The South African Car of the Year trophy, awarded since 1986, is the country’s most highly respected and sought-after motoring accolade. While the competition has evolved over the years (categories were introduced recently), one thing has remained true to the contest; it celebrates and rewards automotive excellence.

The 2021 SA Car of the Year (COTY) had its unique challenges. For the first time in the competition’s history, we did not host our scheduled two-day juror evaluation event. Thankfully, we had the foresight to create an ongoing online scoring system available to all South African Guild of Mobility Journalists’ (SAGMJ) members in 2019 based on scoring criteria that closely mirrored COTY’s voting criteria. The scoring system was initially created to build up a database of vehicles tested, their strengths, weaknesses and to be able to compare them to category contenders.

Our expert COTY jurors had access to this scoring system and were encouraged to score vehicles as they experienced them on launches or as test-drive vehicles and to input scores and notes via the SAGMJ scoring system. The use of this ongoing scoring system had been introduced to COTY jurors and trainee jurors as part of the COTY process before 2021.

The selection of our COTY jurors and the training of potential jurors had remained as stringent as ever. Based on specific requirements, potential jurors and trainee jurors are presented to SAGMJ members who choose their peers through the online voting system. Trainees are required to complete a 2-year apprenticeship under the guidance of a juror mentor. On average, the turnover on our jurors is about 17% annually, and our trainee programme ensures that we have a constant pool of newly trained jurors to step into the jury team.

To ensure that we are continuously developing our systems and stay relevant; there was a concerted effort by the SAGMJ to meet with OEMs and ensure that we were cognisant of their input on various matters relating to COTY. The COTY Committee also paid close attention to worldwide competition trends and took advice from experts in the field. The result is that COTY created more categories and will also be making provision for the new mobility enhanced vehicles we will see more of in the future. We are very proud of two of the new categories, the Motor Enthusiast’s Choice and our Jurors Excellence Award.

In the last two years, the public has become more involved in our COTY scoring/voting process. This voting counted towards the juror scores and effectively held the weight of a single juror. Having discovered that this made minimal impact, we wanted to encourage the public to be more involved and, as such, we felt that the public rightly deserved their own award – the Motor Enthusiast’s Choice Award.

The COTY scoring process is so much more than just juror scoring. Once our expert panel concluded scoring, the automated scoring factors that cover sales performance, segment share and value for money, are applied. The automated scoring information was provided by Lightstone Auto, which provides data-driven insight, online market intelligence and new vehicle sales data to the South African automotive industry. Our Jurors Excellence Award uses raw scoring to reveal which vehicle received the highest scores before automated factors were included.

Additional honours the SAGMJ instituted at their Annual General Meeting held on 26 June 2021 were the Most Admired OEM, which was presented to Stellantis, and the Lifetime PR Achiever’s Award, which was presented to Lindsay Pieterse from BMW. Although these two awards are not officially part of the COTY competition, they are just as prestigious.

Our 2021 South African Car of the Year category winners are:

  • Budget Category: Toyota Starlet
  • Compact Category: Hyundai Venue
  • Compact Family Category: Peugeot 2008 SUV
  • Family Category: Audi A4
  • Premium Category: BMW 4 Series
  • Adventure Category: Toyota Land Cruiser Prado
  • Double Cab Category: Toyota Hilux Double Cab
  • Performance Category: Porsche 911 Turbo S
  • New Energy Category: Porsche Taycan
  • Motor Enthusiast’s Choice: Mercedes-Benz E-Class
  • Jurors Excellence Award: Peugeot 2008 SUV

The first-place overall winner of the 2021 South African Car of the Year competition is the Peugeot 2008.

The Toyota Hilux Double Cab was placed second, while the BMW 4 Series came third.

Given the lockdown, the 2021 South African Car of the Year winner was announced during a virtual awards ceremony that was streamed live on 27 September 2021.