A review of the motoring year that was
In December 2020 the motor industry, like all sectors, was reeling from the devastating blows dealt by the outbreak of Covid-19 pandemic 10 months earlier.
This December, sentiments err on the side of cautious optimism as commentators dwell on good news that includes a rebound in new vehicle sales.
“The November 2021 new passenger car market at 27,828 units had registered an increase of 2,386 cars, or a gain of 9,4%, compared to the 25,442 new cars sold in November 2020,” noted a release from the National Association of Automobile Manufacturers of SA (Naamsa).
“Despite several challenges during the month, including the first interest rate hike in three years, sustained load-shedding and a new Omicron Covid-19 variant that has sparked global alarm, the new vehicle market continued to show resilience on its gradual recovery path during the month,” the organisation said.
However, it is also forecast the pace of economic recovery is likely to slow in 2022.
“Rental companies supported passenger car sales over recent months, but the travel bans imposed on SA due to the Omicron variant could unfortunately again negate the support received by the market via this channel.”
“With the added inflationary pressures of record-high fuel prices and prospects of further interest rate increases, businesses and consumers will undoubtedly remain under financial pressure.”
Automakers in 2021 responded to the need for cost-conscious motoring with affordable products. In May, a major banking firm claimed the average amount financed for new vehicle purchases was a little over R356,000.
Eye on the price
That made entrants like the Kia Pegas especially relevant, offering spacious, three-box motoring for upwards of R225,995.
The compact sport-utility arena grew especially busy this year, with contenders like the Suzuki Vitara Brezza and its twin, the Toyota Urban Cruiser, quickly earning a following. Kia threw its hat into the ring with the Sonet, boasting the aggressive tiger-inspired family face and a level of refinement not seen in the segment before. Just like these three competitors, the Nissan Magnite and Renault Kiger are manufactured in India.
This duo shares a number of commonalities such as their platform and engine choices. On the B-segment hatchback front, Opel brought its latest Corsa to the fray, Hyundai released the sharp new i20 and Honda rebranded its Jazz, now known as the Fit. Kicking off at R350,000, the Toyota Corolla Cross set the sales charts ablaze in its first months of retail. Made in KwaZulu-Natal, the model offers a combination of strengths that are tough to ignore at a hugely competitive price. Less of a commercial success, but critically acclaimed, is the Peugeot 2008. Loaded with equipment, an outward appearance that is undeniably stunning and a fun-to-drive character, the French model poses a fine alternative to the usual set.
Hot hatchback delights
If you were in the market for a do-it-all hatchback with performance to enthuse on the daily drive, the past 12 months saw the arrival of compelling options. First up was the return of a special suffix from BMW, in the form of the 128ti. It launched at R687,418 before options. We praised its punchy turbocharged engine, lively dynamics and characterful persona. Later came the eighth instalment of the Volkswagen Golf GTI, packing more power and a greater emphasis on digitisation and wearing a price tag just under R670,000. Some opined it might have lost certain elements that made its predecessor endearing – a quieter soundtrack is among them. Somewhat less polarising was the Toyota GR Yaris, a pocket rocket in the truest sense of the word, one that had all evaluators spellbound. It was praised for its playfulness, potent boosted three-cylinder and clear World Rally Championship influence. The only aspect that sparked debate was its R606,000 price.
Haval this year proved itself as a manufacturer to consider very seriously. No longer trading largely on the virtue of being the least expensive in a segment (although the value factor is still big), the automaker has shown an ability to build products you would desire owning. The seductive Jolion ranges from R299,900, while the R398,900 range-topper is equipped with amenities once solely the preserve of luxury cars. The H6 (from R419,900) is convincing as a true alternative to segment favourites like the Mazda 5. Then we have Chery — revitalised, with no products related to the QQ3 of old. The first salvo in its assault is the Tiggo 4Pro, a compact sport-utility vehicle kicking off at R269,900 with an unbelievable 10-year/!-million-kilometre warranty.
Premium sport-utility vehicles
BMW refreshed the popular X3 this year. Still made in the Tshwane, Gauteng facility for domestic and export markets, the medium-sized Bavarian remains a solid pick in the segment. It costs upwards of R895,658. Porsche took the scalpel to its Macan, adding subtle revisions and tweaking specifications. It also affirmed that entry into the exclusive Stuttgart fold is not as beyond reach as you might think. Pricing starts at R1,050,000, which easily puts it on the radar of rivals in the category, including the BMW X3. If you are the kind of buyer who prefers outright value and is not badge conscious, you would be foolish to overlook the new Hyundai Santa Fe. Fully-loaded at a cost of R886,900, it boasts every amenity you would want, is trimmed with top-drawer materials and rides with impressive levels of comfort. But maybe you need something faster, louder and more agile. The Jaguar F-Pace SVR (from R1,970,562) delivers a truculent V8 soundtrack, stupefying pace and presence in spades. It is an ode to the big-displacement internal combustion engine.
Sedans are not dead
While buyers’ preferences are shifting towards crossovers and sport-utility vehicles, Mercedes-Benz showed us there is life left in the upmarket sedan. Its new E-Class, released earlier this year, reminded us of the merits held by the format: planted handling thanks to the lower centre of gravity, for one. Also, it is tough to beat the elegance and simplicity of a well-executed, three-box design. It carries a basic price of R920,000. Lexus gave us the edgy new IS, kicking off at R841,300. Alfa Romeo decided to relaunch the Giulia with a list of minor updates — which meant getting reacquainted with the R989,900-sedan. We walked away with our faith restored in what that Alfa Romeo emblem stands for: driving passion.
Expect the push towards electrification to intensify in 2022. This year we sampled the Cross Turismo version of the Porsche Taycan: a lightning-quick, agile-handling, gravel-road champion for those with deep pockets. It can be yours for upwards of R2,546,000. By contrast, the Mini SE is the most affordable fully-electric car on sale in SA, costing R658,000. While being a hoot to pilot, with its instant acceleration and nimble handling, a diminutive real-world ranges impacts its suitability to commutes beyond local routes.
Forget about the prices for this one. If we are talking about high-performance machines that inspire big dreams, Audi deserves a special mention for its 2021 offensive. In January the brand unleashed a comprehensive array of Audi Sport offerings: from the S3, to the RS Q3, to the RS6 Avant and R8 at the top of the hierarchy. BMW released the G80 M3 (and G82 M4), a duo with a wild streak veiled by impressive refinement. Lexus dropped the exquisite LC convertible and Porsche unleashed its engaging 911 GTS. Fans of American muscle were treated to the Ford Mustang Mach 1, a rumbling tribute to the original of the 1970s. If you claimed sizable lottery winnings this year, these are models you would want to add to your must-buy list.
The enduring pick-up genre will never go out of fashion. Not in SA, anyway, where we love the breed with fervour. If you love a good double-cab, 2021 marked a pretty good year for you. It all started with the release of the Volkswagen Amarok V6 in high-output specification, a bakkie worthy of a GTI badge, priced from R996,000. The revised Nissan Navara was released — now built in SA rather than imported from Spain. An improved ride, beefier front-end and greater refinement makes it a superb pick. The top-grade 2.5DDTi Pro-4X 4x4 automatic comes in at a competitive R740,000. Less impressive was the Mazda BT-50, marred by a harsh ride and unrealistic price. For R794,400 in the case of the 3.0 Individual we tested, neither navigation nor leather upholstery is standard. Another pick-up that left us scratching our head was the Peugeot Landtrek. It looks handsome, but requires more outlay than direct rivals from brands with a greater dealer footprint and reputations that are better established.