SA’s Car of the Year finalists for 2015: Motorburn’s final impressions

The WesBank/South African Guild of Motoring Journalists Car of the Year 2015 winner announcement will take place next Wednesday, 18 March. Ahead of this, I’ve taken a look at the finalists and asked some other journalists for their thoughts on this year’s line-up.

The Competition

A key point that has been lost in recent years between journalists, the public, and jurors is just what the competition is rewarding.

According to the competition administrators, the winning car must:

  • Score highly in its class across a variety of categories including value for money, safety, dynamics, technology and aesthetics.
  • Should demonstrate that it strives towards representing innovation and ingenuity in marketing and engineering in its class.
  • Should represent a brave step forward in motoring, preferably setting new benchmarks in its market segment and
  • Must evoke automotive passion and excitement to make it a truly outstanding car both in its class and in the whole market so that it is truly worthy of the ultimate accolade and singular title of “Wesbank / SAGMJ Car of the Year.”

The Finalists

Audi A3 Sedan 1.4T SE S tronic


The One I’d Buy

The Audi A3 sedan rivals the Mercedes-Benz CLA but, where the CLA is an overpriced, cramped, ugly and awkward vehicle, the A3 appears to be the best car Audi currently build.

As with all Audis, the build quality is first-rate. The quality of the materials used as well as the fit & finish of the components makes far more expensive vehicles look cheap and tacky. The A3 sedan is also the right size for a vehicle. Nicely proportioned, it feels neither too big or too small when driving along.

The A3 sedan now occupies the space once held by the E46 BMW 3 Series, a car that won Car of the Year back in 2001. Is the A3 a step forward over the BMW? It may be better built but that’s about all it has achieved. Of the finalists, the A3 sedan is the one I would most likely buy, but I’m not sure it’s Car of the Year.

BMW M4 Coupe Auto


The performance monster

The BMW is the fastest and most performance focused vehicle here. Is it a significant improvement over the V8 M3 though? I’m not sure. It is truly incredible, but I don’t think it makes a significant leap forward compared to previous models in its market.

Citroën C4 Picasso e-HDi 115 Intensive


Dark horse

The idea of an MPV is an attractive one: The running costs and exterior dimensions of a hatchback with the space of an SUV. However, MPVs have received a somewhat poor reputation in the past as being dull, slow, not very nice to drive and over priced. The Citroen C4 Picasso is a good-looking MPV, with lots of space and clever storage spaces and seating configurations. It appears to be well-built and has a number of clever features such as automatic parallel parking & alley docking, 12-inch colour display screen and an 8-inch tablet control system. It sounds like a winner, with all the MPV issues fixed. However the engine-gearbox combination lets it down. The 1.6 turbo-diesel has a number of flat spots, resulting in the power arriving in lumps. The gearbox is also rather heavy, a poor showing for a city car.

The C4 Picasso might surprise everyone with its great package, but, that powertrain does let it down.

Honda Accord 3.5 V6 Exclusive (Past Winner)


Fallen from Grace

The Honda Accord has always been loved by South African petrol heads, motoring journalists and, most importantly, by the people who bought them. Last year Honda announced that the European Accord would no longer be available. This meant the models arriving in South Africa would originate from the American market. A price hike and some of the most forgettable styling of any vehicle on sale today meant the Accord had become its nemesis: It had become a Toyota Avensis.

I can’t say much more about the Accord. It’s well-built, well equipped and, being a Honda, will be the most reliable vehicle you’ll ever own. What you should know is the Honda Accord 3.5 V6 costs R576 300 or just R25 000 less than a BMW 5 Series.

Lexus ES 250 EX


A surprise

The Lexus ES has picked up the baton dropped by the Accord. Spacious, comfortable, well equipped and cheaper than the Accord 3.5l V6.

Cue the Octogenarian jokes, but the Lexus ES 250 is all the car you’ll ever need. Its 135kW 2.5l motor is powerful enough without being wild or unruly. It’s a luxury saloon, designed to get you home in time for tea, without leaving you a breathless, white knuckled mess.

For its segment, the Lexus ES has jumbled the field in value for money. The 250 EX model costs R471 800, over R100 000 less than the Honda Accord.

It suffers from elements of Toyota syndrome however… doing everything adequately and nothing well. This might be a car to watch on the awards night though.

Mercedes-Benz C-Class C200 auto


A rival to the BMW 3-Series

For the last few years the Mercedes-Benz C-Class played second fiddle to the BMW 3 Series. The engineering, build quality and overall experience were good, but never quite as good as the BMW.

The current C-Class has Mercedes aiming squarely at the heart of the 3 Series and it is worthy every cent of its R478 129 (R25 282 more than the BMW 320i auto) asking price. The worry here is the same as the M4: Does the C Class represent a significant stride over its previous generation and its rival models? To this I say no. It has simply equaled the playing field.

Nissan Qashqai 1.6dCi Acenta Auto



The first generation Nissan Qashqai was known for being honest, reliable and a sturdy family vehicle. The new one seems to have lost some of that sturdiness that made the previous model so popular. The CVT gearbox feels outdated and the gadgets, like the reversing camera, feel cheap and tacky.

The biggest issue with the Qashaqai is just how forgettable it is. I drove the finalist 1.6dCi Acenta Auto in November and, when writing this piece, I struggled to remember anything about it except that the gearbox was whiney, like an old CVT.

Porsche Macan S diesel


A winner already?

If the Macan wins, it will set a number of standards: First SUV to win the competition, first brand to have three back-to-back wins and possibly the first brand to cause a civil war between journalists.

I need to concede right now that the Macan is the only car on the list I haven’t driven, even for five minutes. Everyone who has driven it says that it is magnificent: fast, balanced, handles like a sports saloon and feels beautifully engineered.

My concern is the space the Macan occupies: Is it significantly better than the BMW X3 or Range Rover Evoque? I’m certain it’s better, but how much better? The Mid-Size Luxury SUV segment is so good that I feel any new models have encountered the law of diminishing returns.

Renault Duster 1.5dCi Dynamique 4WD


My pick

The Renualt Duster is an interesting small SUV. Designed and built in Romania, it’s a rough little SUV with a lot of standard equipment, a robust engine and an affordable price tag. A number of people think the Duster is too coarse and agricultural to be Car of the Year, but, within among its rivals, it offers something unique: Affordable off-road ability and usable town characteristics. It has managed to wedge itself into the gap between the soft-roader Daihatsu Terios and the rugged but tiny Suzuki Jimny. My money is on the Duster for the 2015 Car of the Year title.

Subaru WRX Premium


The Divider

There are two schools of thought on the Subaru WRX: One says that it’s a great drivers car and the new 2.0 turbo charged engine has brought the WRX in line with its rivals. The other says that the WRX still feels like it’s stuck in 2009 with an outdated interior, dull looks and performance that, while enjoyable, is nothing to take note of. I’m in the latter camp. I have tried and tried but I cannot work out how the WRX made the list of finalists where the Audi S3 sedan did not. The S3 feels so much more complete against the WRX. The Audi may be R85 000 more expensive than the Subaru but it feels like you’re getting far more for your money.

Toyota Corolla 1.4D-4D Prestige (Twice Past Winner)


The Best Buy winner

The trusty Toyota Corolla. If COTY were about the ‘best buy’ offering, the Corolla would likely have won already with a large dealer network, affordable pricing and great package. I just feel that it suffers from ‘Toyota Syndrome’. That is, it does everything suitably but nothing well. It looks rather average, is entirely acceptable to drive and is well equipped but you never think ‘Well. This car is pretty good.’ A best buy winner but certainly not Car of the Year.

Finalists sorted by Country of Origin and Body-Style

Country of Origin

  • France – 2
  • Germany – 4
  • Japan – 5

Body Style

  • Coupe – 1
  • MPV – 1
  • Sedan – 7 (Includes Subaru WRX Premium)
  • Sports car – 1 (Subaru WRX Premium)
  • SUV – 23

Past Winners Sorted by Manufacturer, Country of Origin and Body-Style

  • 1986 – Toyota Corolla Twin Cam
  • 1987 – Mercedes Benz 260
  • 1988 – BMW 735i
  • 1989 – Toyota Corolla GLi Executive
  • 1990 – BMW 525i
  • 1991 – Opel Monza 160 GSi
  • 1992 – Nissan Maxima 300 SE
  • 1993 – BMW 316i
  • 1994 – Opel Kadett 140
  • 1995 – Opel Astra 160iS
  • 1996 – Audi A4 1.8
  • 1997 – BMW 528i
  • 1998 – Ford Fiesta Fun
  • 1999 – Alfa Romeo 156 T-Spark
  • 2000 – Renault Clio 1.4 RT
  • 2001 – BMW 320d
  • 2002 – Audi A4 1.9 TDI
  • 2003 – VW Polo TDi
  • 2004 – Renault Megane 1.9 dCi
  • 2005 – Volvo S40 2.4i
  • 2006 – Audi A3 Sportback 2.0T
  • 2007 – Honda Civic 1.8VXi Sedan
  • 2008 – Mazda2 1.5 Individual
  • 2009 – Honda Accord 2.4 Executive
  • 2010 – VW Golf 6 1.4 TSI
  • 2011 – BMW 530d and Volkswagen Polo Tdi
  • 2012 – Hyundai Elantra 1.8 GLS
  • 2013 – Porsche Boxster
  • 2014 – Porsche Cayman S

Country of Origin:

Germany: 17 (+1)
Japan: 5
France: 2
Sweden: 1
Korea: 1
Italy: 1
America: 1


BMW: 6
Opel: 3
Audi: 3
Volkswagen: 3
Toyota: 2
Renault: 2
Honda: 2
Porsche: 2
Mercedes-Benz: 1
Nissan: 1
Ford: 1
Alfa Romeo: 1
Mazda: 1
Hyundai: 1

Body Style:

  • Sedan: 19
  • Hatchback: 8
  • Sports Car: 2

Second Opinions

David Taylor: Editor at

The past few COTY events have seen controversial winners from Porsche and 2014/2015 competition could see a repeat performance. This time however, the Porsche Macan is probably the most deserving. Other vehicles which I would be happy to see win is the Renault Duster (charming little diesel offroader) and the Citroen C4 Picasso (brimming with spec, terrific engine and futuristic good looks). If you asked me who would be a safe bet, I’d go with Audi A3 sedan and the Mercedes-Benz C-Class.

Ryan Bubear: Motoring Editor and Motorburn Columnist

The Nissan Qashqai and Mercedes-Benz C-Class are each highly polished, utterly compelling packages. And I bear a particularly soft spot for the Citroën C4 Picasso. But, ultimately, I believe the Audi A3 Sedan – which, funnily enough, is one of two finalists I’ve not driven – will win out.

There you have it. The break down and my thoughts on the 2015 Wesbank / SAGMJ Car of the Year competition. The final evaluations have taken place and jurors have placed their votes. The final winner will be announced at approximately 9pm on Wednesday 18 March 2015.

The SA Guild of Motoring Journalists has run the SA Car of the Year competition since 1986, with WesBank – one of South Africa’s largest vehicle finance institutions – as its headline sponsor since inception. Motul and Hollard Insurance supply support sponsorship.

Matt Black


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