The Jaguar F-Pace.   Picture: JAGUAR SA
The Jaguar F-Pace. Picture: JAGUAR SA

As the dust settles following two days of testing each of the nine finalists of the 2017 Wesbank SA Car of the Year competition at the Kyalami Racetrack and surrounding road arteries, a few things have come to light.

While the announcement of the overall winner will only be announced on March 15, we have decided on our favourite model to clinch it this year.

However, prior to us revealing that, we need to look at each of this year’s nine finalists in isolation to deduce what made them a finalist in this year’s competition and whether they have what it takes to take the crown. In alphabetical order, then, we look at the first four finalists — the Audi A4, Honda Civic, Hyundai Tucson and Jaguar F-Pace.

The latest A4 (2.0 TFSI) has truly raised the bar regarding perceived and tactile quality, while the ride has been polished even further compared to the old car. It boasts a 2.0l turbo, four-cylinder engine, putting out 140kW and 320Nm.

The Audi A4.    Picture: NEWSPRESS UK
The Audi A4. Picture: NEWSPRESS UK

It is a smooth operator that offers excellent punch, while the seven-speed dual clutch gearbox continues to be the best in the business, particularly in this class of car.

Priced at R536,500 it does come across as slightly more expensive than its BMW 3 Series and Mercedes-Benz C-Class equivalents, but it has the best transmission of the three cars and is also slightly better specified. Unfortunately at this level, all the cool gizmos such as the Virtual Cockpit, which elevates the cabin ambiance, is an optional extra.

Premium product

Nonetheless, it is an easy-going, premium product that will appeal to the young executive looking for a compact luxury sedan. It managed to hold its own in most of the exercises, including braking and handling.

Easily one of the most striking cars in its segment, the Honda Civic (1.5 Sport) has really traded the relatively staid threads of its predecessor to emerge looking as though it has just come off a Star Wars movie set. Particularly in Sport trim as is the case here, the vehicle also errs on the larger side of the scale, boasting an interior that wouldn’t be out of place in a vehicle above its segment.

Cabin appointments are good, while the 1.5 turbo engine offers decent get-up-and-go when required, but the entire experience is marred somewhat by the CVT gearbox, the only transmission offered in this model. Then there is the issue of pricing which, at R460,000, is rather expensive, making the less powerful but cheaper models in the range more palatable in comparison.

The Audi A4.      The Honda Civic.  Picture: QUICKPIC
The Audi A4. The Honda Civic. Picture: QUICKPIC

Korean manufacturer Hyundai has its flagship Tucson (1.6 TGDI) variant in the competition as a finalist. Frankly, before the test days I had some reservations about the model, but these were quelled after putting the model through its paces.

It managed to hold its own through every exercise it was put through, sometimes even surpassing expectations. If there is a dark horse in this year’s competition for me, this is it.

Build quality and standard equipment have always ranked highly for the brand and the engine here is responsive once it gets going, while the twin clutch gearbox is sufficient if a little slow compared to Volkswagen’s DSG rendition.

However, the major fly in the ointment for the Tucson is the price, at R534,900. It is almost R100,000 dearer than its manual, executive sibling, which is simply too much to ask in this price sensitive segment.

The Jaguar F-Pace.   The Hyundai Tucson.  Picture: QUICKPIC
The Jaguar F-Pace. The Hyundai Tucson. Picture: QUICKPIC

Jaguar’s foray into the luxury SUV fold, the F-Pace (3.0 S), has all the hallmarks of the sporty British brand and seems to tick most boxes for those shopping at this level. Well equipped and boasting a brawny 3.0l V6 turbodiesel engine, the model is a joy to drive.

It fared well during most of our exercises, but sadly lacks the wide appeal and talents of its Range Rover Sport counterpart and the dynamic talents of the Porsche Macan.

That aside, the cabin is respectably put together with simple and legible buttons, while the digital instrument cluster and touchscreen infotainment systems are some of the highlights of the model.

Cabin space is good for both front and rear occupants, but the boot space is slightly marred by the full size spare wheel.

Competent

At R1,099,646 the model is anything but cheap, yet it is the sweet spot in the range. It is competent in many areas as evidenced by the way it handled most exercises it was subjected to, but sadly the lofty price tag means that it has a rather niche appeal and does not push the SUV envelope far enough to warrant being placed on the higher pedestal of its rivals.

Next week we look at the balance of the finalists to the competition including the Opel Astra, Renault Kadjar, Toyota Fortuner, Volkswagen Tiguan and Volkswagen Passat. We will also give you our prediction of the winner and why it has the clout to clinch the coveted award.

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