Category: Driven

Volkswagen strikes back: Volkswagen Amarok V6 launched in South Africa

Volkswagen Amarok V6

Volkswagen Amarok V6 launched in South Africa

Back in 2010 when Volkswagen announced that the Amarok will only feature 2.0 litre engines, bakkie lovers were up in arms. “We need more power! We need more displacement!” the angry hoards and picketers screamed, forming a mob and carrying flaming objects whilst protesting toward their local VW dealers. Well that’s what we assume happened in certain parts of town where anything under 3.0 litres is an insult to someone’s manliness. This burning issue however was not really about power, because despite the Amarok 2.0 TDI producing 132kW and 440Nm, what people had a problem with was the size of the engine. So much so, the Amarok didn’t really take off as well in South Africa as VW had hoped it would. People are still buying the Toyota Hilux and Ford Ranger in droves, don’t forget the Isuzu KB as well. As a result Volkswagen have seen the need for change, drastic change at that. What, then, could be more drastic than a bakkie that produces 165 kW/550 N.m? How about a bakkie that produces 180 kW and 580 N.m on over-boost? Yes the new Amarok V6 is in a different performance league when it comes to pick-ups available in South Africa.

Bakkie SUV?

To be honest, the Volkswagen Amarok has always had a few advantages over its rivals, but it seems as though those advantages weren’t ever enough. Take for example the cabin and ride quality, there is nothing agricultural about the car. Instead, the Amarok is arguably the best dual purpose lifestyle bakkie out there. People don’t care however, people want power. That is why the combination of the updated cabin and the engine are a match made in bakkie heaven as you get the best of both worlds. A large touch screen infotainment is now offered in the Amarok, giving you features like Apple CarPlay as well as Bluetooth and other smart features. Ergonomically you feel like you’re in a Golf up front, of course the rear seats are still more “truckish” but purely because you have a load bin behind you and nothing’s going to change that. The overall interior and comfort levels in the V6 are fantastic, you’d swear you’re in an SUV, especially without the rackety noise of the 2.0 TDI.

 

Is all that power necessary?

No. There is no real need for all that power, unless you plan on ploughing the fields in the morning or towing your mobile home with you. Quite honestly, the power offered in the 2.0 TDI is sufficient for the average bakkie owner. The thing is though, once you put your foot down in the V6 and you feel the surge of torque – you realise that this is not power you need, it’s power you want. Once you’ve experienced it, you don’t want it to go away. The powertrain offered in the V6 Amarok can be best described as a very rich dessert, a chocolate mousse even. If you’re not a lover of chocolate mousse, you need to rethink your entire life and maybe even see someone about that.
Oh by the way, it’s not only power that’s changed in the Amarok, the front end looks different too…slightly. The entire range has been face-lifted, with minor changes giving the car a fresher face. The choices are as follows: Comfortline, Highline, Highline Plus and Extreme. The engines range from a 103kW 2.0 TDI to the 132kW 2.0 TDI and then of course, the V6 we’ve been crushing over. If money is no object and you only want the best, the top of the range Extreme model is available. This will equip your Amarok with Satellite navigation, 20 inch wheels, Bi-Xenon headlights and even 12 way adjustable “ergoComfort” seats as some of the standard features.


All these features sound like items you would get in an SUV, but that’s what the bakkie market wants. Thankfully you can still go into Africa and see the dusty sights in your Amarok. The car features an Electronic Differential Locking system for great traction but a diff lock button is still available for those really sticky situations. An Off-Road button can be selected for hardcore terrains and this allows for features like hill descent control to be activated and other nifty features such as off-road ABS as well.
If your Amarok is equipped with ESC, you get a feature called Electronic Trailer Stabilisation which assists when loss of traction occurs whilst towing. Speaking of towing, you’re good for 3300kg, which is great especially for those who enjoy a spot of caravanning. Depending on which Amarok you get, there is the choice of a 6 speed manual gearbox for the 103kW and the 132kW, but the V6 is only offered with the 8 speed automatic gearbox and only in 4Motion as well. The 2.0 TDI’s can be opted as RWD or 4Motion, with the 4Motion being the best off road choice, as it uses a Haldex system to utilise all four wheels for better traction.

Best bakkie out there?

Answering that question with a yes or no depends on your needs. As a lifestyle bakkie for the city and open road, the Amarok has always been a leader when it comes to comfort and trim levels. For the real hardcore off-roaders, some still prefer the likes of a Toyota Hilux. You can’t blame them because there are very few bad bakkies out there. The addition of the V6 engine has made the Amarok the best bakkie in terms of its powertrain. The new Nissan Navara still has one of the best chassis out there but again, it’s all subjective. The biggest problem facing bakkies today is cost and the Amarok V6 is not cheap. Nor is any other top of the range pick up either. An asking price of R748 600 for the Extreme is a hard pill to swallow. If it makes you sleep better at night, think of these fancy bakkies this way: if you own one of them, you don’t really need an SUV anymore. You have all the creature comforts of an SUV but the off road attributes of a bakkie, giving you a car you can do more with. Who would’ve thought that one day this segment would be so demanding? The fact that Volkswagen actually went ahead with the development of this car proves that if people complain enough, eventually they get what they want.

 

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The Bigger MINI Countryman is back in South Africa and it’s better

The New MINI Countryman is back – We attended the South African launch. 

The Countryman was the car that made MINI lovers question the brands direction. How can a MINI be a four door hatchback that wasn’t “mini” by any means? That question troubled die-hard fans that only associate the car with Mr. Bean and the overused “go-kart feel” line the brand used for many years. The reality however is that the MINI audience has changed. The people who fell in love with the reincarnated post millennium MINI, probably have different needs than they did when the brand re-launched approximately  15 years ago.

Those same MINI lovers now probably have children and need more space and comfort. Before the Countryman, those people had to move on to other brands. This wasn’t the case when the first generation MINI Countryman launched and now we’re on the second generation, which keeps the same recipe but bettered of course. For starters the exterior design has been individualised, making it distinct compared to other MINI models. This is great because all the MINI models looked the same, so some variety in design is welcome. What is most notable is the front headlights, which feature standard LED lights, giving the Countryman a modern presence. The rear sees the number plate section moved to the middle of the boot (Or trunk if you’re American) and the taillights have been revised too. The overall look of the car is fuller, longer and wider, giving the Countryman a crossover stance, which is what the cool kids want nowadays.

The chicness doesn’t stop on the outside, the inside is much roomier and dolled up too. The cramped feeling you get in a MINI is completely gone, but the signature MINI feel remains. A circular infotainment hub gives you various bits of information such as driving data and media. The choice of different screen sizes is available, with the option of navigation giving you the largest screen option and the nicest too. The rear legroom has been improved greatly and the rear seats are able to move backwards and forwards by 13cm.Nice.

Powering the MINI Countryman Cooper is the 1.5 litre turbocharged 3 cylinder engine used in the BMW 318i and other modern  MINI Coopers. This small yet powerful engine produces 100kW/220Nm. The big boy S variant uses a 2.0 litre turbocharged engine which is good for 141kW/280Nm. Both cars are available with manual gearboxes and the preferred ZF automatic gearbox. If auto is what you’ll opt for, be advised that the Cooper use a 6-Speed whereas the Cooper S uses an 8-speed Sport Automatic with paddle-shift. Both variants are very smooth compared to their smaller siblings and they also offer more refinement, something needed in this segment. We’re happy to state that sharp dynamic handling is apparent in the new Countryman, but in a more grown up way.

The vehicle still has that childish get up and go manner about it, but much more civilised. The added power of the S model is a nice to have, but the standard cooper won’t leave you sorely wanting, especially during the everyday commute. The most revolutionary model is yet to come however, this being the Cooper D, a first for the South African market. Better fuel economy and more torque will probably make this upcoming variant the Countryman of choice for many.

Overall the new Countryman is a great step ahead for the brand. The outgoing car had started to feel slightly long in the tooth, so this newer model came in the nick of time. With competition like the Audi Q2, the Countryman has got what it takes to square off with the rivals whilst maintaining a unique flair. MINI lovers needing more space can happily stay in the brand with the new Countryman. With more models on the way, we look forward to seeing how it sells in the SA market. Starting at R422 000, this price point is in not unattainable for those looking at the crossover market.

 

Nissan Navara Launches In South Africa

We Drive The New Nissan Navara With Its 5 Link Suspension System.

Can you remember the type of person you were, or what you were doing in your life twelve years ago? In twelve years, I have left high school, dabbled in higher education, moved continents and tied the proverbial knot. I am a walking example, then, that a lot can happen in twelve years. That is the same period of time that has lapsed since the launch of the original Navara, so one could say that it was high time that they launch a new one.

Things are always on the move in the automotive world – from a brand’s perspective, being left behind can happen in the flash of an eye should the manufacturer decide to rest on their laurels or even just cease to remain relevant. This is the biggest threat to the new Nissan Navara in South Africa – have their previous customers moved on? Have consumers forgotten about the bakkie that was once considered one of the best? Making the situation worse is the fact that the South African launch on the new Navara has come nearly 2 years after it was launched to the rest if the world, so the all-new Navara certainly had a mountain to climb, so to speak.

According to Nissan, the reason for this is that South Africa has much harsher road conditions and as such, the new Navara needed to be adapted. Interesting, then, that this doesn’t seem to be a problem for every other manufacturer…

It’s fair to say then that the new Nissan Navara needs to be an excellent product in order to regain the attention of the South African market. Nissan knows this, which is why the Navara is not just newer and prettier, it also has a trick up its sleeve.

This trick is 5-link suspension system, which is a very clever trick indeed. Traditionally on bakkies, the leaf spring suspension system has always been the option manufacturers headed for. It’s an older system which consists of large steel bands which compress under load and when under this load, they also provide more brake pressure. This sort of system does decent job, but only really when the vehicle is under load.

Many can attest, however, to the rather unpleasant and bouncy nature of that conventional bakkie ride that we don’t really adore, with rearward instability being the rotten cherry on top.

Bakkies are no longer just work vehicles and have become lifestyle cars that need to tick more than just the rough and ready box. Single athletes, adventurous couples, camping families and owners of sandals all love the versatility and perceived safety as well as the spaciousness of bakkies. So it’s only right, then, that as the market for these vehicles evolves, so does the technology behind them.

The Nissan Navara is the first in its segment to feature this type of suspension system and there are many benefits, such as better handling and a more stability – we experienced this on a high speed dirt road at the Navara local launch and it felt very stable and most notable was the absence of the loose rear end.

If you’d like a little in depth detail on the 5-link suspension system, Practical Motoring explain it very well here.

Other changes to the Navara included an optional new 7-speed automatic gearbox, with the 6-speed manual being the standard option. These are both mated to a 2.3-litre 4-pot diesel, producing 140 kW/405 N.m. It’s not the most powerful bakkie on the market, but those figures are plenty, especially with the torque peaking low in the rev range at 1 500 rpm.

Overall then, the Navara is a very attractive vehicle and just as its predecessor did 12 years ago, impresses with its interior and exterior design. It’s also bigger than before, has more interior space and has a total weight reduction of 176 kg.

Having spent many hours behind the wheel of the new Navara during the launch which involved a beautiful coastal route from Cape Town to Lamberts Bay, we can confidently say that the Navara took it all in its stride. The overall dynamics, styling and feel of the car most certainly bring to mind the characteristics of an SUV.

With the pricing starting at R514 000, it is also very competitively priced within segment and I personally feel that even though there has been a very long wait for this vehicle, it has what it takes to recapture the attention of the market. This has already been proven by the fact that Nissan have sold over 300 Navaras since the launch in mid-march.

Full pricing is as follows, with the 4×2 double-cap expected to reach SA near the end of 2017.

Pricing and range

Nissan Navara 2.3 DDTT 4×4 SE Double Cab MT – R514 900 (incl. VAT)

Nissan Navara 2.3 DDTT 4×4 LE Double Cab –MT – R565 900 (incl. VAT)

Nissan Navara 2.3 DDT 4×4 LE Double Cab AT –R597 900 (incl. VAT)

 

Black leather seats with heater function optional on LE grade models for R13 000 (incl. VAT).

 

Volkswagen Polo 1.0 TSI R Line – First Drive

Rewind 20 years and anyone claiming to have had a vehicle with a 1.0 – litre 3-cylinder motor producing 81 kW and 200 N.m would have been labelled a madman. If they were to continue, stating that this revolutionary vehicle would sip just 4.4 l/100km and exhibit refinement to match the then contemporary E39 5 Series, the automotive community would have locked them away in a Corolla in solitary confinement until they came around.

Having now grown accustomed to the trend of downsizing, most of the above doesn’t really come as a surprise to both the public and motoring scribes alike. What does come as somewhat of a surprise is that the vehicle boasting all of the above figures isn’t even a brand new vehicle, but rather an updated version of a car that’s been on sale in South Africa for the past 8 years. There’s no denying that the Volkswagen Polo is the most impressive vehicle within its segment and now it has been given quite a nice little final hoorah if you will.

Its full name is the Polo 1.0 TSI R-Line and it features VW’s hugely impressive 3-cylinder 1.0-litre unit, mated to the 7-Speed DSG gearbox we’ve come to know and love. Along with its the drivetrain, the Polo has also been visually tweaked with a smattering of R-Line goodness in the shape of R-Line design front and rear bumpers, R-Line sill extensions, a rear diffuser, chrome exhaust tip and 17” alloys. 8 years on, the Polo is still a handsome thing and while the interior on this model is much the same as the rest of the range, it remains a superlative example of build quality and tactile pleasure.

Set to make its way into a number of VW Group Products, the 1.0-litre unit features active balancing shafts which cancel out the inherent vibrations within a 3-cylinder motor. It’s a very smooth unit which delivers maximum torque from just 2 000 rpm.  Due it being lighter than the locally produced 1.2-litre unit alongside which it is offered, it’s a free-revving and spritely motor and is surprisingly characterful thanks to the triple thrum emanating from behind the bulkhead. A claimed consumption of just 4.4 l/100km is 0.5 l/100km less than that of the 1.2-litre motor, yet 25 N.m more torque is on offer.

While pottering around town, the low-down torque and the slickness of the DSG transmission really do make it all a bit effortless and brisk bursts between traffic lights actually bring a smile to one’s face. Dynamically, the chassis handles the twisties with aplomb and the sometimes rough and constantly undulating roads along our test route in the countryside of Port Elizabeth were where the Polo did better than expected. Its high-speed stability is far superior to that of its competitors and again, this is all thanks to a well-sorted chassis and incredible refinement, as well as the use of Volkswagen’s XDS Electronic locking diff which you can certainly feel doing its bit in the corners and comes as standard on this model. If I were to briefly sum up how the Polo drives, I would have to say that it is confidence inspiring and effortless, and can be different things to different people. The R-Line package adds an impressive duality to the Polo in that it can be sporty and playful if that’s what you ask of it, as well is comfortable and docile if its economy and a leisurely drive you’re after.

Other standard features include the usual raft of safety features, rest assist, 4 airbags (6 optional), air-conditioning, multi-function steering wheel, Bluetooth connectivity, sports seats with drawers beneath them and a front-centre armrest with storage compartment.

Priced at R290 200, it comes in at the same price as the already available 1.2 TSI Highline Auto but offers a different box of frogs to that vehicle. Yes, it is rather pricey, but you certainly get your money’s worth – just remember that if you were to tell someone in 1998 that your Polo would be able to match their 523i in all but size and thirstiness, it’d be back to the Corolla for you!

Does the 5 Series live up to its title – the business athlete?

The Business Athlete. That’s a strong title which can be translated in many ways, for me, it’s a title that evokes a sense of presence, stance and performance. When this title represents a car, one would naturally have high expectations – a business athlete vehicle would have to do many things, very well.

Last year BMW outdid themselves with the 7 Series with looks, technology, performance and comfort few can match. As a result of this, there were high expectations for the 7th generation 5 Series.

The beautiful coastal town of George would be our playground for the two days of the launch. During this time I got plenty of time behind the wheel to sample two variants, the 540i and 530d.

Upon arriving at the Oubaai golf resort and after checking out some of the sample classic 5 Series models that were on display, we headed over to the beautiful lined up 5 Series fleet. A range of variants and colors, with all but one fitted the M-Sport exterior package. I was never a massive fan of the 5th and 6th generation 5 Series but BMW have really stepped it up with the 7th generation.

Strong, beautiful lines feature down the doors and down the bonnet giving it an aggressive, sporty look. It has a good stance – it sits strong, wide and has a presence. It definitely shares many design features with the 7 Series, but in a more compact, sporty package. The rear of this vehicle follows suit with the rest of the car with its wide rear end and large shoulders. All variants of the 5 Series will also feature dual exhaust pipes, one on either side of the vehicle. I felt this added to the sporty presence and symmetry. This has to be the most beautiful 5 Series in a long time, which only leaves me waiting to see how good a 7th Gen M5 will look.

A friend of mine said to me that the 5 series is no longer a bigger 3 series, but a smaller 7 series. This is so true, and the interior backs up that statement. Large bolstered seats are a lovely place to sit and provide good support. The M-Sport steering wheel fills the hands nicely and you are surrounded by leather, wood and metal.

A few interior features stood out to me; the multi-zone air conditioning panel is a full touch responsive digital display and the attention to detail on this system impressed me – sometimes the smaller things make the biggest difference. The iDrive system has been updated and features 6 main horizontal blocks on the home screen, providing access to options such as media, navigation and Connected Drive. I enjoyed the fact that each block or option updates in realtime and when clicked or touched, opens the feature up on the full screen.

Gesture control is also available- I had never used this before so after a few minutes of wafting my hands around at varying speeds, I finally figured it out and once I did, it responded and worked well. To sum it up, it is a very nice place to spend many hours behind the wheel.

After exploring the vehicles, taking photos and playing with features, I was itching to get behind the wheel and find out if the 5 series really was a business athlete. The first variant I drove was the 540i, which features a 3.0 straight six twin turbo engine producing 250 kW and 450 N.m of torque. This is the most powerful engine available in the 5 series in South Africa, until the M5 of course.

Power is delivered wonderfully through the 8-speed Sports auto – it’s smooth and linear. It is very well insulated from exterior noise and speed can creep up on you very quickly, but from the outside, the 540i produces a low-key but powerful exhaust note, stretching the 540i legs into the higher RPM and shifting with the Sports Auto does provide a satisfying blip which can be heard from the interior. It serves as just a little reminder that you are driving the performance based business athlete.

The double wishbone suspension on the front provides a sharp front end and cornering at speed will not make you feel uneasy at all. The 5 Series is very well balanced. On the long sweeping bends along our route in George, one can be confident to feed more power mid corner and even though the 7th generation took it in its stride, the rear end did start to twitch slightly, but never at one point did it feel uncontrollable,

The 5 Series is by no means a small vehicle and providing a helping hand to driving performance is the adaptive handling system. Under 60 km/h the rear wheels turn in the opposite direction to the front, to a maximum of 3 degrees. Further to this, the new 5 Series weighs less thanks to the use of lighter but stronger materials. The extra agility was noticeable in tight bends, when expecting the vehicle to understeer slightly, it responded with more front end grip.

The 5 Series now feels like a good mix between the 7 Series and the 3 Series, bringing comfort, luxury and space elements from the former, and the dynamic attributes from the latter.

Would I buy a 540i? No. The main reason for this goes by the name of 530d. In my opinion from what I experienced over the two days in George, this is the variant to pick from the new 5 Series range.

You don’t get the same level of performance as the 540i, but you do get 620 N.m of torque, which is a lot. This torque also kicks in at the lower end of the rpm range which gives lovely near instant acceleration. As expected, power does fade in the higher rpm where the 540i excels but the performance is still fantastic, and being a diesel it comes with a host other benefits. One of these is the fact that it sips fuel and will give you a 4.5 l/100km rating.

It is slightly heavier and this can be felt when driving hard, but in terms of driving dynamics, there is little difference from the 540i. Apart from the 530d and 540i variants that I drove, another petrol and diesel engine are available in the from of a 530i and 520d.

There are a host of cool features on the 7th generation 5 Series, it features the ever improving Connected Drive and semi autonomous driving. The car will even pick up your scheduled meetings in your smartphone calendar, and using the built in RTTI and business navigation system, which is now a standard feature, it will drop you a message to let you know that because of traffic conditions, you will need to leave earlier. If you have a smartphone that supports wireless charging, the 5 Series will do that for you as well if you simply leave your phone in the front console.

The head up display is now also 70 percent bigger and has a better resolution, allowing the driver to have more information in front of them, if they want.

Taking the number one spot, though, has to be the smart key. With a digital display to allow for starting, opening windows and checking vehicle information, its pretty cool. What’s cooler though is the fact that you can remotely drive your car in or out of a parking space when standing outside.

In conclusion, the 5 Series lives up to its title, the business athlete. It’s a car that you can spend many many hours behind the wheel of and be a very happy, comfortable motorist. Yes, it shares many features from the 7 Series, but the 7 Series is a car you want to be driven in, the 5 Series is a car you want to drive, its enjoyable to drive and provides a host of features to make your life easier and more comfortable.

 

Pricing

530i :  R838,700

540i : R985,300

52od : R770,500

530d :  R952, 500

 

Fiat 500 0.9 TwinAir Pop Star

I have spoken about cult cars before and how they somehow manage to attract both car-nuts and car-nots. There is one car, though, that I feel manages to attract more car-nots than car-nuts – the Fiat 500. In 2007, Fiat decided to go the same route as BMW with the MINI brand and Volkswagen with the New Beetle. They reinvented a vehicle which was incredibly popular back in the day, but with modern engineering and, don’t vomit, “retro” styling. I hate that term, but that’s exactly what it is.

As you can imagine, the 500 was an instant hit and while it may have taken South Africans a moment to warm to the little newcomer, the rest of the world went bananas for it. Barring the Americans, of course. While it never really appealed to those of us who enjoy driving briskly, the trendy and fashion conscious set loved how adept the 500 was at karting their quinoa salad take-away home from Tashas.

The 500 recently underwent a not too insignificant revision and goodness has it transformed the 500. I was never the biggest fan of the pre-facelift’s asthmatic motors and while the 1.4 litre NA motor’s 74 kW might sound okay, the 131 N.m offered was not. I adored the concept of the 500 but always felt that there were a few shortcomings.

Enter the refreshed Fiat 500, now available with 2-cylinder sewing machine engine (not really) and a little turbocharger. The Pop Star model we had on test offers 63 kW and 145 N.m which is in fact less power than the previous 1.4 litre naturally aspirated motor and only 14Nm more torque, but said torque is now available from just 1 900 rpm as opposed the previous motor’s lofty delivery close to the 6 000 rpm redline. The higher-spec Lounge model has the same motor, albeit in a higher state of tune with 78 kW. This punchy motor, displacing a mere 900c, makes easy work of running around town and if you’re not too heavy footed, Fiat claim a combined average fuel consumption of just 3.8 l/100km which is impressive. Of course we didn’t achieve anything close to that figure which we put down to the fact that you still have to boot it a little to get moving, hence our average of 7.0 l/100km. A 1.3 litre turbo diesel motor is also expected to join the line-up at some stage.

Aside from the brilliantly characterful motor, the minor styling upgrades have done a world of good for the Cinquecento – it’s adorable. LED daytime running lights have now been incorporated into the smaller set of headlights which are actually the high beams and minor tweaks to the rear as well as an array of new colours and wheel options come together to create a rather endearing little thing.

Inside, the air vents have been redesigned and things have been moved around a little to incorporate FCA group’s all too familiar Uconnect infotainment system. It works just as well as the one found in Ferraris and Jeeps and should you go for the Lounge model with its 7” TFT instrument cluster, you’ll have quite the techy looking 500. Sound deadening materials have also been increased to minimise cabin noise and here too, different trim options can be had to best suit the trendy human who would buy this sort of car.

Prices start at a not too heady R179 900 for the Pop model and work their way up incrementally to R280 900 for the 500C 0.9 TwinAir Lounge Auto. I reckon the 500 TwinAir Pop Star is the sweet spot in the range with nice to haves such as xenon headlights and PDC should you be unable to confidently manoeuvre your 3cm long vehicle. All models come with a 3 year/100 000 km warranty and service plan.

A better looking seven seater: Honda’s BRV.

Why is it that people carriers are always terrible looking? Besides Uber drivers, suburban parents will find these cars quite appealing, so it’s important for these cars to have some sort of an aesthetic appeal. I’m sure those parents don’t want to be mistaken for taxi drivers after their kids have been dropped off? Take for instance the Toyota Avanza, it’s bland and brown. The Suzuki Ertiga is not as bland, but also brown…most of the time.  What are your other choices? Well,  Honda have recently replaced the Mobilio with the new BRV and we had it for a week to see if it’s any good. Here’s what we concluded.

It’s practical:

If you happen to not believe in birth control, this is the car for you. You can fit seven people inside with some boot space leftover. If you need the boot expanded, you can drop the third bench and add more groceries, or bags, or whatever people with large families carry around. Besides offering vast amounts of space, the BRV offers one of the most modern cabins in its segment. The Elegance model we drove featured leather seats, an infotainment system and a manual gearbox. Power is supplied by a 1.5 litre normally aspirated engine which pulled the big car with ease. It’s not fast but nor is it “I can’t go up this hill” slow.

Design:

The BRV doesn’t have the dimensions of a taxi, thank goodness. It’s long and quite high. It looks like a station wagon with a raised ride height. Compared to its rivals, it also looks the most modern of the lot and for the first time, the car we had on test was not brown. So it seems like there is some sort of hope for this segment aesthetically. Don’t get me wrong, the BRV is not the car young petrol-heads will have on their wall, but it may be on the mental wall of those looking for a large car at a good price.

It’s economical:

Every new Honda we’ve driven with a 1.5 litre engine seems to not like fuel. This is good because we don’t like spending money on fuel. The BRV has a combined fuel consumption of 6.2litres/100km. These figures are very seldom on the money with most cars but we can report that with daily driving around town as well as some longer trips, the BRV never bothered us for extra fuel. In fact, we returned the car with a decent amount of fuel for the people of Honda to return to their offices with and even stop by Pretoria if needed be.

It’s comfortable:

No the Honda BRV doesn’t have amazing steering feel, nor does it turn into corners in a phenomenal way, that’s because it’s not meant to. It’s a car meant to carry people in comfort, which it does. Commuting in the BRV gives you a quiet ride and a suspension that soaks up bumps and suburban humps, that’s all that matters. For those keen on the occasional family trip you’ll be able to do so with ease. Simply pair your phone and sing along to your streamed tunes.

 Overall:  

The BRV is a car that makes sense for those needing more space. It ticks many boxes and as a result, we think it’s a good car indeed. It may not have a strong visual appeal, but last we checked visual appeal wasn’t needed to drop the kids off at school, store more luggage and fit extra human beings. Practicality does all that, for that purpose the BRV works very well. At a starting price of R238 900, that’s a lot you’re getting for a good price.

 

 

We Drive the BMW M4 GTS

We all have moments in life when we have a  “pinch me” experience. For car lovers, it may be driving a specific car. This was the case for me recently when I was invited to the unveiling of the new BMW M4 GTS, which happened at the inaugural SA Festival of Motoring hosted by the Kyalami Racetrack. Seeing this jacked up M4 in the flesh was one thing, with its large front splitter, orange and silver wheels and large rear wing. The matte finish and gold trimming on it clearly differentiate this car between its “lesser” siblings. The aggressive styling and rear LED taillights are a real sight to behold. Although much more outlandish in design than other previous special M cars, the GTS is really something to look at. Getting the opportunity to drive it was another thing, though, something the “big people” at BMW confirmed we were going to do. Knowing you’ll have the opportunity to sample 1 of 23 cars coming to South Africa is a special yet daunting feeling. Even the car that was made available for us was already spoken for by a potential buyer.

What makes it a GTS

If you’re not a BMW fan boy like most car lovers, you may be interested in what separates an M4 GTS from a standard M4. First and foremost, there have been extreme weight saving techniques used to shed mass on the car. The car features carbon fibre seats,  a lightweight centre console and lighter doors with specialised loops instead of conventional door handles. The bonnet of the GTS has also been redesigned in carbon fibre as well as the front splitter. The result is a car track ready car that weighs 1510kg’s.

The M4 is also a two seater only as the rear seats have been removed and replaced by a role cage. Powering the GTS is a beefed up version of the 3.0-litre twin-turbocharged engine found in the standard M4. A figure of368kW and 600Nm is what the car produces through the standard M DCT gearbox. This power boost is mainly thanks to the water injection system which allows for cooler air combustion in the intake. Heat is a big factor for high-performance engines such as these, so a cooler air coming in increases performance, something the water injection system allows.

Aerodynamics also play a major role in these vehicles so the large front splitter as well as the “table top” rear wing increase down force and airflow. That means that at high speed, the M4 GTS is now more planted than ever, providing you with a more focused car on the track. Depending on your preferences, the suspension can be adjusted through the three-way M-Coilover system, giving you a customisable setup.

Sitting in this car alone is an experience because you’re in a fixed position. The racing bucket seats only moves backwards and forwards, much like the seats on the iconic M3 CSL which launched over a decade ago. Speaking of the M3 CSL, this was a car many enthusiasts had as wall poster. I’ve always wanted to drive one but haven’t been afforded the opportunity yet. Hopefully, my time spent in the M4 GTS will tide me over until then.

Getting behind the wheel:

Starting up a car you’re potentially only going to drive once in your lifetime is a memorable moment. Placing my hands on the Alcantara steering wheel, hearing the sound of the engine and accelerating for the first time made me immediately draw the conclusion that this was no ordinary M4 with no power. A 0-100 time of 3.8 seconds is what makes you realise that is car is a serious piece of kit. It’s raw, excitable, and slightly intimidating all at the same time. The steering system is direct and very accurate and the breaking system is immensely strong. Because of the weight saving measures, there is less sound deadening, which has created a race car feel to the car. The hisses of turbochargers, squealing of carbon ceramic brakes and pops of the exhaust create an ecstasy behind the wheel. BMW required us to be accompanied by their trusted “stig” who heads up the BMW driving academy, but he was in no way inhibiting during the experience.

After my session in the car, I longed for more time to really exploit its capabilities. It’s the kind of car you would want to build a relationship with. One can only imagine what the possibilities could be once a driver has learned what the limits of the M4 GTS are. That being said, I can confidently say that the time spent developing this car has not gone in vain. From the outside in this version has been redesigned for its purpose to find apex after apex. It’s striking to look at and visceral to drive. It’s the ultimate BMW M4. A price tag of R2.2 million is hefty but so is the privilege of owning a future classic. This will be the M3 CSL of the next generation. Only this time I can say I’ve driven it.

Volkswagan Tiguan Extended Review.

Much hype has been made about the new Volkswagen Tiguan. This excitement is warranted though, because the car looks and drives amazingly. So far the car has won the Family Car award from Cars.co.za’ Consumer Awards.  It is also a finalist for the Wesbank SAGMJ South African Car of The Year 2017, so things seem to be going pretty well for the new model.  We’ve spent some time driving the models offered in South Africa during the launch, so we could confirm that the new Tiguan is indeed a revolution compared to the old car. There was nothing wrong with the model preceding it, but there was neither anything outstanding about it as well. A two day launch allowed us the opportunity to get a feel of the car, in order to report if it was good or bad.  A month long test however  helped us to better understand the true consumer experience of the new Tiguan. This is what Volkswagen gave us the opportunity to do during the month of December. As a result, we can highlight the following about the car:

Family friendly:

It may not be enormous, but it sure is comfortable. The new Tiguan has been designed for those looking for space and comfort. Most compact SUV’s are comfortable when occupied by four people, but the new Tiguan seats five in such a way that there will be few complaints in the rear. For those extra long journeys, the foldable trays behind the front seats will come in handy, provided eating is allowed in the car. The leather seats are optional and come highly recommended as they are easier to clean and give the car a much more premium interior look.

Stares come standard:

Because Volkswagen is a favoured brand in South Africa, the new Tiguan is a car that attracts a great deal of attention. Much to our surprise, people from varying backgrounds and ages had questions to ask and looks to give. This is due to the completely redesigned exterior of the car. The added R-Line Package makes matters worse as the car will not go unnoticed. Often compact SUV’s look like knock-offs of their larger siblings, but in the case of the new Tiguan, the radical design changes that recipe.

Automatic is the way to go:

Most people looking to buy a new Tiguan have added space as a priority on their shopping list. This means that you may have a little one or three. This may also mean that traffic is a reality for you. If this is the case, we recommend you spend the extra bucks on the DSG derivative of the car. The problem with the manual is that it firstly requires more effort to operate and secondly, it tends to bog off the line which may cause unnecessary stalling. In all honesty, this somewhat annoying “niggly” is the only fault we can find on the car. Besides that, nothing negative jumped out during our four week test. As small as the engine is, the 1.4 litre TSI has enough power for both city and long distance driving, which is surprising considering the size of the car.

An excuse to road-trip:

An extended test of the Tiguan would not be complete if we didn’t take the car on a road-trip. Like most “vaalies” we did the 1500km+ trip to Cape Town from Johannesburg. This trip allowed us to use features like Adaptive Cruise Control as well as the Head-Up display, both optional in the Tiguan. The biggest highlight of this car on a long trip is the comfort levels. Despite the larger rims from the R-Line package, the long trip was not back breaking at all. The inclusion of the DYNAUDIO  Excite sound system was also able to drown out snores from the passengers to and from Cape Town. It took a total of two tanks of fuel to cover the journey one way, which was very reasonable considering the size of the engine. The boot space was also more than accommodating. Having friends that don’t know what the meaning of “packing light” is, I was worried that my rear view mirror would be blocked by silly items during the drive. This wasn’t the case though as the 615-litre trunk swallowed up all the bags with ease.

Overall:

Again, we cannot find anything to deter someone looking for a compact SUV from buying a new Tiguan. Instead, there is much to encourage a buyer to consider this car. What was once a more feminine car has been redeveloped into something even the most manliest men could drive with pride. The car maintains its premium feel inside and out, making it comparable to brands much more expensive to it. At a starting price of around R380 000 it’s also not financially out of reach for many. Therefore it comes as no surprise then that this car has won the hearts of many of those who have driven it. It’s a very good package, probably one of the best cars Volkswagen has produced in this segment. It drives like a slightly larger Golf but will fit more and do more. What more do you want out of a compact SUV? If it’s more power, but the 2.0-litre TSI. If it’s more efficiency you’re after, the 2.0TDI may do the trick, but overall the entire range has something that will keep you happy.

 

 

 

Experiencing Namibia With The Isuzu KB.

Ford Ranger 2.2 vs ISUZU KB 300

NAMIBIA. A place few in population but vast in space, a location which holds some of the largest sand dunes in the world, it’s an eye opener to the new visitor and it’s definitely a location that should be included on anyone’s bucket list, it has always been in mine. Apart from cars, landscape and adventure photography has always a great passion of mine and over the past year Namibia had moved itself up on my bucket list to somewhere in the top 5. So When Francisco called me and asked if I would like to attend the Isuzu launch in Namibia I got very excited, he already knew my answer. The original plans intended on us staying in Namibia for one night, but that would not do for me. I arranged to remain in Namibia for a further two nights so I could get out into the open and explore this great part of the world.

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Isuzu would be providing accommodation for the first night, but after that, I would be on my own. I went and purchased an incredibly cheap and pretty useless two man tent, so small that I could not lie down flat inside it without stretching and busting the seams. It might also worth noting that I’m only 167cm tall, it may fit two men wide, but the only person lying down in that tent was a sall child. Good job I didn’t plan on spending much time at all in inside it.

The plans were for me to stay the night at JHB airport and fly out with the other Journalists the next day, which I did. Isuzu put me up in the “ airport hotel “ which I was fairly impressed with and got a goods nights rest. The next day involved the usual, an early rise, an easy check in and pass through JHB international security. The first issue I encountered was the small plane, no I’m not a nervous flyer. It was more the fact that I was lugging two camera bags onto a 40 seater plane with overhead storage so small I would struggle to fit my lunchbox in it.  It was amusing to see the flamboyant air steward trying to force close the door, nearly bringing down half the ceiling fascia in the process. I opted to keep the drone on my lap, if the paper plane did go down, at least I would die with my memories.

 

Arrival

Looking out the window when Coming into land at Walvis Bay International Airport emphasises the vastness of this land. For as far as the eye can see, it’s sand,  with the odd little town coming into view as your eyes adjust and pick out the details. The first treat of this trip was unexpected one as we taxied, looking over the wing we noticed an unusually looking plane. After some consultation with the other guys, we realised that this was a legendary ER-2 high-altitude aircraft, used by NASA for atmospheric tests. An awesome sighting indeed, we even watched this machine go from standstill to airborne in somewhere around 400 meters.

After a few minor issues at the airport, such as a fire and loss of luggage, we were greeted by the Isuzu team and finally on our way. We partnered up and headed down the dusty road in the brand new Isuzu KB 300; this vehicle was the top of the range spec, apart from suspension updates, all the other updates to this vehicle are purely visual, the drivetrain options remain the same. The KB 300 features a 3-Litre turbo diesel producing 130kw and a meaty 380nm of torque. The facia changes to the KB include a newly designed bonnet, radiator grille and front fog lamps. New projector headlamps conclude the changes to the front of the vehicle, with LX models featuring LED daylight running lights. The updated design continues to the rear of the vehicle with an updated rear tailgate, and the introduction of a reverse camera integrated into the tailgate handle on LX models.  The LX model also gets updated 18″ alloy wheels, with the rest of the range receiving updated 16″ alloys. Interior changes the same throughout the range with an updated instrument cluster, gear change indicator on manual models to help keep the planet green and finally, roof mounted rear speakers.

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All in all, these little changes make a considerable difference and produce a refreshed KB.  Heading along the dirt road to our first stop at the Swakop riverbed, it was easily noticed that the KB had a great ride and handled the terrain well.  This was most likely due to the time and effort Isuzu has put into refining the suspension on KB models, 4 x 2 models receive updated front and rear dampers with the 4×4 models just getting changes to the rear dampers.  Isuzu has refined the rebound control of the damper, which is when the damper is on the down stroke after being bumped or compressed up by a bump or road surface. The dampers primary job is to control the suspension spring and the speed in which it reacts, an integral part of a suspension system.

Dune Driving Day One.

We soon arrived at the tempory white marquee set up near the riverbed before our first exploration. After restoring energy levels, rehydrating and a fantastically exciting briefing, we lowered tire pressures to 0.8 Bar and headed off into the unknown, for the instructors and tour guides, it was their back garden.

It was a fairly easy route with small and moderate climbs and descents, the path through the riverbed twisted and turned as massive dunes towered on either side of us. This run was to help us find our “sand feet”, it was pleasant and an extremely enjoyable drive until we finally stopped off at one random pipe sticking about 1 meter out of the ground. A few meters behind the pipe were the remains of an old truck,  mainly the steering column and suspension lay rusted and half buried in the sand.  The story goes that in the 1970’s, a team came here to drill for water, the truck broke down and they left, never to return to collect it.  It takes around 8 seconds for a mere R1 coin to hit the bottom of the pipe, making it roughly 170m deep! After the break, we swapped drivers and headed back the way we came, although I recognised nothing.

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The evening ended with us checking in at the beautiful stand hotel which looks over Swakopmund beach, Along with everyone else, I still not have my luggage. Isuzu were fantastic at this point as they had arranged fresh clothes, deodorant and toothbrushes for all, even thought the lost luggage had nothing to do with them. We settled down for a hearty meal, banter and some good conversation before grabbing an early night; we had been told that the next day would be fantastic, 8 hours in the dunes, how could it not be?

NAMIBIA, DUNES, DRIVING, 4X4,THEMOTORISTS,ISUZU, LANDSCAPES, SAND, AFRICA, SAMAYRES

NAMIBIA, DUNES, DRIVING, 4X4,THEMOTORISTS,ISUZU, LANDSCAPES, SAND, AFRICA, SAMAYRES

Dune Driving Day Two

The next day we rose early, full of anticipation and excitement. A quick breakfast with the team, a change of vehicles and we hit the road. We headed through Walvis Bay and-and onto the beach where we stopped and again, dropped our tires pressures to 0.8 bar.  Stretched out in front of us was miles of beach, it was a very gloomy morning with lots of fog and soft light, adding to this was the 3-foot left-hander wave running peacefully just off the shoreline. It was all very surreal.

Second-Day-2

30 minutes later we were still tearing up the sand as we pelted across the beach, a line of Isuzu bakkies seemed headed for nowhere, every now and again the odd seal would sit up and screech as we passed. The heat of the sun began to burn off the mist as we headed closer to our destination. Slowly coming into view were the sand dunes we would soon be attempting to conquer, one of the only places in the world where sand dunes meet the ocean and man, it was beautiful. The morning light hit the dunes and turned the sea blue as we headed closer, as a photographer I’ve seen many beautiful sights, this was definitely one of the best.

The convoy came to a quick stop with dunes on the left and ocean waters on the right, many have been caught out here by the rising tides, causing them to be trapped and vehicles consumed the ocean. Nature doesn’t play games. As we carried on ploughing through the sand, the beach opened out and in the distance was an Isuzu bakkie, ready and waiting with cold refreshments before we started to sweat. The excitement was in the air as we stared on at the dunes we would be facing, small jackals could be seen climbing the steep sands. They made it look easy, would the Isuzu KB do the same?

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No more child play and the speed hole.

There was no easing into this day, we turned off the beach and straight into a sharp drop with a steady, long accent which needed all the momentum we could muster. A few of us got stuck here, not realising the brute force sometimes needed. This style carried on for a while, steep accents followed by very steep descents. The Isuzu handled it well although we were told that it’s not about the vehicle, but the driver. This was my first experience off road dune driving and it amazed me at how aggressive one needs to be, we were informed to feed the throttle and use every ounce of power the 3Litre Diesel produced.  Today made yesterday look as natural as a child making sand castles, more challenges lay ahead. Being here really helps to realise the beauty and sheer scale of the Namib desert, this is a place where appreciation for 4×4 systems rings true, it still blows my mind the things that man and machine can conquer.

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If you asked me what was their highlight of my time with Isuzu, I would reply with a few simple words “Speed Hole”

After a few hours of negotiating drops and climbs, we pulled up on the top of a rise and jumped out of the vehicles, the view in front of us was what could only be described as a huge desert shaped breakfast bowl, steep on the sides and incredibly deep.  Another briefing came, this one was a little more interesting. ” I’m going to give you a rollercoaster experience” was some of the words mentioned. The aim : drop down and climb up the other side of this huge sand bowl, We were all offered the opportunity to give it a go and the instructor gave us a demo. The Isuzu KB Charged up to the entrance of the speed hole at full tilt and entered the decent. Once on the decent it’s all about power and momentum, at no point during this do you even slightly back off the power. They say when the vehicle reaches the bottom of the hole, it is easily doing three figures on the speedo. The daunting bit comes when the vehicle enters the climb, speed slows dramatically and the throttle stays pinned. You hope and pray that the Isuzu keeps momentum and continues over the crest.  You do not want to get stuck, be the one guy who left a brand new Isuzu KB in the bottom of a hole in the Namib desert, there is a very thin chance of vehicle recovery.

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Not many attempted this feat, I was nervous, more to the fact that I didn’t want to be “that guy” especially on my first launch with Isuzu. I knew if I left the Namib desert without completing this task, I would be extremely gutted. Time was short; I teamed up with Andrew, we agreed he would do the run one way, and I would return. To this day it was one of the coolest things I’ve done, the speed, G-force and sense of accomplishment is a feeling I will hold onto, besides the fact that you feel like a badass and that you are part of 5% who had the gonads to do it.

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Back to Deserting

The trip carried on, climbing and descending sand mountains,  One of the warnings we had in our briefing was about cornering too quickly. Due to low tires pressures, there is always a risk of the tire leaving the rim. This happened to one certain Isuzu man, who merely sat back and chuckle as he proceeded to tell the team it was a good job they practised this procedure before hand. The off-road team quickly rectified this issue, and we were back on our way.

NAMIBIA, DUNES, DRIVING, 4X4,THEMOTORISTS,ISUZU, LANDSCAPES, SAND, AFRICA, SAMAYRES

NAMIBIA, DUNES, DRIVING, 4X4,THEMOTORISTS,ISUZU, LANDSCAPES, SAND, AFRICA, SAMAYRES

There was only one point in the trip where I got really stuck, 3 times. I don’t know what it was. Apparently I wasn’t using the “full power “of the vehicle. Well unless the other Isuzu’s had more travel in their accelerator pedals, that was not the case. It wasn’t even that steep, a steady accent with thick sand and at this point we had moved into low range mode. I feel I was too close to the Isuzu in front and could not build up enough momentum for the climb. I finally got out of the mess and enjoyed catching up with the rest of the crew, it was a benefit in disguise being left behind for a short while as I got to enjoy the path head, uninterrupted at a good pace. My partner and I had some fun moments when we needed to decrease speed quickly because the a sharp drop appeared out of nowhere. Visions of the Dakar rally filled our minds, well Dakar rally wipeouts. As good a car the KB is, I don’t think it was built or designed to slide across the sand on its front end.

As the day draws to a close and we could see a simple white tent in the distance the dunes progressively got smaller but more enjoyable, a few occasions came about with the rear of the vehicle sliding out during a cornered decent. The bigger dunes were great to tackle but the smaller ones are more technical and can be taken at a greater speed, which is also very fun.

Challenges

On any adventure trip like this, there are always going to be a few challenges, apart from the time above when we got stuck, there were a few other challenging times.  For me, I like to see where the vehicle is going, the path ahead, you could say. On steep descents you cannot see the dune below or where it flattens out until you have committed, it’s nice to plan ahead but this wasn’t always possible, and it takes a little faith in the vehicle to push over the edge and continue with the decent.

Another challenge was to remember which way the wheels are directing the KB in, when in the heat of the moment your attention is drawn away by other things such as the surroundings and the challenge ahead. At a quick glance it may seem the wheels are straight but more often than not you may find that you are a full wheel rotation away from the wheels facing straight ahead. This can affect you badly when out in the dunes as the front wheels scrape and sand builds up quickly in front of the wheels which can cause the vehicle to get stuck. It’s important to keep some attention on what you are doing with the wheel.

Namibia

The 4×4 experience was over, and it was time for me to part ways with the team, I picked up my hire car and headed out on my lone wolf mission.  I would spend two nights at Spitskoppe, a beautiful campsite surrounding a mountain a few hundred KM’s away from Swakopmund.

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These two days were spent photographing and videoing the vast landscapes and impressive night sky; it was during a new moon period which means the sky is extremely dark and the milky way shines brightly. This was a fantastic two days but can be a little lonely during the hot days, as there is not much to do. There is so much to see and experience in this part of the world; I experienced only a very small part of what Namibia has to offer and will be heading back. It’s a vast land with friendly people and it feels very safe to head out and explore. Many companies offer 4X4 Hire with endless camping equipment, if you have the chance to go, don’t hesitate, spend a good few weeks taking in everything this land has to offer.

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Overview – The Isuzu KB

Overall the small changes to this vehicle make it a good upgrade, Apart from the NB 300, Isuzu has the NB 250, which is also a Turbodiesel producing 100kw and 320Nm. Also available are two workhorse models. The 250 Base Single Cab and 250 Fleetside Single Cab producing 58kw and 170Nm

I like to think of the Isuzu KB as a workman’s bakkie, it’s a workhorse, but it is not too fancy or luxurious like you might find in a Ranger Wildtrack, for example. It’s a solid vehicle, looks great and does the job. A big advantage to the KB is that it comes with Sat Nav, it’s a little finicky to use and has a terribly annoying speed warning system, that is deactivated when Navigation is not in use. Thank goodness.

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