By Stuart Johnston
They say that lightning never strikes twice in the same place. Well, the prevailing feeling at the Sandton Convention Centre last night when the Porsche Cayman S was announced as the 2014 Car of the Year, was one of stunned surprise amongst the majority of guests, and also some notable senior members of the jury who had judged the cars.
Like a second bolt of electricity that passed through the room, two floors up from last year’s announcement made at the same venue, the smart money gave the Porsche little chance of outright victory, the reason being that the Cayman S is by and large a coupe version of the 2013 winner, the open-topped Porsche Boxster, albeit with a hotter engine.
The Porsche has stonking performance, a brilliant engine note once you get it up near its 7 000 rev limit, a masterful dual-clutch transmission, Fort-Knox-like chassis rigidity and handling precision and grip that is unrivalled by any of the remaining eight finalists.
Its interior is exemplary in terms of fit and finish and the quality of materials used, its appearance is now aggressive enough to please serious petrol-heads and yet stylish enough to charm the ear-rings off the hair-dresser brigade.
But the feeling amongst many of the the industry guests – and there were some 500 of them at the banquet hosted by Wesbank, the biggest single motor industry-related function on the calendar – was that a more accessible, less expensive car should have been chosen.
“The car of the year needs to be something that the man in the street can realistically aspire to, “ said a senior executive of one of the country’s biggest multi-franchise dealership and importer groups. There was also the feeling expressed that the choice of two exotic cars winning the title back-to-back indicated an elitist approach to motoring amongst the guild members, and indeed the elected jury entrusted with the final point scoring
The writer echoed these feelings in a preview of the competition announced after the COTY test days in late January. It is my belief that, while the Porsche addresses the criterion of design excellence, and engineering acumen in almost every respect, it is too specialised a vehicle to fully deserve the accolade of 2014 Car of the Year.
The reality is, the challenge to produce a hatchback, sedan or even an SUV that excels in its field is probably greater than the one required to produce a top-handling, hot-shot-looking sports car. There is less compromise in a sports car, especially one with only two seat accommodation, and one that has grip as its major priority rather than creature comfort. And, relatively, the sports car can be priced higher than even a hatchback with equivalent performance, because of its exotic styling cachet. So there is more margin, in a costing sense, to play with when it comes to specifying the finest competition-level brakes, wheels, tyres and engine internal components.
Having said this, the Porsche could still be deemed to be a worthy winner on a number of levels. Over the rough paving test its ride suppleness was better contained than certain hatchbacks in the competition. And despite the Cayman S delivering a 0-100 km/h time of 5,2 seconds and a claimed top speed of over 280 km/h, its claimed consumption figure of 8 litres/100 km makes it one of the most fuel efficient cars of all in the high-horsepower end of the market.
An area where the Cayman S scores very highly is that of price. At R838 000 it is more than R150 000 cheaper than the other high-end sports car in the competition, the Jaguar F-Type 3,0 S. In fact the Cayman S is one of the bargains in the sports car arena, as for this money you get pretty much the type of performance you would get if you opted for the more pricey Porsche 911. For the record, I predicted that the Volkswagen Golf 7 would walk off with the award because “ it was the most complete car in the competition, simply oozing confidence in every allotted task.” In the event, the 30-member jury scored the Golf in second place, with the much fancied (and mechanically similar but not identical) Audi A3 third. ( I went for the Audi A3 - Ed)
SA COTY 2014 - ScoringThe top nine cars and their prices as nominated , were scored by the 30 appointed jury members of the SA Guild of Motoring Journalists for 2014 is as follows:
- Porsche Cayman S. R838 000
- Volkswagen Golf 7 1,4 TSi DSG. R293 500
- Audi A3 Sportback 1,4 TSi Manual. R299 000
- Mercedes-Benz A45 AMG. R603 667
- Jaguar F-Type 3,0 S. R999 900
- Renault Clio IV 9,0 Turbo. R189 900
- Lexus IS350 F-Sport. R571 500
- Volvo V40 D3 2,9. R346 800
- Peugeot 208 GTi. R263 350
Scoring and Points Allocation in SA COTY 2014I should mention that, in my opinion, this was probably one of the closest competitions in a long time. I don’t fully agree with the way the point scoring is done these days, because a journalist that wants his or her particular favourite car to win can load his score by, say, awarding 10 points – the maximum allowed per car – and then allotting less points to a car that may deserve more points.
This approach may not be entirely cynical, because journalists are only allocated 50 points in total and this year they had to award points to a minimum of seven out of the nine finalists. In practise, you might find yourself running out of points once you have allocated high scores to your top three or four contenders, and thus are forced to discard the cars near the bottom of your list.
A better way for the future, I feel, would be to score each and every car, the maximum for each car being 10 points, but with no limit on the number of points in your “basket”. For instance, I failed to score both the Lexus and the Volvo as I had run out of points, but that didn’t mean that I deemed them to be unworthy of any points at all.
SA COTY 2014 - ConclusionIn closing, I feel the Guild needs to take hard look at the cars it nominates as finalists for next year's COTY. I personally am embarrassed that this year’s choice, representing a Porsche double-whammy, reflects on us being rather pampered dilettantes, and out of touch with the nitty-gritty of real-world motoring.
It’s a tough one, for as I have pointed out, I do endorse the excellence of the Cayman S in all respects within its category. But for a car like the Renault Clio to only place sixth, when the buying public have clearly endorsed this car as a winner, means that the jury members have to take a long hard look at their priorities, and ask themselves whether they are indeed capable of judging each car fairly against its price and category competitors, and not imposing Porsche-like standards of performance, grip, interior trim quality and styling, on each and every car they hop into, during the COTY test days.
Have your say, do you think the Porsche Cayman S deserves to win the South African Car of the Year?