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Ford revs up an historic win at SA Car of the Year competition

Ford revs up an historic win at SA Car of the Year competition
The winner of the 2023 Car of the Year is Ford's double-cab Ranger. (Photo: FMCSA)

Not only did Ford’s all-new Ranger win the much-coveted title of South Africa’s Car of the Year last week, making it the first double-cab bakkie to ever win this competition, but it also bagged second place overall with its celebrated Everest, an off-road SUV.

Earlier this year, as a juror for the South African Guild of Mobility Journalists Car of the Year competition (phew, that’s a mouthful), I was faced with the mammoth task of choosing my favourites from a worthy pool of 21 finalists. 

We flew up to Joburg in April for two days of testing, during which time we put SA’s finest through their paces on the Zwartkops race track. We also got to test the 21 finalists on slippery skid pans. And we precariously wove around cones on a slalom course and, where applicable, we drove the vehicles on a tricky off-road course.

The finalists were divided into nine categories (perhaps a few too many, for my liking): Compact, Compact family, Midsize, Premium, Adventure SUV, Double Cab, Luxury, Performance and New Energy. 

It was a car-crazy two days, what with jumping in and out of gleaming vehicles with hardly time to take a breath, never mind a pee, while all the while capturing scores on reams of score sheets. (I knew it was time to take a coffee break after I got out of a Chery Tiggo and almost scored it as a Haval. Oops.) 

The new Kia Sportage was also a favourite to win the SA Car of the Year. (Photo: Kia SA)

The mind can play weird tricks when your foot’s flat on an accelerator, navigating hairpin bends, swerving like you’re in a crazy getaway movie in order not to hit orange cones, while cerebrally contemplating stuff like fuel efficiency, dynamics, tech and suspension. 

Ford’s all-new Ranger, launched in late 2022, was one of the favourites from the word go, with its new powertrain, incredible off-road capabilities, gazillion safety features, cutting-edge tech and very cool looks. 

It was always going to be hard to find fault with it. 

But because a bakkie had never taken the crown in the competition’s 37-year history, I had my doubts it could win. Nevertheless, I scored it high in almost every aspect because it deserved my points. 

At a gala event hosted by Old Mutual Insure last Thursday, the sponsors of the competition, Mabuyane Mabuza, chairperson of the 2023 Car of the Year committee, paid testament to the huge popularity of bakkies in the local market.

“Over the past decade, the popularity of SUVs and double cab bakkies has skyrocketed at the expense of sedans. Double cabs have become a common choice for everyday commuting, family adventures and work applications, providing a popular solution for South African mobility demands.”

One of my favourites to win was undoubtedly the new Kia Sportage. Now in its sixth generation, it’s a brilliantly specced, fairly priced, every man, every woman’s kind of mid-sized SUV with an excellent 7-speed auto gearbox. On my scoresheet, it had all the elements to also be SA’s Car of the Year. (I recently drove the new 1.6L CRDI turbo diesel, which, in my books, has become the pick of the range.)

Obviously, many of my fellow jurors agreed when it came to the Sportage, as the Kia won the Best Midsize category in a hotly contested segment against the Alfa Romeo Tonale, the Hyundai Tucson, the Honda Civic RS and the Chery Tiggo Pro 8, the ultrapopular Chinese car selling up a storm in SA. 

Like Ford with its winning Ranger and Everest, Kia also scored a double by winning the Premium category with its often hugely underrated, surprisingly nimble 7-seater Sorento.

Volvo’s XC40 Recharge won the New Energy vehicle prize. (Photo: Volvo SA)

I felt a special love for all the finalists in the New Energy segment. Competing for the title was the superquick and sexy Swede, the Volvo XC40 P8 Recharge plug-in – which landed up being the worthy winner. 

But that said, on Car of the Year test days I was also reminded of what a damn good car the trusty Toyota Rav Hybrid is. I got goosebumps taking the Audi e-tron GT out on the track – damn, it’s fast – while the surprisingly frugal and well-specced Chinese-manufactured Haval H6 hybrid also impressed. 

Talking of Chinese cars, I was thrilled when one of my firm favourites, the BAIC Beijing X55, took the prize for best Compact Family, beating three other great competitors: the revolutionary Nissan Qashqai, the excellent Opel Mokka and the very worthy VW Taigo. 

The Beijing X55 was a worthy winner in the Compact Family segment. (Photo: BAIC)

The Beijing 55 is a head-turner of note with its futuristic visage. It looks and feels way more expensive than its price tag –  R424,900 – and it particularly impressed me on the track. 

This year’s Car of the Year was alight with historic firsts: not only did a bakkie win, but it’s the first time a Chinese car has won a Car of the Year category. 

With the huge leaps that have been made over the past few years in the quality of Chinese-produced cars, methinks it won’t be long before we see one of them win the overall SA Car of the Year. 

The last two cars I tested at Zwartkops were two German beauts — jeez, those guys still make incredible cars. 

The magnificent speedy Audi RS3 in ‘performance’ action. (Photo: Audi SA)

On the skid pan and track, the Mercedes S-Class was faultless. It behaved like the boss that it truly is. I was thrilled when it won the Luxury category and managed to bag third place overall in the Car of the Year comp, behind the two Fords. 

However, the car that remained with me long after the test days were  over, was the magnificent Audi RS3 with its 294 kW of power and spectacular time of 0-100km in just 3.8 seconds. 

For a couple of nights, before I went to sleep, I could still feel it revving in my veins. So when the mighty RS3 won the Performance category last week, I was a very happy juror. 

Here are the category winners: 

  • Compact Family Category: BAIC Beijing X55
  • Midsize Category: KIA Sportage
  • Premium Category: KIA Sorento
  • Adventure SUV Category: Ford Everest
  • Double Cab 4×4 Category: Ford Ranger
  • Luxury Category: Mercedes-Benz S-Class
  • Performance Category: Audi RS3
  • New-energy Category: Volvo XC40 P8 Recharge

With so many worthy winners this year, it was extremely hard to choose “the best”, but all kudos to Ford for its not one, but two winners. DM

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Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Walter Smith says:

    Very strange – a Bakkie winning “Car of the year” I presume that now it should be renamed “Vehicle of the year” crazy!!!

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