Road Review – Mercedes-Benz X Class Power 250d 4×4

Some would call me lucky.

I have most recently spent nearly 24-hours on the road with my wife alongside me in the passenger seat of the Mercedes-Benz X Class 250d I had on test.

Not an unbroken 24-hours – that would have been foolish and irresponsible, to say nothing about it also being a dangerous driving practice. The time was spread comfortably over a couple of days and some 1 700 kilometres of very mixed road and weather conditions.

X Class Monateng

Being able to take a vehicle for an extended test session is always a bonus and particularly relevant with the X Class that has more than its fiar share of criticism and mockery since the company announced its intentions – most notably the Nissan connection.

This I dealt with extensively at the time of the local launch (https://wordpress.com/post/colinwindell.wordpress.com/1021), so we will dispense with any additional comment about it being a Navara with Mascara.

In fact, just the opposite. It is a Merc through and through with all the qualities of fit, finish, comfort and style expected from a Mercedes-Benz product and after 23 hours and 26 minutes behind the wheel covering a distance of 1 740 km at a trip average of 74 km/h, our overall average fuel consumption was 8,4 l/100 km.

X Class

In my book this was impressive considering the first few hours of the journey was done in driving rain, heavy mist and dodging trucks up the famous (or infamous) Van Reenen’s Pass on the N3 highway that carries massive amounts of traffic between Johannesburg and Durban.

Thereafter, the roads consisted of highway, byway and rural roads along with a healthy selection of dirt road and switching between two-wheel drive and four-wheel drive.

Mercedes-Benz claims a combined consumption of 7,9 l/100 km for this model but, that does not include off-road activity. On the instant consumption check on the freeway, it dropped to 6,4 l/100 km with the cruise control set to 120 km/h.

At the end of the journey and the longest single stretch of driving – some seven hours – I could have easily turned around and done it all over again, so comfortable was the driving position and the driveability of the big bakkie that is as close as we get at the moment to an American ‘truck’.

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Although difficult to find fault with the vehicle, there are a couple of issues that need addressing up front.

The test unit was the Power 250d 4×4 and came with a couple of the options fitted in the form of roof rails, 18-inch wheels, 360 degree camera, running boards and metallic paint – for a price of R818 341.

Several other options were not included such as navigation, active brake assist, and auto dimming headlights and it is these I see as an issue in that at the money, there should be no options available and everything should be included.

The option add-on game is very much a European carmaker’s approach whereas most of the Eastern automakers do a ‘what-you-see-is-what-you-get’ deal.

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

Mercedes-Benz X-Klasse – Power Interieur

However, even with the 18-inch wheels the gap between the top of the tyre and the fender was big enough to fit a PRASA locomotive quite easily and the 19-inch would be the more attractive (although not necessarily more practical) choice.

Coil springs are used at both the front and rear. The front wheels are guided by double triangle wishbones.

At the back, a rear multi-link solid axle with good articulation capability is well suited to transporting heavy loads. This combination ensures the suspension is comfortable and the handling is safe given any permitted load condition.

With 1 632 millimetres at the front and 1 625 millimetres at the rear, the X-Class has a wider track than most competitors do. At 3 150 millimetres, the wheelbase is also longer than many other bakkies.

X-Class sunset

A ladder-type frame chassis with closed longitudinal profiles and cross-members provides the basis for transporting heavy loads and handling tough off-road terrain. The comfort suspension is designed in such a way that it achieves a high level of driving dynamics and ride comfort on the road, while also delivering maximum off-road capability.

Mercedes-Benz is the only manufacturer in the segment to opt for large disc brakes on both axles as standard. The front axle has internally vented brake discs with a diameter of 32 centimetres. The internally vented brake discs on the rear axle have a diameter of 30,8 centimetres.

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

Descent control is provided on both the manual and automatic versions, maintaining vehicle speed to 8 km/h in 4H and 5 km/h in 4L and it works extremely well to allow the big vehicle gently to walk its way down and over obstacles.

X-Class rocks

At the launch, where I drove the 220 variant, I mentioned I found the steering a tad too ‘loose’ in slow speed off-road conditions with limited feedback to the driver. Although not as noticeable on the test car, my preference still would be for a firmer feel.

This does not happen out on the open road and the big bakkie tracks evenly and accurately and will happily swoop through the bends with nary a care in the world but, it does need more precise planning for the tighter corners or it will simply plough on, heading for the undergrowth.

With a GVM in the 3-ton range, braking a loaded version does also need some planning – mainly, keep a suitably large following distance because, as good as the brakes may be, that mass likes to keep on choogling.

Shopping always comes into the equation when travelling with Mrs W, so I let her take the wheel and she was entirely comfortable bombing the big bakkie into those designed for Dinky Toys parking bays at the mall while wearing one of those I’ll have one of these smiles.

Yes Ma’am. If I win the Powerball, I’ll buy you one.

X-Class desert

The Mercedes-Benz X-Class comes standard with the manufacturer’s PremiumDrive full maintenance plan for 100 000 km/6 years, whichever occurs first. For a nominal cost, customers have the option of extending the maintenance plan up to a maximum of 180 000 km/8 years, whichever occurs first.

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All action finale

For the third year in a row, the Class T Production Vehicle Championship will go down to the wire at the season finale in Gauteng, and the Ford Neil Woolridge Motorsport (NWM) crew of Lance Woolridge and Ward Huxtable are leading the fight for the prized title.

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As the sixth and final round of the thrilling 2018 South African Cross Country Series (SACCS), it will be nail-biting affair when the teams descend on Glenharvie, Westonaria on Gauteng’s gold mining belt as they battle it out on the aptly named Gold 400 which takes place on November 2 and 3.

Having won the two opening races this season, along with the first leg of the Botswana Desert Race, Woolridge and Huxtable lead the current standings on 120 points, with a nine-point margin over reigning Class T champions, Johan and Werner Horn (Toyota).

Gareth Woolridge and Boyd Dreyer, in the second NWM Ford Ranger, have clawed their way back into the fight after winning last time out in Harrismith. They are currently 14 points adrift of their team-mates, and three points ahead of Gary Bertholdt and Geoff Minnitt in another Toyota. With 30 points up for grabs for a race win, 23 for the runners-up and 18 for third place, it’s all to play for in the thrilling duel that will decide who reigns supreme for 2018.

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“Once again, the championship fight will continue right to the end, although for the first time in three years we have the advantage of leading the standings going into the final race,” says Neil Woolridge, NWM team principal. “It has been extremely frustrating losing the title by the narrowest of margins twice in a row, so we’re doing everything possible in preparation for the Gold 400 to make sure the Class T trophy comes home with us.

“Our NWM Ford Rangers have been fast and reliable all year, and victory in Harrismith last month has given the team added confidence. It’s going to be a tense race, but we’re hoping that it’s third time lucky for us this time around,” Woolridge adds.

Toyota Gazoo Racing SA’s two drivers, Giniel de Villiers and Henk Lategan, are locked in a tight battle for the 2018 South African Cross-Country Series title, going into the final round of the season.

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With just 10 points separating the two drivers at the top of the Production Category standings, and 30 points on offer for a win, either one of the two Toyota Hilux drivers can walk away as champion in Glen Harvie this coming weekend.

To make matters even more interesting, Atlas Copco’s Chris Visser, also driving a Class FIA Toyota Hilux, still has a mathematical chance to win the title – if both factory crews fail to finish, and Visser wins the race.

“It is an interesting situation,” says Toyota Gazoo Racing SA Team Principal, Glyn Hall. “We’re fortunate that any of three Toyota crews can win the championship this weekend, but it is by no means clear who’ll emerge as the winner.”

In the navigators’ championship, things are even tighter. Due to Toyota Gazoo Racing SA’s Rob Howie withdrawing from the series after a serious back injury sustained during the Qatar Cross-Country Rally earlier this year, Dennis Murphy paired up with De Villiers for the remainder of the season.

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This saw Barry White take up the vacant seat next to Lategan, and the two Toyota Gazoo Racing SA navigators are now tied on 93 points.

Chris Visser’s navigator, Philip Herselman, is just seven points behind the factory navigators; with Ford’s Ward Huxtable, who navigates for Lance Woolridge, a further five points adrift. Both Werner Horn (Malalane Toyota Hilux) and Geoff Minnitt (Atlas Copco Toyota Hilux) are also in with a mathematical shout, though victory for either of them would take all four crews ahead of them to not finish the race – a long shot at best.

For De Villiers and Lategan, the race is certainly on in Glen Harvie, and Hall made it very clear that there are no team orders for the race: “I’ve told the lads to go out and do the necessary to ensure that we win the title. I’d like to see both cars finish the race, of course, but in the end, we don’t mind if it is Henk or Giniel who brings home the silverware for us.”

Only eight points separate the two Toyota Gazoo Racing SA drivers, with Lategan having taken over the lead in the title chase after De Villiers failed to complete the penultimate round, the Harrismith 400.

The team will be incorporating some of the advances made during the recent Rally of Morocco, which Nasser al Attiyah and Mathieu Baumel won in their Toyota Hilux. As much as there is a title chase taking place in Glen Harvie, it also offers Toyota Gazoo Racing SA an opportunity to test and further develop the Toyota Hilux for Dakar 2019.

“We’re in the final testing phase at the moment,” concludes Hall. “Dakar is around the corner, as we have to ship everything by early December. So, we have to use every possible opportunity to make sure that we’re ready for that – and the final race of the season certainly gives us the chance to further hone the latest Hilux.”

But the overall championship isn’t the only one that will be decided in Glen Harvie this weekend. The fight for Class T honours rages on, as the Malalane Toyota Hilux crew of Johan and Werner Horn find themselves just nine points behind Ford’s Lance Woolridge and Ward Huxtable. The Horn brothers are the defending Class T champions, but have endured a torrid season, winning only one race so far.

A win in Glen Harvie, however, might not be enough to get them over the line in their title chase, as second place will be enough for Woolridge/Huxtable to seal victory, even if the Horn brothers win. To make matters even more entertaining, Ford’s Gareth Woolridge and Atlas Copco’s Gary Bertholdt each won one of the two previous rounds, and if the two crews ahead trip each other up, could still walk away with the title.

The X-Rally Team of Marcos Baumgart and Kleber Cincea will return to the SACCS for the final round after missing the Harrismith 400 due to international racing commitments. With two podium finishes already in the bag this year, the Brazilians are keen to round off the season with another solid finish.

For the legions of motorsport fans in Gauteng, the action-packed Gold 400 will be located within easy reach of Johannesburg and Pretoria, and staged once again from the Kloof Recreation Club in Glenharvie.

The organisers have promised an exciting route that combines some of the familiar sections from recent events, along with new terrain that will spice up the action – all of which is easily accessible for spectators. Initially, the race route travels south around the mining operations of Sibanye Stilwater to the farming community of Kalbasfontein, before heading north through Jachtfontein and Waterpan back to Glenharvie.

Friday’s short qualifying race starts at 14:00 from the Kloof Recreation Club, while the main action commences at 08:00 on Saturday, featuring two loops of the race route separated by a 30-minute service interval and an autograph signing session.

Fans and spectators can follow the action and track the position of the crews during the race by using the RallySafe app which can be downloaded free of charge for iOS and Android devices.

Road Review – Renault Mégane RS Lux

Any car that comes with a ‘Race’ mode button will get my serious attention. This invitation to adrenalin comes as a welcome diversion for those of us who road test cars on a regular basis across the full spectrum from intensely boring to mildly entertaining.

So, with the Mégane RS parked in my driveway hot on the heels of the smaller Clio RS – that, itself, was an impressive adrenalin-builder – it became a good opportunity to stock up on the rush.

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The Mégane provides plenty of that from its 205 kW (390 Nm) turbo-charged 1,8-litre engine built into a package that bristles with technology and race-engineered know-how.

New Mégane RS was first unveiled at the Frankfurt Motor Show in September 2017 and it was the chassis development that grabbed the headlines – the 4CONTROL four-wheel steering system and four hydraulic bump stop shock absorbers.

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Since the first generation of Mégane RS was released in 2003, greater performance and more technology has been a constant, offering improved driving pleasure without sacrificing the car’s versatility for everyday use.

With expressive and sporty styling, New Mégane RS has been designed to deliver performance, right down to the very last detail. The specific body sides mean the wings have been widened by 60 mm at the front and 45 mm at the back (in comparison to the Mégane GT). With the ride height lowered by 5 mm compared with Mégane GT and new 18-inch or 19-inch wheels, the new proportions make the car naturally more aggressive.

This design is boosted by a number of features taken from the world of motor sport, including wing-mounted air extractors, which optimise air flow through the wheel arches and improved efficiency of the diffuser compared with the previous generation.

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The 4CONTROL system delivers outstanding agility through tight turns and impressive cornering stability at higher speeds.

At low speeds, the rear wheels turn in the opposite direction to the front wheels, up to a maximum angle of 2,7 degrees. At high speeds, the front and rear wheels turn in the same direction, limited to a one-degree angle for the rear wheels.

The switchover point is set at 60 km/h. This is increased to 100 km/h in Race mode. The 4CONTROL system then helps drivers in positioning the car on the right line through corners, enabling them to get back on the accelerator as soon as possible.

The front axle of New Mégane RS has been entirely redesigned in order to adapt the negative offset geometry to the width of the 19-inch wheels and increase rigidity.

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There are two options available being the Sport and the Cup. My test car was the former where specific suspension settings are aimed at road use, taking into account different surfaces, bumps, ripples and the usual array of everyday driving.

The Cup  is better suited to more intense action on the track and has a 10% stiffer damper system and a mechanical limited slip differential.

The RS’s Sport chassis comes with new shock absorbers and an electronically-controlled torque distribution system. By acting independently on the drive-wheel brakes, this technology limits understeer and improves traction when exiting corners.

With the entire test kept to normal public roads, this balance on the car became particularly evident when pressing hard at the exit of a turn where ripples in the tarmac would have severely unsettled other cars, the Mégane kept the twitching to a minimum, launching smoothly (and rapidly) towards the next corner.

Importantly, the braking system has been improved and the diameter of the front brake discs has been increased to 355 mm (+15 bmm compared with the previous generation).

The second brand new feature on the chassis of the RS is hidden in its suspension – hydraulic compression stops fitted to all four shock absorbers.

This rallying-inspired technology involves integrating a ‘shock absorber within the shock absorber’. As the end of travel is approached, a secondary piston dampens the movement of the wheel before the bump stop. By dissipating the energy without transferring it to the wheel – as a traditional bump stop would – the compression hydraulic stops help avoid any rebound and pendulum effects, enabling optimum control of tyre-ground contact.

Simply this means the car is less likely to ‘hop’ when put under pressure into a tight corner – and it works, giving the Mégane a confidence-inspiring level of cornering stability.

The 1,8-litre direct injection turbo engine, has also been tweaked and the latest version develops a power output of 205 kW at 6 000 r/min and a peak torque of 390 Nm available from 2 400 r/min to 4 000 r/min.

In order to achieve the required performances, Renault Sport’s engine specialists designed a completely new cylinder head, with a reinforced structure and more efficient cooling that dissipates heat right next to the combustion chamber.

Despite the increases in power and torque this engine, equipped with a chain-driven timing system, also boasts reduced CO2 emissions and fuel consumption (-11% and -8% respectively compared with Mégane III RS).

In a car so patently designed for hard and fast driving, conserving fuel seems somewhat incongruous but testing in ‘normal’ driving on a mix of highway, urban and rural roads returned a figure of 7,8 l/100 km – a tad more than the claimed 7,0 l/100 by Renault.

Spirited driving changed this and consumption went up to 9,2 l/100 km on my usual test route.

The test unit came fitted with the revised version of the six-speed EDC dual-clutch gearbox and this unit impressed with it intuitive changes and smooth transition through the gears – up or down. With paddle shifters and the option to go manual, the driver has the choice of just how hard to work the willing Renault.

In Sport and Race modes Multi Change Down is possible where, under braking in manual mode, this feature lets you drop several gears simultaneously by pressing and holding down the left-hand paddle. The best gear is then selected in order to exit the corner as efficiently as possible.

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Driver convenience for those time when Sport or Race are not an option include include USB and Bluetooth connectivity as standard to support both telephony and multimedia mobile devices are standard along with. four speakers, 3-line 4,2-inch display, wireless telephony and push-to-talk (Smartphone voice recognition).

 Intelligent driving aids are configured using the R-LINK 2 interface and these comprise Parking Distance Control, Hill Start Assist and Cruise Control with Speed Limiter

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As with Renault’s entire product range, the Renault Mégane models come standard with a 5-year/150 000 km mechanical warranty, a 5-year/90 000 km service plan (with service intervals at 10 000 km on RS models) and a 6-year anti-corrosion warranty.

 

Rejig for Sorento range

Rather like the scoring system in springboard diving where the highest and lowest scores from the judging panel are disregarded, Kia has culled the top and bottom spec from its revised Sorento range that now sports leather trim and seating for seven across the board.

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“The Sorento SUV has been a proud flagbearer for Kia’s design and quality credentials since the first generation model debuted in 2002,” says Gary Scott, CEO of Kia Motors South Africa. “It has not only won red dot and iF Design Awards, but is also a consistent segment leader in the annual JD Power Initial Quality Study.”

The revised front-end features a more artfully detailed radiator grille, flanked by a new headlamp configuration featuring projection headlamps and revised LED Daytime Running Lights on higher specification models.

The front revamp is complemented by a new bumper design, incorporating projection-type fog lamps, that assists in giving Sorento a more aggressive overall expression.

Enhancements to the rear design also include a new bumper design, sleeker tail lamps, and a subtly revised tailgate. All models ride on newly designed 18-inch alloy wheels shod with 235/60 R18 rubber and feature a full-sized spare wheel.

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Inside, is a more tactile steering wheel, a new gearshift lever and a revised instrument cluster with improved graphics. The redesign also includes alterations to the air vents and the centre console design.

Featuring 40/20/40 second row split folding seats for improved versatility, with a higher folding centre armrest, these seatbacks can be ‘remotely’ folded by conveniently located levers in the side of the cargo bay. The third row seats fold away flat in the luggage compartment, ensuring that luggage space is not compromised when the seats are not in use.

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When the seats are folded flat, Sorento offers 605 litres of luggage space, and also features an under-floor tonneau cover storage compartment and integrated cargo net to secure loose items.

The entry-level LS specification has been discontinued, as well as the high-spec SX and SXL models. The Sorento range now comprises a mid-spec LX and a higher spec EX derivative, both available either with front-wheel drive, or Kia’s Dynamax all-wheel drive system.

“While Sorento has always played an important role in our SUV line-up, the mid-life enhancement provided us with a great opportunity to focus our offering in the medium SUV space,” says Stephen Crosse, Sales Director, Kia Motors South Africa. “The cosmetic updates endow the Sorento with an even more polished appearance, while new and upgraded specification increases the model’s value proposition.”

The Sorento LX standard specification includes dual zone automatic air-conditioning, automatic headlamp control (incorporating ‘Welcome Home’ and ‘Escort’ lighting), auto-folding and heated side mirrors with integrated side indicators, electric windows front and rear and rear USB ports.

The higher-spec EX model gains an auto defog system, illuminated door scuff plates, rear sun shade blinds, electrically adjustable front seats (with two-way adjustable lumbar support for the driver’s seat), integrated roof rails and a wireless smartphone charger.

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All derivatives get a new 8-inch colour touchscreen with embedded Satellite Navigation, from which occupants can also control audio, whether it is a favourite radio station, via the USB/Aux jacks, or through their mobile device via Apple CarPlay (and Android Auto, once released in South Africa). Sorento is equipped with 6 speakers.

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Kia has retained the 2,2-litre ‘R’ turbo-diesel engine, producing 147 kW of power at 3 800 r/min, with maximum torque of 440 Nm available between 1 750 r/min and 2 750 r/min.

It is the first SUV from Kia available with the company’s new eight-speed automatic transmission. Designed in-house by Kia and launched in 2016, the transmission boasts 143 newly-patented technologies and delivers a slick-shifting, more decisive drive while reducing emissions.

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Compared to other automatic transmissions, Kia’s new eight-speed unit requires fewer control valves, enabling a more direct mechanical link to the engine. This allows the transmission to shift more quickly than the outgoing six-speed automatic transmission and enables more decisive acceleration.

The new transmission offers four different drive modes: Eco, Comfort, Sport and Smart. The new Smart Mode is designed to understand and anticipate the driver’s steering preferences, automatically switching between Eco, Comfort and Sport modes. This enables the Sorento to adapt to the driver’s steering behaviour as road conditions change, pre-empting the driver’s preference for different speeds and driving environments.

Sorento features a full complement of safety and driver assistance systems, including anti-lock brakes with Electronic Brake-force Distribution (EBD), six air bags and ISOFIX child seat anchors. Drivers will also benefit from Electronic Stability Control (ESC) and Hill-start Assist, while all models feature Park Distance Control at the rear, linked to a reverse camera displayed on the 8-inch colour touchscreen.

All Sorento models ship as standard with Kia’s unlimited kilometre, five year warranty, as well as a standard 5-year/100 000 km service plan and 3-years of roadside assistance.

“The SUV segment continues to grow. South African families love the practicality, the space and higher ride height that an SUV offers,” adds Crosse. “The enhanced Sorento range delivers on all of that and more, bringing new levels of versatility to the segment, combined with an exceptional value proposition, industry-leading quality, class-leading refinement and an award-winning design.”

Kia Sorento 2.2 CRDI LX                               R569 995

Kia Sorento 2.2 CRDI LX AWD                      R609 995

Kia Sorento 2.2 CRDI EX                              R599 995

Kia Sorento 2.2 CRDI EX AWD                     R639 995

Kona brings new crossover options

Hyundai South Africa has taken a gamble in launching the crossover Kona to compete alongside the Tucson and, to an extent, the Creta – where other markets have selected only the former or the Tucson.

Stanley Anderson, sales and operations director of Hyundai Automotive SA, acknowledges it is a calculated plan but believes the Kona will complement, rather than take away from, the Tucson range adding: “We see the Kona buyer as a completely different person to the Tucson buyer.”

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Hyundai’s new crossover model is launched in the local market with derivatives sporting a high specification level and a choice between two engines – including a perky 3-cylinder turbo-charged petrol power source that, based on general comments from journalists at the launch is the engine of choice.

“The Kona is an important milestone in Hyundai Motor’s journey. The quality of the exterior and interior design and the fit and trim level in the cabin bears testimony of the status that Hyundai has achieved as one of the top automotive brands in the world,” says Anderson.

“We are launching the Kona with a 2,0-litre naturally aspirated engine and the new 1,0-litre, 3-cylinder turbo engine that is frugal, yet powerful enough to make a drive in the Kona an exciting experience. The whole package is exciting and modern and represents our brand with pride.”

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The Kona 1.0 T-GDI Executive (manual) enters the local market at a launch price of R379 900, while its sibling, the Kona 2.0 NU Executive (automatic), comes with a price ticket of R399 900.

Both models are front-wheel driven. The 1,0-litre turbo-engine delivers its power via a 6-speed manual gearbox, while the 2,0-litre naturally aspirated version uses a six-speed automatic gearbox with the option of manual shift.

The exterior design boasts muscular sculpted shapes, sleek LED lighting and one-of-a-kind details that highlight the DNA borrowed from its SUV siblings.

A striking design feature of the Kona is its twin headlight design with LED Daytime Running Lights that create an unmistakable front signature, while 17-inch alloy wheels, standard on both derivatives, further contribute to the bold character of the car.

Daniel Kim, a senior designer at Hyundai America’s Design & Engineering Centre in Irvine, California, who was in charge of exterior design during the development of the Kona, summarises their approach to the car’s design: “The basic thinking was to give the all-new Kona slim, modern and high-tech daytime running lamps.

“This was a priority as it is one of the main things people notice all the time, whether it’s during the day or at night, which makes it appealing and visible. We took this opportunity to create something unique by having a main projection lamp integrated with fender cladding. Overall, this gives it a protective, but tough and modern aspect.”

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The interior of the Kona come with two distinctive colour themes: Lime, for the Acid Yellow exterior colour; and Red, for the other four exterior colours. The interior colour accents are featured on the air vent surrounds, around the gearshift, the engine start button ring, the stitching on the seats and the steering wheel.

Kevin Kang, creative manager of interior design at Hyundai America’s Design & Engineering Centre in California who was in charge of interior design during the development of the Kona, says: “My main personal highlight of the all-new Kona is the bold character line that hugs around the outside vents, which gives the interior a wide and engaging feel. This is complemented by a balance of smooth, contoured surfaces and high-contrast elements that create a rather unique character.”

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The floating screen of the 7-inch navigation touchscreen in its ergonomic position allows drivers to stay tuned to the traffic ahead at all times. The infotainment system, with its excellent sound from four speakers and two tweeters, integrates navigation, media and connectivity features, and the Display Audio allows passengers to mirror their smartphone’s content onto the system’s 7-inch display via Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

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The Kona offers plenty of space for both passengers and luggage. The front-seat legroom, measuring 1 054 mm, and 880 mm for passengers in the rear, are both generous. With a trunk capacity of 361 litres (VDA) that can be increased by removing the hidden storage tray, the Kona is optimal for weekend escapes and longer trips. When large objects are transported, the 60:40 split rear seat back rest creates the necessary space.

The all-new Kona comes with air-conditioning, rear passengers’ arm rest with cup holders, and the 7-inch infotainment system that links to CarPlay on Apple iPhones or Android Auto on Android cell phones. Remote control buttons on the height and reach-adjustable steering wheel enables the driver to operate the speed cruise control, answer phone calls, toggle the onboard computer’s information screens and change radio stations or mute the sound system.

The Kona’s Kappa 1,0-litre T-GDI 3-cylinder turbo-charged petrol engine provides 88 kW at 6 000 r/min and 172 Nm maximum torque between 1 500 r/min and 4 000 r/min. It is a perky 998 cc engine that gets its boost from a turbo-charger equipped with an electronically controlled waste-gate actuator, which improves fuel efficiency by reducing pumping losses as well as improving throttle response and low-end torque.

The unit features a six-hole GDI injector, pressured to a higher-than-average 200 bar, securing a clean combustion.

Power goes to the front wheels through a six-speed manual gearbox. The maximum speed of the Kona 1.0 TGDI is 181 km/h and fuel consumption, measured in a real-life combined cycle, can be as low as 6,8 l/100 km.

The Atkinson 2,0-litre naturally aspirated petrol engine employed in the Kona 2.0 NU Executive delivers 110 kW at 6 200 r/min. and maximum torque of 180 Nm is reached at 4 500 r/min. The four-cylinder engine is coupled with a six-speed automatic gearbox, also delivering its power to the front wheels.

It can reach a maximum speed of 194 km/h and recorded fuel consumption of 7,2 l/100 km on a combined urban/open road test cycle.

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The active safety features include an anti-lock braking, Electronic Stability Programme (ESP), Downhill Brake Control, Blind-Spot Collision Warning and Rear Cross-Traffic Collision Warning.

Passive safety features include driver and front passenger air bags, complemented by curtain and side-impact air bags.

 Pricing

Kona 1.0 T-GDI Executive Manual – R379 900

Kona 2.0 NU Executive Automatic – R399 900

It includes a 7 years/200 000 km manufacturers’ warranty (comprising the 5 years/150 000 km warranty with a 2 years/50 000 km drivetrain warranty); a 5 year/90 000 km service plan; and 5 years/150 000 km roadside assistance.

 

Who’s who in WRX

With just more than a month to the start of the Gumtree World Rallycross of South Africa at Killarney International Raceway in Cape Town, here is quick look at the Top 10 in that zoo.

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Current World Champion Johan Kristoffersson, the speedy Swede whose big interests are family, fitness and and Rallycross. He drives a factory-developed Volkswagen Polo Supercar for Team PSRX Volkswagen Sweden, and in 2017, he drove it to 11 out of 12 finals, including a record-breaking seven victories, five of them in a row, winning the drivers’ title by a very, very large margin. Johan is currently topping the 2018 Championship Leaderboard and rates Höljes as his favourite World RX track. He can’t go without pasta, believes in pushing hard towards personal goals, and would love to have Jason Statham, Kimi Räikkönen and Barack Obama over for dinner.

Mattias Ekström of EKS Audi Sport is another Swede who has made a huge impact on World RX, winning the Championship in 2016 and racking up his fair share of race wins since then. He’s been hanging round RX paddocks since he was a youngster, watching dad Bengt compete, and has also won the 2004 and 2007 DTM touring car titles. Family, food and tennis make him happy, and his biggest rival can be found staring back at him from the mirror: himself.

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Norwegian Petter Solberg is Kristoffersson’s racing partner in team PSRX Volkswagen Sweden. He was the first person to be crowned an FIA World Champion in two different motorsport disciplines: a World Rally Championship title in 2003, and two WRX titles in 2014 and 2015. He has, thanks to his crowd-pleasing antics, earned the nickname ‘Hollywood’, and regards drivers Colin McRae and Tommi Mäkinen as his biggest inspiration.

Andreas Bakkerud is also from Norway and races alongside Ekström in the EKS Audi Sport team, driving an Audi S1 Quattro. He started karting at the age of eight and switched to Rallycross when he was fifteen. He is the only driver in WRX history to have amassed maximum points through each stage of an event weekend, which he did in 2016. He enjoys skiing and kickboxing and would, rather cleverly, take a helicopter with to a desert island.

Sébastien Loeb is a legendary Frenchman, the world’s most successful rally driver who has amassed an astounding nine consecutive WRC titles and 78 wins. He’s  a more recent star on the WRX circuit and races for the Peugeot Total team. He took six podiums in 2017 and considers the Lohéac track to be his favourite. A fan of rib beef and a lifelong lover of all things racing, Sébastien has seen and done it all…and won over a whole lot of fans in the process.

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In addition to these fantastically fast five, triathlon-running Timmy Hansen and his fun-loving brother Kevin, young upstart Niclas Grönholm, Latvian champion Janis Baumanis and experienced Russian Timur Timerzyanov make up the top ten. Fifteen other super-quick drivers will join them over this scintillating weekend, ensuring that you’re spoilt for choice when it comes to finding a favourite.

 

Des Easom, Executive manager of Killarney International Raceway, says:  “The final round of the World Rallycross Championship for 2018 is the type of motor racing that appeals to race fans and families alike. There is the drama and action of Rallycross cars that out-accelerate Formula One’s and driven by the world’s best drivers on tar and dirt. But WRX offers way more: spectators, friends and families can have a marvellous day out with racing and entertainment on and off track, aerobatic displays, fun activities and enough to eat and drink.

 

“So make sure you’ve got tickets for you and the whole family. It doesn’t get more exciting. It doesn’t get more entertaining. And it certainly doesn’t get quicker.”

Road Review – Suzuki Dzire 1.2 GL

As I stepped out of the car at the shopping centre she launched herself in my direction from across the road, a battleship at full speed; her Walmart meme pink and yellow garb topped by curlers barely contained by a hair net.

She ground to a halt in front of me, breathless and ample bosom heaving. Drawing a large breath she demanded: “Is this the Suzuki Desiree?”

There simply is no answer to that.

While not exactly what Suzuki had in mind when it relaunched the updated Dzire as a brand identity separate to the Swift, it can take comfort in the fact there is interest in the ‘not a Swift with a boot’ small sedan.

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The Dzire was originally developed alongside the Suzuki Swift to offer a more family-orientated sedan body shape of the popular hatchback. It has since evolved to serve a large and distinctive market for young families and has become the most popular B-segment sedan in the world.

For the new Suzuki Dzire, chief engineer Masao Kobori has accentuated the Dzire’s most popular features, including its interior space and driving dynamics. At the same time, Suzuki’s designers have created a style that is unique to the Dzire and focused on its sedan target market.

Several exterior design features make the all-new Suzuki Dzire stand out. Viewed from the front, the model has a smooth polygonal grille, large headlamps and chrome detailing on the grille and below the integrated fog lamp area.

The Dzire also features a unique bonnet design, sharply raked A-pillars and a smooth shoulder line that flows straight back from the middle of the front doors to the rear LED combination tail lights.

The design not only creates a distinctive character for the new Dzire but has been aerodynamically optimised for an improvement of 18% in drag coefficient over its predecessor. This helps to lower cabin noise at high speeds and improves overall fuel consumption.

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As part of its new status as a separate model range in the Suzuki stable, the new Dzire has a unique dashboard design that emphasises style and usability. It is fitted with silver accents throughout the dashboard and air vents that mimic the design of the front grille.

In front of the driver there is a new instrument cluster, with clearly readable instrumentation and a multi-information display. The GL-specification level adds a tachometer, additional silver accents and premium white illumination.

All Dzire models are equipped with air-conditioning, front and rear power windows, air bags for the driver and front passenger, a tilt-adjustable steering column, a security alarm and immobiliser and ISOFIX anchor points for rear-fitted child seats.

The GL-specification level adds rear air vents and an additional 12V socket, a Suzuki audio system with Bluetooth and USB connectivity, front fog lamps, colour-coded, electrically adjustable side mirrors and steering-mounted audio controls. This specification level is also fitted with Suzuki’s high-grade upholstery with rear foldable armrest with integrated cup holders.

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My test unit came in GL specification and proved an amiable companion for our time together – comfortable, perky enough for most requirements and really easy to drive. If anything, the only complaint is the steering is, perhaps, too light.

While great for shopping mall parking gyrations, in a strong crosswind the movement of the car can be easily accentuated by over-correction on the steering.

The Dzire is powered by the K12M four-cylinder petrol engine that delivers 61 kW at 6 000 r/min and 113 Nm at 4 200 r/min and is mated to a five-speed manual gearbox in the GA-model, while buyers of the GL-model can choose between the same five-speed manual gearbox or an Automated Manual Gearbox (AMT) with the same number of gears – the former for our test car.

The Dzire is built on Suzuki’s new HEARTECT platform. This platform not only increases passive and dynamic safety and lowers weight, but it increases interior cabin space thanks to a longer wheelbase and wider cabin.
In the Dzire, the increase in space is focused on the rear passengers. Suzuki has increased the space between the front and rear seats by a massive 55 mm and increased shoulder width for rear passengers by 15 mm. In the front, the occupants now have 10 mm of additional shoulder width.

The new Dzire also offers significantly more boot space than its predecessor. The sedan has 378 litres of boot space, which is 78 litres or 26% more than before.

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The Dzire, thanks to the new HEARTECT platform, weighs 75 kg less than its predecessor at 890 kg. The lower weight benefits overall fuel consumption, which tested at 4,9 l/100 km in a combined driving cycle.

As an urban runabout, the Dzire is pretty much an ideal package and, while it will try really hard to punch above its fighting weight, should be left alone to do what it does best.

I put it under some pressure on the twisty section of my test route and handling in general was comfortably neutral – just that light steering that never quite gave the feedback that allows confident press-on motoring in the bends.

All models are sold with Suzuki’s 5-year / 200 000 km mechanical warranty and a 2-year/30 000 km service plan.