Check it out

The autonomous car has come to South Africa and Cape Town drivers may spot the S-Class Mercedes-Benz on roads in and around the city until the end of January.

Road traffic in South Africa presents some special challenges with different road surfaces, wildlife on rural roads and many pedestrians in the city as well as in the interurban traffic who often cross lanes completely unexpectedly.

Automated and autonomous vehicles have to be aware of these peculiarities and respond in a reliable manner. In the fourth leg of the Mercedes-Benz Intelligent World Drive, the test vehicle – based on the current S-Class series-production saloon – is facing up to South Africa’s idiosyncrasies with automated test drives on the roads of the Western Cape and in the city of Cape Town.

Mercedes-Benz started the Intelligent World Drive at the Frankfurt International Motor Show (IAA) in September to adapt more highly automated driving functions to national traffic and user practices. The aim is to gather global insights into real-life traffic conditions for the advancement of the technologies.

As part of this, up until January 2018 the test vehicle is collecting comprehensive information in a variety of complex traffic situations on five continents and in doing so is sounding out the limitations of the current systems.

The focus of the test drives on the Western Cape is on pedestrian detection in many unfamiliar situations in particular, both in dense city traffic as well as on rural roads. Furthermore, the test vehicle based on the S-Class is collecting information for detecting road signs specific to the country, validating the digital map material of HERE MAPS and testing out a prototype of the innovative light system DIGITAL LIGHT.

In the extremely dense urban traffic in Cape Town, driving is truly a precision task – particularly in narrow streets, where the pavements are mostly overflowing with parked cars on both sides. But even on national roads outside of towns, and on the motorway too, drivers always have to expect to encounter crossing pedestrians.

Cameras and radar systems have to detect passers-by and interpret their movement correctly so that the vehicle can react within milliseconds in the event of an emergency.

 Further special features include traffic signs, which are only found in the 15 Member States of the Southern African Development Community, such as South Africa, Namibia, Botswana or the Seychelles.

For example, the no stopping sign shows a crossed-out letter ‘S’ in a red circle, while the sign for no entry is made up of two black horizontal bars in a red circle. In addition, the road traffic signs in South Africa are often incomplete.

Intersections where you have to stop are not always indicated by a stop sign – in some cases they only have wide, white lines across the road surface. Warning signs before the commonly-found speed bumps are also not always present, or are positioned close to the obstacle that there is insufficient time to react.

The lack of signs presents a major challenge for the performance of the camera and radar systems as well as the quality of the digital maps, which enable automated driving functions such as the Active Distance Assist DISTRONIC with route-based speed adjustment to function reliably.

Validating the latest digital map material from HERE, particularly with regard to intersections where the vehicle would need to stop and traffic obstructions such as speed bumps, is therefore a particular focus of the test drives on the Western Cape.

 In addition to the features specific to the country, Mercedes-Benz is testing a headlamp prototype featuring the innovative DIGITAL LIGHT technology. This is because light equally has a central role to play on the road to automated and autonomous mobility.

The non-dazzle continuous high beam in HD quality uses chips with over one million micro-mirrors, and therefore pixels, per headlamp. As such it achieves ideal light distribution in any driving situation – without dazzling other road users.

Furthermore, this  lighting system makes functions possible that were unveiled as a vision of the future in the F 015 Luxury in Motion research vehicle in early 2015. Among other things it is able to project light corridors onto the road in order to communicate with its surroundings.

In the past seven years, Mercedes-Benz has conducted 5 100 test drives around the world with 175 test vehicles for validations of driver assistance systems in the field alone. The majority of these have taken place as part of near-launch road trials.

The performance of the driver assistance systems has been assessed some 9,5-million kilometres in Europe, the USA, China, Australia and South Africa, and more than 1,2-million measurements have been made in real-life traffic situations in particular for their continuous enhancement.

 

 

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Road Impressions – MINI John Cooper Works Countryman All4

It had been far too long ago since a John Cooper Works MINI had graced my test schedule, so the prospect of a latest generation offering was something I was looking forward to – a chance to reconnect with a nimble and feisty performer with more than just a hint of the mischievous.

That the car in question was a Countryman, brother to the more standard version tested not so long ago and described by me as “MINI gone Maxi” mattered little – it was the race face I was most interested in.

The second generation of the MINI Countryman is the biggest model in the entire range of the British brand and the MINI John Cooper Works Countryman comes with an output of 170 kW – the most powerful engine ever to be fitted in a MINI.

The car sprints from zero to 100 km/h in 6,5 seconds with both the standard 6-speed manual transmission and 8-speed Steptronic sports transmission. Combined fuel consumption is claimed at 7,4 l/100 km with CO2 emissions at 168 g/km, however we found the average consumption edged closer  to the 8,0 l/100 km.

The all-wheel drive system has a sports suspension with 18-inch John Cooper Works light alloy wheels and Brembo sports brake system, special body features to optimise aerodynamic properties and cooling air intake, and a model-specific cockpit with John Cooper Works sports seats.

Dimensionally and in terms of basic standard equipment, the JCW version is identical to the Countryman previously described, but it does come with a harmonised package of engine, suspension, aerodynamically optimised exterior.

The distinct vehicle character is given additional emphasis with model-specific standard features including LED headlamps, MINI Driving Modes, Park Distance Control, Comfort Access, Radio MINI Visual Boost, multifunction buttons on the steering wheel and cruise control with brake function.

Up front is a  2,0-litre petrol engine developed for John Cooper Works models with the new generation of the all-wheel drive system ALL4.

The 4-cylinder turbo-charged engine offers 170 kW, some 29 kW higher than that of the MINI Cooper S Clubman.

It does not have to be in ‘Sport’ mode to feel – or hear – the differences. It fires up with a suitably throaty roar and, even at low speeds, keeps this burbling boogie comfortably audible in the background, changing instantly to a full-bodied bellow when the throttle is pressed to the floor.

Always feeling as if it wanted to be someplace else, the throttle response is instant and even more impressive in ‘Sport’ mode, when the whole car seems to tighten up and the ‘Maxi’ previously discussed ceases to be a factor and it hunkers down to encourage being pressed to its limits.

With all four wheels being driven it was easy to carry more speed into corners and to accelerate out of them much more quickly without upsetting the car and the initial understeer tendency is easily adjusted with the accelerator.

The power steering provides good feedback and is extremely accurate, perhaps even a smidgen too sensitive at times.

I came away impressed with the overall stability of the car in all situations, the taller profile not really a factor at playtime.

In terms of the look, the front section has especially large side cooling air inlets instead of parking lights and fog lamps; model-specific side sills; wide rear apron with integrated, tapered dual tailpipes of the sports exhaust system; John Cooper Works rear spoiler; hexagonal radiator grille with honeycomb pattern and cross member in Chili Red; John Cooper Works logo on radiator grille, side scuttles and rear; body finish in Rebel Green, red contrasting finish for roof and mirror caps, sport stripes in red or black as options available exclusively for John Cooper Works models.

It has five and a luggage compartment volume of 360 litres. By folding down the rear backrest, optionally available in a 40 : 20 : 40 split, this can be expanded to 1 250 litres.

In terms of safety it has a weight and crash-optimised body structure and standard safety features include front and side air bags, side curtain air bags, ISOFIX child seat mountings at the rear and optionally also on the front passenger seat, tyre pressure display as well as Intelligent Emergency Call and collision warning with city braking function, LED headlamps with LED daytime running light, white turn indicators and LED rear lights as standard adaptive light distribution and turning light as an option.

All driver assistance systems offered for the new MINI Clubman also available for the John Cooper Works model including rain sensor with automatic driving light activation, Parking Assistant, rear view camera and Driving Assistant including camera-based active cruise control, collision and pedestrian warning with initial brake function, high beam assistant and road sign detection.

Standard comfort features including air-conditioning and Radio MINI Visual Boost with 6,5-inch colour screen, USB socket, AUX-IN socket and Bluetooth hands-free facility.

Options include 2-zone automatic air-conditioning, panorama glass roof, seat surfaces in Dinamica/leather, seat heating, MINI Excitement Package including LED ring for the central instrument, ambient lighting with adjustable colours and MINI logo projection from the exterior mirror on the driver’s side when opening and closing the door, heatable and folding exterior mirrors, interior and exterior mirrors with automatic dip function, heatable windscreen, Harmon Kardon hi-fi speaker system, alarm system including red LED status indicator in the fin antenna, MINI navigation system and Wired equipment package including navigation system Professional, operation via MINI Touch Controller and 8,8-inch colour screen with touch function.

Road Impressions – Jeep Renegade 1.4 LT 4X4 Auto

With South Africa still in the grip of a recession – some of it a direct result of its own failings and some attributable to world events – the auto market is struggling to find any traction with numbers remaining down and growth for the year estimated at just one percent.

Inside of that, the SUV segment continues to hold strength and, in some months, show real growth and the reasons for this are fairly simple.

With many roads reduced to being just potholes held together by bits of tar, there is a real need for more robust motoring than offered by super low profile speedsters. Additionally, traffic congestion in the major metropolitan areas makes the raised seat height of the SUV – perceptually at least – a better option, especially for the Mom’s Taxi scenario.

Obviously, there are still those who buy 4X4 SUV models to use off the beaten track and fully to explore the capabilities of these as opposed to just doing a bit of kerb crawling in the suburbs.

Naturally, every automaker that can wants to play in this growing segment meaning buyers are exposed new and upgraded product on a regular basis.

The Jeep Renegade – for Jeep, the ‘small’ SUV – made its local debut some two years ago; so how has it stood up to the test of time?

Priced at R501 900 it comes up against the likes of the Audi Q3 1.4TFSi, Mazda CX-5 2.5, Peugeot 3008 1.6 GT-Line, Mercedes-Benz GLA 200 and Ford Everest 2.2 XLT auto, admittedly scoring the plus points of having full low-range off-road capability.

In terms of looks, the cut-from-a-brick shape of the Renegade prompts a yes/no response – yes you like it or no you do not. There is really no middle ground and placed in a lineup against its price opposition it does look positively Neanderthal.

However, it is an extremely practical shape and rear passengers especially do not have compromised headroom as a result of ‘coupé styling’ or other aesthetic tweaks. Equally, from the driver’s seat all corners of the vehicle are clearly visible, which is a necessity when actually going well off the road?

The Jeep Renegade was the first Fiat Chrysler Automobiles vehicle to be jointly developed by Italian and American designers and engineers and the first model in the brand’s history to be built in Italy, at the refurbished SATA plant in Melfi (Basilicata).

It also became the brand’s first entry into the Small SUV segment in more than 100 markets around the globe.

From any angle, it reveals the distinctive design cues of the brand’s stylistic heritage, such as round headlights, signature seven-slot grille and trapezoidal wheel arches.

The interior features a modern, refined look and major surfaces, such as the sculpted soft-touch instrument panel, are intersected with bold functional elements like the passenger grab handle – indispensable for off-road adventures and borrowed from its big brother, the legendary Jeep Wrangler.

The Renegade is designed with an efficient and flexible interior package that includes a fold-forward front-passenger seat and a removable, reversible and height-adjustable cargo load floor.

In addition to its 351-litres of storage or 1 297-litres with rear seats folded flat, the vehicle features as optional equipment a removable and reversible cargo floor panel. Maximising versatility is a fold-forward front seat that enables the new Renegade to accommodate long objects.

Onboard comfort and infotainment includes the UConnect system with 5-inch (a standard feature on all trim levels) or 6,5-inch touchscreen with navigation, Bluetooth with hands-free phone. The Jeep Renegade Limited features a 7-inch colour instrument cluster multiview display.

Safety and security includes six standard air bags, ESC with Electronic Rollover Mitigation (ERM), Parkview rear camera, Forward Collision Warning-Plus, LaneSense Departure Warning-Plus and Adaptive Cruise Control.

Power comes from a 1 368 cc engine producing 125 kW at 5 500 r/min and 250 Nm of torque at 2 500 r/min driving through a nine-speed automatic gearbox. Changing the drive mode is via a rotary dial on the console and shifting to 4H can be done on the fly.

The Renegade can also switch modes automatically as it encounters slippage from the primary driven front wheels.

Renegade features a unibody structure with the upper body and frame engineered as a single unit for a stiff and more mass-efficient structure. Its rigid foundation can be credited to the extensive use of high-strength steel and liberal use of structural adhesives. The new Small SUV utilizes approximately 70 % high-strength steel for maximizing vehicle dynamics and crash performance while optimising weight efficiency – the first Jeep vehicle to use high-strength steel to this extent.

Jeep Renegade is the first Jeep to integrate Koni’s frequency selective damping (FSD) front and rear strut system. In addition, the Koni FSD system actively filters out high-frequency suspension inputs from uneven road surfaces and adjusts for comfort and smoothness while maintaining ride control.

In terms of performance the Renegade averages 6,9 l/100 km, emits 160 g/km of CO2 and will run the 0-100 km/h in 8,8 seconds to a top speed of 196 km/h.

It offers a smooth ride, irons out the smaller potholes and remains mostly unflustered around the bends – an idea long-haul cruiser able happily to move off the tarmac when required.

It is price competitive with full-on 4X4s of a similar size. However, since the majority of buyers will not ever use that capability, one has to look at newcomers to the segment such as the Renault Duster offering all-wheel drive (albeit not low range) along with high levels of specification for a lot less.

The USD/Euro crosses do have a huge influence on the final pricing of imported vehicles but I do believe the Renegade needs to come in quite a lot cheaper to attract more buyers to what is a very capable car.

Does it stand the test of time. Absolutely.

 

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.

Tested – Toyota Yaris 1.5 Pulse CVT

The once expansive range of Toyota Yaris offerings that h hatch and sedan has been whittled down in the latest iteration to a five-car pot, all badged Pulse in homage to the 1,5-litre engine that replaces the 1,3-litre fitted to the outgoing model.

Perched at the top end of the range (with the exception of the more expensive Hybrid), the Yaris Pulse Plus CVT is our test subject.

Officially launched at the Geneva Show earlier this year, the new Yaris takes on a funkier and more dynamic look. The appearance is also more refined, with fresh detailing in the bodywork and cabin as well as new colour choices.

Particularly here are the Bi-Tones – where Pearl White, Grey or Cinnabar Red are mated to a black roof.

The redesign of the front of the car features a new front bumper that creates a ‘catamaran’ shape with broad sections flowing down from new headlight units, flanking the wide, trapezoidal grille. The result is a more pronounced three-dimensional effect, and the sense of a wider, more planted road stance.

The grille itself has  an arrangement of ‘stepped’ horizontal bars and the integrated fog light housings either side of the grille have also been reworked with a more compact recess.

At the rear is a new tailgate design that extends the horizontal emphasis with new rear light clusters that stretch from the rear wings to the door.

Following the same concept as the new frontal design, a ‘catamaran’ architecture has also been created at the rear with a new bumper design supported by re-shaping the area framing the licence plate and the addition of black garnish details in the lower bumper.

Changes to the interior include a three-spoke steering wheel that has a new look and boasts the addition of piano black trim inserts along with new propeller-style air vents.

 Priced at R249 600, it comes up against the Kia Rio Htch 1.4 LX, Hyundai i20 1.4 Motion and Ford Fiesta 5-dr 1.0 Trend – in all instances beating them out with its 1,5-litre engine.

Compared to the 1,3-litre unit, it is 0,8 seconds quicker in acceleration from 0-100 km/h (11,2 seconds in the CVT) while being more fuel efficient than the unit it replaces – Toyota claiming up to 12% here and looking around 5,8 l/100 km as an average.

Real world use produced 6,2 l/100 km during our testing.

The new 1,5-litre engine is part of the ESTEC (Economy with Superior Thermal Efficient Combustion) engine family. It runs on a high compression ratio (13.5) and a cooled exhaust gas recirculation system.

The thing is, the Yaris – in terms of price – is surrounded by high levels of tech in the opposition products and the 82 kW (at 6 000 r/min) and 136 Nm of torque at 4 400 r/min on offer from the Yaris engine is more but, the question is: does it work?

This comes down to the CVT gearbox. In city traffic a CVT can work well enough, where the low speeds allow it to smoothly work out the best options on your behalf.

Remove the traffic and the CVT becomes something of a screamer – a failing of pretty much all CVT gearboxes – as it tries to balance driver input to the best drive choice. The Yaris has both Sport and Eco modes and the switch to Sport quiets the hunting CVT beast a little when an opportunity for brisker driving presents.

For more press on occasions the semi-manual mode eliminates many of the steps taken by the CVT but is not advised if fuel economy is a consideration. Road and wind noise at the national speed limit is nicely abated for such a small car and road-holding is stable and secure.

The Yaris is well appointed and offers comfortable seating with more rear seat space than first glances might indicate – the easy, relaxed drive position mitigating the CVT annoyances somewhat.

It is fitted with front and side air bags, anti-locking braking, brake assist, electronic brake force distribution, hill assist control and vehicle stability control as part of the comprehensive package of safety and convenience features.

It has also got a good infotainment display, strong air-conditioning and comes with a Euro-NCAP rating of five stars and it rides on 185-60R15 alloy wheels and tyres.

The Yaris continues to be a good value-for-money product, with all models offered with a 3-year/ 45 000 km service plan and a 3-year/100 000 km warranty.

KEY FIGURES

 

Maximum Power (kW @ r/min) 82@6000,
Maximum Torque (Nm @ r/min) 136@4400,
Number of Cylinders and Arrangement Inline-4,
Engine capacity (litre) 1.5
CVT Gear Ratio 2.480 – 0.396
0-100 (sec) 11.2
Top Speed (km/h) 175
Fuel Consumption (Combined Cycle) (l/100km) 5.8 (Claimed)
CO2 (g/km) 108
Lugagge Capacity (L) 286

 

Tested – Honda Civic 1.5T Sport CVT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Key Facts

Engine:             1 498 cc

Power:              127 kW @ 5 500 r/min

Torque:             120 Nm from 1 700 r/min

0-100:               8,2 sec

Top Speed:       194 km/h

Boot:                424 litres

Tank:                47 litres

X-Class launched in Cape Town

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dimensions of the X-Class:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The South African versions will be launched during next year.