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A fresh perspective for COTY 2014


This week I write this opinion piece as a brand-new man. You see, I’m now properly domesticated. I got myself a quiet little house in a gated community in the Pretoria suburbs, simply because I yearn for a relaxed atmosphere in which I can raise a family.

I can feel my 21-year-old self laughing deep within me. Together, we swore we’d never fall in love and that we’d spend the rest of our lives driving much too fast until we eventually expired in an unfortunate oversteering incident. But I, in the famous words of Jack White, “fell in love with a girl.”

Along with our new pozzie in the suburbs, we’ve decided to purchase a new set of wheels. This is difficult for me for two reasons: I love my Ford Ka and I don’t want to get rid of it, and what do I buy in its place?

It would be way easier if the car was meant only for me, but since a new car gets delivered to me every week, I won’t be the one driving it on a day-to-day basis. Since my wife will be driving it the most, I’ve left it up to her to decide. Problem is she’ll almost certainly end up with an SUV when we could have had something like a Golf GTI. You see my conundrum?

To get around this problem, I’ve decided not to get involved. She can have whatever she wants, because it’s her car and if an SUV makes herhappy, then so be it.

This made me think about the process of buying cars. What matters to me may not matter to you. I like a car with a decent amount of power, sublime handling and aggressive styling. My wife just wants an SUV with a big boot and decent safety rating, as she’ll be driving our most precious belongings to and from the crèche. Look at these two very different vantage points and decide which is the most relevant. I’ll give you a hint: it’s certainly not mine.

This bothers me, because pretty soon I’ll have to cast my vote for the 2014 Car of the Year (COTY) finalists. A few months after that, I’ll be spending three days with these finalists to decide which is the best car launched this year. Talk about pressure. It’s a massive honour to be selected to serve on this jury and it’s a responsibility I take very seriously, and one that I feel confident about taking on. To select a single winner out of what will almost certainly be an impressive line-up of finalists isn’t going to be easy.

I’ve been told by a few everyday motorists that COTY is nothing more than a marketing exercise, in which case the result doesn’t matter, except to the manufacturer that wins it. A part of me agrees, but a bigger part of me likes to believe the result will actually mean something to the average consumer. At the end of this year, close to 100 new models will have reached South Africaand it’s important for the consumer to know which of these stand head and shoulders above their respective competitors. I also believe in giving credit where credit is due, so why not award a single car and its manufacturer for moving the automotive world a few steps forward? In my opinion there’s definite value over and above the obvious marketing advantages.

For that to happen, I’ll probably have to change my own list of priorities. A fun and fast two-seater like the Porsche Boxster is a great car, but of little importance to most people out there. I believe wholeheartedly that it deserved its victory last year, but most of the buying public couldn’t care less what the 0-100km/h figure is, or that it is less inclined to understeer at the limit than a Mercedes-Benz SLK.

On the other hand, the Boxster is a sensational machine that looks epic, goes like stink and undercuts its main rivals by a considerable margin. In its segment it’s simply unbeatable, epitomising the competition’s sole aim of rewarding automotive excellence, and that’s what won it the trophy. I can’t argue with that logic.

So I guess it’s all about whether a car outperforms its rivals in the areas that matter most to whoever is doing the judging. As I stated that I like a decent amount of power, sublime handling and aggressive styling a few paragraphs ago, I think I’m going to have to adopt a new strategy for the 2014 judging process.

(At the moment I have these priorities written down on a piece of paper and the list includes safety (first and foremost), comfort, space, decent ergonomics and fuel consumption.) A bit of performance to juice things up isn’t going to hurt.

At the end of the day I’m going to approach COTY in the same way I always have, because the current formula works really well and every jury member knows what he or she is doing. I’m just going to approach the judging process with a fresh perspective on what really matters. At the end of the day, all I’m really looking for is excellence, whether it be in the safety, comfort, space or performance arena.

I am, however, going to ask you what you deem most important. If you’re reading this paper now, you must have some interest in cars. Whether you’re looking at buying a new one or just reading the musings of a young petrolhead - because there’s nothing else within reach in the loo - you must have an opinion on what’s important to look for when buying a car.

I therefore ask that you mail me your thoughts on the COTY subject and what I should look out for when casting my vote. I can’t promise I’ll use them, but it should give me some indication. Drop me a letter at

In closing, thanks to everyone who entered the Subaru Advanced Driving competition in celebration of our 10-year anniversary. We broke all kinds of records for feedback, but at the end of the day only one person could win. Congratulations to Michael Salzwedel and his Subaru-powered PC. You, sir, are a true petrolhead.

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