Road Impressions – Suzuki Ignis 1.2 GLX

Once upon a time, there was Mini. And Mini was good. It put a capital ‘F’ in the sheer fun of driving a car and then things – as they are wont to do – changed as vast volumes of makes and models poured into the market.

At the same time a changing world demanded more and more efficiency, less and less emissions and in order to service these demands, we entered the age of the ‘vanilla’ car where boring became (largely) the norm across the small and mid-range sectors.

Brief flashes of individualism did offer a firecracker spark in the darkness with imaginings such as the PT Cruiser, original Kia Soul (before it got all plump and rounded) and the Citroën Cactus.

And then, there is the Suzuki Ignis. Looks different, feels different and is, well…. #LikeNoOther …and sneaks past the being cute and brainless to being damn cute and a whole bunch of fun to be with.

It was first shown at the Paris Show in 2015 and then took a while to get to South Africa, during which time it picked up a runner-up slot in the World Urban Car Award and bucket loads of them were sold into crowded cities in Europe.

At just 3,7 metres long and 1,69 metres wide it is compactly proportioned without actually looking small and uncomfortable – in fact, interior space for occupants is quite generous unless you are planning on transporting the front row of The Cheetahs rugby team. The 180 mm ground clearance confirms it can also take on rural and unpaved roads with confidence.

The modular chassis underpinning the Ignis contributes to the crossover’s low mass, while also offering a rigid platform for the suspension. The result is enhanced ride comfort and engaging handling.

Powered by the K12M 1,2-litre four-cylinder engine, the Ignis benefits from a lightweight 850 kg kerb mass so the engine’s maximum power output of 61 kW at 6 000 r/min translates into a generous power-to-weight ratio of 71,65 kW/ton. The maximum torque output of 113 Nm is reached at 4 200 r/min.

The standard transmission is a five-speed manual design, driving the front wheels.

The Ignis sits on Suzuki’s latest-generation HEARTECTTM lightweight chassis. The modular platform is already a feature of the larger Baleno, and makes use of a high percentage of high-tensile steel that allows high levels of rigidity, while reducing overall mass.

The front suspension combines MacPherson struts and coil springs with gas-filled dampers and an anti-roll bar, while the rear set-up makes use of a torsion beam, combined with coil springs and an anti-roll bar.

Steering is a rack and pinion system with electric power assistance. The turning circle is 9,4 metres it runs on 15-inch alloy wheels with 175/65 R15 tyres standard.

The GLX feature piano black rims that I felt looked rather unattractive and contrasted heavily against the car, making them too much of a focal point. Chrome or silver would, I believe, look much better.

The Ignis is not meant to be a robot dragster so the move from zero to 100 km/h takes a fairly leisurely  11,8 seconds, while top speed is 161 km/h. Combined cycle fuel consumption figure averaged 5,6 l/100 km in the case of my test unit.

The luggage compartment offers 260 litres of cargo space, expandable to 469 litres with the rear seatback folded flat.

Standard items include power windows, remote central locking, automatic air-conditioning, electric power steering and an MP3-compatible CD sound system with USB port and 12V accessory power socket. The GLX gets projector-type LED headlight designs with daytime running lights, while front fog lamps are incorporated into the integrated front bumper. The exterior mirrors include turn signal repeaters.

Driving ‘Iggy’ is fun. Not because it shred the tarmac or blitz past anything else on the road. No, it is fun because it is unpretentious, yet individual enough not to simply blend into the grey crowd of vanilla inching its way along the motorway.

It does not out handle everything on the road although, within the limitations of is design spec, it is competent enough whizzing around corners. In fact, I would like to see one fitted with 16-inch wheels or a different profile that would give it just that bit extra stability.

Like the Mini of old, the Ignis brings a sense of the mischievous – ready to dart into little gaps in the traffic and swoop into miniscule parking bays, leaving the bulky urban kerb crawlers to make their four or five point approaches.

The Suzuki Ignis is covered by a standard 5-year/200 000 km warranty, as well as a 2-year/30 000 km service plan. Services are at 15 000 km/12 month intervals.

Ignis is not nice; it is ‘lekker’ – and again, #LikeNoOther.

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Road Impressions – Lexus NX300 F-Sport

There is little doubt the song of the open road – be it heavy metal, rock, blues, pop or nature’s own orchestral manoeuvres – are best appreciated while plumped in a form-fitting seat atop a finely tuned suspension and propelled by enough power to handle everything asked.

The Lexus NX does just that. I am, however, just that ‘old school’ enough to still believe if I intend driving really quickly my butt should be mere centimetres from the road rather than reaching for clouds – in fact, old school enough to question why anyone would want an SUV capable of 200 km/h.

Sure, it is a thing – there is the brutal Jeep SRT and Range Rover’s Sport – but the marriage of good off-road capability and sports type speed has me flummoxed. True, almost none of the trick SUV’s ever find themselves outside of an urban environment, but that is not the point.

To be fair, the Lexus NX handles both good tarmac and smooth dirt roads with aplomb and it is difficult to find fault with its handling on either surface even when pressed beyond the limits likely to be achieved by Joe Average.

The Lexus NX was Lexus’ first foray into the compact premium SUV market. Featuring an unmistakeable angular design language, with strong body lines and prominent contouring the NX is hard to miss in any playground.

Late last year all models received front styling refinements, with new headlamps, a bold new front grille utilising a chrome frame, altered side grille, bumper and lower bumper elements.

At the rear, came new LED combination lamps. The rear bumper and license plate garnish have also gone under the surgeon’s knife and tie in with the overall design theme.

In F-Sport guise, the spindle-grille ‘frame’ is finished off in a ‘black chrome’ effect, which ties in with the dark ‘F-mesh’ grille.

The brushed-aluminium-effect lower apron, which runs the full length of the front, creates a sporty appearance and ties all the frontal design elements together. Graphite-coloured vent trim on the edges of the bumper accentuate the powerful stance and F-Sport identity.

 As part of Lexus’ global strategy, the ‘200t’ moniker (signifying a 2,0-litre turbo-charged engine) was been replaced by ‘300’. The 300 badging bears reference to offering an equivalent power output to that of a 3,0-litre powerplant – this has been adopted to achieve parity between the petrol  and hybrid engine models’ badging convention.

As such, the badging changed to NX 300 in E, EX and F-Sport iterations respectively.

 The F-Sport as tested is delivered with the all-wheel drive configuration and 6-speed automatic transmission to serve the 2,0-litre turbo-charged ‘4-pot’ engine – offering 175 kW with 350 Nm on tap between 1 650 r/min and 4 000 r/min.

The engine utilises a combination of port and direct injection (known as D-4ST) along with Variable Valve Timing intelligent Wide (VVTi-W), to optimise combustion in the pursuit of both power and efficiency. The twin-scroll turbo-charger delivers a wide-spread of torque assisting with acceleration.

It runs an 8,4 second sprint to 100 km/h and is capable of 200 km/h. In Eco mode, the overall fuel consumption could be squeezed to below 9,0 l/100 km, pushing up to over 10 l/100 km when in press on mode in Sport or Sport+.

My test average (combining all modes) came to 9,7 l/100 km, making it competitive with its peers in the marketplace.

Compared to the previous version, the upgrades to the suspension provide a much firmer and stable ride with less body movement.

Refinements include a new calibration for the rear stabiliser bar and stabiliser-bar bushing, as well as new front dampers with reduced friction, while the Adaptive Variable Suspension (AVS) on F-Sport has been upgraded to the latest iteration, borrowed from the LC premium sports coupé.

F-Sport has a unique suspension calibration and alloy wheel design. Rear stabiliser-bar stiffness on the refreshed NX, has been increased by 22% in order to suppress roll angle and optimise vehicle turning posture.

Specification upgrades on the F-Sport brought in dynamic headlamp levelling, chrome steering switch accents and aluminium detailing on the instrument cluster.

A key feature is the new 10,3-inch display audio screen (previous 7-inch) with enhanced graphics and clarity and the button design has been modernised while the analogue clock redesigned with increased contrast between the hands and background for ease of viewing. The clock is now linked to the GPS function, so the time is set automatically.

I am not a huge fan of the finger operated ‘mousepad’ and found making changes involved too much time with eyes off the road to ensure accurate placement of the cursor. Admittedly, I had the car only a week and in all likelihood, this operation would become more intuitive over time, with most owners making fewer changes than someone trying to investigate every feature does.

The usual comprehensive active safety systems are of course on-board and include anti-lock braking, EBD, Brake Assist, Traction Control, Enhanced VSC, Hill-start Assist, Trailer Sway Control. Blind Spot Monitor (BSM) and Rear Cross Traffic Alert (RCTA).

Lexus prides itself on ‘what you see is what you get’ with no lengthy list of costly options to bring the base car up to a decent spec but, what is missing from this package – in a car costing R786 600 – are Adaptive Cruise Control and auto dimming headlights.

All Lexus NX models come with a 4-year/100 000 kilometre warranty. F-Sport also gets the Distance Plan Complete (full maintenance plan), all over a 4-year/100 000 kilometre period.

Rwanda a go for VWSA

Volkswagen South Africa’s previously announced plans for an operation in Rwanda kicked into high gear in the capital, Kigali, today with the formal registration of the company Volkswagen Mobility Solutions Rwanda.

This means the roll out of Volkswagen’s integrated automotive mobility solution, a first for the Volkswagen Group, under the auspices of Volkswagen Group South Africa (VWSA), which is responsible for the Sub Saharan African Region.

Thomas Schaefer, Chairman and Managing Director of Volkswagen Group South Africa, says: “In December 2016 Volkswagen signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Rwanda Development Board (RDB) to conduct a detailed study to develop a business case for Volkswagen to introduce an integrated automotive mobility concept in Rwanda, which would be a first for Volkswagen worldwide.

“Our studies are complete and we believe we have a business case that will work and we are now ready to commence with the implementation of our plans for Rwanda. In short after today there is no going back, we are now fully committed to implementing our unique integrated automotive mobility solution in Rwanda together with Rwandans.”

VWSA chose Rwanda as the country in Africa to study the feasibility of an integrated automotive mobility solution for the following reasons:-

  • There is political stability and zero tolerance for corruption
  • There is dynamic economic growth of some 7% per annum
  • There is a young and tech savvy population
  • Rwanda is a leader in innovation and technology
  • Volkswagen have received strong support for our plans from Government and had great cooperation and support from the RDB
  • There is a real need for modern mobility solutions
  • Kigali is spearheading the smart city agenda

Volkswagen will adopt a phased approach in the implementation of the integrated automotive mobility solution and the first phase will focus on:

  • Establishing a local Mobility Services company
  • Oversee the establishment of a Volkswagen manufacturing and sales entity
  • Set up a vehicle assembly operation
  • Establish a sales and service structure
  • Set up a training centre
  • Offer the new mobility solution

“The production facility will have an initial annual installed capacity of up to 5 000 units, with 2018 being our start-up year. The Volkswagen product portfolio will initially include the Hatchback Polo, the Passat, a sedan and possibly the Teramont, a large SUV,” says Schaefer.

Volkswagen will run the production and retail operations, which will include the importation of other Volkswagen models to be sold on the Rwandan market.

The current business plan assumes employment of between 500 and 1 000 people in Kigali in phase one for Mobility Solutions admin, production, training, sales and service and the drivers..

A Rwandan software development start-up company Awesomity Lab has been appointed to develop the mobility App. Volkswagen is also in negotiation with other potential Rwandan suppliers.

The first service to be offered will be community car sharing, which will launch in quarter two, with around 150 vehicles in service within a few months. This will be followed by a ride hailing service with some initial 150 vehicles planned in the medium term still in 2018.

In 2019 public car sharing with some initial 250 cars planned will be launched and this will be followed by a shuttle service and lastly a peer to peer car sharing service is envisaged.  These numbers are based on assumed market demand, as such an innovative integrated mobility solution is a first for the automotive industry.

All the mobility services will be accessed by the custom developed App through which all bookings and payment will be made. Services will also be able to be booked online or via a hotline to cater for people who do not have a smartphone.

Some US $20-million (R246-million) will be spent in Rwanda by VWSA during phase one of the integrated automotive mobility solutions.

“We are delighted with the progress that has been made since we signed the MOU with Volkswagen in 2016. We are ready to partner with Volkswagen as they implement their integrated automotive mobility solutions as well as vehicle assembly operation in Rwanda.

“Our country is determined to become the leading innovator in Africa.  This project is in line with Rwanda’s policies to protect the environment, create jobs, and reduce our trade deficit. We are confident that this partnership will help create countless opportunities for young Rwandans not only in terms of employment but also in terms of skills transfer,” says Clare Akamanzi, CEO of the RDB.

Limitless concept

The sharply chiselled lines of the luxury Lexus NX go even further on the LF-1 Limitless concept car, presented at the Detroit Auto Show – as does the tech installed in what the company calls a ‘new genre’ of luxury vehicle.

Combining high performance with unrestrained luxury, the Lexus LF-1 Limitless concept is a showcase of technology, innovation and the latest evolution of design at Lexus.

The concept envisages fully autonomous driving and could be powered by fuel cells, hybrid, plug-in hybrid, petrol or even all-electric. By around 2025, every Lexus model around the world will be available either as a dedicated electrified model, or have an electrified option.

Lexus International president; Yoshihiro Sawa says Lexus models such as the RX had helped drive the global popularity of the luxury SUV category.

“This new crossover concept captures a future that involves a high level of dynamic capability and utility matched by a more exciting, emotional design that we hope challenges expectations in the category,” he says.

The innovative spirit styling of the LF-1 was created at CALTY Design Research in California.

The design language is rooted in the design concept of ‘molten katana’ – fusing the organic shapes of liquid (molten) metal with the sharp edges of a traditional Japanese sword (katana).

CALTY Design Research president Kevin Hunter said imagining that shift – from a smooth, flowing mass into a solid, chiselled shape – formed the basis for the fluid, yet aggressive design of the LF-1.

“This is our vision for a new kind of flagship vehicle that embraces crossover capability without giving up the performance and luxury delivered by today’s top sedans,” Hunter says. “The Lexus LF-1 Limitless concept incorporates imaginative technology while creating a strong emotional connection by improving the human experience for the driver and passengers.”

The LF-1 has an exaggerated dash-to-axle ratio (long bonnet, short front overhang)  and combined with a cabin that sits deep within the rear-wheel-drive chassis and aggressive 22-inch wheels under bulging fenders, has a powerful stance that conveys its performance intentions at a glance.

Like all current Lexus models, the spindle grille on the LF-1 is a core element to the overall design. On the LF-1, it has been taken even further: details suggest the start of the spindle forms at the rear of the vehicle, then continues forward toward the nose.

The grille itself features a three-dimensional design with colours developed in-house by CALTY. Ridges radiating away from the central emblem suggest magnetism guiding metal filings into shape. There is no chrome, as the LF-1 instead uses LED lighting around the grille that greets you on arrival.

The Lexus LF-1 rear features a split roof spoiler and there are interesting curves and details along every inch of the rear fascia. The sculpted openings at each corner might look like exhaust pipes, but they are actually vents for the air coming past the rear wheels.

The cockpit is designed to allow the driver to concentrate on the task at hand: distracting analogue knobs and buttons have been removed in favour of motion-activated controls and a minimalist display directly ahead.

The front passenger space is far more open, with even fewer controls and a wide unobstructed dashboard. Those in back get the same seats as those in front with expansive legroom and individual display screens for adjusting the climate control or entertainment options.

Technology enhances the luxurious feel of the LF-1 by expanding the options offered to the driver. It starts with the LF-1’s Chauffeur mode, which allows for hands-free operation thanks to the vehicle’s by-wire steering, braking, acceleration, lights and signals.

For engaged driving, all powertrain controls are on the steering wheel to keep the driver focused on the road. Paddles mounted to the steering wheel control the transmission in manual mode for sporty driving while buttons on the lower section of the steering wheel engage standard drive mode options like park and reverse.

There is also a four-dimensional navigation system, which builds on traditional systems by adding the element of time to the equation.

It acts as a concierge for the occupants by anticipating the needs of the driver and passengers based on the progress, traffic and road conditions along the programmed trip, suggesting fuel stops, rest breaks and restaurants, even offering to make hotel reservations.

Navigation and route information are displayed on the in-dash monitor, the rear seat entertainment screens, or wirelessly connected to passengers’ tablets and smart phones.

Touch-responsive haptic controls easily reached from the steering wheel link provide a seamless interface with the 4D navigation system and integrated comfort and entertainment systems.

A touch-tracer pad embedded in the leather-covered centre console supports character recognition for data entry. An additional haptic controller in the rear-seat centre console allows passengers to make their own comfort and entertainment choices.

 

 

Slight improvement

For the first time in four years total vehicle sales in South Africa for the year have gone up with 2017 showing a 1,8% percent improvement over 2016.

The new vehicle industry ended 2017 on a positive note, according to the annual sales data from the National Association of Automobile Manufacturers of South Africa (Naamsa).  Despite December 2017’s year-on-year sales declining 2,4%, the year-to-date new car sales for 2017 still grew 1,8%. In total, 557 586 new vehicles were sold in South Africa during 2017.

“The new vehicle market’s positive performance for the last year was almost exactly in line with our forecast of 1.74% growth,” says Rudolf Mahoney, Head of Brand and Communications, WesBank. “This can be attributed to the Rand being resilient in the face of volatility and the South African economy performing better than anticipated. However, the economy is still underperforming and faces a long road to recovery.”

In the second half of 2017, OEMs were able to stave off price increases as the Rand firmed against foreign currencies. This allowed manufacturers to pass value back to consumers through very attractive marketing incentives when purchasing new vehicles.

WesBank’s data for 2017 also reflected the continued shift back to the new vehicle market, especially when measuring demand through the number of vehicle finance applications received. Demand for new vehicles rose 6,4% in December, while demand for used vehicles slowed 0,2%. Overall, demand for new vehicles grew 3% in 2017, while demand for used vehicles declined 1,5%.

Since the introduction of the Polo and Polo Vivo in 2010, Volkswagen Group South Africa (VWSA) has been passenger market leader every year. The Volkswagen Group ended the year with 80 308  sales giving VWSA a total market share of 21,8%, with the Volkswagen brand achieving 18,9% share in a run out year of its volume models.

“The Polo Vivo and Polo remained the first and second best-selling passenger cars in 2017, which is also for the seventh consecutive year – this is an incredible achievement for the Volkswagen brand considering that we effectively ran out of supply in December of the key models which is illustrated by the unusually low 14,8% market share we achieved in December,” says VWSA Chairman and Managing Director Thomas Schaefer.

“I am delighted by the performance of both the Volkswagen and Audi brands in 2017 and know that we will do even better in 2018”,

Volkswagen will be launching the new Polo later this month which will be followed by the Polo Vivo still in this quarter.

According to Naamsa, export sales recorded a decline in December, 2017 and at 17 374 units reflected a fall of 1 333 vehicles or 7,1% compared to the 18 707 vehicles exported during December, 2016.  This was largely attributable to the effect of model run out and new model introduction of the new VW Polo range in 2018.

Annual aggregate annual industry sales by sector, since 2014, were as follows –

 

Sector

 

2014 2015 2016 2017 2017 / 2016

% Change

Cars 438 938 412 478 361 264 368 068 +1.9%
Light Commercials 173 492 174 701 159 283 163 346 +2.6%
Medium Commercials 10 780 10 394 8 315 7 785 -6.4%
Heavy Trucks,  Buses 20 534 20 075 18 685 18 387 -1.6%
Total Vehicles 643 744 617 648 547 547 557 586 1.8%

Source:  Lightstone Auto, NAAMSA

Whilst the modest improvement was welcome, the figures should be seen in the context of industry sales 11 years ago when the domestic market recorded an all-time high sales number of 714 314 units of which the new car market had represented 481 558 vehicles.

2017 Vehicle exports represented the third highest annual Industry export figure on record and total vehicle exports at 329 053 units were down on the 344 820 vehicles exported in 2016 – a decline of 15 767 units or a fall of 4,6%.

2017 Industry export sales data, compared to previous years, were as follows –

  2015 2016 2017 2017 / 2016

% Change

Cars 229 723 238 547 221 928 -7.0%
Light Commercials 103 000 105 219 106 126 +0.9%
Trucks & Buses 1 124 1 054 999 -5.2%
Total Exports 333 847 344 820 329 053 -4.6%

Source:  Lightstone Auto, NAAMSA

South African financial markets have reacted positively to the outcome of the December, 2017 ANC elective conference.  However, economic and fiscal policy uncertainty, political challenges, the risk of further credit rating downgrades and increasing geo-political tensions make forecasting difficult.

On the positive side, several recent economic indicators support the view the South African economy is performing better than anticipated despite low levels of business and consumer confidence.  Barring a further credit rating downgrade, an improvement in economic growth from about 1,0% in 2017 to around 1,9% in 2018 remains possible and this would lend support to new vehicle sales in the domestic market.

The substantial improvement in the Reserve Bank’s leading indicator of economic activity heralds improved economic prospects. Also on an encouraging note, the positive global economic environment – with International Monetary Fund projections of 3,7% global expansion – will lend support to industry export sales.

Faster economic growth remains an imperative to address South Africa’s socio-economic challenges and to take pressure off strained public finances and overburdened taxpayers.  In this context, concerted steps are needed by Business, Government and Labour to create a more investor-friendly environment as a means of boosting growth.

NAAMSA anticipates further modest improvement in domestic new vehicle sales during 2018 as well as further growth in vehicle exports and industry production numbers.

The outlook for 2018 in terms of Industry domestic vehicle sales by sector

 

Sector

 

2015 2016 2017 2018 Projected
Cars 412 478 361 264 368 068 375 000
Light Commercials 174 701 159 283 163 346 170 000
Medium Commercials 10 394 8 315 7 785 8 000
Heavy, Extra Heavy, Commercials, Buses 20 075 18 685 18 387 19 000
Total Vehicles 617 648 547 547 557 586 572 000