Mambaonline takes a look at the nine finalists in the 2008 South African Car of the Year (COTY) awards. In this first installment, Christo Valentyn briefly explains how a winner is identified and muses over the first two finalists’ strengths and weaknesses.
HOW THE SA COTY WORKS
Every year, the South African Guild of Motoring Journalists (SAGMJ) polls its 150 members to identify finalists from the multitude of new cars released locally. From this list, a jury of 32 senior Guild members selects the top-ranking finalists.
Then, in January, a two-day test session takes place where jury members can independently assess each vehicle. The evaluation involves high-speed dynamic assessment, an autokhana test to judge maneuverability, and judging parking prowess and general ease of control. Also considered is driving under various conditions on track and road, in town and on gravel: taking fuel economy into consideration.
A static evaluation of each finalist also contributes to the car’s score in terms of aesthetics, build quality and ergonomics, while considerations based on perceptions of value for money, cost of a spares basket, safety features and environmental friendliness also contribute to overall points.
For 2008, the SAGMJ has identified nine finalists. These are (in alphabetical order) the Fiat Bravo 1.4 T-Jet Sport, Honda CR-V 2.2 I-CTDI, Land Rover Freelander II TD4 HSE, Lexus LS460, Mazda2 1.5 Individual, Mazda5 2.0 Active, Mercedes Benz C220 CDI, Nissan Qashqai 2.0 Accenta and Toyota Corolla 1.8 Exclusive.
It’s difficult to believe that Lexus has been represented in South Africa for ten years, albeit with very limited success. While Toyota’s luxury division easily conquered the USA, their vehicles were no match here for the ever-popular German luxury brands. However, this all began to change in 2007 once Lexus started a massive roll-out of brand new, redesigned vehicles.
The “baby” IS250 was my choice for SA COTY last year, and this year, the super-luxury LS460 comes to the 2008 COTY contest not only as the most expensive finalist, but also as World Car of the Year. But will this R803 400 car have what it takes to go all the way in the South African context?
In my opinion, the LS460 is a worthy contender for the crown, even with its hefty price tag that, remarkably, undercuts its German rivals considerably. In terms of specifications, LS460 is solidly on par with its competitors: If you can think of a bell and whistle, odds are that the LS460 will have it fitted as standard. It even has a 19-speaker surround sound music system, which, in my books, edges it ahead of its rivals.
LS460 may lose points in terms of general maneuverability as numerous publications have criticized it for its (perhaps overly) soft ride. Compared to the Mercedes-Benz S-class, LS460 is not a driver’s car at all. In this league however, such things are really personal preference, and finding major faults with the LS460 is basically impossible. Does it have enough positive aspects to win the coveted 2008 SA COTY?
Strangely enough I think it does, even though I classify it as a dark horse. Is it better than is competition? That remains to be seen, as the remaining eight finalists are all very worthy contenders…
MERCEDES-BENZ C220 CDI CLASSIC
The C-class was Mercedes-Benz’s attempt at drawing younger buyers to the brand. The original C-class was however an odd-looking, highly-conservative car that actually failed to lure many younger buyers while still selling bucket-loads to Merc fans that couldn’t afford an E or an S. This changed with the second-generation C, which up until late last year, was still Mercedes-Benz’s bread and butter in SA.
With BMW’s latest 3-series doing brisk business and the promise of a sale-stealing new A4 forthcoming, it came as no surprise that Merc’s new C would be a stunner. It’s even less surprising that the brand new C made it onto the list of COTY finalists, albeit – puzzlingly – in C220 CDI Classic guise.
I say puzzlingly because the new C-class, which, let’s face it, is gorgeous, is at its most boring, conservative when ordered in Classic specification. You simply have to look around you to see the proof: most new C-classes on the road are in the sporty Avantgarde spec and are indicative of customer demand. Puzzling indeed.
However, whether you order your C in Classic, Elegance or Avantgarde, the heart of the car remains remarkable, even though it costs more than a similar 3-series or A4. Is it therefore better than 3 and A4? In some ways it probably is, but try to convince a BMW or Audi fan of that.
Mercedes-Benz’s new C-class definitely has what it takes to become the 2008 SA COTY. I’d go as far as saying that it’s the first Merc in more than two decades truly worthy of the title – the last time Mercedes-Benz won the SA COTY was two decades ago with the 260E in 1987. It is a good car in every way, but I am concerned about its points in the value for money section.
The true test probably lies in whether I would buy a new Mercedes Benz C-class for myself; I would probably not. I’d wait for the new Audi A4.