Month: Apr 2021

The Chinese are coming… No, the Chinese are here!

If you take notice of the cars on our roads, you will see an abundance of models from the likes of Toyota, Volkswagen and Ford. You might also note a large contingent of premium brands – ranging in price and age but highly sought after on the new and used markets for those who have the cash.

So, to sum up our car market up in a simple phrase, it would be that we are fiercely brand loyal and we like nice things.
So how does an outlier make any inroads? Do you remember Renault back in the early 2000’s? Their reputation certainly wasn’t stellar and many flocked to the mainstream competitors in the wake of countless problems experienced with the French brand. 2013 comes around, the new Clio makes its debut with beautiful looks, up-to-date tech and a reasonable price. That was the catalyst for the brand and it’s that same recipe that competitors like Hyundai and Kia subsequently used in order to elevate their acclaim in the eyes of South Africans.

And what about the Chinese? Well, many have tried and failed. Actually, let me rephrase: many have entered our shores with low commitment and no knowledge of our market, which meant their time here was quite fleeting and did them more harm than good.
Then comes Haval/GWM – they’ve been in the country for many years now and since the very beginning, they have reinforced their intentions for our market. They’ve seen steady increases to their sales year-after-year and have garnered quite a positive reception from South African consumers looking for value and affordability. But they needed a game changer – something that will make people say ‘is that really a Haval?’ They needed their rendition of the Clio.


Enter the Jolion and what will be a massive turning point for the brand!

First of all, just look at it! It’s hugely attractive with great proportions and striking features. The distinctive headlamps and DRLs gives the Jolion’s front end quite a unique look, while the large grille and C-shaped taillights means it wouldn’t look out of place in fashionable European cities. No surprise then that it was penned by Phil Simmons – you might know his work from Land Rover and Ford.

The Jolion is intended to slot between the H6 and H2 in Haval’s local line-up, with the intention that the latter will soon be phased out. In terms of size, the Jolion measures at just under 4.5m long, which means its slightly larger than rivals like the Mazda CX-30, Hyundai Venue and Peugeot 2008. In fact, it could fall into a larger category where the likes of the Mazda CX-5 and Toyota RAV4 compete in. The boot can swallow 337l, which again outshines the rivals listed above. Good job Haval!

So, it’s got the looks and the space, but does it drive as well as the others? Let’s start with the engine – you only have one choice which is a 1.5-litre turbo petrol churning out 105kW and 210Nm. On paper this might not seem that impressive, but in the real world application it does a good enough job of lugging around its surprisingly large body. For comparison sake, the Peugeot 2008 produces 96kW and 230Nm from it’s 1.2-litre turbo petrol, while the Hyundai Creta makes use of a 1.4-litre turbo petrol that’s good for 103kW and 242Nm. So in essence, the Jolion is there or thereabouts in terms of power.

Utilizing the Chinese companies latest platform, which they call L.E.M.O.N, the Jolion’s overall ride comfort is vastly superior to any other product experienced from the Asian manufacturer. Most imperfections on the road are soaked up with ease but you will feel vibrations through the steering wheel when tackling more jarring surfaces. The suspension is tuned to a softer setting which makes every day cruising quite enjoyable, although body roll is evident when tackling corners with a bit of vigour. But that’s a compromise we will always accept when it comes to a crossover.

Lesser models make use of a 6-speed manual gearbox while the more expensive derivatives get the luxury of of a 7-speed dual-clutch transmission. We only experienced the latter from launch and initial impression were positive. The gearbox reacted intuitively to throttle inputs and shifted through the gears without much of a fuss. However, the lower-end turbo lag didn’t do the gearbox many favours as it sometimes struggled to find the right gear, particularly when faced with an uphill or an overtaking situation.

In terms of safety features, there is adaptive cruise control with autonomous emergency braking, lane departure warning with lane keeping assist and a lane centre assist system that will steer the vehicle for a few seconds without driver input. While these are fantastic features, they are slightly intrusive – particularly the lane keep assist which became rather annoying as it constantly tried to pull you back in line. If you have the know-how and time, these systems can be turned off.

Although there have been no crash-tests conducted, consumers can feel at ease knowing that the Jolion is fitted with dual front airbags, ABS brakes, electronic stability control, driver fatigue detection and a tyre pressure monitoring system. While the higher spec models gain curtain airbags.

The real party piece of the Jolion is the interior which is extremely well-equipped and furnished in tasteful materials of a sturdy build quality. A 12.3” touchscreen takes pride and place where you can control most operations of the car. The operating system is easy to navigate and is responsive to your touches. There is a smaller touch-sensitive panel below the screen that provides shortcuts for certain functions. While the placement is convenient, I did find that I often rested my arm on the panel whilst navigating through the touchscreen, meaning that I would sometimes mistakenly press one of the buttons. A small bugbear but one I’m sure Jolion owners will get used to.

Other notable features on our range-topping Super Luxury model are a 360° parking camera, high beam assist, heads up display, electrically-adjustable leather seats, 18” alloys, a panoramic sunroof, LED headlights and multiple driving modes. The list of standard specification is plentiful even on the entry-level models. These are features one can expect to pay quite handsomely for in premium brands and here you are getting it in a Haval!

The range kicks off with the 1.5T City manual which retails for R299 900 and goes up to just under R400 000 for our Super Luxury model. These prices aren’t just good, they’re extremely good! At the launch event, I cheekily asked the National Sales Manager whether they were even making a profit on these cars, to which he just laughed. I don’t understand how Haval have managed to include so much tech and amenities into a car that is priced that low?

And that’s why I believe that the Jolion will be a game changer for the brand – it ticks every single box a consumer is looking for at a very competitive price with features that many brands simply cannot compete with. If you look back to the competitors we mentioned earlier, most of them start at the R400 000 mark, so in fact the Jolion’s true rivals are a segment below with the likes of the Suzuki Vitara Brezza and Hyundai Venue.

I have been to China twice with Haval, and having seen their factories, R&D centres and design studios, I can unequivocally state that this is a brand to watch out for. With even more new products on the way and the hopes to expand their dealership network to over 100 dealers by the end of the year, Haval is truly flying high!

You think you’re a good driver? Think again…

The reality of working as a motoring journalist means that our bums are in the seats of multiple cars quite often. Everything from the everyday runabouts to high performance exotica. Most of us also have a number laps under our belt at many local circuits when a manufacturer had hosted us for a product launch.

And throughout the years, I’ve often thought of myself as a good driver as I’ve at least managed to maintain a clean record – apart from the infrequent and shamable rim scuff. However, I’ve never had a certificate with my name saying I’ve completed an advanced drivers course – which you can submit to your insurance and you should receive a discount. Tell them I sent you!

So when Volkswagen South Africa offered us a chance to complete the high performance driving course, I simply could not refuse!
Volkswagen Advanced Driving is located at Zwartkops Raceway in Gauteng. They recently moved into new facilities on the track which boasts multiple stories, a shop and of course some serious eye-candy!
What you’re looking at is the Golf 8 GTI GTC which was purpose built to compete in the Global Touring Car Championship. In fact, it was the first-ever race car built on the 8th generation Golf. Figures of 370kW and 600Nm are potent! We have racing in our blood!

Volkswagen Advanced Driving offers many courses, from an anti-hijacking course to an off-roading course with the mighty Amarok. Although we are here to experience the high performance variety, the overall message is of course safety. The purpose of this is to not make you a faster driver, but rather a more skilled and confident driver that understands the systems fitted to their cars.

The morning began with a theory lesson as a precursor to our time on the skidpan. Here you are taught everything from grip, road conditions and how each system fitted to the car actually works. It was very insightful and imperative to understanding and controlling the car on the skidpan.

Volkswagen makes use of their Golf GTI and R models for the high performance course. Figures of 169kW and 350Nm for the front-wheel drive GTI and 228kW and 400Nm from the all-wheel drive R model are more than enough to get your adrenaline sky high around the skidpan. We were in the Golf R for the entire duration of the day.

Soon enough, we made our way down to the skipan where our main focus was understanding the differences between braking using the anti-lock braking system (ABS) and then trying not to engage the system through hard braking. The point of this is to teach you how to articulate the brake pedal to stop in the same distance as if you had used ABS – meaning you are more in control in scenarios where you need to suddenly come to a stop.

The next important lesson involved teaching us how the car will react to sudden and sharp turns on the steering wheel. The goal here is to do the manoeuvre as smoothly and gently as possible while trying to bring the car back in line after the turn.
We reached a speed of 70km/h before we were instructed to either sharply turn left or right. Our first run involved a scenario where you would violently tug at the wheel and consequently the car would get extremely out of shape. Nearing almost a 90° rotation before the traction control and other systems kicked in to bring it back in line. Clearly not the right way to do it.

The second run we were instructed to do the same turn, at the same speed, but to turn the steering wheel with similar urgency but smoother and with a deft touch. The differences were remarkable! The Golf R has the ability to send power and brake any wheel while losing traction to stabilize the car. This meant that we always remained composed and I was able to safely, and less dramatically, bring myself back in line. In traffic situations, that’s the difference between life and death.

So, now that we know how to correctly steer and stop a car, our instructors felt brave enough to let us out onto the track.
Zwartkops Raceway boasts 8 corners and total circuit length of 2.4km. We were given a briefing about each corner of the track and the importance of your entry and exit line and how that will effect your braking and speed.

With all that out of the way, we were given 4 sessions consisting of 2 laps each. While the instructor does have to be in the car with you, masks are worn all the times and strict Covid-19 protocols are followed.

This was a true test of what we had learnt on the skidpan as now you don’t have the safety of water and open space. Here you’re carrying much greater speed on a track with other drivers. In other words, this was the most exhilarating part of it all!
You need to be aware of your speed, the correct racing line, braking and accelerating points. With the instructor by your side, your confidence begins to soar as he guides you around the circuit, making sure you hit every apex and you are safe at all times. At some point, I felt I could challenge the greats like Mike Briggs and Tschops Sipuka! Yeah, not really but my aspirations to become motorsport super star died many moons ago.

After a full day on the track, myself and many others who attended the course left with massive smiles on our faces and hopefully we will be safer and more confident drivers on the roads too. Pricing is very reasonable with the GTI course costing R4150 and if you want to the more powerful R model, it’s just R500 more at R4550. Seeming you get a full lunch, an enthusiastic and highly skilled advanced driving team and memories that will last a life time, it’s well worth it!
Head over to www.vw.co.za/en/volkswagen-experience/driving-academy.html to find out more.

Honda’s WR-V wants a piece of the compact crossover cake

Honda recently launched their WR-V model, which wants a piece of the most competitive segment in South Africa, but is their newcomer the right car for the job? We recently got to experience the liveability of the affordable 1.2 Comfort model. 

The Tokyo-based automaker is no stranger to SUVs, with a broad range on offer from the modest BR-V to the more luxurious CR-V models – this was Honda’s induction into the world of sport utility vehicles in 1995. Suffice to say, they have an impressive history and current portfolio with extensive experience in the field, more than most of their competitors. Dinesh Govender, Honda GM states that the WR-V is positioned below the HR-V and alongside the BR-V, making it their most affordable five-seater compact SUV to date. Partly thanks to components and underpinnings being shared with the popular Jazz model.

That being said, Honda has followed the typical recipe of creating a compact SUV by taking one of their most popular, compact, FWD commuter vehicles and putting it through a stringent routine to get it buff enough to take on market leading bullies such as the dominant Ford Figo Freestyle or Renault Sandero Stepway. This, on paper at least, is a good thing – the Jazz (of which it is based) is a nippy little runabout that is comfortable and usable with a smooth drivetrain and an excess of spaciousness. 

On the outside, the silhouette remains unmistakably that of the current Jazz model with a similarly strong shoulder line feeding into the rear taillights while the rear-end exudes a similar busy-looking Asian-esque aesthetic. The extremities of the car are moulded in durable looking black plastic trim and the bottom of the front and rear bumpers feature butch looking silver diffusers. Honda is confident with the 173mm of ground clearance and short overhangs on the model since scratches and rashes on the low lying silver painted features would be visibly prominent. The front grille makes use of horizontal slats that allude to a widened track, rendering the perception of it being a capable SUV while the 16” alloy wheels finish the four corners of the car.

While this compact WR-V’s styling may not have been designed to win any beauty pageants, what it does succeed with is interior spaciousness and undeniable Honda reliability. Again, the interior arrangement is almost identical to that of its shorter Jazz sibling, with the layout of all dials, center console and vents positioned similarly. Both driver and passengers are afforded with ample leg, head and shoulder room which makes this a great option for longer journeys. 

Additionally, the ‘Magic Seat’ system makes light work of configuring the rear seats to swallow any parcels, bicycles or obscurely shaped luggage with an admirable 881 litres of cargo space once the seats have been folded into their most compact position. In a conventional configuration with 5 passengers, the boot can hold an equally suitable 363 litres, which is impressive on a sub 4-meter vehicle which has ample second row seat legroom. 

The driver dials consist of an analog rev counter and speedometer as well as a digital display with other crucial information. The Comfort model is equipped with a 5” touchscreen which has access to radio, bluetooth and the reverse camera which is quite un-useful due to its minute size. However, for what the small reverse screen fell short in displaying, the PDC equipped on the car assisted comfortably with. We would opt for the more suitably sized 7” infotainment screen found on the Elegance model. 

The WR-V range comprises two derivatives, Comfort and Elegance, both only employ the same punchy and fuel efficient 1.2-litre powertrain and five-speed manual transmission that is proven in countless other models. The ratings of 66kW and 110Nm did not struggle to move the 1081kg mass nimbly forward but the lack of a 6th gear for highway speeds impeded its comfort and efficiency at the maximum national speed limit. A combined fuel consumption figure of just 6.4 l/100km is claimed however we achieved 6.8 l/100km with our journeys being dominated by urban routes. As in the Jazz, the drive is comfortable but does not reward more exciting driving habits. 

Honda employs their tested Advanced Compatibility Engineering (ACE) body structure which allows for the even distribution and redirection of collision energy away from the passenger compartment in the scenario of an accident. Additionally, six SRS airbags, ISOFIX child seat anchors as well as an ABS with EBD are included as standard safety equipment across both models. 

In terms of pricing, the 1.2 Comfort model as we tested costs R 289 900 and the 1.2 Elegance coming in at R 327 300. This is unfortunately on the pricey end of the spectrum in comparison to the Ford Figo Freestyle, which tops out at R268 500 while the Renault Sandero Stepway maxes out less than both with a retail sticker of R251 900. Both models also come with Honda’s five-year/200 000km warranty, backed by a four-year/60 000km service plan.

A portion of the success of this SUV hangs on the reputation Honda have established in their extensive people carrier range. The WR-V garners inspiration from two of its best-selling siblings, the Jazz and BR-V yet the cheaper Jazz (which also includes a derivative equipped with a CVT) may still seem like the most logical option if you are looking for a reliable 5-seater that will comfortably get you from A to B.

Celebrating the original Pony car with Shelby South Africa on World Mustang Day

April 17th is the anniversary date that many historians would associate with the Bay of Pigs fiasco, which saw a failed coup of Castro’s Communist Cuban government by the USA. To the average auto enthusiast it is perhaps the day to celebrate the birth-date of former Formula 1 driver and flame-jumper Romain Grosjean. However, for the American muscle car fanatic or V8 obsessed aficionado, the day is reserved for the celebration of the first and most iconic Pony car: the Ford Mustang. For those of you enjoying the history lesson, read on. 

It is the early 1960’s and the world is experiencing an economic boom as a result of the consumerist ready baby-boomers (before they lost the plot and ruined it all). There is a palpable excitement with the space race between the two global superpowers, bolstering the world’s obsession with speed. Events like Formula 1, Le Mans and the Indy 500 are being broadcast via radio around the world and are often the buzz of motoring news. Headlines are being made with European automakers who are continually ousting their competitors for production car speed records. 

These were the conditions that made for a perfect storm, one that the Ford Mustang was born out of. There was an untapped market that appealed to the lust of affordable speed that the working class baby boomer was beginning to express interest towards. It consisted of four seats, two doors and was draped in the sheet metal bodylines synonymous with European sports cars of the time. Beautifully proportioned with a long hood and short rear overhang – the age old recipe for an attractive, sporty looking car. Ford General Manager at the time, Lee Iacocca wanted to be the first to market with this concept, one that if it succeeded would in essence create its own segment of vehicle – Ford’s car of the future.  

Thus on the 17th of April in 1964 at the World Fair hosted in New York, Henry Ford II himself unveiled the car for the first time. With a name which itself was embroiled in native history, shared by the free roaming wild horses of the Western United States and the American P-51 single seat fighter which liberated the Axis-occupied nations during World War 2. It was destined to be a true American Icon. 

The unveiling was coincidentally planned with the showroom debut of the new Pony car, which in its first day alone sold 22 000 units and eventually succeeded in selling 400 000 in its inaugural year. It earned instant fame and instilled itself in the hearts and minds of Americans while the opposition of Chevrolet, Dodge, AMC and Plymouth were left in awe, scrambling in disarray to get a piece of that cake. The Mustang was available in four engine configurations, the most powerful option equipped a 289ci (4.7 litre) V8 producing a respectable 202kW. It was the first time a sleek coupe was made affordable to the common man, weighing less than 2500lbs for under $2500.

In the span of just under 60 years, the Mustang has become one of the most identifiable American products to the rest of the world, arguably more American than consumerism itself. It has generated a strong rapport with popular culture and featured in dozens of movies and TV shows since that date in 1964. It made its big screen debut the same year of its release courtesy of James Bond’s 1964 Goldfinger while the seductive Eleanor Fastback from the 2000 automotive cinematic masterpiece, Gone in 60 Seconds was probably the most iconic to us younger generations (no I did not forget about Steve McQueen’s Bullitt, boomer).  

So, where does World Mustang Day originate from you may be asking? Shelby South Africa were gracious hosts in educating some of us less knowledgeable petrolheads on the history of the event which they have spearheaded locally. Upon the 50th anniversary of its unveiling, the golden jubilee in 2014 saw owners and fans celebrating the icon by arranging events which congregated owners and aficionados to honour the icon. It has subsequently garnered global attraction and morphed into a worldwide phenomenon which is now celebrated annually. It is a day where (mostly) V8 goodness reigns supreme with the affordable sports car rightfully being the focal point.

Among the impressive collection at the Shelby showroom were jaw dropping continuation models including the Shelby Daytona Coupe, Shelby Cobra and a GT40 – all equipped with monstrous V8’s. In polarizing fashion from its oil burning and inefficient precursors, the all new electric derivative in the Mustang stable hopes to be at the forefront of a new segment, it is Ford’s modern day interpretation of the car of the future just as the original was in 1964. Regardless, owners of the original Pony car remain stalwarts for the true American Icon. World Mustang Day is one of the celebratory events that makes me love being a car-guy, not only for experiencing the icons in the metal but for also embracing the best the community has to offer.

It’s an AMG Onslaught!

Mercedes-Benz South Africa debuted their new range of AMG SUVs and we attended the local launch to bring you more.

By now I’m sure you’ve all heard the news that Mercedes-AMG will introduce a 2.0-litre hybrid engine into their historically bonkers, V8-powered C 63. And while many may have been left dumbstruck at the death of an engine that has become so endearing to the brand, the times are indeed changing. While we’re at it, here’s another healthy dose of a reality check: that engine will probably at some stage filter into the remaining AMG cars and before you know it, goodbye V8.   

But the purpose of this review is not to instill a morbid outlook on the future, but a gentle reminder that if you want an AMG with a V8 engine then best you snap one up quickly.

Which neatly brings me onto the range of cars that we had at our disposal last week when Mercedes-Benz South Africa hosted us at their Advanced Drivers Academy at Zwartkops Raceway.

Mercedes-AMG GLS 63 4MATIC+

First things first, this is a very, very large car. Just over 1.8m tall and under 2.0m wide. In comparison to the recently launched EQS with its near-perfect drag coefficient, the GLS is the aerodynamic equivalent of a 5-bedroom house. So, it’s even more surprising to note that the GLS can sprint to 100km/h in just a mere 4.2 seconds! There’s a remarkable 450kW and 850Nm on tap from its 4.0-litre V8 with a soundtrack that is distinctively AMG. It’s wonderful!

Our route involved a mixture of mountain passes, highway cruising and a final bashing around Gerotek testing facility near Hartebeesport. No matter the road, speed or driving mode you’re in, the GLS 63 remains impeccably comfortable and effortlessly quick. Air suspension with special spring/damper set-up and adaptive adjustable damping all contribute towards a very special drive.

Around the high-speed bowl at Gerotek, I was able to push the car to a maximum speed of 220km/h before I realized I am not Max Verstappen and my talent will eventually run out. Even then, the GLS 63 never felt spooked by the conditions and behaved exactly as you would expect from any other AMG.

It’s a fantastic balance of luxury and performance but that does come with a hefty price tag. You’ll need to part with just short of R3.2 million to get into one and the options list is exorbitant. Oh, and if you want the Monoblock rims as pictured above, you will have to part with an additional R80 000. Although it received a mixed reaction from local media, I think it will work well with Mercedes-Benz’s clientele.

Mercedes-AMG GLE 63 S SUV/Coupe

The fourth generation GLE made its debut back in 2019 and remained one of Mercedes best-selling models. Although, it is interesting to note that global sales figures from Q1 of 2021 reported that BMW outsold Mercedes-Benz by 45 000 units, with the former reaching 636 606, while the latter came in with 590 999 units.

So then, apples for apples, is the GLE 63 short in terms of power to chief rival BMW and their X5 M Competition? Well, no. The BMW produces 460kW and 750Nm while the Mercedes, fitted with the same engine as the GLS 63, produces a mighty 450kW and 850Nm, plus an additional 16kW and 250Nm provided through electrical assistance that can be used temporarily.

The 9-speed transmission, which is also fitted to the GLS, made easy work of rapid shifts during our time at Gerotek where we were able test the cars acceleration. 100km/h comes up in 3.8 seconds, so it surprisingly made easy work of the heftier GLS in the drag races.

In terms of pricing, the standard GLE 63 S retails for R2 885 000 while the coupe variant is slightly more expensive at R2 948 000. BMW retails their X5 M Competition for slightly cheaper, give or take R50 000, which when you’re spending this amount of money is irrelevant. So, which one should you pick? Well, that’s entirely up to you but if we’re talking just Mercedes, the Coupe is certainly the head turner out of the lot and that’s where I would spend my hypothetical money.

Mercedes-AMG GLE 53 S SUV/Coupe

Not all models that we tested at the local launch were fitted with the 4.0-litre V8. The 53 models are fitted with a 3.0-litre six-cylinder in-line engine that again is aided by electrical assistance. Power figures are healthy at 320kW and 520Nm plus an additional 16kW and 250Nm is available from the batteries and alternators fitted.

For the average man or woman, those figures are more than sufficient and it’s only when you pit the 53 variants against the more powerful 63’s, do you really notice a power deficit. But in saying that, a 0-100km/h sprint time of 5.3 seconds is still commendable and it’s worth noting that in all instances that I was in or against a 53 model, it was the quickest off the line, until the inevitable power advantage of the V8 comes into play.

The GLE 53 manages to strike a comfortable balance of everyday liveability with exhilarating performance. Pricing for the standard GLE 53 is R1 837 000 while the Coupe will set you back R1 925 000. So, that’s roughly a R1 million saving over the more powerful 63 model but you are not being short-changed. Regardless of the model, the 53 variants are often the sweet spot in the range and in my opinion, it’s the same case here.

You can’t reasonably use all that power, all the time. In fact, there are very few instances where you would need the additional power of the V8. And dare I say it, Mercedes-Benz currently makes a better 3.0 inline six cylinder than BMW. I’ll probably be shot at dawn for uttering this but it is all in the name of good journalism!

The updated Suzuki Swift is all about the right feels!

Suzuki recently hosted automotive press for the national launch of their mid-cycle refresh of their best-selling Swift model. We spent the morning venturing around in the new compact hatchback along some of Gauteng’s country roads to see if this car had #alltherightfeels. 

The Swift has been one of Suzuki’s best selling vehicles since its inception 17 years ago and retains this title with their third generation iteration. After 3 years on the market, with sales commencing in 2018, the current model has undergone an extremely minor face-lift with subtle changes on the exterior and interior. What hasn’t changed is that it remains the same frugal, compact and fun value-for-money car that it was when the range was originally conceived in 2004. 

While this update may be regarded as completely minor and even unidentifiable to certain consumers, it includes some aesthetic updates which should entice the young-at-heart. This comes primarily in the form of updated exterior colours, including two-tone options on the upper-range GLX models and more bling up front with a chrome strip that divides the number plate and Suzuki logo. New 15” alloy wheels sit on all four corners of the car although the more affordable base models still feature steelies with hubcaps.

The other important updates that are included into the range are even less visible to the eye but enhance the safety and overall driving experience. The inclusion of rear parking sensors and electronic stability control (ESC) across the range add to the growing list of standard features on this affordable competitor. A useful reverse camera is also included on the GLX models while hill-start assist is standard on the automated manual transmission derivatives. 

The inner workings of the Swift remain completely unchanged, with the surprisingly punchy 1.2-litre engine from before still delivering 61kW and 113Nm. While this number is rather low by today’s standards for naturally aspirated motors, its feather weight of 950kg justifies the low displacement and figures. What this affords the driver with is a combined fuel consumption as low as 4.9l/l00km which remains one of its primary selling points (although we achieved just higher than that on our short test). 

Not once did the car feel lacking in power, nipping from robot to robot with ease yet still comfortable enough to drop a gear and overtake on highways and single lane roads. The only gripe came with the lack of a 6th gear in the manual derivatives for highway driving. While the gearbox is tremendously smooth and tactile to change in both sedate and enthusiastic driving scenarios, sitting above 3000rpm at the national highway speed limit could have been better optimized. 

Over its 17 year lifespan, the Swift has retained its iconic silhouette and compact stature. The third generation has evolved design features to create a more cohesive, sleek bodywork which includes concealed rear door handles and more compact wing mirrors. While the steep, angular rake of the A-pillar makes it easily distinguishable to the dozens of other competitors in the segment, you do get mild wind noises emanating from the feature which exacerbates exponentially the faster you begin to go. 

The inside of the Swift retains the same spacious cabin for passengers and the driver from before. While boot capacity is a great improvement from its precursor, its meagre 265-litres of volume fall short and are nowhere near class leading. While some questionable Maruti made build quality issues can be subtly found, the cabin remains a pleasant place to be. The 7” infotainment system forms the focal point of the central fascia while lower end derivatives are less equipped with modern tech. Android Auto or Apple CarPlay connectivity are easily accessible via the infotainment system and enable the latest music or podcasts to be blasted through the sound system of the GLX with relative ease. A reverse camera is neatly concealed within the back bumper but has limited height visibility because of this. 

Prior to driving, I was worried that the naturally aspirated motor would be grossly underpowered. While other markets have the more powerful 1.0 litre turbo motor on sale, Suzuki SA have justified their decision for the not bringing the more powerful variant in for its added expense which would place it just just below the R336 000 Swift Sport, undercutting the compact hot hatch and ultimately removing the affordability factor of the car. Speaking of which, the range of GA, GL and GLX models span between an affordable R180 900 for the GA all the way through to R234 900 for the well equipped GLX AMT with the standard inflationary increases from its precursor. All prices include a 5-year/100 000 km promotional warranty and 2-year/30 000 km service plan.

After a stellar year of sales in 2020 and a continually growing dealership network, it is well expected that models like the Swift and Toyota joint venture Vitara Brezza will continue to usher in this upward trend and be at the forefront of sales in 2021. 

The updated Swift in conclusion remains exactly what you would expect of it: a frugal, nippy and affordable city slicker. With the competitive budget hatchback category, few others have the impressive track record of  7.5 million global sales and counting (since inception) and it is easy to see why! 

Stacking up the new Kia Rio against its older sibling

Is the updated fourth generation Kia Rio an upgrade from its predecessor? We recently got to spend some time with the new Rio where we were able to stack it up to its preceding sibling that arguably catalysed a rebirth for the brand not only in Mzansi but globally too. 

Although Kia, the largest manufacturer and exporter of vehicles from South Korea, has been in existence since 1944, our local market only got to experience what the Seoul based marque had to offer in 1997. The first generation Rio was introduced two years later, just before the turn of the century but was ridiculed for its poor build quality and driving experience. In more recent generations, the Rio nameplate has evolved and improved over the years and has turned out to be a strong local contender that has helped carry the brand, specifically in the past decade. 

The third generation, according to sales numbers, was the most successful of its kind averaging just under half a million units per annum since its inception in 2011. It is one of the cars that led to the upward sales trend of the brand and elevated the perception to consumers with improvements in styling, safety and comfort. The most recent fourth generation, originally released in 2017 has not fared as well, with annual sales numbers just above half that of its predecessor. Even with the mid-cycle refresh from 2020, the restyled offering can’t seem to generate the same momentum from before. So why exactly is that? 

The third generation set the benchmark high. It was an affordable, quirky, funky and young-at-heart subcompact car that was easily accessible and comfortable to drive. Perfectly suited and priced for yuppies or students. Its stylish exterior and comfortable cabin could be paired with a selection of petrol and diesel engines with an assortment of trims according to budget, although the local market was only afforded with petrol motors. 

Our time was spent with the more modestly priced but less kitted-out 1.4 LS variant mated to a conventional automatic 6-speed gearbox. From the outside, the updated range has undergone extremely minor changes with a reprofiled bumper and updated grille. It is still distinguishable and easily recognisable as a Rio from the modish design legacy from the preceding third generation shape. This is a good thing, it is one of the better looking contenders in the B-hatchback segment but the styling has the same issue as the rest of the car. Kia seems to have rested on their laurels with no significant progress from its predecessor.

Naturally, the new generation includes well integrated technology and creature comforts that were not obtainable a decade ago. The facelifted derivatives all feature a suitably sized 8-inch touchscreen infotainment system which has Apple CarPlay and Android Auto capability. Standard USB charging ports can be found in the front and the back of the cabin, while bluetooth connectivity and streaming is available through the infotainment display which reverberates via 4 speakers and 2 tweeters around the cabin, even on the base models. 

In comparison to its predecessor, the quality and solid interior materials make for a welcome improvement while retaining its durable nature for years to come. That being said, there is an abundance of hard plastic on the LS model, but subtle leather details are standard on the more expensive derivatives. The dashboard and drivers dials are sensibly laid out and intuitive to use, but seem to be a simplified evolution to its predecessor’s interior which I prefer, particularly the scoped speedometer and rev-counter. Despite some vacant buttons reserved for higher end units, the interior was still a comfortable place to spend time in, with both drivers and passengers furnished with upscale spaciousness and amenities. 

While the new platform that the fourth generation Rio is built upon is sharper and more rigid in handling, it comes at the compromise of additional weight coming in at as much as 50 kilograms. This does not sound like very much but the 1.4-litre motor with a maximum power output of 73kW (6kW less than before) can often feel lethargic when paired with the limited air pressure at Johannesburg altitude making it feel less spritely than its predecessor. The conventional 6-speed automatic gearbox trundles around comfortably with the occasional jerk and does the job without much complaint. I would personally recommend the manual option with the same number of cogs which makes the motor feel alive and controlled. The brakes are sharp and direct with immediate response from pedal input like before but the lower end derivatives have interestingly enough done away with rear discs from the previous generation and now incorporates drum brakes.

The fuel economy on the Rio for combined driving is rated just below 8l/100km while we saw just over that amount from our travels. A number which is simply too high if it is competing with the smaller displaced turbocharged variants from Ford and VW. The salvation of this funky looking Kia offering is its price tag, with our model priced at just under R310 000 with a fair amount of standard equipment, it is competitively positioned in one of the more cut throat segments in our local car market. Regardless of price, I would opt for a derivative with the projection headlights which provide more nighttime visibility than the outdated halogen reflector counterparts. 

Having driven the previous generation Rio while I was still a student and epitomising the typical young driver that it was intended for, I had an excitement of experiencing what the latest offering was all about. While it feels much the same as before, inadvertently supplementing my nostalgia, I can’t help but feel that it was not enough of a step forward living in the grand shadow cast by its older sibling. However, this is still a great car, one that is comfortable and familiar for just about anyone of your younger family members or immediate friends to become acquainted with and start blasting their music through. 

The Performance Car Buyer’s Guide

Audi enters the arena with a whopping 15 new models! We see how they stack up

You’re thinking to yourself times are tough, right? Here we are giving you a buyer’s guide on vehicles that cost the equivalent of houses in upmarket areas. You must be thinking we’ve gone nuts? Well, no. In reality, it’s you that are the ones that have gone nuts!

South Africans have quite a sizeable appetite for performance cars – we often account for large percentages of manufacturers performance brands global sales. We have every M derivative from BMW; the same from Mercedes-AMG and now of course Audi Sport has joined the party.

They are a bit late to the party, to be quite honest. Some models mentioned below have been on sale in global markets for a few years now while others will only arrive later on in the year. Audi South Africa says homologation issues and a supply chain backlog caused by Covid-19 was the reason for this delay.

We are a unique market and other countries around the world don’t have the pleasure of experiencing the breadth of performance cars that we do. Imagine being a petrolhead in Sweden? Shame! So, let’s ignore their tardy entrance and focus on what’s on offer:

Audi RS Q3/ RS Q3 Sportback

Audi RS Q3, Static photo, Color: Tango red Audi RS Q3 Sportback, Static photo, Color: Kyalami green

The most affordable offering here and likely to be a top seller for the Ingolstadt brand. The RS Q3 comes in two body styles, including a Sportback version if less head room is your thing. Powered by the familiar 2.5-litre 5-cylinder engine producing 294kW and 480Nm with 100km/h sprint time of 4.5 seconds, the new RS Q3 should prove to be ferocious machine.

So, where else can you park your money? Well, Mercedes-AMG are yet to offer the GLA 45 to our market, so like-for-like competitors will be the BMW X2 M35i which serves up 225kW and 450Nm. Although it is down on power, it is also a bit cheaper retailing for R929 400 as opposed to the Audi’s base price R1 094, 000. Add another R30 000 to get into the Sportback version.

On the opposite end of the scale, you have the Porsche Macan S, which comes with a lovely V6 engine producing 260kW and 480Nm. But it does start at R1 250 000 so pound-for-pound, it seems the RS Q3 represents good value for money.

Audi TT RS Coupe and Roadster

Static photo Colour: Turbo blue

If you want all of that fire-breathing goodness of the RS Q3 but in a hunkered-down, coupe body style, then TT RS is the one for you!

Utilizing the exact same engine as the RS Q3, the TT RS can sprint to 100km/h in just a mere 3.7 seconds! It’s often referred to as the ‘Supercar Slayer’ and you can see why! Although, the convertible will achieve that same time 0.2 seconds slower.

The TT RS retails for roughly the same amount of money as the RS Q3 and produces identical power and torque figures. It is worth noting that the TT RS makes use of 7-speed-tiptronic gearbox while the RS Q3 gets a S tronic with the same number of gears.

This is a tough segment to be competing in. Enemy number one is the BMW M2 Competition which has a retail sticker of R1 139 464 and produces a whopping 302kW and 550Nm (8kw/70Nm more) and is rear wheel driven. Because of that, it can’t beat the Audi with its all-wheel drive system to 100km/h, coming in 0.5 seconds slower at 4.2 seconds.

You can also consider a Mercedes-AMG A45 S, which retails for R1 156 840 and has a mightily impressive 2.0-litre turbocharged engine. Figures are eye-watering at 310kW and 500Nm for such a small powerplant. But if you’re looking for the fastest sprinter, then TT RS is still quicker with the Mercedes getting across the line in a close 3.9 seconds.

Audi RS 5 Coupe and Sportback

Static photo; Colour: Glacier white

While we’re on the topic of coupes, the updated RS 5 Coupe and Sportback have finally touched down. These models are just mid-life refreshes (likewise for the TT RS), so don’t expect significant changes. You still have the familiar 3.0-litre V6 churning out 331kW and 600Nm with a highly respectable 100km/h dash in 3.9 seconds. Minor exterior changes have made the RS 5 more aggressive while you can also expect some tech updates on the inside.

The Coupe retails for just a smidge under the R1.4 million mark, while the 4-door Sportback is just slightly over that amount.

Audi’s chief rivals from Munich and Stuttgart come in at almost R2 million for their M3/M4 and C63 respectively, so they’re out of the equation. A left-field contender could be the Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio which comes with almost the same sticker price but 44kw more power at 375kW and 600Nm. It is a tough sell considering their embattled reputation in the country but take nothing away from an outstanding product!

For another left-field contender, we can look to Porsche again and this time their 718 Cayman GTS 4.0. It is almost R100k more expensive and can’t compete in the power stakes, only offering up 294kW and 430Nm, but it does offer a completely different driving experience and you’re sure to get the same, if not more thrills than the Audi.

Audi RS 4 Avant

Static photo Color: Tango red

Let’s first start with thanking Audi for continuing to bring in these beloved but neglected cars. The steer towards SUVs will always mean that station wagons will remain a niche segment, but one that Audi has full control over.

The RS 4 Avant carries over the same engine as the RS 5, so power and torque figures are identical. The additional weight at the rear means that the sprint time has been cut down by 0.2 seconds to 4.1 seconds.

Again, this is just an updated model so there isn’t much to talk about in terms major changes – just small updates that bring it into line with other Audi models.

So then, where else should you park your R1.3 million? Well, nowhere else really because there are no natural competitors in our market for the RS 4 Avant. So instead, we’ll just amiably ask that you go out and buy one so Audi can make a business case to continue bringing them in. Please!

Audi RS 6 Avant

Static photo, Color: daytonagray matt

This is the big daddy station wagon, and rearing its head over the R2 million mark, it certainly should be. The RS 6 Avant ditches the V6 of its lesser sibling and upgrades to a mighty V8. 441kW and 800Nm is nothing to sneeze at, in fact this all-encompassing family runabout can get you to 100km/h in just 3.6 seconds. While 22-inch rims and the optional carbon ceramic brakes should do a good job in making sure you can stop equally as fast.

There is only one natural competitor to the RS 6 Avant and that’s the Porsche Panamera Sport Turismo. However, in order to get into the V8 model, you’ll have to opt for the GTS which retails for a hefty R2.4 million and there’s quite a power shortage with 353kW and 620Nm on top. To get near the RS 6 Avant’s power figures, you’ll have to opt Turbo S model which is almost another R1 million on top of the price of the GTS.

Audi seems to win another round of value for money!

Audi RS 7 Sportback

Static photo, Colour: tango red

If you’re not a fan of station wagons, which it seems many of you sadly aren’t, then the swoopier, coupe-like RS 7 Sportback is for you. Identical to the RS 6 Avant in most aspects apart from looks but it will cost you an extra R100k, with a sum total of R2.17 million.

Regardless whether you prefer a sedan or station wagon, both are jaw-droppingly beautiful. This is probably Audi’s best effort yet in the styling department, and that’s a big statement seeming they’ve produced a few lookers in their current stable.

Buyers in this segment do have a few choices, you can look at Porsche again with their Panamera, but I think the RS 7’s biggest rival will be the BMW 8 Series Gran Coupe. At almost the exact same starting price, the M850i is down on power in comparison to the Audi, with 390kW and 750Nm in comparison to 441kW and 800Nm. The more closely matched competitor in terms of power is the M8 Competition but that sits at a healthy R3.4 million. Ouch!

It’s the same story over at Mercedes-Benz. If you want a V8 model, then you have to opt for AMG GT63 S 4 Door, which has the same price as the BMW M8 Competition but it does produce a lot more power at 470kW and 900Nm. More in line with the RS 7’s pricing is the AMG GT53 4 Door, which utilizes a 3.0-litre 6-cylinder with electric support. Figures of 336kW and 520Nm are well short of the Audi.

In essence, V8 power for V6 money – good job, Audi!

Audi S8

This is Audi’s answer to the perennial Mercedes-Benz S-Class and BMW 7 Series. The A8 does live in the shadows of the other two but Audi hopes to change that with a suite of systems that should rival the best. Dynamic all-wheel steering, predictive active suspension management and a Quattro system with a sport differential should mean the new S8 will be enjoyable and luxurious. This is another Audi packing V8 power and 420kW and 800Nm should be more than handy!

We mentioned the two chief rivals earlier to the S8 so let’s start with the one everybody seems to love. Mercedes-Benz have yet to officially launch the new S-Class that debuted internationally last year, but we do have some figures. For the time being, we will be getting the S400d and S500 with both models falling between the R2.4 million mark. You only have the choice of a 3.0-litre 6-cylinder producing 336kW and 520Nm for S500 and 243kW and 700Nm for the oil-burner.

BMW has a variety of options in their 7 Series range, from a 3.0-litre 6-cylinder all the way up to a 6.6-litre V12! Best snag one of those before they’re all gone!

The 750Li xDrive would be the Audi’s closest competitor in terms of price with a 4.4-litre V8 and costing R2.5 million, but there is a significant power difference (I sound like I’m stuck on repeat) with outputs of 390kW and 750Nm.

Audi SQ 7

Static photo, Colour:Daytona grey

The Q7 went under the knife last year which saw mild styling tweaks on the exterior and some welcomed goodies on the inside. The Q7 range is only offered in diesel derivatives and the SQ7 is no different – but now with Audi’s most powerful diesel engine! 310kW and 900Nm would’ve done the trick in freeing the Ever Given ship blocking the Suez Canal! And you would’ve had room to fit any stranded sailors with all 7 seats in place.

When it comes to powerful diesel powertrains, Audi has this corner of the market well covered as many manufacturers have opted against bringing in new diesel engines. Mercedes-Benz provides the SQ7 with its sternest challenge in form the GLE 400d but power figures can’t match the Audi with only 243kW and 700Nm available.

There is of course another competitor that I think is massively underrated and an equally brilliant, if not a better choice than the Audi and it comes from their own stable. The Volkswagen Touareg is hugely accomplished vehicle, and yes it can’t compete with the Audi in terms of power (nothing can, to be honest) but it rides on the Volkswagen Groups latest platform that underpins their newer models like the Q8 and even extending into brands like Porsche, Bentley and Lamborghini. The best bit? You save almost R170k with a retail sticker of R1.5 million.

Audi SQ 8 and RS Q8

Dynamic photo, Color: Florett silver

While the bonkers RS Q8 makes use of a monstrous petrol-powered V8, the SQ 8 follows the same path as the SQ 7 with its diesel engine. Power figures are identical to the latter but like we mentioned earlier, it does benefit from the Volkswagen Groups latest modular platform which comes with a raft of benefits over the previous iteration.

But the big talking point here is the RS Q8 which produces a phenomenal 441kW and 800Nm, while this large lump of metal can achieve 100km/h in just a mere 3.8 seconds. No wonder then that it claimed the title of the fastest SUV around the famed Nürburgring.

While the SQ 8 retails for around R1.8 million you will have to shell out a fair bit more to get into the RS Q8 with a price R2.3 million.

For around R300k more, the Range Rover Sport SVR offers a decent alternative to the RS Q8 with its absolutely raucous supercharged V8 churning out 423kW and 700Nm. Although, it is an ageing product, and the Audi will outperform it in many areas in terms of power, tech and refinement. And if a coupe-SUV is your thing, then the Range Rover doesn’t quite fit the bill.

The Mercedes-AMG GLE63 S Coupe is a more worthy alternative in the segment with figures of 466kW and 850Nm, plus it is provided with some electric assistance to achieve a 100km/h sprint in just 3.8 seconds – matching the Audi. Pricing is well north of the Audi, however, coming it at an extraordinary R2.9 million; and if you’re wondering, the BMW X6 M Competition is priced similarly.

Audi R8 Coupe and Spyder

Static photo, Colour: Ascari Blue metallic

We’ve saved the best for last and with a screaming mid-mounted naturally aspirated V10 and the fastest acceleration time of all with 3.2 seconds, you can see why!

With 449kW and 560Nm readily available, this is Audi’s performance halo car and comes with a price tag to match with the Coupe costing you R3.3 million and the Spyder going for R3.6 million. The latter does weigh slightly more thanks to the retractable roof so it’s 0.1 second down compared to its hardtop sibling.

While the near-identical Lamborghini Huracan would be a natural rival to the R8, its R5 million price tag blows it well out of the water!

So, let’s turn to Britain for an alternative in the form of their Aston Martin Vantage. Power figures from its AMG-sourced V8 are respectable at 375kW and 685Nm and it does cost a healthy sum less at R3 million.

One of the fastest accelerating cars that I have ever had the pleasure of driving is the Porsche 911 Turbo S and even though it’s quite a bit more expensive sitting at R3.8 million, it does break that 3.0 second barrier with 100km/h coming up in just 2.9 seconds. Power figures of 478kW and 800Nm outshine the Audi’s by quite some margin.

What are your favourites? Leave us a comment below!

Road Sailing with Honda’s new Ballade

Relative comfort and affordability are things that are seldomly mutually exclusive in the car market, particularly with the small sedan segment. Alex Shahini recently spent some time with the new 8th generation Ballade RS to evaluate the newcomers updates and how its disposition stacks it up against its competitors and predecessor. 

Japanese vehicles are revered among South Africans for their easy maintenance and indomitable reliability. While small sedan sales have been dwindling in favour of compact hatches and small SUVs, I would be certain that any number of e-hailing taxi services would comprise a selection of outgoing Ballade models in their fleet. While it may not be as popular as the primary choice found in the Toyota Corolla Quest, one of them is sure to have ferried you and your friends safely and comfortably home after concluding weekend festivities in the early hours of the morning. 

Yuishi Fukuda, president of Honda Motor Southern Africa says the new Ballade’s aim was mobility, with focus on providing the highest quality at a reasonable price. These core and entwined aspects that are crucial in the success of this newcomer in Mzansi which I feel it has hit the nail on the head with. 

The cabin for example, exudes that premium quality feel with a simple and minimalistic interior fascia, incorporating tactile touch-points and materials of high and durable quality, and finished off leather upholstery that makes it feel like a class above. This elevates the 8th Generation from the rapidly ageing interior from its predecessors and brings it into modern contention with more recent releases from Toyota and Suzuki. 

Additional comfort could be found in the overall spaciousness of the cabin for all occupants. While all RS models include a sunroof as standard equipment, my head would occasionally brush against the bulge on the headliner as a result of my forward seating position on account of my shorter than average legs. While it wasn’t completely invasive of my experience, the ample arm and legroom for passengers alludes to the cabin of a much larger car which is why entry-level additions will presumably attempt to chip away at the market share Toyota sedans dominate as e-hailing taxis. 

Fukuda placed additional emphasis on affordability and while the Ballade derivatives are slightly more expensive than their competitors, their build quality makes the additional outlay seem worth it. It will be available in 3 variations, all powered by a 1.5-litre motor mated to Honda’s revised version of a CVT. The entry level Comfort comes in at a competitive R344 300, while the better equipped Elegance is priced in the middle of the range at R375 400. Our RS variant costs just above R400 000 and is undoubtedly the flagship model with its aesthetic trim pieces and additional interior comforts that raise the overall experience. 

In the automotive world, the RS nameplate is steeped with illustrious and athletic connotations to a variety of different manufacturers that have made use of it over their histories. All instill a sense of power and an intrepid nature while behind the wheel. Honda went in a completely contrary direction to the norm with their RS abbreviation signifying Road Sailing. While this is a rebuttal to other RS models that have decorated motoring history, experiencing Honda’s RS model enables understanding behind the sheer confidence of naming the spec in accordance to the smooth nature of a boat sailing on water.

This is compliments of a smooth drivetrain and pliant suspension that negates any unexpected road discomforts. While the previous models made use of the same engine with a single overhead cam and Honda’s i-VTEC technology, the 8th Generation incorporates the use of a dual overhead camshaft which increases power slightly to 89kW at 6 600 r/min with 145 Nm available at a lower rpm of 4500 r/min. The revised engine head also improves efficiency and emissions with a claimed average combined consumption figure of 5.5l/l00km along with CO2 emissions of 131g/km. From our experience behind the wheel dominated by urban stop-start driving, we achieved just below a meagre 6.5l/100km. 

Where the drive experience falls short is its CVT and apparent engine whine at higher rpm. The i-VTEC that has become the butt of many jokes against Honda enthusiasts means that towards the higher rpm spectrum, this 4 cylinder engine produces an audible scream that channels its way into the cabin. Being in Johannesburg with a soaring altitude of 1750m and engine power significantly lower than provided ratings, the apparent mew becomes commonplace in everyday scenarios. In addition, the revised CVT undoubtedly provides high levels of comfort and enjoyment for a smooth journey but still feels out of place in comparison to a conventional gearbox with its constant adjustment in irregular traffic. To mitigate this uncommon feeling to most drivers, Honda have incorporated ‘G-Design’ shift control which simulates a traditional automatic transmission through the integration of artificial gears all the while retaining the efficiency of a CVT.

So what does the R406 100 Ballade RS provide you with and what is the final verdict? Its additional 110mm length and 55mm width from its predecessor provides the interior with a significantly more spacious stature. Also included in the price is smart entry with walk-away auto locking, rear-view parking camera and a 7-inch TFT display. On the exterior, wrap around LED headlamps and taillamps connect the strong shoulder line while all models come standard with LED DRLs that complete the chrome aesthetic on the front end. The Ballade range will include a five-year/200 000 warranty, as well as a four-year/60 000km service plan with 15 000km service intervals. For a bit more outlay in this competitive segment, the Honda provides a strong argument for high quality and comfortable mobility while retaining the authentic Japanese track record for reliability and usability. 

The Mitsubishi Pajero Sport

Overlooked & Under-appreciated

Oh boy, the large bakkie-based segment in South Africa is a tough market to play in. The Toyota Fortuner rules the roost while the likes of the Ford Everest, Isuzu MU-X, and Mitsubishi Pajero Sport all desperately cling onto the coattails of the Fortuner’s success.

Take nothing away from the Toyota, it is a very accomplished product which dazzles consumers with its storied badge and an expansive footprint across the country.

But I suspect that the light gleams too brightly as many are blinded to the breadths of talent in the rest of the segment. Take the Mitsubishi Pajero Sport for example. It undercuts both the Toyota and Ford by more than R100 000 in their most expensive specification; is not found wanting in any particular area and comes from a manufacturer that arguably has an equally impressive reputation for reliability and trustworthiness.

I unfortunately can’t account for consumers’ shopping behaviors so don’t expect any solid answers as to why we are a stubborn, single-minded bunch. But what I can tell you is why I think the updated Mitsubishi Pajero Sport is a cut above of the rest and at the very least, worth a visit to the showroom.

Mitsubishi South Africa introduced the refreshed Pajero Sport late last year with the introduction of the range-topping Exceed model as well. You’ll notice the new face which Mitsubishi calls their ‘Dynamic Shield’ design, which brings into line with the stablemates like the Triton, Eclipse Cross and ASX. At the rear, the tweaked tail lights have been shortened and feature a new LED signature.

Handsome looks aside, the updated Pajero Sport also offers a raft of interior updates. Although the design and layout remain the same, you now get an updated eight-inch touchscreen which supports both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, dual-zone air-conditioning including rear passenger controls, plus a leather-clad multifunction steering wheel, Bluetooth and voice control. On the safety front, each of the Pajero Sport’s 7 passengers are catered for in terms of an airbag.

Our range-topping Exceed 4×4 test unit also features a sliding sunroof, Mitsubishi Remote Control connectivity, and an electronic tailgate with kick sensors.

So, you’re certainly not lacking in terms of tech, style and amenities but one area where the Pajero Sport does fall slightly short is in the drivetrain department. You only have one option for both the engine and gearbox to choose from which is a 2.4l MIVEC turbo diesel engine, producing 133kW and 430Nm and linked to an eight-speed automatic transmission. And while it does a sufficient job of lugging about its large frame, there were instances where power waned and it struggled to keep up with the flow of traffic. But the majority of the time, accelerating and cruising at the national speed limit was a breeze and overall noise, vibration and harshness was low.  Mitsubishi claims an average fuel consumption of 8.1l/100 although I managed around the 8.7l/100 which is quite respectable.

While I never had the opportunity to take our test unit off the beaten track, I do have experience with Mitsubishi’s Super Select 4WD-II system and I can assure you that you will find very few obstacles in your path. For the average family, the Pajero Sport possesses more than enough capabilities to meet your families adventures and sum.

With pricing ranging from R624 995 for the base 4×2 model and extending all the way to R704 995 for the top of the range Exceed model, the Mitsubishi Pajero Sport makes a compelling case for itself. For similar outlay, you can get into a Toyota Fortuner equipped with the updated 2.8-litre engine, however, you only get that model in 4×2 guise and an additional R70 000 is needed to hop into the base 4×4 variant with that engine.

So the updated Mitsubishi Pajero Sport is truly the smart money in this segment, and it’s worth noting that it recently claimed the title of best large SUV/Crossover in CAR Magazine’s annual Top 12 Best Buys. Need I say more? Just go and visit one of their dealerships so you can see for yourself.