In the same way that MPVs such as the Chrysler Voyager and Renault’s Espace revolutionised family transportation by nullifying the value of a station wagon, so the Sport Utility Vehicle, or SUV, has revolutionized the car market. With good reason, too: An SUV takes the space and luxury generally offered by a family car and throws it into the body of a 4X4, thereby fusing car-like handling and dynamics with the ground-clearance and visibility of a 4X4. Add to that the gain in status it brought an individual, and it’s only logical that the SUV has become the mainstay of the South African middle class family.

Ask any car salesperson and he or she will tell you that most double-cab bakkies and SUVs sold in South Africa are 4X2’s, or soft-roaders. This again proves that most South Africans want the image and lifestyle afforded to them by the off-roader without actually having to go off the beaten track. Real 4X4’s are also expensive in the eyes of an average South African.

Mid-sized SUVs (or soft-roaders) have become family vehicles and as such it’s also only logical that their presence is recognised in contests like the SA Car of the Year. Last year saw Nissan’s Murano make the list of finalists, and this year we have two of them on the list: Land Rover’s new Freelander (in TD4 HSE Auto guise) and Honda’s CR-V (in 2.2 CTDI guise). SUVs are here to stay, and looking at these two, we may just have our first SUV COTY winner in 2008.


Land Rover’s first Freelander was a huge sales success. In fact, just look around and you’ll see how many of them are still doing duty on our roads. They were however unreliable and prone to breakdowns, and as such did more damage to the Land Rover brand than the success merited. It is not surprising that Land Rover was in a bit of trouble a year or two ago. But then came the new Range Rover and Discovery III, two vehicles so capable and improved that the brand slowly but surely started re-gaining the public’s confidence. Then came Range Rover Sport and Freelander II, and almost overnight, Land Rover was back on top.

Appearance-wise Freelander II is a gentle, if not positively conservative, evolution of the original design. Yet it works for me; keeping the best parts of the old and including all the wow of the new. Sales seem a bit slow, but it’s understandable considering the thousands of unhappy Freelancer I owners out there. But, once you spend some time in it, you’ll realize that Freelander II is a gigantic improvement, something this nomination is testimony to. In fact, it’s what Freelander should have been right from the very beginning.

It doubles up as a comfortable every-day means of transportation and offers the additional value of actually being a superbly capable off-road, thanks to Land Rover’s acclaimed Terrain Response system, first introduced on Discovery III. Adding this to the smaller Freelander has made it somewhat unique in its segment, also giving Land Rover a big advantage in the market. While it compares favourably to all its competitors in all other areas, in my mind it lacks that certain something a COTY winner should have. A dark horse it certainly is in this contest!


Ever since Honda introduced the first CR-V to local shores it has been an overwhelming sales success. While the second generation was little more than a facelift, it continued as one of Honda’s best-sellers, until the completely redesigned and much improved third generation hit our soil. This third-generation CR-V is also the first local Honda to be fitted with a diesel engine, and Honda has not looked back since. It is extremely refined and has loads of grunt, making it the prime choice in the CR-V range.

The interior is huge and comfortable, it has all the safety and technology features you would imagine, and comes standard with the quality and assurance of the Honda brand. Most motoring publications in SA have lauded the CTDI since its introduction, and the CR-V constantly makes best-buy lists. There is therefore no denying the fact that it is a brilliant vehicle. What I also like about it is that it is so nicely balanced – while it’s sleek and sexy enough to use as an every-day kind of vehicle, there’s an inherent masculinity to it that makes it stand out from the crowd.

If the next SA COTY had to go to an SUV – for the first time in history – I would have absolutely no problem in the world if the Honda CR-V DTDI was the one to do it. Consider that Honda’s latest Civic is the current car of the year, and both the fantastic Jazz and Accord nearly walked away with the title in 2006.

At R 326 900 the CR-V CTDI is not cheap, but when you look at the competitors in the same price range, there’s nothing else that really comes close. So yes, Honda’s new CR-V CTDI is one of my favourites to take the 2008 SA COTY title.

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