Johannesburg - Here they are, the finalists in our 2017 Drive360 Awards. After test-driving all the new vehicles launched in South Africa during the year, our team of motoring journalists have selected this shortlist, with the category and overall winners to be named at a ceremony in Rosebank, Johannesburg on Friday afternoon.

We will honour the best vehicles of 2017, handing out trophies for the winners in the best Compact Car, Adventure Vehicle, Luxury Car, Family Car, and Performance Car categories and also an overall winner – all based on votes by Independent Media’s team of motoring journalists.

Of the many excellent cars unveiled in 2017, find out why we’ve chosen these 34 as the cream of the crop.

In Friday's awards ceremony we will also hand out a trophy for the Coolest Ride, as chosen by our readers. In the past few weeks we’ve called on our readers to vote for the car they'd most like to drive, and we've had a great response with the Audi RS3 sedan, Land Rover Velar, Lexus LC500, Alfa Romeo Giulia QV, McLaren 720S, Jaguar F-Type 400, and Porsche 911 GT3 coming out as the top contenders. On Friday we'll reveal which one stands atop the podium: 

COMPACT CARS

Kia Picanto 

The third generation of Kia’s baby hatch is a more grown-up and feature-rich car, with improvements to its refinement, handling and space utilisation.

The cabin adopts a richer-feeling vibe with new materials, while sound deadening has reduced  noise and vibration while driving. A slightly stretched wheelbase has freed up a little more cabin space and the boot’s grown from 200 to 255 litres.

The new Picanto also brings smart toys into this budget segment, with the flagship version offering a touchscreen-operated infotainment system and a reversing camera. The baseline Picantos still lack ABS brakes though. Kia’s excellent 5-year/unlimited distance warranty and roadside assistance are part of the deal, and a service plan is optional.

Suzuki Baleno

South Africa’s compact hatch category is a tough nut to crack for cars without Ford and VW badges attached to them, but Suzuki’s contender, the Baleno, has some tricks up its sleeves. 

First off it’s priced well with the base GL model coming in under the magic 200k mark, but it’s also one of the biggest cars in its class with a 355-756 litre boot and very generous rear legroom. 

Its simple 1.4 petrol engine dishes up some decent naturally-aspirated punch, and with a real world 6 litres per 100km consumption figure it’s also light on fuel.

Suzuki Ignis

More than just a compact crossover with an appealing price, the endearing Ignis brings real street cred into this budget market segment.

This little urban adventurer has sassy styling that will catch the attention of the young (or the young-at-heart), and the trendy theme continues inside with appealingly colourful  two-tone treatment. It’s a compact but relatively roomy vehicle, and while it doesn’t have all-wheel drive its raised ground clearance makes it take happily to rough gravel roads. 

The 1.2-litre engine offers great economy with surprisingly eager performance, and the range-wide safety comprises dual front airbags and ABS anti-lock brakes. 

The winning factor is the pricing, from R170 000 to R205 000, which includes a three-year/ 100 000km warranty and two-year/ 30 000km service plan.

Nissan Micra Active

The third-generation Nissan Micra gets a new lease on life with this newly facelifted and budget-oriented version called the Active.

It’s powered by Nissan’s economical 1.2-litre three-cylinder normally aspirated motor and offers the best after-sales plan in the segment, with a standard three-year/90 000km service plan and six-year/150 000km warranty.

The Micra is spacious for its size and well stocked too, with standard amenities including an audio system with Bluetooth, front electric windows, dual airbags and ABS, while those who buy before year-end will receive a touch-screen infotainment system with satnav, on the house.

Fiat Tipo

Fiat’s new hatch and sedan range is big enough to rub shoulders with the Golfs and Corollas of this world, but in overall execution it takes a refreshingly back-to-basics approach to life, and that’s also reflected in its humbler pricing strategy, with the range costing between R229 900 and R294 900. 

The downside is that the little Fiat has to make do with older-generation normally aspirated 1.4- and 1.6-litre petrol engines, although the sedan is also available with a turbodiesel option. 

But what it lacks in performance, the Tipo makes up for in practicality and spec.

Kia Rio

Although taking a decidedly cautious design approach, the new Kia Rio has a more mature, even somewhat classier feel about it, while the neatly-finished cabin with its soft-touch surfaces adds to its more grown-up appeal.

Slightly lower and longer than its predecessor, and sporting a somewhat larger 325-litre boot, the Rio is fairly practical, and top models are specced to the hilt. The Rio is refined and solidly built, but the tried-and-trusted normally aspirated 1.2- and 1.4-litre engine options do lag behind rivals in terms of outright performance. 

ADVENTURE VEHICLES

Hyundai Creta

The Creta enters the compact SUV fray with a keenly-priced and well-specced model range. Despite being a smaller, more affordable alternative to the popular Tucson, the Creta has all the interior space a family needs along with a reasonable-sized 402-litre boot.

All three derivatives lay on the luxury with leather seats, cornering lights, a parking camera, and navigation, while standard safety across the range comprises six airbags and ABS brakes.

With its comfortable ride and generous 190mm ground clearance, this front-wheel drive Hyundai distinguishes itself on rough dirt roads.

It’s offered in petrol and diesel guises, the latter being the better choice for its gutsy performance and frugal consumption.

Prices include a five-year/150 000km warranty and five-year/90 000km service plan.

Mahindra TUV 300

With a body-on-frame design to go with its elevated ground clearance,  this rear-wheel drive Indian SUV is more rugged than the average softroader. The seven-seater also looks like a proper adventure vehicle with its chunky styling and tailgate-mounted spare wheel.

The ride is well cushioned on dirt roads, and power’s supplied by an economical 1.5 three-cylinder turbo diesel with a bigger heart than its modest size suggests.

With an appealing R229 995 pricetag the TUV 300 is much cheaper than its rivals, and while some of that cost-cutting shows up in the hard plastics inside the cabin, they’re neatly fitted and seemingly solid. A dual-tone dash inlaid with silver detailing creates an appealingly modern look.

The Indian SUV also comes with a fairly bountiful spec sheet that includes an infotainment system and reverse parking assist.

Honda CR-V

The latest incarnation of Honda’s popular SUV has adopted more styling sparkle to help it stand out in a congested market.

Inside there’s been a smartening up with more premium-feeling materials and a colour digital display replacing the old analogue instruments. Space has improved too and the cabin is truly cavernous.

Its ability to glide over rough surfaces is one of this SUV’s outstanding features. For the first time the CR-V is offered with turbopetrol power but this 1.5-litre engine comes at a huge premium over the less powerful normally-aspirated 2-litre model.

It’s a great effort by this popular SUV, but the CR-V finds itself on the more expensive side of a very competitive SUV league.

Land Rover Discovery

The latest Discovery has edged closer to big-brother Range Rover in terms of luxury and sophistication, not to mention price. It introduces a novel new feature: electrically folding rear seats that turn this seven-seater SUV into a luggage-gulping panelvan at the press of a button.

With the new body constructed mostly out of aluminium instead of steel it’s shed a massive 480kg of weight, transforming this big SUV into a more nimble-handling vehicle. The air suspension glides serenely over rough roads.

Its softer, curvier new styling is controversial, and the new Discovery looks almost too smart to go churning about in the mud - but it’s more offroad-capable than ever, allowing outdoorsy owners to explore trails in first-class comfort.

Mitsubishi Pajero Sport

Mitsubishi’s seven-seater has morphed into a more grown up and sophisticated SUV with a new-generation 2.4 turbodiesel engine and updated infotainment, while the all-wheel drive system has been modernised with electronic assistance. 

Available in 4x2 and 4x4 guises, it has an eight-speed automatic with sport mode and paddle shifters. 

This rugged SUV has become more refined whilst retaining the brand’s well-known offroading ability with a comfy ride and good versatility, and at a keen price in the bakkie-based SUV market.

Notwithstanding some curious omissions like an auto-up function for the electric windows, and styling that might be difficult to swallow for some, Mitsubishi’s latest Pajero Sport is all set to go family adventuring. 

Volkswagen Amarok V6

This year’s upgrade gave VW’s Amarok the classy interior that it always deserved, but the real taking point is the potent new 3-litre V6 diesel engine option that thrusts it straight to the top of the current diesel bakkie hierarchy.

When we tested it back in August, we described it as the Porsche of pickups, its 165kW/550Nm V6 shunting it from 0-100km/h in just 8.2 seconds.

This Amarok also puts its power to the road in a sophisticated manner thanks to an eight-speed automatic transmission and permanent four-wheel drive system.

Audi Q5

A lighter, smarter and slicker new generation version of Audi’s popular mid-sized SUV. The new Q5 and SQ5 get plenty of gadgets, revised engines and transmissions and an improved quattro all-wheel drive system wrapped up in millimetre perfect Audi packaging. 

Fancy five-link suspension setups at all four wheels mean refined ride quality comes standard, and the interior is designed with pedantic attention to detail. 

Engine options include 2-litres in either turbodiesel or turbopetrol format, while the range-topping SQ5 fires 260kW and 500Nm from an all-new 3-litre turbo V6.

Range Rover Velar

Yet another SUV from the JLR stable, Range Rover’s Velar fills the void between the smaller Evoque and bigger Sport. 

But man, does it fill it well. It’s built on Jaguar’s F-Pace platform but you’d never guess by the way it looks and feels. 

This right-sized luxury SUV ushers in a new wave of tech for the brand with a three colour screens dominating the dashboard, clever touch sensitive steering controls, and radar cruise control among others. 

In typical Rangey fashion the interior’s finished in fine detail, and in range-topping models with standard air suspension the ride quality is superb. 

Maserati Levante

Maserati’s first foray into the SUV segment may have happened with a little help from Jeep, but the Italian performance brand has done well to distinguish the new Levante from its Grand Cherokee cousin. 

Aside from the recognisable Chrysler-sourced multimedia interface, the Levante’s cabin is styled with pure class and features high quality woods, metals and leathers throughout. 

With intelligent all-wheel drive and height adjustable air suspension it’s impressively capable in the bush, even if we know it’s natural habitat is cruising the smoothest streets of posh suburbia. 

Options lists are lengthy but with a starting price of R1.6-million it’s a surprisingly affordable way of getting into the super luxury league. 

Nissan Navara

Nissan’s new Navara arrived early this year with one big USP - multi-link coil spring rear suspension. 

With all of its leisure oriented double-cab rivals sporting old-fashioned leaf springs at the back, the Navara’s unique setup (until Mercedes X-Class and Renault Alaskan cousins land in 2018) offers an especially smooth ride quality in the segment. 

Power comes from an all-new 140kW/450Nm 2.3-litre turbodiesel driving all four wheels through either six-speed manual or seven-speed auto gearboxes. 

FAMILY CARS                     

Mazda CX-5 

Mazda’s second-generation CX-5 puts a bit more sport into the utility vehicle equation with its striking new design and neat handling, thanks in part to its G-vectoring control system.

Although the normally-aspirated petrol engine derivatives are perhaps a bit wanting in the face of more modern turbopetrol alternatives, the turbodiesel option is a surprisingly satisfying proposition, albeit at a price premium.

The latest CX-5 is a refined and sophisticated package, with a high-quality cabin to boot, and all considered, the newcomer is certainly among the cream of the class right now.

Peugeot 3008

Certainly one of the most underrated vehicles on the market right now, this Euro-Coty-winning crossover has a striking new exterior look and the cabin is on another level altogether.

With its space-age, cockpit like layout and some of the classiest-looking materials and design details we’ve seen in this segment, the new 3008 is a delightful place to pass time, although some might find the driving position a bit strange.

This Peugeot ticks the pragmatic boxes too, being suitably spacious and comfortable, while the 1.6 turbo engine delivers more than reasonable performance and economy.

Hyundai Elantra

With its smart new design, rock-solid cabin, impressive refinement and generous features list, Hyundai’s latest Elantra is without doubt a top contender in the Corolla class, but there’s actually more to it this time around.

The range-topping model, aptly badged ‘Sport’, is motivated by a powerful new 150kW 1.6-litre turbopetrol engine poached from the Veloster Turbo and capable of delivering surprisingly rapid performance. 

Though it ultimately lacks the soundtrack or road manners befitting a performance sedan, the Sport still ticks many boxes for those in the market for a rapid sedan at a fairly reasonable price.

Toyota C-HR

It’s the Toyota concept car that no one ever thought they’d be crazy enough to actually build. With its brave, outlandish design, the C-HR is a breath of fresh air among the same-old-same-old contenders in the compact crossover market.

It’s also got a rather decent 1.2 turbopetrol engine and starting at R321 200 it’s not priced too far off the richter scale. 

On the downside, the luggage compartment is rather impractical by class standards, but there’s still something really endearing about the idea of Toyota trying so hard not to be sensible.

VW Golf GTD

Ignore the marketing pitches. Volkswagen’s Golf GTD will never live up to diesel-powered GTI performance expectations. 

It does, however, deliver a healthy dose of torque over a huge rev-spread meaning it breezes along at rapid pace with a relatively easy-going nature. 

Because it rides on the GTI’s suspension it’s also a fantastic handler, and it comes with all the same hi-tech Golf 7.5 goodies as the flagship model.

Namely VW’s new digital instrument cluster, some fresh driving aids and nice big touchscreens. 

It looks the part too, and for around 40 grand less than the GTI.

LUXURY CARS           

BMW 5 Series

Beneath the evolutionary styling change is a business sedan that’s shed around 100kg of mass but gained more body strength – factors which give the big car crisper handling. The new Five feels less bloated, like it’s been through a Tim Noakes diet and come out leaner and fitter.

Updated entertainment features can be controlled by voice commands and air swipes (the latter a feature first introduced in the larger 7 Series).

The Sheer Driving Pleasure tagline holds truer than ever, but the 5 Series has also become even more refined, and it has a ride that floats on air. It’s an ultra sophisticated car that’s still imbued with the brand’s quintessential driver appeal. Think of it as Usain Bolt in a business suit.

Porsche Panamera

The first generation Panamera was a fine car wrapped in an, ahem… less than attractive packaging. 

The new one rectifies the styling woes with its sexy new skin, but its beauty goes deeper. 

Porsche updated every bit of its big sedan barring the name and crested badges, so besides more powerful engines, a new eight-speed gearbox, and completely revised suspension with four-wheel steering, you also get a much slicker cabin and dashboard design. 

Hard buttons make way for touch-sensitive controls with smartphone-like haptic clicks, air vents are motorised and a giant 31cm touchscreen houses most of the car’s complex functionality.

Audi A5

Another new model sharing almost zero parts with its predecessor is Audi’s totally redesigned A5 range. 

The 14-strong lineup comprises coupe, cabriolet and Sportback body styles, with a huge (all turbocharged) engine selection to choose from. 

Styling is crisp inside and out, and as is the norm with modern four-ringers build quality is second to none. The just-launched RS5 derivative missed this contest’s cutoff date, so the 3-litre turbo S5 plays the range-topping role here. 

And it’s a pearl of a machine which balances the line between comfy grand tourer and sharp sports car perfectly.

Volvo S90

Volvo’s bold march upmarket continues with this stylish new sedan, which also inherits its palace-like interior trappings from the highly lauded XC90.

Just like its sibling did in the SUV market, the S90 represents a giant leap forward in Volvo’s sedan game and it’s also quite well priced and specced in relation to its German enemies, with Volvo’s semi-autonomous driving gadgets also included in the deal.

The ride can be a bit jittery in the big-wheeled range toppers, but the S90 is otherwise a fine alternative to the usual executive sedan suspects.

BMW M760Li xDrive

BMW’s ludicrous new limo takes the ‘more is more’ philosophy to the absolute extreme.

A beastly new 448kW twin-turbo V12 makes it the fastest BMW on the market right now, according to our test figures, but it’s so indulgently luxurious in the back that you might never want to drive it at all.

Which is a pity because this limo is surprisingly good to drive, whether you’re just cruising along or in a more playful mood. It’s also packed with show-and-tell gadgets, including BMW’s latest semi-autonomous driving tech and a self-parking function.

PERFORMANCE CARS 

Alfa Romeo Giulia QV

Alfa Romeo has brought its A-game with this car, which marries Italian passion with refinement and delivers performance that stacks up well with the best in class. 

Weight-saving sees various body panels made of carbon fibre. With a 2.9 V6 biturbo firing 375kW to the rear wheels through a lightweight carbon fibre driveshaft, this QV accelerates like a startled cat. Or 0-100km/h in 4.2 seconds to be precise.

And it’s set the fastest time around the Nurburgring for a production sedan. This sporty Alfa is also impressively refined, even when the exhaust is blurting a rauncher sound in Race mode. 

Apart from the beautiful but very track-focused 4C, the Giulia QV is the most exciting Alfa Romeo in years.

Porsche 911 GT3

It may not be the fastest 911 but it’s arguably the most exciting. With a normally-aspirated flat-six 4-litre 360kW engine that howls to 9000rpm, this purist Porsche stirs the soul like no other as it chases the horizon.

Combine that with rear-wheel-drive, a motorsport chassis with rear axle steering, a super-sized rear wing, a lightened body with better aerodynamics, and you have yourself one of the most raw and unfiltered sportscars in town. It’s  a livid thing that lays on the emotion several layers thick.

McLaren 720S

The new 720S replaces the 650S as the British firm’s new supercar. Not only is there a lot more power, but the 720S adopts a harder, racier edge that will more appeal to owners who enjoy regular track time. 

At the heart of it is a turbocharged 4-litre V8 turbo that lays down an astonighing 530kW, for performance figures 0-100km/h in just 2.9 seconds and a 341km/h top speed. 

The carbon fibre chassis is up to the task of harnessing those kilowatts, and at the press of a button the driver’s able to adjust the powertrain and suspension settings to Normal, Sport or Track. An electronic drift mode with 12 increments allows drivers to fine-tune the stability control – from medium sideways action to completely bonkers.

Jaguar F-Type 400 Sport

Not as powerful as the demented 5-litre supercharged versions, but probably the most balanced model in the range. With its 294kW supercharged 3-litre V6 this two-seater’s powerful enough to be fun but still manageable, instead of wild and frightening.

Available in rear- or all-wheel drive, this fast feline is kitted with uprated brakes, configurable Dynamics and 20-inch wheels with a unique dark satin grey finish. Bang-for-buck it’s the pick of the F-Type line up.

Audi RS3

Audi’s new RS3 sedan is so good to drive that it should come with addiction warning labels plucked to the body panels.

Its compact dimensions, rorty five-cylinder turbopetrol engine and rear-biased quattro all-wheel-drive system all conspire to keep you grinning from ear to ear, and yet it’s still civilised and practical enough to be your everyday car.

The 2.5-litre engine delivers some serious clout, 294kW to be precise, getting it from 0-100 in just 4.1 seconds and making it something of a performance bargain at R925 500.

Lexus LC500

Few grand tourers can do the duality thing as well as Lexus’ new LC 500. 

On one hand it’s a velvety smooth mile muncher ready to tackle long distances in ultimate comfort, and on the other its a raucous beast firing 5-litre V8 hellfire through its exhaust tips. 

Naturally aspirated engines are all but extinct in this class, and though it pays the price compared to turbocharged competitors, it makes up for its slight power deficit with fantastic noise. 

It’s also styled to stop traffic, and features such as a leather gear lever made only from the nape of a cow’s neck (no wrinkles) put it into a class of its own in terms of detail.

Mercedes-AMG E63 S

In our hands the new E63 S 4Matic+ not only beat Merc’s 3.4 second claim with a best 0-100km/h time of 3.35 secs, it also landed itself in fifth place overall behind three McLarens and a Porsche 911 Turbo in our Quarter Mile Kings list. 

The big AMG lays down its 450kW and 850Nm through all four paws thanks to a clever new all-wheel drive system, but for fans smokey slides it can also be set to rear-wheel drift mode. 

Here’s a car that can hang with the quickest supercars at the strip, but still take up to five passengers in ultimate luxury.

Audi R8 Spyder

A drop-top version of the German super-coupe we fell in love with last year. 

Audi’s R8 Spyder gets the same mid-mounted V10 with 397kW and 540Nm as its hard-roofed sibling, but with a folding canvas lid and retractable back window there’s a clearer path for its sweet song to get to occupants’ ears. 

The R8 Spyder seems immune to the compromise normally associated with hacking the roof of a sports car, as there’s zero jiggle in the chassis when under pressure. 

Its performance is certainly worthy of its seriously saucy looks.

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