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Passion, Paint & Porsche.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The XL Italian Job – The Mini Clubman John Cooper Works

We recently got to spend a few days rapidly emptying the fuel tank of the unexpectedly fast and fun Mini Clubman John Cooper Works (JCW), a deceptive car that doesn’t look as fast as it is!

As most of our generation will already be aware, Mini’s modern day popularity can be greatly accredited to a pop culture film titled The Italian Job in the remake of a 1969 feature sharing the same name. Starring our very own Charlize Theron, her drop-dead gorgeous looks were often sidelined to the real stars of the show; the refreshed and retro-designed Mini Cooper. 

Since the film’s debut in 2003, Mini has grown their portfolio with models that have deviated somewhat from the embodiment of the brand name. In addition and contrary to Alec Issogonis original and revolutionary blueprints of a transversely mounted engine powering only the front wheels, Mini have also produced a few models with ALL4, an all-wheel-drive system that sends power to each corner of the car. 

While the recipe for some of Mini’s models has ushered in cars that seem a stretch from the characteristics that made these cars famous half a century ago, there is a market for more spacious and practical, four door models that simply could not be ignored after their takeover by profit-focused BMW. This is where the quirky, retro models like the Clubman and Countryman were intended to fill the gap. The latest generations of these models are no stranger to the world, being produced for over a decade each, they may just seem less popular than the more compact and recognizable 2-door Cooper. 

One can therefore deduce that they are lifestyle vehicles that fill a niche in the market. Sure, they still have the same funky interiors, bubbly personality and overall aesthetic of the rest of the lineup but they still lacked that purity of a Mini. The Clubman John Cooper Works is even more niche with a price tag starting from R783 840, an obese length and width of 4266mm and 1800mm respectively while its planetary mass of 1520kg is almost 3x the weight of the original Mini. 

Despite this though, our favorite Union Jack-inspired vehicle manufacturer has produced a model that feels very well powered to cope with the additional bulk and is incredibly fun to drive. This might not be the car to tackle a narrow Monte Carlo Special Rally stage but it is one that inspires confidence on a day-to-day basis of slow, tight cornering, banked highway onramps and on a loose road surface.

For this, the ALL4 system is commendable for its functionality and additional safety and assurity it offers buyers to live with everyday. But I question whether it is necessary in a car like this, as most buyers would probably never fully utilize its capabilities.

But if you do choose to head out on a spirited drive, once you flip the jet age inspired starter switch and hear the turbocharged inline-four petrol engine, it all comes to life. It is the same motor that spurs the F40 M135i xDrive forward, while the new BMW has received criticism for deviating from its lineage of in-line six motors, there are absolutely no complaints from the driver’s seat in the Mini!

The up-tuned 225kW and 450Nm is delivered via a slightly lethargic 8 speed automatic transmission to all four wheels, even in exhaust-burbling and neighbour-annoying sports mode. Cruising is an easy and comfortable task though, with engine revs below 2200rpm at the maximum national speed limit. That being said, it is also easy to make the honest mistake of going above and beyond this limit as acceleration seems as effortless as a leaf blowing in the direction the wind commands it to. 

While a combined fuel consumption of 7.7l/100km is claimed, we didn’t experience anything below 10, although sports mode dominated our time with the car. We did test its frugality in Green mode once the fuel indicator frighteningly sunk below the ¼ tank mark and efficiency was immediately improved. What remained is a comfortable car that could still pick up speed and overtake at a fraction of full throttle input.

On the inside, the narrow shaped cockpit continues the same circular theme from all other retro designed Mini’s, the part analog/part digital driver display is sufficient but small numbering on the speedometer becomes ambiguous with an illuminated display during night-time driving – a shortcoming the HUD makes up for.

There are some subtle Union Jack design cues placed on the headrests and embossed studs on the seats that give the car more of its own unique Mini identity. 

Where the second generation Clubman begins to show its age in the interior is the center console. Although the gear shifter and some of the surrounds have been updated in accordance with the more recent model years, crucial interaction points like the 8.8” infotainment screen remain unchanged from the original 2015 derivative. The reverse camera is also rather small as it doesn’t cover the full width of the screen when engaged, and the user interface seems obsolete. 

As we mentioned earlier, the Clubman John Cooper Works starts from R783 840 including a 5 year/100 000km maintenance plan but despite how much it impressed me, I remain to be convinced.

For the money to be spent, there are other better equipped and equally capable cars that would feature on my purchase list before the JCW. The likes of the less upmarket Golf R for example may be significantly smaller in dimensions but has a cargo capacity of 343l which is only 17l down on the much bigger Clubman. The Mercedes-Benz A35 is probably the best bet of having a potent hatchback with refined and classy interior finishes. Mini remains a lifestyle brand that is embodied by style conscious consumers and the Clubman is the bigger, more practical version of the 5 door Cooper hatch.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The new Kia Sonet is here to take over!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As desirable as the name states? The refreshed Suzuki Dzire

Generally speaking, any adept member of the automotive press can take one good look at a car and make accurate determinations about the way they drive and feel before even turning the ignition on. This is evidently easy to do when most inexpensive new cars all come with more cons than pros due to compromises made to achieve their low price-tag. Therefore the prospect of getting into a diminutive budget sedan, adapted from another affordable model in the range is a grim experience to look forward to. Despite the Noddy-looking proportions and glued-on bootlid, the Suzuki Dzire is not one of those cars though. It is surprisingly pleasant to drive with all of the bells and whistles a car of this calibre needs!

Accessible new mobility for under R200 000 still exists if you can believe it, but most options are lacklustre to say the least. We will start with the Dzires price, since affordability is one of its strongest selling points and something Suzuki knows a thing or two about. The base model 1.2 GA MT will set you back a measly R182 900 while the vehicle we had on test, the 1.2 GL MT costs a smidge over R200 000. 

This price also includes a 2 year/30 000km service plan and 5 year/200 000km warranty from the manufacturer. Not that this should be much of a concern since the 2021 Dzire is based on the Swift platform and shares all mechanical components from it. The shared aesthetic features and interior details should have been a dead giveaway if you are in denial. 

The Dzire is equally equipped with the Swift’s diminutive stature, tipping the scales at a feathery 890kg. This results in light steering input for low speed corners and parking scenarios, while bends of moderate pace still feel lively and connected to the steering wheel. After all, who needs a Mercedes-Benz S-Class when you have a turning circle of 4.8 meters? This is identical to the Swift despite its extended length, by the way.

The lightweight but rigid sub-ton mass is thanks to Suzuki’s HEARTECT platform which also accounts for its fun, brisk performance and frugal economy. Suzuki claims 4.8l/100km but our tests in this nippy, city-runabout didn’t see anything below 5.5l/100km. Still mighty impressive from the 1.2l naturally aspirated motor which utilizes 16 valves with variable timing and multi point fuel injection. Peak power from the 4 cylinder engine of 61kW is achieved at 6000rpm while a maximum torque rating of 113Nm comes at 4200rpm. 

While the irrelevant 0-100km/h time of 12 seconds seems an eternity, short bursts of acceleration below 60km/h are where the Dzire takes the spotlight. Its little wheels, light weight and low down torque catapult it off the line and forward into a maze of urban routes. A habitat in which it shines most bright. It is an embodiment of slow car fast > fast car slow mantra and at times you may need to be reminded that it is still just an affordable compact sedan.

All derivatives are equipped with a 5 speed manual transmission which does surprisingly well on the highway, keeping the peppy-motor’s revs relatively low at 3000rpm while at the national speed limit. In order to achieve this, the gearbox has some long ratios between each gear. This has proven to be a pitfall as sedate urban driving can often feel as though there is a missing ratio between 1st and 3rd gear. This is apparent when turning at sharp intersections and accelerating from stationary up a hill.

Despite no touch screen infotainment system, the Dzire’s cabin is well equipped for a car of this calibre too. A clunky bluetooth radio, CD reader, USB connectivity and aux port can still provide ample audio entertainment while the second row of seats have access to an armrest, power source and air conditioning vents. This is where the fun in the rear ends though as the limited rear headroom, compliments of the sharp rear rake of the C Pillar inhibit comfortable travel for extended periods of time. The narrow and awkwardly shaped rear door-well also means that only children can comfortably get in and out of the second row of seats.

The driver is better equipped however, with a comfortable seating position which provides good visibility in all directions. The seat is not height adjustable although it is sufficient, at least for me and all 173cm of my height.

Everything else from the driver’s seat is relatively spacious and most components are sensibly laid out and in good reach except for the low lying gear lever which in first and third gear seem a stretch away. The other gripe with the Dzire, which befalls most affordable Suzuki’s is the lack of automatic locking doors which take a while to adjust to. 

While this is a mild refresh of the existing generation, this comes better equipped in terms of safety for the same price of its less equipped predecessor. You now get ESP, 2 airbags and anti-lock brakes with brake force distribution and emergency brake assistance included in all derivatives. New upholstery lines the seats while electric windows are found all round. You also get power steering, an immobiliser and alarm system and remote central locking as standard. There is also 378 litres of boot space in the deceptively small looking rear.

While general refinement and cost saving are noticeable around the car if you begin to look, the overall product remains a good one in a market plagued with cheap quality. Its diminutive size work in its favour for its overall drive and comfort, it is just a pity the rear boot seems a complete afterthought in the aesthetics department. Regardless, the Dzire and it’s Swift cousin are possibly some of the best options in the affordable compact categories.

A complete guide to the GWM P-Series range

You will struggle to find as iconic a pairing as a South African and their bakkie. It is a mode of transportation that propels businesses forward and easily handles most domestic jobs for individuals. Regardless of where you find yourself in Mzansi, these capable and practical automotive choices litter the road at a ratio greater than any other type of vehicle available in our market. New to GWM’s stables is the attractively priced and well equipped P-Series range. We spent a week in the driver’s seat of each derivative using them as they were intended. 

Our market is no stranger to Asian manufactured bakkies as we know them today, kicked off by the Toyota Hilux just over 50 years ago. As can be expected, the recipe for success has been nailed down to a tee for any outsiders looking to enter the hotly contested segment which boasts brand loyal consumers. Reliability, accessibility, configurability, suitable amenities, relative comfort (for a bakkie) and most importantly an equally attractive price point is the name of the game and the P-Series ticks most boxes.

While the segment may have originated as a pure totalitarian single cab offering back then, decades of evolution have warranted the need for more comfortable and luxurious options or configurability. The GWM P-Series range seeks to be capable of both, including the commercial single cab, the commercial double cab and the well equipped passenger double cab. 

This variety means that over the years, bakkies have become an all encompassing local subculture which includes the compact front wheel drive courier vehicles delivering Takealot bundles to their shopaholic purchaser, all the way through to the eternal Ranger vs Hilux rivalry. They will continue to be the vehicle of choice for many in the years to come and thus a lucrative frontier for any automaker if they can get the recipe right. 

As China’s largest producer of SUV’s and bakkies, GWM is not new to the world of durable totalitarian vehicles, or way of governance for that matter. Although previous attempts have never dispensed a truly formidable opposition to the likes of Ford, Isuzu or Toyota, the new P-Series range may sway some non loyalist consumers away from the other reputable brands. 

It is now for the first time in the brand’s history, equipped to compete in the league it has always been yapping at the heels of, which includes the premium bakkie segment. Their previous attempts appear nameless and mundane, struggling for an identity. 

While there has been limited success with the Steed 3 (also called Wingle in other markets), the somewhat characterless Steed 4 and Steed 5 have proved to be one of the better entry-level and affordable bakkies for the masses in the past decade.

Our test cars were the top of the range and most expensive options from each spec, with other highly configurable and more affordable choices in both 2×4 and 4×4 available too.

  • Commercial Single Cab 6MT 4×4 LT priced at R412 900
  • Commercial Double Cab 6MT 4×4 DLX priced at R432 900
  • Passenger Double Cab 8AT 4×4 LT priced at R554 900

The P-Series has taken a confident stride forward in styling, with an imposing grille and clean linework – it looks the part to compete with its intended competitors yet still looks durable enough not to be a pushover. 

The commercial single cab and the commercial double cab are styled identically employing the same headlights, mesh style front grille, taillights and rims. The passenger double cab is easily differentiated by its slat-styled front grille, LED headlights and taillights while the fender includes a chrome detail and the rim options can be two-tone specced.

Despite general improvements in aesthetics over its predecessors, the single cab P-Series still looks quite odd from a ¾ view. Partially as a result of the dark colour of the side step ending awkwardly at the front cab leaving everything between that and the rear wheel hanging visually lower. 

The smooth, vast expanse of metal surrounding the rear wheel also appears to have it equipped with trolley-sized wheels, even though they are not – this is just a massively oversized bakkie. Look at it as the Chinese version of an XL American pickup. This is a gripe that not many of its potential buyers will be particularly focused on but be sure to struggle to fit into parking bays or garage interiors from its sheer length if you ever get behind the wheel of one. 

On the plus side, the extra size loading bin is capable of hauling any number of items in, enough to make actual small commercial trucks envious – although whatever is loaded in will need to be secured since the bin is not rubberised. Fortunately it is equipped with a rudimentary looking guardrail and a cargo goods rack for safe measure.

While the details are the same between both commercial derivatives, the double cab seems more proportionally correct – although with a significantly limited loading bin, obviously. There aren’t many other cosmetic or mechanical changes between the two, save from a radial knob on the interior center console of the commercial single cab which controls the high and low range off-roading options and a few other buttons. The graphic design and user interface of the infotainment is also far more appealing than its competitors in the segment.

Speaking of the interior, all of the commercial derivatives we tested were well-equipped with comfortable synthetic leather interiors, electric drivers seats and a sensible layout. The infotainment in the P-Series mimics the overall dimensions of the vehicle, equipped with a whopping 9” touch screen which also operates the climate control. While it takes the system a while to boot up when the ignition is engaged and laggy in certain operation, the large screen and high-quality reverse camera with PDC makes navigating the mass into tight spaces a less anxious process.

The analog tachometer and speedometer are clear and simple, but lack of a deep enough recess results in sun glare which hinders their function somewhat. The commercial single cab also has a large B-pillar which by default limits side visibility when driving. The overall premium intention is let down by some wobbly buttons and easy scratch plastics, but as a whole the interiors remain pleasant and well put together places to be. 

While these were the well-equipped top of the range models from each derivative, less kitted out but more affordable options can be had from as little as R347 900 in the commercial single cab and
R377 900 in the commercial double cab form. This means that the P-Series could start littering the roads donned in courier colours or the liveries of small businesses in the near future. 

The full range of P-Series is powered by a 2.0 turbo diesel motor churning out a maximum power output of 120kW at 3600rpm while its maximum torque of 400Nm arrives between 1500-2500rpm. While on paper these figures are admirable for a 2.0-litre four cylinder motor, the single powertrain option is the Achilles heel of what has so far shaped up to be a great product. 

The turbo lag is most significant, with liftoff at full throttle in the peak torque range rendering a violent and jerky experience. There is also no torque before the motor achieves approximately 1750-1850rpm which makes quick pull aways near impossible and stalling on inclines very easy – even without a load. 

The turbo lag is further noticeable when shifting gears on the 6-speed manual gearbox as any throttle liftoff requires significant time to generate the previously lost boost. Out of the full range, the 8 speed ZF automatic gearbox on the passenger double cab mitigates this and has the most pleasant ride – although it is still not perfect. 

The sole turbo diesel option does no better in the economy department either with a claimed 9.4l/100km being significantly higher than any of its competitors with similar sized and more versatile motors. Between all derivatives, we achieved around 10.0l/100km average economy with considerably more open road driving than that of the usual urban stop-start.

While the interior of the two commercial P-Series options is seemingly identical too, the experience in the passenger double cab is elevated to the next level. With a completely redesigned centre console and gear shifter, the rest of the interior includes plush colour-coded fittings and diamond stitched leather seats and door cards matched to the exterior paintwork. It feels vastly superior and refined even though comfort levels remain exactly the same as the more affordable commercial option, save from electric heated seats. 

The passenger double cab also includes a non configurable digital display which is well integrated to the more luxurious interior. It is however difficult to toggle basic information such as average fuel economy and the lack of configurability seem like an opportunity missed for the automaker to flex their technological prowess. 

The driving experience in the whole range is as comfortable as can be for bakkies of this size, with the lack of weight above the rear axle in the commercial single cab rendered the most uncomfortable over speed bumps and road imperfections.

The seating position is higher than most other commuter vehicles on the road too, putting you above eye level of just about everything else. While it is good for visibility, this makes road and wind noise fairly prominent in the cabin with an additional hum from the sunroof on the commercial double cab when travelling anything in excess of 30km/h.

As a whole though, GWM have elevated themselves and brought the fight to the big bakkie sellers locally. They are well equipped vehicles offered at a competitive price point that should keep the other brands honest. While this is a stride forward, it still leaves out a few of the boxes in the bakkie recipe for success which we can perhaps enjoy in a mild update in the near future.

Set for success? Living with the new Suzuki Swift

The Suzuki Swift is back! Did it ever leave though? Technically speaking, the refreshed Suzuki Swift is almost identical to its pre-facelift sibling, but there are some changes and improvements from the old model that modernise it to compete with the current generation of compact hatches. We spent some time with the 2021 model to understand the liveability of these changes and see if they significantly improve the day-to-day use of the frugal city slicker. 

If you would like to read more about our day at its launch in April click here: Swift Launch

Most mid-cycle refreshes are often minor, improving amenities or updating obsolete aspects of the car which help improve or modernise the overall experience. In the fast pace of the technological age, this is crucial in retaining relevance to the consumer which can ultimately enable more sales of the product. While it may not look it, there are a host of changes on the Swift, albeit mostly beneath the surface with an increased list of standard features.

So, what do the GL and GLX derivatives of the Swift include? 

The mid-spec GL includes electrically adjustable mirrors, fog lamps and two tone colour combinations, either paired to a 5-speed MT or AMT. A standard radio with USB, CD and AUX connectivity are available for in car entertainment too. The GL, along with the GA is fitted with 14” steel rims with a full wheel cover. 

The top of the range GLX model, which we had on test, has a fair bit more kit but expectedly costs quite a bit more as a result. It employs the same selection of gearboxes in the GL but now includes 15” dual colour polished rims on all four corners (pictured above). For the extra outlay of cash you also receive keyless entry with a start/stop button, electronically operated folding side mirrors, an infotainment system familiar to the Vitara Brezza and Jimny and automatic climate control replaces normal air conditioning. The suitably sized infotainment screen also utilizes a reverse camera to help navigate in and out of tight spots. 

Both can be had in a selection of new colours, including some 2-tone options. The AMT derivatives on the GL and GLX also include Hill Start Assist while the inclusion of Electronic Stability Program (ESP) increases safety across the lineup (including the entry level GA model). The only aesthetic update to any bodywork in the new range is the inclusion of a chrome strip on the grille while all models employ rear park sensors. 

What about the driving experience stood out the most?

The test car made its way through most of the journalists in our office – all with different driving styles yet all with more spirited use of the accelerator pedal. Regardless, the fuel economy on this peppy compact did not see north of 5.8l/100km. By the end of the test period of which the car travelled over 500km, the rating displayed on the display signalled an impressive 5.5l/100km, which was dominated more by urban driving. What is even more impressive is that Suzuki claims fuel economy as low as 4.9l/100km can be achieved in the MT derivatives which would not come as a surprise after our experience of its prudent performance. 

Speaking of performance, by definition the Swift can be categorized as an econobox with the sole purpose of commuting people around, unlike the purely fun-focused Swift Sport hot hatch. However the Swift has an incredibly low dry weight of 875kg and is paired with a surprisingly responsive motor. 

Although this is the same 1.2-litre engine from before and only delivers a measly 61kW and 113Nm, the low weight makes the most of the output and truly encapsulates the definition of the model name. Its sprite acceleration and capabilities navigating tight low speed corners mean that it is a hoot to drive! 

Is the interior of the GLX suitably kitted out?

The Maruti build quality is questionable for certain details within the interior but the cabin is sensibly laid out and comfortable to be in. The 7” infotainment system on the GLX models includes both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. It is our pick of the bunch considering all other derivatives only make use of a standard radio without any navigation system and only 4 speakers as opposed to the 6 found in the GLX. It is a familiar system to other Suzuki models too but the user experience and design are visibly outdated when compared to competing brands. 

Considering the exterior dimensions of the hatch, there is also considerable head and legroom on both rows of seats. While this car is predominantly designed to tackle urban environments it is still in need of cruise control for more extended journeys on highways or open roads. 

The Swift also includes foldable rear seats with a 60/40 split if the meagre 265l boot volume is insufficient. The boot lip is higher than the boot floor so loading heavy equipment or luggage required a bit more expended effort. 

The verdict remains that the Maruti built Suzuki Swift is perhaps one of the most sensible options in the budget segment that has the backing of a reputable brand with a track record to match. The extra tech found in the top of the GLX makes it our choice.

Swift 1.2 GA MT R180 900

Swift 1.2 GL MT R199 900

Swift 1.2 GL AMT R214 900

Swift 1.2 GLX MT R218 900

Swift 1.2 GLX AMT R234 900

The Swift range includes a 5 year/200 000km promotional warranty and a 2 year/30 000km service plan.

Magnite First Drive – the new compact crossover from Nissan

Indian manufactured compact crossover SUVs are becoming more prevalent on our local market; Kia recently launched the Sonet, Renault is yet to deliver the Kiger but this week Nissan unveiled the new Magnite to the motoring press (even though it’s been on sale for over a month). We spent the day with the new Japanese designed, Indian made B-SUV along some urban and country roads in Gauteng.

There is a burning desire for versatile, compact and efficient vehicles for automotive consumers in Mzansi. These offerings have now become the best sellers in almost all brands that offer them in their lineup, unsettling information for anyone that anticipated this trend to be a short-lived fad a few years ago. This means that they are here to stay, which is reaffirmed by Nissan’s attempt in the lucrative market with the new Magnite.

Nissan Group of Africa Marketing Director Kabelo Rabotho states “the Magnite reiterates our brand philosophy of keeping customers at the heart of everything we do to deliver exciting products for enriching experiences”. The success of these cars relies not only on the driving experience but also on the bold, self-driven go-for-it attitudes of the intended consumers which the car is poised to align with.

While exterior design freedom in the compact sub-4-meter SUV segment is limited, the Magnite is one of the more rich, modern looking variations – particularly when placed next to the joint-venture Suzuki Vitara Brezza/Toyota Urban Cruiser, which employ a demure aesthetic which appears as if it was conceived a decade ago.

The Magnite’s styling includes angular headlamps with lightsaber-style turn indicators, L shaped-DRL’s, a robust front and rear skid plate and a dominating front grille. A selection of 5 exterior colours with 3 dual tone options can be chosen from – the Vivid Blue and Storm White combination being the showstopper at the launch.

Standard across the Magnite range, the 16” diamond cut rims which fill out the chunky tyres, while robust black trim forms the surface around the squared wheel arches. An above average ground clearance of 205mm also affords the peppy compact with more gravel road ability or pavement conquering capabilities over its other competitors.

Many automakers in this segment look to reduce the costs of manufacture and development by partnering with other brands. It is overtly obvious with the badge engineered Suzuki Vitara Brezza/Toyota Urban Cruiser but more subtle in vehicles such as the Kia Sonet and Hyundai Venue which share underpinnings only. The Magnite follows the same protocol as the latter, utilizing the Renault-Nissan CMF-A+ platform, also used by the slightly narrower and shorter Renault Kiger.

This means that the Magnite range is competitively priced in the segment starting from R256 999 on the Acenta MT and topping out on the Acenta Plus CVT at R305 700. As with most choices in this segment, of which there is a new offering almost every month – deficient interior quality plagues most products.

Multiple surfaces and a comfortable ride height in what is an equally modern looking cabin are let down by lamentable quality. There are limited soft touch points and a host of cheap, crude plastics in the cabin which is expected in this segment, but general fit and finish typical with Indian manufactured cars is the bigger gripe. Components like the door card and headliner seem poorly secured while the pedal placement in the narrow footwell means your right foot constantly brushes on the adjacent surface to the accelerator pedal.

With that aside, this is a tech heavy choice in the cut throat compact crossover segment. We sampled the top of the range Acenta Plus CVT as well as the Acenta Plus MT which includes a host of tech features that are traditionally reserved for premium products.

Over and above the aforementioned exterior features, cruise control, an 8-inch full flash touch screen with Android Auto & Apple CarPlay, a first-in-class bird’s eye view AVM (Around View Monitor) for parking scenarios and a full 7-inch TFT instrument cluster with built-in tyre pressure monitor and are included. The instrument cluster is easy to navigate through the steering wheel mounted buttons while its resolution is clear and its function isn’t laggy or compromised. The included tech is commendable at the price point of this product!

Visibility and interior space is laudable too, despite a petite rear view mirror. Road/wind noise in city driving is non-existent, although the raspy 3-cylinder can become clamorous towards the higher spectrum of the rev range. Powering all derivatives of the Magnite is the HRA0 1.0-litre Turbo engine which has outputs of 74kW and 94Nm and can achieve a claimed 5.2l/100km in the MT or 6l/100km in the CVT. Its seemingly linear torque delivery is perfectly suited to sedate urban driving while its function is reasonable with open road driving and overtaking scenarios.

Of the derivatives on launch, the 5 Speed Acenta Plus MT did the job perfectly well while the Nissan Signature X-Tronic CVT transmission, which is best in class, was unexpectedly comfortable and quiet and our pick of the bunch despite its significantly increased price to the manual option.

The Magnite is also class leading with the many safety features that are included throughout the range which includes dual front airbags, Vehicle Dynamics Control (VDC) and an anti roll bar for improved cornering, Hill Start Assist, Traction Control and Anti-lock Braking System (ABS) with Electronic Brakeforce Distribution (EBD). Despite this, its stature does mean that it has significant body roll in tight corners and considerable rear-to-front weight transfer under hard braking.

The Magnite range includes a 6 year/150 000km warranty and a 3 year/30 000km service plan.

Acenta MT – R256 999
Acenta CVT – R280 100
Acenta Plus MT – R282 600
Acenta Plus CVT – R305 700

Touring Gauteng in the updated Citroën C3

Citroën South Africa recently hosted national media at the upmarket Hotel Sky in Sandton for the launch of the updated Citroën C3.

In recent times, manufacturers have introduced products with minor revisions in what they call a “soft launch.” In other words, a press release and a call from the fleet manager asking when they can drop off the vehicle for you and your team to review.

So to host an opulent event (in typical French style) for a car that has mainly cosmetic updates seemed strange. However, this wasn’t just the launch of the C3 but also an introduction into the new mother ship, Stellantis!

A recent merger between the PSA Groupe and FCA has birthed Stellantis which houses brands such as Peugeot, Citroën, Opel, Fiat, Jeep, Alfa Romeo and Abarth to name those relevant to our market.

Stellantis falls into the world’s top four motoring groups, with Q1 2021 seeing them come out as the sales leader in Europe with a market share of 26,6%. While overall group sold for the first 3 months were over 1,5-million vehicles.

With a strong product offensive still on the cards for 2021, which will see a host of new models from the aforementioned brands, we look forward to seeing what the local arm of the group has in store!

Back to the topic at hand, we piloted the range-topping Shine model which uses a 1.2-litre 81kW 3-cylinder engine and is paired exclusively to a 6-speed auto. There is a cheaper Feel model on offer which employs a naturally aspirated engine with the same displacement to the tune of just 60kW. And you have to change your own gears. Prices start at R269 900 for the Feel and hits R324 900 for the Shine.

So what’s actually new? Well, there’s nothing to report in terms of the oily bits – that’s all carried over from the previous model. Instead, the most notable changes are upfront which include resigned headlights that feature new LED signatures. The front bumper has been incorporated into the headlights while Citroën’s updated logo takes centre stage both front and back.

Some love it others hate it, but the AirBumps are here to stay! If you’ve gotten used to BMW’s new grille, the AirBumps don’t seem like too much of a hurdle to get over. Especially as they are actually practical and protect your car from those who have a little less respect in the parking lots!

Speaking of parking lots, we were leaving the ones in Sandton and on our way out to Hartebeesport. In and around the city, the engine had plenty of punch enabling you to accelerate into gaps with ease. There was however some harsh feedback through the steering wheel over more jarring road surfaces. While the 16-inch alloys look great, they do contribute to a slightly firmer ride than if you had opted for the 15-inches on the Feel model.

On the open road, the engine again impressed as it was able to cruise up to the national speed without breaking a sweat and managed to maintain that speed even when traveling at steeper gradients. The 3-cylinder engine also makes a lovely noise when pushing on!
Overall NVH levels were on par for this segment and the niceties fitted to the cabin made our trip that much more enjoyable.

The 7-inch infotainment system is fitted with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto while there are a host of other standard features. The C3 also comes with an array of safety features which includes active safety braking, lane keep assist, collision warning and driver attention warning. The seats were a standout for me as they were extremely supportive and cosseting but are only available in cloth.

All-in-all, the C3 remains a solid contender in this segment – with a host of standard features and an enjoyable driving characteristic. Citroën have slightly tweaked the recipe to make the new C3 a more desirable car and in doing so, reminded us why it should be a product certainly worth being on your shortlist.