Month: Sep 2021

Welcoming the sweetness of summer with the Fiat 500C Dolcevita

Timeless design is something that can often be subjective, but there are a few things that the majority of designers can agree on that are not affected by the passage of time or changes in fashion. The few things that come to mind for me are dominated by Italian creations, from the more mundane like the intrinsic shape of a piece of pasta to the colossal 2000 year old Colosseum. Italians know a thing or two about style, longevity and tradition and the Fiat 500 is a modern day epitome of exactly that. We dropped the top on the new Fiat 500C Dolcevita for a few days to see if it’s fresh and funky attitude was a step forward for stylishness. 

It’s small but deceptively big. While this is the definition of an oxymoron, if you haven’t had the opportunity to sit inside one, the first thing that you think to yourself is how spacious the interior is. It might not be palatially sized like the inside of a Rolls Royce but there is a wealth of head, arm and leg room despite its compact dimensions. Even height gifted people can commodiously sit in the rear without having to contort themselves into their most compact form, and this is all with the canvas roof closed shut. 

This is something that the 500 has stayed true to when other pioneers of the supermini segment over a half century ago have opted to produce not-so-mini cars in the modern era. The imperative of the post-war era saw automotive manufacturers in European countries scrambling to create accessible mobility. The original Fiat 500 predating 1957 was the solution of Italy. It was a car that was affordable for the masses, could fit a family of 4 and was compact enough to navigate the traditionally narrow streets of cities like Rome and Naples. It was the packaging miracle of the time.

The modern derivative dwarfs its original counterpart with all the additional safety requirements and the general upsizing to appeal to international markets but it still maintains its cute proportions from before. While the size definition is a contradiction in itself, so is the automated manual transmission.

From the driving perspective, this is the biggest let down. The 2-cylinder engine is punchy and has sufficient torque throughout the rev range, the suspension is plush over urban Johannesburg road surfaces and the compact dimensions make it nimble in corners while the short wheelbase allows for rapid direction changes. 

The automated manual transmission struggles to cooperate with all of the other moving parts of the drivetrain and dulls the sweet experience somewhat. The engine revs hang before the transmission up or downshifts, the actual gear changes have been modelled on the slowest change in history and it struggles to engage on steep inclines. This is simply the nature of AMT gearboxes as a whole, regardless of what car they are implemented in. Either automatic transmissions or manual gearboxes would be my preference but unfortunately the 500C Dolcevita is only equipped with the 5-speed AMT.

That being said, when driven in a sedate manner (as this car typically would) these gripes are far less noticeable. The experience is smoother and the gear changes are less obvious. It comes into its own trundling around stylish city centers at low speeds, almost as if it wanted pedestrians to take notice. Nevertheless it can still cope on highways. While the ratios of the 5 speed gearbox were initially a concern, the gearing is capable of national speed limit cruising too with plenty of grunt from the 2-cylinder 875cc turbocharged petrol engine to go beyond. 

It’s hard to grasp the performance figures for this car. The power plant only produces a maximum of 62.5kW and 145Nm but it also only tips the scales at just under a ton too. While you won’t be winning any drag races, it’s off the line acceleration and sprightly traffic spirit make the numbers seem inaccurate and irrelevant. Where you will be winning is with its frugal economy and compact ability to park anywhere. An optimistic 4.0l/100km is claimed from the manufacturer but our combined driving conditions without implementing the power-sapping eco mode yielded just above 5l/100km.

When it comes to the interior, it is difficult to believe that the only significant update to the fascia has been its HD 7” touchscreen bluetooth radio. It still looks timeless by today’s standards!

The retro styled tachometer and driver displays are vastly different from anything else but engaging and usable. The central bluetooth infotainment system includes hands-free operation, voice recognition and most importantly; Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility which means you can easily play your favorite tunes while having your hair blow in the wind with the top down. 

The cabrio version of the 500 range comes with far less boot space and a highly restrictive boot opening which still manages to be sufficient for groceries and limited luggage. While the original Fiat 500 came out with a canvas cabriolet top to reduce production costs on metalwork, this Cabriolet Dolcevita is the opposite.

A base Fiat 500 Cult can be had from as little as R219 900 while the range topping 500C Dolcevita comes in at R324 900. All models in the range include a 3-year/100 000 km warranty.

The visually enhanced aesthetic of the Dolcevita does add subtle hints of bling and tech to the overall package but it just seems slightly too out of budget for the small, city car that it is. It does however make a stylish statement, unlike any other A-to-B runabout and that is where the 500 range reigns supreme. Despite its faults, it induces a grin from start to finish especially with the top down and sunny skies above. Its longevity in production means that it has been at the forefront of the Fiat lineup for over a decade, with each minor update containing as much character and charisma from the country of its origin. This is la dolce vita (the sweet life), just in time for summer.

Built in Africa for Africa, the Nissan Navara PRO-2X

The Nissan Navara might not produce the same reverence in the bakkie game as its Toyota and Ford counterparts do, but the new locally-produced facelift may mount a more formidable opposition in the premium double cab segment. We spent a few days with the PRO-2X derivative and put it through its paces both on and off the beaten path.

Depending on how you look at it, the Mercedes-Benz X-Class may not have been the most successful product proposition from the famed German automaker. It was simply priced too far out of the reach of the typical bakkie buyer yet was still too rudimentary a vehicle for the average Benz aficionado, despite all the luxury bits added on. It doesn’t change the fact that they ventured out into an unknown market in the attempt to fill a niche. If you didn’t already know, now would be a good time to inform you that the X-Class was a badge-engineered version of the Navara (also known as the Frontier on the other side of the Atlantic).

The platform and chassis were essentially the same as its Japanese counterpart with a good aesthetic overhaul to make it seamlessly blend alongside the rest of the 3-pointed star range. That being said, Mercedes-Benz has done their utmost to elevate their brand even higher than it has been before, upholding a reputation which is synonymous with premium build quality and a plush driving experience. What I am trying to get at is that if the Navara platform was good enough to pioneer Mercedes’ first bakkie, the actual Navara is in with a shout to give the popular bakkies a run for their money.

If that isn’t enough reason to consider this as an equal if not superior to the opposition, the fact that it is now locally produced might be. As of mid-June the first batch of the Japanese designed off-roader rolled off the production floor at the Nissan manufacturing plant in Rosslyn.

Tuned for local conditions and suited to the needs of local bakkie buyers, an additional bonus of this agreement of built in Africa for Africans means that the overall pricing of the range is some of the most competitive in the country, undercutting the likes of Ford, Toyota, Isuzu and GWM for certain derivatives.

The Navara range starts from R311 000 for the base petrol powered single cab 2.5DE XE 4X2 while the range topping PRO-4X 4X4 AT double cab will set you back R740 000 and all include a 6-year/150 000km warranty with a built in service plan for 6-years or up to 90 000km.

While the range is comprehensive with workhorse single cabs and crew cabs, we spent time driving the premium derivatives including the suitably styled 2.5D PRO-2X for a few days on test as well as the 2.5D LE 4×4 on launch too. While our skill and lack of off-road adventuring meant that neither of the bakkies ventured onto hardcore trails, we still managed to put them to good use on dirt roads and some slightly technical off road surfaces.

Both managed with ease which leads me to believe that not all bakkies need to be four wheel drive to be a viable and capable option for most consumers. Sure, that extra capability may be beneficial in exclusive situations but as a whole the limited rear wheel drive performance did not hinder us. For context, the PRO-2X costs R686 000 while the PRO-4X which is identical save from a four wheel drive system costs significantly more at R740 000. 

The PRO-2X comes equipped with components that enable it to appeal to adventure orientated individuals that need both utility and comfort in a single offering which it does very well. It includes mounted rails and anchor hooks in the loadbin which can be used for hauling a whole lot of things around or to neatly secure a mountain bike (or something a with a bit more power) for a weekend morning outing.

Either way, it would be wise to spec a rubberized bin so the cool looking Warrior Grey paintwork does not get scuffed. While SUV’s and crossovers so often try to appeal to the adventure within ourselves, this bakkie does… and it does it in a stylish manner too.

The overall visual appeal of the facelifted bakkie has been improved with a more menacing, angular front end, not that its predecessor was an ugly duckling by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, Nissan bakkies have always stayed true to this mantra from as early as the Hardbody, so the updated Navara is a natural evolution of the existing aesthetic. Most importantly it looks like a bakkie should; formidable, wide and rugged which is compliments of its updated plastic trim and new lights.

The chunky aesthetic comes at the cost of brick-shaped aerodynamics which naturally limit any wallet-pleasing fuel economy. After a full week of urban dominated driving we returned 10.5l/100km from the updated 2.5-litre turbo diesel motor. An average of 8.1l/100 km is optimistically claimed by Nissan in mixed scenarios. The larger engine is a vast improvement over the old pre-facelift 2.3 litre power plant, with more torque and power than before suiting the model far better. Both the LE and PRO models incorporate this motor which produces a maximum of 140kW and a 450Nm. 

The low end still produces some turbo lag but the 7-speed automatic gearbox mitigates most of this through a smooth delivery of torque. The transmission competes with the suspension bits and chassis setup as the most refined mechanical component of the vehicle, but the intuitive gear selection and faultless operation during our test made the drive ever so smooth.

Speaking of chassis and suspension, the ride is supremely comfortable on all road surfaces in comparison to the competition. The naturally high centre of gravity (particularly on PRO models’ raised suspension) still makes it prone to the sway of Spring-time highway winds, despite its hefty weight. Road vibrations and wind noise have been diminished almost completely despite its hefty weight of over 2 tons. 

Jumping into the cabin, the look and feel of the materials and the design of the components still seem less luxurious and out of date. This is ever prevalent when interacting with the operating system on the 8″ touch screen display. While it has a more utilitarian theme about it, the overall impression is a let down in the context of a what has shaped up to be a great bakkie.

But that’s the thing, it is after all just a bakkie. It doesn’t really need to be incredible luxurious and as refined as an SUV for example – that is secondary to its purpose. Remember the X-Class from the beginning of the article? The antiquated OS is equipped with cable connected Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Comfortable leather seats and plenty of room outweight the bland looking dash, which with its few recesses and details and would be easy to clean after a muddy weekend away.

While the eternal Ranger vs Hilux rivalry forges on, we forget that Nissan gave us the trustworthy Champ which made its way into the homes and hearts of many South Africans. Bakkies are an integral part of the Japanese brands heritage in South Africa and the updated Navara is a confident step in the right direction once again. With the highly competitive market constantly growing with options from manufacturers all over the world, my preference in owning less common vehicles would yield the Navara PRO-2X as my first choice. The price jump for the PRO-4X is just uneconomical for the things that I would use it for.

Passion, Paint & Porsche.

911. Three numbers that instantaneously evoke joy and respect in motoring enthusiasts around the world. Since 1963, Porsche’s rear-engine sports car has remained the brand’s iconic model, evolving over eight generations, from only one body type to a variety of different models, including the revered Turbo, as well as the unsurpassed GT models. Today, the 911 range offers a wide selection of models to thrill any passionate driver. 

Picture South Africa back in the 1980s. The form and flow of Porsche’s most iconic model catches the eye of a creatively gifted child from rural Modimolle in the Limpopo Province. Young Nelson Makamo decides there and then that owning a Porsche 911 in his adult life will be one of his goals. Nelson never doubted that he would eventually succeed in realising his dream, on his terms and in his own inimitable way. 

Fast forward to 2021. Nelson Makamo is a world-renowned visual artist with an impressive list of clients, including international celebrities and private collectors. One of his works featured on the cover of TIME Magazine under the banner ‘The art of optimism – 34 people who are changing how we see the world.’ 

After a residency in Franschhoek in the Western Cape Province, a modern day Porsche 911 in the town streets catches his eye, transporting him back to the moment he first saw its earlier evocation. Mesmerised by the evolutionary design of the 911 over the decades and now being in a position to fulfil his childhood dream, Nelson realises that the time has arrived. 

A conversation follows with Porsche South Africa, fuelling the concept of creating his own customised car. Not just through Porsche Exclusive Manufaktur, but by personally transforming his new vehicle into a moving canvas featuring selected hand painted elements. As a result, Nelson Makamo will become not only the proud owner of a Porsche 911, but literally, the owner of automotive art. Instead of celebrating his milestone alone, Nelson Makamo decided to use his very own 911 as a motivational artwork. 

It is a daunting task at first, but Nelson painstakingly creates the individual elements for his latest art installation, hand-painting selected parts of the car at his studio in the heart of Johannesburg. These parts are then taken back to Porsche Centre Johannesburg to be lacquer coated and assembled, ready for the private unveiling. 

The Porsche 911 – affectionately called “My Life in Motion” by Nelson Makamo – is an eye-catching, Jet Black Metallic Porsche 911 Carrera Coupé, featuring the artist’s signature accents, which include a hand-painted rear bumper panel, as well as side mirror covers, seatbacks and interior trim panels. 

Nelson strongly believes that each person’s success results from a community or collective working together. He attributes his personal success to the various people he has met throughout his life, either through everyday interactions or through his work as an artist and of course, the diverse people he has met through his travels around the world. He says; “Your existence is not only a blessing to your family, but it’s a blessing to a whole lot of communities.” 

This project encouraged Nelson to reflect on his personal journey, recalling the various individuals that had an impact on his life. Doing so, he was able to portray his belief in community through the depictions painted on the vehicle. This community has no race, age, gender or geographical origin, representing an international collective of individuals. “What better way to summarise my journey through life than by putting it in a form of collectives. We are at a point in time in the world where we are slowly moving into one culture because we care about each other as people more than anything. I want you to see yourself on the car” Nelson says looking at the rear bumper panel featuring a large crowd of people. “This 911 is meant to inspire anyone to believe that they can succeed through their passion”. 

The left side door panel insert subtly bears the inscription “Mma”, purposely only visible when the door of the 911 is open. These three letters mean “Mother” in Nelson’s home language of Sepedi and are a dedication to his mother, the first artwork on which he has ever mentioned her. With this subtle, yet deeply meaningful acknowledgement, Nelson pays tribute to his Mother who supported him throughout his life, inspiring him to believe that success through art is possible, despite many challenges. 

From building wire toy cars as a child, to owning a customised Porsche 911, Nelson is humbled by his success. “I always knew I was going to own a Porsche, I just never knew that my relationship with the brand would start this way – and it’s only the beginning.” The project took weeks to complete, and Nelson declared that he enjoyed every moment. There was no brief – it was entirely Nelson’s story to tell; the story of a young man who chose to believe that he can succeed. 

Toby Venter, CEO of Porsche South Africa, says the project has provided great motivation: “Working with Nelson has been inspirational and this commission is on a level we’ve never seen before. This is a truly bespoke art installation worthy of any gallery. In addition, it illustrates the lengths Porsche South Africa will go to; the creativity and flexibility of our team to accommodate a request as personal as this. Porsche customers already have a virtually endless array of options available through Porsche Exclusive Manufaktur to make their car completely individual, but then, when a unique customer such as Nelson chooses to do something extraordinary, we are delighted to accommodate his wishes.” 

Nelson also finds artistic inspiration from the wide-eyed innocence of children. He is particularly drawn to children in rural South Africa, believing that they embody peace and harmony we all strive for in life. 

This unique vehicle is both a representation and celebration of what can be achieved when you combine talent, resilience, hard work and the unwavering support from family to reach your goals. Nelson wants his 911 to spark the imagination of the African child, to help each young girl and boy see that it’s possible to find success through their own passion.