Johannesburg - Having put more than 50 newly launched vehicles through their paces in 2018, it’s time to reward the best of the best, from entry-level hatches to ultra-high performance sports cars.
In order to make these awards as relevant as possible to you, the consumer and car fanatic, we opted to judge all the new vehicles launched this year within six categories that cover a wide spectrum of motoring needs:
Compact Vehicle: This award covers small hatchbacks, sedans and crossovers in the A- and B-Segments, and generally costing below R300 000.
Family Vehicle: This category covers the middle ground, generally known as the C-Segment, spanning cars and crossovers, but in the latter case the focus is more on the front-wheel-drive derivatives and their role as urban vehicles.
Adventure Vehicle: Here there is a greater focus on all-terrain abilities, although it is certainly not limited to hard-core off-roaders - crossovers feature prominently here, but the focus is on the all-wheel-drive derivatives.
Luxury Vehicle: Has a focus on traditional passenger cars in the executive category, where emphasis is on style, technology, luxury and all-round excellence.
Performance Vehicle: Awards the car that impressed (and thrilled) us most from an enthusiast’s perspective, with its cocktail of performance and dynamic abilities.
Coolest Vehicle: The unashamedly subjective joker prize.
And now it’s time to name the winners...
BEST BUDGET CAR
Ford Figo: There is a certain fun factor in driving the Ford Figo that separates the little hatch (and sedan) from its rivals and for 2018 it has become even better, thanks to a brand new 1.5-litre three-cylinder engine under the bonnet, and a few subtle styling revisions.
Despite losing a cylinder, the new engine is more powerful, with peak outputs up from 82kW and 136Nm to 88kW and 150Nm. What’s more, the automatic model, which is only available in Trend guise, gets a new six-speed torque converter automatic gearbox, which is quite a bonus in a class where four-speed boxes seem to be the norm.
In fact, all considered, the Figo’s drivetrain combination is a class act at this price level, offering surprisingly rapid performance and slick gear shifting. It’s fun to drive, even for an auto, and the agile handling and meaty steering play their part as they often have in small Fords, and there’s no complaining about the ride quality.
The Figo’s cabin is not the plushest in the world, but it is spacious - offering generous rear legroom - and a class-competitive 250 litre boot in the hatch (or 445 litres in the sedan). And you can now have it with Ford’s latest Sync3 touchscreen infotainment system if you opt for the range-topping Titanium.
While the Figo is not as affordable as it once was (now selling for between R182 900 and R215 900), it has grown up in many ways and is in our opinion still the most fun to drive car in its class. The Volkswagen Polo Vivo has a smarter cabin but if you want to enjoy your time behind the wheel then don’t look past the Figo.
BEST FAMILY VEHICLE
Volvo XC40: The new Volvo XC40 arrived a little late to the compact SUV party, but it has arrived with a bang. With an array of engine choices, a variety of drivetrains to choose from, and many ways to customise the car, you can rest assured that you’re picking a winning car here.
The pick of the bunch, for us, has to be the T3, 1.5-litre three-cylinder turbo model that simply stuns with its grunt and smoothness (for a three-pot).
Styled to offer more space inside, without compromising on typical Volvo safety values, the XC40 is also one of the safest compact SUVs on sale in SA, which means your family can travel with peace of mind.
It can be argued that the XC40 is expensive, compared to an equivalent vehicle from Japan or Korea, but the expense is worth it.
There’s more than enough space for small families to take coastal holiday breaks and the frugal nature of the car on long trips will make you smile between fuel pumps.
If you’re looking for a premium family car and you’re tired of the tried-and-tested German, Japanese and Korean vehicles on sale in SA, give the Volvo XC40 a spin and you’ll immediately become smitten. It’s not the fastest, or the best looking car, but it does have loads of character - and the T3 is available as a manual for those that prefer sticking cogs themselves.
BEST ADVENTURE VEHICLE
Porsche Cayenne: Volkswagen’s Touareg and the Porsche Cayenne share a common production platform, however the two cars are so different in the demeanour. It was a tough choice, for us, here between the VeeDub and the Porsche, but in the end it was the Cayenne’s on road dynamics and capabilities that swayed us.
In the past, the entry-level Cayenne was a bit of a dog, due to it’s naturally aspirated engine trying to move a small mountain of body weight.
Now, the entry level model comes with a turbocharged 3.0-litre V6, giving it the legs to match the badge on the bonnet. We’d still choose the S model as our pick of the range, with it’s slightly smaller twin-turbo setup, but there are also some of you out there that might prefer the tar-ripping Turbo version of it.
After sampling all the new Cayennes in Cape Town recently, the S model stands out for its blend of performance, comfort, panache and presence. With large wheels, and in the right colour, you will not go wrong with the Cayenne as a jammy for the next three to five years.
Oh, if you’re wondering why there’s no mention of a diesel, Porsche is doing a hybrid version of this new Cayenne.
Chuck the kids in the back, or fold the seats down and take everything (and the kitchen sink) with you on holiday. Its large, proud and a great buy considering the rising prices of other SUVs in this premium segment.
BEST LUXURY CAR
Volkswagen Arteon: When you think VW sedans, chances are you’re thinking Jetta, or Passat, or Polo, perhaps. Nothing wrong with those three, however they do tend to lean toward the boring side. I mean, look at them. They aren’t sporty, they aren’t engineered to turn heads, and they aren’t the kind of cars that make you smile just by looking at them. VW three-boxes are missing the plot it seems.
Not quite. You see, earlier this year, Volkswagen introduced its new Arteon in South Africa, with a view to not only change the perception that VW sedans are boring, but to also give the other German manufacturers something to think about. The Arteon is MQB-based, meaning it’s pretty much sorted under the skin, with tried-and-tested Golf technology powering it. You can opt for a diesel or a petrol, but trust us, the petrol is the one you want.
On the inside, the Arteon’s overal architecture is very similar to the Golf 7.5, but that doesn’t mean it’s not unique on its own. Build quality is excellent, materials used are of a premium feel, and there’s an arsenal of technology available that makes driving a pleasure, regardless of whether you’re driving fast or slow.
Tech wise, it comes with a digital Active Info Display and a 23cm Navigation Pro infotainment system that contribute to a luxurious interior. You’ll get loads of active safety tech too, including adaptive cruise control with front assist and city emergency braking, head-up display and a 360-degree camera.
Right size, right, power, right feels. The Arteon won’t leave you disappointed in this class.
BEST PERFORMANCE CAR
BMW M5: With the latest M5, BMW has finally produced a super saloon that should please all of the people, all of the time, and that takes some doing.
At the heart of its dynamic trickery is an all-wheel-drive system that ultimately caters for drivers who want their thrills dished up with a better sense of control, but those with more brutal, tyre-shredding intentions can still transform it into a rear-wheel-drive drifting machine by flicking the 2WD mode into action. Just be sure to keep your wits about you as this can only be activated with the traction control off, so you’re on your own with 441kW and 750Nm of twin-turbocharged V8 potency surging to the back wheels.
On the subject of performance, another AWD perk is that the new M5 sprints off the line a lot smoother, enough so to get it to 100km/h a whole second quicker, at 3.4 seconds.
It is an agile car for its size, the M5 having an alertness to it that belies its 1.8-tonne kerb weight. It is light for its size, however, thanks to the extensive use of lightweight body components including a new carbonfibre-reinforced plastic roof.
The cabin is largely as per the ‘civilian’ 5 Series sedans, with digital climate control screens, various perfume spritzer settings, gesture controlled infotainment menus and leather trimmed dash inserts. But there are some new M5 specific bits such as gorgeous bucket seats with light-up logos under the headrests, black alcantara headlining and a bright red starter button.
An all-conquering saloon for those with R1 762 807 to burn.
COOLEST CAR OF 2018
Suzuki Jimny: In a world where almost every SUV has gone soft, the all-new Jimny boldly sticks to its original script as a proper 4x4 with all the necessary gear, but it’s been reloaded in a funky new package that’s just the right blend of old-school and contemporary.
Its retro design puts a smile on just about every dial and the fact that it was quite easily the year’s most hotly anticipated vehicle among motoring scribes says a lot about its emotive appeal.
It’s still not as practical a ‘daily’ runabout as other modern crossovers at the price, so you’ll have to hit the hardcore 4x4 trails to get your money’s worth here (between R264 900 and R319 900 depending on the model), but the new Jimny has certainly been modernised on the inside, with the flagship GLX even boasting touchscreen infotainment with Apple CarPlay.
And while it is more spacious than its predecessor thanks to improved packaging, keep in mind that the Jimny is still unashamedly small - true to its heritage!
But none of that really matters for the purposes of this specific award because when it comes to cool factor alone, the Jimny wins hands down this year.