Tag: Hot hatch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

2017 Honda Civic Type R Nürburgring Record

2017 Honda Civic Type R Nurburgring Record

2017 HONDA CIVIC TYPE R SETS NEW FRONT-WHEEL DRIVE LAP RECORD AT NURBURGRING

When we were given the chance to sample the Honda Civic Type R last year, we were all completely astounded by how engaging and raw it was. What Honda had created was a sheer masterpiece in front-wheel drive performance and bore little resemblance to Nora, Albert, Rita and the rest of the bridge club’s favourite runabout – the Honda Civic. Sure you could spot a Civic somewhere beneath the garish wing and blacked out wheels, but these two cars really could not have been further apart. Not only did this vehicle find favour with just about everyone who drove it, it also set an astounding lap time around the Nordschleife, beating the previous FWD champion and setting a blistering time of 07:50.63.

2017 HONDA CIVIC TYPE R SETS NEW FRONT-WHEEL DRIVE LAP RECORD AT NURBURGRING

Here we are in 2017 and having had its trophy snatched away by the Golf GTI Clubsport S in 2016, the Type R has returned with a vengeance. Featuring the same 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder motor found in the previous generation Civic Type R, the unit now produces 236 kW but the same 400 N.m as before, all this thanks to a bit of an ECU tune and a snazzy new exhaust which actually makes it sound a bit like a 5-pot, mmmmm. You can have a listen to that at the end of this video.

2017 HONDA CIVIC TYPE R SETS NEW FRONT-WHEEL DRIVE LAP RECORD AT NURBURGRING

The new chassis also means an increase in torsional rigidity of an impressive 38% and the torsional beam rear setup of the old Type R is gone, having now been replaced by an independent, multi-link system. What this brings to the tea party is much improved stability and control at speed, as well as a lower, wider and longer wheelbase.

Having set a record time of 07:43.80, it is clear that all of those little upgrades have done their job – it shaved some 3 seconds off the time of the Clubsport S.

Now all that’s left to do is wait for it to arrive in South Africa which should be during the course of 2018. So, in what colour will you be having yours, then?

 

 

New Ford Fiesta ST in South Africa

2018 will see the arrival of the all-new Ford Fiesta ST aka the Ultra Mobile and if you listen carefully, you can already hear all the boets fist-pumping in anticipation of this auspicious occasion!

2018 Fiesta ST

Big news is that this new model is the first ever Ford Performance vehicle to make use of a 1.5-litre 3-cylinder motor and, while sharing a platform with the model it replaces, is the first Fiesta to feature selectable drive modes, enabling steering, engine and stability controls to be configured to Normal, Sport and Track modes. Yoh boet!

Unfortunately, along with the drive modes, we’ll have to put up with Ford’s nauseating and quite frankly miserable Electronic Sound Enhancement Technology which, in short, makes a dreary and depressing come through the vehicle’s speaker system in order to artificially enhance the sound of the engine. We have already been unfortunate enough to endure this in both the 2.3 Ecoboost and 5.0 V8 Mustangs and there’s not much to say really other than no. Just no.

2018 Ford Fiesta ST

Outputs of 149 kW and 290 N.m. are hugely impressive from a 3-cylinder motor and if you are able to block out Martin Garrix and the shocking sound enhancement, you might even be able to hear a fruity and characterful 3-pot thrum coming from within the engine bay on your sprint from 0-100 km/h which will take 6.7 seconds. A clever little motor, it is also able to shut off one of its cylinders during low-load conditions in order to save fuel, an industry first in a 3-cylinder motor, and thus resulting in emissions as low as 114 g/km.

The current generation Fiesta ST met much praise when launched in 2013 and was even crowned as Top Gear’s Car of the Year 2013. Unsurprisingly then, it still sells in droves to this day thanks to its loyal following of tank top owners and rave-goers. It also has one of the best front-wheel-drive chassis’ money can buy so it’s a good thing then that this will be carried over to the new model.

2018 Ford Fiesta ST

There is no word on pricing yet but we can expect to see the first units in South Africa during the first half of 2018.

Renault Megane GT :The most confusing warm hatch I’ve driven

Renault Megane GT Driven Review

Motorist Digital Magazine – Edition 08

After driving the new Megane GT for a week, I was left slightly baffled. I found myself asking fellow journo’s if it was just me, or is the car one of strangest fast hatchback out there? Let me explain. Renault for years been good at making quick and visceral hatchbacks that appeal to the senses. With the new Megane that has been recently launched, the recipe seems perfect. The current range topper for now is the GT version, as the hardcore RS has not yet arrived in South Africa. A power figure of 151kW and 280Nm for the GT is enough to pique the interest of any person who loves some exhilaration. The looks of the GT adds to this as the large grille, sporty styling and sharp lines make you believe that you’re going to be in for some fun.

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Step inside the car and you get even more amped, because you’re presented with some bucket seats and a stylish cabin with dark bits and chrome. A weird heart beat type of sound plays though the speakers as you enter, almost to tell you that this car means business. The fascia is modern and features a large touch screen system that allows you to operate media and even air-conditioning in the car. I still enjoy old school switches and nobs but if you’re tech savvy, operating everything via a touch-screen may come naturally. The GT features the 7-Speed EDC gearbox and is fitted with fixed gear paddles, the same as you would get in older Ferrari’s. Hmm. Start the car up and things get interesting. The car is very quiet, unnervingly so. I looked around for a “sport” button in the hopes of livening things up and voila, I found the RS button. This lets you choose different modes in the car via a system called MULTI-SENSE. Neutral, Eco,Comfort, Sport and Perso mode are available. In Sport mode, you would expect this to unleash some sort of animalistic side to this car, but all it does is sharpen things up as well as change the dials from blue to red.

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Acceleration in the GT is also surprising because the first half of the Revs are linear and then all of a sudden there’s an extra surge of torque. When all this happens, there is a strange whirring sound which is meant to be the engine noise and the gear changes are so quick, you realise often too late that you’re travelling at an illegal speed. Driving the car in Sport mode on a straight line is something I couldn’t figure out if I liked too much, because it’s not all that exciting. Earlier we spoke of how these cars appealed to the senses, yes my sense of sight was happy because it looks good, but my sense of hearing was hampered because the cars’ engine tone doesn’t sound glad to go fast. This messed with me. What about my sense of feeling? This is the GT’s redeeming factor, it handles very well.

The Megane GT features suspension technology called 4Control, which is a four-wheel steering system. At lower speeds, the rear wheels turn in the opposite direction to the front wheels to make cornering faster and nimbler. As you travel at higher speeds, the inside wheels corner the same direction as the front wheels, creating the feeling of a longer wheel base. This system ensures that the Megane GT handles like a beauty, which it does. The driving position of the car and the bucket seat quality is one of the best in the segment. The only thing I would get rid of are the fixed paddles, as it gets confusing to change up and down whilst cornering. And yes I know one shouldn’t be changing gears mid corner anyway, but I’m no racing driver and neither are most people who will buy this car.

megane_049

Personally, I enjoyed driving the Megane GT in the normal mode. As a quick daily commuter, you get more joy from it as a regular car than a hot hatch. If you divorce yourself from the hot hatch mentality the car sells you, you start to like it more. It’s firm but not back breaking, it has plenty torque for overtaking and it has enough space for you, your friends and shopping bags. The concept of a “sleeper” is always appealing, which is what I think Renault should’ve done with the GT. Take for instance the new Opel Astra 1.6T. On the outside it looks like a slightly fancier standard Astra, but underneath the hood there’s a quick engine that shocks you as you accelerate. With the Renault, you look at it and expect it to be a baby RS, but it’s not. It’s a quick Megane that handles well and looks very good. It’s not a snarling beast that you can hear from a distance like the older cars. We’ll have to wait for the new RS to fulfil those fantasies.