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Car of The Year 2006 - judging

Broadcast 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 turbo
  • 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 announcement indeed.

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 competition.

The Ford Focus would prove to be a typical solid, if somewhat stolid choice.

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 journalists.

Another big change for the 2006 competition was centralizing the major portion of the competition at Wesbank Raceway near Germiston.

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 roads.

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 traits.

Nissan Murano
Audi A3 Sportback
Citroen C4
BMW 320d
Kia Rio
Ford Focus
VW Passat
Toyota Yaris Spirit
Obviously 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 dangerous test.

The tight compact nature of this yearís event was a great success, largely down to the efforts of chief organizer, Buks Carolin.

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 evident.

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 suburbs.

The BMW continued to show all round competence and the Murano was winning many fans

Unfortunately the Focus disappointed on dirt despite its superb engine.

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 this.

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 category.

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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