THIS year was not particularly prosperous or exciting for the motor industry. Most segments showed reduced sales, with drops in volume of between 2.2 and 46.6%. Estate cars and all the sexy kit – three-door hatches, coupés and cabriolets – were hardest hit, with sedans and MPVs tottering along behind. Even light commercials suffered the 2.2% setback noted above.
Only five-door hatchbacks and SUV/crossovers showed modest gains with growth of 6.6 and 2.8% respectively. Total volume for the January to September period was down by 283 units or 0.1% overall. This looks insignificant, but offset against population growth and inflation, it’s interpreted as a disaster.
We noticed manufacturers pulling in their horns by launching fewer new products, reducing the sizes of their press fleets and some dropping KZN from this branch of their marketing efforts entirely. The upshot of all this is that your scribe had fewer cars to drive and very little that could be called exciting.
There were no press cars at all in January, so I whipped up a public-service piece on the minuses of advancing years. Older folk can be a little forgetful, sometimes even downright dozy, and their children aren’t always supportive. My accent was, therefore, on things one can do to stay safe and delay the inevitable.
In February, I drove the TUV 300, an interesting little SUV from Mahindra, a brand most people associate with ugly pickups and unbeautiful trucks. It can seat up to seven (mostly little) people, isn’t perfect, but is decently equipped for its price, gets the job done and uses around 6.5 litres of fuel every 100km. Priced just shy of R240 000 today, it could be worth a second glance next time you’re in the market for an Avanza or similar school-run carpooler.
March saw Les Girls Phillippa Gordon Lycett and Caroline Richter, the former owners of this newspaper, trading newsprint and ink for new challenges on the family farm. What better way to bid them “Au ’voir” than a happy piece on a couple of old Isuzus that traded their glamour days for life on a Midlands farm? Pet-named Essie and Deecie, they are both now officially older than 21 (which is how much in human years?) and happily taking the rough with the smooth.
April brought us the Nissan Qashqai 1.5 diesel. Apart from a light facelift, upgrades rendered it quieter and feeling more solid. With loads of space for passengers and luggage, and its fair share of desirable features, it scored five NCAP safety stars too. Current prices range from R352 000 to R461 000.
In May, Toyota’s Yaris Sport left us feeling a little “Gemini” – it’s bigger, face-lifted and still solid value, but it took a step backward in the engine department. The car is fine, but one expects progress, you know? There are five models, one of which is automatic. Prices range from R235 400 to R291 600.
The full moon in June had us looking forward to a week-long party with Renault’s little firecracker, Clio RS 18 F1. With 1600ccs, 162 kilowatts, 280 Newton metres, an all-black paint job and sounds to make your toes curl, it’s the kind of car your mother warned you against. Sadly, the test car never materialised. Earmark R460 000 for one.
Then came July. Suzuki introduced a prettier and slightly bigger Swift. It’s simple, does its job well and the 1200cc, naturally aspirated engine proved again that turbocharging is not necessarily what it’s cracked up to be. Design it well and save fuel, is Suzuki’s (very valid) message. There are two manual versions and one automatic. Prices range from R160 900 to R191 900.
In August, we featured another Nissan. We try not to repeat manufacturers in the same year, but the new Micra was a worthy exception. French-kissed, we said, and it is. No longer a shy little dumpling, this thing has attitude. There are three versions, all manual, with prices ranging from R242 900 to R283 900.
September saw the “return” of a manufacturer that never actually left. Opel’s Grandland X showed us its French side (Peugeot engine, transmission and je ne sais quoi), while retaining a certain German-ness for the brand’s traditional fans. If the suspension is a valid guide, it should be a winner on the Midlands’ country roads. Prices: R429 000 to R565 000.
October was pretty warm and there had been a further mini-drought on the test car front, so I told you a bit about airconditioning. It seemed appropriate for the time of year.
November’s article was devoted to Kona, Hyundai’s “alternative” small SUV. Much the same size and price as Creta, it’s more upmarket, but slightly smaller where some things count. It fills a special niche and Hyundai is happy with its sales performance so far. There is one spec level, two engines, manual and automatic. Prices are R379 900 and R399 900.
We hope things are more exciting next year and manufacturers remember that marketing, in all its forms, has to continue if they don’t want to wither, fade and die.
Wishing you all a blessed festive season and a prosperous 2019.