WE ARE again at that exciting time in the motoring calendar when we assess this year’s Wesbank/SA Guild of Motoring Journalists Car of the Year (Coty) finalists. These will be put through their paces by a jury comprising 29 motoring journalists and writers, including yours truly, at a testing facility outside of Pretoria.

This year’s 12 finalists represent a wide spread from various segments — from bakkies to small hatchbacks and luxury saloons to SUVs, and even pukka sports cars in the form of the Toyota 86 and Porsche Boxster.

The latter two will appeal to different markets, but this year’s mix proves yet again that motor manufacturers are back in vogue.

Looking at the bevy of models, who would have thought that bakkies would one day be eligible, or that low-slung sports cars could warrant being featured in the annual event?

Well, things are a changing as the competition manages to surprise even us motoring hacks with how rapidly the industry norms are turning the corner.

Looking at this year’s calibre of vehicles, there have been some mutterings among industry pundits as to who will take the laurels.

While we at Motor News have our favourites too, it would perhaps be more diplomatic for us to reserve judgement until we have tested the vehicles thoroughly.

In my experience of the competition, I have found that some vehicles that are perceived to be of solid build integrity would somehow crumble following rigorous testing.

Then there are the dark horses that, under those meek and sheepish looks, hide a well-engineered vehicle. The Ford Focus sedan from last year’s event comes to mind.

The point is, cars are usually voted for by the public through perception, brand prestige and the endless hours of media coverage that manufacturers spend on their marketing budgets.

Therein comes the duty of the motoring media to untangle the clutter, dissect the vehicle to its bare essentials and judge it purely on merit and what it offers the segment for the asking price.

Many of the vehicles you see here have managed to stand head and shoulders above their respective competitors.

For instance, the Ford Ranger is a serious threat to Toyota’s Hilux, while the Porsche Boxster, I am told, simply obliterates the opposition including the Audi TT, BMW Z4 and Mercedes-Benz SLK on just about every aspect.

The Toyota 86, meanwhile, proves that you do not need break the bank, or have the most powerful engine, to have unadulterated fun.

The Nissan Juke has been a runaway success with its love-it-or-hate-it looks, while the Lexus GS350 proves that the Japanese manufacturer has the Germanic trio of Audi, BMW and Merc firmly in its crosshairs.

The Range Rover Evoque has impressed many a motoring media publication with its design and overall capability, even off the beaten track.

The two Korean entrants in the form of the Kia Rio and Hyundai i30 once again display the paradigm shift in the market in general and individual car buyers in particular.

I will be brutally honest and say that the Toyota Yaris HSD has no place in this lineup as it is simply a derivative of an already existing model and with technology not far removed from that of the Honda Jazz Hybrid launched a few years ago.

Merc’s B-Class is a charming proposition compared to its predecessor, but I do not feel it has quite enough in its arsenal to sway votes its way — perhaps the forthcoming A-Class will have that kind of clout.

Then there is the highly versatile Opel Meriva with its trendy suicide rear doors and peppy turbocharged engine that will please both mom and dad alike, although it might have its work cut out for it during the test tenure.

This brings us to the all-green bread and butter model that is the BMW 320i, which seems to be one of the favourites to scoop the accolade.

Be that as it may, it still needs to prove its mettle, much like every other contender here, in many other respects.

In the next few weeks leading to the announcement of the winner, we will review each of this year’s competitors following the test days.

As mentioned, there are many vehicles that have their marketing strategies thoroughly waxed, but which tend to buckle under pressure in the field.

It will without a doubt be a nail-biting, eye-opening couple of days of testing and we cannot wait to see who will emerge the ultimate winner at this year’s renewal.