The 37th South African Car of the Year was crowned at a gala event in Johannesburg.

The 2023 South African Car of the Year was crowned at a gala event in Johannesburg - and, while we're a bakkie-loving country, this year's winner was a first for the competition and a surprising win.

Ford South Africa bagged the Old Mutual Insure South African Car of the Year competition win on Thursday, 1 June, with its game-changing Ranger bakkie.

It's also a historic win for the local automaker as it is the first time in the competition's 37-year history that a bakkie has taken the crown.

With 21 finalists vying for this year's South African Car of the Year title, judging was no easy feat. 

Judges evaluate all new vehicles throughout the year, and then also put the cars through stringent obstacles on a racetrack and off-road track, where applicable, come testing days.

The Ranger also won the 4x4 double-cab category, where it went up against the Isuzu D-Max. However, when judging the Ranger, the jury also compared it against its other rivals: VW Amarok 3.0 TDI 4 Motion, Nissan Navara 2.5 DDTi PRO-4X 4x4, and the Toyota Hilux 2.8 Legend RS 4X4.

Ford scooped second place as well, with the Everest SUV, while third place was taken by the Mercedes-Benz S-Class.

Since its inception in 1986, the South African Car of the Year competition, hosted by the SAGMJ, has maintained its unrivalled reputation as the country's most respected and coveted motoring event.  

Mabuyane Mabuza, the chairperson of the 2023 competition, said this remarkable achievement was a testament to the automotive industry's commitment to producing high-quality double-cabs which offer unrivalled performance, while seamlessly blending comfort, safety and cutting-edge technology.

"Over the past decade, the popularity of SUVs and double-cabs have skyrocketed at the expense of sedans. Double-cab bakkies have become a common choice for everyday commuting, family adventures and various work applications, providing a popular solution for South Africans' mobility demands.

"The Ford Ranger's triumph represents a milestone for the industry, setting a new benchmark, and symbolising a noteworthy accomplishment for one of South Africa's primary export products. Proudly representing our nation across global markets, this victory showcases the ingenuity and craftsmanship of South African automotive manufacturers," said Mabuza. 

The 21 finalists were selected from a pool of 55 qualifying vehicles, representing various fiercely-contested categories. 

The competition featured Budget, Compact, Compact Family, Midsize, Premium, Adventure SUV, 4x4 Double Cab, Luxury, Performance, and New Energy categories.

However, the Budget category had no contenders on this year's finalist list.

Although the entrant in the Compact category was commendable, it did not meet the required percentage to secure a category win.

The category winners for this year's South African Car of the Year competition are:

Compact Family Category:
  BAIC Beijing X55
Midsize Category:                KIA Sportage          
Premium Category:              KIA Sorento
Adventure SUV Category:    Ford Everest
Double Cab 4x4 Category:   Ford Ranger
Luxury Category:                 Mercedes Benz S-Class
Performance Category:        Audi RS 3
New-energy Category:         Volvo XC 40 P8 Recharge 
2023 SA Car of the Year:      Ford Ranger Double Cab 4x4

Old Mutual Insure, as the competition's sponsor, applauded the winners. 

"Well done to the Ford Ranger 4x4 and the category winners of the 2023 contest," said Garth Napier, the managing director of Old Mutual Insure.

"We are proud to align with their commitment to excellence and congratulate them on their well-deserved success." 

The SAGMJ said the absence of any finalists in the Budget category this year could be attributed to the product lifecycle timing of key competitors. However, the category remained an important entry point into the market.

Mabuza urged the automotive industry to persist in its innovation efforts - and to aim to create vehicles that cater to the diverse requirements of the South African public.

The competition also saw the first Chinese winner. The BAIC Beijing X55 won the hotly-contested Compact Family category, a sign that automotive brands from China are taking the world by storm, which is also evident on South African roads. 

The Chery Tiggo 8 Pro won the "Motor Enthusiasts Choice", voted for by the public via a social media campaign, driven by Old Mutual Insure. This category was added three years ago to reflect how integral the public has become to the competition's scoring and voting process. 

For those interested in the technical nature of the competition, Mabuza said the overall and category winners' evaluations included scoring criteria like design, technology, engineering, powertrain, handling, ingenuity and safety, but that the process was much more than just juror scoring.

"Once the expert panel concluded scoring, the automated scoring factors that cover sales performance, segment share and value for money are applied," said Mabuza.

"The competition's partner, Lightstone Auto, provided the automated scoring information, including data-driven insights, online market intelligence and new vehicle sales data.

"The selection and training of jurors for this year's competition remained as stringent as ever.

"Our group of 29 jurors and four trainee jurors represents all car buyers in the country, ensuring a fair and comprehensive evaluation process." 

Source: News24