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 – 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 – Toyota Etios 1.5 Sprint

With the second edition of the Festival of Motoring due at the Kyalami circuit soon, one of the few cars to debut at that event is about to celebrate a birthday, namely the Toyota Etios 1.5 Sprint.

The revised Etios range announced at the time reduced the number of model derivatives and made some badge changes most notably with the ‘X’ variant replaced by the Sprint – all part of a much needed re-energising of a brand name under intense pressure from competitive offerings in the market.

“The Etios represents one of the core models for Toyota, and has proven popular with a wide variety of customers. The pay-off line ‘Here to make you smile’ represents what Etios is all about; simple rewarding motoring – and with the most recent styling, spec and safety upgrades, it is set to continue.” said Glenn Crompton, vice president of Marketing at the time.

So, a year down the line, where does the Etios Sprint fit? At its current price of R172 600 it is flanked on that ladder by the Etios X Sedan and higher up the 1,2-litre Chev Spark LT – but that will soon disappear along with General Motors.

The primary opposition is the Volkswagen Polo Hatch 1.4 Conceptline (R173 800) and, on paper, there is little to choose from between the two in terms of specification and engine – 66 kW from the Etios versus 55 kW from the Polo Vivo and equal on torque at 132 Nm.

Both have two air bags, anti-lock braking, air-conditioning, audio system and Bluetooth.

Cost was an important consideration in the whole Etios range revise and the Sprint comes with power windows and manually operated side mirrors – something I dislike intensely as I would far rather wind my own window down than have to stretch across the car to adjust the left side mirror.

Cost against practicality – always a conundrum for the product planners.

The Etios was given an aesthetic makeover with the key change point being the front bumper design, incorporating a large lower air dam as its main focal point. The lower air dam stretches the entire front width, and features integrated fog lamps with sculpted bezels.

The lower grille is fashioned in matching black and utilises sharp horizontal slats while the upper radiator grille employs a distinctive wing-like motif, with the Toyota ellipse at its centre and a broad chrome ‘brow’ forming the upper border.

The rear also received styling tweaks and the rear bumper incorporated a lower crease line accentuating the profile – flowing from the outer corners and blending into the number plate recess. The revised bumper treatment bumped up the overall length by 109 mm on the hatch.

Sometimes mid-life and range revise styling changes are a visual air of desperation from an automaker scrabbling to find additional sales from an ailing and dated model – not so with the Etios, which can still proudly pose alongside any of its opposition and garner more than a few admiring glances.

In keeping with the ‘fun’ theme envisioned by Toyota, the Etios Sprint has a centre-mounted dash display, the half-moon display looking quite funky. While easily readable, I have to admit to being a bit of a purist and I still like my dials and gauges directly in front of me.

However, is it fun to drive?

Indeed it is. It is not a ‘hot’ hatch by any stretch of the imagination and nor was it intended to compete against the true hot hatches.

What it offers is a suitably swift response off the line, a nice rorty engine note going up the rev range and enough ‘vooma’ to make Officer Plod choke on his fried chicken as he tries to press the trigger of the radar gun.

It is nippy and has a sense of the mischievous, making it quite a fun drive.

Handling details sees a Macpherson strut design at the front with a torsion-beam-type suspension for the rear, augmented by a reinforcement brace to ensure handling stability.

Overall, the dampening system is tuned to achieve a supple, mild ride comfort that confidently allows traversing of bumps in the road surface.

This translates to pretty nifty handling, although the short wheelbase did have the rear wanting to swop ends on occasion when pitched hard into a tight corner. Even though the suspension works well to contain the bumps, our often-rippled road surfaces did provoke some mild twitching off line from time to time.

Good low-speed torque delivery made the Etios a breeze to navigate in and out of traffic with the hatchback recording 6,4 l/100 kilometres average during our test.

All Etios models come with a 2-year/30 000 km service plan, backed by a 3-year/100 000 km warranty and service intervals are set at 10 000 kilometres.

In the tough market segment in which it is playing, the Etios Sprint has stood up strongly in its first year to remain a cost effective option for the price conscious buyer.

RoadImpressions – Kia Rio 1.4 TEC

Possibly the most excruciatingly boring drive in the country is the 600-odd kilometres between Durban and Johannesburg on the N3, monitored as it is by 35 or so fixed camera speed traps, a herd of ‘average speed camera zones’ at least five manned radar gun traps and an ever-increasing stretches limited to 100 km/h or less.

I fully understand the notion when people do not want to save themselves; sometimes you have to do it for them. Equally, I fully support road safety and, given the parlous state of many of the trucks on our roads, recognise the need to have huge restraint on Van Reenen’s Pass, Field’s Hill and Town Hill.

However, the rather hefty toll fees paid for the privilege of driving on what is supposed to be the premier arterial motorway in the country is losing its lustre as it is no longer seamless, swift or pleasant – I mean, 100 km/h all the way from Warden to the other side of Harrismith!

Worse still are the manned speed traps – offering nothing whatsoever to the notion of road safety, these are nothing more than money earners. The fixed traps should release traffic officers to patrol the highway and to mitigate incidents by stopping unroadworthy vehicles before they barrel down one of the hills destroying everything in their path.

Armed with a Kio Rio 1.4 TEC manual, I drove up the hill from Durban to the heady heights of Johannesburg at 1 753 metres above sea level and then back down to sea level again with the cruise control activated wherever possible.

It simply is impossible to modulate control of the throttle to keep within the limits of the law for such long periods – cruise control is a must. Also, with the sound cranked up it alleviates some of the tedium with games such as ‘when will that truck pull out to overtake the other one moving at walking pace and how many gears will I need to drop down’ also taking up some of the slow-passing time.

The sound system in the Rio TEC is up to the task with six speakers in play. Not quite concert levels but enough to blow the cobwebs away.

Since the trip is almost an enforced economy run, consumption watching forms part of the mix and the 6,5 l/100 km achieved on the uphill run at an average of 94 km/h was only marginally more than the 6,2 /100 km recorded on the downhill return at the same average speed.

The new, fourth-generation Rio is defined by straight lines and smooth surfacing, giving the car a distinctive new look and more mature character than its predecessor.

At the front is the latest evolution of Kia’s ‘tiger-nose’ grille, now thinner in height and wider across the front of the car, with a gloss black grille mesh and surround. The grille is integrated with the newly designed headlamps, featuring a new U-shaped LED daytime running light signature.

In profile, the lengthened, more balanced stance is achieved with a long bonnet and longer front overhang, a 10 mm longer wheelbase (up to 2 580 mm), a thinner, more upright C-pillar, and a shorter rear overhang. Overall, the new car is 15 mm longer than its predecessor (4 065 mm in length) and 5 mm lower (now 1 450 mm tall). Straight, clearly defined lines run down the full length of the car’s shoulder and along its doors, further stretching the appearance of the car for a more confident look.

The rear section of the Rio is now more upright, with a near-vertical rear windscreen. The straight line that runs from the grille, through the headlamps and along the top of the doors, continues around the back of the car, paired with thinner, more sculpted rear lamps. High specification models are available with LED taillights with a new arrow-shaped light signature.

Inside, the dashboard is angled towards the driver. At the centre is a ‘floating’ HMI (human-machine interface) with a new 7-inch Touch Screen infotainment system. Below the infotainment system, the driver-oriented centre console features fewer buttons, with more ergonomic, concave switches and rotator dials below to control the heating and ventilation.

Convenience items on the TEC include power windows, electrically controlled door mirrors, automatic headlamps, rain-sensing windscreen wipers and a Rear Park Assist System with reverse camera.

New dashboard soundproofing materials have been adopted to reduce engine noise levels in the front of the cabin, while a stiffer front sub frame minimises vibrations from poor road surfaces.

In the silences between songs, I was impressed with the low levels of travel noise intruding into the cabin.

The Rio’s 10 mm longer wheelbase and 15 mm longer body contribute to larger cabin and cargo area dimensions. Legroom grows to 1 070 mm in the front and 850 mm in the rear, achieved with a series of changes to the Rio’s packaging. These include re-profiled door trims, the adoption of new headlining materials and changes to the shape of the dashboard.

Luggage capacity is increased by 37 litres to 325 litres. The uphill journey involved both a wife and a niece on holiday from the UK – and all the luggage plus laptops and etcetera fitted in the boot, a huge plus for a car in this market segment.

The 1,4-litre engine produces 74 kW at 6 300 r/min and 135 Nm torque at 4 200 r/min driving through a six-speed manual transmission.

Compared to what some other manufacturers are achieving with small capacity engines, the Rio’s power plant comes across as being a tad weak. While never intended to be a robot-to-robot dragster, the engines runs out of breath quite quickly.

Gear ratios inclined towards fuel efficiency also mean it has to be ‘rowed’ up hills with two to three downshifts needed when cruising momentum is interrupted. That said, it is hardly a mobile chicane.

One of the downsides of some cars in this segment is the lack of comfort and support from the seats, usually because of thinner padding and the like to keep the cost down. The Rio is more than comfortable and supportive enough over the long haul to minimise fatigue.

The steering is light enough for comfort but responsive and accurate when needed and does not mind been thrown around fairly vigorously, staying mainly neutral and easing into predictable understeer.

The increased application of advanced high strength steel has strengthened the passenger cabin ‘cell’ for greater occupant safety and more effective distribution of impact forces. The stronger steel has been used to reinforce the A and B-pillars, as well as side sills, roof structure, engine bay and floor pan.

Along with driver’s and passenger’s air bags (including side and curtain air bags in the TEC model), the new Rio features front seatbelt pre-tensioners with load limiters, side door impact beams front and rear, child locks, and impact sensing door unlocking. ISOFIX child seat anchors are standard across the range, as is anti-lock braking.

The Rio sits on fully independent MacPherson strut front suspension and a coupled torsion beam rear axle. It benefits from a revised spring and damper set-up noticeably improving the car’s compliance and comfort at all speeds.

A new front suspension system features a more rigid cross member and struts, while the rear shock absorbers are mounted more vertically, absorbing shocks better to improve ride comfort and stability.

The Kia Rio come with a 5-year / unlimited kilometre Warranty, inclusive of 5-years / Unlimited Kilometres Roadside Assistance as well as a 4-year / 60 000 km Service Plan.

KEY FACTS

 

Engine Type In-line 4 cyl, 16 valve DOHC CVVT
Displacement (cc) 1 396
Fuel supply system Multi Point Injection (MPI)
Max Power (kW @ rpm) 74/6300
Max Torque (Nm @ rpm) 135/4200
Compression Ratio 10.5 : 1
Bore and Stroke (mm) 74 x 74.99
Acceleration (0-100km/h) 11.5
Maximum speed (km/h) 176
CO2 emissions (g/km) 137

 

 

Tested – Toyota Yaris 1.5 Pulse CVT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

KEY FIGURES

 

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