Month: Oct 2021

A Short and Sweet Taste of the Chery Tiggo 4 Pro

We braved the wet weather on a cold Monday morning to get our first taste of the new Chery Tiggo 4 Pro! 🌧

So what do we know about the latest Chinese entrant? Well, not much really. Chery South Africa were tight-lipped about any specification or price of their new crossover, which will make its official launch next month. So all we can report on is what we can see, touch and hear 👀

Our time with the car was also quite fleeting and tightly controlled at Gerotek Testing Facilities, where we made use of the skidpan, a light off-road course and quick bash up the twisty mountain pass. Environments in which Chery believes their Tiggo will perform well and we’re glad to report that it did! ✅

The one piece of intel that we do have is that under the bonnet is a 1.5-litre turbocharged engine that produces 108kW and 210Nm. A naturally aspirated version will also be available with just 85kW and 141Nm. The turbo charged engine performed well under acceleration and had enough poke to get us up some of the steeper hills on the mountain pass, while the CVT gearbox seemed decent enough. It did struggle to optimise the revs when going uphill and sometimes landed up in the middle of the rev range when you needed max rpm to get you to the top.

Around the corners is where the Tiggo impressed most as the suspension did a good job of keeping the body from swaying all over the place while there was a surprising amount of grip. It didn’t feel as flustered and out of depth as you may think in this environment. 👏🏽

So what didn’t we like? ❌ The brakes don’t seem to give you a whole load of confidence. There isn’t any significant bite when you stomp on them nor any gradual feel when applying different pressures. In fairness, the conditions were less than ideal and this is still a front-wheel drive crossover in the end of the day. On that note, while your Chery could possibly do a bit of the dirty stuff, I wouldn’t suggest getting stuck in the mud with this one. This is a subjective point but the styling is attractive but generic. The front end reminds us of a Ford Kuga. Anyone else see that?

In what seems to be an abrupt u-turn in our conventional thinking, the latest crop of Chinese cars have exhibited better fit and finish on the inside than some of its more mainstream competitors 😎 The same can be said about the Tiggo’s interior! There’s a good use of quality materials that appears to be well-glued together, plus a host of tech features. But we can’t help but feel we’ve seen similar climate control buttons in a VW Tiguan before! Or maybe it’s the other way round? Who knows.

The centre screen measures at 10.25-inches and features Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The graphics are crisp and the operation is relatively quick, but it did lack the fancy 360 degree camera system that you would find in a Haval Jolion.

Speaking of the Jolion, that is who we believe Chery has their eyes firmly set on as their main competitor. The Tiggo will compete in the now saturated crossover market where you might also consider a Hyundai Creta, Ford EcoSport, etc. Although, it is interesting to note the differences in size. The Tiggo has a 2 610mm wheelbase and an overall length of 4 318mm – making it almost exactly the same size as a Hyundai Creta, but shorter than a Jolion which has a length of 4 472mm. The likes of the Nissan Magnite and Suzuki Vitara Brezza fall into a smaller category as their dimensions can’t compete with the cars above.

On first impressions, it seems that the Chery Tiggo 4 Pro will have more than a fighting chance in claiming a stake in this pie if they are able to get the pricing right.

But the true test comes on the open road and we’ll report back when we get to spend a bit more time with the car! 👀

Living with the legacy of a local legend – the VW Golf 8 GTI

It takes generations to build up a near-immortal legacy with an adoring customer base at the core. In Mzansi, there are staples for different types of mobility where everything else in the segment becomes an outlier. Our go-to bakkie is the Hilux while the Golf GTI is glorified in its hot hatch segment. We lived with the 8th generation of the beloved German derivative to see if the recipe has deviated from its predecessors.

Volkswagen may not have been the first automaker to culminate the recipe of the hot hatch many decades ago, but the Giugiaro penned GTI MK1 from 1975 was perhaps the most refined option to enter the mainstream market. It gained instant success for being sports-car fun with a supermarket price tag. By definition, the GTI is a fast Golf which is inherently an economy hatch built to appeal to the masses. While the sales of normal hatches dwindling in comparison to their SUV siblings on an annual basis, the hot hatch remains a symbol of success and prosperity in South Africa in a hotly contested market. None can portray this individually better than the GTI.

But is the new generation any good? If you are dreading reading an in-depth article with tabulated statistics about the performance and engine upgrades that have been implemented in the new model you will be relieved to know that the new GTI is much the same underneath as the 7th generation. That was launched in 2012 and that was a long time ago, so naturally technology has changed quite a bit. For context, we still had Blackberry as a primary cellular device when the Golf 7 GTI was launched. The trustworthy cast iron EA888 series motor resumes its service while our test car implemented the same 7-speed DSG as transmission from before. 

The 2.0l turbocharged engine now develops 180kW with a torque peak of 370Nm, an 11kW improvement in power over its predecessor. This means it has a claimed sprint to 100km/h from stationery in 6.4 seconds which is the same as its predecessor. So, where has almost a decade of development gone into? Well, Volkswagen are at the forefront of committing to future electrification, especially after the Dieselgate scandal and reprimand. This means that budget is being channelled into optimising the efficiency and longevity of their existing powertrain range as there is little interest in developing future internal combustion engines. 

In other words, the production of the 8th generation GTI has been streamlined and the build complexity has been reduced which in turn should keep true to its identity of affordable performance. A base spec GTI is priced from R669 300 while an endless list of additional features like IQ. Light, Harman Kardon Sound and a Tilting and sliding panoramic sunroof can push the price all the way up to R800k. Our test car was fortunately fitted with all of the niceties which do improve the lavish GTI experience. The price includes a 3 year/120 000km warranty, 5 year/90 000km service plan and a 12-year anti-corrosion warranty.

While performance has been slightly improved, more strict conditions over emissions have been implemented too. This means from both within and outside the cabin, the resounding and iconic VRR-PHA has been muted significantly. The entire exhaust system for that matter seems restricted by mandated filters and catalytic converters but that is nothing that entrepreneurial locals can’t resolve with a software update and enlarged downpipes. 

The underwhelming symphony is not where it ends unfortunately. It’s just not a very inspiring car to drive. Don’t get me wrong – it’s quick and has the ability to get you into a lot of trouble very quickly but it feels numb to experience, devoid of character and enthusiasm. What the experience does yield however is a forgiving hot hatch that does not have the exciting boy-racer torque steer of its competitors but a refined and comfortable drive that is more civilized for everyday use. It will also get you a lot of nods and looks from pedestrians and opportunistic souped-up cars yearning for a highway drag race while running your errands.

While this 8th generation is the most digitally advanced generation of GTI ever produced, much of the interior tech is swing and miss. They have done away with physical buttons and replaced almost every interface with touch capacitive functionality. While they instill a futuristic aesthetic to the cabin, they can be frustrating to interact with. There are buttons directly below the infotainment screen which make operation during driving near impossible without accidentally bumping the heat adjustment function and bringing up the climate control screen.

What we found particularly annoying was the heated steering button on the steering wheel, which is inconveniently placed where the palm of the hand meets the protrusion of the thumb. Regardless of how enthusiastically you yank the steering wheel, any movement seems to engage the haptic touch surface and render the steering wheel hotter than a mid-summer Pretoria day. You will be constantly fiddling with the haptic surface to view the drivers display in an attempt to disengage the untouchable steering wheel. 

While this is still in essence still as good as you expect a GTI to be, it will always be judged not only according to its competitors but also against what the nameplate signifies in terms of the previous generations. Look at the 8 GTI as a tech elevated, although slightly gimmicky version of its all-round fantastic predecessor. It does everything really well and makes important strides in refinement and technology over its predecessor, but it doesn’t give you the fizz the way previous generations have. If you are a diehard VW aficionado looking for more thrill, your money may be better spent on a low mileage 7.5 GTI TCR, or for an out of the box, fun, boy-racer inspired hot hatch then the BMW 128ti is also certainly worth a look!

Some are made while others are created, the 2021 Alfa Romeo Giulia and Stelvio

Alfa Romeo is a marquee that needs no introduction, with an impressive 111 year lifespan their legacy has been cemented into the halls of fame with pedigree racers and breathtaking designs. Despite the respectable history, the famed Italian marquee has faltered somewhat over the past few decades, losing market share with an ever dwindling range of vehicles. Just over half a decade ago, Giulia and Stelvio were introduced and intended to reinvigorate the historic iconicity of the Turin based automaker. We got to spend some time on launch with their mid-life refresh to see if they could bring more success in the next half of their product cycle.

First thing is first, in typical Italian fashion models are designed to spend considerably more time in production than their competitors’ offerings. Giulia has been available since 2015 while Stelvio is one year younger. For general context, a fellow Stellantis model we recently had on test; the Fiat 500C Dolcevita has been in production since 2007 with only minor updates implemented over the years.

What this means is that the typical mass-creations from Milan, Torino and Bologna are designed to last, with their platforms being initially overengineered to accommodate updates far into the future. Inadvertently, the styling is intended to retain its aesthetic over time and is therefore minimal, timeless and without excess. While I think the designers at Centro Stile Alfa Romeo were restrained in unleashing a truly captivating and unmistakable Italian design a few years ago, what has nevertheless resulted are two pretty contenders in the D-SUV and D-Saloon segment that still look as good as the day they were birthed to the world. 

To that extent, not much has changed with the exterior styling other than the addition of a few new paint swatches which includes the envy-inducing Visconti Green and standard circular shaped alloy wheels. Giulia’s front end details have also been altered ever so slightly with a gloss black sheath fitted in the scudetto grille while Stelvio has stayed identical from before save from updated 20” alloys. 

Alfa Romeo astutely comes all in with their range so the list price of R989 900 for the Giulia Veloce and R1 159 900 for the Stelvio Super includes all the bells and whistles a premium vehicle should have. Both models are identically equipped with tech and safety, the only significant difference being the Q4 all-wheel drive system on Stelvio. 

What this considerable sum of money gets you is a dashboard integrated 8.8” infotainment screen surrounded by a wealthy amount of soft touch leather, a 7” colour TFT instrument cluster flanked by a scoped analog tachometer and speedometer, Apple CarPlay and AndroidAuto screen mirroring via cable, leather front seats with electric adjustment, a small reverse camera and fixed aluminium paddle shifters that are tactile to the touch.

Giulia also comes standard with fresher looking Bi-Xenon headlights and DRL’s, no more halogen reflectors on base-spec derivatives since there are no more base-spec derivatives, this is something the brand is proud of. All in remember? A 5 year/100 000km full warranty and maintenance plan is standard for anyone that has their doubts on ill reliability.

The interior of Stelvio feels more premium with material use despite Giulia sharing a similar aesthetic albeit in a much lower, sport-inspired seating position. This sums up the packages adequately since the Alfa Romeo SUV ticks all the boxes in the comfort and luxury department while the saloon has a much more exciting, driver orientated appeal to it. 

The updates to the infotainment system are the biggest improvement to the 2021 models, with widget based functionality coupled alongside screen mirroring. Operation is logically laid out and modernises the UX with expected current generation usability. A coloured 7” TFT instrument cluster has now been incorporated alongside the timeless analog dials making all displayed  information behind the steering wheel much more prominent. You also get wireless charging in a mostly-concealed compartment beneath the armrest too which is ideal for prying eyes into the cabin. 

In comparison to its competitors, the reverse camera is the one let down which is minutely displayed on a quadrant of the already small infotainment screen through a less than desirable camera. However where other brands are continually in search of different ways of improving interacting with the on board systems, Alfa Romeo have opted for an old school rotary dial in-front of the gear shifter for the infotainment screen and steering mounted buttons to control the TFT instrument cluster. Modern day haptic surfaces and touch screens for every conceivable feature don’t always cut it for me, traditional buttons are still far more satisfying and rewarding to the touch. 

All of this is justified in a statement made from the current Alfa Romeo CEO Jean-Philippe Imparato who insists that the cars must remain “driver centered” reiterating that i-Pad festooned interiors are not the future of the brand. Relief for the few consumers who enjoy the no-fuss- driving approach which is devoid of soon-to-be-outdated user interfaces displayed on screens spanning the length of the cockpit. 

As with most releases in the premium segments, the more affordable yet equally luxurious derivatives always live in the shadow of their high performance siblings. The Giulia Quadrifoglio Verde was no different which immediately dominated the Nordschleife at the Nurburgring and became the fastest 4 door production sedan to lap the circuit at the time. This took all the shine away from the impressive all-aluminum 2 litre turbocharged motor that sufficiently and comfortably propels both Super SUV and Veloce saloon forward. 

The motor in the 2021 derivatives is exactly the same as before but more compliant with emission regulations. The same 206kW and 400Nm from the four-cylinder are still readily available under the right pedal and delivered through an 8 speed ZF gearbox to either the rear wheels of Giulia or all four corners of Stelvio through a carbon fiber prop shaft.

There is an ongoing theme of weight reduction for the heavier drivetrain components that Alfa Romeo has continuously followed. Aluminium and carbon fiber are notoriously structural but lightweight materials in their application so Giulia expectedly tips the scales at a feathery 1429kg while Stelvio, with the Q4 system comes in at a respectable 1660kg. To put it into context, a comparable Jaguar F-Pace comes in at 1775kg – or the equivalent difference of a rugby prop the day after Christmas lunch. The results in terms of comfort and performance are noticeable. 

Not only can you experience a nippy 0-100 sprint time of 5.7 seconds in both derivatives but also achieve a claimed economy of around 8.4l/100km, which is fairly frugal in the premium D-Segment. The sensation of the direct steering probably won’t allow that though as it inspires enthusiastic driving confidence, particularly in roads with sequences of corners. 

The Q4 system of Stelvio is commendable in its application, its performance is highly regarded as it simply does not feel as top-heavy or bulky as a typical SUV in its segment. It confidently plants itself around high speed corners while momentary understeer in tight hairpins is mitigated through its all-wheel drive system. It is after all based on the same Giorgio platform as the athletic Giulia and Giulia QV. 

Speaking of which, Giulia has received revised rear suspension which still achieves Alfa Romeo’s ideal 50/50 weight distribution. The improvements keep it more planted than before and make the entire driving experience highly interactive and rewarding. For those of us that really relish the drive, this premium saloon will not disappoint. 

The different driving modes of the dna toggle are all well suited to their functions with much snappier gearshifts and throttle response in dynamic mode. While the majority of the journey was spent thrashing the motor to redline in this setting, both other modes were plush and comfortable, still capable of commanding power and downshifting the ZF gearbox to overtake slow moving traffic on single lane country roads.

The host of updates to the 2021 model year has also been implemented in the 375kW Giulia QV and Stelvio Q which are powered by the Ferrari derived 2.9l V6. Giulia QV will set you back R1 599 900 while the family hauling all-wheel drive Stelvio Q will come in at R1 749 900. Both models can now also be finished in Ocra GT, which pays homage to some of Alfa Romeo’s yellow colour swatches from the 1970s. 

With recent news of the 500 limited edition Sauber co-developed Giulia GTA and GTAm (modificata) selling out globally, 8 are rumored to be entering our shores. A high number considering our local sales numbers are less than that for standard stock, reaffirming that the brand is still very much locally adored by enthusiasts and Alfisti alike. 

Alfa Romeo Giulia GTAm images shot by Daniela Pirnbaum for @alfattitude

The return of the Gran Turismo Alleggerita (alleggerita – Italian for lightweight) icon adds power and drops 100kg of weight from the standard QV model. The 2.9l V6 biturbo has been bumped up to 390kW and 600Nm while the back seats of the GTAm have been replaced with a half cage and full carbon fibre bucket seats and racing harnesses keep the driver and passenger at bay. Externally, an adjustable Sauber front and rear aero kit improves downforce while a massive adjustable rear wing features on the GTAm. The GTA includes 4 seats while the rear spoiler and splitter have been optimised for daily use on the road. This will also be the first saloon to feature centre-locking wheels as standard. 

The lucky local clientele of the eye watering list price of R3 999 900 for the GTA and R4 299 900 for GTAm also receive a personalized experience package during the  sales process which also includes a kit comprising a custom GTA liveried Bell helmet, an Alpinestars race suit, helmet and shoes while the car receives a personalized wool cover. 

With no immediate plans to extend the lifespan of the dynamic Giorgio platform after emerging in the new era of the Stellantis automobile group, this may also be the last traditional Internal Combustion Engine powered Alfa Romeo saloon the world will receive considering an all-electric future. The seductive Tonale Compact SUV concept looks set to carry the predominant sales of the brand in the coming years as an electrified flagship. It may be over 6 years on from their initial release, but the Giulia Veloce and Stelvio Super are more recommendable than ever. They’ve been in the market for half a decade now which means that they are not brand new in shape but have proven the brands improved reliability, despite initial concerns from naysayers and critics. While sales numbers are a fraction of the competitors, one must not forget that Alfa Romeo is not a numbers brand but a brand more focused on driving passion and feeling. Their sporting dna and driver focused ergonomics nullify the slightly less equipped technological features. For those that enjoy being in command of the metal, glass and rubber machines that bring us closer to the places and people we love, these are cars that will captivate from first glance. In Giulia or Stelvio, you may even find yourself grinning from ear to ear until you have arrived at your destination.