I was privileged to be selected as part of the 26 member jury for the 2018 competition. The evaluation days took place from 29-30 January in Gauteng. As the thirty-third edition of the competition, the Car of the Year awards has the longest and most prestigious history of any contest of its kind within the local automotive sphere.
This is only my fifth year of involvement with the competition, but I have to say that of all of the years I’ve been involved with, the 2018 edition was the most well organised, the most efficient and indeed, featured the most closely matched competitors in recent memory.
The jury met early on the 29th of January for a driver briefing session and received the itinerary for the next two days at the Velmoré Hotel in Erasmia, before departing for the on-track evaluations at the Kyalami Grand Prix Circuit.
Upon arrival at the circuit, the jury members were allowed to take the vehicles one-by-one through the various disciplines, which included a short drive on the track, emergency braking test, cone slalom, a wet skidpan to test wet weather handling and a short drive around the dynamic handing circuit.
The aim of the Kyalami test day setup was to evaluate the suspension, ride quality, dynamic qualities, engine and gearbox performance and overall drivability in conditions that most of these vehicles aren’t likely to face. For me, the dynamic testing day provides a good indication of how well a car is engineered, while also exposing any weaknesses in terms of their electronic aids, suspension setup, braking performance and powertrains.
With the dynamic testing day over, the jury retired to the hotel for the evening where a festive dinner was held. It was here where products were discussed at length with colleagues, experiences shared and a better general understanding of the year that had passed along with the most recent test day was acquired.
The enlightening evening behind us, it was an early start on the 30th for what is, in my opinion at least, the most important part of the testing procedure, the on-road testing and static evaluations. This is where the jury has a chance to complete a 30min on-road drive with each finalist. For me, it was all about considering if each car I drove was genuinely the best within its segment and if so, if it redefines the class in several key areas.
Therefore, with the city cars such as the Suzuki Ignis and Kia Picanto, I was looking at fuel consumption, design, features and overall value for money versus key rivals.
In the SUVs such as the Audi Q5, Land Rover Discovery, Toyota C-HR and Peugeot 3008, I was looking at practicality, usability, comfort, desirability, affordability and in the case of the Discovery, its off-road prowess, which we had a chance to test with a mild off-road section along the test route.
In the sedans such as the BMW 5-series, Volvo S90, Alfa Romeo Giulia and Porsche Panamera, I was looking at driving enjoyment in terms of comfort and dynamics, technology and engineering, interior and exterior design and overall quality.
I approached it this way as we have a scoring system where each car gets votes from 1-10 across twelve categories. The scoring is done on a tablet so that the number of scores ranging from 8-10 can be limited to a certain number per jury member. This makes it difficult, especially when the finalists are of as high a calibre as they were this year.
Overall though, the tablet system along with the statistically sound scoring system that the Guild has established with the help of the University of Pretoria’s Mathematics Department, means that at the end of the day, the best car really does take the title. Look out for the announcement of the winner of the 2018 Wesbank SAGMJ Car of the Year across your preferred media platforms on 13 March 2018.