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Stacking up the new Kia Rio against its older sibling

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Performance Car Buyer’s Guide

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

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

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

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

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

Audi RS Q3/ RS Q3 Sportback

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

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

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

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

Audi TT RS Coupe and Roadster

Static photo Colour: Turbo blue

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

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

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

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

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

Audi RS 5 Coupe and Sportback

Static photo; Colour: Glacier white

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

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

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

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

Audi RS 4 Avant

Static photo Color: Tango red

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

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

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

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

Audi RS 6 Avant

Static photo, Color: daytonagray matt

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

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

Audi seems to win another round of value for money!

Audi RS 7 Sportback

Static photo, Colour: tango red

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

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

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

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

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

Audi S8

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

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

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

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

Audi SQ 7

Static photo, Colour:Daytona grey

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

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

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

Audi SQ 8 and RS Q8

Dynamic photo, Color: Florett silver

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

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

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

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

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

Audi R8 Coupe and Spyder

Static photo, Colour: Ascari Blue metallic

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

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

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

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

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

What are your favourites? Leave us a comment below!

Road Sailing with Honda’s new Ballade

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Mitsubishi Pajero Sport

Overlooked & Under-appreciated

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Affordable Adventuring in the Toyota Urban Cruiser

More recently, people have had an inherent yearning for adventure as a result of being cooped up under months of lockdown – getting out to experience the world around us seems more of an imperative now than ever before. Carmakers have paid attention and through the advent of the SUV segment have made adventuring into uncharted territory more accessible than ever before. However, capable SUVs that retain the comforts of normal cars cost a fortune, until recently that is. Alex Shahini spent some time with the new Toyota Urban Cruiser to determine if it can fill the gap and be a cost effective solution to adventuring. 

Small, nimble and cost effective SUV options that share underpinnings and technology with front wheel drive hatchbacks have flooded the market in recent years and while they are less capable in treacherous conditions, they still tick all of the boxes for amateur explorers in search of affordable adventuring. This is where the Urban Cruiser comes in, the most recent addition to Toyota in Mzansi. Significantly smaller than the RAV4 and CH-R models, the new option in their range has pricing starting at only a quarter of a million Rand. Which, considering what is included as standard equipment on the car, provides a strong argument for its value for money. 

This affordability comes at a price though. While the exterior holds a pleasant aesthetic with attractive proportions, there are certain comforts and amenities that have been sacrificed for cost saving. The high driving position and seats are comfortable with all dials and buttons in good reach of the driver but the cabin still felt slightly shortchanged. The dashboard and dials were composed of a small selection of cheap finishes while lack of interior illumination at night would leave me constantly fiddling around to find the window switches and steering stalks.

The list of features are commendable however, with our range-topping XR model getting additions such as automatic headlights, cruise control, auto-dimming rear-view mirror, rain-sensing wipers, dual 12-volt power outlets, front armrest, a touchscreen infotainment system, leather steering wheel and the inclusion of two tweeter speakers.

The driving experience on the other hand proved to be extremely comfortable for me and any passengers or pets I happened to ferry around. With elevated ride height providing ample visibility over the bonnetline any unavoidable potholes and road imperfections were accordingly dealt with by the surprisingly soft suspension. While the revvy naturally-aspirated 1.5-litre 4-cylinder motor had a comfortable and constant power delivery to its redline at around 6500rpm, it never felt greatly insufficient in its overtaking or pull-away ability, even with passengers on board and the limited torque it had. Where it did fall short on the road was its lack of a 6th or overdrive gear. At 120kmh the engine whine of 3800rpm would become audible in the cabin. Overall though, this compact option emulates some of its larger SUV siblings extremely well with its comfort characteristics. The passenger pooches wagging tails were a sure sign of an enjoyable journey. 

A combination of city and highway driving yielded just below the meagre 6.5l/100km figure albeit with very reserved driving. This is not a car that encourages or enjoys spirited bursts of open throttle and hash braking but rather instills a very calm and comfortable cruise – which is likely where it inherited its name from. Its short wheelbase made venturing tight parking lots and narrow paths a breeze while the rear-facing park distance control would automatically quieten the radio or media player so that the sensors would become clearly audible. This is an intuitive feature since there is no radial volume knob to reduce volume and repeatedly clicking the touch-capacitive screen can be a frustrating and arduous task. 

The angle of the infotainment screen occasionally caught a reflection from the rear passenger side window which would limit its usability, but most of the functionality on the device including Apple Carplay and Android Auto was simple and intuitive to use even with this limitation. The boot comes with ample space at 314 litres while the rear seats can fold down in 2 configurations. However low light situations would prove to be tedious with no illumination in the boot – even on our range topping XR model. 

From our time with the Urban Cruiser we experienced many livable niggles and limited refinement that enables this compact B-SUV to be so affordable, but how exactly is it so cheap? While the obvious answer from above would implicate the cheap interior materials for its low base price it actually has to do with Toyota’s global alliance with fellow Japanese automaker Suzuki. Both brands have gone into a mutually beneficial agreement of platform sharing which some may have already noticed with the local sales of the identical Toyota Starlet and Suzuki Baleno models. In exchange for technology and R&D, Suzuki provides Toyota with fantastic and affordable vehicles to slot into their range. Since these two automakers are in partnership, this also means part and die costs are shared which inevitably lowers the risk and end price of the final product.

The Suzuki Vitara Brezza and Toyota Urban Cruiser are two identical cars save from the bumpers and badges. While I believe the overall aesthetics and light features of the aforementioned models share a much more similar design language to the Suzuki Vitara Brezza.

Suzuki Vitara Brezza

Toyota have nonetheless incorporated their SUV design language from the Fortuner and RAV4 successfully into their iteration making it seem more like a butch SUV. 

Affordability and adventure should go hand in hand which the Toyota Urban Cruiser offers very well, if you can see past some of the livable niggles – this may be the right choice for you. The final result is a fantastic, accessible runabout, with a competitive price tag.

The BMW M3 & M4 Competition

Say what you want about the looks, this is still a proper M car! Shaun Korsten reports from launch in the Western Cape

It’s been the butt of the joke and the subject of enormous social media ridicule ever since BMW unveiled the concept version of the new M4 in late 2019. Some went as far as saying this is the end of the BMW – a bit over the top, I know, but BMW loyalists are apparently a tough crowd to please.

Yes, the styling isn’t BMW’s finest work and their riposte to all of you calling for the designer’s head to be on the chopping block will be ‘you’ll get used to it’. And admittedly, I think I have…it’s purposeful and aggressive – it doesn’t look like anything on the road. I think that was their main objective and they got it spot on. But my opinion on something that I’m sure you all have your own isn’t the point of this review. So, let’s get into the meat of things.

Under the bonnet, there’s still a six-cylinder twin turbo sending power to the rear. The all-wheel drive (xDrive) model should make landfall by the end of the year. Outputs of 375kW and 650Nm are significantly higher than the F80 generation – 44kW and 100Nm to be exact. Our market is of course only getting the Competition version which means it is paired exclusively to eight-speed ZF automatic transmission. Which rules out the possibility of getting your hands on the manual version, but how many of you were actually going to buy the manual?

But let’s talk about the gearbox quickly: the previous F80 M3 used a M-DCT ‘box that was very responsive and rewarding when driving spiritedly but less so in traffic and day-to-day situations where it would be cumbersome and jerky. And while you do lose out on the rather enjoyable snap-like response when changing a gear, the new eight-speed ZF is an all-round improvement. It manages the hustle and bustle with more comfort than before, and the changes on upshifts and downshifts are still dramatically quick! The whole experience has been numbed slightly but I’m sure the majority of owners will appreciate this move.

The route we followed on launch took us through picturesque towns like Tulbagh and Ceres in the Western Cape and trotting along at the indicated speed limit was a pleasant and enjoyable experience. The adaptive M suspension and electronic controlled dampers did a great job of soaking up most imperfections, but the harsher bumps will be quite jarring in the cabin. On both the M3 and M4, standard fitment is 20-inch wheels at the rear and 19-inches upfront.

The interior is what you would expect from a BMW: inch-perfect build quality, top-tier materials with tasteful finishes and a smorgasbord of tech. In my opinion, BMW has been the segment leader for years in interior ergonomics and quality. Although, the crown of tech king must be given to Mercedes-Benz as I am still disappointed at the lack of configurability on the digital drivers display. Nitpicking aside, the cabin truly is a wonderful and luxurious place to be in – but now with a splattering of carbon fibre all over the place.

Our final destination was a private racetrack in the Cape Winelands where we were able to get a short, 3-lap stint around the circuit in both models. If you’re wondering, I didn’t notice any discernible difference between the M3 and M4. The the first I noticed was how composed it felt around the corners – there was just bucket loads of traction and grip. Although the G80 is carrying an additional 150kg in weight over its predecessor, the strengthening to the chassis meant the body always felt composed and it coped with strain and pressure extremely well. You can get an M Race Track Package that sheds 25kg.

The steering is now electronically controlled and unfortunately it is another numbing aspect to the new M3 and M4 . But in saying that, it is lazar sharp and extremely accurate and gives you a sense of confidence in your ability to correctly position and react to the car.

On the straights, you will reach a 100km/h in just 3.9 seconds – although I suspect that it is slightly quicker than that. BMW have also integrated a new braking system with two settings for pedal feel and response.

All in all, the new BMW M3 and M4 Competition are truly fantastic drivers’ cars that push the yardstick even further – they remain the brand to beat in this segment. With Mercedes-AMG opting for a 2.0-litre hybrid powertrain for the next generation C63, I’m sure we can all look past the Halloween mask and appreciate these types of cars before they are all gone.

Is The Petite BMW 218i Gran Coupe Worth Its Salt?

The original BMW 2 Series Coupe made its global debut in 2014 with its trendy styling and desirable coupe proportions. In 2019, BMW changed the recipe and seemed to start from scratch launching the front-wheel-drive (FWD) F44 generation 5 door as its replacement. Alex Shahini spent time with the 218i Gran Coupe specced in the M Sport package to determine if this has been a success for the Bavarian brand.

While the current 2 Series generation is approaching 2 years of production it is by no means a new car but seeing one on the road can give it that impression. Not only is its imposing styling more aligned with the existing brand identity of current BMW models, but their uncommon presence on the road can provide naive passers by with an illusion that it is a brand new release. This was the Bavarian-based manufacturers attempt at creating a more affordable and attainable model to the heavier and larger 3 Series sedan. It was developed with the intention of retaining loyal customers by providing an expedient, downsized BMW alternative to the likes of the Mercedes-Benz CLA and Audi A3 Sedan.

So, the recipe has changed but how has this influenced the driving experience? The first elephant in the room that I need to address is that this is the new era of FWD BMW’s. While the topheavy looking mommy wagon-esque 2 Series Active Tourer was the first of its kind to do away with rear powered wheels in 2014, our 218i Gran Coupe proved to be an engaging car to drive in more enthusiastic scenarios, albeit with a healthy amount of torque steer. A welcomed surprise because most consumers set on purchasing the 218i may be less focused on its driving appeal and more fixated on its amenities and comfort. 

While the downsized turbocharged 3-cylinder motor with a total displacement of 1.5-litres sounds underwhelming, its 103kW and 220Nm means that it is nippy in most environments it finds itself in – especially considering it has a dry weight of only 1345kg. While this is by no means a fast car, only reaching 100km/h from standstill in 8.7 seconds, it does trundling around extremely comfortably with smooth power delivery compliments of a seamless automatic gearbox in comfort mode. The smaller displacement begins to take some strain with additional passengers and luggage but nothing the additional mass can’t handle. 

While most of it is good there are a few operational issues including a jerky stop-start function, lack of low end torque while accelerating and unintuitive gear shifts in sports mode which makes spirited drivers like myself yearn for paddle shifts. Due to its light stature, windy days on highways can also make the car feel unstable with its light steering input and soft suspension.  

The 218i Gran Coupe can be aesthetically considered as an amalgamation of several different BMW models. The wheelbase, track, interior and front end of the car are identical to that of the new F40 generation 1 series on which its platform is based while its proportions are indicative of a shrunk version of an 8 Series Gran Coupe with much smaller wheels. At quick glance, you may even confuse the silhouette of the two. While the looks can be subjectively polarizing, I find that there is a strong disproportionate element towards the rear ¾ panel of the car that simply doesn’t look correct. Almost as though the 1 Series hatchback has had an improvised tailgate stuck onto the rear as a complete afterthought and without refined integration. Regardless of this, this 218i Gran Coupe comes with a highly useful 430-litre boot with a false floor and easily foldable rear seats. 

The cockpit, while indistinguishable from the 1 series, feels largely more cocooned with its faster raking A-pillar, frameless doors and lower roofline. While this has been done to achieve the recognizable silhouette of a Gran Coupe it comes at the price of rear head room, even with shorter passengers. Its overall interior is an appealing and elegant but busy place to be, with many intersecting joints and a multitude of different textures and touch points. After spending time with the BMW 128ti earlier this year, we were highly impressed with the forward strides BMW have taken in their interior aesthetic and the 218i is no different. The interior dials are all sensibly laid out and all have a familiar tactility to them however the central radio console below the air conditioning is completely redundant with the intuitive haptic rotary infotainment controlling device needing to be used. 

It’s interesting to note how it stacks up against competitors, particularly in terms of price. The cheapest Audi A3 Sedan currently on sale is the 30 TFSI which retails for R520 569. But you must remember that the all-new A3 unveiled internationally in 2020 is yet to reach our shores. Over in the corner of Stuttgart, the Mercedes-Benz CLA 200 has a price tag of R661 000. The BMW 218i Gran Couple slots neatly in between the two at R581 900. 

Even with our generously-specced press unit which had a sticker price nearing R650 000, it still undercuts the entry-level Mercedes-Benz. So in that aspect, it is certainly worth its salt and should be a tempting buy for consumers shopping in this segment. But in my opinion, the smart money is a demo model 3 Series for similar outlay and equal spec. Just don’t tell BMW I told you that!

We Drive the New Mercedes-AMG E53

Is it worthy of the the AMG badge? Alex Shahini reports from the launch at Zwartkops Raceway

Mercedes-Benz recently launched the updated version of their top-selling, 5th generation E-Class line-up in early March. Coming in multiple variations including 6 models and 9 derivatives, there is sure to be a style and powertrain for every consumer’s taste and preference wanting to combine luxury and sporty into a single package. While the more refined and comfortable cruisers may dominate the sales figures of the E-Class line-up, the stalwarts of the range will remain to be the AMG powered hooligans.

The trend of internal combustion engine downsizing is fully underway with most automotive manufacturers reducing cylinders and displacement in favour of more efficient alternatives. Mercedes-Benz has in some way kept true to their bewildering AMG roots and retained the iconic V8 in their range (albeit for now). Their additional incorporation of a 3-litre, in-line 6-cylinder turbocharged motor falls under their umbrella too featuring in models bearing the E53 nameplate. The motor is a compromise featuring the best of both worlds, but is it a true AMG?

Testing the E63 brute on the same day can provide an underwhelming feeling when getting behind the wheel of the E53. While it must be understood that they are not internal competitors, the E53 functions more as a stop gap for buyers wanting to step-up from the base model but without the need for the ludicrous nature of its 450kW bigger sibling. It has sufficient power rated at 320kW and comfortably delivers it through a 9 speed automatic gearbox into the standard 4Matic all-wheel drive system while mild hybrid tech assists in the form of a 48-volt battery. Despite this, the engine lacks punch at the top end and the gearbox feels slightly more lethargic when shifting. While the 520Nm that propels it to 100km/h in over 4 seconds makes it no slouch, the experience of it all feels underwhelming and dumbed down. It simply lacks that expectation of something adorned with the AMG badge.

This theme is continued when it comes to the suspension and overall handling characteristics, it feels a lot looser when cornering but as a result, more comfortable and negotiable. While it may not be as rigid as the E63, the pliant nature suits it well for comfortable use as a daily driver that can still traverse pothole-littered roads and undulating surfaces. And with combined efficiency rated below 9l/100km when driven sensibly, it won’t require a private oil refinery either.

The E53 remains a comfortable model in the line-up, ideally suited to urban cruising and trundling around in style but it lacks the raw, unadulterated character synonymous with larger AMG models. This is not to say it is bad at its intended function, but rather that the rapport of all AMG models that have come before it instil such an expectation to those that get behind the wheel that anything less can feel underwhelming. 

While it is well priced at R1 618 000 between the base E-Class model and the significantly more expensive R2 423 000 E63S 4Matic+ sedan, the E53 4Matic+ coupe should still comfortably fill a gap in the Mercedes-Benz sales catalogue.

It is expected that as we stray further from 6.2l V8 behemoths of yesteryear and gravitate closer to smaller displacements, Mercedes-Benz is likely to continue capitalising on the Affalterbach-based AMG division by branding models that can induce a sporty appeal to the consumer. The verdict is that the E53 is a good car, just perhaps without trying so hard to be something that it is not: a large AMG brute.

Adding to Renault’s arsenal of SUVs – the new Kiger

Renault South Africa is looking at increasing their range of SUVs with the new Kiger. This recently unveiled addition will complete Renault’s offering, joining the ranks with the likes of the Kwid, Duster and Triber. Although the Kiger is intended for the Indian market, we should see it arrive on our shores as early as Q3 of this year.

So what does the new Indian designed and produced B-SUV have to offer? For one, it has an almost identical, familiar face to the unique looking Kwid, making use of a divide in the front lighting setup, with the LED DRL’s in their own compartment above the pure vision LED headlamps. The symbolic Renault logo remains a large, bold statement intersecting the grille and the bonnet line. Rugged black plastic trim lines the bottom extremities of the car and it boasts 205 mm ground clearance. Which should give it fair capabilities over uneven terrain. An angular rear wing is seamlessly integrated above the rear windscreen while C -shaped LED tail lamps create a friendly looking aesthetic superimposed onto the available 6 base colour coats with dual tone customisability as well. 

A sensibly laid out interior surrounds the driver with creature comforts including a configurable 7” TFT driver display cluster and an 8” touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto functionality. Boot space on this sub-4-meter car is impressive at a claimed 405 litres capacity, while optional extras can include a front parking sensor, rear parking camera and a wireless charging bay.

Powering the Kiger is either a 1.0 liter three cylinder turbo-petrol engine with ratings at 74 kW and 160 Nm or a more affordable 53 kW, 96 Nm naturally aspirated (N/A) 1,0-litre petrol engine variation. The turbo is available in either a five-speed manual gearbox or a CVT while the N/A motor is paired to a five-speed manual or a five-speed automated manual transmission. 

The local market is yet to receive an official spec list and price sheet and while it is on sale in India, the country of its origin, for between 545 000 and 972 000 Rupee’s (R109 000 and R195 000 respectively), South Africa can be expected to pay a fair amount more. It should be locally priced to compete with Suzuki Vitara Brezza, Hyundai Venue and the Nissan Magnite, which it shares many similarities with. 

In A Class of Its Own – The 2021 Mercedes-Benz E-Class

Mercedes-Benz recently hosted us at their AMG Driving Academy headquarters at Zwartkops Raceway for the launch of their updated 5th-generation E-Class lineup. Alex Shahini spent the day driving the full range.

Few other brands have as much of a romantic relationship with the people of Mzansi than Mercedes-Benz. However their local history is ingrained in our fabric with models such as the iconic red W-126 500SE which was heartwarmingly gifted to Nelson Mandela upon his release from prison in early 1990. Despite the recent shift towards SUVs and hatchbacks, the distinguished variant remains the brands best selling model in their series lineup since the launch of its post-war predecessors in the late 1940’s. But is the E-Class in a class of its own?

The super-sedan segment remains hotly contested with the premium German brands constantly vying for the most market share and appealing to as broad of an audience as possible. This appeal to an inclusive sample group requires a range of vehicles that can satisfy every consumer’s needs which is why the E-Class lineup includes 6 models with 9 derivatives including a 4 door sedan, 4 door wagon (not applicable to our market), 2 door coupe and the 2 door cabrio. Within each derivative exists differing engine and drivetrain configurations which can be specified according to your preference. 

Despite the fierce rivalry with their German compatriots, Mercedes-Benz have remained the #1 premium brand after delivering 2.1 million units in 2020 with a relative market share of 37%, more than both local compatriots BMW (34%) and Audi (29%). The E-Class may continue to be the resolute reason for this continual success. It is proudly displayed as the brand’s best seller and with the 5th generation W213 as a basis, its 5 year refreshed facelift reinvigorated an already solid platform. 

With the AMG Driving Academy being situated in the opportune location of Zwartkops Raceway, the potent high performance E53 and E63 variants were put through their paces around the circuit and skid pan. While the impressive new 3-litre 6 cylinder turbocharged E53 has a power output of 320kW and makes use of mild hybrid technology, the earth-shaking but thirsty twin turbocharged 450kW V8 found in the E63S will remain the showstopper.

While all top tier AMG models retain the responsive steering and predictable body roll from the firmer suspension in Sport and Race mode, the more comfort orientated variants of the E200, E220d and E300 made trundling the highveld country roads a breeze. The overall dynamics between the chassis of the sedans and the coupes provided vastly differing experiences as a result of continual feedback from customers needs, with Mercedes-Benz adapting the suspension and chassis stiffness accordingly.

While the silhouette remains unchanged, the sheet metal panels and bodywork have been altered. The front end has swapped the upwards facing grille with a single horizontal feature for a downward facing grille with multiple vertical slats running across it – inspired by the AMG GT. The vehicles in the range including the AMG nameplate include more chrome features and a larger more imposing grille with aggressive front and rear bumpers. The now standard LED headlights have been refined to form a more cohesive front end with the updated grille while two-part LED tail lights run across the rear ¾ panel and boot lid. 

The interior layout remains mostly the same from its predecessor, with the most noticeable change being the aesthetically improved twin spoke steering wheel. The buttons have been replaced with touch-capacitive functionality which directly communicates with the new version of the MBUX system accessed via two 10.5” standard touch screens. While you can option a 12.3” screen for an additional price.

The overall tactile quality of the interior is high, with the selection of pleasant touch points found on the predecessor brought forward. The steering wheel feels slightly thick to grip around the thumb points while the touch-sensitive pads can often be overly sensitive to your touch. Spaciousness is however guaranteed for driver and passenger on saloon versions, with sufficient head, arm and legroom in all seats – even for taller passengers. The saloon retains all of the interior room while still being capable of 540l of cargo space too, trumping all of its competitors. 

Regardless which derivative, every E-Class has yet retained the premium interior texture and tailor made driving experience synonymous with the brand. It is easy to see why this range still falls at the heart of Mercedes-Benz sales as a benchmark of luxury and epitome of comfort. While it is often impossible to appeal to every consumer, the E-Class range certainly comes close to pleasing all of its buyers.