Tested – Honda Civic 1.5T Sport CVT

The very first Honda Ballade launched in South Africa was a long-bonnet ugly beast with the handling characteristics of a blancmange pudding.

The next iteration was a wondrous revelation and, I believe, set the course for pretty much all Japanese-built Hondas from then on. It was perfectly proportioned, sat square and confident on the road and – most importantly – because you could clearly see both front corners, the ideal point and squirt gymkhana car.

Moving forward to the latest generation of the Honda Civic – the ninth in the series – that sense of proportion (and the fact the front corners are clearly visible) carries through, even in a much more modern design style.

Either cars tug at the heartstrings or they do not. Liking them is a purely emotive reaction and no amount of design-speak will change that. I like the look. A lot. Well, more than a lot…

The Civic 1.5T Sport is not, and never will be, a Golf GTI muncher. It was not designed or intended to take on the hot hatches. Rather its intention is to provide just enough to make the corpuscles break into a gallop when asked, yet take cognisance of fuel efficiency and daily traffic grind needs to pootle along in Eco mode.

In aiming for high levels of design and comfort, the challenge for Honda engineers was to combine a sleek and aerodynamic exterior with D-segment levels of spaciousness and comfort.

Its styling carefully reflects a low silhouette for a four-door sedan, creating the overall impression of a sleek sports coupé.

This gives the Honda sedan a more aggressive, athletic and dynamic appearance, while also creating more interior room compared to the outgoing model. Overall, the wheelbase has been increased by 30 mm, and the total length by 109 mm, while the height has been lowered by 20 mm.

The reduced height and the more dynamic aesthetic appeal also translate into a lower centre of gravity for greater on-road stability, boosting cornering confidence and encouraging sporty, engaging driving.

Advanced full LED headlights and LED daytime running lights are fitted to the 1,5-litre Turbo models for the first time while, at the rear, the Civic’s characteristic bracketed tail light design has been re-interpreted with eye-catching LED light bars on either side.

The Civic’s interior treatment embodies Honda’s ‘Daring ACE Design’ concept, combining high-quality materials with an ergonomically intuitive centre console and a sporty yet comfortable driving position.

The uncluttered interior design features extensive use of attractive soft touch and accent materials that heighten the sense of premium quality. On an ergonomic level, it offers refined, user-friendly access to the various controls.

Overall, Honda has managed significantly to reduce noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) to achieve high levels of on-road quietness.

Leather seats (heated in front) are standard on all but the entry-level model and the steering wheel offers tilt and telescopic adjustment.

Rear-seat knee space has increased by 55 mm, along with further gains in shoulder room for the rear occupants. Boot capacity has also improved by 20%.

One of the new features is the advanced interface provided by the high-resolution, 7-inch- WVGA LCD display that forms the centrepiece for the digital audio system. The expansive IPS display can be viewed from both driver and passenger seats and the air-conditioning can also be operated on the display panel.

The system enables connection with numerous smartphone functions, including maps for ease of navi operation. This makes it the most convenient and connected Civic ever.

Honda’s first-ever 1.5 VTEC Turbo engine produces 127 kW of maximum power at 5 500 r/min, along with 220 Nm of maximum torque – the latter available in a broad range between 1 700 r/min and 5 500 r/min.

These outputs are comparable to a 2,4-litre naturally aspirated engine, but offer the equivalent fuel economy of a Honda Jazz. The engine achieves Euro4 emission requirements, making it one of the most environmentally friendly engines in its class.

With an engine bore pitch of only 80 mm, this unit is extremely compact, and achieves a substantial weight reduction compared to a conventional naturally aspirated engine.

In line with Honda’s ‘Earth Dreams Technology’, it is paired with a new series of CVT gearboxes as standard.

Even though it is one of the better CVT gearboxes around, I really wish Honda would look at a ‘proper’ automatic gearbox along the lines of Volkswagen’s DSG or the Porsche PDK.

However, this combination achieves a combined cycle fuel consumption of 5,9 l/100 km for the 1.5 VTEC Turbo when run in Eco Mode. Switching over to Sport mode does kick this up to 6,3 l/100 km or 7,9 l/100 if full hooligan mode is used.

Underpinning the Civic is a lightweight, low-inertia and high-rigidity platform. Through the expanded use of ACE technology and high-tensile materials, significant improvements have been achieved in the dynamic performance, handling and safety of the new model, while reducing the body weight by 22 kg.

The front MacPherson strut and rear multilink suspension systems have been newly designed, including the addition of a sub-frame to the rear. Linked to the increases in body and chassis rigidity, the new platform ensures substantial performance and safety improvements.

Steering technology adopts dual-pinion electric power steering (EPS) to create a linear and smooth feel with an integral sense of security. This is further enhanced with the adoption of a variable ratio that adjusts constantly according to the driver inputs and driving conditions – thereby giving the driver the perfect balance between high-speed stability and low-speed agility and responsiveness.

It works. All too often ‘nanny’ systems in modern cars are irritatingly intrusive and on brisker drives actually detract from the driving experience.

 On the Civic, the Agile Handling Assist (AHA) feature is integrated with the Civic’s EPS and vehicle control systems to facilitate driving enjoyment, as well as overall control and stability.

AHA anticipates a loss of control during cornering and helps to prevent it by continuously modulating brake and throttle inputs in small, imperceptible increments to assist overall driver control. For the average driver, if this kicks in you have exceeded the limits of your ability anyway.

An additional safety net is provided by means of the Vehicle Stability Control, which is standard on all models, incorporating Hill Start Assist, along with anti-lock brakes and electronic brake force distribution (EBD).

All models are equipped with dual front, side and curtain airbags, complemented with a reverse camera and rear parking sensors on all but the base model.

The recommended retail pricing includes a 5-year/200 000 km warranty, a 5-year/90 000 km service plan, as well as three years of AA Roadside Assistance.

Key Facts

Engine:             1 498 cc

Power:              127 kW @ 5 500 r/min

Torque:             120 Nm from 1 700 r/min

0-100:               8,2 sec

Top Speed:       194 km/h

Boot:                424 litres

Tank:                47 litres

X-Class launched in Cape Town

There is a character named Travis McGee in a series of novels by John D MacDonald who drives around in a bright blue Rolls Royce pickup.

Besides the greatness of both the character and the books, as a petrolhead the idea of a modifying a Roller into a ‘bakkie’ had huge appeal – even if way, way off the financial radar.

So, after all the hype and shadowy sketches, Mercedes-Benz have kinda stepped into that place with the official launch in Cape Town of the X-Class pickup. Essentially the world’s most luxurious pickup, the company is quick to point out it will also serve the more traditional role of being a workhorse.

There are three design and equipment variants to choose from as well as four or six-cylinder engines, rear-wheel drive and engageable or permanent all-wheel drive, a six-speed manual transmission and a seven-speed automatic transmission.

In addition there are six different seat covers, including two leather variants, three sets of cockpit trim parts and a diverse range of accessories developed by Mercedes-Benz. These allow the X-Class to be modified to suit personal tastes and requirements like no other pickup, both visually and in terms of functionality.

“The X-Class is the first genuine pickup with convincing passenger car characteristics. It’s robust, strong and with good off-road capability – just like a pickup should be.

“It’s also aesthetically pleasing, dynamic to drive, comfortable, safe, connected and individual – as you would expect from a Mercedes. As a result, the X-Class pushes the boundaries of the classic pickup and makes this vehicle segment attractive for private use, too. With three design and equipment lines and an extensive scope of further individualisation options, we offer the ideal vehicle for a range of different customer groups and their needs,” says Volker Mornhinweg, Head of Mercedes-Benz Vans

The demand for mid-size pickups with typical passenger car characteristics and comfort features has been steadily on the rise for years. At the same time, the number of pickups for private use is increasing and they are no longer viewed purely as workhorses.

Mercedes-Benz says this tough performance pickup delivers a driveability and handling that matches many demands – both with regard to driving dynamics and ride comfort. This is attained thanks to a comfort suspension with the fine tuning expected of a Mercedes. It consists of a ladder-type frame, rear multi-link solid axle, front independent wheel suspension and coil springs on both axles.

Built on this platform, the distinctive design of the X-Class is available in three model variants to suit different lifestyles and work environments:

* The X-Class PURE basic variant is ideal for rugged, functional use. It fulfils all the demands placed on a workhorse. At the same time its comfort and design make it perfect for visiting customers or suppliers and for private activities.

* The X-Class PROGRESSIVE is aimed at people seeking a rugged pickup with extra styling and comfort functions – as a calling card for their own business, while also being a comfortable yet prestigious vehicle for private use.

* The X-Class POWER is the high-end design and equipment line. It is aimed at customers for whom styling, performance and comfort are paramount. The X-Class POWER is a lifestyle vehicle beyond the mainstream – suitable for urban environments as well as for sports and leisure activities off the beaten track. Through its design and high level of equipment it reflects an independent and individualistic lifestyle.

The X-Class can haul a payload of up to 1,1 tons. That is enough to transport 17 full 50-litre barrels of beer in the cargo area. Able to tow up to 3,5 tons, it can also pull a trailer containing three horses or an eight-metre yacht.

Thanks to its long 3150-millimetre wheelbase, the short and cladded front overhang, the backward shifted passenger compartment and the very long rear overhang, the X-Class has an elongated vehicle body.

The design of the side windows with their dynamic kink along the beltline and taut lines contrasting with muscular, sculpted surfaces also allude to the longitudinal dynamics. Widely flared wheel arches, the commanding front and the purist design of the rear all accentuate the impression of width. Together they give the pickup a powerful on-road presence and make reference to the X-Class’s excellent lateral dynamics.

In terms of width, the load bed is designed in such a way that a Euro-pallet can be loaded straight between the wheel arches.

The X-Class is the only mid-size pickup to be equipped with lighting in the cargo area as standard. The third brake light contains LED lights, which illuminate the whole load bed. Operation is by a switch in the centre console. As soon as the ignition is switched on, those lights turn off automatically.

A 12-volt socket to power additional equipment such as compressors, for example, is also part of the standard equipment in the load bed.

Dimensions of the X-Class:

Vehicle – length 5 340 mm Vehicle width1 920 mm; Vehicle height 1 819 mm; Wheelbase 3 150 mm; Load bed length 587 mm; Load bed width 1 560 mm; Load bed height 474 mm

.The instrument panel has the concave trim element typical of a Mercedes. It stretches across the entire width of the instrument panel – a novel feature in this vehicle segment.

The instrument cluster consists of the large, analogue round dials from the C-Class and V-Class. In the X-Class PROGRESSIVE and POWER they are tubular. A 5,4-inch colour multimedia display is nestled between the round dials. Thanks to the push-buttons on the standard-fit three-spoke multifunction steering wheel, the settings on the colour display can be controlled without drivers having to take their hands off the steering wheel. The steering wheel with its 12 buttons in total is height-adjustable, thereby improving ergonomic posture and allowing a relaxed seating position.

In the X-Class PROGRESSIVE and POWER, the steering wheel, shift lever knob and handbrake lever are also covered in leather. In conjunction with the Audio 20 CD and COMAND Online multimedia systems, and in addition to the central control unit, the X-Class contains the multifunction touchpad familiar from the passenger car model series – the multifunction touchpad is another novelty in this segment. It is located in an ergonomic position on the centre console and, like a smartphone, it can be controlled using gestures or by entering letters and characters.

The high-torque common-rail diesel drive system with a displacement of 2,3 litres is available with a choice of two power outputs.

In the X 220d with single turbo-charger it generates 120 kW and in the biturbo X 250d no less than 140 kW.

Both diesel models are available with purely rear wheel drive or with engageable all-wheel drive.

Power is transferred via a six-speed manual transmission. A seven-speed automatic transmission is available on request for the 140 kW X 250d and X 250d 4MATIC models.

A high-torque V6 diesel engine will be released mid-2018, and will generate 190 kW and a maximum torque of 550 Nm. With that the X 350d occupies a leading position in the segment. The top X-Class model will come as standard with permanent 4MATIC all-wheel drive and the seven-speed automatic transmission 7G-TRONIC PLUS with steering-wheel shift paddles and ECO start/stop function.

Coil springs are used both at the front and the rear and the comfort suspension is designed in such a way it achieves a high level of driving dynamics and ride comfort on the road, while also delivering maximum off-road capability in conjunction with 4MATIC all-wheel drive.

The suspension consists of a double wishbone front axle and a rear multi-link solid axle that is ideal for transporting heavy loads and has good articulation capability. This combination ensures that the suspension is comfortable and the handling is safe given any permitted load condition.

The X-Class’s high level of occupant protection results from its especially solid car body with a high-strength passenger cell and a structure with a front and rear that can absorb energy through well-aimed deformation.

Furthermore, passive safety is provided thanks to standard equipment such as seven air bags and the i-Size attachment system for two child seats.

For active safety, three driver assistance systems are at the ready, simultaneously increasing safety and comfort: Active Brake Assist, Lane Keeping Assist and Traffic Sign Assist. Additionally, there are Trailer Stability Assist, tyre pressure monitoring system, emergency call system, cruise control and LED headlamps that deliver the brightest light output in the segment thanks to six LEDs respectively. If required, a 360-Degree Camera is available in addition to a reversing camera.

“The segment for mid-size pickups is ripe for a premium vehicle. With the X-Class we will open up this segment to new customer groups, just as we redefined the off-road segment with the M-Class more than 20 years ago. Our pickup convinces as a workhorse, yet also as a family and lifestyle vehicle. In short, the X-Class is the Mercedes among pickups,” says Dr Dieter Zetsche, Chairman of the Board of Daimler AG and Head of Mercedes-Benz Cars.

The South African versions will be launched during next year.

 

Battery charging made easy

Car batteries die. Deal with it. Despite marketing speak and manufacturer claims, batteries do die with a remarkable penchant for picking the most inopportune moment to do so.

Dealing with it, however, is becoming a whole lot easier thanks to technology taking the stress factor out of the equation.

Car batteries die for a number of reasons and, obviously, even technology cannot circumvent the sudden, catastrophic failure. However, a combination of forethought and mitigation action can prevent or correct a flat battery.

Aside from the he battery is the most important component in any car’s electrical system. It provides the juice to run all the electronics when the engine is – or is not – running and plays an essential role in the proper functionality of the alternator’s voltage regulator.

Unlike outdated electrical systems that used generators and could function without a battery, modern automotive electrical systems need a battery in order to function properly.

Although a vehicle’s alternator is capable of keeping its battery charged under normal circumstances, batteries do go dead for a variety of reasons and there also comes a time in the life of every car battery when it’s just time to move on.

 A good car battery will typically read at about 12.4 to 12.6 volts and have enough reserve to power a 25A load for anywhere from nine to 15 hours, at which point the voltage will have dropped below 10.5 volts – not enough to start the car.

Extreme temperatures and wear incurred through the normal cycle of charging and discharging, can reduce the reserve capacity.

The alternator charges the battery, but it must be remembered that unit is not really designed to charge a completely drained battery – and this is where external charging comes in.

Most drivers have faced the situation of having to jump-start a vehicle by attaching charging cables to a host vehicle. This is a quick fix and does no favours to the dead battery unit or the electronics on that vehicle. In fact, it can cause even greater damage.

Trickle charging via a mains wall socket is the safest method – but even this necessitated the disconnection of the car battery (with the resultant shutdown of the computer systems).

Well, at least it used to. Charging Systems Africa has released a new almost pocket size unit from Norway called SmartCharge that allows trickle charging without the need to disconnect the vehicle battery terminals.

“In fact,” says Guido Brouwers, marketing director of Charging Systems Africa, “this unit can be left connected and plugged in for 12 months, making it ideal for people who leave a vehicle at their holiday home or are away for extended periods.”

The intelligent unit ‘interrogates’ the vehicle battery to determine the type and correct voltage and adjusts its charging to suit the battery’s charge status, size and ambient temperature conditions.

The unit will charge the battery to a nearly full state and then automatically shut down for two minutes before rechecking to see if the battery is holding the charge and then continue until it is full when it will automatically shut down.

This cycle will repeat as long as the charging unit remains plugged in.

Enormous demands are placed on batteries with most modern cars offering Stop/Start technology and it is imperative these units are properly maintained – while the old-fashioned distilled water top up is a thing of the past with sealed units, occasional visual checks for signs of corrosion or any other wear are needed.

“Batteries are expensive items and the bad news is, once installed, their lifespan is very much up to you as the vehicle owner,” says Brouwers. “From the very first time you start your car your battery begins to deteriorate. In fact, sometimes this happens while it is still on the shop shelf.”

“Regular use of an intelligent battery charger will ensure the battery is kept in tip-top condition to help avoid the cost, inconvenience and potential personal danger of an unexpected breakdown – plus it can double the life of the battery.”

The SmartCharge is offered in 4A, 6A, 8A and 10A options – the more powerful the unit, the quicker the charge time.

Research by Kwik Fit UK highlighted the extent of ‘i-sapping’ caused by charging devices using the car battery. Three in five (62 percent) UK drivers are charging devices from their vehicle, with satellite navigation, smart phones and tablets all featuring in the top five most energy sapping devices.

Roger Griggs, communications director at Kwik Fit says: “Many motorists do not realise the effect devices plugged into their cars can have on a battery. Satnavs, tablets and other gadgets that are designed to make our lives more comfortable can actually have the opposite effect, by cutting short the life of even a new battery and leaving us stuck with a car that will not start.”

Charging Systems Africa will soon be launching another charging unit specifically aimed at off-road enthusiasts – this is a combination solar and mains powered unit that can switch seamlessly between the two energy sources.

Tested – Mitsubishi Triton 2.4 Di-D 4×2 (auto)

As mad as South Africans are about bakkies, they are also often a partisan crowd and different places around the country tend to show a predominance of favour for a certain brand.

Where I live on the South Coast of KwaZulu Natal – often called the slow coast for good reason – the Ford Ranger is edging ahead based on visible numbers on the road. However, when one starts paying attention to the make there are still surprising numbers of Colt bakkies on active duty.

The Mitsubishi Colt – particularly the 2,8-litre diesel – was hugely popular and when the marque left the Mercedes-Benz stable and the original Triton came out – well, for folk locally, it just was not quite the same so they hung onto their Colts, tended to the rust and carried on until replacement was essential.

That moment came well before the new generation Triton was launched – hence the rise in popularity of other makes.

Will new Triton make inroads. In this sales microcosm it will be interesting to watch.

Should Triton make inroads. Damn straight!

The 2017 model, the fifth in the Colt/Triton lineage, is the most advanced pick-up ever to be developed by Mitsubishi  and launched in South Africa earlier this year, following successful introduction to Australia, Brazil, Europe and the Middle East.

Engineers improved 185 key areas of the Triton, compared to its predecessor, ranging from deepening and reinforcing the loading bay, revising the shape of the bonnet for aerodynamic efficiency and refining the driving position for improved in-vehicle visibility and comfort.

Other famous elements such as the distinct J-line between the cabin and the load bay have been reworked for benchmark interior space. This is immediately apparent to all passengers, particularly those seated in the back of the double-cab models.

While I like the looks and flowing lines, achieving those has compromised rear seat (adult) passengers on longer journeys where the reduced visibility from the small windows can become a tad claustrophobic.

The sculpted bonnet, bold grille and wrap-around headlights flow into a deep shoulder-line that connects to the new tail lights and a curved tailgate that now facilitates one-handed operation. The integrated brake light on the tailgate cannot be obscured like those on cab-mounted versions.

The design is further tweaked by the addition of chrome accents around the front driving lights, grille and flush-mounted door handles. Newly designed side steps and 17-inch alloy wheels complete the updates.

The combined engineering effort, which has radically improved the new Triton over its predecessor, is perhaps most evident inside the cabin, which was purposely shaped to mirror the same level of comfort and convenience as Mitsubishi’s range of SUV-models and iconic Pajero – the upcoming Pajero Sport actually being developed off  the Triton.

Getting in and out of the new Triton is not only much easier, but sitting behind the steering wheel feels more natural thanks to a commanding driver position offering improved visibility over the front of the vehicle.

The driver has the benefit of a new dashboard with easy-to-clean surfaces chosen for practicality. Range-specific features on the new model include an intuitive touchscreen infotainment system with Bluetooth connectivity and USB audio input as well as the keyless push-button Stop/Start system.

Standard are cruise control, dual-zone auto air-conditioning, a reverse camera, an electrically adjustable driver’s seat, tilt and telescopic steering wheel adjustment and leather upholstery.

The cabin itself has been stretched by 20 mm to 1 745 mm to further improve cabin space, while shoulder room ‒ both front and rear ‒ has been improved. Subtle changes include redesigned seats offering additional bolstering and higher density foam for more comfortable long distance driving.

The double-cab’s rear bench is angled by a class-leading 25 degrees. This not only adds additional leg and shoulder space, but mitigates the typical upright position that is synonymous with double-cab pick-ups. To round off the impressive cabin, Mitsubishi’s engineers have added thicker sound deadening material to the engine firewall and under the floor.

 The Mitsubishi Triton is fitted with an aluminium block four-cylinder turbo-diesel engine. The new engine offers the ideal combination of a fast spooling turbo-charger with an unconventionally low compression ratio of 15.5:1 which aids responsive torque delivery at low engine speeds.

The 2.4 MIVEC engine also features reinforced steel piston sleeves for durability and an integrated common rail direct injection system. This engine weighs 30 kg less than its predecessor.

Power delivery is rated at 133 kW at 3 500 r/min with torque peaking at 430 Nm at 2 500 r/min. Fuel consumption is rated at 7,6 l/100 km in a combined cycle. In the test cycle this was easily achieved and bettered with the vehicle unladen and carrying a full load I managed 8,7 l/100 km.

The new 2.4 MIVEC turbo-diesel delivers power to the rear through the choice of a shorter-shifting six-speed manual gearbox, or a five-speed automatic transmission as was the case with my test unit.

Triton owes its better road manners to revised stabiliser bars, stiffer front springs and significantly larger rubber body mountings on the ladder frame chassis.

The overall combination can be experienced by less body roll and pitching – unwanted tendencies usually associated with a heavy nose and empty load bin. Once again, the J-line allowed engineers to shorten the wheelbase which leads to crisper manoeuvrability.

Further handling gains can be attributed to the Hydraulic Power Steering system that is more direct at 3,8 turns lock-to-lock (as opposed to the 4,3 turns of its predecessor) and tightening the cornering radius to 5,9 metres.

That’s what Mitsubishi says – in reality the steering is still a bit too vague when the vehicle is unladen especially on gravel roads when travelling briskly. The combination of vague steering and front end wash if the turn in is a little too heavy can lead to some nervous moments.

Fortunately, it does come with Active Stability and Traction Control to mitigate and this works rather well without being too intrusive in normal driving situations. It comes standard with anti-lock braking and EBD as well as Hill Start Assist (HSA).

One of the reasons the Colt did so well in this market was its solid dependability. The new Triton gives off that same feeling.

All models have a 5-year/90 000 km service plan and 3-year/100 000 km manufacturer’s warranty.

2.4 Di-DC 4X2 5-speed A/T
Engine Type
DOHC MIVEC Common Rail
Fuel Type Diesel
Max. Output 133 kW @ 3 500 r/min
Max. Torque 43 Nm @ 2 500 r/min
Fuel Tank Capacity 75L
Towing Capacity (Braked) 1 500 kg
Towing Capacity (Unbraked) 750 kg

Tested – Fiat Tipo 1.3L D Easy Sedan

Time is not a kind master. Everything and everyone is victim to its harsh whipping with the only mitigation against the sentence being the ability to evolve and re-invent – the constant struggle for eternal youth.

In the automotive sphere it is most demonstrated by a company that tops the sales charts for a period of time and then fails to make that re-invention quickly enough and is lashed into submission as an also-ran in just a couple of years.

Fiat in South Africa has been through this from the heady days of innovative and iconic models offerings such as the 124 Sport through the mass hysteria love affair with the Uno to a period of dreadfully bland product and such quiet only the neon lights at dealerships affirmed the brand was actually still alive.

True, in all of that the company itself – both locally and internationally – underwent changes and started to work the process of re-invention, the 500 and Abarth part of that.

However, mass market is the true goal of a major automaker and Fiat needed to put something into play that would satisfy customers not just within its European orbit but in other markets as well.

Enter the Fiat Tipo.

The Fiat Tipo hatchback and its sedan sibling mark Fiat’s return to the medium-compact segment with four sedan variants and four hatch models.

Our test car, the diesel-powered 1.3L Easy came in Ambient White, which actually served to enhance the contour lines of the car and attract some parking lot attention. It is 4,53 m long, 1,79 m wide and stands 1,5 m high so is fully C-segment in dimensions.

On price – R274 900 – it is bracketed by the Hyundai Accent 1.6 Fluid (R269 900), Mazda3 1.6 Active (R271 700), Ford Focus 1.0 Trend (R271 900) and the Volkswagen Jetta 1.6 Conceptline (R278 300) in terms of sedans. There are several hatch offerings in the same price grouping.

The Fiat, however, is the only diesel in that mix.

The 1.3 MultiJet II diesel engine has a Start&Stop system as standard. It is equipped with a manual five-speed gearbox and develops 70 kW at 3 750 r/min, while the variable geometry turbo-charger ensures high torque from low revs and a maximum torque of 200 Nm from 1 500 r/min.

A feature of the third-generation Common Rail MultiJet II system is a high-tech solution for controlling injection pressures, whatever the engine speed and injected fuel quantity. In practice, the engine introduces small fuel quantities (pilot injections) to minimise noise and optimise emissions and, with the main injection, manages the injected quantity of fuel ensuring smooth engine operation in all driving conditions.

That is the theory. In practice, despite the willingness of the engine to work, it was a little breathless and left me looking for more. It is also driven through a 5-speed manual gearbox when six is the norm even for smaller capacity engines.

At the upper end of the rev range there is also a bit more diesel clatter – that, perhaps, would be quieted with the inclusion of an additional ratio.

The Fiat Tipo hatchback measures 4,37 m in length, 1,79 m in width and stands 1,50m high, while the sedan measures 4,53 m in length with the width and height the same as the hatchback.

The new car features a suspension layout made up of independent McPherson struts on the front axle and an interconnected torque beam on the rear. The two layouts are optimised to reduce weight and contribute to improved fuel efficiency, without compromising the dynamic driving experience.

I cannot fault that setup and the Tipo was comfortable to drive on long and short-haul journeys, the cloth-clad driver’s seat offering enough bolstering in the right places to minimise journey fatigue and with enough movement options to find an ideal driving position.

Never designed for real press-on motoring, the Tipo has a top speed of 183 km/h and ambles up to 100 km/h in 11,8 seconds.

More significant as a commuter vehicle it is a fuel sipper. Fiat claims 4,5 l/100 km in the urban cycle and 3,7 l/100 km overall. Reality was a little tougher and our urban measurement was 4,8 l/100 km with overall 4,1 l/100 km.

Allowed to get on the plane in its own time, the diesel engine finds a happy place that permits long stints of sustained cruising up hill and down dale with no need to row it along – it also sits nice and flat through the curves with little body movement.

In tighter sections, it does opt for understeer, but nothing outside of a controllable norm.

The Tipo accommodates five passengers, even tall people up to 1,87 m in height at the front and 1,80 m in the rear travel in comfort. The secret, according to Fiat, is the regular shape of the rear end, with the horizontal roof profile providing passengers added cabin headroom. Legroom is also class leading, with 1,07 m between the edge of the front seat and the passenger’s heel and 934 mm for the rear seat.

In fact, the interior dimensions edge it closer to those offered by D-Class sedans.

The load capacity is also impressive with 520 litres available. The boot sill is low and stepless, to facilitate loading even the bulkiest of packages. At the sides of the luggage compartment two panels for holding small items can be removed to further increase the width of the luggage compartment.

The interior of the Tipo features numerous compartments with a variety of shapes and capacities totalling no less than 12 litres. Easily reachable by driver and passengers, these compartments are perfect for storing personal objects, smartphones, bottles, coins and more. Furthermore, a media centre for connecting devices is situated in front of the gear lever.

The Tipo features the latest-generation audio systems including a hands-free Bluetooth interface, audio streaming, text reader and voice recognition, AUX and USB ports with iPod integration, controls on the steering wheel and, on demand, the optional rear parking camera and the new TomTom 3D built-in navigation system is optionally available on all models except the Easy.

Standard items include automatic air-conditioning, power front windows, electrically adjustable door mirrors with defrosting function, 16″ alloy rims, LED daytime running lights, chrome door handles, body-coloured mirror covers and a leather steering wheel.

Active and passive safety devices include driver and front passenger air bags (with side and curtain air bags as an option).

Also standard is electronic stability control (ESC), that  includes system includes Panic Brake Assist (PBA), which intervenes in case of emergency braking by increasing the braking force; anti-lock braking; traction control (TCS) and Hill Start Assist.

All Fiat Tipo models come with a standard 3-year / 100 000 km warranty and service plan.

KEY FIGURES

Displacement:   1 248 cc

Power:              70 kW at 4 000 r/min

Torque:             200 Nm at 1 500 r/min

CO2:                 117 g/km

Fuel Tank:         45 litres

Price:                R274 900

Lease:              R5 660

Hyundai Elantra Sport

Ardent followers of fashion fuel a giant industry that ensures they will never be seen in last season’s outfits and the endless pursuit of being at the cutting edge is more than a lifestyle, sometimes bordering on fanaticism.

For some, the extension of apparel goes to the choice of the car they drive and further to how they accessorise this.

Fashion in the auto industry takes a much more leisurely pace and we all know how the dramatic and daring concepts gracing auto shows eventually come to market as watered down accountant inspired shadows of their former selves.

That so many cars in each of the market segments end up looking so very similar and kept well within the bounds of conservatism is understandable as nobody buying a car over four or five years wants that to be dated and outshone by a new fashion design just a few months down the line.

So, having evolved from concept through creation, what is left to make the owner statement is the small and subtle tweaks – such as those applied to the Hyundai Elantra Sport to set it apart from the new and revised range.

The entire range has been significantly updated with a completely new look and underpinnings.

The 2017 Elantra enters the South African market in four derivatives: The Elantra 1.6 Executive manual and Elantra 1.6 Executive automatic (both driven by a 1,6-litre naturally aspirated petrol engine); the Elantra 2.0 Elite, with a naturally aspirated 2,0-litre petrol engine and the range-topping Elantra 1.6 TGDI Elite DCT Sport, with a 1,6-litre turbo-charged petrol engine.

Both specification levels – Executive and Elite – offer comprehensive features, which are all included in the recommended retail prices, starting at R299 900 and ending at R399 900 for the Elantra Sport with several special design, trim and technical characteristics.

Hyundai’s signature hexagonal grille gives the Elantra a strong presence from the front, with automatic projection headlamps including LED Daytime Running lights as part of the cluster. The Elantra’s sporty lower front fascia integrates functional front wheel air curtains that help manage air flow from the front of the vehicle and around the wheels to minimize turbulence and wind resistance.

In addition, underbody covers, an aerodynamic rear bumper bottom spoiler and rear deck lid designed with an expanded trunk edge contribute to the Elantra’s 0,27 coefficient of drag.

Model-exclusive front and rear fascias give the Sport crucial visual differentiation from the rest of the Elantra lineup.

For the Elantra Sport, a different bottom half of the rear bumper reiterates its sporty nature, with a unique skid plate and visible chrome-plated dual exhaust pipes.

All four derivatives’ gain leather seats with model-specific interior appointments such as a flat-bottomed steering wheel, red sport seats and red contrast stitching for the Sport.

The standard 8-inch infotainment system, which includes satellite navigation, provides a USB Mirror Link for Android cell phones, HDMI connectivity for iPhones to view the iPhone screen on the head unit, hands-free Bluetooth telephone link with remote controls on the steering wheel, Bluetooth music streaming and AUX and USB input ports. It also features a CD player.

Electrically operated side mirrors and windows, cruise control and rear park assist are also standard convenience features across the range. The Elite derivatives have an automatic air-conditioner, rain sensors for the windscreen wipers, and a smart key push-button to start the engine.

The turbo-charged 1 591 cm3 four-cylinder engine in the Elantra 1.6 TGDI Elite DCT Sport produces 150 kW at 6 000 r/min and 265 Nm torque from 1 500 r/min to 4 500 r/min.

This is the same engine as used in the Veloster and it works well in the bigger body of the Elantra, producing the right level of roar when running in Sport mode – there are options of Eco and Normal modes for drivers looking to maximise fuel efficiency.

The Elantra 1.6 TGDI Elite Sport has a 7-speed Dual Clutch Transmission with paddle shifters and, while this does inspire some vigorous driving, the gearbox will make the upshift as the red line is reached with no driver discretion permitted.

That said, it may not be the perfect point-and-squirt racer, but it does well in longer swoops and curves where the rear multi-link independent suspension combines with the front McPherson strut with coil springs and gas shock absorbers along with a front stabiliser bar to help reduce body roll when cornering.

The Elantra, by no means a hatch, is not intended as a challenge to the hot hatches out there – think of it as a precursor to the Hyundai i30 N likely to be powered by a turbo-charged 2,0-litre engine ofeering at least 194 kW and 309 Nm of torque.

The powerplant will be mated with a manual transmission with a possibility of a dual-clutch automatic transmission being introduced at a later stage. The i30 N is expected to be a front-wheel driven model, but an all-wheel-drive configuration has not been ruled out – but this will just have to wait until next year at least.

Improved ride comfort, handling and stability are achieved through Elantra’s redesigned rear suspension geometry that modifies the angle of the rear shock absorbers and changed the position of the coil springs on the coupled torsion beam axle. Additionally, an increase in rear bushing diameter helps to improve long term durability.

Fuel economy ranges around 7,9 l/100 km in ‘normal’ driving conditions.

An anti-lock braking system with Electronic Brake Distribution (EBD) is standard, with the addition of an Electronic Stability Programme (ESP) in the Elantra Sport.

Passive safety is taken care of by driver, front passenger, side and curtain air bags.

Hyundai’s 5-year/150 000 km warranty and additional 2-year/500 powertrain warranty is part of the standard package, which also includes 5-year/150 000 km roadside assistance and a 5-year/90 000 km service plan.

Service intervals are 15 000 km for all derivatives, with an additional initial service after 5 000 km for the Elantra Sport.

Fleet insurance contains costs

Cost containment is a priority among fleet owners faced with uncertainty over fuel prices, an economy in recession and rising costs.

With careful management and attention to detail fleet insurance can both reduce insurance costs and enhance the safety of employees and still benefit the fleet operator with as much coverage as is required.   It can also make a significant contribution towards road safety.

Fleet insurance covers a group of cars, commercial vehicles and trucks under one policy.  It is designed to distribute the risk across the board so that a fleet operator pays only once for each peril, rather than insuring each vehicle individually, thereby paying for each vehicle’s risk.   It assesses the risk and evaluates the premiums based on the challenges for the entire fleet.

“Fleet operators have unique needs” says Murray Price, managing director of Eqstra Fleet Management.  “The insurance must take into account the complexities of insuring business vehicles, such as insuring for multiple drivers and making sure vehicles can be used for as many applications as necessary.

“It is important to consult with the right insurer to ensure the business gets the optimum level of vehicle cover.   The insurer must understand the operational demands of the fleet, particularly if it is operating a number of heavy-duty trucks and commercial vehicles.”

Calculating commercial fleet insurance costs

Although every fleet operator will have unique needs, there are some basic factors that every company will take into consideration when calculating fleet insurance costs.   These include:

  • The number of vehicles to be insured and what vehicle type.
  • Vehicle age and condition.
  • Estimated kilometres.
  • Claims history.
  • Vehicle telematics solutions.
  • Driver behaviour history.
  • Book value of each vehicle covered.
  • Routes – eg urban versus rural etc.

To qualify for fleet insurance, the vehicles must be owned by the same business/person.  The insurer usually requires a minimum number of vehicles in order for the insured to qualify for fleet insurance.   It remains the duty of the fleet owner to keep the insurance company informed of any changes to the fleet.

Benefits of Fleet insurance

  • Fleet insurance covers all vehicles owned by the business and ensures each vehicle is outlined in the policy.    This greatly simplifies claims administration.
  • Drivers who struggle with individual insurance will be covered under a fleet insurance policy.   This will assist them should they wish to obtain individual insurance at a later time.
  • Costs – companies who provide fleet insurance must still take into account the driver’s past history and experience, but fleet insurance costs are much less than purchasing individual insurance.

What to look for in fleet insurance

Fleet insurance premiums should be based specifically on the risk profile of the business.  It is essential to investigate the following when choosing a fleet insurance company:

  • The ability of the insurer to administer the claims processes effectively and quickly
  • Availability of emergency roadside assistance – 24 hours a day, 7 days a week
  • Cover for reasonable storage costs or towing to the nearest repairer
  • Approved repairers that the insurer deals with
  • Cover for the costs incurred for the removal of the wreckage as well as costs for   replacing locks, keys, remote controls or the reprogramming of vehicle security systems
  • Cover if needed outside the borders of South Africa
  • Cover not only for the vehicles but also for accessories and spare parts
  • Legal liability insurance cover for damage to property of other parties as a result of a vehicle accident.

“Remember, as fleet managers and logistic companies seek for affordable commercial vehicle fleet insurance, road safety is the ultimate beneficiary,” concludes Price.  “Affordable fleet insurance depends on safer driving behaviour and the ability to accurately measure such driving.   Fleet insurance rewards safer driving which in turn assists in reducing accidents and improving road safety.”