The 2015 Wesbank/SAGMJ (South African Guild of Motoring Journalists) Car of the Year finalists have been announced. Following votes cast by the 29-member jury from the SAGMJ — of which the Ignition Live team is part of — 11 models have made the cut from a list of 40 semi-finalists.
These comprise, in alphabetical order: the Audi A3 sedan 1.4T SE S-tronic, BMW M4 M- DCT, Citroen C4 Picasso e-HDi, Honda Accord 3.5 V6 Exclusive, Lexus ES 250 EX, Mercedes- Benz C-Class C200 automatic, Nissan Qashqai 1.6dCi Acenta automatic, Porsche Macan S diesel, Renault Duster 1.5 dCi Dynamique AWD, Subaru WRX Premium, Toyota Corolla 1.4 D-4D Prestige.
In view of the above, it is perhaps safe to say that once again the jury will have its work cut out for it as the vehicles in the 2015 competition are very good in their own right. The biggest challenge that lies ahead is the fact that there can only be one outright winner that will represent automotive excellence in its segment.
To clarify how the dynamics of the competition work, the vehicles assembled here are not pitted against each other, but rather others within their segments. For instance, the Toyota Corolla will be compared to the Ford Focus sedan, Kia Cerato sedan and the Hyundai Elantra, to name a few, while the Mercedes C-Class will duke it out with the Audi A4, BMW 3 Series and even the Infiniti Q50.
It is imperative that the jury members have driven as many vehicles in the respective segment as possible to make an informed decision as to whether the vehicle in question is indeed worthy of the accolade. Porsche with its Macan will undoubtedly be the topic of much discussion as to whether it will treble the company’s success in the competition, following in the tracks of the 2013 and 2014 winners in the form of the Boxster and Cayman respectively. That said, many of the models here are class acts and it will be interesting to see which ones stand out when each one is put through its paces.
In my opinion, I would have preferred to have the Renault Sandero Stepway instead of the Duster in the competition. Not to take anything away from the latter, but the former is such a compelling package and so well priced that it makes an even stronger case than the Clio 4 on which it is based. Meanwhile, and although a derivative of the A3 range, the sedan variant is perhaps the most complete model in the range. The BMW M4 is the two- door variant of the equally compelling M3 sedan, which I reckon should have been the one in the competition instead as it offers a more practical proposition, thanks to the additional rear doors and a sizeable boot, without any performance drawbacks.
Citroen’s C4 Picasso with its quirky design and hi-tech features once again proves that MPVs need not be jaded in the styling and gadget departments. The Honda Accord in V6 flagship guise also made the cut and, while my impression of the vehicle was solely based on the rather underwhelming 2.0l entry-level model, it will be interesting to see what this finalist has in its arsenal. For those in a similar market as the Honda Accord, the Lexus ES represents good value for money for those looking for a spacious, solidly hewn sedan with many mod cons included in the price.
It is perhaps not surprising that Merc’s C-Class made the cut. What with a progressive design mimicking the flagship S-Class and equally well finished interior appointments, it will be interesting to see how it fares on the test days as to whether it is superior to its rivals. Nissan’s Qashqai could be considered a revolutionary design compared to its predecessor and it is also well finished both inside and out, while the turbo engines offer a good blend of economy and driveability.
As mentioned, the Porsche Macan will go into the competition looking to make it three in a row, but then it has to go through the rigours of thorough testing to see how it fares. Subaru’s WRX has matured in its latest guise with better finishes and a more polished ride quality that makes it ideal for daily use and a pleasure on long-distance trips. Then there is the stalwart that is the Toyota Corolla, an all- round great package, particularly in this diesel variant, which manages to be thrifty at the pumps while offering decent performance for daily use. Interior finishes are also markedly improved from the previous generation, so it will be interesting to see how it does.
The Ignition Live team will be testing all the finalists both on the road and at the Gerotek vehicle proving ground over three days in March 2015, with the announcement of the winner scheduled for March 18 2015. It is definitely going to be an interesting competition yet again and to guess which model will take the laurels at this stage is not quite a clear-cut picture.
Each model will be judged on defined elements such as design, practicality, performance, efficiency, environmental friendliness and value for money compared to its market rivals. By the second day of testing, there should be some front-runners and favourites, but from then on it is a case of trying to split hairs as proceedings become even more technically competitive.
Even so we will, as members of the jury, crown the worthy vehicle, which will be a challenge we are more than happy to take up.