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 – Toyota Land Cruiser Prado 3.0D VX-L

Change, they say, is as good as a holiday. While it is often unwise to question the wisdom of those wiser than ourselves, change often comes at a price.

Stepping back in time a little there once was the Toyota Land Cruiser presented in a range spanning several models, specifications and engines with the behemoth VX at the top of the pile. Although technically a Land Cruiser, the original Prado stood to one side, different enough for most people not to even realise it was family and to identify it simply as the Prado.

Now, there is the Land Cruiser 200, two models from many and the Prado with five variations. Land Cruiser is the most widely available model in the global Toyota product range – being sold in more than 190 countries worldwide.

That is not the major change. This comes in the fact the Prado is now bulked up and loses its niche slot along with the cuteness of the previously much smaller – and often – more practical offering especially for those only intending the thrill of parking lot kerb crawling.

Indeed, I parked my test Prado at the airport, deliberately choosing a spot between two other large size SUVs and really battled to open the door to get out! (Admittedly, the designers of most parking lots appear to have to share a single brain cell between them).

Parking lots aside, the new Prado is truly a formidable beast and would probably climb a vertical wall if pressed to do so.

I just think Toyota could have kept the status quo with Prado a smaller, high-end version of the Land Cruiser family.

The overall length is now 5 010 mm, width 1 885 mm, wheelbase 2 790 and height 1 880 mm and it has a GVM of 2,9 ton – so, certainly no midget.

The Prado range traditionally consisted of two grades, the mid-level TX and high-grade VX. For the first time, a new third grade, called VX-L has been added to the model line-up that combines all the features of the VX whilst adding a power-operated tilt-and-slide moon roof and comprehensive active safety assistance package to the mix.

The exterior design of the new Prado is unmistakeably Land Cruiser and maintains the core strengths of that brand in providing practicality, with headlamps and cooling openings positioned to maximise protection and wading depth, durability, with the powertrain and all functional parts well protected and capability, with a tight turning circle and generous ground clearance, essential for the most demanding off-road driving conditions.

The bonnet has been shaped to improve downward visibility at the centre and it is sandwiched by the sides of the bumper to help protect the engine bay. The corners of the lower part of the bumper have integral fog lamps and kick upwards, while the centre section is shaped like a skid plate for easier manoeuvring off-road.

The top section of the wings has been raised so that it is easier for the driver to pinpoint the vehicle’s extremities.

The front grille apertures have been made as large as possible for optimum engine cooling, while the headlamp main beams are positioned inboard to avoid damage when driving off-road.

In keeping with Land Cruiser Prado heritage, the grille itself features broad vertical bars with slit-shaped cooling openings, finished in chrome. The headlamp clusters comprise high and low beams, front turn indicators and daytime running lights, contained in a distinctive housing. VX-L models feature high brightness LED units. All models have LED Daytime Running Lights (DRL) and fog lamps, in addition to automatic light control system, as standard.

Ground clearance is 215 mm, with 31-degree approach, 25-degree departure and 22-degree ramp break-over angles.

VX and VX-L derivatives ride on 18-inch wheels and tyres and it comes with an 87-litre fuel tank.

New elements at the rear include a redesigned lamp cluster (featuring two stacked C-shapes) with an LED stop light, a smaller rear garnish plate and a restyled bumper.

I was unable to join colleagues on the official launch activation where the new Prado took on Sani Pass, the mightiest of all South African mountain roads but based on Instagram and Twitter activity coming from the event, it appeared Prado turned this into a ‘doddle’.

My own off-road test route is far less scenic, but has a few good really technical sections and the advantage of repeatability in terms of comparing like vehicles against each other.

At a few Rand short of R1-million for the VX-L, this route is significantly more strenuous than the average owner is likely to choose for such a luxury vehicle – a sad reality for most SUV sales with massive ability unrealised by equally massive under use.

How good is the new Prado? Well, if the ‘Crawl’ function is activated, the clever systems in the car will analyse and assess the obstacle, deciding how much power is needed at each wheel and move the car along with a perfect combination of throttle and brake.

All that is left for the driver is to steer – and, possibly, to die of boredom.

I cannot fault the technology but it does take all the fun out of off-road driving.

Inside, he top of the centre console tower has been set lower (by 25 mm) for a sleeker appearance and better front-on visibility when driving off-road. It is fitted with a new 8-inch, full-colour multimedia screen, a flush-fitting air-conditioning control panel and the drivetrain-related instrument cluster.

The controls for driving and comfort functions are located in separate panels for ease of use, positioned behind a new, leather-trimmed gear lever. They include switches to operate new integrated heating and ventilation for the front seats.

The redesigned instrument binnacle has a four-gauge layout with precision Optitron (high-definition backlit) meters with a metallic base panel and polished dials with raised scale markings. The meters flank a 4,2-inch TFT colour multi-information display (VX and VX-L) which presents comprehensive vehicle and infotainment data, controlled using switches on the steering wheel.

The top-tier VX and VX-L models are outfitted with Satellite Navigation and an enhanced surround-view Multi Terrain Monitor camera system, which also includes Panoramic and overhead view modes.

The standard convenience specification list includes automatic dual-zone climate control, audio system, electrically adjustable driver’s seat, illuminated entry, cruise control, park distance control, keyless entry, three power outlets, Bluetooth connectivity, USB, 3rd row seating and reverse camera.

High-grade models add memory function for the driver’s seat, a 14-speaker Premium audio system with woofer, multi-information display, power tilt-and-telescopic steering adjustment, rain-sensing wipers and power-fold-down 3rd row seats.

 The VX-L retains the 3.0 D-4D engine, offering 120 kW and 400 Nm available between 1 600 r/min and 2 800 r/min. This is mated to a 5-speed automatic transmission with gear ratios optimised for low-speed tractability and off-road use.

All Prado models feature Toyota’s Active Traction Control system (A-TRAC), which actively regulates wheel-slip, by directing torque to the wheel with the most traction. The system is capable of applying braking pressure to wheels individually to maximise traction. A low-range transmission with user-selectable rear and centre diff-locks and Hill Assist Control (HAC), naturally forms part of the standard ensemble.

The Multi-Terrain Select (MTS) system (VX and VX-L only), operated by a centrally mounted rotary knob, allows the driver to select the correct mode depending on the ‘road’ ahead. The system has five pre-configured modes (mud & sand, loose rock, mogul, rock & dirt and rock), to tailor the vehicle’s traction control, transmission characteristics, power delivery and suspension settings to the terrain at hand. Downhill Assist Control (DAC) is included on VX and VX-L models.

VX-L grade versions of the new 2017 Prado are equipped with Toyota Safety Sense active technologies to help prevent accidents from happening, or mitigating the consequences if an impact does occur.

The package includes a Pre-Collision System (PCS) with pedestrian detection function, Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC), Lane Departure Alert (LDA) and Automatic High Beam (AHB).

Further driver support is provided in the form of a Blind Spot Monitor with Rear Cross Traffic Alert (both VX and VX-L) and an upgraded tyre pressure warning system – with digital read out in the multi-information display.

These active safety systems complement the standard seven air bags and comprehensive brake and stability control systems  and all Land Cruiser Prado models include a 5-year/90 000 kilometre service plan and 3-year/100 000 kilometre warranty.

Not particularly significant in terms of its market positioning but the VX-L will amble off from rest to reach 100 km/h in 12,1 seconds and reach a terminal velocity of 171 km/h. CO2 emissions are 224 g/km and Toyota claims an overall fuel consumption of 8,5 l/100 km.

My own experience – highway, rural and urban – came closer to 9,2 l/100 km, still an acceptable figure considering the overall mass of the vehicle.

On the road, it is hugely comfortable and, despite the size, easy to drive with the changes to the front improving vital visibility – augmented by the wide choice of exterior camera options. It is not a great fan of sudden directional changes at speed but has no really bad habits and, as mentioned, will probably scale a vertical wall if correctly cajoled.

Keeping power

Tis the season! Time when many South Africans will maximise their fun in the sun by heading out into the bush or lesser populated spaces to camp.

Communing with nature is wonderful but there are some things even the most intrepid bush whacker does not want to do without. One of these is power.

The batteries don’t only have to power your vehicle – there are those accessories that are necessities such as a fridge and lights – which is where Charging Systems Africa (CSAF) comes in.

The Projecta IDC25 ‘Intelli-Charge’ 25A 9-32V, 3 Stage DC/Solar Battery Charger, designed and manufactured in Australia and distributed locally by CSAF, provides a host of intelligent features for safer and more reliable charging than its competitors.

A key feature is the unit’s ability to charge simultaneously from both solar and alternator (9-32V) inputs without the need to manually switch from one power source to the other.

The IDC25 can also function as an MPPT (Maximum Power Point Tracking) solar controller up to 25A, maximising the power generated from solar panels.

And, when operating on vehicle power, the unit offers dual charging modes for compatibility with both ‘smart’ and conventional alternators, making it ideal for use in just about every vehicle.

For greater flexibility, the charger supports multi-chemistry batteries including GEL, AGM, WET and Calcium.  As an added bonus, the unit has periodic equalisation capability to remove acid stratification from calcium batteries.

Assisting the IDC25’s performance is an over temperature protection function, which sees the charger automatically adjust its output based on battery temperature. This allows the unit to operate (at a reduced charge rate) in extreme temperatures of up to 80° C without damaging the battery.

“Other safeguards include over and under voltage protection, which shuts down the charger if voltage problems are detected, and spark-free protection which prevents the charging process from beginning unless the load is securely connected,” says Guido Brouwers, Sales and Marketing Director.

“These features prevent accidental damage to batteries and when combined with the unit’s in-built reverse connection protection, provide an extremely safe and robust product well suited to the rigours of long distance touring and off road applications.”

It will also not impact on your vehicle’s performance – such as fuel economy. The IDC25 can be wired to the vehicle ignition, allowing it to operate only when the ignition is turned on.

This ignition connection also enables a ‘low input operation’ mode, for compatibility with modern smart (variable voltage) alternators.

Further aiding the IDC25’s performance and longevity is its sturdy construction which makes it shock, vibration and dust-proof. Sealed to IP67, the unit is also water resistant, making it ideal for both in-vehicle and under-bonnet installation.

If mounted under the bonnet, included in the package is additional wiring to set-up an in-cabin LED indicator to remotely display charging and fault status. Also assisting installation is labelled and pre-wired cabling.

The Projecta ICD25 Charger is backed by a 2-year warranty and can be purchased at leading automotive and four wheel drive outlets.  For a stockist closest to you contact Charging Systems Africa.

The RSP of the Projecta ICD25 Charger is R4 445 (incl VAT).

Road Impressions – Nissan X-Trail 2.5 Acenta CVT 4WD

Initial impressions of a motor vehicle can be quite a powerful emotion and long lasting, almost like a young duckling imprinting on its mother for the first time.

And so it was with the first iteration of the Nissan X-Trail. What I liked most of all was the fact the actual front corners of the vehicle were visible, whatever the seating position, a like emphasised as we put it through its paces on the launch activation by driving off-road in situations most owner would never contemplate.

The latest version, launched in South Africa in October this year, stays true to that, even though the overall shape has modernised and rounded out somewhat from the original ‘brick’ design to become what designers would probably refer to as svelte.

X-Trail is a medium size SUV competing in a rather busy and cutthroat market segment. X-Trail garnered significant support and many thought Nissan had shot itself in its own foot when it introduced the more luxurious Murano and followed this by the smaller Qashqai, both of which seemed pretty direct competition for the X-Trail.

At that time, the X-Trail itself had ‘softened’ slightly in terms of looks to be rather a morphed cousin to the other two. Locally, Murano did not last all that long, giving back to the X-Trail in terms of size, while Qashqai continues happily in its smaller sibling role.

The latest iteration of X-Trail brings in a raft of new technology under the Nissan Intelligent Mobility (NIM) banner as well as offering the option of a seven-seat configuration.

Including the USA, where the car is badged Rogue, some 3,7-million have been sold since the first Nissan X-Trail was launched in 2000. It is also a record-breaker. Including Rogue sales, in FY16 the X-Trail was the world’s most popular SUV, with 766 000 vehicles sold – more than any other rival model.

The Nissan X-Trail has always been known for its sculpted and muscular styling, with chiselled lines, high wheel arches and elegant curves on the bonnet. All of those characteristics remain, and are now showcased through a distinctive and robust redesign of the front end, adding a new dynamism and more premium styling cues.

At its heart is Nissan’s latest ‘V-motion’ grille, wider than before and echoed in the design of the bumper beneath. The redesign makes much greater use of the X-Trail’s body colour, with the visible black plastic benefiting from a smart new gloss black finish.

On either side of the grille are new headlamp clusters, with much clearer design differentiation between the halogen units on Visia and Acenta and feature the latest version of the X-Trail’s ‘boomerang’ Daytime Running Light signature.

At the rear of the new X-Trail, the bumper has been redesigned and the rear lamp signature has been upgraded to become full LED, while the parking sensors are improved, as at the front of the car.

The upgrades have resulted in a slight change to the overall length of the car – an increase of 50 mm means it is now 4 690 mm from bumper to bumper. There is no change to the new X-Trail’s width (1 830 mm), height (1 710 mm) or wheelbase (2 705mm).

Inside, the new steering wheel is the first thing drivers will notice. It echoes the design of Nissan’s newest models globally and is standard across the X-Trail range. Now D-shaped, the horizontal base means easier entry and exit for the driver, as well as providing a sportier look and feel.

The new X-Trail has a redesigned central armrest storage area and models with the XTronic automatic transmission, the gear selector has been restyled and features a new leather-style gaiter.

The boot on the new X-Trail is larger than before. Thanks to improved packaging, VDA capacity is up from 550 litres to 565 litres on the five-seat version with all seats in place. Total space with all seats folded flat increases to 1 996 litres.

Nissan Intelligent Mobility (NIM) highlights include Intelligent Blind Spot Intervention that alerts the driver to the presence of vehicles in blind spots diagonally behind the car, Intelligent Lane Intervention and Intelligent Cross Traffic Alert that can detect and warn the driver of vehicles that are approaching behind the X-Trail.

Intelligent Emergency Braking uses radar technology to keep an eye on speed and proximity to the vehicle in front and will alert the driver before engaging the brakes. Intelligent Forward Collision Warning helps alert drivers of an impending collision with a slower moving or stationary car. Intelligent Auto Headlights and Intelligent Around View Monitor with moving object detection – a support technology that assists drivers to park more easily by providing a better understanding of the vehicle’s surroundings.

I have never been a great fan of CVT gearboxes and, despite the fact the Xtronic unit fitted to the X-Trail ranks amongst the better ones, I still believe a ‘proper’ automatic gearbox would be a far better proposition, especially off-road if you intend to try and finesse the throttle without dropping into manual mode.

The 2 488 cm3 four-cylinder petrol engine producing 126 kW at 6 000 r/min and 233 Nm at 4 000 r/min produces 197 g/km of CO2 and has an average fuel consumption that can be contained to 8,6 l/100 km in normal conditions.

Power and torque are more than ample for what this X-Trail is designed for and, unlike some petrol models, there is not a black hole of zero torque below that peak efficiency of 4 000 r/min.

Driver options are standard two-wheel drive, Auto and four-wheel drive locked, with the former sending power to the front wheels. The Auto option is quick on the uptake and efficiently provides drive to the rear the instant any slippage is detected at the front.

Locked in all-wheel drive, the X-Trail outperforms its looks and, like that first generation I drove, can take on quite demanding rough roads and obstacles bigger than a shopping centre kerb.

The front suspension consists of an independent strut type with stabiliser bar backed up by a multi-link setup with stabiliser at the rear.

Ride quality is good both on and off road with the seats supportive and comfortable over long distance – naturally the full air-conditioning dealing with ambient temperature and the upgraded sound system laying down whatever beats move the occupants.

Fully kitted with anti-lock brakes, multiple air bags, stability and traction control along with the other previously mentioned systems, the X-Trail offers latest generation safety (active and passive) to mitigate injury in the event of a crash.

The X-Trail remains and icon in its segment – and rightly so.

Crash tests reveal flaws

The eye-opening results of the first crash test of popular South African compact and small cars may just tweak a nerve among car buyers and persuade them to put safety specification at the top of the must have list when considering a new car.

The crash tests of the VW Polo Vivo. The Datsun Go+, Toyota Etios, Renault Sandero and Chery QQ3 formed part of the launch of #SaferCarsforAfrica, a joint venture between the AA South African and Global NCAP, the internationally respected vehicle testing authority – that now gains its first ‘footprint’ in Africa.

The crashworthiness results of the five cars tested show a wide range of safety performance, from four to zero stars for adult protection, with the lowest ratings resulting in a high probability of life threatening injury in a road crash.

Combined sales of the five cars account for around 65% of all the new cars sold in South Africa last year.

Global NCAP chose the entry-level version of each model and as a result one of them was not fitted with air bags as standard. The results highlight differences in the structural integrity of the vehicles tested.

Lauchlan McIntosh, Chairman of Global NCAP, says: “In 2016 the United Nations General Assembly adopted a road safety resolution, which recognised the important role NCAPs play as a catalyst for improving vehicle safety standards.

“The UN has sought to encourage the spread of NCAPs across the regions and automotive markets of the World and today, in Cape Town, I am delighted Global NCAP is helping to achieve that goal with the launch of the first ever crashworthiness programme for cars sold in Africa. Global NCAP has provided assistance to launch similar programmes in South America, India and the ASEAN region, programmes which have led to the delivery of safer cars into those markets over the last five years.”

The results for the Chery QQ and Datsun Go+ were less than exemplary, with the former scoring zero and the latter just scraping through.

It is almost unbelievable in this day and age, there are any vehicles still sold without a basic mimimum of dual front air bags and anti-lock braking – especially in a country that kills dozens of people every day in car crashes.

South Africa has one of the poorest road safety records in the world and Government is snail-like in its approach with pretty much everything it does heavily focused on how much money it will generate for state or municipal coffers.

Admittedly there is a disparity in society with thousands still living below the breadline and juggling the need to achieve upliftment to personal mobility and keeping people safe is not an easy task.

Car ownership is not a right. It is a privelige and an expensive one.

However, allowing 10 and 12 year old ‘clunkers’ and new cars that do not have proper safety basics on the road is simply unacceptable – the problem being all too often people have the attitude road safety is something for other people.

Wrong! It does not matter how well you think you can drive, your chances of meeting up with someone who cannot is very likely. Driving an unsafe car will kill you.

Collins Khumalo, CEO of the AA of South Africa says: “The crash tests represent an important step in road safety in South Africa. We believe consumers have a right to know what the safety ratings are on the cars they want to buy.

“These results are critical to educating the public about vehicle safety, but, more than that, they empower road users to make informed decisions. In the same way emissions and green ratings are displayed on vehicles, we think safety ratings should also be displayed on vehicles, and we do not believe this should be too much of a challenge to make happen.

“The involvement of Global NCAP, the FIA Foundation and Bloomberg Philanthropies in bringing these results to Africa, indicates how seriously our partners view road safety, and it is incumbent on us, as South Africans, to consider road, and vehicle safety, in the same way.”

David Ward, Secretary General of Global NCAP added: “It is good to see a four star result in these first ever African crash test ratings. However, it is extremely disappointing there is a zero star car. Such a poor result shows why it is so important for countries such as South Africa to fully apply the UN’s crash test standards.

“Consumers need clear, comparative crash test information to help inform their car purchase decisions. This is why Global NCAP supports the introduction of mandatory crash test labelling for all new cars sold in South Africa.”

The Results

Global NCAP has awarded a separate child safety rating to each car in order to highlight the different levels of protection vehicles provide to passengers on the rear seats. Because the only safe way for young children to travel is properly restrained in a child seat, the assessment checks how compatible the car is with the child seats recommended by the manufacturer, as well as the protection provided in the crash test.

In the assessments, some of the child seats recommended by manufacturers were found to be incompatible with their vehicle’s belt system. In the Polo Vivo, Chery QQ3 and Datsun GO+ there was no three-point seatbelt on the rear centre seats and no way to safely install a child seat or transport a small child safely in that seating position. Only the Toyota Etios and Renault Sandero offer Standard ISOFIX anchorages for the outboard rear positions and three-point seatbelt for all passengers facilitating minimum conditions to safely install a child seat.

Toyota Etios

The Etios achieved a four star rating for adult occupant protection in the frontal crash test at 64 km/h. The vehicle structure was rated as stable, offering good general adult occupant protection. The car included seatbelts with pretensioners for both front passengers. Using the child seats recommended by Toyota, the Etios achieved a three star rating for child occupant protection.

Renault Sandero

The Sandero achieved a three star rating for adult occupant protection in the frontal crash test at 64 km/h. The vehicle structure was rated as stable, offering acceptable general adult occupant protection. The car did not include seatbelt pretensioners. Using the child seats recommended by Renault, the Sandero achieved a four star rating for child occupant protection.

Volkswagen Polo Vivo

The Polo Vivo achieved a three star rating for adult occupant protection in the frontal crash test at 64 km/h. The vehicle structure was rated as stable, offering acceptable adult occupant protection. The car did not include seatbelt pretensioners. Using the child seats recommended by VW, the Polo Vivo achieved a three star rating for child protection.

Datsun GO+

The GO+ achieved a one star rating for its poor adult occupant protection mainly in the Driver chest in the frontal crash test at 64 km/h. The vehicle structure was rated as unstable, steering wheel movement, even though a steering wheel air bag was fitted, recorded high compression to the chest of the driver dummy. There was no air bag for the passenger. The Datsun GO+ achieved a two star rating for child occupant protection using the child seats.

 

The QQ3 achieved a zero star rating for its poor adult occupant protection mainly in driver’s head and chest. The vehicle structure was rated as unstable as showed collapsed in some relevant areas during the impact. Injury impacts recorded in the dummy head and chest in particular led to this result. There were no air bags for the adult passengers. The manufacturer did not recommend specific child seats which explains most of the points loss for child occupant protection. The QQ3 was given a zero star rating for child occupant protection, considering the poor vehicle readiness to safely accommodate the child seats

ROAD IMPRESSIONS – Fiat Tipo 1.4 Lounge

The task an automotive product planner is not an easy one, involving a lot of knowledge along with a suitable dash of thumb suck and gambling in order to correctly predict what the market will demand of a car that may still be a couple of years from actual production.

Rather like event organisers constantly faced with clients wanting the ‘Royal’ package but are prepared to pay only the ‘Joker’, the modern product planner has to balance the ever more demanding expectations of customers with the practicalities of the actual cost of the car when it does go to market.

In the South African market where the vast majority – in excess of 85% – of cars are purchased with some level of corporate involvement (pool car, company car or car allowance), the whole life operating cost of the vehicle is the primary driving force in the purchase process, followed by the ‘bang for the buck’ in terms of safety and comfort features.

The intensely competitive ‘C’ segment of the market offers an often bewildering array of choice and specification for potential buyers – and Fiat opted for quite specific targets with the Tipo.

The launch, in May this year, marked Fiat’s return to the medium-compact segment with a range that shares the same values but has unique personalities as diverse as their respective target audiences, from families and couples to young people or professionals.

The Tipo family was developed around the brief ‘Skills, no frills’ and the hatchback on test measures 4,37 m in length, 1,79 m in width and stands 1,50m high.

I previously tested and wrote about the sedan (that in diesel power) and this test involves the 1,4-litre petrol engine, more of which anon.

Corporate buyers have always favoured the sedan over the hatch for various reasons including the fact a boot is generally believed to be safer than the luggage space of a hatch and this is often reflected in insurance premiums.

However, the styling of the Tipo definitely favours the hatch in terms of pure aesthetics. There is nothing radical about the Tipo lines, but the flow into the hatch rear just works a lot better than it does for its sedan sibling.

The Tipo was designed in Italy by the Fiat Style Centre and developed in Turkey together with Tofa R&D, one of FCA’s largest research and development centres, involving a dedicated team of some 2 000 people during the three-year development process.

Like its sedan sibling, the Tipo hatchback is welcoming, practical and ideal for comfortable journeys. The designers adhered to the most modern ergonomic criteria in defining the parameters that measure the car’s capacity to respond to the need for on-board comfort. The result is excellent ergonomics: comfort, space configuration, accessibility, visibility and driving position.

The Tipo easily accommodates five passengers, even tall people up to 1,87m in height at the front and 1,80m in the rear travel in comfort.

The secret (says Fiat) is the regular shape of the rear end, with the horizontal roof profile providing passengers added cabin headroom. Legroom is 1,07 m between the edge of the front seat and the passenger’s heel and 934 mm for the rear seat.

The load capacity is 440 litres  and the boot sill is low and stepless, to facilitate loading  and the roller blind on the hatchback covers the load and can easily be removed and stored under the floor panel. Two lights, two bag hooks and four load-retaining hooks positioned on the floor provide added convenience.

The interior of the Tipo features 12 litres of storage in numerous compartments with a variety of shapes and capacities that are easily reachable by driver and passengers.

The Tipo features a suspension layout comprising independent McPherson struts on the front axle and an interconnected torque beam on the rear.

The 1,4-litre 16-valve Fire is the entry-level petrol engine of the Tipo family. This engine delivers 70 kW at 6 000 r/min and reaches maximum torque of 127 Nm at 4 500 r/min. The engine, combined with a six-speed manual gearbox, is a four cylinder with twin overhead camshafts and direct valve control.

Accepting the Tipo was never designed, nor intended, to be race-ready, the Fire engine is something of a disappointment being both noisy and rather breathless at the upper end of the rev range, while severely short of torque at the bottom end.

Put into the context of a daily drive to and from the office in medium to heavy traffic, the 1,4-litre engine copes well enough – and one must bear in mind here the price positioning and what it offers for that money.

It is more the open road that leaves this model wanting and sometimes frustrating to drive with regular downshifting required to maintain momentum – more than sealing the case for choosing the diesel variant.

To be fair, the petrol version offers ample luxury, a comfortable ride on long and short hauls, excellent handling and hassle-free operation.

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

Besides the generous array of safety devices, comfort and practicality are assured by the fitment of automatic air-conditioning, power front windows, electrically adjustable door mirrors with defrosting function and the 60/40 split rear seat.

The Lounge trim, exclusive to the hatchback, features 17-inch alloy wheel rims, chrome details and a leather steering wheel and gearshift knob.

Comfort and safety features include rear parking sensors, front fog lights, automatic climate control, cruise control, front armrest and driver’s seat with optional lumbar adjustment. The Lounge also features the UConnectTM infotainment system with Navigation as standard.

Active and passive safety devices include driver and front passenger air bags (with side and curtain airbags as an option). Also standard is electronic stability control (ESC) that includes a number of devices such as Panic Brake Assist (PBA), which intervenes in case of emergency braking by increasing the braking force; anti-lock braking, traction control (TCS), and Hill Start Assist.

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

Road Impressions – Nissan Navara 2.3D Double Cab 4×4 Auto

Brand allegiance plays a crucial role in the cutthroat world of ‘bakkie’ sales in the South African market and goes a long way to explaining why automakers will go out of their way to provide very specific model derivatives and specifications to satisfy customer requirements.

In the last 10 or 15 years, the light commercial vehicle market competition has become intense – and the brand allegiance is often more from the manufacturer side than the consumer, with the former trying to keep customers and the latter becoming ever more choosy and demanding, knowing if manufacturer ‘A’ does not offer item ‘X’ then manufacturer ‘B’ will make it happen.

Tough economic conditions have forced the overall market to contract somewhat, but has not lessened the intensity at all levels – business workhorse vehicles, combo work and play or the pure leisure segment.

The new Nissan Navara, launched locally earlier this year, falls mainly in the leisure segment where vehicles of this type are widely taken in place of a company car and the leisure pursuits are more genteel and rarely involve full-on donga-diving.

The demand here is for all the safety specification and systems that would be found in a luxury car along with the identical convenience and comfort features – and the Navara provides all of this in bucket loads.

The design of the Navara centres on the V-motion grille where the chrome grille flows into the creased bonnet and is resolved on the tailgate, which features a stamped V-motif.

Hints of SUV-features are seen in the full LED-headlights with boomerang-style LED daytime running lights across the range.

Viewed in profile, the lowered roof line (by 20 mm) gives it a more sporty look helped by the diamond-cut wheel design and 18=inch rubber.

The load bay on double cab versions has been stretched by 67 mm to 1 503 mm and been made deeper (474 mm from 456 mm), resulting in a capacity of 1 061 litres.

Load carrying capacity has also been upgraded significantly. The new Navara can carry up to 1 002 kg, depending on specification level and can tow a braked trailer of up to 3 500 kg.

The Navara has a 229 mm ground clearance, but the new raised suspension set-up has allowed for a 3-degree improvement in the approach (33,0 degrees), ramp-over (25,2 degrees) and departure angles (27,9 degrees). The suspension and drivetrain set-up also means the Navara has a lateral tilt angle of up to 50 degrees.

The fully-boxed ladder-frame chassis has been reinforced with high-strength steel  and improvements in design and manufacturing result in a 176 kg weight reduction over the previous generation Navara.

The 2 298 cm3 engine in the Navara is a new one for the coming, being a twin-turbo diesel that combines common rail direct injection and both a smaller, high pressure turbo and a larger, low pressure turbo to deliver more linear power throughout the engine speed range.

The two turbos are connected with a series of bypass and impeller valves to optimise boost pressure at different engine speeds. The smaller, high-pressure turbo is utilised mainly at low engine speeds, although neither turbo is disengaged fully at any engine speed. At higher engine speeds, the exhaust gas flow is channelled to the large, low pressure turbo. This layout allows for more low-speed power and improved fuel consumption.

The new engine delivers 140 kW at 3 750 r/min and 450 Nm available between 1 500 r/min  and 2 500 r/min. Fuel consumption in a combined cycle has been officially rated at 6,5 l/100 km, which we found to be somewhat optimistic.

Covering nearly 500 km of city, urban and rural (excluding dirt) roads on the test route my overall average was 10,6 l/100 km and this brings it into line with the opposition vehicles on the market that all average between 10,0 l/100 km and 11,0 l/100 km.

In this category power and torque mean a lot and the Navara is bested only by the 3,2-litre Ford Ranger with 17 kW and 470 Nm.

My test vehicle was the 7-speed automatic variant and I was a tad at odds with the ratio choice – trying to maintain a steady 120 km/h (on the speedo) on an open, if undulating, road I found it tended to hunt a little too often on longer inclines.

Getting off road and into more challenging terrain, the auto box worked extremely well, allowing me to keep both hands on the steering wheel at all times – and, naturally, the Navara has both High Range and Low Range options available at the twirl of a dial on the dashboard.

It soaks up bumps and ruts being the first mainstream pick-up to offer a coil spring five link rear suspension (Land Rover did use a coil spring on its pick-up some time back).

The set-up combines traditional pick-up load carrying capabilities, with the benefits of improved road holding, car-like ride comfort even over rutted gravel roads and better tracking through high-speed corners.

In four-wheel drive mode, either High or Low, the Navara will engage its new Active Brake Limited Slip Differential system (ABLS). This electronic system actively manages power delivery and wheel braking between the front and rear axles and between the left and right of the vehicle, depending on traction and speed.

The ABLS system works in conjunction with the Vehicle Dynamic Control system (VDC) and anti-lock brakes and the High-spec models also add Hill-start Assist (HSA) and Hill Descent Control (HDC) as standard features, also connected to the ABLS-system.

Inside, the plasticky look of the previous version is gone and replaced with soft-touch materials  and Spinal Support front seats that feature a new spinal channel in high-density foam. These seats are designed to distribute body pressure on the seat surface and have been proven to reduce fatigue significantly over long journeys – and they do!

Leather seats with heating function and electrical adjustment on driver’s seat, are available as optional on the High-grade models.

The on-board Navigation system with 3D mapping and live traffic updates, includes radio – with up to 30 pre-set radio stations, video in DVD/VCD/CD/MP3 or MPEG4 format, USB connectivity and Bluetooth with audio streaming – all operated from the steering wheel.

Standard luxuries include automatic headlights,  air-conditioning, cruise control, three 12V sockets in the cabin, an automatic dimming rear view mirror and seven air bags (including an air bag to protect the driver’s knees).

High-grade models also add features such as dual zone climate control and keyless entry with a Start/Stop button.

On the new Navara, the Nissan Assured warranty includes a mechanical warranty for 6 years or 150 000 km and a comprehensive 3-year / 90 000 km service plan.