Judges put cars through their paces on test days

Thirteen categories. 39 finalists. 20 judges. Two days of gruelling testing… This is what went down at the Gerotek Test Facility, west of Pretoria, as the vehicles were put through their paces to determine the winners in the 2020/21 Cars.co.za Consumer Awards, powered by WesBank.

Now in its sixth year, the theme for this year’s event is Be Part of the Journey – My Car, My Freedom. Speaking to the esteemed panel of judges - a combination of seasoned motoring journalists, celebrities and the team from Cars.co.za - it became very clear that being out on the track to test the three finalists in each category had certainly given them all a great sense of freedom. They were also extremely grateful to the event organisers and sponsors for their tireless work behind the scenes to enable the testing days to go ahead. This included cleaning and sanitising the vehicles after each test drive, in compliance with all COVID-19 health and safety protocols under the current Level 1 lockdown regulations.

‘Morning Live’ anchor and first-time judge, Leanne Manas was in her element. “It has been a fantastic day, and I’ve enjoyed driving and judging a variety of cars. Getting out on the Gerotek course and understanding the handling of each car has focused my attention to look for things that people look out for when buying a car. Living up to the theme this year – “My Car, My Freedom, the freedom of being able to do this is incredible. For me being free in a car is the safety aspect - being confident in knowing that I am okay behind the wheel. Now that I have my children in the car, their freedom is my safety: that feeling of freedom with luxury is what’s important to me.”

For Phuti Mpyane, Business Day’s motoring journalist, the event gets better each year, and he gets better at doing it each year. “The experience changes every year. The levels have been higher and much more fun. With each year, the cars get better. I found the categories interesting too - this year, I’ve judged one of the fastest growing segments, and I did the bakkies, which is a first for me. The Cars.co.za Consumer Awards are more relatable, reputable and believable to the consumer because the judging panel is so diverse, with everyone’s views being represented.”

“I’m really proud to be associated with this competition as a judge, and I consider it to be a real feather in my cap alongside my role as a judge in the World Car Awards,” says Brenwin Naidu, Section Editor: Sunday Times Lifestyle Motoring and Sowetan Motoring. “The test days are something I look forward to, and I am so pleased the judging could go ahead this year. Driving the cars is a reminder of the number of competent offerings and the wide choice of vehicles in our local market available to the consumer. With the good mix of judges, who all look out for different things, and the different categories catering to different markets, I can definitively state that each winner is the best car to buy in its category.”

“This awards process hasn’t evolved much over the years, just a few tweaks here and there, because the initial concept and formula was so well thought through,” comments Ernest Page (@PerformanceWithPage), now in his fourth year of judging. “Driving all three finalist vehicles in a category, one after the other, is the only way to compare them, and it works. This is a great product that I am really proud to be a part of.”

For freelance motoring journalist, Juliet McGuire, as a judge you are not just driving the car. “You are looking at the back seats, how they fold, do they close all the way in, you’re in and out of the car looking at every aspect. I am very happy to be a part of these awards because they make such sense to me - the categories make sense, the awards are practical, and you get to drive the cars back to back. You think you know the vehicles, but when you drive them back to back, it is easier to effectively compare them while they are right in front of you. There’s consistency and it’s logical, and that’s why I love it.”

The annual #CarsAwards recognises the best purchasing propositions in 13 segments of the domestic new-vehicle market and is widely acknowledged as South Africa’s definitive automotive awards programme. With the sponsorship support from leading vehicle financier WesBank, the event has grown in reach, influence and stature.

“For WesBank, our affiliation with the successful Cars.co.za Consumer Awards brand is well entrenched. We are in the business of financing vehicles, and we want to make sure our customers are getting the best deal, not only with the best finance option, but in the make and model of vehicle they settle on. What better way to assist them with that choice than through this journey of judging the three finalists to arrive at the overall winning car in each category,” says Lebogang Gaoaketse, WesBank Motor Head of Marketing and Communication.

“The judging process, both from the expert judging panel and vehicle owners’ participation, is lengthy, thorough and comprehensive. The strict auditing process results in credible and reliable data, which can only assist the consumer with the vehicle purchasing decision when faced with so many choices,” says Gaoaketse.

When well-known media figure and petrolhead, Hannes Oosthuizen joined Cars.co.za as Customer Experience Manager six years ago, he was mandated to position the brand as the consumer’s champion in the industry. “Our response to this was to develop the ultimate consumer awards for new car models across identified categories. We had a clean sheet to work from. We didn’t have an awards programme we had to tweak or evolve into something else from an existing framework. We created an awards programme from scratch that we thought consumers really deserved. This saw the birth of the Cars.co.za Consumer Awards.

“The categories are all-important - we compare apples with apples. We engage a diverse judging panel who reach a wide audience, and we ensure fairness in the process of assessing each car’s performance. Each year, before we start the selection process of the cars, we look at the market from scratch, we look at sales figure, we look at new model introductions, to figure out where the hotspots in the market are and where people are actually shopping. This guides us to change or tweak categories. This year, for example, is the year of COVID-19 and people are under financial pressure. So, affordability is really important and we’ve added another entry level car category, again demonstrating how the awards are adapted to reflect the current market trends,” says Oosthuizen.

The panel of judges for the 2020/21 cars.co.za Consumer Awards are: Khulekani Dumisa (Khulekani on Wheels), Aluta Maqoko (Entrepreneur), Juliet McGuire (Freelance), Brenwin Naidu (Sowetan & Sunday Times), Leanne Manas (Morning Live), Dasen Thathiah (eNCA), Ciro de Siena (Cars.co.za), Nafisa Akabor (Tech Journalist), David Taylor (Cars.co.za), Ernest Page (Performance with Page), Jacob Moshokoa (Eyewitness News), Phuti Mpyane (Business Day), Wendy Knowler (Consumer Specialist), Mpho Letsholonyane (SuperSport & Power 98.7), Wezile Bonani (Bay FM), Gero Lilleike (Cars.co.za), Kojo Baffoe (freelance), Thami Masemola (In4Ride), Ashley Oldfield (Cars.co.za) and Lerato Matebese (Top Gear).

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