Road Impressions – MINI Cooper Countryman

The ‘Mini’ name hardly seems relevant applied to the new Countryman that is 20 centimetres longer and three centimetres wider than its – already biggish – predecessor. This is Mini gone Maxi!

To younger car buyers this is immaterial, as they did not have the pleasure of the acquaintance of the original Sir Alec Issignonis Mini or any of that heartstring tug to ‘the lekker old days’ born from a deep affection for that iconic creation.

The proliferation of Mini derivatives is testimony to its widespread appeal in markets around the world and the fact it does look different, does offer a funky and unique dashboard layout helps this appeal considerably considering the boring sameness of so many ‘popular’ brand cars against which it competes.

The new Mini Countryman is the biggest and most versatile model in the brand’s 57-year history. Having been completely newly developed, it now reflects considerable advancements in the areas of space, functionality, athletic flair and premium characteristics.

The bigger car results in increased space on the five seats as well as an increase in storage volume and luggage transport versatility.

The luggage compartment volume is 450 litres and can be extended as required to a total of 1 309 litres. This constitutes a maximum increase of 220 litres as compared to the predecessor model.

The car does have its heritage rooted in British history and the  Austin Seven Countryman had a highly versatile interior and the version with wood frame panelling – popularly known as a ‘Woody’ – attained cult status that it continues to enjoy to this day.

Easy to spot on the road, the latest generation of the Mini Countryman is defined by an extended ground clearance and raised seating position, further emphasised by the Mini ALL4 exterior look and high roof rails.

Inside, the increased size of the car is particularly evident in terms of rear seat legroom and the easier ingress and egress made possible by slightly large door openings compared to the outgoing model.

Both driver and front passenger benefit from extended head and shoulder space, while the adjustment range of the seats has also been enlarged.

The Mini Cooper Countryman is the base model in the range and is fitted with a 3-cylinder petrol engine with a capacity of 1 499 cc, producing 100 kW and 220 Nm and driving, in our case, through a 6-speed Steptronic transmission..

Depending on the engine, the reduction in fuel consumption from the new generation power plants amounts to as much as 1,4 l/100 kilometres according to BMW. Our test route took us a couple of hundred kilometres with mixed speed driving and the overall average achieved was 7,4 l/100 km.

While the Countryman is a big car, it still feels small car with plenty of that impish aura of mischief that made its forebears so dear to many hearts. It just feels designed to zip through gaps in the traffic, to handle like a go-kart and continue to flip the bird at conventialism.

The zippiness and its general road manners come from the tried-and-tested principle of a single-joint spring strut axle at the front and a multilink rear axle with a design that is optimised for weight and rigidity.

In addition to this, there is an electromechanical steering with Servotronic function, powerful brakes and Dynamic Stability Control DSC. 16-inch light alloy wheels come as standard with the new Mini Cooper Countryman.

The standard fittings include the Radio Mini Boost with four-line display in the central instrument and a Bluetooth hands-free telephone facility. Options include the Radio Mini Visual Boost with 6,5-inch colour display, the Harman Kardon hi-fi speaker system, the Mini navigation system and the Mini navigation system Professional.

The standard collision warning with city braking function can be extended to include the Driving Assistant system with camera-based active cruise control, pedestrian warning with initial brake function, high beam assistant and road sign detection. In addition to this, Park Distance Control, rear view camera, Parking Assistant and Head-Up-Display are also optionally available.

At the heart of the connectivity in the Mini Countryman lies Mini Connected, the personal mobility assistant that includes individual mobility planning to enable punctual, stress-free arrival at appointments. And mobility does not start in the car: Mini Connected informs the driver of the optimum departure time based on calendar entries and current traffic data.

Address data and appointments saved by the driver previously on a smartphone via Mini Connected are automatically transferred to the car and do not have to be entered in the navigation system again.

Mini Connected can also save regularly visited places as favourite destinations and it detects frequently covered routes such as the daily run between home and work so as to be able to inform the driver in the event of unexpected traffic delays.

Despite the raised height of the Countryman, it feels well planted on the road even during speedy direction changes. Top speed is a shade more than 200 km/h and it will dash to 100 km/h in 9,8 seconds.

Pleasing and comfortable to drive the Maxi, err Mini, is evolutionary in the line – and we all know, you cannot argue with evolution.

(Note: image is of the Cooper S)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Road Impressions – Kia Picanto 1.2 Smart

As one of its most successful models ever – with the outgoing generation having sold more than 1,4-million units worldwide – the Kia Picanto is something of a stalwart in the ‘A’ segment of the market and the new, third generation, ups the ante.

As with all Kia new model designs since Peter Schreyer took over as head of design, the look has concentrated on a global appeal – and the latest generation is a collaboration between the design centres in Korea and Germany.

With the wheelbase extended to 2 400 mm (an increase of 15 mm), the wheels have been pushed further out to the corners for a 25 mm shorter front overhang, making the car look more planted on the road. Strong, straight lines run horizontally across the front of the car, emphasising the ‘tiger-nose’ grille and angular new wrap-around headlamps. Vertical lines that encompass the side intakes and lower grille enhance the Picanto’s more confident new ‘face’.

In profile, the new Picanto is characterised by distinctive lines running along the side skirts, shoulder and around the wheel arches, although, at 3 595 mm in length, the Picanto is no longer than the outgoing model.

Exterior styling needs to complemented by underbody engineering and I, fortunately, have an intimate knoweldge of this from the previous generation after being involved in a violent crash in a rented car when a ‘bakkie’ pulled out suddenly from a side road, leaving me no room or time to avoid T-boning him.

Other than monstrous bruising and aching muscles from the safety belts, neither of us in the car at the time had knee contact with the dashboard or head contact with any part of the car. The Picanto was a write-off, but the impressive part was the fact all doors opened – ie the safety cell did its job properley.

This happened at a time when perceptions tended to go against the build quality of Korean vehicles on the South African market compared to more established Japanese offerings.

It certainly changed mine.

With a stronger body than ever before, 44% of the new Picanto’s bodyshell is cast in AHSS (up from 22%), while improving tensile strength by 12%. The new, stronger steel has been used to reinforce the floor pan, roof rails and engine bay, as well as the A and B-pillars, strengthening the core structure of the car.

The new bodyshell also uses more than eight times the quantity of structural adhesive found in the outgoing model (67 metres of joins throughout the structure are now reinforced with the adhesive). Overall, static torsional stiffness has been improved by 32%.

With the new car,  the suspension – independent by MacPherson strut at the front and torsion beam at the rear – changes were made to reduce the body roll angle under cornering by up to 1° and enable more immediate reactions to steering inputs.

The Picanto’s anti-roll bars are 2% stiffer and mounted slightly lower at the front and 5% stiffer and slightly higher at the rear. The Picanto’s revised dimensions – with a longer wheelbase and slightly shorter front overhang – also enable the pitch centre of the car to be placed further towards the rear of the car, helping to naturally reduce ‘nose dive’ under braking without firming up the suspension and potentially compromising ride comfort.

In addition, the longer wheelbase contributes to a natural improvement in ride quality and stability on all roads. The torsion beam rear axle has been reshaped and features newly designed trailing arms, helping to reduce weight by 1,8 kg over the rear axle with no loss in component rigidity.

A new rack for the column-mounted motor-driven power steering means the steering ratio has been quickened by 13% over the outgoing Picanto, from 16.5:1 to 14.3:1. Not only does this enable more immediate responses to driver inputs, but reduces the turns of the wheel lock-to-lock (from 3,4 to 2,8 turns).

The nett result of this is a a much more go-kart type of feel along with more solid high-speed cornering and a genuine point-and-squirt going through the twisty bits. Front end ‘plough-on’ is reduced and there is less feel – fear! – the shortish wheelbase might inspire unexpected end swopping.

Inside, the dashboard is now more centrally aligned, with a large ‘floating’ HMI (human-machine interface) sitting at the heart of the centre console and moving many of the car’s controls further up into the driver’s line of sight.

The base of the dashboard has been moved upwards by 15 mm for greater knee and leg space for front passengers.

High specification models, such as our top of the line Smart,  are fitted as standard with two-tone black and grey leather upholstery.

The boot grows from 200 litres (VDA) to a maximum 255 litres and is available with a two-step boot floor, which can be raised or lowered by 145 mm to create additional space as required, as well as create an under-floor storage area.

The rear seat bench can be folded down with a one-touch lever for maximum ease of use, boosting cargo capacity to 1,010 litres.

Powering the Picanto Smart is a four-cylinder 1,25-litre MPI engine that produces peak power of 61 kW and 122 Nm of torque.

While not designed to break land speed records, the Picanto is more than just a city car and the willing engine will hold its own on any highway, cruising comfortably with far fewer downshifts needed to cope with undulations than some other vehicles in this class.

Using similar materials to those found in the luxury Optima, the Picanto seats are now more comfortable and more supportive, making long journeys much less intimidating.

With anti-lock braking as well as a driver and passenger air bag,  the Picanto is also safer than ever before!

Top of the range Picanto Smart models have bi-function projection headlights, LED daytime running lights, LED rear combination lights, electrically-folding, heated side mirrors with integrated LED indicator lamps, aluminium pedals, two-tone cloth and leather upholstery, a leather-upholstered steering wheel and gear knob, the 7-inch full colour infotainment system, Bluetooth with Voice Recognition and a Rear Park Distance Control system with integrated Reverse Camera with dynamic guidelines.

It comes with a 5-year / Unlimited Kilometre Warranty, inclusive of 3-years / Unlimited Kilometres Roadside Assistance, as standard. A service is available as an option through KIA Financial Services.

Road Impressions – Toyota C-HR 1.2T 6MT Plus

Motor manufacturer marketing speak can sometimes surpass even wine speak in its ability to take a long time to actually say very little, and the usual launch presentation about market research and customer profile, yadda, yadda, yadda, is followed by a stampede of journos racing to get to the top model for the launch drive.

Being first online or in print with impressions or a road test of a new model is important for sales and the general wellbeing of the individual publications but, sometimes, it is well worth stepping back and waiting a few months before testing a car – just to see how marketing speak versus actual public reaction compare.

With the C-HR, which stands for Coupé High Rider, Toyota said this: “With the C-HR, Toyota targets a clear and singular customer profile (identified as Millennials). Predominantly driven by emotional considerations, these customers want individuality and to be the first to try new experiences and products. Style and quality are essential considerations in any purchase they make, and the car is an extension of their personality.

“The Toyota C-HR’s unique character demonstrates the flexibility that the TNGA (Toyota New Global Architecture) gives to vehicle developers in the three key areas of design, powertrain and dynamics, enabling them to deliver a new and fresh take on the increasingly commoditised crossover segment.”

Pretty much marketing speak for: “We have a cute car and everyone will want one but not everyone can afford one.”

And yes, that applies to every new car launched into the market!

Undeniably cute, with its dramatic cut lines, the C-HR is a moving vision of light and shadow interplay that is, I think, the best design from the company since the Celica of the late 90’s, surpassing even the current 86.

The small SUV segment represents the fastest growing ‘group’ on the South African passenger vehicle landscape. A characteristic of this segment is the variety and diversity of models, notably the ‘cross-over’ – a fusion of hatchback and SUV, taking the best attributes of each to create a vehicle that perfectly fits the modern urban lifestyle.

However, the C-HR is more hatch than it is SUV with city and urban surrounds a better playground choice than those roads less travelled.

The front is a development of Toyota’s signature design identity. The upper grille flows from the Toyota badge into the wing extremities of the headlamp clusters and wraps fully around the front corners of the vehicle. The striking headlamps also house LED Daytime Running Lights (DRL) in a prism shape.

The C-HR’s coupé-like styling is enhanced by disguised rear door handles integrated within the C pillar – while good for the looks, they can be a tad awkward to use.

The driver-oriented area sees all operating switchgear and a display audio touch-screen slightly angled towards the driver.

In conjunction with the asymmetrical centre console design, this brings all controls within easy reach of the driver, whilst still allowing front passenger access. Because the touch-screen stands proud of the instrument panel rather than being enclosed by it, the upper dashboard is considerably lower in depth, helping driver visibility.

The Toyota C-HR is the first model locally utilise Toyota’s 1,2-litre turbo engine. The 1.2T engine uses advanced technologies that allow the engine to change from the Otto-cycle to the Atkinson cycle under low loads, it has vertical vortex high tumble airflow intake ports, an exhaust manifold integrated in the cylinder head and advanced heat management.

From a displacement of 1 197 cc, the engine delivers 85 kW and a constant torque curve of 185 Nm between 1 500 r/min and 4 000 r/min, achieving the 0 to 100 km/h dash in 10,9 seconds with the top speed set at 190 km/h.

Toyota claims 6,3 l/100 km on the combined cycle and delivers just 141g/km of CO2. Actual testing averaged out at 6,5 l/100 km with hard use taking the numbers up to 8,1 l/100 km.

The 6-speed manual uses Toyota’s iMT system (intelligent Manual Transmission), which automatically increases the engine revs with a perfectly executed ‘blip’ when downshifting, ensuring a smooth gearshift.

The system also works when shifting up in order to improve comfort for driver and passengers by reducing shift shock. A shift indicator with two directional arrows housed in the instrument cluster, provides the optimal shift points on M/T models.

The gearbox has a good feel to it and changes are short, sharp and positive with no gear lever ‘wander’ in the neutral space.

The MacPherson strut front suspension was designed specifically for the Toyota C-HR. It includes a strut bearing rotation axis that has been defined to reduce steering friction drastically, allowing smooth and accurate steering. To ensure a hatchback-like roll-rigidity, the large-diameter stabiliser is directly linked to the strut via a stabiliser link.

At the back, a double wishbone suspension contributes significantly to the crisp driving experience. Thanks to the use of a specific sub frame, the suspension angles are optimised to give this ‘C’ Crossover its hatchback-like handling in spite of its increased height.

In this the C-HR does impress and it remains solidly upright through hard cornering with little noticeable body flex or roll. It is fitted with 17-inch wheels, shod with 215-60R-17 rubber.

The C-HR comes standard with an Electric Parking Brake (EPB), cruise control and Hill Assist Control.

On Plus models there is a dual-zone electronic climate control, one-touch auto up/down power windows, auto-on headlamps and wipers and electrically adjusted mirrors. The interior also features two conveniently located cup holders in the centre console, a storage shelf for mobile devices or media players and a 12-volt power outlet.

A full suite of Active Safety functions are embedded into the C-HR and include anti-lock brakes, Brake Assist (BA), Electronic Brake Force Distribution (EBD), Hill Assist Control (HAC) and Vehicle Stability Control (VSC).

Driver and Passenger air bags round out the safety specification.

At R346 700 the Toyota finds itself in the same company as the Suzuki Vitara 1.6 GL Auto (R341 900), Honda HR-V 1.5 Comfort (R344 200), Hyundai Creta 1.6 Executive Auto (R344 900), Fiat 500X 1.4 Cross (R347 900) and Kia Soul 2.0 Street (347 995).

What it does have, that some others might not, is an enviable dealer network and generally high resale value retention.

All C-HR models come standard with a comprehensive 5 year/90 000 km service plan, with service intervals set at 15 000 km. A 3 year/100 000 km warranty is provided.

2017 Toyota C-HR

2017 Toyota C-HR

Road Impressions – Hyundai Tucson 1.6 TGDI Executive Sport

More than one motor manufacturer has discovered slapping a ‘Sport’ moniker and some additional body kit onto a dog that battles to pull the skin off a rice pudding has the certainty of coming back to bite them in the rear end.

The seventh generation Hyundai Tucson is, unquestionably, a bit of a looker and easily a candidate for additional and elegant body styling – which is exactly what Hyundai Automotive South Africa did to create the Sport version of the Tucson 1.6 TGDI Executive.

The body kit – front, rear and side skirts – are imported from Korea, while the alloy wheels were chosen with the help of Tiger Wheel & Tyre, exclusively for the Tucson Sport. A different exhaust system with four chrome pipes at the rear audibly announces the sporty nature of this Tucson.

The 19-inch black alloy wheels with its low-profile tyres are exclusive to the Tucson Sport – nobody can buy them off the shelf to fit to their own car.

The 1,6-litre turbo-charged 4-cylinder petrol engine is linked to a 6-speed manual gearbox with well-spaced ratios to get the power and torque to the road effectively through the front-wheel drive system.

The turbo-charged 4-cylinder engine delivers maximum power of 130 kW at        5 5 00 r/min and its torque delivery peaks at 265 Nm from 1 500 r/min to 4 500 r/min – and this has not been altered or tweaked for the Sport with Hyundai believing it provides enough to validate the label.

Does it?

The visual impression creates a mental level of expectancy and the start-up burble from the multiple tail pipes certainly does not disappoint.

Looking at comparisons, the 1,6-litre’s output is down a tad compared to that of compact crossover competitors such as the Honda CR-V, the Toyota RAV4 and the Mazda CX-5 2.5, but Hyundai’s four bests the field with more torque: 265 Nm developed earlier in the rev range.

Tucson’s torque curve is nice and flat,  reaching maximum elevation at 1 500 r/min and carrying on to 4500 r/min. That means even with part-throttle, it is easy to get to cruising speed and to zip through gaps in the traffic without the need for wide-open-throttle bursts and heroic downshifts.

The sporty exhaust note continues up through the rev range, with even a bit of ‘pop’ on the overrun or through downshifts.

Translated into performance the Tucson runs from zero to 100 km/h in 7,6 seconds and has a maximum speed of 193 km/h with fuel consumption around the 9,8 l/100 km mark for everyday driving and upping to 10,0 l/100 km when driven with a little more vigour.

Providing it is approached with the correct mind set – ie it is not designed to race your mate’s Focus ST or leave a Ferrari looking like it had stalled at the lights – the Tucson can carry the ‘Sport’ tag with some pride.

The front suspension features a McPherson strut system and the rear a multilink suspension system. As in the front, the rear sub frame receives four bush mountings, while the upper and lower suspension arms are longer to enhance overall suspension performance.

The new Tucson received some tweaks to the suspension settings to enhance high-speed and cornering stability, while also maximising the benefits of the long wheelbase (2 670 mm) and wide track to optimise ride and handling characteristics.

A brake system upgrade incorporated larger discs (305 mm front/ 302 mm rear) and this all works well on the Sport version, which remains solidly planted on the road even when pressed hard on the twisty bits.

The electric motor-driven power steering (MDPS) system has a suitably direct response to inputs and is accurate, so the driver knows exactly where the front wheels are pointed.

While it is a SUV, it is not well suited to dirt road excursions on the wide, low profile tyres that are more susceptible to sidewall cuts.

Standard features of the Tucson Sport include an 8-inch screen infotainment system with satellite navigation, Bluetooth telephone linking and music streaming, as well as a CD player, USB and AUX music input and a several settings for FM and AM radio reception. It also displays a rear view from the park assist camera when reversing the vehicle.

Additional convenience features include cruise control, rain sensors for the automatic windscreen wipers, an automatic air-conditioning system, electrically adjusted leather seats and multifunction controls on the steering wheel.

Among the safety features in the Tucson Sport are an Electronic Stability Programme (ESP), an anti-lock braking system, Electronic Brake Distribution (EBD) and a full set of driver, front passenger, side and curtain air bags.

The Tucson was awarded a full 5-star safety rating in the European New Car Assessment Programme (EuroNCAP).

The Tucson Sport comes with Hyundai’s 7-year/200 000 km warranty, roadside assistance for 5 years or 150 000 km, and a 5-year/90 000 km service plan. Its service interval is 15 000 km.

Sound sense

What do you do when you are a successful business person and have a passion for music? You get a B Hons in music and build a recording studio.

At least, that is the route taken by Port Shepstone, KZN engineer Thulani Bhengu (40) who is currently building a cutting edge studio facility on the site of an old house in Southport – a small village just north of Port Shepstone and in the heart of the Hibiscus Coast.

An integral part of the studio complex is a five-bedroom Bed & Breakfast accommodation setup for musicians recording at the facility.

The studio – as yet unnamed – will feature state of the art recording equipment plus separate sound booths for the various instruments and will be totally soundproof and inaudible to the nearby residents.

“I will probably involve a couple of local schools in a competition to design the logo and name the studio,” says Bhengu. “The winning school will get a cash prize for its art department.”

The affable young entrepreneur was born and bred in the Gamalakhe township near Margate on the South Coast of KwaZulu Natal and, post school, went on to study engineering and then to form the civil engineering company Ngcolosi Consulting Engineers.

“With the business up and running nicely, about six years ago I decided I could indulge my passion for music,” he says. “I took piano lessons and this went well. I am now in the midst of exams for my Music BA Hons through a university in England.

“During the earlier years I helped a number of young local musicians by sponsoring studio time for them and this grew to the point I installed a small recording studio at my home. However, a combination of musician hours and time in the studio started interfering with family life.

“This cemented my decision to create a stand alone studio.”

Bhengu explains the decision to incorporate the accommodation suites was based on experience with musicians.

“Travel for many of these people is a major problem and so much valuable time is wasted if they have come from far afield each day. Also, between leaving the studio on one day, going home and maybe going out for a few beers with friends, there is a detectable change in voice tone by the following day.

“It will be much better to contain them on site to maximise studio time and to try and eliminate the kind of changes I mentioned.”

The recording studio is 150 square metres in size and has individual sound booths plus the engineer’s control room, which will be kitted with the latest generation recording facilities sourced from England.

The studio itself has been designed by Johannesburg-based sound specialist, Harry Timmerman from 4th Dimension and, besides the soundproof cladding one would expect, features double width air-gapped walls to prevent any sound creep inside the facility or any leakage to the neighbourhood.

Even in its current state of ‘undress’ a handclap anywhere in the studio precinct produces no echo!

“The specification for the studio and the equipment being installed can be compared to that used by the giant studios overseas such as Sony BMG and Lucas Films,” says Timmerman, who is a THX certified audio engineer.

“The backbone of the recording desk will be Pro Tools, while the Playback Suite will conform to full Auro standard with 32 speakers, so the artists can hear every minor nuance of their work and become wholly immersed in the sound. There are only a handful of studios worldwide that have this specification and this a first for South Africa.

“The smallest sound booth is 7,8 square metres and we are using Miller and Kreiselle speakers throughout – the same speakers used in the creation of the soundtracks for movies such as Pearl Harbour, Gladiator, Jurassic Park and Star Wars.”

A resident full-time sound engineer will be employed to operate the equipment but Bhengu says artists are more than welcome to bring with their own producers to work with the engineer during the recordings.

Significantly, studio time in Southport will be around a quarter of the cost of time in a Johannesburg studio, making it that much more accessible to young and upcoming artists.

“We intend to be as flexible as possible,” said Bhengu. “Many young musicians just want to get one or two tracks recorded professionally they can use for promotional purposes and possible radio play while they build a following that would justify going into studio to record an entire album.

“We need to make it as easy as possible for them to do that. At the same time, the lower cost we hope will attract top line and well-known artists to the venue and we would also love to see some foreign artists taking advantage of our lovely sunshine, the beautiful South Coast and the value of the Rand to record here.”

So, why Southport?

Bhengu chuckles and explains: “I bought the house eight years ago and wanted to have the zoning changed so I could move my office there. However, my staff was so against the idea I ended up renting it out as house for a few years.

“When the idea for a recording studio took hold, it was the ideal venue. I approached all the neighbours and we submitted the plans and proposals to the Council. Nobody was opposed to the idea as long as we could guarantee the studio would be soundproof.

“All the nearby residents have been very supportive of the project – which I hope will be complete by December of this year.”

Local resident and drummer for The Sound Dogs, Mike Linten says many local musicians are likely to benefit from the facility and that it will be a long-term gain for tourism in the area.

 

Road Impressions – Toyota Etios 1.5 Sprint

With the second edition of the Festival of Motoring due at the Kyalami circuit soon, one of the few cars to debut at that event is about to celebrate a birthday, namely the Toyota Etios 1.5 Sprint.

The revised Etios range announced at the time reduced the number of model derivatives and made some badge changes most notably with the ‘X’ variant replaced by the Sprint – all part of a much needed re-energising of a brand name under intense pressure from competitive offerings in the market.

“The Etios represents one of the core models for Toyota, and has proven popular with a wide variety of customers. The pay-off line ‘Here to make you smile’ represents what Etios is all about; simple rewarding motoring – and with the most recent styling, spec and safety upgrades, it is set to continue.” said Glenn Crompton, vice president of Marketing at the time.

So, a year down the line, where does the Etios Sprint fit? At its current price of R172 600 it is flanked on that ladder by the Etios X Sedan and higher up the 1,2-litre Chev Spark LT – but that will soon disappear along with General Motors.

The primary opposition is the Volkswagen Polo Hatch 1.4 Conceptline (R173 800) and, on paper, there is little to choose from between the two in terms of specification and engine – 66 kW from the Etios versus 55 kW from the Polo Vivo and equal on torque at 132 Nm.

Both have two air bags, anti-lock braking, air-conditioning, audio system and Bluetooth.

Cost was an important consideration in the whole Etios range revise and the Sprint comes with power windows and manually operated side mirrors – something I dislike intensely as I would far rather wind my own window down than have to stretch across the car to adjust the left side mirror.

Cost against practicality – always a conundrum for the product planners.

The Etios was given an aesthetic makeover with the key change point being the front bumper design, incorporating a large lower air dam as its main focal point. The lower air dam stretches the entire front width, and features integrated fog lamps with sculpted bezels.

The lower grille is fashioned in matching black and utilises sharp horizontal slats while the upper radiator grille employs a distinctive wing-like motif, with the Toyota ellipse at its centre and a broad chrome ‘brow’ forming the upper border.

The rear also received styling tweaks and the rear bumper incorporated a lower crease line accentuating the profile – flowing from the outer corners and blending into the number plate recess. The revised bumper treatment bumped up the overall length by 109 mm on the hatch.

Sometimes mid-life and range revise styling changes are a visual air of desperation from an automaker scrabbling to find additional sales from an ailing and dated model – not so with the Etios, which can still proudly pose alongside any of its opposition and garner more than a few admiring glances.

In keeping with the ‘fun’ theme envisioned by Toyota, the Etios Sprint has a centre-mounted dash display, the half-moon display looking quite funky. While easily readable, I have to admit to being a bit of a purist and I still like my dials and gauges directly in front of me.

However, is it fun to drive?

Indeed it is. It is not a ‘hot’ hatch by any stretch of the imagination and nor was it intended to compete against the true hot hatches.

What it offers is a suitably swift response off the line, a nice rorty engine note going up the rev range and enough ‘vooma’ to make Officer Plod choke on his fried chicken as he tries to press the trigger of the radar gun.

It is nippy and has a sense of the mischievous, making it quite a fun drive.

Handling details sees a Macpherson strut design at the front with a torsion-beam-type suspension for the rear, augmented by a reinforcement brace to ensure handling stability.

Overall, the dampening system is tuned to achieve a supple, mild ride comfort that confidently allows traversing of bumps in the road surface.

This translates to pretty nifty handling, although the short wheelbase did have the rear wanting to swop ends on occasion when pitched hard into a tight corner. Even though the suspension works well to contain the bumps, our often-rippled road surfaces did provoke some mild twitching off line from time to time.

Good low-speed torque delivery made the Etios a breeze to navigate in and out of traffic with the hatchback recording 6,4 l/100 kilometres average during our test.

All Etios models come with a 2-year/30 000 km service plan, backed by a 3-year/100 000 km warranty and service intervals are set at 10 000 kilometres.

In the tough market segment in which it is playing, the Etios Sprint has stood up strongly in its first year to remain a cost effective option for the price conscious buyer.

RoadImpressions – Kia Rio 1.4 TEC

Possibly the most excruciatingly boring drive in the country is the 600-odd kilometres between Durban and Johannesburg on the N3, monitored as it is by 35 or so fixed camera speed traps, a herd of ‘average speed camera zones’ at least five manned radar gun traps and an ever-increasing stretches limited to 100 km/h or less.

I fully understand the notion when people do not want to save themselves; sometimes you have to do it for them. Equally, I fully support road safety and, given the parlous state of many of the trucks on our roads, recognise the need to have huge restraint on Van Reenen’s Pass, Field’s Hill and Town Hill.

However, the rather hefty toll fees paid for the privilege of driving on what is supposed to be the premier arterial motorway in the country is losing its lustre as it is no longer seamless, swift or pleasant – I mean, 100 km/h all the way from Warden to the other side of Harrismith!

Worse still are the manned speed traps – offering nothing whatsoever to the notion of road safety, these are nothing more than money earners. The fixed traps should release traffic officers to patrol the highway and to mitigate incidents by stopping unroadworthy vehicles before they barrel down one of the hills destroying everything in their path.

Armed with a Kio Rio 1.4 TEC manual, I drove up the hill from Durban to the heady heights of Johannesburg at 1 753 metres above sea level and then back down to sea level again with the cruise control activated wherever possible.

It simply is impossible to modulate control of the throttle to keep within the limits of the law for such long periods – cruise control is a must. Also, with the sound cranked up it alleviates some of the tedium with games such as ‘when will that truck pull out to overtake the other one moving at walking pace and how many gears will I need to drop down’ also taking up some of the slow-passing time.

The sound system in the Rio TEC is up to the task with six speakers in play. Not quite concert levels but enough to blow the cobwebs away.

Since the trip is almost an enforced economy run, consumption watching forms part of the mix and the 6,5 l/100 km achieved on the uphill run at an average of 94 km/h was only marginally more than the 6,2 /100 km recorded on the downhill return at the same average speed.

The new, fourth-generation Rio is defined by straight lines and smooth surfacing, giving the car a distinctive new look and more mature character than its predecessor.

At the front is the latest evolution of Kia’s ‘tiger-nose’ grille, now thinner in height and wider across the front of the car, with a gloss black grille mesh and surround. The grille is integrated with the newly designed headlamps, featuring a new U-shaped LED daytime running light signature.

In profile, the lengthened, more balanced stance is achieved with a long bonnet and longer front overhang, a 10 mm longer wheelbase (up to 2 580 mm), a thinner, more upright C-pillar, and a shorter rear overhang. Overall, the new car is 15 mm longer than its predecessor (4 065 mm in length) and 5 mm lower (now 1 450 mm tall). Straight, clearly defined lines run down the full length of the car’s shoulder and along its doors, further stretching the appearance of the car for a more confident look.

The rear section of the Rio is now more upright, with a near-vertical rear windscreen. The straight line that runs from the grille, through the headlamps and along the top of the doors, continues around the back of the car, paired with thinner, more sculpted rear lamps. High specification models are available with LED taillights with a new arrow-shaped light signature.

Inside, the dashboard is angled towards the driver. At the centre is a ‘floating’ HMI (human-machine interface) with a new 7-inch Touch Screen infotainment system. Below the infotainment system, the driver-oriented centre console features fewer buttons, with more ergonomic, concave switches and rotator dials below to control the heating and ventilation.

Convenience items on the TEC include power windows, electrically controlled door mirrors, automatic headlamps, rain-sensing windscreen wipers and a Rear Park Assist System with reverse camera.

New dashboard soundproofing materials have been adopted to reduce engine noise levels in the front of the cabin, while a stiffer front sub frame minimises vibrations from poor road surfaces.

In the silences between songs, I was impressed with the low levels of travel noise intruding into the cabin.

The Rio’s 10 mm longer wheelbase and 15 mm longer body contribute to larger cabin and cargo area dimensions. Legroom grows to 1 070 mm in the front and 850 mm in the rear, achieved with a series of changes to the Rio’s packaging. These include re-profiled door trims, the adoption of new headlining materials and changes to the shape of the dashboard.

Luggage capacity is increased by 37 litres to 325 litres. The uphill journey involved both a wife and a niece on holiday from the UK – and all the luggage plus laptops and etcetera fitted in the boot, a huge plus for a car in this market segment.

The 1,4-litre engine produces 74 kW at 6 300 r/min and 135 Nm torque at 4 200 r/min driving through a six-speed manual transmission.

Compared to what some other manufacturers are achieving with small capacity engines, the Rio’s power plant comes across as being a tad weak. While never intended to be a robot-to-robot dragster, the engines runs out of breath quite quickly.

Gear ratios inclined towards fuel efficiency also mean it has to be ‘rowed’ up hills with two to three downshifts needed when cruising momentum is interrupted. That said, it is hardly a mobile chicane.

One of the downsides of some cars in this segment is the lack of comfort and support from the seats, usually because of thinner padding and the like to keep the cost down. The Rio is more than comfortable and supportive enough over the long haul to minimise fatigue.

The steering is light enough for comfort but responsive and accurate when needed and does not mind been thrown around fairly vigorously, staying mainly neutral and easing into predictable understeer.

The increased application of advanced high strength steel has strengthened the passenger cabin ‘cell’ for greater occupant safety and more effective distribution of impact forces. The stronger steel has been used to reinforce the A and B-pillars, as well as side sills, roof structure, engine bay and floor pan.

Along with driver’s and passenger’s air bags (including side and curtain air bags in the TEC model), the new Rio features front seatbelt pre-tensioners with load limiters, side door impact beams front and rear, child locks, and impact sensing door unlocking. ISOFIX child seat anchors are standard across the range, as is anti-lock braking.

The Rio sits on fully independent MacPherson strut front suspension and a coupled torsion beam rear axle. It benefits from a revised spring and damper set-up noticeably improving the car’s compliance and comfort at all speeds.

A new front suspension system features a more rigid cross member and struts, while the rear shock absorbers are mounted more vertically, absorbing shocks better to improve ride comfort and stability.

The Kia Rio come with a 5-year / unlimited kilometre Warranty, inclusive of 5-years / Unlimited Kilometres Roadside Assistance as well as a 4-year / 60 000 km Service Plan.

KEY FACTS

 

Engine Type In-line 4 cyl, 16 valve DOHC CVVT
Displacement (cc) 1 396
Fuel supply system Multi Point Injection (MPI)
Max Power (kW @ rpm) 74/6300
Max Torque (Nm @ rpm) 135/4200
Compression Ratio 10.5 : 1
Bore and Stroke (mm) 74 x 74.99
Acceleration (0-100km/h) 11.5
Maximum speed (km/h) 176
CO2 emissions (g/km) 137