Month: Jul 2021

A baby V10 with a drift mode – the new Audi RS3

Iconic is the appropriate word to describe the in-line 5 cylinder motor that has powered Audis benchmark cars for the better part of the last 40 years. Among its favorable characteristics, one of the more memorable is its deep resonance when the motor is at full throttle, especially when paired with a 1980 WRC archive film of a fire breathing Quattro on a rally special stage. Well, the popular compact sedan/hatch combo from the Ingolstadt manufacturer has undergone a generation change. Fortunately for the power hungry enthusiasts with a limited budget, it is retaining the iconic motor with a slight improvement in power and efficiency and beefed up looks! 

The compact Audi offerings will share many similarities to their trailblazing forefather that forged a legacy in rallying, although somewhat tweaked. Equipped first and foremost with the familiar 2.5-liter TFSI motor which has won the “International Engine of the Year” award nine times in a row, mild performance improvements increase ratings to a maximum of 294 kW and 500Nm. As a bonus to this additional power, the exhaust system features a fully variable flap control system that supports intermediate positions which lets the 5 cylinder sing with less restraint.

This power and torque propels the four door, four ring, four wheel driven machine to 100km/h in 3.8 seconds – worthy of out-accelerating modern day supercars. The new RS3 has a maximum top speed of 290km/h in the RS Dynamic package which means it’s capable of keeping up with the aforementioned supercars too. All of these stats make the new model class leading in terms of top speed and acceleration. 

Transferring the power to all four wheels is a fairly standard 7-speed dual-clutch transmission. However the rear axle differential is replaced with a standard-equipped RS torque splitter which optimally distributes power along the rear axle which improves cornering grip and traction. This also allows the RS3 to engage a rubber destroying drift mode for the hoonigans out there. 

Speaking of tyres, the novel innovation found in the RS performance mode included in the model is created specifically for the racetrack. Changing the engine and transmission characteristics to be tailor suited to semi-slick tyres – a factory option first time. This really is shaping up to be a racecar for the road! 

The exterior aesthetics are expected, continuing the silhouette of the outgoing model and very subtle changes to the styling – this is still easily comparable to its predecessor in other words. What does stand out for this model is the lighting, something Audi always has a pioneering preference for. The most significant are the daytime running lights and dynamic turn signals which are programmed to present the RS3 lettering and a chequered flag as a dynamic leaving and coming home scene. Superior matrix LED headlights are available as an option for greater illuminative clarity.  

The significantly different design feature from the outgoing model is the air outlet element behind the widened front wheel arches – Audi Quattro much?! This is done to help accommodate the 33mm wider front axle track to the previous model. Within those arches are 19-inch wheels while a six piston steel or ceramic brake system is protected within the confines of the spokes. 

Sebastian Grams, Managing Director of Audi Sport GmbH states that “They represent the entry point into our RS world and are premium sports cars that are suitable for everyday use and equally thrilling to drive on public roads and racetracks” 

While both sedan and sportback are already selling in Europe, Mzanzi will receive both derivatives in the second half of 2022. With a price tag of €60 000 for the Sportback and €62 000 for the sedan, South Africans could be expected to pay anywhere north of R1,2 million to get behind the wheel of one. While Audi may no longer be winning on rally stages, the RS3 should continue to be a winning formula for sales numbers into the RS world. 

The new Kia Sonet is here to take over!

The hatchback as we know is dead! Don’t believe me? Well, Renault recently unveiled their new Mégane concept that has now morphed into a crossover of some sort. Ford only sells SUVs and pick up trucks in the USA while on the local front the only version of the Golf 8 that we’ll be getting is the GTI, because the garden varieties won’t sell. Additionally, Ford no longer offers the Focus to our market, while Toyota’s striking new Corolla Hatch finds itself at the wrong end of the sales charts.

Now, it would be foolish of me to write-off the hatchback as a whole – the likes of the Suzuki S-Presso and Renault Kwid will always find buyers in an economically-strapped country. Even VW’s perennial Polo and the Kia Rio will still litter our roads in their numbers. In other words, the hatchback will live on its cheapest form and not as the staple for family transportation we once knew it as. However, their reign might become short-lived thanks to budget-orientated crossovers, and in particular, the new Kia Sonet.

To help you to understand how I’ve arrived at this conclusion, let’s first examine the competition from within. If you’re walking into a Kia dealership with a budget ranging between R250 000 – R350 000, you’re main options would be either a Rio or a Sonet.

In terms of pricing, the former has the highest starting and end price retailing for R280 995 and topping out at R361 995. Alternatively, you can get into a Sonet for just R264 995 with range-topper costing you just R305 995.

The Sonet uses Kia/Hyundai’s new platform and architecture which you will also find in the suitably accomplished Venue. On the other hand, the Rio utilizes a much older platform with outdated engines to match. The main power unit on offer in the Rio is a 1.4-litre naturally aspirated unit that churns out 73kW and 135Nm. The Sonet on the other hand gains more power though its additional cubic capacity with power rated at 85kW and torque at 144Nm from the 1.5-litre naturally aspirated engine. Another win for the Sonet then.

What else? Well, the Sonet is a larger car than the Rio, has a greater ground clearance at 190mm in comparison to 140mm, it has a larger boot capacity at 392l as opposed to the Rio’s 325l, and to top it off, it looks a lot better than its hatchback brother.

I’m in no way bashing the Rio, I think it’s a great car and competes very well within its segment, all I’m saying is that it just doesn’t make sense to buy it when you get more for less in the Sonet.

So now that we’ve established that the Sonet is the right Kia for you, is it the right budget crossover for you? Let’s look at the players: there’s of course the siamese twins of the Suzuki Vitara Brezza and Toyota Urban Cruiser, Ford’s Ecosport and the newly launched Nissan Magnite. You could even consider the less popular Mahindra XUV300 or the steeply priced Honda WR-V.

In the face of such stiff competition, the Sonet seems to excel. Our test unit was the EX model fitted with a 6-speed manual gearbox and mated to the 1.5-litre 4 cylinder engine we mentioned earlier. Up at the reef, the engine does struggle slightly – I’ve read reports from our coastal-dwelling colleagues that the Sonet performs comfortable when supplied with additional oxygen. In saying that, it had no problem keeping up with traffic and maintaining the national speed limit. This was also helped by a slick and efficient gearbox with a light clutch action and easy gear change. Competitors like the Suzuki and Toyota only use a 5-speed manual and the addition of a 6th gear in the Sonet makes highway cruising a much more pleasant experience.
It also worth noting that 1.0-litre turbo engine will be offered later on in the year, in top-spec GT Line.

On the inside, the Sonet is sensibly laid out and nicely finished off with piano black inserts and some interesting triangles scattered about the place mirroring the exterior aesthetic.

Fit and finish is acceptable in this segment and although you’ll struggle to find any soft touch materials (except on the door arm rest and centre arm rest). The plastics are inoffensive and they don’t look as cheap as they may feel. Interior tech is also well catered for with an 8-inch infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto support. I know Kia would probably expect majority of customers to just plug their phones in to use one of those apps mentioned above, I just wish they would put a bit more effort into the look and feel of the system. It feels 5 years old already.

The driver cluster has a unique arrangement that reminds me slightly of the one found in the Renault Kwid, but it’s still a great addition to have which incorporates a small TFT screen to display crucial driving information.

On the whole, the new Sonet ticks many boxes – it’s spacious, drives very well, has decent amenities and is priced very competitively. While I have yet to pilot the new Nissan Magnite (Launch article by a colleague here), the Sonet certainly finds itself hovering very close to the top of list of recommendations in this segment.

Goodbye with the jazz blues and hello to the new Honda Fit!

The undoubtedly popular Honda Jazz has become somewhat synonymous with sedate, grey-haired drivers boasting pensioner discount coupons and comical seating positions while behind the wheel. The Japanese automaker believes that this has had an adverse effect on the intended freshness of their product. Enter the Honda Fit to our local market, a rebranded Jazz sporting some futuristic new tech under the bonnet and polite aesthetics to rejuvenate their appeal to those filled with youthfulness. We spent two days with the modest looking model along some Cape Wineland roads to determine if it would find the right fit in the fiercely contested market.  

I remember watching a Top Gear episode as a teenager which featured the modification of a Fiat Multipla to better suit the needs of the elderly who were, unfortunately for other road users, still capable of driving. If you have seen the episode you will immediately be able to recall the alterations which were completed to the car, if not let me refresh your memory. It was equipped with a simplified cloth interior, substantially sized radio buttons, large rear view mirrors and comically oversized bumpers to name a few. While that was apparently hilarious to me at the time, I have come to realize that since that episode, Honda seems to have used that Multipla as a rough mould in developing every subsequent generation of the Jazz on. Just a little better looking. 

Take nothing away from a fantastic car, one that my own retiree-relatives carefully navigate around suburban roads and a car that I call upon in desperation whenever I am left stranded without a set of wheels. It was however lacking appeal to the younger generation, devoid of vigor and excitement… until now. 

First thing is first, why is this new Honda Fit called a Honda Fit and not a Honda Jazz? The logic by the decision makers in Tokyo was to introduce the fresh model with new hybrid technology and a funky attitude under a different moniker which would appeal to a younger market without divorcing completely from their senior buyers. Vice versa has been done in other global markets that have previously used the Fit nameplate.

The most important feature in the new range of Fit models is the reintroduction of hybrid technology which is only available on the pricey, top spec e:HEV derivative. It is the first time Honda have dabbled in hybridization since the discontinuation of the CR-Z in 2016. The technology, which would even get a grimace from a rocket scientist can be summarized as Honda’s advanced 2-motor hybrid system which utilizes the electric motor for normal driving while high speed scenarios seamlessly switch to the 1.5-litre direct gasoline engine. This is unlike traditional hybrids, where the electric motor only assists the engine. This means that the e:HEV achieves 80kW and 253Nm of torque, which is noticeable in sprint acceleration. 

It is Honda’s realistic approach to emission reduction in the present age since its fuel-efficient hybrid system returns an economy figure of just 3.7l/100km and produces only 88g/km of C02 emissions. Formula 1 inspired regenerative braking and placing the gear shifter in the B drive mode aids with battery charge at the expense of added rolling resistance to the electric motor. Their approach also seeks to achieve carbon neutrality with both product and manufacture by 2050 for the environmentally conscious consumers out there. 

If however, your preference is still the conventional combustion engine or the e:HEV is too far out of your price range, the alternative powertrain is the trusted 1.5-litre VTEC motor connected to a CVT. The revy 4 cylinder is good for 89kW at 6600rpm and maximum torque rating of 145Nm at 4300rpm. The traditional petrol powered derivative is also just under 100kg lighter than the flagship hybrid model with efficiency claimed as low as 5.5l/100km, which we came close to achieving despite doing our utmost not to!

While the styling may seem elegantly demure and reserved, typical of a traditional Jazz – the drive experience was not! In the presence of serene country roads and mountain passes the suspension and chassis felt stable and planted while the powertrains in both derivatives were sufficient to entice more energetic driving. The CVT mated to the petrol model yielded a lamentable experience when clipping apexes and flooring it towards the next bend but was resolute in all other driving conditions. It was difficult to believe that this has built on the placid legacy of the Jazz! 

On the inside, saying that the interior is a step up in terms of comfort and refinement levels would be an understatement as the plastics are pleasant to the touch and there is an utterly beautiful steering wheel which has been nicked off of the Honda E model. It is also equipped with Honda’s new and far improved HMI infotainment system which has been employed for the first time to the newcomer and comes with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. 

This is all compliments of the ‘Yoo no bi’ philosophy of clean and minimal design, focusing on contemporary practicality and functionality. However the infotainment system and air conditioning dials are frustratingly not aligned with the center console and seem to angle slightly towards the passenger. 

The 7-inch full TFT instrument cluster on the other hand is well positioned and in full view of the driver, despite being basic in user interface. The new A pillar is also crucial in enabling greater visibility which has been improved from 69° to 90° – something which is immediately apparent when jumping into the front row of seats. 

The standout feature on the inside is the vast amount of space available to all occupants in the cabin, with consistently good arm and legroom. While the Jazz remains synonymous with practicality, the new Fit builds on that legacy by retaining the Magic Seat system which can be used in several configurations. The boot is also equipped with a sufficient 309l of volume while the hybrid version comes with 290l (the battery replaces a spare wheel and raises the boot floor slightly). 

The petrol powered Fit, ranging from R319 900 to R389 900 in 3 derivatives includes a 5 year/200 000km warranty, while the range topping e:HEV model comes with an 8 year/200 000km warranty and will cost a whopping R469 900. A 4 year/80 000km service plan is standard on all derivatives. 

Despite the name change, modernisation to the powertrain and improved interior tech, I am just not sure I would be enticed enough to have this placed at the top of my B-segment hatchback list if I was in the market for one. It still lacks the confidence of a youthful hatchback which has its speakers permanently maxxed out and a perpetual fuel warning light on. That being said, it should still be a winning proposition for our more senior members of society boasting frugal consumption, proven reliability and comfortable driving. Most importantly, this modern, hybrid technology will begin to filter in other models in Honda’s lineup!