How SA Car of the Year is decided

By IOL Time of article published Mar 7, 2016

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Johannesburg - The winner of the WesBank SAGMJ Car of the Year competition is set to be announced on Tuesday night, 8 March, and the 2016 competition has undergone some significant changes. IOL's Jason Woosey, who was on the jury, walks us through the judging process.

South Africa's official Car of the Year contest has taken a step into the future while also saluting the past with a brand new electronic scoring system that also brings back criteria scoring that has been absent for the last few years.

In earlier days jurors were issued with a large scorebook, with hundreds of questions per vehicle, which had to be scored on the P M G VG E scale. There was even one for how easy it was to reach the dip stick, I kid you not. The completed books were handed over to an auditing firm, which crunched the numbers and spat out a winner.

This scoring process was eventually replaced by a vastly simplified system based on the one used by European Coty competition, and in which each juror was given 25 points to divide between the cars. This also ushered in an era of total transparency as each juror's scoring would be made public on the evening of the announcement.

How the Macan won Car of the Year

However, in the interests of progress, and perhaps prompted by some controversial results of late (such as Porsche winning three years in a row for instance), the competition has done some soul searching recently, and after an extensive workshop in 2015, an updated judging process has emerged.

SCORING CATOGORIES RETURN

While sensibly avoiding having trillions of questions, the new scoring system introduces categories, whereby jurors must give cars a score out of 10 for the following factors:

Interior design & practicality, exterior aesthetics, safety & technology, performance, handling & dynamics, efficiency, value for money and overall excellence.

There will also be a weighting on the scores, which favours the more sensible factors such as value.

The SAGMJ will, in good time, release a full statistical analysis of the scores to those who request it, but this time jury's names won't be published.

To help assess each car, jurors were given a comprehensive info pack, with pricing, specs, parts pricing, independent performance figures and so on. The only addition I'd suggest for future years is some form of real-world consumption figures, given how prominent that is in the scoring.

NOW THE WHOLE RANGE WINS

In previous years the winning car was a specific derivative of a model range, such as the Toyota Corolla GLi 16-valve Twincam Executive for instance. From 2016, the entire range will get the prize, and the winner isn't such a mouthful, although car companies still have to choose what they feel is the best model in the range and then provide three examples of it for the evaluation days.

PHYSICAL TESTING RETAINED

Unlike most international Coty competitions, South Africa's version has always taken pride in its extensive physical tests that put cars through their paces on the road and at testing facilities. That aspect of the competition thankfully stays.

THE TEST DAYS

As in previous years, the first test day is all about static evaluation and on-road tests. Static evaluation is a big tyre-kicking affair, where an example of each car is presented in a covered parking area. Here you walk around each car, get in, play with the gadgets, smack the dashboard, assess the ergonomics, hop in the back, toy with the seating configurations and so on and so on, before filling in the relevant scores.

Next up, the on-road tests are a chance to get familiar with each vehicle in its natural habitat of highways and urban streets, but the real ‘torture testing’ takes place the following day at the Gerotek test facility.

Here the organisers set up a series of modules, where jurors test the wet-road stability on a skidpan, acceleration and slippery-road braking on a long straight section and ride quality on a stretch of Belgian cobblestones, while the two 'handling' circuits (one just-about-mountainous and the other not-so-hilly) allow us to separate the men from the boys in the realm of stability, agility and engine-gearbox responsiveness.

AND THE FINALISTS ARE

BMW i3

Citroen C4 Cactus

Ford Fusion

Honda HR-V

Jaguar XE

Kia Sorento

Land Rover Discovery Sport

Mazda 2

Opel Corsa

Opel Adam

Peugeot 308

Volvo XC90

HOW CAN WE COMPARE THEM?

Some finger-pointing know-it-alls like to point out that the Coty finalists are not direct competitors so no one has any business comparing them, so the usual disclaimer applies here. Though we do choose a winner from a wide array of finalists, we don't compare them directly to each other when scoring; instead the competition rules stipulate that jurors must consider each car in relation to its natural competitors. So when judging the performance delivered by the Peugeot 308, for instance, we consider how it shapes up against a VW Golf and Ford Focus, not a Jaguar XE or a Bugatti Chiron.

WHO'S GONNA WIN?

You're going to have to wait until Tuesday night to find out. There were 25 other jurors all with their own idea of what goes where, but I guess there's no harm in sharing my top choices with you.

Unlike in many previous years, I don't feel there were any obvious winners this year - no vehicle really stood head, shoulders and stilts above the rest in my score book.

Yet the one I scored the highest was the Volvo XC90. While the performance was a bit on the so-so side and it is a tad pricey, its combination of interior atmosphere and quality, practicality and technological innovation nudges it into the lead as far as I'm concerned as this competition is meant to reward innovation after all.

Second on my list was the Ford Fusion. It's stylish, well priced and the ride quality is astoundingly good - it made the Belgian paving feel like smooth tarmac. Yet it felt a bit unresponsive on the handling tracks and overall it just lacks that X factor that you'd generally expect from a Coty. I still think it's in with a shot though.

Ditto the Peugeot 308 and Citroen Cactus for different reasons, as well as the Mazda2 that I am sort of rooting for as we could surely do with an affordable Coty again. The only thing counting against the little Mazda is that its normally aspirated 1.5 is asked too many questions by the 1-litre turbos offered by its Ford and Opel rivals and the Japanese hatch isn't necessarily the most practical in its class. It is otherwise a brilliant little car.

THERE'S AN APP FOR THAT

If you'd like to get more familiar with each of the finalists, there is an app that you can download onto most modern smartphones. Simply search your app store for the free Coty SA application by Mapo.

And don't forget to follow the action on Twitter on Tuesday night, using #WesBankCOTY.

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