Month: April 2016

Blind date with the new Opel Astra.

Blind dates aren’t always a bad thing: Driving the new Opel Astra

We’ve all been here before; “She’s great!”, “He’s wonderful”, “You’ll love her” are all the cliché phrases used when you’re being set up with the “perfect” person. Only this time for us, it wasn’t a person we were being set up with, but rather a car. The phrase used to get our attention was “European Car of the Year 2016”, a phrase that almost forced us to like the new Opel Astra. Well before we declared our undying love for the car based on a title, we needed to consider a few things. First of all, we’re not in Europe, we’re in South Africa, a country that has the a different motoring outlook to other parts of the world. We don’t have great public transport here, which means that for us, cars aren’t just about features and options. The way a car makes us feel and the way it makes us appeal to others is a big factor for our consumers. Hence why in the segment that the Astra operates in, Volkswagen has dominated for a very long time.

South Africa’s love affair with VW stems from the early days of the Citi Golf and it has grown stronger over the years, so much so that for many people, driving a Golf is an accomplishment, especially for a young buyer. So the new Astra is up against a car that is more than a car, but rather an item of aspiration. Okay, enough about Volkswagen, let’s talk about the reason why this article has being written, the new Opel Astra.

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Is it really that good?

The long and short of it is yes, the car is not only good, it’s great.  It does more than any other car in its segment from a technology point of view. For instance, where have you heard of a large hatchback that has lane keeping assist? The new Astra has it. Where have you seen a car in this segment that features Matrix headlights that can switch off specific sections of the lights, so as to not blind oncoming cars? The Astra has it. The car is even able to tell you your following distance in seconds between you and the car in front of you. It’s sheer brilliance. The rest of the stuff is pretty cool too but not completely new. Nowadays you can expect a touch screen infotainment system and Bluetooth in cars like these, fortunately the Intellilink system in the Astra has that too. What the new Astra does also have is the very cool Apple CarPlay system, which allows you to operate your cell phone apps via the infotainment system.

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What makes the new Astra good is that it’s new, completely new. As a result, the car is years ahead of its competitors in terms of technology and safety. This is an exciting car because it has birthed a new generation of smarter and more efficient hatchbacks. Speaking of efficiency, the new Astra uses a 1.0litre three-cylinder engine as its entry level model. This engine produces 77kW/170Nm but provides enough poke for city drivers who will spend most of their time stopping and starting again. Next up is a 1.4 turbocharged engine which produces 110kW/230Nm. We’ve sampled the same engine in the Adam S and Corsa Sport. In the Astra, it makes for a balanced power-train for a car of its size. The daddy for now is a new 1.6 turbocharged engine that makes 147kW/300Nm. This engine is great but we honestly think in the real world, the 1.4 is the one to go for as you get good poke at a good price, whereas the R407 000 price tag for the 1.6 turbo may be a bit rich for some.

Well, is it a keeper?

Driving the new Astra is what would determine if the hype is really true and we’re happy to report that the car really is good behind the wheel. A shaving of weight from the old car has helped  create a balanced car that can easily be driven eagerly by anyone whilst still maintaining a comfortable ride. A 400km trek from East London to Port Elizabeth was enjoyable and at times even exciting. Following a fleet of Astra’s for a long period of time was even a pleasing visual experience since the car has some fine lines on it.

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The question is do you take the new Astra to meet your parents? Well, as mentioned, if your folks wanted you to marry a smart, good looking person with a good family history, then the new Opel Astra would make for a good fit. Now it’s a matter of seeing how the competition will respond to this car, especially since consumers now expect more and more from smaller cars. All the best to the manufacturers, for us as consumers though, it’s a good time to be alive.

 

Model Price
1.0T Essentia R 254 000
1.0T Enjoy R 284 300
1.4T Enjoy MT R 328 000
1.4T Enjoy AT R 338 000
1.4T Sport MT R 354 000
1.4T Sport AT R 374 000
1.6T Sport MT R 387 000
1.6T Sport PLUS MT R 407 000

 

 

New Volvo S60 Polestar coming, even more power!

Smaller engine, more power, better fuel economy.

A few months ago we drove the fiery Volvo S60 Polestar. This car’s throaty 3.0 litre in line six cylinder engine produces 258kW and definitely added excitement to the quite serious S60 range. Only 28 of these cars came to South Africa and were all accounted for, but now there’s a new version on the way…

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Less is more:

The new Polestar makes 270kW from Volvo’s 2.0 litre four cylinder Drive-E engine, to add to that, a whopping 470Nm will propel you from 0-100 in 4.7 seconds. Not bad for a car driven by many accountants. That’s the thing about the Polestar products, they have managed to create a “boy racer” feel to these cars, which can potentially open them up to a younger audience. People want individuality nowadays and the niche Polestar brand is doing Volvo a great service by providing just that.

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Twin Charged monster:

The 2.0 litre Drive-E engine has both a turbocharger and a supercharger installed, so the car will be boosting strong with minimal lag. Power will go to all four wheels through an eight speed automatic gearbox, ensuring great grip and quick shifts. Volvo’s priority is still safety and this can be seen through the setup of the current Polestar, which is very easy to drive in extreme conditions. Needless to say that the upcoming one should be the same. A smaller engine for the new S60 Polestar also means less weight for the new car (24 kg’s to be exact). This also means that the car will be better on fuel with a claimed combined cycle of 7.8 litres/100km’s which is very good for a performance car.

So less is definitely more with the new Volvo S60 Polestar, let’s hope it will be as nice to drive as the car we drove not so long ago. Most likely all 32 units coming to South Africa are also all sold already, if not, jump on one before it’s too late.

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Grown up yet young at heart: Audi’s new Q7 driven.

Slimmer, smarter and better.

Getting older is a funny and weird thing. You start to notice changes in not only how you view the world but also, how you use it. Not only do I not drink beer any more (let’s be completely honest, it doesn’t taste nice and most of us drink it to fit in) but my choice in cars has swayed a bit too. Not only do I look at performance and how the car makes me feel, but I find myself looking at the boot space of a car and asking my wife strange questions like, “do you think a pram will fit in the boot?” and “does it come standard with ISOFIX” I mean ISOFIX, really!?

This was worsened when we had the new Audi Q7 on test. To be honest, when our editor said, “you need to drive this car!” I was a little taken back by just looking at it. The previous Q7 had left me feeling underwhelmed and it was just too big. Sure it could do what the other SUV’s could, but in my opinion it wasn’t as refined as its competitors, and it felt dated too.

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So off I went, leaving my BMW 435i in the basement and into the boxier new Q7. Man, was I surprised. What immediately struck me were the proportions of the car. Yes it’s big, but the car seems to have shrunk from its predecessor. Visually, it’s sleek and understated, it also has those lovely day time running lights due to the optional Matrix headlights that seem to have been taken straight out of the movie Tron. I walked around the new Q7 and felt like Joey from the sitcom Friends as I asked the car “How you doin?” (If you don’t get that joke, you’re too young.)

The surprises kept on coming as I got more acquainted with the car. The premium interior trim, long dashboard, ease of controls and most importantly, Audi’s biggest party trick the Virtual Cockpit all impressed me. Despite all of this I was still sceptical because I still remember how the old girl drove, surely it’s still a tank that’s an absolute mess to park? Wrong again Richard.

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This latest model, with its 3.0 TDI producing 185kW and 600Nm, made me think of the “as smooth as a hot knife through butter” cliché. It glides and gets up to speed very quickly. After a few hours, I didn’t miss my 225kW daily drive at all. There are some back roads on my adventurous route home and I decided this was going to be a good challenge for the new Q7. I dove in aggressively to the first of many sharp corners and the steering feedback as well as the suspension setup surely hides the cars’ weight and it proceeded to devour the bends in a way a 4×4 shouldn’t. It seemed to look back at me and say, “is that all you’ve got?” All of this is due to the lower centre of gravity on the new Q7 compared to the previous car, as well as a weight reduction of 325 kilograms.

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Another test was the “wife test”, since most wife’s have the biggest influence in car choices. So I picked up my wife and found an excuse for us to go out for dinner and I pleasantly found out that I wasn’t the only one to be bitten by the Q7 bug. The feature that she liked the most? The fact that the car does not feel big inside and is therefore not intimidating to drive or to be a passenger in. What didn’t she like? The fact that new Q7 didn’t look as exciting as other SUV’s on the road, something we agreed to disagree on. So the car had so far passed some key tests.

To say I was impressed by the new Q7 is an understatement. My current favourite SUV was the not so new Range Rover Sport TDV6, but this new Q7 I found was more exciting and dynamic. I’m glad that the ugly duckling now has a chance of becoming the “prom queen”, but we can’t give it the crown until we drive the new Volvo XC90, a car that is the current SA Car of the Year. That being said, the new Q7 is better at everything than the car it replaces and yes it can fit a pram in the boot and it does have ISOFIX. The good thing is that despite it making me indulge in my mature desires even more, it still made me feel young. Which is a lot to say for a car intended for families. Starting at R907 000, it’s competitively priced in its segment too.