Reviews

From the Audi A7 to VW T-Roc: a look at the best and worst new cars of 2020

Here are the hits and misses of the year

27 December 2020 - 00:01
The Mini Cooper SE.
The Mini Cooper SE.
Image: Supplied

Despite the challenges of 2020, there were a decent number of opportunities to do what we do best in this corner of Lifestyle. Which is to drive cars and write about them. What follows is a short account of my hits and misses of the year, in alphabetical order.

AUDI

The new A7 sets new standards for refinement in the category. And even though the same could be said of the identical A6, it lacks the stylistic verve of its counterpart. We staged a comparison with the 100 Coupé S from yesteryear - offering a neat side-by-side look at how the tapered roofline approach was honed over decades. Stunning aesthetics aside, the A7 dazzled with its potent six-cylinder petrol powertrain and cosseting cruising manner.

BMW

While the 330is was a complete flop and the 4-Series frightened children with its hideous snout, the M2 CS offered some redemption. The limited-edition model (only 30 in SA) takes a car that was already brilliant and made it even more of a thrill, with more power, a racier interior and exterior bits that reflect its unique status. It could be the last manual M-car sold locally.

The BMW M2 CS.
The BMW M2 CS.
Image: Supplied
The new Honda Ballade.
The new Honda Ballade.
Image: Supplied

HONDA

Overpriced and underwhelming, the new Ballade is a product with more questions than answers. The previous car competed in the budget-focused, B-segment sedan market. This one wants to take the fight to the Mazda 3 and Toyota Corolla. Spoiler alert: it does not hold a candle to either. Also, if Honda wants its Ballade to compete there, where does that leave the Civic?

MINI

When Mini launched its battery-powered Cooper SE earlier this year, it billed it as the cheapest new electric vehicle on the market. The statement was not remiss, but since it cost well upwards of R600,000, consumers would have to take it with a pinch of salt. Still, it offers a fun driving experience and a high smug factor.

MERCEDES-BENZ

Of the numerous cars launched by the brand this year, one behemoth stands out: the GLS-Class. A sizable brute, it offers S-Class-like levels of luxury with off-road prowess you can expect from the boxy G-Class. Brimming with future-forward technology, it offers the best of all worlds.

Mercedes-Benz GLS-Class.
Mercedes-Benz GLS-Class.
Image: Supplied
The Porsche 911 Turbo S.
The Porsche 911 Turbo S.
Image: Supplied

PORSCHE

This brand was on a roll this year. Not only did it release its first fully-electric vehicle, the Taycan, it also rewrote the acceleration rule book with the 992-generation 911 Turbo S. How does 0-100km/h in 2.7 seconds sound? Then there was the more analogue, purist-pleasing 718 Cayman GTS, a car that had every motoring scribe in the land smitten with desire.

SUZUKI

With the S-Presso, Suzuki lays claim to the most affordable new car in the land, at a snip over R145,000. We had positive things to say about it, with its peppy character, good interior quality and endearing aesthetics. But all that was negated when Global NCAP tested the vehicle and it scored zero stars for adult occupant safety. Sure, our model has better safety specs than the test car, with two airbags and safety-belt pre-tensioners, but the dismal performance in the crash test was largely to do with the overall structure of the car.

TOYOTA

The Corolla sedan has morphed into a machine that oozes appeal, all but banishing the dull appliance-like vibe exuded by predecessors. It boasts some serious kit too, with semi-autonomous driving functions available on upper-tier models. The only bugbear is that you can't get it with the punchy, 1.2l, turbocharged mill served in the hatchback derivative.

VOLKSWAGEN

Bidding adieu to the venerable seventh-generation Golf, Volkswagen brought the limited-edition GTI TCR to our market. Although it features unique livery and a numbered plaque, one gets the sense that it was an opportunity missed. Because from a driving experience perspective, there is not much to set it apart from the Clubsport launched in 2016.

VW T-Roc.
VW T-Roc.
Image: Supplied

Then the brand launched the T-Roc in November. Based on the platform of the old Golf, it has a more expressive, crossover-type persona, but hard interior plastics spoil the package. They did, however, enjoy a hit in the form of the Caravelle T6.1, which was launched in September. A classier interior and more sophisticated exterior make it a top choice for those in the premium small bus market, where its peers include the Mercedes-Benz V-Class and Toyota Quantum VX.


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