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.

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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.

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.

Pushing boundaries

Remember the ‘good ‘ole days’ of ’10-4 Good Buddy’, handles, seat covers and the local choke ‘n puke? Back then, in the 70’s CB Radio (Citizens Band) opened up a new level of connectedness, bringing together people from all walks of life over the radio.

Through the application of VoicR, Continental is transforming the 40-year-old analogue CB radio technology into a digital, speech and location-based social ad hoc network with real-time functionality. In so doing, the technology company is creating new solutions for efficient, secure and future-oriented fleet management, especially aimed at fleet operators and the commercial vehicle market.

Whether rental via an app, vehicle access via a smartphone, personalised seat adjustment or even remote diagnostics: Continental will demonstrate how holistic connectivity is changing the mobility experience of rental car users by means of a vehicle that brings together the technologies making up the rental car of the future into a single ecosystem.

The ‘not just a tyre company’ is pushing the boundaries of vehicle connectivity as it strives to deliver next-generation smart mobility solutions for the automotive industry.

“For Continental, holistic connectivity creates entirely new business models. In addition to our product business, mobility services will become the next key pillar of Continental,” says Helmut Matschi, member of the Executive Board at Continental and head of the Interior Division.

To enable drivers in the future to enjoy digital content without having to stare at a classic flat media display, Continental has developed a 3D display surface featuring optically bonded, topographical elements that restore a sense of quality and allow individuality to the classic display.

In addition, the integration of digital functions in decorative surfaces for vehicle interiors is featuring more and more on customers’ radars. Light integration is a vital development step in this respect.

The translucent cover material Acella Hylite produces special lighting effects that can be used, for example, for backlighting a vehicle door. Varying light sources can be used to create customised colour effects or to light up warning signals.

To improve wordless communication between drivers and their vehicles, Continental has developed user-friendly touch gestures for the cockpit to ensure the displays are geared towards the connected functions, as well as the digital world.

Alongside new technological and design possibilities in the vehicle, holistic connectivity offers a range of additional benefits.

A central requirement for a range of mobility services is the acknowledgement that the better a vehicle knows its environment, the safer, more efficient and more user-friendly it is on the road. With eHorizon, Continental demonstrates how a vehicle provides important traffic information for the cloud and other road users using a so-called crowd-sourcing function in the driver assistance camera.

Numerous mobility services can be implemented on the basis of the resulting database. It is also a central element in the development of automated vehicles.

Another example of a new application that announces the concept of holistic connectivity in its name is the Holistic Connectivity Car from Continental. With this application, the company not only demonstrates how a vehicle becomes part of the Internet of Everything, but also offers an insight into the development of new services such as eHorizon.weather.

Using eHorizon technology as a basis, this solution will turn a vehicle into a mobile weather station. The service, which was devised in collaboration with Météo-France, not only increases driving safety and comfort, but also acts as a data supplier for weather forecasts.

Continental has also constructed a special-purpose, outdoor test field in France comprising 200 vehicles, which allows testing this and other services and to develop new services.

In the world of fleet management in particular, connectivity opens up whole new possibilities and enables, for example, remote and anticipatory diagnostics. vAnalytics and Remote Vehicle Data are examples of Continental services that are already available.

Road Impressions – Fiat Panda Cross 4×4

The Fiat Panda Cross is simply the best fun I have had with my clothes on for a long time.

Rather like the Bumble Bee, which was never told it should not be able to fly yet bumbles along happily unaware of its aerodynamic shortcomings, the Panda Cross simply outperforms its limited size to provide a driving experience to bring a broad grin to the face of even the most jaded of drivers.

It is a Noddy car – a segment ‘A’ mini mobile with raised ride height (161 mm), silly little wheels and an engine that, on paper, barely has enough power to pull the skin off a rice pudding.

Yet, it does not know that, and as the 900 cm3 engine winds up through the revs doing its best impression of a kitten attempting to roar like a lion, the little car comes alive and responds instantly to any driver input – cruising quite comfortably at legal limits, even if long uphills do require a couple of downshifts to keep the momentum up.

My test route took us into the foothills of the Drakensberg and onto a 25-kilometre stretch of dirt road covered with small stones – these marbles making it rather slippery. So, I drove it four times just for FUN!

Click the Panda into 4×4 Lock mode and it really showed its mettle – the ‘silly’ little wheels and narrow tyre footprint cutting through the marbles rather than resting on top of them as would be the case with some ‘big brother’ SUVs riding on big rubber.

The traction control system respectfully hangs back to allow the car to slide enough to correctly position into corners and judicious throttle inputs keep it from activating too soon and damping down the revs – meaning it can be pointed into a corner and squirted out like a scared rabbit.

The Panda Cross is equipped with a ‘torque on demand’ transmission system, with two differentials and one electronically controlled coupling. On the 4×4 derivative, this is a permanent four-wheel drive system managed by a control unit which, by analysing vehicle signals, distributes traction to the front and rear axles according to the road conditions. The advantages of this system include fully automatic operation and zero maintenance.

Compared to its 4×4 sibling, the Panda Cross takes the ‘Terrain Control’ a step further by offering selector-controlled AWD features based on the driving conditions. The ‘Terrain Control’ lets the driver select three different modes: Auto – Automatic distribution of drive between the two axles in accordance with the grip levels of the road surface; Lock – The four-wheel drive is always active for optimal off-road use, with distribution of torque among the four wheels, braking the wheels that are losing grip (or slip more than the others), and thus transferring the drive to those with the most grip and Hill Descent – For optimum handling of particularly steep hill descents or when going down extremely bumpy routes.

Launched in South Africa earlier this year, the revised 2017 Panda expanded from the Easy and Lounge versions in conventional front wheel drive (4×2) for the city car, to include the 4×4 and Cross versions.

It is still the same size: 3 650 mm long, 1 640 mm wide and 1 550mm high. The wheelbase is 2 300 mm long and it has a front track of 1 410 mm and a rear track of 1 400 mm, riding on 15-inch wheels and 185/65R15 all-season tyres.

The Cross comes with leather upholstered steering wheel, radio controls and silver finish, to complement the  updated dials that improve the overall readability.

The seat fabrics are refreshed and it has the largest boot in its segment – 225 litres that turns into 870 litres when the rear seat backrest is folded down.

Standard equipment includes the new UconnectTM infotainment system with Bluetooth 2.1, audio streaming, a USB port located in the cubby, a dash mounted USB recharging port as well as voice recognition.

Power comes from Fiat’s two-cylinder 900 cm3 TwinAir petrol engine producing 66 kW of power at 5 500 r/min and 145 Nm of torque at 1 900 r/min driving the wheels through a 6-speed manual transmission.

Unlike the previous generation, the tailpipes of the new Panda 4×4 seamlessly follow the lines of the body and ensure complete protection for the lower part of the car.

The front of the Cross features a brand-new bumper incorporating a generous skid plate in a body colour is standard on the Cross but customers have the option of ordering the Cross Plus package that consists of skid plates and door protection panels in silver ultrashine colour as well as alloy rims and red tow hooks.

The Cross also features new light clusters and new fog lights integrated with the logo holder bonnet trim and new DRLs with LED technology, built into the skid plate.

Inside, the Panda Cross offer automatic climate control, CD/MP3 radio with Blue&Me system with steering wheel controls, rear head restraints, height-adjustable steering wheel, fog lights, leather steering wheel and gear knob and height-adjustable driver’s seat.

Handling is a function of suspension geometry and independent MacPherson strut features at the front and interconnected torsion beam layout at the rear, specifically developed for the four-wheel drive version. The rear suspension is lighter than the previous generation, providing better ride and acoustic comfort with the same off-road performance.

The Panda Cross features an approach angle of 24°, a departure angle of 34° and break-over angle of 21°. Panda Cross can even tackle a maximum gradient of 70% and a lateral gradient of 55%, values close to those of pure off-roaders and higher than those of the leading SUVs on the market.

For the more fuel conscious, the Panda has an ‘Eco’ button that kills off the revs and does, in the long run, save a few litres and I managed 4,7 l/100 km in that mode – which lasted just long enough to establish the consumption before being switched back to fun mode.

Pressed hard on the test route of both tar and dirt, the overall average rose to 6,8 l/100 km, still not bad considering it was being driven like it was stolen and with CO2 emissions of just 114 g/km, it ticks that box as well.

I said at the start it was fun, and it is. The trick to really enjoying the car is taking it in context – it is not going to perform like a Ferrari, so do not compare it one. Enjoy it for what it is – and the only change I would make is to pimp the sound system or, at least, improve the speakers.

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.