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 luxury 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.

BMW X7 blends luxury and technology

THE X7 is everything that you know and love about BMW’s SAV crossovers, just super-sized and glorified with just about all the luxury trappings you could possibly wish for at the R1.5million mark.

As the imposing new flagship of BMW’s X range of SAVs, the X7 is over 5.1m long and can seat seven occupants in reasonable comfort, while still leaving 326l of stashing space in the boot. The standard seven-seat layout is highly variable and BMW also offers a more interactive six-seat option, in which the middle-row occupants get a pair of individual chairs, featuring arm rests and exactly the same adjustment functionality as the front seats. Air suspension on both axles ensures a cosy and relaxing ride.

Although there are other vehicles out there that can seat seven in comfort, few can match the luxury and style that you find inside the BMW X7. Bathed in Vernasca leather and other high-end materials, the cabin feels luxurious as well as light and airy, particularly if you opt for the Sky Lounge panoramic roof.

But the luxury is more than just a feeling here - all X7s come with BMW’s live cockpit infotainment system with gesture control and intelligent personal assistant, as well as a 205W 10-speaker sound system, five-zone climate control, active cruise control with stop and go, steering and lane control assist, head-up display, BMW's digital display key, rear sun-blinds and an automatic tailgate. You might easily get away without attacking the options list, but BMW has even left some temptations there, including Bowers & Wilkins sound and a rear-seat entertainment system.

The X7 is available locally with three engines. The less expensive option is the xDrive30d, powered by BMW’s 195kW, 620Nm 3-litre straight-six turbodiesel, but the one you really want is the M50d, which gets the full-fat quad-turbo version of that engine, rated at 294kW and 760Nm. There’s also an M50i, featuring BMW’s 390kW, 750Nm V8 turbopetrol engine.

So how much? An xDrive30d will set you back R1562849 while an M50d could be yours for R1862308, and it’s not much of a stretch to the M50i, which retails at R1871543. - Jason Woosey

Mercedes-Benz GLE oozes luxury

Luxury vehicles. Now there’s a term that South Africans like.

As always there was a long list of contenders, but it’s no surprise that the Mercedes-Benz GLE made it to the list of finalists. Also, no surprise is that it’s an SUV.

And a very impressive one at that, that was spruced up and presented earlier this year with some significant changes over its predecessor, like Merc’s MBUX multimedia system, a bigger interior and active suspension system.

Three engines are available in the four-cylinder 300d 4MATIC, the petrol 3.0 litre six-cylinder turbo with electrified 48 volt technology and the one you want in the 400d 4MATIC with the OM 656 six-cylinder 3.0 litre engine with 243kW and 700Nm.

Add the off-road package if you can because there’s nothing like going to hard to get places surrounded by luxury and comfort.

The 9G-Tronic automatic transmission changes gears smoother than Fikile Mbalula deflects difficult questions, and a well-designed suspension set-up handling belies its size and weight, even at speed.

The interior is everything you would expect from a vehicle in this category, with soft leather and electronically adjustable seats both front and back, and two 31cm tablet-like screens in a “floating” widescreen design.

It’s got a host of functions like various off-road displays, a range of apps and an “Interior Assist” predictive function designed to support operating intentions by recognising hand and arm movements whether it’s the driver or passenger.

It’s all very fancy, the only issue being that it’s a dust magnet and oily finger prints are clearly visible.

Rear space is ample even for a tall person like myself, with the driver’s seat set all the way back - they’re damn comfortable too.

The only minor gripe I have is that the rear aircon can't be set by the passengers and has to be controlled from the front. - Willem van de Putte

Porsche Panamera gets better and better

WHEN THE first generation Porsche Panamera made its debut in production form, I was actually quite perturbed. Not only was this legendary sports car-maker seemingly adding a “bloaty” sort of sedan looking thing to its line up, I thought, there was already the Cayenne to fulfil any practical needs for Porsche owners.

It’s not really a 7-Series, it’s not really an S-Class and it’s not an Aston Martin Rapide. This, I learnt over time, and now, 10 years later, I understand and appreciate the Panamera in a whole new way.

I spent some time in both the previous generation GTS model, with a beautiful naturally aspirated V8 and then, this year, I had the opportunity to bond with the latest twin-turbo V8 GTS model.

Each model iteration, over the past decade, has brought more to the party in my experiences with them. When it came down to the luxury (and performance) game, the Panamera, for me, blends leather and Alcantara, together with manic grip and performance, in a way that, arguably, no other manufacturer can. The entry-level V6 model Panamera (R1439000), for example, sprints from a standstill to 100km/* in 5.7 seconds as standard, while the range-topping Turbo S Hybrid (R3371000) will leave all worries behind with a 0-100km/* blast taking just 3.5 seconds.

I’m not the biggest fan of turbocharging for performance, but there’s no denying that it’s an efficient and effective way to go faster and use less fuel at the same time. The nice thing about the Panamera range is that you can spec your car, with a Chrono Pack and driving modes, to unlock so many different characters in one vehicle.

From the entry-level V6 turbo, to the GTS that I love the most, to the high-tech Hybrid - you won’t go wrong in this category if you buy a Panamera because you get a truly enjoyable driving experience each and every time you fire it up. And you get the peace of mind that comes with either a three-year or five-year Porsche Driveplan, to keep maintenance costs in check.

These cars have also proven to hold value well, depending on the mileage you put on them and how many options you add when buying new. - Pritesh Ruthun

Drive360