Best of the best - these are our top 15 vehicles in 2019
And, while several new models have been introduced this year, we don’t discount vehicles that continue to impress us for their value for money, segment-defining characteristics and overall pleasure to live with and experience. We included the Polo Vivo for instance, which was a winner last year.
Our top 15 is 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.
We could get technical with specifications and testing at tracks, but we go with what the markets say and what we feel are the coolest and best cars for South Africans to consider when shopping for new vehicles.
You can click on the five links below to view the category winners separately, or scroll down through the full list of 15 vehicles below that:
THE FULL LIST: TOP 15 CARS IN 2019
BEST COMPACT CARS
KIA Picanto still a crowd pleaser
The first time I saw a KIA Picanto in its current guise I stopped, took a breath and looked again. I couldn't believe that the Korean company that brought us cars like the original googly-eyed Shuma and portly Magentis could actually produce such a good-looking compact vehicle.
That was nearly half a decade ago, and to date, I still love the Picanto and rate it very highly as an entry-level choice, particularly for first-time new-car buyers or people looking to scale back from a C-segment vehicle into something more manageable on the pocket from a running cost perspective.
Because it's been around for a little while, Kia's regularly tweaked and updated the range to keep it relevant from a spec-for-rand point of view, and while it can be argued that the higher up the spec-list you go, the pricier they become compared to other cars in this market, there's just a sharpness to the Picanto that makes it a hoot to drive.
At the very start of the range, you have the appropriately titled 1.0-litre five-speed manual START (R162 995) derivative. Basic, but built solidly with a decent touch in the cabin, you don't feel like this version of the Picanto is cheapened too much to save on cost. Yes, alloy wheels would be nice as standard here, but why not negotiate with the dealer to sweeten the deal?
With 49kW and 95Nm on tap, you will need to work the transmission to make haste, but you don't feel any kind of strain in the drive-train when driving it out. It's light on petrol and cheap to insure too.
My favourite Picanto is the most expensive one in the line-up, the 1.2-litre SMART automatic (R232 995) version. It offers so much "car" in such a small package, including high-end smartphone integration, a decent safety package and sporty yet comfy road manners. It's near-perfect for the day-to-day, even at power-sapping Gauteng altitudes. Nevertheless, the 1.2 SMART auto makes 61kW and 122Nm.
Both models feature front-wheel-drive and come with a superb five-year unlimited kilometre warranty, and a two-year/30 000km service plan to help with the cash flow on your end for the first two years of ownership. - Pritesh Ruthun
Spunky Suzuki Ignis will keep you smiling
Suzuki's Ignis was the overall winner of our 2017 competition, and the cheeky little crossover hatch still holds its head up high among newer rivals in the budget car market.
We use the word budget, because the Ignis is still among the more affordable options on the local market. Prices range from R177 900 to R215 900, with good spec levels to boot.
With its spunky styling inside and out, the Ignis adds some much-needed colour to the entry level segment, and there’s no way you're going to mistake it for anything else.
It's got the charm, but that doesn't come at the expense of sensible stuff like cabin space and overall user-friendliness.
In fact, one of the most impressive things about this car is its packaging. It’s small on the outside, measuring just 3700mm in length, but truly big on the inside, with rear occupants getting a surprising amount of stretching space. Boot space is a bit limited, with just 260 litres when the rear seats are in place.
Like many of the modern Suzukis that are based around the Japanese company's Heartect platform, the Ignis is an unexpected nod to Colin Chapman’s philosophy of adding speed by adding lightness.
The car weighs just 850kg, meaning the 1.2litre normally aspirated engine, with 61kW and 113Nm, can deliver perky performance. We were also impressed by the engine's overall smoothness and low-down torque.
But the big bonus is how light it is on fuel, with the car that we tested averaging just 5.8 litres per 100km in mixed conditions.
Not only is the Ignis practical, efficient and easy to drive, but there is also no compromising on comfort features, even if you go for the base model.
Opt for the flagship GLX and you get high-end items like automatic climate control, park distance control and a touch-screen infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity. Range-wide safety comes in the form of dual front airbags and ABS brakes.
The Ignis, with its off-beat styling, is a great all-rounder once you factor in the practicality and efficiency. - Jason Woosey
VW Polo Vivo best-seller story rocks on
The numbers don't lie when it comes to Volkswagen's Polo Vivo.
There's a reason why it's consistently South Africa's best-selling passenger model and it’s not only because they’re relatively affordable, ranging from R195 300 for the 1.4 Trendline to R267 400 for the top-of-the-range 1.0 TSI GT.
Reliability, ease of maintenance and driving fun play a large part in its success, as does the fact that it retains its value very well when it comes to selling.
Almost everyone has a VW story in their family and the Polo Vivo is the ideal introduction to the brand.
It's large enough to carry four people comfortably, which makes it ideal as a home-work-home car, carting kids to and from school and then heading out of town for a holiday or a long weekend away.
With flash red, white, reflex silver, reef blue, limestone grey and deep black the colours reflect a cheerful car that's popular across all age segments.
While the design has pretty much stayed the same over the year, the recent update to the front and back adds to its appeal.
Inside, the instrument cluster is easy to read and typically VW. There’s enough storage space and ergonomically everything is easy to get to. For its category it's a premium feel inside the cockpit but for some, it might be bit a bit bland.
It’s the ride quality that sets it apart from the competition. It feels solidly planted, well balanced and doesn't mind being thrown into corners and exits without any excessive body roll.
The suspension irons out most of the road imperfections while the steering has a positive feel to it and responds well to driver inputs.
As an overall package there’s not much to beat the VW Polo Vivo in the compact vehicle category, the only gripe is that, like with all VWs, some of the nice-to- haves are optional, including floor mats for the front and rear. - Willem van de Putte
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 2-litre engine that produces 127kW and 203Nm, paired with either a six-speed manual or CVT continuously variable gearbox.
Most 2-litre 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 2.5-litre 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
BEST LUXURY VEHICLES
BMW X7 blends luxury and technology
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 R1 562 849 while an M50d could be yours for R1 862 308, and it’s not much of a stretch to the M50i, which retails at R1871543. - Jason Woosey
Mercedes-Benz GLE oozes luxury
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 (R1 439 000), for example, sprints from a standstill to 100km/h in 5.7 seconds as standard, while the range-topping Turbo S Hybrid (R3 371 000) will leave all worries behind with a 0-100km/h 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
BEST ADVENTURE VEHICLES
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
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/90 000km 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
BEST PERFORMANCE CARS
BMW M2 Competition is a thrill machine
The M2 Competition is a compact rear-wheel-drive thrill machine that requires a skilled driver who understands the art of oversteer. It’s even available with a manual gearbox, which is becoming a rare option in the sports car world, although BMW also sells an M-DCT auto version for those who appreciate a good dual-clutch set-up.
It’s a car that will reward richly with its 302kW turbocharged straight six engine, which is a detuned version of the 317kW motor that you find under the bonnet of its larger M3 and M4 brothers. In fact, it even shares the same torque output of 550Nm.
Activate launch control and the M2 Competition will screech from 0-100km/h in only 4.2 seconds, when fitted with the automated ‘box, and 4.4 seconds in manual form if you’re snap-changing is up to scratch.
But much of the thrills are to be had in hard cornering, meaning this is a car that you must take to the track if you’re lucky enough to own it.
BMW has beefed up the driving dynamics by fitting a carbon fibre reinforced plastic strut across the engine compartment, as per the M4, to improve front section rigidity and increase steering precision.
The Active M Differential and Dynamic Stability Control systems have also been recalibrated by the M Division experts to match the car’s persona and increased outputs.
Drivers can play with various combinations for the vehicle’s engine and dynamic systems through selector switches on the centre console, while preferred settings can be saved for easy access later via the M1 and M2 buttons.
So what else has BMW’s M Division done to make the interior feel special?
For starters, there’s a sill plate with the M2 Competition logo, M-specific steering wheel, red stop/start button and M-striped seat belts, while buyers can also opt for grippy M Sport seats with integrated headrests - a must have.
The M2 Competition is also tricked-out with an exclusive new metallic Hockenheim Silver paint job and 19-inch alloy wheels, double-arm wing mirrors.
Expect to pay R972030 for the manual version and R1026 506. - Jason Woosey
Porsche 911 is built for the driver
Upgraded this year, it's no wonder the eighth generation finds itself as one of the contenders for Car of the Year in the performance vehicle category.
The 911 has often been the benchmark for what a performance vehicle should be.
It's no different here with 331kW and 530Nm of torque coming from the flat-six turbocharged 3.0-litre engine coupled to a newly developed eight-speed dual-clutch transmission.
Top speed in the Carrera S is a claimed 308km/h and it gets to 100km/h 3.7 seconds.
The Carrera 4S all-wheel drive tops out at 306km/h and will jolt you to 100km/h in 3.6 seconds. If you add the optional SportChrono package you get a further 0.2 second advantage.
And even though this version is the most advanced and loaded with modern technology it stays true to its roots of being a purist's sports car. Turn the key and there's no doubt that the roar from the tailpipes means business. The car isn't shy to let you throw it around either.
Stomp on the loud pedal and you're pushed back in to the plush seats while it picks up speed at a rate of knots that never feels out of control or violent. It sticks to the black stuff like you know what to a woollen blanket, and even at its limit it stays calm and sophisticated without you becoming concerned about "what if".
The cockpit is a driver's set-up with dials and vehicle information perfectly set up to see what's happening at a glance.
Whether you're burning up rubber, using it as your everyday drive or cruising to your holiday destination the 911 is the perfect fit for all three.
What's not to like about it? Well, to be honest, nothing. - Willem van de Putte
Toyota GR Supra - a sense of grown-up
Nor does it have bloated two-ton running gear.
And it’s actually quite light on fuel, if you are reasonable with the accelerator pedal.
The Toyota Supra, then, is one of the best cars you can buy right now if you want something that’s dripping with street-cred and if you want to turn more heads than any other vehicle in the bank’s multi-storey parking structure.
Seriously, if you have a decent car allowance, or if you’ve managed to save up enough to buy a car for around R1million, the Supra is a good way to spend your cash.
You might feel that the M2 Competition is better than a Supra, and you will be right, from a driving perspective, but the Supra is different - it delivers its grunt with less snappiness (although it’s still a feisty bugger). There’s a genuine sense of grown-up in the Supra, away from all the Gran Turismo hype and all the chatter around how it’s built for tuners to eventually explore and turn into a manic sportscar. But, to be honest, with a standard Supra you have a perfectly good car to keep you satisfied day-to-day or as a weekend chariot.
Our test car was the highest-spec model, which is currently retailing for R1 072 300, all BMW bells and whistles included, and you don’t feel like you could add to it in terms of options (apart from better speakers in the door and a boom box behind the seats).
I particularly like the accessible nature of the performance on tap because things happen progressively in the Supra if you aren’t a complete loon, when it comes to entry speeds and throttle positions.
Gentle in and smooth out, and that glorious straight-six soundtrack just delivers more thrills every time you grab another gear. My one recommendation, if you don’t care for the warranty, is to slap on a custom high-performance exhaust and intake (not for the added power, but to let that engine sing like it should).
It comes with a three-year/100 000km warranty and a four-service/80 000km service plan, which isn’t as reassuring as BMW’s plan for the Z4 that this car shares a platform with. But that’s okay, because everything should keep going right, right? - Pritesh Ruthun