sure, you get a power sliding and tilt sunroof, a 10-speaker Bose sound system, satnav and head-up display in the top model, but it's things like the front and rear parking sensors, blind spot monitoring, lane departure warning, lane-keeping assist, smart city brake support, adaptive LED headlights and driver attention alert you want when youngsters are strapped in behind you.

There are two versions to choose from; a manual six-speed 2.0-litre naturally aspirated engine (that needs a turbo) and the preferable six speed automatic 2.2-litre turbo-diesel powering all four wheels.

One of the quietest diesels with a “natural sound smoother”, the gearbox is perfectly geared around its 129kW and 420Nm of torque and you’ll consistently get under 7l/100km. - Willem van de Putte

Toyota's Rav4 is a trailblazer in the segment

I've always appreciated the Rav4, not only as a trailblazer in the compact crossover segment since the early 1990s when I really started to fall in love with cars, but as a genuinely capable soft-road vehicle when the tarmac disappears and things get a bit slippery.

The latest generation Rav4 proved its mettle on test between myself and my colleagues this year, each of us assessing the vehicle for attributes.

While we each rate the vehicle highly for different things, there are a few common areas that we agree on, such as the awesome naturally-aspirated 2.5-litre engine and its frugal nature.

We also appreciate the Rav’s styling, as it’s moved upmarket and become more aggressive-looking, but it hasn’t followed the Lexus school of styling and become too brash.

The latest-generation Toyota Rav4 comes with two engine options, a 2litre engine that produces 127kW and 203Nm, paired with either a six-speed manual or CVT continuously variable gearbox.

Most 2litre versions are front-wheel-drive, but you can opt for a pricier 2.0 GX-R derivative that gets all-wheel-drive and even more aggressive styling.

The 2.5litre petrol engine that we love is rated for 152kW and 243Nm, and it is mated to an eight-speed automatic gearbox and a smart all-wheel drive system that features dynamic torque vectoring. - Pritesh Ruthun

Volkswagen T-Cross is a recipe for success

Volkswagen's T-Cross has hit the ground running in South Africa, the compact SUV having found more than 800 homes in its first sales month.

It’s not hard to understand why. It’s based on the Polo platform, but it’s a bit bigger than its hatchback sibling, while also getting its own unique (and butched up) exterior body panels.

Yet what sets the T-Cross apart, in our opinion, is how well it drives. Powered by the 85kW, 200Nm version of Volkswagen’s 1litre, three-cylinder turbopetrol engine, which is mated to a 7-speed DSG dual-clutch gearbox, the T-Cross is one smooth operator on the open road. It’s a sophisticated and refined drive train, and there’s enough oomph to get the job done.

Push it through some fast sweeps, and the T-Cross also feels stable and sure-footed for an SUV, while the steering feels intuitive. The ride is comfy too, although it will feel a touch on the firm side if you opt for the 18-inch wheels.

The range will expand next year to include a base Trendline model. But for now you get to choose between the 85kW Comfortline and Highline models. The Comfortline is well stocked, with a 16.5cm touch-screen audio system, cruise control, multi-function steering wheel and 16-inch alloys, while Highline ups the ante with automatic climate control, wireless charging and 18-inch rims, among other highlights. - Jason Woosey

Drive360