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.

 

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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.

 

Road Impressions – BMW 520d M Sport Package

While one can understand executives want to feel…well, executive, and the visual statement of this is the large luxury company car, there is a question of practicality.

Given the conspiracy by architects to design underground parking bays in townhouse complexes and shopping malls with spaces barely wide enough to fit a motorcycle let alone a behemoth luxury vehicle, the pressure is mounting to go smaller in the city.

The BMW 520d is just such a car and, while its CO2 at 124 g/km does not impact the pocket greatly considering its R834 900 price tag, there is quite a hefty perks tax consideration.

Large used to be a requirement of luxury, but there are so many medium and small cars around today offering exactly the same levels of luxury, safety and driver convenience features.

Naturally there are counter arguments – the space is needed to transport business colleagues and/or family  and…well, that is where they kind of run out or, I cannot think of any more.

The BMW 520 is a big car, no question. However, it does not feel like a big car on the road and this, perhaps is a reason cars of this size still hold that popularity. It is easy to drive, easy to manoeuvre and, despite the attempts by the architects, easy to park.

In fact, the more I drove the car the more I became absorbed into that luxury cocoon and the more it became a natural experience as opposed to the feeling I was piloting the Queen Mary – it is a kind of insidious seduction, and we are not even close to the over-the-top levels of luxury of a 7-Series.

The 5-Series recently underwent an upgrade and specification tweak with  new functions and additional options in the areas of light technology, operation, comfort and connectivity.

The 2,0-litre, four-cylinder diesel engine for the BMW 520d remained unchanged with 140 kW at 4 000 r/min and 400 Nm at 1 750 r/min returning an overall fuel consumption of 5,6 l/100 km. It rushes to 100 km/h in 7,5 seconds and has a top speed of 235 km/h and drives through an 8-speed Steptronic transmission.

Torque delivery is near instantaneous and delivered across a ridiculously wide rev range, providing a relaxed perambulation and effortless overtaking.

A 70 kg weight loss achieved thanks to the use of much more aluminium in key components such as body panels and suspension is responsible for reducing the 0-100km/h time by two-tenths to 7,5 sec.

However, this is the quietest I have ever experienced it, whether at start-up, idle or on the move; certainly an improvement on the previous 5-series. Road and wind noise kept well in check. Past the 2 000 r/min mark there is a touch of diesel clatter in normal drive mode but, click into Sport and this becomes more of an earthy (and pleasing) rumble.

The seventh-generation BMW 5 Series may not look all that different to the old one – a deliberate move translated into design speak as ‘evolutionary’ – and tweaks see the side bead line and rear Hofmeister kink in the C-pillar linked for the first time, the drag co-efficient drops to 0,24 thanks in part to auto-closing grille shutters and there are some very slight dimensional increases.

As with most BMW models, a genuine ‘base’ unit is hard to find and there are a host of option packages such as the Comfort Package that adds (must have) power boot lid, high-beam assist and heated seats for example.

The test unit came with the M Sport Package with mixed Run flat tyres on 19-inch wheels, electrically adjustable sport seats for driver and front passenger and M Sport suspension with Dynamic Damper Control.

There is a fully loaded i-Drive system with touchscreen, gesture control, touch pad and click-wheel operation along with 360deg surround cameras, hands-free parking, four-zone climate control, ‘Dakota’ leather seats, paddle shifters, adaptive LED headlamps and a sunroof.

Rear seating has been rejigged and the seat position is not as low as previously, enhancing headroom – leg and knee room remaining just what one would expect from a large luxury sedan.

On the road, the Comfort mode certainly does result in a bit more float and bounce at higher speeds – along with the nicety of the extra cushioning over rougher surfaces and around potholes. Sport tunes up the suspension and steering and makes the twisty bits a lot more fun, although having grown in size since the iconic E60 version, it is not quite the point-and-squirt it used to be.

However, it really is a luxury cruiser and most owners will not be trying to shave milliseconds off a time en route to the office.

If large luxury is the primary reason for purchase, the BMW 520d satisfies in all departments.

(images: BMW – spec may different to vehicle tested)

 

Road Impressions – Jeep Renegade 1.4 LT 4X4 Auto

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Does it stand the test of time. Absolutely.

 

Road Impressions – Kia Picanto 1.2 Smart

As one of its most successful models ever – with the outgoing generation having sold more than 1,4-million units worldwide – the Kia Picanto is something of a stalwart in the ‘A’ segment of the market and the new, third generation, ups the ante.

As with all Kia new model designs since Peter Schreyer took over as head of design, the look has concentrated on a global appeal – and the latest generation is a collaboration between the design centres in Korea and Germany.

With the wheelbase extended to 2 400 mm (an increase of 15 mm), the wheels have been pushed further out to the corners for a 25 mm shorter front overhang, making the car look more planted on the road. Strong, straight lines run horizontally across the front of the car, emphasising the ‘tiger-nose’ grille and angular new wrap-around headlamps. Vertical lines that encompass the side intakes and lower grille enhance the Picanto’s more confident new ‘face’.

In profile, the new Picanto is characterised by distinctive lines running along the side skirts, shoulder and around the wheel arches, although, at 3 595 mm in length, the Picanto is no longer than the outgoing model.

Exterior styling needs to complemented by underbody engineering and I, fortunately, have an intimate knoweldge of this from the previous generation after being involved in a violent crash in a rented car when a ‘bakkie’ pulled out suddenly from a side road, leaving me no room or time to avoid T-boning him.

Other than monstrous bruising and aching muscles from the safety belts, neither of us in the car at the time had knee contact with the dashboard or head contact with any part of the car. The Picanto was a write-off, but the impressive part was the fact all doors opened – ie the safety cell did its job properley.

This happened at a time when perceptions tended to go against the build quality of Korean vehicles on the South African market compared to more established Japanese offerings.

It certainly changed mine.

With a stronger body than ever before, 44% of the new Picanto’s bodyshell is cast in AHSS (up from 22%), while improving tensile strength by 12%. The new, stronger steel has been used to reinforce the floor pan, roof rails and engine bay, as well as the A and B-pillars, strengthening the core structure of the car.

The new bodyshell also uses more than eight times the quantity of structural adhesive found in the outgoing model (67 metres of joins throughout the structure are now reinforced with the adhesive). Overall, static torsional stiffness has been improved by 32%.

With the new car,  the suspension – independent by MacPherson strut at the front and torsion beam at the rear – changes were made to reduce the body roll angle under cornering by up to 1° and enable more immediate reactions to steering inputs.

The Picanto’s anti-roll bars are 2% stiffer and mounted slightly lower at the front and 5% stiffer and slightly higher at the rear. The Picanto’s revised dimensions – with a longer wheelbase and slightly shorter front overhang – also enable the pitch centre of the car to be placed further towards the rear of the car, helping to naturally reduce ‘nose dive’ under braking without firming up the suspension and potentially compromising ride comfort.

In addition, the longer wheelbase contributes to a natural improvement in ride quality and stability on all roads. The torsion beam rear axle has been reshaped and features newly designed trailing arms, helping to reduce weight by 1,8 kg over the rear axle with no loss in component rigidity.

A new rack for the column-mounted motor-driven power steering means the steering ratio has been quickened by 13% over the outgoing Picanto, from 16.5:1 to 14.3:1. Not only does this enable more immediate responses to driver inputs, but reduces the turns of the wheel lock-to-lock (from 3,4 to 2,8 turns).

The nett result of this is a a much more go-kart type of feel along with more solid high-speed cornering and a genuine point-and-squirt going through the twisty bits. Front end ‘plough-on’ is reduced and there is less feel – fear! – the shortish wheelbase might inspire unexpected end swopping.

Inside, the dashboard is now more centrally aligned, with a large ‘floating’ HMI (human-machine interface) sitting at the heart of the centre console and moving many of the car’s controls further up into the driver’s line of sight.

The base of the dashboard has been moved upwards by 15 mm for greater knee and leg space for front passengers.

High specification models, such as our top of the line Smart,  are fitted as standard with two-tone black and grey leather upholstery.

The boot grows from 200 litres (VDA) to a maximum 255 litres and is available with a two-step boot floor, which can be raised or lowered by 145 mm to create additional space as required, as well as create an under-floor storage area.

The rear seat bench can be folded down with a one-touch lever for maximum ease of use, boosting cargo capacity to 1,010 litres.

Powering the Picanto Smart is a four-cylinder 1,25-litre MPI engine that produces peak power of 61 kW and 122 Nm of torque.

While not designed to break land speed records, the Picanto is more than just a city car and the willing engine will hold its own on any highway, cruising comfortably with far fewer downshifts needed to cope with undulations than some other vehicles in this class.

Using similar materials to those found in the luxury Optima, the Picanto seats are now more comfortable and more supportive, making long journeys much less intimidating.

With anti-lock braking as well as a driver and passenger air bag,  the Picanto is also safer than ever before!

Top of the range Picanto Smart models have bi-function projection headlights, LED daytime running lights, LED rear combination lights, electrically-folding, heated side mirrors with integrated LED indicator lamps, aluminium pedals, two-tone cloth and leather upholstery, a leather-upholstered steering wheel and gear knob, the 7-inch full colour infotainment system, Bluetooth with Voice Recognition and a Rear Park Distance Control system with integrated Reverse Camera with dynamic guidelines.

It comes with a 5-year / Unlimited Kilometre Warranty, inclusive of 3-years / Unlimited Kilometres Roadside Assistance, as standard. A service is available as an option through KIA Financial Services.

Road Impressions – Toyota C-HR 1.2T 6MT Plus

Motor manufacturer marketing speak can sometimes surpass even wine speak in its ability to take a long time to actually say very little, and the usual launch presentation about market research and customer profile, yadda, yadda, yadda, is followed by a stampede of journos racing to get to the top model for the launch drive.

Being first online or in print with impressions or a road test of a new model is important for sales and the general wellbeing of the individual publications but, sometimes, it is well worth stepping back and waiting a few months before testing a car – just to see how marketing speak versus actual public reaction compare.

With the C-HR, which stands for Coupé High Rider, Toyota said this: “With the C-HR, Toyota targets a clear and singular customer profile (identified as Millennials). Predominantly driven by emotional considerations, these customers want individuality and to be the first to try new experiences and products. Style and quality are essential considerations in any purchase they make, and the car is an extension of their personality.

“The Toyota C-HR’s unique character demonstrates the flexibility that the TNGA (Toyota New Global Architecture) gives to vehicle developers in the three key areas of design, powertrain and dynamics, enabling them to deliver a new and fresh take on the increasingly commoditised crossover segment.”

Pretty much marketing speak for: “We have a cute car and everyone will want one but not everyone can afford one.”

And yes, that applies to every new car launched into the market!

Undeniably cute, with its dramatic cut lines, the C-HR is a moving vision of light and shadow interplay that is, I think, the best design from the company since the Celica of the late 90’s, surpassing even the current 86.

The small SUV segment represents the fastest growing ‘group’ on the South African passenger vehicle landscape. A characteristic of this segment is the variety and diversity of models, notably the ‘cross-over’ – a fusion of hatchback and SUV, taking the best attributes of each to create a vehicle that perfectly fits the modern urban lifestyle.

However, the C-HR is more hatch than it is SUV with city and urban surrounds a better playground choice than those roads less travelled.

The front is a development of Toyota’s signature design identity. The upper grille flows from the Toyota badge into the wing extremities of the headlamp clusters and wraps fully around the front corners of the vehicle. The striking headlamps also house LED Daytime Running Lights (DRL) in a prism shape.

The C-HR’s coupé-like styling is enhanced by disguised rear door handles integrated within the C pillar – while good for the looks, they can be a tad awkward to use.

The driver-oriented area sees all operating switchgear and a display audio touch-screen slightly angled towards the driver.

In conjunction with the asymmetrical centre console design, this brings all controls within easy reach of the driver, whilst still allowing front passenger access. Because the touch-screen stands proud of the instrument panel rather than being enclosed by it, the upper dashboard is considerably lower in depth, helping driver visibility.

The Toyota C-HR is the first model locally utilise Toyota’s 1,2-litre turbo engine. The 1.2T engine uses advanced technologies that allow the engine to change from the Otto-cycle to the Atkinson cycle under low loads, it has vertical vortex high tumble airflow intake ports, an exhaust manifold integrated in the cylinder head and advanced heat management.

From a displacement of 1 197 cc, the engine delivers 85 kW and a constant torque curve of 185 Nm between 1 500 r/min and 4 000 r/min, achieving the 0 to 100 km/h dash in 10,9 seconds with the top speed set at 190 km/h.

Toyota claims 6,3 l/100 km on the combined cycle and delivers just 141g/km of CO2. Actual testing averaged out at 6,5 l/100 km with hard use taking the numbers up to 8,1 l/100 km.

The 6-speed manual uses Toyota’s iMT system (intelligent Manual Transmission), which automatically increases the engine revs with a perfectly executed ‘blip’ when downshifting, ensuring a smooth gearshift.

The system also works when shifting up in order to improve comfort for driver and passengers by reducing shift shock. A shift indicator with two directional arrows housed in the instrument cluster, provides the optimal shift points on M/T models.

The gearbox has a good feel to it and changes are short, sharp and positive with no gear lever ‘wander’ in the neutral space.

The MacPherson strut front suspension was designed specifically for the Toyota C-HR. It includes a strut bearing rotation axis that has been defined to reduce steering friction drastically, allowing smooth and accurate steering. To ensure a hatchback-like roll-rigidity, the large-diameter stabiliser is directly linked to the strut via a stabiliser link.

At the back, a double wishbone suspension contributes significantly to the crisp driving experience. Thanks to the use of a specific sub frame, the suspension angles are optimised to give this ‘C’ Crossover its hatchback-like handling in spite of its increased height.

In this the C-HR does impress and it remains solidly upright through hard cornering with little noticeable body flex or roll. It is fitted with 17-inch wheels, shod with 215-60R-17 rubber.

The C-HR comes standard with an Electric Parking Brake (EPB), cruise control and Hill Assist Control.

On Plus models there is a dual-zone electronic climate control, one-touch auto up/down power windows, auto-on headlamps and wipers and electrically adjusted mirrors. The interior also features two conveniently located cup holders in the centre console, a storage shelf for mobile devices or media players and a 12-volt power outlet.

A full suite of Active Safety functions are embedded into the C-HR and include anti-lock brakes, Brake Assist (BA), Electronic Brake Force Distribution (EBD), Hill Assist Control (HAC) and Vehicle Stability Control (VSC).

Driver and Passenger air bags round out the safety specification.

At R346 700 the Toyota finds itself in the same company as the Suzuki Vitara 1.6 GL Auto (R341 900), Honda HR-V 1.5 Comfort (R344 200), Hyundai Creta 1.6 Executive Auto (R344 900), Fiat 500X 1.4 Cross (R347 900) and Kia Soul 2.0 Street (347 995).

What it does have, that some others might not, is an enviable dealer network and generally high resale value retention.

All C-HR models come standard with a comprehensive 5 year/90 000 km service plan, with service intervals set at 15 000 km. A 3 year/100 000 km warranty is provided.

2017 Toyota C-HR

2017 Toyota C-HR

Road Impressions – Hyundai Tucson 1.6 TGDI Executive Sport

More than one motor manufacturer has discovered slapping a ‘Sport’ moniker and some additional body kit onto a dog that battles to pull the skin off a rice pudding has the certainty of coming back to bite them in the rear end.

The seventh generation Hyundai Tucson is, unquestionably, a bit of a looker and easily a candidate for additional and elegant body styling – which is exactly what Hyundai Automotive South Africa did to create the Sport version of the Tucson 1.6 TGDI Executive.

The body kit – front, rear and side skirts – are imported from Korea, while the alloy wheels were chosen with the help of Tiger Wheel & Tyre, exclusively for the Tucson Sport. A different exhaust system with four chrome pipes at the rear audibly announces the sporty nature of this Tucson.

The 19-inch black alloy wheels with its low-profile tyres are exclusive to the Tucson Sport – nobody can buy them off the shelf to fit to their own car.

The 1,6-litre turbo-charged 4-cylinder petrol engine is linked to a 6-speed manual gearbox with well-spaced ratios to get the power and torque to the road effectively through the front-wheel drive system.

The turbo-charged 4-cylinder engine delivers maximum power of 130 kW at        5 5 00 r/min and its torque delivery peaks at 265 Nm from 1 500 r/min to 4 500 r/min – and this has not been altered or tweaked for the Sport with Hyundai believing it provides enough to validate the label.

Does it?

The visual impression creates a mental level of expectancy and the start-up burble from the multiple tail pipes certainly does not disappoint.

Looking at comparisons, the 1,6-litre’s output is down a tad compared to that of compact crossover competitors such as the Honda CR-V, the Toyota RAV4 and the Mazda CX-5 2.5, but Hyundai’s four bests the field with more torque: 265 Nm developed earlier in the rev range.

Tucson’s torque curve is nice and flat,  reaching maximum elevation at 1 500 r/min and carrying on to 4500 r/min. That means even with part-throttle, it is easy to get to cruising speed and to zip through gaps in the traffic without the need for wide-open-throttle bursts and heroic downshifts.

The sporty exhaust note continues up through the rev range, with even a bit of ‘pop’ on the overrun or through downshifts.

Translated into performance the Tucson runs from zero to 100 km/h in 7,6 seconds and has a maximum speed of 193 km/h with fuel consumption around the 9,8 l/100 km mark for everyday driving and upping to 10,0 l/100 km when driven with a little more vigour.

Providing it is approached with the correct mind set – ie it is not designed to race your mate’s Focus ST or leave a Ferrari looking like it had stalled at the lights – the Tucson can carry the ‘Sport’ tag with some pride.

The front suspension features a McPherson strut system and the rear a multilink suspension system. As in the front, the rear sub frame receives four bush mountings, while the upper and lower suspension arms are longer to enhance overall suspension performance.

The new Tucson received some tweaks to the suspension settings to enhance high-speed and cornering stability, while also maximising the benefits of the long wheelbase (2 670 mm) and wide track to optimise ride and handling characteristics.

A brake system upgrade incorporated larger discs (305 mm front/ 302 mm rear) and this all works well on the Sport version, which remains solidly planted on the road even when pressed hard on the twisty bits.

The electric motor-driven power steering (MDPS) system has a suitably direct response to inputs and is accurate, so the driver knows exactly where the front wheels are pointed.

While it is a SUV, it is not well suited to dirt road excursions on the wide, low profile tyres that are more susceptible to sidewall cuts.

Standard features of the Tucson Sport include an 8-inch screen infotainment system with satellite navigation, Bluetooth telephone linking and music streaming, as well as a CD player, USB and AUX music input and a several settings for FM and AM radio reception. It also displays a rear view from the park assist camera when reversing the vehicle.

Additional convenience features include cruise control, rain sensors for the automatic windscreen wipers, an automatic air-conditioning system, electrically adjusted leather seats and multifunction controls on the steering wheel.

Among the safety features in the Tucson Sport are an Electronic Stability Programme (ESP), an anti-lock braking system, Electronic Brake Distribution (EBD) and a full set of driver, front passenger, side and curtain air bags.

The Tucson was awarded a full 5-star safety rating in the European New Car Assessment Programme (EuroNCAP).

The Tucson Sport comes with Hyundai’s 7-year/200 000 km warranty, roadside assistance for 5 years or 150 000 km, and a 5-year/90 000 km service plan. Its service interval is 15 000 km.