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.

Road Impressions – Kia Sportage 2.0 EX PLUS 6-speed Automatic

From its initial humble beginnings locally as a small, quirky off-roader, the Kia Sportage has grown both in size and in character to be a significant player in the SUV market, albeit not at the kind of low price level it once enjoyed.

Price, however, was not the only reason the early Sportage earned its stripes – endearing itself to many because of its surprisingly (given perceptions at the time of Korean product) robust nature and off-road ability that certainly equalled a number of already established brands.

With the influence of designer Peter Schreyer and now, Pierre Leclerq, the Sportage has morphed from caterpillar to moth, with the latest iteration (fourth generation) a rather handsome devil crafted by Kia’s European design studio in Frankfurt, Germany, with input from the brand’s Namyang, Korea and Irvine, California design centres.

The ‘face’ of the Sportage features the biggest change to the car’s design over the outgoing model, with Kia’s hallmark ‘tiger-nose’ grille and the car’s headlamps separated for the new model. The headlamps are now positioned higher, sweeping back along the outer edges of the sharply detailed bonnet.

A lower, wider grille – enlarged to support greater engine cooling – adds more volume to the lower half of the Sportage’s face. The result is a more imposing appearance and a more stable-looking stance, despite the new model retaining the same 1 855 mm width as its predecessor.

As with most new generation designs, the Sportage grew compared to the model it replaced and the latest version has a 30 mm longer wheelbase (now 2 670 mm), 40 mm greater overall vehicle length (to 4 480 mm) and longer, more aerodynamic rear spoiler resulting in a more swept-back shape.

Longer front overhangs (up by 20 mm) and shorter rear overhangs (reduced by 10 mm) add to the car’s more raked profile.

At the rear, and inspired by the 2013 Kia Provo concept, slim combination lamps running along a horizontal parallel are joined together by a strip that runs the width of the rear, while the turn signals and reversing lights are separate, located lower down to add more visual weight to the lower half.

The new design also makes this the most aerodynamic Sportage to date, with drag reduced from 0,35 to 0,33 Cd.

At launch, the Sportage 2.0 CRDI EX was the only mid-spec offering in the range, paired to Kia’s 2,0-litre turbo-diesel engine and a six-speed automatic transmission.

This recently changed with the addition of the subject of this test, the 2,0-litre petrol option.

The EX specification grade offers all of the features included in the Ignite grade, but adds significant additions such as an electric parking brake, front park distance control, rain-sensing wipers, cruise control, a Smart Key with Start/Stop button, leather upholstery, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and gear knob, and electric folding side mirrors with integrated indicators.

The exterior aesthetics were not the only changes and the interior of the Sportage boasts a cabin that offers a wide, driver-oriented dashboard with a simple, modern design.

Material quality is improved and there is a far greater proportion of soft-touch materials and the use of cloth, leather and stitching creating the ambience (model dependent).

The lateral design of the dashboard divides it into two clear zones – ‘display’ and ‘control’. The ‘display’ zone is focused purely on delivering information to occupants in the clearest way possible via the driver’s instrument binnacle and the entertainment and HMI (human-machine interface) system in the centre of the dashboard.

Below a clear line, running the length of the dashboard is the ‘control’ zone, with the central console cascading downwards and tilted 10 degrees towards the driver.

Passenger space is increased, with headroom rising to 997 mm (+5 mm) and 993 mm (+16 mm) for front and rear passengers respectively, while maximum legroom has expanded to 1 129 mm (+ 19 mm) and 970 mm (+7 mm).

In the front, there are stiffer seat frames, with varying densities of foam chosen for different areas of the seat in order to maximize occupant comfort.

In the rear, a 40 mm lower interior floor – without sacrificing exterior ground clearance – and 30 mm higher rear bench hip point mean second-row passengers benefit from a more natural and comfortable seating posture and improved under-thigh support.

Primary reasons for choosing a SUV include the raised ride height and improved forward visibility. However, lateral and rear vision has often been compromised in some chunky ‘macho’ design style and Kia took cognisance of this with the Sportage.

Forward visibility is aided by a lowered A-pillar base, while the A-pillar itself has been made thinner. Side mirrors sit slightly lower on the door without impairing the driver’s rear view – this is further aided by the new thinner C-pillars (62 mm thinner compared to the third-generation Sportage) and taller rear glass (+30 mm).

All that becomes evident when trying to squeeze into those ridiculously small public parking bays at shopping centres and airports.

The new body’s larger dimensions mean cargo space has expanded from 465 litres to 503 litres the fuel tank increasing from 58 litres to 62.

A criticism of the previous generation was related to road and wind noise and this has been addressed in the latest version through new bushing in the rear suspension and more sound-absorbent materials throughout the Sportage’s wheel arches. Wind noise is also reduced because of thicker front windshield glass, a new dual lip seal for the panoramic sunroof and additional soundproofing in the doors.

Six air bags are standard, while ISOFIX child-seat tether and anchor points are fitted to the second row of seats.

Pedestrian safety is improved with a lower leading edge on the bonnet and a larger impact absorption area, which has been revised with greater use of highly-absorbent safety foam and synthetic rubber.

The fully-independent front suspension carries over the format of the outgoing model, but features a range of modifications to make the best use of the new body shell. The new setup achieves better ride quality, while also delivering sharper handling.

Modifications include revised bushing mount positions for greater stability and more natural responses to changing road surfaces, as well as stiffer wheel bearings and bushings resulting in more direct handling and greater stability in all conditions. The steering gearbox is also mounted further forward on the axle for smoother steering inputs.

For the rear suspension – also fully-independent, including the adoption of dual lower-arm multi-link suspension for two-wheel and all-wheel drive models – there is a stiffer cross member to cut road noise and vibrations from intruding into the cabin.

My test unit came equipped with a 7-inch colour touchscreen with integrated satellite navigation as standard along with a rear-view parking camera, with dynamic parking lines displayed on the larger screen to assist when reversing into or out of a parking space.

The 2,0-litre ‘Nu’ MPI engine, produces 114 kW at 6 200 r/min and 192 Nm torque at 4 000 r/min. While the engine is carried over from the third-generation Sportage, it has been significantly revised to improve efficiency, including the addition of advanced continuous variable valve timing (CVVT) and a new variable induction system.

The six speed automatic transmission, originally fitted only to the diesel variant, did not enthral me and, while efficient enough, often sounded like a CVT gearbox as it hunted for a suitable ratio – and this, in each of the three drive modes, Normal, Eco and Sport.

I would venture it is sorely in need to upgrading to a seven speed gearbox at least to provide that additional ratio and to allow for better cog spacing that would transform the drive experience.

Other than my niggle with the gearbox, the ride quality is top drawer and the Sportage barrels along confidently on both highway, rural and dirt roads with the suspension nicely ironing out the ripples and bumps.

In the 4X2 guise of the test car, it tracked accurately and the electric power steering gave positive feedback and pointed exactly where I wanted it go – never heavy and light enough to make intricate manoeuvring something that did not require an Iron Man contestant.

It comes standard with a  5-year / Unlimited Kilometre Warranty, as well as a 5-year / 90 000 km Service Plan.

 

Roads plan outlined

SANRAL (South African National Roads Agency (SOC) Ltd) has announced bold new plans for the South African road network under the banner Horizon 2030 – but failed to make any meaningful comment on the existing debacle with its eToll network around Gauteng.

The only comment on the issue was from Skhumbuzo Macozoma, the CEO: “Roads have to compete for funds from the fiscus with other socio-economic priorities and it is of critical importance to find a workable funding strategy.”

Additionally, it announced no tenders for work would be awarded to any company not at least 51% Black owned, with Macozoma saying: “We want to break down the traditional monopolies in these supply chains.”

However laudable the concept of economic transformation might be, there is a real danger companies being awarded road building tenders may not have sufficient infrastructure or equipment to handle the job and would have to sub-contract to those very ‘monopolies’ – creating massive price pressure SANRAL will undoubtedly attempt to recoup through tolls.

The full text of the media releases are published below:

SANRAL (South African National Roads Agency (SOC) Ltd) has embarked on the development of a new, long- term strategy which articulates its vision and the necessary strategic and tactical interventions needed to deliver on its objectives.

 “The more than 22 000 km of roads managed by SANRAL are a critical public asset with an estimated net asset value of R251,6-billion” says Skhumbuzo Macozoma, the CEO of the South African National Roads Agency (SOC) Ltd. “Our aim is to ensure the national road network creates economic value for the entire nation and support the growth of an inclusive economy.”

 Horizon 2030 is the new long-term strategy that has been approved by the SANRAL Board for consultation. It will now be presented to various stakeholders including communities, industry bodies, strategic partners and labour throughout the country.

 “We are confident that we are building a better South Africa through delivering better roads,” says Macozoma. This has been embedded in our new vision “to provide a national road transport system that delivers a better South Africa for all.

 In 2018 SANRAL will start its third decade as the custodian of the national road network. The new strategy takes into account the priorities of the National Development Plan and government’s strategic objective to build a more inclusive economy.

 “The national road network should be at the core of future strategic planning in South Africa. It links people to opportunities, connects communities across rural and urban divides and holds vast potential for job creation, empowerment and skills development.  It is sustained by the symbiotic relationship between all the respective road authorities from national to provincial and local. 

 “Through Horizon 2030 SANRAL wants to highlight the role that the national road network can play in contributing to the aims of the National Development Plan to reduce inequality, support employment and eliminate poverty by the end of the next decade,” says the Minister of Transport, Joe Maswanganyi.

 “We want to demonstrate how state-owned entities such as SANRAL are assets to the South African economy, can add significant value and be relevant to the lives of all South Africans.”

 Macozoma says the new strategy outlines a number of key strategic perspectives that seek to build on SANRAL’s reputation for engineering excellence whilst also taking into account the changing role of national roads. Horizon 2030 has now elevated stakeholders and road safety into its core pillars, recognising the crucial role these play in SANRAL’s successful delivery and in preserving the lives of our people

 Government continues to affirm road safety as a national priority and SANRAL as outlined in the strategy will play its role in the provision of both safe road infrastructure and technology and promote road safety education and awareness.

 The strategy calls for a number of key deliverables that include the development of Roads 2030 long term plan, public transport enablement, an enhanced role in terms of community development, equitable access to economic opportunities and an integrated funding model.

 Macozoma says consultation on the content of the strategy should contribute to a more informed public debate on future funding policy for road infrastructure. Roads have to compete for funds from the fiscus with other socio-economic priorities and it is of critical importance to find a workable funding strategy.

 “Horizon 2030 is SANRAL’s pro-active response to the changing dynamics across various sectors of the economy and society. In addition, it will ensure that communities across the country share the benefits of a well-managed road network that supports the growth of a transformed economy that contributes to job creation and empowerment”, says Maswanganyi.

 SANRAL will in future use its procurement and supply chain processes to transform the construction industry, break down monopolies and advance the broad participation of black-owned contractors and suppliers.

 This was revealed by the Minister of Transport Joe Maswanganyi at a breakfast meeting in Johannesburg today where he unveiled the roads agency’s draft transformation policy.

 “SANRAL’s new transformation policy sets clearly defined targets for the participation of black contractors, professionals and suppliers in all projects commissioned by the agency,” Minister Maswanganyi said.

 Skhumbuzo Macozoma, the CEO of the South African National Roads Agency SOC Ltd (SANRAL) said it is committed to go beyond the minimum requirements for transformation set by existing legislative and regulatory frameworks.

 “SANRAL plays a critical role in the construction and related industries,” said Macozoma. “We are keenly aware of the impact our procurement practices have on economic transformation, job creation and the lives of millions of people across South Africa.

 “We accept the responsibility to use our procurement and supply chain processes to transform the construction industry and SANRAL is confident that this will be a catalyst for a much broader-based participation of black-owned companies in the sectors.”

 Future contracts will set requirements for the utilisation of labour sourced from local communities and favour the procurement of locally-developed materials, equipment and technology.  “We want to break down the traditional monopolies in these supply chains,” said Macozoma.

 The transformation policy was approved by the Board of SANRAL and will now be canvassed with stakeholders including national and provincial government departments, the engineering and construction sectors, existing suppliers and contractors and labour. It covers the entire spectrum of SANRAL’s procurement processes and proposes, amongst others, the following:

 On capital projects SANRAL will only do business with companies that are at least 51% black-owned and with a minimum B-BEE Level 2 rating. A maximum of 15 tenders per year will be issued to a single company and contractors will be required to make use of SANRAL-approved sub-contractors.

  • The same provisions will apply for road maintenance projects to ensure the broad-based participation of local companies and communities. Special attention will be given to the procurement of innovative road furniture and road safety material from black suppliers.
  • Concessions to manage and operate toll roads will only be awarded to companies with a 51% black ownership. To reduce monopolies SANRAL will limit the number of contracts awarded to established and dominant industry players.
  • Black real estate and property developers will be allocated all SANRAL-related business on contracts below R100-million and the 51% requirement will apply for larger developments.
  • SANRAL’s transformation policy will apply to all sub-contractors in the fields of information communication and technology, professional services, finance and audit and marketing and communication. Contracts will also include detailed provisions for sub-contracting to small and micro enterprises.

 Macozoma said SANRAL will introduce a structured programme to provide support for emerging contractors and suppliers and to create partnerships with industry players which will contribute to the rapid growth of black companies in the construction sector.

Road Impressions – Renault Duster 1.5 dCi Dynamique EDC

When the Renault Duster was first launched in 2013 it impressed on a couple of levels – price positioning and the quiet, understated capability.

With the SUV market in South Africa continuing to show growth, the arrival of a well-priced player at the lower end of the cost spectrum was a welcome addition, especially since its high level of standard fit actually put the proverbial cat among the pigeons.

Both the 4X2 and 4X4 versions were, as mentioned, quietly capable with the latter able to traverse terrain much worse than would normally be associated with a kerb-crawler soft roader.

The down side came from the fact Renault has not always been able to achieve the parts and service pricing it (and buyers) would expect and this is again evidenced in the latest results from the annual Kinsey Report into Parts Pricing.

In the Compact Crossover class where the Duster competes – and the example used is the 1.6 Dynamique – it finished fourth in the class behind the Peugeot 2008D, Ford EcoSport 1.0T and Mazda CX3 with a parts basket costing some 37,67% of the total retail price, compared to the winner’s 30,32%.

Last year the same model also finished fourth with the winner on 33,63% of retail and the Duster at 36,22%.

This is not simply down to an issue of foreign currency exchange rates as the winning cars in each case for 2016 and 2017 are also fully imported models.

In a perfect world the Duster should be at the head of the class – but, the pricier replacement parts certainly did not dissuade buyers with some 12 000 of the vehicles sold since the original launch, which brings me to the latest addition to the range in the form of an automatic option.

The test vehicle, the Duster 1.5 dCi Dynamique EDC, is the top of range of the 4X2 models.

The EDC (Efficient Dual Clutch) is a 6-speed automatic gearbox with two clutches, for optimised efficiency with the ideal gear selected via an electronic control unit. This ‘dry’ dual clutch system combines the comfort of an automatic and the responsiveness of a manual – offering flexibility and fuel efficiency.

The EDC is mated exclusively to the 1.5 dCi engine with an output of 80 kW at 4 000 r/min and 250 Nm of torque at 1 750 r/min, delivering a fuel consumption of 4,8 l/ 100km, and CO2 emissions at just 126 g/km.

Standard safety features include anti-lock brakes, Emergency Brake Assist, ESP with traction control, driver and passenger air bags (front +side).

The front suspension is a McPherson type strut with rectangular lower arm and anti-roll bar and the rear comprises a flexible axle with programmed deflection and coil springs and it rides on 6.5 J 16 wheels with 215 / 65 R 16 tyres – and there is a full-size spare.

Convenience features include a six-function on-board computer offering total distance, trip distance, fuel used, average fuel consumption, kilometres remaining and average speed, coded engine immobiliser system, fog lamps, electrically operated door mirrors, heated rear window, central door locking, power windows front and rear and manual air conditioning.

Also included are intelligent technologies such as the MediaNav touch screen with Bluetooth, USB and Auxiliary and satellite controls, Radio/CD/MP3 player with Bluetooth, USB and satellite controls, integrated navigation, reverse camera, rear park sensors and cruise control with speed limiter.

Eschewing dramatic body styling and arty curves, the look of the Duster conveys exactly what the vehicle is intended for –  the raised ride height providing the additional visibility required from a SUV and the 16-inch wheel and tyre combination a counter to potholes and other road irregularities.

The square shape of the passenger cell also means neither visibility nor headroom in the rear is diminished by a fancy sloping roofline – and for a player in the ‘B’ segment I was impressed with the amount of space available.

The driving position is good with tilt adjustable steering and the seats – often cost compromised in this segment with thinner frames – are good for many hours on the highway without inducing lower back discomfort.

The EDC gearbox takes care of progress in an efficient manner and is good left to its own devices for most urban situations or long haul cruising. Getting a bit more adventurous on secondary roads or dirt roads the manual option allows the driver the additional control to manage progress when the going gets a tad more technical.

On the road, it remains firmly planted and is less susceptible to cross winds than the body shape might suggest. The steering is positive and accurate and it does not object to a bit of ‘welly’ through the twisty bits, remaining mostly neutral with a hint of understeer.

Four years down the track (from original launch), this vehicle remains a solid SUV offering on so many levels – and the automatic option begs the question, why did it take so long!

As with Renault’s entire product range, the Renault Duster models come standard with a 5-year/150 000 km mechanical warranty, a 3-year/45 000 km service plan (with service intervals at 15 000 km intervals) and a 6-year anti-corrosion warranty.

It would be such a win if Renault South Africa could shave those parts prices down a notch or two.

 

Seven to the good

Driving home both economy and charity were the watchwords of the Seven7 Drive that finished in Ga-Rankuwa recently, where the team delivered gifts, cupcakes and good cheer to the children in the oncology ward of the Dr George Mukhari Academic Hospital.

The journey, named Seven7 Drive, covers 7 000 km in seven days to raise funds for a pre-selected charitable cause that supports children fighting cancer. Each year, donors are invited to donate R1 a kilometre, or any other amount, and these funds are collected and paid in full to this organisation.

For 2017, the Seven7 Drive team selected Cupcakes of Hope, a not-for-profit company that uses the universally loved symbol of cupcakes to raise funds and support children and their families who are fighting this disease. The organisation supports over 700 families with anything, ranging from their medical bills to small acts of kindness to make their lives and dealing with this dire diagnosis easier.

“This is the third year that we have undertaken the journey with the help of Kia and it is the first time that we have driven in a convoy of two cars,” says creator and expedition leader Danie Botha, the editor of Leisure Wheels.

“With two cars in convoy and more journalists and volunteers on each leg of the journey, we expected the trip to take longer. This was not the case as everyone proved very capable and willing, and the Kia Souls, with their 1.6 CRDi turbo-diesel engines, allowed us to drive further before stopping.”

Danie was supported, as always, by fellow journalist GG van Rooyen, while journalists, celebrities and volunteers joined them on different legs of the journey.

This year, Team Seven7 Drive’s journey took them to Upington, Windhoek, Gaborone, Maputo, Mokhotlong (Lesotho), Port Elizabeth and ultimately Ga-Rankuwa in Pretoria. The two Kia Souls each clocked 6 880 trouble-free kilometres, even though they had to travel some pretty harsh roads, such as the Sani Pass between the Lesotho and South African border.

“We chose the Soul for its frugal diesel engine and versatility. It has impressed us no end, lugging toys, food and brochures on the early detection of cancer in children as well as our crew from the western to the eastern coast of Africa and back,” says Christo Valentyn, PR and Product Marketing Manager of Kia Motors Southern Africa.

Valentyn joined the convoy for the first part of the journey from the Kia Head Office in Edenvale to Maputo, before handing over to his colleague, Randy Robertson, who supported the team to the end.

The journey was also made possible with the support from several other sponsors, including Bridgestone South Africa (Ecopia EP200 tyres), Tracker (live tracking), Mediaserve (logistics, fund raising and marketing support), Horizon Global (finisher bars and tow bar) and 4×4 Mega World (IPF driving lights).

 

Car ownership revamped

Volvo Cars South Africa is currently evaluating a new business model that could radically change the way in which cars are ‘owned’.

In conjunction with the launch of the new Volvo XC40, Volvo Cars is inventing a new model of having access to a car with the launch of the ‘Care by Volvo’ subscription service. This will make having a car as transparent, easy and hassle-free as having a mobile phone: a national, ready-negotiated monthly fee, combined with getting a new car every 24 months.

After ordering their car online, Care by Volvo customers will be able to drive away in a new Volvo without having to worry about traditional extras such as deposits, insurance, taxes, service fees and geographical –  or customer age-related differences. A flat monthly subscription fee will be their only expense.

In addition to making driving a new Volvo that much simpler, Care by Volvo will, depending on regional availability, offer a range of digital concierge services, such as fuelling, cleaning, service pick-up and e-commerce delivery to the car.

A new car sharing feature which is part of Care by Volvo as standard, will allow new Care by Volvo XC40 drivers to share their car with friends and family with new digital key technology.

Håkan Samuelsson, President and CEO, says: “With Care by Volvo, we introduce new car accessibility for the modern age. In a time where consumers are used to transparent flat-fees for all sorts of services, the traditional process of buying and owning a car can be perceived to be rather complicated. Care by Volvo changes all of that.”

The new XC40, launched simultaneously in Milan, will be the first Volvo model with which Care by Volvo will be available. Other Volvo models will be included over time, as will new digital concierge services.

Care by Volvo is a concept that will develop and expand over time. The central focus is on offering customers convenient access to the sense of freedom a car is meant to deliver.

“Our aim with Care by Volvo is to provide our customers with a transparent, premium car user experience. With a fixed monthly payment, Volvo Cars provides a truly customer-focused alternative to the traditional purchase or leasing. Time is a luxury for our customers, and with this service we are able to free up time in their daily lives. This is simply making life easier for our customers,” says Thomas Andersson, Vice President Care by Volvo at Volvo Cars.

Earlier in September, Volvo announced the acquisition of the technology platform and key staff of  Luxe, a US-based premium valet and concierge service company. This acquisition is another example of Volvo’s ongoing development in the area of digital consumer experiences.

Care by Volvo will first be available for buyers of the new Volvo XC40 in Sweden, the United Kingdom, Germany, Spain, Italy, Norway, Poland and the United States. Other markets will follow at a later stage.

In South Africa, the Care by Volvo business model and related services are under scrutiny for local introduction.

Premium subscription versus leasing:

  • Care by Volvo is a new premium subscription service and differs from existing lease offers in a number of important ways.
  • Care by Volvo offers a convenient package of services allowing customers to enjoy their car whilst Volvo Cars handles everything else.
  • Private leasing is an entry level offer without any additional services included in the price, while even full service leasing covers only parts of the services available in Care by Volvo. For example, none of the digital services to be offered via Care by Volvo are currently part of existing leasing packages.
  • Care by Volvo will also encompass flexibility and customers will be allowed to switch cars temporarily depending on their needs (market-specific).
  • Care by Volvo also removes the practice of price negotiations. Customer research shows that this is one of the elements of the car-buying process that customers dislike the most.
  • Care by Volvo has no customer geographical – or age-related price differences.