of The Year 2006 - judging
dates : 29th January 2006
4th February 2006
This year the finalists
represented a diverse group in terms of price and
specification. Those making the cut were:
- Audi A3 Sportback 2.0
- Toyota Yaris Spirit
- Ford Focus 2.0 diesel
- Nissan Murano
- BMW 320d
- Citroen C4 1.6 diesel
- Kia Rio
- Volkswagen Passat
The inclusion of the Nissan
Murano this year raised the question once again of whether an
MPV should be included in the competition. The consensus these
days is that four-wheel drives profiled towards street use are
considered to be cars, rather than off-roaders.
As for the Audi Sportback, there was little doubt about its
validity as a finalist.
The Citroen C4 was in the finals largely due to its dramatic
styling. Citroen caused a bit of a stir as the competition got
underway by announcing that the price on the Citroen C4 1,6
diesel had been reduced from R195 000 to R180 000. A timely
As for the BMW 320d, there was never much doubt that one of
the new 3 series models would make the cut, although Car
Torque feels the powerful 330 would have been a better choice
than the diesel.
Itís been a number of years since weíve had a Korean
finalist in Car of the Year. The Kia Rio would go on to
surprise many jury members with its abilities over the two-day
The Ford Focus would prove to be a typical solid, if somewhat
The Volkswagen Passat had garnered many favorable media
reviews since its launch a few months back. But unfortunately
for Volkswagen, the Guild of Motoring journalists chose the
diesel model as the finalist, and this would count against it
for reasons that would become apparent in the dynamic tests.
Another model we felt was unfortunate was the top level Spirit
version of the Toyota Yaris. The pricing of the
highly-equipped Spirit at R137 000, put it at a disadvantage,
whereas the T3 Plus at R124 000 would have created an
identical dynamic impression.
Each car is scored in dozens of categories with ratings
varying from poor to excellent. Over the past 21 years the
scoring system has constantly been refined from input by the
Another big change for the 2006 competition was centralizing
the major portion of the competition at Wesbank Raceway near
The big advantage of using the motorsport complex was that it
enabled the journalists to get repeatability for test
conditions, which is not always possible when using public
Thereís no doubt that this is the fun part of the
competition. But journalists had to keep in mind that the idea
was not to set demon lap times.
The aim was to analyze specific handling traits like
stability, steering sharpness, reaction to mid corner
deceleration and other critical handling and performance
the big Nissan Murano would not have the sharpness of
smaller cars, and this is where jury members have to draw on
their prior experience of class competitors not present at
the evaluation days.
We were expecting good things from the Ford Focus 2.0
diesel, especially in the handling department.
And a car that did impress us on the race track in terms of
handling was, somewhat surprisingly, the Citroen C4 1,6 HDI.
The BMW 320d had excellent poise, but the diesel version was
not suited to the twisty nature of the Wesbank track.
Surprisingly, the Volkswagen Passat showed excellent track
manners despite its bulk.
But for us, the track star in all respects was the Audi A3
Sportback in 2-litre turbo petrol form.
The braking tests were conducted in two successive stops,
from 80 and 100 km/h.
In this test, evaluators look for smoothness of pedal feel,
overall stopping power, and controllability. Doing the
braking on the racetrack simplified this potentially
The tight compact nature of this yearís event was a great
success, largely down to the efforts of chief organizer,
The Nissan Murano was beginning to impress a lot of the
judges, thanks to its sporty nature in SUV terms. The jury
decided that the cut-off specification for SUVs would be
street-orientated vehicles, like the Murano not equipped
with low range transfer boxes.
In fact the trend towards cross-over SUVS like the Murano
has come at the expense of conventional sedans. Purely for
that reason it was good to see the VW Passat in the
competition, as we believe there will be a swing back to
cars like this.
Another heartening aspect of the line-up was the sheer
diversity of the eight finalists. From modest hatches like
the R120 000 Kia Rio, through to more expensive cars like
the BMW and Audi, to the R379 000 Nissan, most tastes and
budgets were catered for in the 2006 competition.
In past years the competition always comprised a city
driving section on public roads. This was to test items such
as low speed throttle response, maneuverability, and the
ease of operation at low speeds.
From Wesbank Raceway the competition moved to the Kopanong
Conference Centre near Benoni.
Day two saw the cars put through their paces on a route that
looped through suburban and semi-rural areas which included
some dirt road driving.
The dirt sections are important to the competition. Nothing
shows up a carís build quality and suspension integrity
like a dirt road. Rattles, squeaks and body flex soon become
It was crunch time for the competition as journalists were
starting to form clear opinions.
The Kia Rio was excellent on dirt, whereas the Toyota Yaris
showed more poise on tarmac.
The Passat showed its build integrity in the rough, but
suffered from severe low down torque problems in the
The BMW continued to show all round competence and the
Murano was winning many fans
Unfortunately the Focus disappointed on dirt despite its
In our book the car that was emerging head and shoulders
above the rest was the Audi.
The Citroen had a poor ride on dirt and even on ripply tar
surfaces. And some of its finishes were cheap-looking.
As the second day unfolded, two cars were continually coming
up in the snap surveys conducted by Hendrik and the Car
Torque camera crew.
On an emotional level, a lot of the cars were winning over
pundits, but the scoring system could nevertheless override
For instance one of the cars that just may spring a surprise
is the BMW. It wasnít top of mind with most journalists,
but in our book it scored highly in just about every
For those skeptics who think the life of a motoring
journalist is one long party with trips to exotic places and
megabuck sports cars thrown in, the intensity of COTY 2006
would have come as a bit of a shock.
The seriousness of the competition has never been greater
and itís a marvelous exercise for all involved.
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