The South African Guild of Motoring Journalists has whittled down its twenty-vehicle 2019 Car of the Year semi-finalist list to give us twelve phenomenal finalists.
The vehicles set to battle it out for the coveted title hail from Germany, Japan, Italy, Korea, France and Sweden, and cover almost every motoring category and budget.
“South African motorists have access to vehicles from all over the world and to every conceivable type. This is reflected in the list of finalists,” said CEO of AutoTrader, George Minnie.
Without further ado, the twelve finalists for 2019 Car of the Year are as follows:
In the Micra, Swift and A-Class we find three exceptional hatchbacks and a hot hatch in the Civic Type R. Suzuki throws a second hat into the ring with the small 4x4, the Jimny, and the Lexus ES offers the only sedan. There is one crossover in the Duster, and of course a ton of SUVs to round off the list: the Alfa’s very first SUV, the Stelvio, as well as the Pajero Sport, Kona, XC40 and last year’s winner, Porsche, entering the battle with the luxurious Cayenne.
The winner will be announced in early April, after each of these twelve vehicles has been put through the gauntlet by the jury members. Each vehicle, it is said, will be scored directly against its class competitors on performance, handling, braking, safety, design and affordability.
On that note, in this article we’ll be taking a look at two cars in particular – the Nissan Micra and Suzuki Swift – both of which come in at below the R300 000 mark.
How do these two reasonably-priced Car of the Year contenders match up to one another? Let’s take a look.
The Swift is arguably the most important car in the Suzuki stable, making up almost 30% of Suzuki South Africa’s new car sales. Globally, over 6 million units have been sold. The 2018 model is fuel efficient, nimble, fun to drive and surprisingly spacious for a budget entry-level hatchback.
Last year, the Swift enjoyed its best local sales ever, and the expectations are high with the new model. With renewed focus and ambition, one could almost say that Suzuki has gone all in.
The Swift GL offers dual front airbags, ABS braking with EBD, front fog lamps, remote central locking and ISOFIX child seat anchor points, setting the minds of the safety-conscience at relative ease. It’s a pretty comfortable ride, too, featuring power steering, air conditioning and electric windows all round.
The sound system isn’t too bad. There’s no touch screen, but USB, Bluetooth and auxiliary audio are all supported, and can be controlled via the multi-function steering wheel.
The luggage bay in the new model has been extended, providing plenty of space (268l) and without compromising any leg room in the rear. Physically, the 2018 model is 10mm shorter, 40mm wider and 95kg lighter than its predecessor.
The fresh new design has got a sportier feel to it, but is powered by the same 1.2 litre 4-cylinder petrol engine as the outgoing model, producing 61 kW and 113 Nm. The Swift has built a reputation for being a lively, spirited drive with a tidy fuel consumption of around 4.9l / 100km. The fuel tank holds 37 litres and it comes in either a 5-speed manual gearbox or an Automated Manual Gearbox.
The best part? The price. The Suzuki Swift 1.2 GA Manual retails at only R159 900, while the 1.2 GL Manual comes in at R175 900 and the AMT version at R189 900.
In the Swift, you get a decent car that packs a mighty punch for under R200 000, and it’s good enough to rival the likes of the Polo Vivo or the Hyundai i10.
The Nissan has been somewhat of a wallflower in the entry-level hatchback segment in the past, facing stiff competition from the likes of the Polo Vivo, Kia Rio and an onslaught of Toyotas. The company will no doubt be hoping to shake off past consumer judgments this year, having completely redeveloped the vehicle for an upmarket clientele.
The stylish new 5th-generation Micra comes in a little more expensive than the Swift, at around R233 500 for the Visia, R257 400 for the Acenta and R272 400 for the Acenta Plus. At first glance, it’s easy to understand why, but we’ll have to take a closer look.
The 2018 Micra is powered by a 0.9 litre 3-cylinder turbopetrol engine, sourced from Renault, with peak outputs of 66 kW and 140 Nm of torque. Average fuel consumption is said to be around 5.1l / 100km, making it a little less efficient than the Swift.
It comes in a 5-speed manual transmission and is both longer and wider than the previous model. The most obvious change can be found in the design, now sleeker and edgier – a far cry from the Micras of old that looked like they belonged in a handbag somewhere.
The interior design has also enjoyed a massive facelift, premium to the touch and offering good cabin insulation from outside noise and wind. The Acenta comes standard with a 7-inch infotainment system – something that the Swift GL lacks – and supports Apple CarPlay, USB and Bluetooth. The adjustable steering wheel is equipped with controls for audio and multifunction display, as well as standard cruise control.
Now, here’s what you’re paying for – safety. The Micra offers no less than six airbags, electronic stability control, hill start assist, ABS braking with EBD and ISOFIX child seat mounts – making for a far safer ride than the Swift.
Boot space is also marginally bigger – 300l, which can expand to over 1000l with the seats folded down.
All in all, the new Nissan has a lot to offer prospective buyers or first-time car owners, especially if they have no real memory of the toothless spectacle that was the early Micra. The 2018 model is appealing, attractive and reasonably-priced.