Revved up for industry’s top award

Three German models, one French and one Japanese – these are the remaining five finalists we review as we look at the 2017 Wesbank-SA Guild of Motoring Journalists SA Car of the Year contenders.

They are, in alphabetical order: the Opel Astra, Renault Kadjar, Toyota Fortuner, Volkswagen Passat and Volkswagen Tiguan. This year’s competition is one that has seen a vast cross-section of models, but the advent of crossovers and SUVs is definitely dominant. There were no less than five vehicles from the SUV and crossover genres.

We start with the Opel Astra 1.4 Enjoy, which is the middle of the range and the sweet spot.

The Astra nameplate claimed the coveted title in 1994 after its hatchback sibling, the Kadett, took the laurels in 1993,

but whether the Astra can treble the marque’s winning streak remains to be seen.

The latest Astra is well styled, with fairly good build quality and an extensive list of convenience items. The ride quality is refined and the engine is punchy with 110kW and 230Nm, which is channelled to the front wheels via a six-speed manual gearbox. Through most of the exercises, the Astra proved to be competent and mostly responsive.

Thanks to the relatively soft-sprung suspension, it coped exceptionally well with bumps, but also proved to be confident when flung into tight corners – a great basis for a performance- oriented model such as the GSI variant that is in the pipeline.

At R334600 it is also well priced; however, I am not convinced it is as good as the Volkswagen Golf in other areas such as tactile quality, but it nonetheless has a great deal going for it.

We have heaped praises on the Renault Kadjar in our long-term fleet, but in the company of some of its rivals, such as the Hyundai Tucson and Volkswagen Tiguan, it seemed to be left wanting.

For starters, the combination of the 1.5 dCi turbodiesel and the automatic gearbox seemed to dull performance and we found ourselves requiring a bit more oomph when setting off or overtaking. Also, the gearbox was rather laborious and out of character when considering it is a dual clutch transmission.

Build quality was also slightly below par with the centre console exhibiting a few creaks when the vehicle was asked to do an impromptu change in direction.

In isolation, the

Kadjar is a great product but the transmission in this particular variant does mar an otherwise competent package that is priced well at R414900 and well specified.

The latest Toyota Fortuner is a marked improvement over the previous model and the styling and plusher interior make it more agreeable in this segment.

It does, in my view, have the nicest cabin in its class, overshadowing even the Chevrolet Trailblazer and Ford Everest.

It is powered by a relatively gutsy 2.8l turbodiesel with 130kW and 450Nm, sufficient for daily commutes and long-distance cruising.

Subjecting the vehicle to some of the exercises felt as though we were asking a bit too much as quick directional changes are not its forte.

Cabin space is good except for the boot, which is compromised by the third row of seats which fold against the rear side windows, creating a blind spot.

At R554400 you are getting a great deal of car, but I do not think it has pushed the envelope far enough to warrant it being given Car of the Year status.

A competent package from Volkswagen was the Passat, which has all the executive elements such as a plush interior, a long and comprehensive list of convenience items and acres of passenger and boot space. The 2.0l turbo engine is sprightly in its performance, while the dual clutch transmission does a good job of shuffling that power to the road.

A great package in every sense, the model does have to bow in the presence of the Audi A4, BMW 3 Series and Mercedes-Benz C-Class in the badge stakes. A great pity, if you ask me, because the Passat, particularly in this R518600 flagship guise, is truly sublime.

With great styling, good build quality, peachy engine and gearbox, the Volkswagen Tiguan ticks just about all the boxes of the segment.

It was competent and consistent through most of the exercises, save for the rather too intrusive ESP.

Cabin appointments are top-notch and are essentially those of the Golf, which are rather good.

Then there is the price factor at R457680 – with most of the convenience items standard.

All you have to do, then, is tack on the R17500 R-Line package and you have easily the most compelling package in the segment by a mile, which makes it our firm favourite to win the coveted title this year.

The winner will be announced on March 15.

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